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May 2010 Archives


Picking with Kids

Posted by Patience on May 28, 2010 at 7:08 AM in Family ActivitiesNature
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mother's day6

"Mom, the sky is so blue! It's magical out here mom. Can you see the berries yet?" she said excitedly as we drove out to the strawberry field. I have definitely passed down my love of gathering and picking nature's best off of various trees or from the ground.

We call it "picking season" at my house, which is just as important as football season to some around here. Everyone anticipates it, we talk about it, deciding what and where we are going to pick throughout the season. Each person seems to have their favorite. I love strawberries, Jack loves cherries, Lucy loves blueberries, Josiah loves apples, and the baby is happy to eat all of it from her backpack carrier.

Here are some tips we have collected over many a dreamy picking day.

1. Find the best place. Most farms and orchards allow children to pick but some do not. Pick Your Own is the best website to find out what is close to you and gather all the farm information you might need to know.

2. Go early or late. I have discovered going right when the farm opens or right before closing is the best time to go. It is usually cooler and not as crowded. It is also a nice time to chat with the farmers and learn more about the place you are picking. Most importantly, if you go in the morning you can get the best pickins'.

3. Don't stay too long. Now is not the time to pick 10lbs. of blueberries for your yearly jam making. Go back by yourself for that goodness. You will all have a better time if you don't have a big agenda and are in the moment together.

4. Bring the little extras. Freeze a water bottle to leave in the car which will melt to be nice and cold by the time you get back from the hard work of picking.
Don't forget sunscreen, bug spray and bandaids as someone always seems to trip or get a tiny cut.

5. Include kids in your after picking plans. Decide together what you might want to do with your bounty. Look for recipes and cook together. My kids made some crazy good shortcake a week ago that turned into many a learning lesson about science, math and baking. Kids will be more invested if they have a plan going in.

6. Be the fruit fairy. We often pack some extra ziplock bags or fold some paper boxes to put fruit in and deliver to friends after we are done. Sometimes we leave them on the doorstep and ding dong ditch or take a minute to give them to neighbors and chat. It's always fun for the kids and is a lovely way to teach kids about sharing while building community.

Do you like to go picking with your family? What tips do you have for picking adventures? We'd love to know.


When (Not) Helping Sends the Wrong Message

Posted by Jen on May 26, 2010 at 7:07 AM in behavior
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me and madeleine

It's 9:20 in the morning on a Tuesday, and the texts start rolling in.

Madeleine: mom.

Me: (unaware of my cell phone which I have turned to silent while I'm on another call)

Madeleine: MOM. do u know where my safety patrol belt is?

Me: (still not getting the message)

Madeleine: MOM!!! can u find it and bring it to me right now???????? i have a meeting at 10 and i have to have it. PLEASE!!!

I finally got this strange feeling--was it all the "yelling" in capital letters?--and got up and checked my cell phone. And to be totally honest, reading through those highly punctuated texts, I had mixed feelings.

My normal response to this kind of I-forgot-something hysteria is to reply with something reasonable, executed without excessive emotion (most of the time): I'm sorry, but that sounds like a personal problem. If you want to keep track of your safety patrol belt, I'm happy to help you come up with a system when you get home.

I know, no awards for sensitivity, but it covers the you-have-to-be-responsible-for-your-own-stuff bases nicely, don't you think?

Lately, however, I've been second guessing this hold-the-line approach, mostly because I'm watching Madeleine execute this same style of boundary heavy behavior on Carter and her friends when they are struggling to compensate for their own forgetfulness or normal kid mistakes. I'm watching her deliver these perfectly reasonable speeches about what she's willing to be responsible for (or not) and something inside me starts to cringe.

It's not that I don't want her to master personal responsibility--believe me, I do. I'm just wondering if I'd do her a better service by trying to develop another side of her character in situations like this. What if I dove in more and offered a heavier dose of compassion in addition to a helping hand? Which lesson would be more valuable in the long run? Knowing it's your own fault when you mess up and being willing to absorb all the difficulties that go with that? Or being more aware that when you make a mistake, you can always reach out because someone you love will be there to help you?

I know the answer is somewhere in the happy middle, but recently I've been experimenting with a sharp course correction in the other direction: zero judgment, more assistance and lots of compassion. I'm hoping that this might generate a little bit more connection, the next time someone smaller around here (or bigger!) needs some mercy over not being able to get it together.


