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From Our House to Son’s

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-6-17-54-amWhen Son said, “This is the house our children will grow up in,” it was time to take him all his stuff. Son moved away from home more that twenty years ago. Went off to college and then moved into a 900 square foot house when he took his first real job. He married, he and Daughter-in-Law had three children, and they moved three times. And everything collected and saved from Son’s birth through college years has been safely stored at Husband’s and my house.

Now, Son’s family has settled into their forever home. So Husband and I started gathering stuff and making plans to drive 1295 miles to deliver treasures. We’d take the back seats out of my van and fill it full.

Would Son want everything that has been saved? Some things were going for sure: a cedar chest and a toy chest and toddler-size rocking chair that my dad made for him many years ago. High school yearbooks and a letter jacket. College fraternity scrapbooks. All the picture albums with his name on the spine. A purple and gold basketball from Tennessee Tech basketball camp. Quilts that he and his family had chosen from those my granny made.

I was surprised when we opened Son’s cedar chest. Forgotten treasures lay inside. A never used quilt, pillowcases cross-stitched by another great-grandmother, three stuffed Benjis – one so loved that its fur was flattened and matted. A cookbook, including Husband’s grandmother’s recipes, published by her Home Demonstration Club. Small treasures from his grandparents’ homes. Things that Son chose when he was young. A vintage white chicken candy dish. A small wooden black bear with a note tied to it. My mom had written, “Papa and I got this when we went to the Smokies for our honeymoon in 1939.” Would these things mean anything to Son at this stage of his life?

Then there was a pile of questionable stuff. Should we take a leather belt with a big western buckle? A guitar that Son strummed for a few weeks when he was 14 and bored and snow storms closed school for a month? Cassette tapes? A blanket he bought at a flea market when he went to camp one summer? A collection of twenty-year-old Sports Illustrated magazines? Rifles – the 22 he learned to shoot as his grandfather stood over his shoulder? A Civil War rifle passed down through generations? His first B B gun? A Santa Claus cookie jar? And so much more.

Son and I talked using Face Time. I held my phone camera in front of items. Yes, the belt. Yes, the guitar. “Does it still play?” he asked. No, cassette tapes. Yes, to everything else, including all three Benjis. “Unless you don’t have room and I’ll get some stuff another time.” There’d be room. Husband and I were determined.

Daughter-in-Law’s parents brought treasures. Her great-grandmother’s desk with fragile curved legs and a mirror and jars of her grandmother’s homemade blackberry jelly.

Loading the van was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that didn’t fit. Husband measured and wrapped and taped. We wedged and padded and filled every possible space. After three hours, we declared that everything would travel securely and not rattle during our journey. Husband drove around the block just to make sure.

How would Son and Daughter-in-Law and their three young children react when they see all this stuff? Stuff that’s theirs. Mostly stuff that has been in the house where Son grew up.

Red Dirt and White Shorts

imagesLast week when I wrote suggestions for how parents can partner with their children’s teachers, I alluded to letting children suffer natural consequences. Ramifications of behavior and choices.

Mom and Dad parented by allowing my poor choices, my mistakes, to be followed by natural consequences. Like the Saturday I spent all my money on comic books and then wanted to see a movie, probably a Gene Autry western. Because I didn’t have money, I didn’t see the movie.

One time, when I was about 6 years old and Mom and I visited her parents, I wore a new pair of white shorts and a red and white stripe top that Mom had made. After greeting Papa and Grandma and playing a few notes on their pump organ, I went outside to play. The dirt bank between my grandparent’s house and the road was red clay. On that hot summer day, the dirt was dry and hard. Papa and Grandma’s yard was several feet higher, maybe about eight feet, than the road and although I knew to stay away from the road, I drew pictures with sticks on the hard-packed dirt.

Rain had washed gullies in the red clay because there wasn’t any vegetation –none, no grass, no weeds. I walked barefoot on the soft dirt down the gullies; the slope was steep and I crawled up to the yard.

Then I discovered I could sit on the dirt bank, push myself, and slide. I’m sure the more I scooted down the slope, the slicker it became. By the time Mom discovered how much fun I was having, my white shorts matched the red in my top. I had wiped my dirty hands on my clothes, my hair, my whole body.

I wonder what I would have done if I’d been the mother. I can see myself, a little kid, covered with red dirt, wearing a new outfit, and as the mother I would have been angry – really mad! And probably Mom was, but I don’t remember that. I do remember sitting in our white enamel bathtub for a long time and Mom scrubbed my skin so hard it hurt – especially my feet and knees. She scrubbed with a washcloth and a small brush, probably the one she used to scrub the bathtub. And she must have dug into my head with her fingernails. It wasn’t a gentle hair washing like most times.

