Carpooling, Chromebooks, Common Core and Other Confoundment.

This week we had two of our grandkids stay with us. Their parents were on a little get-away. We enjoy having the kiddos spend the night on occasion but full-time parental duty is a bit daunting. Don’t get me wrong. We had a great time and they are great kids but school and extracurriculars today are very different from when our children were students.

schoolCarpool drop-off and pick-up requires special training and following the RULES. You have to wait for your signal and be prepared to “REMAIN IN YOUR CAR” or “EXIT YOUR CAR” or “MOVE OUT OF THE WAY OLD MAN – YOU CAN KISS YOUR GRANDKIDS GOODBYE SOME OTHER TIME”. Those carpoolers don’t mess around. And I suppose giving someone “the finger” at a Catholic school is frowned upon. Live and learn…

A Chromebook (some kind of computer) is required for 5th graders. I don’t understand what happens with it, I just know that whatever it is can’t happen without it. And yes, I had return to school when it was left behind Wednesday morning. For the record: it was my fault. I asked my granddaughter is she needed her iPad thingy. Which she didn’t. What I should have asked was, “do you need your computer thingy in the pink case?”

I have no idea what Common Core is. Probably something that 5th graders do with their Chromebooks. I heard some Moms talking about it at the 2nd grader’s baseball game and pretended to understand. I think I had them totally fooled.

This week there was choir practice and a baseball game and Robotics. Each day was another adventure. We had homework and bath time and bedtime rituals. We shared lots of laughs at dinner as we talked about the school day. Bedtime prayers nearly broke my heart each night with their simple yet eloquent thanksgiving for life and love. Their little poochie slept snuggly between them. And we all fell fast asleep. Some of us were more tired than others.

Their Nana made their favorite foods for breakfast and dinner and I benefitted from the requests. Who doesn’t want to start a day with Red Velvet Pancakes? Lunches were packed with special snacks. I scored some of those, too.

It has been a fun week, but I’m not sorry that Mom and Dad are coming home to take over. I’m reminded once again that there is a time and place for everything and it’s time for me to go back to being a grandfather and to get out of the carpool lane.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

Good Sport

Two of my grandkids play organized sports – basketball, soccer, softball and baseball. There are plenty of good reasons to play: health, socialization, teamwork, discipline and commitment. In my opinion the best reason for young children to play sports is to learn good sportsmanship. Winning is fun but learning to lose with grace is a gift. Statistically most grade school students are not destined to become professional athletes, however most will have to learn to deal with disappointment, failure and loss in their lives. So being a good sport is more about being good and less about sports.

Recently my nine year-old granddaughter played in a basketball game. The coach on the opposing team screamed at the top of his lungs throughout the entire game. He was truly hostile. He berated his players, he yelled at the referees, he shouted direction and correction non-stop. He was a textbook example of poor sportsmanship. How sad for the young girls on his team – several of whom shouted back at him to “shut up!” during the game. I was dumbfounded. This is 4th grade basketball in a Catholic school! It was hard to watch.

My first reaction was to give this guy a piece of my mind and then to send an angry letter to the Athletic Director of his school or the pastor of his parish or the Archbishop. But then I decided my energies would be better directed in a more positive way.

So instead here’s my open letter to Anna’s coach:

Dear Coach,

Anna B-ballThank you for your kindness toward my granddaughter. Thank you for your time and talent with these precious girls. Thank you for helping them learn and letting them have fun. I know that Anna loves her team and loves to play. I also know that she lacks height and talent but she has heart and soul. You are teaching her valuable life lessons: teamwork & team spirit, willingness to try harder, self-confidence, and most importantly good sportsmanship. She may be the tiniest player on your team but you and I both know that she is almost always the first to take a knee when a teammate is hurt. You can teach her to play tough but you are also teaching her compassion. Thank you for your good example.

God bless you,

A Grateful Grandfather

It’s interesting to me that during that awful game, my seven year-old grandson leaned over and said to me, “The other team is winning but Anna’s team is playing a better game, because they’re being good sports.”

Out of the mouth of babes…

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

Laffy Taffy

Kids are inherently selfish. It doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them kids. When you’re small, your world is small. And what you have is yours – your toy, your bike, your candy. Often sharing is mandated. Children will be admonished to “share with your brother” or “share with your sister”. Usually the little miscreant will oblige but not always cheerfully. As parents, we try to remind our youngsters that sharing is ‘the right thing to do’.

