The Grandma Chronicles: The Aborted Sleepover

Photograph of a Coney Island hot dog.

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My grandmother was a very special lady.

She loved people and had an special place in her heart for children.

Every summer, each of her grandchildren was given the opportunity to spend two weeks with her in that warm and welcoming house on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn, New York.

When I was 4 years old, I pleaded to be allowed to go for my first sleepover.  Even though my parents didn’t think I was old enough, they relented and so I helped my mother pack my little suitcase, dreaming of all the fun things I would do with my grandmother during those two weeks.  Visits to the beach at Coney Island, hot dogs at Nathans, hours spent helping my grandmother bake and cook in her warm kitchen,  planting seeds in her wildly beautiful and fragrant backyard garden. 

Since all of my grandmother’s children and grandchildren visited her on Sundays, my family and I took the train from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  I sat in my seat, my little suitcase at my feet, and could hardly wait for the train to arrive at her station. 

After a fun-filled day of playing with my cousins, the house slowly emptied as my aunts and uncles and cousins left for their own homes and I bid farewell to my parents and older sister.  I enjoyed the next few hours, helping my grandmother wash and dry the dishes.  I played with her special box of costume jewelry that she kept just for little girls who love to wear sparkly things.  I helped her prepare our dinner. 

But, as evening approached, I began to feel very anxious and unhappy.

I wanted to go home to sleep in my own bed…in the room I shared with my sister.

Although my grandmother did try to encourage me to stay, she understood how I felt and did not try to pressure me or make light of my concerns.  She called my parents and my father came to get me…no easy task since he had to take the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn and then do the trip in reverse to bring me home.  He had already made the trip back and forth earlier in the day.  And the next day was Monday and he would have to do it again to go to work.

But there were no recriminations or “I told you so” comments from either of my parents.

Do you have a child who suffers from separation anxiety?  Early on, young children form a very strong bond with their parents.  While we don’t want to ever break that bond, each child has their own unique ability to stretch it…some are able to do it sooner and some later. 

How can you help your children get to the point where they can watch you walk away and keep a smile on their faces and in their hearts?

Here are a few good tips that might help:

1.     Reassure your child you will always return.

2.     Keep your attitude positive and matter-of-fact.

3.     Treat your child’s concerns with respect.

4.     Offer stories of your own childhood experiences and feelings.

5.     Read picture book stories where the main character faces a similar problem, but succeeds in overcoming it. 

If you check out some of my past posts that address this issue, you will find some of those book suggestions and other tips that may help.

https://viviankirkfield.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/mommy-where-are-you/

https://viviankirkfield.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/help-where-am-i-im-lost/

https://viviankirkfield.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/is-your-child-anxious-about-starting-school/

You can also find more picture book recommendations, gentle parenting tips and fun-filled educational activities in my new parenting book

I hope you’ve all enjoyed The Grandma Chronicles.  It was a wonderful experience for me, revisiting with my memories of a person who had a great impact on my early years…and in helping me to become the person I am today. 

Tomorrow I will start a new series based on The Lessons of Nanny McFee.  Have you seen the movie?  I just did and I was struck by her five lessons…I think each one has a place in every parent’s rulebook.

The Grandma Chronicles: The Summer of the Black Cat

Jules Leroy: Playful Kittens, oil on panel, 8 ...

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Do you remember your first pet? 

My memories of the velvet black cat that followed me home are bittersweet…tangled with my annual summer idyll at my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn and the events that took place after I left.

Brooklyn, New York may not seem like a country retreat to you…but it was for a little girl from the heart of Manhattan.  My grandmother’s house was on a tree-lined street…her backyard blooming with flowers and fruit trees was a paradise…a true Garden of Eden.

My grandmother had thirteen grandchildren…and as soon as each was old enough to sleep away from home, they were invited to spend two weeks during the summer with this very special lady.

 The Summer of the Black Cat took place when I was about eight years old.  It was the first morning of my two-week stay and my grandmother had sent me to the grocery store around the corner to pick up some milk and bread.  I felt very proud and grown-up as I selected the items and paid for them.  Leaving the store, I noticed a beautiful black cat sitting on the curb.  Walking over to her, I patted her sleek fur and then turned and started back to my grandmother’s house.  Crossing the street, I turned and noticed I had a little shadow following me…the black cat. 

