I was arrogant and judgmental to my friends. Why?

Old Guys Coffee Group

I have a great group of guys with whom I get together every Friday morning. You may have seen us…well, not exactly us, but that group of retirees you see at the diner once a week. We talk, we laugh, we kvetch.

Then, last week, one of the guys suggested, “Next Friday, let’s talk about how we lost our virginity.”

That did it for me. I blew up.

“Is that all you think about? Look at what I’m doing. I’m 90 years old!” I said, thinking of the meeting I set-up last month about gun laws, or the new technology tourist program for grandparents. “You’re in your 80’s! You’re 72! You were former teachers, business owners, lawyers!” I couldn’t stop. I was on a roll now. “Look at all the problems in our community and the whole Chicago area!”

As soon as I was done, I regretted it. Friendship is sacred, and I was inappropriate to chastise my friends for not fully using their passion, creativity and commitment.

But even as I imagined the apology I would deliver the next week, I had to think it through. Because, honestly, I don’t get it. “If you guys want to sit around like bumps on logs…” No, starting that way would not sound like an apology. I would just ask for forgiveness. “You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make them drink,” I rationalized, thinking that I can share with them what I’m doing, give them ideas, but I can’t make them act. “No!” I shouted to myself. “Drink you damn horse, drink!”

I’m sorry but….

Okay, maybe I’m not quite ready to deliver my apology. Why, I wondered, didn’t everyone want to use every ounce of their energy, their passion, creativity and commitment to making the world a better place? “Retirement is very difficult,” explained one of the group. “Wake-up, Jerry! There’s illness. A spouse dies. There are family issues. All of this can get you down.”

I said “yes, but please review your strengths. Feel the joy, the thrill from exercising the power of your ideas. How do you use your wisdom and the knowledge and experience you’ve gained over the years?”

For me, deciding who you want to be and what you want to do as you grow older is an ongoing, upward trajectory. How do you use your passion, creativity and commitment your entire life? We retire from work, but we don’t lose all that we’ve learned and contributed over the years of our careers. For me, my work at the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago and Camp Chi was never a job to me. I was always taking that famous camping phrase, “Always leave your campsite better than you found it,” and applying it to the world.

In the end, I knew that I would back-off. My daughter-in-law, who is a psychiatrist, said “Dad they just want to reminisce, remember a time when they felt strong and virile.” But I see that they can still be powerful now. And, I suppose the other reason it’s hard to accept is because I hear them saying they are bored. I know that my life is filled with passion and purpose because of my work to help grandparents and grandchildren enter each other’s worlds.

For the guys, it’s as though they believe the greatest things they can do in the world have already happened. I say there’s more still to come. I deeply want them to look at their strengths, their skills, and their knowledge and to recognize that all of those things are still there.

It’s not you. It’s me.

In the end, however, my frustration is with me. Their friendship means a great deal to me. I started this group 20 some years ago. Some have come and gone but there’s always a core group who gets together every week. It is me who needs to forego any arrogance and judgment and let them be them.

So, the following Friday I apologized. They accepted. One even said I was right, although he didn’t plan to change his behavior. And we forewent telling the stories about losing our virginity.

But I’m sure that’s what everyone was thinking about all week. Okay. Even me.

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How Technology Connects Steve and Diane Brogan to their Grandchildren

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Pokemon Go

Steve and Diane Brogan were recently retired and building their dream home in a beautiful wooded area in New England, centrally located between their two adult children and their three grandchildren, ages 12 to 16. They had visions of family holidays and shared activities and more. Until Diane discovered she was allergic to trees. “We searched online and found that Nevada has only three indigenous trees in the whole state. So we moved 2500 miles away to Las Vegas. It was either that or I could stop breathing. And of course that wouldn’t work.”

But they couldn’t accept being separated from their grandchildren, particularly with one who is on the autism spectrum. Technology has allowed them to connect with their adult children and grandchildren daily, and to be a part of their every-day world.

This interview took place as part of an article for Grand Magazine, about grandparents, grandchildren and technology. You can read the full article here (link will be posted when article goes live in September) See the full interview with them, coming soon.

