Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
Tonight, first a conversation with award-winning broadcast journalist, Lesley Stahl. After four decades as a reporter, the most vivid and important experiences of her life are not covering the White House or her stories at 60 Minutes, but becoming a grandmother. She joins us to talk about her New York Times bestselling book, “Becoming Grandma” out now in paperback.
Then iconic director, John Waters, joins us to discuss his career and new book, “Make Trouble”.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. Lesley Stahl and John Waters in just a moment.
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Tavis: Award-winning broadcast journalist, Lesley Stahl, admits she’s had to be tough and unemotional throughout her career, but when her first granddaughter was born, she was blindsided by emotion. She chronicled her personal experiences as a grandmother in the New York Times bestselling book, “Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting”, out now in paperback.
I am honored — and I do mean honored — to have her on this program. It’s good to see you after all these years.
Lesley Stahl: My friend, Tavis. Thank you.
Tavis: We’ve done a few things together, but you’ve never been on my show, on this set.
Stahl: I’m so happy to be here with you.
Tavis: Honored to have you. My career wouldn’t have been complete had you not made one visit, so thank you.
Stahl: Oh, you’re too lovely. Thank you.
Tavis: And what a great reason for a visit. Let me just start — there are two or three things in here that I’ve learned from reading your text, which has fascinated me.
Stahl: Really? What?
Tavis: I did not know that, other than humans, there are only two animals who live to become grandparents.
Stahl: That is my favorite thing in the book too.
Tavis: How cool is that? And they are?
Stahl: Whales and elephants and us.
Tavis: And us.
Stahl: And, you know, for years anthropologists were trying to figure out why we have grandmothers. In the animal kingdom, if you can no longer reproduce, you die. So how come we don’t die? When I tell people this, they always laugh, but it’s absolutely true.
We are here to babysit, to function, and that’s why we — both parents used to go out and hunt in the caveman time and grandma stayed back and raised the kids.
Tavis: Yeah. Fascinating factoid.
Tavis: The other thing I was — I didn’t just learn it, but I was actually moved by it, emotionally moved by it. That was the story you tell about the biological impact that your grandbabies had on your husband.
Stahl: Oh, that…
Tavis: That was arresting. I had no idea.
Stahl: Yeah, and it’s documented. Bob Simon, my colleague as well…
Tavis: The late great journalist, yeah.
Stahl: Both of them — well, we had our grandchildren together at the same time. Both men were depressed and really with that kind of depression that medicine isn’t helping. The minute they had grandchildren, boop, gone. You know, just popped right out of their depression. I went and interviewed a lot of psychiatrists and they said, “Oh, yes, we see this.”
Tavis: And why is it?
Stahl: These men get a new purpose in life and they realize that their line is going forward and, particularly if they get to be involved in the grandchildren’s lives, they have a real function.
Grandparents are very important for grandchildren and a grandfather can plunge himself into giving the children a sense of family, a sense that they come from a line. It’s all very, very important for the kid and now we know for the grandparents.
Tavis: I meet people as I travel, as you do, and I’ve met so many people over the years who end up moving in their later years for one reason only. They wanted to be close to their grandchildren. And it ends up changing the quality of their life. I always find myself in these conversations, you know, doing what I do for a living.
I’m like but how did it feel when you uprooted your life and left your friends and left your neighborhood and all that you’d been living around? How did it feel? And to a person, none of that stuff outweighs the joy of being near their grandchildren.
Stahl: This is a trend now with more and more grandparents doing that, uprooting and moving to their grandchildren, but the reason it’s more prevalent than it used to be is our kids, the young parents, need us more. They need the babysitting help because childcare is so expensive, and grandparents are spending more money on their grandchildren and I don’t mean with toys.
I mean, big ticket items because our kids are both working and they really can’t afford not to have serious help that doesn’t charge them anything. We don’t charge. We beg to be babysitters and don’t charge a dime.
Tavis: The other piece of this story that I know you know well is that there are a lot of reluctant grandparents. By reluctant, I mean they didn’t expect to have all of the duty and all the responsibility they have now at their age of raising their grandkids full-time.
Stahl: Oh, when they get custody.
Tavis: When they get custody because either the mother or father was crack-addicted or something else went wrong. I can think of two or three people whose lives I am intimately involved in. I’m interwoven in their lives, older persons who I’m like the big brother for some of their grandkids because the parents just couldn’t handle it or got themselves in trouble or have some addiction…
Stahl: Never for a good reason.
Tavis: And now they’re raising their — you know, I think of a woman right now, a dear friend of mine. She’s 88 years old and her grandson is just about to finish high school. She has raised this boy basically from birth and she’s found great joy in it. But she did not expect at 88 to be raising her grandkid.
Stahl: No. What you said right here in this conversation, a lot of those grandparents look upon it as a new lease on life, a reason to live and have a new purpose, and other grandparents resent it terribly. The trick is to try and bring the resenters over to the other side because raising the grandchild with love and optimism is extremely important.
Tavis: I have a lot of friends who are my age or friends who are certainly younger than I am, and you know this well, who are becoming grandparents at a much younger age.
Stahl: Oh, really?
Tavis: If I had a dime for every one of my friends who refuses to let their grandkids call them grandma and grandpa, I’d be independently wealthy [laugh]. So I suspect you’re not in that crowd, but what do…
Stahl: Oh, well…
Tavis: Okay, okay, okay [laugh].
Stahl: I was desperate to be a grandma…
Tavis: Right, but just don’t call you grandma.
