“A Nana Asks for Advice,” column for Jan. 15, 2013


There I was, trying my best, and failing royally, to buckle my 2-year-old grandson into his car seat. “Is it me?” I wondered. “Or is it technology? When did car seats get so blasted hard?”

The answer? It’s both. Car seats, like most other baby equipment — with the possible exception of breasts — are infinitely more complicated than they were back in the day when I was filling my nest.

At the same time, I am infinitely dumber. I must be.

“No, Nana,” said my grandson, pointing with his tiny finger to the proper connection for the buckles, “dey go like dis.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

“Thanks, buddy,” I said. “I owe you. But don’t tell your dad. He worries enough as it is.”

And it’s not just car seats.

Today, for example. I drove my daughter-in-law, who is recovering from a Caesarean section, to run some errands, along with the Buckle Wizard and his 2-week-old brother.

At one stop, they all waited in the car while I ran into a store to check on something. And when I came out, they watched, laughing hysterically, while I tried to get in the wrong car.

That in itself is nothing new. Cars all look the same to me. I’ve often tried with surprising success to get into the wrong one.

The difference? In the past, at least, I had the sense to avoid doing it in front of witnesses.

Sometimes I think I’ve spent my whole life reinventing the wheel — trying to learn by trial and error things that others already know and might be willing to teach me if only I were smart enough to ask.

Every new stage of life brings a new set of challenges. Friends and family and even strangers offer advice with the best of intentions. There are some skills we have to learn on our own. You can’t “tell” a toddler how to walk, or a teenager how to drive or a new mother how to comfort her wailing infant. One size doesn’t always fit all.

That said, however, there are a whole lot of things — enough to fill several books — that I wish someone had told me before I took years off my life trying to figure them out for myself.

Like what? OK, let’s start with the basics. I was married at 21, a mother at 23, and knew next to nothing, really, about raising a child or running a home.

Over time, I learned a few simple strategies. Here in no particular order are 10:

1. Prioritize. Feed first, play second, clean third.

2. Keep a sink filled with soapy water and put dishes in to soak.

3. Do at least one load of laundry and read one bedtime story (or more) every day.

4. Be confident and consistent. Better to be confidently wrong than inconsistently right.

5. If you’re wrong, say you’re sorry. Praise more than criticize, pray more than lecture, laugh more than grit your teeth.

6. Take a few minutes before bed to create order for the next day: Clear floors, close cabinets, pack lunches, make lists.

7. Do at least one creative thing each day: Fill a pitcher with flowers; write a note to a friend; draw a picture with a child.

8. Always keep a quick, simple meal on hand — dried pasta and parmesan; canned beans and greens; fried eggs on toast.

9. Say “I love you” like you mean it. Be kind. Offer grace.

10. At the beginning and end of every meal and every day, take a moment to give thanks, to be still and know that God is God and you are you and life is good.

Those are a few of the things I learned in my years as a mother.

But I’m in a different stage of life now. I’m a nana. I need help with more than just buckles. I don’t want to reinvent this lovely wheel. So I ask you.

Any advice on how to make the best of it?



  1. Just keep praying, Sharon, and most of all, continue to be yourself. We are all inspired through your gift of writing. Also, the Amish pray silently before and after each meal. I thought it interesting that you have the same tradition.



  2. Carla Willis says

    I love, love, love your column and this is absolutely the truth! Being a new grandparent is so rewarding and we find out how so many things have changed in 30 years! Myfirst granddaughter is almost 20 months old and grandchild #2 is scheduled to arrive in August. I cannot wait! Except, a second carseat!!?? That will be twice the hassle and work…..I guess we just won’t leave the house :))

  3. Sarah Emlen Besterman says

    Keep up with modern technology, don’t let it get ahead of you too much. Because once the grandchildren are older, they will be communicating in ways we can’t yet comprehend. And don’t rely on email. My children in their early 20’s find email annoying and old fashioned. Currently it’s Face Time (not Facebook).

    Use car time to your advantage. That tends to be when you have the best converstations, as long as they don’t have a device in their hands and ear buds in their ears (alas).

