The Obvious Question When Your Kids are 35 Years Apart

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have kids whose ages are 35 years apart.

“I hate you!” our six-year-old Richard yelled because I wouldn’t let him throw a toy across the room.

“I love you, son,” I replied.

It’s not the dialog we had in mind when we decided to have a child later in life. I’m certain we each pictured some variation of our family walking down the street laughing and holding hands, not being shouted at by an angry child, disciplining him, or arguing with each other about should he or shouldn’t he bring a toy to the dinner table.

I’m a Baby Boomer, retired and collecting Social Security. I have two adult children from my first marriage and I write, work in my woodshop, enjoy our home, raise bees, and help raise our son, Richard. I don’t miss leaving for the office in the morning and I celebrate that by drinking three cups of coffee before breakfast and one cup after just to relax. What possessed me to want another child?

Simple. I love my wife and I want to make her happy, and I love kids and always wanted a big family. My wife, Mindy, was never married and never had children. We’re happy, we could afford it, and I knew she wanted to be a mom and I always enjoyed being a dad. I view our decision to have a child as a selfless act, although not everyone shares that point of view. I avoid those people because I want to stay positive. Our son has fulfilled both of us and made us happier, notwithstanding his childish bouts of “I hate you.”

I’ve heard from friends, “Shouldn’t you be able to relax and not argue with or about children?”

Other friends tell me, “You’re nuts and you always have been.”

I tell them all, “I am relaxed, and I have to argue about something, so why not kids?”

They are all satisfied with their first set of kids. I’m satisfied with all my kids. One of my best childhood friends was a guy named Lew who had four brothers in a huge house. There was a second house on their property and his grandparents lived there. It was an early example of a multi-generational living situation and I was secretly envious.

I also sought divorce from my ex-wife when our daughter was fifteen and our son thirteen. I missed some of their growth because of divorce dynamics.

I do have to admit that late parenthood also has issues.

When my older son, Greg, now 39, was up for a weekend, I took my two sons out for ice cream. As we approached the counter, the guy waiting to serve us looked at me, pointed at Richard and asked with feigned warmth, “Is that your grandson?”

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have children whose ages are 35 years apart.

There are also potential health issues. Time published an article by Jeffrey Kluger in the April 11, 2013 edition, entitled, “Too Old to be a Dad.” He cites data that concludes kids of older dads have higher incidences of psychological and physical problems, specifically memory function. Then he goes on to name well-known older fathers from the entertainment world. That seems to contradict his point or else those older entertainers were his database and they had memory loss. He didn’t say.

So, I have to admit, there is risk in fathering a child in my sixties, but the biggest risk is that I’ll leave Mindy a widowed single parent. Am I playing family roulette, betting that I’ll live to a ripe old age? What happens if my roulette number doesn’t pay off? Perhaps my age won’t ripen after all.

To what age will I live if my number pays off?

My paternal great-grandfather lived to 100, and that was all before the invention of antibiotics, suggesting he had a very strong constitution. My maternal great-grandfather lived to 98. Did I inherit those genes? Doubtful. My Dad and his father both lived to 88. Sadly, Dad lost his mind a few years before he died. My wife tells me, “I think you’re losing yours.” I don’t answer because wives can also drive men out of their minds with needless worry, in addition to losing memory to the aging process. Maybe I have a little of both working. Uh-oh.

So, family longevity is in my favor and I guess secretly I’m betting that I’ll be around for a while. Maybe not a hundred years like my great-grandfather, but I certainly look forward to watching our son graduate college. I’ll be in my eighties, that is, as they say down south, “God willin’ and the creek don’t rise!”

What’s changed from raising my first two in my 30s? First of all, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison because I’m not only married to a different woman, I also have the benefit of more than 30 years’ experience. Back then I worked 50 or 60 hours a week building a career and now I am home all day except for excursions to doctors, the gym, and a weekly writing workshop.

I took my older two to school in their early grades and now, our son takes the bus. My older two spent their childhoods in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and two houses in New Jersey. My younger son has lived in New York since he was born, although we moved from a smaller home in the boonies to a larger more suburban home. There’s some stability there. My older kids went to public schools, and we started Richard in private school and he’s now in third grade, still in private school.

There are similarities too. They’re all my children and, while that’s obvious, it’s also rhetorical. I’m proud of them, I love them and I see myself in their faces. They are part of my desire to leave a legacy. There are other similarities too. For example, kids are not naturally neat and I’m not sure that neatness can be taught. It’s inherent and none of my kids had it in their youth. Similarly, kid’s toys tend to be specific to the era. Our younger son loves Legos and his creations cover every horizontal surface. That toy didn’t click together into shapes when my older kids were his age. They had Cabbage Patch Dolls, Teddy Ruxpin, Transformers, and watched Sesame Street. Richard watches Netflix and plays Minecraft on his iPad.

They all seem to depend on me to one extent or another. Richard completely because of his age, but older son Greg too because he’s had trouble launching a career. I hired my executive trainer for him and paid for it. My oldest child is a physician who considers herself entirely independent right down to her BMW, but even she used to invite me to her home and add, “Please bring lunch and your tools.” Something always needed repair.

