Tag Archives: grandparents

The Beckmans

February 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sadie Beckman—at 2 years old—likes to pick up pretty rocks and cup them in her tiny hands. Then she clicks them together. These are special rocks that her grandmother, Linda Beckman, brought back from past vacations in Colorado and Washington.

Whether she’s practicing her sensory motor skills by playing with Grandma’s rocks or taking short walks with her grandpa, Dennis Beckman, Sadie’s too little to understand the favor her parents, Jennie and David Beckman, did for her.

By returning back to their hometown of Omaha after stints in Boston and Baltimore, they widened their daughter’s family circle. A supportive circle that cares for her, plays games with her, and feeds her homemade sugar cookies.

Young families are increasingly returning home to Omaha to live closer to grandparents for more quality family bonding. Jennie’s childhood friend Amy Isaacson also recently returned to the Omaha area after working as a researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Isaacson says her family moved due to the rising cost of living in the Silicon Valley area and to reside closer to family. The Isaacsons have a 4-year-old daughter and 9-month-old twin girls.

“This has been absolutely the best decision for so many reasons. We have more space. We have family. People are friendly here. It’s more affordable,” Isaacson says.

Beckman, who graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says they talked about returning to Omaha after they had children. Fortunately, Beckman’s previous job as director of volunteer strategy with the non-profit Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies allowed her to work remotely, so she could take her job with her to Nebraska. She is now the director of community engagement and education for the Jewish Federation of Omaha.

After the birth of Sadie, Jennie realized how important it was to be around her family. “It was really painful to go a whole year with them not seeing her for large slots of time.”

When David’s mom, Linda, heard the news, she says she kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, is this real?”

“Many, many years before, they had wanted to move back,” Linda says. “It all depends on jobs and things. You can’t just decide to move. You have to have an income.”

“It’s fun to watch her,” Linda says of baby Sadie. “When she first walks in the house and she sees you, she just lights up, and it’s like ‘Ahh!’ She just melts your heart.”

The Beckmans also have another granddaughter, Evelyn, who lives in Iowa. “We don’t see her nearly as often, but I’ll send her little packages here and there,” says Linda.

“We just want to be there to be of any assistance that the parents need. My parents were like that. They were always there to pick up the kids after school if I couldn’t do it. They were always there, so it just comes natural,” she says.

The Beckmans take care of Sadie each Tuesday evening. “Dave and Jenny get to have a few minutes by themselves to sort of catch their breath,” Linda says. They get to do things childless people do, like go out to eat without the dining room theatrics or relax on the deck and enjoy each other’s company.”

“I think the biggest thing is just the sense of comfort and security, and feeling like we have backup. And we have backups to our backup,” Jennie says.

Jennie’s support team also includes her own parents, Linda and Harry Gates, and her two brothers.

The Gates watch Sadie each Wednesday evening, and sometimes on the weekends for an hour or so while Jennie runs errands. They like to read books to Sadie or work on puzzles with her. They have tried painting and crafting with Play-Doh—no small feat with a child that age.

Harry also likes to take Sadie on walks. “We go look at the ants, and we go look at the flowers, and we go look at the birds,” he says.

Linda Gates says she really notices how Sadie changes from week to week. “Her vocabulary has just exploded. It seems like it’s all of a sudden, but because we can see her once a week, we really can see that progression. If they were still in Baltimore, we would miss out on all of that,” she says.

Gates, who prefers the name “Gigi” over “Grandmother,” has a penchant for wearing jewelry. “Sadie’s always real fascinated with that. If I have on bracelets and necklaces, I’ll take them off and put them on her, and she puts them back on me. It’s just kind of a nice moment together,” she says.

All the grandparents are happy with the new living arrangements. “It’s great. We’re very grateful and excited that it all worked out for them,” Gates says.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide.

 

Duct Tape Dreams

February 19, 2015 by

The first years of a child’s life are jam-packed with an endless string of memorable “firsts.” The rite of passage that is climbing into your first “big boy bed” ranks right up there with such landmark moments as sitting up unassisted for the first time, learning to walk, or uttering your first words.

So it was with more than a little surprise that my wife, Julie, and I learned that it was going to be no easy task to get our grandchildren, Easton (5) and Barrett (3), into new, more age-appropriate bedtime arrangements during sleepovers in our home.

Easton sleeps on an inflatable mattress when he’s over at our place. Barrett, who was moved into his own bed at home some time ago, still sleeps in a crib when he’s with us. Now it’s time for Easton to graduate to a real bed while Barrett takes his brother’s place on the air mattress.

Which brings me to a point of puzzlement. Barrett would never accept sleeping in a crib in his own home these days, but he is reluctant to abandon his spot when it comes time to crash in our home. Compounding matters, Easton won’t budge from his air mattress.

The point is that habits, rituals, and traditions are organic. They are born of a certain set of specific circumstances, ones that may be nullified when the scenery, people, or time changes. Ritual exists to bring order among chaos. Our sleeping arrangements trump those of when they are home simply and solely because they are…well, ours. They are our way. Our tradition.

