girls will be girls

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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The Club pt. 2

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 9.35.16 AM A few months ago I wrote about the book club I share with my 11-year-old daughter and the countless gifts it has given back to both of us. The club keeps my daughter connected to friends who share her passion for stories, and it keeps me connected to my child and a wonderful group of tweens.

Since the essay ran, I was thrilled to see The Huffington Post pick up the story and even more flattered to receive emails from readers looking for suggestions on starting a club of their own. I’m happy to share what we have learned! Just as with any endeavor, there are a million ways to organize it, but the following path has worked for our club.

STARTING OUT Enlist a few leaders. We have three Book Moms who are the primary organizers. We rotate houses each month and share responsibilities for reading the books, planning discussion questions and bringing snacks. We also pick the books (more to come on that). Even though we welcome any of the moms to join us at meetings, typically it’s just the three of us. I’ve heard of other book clubs that are true mother-daughter activities (with every mom and daughter attending together), but our goal from the beginning was to focus on the girls and their relationships. As a result, it’s the girls’ book club, but we three leaders happen to reap some pretty great mother-daughter rewards with our own girls. We also decided that a full mother-daughter club would change the vibe significantly. It would be easy for the meeting to turn into a social hour with so many adult friends. We also know that some of our girls specifically request that their moms do not crash book club. It's their club, thankyouverymuch.

As for the club size, we try to keep the group no larger than about 12 girls. Any more and it gets unwieldy.

Our group began when the girls were in 2nd grade. I love that we started so early because it gave them a common thread of friends throughout their years at our large elementary school. At this age, you typically have a wide variety of readers (reading levels, stamina, attention span.) To address that, we picked two books a month: one easy and one challenge book. Everyone read at least one book; some read both. By 4th grade, we cut back to reading only one (longer) book each month.

Every August we set up the schedule and then meet monthly from September to May, usually making the December and May meetings half meeting and half party.

PICKING BOOKS The first year we asked the girls to vote each month on a new book, but we quickly found it hard for families to plan on such short notice. Now the three Book Moms decide the list for the entire year so families have time to borrow/buy the books and the girls have time to finish them.

We get our books ideas from all over: We take suggestions from the girls, poll our favorite librarians and booksellers, look at the Texas Bluebonnet Award list (an annual list of recommended books for Texas grade schoolers), scroll through Amazon and see what comes up as “related books,” browse sites like Goodreads, and visit Facebook groups devoted to reading recommendations.

We are fortunate that the moms in our club are wonderful and trusting of our book decisions. It helps that we are all friends, so there is a certain ease when talking about which books are appropriate for the club. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but as our girls enter middle school we know that the books will only get more mature and complex. For now, we have kept the controversial books out of the mix. (For example, we didn’t read The Hunger Games or the Divergent series for the club, although many of the girls read them on their own. Now some girls are stretching into true YA territory with books like The Fault in Our Stars, and we need to adapt our approach accordingly.)

STRUCTURING MEETINGS Usually all the Book Moms read the book, but the host is the one who also prepares the discussion questions. The discussion questions don’t need to be highbrow, academic efforts. In general, you can’t go wrong with: What did you like/dislike, what did you learn, what did you relate to? And this site is a great place to start for questions that fit almost any novel.

I also love to ask questions that tie back to the author. Questions that help the girls think like writers. What questions do you have for the author? Why did the author write it this way? What did the writer have to research before writing this book?

As a mother, you may need to learn to bite your tongue during some of the discussions. Of course the girls get off track, sometimes have lame answers, or maybe don’t get excited about a book. Follow their lead...Some books encourage lively conversation and some are a total bust. Don’t be afraid to say, “Wow, nobody LOVED this book. Why is that? How does it compare to others you loved? What would you have done differently if you were the author?

Our goal is to keep the vibe upbeat and casual, but still focused. This translates into a 90-minute meeting on a Sunday afternoon, with 30 minutes of book discussion and an hour of snack and backyard play.

We don’t keep a log or notes during the meetings, but at the end of the year we take a poll to ask which books they liked best and why.

At the close of every meeting we leave time for the girls to recommend any other books they are reading. This has turned into a favorite part of the meeting because the girls, avid readers every one of them, share books they adore. They gush. They try to summarize without spoiling. They draw comparisons to other books and try to wow the other girls with their descriptions. Basically they have time to geek out about something they really love. Can you ask for anything better in a club?

