Parenting & Grandparenting Stories

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Parenting Stories

By Elin Stebbins Waldal 

When my son Max was four he went to pre-school at a small private school in Boulder, Colorado, the school was nestled in the outskirts of town with a playground that enjoyed a full view of the Flatiron Mountains. It was there that I learned what remains one of the best pieces of parenting wisdom from his then teacher, Mrs. Magowan.

She was as black as coal with a voice rich like honey and her way with the children was so beautiful that the smallest of gesture could bring tears to my eyes. Her kindness toward my son was for me as important as the oxygen I breathed. That was the year his dad and I split up for the second and final time in his short life.

Max and I were both in transition. I, in my newly single mother status, had returned to work and he, in his dual house living environment, probably felt much like a rubber doll, pulled by each arm and in danger of splitting in two.

In the beginning leaving the house for school was a chore—Max often would forestall the imminent separation by absorbing himself in everything but dressing. And I, in all my new job importance, would race around much like a drill sergeant barking orders and hollow disciplinary warnings.

It was temporarily awful.

By the time we packed ourselves into the car we would be exhausted and more times than not our emotions would ride with us for the short few miles to school. As I remember it, my inner critic would perch herself on my shoulder and vociferously list the ways I was failing my son. Max for his part would stare out the window as if willing himself to be anywhere but in his car seat in a car with his working mother. By the time we pulled into the circle to say goodbye, like clockwork my sweet boy would begin to cry begging me not to leave. Battling my own tears of frustration over our new work/life situation, I would park, and escort him to his classroom.

It was one of these mornings that Mrs. Magowan saved us.

As soon as we crossed the threshold into her room, she noticed the mood we blew in with, pure defeat.  While placing her hand on his back she raised a finger from her free hand as if to say—hold on, let me get him settled and then—let’s talk.

I watched as she took a knee, my breath near to bursting against my lungs, willing myself not to cry.

First she whispered, his eyes previously trained on the floor lifted and met her gaze, his shoulders stood up, then, much like the sun breaking over the horizon, a smile spread across his tear stained face.  She took him in, nodded and for a moment stayed there as if pausing to let his new mood settle over him. Then she pointed and his eyes followed her fingers direction to a basket containing blocks across the room. With a brush stroke of love across his back he was gone, scampering toward something he could build, thoughts of being left dissolved.

She stood—and there in all my unkempt rawness I uttered these words:

“How do you do it Mrs. Magowan, you are so patient, you repeat yourself over and over again day in and day out and I have never heard you as much as raise your voice.”

She took my hand in hers, offering me a steady long look, her dark eyes providing pools of kindness I could dive into.

“Oh yes. Here is the thing dear, I never know the first time a child is going to hear me—so I ask myself, what do I want them to hear?”

You never know the first time a child will hear you—so what do you want them to hear?

“You are brilliant, truly and indisputably, brilliant.” I told her with a squeeze of her hand.

I vaguely remember her giving me some reassurance that letting go of the inadequacy I was steeped in was well within my power, such sage advice.

Twenty two years have passed since that morning, I have shared Mrs. Magowans wisdom with countless others—I only wish I knew where she was so I could thank her for anchoring me in the constant quest for patience and a desire to have the words my children hear be filled with love: what a gift.

 

Note: I was inspired to share this story about Mrs. Magowan after reading the equally heart breaking and poignant piece on Babble, written by Samantha Ettus, called, Overheard at Disneyland.  In it she shares her observations while resting on a bench at Disneyland, sadly she is in a sea of anger–anger that is doled out onto the psyches of children. If only every parent had a Mrs. Magowan in their life. Children learn what they live and we owe it to them to be raised with the best we have to offer.

 

 

By Sarah Bragg 

Spooked

My daughter spends most of her free time at the stables where she rides horses. She will happily muck stalls (aka shovel poop), wash horses, and hand pick fungus off their legs. Now, will she clean her bathroom, hang up a wet towel, or care to not leave trash under bed? Absolutely not. But I digress.

