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.

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