mothering

Gifts

 

2015.12.24

 

This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace--and if necessary, chase down--the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

Optimism in Overdrive

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Parenting requires a huge dose of optimism. Who else but the glass-half-full crowd would dare bring children into a world fraught with injustices, Kardashians and high-fructose syrup? It can be an uphill battle to keep focused on the bright side.

I have a naturally Pollyanna personality, but I still need frequent reminders to help stay the course. I seek them out in stories, images, blips of conversation. I’m a heat-seeking missile when it comes to examples of the power of positive thinking.

Last week a reminder came from an icon in the world of optimism. I had the great pleasure to meet Bert Jacobs, co-founder and Chief Executive Optimist of the Life is Good Company. Jacobs was in Austin to wow a crowd of 7,000 at the Texas Conference for Women. His speech was everything you’d hope it would be: energizing, inspiring, tear-jerking and funny.

Afterwards I had the opportunity for a quick interview with him, and I went straight to the topic closest to my heart: family life.

Me: Cynicism seems a little too cool in our culture right now. How do we raise children to be optimists? Bert Jacobs: Tell your kids to look through history and find us the great pessimists. Find us the great cynics. You’ll be done with your assignment in 10 minutes. Then go through and find the great optimists, and you can do it for the next 3 years. Every hero you’ve ever had was an optimist, because they see things before they happen. In order to be optimistic, you have to be open-minded and ambitious.

My work is focused on the “small moments that tell the big stories of family life.” What’s one small moment in your life that tells your big story? I would say my mom at the dinner table saying, “Tell me something good that happened today.” That could look on a given day like a very small thing, but it changed our lives. It changed the trajectory of our whole path. It led us to greater business. It led us to a great kids foundation. And look how lucky we are, doing all the things we are doing. All from one thing that Mom said at the dinner table. The interesting thing is...and it’s not even in the book...is that she had huge challenges in her 20s. My mom was put in a mental institute and was told that she would never amount to anything or have a family. So I think her heightened appreciation for life, and never taking a day for granted, and teaching us “Tell me something good” came from a place where she was really challenged.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? A stuntman. I was a typical boy.

I went home and told the kids about my day, and we had a lively discussion about great people in history, about how we can all inject more optimism into our lives, and how (high five!) we are already doing the dinnertime sharing ritual, although ours comes in the form of “What are you thankful for?”

The interview and the conversations that followed with my family were both such lovely gifts. I enjoy any opportunity to talk with the kids about my inspirations as a parent and our goals as a family. The entire day was a great reminder that one small conversation can make an impression well beyond the people who initially shared it.

Knowing the power of that ripple effect, I have to admit one thing, my friends: I kept the stuntman detail to myself. The kids don’t need to know everything. I’m optimistic, not crazy.

The evolution of keeping secrets

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Have you noticed that as kids grow, it gets trickier to have a private conversation with your spouse? Even if it’s not a particularly adult topic, you never know what kids are going to retain and repeat. And who wants to be responsible for spoiling a surprise party because your 6-year-old overheard you ordering the cake?

It’s not much easier as they get older. Somehow my children are deaf to repeated requests to Get off the computer NOW and set the table, yet the moment I try to dish about the latest nonsense on the neighborhood listserv, the kids are all ears. I also find myself censoring many topics that I simply don’t want to explain. I know, for example, that the second they hear me gushing about an Amy Schumer video they will head straight to their pal Google. And as funny as Amy is, I really don’t want to be the parent who introduces the 5th grade class to “The Last Fuckable Day.”

Over the years, our coping strategies have evolved from adorable language play to ever-changing passwords and hazy, unfinished discussions. They are imperfect strategies at best and (surprise) the kids are adapting faster than we are. Who knows what’s next...I’m just hoping my husband and I don’t have to take an Espionage 101 class or get on Snapchat just to exchange crude jokes.

Age 1: Spelling. “It’s time to start her B-A-T-H...”

Age 2: Blundered sign language. “I’m spelling shot, not shop! We’re going to the pediatrician for crying out loud.”

Age 3: Pig Latin. “Oh I can’t stand that busybody neighbor! She is such an itchbay.”

Age 4: Vaguespeak. “I heard you-know-who is looking for another job doing you-know-what in you-know-where.”

Age 5: Using big, semi-foreign words. “Remember that overseas spousal rendezvous, sans chicos, we talked about? Call su madre and let’s make that happen.”

Age 6: Kitchen whispering. “Shh...They are being so sweet. Don’t breathe or they will start fighting again.”

Age 7: Facial gestures.  “No...(eyebrow raise) that was Santa who bought that gift for him, not us.”

Age 8: Advanced facial gestures. “...” (slightly wrinkled forehead, imperceptible shake of the head.)

