FIRST MY HAND… THEN GRANDPA’S

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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.

MICHELLE CITRIN
Brooklyn, New York

 

Grandparent Freshman Kickoff at Deerfield High

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“Be sure to tell us about sex and drugs,” advised Jerry Witkovsky, originator of the Grandparent Connection program, now in its fifth year at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, IL. But first, new principal Kathy Anderson kicked off the Freshman Connection program for forty or so grandparents who filled the faculty cafeteria for this special event just for them.

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Dan Chamberlain, Special Education Department Chair and the coordinator for this year’s program served as MC. Additional speakers included Brian Verisario, who talked about the 100+ clubs and 30+ sports teams available at the school. Brian’s advice to freshman, “Find the one thing you love…the thing that makes you want to be part of the group.”

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Joe Taylor, head of Instructional Technology, talked about Chromebooks for students (each student is given one at Deerfield High School” and how the “no cell phone” policy is changing. “In the past cellphones were not allowed in class, but now students can simply snap a picture of teacher outline rather than writing every word, allowing them to listen more. The policy for each class is determined by the teacher.” Later in the program, after a question about cyber-bullying, Joe pointed out that it was smart to allow cell phone use for school purpose, in school, pointing out that if cyber-bullying takes place on-line, outside of school, the school legally has no recourse. But, if phones are allowed, and things take place during the school day, school’s then have the right to intervene. Joe also talked about other online support for learning, such as “quizlet.com” that allows students to use flashcards to study for tests. He also recommended a couple of books about kids and technology, including “Screenwise” by Deborah Heitner and “It’s Complicated” by Danah Boyd, about the online lives of kids and the social lives of networked teens, respectively.

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The highlight was to hear directly from three students, now sophomores who talked about their experience of being freshmen at the school. “I was most concerned about the social aspect,” said one of the students who is not on Student Council, the Tennis Team, and five more activities. “Activities were a great way to meet with other students,” she said. “I was concerned about academics,” said another student. She was grateful for so many opportunities to reach out and get help, from counselors to organized help from older students.

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The grandparents had lots of questions, from college preparation to sports, and in particular, how do you learn a sport if you don’t make the team, and you are new to the sport? “Freshman sports are almost all “no-cut” teams, most coaches offer training that is open to all prior to a tryout and they practice most sports in gym as well,” Dan assured them. Grandparents also wanted to understand where their grandchildren were intellectually, socially and emotionally at this pivotal stage of their development.

And back to that original question, about sex and drugs (which had the two speakers chanting sex and drugs and rock n’roll…presumably they are not often asked to talk about these subjects in a professional setting). “I asked on purpose,” said Jerry. “I wanted the other grandparents to know this was going on.” And the response was serious business. “Students take a sexuality class in 7th and 8th grade, and they are sexually active in high school,” Dan advised. And, unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse is a problem. “Don’t leave your prescription drugs in cabinets or where they are accessible to your grandchildren. Kids will find them and use them themselves or sell them to their friends.”

The program began at 4:00 pm, and at 5:30 grandparents were still eager to learn more. “Please come and attend school events, and visit the school website to find out what students are reading, which activities are coming up.”

For Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Taylor, the Freshman Connection Kick-off is just a start. “We have to send out the invitation on Monday,” they were overheard planning after the meeting. The Senior Grandparent Day, with over 300 Grandparents expected to attend, is coming up soon in November. “The grandparents shadow their grandchild to classes, they eat lunch together, everyone loves it!”

Does your grandchild’s school have a Grandparent Program? Ask your grandchildren and adult children! Invitations to these kinds of events go out via the students and their parents, who then alert the grandparents. Be sure to let your family know you are interested. You may also check your grandchild’s school website, or call the school and give them your email address (learn how to set up a free gmail account here if you don’t have email) so they can contact you directly. Learn more on how to set up a grandparent program at TheGrandestLove.com.

 

On Grandparents Day, One Grandma Shares what she Learned from her Grandma

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Photo of Hirsh and Perl Lieberman and family, c. 1908 or 1909.

