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Mar 4 2014

What You Learn in Your 20s

By at 10:52 am

highway

If all goes according to plan, this article will come out just shy of my 28th birthday. Since Pamela Druckerman is enjoying a lot of attention for her recent New York Times piece “What You Learn in Your 40s,” I thought I’d piggyback on her success and add my own two cents on what you learn in your 20s.

First and foremost, things you thought only happened to “other people” can very well happen to you. When I was 25 and sitting under fluorescent lighting in a stark office across from a geneticist who informed me—much too blithely for my taste—that my “fetus” was incompatible with life, I remember thinking: “But…but this kind of thing happens to other people. This kind of thing is not supposed to happen to me!” This was the first, rude awakening that expecting tragic circumstances to affect only other people is neither realistic nor very charitable of you. Why do you deserve to lead a more charmed life than someone else? News flash: you don’t. I don’t recommend walking around with the specter of doom and gloom at your elbow while expecting tragedy to befall you at every turn, but it would behoove you to remember that you are part of that amorphous “other people” to someone else. You are not untouchable.

Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 22 2014

Even as an Adult, My Parents Are Still Trying to Protect Me

By at 11:53 am

phone call on green background

Right now, my father is getting over pneumonia, my mother has bronchitis, and I am annoyed.

When I spoke with my mother on Saturday night, she first asked about my daughter and what we did during the day, and then I heard, “Oh, so Dad’s in the hospital.”

Me: “Um. Why?”

Mom: “Well, he has pneumonia and his oxygen level was low.”

Following that conversation, I conducted the “routine.” I have to share the news with my two older brothers as I am usually the first to hear any news in the family. I called each of them and heard the same response: “What is wrong with them that they can’t tell us what is going on?!” Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 16 2014

A Lesson from The Lorax on Tu Bishvat

By at 9:39 am

hebrew-lorax

Deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see, today, where the Lorax once stood just as long as it could before somebody lifted the Lorax away.

One page into Dr. Seuss’s timeless classic and Jewish symbolism is abundant. The presumed gravesite of the Lorax, protector (creator?) of the trees, is surrounded by stones. In the animated movie adapted from the book, the Lorax and forest creatures bring stones to surround tree stumps after they have been cut in vain. Similarly, in Jewish tradition, small stones are placed at grave sites and when we bring these tangible stones and roll them around in our fingers, we can still feel our loved one; we can still feel the impact that has been made on this life.

The Lorax is often mentioned when we talk about Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, the Jewish holiday associated with environmental conservation. In Genesis, Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it.” And the value of bal tashchit, “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish earth day anthem. The book absolutely teaches us that trees are sacred, but if we look deeper there is so much more. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 15 2014

Saying Goodbye to My Childhood Home & Hello to the Sandwich Generation

By at 3:23 pm

moving boxes

Over Christmas week, my parents sold and moved out of the house they lived in for the past 40 years. The house in which I was raised. The place that I, at 39, continue to call my home.

It was sad, but not tragic. There was no death or illness or tragedy that forced them out. My mother has been retired for several years, and my father talks about it more and more. They are rational and practical people who are preparing for the next step in their lives, and they wanted to be well positioned to make it. The house had the potential to hold them back. They left it on their own terms, which is a blessing–but that doesn’t mean I didn’t cry.

I live in Maryland, and went back to New York to be with my parents for the sale and their move. I brought my husband and two children with me. The house didn’t “look” the same as the one I grew up in. It hasn’t for a few years. Long ago my parents took the wallpaper off the walls of the bedrooms, opting for a new palette of paint colors. Some carpeting was replaced by new flooring, new couches were purchased, central air and heating were installed. But it was still my house, and there is a lifetime of me in it. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 7 2014

Explaining to My Son Why He’ll Never Meet His Grandparents

By at 12:52 pm

family of three icons

On a recent morning before school, while zipping up his fall vest, my son Lucien announced that his father and I will make the best grandparents ever.

“When I have a son,” Lucien added, “if I have a son, I’ll let him come see you when he’s 5 or 6 years old.”

I gently explained that in most families grandparents get to know kids from day one, not when they are 5 or 6. This comes as a revelation to Lucien, because he has no grandparents.

I haven’t spoken to either of my parents, or my two brothers, since long before Lucien was born. The estrangement was my choice, the hardest–and best–decision I’ve ever made. But when I decided to cut my parents out of my life at the age of 28, after a childhood of physical and verbal abuse, and young adult years filled with dysfunction, I didn’t think about how the choice would one day shape my child’s life. I’ve protected my son from my family, but I’ve also kept him from knowing what it means to have grandparents. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2013

A New Website That Gets Real About Grief

By at 12:19 pm
moderloss

Gabrielle Birkner (left) and Rebecca Soffer (right)

 

When my father died just over a year ago, I was struck by how lonely the experience was. Even though I found myself surrounded by family and friends, all reeling from the same massive loss, I felt isolated from everyone. There were taboo issues no one could bear to talk about, bizarre dreams, poorly-timed emotional outbursts, and on top of all of it, very young children who needed my attention. It was–and often still is–a really dark time. Gabrielle Birkner and Rebecca Soffer, two women who lost parents as young adults, can relate. They’ve just launched Modern Loss, a website that promises “candid conversations about grief” along with essays, resources, how-to’s, links, events, news, and “ways to connect” with others who are grieving. Both Birkner and Soffer are about to give birth, but they took time to talk with me about loss, legacy, and living with grief, every day.

