“When a man makes war on his own weaknesses he engages in the holiest war that mortals ever wage.  The reward that comes from victory in this struggle is the most enduring, most satisfying, and the most exquisite that man ever experiences.”  –Bryant S. Hinckley

The quote above is one of my favorites.  It is taped to my bedroom mirror where I can see it every day.  I thought I would share it in a quick post since this is the only blogging I will be doing today (I am subbing 3rd grade all day).

Oops, I did it again.  If you want faux fur to keep looking like fur then don’t put it in the dryer.  My track record with faux fur is not good.  And my hooded maroon sweater has been the latest faux pas.

The first item I wrecked dried that had faux fur was Huh’s stuffed horse.  The mane was no longer long and flowing, it was a matted mess.  Huh, who was about 10 years old at the time, forgave me.  A few years later I decided to wash some of Yawlin’s stuffed animals.  I completely forgot about the horse mistake and tossed all of the animals into the dryer as soon as the wash cycle was completed.  That was okay to do with all of the stuffed animals except the stuffed orangutan.  I neglected to check the tag on it’s bottom.  The tag says to surface wash and then air dry.  Oops.

Yawlin shrieked when he saw his orangutan. 

His sisters took up the chant, “The monkey has a ‘fro!  The monkey has a ‘fro!”  The orangutan really did look like it had an Afro.  

Yawlin took longer to forgive me than his sister did.  Even now he’ll come up to me occasionally and ask, “Tell me again why you washed him?” 

I personally think the monkey is more cuddly with the ‘fro.

The next faux fur foible was when I washed and dried Hoob’s white sweater–the one with a fur collar.  Hoob actually cried when she saw the sweater because it was a gift from her father and stepmother.  I felt horrible.  I apologized.  I hugged her.  I gently reminded her that with a household of nine, laundry is a huge task that requires help from everyone.  And the help I have requested from the kids is for them to place any laundry items requiring special care aside with a note stating what care is required.  Hoob had forgotten to do that. 

As soon as the other kids learned of Hoob’s sweater, they grabbed the matted horse and the ‘fro monkey and held them up to my face.  “Look at what you do!  Why do you do it?”

The truth is, I don’t know why I have such a hard time remembering not to dry faux fur.  For some reason I just forget.  I forgot again just last week when I washed my hooded maroon sweater.  My new hooded maroon sweater.  The fur around the hood now matches the other faux fur freaks.  I could have kept the sweater hidden, the kids didn’t need to know, but I swallowed my pride and showed them anyway. 

Huh rolled her eyes.

Yawlin laughed and laughed and laughed.  He actually had tears coming out of his eyes he was laughing so hard.

Hoob was alone watching TV when I showed her.  Her eyes got big.  She gasped.  Then I heard, “Did you dry it?  Smoooooth!”

Of course my kids are going to remember my faux fur fiasco; remembering mistakes is what kids do.   But, I hope part of my laundry legacy is that my kids also remember that I did not fear admitting mistakes–and laughing at them–even if I didn’t always learn from them.

Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, and Affection.  These “A’s” will work in building any relationship.  Blended families, especially, need to pay attention to the relationships being built within the family unit.  The husband and wife have to build their relationship.  Biological parents need to continue a positive relationship with their children and step parents need to create a good relationship with step children.  Step siblings also need to develop a relationship that works.  Having found old notes from a class my husband and I took two years ago, and realizing I can still learn from them, I type them here as a reminder to myself about building positive relationships within my own blended family and to share with others who are also blending a family.  The notes can apply to any relationship being improved upon.  (For other notes I found on blending families please see blog post “Notes From the Past.”)

Attention:

*Spend time alone with the person you are building the relationship. 

*Share routines and activities such as doing chores together and participating in some of their interests.

*Listen.

*Plan special occasions.

*Notice the good things they do, the “jobs well done.”

*Ask specific questions about their day.

Acceptance:

*We all like to be treated with respect.  Remember that and treat others accordingly.

*Focus on the positive qualities each person has.

*Avoid all comparisons.

*Avoid the game of “Who’s right?”  Instead, focus on what works.

*Encourage an expression of feelings.  Example:  “Boy, you’re really mad at me, aren’t you?”

*Work to get to know the other person.

*Don’t try to change a person (adult or child) to try to fit into your image.

*Forgive.

Appreciation:

*Focus on the things going well.

*Use verbal statements to show appreciation.

*Let them overhear you praising them to someone else.

*Leave little notes of appreciation around.

*Focus on small steps, not necessarily big achievements.

*Let them know you have noticed good things they have done.  “I’ve noticed…”

*Return the favor.

Affection:

*Affection comes slowly in a step family.  Recognize that, and don’t push for more than the person is ready for.

*Go slow and stay within the child’s comfort zone.

*Enjoy your small successes and build on them.

*Use humor.

*Have goals to work toward as individuals and as a family.

*Use family meetings to clear the air.

*Get the entire family’s input on what the family rules will be.  Everyone can sign the rules.  Try them for 30 days and then tweak them as needed. 

*Speak verbally of the affection you feel.

The four A’s seem to go in a logical order.  If you pay attention to someone you will begin to have an acceptance for that person and the things that are important to them.  As you accept them and all of their quirks, you will develop an appreciation for them.  As you express that appreciation affection will grow.  The four A’s will then be reciprocated.  It is a win/win way of building relationships.

“Notice my socks.”  Grandpa stuck out his right foot so I could see that his sock had been cut down to the ankle.  “I did that so I can scratch my leg better.”   Only one leg itched, so only one sock had been cut down.

