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.

When my grandmother was alive and I lived far away, I quickly learned that all she really wanted was a phone call or a visit. I could skip the holiday or birthday scarf, book or other gift. Instead, we had a regular phone schedule that we both enjoyed. (I am particularly missing her this election since she closely watched politics and always had something interesting to say).It turns out that this was a very healthy habit. AARP recently published an article and infographic, Alone and At Risk, that suggests that social isolation is a major risk factor for aging adults. The article comments, ”Research shows that social detachment — having few close relationships — is as bad for you as smoking and worse than obesity.”

The article then explored why seniors are experiencing social isolation by conducting a survey. The two top reasons by far were “Family and friends live too far away” (48% of respondents) and “Family and friends are too busy” (42%). I was surprised that so many seniors felt disconnected from their families, especially given all the technologies available today.

However, it made me wonder if the problem somehow had it’s roots in the response ‘Family and friends too busy.’ When I think about all the activities I do with my kids, both during the week and the weekend, it really is challenging to find time to make a call or set up Facetime or Skype. One possible way to help seniors and their families become more connected is to focus on asynchronous communication. For example, DoubleScoop, Facebook, and even plain old email don’t require both grandparents and their families to be available at the same time. This might in part explain the growth of seniors using Facebook. For grandparents with grandkids too young for Facebook or email, DoubleScoop and BloggleBeans are fun, new ways to connect them when they have a free moment.

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.

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.

Italian Proverb

A friend’s daughter just started kindergarten, and she attempted a courageous escape from the playground back to her house. She made it as far as the parking lot when her mom caught her and dragged her back. I found the breakaway story to be pretty funny, but it also reminded me of how difficult going back to school can be for some kids. And maybe grandparents can help a little.

When a child is going back to school or even starting school is a great time for grandparents to share stories about their own experiences at school. Young kids love to hear stories in general, and a story starring a family member that relates to the child’s own life is especially exciting. Chances are, there are some funny or exciting moments you can use to liven up your story. And a child might be comforted by knowing that others in the family have gone through the same experience, and maybe even have felt some of the same emotions.

Kids and grandparents can get in touch by phone, DoubleScoop, email, Skype and start exchanging their adventures. How did you get to school? What was your favorite part of the day? What did you eat for lunch? Were you nervous about anything? What did you do after school? There is so much to talk about, and kids love to hear about when their grandparents were kids. Kids will be especially thrilled if a grandparent can share an old photograph when they were the same age. Hopefully, these stories will help going back-to-school a little smoother, and a little more fun.

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