parenthood

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 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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Like this? Share it with a friend! Don't want to miss a thing? Subscribe to my feed! xoxo, Liz

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.

Moving Home

This is our final, crunch week for the home remodeling project that has been consuming our lives for the past year...Hooray! We move in this weekend, just a few days before Thanksgiving...Hooray? Of course I'm so ready to be back in our house, but the holiday timing is not ideal. Or is it?? A few great reasons to move the week of Thanksgiving...

1. You are totally off the hook for all cooking responsibilities. (Sorry family, the pie pans are packed. Hello, Whole Foods!)

2. You have no time to shop or get sucked into Black Friday drama.

3. No need to haul the Christmas tree out of the attic..it's already sitting in the driveway!

4. You already have the gifts that every kid on your list wants anyway...giant, empty cardboard boxes!

Wow, I'm feeling better already.

I have been lax in posting photo updates here, but hopefully you've seen some of the updates on my Instagram feed. Here are a few of those progress photos. There are lots of tweaks and touch-ups happening right now, so I'll post true After shots once we are in and a bit settled. Stay tuned!

 

BEFORE:

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NOW: 2014.10.26.house-30

2014.11.18.house-11

BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-23

NOW: 2014.11.18.house-3

BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-10

NOW: 2014.10.05.house-1

BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-16

NOW: 2014.11.18.house-15

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you! I hope you have a moving-free holiday. Or if you do move, may you enjoy your store-bought pie, canned whipped cream, and cardboard box gifts.

Cheers, Liz

 

 

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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Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.30.49 PM

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

Summer Snapshot pt. 1

It's now half-way through summer and we've hit triple digits here in Austin. I don't even have to look at the thermometer to know for sure, because the clearest sign is that every little thing my family is doing has started to irritate me. Beginning with swiping my stuff every time I turn around. Which is how this came to be... photo 1 copy

And then I realized that even though I'm always happier in the sunshine, I've been finding more and more reasons to stay indoors. Like when this 3-hour reorganizing emergency happened...

photo

I know, I know....PUT THE LABEL MAKER DOWN AND BACK AWAY SLOWLY.

 

In between the obsessive-compulsiveness, we are tossing in some traditional summertime fun.

Like this...

photo 6

And this...

photo 1

And this...

photo 3

Lots of this...

photo 5

And when I'm lucky, some of this...

photo 4

 

But as we know, all play and no work makes for a boring household so I'm also trying to earn the Meanest Mom Ever badge. Exhibit A: insisting that my new 10-year-old finish his birthday thank-you notes while waiting at a doctor's appointment.

photo 7

All in all, it's shaping up to be a great second half of summer. Starting tomorrow we are escaping the heat, heading to the mountains, and leaving the label maker and To-Do lists at home. I'm bringing the camera, of course, so follow me on Instagram and just dare me to come back home from paradise.

 

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Battle cry

2014.06.20.SiblingRevelry-7 Four weeks into the summer and this is what my kids are fighting about:

 

He stole that one awesome LEGO piece that only came in that one awesome set.

She never has to shower first.

He's touching me!

Why won't he let me hug him?

He said he hates broccoli the most but only I do.

He's copying me!

She's ignoring me!

It's my turn to be It.

I always have to be It.

She harvested ALL of my Family Barn wheat and it takes 24 hours to regenerate.

He moved my pencil.

She sat in my chair.

He never walks the dog as often as I do.

He didn't let me find the farting cow on Pictureka.

He threw my favorite torpedo in the deep end.

She always guesses the trivia questions before me.

He smooshed all the silly putty into one big pile and now we can't tell whose is whose.

He keeps unplugging my Kindle from his charger.

She keeps using my Kindle charger and it's not my fault she lost hers.

He called me a brat.

She keeps calling it indigo but it's really blue.

He's humming.

She's smacking.

He's clapping.

He never gets in trouble.

She always gets her way.

They always, always think they're right.

 

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Want more? You might enjoy this one or this one about sibling revelry.

 

 

 

 

The I.O.U.

2014.02.ZenGirl-1 "Mom, I love you. And I'm sorry if I'm being annoying right now."

Actually, you're not being annoying at all.

"Well then I will apologize for the future times when I'm annoying because usually when that happens I don't much feel like apologizing."

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#WhereILivedWednesday: 29th St.

Thank you to my dear friend, Ann Imig, and her monthly link-up for today’s inspiration. You can read more #WhereILivedWednesday stories at Ann’s Rants. 58

Somewhere lost in a box at my Dad’s house, or maybe at this point only burned into my mind, is a photo of my mom taken a few days after she became a mother. She’s standing at their front door in tiny Premont, Texas, holding a swaddled baby--my older brother. She has a gentle smile on her face. Her hair is cut short and it holds her waves perfectly. She wears a simple, lovely dress and maybe even pantyhose and pumps. After all, it was November 1969 and my mom was the kind of woman who wouldn’t show bare legs past Labor Day, even in sunny south Texas.

Beyond that, the details of the photo escape me. But the impression it made on me is unforgettable. Everything about the image said my mother was beginning a brand-new chapter of her life. Unchartered territory, right there on the doorstep.

When I brought home my own first born, I recall being a mess of emotions and exhaustion. My eyes were swollen and achy from 12 hours of squeezing them shut in pain followed by 24 hours of holding them open in awe. Omigod she’s really here, she’s really here. Cannot stop looking at this beautiful thing.

Once we pulled into our driveway, I should have been ready to collapse. Instead, I uncharacteristically set aside vanity and asked my husband to take a photo of me with our new daughter. I wanted to be standing at the front door, cradling my treasure...just like the photo of my mom, but minus the pantyhose.

We lived in that little house for almost four years. It was the first home we owned, the first time we felt like we might actually become grown-ups, even though we painted the outside a bright, playful purple. We spent more hours cultivating that yard and garden than we have spent at all our subsequent homes combined. We hosted outdoor movies in the backyard and dinner parties out of the one-person kitchen. We made sweet friends and great memories on that block.

But the single biggest memory I have of 29th St. is that it was there that I crossed the threshold and became a mother. Today when I look back at photos of our home, I always come back to the front porch. I stare at myself standing there, exhausted and awkward, by the door. And as I have done with so many photos of my own mom, I soak up the details to try to remember who that woman was.

Since then, there have been two more children and a few more front doors. But this one, this was the first, and it opened up a whole new world. A whole new me.

Extracurriculars

2013.10.OwenSoccer-8"Mom, I don't want to play another sport until spring soccer season. I've already got plenty to do, what with my biking, my drawing, my homework, my complaining about homework..." Scheduling is a bitch, eh?