17 Conversation Starters to Talk about the Supreme Court and Brett Kavanaugh with your Grandchildren



Talking about Brett Kavanaugh with your grandchildren

You might say why would I purposely have a conversation about Judge Brett Kavanaugh with my grandchild?

Perhaps the conversation is not so much about him specifically, but around what kinds of discussions grandparents and grandchildren can have around the news and current events. Our grandchildren hear so much and learn so much outside of the carefully crafted worlds we would wish for them. Depending on their age, they may not understand everything that’s going on. They may react differently based on their gender. They may be angry at how adults are handling things. Or they may not care. But maybe they should.

An opening from a grandparent may be just what your grandchild needs to process what they are already seeing and hearing in their world. Of course, you know your grandchild best. Pick and choose or add your own questions, based on who they are. And for anything that feels controversial, always ask your children, aka your grandchildren’s parents, first.

Talking about Democracy Starts Young

In an effort to perpetuate democracy, many parents have been bringing their children to the voting booth with them since they were babies. Ever since the #metoo movement started, I, for one, ask my granddaughters every time I see them, “When are you running for office?” Not even just my grandchildren. If I see a woman who I know to be a great leader, I simply ask: “What’s holding you back?”

Having a Supreme Court that is beyond reproach is a core pillar of democracy. Depending on your grandchild’s age, there are plenty of places to start a conversation.

  1. What does the Supreme Court do?
  2. What qualities do you think would make a good Supreme Court judge?
  3. How do you gauge if a potential Supreme Court justice knows law and the constitution?
  4. How can you determine if a judicial candidate is able to judge fairly, regardless of gender or other external markers of difference?
  5. How objective is interpretation of the US Constitution—should someone’s political party matter when enforcing the law?
  6. Should Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed for the Supreme Court? Why or why not?
  7. How does someone become a Supreme Court justice
  8. If you were asking the questions, what would you want to know about a potential Supreme Court Justice?

This is an important conversation to have with a child, and that can have arms and legs. Go to see RBG, the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg together. Get a “Pocket Constitution” for each of your grandchildren. Go out for ice cream and talk about it together.

Talk about Personal Character and Public Office

There are plenty of conversations to have about one’s character and qualifications to hold public office. There was a time when there was a distinction between one’s “personal” life that was considered private and “professional” life that was public. But with the invasiveness of social media privacy may be a nostalgic notion. Here are some conversation starters around this topic:

  1. Is it a valid distinction to differentiate between personal and public character?
  2. Should someone be forgiven for something they did long ago?
  3. How about a conversation about accountability and people accepting responsibility for their actions.
  4. How do you discern the truth when you hear different sides of a story?

This may also be a time to have a conversation more broadly (beyond the current headlines) about making mistakes, as in no one is perfect. We make mistakes. Don’t keep them buried in you. Get them out and talk about the mistake and make better choices next time.

Talk about “-isms.”

Racism, sexism, double-standards. Even the current use of “Democrat” or “Republican” as a label for the “other” is the exact essence of prejudice stereotyping that fuels “isms”. It’s labeling all people of a single group as being monolithic. At the same time businesses are putting diversity and inclusion front and center as a core value for ongoing success, our government is getting more and more entrenched in this two-party-the-other-is-the-enemy binary.

  1. How would you define healthy relationships in high school?
  2. What does it mean if someone says there’s a double-standard about an issue?
  3. How would you respond or intervene if you saw a friend doing something they shouldn’t do?
  4. What does racism mean? Do people in the US still experience racism?
  5. What does sexism mean? Do people in the US still experience sexism?

If my grandchildren could figure out this one, I’d hope that they would be nominated for the Supreme Court.

Talk about your own thoughts.

Most of these conversations I suggest with your grandchildren are more abstract. They go beyond the specifics of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings to talk more broadly about related ideas. I do think it’s important to say what you think in a way that’s not “preachy”. But do share your opinion as an example of how to respectfully state your position on an issue.