You see, the farm is her happy place—it’s the place where she feels most like herself. At school, she is highly anxious and nervous about what others think. At home, she takes out all of those frustrations on her family. But at the farm, she is calm and capable, fully in control of herself and her horse. She is her most authentic self there.

But something happened this summer while at the farm. She experienced a few incidents that reminded her that as much as she loves this horse, it is still in fact a large animal. As she was on a trail ride, the horse spooked, galloped back to the barn, and she was unable to control it. It wouldn’t respond to direction which terrified my daughter. For a month, what was supposed to give my daughter therapy and calm, did nothing but create fear and anxiety.

An “Irrational” Fear

The breaking point was when I received a phone call from her in a panic asking me to come pick her up early from the barn, that she didn’t want to do the trail ride (the same trail where the horse lost control). I walked into the barn and there she was having a full on panic attack. She had the horse in the stall but the door wouldn’t shut. It was jammed. She was afraid the horse was going to trample her.

I walked up and assessed the situation. The horse was calmly eating hay in the stall. It wasn’t angry. It wasn’t bucking. But Sinclair was absolutely convinced otherwise. So I took the lead rope from her hands and stood there with her. I spoke both to her and the horse calmly. I encouraged her to take deep breaths, even as she yelled at me.

What would have happened if I saw Sinclair’s panic and raised her with judgment, shame, or intensity? I don’t know exactly, but I do know it wouldn’t have helped the situation. You see, I saw  there was nothing to fear in the moment. I saw the calm horse. But Sinclair didn’t. And I do know what it’s like to have a panic attack. I do know what it’s like to be afraid of something so greatly that it paralyzes you. So that’s where I chose to meet her. I met her from a place of understanding. That’s empathy.

Empathy is Tonic

I think one of the greatest things we need to develop as parents is empathy. My daughter didn’t need a lecture. She didn’t need me to see her and walk away. She didn’t need tough love in the moment. She needed me to sit with her long enough for her to figure out what needed to happen. She needed my presence, not my fixing.

Eventually, my daughter told me to loop the rope around the horse’s neck, and together we walked the horse to another stall. She was fully capable of figuring out what needed to happen next.  My empathy and presence allowed her to do what she needed to do. My empathy was tonic to her.

Real Emotions

In parenting, it is so easy to lack empathy. It’s easy to show up with quick fixes. Trust me, in a house full of girls there are a lot of tears over the silliest things. Hearing a girl cry is like the old fable about the boy who cried wolf. I’m nearly numb to the tears.

But despite our more realistic assessment of the situation, our kids are real humans with real emotions experiencing real things. Just like we do.

Have you ever put yourself in their shoes?

In Their Shoes

When was the last time you felt afraid?
When was the last time you felt unsure of yourself?
When was the last time you felt anxious about something?

Those feelings are all normal, yet we often dismiss them in our kids. We want to skirt them and push past them. We tell them to just get over it. Taking the time to pull up a chair and sit with them feels unnecessary and time consuming.

Even if I am not afraid of the same things, I know what fear feels like. I know what anxiety and stress feel like.

And when I feel afraid, how do I want people to react towards me?

Do I want judgment?
Do I want someone to patronize me?
Do I want to feel shame?
Do I want someone to yell at me?

No. I want someone to sit there with me. Maybe even in silence. I need time and space to work through the emotion. I need someone to say, “I know.” “I get it.” “I’ve been there.” “Me too.”

And my kids need the same thing. I don’t have to solve the problem. I need to sit with them long enough for them to move through whatever it is.  They need my presence. They need my comfort. They need my understanding.

Empathy is tonic.

When we choose to respond with empathy, it is a balm for our kids. No fixes, solutions. Just empathy

Grandparenting Stories

What if we brought a homemade pie of kindness to the table of hate and calmed anger with a dose of warmed goodness? Then our grandchildren would learn just like I did from my grandmother – when we take the time to create love, we might just witness healing our hurts, one pie at a time.