Perhaps she smelled the milk in the grocery bag or perhaps she was just lonely and had enjoyed the attention I had given her.  But she followed me all the way back to my grandmother’s house!  I went inside and gave my grandmother the milk and bread.  “Grandma, grandma” I exclaimed.  “A beautiful black cat followed me home…can I keep her?”

My grandmother was quite hesitant, but I should explain that she had many beautiful singing canaries.  “Vivian” she said.  “You know that birds and cats don’t belong in the same house.”

The tears that were starting to trickle down my cheeks must have touched her heart.  “You can give her a bowl of milk, but under no circumstances can she come in the house.” 

I was THRILLED!  I quickly ran to the kitchen and poured some milk in a small bowl and hurried out to the cat.  I set the bowl down next to her and sat there, watching Blackie (for so I had named her) lap it up.  As soon as she finished she climbed up on my lap, curled herself around and settled herself contently.  And I was content as well.

For the next two weeks, I had a constant companion on my walks around the neighborhood and while I sat reading in the backyard.  I was always very careful to close the screen door carefully so that Blackie would not come into the house.

But all too soon the two weeks were over and it was time for me to return to my own home.  I was sad to leave Blackie, but there was no way I could take her back to our apartment in the city.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.  A few days after I had returned home, someone left the screen door open and Blackie got into the house.  Before anyone realized it, she had jumped onto a table and reached one of the cages…and there was one less voice in the canary chorus at my grandmother’s house.  When my grandmother discovered the dead bird, she was extremely upset and angry.  Searching for the cat, she found it hiding under the sofa.  She realized that just putting it out of the house was not enough because the cat would try to get in at the first opportunity and someone might forget to close the door again.  So she put the cat in a shopping bag (this was many years ago before high tech pet carriers) and took a trolley to Coney Island and deposited the cat there…hopefully the next person who gave the cat a bowl of milk didn’t have any pet birds.

What would you have done in my grandmother’s situation?

Here are some options available if you find yourself with an unwanted pet:

  • Contact a friend or relative who might want a pet.
  • Call your local ASPCA or other animal rescue shelter.

If any of you have other suggestions, please leave a comment and share them!

My grandmother reacted in the heat of the moment, as many of us do sometimes.  But her main concerns were always for people and I have to be grateful for her willingness to allow a little girl to have her first pet.

I keep thinking that each Grandma Chronicle is going to be the last one…and I really thought this one would be.  However, there is one more story that I think relates to many young children who have separation anxiety, as I did.  Stop by tomorrow for The Grandma Chronicles: The Aborted Sleepover.  

The Grandma Chronicles: Many Peach Trees Grow in Brooklyn

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Do you know the story of Johnny Appleseed?  Born in 1774, he was a true American hero who planted apple seeds and then sold the seedling trees for pennies so that early settlers could grow apples.  I guess we could call him one of America’s first nurserymen.

I don’t know all the details about that long-ago gardener, but I do know why there are so many peach trees growing on a particular street in Brooklyn.

As young parents, my grandmother and her husband bought a one-family home on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn.  It was a two story house with a small garden plot in the back.  And I know that the patch of dirt in the backyard of that house was a very special place for my grandmother.  For her, it was an escape when the frustrations of motherhood were overwhelming and a haven when the toils of housework called for a respite.

My grandmother told me that one day she had bought several pounds of peaches at the market.  After preparing them to use as filling for a peach pie, she held the pits in her hand, imaging the peach trees they might become.  Making up her mind, she put them in a paper bag, grabbed a small shovel and went outside to her backyard.   My grandmother proceeded to plant several peach pits in the rich earth.  Hurrying to the small plot of dirt next door, she planted a few pits there.  Her mission for that afternoon: find a home for each peach pit…and  she continued planting pits in every backyard on the street.   