For Kavanaugh himself, if he is innocent he ought to say to the panel, “bring in the FBI. Let’s investigate the allegations. Let’s put off the hearing for whatever time it takes. Let’s see what they find out.”  That is what a mensch would do.

What questions will you ask your grandchildren?


Tell me a story about…College Orientation

University of Minnesota

I can’t believe it. My second to youngest grandchild is off onto her next big milestone: going to college. Just a couple of weeks ago, Merite’s mom dropped her off. I asked her to tell me a story about orientation and how she was feeling as she embarked on this next milestone phase of her life.

Merite told me about the trip with her parents from her home in Madison to the campus in St. Paul. Her mom helped her set things up in her new dorm room. Merite then went on a four hour bus excursion, including a reassuring overview the two block campus and then onto a tour all around town in St. Paul.

She talked about being nervous in starting this new adventure in a new setting. As she met more people, however, connections began to unfold: The Rabbi that came to the campus? Her mom is the head-librarian at the synagogue in New York City where Merite’s brother Ethan is a Rabbi. The professor who will be Merite’s advisor went to Carlton College. Merite’s dad also went to Carlton College. As they broke into smaller groups during orientation, Merite met a young woman from China who had only been to the US once before, to visit the campus before deciding to go there. Now Merite had a friend with whom she could learn and explore together.

As I try to understand my granddaughter’s world as she enters her first year of college, I am reminded of my days as the head of Camp Chi, an overnight camp near Chicago. The first five hours after campers arrived were the most important for defining their experience. Of course there would be ups and downs, times of feeling lonely—but just like at Camp Chi, helping students feel connected to the campus and to each other from the get-go makes the difference. “Just make one friend the first day,” I advised Merite. “Everything will grow from there.”

Continuing the Tradition of Teaching and Learning

In the spirit of the “teaching and learning” culture of my family, I asked Merite to select two books out of all those she’ll be reading this semester. I wanted to read along with her and follow what she’s studying, just as I did when she was in High School. She warned me that the books are expensive. I told her I could swing it. I decided to pass on the Russian language textbook. She told me about her other classes, including one she thought I would particularly enjoy about governments in Africa.

Finally it was time to end our call. “I’d like to call you each week,” I said. “You have to call me,” she answered. 11 am on Sunday will be our phone date.

“And grandpa, how are you?” she asked. I told her I was waiting to hear from a book publisher, and was enjoying my daily walks in the Chicago Botanic Garden. And that’s how we ended our call. I felt comforted and connected, hearing about the whole new world she was entering and having a plan to maintain our connection so that I could explore it with her.

Valuing the Freedom to Attend Religious Services


, ,

Jewish Religious Freedom

Jews around the world this week came together with others in their local Jewish community to pray on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As I sat in synagogue on Monday, I realized how powerful it is that we are free to do that in the US, without fear.

Older adult after older adult shuffled into the synagogue. Some walked, aided by canes and walkers. Others came in wheel chairs. There was a sprinkling of baby boomers, teenagers and younger children. But most of us were older. “Where are the young people,” I wondered? “All ages can be a part of this service.” But, they don’t come. Perhaps because they don’t connect to their history.

I’ve been to Poland four times. I’ve visited Auschwitz, Birkenau, Warsaw and Krakow. Items taken away from Jews and others who were killed were on exhibit in glassed in cells at Auschwitz. One cell was filled with human hair that Nazi’s had shaved off their prisoners’ heads before sending them to gas chambers. Another was full of children’s shoes. Still another with pots and pans that wives had taken to cook for their families, even after being stripped from their homes. In the pile of suitcases on display, I saw the name Witkovsky written on one. I never knew of a personal family connection to the Holocaust. Seeing my family name and knowing the fate of the owner of that suitcase made pause.

I didn’t grow up in an observant Jewish home. Yet my whole professional career has been in serving the Jewish community. Was it my soul’s yearning, as Rabbi Naomi Levy would suggest, in her book, Einstein and the Rabbi, that drew me to this work?

