Tag Archives: Family

On Growing Up

Whenever I’ve traded childhood stories with anyone or discussed what it was like growing up, I always tell them the same thing; if anyone had a better childhood than I did, I’ve never met them.

I always said it but never gave much thought as to why I felt that way. I suppose, as a child, you live life a certain way and take so much for granted that you never consider that others may not be as fortunate.
As I grew up  got older, the reasons didn’t seem important enough to spend time thinking about it. I was busy with work and helping to raise three daughters; living in the present. I never understood until years later what made growing up so special for me.

It was family.

But it was more than just family. It was having immediate and extended family around me all the time. I never realized how blessed I was as a child. Aside from having terrific parents who worked hard, respected and loved each other and set the right examples, my brother and I were surrounded by our grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins every day.
We lived in an Italian/Jewish neighborhood which was only a few blocks by a few blocks. My parents owned a small grocery/meat store and we lived behind the store in a small two bedroom apartment. It was the classic neighborhood corner store, where every one congregated. We didn’t have much monetarily but I never noticed or thought about it.
My aunt and uncle lived around the corner, my cousins up the block, another aunt who was like a grandmother to me and was always around, lived a few miles away. Both of my grandmothers had died but my mother’s father, who had originally owned the store, was there everyday. He came each morning and left before or after dinner. My friends and I would play cards with him, pitch pennies, play handball, listen to his stories and tell jokes.
My dad’s family lived in Brooklyn. They came to visit every other Sunday. Aunts, uncles and my other grandfather. That grandfather would take me to the park to hit baseballs, play basketball and stop at the candy store on the way back for an ice cream soda. Every other sunday.

Life was different then. Families didn’t move away as much as they do now. They remained a part of the neighborhood. They stayed close. They made memories. The kind you can only make when you can walk down the street to your aunt’s home and know there will always be something in the oven or candy dish for you. Where you can walk into their yard and help pick the figs or pears off the tree and leave with a bag of fruit and veggies. Where your grandfathers became two of your best friends.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced those moments, all that they’ve missed. The weekly sunday dinners, the loud card games, the laughter, the knowledge that you can never wander too far without someone you love looking out for you. Someone right there in your backyard.

As you get older, you begin to lose those pieces of your life and childhood. Stories that only a select few people knew are not told as often. One day they will fade completely. Places you went for sunday dinners now have other families sitting in that same kitchen. Sometimes when I pass by, I want to knock on the door, just to peek in and imagine everyone again, as they once were.
Change is always part of life’s eternal equation. That’s just the way it is. But what made my childhood so special remains with me today. No amount of change can change that.

Because you can’t take away family.

 

 

 

Stones Upon Stones

“Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them.
They move on. They move away.
The moments that used to define them are covered by
moments of their own accomplishments.

It is not until much later, that
children understand;
their stories and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories
of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones,
beneath the water of their lives.”
― Paulo Coelho

There have been many things written about the relationship between parents and their children but these few lines encompass so much of that journey, simply because it moves across decades of change.

Parenting is a lifetime voyage and I don’t think we fully realize that when we’re young parents. We’re too busy being in the moment of day-to-day craziness to think about having twenty or thirty or forty-year old children.

Then, a couple of breaths later, we’re there.

How we handle that transition is encapsulated in the first line of Paulo’s words. More times than not, we have difficulty letting go. As young parents we don’t believe that will be an issue. Idealistically, we plan on giving our children roots and wings and encourage them to live their lives as they see fit. But twenty plus years of habits are sometimes hard to break. We have spent, until it’s time to allow them to move on, the better part of our adult lives guiding them, instructing them, encouraging them and caring for their well-being. Our emotional investment in our children cannot be overstated, simplified or pushed to the curb because a certain age or time in their life has arrived.

So what do we do?

We try to adjust. We sit on the side and watch instead of instructing. We attempt to bite our tongues instead of questioning or suggesting. We try to not offer unless we’re asked and even then we temper our comments. Because of our life experiences, we sometimes see the mistakes well before they do and while our innate reaction based on years of protection come to our lips, we understand the lessons of learning to ride a bike without training wheels apply to adult life as well as childhood.

But it’s difficult to watch sometimes and even more difficult to remain silent because, as with most relationships, you just never know how a positive suggestion or comment might be interpreted. With children, those feelings or concerns are magnified to the highest possible levels for all the obvious reasons.

When you become a parent, it’s a lifetime commitment. It never leaves you, it just changes direction, places you on the sidelines instead of on the playing field. Your concerns/worries are always with you but your voice during those times are sometimes held in, and I suppose that’s how it should be. Still, it’s hard to not give in to your natural instincts, of protecting and defending, regardless of age..

There is an old Yiddish saying, “LIttle children disturb your sleep, big ones, your life.”

 All children who become parents understand at some point. It never goes away.

Welcome To Holland

Even though she has won 17 Emmy awards and has been nominated an additional 14 times, you may not recognize the name Emily Perl Kingsley. She has been a writer on the Sesame Street team since 1970 and has written over 20 children’s books in addition to contributions on numerous other videos and shows.

In 1974, her son Jason was born with Down Syndrome. The doctors told her he would never walk or talk, that he should be institutionalized and they should tell everyone he died in childbirth. They didn’t listen to the doctors.

In 1987 Emily wrote Welcome To Holland. Since that time it has been set to various music formats and been printed on t-shirts, aprons, cards, calendars, posters, dolls, stained glass and numerous other surfaces.

If you’ve never read it or if your life has been touched in some way by a special needs child, her words are an inspiration to all.

 

WELCOME TO HOLLAND

by
Emily Perl Kingsley

images

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

An Unexpected Surprise

I was teaching a second grade class last week and had to give them a prompt for their writing assignment. Since I love finding out what’s in the heads of children, I asked this simple question, If you could spend a day or have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be, and why?

Now I know they’re only second graders but they’re well into the year and that makes a bit of a difference. At 7-8 years old, they can be easily influenced by their friends, athletes, singers, celebrities, even fictional movie/animated characters. Boys may wear shirts or jersey’s with the names of athletes on the back or action hero’s while girls at that age love their princesses or some pop singers. So I was half expecting some of these names to show  up in their writing.

With one exception, it didn’t happen.

Of the seventeen children who shared their writing with me, only one listed a female pop singer. The rest listed family; mothers cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings and even one dad. I was pleasantly surprised, considering everything our children are exposed to today,  to find that family meant more to them than whatever else was out there. Maybe it’s because they are only 7-8 years old or maybe children have a greater, simple, appreciation of family than adults do.

Then I started wondering at what age that mindset changes; because if I asked teenagers or adults that same question the answers would probably be very different. The question we’ve all heard or been asked, if you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would it be and why, is usually answered with the names of notable historical figures or current flavors of the day. Family is usually not the first thought that comes to mind or part of the current equation.
Of course anyone who reads this and is then asked the question might include a relative you never met or one who passed away at an early age, but that would be cheating. First reactions are usually the most honest.

So when does it change?

I don’t have an answer because the answer is probably different for everyone, but at some point, it does change. At some point we become a little more curious about those people instead of these people. I suppose it’s natural.

But for now I’m just happy that, for these second graders, family is still important enough to spend time with and enjoy. Those other people can wait a little longer.