Saturday, February 19, 2011

Grammy School

My friend Sally in California announced she is expecting her second grandbaby this year. How exciting! My friend Audrey in Memphis welcomed her first grandbaby last month. I have certainly enjoyed my three grandchildren tremendously. Not only have I enjoyed them, I have been taught by them. Taught by a baby? A toddler? A kid? Yes! "Grammy School" doesn't just mean Grammy is teaching the little ones. It means Grammy becomes the student! Here's what I have learned from being a grandmother:

1. Sharing. Not between the kids - I mean my sharing with other adults - the other set of grandparents. Here's a major difference in having kids and having grandkids. Grandkids automatically come with another set of one or two grandparents. All of a sudden, I am not the one of two parents; in my case, Ed and I are two of five grandparents! Time to share, certainly. Time to recognize that as these children grow up, these other adults will hold just as special relationship with them as we do. What is it that they say about joys and sorrows? With love, sorrows are halved and joys are doubled? More grandparents means more joy for the children! Each grandparent brings his/her unique qualities to the child's life we're all adding to their cache of memories.

2. Patience. Oh, this lesson starts while the grandbaby is still in the womb. Patience to find out the gender, patience to be reassured of good health, patience to let other grandparents have their time, and patience to wait between visits. And patience leads to...

3. The necessity of butting out. I have to remember these are my grandkids, not my kids. I am not their Mama, Ed is not their Daddy, and their parents set the rules and have the last word in everything. This is the proper way to raise children.

4. Priorities. As my grandbabies grew, they began helping me with priorities, starting with my first grandchild, Caroline. Every interaction reminded me of people over things. Then when we started downsizing and simplifying, I had to reexamine my priorities, as I was bringing a toy or book to the girls on each visit. What was I showing them about consumerism and "stuff"? Could my presence actually be the more important thing than the presents? Now I concentrate more on making memories. The toys will be lost and forgotten, but their memory of Grammy playing hide-and-seek will last forever. And that brings me to....

5. The importance of playing. With your own kids, you are too busy sometimes raising them, keeping house, earning a living, etc., to spend a lot of time just playing. When you're visiting grandkids, though, that's the whole point. You're free to be a kid again. You get to smell and use those crayons and Play-Doh, try to assemble buildings out of blocks, get in a small tent and pretend a bear is outside, make a puppet show, read fairy tales, make things with glue, glitter, construction paper, stickers, and pipe cleaners, sing silly songs, look for bugs under a log, chase each other around the yard! It's easy to forget I'm 56 years old (until the next day when the more physical aspects of play wreak havoc on my old body!).

6. The legacy of pictures. Rachel and Matt grew up in the film age, and we really don't have as many photos as I would like because film and developing it was expensive, and we were having trouble making ends meet sometimes. But my grandchildren are growing up in the digital age - and that means digital pictures! Thousands of digital pictures! And yes, I am taking advantage of that. I have 26,864 digital pictures in iPhoto - how many do you think are of the grandkids? Hee hee!

7. Awe. Every moment is awe-inspiring, from the first time I cuddled with them to the times I watch them soak up the world like sponges. Watching them develop into their own personalities has been fascinating. And, of course...

8. Anticipation. What does the future hold for my little ones? My youngest, Joshua (7 months), has already won me over with his smile and laugh. I just know he has much to teach me in the future and will develop into a wonderful young man before we know it! My Charlotte (5) will spend the night with us next Friday for the very first time and I know will keep us entertained. My Caroline (7) is always surprising me with her knowledge; so much of what I try to teach her, she already knows! What's next with her? What's next with all three of them? So much to look forward to! (Not to mention sometime in the next few years, I may be calling Sally in California to tell her Matt and Sarah will be having their second baby too!)

Grammy is always a student as well as teacher. As a tribute to Grammy School, here are a few past blog posts where lessons were learned. (Most of these are from Caroline, as she has been here the longest and I had been able to document more visits with her, especially as she and her family lived with us for a couple of months when they were between houses. I expect great lessons to be learned from Charlotte and Joshua in the years to come!)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Abe, of course!

