Grandmotherly Wisdom

My mother grew up in a family with six children, so when the grandchildren came along we quickly overran family gatherings. When you added myself and my two sisters to the mix, there were twelve of us 1. Holidays were interesting times.

I suppose some grandparents may have collapsed under the pressure of such a gaggle of grandchildren, but not her. She invested in the lives of her many grandkids, and planned massive family excursions to broaden our horizons. Every Christmas we ventured down to the Wanamaker Building in Center City to take in their light show and see Santa. We went to the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Zoo. She even dared to take a bunch of under ten year olds to the Art Museum because she felt it was an important part of our education 2.

Her investment in our growth as people wasn’t limited to trips. Grandmother had all sorts of sayings which were meant to make her many grandchild have to think. Her favorite was unleashed when one of our gaggle marched into a room and immediately asked, “What are you doing?” Without skipping a beat she’d respond, “Flying a kite in a subway, want to come 3?” This would cause us grandchildren to giggle and say, “Grandmother 4.” But it was her way to telling us to stop and observe our surroundings before asking questions which had obvious answers for anyone willing to pay attention. I’ve actually pulled this one out on my own kids.

Her second favorite saying, which I remember my mother using as well, was, “What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?” This statement was usually unleashed when one of us made an outlandish declaration as to why we should, or should not, do something 5. It was her way of telling us stop whining about things over which we had no control, and deal with the reality in front of us 6.

It’s amazing how these two statements helped to instill some of my core personality traits. I am very cautious 7 to observe a situation before asking questions or making observations — it’s important to me to know any questions I ask couldn’t be answered by simply paying attention 8. I also try to deal with the reality in front of me and only complain about that reality if I’m actually willing to deal with it. If I’m not willing to put some energy behind my complaints, then my personal like and dislikes are about as relevant to my present existence as Chinese tea prices 9.

It’s amazing to me how these two statements continue to have a profound impact on me, even decades later. Grandmotherly wisdom is wonderful.


  1. And two step-cousins 
  2. This one didn’t work out so well, and the lunch we had that day is a matter of family legend. I’d never heard of “chunky peanut butter,” and never quite forgave the waiter who served it to me. 
  3. Never “wanna.” 
  4. Always, “Grandmother.” Always. 
  5. Like eating vegetables. “I don’t like them!” I used to declare, at which point I began to wonder why my grandmother or mother was so interested in the price of tea in Asia. 
  6. Like eating the peas on my plate before getting dessert. 
  7. Almost too cautious, to be honest. 
  8. And I get very annoyed when people around me don’t follow the same ethos. People who ask obvious questions cause my head to spin in angry circles. 
  9. Which is to say, not at all. 

One Comment

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  1. I have never heard about “flying a kite in the subway”, but the tea in China comment was a favorite of my mother, and I have certainly said it myself (more in social discussions than to my children). I really like the first, it is truly annoying when asked a question to which the answer is quite obvious.

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