Puzzle Benches

This made my day.  My email to Damhorst Toys:

Hi there,

I have a funny story to tell you!

I have purchased benches from you for all of the kids in my life and
they all love them. My daughter recently received a puzzle bench from her grandparents after I recommended your shop.  I also have a bench that my grandmother gave to me.  I still use it to reach the high shelves in the closet or to sit on when I’m playing on the floor.  It still has a prominent place in my house!  When my daughter’s bench arrived, we were comparing them… then I flipped mine over and saw your stamp on the bottom.

My grandmother had a store called Personally Yours in Flossmoor, IL.  You were the company whose benches she sold!  32 years ago she got my bench (and many many others) from you… and now my
daughter, Darby, has one from you too.

Thanks for making such a fun and quality product!


Their reply to me:

Hi Michelle,

My apologies for the late reply, we are just catching up on emails after our holiday rush when I read your beautiful email and picture you sent.  I’m so sorry that I didn’t respond sooner.

I can’t tell you how nice it was to read your email aloud in the office, and the picture was an absolute bonus.  I don’t think we have ever received an email from a customer who received one of our products as a child.  Your stool was cut by my mother who was the original creator of the Name Puzzle Stool.  I can see her work in your picture.

Thank you again for your email and the picture, it was a true pleasure to receive.  If there is anything that we can do for you in the future, please let us know.

Happy Holiday!



Thanksgiving weekend was big doings around our house this year.

Darby, the newest member of the clan at the ripe old age of 5 months, was coming to visit… for 6 days, no less!!

Oh, and son Michael and daughter-in-law Michelle came along, too.

Auntie Ju Ju and DarbyYou see, this was a special and unusual time.  As there are two families to host holidays and since no one lives near anybody else, the holidays get split each year.  Thanksgiving is not our holiday.  We have one in the Spring.

But this year, we all were guests at a friend’s local wedding held over the holiday weekend and so, bingo, we hosted Thanksgiving. Michael’s sister Judith (aka Auntie Juju…by her own choice!) spent much of the weekend with us, enraptured with Darby. Our 96 year old aunt managed to find the strength to come, just to see the baby.  Darby’s great uncle from Georgia made the trip, too.  Yes, a special time, indeed.

We had prepared as best we could for the grand arrival.  We were offered no less than 4 pack-n-play units from friends, we bought a package of diapers (how strange was that!  BTW, there are too many types to choose from…what do they all mean??), we moved the humidifier into the baby’s room for her left-over congestion, we loaded up on food…and food…and more food.  We spent days and nights preparing all the old favorites to serve.  We even practiced making homemade pie crusts…a first around here!  And then made real pies to serve.

We have been empty nesters for a long while now.  Two people living in a house that used to hold a bustling family.  We are used to it being quiet.  So it was both a change and a treat to have lots of people in and out and the sound of a baby once again here with us.   We delighted in having non-stop smile moments with Darby.  She is a good baby.  No, wait, she is a great baby!  92% of the time she is happy and prone to smile.  She loves her teething toys, she loves her hands and feet, she just loves everything in her emerging world.  And that was so much fun to watch and enjoy.  And when she had her fussy moments, well, Mom and Dad were there to fix it all.  Perfect!

We got to babysit one evening.  It was a lot of fun.  We had been given a whole routine to follow.  Playing, changing, feeding, burping, sleeping…all the steps.  It wasn’t so hard to recall doing this all the first time around.  But, boy, babies are a lot of time and work.  And they come first, no matter what, in demanding and receiving attention.  As it should be.

We stay close to our son and his new family. We visit by plane for weekends every 6-8 weeks.  We Skype a lot. We have a special song we sing every time to Darby, in the hope she will eventually connect the song with the faces who sing it.  We are beginning plans for a beach vacation time together in the summer.  We do the best we can to stay connected and to be part of the new family’s life and building traditions.

But we are still envious of those with grandchildren who are a 20 minute drive away.  Who can spend a Sunday afternoon as a family time.  Who can help take care of a grandchild for a day, either regularly or when needed.  Family helps, when help is needed.  Family helps to build memories that children need.  Family matters.  And we wish we could do these things without the need for time and travel planning. But we make do and will continue to do so, as we can think of no more important activity.

We had a great time over Thanksgiving.  We know why young people are the ones to have children!  As hosts and partial Darby-care providers, we were tired when the long weekend was over.  But we were thrilled to have her with us and relish the chance whenever we can to do it again!

We don’t know how our two children survived their childhoods!

They were born in the raucous days of the 70s, early 80s…you remember, bell bottoms, polyester leisure suits, long mops of hair.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive…Saturday Night Fever, what a great disco movie!

The good old days…

As good parents-to-be, we absolutely swear we went to childbirth class. Or what passed for class at that time. There was a teacher, but what she might have said was a blur. Husbands and wives both attended (it was always husbands and wives then!) and we did bring a pillow. Maybe it was for sleeping in the class? Who can recall?

