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My Grandson and His Step Stool

My two year old grandson loves to stand on his orange and yellow step stool.

He pushes the plastic stool over to a cabinet, steps on top of it and peers over the counter. He then comments on something he desires at the moment, or recites one of his newest vocabulary words while pointing to said item “up dere.” Some of his oratory includes words like  “dis,”  “cake,”  “milk,”   “cup,” or “Mommy, dat!”

Last week, on one such morning while his Mommy was preparing the other kids’ lunches at our house, when the little guy stepped onto his orange and yellow step, this grandmother (that would be me) walked by.

“Hey, Sweetie, could you just move over just a bit. Omi wants to get something from this cabinet?”

He stood there perched up on that stool and didn’t budge.

So, this grandma (me!) ever so gently moved his tiny body off the stepstool, moved the thing a tad,  took out the item from the cabinet, put it on the counter and then set the stool back in his place.

“Here,” I said, “Now you can go back up.”

He stepped back up onto it, but not before his lips puckered up into a  frown while he let out a roaring wail.

After a few minutes of soothing him, I got him to calm down and he became the happy babbly camper again. But I thought about the crying which I assume was  because he was insulted and humiliated. I mean, he had been high up on his pedestal and I had the gall to take him down a notch.

This incident got me thinking about our relationships as adults and how this “taking someone down a step or rung” is hurtful to others. My husband tells a joke and I say the punch-line before he has a chance. Ouch.

A friend shares exciting news and I jump in with, “yea, I heard already.” What for?

Or my son tells a story at the table and someone (not saying who) corrects him on a detail.

It’s all about the kid and the stepstool. There really is no harm in allowing others to stay on their pedestal. It doesn’t hurt them and it doesn’t hurt you.  Let it be.  I try not to jump in to change or move things around. It can wait till later.

Maybe I could have waited till his mom had taken him out for the day to get that item out of the cabinet. Or asked his mom to move him.

No need to rain on another’s parade. Step out of the way so they can enjoy their fun in the sun.

 

 

 

 


Conversations With Grandparents

 

It’s  Chanukah and we’ve had a few family get-togethers with all grandparents (my husband and me!) and great grands (my mother-in-law), plus a few aunts and uncles and cousins. I always enjoy being with family, especially when the various generations get to mingle together on the holidays. During holidays, some grandparents reminisce about their past. Others are more quiet about their histories and need to be drawn out and engaged in conversation. And finally, there are those who try to reminisce and no one really listens. Or even worse, no one asks.

As a child, I was one of the few who had  grandparents. Most of my friends’ grandparents had passed in the Holocaust and my friends’ parents emigrated to the US to start new families.  My grandparents each survived the War and traveled to the U.S. with their children – my parents – in the late 1930’s and early 40’s respectively.

Many of my friends tell me that they didn’t grow up hearing stories about the Holocaust from their survivor parents.  Aside from the stamp that their parents  had on their arm indicating the years in concentration camps, there was little proof that they had experienced atrocities. These survivors were reticent to share their horror stories with their children and grandchildren.

And then there are those who do talk about their experiences. In his later years, my father-in-law who passed in 2001, freely shared stories of how he and his brother escaped from Poland and other interesting stories. My husband and his siblings lapped up these stories as well as those still being told by my mother-in-law who is well into her 90’s (may she live till 120).

Children ask a lot of questions but adults don’t always want to prod. They may have the dilemma of how much to probe, to ask, to engage in conversation. They may wonder: Do the elders really want to talk? Are their memories really accurate? Is this act of eliciting reminiscence really for their catharsis or therapeutic benefit? Or is it for us – so we can record it all for posterity?  How do we know if we are being sensitive to their needs?

This is the subject of a book that I’m reading now called The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey H. Konis.  Mr. Konis recalls his Grandma Ola whom he adored and spent a lot of time with, but after her death twenty years earlier, felt regret at not getting enough information from her about his family’s history.  His father never asked questions and he repeated the trend of not asking anything, despite having spent a lot of time with his grandmother. And so, he set out to write this book which is a recollection of his thoughts on his grandmother combined with what he did know about the Holocaust and his conversations here and there with his father. He weaves together all the warm and loving memories about his grandmother.

