At the Women's march

At the Women's march
All Lives Matter

Never Again

Never Again
We Won't Go Back

Thursday, May 14, 2009


“Why are these sharks biting each other?” Corey and Tyler wondered. When the two teenagers went to find a senior staff member of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, they learned that serious biting (more than a nibble) is a typical aspect of shark mating behavior. This was one more piece of information that these volunteers, along with their siblings, Jordyn and Morgan, have learned during the hundreds of hours they have given to the center, usually with their Gram, Barbara Van Heest, who has logged 3,000 volunteer hours over the past ten years.

Barbara began taking her four grandchildren who live near her in Virginia Beach to the center when they were toddlers, and as soon as each turned eleven, the minimum age for volunteering, they all began to work along with her.

“I think it’s important that the children learn to give back. They’re fortunate in what they get in life, so it’s good to pass it on,” Barbara says. Also, she emphasizes that the volunteering is not just a question of giving -- the children get benefits from it themselves. “I see them becoming comfortable talking to the adult visitors, answering their questions, gaining self-esteem because of the knowledge they now have about marine life.” (One other plus for the older teens has been meeting young people they’ve gone on dates with – after some adult screening, of course.)

Now Corey and Morgan, both 16, have logged a total of about 680 volunteer hours over the past five years, and are docents at the center on the weekends. Their 13-year-old siblings, Jordyn and Tyler, have already volunteered for about 150 hours each. All the volunteers, young and old, attend classes regularly to learn about the animals and plant life at the center.

Barbara picks up the children at eight in the morning on volunteer days and takes them over to the center, where a day’s activities may include touching sting rays, turning over horseshoe crabs, or showing visitors how to tell whether a blue crab is male or female and which snakes are venomous.

Thanks to all the public service the family has given over the years, the Van Heest family received the Volunteer Hampton Roads Family of the Year Award from the Center, for Barbara’s establishing “a legacy of service through her grandchildren and instilling a commitment of conservation through education.” (Hampton Roads is a 2000+-square-mile area in Virginia including dozens of cities, towns, and counties.)

For other grandmothers who would like to instill a family tradition of volunteer service, Barbara has this advice: “Get involved yourself, show by example, and stay close to your grandchildren – even if they live at a distance, as do the two of mine up in New Jersey.”

Monday, May 11, 2009


A couple of bloggers whom I follow (Susan of and Joan of have been talking about hair color lately, a topic I’m always ready to blather about.

My mother was 33 when I was born and already so gray that someone seeing her on the street pushing me in my carriage asked her if I was her granddaughter. She went home and burst into tears -- but she never colored her hair. She had beautiful fine silvery hair that she wore short all her life. I wore my almost black hair shoulder-length until my early forties when I kept finding gray hairs and didn't like the looks of long gray hair, so I cut it short. I didn't do anything about the color until I was 64 and tired of being the only gray-haired women under 90 in any large gathering. (60% of American women color their hair, and since this includes younger women the percentage of women who color their gray hair has to be much higher -- I've never seen that figure.)

I colored it brown, a color I wasn't crazy about, because dyed black hair looks too artificial, and my complexion is too dark to be a blonde or a redhead. But what I really didn't like was the revenge of the roots. Since I'm short I was convinced that taller people were always peering down and seeing those telltale white hairs at my scalp. I also didn't like the bother and mess when I did it myself and the expense when I didn't. And it seemed to be coarsening my hair. Two summers after coloring it, I cut my hair a little shorter than usual and went hiking in Wales. Apparently enough sun shone between the daily rain showers to bleach the brown and that, plus ordinary summer sun, lightened it enough so that it almost seamlessly went back to gray, and stayed so for a few years.

Then two years ago I got bored again with my gray hair and went to Paul Sharakan, the man with magic fingers who cuts my hair, and told him that I wanted a streak like the purple one his wife, Louise, a talented artist, used to have before she let her hair go gray. Karen, the colorist, didn't have any purple dye that day, but she did have some red on hand, so I got red highlights, and that's what I've had ever since. Who knows what the next chapter will be? I get into some interesting conversations with strangers, both young (often with wild streaks of fuschia or turquoise color in their own hair – or shaven totally bald) and old (including a question from one man asking me if I had been a party to an axe murder).

So this is somewhat of an extravagance -- but less than dinner for one in a typical New York restaurant, and I justify every extravagance in my life by saying that I never wanted (or had) a fur coat or a diamond ring. I'm sure that over the years I've spent much more than I would have spent on both of those, but it eases my conscience.

I’d love to know what other grannies think about and do about gray hair. Let’s dish about it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


This lovely literary compendium, edited by Barbara Graham and subtitled: “27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother,” was published last month by HarperCollins ($24.99). Its 27 essays provide windows into many different emotional faces and phases of grandparenting and what it can mean to be a grandmother.

Reading these grandmothers' stories, I sometimes feel that “ping!” of recognition: Yes, I’ve had that feeling too. And at other times I marvel at how very different their feelings are from mine. Who are these women who write so well from their hearts?

• Barbara Graham, the book’s editor, got my total attention when she described her “besotted state” of being a grandmother, her joy at the new grandbaby’s parents’ decision to move near her, and then her grief at hearing that they would be moving an ocean away, to Europe, with this precious little girl. I immediately felt again my own grief when my own children made that last decision (which I wrote about at the time, 21 years ago, and then posted to these pages).

Then there are the other grandmothers you come to know intimately in these pages, like:
• Lynne Sharon Schwartz, who likens a grandmother’s love to teen love: “the same giddy absorption, the same loss of all sense of proportion, the same transcendent idiocy.”
• Marcie Fitzgerald (a pseudonym), who adopted her grandson because of her daughter’s emotional illness and is experiencing parenthood all over again.
• Judith Viorst, who feels competitive toward the other grandmother for the children’s love and affection.
• India-born Bharati Mukherjee, who celebrates her family’s mix of cultures as she describes the naming ceremony in New York for her China-born granddaughter and who contrasts her own upbringing with those of her children and grandchildren.
• Anne Roiphe, who keeps telling herself that frank and open communication about grandchildren has its limits -- lest she offend her daughter.
• Lynn Lauber, who as an unmarried teenager gave her biological daughter up for adoption, found her as an adult, and now revels in being “Grandma” to her daughter’s daughter.
• Then there’s Abigail Thomas, the “lazy Nana” of twelve grandchildren who doesn’t sound lazy at all, but who wants, among other things, to “play with her grandchildren and then have their parents take them away.”

I liked reading these and the other stories in the book one at a time, savoring each individual tale, musing on each one’s insights, pondering on the many ways in which every grandmother and every grandparent-grandchild relationship is unique. “Eye of My Heart” offers a store of riches to help us grannies understand our roles a little better.