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If your daughter is in a book club now, or you start one with her, I would love to hear from you! What works for y'all? What books have you loved? Share any and all of it here!

P.S. Since writing this post, I added a boy-specific list here. Enjoy!

BOOK SUGGESTIONS As an inspiration or jumping off point, I've included our club's reading list from the past four years. Happy reading!

2nd Grade At this age, the girls read two books a month (one easy, one challenge book). Sometimes the parents read the challenge books to the girls.

Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Bloom Judy Moody (series) Megan McDonald The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo Happy New Year's Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney Matilda by Roald Dahl Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye Black Beauty by Anna Sewell Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder Charlotte's Web by E.B. White A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis Ramona (series) by Beverly Cleary The Magic Treehouse (series) by Mary Pope Osborne

3rd Grade Again, we paired shorter books with longer books. Several of these books were on their school Bluebonnet list so they wanted to read them to earn the award.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Koningsburg Christopher Mouse by William Wise 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit by Joan Carris Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt Smarter Than Squirrels (Down Girl and Sit) by Lucy Nolan and Mike Reed The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Curtis The Book Store Mouse by Peggy Christian Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park Squirrels World by Lisa Moser Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer Love From Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

4th Grade Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume

5th Grade The Rising Star of Rusty Nail by Lesley M.M. Blume Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass Wildwood by Colin Meloy Red Thread Sisters by Carol Peacock Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes by Katherine Rue The Egypt Game by Zilpha Snyder The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Other 4th/5th Grade suggestions from the girls (so many good books, so little time) Chains (Seeds of America) by Laurie Anderson Holes by Louis Sachar The Velvet Room by Zilpha Snyder Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Peterson Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Cold Cereal by Adam Rex Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf The Changeling by Jenkins and Fabry Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary The Grace Mysteries by Lady Grace Cavendish Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm

The club

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When I originally offered to help with my daughter’s first book club, it was as a simple show of support for my 7-year-old bookworm. Flash forward 4 years and nearly 50 books later, the club has become one of the most valuable volunteer gigs of my parenting career.

Our group was started in 2nd grade by a friend whose daughter devours books as quickly as mine. We had 15 or so girls, a wide range of reading levels, and an abundance of little-girl energy. We experimented with a few formats and settled on a simple model that continues today: Monthly meetings last 90 minutes and include, in this order, book talk, snacks and outside play. Over the years, as the basic model holds steady, our discussions keep growing and changing along with the maturing girls.

In 2nd grade we read classics like The Secret Garden and Matilda alongside Judy Moody and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Third grade introduced us to authors Wendy Mass and E.L. Koningsburg. By 4th grade, the girls were eager for more complex, coming-of-age stories and we found those in books such as Escape Under the Forever Sky and Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters. The Book Moms got to vote too, and because we had all grown up with Judy Blumes on our nightstands, we insisted on Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. That book led to our longest and liveliest meeting to date. We started by encouraging the girls to get all their giggles out (Because c’mon “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!” is still hilarious.) By the time we all finished talking we had covered friendship dynamics, religion and the tricky business of growing up.

This year, the 5th graders read hefty and adventurous novels like Wildwood and books by repeat authors so we could compare and contrast the stories. Through the magic of old-fashioned networking, we paired up with In This Together, a girl-focused publisher, and were given advance copies of a book, plus the chance to skype with its author. Katherine Rue, author of the new Carly Keene Literary Detective series, spent 30 minutes with us discussing her mystery book, and it was as if we had a rockstar in our midst. During the author Q & A, my favorite question came from an astute 10-year-old: “Is Carly Keene a nod to Caroline Keene, author of Nancy Drew?” These smart girls don’t miss a thing.

Over the years, we’ve tried to teach them how to fairly discuss a literary work, and how to appreciate a story’s features even if you didn’t adore the whole book. But our main goal has always been much simpler: to give them a safe space to talk about books. No multiple choice questions, no right or wrong answers, no grades. The other moms and I have become pros at the Curious Nod and the Noncommittal Hmmm. “Good point! Why do you think the author wrote it that way?”

Though our membership has shifted a little over the four years, the consistency of the group has been a solid thread throughout their elementary school years, which I now realize was so critical and grounding considering the size of our large public school. And if I ever doubt whether the girls enjoy book club, I will remember this: When the 5th graders were assigned in class to write their own obituary, one girl described how, after becoming an artist, surgeon and best-selling author, she retired and “spent time painting and attending book club with her childhood friends.” Is there any better testament than that?