Easton associates his mattress with camping. He’s not merely on the floor at his grandparent’s house; he’s on a wilderness adventure. The latest addition to his little carpeted campsite is that he now insists on sleeping under the flickering glow of an electric candle that mirrors the dancing flames of a crackling campfire.

Understanding why Barrett persists in his desire to stick to his crib is less obvious to us, but we’re confident, nonetheless, that it has everything to do with the fact that things are just “different” at grandma and grandpa’s place.

All of which is, to me, an informative lesson in early childhood development. It seems counterintuitive on many levels, but I find it fascinating that their little brains are already so compartmentalized, so capable of receiving the very same stimuli (“It’s bedtime”) and processing that information in two diametrically opposing ways.

“Different” is okay, in this case, so long as it is supported by a framework that speaks to a child’s need to feel safe and secure when they are away from their parents.

Funny thing is, I managed to puncture Easton’s air mattress the last time we babysat, which I assumed would force the issue of moving him into a bed. But he still wouldn’t budge. Letting the air out of his mattress was like letting the air out of his sense of security…so it was time to get out the duct tape.

iStock_000010917604_Large

Pumpkinpalooza in May?

June 11, 2014 by

Time to start planning for Halloween. No, really. I mean it.

Pumpkin seeds in these climes should be in the ground by late May, which means that it is now decision time on the subject of “to pumpkin” or “not to pumpkin.”

My wife, Julie, and I had never planted pumpkins until just last year. The idea was that our preschool grandsons, Easton and Barrett, would help with the planting and nurturing of their favorite orbs. It would all culminate in a pumpkin decorating party of epic proportions. But I was more than a little reluctant. My hesitation was related to the fact that pumpkins are, as you know, a vining plant.

The widest bed in our back yard is only about eight feet across. That’s not a lot of breathing room. Taking the pumpkin plunge, I knew right from the start, had the potential to get a little hairy.

I had no idea.

Long before harvest time our backyard already looked like a scene from The Day of the Triffids, the classic British sci-fi flick where post-apocalyptic, man-eating vegetable matter threatened to devour the planet. Mowing became almost impossible because octopus-like tendrils reached into every nook and cranny of the yard. Vine vagabonds even went calling on the neighbors when they found their way through knotholes and other imperfections in our fence.

But that wasn’t the least of my worries.

Almost overnight our precious—if not precocious—crop became covered in a white fungus that I soon came to know as something called powdery mildew. The interwebs told me that the only solution was to amputate with gusto. Any and all hint of the offending disease had to be removed. Rapunzel’s tresses needed a serious trim.

A post-op appraisal of my surgical handiwork revealed that only two softball-sized pumpkins remained, and now it was our duty to baby those things along so that each grandson would have their own personal share of the bounty.

The grandkids have a season pass to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and go totally gaga exploring every square inch of that sprawling wonderland. It’s not like they are in danger of suffering from any kind of pumpkin deficit disorder. The problems of two little pumpkins don’t amount to a hill of beans in Easton and Barrett’s gourd-crazed world, so why couldn’t that powdery mildew have gone two vines more and just put me out of my misery?

It was then that Julie reminded me of The Plan. The plantings were nothing but a vehicle to set up a pumpkin decorating party. None of those store-bought pretenders in our home. It was to be the most Rockwellian of scenes—the four of us laboring to schlep gargantuan, potentially record-breaking behemoths into the house as an array of googly-eyed craft supplies stood at the ready. We were to create the most breathtaking…

Check that. Instead, we ended up with a pair of rather anemic, lopsided nuggets no larger than an average cantaloupe.

But Julie was right. Our little pumpkin-decorating party was a blast and the results were perfect, in a Charlie Brown Christmas tree kind of way. The simple had triumphed over the sophisticated.
And that is why, despite all reason, we are dedicated once again to executing The Plan. Pumpkinpalooza awaits.

 

Fantasy vs. Reality

April 24, 2014 by
Photography by Ralston Arena

Look at those squeaky-clean faces in the photo. If you are the grandparent or parent of pre-teen children, you will no doubt recognize Shout (keyboards), Marina, (drums), Kiki (guitar), and Twist (turntable). They are The Fresh Beat Band, whose Nick Jr. TV show of the same name is a bed-bouncing favorite whenever I babysit my grandsons, 4-year-old Easton and 3-year-old Barrett.

The quartet’s January performance at the sparkling Ralston Arena was to be Easton’s first concert experience.

It was probably a dirty trick, but I had decided that he would learn for the first time the purpose of our outing only when the band bounded onto the stage. Easton cannot yet read, but I was sure he would instantly recognize the band’s logo plastered across the towering video display. He didn’t. And I was equally sure that my deception would be exposed when he noticed all the Fresh Beat Band T-shirts and other regalia throughout the auditorium slowly filling with a horde of soon-to-be screaming tots and tykes. Again, he didn’t.

My ruse had worked.

When the wildly popular combo finally bopped onto the stage and tore through a truncated version of their theme song, his face froze and a glassy look came to his eyes.