The book’s  title is somewhat self-deprecating if not self-critical. He wishes he would have asked more, started more conversations and he has a fantasy that his grandmother might have poured forth with story after story.

Notwithstanding his not having war discussions, the author had a most loving relationship with his grandmother.  His Grandma Ola –who actually was his “real” grandmother’s sister, raised his father after the war because the actual grandparents died in the War before his father turned nine.  Grandma Ola found her little nephew hiding on a farm in Poland and brought him  to America to raise him as her own.   Thus, Grandma Olga (“Ola”) was the only grandmother Mr. Konis  knew.  As a young adult, Mr. Konis spent time with Grandma Ola when he was in law school, living in her apartment which was close to his school. She doted on him, made sure he was comfortable and gave him the space to study, party, and be his own person.

Many of the elderly who went through the Holocaust do not want to relive their past. My own father (RIP) and my mother (till 120) were/are Holocaust survivors. Although their stories may be fewer and less dramatic than those of my in-laws as they did not experience concentration camps, they did not regale stories of their past. The only thing I remember is my father telling us bedtime stories about his childhood in Antwerp before the war. A few years before his passing, my brothers recorded him as he spoke on tape about some of the more fascinating escape stories – leaving Belgium, France and coming to the USA.

The opportunity to interview our elders – both informally and informally – are many but often we don’t grab the chance.  Either we think they aren’t interested in talking, or perhaps they really are not interested. Or maybe we aren’t asking the right questions to get them to talk and share.

Bottom line is that many of us go through our lives without having these important conversations with our grandmothers, grandfathers and even our parents.  Later we may regret those missed moments and conversations.

I think the message of Mr. Konis’s book is that we ought to delve into the situation with our elders and find out what and how much they are willing to share. If they are willing to share and reminisce, then we take out a pen and paper and write down what they say. Pull out the tape recorder or  video camera and record them talking. Make a collage or scrapbook using old pictures. Interview them, tape them and give out a CD to the cousins.

But if they are not willing to share, accept that reality. Enjoy their presence and glean your own stories from the time you had with them. That’s what Mr. Konis did and his story “Conversations We Never Had” is a testimony to his great love and memory of his time with his grandmother.

 

 


Why “A Hanukkah with Mazel” Inspires Hope (A Book Review)

Sometimes we need a little extra touch of  optimism in our lives. Maybe we are feeling sad. Maybe our children seem a bit hopeless about stuff in their lives. We pray, we hope, we sing, we laugh… but nothing seems to be working for us.

Words can help. Stories can inspire.

That dose of faith or spoonful of hope and promise for our future that everything will turn okay is often found in a good story. No matter if that book is truth or fiction. Never mind if it is short or long; for kids or for adults.

Recently, I was asked by Kar-Ben Publishing Company to review some books. Subsequently, they sent me several Hanukkah books. These were: Hanukkah Delight, L’Dor Vador, and Joseph The Dreamer, all of which were delightful and will be reviewed in a future post.

In particular,  the picture book story, A Hanukkah with Mazel by Joel Edward Stein, hit the spot and helped me feel optimistic and hopeful. I got that good fuzzy feeling in my stomach and I just had to read it again and again. Then, I shared it with my grandsons who loved it.

A Hanukkah with Mazel by Joel Edward Stein, (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2016), tells the story of Misha a poor farmer, an artist who has barely enough money for his own food and what happens to him when a cute stray cat  appears in his barn next to the cow. How he uses his kindness and resourcefulness to make a better future for himself. The cat, whom he names “Mazel” symbolizes the hope and gratitude he feels for having found and helped the cat. And then,  after that, as Misha celebrates the holiday of Hanukkah,  things just become better for him.

The illustrations by Elisa Vavouri are realistic without being trite. The language is simple and unpretentious without being too childish. The book has a universal and classic and Jewish feel to it without being cliché.

Hanukkah is  when we gather round with our family and loved ones. It’s a great time for instilling feelings of hope and faith in our children and ourselves. This story mirrors the one of Hanukkah where one little amount of oil lasted for eight days. Misha has no money or much oil but he does have talent. Talent for art. A heart to care for the cat and a brain to figure out what to do. All that combined with someone else who comes into his life, combine to make  a story of small and large miracles.

This book can be purchased online on Amazon or at the Kar-Ben website.

Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate! And may all our days be happy and filled with light.