  4. Juanita Helmbold says

    Read this and bursted out laughing! As I needed also to buckle and tighten my youngest grandson Drake last week in his car seat, I felt the same as you. I have been a grandma (Grams/Grammies to mine) Nana to my great-grand-daughter. All ten of them (22yrs- 2yrs) and our one great-grand..(3yrs). I have the joy of being here (Redding,CA) for seven of the ten, and the little great-grand. When I visit my other grand sons in Modesto I always make the best of it, who wouldn’t. Just as you had became a mom for the first time, you did the same of becoming a Nana for the first time. Just as parents we do the best we can and will do the same with our grandchildren… Don’t worry about the cleaning until they go to sleep or home. As for the car seat, I bought one for my truck! And when you want feel your having a melt down, I have a friend who’s daughter has identical twins (10 mos) and a 2 1/2 yr toddler. THREE CAR SEATS!!!

  5. Lorraine Mayers says

    Enjoy your column. I have four granddaughters ages 13 thru 19 and they have energized, enlightened and enriched my life in many ways. I have learned to listen, be supportive and love them unconditionally.

  6. Sharon –
    I feel like you are a friend and soulmate. My life has so many similarities to yours its amazing! Now we are experiencing “grandmotherhood” together, and I too, find myself unsure in these uncharted waters. OMG – those car seats! Everytime I buckle up my 4 year old granddaughter I struggle. I adore this precious gift from God. But, powerlessness is the name of the game. Never have I loved anyone so much, and had so little control over the way things go with her.
    Living in the moment – this is a big lesson I have learned from our little one. Let the past and future go and just be with them. You never know when circumstances might change.
    Love them with all your heart and soul. You are their very best cheerleader. Tell them often how much you love them, how special they are, and the story about the day they were born! They never tire of hearing about it!
    Have breakfast for dinner. Cover the living room floor with pads and blankets and pillows, let them pick out the movie, eat popcorn & ice cream and have a sleep over!!
    Pray for their safety, happiness, and for them to be surrounded by people who love and nurture them. Pray that no one is ever mean or cruel to them.
    They have parents who can worry about discipline, which is the best school, how they compare to other children their age, and all the things we worried about with our children. Thats not our job, and its a blessing!
    Remember that every moment spent with them is precious. Tell them if they are missing you to put their hand over their heart and know that you are there loving them every minute of the day.
    Tell them how much they mean to you, how proud you are of them, how smart and beautiful they are, and you are always there for them.
    Being a grandmother doesn’t come with a set of instructions, but, neither did being a mother. Trust your instincts, watch them, listen to them and really listen! Let them know that they are so special and precious to you, that you will always love them no matter what.
    Read to them often and teach them the love of books. Real books, not electronic! Share the wonder of beautiful illustrations, the joy of opening a new book and anticipation of a story to get lost in. Take them to the library and book stores and let them pick out their own books. Hope that they will always remember snuggling up to you and feeling safe and secure and loved as you read to them.
    Grandmothers are all about love Sharon – and I know that you have that down! Most of all – enjoy the time you have with them and be grateful that you are blessed with one of God’s most wonderful gifts.

  7. Linda Holland says

    Sharon, I love reading everything you write! 🙂 Welcome to the “Grandma” club!! I can relate to the carseat thing too….and my 2 yr. old grandson tells me how to do it too!! Ha Ha! Anyway, I keep a tote bag in my car filled with diapers, wipes, bib, small blanket, change of clothes, etc. …. Also, I keep a small book in my purse for my grandson to look at if we’re out somewhere, and he’s bored. A few small books in the car are nice to have too. But most of all, just enjoy every precious moment, because they grow up so fast….Blessings to you and your family!!

  8. Mark Randall says

    Thank you So Much For Sharing Your Wisdom And Knowledge, Sharon!

  9. Enjoy your column. Following are my suggestions for being a good grandmother based on the notes I am making for the future, should I become a grandmother:

    1. While some grandchildren may “shine” a little brighter, treat them all the same.

    2. Remember that your children’s children are their pride and joy. Let this show in all your interactions with your grandchild.

    3. Get to know each one as an individual and never stop seeking them out and communicating with them, even when they are shy or difficult and especially when they hit puberty and their cuteness and charm sometimes disappears for a while.

    4. Let the parents do the disciplining. Your job is to accept them, spoil them occasionally and be a source of unconditional love.