Age 9: Emails. “We need to talk about gift ideas. Log on to Amazon and check my cart. Then destroy all evidence of this email!”

Age 10: Texts. “You wouldn’t believe the ducking day I’ve had!” ... “Ugh, autocorrect!”

Age 11: Texts with auto preview disabled. “Oh, another group text arrived? Why am I laughing already? Call it a hunch.”

Age 12: Babysitters. “We just paid $60 to walk three blocks to a restaurant and discuss parent-teacher conferences.”

Age 13: Pillow talk. “Hey, wake up. I’m not done talking about...oh wait, never mind. I can’t even remember now.”

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How do you sneak in adult-friendly conversations at your house? Any tricks to share?

Back to School Reboot

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Well hey it’s back to school and I don’t know about you, but our first week lasted approximately 87 days. Or so it seems.

Every year the optimist in me approaches the new school year with enthusiasm, and by the first Friday I want to stab my eyes out with the kids’ freshly sharpened pencils. Transitions are fun like that.

That said, in my years of parenting school-age kids I have learned a few things about coping with the first weeks of school.

1. Don’t volunteer for anything at Parent Night. After hearing the presentations by the principal and teachers, you will be drunk with enthusiasm. Don’t volunteer while under the influence! Give yourself a grace period. Trust me, the teachers and PTA will still want your help after the first week.

2. Make more routines and fewer rules. Instead of hard-and-fast rules, such as no screen time during the school week, we try to focus on fluid, helpful routines. Every day when you get home, hang up your backpack, empty your lunchbox and wash your hands...pretty much exactly what you do when you walk in your classroom. Screens are a maybe...only after homework and only on non-activity days. Bedtime routines are fixed but times shift depending on the after school activities, with ultimate veto power held by parents.

3. Decline all but critical invitations. My kids have had so much unstructured time during the summer that school schedules completely drain them. We don’t add anything extra into the family mix at first. Sorry, early September birthdays...but we are probably going to pass. (Especially if it’s a party that ends in Cheeze. Who am I kidding? This is great year-round advice.)

4. Make lunches before dinner. I can’t actually vouch for this tip, but it’s one of our goals this year. The post-dinner cleaning and lunch-making is such a buzzkill in our house that it can turn a perfectly nice evening into a major grouchfest. The chore might still be a drag, but at least it won’t be a drag at the very end of the night.

5. Schedule the date nights immediately. Five days into our school year and suddenly 90 percent of our spousal conversations are centered around calendars and carpools. If I’m not careful, Thanksgiving will be here before we remember to enjoy each other.

6. Plan a weekday pizza night. This is a year-round thing for us. Once a week we order pizza and (this part is critical) always make sure there is enough for the next day’s school lunches. A win-win!

What helps you get through the back-to-school transition?

 

 

Vacation re-entry

 

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Vacation re-entry is a bitch. Especially when you leave the cool mountains of Colorado for the fiery urban sauna of home. Oh Austin, I'm trying to love you again but right now I'm deep in the stages of grief.

1. Denial. Noooo. This can't be that bad, can it? Sure vacation is over, but it's still summer. I like summer. I like home. I like real life. I like routines and chores. I like heat. Wait, what?

2. Anger. What in holy hell have I done? How did I get home and why is it 1,000 freaking degrees in the shade? Why are my kids asking me for meals or wanting to be taken to the pool? Why am I expected to open the bulging credit card bills that arrived while we were gone? Why do I feel so cramped? Are there suddenly more people in my family? We have spent two solid weeks together! How much more Together Time do they all expect?

3. Bargaining. Maybe if I don't unpack and don't do laundry we can just tack on another trip that leaves tomorrow. Maybe Hubs and I can alternate working while the other drives. We only saw a little snow in Colorado...we really should find some place colder this time. Alaska! Icebergs! I would cancel vacations for the next two years just to get a few more days of fun right now.

4. Depression. I will never be as happy as I was that one day last week, running down the mountain in long sleeves. Or that morning I drank 3 cups of coffee under a rainbow sunrise. Or that night of the outdoor concert when we stretched out at the base of a mountain, the sky changing colors every few minutes, the kids rolling down nearby hills, the wine and laughter with friends mingling into a perfect harmony.

5. Acceptance. If I can't be on vacation, I might as well be earning money toward the next one. School starts soon, and that means more hours in the day to work. Oh joy. But honestly, do I want to be the friend who complains about her vacation hangover? Don't we all hate that person? Ok fine. I'm home. I'm unpacked. I'm dealing. I'll just leave it at that.

 

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How are you surviving the last gasp of summer, my friends? I'm sending y'all strength and air-conditioned vibes!