Yesterday I decided to give finding the belt an honest effort and when it was nowhere to be found twenty minutes later, I texted back.

Me: Sorry, babe. Not seeing it anywhere. We can look together when you get home.

She was fine with that, and when she got home after school, that's exactly what we did.

I think I'll always be the get-it-together, do-not-complain-to-me-because-you-lost-it kind of hard liner with my kids simply because I do not want to be raising kids who are helpless or irresponsible, but maybe it's okay to also send the message that I'm here to pick up the pieces--especially during those times when our kids are already dealing with the disappointment or shame of not doing well in the first place.

What do you think? Do you run your kids lunches to school when they forget them? Do you drop off the missing gym clothes? Or do you hold the line? I'd like to know.


Surviving Toddlerdom: When Your Baby Gets a Personality

Posted by Kristen on May 24, 2010 at 7:00 AM in behavior
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We gushed on and on about how The Baby was such a good listener. If we had been horrible parents, we may have even said that he listens better than his brothers ever did. You tell him "no," he stops about 75% of the time. That's excellent for a toddler and near perfection for a male toddler.

He would help me find his shoes. He sat pretty quietly when I put his clothes on. There was minimal trouble getting him into his car seat. And then two days ago, all of that changed. Baby Mason woke up with a personality and it was not necessarily a good one. When I don't respond the way he would like me to respond to things, he pinches me or hits me. In fact, he even gets a cranky face so I know to throw up the armor.

He is fourteen months old. He is starting to really talk but our comprehension of what he is saying is not meeting his needs. I can visibly see his frustration at not having his needs met and not understanding what he wants. I'm frustrated because he's lashing out. Here are some ways that we have handled the onset of toddlerdom in the past and tips for surviving it.

Praise is a big motivator. There is a lot of appreciation and positive reinforcement in very loud sing, songy voices in our house. It's annoying to everyone but Mason seems to like it. Sure there are still moments when he runs away with the clicker and hides it or tries to flush rolls of toilet paper down the lav but I have seen an improvement in his overall feisty behavior.

Remember it is age-appropriate behavior. I have a friend who is panicking about her child biting everyone right now. Well, her child is eighteen months old and is still at that stage where she is trying to talk but not everyone is understanding her yet. Her frustration mounts and she bites. My friend has gotten very good at seeing the warning signs and cutting her off at the pass but the 24/7 stress of keeping everyone safe from the biter is wearing her down. I just keep reminding her that in a few months, her baby will be able to communicate better and will be less likely to bite in frustration.

Enlist help
. My children love nothing better than to be in each other's business. I have recently used those tendencies to get a little back up from the older boys. I sat Ethan down the other day and explained to him how Mason was getting bigger and that he watches everything his brothers do all the time. I may have mentioned that if Mason is copying Ethan or Nathan's bad behavior, everyone will get in trouble. Now Ethan is on task to lead Mason in the way of righteousness. He makes sure that everyone is following the rules and he has designated himself as Chief Translator for the Baby (even if he can't understand anything Mason is saying either).

Know your child's limits. Mason gets cranked up when he is tired or hungry or hot. As my friend does with her biter, I try to make sure that I stay ahead of all the basic needs so that everything doesn't come to a head in the worst possible way. It amazes me how much a late lunch can throw all of my children into a tizzy. I'm getting better and so are my kids.

Do you have some tips or tricks to taming the wild bear? Please share.


Connecting with Your Tween

Posted by Patience on May 21, 2010 at 2:00 AM
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dandelion rain5

As soon as our son Josiah turned ten, it seemed like all of the sudden we are in the tween years. I sometimes feel like we are in a dark room looking for the light switch. I keep flipping the wrong switch, but every once in a while I hit one that sheds a new little light. Here are the latest "lights" I have discovered.

1. Get technological. His new cell phone finally came last week after one lemon that had to be sent back and two postal delivery disasters. It's shiny red and fits perfectly in his ten-year-old hand. I thought we were getting him the phone for a measure of safety when we aren't together and convenience for me. I had no idea its greatest value would lie in texting. With an unlimited texting plan, we pretty much text about anything and everything. When he just can't say it, he can text it. I am in serious parent love with my new portal for tween connection.

