Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Suggestions please

I have a dear friend that I would like to help in some way. You see, all of her children are grown and married and she now has several precious grandchildren. This friend's husband left her several years ago, leaving her to finish raising their three boys who were still at home, while her oldest child, her daughter was married and no longer living at home. My friend has been a teacher's aid in a local school system where she works with and signs for deaf students. She is a wonderful, compassionate christian woman and I cherish her friendship.
The difficulty is that she has does not have any money for Christmas. I'll be honest here and say that she does not do the best job of managing her money. She's talked to me repeatedly about this but in my efforts to offer her some sound advice, she usually comes up with reasons for why she does the things she does financially and so on.
Anywayyyyy.....the question.....what can she do for her children/grandchildren for Christmas that doesn't cost alot of money? Of course, the other grandparents involved DO have alot more money than she does and this always bothers her, making her feel like she HAS to do something, i.e. spend money on her kids and grandchildren that she doesn't really have.
We were talking yesterday and she was telling me that most of her grandchildren have need of nothing.......we all know how that is.......but they still expect things and gifts and money at Christmas and birthdays.
My friend is a wonderful grandmother. She spends time with her grandchildren and loves them to pieces. I just want to help her so that she doesn't go into debt getting things for her children and grandchildren that they don't need and she can't afford.
And, yes, I know I can offer all of the suggestions in the world and she may select to go ahead and do it her way, anyway, but I thought I would try to offer her some alternatives.
Any ideas, anyone? She has seven little grandsons under the age of ten. She has one granddaughter that is 2 and the other one is 16.


Denise said...


Help your grandchild start a collection and then add to it over time. It can be cards (baseball to dinosaur), rocks, stamps, coins, comic books, miniatures or figurines, etc. There are also sticker and sticker book sets on the market you can use with younger children. For example, give your grandchild an animal sticker book and buy packets of animal stickers over time for them to stick in the right spot and learn about animals. Whatever the collection, it becomes a common interest you share.

Playful Gifts

One woman told me that during her four years in college she most looked forward to letters from her grandmother, which always contained a little "surprise" -- a stick of gum, a cartoon clipped from the newspaper, a funny sticker, a lucky coin. You can give or mail your grandchild a little something every once in a while as a surprise. It's not the gift itself that's important, but the connection it makes. It says, "I'm thinking about you."

Send something small and inexpensive, perhaps once a month or so (but don't feel pressured). You can start when your grandchild is around three years old. Craft shops and "dollar" stores are great places for these kinds of little gifts. Be creative and imaginative. You might send a finger puppet, small stencil, funny socks, a balloon with a message on it ("blow up this balloon to read a surprise message from Grandma"), a musical toothbrush, a pen in the shape of a snake (there are some wild things in dollar stores!), or even a magazine ad or photo cut up like a puzzle. You can also send things your grandchild can experiment with, like a magnifying glass, magnet, or flower/vegetable seeds.

Sometimes it's a nice idea to enclose a note with playful gifts suggesting things your grandchild can do. For example: "Here's a magnifying glass that's especially for you! If you hold it up to your eye and look through it, it makes things look bigger. Take it around the house and look closely at the wooden railing along the stairs, the carpet, a banana peel, a raisin. What do you see? Look at your brother's nose. Does it look bigger? Let me know what else you see with your magnifying glass."

Handmade Gifts

Something handmade makes a special gift in the present and can become a treasured keepsake over the years. You might make your grandchild a quilt, a special blanket, a sweater or scarf, a fancy T-shirt, a stuffed doll or bear, or doll clothes. If sewing, knitting, or needlework is new to you, start with a kit from a needlework or craft shop.

If you don't have the time or skill to make your grandchild the "traditional" things, try your hand at more playful handmade crafts. It's the thought and creativity you put into it that counts. For example, make a picture out of pennies stuck to a sheet of colored cardboard (you can even spell out your grandchild's name). Your grandchild can admire the picture for a while, and then put the coins in their piggy bank. Another idea is to make shapes and animals out of the fuzzy "wire twisties" available in craft stores. You might make a giraffe out of a yellow twistie, and send it to your grandchild with another yellow twistie to playfully "challenge" them to make the same animal.


Time is the greatest gift of all. Time coupons are a creative way for both you and your grandchild to anticipate a fun, shared experience. They also give your grandchild power in "redeeming" the coupon. You might have coupons for baking cookies, reading a story, going shopping, or learning how to do woodworking.


One man told the story of visits to his grandmother's house when he was little and the cut crystal handles she had on the French doors into her dining room. His grandmother would take the door handles off, hang them on a string, and put them in the window so that the sunlight would catch them and there would be a rainbow in the room. When his grandmother died, his aunt gave him the door handles as a keepsake. After that, as he lived in different apartments and town houses across the country, he put those handles on either his bedroom door or the front closet door. Today, he owns his own house and the handles are on a prominent door. Sometimes, he and his six-year-old daughter take the handles off to "make a rainbow in the room." And that's the philosophy to life he's teaching his daughter, a philosophy he got from his grandmother: you can always find a rainbow when you need one.

