Evening Out the Odds of Communicating With Kids

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

By Beth Diane Bradley

I recently had the pleasure of reading stories to my partner’s 18-month-old grandson. I showed him different books, trying to determine which ones he wanted me to read. When we got to Frosty the Snowman, I decided it would be fun to sing the lyrics. This apparently did not please Jaxon, as he started to cry.  

I have memories of both triumphs and failures when it comes to communicating with my own sons when they were young. And since they’ve grown up, I often wonder if I still remember how to relate to humans under 5-years-old.

During my second pregnancy, I assured  my son, Dylan, the new baby would become his playmate. I forgot to tell him that would not be instantaneous. He was not happy when he found out newborn babies can’t play with blocks.

When Dylan was 4, he took a bus to pre-school. And I walked him to the bus stop a few houses down the road every day. Sometimes my 2-year-old son would get out of bed while we were gone, and wonder where we were. Since Andy was too young to read a sticky note, I told him I would leave his toy school bus by the door, as a sign for him I was putting his brother on the bus.

As with any family with two or more kids, the boys quarrelled about whose turn it was to do certain things they deemed to be special such as riding in a shopping cart, pushing an elevator button or playing with a favorite toy. I wanted to create a plan where they would automatically know whose turn it was for everything.

One evening over dinner, I took the green beans on my plate and put them in groups of odd and even, so they could see the difference. I showed them how their names were like the groups of beans, one with 4 letters, and one with 5. And then I explained that each day of the month was either an odd or even number.  So the kid with an even number of letters in his name got to be first on even days, and the other on the odd days.

And The Day System was born.

The final detail was what to do about the months with 31 days. Of course I made the obvious choice of breaking the day in half — kind of like the “changing of the guard,” only without the cool hats. It would have been way better with those.

I’m not sure if any of this helped them in school, because I’m a very unlikely math teacher.  However, it did work to end the bickering.

Oddly … despite their early exposure, neither of my sons grew up to be bean counters. And unfortunately, I haven’t found any more excuses to play with my food. I also decided that, from now on — to keep from scaring babies — I will only sing in the shower.

 

Come Fly With Me, Bobwhite

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Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.nets

by Beth Diane Bradley

IT’S happened twice. I’ve approached the door of my house, and pushed the button on my car key, expecting the door to open.  The first time I thought maybe I was losing it, but decided it might be best to laugh it off.  After it happened again, I read 3 articles on the care and feeding of the aging brain, and ate the recommended  pound of blueberries and kale.  

A couple of months ago, I was in a public restroom.  While in the stall, I heard an electronic noise in the bathroom.  I was preoccupied, which is my normal mental state – and assumed it was a toilet.  As I walked out of the stall, thinking the toilet would automatically flush, I realized that was not the case.  It was the towel dispenser that made the noise. Never mind what happens to me when I think the sink is automatic and it’s not — or it is, or … whatever.

My best friend says these things happen to me because I have a really good auto pilot.  That sounds like a solid theory, but I will keep eating blueberries and kale, just in case.  

I wonder where my auto pilot will take me next? I’m hoping it will be a more exotic place than a public restroom. Maybe I should give her my bucket list of travel destinations and find my passport.

In the meantime, I am trying to practice being more mindful. I’ve read this even works while doing the dishes.  “Feel the water gently caressing your hands as you wash each tong of the fork” … well … I’m not  there yet, and thankfully my dishes are usually clean, despite the fact that at least part of my mind is planning the next meal that will make them dirty once again.

I think my venture into mindfulness would be more successful by focusing on something in nature. I read about a grade school teacher named Bob White in Oregon who teaches children mindfulness by taking them out in a field, telling them to slowly approach a bird, follow it until it flies away, watching it until it  disappears.  He calls this approach “Ornithomindfulness.”

I think that would work for me. But after it disappears,  I would ask my autopilot to follow the bird off into the wild blue yonder, and leave those dirty dishes behind for another day.

 

Chocolate is Bloody Good For You

 

by Beth Diane Bradley

My favorite food has a past — and some of it is not pretty. It can shape shift from a Santa to a bunny or a coin – or whatever people seem to want at the moment.  Chocolate can be cute and clever for sure.  But it hasn’t always been that way.

