Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Creche Revisited

I've been silent for about six months.  Perhaps I will get reinspired in the new year.  But I can't let my Christmas traditions post go unpublished so here it is, repeated yearly on about this date!  Caleb is now 6 years old so this is a very old post, but one of my favorites.  Merry Christmas to all!

This is one of my favorite Christmas stories and I post it here again as Christmas approaches.  

One of my regrets in life is that my husband and I simply did not manage to have a lot of traditions in our home that carried on from year to year. I’m not exactly sure why this happened, but we just didn’t seem to have very many traditions that stuck. We tried getting our Christmas tree together a few times, had birthday parties for Jesus, opened presents at night, in the morning, collected ornaments -- some years! In fact, when I recently asked my daughter what we should have to eat on Christmas Eve, she stated that our family “tradition” was to have something different every year. That’s one way of reframing it!

One thing we did have, however, was a Christmas crèche. When Ken and I were first married, we bought a complete crèche scene and painstakingly painted and antiqued every piece. We still have all the pieces, minus one chip out of the donkey’s ear, knocked off the shelf by the family cat. We never did find that missing ear and finally decided that the crèche was just perfect without it!

As our children grew, however, the crèche took on “other” meanings during the Christmas season. Our kids had a lot of fun changing the scene. One year the shepherds and wise men formed a rock band, complete with little guitars and drums. Another year, Sylvester the Cat would show up in the scene. Or various animals would roam the stage. Or the smurfs. Or whatever action figures happened to be in vogue at the time. Our kids recreated life, mostly in fun.

But one year, as we were waiting to have our Christmas eve dinner, we got a phone call from our middle son. He had pulled out into oncoming traffic, driving my car, and been hit by a car he hadn’t seen coming. He and his girlfriend were fine, but shaken up, and we interrupted our planned events to go and sort things out.

When we returned home, the crèche had mysteriously morphed into a new scene, complete with a wrecked toy car with shepherds and wise men all looking on with concern. Joseph was on the phone, Mary was sitting at the dinner table waiting for the family. And above it all, the angel hovered, having done her job, keeping everyone safe.

Today the crèche sits, undisturbed by the hands of children, awaiting the next generation’s take on the meaning of Christmas. And, after a half hour search in my completely disorganized photo storage system, I found the picture! If you look closely, you can even see the missing donkey ear.

Last year I had my 2-1/2-year-old grandson, Caleb,visiting and he and I set up my Playmobile creche scene. It has a cardboard backing with a stable and door. We set up the camel, the wise men, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the angel. I was waiting for Caleb to begin acting out the story of Christmas. Caleb picked up a shepherd and resolutely walked him over to the stable door. "TRICK OR TREAT!" he yelled!

Guess we've got a little way to go til he gets the story down!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Health Care

On this day when the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, I'm posting something my physician husband wrote in 2010.  I think it is well said. 

When we lived in Charleston, South Carolina, we enjoyed taking a tourist-type tour of the old town "South of Broad." One of the interesting sights would be a small iron plaque firmly mounted to the side of an historic house called a "fire mark," which indicated that the house had purchased fire insurance, and was entitled by contract to the fire company’s services. Fire marks are valued antiques today, and are an interesting and quaint anecdote in American history. If a fire occurred and the firemen arrived at the house, and there was no plaque, they would allow the fire to burn the house. It was not until after 1850 that American cities began to decide that fire protection was something that every house should have, and formed city fire departments supported by taxes. Having partial coverage for a few was simply not practical.

With passage of the Health Care Overhaul recently, our country has declared that having health care coverage only for some Americans is simply not just, nor practical. Health insurance companies have wasted time and money deciding who and what conditions are covered, and denying claims. Patients who aren’t covered can’t go to a doctor for preventive care of a minor illness, but tend to wait until the illness is much worse, then go to the emergency room where, according to law, they can’t be turned away. The treatment is more expensive, and the hospital and other patients have to bear the cost of the delayed care. With the country dedicated to universal coverage, everyone will have health care, which will reduce the cost and eliminate the “who’s covered, who’s not” question.

Other countries adopted the concept of city fire departments first, and America caught on late.

On March 11, 1733 the French government decided that the interventions of the fire brigades would be free of charge. This was decided because people always waited until the last moment to call the fire brigades to avoid paying the fee, and it was often too late to stop fires. Wikipedia

Other western societies have taken this approach to health care successfully for years, and at last America is beginning to adopt the concept.

It’s good that we have finally recognized that health care is a necessity, and should be elevated to the same status as fire protection, water, electricity, and education, supported by public funding and available to all. It’s a mark of a civilized society.