Things you can do while the kids are at Camp Grandma

 

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1. Go swimming on a whim. At night. Without refereeing the rules of The Splash Game.

2. Empty the kids’ closets of annoying T-shirts, crappy toys the kids won at some arcade party, and half the artwork they brought home from school this spring.

3. Empty the office of annoying emails, crappy pencils the kids left when they stole the good pens, and half the paperwork they sent home from school this spring.

4. Finish every conversation with your spouse, even the one you started 8 months ago.

5. Eat every meal at a restaurant.

6. Run a dishwasher loaded only with coffee mugs. (See above.)

7. Think your own thoughts.

8. Make out in the middle of the afternoon.

9. Binge watch a full season of a kid-unfriendly show.

10. Linger everywhere you go. Or rush. Either way, it’s your decision.

11. Sleep late. Or wake up early. Again, your call.

12. FaceTime the kids. Pretend that y’all are totally bored without them.

13. Get 8 hours of work done in only 3.

14. FaceTime them again. Pretend you don’t miss them and that it’s no big deal one kid doesn’t want to talk to you.

15. Make their beds and tidy their rooms, even though 5 days ago you swore up and down that it was their job for now on, every day, for the rest of their lives.

16. Buy fresh milk and apples.

17. Check the clock. Again.

18. Squeeze their guts when they return.

19. Squeeze Grandma harder.

A week of summer

It was only a week--a tiny blip in the 12-week universe that is summer around here. But for 7 days I kept my camera handy (Ok, handier than normal) and tried to capture our family's summer vibe in images, while still enjoying the fleeting moments as they happened. That's always the trick. Typically my kids hardly notice when I shoot photos of them, but they definitely do when the volume picks up. More than once this past week I heard, "Mooommm...put the phone down." I did, I swear...but not before I captured a few goodies. Hope you enjoy! To see the full #aweekofsummer series, visit my Instagram feed (@ewmcguire).

Happy Summering! Liz

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If you like this, you might like my #aweekofmornings or #aweekofevenings series.

What a week

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Ten days ago I was in New York City with my 12-year-old daughter and my mother-in-law for a wonderfully busy girls weekend. On a bright morning we stood at the feet of Lady Liberty, learning the history of the statue and the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus.” We’ve all heard her words: “Give me your tired, your poor....” What I had not heard before was that the poem was written before the great immigration rush and that the statue was not necessarily designed to be the beacon of hope it later became. Yet Lazarus’ words were prescient and came to signify everything hopeful about our country. Her words became as important as the statue itself.

So grateful for the power of words.

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Later that day we walked to the grounds of the World Trade Center. The sight of the first pool took my breath away. It looks bottomless and the list of names surrounding it endless. I wanted to read each and every one, to bear witness to the lives lost. And this was just the outside memorial. Inside the museum, thousands of artifacts, newsreels and tributes captured the horror, confusion and heartache of that time. And just as stirring were the features that captured the collective grief, the incredible sacrifice and the outpouring of support in the aftermath.

We spent hours at the museum, immersed in the stories. I watched my daughter as she read each plaque with great reverence. Days later, when asked what she remembered most about the exhibits, she knew the Virgil quote by heart: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

So grateful for the power of stories and memory.

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And then there was Charleston. I found myself once again talking to my kids about hate and prejudice and trying to explain something so horrible. We talked about the Confederate flag and its unfortunate role in history.

I reminded the kids that Dad and I both went to a Texas high school named after Robert E. Lee. It was the late '80s and our mascot was the Rebels; our school song Dixie and our school flag the Confederate one. The flag appeared on the cover of our yearbooks, it waved in multitudes above our football stadium, it adorned varsity jackets and drill team uniforms. Every Friday in the fall it was shoe-polished on the back windows of hundreds of cars and trucks in support of the Mighty Rebel Football Team.

I am ashamed to say that I rolled with it, or at least didn’t speak up against it. In my 16-year-old mind it was a weird, mildly offensive “West Texas Thing.” A “Football Thing.” It wasn’t until I was finishing my freshman year in college in the spring of 1991 that the flag was officially removed from all high school sanctioned activities and paraphernalia. And suddenly it was such a no-brainer: our community had been painfully insensitive. How had we not spoken up sooner? Clearly the removal was long overdue.

To share that story with my kids was one thing, but to then explain that the flag still flies over the South Carolina capitol nearly 25 years later was a whole other sad reality. My daughter shook her head in disbelief. “Mom, that’s so messed up. The only place those flags belong are in a museum.”

So grateful for the power of common sense.

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And now, here we are...a few days after the Supreme Court has declared that marriage is marriage no matter who you are. The kids and I cheered at the news and they named off a few grownup friends who can now be married in our home state.

