Column: Why They Call It Grand

A new grandmother asks: What makes grandparents great?
Jo Mathis and her granddaughter

Jo Mathis and her granddaughter, Anna Christine.

No matter how you prepare for life’s big events, you never know how you’ll feel til you’re in the moment, often seeped in disbelief that the anticipated is actually happening.

And so it was when my first child was about to give birth to her first child. As Christie rested between contractions, her doctor looked up at me with a smile and asked: “Are you a first-time grandparent?”

What tipped her off? The fact that I was standing behind Christie’s head with a camera, sobbing?

Moments later – at 10 p.m. on 5-5-10 – a gooey little alienesque creature burst onto the scene amidst our cheers, tears, and one big sigh of relief from her mother.

People had told me that grandparenting is indescribably delicious, and now I know for myself why they call it grand.

While searching for tips on how to be a superior grandparent, I came across a book titled “Totally Cool Grandparenting: A Practical Handbook of Tips, Hints, & Activities for the Modern Grandparent.”

I’m not interested in “cool.” Let her aunts and uncles corner the hip factor. I want to be wise and loving and warm and available.

Though Anna Christine is still a pound smaller than my four babies were at birth, I picture us sipping tea in floppy hats, visiting the library, reading “Charlotte’s Web.” I’m digging out the kids’ activity books I was too busy to finish as a mother, and filling a shelf with a few select toys and books snagged at Saturday morning garage sales.

And because I’m eager for tips, I’m asking anyone willing to talk: What did you love most about your grandparents?

My daughter Lexie’s Texan boyfriend visited for a week recently. One night, he called his grandmother.

“Can I speak to the best grandmother in the whole world?” he asked.

“Well,” she said in her soft southern drawl. “Ah’m the only one heah!”

I later asked Sean what made her so wonderful.

“She loves me unconditionally, and always lets me know how special and unique I am,” he said. “Yet, she also expects a lot from me, and gently challenges me. She always reminded me to stand up straight, to open the door for her, to be polite when I meet people. I can’t remember her ever reprimanding me or getting upset with me, but with her amiable attitude, I never wanted to send anything but love and respect in her direction.”

A boy and his grandmother

Sean and his grandmother, circa 1992.

He said she’s playful, creative and positive, and always had fun right along with the grandkids, whether it was building a fort, flying a kite, or getting out the Lincoln Logs.

And it wasn’t just quality time. It was a quantity of time.

“She was present at every single sports game, every play, every awards banquet, and every graduation throughout my entire life,” he said. “She would drive half an hour to my town to pick me up to spend the night at her house, and in the summer, she would drive me all the way to Houston or Galveston to go the Museum of Natural History, the Imax, movies, amusement parks, the circus.”

“And she’s prayed for me every day since I was born.”

At that point, I realized Sean wasn’t kidding when he asked to speak to the best grandmother in the world.

I know a grandfather who has a slumber party for his grandkids every Friday night. It’s a win-win-win. The kids’ parents get a night to themselves, which presumably helps keep their marriage strong. And the first and third generations bond over food, games, stories and wasting time together.

The best babysitters are the baby’s grandparents, said humorist Dave Barry, who added: “You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to them for long periods, which is why most grandparents flee to Florida.”

Luckily Dave Barry already lives in Florida. Because if he ever becomes a grandpa, I have a hunch he’ll be staying put. And I have a feeling some grandparents come to realize that sunny weather is good. But a grandchild on the lap is better.

An older relative said she wouldn’t bring a child into this crazy world. People were saying that when I had kids, and my mother heard the same thing 50 years ago. When was the world not crazy? Was there ever a perfect time to have a baby?

It’s been said that life is like licking honey off a thorn. Every day, we face a mixed bag, and every day, we can help lighten the next guy’s load. And if we can help our own children so that they can enjoy parenting even more, well, why wouldn’t we?

Among primates, only humans provide for their young after weaning, writes Melvin Konner in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “We should think of the natural human adaptation for child-rearing,” he writes, “as one in which mothers are central but have large amounts of support.”

And all the grandparents, in all their collective wisdom, shouted: Amen!

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer.

Section: Entertainment, Opinion

The following terms describe the content of this article. Click on a term to see all articles described with that term: ,


  1. May 23, 2010 at 2:11 am | permalink

    A gorgeous baby, a beautiful story. Children are our greatest legacy and provide us with hope for the future. Your Lexie’s Sean has a wise understanding of the important role grandparents play in our lives. Thank you, Jo, for sharing your family’s joy with all of us. Welcome to the world, sweet Anna Christine!

  2. By jo mathis
    May 23, 2010 at 7:16 am | permalink

    Thanks, Lucy Ann. Rumor has it you’re in contention for World’s Greatest Auntie. So you know the joy of welcoming a newbie to the clan.

  3. By Rina Miller
    May 23, 2010 at 7:47 am | permalink

    You’re already in the running for best grandmother in the world, Jo — and the most youthful!
    Many congratulations to you and your family.

  4. By jo mathis
    May 23, 2010 at 10:36 am | permalink

    Thank you, Rina, Ms. Melodious Voice of Michigan Radio.

  5. May 23, 2010 at 11:02 am | permalink

    Congratulations, Jo, and a warm welcome to your precious Anna Christine! As grandma to six and another on the way, I can attest to the fact that each new one is a blessing beyond words! They are why I (with the help of my co-authors – our daughter-in-law, daughter, and input from 350 families worldwide who shared their best ideas) wrote another new edition of Grandloving: Making Memories with Your Grandchildren – now in it’s 5th edition!

    It sounds like you are going to be a wonderfully involved grandmother, and I’d love to send you a review copy of Grandloving as a welcome to the fabulous world of grandparenting. I’m sure you’ll find many great ideas and fun things to do with Anna. We love sharing the joy of Grandloving and please congratulate your Christie!
    Happy Grandloving – Sue

  6. May 23, 2010 at 11:40 am | permalink

    Oh, Jo~
    I have missed your regular articles so much and now you have a baby Anna granddaughter. I have an Anna Grace daughter and can tell you are off to a magnificent grandparenting journey. I adore what you wrote about. I loved every word of this article and and I am filled with sighs and smiles and sprinkled with a few tears.
    Love to all of you~ one of my all time favorite families.

    Susan Jones

  7. May 23, 2010 at 9:50 pm | permalink

    Congratulations, what I lovely photo…I can’t wait. It is so nice to read your again. You were my fav A2News journalist.

  8. By Siri Gottlieb
    May 23, 2010 at 11:23 pm | permalink

    So happy for you, Jo! It’s indescribable. She’s darling! May her life be all honey and no thorns. xo Siri

  9. By jo mathis
    May 24, 2010 at 6:43 am | permalink

    Thanks, everyone, for those lovely thoughts. “Grandloving.” Sue, the word itself makes me smile. Where is it available?

  10. By Marsha Petter
    May 24, 2010 at 10:22 am | permalink

    Hi, Jo,
    Many congratulations on being a grandparent. A lovely article, but also, what a tribute to my mother! It was great meeting you, Lexie and the family!

    Marsha Petter, Sean’s mom

  11. By Mary Ann Lyons, Ph.D.
    May 26, 2010 at 7:57 am | permalink

    Awesome grandmothers were awesome mothers.
    Here’s to you, your mother, your daughters and to Anna Christine. As your true and original sandbox buddy, I can assure Anna that she will have non-stop fun and a life-long friendship with you. I will scoot over and she’s welcome to join us, but I will not relinquish my seat next to you in the sand! Hope you’ve got a great swingset ready for her….. we solved all of the world’s problems before the age of four together on those swings!
    All my love always, Mary Ann