From playdates to playgroup, let the kids play


I wrote the following post my first year of blogging. I’m reposting it today because my NaNoWriMo novel is based on it. My project is called “The Playgroup” and is loosely based on the moms with their young children. In our neighborhood, my kids were the only kids. That’s true for most of Palm Springs neighborhoods. We had to arrange playdates before the kids were school-age if they wanted to play with other kids. One mom started what she called the playgroup and it was an honor to be invited to her exclusive group.

Toddler boy playing with a hose.
My son playing with a hose in the backyard.

When I was a child, I played in and out of neighbors’ backyards, rode bikes from dawn to dusk — with no adults bothering me.

When I had kids, they didn’t have that freedom. One reason was the lack of kids living around us. Another reason was a child in a nearby town had been kidnapped from his front yard and his body found 10 days later. That terrified the moms in our area for years.

I went to Mommy and Me class with my son at the Palm Springs Pavilion. A teacher, Miss Stacey, taught us to sing songs together and play “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot” with a dozen other moms and babies that apparently needed the coaching.  Each week, we took turns bringing snacks of grapes or string cheese. I look back at this as a training ground for the proverbial playdate.

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Our playdates developed from the Mommy and Me group. We had a park day, which was fun and healthy. Moms sat together on quilts on the grass and talked for hours while our kids played on the now-banned steel playground equipment — a super tall, steep slide, a merry-go-round, and a stagecoach that they could climb into, on top of and jump off. Sometime during our kids’ early childhood, our city tore out the dated, dangerous equipment and put in a rubber ground and safe equipment. The kids never liked to play on the brightly-colored equipment and our park playdates vanished.

One day, I got a phone call from a friend. She homeschooled her daughter and was handpicking her friends for a weekly Friday playgroup. She hired a teacher to run playgroup, and each week included a lesson, a theme, craft and snack, followed by 10 minutes of supervised play on her backyard swing set. The moms were not welcome to hang out and socialize.

I felt honored my kids were in the select group. Months later, the mom who had playgroup took me to lunch and told me she had some “big news.” She was uninviting one of the boys. I hardly saw this is earth shattering, but perhaps there was more to this luncheon. Maybe it was a warning!

Years later, when my kids were in high school, they reconnected with friends from playgroup. They remembered it as if they were fellow Mouseketeers having survived a bizarre childhood experience.

When my daughter was in 7th and 8th grade, we homeschooled. Every Wednesday, I picked up her best friend from school, and brought her to my house to play until her mom got off work. This was another sort of playdate. We moms thought it was an ideal way to keep their friendship going. Since my daughter loved arts and crafts — homeschooling allowed her to try ceramics, mosaics, and quilting. I said that the two girls could do an art project each week.


But that didn’t happen. I was tired from supervising my daughter’s schooling by the time afternoon came and my daughter just wanted to hang out with her friend. So, I retired to my room and left them alone. After a few weeks, the friend didn’t want to come over anymore. She said she was promised an art activity and she was disappointed that they weren’t doing any.

Happy child at the beach.
My daughter during a camping trip at the beach.

That made me think about our kids and their overly structured lives. I love having quiet time. I hope my kids do, too. We need to unplug, unschedule, and let our kids regain their creativity and inner peace. They need us to leave them alone and let them be kids.

How was your childhood different from your children’s young lives? Did you have to arrange playdates so they could play or did they have friends who lived close by?

Why are kids taking longer to grow up?

My husband and I were talking about where our kids are in their lives, some of their friends, and it seems like back in our day — kids grew up faster.

Have you noticed that our adult children are taking longer to fly the nest than previous generations? When I was young, it was common for kids to leave home after high school graduation. In my hometown, many got married after high school or college and started their families by their early 20s. Today, it seems kids aren’t grown up without our support until mid to late 20s. Add the pandemic to the mix, and I’ve read that more adult children than ever have moved back in with mom and dad.

high school students prom picture
Senior prom–the kids got together in person.

Several articles published reference a study by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge. She studied millions of kids to come up with the fact that millennials are taking longer to grow up than previous generations. Twenge doesn’t make a judgment on whether that’s good or bad, she just states it as a fact.

