Country roads, take me home!

shenandoahMcIrish and I went away for the weekend. It was his birthday (happy birthday, honey!), and I had a lovely reader event in Maryland at the warm and beautiful Inn Boonsboro, so I figured, hey! Let’s make this into a road trip! We love our national parks, and we’d never been to Shenandoah, so off we went.

But this little story isn’t about the wonderful weekend we had. It’s about the 12 hours in the car and the seven states we drove through: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. 563 miles in a day. My car, which I named Derek Jeter, since we got it the day of Derek’s last home game (and because I like to say the words Derek Jeter as often as possible), is quite comfy, so there was that. We had podcasts booted up. We were ready. We were determined to see a bear; Shenandoah and the area is famous for them, but we had seen only two squirrels in the park as far as wildlife was concerned.

streamThe hotel where we stayed was in the Middle of Nowhere. Seriously. Country roads, take me home…yes. Winding roads through forests and farmland and forests and, er, farmland. The occasional house. Beautiful black Angus cattle. No bears. Hours till we reached a major highway. I was in heaven.

We found it rather hilarious that the speed limit was 55 on roads that were gravel and about as wide as our driveway. Because I still get carsick, I had to drive. It was rainy and cool, and the drive was placid and pretty. We stopped along a river so McIrish could pick up a rock or two, his hobby. I got three mosquito bites, as is my way.

After a couple of hours, we hit a freeway, and by then, I was getting hungry. I hadn’t eaten what I consider Southern food yet, so I was determined to find something I couldn’t get in shaffersNew England. Ah ha! We saw a sign for this little charmer—a former gas station turned restaurant. Lots of trucks in the parking lot, clusters of workmen in overalls and Carhartt, so we knew it would be good. And it was! I had fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and brussels sprouts in some kind of thick white liquid that I believe Southerners call gravy. In New England, gravy is brown. It was delicious! The manager was so nice and even came into the parking lot to wish us safe travels. Our accents and fascination with their hominy selection marked us as Yankees, I think.

mennonitesIt’s our habit to raise our feet across every state line, for luck. We did this religiously. I texted our kids funny pictures, and McIrish and I talked about how great both kids are. talked about where to stop next. At some point in the afternoon, we pulled off to check out a shearling shop, but left after seeing too many much fur. We went to a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty shop and learned about hex signs but didn’t buy any (this time).

We happened upon a fabulous antique store staffed by extraordinarily friendly cats. Seriously. There was no human, and I was just starting to wonder if the shop operated on the honor system when a very nice lady pulled up. She had been at the market and apologized, but we said we’d been loving up the cats and didn’t mind a bit. Her store was a wonder…clean and organized and full of amazing treasures. I bought a turquoise ceramic fish and three antique Santas for my collection. We wanted to take a cat, but the shopkeeper was rather attached to them.

Another state later, and we stopped for dinner at a diner we’d seen taking the Princess to college. I had pancakes and they were delicious. McIrish had spaghetti and meatballs, which were mediocre. The poor lad is spoiled, since I make killer spaghetti sauce.

foliage in the rainFinally, we crossed into Connecticut. An hour and a half later, we were on our street, where we saw a deer and a fox—more wildlife than we’d seen in the past four days. We laughed, greeted our dogs and cat, tossed some laundry in and had a drink of water, then went to bed. Good old Huggy Pillow was happy to see me, and vice versa.

Home sweet home. Good doggies. Beautiful foliage. A cozy, chilly rainy day for writing.

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Little Friend

LF 2When I was a wee little kid, I made an imaginary friend for myself and my sister. Little Friend.  Make your index and middle fingers walk on the arm of your chair. Voila. You have met Little Friend.

Little Friend was used mostly to amuse my sister. He—I don’t know why, but Little Friend was always clearly male—would sit on the bridge of my sister’s nose. She would give him elevator rides on the palm of her hand. When she got bored in the car, Little Friend would “run” alongside the car—my skinny white arm extended, index and middle fingers running in the air. Little Friend had to leap over the driveways of the houses we drove past, since he was unable to walk on asphalt. Grass only, that was Little Friend.

