May 22, 2017

5 Skills Every Grandparent Needs: Part One


There are an estimated 70 million Americans who claim the title of "grandparent." For those of us lucky enough to have our lives blessed with grandkids, skills that are needed may seem rather obvious. After all, we raised at least one child to have a grandchild (basic biology). So, what skills might we have missed in the Grandparents Handbook?

It is not so much that certain skills are missing, but how they are used. The way we raised our own kids is not always the best model for dealing with our child's child. I have picked five that have the ability to make this experience a joy instead of a trial. Of course, there are probably another dozen (or more) skills that could be added to the list, but I had to draw the line somewhere!

This is part one of the "skills" post. To keep things from getting too long-winded, here are the first two skills. I believe these to be the most important. In a week I'll round out the project with the final three skills.  

1) You aren't the parent. This is first because it is the most important. Too many times I get emails from grandparents complaining about something they don't like about how a grandchild is being raised. It could be as insignificant as pickiness in food choices, or a preference for a light left on while he or she falls asleep. Maybe the "flaw" is judged to be more important, like the inability to share toys, or a tendency to prefer video games over reading.

Certainly, there should be rules within a grandparent's home. This is one way a child learns to compromise and that the world is more a more complex place. Behavior that damages property or risks injury must be prevented. 

But, it is very important that grandparents don't weaken the parents' authority. If you question some aspect of how the child is being raised, the issue should be discussed with the parent, but not in front of the child. Be prepared for your suggestion to be rejected. If that occurs, you have done your job: mentioned something you think is important or worth nothing.

At that point, your responsibility is complete. Accept what the parent decides and drop it. Forcing the issue any further runs the risk of alienating you from your adult child and the grandkids. 


2. Boundaries work both ways. Being available to help your grown children with their kids is one of the best parts of your new role. It might be babysitting while mom and dad have a night out or attend a meeting of some sort. There may be a time now and then where you can pitch in with some the constant shuttling of kids from one commitment to another.

Boundaries are important to keep one side of the equation from feeling taken advantage of. If there is  single parent situation you may have more requests for help. Even so, unless you are comfortable with taking on a bigger part of the load, it may be too easy for the parent to take advantage of your generosity. Too many requests for help or too many days spent babysitting may be too many. You have a life to lead that doesn't always involve a grandchild. Saying no becomes vital to your health and happiness.

Likewise, your daughter or son may not be overjoyed that you drop over, unannounced, time and time again, to offer help or advice. Even worse, if you have a key to their house and simply let yourself in, you are crossing a boundary that can cause real tensions and discord.


Agree or disagree with these first two points? I'd love your thoughts. 


May 19, 2017

A Late Night Knock

"The knocking on the heavy, gray, wooden door was insistent even though it was well after hours, long after anyone should expect an answer at this address. Except for one rather forlorn street light a block away and a dim bulb by the outside entrance, this corner of the city was growing dark and deserted. Deserted, with the exception of whoever was knocking.

In a small room, with blaring music and soundproof glass, the resolute pounding would never be heard. The outside world didn’t exit. Here was equipment, small, scratched, vinyl records in organized stacks, a dangling microphone, walls covered with faded photos and posters of musicians, some important, some not. Every few minutes a switch was thrown and a voice spoke a few words heard by hundreds or maybe thousands of invisible ears. Only the non-stop blinking buttons on the battered, black, desk phone and the glow of various lights and switches assured the voice that what he was saying was not going unnoticed.

Eventually, the person in that isolated room was required to leave the private space and wander down a short hall to look at a few meters and dials. The people who owned all the equipment and the government bureaucrats who held the power of continued operation required such a trip. The transmitting equipment was temperamental and needed to be checked every hour. A few scans of the various measurements, a hastily scribbled signature on an official looking form, and it was time to stride quickly back to the private space before silence replaced the blare of the latest pop hit.

But,  just at that moment, during those few seconds of the journey back down the corridor when the front entrance was only a few yards away and within hearing, the knocking began anew. The person stopped, judged how much longer the song on the turntable had to play, and headed toward the sound. Not thinking about any potential danger, the fact that he was totally alone in the building, or who might be asking for attention, he unlocked and swung open the door.