Mom’s scrubbing on my body was something I never wanted to endure again. And it was a natural consequence that the new shorts I had really liked, I could only wear at home. The red dirt became pink stains that never came out, and I didn’t get a new pair of white shorts. I don’t remember, but I bet Mom made me scrub those dirty shorts, with an old toothbrush.

I wasn’t forbidden from Grandma and Papa’s bank. In fact, after that day I slid down the slope many times, but I’d wear my oldest clothes, sometimes sitting on a piece of cardboard, and I didn’t rub dirt in my hair or on my body. Then I’d wash myself using Papa and Grandma’s outside water faucet.

At my elementary school, Byrdstown Elementary, there was also a red bank – much longer and steeper than Papa and Grandma’s, and many kids played on it, but I didn’t, not while wearing my good school clothes. Being scrubbed hard and not having a favorite pair of shorts to wear taught me a lesson.

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Dear Parents of School Age Children

searchIt’s back to school time. During my 25 years as a teacher, I was thankful for parents who were partners. Parents who worked with me to help their children learn and be successful and happy. Now, as a retired teacher and a grandmother, I remember how those parents helped and I’m 99% sure your children’s teachers would appreciate your help in these same ways.

  1. Get children to school on time. School begins at 8:00. Those students who walk into their classrooms by 7:55 have a few minutes to greet their friends and teacher, empty their backpacks, and get ready for the day. Students who walk into the school building at 8:00 are late. Their day begins with them trying to catch up.
  2. Read and respond to communication from school. Especially school work and field trip notices. Teachers send home student work for parents to see. Take five minutes, sit with your children, and listen as they explain the math problems that were easy and the spelling words that were difficult. If you have concerns, notify the teacher, before you call the school principal or your best friend. Return field trip notices ASAP. I always felt sorry for the children who hung their heads and said, “Mom saw the note, but she didn’t sign it.”
  3. Tell teachers what’s happening at your house. Any event that changes the home routine affects children’s feelings and attitudes and they bring those to school. Did Mom start a new job and she leaves home before everyone else gets out of bed? Is Grandma coming to stay while the parents take a vacation? Did a pet – a goldfish, a dog – die? Is there going to be a new baby in the family? Send a brief email or note. Help teachers understand why students are upset or sad or excited.
  4. Let your children fail and make mistakes. Yes, fail. Not a major failure, like 3rd grade. Small failures. If children hide homework and don’t do it, let them suffer the consequences: a bad grade or missing a fun activity to complete the assignment. Let them learn how failure feels. If they forget to take lunches to school and eat a school lunch that isn’t their favorite pizza, they’ll learn to be responsible and carry their lunch bags. (Yes, I’ve taken the first forgotten lunch to school. Second time, no.)

It’s okay to not master a task immediately. Long division isn’t easy. Neither is borrowing to subtract. Nor latitude and longitude. Let children learn that it’s okay to make mistakes and to fail and try again.

Don’t we learn perseverance from failures and mistakes? Isn’t determination built on failure and eventual success?

  1. Ask questions at the end of a school day. Questions that begin with what or who. What did you learn in Math? What did you do in music or physical education class? What book or story did you hear or read? What was the best thing that happened today? What did you bring home for me to see? Who sat beside you during lunchtime?

Don’t ask, “How was your day?” You’ll hear, “Fine.” End. Of. Conversation.

6 -10.    Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. To your children and listen to them read. School work, books, poems, comics, sport pages, backs of cereal boxes. Anything. Everything. There’s no need to expound on reading. Just read.

Both you and your children’s teachers want your children to learn and be happy. May this be the best school year ever!

Learning to Swim

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 8.42.55 AMLast week I took two of my Grands for a swim lesson. I watched them splash and kick and laugh and thought of my childhood days in a much different pool. It wasn’t a huge pool and didn’t have a big area of ankle-to-shoulder-deep water, like the one my Grands were in.

In Pickett County, during the 1950s, the only public swimming pool was at Star Point Dock, now Star Point Resort, on Dale Hollow Lake. And no one had a backyard pool. At that time, Ted and Gwen Mochow, good friends of my parents, owned Star Point.

I contacted the Mochows’ son, Mike, to confirm a few details. During the week, guests who stayed in Star Point cabins and the motel used the pool. On weekends, it was available to the public and admission was 50 cents. We swimmers walked through a footbath, about two by four feet in size, to sanitize our feet with a disinfectant before getting in the pool.

The concrete pool was divided into two sections: one for non-swimmers, one for swimmers. The non-swimmer side, where the water was about four feet deep, I knew well. I clung to the side and walked around the edge of that 10 x 40 foot pool (my best guess of the size) and I never wore a life jacket or water wings or any flotation device. I gripped the concrete, hand over hand, all the time watching my older brother and friends in the huge deep pool, on the other side of a concrete divider. My goal was to jump off the diving board (no aspiration to dive) and swim in the ten-foot deep water, to the steps. I could imagine myself climbing up those metal steps, onto the narrow concrete deck.

