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What A Difference A Dad Makes


I admit it! I am an observer of any kind of interaction where children are involved. Perhaps my voyeurism stems from my teaching days, when much could be learned observing interaction among children with children as well as children with their parents. Social situations provided the grist for helping me determine my approach to meeting the needs of the children I taught. Observations without interference, keeping a lid on making judgments, can be difficult, but it can provide a deep understanding of a child’s level of self-confidence.

As a grandmother of two young granddaughters, I have enjoyed writing about my interactive experiences with May and Eloise. Having grandchildren is truly a gift. Much as I enjoy planning activities and excursions for them, May and Eloise reward me with countless pleasurable experiences in return. I define it as the “law of increasing returns.” Both my husband and I are fortunate that we are a part of their lives. When we are with them, they provide us with memories to treasure during their absence.

As I sit at my computer, one of those treasured memories runs through my mind. During our granddaughters’ recent visit, I mentioned to May how proud I was of her varied interests, especially skiing. May enthusiastically responded that she really enjoys skiing and is looking forward to her return home when she and her father would once again hit the slopes.  As we spoke of her many varied interests, May suddenly interjected,  “I would probably be sitting around all of the time if it wasn’t for dad making me try new things.” May’s simply  stated sentence, illustrated the profound affect Jeremy has upon her growth.

May’s acknowledgement and appreciation of her father’s care, is a supreme compliment to Jeremy. Through his gentle, yet firm, approach to skill development, May now skateboards, surfs, expertly rides a bicycle, swims, skis, and feels comfortable trying new sports. No doubt about it, Jeremy reaps the benefits of May’s prowess as well. He has groomed a partner to share in the many sports that he loves. May and Jeremy have become a cohesive team, sharing in tomorrow’s memories through their cycling and skiing moments today. As Eloise matures, her turn with dad is rapidly approaching.

Jeremy and Nancy, understand that parenting is a partnership, a team effort.  Both bring to parenting their own areas of expertise. By exposing May and Eloise to new experiences outside of their comfort zones, Jeremy is building their confidence to take risks, an integral part of childhood development. As a seasoned teacher of young children, Nancy offers May and Eloise her knowledge of coping skills as they travel the bumpy road towards maturity.

When I think back on my own childhood, my most memorable moments are the moments I shared with my dad: walks through the woods behind our country house, pennies hidden by him in the sand on the beach in order to keep my brothers and me entertained, removing my fear of water by teaching me how to float, quietly creeping up to see deer grazing in a meadow, and countless other moments that continue to keep him alive in my mind’s eye. Now, as I watch May and Eloise interact with their dad I think about how they too will one day reflect upon these shared moments with deep love and affection.










When Far Away From Grandchildren

I have been away from my granddaughters for the past several weeks doing something that, in my younger years, I thought I would never do, spending the winters in Florida. It’s amazing how the cold and the snow can alter one’s opinion of being a “snowbird.” The very connotation of the word used to make me shudder. Now, here I am, happy my bones ache less in the warmth that surrounds me, but sorely missing my two ever-entertaining, fun-loving granddaughters. So, what do I do? I find ways keep them close until they come to visit.

I must have viewed past videos of the girls’ earlier years dozens of times since my arrival. There are videos of two-year-old May holding an umbrella over her head as she dances around her plastic kiddy pool; May rocking on her hobbyhorse, and jumping on a trampoline. Years seem to fly by and then there is May playing soccer; learning to ride a two-wheeler and shouting, “I did it;” and, as more time progresses, May skiing down slopes at ages six, seven, and now eight. As I sit watching the video of May going down hill balancing herself on a skateboard, I think how quickly the years are passing and how I yearn to hold onto each and every one.

Along with videos of May, I watch videos of Eloise tentatively taking early steps, and Eloise taking her “babies” for a walk in their stroller. There is one of Eloise dancing to the music of “Happy” on the couch at Orange Leaf and her riding her scooter to the bakery, all the while looking back to make sure that I was close behind. I continue to scroll until I stop at images of Eloise proudly running with her hand-made paper kite, and one of her blowing bubbles in our backyard. Someday soon, I think with a sigh, she too will be riding a two-wheeler, skateboarding, surfing, and skiing like her big sister. As I watch these moments, a mixed bag of pride and melancholy fill my being.