In almost no time, Texas politicians lined up to argue the blasphemous nature of the new law, and I found myself explaining yet again that hateful, narrow-minded views are unfortunately still alive even amidst such hopeful ones.

And once again, my daughter found the right words so easily...“Don’t people understand that when you give someone equal freedom it doesn’t take away your own?”

May we move forward with this mindset. May we allow words, stories, memories, and commonsense to be our brave and constant guides.

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All the hours

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We are now fully entrenched in summer mode: the good, the bad, the sunburned.

It’s everything you might expect and are probably experiencing now: really long days, late bedtimes and more wet towels than you realized you actually owned. The days are either luxuriously long or painfully long, and you never really know which until you’re past the point of no return.

Where does the time go? Today ours went toward epic blanket-fort building and several chapters of Harry Potter. It went toward hatching plans for homemade ice cream, and then dealing with the fallout when the plans didn’t materialize. A solid hour went toward organizing two shelves of the garage and convincing the kids to “help” by carving up cardboard boxes in the driveway.

Another hour went toward a frantic last-minute run to the nursery before closing time so we could plant the vegetable garden we’ve tried to finish all week. As with any multi-step project that involves all five of us, there were cheers and tears. When someone dared to ask, “Why are we doing this again?” I was quick to snap, “Because! Because this was all y’all's idea! And because I’m following through! And because planting this garden is probably the most optimistic thing we will do all summer!”

So yeah. Optimism. I'm stocking up on it like it's sunscreen. How is your supply of it coming along?

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But wait, there’s more happening!

Beginning tomorrow I’m starting another mini-project on Instagram. Similar to my other ones (#aweekofmornings and #aweekofevenings) I’ll be documenting #aweekofsummer.

I hope you'll tune in!

A game called Summer

2015.gamelife We are one week into summer and for the most part still enjoying the honeymoon phase. The kids have made ambitious Summer Fun lists for us and I’ve made equally ambitious Summer Chores lists for them.

Parenting during the summer is all about finding that sweet spot between freedom and structure, and while it’s never a breeze it’s getting easier as the kids get older. Partly because of the two lists mentioned above. Bored? Great..here’s some laundry to fold! Who’s turn to walk the dog?

This week the kids had no camps or activities, and we quickly found an easy groove of swimming in the morning and hibernating inside during the afternoon heat. In theory, the afternoon hours double as my work time while the kids read, play Legos or use up their screen time. Quiet is of course relative. One afternoon the TV watching turned into an American Ninja Warrior training session complete with a homemade launchpad and Mt. Midoriyama made from the nice furniture and sofa cushions. Yesterday they were busy writing a script to a movie, but that eventually turned into a contest to see who could walk like the best villain. Who knew the sound of three walking kids could shake the light fixtures? Obviously I need to clarify the rules of our afternoon: No interruptions unless your hair is on fire. No climbing doorways. No stacking large furniture. No walking like Professor Snape.

And then there was the afternoon my 6-year-old opened my office door, frowned, and said, “You’re probably going to say no, but will you play a game with me?” The big kids had refused and he was feeling lonely and dejected. Against my better judgement, I agreed.

Now, I’m a fan of games but I have no patience for ones with more than three rules. Give me Battleship, Connect Four or Uno. Even Monopoly is pushing my limits. Don’t even bother bringing Risk into the house. Of course my son pulled out Life. He’s been dying to play this, he said. Dying.

I’m dying too. Life? Worst game ever. Nothing says fun like mortgages, taxes and car payments. I’d rather play Colonoscopy than Life.

In case you haven’t played in a while, there are several points in the game where you and your little plastic car, which may or may not hold several tiny pink or blue plastic kids in the backseats, must make life choices and choose various paths along the way. All roads lead to the promise of a glorious retirement, but the smart players pick the most lucrative and efficient route.

Some of the forks required a little explaining to my son. First, you can either go to college, or you can start a job. Well, buddy...you’re going to college and that’s that. (He chose the college path.)

Next up: Change jobs or stay on the same route? Hmmm...Tough call. Personally I’ve changed jobs a lot. (He took the path of stability.)

And then, more than halfway through the game, after surviving a job loss and buying a $5,000 flat-screen TV, he was presented with this choice: The Family route or the Other route. He already had one pink plastic baby, but no spouse. He steered his car to the Other route.

“Ugh. I don’t care about more kids. I want to win! I want more MONEY!” He paused. I held my tongue because who am I to make that call for him? Sure, you might make more money if you bypass the kid route. Pick the career path and maybe you’ll be crazy rich. Maybe you’ll be able to afford a dozen tiny plastic cars and houses. Maybe you will have a fabulous and fulfilling career. Maybe you won’t be interrupted to play a board game in the middle of a deadline. But remember, there’s more to the kid route than these little squares convey. Stuff that fake paper money can’t buy. Your choice, son, just keep all this in mind.

