Once upon a time Carol Matthews had a busy life as Dean of Human Services and Community Education at Malaspina University-College. After taking early retirement, she continued to work as a consultant with a variety of non-profit organizations and as a director on several community boards.
"I loved my work at Malaspina," she says, "but I needed time to devote to my family and my writing."
Carol has published extensively, with articles in academic journals, magazines, and newspapers, as well as short stories in a variety of Canadian literary magazines. For years, Carol has contributed a regular column to a national journal, Relational Child and Youth Care Practice. In spring 2006, the journal's editor, Dr. Gerry Fewster, suggested the columns could be pulled together and published as a book, to make "these wonderful anecdotes and insights available to a much wider audience."
"It hadn't occurred to me when I started writing the column that it was the beginning of a book," said Carol at the launch of The First Three Years in Nanaimo. "It's certainly a painless way to create a book, writing a column and then collecting the pieces."
"I'd been writing short fiction for a number of years," she says, "but I really didn't see a book in my future."
Carol's quarterly columns, however, found an enthusiastic audience from the beginning. In the book's introduction, Fewster praises Carol's "richly seasoned educated eye" and her ability to "look out on a fractured world with critical concern, heartfelt caring and unconditional compassion."
Carol's column is based on one of those life-altering events - the birth of her granddaughter, Charlotte Taylor. In writing the columns, Carol documented her experiences as a first-time grandmother, watching the development of this new person in her life. Becoming a grandmother, she wrote, brought her "to feel the connectedness of the generations, that enormous love and acknowledgement."
She notes that, lately, grandmotherly connections are felt and shown around the world. "Groups like the Nanaimo Grannies, who raise funds for the work of Stephen Lewis in Africa, base their charity work on the connections and sympathy they feel for grandmothers in other parts of our world, grandmothers who often are the primary caregivers for children who just don't have parents to shelter them, feed them, raise them."
Carol has donated money from sales of her book to the Nanaimo Grannies, and to KIDS (Kids International Development Society), an organization of just two Nanaimo people, Adrianne Dartnall and Rick Lennert, who take their four hands to Thailand and Cambodia to build shelters for grandmothers raising children.
At book launches in Nanaimo, Duncan, Victoria, Vancouver and as far afield as Toronto, Carol has reflected on the role of a grandmother. At each of the readings, discussions have been lively and provocative, not only for seniors but for younger generations as well. Grandparenting is a topic that seems to invite searching questions and illuminating responses.
The Toronto event at Ryerson University brought together a mixed audience: students, grandparents and interested readers of various ages.
"It's not just the grandparent's life that is so transformed," said a younger woman, "I remember what a suddenly different picture I had of my parents when I saw how they were with my daughter. I saw them as people who were ready to get right down on their hands and knees and play face-to-face with the baby in a way that I couldn't have imagined. I'd never seen them like that before."
The First Three Years reveals how much learning takes place in becoming a grandparent. As Carol writes, "I don't yet know where this journey will take me, but I've learned from Charlotte that it's going to be two-way traffic all the way."
The First Three Years is available in bookstores around Vancouver Island.
Mike Matthews is a grandfather who lives on Protection Island, near Nanaimo. He has written articles and essays for The Globe and Mail, Nuvo, and Humanist Perspectives.
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