The Healing Power of a Homemade Pie

By Lynn Gendusa

Comic strips often entertain us with not only a funny moment but occasionally the cartoonist will introduce a bit of insight within their colorful panels. Such was the case recently when Jan Eliot provided such wisdom in her comic strip “Stone Soup.” One of the characters is Alix, a nine-year-old, precocious girl who is sitting at the kitchen table watching her grandmother rolling the dough for a homemade pie.

Alix asks, “Gramma, why do you like to make pies so much?” Her gramma explains that when she was a young mother, they did not have much money, but she and her husband had an orchard abundant with pears, apples, and peaches. So, when they could afford only rice and beans for dinner, what lifted the spirits of her family, was a delicious homemade pie for dessert. After hearing her Gramma’s explanation, Alix replies, “In other words… before Prozac, there was pie.”

Gramma ends the story with this statement, “That’s what’s wrong with everyone! Not enough pie!”

Growing up, I recall my grandmother making pies to deliver to folks who were physically ailing or mentally going through a difficult time. She regularly baked my brother his favorite chocolate pie and would always make a blackberry cobbler for my mother when the berries were in season. I don’t think I ever visited her when she didn’t bake a pie out of love or compassion for someone.

I remember one summer day, her friend Mrs. Harris was ill. First thing on a Saturday morning, we visited her bearing an apple pie full of concern and affection. Before we left, Mrs. Harris was giggling with her friend and hugging me goodbye.

The tradition of pie giving was passed down from those ancestors who resided in the Southern hills to hearts who needed a pie’s restorative power. Aunts, mothers, grandmothers, a few uncles, and even some grandpas inherited the gift of producing a mouthful of joy. My granddaddy couldn’t make a pie, but he sure could mend a mortal with his homemade peanut brittle.

My mom could roll out the best pie crust on the planet. Plus, she had the artistic talent to create the perfect lattice top over her delicious fruit pies. She would serve them warm with a dollop of ice cream. Mom could dry tears and melt hearts with her delicious creations. I once dubbed her the “Queen of Pies,” and to this day, I believe she undoubtedly was.

Friends and family frequently question me, “Lynn, why do you insist on baking homemade desserts? You can go to Publix and get a great pie or cake and not have to go through the trouble?”

My answer is the same: “It’s not the same!”

Generosity, compassion, and joy are only found in the work you go through to create them. Not everyone knows how to bake a pie, but they sure know how to gather flowers, write a sweet note, or hold a hand. When we use extra energy to lift another’s spirit, whether it is through baking a pie or going for a visit, we deliver healing. When we go to the trouble to love, we give hate trouble.

Our world is a busy place, where texting emoji hearts, sad or smiling faces, makes it simple to share our emotions. We are “convenient” happy. Whatever makes our lives easier is becoming the norm. However, our days will become more comfortable only when our society becomes a less hateful place.

A peaceful world can exist only through loving each other enough to create a pie made of sincere compassion, prayer, and understanding. Comforting another is not about easy, it is about sacrifice and empathy. There is no emoji in the technological world which shows the recipe for genuine kindness.

“Before Prozac, there was pie,” Alix declared. I suffer from depression, and I understand needing medications for this illness. However, if my family and friends had been too busy to hug me, pray with me, or cook my kids’ dinner through some of those wicked dark hours, would I have made it? When those compassionate souls took the time to physically aid me, they helped me see a sunny day was on the horizon.

“That’s what’s wrong with everyone! Not enough pie!” Gramma happily tells her grandchildren as she holds her beautiful baked pie above her head. What if we brought a homemade pie of kindness to the table of hate and calmed anger with a dose of warmed goodness? Then our grandchildren would learn just like I did from my grandmother – when we take the time to create love, we might just witness healing our hurts, one pie at a time.

