Grandparent’s Day, Dr. Rachel Caspari and Why You Should Always, Always, Always Strap Your Son in His Stroller

September 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm 1 comment

My husband introduced me to a quote by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:

“I don’t mind paying taxes. They buy me civilization.”

There was a prerequisite to civilization, however, well before there were taxes. Grandparents, particularly post-menopausal women, a.k.a Grandmas!

Anthropologist Rachel Caspari (along with Sang-Hee Lee), examined 768 ancient skulls. By evaluating dental wear, they got approximate ages of the individuals in various prehistoric populations. Next they looked at the OY ratio– the number of older, grandparent-aged adults compared to the number of young adults.

Grandparents were rare… until about 35,000 years ago.

Around 2 million years ago, only about one in 10 Australopithecines—the modest-brained hominids exemplified by the famous fossil Lucy— who made it to adulthood lived to twice the age of sexual maturity. That number increased to about 1 in 5 when early Homo species appeared a million years ago and increased again to nearly 4 in 10 by the age of the Neanderthals, some 130,000 to 30,000 years ago.

“Then around the 30,000-year mark, all of a sudden you see the reverse, where you have about two older adults for every young adult,” Caspari says

-“Grandma’s Cultural Kick“, October 2004 Issue of Discover Magazine

At the same time grandparents started to be prevalent in the fossil record, so did an explosion of “distinctly modern behaviors”– sophisticated tools, art and symbol-based communication. Once there were grandmothers, it appears culture and civilization could really take root.

Caspari described the presence of grandparent-aged adults as a positive feedback loop. With grandmothers helping take care of their grandchildren, the parents were able to have to more children, increasing the population’s size. In addition, grandparents brought cultural knowledge to the table. By passing along wisdom such as the construction of tools, which plants were dangerous and which plants were good, grandparents helped increase the survivorship of their kin— producing future grandparents!

Yesterday, Ryan and I found tremendous value in the experience, counsel and advice of grandmothers. On our weekly walk to the Farmer’s Market, we had a stroller mishap and Sagan had a fall and hit his head. The accident was 100% preventable– we didn’t have poor Sagan strapped into his stroller. My mother was on the scene almost instantly, calming Sagan and perhaps the tougher job– calming me. Ryan’s mother drew on her many years of nursing experience to assess the situation and advise us.

We had phone calls to pediatricians, an ER visit, various tests, an ambulance transfer to a different hospital, a precautionary saline lock (that Sagan found way worse than the actual hit to his head) and an overnight stay for observation. We certainly expected one day a child of ours would take us to the emergency room, but we didn’t quite anticipate visiting so soon. It was an emotional day, but throughout it all, we had our mothers. They gave us wisdom, they gave us kind words, they gave us stories of the incidents we managed to survive when we were young. How frightening the day would have been without the experience and expertise of grandmothers!

And so I find it particularly fitting that today is Grandparent’s Day. After yesterday, Ryan and I are even more appreciative and grateful for everything grandparents have to offer. We extend a very heartfelt and hearty thank you to both of our mothers.

Sagan - August 27 - With Grandma Sagan - Day Twenty-Eight - Lifts Head with Grandma


It turns out, all is well. Sagan will be making a full recovery and in fact, he would have healed on his own without a hospital visit (but we had no way to know that at the time).

Despite the happy ending, Ryan and I have found one piece of cultural wisdom we will certainly be passing on to our children and grandchildren when the time comes:

Always, Always, ALWAYS Strap Your Son in His Stroller.

More On Caspari’s Research on Grandparents:
“Grandma’s Cultural Kick” from the October 2004 issue of Discover Magazine
“The Evolution of Grandparents” from the August 2011 issue of Scientific American (also available from
“Few Grandparents Until 30,000 Years Ago” from The Telegraph
Dr. Rachel Caspari Interview on The Takeaway

Entry filed under: Evolution, Grandparents, Sagan.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Parenting Confessions « TGAW  |  May 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    […] lapse of good judgement brought us an emergency room visit, an overnight hospital stay for observation, but a fully […]


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