Little Friend was also a champion blackmailer. If Hilary didn’t want to play with Little Friend anymore, he would start to curl up and die. If he made it into fist formation, it was lights out for Little Friend. My sister would have to kiss him, or death would ensue. Sometimes she left it to the last minute, and Little Friend might not respond immediately. “You shouldn’t have taken so long,” I’d say. “I’m not sure he made it.”

Inevitably, however, her pleas and love would rouse Little Friend, and they would play again.

IMG_2291When I moved into my house years and years ago, my sister gave me a little metal statue. “This is how I imagined Little Friend would be,” she said. He sits on my bathroom shelf.

Today, when McIrish and I were driving back from New York, Little Friend again began running alongside the car, vaulting effortlessly over the driveways and exit ramps. It was wicked fun. I’m happy to say Little Friend hasn’t lost his touch.

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Book recommendations

 

I’ve been reading a lot this summer, and I thought my recommendations with you…

baby teethBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage. Gah! It’s terrifying in the most wonderful, creepy, believable way! Hanna is a seven-year-old girl who chooses not to speak. Her mother, Suzette, senses something is off about her daughter’s selective mutism…and her daughter’s obsessive love for her father. Suzette loves her kid, even when she fears her. Is the story over the top? Sure! Give me an evil child story any day for escapist chills and thrills. (Waves to Damien, who still terrifies me.

Pretty Revenge by Emily Liebert. Two female anti-heroines struggling to shed their pasts, seek revenge and recreate themselves against the backdrop of the obnoxiously rich of New York. Juicy and delicious fun. You really don’t know which woman to pull for, since no character is just one thing.

we were the lucky onesWe Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. An amazing, heart-pounding story of a Jewish family’s struggles to survive in Poland during World War II. Two parents, five grown children, their spouses and babies…the odds are not in their favor. I read it on one day.

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella. Everything you love about Sophie Kinsella—the insecure heroine struggling to be heard over the din created by her self-centered siblings, a lovely hero, hilarious shenanigans in the family-run kitchen goods store. It was like visiting with an old friend.

 

meg & joMeg & Jo by Virginia Kantra. Only VK could pull this book off. An homage to Little Women, but told in present day with beautiful characterization and fluid, graceful writing, Meg & Jo filled me with happiness and did something not even the original didn’t do: deliver an ending that made me believe every character was living her best life.

Happy reading, guys!

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Tales from book tour

readers!I just finished up the tour for LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES and thought I’d tell you a little bit about it.

First of all, if you came to see me, thank you! Thank you so much! What an honor and thrill it is that you spent your time listening to me and getting a book. I never, ever take that for granted, and I so appreciate you! Truly. Thank you. I’ll stop now (but thank you!).

yoga roomO’Hare is one of my favorite airports. I wandered around, wondering if I wanted to eat something, and saw a sign for a yoga room. A yoga room? Obviously, I had to investigate, and there it was, a tiny little room with a mirror (no need, O’Hare, okay? We all know how flexible we are or aren’t). I went in, since I had time to spare, parked, my bags, turned off my phone and did a little stretching. Next to me was a young man who had to be part snake, because he was doing all sorts of joint-defying poses. Me, I excel at corpse pose. Still, it was nice to do something different.

stripesPart of LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES is set in Downers Grove, Illinois, because I fell in love with that town in tours past. It was so nice to be back! Snug houses, lots of little bungalows like the type Pop owns in the book. The town is the type of place that seems to welcome people from all walks. Kansas City seems like a lovely place to live. Good trick-or-treating neighborhoods, pretty gardens, lots of barbeque. Michigan looks a lot like Connecticut, strangely…pastoral and calm, at least in the parts I saw. Houston was so humid my glasses steamed up, but the food was amazing, and I got to see my friend Heidi (this book is dedicated to her!) and her lovely daughter, Dylan. As you can see, we all wore stripes that day!