In a talk I attended a few years ago for my daughter’s college, in one of the sessions led by an Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Psychologist Kari Ellingson said the same thing. She said when we were young, kids matured into adults at age 19, 20 and 21. Today, those numbers are delayed to 26, 27 and 28.

In an article from the New York Times, called “The curse of the helicopter parent” Twenge and her study are cited:

New York – Parents may still marvel at how fast their children grow up, but a new study finds that US teenagers are maturing more slowly than past generations.

In some ways, the trend appears positive: high school children today are less likely to be drinking or having sex compared with their counterparts in the 1980s and 1990s.

But they are also less likely to go on dates, have a part-time job or drive – traditional milestones along the path to adulthood.

So is that slower development “good” or “bad”? It may depend on how you look at it, the researchers say.

The findings, published online in the journal Child Development this week, are based on surveys done between 1976 and 2016.

Together, they involved more than 8 million US children in the 13-19 age group.

Over those years, the study found, teenagers gradually became less likely to try “adult” activities – including drinking, having sex, working, driving, dating and simply going out (with or without their parents).

By the 2010s, only 55% of high school seniors had ever worked for pay – versus roughly three-quarters of their counterparts in the late 1970s to the 1990s.

Similarly, only 63% had ever been on a date. That compared with 81% to 87% of high school seniors in the 1970s through 1990s.

In the San Diego Tribune, contact reporter Bradley J. Fikes wrote: “Teens are growing up more slowly — and they seem OK with it.”

Mid- to -late teens are delaying the classic milestones of adulthood, namely working, going out without their parents, driving, dating, having sex, and drinking alcohol, according to four decades of surveys reviewed for the study, led by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

Today’s 18-year-olds exhibit similar milestone behaviors as did 15-year-olds in the late 1970s, Twenge said. Moreover, they’re mostly doing this voluntarily — parents aren’t imposing this delayed independence.

The spread of smartphones, which allow teens to socialize from the safety of their homes, is part of the explanation, said Twenge. The author of “Generation Me,” she has released a new book on the generation born after 1995 called “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

When I look back on my teenage years compared to my kids, we had a whole lot more freedom. We were out all the time and our parents didn’t seem to care where we were. In fact, my parents were enjoying weekends on our boat or at the cabin and would leave my brother and me alone when we were teens. The same was true for a lot of my friends’ parents, as well. They didn’t keep track of us on a minute by minute basis. They also didn’t track us on “find my iPhone” or other tracking apps. There weren’t any cell phones to call home and they told us to be home by a certain time.

I wonder how much influence our technology has today over our kids not growing up so fast? They aren’t getting together with friends to interact in person. They can do that from the comfort of their own bedrooms. Plus, they have all the entertainment they can consume, right on their iPhones. We helicopter parents keep a close eye on our kids and we know where they are at all times. By contrast, our parents told us to get outside and not come back until dinner. Between us and iPhones, our kids aren’t getting real-world experiences.

Everyone I knew growing up had some sort of part-time job in high school–even if it was working for their family’s business. I worked in my dad’s dental office and my brother bagged groceries at the local Safeway. Today, I know of very few kids with part-time jobs. My own son worked several jobs, but he was one of the few. He was an assistant lifeguard, then a coach for our team. He tutored in math and was paid to maintain a website. Very few of my kids’ friends had jobs after school. Teens today must not need to earn money because we are providing for all their needs and wants.

On the bright side, it’s good our kids aren’t running around at night unsupervised, drinking and having sex as teens. Also, they actually like hanging out with their parents!

mother and daughter sailing
Hanging out together in the summer.

Here’s a story I wrote that included psychologist Jean M. Twenge.

What are your thoughts about why kids are not growing up as fast as we did? What difference do you see between your life as a teen or 20 year old and your kids?

5 takeaways from vacation

The beach at Padaro Lane, California
Afternoon beach walk.