By Esther Manewith

My Story Begins 120 Years Ago in Ukraine

My story starts in Zhitomer in Ukraine about 120 years ago. Zhitomer was an oblast, a provincial center, at that time, home to about 200,000 people, ten percent of whom were Jewish.  Many Jews owned farm land in the outskirts of Zhitomer – and let me give you some Russian history.

The Tsarina, Katherine the Great, had come from Germany as a teenager to marry Peter III – the feeble-minded Czar who eventually was assassinated by one of Katherine’s lovers. Katherine ruled alone from 1762 until her death in 1796. In the 1770s and 80s, seeing that the rich, rich lands of Ukraine were not being farmed properly by the local peasants, she had opened land for sale to Germans … of Jewish and Lutheran background …no Catholics.  Only Germans, she felt, would know what to do with such good rich land. So … only Germans who were Lutheran … or Jewish … were allowed to buy and own land.  And, obviously, she was correct – as Ukraine did become the bread-basket of Europe for many years!

At 16, Grandma Meets Grandpa

Fast forward to 1896 and a farm on the outskirts of Zhitomer. Perl Seidelskaya had just turned 16. She fed chickens, gathered eggs, milked cows. She did what she was told.  One morning her mother told her to wash her hands and face, put on her Shabbos dress and go sit in the orchard and sew.

As she sat and sewed, a tall, slender red-haired boy came and stood before her. “Ich ben Tzvi Hersh Lieberman und du bist mineh besherte” he said.  (I am Tzvi Hersh Lieberman and you are promised to me as a bride.)

Within a month they were married.

Learning about Life on the Farm

Perl went to live on Tzvi Hersh’s parents’ farm – also on the outskirts of Zhitomer, in a place called Pietka – which translates from Russian as “heel of the foot,” not even big enough to be called a shtetl.  Several Lieberman families lived there.

The wedding night was a surprise to Perl.  She knew so little about life.  She woke up the next morning to find no one in the house.  The men were all out in the fields – her mother-in-law most likely working in the garden.

On a small side porch outside the cooking area, Perl found a bowl of little cucumbers and another of sour cream.  “I deserve a treat,” she said, “I’ll have cucumbers and sour cream and feel better.”

As she was eating, her mother-in-law came back into the house. “Pikelach und smetena!!! Dos is fur a Yontiff, nisht fur a prosten tog!”(Cucumbers and sour cream!!! This is for a holiday – not for a common workday.)

So, Perl cried. Tzvi Hersch walked in and calmed the situation down. But for Perl, at 16, it was the start of growing a very strong and very tough disposition.

Tzvi Hersh, known as Herschel to his family, did not like farming and had gotten a job.  He traveled by horse and wagon, selling pots, pans, teapots, even samovars to the shtetls around Zhitomer as far as Poland and Bela Russ.  He spoke Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Yiddish, and could read and write Hebrew, all assets.   Meanwhile, Perl worked on the farm and began a family.

And, so they lived a quiet, a hard-working, quiet life.  For a few years.

Growing Anti-Semitism in Russia

Ukraine had been annexed by Russia in 1793, 100 years earlier. For many years there was little anti-Semitism.  In 1881 there had been some pogroms, but by the early 1900s they were mostly forgotten.

But the times, they were a’changin’. I want to quote from the Haftorah of Isaiah “…that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretches out the Heavens and who lays the foundations of the earth… you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction…”

That is what our grandparents live with starting in 1903, during Passover, with a pogrom in Kishenev which opened a series of pogroms all over Ukraine. Cities from Kiev to Odessa, and shtetls between them were attacked.  Chernikov, Bela Tsarkov, Karkov, Berditchev and more.

“It’s time to leave,” Perl said. “It’s time to go to America like your cousin did.  We cannot stay here with this constant threat to us and to our children.”

Herschel’s answer was “no.”  There was the farm, his job.  They were doing well and even making money.  The pogroms were not coming to Zhitomer.  It was too big, it was an oblast, he thought.

Grandma Perl, Entrepreneur

But Perl saw it differently.  “I am going to work,” she said, “and I am going to save for the day we have to leave.”

