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Let’s Be Friends-Young, Old, and In Between

grandpa teaching toddler grandson to fish

Intergenerational Relationships Rock

Seniors are important in the lives of children. Research confirms the value of intergenerational connections. Although we think first of grandparents, elders need not be biological relatives to forge deep and lasting relationships. Unrelated adults and children easily form strong attachments. Ones built on mutual acceptance and constancy. Children thrive with such unconditional love. Even the most devoted parents cannot provide what elders do.

As a child I was blessed by the presence of elders in my life, some relatives, others not. All happily gave me the gift of their time and undivided attention. Time had a different quality then. We were unhurried, at ease, comfortable. As we spent time together, we talked. Sometimes they shared stories of their childhoods. Other times I asked questions or sought their advice. Always I felt safe and loved.

Pots of Gold, Spring Water, and Blackberry Brambles

I learned about leprechauns and shamrocks from Mrs. Higgins. She shared stories of her native Ireland. Cousin Mary not only  took me for rides in her Model A Ford but also invited me to sleepover in her cabin in the woods. Where water came from a natural spring. And we carried what we needed in buckets.

When my maternal grandmother and I went berry picking, she cautioned me to pay attention to the  brambles. And as we crossed the cow pasture, to keep a sharp eye out for cow patties. Later I made a blackberry roll under her gentle guidance. That’s when I learned that some people know how to cook without recipes. On wood burning stoves.

Mutual Admiration Societies

All strong and nurturing, these women made a positive impression on me. They were accepting and encouraging, generous of spirit. They enjoyed our time together as much as I did. Clearly forged  our own mutual admiration societies.

Everyone benefits from positive relationships across generations. Younger ones learn when and how to lend a hand. While elders, accustomed to their independence, learn to appreciate and accept thoughtful gestures of assistance.

Becoming An Elder

Now I am the elder and recognize, in a way I did not as a parent, that children are drawn to adults who slow their pace and savor the present. Parents have many more responsibilities. Calming their minds and being in the moment often eludes them. Having “been there and done that,” we know the feeling. Current parents benefit from non-judgmental relationships with veteran parents. Hearing messages of encouragement and appreciation make a positive difference. We strengthen bonds all around when we give harried parents a couple of hours of respite. That’s a triple hitter.

We must pay attention if we want to create mutually respectful intergenerational bonds. Listen attentively. Show compassion. Respond gently. If we want those we cherish to be open and honest, we must be willing to acknowledge what we’re being told without judging. Being critical is the least effective way of communicating. We can be honest and compassionate. We have feelings and need to respect ourselves as well as those around us. Honesty and kindness strengthen our connections.

Being Our Best Selves

We need to share our stories. Our lives may seem ordinary to us but to the child who adores us, we are absolutely fascinating. People who have lead extraordinary lives. Moreover we are not only fun but downright funny as well.

Change occurs so quickly now. Even we are in disbelief about all we’ve experienced. We grew up in different times. What once was the norm, now often seems like ancient history. Yet our stories have the power to impress.

Steam trains are relics of the past, yet every week-end, weather permitting, enthusiastic families show up at Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum to ride the 1/8th scale model trains and learn railroad history and lore.

To our adult children (or others of their age), we bring experience. If we’re willing to listen without telling them what they should do, we can offer encouragement as well as  learn something along the way. To quote the Beatles, we all “get by with a little help from…friends.” We live longer, healthier, and happier lives when we’re well connected with people both older and younger than we.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