skyOn airplanes, I always look around before sitting and see where the kids are, in case we go down. This is so I can use my body as a human shield and save the little ones. I envision my funeral—it’s beautiful, FYI—and settle in to play solitaire or read before takeoff. I can’t sleep on planes. I might watch a movie or show on the free Wi-Fi. To wit, I’ve never had so much as mild turbulence, but on one recent flight, a bunch of alarms went off, causing me to text my husband with messages of love for him and the kids, as well as some heart and bunny emojis. The captain came on and apologized eventually; someone had hit the wrong button (so he said. I was still ready to save lives.)

talkI like to talk to people on airplanes and in airports, and always make friends with my driver. One young man who drove me from O’Hare to my hotel was shocked when I said I loved airports. “Me too!” he exclaimed. “I want to be a pilot someday!” People love to share their stories to an interested party, and I have a friendly face. It’s part of my job, listening to stories of people’s lives, jobs, marriages, losses. The act of talking to a stranger is becoming more rare, since we all have phones now. I did see a young man walk into a pillar because he was staring at his phone. It was deeply satisfying, I won’t lie. I did ask him if he was okay. I’m a mom, after all.

As I write this, snug in a blanket on my porch, since the weather had turned, book tour seems far off. It’s very quiet here, just the birds and the occasional plane overhead. I’m not wearing makeup, and I’m in my pajamas, my good doggy at my side, McIrish reading the Times. Book tour was fun and fantastic, but there really is no place like home.

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One sunny August afternoon…

IMG_2065

Two of these things are not like the others.

I was asked a question during this last book tour—where do I keep my awards? (I am a three-time winner of the RITA Award, twice for best contemporary, once for best mainstream fiction). I keep them on my bookshelf in my bedroom, alongside the flag that draped my grandfather’s casket…he was a World War II veteran—and McIrish’s Firefighter of the Year statue.

That’s the one I want to talk about today. Don’t get me wrong; I am very proud to have received my RITAs. But there are awards, and then there are awards.

declan

Dearest Son that day.

Once upon a time on a summer day sixteen years ago, I was driving my car, on the hunt for some corn from the local farm stand. Dearest Son, then four, was in his car seat, playing with his little firetruck, while my daughter swam with her cousins and auntie back at my house.

My son and I heard the fire alarm go off, and I said, “Maybe we’ll see Daddy in the firetruck!” It had happened before.

Then I saw the flames. Right there, right in front of us, a house was on fire—the garage side. I saw a man kicking in the front door and pulled over, snatched Dearest from the car seat and ran across the lawn. “Are there people in there?” I called. The man was a friend from around the corner named Tom. “Yes!” he said, and I started running toward the house to help.

Except I had a four-year-old in my arms, and we were close to the road, and I couldn’t leave him there alone. Another man, Ted, came out of the house with an old lady, and a second later, Tom emerged with her husband. “Are you okay?” I asked the lady, who was crying.

“My son is still inside,” she said. “In his bedroom.”

By now the fire had spread with amazing speed, and we could hear the roar and the flames were well past the roof. The sound of glass breaking was terrifying. I took the old lady’s hand. We could hear the sirens shrieking on the quiet August day. Then a fire engine pulled up, and McIrish was driving, dressed in full gear. “There’s someone in there!” I yelled, and he shrugged into his air tank, pulled the mask over his face and…and went inside, another firefighter on his heels. Inside what was now a raging, fully involved fire.

That saying that time stands still…it wasn’t exactly true. Time slowed to heartbeats. I could feel each pump of my heart as I kept my eyes fixed on that door.  Was my son about to watch his father die? Should we leave? Could I help? More fire trucks were on the scene, men swarming everywhere, axes in hand, hoses trained on the flames.

“Where’s my son?” the old lady cried.

“Don’t worry,” I said, not looking away from the door. “That’s my husband in there. He’ll save him.” She started to pray. Me, I couldn’t do anything except stare at that door and wait for my husband to come out.

Fires are alive. They are born, they grow, they consume, they die. This fire was so loud, so full of terrifying life, whining and roaring, popping and devouring. Dearest Son was quiet. “Daddy will be okay,” I said. I had never lied to my kids before. I hoped to God that afternoon wouldn’t be the first time.

