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In Praise of Grandmothers

I’m a baba. Truth be told, I’m a proud-as-can-be, floating-on-air, tickled pink-and-blue baba who thinks her grandson is the cutest, brightest, smartest little boy in the whole wide world. Other babas are free to make the same claim. I don’t mind. It’s a baba’s prerogative.

My babas were certainly proud of me. And I was so lucky (and blessed!) to grow up with three babas I got to see every day—my mom’s mom (who lived with us), her mom (my great-grandmother, who lived next door) and my dad’s mom (who lived next door on the other side).

My son was lucky to grow up with a baba too, plus a dido (grandfather, in Ukrainian) and a grandma and grandpa. His grandparents were his very favourite people. His dad and I took a far-distant second place.

My son with his baba and dido.

Sadly, COVID has warped the relationship babas like me have with their grandchildren. My grandson was a six-month-old baby who couldn’t quite crawl when Alberta locked down last December. He was a walking, learning-about-talking, one-year-old toddler by the time I was fully vaccinated and could see him again.

Now I’m a stranger and he’s afraid of me. I can’t even hold him or give him a hug. And that breaks my heart.

Every child needs a baba. That’s something I know from my own experience, but anthropological research proves it.

Sort of.

According to the Grandmother Hypothesis, which was first proposed in the late 1950s, women live past the point when they are fertile (that is, past menopause) so they can devote more time and energy to caring for their grandchildren. The theory is that this allows mothers to focus their own time and energy on having more children. Having more descendants spreads grandmothers’ genes more widely in subsequent generations, and results in slower aging in women relative to their predecessors. As humans evolved, this increased human longevity in general. And longevity is highly correlated with brain size.

Scientists who support the Grandmother Hypothesis argue that humans today have big brains and long lifespans because prehistoric grandmothers helped to raise their grandchildren. While not all scientists agree this is the case, the general importance of grandmothers as children’s nurturers and caregivers is widely acknowledged.

So babas are important.

My baba Lesoway and me.

 But before I rest my case, check out these quotes about grandmothers. My favourite is this one by Henny Youngman: “My grandmother is over 80 and still doesn’t need glasses. Drinks right out of the bottle.”

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