As my days of vacation dwindle, I find myself focused on what makes me happy. I have a finite number of days — and I want to make sure I don’t waste them. I’ve decided I need to takeaway the optimism I’m feeling on vacation and stir it into my daily life.

I’ve listed what makes me smile on vacation:

ONE

I’ve discovered I need beach time every day. A walk on the beach in the morning. An hour or two in my beach chair reading in the late afternoon. I’m not sure how to incorporate beach time in Arizona, but maybe more visits to the lake? Or, maybe it’s time outside in nature.

TWO

I’ve found satisfaction from writing and working. During the last year of shutdowns, I lost motivation. Freed on vacation, I did an interview and had a story published and it gave me a charge that I haven’t felt for awhile. (Most likely I haven’t felt it because I haven’t been writing and submitting my work.) Clear answer to this. Write more often and submit my work.

THREE

Another thing that I enjoy is playing like a kid. On our morning walk, my husband I discovered the park below our house had two permanent ping pong tables. I love ping pong. My husband loves ping pong. We had a ping pong table in our garage at our old home that got covered with dust with years of neglect. We didn’t move it to Arizona. I foresee a ping pong table on the patio.

Summerland beach park ping pong tables
Concrete ping pong tables at the park above the beach.

FOUR

Reading is a big part of my vacation days. I read on the beach, I read in the middle of the day. I read at night. At home, I can definitely find more time to read.

FIVE

Drawing. As a kid, I spent hours drawing. I drew trees, houses, people, flowers. I loved to sketch. I was very judgmental of my work and felt I wasn’t any good at it. Especially when I compared myself to the two kids in my class who were “artists.” The teachers and kids would ooh and aah over their works. I took drawing and art classes in college as electives because it’s what I liked to do. On vacation, I brought a sketch pad and when I couldn’t find pencils or charcoal, I ordered a small set on Amazon. I like to sketch my surroundings here. I can take an art class, watch youtubes or keep on sketching at home.

Horses on Summerland beach
Horses share our morning walks on the beach.

What pleasures do enjoy on vacation that you can incorporate to your daily life?

Did someone go too far?

A painting my grandma made for me at our cabin when I was around five years old.

Question: What would your reaction be if you were looking at Facebook photos posted by relatives and noticed a deck had been built on your property?

Here’s the story:

My brother and I have owned a piece of property jointly since 1995. Our mom quit claimed it to us. It’s in Robe, Wash. It’s been in the family since the 1930s. My grandfather bought 10 acres along the Stillaguamish River and gave parcels to his three kids (my mom was one) and to his sisters.

Robe is a beautiful, magical place. It’s pristine. There’s no running water or electricity. My dad designed a cabin in 1959 before I was born. My mom and dad, with their own two hands, built the cabin that has given me some of my best childhood memories. Fishing at dawn for breakfast trout. Snuggled into our mummy bags listening to the roaring fire at night. Floating down the rapids with friends. Jumping off the giant rock into the deep swimming hole.

About 15 years ago, my brother and I had the cabin torn down. It was falling apart. Someone had trashed the interior and lit the floor on fire. The roof was leaking. It was a liability and was inviting trouble. We left the fireplace. Some relatives hauled it off in exchange to access to our property which my brother arranged. I thought he had paid a service to do it.

cabin in the woods
The cabin in the 1970s.

Although the extended family — I have no clue who most of them are these days — have their own lots, ours is where they gather for an annual reunion. I go from time to time. They prefer our lot because our property faces the swimming hole in the river with a big rock. There used to be a sandy beach, too.

Now here’s the question of whether someone has gone too far. I was glancing at photos on facebook from the recent family reunion that I was unable to attend. This is a photo of a deck on my lot. I’ve never seen it before. Nobody asked me if they could build it. Apparently it was for a distant relative’s wedding — that I didn’t know about. My brother knows nothing about any of this either.

deck near the river
Our property at Robe now has a deck.

What are your thoughts of somebody building on your property without your knowledge or permission? Or holding a wedding?

fishing in the river
I caught one! Me in my 20s.
My aunt gave me this painting of our cabin. It was painted by my grandma.