IMG_2055Then McIrish and the other firefighter, John, came out, dragging an unconscious man. They passed him off to the other firefighters, grabbed a hose and went right back in. “He’s alive!” I said to the old lady. “Your son is alive!” We both started crying.

The fire was under control shortly after that, and my husband came back out, took off his helmet and mask, and looked over at our boy and me. He gave a little nod and smile, and I put my hand over my heart, overwhelmed. Then I set our son down and said, “Do you understand what you just saw, honey? Daddy saved a life. He saved that man’s life. Never forget that.”

IMG_2064“I never will, Mommy,” he said solemnly. He hasn’t.

A helicopter was landing in the field across the street to take the man to the hospital, and he did recover. The old couple went to stay with their other son, and no firefighters were hurt. It was a great day for the fire department, and a great day for our town. All the firefighters worked beautifully together; the good Samaritans got their rightful due as heroes, no one was badly hurt, a life was saved…it was a good call, as firefighters say in their modest way.

IMG_2060Our family and town celebrated McIrish and John, and at one event, our daughter, then seven, accepted an award on his behalf, since McIrish was at the fire academy. He got his statue later that year with a proclamation signed by the lieutenant governor.

But what I remember most was when our eyes met, after the man was saved, after the fire was out. That little nod that said, “Yes, IMG_2067I’m okay. I love you. I’m fine.” And my hand over my heart, telling him, “You are everything a man should be.”

So my statues, while I’m so proud of them…well. There are more important things in life. Fighting Nazis. Putting your life on the line for another. A little boy getting to watch his father be the hero he always knew his daddy was.

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Great Moments in Toddlerhood

They trick you with their cuteness.

They trick you with their cuteness.

Tess Finlay is possibly my favorite character in LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES. She’s three years old and a holy terror, and drawn on some of the wee little friends I’ve met in my life as a cousin, babysitter extraordinaire, mommy, auntie and, as my kids like to call me, Creepy Baby Lady (in that I must say hello to every baby I encounter and compliment the parents on said child’s beauty, charm and intelligence).

The power radiates off of this one.

The power radiates off of this one.

Tess…she would try the patience of a saint. Her poor dad tries so hard to do right by her, but he’s at the point where a call to an exorcist sounds like the most logical course of action. I had to dig deep into my repressed memories for some of her actions, and damn, I had a great time doing it. I asked friends and relatives. I asked folks on social media. Because of course my own children were angels (cough), I had nothing to draw on from personal experience (I’m lying, of course, but they might be reading).

And so, without further ado, I present to you Great Moments in Toddlerhood.

They wouldn't ever…nope! They did.

They wouldn’t ever…nope! They did.

The time my now-adult brothers-in-law hid in the closet with their cat and decided to cut off its tail (my mother-in-law found them before the amputation occurred, so settle down)…

The time my ward retreived his poop from the toilet and smeared it all over the walls as vengeance because I told him he had to wipe his own butt…

The summer when my exceedingly adorable cousin would lure unsuspecting adults to his side with his sweet smile and then say in one breath, “I-know-a-bad-word-shit.”…

They look safe when they're sleeping. Don't be fooled.

They look safe when their eyes are closed.         Don’t be fooled.

 

 

The time a ward climbed on the second story roof of the house during a game of hide-and-seek (he won, and I aged twenty years)…

The time a certain child I may or may not have birthed smooshed a chocolate muffin into the shape of feces and left it in a supermarket aisle “for the old ladies to find, Mommy!”…

Goodbye, sleep!

Goodbye, sleep!

The time a little girl rubbed superglue through her long, silky hair and then had a tantrum because she kept pulling her own hair as she tried to jerk her hands free…

The time a little girl was put in a grocery cart and then bellowed, “Mommy! You hurt my labia!” (so much for teaching them anatomy)…

The time the boys chased the cat with a stick, and then, when told not to chase the cat with the stick, chased it with a rake instead.

Ah, kids! They’re the best, aren’t they? And to all of you who are childless by choice, I hope you enjoyed this post most of all. And hey, if you had or have a toddler who matches Tess’s antics, I would LOVE to hear your stories.

