I had the honor of attending the EVO Conference this last week with the amazing Jeannine Harvey from PBS. Most of the time, I'm the kind of conference attendee who hides out in her hotel room, not feeling quite up to noise and crowds, but this gathering was much different. I was so happy to meet so many moms on a mission to make a difference with their blogs and with their online work. I was happier still to be able to sit down for some real conversations. Here's a handful of friends (some new! some old!) who made an impression on me this week:
Esther Brady Crawford. Esther is a silent powerhouse, creating amazing content and good heartfelt connections wherever she goes. I enjoyed seeing her in action as she gathered up the most relevant stories about moms in the blogosphere and was delighted by the sheer scope of what she's able to offer with her new website ShePosts.com.
Aimee Giese. I had the honor of speaking on a photography panel with Amy. I loved her straightforward and honest approach to taking better pictures as well as her willingness to share her secrets on how to edit photos to reveal the magic in the people you love the most. I so enjoyed, too, the way she talked about her only son Declan who is clearly a firecracker of delight.
Brene Brown. Brene always has goodies to share from her extensive research on shame and empathy, but I'm always most impacted by her stories that reveal just how alike we all our--in our desire for belonging and connection especially. Her work on what it means to be a compassionate parent is sure to change our national conversation about what's best for our kids.
Catherine O'Connor. Catherine may be blogging at herbadmother.com but I was completely taken in by her kind and open heart which means she's probably secretly more gentle and "good" by conventional definitions than she'd like you to believe. I was touched to hear about Catherine's experience as a sister and an aunt facing the loss of a boy who has captured the heart of his family in a deep and profound way.
Karen Walrond. Karen shared the keynote space with Brene Brown and completely delighted me with her stories of discovering that whatever it is that makes you physically different from everyone else is the very thing that makes you beautiful--even if you regard that particular feature with ambivalence or a certain kind of shyness.
I hope you'll check out these moms online and enjoy the goodness they have to offer. Happy Wednesday everyone!
The flight leaves at 6:00 a.m. You read that right: 6:00 in the morning. We are traveling on miles so you get what you pay for, as the old saying goes. I asked my mother if she thought I was projecting my airplane stress on my 1, 3 and 5 year old kids. I didn't actually wait to hear her response, because I was already starting to ramble about the possibilities of drama.
This stress of mine was clearly heading down the wrong path. It's a long way to the West Coast from the East Coast, but we are going to have to get there somehow, some way. I took a step back and came up with a whole new plan for the trip tomorrow. We fly a couple times a year. Some of the following things we've had success with in the past and some a new things we are going to try:
Forget the sugar. Every once in a while we suffer from amnesia and promise the kids a lollipop on the plane if they are good. This can never work out. Trust me. Okay, perhaps it can work out for 5% of the population, but the rest of us will be pulling the kids down from the overhead bins where they are now swinging after getting that lollipop they'd been impatiently awaiting for however many minutes. Bring snacks that chill them out rather than crank them up. Everyone around you will thank you, too.
Try a technology freeze before the trip. My kids haven't watched television in four days. They are pretty sure they are going to die if they don't watch something soon. I have found in the past that the most effective and silent television-watching occurs in the one to two hours after a long term of total technological deprivation. It's not to say that this will necessarily work, but it is worth a try.
Get rid of that energy. We joke that it would take less time at our airport if we actually walked from home since the terminal is so far from check in. This is a WONDERFUL opportunity for walking ("we're walking, we're walking"). Factor in the extra time, but count yourself successful if you reach your gate with children complaining from the long walk. As a parent, your work here is done.
Stick with tried and true. There are certain things that always hold my children's attention. Certain books will stop them in their tracks and keep them riveted for a solid 30 minutes. There is a certain cartoon that I am sure they can watch one billion times and still they will sit at attention. There is an allure to bringing new things as well, but be sure to have a balance of the new with the old in case the new fizzles instead of sizzles.
Remember that you can only control what you can control. I think that 16 to 20 months is the worst possible age range to travel on a plane. Chances are your child has recently learned how to walk and would love to practice RIGHT NOW in that teeny aisle on the plane. Do what you can to move around the plane by taking lots of walks, but sometimes you are just going to have to wrangle a cranky toddler. As a person who has put quite a few miles on her carry-on luggage before having kids, I always carried ear plugs. To be honest, I still carry ear plugs. When someone turns around to glare at the screaming baby who cannot be consoled, I think, "why didn't you buy a pair of dollar earplugs?" I'm pretty sure that on one trip, my sister Jen passed out ear plugs to the passengers around her in anticipation of angry stares regarding crying babies. Sometimes babies (toddlers, preschoolers, even parents) cry. The flight will eventually be over. Roll with the punches.