Happily, there is Face Time, a tool that definitely brings laughter to this grandmother. Face Time with my granddaughters consists of the girls grabbing the phone from each other to make funny faces and scanning the room to include their Pug, Mr. Woo. Face Time is turning the iPhone upside down thereby distorting the images, and giving stilted answers to the open-ended questions we grandparents often ask in order to engage in a conversation. I understand their reserve and silliness. As a visual connection, this approach has its merits when grandchildren are far away. It beats not seeing them at all. However, nothing can replace  the warm feeling that fills your core when a grandchild wraps her little arms around your neck and says, “I love you.”

Now that May and Eloise can read I look forward to staying connected to them through postcards and letters. Occasionally, a package with some small trinket will also find its way to them via the post office. It’s amazing how many other grandparents I meet doing the same thing for their grandchildren during my short sojourns to the local post office.

My husband and I are fortunate. We have many friends in Florida and manage to keep relatively busy.  During our absence from May and Eloise, they continue to be  a part of our daily interactions. Friends regale us over lunches and dinners with stories of their grandchildren, as we do ours. Trips to bookstores include a visit to the children’s section where we look for books that will appeal to their interests. Sugary treats find their way into our supermarket baskets to be set aside for when they visit. And when we see a random child at play, a big smile crosses our faces as we recall those special moments when we watched May and Eloise playing similar games.

Yes, our granddaughters are always with us, Distance does not affect the depth of love in our hearts. Memories of shared moments sustain us until the day when they get off the plane, come running into our arms, and give us that long-awaited hug. How fortunate we are to be grandparents!


A Christmas Message

Christmas: a time filled with expectations and hope. It is the season of love, generosity, and warm, cozy feelings. It is also be the time of the year when children and grown-ups put their best foot forward in joyful anticipation of days to come.

 There is nothing that can compare to a child’s unbridled enthusiasm during the days leading up to Christmas. Television shows, the Elf On The Shelf, Advent calendars, Christmas carols, candy canes, storybooks, shop windows, visiting and writing letters to Santa, and seeing the many extravagantly decorated houses, serve as a constant reminder that the big day is coming. A “sugar high” pales in comparison to the levitation that accompanies the holiday season. Times may change, but the excitement generated by children during the days leading up to Christmas, has been a constant throughout the ages.

 I recently asked May and Eloise what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas. May quickly exited the room and ran back with her carefully written letter to Santa. Three-year-old Eloise, upon seeing her sister’s list and not one to be left out of the loop, followed her big sister’s lead and emerged with her rather lengthy list as well (mom had interpreted her scribbles lest Santa have some difficulty deciphering her list). As I read both their lists, my thoughts traveled back to many years ago, when their mother and Aunt Jessica would similarly put all of their hopes and dreams on paper, and usually Santa came through.

 Then there was the year of the Cabbage Patch Dolls. Santa suffered a lot of angst that Christmas. I recall all of the hype that went into these dolls. It was marketing at its best. Every child under the age of ten wanted to “adopt” one of these rather funny looking little babies that came with a name, birth date and adoption papers. Nancy was no exception. As soon as the doors to toy stores opened, lines of determined mothers and, sometimes fathers, rushed to be among the people fortunate enough to grab, and I do mean grab, one of these much sought after dolls. I was not so lucky and as Christmas drew near, I wondered how “Santa “ would explain this to a child who put the doll at the top of her list.

 Enter Marge, my good friend whom I think of every year at this time. Marge, with her generous spirit and compassionate ways knew what I was going through and somehow managed to get two Cabbage Patch Dolls, one for Nancy and one for her daughter, just in time for Christmas. To this day I don’t fully understand how she was able to procure the dolls. Then again, nothing seemed to be beyond Marge’s ability to rise to a challenge. Now, years later, as I reflect back on that Christmas so long ago, I think about how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by so many good friends over the years, friends who stood by my side as we surfed the waves of parenting.