I don’t know how many pits grew into peach trees…I do know that I picked many peaches from the tree behind my grandmother’s house…most of them wormy because she didn’t use any insecticides.  The next-door neighbor and my best friend who lived across the street also had peach trees in their backyards…probably equally as wormy. 🙂

As a child, I spent many blissful hours on my knees in that dirt, helping my grandmother plant and weed…learning much more than just how deep to plant a daisy seed or which weeds to pull up.  I learned to:

  • Care about and respect nature
  • Care about and respect others
  • Care about and respect myself

Another valuable lesson I learned from my grandmother was a love of cooking.  From my new parenting book, here’s a lovely child-friendly recipe for a healthy fruit-laden cake that calls for apples, but you could substitute peaches if they are in season.

 CHILD-FRIENDLY APPLE CAKE

The wonderful aroma of apples and cinnamon baking in the oven…ahhhhh!

You will need: 2 cups all purpose flour, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 cup sugar, ¾ cup canola oil, 2 eggs beaten, 2½ cups apples (peeled and sliced thinly), ½ cup applesauce, ½ cup raisins, a large bowl, a 9×13 inch greased baking pan and a spatula.

  1. 1.    In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ¾ cup sugar.
  2. 2.    Make a well in the center of the flour and add the oil and eggs and mix well.
  3. 3.    Add the apples and raisins and stir until well distributed.
  4. 4.    Spread the batter in the greased pan.  Smooth with a spatula and sprinkle with ¼ cup sugar.
  5. 5.    Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.
  6. 6.    Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake…the cake is done if it comes out clean.
  7. 7.    Serve warm or at room temperature. 
  8. 8.    Serves 12…refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container.

Stop by tomorrow for the last installment of The Grandma Chronicles: The Summer of the Black Cat.

The Grandma Chronicles: Where are the Side-Lanterns on my Car?

1910 Model T Ford, SLC, UT

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Have you ever done something wrong, but were afraid to admit it?  And to cover it up, did you pass the blame off on someone else?

In my grandmother’s day, a husband’s word was law.  I never knew my grandfather, who passed away when I was an infant, but I’ve heard that he was a strict man.  My grandmother told me that at dinnertime, she would pass out books to each of her five children so that there would be quiet at the dinner table.  I don’t know whether my grandmother and her husband conversed…but I know the children ate with their heads buried in their books.  These days, most of us encourage conversation at the dinner table…it’s a wonderful time to relate the day’s events and share interesting moments.  And, although we might be horrified at a father who insisted on silence during dinner, you’ll have to admit that this policy did provide time for the children to read. 🙂

My grandfather had purchased one of the first cars made…a Model T…and I’m sure he was extremely proud of it.  I don’t know if you needed a license to drive a car in those days…but I know my grandmother didn’t have one…nor did she know how to drive.  However, one spring morning she decided that it was time for her to drive the car.  Taking it out on the street, she drove around the neighborhood, quite pleased with herself. 

And then she came to a very narrow street. 

With cars parked on both sides. 

And both side-lanterns were ripped off. 

As the last rays of the setting sun glinted off the shiny black surface of the car, my grandfather returned home from work.  I can imagine his horrified stare as he realized that the side-lanterns of his precious car were missing.  His roar of rage could probably be heard half-way down the street…certainly my grandmother heard it in the kitchen where she was preparing dinner.

“What happened to the car?  Did YOU drive it?” he shouted, angrily.  My grandmother paused for only a moment and then replied softly, “Walter drove it and I don’t know where he is.”

Walter was their oldest son…probably about 15 years old at the time.  As soon as she had returned home with the damaged car, my grandmother had told him the story and had pleaded with him to take the blame, but that she would hide him in the cellar for a few days until my grandfather had cooled off.  After all, the family could continue along for a few days without Walter, but what would the other children do if something happened to her.

I guess my grandfather did cool off, because years later, when I knew my uncle Walter, he was a successful musician, and he did NOT live in the cellar.  🙂

This story made a very deep and lasting impression on me when my grandmother told it to me many years ago.  The lesson I learned was that if you want a child (or anyone) to tell you the truth, you have to:

  • Try to listen without judgment or condemnation. 
  • Try to be patient. 
  • Try not to scream or scold or lose your temper.
  • Deal out fair and reasonable punishments or consequences for misbehavior.