“Mom," he said, catching my eye, "You know it’s not real life here in this game, right Mom? Even though it’s called Life on the box, it’s just a game. You know that, right?”

Yes, yes I sure do. Your move.

And with that, summer is off to a fine start.

 

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Don't miss a bit of the summer shenanigans....Follow me on Instagram or Facebook!

Love is a rock

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It started with a slick, dark rock retrieved from a mountain stream by a boy totally in his element: filthy, soaking wet and up to his knees in adventure.

He presented the heart-shaped rock to me in the completely casual way that 10-year-old boys often do. Check this out, Mom. You should have it. And I reacted in the overly sentimental way that 42-year-old Moms often do. I love this so much, buddy! I will find a special place for it next to all the other treasures you have given me!

Because things have a way of working out this way, his small gift started a habit that I've continued for a year. Whenever I'm out exploring, walking the dog, or really anywhere...one eye is on the lookout for heart-shaped treasures. Usually they are rocks, but sometimes leaves, cacti, shadows or puddles. A friend swears they seem to find me, not the other way around.

All three kids have joined in on the hunt. On my weekly runs with my oldest son, he insists we bring along my phone so we can photograph any hearts we find. For me, this simple tradition has become a moveable gratitude practice, a moment to pause, a hello from the universe, a hug from a lost loved one.

It's a small reminder to seek and you shall find. Look for love and you'll find it everywhere.

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Follow me on Instagram to see more of my #heartshape and #heartshaperock collections. #loveisallaround, y'all.

 

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A week of evenings

I had so much fun capturing bits and pieces of our mornings with my #aweekofmornings series that I've decided to tackle the flip side. The dark side, in my opinion. It's only Tuesday, and I'm already daunted by the task. With three kids ages 6, 10 and 12, our evenings are often a complicated test of logistics and endurance. Long gone are the days of scheduled toddlers and early bedtimes. (Longer gone are also the days of walking around with a wailing newborn in the witching hour, so let's keep some perspective.) For me, the glory days were a brief and perfect time when our family's evening routine consistently looked like this: Kid dinner promptly at 5:00, baths at 6:00, bedtime at 6:30, and adult-only dinner afterward, with no nuggets and ketchup in sight.

Now our routine changes daily depending on work responsibilities, kid schedules and carpool duties. When I have my act together and our schedules allow, I prep dinner in the morning and have it ready for all of us to enjoy together. Sounds lovely, but for us it's only a realistic goal maybe twice a week. Many other nights I'm throwing sandwiches in a bag, raiding the kids' lunch boxes for whatever they didn't eat earlier, and hustling everyone into the car for soccer/ballet/biking/etc.

Despite the full calendar, we carve out mini-routines where we can. Bedtime always involves books. It always involves rituals, no matter how small or strange. One kid wants hugs and kisses and movie-star air kisses in a very particular order. Another kid prefers a quick tuck-in, a special repeated phrase, and lights immediately out. The other wants the sheets and pillows just so and then a glass of water with ice and multiple check-ins just in case. If there's anything we've learned as parents, it's to not fight these evening rituals too much, no matter how exhausted we are, no matter that some feel like stalling techniques, and no matter that a kid was just screaming at us 10 minutes ago because they had the Worst Day Ever. Nobody likes to go to bed grumpy, and the rituals seem to settle us all down.

That said, there's no predicting how an evening will go. Someone can forget homework at the last minute, or fall apart because favorite jammies are dirty, or just be sick and tired of dealing all day. Other nights there is singing in the shower and relaxed chapters of Harry Potter. Your guess is as good as mine...Tune in to my Instagram feed this week, and we'll find out together.

2015.04.07.evenings-1 Monday 8:30pm. Busy boy avoiding bed. Patient dog waiting for attention.

2015.04.07.evenings-2 Monday 8:30pm. Already well past his bedtime and he's asking for 5 more minutes.

 

2015.04.07.evenings-3 Monday 8:45pm. Late dinner for our dedicated ballerina.

 

My #aweekofevenings project runs from April 6-12, and all the images can be found on Instagram @ewmcguire.

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In other news...

I was thrilled to have the story of our new mother/son running routine featured on Huffington Post last week.

I have a new professional Facebook page and would love to get your Like on it. 

Thanks again for all your enthusiasm and support.

xoxo, Liz

Run with joy

 

2015.02.OwenRun-1 For months my 10 year-old son and I had been battling too much. Nothing dramatic, just a steady, exhausting cycle of nagging/ignoring, cajoling/sighing, yelling/yelling, then crying/crying. There were all the predictable triggers: homework, chores, screen time. Every day I practiced complaining about dirty shoes on the sofa and Minecraft on the computer, and he practiced scowling and stomping. We both got really good at being disgusted with one another.

