We Really Do Need Each Other
Yesterday, I had a refrigerator delivered. (Yes, I bought a refrigerator during a global pandemic. Yes, my appliances have spent the last year turning against me. My husband has been hospitalized multiple times during the last year. Every time he’s in the hospital, something expensive breaks. My washer and dryer, dishwasher, phone, furnace and now refrigerator have all been replaced within the last year and every time these disasters have struck, he has been in the hospital.) Anyway, back to the delivery….when other humans entered my home, I started telling them my life story. Who cares if they are delivery guys? Who cares if they just want to drop off this fridge and get the heck out of the house of a crazy woman? Who cares? At least they were pleasant. They smiled and nodded and connected the ice maker while I chattered on.
It made me realize just how much I have missed people. This virus has stopped our social lives in their tracks. I have Zoomed with friends and family and I’ve had a few driveway dates with my bestie--in chairs spaced far apart-- but I still long for normal connections. My house is the usually the party house. I love having people over. When the stay at home orders were issued, I understood the importance of keeping the circle small and secluding ourselves, especially in light of my husband’s compromised health condition. It seemed like it might have even been a little bit fun---being trapped in our house like a really long snow day. Well, we all know that isn’t how this feels at all.
We are made for community. We need our friends and family. How often have we heard that it takes a village to raise a child? Never has that statement made more sense. I mean, we all know that play dates aren’t just about the kids, right? We choose other likeminded families to have our kids socialize with so the grownups can visit too! When this stay at home order is eased, I hope it makes us even more thankful for those connections we have with other people.
For now, let’s continue to reach out. It might be because WE need the connection to others. It might be because we know that our friends need us like never before. My sister has been zooming with my grandkids to read a bedtime story. Just hearing her voice and seeing her face has been so good for me. A few days ago, I got a real card in the actual mail from my friend’s daughter. Knowing that she was thinking of us and took the time and effort to write a note made my day. Yesterday, another dear friend dropped off a care package that had chocolate, peach tea, and new notepads and scented pencils for the littles. That gesture may have been small to her, but it was HUGE to me. And those driveway chats with my bestie? Just the balm this weary heart needed to make it through another day of new normal.
Draw that sidewalk chalk message on your grandparent’s driveway. Stick a note on your neighbor’s door. Zoom or face time with people you love. Celebrate a birthday with a honking parade. Hide a little gift outside for your friend’s kids and then text them to let them know to look for it. You can probably think of all kinds of ways to connect creatively with your people. And when this is over? I hope we will remember—at least for a while—to fully appreciate the little things that we all know now are the big things.
As many of you know, I homeschooled both of my children from K-12th grade. I now have the privilege of helping to homeschool my grandkids. I consider myself a veteran in the homeschooling world and I feel like I have enough authority on the subject to offer some advice to those of you who suddenly became their child’s teacher.
First of all, you aren’t homeschooling. Homeschooling looks a lot different from what you are doing right now. Real homeschoolers go places and interact with others and rarely are trying to teach their children while they “work from home” like many of you are forced to do now. You, my friends, are quarantine schooling and that is a whole different animal. Quarantine schooling is all about survival.
When this pandemic started to get real, my son and daughter in law and I had a serious conversation. Since my DIL is nurse and I am the primary babysitter we knew that the kids would be exposed to a lot of germs from her work. My husband has had some severe health problems over the last year, so his immune system is really compromised. The decision was made to have the littles come live with us for a while to avoid exposing him to extra germs.
Even though we homeschool, what we are doing now, is much harder. We can’t ride our bikes to the library. We can’t go to a program at the Miami County Park District. We can’t watch a show at Victoria Theater. For most of you, this is even more difficult than it is for us. Many of you are trying to work from home while you answer questions about Common Core math. (And let’s face it, if you aren’t a teacher, you probably can’t really answer that!) Even if you aren’t trying to hold down a job, you are trying to take school material that was designed to be taught in a classroom and adapt it to some worksheets that you print at home.