As for me, it’s always been about more than just great books. The books, and the book club talks, have become launchpads for continued conversations at home. I’ve found that it’s nice to know who Katniss is, but it’s even better to know Cornelia, Prue and Calpurnia, and why these characters made such an impression on my daughter.

The success of the book club also reminds me to be the kind of mother I want to be: the kind who follows her child’s lead and lets her child’s passions dictate how she spends extracurricular time. The kind of mother who happily handles the logistics and structure required to make things like book club happen, knowing that it always takes some legwork to support any kind of valuable experience. The kind of mother who, after all that active doing, is then able to sit back and just listen. The kind of mother who isn’t intimidated by letting the girls, and their conversations, unfold organically from there.

I will need these reminders for the teen years ahead. If the 5th grade chattering is any indication, we are nearing uncharted territory as the girls find increasingly complex books to fill their growing minds and insatiable appetites.

I don't know what the coming years hold for my daughter and I, but I do believe that books will help us survive it. I’ve promised to be there, as long as she will have me, reading along beside her.

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Updated on 8/19/14

Want inspiration and tips on starting a book club for your own child? I've got a couple posts to help you out...

The Club pt. 2 and Boys Allowed

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Speaking of books and moms...I am thrilled to be giving away a copy of Moms are Nuts, a hilarious collection of essays about having a mom (not being a mom). It features an outstanding ensemble of writers, including Emmy winners, magazine editors, comedians, TV personalities, bestselling authors and social media superstars. Get ready to laugh and to give thanks that your own kids haven't found a publisher for their stories. Yet.

To win a copy of the book, leave a comment (about books, your awesome mom, or whatever is on your mind) and I will pick a random commenter on Monday 5/5 at 5pm Central Time).

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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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Need more zen in your life? Subscribe here! And if you were a subscriber before, please resubscribe...not everything transferred during my site's makeover. Thanks so much, y'all!

The intern

2013.10.13.dailylife-2519Overheard at the office... Mom, I'd like to discuss my terms and conditions.

Meaning...?

Meaning even though I'm an exceptional daughter, I'm doing this for extra money.

$5 an hour. Mostly filing, sorting, labeling, that sort of thing.

What about sick days and vacation?

You're a freelancer, sweetheart.

Dang.

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Unscientific Method

2013.01.ScienceFair-1Problem:Is it possible for parents to help their child with her first Science Fair project without having a nervous breakdown?

Hypothesis: No. Considering the combined parental baggage of perfectionism, overly optimistic time management skills, three kids, two jobs, and various other non-optional duties such as grocery shopping and showering.

Procedure:

  • Start early!
  • Make a plan!
  • Buy adorable radish seeds and potting soil!
  • Pat yourself on the back about how relaxed you both have been and how your child is doing this TOTALLY ON HER OWN, just like she’s supposed to!
  • Realize the night before the project is due that your child types at a speed of approximately two words per minute and even though she OWNS THIS PROJECT, she must please for the love of God let me type something, anything, just tell me what to type to get this freaking show on the road.
  • Walk away and let her type.
  • Pour some tea.
  • Wait for reinforcements, who in this case is your Knight in a Shining Elvis T-shirt.
  • Cook dinner.
  • Wash dishes.
  • Make lunches.
  • Tuck siblings into bed.
  • Cross fingers.

Results: Return to find a dining table covered in poster board, paper clippings, double-sided tape, photos, markers and charts...right alongside a beaming child.

Conclusion: This scientist was wrong. It can absolutely be done, just not without the patience of a saint and the spirit of the King.

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Liked this? Here's an oldie but goodie you might enjoy!

Thank you?

photoMom! I love that new shirt! Thanks, sweetie.

You know Mom, I love how you dress. And I love that you aren't too pretty to be a Mom. I mean, all frou-frou and what not. Your style is...what's the word I'm looking for?

Cool?

No, that's not it. Give me a minute...

