Monday, December 27, 2010

A Frame of Mind

Countdown to 'back to school'. The anticipation of decorating the tree, opening packages, stuffing ourselves like a Thanksgiving turkey are behind us now we look at the days until school starts up again.

Tomorrow I will be back with the girls again. They had three Christmases with presents to open. One more will happen next weekend. Hm. I remember the day after Christmas when my children were tired and cranky. Nothing more was to be anticipated. It was all behind us. The words inevitably find their way out of a child's mouth post Christmas, "I'm bored."

I don't remember being bored. We never got much for Christmas. Maybe that is the ticket. Don't overwhelm the child. Well, we know that's not going to happen.

Boredom. I believe boredom to be born of parents buying entertainment for their children. Children don't know how to live with boredom. To savor the feeling of lying in the grass with the sun on your face and nothing in the world sitting on the edge of the mind waiting to entertain. My mind was my entertainment. Listening to my records for hours. Rollerskating around a ping pong table, sitting at the piano. I don't remember boredom as a child. I guess I don't know as an adult either.

The TV, Wii and X-Box become the babysitters. New books sit in a pile gathering dust. God help us if the TV goes out!!!!

I'm not condemning anyone for purchasing video games or allowing their children to watch TV. But I do think that maybe our kids are growing up expecting instant gratification. Maybe handling boredom is a skill that needs to be taught. I sometimes wonder if this generation will have more problems with marriages and jobs finding change and excitement, self-satisfaction more to their liking then dedication and persistence.

Yes, I'm old fashion. Growing up in my home on the farm involved sitting at the card table with family putting a puzzle together. All of us around the piano singing carols. Chatting around the kitchen table visiting for hours. In my opinion, we have lost something. We have lost connection with one another.

My son has often commented that the people he knows don't ask about what is happening in his life. Yesterday a friend visiting shared the same. What is it we are doing wrong? Why don't we care enough to ask about others instead of talking about ourselves and our families? Have we forgotten to care? Are the skills of listening gone? 

Maybe conversation around the kitchen table, cooking in the kitchen together, sharing chores teaches us to care for and appreciate one another more. Even playing the games together is important, but there is something to be said for a board game vs. a video game. A phone call versus a text message.

I notice on the days the girls and I spend around the table painting or the times we play school or practicing acting exercises, the girls don't seem to notice that the TV is off. Even when the playing is done, a new bond is in place, and we share the quieter time of the day. We take more of interest in one another. Sister seems happier to help sister. A change has taken place.

"Grammy, I'm bored," will be said by one of the girls this week. That's my signal. My signal to help them discover that boredom is only a frame of mind.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays

The packages are ready to be wrapped. The girls are home for two weeks. My life just got a little busier, so I am taking a break from my blogs until next week. Please come back and join me in conversation on December 28th.

Have a safe and wonderful celebration with your family and friends. Make memories with those wonderful grandchildren. Turn off the computer and enjoy the season. 'Tis the season....

Happy Holidays, my friends. Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Broken Ornament

A small hand reaches up for the first time to hang an ornament on the tree. Quickly the hand grabs for another. Momentum builds and soon ornaments are hanging in an area as tall and as wide as the child.

Adults grabbed glass ornaments hanging them above little hands. Memories hung where they can be seen over the holiday season remembering other days and other people. Little hands reach for the tree wanting to hang the ornaments again and again.
Occasionally, an ornament drops and breaks. Big eyes look up knowing that something bad has happened. Perhaps one of those precious pieces, perhaps one made by loving hands breaks beyond repair. A child learns. So does a parent. For all the love and memory of the pieces on the floor, the lesson to be realized takes priority. The child learns to handle with care. The adult learns that the ornaments are just things.

We have lost ornaments over the years. And, we have lost the people who gave them to us as well. A life may be gone, but the memory is not. The broken ornament offers special moments between parent and child. We pick up the pieces and smile, "I remember when....." Lessons for both.

Many of this older generation no long want to put up with the mess of a tree. It seems like a hassle to drag out the boxes and place the ornaments on the tree. Maybe the tree brings on thoughts of loneliness and separation. Maybe we pack away our childhood dreams and want to keep them in the box. Maybe too many things have been broken in our lives. Perhaps the body does not have the flexibility or ability to decorate a tree. The boxes remain unopened.

My ornaments will one day live with my children, my grandchildren. A history will be passed on. Perhaps another pair of small hands will hold them then place them on the tree.....all in one spot. I look at our tree and remember.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Memories

Microsoft decided to send a million (at least) updates to my computer this morning. Comcast and I worked it out, and my blog is late.

