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!

Air Hugs

August 21, 2012

Today was the first day of kindergarten for my littlest girl. With her killer Barbie backpack and panda water bottle, she lined up with the other wee things and bravely started marching into class. Quickly, she turned around and wrapped her arms around her chest. I smiled. She had just sent me an ‘air hug.’ And I sent her a big one back.

I don’t remember exactly when she came up with air hugs. I think it was during her bedtime ritual, when she wasn’t quite ready to say goodnight, but it was time for dad to leave the room. First a real hug, then  a little air hug a few steps away, maybe an extra tight air hug another step back, and a giant air hug before leaving her room. Then, during what turned out to be a thankfully short period of preschool, she struggled with being dropped off. Air hugs saved the day (for me, at least). After one last real hug, I would send her a big air hug from the doorway, and she would send one back.

After she made it into the classroom this morning, I shared some pictures of her through DoubleScoop, with her grandparents, aunt and uncle. I had hoped to catch a shot of her in her air hug stance, but I was too late. She had taught her grandparents about air hugs during our summer visit, and I know they would love a hug. I think I will take a picture this afternoon for them at pick-up. It’s not the same as the real thing, but it’s another fun way to keep them in touch.

Looking for ideas to help kids to have fun and build a relationship with their grandparents? Holly from the Kids Activities Blog came up with a terrific list of activities. You can visit her post, or read them below.

Grandparent Activities, from the Kids Activities Blog

  • Reading together – This is one of my boys’ favorite things to do with their grandma.  She is more patient than I am and will read the same book over and over.  The boys notice this and always have a book picked out for a day she visits.  It is a time that they can snuggle on the couch and the kids don’t even notice the extra hugs and kisses.  When they spend the night at their grandparents, their grandpa is legendary for reading multiple bedtime stories while the younger grandkids drift off to sleep.  As my boys have learned to read themselves, they have liked practicing their new skills with grandma on our homeschool days.
  • Sharing a sport – Baseball has become a very big deal to my oldest son.  He is 11 and watches every Ranger game faithfully.  His “Bampa” is also a huge fan.  If we go to the game we send pictures and texts back to Bampa with information and commentary.  If Ryan is watching from home, Bampa often calls after an important play or an unfortunate loss.  Sometimes we schedule visits around the game schedule so the two can watch together.  They share game stats and a love for the game.
  • Playing a sport – For the last two years, Thursdays has been golfing with grandpa.  My dad picks up Ryan and they go play a 3 par course not far from our house.  The game always ends with an oversized milkshake.  Ryan has benefited from his coaching and looks forward to Thursdays.  This summer, Reid(9) has joined them a few times.
  • Playing a game – During a grandparent visit, there is nothing more fun then playing a game.  My youngest delights in beating grandma at Connect 4 or challenging Mimi to a frantic game ofPit.  We have found that Lego’s Creationary is a great game that levels the playing field {actually, the boys almost always win}.  If a visit isn’t possible, games like Words with Friendsor Hanging with Friends are fun for grandparents and kids to compete long distance.
  • Sharing art – Mimi has always had paint-by-number sets that are available at her house to paint.  She will sit down with painting grandkids and help complete the work of art.  My boys have loved painting with Mimi and proudly bring home finished artwork that reminds them of the experience.  Sending kids’ artwork to a grandparent is also a fun way to stay connected.  Many kids are prolific artists who would be thrilled to have an off-site gallery of their works by an admiring collector.
  • Telling family stories – A photo album or old home movie can be the perfect way to spark kids’ interest in their family tree.  My kids love to look at old pictures of their dad and me and hear about how we were as kids.  I think it blows their minds to think about how we were once their age and had siblings {their aunts and uncles} that we fought with {no way!} and grew up with.  Sharing stories together passes down family legacies and traditions in an organic way.
  • Building together –The building/construction gene skipped a generation in my family.  Both my dad {grandpa} and my father-in-law {Bampa} are skilled in this area.  My boys love spending time with them building and fixing things.  They are learning things that their dad and I can’t teach them.  My youngest who is 6 is working on an elaborate set of “blueprints” for a life-size pirate paddle boat that grandpa will help him build.  He has spent hours at home planning and if anyone can help him bring his ideas to life, it is grandpa!
  • Baking together – Hanging out in Mimi’s kitchen is a favorite activity.  Helping her bake a cake or make pancakes for an impromptu 2nd breakfast mid-morning is always a hit.  Mimi is much more liberal with what she allows the boys to do and eat.  They embrace it completely!
  • Measuring growth – Mimi has all the family’s growth marked in pencil and pen on the back of her pantry door.  It isn’t just the kids that get measured on a regular basis, it is everyone.  Even past pets.  I am proud to report that I am still holding steady at 5’8″.  The boys study that door on a regular basis.  It is fun to see that they are just an inch shorter than a cousin was at the same age or how they are gaining on the next generation.
  • Teaching/Learning – Every once in awhile the perfect teaching moment comes along to bring in grandparent support.  This happened a few months ago as Ryan prepared for a Famous Texan presentation.  He called up Bampa for inside information on who might be a good choice for his speech and some stories about what he remembered about that person.  Mimi was the source behind a paper on what life was like 50 years ago.  Grandpa is teaching my boys to play chess.  Each of these educational moments bring them closer together and give them something else they have in common.

