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  • Dr. Rebecca A. Thomas

Why Can’t They Be Like We Were, Perfect In Every Way?

Why Can’t They Be Like We Were, Perfect In Every Way?

Oh, What’s the Matter With Kids Today?

From the musical Bye Bye Birdie

I wish I could get credit for doing a postdoctoral fellowship in child psychology; emphasis on the pre- and early adolescent stage. I’m about to complete some of the best training I’ve had for a long time! Two of my grandchildren are finishing up the semester of school they spent here with us at the Westover Center. They have been up close and personal with us probably for the first time in their entire lives. Only for a couple of fairly short stints have they lived near us, and outside of an awesome 10 day vacation we all took together a couple of years ago, we really haven’t been able to spend all that much one on one time with these grandchildren. So we seized the opportunity, knowing that God had just put a big one right in our laps; a blessing, I mean. But blessings are like freedom—we all want them, but both require a great deal of responsibility!

We did not hesitate to step up to the plate when we could see that my son and daughter-in-law would have to maneuver some major hurdles for a few months in order to transfer residency from Georgia to Wisconsin. And we surely didn’t know exactly what to expect, though we weren’t too nervous, since we’re already veterans, having four grown children and growing grandchildren. Additionally, we see a lot of kids in our practice, so how hard could this be?? Well, the kids are preparing to leave next weekend and I’m on the reflecting end of the past five month whirlwind. As I write, I’m thinking about the lessons learned.

First off, I’ve learned that I’ve aged considerably since having pre-teens and teens in the house! They are not designed to be independent and self-contained at all. In fact, I forgot that it’s just as intense as raising the little ones, and it requires just as much hands on parenting. Sixth grade boys are quite precocious in general, and my grandson definitely did not fall far from the tree. Having Kody here brought back lots of memories of his dad and uncle’s escapades. I was careful not to share too much information about Dad, though; I just mostly chuckled to myself about that old adage, “What goes around comes around.”

Now that you get the idea about Kody, I want to let you know that I also learned about humility (not that this is the first time I’ve been humbled by the children in my family). I was more than gently reminded that you should never get a big head about yourself, as kids are extremely adept at leveling that playing field with little effort exerted. I had little to say when the band teacher called to tell me that my burgeoning tuba player had not brought in his lesson materials for weeks and it was intimated that it was because I was teaching my grandson! That band teacher probably thought, “Who does that crazy doctor think she is, anyway?” Remember that we’re still relatively new to this area and since we have no younger children, I have had little interaction with the faculty of the local schools.

Excepting, of course, one of Kody’s teachers, whom I know from an event we were in together. I went to her specifically to let her know that although he is quite intelligent, Kody can also be quite, um, challenging, if you will; not a bad kid, at all, just very gifted at annoying behavior. Early on, she kind of blew me off with, “Oh Kody’s just adjusting to the new environment.” Don’t ya love ‘educator-speak’? I replied, “I don’t think so, this is just my grandson-as-usual; I recommend you bring the hammer down ASAP.”

Well, she did not. She gave him lots and lots and lots of chances apparently. Finally, she had enough and started to crack the whip. Let’s just say the last several weeks of school were eventful for my grandson. At the end of year awards ceremony, I approached his teacher and thanked her for upping the bar; her eyes widened and she said, “He talks all the time!!! I mean ALL THE TIME!!” You’d be proud of me; I didn’t say I told you so (but I thought it!)

Oh, yeah, that’s just Kody; I told you we had two kids, right? Well, let’s see….Saundra, his older sister, who brought her flute along to join the band. Well, she told the band instructor that her flute was in the shop and she couldn’t play for at least the first two weeks of the semester! Lord, love a duck, as my mother used to say. Come to find out, Georgia schools are way behind good ol’ Iowa in music education and my granddaughter was intimidated. Well, Grandma does play the flute, so a few lessons at home (along with getting the flute ‘out of the shop’ and participating at school) and that girl was off and runnin’. She’s so proud of her ‘mad skills’ as she calls it!

Saundra found out that she has a family trait that she thinks came from me; a sharp tongue and the gift of sarcasm. Oh, that girl eats it up! Although the sarcasm can still roll, I have worked very hard at keeping it relatively innocuous these days—you know, just for fun and nobody gets hurt. Saundra is working on that now herself. When she has a great line for her brother, she is holding back (mostly); and when a cutting remark slips out (sometimes too good to pass up!), she and Grandpa have a signal called ‘back up the bus.’ She apologizes, makes the beeping sound of the bus backing up and even includes the whooshing of the brakes and opening the door (see, she’s learning about the fun side of sarcasm)!

Saundra seems to love the professional end of the practice. She’s always ready to assist with paperwork, filing, etc. I’m hoping the exposure to our private practice might influence her just a little bit! Kody became an expert pooper scooper during the past few months. I can’t begin to guess the number of plastic grocery bags of dog doo my grandson scooped from our yard. It was all happily deposited there by Dudley, Holly, and Recon—two Great Danes and a German Shepherd—think about it! Kody decided that the cold Iowa winters are at least good for one thing; frozen non-stinky dog poop!

Grandpa and I have tried to keep up with it all; the kids came with their dog, Recon, so he now walks three dogs in the morning. We are also on a good dog food plan with the local feed store where you buy 12 bags of dog food and get the 13th free; and they load it up for you and everything! And yep, we’ve already used up one card and received our freebie bag—and we’re talking’ 50 lb. bags of dog food, which explains the above ‘poop issue’. Grandpa is a good citizen and picks up after them; the whole town is grateful, I’m sure! We have had to find donators of plastic bags to support our cause.

The bottom line is that we are exhausted! I don’t know how we raised the four we had! We found ourselves falling asleep in front of the TV before bedtime many a night like old fuddy-duddies! My practice has a high percentage of children, as well, so we would leave our office work to spend evenings with our grandkids. The kids adjusted themselves to our hectic schedule and chose to wait to eat with us in the evenings, sometimes quite close to their bedtimes. They seemed to love to have that evening meal together so we could hear about their adventures that day. I’ll miss all the laughter around the table when they go home, that’s for sure.

I’ll also miss our home church time together. We went through a couple of video series with the kids which provided special times of sharing their individual spiritual walks with us. They were interested, asked good questions, and brought thoughtful comments to our discussion. I am so thankful that we opted to have church as a family for these few months we had together.

As a psychologist, this was an invaluable experience. It is crucial that I can identify and empathize with parents and the hectic schedules that they must endure in raising kids these days. I have a renewed perspective on their plight! I remain convinced, however, that there is no substitute for time with kids. That old “quality vs. quantity” argument is crap. The truth is that kids need both of those and it feels like there is never enough time to do it. My grandkids reminded me how important it is to carve out time to be family, and the experience reminded me of just how difficult this is to do. But as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

Churchill also aptly stated this: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” It has been a sacred privilege and gift of precious time that my husband and I have had the opportunity to spend the past five months with Kody and Saundra. I trust it has made a positive investment in their lives, as it has in ours. At the very least, I’m sure they went away with some crazy Grandma and Grandpa stories to share with their own kids some day!


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