The Mayans and Aztecs used it as a beverage, often in sacred rituals. In her book The Chocolate Connoisseur, Chloe Doutre-Roussel explains the Aztecs gave a gourd of chocolate mixed with the blood of previous victims to the “chosen ones” to encourage them to participate in ritual dancing before their sacrifice.

The Smithsonian Magazine reports that In America, during the Revolutionary War, chocolate was considered equal to money, and was paid to the soldiers as part of their wages.

And in World War II, the Nazi’s designed an exploding chocolate bar intended to assassinate Winston Churchill, who was known for his sweet tooth, as illustrated in The Daily Mail.com.

But a few bon bons later, chocolate took on a new, more clean-cut image, leaving it’s sordid history behind.

We are rarely told something we love to eat is actually good for us.  Bacon is still waiting for redemption. But there has been a lot of research in recent years about the many health benefits of chocolate, now called a super food for lowering our risk of everything from heart attacks and strokes to diabetes.

In fact, the one dessert that is approved by Dr. Andrew Weil happens to be dark chocolate. It may not be a coincidence I have a son named Andrew.

A chocolate bar has five times the flavonoids of an apple. So much for the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are now optional, chocolate is not. As far as I’m concerned, it never has been.

And for those of us who experience an occasional  senior moment, an article in Medical News Today reports that chocolate may prevent memory decline by increasing the blood flow to the brain.

They go on to say that people who ate chocolate were 22% less likely to suffer a stroke than those who didn’t, and those who had a stroke but regularly ate chocolate were 46 percent less likely to die as a result — unless of course, they grabbed the chocolate bar that is really a bomb.

If a Tree Falls … in the Living Room

by Beth Diane Bradley

Long before the advent of Christianity, people believed that evergreens would protect them from ghosts, witches, evil spirits, and illness. For that reason, the pilgrims considered Christmas trees a pagan tradition that made a mockery of the sacred holiday.

Of course pretty much everything has changed since the pilgrims ruled, and Christmas trees come in as many varieties as puppies at the pound.

Throughout the holiday season, discussions about what type of tree is best are popular. And ultimately, the correct answer depends on your lifestyle.

I grew up in an era when almost everyone had real Christmas trees. But over the years, artificial trees have become more realistic, and thus, more popular. The early ones tended to resemble a large collection of designer toilet brushes.

My ex-husband was a firefighter, so we always had an artificial tree for obvious reasons. He just didn’t want to bring his work home with him.

As a single mom, I continued that tradition until the year my oldest son came home from college for the weekend with the suggestion we go to a nearby farm and harvest a fresh tree. I was delighted with his idea, imagining a holiday reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

After just the right amount of hunting, we captured our verdant prey, brought it home and put it in the garage. My son had to leave for college, so he told his younger brother to bring the piney hostage in the house and put it in the tree stand. I winced, recalling a vision of my parents wrangling a wild tree into submission.

There is definitely an art to the process and I wasn’t sure my 16-year-old son was ready for the challenge. Sure enough, he brought it in the living room, stood it up in the stand — and it played dead.

Santa’s reluctant elf called me at work to explain the feisty fir was resisting domestication. I told him he needed to cut off a couple of branches at the bottom and maybe saw the trunk so it was flat.

When I got home, it was apparent I should have been more specific.

The tree looked like it was wearing a mini skirt. And frankly, I’ve never met an evergreen with the gams to pull that off. Despite the extreme makeover, it still wouldn’t stay erect in the tree stand, hanging what was left of its branches in shame.

Let’s not skirt the issue. This balsam has seen better days. I told him to put the poor thing out on the boulevard and maybe someone will take it home for spare parts. We’ll just put the fake tree up again this year.

My oldest son was not very happy when he heard what happened to his special gift to me. I assured him I didn’t need a tree to make me happy. After all, it’s the thought that counts.

Both my boys are grown now and live out of town. Every year I question whether I want to bother putting up a tree.

But I do it because Christmas trees proudly display all the memories of the past. My trusty artificial tree looks beautiful wearing the ornaments made by my kids, handed down by my parents or given to me by friends.

