Phone Calls with my Grandma II

A continuation of my previous call with my grandma.


I always get emotional during phone calls with my grandma and it always begins with me getting annoyed at her.

I get annoyed at how she always tells me to work hard at school, as if it is the hardest thing in the world and I am failing miserably. She always talks about how school is something that no one can take away from me, how education is for myself and I can’t “give” it to my mom or dad. She talks about how I might get a job if I’m “lucky” and everything else that belittles me, even though I am doing well in school and have been managing multiple part-time jobs for the last five years.

She never asks me about anything that goes on in my life – about what makes me happy or what makes me sad, people who are important to me or anything that I am excited about in the near future. The most annoying part is that she can tell that I’m not really listening to her and I am ashamed to admit that.

I want to love my grandma deeply – not the shallow love where I love her because she is my grandma, but I don’t know anything about her and she is so old and far away. I feel like I will never be able to understand her the way I want her to understand me.

She says she is too old to visit me in Canada, too old to know anything about the world to tell me anything, and it is all so sad how she sits by herself in a tiny apartment in Hong Kong, pondering about when would be a good time to call her granddaughters (Are they busy with school work? Not at home at all?) and weeks pass and months pass and finally everyone is available to talk on the phone, but the granddaughters are not really listening.

I feel so uncomfortable talking to her and to be honest, I find myself avoiding initiating any phone calls with my grandma. I feel guilt, distance, and awkwardness every time silence falls into our short conversation, every time I just say, “Yes, I understand”, and every time I pass the receiver back to my dad in relief.

I know my grandma still loves me. She has never directly said it, but there are many ways people can say, “I love you.” My grandma says, “I love you” when she wishes me success and health, when she worries about me getting a job or how my grades are in school, and when she says, “Well, I won’t bother you now. You must be tired and you should rest for work/school.”

I’m not sure if I can fix my relationship with my grandma. Our values are so different, our knowledge of each other so lacking, and our time together is diminishing at such a rapid pace. Yesterday I found out my grandma is over 90 years-old. It is such an achievement but all she can say is that she is “useless” now.

What else can I do except try not to let her hear me cry on the other line when I say, “Goodbye”?

logo Sincerely, Loewe


4 thoughts on “Phone Calls with my Grandma II

  1. The unfortunate thing of life is the grandparent/grandchild relationship has a two generation wall between them, and the younger gen has problems finding common ground, so they easily get bored or annoyed at prolonged interactions due to that gap.

    My grandparents have passed on, but to this day I still remember the last time I spoke with my grandma when we visited and I remember also feeling annoyed at her repeated questions about school. I was in HS and focused on my own life, but while that is common, I still feel bad that I felt that way from a family Matriarch that was trying to reach out to me.

    Looking back, I now realize the problem was on my side, not hers. Our grandparents grew up at a time when the world was very different than the current times, and the curve keeps growing so there is very little in common in how they spent their childhoods compared to ours. So they look for common ground that they know of – going to school to telling us the things their parents and elders told them about the importance of an education and to work hard moving forward.

    Only as we get older, do we realize what a great untapped resource we left wasted by not asking the right questions and finding out more about our grandparent’s rich history in their life experiences, and the sacrifices they made to give our parents a boost to bring us were we are today.

    If I could go back in time, I’d be asking them what it was like growing up in their time and what my parents were like as kids. I’d look up the historical events that happened at the time and ask them about as first hand witnesses to get their perspective. I would try to explain to them how the world has changed in terms of what they used to do as kids and young adults as compared to what is done now, for better or for worse. Imagine the world with no internet, TV, phones, or even radio. It was a time where women were truly second class citizens compared to men and openly treated as such – this is why she stresses to you so much the value of an education and working hard – likely due to the many opportunities denied her. That is a time to share your achievements with her to show you are carrying the torch forward to honor her and her and past family contributions. If you think of the context in what she’s telling you, they are concerns out of love and is no way trying to make you feel insecure or belittled. You have the freedom and opportunity that she could only dream about.

    I’d use the technology of the day to help capture their remaining time here to help share with future generations. They and our parents are a resource that grows more precious with time as their time here with us is limited just like ours.

    I was blessed to have my grandparents living here, but I would strongly consider planning a trip to visit if they didn’t – of course this is the “looking back me” talking versus the person who didn’t know any better back then.

    Truth be told, your grandma is quite prescient with her concerns in the future job market. The technology of today is making more and more jobs obsolete like never before (robots can now even perform complex surgeries and write articles), and the global economy is increasing competition for the remaining jobs at all levels. I don’t think governments have worked out plans on how to deal with this new age of decreasing demand for workers in high quality jobs that pay well. It just goes to show you that history has a way of repeating itself over time.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment and I agree completely. I envy those who have a close relationship with their grandparents, and like with all things, taking the first step is the hardest part. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to visit Hong Kong again, but I will drag my arse down to my grandmother’s apartment and push myself to engage in an actual conversation. Of course, I’ll also need to articulate my thoughts better in Chinese too.

      1. You might want to try being a pen pal and going old school with letters. That would give you the extra time to translate her words and articulate your responses as well. :)

  2. We can’t always rely on others to try to understand us but now that you’re conscious about how well your grandma understands you, you can do the flip side – try to understand her. Cherish each moment of it.

To Loewe:

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