And, in 1903, at the age of 23 with four little ones and pregnant with a fifth, she went to work in the Zhitomer market place, selling the reject pots and pans her husband could not sell, what today we call dented and bruised. But she sold them — bargaining, negotiating, cajoling — she sold them.  As a child, she had learned to read and write, so now she learned to keep books: how many pots sold, for what price, what her percentage was.

She found herself getting even tougher, flinty, rugged.  She was going to get her children out of Zhitomer, no matter what Herschel said.  Her determination grew, as did her single-mindedness and her
kniple — her savings.

She kept her money in an old stocking, hidden in a drawer, and that stocking grew fat.

The pogroms in shtetls around them continued.  Between 1903 and1905 there were 660 pogroms in the western part of Ukraine where they lived.  (My oldest grandson, Aaron, commented to me that 660 pogroms in two years was one almost every day and one-half).

1905, The Pogroms Hit Home-Zhitomer

Finally, in the spring of 1905, the pogrom came to Zhitomer.

Hundreds were killed, many were mutilated after being murdered. Hundreds more were wounded.  Houses were burnt, windows broken, furniture demolished.  Religious items in the three large synagogues and 46 bet Midrashim were destroyed.  Torahs torn apart, taleisim ripped to shreds, prayer books burnt.

I don’t know where the family hid during the pogrom. Perhaps in the heavily wooded forests behind the house. Perhaps in the barn. Perhaps in the cellar of their home. Hidden, keeping five children quiet, one a baby.  But they survived.

It took another two years, before Herschel agreed they could go.  Perl continued to work, scrimping, saving and putting by. Now there was enough money to leave Zhitomer.

Escape to America

In June, 1907, by dark of night, they left by wagon, headed for the Polish border. There, they “gomvered dos grenitz” – literally, stole the border, by slithering under barbed wire.

One of the children, Beryl, age 7 and skinny, literally crawled out of his pants as he crept beneath the wire.

“Gay dorten und nem dine haisen,” Perl said angrily. “Go back and get your pants.”  “Ich vais nit ahz mi kent caifen haisen in America – I don’t know about buying pants in America.”

From the Polish/Russian border, they took a train. Yes, Perl had saved enough money for that, too, and went to Hamburg, Germany where they bought steerage tickets on a ship bound for the United States.

It was a miserable crossing.  Perl was seasick the entire time and became even tougher on the children, terrified they would roam the ship, fall overboard.

Building a New Life in Chicago

But they made it to America and then to Chicago.  A cousin worked for a retailer on Roosevelt Road and got Herschel a job peddling,  selling clothing “on the installment plan” ($1 down and 50 cents a week) to families in the Polish communities of Chicago – as his Polish was that good.

Soon they bought a little house with a dirt floor.

Perl could not give up the scrimping, saving and putting by. She would cut one apple into five pieces – one for each child.  She was frugal and thrifty.

And in ten years, she bought an apartment building; two years later, another.  And then, a black silk dress and a very long and very elegant string of pearls.

I wish I could say that Herschel and Perl were a love match. But, I don’t think so.

A neighbor lady once said to Perl, “Dine man hott schane bluve egen, Mrs. Lieberman.  (Your husband has beautiful blue eyes, Mrs. Lieberman)

Perl said to herself, “bluve egen?”

And when Herschel came home from work that day, washed his hands and sat down to dinner, Perl took a good look and said to herself “Takeh – schane bluve egen!”  Truly, beautiful blue eyes.

They lived nicely until the Depression. But, by 1932, Perl lost the properties she had so carefully bought.  Herschel’s business dwindled as the factories closed and his customers couldn’t afford anything anymore.

They soldiered on.  Their sons all married and went into businesses.  Their daughter married a dentist.  There were eight grandchildren to enjoy.

Herschel passed away – but Perl lived to see her grandchildren graduate from college and make their own way in the world.  She saw great-grandchildren and watched them grow.

As you may have guessed by now, Perl and Herschel were my grandparents….and the little boy who crawled out of his pants? My father.

Perl was tough until her dying day. When Bob and I were in Russia a few years ago, we learned a Russian phrase…

“We raise our children to be tough as it’s a tough world out there and they have to be tough to survive.”

