Tradition Isn’t the Point

I’m so thankful this year for the progress Mary Ellen is making. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be for a child to be yanked out of her home and deposited somewhere else. She must have felt so much anger and confusion and grief. I’m not saying those feelings have all been replaced on a permanent basis by joy and self-confidence, but the scale has certainly tipped in their favor. I’m thankful to her grandparents—all of them—for loving her and staying in her life. I am especially thankful to my husband, her Papa, for being our rock. And for doing the laundry. I’m thankful for the teachers and school principal who have encouraged her learning and given her the assurance that she can accomplish her dreams. I’m thankful to her parents for trusting us with her while they prepare to be the parents they want to be, and that I know they can be. It does take a village.

But this Thanksgiving, I’m also thinking about differences. There is no longer anyone in my family who enjoys sitting down together at a big meal, so it will just be the three of us today. We each chose a dish that we wanted, none of which would have been on the table when I was Mary Ellen’s age. She’s making dessert–turkeys made with cookies, chocolate chips, yellow and white icing and bananas.

Annual meals way back when were bountiful and always the same. I don’t miss the cooking, except for one dish: Granny’s cornbread dressing. When she got on up in years, I asked her to give me her recipe. Of course, she didn’t have one, but I wrote down exactly what she said. I can hear her talking to me as I read it. I wonder if Mary Ellen will remember something special that she and I share, and if so, what it will be. Memories of childhood should be happy. I think part of our job is to be sure that at least some of hers are.

Since I can’t share the dressing with family this year, I’ll share my memory and the recipe with you—exactly as it was dictated.

Scrumble light bread and corn bread in a crock (about 1/3 and 2/3). Soak in hot water, a cup or so. Beat 2 eggs more or less. Chop onion and celery up fine together. Take bacon and fry real crisp. Crumble it all up. Add just small amount of dripping from the bacon. Salt and pepper. Taste. I hate that part. Put in a little shallot and celery top. Cook about 1 hour 350⁰-400⁰ When just wet with water, add 3-4 cups? stock. Get it real moist.

I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, whatever yours may look like.

We Lost!

A lot of kids love sports, Mary Ellen included. I’m glad she does. Kids can learn a lot from sports—teamwork, perseverance, setting goals and working toward them, how to lose, how to win, how to get up and keep going when you’re hurt. Sports, of course, aren’t the only avenue for these lessons. Band, orchestra, choir, and drama come to mind as good teachers for many of these skills.

And sports have some drawbacks. Have you read Beartown by Fredrik Backman? But parents, and others, can put unacceptable expectations on children in a lot of ways. So, we’ll concentrate on the positives.

Mary Ellen has played basketball, soccer, and volleyball. She liked basketball, loves soccer, and played volleyball at too young of an age. When the ball doesn’t get over the net more than twice in a serve, the excitement of the game wanes. So she signs up for every soccer season.

She’s a good player—plays hard, runs fast, wants to win. Last weekend, her team lost to worst team in the league. Aargh! Gnashing of teeth. “I played awful. The coach is mad at us!” Tears. “She said we didn’t work together.” Ah ha!

I admit that my reflex parenting action on this one took its good time kicking in. To sympathize, coddle, console, make excuses? I waited a while.

At bedtime, I told Mary Ellen I was proud of her for being upset that they lost to the worst team in the league. And, that if she wanted to continue to play sports, she needed to get used to coaches who yell when the team plays badly. I also told her that the only solution was to identify the problem, fix it, and try again.

I decided that was the first lesson that needed to be learned, and the one that goes “even great players have bad games, forgive yourself” will have to wait. Its time will come.

As my friend, Jodi Thomas, says. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get rained out.” There’s a lesson in all of them.

Here’s hoping that when the time comes, I find the right words to teach them.

If you have stories of lessons learned from sports, please share them.


Two Weeks With No School

Two weeks of Christmas vacation. What to do with the time? This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. If your child is in day care, the primary problem may be cost. Like summer vacation and spring break, the expense might need to be budgeted and saved for in advance.

If the child is a latchkey kid, as my son was when I was a single mother many years ago, supervision can be an issue. Here are some ideas to consider. 1) Take vacation time. 2) Use a neighbor or relative to babysit, but remember it’s important not to take advantage of her kindness. So pay her or—clean her house? Take her a meal? Give her a gift certificate to a spa? 3) Form a babysitter club in which each member agrees to sit a certain number of hours per month for free. You would likely use up all the hours you have coming and then be obligated to repay in kind. 4) If the child is responsible and old enough, you might consider leaving him alone. If you do that, be sure to have set-in-stone rules for behavior, like keeping doors locked and not opening them to strangers. Write down emergency numbers and be sure the child knows where they are. Go over rules for emergencies. Ask a neighbor to check on him every couple of hours. Call home at unpredictable times. Have the child call you at specific times twice a day. If you can, go home for lunch. 5) Leave plenty of constructive activities.

If you are retired, as we are, the main problem might be boredom—especially if the neighbor kids spend the week with Grandma. Once or twice, a movie or trip to the bowling alley could break-up the routine. However, there are still hours to fill with something besides whining about nothing to do. In our house, art projects are popular. Mary Ellen has plastic boxes filled with various kinds of craft supplies. In addition to the usual array of pencils, markers, and paint, there is tissue paper, glue, scissors, tape, glitter, stickers, cardboard scraps—well, you get the idea. “Magic School Bus” science club offers subscriptions to science projects for various ages which are sent periodically. Younger children need help, which is a great opportunity for a family project, while older children can do some of them alone. We like board games, although Monopoly is too long for a seven-year-old. We count the money after thirty minutes. Bikes and balls are great if the weather cooperates. I hesitate to mention slumber parties, but Mary Ellen loves them, and I’ve decided to pretend I’m still young enough to tolerate them occasionally. Turn on the music—dance, sing, practice an instrument.

Age-appropriate chores can provide a sense of accomplishment while encouraging responsibility. And helping a family member or neighbor with a chore fosters caring.

Read! Our school system is coordinated with the public libraries, and Mary Ellen got her own library card at school. If a student doesn’t read for an extended period of time, his reading level drops. If she loves to read, great! If not, find something on her reading level that interests her. Her teacher can make suggestions.

Lulu, Jr. is an online publisher that has four kits to help children create, illustrate, and publish their own books. Fun, educational, a great source of pride for the child, and a wonderful keepsake for us.

Of course, there are tablets with games and television. Some time on these can be fun and/or educational if they are appropriate. It’s our responsibility as custodians to be sure they are. However, we all know that if they’re used as full-time babysitters, kids miss opportunities for exercise, creativity, and social interaction.

I invite you to add your own ideas or your experience with these. Let’s help each other rear great children.