I have been reading and writing about the importance of grandparents in the lives of kids. Most of it has focused on the simple joys of having extra pairs of loving hands in their lives, as well as helping mom when she needs a break. But the University of Utah just published some research that suggests that grandmothers actually increased the longevity of humans way back when.
The article explains:
“…as human ancestors evolved in Africa during the past 2 million years, the environment changed, growing drier with more open grasslands and fewer forests – forests where newly weaned infants could collect and eat fleshy fruits on their own.‘So moms had two choices,’ Hawkes [professor of anthropology at the University of Utah] says. ‘They could either follow the retreating forests, where foods were available that weaned infants could collect, or continue to feed the kids after the kids are weaned. That is a problem for mothers because it means you can’t have the next kid while you are occupied with this one.
That opened a window for the few females whose childbearing years were ending – grandmothers – to step in and help, digging up potato-like tubers and cracking hard-shelled nuts in the increasingly arid environment. Those are tasks newly weaned apes and human ancestors couldn’t handle as infants. The primates who stayed near food sources that newly weaned offspring could collect “are our great ape cousins,” says Hawkes. “The ones that began to exploit resources little kids couldn’t handle, opened this window for grandmothering and eventually evolved into humans.”
Apparently, theories like this have been around for a while. But this new study provided mathematical evidence that involved grandmothers were a primary factor in increasing human lifespans.“Grandmothering gave us the kind of upbringing that made us more dependent on each other socially and prone to engage each other’s attention,” she adds. That, says Hawkes, gave rise to “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”
So if you are debating how much time and effort you should invest in strengthening the relationship between the kids and grandparents in your life, you might want to be conservative and make sure there is a strong bond. Who knows what the research community will find out next?

On Becoming a Grandparent

October 5, 2012

I read an interesting piece in the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal about the impact of becoming a grandparent to a person. While I am pretty far from being a grandparent, there were some insightful comments the writer made. Here are a few things that struck me:

  • “When you become a grandparent, it suddenly hits you that time is precious and you need to make the most of it.” 
  • “Now my wife and I get to transition from the serious parents to the fun grandparents.  What sucks for my son is that he will always get the serious parent routine from us. We care way too much about our boy and his wife to stop being his parents. But we will probably spoil the hell out of the little one.”
  • “The point at which you become a grandparent is when you finally get to see if you were a good parent or not.”

The last one was the most interesting and I am going to ask my mom whether she agrees. Are they finally seeing whether they think they did a good job raising me? Does she think she messed up with me every time I make a mistake with my kids, which is frighteningly frequent? Some things to think about.

DoubleScoop brings kids and grandparents together


This is it. As many you you know, we soft launched in March (see my blog post “DoubleScoop
is about to launch
“) for friends and family to try out DoubleScoop . Well, hundreds of active users and thousands of wonderful photos, drawings, voice recordings and text messages later we learned a lot. We exterminated several bugs, made some updates and now, TODAY, we’re officially launching DoubleScoop!

So what’s new and exciting this time around?

1. We made it easier to set up an account. We also added a toll-free phone number in case you or a family member needs a hand getting started. If you don’t feel like walking your mom through the process, let us do it! We’ll be kind and helpful, I promise.

2. It works even better on PC and Mac computers. We had a few hiccups at the beginning, but now DoubleScoop is running faster and should be even easier to use on a desktop or laptop computer.

3. And it works better on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. We switched a few things around to make it easier for young kids to use independently. This means that I can comfortably throw my iPhone (in its protective case, of course) in the backseat of the car, and my 4-year old can find DoubleScoop – yes, that’s why it’s a big ol’ ice cream cone icon – choose herself as a user, and share the news of the day with her grandparents.

And what hasn’t changed?

DoubleScoop still lets young kids and grandparents keep in touch by drawing pictures, exchanging photos, recording voice messages and songs, and typing stories. And now that our family has been using it for a while, I appreciate it even more since my two girls are able to communicate with her grandparents every day or two without me having to find a convenient time for everyone, or having to look over their shoulders to make sure there is no Viagra or belly fat ads popping up while they email. In fact, I don’t have to do much of anything – they send messages while I cook dinner or drive them to the pool. And they all seem to love it.

So that’s today’s pitch for DoubleScoop. Give it a try, and let us know what you think.

Birthday Wishes

May 29, 2012

“So, what do you like most when grandma comes to visit?” “Presents,” my four-year old replied quietly. “And what do you like most about grampy?” “Tickles,” she giggled. Of course, presents are on her little mind. It’s her birthday tomorrow, and my parents are flying in to celebrate it with her.

Grandparents make birthdays special. My husband and I barely remember each others’ birthdays, let alone buy gifts for each other. We struggle through the kids’ birthdays, which are unfortunately just two weeks apart during the last month of school. Neither of us are great at hosting kids’ parties, but both our girls are relentless in wanting home parties. We scrambled this year, setting up scavenger hunts, having a movie, making our own pinata (the birthday girl loved it. We were embarrassed), and leading, yet another, birthday parade down our street. Yes, it all worked out, but we were exhausted.

Maybe because they are not planning and hosting the party, but their grandparents are better at really celebrating a birthday. GIfts were discussed, purchased and wrapped in advance. And a friend of the grandparents sent an electronic card with singing animals. My daughter also received a silly card with a ballerina kitty (Best Card Ever) and a frivolous little tank top that screamed fun.

So tomorrow, we will have a special dinner out, and open some gifts. I can’t help get into the spirit of things, so I am going to spray whipped cream on her AM pancakes. I feel a little sorry for her, since she wanted to go to a hot dog stand for her birthday dinner. We nixed that but promised her dessert. It should be great.