Here’s my advice: There is no worksheet you can complete that will have educational value if you are yelling and your child is crying. I don’t say that to make you feel guilty—I totally get the frustration you must be feeling. I say that to tell you to give yourself and your kids some grace. If you feel yourself getting to that point, send them outside to jump on the trampoline. They can spell their spelling words aloud with every bounce. Write a message to your neighbor on their driveway in sidewalk chalk. It might not be the writing that was assigned, but it still has value in terms of spelling and writing. Even better, it might brighten someone else’s day and the skills you are teaching about how to care for others is a really good lesson.
Right now, my grandkids are watching a movie and eating popcorn. Yes, it is 9am. No, we don’t usually do that. But last night was a little rocky around here and we had a late bedtime and I made promises that I don’t usually make. Do I feel guilty about it? Nope. Not one bit. Later, we’ll do a little school work and I might read a few chapters of a new book that they’re interested in. They’ll tune in to the Cincinnati Zoo Home Safari and learn about some cool animals. We might watch a Youtube video to learn how to draw that animal afterward. Does this look like a normal school day? Nope. But that’s okay, because really, there’s nothing normal about this time we’re living in.
Do what you need to do to get through this with as few tears as possible. There’s no judgment here, friends. And if all else fails and you let them watch a movie first thing in the morning, relax and take it easy on yourself. But if you do, can you leave me a comment so I don’t feel like I’m the only one doing crazy stuff to survive?
How to be a Mom
We live in the information age. If I want to know why flamingoes are pink, a simple internet search is all it takes to find out. (Shrimp. That’s the answer to the flamingo question—they eat brine shrimp and that makes them pink. Interesting, huh?) We have grown used to having the answer to any question we have as close as the phone that rarely leaves our fingertips.
Today I was talking to a young mom who told me that as a new mother she was constantly googling “how to be a mom” topics. That made me giggle a little. If you want to get a thousand different opinions and “sure fire tricks” to potty training, just ask Google. You’ll find mothers who set a timer for 15 minute increments from daybreak to bedtime to take your toddler potty. You’ll find others who only potty train in the summer when they can let their child run around naked. (I’m not even kidding.) You’ll find those who think potty training should start at age two and others who figure as long as they are potty trained before kindergarten that is fine.
Many moms are experts after they raise their first child. They’ve figured out the secret formula for molding this tiny human into a brilliant, well-adjusted toddler and they will gladly share their best secrets for making your child turn out just as nicely. Then the second child comes along. Moms who were experts the first time around figure out pretty quickly that the secret formula is different for second children. (And there is nothing that will humble you more quickly than a strong willed second born! I know this from experience.)
No matter what works for your friend or your sister in law or your neighbor, there’s no guarantee that it will work for you. That’s the thing about little people….they are all unique. I’m not saying there’s no value in talking to other moms and getting a fresh perspective or a new idea for a problem you’re having. What I am saying is that your child is just that—YOUR child.
I think there’s freedom in understanding that YOU are the expert on your little one. We all feel like we are guessing our way through this whole motherhood thing at least some of the time and I think that’s ok. Have you ever seen the hilarious pictures of Pinterest fails? ( I could show you a few of my own!) You see this adorable craft project or decorated cupcake that looks easy and foolproof. Then you try to do it yourself and find out that there’s no such thing as “foolproof” and you are the one who is the fool. That’s kind of what it is like to try to raise your kid using someone else’s formula.
There’s no one that is more motivated to see your child succeed than you. And there’s no one who knows your child better than you do. When you feel like a failure as a mom and you’re sure that you’re doing it all wrong, just know that you are in the same club as all of the other moms who have secretly felt that before you. Don’t be deceived by the highlight reel you see on everyone else’s social media. They have a B roll that looks remarkably similar to yours.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are searching for solutions, but trust your gut, mama. You were made to be the mom to these little people. Your neighbor wasn’t. Your mother in law wasn’t. Your best friend wasn’t. You. You are the one.
Navigating the Drama
Girl drama. Ugh. The bane of my existence. I love little girls, really I do. I love to listen to them playing elaborate games of imagination, I love the profuse drawing of unicorns and hearts and rainbows, I love the giggling when a whole gang of them are having fun together. But the drama? I can do without that.