2. Get down to playing. Just when it seems the Lego love is about to die it comes back to life. There is a push and pull of getting closer to becoming a teenager but still a love of certain types of toys and playing. Sometimes he asks if I want to play, other times I just wander in and sort. Doing something quiet together, side by side, seems to be where it's at. Play is almost always good for everyone's soul.

3. Let him try. New abilities and creative thoughts are flowing big time in our boy's head. They are so big, sometimes I know it might not work out or be possible in the way he has in mind. However, every time I listen and let him try with my support, we are building a mutual trust. His development is yelling to have the opportunity to figure things out on his own.

4. Trade stories and knowledge. I am sure I have now listened to hours of Pokemon training and looked at about a million cards. I've decided which is my favorite and made various art projects based on the little creatures. He loves being the expert, and I get a chance to be the student. Every now and then, when the moment presents itself, I get to tell a story about when I was kid or share something I know a little bit about.

5. Hold me now. The days of holding hands in public are starting to fade, but it doesn't mean he doesn't need to be held. In a mini-breakdown the other day over the pressures of school, I instinctually asked him if I could hold him. He crawled right into my lap like he was two again. Lounging on couches close together, back rubs/scratches, arm around the neck, touch feels more important than ever. I guess we never stop needing it.

If you have a tween at your house, how do you stay connected? How is your relationship shifting and changing?


Celebrating (and Surviving!) Graduation

Posted by Jen on May 19, 2010 at 7:00 AM in behavior
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carter is proud.jpg

We recently celebrated a graduation in our family as Madeleine and Carter watched their dad receive a masters degree in software engineering. This was a huge event in our family and attending the ceremony easily could have been a real disaster as any parent who's ever had to wait with a fidgety child knows.

Here's how the kids survived (and actually enjoyed) one of the most exciting events in recent Lemen history. We hope you find it helpful for you and your kids this graduation season!

Set the tone. Every kid no matter what you might imagine wants his or her parent to know that they are loved and important. I introduced the event to the kids by explaining that this was a really important day that we'd been waiting for as a family for five years and that their presence was the number one gift that could make their dad happy. Though sobered at the prospect of such a long day, they both quickly got on board.

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Prepare your celebrants. There's no child in an America who will cheer when you tell them they'll be sitting in a stadium for four to six hours in the finest dress, but I've found from experience in other waiting situations (airports, long lines) that it's better to be upfront about the challenge than to spring it on them the day of. When we arrived, both kids settled into introvert chill out mode while a lot of the kids around us started to freak out that this would take longer than they thought.

Come prepared. Both kids are avid readers, so we loaded up both Kindles and brought a respectable stack of comic books and some Greek mythology. Don't forget the discreet ziploc full of honey wheat pretzels and the somewhat healthy bar of dark chocolate for myself. I brought wipes for any emergencies and also pads of paper and pens for doodling. We needed every single thing in my bag.

carter with book.jpg
Bend the rules.
There's nothing more annoying to me than a tweenager who is always plugged in to an iPod, but for this big day, I made an exception. No earbuds during the ceremony, but for the two hour wait before, no problem. I also gave Carter unlimited sips from my giant size soda (thankfully snacks were permitted at our event) when normally I would insist on something more nutritious. If I had had little children, you bet I would have uploaded the latest greatest toddler show on my iPhone to keep them occupied during the more challenging moments.

kids with ipod.jpg

Document the experience. I'm a professional photographer, but the lenses in my bag (designed to shoot in dimly lit handmade houses in cramped close quarters) were useless in this situation. I turned my lens on the kids instead, so Dave could see their reactions to what was happening and enjoy after the fact how excited they were to see him achieve this important goal.

carter with smile.jpg

Explain the significance. Dave really wanted the kids to see that there is indeed a rewarding finish to a long academic challenge. He made the day meaningful to them by giving them stoles of appreciation which he presented with heart and soul. Seeing their dad so happy and proud because of an academic achievement is something sure to stay with them for years to come. No doubt they'll reference this accomplishment when embarking on their own.

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One final note: While complaining is normal in situations like this, I asked my kids to direct any grievances to me, not to their dad, on the big day. I explained that sometimes when you are the center of attention and asking people you love to do something that could be considered long or boring that you can start to feel ashamed or vulnerable about being the cause of all the fuss. I told them that it's actually difficult for the person of honor to sometimes really let the love in when they know someone else is being put out.