It would seem so. As a child I lived with my dad and step-mother (my mother died when I was three) in a garden apartment in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Now nearly 100% African-American, in the 1930’s Englewood was a mostly non-Jewish, white neighborhood.

We displayed a Christmas tree in the living room and a wreath on the door for all to see. In the kitchen, however, hidden from the view of the street, we lit our Chanukah candles. These were conscientious decisions, to ward off possible antisemitism. In my grade in grammar school there were only two Jews. Me plus one other. In high school, I dated a girl who wasn’t Jewish. Happening upon her and her friends one day, I overheard them asking “are you dating that Jew boy?”

When my family did go to services, people dressed nicely. For a holiday designed to forego vanity in favor of deference to G-d, people arrived in their finest jewelry and fur coats. Many were recent immigrants—it was about proving that you had made it. Now congregants dress casually. Two generations later their families are established. It’s a given that they’ve made it, no need to prove it. This is wonderful. It’s what we wanted for our children and grandchildren. We just hope they remember where they came from.

And, of course there is still antisemitism, I know that. Most synagogues hire off-duty police officers as a safeguard on the high holidays. But rather than that being a source of fear, it makes me grateful. I am grateful to live in a country where the government and the police are here to protect and support our religious freedoms.

It’s only 5 days until Yom Kippur. Where are you going to services?




This post originally ran on 10/21/16, but we are re-posting in honor of the recent passing of her grandpa. Sending our deepest condolences to Michelle and her family.


When I was little, my paternal Grandfather Abe and I enjoyed many hours of playing Rummy at his kitchen table.  First, my Grandfather would conduct the impressive table shuffle, then the mystifying riffle shuffle and then the cards would be flicked out – dealt one by one to each player.   Next, “the gathering of the cards”…where you familiarize yourself with the cards you’ve been dealt with and strategize how you will proceed.

While the “big kids” quickly made their choices of which cards to keep, I would always need a bit more time.  Grandpa would always wait so patiently for me to complete my turn – which is not an easy thing to do.  Ever try playing Rummy with a 6-year-old?  Poor Gramps had to endure my eight-minute turns – four minutes to decide which card to get rid of and four minutes to arrange the cards in my hand so I could see what I had to work with.

Grandpa noticed my frustration stemming from not being able to hold all of the cards in my hand.  With an eye for “fixing,” he disappeared for a few minutes.  After a few clanks and clangs from spelunking through his kitchen, he returned to the table with a million dollar idea.  He took two plastic coffee can lids, stapled them together in the middle and placed the cards in fan-like fashion and viola! my very own personal card-holder!

I proudly held that cardholder filled with my cards spread out in a beautiful fan of black spades and red diamonds, of kings and queens and oh my… this was a whole new card game! I’ll never forget the sensation of pure fascination watching in awe how my Grandfather so quickly thought of a solution – creating something from nothing.

Thanks to Grandpa’s ingenuity, the once anxiety-provoking situation of decision-making was now time spent bonding with a loved one, making the experience far more enjoyable to play (for everyone).

My grandparents, as Holocaust survivors, had become experts at relying on themselves because they were forced to.  It was their quick, out-of-the box thinking that led them to survive the incredible hardships they experienced.  We have much to learn from their incredible sense of self-reliance.

The seed was planted in my mind – to approach life with an intention to make the best of any situation by working smarter, not harder.  These days, visits with my grandfather are still filled with the same amount of love and laughter as when I was a child, but where there once were many joys, there are a lot more “oys.”  I’ve watched how the cruel hands of time have left their marks on my 93-year-old grandfather.  It’s hard to watch him struggle to remember things, not being able to participate in conversations because of his hearing loss, and witnessing the constant “it’s-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue” look on his face.

I am always trying to find activities that empower him and give him a sense of autonomy.  And while there aren’t many, I have learned that although his verbal abilities may not be what they once were – the man can still play a round of Rummy.