The small stand-offs became almost daily routines and I soon realized that no matter the outcome of each argument I felt like I was losing every single time. First I was furious, then heartbroken.

Things were not always this difficult between us. In fact, from the very beginning our relationship was a breeze. I grew up with only brothers so I like to think I understand boy energy and humor. Personality-wise, my son and I have much in common. We are happiest outside, no matter the weather. Every day we require ample time to move and sweat and DO, balanced with ample time to just sit and dream. We are really good at leaping before looking, then getting frustrated at our impulsiveness and backpedaling into a plan. We are both playaholics more than workaholics.

But none of these similarities were helping us much, and I missed the easy connection we had always shared.

So one night, after a particularly ugly argument over homework, I approached him in his room. “I would really like to find something fun for us to do regularly--just you and me.” My voice caught and tears brimmed. He replied, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m not going to college yet.”

I laughed--at both his wisdom and naiveté. I was not worried about college. I was worried only about that particular day, and the next day, and maybe the next, but no further. I was worried about the current heaviness between us. I was not looking for a cure-all for the battles or some lofty psychological insight into why mothers and sons fight at this stage. I was simply looking for a way to inject more easy, light moments into our days.

He suggested we run. We had run together before and casually finished some 5K races, but we had never made it a regular habit. He had never before shown interest in consistent training and I was, to be honest, a little protective of my own running schedule.

Running had been my sanctuary for almost two decades and I was accustomed to escaping family life five times a week to meet a steady group of friends and training partners. I wasn’t sure how I would add another layer to this carefully orchestrated routine, but I knew it was worth trying.

So the next Saturday morning, I met my friends at our usual predawn hour. I finished our 7-mile loop and while the rest of them kept going, I ran home to meet my boy. He was still in his pajamas, on the computer, and had not seen my reminder note. It was 29 degrees, there was hot coffee in the kitchen, and I was starting to chill in my sweaty clothes. I nearly ditched the whole idea. But as soon as I asked, “Hey bud, still want to run a few with me?” he jumped up with a cheerful Yes!

The next 30 minutes were pure joy. Following his lead, we launched into “adventure running”...half running, half exploring our neighborhood and nearby trail. My boy zigzagged along the sidewalks, tightrope-walked every curb he found, jumped over rock walls and benches, and paused when he saw an interesting tree or funny graffiti. For every mile I ran, he seemed to run a quarter more with his diversions.

He chattered about ideas for his latest cartoon series, and asked me lots of ridiculous What If questions. Even though we’ve passionately covered the topic before, we spent at least a mile discussing why Super Speed is obviously the best superpower ever. Even better than flying and invisibility, we agreed.

Along the way we vowed to register for an upcoming race where volunteers enthusiastically douse runners with colored powdered until they look like toxic circus clowns. After last year’s race, we were blowing blue gunk out of our noses for days, so we decided this year to wear bandanas for protection. “We will be the Booger Bandana Brigade, Mom! We will have a booger mascot! I can make us a booger logo and everything!”

And it was in the middle of this boogery monologue that I had the distinct and intoxicating feeling that this moment was exactly what we needed. There was lightness and laughter between us again. Welcome to your new Saturday morning routine, I thought. I am totally in.

A month later, our regular runs have not solved everything, of course, but the constant heaviness is gone. Knowing that once a week I am guaranteed time with him that is void of arguing and frustration somehow gives me more patience and empathy on the other days.

We have found a simple space that contains only joy and ease, and nothing could keep me from showing up there. I could run for miles in it.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Namesake

So many things I love about this photo, which I shot a little over 6 years ago....

My wee one was only a few weeks old, and we had gone on tour to show him off to loved ones who couldn't travel to see him. Here he is meeting his great-Grandpa, who shares his middle name. When I hear the phrase circle of life I think of small moments like this...beginnings and endings all blurred together, propelled by the love and energy of everyday life. Forget the big, bold stuff. Richness lies in these tiny atoms of beauty and grace.

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Replacing the irreplaceable

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If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen this photo. I have an affection for heart-shaped rocks and photograph them whenever I spot one. This particular limestone treasure sits on the property line between our wonderful neighbors and us.

Unfortunately we are losing these neighbors soon and I'm seriously bummed about them leaving our street. They aren’t going far, but anyone who has been lucky enough to have an amazing next-door neighbor knows how special the relationship can be.

