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Building a strong relationship between Merrie Miss girls and their parents is what the Primary's Miss-and-Her-Mom and Daddy-Daughter Dinner activities are all about.

The two annual events, started some 30 years ago, have become some of the most popular Primary activities, reported Primary Gen. Pres. Michaelene Grassli."The two activities are excellent," explained Sister Grassli. "Over the years, manuals have changed and lesson outlines have changed, but these two events remain the same because they are such valuable tools. The Merrie Miss girls, ages 10 to 12, look forward to these two activities all year long."

The Miss-and-Her-Mom party and the Daddy-Daughter Dinner began in the late 1950s under the direction of then-Primary Gen. Pres. LaVern W. Parmley. The purpose behind the programs, according to Primary manuals, is to help daughters develop and strengthen relationships with their parents.

In addition to strengthening relationships, the two activities offer girls a chance to develop other skills as well, Sister Grassli noted.

Usually the Merrie Miss classes begin planning the activities several weeks in advance. A theme is chosen, invitations are made and delivered, games are planned, decorations are decided on, and a menu is outlined.

"The girls have a chance to learn how to organize, delegate, and carry out responsibilities," Sister Grassli observed. "It is also a good opportunity for them to learn social graces. The girls feel good when they successfully complete something that they have had a part in planning.

"The activities have another universal purpose," Sister Grassli pointed out. "They are all fun. Sometimes having fun is a worthy objective in and of itself, and there's no better way to have fun than with Mom or Dad at your side."

Sister Grassli said Merrie Miss leaders and the Primary president are instructed to be sensitive to girls from single-parent families or with fathers or mothers who are unable to attend the party.

"Brothers or sisters, grandfathers or grandmothers, uncles or aunts, cousins, or home teachers can be invited," noted Sister Grassli. "When necessary, the leaders should discuss alternatives with the girl and others who are involved to come up with the most desirable partner."

The Daddy-Daughter Dinner and Miss-and-Her-Mom activities are part of the Merrie Miss achievement-day program, explained Sister Grassli.

"The girls meet twice a month, outside of their Sunday meetings, to plan and carry out activities and achievements. The girls are starting to develop their self-esteem and spirituality and these activities help them strengthen both. The activities also give the girls a chance to have positive experiences with their peer group."

Through the past several years, Sister Grassli and other members of the general Primary presidency have attended many Daddy-Daughter Dinners and Miss-and-Her-Mom parties.

"The creativity in themes, decorations, entertainment and games is amazing," Sister Grassli noted. Themes range from Oriental to Mexican, from Spring Flings to '50s Sock Hops. Games have included curling Dad's hair (or lack thereof), scripture-chasing, obstacle races, square dancing, and much more.

Recently, eight Merrie Miss girls from the Bountiful (Utah) 29th Ward spent an evening with their mothers, fabric painting T-shirts and eating "Chinese sundaes" for dinner. Each mom and daughter now own a one-of-a-kind shirt, but even more importantly, they share fun memories of an evening spent together.

"We planned the event keeping in mind that we wanted to emphasize the mother/daughter relationship," explained Ilene Gibbbons, a Merrie Miss A teacher, who also has a daughter in the Merrie Miss B class. "We didn't want to overdo the decorations or food or games. We just wanted the mothers and the girls to relax and have fun together."

Preparation for the event was simple, but fun, Sister Gibbons noted. Invitations were cut out in the shape of shirts and each girl wrote a personalized invitation to her mother.

"Everyone brought a plain shirt and we just got creative," Sister Gibbbons said.

Sister Gibbons' daughter, Shalynn, 11, enjoyed her first "M & M" party. "My favorite part was watching everyone paint the shirts," she said, although she admitted the rice sundae - topped with cream of chicken soup, cheese, celery and eggs - wasn't bad.

Shalynn designed her red T-shirt with a "bubble machine," complete with blue, pink and green bubbles floating around.

"I hope that every time she wears the shirt she'll remember the evening and the time we spent together," her mother said. "And that's the whole purpose behind the activity, to strengthen relationships with our daughters."