My family wasn’t a water recreation family. Occasionally, on a Saturday afternoon after we’d finished weekly chores – cleaning house, burning trash, mowing the yard – Dad took my brother and me to the pool, but he never got in the water. Mom didn’t swim, and she was happy to stay home and watch a baseball game on TV.

The only times both Mom and Dad were within the metal fence pool enclosure at Star Point pool were when the Mochows invited us for family cookouts and swim parties. Ted and Gwen were skilled swimmers, and they organized water games and contests. Even Dad swam and played. Gwen finally convinced Mom that for safety she should learn to swim, and so when I was about 10 years old, Mom and I took swimming lessons together.

Side by side we lay prone in the water, held to the pool’s edge, and kicked. We blew bubbles. We bobbed our heads in the water. And eventually, I swam. No fancy stokes. No side breathing. I kicked and used an arm stoke well enough to accomplish my goal. Swimming in the deep swimmer’s pool was just as big a deal as I thought it’d be. And Mom’s backstroke qualified her as a swimmer.

Now, my young Grands are overcoming the discomfort of water up their noses and learning to enjoy the water, with confidence. Elaine, age 5, told me, “You know what, Gran? I flapped my arms like this (she flapped like a bird) and moved all by myself. And I can touch bottom a long way.”

Pools and teaching techniques have changed. But my Grands will soon know the same success I felt the first time I climbed up the metal steps out of the swimmer’s pool. And I’ll celebrate with them.

Fingers and Noses

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 8.11.19 AMWhat is it about a kid’s finger and his nose? Evidently, an invisible magnet on the end of a child’s pointer finger attracts metal hidden deep inside that child’s nose. If this vision is repulsive, stop reading now. I understand. I don’t like it either. But not so long ago, Husband and I and two of our Grands laughed hard about fingers in noses, and then I thought of all the nose-pickers I’ve known.

My Grand looked downright cute wearing Husband’s TTU baseball cap. The cap bill slung low to one side and my Grand cocked his head. A perfectly innocent pose to capture on my camera phone. Click. I held the phone in front of Husband, “Look at this cute guy. I’m sending it to his mom.”

“With his finger up his nose?” Husband said and burst out laughing. My Grand’s finger was really close to – not up – his nose. But Husband’s comment gave my Grand and his younger sister, who stood beside him, an idea.

“Take another one!” my Grand said and he stuck his pointer finger second-knuckle deep inside his nose. “Me, too!” his sister said. She matched his pose. Their heads bumped against each other as they laughed. Husband’s laugh was a snort.

My two cute Grands. Wide open eyes. Mouths open. Laughing. With their fingers up their noses. I laughed so hard I could barely steady my phone for a picture. And yes, I sent it to their mother. Thankfully, she saw the humor in her children’s exaggerated poses.

As an elementary school teacher, I had at least one student in most every class who was a nose-picker, and I was always sure I could teach that child to stop. And it wasn’t just boys. Princess-like little girls dig for nasal treasures, too. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve told a kid to take his finger out of his nose.

At the beginning of the school year, I’d whisper in the child’s ear, “Take your finger out of your nose, please.” He (again, he could be a she) would duck his head and scrunch his exploring finger with his other fingers into a fist. By December, I’d stand in front of my entire class and say silly things such as, “So let’s review the steps of division, finger–nose. Divide, multiply, subtract, finger-nose, bring down.” The nose digger would slide his nose-picking finger over his lips, down his chin, along his neck, across his shirt, and rest it on his math paper.

By springtime, I’d give the culprit a wide-eyed stare and point my finger high in the air as I continued reading aloud about the adventures of Charlotte the spider trying to save Wilbur the pig. By then, nose digger simply rested his finger on his neck for a few seconds and then the metal inside his nose claimed the magnet on his finger.

Thinking back over my decades of teaching, I didn’t convince a single child to keep his finger out of his nose. I should’ve announced on the first day of each school year, “Give me a nickel every day you want to put your finger up your nose, and I won’t try to make you stop.”

I could’ve retired years earlier. And laughed all the way to the bank.

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Clean off the Bookshelf

imagesWhich ones to keep? Which to give away? It’s springtime and time to unclutter. My bookshelf is overflowing and some books – adult books – need to go. Children’s books stay on my shelves. I just read a Facebook post entitled About Books written by John Acuff, who calls himself Old Country Lawyer.