Social Action Takes Work, but It’s Worth It

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Grandparents against gun violence

Moms Demand Action Grandparent Unit Meeting

At 90, I’m not one to stay still when something is on my mind. I want to help where I can and connect to others who also are concerned. I’m a proud grandpa of six grandchildren and one great grandchild. I’ve been very afraid and anxious about my grandchildren since the school shootings in Florida and Texas.

That’s why I invited Jenny Studelman to come speak in the community room at my condominium complex. Jenny heads up the Deerfield/Highland Park Chapter of Moms Demand Action. Moms Demand Action is made up of moms and dads, gun owners and non-gun owners, veterans and people of all professions and backgrounds, working together to end the gun violence epidemic in the USA.

Protecting children should not be a political issue.

I was surprised at the concerns raised about my wanting to use the public meeting room for this purpose. “Will we have to grant everyone who asks permission to use the room? Even Nazis?” asked one board member. They saw my wanting to protect children as a free speech issue. Indeed, for some, wanting to keep our grandchildren safe from guns is a political issue. “This isn’t about the 2nd Amendment,” I assured them.

They acquiesced, and I drafted a personal letter from me, as a neighbor and past president of the condo association board. The letter was distributed to all 350 unites in our complex, posted in common areas and on the website. I told Jenny, “I have no idea who will come.”

The night of the meeting

Come the night of the meeting, about 40 of the 400 or so grandparents among my neighbors showed up. Jenny shared what Moms Demand Action does and things that grandparents can do to be informed and take action if they so choose. She made it very clear they are not fighting 2nd amendment, but that there is specific legislation that is being worked on related to gun safety.

The attendees represented a mix of perspectives. Three were my good friends who came, as they said, because “you harassed me into coming.” Another guy thought this was going to be an attack on gun legislation and plans to take away his guns. When he realized it wasn’t, he left early. Some couldn’t understand why guns weren’t outlawed in US. For others, the meeting was a chance to share their fears about their grandchildren being killed or their anger that guns are allowed to get into schools.

Jenny talked about how grandparents can talk to their adult children. “Do you ask the other parents about guns before a play date at their house?” Jenny recommends not asking “do you have a gun,” which might put someone on the defensive. Rather “how do you store your guns in your house?”

One story Jenny heard was a father who stored his gun on a high shelf in kitchen, with ammunition in it. “But I told my kid not to touch it,” he explained. Perhaps it’s an “old west mentality” of men wanting to protect their families. But the increasing presence of guns is having the opposite effect, and actually making it less safe for children.

Of 350 invitations and 40 attendees, in the end, 15 people signed up to stay connected and be on the list for regular monthly gatherings, often social in nature.

I found myself feeling tired. I spent a lot of time pulling this together. And I got a lot of resistance. But I know a new idea takes time and energy. I suppose I thought that a grandparent’s unconditional love for their grandchild would have made this a “no-brainer” to support.  But I realize this is a culture change. And that is never simple.

One Grandparent at a Time.

A week later, on the 4th of July, my companion and I went to the park district in our Village for the fireworks. During the time we were there, two men approached me individually and thanked me for putting together the meeting. One, who appeared very tough on the outside, confided, “I’m scared,” he said. “Because of the meeting I talked to my grandchildren. I haven’t done that before. They are scared too,” he shared.

That doesn’t change the world, but changing minds makes a difference. It reminds me of the starfish story…the one about the child who sees all the starfish who have washed up on the shore and gotten stuck there when the tide went out. He frantically is picking them up and throwing them back into the water. “Why are you doing that? You’ll never save them all,” says a passer-by. The child looks at the one in his hand and responds, “Yes, but I can save this one.”

The motto that guides my life is “always leave your campsite better than you found it.” Social change is exhausting work. But my actions, my ability to act, are mine. No one can take that away. And nothing can stop me from continuing to leave the world a better place for my children and grandchildren.

Their World is Ever-Changing: Guns, Technology and more

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Teen grandchildren and technology

Gone are the days of baking cookies or making crafts together. Although going out together for ice cream never goes out of style. My grandchildren are now 16 to 36.

It’s not something to lament. As they get older their minds grow and their world of ideas expands exponentially. I love talking to them about their school or their work to try to understand empathically what their world is like.

