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NathanCaplanAMGLite2My Grandfather, Nathan, was an incredibly shy man.  In addition to being very short (5’4”), he was a quiet and kind immigrant who listened far more than he spoke. He came from Russia to pursue a better life, and made his living as a bicycle-riding handyman in Toronto before moving to Detroit, where my mother was born. Sadly, Nathan became a widower when my mother was three.

As a single parent, Nathan left many of the child-rearing responsibilities to my mother’s siblings, Aunt Pearl and Uncle Al. He never remarried.

NathanWCarLITENathan worked as a plumber and got involved in the fledgling automobile business as a mechanic and inventor. He was so shy, he would send my toddler-aged mother into his shop to shoo away the creatures that huddled around their warm stove overnight.

Ultimately, he invented the brake rest, as well as an improved bumper. When Henry Ford used the bumper on the Model A, my grandfather sued him and won.  He got no enormous cash payout as compensation, but remained proud, nonetheless, that he lived in a country where a poor immigrant could successfully sue the richest man in the nation.

When my mother was sixteen, she and my grandfather came west to join Pearl and Al who had started a small loan business in Los Angeles. My grandpa liked getting his hands dirty, so he ran a small trailer lot, like U-Haul, and tinkered in the back. He lived a very quiet life.

MarcieJannStepsHUFFMy mother, Marcie, was an active teenager.  She was a great athlete and an excellent student. When she entered U.C.L.A. she was living with my grandfather and taking care of him. One night when she got home from school, he announced to her that he was going to be taking dance lessons at Arthur Murray on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She looked at him and said “Dance lessons?” He just nodded.

The next night he said to her “You know, Masha, (his nickname for my mother), you can make plans for tomorrow night. I have my dance lesson.” In that moment my mom realized that Nathan was taking the lessons so that she wouldn’t have to come home to care for him at night. He was forcing himself to do something he had no desire to do, in order to allow his daughter the freedom she needed as a teenager.

My grandfather wasn’t rich. He didn’t buy things for his daughter. He didn’t take her out to fancy dinners, or on long trips – what he did was sacrifice. He put his feelings aside, because he knew that my mother wouldn’t leave him alone unless he found a way to be busy outside of the house. He pushed himself to do the right thing, even though it was uncomfortable and inconvenient.

This story of my grandfather reminds me that the job of parenting is often a selfless one. It’s often about the practical sacrifices we make, emotionally or physically, to do what’s right for our children.

Sometimes these sacrifices mean taking an uncomfortable path – saying no and going through the discomfort of teaching our kids to deal with adversity. Sometimes, it’s about the devotion of real time, leaving all else alone and putting down our phones to look our kids in the eye when we’re having a conversation with them.

PearlnMarcieNZaydieLITE

Pearl, Nathan, and Marcie

The days of doting offspring seem long gone, but it’s clear that children still care about their parent’s feelings, opinions, and concerns. It is our job to help our children grow, even if it sometimes goes against our nature to hold them, cuddle them, and protect them. We don’t need to take dance lessons to release our children from their obligation to us, but we do need to consider their lives, their ages, and their feelings as we continue to set for them an example of how thinking, loving adults behave.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by driving your kids to school, or signing them up for summer camp, or letting them walk to the park, remember that you’re doing the right thing.  You might also tell them about their grandparents. It will give them a sense of pride, and the foundation they’ll need to stand tall.

vectorstock_1038990There are few better opportunities to teach our children about the feelings of others than their birthdays – and the way we celebrate them.

Birthday parties thrown for one-year-olds are clearly done for the benefit of the parents and posterity.  Get lots of pictures, be sure you feed the adults, and hire a clown (or enlist your most energetic relative).

The rules for two-year-olds are pretty much the same.  Line em up.  Get pictures and video (because they’re talking now).  Hire a clown who makes balloon animals.

Aaron3redhat_83liteAt three years old, the party scene gets dicier.  If your child is in pre-school, invite everyone in the class (certainly through kindergarten).  Doing this teaches kids that we are sensitive to everyone’s feelings – even the ones they don’t “care” about.  To model this sentiment, we even invite the kid with the weird parents.  We teach this lesson because we should – not because we agree about a specific kid or not.  Hindsight has taught me that these idealistic positions are absorbed, learned, and applied by our children later in their lives, so don’t be afraid of teaching your kid to do the right thing even if you’ve grown a little cynical about it yourself!

After that third birthday, our messaging about gifts and courtesy becomes more complex.

KiddieInviteI recently read about parents using electronic invitations that include preferences and suggestions about gifts for their children.  I understand the value of adults “registering” for wedding and baby gifts, but doing the same for children hadn’t really crossed my mind – because at a certain point you realize that spending more than twenty bucks on a gift for a little friend is slightly insane.  Nonetheless, I understand the concept of wanting to get gifts that will please a recipient.  This is a multi-faceted issue and just buying a pre-defined gift may cause us to miss some very important teaching opportunities.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is walking the fine line between “You are wonderful and deserve everything you desire.” and “You can’t always get what you want.”  We all know that Life is not perfect – and neither are parents, or kids, or relatives, or friends.  So, does it make sense for us to try and create a perfect world for our children?

As early as three or four years old children can be taught that giving gifts requires some creativity and forethought.  This can actually be a fun exercise.  Go to CVS, set a price limit, and tell your child to pick something for their friend.  You’ll be surprised what they find (and you can always explain why Epson Salts are not appropriate).

TantalizerSometimes birthday kids don’t know what they want, but there can be value in getting things they don’t want (or think they don’t want)…especially when a month after their birthday they’re home sick and they find the unopened game in their closet that captures their imagination for the next two days.

Yes… I have personal experience with this –  “Tantalizer” – the best game ever!

Teaching our children to receive a gift gracefully is a necessity.  This is a real opportunity to demonstrate for them that even if it’s not what they wanted, people’s feelings are more important than “things.”

The sooner kids learn to deal with disappointment, the better.  (I know some parents say that they don’t want their children to feel the sadness they felt as young people.  But I believe that creating a world for them where no one says no, or where they are empowered beyond reason is actually doing them a significant disservice.)

SingleGift2Life is not always going to go their way.  Learning to be positive about receiving any gift, even if it’s not what they wanted, will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Even the wrong gifts are good gifts.

Birthdays are wonderful celebrations – especially when we remember to keep gratitude, inclusion, and grace on our guest lists.