Lessons From Grandma’s Button Box

The Great Depression taught my parents and grandparents to save. They saved pennies, broken things with usable parts … and buttons.

A Button Box Moment

The button box held a wide array of closures from garments worn beyond repair.  If a shirt or coat could not be passed along to another wearer, the buttons were salvaged and stashed in the button box. Searching through the button box hoping to find a ‘matchie’ for replacing a lost dress button gave me the opportunity to listen to stories of need that my grandmother saw as bounty, anecdotes my mother remembered from her childhood, and the occasional fashion history lesson.

The button box was always a favorite with my own children as well. It has survived the generations, gaining and losing buttons along the way. There are history, math and sensory lessons hidden within the colorful assortment.  The tactile experience as they run through a child’s fingers and the sound of the buttons toppling down upon one another inside the box has delighted every child who shared in the treasure that now belongs to me.

Over the years I’ve gone beyond sharing the family history and incorporated Grandma’s button box into lesson plans and spontaneous learning moments. What does it feel like to squeeze a handful of buttons? Can you find the one that is made from a sea shell?  I try to keep the “planned” learning short and simple so that I don’t encroach on the exploration.  Chances are if I sit back and just share the moment I’ll be answering instead of asking questions. Little minds are always full of questions.

We sort by color, number of holes, size and shape. We match them to the clothing we’re wearing and giggle when they look silly. We search out buttons, huge and wooden, that went on coats. We find small white buttons like the ones on Grandpa’s shirt. We wonder how long rectangular buttons got through their button holes. We rub our fingers on leather covered buttons without any holes at all.  All the while we’re bumping into accidental learning.

Even ADHD kiddos seem to stay focused when using the special buttons as manipulatives for math or arranging into letter shapes for phonics.

Counting, addition and subtraction can easily be hidden in button play for those who don’t relate to flash cards and rote learning.

Autistic children don’t connect well to the interpersonal world but thrive in the button box collection. Often collectors themselves, seeing my collection gives us a touch point to join our worlds.  And isn’t that what life is all about?

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From time to time I will be writing about educational moments you can share with the children in your life. Children of all abilities. Some will involve modern technology and others will need only the magic of creativity like the lessons found in Grandma’s button box.

Do I need a pocket protector to go with my copy of the DSM-5?

I kept my excitement under wraps when the DSM-5 went into editorial review but now that it’s publication date has been announced I’m ready to press my nose to a bookstore window and quiver.   DSM-IV_092DSC_0791

Admittedly, that’s a little outside the norm on two levels. One, that I still prefer brick and mortar bookstores, and two, that it’s an odd book choice since I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or attorney working with the mentally ill. Truth is I’ve had some edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a guide to mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, on my bookshelf for many years.

Yep. Throw a log on the fire, pour a cup of tea, and curl up with the DSM – the perfect evening.  That officially makes me some sort of nerd I suppose. However, nerd conjures up images of tortoise shell glasses, tailored shirts, high-rise trousers and plastic pocket protectors.

Oh….

I think I’m only missing the pocket protector. Kind of an embarrassing image when you consider that I’m a middle-America soccer mom.

Nonetheless, as someone who has morphed from a psychiatric research wannabe to a special ed teacher-in-training to a stay-at-home professional parent, I have an intrinsic interest in mental and educational challenges.   From the day a psychiatrist and room full of social workers told me to choose another child because the one I’d selected had deficiencies and should be institutionalized instead of adopted, I’ve been fighting to make a difference in the lives of differently-abled and at-risk children.  It’s never been wise to tell me something can’t be done.  I have this annoying habit of replying “watch me.”

So, if you see someone in the reference isle of a bookstore snatching up editions on educational methodologies or mental health topics with all the enthusiasm of an avid yard-sale shopper, please overlook the yellow highlighter stain on my shirt.  I don’t have a pocket protector.