Recently, our family played 14-card Rummy together – and while we’d quickly make our decisions, when it got to my Grandpa’s turn, we’d wait…and wait and I noticed he was struggling to keep his cards together in his hand.  They kept falling out when he tried to see what cards he was dealing with, leading to a sense of frustration that looked all too familiar.

Just then, a cartoon light-bulb appeared above my head, ‘I’ll be right back.”  I went scurrying through the kitchen drawers and found two lids from the “The Kosher Nosh Deli,” stapled ’em in the middle and arranged his cards in a fan-like manner.  Grandpa held to the lids, smiled with relief and said, “hey…that’s a good idea” – without even realizing, that he was the mastermind behind this invention.  We quickly reminded him that we were merely resurrecting his genius.  (I later saw this product on an “as seen on TV” commercial).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned and continue to learn from my Grandfather – it’s that in life, while we don’t get to choose the cards we are dealt, we do have the choice of what we do with them.  We could choose to complain that none of the cards are the same suit.  We could get mad if someone else has a better hand, we could worry that we’ll never get a straight or a flush – but none of these paths would lead us to a better hand of cards.  All we can do is arrange our cards to the best of our ability, be mindful of what we have to work with and play an honest game.  But the most important thing is to enjoy the company of who we’re playing the game with.  Whether it’s a 6-year-old or a 93-year-old, we all have a card or two to share that might just help us win the game.

Brooklyn, New York


The Miracle Emotional Lift of Family Visits…for Everyone

Buffalo blocking traffic

Oh the stories you’ll hear!

This past Saturday they came to Deerfield IL from Madison, WI. My son, his wife and my grandchildren Merete and Aiden. My granddaughter Katie and her boyfriend Lance came up from Chicago.  My lady friend, Felice, was there too

The chatter over lunch and dinner was rich, lively and full of stories about what’s going on in each of our lives. Inside my soul swelled, or as we say in Yiddish, kvelled, with joy and pride and happiness.

Julie, my daughter-in-law talked about plans for all getting together for Thanksgiving. Even the California family is coming in for that one. My granddaughter Jessica and her parents–daughter Ellen and son-in-law Don–will be there. Grandson Benny and his wife Corina, who live in Madison, also will be there.

“Isn’t it great?” I said with blissful anticipation.

Michael, my son, said “Each person can cook something special for Thanksgiving from the country of their choice.” It will be an eclectic meal with hints into each person’s interest and adventures, with their choice of food item to share.

Merete, age 18, goes off to college in a couple of weeks. “Can I visit you?” I asked?

“Yes, you can,” she assured me.

“Can I call you every couple of weeks?” I asked?

“No, grandpa,” she said, and my mouth dropped open. But she continued. ”You can call me every week, like you call Ethan, Benny and Jessica.” And she said that with a sweet smile.

“Merete, will you send me the papers you write from college?” I asked.

“Yes I will, grandpa, just like I did from High School. “And I’ll let you know if it’s okay to send them to all the members of the family.” She knows I love to share things from each of my grandchildren with the rest, to keep everyone connected, to keep us energized with new ideas, and to know what’s going on in everyone’s world.

“Aiden, you were just on trip with your mom out west. Tell us a story about your trip,” I prompted.

“Grandpa, we saw three herds of Bison on a big hill. When we came back down the hill, the road was blocked by the bison.”

“Grandpa, tell us a story,” they asked.

“Well, a couple of weeks ago I was arrogant and judgmental with my Friday morning breakfast guys,” I started.

“Why, dad,” asked my son, the psychiatrist.

“I don’t understand why they don’t want to do anything, to take up causes and change the world,” I said. I’ve learned since asking them that retirement is a hard adjustment for some of them, so I am trying to have compassion. I continued, “But last week I lost my temper when they suggested a conversation topic that seemed so superficial to me. The guys said, ‘next week let’s talk about the time we lost our virginity!’”

As I glanced around the table there was muffled laughter, eyes down looking at plates, and tiny smiles from the 18- and 16-year-olds. I decided not to pursue the topic further (but you can read about the conversation with my coffee group here).

