What Exactly Is It that Makes You Great?


It was Mother’s Day weekend when my six-year-old grandson Michael Thomas asked my 86 year old mother, his great grandmother, a question:

He looked at her with a quizzical expression and said, “Great-grandma, what exactly is it that makes you great?”

She was momentarily speechless.

“Do you think it is your apple pie,” he added.

She paused and said, “I don’t think so Michael Thomas – maybe it’s my chocolate chip cookies. What do you think”

“That’s it,” he exclaimed with delight, as the rest of us looked on in wonder.

I love this story and I love telling it, although it has been a while since I last thought about it.

Recently, however, I think of it almost every day. Why, you ask? Because I am about to become a great-grandmother myself. So the question has resonance.

My oldest grandson Jonathan and his wonderful wife Katie, both in their early 30’s are pregnant. (that’s how they describe it) And not just one baby but two – twins- with an ETA of July 13th. The date is significant because it is also the birthday of the twin’s grandparents, my son Rob and Jonathan and Michael’s, mom, Nancy. Rob and Nancy also share that birth date. Pretty exciting.

What I do know is that everyone in the extended family is delighted with the news. And these twins will be deeply loved by all of us.

This still leaves me with the question to ponder as to what will make me a “great-grandmother.”  My Mother was surely that and she set a high bar. It won’t be my knitting, although it could be my Christmas cookies. The wonderful thing about becoming a grandmother and now a great-grandmother is you keep getting fresh starts.

Tomorrow April 13th is my Mother’s Birthday and she would have loved this good news. Three years ago she died a blessed and loving death at 100 years, three months and 13 days. When I think of a great-grandma I think of her. This is a new threshold for me and I haven’t stepped through the door yet, but it is ajar, and I am peeking in with outstretched arms.

I already notice a renewed interest in how I can stay flexible and active. It’s not about the exercise I or you do three times a week but how we use each day as an opportunity to gently move our bodies. As a consequence of this interest, I have been reading the research of Dr. Joan Vernikos, former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division. I find her fascinating. I know how easy it is to get enthusiastic and to just as easily lose interest, so I am researching sustainability.

The truth is, I want to be able to get down on the floor and get up again under my own steam so I can play with these little ones. So, I am hopeful that implementing everyday movements will help me do this. I also want to be able to look over my shoulder so I can back up my car. According to the research Dr. Vernikos has done, this is possible by consciously making simple changes in my/our daily life. Let’s see what happens.

When my Mother was 100, she still went to her exercise class, made her bed, washed her dishes, took short walks, dressed well; put together squares for quilts; learned to use Zoom and other video conferencing formats, and did what she could to stay active, engaged and healthy. She would remind us to do our part to stay strong and flexible, both physically and mentally. This wasn’t easy during COVID. Still, she always did what she could and she didn’t fuss over what she could no longer do. Like, drive her car. “There are lots of other ways to get around,” she would tell us.

So, there it is. Great news and an existential question for this next phase. What do I want to do, and what can I do, in order to be a “great” grandmother? In a way, it’s a non-material legacy question, for us all.

And it mostly comes down to this: how we live today.

Our legacy isn’t about how much money we pass on (although that also is nice, for those who can) or how public a life you’ve lived. Instead, it is understanding the impact you have on those around you and finding ways to do it better.

Lyndsay Green, Canadian sociologist, and author of The Well-Lived Life: Live with Purpose and Be Remembered, says it best:

“It’s about accepting responsibility that you’re important to people. Not taking our life and relationships seriously while we’re alive is doing a disservice to yourself and the people you have a connection with.”

I have always loved the poem Famous – by Naomi Nye and here is the last stanza. (I read it today by replacing the word famous with “great.”)

“The last stanza from the poem Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye

“I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.”


1:) Link to a previous post about my Mother, which is a guide for me. Click here

2:) Congratulations to Jonathan and Katie –  I love your enthusiasm.

3:) The banner photo from 2007, includes Jonathan, the about-to-be father, Michael Thomas, the curious one, and Sophie, the 18-month-old in this photo. Sixteen years later, there is another grandson Rowan and twins are on the way. How lucky am I!

4:) As I write this post I have had a cardinal and a downy woodpecker outside my window. They have been entertaining me all morning.

5:) This week I am thinking especially of my Mother; PW; SB; CR; and the twins. :-)) Life and death are with us every single day. Let’s take nothing for granted and do our best to be kind.

6:) I deeply appreciate you reading my Wednesday posts. Thanks, once again. Enjoy these days. Here in Ottawa, it seems we went from winter to summer and simply skipped spring altogether. Best wishes, Trudy


14 replies
  1. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    This is such a perfect post in so many ways! Congratulations Trudy, and thank you for being the pulley that helps us all lift up our burdens….

  2. Janice+Falls
    Janice+Falls says:

    I love the inspiration of being famous as a buttonhole by not forgetting what I can do 🙂 Happy news about your great twin grandchildren Trudy, double the love! xoxox

  3. Carol+Ingells
    Carol+Ingells says:

    How wonderful, Trudy. I seem to have vague memories of when Jonathan was growing up. Many blessings to him and his wife and those two dear ones who are planning to arrive in July. I’m sure you will be a GREAT grandma. And the Michael Thomas story is a treasure! Easter time, resurrection, new life. Wow! Love to you, Trudy.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Ah Carol! Thanks for your memories. And yes, you may have even met Jonathan. You certainly heard lots of stories snd saw photos. I appreciate hearing from you. Take care, and bye for now, Trudy

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thanks Janet, and although grateful is the most important word I think that you and all of us have had great moments along with moments when we were not so great. However, my cousin just called and said she knows the answer. “What makes a great-grandmother great are the great grandkids.” Thanks SB. I like that. Ties in with your gratefulness. All the best, Trudy

  4. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    Dearest Trudy I absolutely love this post for many reasons… thinking of your beautiful mom, the exciting news of twins… but most of all thinking about the great impact you’ve had on my life and so many dear great grandmas to be! What happy news!

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you dear Teresa. Even more reasons to come to Calgary. Can hardly wait to go to your favourite Italian deli. Thinking back four years ago. I always appreciate your enthusiasm and generosity. Bye for now,Trudy

  5. Jean
    Jean says:

    Thank you,Trudy,for reminding me that I am important to my clan. I felt it on Easter Sunday,while celebrating my brother’s birthday. I took a nasty fall,nothing broken,and saw the care in all their faces.Even,from, the often times busy younger ones. A reminder,of how important I am to all,as the eldest – to be a button hole in their lives.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      I love your gentle words and how you weave them into your life. Thank you Jean for your kindness and constancy and good spirit.i hope you are not too battered and bruised. You have said it all- “a button hole in their lives.” Or maybe you are the button.warmly, trudy

  6. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    Congratulations Trudy. I’ve missed you. I so enjoyed this post, your musings, the purple flowers by the link. Love the warmth of this community that you’ve created .

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      What kind and warm words dear Kathryn. Thanks for taking the time to send notes. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. Take care. Warmest greetings, trudy


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