Singing Christmas Tree, The Nutcracker, Christmas programs at churches and schools, a wide variety of things to do over the holidays. Ways to add to Christmas memories.

I love the fantasy we got to experience with our children when they were young. I love the times we went sledding and built snowmen. I miss those moments we sat reading Christmas stories. The grandgirls are older, and the glow for them is fading.
In looking back over old pictures, I'm a little surprised that my daughter wasn't traumatized by the characters at the yearly Christmas breakfast. We tried to embraced every bit of the surprise and wonder. We worked hard to make those times happen with our children. For our children.

Years ago we took the girls to Alpenrose Dairy, to Christmas town. We walked the streets looking at the decorations and sat through the drama in the opera house. We rode in a horse drawn wagon sitting close together to keep warm. We make memories for our children, for our grandchildren and I think most of all for ourselves.

My children do not remember well the events when they were small. A glimpse might pass by when a memory is jarred. They do not remember the hug from Rudolph or a cookie from a big bear. But I remember every moment. Maybe I sell my children short. Maybe they don't have time to remember.
 
We didn't do much when I was a child, but I do remember a reindeer with a red nose. I wish there were pictures so I could remember more. Again, we hold the history.

Smile. You're a Christmas memory.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Remembering Pictures Colored With Crayon

My mother passed away ten years ago. Yesterday a friend reminded me of a post I wrote some time ago. It was written ten years ago on a cold December day back the lane on the farm on Neff Road. A piece not just for our family but an observation, a lesson learned from a woman who loved children. For you, Mom.

As you descended the stairway to the basement, you were surrounded by a gallery of art ranging from the simplest scratched lines of a toddler to the neatly colored pages of an older child. Even teens enjoyed a step back in time to color another page for the gallery they had visited in their younger years. Each page was a treasure to her. No piece was ever thrown away.

Eventually, each found its way into her coloring notebook. Saved for the child? I think not. I believe they were treasures from these children she loved. She understood that even a simple line was an effort to be recognized.

He stood alone at her casket with his arms at his sides. Connor was the youngest great grandchild before Sydney joined the pack. I knelt down to comfort him and saw the tears streaming down his face, dripping from his chin. I hugged him a moment before he disappeared into the "family" room where he stayed most of the day.

It was almost time to leave when I walked to the casket one more time. There atop the soft, cream coverlet laid a picture Connor had spent the day drawing for Grandma. Following his example, each of the great grandchildren lovingly drew a picture to accompany Mom on her journey. Sydney's consisted of a few scribbled lines and her hand print, a baby's signature.

My mother knew that even the simplest effort deserves recognition. Be it large or small, success or failure, between the lines or freestyle, it is worth praise.

We are a variety of people who dress differently, who think differently, who have different histories. We are each unique yet reside in the same notebook.

I looked at the flowers surrounding my mother and thought, "They should all have been pictures colored with crayon."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beneath The Stairs

So years ago my granddaughters began this love of the little room under the stairs.  Many times they are coat closets. Almost always they have a door to the crawl space on the floor. Now most people call that area a closet. But not so in our house. A closet might not be what it seems.

Years ago I lived in a house with a stairway with a landing. The closet under the stairs was huge. Coats lined the front of the closet, but when the coats were pulled back, a wonderful playhouse was revealed. The little ice cream parlor table and chairs sat in the corner with a small lamp on top to light the area. Pillows were tossed in a corner. Dolls sat ready for an evening meal. Stuffed toys and bins of toys waited for small hands. I'm sure that when the light was turned off and the door closed the closet came to magical life. It certainly did when the girls went in to play. The hours flew by when the girls pretended they lived in the little house beneath the stairs.

In my last home, Sydney found a space in the water heater closet where games and crafts were stored on a rack. It was a space only big enough to allow her to curl up with a pillow behind her back and a book in her hands. She claimed it as her space.

Syd and I were concerned that Gabby didn't have a space for herself since now she is sharing a room with Mom. We agreed that the coat closet just might be the perfect place. Mom bought a purple zebra striped blanket for the floor to cover the crawl space door. A pillow rest was placed in the corner. A bag of books, pencils and magazines, posters on the walls and ceiling and two battery operated wall lights finished off the space.

Gabby immediately fell in love with the closet as did her sister. Soon both were packed in the space giggling and enjoying the space away from adults.

Yesterday I popped my head into the closet to see if everything was indeed turned off. The girls had gone home with Dad. In the middle of the floor was a notebook with three words scribbled in large letters on it.

"Stacey, did you see what is on the floor?" I asked leaning out of the closet door.