severely premature newborn
Previously I wrote on two topics that touch all of us – how our lives can change forever in a heartbeat and how staying calm empowers us to carry on. Lest we forget, the universe sends reminders from time to time.
The World Turned Upside Down
At birth, every child transforms the lives of its family. Daily living will never be as it was. That’s a given. When a child arrives at 25 weeks, two days gestation weighing 1 1/2 pounds, the world turns upside down. Obviously unexpected and clearly life-threatening, the situation requires everyone to remain calm, despite intense emotions. Keeping calm makes carrying on possible and insures the best possible outcome.
Entering A Parallel Universe
Most families never experience such an event. Those who have known how terrifying it is, even when the birth occurs in a hospital with top tier neonatal facilities. Such Neonatal Intensive Care Units are marvels of technology staffed with specially trained doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Each infant is cared for by her own highly skilled nurse. To enter such a unit is to enter a parallel universe. Going there for the first time took my breath away.
My daughter-in-law recalls being in shock and feeling queasy on her first visit. Overwhelmed by monitors displaying information she didn’t yet know how to interpret and afraid to look at her daughter, she remembers the compassion of the nurse as she gently encouraged her to stop looking at the monitors and look at her baby, saying “I’ll look at the monitors. That’s my job. You look at your baby.”
I recall feeling apprehensive about being there and about what lay ahead for our only grandchild. Astonished by her delicate beauty, thick hair, and skin so thin I could see her heart beating. And dismayed by the enormity of the challenges she faced.
Acknowledging Feelings
That’s an invitation, however ill-timed, to acknowledge all the feelings that come with this experience. Doing so is essential self-care – imperative for keeping calm and carrying on. This journey is the ultimate rollercoaster ride. I’ve never relished the ups and downs, twists and turns of a rollercoaster, and even those who do can appreciate the difference between living on a roller coaster and a thrilling ride at an amusement park.
Counting Blessings
Our family has been blessed by what hasn’t happened as well as by what has. That’s life in NICU. The range of challenges is staggering. Every situation is unique yet shares common threads. When schedules overlap, parents become acquainted, exchange information, and offer encouragement.
 Although we do not know the parents and other grands, we appreciate their plight and exchange greetings in passing. Carrying on takes on new meaning when everyone is literally in “the same boat.” The journey is long and exhausting. A nod or a smile brings comfort and encouragement. Small gestures make a big difference.
Bundle of Joy
Ciera and her parents began enjoying skin time when she was four weeks old. She contentedly snuggled. My best Christmas gift ever was being able to hold her on Christmas Eve, the day she turned seven weeks old. By 36 weeks gestation, she had shed many tubes, lines, and leads.
Celebrating Milestones
After a nurse moved the feeding tube from her mouth to her nose, she became giddy with joy. She delighted in being free from that nuisance. This is not our imagination. She smiled more than ever and took joy in testing how far she could stick out her tongue and how wide she could open her mouth.
Discovering Likes and Dislikes
Ciera likes the sound of words beginning with “p” and “s”, an observation her mother tested out after I reported her delight in the word “purple.” She smiles every time she hears the word. She also likes the sound of peaches, pears, and plums, but not of broccoli.
Settling In 
She left the NICU at three months old, only to be readmitted six days later. After 12 days, she was once again in her own bassinet, adjusting to life on the outside. And so the journey continues. We’re all acutely aware that we’re still on that roller coaster, subject to unexpected, high speed twists and turns, and yes, that’s scary. But as her mother says, “we’ve got this.”
We celebrate each milestone and those professionals who worked tirelessly and compassionately to insure Ciera not only survived severe prematurity but thrives. Our favorite neonatologist reminds us to think of her age in terms of her due date, not her birth date. Wise counsel. That’s where she is. So newborn, first time parents, and never-expected-yet-delighted-to-be grandparents are all adjusting to our new reality, grateful for the opportunity to grow together.
Learning New Tricks
The first time she came to spend an afternoon with us, all went well, despite the learning curve that comes when the time between becoming parents and grandparents is 40 years. We laughed when our son called to express his gratitude for the free time and said, “Mom, did you realize you’d put her diaper on backwards?” “Son,” I replied, “do you think I’d have done that if I’d known front from back?” Four decades ago his diapers were cotton, secured with pins, and worn under plastic pants. Current diapering practices are but one of the new tricks we old dogs have learned.
We focus on how “baby girl” lights up our world and delight in holding her, sharing family stories, reading snippets of Dr. Seuss, and singing the purple people eater song, a fave for the girl who likes the sound of the letter p.

 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Hats Off to Child Life Professionals Worldwide

baby resting on father

March is Child Life Month, a time for raising awareness of the psycho-social needs of pediatric patients and their families and celebrating the child life professionals who support those needs. Illnesses and injuries are always frightening. Diagnostic testing and treatments are too. That’s when the presence of a child life professional makes all the difference.

Educated in child development and how illness and injury impact children, child life specialists offer evidence-based, developmentally appropriate support. By providing information, procedural preparation, distraction, and therapeutic play, child life specialists help children cope with the uncertainties and fear that accompany being in hospital. Children experience less distress and are better able to manage their feelings as a result.

Child life specialists advocate practices that minimize distress. They encourage parental presence with guidance, comfort positions, and distraction during procedures. Comfort positions provide both physical and emotional comfort. Remaining calm is easier when a child is physically comfortable and emotionally supported. Procedures go more smoothly, children experience less pain, and what began as a frightening experience becomes easier for everyone to deal with.

Recently our micro-premie granddaughter benefitted from a medical staff aware of comfort positions. Experiencing a problem requiring readmission to NICU, she entered through the emergency department. During admission, she lay contently against her father’s chest. Once in an exam room, staff suggested he lie down on the bed with her on his chest – the perfect comfort position for her exam and initial treatment. Transport maintained that position on the trip to NICU. Parents and child alike were comforted by the compassionate care provided. An unexpected, frightening experience became manageable.   

Our family salutes child life professionals worldwide. Your efforts have transformed attitudes and practices for the benefit of children and their families, and we’re grateful.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play