He’s Being Eight..

eightI’m very fortunate to have extensive experience facilitating parenting education groups as well as many years working in a social service agency. Both of these situations have afforded me wonderful resources in terms of access to people who work with children and have a wealth of knowledge around child development issues. It’s a resource I’ve tapped multiple times over the years.
With all this knowledge and resources at my fingertips, one would think I’d have a handle on just about any situation that arises when one is parenting a child.
Wrong. I don’t.
Case in point. The GrandPrince (grandson approaching eight years old in a few weeks) recently was behaving in a manner that was, well, not himself. He was flippant, a bit combative, sulky and challenged almost every statement or decision I made insisting on knowing the ‘why’ of each one and loudly voicing his reasons as to why it should or should not happen.
Now I have a pretty democratic parenting style. I know not to get pulled into power struggles, the importance of giving choices, when to set boundaries and limits and respecting a child’s feelings. But this kid was pushing my buttons big time!
I talked to the Spouse about the GP’s behavior and he was as stumped as I was. It was simply out of character for him. The light bulb went off for both of us at the same time.
He must have some dormant feelings he’s not dealing with about his adoption/living situation/mother/sister/not having a traditional family, etc, etc. You name it, we came up with it. We immediately put our head’s together to determine a strategy that would help to narrow down what could be bothering our grandson and how best to support him and encourage him to share his feelings with us.
Given my access to the above mentioned resources, I spoke to a dear friend who happens to be a fabulous social worker with a number of years in the field working with children and families. I listed all the behaviors and the possibilities for this acting out that had changed our usual compliant, good natured grandson into an irritating, restless, sullen stranger. She listened quite attentively, nodding appropriately and then sat back a minute before replying.
“I can see how upsetting this is for you, and how perplexing too. Have you thought that perhaps he’s just being an eight year old?”
I blinked. And blinked again. I was complicating things by overlooking the simplicity of them. I dug out some child development books and lo and behold I could have inserted his name right under “Your Eight Year Old’s Social/Emotional Development”.
My point in all this is, as grandparents raising our grandchildren we are at times hell bent, I believe, to make life as ‘normal’ as possible for them to make up for what they don’t have; that traditional Mom and Dad who are age appropriate and are just like the parents of all their friends.
Truth is, we’re not a traditional family, but we *are* a family. A loving, caring, nurturing, supportive family. And yes, our circumstances are different from the traditional families on the block and with that comes, at times, issues that must be addressed, questions answered, feelings expressed and dealt with. But most of the time, we’re just like everyone else who’s raising a child and trying to do the best they can to help that child grow to be a happy, confident, loving, caring human being.
It’s not always about the differences, sometimes it’s just about being eight. Happy Birthday, kiddo.

Happy Friday
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Until Death Do We Part…or whoever gets most of the blanket.

The Spouse and I are coming up to our 31st wedding anniversary this June.  A quiet weekend away alone will be our celebration. Nothing glitzy. We’re blessed to have a condo in the mountains for family getaways and we don’t get there often enough, but I’ve booked that weekend early. For a couple to be married more than 30 years seems to be quite a feat these days; at least the reactions I receive when the topic comes up give merit to that statement.  I suppose in retrospect it is pretty amazing to have lived, loved, fought, argued, cried, laughed, nurtured, supported and shared the same bathroom with one person all those years. And sharing a bathroom takes great compromise and patience. There are no secrets I’m aware of that can guarantee a long happy marriage, or any other relationship for that matter. I do know that communication is key.

Dr. John Gray authored a wonderful book titled “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” and it’s pages are dog eared now in our house. The Spouse thumbs through it often, which makes me smile because I know he’s seeing the truth of some of Dr Grays theory and rolling his eyes at the rest. Either way, it’s caused us both to pause when we’re having discussions or muddling through our frustrations as to why the other just doesn’t get what we’re saying when it’s so very obvious!

To sum things up, ongoing communication is vital. Open, honest, heartfelt sharing of feelings brings any relationship to a more intimate and bonded level. Learning what your communication styles are and prioritizing your marriage, committing to grow together to insure understanding and empathy for each others feelings will be the best foundation you can lay to have the joy of looking back over, oh say..30 years.

And not hogging the blankets is second on the priority list!