What do I conclude? Kids are great if you can afford them, play with them, be there for them, and instill good values. If one or more of those is impossible, then enjoy your grandchildren if you have any. There’s an advantage to them once you reach a certain age. That advantage is grandchildren go home eventually and their parents are responsible for them. Richard is home all the time, although fortunately we can still manage well.

The other night he hurt himself in the bathtub. He was crying and I was out for the evening at my writing workshop. My wife said it wasn’t a fun evening. She missed that TV show she likes and I missed the whole thing.

Breastfeeding: When Success Feels Like Failure

Most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Days into my daughter’s life, I learned that breastfeeding did not, at all, feel good. Every latch felt like a thousand tiny needles stabbing my nipple in unison. After a few moments, the sharpness would fade, replaced by my blunt determination. Nursing was the only thing that made my daughter happy.
I had thought breastfeeding would be easy to figure out, that I could leapfrog the issues that plagued others. Perhaps, because I had no experience with newborns, my brain filled the void with the most optimistic scenario.
My optimism evaporated within a week. Life became a series of marathon nursing sessions interrupted by short periods of sleep. Ten, 12, 20 times a day (and night) the pain pierced and took my breath away. I called her my milk vampire. My nipples cracked and blistered and bled.
My mother flew in from Chicago to help out. She kept me company on the couch for hours a day, the two of us watching “Bones” while I nursed her granddaughter. Sitting in my nest of pillows, I practiced each nursing position I’d been taught. I latched and re-latched my daughter, hoping each time it would make the pain go away.
My sleep deprivation worsened. My mother broke her arm, and my husband lacked the emotional endurance to soothe our always-fussy baby. In those first couple of weeks, my newborn daughter and I spent 20 hours a day in physical contact.
I expected my husband to bear these burdens with me. He expected me to soldier on, no matter the pain or misery. After three weeks, he went back to work, leaving me alone with only one effective parenting tool: my breasts.
Late one night, my husband snored while my daughter nursed voraciously. Just two weeks into her life, I wanted to scream at the pain. Instead I wept. “This can’t be right,” I thought. “This is why people use formula.”
At my loneliest, weariest time, I felt desperate for relief. I figured the signs of breastfeeding failure would be clear: If my daughter lost more than 10 percent of her weight after birth, or if the doctor mandated it. Never once did I consider that I could be in pain and exhausted, yet not quite failing completely.
I hadn’t chosen to breastfeed, not exactly. I had expected to breastfeed, the way a middle class teenager expects to go to college and expects to get a good job afterward. Feeding your child is a biological imperative. Humans have been doing it by breast for millions of years. My body would automatically make milk in the first week after birth whether I wanted it to or not. I felt entitled to an easy breastfeeding experience. Pain infringed upon my birthright.
In the dark, I hunched over my daughter like a frenzied, cornered cat, searching for escape. I saw formula dangling in front of me as the “easy solution,” the ever-present back-up plan. If I failed at breastfeeding, I knew I was supposed to transition to formula and convince myself to be happy about it. Liberated women must never feel guilty about their choices.
But nursing was my daughter’s sole source of comfort. I refused to give it up.
I needed fuel for my resolve, and I chose rage. I let myself hate formula and the people who sell it, their oily ads and counterfeit generosity. I turned on the parenting industry at large. So many useless gadgets, wasted time, and squandered hope. I seethed over the injustices of motherhood and its overflow of impossible decisions. But most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.
I raged until I had no anger left. When I was done, I wept for my own naiveté in thinking the world was fair and all problems had solutions.
I woke the next morning, and many mornings after, feeling battered. Would my situation ever improve? I didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine tomorrow, let alone next month. Every moment lasted forever. My pain felt eternal.
At six weeks, the pain disappeared. It was nothing I did, no grand revelation. Maybe my daughter learned how to suckle properly, or her mouth grew a little. I’ll never know.
Now I can think of 50 things I could have done differently. But when I look back, I can never see the moment where I should have known better. Every time I replay these events, I make the same decisions. It was all I knew. My breastfeeding experience was not a gold medal performance or an A+ on a final exam. In an alternate reality, I might have surrendered to formula.
In this reality, I’m still surrendering to the realization that sometimes success can feel an awful lot like failure.

Finding Moksha in a Charm Bracelet

On an October afternoon uncharacteristically bleak for the Andamans, I got the call that Maa was critically ill. Before I could book my ticket, she was gone.

Everyone in our locality called her Maa (the Hindi word for mother). Of her twelve grandchildren, my 85-year-old grandmother loved me the most, much to the envy of my cousins. Being her favorite grandchild, only I was permitted entry to her private domain. This space primarily included a small store room within her bedroom at our ancestral home in Saharanpur, a sleepy town of Uttar Pradesh state in India. She spent hours in her tiny and dim storeroom, shifting stuff from one rusted box to another or arranging items in small potlis and then adjusting them in her trunk. When her hands weren’t touching and re-touching all of her little things, she sat for hours at sandhya bela (early evening) and meditated.

