I’ve been reading “Free to Be You and Me” these past few weeks with my 6 year old. I found it on the shelves of my childhood home. It’s a great book originally published in 1974 by Marlo Thomas and friends. It’s got stories, artwork, songs, poetry and theatrical pieces all about life and the pursuit of happiness and being one’s most complete self.

In the back there is an afterword by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  It’s great information for kids and adults alike and especially for families who are trying to find ways to live the life they really want to live.

“I’ve often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of plante they’re on, why they don’t fall off it, how mcuh time they’ve probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on. I tried to write one once. It was called Welcome to Earth. But I got stuck on explaining why we don’t fall off the planet. Gravity is just a word. It doesn’t explain anything. If I could get past gravity, I’d tell them how we reproduce, how long we’ve beenhere, apparently, and a little bit about evolution. And one thing I would really like to tell them about is cultural relativity. I didn’t learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have leanred that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It’s also a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 

As I read it I realized that what he’s saying is one of the tenets of Slow Family Living; that we don’t have to do it just one way. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr is right when he says, we don’t have to continue this way if it’s not working. There are so many ways that family life can work. Find the way that works for you. The way that brings you the most joy and lifelong connection possible.

 

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Slow Family on the Radio!

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Siblings. What makes it work?

So, I’m in sibling land these past few weeks. Gathering with my own many sibs at my mom’s house, at the Jersey shore, in a big group and in smaller one-on-ones or twos as well. It is my little slice of summer heaven to reconvene with these people that are parts of the puzzle that is me. Each day there are little private talks, big gregarious group discussions, and lots of things in between. Just last night I sat on the back porch of my mom’s house in a circle with 5 of us siblings present. A gift beyond all gifts.

I love these people with all my heart and soul and with every cell in my being. Truly. Being number 8 of 9 I also realize that in me is a little piece of all of them. Combined with my own unique piece which was just then beginning to reveal itself to me. I had that revelation on the beach some 30 years ago at the age of 18, but that’s a coming-of-age story I’ll share another time. Or not.

So someone asked me what is the secret to fostering sibling love? I know some of the things I think made it happen…

  • my mom made us feel like part of a team, even dressing us in matching striped shirts when we’d all 9 go out together. (or 10 or more with added foster kids)
  • giving us opportunities to be together without parents – traveling, on teams, in clubs, etc.
  • helping us find ways to be together
  • my parents modeling their own love of their own siblings – of course this only works if it’s true.
  • my parents encouraging us all to live the life we love. without judgment. so that even though all of our lives are different, there is an acceptance and appreciation of each other’s lives.

My project over the next couple of weeks is to poll siblings. My own and others. My nieces and nephews. My children. My mom. Friends who are connected to sibs. What is it that makes it work?

It is of course a big goal of mine in the raising of my own children – to have them be dear friends as adults, as I am now with my own siblings.  And so any input you have on this subject would be greatly appreciated. What do you know? What works? What decidedly didn’t or doesn’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And check back soon as I begin to post what I learn.

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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I was digging through some old essays and blog posts recently – revelations I had when my children were small, things I learned along the way, discoveries I’d made about my role as mother or just as person. I’ve decided to bring some of them here in a format I’ll call Flashback Friday. Posts I’ve written on various other blogs I’ve had over the years that I think might be of interest to some readers today.

This is a post I wrote about sisters...

Oh my sister. My beautiful sister who is gone from us now. The grief continues to come in layers, waves, alternatingly soft and sneaky then firm and direct like slamming on the brakes of a fast moving car. Her death makes me look more closely at so much, sisterhood especially; my own and the amazing sisters I  birthed.

2 girls. Sisters. Friends most of the time. With the ability to be together and work together and play together and camp and sing and share ideas. Sharing a room. Sharing a genetic make up and a sewing machine and the last cookie in the drawer. You split, I’ll pick first.

Sometimes not all that crazy about each other. But always with an undertone of love. And admiration. And always looking at each other, each one equally amazed, at how different they can be. Sharing so much. Yet, each one bringing something completely opposite to the table, something that marvels the other. Or annoys. Or boggles the mind of the one who is witnessing the bringing. “WHAT THE…?” the mind says as they confound each other with their different-ness. But really. always. with an undertone. Of love.

I am thankful when the undertone is allowed to shine. I am thankful when the younger is in a state of total adoration and isn’t brushed aside in irritation. I am grateful when the older is in a state of wonder about the crazy beauty of the younger’s eccentricities. (And by wonder I mean, Ah!!! Not what the? although that exists too) I am so appreciative when the love shines bright between the two. And I am able to see the gift each has in the other. The yin and the yang walking side by side swinging along from the limbs of life.

Sisters. I love you. Mine and the ones I birthed. I love the love you share. I love your night to each other’s day. How you (we) came together is beyond me, but what you (we) bring to each other is plain to see.

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Remember as a kid when you’d say “I’m bored” to your mom.  My mom’s response was always, “Read a book. Write a letter. Write a book. Read a letter.” And we’d sigh a big annoyed sigh, kick the floor then be on our way.

To my own kids I say this same thing or “bored is as bored does” or I offer up a list of serving suggestions.

Yesterday, I was working. My husband was home and offered an outing to the resident 6 and 10 year olds. The 6 year old went. The 10 year old declined. As my husband left he uttered the words that I’m sure the 10 year old didn’t want to hear but the words I would have uttered also, “No screen time!” Ah, foiled again.

