Archive for 'parenting'

During the week of Mother’s Day I was  honored to be a part of Austin’s Listen To Your Mother show. I had no idea when I submitted my essay that what I was really auditioning for was a part in a nationwide cast, women mostly but not all. I had no idea when I went to the performance that I would make connections with the other cast members that would make me feel like I was admitted into a very unique and amazing club. The rehearsals were a blast. The virtual connections are deep. And the show itself was positively thrilling. And I don’t use that word lightly!

And now all the performances, from all 24 cities, are on YouTube for your viewing, listening pleasure. Of course I’d like you to start with mine, that’s just how my ego rolls, but there are about 300 other videos too, to watch and listen to. So I highly encourage you to carve out some time,  grab some tissues and a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, and enjoy some heart-wrenching, side-splitting, tear-jerking stories about motherhood.

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Summertime Off-Gassing

Here in our house, the last day of school was exciting of course. We were all thrilled to be finished up with ridiculously early alarm clocks and lunches and homework and all the other stuff that accompanies a school year. It’s fine for a while, but by the time you reach the end, it is a veritable drag to the finish. Tupperware starts cracking, notebooks begin unraveling, and even our psyches hit the breaking point. I’m never sure whether we reach that point because we know we’re near the end, or whether we’re near the end because we’re reaching that point.

Here in our house the last day of school was absolutely crazy too. Tempers were flaring. Little infractions were seen as major affronts. Siblings were at each other. People were even making declarations of not wanting to go to Grandma’s together! Which if you knew the glory of Grandma’s, you’d understand the magnitude of such a statement. And my behavior was really no better. And I thought to myself, “oh man, there’s something wrong with us.” Seriously.

My friend Carrie, she who is witness to a lot of my parenting,  called it off-gassing, which by definition is the emission of especially noxious gasses. That description gave me great comfort.  And with that in mind I entered back into the fray.

When I shared  the story of our awful last day with a mama-of-3 friend of mine,  she grabbed my shoulder and exalted,  “US TOO! ME TOO! AWFUL! FIGHTING! CRAZY!!” And she too thought, “wow there must be something wrong with my little family as a unit and surely they’ll never rise out of this yucky, sibling fighting-filled state.

The next day things were a little better. Flare ups yes but not like that crazy last day where all seemed completely hopeless.

And I realized that transition from full on school to full on at home is a biggie. And that giant school’s-out-for-summer exhale is not to be taken lightly. And with each extra person in the house, that exhale will be even bigger still because each one bounces off all the others, around and around and around, until it finds a safe place to land.

So I gave myself a break. And I told my friend Kami that I would share this because we both thought others might want to know that this behavior isn’t indicative of something being wrong with your kids or your parenting or your family as a whole, rather just a little school’s-out-off-gassing. Which is normal. And can be remedied by some downtime, a few trips to the library, and soaks in some cool, clear water.

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The author’s first day of kindergarten. c. 1970

Here we go. The big kick off. For the kids it is the end of  lazy days and sleeping in and endless time with friends and elongated road trips and boredom and movies galore and midnight bedtimes (or later) and long stretches of time to read and draw and having it be possible to be invited over to someone’s house at 8:00 at night and the answer being yes, we can go.

It’s back to school time and it crescendo’ed today with Meet the Teacher day and school supplies delivered and classrooms found and the new playground unveiled. The monthly bus pass has been purchased for the oldest. The trumpet was found on Craigslist for the next. The desired teacher was gotten for the third and the new playground was enough to convince the youngest that everything would be okay.

This year is a biggie for us. We’ll have three different schools and schedules. And growing kids who don’t necessarily need our help  but might sometimes want it anyway.

It’s going to take some real good communication and intentions and calendar checks and coordinating and did I say communication? to keep it all cool, calm, collected and connected.

So here, in no particular order are eleven things I’m going to try to do this year to make sure we all get what we need from the world and from each other too…

1. Stay present to the ones I’m with.  This is a biggie. Love the one I’m with. Phone down, tasks paused, eyes on the prize and in this case, the prize being the person who is standing in front of me.

2. Stay present to the task at hand. Driving? Drive. Cooking? Cook. Writing? Write. Socializing? Socialize. Playing? Play. You get the point.

3. Screen-free times. In the house for the whole family, we will have set hours that are screen-free. I’m thinking 5-7 should work. With a 6:00 exemption for homework reasons. No phones, tv, computer, etc. Screen-free.  We did it last year and it was really great. We got off that bandwagon this summer though.

