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It was just over 16 years ago that I wrote a column about becoming a grandmother for the first time. I was 53 and thrilled that a baby was coming into my life. The hard part was that the baby, Tilleigh, would live in Montana.

I think I cried as many tears over the excitement of having a grandchild as I did facing the realization knowing she would live so far away.

But fate had different plans.

One year later, Tilleigh and her parents moved to Chattanooga. My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and my daughter, Kacee, wanted to come home to help my mom take care of him. They ended up buying a house next door to ours.

There's now two more grandchildren living next door, Evie, 12, and William, 9. It's my heaven on earth.

Last week, this red-haired 15-year-old granddaughter of ours got her learner's permit. God give me strength. If you're a worrywart parent, just wait until you become a grandparent. She's so excited to be driving, and Kacee is very patient, so the worry is delegated to me. I'm good at it.

There's so much more to worry about these days than it was when I was a young mother — gun violence topping the list, followed by COVID-19.

A couple weeks ago, I took Tilleigh to meet some of her friends in Coolidge Park. It was during the day, but Chattanooga had already suffered through two recent mass shootings where people died and were injured. As we were driving to the park, I asked Tilleigh, "What will you do if you hear gunfire?"

I can promise you that is not a question my parents ever asked me or that I asked my four children when they were growing up.

Tilleigh's answer shook me to the core.

"I was thinking about that last night," she said. "Should I just run and hide?"

I couldn't readily answer. My mind was running a million miles a minute. Should she run as fast she can? Should she immediately hide?

I thought about the child in the recent Texas school shooting who so bravely told her story of covering herself in her dead friend's blood and pretending to be dead so the shooter didn't kill her. She's a fourth-grader and her instinctive survival skills saved her.

My own instinct, I guess, would be to run and hide.

But, honestly, I don't know the right answer or even if there is a right answer. You can't run if you're locked up with the shooter in a classroom, can you?

Early last week, there was a mall shooting in Indiana. The shooter walked into the food court with a rifle and started shooting. He killed three people and injured two before someone in the area with a gun shot and killed the shooter.

I'm a firm believer that we need more gun laws, but I'm very aware of Second Amendment rights. In fact, it was a 22-year-old man in possession of a gun that killed the shooter in the Indiana mall. If not for him, more people could have been killed. But laws need to be made that help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them. Buying a gun should be an in-depth process, not one as easy as buying a pair of shoes.

And then there's COVID. My immediate family made it through the roughest days of the pandemic, before vaccinations were available, by staying home during quarantine and then wearing masks whenever we went places. (My husband and I still wear masks and neither of us, so far, have tested positive).

My children and two of my grandchildren, including Tilleigh, have tested positive. Fortunately, they've all been fully vaccinated and their cases were mild.

A new variant has raised its ugly head, and the numbers of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations are on the rise. Still, those who have been fully vaccinated are reportedly suffering mostly mild symptoms. The bottom line? Get vaccinated, and wear a mask.

Though today's world is vastly different from the one I grew up in, there's something that hasn't changed: family. My family is everything to me.

My two youngest grandchildren, Charleana, 5, and Misha, 3, live in San Diego with their parents, my son Kit, and his wife, Bonnie. And though I don't get too see them as much as I like, I do get to visit with them often via FaceTime.

In fact, yesterday, via FaceTime, I witnessed Misha swimming freestyle for the first time. We're a big family of swimmers, so seeing the youngest Nazor take off across the pool with her little arms looking like windmills brought tears to my eyes.

It's all about family, folks. And family doesn't necessarily mean by blood. There are many friends in our lives who are family to us. And through it all, we're there for one another.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be behind a car that's going a little too slow, please be patient. It might be Tilleigh. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com.

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