from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

An elder, whether he or she is a biological grandparent or not, can be an excellent show-and-tell for a youngster. If you haven't tried it, give it thought, the experience is one of the best antidotes for the 'blahs.' The experiences range from the hilarious to the poignant, and deserve being shared.

During a visit to my distant grandchildren they invited me to accompany them to school to tell a few stories. On the appointed day, waiting in line with my granddaughter to enter her classroom, she glanced around to see if I was still there. Seeing me, she waggled her thumb at me over her shoulder and loudly proclaimed for all to hear, 'That's my Grandpa. He's my show-and-tell today!'

Acknowledging students' stares and giggles with dignified bows to left and right, I trailed along into the classroom, was graciously received, told stories, responded to questions about how the stories came to be, and asked questions in return. I then repeated my performance in my grandson's class. Both sessions went well.

During the storytelling and the discussions that followed, the youngsters were fascinated: they were sharing their thoughts with someone who really wrote stories and, equally important, they were talking with an elder and a grandpa (grandpa-surrogate?) who had come to visit with them from beyond their everyday routines. I was reminded once more that grandparents were nearby for relatively few children, the reasons include circumstances as well as geography. For most, grandparents were distant, deceased, or unknown.

***

Some time previously, a friend invited me to accompany him to a children's day care center in his city. He, along with several other elders, visited the center occasionally to interact with the youngsters. Conforming to the center's schedule, we arrived about half an hour before lunch. The children, about 25 three-to-four year olds, were still in the play yard. With permission from the play yard supervisor, we circulated from one group to another and participated in their activities where we could safely do so.

After a while, the attendant assembled the children to return indoors, and we followed. Inside, the youngsters and elders took seats in a circle, the elders spacing themselves about equidistant from each other. To my surprise, it was story time, and we elders were to be the storytellers.

The first storyteller told of a voyage she had taken as a child with her parents, and the second described a winter sleigh ride along a country lane. My friend, a retired aeronautical engineer, spoke of airplanes and spaceships and stars in the skies. Throughout, the youngsters concentrated on the speaker, asked questions, voiced opinions, and, in many ways expressed their wonder and interest. The adults were getting as much from the telling as the children.

I had been engrossed in observing the reaction of the children to the stories being told and I was unprepared for my part. Suddenly, it was my turn. What could I say that would have meaning to these young children? Searching my memory, I recalled that, when my children were young, I had often baked bread for our family. My story would be about baking braided bread, and I would pantomime the process and have all present join in.

The children, and the adults as well, quickly entered the spirit of the story. When, with elaborate motions, I drew forth baking pans and supplies from an imaginary cupboard and placed them on a phantom work table, they did. When I cracked pretend-eggs into an enormous bowl that wasn't really there, they did. Together, we vigorously mixed the invisible ingredients, dumped, floured, and kneaded the phantom mess, centered it on the ghostly table, and raised our arms grandly above our heads and touched fingertips high up to match the height to which our magic dough had risen. Solemnly, we pounded the non-existent lump flat, cut it into unseen chunks, and rolled each chunk into an invisible branch. Watching closely as I solemnly went about it, each child braided their three symbolic branches into their personal loaf, placed it in the shadow oven, and drew it out a moment later, sniffing the fragrance of freshly baked bread.

Faces reflecting their deep concentration, the children were involved. Elders and youngsters had shared an experience, and it had been good. Having worked up our appetites, we were also ready for lunch.

***

I've told this story on several other occasions. Preparing for one telling, I rolled three packages of play dough of contrasting colors into eighteen- inch sticks, wrapped each in the clear plastic used for food storage, and secured the plastic with adhesive tape. At the proper moment in the telling, and in elaborate pantomime, I withdrew each colored length, one at a time, from a mysterious-looking case beside me. Youngsters crowded forward, eyes wide and riveted. I held each colored wrap aloft for all to see, and continued with the game. The contrasting colors made the braiding process clearly visible and more understandable.