That’s how Perl lived her life.

A last thought – a few years ago when we were in Israel, we went to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.  At the time, there was a major exhibit on Zhitomer.  There were two very large pictures of the Jews of Zhitomer — men, women and children, lined up in Cathedral Square — the
city center.

Surrounding the people, who stood with their hands up, was a contingent of Nazi soldiers with rifles aimed at the Jews.  In the very front of the line, was a boy – maybe 14 or 15 – with the most expressive eyes.

The picture was in black and white – so I will never know if he had schane bluve egen.

And I thought to myself – that could be my family, the children and grandchildren of the brothers and sisters my grandparents left behind.

The caption under the picture was in German – but easy to translate: August 1941 – Zhitomer bist Juden frei (Zhitomer is free of Jews).

I closed my eyes and whispered a silent prayer.

Thank you Grandma and Grandpa – for all you have done for all of us. Your sacrifices will never be forgotten.

And thanks to all of our grandparents who had the courage, like Moses and the Children of Israel … to do whatever was necessary … to fight every battle…to get to this new Promised Land.  How lucky and how blessed we were and still are.

Esther Manewith is an Independent Public Relations and Communications Professional in Chicago, IL, where she lives with her husband Bob. They have three children and three grandchildren. This story was presented as the sermon at Ezra Habonim, The Niles Township Jewish Congregation, in honor of Grandparents Day 2016.

Will You Be the next Super Grandparent Profile?

Grandfather and Grandson Pixabay

The Grandest Love wants to know more about you!

Will you answer the five questions below and be a featured Grandparent on The Grandest Love? Thanks to Michelle McConnell for being our first featured grandma. Please copy and paste the questions below and email them to grandestlove (at) interculturaltalk.com.

How do you want to stay connected to your grandchild now and across their lifespan?

 

What have you discussed with your adult children about your role as a grandparent?

 

What values (philanthropy, kindness, etc.) do you want to teach to your grandchildren?

 

In the spirit of “From the Board Room to the Living Room,” what have you learned in your work world that can transfer to making you a better grandparent?

 

What have you learned from your grandparents?

What’s So Scary About Interdependence?

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Grandma with grandson-Kasper

Let’s face it: life-cycle changes are humbling.  Even happy changes, like becoming a grandparent, force us to face certain realties that we may not be ready for.  After all these years at the helm, we’ve gotten very accustomed to our leadership role as The Parents.  Oh, sure, we’ve been practicing the fine art of “letting go” from the first time we put our kids on a school bus!  Still, it’s tough.  Because NOTHING can change the fact that for as long as we live, we will always be their parents, and they will always be our children.

Even with all the years of changes and adjustments in our parent-child relationships, the arrival of a grandchild signals a new era.  The circle of life has turned and now there are two sets of parents in the room:  them, and us. The profound delight we evince as we gaze upon this new being, also carries with it some fear and loss we’re not used to thinking about or expressing.  Suddenly we feel old, no longer in charge… and there are so many unknowns.  How welcomed will I be into the life of this new family?  Have I done a good job in transmitting my most deeply felt values; do I even have a right to care whether they’ll be upheld – or is that too controlling?  If I help them too much, am I infantilizing them, “enabling?”  And what will happen to me as I age?  Will I be able to take care of myself?  If I ask for help, am I weak?

We’re not the only ones who are feeling like we’ve aged overnight.  Look deep into your children’s eyes; sure, they’re over-the-moon, sleep-deprived – and scared.  Do I have the maturity to be a parent, a partner, a provider?  If I ask my parents for help, does it mean that I’m dependent again, and they can treat me like a child, exert dominance over me?  I mean, I’ll always be their kid!  But what if they get sick?  Can I care for them, and for my growing family? 

 What often happens then, in too many families, is that the fear wins.  Parents and adult children institute a knee-jerk, misguided “Declaration of Independence” because they believe that’s what’s supposed to happen now.  Don’t share what’s troubling you.  Don’t ask for what you need. Don’t tell Mom!  This leads to mutual frustration and guardedness, futile attempts at mind-reading, personal implosions and interpersonal explosions – events that breed miscommunication and distance, at precisely the times that frankness and durable connections are needed most.