We flunked out of class, though! Baby #1 decided to come before we went to the last two classes. To this day, we earnestly believe there was a secret passed along that we never were told!

There was no class for what happens after the baby is born. That much is very clear. Mom had to stay in the hospital each time due to Caesarean births. At least that gave us a few extra days before we were out on our own.

There were certainly books available about infants. We think. You had to go to a small storefront bookstore to look. Big bookstores (and, of course, the internet) were not around. The book made famous by Dr. Spock (not the one with the ears from the TV show!) was still being widely used and he had many of the common sense tips new parents so often need. All the best stuff from the 40s and more…

And there were two grandmothers around. Who had lots of advice. And some of it was actually helpful!

But we were so uneducated (per today’s standards) that it is a wonder our children grew and flourished!

Here is what our children had to endure to make it through to today:

  1. Breast feeding was suggested but it was not the mandate it is today. Bottles with formula seemed to be just as good.
  2. We used glass bottles that had to be sterilized. Maybe they were boiled?
  3. We used rubber nipples that were definitely boiled to sterilize them.  And lo the unlucky new parent who forgot the nipples were on the stove. You ended up with a molten mess of rubber, ruined a pot and had a burning smell that lasted for weeks in the house. And that everyone then breathed!
  4. We had a nice new crib with drop-sides and plexiglass on the ends. And we had colorful bumpers, as well. Up-to-the minute modern!
  5. The kids were put to sleep on their stomachs, to avoid choking, should they spit up in their sleep. Seemed to make sense.
  6. Swaddling was not such a big deal at that time. We are sure we did it, but it must not have been for too long. What was the big deal?
  7. Our kids were fed solid foods at 3 months of age.  Rice cereal was big then. And soon, they were lusting for mashed up bananas. Mmmm, such delicacies for the little ones.
  8. The bottles were heated, of course. One never gave cold drinks to an infant.
  9. The food was heated, too. There were no microwave ovens, which we would have surely used if we could. We heated the food in a little food warming dish that had a gel in the base that was electrically warmed. There is probably one of these in a museum somewhere!
  10. We took our kids out in the world as soon as we could organize and manage it. It was good to expose them to germs.
  11. We had two car seats. We had a backwards facing tub for infants that used a single seat belt to hold it down in the front seat. Yes, the front seat. And later, we had a little sit-in throne that was seat-belted in the back seat. Yes, it did have a head-level strap that was attached to an anchor. That anchor had to be bolted to the back shelf of the car. The same back shelf made of thin sheet metal that would likely give way in a heartbeat during a big crash. There was no LATCH system.
  12. All the rattles and other toys were made with whatever was deemed cheap enough by the manufacturers. There were no BPA-free items..I am not sure anyone outside of a PhD chemist knew what BPA was. Or that maybe it mattered.
  13. We were ultra progressive. We had pacifiers that were shaped just right to fit in the mouth and have the tongue press against it. They were much later determined to cause orthodonture problems. So much for being progressive!
  14. We did not soothe anybody with music or other sounds while they slept. Bedtime was a cheery event..with the object of having a child-in-the-bed-sleeping.  On their own.  Like we did.
  15. We let older children ride untethered in shopping carts. We only had one of our two ever fall out. That’s not too bad, is it?
  16. We had a bike seat on the back of one of our adult bikes. It had metal support bars all around and a touch of padding on the seat and back. And it even had a strap to hold the kid in. We didn’t use it too much.  Thank goodness!

And lots more that we have thankfully forgotten!

Today everybody seems to know a lot more about infants and children than we did. And there are more sources and more ‘standards’ than ever. The best of intentions and modern science are teaming up to give kids a better than ever start in life.

And it is probably all for the better. Why not do the best you can? We agree that things do change and can be made better.

We hope, though, that after all the new books and all the new standards that parents don’t forget a couple of things..things that probably aren’t in the books.

You should love your kids.

You should pay attention to them and spend time with them.

You should include family and friends in your kid’s life for that is how memories are made.

You should otherwise make their childhoods as bright and full as you can.

These are the things that matter most and that will help your kids grow up to be warm and happy adults.

As soon as we started telling people we were going to be grandparents, they all asked us the strangest question.

“What is your name going to be?”  “What will you be called?”


It seems that many grandparents these days choose to have cutesy names for themselves.  And it is such a big deal there are even websites that list all variations of grandparent names that have and can be used.  We were even asked by the parents-to-be what we wanted to be called!

Wow…this must be important, we thought.  How are we going to not make a mistake here that will doom us forever??

But why the fascination with these names?  There was no discussion like this when our kids were born…it was a given.  The only odd names came about because a young child couldn’t pronounce something and the mispronounced name sort of stuck.

So, a digression is in order, first…

We are boomers…early boomers, at that.  Boomers are the gazillion children born between 1946 and 1964 who exhibit boundless energy still.  One side-effect of all this energy is the boomer’s desire to stay forever young. These boomers want to dress, act and socialize with their children as if they themselves were still thirty-somethings.