Before him stood a twelve year or thirteen year old girl, all alone, wearing shorts, a blouse, and an expectant expression. She glanced quickly at the person who answered the door, and asked ‘Is Bobby Sherman here? Can I see him?” Wanting to laugh, but realizing the young girl was serious, the person gave her the response she probably expected. “I’m sorry but he’s busy on the air. Can I give him a message for you?” Muttering her first name and a song request for a piece of music that was played every 60 minutes anyway, she was assured “Bobby” would be told of her desire. She smiled, walked away satisfied, and the front door again locked out reality.

It was at that moment I began to truly understand the power of radio, the power of the voice behind the microphone and the ability of the medium to communicate and motivate. For you see, the person who answered the door was  Bob Sherman, my on-air name at a top 40 station in Syracuse New York in 1969.

The Bobby Sherman the young listener wanted to meet was not me. He was the man who had released several hit records and was the star of his own television show, “Here Comes The Bride.” The fact that the same person was not likely to be the night DJ at a radio station in upstate New York never entered the youngster’s mind. Through the incredible power of radio to stimulate her imagination, it was completely logical and possible that her fantasy was inside that building.


As I closed the door and went back to the studio just in time to start the latest two minute hit single by the Grassroots, or Tommy Roe, it really hit me: I have the power to create a world for my listeners completely separate from reality. Any thought of ever changing career paths or finding a more stable industry was gone." 



Regular readers know I was a radio DJ for part of my career.  Staring at age 15 on weekends, I "played the hits" until my late 20's in several different towns. While no longer a job choice that inspires much reaction, being a disc jockey on rock and roll radio stations in the 1960's and 70's was a fairly big deal. 

Your picture was on the weekly list of top 40 hits. You were asked to introduce Aerosmith or Rod Stewart or Jethro Tull in front of thousands at a concert. Supermarkets wanted you to cut the ribbon that marked the opening of a new store. People wanted your picture or autograph. Everyone wanted to know if you knew Casey Kasem of American Top 40 fame.

At some point you change and realize playing records isn't a long term career choice. Being hounded by 15 year old girls is no longer fun. Aging DJ's are not in high demand. But, for a time..........

The Late Night Knock is a glimpse into a world that no longer exists, but was tremendously exciting and fulfilling for a young man just finding his stride in life. Some 45 years later my satisfying retirement is in large part based on that night and what it taught me about the power of imagination and words. The men and women who I met and worked alongside (Hi, Ron Wray!) will be part of me forever.


Tell me a story about something in your life that was a spark to something different or better (or worse!). What happened that opened a door to your future? We all have a story.

May 16, 2017

Is That All There Is?

The end of a day: Is that it?

If the title reminds you of a song by Peggy Lee, you are definitely a boomer retiree. In a rather bleak view of life, the lyrics suggest that if this is as good as it is going to get then let's dance and party before the final disappointment of death. During a time of upheavals in the late 1960s, this was a top 15 hit for Ms. Lee. 

Why such a bleak title and introduction to this post? Take comfort, dear reader, the song's mood is not reflective of mine. I am not in the throes of despair. I do receive emails on a rather regular basis, however, that express at least some of this feeling about retirement.  There are three primary concerns: What did I do? I loved my job, I will run out of money, or my spouse is driving me crazy.

I certainly understand these concerns. I flirted with similar ones after leaving the workforce 16 years ago. I didn't think I was ready financially, emotionally, or socially...pretty much a clean sweep of feeling unprepared. Eventually, everything sorted itself out. For the almost seven years of writing this blog, I hope I have conveyed the message that retirement has the potential of making this stage of life productive and satisfying. 

Even so, I would guess we have asked ourselves, "is this all there is," every now and then. It is part of the human condition to wonder what we are accomplishing and what comes next. What sets us apart of other species is this need to question, to speculate, to hope.

At its core, retirement is the only time in our lives when a lot of the answers to those eternal questions are under our control. No, we can't change the facts of mortality. We have only limited control over health issues that may have been baked into our genes from day one. But, that leaves tremendous wiggle room, doesn't it?

I am constantly inspired by stories of folks with severe limitations achieving remarkable things. I think of those who compete in marathons in their wheelchairs, or on artificial legs. I think of people who are unable to move any part of their body below the neck, who have mastered painting, using a computer, or writing a book by grasping a brush or stick in their mouths to accomplish these tasks. 