Positive parenting takes time and effort…laying that foundation of trust and respect when children are young reaps wonderful benefits as they get older and helps create a life-long parent-child bond. 

Please stop by tomorrow for the last installment of The Grandma Chronicles: Many Peach Trees Grow in Brooklyn.

The Grandma Chronicles: Curtains for Dinner

17th century lace fragment from Italy, Honolul...

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I only knew her as GRANDMA.

But she had a life before I ever met her…as an obedient daughter, loving sister, impressionable girl, new bride and mother of five. 

She was a woman of character and strength.  She was ahead of her time in many ways and I thought she was an angel with super-powers.  But “Curtains for Dinner” shows that she was a normal human being, just like any of us…and sometimes she made questionable choices.

As a young woman, my grandmother lived in an era where most wives stayed home and the husband went to work and controlled the family finances.  Every week, she would be given a certain amount of money for the household expenses…whatever her husband determined would be enough…if she was a frugal homemaker.   And, just like today, it was hard to make the money stretch to buy the staples she needed.  One day, on her way to the butcher shop to buy meat for dinner, my grandmother passed a fabric store.  Hanging in the store window was the most beautiful piece of lace material and my grandmother knew she had to have it for her kitchen window…to help make her house a more beautiful home.  Opening the door, she entered a world of colors and textures…but her eyes were only on the lace in the window.  A small scrap of paper pinned to the fabric displayed the cost…25 cents.  Reaching her hand into the neckline of her dress, she unpinned the folded handkerchief that held her precious household money.  Carefully she opened the scrap of fabric and looked at its contents…only 50 cents, the amount needed to purchase enough meat for dinner that night.  What should she do?  How could she pass up that beautiful piece of lace?  But what would she do about dinner?

Making her decision, she took one of the quarters, approached the store clerk and indicated her choice.  Emerging from the fabric store, the parcel of lace clutched tightly in her hands, my grandmother continued down the street to the butcher’s shop.  Now she only had enough money for half as much meat.  Purchasing the meat, she watched as the butcher wrapped it…what a tiny package it made! 

Sitting down to dinner in the kitchen with the new lace curtains fluttering in the breeze, her husband noticed that there was only one place set.  “Aren’t you eating, my dear.” he asked.   “Oh no,” my grandmother replied.  “I was so hungry, I ate my portion earlier.”

My grandmother might have gone to bed with her stomach a little empty…but her desire to beautify her home was well-satisfied.

Did she make the right choice?  What would you have done?

Stop by tomorrow for the last installment of The Grandma Chronicles: Where Are the Side-Mirrors on the New Car?  I’ll also share a recipe, from my new parenting book. for apple cake just like the one I used to make with her those long-ago Sunday mornings.

Restful Sleep…Crucial Factor in the Fight Against Obesity

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See ...

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I know I feel out-of-sorts when I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. And I had heard (thought it was a rumor) that lack of sleep could cause weight gain. 

Tonight, one of our local TV stations ran a special report on kids who get too little sleep being at risk for obesity and diabetes.

So I did a little research and found that studies have shown that “insufficient nighttime sleep among infants and preschool-aged children appears to be a lasting risk factor for subsequent obesity.” (WebMD Health News) http://children.webmd.com/news/20100907/sleep-linked-to-childhood-obesity

I’m always blaming fast food, super-sized meals and lack of exercise on the increase our country is seeing in childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes.  But, now it seems that we can add another villain to the mix.

And that is one more reason to set up those bedtime routines for your children…and STICK to them.  One of the pediatricians on the TV report had several suggestions: 

  • Bedtime should be the SAME time EVERY night for your child. 
  • Wind down 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. 
  • Children should be getting 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night. 
  • If you are missing an hour or two of sleep for the week, you can catch up on some sleep on the weekends. 

You can refer back to yesterday’s post about bedtime routines for more tips. https://viviankirkfield.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/bedtime-routines-rituals-and-can-i-have-one-more-glass-of-water-please/

In that post, I suggested you read CORNELIUS P. MUD, ARE YOU READY FOR BED? with your child and I provided a recipe for Overnight Cookies.  Bedtime is a very special time for young children, but without routines and limits, many try to delay going to bed as much as possible.  I promised to give you a simple craft project that may encourage good bedtime routines.  With your help, your child can “set” his clock to the particular time when he will need to be ready for his bedtime story.  Then he can check that time against the real clocks in the house and will know when he has to complete his toy cleanup in order to be ready for that special treat…the bedtime story.