There are two topics lately that are on my mind because of their profound impact on the world of my grandchildren. From the news: Guns violence in schools. From a recent course I attended at Northwestern University: Media and Human Development. Both are foreign to me and my world, but I want to understand them to know my grandchildren.

On the former, gun violence in schools, I have connected with the Deerfield/Highland Park Chapter of Moms Demand Action. Next week I’ve invited all of the residents in my condominium complex to come to a meeting to hear them speak about sensible changes to gun legislation that can promote gun safety. I hope to get others to join the new Grandparent Unit that we are creating. Moms Demand Action is open to all, and has supporters who are Democrat and Republican, Veterans, those who own guns and those who do not.

Then, last week, I attended a lecture by Alexis Lauricella, one of a series in a communications course I am attending at Northwestern University. Dr. Lauricella’s research “examines the impact of media technology on children and adolescents with a focus on the educational potential of media experiences.” Anyone who knows me knows, just hearing someone speak is never enough. I want to understand the implications for grandchildren today. So…I have a meeting with Dr. Lauricella in the coming weeks to see how we can collaborate to help grandparents understand the technological world of their grandchildren.

Grandchildren born today, like my great-grandchild, who is under two years old, will never know a time before technology. Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality will be his vernacular. I want to help grandparents to enter their grandchildren’s world. To see it. Feel it. Understand it. So that they can always be a part of it.

Robert’s Story: Keeping the Toddlers Involved in Family Meetings

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The thing about Family Meetings is that if you make them a habit when children are young, they continue to be a priority as children age. There may be a different feel at different times of life, but that is the beauty and essence of knowing and growing in sync with one another.

When Ariella was a baby it was easy to have her in the room napping in her carrier or stroller, but as she became a toddler, dad Robert was more concerned about her making it through the hour or so long meeting.

Doors were always kept open during the meetings. The youngest ones ran off to play, at first.  But he noticed that they eventually came back into the room to burrow into their parents’ or cousins’ laps, and seemed to be listening attentively.  Pretty soon they began piping up during the free-flowing conversation.

One constant agenda item for Robert and his family (and a good one in general) was to share a success or even a failure since the last meeting. Robert and Ariella picked a favorite piece of artwork she had made in pre-school and brought it with them to the meeting. He could see her joy as she told the story of her masterpiece and giggled with delight at her moment as the center of attention.

Of course having plenty of snacks, juice, and favorite toys on hand helped to make sure that Ariella stayed put, but Robert loved that Ariella could actually be a part of the meeting.

“Practice makes perfect.” Perfect is not what we’re aiming for, but practice does make habit. But starting conversations about all kinds of topics, even the hard ones, when grandchildren or young, it will be first nature by their teen years.

What kinds of things to you do to involve your grandchildren in family conversations?

Put it in writing with Journaling

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The Power of Journaling

 Over the course of 50+ years as a social-work professional and mentor, I’ve discovered that a simple pen or pencil can be one of the most successful tools to inspire self-discovery, lasting growth, and life-satisfaction.

In “The Health Benefits of Journaling,” social-work professional Maud Purcell states:  “The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational.  While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel.  In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you.”

 My own experience strongly corroborates Ms. Purcell’s assertions, as does a wealth of literature in the field. It is universally acknowledged that journaling can help you:

  • “Know Thyself.” Addressing the past, present and future in writing, heightens our awareness of the forces that shape us.  Making a conscious effort to understand ourselves is essential if we hope to understand our relationships.
  • Sometimes all we need in order to value the good stuff in our lives and families is to see it in black and white.  The simple act of appreciating can confer a huge boost of optimism and energy… and that stuff’s contagious.
  • A family balance sheet can also propel us to confront unpleasant issues that need addressing and old wounds that may still fester.  This can spur on a key step in the journey towards healthy family relationships: the hugely liberating acts of trust-building and forgiveness.
  • Clarify (and even problem-solve). Writing about ongoing conflicts instead of seething or arguing over them, may help you sort out the details, put them in perspective, and understand another’s point of view.  This can actually help you resolve differences.  Plus, when issues are on paper, nobody needs to rely on memory.
  • Decompress. Getting things on paper can help get them out of your system, siphoning off anger and stress.   In this way, journaling can be good for your blood pressure, your blood sugar, your sleep cycle, your heart – and your soul.
  • See the journey. Journals can bring back memories in sharp focus.  Revisiting your struggles and your triumphs graphically illustrates how far you’ve come – which can empower you to keep TRYING, and keep growing.
  • Define and refine goals. The Family Vision Statement that emerges from these exercises can become a springboard for shared adventures in good times, and for having a support system in place when you need it, in hard times.