4. Electronics-free alone time. Walk. Meditation. Swim. Read. Etc. Be alone. Truly alone. Not alone but with virtual friends. Not alone but talking on the phone. Alone. Truly alone. With my own thoughts and ideas. Everyday at least.

5. Listen more. Fix less. My tendency has been to rush in with answers. My goal with my growing children is to listen more and let them work most of it out through talking it out. And I’ll be more likely to sense the real need as opposed to just the words that are stated.

6. Ask before I do offer advice. Not just to my kids but to people in general. Before I offer advice I’ll ask if it’s wanted. “Want my input?” It’s a simple question that will take some practice to make a part of my day-to-day.

7. Pre-planned playdates. Sure there will be after school playdates but they will be planned ahead of time. The on-the-fly playdates tweak me and tweak the balance of the household. Exceptions only in emergencies. With this will also be minimized sleep-overs. Sleep-overs tweak the kids and tweak the family more. The next day we usually all pay. Planned ahead and minimized.

8. Dates with my husband. These should be easier to come by this year. Daytime dates are fun. (editor’s note: this one’s no longer valid but I left it in to remind me to connect with him regularly. We are not a couple but we are still parents of these kids of ours.)

9. Alone time once a month with each child. This is sometimes tricky to accomplish but I think setting it up ahead of time will be the key. On the calendar it goes. It doesn’t need to be huge – just intentional. A walk, a trip to the grocery store for a light shop, a croissant at the bakery, a visit to the playground.

10. One night out each week with friends. A designated night. Each week. And if friends can’t make it, then on my own. Just to collect my adult thoughts, share ideas, get inspired and have some fun.

11. Be thoughtful about my commitments. I have a lot of good ideas for things to do in the community. But I can’t do them all. Instead this year I plan on handing out those good ideas freely to anyone who is looking for one. And sometimes even just floating them out there to the universe for people to grab who didn’t even know they were looking for a good idea.

It’s funny when my kids were little and playing with friends I would always tell them, “I’m not base!!” as they tagged me furiously in attempts to be safe from “it”. But really now I am base.  Especially now.




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We have been on the road this summer seeing parts of America. We started off with a longish drive and have been doing shorter drives here and there. The drives have been mostly a blast with random acts of low points interspersed. But mostly a blast wins hands down in my book. And in the kids too apparently who have been reporting to various friends and family that the drive was “awesome!”

Here are some things we learned – some things that made the trip more fun, easier, and definitely more doable…

1. Pack good sandwiches. Perhaps it goes without saying but just what those snacks are is sort of crucial to the overall happiness of the journey. We had salami sandwiches which are a road trip staple of mine. Delicious, chewy and loved by all. I cut them into individual sizes then wrap each one with a paper napkin then stuff them all in a plastic bag. Makes for easy dispensing along the way.

2. Bring treats for random dispensing. You know that little drawer under many front seats? That’s where we kept our candy stash. Now of course candy seems like a bad idea when you’re all stuffed in the car for so long but dispensed in small increments, candy are the proverbial carrot on a stick.”Let’s have a treat when we hit the 150 mile mark.” And all would be cool heading toward that point. We had Swedish Fish and Gummy worms and Red Cherry Twizzlers which could be used for eating or crafting which made them last that much longer! Be careful to choose candy that is not messy – no chocolate or other meltable candys. And no powdery items which could spill all over and leave you sitting in a pile of sticky. If you’re against candy, choose the usually verboten treat of your liking. Again with a mind on the mess.

3. Drink water only. I don’t like stickiness. And I especially don’t like wet stickiness. One juice spill was enough to make us institute a water only rule. If we had something else to drink it was had while at a stop. Not in the car.

4. Give everyone DJ time. Super fun. And now with ipods in practically every pocket, everyone can bring their own music. Plug it in and give everyone a time limit or a song limit – depending on your threshold.

5. If you have dvd player in the car, use it sparingly. On a roadtrip you’re driving to see the country. So if everyone’s staring at a screen, the point is sort of lost. While we were mostly on smaller roads, on major highways we allowed movies. And when it was dark. Otherwise it was a no-go. And nobody seemed to mind in the slightest.

6. Find smaller roads if you can. The green highways on the map are lovely. We traveled on one such road from Natchez Mississippi all the way to Nashville and it was a dream! Beautiful road and super nice rest stops and no trucks. Plus an incredible view of a state none of us had ever spent much time in. The green roads show you the country’s loveliness.

