I was raised by my grandmother, and so for me, Mother's Day was always about her. As an active, engaged, hands-on parent (not to mention wise in a way that none of my friends' parents were), she had the time and patience to educate me far beyond what I was taught in school, teaching me everything from how to build a stone wall, to how to sew a straight seam by hand or with a sewing machine, the names of all our local birds, their lifecycles and what they liked to eat.


She could discuss physics or biology as someone who has lived through the scientific discoveries that were detailed in the textbooks I was learning from. When she was young girl out of finishing school, she loved to dance, sometimes at "mixed-race" clubs, where her own parent's racist leanings were dismissed by the camaraderie of her favorite hobby. She personally experienced World War II from the vantage point of a young pregnant woman in New York City, unable to get the foods she was craving — like pineapple — because they were rationed. Later, neighbors included Jewish people who had escaped the concentration camps with their humor intact — many people and stories she never forgot. She worked with a group of gay men at a pet store and one became a good friend who I got chance to meet 30 years later; it was through her own life experience that she determined that homophobia, anti-Semitism and racism were bigoted ways of being and should not be tolerated or taught.


Being raised and influenced by a person who had experienced so much of history, rather than my incredibly unprepared parents, was nothing short of a blessing in my life. I share my story to show how much can be gained by spending time with an older woman. 


As I've grown older, I've noticed that in many families, grandmothers are seen as a burden and are often relegated to being recipients of "dutiful visits" instead of being celebrated and included. It's only the newest mom that gets the attention on Mother's Day, and grandma can often be forgotten. (Yes, I know there's such a thing as Grandparent's Day, but it's a shared holiday and besides, it doesn't get as much attention from culture and media.) It seems sad that so much wisdom, life experience, and history get ignored.   


Grandparents are raising more kids than ever before (this number jumped when the recession started), but whether or not your family lives with grandma, consider taking the time to spend some time — and do something nice, just for her. Ask her about what it was like when she was your age (or, if you have kids, their age); you just might learn something new. Engaging in a deep, real conversation — which can take a few hours — with someone completely outside your generation might give you a new perspective on your life, and even on them. 


Also on MNN: 7 things our grandparents did to save money and live green

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