I think it’s more true than ever, these days:  families must make an active commitment to discuss important issues openly and respectfully, or they may find themselves in a most unpleasant predicament: struggling fiercely to maintain some semblance of independence, or succumbing to “interdependence” that is filled with nonstop conflict – i.e. a situation that could really spiral into the kind of unbalanced dependence that most families want to avoid.

The first thing to do (if you fear you may be headed in that direction) is to take a deep breath. Acknowledging our changed reality – that we’ve all entered a new stage of life – and talking about it, is a first step to defusing the fears that accompany it.  This does not happen all at once; it happens in, well, baby steps.  Patience, compassion, humor and the belief that we are not diminished by interdependent relationships, will keep us strong and secure as individuals and as a nurturing family unit.

My own family’s interdependence was certainly put to the test on a number of occasions.   There were periods during which family members became unemployed, and Margaret and I helped financially – paying several mortgage payments, buying a used car, making sure the grandkids could stay in school or have child-care.  When Margaret became ill, we were the ones who had to ask for help.  I spent eight years as a caregiver and there were situations in which I felt I needed additional support from my children and grandchildren.  Twice-a-year Family Meetings became our forums for discussing the new normal that now prevailed in our lives – meeting that sparked conversations that would continue and evolve in the intervening months.

We all had to learn to ask for what we needed.

How do you navigate this in your family?

On Making Memories

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Grandpa teaching grandson scooter

As older adults, we sometimes feel as if we’ve seen and done it all; there is little that surprises us anymore.  An awareness of loss, of time growing shorter, may preoccupy us.

But The Grandest Love takes us to an oasis in time and space, an oasis where promise – not loss – reigns.  No question:  there’s a bit of magic about it.  As harried and uncertain as life can be nowadays – in this place, the days are sweeter, gentler, and filled with amazement and delight even if it’s been a very long time since you were thoroughly delighted or amazed or delighted.

This place, this moment in time, is the intersection where grandparents and grandchildren meet.  If you’re already there, you know what I’m talking out. If not:  get ready to marvel, and to make the most of it.

Of course, even in this land of sweetness, the landscape isn’t perfect.  But The Grandest Love has a way of making things work out.  Some fortunate grandparents can still play a mean game of tennis with their grandkids.  Others will cuddle on the couch and play gin rummy.  Taking a grandchild to Paris?  Fabulous, if you are in good=enough health and can afford expensive vacations.  Creating a Project-Runway-style fashion show on the “runway” of your living-room rug?  Priceless.

Your pint-sized fellow travelers look up to you – literally and figuratively.  One day, they won’t be little anymore, and will be occupied with pursuits and (unfortunately) pressures of their own.  But you’ll always have Paris, or that living room – and most of all, their deep and abiding trust.

That’s what will come – I promise you – from reading and singing and drawing together, from drinking the rain, eating ice cream before dinner (shhh… don’t tell!), catching frogs, growing herbs; making paper airplanes and collages, spaghetti and messes.

Go on:  climb into the Batmobile – you’re Batman and he/she is Robin.  Compose an email to the President of the United States.  Paint each other’s nails – each nail, a different color.  Introduce a five-year-old to Woody Woodpecker, a 15-year-old to Woody Allen.  Get tips from a 10-year-old on how to play games on your iPhone.

Marathoner, Global Activist, Corporate Professional, Grandma

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 Michelle McConnell and Rowan

Talk about “The New Face of Grandparenting.”

Michelle McConnell turns 50 this year. She is a marathoner (actually running 50 miles this year for her 50 years) and global activist to bring awareness and prevent child slavery and trafficking (115M are victims in world today). She just wrapped up a 22 for 22 Challenge…22 push-ups every day for 22 days—a challenge to shine light on the fact that 22 veterans are victims of suicide every day.  She is a Corporate Relations Specialist at the Exelon Foundation…and she’s a first-time grandma!

