“Sitting Down on the Job,” column for Feb. 10, 2015

Long ago, in the mountains where I grew up, women sat down to watch over their grandchildren. My mother’s mother bore 12 babies. Ten survived to adulthood, one timid boy and nine headstrong girls.

When her children grew up to have children of their own, she took a ringside seat to watch her grandchildren pull the same death-defying stunts our parents had pulled.

She sat in all sorts of places: In a rocker on the porch. On a metal lawn chair in the yard. In an overstuffed armchair in her living room. On a ladder-back dining chair at her kitchen table. And while she sat, she yelled:

“Don’t you run out in that road and get killed by a car!”

“Get out of those weeds or you’ll get bit by a snake!”

“Spit that out, it’s nasty!”

“You’d better not make me get up and come over there!”

These were important things a child needs to hear, and she never hesitated to say them. But I’m not sure she ever had to stand up and follow through. She spoke and we listened. We couldn’t fathom what awful fate might befall us if we did not.

My father’s mother was a quieter woman. She didn’t care much for yelling, though if need be, she could yell with the best. She, too, did most of her grandmothering while seated, whether on a porch swing, a kitchen chair, or an old sofa with her arms wrapped about me as she read from “Uncle Remus” or the Bible or “Gone with the Wind.” That may tell you a bit about my education.

She sat while teaching me how to sew, to crochet or to paint sunsets on creek stones.
She also walked a lot. We’d hike for hours on the mountain with her leading the way, calling out names of birds and trees and other fine things. But mostly she just sat with me and watched and listened.

Sitting and watching and listening is a high calling for a grandparent. It requires time and patience and a decent chair. But basically, it’s second nature.

Last night, for more than an hour, I sat in a darkened room in the Cadillac of rocking chairs, with raindrops tapping on the window pane like dog paws on a bare wood floor, and rocked my newborn granddaughter.

Eleanor likes to be held. Don’t we all? Her mama and daddy were busy taking care of her brothers. But I had absolutely nothing better to do than to sit and hold her and rock back and forth and feel lucky to be alive. Unlike so many other grandparents, I didn’t have to go to a night job. Or worry about how to keep a roof over her head. Or wonder who in God’s name will look after her when I’m gone. I could simply sit back and rock and enjoy her. And that is what I did.

I’d like to be a sit-down-and-stay kind of grandma. My grandchildren, however, associate me with airplanes more than with chairs. (If they see a jet in the sky they ask, “Is that Nana’s plane?”)

I fly in and out of their lives so often there’s not much time for sitting. And I don’t crochet or sew or paint on rocks any more.

But I can read pretty well. And yell, if I have to. And I can listen until the cows come home.

Years from now, if I’m lucky, I hope my grandchildren can say this:

“My nana didn’t live nearby. She flew in on airplanes to visit. We didn’t have a lot of time, but we made the most of what we had. She sat with me. And read to me. And watched me play. And hung on every word I said. She was my nana. And it was enough.”

Every child needs to say that about someone. But you don’t have to be a nana or a papa to be a “nana” or a “papa.” Schools, churches, libraries, afterschool and daycare programs need volunteers to read to children or help with homework or do whatever needs to be done. Look around you.

It might be the hardest job you will ever love. And best of all? You can do it sitting down.


  1. Kate Sciacca says

    You fly in and out of their lives, but are always in their little hearts I am sure…. I drive in and out of my grandkids lives… “Grandma Mountains” they call me. :-). Did my holding this past weekend – when the two youngest were baptized…. And sat to watch the 5 and 6 year olds play some backyard baseball… I was the umpire… These boys are future MLB stars… I am certain they are! 🙂

  2. Sharon,

    From one long-distant grandparent to another, this was right on, another beauty. I especially like the kick at the end, encouraging all to join in the fun and excitement.

    Modest you though failed to mention one thing. In the years to come, your grandchildren will have the opportunity to review life through your eyes by reading your inspiring writing.

    All the best,


    (P.S. I think you’ll want to read my column this week, too.)

  3. Sharon, I know I speak for so many when I tell you how grateful I am that you’re here to express the words & feelings that I just can’t get off the tip of my tongue. You almost always bring tears to my eyes & you always bring a smile to my heart.

  4. Don’t you just love it when one or two or five come over and cozy up next to you? Sounds like you do!

  5. So very true…..I did my sitting last weekend on a bleacher in a noisy gym for 5 hours, watching my 5 year old grandson win his very first wrestling medal (2nd place). Took 2 days for my body to recover, but I wouldn’t change a thing! Oh, and we get to do it again this weekend.

  6. DEAR Sharon ,I can read very well from each column ,your education and patience your father’s mom gave you . You have it in every sentence you write . You HAVE it in every day of your past AND PRESENT life . Words woven with past and present with memories of past and new days ,not a single lie is there . That is best part of life and I wish every woman deserves to be a mom and grand mom in her life . And how lucky your grand children are to have a genius grand mom .

  7. Oh how I loved my Nanna! When my
    Mom called me to tell me she had died my first response was “but – but – she was my very favorite person”! Didn’t think until some time after that that may not have been the best thing to say to my Mom in front of my husband and children! I know they understood. It’s been 33 years and I still miss her! Now I’m Nanna to my 2 great granddaughters.

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