Kennard McNichols MD

(Photo by MarieMcC, shared via Flickr)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Talking to Your Child About Sex

From the title of this blog post, you are going to think that I am about to give advice about talking to children about sex.  Alas, that is not my intent.  I want to recount a situation I found myself in with my 7-year-old grandson last night.  Let’s call him “G.”
I was asked to “babysit” my two grandchildren last night and that meant I would be putting the two kids to bed and reading stories, a fun task.  I finished reading to “L” and put her to bed and asked G to pick out a book.  He spent a few minutes in his bedroom and came out with a book titled “Where Did I Come From?”  I had just a fleeting moment of hope that perhaps this was a book about geography or at worst, a simplified version of the birds and the bees.  My hopes were dashed by the first page which mentioned that the topic we were going to discuss might cause some people to blush.  By page two, with the cartoony completely nude pictures of the male and female anatomy, with description and numerous slang versions, just for educational purposes, I guess, I was in over my head.  

What to do?  “Have you ever read this book before, G?”  “No.”  “Where did you get it?”  (hoping maybe I could somehow get out of this reading….) “From my church.”  Well, I assumed, if he got it from his church, it must be sanctioned by his parents.  After all, it was on his bookshelf.

I continued reading, getting in deeper and deeper, page by page.  This book not only talked about the anatomy but described in great, albeit youth-oriented, detail the entire sex act, complete with such phrases as “on top of,” “wriggling around” and “explosion.”  Fill in the blanks yourself.  And did I mention the illustrations?  At that graphic point in the reading, G said softly “THAT part doesn’t happen!!!”  “Oh, yes it does," I said, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t be called upon to clarify any further.  G seemed to take my answer in stride, not asking any further questions.  

After the complete description of the sex act, the rest of the book was quite tame.  It showed the growth of a baby inside the womb and the umbilical cord and completely glossed over the graphic parts of birth, never showing any further body parts.  I guess most children have had a little more exposure to the actual birth but rarely have gotten the true picture on exactly HOW that little egg and sperm get together.  That was always a mystery to me for many years.  I certainly didn’t learn it at seven!

We finished the book, G had no questions, although I didn’t really ask for any, and G went to bed.  When his parents came home, I thanked them profusely for this amazing “opportunity” to be the first to explain these issues to G.  They did not recall the book, finally remembering they had picked it up a few years earlier at a church used book sale.  It had been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years.  Why tonight?  Why ME?  I guess we won’t know the answer to that question.

In my own defense, in spite of my red cheeks and stilted voice, I KNEW that I needed to read that book straight out, not leaving out a word (G is a voracious reader and would have known), never faltering or acting embarrassed.  If this was to be G’s introduction to the world of sex, far be it for me to give him any reason to see a therapist or be traumatized in his later years!  

As an addendum, here is the email I got from G’s mother later that evening:

That book has LITERALLY been on G's shelf for at least a year (maybe two?) with no one bothering to look at it.  A twist of fate made it your night.

I just read it cover to cover and it's a book that I'm happy to own.  I think it's a book that G is ready to hear and dives into the next step of information in an age appropriate way.  My only regret is that it was thrust upon YOU!  Please know I would have also been red faced and teary eyed.

What can I say... THANK YOU for taking it stride, taking the bull by the horns, and getting through such difficult material with grace and love for our son.

If you’d like the opportunity to read this book to your child or grandchild, it is now a collector’s item, written in 1974, and available in hardcover from Amazon for a hefty price.  Where Did I Come From?:  Facts of Life without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations.  THAT is an understatement!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Improving Relationships Sometimes Means Examining Your World View!

When my husband and I were engaged to be married (42 years ago this month!), we were required by our church to have several sessions of premarital counseling. The pastor who counseled us was an older, single man. He asked us how we handled conflict. I answered, "That's easy! We fight and fight and fight and then I cry and he gives in!" I was dead serious. The pastor suggested that perhaps we weren't ready to get married and should put off our decision until we had worked out better ways to solve our conflicts.

Being all-wise at the age of 21, we were quite sure that this pastor, having never been married, couldn't possibly know what was best for us and had no right to tell us we weren't ready for marriage. Besides, our method was working quite nicely (for me at least), so we ignored his comments and proceeded to use this very method of conflict resolution for the next 6 or 8 years. I was the master of the long pout and could hold out for several days, if necessary, to get my way. My husband, himself a conflict avoider, wasn't happy with the outcome at times, but since his goal was to keep me happy at all costs, this method worked for him as well. We would kiss and make up and have great make-up sex!

