Sharing time with Yonah

Debbi thrives when she is with her grandson. I was watching her interact with him this morning while they both were sitting in Debbi’s big bed. She had played a game with him reaching out his rattle for him to grasp it. After a short while, she took it back and offered it to him again. Then she placed the rattle in his lap and he would grab the plastic toy with its many beads that make the shoop shoop sound. Variations on this model evolved until she got his focus and with him watching, she would hide the rattle under a fold of the blanket.

Any time Yonah would reach under the covers and get the rattle, Debbi let out a chuckle. Her smile and laughter are still a delight to all of us and it seems that they come more often when Yonah is in her presence. I wonder what the order is? Maybe Yonah is at the top of the heap, then her hydrangeas, then the kids, then me??? Just kidding… but it is quite refreshing to watch Debbi at work.

It is easy to forget that as she sits on the bed with Yonah, that Debbi’s life’s work has been raising children. Even from before our children were born, Debbi was in the childhood raising business. She probably began by taking care of her nephews Jeff & Mark. Jeff was a toddler when I came into Debbi’s life. We took Jeff to see Mary Poppins. During the movie, Jeff yelled out, “Hey Uncle Jan, how do they change the channel on that big TV!” I started laughing out loud but Debbi had a different reaction. A more nurturing reaction. She was more concerned about Jeff’s feelings and tried to engage him in a learning situation.

Her undergraduate degree is in Early Childhood Education and one of her first jobs was with the CHARLEE program which focused on children, often siblings, that had to be removed from their homes into foster care. CHARLEE raised money, rented and eventually bought their own homes so that siblings suffering such a tragedy did not have to be split up.

Eventually Debbi and I became weekend group home parents. Then a situation arose where 4 siblings had to be removed from their home due to problems with the parents. Debbi immediately volunteered our home with us becoming full time group home parents as the best alternative to keep the siblings together. I was finishing my PhD at the time so I often worked on the computer from home. Yes, Aaron, they did have computers back then!!

CHARLEE sent Debbi and me to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas for training on how to be effective parents to these children. Needless to say, Debbi was like a fish in water there while I had more difficulty with the nurturing, touchy-feely stuff. My brother Scott wrote in to remind my that at Menninger, Debbi was nicknamed “The Walking Hug.”

Soon afterwards, the 4 sibs moved in with us. They went to school during the day while Debbi worked and since I had a more flexible schedule, I played with them until Debbi arrived home. Debbi did an excellent job making them feel at home and trying to make them feel loved in our home. Eventually, CHARLEE built a house and the 4 siblings and two additional children moved in with Debbi and I as the weekday parents and another set of parents, the weekend parents, moved in to give Debbi an I some relief… you guessed it… on the weekend. Soon after, I completed my PhD and we moved to Pittsburgh. Debbi has had some contact from some of the 4 sibs over the years. A sure sign of her devoted efforts to these children who are now in their thirties or early fourties.

Next, of course, was our own children. Debbi was the mother Par Excellence. I think that readers of the blog are well aware of her skills in this area. And, certainly there are the many youngsters that Debbi has taught through the years. I have always enjoyed going into her classrooms and interacting with her students… especially after November in the school year. By then, she has all her charges whipped into shape and they are little gentlemen and gentlewomen who loved to be lifted in the air and tickled. Soon their teacher is disciplining me and telling me to let them behave!! Sure, she can make them crazy dancing and jumping all around but evidently her craziness, controlled and measured, is much different from the chaos of my craziness. Go figure!

So, to see Debbi with Yonah, even on a casual basis, there is deep deep talent lurking below the surface. Even though she is not nearly her old self, some of her basic character traits are still running strong. Traits like love, like teaching, like relating to young children … even older “children”,  traits like nuturing and like building confidence in those around her. Traits that many of us, especially me, wish we had studied under her tutelege and paid more attention to her technique over the years.

Well, it is time for class so I better go check in with the teacher.

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