"Uh huh. Wasn't sure what to make of it," she answered.

I picked up the note book: I Am Jeses.

Hm. Maybe that requires two. Hm. Hm.

"Does that say Jesus," I asked my daughter.

"Sorta looks like it," she answered.

That was precisely what I thought.

"So who wrote it," I inquired.

"Not sure," she answered.

The next day I asked both girls who had written the cryptic message. Both denied it. Now I can tell when my granddaughters are working their way around something. Not a glimmer of  "I really did do it" sparkled in either girls' eyes. Another Hm.

Stacey and I are still trying to figure out who wrote the message. Once in awhile I open the door wondering if another message would appear. Maybe I watch too much Harry Potter. We're pretty sure it didn't come from Sydney and have decided that it might not hurt to be really nice around Gabby.

The room under the stairs. Ah, a kids' paradise. Hm. Did I say paradise?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Regifting

I cannot walk in your shoes. I cannot know the thoughts in your mind, the history that follows you. I cannot reach back to that day you were born, share the joys and losses you have experienced since. I cannot know your hurt, your healing.

I cannot walk in your shoes. I cannot judge you for I do not know you. I cannot understand your thought process, your conclusions. I cannot understand your hunger or your pain. I do not know what it is to be rich or to be homeless. I have not lived in a war-torn country. I have not lived on a boat, on a mountain, in a cave. I do not know you. I cannot walk in your shoes.

The wipers beat a steady 'swish, swish'. The light was still red. 'Swish, swish'. "I cannot walk in your shoes." The words resonated over and over in my waiting brain. With each swish, the words came again. "I cannot walk in your shoes."

"Pam, you need to write about this," my damp brain told me. So here I am.

There are many quotes about walking in shoes, following behind to see where someone else has been, learning about others without judgment.

I cannot walk in your shoes. I do not know you. I cannot know your life. I have no right to judge. I cannot even totally understand those I love, my children, my grandchildren.

This is a season of giving. Maybe it's a season of forgiving. Sometimes it's not easy to toss aside a flair of anger or a unsolicited comment. Sometimes it's hard to let go of preconceived notions., beliefs. Through the eyes of a child. Listening in new ways. Embracing a world of faces and ideas that might be alien to what we know and accept.

The light finally turned green, and I was first to go. "I cannot walk in your shoes."

So I write. So I share. So I open myself up to new thoughts that might challenge, might just enlighten and most definitely delight.

I cannot walk in your shoes, but I can love with a love that is free, unhindered by judgment and one that can be regifted. If everyone could take just one day to love everyone they meet, the world would change. One day could make a lifetime of anger disappear and the red light turned green.

I cannot walk in your shoes, but I can give you the gift of love.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Two Peas in a Pod

Reindeer by Gabby
They hear. We may not think so, but they do. They may not have the words to express it or the outlet to do so, but there is a little place they store it. They hear. They really do.

I know about this first hand. My sister, June, was my parents pride and joy. Whenever my parents met up with friends, my sister was the daughter they talked about. It wasn't her fault. My parents had spent two years taking care of my sister bedfast with rheumatic fever. That she recovered was a miracle. So, she deserved to be the favorite. Not to say she isn't talented. My sister is fantastic. She's smart, artistic and fun. But this isn't about my sister. This is about how children perceive that differential treatment.

Recently, a mother told me that it was natural to feel closer to one child. The mother was my daughter. The anger I had felt all my life surfaced. Then I stepped back and thought about it. Had I done this to my child?
By Sydney

My son and I have a great deal in common. We both love music and theatre. We both are observers and writers. So did that commonality cause my daughter to feel outside of that bond?

From birth on, my daughter had preferred her daddy's arms. For a first mom, it hurt. We were alone in Wisconsin, away from family. I needed to have that love from my daughter. I had the same bond with my daddy and wonder now if my mother had felt left out. Despite the efforts to build that relationship, my daughter saw it differently. Now we struggle to know one another.

By Gabby
I've learned a lesson late and want more for my little girls. With my granddaughters, I try to have one on one time making each the target of my attention. They are so different. Gabby is a whirlwind of energy. Her focus time is limited. She sees everything around her and reacts. She is positive and leaves joy in her wake. Sydney is creative and artistic. Everyone loves her for her kind heart and wit. Two different peas in the same pod.

Gabby often hears: "Don't run. Gabby, a little quieter, please. Gabby, what are you doing? Oh, Gabby.....". A bundle of energy.

We sit at the craft table. Sydney paints to perfection. Gabby paints with gusto. One has precise, beautiful art. The other has pure delight in the feel of the brush which reflects in the wonderful pictures she paints and draws. It is easy to ooh and aah over Sydney's pictures. Gabby's make me laugh. Each gifted with talent.