Now, before you start complaining about my discriminatory remarks about girls and insist that boys and girls are the same, hear me out. I’ve worked with kids for 30 years. I raised two boys and my best friend raised two girls. I may not be an expert on everything, but I have enough years under my belt to make some broad statements here. I’m not talking about every girl. There are plenty of girls who steer clear of dramatics but there are some who seem to gravitate toward it. And in general, if boys have a disagreement, there is some yelling and maybe some stomping and occasionally a scuffle. But it usually blows over quickly and they move on because they want to play and ain’t nobody got time for a crisis.
What I’m talking about is when two girls like the same boy or when a threesome of friends suddenly become a pair. Emotions run high. Friends take sides. Snide glances are cast and it begins.
How do you help your daughter navigate this? Some mothers are quick to jump in and try to sort things out themselves. Some mothers listen and give advice from the sidelines. Some mothers call the teacher and get other adults involved. My years of experience working with elementary students have taught me a few things about what to do and what not to do.
1. Don’t feed the monster. If you can stay out of it, stay out of it. Try not to interview her at the end of every day to see how things are going. If she needs to talk, let her talk, but don’t dig for information.
2. If you need to give advice, keep it positive. Don’t encourage your daughter to jump into the fray and say the next mean thing. Talk about ways to show kindness even when her feelings are hurt. When girls get hurt and then, in turn, try to hurt the other person back, the whole situation escalates in a hurry. Instead, ask her questions like, “What have you tried to make this better?” or “What could you try next?”
3. Encourage one good friendship. Let your daughter make play dates with girls that you think are a good match in temperament and a positive influence on her. Can you choose her friends? No, but you can steer her toward positive relationships and see what develops. In elementary school, you still have a lot of influence over who she develops close relationships with because you are in charge of the schedule.
4. If bullying is involved, you may need to talk to the teacher or the school counselor. But if it is just hurt feelings over a slight, listen without passing judgement on the other girl. Remember that there really are two sides to every story and there may be more to it than your daughter tells you.
5. Be open and honest about friendship. As adults we know that we are not going to be best friends with everyone. However, whether we click with someone or not, we need to treat others with respect. Talk specifically about what that looks like.
6. Don’t get overinvested in your daughter’s relationships. The things that hurt you as a child may not be the same things that hurt her. The more you commiserate the more real it becomes, so try not to get overly involved.
My final thought on this is that our children watch what we do and say. If we want them to behave appropriately in social situations, then we should model the kind of behavior we expect. Moms who gossip and make snide comments about others raise daughters who do the same. Treat others respectfully. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Demonstrate kindness. It won’t solve everything, but it is a place to start.
The other day I read a blog post from a young mama who was tired of being told to enjoy her child now because they grow up too fast. I get it. She feels pressured to enjoy the spilled milk and the crying babies even though, as we all know, those aren’t always the fun parts of parenting. She also feels like the point of raising children is to RAISE them and that when we wax nostalgic about how great it is to have babies that we forget that having preteens and teenagers and yes, even adult children, is pretty great too.
I totally get where she’s coming from and she has a valid point. I know I’m guilty of saying this to some young mamas from time to time. From a grandma’s perspective, the charge to enjoy this time is a result of knowing too much. When you are in the trenches and you just can’t wait for naptime so you can sit down and finish the cup of coffee you started drinking four hours ago, it’s easy to forget that this doesn’t last forever. The difference in an old mom and a young mom is that you don’t have the advantage of hindsight. (Or achy joints or cataracts….but that’s another thing.)
I remember that one day it dawned on me that no one had cried that day. And another day, I held my son on my lap for the last time. And one day, I realized that my boy didn’t think all girls had cooties anymore. Eventually, that gave way to my boys being grown and married and raising children of their own. Maybe if I had realized that I was reading the last bedtime story, or rocking them to sleep for the last time I would have savored it a little more. But that’s just it. You don’t know. You don’t know that what seems like it will stretch out forever has an expiration date. You don’t know that the last time they creep into your bed after a scary nightmare is the LAST time.
