Celebrate grandparents

Sometime in September, according to my favorite holiday alert website, schools celebrate grandparents day. Darned if I don’t remember ever celebrating it. In fact, my mother’s mother died before I existed and her husband lived 1800 miles away and I remember seeing him twice before he passed when I was nine. My dad’s dad died before I existed and my grandmother on his side died when I was seven. I do remember sitting at her feet crashing toy cars while Jeopardy aired at max volume; also she always had old school candy on her credenza that I would raid. Nevertheless, I had little experience with grandparents growing up, which I don’t complain about.

Sometime in the last few years I asked my mom why she spent so much time with my niece and nephew when they had such crummy manners. (Full disclosure here: I was not a parent at that point and didn’t realize that all kids go through selfish phases, and you just smile and continue pushing them to be thoughtful humans.) She said “they are my grandchildren.” It didn’t register but I could tell it was a definitive, close-the-book answer to my query.



Months afterward I noticed how much time I loved spending at the neighbors’ house. The Mayos, Rita and Dudley, were friendly and curious about me when I moved in four years ago. One would catch me in the yard and ask questions and report to the other, who would find an excuse to run into me later in the driveway and ask follow-up questions. I liked them immediately. They were authentic and honest and they were too mature to discuss social media or ridiculous political events. They’ve been through more than a few undulations, ya know, and they don’t panic like the rest of us tend to do. I found myself sitting in their kitchen having morning coffee for two hours on my days off just to be around folks who can have a laid back conversation and offer advice based on experience rather than trend. 

I admitted this to my brother, thinking he would make fun of me for hanging out with octogenarians and he said “why do you think I shoveled the driveway with my grandfather every time it snowed? It wasn’t because I love shoveling…”

Old people are cool. They’re wise. In movies and myth they’re portrayed as grumpy and obnoxious but I find most of them to be appreciative and calm. I know I just said old and am generalizing a very large group, but I think old is a compliment that means smart and able enough to live long.

My wife speaks of her grandmother with a reverence. I never had the chance to meet her before the onset of dementia but she left such an impression on Jade. She taught her who to be, more than anyone else in her life. 

As I was just learning fatherhood, all at once these ideas latched together like a puzzle and I understood two valuable facts:


  1. Grandparents aren’t just there to spoil grandchildren. They’re there to cue them into the fact that parents are imperfect rookies. They’re also great at understanding people and their personalities, and saying “hey, you are artistic, so do artistic things” or “hey, you don’t want to end up being like this, so try being this instead.” They have the opportunity to be as or more influential in their grandchild’s life than the parents would, because they know stuff, because they’ve done a lot of stuff.
  2. Fate deprived me of a lot of this influence (again, not complaining) and I’m thrilled that my neighbors spurred me into learning the value of a grandparent. I’m so thankful to recognize that significance and I’ll always try to offer my kids those benefits. I lean on Nana to help when I have a schedule conflict, but mostly I want her to guide my daughter when I’m being stupid, and when I’m not. 


One doesn’t need to be related to be a grandparent, either. By definition, sure, but really it’s any elder that’s willing to share their wisdom about the life they’ve lived with someone who could use the advice. It could be a family friend, a tribal shaman, my neighbor, a work mentor. The important thing is to realize you don’t know everything, to have the confidence to ask for help, to appreciate help as it comes from an experienced person. We spend too much time insisting we’re right about things instead of asking for guidance. Asking doesn’t demand using advice, anyway. The more opinions I have about something the better I understand that subject, even if half the opinions are inaccurate. 

So anyway, in review, grandparents, and neighbors, and medicine men and women and anyone older and more experienced than you are a wonderful resource to be utilized and appreciated, and if they’re related and love you unconditionally, even better. Appreciate them on this occasion and year round because they deserve it. And if you're planning to recognize the day in your classroom, explain to the kids how valuable a grandparent can really be.

Ike Martinson
Ike is addicted to life in the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys the mountains, the lakes, the food, the people and all the seasons. He is an amateur chef, a commercial pilot and a terrible painter.

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