Hurray for Outdoor Play!

At the beginning of May each year, a dear, sweet friend, the kind who would sacrifice anything for her family and comrades, calls me with an off-color poem about May and warm weather. It’s the perfect reminder that winter really is behind us and just another reason that I look forward to May.

This past winter has been particularly harsh in the Midwest. Almost daily snow flurries (and often more than flurries) and wind chills in the 30 below range have kept me inside with the grandkids on babysitting days. Now, it’s May!

Now, we can go to the playground. We can run around in our backyards. I can teach them how to plant their own little flower pots. It doesn’t take ten minutes to dress up before we can step outside. I’m not rubbing chilled hands and wiping dripping noses as soon as we step back into the house. We can walk to the library, to lunch, to classes and enjoy the sounds and scenery along the way. The world opens up again in May.

I still like winter. But, by March, I’m pretty tired of snow and ice. That’s why I’m holding on to my newest book, Do You Like Snow?, until we’re in the throes of heat and humidity and are looking forward to snowmen again. So, until you have a new read from Slow Tag Press, get outside and revel in spring. It’s May!

Kids' Birthday Parties Are...For the Kids?

I have three grandchildren born in April. That’s three opportunities this month to celebrate. The question remains, how much do kids appreciate the parties we adults throw for them? For them or for us?

I’ve been invited to first birthdays in backyards with inflatable, wading pools and rocks to hold down the skittering napkins and plates. The kids had a ball and the cake was great. I’ve attended toddler parties in restaurants where adults far out-numbered the kids. What kids were there were hard to contain…and the cake was great. I’ve been to commercial birthday venues with endless places for kids to run and not enough places for adults to sit. The kids wore themselves out and never got to the cake. Too bad for them...the cake was great. Each party was a success.

It’s not a new phenomenon that kids’ parties have become showcases for their parents’ inventiveness. It’s not new that parties are held outside the home. I threw our daughter costume themed parties, always at home. Our son preferred playgrounds or museums or any place different than his everyday digs. But, when they’re little, do they really care?

Hats off to my children. They haven’t overwhelmed their infants and toddlers with too many gifts, too many people, too many lights, too much music. The babies have been perfectly content to lick frosting and play with wrapping paper (usually a much bigger hit than whatever was inside). But, now some of my grandkids aren’t babies any more. Do they want something more elaborate – or do we?

When I was young, the centerpiece of my birthday party was always my Aunt Ida’s buttermilk chocolate cake with mint icing and shaved chocolate on top. I really didn’t care where the party was as long as the cake was great. I suspect my grandchildren feel the same way.

Grandmothers Used to Be Old

Both of my grandmothers always had white hair. They both always wore sensible shoes. They both always smelled like soft, spring flowers and sat quietly in straight backed chairs. A generation later, when my mother (who had bleached hair and wore high heels and lots of make-up) came to visit, the neighborhood kids didn’t believe my children when they said that, yes, she was their grandmother. Now, I am a raucous, adventurous granny. I think, as a subset of parents, we grandmothers just keep getting younger.

I work out five days a week. Got to keep in shape to chase, hoist and cuddle those giggling, squirmy babies. I try (usually) to eat a moderate, healthy diet. Can’t have sugar swings and fall asleep on the couch when it’s time to go to the park. My grandchildren hardly ever see me in dressy clothes. What fun would it be if I couldn’t color and build and roll around on the floor with them?

This month I turn 65. In anticipation of that momentous occasion, I attended a Medicare seminar. The room was filled with “old people.” I felt out-of-place (though I suspect that I actually fit right in). Sixty-five used to be so old. I’m not old! I’m a grandmother and that requires energy galore.

Thank you, James and Dellie and Leo and Kate for the 65th birthday present of youth and delight!

What's Your Kind of Valentine?

I wrote myself a reminder for the February blog post. It says only “treacly Valentine.” What did I mean? Are sweet cards too warm and fuzzy? Should Valentines be tart and sarcastic? Exactly what was this cryptic message supposed to prompt me to write?

I know for sure that I do not like over sentimentality. That may come as a surprise to my family as they’ve watched me tear up at sappy commercials for years. Yup, thirty seconds of schmaltz can have me lunging for the tissues. But, too much sugar and spice often hide the real feelings behind relationships.

I like my romance sprinkled with a healthy dose of teasing – not quite cynicism but certainly good natured banter. I like my books and characters that way, too. But, tongue-in-cheek is not for everyone. Some people can dish it out but not take it. Others would prefer no mocking at all.

This February, I wish you romance in whatever form you find it. Share your particular brand of love with your family, with your friends, with all those grand babies. There can never be too much tenderness and true affection in the world. Happy Valentine’s Day from Slow Tag Press to all of you!

A New Year with No Mistakes in It

Books provide infinite delights – adventure, romance, distraction from the mundane or the upsetting. They expand our cultural, geographical, emotional horizons. They offer hope and, sometimes, despair. Books are central to discussions with your grandchildren as well as with your book group. They let you see what you can be and what you already are.

