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My family loves storytelling, not only from books, but also from our own lives. Stories from my kids’ grandparents are even more exciting. Here are some ideas to begin a tradition of storytelling between grandparents and kids:

1. A Day in School. Tell your grandchild about a day in school at about the same age. Details are key: What did you wear? What was in your lunchbox? Was another kid mean to you? Did you take classes after school?

2. Halloween. Describe how you spent Halloween when you were a kid. What was your favorite costume? How much candy did you get? What was your favorite, and least favorite, treat?

3. Weekend fun. Share how you spend weekends as a kid. Was it mostly sports, or family outings? Was there a special meal or tradition that you had? What did you look forward to?

4. Grandparents. What were YOUR grandparents like? What are some of your favorite memories? When did you see them? What did you do together?

Do you have any other ideas? Please share them!

I drove 24 hours over the last 3 days to attend a wedding in Arizona (Death Star-themed wedding cake pictured above). I spent 16.5 hours of this prolonged, but welcome, silence listening to Homer’s story of the Iliad. It is an extraordinary tale, laden with rich characters, emotional conflict, and gruesome death scenes (‘…a cloud of darkness overshadowed him as he sank, holding his entrails in his hand.’ Ew.) But I was mostly interested in the story as an oral history, and I was glad I had the chance to listen, rather than read, the Iliad.

The story of the Iliad was likely passed on orally before Homer wrote it down in the 8th century BC. I like to imagine young people listening to the events being narrated by an older person, perhaps a parent or grandparent, over several days, and then learning to tell the story themselves. In this case, the Iliad was most likely studied, memorized and recited, and all in verse.

I believe oral traditions play an important role for children. There is value to learning to listen, and to remember and recite both the main story, as well as the details that bring a story to life. I could probably summarize the Iliad on Twitter in about 12 tweets. But that isn’t the point. The details of stories are what make it interesting and memorable. Also, the motivations of the characters Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector drive the conflicts, and teach moral lessons about greed, jealousy and holding grudges.

Grandparents can help kids appreciate stories, and become storytellers themselves. A grandparent’s life is itself a story, or a series of stories, with details that give a picture of life through time. And while many technologies focus on abbreviating stories, there are plenty that can allow a child and a grandparent to share richer, more detailed accounts. (Yes, DoubleScoop would work well here). A grandparent can play an active role helping to build a tradition of storytelling in a child’s life, and help a child gain the skills of storytelling – active listening, tracking plots, adding compelling details, and understanding people and their motivations. On top of all that, a child can learn about their family history, and strengthen their relationship with their grandparents.

I am going to a family wedding this weekend. I am very excited, not only to see some family members, but also because I am going without my kids, it’s in Sedona, AZ, and there’s a rumor of a Star Wars-themed cake. But it’s also my first family function since she died 3 years ago. Here is why I will be missing her so much:1. She won’t see my fantastic dress. After years of questionable fashion choices, I have at least partially got my act together. I wish she could see it – she herself always looked terrific, and cringed when she saw some of my get-ups.

2. She’ll miss another grandchild getting married. When she died, only one out of nine grandkids (me) had married. While she would not want anyone to rush into marriage, I think she would have enjoyed a couple more weddings than she did.

3. I won’t really have anyone to show pictures of my kids to. While my cousins and uncle will certainly look at a snapshot or two, it’s not the same total enthusiasm. (Of course, if she had been there, somehow the kids would have tagged along.)

4. I can’t call her the next day to talk about the event. This has been the worst part about her dying, and I finally understand what it is to really miss someone. Something just clicks, and I find myself reaching for the phone, and I remember she’s not here anymore.

I do know, however, that she would be happy for her family to be getting together to celebrate this milestone.

The rat

I don’t remember a lot about my first mouse. She was followed by a series of adventurous, devious hamsters that dominate my memoria rodentus. But I do distinctly remember one time when my Grandmother visited us in California. I took my mouse and ‘surprised’ her with it, dropping it on her shoulder. Her face is as vivid in my mind as the day I moused her. I have never seen her look so aghast, and she wasn’t play-acting. She was a good sport about it during the visit, but she and my mouse agreed to keep their distance.
Today, our first rodent joined our home. We had planned on a hamster, but after babysitting one, they seemed a little too easy to get lost. A little research on rats suggested they are quite intelligent (‘what does that really mean?’, my husband asked, ‘can it tutor the kids?’) and easy to care for. It has even been suggested that we can clicker-train the rat to do tricks. While this sounds great, I suspect our new $2 clicker will find a cozy place next to the foreign language DVDs, the dusty piano, my canning and quilting equipment, and the yoga ball.
After we bought the Luxury Rat Pet Home, we picked up our new friend at the Humane Society. (Yes, we went with one of the older rats that didn’t quite make the cut the first time around. I’ll let you know how that pans out). My kids were so excited, and it was time to let the grandparents, aunt and uncle know about Sammy.
Their uncle gushed over the picture of the rat, and asked what he could send to Sammy to make him the most ‘killer’ rat palace ever. He and my daughter rattled on about obstacle courses, etc., for a while. Then she called her grandmother, my mom, who had been through my mouse and 3 hamsters. She also thought Sammy was adorable, and I left them to chat. After a bit, they hung up, and my daughter said, “Sammy can go with us to California when we visit for Thanksgiving.” Now that’s one awesome grandmother, who clearly hasn’t seen how big the cage is.
Exactly how grandmother made me feel!

