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Karen O'Keefe of "On Second Glance"

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Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist... Read more

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Grandpeople Power

I attended a candidates’ debate the other evening – a wide-ranging discussion between incumbent County Executive Ike Leggett (D) and his Republican opponent, Jim Shalleck. It was a serious event, as these things always are.

They agreed on some things, and disagreed on a lot: the transportation needs of Montgomery County were one area where the POV demarcation was as clear as the edges of a Florida sinkhole crater.

Shalleck said he advocates building more roads to accommodate more cars, “Montgomery County to me is a car-driven community. Moms and dads get up in the morning and they have got to make 12 stops during the day…

“My view is that we have to solve the car traffic problem and I don’t think these billion-dollar, expensive mass transit projects are the answer for a community like ours. I want to see road work, and road congestion dealt with.”

Leggett said that mass transit is the only solution. “There is no way for the county to afford to build our way out of the traffic situation we are in today – as well as to prepare for the economic development of the future.
“The only way we can get there, in my opinion, is by mass transit.”photo of County Executive Forum at MCM studios

Nevertheless, on one subject during the debate, there was unanimity. When it came up, feathers unruffled, heart rates throughout the TV studio slowed, both men smiled warmly – genuinely.

The subject was grandkids. Here now, we all stand on a level playing field.

“Jim, I agree with you about being a grandfather,” said Leggett. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

Leggett related that he was at a recent campaign event with his granddaughter and asked her if she would like to say hello to the people gathered around.

“Yes,” she said. “Should I say it in Spanish, English or French?”

“It almost brought tears,” Leggett said.

Listening to him and watching him closely, I thought, ‘Almost?’

Ha! He didn’t even sound like ‘almost’ when he told the story at that candidate debate.

Grandchildren have a way of zipping us open and popping our hearts right out in their little hands.

They are very powerful people – and size has nothing to do with it. It actually seems like the smaller they are, the stronger they are.

The other day I ran into Gaithersburg City Council member Mike Sesma. We were at Oktoberfest, in Kentlands. The music was loud and it was hard to have a conversation. People were everywhere, ebbing and flowing past in couples, in groups and on their own. A few feet away from us, a man ten feet tall, looked down at a crowd of admiring little boys who were trying to see the stilts through the fabric of his trousers.

In the midst of all this hub-bub, Mike had important news to share. Triumphant, glowing, he waved his cell phone at me.

On it were pictures of a beautiful, newborn granddaughter.

I knew exactly how he felt.

You know how you can’t imagine you can love anything as much as your child, until you meet the child?

You know how there are certain life experiences that you do not see coming – and in a twinkling — you are irrevocably altered?

A song that always changes your mood? The memory of your puppy looking at you with its little head cocked to the side and your chewed up tennis shoe at its feet that melts your heart to a puddle?

Well, grandchildren do the same things – only with an intensity that is much higher on the Richter scale.

There you are, 60 years old, glad to be an empty-nester, toughened and fine-tuned by life’s storms — and on an even keel for once in your life.

Then one of these grandchildren people comes along, and — barely lifting a finger, tips the apple cart and – snap! – you’re chasing the fruit all over the place, crawling around on your hands and knees – “excuse me, excuse me, excuse” – not caring how you look, as it rolls all over the floor.

We see my 3-year-old granddaughter at least once a week. Recently, I have been disturbed by the confusing feelings that descend when I hear about times my husband — “Grandpa” — has spent time with her when I haven’t been there.

Surely, we are not talking about JEALOUSY here.

You decide. Last week, my husband met up with our daughter and Lina at a park. Lina was surprised and, they said, “disappointed” that “Nana” was not there.

“Did you tell her I had to work?” I interrogated my husband later.

Work? What am I thinking? She doesn’t even know what “work” is.

No. I had a sinking certainty in my gut. I knew the sad truth. You can babble on about “work” until you are blue in the face.

All Lina knew was that Nana was not there.

My husband said he tried to explain the situation to her.

“Sorry, Lina. No Nana today. You’ve just got Grandpa today.”

He said the next thing he knew, she was running around, crowing in a loud singsong voice, “No Nana Day — Just Grandpa Day! No Nana Day — Just Grandpa Day!”

And so on.

The image disturbed me. Even when I close my eyes today, I hear her little voice ringing in my head, “No Nana Day! Just Grandpa Day!”

Phrases like, “No Nana Day!” I never even imagined before – and now, I will never forget them.

We’ve started to make Monday night dinners with Lina and our daughter at our house a regular thing. I had to miss my first one this week but I felt a little better when I came home from the meeting I had attended – FOR WORK – and heard she had missed me.

“Are you sure? How do you know?” I wanted to shine one of those big interrogation lamps into my husband’s eyes. I would get the truth out of him. I would sweat every last detail out of him.

“Oh yes,” he assured me. “She wasn’t too happy to know she would be eating whatever kind of food Grandpa would be cooking.” He made a kind of crinkly face when he said “Grandpa.”
I smiled, imagined Lina making just that face.

“Hmm,” I thought. Lina probably saw the Hamburger Helper box on the counter. Can’t say I blame her. She’s a little like her Nana, I thought, with another little smile, one I half-heartedly tried to suppress.

Yes, she is bit of a gourmet… Can’t say Hamburger Helper is my favorite either.

What he said next filled my heart with joy – and this is the power of grandchildren.

“She found your apron on the rocking chair in the kitchen and started yelling, ‘Wait one minute!’”

“She waved the apron at me and said, ‘Isn’t this what Nana is supposed to wear when SHE cooks dinner?’”

"Wait one minute! Isn't this Nana's apron..."

“Wait one minute! Isn’t this Nana’s apron…”

Through tear-filled eyes, I beamed up at my husband. Vanished, all memory of the important HOA meeting I had just attended for my job of newspaper reporter.

My granddaughter had missed me and seized my apron in the hope I would appear. She would be a great detective one day. Possibly a trial attorney, maybe even a Supreme Court Justice.

Alleluia! What a smart girl! What a good girl!

Have you ever heard of anyone so brilliant?

At three?

My granddaughter. Stay tuned.

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About Karen O'Keefe

Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist for The Town Courier, an independent biweekly newspaper based in Gaithersburg. Her blog, “On Second Glance,” explores everyday life and current events with insight, grace and humor.


7 Responses to “Grandpeople Power”

  1. On October 16, 2014 at 9:00 am responded with... #

    Loved this personal essay, Karen.

    • On October 16, 2014 at 9:05 am responded with... #


  2. On October 16, 2014 at 5:27 pm responded with... #

    Karen–That was a delightful take on being a grandmother. I am so glad you get so much enjoyment out of being with Lina. I wouldn’t mind seeing you sometime. Love, Pat

  3. On October 16, 2014 at 6:51 pm responded with... #

    Wonderful story!!!! As usual I love the way you tell a story, I hang on every word.
    I know how much you love that little gal of yours, John too!!!

  4. On October 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm responded with... #

    Great story, Nana. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. On October 17, 2014 at 2:07 am responded with... #

    Great, brave piece!

  6. On October 19, 2014 at 10:57 am responded with... #

    I loved this so much :):) lina loves her grandparents so much and if she could read she would be overjoyed to hear how much they love her too. Best nana award goes tooo…..YOU! ♡♡♡

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