Shopping with Toddlers, Then and Now

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Twenty-some years ago when I had four young children at home there was enough pushing, shoving, toy grabbing, and cheerio tossing in the triple stroller to keep my three non-walkers occupied while I shopped.  A generation later when the grand-munchkin arrived I was thrilled at how much easier it was to get a single stroller through the door at JC Penney.  However as time went on he sat up and grew bored. I discovered that traveling with one active child, as angelic as he is, was going to require some degree of entertainment. Voila! The addition of some educational apps and a couple of Disney movies to grandma’s iPod and we were set for a day at the furniture warehouse store.

 

In the old days pacifiers and toys were attached to the stroller with a piece of elastic to facilitate search and rescue. iPods aren’t as easy to tie down so we do have to keep a close eye on the device  to ensure that it isn’t lost overboard or traded to a passerby for a less valuable trinket.

 

My imagination wanders to the capabilities of the next generation’s strollers. Techno travel pods with chillers for organic yogurt, integrated iPads accessorized with yogurt removing towelettes, surround sound, and a communication system to transmit soothing words from Momma to baby without breaking the jogging stride to bend down and make actual eye contact.

 

I think I’m starting to miss that old package of elastic.

 

Me on sourdough with mayo

My suitcase was packed and ready to go – I was organized on schedule with check-list in hand as usual. The phone rang; my brother spoke; my destination changed. No longer would I be touring a Florida art college with my granddaughter and basking on the beach that weekend.

The California coast would ordinarily be a fair trade, but on this trip I would see little beyond hospitals. My elderly father had become ill and fallen, causing a flood throughout his home.  My brother didn’t know how long Dad had been sprawled in the water, but the breadth of the flood made us think it was hours.

Feeling that he had the situation under as much control as was possible, my brother urged me not to fly out there. Maybe it was the left brain of the family scientist or just man-thinking, but his logic didn’t sit right with me. I needed to be there.

By 3AM my husband was driving me to the airport for an early morning flight to Los Angeles. The groggy preschooler in the back seat would be well taken care of by my husband and a nearby daughter who can always be counted on to rise to the occasion when she is needed. Another aunt offered to fly in to help care for her nephew. He was in good hands.

I’ve been a parenting grandparent for nearly four years and we’re settled into a regular family routine which I consider fully functional and healthy.  I was comfortable shifting gears from grandma to daughter.

The weekend getaway I’d packed for was lengthened day after day after day as I waited for Daddy’s condition to improve. The time difference made it difficult but I managed to read a bedtime story several times using FaceTime from iPad to iPad, which offered a smidgen of our regular routine and afforded me a little time to be Nana.

At last it became clear that Daddy would survive the massive infection that nearly whisked him away from us, but his strength was sapped and his vital organs were slow to recover.  The man who could do anything, fix anything, take care of himself and lend a hand to others now had trouble getting a fork to his mouth and toppled easily when trying to brush his teeth.

I only have one sibling and we are essentially both only children, with 13 years between us.  He has young teenagers, a corporate job that keeps him traveling and their home is several hours from Dad’s. It wouldn’t be easy for him and his wife to balance homework, after school activities and commuting to make daily hospital visits and check on contractors.  I was needed and it felt good to help, to give back.

Ultimately I would be forced to let the lion’s share of the caretaking fall on my brother’s family since I live 1500 miles away.  I felt compelled to do all that I could while I was there.

My sister-in-law urged me to leave the huge task of caring for Dad and seeing to the house repairs for her to figure out. It was time, she said, for me to return to my family. Regardless of the loving and capable care of close family members my grandson needed me specifically. In his 3 ½ year old mind I have become his mother and I had been gone too long.  Because his birth mother dropped out of his life, our lives, my sister-in-law felt he would see my distance as a second abandonment.  Her training in counseling and therapy gave strength to her words.

I believed she was right but found it hard to peel back the fingers of my mind that stayed tightly wrapped around my need to help care for the man who had done so much for me.

I felt sandwiched between my father’s needs and those of my child.

The weekend away had stretched into two weeks almost without notice amid the flurry of medical tests and treatment decisions. I wanted to be cloned into two: One woman for my baby and one for my father.

There was a tear in his eye when I last visited the hospital and told my father that I had to leave. I think we both fear the same thing about that goodbye.