When I explained that sometimes complaining to the person of honor was one of the number one things that triggers this kind of nervousness, their eyes widened. I told them they could complain to each other or me all day long, but today was the day to spare Dad the moaning and groaning. They really got it. And you know what? They really did not complain after that at all. They rose to the occasion, told me what they needed when they needed it and made the day magic for everyone--including me!

I bet your kids would, too.

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Do you have any tips about graduation success with kids? Feel free to share in the comments below.


Learning About Money

Posted by Kristen on May 17, 2010 at 6:59 AM in Kids and Money
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I turned around and Ethan was five. He was just born so I don't know how that happened. Everyone you know says, "Enjoy them while they are young because they grow up so fast" and every study you ready says that they learn the easiest before turning five.

I'm failing miserably on both ends. I really want to enjoy my kids while they are young but when your day consists of keeping one child from flushing pretty much everything down the toilet and the other two from getting into a light saber fight that ends with someone's eye getting poked out, feeling "enjoyment" may get lost in the mix.

As for filling up your children's brains with absolutely as much as possible until they reach saturation, I'm missing the boat. Luckily for me, Ethan has taken to teaching himself things. Today was about money or "cents" as he was calling it.

E: Momomomomom. What is a cent?
K: It's a penny.
E: Dad offered me 10 cents to help him clean the car and take all the tree branches to the side of the yard. Is that a lot?
K: No. I told you not to accept that. Ugh with your father. Don't get me wrong. Ten cents is nice to have but it isn't much.
E: How about a dollar?
K: A dollar is good. A dollar is 100 cents.
E: WOW! That is a lot.

With that we went through nickels, dimes, quarters and a junk silver peso his father had given him (except I had no idea how much the junk silver peso was worth since you really don't see them in circulation these days in D.C.). Combinations of these coins and those coins. Seeing what we had left when we took some away.

I continued to drag the branches to the back as he asked me the questions. He told me he had a thousand dollars. I looked over and he had $1.25. He asked me how much more he needed for a jet.

K: What kind of jet?
E: A real plane.
K: You want to buy a plane?
E: Yes.
K: Why?
E: So we can fly places. How much more do I need?
K: You could probably get something fairly nice for about $7 million more.
E: Is that a lot?
K: Yes.
E: Dad said he would give me 10 cents. How much more would I need after that.
K: I think it's still safe to say you need about $7 million.

He walked away with a pocket full of money and a very big dream. The nice thing about five years old is that they are really good at asking all the questions they need answered.

Have more questions about your five year old? PBS Parents can help.


Toddlers and Television: Making Sense of the Research

Posted by Patience on May 14, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Media
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tv lucy.jpg

Two new studies have come out in the last few weeks about the effects of television on young children and their later development. You can read about them here and here. I must admit these kind of studies make me dizzy trying to sort them all out, which was why I was so excited to interview David Kleeman, the President of the American Center for Children and Media. He's also an advisor for PBS KIDS.

This is the man who originally wanted to be a preschool teacher, then a children's program producer and somehow ended up at Harvard. David now leads ACCM in "leading the children's media industry in developing child-friendly, sustainable solutions to long-standing and emerging issues."

While talking with David, I enjoyed listening to his stories about his own two daughters who are now grown. I also asked him to help me make sense of toddlers, television and the long term relationship.

So David, it seems like at least once a year a new article rolls in about a new research study that reports a negative impact of TV viewing on very young children. As a parent of four children, two of whom are under the age of five, I must admit the guilt starts flowing every time I read one of these studies. I try to be careful about what my kids watch on TV and believe they are benefiting from watching quality programs. Am I wrong, what's the deal? Don't hold back David, I can take it.

Wow, I'm glad my kids are grown! With all the prescriptive parenting books and the steady flow of studies that say everything you've done is wrong, it's a wonder parents of babies and toddlers aren't paralyzed by fear of doing anything! A colleague and I have talked about writing a "reverse parenting" book -- start with fascinating adults and ask what in their childhood made them who they are today!

In my opinion, you're doing it exactly right. You are setting limits and choosing carefully, and it seems not using the TV as an extended babysitter or background noise. There is good research finding that moderate viewing of educational programming has mid-term and long-term educational benefits. The first studies that come to mind include a longitudinal study of "Sesame Street" and research on literacy gains from "Between the Lions."