    5. Understand that times have changed. Share your wisdom of the old ways and what worked for you, but also understand that time, medical science, psychology and technology march on and the “new way” has lots of good points too.

    Best wishes on your grandmothering journey. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

  10. Diaper wipes accidentally left in the car and frozen (one’s climate may vary) will thaw in a microwave when you finally find where you left them (or maybe that was just me), after first getting them away from any foil if any, of course.

  11. OMG! I feel so much better. I have a 2 year old grandson (first and only), I have arthritis in my right hand, I am a klutz with anything that has more than one step, and my grandson has a top-of-the-line carseat! He lives 8 hours away, so I only see him once a month for a long weekend, which means I have to be retrained on the carseat each time. I am sending this column to his parents…

  12. Hi Sharon

    Re “Any advice on how to make the best of it?”

    When I display my maladroitness I try to think that it could have been worse. Which always makes me think of this…


    Which always makes me smile.

    BTW those are ten good rules, you’re doing just fine.

  13. Jo (Mawmaw) says

    Saw myself in this one, it’s good to know there is someone else in the world who does silly things too!
    I enjoyed reading the ‘words of wisdom’. It sounds like you’ve covered things pretty well. but here are a few things to think about.
    Skype often.
    Send cards reguarly — my grandkids love to get mail!
    Also, remember to take lots of pictures (with them) while you are visiting. (Especially, since you don’t live close.)
    Spoil them as much as you want!

  14. Sharon,
    Yet another wonderful column! I have 5 Granddaughters, and they are wonderful.
    I think the best thing is to love them every chance you get, have them every chance you can and listen to them. They have so much to say and ask if given 1/2 a chance. And then follow those wonderful lessons from the newspaper column above and you will be very blessed indeed.
    I know already you are a fantastic Nana!
    God Bless you and make His face shine upon you and give you His perfect peace.
    Nynna Mousie

  15. I so sympathize with you over the whole car seat thingie. For years I babysat three grandkids (siblings) who were all in those big bulky five-point car seats. (the oldest is only about 2 1/2 years older than the youngest, with a brother in the middle) Often, those car seats would have to be moved from one car to another…holy backaches! And the buckles…my arthritic fingers hate them!

    But here’s two things I have found invaluable. Always have a couple of spare diapers, a pack of baby wipes, and a pack of hand sanitizer wipes in your purse or glove compartment. If the little ones use pacifiers, stash a couple of those, too.

    Second, take as much video and audio as you can. I wish I’d had the chance when my kids were little, but now with the grandkids, I make the most of technology. The recording of 22 month old Charlie telling how the possum ate Daddy’s “tayno” (tomato) still makes my heart melt.

  16. Oh, how I laugh at your struggles with car seats!! Add arthritis to the mix, and you get lots of silent cussing! Try wrestling two enormous car seats and a booster from one car to another, and trying to snap in the confounded latches that are built into more modern cars nowadays.

    Stock a box at home with whatever size diapers the children are wearing, and perhaps a change of clothes. You never know when you might have a grandkid around minus diaper bag. Carry both hand and diaper wipes in your purse at all times.

    Find out what snacks are allowed, and keep a few on hand. Buy sippy cups.

    Don’t buy that darling outfit you saw at Target. Chances are Mommy already did. Save your money.

    Forget about doing anything else when you’re with them. No writing is gonna get done, precious little cleaning and cooking, and laundry, forget it!

    Nap when they nap. Worked when you were a parent, even more important now that you’re a grandparent. You’re older now.

    Take as many videos with audio as you can. You’ll always treasure that baby voice, telling you how the possum ate Daddy’s tayno. (tomato. Charlie at 22 months. Melts my heart every time.)

    There’s probably a lot more, but that’s all I can think of right now.

  17. Bonnie Whisler says

    My advice is that when you are fortunate enough to have your grandchild with you for the day or a few hours, give him/her your undivided attention.

  18. Enjoy your moments as they happen and then enjoy them over and over again as often as you like afterward.

  19. gill powell says

    Sharon – Loved it!! There are certain advantages to being older. I resorted to painting with nail polish the two parts that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle ( I don’t do those either ) before putting them into the slot. You think it was great when they were born – wait until they graduate to a booster seat!! Love ya!

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