Opinion: Amid turmoil, take heart in life’s important gifts
This has become too rare, I suddenly realized — this unscheduled gift of a moment.
I was sitting on the small sofa in our front room, watching our 3-year-old granddaughter Carolyn as she arranged a family of toy mice on top of the trunk that doubles as a coffee table. She was softly singing a made-up song, seemingly oblivious to me until I heard the ending: “…and Grandma is right there, watching me.”
She looked up at me and smiled. “I see you,” I said.
Her soft mention reminded me of what her mother, Liz, had once yelled during a family gathering when she was 5 years old. “When I say, ‘Please pass the grandmother,’ it means I want some attention.”
I didn’t know Liz back then. I didn’t even meet her until the year before I married her father, when she was still a teenager. Nevertheless, I know many of her and her sister’s funny quotes from childhood because, for more than a dozen years of his single parenthood, Sherrod wrote down their exchanges in his “Funny Book.” By the time I met him, the “Funny Book” had become a cherished family heirloom. He hand-copied every page, twice, so that he could give each daughter a copy on her wedding day.
Early in my columnist career — 16 years ago, to be precise — I wrote about Sherrod’s “Funny Book,” in the hope that it would inspire others to start their own books for the children in their lives. Back then, I used to share personal stories fairly frequently, on the advice of my editor, Stuart Warner. Revealing the less political parts of me, he argued, might close the distance with more conservative readers who thought we had nothing in common.
Maybe they hated my views on abortion, for example, but could appreciate stories from my life as a single mom. The same people outraged about my long support for same-sex marriage might see themselves in my love for Springsteen and Motown, my faith in the comforts of a denim jacket and my over-the-top affection for my dog. Some of my favorite reader letters begin with, “I hate your politics, but…”
In the last three years or so, I’ve lost touch with that part of myself as a columnist. Our country is in crisis, and sides are bitterly drawn. After Donald Trump was elected, I started thinking that virtually every column I write must deal with Very. Serious. Things.
Well, what could be more serious than the state of our hearts?
When our first grandchild started talking, I bought a leather-bound notebook. The “Grandparents’ Funny Book,” we call it, and it is slowly filling with stories of our seven grandchildren’s lives.
Page 14: “Grandma,” 3-year-old Jackie said as I was cooking at the stove, “sometimes I say #*@^ and I’m not supposed to.”
Fortunately, I’d had prior warning of this new habit. “Well,” I said, “sometimes I say #*@^, too, and I’m not supposed to. How about we both agree to stop saying it? Deal?”
Page 5: In the summer of 2012, Sherrod was walking 4-year-old Clayton into preschool.
Clayton: “Grandpa, wanna know a secret?”
Sherrod: “Sure, buddy.”
Clayton: “I go a lot faster if you stop saying, ‘Go faster.'”
Page 21, thanks to a Facebook post from son-in-law Matt: “Lately, Leo has been waking up in the morning and joyously screaming: ‘It’s the next day! Look, the sun is out! It’s the next day!'”
Reading these pages full of our grandchildren’s words slows my pulse and reminds me why I’m still in the fight. It sounds cliche to say you want to have the right answer when your grandchildren one day ask what you did during this time in our country — until you imagine being on the receiving end of that question. It turns out that the mother who never wanted to let her children down is now the grandmother who hopes to make their children proud.
As I am writing this, I am on a flight to visit my 3-year-old grandson Milo and his younger sister, Ela. My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow, and this trip is a surprise, thanks to her husband. I used to think no one could love my Cait enough, until I met Alex.
Milo and I have big plans. We discussed over FaceTime last week what we would bake for his mother’s birthday. “Mommy wants a cake and cupcakes,” he assured me. “She needs both.”
Well then, that is what we shall make, and I will make note of his instructions in our “Grandparents’ Funny Book.” Years from now, I want Milo to know that, in this time of great turmoil in our country, Grandma Connie was hanging on his every word.
— Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with Creators Syndicate.