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Tuesday, September 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: Presence of grandparents is a gift in our family

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 14, 2020

Debbie Ditto, center, is surrounded by her adoring grandchildren in 2018.  (Julia Ditto/For The Spokesman-Review)
Debbie Ditto, center, is surrounded by her adoring grandchildren in 2018. (Julia Ditto/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

Every year on my birthday, my paternal grandmother, Grandma Grace, would send me a card with a $10 check tucked inside. Even though Grandma Grace lived in Minnesota her entire life, I felt very close to her because she was the kind of person who made you feel like you were the most precious being in the entire world.

When she greeted you or said goodbye, she would put her hands right on your cheeks, look adoringly into your eyes, and say, “I love you.” If unconditional love had a face, it would be hers. She passed away four years ago, and I miss her most on my birthday when I hope to see her familiar handwriting on an envelope in my mailbox, and it’s not there.

My maternal grandmother, Grandma Donna, is almost 97. When I talk to her, it’s easy to see where my mom got her quick wit and propensity to laugh; Grandma Donna is still as sharp as they come. The first Christmas after my dad passed away almost 30 years ago, my mom packed up my brothers and me and took us to Southern California to spend the holidays with her.

“I don’t think I had it in me to ‘act normal’ that first Christmas, so we went to California,” my mom told me later. I find it poignant that, even as a grown woman, when my mom couldn’t face the darkness alone, she just wanted to be near her mother.

Being with Grandma Donna – helping her feed her chickens; swimming in her best friend’s pool down the road; and sitting at her kitchen table and eating grapefruit with a sprinkle of salt – was balm for the soul.

Sept. 13 is National Grandparent’s Day, and I have been reflecting on how my life has been impacted for immeasurable good by my exceptional grandparents and how my kids are now being blessed by their relationship with theirs. Studies show that children are more emotionally resilient if they have a strong relationship with their grandparents.

I think it’s because grandparents can love unencumbered by the nitty gritty that parents have to be constantly attuned to – they can give their grandkids a hug, listen to their woes, hop them up on cookies and then send them home to finish their homework and chores.

My husband’s mom, Debbie, is one of the wisest women I know. She is the grandmother to a whopping 34 grandchildren, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that she has a special connection with every single one of them. They adore her because she makes each one of them feel like they are worthy of her time and greatest effort.

With Grannie around, every gathering is a party, and any situation can be turned into a game. Her mother-in-law, Grandma Ditto, lives with her right now, and it has been a treat to have her nearby and learn about her life as a Montana farm girl, tough and tender all wrapped into one.

My mom, Gloria, is fun personified. She’s quick to laugh, full of energy and fearless, not to mention her baking skills are the stuff with which legends are made.

Years ago, when our family was forced to evacuate the house in the middle of dinner because of a too-close-for-comfort wildfire, she got halfway down the road before turning her car around so she could grab the freshly made lemon meringue pie she’d left sitting on the counter. She’s that kind of woman, and my kids love her to death. We all do.

My stepdad, Denny, is the only grandfather my children have known. My father and Logan’s passed away before our children were born, and although we share stories about them all the time, I am beyond grateful for Papa Denny’s influence in their lives. He teaches my kids to fish, wrestle in the basement and live a life without guile. His presence in our family is a gift.

Thank you, grandparents everywhere, for being there for our kids in ways that help them become the people they were meant to be. “Grandchildren are your reward for not killing your kids,” the saying goes. But for us, it’s really you who are the jackpot; your presence is priceless.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at

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