***

I was invited by the Resource Teacher of a local elementary school to participate in their Authors and Illustrators Invitational. Each appearance would be a one man or woman show: a visiting writer or artist and an audience of children. Arrangements fell into place and each of the five sessions I conducted found me in the school library, seated in an ancient wooden grandpa-style rocking chair, with twenty-five to thirty second- to fourth-graders spread out before me in a half circle with their listeners on and tuned in.

To each group I told a story or two, and encouraged questions about how my stories came to be. Planet Jupiter was the setting for one story (told here in another chapter), and I mentioned that the plot and characters had been created by working out details with my grandchildren. Discussing collaboration in writing a story got us into long distance interaction between grandkids and grandparents. With another, middle school group, I dragged out one of my book-length manuscripts and explained the why and how of manuscript preparation and independent publishing and what might happen if (the big IF) the manuscript was accepted by a trade publisher. Questions, lots of questions, no two sessions alike.

***

During a visit to my distant grandchildren, then nine-year old Joshua invited me to read a story to his class of about fifteen students during the lunch period. I would have about half an hour, following which the class would break for the schoolyard. Most of the youngsters knew me, as I'd read or told stories to them during previous visits. I was greeted with 'Hi' smiles and hand waves.

The tables had been arranged in a U with me at the open end. Except for the few who hadn't seen me before, they knew I had difficulty hearing. As a reminder I pointed to my two hearing aids and asked the students to speak up when offering opinions or asking questions. This immediately brought comments from several that their grandmothers or grandfathers also wore hearing aids and they knew what was expected of them. To a few, my hearing device was something new. I removed the aid from my ear, opened the battery clip, and walked along the inside of the U to point out up close its major parts and their purpose, then demonstrated how the aid was installed and removed. I activated the acoustic feedback whistle by cupping the device in my palm and rendering a 'shave-and-a- haircut' whistle and this brought several laughs as well as questions. I was off to a good start.

Rather than read or tell a story, I moved on to talk about the United States programs for exploring space, plans for a permanent space station and, in time, a base on the Moon and unmanned and manned flights to Mars. We speculated about the origin of the planets in the light of their relative sizes and orbits along the solar plane. I sketched a rough diagram on the blackboard. The students reeled off the planets' names, and recalled what they knew about this or that planetary satellite. One youngster wanted to be certain that the class was aware that Pluto's orbit was unusual in that it cut across the solar plane inside Neptune's orbit and back out into interstellar space. They knew a lot about the solar system and were proud and pleased to share their knowledge. It was a 'high tech' discussion.

The last item on my agenda was to read several single-page stories, each closing with a dilemma confronting the lead character. The author's answers to the puzzles were included in the text, but before disclosing it I invited the class to suggest their own. They didn't hesitate, and supported their ideas with logic.

As in our previous sessions which, for some students, were as far back as preschool, they felt that they were exchanging views with an elderly adult who had arrived from outside, who wrote stories as well as being a storyteller, and someone who was grandpa to a fellow student. The half- hour passed much too soon.

Talks and readings I've attended over the years gave ample evidence of their value to speakers and listeners. Whether a show-and-tell visitor to a class presents a story, a memoir, an artifact, a skill, or an art form, almost all have something worth sharing with children. The problem is often in bringing the two distant age groups into each other's presence so that the dynamics of their interaction and mutuality can take place. Preparations, as well as the main event, add zest to the experience. A show-and-tell takes many forms, however they occur, one constant prevails: each youngster, while you and I are with him or her, is 'the grandchild.'

Introducing yourself to a distant grandchild as a teller of stories or of family, cultural, or other anecdotes, or as someone who cares about him or her, calls for some initial groundwork. For instance, does your grandchild know you or only of you?

With increased life expectancy and life experience, grandparents of this era have more to offer youngsters than ever before. As life expectancy increases, our children and grandchildren, in their turn, will have more to offer their succeeding generations.

Grandchildren need easy access to grandparents. Casting the elderly into physically remote and psychologically passive roles works against the interests of grandchildren and their parents, as well as their grandparents.

For grandparent-grandchild interaction to flourish, if it is to exist at all, grandparents, themselves, need to take initiatives to reach out. This could call for unusual assertiveness to open lines of communication where there are none, and at keeping them open for a two-way flow.

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