Category Archives: Family

Gift Giving, Thank-you’s, and all the Rest

Annice
Annice

I’ve been thinking a lot about gift giving lately.  Maybe it’s because there’s a lot of it in June.  Birthdays, graduations, baby showers, Father’s day, new jobs, retirement, and just a lot to celebrate.  Coupled with all those celebrations and gifts, I have noticed the lack of thank-you’s over the years and that makes me feel sad.  I know I shouldn’t expect anything in return when I give a gift, and believe me, that’s not why I give, but what about a simple no frills thank you letting me know the gift was in fact received?   I find it embarrassing to call to find out if my gift ever arrived.  And, if it was a check or gift card, why do I have to log into my bank account to verify if my gift was debited, leaving me with the feeling of having just paid my utility bills?  Don’t get me wrong, I have lowered my expectations – I certainly don’t expect a hand-written note.  Heaven’s no!  They are somewhat inconvenient to write and then there’s the stamp and the post office.  But, how about a voice mail or even a 3 letter text that says thx?

Giving Gifts

Thank-you starts with parents teaching little ones what a gift is, and that a gift is not a requirement.  It is not an obligation to give either, and one is not naturally entitled to receive a gift.  This is an important lesson in giving and receiving, not to mention gratitude. I will admit that Baby Boomers (and generations before us) learned to write thank you notes at a very early age – in fact, as soon as we learned to write.  But since kids don’t actually learn to write anymore, I’m very willing to accept a digital note.   Something!  Anything!

I am not totally alone in my thoughts.  I have conducted a very informal survey and talked to women over 50 who have told me if they don’t receive a thank you (in any format) – they simply stop sending that person a gift.  One friend had a great solution for the non-thanker.  The next time she is “expected to give a gift,” she makes a donation to her favorite charity in that person’s name.  What a concept. kidtocamp

Here is what Cicero has to say: 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Let me know your thoughts – am I unrealistic?????

On Becoming a Grandmother-to-Be!

Jane Okay:  we’ve seen the ultrasound pictures.  It’s official:  my daughter is pregnant.  My first-born baby girl, who cannot possibly be old enough to be a mother, is going to have a baby sometime in early December.  Hello, Jane, this is real life!  Take it in:  Lizzie is actually a grown woman, married to a very sweet grown man, and now she is going to have a real baby.  As you can see, I’m having trouble believing this.  But don’t get me wrong:  all this difficulty getting my brain to believe the news does not mean I’m not excited.  In fact, the opposite is true.  I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.  I may have moments of worrying about her nutrition or her labor or her financial state (because babies turn into expensive little beings), but the overwhelming emotion in my heart and soul is complete and total excitement because, here’s the real important news:  I’m going to be a grandmother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  (It’s all about me!)  

Come December, there is going to be a little baby in our family, and that wonderful thought blocks out all my worries about anything (I know:  this kind of thinking has gotten me in trouble in the past!).  Best of all, this baby is one I won’t have to stress over so much (the way I obsessively did with our 4) because I won’t be responsible in a sleepless night kind of way for this baby’s reading ability or spirituality or even its dental health!  My only job will be to love it and love it and love it some more!  How amazing and wonderful is that?

Enough said for now. I’ll just share a picture of my girl when she herself was a baby, a mere 26 years ago, so you can share my amazement about this event.  Stay tuned!  I have a feeling I’m going to be blogging about this event a lot!

Lizzie with our beloved Rufus
Lizzie with our beloved Rufus, 1987

P.S.  Tom says I never mention him in the blog, so I will report this:  Gramps is pretty excited himself!!!!!  And, by the way, that’s Tom on the floor in the picture, showing the effects of sleepless nights with Lizzie, the miraculous baby who never slept.  (I wonder what her baby will be like!  Is she in for some karma?  Mean , mean grandmother!!).

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I Hate Everything About College Admissions in this Country!

Jane
Jane

I hate everything else about the cattle chute that either gets students into colleges in this country or dumps them out!

Here are my specific hates:

1)    I hate the process of applying to college.  In particular, I hate it that all application forms have different required essays, so a student has to sweat over not one but five or ten different essays!

