I've just turned the last satisfying page of Emma Straub's All Adults Here. One of the novel's remarkable aspects is how the author toggles back and forth between the mother's (Astrid, the matriarch) and the three grown children's perspectives and cause/effects of her parenting--when the children were small and now, when they're 30-something grown ups.
It's a book about family life with the widowed mom/grandma still living in the Big House where her children were raised in a small, fictional upstate New York town that's a summer retreat for privileged urbanites. Two of the children have put down roots in homes and businesses of their own in the town; one has taken himself off to New York City. The plot, what there is of it, is besides the point. For me the book is about Astrid and her feelings of alienation from her children, second guessing why they don't confide in her or turn to her for advice or guidance.
Many of us can identify. For your reading pleasure, here are a smattering of Astrid's observations about parenting her grown children.
On her New York City son's unexpected request to have his 13-year-old daughter live with Astrid for the upcoming school year.
It had been so long since there was a child in the house, Astrid had spent days shopping and baking and cooking. ...Astrid had baked zucchini muffins with walnuts, an enormous casserole of macaroni and cheese, turkey meatballs, chocolate chip cookies, granola bars studded with plump raisins. She'd bought eight bananas. There were enough tomatoes to can and freeze soup and pasta sauce for a whole winter....
The blessings of being a grandparent was knowing all the things that had to be done and having the time to do them. Some of her friends thought that extra patience came with age, but that wasn't it, of course. Their calendars just weren't as full. Astrid was clear-eyed about her position. Nicky [her son] hadn't said, Oh, Mom, please talk to Cecelia [his daughter] about everything, please help. He'd said, Can she come? And the answer was yes. Astrid was an able body; she was a safe house. He was complimenting her ability to keep children alive, not her parenting skills....
An awkward lunch with a busy son whose family life with rambunctious pre-school twins is "difficult" at the moment:
She had wanted to talk to him, to really talk to him, but it was so hard to know where to start. All of a sudden--forty years of parenting in!--she felt like she was on shaky ground. If her son felt this way about his children, if they were making mistakes, how many other mistakes must she have made without admitting them to herself? Her children were the way they were because of all the things she had done and all the things she had not done.
Contemplating her 13-year-old granddaughter reading a book at the kitchen table:
Still, it was nice to see a small face tucked behind a paperback, elbows splayed on the wood. Astrid paused at the counter and just watched. This was what she'd wanted--this was what everyone wanted. To have your children's children around, to be young enough to watch them grow, and for them to be self-sufficient within reason. Grandparenting wasn't the same as parenting, thank god, even in cases like this....Cecelia was right here, an easy guest. It meant that she'd done something right with Nicky after all, whether he'd admit it or not.