7. Stop and look at the local flavor. Go in the tiny grocery stores along the back roads. Talk to the clerk. Ask them about their town. You can stop in the tourist spots too but the local non-tourist destinations give you a glimpse of life you’ll never get in the tourist destinations.

8. Bring a song book and find a list of good travel games. We brought Rise Up Singing which has the lyrics to HUNDREDS of old songs and Suz Lipman’s new book Fed Up With Frenzy which has a whole section on travel. While some games are age specific like word games, games like 20 questions and the license plate game and Guess Who I Am can be played by one and all. For games that are too old for some, make teams. And of course don’t forget to keep a list of license plates!

9. Do something totally random. On one of our stops at a reservoir we went skinny dipping in the middle of the day. My 9 year old was THRILLED! And I’m sure that will go down as the highlight of her trip. It was short and fun and felt like life away from home.

10. Allow yourself time. If you’re rushing to something that sort of eliminates the road trip feeling of freedom. Allow an extra day that you can take or not take. Allow an extra hour in the day for stopping here and there. From the very beginning we said it would take 4 or 5 days and that extra day made us feel like we had all the time in the world.

11. Find hotels with pools. After sitting all day a pool gives the kids just the movement they need. And usually a pool has a table next to it where you can sit and have a cocktail.

12. Suspend some of the usual rules. In the hotel we watched tv until late. In the car we ate foods that are usually forbidden.

13. Be quiet. In one portion of the trip where it was getting particularly LOUD, I declared I would take an hour of silence. It felt so good to not intervene in everyone’s business. It felt good to step back from refereeing and interrupting. While the noise continued around me, it felt good to sit in silence for a change.

For me time in the car on a trip like this is like incubation for the family. We laughed, we cried, we sang,  it was the feel good drive of the summer. If you can, might I recommend one for your family? Whether it’s a day or a week, it’s a great way of shutting out the world and finding some time to connect.

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Road Trip

I love road trips but it had been a while since we’d been on a big one. Then this past week we drove 2100 miles halfway across the country with all 6 of us in the minivan. It was 400 miles longer than what google maps told us but only because we chose to forge our own directions in order to see things along the way and travel the road less traveled by semi-trucks.

Overall? Awesome. In detail? It had it’s highs and lows but definitely the highs outweighed the lows. Big time.

We had plenty of good snacks, sandwiches, and treats. We had lots of drawing paper and crayons, a few audio books, and even a couple movies which I used like carrots on a string, “When we hit the 300 mile mark we’ll put in a dvd.”  We had a great list of games to play in the car thanks to an advanced copy of Suz Lipman’s new book Fed Up with Frenzy which will be available to the general public in August. And we had an open schedule that allowed us to travel on the back roads and scenic highways rather than hightailing it on the freeway. Just adding a couple of days to our schedule meant we could stop when we wanted, pause where we needed, and not worry about getting to point B on any certain date. A luxury for sure.

We ended the journey with a long ferry boat ride into Jersey and a short day of driving which meant that when we came out at the other end of the journey, at my childhood home already filling up with siblings and cousins, we were riding a road trip high, feeling good and feeling like our proverbial cups were quite full. The memories of the long driving days and fighting wiped from our collective memory banks.

As opposed to flying, which is what we have done in year’s past, driving served as a familial incubator, allowing us all to connect, talk, play, argue, resolve, and sit quietly next to each other with no agenda whatsoever. It was freeing, fun, funny, and seemed to give us all the connection we needed after a bit of a frenetic end of school year and start to summer. It allowed us all to see things we’d never seen before, see things in a different light and it gave me a presence that felt like something I could carry with me into my parenting journey.

If you have some time to hit the road with your family, I can’t recommend it enough. It was part geography lesson, part family time, part navigational instruction, part exploration and part restorative relaxation. I’m working on a list of lessons learned and for right now all I can tell you is,  if you’re torn between driving and flying and you have the time to drive, by all means DRIVE! It was worth every bit of those 2100 miles. And there was no trouble we encountered that couldn’t be resolved by a few Swedish Fish.

Keep a Soft Eye

I went to a beautiful wedding this weekend at which a married couple served as the officiants. As they spoke to the bride and groom the one spoke of the need to keep a “soft eye,” a term he had heard on The Wire about the need to see the big picture rather than just focusing on the evidence in front of you.

“You know what you need at a crime scene? Soft eyes.” Detective Bunk

He instructed the bride and groom that in a marriage, it was necessary to keep a soft eye in order to keep seeing the whole scene. He told them not to focus on the one infraction or misspoken word but rather keep a soft eye on the love they had for each other.