I would love to convince all "sides" in this debate to stop making parents feel guilty. Marketers and parenting writers need to avoid suggesting that their way is the only path to brilliance, and researchers and activists need to stop suggesting that any child who passes through the warm glow of a screen is doomed to a seat in the back row, eating paste.

For example, this is the release from the University of Montreal. I'm actually shocked by the editorial tone of the release, which seems determined to reprimand parents -- "parents show poor factual knowledge and awareness of such existing guidelines" and "common sense would have it that TV exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks." I always find this last claim especially grating, as though children's lives are one-dimensional and every moment has to be programmed for learning; this plays straight into the hands of those who market "the answer" to making kids smart.

By the way, I am fine with any family that decides no screen time is the best choice for them; my problem is with people and organizations who advocate that it's the right choice for everyone.

In just the last couple of weeks two new studies have been released, both conducted by researchers in Canada. One says there is a link between time spent watching TV when kids are under five and poor school performance when the kids reach fourth grade. The other says that there is no evidence that one actually causes the other. With such conflicting results, what should we as parents believe?

Parents should remember that, for the most part, research is a process and not a destination. No single study is definitive (red wine is wine is wine is good...) and, because of the complexity of people's lives, it's almost impossible to determine causal relationships in areas like media use and development.

I would say that instead of reading transient research coverage, parents' time would be far better spent reading other parents' reviews of media content -- TV shows, websites, mobile apps, games -- to seek out and preview what might be right for their children's age, developmental stage, needs, interests and abilities.

Did either of the studies consider the quality of the TV programs the kids were watching or whether parents were interacting with the kids during the program? Or were they based solely on time spent watching?

The Montreal/Michigan study did not take content into account at all. The Oklahoma State study (I think this got mistakenly portrayed as Canadian because most of the coverage of it was in Vancouver and Edmonton newspapers!) gave attention to content, discussing the proliferation of platform and programming options for kids and how this changes research assumptions and underpinnings. In the end, however, it looked primarily at time spent with television.

Beyond the obvious reasons why content matters (see my comment below about carrots vs. cupcakes), I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a strong correlation between screen time given to educational programming and parental involvement in children's media habits.

Did the researchers consider the possible impact of such factors as home life or family situation?

Both studies considered an array of societal and family factors. Teasing out these factors was at the core of the Oklahoma State study, which looked specifically for family, parental and child factors that may confound effects attributed to TV.

The Michigan/Montreal study did, as most studies do, try to weed out other economic, social and other factors; however, here's a key sentence from that study: "Preexisting maternal or familial factors predicted television exposure and were consistently related to most of the dependent variables,making them, in addition to sex, essential as controls." To me, this says that the amount of screen time allowed a child doesn't exist in a vacuum; it is related to family needs (if you live in an unsafe neighborhood, TV may be the safest option; if a family is dysfunctional, the child may end up spending more time alone with the screen; if parents are working two jobs trying to make ends meet, they may not be able to afford quality child care). It's easy to see how, in all these cases, the time spend with media is a symptom as is later struggle, instead of the cause.

How would you think the media has done at reporting the results of these studies? Are there a few tips you can share that would help parents read media reports more critically?

Unfortunately, planes that land safely aren't news. "TV makes your kids dumb" is a much more compelling headline than "A limited amount of carefully-chosen programming can contribute to early learning, especially with parental co-viewing." Note that the "TV is harmful" article got far more press play than the "it's not TV; it's parental engagement" story.

I have been distressed that media often print the press release, and don't delve into weaknesses of the study. Some things for parents to watch for in interpreting research.

-Was the sample size large or small -- research on a limited group may suggest direction for further study, but is hard to generalize to the population.
Was the study based on an observable behavior or on parental recollections or estimates.

-Did the study find "correlation" or "causation" -- almost 100% of serial killers drank milk as children (correlation); however, milk drinking does not lead to murder (causation).

-Did the study take content into account -- carrots and cupcakes both count as food intake, but wouldn't have the same result as a dietary staple.

-Did the research factor in environmental elements like socio-economic status, parental education, parental co-viewing and overall involvement with the child, and so on -- what the child brings to the television is at least equal to what the child takes away. One area where this is particularly salient is studies linking screen time and later ADHD -- perhaps parents of toddlers who show patterns suggesting ADHD allow more TV because it calms or focuses the child?

Every child's life is unique. This is what makes it virtually impossible to tease apart the factors in success or struggle later in life, and what guides my pragmatic belief that parents -- with best intentions -- develop practices that work for their lives.