What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about grief?

GB: One misconception is that a catastrophic event changes who you are. Yes, it changes your circumstances; it changes how you feel, what you need, and, perhaps, what you prioritize. But I am fundamentally still me, and want, essentially, the same things out of life as I did before my father and stepmother were killed. When those three women in Cleveland were freed after years of being held captive, Jaycee Dugard–another kidnapping survivor–said: “This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them.” I found that very profound. A trauma need not define your life.

RS: A big misconception is that there’s some magical 365-day period when the grief is the worst and on Day 366, you wake up and look in the mirror and suddenly feel differently. You don’t necessarily. And sometimes it gets progressively worse long after that time before getting better. And that’s totally cool. Because it really will. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 3 2013

Two Grandmothers, Two Guggle Muggles

By at 2:01 pm

honeymik

Recently, my 3-year-old son came tiptoeing downstairs long after we had put him down for the night. “I can’t sleep,” he said, hugging his stuffed dog.

“Do you want a guggla-muggla?” I asked, opening the fridge and reaching for a carton of milk.

My husband snorted. “First of all, it’s ‘guggle muggle,’” he said. “Second, you make it for colds, not insomnia.”

“Says who?” I asked.

“My grandma,” he replied, definitively.

Like most discussions about Jewish food in our household, this one had its origins in our respective families, and specifically, with our grandmas.

For the uninitiated, guggla muggla (or guggle muggle, if you must) is a Jewish cold-fighting concoction of mysterious origins and disputed pronunciations and ingredients. Depending on your Bubbe, it might have been made with milk, sugar, and egg; milk and honey; or, for the unlucky, milk, tea, and schmaltz (chicken fat). My grandma made her “guggla muggla” with warm milk, honey, and vanilla. My husband’s grandma made her “guggle muggle” with egg, sugar, and milk. Hence the disagreement. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 13 2013

Hanukkah Gifts You’ll Want the Grandparents to Buy

By at 12:32 pm

So these gifts for kids may range a bit over your desired price point–but, hey, isn’t that what grandparents are for? Share this list with your parents and let them be the ones who spoil them!

1. Magna-Tiles Clear Colors 100 Piece Set  ($120) For kids 3 and above, these are a great way to learn mathematical spacial relationships & logic while engaging in some creative building. We promise, it’s more fun than it sounds.

magnacarta

2. Mini 3-in-1 Scooter ($114.99) This is the most economically savvy scooter we’ve ever seen. It “grows” with your kid–you can adjust the height and handlebars as he/she gets taller. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 20 2013

Five Ways to Keep Your Kids Connected to Faraway Family

By at 9:51 am

greetings postcardWe live in New York and have members of our families that live in California and Beijing, so it was important for us to figure out some ways for our kids to feel they were part of their lives, despite the distance. Here were some things that we did:

1) Photos: Pictures have always been very important to me and it’s a great way to help build the memory. Very early on in both of our children’s lives, I started photo albums for them. I included photos of them with their family members and friends. We would look through the albums with them repeatedly, pointing out who everyone was.

As they got older and had more words, they were able to go through them on their own, identifying people and starting to attach them to experiences. On the same wavelength as the photo albums, my father started making a family photo calendar several years ago. We have strategically kept it in the kitchen, in full view of the children as they eat every meal. Last year, my son was so excited about the calendar that he wanted to help make it which he did. We also keep a website filled with photos of our lives that we share with our family and friends. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 30 2013

Should I Force My Son to Take Swimming Lessons?

By at 12:28 pm

san Francisco swimmingEvery summer, in an attempt to escape the New York City heat, I pack up the kids and take them to visit my parents in San Francisco for a few weeks (where as Mark Twain probably didn’t say, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”).

This year, I wasn’t able to go due to work. But, because I think it’s important for my kids to spend time with their grandparents and assorted West Coast cousins, my husband and I decided to send the three of them out alone for a month.

They’re ages just-turned-14, almost-10, and 6 ½. They’ve spent weeks alone with their grandparents before, so we figured it wouldn’t be a problem.

And, initially, it wasn’t a problem. All three were excited about the upcoming trip. (Though I suspect what they were most excited about was the fantastic meals, new toys, and undivided attention they were about to receive; Mama didn’t raise no foolish children, they know where they’ve got it good).

But, the night before they were scheduled to leave, as we were packing their bags, my almost-10-year-old burst into tears. Read the rest of this entry →

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