And regardless of what kind of tree I have, silver stars and frosted pine cones are a much more becoming coniferous fashion statement than a mini-skirt.

(reposted from Christmas 2013 — one of my favorites)

Hark the Herald Pilgrims Sing

by Beth Diane Bradley

She’s learned to live with it. Her sister is the popular one, even though she arrives first every year. She just doesn’t get the attention she deserves, despite a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and those noble historical roots. If you enjoy sharing a meal with family and friends, you’ll like her just fine. She’s a straight shooter – just ask a turkey!

People never complain she is too commercial. A simple trip to the grocery store meets her needs.  Even her decorations are edible.  She couldn’t be more humble, more down-to-earth. But all they notice is her sister — with all her lights, tinsel and wassailing. Not to mention baby Jesus.  Who could compete with that?

And as soon as her feast is devoured, she’s pushed out the door by Black Friday — the name says it all. After one stuffing-filled moment of grace, it’s all over for her until next year. But before she goes, she always leaves a few left overs in the fridge for you to enjoy as you put up your Christmas tree, and do your shopping. Thanksgiving is just thoughtful that way.

 

The Treasure of Transylvania

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TRICK OR TREAT?  I guess it depends on the details. There are only a few Halloweens in my life that have been memorable, and oddly, none of them were during my childhood. Maybe because we went trick or treating in the same neighborhoods every year, and all those memories are molded into one big Tootsie Pop.

As an adult, I’ve been invited to a few Halloween parties where I actually wore a costume. I like costumes, but I need a lot of lead time to think of a good idea.The fact that I don’t sew, and I am not very crafty, makes it more challenging. So my typical costume usually involves repurposing misfit clothing, and putting on some funky makeup or a dime store wig.  My last creation resembled a hybrid of Phyllis Diller and Miss Piggy.

I also have a couple special memories of my children at Halloween. My youngest son received a velveteen sailor suit as a gift when he was an infant.  It was adorable, and fit him just right when Halloween arrived.  It didn’t look very comfortable to me, however, so I decided to make it his “costume” for the evening, and then hung it back in the closet — like the sport coat and tie his dad only wore when it was mandatory.

By pre-school, they started to beg for the store-bought costumes most kids want that depicted their favorite superheros or cartoon characters.  But one year, I got to try my hand as a makeup artist, transforming my sons into Dracula, and a half cow– half human creature from a popular cartoon.  

The best Halloween I remember, we took the kids to my parents place, and after repeating the required password, the door opened and out popped mom and dad wearing scary rubber masks that completely covered their heads. My dad had rehearsed a diabolical laugh that created more giggles than goosebumps. I have a snapshot of my parents in all their “monster glory” that I will treasure forever.

After they were done trick or treating at the neighbors, the mall, or the nursing home, my final Halloween duty was to stash the loot on top of the fridge and dole it out a piece or two at a time — to avoid tummy aches, sugar highs and cavities — and still enjoy the bounty of the season.  

My kids are grown now, and I enjoy handing out candy to other people’s kids on Halloween.

But what will I wear this year, if I steal an invitation to a last minute party?  I’m not sure yet, but I hear orange is the new black. Anyone know where I can borrow a ball and chain?

By Beth Diane Bradley 10.30.15

Talkin’ bout my Generation   

by Beth Diane Bradley

Accidents happen.  I know this for a fact because I am one. Meaning my existence was not planned, at least not by my parents. My family not only had the normal generation gap between parents and children, but we had a second one of 12 years between my siblings and me.

For the most part, it created a useful and interesting dynamic.  My sister and brother acted as understudies to my real parents, who were still recovering from the first time around. This meant I got to be an honorary teenager at two-years-old.  My diaper-clad rendition of the twist was unmatched by any other toddler in the neighborhood.

I loved to play dress up in my sister’s prom dresses. I waddled around in her high heels, imagining they were Cinderella’s glass slippers, and smeared her lipstick all over my face.  I found the fact that she shaved her legs to be extremely glamorous — sadly, shaving my own legs has never been quite as fascinating.

