Cover Story: Girlfriends As Grandmothers

Dispensing knowledge with and without cookies

May 10, 2006 at 2:06 pm
slim Jim Puvee

Ginger leaves a message on my cell: "Flying to Dayton from a business meeting in New York, grandson Jonah seriously ill, Mary Beth needs me, prayers requested."

When the crisis is over, Jonah is at home and recuperating. "The bright side was a day in the kitchen with granddaughter, Paige. She was amazed we could make three whole meals out of one chicken!"

Among my girlfriend grandmothers, "We don't have time to bake cookies" is code for "We love to bake cookies with our grandchildren but have to work it into our incredibly busy schedules." Products of second-wave feminism, we broke out of our mothers' 1950s kitchens and found ourselves without models for how to blend career and motherhood.

Some of us are late bloomers, hitting our stride in work we love just as grandchildren come into our lives. Once again, we tell one another, we're "making it up as we go along."

I'm lucky to have girlfriends who reflect on what it means to be a bridge generation.

"It seems that our generation, my generation, is exploring the meaning and challenges around integration of the masculine and feminine without models, without mothers and fathers who have done this inner and outer work," writes Ellen, a grandmother-age girlfriend.

"I find myself both aching with homesickness for a mother-land where some of these questions have already been explored and celebrating the integration that seems more possible for the generation behind me, behind us."

In my own struggle to integrate the nurturing feminine, what I call "kitchen culture," with the joys and challenges of the achieving masculine-in-me, I try to cut myself a little slack with a dose of perspective.

My own grandmothers were dead long before I was born. Product of a broken mother-line, I've never been in danger of undervaluing the love and security and the groundedness in "who you are and who your people are" that grandmothers dispense — with or without cookies — from our kitchens.

Where Are We Going? (thinking of Max and Joey)

The question grips

my grandmother's heart.

With so much —


So little


By the time

my grandboys

are grown

will there be any


"Where Are We Going" speaks of my concern for my grandsons growing up in a culture where "fast and furious" is no longer a cliché but a way of increasingly violent life. Later, in a stolen moment with girlfriend grandmother Gail, I kvetch.

"Today I can't think of much upside to our trying-to-balance-yin-and-yang style of grandmothering," I say.

Gail buys me a drink and tells me a story. "On Tuesday I'm going with my daughter and granddaughter to a developmental specialist. I don't have time to be a fixture in the kitchen, as much as I love the times when Maya and I color eggs or bake cookies. But, as a doctor/grandmother, I can help my daughter in ways my mother could never have helped me."

My girlfriends are grandmothers, making it up as we go along, taking the kitchen to the world, bringing what we have learned in the world back to our kitchens. ©