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Local AARP honors ‘nanas’ raising grandkids

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Local AARP honors ‘nanas’ raising grandkids
Children’s author Irene Smalls signs a copy of her book, Nana and Me, during the AARP’s Grandmothers’ Tea at the Grove Hall Library. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

A group of lucky Grove Hall children were served an elegant afternoon tea on Saturday. Wearing their best dresses or jackets and ties, they sat at beautifully-set tables at Boston Public Library’s Grove Hall branch and enjoyed such delicacies as mini scones with lemon curd, blueberry muffins, fruit kabobs, and mini sandwiches of grilled cheese or jam-and-Fluff. They sipped tea or cocoa from delicate floral-patterned china tea cups.

As the 5-to-9-year-old girls and boys dabbed their faces with cloth napkins and reached for seconds, local author Irene Smalls presented a lively reading of her book, “Nana and Me.” Each child then received an autographed copy of Smalls’ book to take home.

The tea and reading were certainly special for the kids, but the true honorees of the April 25 event were the grownups — the children’s grandmothers. The “Celebrating Grand-Families Grandmothers’ Tea,” hosted by the Franklin Park Area Grove Hall AARP Chapter 4685 and catered by Vermarjé International Teas and Pastries of Randolph, was an occasion to thank the often-unsung heroines who devote themselves to bringing up grandchildren.

“Our goal with this event is to recognize the great social importance of women who fill the essential role of ‘Nana’ or ‘Ma Dear’ or ‘Grandmother’ with the love and grace that we all admire and cherish,” read the inscription on the printed program for the event, spearheaded by AARP Chapter 4685 President Gloria Coney.

State Rep. Liz Malia presented an official citation to each of the grandmothers.

Malia read aloud, “Be it hereby known to all that the Massachusetts House of Representatives offers its sincerest congratulations, in recognition of your loving guidance and commendable contribution to a thriving family,” before handing out the citations, signed by her and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

The event also included an etiquette lesson from Smalls.

Before the children took their first bite, they learned to place their napkin on their lap (and not to use it to blow their noses), to pass food politely to others at the table, and not to lean elbows on the table or sip spilled tea out of the saucer.

“Good manners will get you places that money won’t,” the author said, sharing an adage her own grandmother told her. “All of this says, ‘I am an important person. I believe in myself.’”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.7 million grandparents nationwide were raising their grandchildren in 2012, up from 2.4 million in 2010. The majority of these caregivers were women, and 39 percent had cared for their grandchildren for five or more years.

Coney told the Banner that her AARP chapter organized last weekend’s tea to pay a positive tribute to local grandparents raising grandchildren, and she hopes to continue to focus on these caregivers with annual service projects.

“They need to be appreciated in so many ways,” she said.

The challenges of parenting the second time around are well-known to Coney and to some of the chapter members who helped plan the tea party.

“As a grandmother who raised a grandson,” Coney said, “I truly understand and have walked the trials and tribulations that raising a grandchild can encompass.”

But for this day, the focus was on the love and generosity of grandparents who take on the challenge.

“This is one of the most creative and refreshing public celebrations I’ve seen for a long time,” said Malia as she sipped a cup of tea with attendees. “I think it’s so infrequent that people get recognized for the basic human tasks they carry out.”

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