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Luncheon at the estate

There’s a special house in LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES…Sheerwater, Genevieve London’s expansive, tasteful home in the fictional town of Stoningham, Connecticut. Twenty-some-odd rooms, ten acres, a solarium, a library, a private dock. You know, like my place (pause for laughter).

a maze

A maze for those days when there’s nothing to do.

I love houses. Going to open houses is one of my hobbies, in fact. Those tour of home fundraising events? I love them. I always have. So imagine my joy, my leaping heart when I went to an actual estate many years ago. I was dating a guy who knew the owners of this estate. I can’t remember how, but we were invited for lunch. I’m sure the place had a name, but I don’t remember it. But it was an estate. How cool! How Austenian! I planned to be a good voyeur and soak up every detail. What would we eat! Those tiny sandwiches, maybe, or a haunch of some kind? Would it be served? Would they have a butler? Would we retire to the library for brandy afterward?

What I imagined…

What I imagined…

Years of reading historical romance had prepared me to fully enjoy. Perhaps we’d take a turn about the drawing room, or meander through the maze (there was actually a maze!). A game of whist? Why not? I was ready. I’d been born ready.

We passed through a giant iron gate and wound up the driveway to a glorious home, all peaks and gables and slate and stone. Pemberley, I thought. Wuthering Heights. A delicious envy surged through me.

My would-be husband

My would-be husband

Yeah. Until we got inside, that was. Now, you know I like dogs, of course. More than most people, even. But being molested by a pack of Irish wolfhounds upon entering was not the impression I hoped to make. Once the beasts were called away, I noticed how dark it was. How cold. It was late fall or winter, and we could see our breath. And…er…it was filthy. Dank. Grimy.

I won't lie. It was creepy.

I won’t lie. It was creepy.

Perhaps there was a roaring fire somewhere. Or not. Not, as the case turned out. We met the other diners, and the host, who was as chilly as the house. I noticed a few things I hadn’t imagined in my musings—the dirty napkins, for example. The tarnished silverware. Pemberley was turning into Miss Havisham’s in front of my eyes.

Then came lunch itself as we made awkward small talk. Soup, the first course, in a giant tureen. Campbell’s Tomato Soup, to be precise, unmistakeable in its familiarity, now dotted with clots of dog fur, served at room temperature (cold, that is to say). Mmm.

Someday, Mr. Darcy. Someday.

Someday, Mr. Darcy. Someday.

And soup was all we got. Soup, and water. No cheese, no crackers, no dessert. We stayed a while longer, sitting on damp, lumpy pieces of furniture made in centuries past. At one point, our host left the room and never returned. My boyfriend and I finally figured out the afternoon was over. We found the exit, swiping cobwebs out of eyes, trying to contain our laughter and preserve our honor from the randy dogs.

 

 

seriouslyfinalcoverNow, Genevieve London would never let dog hair get in your soup, and she’d make sure you had a lovely cocktail or glass of wine. Nothing but the best for old Gigi. She might seem chilly herself, but her house is warm and welcoming. And like the estate where I regrettably had lunch, what you see is not always what you get. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Hope our paths cross while I’m book tour! My full schedule is under Appearances on my website. xox

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Mean girls

In LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, sixteen-year-old Riley abruptly finds herself outside of the circle of friends she’s had since third grade. Her mom, who was a teenager herself when she had Riley, is furious and heartbroken…and somewhat helpless. You can’t make someone love your kid, after all. You can’t be with them all the time, every moment.

lionWhich brings me to a story of a mean girl from my adolescent years. Patti…not her real name. Picture me—the thick glasses, bad perm, blueish-white skin. Picture Patti, tough as nails, fantastic athlete, hair always in a tight, long braid. I don’t know why she didn’t like me, but let’s just say she was a lion, and I was a baby impala with a limp. She prowled for me. She was the shark, and I was Roy Scheider, and I didn’t have a bigger boat.

