The 2008 presidential race is over, but Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin remains one of the most compelling figures to emerge in the public’s consciousness in the past year. Google recently named the search term “Sarah Palin” as the fastest-rising global search item in 2008 — ahead of such searches as “Beijing 2008,” “Jonas Brothers,” and “Obama.”
As the GOP governor’s mega high-profile political world continues to make news, it is her family life that fascinates the public. She and her husband, Todd — a champion snow-machine racer — have five children. A son serving in Iraq, a baby boy with Down syndrome, and three girls in between, with the oldest, Bristol, 18, scheduled to give birth on December 20 — making the lively governor a first-time grandmother at the age of 44.
Palin’s parents, Chuck and Sally Heath, are eagerly waiting the baby’s arrival. In a phone interview from their home in Wasilla, Alaska, they said they’re helping out their granddaughter in the days before she gives birth. They’ve received gifts for the new baby and the nursery is all fixed up — and at last indication the selected colors were lime green and yellow.
Grandpa Chuck Heath, 70, says his hope is for a “happy, healthy kid” — one who will follow along in the footsteps of this very outdoorsy, churchgoing family. He spoke with Grandparents.com about his daughter, Sarah, the impending arrival of his new great-grandson, and the whirlwind life that descended on the family during the campaign.
Grandparents.com: How’s the family getting ready?
Chuck Heath: For Bristol’s baby? Oh, I don’t know. [There’s] all kinds of gifts laying around the place — all kinds of baby stuff. I’m in a room right now just full of baby stuff — more than she’ll ever use.
GP: From all over the country?
CH: All over the world. I’d say a half-dozen foreign countries. In Sarah’s mailroom, there’s 87 boxes — big boxes of mail that haven’t even been opened. I’ve been answering letters all day, all week. We figure there’s over a hundred thousand pieces here. And we’ll never get it done. We’re just inundated.
GP: This has been a wild ride for your family, hasn’t it?
CH: It completely changed everything here. [We’re] just a common, ordinary family — I’m a retired teacher, my wife’s a retired school secretary, and I hunt and fish. And here all this comes. I’m not complaining; it’s just different. … All of a sudden [we] jumped into the mayhem. We’re very supportive of our daughter and her family. Very supportive. Anything she wants to do or undertake, we’re backing her.
GP: And it probably hasn’t died down yet, has it?
CH: No. She [Sarah] is getting … oh, hundreds of letters weekly. I was in her office yesterday, and last week she had over 200 requests for interviews. Over 200. And these were small interviews, radio, talk shows, things like Oprah, David Letterman, things like that.
GP: What are they specifically asking?
CH: Well, like David Letterman … they want her on the show. There are open invitations from several of them — even open invitations from O’Reilly and from Oprah and things like that.
GP: So do we know if (Bristol’s having) a boy or a girl?
CH: It’s a boy.
GP: Do you have a name yet?
CH: I don’t think so. Bristol’s here — let me ask her.
(At this point, Mr. Heath can be heard calling into another room: “Do you have a name for your baby yet?” He speaks back into the phone and says: “Oscar, she said. No, I’m just kidding. They don’t have a name for it yet.”)
GP: What kind of grandmother do you think your daughter will be?
CH: My daughter will be a great grandmother. She’s a great mother — great daughter, great mother. I don’t know about how much time she can spend, she’s so busy. But she’ll get her licks in. Don’t worry.
GP: That’s the hard part of being in the public life, isn’t it? Where you have to try to juggle your public life with your family life. Has that been difficult within your family?
CH: Well, she [Sarah] takes her kids with her as much as possible. She just got back from Juneau last night and she had her daughters and Trig with her. Track, her oldest boy, is in Iraq. In fact, she’s been criticized for dragging her family around with her. I think it’s the greatest thing in the world.
GP: What are some things you all like to do in your spare time as a family?
CH: We don’t have any spare time. [Laughs.] Well, in our spare time in the winter, as a family, we do a lot of snow-machining and skiing. I don’t know about the skiing this year, but we’ll do a lot of snow-machining. Her husband, Todd, is a world champion snow-machine racer. Won that Iron Dog four times. In fact, he’s getting prepared for it right now, even though it’s two months away.
GP: So you have a very active family life then?
CH: Sarah’s kids have all participated in sports all through their high school career. They snow-machine, they hunt, and they fish.
GP: With a new baby coming into your life, what are the things you’d like to teach your new great-grandchild?
CH: I hope he’s a normal, happy, healthy kid. My wife, Sally, is just looking forward to taking care of him. She’s one of those good grandmother types. The grandkids and the kids come first. [Laughing] I come second.
Also on Grandparents.com: Get tips for how to react when a teen becomes pregnant, consider whether you could live with your grandchildren, find out how people react to becoming part of a four-generation family, and join the debate over whether you should take grandchildren hunting.