I searched the term “soft eye” today and learned that it is a martial arts term, also used often in horseback riding, and means to take in the periphery of the scene – to take in everything but be distracted by nothing.  According to the Urban Dictionary a soft eye is “The ability to see the whole thing. If you have hard eyes, you’re just staring at the tree and missing the forest.”

In family life I can think of nothing more essential than to keep a soft eye.

What are we doing here all together? What is the essence of our family forest? Not what is happening right this minute but what is the overarching desire/feeling/emotion? What’s in our big picture?

How can we remember the joy, love and connection when there are harsh tones being used or piles of endless work to do or a child who won’t go to bed or seemingly incessant whining or hunger or fatigue on everyone’s part?

Keep a soft eye. Stay focused on the big picture.

I’m going to try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.



*Thank you Eric!


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In our neck of the woods, spring break starts next week. While the actual dates of break vary from town to town and state to state, the fact is, the kids are about to be off from school for an entire week. In some households that brings great joy at being able to avoid the alarm clocks and settle into some unstructured fun. In others it brings a little panic at a week home with everyone. Some families will chill at home, others will go on vacation, in others camps are plotted, or childcare planned, schedules are reevaluated or carpools made, and it is determined who has what and who will bring who where.

Regardless of what you are doing, take a few minutes to ponder it all. Whether you are excited or anxious. Happy or worried. Scared or elated.

What will you do? Where will you go? What do you all want from this week? Are there people you want to see? Projects you want to do? Roadtrips you want to take? Do you want to explore? Make? Craft? Play?

No matter, what you decide, the one thing you can also figure out is what you want. How do you want to feel? Do you want to have fun? Be productive? Be social? Get time alone? Be still? Be active? All of the above? How do you feel right now when you think about it? Figure out how you feel and how you want to feel. Figure out what you fear and what you want.What you have and what you need. What is definite and what is flexible.

Make a list.  Ask your partner. Ask your kids. And then put everyone’s lists together and see what you can come up with. I really believe that with a little plotting and planning, and a little discussion around it all and time given to it, everyone really can get what they need.

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Baby Sleep Positions

My cousin, mother of twin girls, sent me an illustration last week of Baby Sleep position from How to Be a Dad. It was one of those funny-because-it’s-too-true kind of funnies. And my 5 year old’s belly laughs were just a little too heartfelt if you ask me. There are more on the website. If you relate. Which something tells me you probably will! My personal favorite is Booby Trap with Snow Angel being my son’s fave. Which one hits most closely to home for you? Which one makes you laugh…until you cry?

Baby Sleep Postions

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Slow Family in the News

USA Today had a big story yesterday about slowing things down for your family. They touched on some of the points such as cutting out some of the excess activities and really putting the connection in place now so that you can have connection down the road.

Read it yourself and let me know what you think…‘Slow
family’ movement focuses on fewer outside activities –

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Let’s Talk

I had a day with my kids the other day that was, well, shall we say, less than stellar. There was an air of teasing and picking on each other and not listening to anyone and some pretty incredible snarkiness in just about every direction.  By evening I had blown my top. They had blown theirs and we were all pretty spent.

Once all had cooled a bit, myself included, I called for a meet up in the back yard. We were going to try out some timed talking to bury the ugliness of this day once and for all.

We sat in a circle and with the phone’s timer set for 5 minutes we began. The only rules being that when someone was talking there were to be no interruptions at all. The talker was to talk. And the listeners were to listen.

I started, not for any hierarchy but because nobody else really wanted to go first. For five minutes I talked about what I thought were the infractions I witnessed and felt and made. I talked about how I felt during and after and what we could have done differently. And I talked about what I hoped for in the future – future being from that point on. Until, ding! Time’s up. And around we went, each one of us, talking for our allotted 5 minutes.

There were long moments of silence. There was a little bit of blaming. There were some things stated that others didn’t agree with. But with timed talking, there was space for it all. There were no retorts or disagreements or arguments about anything that was said or felt or observed.

And by the end we were all feeling pretty good. And feeling too like the issues had been resolved.

We all felt truly  heard. And we all had been able to listen as well.

I love timed talking! As my kids age I can see how it’s going to really serve us as a valuable tool. It frees the speaker to speak without fear of interruption. And it frees the listener too. To really and truly listen without coming up with our own response or spinning into rejection of the words being said.

The timed talking let the storm pass so we could move on into a beautiful new next.

photo by Lucy Noll Anderson

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