Every lunch, she’d trip me if I went anywhere near her table. If I got an answer right in class, she’d snort in derision. She would shove me or knock into me at recess so often that I still have scars on my knees from falling on the blacktop.

sign of peaceWe went to the same church, her family and mine, and as is common practice, families sort of claimed their pews. We sat in the fourth pew, Patti’s family sat in the fifth. All throughout mass, I’d feel her eyes on me, and I dreaded the moment when I’d be forced to turn around, extend my hand and say, “Peace be with you.” “And also with you,” she’d say, and I’d pray (literally) that she meant it. She didn’t. The next day, I’d be tripped, mocked, “accidentally” shoved into the lockers. My books would be knocked from my arms.

bulliedI said nothing and told no one. We had no anti-bullying policies. No teacher intervened It was embarrassing. Middle school was bad enough. Being bullied was bad enough. I wasn’t going to be a tattle-tale on top of it. I just wanted to be invisible.

And then, one day in church, there in the birth and death announcements, was the news that Patti’s father had died. They weren’t in church that week. The next week, they were, and I screwed up my courage, turned around and looked Patti in the eye. “I’m sorry your father died,” I said. “Thanks,” she said.

She never bullied me again. We didn’t become friends, but the bullying ceased. What a hard year that must have been for Patti, her father dying of cancer. No twelve-year-old should have to endure that. She was wrong to pick on me, of course, and no twelve-year-old should have to be afraid in school, either. But if I’d known how sick her dad was, if I’d been able to picture how devastatingly tragic their home life was that year, maybe I wouldn’t have been so helpless.

seriouslyfinalcoverIn LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, Riley’s mom takes swift and decisive action to protect her kid. Riley eventually makes peace with the fact that her former friends are not the girls she once loved. In my life, I made peace with the fact that the girl who tormented me was in a lot more torment than I could imagine. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it taught me a lot. Should I have stuck up for myself? Absolutely. But you never know what someone else is going through.

Ten days till my book comes out, gang! Don’t forget (as if I’d let you) that preorders support St. Jude Children’s Hospital. You can order from any vendor via my website: www.kristanhiggins.com/life-and-other-inconveniences 

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Dorktastic

kittyI’m leaving tomorrow for the Romance Writers of America conference, and I’m feeling like the dorky sixth grader I used to be. My clothes are slightly better, and the haircut definitely is, but there’s something eternal about being that kid who never felt like she belonged a hundred percent. Even now, even when I’ll know literally hundreds of my peers and professional colleagues, I’m terrified I won’t have anyone to talk to.

 

 

that face you makeWhat is it about never feeling good enough? Birth order? Something from my youth? Strangers who dislike me on social media? Anne who used to beat me up every recess in sixth grade? I have no idea. I want to lean in, own my power (not sure what that really means), channel Serena Williams and all that good stuff, but there’s also a very strong argument to be made for staying in my room. Tragically, this Marriott doesn’t have room service, so I’ll be forced to come out.

I know I’m extraordinarily lucky in my career, and I’ve been blessed with the affection of many, for which I’m incredibly grateful. And yet, I can’t quite shake that dorky middle school version of myself, who loved horses and hated school dances, who gladly babysat on weekends so my calendar wasn’t empty. I kind of liked that kid when she was on her own. It was only in groups that I felt less than. I’d look at my own mother, so socially graceful, so fun,with awe and wonder. I would never be like that.

i know one personExcept I am, sort of. It took a lot of practice, and I’m still a work in progress, but I’ll be out there, meeting and hugging and encouraging. One thing I’ve learned in the writing world—there’s plenty of room for success. Cheering on other authors is absolutely my favorite thing to do at these conferences, whether I’m meeting the next big name or saying hello to one of my idols.

To my twelve-year-old self—hey, kid! You turned out okay. All those books you read…time well spent! Keep working hard. And listen It’s not a bad thing to remember those awkward, misfit feelings if they make you keep an eye out for people who might be feeling the same way.

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Crappy Grandmothers

seriouslyfinalcoverGenevieve 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. www.kristanhiggins.com/life-and-other-inconveniences 

I’ll be swinging through the country on book tour and would love to see you! My tour dates are here. https://www.kristanhiggins.com/appearances

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