Then 8 pm came. Kind of like midnight for Cinderella…that magic hour when everything changes back to normal. Michael and his family left for the drive back to Madison. Katie and Lance headed back to Chicago. Lots of hugs and kisses.

I knew it took effort on all of their parts to make the trip to Deerfield to visit. As they were leaving, I said to my son. “Thank you for coming. It’s a great mental health lift for me.”

He chuckled, gave me a kiss and a hug, and said “For me, too, Dad. It’s a great mental health lift for me, too.”

Tell me a story about your last family visit.

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.

How Technology Connects Steve and Diane Brogan to their Grandchildren


, , , ,

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 that article here, or get your own subscription to Grand Magazine here. But we wanted to share the full interview.

Steve and Diane use technology to stay uber-connected to their family.

Here’s how they do it.

Grandest Love (GL): How often do you connect with your grandchildren?

Steve and Diane (S&D): Every morning I send a direct message to my granddaughter, age 14, just to say “Good Morning. Have a happy day!” or “I love you!” She responds every day. We also have a thing going with her. Her parents take her out to Dunkin Donuts every Saturday. I have a picture of every Dunkin Donuts Saturday outing. We communicate by pictures. That is a way we connect.

Also every Sunday, our son in Massachusetts sets up a Skype call for his kids and us, so that we can talk with them “face-to-face”,  right on the screen.

GL: What social media or other technology do you use?

S&D: We use Skype, Facebook, FaceTime, Instagram, Twitter, messaging, YouTube, SoundCloud and email.

Ultimately it depends on the individual: one likes text. One likes Instagram. We communicate with them on the one THEY prefer.

Our grandson makes YouTube videos and we watch most of them. And he’s on Twitter. Our older granddaughter is on Instagram. We follow whatever they do, and we seldom give advice. We don’t tell them what they can or can’t do. There’s no judgement and we don’t react. Our brain may say shock but we don’t say anything because we don’t want to be blocked.

We communicate with our son every day and the kids as well.  Messaging is the easiest. We use email once in a while but it’s cumbersome now compared to direct messaging.

One thing I like about Instagram (says Diane), if I see something on Instagram, I can comment when I see it or I can go back and comment later. I can’t go back easily to find a past post on Twitter and Facebook. Instagram is easier to use.

Our grandkids are connected to their phones. Often it is their parents wanting it, for safety. When our granddaughter went to DC in 8th grade, one of the primary things she needed was a cell phone. It was more for her mom. This is how we communicate today. It’s immediate. In fact I was looking at Time Magazine yesterday and thought I don’t know why we get magazines; the news is already two-weeks old when it arrives!

GL: You mentioned your grandson is on the autism spectrum. How as technology helped y you connect with him?

S&D: Being able to connect with him has been a wonderful experience. He turned 12 in January. He first started Twitter at age 6 or 7. He has his own preferences. He develops music for SoundCloud on his own, so we follow him on SoundCloud.

He doesn’t like to talk, and when he does it’s mostly one way for him. Skype is two way, so it’s harder. But with SoundCloud and YouTube we can see what he’s creating. He knows that we are seeing what he does, and we can comment on specific things when we talk to him.

What I realized, and I can’t speak for Steve (says Diane), he moves 100 miles per hour faster than me, when he wants to do something, he will be at the end of explaining a project before I’m even halfway there. But I don’t slow him down when he’s in that excited creation phase. I’ll wait until he’s gotten to the end of the line to ask, or I’ll wait and ask a question next week.

When dealing with someone with autism, you have to go at their speed.

GL: How does technology bring you closer to your grandchildren?

S&D: It gives us a doorway into their life, knowing what they are interested in. Sometimes they share where they are emotionally on their posting, either through their artwork or their comments.

Some of their accounts are public, so you don’t have to ask permission to follow them. Some are private and you have to request. We have asked our granddaughter, “Can I follow you?” Sometimes it’s yes. But she has closed me out, too. I don’t push it (says Diane).