Disclaimer: I received the listed Hanukkah books in compensation for this review.

 

 

 


Should Age Be a Private Matter?

A few  nights ago our family was invited to the100th birthday party of my mother-in-law’s cousin.  To me, the celebration of his becoming 100 indicated that he and all around him were grateful for his blessings of a long life.

It was a time to announce his age to those who were there. Something that is often private was the topic of the event.

My MIL has lots of friends around that age, including someone from our synagogue  who turned 100 a few months ago and celebrated with a party in synagogue on Shabbat. Oh, and did I  mention my MIL’s best friend, Anne who turned 102? That was a milestone which our family and Anne’s children celebrated at a restaurant.

Until about 6 years ago, my mother-in-law’s age was private. No one seemed to know her age and if they did they certainly didn’t discuss it.

After that, her age was officially public knowledge and no longer a taboo subject.

So I’m wondering: Why wait till you’re 90 or 95 to announce your exact age? I think it should be something to boast about when we are still in our 30’s, 40’s and beyond.

I guess this belief stems from my childhood and how I was raised.

The adults in my life always discussed their age. I had two sets of grandparents growing up and I knew all of their ages as a child. And that’s not just because I was a nosy kid who asked a lot of questions! (although that may have something to do with it.)

But seriously, when my maternal grandmother was in the hospital and not feeling very well the last year of her life, she maintained her sense of humor and shall I say, brutal honesty.  When the doctor came in to examine her and asked her how old she was, she said, “90 1/2,” in a decisive tone of voice. No one was going to leave out that half a year that she was proud of.

Every year one of my sisters writes a poem using my mom’s age that year as a takeoff for a theme. That poem gets emailed to all the cousins and friends by my mother herself.

So I grew up with the adults around me treating age as a number denoting an accomplishment.  Nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Another birthday means we have arrived. And thank G-d we have more time on this earth to accomplish things.

Still, age continues to be a taboo subject in some families and cultures. It’s still considered impolite for children or adults to ask one another how old they are. I get that.

But I wonder whether the hiding of one’s age or considering it not a topic of conversation in polite company contribute to unhealthy messages about our aging bodies and souls.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing to be open about one’s age, because it helps us grow and move forward emotionally. I believe that when we pretend to be what we are not or forget that we are 56 (that would be me!), maybe we won’t take care of our health. We may neglect ourselves and skip mammograms or colonoscopies or bone density exams or other checkups… because we think we are still 25 or 35.

By contrast, when we focus on the positive aspects of growing old such as having more wisdom and experience we embrace our age.  Rather than getting depressed when we reach a new decade or big number,  I do think it’s better to reach a place of acceptance.

That celebration doesn’t have to be in the form of a party or getting gifts. It can be in the simple acknowledgment of our moving forward. Our growth. It could be a time to take stock of what we’ve achieved the past year or years and what we want to achieve in the next year. A time for gratitude and prayer.

Children are proud of their age because it denotes being more grownup and having more privileges. To them every fraction of a year counts. My young grandson has been keeping track of when his 5 1/2 years became 5 3/4 until he turned 6.

We don’t have to have that kind of glee for a new age or fraction of an age. And some people choose to keep it private. Whether we admit it or not, we feel our age. Every. Single. Day.

But instead of seeing that as a negative, let’s see it as a reminder of our blessings.

So the next time the subject comes up, be proud of your age. Whether you are 20, 30, 40, or 50 +, let’s celebrate our birthdays, not just with a party and lots of cards.

Oh and by the way, my birthday is coming up soon in a few months and I’ve been reflecting as I reach that number and as I watch others have birthdays. It could be this post is my way of working through my unconscious anxieties about the new number. Or maybe I’m just reflecting on a common societal trend of age and privacy. I don’t know.

All I know is that I  pray that we can all embrace and celebrate our birthdays by having our cake and eating it too. That means being grateful, taking care of our physical and emotional health and reaching out to loved ones.

 

 

 

 


Life is Grand at the Old Ballgame

It’s a week or two before the Jewish New Year, with lots to do in preparation for this auspicious time of year. Still, it’s a good a time as any for  my husband and I to spend quality time with our grandchildren. Since every summer we have a tradition to take our two young grandsons (now ages 5 1/2 and 8 1/2) to watch a ballgame, we found time to do that last night.