And yes, I made that tie
It’s 6.30AM and I am sipping coffee, listening to birds chatter, and clicking on fun links about summer sandals and sinkholes (the latter fascinate me.) Yes, I can hear my kids rustling upstairs. But this morning, I don’t need to sprint upstairs to see how they’re doing. Grandma and Grandpa came to visit from New York to see my girls’ dramatic performance of 101 Dalmatians, and I couldn’t be happier.

A visit from grandparents is the best. Built-in daycare, giggles galore, complete spoiling. My kids are so thrilled to see them. My 4 year old even offered her spare duckie to them. Of course, they sweeten the pot by toting some gifts along that the girls anticipate. But I think it is their rapt attention to each child that is the main appeal. And Grandma isn’t also trying to clean the house, prepare dinner, sort mail or write a blog, so rarely loses her temper.

I have always known instinctively that my kids should spend time and build a strong relationship with their grandparents. In the first 2 years of my oldest daughter’s life, we made 14 trips by plane and car to visit grandparents, and great-grandparents, to begin this relationship. We have not yet experienced a moment when my children were shy or reticent with either set of grandparents. Even as babies, they both seemed comfortable in their arms. (Although, as my cousin recently reminded me, my second child was so big at 6 months that her great-grandmother could barely hold her).

My instinct may be more than just a notion. There is more and more research about the beneficial role grandparents play in a child’s life. Relationships with people from different generations appear to have positive effects on kids, including building empathy and self-esteem. And it makes sense that an extra person in a child’s life willing to give ‘unconditional love’ is a very good thing.

But I think I am the one enjoying their visit the most. After coffee, I’ll take a hike with a friend, do some work, and even step out this evening for a small gathering. All knowing that my kids are in good hands, happy as clams, and being loved.

My daughter's drawing of Sparkle Fairy
I love visiting my hometown, Los Angeles, a few times a year. It’s great to visit my parents, check in with some of my old friends, and visit my favorite Mexican food restaurant, El Gringo. Clearly, it’s a perfect time for my kids to connect with their grandparents; but it’s also an opportunity for me to talk to other grandparents, meaning my parent’s friends.
There’s one grandma we usually seek out for a little chat, and she always gives me a new idea or insight into how grandparents connect with grandkids. She is a decidedly exuberant and dedicated granny. Her light-heartedness and patience for all things silly is addictive to my own kids. A great example is her invitation to my girls to visit and watch her cat do tricks. Not being a cat-person, I was skeptical. But, somehow, she figured out that if she cut a small hole in the corner of a brown paper grocery bag, lured her cat in the bag, then dangled a peacock feather over it, the cat would try to grab the feather through the hole. The result is a little kitty paw popping out erratically from a brown paper bag. It’s so funny. My kids could have watched the cat all morning.
Her latest activity is pure gold. She invented a special character, Sparkle Fairy, that she and her granddaughter go on adventures with over the phone while her parents take a break. To make the long-distance experience even better, she decorated a piece of fabric and sent it to her granddaughter, so she has an image of Sparkle Fairy in her room. She said she used pieces of fabric, a hot glue gun, and lots and lots of ‘stuff kids love,’ like ribbons, buttons, etc.

This is how it works. The parents put the phone on speaker and leave the room, maybe to sit down and have dinner, pay some bills, whatever. Then, the grand-daughter and grandma start a new adventure. The grand-daughter sometimes gets to decide what Sparkle Fairy does next, and grandma makes it happen. And here’s my favorite part. Grandma uses sound effects on her computer to enhance her story. So if Sparkle Fairy stumbles upon a farm, grandma plays a little clip of a squealing pig. And, if grandma goofs and plays a tiger growling, that’s ok too! Here’s one of the sites she uses: http://www.grsites.com/archive/sounds/category/25/?offset=0

I love Sparkle Fairy. I just asked our team of developers if we can include sound effects in our app, DoubleScoop. Wouldn’t it be fun to include noises in stories grandparents and kids are creating for each other? And if I ever have grandkids, I will definitely be inventing a unique character for each one of them. I have no doubt they will never forget it.

Study hard, be good.

March 19, 2012

Wise words from Nana

Spring came early in Colorado and five days of 70-degree weather are forecast. I am struggling to find my way to the DoubleScoop office, and to my desk with the enchanting view of the strip mall. At the same time, while I consider whether to show up to work, a voice reminds me ‘Work hard, be good.’

That is how my grandmother signed every letter and postcard written to me for as long as I can remember. When I was in school, from elementary through college, she wrote, ‘Study hard, be good.’ When I finally finished school, she switched the first word to ‘work.’ And somehow, in the context of birthday cards, little notes with clipped out comic strips, or a Christmas gift of flowered underwear, these words never seemed like an admonition, or an order, or a threat. She made this mantra natural and wise. And she was so consistent.

As I got older, married and had children, I don’t remember her signing off with those words anymore. Maybe the great reward for working hard and being good was the marriage and the children. Or maybe she knew if I had children, I of course was working hard. I suspect also, since I kept working after the birth of my first daughter, that my grandmother wanted me to quit my job to raise my child full-time. I don’t think that she wasn’t being critical but instead paying me a great compliment. She thought I could do the job best.

I do wish I had asked her more about how she came up with her signature sign-off. Maybe these words flowed from her mother, or an Irish proverb, or Dennis the Menace. But regardless, despite a warm sunny day dangling in front me tomorrow, I suppose I will trudge over to DoubleScoop, and imagine how best I could connect my grandmother with me.

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