 

 

A Family Values Quiz

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Family Values Quiz

Grandparents often ask me, “How will I be remembered?” They know that they can leave valuables, but things can be lost, discarded or no longer considered valuable. A legacy of values, however, can guide grandchildren in their daily life, school, friendship, family relationships.

A value such as kindness becomes integrated into the being of the grandchild’s personality. It can be forever and it can be shared and taught to other members of the family and friends. It is part of the Teaching-and-Learning culture of the family, and the grandchild’s world outside of the family.

Interestingly, delving into Values often helps people to discover unexpected areas of commonality, notwithstanding what may appear to be striking differences of opinion.  Some families, for example, are very much split along political or ideological lines.  There’s nothing wrong with healthy disagreement and debate, of course – it’s all part of a vibrant Teaching-and-Learning culture.  But if, for example, social justice emerges as a strong core value for all or most family members, there are ways to share and live this that are decidedly nonpartisan.  Families across the political spectrum, or with different religious beliefs or practices, can volunteer together in a soup kitchen or community renewal project, and share articles or books that inspire them.


Why do a Family Values Quiz?

Often values are unspoken or assumed, or manifest in different ways. They are based on where or how you were raised. Your children may have been raised in the same home, but connected with different values. They are now married and building their own family values. So what happens when all of these different values come together?

For us, the Family Values Quiz was a way to see the overlap, and to provide a framework for a deeper conversation about values. The results provided a map or lens for conversation. We know, too, that values and priorities are things that constantly change, so that’s why this discussion needs to be reviewed periodically to see where we are.

The Family Values Quiz can be a family meeting agenda item or it can be emailed in advance. First, I’ll share a copy of the quiz, and then, some insights to practical applications…what does it look like in everyday life to value adventure or generosity?

I’m not saying that this is an easy, clean, one-time process. But I do say always leave your campsite better than you found it; leave your school better than you found it, and leave your neighborhood and community better than you found it.

It is within your power to leave your family with greater meaning, and the world a better place, because your family was in it. The discussion around values is a step to making that happen.

 

Our Values Quiz

So how do you discover family members’ values? We started with a short, stimulating quiz as an agenda item at our inaugural Family Meeting. A sample of that quiz follows. Keep in mind, this is not a test. Rather it’s a thought starter around possible values as a basis for discussion, to see where values intersect, diverge, overlap.

My granddaughter Katie has suggested a different ‘ranking scale’ might work for some families. “Aside from a couple that are more of a personal preference, I have a hard time believing that anyone would willingly put ‘not important’ to most of these… thus making it harder to find the top priorities.” It may be in the practical application where priorities emerge.

Have fun taking the quiz, tallying the results and discussing them.  What will emerge is a kind of treasure map for your family life – a picture of the many rich attributes and values, interests and convictions, that each of you contributes to the collective, to make it a vibrant whole.

 

SAMPLE VALUES QUIZ

 

Value Description

Not

Important

Somewhat

Important

Very

Important

Adventure (new experiences, challenges, excitement)      
Balance (appropriate attention devoted to various aspects of life and activities)      
Contribution & Generosity (desire to make a difference, to give)      
Cooperation (teamwork, working with others)      
Creativity & Artistic Expression (new ideas, innovation, experimenting, drama, painting, literature)      

 

Economic Security (freedom from financial worries)      
Fairness (equal chance, equal hearing for all)      
Family Happiness (desire to get along, respect, harmony)      
Friendship (intimacy, caring, support)      
Fun (enjoyment, pleasure, happiness)      
Inner Harmony (desire to be at peace with oneself)      
Integrity (honesty, sincerity, consistent demonstration of your values)      
Learning (growth, knowledge, understanding)      
Personal Development (improvement, reach potential, excellence, high standards, minimal errors)      
Spirituality (belief or interest in a higher power or God)      
Wisdom (desire to understand life, to exercise sound judgment)      
Interdependence (ability to ask for help & give help)      
Other (fill in your choice)

