I am much of what [...] my grandparents were—inherited stature, coloring, brains [...] and moral errors that I defend as if they were personal and not familial. (1.1.3)
It's immediately clear that Lyman is trying to work through some serious family issues by writing this book about his grandparents. Although we don't yet know the nature of these "moral errors" that bother him so much, we sure hope he manages to figure them out when everything is said and done.
She loved to have him stretch out beside her in the evening [...] He looked upon the baby with awe, and handled him as if he might break. (2.5.46)
At first, Susan and Oliver have the perfect little family. They have a happy marriage. They have a brand-new baby boy. They even have an adorable little house. It's like a dream. But here's the unfortunate thing about dreams—they all eventually end.
"Of course you make the decisions. You tell him how life is to go. If you didn't you'd be up in the Andes right now." (3.4.9)
Although she doesn't realize it, Susan is the real boss of the Ward family. This realization upsets her, not simply because she had assumed that her marriage was perfectly balanced, but also because it forces her to make some important decisions about her family's future.
They were a family that, simply because they could hire, acquired the direction of other lives. Like the climate and the altitude, they were an arm of destiny. (4.9.4)
Over the course of their adventures, the Ward family grows to include the many people who are hired to help around the house. You know who we're talking about: Pricey, Frank, Charley Wan, and the rest of the gang. They might not be related by blood, but there's no disputing the tight bond that holds them together.
My mother died when I was two, my father was a silent and difficult man: I grew up my grandparents' child. (5.1.1)
Talk about burying the lede, Lyman: this insight explains a ton about the nature of his relationship with his family. Additionally, it also helps us understand why he is putting so much effort into this book about his grandparents.
The impatience she created in him troubled her [...] For her own sake and the children's sake and for his sake she had to be sensible. (6.2.67)
Susan and Oliver's marriage is far from perfect. Oliver loves his fam more than anything, which sometimes leads him to take foolish risks in attempts to build better lives for them. Susan, on the other hand, knows that this mindset will only lead to more hardships for the whole Ward clan. It's a sticky situation.
"I believe he looks upon us as his family. Is it not queer, and both desolating and comforting, how, with all associations broken, one forms new ones, as a broken bone thickens in healing." (7.3.82)
Susan is talking about Charley Wan here, by the way. It's interesting: Susan was actually a bit racist toward Chinese immigrants when she first encountered them, but now she considers a Chinese man to be a beloved member of her family. This is yet another reminder that family isn't always about blood bonds and all that stuff—it's about community.
She did not want this baby. It made her desolate to think what it would be born into. (7.4.46)
Good grief—things have really changed. What happened to the blissfully happy family we met so many chapters ago? How could things have gotten so bad in such a short amount of time?
Feeling [...] drove him across the bridge against the warnings of his conscience—a horrified sympathy for his mother's pain [...]. (7.4.164)
Even when things are rough between mommy and daddy, Susan and Oliver can count on their children. Although it doesn't seem like it at times, young Ollie loves his mama more than anything in the whole entire world. After all, they're a family.
"He works far too hard; he always has. It is a thing I have sometimes held against him, that his family must come second to his job." (8.3.10)
This is one of Susan's most common complaints about Oliver, but we can't help but feel like she misunderstands her husband. Even though it might have negative consequences, Oliver's seemingly inexhaustible work ethic comes from his love for his family. He does it for them, not because he's just a workaholic.