2)    I hate deadlines that come too early!

3)    I hate Super Parents who are completely on top of those deadlines, along with everything else about the process (such as the need to push your kid into taking AP’s as early as sophomore year if you really want them to rank at the top of their class!) while the rest of us muddle along.

S.A.T.
S.A.T.

4)    I hate the SAT and the ACT and anything else that judges my kids based on one morning in a high-pressured testing center with ONLY number 2 pencils and completely filled in ovals!

5)    I hate it that some great extracurricular but non-social-impact activities that your kid loves count for nothing!  And I hate it that anything the kid did before the 9th grade also doesn’t count!

6)    I hate the FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid)!

7)    I hate the fact that the FAFSA always comes up with a ridiculous amount that you supposedly can afford as your parent contribution—one that has no relation to reality!

8)    I hate it that you have to fill out a new FAFSA every year of your child’s time in college.  So far, we have filled out the FAFSA 13 times, and we have at least 3 more times to go!

9)    I hate filling out a damn Master Promissory Note for a student loan!

10)    I hate it that any member of the so-called Middle Class, who isn’t either filthy rich or desperately poor, can’t ever get enough financial aid to be able to send their kid to college without loans, even at your state’s public university!

admissions game
The Admissions Game

11)    I hate the CSS and the IDOC, both asking for different information.

12)    I hate it that you really have to do your taxes before you fill out the FAFSA, unless you happen to like going back in and correcting all the errors you made when you estimated!

13)    I hate it that a student has to be the first chair in their local symphony, the top of their class, a world-class athlete and the founder of their own high-impact non-profit in order to get into an Ivy League school!

14)    Most of all, I hate, hate, hate that some kids feel bad when they get turned down and actually believe that they must not really be as smart as they thought they were!  There is not enough press about how much randomness is involved in the process (who happens to read your application, what students that college happens to need at the time, where you happen to live in the country, what race/ethnic group you happen to belong to, how you happen to approach an essay on the day you sit down to right it, whether or not you happen to have had a good night’s sleep the night before the SAT, and on an on)!

I’m Getting Sentimental Over You!

Jane On a recent visit with my three sisters (our annual get-together), we got to talking about all sorts of things, including, of course, our children and how quickly they have all grown up.  One sister said the hardest thing for her about having her children grow up is that, in the process, she lost the little people they were at age 2, 4, 6, etc., as if someone came and spirited them away.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I got back from the trip and realizing that there is always a part of me that is half expecting those little ones to show back up, as if they are hiding somewhere in the house.  And thinking about them makes time compress and expand at the same time.

Lizzie and Parker in Roxbury, NY
Lizzie and Parker in Roxbury, NY

If I close my eyes, I can remember Lizzie, our first daughter, tromping into our kitchen in upstate New York in her favorite rubber boots and saying, “I ahna Goo-Koo,” (I want a cookie) or singing her way downstairs in the morning.  Same with Parker, next in line.  I can see him playing Power Rangers with his buddy Max or sitting at the kitchen table with his pirate ship and pirates and doing all the different voices for the various pirates and their enemies.  Becky is often sitting in her high chair (I think I must have left her in there a lot!), smiling at the thought of all the mischief she is cooking up to get her brother or sister to pay attention to her or standing at the bathroom mirror, cutting herself trying to shave her chin with her father’s razor.

Becky
Becky

Josie, the youngest, is always living in some story of her own making, like the millions of worlds she created for her dolls, or like the Madison Avenue world she inhabited one night in the bathroom, washing a hand towel over and over while singing out her version of the ad for OxyClean: “it gets your whites whiter and your bwights bwighter!”

Josie in Asheville
Josie in Asheville

 

So, the memories are vivid, but, if I think about it hard enough, they are not as fresh as I would like them to be.  And sometimes it’s hard to sort out what I really remember from what I have recorded in pictures and videos.  The hard part, I guess, about trying to hold onto memories of your children as little people is that, when they are actually little and getting bigger every day,  every memory is constantly getting replaced with a new one, each time the child does something new and different. (This is why I should have written things down in baby books!)  Before you even have a chance to catch your breath, the two-year-old version of your child is replaced with the three-year-old version, and you’re off and running on a whole new child!  Or, to state it more accurately in terms of how it feels, the two-year-old is replaced with the twenty-six year old version!

