“Being a parent is the best,” said a nurse helping my daughter deliver her baby. Then she corrected herself. “Actually, being a grandparent is the best,” she said.

That sentiment suffuses “Nanaville,” Anna Quindlen’s book about the joys and challenges that a new generation of children is bringing to their parents’ parents.

Quindlen has chronicled family life for decades, building out from her own experiences. “Nanaville” was inspired by the arrival of her first grandchild, Arthur.

Here Quindlen gives voice to the many grandparents seeking their proper place in orbit around their children’s nuclear family — to be caring and sharing, but not overbearing. For a zealous parent such as Quindlen, who quit a high-powered New York Times job to focus on raising her children, it’s a challenge to stay on the right side of that line. She recalls the time she vented her frustration to a friend about some advice that her son and daughter-in-law had spurned. Her friend simply replied, “Did they ask you?” Oops. Lesson learned.

“There are really only two commandments of Nanaville,” Quindlen sums up, “love the children and hold your tongue.”

Much has changed since Quindlen was a front-line parent, she notes. Much is better: baby monitors, car seats, breast pumps and video chats. On the other hand, Quindlen is grateful to have done her duty before the internet began unloading a “constant barrage of judgment” on today’s parents. Grandparents are different, too: more active, more likely to take their grandkids skiing “than to sit at the kitchen table and quiz them about their last report card.”

Demographic changes have hit home for Quindlen, too. Neither of her daughters-in-law fits the white Catholic template that filled her family tree. Thanks to Arthur, whose mother is Chinese, Quindlen is witnessing the blending of cultures — and the casual racism of complete strangers. For her part, she is trying to learn Chinese, an effort that gives her an appreciation of the work a child must do to talk.

Although it’s a big adjustment to move from primary caregiver to secondary, being “Nana” is rich and rewarding. “I love this new stage,” Quindlen says, “because it gives me a second chance, to see, to be, to understand the world, to look at it and re-imagine my place in it, to feel as though I’ve made a mark.”

 

Maureen McCarthy is a former Star Tribune team leader and, most important, a grandma.

Nanaville
By: Anna Quindlen.
Publisher: Random House, 162 pages, $26.
Event: Talk of the Stacks, in conversation with Laurie Hertzel, 7 p.m. April 29, Central Library, Nicollet Mall, Mpls.