So, fast forward now, and you can picture a couple in their early 60s with active lives, not at all the image of “old people”…who become grandparents. Given all the youth-kick, it’s a wonder they admit to having children, let alone grandchildren!

So who wants to be called Grandma or Grandpa??  That’s so…old.  Doesn’t fit the self-image, at all.  No way.

So that’s one guess why we have websites with lists of distinctly non-grandparent sounding names from which to pick.  And, hence, the obsession to decide “What am I going to be called??”

Well, maybe we’re from the old school… We prefer to be considered the older people, the generation who has some wisdom from experience, the generation who can give advice when asked, lavish praise when necessary and comfort our children in times of crisis. We prefer not to be our children’s friends, but rather the friendly parents to whom they can turn. We feel that our children have their friends and don’t need any more. They need parents.

So, here we are back to the names.

We think cutesy grandparent names are an outgrowth of this drive to stay young, the desire to stay 40 forever.

Somehow, somewhere, we feel every little kid wants parents, someone to call Mom and Dad (traditional household example, here…) and needs to get all the love and learning that Mom and Dad provide over a lifetime.

And we also feel every little kid should have grandparents, someone to call Grandma and Grandpa, who will also provide love and a different kind of teaching and a different perspective, born of longevity.

We think this is important to the universe of a child.  And we are determined to provide that for our new grandchild (and those yet to come!)

So, Mooky and Puppy will just have to stay on the website list.

We’ll be Grandma and Grandpa, thank you, and we’ll be happy for it!

“Congratulations!”  “Best wishes!”  “Mazel Tov!”

As soon as our grandchild (a bouncing healthy girl) was born, the congratulations started pouring in.  We got phone calls, e-mails, cards — you name it, we got it.  And everybody asked a similar question… “So, how does it feel to be a grandparent?”  “Isn’t it just the best?”

What kind of stupid questions are these??

All of a sudden one day, you wake up sort of regular in the morning and by the evening someone has a new title for you.  Grandparent.  And congratulates you like you won the lottery!!

We smiled a lot, weakly, for these people and were as gracious to most as we could be.  “Yes, it’s wonderful, isn’t it.”  Maybe.  We wouldn’t know.   What did we do to get here?

Then there were the kidders.  They would say something like, “Oh, now you’re a grandparent…really old, huh?”  Our best rejoinder was to say “We’re too young to be this old” and leave it at that.  We didn’t sign up anywhere for this old stuff.

And we didn’t exactly do much to achieve this moment just now.  Did we??

We didn’t work on getting pregnant (not always the most fun, though it should be!); we didn’t get sick at all; we didn’t have to buy a new car or worry about insurance coverage.  We didn’t have to do much except be supportive and, inwardly, know that all the books in the world and friends with their stories couldn’t prepare the parents-to-be enough for that moment.  And what comes afterwards!

Maybe the congratulations were for a seemingly successful night some 30 years ago??  No, that wasn’t right.  Seems a bit off.

In the end, we decided the congratulations were for making the long march to this time.

When your child is bar-mitzvahed, the rabbi will intone (what a great word, ‘intone’…you can hear the somber voice even as you say the word!) the threefold benediction (old style Jewish culture…) and wish that your child will one day stand under the marriage canopy to start their new life.  Being bar-mitzvahed at age 13 brings a time of congratulations…mostly because you survived all the throw-ups and illnesses and school visits and baseball games…and the list goes on endlessly.  And there seems to be hope that the 13 year old won’t yet become a juvenile delinquent…somehow.

Then there is the high school graduation.  Followed closely by the college graduation.  Again, it looks like jail was successfully avoided and your money has bought a ticket to the future.

Soon, the wedding that just yesterday some rabbi was wishing on you.  Again, lots of congratulations.

And now, a grandchild.  And the congratulations overflow the inbox.

Best way we can understand it is to see it like a marathon.  The words should be “congratulations on making it 30 years to this point.”  Or, “good luck on the next sprint.”  Something like that.

Being the parent of the bar-mitzvah, the parent of the high school graduate, the parent of the college graduate, the parent of the groom…all marathon checkpoints, like crossing through Newton Center or passing Cleveland Circle (Boston-Marathon-language!).

Being a grandparent looks to be different, though.  Yes, it is another marathon milestone.  A big one.  But it isn’t just a moment in time.  It promises to keep giving and giving!

So, how does it feel to be a grandparent?

Well, it feels like a long race that isn’t over yet.  And one that has some tinges of familiarity as your children have now begun their own race.  Hey, weren’t we just at that turn on the course??  How did they get there instead??  And, then, where does that now put us in the race?

So, what about all the congratulations?

Yes, well, we guess they are ok in the sense of having made it this far.  And, more, for the promise and love they hold looking forward.

So, it is pretty neat being a new grandparent!  And nice that nobody ended up in jail…