The quirky sock comment is one of the main things that sticks out in my mind about my visit with my 86 year old grandfather in January.  The other thing that I remember most about that visit is how lonely Grandpa seemed to feel.  Grandma died 2 1/2 years ago after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years.  Though he tries to go about his daily life by doing such things as working in his yard or visiting with family, Grandpa seems as though he’s only going through the motions.  He said several times during our visit how much he misses Grandma.

For Christmas I decided to give Grandpa the gift of time–my time.  I bought him a game of Skip-Bo, wrapped it up, and taped a note to the top of the package stating that I would be visiting him once a month to play games with him.  When he talked to my mom a little later about the gift I had given him he said, “She doesn’t have to do that.  And besides, I don’t know any games to play.”  But that is just Grandpa.  He doesn’t want to be a bother.

The first time I visited in January we never got around to playing any games.  He just talked.  And I listened.  I nodded.  I smiled.  Not only did I hear about his socks and how much he missed Grandma, I also heard the schedule of the t.v. shows he watches, how his dog, Nikita, protects him, and how he is sure he comes from Tower of Babel times, because he can no longer understand what people are saying in church (said with a wink and a chuckle).  I enjoyed the visit and left feeling excited for February’s visit.

In February I took advantage of the President’s Day holiday and took my kids with me since there was no school.  I want the four of them to connect with their “Grandpa Great.”  We pulled the kitchen table out and placed Uno Attack on it.  Grandpa eyed the game warily and asked, “What is that?  I’ve never seen that before.”

“It’s a game, Grandpa.  You’ll learn it.”

The first time the game spit a bunch of cards out Grandpa laughed hard.  When he caught on that it would happen randomly throughout the game he sat forward and watched intently whenever one of us had to press the button.  We played several hands, Grandpa playfully accusing anyone that won a hand of cheating.  “Hoob”, who was sitting next to Grandpa, got into the act and started dishing him out Draw cards whenever she got the chance.  Grandpa had a good time retaliating.  “Huh” had brought along her guy pal, “Brass.”  At one point in the game Grandpa looked at “Brass” and asked what was wrong with him since “Brass” couldn’t seem to win a hand.

Unfortunately, “Brass” had to be home early, so we were only able to play the game with Grandpa for an hour.  As we were walking out the door the kids all commented that they had had fun.  “Mack” even asked me a few days later when we could do it again.

Yesterday “Yawlin” got out of school early so I took him with me for the March visit.  This time we brought the game Sorry.  Again, Grandpa looked at the game warily and asked, “What is that?”

And again the answer, “It’s a game, Grandpa.  You’ll learn.”

My second cousin “A”, who lives in the back portion of Grandpa’s house, was there when we arrived so we invited him to play.  Grandpa quickly replaced the batteries in his hearing aids so that he could hear us better and we began the game.  “Yawlin” was quick to give Grandpa pointers and moved Grandpa’s pawns for him whenever they were too far away for Grandpa to reach.  “A” ended up winning the game.  But, since it had ended sooner than any of us wanted, we continued to play to see who would come in second.  “Yawlin” got that honor. 

Grandpa and I looked at each other and in unison said, “Who gets third?”  The game continued. 

Now “A” and “Yawlin” were totally against me and rooting for Grandpa to win.  It came down to both of us needing a One card to get our final pawn into Home.  Back and forth we went drawing cards, the boys cheering whenever I drew a card that I couldn’t use and groaning when Grandpa did the same.  When Grandpa finally drew the coveted One card the boys were ecstatic.  And so was Grandpa.  He thanked me several times for coming.

My Mom told me that whenever she tells Grandpa I’m on my way he always says, “She doesn’t have to come all year long.”  But then Mom says, “I think he secretly likes it.”  I do too.

I thanked “Yawlin” for coming with me yesterday.  He grinned and told me he’d had fun.  I think there might be a connection forming between “Yawlin” and Grandpa Great.  I look forward to the April visit.  Maybe we’ll be able to play the Skip-Bo game that I originally bought when I decided to give time to Grandpa.

There was actually a father who spent 10 million dollars on his 13-year-old daughter’s birthday party.  That is an extreme case, but it does seem as though parents today are under pressure to outdo each other on birthday celebrations for their kids, or to at least succumb to some unrealistic standard of birthday celebration set by others.  These types of parties can create stress on the family budget as well as time stress.

I recently learned of a website that seeks to bring awareness to this problem.  I’ve added “Birthdays Without Pressure” to my favorite links on this blog.  The site is maintained by a group of parents and professionals in the St. Paul, Minnesota area.  Their desire is to get people discussing the problem and then, hopefully, bringing about change by offering alternatives to expensive and time consuming birthday parties.  Parents allowing birthdays to be out of control is really only a symptom of a much bigger problem, that of overindulgent parents and the sense of entitlement it develops in their children.  With entitlement, children may begin to believe that money and the things it can buy mean happiness and love and that it is the responsibility of the parents to provide bigger and splashier parties or gifts.  It is a problem that needs to be addressed on many levels, but providing sensible birthday parties can certainly be a start.

The “Birthdays Without Pressure” website asks the questions:  What is out of control?  Why have birthday parties gotten out of control?  What are the consequences?  And what can parents do?  The site also shares real life examples of overindulgent birthday parties.  There is a place on the site where others can share stories about out of control birthday parties they have witnessed.  More importantly, there are ideas listed to help people create their own sensible birthday celebrations.  There are also ideas on how to keep gifts from getting out of control and still other ideas for family birthday rituals.  Though I’ve never heard of a 10 million dollar birthday party happening in my area, I have been aware of some parents who felt frustrated and even a little angry when some of their young guests expressed dissatisfaction at the type of party being offered.  I think it is a topic well worth exploring.