I loved being around Maa. Her wrinkled face narrated millions of stories, hardships and happiness in equal measure. She’d lost her mother at a tender age, got married at 16, and, after her husband died of a long illness, was married off to his younger brother. She gave birth to nine children, out of which six survived, and her eldest son died at the age of thirty. So, in a way, Maa was familiar with deaths of loved ones.

Beyond these sad stories, Maa had several interesting tales too, like when she once swallowed a fly and could feel it fluttering in her stomach, so she decided to vomit it up and, as she did, the fly emerged out of her mouth and flew away! Maa had never flown in an airplane so I booked her a ticket from Delhi to Amritsar. She was very excited about it and, when I asked her about her first flying experience, she said, “It felt like I was flying like a bird!”

Her presence made me feel secure, and through her I became quite attached to our time-honored rituals and family customs. Because she was the oldest of our family, she had a dictatorial say in most matters and imposed her rules on practically everyone.

Many of these rules – no slippers in the kitchen, no pooping after bath, and, if you do, you’ll have to bathe again, no eggs (let alone liquor), bath first breakfast later – were a pain for us. Still, we obeyed. No one could say no to Maa.

At the age of 85, she woke every morning at four a.m. and bathed in fresh water. She finished her chores alone and chose to wash her light cotton sarees by hand rather than machine. There were many times when the sound of her chanting shlokas at five a.m. interfered with our sleep, but she was sure of what she was doing.

“It’s important to keep moving, I do not want to die ill,” she would say as she bent to pick fresh flowers for temple each morning.

I was her favorite, which meant she easily forgave my occasional minor transgressions. After I ate chicken for the first time, I worried what Maa might say. The worry soon became too much, and I confessed. While she showed contempt at my deteriorating eating habits, she still let me  sleep beside her in her woven cot. Well, first she made me bathe, do a puja, and promise not to eat chicken again (a promise I’ve since broken), but then she let me rest beside her.

On every trip I made outside India, I made sure to bring her a souvenir. The best of all was a fabric bag I had bought for her from Dubai that she loved because it was full of pockets. Everyone loves pockets, and Maa was no exception. She kept separate spots for her medicine, money, padis (wooden slippers that she wore and that were too sacred to be taken to the bathroom or outside the house), photos of her guruji, and her lucky charm silver bracelet.

The day before my departure to work in far off South India, she prepared her staple aam-chutney – a healthy Indian version of mango jam – just for me. I marked time with her aam-chutney. One jar lasted me months. When the jam ran dry, I knew it was time for me to visit home and get another jar from her seasoned hands.

After marriage, I moved to the remote islands of Andamans (aka Kala Pani) and Maa worried about me incessantly. When Britishers invaded India in the early twentieth century, they built the Cellular Jail in Andamans for prisoners. The jail’s architecture was unique in that it had seven wings stretched out from a central point, and it was also surrounded by the dark blue Arabian sea on three sides. The deep sea waters are the namesake of Kala Pani, which means “black water” in Hindi. Maa thought my bureaucrat husband was being punished for something and that’s why we were posted there.

I only saw her once after my wedding. She looked weak and fragile and constantly talked about her death. She had strong premonitions that she was going to die soon. On the day I left, she hugged me as tightly as her little arms would allow and wept. Her last words to me were, “I don’t know if I will see you again.”

I knew. She knew. We both knew that that was the last thing I’d hear her say.

On an October afternoon uncharacteristically bleak for the Andamans, I got the call from Dad that Maa was critically ill. Before I could book my tickets, she was gone.

For days I was emotionally shattered. Devastated. I couldn’t even hold my one-year-old daughter, and I didn’t speak a word to my husband. I blamed him for bringing me to Andamans. I should have been there with Maa on her last day.

Grief overwhelmed me. I took what little energy I had and spent it on trying to make Maa proud. I stopped eating meat and tried to follow her daily routine. But she was strong, perhaps stronger than me. Her routine was harder than it looked and I could only maintain it for a few days.

For many years I didn’t dare to visit our ancestral home in Saharanpur because I knew I couldn’t bear the thought of not finding Maa in that huge, palatial space. She was as much a part of that home as the walls and roof. For five years I avoided Saharanpur, deliberately skipping several family functions and gatherings. I couldn’t imagine entering her bedroom and store room without her.

My cousin’s wedding was in a month’s time and I was planning to skip that too. As far as I was concerned, Saharanpur ceased to exist after Maa’s death. My grandfather rang and expressed his desire to see me there. My aunt suggested that visiting once would make me feel lighter. Mom reminded me of our family customs, but I wasn’t to be swayed.

A week before the wedding, Maa appeared in my dreams,  sitting on her small woven cot in the same room in the same, familiar way. Shocked to see her alive, I asked her what was she doing here. She replied, “I have come here to attend the wedding. It is the last wedding of our home to take place in my house,” and she disappeared with a smile.

It was a sign. I agreed to visit Saharanpur.

The moment I reached there, all the memories of her were conjured up in my head. I went to her room that still smelled the same. The walls rustled with her voice. The store room was still and silent as if Maa was meditating there.