 Christmas is a time of love. It is the love that fills my core whenever my granddaughters put their little arms around my neck and give me a hug that makes my heart beat stronger and my mind travel back in time. It is a time when we somehow try to show friends and relatives just how blessed we are to have them in our lives. It is a time of miracles; the miracle of the Christ child as well as the miracle of each new life that enters our world. It is a time when this grandmother sits in the quiet of her holiday-decorated home and looks forward to the chaos that will ensue upon the arrival of her two energy-packed granddaughters. Through them I am once again able to rekindle the embers of my youth.

 Merry Christmas to all!


Potty Talk

When I look at all of the early photos of May, that gleam in her eyes, the mile-wide smile that brightens her face, the look of discovery that can only be seen in the eyes of the very young, it is with bittersweet emotion that I realize she is now entering the stage of responsibility and all the restrictions that accompany this developmental time.

No longer can she experiment with “potty talk” without people casting a critical and disdainful glance her way. Yet, it is obvious that the love of being a bit off color continues to delight her, whenever she belly laughs at her young sister’s use of such words.  May, on the other hand, has become more discriminatory with her use of language. Wasn’t it a millisecond ago when May used to parrot some of her mother’s pet expressions when driving in the car?  How vividly I recall Nancy telling us how she had to watch her mouth in front of May. May had proven herself to be rather too skillful in effectively using certain terms to describe those drivers who had the impertinence to cut her mother off, or came too close to her rear bumper. We laughed at those stories, just as we now laugh at Elosie ‘s use of “potty talk,” and as May laughs at her sister’s emerging use of language, but as befitting her age, May refrains from their use.

I remember talking to my good friend Dan and sharing some of May’s pet expressions. Dan, would laugh with that marvelous chuckle of his and say, “Betty, you have to write these down in your blog.” I looked at him with total disbelief that he would suggest such a thing. May was three years old at the time and I was afraid that if the word got out about some of the things she said, people would think less of this marvelous little girl. How ridiculous I was! May, like all children was testing the limits of language. With her parents’ intelligent handling of her “colorful” language, May learned that some words are not socially acceptable, just as Eloise will learn in due time.

Recently, I spoke with a good friend about “potty talk” and how children, upon discovery of these “sure to get a reaction,” phrases love to articulate them for an audience. At a very young age, toddlers master the ability to separate and apply those attention-getting words from everyday “socially acceptable” language. Clever little imps, aren’t they? My friend, Arna, stated that her grandson is allowed his freedom of speech, but with the understanding that “potty talk” is called “potty talk” because it is confined to the bathroom where there is a potty. By taking this approach, her grandson soon lost interest in using the words. I thought this approach brilliant! The forbidden is far more tempting than the allowed, especially to young children who are in the throes of discovering the world around them.

Now, Eloise at almost three years of age seems to be picking up the gauntlet left behind by her big sister’s emerging social skills. When we hear an outburst of words pertaining to body parts and bodily functions exiting the mouth of our youngest granddaughter, we give a stifled laugh and steer the conversation towards a new topic. However, there is no doubt that we adults get a charge out of watching our granddaughters enjoy their naughtiness; Eloise as the speaker and May living vicariously through her sister’s daring nature. Perhaps May is remembering the times when she brought on peals of laughter under similar circumstances.

It has been written that “children learn what they live.” Obviously the use of “potty talk” is a learned behavior.  When children realize early on that such language brings about a reaction from those around them it gives them control of a situation and what a powerful tool that becomes for one so young.

I do not profess that “potty talk” should be encouraged, but my experience has been the less attention paid to these often amusing linguistic discoveries, the more it will serve to thwart the behavior. Confine it to the bathroom and, at the same time, be aware of how we, as grown-ups, through our words and actions, impact the behavior and thinking of the children we love. After all, children do learn what they live”


A Grandmother Remembers

Each time I watch our granddaughters at play, I think to myself, “Look at all the ‘stuff’ they have,” much of which, I should add, has been purchased by her grandfather and me. “Why,” I think, “am I constantly searching the Internet and perusing the shelves of toy stores in search of something to stimulate their appetites for learning? Are we doting grandparents or are we reliving our youth vicariously through our granddaughters?” I’ve come to the conclusion that our reasons are a combination of both.