She stayed home anyway. For a lazy summer morning at home with her 13 year old brother still sleeping. No screen time. Now what? She called me at work. “What am I gonna do? I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

I of course offered a list of ideas, all of them rejected without even the slightest consideration. When will I learn that the statement of “I’m bored” isn’t exactly looking for solutions of the D.I.Y variety. Rather it usually wants some sort of action. Like a trip to the cold springs or a friend’s or anywhere that wasn’t home.  After a couple of minutes of rejected suggestions I reminded her to check her list of “boredom busters” she had made at the end of the school year, said goodbye and hung up, leaving her to her boredom.

When I got home there the most colorful paper dolls on the kitchen table that I had ever seen. In her bored state she sat down with markers and blank paper and just started coloring wildly – filling the paper in completely. Then she folded it up and cut it into the classic paper dolls. She made a few. They were lovely.

 

Had I been there to intercept her boredom, or had my husband allowed her verboten mid-day screen time,  this project would never had come to fruition. It wouldn’t even have popped into her head. But instead, her bored state opened the gate to her own creativity. She didn’t need me. Or my suggestions. Or to be whisked away to something else. She just needed to be allowed to get bored.

It’s hard to remember when our kids are bored that we don’t need to rescue them, rather we can just let them be bored. And see what beautiful place their boredom will take them.

 

 

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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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Is that your fear this summer? That the words in this blog post’s title will echo around your house day after day?

Well, I’ve got just the tool for you…

A few summer’s ago, Kathie Sever and I created this Summer Inspirations and Intentions banner as a way to help families find some focus on those hot summer days. It’s a place to set your intentions as a family, a place to put your inspirations and even a place to appreciate your accomplishments. It’s got places to list the projects you want to do, the books you want to read and the people you want to see. It’s the perfect tool to access on those summer days when your kids AND you are whining, “There’s nothing to do!!!”

And whether you do the full on craft like the one we created here. Or just write it all out on a big piece of poster board, it’s got what you need to make sure your summer stays fun, adventurous and satisfying to one and all.

 

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For parents and people everywhere, a few words from Lao Tzu. Thanks to my friend Liz for sending this along the other day. It has stuck with me and helped me along this week. It’s funny sometimes what things change your perspective.

Print it out for yourself if you can, and the next time you’re struggling with a decision or looking at others to determine your move or worrying that what you’re doing for your children or offering your family or creating for yourself isn’t going to be right or be enough, read these words to yourself. Aloud if you can. Or put them on a loop for those days when you need a reminder that you’ve got this. You’ve totally got this.

Always We Hope — Lao Tzu

Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time,
it will turn out.

This is it.

No one else has the answer,
no other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.

At the center of your being,
you have the answer:
you know who you are and
you know what you want.

There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being:
for the more you leave it,
the less you learn.

Search your heart and see
the way to do is to be.

Abide at the center of your being.

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My oldest child is not  graduating from high school just yet but, though I feel like she just started, she is already nearing the end of her freshman year. Didn’t we just finish the arduous process of selecting which high school she’d go to? And how she’d get in without any report cards or test scores to factor in? It’s making my head spin to think about the fact that, as fast as this year has gone, we only get 3 more of those before she’s off into whatever is next. College? Work? Apprenticeship? Who knows. I don’t have to think about that now. Do I? Huh? Okay, okay, I am. And so is she.

And though she’s not quite graduating yet, here’s some things I’d like her to know as she forays further into world exploration on her own terms…

  1. In spite of what some adults may tell you, high school is not actually, “the best time of your life.” Sure it can be fun but there’s lots more  to come. And if it is the best time of your life? I’m sorry.
  2. Tune into what you love and make decisions based on that. If someone tells you “there’s lots of jobs in statistics” but statistics isn’t really your thing, don’t do it. Tune in first to what you love to do, then make your decisions from that information.
  3. Be open to discovering new things that you love. All the time. It is one of the great thrills of life.
  4. Treat life like a giant menu. Try a little of this and a little of that until you find the thing that is most delicious. Then order more of that.
  5. No decision you make today is truly for the rest of your life. Well, other than birth and death that is. So what you decide today about what you will do or study or practice or where you might go, can be changed. Try it this semester. Change it next. No matter how old you get to be, remember that most decisions can be changed. Just play it by year.
  6. If a rule doesn’t make sense, question it. Seriously. There is no harm in asking if rules can be broken. Or in breaking them. Sometimes. Not my rules. But other people’s.
  7. People like to help so don’t be afraid to ask. If you are feeling shy about asking, think how good it feels when someone asks you to help them based on your level of expertise. Whether you need help finding your way or getting a job or figuring out a math problem, find someone and ask. If they can’t help you, ask if they know someone who can. Just put it out there and your answers will come.
  8. There is no “one way” to do something. Though many will try to convince you that their way is THE way. Do things the way that works for you. Even if someone tells you, “this is the way it’s always been done,” if you think of an easier or more sensible way, do it.
  9. Be you. Plain and simple. No matter where you go. Be you. And be the very best you that you can possibly be.
  10. Look for the good in people. It’s easy sometimes to find what’s bad or wrong with people, but it feels so much better to see what’s good. When you’re struggling with this, try even harder because you’ll feel so much better when you do.
  11. Have fun. Really we’re here to have fun. So even the mundane or monotonous? Make it fun.
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