Admittedly we were a bit delayed with the ritual due to our older son’s wedding a few weeks ago. But, we did end up finding a good time on our calendar. And so, my husband – whose favorite childhood pastime was baseball- and I  headed off last night with our baseball fan grandsons to Dodger Stadium.

Last night Los Angeles Dodgers play against the San Francisco Giants. Even though both teams are from our home state, we naturally rooted for the Dodgers.

One of my grandsons wore his fun  Jackie Robinson shirt with “Brooklyn” scrawled across the front. And our younger grandson said, “I go for the Dodgers.” I could tell by their cheers of “Let’s go Dodgers!” throughout the game that they really did want the Dodgers to win.

Win or lose, what could be bad about a night out (past their bedtimes) to the ballpark? What’s more fun than home made hot dogs taken along in a plastic bag, buying super expensive drinks at the park, and sitting with baseball caps cheering and watching the Dodgers play  the Giants?

And what could be more exciting and hearwarming for us than taking our grandsons out for a night, watching them enjoy themselves, and just having the quality time with them?

In this day and age, when life seems sometimes doom and gloom, we couldn’t have asked for a more fun night.

It started off with my husband coming home early from work so we could get an early start out for the 7:10 game. No such luck. We left at 6:15 later than planned with two eager guys in the backseat, holding onto their mitts in the hopes of catching a fly ball

Pretty soon we hit traffic before reaching the freeway. But our spirits were high and so were the boys’ spirits  as they talked about all their favorite and not-so-favorite sports teams. We kept our eyes on the eventual road signs pointing to Dodger Stadium.

Eventually we arrived, parked and walked quickly to the ticket booth. The game had already started, but the boys  were already glued to the screens visible from the ticket booths. While my husband negotiated seats with the salesperson, the boys were focused on one thing only: The Game.

As I said, life is good at the ballpark. Here they are waiting in line.

ballpic

We got our tickets and found our seats which turned out to be really great ones. And even though the game crawled — hey baseball is a slow game — the kids seemed to have a grand time. And even though their team was losing –with Giants leading 1-0 for most of the time, my grandsons had that glimmer in their eyes, of focus and attention.

And an exciting game it was – with the Giants in the lead till the 9th inning.

And me? I listened with half an ear to the baseball chatter between the guys and kept myself busy taking pictures.

ballpic2

In the 8th inning, there was some talk about switching pitchers for the Giants because they wanted to make sure they would stay in the lead. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Even though they did change to a rested pitcher, the Dodgers scored two runs and won the game.

By this time, we were already on our way home listening to the game on AM 570 in our car because true to our tradition of going to the ballpark, we left at the bottom of the 8th inning.

As the final plays were occurring, we were heading towards our street, and soon turned into our driveway. Before dropping the boys off, we sat in the car and listened to the final plays until the win. Yay!

It’s a win! 2-1! At last the Dodgers won the game! Go Dodgers!

smilingball

 And now it’s time to get home and go to sleep…good night!


In-Law Boundaries Then and Now

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When I was expecting my first child, I once overheard my mother-in-law sharing with a friend of hers that I was pregnant – in the early months. I was so upset; I thought she had violated my privacy. Looking back, I know what I was thinking, but I also know what I wasn’t thinking.

I wasn’t thinking about the other side of the picture. I wasn’t realizing that all in-laws want is to be a part of their children’s life. So she slipped and shared with her two friends about my upcoming event. Big deal.

Boundaries  with in-laws were always a thing, except we didn’t call them that in the old days.

If you crossed boundaries or were over-involved with your kids and in-law kids, you were a meddler, a doter, and interfering parent. If you talked too much, you were a yenta.

When I got married we had a particular preference with our parents and in-laws (which was hardly ever followed because we didn’t enforce it) was that they call before popping in. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, and that’s the way it was.

Back in the 1980’s there were no cell phones, so by making that rule I was basically saying to my mil or fil that if they were driving down our block and wanted to stop by they’d have to go home and call us. Which was kind of ridiculous, I think now.

In fact, I look back at those days and I’m a little embarrassed at how unreasonably I acted. I mean, I know what feelings I had that motivated me to be kind of tough and strict in some ways. But still, I think I overdid things a bit.

