on the joy of being grandma and moving forward after tough times
Her two gorgeous grandsons have been a blessing to Jo Seagar and her husband Ross as they have worked to recover from their recent tough years. Jo talks to Suzanne McFadden about the joy of being a grandma, writing her first novel, and facing the future w
Jo Seagar stands like a beacon of calm in the centre of a swirling dust cloud. This metaphorical cloud is kicked up by her “busy”, but adorable grandsons, Leroy, who’s six, and Lucas, five. The two well-mannered, energetic blonde boys are on holiday in Auckland with Granny Jo and Poppa Ross. “When the country boys come to town, it’s all traffic lights and escalators,” says Jo.
They’ve been treated to a hotel buffet breakfast – choosing Nutella-smothered bacon and croissants – have been to the top of the Sky Tower, and are now drinking fluffies with marshmallows in a sunny café.
The boys are quite comfortable in the presence of their doting grandparents, living just around the corner from them in the North Canterbury town of Oxford. They stay over at least one night a week.
When you ask Leroy, who’s missing his two front teeth, what he loves most about staying with Granny, he quickly responds: “When we play police.” Jo has been known to put the boys in an old golf trundler – which doubles as a police car – and pull them along outside her cottage. They use her hairdryer as a speed camera.
They also like cooking with one of the greatest teachers they could have – one of the country’s best-loved cooks. Jo recently took one of the boys’ favourite books, The Giant Jam Sandwich – where four million wasps invade Itching
Down, so the villagers make a giant jam sandwich to trap them – and attempted to re-enact it with Leroy and Lucas. “We made the ‘giant’ loaf of bread, we made the strawberry jam, and then we set the trap. Unfortunately we only caught one mosquito,” Jo laughs. “But it’s fun to do the whole story, so the boys know where food comes from.”
It’s clear from the way she engages with the little boys that Jo loves being a grandparent. She also talks enthusiastically about her future trips to intriguing corners of the globe, a new book or two, her ongoing work with Hospice, and the prospect of moving to a new home somewhere in the South Island.
After “a tough few years”, life looks good again for the Seagars.
“I feel very optimistic that something good is about to happen. That could be just ‘Optimist Jo’,” she says. “But I feel like the sun, the moon and the stars are aligning for us again.”
Three years ago, Jo and her husband Ross were heartbroken at losing their once-thriving business – the Seagars at Oxford cooking school, café and kitchenware store – in the aftermath
of the Canterbury earthquakes. Jo had also broken her leg (she still walks with a limp), and lost her adored mum, Fay, who lived virtually next door to Jo and Ross.
“We’ve had a rough run,” she says. “But there are lots of great things in our life right now. Ross and I are healthy and well, our kids are well on their way in life, and we’ve got these wonderful grandkids. We are open to new opportunities. It’s nice to be in a situation where you can say yes to lots of things.
“I strongly believe that it’s how you rise from the fall. And I don’t think you are given things in life without the skills to deal with them. That optimism has got us through.”
Rules and rituals
Family has been central to Jo’s recovery. It’s been a blessing having daughter Kate, mum to the two boys, close by, so Jo and Ross can play an integral part in their lives.
“When my two kids were at that age, I was busy holding plates in the air, with my career. Ross was busy building ‘the empire’. They kind of fitted in with us. Now, as grandparents, we stop everything and get involved,” Jo says. “I used to think when grannies would have their skite books, ‘Yeah right’. But somehow – I don’t know how – that grandmotherly love snuck in. I realise now how precious the boys are in our lives.”
With Kate working full-time, Jo and Ross can help out by having the boys to stay a couple of nights a week. And although they are smitten with Leroy and Lucas, they’ve been mindful of enforcing certain rules at Granny and Poppa’s house.
“They come through the door and they know the rules here. We’re quite big on ‘wash your hands, sit up at the table’,” Jo says. “The boys know about napkins and which fork to use. They like the ritual. We all sing grace at the table, to be thankful for what we have.”
At this point in our conversation, the boys come bounding over to Jo at the café table, having spent some of their energy at the playground next door. “I would like a fluffy with…” says Leroy.
“I hope you remember that word,” Jo cautions.
“Can I please have a fluffy with…” “Marshmallows in it,” pipes up Lucas. “Me too!”
Jo smiles and Ross orders the boys their foamy milk drinks.
“It’s lovely to be able to do the things we can do, and have the time to do them,” Jo continues. “Reading books, playing games, helping them with their homework. Ross is a volunteer fireman – the best superhero the boys could have.
“Sometimes when there’s a callout during the day, I’ve been that crazy lady following the fire engine, so the boys can see all the action – like a woolshed on fire.”
Teaching the boys how to cook has many merits. It means that they can fill a tin of baking for Kate: “She’s a busy working mother; I’ll leave a good message tucked in there too.”
It’s also a great way to help the boys with maths. “I get them to measure out half a cup of this, three-quarters of that,” Jo explains. “Friends would say, ‘Oh look, he’s only 18 months old and he’s got the sharp knife!’ But I’ve always thought you should get your hands in from an early age.”
Both boys are sporty, and last summer Jo and Ross took them to the local pool to learn to swim.
“Ross’ father was a geography teacher, so he asks them questions like, ‘What is New Zealand’s highest mountain, or the longest river?’ It’s all about grandparents sharing the knowledge,” Jo says.
And sharing old family jokes. “Whenever Ross’ dad saw the sign ‘Honey for Sale’ at someone’s farm gate, he’d say, ‘Oh, look, someone’s selling their wife.’ Of course, Ross says it, and now the boys say it! It’s just one of those silly family sayings, passed down to the next generation.”
The Seagers’ son, Guy, may live overseas, but he’s in regular contact
The boys enjoy spending time with their grandparents as much as Jo and Ross love being with them.