I knelt down and cried. In the last five years, it was the first time I visited her bed and reminisced of the times we had spent together. As I shed tears in her room, I felt lighter. I felt her around me.

Inside her store room, something caught my eye. It was the same fabric bag that I had bought her in Dubai. I brought the bag home with me as her souvenir to me.

Yesterday, while cleaning the house, I pulled out the bag and rummaged through its pockets. I found Maa’s lucky charm silver bracelet. To some, it may just look like an old, nothing-special, plain bracelet, but to me, it was my moksha. My Maa.

8 Ways to Clap Back at Unwanted Parenting Advice

For those of us going for more than “fine” for our kids, here are eight ways to deflect unwanted advice.

Having a child and taking her out into the world can sometimes feel like an invitation to have others comment on your parenting decisions. With parenting, as with any endeavor, it’s important to be open to new ideas, to listen, and to reflect. At the same time, we all know that a lot of the advice offered out there isn’t coming from a place of deep reflection, but rather from knee-jerk reactions representing the way someone else’s parents did things (and, of course, their kids “turned out fine”). For those of us going for more than “fine” for our kids, here are eight ways to deflect unwanted advice.

1 | Embrace your choices with confidence

If you are a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, peaceful kind of parent, chances are you’ll be asked at some point, “Are you still breastfeeding?” or “Are you still using a carrier for that child?” Confidence goes a long way in these confrontations. Answer with a smile and an enthusiastic, “Yes!” as if someone had just asked you whether ice cream is still popular in the summertime.

2 | “Is that how you did it with your kids?”

This works especially well for older relatives, especially those who have already raised several children. It’s nearly impossible to raise children to adulthood without learning a few things along the way, and many veteran parents are very eager to share their knowledge with newcomers to the parenting club. Let them share their knowledge. Then do what you feel is best for your kids.

3 | “I’ll give that the consideration it deserves”

This is one of my personal favorites. Most of the unsolicited advice I’ve received strayed so far from what is best for my kids that it deserved zero consideration, and that’s exactly how much I gave it.

4 | “That would be one way to do it”

If someone harangues you about getting your baby used to the crib or using time-outs to deal with those toddler tantrums, you can pull out this phrase. It acknowledges that yes, one way deal with the situation is as this person suggests. It doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or your way.

5 | “This is what works for our family”

You can alternate this with, “We are happy with how we are doing things.” If you sound like a broken record for long enough, people will stop arguing with you.

6 | “Maybe so”

This works well for the pestering questions that start with, “Shouldn’t you…” Shouldn’t you wean already? Shouldn’t you put your child in school instead of homeschooling? Shouldn’t you go back to work? Shouldn’t you cut back on your hours at work to spend more time with your kids?

There are no right answers to these questions. Each parent has to do what is right for themselves and their family. Instead of listing all the reasons why you have chosen your current path (which makes it sound as if your decisions are open for discussion), shut down the conversation with a “Maybe so.”

7 | “Could you pass the bean dip?”

This is a great follow-up to number 6. Change the subject by asking about their kid’s soccer season, how Aunt Martha is doing, or whether they’ve seen the latest season of House of Cards.

8 | “Well, great chat got to go!”

If all else fails, end the conversation. Hang up the phone, pack your belongings and leave, or show the interloper the door.

What is your favorite way to respond to unsolicited parenting advice? Leave them in the comments section below!

This post was originally published here

If You Do Divorce Right, Your Kids Will Thank You in 30 Years

I knew deep down that my parents really did care for our best interests because of the way they treated each other in front of us.

My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. They sat my big brother and me down on the couch and told us together. They told us that they’d always do what was best for us, even if it was hard. I wasn’t completely shocked but, of course, I was sad. Life changed after that, we all moved around to different homes and apartments, and visitation schedules were put in place without our input. I remember feeling fairly calm throughout it all. My ten-year-old self perceived my parents to be in control and organized. I know now that probably wasn’t really the case, but they put their brave faces on and I bought it.

From the very beginning, special days were spent together. My dad would come over to Mom’s house for our birthday dinners. He was always with us on Christmas morning when Mom would make a big brunch and we’d open presents together. We walked out together, one parent on each arm, at halftime in the Homecoming football game when I was a member of the court. Everyone was present and sitting together at my graduations.

This isn’t to say there was never tension, or that everything was perfect. Even so, I knew deep down that my parents really did care for our best interests and were trying hard for us kids. I knew because of the way they treated each other in front of us.

My dad remarried in the spring of my senior year of college. I was married just a few months later. All three of my parents, Mom, Dad, and my new stepmom, were a part of my wedding. We have a family picture with all of us together. The thought of any drama between them never even crossed my mind. I knew they’d be civil to each other.

After my wedding, I was technically a grown woman. At that point, my parents lived in different cities. During the holidays I often wished it were easier to visit everyone at the same time, or wished I could call just one house, instead of two, to check in and chat. It could be hard to schedule get-togethers and divide time equally between everyone. We made it work as best as we all could.