Happy Saturday!

Grandparents Day is Every Day


The second Sunday of each September is Grandparents Day. A day to celebrate the special bond and role that grandparents hold in the tapestry called family. For some of us that celebration takes on a new and different meaning each day the sun rises. We are custodial caretakers of our grandchildren.

Raising a grandchild is hardly an enigma these days. It’s an unfortunate, stark reality. Unfortunate in that, for a myriad of reasons, children have to leave their parent’s care, most times under duress, tears and confusion and move in with their grandparents or other kinship caretakers. Drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, domestic violence are but some of the reasons a grandparent may suddenly be thrust into the position of taking their child’s child to avoid the alternative; foster care. I’ve yet to meet a grandparent, when faced with the choice, chooses the alternative. Those that do, I can only imagine, may live with anguish, guilt and fear after making the decision to place a child of their heart into a bureaucratic foster care system. I do not envy them nor pass judgment upon them.

There are approximately 3.7 million children in the U.S being raised by grandparents according to the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, a 30 percent jump since 1990. Grandparents finding themselves in a care giving role once more are often unaware of any available resources in their state to support them and their grandchildren as they adjust to their new lifestyles. It can be a tough road alone and at a stage in your life you hadn’t planned on.

The word adjustment seems a little meager to me. Just when you started to plan a life for yourself and your spouse; just as the nest started feeling so much less empty and ever more filled with the dreams and plans envisioned decades prior. Often without warning you find yourself in the midst of a crisis with your child AND your grandchild at center stage. You become the entire supporting cast.

As the dust settles and the day to day routines are established in your new roles, the emotions unravel from that safe knot you’ve tied them in so deep within the pit of your stomach.
Anger and hurt at your own child for not living up to the dream of the person you had hoped would grow to become a responsible adult and parent.
Bitterness and resentment at a system that does not provide enough of anything for grandparents and families willing to take a child that might well have been placed on the backs of the state’s taxpayers.
Sorrow and grief for the life you had mapped out in that long awaited unspoken reward when the children you bore left to make a life of their own and you got one too.
Anxiety and worry over the financial, emotional and physical demands embodied in raising another human being at an age when mind, body and spirit are no longer energizer bunny ready.

Each emotion is true and real and so very normal. That’s the hard part, the acceptance of it all. The passage of time helps. Reaching out to family and friends is a must. Finding the community resources available to you is essential. Coming to the realization that life doesn’t always agree with your plan, no matter how well you orchestrated everything you could for the desired outcome, is crucial.

We made a choice to embrace this child and give him what our child could not. There’s not enough time or where with all to wallow in the sea of emotion that seems, at times, to drag us under. He deserves better from us. And the joy he brings to our home and family is immeasurable. He brings with him a life gift unexpected but full of new hopes, new dreams and unending possibilities.

Friends or acquaintances who learn of our second round parenting say we have a place awaiting in heaven for doing what they think they never could.
My usual reply is very simple.
“We are all ready very blessed in too many ways to list. We didn’t do this for a reservation in heaven. The big Guy sorta knew the outcome of this one before we did.”

And then I ask, “If it were your grandchild (insert name here), wouldn’t you do the same?”

I almost always get a thoughtful pause, a nod and gentle knowing smile in return.

Happy Grandparents Day…everyday!

School Days


Despite the summer temperatures, my brain whispers “Fall”. Why? Because it’s September and back to school time. I still get those pre school butterflies as memories of sweaters, new shoes and backpacks find themselves occupying my mind. My grandson (a.k.a. the Grand Prince) began his third year at our neighborhood elementary school last week. I believe we were both ready for him to begin, having crammed in vacations, educational day trips, play dates, numerous barbecues with family and friends, a few birthday parties, pool parties and a smattering of lazy, couch potato days, the latter of which was deemed a necessity by moi simply to take a breath; all between mid June and August 31st. Whew! No wonder we were starving for a little structure and schedules!

Returning to school takes some preparation, even for the ‘seasoned’ parent and child. There will be new clothes, shoes, backpacks and lunch boxes to buy. Perhaps finishing up that last book on the summer reading list and reorganizing the child’s desk to reflect the transition from ‘catch all’ to workspace. This is also a good time to sort through your child’s summer or fall clothes and deliver the no-way-this-fits-pile to your local consignment shop.

