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Michael Jordan and Grandma

With this post I hereby declare a blog series on strong women.   Not motherhood or house wifery or gender roles, but on crazy-strong, pioneering, brave, practical, funny, interesting women.  In the next few posts I’ll tell you how badly I want to talk to Hillary Clinton and about what.  I’ll tell you what I want to learn from Britney Spears.  I’ll share stories about beating cancer and not beating cancer, about speaking up and shutting up, about raising ten kids and about trailblazing career paths in male-dominated fields.  I invite you to join in the conversation, share your heroines with me, and celebrate these women that make me proud to be a girl.

Here goes.


While we were in North Carolina over the holidays, Dan got the flu or something like it.  He laid on the couch in a near comatose state for three days without so much as a dinner break.  ESPN was on the entire time (obviously) and not long into his couch-laying a commercial featuring Michael Jordan came on.

To be more specific, it was footage of the 1997 NBA finals game in which Michael Jordan had the flu.  During what is now known as “The Flu Game,” Michael Jordan scored 38 points, finished with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block.

Dan watched this commercial, turned his groggy head toward me and croaked,

“Well, now I feel like a giant pansy.”

I share this for two reasons.

1. My husband is funny.

2. This is precisely how I feel when I think about my Grandma Canfield.  I feel like parenthood is the flu; it makes things hard sometimes, so I moan and take medicine (which is representative of lots of coffee and Chick-Fil-A in this analogy) and write blog posts about surviving, while, two generations ago, my grandmother was raising NINE children without the conveniences of fast food drive-thrus, microwaves, disposable diapers, or dishwashers.  She was the Michael Jordan of mothers, and I am a giant pansy.

This came to mind a lot last month, as Dad and I talked about his mother, my Grandma.

My Grandma, Juanita Fern, had 10 children.  Numbers 5 and 6 were twins, and her eighth died at birth.  I cannot wrap my mind around that kind of heartbreak.  There can’t be more than 14 or so years between all of them, which means that at one point, she had my dad as an infant (who would be diagnosed with polio at 10 months old), the twins still in diapers, and FOUR MORE as three through seven-year-olds.  INFANT.  TWINS IN DIAPERS.  FOUR OTHER KIDS.  I didn’t take time to do the actual birthday math, but can you even imagine?  Can you imagine the noise?

Oh, and then she was pregnant three more times and raised two more children.  No big deal.

Dad has memories of bags full of ironing sitting at her feet as she stood there: all-day-ironing.  He can picture the entire back yard filled with dozens and dozens of cloth diapers drying on clotheslines, like a forest.   He’s told me about the home-cooked meals they had every night, and about how his older sisters used to feed and rock the babies.

This is a picture of my Grandma’s oldest 6, my aunts and uncles:  Ron, Cheryl (with her hair beautifully braided), Dave, Patti, and the twins, Jan and Judy, as babies (one of their little bald heads is at the bottom of the photo).


 And Madeline thinks that Sam is crowding her personal space in the bathtub.  She could use a quick lesson in the relativity of bathtub space.

The older I get, the more I wish I had the opportunity to know my Grandma as an adult (she died when I was 8).  I wish that I could talk to her about marriage.  About a husband whose job is ministry.  I want to talk to her about finding joy and fulfillment in mundane tasks.  About finding your identity in Christ.  I wish I could learn from her about diligence and hard work.  I wish I could watch her cook.  I wish I could learn about patience, parenting, priorities, and letting the little things go.  I wish I could talk to her about heritage – about the extraordinary blessing of many children and grandchildren.  I wish I could talk to her about parenting a child with a disability.  I wish I could talk to her about loss, trial, tribulation – about strength – about surviving some stuff.

When I think about women who must have a backbone made of solid steel, my Grandma Canfield is one of the first to come to mind.  She was the Michael Jordan of mothers, and I’m so proud to say that I come from that kind of stock.


Who is your Michael Jordan?  Whose accomplishments (at work, home, play, or legacy) inspire you (and also sometimes make you feel like a giant pansy)?  Comment to share!

  • Bonnie Wick

    Grandma Rose Mary. She is actually my Husband’s Grandma who adopted me when we wed. My Grandparents died when I was around 8 so I didn’t know them too well. She is an amazing woman and even though I have only known her for 5 short years I wish I could be just like her. She is so loving, kind and strong! She took care of her Mother and Husband at home for years before they passed. Now she carries on without them and helps to keep the rest of us connected. I am so very grateful to have her in my life.

    I have to add my own Mother to this list. You truly never know how much a Mother sacrifices until you have your own children. I will spend the rest of eternity trying to pay her back for all the love and care she has and continues to provide me.

    Writing this makes me miss them terribly. 3000 miles is a long way!
    Thanks for this post Kate. You always know just what to say and how to say it. :)

  • Michelle Forry Mellinger

    She was one amazing lady. I miss her

  • Tami

    My Aunt Effie lived to be 105 years old. She lost her husband as a young mother and her brother’s wife died when her baby was eight days old so she raised both of their children ALONE! She had a full time career at a time when that simply wasn’t done by women. She rode a city bus to a downtown storefront where she was a tailor with little ones playing about her feet. My biggest joy was spending the night with her. She could draw every kind of bird. She made her own soap, grew her own veggies, and still had a manual washing machine and hung the clothes in the yard to dry. I remember once when she was inner eighties, Papaw went to the house to take her something Mamaw had cooked for her and he couldn’t find her. Finally he found her crawling under the house repairing something under there. She was brave and strong and I never once ever heard her whine about anything. At 104 we stood in a circle to pray for her before we got in the car to travel home. My daddy prayed that God would give her good health and she suddenly popped him. Our our eyes opened to see what happened. “Stop praying that!” She said. “All my friends died so long ago they think I’m in the other place. Stop praying for my health.” I loved that woman. I hope I can be half as strong when I am that age because there’s no comparison now!

  • Andrea

    You look a lot like her! :-)

  • Kate Conner

    My Grandpa’s response to this post via email: “And the half has not been told. WOW.”

    Beautiful. :)

  • Pingback: Grandma’s Wisdom | Kate Conner

  • Tarah Joi

    Beautiful post. I’ve not the words to express my heart like you do…but I would have to say that my mother is my Michael. I am currently 34wks pregnant with my first bambino–and after being raised with love, patience, a good wack when needed and lots of prayer—I am very thankful to have my mother to run to when I have crazy questions about “oh my goodness! Did you ever experience this while you were pregnant…?” She did, after all, give birth 13 times. (kind of an expert on the subject I’d say..) this post resenates with me as I can’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t working, cleaning, home schooling, diapering, nursing a baby, spanking a monster child, loving my Dad patiently, teaching us how to read music, driving us all over the world for each of our different clubs/events, showing us how to sew and do laundry, nursing us back to health….and when that and the pile of other things were done (or close too), my mother sits down with her coffee and crossword puzzle for a few moments rest before the next wave of big-family activity comes crashing in. My mom is currently a grandmother of ten, a mother-in-law of six, the mother of a law student, 4 (count that…four!) crazy “trying to find themselves” teenagers and the two babies who are now in middle school. She has seen her share of heartache as she has watched children move across the country, turn (and praise God return) from th Lord, get their hearts broken, and she has endured and pressed on through it all as one of the most amazing prayer warriors I’ve ever known. She prayed daily for her children. All thirteen of us. And as I am just entering this world of motherhood, I am so blessed and honored to have her on speed dial. Thank you for sharing and for encouraging me to stop and consider what real strength looks like.