Lucky for them, my in-laws weren’t pushovers.  And they were smart – they’d be just in the neighborhood and just had to stop by and why bother calling from a pay phone or their home phone? They’d just stop by in the evening for just a minute.

And I would be upset (understandably) and make a big deal (by venting ridiculously  to my husband).

Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t visit my children  without calling first. That goes for my kids who live locally and those who live faraway.

How many times have I driven by my children’s house and wanted to stop by? All I had to do was call or better yet, text and bingo. I would be told “not a good time,” or “Yes, that’s great, come on over.”

Calling or texting to ask for permission to move forward into their turf is really easy now.

It’s easier for us to resist barging in at any hour at our kids’ home. So who am I to criticize my in-laws who had a different set of tools to work with in those days? It’s all about seeing the other side of the picture.

But today, we have other challenges to deal with, things that our own parents, grandparents never even thought would be an issue.  We have social media and the personal computer, and smart-phones each of which lends to lots of sharing and posting. The truth is that our children hate dislike prefer that we don’t share indiscriminately.

And I confess that I don’t follow that rule very well. In the same way that my in-laws would “just” stop by for “just” a few minutes to visit when they had the time or were “in the neighborhood,” in the same way I post a picture “just” on Facebook for “just” this once when I “just” have a great photo to post.

It’s hard for me, and it must have been hard for my in-laws. We parents want to share the good stuff about our grandchildren. And the pulling out of the pictures from our little purse just doesn’t cut it anymore these days for some reason. (that’s what my grandmother did with her friends back in the day!)

Look, with in-law relationships as with any relationship, the key is to do our best. To try to place ourselves in their shoes and understand how they feel. To remain true to our own feelings and needs. And to keep the communication lines open.

With a good dose of understanding, communication, and perspective about the other person’s situation, things can usually work out very well.

 

 


Lessons from Little Feet in Big Shoes

I like to watch my 20-month old grandson hanging around wearing one or both of his 8-year old brother’s sneakers. Or his Daddy’s black dress shoes. Or his 5-year-old brother’s crocs.

crocs

With his back straight, his stomach out and his  hand swinging by his side, he traipses around from room to room picking up little toy cars and other stuff he finds.  He’s on a mission. A shoe wearing mission. A big boy mission.

Every so often, his big brother will kneel down, make eye contact with the shoe-wearing toddler and ask politely, “Hey, can I have my shoes back? I need them.”

To which the big-shoe wannabe will smile, shake off the large shoes and go to retrieve another set of big shoes in the house. Or maybe he’ll settle for his own shoes which he doesn’t wear for long. He usually kicks off one or both of his own shoes and holds it in his hand — as if to keep it safe. Then, he walks around with his own.

But when he’s wearing the oversized shoes of someone else he has that determined look.

He’s practicing being big. He’s mesmerized by the big people’s shoes and he likes to feel what it’s like to walk in those big shoes. Why? Maybe because it’s fun and it’s new and it’s something outside of himself.

Actually, I’ll never know for sure but when I watch him,  I see a confident, happy child wearing something oversized, and loving every minute of it.

Nobody is bothered by it (except for the older brother who needs them back!) and the big-shoe-wearer is happy.

Yes, imagination. Playing. Practicing for when he’s really big like his brothers and his Daddy.

Don’t judge another person until you’re in his shoes.

It’s when the big-shoe-wearer imagines what it’s like to be wearing someone else’s and critiques how the other person wears their shoes.

I can’t imagine my little grandson judging anyone. He’s so sweet, accepting and smiley. (And oh yes, he’s only 20 months, right?)

But me, I learn from him. His walking around in big shoes teaches me about empathy. Feeling the experience of wobbling, stumbling, marching in its entirety without judgment.

What does it feel like to be that person wearing his or her shoes? Not – what does it feel like to be Me wearing his or her shoes? Because that’s not the point.

It’s important to remember that we each have our own experiences in the shoes we wear, big or little.

We need to imagine what it’s like to be  the other person – with his experiences, life situation, abilities and history – walking in his shoes. That’s empathy.

Researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. (google.com)

Just like my grandson does. He’s not thinking of the right way or the wrong way. He’s just putting himself in another person’s shoes and feeling the experience.

And that to me, is empathy.