NO TICK-TOCK CLOCK

You will need: A piece of cardboard (from a cereal box would be fine), metal paper fastener, construction paper, marker and scissors.

  1. Cut a large circle (the clock face) from the cardboard.
  2. Cut two “hands” (one longer and narrower than the other) from the construction paper.
  3. Attach the hands to the center of the clock with the paper fastener.
  4. Draw the numbers in the correct order on the clock face.

Parents…keep in mind that if you’ve been trying to lose a few pounds yourselves (as I have been), perhaps getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis may do as much for you as cutting back on calories and exercising.  In fact, if you treat all three elements…restful sleep, nutrition (not diet) and exercise with respect, you may be rewarded with better health than you ever had before.  Believe me, I know how difficult it is to call it quits for the night…there always seems to be something else that MUST be done…laundry folded, dishes put away, lunches made for the next day, bills to pay and checkbook to balance…the list goes on and on.  This is another reason that making lists of short and long-term goals as well as a daily to-do will help organize and prioritize what needs to be done.

P.S. This post somehow got put in drafts and didn’t get posted on Tuesday…sorry. 🙂

Stop by tomorrow for a look at a very special lady…my grandmother…she was a role model for Positive Parental Participation in an era before spending quality time with your children was a catch-phrase.

God Couldn’t Be Everywhere, So He Created Grandmas

GOD COULDN’T BE EVERYWHERE

SO HE CREATED GRANDMAS

This plaque hangs in my kitchen.  It was given to me by my daughter, after her son was born.  It is so very meaningful to me, and I smile every time I pass it by, not only because I’m thrilled to be a grandma to one of the world’s most adorable, smart, sweet, loving, handsome, and wonderful little boys in the world, but also because it brings back my memories of my own grandmother.

If I close my eyes, I can still see her, sitting in her antique rattan rocking chair, arms outstretched, ready to enfold any child in need of love and a listening ear.

This amazing woman cherished children and was always eager to praise your drawing made at school even though the people were stick figures and the trees were lopsided, listen to you practice the piano no matter how many wrong notes you hit, or just hold you.  She was a role model for Positive Parental Participation in an era before experts were encouraging parents to spend quality time with their children.

When I was ten years old, a wonderful thing happened.  My family moved into my grandmother’s house!  She was getting older and my parents and my aunts and uncles were uncomfortable having her live on her own.  I don’t know how easy it was for my parents to coexist in this multi-generational home, but for my sister and me…it was heaven!  Now we could have access to this very special person on a daily basis, not just on weekend visits.

My favorite time was early Sunday mornings.  My parents and sister would sleep a little later, but my grandmother was an early riser.  I would tip-toe downstairs to the kitchen where I would find her, drinking coffee and dipping her dry bread into it.  She would take down an old porcelain cup, pour in a splash of coffee and fill it to the rim with milk and hand it to me.  Starbucks’ lovers…eat your hearts out…there is no coffee drink available today that can compare to that nectar from the gods. 😉

After we finished our petit dejeuner or little breakfast, my grandmother would go to the pantry (yes, a real old-fashioned pantry that was like a walk-in closet) and get out bowls, flour, sugar and various other ingredients and we would spend the next few hours preparing apple pies and other amazing dishes.  Perhaps that is where I learned my love of cooking and baking and it is definitely one of the reasons I included a cooking activity with each story recommendation in my book for parents of preschoolers.  I understand how important it is to participate positively with young children and encouraging your child to help in the kitchen will build self-esteem and create a life-long parent-child bond.

I have two stories to relate about my grandmother…she was only human, after all.  One shows that she didn’t always use commonsense, and the other…well, if it happened today and the authorities found out about it, she would probably be in jail.  But, it was another time and people had a different mind-set about parenting.  Stop by tomorrow to find out about “curtains for dinner” and “the new car that lost its side-mirrors”.