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The art of not playing favorites

Phillip and I have four children, three daughters — including twins — and one son. We’ve been richly blessed with eight healthy grandchildren, five boys — including twins — and three girls. I don’t have favorites, I promise.

Our only son, Mark, married Celeste Watness 11 days after 9/11, in Atlanta. It was also two days after our own anniversary, so it’s easy to remember.

Celeste is beautiful, funny, sweet, talented and adores my Marky. She has an amazing singing voice and has performed at various events around Atlanta, including at the Fox and Spivey Hall and with the Atlanta Sacred Chorale. She is also a skilled seamstress and makes me something quilted every Christmas. We have a great relationship, the kind I always wanted with my own mother-in-law but never quite got.

I love to tell her she’s my favorite daughter-in-law.

“I’m your only daughter-in-law,” she laughs in response.

In December 2003, Celeste gave birth at Northside Hospital to my third and, so far, last granddaughter, Hannah Marie. She has blonde hair and blue eyes and is tall and long-limbed, like Mark, who is 6-feet-5 inches tall.

We clicked immediately. She is my Hannah-Banana, Tater Tot and Monkey Face, the name I gave all the grandkids at birth.

Mark, who got his technical school training in automotive mechanics and is a certified mechanic, discovered he could make more money in the aggregate industry. It is the same business his dad has worked in for nearly 40 years.

Because Mark and Phillip worked together, I was able to see more of him and his girls than my girls and their families. Hannah began spending the night with us when she was still a baby so Mark and Celeste could get dinner or catch a movie. She always spends the night with us before Easter and Thanksgiving night.

Hannah is a born shopper and I admit to spoiling her. It goes back to my own experiences, I’m sure. I was the seventh grandchild on my dad’s side and the first on my mom’s but Grandma still had three kids at home when I was born so I wasn’t showered with attention.

I never felt like I was anyone’s favorite. No one in the family ever spoiled me. I am the oldest of five so I was Mom’s understudy at home. I hated it. In fact, I vowed to never marry and have children. I’m glad I met Phillip and changed all that.

Heredity has given me pretty good genes. Most people are surprised to hear I have grown children, grandchildren and certainly that the oldest two are 15. I look young enough that strangers think my grandkids are my kids. I love it.

Once, Hannah and I stopped at a store so she could get gum. I’ve been married most of my life but I still appreciate a good-looking man when I see one. For some reason, I see fewer and fewer, the older I get.

As we walked into the store, one of those rare breeds was walking out and held the door for us. He smiled at me and I thought, “I still got it.” Then Hannah bellows, “Come on, Grandma, let’s go.” Yeah, thanks for that.

More than once, someone would talk to us in a store and refer to me as her mom, as in, “Are you having fun shopping with Mama?” Before Hannah could talk, I could just laugh and let it go. Yeah, still got it.

When she learned to talk, it was all over.

“My mom’s at work,” she’d say. Pointing her thumb at me, she’d continue, “That’s my grandma.”

Thanks to Hannah, I’ve avoided being the creepy lone grown-up at the theater watching an awesome kids movie. We love “Despicable Me” and the sequel, and enjoy repeating dialogue from the movies we like. When I had knee replacement surgery last year, I heard the techs in the operating room asking if everyone was assembled. Even though the oxygen mask was covering my mouth, I said I had to say something before they put me under. Someone pulled the mask off.

“Assemble the minions,” I said, laughing.

Needless to say, Hannah and I have spent lots of time together and always have a ball. Sometimes we bicker like old maids or laugh hysterically for no reason at all.

Therefore, I was upset to learn Mark was being transferred to North Carolina, seven hours away. I’ve lost my shopping/movie buddy.

I try to not think about it but I miss Hannah. She will be 10 in December and this will be the first year since she was born that I won’t get to see Hannah or celebrate her birthday with her. It has been a tradition for us all to get together for her birthday for dinner to talk one last time about Christmas preparations.

I’m proud of my son, that he’s doing well in his career. He makes good money and takes care of his family.

I miss Hannah but they are coming for Thanksgiving and she will spend the night so Celeste can join the other nuts (sorry, I’ve never seen the point) on Black Friday. I know they will be here for Christmas, too. I can’t wait to see her and get caught up on her new school, new friends and whatever books she is reading.

But I don’t have favorites, I promise.