I don't know if I ever took the time to blog about my hero, but since today is you-know-who's birthday, I'm going for it.

Those who know me well, even some who have known me briefly in passing, have had to deal with my obsession for our 16th President. Now, I probably know more details about the Civil War than the average person, but my interest in Lincoln was not really politics or war-related. I was always fascinated with him as a person.

It started, I think, when on a family vacation, our parents took my sister and me to Lincoln's birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Family vacations created the foundation of some of my best memories. Dad would use profit-sharing from the bank where he worked, and every summer, off the 4 of us would go, taking in as many parks and historical sites as we could in two weeks. To be able to afford these vacations, we took along a cooler full of ice and shopped local grocery stores along the way, where we would buy things like Vienna sausages, bread, baloney, milk, pork and beans, cheese, chips, fruit, juice, and Cokes for the next leg of the trip. We went everywhere, and each new place fascinated us.

Those trips instilled in me a love of history, and especially a love of Abe Lincoln, starting with his birthplace. Years later, Ed and I took our kids to the exact same monument. I assumed they would be just as passionate and excited as I had been, but, of course, the picture above says it all - if you look at Rachel. Matt, bless his heart, would have been excited to watch paint dry. Even Ed was barely tolerant. As we walked up the steps to the cabin, I was doing my usual thing of spouting trivia. "Did you know there are 56 steps here? One step for each year of his life." And what did Ed say as he huffed and puffed his way up? "I wish John Wilkes Booth had gotten to him sooner!"

Back to my childhood. We at various times visited Ford's Theatre, the Petersen House (where Lincoln died), the Lincoln Memorial, all in Washington, DC; boyhood homes in Indiana; New Salem where Lincoln lived as a young man in Illinois; Springfield, his home as an adult; Gettysburg; and, of course, Dearborn, Michigan, at the Henry Ford Museum, where you can see rocking chair in which Lincoln sat when he was assassinated. So you see, Lincoln is all over the place, and we did our best to cover the territory.

At East Elementary School in Memphis, every time we had a vocabulary lesson and had to use the assigned words in sample sentences, I made sure Mr. Lincoln was mentioned in every sentence I created. It probably drove my teachers crazy. In study hall at East High, I rarely did homework or read novels. Instead, I gravitated to the Carl Sandburg collection - 6 volumes of Lincoln's biography, and devoured every word. (One day, thanks to some generous friends, I finally owned the hardback collection myself.) I had a greater-than-lifesize poster of Abe on my wall at home, complementing my sister's pictures of Davy Jones and Bobby Sherman. I read every book about Lincoln I could find, and would occasionally even write the authors (and a few times received replies). When we had to memorize a poem in English class, I picked Lincoln's favorite ("Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?"). When I worked at a hospital in Memphis, my sister baked a stovepipe-hat shaped cake for me and my coworkers on February 12 one year. Basically, everyone knew I was addicted and seemed happy to be enablers.

Every once in a while I tried to pull the kids into my world of Lincoln, but it was rarely successful. For instance, when Matt was about 7, he was in a historical costume contest at school. Of course, I wanted him to be Lincoln, and I bought an Abe Lincoln costume pattern, cardboard stovepipe hat included, and sewed it up. We had no extra money for a fake beard, so I painted one on him with a marker. He was so cute. Unfortunately, Lincoln was a famous, popular figure, and Matt was just one of many Lincolns that day. Another boy Abe won the contest. He had bought the fake beard, darn it. I then knew what to do if that situation happened again. I would make the same suit, ditch the hat, ditch the beard, add a mustache and pistol and he'd go as John Wilkes Booth. I bet he'd be the only JWB. (This was before school security when one could take a toy pistol to school.) This incident just illuminated the frustration of having a popular hero. He's everybody's hero. Sigh. Why couldn't I have been more like my Dad, who formed a club in honor of a more obscure president, Chester A. Arthur?