The "Men in Black" Christmas Card
The “Men in Black” Christmas Card

One great thing is that I still get glimpses of those earlier children in their new, larger bodies.  Every now and then, one of them will smile or laugh a certain way or turn their head at a certain angle, and there is the three-year-old version of themselves peeking out from behind their eyes or the six-year-old version looking worried and serious.  Same look, new source of worry!

Here’s to all the different versions of my children, in all their glory, including those little people who are hiding somewhere (maybe they will come back as grandchildren?) but especially these wonderful and strange grown-ups now inhabiting my world and saying they came from me and Tom!

Lizzie's Wedding!
Lizzie’s Wedding!

Capturing My Grandparents

post 50 women

My grandfather, Surry Parker, was more of a myth than a man.  I never met him, since he died before I was born—even before my parents got married—so my only knowledge of him was from the stories people told.  And there were tons of stories—about, for instance, how he sped into Washington, NC in his Model A Ford, in the very earliest days of cars on the road and speed limits, and got stopped by a policeman, who said he would have to pay a fine for driving too fast.  My grandfather handed the policeman double the required amount and told him to keep the change because “I’ll be going out the same way I came in.”  Or there’s the one about the one or two times when my mother’s date might have stayed a little too long in the parlor, inspiring my grandfather to throw his shoes down the stairs, yelling, “Janie, tell that young rooster to go home!”  Or there’s the much earlier one about how he made my mother, five years old at the time, stand in the middle of a pile of dead-but-still-wriggling snakes in the Great Dismal Swamp (where the family lived in the early years of my mother’s life), so that he could get her picture, since he loved to take pictures.  My mother never questioned him; she did as she was told, but she remembered those snakes with terror to the day she died.  I was always proud to have Surry Parker as my grandfather, and all those stories played a useful role for me.  Whenever I was afraid of doing something bold and daring, or even just slightly out of the ordinary, I would think of one of those stories, and that would give me the courage to move forward.

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My grandfather as a young man
oops50 women
My grandmother

But there was also a problem with the stories, in that people in my family got so caught up in talking about Surry Parker that they never really talked about his wife, my grandmother, lovingly called “Dovie,” except to say that she was basically one of the best people that ever lived—and that she loved Surry Parker!  But I would like to have known her better.  I would like to be able to get a picture in my head of the real Dovie, not just the one on the tombstone with the engraving, “Her children shall rise up and call her blessed.”  Don’t get me wrong:  I loved those words, and I desperately wanted to be the kind of mother who would inspire that kind of saying on her grave.  But I also wanted to know more about my real grandmother.  I wanted to know what kinds of things excited her or irritated her or made her happy or sad.  I wanted to know what her vices were—she had to have at least one, didn’t she?

I’m thinking that kids nowadays are lucky because they have at least a decent shot of having videos of people who have died before them.  I would give a lot to have a video of my grandmother—one that included sound!  We do actually have one movie of her, since my grandfather also had one of the first movie cameras in his area (he loved technology!), but it’s a very jerky, very badly lighted 16 mm film, and it has no sound.  So, the only impression I have of her is of someone walking around like Charlie Chaplin and turning her face away from the camera.

Which makes me think this:  you should be careful to tell your children stories about the people who went before them, even the ones who weren’t extroverted or dramatic.  And you should take real pictures of people, real videos, of them doing the ordinary things that make up their lives, like cooking or telling a story or laughing.  You shouldn’t only take pictures of them on special occasions, all dressed up and stiff.  You should capture them in their natural habitat!  What I wouldn’t give to have a video of Surry Parker and Dovie not just looking good for the camera but having a real conversation together, maybe arguing about the wisdom of making their five-year-old daughter stand in the middle of a pile of snakes just to get a good picture!