Naomi Judd, My Grandchildren Inspire Me

Singer, songwriter, author, actor, public advocate and television personality Naomi Judd says she has a passion for communication, which was first publicly on display as one half of country music’s most famous mother/daughter team, The Judds. She and daughter Wynonna, the other half of The Judds, garnered 20 top-10 hits (including 15 number ones).

In addition, the duo have won five Grammys. In 1991, after selling more than 20 million albums and videos in just seven years and at the pinnacle of The Judds’ fame, Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a potentially fatal chronic liver disease and was forced to retire.

Today Naomi says she is completely cured of the hepatitis C virus, and says that her family has given her the greatest satisfaction and joy in her life-even though the birth of her first grandchild in 1994 turned out to be a harrowing experience.

I’ve had a very adventurous life. I’ve done things that people only see in movies. And I believe the most terrifying experience in my life thus far was watching Elijah, my first grandchild, being born. Wynonna [Elijah's mother] had concurrent medical issues like asthma that complicated the pregnancy, and we knew that she was going to have to have a C-section.

I was in this absolutely preposterous, surreal place of standing at her midsection, talking to her conscious person trying to assure her and keep her calm, because I knew that this was probably more important than anything else within the delicate balance of medical technology that was taking place.

Wynonna knows me better than anybody, and 85 percent of our language is really body language, so I was struggling to stay calm; but I was out there watching a team of doctors that took two surgeons to extricate Elijah.

Thank God I’m a nurse and I’d seen surgery before. I think if you see blood you either scream or vomit or run. I’m one of those personality types who go into this zone where I just start to do what I have to do. Yet I’m standing there trying to be a mom and keep her calm and tell her this is the greatest thing that ever happened while I’m watching her abdomen cut open.

It is an extremely precarious situation and I’m literally the first person to see Elijah emerge. I have to say that as many surgeries as I have been present at, when it’s your child and your grandchild, it is frightening. I am very much a prepared personality type; I’m an organized person. I usually have some semblance of control over something that is important. That day I was completely at God’s mercy.

They took Elijah away right away. One of the most dangerous parts of delivery is the afterbirth. I remained with Wy, but I did get to see Elijah. The neonatal nurses were in the next room tending to him. It was a very layered experience because I am an RN and because Wy and I are so intensely bonded. We know each other psychically so well that we finish each other’s sentences.

Her second grandchild, Grace, made her own dramatic debut in 1996.

The birth of Grace was every bit as chaotic. Wy, being as stubborn as she is, wanted to deliver vaginally and had some brief experience with contractions. But at 4 o’clock in the morning Wy’s obstetrician overrode her wishes and said that she actually might rupture her uterus if she continued.

But both Elijah and Grace came through the birth process with flying colors and are happy, healthy young people with distinctively different personalities.

Elijah could be a standup comedian, and he knows that he has pleased me with his sense of humor since he was born. I told both of them I was the first person to see them second only to their mommy.  With Elijah I say, “Whose boy are you?” He’s 12 years old, so he won’t do it in public anymore, but he says, “Mamaw’s boy.” I cling to the fact that he is always affectionate with me.

He always says, “Love ya, Mamaw,” when he hangs up on the phone or whatever. We had a family meeting we call a powwow when we get around the kitchen table. Elijah requested that when I go to pick him up at school or when I go to sporting events, or to the mall, or in public in general that I don’t hold his hand.

Grace has a very strong-willed personality. She is incredibly creative, she has rhythm, she sings and she dances. It is a bit scary because she is so intuitive with body language. She’s very much a Judd personality. She’d come back from camp and we were all having breakfast, and I announced that the counselor had said that Grace had a very strong personality. On cue, Roach, [Dan Roach, Wynonna's husband], my husband [Larry Strickland], and I then started moaning and laughing as if to say that’s all we need: another strong Judd female in the family!

Elijah and Grace are growing up with a special appreciation for the environment and nature thanks to Naomi and Wynonna.

Wynonna lives about a mile over the hill behind us. We share a thousand acres of pristine wilderness. This past Thanksgiving Day, for instance, Wy, Roach and the kids all came over the hill on four-wheelers. And we were singing the song “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go.”