The Oklahoma State study that found turning off the TV didn't affect learning unless parents also got involved in their kids' lives, is for the most part quite readable and a good discussion of strengths and weaknesses of previous studies. I also highly recommend Lisa Guernsey's book, "Into the Minds of Babes" as a guilt-free, informative parenting and media overview.

One last thought on journalistic coverage, and public reading, of research: it's not just media-related studies. I think we all need to become more research-literate, to be able to read critically through coverage of opinion polling and scientific studies.

The reality is that most preschoolers I know are going to watch TV, particularly when they have older brothers and sisters as is the case in my house. What advice can you give parents like me to insure that their kids' TV viewing experience is good and positive for everyone?

When it comes to food, I'm a fan of Michael Pollan's mantra, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." I'll shamelessly steal it for children and media use: "Allow media. Not too much. Mostly educational." Don't use screen time as the default activity, but pick programs (and games or websites or mobile apps) and set guidelines on when and how much.

Just as I (probably you, too) sometimes want to watch a thoughtful documentary and sometimes want to watch "Glee," kids want and deserve fun time. If they have a favorite TV show or game that is not explicitly designed for learning (everything is educational - the question is what it's teaching), that's just fine!

I'm also a strong believer that you don't have to like everything your children watch, but you should respect it. If your child finds a program or game that is in conflict with your family's values, then sit down and explain why you choose not to allow it.

Mediating between younger and older siblings is difficult. The older ones may be ready for stories or content that are beyond the youngest. That's when a VCR or DVR (Tivo) comes in very handy -- help your older kids feel special by making viewing time just for them when the younger ones are napping or playing elsewhere.

When David isn't leading a roundtable discussion on what proposals, policies or practices concerning children's media might emerge during the Obama Administration, chances are you will find him running somewhere, anywhere. He's probably getting ready for his 15th marathon.

Be sure to check out our own guide and information here on to help you become informed about the impact of television on the young children in your house.

What do think about young children and television? What rules, guidelines or practices do you follow at your house?


Good Enough

Posted by Jen on May 12, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Raising Girls
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Self-Portrait by Madeleine

I recently went to Uganda, where I spent endless hours plowing through red tape and bureaucracy to help two daughters, ages 12 and 15, obtain the documents they needed to be reunited with their mother here in the United States. When I left, I told my kids I wasn't sure exactly when I was coming back, but that I hoped it wouldn't be more than two weeks. I have traveled a lot over the last year working on a photography project, so I knew my kids were used to me being gone. Plus, I knew they were in excellent hands with our community of neighbors and friends and their father (aka Super Dad). Still, not knowing what it would take to reunite this family was weighing on me. In the back of my mind I was hoping my kids wouldn't hate me in the end for putting the needs of these other children ahead of their own.

As parents we're always working this equation, right? Your children's needs vs. what work needs. Your children's needs vs. what your partner needs. Your children's needs vs. what the house needs. And let's not forget, your children's needs vs. what you need. Sometimes it seems like there isn't enough of what everyone needs to go around, and we worry as parents that are kids will be scarred for life if we get the balance wrong.

I once had an older mom friend who suggested that I reconfigure the right answer to this math problem. Instead of going for 100% needs met at all times for everyone everywhere, she suggested I take an eraser to that penciled in figure and write "good enough". This seemed scandalous to me, since at the time I parented my babies and toddlers under the "over and beyond" is better than the "good enough" rubric.

As I've grown up over the years along side of my kids, I've been forced to reconsider the wisdom of her advice. I know in new and humbling ways that I cannot do it all. I'm gambling that fulfilling my own hopes and dreams will take a big burden off my kids who might be compelled in later years to complete my unfinished business in life. I'm hoping that making space for my own life work is making space for them to consider their own. And you better bet, I have my fingers crossed that "good enough" parenting will be good enough when my kids are running their childhoods under the microscope when they arrive fully awake in their early twenties.

On Sunday, not too long after my two week trip to Uganda stretched into a grueling three, Madeleine presented me with a beautiful handmade card. Neither one referenced the ways that I've taken care of her physical needs or been a steady presence or worked tirelessly on her behalf (three failings I'm tempted to write in the "not good enough" column), but her loving words convinced me that maybe, just maybe, choosing to live a life with a larger purpose might be "good enough".