When my husband and I had babies, all three grandparents were there to help. All three are active in my daughters’ lives. I can send a group text to Mom, Dad, and my stepmom of the girls’ first days of school, or of the girls in their Halloween costumes. I can send group emails and not worry about any awkwardness between the recipients. I hadn’t really given much thought to the beautiful divorce my parents continue to have until just a few months ago when my mom’s father died.

There I was, 38 years old, sitting in the church for Grandpa’s funeral. In walked my dad, stepmom, stepbrother, my dad’s mother, and two of dad’s sisters. I was so touched to see them all there, supporting my brother and me, but also showing us that divorce didn’t sever the relationships within our extended families. I listened as my mom told them all to “sit up front with the family.”

My parents have been divorced for almost 30 years and yet they still strive to do their divorce right. I can look back and sincerely thank them for sticking to their word and doing what is best for their kids and now their grandkids. I know it couldn’t have always been easy. I feel so abundantly loved through all that they do to maintain a relationship for our sake. Doing divorce right, working hard to create a beautiful divorce despite the mess and hurt, is something children like me will thank their parents for. Especially in 30 years.

I Stopped Running Away From Home When I Had Kids

I spent the first three decades of my life running away from home. Home was a nice idea, but only that, until I had kids.

I spent the first three decades of my life running away from home. During my teenage years, I bided my time until college. Then in college, I bided my time until adulthood. I managed to come home only for holidays, despite the fact that I went to a university in the city where I grew up. How did I do that? How did I not run into my parents at the park or the grocery store or Parent’s Day, for that matter? Oh right, I told them not to come.

Three weeks after graduation, I found myself living in a tiny studio apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan, far, far away from my Tennessee home. The people were just as nice, but they didn’t rub their niceness all over you. It was personal space in a city crammed for space and it was lovely. I worked hard for almost no pay at a tiny publishing house. I called home on the weekends, closing my eyes and trying to picture the green farmland over the horns and shouts from 86th and Lexington.

Home was a nice idea, but only that, until I had kids. I was 29 years old and 29 weeks pregnant when I had my first child back in Tennessee. I would begin motherhood with a son who would need nurses more than he needed me, a tracheotomy more than he needed me, a feeding tube more than he needed me. It would take 10 weeks to get him home.

When he came home, all I could think was, “I want my mom.” I wanted her more than I’ve ever wanted anyone in my life. So she came. She mothered me while I learned to mother him. She brought me coffee and new onesies that we would promptly take the scissors to, cutting holes in the center for his feeding tube. She filmed his first word, hissed through his speaking valve over the sounds of a Sunday afternoon football game. Whenever she left, it would take me a minute or 30 before I stopped thinking, “Should we be left unsupervised?”

Eventually, my husband and I got the hang of it, the knack for this special needs parenting thing. Eventually our son got his trach and his feeding tube out, and began to eat and breathe and do the baby-thing in a less medical way. As a toddler, he got a wheelchair that took baby-proofing to a whole new level. In all this, my mother was a constant. She was the only trusted babysitter, her with her Chicos outfits and limitless energy that had irritated me as a kid and now mystified me as a mom.

Then I got pregnant with twins. Suddenly our cute bungalow just south of the city with no garage or third bedroom was not enough. Suddenly, the 30 minute drive to my mom’s brick-and-siding home was too much. We sucked it up – moved to the ‘burbs less than a mile from her, and we never looked back.

She is no longer necessary in the way she was necessary when our first son was small and fragile, and every bath or outing felt both dangerous and momentous. She is necessary in a different way. We walk to her house. I sit on her porch swing and we drink cherry limeades while the kids run and roll rampant in her flowers. I make her birthday cakes: lemon with coconut frosting just the way she likes it. She helps me carry my oldest in and out of cars and kisses him just below the ear the way we learned to do in the NICU to get around the wires.

I spent years running away from home, but the ties I didn’t even feel never fell away. When I needed her, my mom pulled me close, me and my husband and our gaggle of children. We are two houses, but we are one home. I’m sure my kids will run away in their own ways to form their circles of independence that I’m not allowed to enter, but when they do, I hope they know I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be there two or 10 years down the line when they come running back.

15 Kid's Books That Celebrate Immigration

In honor of such a monumental move, here are 15 books to help your child grasp what it means to arrive in a new land.

Unless you are an immigrant or the child of immigrants, the move from one country to another can be a hard thing for kids to understand. The transplanting of a life is about more than just a physical shift. It’s about holding onto one’s culture, ideals, and heritage during a shift onto new soil, and it’s no small thing. In honor of such a move, here are 15 books to help your child grasp what it means to arrive in a new land.

 
 
 
COmingtoAmerica

Coming to America: The Kids’ Book About Immigration

by David Fassler

This book is filled with illustrations and written descriptions by children who have immigrated to the United States. It’s a beautiful first-hand account of what it’s like for a child to come to a new place.


ThisIsMe

This is Me

by Jamie Lee Curtis

This book, written by Jamie Lee Curtis, poses the question: If you had to fill your suitcase with all the things that are most important to you, what would you pack? Of all the things and people and places in your life, what says, “This is me”? It tackles what defines us. It also comes with a pop-up suitcase on the back cover for young readers to fill.