I was on the next flight home to tight hugs and whispered words of “I miss you” and “don’t go, stay here with me.”  I still hear those words every day but with less and less intensity. I am again right where I need to be.

Until the next time the phone rings.

Pass the mayo.

A Rose by Any Other Name is Not a Rose

Answering the question “What’s your name?” has always been an issue for me.  Knowing just who I am doesn’t come easy.

My identity doesn’t seem rooted in me.

There’s the name I was born with (the surname of a father who opted out when I was three) and the name of my step-father that I started using as my own even before he married my mother.  That name was never legally mine because I didn’t let Dad adopt me.  A decision I came to regret but learned to live with by using my dad’s name unless a legal father’s name was absolutely required, creating a plethora of confusion on school records and credit reports.

It still gives me pause when asked for my maiden name. I don’t think I have one.

Marriage gave me a new label. I’d begun freelance writing with that name and had several children so I kept it until I remarried. All too soon a second divorce lawyer asked me who I wanted to be the next day.

No way, no more. Throughout life my name had changed based upon who did or didn’t love me. I wanted my own name once and for all.

Photo Credit: Alanna Deidloff (used with permission)

I had adopted my second husband’s name and it fit. I liked it.  I vowed never to change who I am again.  The name remained mine well into marriage number three. We had children and it was their confusion and questions that moved me to hyphenate with their father giving me a link to my name and a link to their name —  a moniker too long to fit address labels or computerized forms. A defacto truncated version of my name spread like wildfire on bills, catalogs and UPS deliveries. It was weird and I didn’t like it.  Correction came in the form of a lost hyphen and the appearance of “my” last name as a middle name.  I was lost again.

I put on my I-don’t-care-mask and answered to Mrs. #3.   He’s my soul mate. We’ll always be together. But it’s not my name. And I do care.

So who am I? And why in the heck do I care so much?

Learning Slowly and Forgetting Fast: Musings of an Aging Blogger

I have three blog posts started but just can’t seem to take any of them where I want them to go. I’m just not writing well this week.  There are days like that and it’s ok.  I have however been at the keyboard all morning. I’ve previewed my blog in just about all of the 180 plus themes in WordPress.  I love design.

I’m older than dirt so I predate this digital era.  When personal computers became available I had to have one and quickly started a self-taught desktop publishing business (some of you youngsters won’t even know what that is) working from my kitchen table. It did well and catapulted me into a wonderful creative world of writing, design, public relations and even teaching newsletter design at a university.   I love design.

HTML and putting together websites was recreational. I could speak code.

Today I’m struggling to do something beyond change a font with the WordPress Custom Design upgrade. Granted, I’ve never tried to use CSS before but I read about it and read about it, and it’s like I’m brain dead.  Why don’t I have dozens of fabulous pages designed?  I don’t get it.  I love design.

I think the answer resides on my birth certificate, and I don’t mean the fact that I don’t have a snazzy name.  Reality check … the brain works differently as we age. We process slower and remember less. A twenty-something Facebook friend posted a sad note about how there is no cure for memory. It was hard not to jet back a post saying yes there is, it’s called old age.

Part of me says to just forget it (pardon the pun) and use the predesigned pages as they are. After all, a pro put a lot of work into laying it all out for us. I’m a writer now not a designer.  But there is this little rebel voice in the back of my head saying not to take this lying down.  Fight back.  Read.  Study. Experiment.  If it looks ugly or blows up just start over like the old days when it was girl against machine and I never stepped down and let the machine win.

That was then and this is now.

Relax and enjoy the fact that I’ve stopped writing on the back of envelopes and hire a designer or choose an appropriate theme; or scratch and claw my way back toward a thinking, learning, human being by mastering CSS for some little tweak to my page.  I’m not sure which is the high road.  I’m not sure what to do.

I always used to be sure what to do. Being sure of everything is an essential part of youth. But young I am not. That doesn’t mean I’m not intelligent, worthy and productive. It simply means I’m different and still changing.

My creator planned it that way. He loves design.