A Book Review of Ten Beautiful Things
Grandparents raising grandchildren is not a new concept. Grandparents have been standing in for parents for centuries. However, the number of grandfamilies has doubled since 1970. An estimated 2.7 million grandparents in the United States are raising their grandchildren. There are many factors that create a situation where the parents are absent. These include alcohol or drug addiction, incarceration, death, mental illness, abuse and/or neglect, teen pregnancy, developmental disability or military deployment. The most common of these factors is addiction, which can lead to many of the other factors above. The opioid epidemic has certainly increased these numbers in recent years.
One thing that all of these families have in common is grief and loss. The child is dealing with grief related to the loss of their parent and the grandparents are dealing with grief related to their child. The feelings are often intense on both sides of this relationship. This situation presents a host of other big emotions for the child and the grandparent. Especially challenging for the grandparents is that they have to witness and address the day to day pain of the child(ren), while at the same time dealing with their own feelings. Sadness, anger, worry and uncertainty, are common on both ends. However, there are many challenges specific to the grandparents.
This is not what grandparents expected to do with their lives at this stage. The plans they may have had are often upended with this huge responsibility, which is another source of grief. Grandparents lose their "grandparent role" of being in the position to provide treats and fun excursions, when instead they are responsible for discipline, education, and constant caretaking. Due to the resistance in switching roles, as well as pitying the child for the pain they have endured, many grandparents stuggle to provide appropriate discipline. Guilt for possibly being the cause of their own children's problems can also be a factor. The kids are not happy with the change in the grandparent's role either. Therefore, they often push back on the discipline and yearn for their prior relationship with their grandparent.
Due to their age, grandparents often have lower energy levels, health issues and limited retirement income. They may have to navigate child welfare systems, educational systems and legal issues. Grandparents often experience loneliness and isolation as their peers are no longer interested in activities with children. And, they don't fit in with other parents who are much younger than themselves. Resources are available for grandfamilies, however, they are difficult to navigate. Often they have to jump through many hoops to access minimal resources.
All of this being said though, grandfamilies are a gift. It usually is the best option for a child who can no longer live with their parents. It can keep the child out of foster care, and with family whom they already have a relationship. Grandparents provide much stability, consistency and unconditional love which is what children need most when in this situation. Also, despite the heartaches, children provide grandparents with much joy.
In its own subtle way, Ten Beautiful Things, captures much of the joy and heartache I have mentioned above. Gram and Lily embark on an adventure of the unknown. They are headed on a long drive to Gram's house, which is going to be Lily's new home. The reason for this move is not stated, however, the tone of the story shows the reader that this move is riddled with big feelings. They drive off in the dark with her things piled high on the car. To me, this represents the permanency of the move, along with the emotional baggage that she is taking with her. Leaving in the dark implies the urgency in which they had to leave and possibly the fear attached to it.
Gram tries to distract Lily from the pain by encouraging her to find ten beautiful things on their route. Lily doubted that she could find anything beautiful, which points to the hopelessness in the beginning of the story. However, looking for ten beautiful things was brilliant, as grandparents often are. It served as a Mindfulness activity. Mindfulness is a meditation exercise in which one focuses on being intensely aware of what is in their surroundings in the moment, whether it be sights, smells, sounds, tastes or touch. It can help calm emotions and regulate the body. This activity was an excellent coping strategy for both of them to address their sadness, grief, and fear of the unknown.
The author, Molly Beth Griffin, did a great job with descriptions to help the reader identify with, understand and experience what Lily was feeling. Sadness was evident throughout the story and much emptiness was described with Lily trying to fill the "hollow spaces" inside of her. The following passage describes a mix of intense feelings that you can't really put your finger on, but ones in which all of us can certainly relate.
"Lily felt the complaints starting in her belly again,
coming up her throat and nearly out of her mouth."
The story culminated in a storm which reflected the current state of Lily and Gram's lives. However, Lily felt much comfort and safety inside the car with Gram, even if their lives outside of that relationship were stormy. Gram was nurturing and thoughtful and not minimizing of Lily's feelings. In the hug, you could feel their mutual pain, as well as their love. This line towards the end of the story told us all we need to know about their lives ahead.
"None of this was easy, Maybe it would never be easy.
But she belonged with Gram now. She belonged here now."
This was an acknowledgement that their situation was not easy and there was no easy fix. However, Lily and Gram had each other and they were going to figure out how to move forward together. This was a realistic and hopeful tone in which to leave the reader.
The illustrator, Maribel Lechuga, expresses the mood of the story well, through color variations and facial expressions, Beautiful, detailed landscapes throughout the book take the reader on a mindfulness journey, along with Lily and Gram.
I highly recommend this book to be read by grandchildren, along with their caregiving grandparents. It is also relevant to those in kinship care, with another relative. Many will relate to the joy, pain and uncertainty in this situation. I have provided an activity below to further explore this topic.
To purchase this book or check out other books by this author, click HERE.
An activity idea for Ten Beautiful Things
OUR JOURNEY TOGETHER
This activity can help grandparent and granchild connect on feelings they have in common. It will help them better understand each other and feel that they are not alone with their feelingsl.
-Car coloring page
-Crayons and/or markers
-Black construction paper; other colors
-Larger piece of cardboard or cardstock
-2 paper fasteners
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