I mean, seriously

Things that are "RIDICULOUS" to a precocious 10-year-old girl:

• Dad standing outside the shower telling me to hurry up. I am hurrying! • Every single boy in the 4th grade. Except maybe two of them. • In that Backyardigans episode my little brother watches, the Olympians are playing basketball when the sport wasn't even INVENTED until like the 1890's • Bedtime rules on school nights • That Mom and Dad always know when I sneak candy • Peanut butter • Girls who go nutso over 1D. I mean, I love their music but really? • My brothers and all their wrestling • Pirates • When I can't stay up as late as I want to read. It's reading! It's educational! • With the word moist you pronounce the t, but with moisten you don't • Crying and whining totally works for my little brother • Watching Star Wars for the bazilliionth time because my brothers got to pick • I can't have a playdate today when I NEVER EVER see my friends • Pancakes without bacon • Mom's no-soda rule • That one lady on Design Star • Mom and Dad telling me not to nitpick • That casual attire doesn't always means Nike shorts and a T-shirt • People in the world who haven't read the Harry Potter series a million times • Pretty much every pair of clean socks in my drawer

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You likey? This is the third in a mini-series. Check out the ANNOYING and BORING things here!

10 Truths About Hosting Your Daughter's First Slumber Party

1. If tears are not shed the week before the party, you aren’t trying hard enough. If your daughter is old enough for a slumber party, you are experienced enough to know the emotional build-up to any birthday is a tragic, unavoidable reality. This is particularly true for monumental celebrations (Hello, remember your 40th?)  and especially brutal when a party warrants you to kick the husband and boys out of the house and invite a pack of girls to arrive in their place.

2. Everything must be perfect and fabulous. Chances are, you and your daughter will disagree on these definitions, but often that can help bring on the necessary pre-party tears. (Win win!) Stand your ground, wherever it may be. (My personal strategy is to fall somewhere between “Yes to the 12 kinds of sprinkles but No to the rented photo booth.”)

3. You will need a wingwoman. Preferably someone who complements and balances you out. Someone who can apply makeup, make impromptu microphones out of aluminum foil and spatulas, laugh loudly with you, and repeat quietly, “It’s fine. It’s fine....”

4. Speaking of makeup, you will need to stock up on new kits and sharpen your application skills. The natural golds and browns that fill your bathroom cabinets will have no place at this party. There will be two kinds of girls: those who want the dark, smokey eyes and those who want the bright, colorful ones. Watch out for the girls who pick the smokey eyes. Danger lurks in the shadows.

5. When the party is in full swing, there should be plenty of thumping music, but no lectures. Make peace with that right now. Even if you think you have an open mind about your daughter’s taste in music, nothing prepares you for the moment when a favorite (uncensored) song comes on and every girl belts out bitch without missing a beat. (Insert your wingwoman: “It’s fine. It’s fine....”)

6. The dancing will be silly and fun and campy for approximately 12 seconds, until a few girls (always the smokey-eyed ones) will whip out their best gyrations, hair flips and pouty looks. You will shoot photos, laughing casually and then uneasily. When one girl’s hip-shaking move turns into a come-hither, crawling-on-the-floor maneuver, you might need to leave the room and pour yourself a glass of wine. No shame in knowing your limits. (“It’s fine, it’s fine....”)

7. It is usually around this point of the party that the flash-backs/flash-forwards begin. Every moment from middle school and high school will come rushing back to you. Every sleepover, every awkward cotillion party, every Lucky Star line dance. You will see The Breakfast Club stereotypes appear before you and you will instinctively know which girl jumping on your hearth, or lounging on your couch, or contriving her body on the floor will be the Molly Ringwald, the Ally Sheedy, the Anthony Michael Hall. The future is now.

8. As the evening comes to a close, you will have to abandon your Fun Mom facade for your That Mom uniform. You might start with, “Ok, girls, seriously time to go to sleep...” and then move to “If I come out here again...” but at some point you likely will find yourself standing silently in the dark, arms crossed, hovering over a pile of sleeping bags, your mere presence threatening even the slightest giggle. If you get here without tears, you will know you have arrived. You have earned yet another Mom Badge. Wear it proudly until morning.

9. The day after is always The Day After. Both you and your daughter will be hungover like you haven’t felt since 1993. Sleep deprivation, sugar overload, post-party depression, you name it. Consider this a mental dehydration that no amount of gatorade or grease can cure. The only guaranteed solution? Trash TV and time.

10. With time will come recovery. Just like the days and weeks following childbirth, you will forget the pain and enjoy a simple nostalgia. You will wonder what the big deal was after all. Enjoy the delusions for a while because next year, mark my words, the party will be omigod even bigger and better!!

Look again

What you should know about this photo:

1. This scene happens every single day around here.

2. I feel something new every time I look at it: joy, admiration, empathy, gratitude, love. And today: jealousy.

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Like this? You might like these too. My kids have a knack for teaching me something new about mothering, focusing or injecting playfulness in an ordinary moment.

