Ten things I learned from my grandma

Last Friday was International Women’s Day, and the woman I most aspire to be like is my maternal grandmother. She is elegant, humble, gentle, and loving. It’s my mother’s side of the family that I got my creative side from. My grandmother is an artist, my great-grandmother played the organ at her church, and my great-grandfather was also an artist. However, it’s not just creativity I learned from my grandma. Even now, I still learn new things every time I see her. I thought about ten of the many things that I’ve learned from her:

  1. Dedication to family
  2. Create food with love and eat mindfully
  3. You don’t need to conform
  4. Do not let others’ negativity affect you
  5. Appreciate nature and the seasons
  6. Do what you can with what you have
  7. No matter how small the compliment, say something nice to every person you interact with
  8. Re-phrase words to be kinder
  9. A little imagination goes a long way
  10. Remember people’s birthdays

Dedication to family

My grandma puts family first. She would always organise family gatherings for the extended family, and I think that that’s how I got my “social organiser” role amongst friends, which I’ve played for a long time (because friends are like family to me). Most of all, she was so dedicated to my late grandfather. When he was dying from cancer, she refused to allow him to die in hospital and became his primary carer at home until his very last breath. Being a carer for such an ill person is a hard and distressing job, but she never showed any signs of fatigue. She did a remarkable job in caring for his every need, which I observed with such admiration.

Create food with love and eat mindfully

My grandma always prepares food with intention. She really thinks about who she’s making the food for, and she shows her love by putting effort into the way she presents her food. Her food is an extension of her art. Everything would be cut with care and skill. Before you even tasted her food (which was delicious), there was colour, texture, and structure to visually absorb. Once you start eating, she would teach us to eat mindfully, to appreciate all the ingredients and their respective flavours, and to take time to enjoy eating together. Like many other cultures, eating in Japan is a very social and bonding experience.

You don’t need to conform

Japanese people are still quite traditional when it comes to gender stereotypes, but my grandma always allowed me to be whomever I wanted to be. I went through a tomboy phase, and she fully accepted that. One of my favourite memories is the summer I turned 20 (the legal drinking age in Japan). She turned on the TV and handed me over a cold beer… so we watched sport and drank beer, like it was perfectly normal (even though it’s very un-Japanese-lady-like).

Do not let others’ negativity affect you

When I was little, I asked my grandma whether there were any mean girls at school and how she’d cope with them. She said she didn’t allow them to hurt her feelings, and that she didn’t give them any reaction. I found this hard to accept at the beginning, because I’m a naturally fiery kind of girl… but with time, I’ve learned to show some restraint and pick my battles. My grandma knows that I am a passionate person with a strong sense of integrity, but she’s shown me that negatives vibes don’t always need a response. It’s much better to carry on and focus on the beautiful things in life, which brings me to the next thing: nature.

Appreciate nature and the seasons

I love going on walks in the park with my grandma. She notices the little things, like the tiniest little ladybug crawling across her path, and she knows the names of all the flowers. I think my appreciation of flowers came from her. She used to make fabric flowers, which were sold at department stores. My grandma loves all flowers, but she seems to have a soft spot for Japanese camellias. During one walk, she had some trouble walking and I told her that I would not let go of her hand, and I would not let her fall.

These hands have hugged me, cooked home-made meals for me, and taught me how to draw and create works of art.

Do what you can with what you have

My grandma lived through the second World War and she knows how to be resourceful. Just today I had a chat with her about one of her recent drawings – of persimmons in autumn. She only had a few colouring pencils but somehow managed to create light and shade, and different gradations of colour using just three colours: orange, brown and green. Where most people would colour the persimmon orange and the leaves green, she mixed the colours by different amounts, and varied the pressure she used to make the drawing take form and come to life. You could tell that the little bit of green she added to the persimmon meant that it wasn’t quite ripe yet, and the brown she added to the leaves showed the change in seasons. “Maybe I’ll ask Santa for a set of 24 colouring pencils for my next drawing,” she laughed.

No matter how small the compliment, say something nice to every person you interact with

I’ve never heard my grandma speak ill of anyone. Whenever I come to visit her, she always has something sweet to say to me. Today it was my top knot – something I do on auto-pilot everyday to get my unruly hair out of the way. “I like your bun, how lovely,” she said. “It looks like a dumpling!” she added affectionately. I was tired, I looked a mess, and I wore old baggy clothes and yet she still had something nice to say. She’s the kind of person who makes anyone feel special, and that’s something I want to be able to do… because frankly we live in a cruel world, and one kind word can make a difference to someone’s day.

Re-phrase words to be kind

It’s the old adage of “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” If there’s something that she doesn’t like, she would never say it in a way that could offend someone. There are so many Japanese phrases that cannot be directly translated, but she will use euphemisms and lovely words to remain polite and respectful. This is an art I’ve learned from my grandma that has been useful for when I give feedback to junior doctors and medical students at the end of the term as their supervising registrar.

A little imagination goes a long way

When my sisters and I were little, my grandma always had fun art projects for us to do. One day, she was peeling some boiled eggs. She kept the egg shells and we made mosaics out of them by painting each piece and arranging them on a piece of paper. I remember that day because I had been fighting with my sister, and that was the first time I’d ever heard my grandma raise her voice. She told us to be nice to each other. We were shocked because she’s always so softly spoken so it made us stop and listen to what she said. Doing the mosaic with my sister really calmed us down and we forgot about what we were fighting about. 

Remember people’s birthdays

Before the advent of Facebook reminders, it was always nice when someone would remember your birthday. My grandma always made sure she posted a heartfelt card that would arrive in time, and would always call on the day. This is something I’ve adopted from her. I don’t use a personal Facebook anymore, but I’ve never relied on it for birthdays anyway. For my close friends, I know all of their birthdays and make the effort to organise something. I especially love organising surprises, putting a lot of thought into what that person would like. My grandma has always been a thoughtful person, and remembering our birthdays is just one of many ways that she demonstrates this.

My grandma has always led by example rather than telling us how we should behave. She is such a role model for all of us grandkids. We show each other appreciation and I love her so much.

Did you think of any female role models on International Women’s Day?

Miko xx

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  1. Surendar K Advani says:

    My role model is my mother. Your article reminds of my mother.

    1. Miko says:

      That is lovely!

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