HereIAm

Here I Am

by Patti Kim

A boy moves to a new world full of bright colors, loud noises, and words he cannot understand, but he takes with him a token from his old life: a red seed. He carries it everywhere until it falls out his window. Now he must venture out and brave the new world. In this world he finds friendship and the ability to bring the things he loves about his past into this new place.


MamasNightingale

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

by Edwidge Danticat

Saya’s mother is sent to a detention center for undocumented immigrants. Saya must take solace in the sound of her mother’s voice on the answering machine and the cassette tapes she sends her. While her father spends his evenings writing letters to officials, Saya writes her own story based on the Haitian folk stories her mother tells, and she learns the power words have to change lives.


LostandfoundCat

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey

by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

Think a longer distance “Homeward Bound” for this one. This true story follows the journey of one cat, Kunkush, who gets separated from his Iraqi family on their way to Greece. Aid workers find the cat and join a worldwide force to reunite Kunkush with his family in their new home.


MyTwoBlankets

 “My Two Blankets

by Irena Kobald

A little girl nicknamed Cartwheel moves from Sudan to Australia and finds security in the metaphorical blanket she weaves of her language and memories. She meets a girl at the park who helps her weave a new blanket, with new words and experiences, to go along with the old one. Written by an Austrian immigrant to Australia, this book perfectly captures the experience for anyone who has been the new kid.


OneGreenApple

One Green Apple

by Eve Bunting

Written by the best-selling author Eve Bunting, this book follows Farrah, a Muslim immigrant who feels isolated from her classmates in her new school. But when she visits an apple orchard on a class field trip, she finds things that can bring them together. The green apple she accidentally puts into the apple press instead of the red one mixes together to form a cider they share, an extension of the melting pot metaphor for a new generation.


TheNameJar

The Name Jar

by Yangsook Choi

Nobody can pronounce “Unhei,” or at least that’s what Unhei, the new Korean girl, thinks when she starts in a new school. So she decides to come up with a new name and everybody in the class gets to help by filling up a name jar. It’s only after a week of being “Jane” and “Suzy” that one classmate finds out the meaning of her real name and encourages her to use it. This book is excellent at celebrating being yourself and being brave in new situations.


EverybodyCooksRice

Everybody Cooks Rice

by Norah Dooley

This book is a moveable feast. One little girl is sent to fetch her brother for dinner and, as she explores the neighborhood, she sees all the different ways each family cooks rice. It’s a celebration of cultures on a San Francisco street. It also comes with recipes at the end.


TheBlessingCup

The Blessing Cup

by Patricia Polacco

This New York Times bestseller follows a family’s move from Russia to America in the early 1900s. They take along their most prized possession: a tea set meant to bring blessings to the owner. The favorite cup among the bunch, “the blessing cup,” becomes a symbol of hope and a reminder of heritage that gets passed down over the decades.


SukiKimono

Suki’s Kimono

by Chieri Uegaki

Suki is the kid we all wish we could be. On her first day of class she insists on wearing the blue kimono her obachan, her grandmother, bought her at a street festival. She gets so excited recounting the story of the kimono in front of the class that she begins to dance and sing, just as she had on that day. Suki is brave, funny, and fiercely herself, making this book an easy favorite.


GrandfathersJourney

Grandfather’s Journey

by Allen Say

This book, winner of the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book, traces the story of one man’s grandfather who came from Japan to California and back again. It reflects the love for both places and both cultures in a way that shows the complexity of an immigrant’s life as one man tries to hold on to the old and the new with equal appreciation.


ApplePie4OfJuly

 “Apple Pie Fourth of July

by Janet S. Wong

This book is full of sensory imagery – the smell of baking pies that clashes with the chow mein and other Asian cooking in one girl’s family restaurant. The girl is convinced her parents do not understand what America values on Fourth of July until she watches patrons enjoy her family’s cooking. She ends the night eating apple pie and watching the fireworks with a new appreciation of her family. The bright, paper-cut illustrations bring this book to life just as much as the narrative.


HowManyDaystoAmerica

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story

by Eve Bunting

 Another one by Eve Bunting, this story follows a Caribbean family who is forced to flee their home in a small fishing boat. They arrive in America on Thanksgiving Day. The story is both suspenseful and hopeful as readers root for this family’s survival while they brave the waters to come to a better place.


AllTheWayToAmerica

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel

by Dan Yaccarino

Yaccarino tells the true story of his grandfather’s arrival on Ellis Island from Italy with shovel in hand, ready to work hard and make a new life. The shovel made it through four generations and carried with it the rich history of a culture that never left. This is a book that will make you want to interview your own parents on the history of your ancestors.

Starting Over: When Mama is Nana

The term “grandfamilies” has entered the lexicon.

Last fall, my friend spent Tuesdays in a utilitarian meeting room sitting on a folding chair while “experts” expounded on topics like bonding, sleep patterns, and infant milestones, information she didn’t need since she’d already ushered her own children into adulthood. The good part was that there were other grandmothers in the class who told each other their stories. Tuesdays also brought paperwork and state mandates and social work regulations. Her new normal – the one she never saw coming – had just landed in her lap.

