Do you have a must-read journalist or columnist?

I discovered mine in the pages of The New York Times. She specializes in some of my favorite subjects: the new old age, grandparenting and memoir. Her name is Paula Span. Her writing combines clarity, elegance and empathy. I love that she tells her own story as she investigates the stories of others.

I found Paula the way I have found many wisdom figures — by searching online — after our third grandchild Lydia was born in 2017, and after we moved to Pittsburgh for a year to help with her care. Grandparenting then became a subject that mattered even more to me.  I was surprised at how little information I found from my first forays, but I did find one Times column I haven’t forgotten: “Where Are All the Grandparenting Books?” Then I began following the author Paula on Twitter. I was delighted when she followed me back!

Every column Paula writes about grandparenting contributes to a new wave of interest in the subject. Like other journalists of a certain age, (Leslie Stahl and Anna Quindlin), Paula herself has written a memoir of grandmothering, one sure to delight. The Bubbe Diaries is an Audible original, free to all subscribers of Audible.

Bubbe, of course, is the Yiddish name for grandmother. Paula picked the name because to her it conjured up “a short, mouthy woman with grey curls. And that’s exactly what I am.”

Here is new Bubbe Paula with her granddaughter, Bartola (an affectionate nickname used to protect the baby’s privacy).

"Bubbe" Paula Span with new-born Bartola.

“Bubbe” Paula Span with new-born Bartola.

The Bubbe Diaries follows Paula and her family from the announcement of daughter Emma’s pregnancy until Bartola is “three and three quarters.” She is now “five and a half,” and don’t forget to add the half!

Playing with Bartola during the pandemic.

Playing with Bartola during the pandemic.

Last week I had the pleasure and honor to interview Paula about the changing roles of grandparents, the impact of Covid on all the generations, the fascinating backstory for her audio book, and advice she has for parents and grandparents. The 30-minute interview, below, covers all these subjects and introduces you to an extraordinary woman, a very active grandmother, and a reporter you too will want to follow. If you aren’t a current subscriber to The New York Times, never fear. They have an enticing entry-level subscription rate.

If you could ask Paula any question about grandparenting, what would you choose? Who are your must-read columnists? Where do you go to find good grandparenting information?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Melodie M Davis on February 15, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    Around here, many of my grandmothering cohorts are called Mawmaw or Memaw. I have not gone that direction and settle for Grandma Davis (so the littles can keep the grandmas straight. 🙂 I’m anxious to read more about Paula Span, thanks for the Interview, I’ve watched part and will take in more!

    • Shirley Showalter on February 15, 2022 at 9:21 pm

      I know you will enjoy watching all of Paula’s interview, Melodie, and if you want to see all her articles in one place, just click on the links in the first paragraph. I wonder if Mawmaw and Memaw are Southern nicknames for Grandma? I don’t remember hearing those when I was growing up. I had a Grandma Hershey and a Grandma Hess (like you), but now I am Grandma Shirley to distinguish me from Grandma Nancy. Lydia calls me Grandma Shirley too, even though she can her other grandma is Grammie.

      • Shirley Showalter on February 16, 2022 at 9:31 am

        From Melodie: Hmm, left a comment last evening but maybe didn’t save it properly. At any rate, around here many use mawmaw or mimi or memaw, but I’ve stuck with a more traditional Grandma Davis to help the little ones keep their various Grandma’s straight. 🙂 I like her definition of a bubbe. 🙂 and hope to watch more of her interview.

        • Shirley Showalter on February 16, 2022 at 9:32 am

          Thanks, Melodie. My website is going through a transition and there have been a few glitches. I had to post this blog twice. But I have both your notes. Thank you! I love Paula’s self-description too.

  2. Shirley Showalter on February 15, 2022 at 9:26 pm

    Elfrieda Schroeder: I have one book about grandparenting written by Elsie Rempel. It is called “The Art of Spiritual Grandparenting. Are you familiar with it? Paula said she wasn’t interested in the religious aspect of grandparenting. For me that is an unspoken but firm foundation that guides everything I do with and for my grandchildren. I had only one grandmother in my life (due to the revolution in Russia that killed them all). She spoke only about religious stuff and frankly we were turned off by that (even though we loved her in spite of it). I don’t talk about “religion” much, but I try to live it and I think Paula probably does too. Thank you for this interesting exchange, Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 15, 2022 at 9:27 pm

      I think I do have that book, Elfrieda. Or at least I have seen it. Your comment reminds me of the differing ways people experience religion, depending, in part, on their own experiences and also on the way someone presents her ideas. Your grandmother used a lot of religious language, which did not attract you, but she must have found other ways also to show her love for you, which did attract you. I know by reading your blog that you have found your own middle way, which is to share in words what is meaningful to you about your faith, but to rely most of all on your presence and your actions to convey the depth of love that is eternal. I think the best grandparents always do that. When we live out the golden rule and when we are kind, we are inevitably sharing our deepest spiritual values.

  3. Shirley Showalter on February 15, 2022 at 9:28 pm

    From Emily Morgan:Loved hearing from Paula! She was a guest on my podcast, and I found her such an open and kind person. Glad you were able to give her the space to share. She is such a great spokesperson for grandparents.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 15, 2022 at 9:28 pm

      Emily, good to see you here! Your comment allows me to share two links. The first is a link to an article Paula wrote for the Times in which you are quoted: and the next is from Paula’s website which includes an article you wrote for Grand magazine about Paula and also a link the the podcast episode. I hope readers here take the time to check out both! They are excellent.

  4. Marian Beaman on February 20, 2022 at 2:46 pm

    My granny name is Nana, a name I love hearing my grandchildren call me. But after I dubbed myself this name, I heard “Gramsy” and “Mimi,” names I think sound more glamorous. Nevertheless, Nana I shall remain to these four dears; it will always be music to my ears.

    Twice a week, I walk in the neighborhood with a Bubbe named Barbara. I wonder if she knows Bubbe could be her Yiddish name.

    • Shirley on February 20, 2022 at 9:18 pm

      Naming is a big deal to today’s grandparents, and we now hear names we could not have imagined years ago. In Paula’s case, she considers “bubbe” a retro name. I’m “grandma” which is pretty retro too. But You are a cool “nana.” And we all know that the name doesn’t matter as much as the sweet voice itself calling to us.

Leave a Comment