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a weekly columnist for newspapers in Georgia and Tennessee. She is the author of It’s All Write with Me! Reach her at www.lynngendusa.com.

Special thanks to our dear friend Allison St. Claire and Senior Wire Story provided by — SENIOR WIRE

Grandmothers-to-be: be forewarned! First-time mothers not only are experts from day one, but have utter amnesia about the fact that their mothers negotiated every one of childhood’s stages with at least some degree of success.

Sweetness of Motherhood

By Karen Telleen-Lawton

Whether you’ve mothered your own child, a friend’s, or a beloved pet, you know that motherhood not only is flavored sweet, but also savory, sour, and bitter. “Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime,” sang country music star Lynn Anderson in the 1970 hit “(I Never Promised You) a Rose Garden.”

My daughter Molly called the other day, choking back tears. I could hear her 2-year-old daughter Carly screeching in the background – refusing to succumb to an afternoon nap. As I tried to calm my 33-year-old baby from 100 miles away, Carly’s screaming (naturally) awakened my infant grandson. Molly had no choice but to turn from being consoled to consoling.

When Carly was a newborn, my husband and I came to help out for a few days. Newborns do practically nothing but sleep, and yet she managed to run six adults ragged – our daughter’s in-laws included. The hardest part for me was not offering all my hard-earned wisdom. Like many new moms, she had read a library full of books and didn’t solicit generation-old advice. I even managed an Academy award deserving response in this exchange:

            Me: “Would you like me to change Carly’s diaper?”

            Molly: “Do you know how?”

            Me, without a touch of irony, “Why don’t you show me.”

Grandmothers-to-be: be forewarned! First-time mothers not only are experts from day one, but have utter amnesia about the fact that their mothers negotiated every one of childhood’s stages with at least some degree of success.

Infants grow meteorically, especially from 100 miles away. Maybe it’s because that’s where Carly is now, but I love two year olds for their complete transparency. Every desire, surprise, and hurt is displayed unmasked in her actions, and her words are utter truth. The first time she ran up to greet me with a hug, I almost cried: it had been decades since I had felt the complete pleasure of a child hug.

When I arrived recently after a few weeks’ absence, Carly shared a long conversation with me, very little of which I could understand. I had her repeat it a couple of times. Then finally I said, “Carly, you’re talking so much now, and I’m sure your parents understand you, but I’m having a little trouble. I’ll keep trying, though.” Carly looked at me solemnly and said, “I hope so!”

Back in the infant stage with Edward, I’m falling in love all over again. Rocking him, I hear in my mind Gilbert O’Sullivan’s heartwarming song that begins, “Clair, the moment I met you I swear, I knew in my mind that we were friends.” I still am careful to just support Molly’s decisions, offering advice only if specifically requested. But Molly is sufficiently overwhelmed to welcome help this time around.

Molly’s frustrations come with dealing with a toddler and newborn, and I guess me too. Recently, when Carly was at daycare and Edward fed and alert, I offered to take him for a walk in the front pack so Molly could get some work done. She agreed, so we departed on a good exercise walk. I sang and jostled him to keep him awake, since I knew she preferred that he sleep in his crib.

On the return trip, Edward fell asleep. It’s warm and cozy in there – who wouldn’t doze off? Nevertheless, I was in trouble. “I thought we had an understanding about keeping him awake,” was how she put it. My interpretation was that by agreeing to let me take him in the front pack, she was agreeing to let him fall asleep, since it always happened.

So I’m not a perfect stand-in. I take my lumps with humility. It is a small price to pay for being closer to my daughter than I had been in the previous decade or more, and for being part of my grandchildren’s lives. Plus, I drive home after a couple of days, newly appreciative of my own independent life.

Molly texted a few hours after the disastrous naptime to say the afternoon went much better. I was glad to hear it, but I hadn’t worried. I had the satisfaction of knowing that I raised a great daughter who has become a caring mother. If, after three years straight of pregnancy and nursing, she can handle the tears of a terrorizing two-year old, she can handle anything. The Captain and Tennille sang it well, “Love will keep [them] together.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of all flavors!

