A recent column expressing my conviction that thank-you notes are still obligatory (Oct. 10) generated a whirlwind of positive responses from grandparents. I had no idea this was such a hot issue among my fellow grandparents.
All of the emails thanked me for calling attention to this matter. Many said they sent the column to their grandchildren and/or the parents of their grandchildren. Many friends and strangers approached me to say, “Right on!” One friend, with a smile on her face, told me I was much too soft on grandkids. Her approach with her grandson: “See this birthday present? It’s the last one you will ever get from me unless I get a thank you note!” It worked!
I am delighted so many grandparents play a successful role in promoting civility and good manners. You get an A+.
I have another task for you, a homework assignment for grandparents. It will take a little time and thought, but it will be fun and worthwhile for both you and your grandchildren.
Talk with your grandchildren whenever you can about yourself and your world. Remember that “talk with” includes listening and encouraging questions and comments.
Mostly we grandmas and grandpas talk to our grandkids about their world.
How is school? What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend yet? How’s your job going?
Don’t stop doing this but also talk about you and your world when you were growing up. The world changes so rapidly these days that we are “history” in the real sense of the word. Day-to-day life as we remember it does not make it into the history books but we know it best because we lived it.
What on earth does Dr. Heins expect me to say? This is the fun part: You say whatever you like. But keep it focused on your life as a child. Your first memory. Your first day at school. Favorite teacher. Dogs (or cats) in your childhood. Your best friend. Describe a typical day in say, sixth grade. Your first puppy love. Favorite subject in school. Favorite sport.
Your remembrances can coincide with the child’s age or not. Your choice. Funny things that happened to you are always a hit. A child loves to hear about silly things grown-ups have done and if they should not have been done you can add a sermon about why not to do it.
Teens will like to hear about your adolescence, both the good parts and how you dealt with the painful parts. Nobody gets out of adolescence without some painful moments. But there are also wonderful moments and funny ones you can share.
Don’t just talk about things or happenings. Talk about feelings. Something that made you happy. Something that made you sad. Something you wish you had not said or done. Things you worried about at different ages, especially dealing with things other kids said or did that were hurtful.
One thing that children love to hear about is what you did NOT have, like color TV or cellphones.
So think about what you have now to talk on or watch and what you had then. It’s fun to chat with your grandkids about the changes and the speed of change. My grandchildren were astonished to hear that cars did not have seat belts when I was growing up. This led to us talking about auto safety.
One special tie to family history that we grandparents have is memories of our parents and other ancestors. Tell the grandchildren about your parents and grandparents. Get out the pictures of great-great-grandfather standing next to his first car. And wedding pictures from the past. Clothes and hairdos may cause hilarity.
Think of yourself as the keeper of information about ancestors—everything, including where they came from and the recipe of your grandmother’s chicken soup.
Over the last few years, I have organized what information and photos I had of ancestors on both sides of the family in separate files and told my daughter, who is my executor, where they are kept so they can be passed on. Another file contains family recipes, the ones I both inherited and invented.
Do not think you have to do all this talking about your world at once. It’s best to think about what would be both fun and useful to share. Jot your ideas down and bring then up at a quiet moment. When you and the grandchild are alone, do not allow any distracting screens. Everyone paid rapt attention while the elders of yore told the oral history of our tribe.
Think of these special moments when historian grandparent and grandchild are together as your own serial story. BTW, I kept my twin grandchildren spellbound with my own fictional serial of Mary McMotter, Girl Wizard (apologies to Harry). Every time we were together or had time to talk on the phone I created another chapter on the spot. They all had the same theme: girl wizards count. It’s perfectly OK to include a bit of healthy propaganda in telling your story!