My quirky habits with books

I’ve always loved to read. That’s why I wanted to be a writer beginning when I was a young girl reading all the Anne books over and over. My mom used to take me to a used book store at the “U District” in Seattle — that’s the area surrounding the University of Washington. I loved hanging out with the musty smells of thousands of aging books. I’d always find a treasure like “Little Women” or a book called “Liz” written by Jean MacGibbon. copyright 1966.

Anne of Green Gables book cover Classic

Back then, I treated the books and characters like old friends. I loved C.S. Lewis series, Anne, Harriet the Spy, and Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary. My parents thought it was odd that I could read a book more than a dozen times. I hung on to many of my favorites from my childhood. They have a sacred place on my bookshelf.

Liz book cover by Jean MacGibbon

Today, I rarely read books more than once. But here’s my new quirk. If I really like a book, I have trouble finishing it. I’m reading “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett. I love the characters, the story, the setting. The house that’s a central character in the book. I have less than 20 pages left. But it has sat on my nightstand for the past two nights untouched. I don’t want to finish the book and leave it.

Cover art of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I had the same trouble two weeks ago with “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton. The characters and setting, along with the story about a family’s life in Cuba during Batista’s years and their escape to Miami under Fidel Castro was fascinating. So was the jump forward to the granddaughter’s life when she visits Cuba for the first time and tries to discover pieces of her grandmother’s life. It was a good story because the author had characters on every side of the issues. There are revolutionaries, debutantes, sugar cane millionaires. You get to view Cuba’s history through many points of view. Many Cubans who stayed resented those who moved to America and flourished. Definitely worth a read. But it took me so long to finish those final chapters. The good news is there another book about the same family in the works.

Next Year in Havana book cover

What are some of the good books you’ve enjoyed lately? What are your favorite books from your childhood? What are some of your quirks reading books? Do you have certain genres you read? Who are your favorite authors?

Living on “The Edge”

I finished reading “The Edge” yesterday. The book brought back memories of growing up in my rural Pacific Northwest hometown. It’s a book written by “Clark Douglas” who in real life is one of my childhood best friend’s little brothers. Dougie, as we called him when we were big junior high girls, followed us around whenever I hung out at their home. I’m not sure how much younger he was, but he was a little kid and I enjoyed his company because of his personality and brain power.

I have tons of memories at their home. My brother’s good friend was Christy’s oldest sibling Larry. Christy’s sister Cathy was in my brother’s class. They had about 10 acres with a tennis court, cows, a barn with a loft and bales of hay — and a lake with a tiny island that Christy and I attempted to camp out on one summer. Christy’s room had a steep roof and gable. We could climb out the window and sit on the rooftop. Their mom left us alone and my only memories of their dad was pushing a lawn mower. Often we’d be the ones tagging along our big brothers on the golf course. Christy and I were the only girls on the boy’s golf team.

Although “The Edge” takes place in Montana, it could easily be our hometown with the high school football games being the star attraction in town and the athletes our local heroes. Douglas creates quirky characters that are entertaining and reminded me of my neighbors in Snohomish, where everyone knew everyone’s business. The story follows the life of Will Powers, the younger brother of local football heroes, through his early childhood being provoked by his siblings through his college years, marriage in California, to his return to his hometown. I admire how Doug created such depth of characters and intertwined their lives in unexpected ways.

The beautiful cover is painted by the author’s talented oldest sister Cathy and captures the PNW beautifully. Christy was editor and proofreader. With my history with this family, of course I whole heartedly recommend the book, but it was a good read, too.

From Amazon:

Prior to the turn of the century, life in western Montana provided all the elements of harmony and simplicity. William Powers had that life, and struggles to get back to it. William never accepts defeat, though. Battling through life’s hurdles, he ultimately must return to the person he once was in order to attain it. Pete Campbell, however, has to make a decision–do what is right, or do what the law says. As a deputy sheriff in a rural community, this may be up to his interpretation. Armed with knowledge of the people and the history of his community, Pete may choose to answer to a different standard. Pete tells us the whole story behind Will’s life. Though Will appears to be just an average person, nothing normal could be said about him. Fueled by love, anger, justice, and determination beyond measure, Will searches for his peace. Will’s story carries the reader back to a time and place that by today’s standard can only be imagined and desired. A delightful mix of comedy, conflict, romance, drama, and suspense are all rolled up into one tale. This easy read will captivate the mind, building story upon story until it all surfaces at The Edge.

