Four things I wish I learnt to appreciate about my grandparents sooner

I didn't realise how much of a privilege it was to live under the care of my maternal grandmother while growing up.

Esther Lam
Esther Lam

Published: 29 June 2020, 12:04 PM

I grew up under the care of my maternal grandmother till I was about 13 years old. My parents had full-time jobs so my grandmother offered to stay with us and take care of my brother and I.

Being so young, I didn’t know nor understand the effort she put in being our caretaker.

My grandmother doesn’t live with me anymore, having moved to take care of my aunt’s kids. Ironically, the separation made me appreciate and love her more (maybe puberty helped too).

I often miss her presence around the house, especially when I’m alone. And as I reflect on the time she was living with us, I realised a few things I wish I appreciated about my grandparents sooner.

1. Having someone always by my side, and on my side

With both my parents working full-time, my childhood revolved around the four walls of home. Having grandma around meant there were always a pair of eyes watching out for me – a hyperactive, inquisitive adolescent – so the house wouldn’t be a wreck.

When I was bored and restless, I’d join my grandmother in watching her Channel 8 dramas like The Spirits of Love (爱) or the Korean dramas on Channel U.


My grandma worried about the smallest things like whether I had enough water to drink. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ESTHER LAM


I often sprawled myself on her bed, instead of doing my homework, happily watching her point at the television screen as she scolded the characters. I’d often ask her in Mandarin “Grandma, who are you scolding?” to which she responded all shy and embarrassed.

And like how she rooted for the protagonists, she always supported me.

When I was teased in primary school, she’d comfort me and gossip about how the person was just jealous of me. Sometimes she’d even side-eye the person when she spotted them while picking me up from school.

It was a cute sight, and she always made me feel less lonely by showing that someone was watching over me.


2. Home-cooked food all day every day

I enjoyed delicious home-cooked food by chef grandma daily, not having to worry about my next meal choice or even my monthly expenditure on food.

She prided herself in feeding me well, and if I dared to come home with a snack, I would have to bear her incessant nagging about not having enough space for dinner.

Occasionally, when we ordered fast food takeout on weekends, she’d grimace and complain it wasn’t a proper meal. She’d also act all defensive and insulted when we offered her some of the food, although we’ve seen her subtly stealing a fry or two on more than one occasion.

During school holidays, my paternal grandmother would visit and stay for a week or so, and the two grandmothers would bicker in the kitchen over whose cooking was better and whose dish the grandchildren preferred.


My maternal grandmother made me fried rice by default for lunch and my paternal grandma made me bird’s nest almost every week despite the cost because I liked it!


Of course I played peacemaker, buttering up to both – for once I say I love a certain dish, I gotta prepare myself to eat it for the next decade…

Flexing their cooking was one way my grandmothers showed their love. It’s no wonder why I am obsessed with their home-cooked food!

3. Not having to do household chores

I didn’t really have to do household chores growing up. And it’s not that I didn’t want to – before I had the chance to sweep even an inch of the house, grandma would grab the broom and shoo me away!


I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood routine consisting of four main activities – eating, sleeping, playing and watching TV. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ESTHER LAM


At least she let me tag along during grocery shopping.

Back when I woke up in the early morning, I loved accompanying her to the wet market, meeting fellow neighbours and aunties.

Sometimes I felt like her human trolley, carrying endless purchases. Then again, I couldn’t let those frail arms carry heavy bags filled with meat and vegetables she bought to cook for me.

I never complained though and I’d jump at the opportunity to do it again. She taught me basic skills like how to look at and pick produce, which helps now when I go grocery shopping alone.

4. The simple conversations we had with each other

I was so concerned with my own life that I didn’t care to know about theirs.

After growing up, I realised all I knew about my grandparents’ lives was hearsay from relatives at family gatherings or their soft mumbles and monologues as they did household chores.

After my paternal grandma got sick, I visited her less, from once a week to once a month. Unfortunately, I spent most of my visits to my grandparents watching Channel 5 in one room, while they sat in the living room watching their own Cantonese programmes.


My paternal grandma’s strength and confidence always inspired me to push myself and not give up so easily. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ESTHER LAM


I missed what was in front of me. When they shared stories about their past, I brushed them off thinking it wasn’t relevant. I should’ve paid more attention when they spoke about what excited them, before they didn’t anymore.

My paternal grandmother passed away two years ago. My biggest regret was thinking I still had time with her – I could update her about my life next time, learn Cantonese another day.

Since I can’t do these things with her now, I make it a point to converse more in Cantonese with my grandfather and in Hokkien with my maternal grandmother when I visit them from time to time.

I’ve experienced what it means to “appreciate what you have before it becomes what you had”. Life is unpredictable and you never know how much time you have left with someone, so treasure the time you have with them now.

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