Have fun!!

It’s been a long time since my husband and I have taken a vacation without our kids. Finally, we think they are old enough to be left with their grandparents for a few days while we take a mini adventure. Our biggest concern is that our youngest child will miss us too much. Of course, that might just be my ego talking, and her grandmother certainly doesn’t anticipate this. Regardless, here’s what I am doing now to help her survive a few days without mom and dad:

1. Talking up their visit with grandparents. I am spending a lot of time reminding her how much she loves her time with her grandparents. I am playing up the beach, the sand toys, my mom’s kids books and, of course, the cupcakes at the local bakery.

2. Helping the grandparents plan activities. My mom and I have thought of some fun things to do while we are away. They will have a couple of movie nights, and we are already looking into DVDs that can be on hand before the kids arrive. We also signed the girls up for a camp to give my parents a break, and keep the girls busy.

3. Making a list of favorite foods. This menu for the week will be loaded with foods the kids like. Fussiness at dinner and complicated recipes are the last thing my parents and kids need to deal with. My recommendations include hamburgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese and a night out for Mexican food. (Hmmm. Sounds a lot like this week’s menu at home…)

4. A friendly grandmother/granddaughter competition. A week ago, the girls and my mom kicked off a contest to see who would walk the most steps before their visit, as tracked by the GeoPalz pedometers my mom gave them in May. The prize: A heavily decorated cake from the bakery, winner receives the first piece. The girls are already thinking about grandma as they cruise around town with their pedometers.

5. A lot of communication between grandma and grandchild…now! As we inch closer to our visit, we are increasing the phone calls and DoubleScoop to help the girls become even more excited about their visit. Their grandmother is helping out by sending little messages about how much they are looking forward to their arrival, and what some of the exciting activities are that they have planned!

If you have any awesome tips to help a grandparent visit go smoothly, please share! Our hotel is non-refundable, so we’ll take all the help we can get.

So, you get the call. Your grandchild had her first peanut, or in our case, piece of a peanut, and she is in the ER. She’ll be ok – several doses of epinephrine and some steroids finally brought her head size back from Great Pumpkin to 21/2 year-old little girl size. And maybe you’re thinking, well, I’ll make sure to have some cream cheese on hand when I am making my own toast with peanut butter. 

Not so fast. As parents who witnessed the 6-hour experience first hand and have no intention of EVER going through it again, we were motivated to make sure our kitchen was absolutely and totally peanut-free. The doctor and allergist were clear. Next time, we may not be so lucky. (We didn’t think we were so lucky, by the way, but yes, it could have been mush worse). But for the grandparents, who weren’t there to see her cough and swell, some of the transition was more difficult. 