Missing my friend who died too early

One of my closest friends from childhood passed away unexpectedly two and a half years ago. Saturday was her birthday and while I was swamped with moving, I couldn’t get her out of my head. I miss her so much.

friend with my baby girl

Rebecca with my baby girl.

I learned via Facebook that my dear friend Rebecca had passed away.

She had a huge personality, was fearless, beautiful and brilliant. I received private messages from her on Facebook constantly, and I noticed I didn’t reply to the last one which I received on a Saturday afternoon—the day she died.

I wonder if she knew she was leaving us? I had no idea that she was ill, but I’ve since learned that she had diabetes and died from DKA (Diabetic ketoacidosis).

The first time I met Rebecca was at my childhood house. Her older brother Paul had been hanging out with our family for a few weeks that summer before seventh grade. One day, Rebecca decided to come over to our house with him because she wanted to meet me. We went to different elementary schools but for junior high the town’s elementary school students would all attend the same school. I was shy and wouldn’t leave my bedroom to meet her. Finally, my mom coaxed me out to meet Rebecca Coombs and our friendship of a lifetime began.

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The last photo she sent me of herself. “When my baby grand wants a kiss, I oblige. Sir-Mix-Alot this as good as I can get! lol.”

She was the opposite of me in so many ways. She was bold, outgoing and not afraid of anyone or anything. Her long straight black hair hung past her waist and she had a huge smile. Some of my fondest memories were her introducing me to Taco Bell—which I still love today. I got a burrito supreme today in her honor. Also, because of Rebecca, our entire high school won the local radio station KJR top 40 competition for a free concert—which was the first rock concert I ever attended, “WAR.” I went with her to see Natalie Cole at the Paramount in downtown Seattle, too. She introduced me to so much music and laughter. I remember always laughing with Rebecca and her sister Mary. Mary became as close of a friend to me as Rebecca.

Rebecca was one of a few students from our high school that went to the University of Washington with me. I remember spending the first night in the dorm, with Rebecca in a sleeping bag on my floor.

rebecca 1

Me, Rebecca and my baby girl.

My sophomore year Thanksgiving weekend, I was home and I went with Rebecca and Mary to a concert at a local Grange. I was going to ask a family friend who was there to a Tolo (a dance where the girls ask the boys for the date). We were crossing the street on the Bothell Highway when I panicked at the oncoming lights of cars. I froze in the middle of the street. I grabbed onto Rebecca’s parka hood and she wasn’t able to escape the oncoming pick-up truck either. I shattered my pelvis and Rebecca lost a kidney. We became connected by that one experience forever.

Later on, she married the family friend who I was going to ask to the dance. The marriage didn’t last that long and she did find someone she said was the love of her life, who sadly died a few years ago. Also, her brother Paul died years ago as well as Mary’s husband. Her life had so much tragedy, yet she stayed positive and filled with joy. Near the end, she moved to Hawaii to be close to her son Jake, who she was so proud of. She posted pictures of her new life and her grandchildren whom she called “the grands.”

I will admit she was much better at reaching out and staying connected. Throughout our lives, she’d call me and during the last few months send me private messages on an almost daily basis. One funny story I remember about Rebecca was she called me up and asked who Bill Gates was. She had attended the Microsoft Christmas Party with a friend who worked there and met Bill Gates. She had no clue who he was. It was well known in Seattle that Bill was looking for a wife. He had asked her to Sunday Brunch and she said no. She told me that he was kind of a geek and she was felt awkward and made up an excuse why she couldn’t go.

I miss my dear friend and how full of life she was. God bless you and RIP, Rebecca.

 

rebecca 2

Rebecca, her husband Andrew and son Jake plus my kids.