With her permission, I'd like to share her poem with you. I'm sure I'll be clinging to it for dear life through the inevitable storms of girlhood, but for now, these kind words (and all the ways we all try to do our very best at loving and at parenting) feel like more than enough.

The Most Important Thing
by Madeleine

The most important thing about my mom is that she cares.
She is the person I wake up for in the morning.
She lights up our lives like a dozen fireflies floating around in an open field.
She is loved beyond anything she can imagine.
She brings people together in a way so beautiful no photo, painting or word can describe.
She can solve any problem with the blink of an eye.
She loves people with no hesitation, thought or reason.
She doesn't know it, but they love her, too.
But the important thing about my she cares.


Letting Go of the Little Things in Parenting

Posted by Kristen on May 10, 2010 at 6:24 AM in Family Activities
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I watched them as they surged ahead down the row, picking as fast as they could. Someone had deserted The Baby just behind me and I turned around to see him eating a green strawberry. I tried to point out the red ones, but he didn't really care.

I know that the stems of strawberries are bad for you and I'm guessing the green strawberries aren't at the top of the great list. I thought about googling on my phone to see if they were poisonous but then I got caught up again in picking.

I heard a shout from down the aisle and I looked up to see boys with half-filled pails and a dad making great progress. This was odd since I looked down in my pail and I had only managed to find eight berries. It was at that exact moment that I realized what I was missing.

I turned to check on The Baby and he had a stem hanging out of his mouth. I snatched it out, promised to return and then ran down the aisle. I looked into the pails. My fears were realized. There were three pails full of strawberries with green tips. I looked at my husband with a glare and he blinked back a "whaaah?" I asked how they tasted. He said they were just okay. I mentioned that perhaps the ones that were ripe were better. He laughed.

I did what any self-respecting mother would do. I played the Mother's Day card.

K: Why don't you guys go play in those wagons over there while I pick? And can someone dig the green strawberries out of The Baby's mouth?

I'll admit I was a little worried about all the green-tipped strawberries because I was fairly certain that this was the field that charged $5 a pound of strawberries and that is a LOT of money for unripe strawberries. I said nothing to the offenders but everyone wandered off to play while I worked.

The weather was a gorgeous 60 degrees with sunny skies and I looked over to see Derek pulling all three boys in a wagon at the edge of the field. They were laughing excitedly and before long I had a fair amount of strawberries in my pail. I took them up to pay and realized with relief that they were $1.90 a pound instead of the $5 I feared.

I was glad I had decided to embrace the moment instead of giving a lecture about following rules and listening to your mother on Mother's Day. And those strawberries? They will make great sorbet tomorrow.


My Mother's Hands

Posted by Patience on May 7, 2010 at 7:35 AM in Mother's Day
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she held me too

"She held me like that too, a long time ago," I said to my own little girl sitting on my lap.
"That's Marmie and me. She held you when you were a little girl like me?" Lucy asked.
"Yep, she did," I answered.
"We are friends, Marmie and me," she said as if to end our conversation by stating the obvious, while I stared at those chubby hands rested on hers.

Hands that made many a ham and cheese sandwich because she never cared for peanut butter and jelly so much.

Hands that scrubbed many a kitchen counter, sink and floor so clean you could eat off of them.

Hands that prepared 1324 side dishes for every holiday, because in the end, it is all about the side dishes, especially green bean supreme.

Hands that would go through her "papers" until the wee hours of the morning the night before a big trip, because it was the perfect time to go through the stack that had been sitting there for over a month. Motivation strikes at the craziest moments I guess.

Hands that took thousands of pictures over the years and made 57,000 photo buttons for your school cheerleading squad fundraiser (and listened to cheers ad nauseum in the kitchen).

Hands that French braided hair over and over again, maybe everyday in the summer of 1996 when I worked with kids everyday and was petrified of getting lice.

Hands that made 200 jars of strawberry jam for my favors for my completely do-it-yourself wedding.

Hands that helped me give my chubby baby a bath in the sink when I lived with her in between a big move to a new city.

Hands that have held other peoples hands as they died and that held even tighter to those of the people who loved them.

Hands that are worn, a little tired, and say so much about how to care and love. Hands that know just how to move and create. Hands that have held many a heart. My mother's hands...

What are you holding for your children this Mother's Day? What have your mother's hands held or done for you over the years? We would love to hear your stories in the comments.

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