10 life lessons I learned from my grandmother

1. Never let someone else dictate how you feel

I remember several times when they spoke with my grandmother Nanny in an abrupt and harsh manner. Raised voices, undeserved criticism, and hurtful words were hurled at her, a scenario that would make many others cry, but not Nanny. She would ignore him, smile, and then offer the other party a cup of tea. She taught me that your feelings are yours and that you decide whether to allow others to believe or change them, so just choose not to.

2. It is always a good time to have a good time

I don’t remember a time when I was near Nanny and she wasn’t smiling. In 15 years of living under the same roof and countless interactions since then, I have never frowned on her. However, more than happiness, it was a lot of fun to be with her. Whether it’s dancing in the hallways at an Elvis Presley look-alike concert, watching handsome boys, or going to a musical, Nanny proved to me that with the right company and the right attitude, everything is fun. I will miss her cheeky smile when I found out that she was up to her antics, but I will continue to keep her legacy alive by trying to have as much fun with others as I did with her and will try my best to be as much fun. too.

3. Never underestimate the impact of a small gesture

It was 2009 and I was in a dark, dark place. He was hospitalized and was having a very bad time. I remember the nurse came in and gave me a Millie cupcake, my absolute favorite. She had told me that my grandmother had come to give it to me and so I asked her where my grandmother was so I could thank her. After all, the hospital was an hour and a half by train from her house and at that moment, Nanny was walking with a cane. It was a great effort for her to come all the way to see me. Informing me that he was gone, I called Nanny.

“Nanny, where are you?”

“I’m on my way home dear. I came to drop you your favorite cupcake because your dad told me you weren’t okay. I left because I didn’t want to bother you. I hope you feel better soon.”

It goes without saying that with each bite of that cupcake I felt better and that act of kindness is one of the most treasured of the many lovely memories I have of Nanny.

4. A simple phone call is all it takes to show someone you care.

There’s nothing worse than being wrapped in a warm duvet in a cozy bed when you’re sick and then having to jump up and down the stairs to answer the call before it reaches voicemail. Unless, of course, the phone call is from Nanny.

“Hi sweetie, your dad told me you have a cold. He was just calling you to see how you are.”


“Hi Mariya, your dad told me you didn’t sleep very well, I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

Every time he was sick, without fail, he received a phone call. Every time I get sick, I will listen to that phone call in my head and remember the healing feeling of knowing that someone cares so much about you, knowing that she always will.

5. Make the most of life

Nanny’s father, my great-grandfather, Albert, fought for England in both wars. During the Great War, his knee was hit by shrapnel, causing him to limp. In the second, the nerve gas left him with a chronic cough for the rest of his life. Nanny was 9 years old when the war ended and she often told me how she was sent to the countryside during the war to keep her safe. I think witnessing the war gave Nanny an appreciation for the life she led and lived for the rest of her time here. Always looking on the bright side, enjoying every moment, pampering and selflessly giving herself to her loved ones is how I will always remember her and how I aspire to live. There was a ray of light in every cloud for her and every time it bothered me, she would tell me “it doesn’t matter. You can’t go back and change the past.” She would just move on, forgive, forget, and be happy.

Along with life, Nanny had a refreshing perspective on death. “When I leave Mariya, I will come back and chase you. I will turn on all the lights and scare you!” After his death, the lights in the house flickered daily for more than a week. I smiled and said “Hello babysitter”.

A couple of Christmases ago, Nanny gave me a pendant with a beautiful poem. I read it and said, “Nanny, you’re not dead yet!” Upon which, my mother scolded me. Now, I’m going to make a plaque for her grave with the poem she gave me and I wear the necklace all the time.

It reads:

“Those we love do not leave,
They walk by our side every day.
Invisible, unheard of, but always close,
Still loved, still missed, and always loved. “

6. Always be proud of your appearance

I look at many of my classmates and their relationships with their grandmothers and I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have had the relationship with Nanny that I had. While other grandmothers had gray hair for years, my babysitter was experimenting with her hair color. Red, light brown, auburn, blonde, Nanny was always ready to change. We did mani-pedis together, haircuts, shopping trips … I felt like I was with my best friend and not my grandmother, but then Nanny took both roles. Her hair was always combed, her nails were always painted, and she was always wearing rouge and red lipstick. She was safe and beautiful, until her last breath and beyond.

7. Leave voice messages

Since caller ID, voicemail has become a thing of the past.

When I got home the day Nanny passed away, there were new messages on the machine. People had listened and were calling to give their condolences. 38 messages, some old and some new. An alert told us that there were only 2 minutes of recording time left and that we would have to delete some of the messages, after all we were sure many more people would call and they did.

Message after message was from Nanny.

“Hi, I’m just calling to see how you are.”

“Hi Mariya, can you please call me back dear? Thank you.”

“It’s good to hear Mariya’s voice on the machine, I miss her, I love her heart.”

And my last favorite:

“Hello. Guess who ?!”

It is so comforting to know that I have Nanny’s voice recorded forever and can listen to it whenever I want. Each message reflects her personality, caring, kind, thoughtful, funny, mischievous … and every time I hear it, I feel like I’m talking to her again. So from now on, no more simple missed calls, I’m going to leave a message.

8. Pets enrich your life

The babysitter loved cats and surprises, me too. We grew up with Leo and then Tommy, the first a red-haired cat and the second a black and white cat. I have so many good memories with them, stroking and playing with them. I have long resolved to have a cat when I have my own home and have children of my own, so that they too can learn how comforting and fun a pet can be. Our next door neighbor’s two have cats and every time I pet them, I remember my childhood and my many memories with Nanny’s cats.

9. There is nothing better than the written word.

I remember my father came home one day and told me that Nanny had given me a card. That’s weird, I thought. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, the two times I would, without fail, receive a card from Nanny. Perplexed, I opened the card.

“Dear Mariya,

I just wanted to tell you that I love you and that I am always here for you. I hope you have a happy life and that all your dreams come true.

Many hugs and kisses,

Babysitter xxx “

All these years later, I still have this card in my memory box.

10. Life is sweet

At the end of each meal, Nanny would say “What’s so sweet?” No meal can do without dessert. The last time I saw Nanny, a week before she passed away, my brother and I had taken her to lunch.
“Where do you want to go for lunch, Nanny?”

“That place with the good sweets!”

My brother tried, in vain, to convince her otherwise. The restaurant was 10 minutes from our house and half an hour from Nanny. It meant he had to drive all the way back to the restaurant, then all the way back to drop off Nanny and go home again … an extra hour of driving. Nanny was adamant: she wanted that dessert!

We ordered the usual Nanny, a lamb burger without a bun, and ate our burgers.

“I can’t eat any more,” Nanny said to the middle of her lamb.

My brother and I finished eating, we looked at each other and gave each other that mischievous smile we both learned from Nanny.

“Okay, let’s go home Nanny. If we leave now we can avoid the traffic, otherwise we will arrive at rush hour.”

“But what about dessert?”

“Nanny, you said you’re full.”

With her finger, Nanny traced a small circle on her belly and said “I left a little space for dessert, right there!”

Nanny finished an ice cream that was meant to be shared by 2 or 3 people, so I think the space she saved was not as small as she claimed.

My brother and I have inherited his sweet tooth, much to the dismay of our future cardiologists, I’m sure. However, Nanny taught us to always make room for the things you love!

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