Back to my past. As years went by, my fascination with all things Lincoln just increased. When we bought a house in Maine, we landed on Lincoln Street. (Coincidence, I promise!) My sister gave me a baby oak tree descended from the big oak at Lincoln's birthplace. It had a plaque and everything. Unfortunately, we had to leave it in the yard at the old Victorian house when we moved out.

I also had a cardboard standup of Lincoln that I enjoyed displaying at Halloween. And a fantastic rubber Abe mask. I think my family might have reached the limits of tolerance, though, with the salt and pepper shakers that were miniature replicas of Lincoln's tombstone. What's not to like about that?

There are many other stories about my love of Lincoln, but there's not enough time or space to write about them. Through the years, friends and family have made special efforts to present me with Lincoln-related gifts, and I have appreciated every one. Abraham Lincoln now is a part of me and I guess always will be.

I leave you with a Valentine card that I have on my desk. I have no idea where I bought it, but I loved it so much I couldn't bear to use it, so here it sits. It comes with a red envelope, and has a cartoon picture of a woman holding a white envelope, a smile on her face, hearts hovering around her head, and says, "I cannot let this season pass by without expressing my love and admiration for a wonderful, wonderful man." On the inside, it says, "HAPPY LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY!"

Friday, February 04, 2011

Missing flaps

Some of my most precious memories involve reading books to my granddaughter Caroline. She learned to read at any early age, and now 7 years old, she is still in love with books and reads voraciously. But back when she was little, it greatly pleased her to sit with Grammy and share in the reading experience together. Like most children, she never got tired of reading the same books over and over. That drove me crazy, though I always obliged.

One of her favorites is pictured above - "Where's Nicky's Valentine?" It's a board book about a cat named Nicky who delivers valentines to his friends around the neighborhood. Each page shows another friend receiving the heart-shaped card, and on each page there is a flap for the child to lift to see what is behind it. "Who's there?" one page reads. Then Caroline would open the door flap to reveal an elderly woman, who takes the Valentine, smiles, and pets Nicky.

As with all children's books, time and tiny hands had taken a toll on its appearance. The pages, being board, had held up pretty well, but one of the flaps had been torn off on the page that says, "Who's hiding?" and you were supposed to open the flap to reveal two happy kids in bed clutching their Valentine. Except there was no flap. You could see where the flap was glued originally, but the flap itself was gone.

Now, as Caroline loved this book, we read it a lot. Each occasion presented us with the same scenario. I would read the book, and when I got to the page of "Who's hiding?" Caroline would emit a small gasp, look up at me with grave concern, point to the missing flap, and say, "Uh oh!" Then we would turn the page and finish the book without missing a beat.

I have often thought how wonderful it would be if we had the gift of acceptance that Caroline had with this book! Each time, she saw the problem, acknowledged the problem with an appropriate response, then she let it go and moved on. She didn't pretend that the defect was not there. She didn't throw the book across the room in disgust because the missing flap ruined her reading experience. She didn't even try to figure out a way to fix it. She just responded with "Uh oh!" and then proceeded to enjoy the rest of the story.

Dieting experts tell us, for instance, that people with an "all or nothing" attitude may start out well on diets, then the first mistake or dietary indiscretion throws them into a tizzy and they throw up their hands and figure they have blown it and might as well eat everything in sight. Or someone misses a few days of exercise, then, despite their previous commitment to better health, gives up on even trying. The same can be said for any attempt to change bad habits and build new ones. It can be true for MTs who get a bad line count for a day or even a week and fall into depression because they think they'll never be good enough. It can be true when life hands us any unexpected challenge, when we fail to live up to expectations, especially our own - whenever a rough patch appears and our instinctive response is to say, "What's the use?"

What if we used Caroline's example? What if we acknowledged our disappointment, allowed ourselves a moment of frustration or sadness, and then moved on to enjoy the rest of the book...the week...the trip...the holiday...the semester...the story - our story?

Sometimes all it takes is a toddler to teach us how to really enjoy life.