So, now that their house is on the market I’ve offered to help screen the shoppers. It’s a crazy world out there and you never know who you’re going to get. To make it easier on all of us, I even drafted a handy questionnaire. For my readers’ benefits, I’ve included the correct answers. If you are a good candidate or know one, I just might put in a good word for you!

1. Do you have kids? Between the ages of 6 and 12?

Correct answer: Yes and Yes. No offense to the young professionals, the empty nesters, the intentionally childless, or the families with babies who make a midlife uterus do nostalgic flip-flops. But yeah...we are looking for neighbors with young kids.

2. Do you like kids?

Correct answer: Oh I get it. Trick question...because not everyone who has kids actually likes kids and not everyone without kids dislikes them. But yes, I like kids. Especially the noisy ones.

3. Is your kid perfect?

Correct answer: Are you serious? What a dumb question. No...Is yours?

4. Will you freak out if my kid acts like an ass to yours?

Correct answer: No? Maybe? I hope not, but if I do, I will be able to talk about it like a grownup. See answer above: kids are not perfect. And newsflash: neither are grownups.

5. What will you do if we see each other early Sunday morning, braless and in jammies retrieving our newspapers?

Correct answer: I will wave from afar. Unless I have really good gossip that cannot wait.

6. Do you keep avocados in stock?

Correct answer: Yes. And if yours is firm and mine is ripe and you need it for a recipe tonight I will gladly trade you.

7. Do you have a dog? Does it sometimes bark?

Correct answers: Yes and yes. It’s a dog...sometimes dogs bark. But I put it inside or give it a bone to chew on when the noise gets too much.

8. Would you mind if you found my kids digging through your recycling bin for building supplies?

Correct answer: No problem, as long as they aren’t drinking from my wine bottles.

9. Do you appreciate the difference between the all-day playdate vs. the 30-minute, outside-only playdate?

Correct answer: Oh yes! The all-day, in-and-out of the house/yard/pantry playdate is awesome and so wonderfully old school. But then there are days when the house is actually clean and you want it to stay that way for more than 5 minutes. And let’s face it, sometimes we need our space. Those days I'm all, “Stay outside! Thirsty? Turn on the hose! Hungry? Wait til dinnertime!”

10. Will you invite me to every single jewelry/kitchen gadget/clothing party you host?

Correct answer: I am allergic to those kinds of parties.

11. If my kid politely asks you to buy whatever kind of scout/charity thing he’s selling, will you buy one?

Correct answer: Every single time.

12. What’s your stance on toilet papering the house and trees?

Correct answer: I don’t if you don’t.

13. Are you going to blog about me behind my back?

Correct answer: I won't if you won't.

Throwback Thursday: 5 years

Phew...I'm back! Life got crazy for a variety of reasons, and my blog got the short end of the deal, but I'm happy to be here now! Today, in honor of Throwback Thursday AND my 5-year blogiversary, I'm looking through my old posts with fresh eyes. I'm discovering and rediscovering all kinds of treasures...

I'm finding that of course some things change and others stay the exact same. Siblinghood continues to be equal parts harmony, chaos, discord and joy. That's why we call it Sibling Revelry, right?

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I'm finding excellent and timely reminders about parenting and forgotten photos that need no caption.

I'm finding that I hardly recognize the faces in my early blog days.

And I'm finding that some things really never get old. No wonder these are my kids' favorite three posts: Next lesson: What is lame? See also: "Totally bogus" I mean, seriously

I'm finding that I STILL get traffic on this post and frequent requests for the bumper stickers. (I've still got them if you want. Long live Tami Taylor!)

But mostly I'm finding that I'm grateful to have this blog and people who cheer it on. I've always been happiest at the place where stories, family and art intersect. Thanks for sharing that space with me!

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First Days

Today my oldest child started middle school and my youngest started kindergarten. Go ahead and ask me how I’m doing. If you were here in person you wouldn’t have to ask because my red, blotchy eyes say it all. My middle child, however, is earning Golden Boy status because the only mama drama he has generated lately are tears of relief that his class is filled with his closest buddies. As if that weren’t enough, last night he hugged me and thanked me, unprompted, for a really awesome summer. I mean seriously.

At bedtime my 5-year-old explained how he did NOT want to go to kindergarten in the morning. He wanted to stay home with me and the dog and play Legos all day. Deep breath. I promised that he would have fun. That his teacher practically invented fun.

“Yeah, Ok,” he replied, “But what about the missing you part?”

Then I went to tuck in my almost 12-year-old, who had been holding it together and keeping herself busy all day. I crawled into bed with her, and her voice caught when she spoke. “I’m nervous. It’s a big day, Mom.”