 

 

 

 

 


Who’s the Boss Here Anyway? (and lessons I learn as a Grandma)

When my kids were little, my husband and I  faced many parenting stresses. Through it all, we felt that we were in control of our children’s lives and were the conductors on the train that our kids were traveling on.  Major and minor decisions – from what school to send them to, to where they would go to camp, to bringing them to play-dates, to dealing with negative issues that arose, to taking them on outings, travel, buying them new things, everything was our department.

As the children got older, we involved them in discussions according to their ages and developmental levels. We might have scoffed at times at the overwhelming reality of too much on our plates, but there was a constant sense of purpose, busy-ness, and important-ness in our daily lives.

And that position of control felt comfortable for us. It felt important. Smart. In charge. As if we were responsible parents.  And it’s a feeling that we got used to having.

Fast forward many years.

Our children grew up  and moved out and onto yeshiva and/or college out of town.  One by one, they married.

All that control and decision making power now fell from our laps right onto  our adult children’s shoulders. We were told – directly or indirectly; passively or aggressively – to back off. The only exception was when they wanted our advice and we happily gave that to them when asked (and at times when not asked).

We were no longer the bosses of our children’s destinies. We were dethroned.

chair-of-tutankhaman

Okay, it took some getting used to and I kicked, screamed and had a few tantrums (to my husband or anyone who would listen), but overall I accepted my new position.  I mean, I felt the hurt when things didn’t go my way, and was  annoyed when they did things differently than I thought was the “right” way.

When my oldest grandson was about five, I compiled a collection of magazine articles I had written since he and the others were born. The articles were  on empty stage syndrome and other middle-aged topics, so I added some fresh material and then wrote a book about being a grandmother. Within that year, I held book signings and other events and a friend of a friend asked me to lead a workshop at a well-known synagogue not far from my home. The audience was a group of synagogue members who were  vibrant and active seniors. After my presentation which included readings from my book and sharing some personal experiences as a new mother-in-law and grandmother,  someone raised her hand and asked the following question:

“What do we do when our grandchildren don’t thank us for the gifts that we give them? And why don’t their parents – our children – teach them the proper thing to do?”

I could hear others in the group mumbling comments in agreement with the questioner, and a few called out some other transgressions that their adult kids did with child rearing. Apparently, this was a hot topic, one that many in the group related.

It became immediately clear to me that this theme of non-grateful grandchildren was a topic I wasn’t at all prepared to discuss and advise about.

I wanted to relate to these women’s situations but I really couldn’t understand all the angst. At the time, I didn’t get the big deal if the child doesn’t say thank you. A thought occurred to me that many of these women were grandparents of older grandchildren than my pre-school aged grandsons. Some had grandchildren who were 8, 9 or 10 and others had teenage grandchildren.

I offered them empathy as best as I could. And then I gave some generic advice along the line of how we have to keep our mouths shut even if we think the adult kids are raising their kids with poor manners.

This led to some more sharing as the group offered some other examples of how poorly their adult kids were raising the little ones these days.

But I left the group feeling confused.  In my mind, this wasn’t the most successful event I had led. I felt I was not on the same page as these more mature grandmothers and I certainly didn’t feel that I had offered them concrete tips in the areas that were important to them.

Fast forward four more years. I now have (G-d Bless them) grandchildren who range in age from almost nine years old to almost six months. I’ve had countless experiences where I had to choose between expressing my opinion one time, several times or many times (one time wins!), arguing with their decisions or keeping my mouth shut (keeping mouth shut wins!)

But in the earlier days most of our interactions were with our adult children.

For example, where they sent the kids to school or what synagogue they chose to pray in, or where they lived, or how they spend their money or choices they make or friends they have —- all these issues have been between us and them.  I practiced the cardinal rule of zipping up my lips. The best thing to do (unless they ask for our input) is to keep quiet because it’s really up to them. Not us. Their business, not ours. A tough pill to swallow sometimes but the truth.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from one of my grandchildren and for a reason that I can no longer fathom, I found it to be lacking in appreciation.

What? Me, who four years ago couldn’t understand the need for kids to express appreciation, was having a problem with this? Yes. True.

And not only did I feel disappointed in the letter, I expressed it to him on the phone. Looking back now, I’m thinking, “What was I thinking? The kid wrote me a letter and I’m complaining?”