When old mamas say things like this to young mamas, we aren’t trying to add more pressure to your already full life. We’re trying to tell you that someday this will all be a memory and you’ll look back at pictures of your baby and wonder if you actually did appreciate it enough. Does that mean that when you’re carrying a baby in a car seat and a diaper bag and three bags of groceries you should find the joy in the shooting pain in your back and gallon of orange juice you just dropped on the floor? Goodness no! We’re not crazy! But we do know that one day that will be a funny story and the awfulness of that moment will not always be so…well….awful.
The song goes “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” and old mamas can tell you it is true. Grown up children are their own kind of wonderful, but it is different when they are too old to gather up in your lap at the end of the day. I think that’s why being a grandma is so great. We have the advantage of perspective and we realize that childhood is such a short time. (We also have the advantage of putting off housework and chores until the kids go home—a luxury you don’t have as the mama.) I know for a fact that I appreciate the delightfulness of my grandchildren in a way that I just couldn’t appreciate in my children.
So when an old mama tells you to soak it up and enjoy it while it lasts, indulge us. We’ve been where you are now but maybe our glasses are tinged a little rosy. That must be the payoff for the achy joints and cataracts I was telling you about earlier….
It's a Tradition!
Think back to something you loved about your childhood. I’ll bet you called up a treasured family tradition or a memory of holidays with people you love. So much of our identity is wrapped up in the way we grew up and the way our family did things. Traditions help us tell the story of who we are.
I love the holidays. Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas….you name it, I love it! We have traditions to commemorate nearly every major holiday and I love the way our family scrapbooks are a road map of our celebrations from year to year. Now that my sons are grown, they still participate—with their own children in tow now—in the things that make each season special. Traditions help us connect the generations.
Several weeks ago as we were closing up the pool and winterizing the camper, our five year old grandson was really bummed. He perked right up when I reminded him that when swimming and camping season was over, it was pumpkin time. Traditions give kids a frame of reference for the changing of the seasons and a rhythm for our lives.
We can’t wait to visit Fulton Farms next week. We’ll see the farm animals, play in the mini corn maze, get pictures with the “How Tall This Fall?” ruler and take a hayride to the pumpkin patch. Everyone—Nana and Pops included—gets to select their favorite and struggles to carry a perfect, enormous pumpkin to the wagon. I love that we have pictures of our grandkids enjoying the same family traditions we have had since our boys were little. Traditions unite us with one another.
When Halloween gives way to Thanksgiving, we’ll enjoy having family from out of town come in for a big dinner with all the trimmings. We might do some Black Friday shopping just for fun and then we always go downtown for the lighting of the big tree on that evening. Afterward, you can count on leftover pie and hot cocoa to warm everyone up. Traditions strengthen the bonds of families and help us pass on our values to younger generations.
We try to work in some new things here and there. We might go see the Christmas lights at the zoo or drive through a live nativity display, but the tried and true traditions are at the very heart of each season for me. My daughter-in-law’s family decorates Christmas cookies as a family. My family always traipses out to the tree farm to find a live tree. Every family is different, but the importance of having shared experiences and building memories together is the key.
Even small things that you always do together will take root and form special memories for your family. One of my treasured possessions is the fork and knife set that my grandmother always used for carving turkey and ham for family dinners. The knife isn’t even that sharp and the bone handles are not my personal style, but when I hold that set in my hands, it helps me recall gathering with cousins and aunts and uncles and my precious little grandma. Traditions evoke an emotional connection to our loved ones.
Be intentional about the customs you are creating with your kids. They don’t need to be lavish or expensive, just a time for you to do things face to face with one another. In a few short years, their childhood will be just a memory. Make it a good one.
What Happened to Manners?
Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost something. As a nation, I think we’ve forgotten our manners. Maybe it comes from ordering our dinner every night in the drive through line. Or maybe it’s just because we are too tired to add all of the vocal niceties that good manners require. Or maybe, it’s because we are so wrapped up in “ME” that we’ve forgotten how to be “WE”.