But in a world full of selfish and self-centered adults, teaching kids to share seems a daunting task. ‘ME FIRST’ is the mantra of so many in our society that giving or sharing seems to be an antiquated idea. After all, how can I get ahead if I’m busy taking care of someone else? Why should I sacrifice any of my time, talent, or treasure to someone who hasn’t worked as hard as I have to achieve it?

In the United States the idea of the self-made man is iconic. Pulling one up by his (or her) own bootstraps is almost heroic. It is the quintessential American figure. But is any of us really able to do everything alone? Has no one else ever helped even the most successful (depending on what your definition of success might be) among us? I doubt it.

We all need one another. We all need to be helped from time to time. And we need to help others in return. Sharing is giving. Giving is helping.  So young parents, please keep reminding your kiddos. Make him share. Teach her to give. Model that same behavior.

laffy taffyI am encouraged because after school one day recently, my (almost) seven year-old grandson gave my wife a piece of Banana Laffy Taffy®.

Let me explain: In first grade if you’ve had a good week at school the teacher allows you to pick something from the candy jar. Noah loves candy but he also knows that his Nana loves Banana Laffy Taffy®.

So when it came time to choose, he chose unselfishly. He chose something for someone else. He ran excitedly up to her to present his treasure. He earned it. He deserved it. But he gave it up with love. And with tears brimming in her eyes she accepted his kindness.

I hope and pray that his small gesture is just the beginning of lifetime of sharing and giving to others. What an example he has given us. I remain humbled.

Peace,

Denis

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

 

 

 

Kindergarten

This month our grandson Noah will begin kindergarten.

To me he seems wise beyond his years. He believes in God and prays often, albeit sometimes in a slightly selfish 5 year-old way (as do many adults that I know). He deeply cares about others, especially his big sister and his mommy and daddy. Noah’s interests are varied. He loves the outdoors. He plays baseball and soccer. He likes to swim. He likes to climb, jump and run. He also loves playing with Legos and Play-Doh, watching movies, playing board games. He has a very active imagination. He likes books but more than that, he loves hearing stories, especially if I tell him stories about when I was a boy (sometimes they’re even true). Noah loves music and loves to dance. And he laughs – huge belly laughs. He is fun and funny. We call him “Life’s-a-Party-Noah” for good reason. He is physically demonstrative and will gladly throw his arms around this old man and give me a huge kiss on the cheek. It doesn’t matter who may be watching. He loves me. And of course I love him!

Noah Kindergarten

Noah modeling his new school uniform

And so he begins a new chapter in his young life – Formal Education. From this day forward everything will be on his PERMANENT RECORD. I know that Noah will approach school with he same tenacity and aplomb that he tackles everything else. He’s a good team player and is easily coached so I suspect that the order and discipline required in school won’t be too challenging for him. Plus he loves to learn new things. And he’s kind. So he will be good to his classmates and teachers. And there can never be too much kindness in our world. Noah will surely do well with school.

But here’s the thing: Will school do well with Noah? Will his enthusiasm and joyful spirit be enhanced or stifled? Will his teachers expose him to new experiences and new ideas that fill his heart and stretch his mind or will he become bored and restless because of conformity and rote learning? Of most concern to this grandfather is whether or not his spirit will be allowed to soar. Noah has so much to offer and I’m convinced that he will change our world. He’s already changed mine.

I want the universe to open up for him in ways he can’t yet imagine. I want his achievements to be as boundless as his dreams. I want him to travel the world; read and study and explore; make a difference; discover his best self; love and be loved beyond measure. And I hope that someday he is blessed with a boy of his own who will fill his life with light and love.

I suppose that this is a lot to place on the small shoulders of a kindergartener. But hey, it’s Noah!

And I can always tell him a story about when I was in kindergarten…

Peace,

Denis

P.S. Noah, Always stay humble and kind…

Kindergarten and Beyond…

Granddaughter Anna started Kindergarten this week. It’s one of life’s big milestones, like  first steps or first words. But Kindergarten is more than just a milestone, it’s about education. It’s the door to knowledge and adventure and socialization and community. Certainly Anna’s education began the day she was born. The difference is the fact that Kindergarten is formal education provided by professional teachers. And everything from this day forward will be on her “permanent record”.

Ready to learn!

Ready to learn!