For many years now I have read many books

At times reading up to three a week

After I have read them they stack up 

I decided this morning to begin to pass on some of the books

John’s post encourages me to share my books. I naively think that I’ll pull all the books that I’ve read and don’t plan to read again. I’ll give some to the Putnam County Library for their monthly book sale. Take others to the Little Library on Whitson Avenue that’s available for anyone take a book, leave a book, or do both.

The very first paperback includes language that I hope to never hear or read again. Trash it. But it’s made of paper. Should I recycle it? What if it gets in the hands of young person? Should I burn this book?

A hardback book is signed by the author with a personal inscription to me. Not a best seller, but I enjoyed it because I know the author. Should I tear out that page and give the book away?

I have a huge collection of inspirational books, mostly gifts. Books to inspire me as a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a woman. It takes all the self-control I can muster not to sit down, pour a glass of iced tea, and read. How can I discard books that were given when my first child was born or many years later when Mom passed away? Personal notes written on the inside covers make all worth keeping.

Travel guidebooks. I can certainly get rid of books about places I’ve been. But there are pages turned down in Fodor’s, Exploring London. And I wrote notes. Where I ate lunch. What I ate. And notes about Big Ben. It’s like a journal.

Ah, finally some books to cull. Paperbacks bought to read while sitting on the beach or travelling on a long trip. One, two, three. I’m on a roll. Wait. That’s not my book. JoAnn’s name is on the front cover and the copyright date is 10 years ago. So did I borrow it then and never return it? I don’t even remember that book. Maybe she’s forgotten it too or maybe she has a record of books she’s loaned and knows I never returned it.

As Old Country Lawyer delved into his book collection he noted some of the same dilemmas. And he ended his writing with these lines.

Sacking up the secular for Good Will 
And a select few will be disposed of for fear they may lead someone astray
What are you doing with the stuff you know you need to be rid of?
Pray for me as I sort through my stuff
My prayer is that we all unclutter our lives and concentrate on what really matters.

 

My task isn’t going as planned. All the books fit on the shelf. I’ll dust and straighten and move on to things that really matter. Like returning JoAnn’s book and hope she has time for a glass of tea.

What Kids Said

14764892-illustration-of-girl-and-boy-holding-callout-picture-on-a-whiteMy folder labeled “Kids Said” is overflowing. And the children aren’t just my Grands. Friends share what their children and grandchildren say. So many snippets not long enough for a column and too good to remain hidden in a folder.

From the mouths of three-year-old kids…

Mother walked into the dining room and saw Robin holding her fingers pointed down over her half full glass of milk. Robin likes to dip her fingers into her milk and she’s been told, more than once, not to do it. Robin looked at her mother and said, “May you turn around?”

Granny asked Chuck to ride with her to the cemetery. She explained that her parents and grandparents were buried there. Chuck asked, “Will God be there?” Granny answered, “Yes,” and didn’t give an explanation. Chuck said, “Then I probably won’t get out of the car.”

As Grandma buckled Madison in her car seat, Madison asked a question that Grandma didn’t understand except she heard the words ‘poka dots.’ Grandma didn’t see any polka dots, or any kind of dots, in the car or on their clothes. So Grandma asked Madison where she saw dots. Madison answered quickly, “Your hands, Grandma.”

One November day, Grandmother told Elaine that her grandfather was blowing leaves off their yard and into the woods. Elaine immediately shouted, “With his mouth?”

When Jack’s parents asked him what gifts he wanted for Christmas, he looked into space for a few seconds, and then shouted, “I know! A choking hazard!” Just like other kids, he’d been told many times that he couldn’t have something because it was a choking hazard.

According to five year olds…

When baby brother was born, big sister told Mother, “I really wish you’d had your umbilical cords tied after you had me so I would be the only child!”

Mother looked at Andrew, tousled his hair, hugged him, and said, “You are changing.” Andrew pulled away from Mother, looked down at his legs and then at his arms. “No, I’m not!” he shouted.

When little Mary was asked to pray before the family meal, she looked at the food on the table and then said, “Not for this!”

 

Grandmother: I’m going to Yoga.

Caroline: What’s a yoga?

Grandmother: It’s exercise to make muscles and joints feel better.

Caroline: Does it get rid of soft, fat tummies?

Grandmother: No. Probably not.

Caroline: Good. Cause I like yours.

 

The perspective of a seven year old…

Gran dropped her iPhone onto the kitchen floor. Lou put her hand on her hip, cocked her head, and said, “So, now do you have a DUMB phone?”

Lou rode in the backseat of Gran’s van and when they stopped at a traffic light, Lou silently read an inscription close to the top of the Putnam County Courthouse.

 

Lou: Hmm. That sounds like something Yoda would say.

Gran: What?

Lou: In God, we trust. That’s the way Yoda talks. Not like normal people talk.

Gran: What would normal people say?

Lou: We trust in God.

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