Growing up in the Bronx, [yes the Bronx, that infamous borough about which Ogden Nash once said, ‘The Bronx, no thonx’], my main source of entertainment was my imagination. The last of six children, my parents could afford very little besides the food that was put on the table and even that was not what would be considered “haute cuisine.” So, we made do with a “spaldeen” (little did I know that it was a bastardized version of the word “Spalding,” the company that manufactured the rubber balls), the street, and a group of friends.

Spring and summer were our seasons. They were the long-awaited respite from the limited freedom that accompanies the cold, bleak wintry days. Sure, there was winter sledding to be had, and those of us lucky enough to own a “Flexible Flyer” were the most popular kids on the street, but words couldn’t describe the feeling of freedom that accompanied the shedding of one’s coat and meeting friends outside on the street to play such games as: box ball, stick ball,  Ace/King/Queen, devil or angel, hopscotch, jump rope, ringalevio, Johnny-on-the-pony, and hit the stick. We would chant out rhymes to a bouncing ball, turning our leg over the ball between bounces, each successful turn acting as a prediction as to whom we would marry, how many children we would have and other innumerable fantasies that served to whet our appetites for a Cinderella-like future.

When we didn’t have a ball to play with, we would toss pennies against our building, the closest penny to the edge of the building would win the toss and the recipient would walk away a few cents richer. Of course, the newly found wealth wouldn’t last too long for the fellow gamblers would accompany the winner on his/her way to the candy store that was conveniently located around the corner from our building.

Dolls were a favorite pastime of girls between the ages of four and nine. Still in our single digits of life, playing “mommy” was the norm. When we reached the mature age of ten, we would have to rethink our doll-playing ways, perhaps even continue to pretend in secret within the confines of our bedroom.

Yes, life was simple. I had a couple of dolls, some chalk, a doll carriage, a jump rope (tailored from my mother’s worn out wash line that hung outside our living room window), and my “spaldeen.” I never knew that I was deprived. Everyone in my neighborhood seemed to have similar items. There was little to no TV to remind us that there was a wealth of things that we didn’t have, computers and all their offerings were yet to be invented, and credit was something that you asked “Harry the Grocer” to give you until your dad got paid on the first of the month.

Sundays would find us gathered around the one radio we possessed, listening to newspaper comics being read aloud. Often we would follow along, reading our own newspaper aloud to the tempo of the disembodied voice that resonated throughout our living room. Picture books? We had “Golden Books” that were purchased at the local five and dime.

Church was a major part of my Protestant background. My parents went twice a year, Easter and Christmas, but my siblings and I were expected to go every Sunday. We never questioned their absence, children obeyed.

Sundays also involved a visit to grandma and grandpa’s house for dinner. “Dinner” was always served at two o’clock in the afternoon and usually consisted of a roast, potatoes and some sort of vegetable. Grandma was old. She wore “house dresses,” had grey hair, and wore no make-up, but she was funny and loving. She adored her grandchildren and listened intently as we related our anecdotes about school and became our captive audience as we performed our made-up songs and dances for her pleasure. Having no formal instruction, we would put forth our best efforts to invent skits that were deserving of her rapt and loving attention.

School was probably boring, but boredom wasn’t part of our vocabulary. School certainly lacked all of the “bells and whistles” that are part of today’s curricula, but we didn’t expect it to be a source of entertainment. School was for learning and the teacher had all of the answers. Heaven forbid a note was sent home from your teacher! You would catch the “back of dad’s hand” if you didn’t behave and do what was expected of you. Education was our way out of poverty. It was our parents’ hope for our future. Parents never questioned the teacher, she was always right. So, we sat, we listened, and we learned.

There was no formal dress code for school; we didn’t need one. We had “school clothes” and “play clothes.” We dressed for school in a fashion similar to the way we would dress for church and, upon returning home in the afternoon, we would immediately remove our school clothing, hang them on hangers, and put on our play-wear. Our clothing, although limited in number, was always clean and always ironed. Good grooming was both a reflection of yourself as well as your home life.