I can’t tell you how many kids come through our snack line and say, “I’ll take some fruit snacks” or “Give me an apple juice.” At the beginning of the year, we start training them to start every request (not ORDER--request—‘cause that’s how we roll) with “May I please”. They usually look at us like we have two heads the first few times we stop them and make them start over.
We spend a lot of time every day coaching kids on how to interact with adults and peers nicely. “Get out of my way” should be, “Excuse me, please” and “I want a pencil” should be, “May I please have a pencil?” We also make them wait to speak when we are talking and avoid interrupting unless it is an emergency. Is this nitpicky? Maybe. But I can tell you that when we stumble upon a child with good manners, they stand out in the crowd. I imagine that it will serve them well throughout their lives when they go to a job interview or call a customer service help line.
This issue screeched into the forefront of my mind this morning when a third grader saw a bus pass by while we were waiting on the buses to pick up the kids for school. His knee jerk remark was, “Hey Dummy! You were supposed to stop here!” Yes. A third grader. Talking about an adult bus driver. Do you think maybe he’s heard a parent making remarks about other drivers in the car? Kids are ALWAYS listening, folks.
It also never ceases to amaze me how much kids are paying attention to boring things like politics. They hear us—and adopt our attitudes. We have become so partisan and vitriolic that it can’t help spreading to our kids. Most of the time they don’t even understand why they hate one politician or another, but they know what the “right” side is. I know we all have strong opinions about the direction our country should be going. I know that we all want our own way and we think that our way is the only way. But do you think we might learn something by hearing the perspective of another side? Maybe there’s some common ground in the middle of all the divisiveness but we can’t even concede to that because we are so wrapped up in finger pointing and name calling. Even if we can’t find any common ground, can’t we be polite to other humans?
Maybe this should be a wake-up call for all of us. When our ugly words seep into the brains of our Kindergarteners, we need to take a look at how we talk to one another. Don’t we want our kids to talk politely to others? If that’s the case, shouldn’t we be the BEST example in front of them? And I’ll guarantee you that there is nowhere that you can privately say those ugly words that your child isn’t listening. They may be playing in another room, but I promise that they can hear you.
Whether you are running this country or running your household, the example you set before your kids is the most powerful force on the planet. You know the best way to change the world? Change the children.
Gifts That Don't Need a Box
Does the thought of adding one more toy to the playroom make you cringe? When my kids were younger, the day after Christmas made me feel defeated and overwhelmed. I made a decision a long time ago that I would not be part of the problem for my nieces and nephews and now, my grandkids. I’m not saying that I don’t ever give my grandkids toys. Certainly, as a parent or grandparent, we love to demonstrate our affection through gifts. My personal rule is that anything I purchase for my grandkids can be taken home or left at my house (mommy’s choice). If I’m not willing to house it, I don’t buy it.
When my nieces and nephews were little, they were buried in toys. The last thing they needed for a birthday was another toy. My sister had been depositing money into a savings account for my kids’ birthdays for years. That may not have been such a welcome gift when they were 7, but when they went to college and had enough stashed away to pay for books for their first semester, they appreciated the forethought.
I wanted to do something that they could appreciate as a child and still not add to the ridiculous number of toys they already had. I decided that I would start giving them “experiences” instead of toys. I loved the one on one time I got to spend with each of them and my sister loved that they didn’t accumulate any more junk for her to deal with. Here are some ideas that you might find to be great alternatives too:
1. Tickets to a show. (Paw Patrol LIVE, LaComedia, Disney on Ice, etc.)
2. Family passes to Boonshoft or a local zoo.
3. A visit to Sweet and Sassy for a little girl to have a mani/pedi/updo.
4. Take a pottery class or go to a pottery painting place to make tea sets or piggy banks, etc.
5. Attend one of the kids’ paint parties at the Mayflower Arts Center.
6. Pay for dance lessons or a sports team registration and buy the gear they need.
7. Buy a musical instrument and pay for lessons.
8. Buy a bow and take them to Saturday morning archery lessons at the Tackle Shack.
9. Buy a subscription to National Geographic Kids or another magazine of interest.
10. Buy a trampoline or swingset for the backyard. Even better—build one with them!
11. Buy a pool pass or membership for the YMCA.
12. Take a special trip. It could be a few days or just an overnight excursion.
13. Buy a movie pass and make a monthly date.
14. Take a trip on the Lebanon Railroad. (Younger kids love the trips with Curious George, etc.)
15. For older kids, take a riverboat cruise.
Even now that our kids are older, I still do this. Last year’s Christmas gift to my grown sons and daughters-in-law was plane tickets to a family vacation in Europe. I also still take my nieces to LaComedia for their birthday every summer and it is a tradition that they look forward to all year. The dinner and show are great, but the time we spend on that evening is the real treat. (And these are gifts that I give myself too!)
Don't Hate Me For This
I’m one of THEM. In a minute, some of you will be nodding your head, others will be sighing and quietly hating me. Here goes: Christmas is coming! I’m already working on Christmas projects and my shopping is well underway. Go ahead, get the groaning and grouchy remarks out of the way. But when you’re finished I’m going to give you some toy shopping advice.
First things first. Spend a rainy Saturday going through the toys that you already have and weeding out the things they don’t play with. I’m a grandma, so I can say this and no one can be offended: If your kids have grandparents , they have too many toys. And if your kids are in charge of making a Christmas gift list, you might as well just write down every junky thing that is advertised on Nickolodeon. Ugh. Those hot toys that your kids had to have last Christmas but dropped in the bottom of the toy chest in January have earned a space in your “donation” box. Forget that they cost a small fortune and be realistic about what you hang onto.
I’m not a fan of single use toys. The Paw Patrol Lookout Tower is a toy that is single use. It takes up a lot of space, and when Paw Patrol is outgrown (it WILL happen someday—I promise!) that toy is practically useless. I much prefer toys that are open ended, like a good set of blocks. They can be made into sky scrapers, dollhouses, roads, fire stations, etc. and kids from preschool through grade school can play with them. The number of things you can build with a sturdy set of unit blocks or a solid collection of Legos is endless.
Classic games and puzzles are always a hit. For younger kids, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly Junior, matching games, and wooden puzzles are a safe choice. Playing a family game around the table or putting puzzles together is a great way to spend an evening that doesn’t involve television or other technology. Games that teach color recognition (Candy Land) for preschoolers or math skills (Yahtzee) for older kids are a double bonus!
To foster creativity, art supplies or journals are also a great idea. Gel pens, artist quality colored pencils, detailed coloring books, high quality paper pads, good watercolor paints and “how to draw” books are excellent for nurturing budding artists. Bead kits for making necklaces, shrink film (remember Shrinky Dinks when you were a kid?), and basics like pipe cleaners and yarn for open ended projects are also art kit essentials.
Before you add something to your shopping list, ask yourself these questions:
1. Where will this be stored and how will I manage it? Toys like Legos that come with a thousand tiny pieces should also come with a storage container. Once that box is torn up and the bags are ripped open, you’ll be glad you thought ahead about where you were going to keep these toys.
2. Will this toy stand the test of time? If it is a fad and will only be cool for a week or two after Christmas, steer clear.
3. What do I have to get rid of to bring this new thing into my home? If your playroom is already full, you need to be realistic about what you can keep. Having too many toys makes playroom clean up unmanageable and creates extra stress for you and your kids.
Be watching next week for my follow up to this blog post—Gifts That Don’t Need a Box.
The Weird Things We Do For Kids
We are a lot of fun at The Rec. We come up with all kinds of crazy plans to make sure the kids have fun and memorable experiences. Over the years, we’ve done some things that have been really good ideas and we’ve also done some things that have been terrible ideas. Here are some examples:
I could tell you stories of coloring Easter eggs and carving pumpkins and using rubber gloves like udders for painting during farm week. The list of bad ideas we’ve had is a mile long, in fact! The good thing is, the bad ideas DO make GOOD stories.
Hi! I'm Janet and I've been the Director of the Before and After School and Smart Start Preschool Programs at the Troy Rec since 1994. My hubby and I have been married 30 years and we have two grown sons. Each of them is married and blessing us with grandchildren left and right. Life is good even when the nest is empty!