That seems like a tall order for a little person. But I’m confident that she will succeed and thrive. Anna is bright, loving, inquisitive and kind. Her school is filled with loving, caring educators who put the children in their care above all other concerns. And she has parents who will support her and the school in their shared goal of educating Anna.

Still I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about all this BIG GIRL stuff. Maybe I’m being too sappy and overly sentimental. I suppose all parents (and sappy grandparents, too) are entitled to a few tears on the first day. But that should quickly give way to the excitement of new adventures in learning for our children and grandchildren.

Anna has already learned so much in her five short years. Her knowledge will grow exponentially now that she is in school. And soon I will be struggling to keep up with her. I just hope that she can teach this old dog a few new tricks along the way…

Peace,

Denis

School Daze

Growing up there were two choices in my little world: both were Catholic schools. In my hometown there was also a Lutheran school, but it seemed foreign and exotic and I never knew anyone who actually went there. And Public School was taboo and frightening. We simultaneously prayed for and pitied the Public School kids but mostly we feared them.

St_Peter_Grade_School_1960Such was life in a small town in the 1960’s. There were as many as 40 kids in a single classroom. We sat in long rows. We took turns. We did as we were told. We attended Mass daily. We were (mostly) quiet, polite and respectful. We studied hard. We burned off excess energy on the asphalt playground. We helped clean chalkboards after school for fun. And Sister kept order and discipline at all times.

Nostalgia has a way of white-washing and sweetening our memories. But Catholic school in the 1960’s was far from idyllic. Learning disabilities were discounted or ignored (kids were either smart or stupid). Physical abuse went unreported. Bullies controlled the playground and bathrooms. And although Sister was always right, she was under-valued, under-paid and likely took out her frustration on the students in her care.

My granddaughters are now in school and tremendous advances in education have been made in the 50+ years since I started elementary school. As a society we are more aware of bullying (and have adopted zero-tolerance policies), we embrace and celebrate diversity, and learning disabilities are diagnosed and accommodated.

One granddaughter attends Public School, the other attends Catholic School. Each attend quality schools with small class sizes and safe classrooms. Both have sound nutritional and physical programs, as well as art and music at their respective schools. And both have attentive and engaged parents who value education.

Yet I’m in a bit of a daze. Teachers in 2013 still seem to be under-valued, under-paid and under-appreciated. Our children are in the hands of teachers who are often struggling to make ends meet. Not surprising that gifted teachers often leave their careers for better paying jobs in the corporate world. As a society it seems we pay more attention to the kind of athletic shoes, iPhones or fashion that our kids are sporting then to ensuring that they are being educated by well-paid, well-trained teachers.

Let’s invest in our future. Let’s appropriately fund our schools. Let’s support educators. And let’s thank the ones that taught us by working for a better life for the ones that will teach our future generations. I was blessed to be taught by Sisters who loved God and their communities and sacrificed their lives that we might learn. If you want to be nostalgic think of a teacher that you loved (and who loved you). And then pay that love forward to a future teacher who might just improve the lives of your grandchildren.

Peace,

Denis

School Days

My granddaughters have returned to school – Charlise second grade; Anna pre-Kindergarten. Both love school and are happy for the school year to begin.

Of course it’s impossible for me not to think of school years past – my children’s and my own. What an exciting time: new pencil cases, new notebooks, new folders, new Trapper Keepers®, new lunch boxes. A new beginning…

I always love a new beginning. And a new school year is exactly that. It’s a clean slate. Even someone who doesn’t like school (as I sometimes didn’t) is usually happy for a new school year. Maybe you’ll get a better teacher, find some new friends or have easier classes. At the very least (in theory) you can leave behind the baggage of the previous year and try again. And for those who are good students you can continue to build on your good reputation, Grade Point Average, and PERMANENT RECORD.

As a grown-up I sometimes long for a new school year. A clean slate. A do-over.

And I’ve discoverd it’s possible! I start by first looking inside myself and examining what’s in my heart and soul. Then I pray. I first ask God to forgive me (and my PERMANENT RECORD). Then I ask for the courage to leave behind ‘the baggage’; to let go of the hurt, anger, and dissapontment that breeds bitterness. And finally I ask for the wisdom (still trying to learn) to live a new life. To love a new life. To be an example to my children and grandchildren.

And of course I will fail. I will behave badly. I will refuse to love and be loved. And I will forget to thank God for the gift of my life.

And then a new school year will come ’round again…

Peace,

Denis