For years Elijah didn’t know we had a TV set, because we lived on a farm. I feel so strongly that nature is the greatest teacher, so he’s used to being outside with us. We have a raft when the creek is swollen. Since he was 4 he has known how to watch out for snakes in the creek. He knows what a poisonous snake looks like. There are dense pine trees all around, and that is where we play hide-and-go-seek.

Naomi and Larry’s house is a second home for Elijah and Grace, thanks to warm touches and a familiar routine Naomi has added to their place.

The minute the kids walk in they go to their own chest of drawers, where we keep a complete set of clothing (socks, shoes, hat, gloves and coats). They also have their own little set of dishes. They love to help me cook. When Grace was 3 we started by giving her a chef’s jacket with a chef’s hat. And that’s what she and I do together. She helps me bake cookies every Christmas Eve, and we take homemade cookies and lots of gifts either to the fire station or the sheriff’s department.

From the time my grandchildren could understand, I wanted both of them to realize a sense of community. And there are people out there who are always ready to help them and protect them. The first time we took Elijah, he stood up on the break room table in front of some of the officers in the sheriff’s department and said, “I want to be a cop when I grow up, and thanks for protecting us from the crim-animals.” That’s what he called criminals: crim-animals.

But this year on Christmas Eve after the candlelight services at the little country church here, Wynonna, Roach, Elijah, Grace and Larry and I stopped in at the local volunteer EMT rescue mission because we’d had a medical incident earlier that year where they had to respond and help Gracie in the middle of the night. You should have seen the looks on these guys’ faces-late at night Christmas Eve, freezing cold-when all the Judds show up. That was pretty cute.

After years as a single mom, sometimes even living on welfare, Naomi is thrilled with the chance to enjoy being a part of her grandchildren’s childhoods.

Being a grandmother is completely different because I trained the girls alone; and now that I have time, I can experience curiosity, playfulness and all the things that were in short supply when I was a mother. I do get to experience a second version of childhood as I rediscover things.

On any given night, after Elijah and Grace help me with supper and we say the blessing and they clear the plates, we try to play outside, weather permitting. We do have a carport, and Larry and I will move our vehicle so that we at least do hula hoops or tag with a ping-pong ball gun if it’s raining.

After that it’s bath time. My deep tub has a Jacuzzi, so it’s actually pretty cute the way they are so insistent on bath time. Then we have popcorn and read. They have specific books, which they like to have read over and over again. They have music boxes that we play while they fall asleep.

Naomi also has come to a peaceful place where spirituality is the centerpiece of her daily life.

Being “Mamaw” is a reward right up there with my seven Grammys and all my other awards and being a New York Times best-selling author and the mother of two good girls. Living a life that is imbued daily with ordinary acts infused with spirituality is one of my most important roles. I would never tell the kids to do something that I don’t do myself.

For instance, on the bus I couldn’t tell Wynonna and Ashley to make up their bunk if I hadn’t made up my own. God keeps my world together. It also keeps me sane, because I realize that everything that happens to me is a spiritual problem and therefore it has a spiritual solution and I am able to frame things in perspective. It’s not what happens to me; it’s what I choose to do with it.

Positive media images for children and adults are important to Naomi.

I think the first thing any grandparent can do is spend time alone and do an attitude adjustment and recognize that gratitude and attitude improve the spirit, mind and body. Start thinking about all that’s positive. Go on a media rehab and be discerning about what you allow, because we become what we see, hear, read, etc. Once you spend time in solitude and get away from this collective culture of ADHD, you’ll gain clarity.

Sidebar p 47: The Sexiest Celebrity Grand of 2007: Naomi Judd

What makes one sexy?  That’s the question we posed as we set out to select this year’s Sexiest Celebrity Grand. Our previous recipients, Harrison Ford and Tony Danza, are two handsome grands with different personalities and appeal. Both are gorgeous guys with charisma and charm.

Well, this year a gorgeous gal broke the hold the men had on this annual award. And isn’t it fitting that Naomi Judd is that woman! There is no doubt that Naomi is a classic beauty. Her positive energy and down-home sensibility serves her well. It’s one thing to be attractive, but Naomi exudes an inner glow and peace that makes her the picture of healthy living and loving. This is not to say that Naomi has led a soft and sheltered life. She is the epitome of the steel magnolia: utterly feminine, yet strongwilled and proactive.