I write and publish children’s books. Just because this is a genre focused on young readers doesn’t make it any less valuable for all the reasons listed above. Every dedicated reader has at least one childhood or young adult title in her list of favorites. And, most of us go back to those old friends again and again over the years. Sometimes we revisit them for comfort, sometimes for inspiration.

In this new year, I am reminded of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. My mantra for 2019 will be “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.” Every morning is a fresh chance to meet challenges and forgive errors (yours and others’). I will wake up each day knowing that I have another opportunity to be my best self.

And, my best self will keep reading. Your best self should, too.

Dear Amazon

Dear Santa,

This year I have been really, really good. I have done my chores, studied for most of my spelling tests and even been nice to my little brother. I hope that means you have a bunch of toys for me.

My dad helped me go online to choose exactly what I want. You can go to Amazon.com to see my wish list. I picked colors and stock code numbers to help you out. Don’t worry if the elves are running late. My parents have a Prime membership so you can log on at the last minute and still get these to me by Christmas morning. I see Amazon vans on our street all the time, But, I’ve never seen an Amazon sled pulled by reindeer (or by dogs). Even Amazon might have a hard time delivering to the North Pole. So, maybe you’d better just send the toys to me directly. I know you have a lot to do this time of year, so I hope this helps you out. 

Please wish Mrs. Claus a happy holiday from me.

Love, your friend and Amazon member Herbert

P.S. My mom and I ordered these cookies from Amazon, too.

Family Homes

Thanksgiving kicks off the “family season” and I love it!

All my grandkids (and their parents, of course) are under one roof – mine! There is noise, new aromas (some of the less pleasant ones emanating from the infants), new and old traditions. This is the time of year when anyone who arrived in the past 12 months makes his or her family debut.

But, this will be the first year in a while without four generations. We have new grandchildren to introduce but are missing my father-in-law. He will be a topic of conversation, of funny memories and old photos. Should I still serve pumpkin pie in his honor? He was the only one who really enjoyed it. Is it a sacrosanct tradition or should we start making new ones? Maybe we can do both.

We eat our holiday dinners in rooms filled with old family photos. On our walls, there are 100 framed pictures in black and white and sepia going back more than a century. Each season, we look at them with new stories and new reverence. We never really miss our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents because they’re right there with us.

Family is central to our celebrations. I am thankful that this year, we have two new people to initiate into the fold.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Singing along to the car radio is often a very, very creative experience. I sing what I hear (which is not always what the songwriter wrote). Years later, I suddenly hear the proper lyrics and realize how much more sense they make then what I’ve been belting out.

Kids learn to sing the same way, just by listening. They can be loud or whispery. They can be dramatic or hide behind you as they sing. But, sing they do because so much of childhood is brought to us with a musical accompaniment.

My cousin used to think that “My Country Tis of Thee” had a line that read “Land where the Pilgrims fried.” Yummy!! My granddaughter sings “Twinkle Twinkle” in a language only she can understand. My grandson watches his dad and sings one beat behind, trying to mimic the words.

I sing a Yiddish lullaby to my newest grandson. I actually looked up the words so I got them right. Who knows what he’s actually hearing? But, at least his great-great-grandmother’s legacy lives on.

Sing to and sing with your grandchildren. They will love it. You will love it. It’s just another joyous moment you can share with them – regardless of the words!

 

March to Your Own Drum

Have you ever wondered if the color you identify as red is exactly the same as the color your neighbor calls red? Does he see your red, juicy apple in a shade you would call purple? The world is a different place to every one of us because every one of us is unique.

Children these days begin school at a very early age. Whether it’s infant day care or summer camp, the hours are structured to include developmental enhancements. Each child is getting the same stimuli and training, But, each absorbs it differently. Even the youngest preschoolers bring their outside experiences into the classroom and vice versa. Not everyone learns the same way. Not everyone applies that knowledge to the same tasks in the same order.

As a grandparent, you have the perfect opportunity to foster uniqueness. Your time is usually spent playing and introducing your grandchildren to family traditions and activities. You’re rarely the disciplined teacher. Use your time to cherish each child’s personal approach to the world. Encourage his inventiveness. Praise her individuality.

Don’t expect these littlest humans to march to your drum. Instead, be delighted that they hear a rhythm all their own.

Sharing

“My turn” is a favorite phrase of my grandchildren. I’m sure they learned it at preschool where it really means something. At home, where they are the only ones playing with their toys, its significance gets a bit skewed.

Sharing is hard. As a hostess, I’m always tempted to save the cake with the most frosting for myself – definitely not good sharing modeling. It’s easier to share Brussels sprouts and ocher colored crayons. But, sharing your favorite dress, hoping it comes back clean and usable, that’s a leap of faith. No wonder your grandson doesn’t want to let his new neighbor play with his bright red locomotive.

When I’m playing with the grandkids, I ask when it will be my turn. That way, I always get a turn, eventually. If I hadn’t asked, would I get one? Sometimes. Sharing isn’t instinctive. It’s an acquired skill. So few of us share unconditionally. We should remember that taking turns is learned and relearned by everyone all the time.

Be patient (another acquired skill on which I’m still working). If you insist on taking turns, sharing will slowly become more automatic. It’s just another life lesson…and another reason to get down on the floor and play with your grandchildren.