Photo by A.G. Bell
A perfect example is the the story of Helen Keller. Deaf and blind, she mastered communication, learned to speak, and became an author, activist, and lecturer. Anne Sullivan, her teacher and constant companion, showed an awe-inspiring level of patience and determination to young Helen. When I am tempted to complain because I have some morning stiffness in my fingers or a sore back, Helen Keller pops to mind; I am embarrassed by my petty complaints.

While we still on this side of the dirt, the reality is there is never a time when it is appropriate to ask, "is that all there is?" Because the answer is an emphatic, "No!" If you settle for what doesn't make you happy or fulfilled, then it is on you. 

Maybe you can't change your physical condition or location. It is not all that uncommon for retired folks to live on a tight  sometimes barely adequate budget. I certainly get enough emails from unhappy spouses (of both sexes) who feel trapped in an unsatisfying relationship. I am not minimizing the real pain and frustration that can accompany those situations. 

But, I do suggest that you have the ability to rise above each of those scenarios. Strictly physical problems do not have to affect your ability to think, create, write, or enjoy the sound of the birds in your backyard. A pet could care less that you can't walk or run. He will love you anyway.

A tight budget forces you to be creative. Can't afford a computer or Internet connection? Your local library has both. Going out to eat is so infrequent you forget how to order off a menu? Become a great cook at home. Set the table, light the candles, pour the wine, and make an ordinary dinner something special.

If you have tried everything to make things work well with your spouse, and divorce isn't an option for many reasons, reassert your individuality. Do what makes you happy. Carve out times of the day when you please yourself. 




May 12, 2017

A Force That Powers the World

Most of us are junkies for this. We thrive on at least one fix a day to stay happy. We have had this need since we were toddlers. We are junkies for it. We like being told good things about who we are. We need the strokes. 

We need to be told someone else cares, or noticed us. This force is the power of affirmation. Receiving it from others feels good. It validates much of what we do. The word, affirmation, means to state that something is true. In this context it means to praise someone for something. It tells you someone else noticed something positive they want to bring to your attention. 

Affirmation fulfills our basic need to feel relevant, useful, and needed. So, if this is a deep seated need we all have then why is it too rare in most of our lives, most of the time? Good question. I've given this topic some extra thought since my small group from our church had a lively discussion on the subject. All of us admitted we are quick to receive compliments, but much slower to hand them out.

A while ago I was prompted by something I read that made a real impact. Frankly, I can't remember what I read or even what it said specifically. All I remember is something struck a chord. The gist of the piece was that during a normal day we all deal with dozens of people who come quickly in and out of our lives. 

The article was not referring to coworkers or family members. It was taking about the "invisible people" we interact with every day. In this case "invisible" isn't a value judgment. Rather, it is how we typically see (or don't see) these folks.


The clerk who rings you up at the hardware store or fast food restaurant, the delivery person who drops off a FedEx package, each is nameless and faceless to us. The waitress at dinner tells us her name but we forget it before she's even taken our order. The fellow who hands you a prescription at Walgreens doesn't really register (pardon the pun).

See where I'm heading? Every single day we have the opportunity to affirm something about these people and their existence yet we don't, even though each one of them is just as much an affirmation junkie as you or I.

I started a very social experiment over the course of just a few weeks. I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone. I tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these folks. The result was immediate. Suddenly an unhappy person smiled. A clerk laughed while handing over my purchase. A delivery person thanked me for my business.

The invisible person in front me became instantly real. He had been affirmed. And, he or she usually affirmed me in return. We interacted like two human beings who were willing to give a tiny piece of themselves to someone else.

Personally, I am very sorry I didn't learn this lesson while I was working. I know I treated these invisible people like interruptions or not worthy of my giving them what they craved. I hope it wasn't because I was purposely hurtful, I was just selfish and oblivious. I'm still that way more often than I'd wish, especially with faceless people on the phone.

Retirement allows us the little bit of extra time we need to practice affirmation with others. You probably have dozens of chances each day. Even remembering to affirm just one person will be worth the effort. My one week experiment has become a regular habit (when I remember, which isn't everytime, I admit).


I should add, that personal affirmation is a powerful tool for making us feel and function better, too. We all struggle with times of self-doubt. If you'd like to review some tools that can strengthen how you feel about yourself, click here. While I don't agree with all of the ideas, reading the list was empowering. And, the truth is the more secure we feel about ourselves the more likely we are to notice the good in others.