Special thanks to our dear friend Allison St. Claire and Senior Wire Story provided by — SENIOR WIRE

Whoops, I forgot all about Grandparent’s Day. You know, it’s one of those well-intentioned but essentially commercial celebrations. It comes in September every year.

Some people think it’s a great idea. And from one point of view it may well be. Namely, the 6.2 million grandparents whose grandchildren under age 18 live with them — or did in 2007, according to statistics gathered by the American Community Survey.

Jimmy Carter, when he was president, signed the first Grandparents Presidential Proclamation in 1978. A proclamation has been issued every year since.

That was before most of today’s seniors were grandparents. But currently many of us are. It may be hard to accept how the rush of time has made us grandparents. It seems so recently when my oldest granddaughter was born, and now, mysteriously, she is in her last year of college. Even my youngest, my grandson, is a four-letter man in high school football.

None of my grandchildren lives with us. They visit on occasion. And for many grandparents that’s enough. But 2.5 million grandparents in 2007 were responsible for most of the basic needs — food, shelter, clothes — of one or more of the grandchildren who lived with them. These grandparents represented approximately 40 percent of all grandparents whose grandchildren lived with them. Of these senior caregivers, 1.6 million were grandmothers, and 932,000 were grandfathers.

“The best babysitters, of course, are the baby’s grandparents. You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to them for long periods,” commented Dave Barry, “which is why most grandparents flee to Florida.”

About 1.8 million of the grandparent-caregivers in the 2007 year tabulated were married. Grandparents who are in the work force and also responsible for most of the basis needs of their grandchildren totaled 1.5 million.

Erma Bombeck said: “A grandmother is someone who pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”

Many seniors who are grandparents  – 930,000 of them – have been taking care of their grand-kids for at least the past five years. There even are quite a few grandparents who are very poor who have the care of their grandchildren. Some 420,000 of them were below the poverty line. The data didn’t tell the reasons. But one could guess at reasons, ranging from broken homes, to deaths of parents to even irresponsibility, any of which could be involved.

Bill Cosby said: “Grandparents are God’s gift to children.”

Even some 720,000 grandparents with disabilities are caring for their grandchildren.

Rudy Giuliani said: “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance — unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, lessons in life, and cookies.”

The median income for families with grandparent-caregiver households was $44,469, according to Census Bureau figures. If a parent of the grandchildren was not present at all, the median income of the household dropped to $33,453.

Margaret Mead said: “Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.”

Among the grandparent who were taking care of their grand-kids in 2007, some 71 percent living in homes that they owned.

Ogden Nash said: “When grandparents enter the door, discipline flies out the window.”

A bit more current information comes from the data from “Families and Living Arrangement: 2008.” It’s part of the Census Bureau’s forest of facts and figures. The source says 6.6 million kids lived with their grandparents. That’s nearly one in ten children in the whole country.

Rita Rudner advised: “Have children while your parents are still young enough to take care of them.”

Some 2.6 million of these youngsters lived with both a grandfather and a grandmother in 2008. Among children younger than age 5 whose mothers worked outside the home, 30 percent were cared for by a grandparent on a regular basis during the mother’s working hours away from home.

Some anonymous quotes:

“There’s no place like home except grandma’s.”

“Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.”

“Grandma’s kitchen. Kids eat free.”

“Grandpas always have time for you, when everyone else is too busy.”

“Unconditional positive regard is rarely given by anyone except a grandparent.”

“I have a warm feeling when playing with my grandchildren. It’s the liniment working.”

“A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance.”

Jewish expression: “One of life’s greatest mysteries is how the boy who wasn’t good enough to marry your daughter can be the father of the smartest grandchild in the world.”     

Special thanks to our dear friend Allison St. Claire and Senior Wire Story provided by — SENIOR WIRE

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