10 tips on how to become a professional grandmother

Lemon meringue pie just like grandma used to make via Flickr

Lemon meringue pie just like Grandma used to make
(Mum’s lemon meringue pie by Jules under CC license)

Did you know we celebrate Grandparents Day in Canada?  I didn’t, but it’s true.  It’s been formally recognized on the second Sunday of September since 1995.  I spent half of my youth with my grandmother.  They are some of my fondest memories.  In honour of this day, I thought it fitting to share the tribute I gave at her memorial on June 30, 2012.


Rae Valgardson was my grandmother and I was fortunate to share her with others. On paper she had me, my brother Shawn, and my cousins Nan and Val. But in reality there were dozens more. The Stevens, Litwins, Halls, TenBrinke’s, and Shelley Turner, just to name a few, were among many who also got to lay claim to Grandma Rae. I was never jealous of sharing her. She was Grandma to us all and there was more than enough love and attention to go around. This woman had this grandmother thing figured out and honed to perfection. So it got me thinking, how does one become a professional grandmother? I mean, is there a guidebook or something?

We all know the role grandmothers are supposed to play. If you can’t do it at home with your parents, you wait until you’re at grandma’s house, because it’s her job to spoil you. She’s already had her go-around as a parent, and now she’s ready to just let you do whatever you want and have someone else deal with the consequences. I can say in all honesty, that did happen a bit, ok maybe a lot, but that wasn’t the way it always worked at Grandma Rae’s house. Nope. So I sifted through all my memories and stories that so many of my friends and family have reminded me of and thought I could create a guide for those aspiring to becoming an professional grandmother, the Grandma Rae way. Here’s the 10 guiding rules of a professional grandmother.


1)  Always have a lemon pie on the table.

And to be a real pro, you should have a back-up plan so when Grandpa eats the entire pie while your favourite grandchild is collecting their pie plate and fork, another pie (or some other equally delectable delicacy) can be whipped out before the tears can start or other members of the family walk in looking for their slice and all-out war ensues.

2)  Plan activities.

After a long week of working hard, why only take two children away for the weekend to Grandpa’s commercial fishing camp when you can take eight. The only extra planning required is ensuring you have enough food and that you come home with the same amount of kids that you started with. I mean after all they stack in the car really nice, just like cord wood. Once there the kids take care of themselves you just need to feed them. They play outside from the time that they get up till the time the sun goes down. They only come in to eat and get dry clothes. In the evening though, you must partake in cards or board games and when eyes start to droop, scoot them off to the bunk beds, where they stack up two to three to a bed.

3)  Unplan.

While you might have had plans for cleaning the house or reading a book, when the back door slams open and someone yells, “Grandma I’m home”, those plans don’t matter anymore. Water must be boiled for tea and lemon pie put out and your best listening ears put on. A game of cards or Scrabble might be in order. Or sometimes it means pulling out every baking utensil in the house and baking something. It probably also means you washing all the dishes and cleaning up on your own, but that’s ok. Those were the plans you originally had wasn’t it?

4)  Make a big deal of them.

Things like school plays, award ceremonies, graduations, chocolate bar drives, and 4-H events are happily attended and promoted. Each and everyone of them. And when a 4-H leader is needed to run your favourite grandchild’s group, of course you’d step in and be the leader of eight 14 year old girls for the whole year and tell each and everyone of them how their skunk made of a walnut shell with a pipe cleaner tale is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen and promptly hang it on your fridge. And of course, every time you see them, you give them a big hug, and let them know that you love them.

5)  Teach them about the world.

Life sucks sometimes. When your son dies, and you feel like rolling up in a ball and making the entire world disappear, you don’t. Instead you join forces with your daughter-in-law and take on the responsibility of raising your six and four year old grandchildren. Instead of letting them be latchkey kids, you have them come to the Credit Union every day after school and let them climb the vault door and sit on top of it for hours just watching all the goings on. Show them that home can be in two places, three to four blocks apart, and trust that they’ll maneuver their way between the two of them willingly.

6)  Share your passions.

Since you have such a willing audience who actually wants to hang around, encourage them to partake in all the things that you love to do. Turn them into voracious readers, card sharks, artists, crafters, and bakers. And of course look all surprised when someone says “I wonder where they got that from?”

7)  Family, friends, strays and waifs – all are welcome.

Of course everyone is welcome and calling first isn’t necessary. Every single day your grandchildren walk to your house from school at lunch hour. You have hot lunch ready when they walk in. Sometimes they are by themselves, sometimes they have someone (or three) with them but there is always enough food and conversation for them all. And when everyone has moved away from town, be delighted when their friends still stop by for coffee and a chat.

8)  No one is forgotten.

When everyone has moved away, you still keep track of all your non-papered grandchildren. When you run into them on the street you find out how and what they are doing and you jot those notes down when you get home as they’ll be important pieces of news to pass along in the next letter or phone call. Or when the Interlake Spectator highlights friends accomplishments, marriages, or births of their children you cut out the articles and tuck them into an envelope to mail. Kind of like the prelude to the Facebook status update.

9 & 10)  The greatest secret of the professional grandmother is time and love.

There are so many memories for this that I could go on forever but here are some of my favourites. Did you know that…

Rachel Valgardson nee Smith Nov 14, 1921 - Nov 28, 2011

Rachel Valgardson nee Smith
Nov 14, 1921 – Nov 28, 2011

  • it wasn’t uncommon for 8+ kids to be hanging about the house at any given time? Whether it was stretched out on the living room floor building card houses or sitting on the back step with rhubarb stalks in hand and a jar full of shared sugar. And that they all called her Grandma Rae and she took it in stride.
  • when we were at the camp that we shot guns, created great roaring fires on the beach, drove the tractor to the gut pile (even ran over Val once), painted cabooses while black bears watched, and never ever had a chore to do?
  • we were encouraged to be part of adult conversations and we got to play Whist with my grandmother and her friends and no one treated or talked to us like little children or thought of us as a nuisance?
  • in the summers when we were older, the entire family, no matter where we were, would start showing up at Grandma’s just as the street lights were coming on? The kettle would be boiling and toast and Cream of Wheat would be on the go. We’d help ourselves and head to the living room and watch M*A*S*H and share how our days had gone.
  • we could talk her into going places with us just about anytime? Especially Victoria. And when we’d get there her favourite places to go were to the Empress Hotel for high tea and to all the stores in China Town. Whether the Marina and the killer whale show was really a favourite spot of hers or mine, I’m not sure, but it always made the to-do list. And we’d gladly go with her, whether it was in Victoria, or anywhere else – we’d spend all day with her and loved every minute of it. I mean, there wasn’t anyone else we’d rather be with.
  • she could sit at the dining room table and get you to talk for hours and hours while she listened and listened? Or that she never had a bad thing to say about anyone and angry or harsh words were a rarity. She once told me she admired Great Grandma Catherine for those traits. I think they were kindred spirits.

And would you believe that we were never, ever told that we weren’t welcome in her home, at her dining room table, or in her heart? Yes, this was my grandmother. I’m honoured to have shared her with others. And she was a pro.