 

     
Other

 

     
Other

 

     

 

It may be tempting, initially, to try and define your family ethos by zeroing in on shared interests, or things that everyone likes to do together for fun. And, admittedly, focusing on the fun things first can provide an opening for the deeper values conversation. For example, a family where many members enjoy swimming may find that they share an affinity for environmental issues; or a family that enjoys playing chess may be interested in strategy and how that informs politics and democracy. Families who have fun cooking, at a minimum may boast better treats at their meetings, but may also find an underlying concern for food equity or supporting locally owned businesses.

But interests, hobbies and activities, for a host of reasons, may wax and wane through the years.  Core values, however, tend to endure – and they are frequently the foundation for our lasting passions and enthusiasms.  A family with a core value of “outdoor adventures and fitness,” for example, may relish taking ski trips together each winter.  But what happens during years when money is tight, or when a good portion of the family’s members are either too old or too young to participate?  Everyone can still have fun together, and fulfill the very same core value, by going (or watching!) sledding or ice-skating in a local park.

By exploring and coming to terms with our family’s areas of commonality and separateness, we teach the youngest generation how people of different beliefs respect each other, value each other’s contributions, and manage to get along in the world.

Life on the Farm: What I learned from my grandparents.

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Hen with Chics

This letter from Barbara Howard, to her grandma, was written when Barbara was 80. It’s part of the “The Grandchildren Speak” series, where we collected letters from grandchildren sharing what they learned from their grandparents.

 

My Grandma Nettie was an old-fashioned Midwestern farm wife.  She and Grandpa had nine children whom they raised on a rented farm in central Illinois.   I was her first grandchild and I always felt I was her favorite, though many others came after me.

I was a premature baby and they say I had constant colic.  My inexperienced parents didn’t know how to cope with it, so they asked Grandma to take care of me.  Whatever she did, it worked; I guess that was when we first bonded.

From the time I was a young child, in the 1940s, I started spending summers with my grandparents.  Four of my aunts and uncles still lived at home on the farm; my parents and I lived about 100 miles away, so this was a real adventure for me.  They had electricity, but no running water and few other modern conveniences.

Grandma baked bread every other day, and always made a muffin-sized, miniature loaf just for me.   She let me help her knead the bread, and sometimes with the pies she baked for Sundays.

On Saturdays, we went into town to do the weekly grocery shopping at the local Red & White store.  Occasionally, they would buy cattle-feed, which came in brightly patterned calico sacks; she would let me pick out the ones I liked best, and then use the material to make me a dress and matching bonnet.  (She tried to teach me how to sew, but I never did catch on to it.)

She used to play an old organ that she had to pump with her feet, and we sang gospel songs from an old hymnal.

Saturdays were bath-time and hair-washing time.  Bathwater from the pump was heated on the woodstove, and I was allowed to be the first to sink into the tin circular tub.  (I think she used the same bathwater for herself.)  She washed my hair outside on the porch, using a pitcher of water and a washbasin, and a beaten egg for shampoo.

She taught me so many things:  important skills like cooking and baking, gardening and canning.  Some of the skills didn’t end up being that important, in my life – like how to sneak an egg from under a sitting hen who was guarding her nest.  But most of all, she instilled in me patience, kindness, and faith.

I owe her so much.

BARBARA HOWARD (80)
NAPLES, FLORIDA

Dear Grandma, here’s what I learned from you (good Mother’s Day gift for mom’s too!)

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In my book, The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, I asked grandchildren to write a letter their their grandparents. The topic was “what I learned from you.” (see others here.)

This is a beautiful and meaningful thing for a grandparent to know while they are still alive how they have helped and guided their grandchildren. My book project started after my Margaret passed away. Ethan, now an ordained rabbi, still wrote this letter to her. I dare you to read it and not cry.

Parents…grab paper and a pen or beautiful paper that can go through a printer. Tell your children to write to your parents. Or, grandchildren, you can do this on your own. This is a gift that can still arrive by Mother’s Day, and will last forever.