A funny change happened about 8 or 10 years into our marriage however. At some point, my tears stopped moving my husband to give in, and we gradually realized that our methods weren't getting either of us any satisfaction. We began the long process of learning to fight fairly, learning to negotiate, learning to look at the possibility that we might both have a valid point in any given situation. Many methods, books, counselors, retreats, friends helped us along the way. I plan to bring some of those ideas to you in later posts, but today I want to talk about how my own world view changed.

We establish our world view in our family of origin (the family we grew up in) and usually don't realize that we are acting out of that world view. My world view was that the most important thing about an argument was being "right." If I wasn't "right" then my whole belief system began to crumble around me. I needed to be "right" to prove that I was a loveable, "okay" human being. If I was "wrong," then there must be something fatally flawed about me. Many of us suffer from this black and white thinking.

One of the most important changes you can make in your relationship is to begin to accept the fact that your partner's position on a given subject has equal validity to your own and that there is a possibility that you are both "right." For example, you might assert that the "way" to get to the grocery store is by taking certain streets, making sure that all of your turns are left turns. Your partner, however, may choose a route that goes past some familiar landmark and assert that this is the correct route. Is there a "right" way to get to the grocery store? Obviously, this is a simple example, and many far-more-complex examples abound in any relationship. What is the "right" way to discipline your child? Or the "right" way to clean the kitchen? Or the "right" way to celebrate a holiday? Or the "right" way to spend or save your money?

When I began to accept that both my husband and I had valid points in a disagreement, our relationship began to grow. I began to understand that we could both hold different ideas at the same time and both be "right." I began to look at the world as a place where not only black and white exists, but many colors and shades in between.

Think of some areas where you might be willing to consider your partner's point of view and begin to change the way you see the world!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Whose Rules Rule?

I repeatedly encounter conflict between grandparents and their adult children regarding whose rules should govern a grandparent's interactions with their grandchild. In one corner we find the elders, full of knowledge and advice, wanting to be validated and honored for their years of experience, confident that they know what's best for the child. In the other corner, we find the young or new parents, full of book knowledge, research findings, training classes, experience gleaned from close friends, their own personal values, and their unique experience with their child, who need to assert their own way of doing things. If you look around, you will find articles, advisers and advocates who will agree with whichever side you come down on.

The areas ripe for disagreement are legion!
  •     How much sugar or other unhealthy treats are okay?

  •     How much television, DVDs, or video game time should be allowed?

  •     How is discipline handled?

  •     What kind of books, movies, and activities are acceptable?

  •     How should bedtime be handled?

  •     Do you reward good behavior or promote self-validation?

  •     How much risk is tolerated?

  •     How are differences in religious beliefs addressed?
The list goes on and on.

But I'm here as a grandparent to tell you that I strongly believe that parents should be the ones who are make the rules for how their children are raised. They are, after all, the ones who bear the final responsibility!

Grandparents need to think back on their own beginnings as a parent, and remember what it was like for them. Each generation follows the popular trends of the day. Before Dr. Benjamin Spock came along, "in post-war American, parents were in awe of doctors and other childcare professionals; Spock assured them that parents were the true experts on their own children. They had been told that picking up infants when they cried would only spoil them; Spock countered that cuddling babies and bestowing affection on children would only make them happier and more secure. Instead of adhering to strict, one-size-fits-all dictates on everything from discipline to toilet training, Spock urged parents to be flexible and see their children as individuals.”

The trends of today which parents are following may be completely different than what the older generation learned. But there are many variations on what is the "right" way to parent. To repeat Dr. Spock, "parents are the true experts on their own children." When grandparents step in and override the rules of the parents, what message are we giving? We are saying that we know best and usurping the parents' authority, as well as undermining their own confidence in their parenting knowledge!

Unfortunately, the result of this conflict can be estrangement between the parties. This conflict often leads to reduced access to the grandchildren, more tension and arguing between the adults, and the children are the ones who suffer. Grandparents need to be in constant discussion with the parents, finding out how issues are handled and what the current house rules are. But with friendship and openness between all parties, everyone needs to be open to negotiating on things that aren’t working.

Here are some tips for navigating specific areas of this unique parent-grandparent relationship.


I make it a policy not to give advice unless asked or it is a life or death situation. I believe this allows the parents to come to me for advice, at times, and then it is carefully given, with disclaimers! Sometimes the parents aren't that sure of their own stand on an issue, but dig their heels in if they feel the grandparents are somehow taking charge. Parents need the freedom to test their theories, make their own mistakes, learn what works and what doesn't work. They need to be allowed to become the experts and feel confident in their own roles as parents. Hopefully, the relationship that develops will allow for grandparents to impart some of that knowledge they gained through their own experiences.