You know when you hear a favorite song on the radio and your mind goes right back to a special memory? Keepsakes have that same kind of power. Grandchildren like the hottest new stuff, but they also have a real need for a sense of family history and connection. In the short term, keepsakes create an immediate sense of connection. Over the years, they become a powerful symbol of that connection. Keepsakes evoke memories and feelings. They also make us feel part of something bigger. They are a critical part of a living family legacy. Older people have a need to give keepsakes as "something to remember me by," and grandchildren have just as much of a need to receive them.

Many of the items discussed in earlier sections -- like using photos/videos, keeping a journal, writing letters and stories for your grandchildren, writing your life story, giving a handmade gift -- can become keepsakes. There are also some special things you can do with an eye toward creating keepsakes.

Something to Remember You By

My storybook Something to Remember Me By was inspired by my grandmother. She had a habit of giving me a small keepsake every once in a while and saying, "here's something to remember me by." Some of the keepsakes were things she made or bought; others were her own possessions. I have to admit I didn't like all the keepsakes at the time she gave them to me. There was one terribly tacky, flowery, orange and red and brown and blue tablecloth that was one of her favorites. I hated it! Today I look at that same tablecloth with a mixture of amusement and fondness. That's part of the power of keepsakes.

As you get older, think about slowly giving away some of your special possessions to older grandchildren (and your adult children) -- cup and saucer sets, salt and pepper shakers, figurines, fine linens, old jewelry, cuff links, watches. Even if they don't fully appreciate the keepsakes now, they will in the future.

I've also heard some wonderful, touching stories about people who buy special keepsakes or choose special possessions, wrap them up with a personal note, and hide them away in a closet or attic. Their plan is that when they pass away, their children and grandchildren will sort through their possessions and they will each find a package with their name on it as a source of comfort and remembrance.

One woman in New York told me she had lost both her mother and grandmother in the holocaust. She wanted to give her 14-year-old granddaughter a copy of Something to Remember Me By with some old photographs and her grandmother's handkerchief (the only keepsake this woman had left from her grandmother) so that her granddaughter would remember them all.

Tell the Story

When you give a keepsake, particularly an item with a family history to it, make sure you share the story behind it. Write down the story in a note when you pass along the keepsake. Is it a ring your father gave to your mother? A quilt your great-grandmother made? Where did the item come from? Why is it important?

Stories are what bring objects alive. That's the real power of a keepsake -- not necessarily what it is, but what it means in the context of your life story.

When you share a keepsake's story, often even young children can understand its meaning at some level. There was one precocious little girl who told me, "My Grandma gave my Mom a very beautiful ring, and someday she's going to give it to me, and someday I'll give it to my daughter. That's the way you make history."

Family Tree

Help your grandchildren understand their place in the larger context of their family. Doing a simple family tree together can be an extended project with older grandchildren. It also becomes a keepsake.

You and your grandchild can make a diagram of your family tree, perhaps including photographs. There is computer software available for charting family trees. Or, get a large sheet of paper and some pencil crayons or markers. Show your grandchild where to draw boxes for various relatives, starting at the bottom with the oldest generation you know about and then branching out. You might want to use one color for one side of the family and a different color for the other.

Depending on how much you know and what research you do, you can also include brief notes about each family member under their photo.

Family Time Capsule

You and your grandchildren, even if you live far away from each other, can collect items to put into a time capsule.

Collect personal items like family photos, school artwork, greeting cards, clothing, and family stories. You can also clip out current articles from magazines and newspapers, put in a hit CD, include clothing catalogs with the latest fashions, and make a list of popular movies, celebrities, and expressions. Put everything into a sealed storage container with the current date. Then, set a date five years or so into the future (long enough, but not too long) when your family will get together for a big party to open the time capsule. Mark the container, "Do not open until..." Store it in a safe place. Now everyone has something to look forward to!

Keepsakes and Traditions

There are some things you do again and again over time that become family rituals. Rituals provide both adults and children with something consistent, reliable, and cherished. Particularly during times of trouble or loss, rituals are a comfort, something "normal" to look forward to. They become part of a family's identity. In this often hectic world, we could all use a few more rituals. If you don't have any family traditions or rituals, START SOME!

Rituals can be anything that works for your family. You and your grandchildren might have a ritual of pulling out the playing cards or backgammon board for a family tournament. Or you can attend the home opener every year of a local sports team and collect the programs.

Rituals are often tied to keepsakes. For example, your grandchildren might enjoy the special holiday foods you cook year after year. Collect these recipes in a cookbook for posterity. Perhaps each holiday season you can start a tradition of giving each of your grandchildren a special ornament. If you have a regular family reunion, each time get T-shirts made for everyone with your family name, the reunion year, and a familiar family saying.

Keepsakes and rituals become the things your grandchildren carry into their families, often with the words, "I remember when Grandma..." A part of you will always be in their lives.

Anonymous said...

How about family games or books that bring family unity? Or a magazine subscription to "God's World" or a nature magazine "Birds and Blooms" I think is the name of one I always like looking at in the doc's office. This could be a tradition that begins with a new/different subscription each year that the family can enjoy - each month! Just an idea! Loni

Jewel said...

Thank you so much, Denise, for the many suggestions. I'm going to print them out and give them to her to look over. Again, thank you.
And Loni, the family games sounds like a very good idea. I know we used to play Monoploly when I was young and still at home and then our son and we used to play it, too. Thanks for sharing your ideas! And for stopping by my blog!!