When her grandchild was born and it was clear the birthparents could not be the caregivers, my friend began to quietly text the baby’s temporary foster parents in another state. She relished the photos they would send her. She would comment on “the sweetest little hands.” That text would, the next month, turn into “the cutest smile ever.” She sent books and clothes and every age-appropriate toy she could find.

It made sense that she’d be invested in giving this baby the best start she could. After all, she was the baby’s grandmother. I figured her role would be filling in the gaps until “real parents” could be found as soon as the court ruled the adoption could go forward. Then, I thought, the social worker would consult the list of couples yearning for a baby, and a whole new family – a young family – would be created, and those parents would take over.

I was fooled. Partly because my friend carefully skirted the issue of the baby’s future. She’d indulge me in phone conversations that began with me saying things like, “I know this is sad, but there’s a young couple somewhere, just aching to have a baby and soon they’ll have one!” Looking back now, I remember her soft silences in response to my enthusiasm. She was probably averting her eyes too, but I couldn’t see that.

I believed that in her life, as in mine, it would be unthinkable to dive back into the grinding mechanics of caring for an infant 24 hours a day, much less summoning the reflexes to prevent a  three-year-old from darting into traffic. Or sitting, albeit proudly, in the audience at your kid’s high school graduation when you’re in your 80s.

When she finally told me she was beginning adoption proceedings, I told her all the reasons she was making a terrible, immutable mistake. I warned her that once the baby arrived in her home, no matter how difficult the going got, she would never be able to turn back to her old life – her sane, comfortable, predictable life – with me as her sane, comfortable, predictable friend.

“How fair is that?” I asked. Not fair to her and not fair to her grandchild, not when there were prospective (young) parents, waiting so hopefully in the wings.

She approached my logic with statistics about the numbers of babies who have been rescued by willing grandparents: 2.7 million nationwide. She told me about her distrust of the system the baby would be thrown into, even for a short time, and the damage that could be done. Then she refuted my logic with emotion. The term “grandfamilies” has entered the lexicon. The baby was part of her extended family. That baby was her family.

Her mind was made up, and I was left to look at what my rational arguments said about me. I wanted our two lives to stay on the intended arc we envisioned together, the continuation of everything we’d shared. We always had each other as we parented our young children. Then came the teenagers and the college years. We hosted weddings, then baby showers. Now we were supposed to be free to go out to lunch, learn to play golf, discuss politics, or gossip idly without any interruptions. What about our bucket lists?

It turns out her baby loves eating in restaurants, watching people go by, sampling new foods, and playing peek-a-boo with the waiter. I look at my friend, enveloped in all of it. She’ll be called “Nana,” she tells me. The baby is beautiful.

There are all kinds of bucket lists.

How My Grandmother, Two Dogs, and Day Camp Transformed My Summer

A kind human, two loving canines, and day camp helped me find that peace, that motivation to get up and give the day another try.

The post-sick haze hung over us like an ominous cloud. Two weeks of the summer flu circulating through the six members of our family left me drained and without enthusiasm for everyday life. Even a week after everyone was recovered, I still struggled when the alarm went off, feeling like I could not face humans, responsibilities, or the summer heat beating down on me from dawn until dusk. I was in a funk.

My grandmother came to visit when we were sure all the germs were fully dead and I wouldn’t be responsible for giving an 85-year-old woman with compromised lungs the flu. Don’t be fooled by the age or the lungs: my grandmother is a powerhouse, and she arrived with a mission, as usual.

“I’m going to deep clean your house and then we’ll sort a few things,” she said, and I nodded knowing that she would not let me help her deep clean because I am bad at it and she is not.

I also knew that since she was going to be moving non-stop for hours a day without taking breaks, I would find some way to be busy next to her, moving my unmotivated bottom no matter what. No one wants to sit on her butt while a woman in her ninth decade of life pulls dust bunnies from underneath the dryer.

I miraculously found a way to get up with the alarm. Yes, I was still tired, but I imagined my grandmother in the kitchen making pancakes as my four children surrounded her begging to be fed. The least I could do was fend them off so she didn’t trip over them.

One goal: get up and keep Nanny from being attacked. I could do that.

I did much more. I painted a door, reorganized my closet, and sorted through old tools we never used. I sat down to eat lunch with Nanny, because when she’s around you’re not allowed to grab leftovers off the kids’ plates and eat while standing. I went to bed at a decent hour properly exhausted, and I didn’t randomly check my email often because I was too busy.

By the time Nanny left a week later, I felt both great and petrified because I was sure the days would attack me in force now that she wasn’t there to help me remember to take it one task at a time.

***

Our neighbors asked if we could feed their dogs while they were on vacation, and we offered an enthusiastic yes. We don’t have any pets, but it’s not for lack of our kids’ begging. This was the perfect opportunity to be around animals without actually owning them.

Shortly after Nanny left, we started dog-sitting. This meant that when my alarm went off before the sun even rose I already had a plan.

One goal: feed the dogs. I could do that.