By Sydney
We grandparents have an 'evening' task. We have the ability to help each child find their own voice. We can give them self confidence and pride. We can perhaps empty those little areas where children keep the stray comments and actions that hurt.

By Gabby
A friend has two daughters. One is in gymnastics and pretty as a picture. The other child is has struggled with health and gets the hand-me-downs. When asked what she does (since her sister is deep into gymnastics), the little girl answers that she can't do anything because they don't have the money. The dark areas fill quickly when you are a child. The inequality whether imagined or not becomes a base that separates.

I am an adult who can look at her own past and understand. My sister and I are very close. I absolutely adore her.

We are the grandparents. We are the weights who can balance the differences and make it better. Two peas in a pod.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Tattered Pattern

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The stockings hung at our chimney were made with much love and care.

In the '80's Family Circle advertised what would be considered now as folk art, needlepoint stockings. I sent for the pattern that came with the outline of the stockings as well as the pieces to create names and designs. Hour after hour I toiled over the stockings wanting them to be just right for my children.

Not long after I took up the needle and pattern again to make stockings for my niece and grandniece. Each stocking takes hours to make. Eagerly I filled the finished stockings and sent them to the farm for my niece to open on Christmas Day. Dad misplaced the gifts from me so later sent the package on to Jobi in Indiana. She was at work when the gifts were delivered then stolen off her doorstep.

Years later I would again make stockings for her and her family of six. Other stockings would follow for me and my husband. Hour upon hour of stitching. Soon my hands were aching from the repetitive work.

Two granddaughters were born to the family. By now I had begun to create my own designs making each stocking different and more personal.

My hands will no longer do needlepoint. I keep hoping someone in the family will want to continue the homemade stockings. I would love to see a tradition move forward.

Yes, names are on the stockings. Unless someone comes along with the same name, the stockings will be just pieces of the past.

 For another year, they hang with care from a Grandma who hopes Santa soon will be here.

The tattered pattern waits.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Potential Elf

Toys. Christmas. Toys.

I'm struggling with toys. I'm struggling with the price of toys. I'm struggling with the types of toys being hyped in the media. Toys.

Last night Gabby and I play Balloon Lagoon. The game has been on the game shelf for several years. One of our favorites is suitable for children five and up. Adults enjoy it as much as the kids. So, I write to my sister and tell her about the game. She has two small grandsons who would love it. Before I wrote, I decided to check out the price on Amazon. $115!!!!!!!! I don't know what the price was when my granddaughters' game was purchased, but I know that no one in the family would pay that much for a game!

I decided to go online to see what else I could find for over $100: a small, wooden doll house; a small toy piano; a wooden rail and road set; a pony that can have it's hair braided and gems glue to it. What is going on?  Why is fun so expensive????

Surprisingly, little wooden toys made to encourage the child's mind, those made from Mother Earth herself, are equally expensive.

When I grew up, we had just a few things in the bottom of a stocking. One Christmas I received a small celluloid doll that walked across a table top when a weighted string was dropped over the edge of a table. I decided to look up antique toys from that period during the 50's to see what my little plastic toy was worth. The only toy coming close to the little doll was worth $49. At the time, it couldn't have been worth more than a dollar or two.

Considering the above, I predict that by the time my granddaughters are in their later years, this game we played last night will be worth a few thousand dollars. Well, maybe not. Makes one wonder, doesn't it. Are toys only for the rich and used toys for the rest of us? Are we, the adults, allowing this to happen because we break the bank trying to buy the toys? Maybe we should go back to the button on a string.

Well, if I still had the old tinker toys and tin top that spun when you pushed the pump top, the Tiny Tears dolls that cried real tears, my old wooden Duncan yoyo, wooden blocks that had grooves that fit together and the old Cootie game, I could sell them and buy a toy for a child.

Hundreds of dollar for Santa to make it down the chimney granting the wishes of children, children who will not know any better just like I didn't.

I like to believe elves make those gifts that ride in that big red bag.Their wages must be pretty good based on toy prices. I'm short. Maybe I could get a job at the North Pole.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Silver and Gold

Ha! I'll bet you think this is about Christmas. Not so. This is about changes. About embracing changes. And, a little bit about being afraid of change.

Last Friday I met up with a couple of guys I worked with several years ago. Usually, the group of friends numbers more with spouses and other friends in attendance, but this night only three of us were available for happy hour. It had been awhile since we had last met up.

"I really like your hair," Phil said. "It looks lighter."