The Grandest Love has 5 Questions for Grandma Michelle McConnell…

1. How do you want to stay connected to your grandchild now and across their lifespan?

Since Rowan and his parents live 40 miles away from us we don’t see him constantly but we do get to see him every month or so. I’d like to keep that type of schedule. Of course would love to see him and his parents more frequently but work schedules and life also happen. Long-term my hope is we can be a regular part of his life, have him over for urban adventures on his own and with his parents, and help instill values like helping others, sharing, having fun and valuing family.

2.  What have you discussed with your adult children about your role as a grandparent?

I’m not sure that we’ve had a formal conversation as much as said ongoing that we love being with Rowan, love being a part of his life and want to help all of them as a family however we can.

3.  What values (philanthropy, kindness, etc.) do you want to teach to your grandchildren?

I want our grandchildren to know it’s important to be involved with their community, to give generously and volunteer regularly. We tried to set this example with our children and we would want the same for Rowan and other grandchildren. Also, to be kind and love all people, to step out of your comfort zone and embrace opportunities to widen the circle of friends from all walks of life.

4.  In the spirit of “From the Board Room to the Living Room,” what have you learned in your work world that can transfer to making you a better grandparent?

One thing I’ve learned from work is there are many opportunities out there in terms of careers and networking that I didn’t realize as a young person. Taking risks generally pays off – it’s hard to do sometimes but I would encourage my kids and grandchildren to take risks, try new things and not be afraid to make changes.

5.  What have you learned from your grandparents?

My grandparents were older when I was born as the youngest grandchild on both sides of my family and a late surprise in my parents’ lives. My maternal grandfather had already passed away and he has always been a bit of a legend to me as he came from the Isle of Man and the stories about him sound very interesting. It also sounds like he was a kind man. My maternal grandmother was ill by the time I met her but before I was born she hooked rugs, caned chairs, painted, made quilts – a very talented woman who made many beautiful pieces and gave them to her family. My paternal grandparents were older but I was able to have more of a relationship with them. My paternal grandfather died when I was in high school so my Grandma McConnell is the grandparent I would consider the one I was closest to. She was very practical, not very affectionate, had a dry sense of humor and clearly loved all of us very much even if she was a bit aloof. She taught me how to look at things without sentimentality and make good decisions. She also made me laugh and I like to think I did the same for her.

Grandma Studies Sports Page to Connect to Grandson

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Blues Sports Page for Grandma

By Guest Blogger Deanna Shoss

We were sitting at the dinner table at Fitz’s in St. Louis last week. While my husband, son and I chatted at one end of the table, I overheard my mom getting a momentary-oh-so-cherished-one-on-one with her grandson, my 15 year old nephew, an avid St. Louis Blues hockey fan.

“So, how do you think the Blues will do with Elliott gone?” she asked him, me thinking who is this strange woman next to me?

“They’ll do okay,” he answered, with the new goalie team coming on.”

“You mean, Allen? Do you think he’ll stay?” she asked by way of follow-up question. An actual sports-related follow-up question.

“Yeah,” he answered, making this a full blown conversation. “And Hutton will be a good back up, too.”

At that the moment passed, the food arriving, and the attention focused back to the full group.

Later that night, I couldn’t help but comment. “Wow, mom…impressive…you really studied!” I knew that my mom actually hates hockey. One time when my sisters and I spoke of fond memories of going to hockey games with our dad, who had season tickets when we were growing up, my mom chimed in with “yes, I was glad when you kids were old enough to go so I didn’t have to freeze in that arena anymore!”

But now my mom beamed with pride, the fact that I had overheard the conversation was icing on the cake. My mom, like many a grandparent, has noticed the difference as her grandson has grown up, going from that bouncy excitement of seeing grandma and grandpa and going on outings to train museums and getting root beer floats, to one word, mostly grunted responses.

“Now I have to read the damn sports page,” she said, including the expletive for comedic effect for me. “And it’s even harder in person…I have to remember the names! At least if I’m on the phone I can say hey what do you think about so and so and just read the names from the paper.” Like having cheat sheets or cramming for a test. “Be sure to tell Jerry it works,” she added, referring to Jerry Witkovsky, his book The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection and his mission to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world.