Today, as I watch my granddaughters at play, I take a deep breath and wonder what their future may bring. Mine brought an advance in technology that was incomprehensible to my generation, a generation that read 1984 by George Orwell as a work of fiction beyond the limits of one’s wildest imagination. Little did we know at the time that he would prove to be clairvoyant; some of his predictions off by just a few decades. Will there be comparable advances in their future? It almost seems incomprehensible to me. For it was the generation who relied upon their creative imagination and limited resources, who were disciplined and directed, and who took great pride in achievement, that gave birth to the many innovations that are a part of our lives today. On the other hand, who would have thought that the rise in technology would give birth to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad? The wheel has been reinvented; the world that will emerge remains to be seen.

Now, as I write this entry, I ask myself, “Were the good old days as good as I would like to believe they were?” Reflecting back on my youth, and not wanting to sound like my parents before me, I can only say that the good old days were good for me. They brought me a road map leading to a career in teaching, a career that enabled me to constantly evolve in order to meet the needs, both emotional and intellectual, of an inquisitive and tech-smart generation. They brought me a sense of comfort through strong family ties and developed in me a respect for those who had seen war and hardship in their lives. They brought me rules to live by and values to pass on to my children. Hopefully, they brought me the building blocks that have formed and will continue to form a similar foundation for my children and my children’s children. What more could I ask for?


A Little White Lie

This past week, I logged onto Facebook and saw the many children of friends, striking poses for their first day of school, poses struck so that their parents will have a keepsake of these precious early years to look back upon when these same children reach adulthood and have children of their own. As I looked at these lovely children, some smiling tentatively, some unsmiling, and some clowning around for the camera, I wondered what was going on in their young minds.

While perusing these many “first day” photos, I came across one of May carrying her lunch tote. With toenails to match her turquoise painted fingernails, and the latest trendy bracelets going up her arm, she gave her best attempt at a smile. I was aware of her angst prior to this “cellphone moment” and questioned the sincerity behind her seemingly confident air. Were her parents’ accolades about kindergarten taking effect, or had she become resigned to the inevitable and was braving it out for a photo-op?

I must admit that I lied to my granddaughter during the days prior to her first day in kindergarten. I recall the exact moment when I lied. We were driving in the car, just the two of us, when May quietly and out of the blue said, “Grammy I’m really scared to start kindergarten.” I remember reassuring her that kindergarten would be so much fun; that she would get to play with all kinds of new things, learn about amazing “stuff,” meet so many new friends and that she would love her teacher. She then asked me if I could remember my first day and if I remembered how I felt. That is when I lied.

I may have forgotten about a movie I saw two days ago or what I had for dinner last night or I may even have forgotten the gist of a story I was reading late into the night, but I can still remember my first day of kindergarten. I recall crying my eyes out as I sat in a classroom surrounded by people I didn’t know. I remember crying so much that my teacher had me sit outside the classroom until my older brother came to talk to me. My recollection of how the rest of the day or week passed is hazy, but the impact of sitting on the corridor floor, crying and being scared remains vivid in my memory. However, that is not what I told May.

I told May that I remember a huge playhouse that I would hide in with the new friends I made. I told her about how kind the teacher was and that I liked to dress-up in the many available costumes. Finally, I told her a funny story about how my mother always called me “Betty,” but registered me as “Elizabeth” and that when the role was called, I didn’t respond because I didn’t know my given name. Sadly, I am embarrassed to say, the last part of our conversation was true. However, May got a huge laugh out of the story and it took her mind off the real issue of being scared.

Her question and my answer led my thoughts to May’s Aunt Jessica’s first day of kindergarten. I recall walking her to her classroom and wanting to hold her back, to protect her, to keep her safe. Without realizing it at the time, my personal experience was affecting her willingness to let go. My mouth may have been singing praises about kindergarten, but my body language was saying something else, instilling in her a sense of foreboding. Today, I can see how I inadvertently caused Jessica to feel anxious over starting something new. With May, I made sure that body language and words were one in the same, regardless of how I fantasized.