Hm. That could be because it is lighter.

Several months ago I decided to let my hair go 'natural'. No more coloring. No more chasing the white and grey. My blond was going to be of another time, another age. I was tired of chemicals on my head. I was tired of trying to look younger than my sixty-three years. Why not embrace the original me?

This growing out of hair is a bit of an adventure. Off and on over the years, I highlighted my hair. My dirty blond was brightened with tiny streaks of light blond. I was aging and didn't really know it. Then one day I noticed that I was getting highlights that I hadn't added. White was finding its way around my face. I was actually turning into a grandma!!!!

So, like so many other women, I began chasing the white. I noticed that I had more highlights than natural color. Hm. I could no longer tell what was my natural color and what was not.

Tightening my belt financially had me looking more closely at what was important in my life and what was not. I spent more time looking in the mirror trying to imagine myself with the natural color....whatever that was. I noticed that I no longer needed to highlight the top portion of hair. White was invading and blond was retreating. So after weeks of wondering, I made the decision. No more coloring my hair. No more sharing my life with my hairdresser. No more paying to look younger. I decided to embrace my age and my new natural color.

Many months have passed since my hair was last colored. I do not have grow out. As the blond fades, the white takes over. A little grey gives it a bit of depth. I don't look in the mirror as much preferring not to think about it. So I am embracing this adventure. Who needs a mirror when you get great feedback.

"Wow, I really like it," Phil added.

Hey, so do I.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gifts: Day Three


Gifts of their hands. We are on day three of our 25 Days of Christmas. It is Gabby’s turn to hand out the ornament today. The girls have been a bit tentative as they are every year. Walking up to someone and handing them a gift is always an unknown. We have had two situations that were a bit odd. One man gave the girls a penny. Another woman just pushed the girls away. All learning experiences.
The girls require adult supervision. We talk about each experience. Many times an adult will ask about our gift giving. The stories we receive from these people make it all worthwhile. The smiles, the words of thanks, the surprised looks. Soon the girls will find their strides and wish they had made more ornaments.
I love the gifts the girls hand out. They are each a work of art, a piece of the child’s creativity. The time preparing for the holidays if full of wonderful grandma time with granddaughters. Even if we kept every ornament, I wouldn’t miss the time we spend together in preparation.
I will keep you posted on our progress. I hope you think about doing this with your family some year. You will understand why the 25 Days of Christmas are so important.
This blog is short today. I have written a special blog on www.neffroad.com.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We Were The Winners

The chairs were empty but for a few. There was no line around the raffle table. The bookstore was not teeming with people. 'Tis the season?

Yesterday Gabby handed out the first ornament of our 25 Days of Christmas. She gave it to the school librarian who stood behind the raffle table at Powell's Books. Usually we pass out the ornaments to strangers, but this was an exception. Miss Adams was thrilled.

Last night was a school fund raiser. A portion of the sell of books would go to the school by the requesting customer-parents. In the middle of the store was a seating area where elementary school students read books aloud. A raffle table was set up full of wonderful baskets donated by local businesses. Where were the parents?

We stayed at the store for well over and hour and a half roaming the aisles of our favorite store. Gabby picked out books and read them to me. We played with puppets. Sydney went off with a friend to look at books for older kids. Where were the other parents and students? Where was the show of support for the school?

I sat with my granddaughters listening to their friends read. Applause erupted each time a story was finished. One or two other adults sat down to listen. I only saw three people from the school staff in attendance. Where were the people who support these children?

We don't have much. It is a tight year in our home as it is for many people. Still I gave the girls a few dollars to purchase one raffle ticket each. Not much financial support, but I felt it important that the girls know we were supporting the school. Sydney went right for the Polar Express package hoping to get an outing for her family. Gabby went for a jewelry package hoping to win a gift for her mother.

Fewer and fewer people seem to be attending these fundraisers. I thought this was a great one since people could come in to buy books as Christmas gifts. Instead fundraisers that fill kids with pizza and make parents poor playing games are put to the forefront.

I know that working parents have trouble making it to these events, but where are the grandparents or other extended family? We can do it. Lunch with my granddaughters at school, attending their class parties and special events, picking up the girls from school, have all given me a connection with them and the people in their school. True, not all grandparents live near their grandchildren, but that shouldn't stop you, Grandparents. Ask about the fundraisers at the school. Send money to support the event. Send it in a card that lets your grandchild know that you aren't just sending money....you care.

We didn't win anything at the raffle. We did show up to show our support. We gave out the first ornament of December. We sat and listened to delightful stories told by children learning speak before an audience. We had a great time sharing books. We were the winners last night.