“Read what they are reading in school; learn about what they are interested in. Ask them questions,” Jerry advises.

One could say “but I’m the Grandma…they should come to me!” Yes, you could…but what you really want is a connection, a way to enter their world and understand their lives. To connect, help and support each other because you find each other interesting as people.

As grandchildren become teenagers, you (and their parents…aka your adult children) all start to realize that the window for connecting to them as children is rapidly closing, just as the challenges of high school and pressures of growing up are getting harder. You want to help, but you have to get in the door first.

Hence studying the sports page. Hence making a vegan Thanksgiving. Hence learning to play a video game or text. Hence reading the Twilight Saga. Hence…

What are your grandkids into? What do you do to enter their world?

Questions to Get Your Teenage Grandchild Talking

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Teen Selfie with Grandpa

That adorable child who couldn’t get enough of “nana” and “poppop” now sits sullenly across the table. They are, at least, honoring the “no cell phones at the dinner table” rule, but you sit in silence. You, wishing for a connection. They seemingly, wishing it were over. Questions like “How’s school?” or “What are your plans for summer?,” even “Do you like chocolate or peanut butter better?” no longer elicit the same lively, conversational response.

What’s a grandparent to do?

A few weeks ago I shared a post about having an arsenal of questions for grandchildren to ask their grandparents, to draw out stories, memories, advice and connection.

Now, on the flip side, I offer conversation starters for grandparents to ask their grandchildren.

Ask “social” questions:

What self-defense training should girls learn and at what age?

You’re invited to a party and some kids are drinking liquor–how do you say no thanks and still look cool? Or should you call home and tell your parents? Should you stop the party and tell all the kids what you think they are doing is dangerous to all of us? (But, be careful to listen and discuss—no lecture!)

A friend asks to borrow money –would you do it? What do you hold as equal value until you are paid back?

If you could vote in the next election, who would you vote for and why?

Ask questions specific to what they are learning in school (by looking at the school website):

What do you think Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) would be like as an adult?

What do you think life would have been like if you were alive during the Inquisition (perhaps show a YouTube video of Mel Brooks song….The Inquisition.)

Ask about things related to current events:

What do think about the gun control debate going on right now?

What do you think about “Brexit”, UK’s leaving the EU?

Ask about things related to pop culture (here’s a chance to get clarity on things you may have heard about, but really don’t know):

What do you think has led to Taylor Swift’s (Justin Bieber’s, etc.) popularity?

Are kids still using Snapchat? How does it work?

What do you think about mobile marketing that uses the GPS in your phone?

Ask questions related to their areas of interest:

What’s your favorite recipe to make with pumpkin?

If you could plan your dream vacation this summer, where would you go?

Ask abstract questions:

What advice would you give your 10 year old self?

What advice would you give your 30 year old self?

What do you think are three pop culture things I need to know to at least SOUND hip to a teenager?

Be prepared where you can be (e.g. you may have more information knowledge to share) or and don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you don’t know (as in “I have no idea…that’s why I’m asking you!)

And, please come back and share what works for you I the comments!

Helpful Ideas for Grandparents Preparing to Raise Grandchildren

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Grandfather and Grandson Pixabay

Author Jerry Witkovsky, MSW, was recently asked for his insights to help grandparents establish solid bonds from the get go, as they prepare for grandchildren to move in with them. Says The Dollar Stretcher, “The change in routines can be stressful, so we reached out to Jerry Witkovsky, author of The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, for some tips on the best way for grandparents to deal with the stress of raising grandchildren.”

“A grandchild moving in with a grandparent is a grand opportunity to build bonds that will transform each generation beyond their imagination,” says Witkovsky. “However, the circumstances leading to this new connection can be difficult or even tumultuous.”

“Perhaps it’s more helpful to assume that everything is unexpected. Whether acknowledged or not, both grandparents and grandchildren have unspoken expectations. Different houses have different rules, so talking about that upfront can start the relationship off right from the beginning.”

Read the full article, “Dealing with the Stress of Raising Grandkids,” here: http://www.stretcher.com/stories/16/16jun13h.cfm