Inheritance

In the process of my New Year cleaning and organizing extravaganza, I came across a beloved photo that my grandmother gave me many years ago. It is truly one of my most treasured gifts from her. More than any piece of jewelry, china or clothing she left behind, this one photo speaks volumes about the spirited woman I adored.

In case you can't read her handwriting...

Irene was perched on a snow bank so prissy. Leola was fixing to take her picture. You can see my foot and hand where I came over and pushed her over. I wouldn't take anything for this one--and Irene would give me anything for it.

How hilarious is that??

Zen Parenting

Tomorrow night, my angel will adjust her wings and fly toward something she has been dreaming about for six years. The first time I took her to The Nutcracker, I shrugged off the "you're taking a 3-year-old to do what?" comments, pulled out our holiday finery and loaded up my purse with peppermint bribes. She made it almost two hours before needing a mint and has been hooked ever since.

My Doodlebug is an unusually disciplined student, and I often wonder how her life will play out, what she will pursue, and how I will help shape the person she becomes. We parents can only do so much, I know, but yet we can do so much. A little food for thought as our children twirl and leap toward their futures...

Happiness is Contagious

If you always compare your children’s abilities to those of great athletes, entertainers, and celebrities, they will lose their own power. If you urge them to acquire and achieve, they will learn to cheat and steal to meet your expectations.

Encourage your children’s deepest joys, not their superficial desires. Praise their patience, not their ambition. Do not value the distractions and diversions that masquerade as success. They will learn to hear their own voice instead of the noise of the crowd.

If you teach them to achieve they will never be content. If you teach them contentment, they will naturally achieve everything.

We all want our children to be happy. Somehow, some way today show them something that makes you happy, something you truly enjoy. Your own happiness is contagious. They learn the art from you.

~William Martin’s The Parent’s Tao Te Ching

On Being Nine

Last week my oldest child, my only daughter, my Doodlebug, turned nine.

The event was met by the usual sugary celebrations, giggling girls and adorable handmade cards. We pulled out the red You Are Special Today plate and reminisced about all eight birthday parties that came before. Then we stretched the bedtime rules so I could tell her the long version of where I was and how I felt the moment she came into the world and made me a mother.

And it was almost exactly how we spend every birthday around here. In the best sense of the word: routine.

Yet, there are significant changes brewing. With the dawn of this last single-digit birthday, I am seeing glimpses of a fresh, uncharted era.

My daughter, she is growing up. She is proudly developing skills and talents to call her own. She is building trusted and loving friendships. She is becoming a delightful conversationalist and confidante.

She is also mastering the eye-roll, testing boundaries, and nit-picking my every statement like an over-eager law student. There are moments when she makes it easy to believe she will become a teenager in only a matter of years.

Though she saves her most brazen attitudes for home, my daughter is learning to speak her truths outside the nest. One day she mentioned talk of Popular Girls at school—that cringe-worthy phrase that I knew would come up eventually—but she matter-of-factly explained that she had no interest in chasing that label. She was a Smart Girl, she told me, and quite happy to stay that way.

Last week, as 8 years turned to 9, she started embellishing her signature with Amazing preceding her name. So now anyone who reads her letters, nametags, notebooks or artwork will know how amazing she is. See, there it is. In writing.

And I totally get it. I have been exactly there.

When I was nine, I took to signing my name Elizabeth the Great. Just like my daughter, this signature adorned every piece of paper I touched. Apparently my teachers condoned it. My mother, she encouraged it. That year Mom pulled out her sewing machine and made me a turquoise denim jacket. Down one sleeve, in colorful iron-on letters, she put Elizabeth. Down the other: the Great.

Let me tell you, I wore that jacket with gusto.

A year after the turquoise jacket was born, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We would soon find out that her condition fell into the worst possible category. Her disease would be steady and irreversible. There would be no remission, no turning back, no magic bullet.

By the time I was 11, my mother was confined to a wheelchair and quickly losing her sight. She retired from her roles as Book Club Leader and Girl Scout Mom. My father's job moved us 300 miles across the state.

Somewhere in those couple of dark and foggy years, I outgrew the jacket and dropped my Great alias.

And along the same time, I shed some of my boldness. My steadiness and self-confidence wavered. Who can say if this change was all circumstantial or if I just realized there was a world beyond my own ego. Perhaps maturity would have shined its light on my bravado regardless of my family life. I don’t really know.

