Just so you know from the outset, these words have no magic potion, no 30-day money-back guarantee, and not any earth-shaking information. In fact, this is a major “not rocket science” collection of words. This is so simple you can do it with your eyes closed. You can do it in the car. You can do it eating pizza. Or even when your child and you are somewhere in that blessed world between nighttime stories, stern warnings, prayers, drinks, and sleep.
First, I want to borrow an idea from Kermit the Frog. Since he first entered our lives, he has told us in word and song that being green is a hard way to go in this world. He just wants us to get it – that it’s an uphill battle trying to be a good frog in a world that does not make his life easy or simple. And I’ve always thought he sounds so brave and so scared when he sings his song about his life and his greenness.
I believe there are some very common themes running through the hearts and minds of many of the parents I see both professionally and personally. One of those themes is the desire of parents to be able to provide the environments, relationships, and experiences that help children mature into wise, strong, loving, and productive adults. Another common theme, a takeoff from the inimitable Kermit, is: “It’s not easy being ‘family’.”
I saw it in my young family; I see it in the families of my adult children; I see it in families I encounter in all my different worlds. The families come in all shapes, sizes, colors, degrees of health, degrees of confusion, and so on. Who’s to say what the magic combination is? How do you have that strong family that can help nurture children so they can grow into those wise, strong, loving, and productive adults?
One way I believe that can be done is by using opportunities to tell family stories. Not just the stories about when you won the game for the team, scored the best on a test, or saved the puppy’s life. I mean the kind when the grandmother wanted all the grandchildren to have banana splits for the first time, only she forgot the bananas! Or when your parents found out about your trouble at school before you had time to make up a good story (lie?) about it.
One of my family stories is about my daddy wearing apple butter socks. (If my mother and daddy were alive today, they would be one hundred years old and one hundred and thirteen years old, respectively). Early in their marriage, they were trying to recover from The Depression. It seems the hobo community knew my mother was a soft touch for handouts, so it was not unusual when a man appeared at the back door wanting to barter with a pair of new socks for food.
Knowing Daddy needed warm socks for work, Mother explained to the stranger that the only thing she had extra was a jar of apple butter she had preserved. She also told him, truthfully, that it wasn’t very good apple butter. He tasted it and still made the trade. My siblings and I have known that story forever. Mother’s status with the hoboes and her love for my daddy make me smile. Daddy wearing apple butter socks makes me laugh.
That’s not bad for a story of an encounter that happened back in 1930-something. Maybe it’s just a plain family story. I really think it’s that and more. For me, it’s an oral history of strength, love, kindness, honesty. It’s a sweet story about strong, creative, beloved, hard-working people in very difficult times. (Evidently, the story is much sweeter than the apple butter was!)
Remember when the dog ate the fruit jar? Remember when you thought you could fly and jumped off the roof? Do your children know that your granddaddy got down the map when your daddy threatened to run away? What about the Christmas everybody served dinner at the homeless shelter? What about the camping trip by the racetrack?
Remember when you and your grandfather used to carve wood together? Or when Great Uncle Charlie went to war when he was just seventeen? Do your children know about the great great grandparents who got married on horseback in the middle of a stream? And what about the really odd and very irreverent Aunt Thelma? These revelations are not profound. But no matter how small and insignificant they may seem, they are still glimpses of a family’s history in story form.
They are stories that we belong to, and they are stories that belong to us. My eight year old grandson listened to stories around the restaurant table recently. (I could apologize for the volume of our laughter and the extra time we sat around the big table, but I don’t think I will). As we stood to leave, one of the grandparents said that this was the best dinner – exactly what she needed after the long day. All the great stories!
Then my grandson said, “I like all the stories, but I especially like hearing the ones that are about our family.” Again, it doesn’t take rocket science. It takes remembering the moments of our lives and sharing them. It gives children a sense of belonging and a sense of roots. Take the time. Tell a story…have some pizza with it.
Thank You, God, for this very good day.
From Ruth Glaze