I was six when my sister got married, and my parents gave me the standard line that I wasn’t losing my sister, I was gaining a brother.  In my little girl mind, that meant he was moving in with us.  When I found out that was not the case, it lead to serious abandonment issues — which has given me a convenient excuse for any problems I’ve had ever since.

The generation gap grew when I became a real teenager. My parents had to adjust from my sister who wore poodle skirts, to me and my blue jeans.  I remember my mother gazing with horror at my ragged bell bottom jeans, and saying “Denim pants are for milking cows in the barn.  We do not live on a farm!”

In my later teens, I learned it was often best to protect my parents from the harsh realities of my generation.  I made sure some of my activities were as invisible as those cows we didn’t have. That tactic worked fine until one of my friends spilled peppermint schnapps on the basement rug.

Years later I became a mother of teenagers, and the generation gap between us was measured in megabytes. My oldest son was especially adept at outsmarting his parents at a very young age. We put parental controls on our computer and safely guarded the password, but it didn’t take long before he learned how to undo anything that cramped his style. Like with most parents of our era, the kids ended up teaching us how to use our cell phones, fix our computers, and navigate the latest online trends.

Each generation has its own slang, and that is groovy, neat or cool — depending on your age, man — which reminds me about the time my oldest son had some friends over to our house. I was talking to his brother on the phone, explaining to him some girls had left their thongs by the door, and went down to the basement. “I can’t wait to come home and check that out,” he said with a touch of sarcasm.

Duh. My bad! When my kids were learning how to talk, I didn’t realize some day they’d teach me the proper name for a pair of shoes. Now that’s what I call a flip flop.

What I Learned From the Other Team

by Beth Diane Bradley

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails – or sugar and spice. There was a recent conversation around the office water cooler about the pros and cons of sons or daughters. The consensus was that, if given a choice, more women would choose girls, more men would choose boys, and most wanted to know the gender before birth.

Apparently, I love adventure and the thrill of the unknown, because when I was pregnant, I was game for whatever nature had in mind.

Although the ideal option may be one of each, I have two sons, and found raising them to be a lot of fun. And even when their fun got out of hand, it was hard not to smile at where their curiosity lead them – once the smoke cleared, or the water was mopped up — and they were safely grounded in their rooms.

I used to tease my sister about making it look easy to raise boys — because my nephews were the quiet, intellectual type. Her oldest son once asked for a globe for Christmas, whereas my kids were more likely to ask for things that explode. And I was always grateful Santa never delivered the goods. My sister blames my sons’ extremely active nature on their dad’s red hair — but I doubt research would support that theory.

I learned a lot from the experience of raising two people who were not “just like me.” It may have even given me some extra perspective in my relationships with the other men in my life. However, I know mothers and daughters do enjoy a lot of shared experiences. And there were times when I had to try a little harder to bond with my boys, but I was up for the challenge – most of the time.

When the kids were little, we enjoyed playing make believe games with their stuffed animals.  But unfortunately, our puppy had a habit of chewing the ears and tails off of them. I made new ones out of felt and sewed them on, but they barely resembled the original body parts. Fortunately, the kids didn’t mind, and no longer complained when their puppy misbehaved.

I gave my sons dolls to play with to help develop their future parenting skills, but after watching them drag the dolls around the house, naked and covered with grime — I decided it might be awhile before their nurturing sides would emerge.

Although many girls are athletic, I was not one of them.  In fact, my lack of coordination and interest left me nothing but negative feelings about all things related to sports. And when I did attend a game, it was not unusual for me to accidentally cheer for the wrong team.

So I came to understand the value of sports through my boys. My son, Andy, was a quarterback, and I remember the coach explaining it was a leadership position.  And at his high school graduation ceremony, my son, Dylan, was recognized for the determination he developed while on the basketball team. I’ve also heard many adults say participating in sports taught them how to be “team players” in their work life.

When Andy was 9 years old, he asked me to play baseball with him because he had exhausted all of his other options for playmates.  He tried to teach me how to hold the bat just right, and then threw the ball, expecting a fairly positive response. After I missed it several times, he decided I might be afraid of the ball.  I laughed pretty hard, and said I could have told him that before we began.