Naomi knows what it’s like to raise two children alone. Those two little girls have grown up to be outstanding and successful women. Ashley is a celebrated and award-winning actress. Wynonna, once Naomi’s partner in one of the most successful mother-daughter musical acts ever, is now one of the most popular female vocalists in the history of country music. Wynonna’s pride and joy-as well as Naomi’s-is her two children, Grace and Elijah, who are every bit as bright and civic-minded as their mother and grandmother.

Naomi has lived the classic rags-to-riches American Dream. Yet she has never lost the common touch or her connection to the local community she loves. Although Naomi has all the physical attributes of a sexy celebrity grand, her appeal is more than skin-deep.

In her books and now her successful TV show on the Hallmark Channel, Naomi is a testament to the greatness of the human spirit. She also is an inspiration to those who are driven by a desire to be in tune with nature and find serenity in their lives-lives that are very often unpredictable and uncertain.

It is almost impossible to listen to Naomi or read her words and not smile and be uplifted. Beyond everything else, is that sexy? You bet it is.

Congratulations to Naomi Judd, Sexiest Celebrity Grand of 2007.

What gave Naomi the edge? We started with seven requirements for our Sexiest Celebrity Grand this year. How does

Naomi Judd match up?

1. Confident Beauty. Without question, Naomi Judd is confident in her own skin and is only too happy to share with others what she’s learned about being the best you can be.

2. Powerful Person. Naomi is no shrinking violet when it comes to lending her name and celebrity to important causes-from aging gracefully to preserving the environment.

3. Cultural Icon. As a country music legend, Naomi continues to be a fan favorite on Music Row and around the world.

4. Person with Passion. Naomi has an affinity with the natural order of things. She is passionate about physically and spiritually communing with nature.

5. Unique and Ageless. There’s no one quite like Naomi Judd. She’s an original who insists on being true to her nature. She doesn’t follow fads or trends. She is, instead, a trendsetter in her own right.

6. Personality-Plus Person. With her stunning smile and sparkling eyes, Naomi lights up any room she enters. Her positive outlook on life is enchanting.

7. The X-Factor of Charisma. Either you have it or you don’t. An international and enduring star, Naomi Judd clearly has it.

Sidebar p 46: Naomi’s Guide to Aging Gratefully

Naomi has compiled the latest facts and figures on living a proactive, healthy lifestyle. But did you know that

GRAND Magazine was the catalyst for Naomi’s book on the facts, myths, and good news for boomers?

I feel that everything is a chance to grow; change is inevitable, but growth is optional. As things change I’m on the edge of my seat watching for a way to expand versus contract. So when I got a call from my publicist, who was giggling that I had been chosen by your magazine as one of the sexiest celebrity grandparents of the year, I knew it was a catalyst for me to start in earnest writing my book.

I knew I had to write the book about staying young because many years ago as I got into the entertainment world I became aware of how I had to keep my perspective and age gracefully. Getting into show business changed me forever-especially on an economic level. I never had health coverage until I was 38 and signed with RCA.

Now I am an advocate for the 44.1 million Americans who don’t have healthcare coverage. I had never had a savings account, and now I have financial security. All this is from a person who was one paycheck away from the streets all the time with two little kids. I am an advocate for welfare reform.

For a short time I had to rely on welfare to survive. Yet I was into the most vain of all professions, the most ageist. I knew it wasn’t how I looked that mattered; it was being a spiritual being and having a human experience as well as the fact that I’m here to grow in love and wisdom and be of service to others. So although from an early time I was told I was pretty, I thank God that this didn’t mean that much to me.

For my book I have all the cutting-edge research, all the latest data, on how to live 15 years longer. It definitely engages the reader. It is part of the culture war against the media obsession with age and with youth, and it has a lot of anecdotes and personal stories about how dangerous that can be. I am hoping to cause a paradigm shift in public attitudes. I love to say “shift happens.”

Originally published in GRAND Magazine Issue 16 May/June 2007

MARY ANN COOPER

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