We also follow our (adult) kids on their platforms. Our son is into his own media now. We follow whatever he allows, but he doesn’t necessarily share it with us. On the other stuff—all of the public social media–we can watch him.

We also are into blogging, like our son, so it’s not that far of a stretch for us to understand what he is doing—some of what he does is similar to blogging. He has a unique talent to zero in on ideas and talents and he sees them as more obvious than others. (See Chris Brogan at owner.media).

GL: I understand you are avid Pokemon Go players. Did your grandchildren expose you to that?

S&D: Our grandson introduced us to Pokemon Go when he was 10. He called it exercise without the pain. Our grandson showed us the app, and we took it upon ourselves to learn how to play. He lost his interest in Pokemon Go pretty quickly, but we found really liked it. He’s a true die hard Nintendo and Mario brothers fan. If there was a “Mario Brothers Go” he would be on it. But he takes pleasure in knowing what we are doing in Pokemon Go.

The maker, Nyantic rejuvenated the game, and there’s a big community if you are really avid. There are over 50,000 people in the Pokemon Go Las Vegas Facebook Group. We do Raids*, we meet up with others. The game can require cooperation among 20 people to catch a specific Pokemon. It’s very social, people from kids as young as eight to adults our age (early 70’s) and older. Once we came across an older lady in the park. She couldn’t even move—but we noticed she was playing by how she was viewing and aiming her phone.

One guy Marvin, whose user name is Mirabella, named for his daughter—he always goes out during the daytime. We only go out at daytime as well, for risk avoidance.

We like the social aspect of the game. It can take 20 people to bring down a character. You may be alone and suddenly a group will spontaneously come together—other players nearby can see the same characters and rules as you—people from all different cultures and ages. We laugh, we talk, with people we may have never met before. We come together for this common purpose and then disperse. This is probably someone you would have just walked by and maybe smiled as you passed, but now you are connecting with them.

Steve always earns respect (adds Diane) in these spontaneous gatherings. Not because of age, but because of the level he’s on in the game. People recognize him!

*Click here to see how Pokemon Go defines raids. In the definition it will say “Raid Battles occur when a Boss Pokémon takes over a Gym.” Note there’s a link in the second paragraph that will tell you what a “Gym” is.

GL: Did you find it hard to learn technology?

S&D: I (Steve) was a program/server manager. Diane’s company used high technology as well. So we both kind of came from a tech background.

For me (Steve) there really was no learning curve. I used to work with writing business software back in the day, so anything with technology I’ve always enjoyed doing. I retired from managing services. I may get frustrated learning new things, but I figure it out.

GL: Did you ask adult children for permission before you connected online with your grandchildren?

S&D: Our adult children are usually there, like when our son initiates the weekly Skype calls. We don’t go around them. With our granddaughter she will tell her mom. It’s not a hidden communication thing with us.

And it’s helpful for our (adult) kids to be involved. When our granddaughter first got her iPad, we were doing FaceTime. At first there was an issue with time difference. She was on the east coast and would call us to say good morning at 4 am! She was too young to realize time difference.

GL: What’s your advice for other grandparents?

S&D: Follow your grandchildren to find out what’s hip and cool in their world.

I feel sorry for older people, especially grandparents or even parents who do not get involved. It takes less than 30 seconds to say good morning, have a good day. I’m not expecting anything back more than “Hi Mom” or “Hi Grandma.”  I just want that touch point.

I’ve heard older people say “I can’t learn this technology.” But any effort they put in will come back 1000 times.

They share their world, and we can share our world as well. We can just have fun. We can show pictures of cats and dogs and the grandchildren like it. One of the greatest joys of the whole thing is we know we are accepted by our grandchildren.

I would hope that every grandparent would make the effort to do messaging, Facetime, Instagram, or some kind of communication with electronics. Otherwise they are missing out.






Social Action Takes Work, but It’s Worth It


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


, , ,

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


, ,


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?