Dear Grandma Margaret,

I know that this might seem a little weird, writing you a letter even though you left us many years ago, but your husband asked me to write you a letter and I pretty much won’t say no to Grandpa.  I am going to resist the urge to ask about how you are doing and what you are up to but I will tell you that I am well.  I am in rabbinical school now and I am working on ways of bringing an old religion to people through new technologies (and also some old technologies too).

My dad told me once that you predicted when I was born that this is what I would do with my life – nice job.  Actually I think that I learned a lot about faith from you.  The predictions and star-chart stuff, not to mention Tarot cards and previous lives, were perhaps all about your belief in the unseen and that there are forces at work in our universe that are beyond our mien but that we can tap into briefly and rudimentarily if we go about it in the right way.

In fact, Grandma, as I write this I realize that I completely share in your belief in the power and magic of the world around us and that I would not be who I am today without it, or without you.  You taught me that it is okay to have faith, and that belief and love of these things is not silly and doesn’t make you silly.  On that same note you also taught me to enjoy little things other people miss, and that there is cool stuff to be found in even mundane things like puzzles and wearing purple.  You taught me that nothing should be overlooked and that if you note and remember everything you see, you will be really, really good at crossword puzzles.

You taught me that messy rooms can be a lot of fun and I inherited, or learned, that same trait from you.  It is a trait that says you want to be able to do anything and everything (because anything and everything can be cool) and don’t have time to pick up things, or need to have them in neat piles or put away.  If there is a path to walk through and I know where everything in the room is, why should I clean it up more than that?

However you also showed me the dangers of such a life and such a room.  The pitfalls of half-finished quilts and paintings, the lost items that infuriate (“I know it is in the room somewhere”) and the need for maybe a little bit of order.  You taught me mostly through example that there is a dangerous quality to the mixture of passion, intellect and scattered enthusiasm for everything that runs in our family.  I both relish and fear the fact that I exhibit many of the qualities that you did in this regard.

This is where I would like to finish my letter to you, Grandma.  You taught me many little things about puzzles, marble runs, games, food, painting, poker and not to fight with my cousins.

Really, though, it was the big things that will stay with me and are the most influential in my life.  Your sense of play, the passion for life, the discipline and the faith in a magical universe have all been transmitted to me through a combination of teaching and DNA. These things have been a part of making me who I am today, for better and for worse, and they will continue to guide me as I go forward.

Thank you, Grandma, for all of the things you gave me, and for being a ready teacher and playmate.

I miss you and love you,

ETHAN (written at 26)

The Choices Grandparents Make, Make a Difference

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Grandparent watching Grandchild School Play

One of the guys from our Friday morning coffee klatch (actually, we men call it a “guys group”) pulled me aside to let me know why he would not be there next Friday. “I’m going to Scottsdale to see my granddaughter in her school play.”

Of course I liked the part where he added “because of you.” I’m always challenging the group and asking them how they have actively engaged their families and connected with their grandchildren. “Ugghh—I don’t want to know what they are feeling!” some have responded. But today Art (not his real name) said “I heard you Jerry. It’s a good idea.”

Holding back full restraint from saying “I told you so” (I may have said “I told you so”) I’m moved by the idea of choice. How we make choices every day, and how those choices impact our relationships.

In this case, Art was invited on an annual trip that was very exciting and something he wanted to do. At the same time, however, he had gotten an invitation from his granddaughter to go to Arizona to see her perform in the school play. He’s gotten these invitations before and just assumed it was a courtesy. No-one really expected him to travel across the country for something that happens in the regular course of school.

This time he chose to go.

It is hard, takes time and money, but soon our grandchildren will be grown up and things like school plays won’t even be an option. What is it but all of those day-to-day things that make up our grandchildren’s world? This time he chose to be a part of this part of her growth and development.

Their world right now is school.

How do you enter their world? Reach them where they are. Find out what your grandchildren are reading in school and read the book. Go to see their sporting events or schools plays and concerts. And if you absolutely can’t be there, find an older sibling or other family member who can livestream while the event is going on.

Just as technology divides us, it brings us together.

Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Live…these are all platforms that allow you to see what’s happening in real time.

But you, my fellow grandparents, have to make the choice to make it happen.

What are your grandchildren up to this weekend?