I do know this: 30 years later, when I think about my moments of personal power, I think of being nine. I think of that jacket and my audacious nickname. I think about how I owned my story and the image of myself I wanted to create. Even amidst the rules and expectations set by loving and devoted parents, I was once a 9-year-old who felt like she could do and be anything.

I am fast approaching my 40th birthday, and even still, every time I try something new or take a leap of faith, or need a jolt of self-confidence, I call upon my 9-year-old self. I wrap myself up in the memory of a girl strutting around in a turquoise denim jacket, brandishing her nickname and all the power it promises.

So here is my hope for this year, as my daughter begins her ninth year and I leave behind my thirties…I will find a symbolic jacket to share with her. I will tell her that yes, I believe she deserves her Amazing nickname but most important, that I’m glad she believes it herself.

I will pray that she holds on to her rising confidence and learns to shape it into something creative and compassionate. I will hope that no matter how her life changes, that the jacket I give will fit her long after nine.

Wishes

A recent cleaning frenzy uncovered more than just old toys and dried-up markers. I found some musings from my budding writer, written when she was 5 or 6 years old.   

I don't think I have to explain how these flip-flopped my heart. I will say this: I have a few wishes of my own for my sweet girl.

I wish that your every wish comes true, Doodlebug, and that you never stop dreaming and never stop striving. You will go so far, I just know it. And someday, when you climb that rainbow, I promise to be right there beside you, smiling as big as the sun.

Infestation

For the last few months we've been dealing with a series of fun household issues that happened in exactly this order:

1.) a Mama possum decided to sublease the crawlspace underneath our house, without asking first. She moved in just in time to nest and give birth to 5 babies. 2.) We hired some nice gentlemen to relocate this family to another home. These men swore that "home" was not a euphemism. 3.) We never heard from the family again, but they were gracious enough to leave behind a farewell gift: fleas. 4.) Our hyper-allergic, 13-year-old dog became infested with the farewell gift. 5.) I lost my ever-loving mind. 6.) We had the entire house and yard bombed with who-knows-what. 7.) We sighed with relief and got back to our lives. Until...Zoe the dog got an awful stomach bug and we learned that she was, once again, covered in a shitload of fleas.

That brings us to yesterday, when I had to pile all three kids PLUS a geriatric, flea-riddled, diarrhea-prone dog into the car to make a trip to the vet. Imagine my enthusiasm! Once home, and with $200 worth of advice and pills, I had the following conversation.

"Mom, is Zoe going to be ok?" Doodlebug asked.

"Yes, she will be fine. It's just a stomach thing and we've got the pest guys coming out again tomorrow."

"Is this our fault, Mom? Did we not take care of her well enough and that's why she's sick?"

Isn't she a little young to feel mama guilt??

"We are doing the best we can, sweetie. And no, it's not our fault--this just happened, that's all. A series of unfortunate events. Think about it...is it my fault every time you get a sore throat?"

She smiled.

"Doodlebug...the words you're looking for are "No, of course not Mom!"

The understudy

I was cleaning out a pile of papers yesterday and found a note I had jotted down after a conversation with Doodlebug. It was dated 2009, when she was 6 years old.  I remember we had been cuddled up reading It's Not the Stork, which I bought after her repeated and increasingly detailed questions about the birds and the bees.

"Mom, the sex part is kinda weird."

Yeah, it's a little weird. You're supposed to think it's weird because you are a kid, but when you grow up you'll think differently.

"What about younger grown-ups...you know, who aren't married? Do they think it's weird?"

They are thinking about it (um, a lot) and some (ok, most) of them are having sex. We will keep talking about this as you get older, but right now you should know that sex is a very special thing that people do when they are old enough and in love.

"Well I'm definitely going to do it someday because I want to be a Mommy."

And you will make a great one, sweetie, because you are so loving and big-hearted. You take such good care of your brothers and cousins.

"And because I pay attention to everything you do...so I'm learning to be a Mommy."

(Gulp) That makes me want to be the best Mommy I can be.

"Good, then I can be the best too."

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Speaking of parenting skills...I had the privilege of hearing Brené Brown speak last night about the gifts of imperfect parenting and I was completely blown away. Truly.  She was engaging, funny and wise. I am still trying to absorb everything I heard and can't wait to dive into her new book. I swear, even if you're not a parent, she has something to teach you.