We watched the sun rise from our neighbors’ yard each morning. At the end of the day, we went back over and watched the sun set, running in the yard with two old dogs, no technology in hand. I noticed the ever-changing colors of the sky and the thickness of lush grass. I memorized the looks on my kids’ faces as a dog as big as they were kindly tried to fold into their laps.

My days were bookended by a task that put me in sync with nature and animals at sunrise and sunset. Life slowed into a beautiful groove that felt more than manageable.

***

My daughter was going to day camp for the first time, so our days continued following a pattern. I needed to be up at a certain time to prepare everything and get out the door with all the kids.

One goal: get Wren to camp. I could do that.

For five days I did, and by then I noticed something. I enjoyed mornings, sunrise, and slow living with a purpose. My grandmother’s presence reminded me to treat meals like luxuries, to know what I planned to accomplish the next day, and to engage with the people right in front of my face. The dogs gave me moments of peace planned into every day, easy reflection time to breathe in fresh air. Camp gave me jobs to do to ensure my daughter was prepared.

All of them helped me focus on one thing at a time, something I had lost the ability to do in the midst of doctor’s appointments, emergency room visits, and falling ill myself. I recovered from the flu only to awaken to a wrecked house, stir crazy children, and the feeling that I would absolutely never catch up or feel at peace again. A kind human, two loving canines, and day camp helped me find that peace, that motivation to get up and give the day another try.

One goal: take it a step at a time. I can do that.

What My Mother Taught Me About Owning My Issues

The moment we stop blaming co-workers, siblings, partners, and parents for baggage we’ve collected over the years, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat.

Dear Annabelle,

You were about four and we were giving thanks before dinner. When the adults finished, I asked if you would like to say a prayer. You got a proud grin on your face, sat up in your booster seat, and shouted at the top of your lungs, “Dear Lord Jesus, no more diapers!”

You’d finally graduated to your very first pair of big-girl panties. I’ll say that again with more emphasis: your very first pair of big-girl panties. One day in the future, you’ll read this and understand one thing very simply: this rite of passage is not just for toddlers.

My mother has a snarky reply anytime she hears her children complain about life. Whether we are complaining about work, a coworker, another sibling, or anything else, her response is always, “Well, get over it because I am not going to therapy with you. I don’t have time.”

She says this in jest because, of course, she would do anything for her children. However, she would rather we put on our big-people panties, own our issues, and enjoy life.

Here’s why: the moment we stop blaming co-workers, siblings, significant others, and, yes, our parents for the baggage we’ve collected over the years, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat. Until then, we are passengers, or worse, backseat drivers riding in a car driven by someone else. For control freaks like my mom and all four of her children, we know there’s nothing worse.

When my father died suddenly, my mother was 43 years old. She had four kids ages 12 to 20 that she had to put through college. A stay-at-home mom for 24 years, she had nothing to put on a resume that would put hers at the top of the stack.

By the time this tragedy hit her, she’d already had gone through multiple pairs of big-girl panties. She had tough times and would put on a new pair with each of them, but when the love of her life died, this required titanium-made super-Spanx panties, reminiscent of a chastity belt and not available at retail.

So she put on her toughest pair, started a business at her kitchen table, and worked 14 hour days to ensure that when we were grieving the loss of our dad, our lives would not be disrupted with a financial loss as well. I believe she put her grief on the back burner so we could heal.

Over the years, my mom and my sister built a thriving business together. Their willingness to put on their big-girl panties and do what it takes despite the obstacles is nothing short of amazing. I saw my mom wearing a T-shirt a few years ago that really describes her warrior spirit. It read: “Stop Bitching. Start a Revolution.”

Did she make mistakes with us? Absolutely. All parents do. We make mistakes because we don’t know that they’re mistakes until we look in the rear-view mirror with that 20/20 vision that retrospect gives us.

I know that my mom harbors guilt about some of the things she did and said as a parent because I harbor the same guilt with Annabelle. We’re all a little dysfunctional and we each have our issues, but those issues are ours to own and ours alone.

My mother did the best she could with what she had at the time. I had awesome parents. At some point, it just becomes embarrassing to harbor resentment from the past. If you have ever heard a 50-year-old man blame his mother for the path his life took because she didn’t make him stay on the basketball team, then you know how unattractive it is.

If I asked my mom to go to therapy with me, she would go. Of course, she would go. I would have the opportunity to tell her about the Drill Sargent that has taken permanent residence inside my head. I could tell her about my OCD, my ADHD, and my inability to think before I speak. I could go on and on about mistakes she and my dad made that are as old and irrelevant as the chain letter. We both might agree that it was time well spent.

Here’s the thing: those aren’t my mother’s issues, they are mine. Frankly, if we’re going to spend time together, I would rather put on a fresh pair of big-girl panties and meet her for happy hour.

Annabelle, I am going to make mistakes. I am going to do things and say things that I will regret. If being a perfect parent was an option, I would choose it every time, but it doesn’t exist in the world. Perfect parents didn’t walk this earth in my parents’ lifetimes, my lifetime, and I’ll bet the farm that they won’t in yours either.

Yes, Annabelle, I will go to therapy with you, but I will strive to raise a determined, responsible, ninja warrior who knows who she is, owns her issues, and who would rather go shopping.