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There are so many reasons why I wish my parents lived closer to our family: last-minute babysitting, weekly dinners, tutoring, beautiful hand-stitched Halloween costumes (I wish. I saw some on Pinterest by a Grandma that made me envious). But what’s really getting to us now is adjusting back to everyday life after a visit from the grandparents.Our grandparents were just here. The anticipation of the visit was phenomenal, especially for my 5-yr old. Every day for a week before their arrival, she would wake up, run down the stairs, and make sure she knew how many days until they showed up. “Is it 3 days after this day, or 2 days after this day?”, she would ask? Her excitement wore off on all of us, and we planned and had a wonderful visit. (Except for the wee little stomach virus I shared with my mom. Oops.)

After such a big build up and a cookie-filled, totally indulgent visit, we should have predicted that the grandparents’ going home may not go over so well. One night, my parents just went back to the hotel rather than to our house to tuck in the wee ones, and our 5 year old bawled for 20 minutes. But when they left the state, she really surprised us. Our normally mellow, tantrum-lite child had about 3 major breakdowns in one day.

Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, researched families and communities, including inter-generational relationships. She authored the popular quote: ‘Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.’ My suspicion is that my daughter simply is trying to be a full human being, and is struggling when her grandparents are not around. I truly believe that she is complete when surrounded by her whole family, including both sets of grandparents, and that their departure is much more than less ice cream. I think there is a biological need that takes over, and she feels less ‘whole’ as a person when her family is limited to two busy parents and a nasty older sister.

That being said, we will do our best to keep our kids and grandparents in touch between visits. But I do wish we lived near all of her grandparents, and I know she does too.

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!

Grandparents Day?

September 4, 2012

Before I started this job, I had never heard of Grandparents Day. Given that I have been extremely close with my grandparents all my life, I was a little surprised. At first, I wondered, ‘Have I been missing out on something?’ I also realized that this was the first year that I don’t have a grandparent alive to honor. My last grandparent died about a month ago. This all got me thinking about Grandparents Day, and what it might, or might not, be all about.

Grandparents Day is a relatively ‘new’ celebration. Marian McQuade founded Grandparents Day, with the goal of educating the youth about important contributions seniors have made. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter made the day official, and described the purpose of Grandparents Day “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”

The reason for Grandparents Day makes sense to me. But did I personally need a separate day to honor grandparents? I was fortunate as a kid in that my grandparents visited me often, and I was able to visit them, even though we lived in different states. I felt that we honored them every time we saw them. A visit with the grandparents was always special – the food was good, we had special treats, we learned to be patient when they told stories. I think if you asked them, they would not suggest that they needed more recognition for their role as grandparents.

Every family is not the same however. More grandparents are helping with the day-to-day tasks of raising their grandchildren. This changes everything. Just like Mother’s or Father’s Day, these grandparents might enjoy being recognized for their unique contributions to a child’s life. Additionally, as a community, I think it is important to take time out of our busy lives to appreciate the contributions seniors have made, and how we have benefited from their efforts.

I am fortunate that my kids and their grandparents are always showing love for each other throughout the year. They were on the phone last night with the grandparents in New York, and on DoubleScoop this morning sending messages to their other grandparents on a cruise ship somewhere. So this Sunday, I probably won’t encourage a special communication from my kids. But I might ask around and see if a senior needs help in our neighborhood with their fall cleanup, and make sure my kids help out.

‘Honey,’ shouted my husband this morning. ‘I think E got in a bar fight last night.’ Indeed, her left eye was swollen shut and she was miserable. Some type of monster mosquito must have bit my 5-year old. So, she and I are hanging out watching PBS Kids while her left eye recovers, and it’s a perfect time to get back to this blog after a three week vacation with the grandparents.

In short, we made it. All of us. My husband and I survived three days and nights in wine country (Survived is a stretch. The time flew). My parents pulled through. And my kids, a lot tanner and a little plumper, seemed no worse for our absence. This was our first time leaving the kids for an extended time, and I’ll declare it a success. Even though everything went wrong.

Seven days before we left, L commented ‘my throat hurts.’ She’s not a complainer, so we popped over to urgent care. Strep, of course. Deeply disappointed – it’s summer after all, don’t we get a break from these ailments? – we got her antibiotics. I consoled myself that we had plenty of time before we left for California to recover.

Two days later, E seemed a little off and was coughing like crazy. Genius that I am, I took her to the doctor for a strep test. Confirmed. No big deal. Plenty of time and the doctor thinks the cough will quiet down. But the cough actually gets worse. Another doctor blames it on a little post nasal drip from the strep or maybe irritation from the fires in Colorado. My fingers are crossed and I pack our bags.

Finally, we board the plane to Los Angeles. The cough is intense. The stewardess shows kindness and concern, and gently reminds us about the whooping case outbreak in the US. Have we been tested? I reassure her that two doctors confirmed it was not whooping cough or croup. We go through some 20 lollipops (it’s ok – they were organic) during the short flight.

Once in Los Angeles, the cough worsens. Another kind doctor we find confirms it’s not pneumonia and loads us with various inhalant and liquid medications. And to think we were worried about her getting into my parents’ medications. I feel terribly about how much work it is going to be to watch these kids. With a detailed list of do’s, don’ts and doses – remember, the other girl is allergic to peanuts and is taking her own medication for that twice a day – we leave. The grandparents nobly accept the challenge.

