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New Book: A Grandmother is Born


The First Three Years of a Grandmother’s Life (Ryerson) is the tale of an evolving love story between a first-time grandmother and her granddaughter. This slim volume by Canadian author Carol Matthews sparkles with surprise, romance and new learning.

book jacket - the first three years


The author thought she knew a lot about grandmothers until Charlotte was born. After all, she had two grandmothers of her own, and her own mother was a wonderful grandmother. As well, Matthews had written from an academic perspective on the role of well-known grandmothers in Canadian literature.

"None of these ideas were of any use to me whatsoever when my granddaughter Charlotte appeared on the scene," Matthews writes. "From the moment she was born it was clear that Charlotte had entered the world in her own unique manner, and would certainly be meeting me on her own terms." She argues compellingly that when a new life comes into the world, it’s not just a baby that is born, but also a grandmother.


Charlotte was on intimate terms with the "invisibles" from the start. On one occasion, for example, grandmother and granddaughter were on their way to the art gallery for kid’s "super Sunday", when Charlotte started shouting, "Go away ghosts! Go away, vampires! Go away, pirates!" and then informed her grandmother, "I shooed them all away, Nana . . . for you!" Another time, Charlotte had a dream about angels. "They were playing their fiddles," she told her grandmother. "I believe Charlotte’s claims are true," the author writes.

As a grandmother, Matthews takes special delight in Charlotte’s particularity. She tells the story of her granddaughter and the jack-in-the-box. All the adults in the family loved the toy, but Charlotte detested it from the start.

At the point of the "pop", the jack jumped up and Charlotte’s hand shot out. She grabbed that creature by the head, whipped it back and forth, box and all, just like a Jack Russell terrier cracking the neck of a rat, and then flung the whole thing to the floor.

Says Matthews, "It makes me smile every time I think of it. A generation ago, I would probably have been shocked to see such rage unleashed by an otherwise cheerful and good-natured baby." The author believes her granddaughter will need her "furious spirit" to fight for her beliefs in a world where it’s everyone for himself or herself.

New learning

Blonde and petite, Charlotte has learned to walk, jump and dance over these past three years. She has mapped out the world around her and established important relationships. She knows her colours, the do re mi scales and how to count to 30. In addition, she has mastered a huge and colourful vocabulary, including words and expressions that suit her peculiar purposes.

Nana has learned a lot too. She has added a collection of "Charlotteisms" to her vocabulary. And she has grown more familiar with her granddaughter’s world. That world worries her, but she trusts in Charlotte’s capable nature to negotiate her way past obstacles in the future.

Perhaps most poignantly, the author realizes that as her granddaughters’ life blossoms, her own slips away. She marvels at how the journey with Charlotte has helped her come to terms with this diminishing sense of time. "It produces a paradoxical perspective that has me simultaneously cherishing and relinquishing the world and the people I love," she writes. "This is a capacity that might otherwise have required years of yoga and mediation . . . . Fortunately it has come to me with no effort, simply from being a grandmother."

About the author: This book first appeared as a collection of columns in The Relational Journal of Child and Youth Care Practice, published by Ryerson University in Toronto. Matthews is also the author of a book of short stories Incidental Music (Oolichan Books) and Reflections on the C-Word (Hedgerow Press). She lives on Vancouver Island.