“Yes, it is,” I said.  “It’s a big day, but it’s also just a day. There are lots of things that will be familiar....You have been to school before (you are great at school). You have had new teachers before and you’ve made new friends before. You have eaten in a cafeteria and carpooled and rode a bus and you’ve even spent an entire day last spring at this school. You know you can do this because you’ve done much of it before.”

That seemed to help. And after a few more curtain calls, all three of them were asleep.

And then the house got quiet and my own tears came. Big, fast ones that came bursting from that deep pool reserved for all things maternal.

“It’s too much,” I told Hubs. “I’m not ready for all this change.”

He rubbed my back and said, “It’s a big day, but it’s also just a day.”

“You’ve taken them to school before. You’ve said goodbyes. You’ve walked away. You’ve worked without a swirl of kids around you and you’ll remember how to do it again. You’ve had a quiet house before and you’ll remember how to enjoy it again. You might even remember how to have lunch with friends. You know you can do this because you’ve done much of this before. And...you’ve given them a really awesome summer.”

Yes. Yes. True.

But what about the missing them part?

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Boys Allowed

2014.BoysBooksPromo2 After last week's piece about my daughter's book club, I received numerous "What about the boys??" questions. Good questions with simple answers...

My 5-year-old is too young for a book club. When he thinks of reading it is all about snuggling and hearing a great story. This summer he has been devouring the Magic Treehouse series. Which means Hubs and I are "devouring" these stories right along with him. For the third time. (Will Jack and Annie make it back to the treehouse in time?? Let's find out! Really great stories, but yeah...third time, my friends.)

My 10-year-old son, a definite bookworm, is simply not interested in a book club. In fact, sitting down with a dozen buddies and talking about books just might fall into the Worst Idea Ever category. Even though he loves books and buddies. Just not his thing.

However...the great mother-child conversations that have grown out of my daughter's book club are pretty special, so of course I want to experience something like that with my boys. The connection is still the goal, but my approach is very different. Like so many things boy-related, my approach is deceptively casual and super stealthy.

We started by reading to him for years, even past the time he could handle a hefty book. Our favorites were always the books like Harry Potter and Peter and the Starcatchers, which combine adventure, suspense and (this is key!) humor.

I now try to keep up with what he's reading so I have at least a working knowledge of what he's enjoying. We go to the library regularly. We spend a small fortune at our favorite bookstore. We he finishes a book and stares at his bookshelf like an open fridge proclaiming he has NOTHING TO READ, I do some research and find a list of books to try. (As I mentioned in the other post: great resources include librarians, bookstores, online reading groups. Google is your BFF here.)

When he does find that cool/awesome/epic book, I ask questions. But only (and this is key too) only when we are doing something else like riding bikes or walking the dog, or shooting hoops in the driveway. If he's doing something else, it doesn't feel like homework...it feels like a casual conversation. And before we know it, he is relaying the cryptic plot of his latest Sci-Fi novel. Sometimes I have no idea what he's talking about. But he's talking! And he's so excited! And if I get lucky, I eventually catch on to a few basic details so I can ask relevant questions.

Sometimes I know the book well, and the conversation turns to wonderfully familiar ground. We fall back on inside jokes. He quizzes me on what kind of demigod I would be and why. He asks me for the thousandth time to name my favorite Harry Potter character. We agree that no matter your favorite character, we all pretty much want to be part of the Weasley clan.

And without even knowing it, without trying too too hard...we've suddenly had a really great, genuine mother-son moment. Very stealthy. Mrs. Weasley would be proud.

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Just as I did with my daughter's book club post, I've included some book ideas for boys. Some of the titles overlap, which is no surprise. Of course there's no such thing as Boy Books and Girl Books...but the following titles have been particularly popular with my son during his early elementary years.

1st/2nd Grade Dragonslayer’s Academy by Kate McMullan Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce Magic Tree House (series) by Mary Pope Osborne Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol Geronimo Stilton (series) by Geronimo Stilton Origami Yoda (series) by Tom Angleberger The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling Amulet (series) by Kazu Kibuishi Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick Guardians of Ga’hoole (series) by Kathryn Lasky Anything by Road Dahl

3rd/4th Grade The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis Holes by Louis Sachar The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart Savvy by Ingrid Law Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (honestly, just go ahead and buy the boxed set because they will read them over and over again for years.) The Wonderful O by James Thurber Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Peter and the Starcatchers (series) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson Platypus Police Squad by Jarrett J. Krosoczka Wonder by R.J. Palacio Love from your friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Wildwood by Colin Meloy A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket Hoot by Carl Hiaasen Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper Anything by Rick Riordan

Must-Have Reference Books for Boys Defending Your Castle by William Gurstelle Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden The Boys’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything by Dominique Enright Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun by Elizabeth Foy Larsen, Joshua Glenn, Heather Kasunick and Mister Reusch