Every parent and grandparent yearns to be able to read the minds of children too young to effectively communicate abstract ideas, and I would have given anything to be able to read his mind at that very moment. Easton’s hypnotic stare gave me the sense that an inner battle was being waged. He knew what he was seeing and hearing, but the visage was one that had to date existed only in the flat-screen, fantasy world of television. Now the characters of his fave TV show had a very in-your-face, corporeal existence, one entirely independent of their digital imprint.

I could almost hear the cogs turning as he puzzled through the apparition before him. Did he understand the difference between TV and reality?

Easton continued to think about it for what seemed an eternity while I did the same in terms of trying to divine any hint of what must be racing through his noggin.

He snapped out of his trance moments later when the band ripped into a raucous cover of The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat.” It wasn’t half way through that number that he dropped from his aisle seat and was dancing frenetically in that spasmodic, herky-jerky style peculiar to small children.

If there had been any existential warfare raging in his little head it had now been erased by sheer reckless abandon as he whirled through such showstoppers as “A Friend Like You,” “Freeze Dance,” and “Just Like a Rock Star.”

Easton will soon be old enough to relate on a more complex level. In the meantime, I wonder if all will be lost to the dusty recesses of memory. Will he remember the high five he got from Twist, the band’s main purveyor of comic relief? Will he a year from now even be able to recall anything at all from this day? Anything?

His grandpa sure will.

Untitled-1-small

 

 

 

FaceTime equals family time.

February 23, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
We all know that chatting with family and friends through a computer screen is not the same as sitting down face-to-face. But if your loved one lives cross-country, why not keep in touch via video chat? PJ Feinstein, local blogger and creator of bunnyanddolly.com, video chats to stay in touch with family from New Jersey, Ohio, and Georgia.

Feinstein and her toddler son have a daily video chatting routine. They chat with her parents or his baby cousin over lunch and his other grandparents before dinner.

“We mostly talk with family, and I totally credit video chatting with letting him form relationships with grandparents that he only sees a few times a year. Frequently interacting with them over FaceTime has made it less awkward when we see them in person; we haven’t had to reintroduce family members to him,” Feinstein says.

Feinstein believes that video chatting has a much more personal element than staying connected over the phone. “I’ve never been much of a phone person, but video chatting feels so much more intimate—almost like I’m having an in-person conversation with somebody.”20140214_bs_7144

Feinstein occasionally uses Skype but finds FaceTime much more convenient because she can connect anywhere there is Wi-Fi, not just on her home computer. Another huge perk for Feinstein is the ability to see family and friends on a daily basis without paying for a plane ticket.

Good lighting is key. Feinstein recommends not sitting with your back to a window or lamp because it will be hard for your companion to see you. “And cell phone etiquette still applies even if you’re video chatting: When in public, talk quietly and wear headphones instead of listening on speakerphone,” she says.

Video chatting is very simple now that most devices have built-in cameras, no longer making it necessary to hook up external cameras. “The process goes a lot smoother, whether you’re using FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangout,” says Feinstein.

The only downside of FaceTime is getting those early morning chat requests. It is completely acceptable to deny a 6 a.m. FaceTime call. No one wants to see your bedhead.

Making Tracks

February 1, 2014 by

The frostbitten months carry additional and sometimes frustrating challenges when taking my two preschool-age grandsons for the weekend. The problem is that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the temperature and the CFQ.

The what?

That would be the Cabin Fever Quotient, that restless, bouncing-off-the-walls void created when you run out of indoor activities capable of entertaining the little ones. But Saturdays are a snap if you possess an intrepid spirit and a decent pair of boots.

One of our fave winter outings is to go critter tracking in expeditions that offer a fascinating peek into the sometime-secret winter habits of area wildlife. Start by doing a web search on the subject of “animal track identification” and you’ll find gobs of online field guides and other useful resources, several of them in easily printable, carry-along formats. It’s also fun and informative to gather the children in front of the computer to watch any of the zillions of YouTube videos available on the topic in preparation for your woodland trek.

A fresh, unblemished snowfall is the perfect palette for such wilderness adventures. Virtually every interruption in the pristine blanket at your feet—yes, droppings, too—holds a mystery waiting to be unlocked by young, inquisitive minds. Forgot to print out that field guide we discussed earlier? Smartphone web search to the rescue. While you’re at it, take close-up photos and have the kids start their own wildlife journals to match prints (and poop) to the animals that left them. Pocket a small measuring tape to have the children record the dimensions of the markings and make note of where they were found. Do those raccoon prints lead to or from water? Do those squirrel tracks disappear at the base of a mighty oak?

Sprawling spaces like Fontenelle Forest, Hummel Park, and area state parks offer a staggering array of snowy finds, but even the more expansive of city parks will reveal evidence of almost everything short of deer.

Take along a thermos of hot chocolate and find a log to carve out some quiet time during your treasure hunt. Especially because the snow acts as an acoustic muffler, there is nothing quite so serene—even spiritual—as the dead silence of a winter’s morn. Be quieter still and you increase the odds of encounters with all manner of creatures.

The awe-inspiring majesty of nature never hibernates. Introduce your grandkids to the wintry landscape, and soon there will grow in them a deeper reverence for the natural world and their special place in it.