Stahl: It wasn’t for the reason because I was an older grandmother, but my daughter didn’t want me to be Granny and she runs the roost, so we had to come up with names, my husband and I. You want to know what they call…
Tavis: You know I’m about to ask, right?
Stahl: Oh, okay. So my mother’s real name was Dolly and all her grandchildren said it and said it early. I wanted to have a name that they would say and not make up some other form of it. So I’m Lolly. And when I decided on Lolly, my husband said, “Okay, then, I’m Pop” and we’re Lollypop [laugh], and it’s terrible.
Tavis: Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that cute [laugh]?
Stahl: Oh, it’s so cute, but that’s who we are.
Tavis: I love it [laugh].
Stahl: And, you know, little kids from the beginning, they don’t get it and I remember when my older granddaughter, who’s now six, got it. I was there. She put it together. It was great.
Tavis: That is cute. I think part of its culture is the Black experience. So my maternal grandmother, we called her Big Mama. So Little Mama and Big Mama, so my grandmother was Big Mama. My paternal grandmother, we called her Mother Adele. Her name was Adele Smiley. We called her Mother Adele. So Mother Adele and Big Mama, but I’ve never used the term grandma or grandpa in my life.
Stahl: But did you actually call her Big Mama?
Tavis: What we called her. Big Mama.
Tavis: Big Mama.
Stahl: I like that. Where were you when I was trying to decide? That’s really good [laugh].
Tavis: No, that is not nearly as cute as Lollypop. Come on now [laugh].
Stahl: That’s not as cute, but it’s better in a way [laugh].
Tavis: You win, Lesley Stahl. You win as always. Let me ask — I don’t know if there’s an answer to this. Let me ask anyway, though. That is whether or not having grandkids has in any way impacted your work, the way you see your work, the way you see your role, the way you see the world. Professionally, has it impacted you?
Stahl: Probably not, but it does impact the way I see the world because I worry about the future in a completely different way. I worry more about the future. I worry about two things mainly. I worry about the environment a lot and I worry about technology.
Because the internet is taking over. We have lost control totally of this technology that we invented. You know, people say one day robots are going to run us. It’s already there. I can’t stand what it’s doing to the way little kids spend their time. They don’t play outside.
I can’t stand what it’s done to friendships. We don’t talk to our friends on the phone anymore. Obviously, it deeply affected this last election. It’s affected democracy. I could go on and on. I can’t figure out how we get back to flying the plane. How do gain control over this now?
Tavis: If I said to you that the train has left the station…
Stahl: We can’t accept that. We have to fight back. We have to find a way.
Tavis: I was just discussing this the other day. There’s a great line in the Margaret Atwood book that is, obviously, popular all over again. The line says, “We looked up from our phones too late.” We looked up from our phones too late.
Stahl: That’s terrifying.
Tavis: It is terrifying, but I wonder sometimes — it impacts the way I see my role and my work and my witness. I wonder sometimes whether or not we’ll just look up from our phones too late.
Stahl: We’ve succumbed.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Stahl: It isn’t that the technology came and grabbed us. We gave ourselves to the…
Tavis: We surrendered, yeah, yeah.
Stahl: We surrendered and now it’s time to have our — we need some sort of activists to bring us back to fight the war with the internet.
Tavis: Maybe your grandkids will lead the way.
Stahl: No, it’s too late now.
Tavis: Too late for them, yeah, yeah. I wouldn’t let you come and leave without asking — I’ll ask it as broadly as I can, so you can go anywhere you want to go since you kind of went there a moment ago. So given this moment that we are in in our democracy, to use the word that you used a moment ago, how are you seeing our country and the world and how are you processing all of this?
Stahl: Well, of course, I hate to admit that I’ve been in this game, as you have, for as many years as I have. But my first assignment at CBS was Watergate.
And Watergate was in the very early 70s and it feels like that a little to me that the country is terribly polarized as it was then when the vice president was coming after the press, where actually they had the Vietnam War still as an issue, which we don’t have a lot of that.
I think we forget how bad things were in the past. Our mind always thinks it’s worse now. So I feel that we’re at each others throats, but we’ve been there before and it’s healable, I believe.
Tavis: You hopeful?
Stahl: Well, half and half. Half hopeful…
Tavis: That’s a fair answer.
Stahl: It’s a disturbing time, no question.
Tavis: John Dean, Richard Nixon’s…
Stahl: Oh, John Dean, of course.
Tavis: Sat in this chair a few days ago and we had a fascinating conversation. Obviously, since he was there as the White House Counsel, fascinating to listen to him draw the parallels between the Nixonian moment and this Trumpian moment.
Stahl: Does he see a similarity?
Tavis: Oh, does he.
Stahl: I think so.
Tavis: And it’s basically built around this notion of authoritarianism that Nixon employed and that Trump is employing. But it was just a fascinating conversation to hear John Dean kind of — since you mentioned Nixon.
Stahl: I’m going to go back and find that and watch it.
Tavis: Yeah. Go online and check us out. Use technology.
Stahl: I am.
Tavis: Don’t be afraid of it.
Stahl: I’m going to try [laugh].
Tavis: Download the show and watch it [laugh]. Lesley Stahl’s book out in paperback now is called “Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting”, New York Times bestseller out now, again, in paperback. Pick it up. I promise you you’ll enjoy it. Lesley, always an honor to talk to you.
Stahl: Thank you.
Tavis: Good to have you on.
Stahl: You’re lovely.
Tavis: Up next, filmmaker John Waters. Stay with us.
Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.
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