“A Few Things our Children (and Grandchildren) Need to Know,” column for June 2, 2015

The mama quail leads her brood across my yard like a feathered drill team, a wee bit out of step. She clucks and fusses, crowing commands. Eight fuzzy, thumb-sized chicks dotter behind her on toothpick legs, running in circles like cartoon penguins trying their best to keep up.

One stops to peck the petals off the lantana. Suddenly, he realizes he’s been left behind and goes sprinting after her as if the grass is on fire and his life depends on following her lead.

Which, of course, it does. She’s his mother. There are things she needs to teach him, things he needs to know to survive.

I wish you could see them.

I’ve been watching them for 20 minutes, thinking about a note I just read. Two notes, actually.

One of the things I love best about writing a newspaper column is getting to hear from readers. I’ve been blessed over the years by a lot of great mail. I often share it with my husband and children just to say, “See, some people like me.”

But I can’t seem to recall any correspondence that touched me more deeply than this.

It came in response to a recent column in which I told the story of how I struggled as a child after my parents divorced; how I took refuge in the perfection of a paper doll family; how I vowed to have a “perfect” real family someday; and how I learned in the end that families, like life, are messy, far from perfect, and yet, by some ironic miracle, they can be filled to overflowing with grace and peace and joy.

The reader (let’s call her Bonnie) wrote to tell me about her granddaughter (let’s call her Emma) who has struggled in the wake of her parents’ divorce.

“When I read your ‘Fantasy Family’ column in our paper,” Bonnie wrote, “I knew I had to share it with our granddaughter. She watches some show on TV about a perfect family and can’t understand why her life (isn’t perfect, too). Thank you for your story. I do think it helped her.”

I hope so. That’s what a good story should do. It should tell us that we are not alone, not the only ones who struggle.

After reading Bonnie’s card, I opened a sheet of notebook paper she’d tucked inside, and read a neatly penciled note from her young granddaughter:

“Dear Miss Randall,
I heard that your mom and dad split. My mom and dad also split. My nana brought me your article on the Fantasy Family. Thank you for sharing your story. Thanks for inspiring me to not worry about my family splitting. I know things will work out someday. I will always remember your words of the grace and peace and joy.”

And I, in turn, will always remember Emma.

There are things children need to know beyond how to tie their shoes, read, write, count to 10 and say please and thank you. For instance, they need to know:

_ They are not alone, not the only ones who struggle, who find strength to overcome and courage to believe that anything _ anything _ is possible.

_ Life is short, but it’s also long and pain is worth enduring for all the joy that lies ahead.

_ If they can’t change the whole world, they can change the world around them with kindness and hard work and laughter and prayer.

_ They don’t have to be happy to be thankful, but true happiness only grows in a thankful heart.

_ They are stronger than they know, strong enough for anything life will ask of them.

Most of all, they need to know they are loved and that nothing _ divorce, disappointment or even death _ can ever change it.

It’s up to us _ their parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, neighbors and even strangers _ to teach them by example with our lives and our stories, our steps and missteps, that we’re all in this together. We don’t have all the answers. Far from it. But we do have each other.

Emma is especially lucky. She has her nana to lead the way.


  1. Nancy Hoesel says

    When My friend told me that you were using the letters she and her granddaughter wrote, I just had to agree that Emma is indeed lucky to have such a caring and sensitive Grandma. She is also a powerful example because she and Grandpa have been married for more than forty years and are still very much in love. We have known them both since when we were raising our families and they have been a testament to what faith and love should be.

  2. Kate Sciacca says

    The quail have been busy in our backyard too… And on the streets… Don’t know how it is down south, but we northern Nevadans brake for quail ?…. And deer….and bears….

    Yes, more than anything else children need to know that, no matter how screwed up their parents are (like this screwy mama) – that they are LOVED. The tragedy today is that too many parents try to replace their time and attention (for their kids) with material things… And it never works. Never. “Time is a treasure, it comes from above, time is the measure and maker of love….”

  3. Oh ,my God as I read this column I thought about my friend’s grandson . He is thirteen and a very unhappy child due to her parents separation . A single mother raising her working so hard and his grand parents take care of him when mother goes to work . Still in every day routine he stays disturbed due to one reason or other like he needs both parents not only one as he is accepting at present . Do not know how they handle every situation so gracefully that the boy smiles at least one or two times and makes his mother feel more hopeful that one day he would accept the change as better than when both parents lived with so many problems . Now grandparents are there to shower so much love . Unhappy married life is not better than staying married with differences . When there is second option to separate and live with more peace . children do suffer but parents suffer as well in unhappy married life . Thanks for sharing story of Emma . we love you always sharing something new .

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