In honor of Grandparents Day, I made a list of the things that made my grandmother wonderful, loving, unforgettable, fun, thoughtful, fantastic and fully awesome. Obviously not a comprehensive list, but it’s a start:
1. Never forgot my birthday
2. Always sent me something on my brother’s birthday, even if it was flowered underwear
3. Let me win every game of Crazy 8s we ever played, and I didn’t suspect a thing.
4. Paid attention to every word I said, and remembered it later on
5. Told me stories about her childhood, back in the day.
6. Cut out and sent crossword puzzles to me for the entire 2 years I lived in South America
7. Shared her opinions and insights freely, with her unique perspective
8. Went back to college to finally earn her degree around age 50
9. Found friends for us in her neighborhood when we visited
10. Was always there for me.Happy Grandparents Day!

I had a slightly surreal experience last night, and I need to add on to my post yesterday about 4 reasons I am Jealous of My grandmother. Here’s the catchy title for reason #5: ‘Confused about whether my child is having an anaphylactic reaction from peanut desensitization or just still recovering from whooping cough.’

For the last 12 weeks, our daughter has been participating in a program to desensitize her to peanuts. It’s basically like allergy shots, but instead you give the person tiny doses of peanut over time, gradually building up to whole peanuts. It had been going really well until she caught the virus her younger sister had a month or two ago. She had a mild reaction to her dose, so we lowered her dose for a while.

We continued at this level, but her coughing kept going, and going and going. Just like her sister’s. First, it was diagnosed as environmental allergies, then the doctor suspected pneumonia, but both of their xrays were clear. The word pertussis, or whooping cough, came up, but it seemed unlikely given that both of our kids are vaccinated.

The younger girl finally improved (she had a 3 week head start), but her older sister was still going strong. We had another visit to the allergist, and she started to suspect that both had had pertussis and were recovering. Apparently, as more parents choose not to vaccinate (not passing any judgments here) and the virus is becoming more common, the doctor has seen more people get pertussis, regardless of their vaccination history. But it still seemed a little unlikely. Her coughing became less regular, and she seemed overall to improve.

So last night, my daughter started coughing and gasping after her dose of peanut. We popped over to the ER to see if she was still just recovering from her virus, or having a mild anaphylactic reaction to peanut. Lo and behold, despite the timing of her coughing – right after the dose – and her gasping for air, the doctor felt she was still just whooping a little. ‘They call it the 100 day cough in China,’ he smiled. He found no evidence of an allergic reaction, and the girls haven’t been contagious for weeks, so could go to school. And we found ourselves saying, ‘Thank goodness, it’s just whooping cough,’ because we were thrilled that we could continue with the desensitization program. And I know my grandmother never had THAT experience.

I was thinking about Grandparents Day again, and about my grandmother H. I thought about her life and how she raised her kids. And, while I was packing up a few hundred things to take my kids to the pool, I realized I was a little jealous of her. Now, I am not suggesting for a minute that her life was easier, but there are some things she never had to think about that drive me crazy. Here they are:

1. Food allergies and intolerances. My own daughter has a severe peanut allergy, and it seems that every product we look at has a warning for traces of peanuts. It’s incredibly frustrating to be stressed over something so basic as what food my child eats. And as more kids and adults are avoiding more types of foods, having people over for dinner has become a challenge as more dietary needs need to be met.

2. Toxic pajamas. Have you tried to find a pair of loose fitting pajamas for your child that doesn’t have flame retardants on them? If you do, please let me know where you purchased them. Now that I am aware how toxic these chemicals are, especially to girls, I am of course trying to avoid my kids’ exposure to them. I wish kids’ clothes simply didn’t have chemicals.

3. Cyber-bullying and stalking. I probably am painting too rosy a picture, but I think when my grandmother’s kids were at home, they were in a truly safe place – no bullying, no teasing, no stranger danger. Now, new online services and networks expose kids to all of those things, no matter where they are. I hate to think that my kids are not going to have a place that is truly safe. For this reason, we have chosen to be extremely restrictive with the internet, limiting them to a couple educational apps (we picked these with the help of www.commonsensemedia.org), and DoubleScoop. But they’re still young, and I already dread how much time it will take for me to stay on top of their online lives as they get older.

4. Sunscreen. I hate sunscreen. And then, I find out that the chemicals in some sunscreens might be worse than the damage from the sun itself. So now we use a ridiculously expensive pasty white organic sunscreen that is impossible to rub in, and impossible to get off anything, such as my car, furniture and clothes. Except of course the moment anyone gets wet, and it seems to trickle off their bodies in steady white streams.

I wish I knew what my grandmother thought about her grandmother’s life. I know a little bit about her mother -Ma – but I never thought to ask about her grandmother. Maybe this Sunday, Grandparents Day, is a good time to see what you can find out from your grandparents.

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