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  • Kristan Higgins

Crappy Grandmothers

Updated: May 5, 2022


Genevieve London, one of the protagonists of LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, is not a warm and cuddly grandmother to Emma, her only grandchild for twenty years. She’s critical, opinionated and frosty—not what an eight-year-old needs after the death of her own mother, and not what anyone needs, ever. And yet, Genevieve does her best. She provides every opportunity for Emma. She takes her in, tries to instill certain qualities, but Genevieve’s heart was broken by the loss of her older son decades ago. She admits she’s not a great candidate for child-rearing.

If you read this blog, you know that I had a nearly perfect grandmother—my mom’s mom, Gram. My daughter is named after her, and I dedicated a book to her just after she died. She taught me the beauty of the simple pleasures in life, and I adored her.

I had another grandmother, of course. My father’s mother, Nina. We didn’t get along so well. That’s not completely accurate. I liked and loved her just fine for the first decade of my life, maybe more. She didn’t like me. She viewed my birth as my mother one-upping her; Nina had had only my dad. My mom had my brother, but then went on to have first me, then my sister. My birth irritated Nina. I was named after my mother’s family and a clone of that side; my sister had the smarts to resemble our dad a bit more.

I could never understand why Nina didn’t like me, but my childhood was marked by mean little comments and snubs. One Easter, she bought presents for my brother and sister, but not for me, and I hid behind a chair and cried. I think I was four. My dad chewed her out when he discovered this, which didn’t make her warmer or fuzzier toward me. My sister and brother were lovely, as far as she was concerned. I was the sore thumb just by existing. To be honest, I didn’t notice, because my grandfather, her husband, was another perfect person in my life. But after he died, and five years later, when my father died, it became awful. Of course, Nina had suffered the worst thing anyone can suffer: the loss of her only child in a terrible accident.

But rather than take comfort in a granddaughter—or, God forbid, share our grief—she’d call me, full of accusations. “You’re just like your mother. You stole your father from me. I knew. Oh, yes, I knew.” Creepy, wasn’t it?

Still, I drove her to doctors’ appointments and occasionally took her out to lunch, enduring her endless litany of complaints and criticisms, from my haircut to her nasal polyps. And yet…the last time I saw her, after one of these lunches, I walked to my car and looked up at her apartment. And there she was, waving to me, a big arm-swinging wave to make sure I could see her. She was smiling, which was rare. I waved back, bemused.

Why couldn’t Nina be nice to me? Why had she been so miserable all morning, only to wave and smile now? Would she call me later and rail at me for being a thief of my father’s affection?

She died a few days later, a massive stroke that dropped her where she stood…a good and merciful way to go. I was glad she was with my dad and Pop-Pop, but I can’t say I grieved her loss. My duty to her was over, and I had been a good granddaughter.

Genevieve is a more complicated and impressive person than my grandmother, but maybe they share some traits, too. The inability to say “I’m sorry.” The dashed expectations of how their lives were supposed to be. Having to deal with an unwanted child. Genevieve shows up and does her best, and as she looks at her long life and meets her great-granddaughter for the first time, she finds herself dealing with an unfamiliar emotion: regret. But maybe this summer, she’ll get a chance to do better.

I hope you’ll love LIFE AND OTHER CONVENIENCES! Don’t forget: preorder, and proceeds benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital. 

I’ll be swinging through the country on book tour and would love to see you! My tour dates are here.


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