The trip was great. And we heard some good news from the grandparents. Even though the younger girl had a rough first day at camp and had to be picked up early, she stayed the whole time the second day. A steady stream of cupcakes and lollipops and a lot of love from the grandparents seem to have worked. We get back to LA, and are thrilled that the girls barely missed us. Of course, the older girl starts her own cough. We pass the remaining two weeks dressing up in grandmother’s shoes, playing at the beach, eating treats and just resting.

Now I am back home, back to work, thinking even more deeply about the amazing relationship between kids and grandparents, and how DoubleScoop can deepen this bond…when I’m not thinking about when E’s eye is going to open up again.

One way to make the time go by on a road trip

Car door of Prius after kids have covered it in stickers

For the last 5 years, our family has mostly driven to visit grandparents in New York and Los Angeles. After 3 trips to New York, and around 10 trips to Los Angeles in our Prius, I think I am becoming pretty darn good at managing long drives with young kids. I have even driven solo to Los Angeles in one day when my girls were 3 and 6 years old. (‘Did you all wear diapers?’ a friend asked). So here are a few things I have learned that might make your upcoming trip a success. Or at least, less painful.

1. Embrace screen-time. Yes, you can do it. You can spend 30 hours in a car reading books out loud, playing word games, and finally getting around to teaching your daughter how to crochet a pot-holder. We did this. And it knocked the wind out of me. After our 2nd trip, we caved and bought a DVD player. My kids were entertained and I was able to listen to a book on CD in the front half of the car. We also found that our kids watched videos for about a quarter of the trip, choosing to play ‘family’ with dolls or read or draw for the rest of the way. So it wasn’t all that bad.

2. Minimize stops. This is key. It may seem like it doesn’t make a difference if you make a ‘10-minute pit stop,’ but it does. Mainly because, with kids, a 10-minute stop doesn’t exist. Of course, sometimes you have to stop, but too many stops really do slow you down. Our Prius is helpful since we really do stop less for gas.

3. Pack a lot of food. We have tried stopping at different places vs. packing food, and found the latter works best. It is much faster and healthier to bring your own grub. If you do need to stay overnight somewhere, that is a good time to go out – but it is worth it to research restaurants ahead of time and have a plan. When I drive alone to Los Angeles, I have breakfast and lunch bags for each of us next to me in the front, and can toss a meal to a kid in the back as needed.

4. And be careful what food you pack. Yogurt tubes seem like such a great idea…until your 3 year old starts squirting them all over their car seat. And it takes a long time for that smell to go away…

5. Be a little indulgent. Road trips are long, and, if you are going through deserts or cornfields like I do, there’s really not a lot to see. So we do let our kids watch videos, have snacks they don’t usually get at home, and, well, we let them stick as many stickers as they want on their window, pictured above. My husband sold his car recently, and said ‘It took me two hours to get all the stickers off their doors.’ I thought, ‘It took us 4 trips to LA and 2 to NY to get those windows just right.’’

I’m planning a couple trips for our family and truly look forward to both the drive and our destination – grandmother’s house. And once we’ve made it, and the kids have tackled their grandparents, and I have paid out whatever bribes needed to stop the kids from fighting in the backseat (that sometimes helps, too), a break from the kids is only that much sweeter.

Wild Cherry Life Savers

June 12, 2012

I went to my older daughter’s end-of-school party the other day. I was a little sad that she was getting old so quickly, but had fun anyway. Right after an all-grade Bollywood dance – pretty awesome, I should add, to watch 100 second-graders dance on a sunny morning to Indian rhythms – she slipped a red Starburst in my hand. ‘I won it and I know how much you like red candy.’ I smiled.I love red candy (refer to my post about Red Vines), and I blame my great Aunt Marie for my vice and the currents of red dye flowing through my veins. My great-aunt Marie never married. Instead, she chose to help her younger sister, my nana, raise her three boys. Then, she assumed the role of grandparent to all of the boys’ grandchildren. She lived just a few minutes from her sister her whole life, so a visit to my grandmother was always a visit with my great-aunt, too.

Great-aunt Marie took grandparenting to another level of indulgence. As several of her nieces and nephews have commented, we don’t believe she ever won a game of CandyLand, go-fish or crazy eights. She always let us add the half&half and sugar to her coffee. When my grandmother and great-aunt took us to an amusement park in Chicago when we were older, they had a problem. They couldn’t possibly let my brother go on the triple loopty-loop roller coaster by himself, but of course he had to go. So Marie, at somewhere near 70 years old, gamely rode the most insane ride I have ever seen. She truly looked like she would pass out when she tottered off the ride.

But one of the most clear memories I have is the Life Savers candy. Whenever we first saw her during our visit, we would run toward her and start rummaging through her large purse. Tucked away between tissues and a change purse were always 2 packs of LifeSavers – usually Butter Rum, Rainbow or, when I was lucky, Wild Cherry. And it was the most exciting thing for a kid from a low-sugar home to find these treasures, and eat them all to myself. I truly do love cherry candy, but I think more than that it takes me back to my time with my exceptional great-aunt Marie.

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