Well, needless to say he told his Dad who shared with me that the child was pretty insulted.

Gulp. I messed up.

After talking it over with the child the next day on the phone and patching things up,  I realized an entirely different – but related lesson.

Even our kids have don’t have control over other people – their growing kids! That’s right. While we think we can tell our kids what to do because we have control over them and they have control over their kids, it’s all just an illusion. The only ones we can change are ourselves. We knew that already, right? But

So for those senior grandmoms who complained that their adult kids didn’t teach their progeny how to show appreciation, my response would be (four years later in case any of them are reading this!):

We are not in control. Our kids  are not in control either. Everyone does his or her best to teach their kids how to act and be. At the end of the day, the kids eventually have minds and hearts of their own. Only we can influence our relationship with our grandchildren through our kindness and acceptance.

If you want to give gifts, give them. If you don’t want to give gifts, don’t give them. Nobody wants a gift with strings attached.

The key component in any relationship – including the grandmother/grandchild dynamic – is warmth, understanding and acceptance. No preaching and no expectations.

Letters, conversations, warmth. Those are worth more than formal thank you’s from young children and teenagers.

And that’s my lesson of dethronement – we’re no longer in control and we never were. Not even when we were young moms and dads raising our kids.

And as a grandmother, that realization is very freeing today.

 


A Humble Confession by an Ex-Non-MIL

You know those annoying non-moms who think they know everything about motherhood? For sure you do; everyone does. We’ve all come across them in our most insecure and shameful moments as parents. Just when we need the most encouragement — because one of our kids is having a tantrum, or talking back to us, or being unruly, or making a scene at a public place like a zoo or park — these know-it-all non-moms vow out loud to never be the kind of mom we are.

And then when these NM’s become moms, guess what happens?

Actually I don’t know what happens because I’ve never done a longitudinal study following  non-moms into their eventual mom-hood. But I’m willing to bet that if we tracked those woman and interviewed them years later, we’d find some pretty overwhelmed and possibly not-so-sure-of-herself types. Just my guess. Nothing scientific here…just some good-ol’ deductive thinking.

Well, I was a know-it-all and high-horse type of person but not about motherhood. I was that way about MIL (mother-in-law)-hood. When my kids were little and I’d see  MIL’s say or do things to their DIL’s, I’d wonder how they could ever be so insensitive. For example, when a MIL gave her adult children (gasp) advice, I’d think she was being intrusive and completely out of bounds.

When a MIL worried about her adult married kids’ financial situation, I thought to myself how it’s really none of her business.

And when a MIL called too often, I thought to myself that when I become a MIL to my sons’ wives, I will be really careful not to do any of those things.

And you know what? In the beginning of my MIL-hood, I was pretty careful. In fact, I became a pretty caring MIL. I probably did refrain from much of the behaviors that my own MIL and other normal people do when they become MIL’s.

And then something happened to me.

I grew up.

I grew into MIL-hood and relaxed my inhibitions. Maybe it was due to old(er) age or just plain lack of energy but my attitude became, what the heck? I’m the mother (and yes, mother-in-law) and I’m going to say what the heck I want to because I already wrote the book on being a mother-in-law and….

I relaxed my standards because I’m human. And I goof sometimes.  As my adult children grow into more mature adults….and to parents of not just babies or toddlers but of pre-school and elementary school children, I find that I’m becoming slightly more involved.

More outspoken. Entitled. Opinionated. Yup. All the horrible things I vowed I’d never say or do, I find myself saying and doing.

I mean – hello! We have opinions too. Right? Maybe that’s it – as we get older, we fear becoming invisible and so we assert ourselves and our opinions more.

When the grandkids were babies, it was easy to hold back from expressing the opinion of how to burp the baby, or whether the baby should be bottle-fed or nursed…or whatever the monumental decision was. I mean – who cared about that?

As the grandkids got older, (and we got older) we feel the need to compare and contrast how they do things with how we did things.

And sometimes we see things in different ways than we saw them when we were the parents. Maybe it’s that we kind of sort of “forget” what it was like being a new mom? Could it be that? Is it the old(ER) age factor? Like having those senior moments (I talk about them in my book) where we selectively forget how it was to be a young and busy mom and we just shoot our opinions from the hip.