Consistency, but not a foolish one

Often the rules grandparents choose to break cause unnecessary hardship on the parents. Too much sugar, too late a bedtime, or too many hours sitting in front of a television often cause unruly behavior when the child returns home. If grandparents allow a child to talk back, that behavior then carries over into other relationships. Or breaking the rules can pit the child against his/her parents, saying “But Grandma (or grandpa) lets me..."

On the other hand, I also have a plaque in my kitchen that says "What happens at Grandma’s house stays at Grandma’s house!' I bought this plaque partly in jest, even though I do follow the parental rules. But there is a special relationship that a grandparent and child have, and that relationship is different than the one between parent and child. It is important to allow that "specialness" to have its own expressions. Grandparents should be allowed special dispensation at times, to bend the family rules, but here again, I believe this should be after open discussion with the parents, and consistent with the parents' wishes. I still follow the rule of healthy food before cookies, but I might be just a little less strict on how that rule is carried out. Or I might stretch the size of the cookie given! If, however, I completely break the rule, it won't be long before cookies-before-healthy food becomes the firm expectation at my house.

It is also okay to acknowledge that some of the rules are different. Your child needs to learn this about the world in general; for example, the rules at a friend's house need to be observed, even if those rules are different. My own grandchildren know that it is not okay to jump on my furniture. I have a much lower tolerance of chaos than some of their parents. My grandchildren have been told by their parents that different houses have different rules and that the rules of the house prevail. Thus said, I do not use this as an excuse to flaunt the family rules that have been set up.

Discipline and honesty

When discipline problems occur, I talk to the parents about what methods they are currently using to handle the problem, and try to use those methods as well.

It is never acceptable, in my book, to lie to the parents or ask the child to cover up something that the grandparents have done or rules that have been broken. This sets up a very unhealthy coalition between the child and the grandparent, bypassing the parents in the process, and teaching the child that lying is acceptable behavior. Co-opting a child to keep secrets is never a good idea.

Assuming good intentions

All said, it is very important for both sides in this issue to assume good intentions. There are often underlying issues from past relationships that are coloring those in the present - a topic we will explore at greater depth in future posts. But I know how much my adult children love their children, and I know that they know I share that love. We all want what is best for the child and we all want to maintain our own good relationships! We all need to step back, take a deep breath, and begin to work on own relationships so that the children can grow up in a healthy environment, free of strife between parents and grandparents!

Do any of these conflicts surface with your own or your spouse's parents? What strategies for handling them have worked for you? How could you handle them better?

(This is a post I have published elsewhere, on sites that are no longer publishing.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stuff - revisited

It must be early Spring in the air, or it's just the rain that is keeping us inside. Several of my friends have posted on Facebook about purging.  That reminded me of some posts that I really liked from the past about "stuff" and since I need to get my writing kick started, I will bring them on again.  I finally managed to convince Ken to get rid of our 35-year-old stereo equipment.  I convinced him that we haven't used it in the last 3 or 4 years.  Now if I can just keep him from hiding them in the space under our house.... 

“A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve. The valve permits influx but prevents outflow. Acquisition goes on day and night, smoothly, subtly, imperceptibly. I have no sharp taste for acquiring things, but it’s not necessary to desire them. Goods and chattel seek a man out. They find him even though his guard is up.” E. B. White, "Essays."
E. B. White is much better known for Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. But his essays are a delight and he starts our discussion of stuff so perfectly. I came across this quote in the middle of my last move and identified completely. The essay is hilarious, beginning like this:
"For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world."
I brag about the fact that there is a box waiting to be filled and transported to Goodwill in my house at all times. I do seriously make a trip to Goodwill almost weekly, usually with a small box of belongings, but still we have too much stuff. I believe this is one of the big challenges of aging: How do we part with our stuff? And when do we part with our stuff? And who will have to do the work of parting with our stuff if we don't keep working at it?

I made a pact with myself several years ago to seriously begin to get rid of stuff. I had just stopped in at an estate sale, hoping to nab some good stuff, and was aghast to find an elderly woman's entire life laid out for the public to peruse. Our stuff loses it's value and has the possibility of this type of an end. When I came across a table displaying this woman's bras, I made a pact to begin getting rid of the things my children won't be needing or wanting. I can't promise that I've done a great job of fulfilling that pact, but I am working on it. Since my husband and I keep moving to smaller places, we have had to let things go, but we have not yet stopped accumulating, so the task remains.
Stay tuned for many parts to this thread on "stuff."