Although my early school experience was less than stellar, May’s was fantastic! It was everything the people she loved and trusted said it would be. I have no regrets over the story I invented during our car ride that summer’s day. How fortunate I was to be in a position to tell a little white lie in order to bring comfort to a person I love!


A Child’s Pain On the Path to Growing Up

The more I am in my granddaughter May’s presence, the more I become aware of the complexity of the mind of a five-year-old. As grown-ups, we take pride in our grandkids as they master and, seemingly effortlessly, move through each developmental stage on their road towards maturity. We thrill over their first word, first tentative steps, first tooth, and each inch that they grow. Then as they move towards independence, when they no longer rush into our arms upon seeing us or ask us to drop down onto the floor to play with them, we become aware of how quickly they are growing in the precious time that they have shared our world. But, do we ever stop to think about the depth of their thoughts as they journey through the ever-increasing scope of their world? Do they stop and reflect upon their journey thus far or is reflection strictly reserved for grown-ups?

On a recent visit to our house on the Cape, May had a difficult time going to sleep. Sure, she was overly tired from a busy day of shopping, going to the ice cream store for her “purple cow” cone, and proudly demonstrating her newfound ability to swing on the monkey bars in the town playground, but the tears that she was shedding were unlike the tears we had come to know as her ploy at gaining more stay-awake time. This time her tears bore a real sadness, a sadness that was heart wrenching to anyone within earshot. It was obvious that she had something on her mind and, in her tired state, was limited in her ability to express the reasons behind her unhappiness.

On this particular night, May was put to bed in her Aunt Jessica’s room where the computer kept flashing a compilation of pictures that were taken over the years. Since Eloise is our most recent addition to the family, most of the photos were of May taken since birth. As May lied in bed watching the show, she was reminded of all the happy times that she experienced during what she viewed as her “baby years:” May kite flying on the beach, May playing with the kitchen set Santa brought on her second Christmas, May beating eggs with her tiny “pig egg beater,” May licking the huge peppermint stick that was given to her by Aunt Jessica, May digging in the soil with her little blue bonnet protecting her from the sun, May with her nose pressed against the glass door watching grandpa plow the snow, May helping grandma roll a huge ball of snow for the base of her Frosty etc. At the time, May took these events as a matter of course, but now, having a little sister who has a whole new world opening unto her and with May as the observer of Eloise’s discoveries, May wished that she was once again a baby.

May’s longing for the past brought to mind conversations that I used to have with her Aunt Jessica when she was a little girl and watched who is now May’s mother steal her thunder. My older daughter saw her little sister as cute and funny and had a love/hate battle waging within. I am not sure how I handled the situation at the time. I probably made light of it and pointed out all of Jessica’s wonderful qualities before moving on to something less upsetting. However, as is often the case, with age comes wisdom and I am now better able to see the world through the eyes of the older child and I empathize with her plight.

After a long while, Nancy managed to work her magic and abated May’s sadness by turning off the computer and talking about all of the wonderful activity-filled days that lay ahead.

Change can be a scary thing for anyone, especially children. The known is usually more comforting than the unknown and right now, May is entering the world of the unknown. Summer is drawing to its close and so are the carefree days spent with her family. She is soon to begin a new school where she will no longer see the familiar faces of her friends at the nursery school where her mother is a teacher and where she has spent the last three years of her young life; the nursery school that gave her that special “mommy-May” time as they travelled back and forth each day.

May will go to a new school knowing practically no-one and her little sister Eloise will now attend May’s former school and have that special “mommy-Eloise” time. And May will once more experience the pangs of what it means to grow up. It is no small wonder that May longs to be that cute, curly-haired, toddler that continuously flashed across the computer screen.

The next day, Nancy called to ask my advice about how to handle May’s emotional turmoil. I don’t know if I offered good advice when I suggested that she tell May that right now, Eloise wishes that she could do all of the amazing things that May is capable of doing. It just seemed like a logical response at the time. I seem to lack the convictions that I possessed when I was a young mother. Then, I seemed to have all the answers, but now I know that I didn’t.

It is Nancy’s turn to stand by her convictions and I have every faith in her for finding the right words and giving the love and support that will guide her children into becoming the thoughtful and caring people that she grew to be.

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