In our old(ER) age, we say something, rather than put ourselves in their inexperienced shoes and just let them figure things out themselves.

Sometimes I have discussions with my husband about stuff and one of us says to the other “Nah, don’t make an issue. It’s none of our business.”

To which the other one promptly goes and makes an issue. Big time. Just because.

See? It’s hard. It’s tough. So never say never. You just never know when you’ll be in the exact situation as someone else and maybe – just maybe – you will react as they did or do.

So-  now I’m here to express that I  have sympathy for all those MIL’s – including my own — in how she raised me.

Yes – you read that right.

I know this is huge that I’m writing this after writing a book  all about my insights on being the perfect grandmother and mother-in-law.

I know this may even ruin my credibility as an author because, hey, how can I basically take back all I said about being conscientious and just change my mind with the click of a publish button on a bubby blog?

Well, bubbies and Omi’s, I’m doing it. I’m here to tell you that I now do all those annoying things I vowed never to do.

I ask too many questions.

I hate noise. I get upset when they play ball in the house.

I sometimes contradict the parents in front of their kids.

I tell them to bundle up the kids. I comment on their or their kids’ clothing (not always favorably).

I worry if I hear them arguing.

I post every last letter and drawing on my kitchen wall and Facebook page (even my own MIL didn’t do that last one! Yay her!).

All of it some of the time. And some of it all of the time.

Bottom line is I (and all my MIL friends) try our best. We really do and that’s what counts.

So – my message to all the future moms out there –

Never say never.

You just never know what kind of mother you will be. Don’t make promises about how you’ll be because even when you become that role, and follow your vows to the Tee, you will evolve over time into another role. Another stage. Another season.  And just what you thought worked for the previous stage, just doesn’t work anymore.

And then one day you may find yourself doing all the behaviors that you vowed never to do. And that will be pretty embarrassing.

Because all your ranting and raving about how you’ll never do or be this way or that way got turned on its head.

And aside from the embarrassment here’s the biggest problem: you may just have to confess on your blog or write a whole new book that contradicts your first book. Nope. Not worth it.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 


My Grandson’s Kindergarten Graduation Takeaway

When Robert Fulghum wrote that all he ever needed to know he learned in kindergarten, he wasn’t kidding.  I had a similar experience in kindergarten just by watching my grandson and his peers sings songs at their graduation.

silhouette-kids-holding-hands

The other day I attended the 5-year old graduation and listened to them say their valedictorian speeches – sing the songs and perform for the parents and grandparents with such clarity of speech, twinkles in their eyes and motions of their hands.  I realized for myself that these kids know everything they have to know already. Today.

They learned it already and they don’t have to learn it anymore. From here on in, it’s just review and repetition.

Robert Fulghum’s list of material learned in kindergarten included sharing, being fair, cleaning up your own mess, being nice and even flushing the toilet. Lots of things. You can check them out here. They all have to do with behaviors, rather than attitudes or values. Behaviors are important because the more we do them, the more practice we get at being good at them. And the more someone who we respect praises us for doing the behavior (kids love mitzvah notes!), the more we want to do it more.

I wonder: After kindergarten, is there is anything more to learn about how to act properly, with manners and politeness? Or is it just trial, error, repetition, review, feedback, practice and refinement of the basic lessons?

Beyond behaviors, there are attitudes and values. Attitudes and values are important because they are the pillars that hold up what we believe to be important in life, and they motivate us to do the things we do.

My grandson and his buddies sang so many songs (they were each very short!) that my heart was singing and dancing. I couldn’t stop kvelling (pretty typical for me but ok).

Songs about values such as honesty, visiting the sick, being nice to guests, knowing that even bad things are all for the best, loving others, and appreciating what others do for us.

These children have learned things in kindergarten and learned it well.  I saw it in their eyes. I felt it in their smiles. And I watched it in their hands that moved in unison.

On that day, in that classroom, at that graduation, those 22 kids dressed as little sailors sang songs about values and beliefs that they will hopefully be mindful of every day of their lives.

Here they are sitting together and watching a slide show of the various activities they did this year representing the values they learned.

sailors

And now? Where do they go from here? We hope and pray they take these values and self esteem they have had this year and go forward from strength to strength.

And to that blessing this grandmother says “Amen!”

 

 

 


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