There was a big boat in a slip right out front, a trampoline on the lawn, what looked like 100 bikes in the shed and a kitchen stocked with Ann's homemade goodies, including her famous Welsh skillet cakes. You can tell that a lot of family fun happens here.
But that's not the Romneys' only mode. For a while now, Ann has been balancing the details of family life with her battle against multiple sclerosis, with which she was diagnosed in 1998. And the Republican presidential nominee, although a devoted husband, father and grandfather, is probably best known as a very successful businessman who believes he can bring that expertise to running the country (when I arrived, he had just returned from a four-day campaign swing through Colorado, Texas, Montana and Wyoming). With twilight approaching and the little ones happily scattered here and there, we settled into the comfy lakefront living room full of framed photos of the tight-knit clan and began.
Oprah: [To Ann Romney] So when's the last time you saw him? Other than on TV.
Ann Romney: I don't watch TV anymore.
Oprah: You don't?
Ann Romney: Yeah, I've turned it off.
Oprah: Because it's too much?
Ann Romney: I can't. I just can't deal with it, if I'm going to have the calmness and peace that I need to have.
Oprah: Yes. Because calmness and peace is the whole reason you're here on this lake [gestures at the view]. You can't enjoy it if you're gonna let the TV in.
Ann Romney: I can't let the TV in. It's just too much noise.
Oprah: So what would you be saying to him if you were talking on the phone?
Ann Romney: He'd only be asking about the children and what'd the grandkids do, and what'd Nate say this week, because everything Nate says is hilarious. He's 4.
Oprah: How many grandkids are there now?
Ann Romney: Eighteen.
Oprah: Eighteen. And the youngest is?
Ann Romney: Two months, and they're twins. Twin boys.
Oprah: Okay, so at any moment when a grandchild comes into the room, do you immediately know their name exactly?
Ann Romney: Oh, yes.
Mitt Romney: We used to mix up the names of our own sons. "Matt—Tagg—Josh, come here right now!" But grandkids, no. It's funny, I don't know why that is. We're not smarter.
Ann Romney: There isn't the stress of raising them. You're just enjoying them, so it's a lot easier.
Mitt Romney: It's like, "Oh, this one has a poopy diaper. Here you go!"
Oprah: "Go to your mom!" Are you calmer now?
Ann Romney: Much calmer. Actually, I did a pretty good job as a mom being calm. [To Mitt] Don't you think that's my nature?
Mitt Romney: Well, Matt...
Ann Romney: He loved pushing [my buttons]. But that was as a teenager—when he was little he didn't do that. There was always this anxiety because you want to teach them to play the piano, you want to teach them to be moral, you want to teach them to study well, and so you feel responsible for every activity they do and who they're playing with and everything. It's such an awesome responsibility.
Oprah: And you kept having boys. Did you ever think, Gosh, it would be nice to have a girl?
Ann Romney: Well, it was in those days when you never knew what you were having, and so each time I'm like, You're kidding. No, you're kidding. By the fifth time I was like, I'm finished! This isn't changing, this isn't gonna get any better. And it's so funny that Craig, who was my fifth, was the most delightful, the most easygoing, the most wonderful child and I was so disappointed that he was a boy. But you get over it.
Mitt Romney: I'm sure Mary [Craig's wife] is happy that he's a boy. Where'd Mary go?
Oprah: Are you a good mother-in-law?
Ann Romney: Very. [Mitt laughs.]
Oprah: What makes you so?
Ann Romney: Because they know how much I love them, and how much I've been waiting for them to come into my life.
Oprah: Are you a mother-in-law who's in their business or out of their business? Can they come to you?
Ann Romney: I'm in their fun business. But even when there's a problem, they'll talk to me about that, which is nice.
Oprah: Really? That's good.
Ann Romney: I'm in their business in a good way.
Mitt Romney: There are lots of daughters-in-law here, so it's only fair that we let them weigh in. [Mary Romney is summoned from the kitchen.]
Ann Romney: Mary, Oprah wanted to know—am I a good mother-in-law?
Mary Romney: Oh my gosh, she is the best mother-in-law in the world, are you kidding? She gives a lot of advice when you ask for it, and other than that, she's out of your business. And she gets us great little gifts. [Indicates the bracelet she's wearing.] She's a great shopping companion.
Oprah: That's great. I want to know from you, Governor...
Mitt Romney: Time to go! [Laughs.]