We had three main points to get across to our grandparents. First, when we were around, there couldn’t be any peanuts near our young daughter. While I know our grandparents would never mean to use the same knife for their peanut butter and her cream cheese, habit often takes over. And, cooking with two toddlers running around can often muddle things up. Second, we had to always have an inhaler (she also has asthma), epi-pens and Benadryl with her. It was hard to remember at first, but has now become a habit. Finally, we had some new limitations on where we could eat. Asian food, especially Thai, was out. Also, she couldn’t eat ice cream from an ice cream store. This is because of the potential for cross-contamination between flavors. And yes, there is some irony here given that I work for a company called DoubleScoop.

Six years later, we have never had an incident. And I think our grandparents believe that our strict rules make sense, rather than result from neurotic, new-age helicopter parents. We are certainly those parents, too, but not when it relates to allergies. If you do have a grandchild with a severe allergy, please take care to follow the parent’s lead. The end goal is obvious. You want the parents to feel comfortable with your grandchildren spending time with you. Both sets of our grandparents made us feel confident that our child would be safe with them, so we make sure our kids spend a lot of time with them. 

PS. I’ll write follow-up blogs about one crazy treatment the grandparents suggested we pursue for the peanut allergy, and what we are doing now!

Facebook for kids? Four reasons my daughter won’t be joining.

There’s been a lot reported this week about Facebook possibly allowing kids under the age of 13 to join. The news raises a lot of interesting questions, and certainly had me thinking about whether I would let my 8-year old girl sign up.

The most compelling reason I read encouraging me to get her started was to start to ‘learn’ about using social media responsibly. Facebook, and all social media, is a fact of life, and the best course of action is to equip her to deal with the realities of our technology-driven world. A runner-up was Chicago Tribune writer Scott Kleinberg’s take that “Facebook should use its social networking monster of a platform as a way to get kids excited about homework and in a way that makes Facebook as necessary as a textbook. It should be the de facto place for teachers, parents and kids to go to learn with and from each other.”

But ultimately, the points against introducing young kids to social media are winning me over. Here are some of the insights that really got my attention:

1. My daughter simply isn’t developmentally ready to group-share online. Sarah Fernandez, a contributor to Parentables.com, writes “Most kids under age 13 are trying to figure out how to interact in face to face social situations still, and it’s important that they build those skills and don’t bury themselves in the computer to socialize.” My own child is still learning how to navigate group play-dates, let alone a social network. Interestingly, during the last year, she increasingly asks ‘can we just have one family over?’, reminding me how she still struggles with groups of 3 or more girls at the same time. Imagine a social network.

2. I want to control the ads my daughter sees. At least a little. Several articles have mentioned that allowing younger kids to join will increase the marketing base of Facebook. I can’t imagine that Facebook will block marketing messages and external links to kids. And what Facebook and the marketing world thinks is appropriate for my 8-year old might be very different than what I think is appropriate. James Steyer of Common Sense Media commented in an article in USA TODAY that “Big tobacco was very, very smart in trying to create brand loyalty starting at the very earliest possible age. That’s why they created Joe Camel. We shouldn’t be trying to build brand loyalty among 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds.” I tend to agree.

3. Maybe I don’t want to share my space on Facebook. Heather Chapman, Special to CNN, hit home when she wrote “Speaking of playgrounds: Facebook is mine. I connect with adult friends on there, and sometimes we say things that aren’t appropriate for kids. I don’t want my son to see my name tagged in a picture that says “It’s wine o’ clock somewhere!” and I wonder how much of a barrier I could put between my account and his if they’re linked.” I actually like Facebook, and appreciate the ability to keep in touch with faraway friends. But I admit how I use Facebook would probably change if my daughter and I became ‘friends.’

4. I don’t want to add more ‘helicoptering’ to my to-do list! Several people commented that an advantage to linking kids’ accounts to parents is that parents would be able to monitor everything the child has said, as well as patrol their ‘friends.’ As a mom, this sounds like a lot more work. Teens are sending 80 texts a day already, so how many Facebook posts would that be for me glance over? I also don’t like the idea of placing my child in a situation where I have to snoop on her constantly.

Social media is a part of our lives. But the question for me isn’t whether or not my daughter should be on Facebook, but when. And younger than 13 just sounds too young for me. Until then, she can call her friends, use Skype or snail mail with her grandparents, or, dare I suggest, just go out and play.

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