I used to think having sons would relieve me of any hair styling duties, because I never learned to do things like braid or create “up dos.”  But when they were in high school, it became popular for boys to dye their hair.  Andy came home one day and asked me to help him dye his brown hair blonde. I read the box carefully, and proceeded to turn his hair into a blotchy disaster.

And all I have to say is … better his than mine.

 

 

Musing About A Meal With Marley

by Beth Diane Bradley

Many years ago, I remember practicing a song on the piano I’d been working on for quite awhile. My youngest son, Andy, who was 4-years-old, listened intently for a moment, and then said sweetly, “Mommy, I think you need a new piano.”

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Even though that goal may not be achievable for most of us, we still practice our craft, with the hope of a new personal best. And based on my son’s reaction, I wasn’t quite there yet. I’m not surprised my young critic grew up to be a musician. And no one would be surprised I am one of his biggest fans.

According to current research, learning to play a musical instrument as a child has many benefits, including improved math skills. I realize it’s a brain thing, but I’d rather not associate music with unpleasant thoughts of long division and fractions. Please say it isn’t so.

I took piano lessons for two years in grade school, and then quit – regretting it eventually, like most music drop outs. I’m not sure if I can blame my sub-standard math skills on quitting piano lessons, but it can’t hurt to try.

On a more pleasant note, many research studies have proven music has a positive effect on brain waves, heart rate, blood pressure, and more – making it therapeutic in treating many medical conditions such as pain management, attention deficit disorder and depression. My dad experienced a brain injury in his later years, and found tremendous joy listening to his favorite big band recordings.

Even though I’ve long forgotten how to play the piano, I continue to have a deep appreciation of music performed by others. I find cranking up the tunes can take the drudgery out of household chores or driving to Timbuktu. But it’s best if I match the type of music to the activity.

For example, I’ve noticed I have to watch my speed when listening to my favorite blues CDs. Because even though the blues was once dubbed “the devil’s music,” I doubt a traffic cop would accept “the devil made me do it” as my excuse for speeding.

In contrast, I’ve found classical music is perfect for quiet times at home, but too meditative for the road, unless my destination is a monastery. As for the best music for cleaning the house, I’ll let the dust collect while I think about that awhile longer.

I also enjoy matching the music genre to the recipe while I cook. One of these days, I plan on listening to Reggae while making Jamaican Jerk Chicken. I don’t know if I will ever learn to play the piano again, but maybe the next meal I prepare will be my new personal best.

Turn Write …. At The Stop Sign

by Beth Diane Bradley

My son, Dylan, was in a school play in the 6th grade, and I still remember a conversation I had with one of the other moms.  She told me her son wasn’t chosen for an acting part.  His only job was to open the curtain, so she didn’t plan on going to the play.

I told her I thought he had a pretty important role, because if the curtain wasn’t opened, no one would be able to see the play.  She thought that was a strange thing to say, but I really meant it.

Being the one who opens the curtain so others can see is a powerful metaphor to me.  There have been times in my life when I have been asked to open the curtain, and times when someone has opened it for me.

Recently, it’s been the later, and I am ever so grateful.  Middle age is often a time for reflection, and ultimately for change.  Life events like divorce, an empty nest or the passing of parents can take their toll.  A few years ago, I experienced all three — and then my beloved dog died.  It was definitely time for me to clean my spiritual “house” and find a new direction in life.

When I was in high school, I loved the theatre, but I couldn’t figure out where I fit in — other than as a member of the audience.  I was too shy to even consider trying out for a part, and my main task on the tech crew was sitting on the boards while some boys sawed them in half.  I still don’t aspire to be an actor, but my bucket list for my “third act” now includes writing a play.

The metaphor also works in regard to education.  A good teacher can “open the curtain” for a student and reveal a whole new world. Dylan didn’t get an acting role in the play either, but found his niche on the tech crew, which sparked an interest in technology.  He later met a teacher who helped him develop his passion into a career in network administration.

For him, the road to destiny was a direct route.  In my case, I ran into some road construction requiring a necessary but annoying detour. It’s natural to complain about those detours — we all do it — but as they say, sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination that matters most.