“Magic Words,” Sept. 28, 2021

A few days ago, I packed a month’s worth of stuff and drove five hours to spend a week with my oldest, his wife and their two little ones. Jonah is 2 and a half. Leilani will soon be 5 months old.

I wish you could see them.

It was a long drive, but I’m a nana. When a grandchild is born, nanas sign a mental contract to do whatever we can to stay close to them. FaceTime helps. But it’s hard to nuzzle a neck through a phone.

My son and his wife welcomed me back with open arms. If you are hip-deep in diapers with a baby and a toddler, you’ll take anybody who’s willing to help.

Our last real visit was when Leilani was born. Five months is too long to be absent from a little person’s life and expect to be remembered. Leilani was not glad to see me. She stared at me as if, at any minute, I might grab her and run out the door.

I’m not good with first impressions, but I tend to grow on people. So I held her. Sang to her. Kissed her toes. Watched her catch sunbeams with her starfish hands. And we talked about everything and nothing.

Finally, she smiled. And all was right with my world.

My grandmother used to say, when a baby smiles, God and all his angels say, “Ahh!”

I believe it. If you don’t, try this: When you see a baby smile, be very still and listen with your heart. It might change your mind.

It took work, but I think I am now Leilani’s favorite playmate—after her mama, her daddy, her big brother and any stranger or dog she sees at the park. I play with her mostly while Jonah is napping. If he’s awake, he wants me to play with him.

When Leilani was born, I spent a month at their house and Jonah and I got to be buddies. Then I left and we missed each other. This week, when I finally came back into his life, he ran into my arms.

“Hello, Nana!” he shouted. I held him close and nuzzled his neck. Then he took my hand and led me outside to throw rocks into his wading pool.

We got in a little trouble for that. So we promised never to throw rocks in that pool again. Nanas keep promises when we can. It’s written in our contract. Two-year-olds try, but they tend to forget. Jonah’s mom finally drained the pool and we had to find other things to do.

We did puzzles. I’d put them together and Jonah would take them apart. I’d say “Oops!” and he’d fall down laughing.

We built with blocks. I’d stack them up and he’d knock them down. I’d say “Oops!” and he’d laugh until he was breathless.

We read books. I’d start one and he’d want a different one. I’d say “Oops!” and he’d laugh until he gagged.

I felt like the funniest nana ever. “Oops” was a magic word. But soon, we were over it. Then I remembered the magic words children never grow tired of. And this morning, when Jonah came running in to wake me, I said, “Wanna hear a story?”

His eyes grew wide. “OK!”

“Climb up,” I said, patting the bed. He crawled in and I pulled the covers up to our necks. He lay stock still, holding his breath, as I whispered the magic words: “Once upon a time….”

I wish you could’ve seen him.

I told him three stories, two I learned as a child (“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and “The Three Little Pigs”) and one about a boy named Jonah and his nana. Its last line was “And they lived happily ever after.”

Then I said, “The end” and Jonah’s eyes studied mine as if looking for something he knew was there. When he found it, he said these magic words: “I love you when you come back.”

The saddest part of happy times with someone we cherish is having to say goodbye. It will be hard to leave Jonah, his sister and mom and dad. But nanas keep coming back, if only on FaceTime or in memory. It’s written in our contract.

Lord willing, I’ll come back soon.


  1. Marianne Bach says

    You continue to get everything just right regarding how precious these grandchildren (and their parents) are. You are such a gift to us all. Will be visiting family in Monterey in late October–I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a glimpse of you:)

  2. Kate Sciacca says

    So so sweet. I’m heading over the hill Wednesday to see the kids and grands… the princess turns 35 on Wednesday, so grandma will pick up something tasty for dinner after we all return from her oldest boy’s baseball game. Priorities, priorities 😂😂

    Hope your big sis is doing well… prayers continue.

  3. Cathy Stanley says

    How I loved your column when you were in our local newspaper. I missed your stories.

    I’m happy for you that your grandchildren are not further away.

  4. Katie Musgrave says

    Aaah precious times & memories! Keep making them.

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