School supplies must fit into your budget as well. Teachers will usually send home a welcome letter to their students with a list of needed supplies as well as any donations much needed and appreciated for the classroom. For your older children, it’s best to wait until school begins to accommodate the requirements of more than one teacher. The Marilyn Manson or High School Musical three ring binder your child just had to have would be frowned upon when a plain white one was required.

Those lazy days of summer when sleeping past the alarm wasn’t a worry is now a very big deal. We all relax our schedules over the summer break and getting back on track for the fall transition can be a bit of a struggle. I always begin a good week to ten days before the official start of school by regulating bedtime. As with any new routine it’s not always well received, however, simply talking about the need for rest and the exciting new year ahead prepares children and allows them the ‘buy in’. I give the Grand Prince a little wiggle room with bedtime (“okay bud, you choose. 7:45? or 8:00?) I know, it’s a no brainer and he’s only 7 and can tell time but the key is HE gets to choose instead of me or the Spouse dictating a time.

The same goes for setting the morning alarm. Give yourself and your child the time you need in the mornings for breakfast, personal hygiene routines, dressing etc.
It’s crucial if, like me, you’re simply not a morning person or you can’t form a complete sentence without three cups of coffee under your belt. The Grand Prince takes his shower the night prior, decides on the day’s attire, gets his backpack ready with paperwork and snacks and hung on the newel post while I set a place for breakfast. The less you have to squeeze into your morning, the smoother it goes for everyone.

And on that first day of school, provided your child’s not horrified at the idea of being seen with you as their friends look on, you can get a hug, a smile and a “see you after school!” as they exit the car and into the world of academia, happy and ready to meet the day.

Me Time

beach timeOne of the things I and most parents put aside is ‘me’ time. There’s always an excuse as to why we can’t read a book, go for a walk, exercise, take a night out, (a whole weekend!? forget it!) or simply pamper ourselves in whatever ways help us to relax. Yes we all know we should schedule time for ourselves; we all watch Oprah and Dr. Phil who herald the importance of taking care of ourselves first, make YOU a priority they say, but it’s the other shoulds that never cease whispering in our ear that keep us too busy.
Should clean that closet.
Should finish that yard work.
Should visit Aunt Sheila.
Should get the dog to the vet.
Should catch up on those emails!
We should ourselves into biting off way too much of the proverbial chore pie and usually end up cranky, irritable and tired; hungry for an hour of …nothing. And unfortunately our children and significant others sometimes bare the brunt of our good intentions.

With the shift into the Fall routine in our house, I claim Sunday afternoons. The morning is spent first with a later rise than usual, followed by time with the Grand Prince and a special breakfast of some sort. Fried dough brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. My doctor doesn’t read this blog so I toss cholesterol concerns to the wind. Next, we sort out the Sunday paper. Comics to the GP. Front page and sports to the Spouse and I begin with the North Weekly section. As the pre game hour of Sunday football begins around noon, my darling of a husband takes to the kitchen and simmers, roasts, bakes and stews the most delectable comfort foods to be enjoyed for supper that evening; all done in between quarters and during half time of the game. He cooks and cusses at Brady (always out of earshot of course) and does the male bonding thing of football fundamentals with the GP.

Meanwhile, I blissfully write, read, nap, email, play Rise of Atlantis (my current computer game obsession. Hey, I’m on Journey 7!) listen to music or whatever strikes my fancy. Now many would argue this isn’t real me time, however I beg to differ. Yes, I could go out for a walk, or a bike ride, or shopping, or visit a friend, or get a pedicure and on occasion I do some of those things. But if me time becomes stressful due to the very definition of it, then it’s no longer ME time. See? Makes perfect sense.
I’ve learned not to overextend me time into a frenetic foray of events that only serves to exhaust me more and leave me feeling like I should relax.

The Grand Prince is learning this important lesson too. When I asked him recently about signing up for fall soccer, rationalizing we could fit it in on Saturdays since karate and tennis were after school activities, he paused and looked at me very thoughtfully and said, “Nan, I have enough things to go to all ready. I’m gonna skip soccer this year.”

Out of the mouths of babes.