Do the best you can with what you've got. I've gotten into ridiculously long conversations with parents about traveling before naptime, during naptime, taking red eyes, etc. Only you know your child, and there is still a good chance that your child who acts a certain way every single day is going to act completely different on that plane. If your child sleeps in the car, you might want to bring his car seat. My pediatrician once recommended giving my kids Benadryl for a particularly long flight. I tried it out ahead of time and guess what? My kids are not even remotely moved by Benadryl. It was a sad moment, but good to know ahead of time.
Relax (as best you can) and let it all roll off of you. And share with us your great tips for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers. We can use all the tips we can get.
"Remember Tristan, mom? From my preschool? He was so handsome." Lucy said as if this old love and preschool friend is now gone forever. She asks about school and various friends at least twice a day. Because we practically have our very own preschool in our family, I have to admit I haven't been very good at keeping up over the summer. The boys always had each other and never seemed to mind, but this girl of mine, she is a social little bug. It's hard for kids to understand that something they loved just stopped altogether, even if summer is distractingly fun.
We decided that maybe it was important to keep in touch as a reminder that friendships don't have to end even if we can't see and play with each other every day. Here are a few ideas to keep the school connections alive through out the summer.
Send a letter. Everyone loves to get mail, it's even better when there are stickers involved. Spend an afternoon making cards for various friends and teachers your child misses, take a trip to the post office and let her put the mail in the slot. Create a summer pen pal exchange. It will give your little one something to look forward to.
Make a friendship bracelet. Friendship bracelets are back, big time and even better than when we were kids. Our own Vickie Howell has a great tutorial of how to make them here. Younger kids can always use beads or dyed pasta to make something special for their missed friend.
Meet me on the playground. Schedule a playdate where it all began and is familiar. Lucy and her friends spent hours on the tire swing, it was the go-to on the playground. Grab some watermelon, sit in the shade and let the kids catch up together.
Make a memory book. Lucy's teacher put together a slide show of pictures from the school year on a DVD for the kids. She loves it and asks to watch it almost every day. You can take your own pictures and put together a small photo album with pictures and artwork for your child to flip through during a quiet time each day. Lucy ends up telling me stories of all the things she did and all she loved about her time at school.
Have an adventure together. Invite another family to join you in making a new memory outside of school. We are going camping with a family from Lucy's school later this summer. Family potlucks or a day hike may be good ways to connect, especially if you aren't ready to travel together.
Cultivating and maintaining friendships are important and great ways to teach kids to value those they care about beyond the stages of life they are in together. Truth be told, all this friend talk is inspiring me to pick up the phone and reconnect with those I've lost over the years.
Do your kids miss their friends from school? How do you help your kids maintain friendships over the summer? Share your ideas in the comments.
I'll admit, I am not that mother who skips around the house blissfully calling to her children to come do the next lovely family activity, carefully prepared and ready to go on the dining room table. I don't know if these mothers actually exist, but I know I'm not one of them.
No, in lieu of Maria from the Sound of Music, my kids got the workaholic mother who has to consciously close the computer and step away from the keyboard. I'm that mother with the kids who make big sweeping pointing motions to their open mouths while they silently scream in slow motion "Feeeeeed meeeee!" while I silently mouth back, "Hold on, I'm on a conference call!"
It's not that I love to work so much (I'm not sure that I do) as much as that there feels like there's so much work left to do. As a work-at-home mom, I can never quite get away from it. The next meeting, task or to-do item is only as faraway as that little tone on my iPhone. I don't feel great about this, but I'm also aware that if I went to work at an office every day my kids would see me about 50% less of the time. For all my phone calls and my appendage like attachment to the computer, at least it's me and not some babysitter mouthing back in silent slow motion, "Okay, okay!" as I make peanut butter and jelly for lunch or pour everyone a drink of their own.
Enter the New York Times which recently reported that researchers are concerned that parents are so plugged in that they're in danger of profoundly neglecting their children. I know I should have read it as a warning, but I mostly felt bad for the parents in the lead photo instead of the kids (one of which was surfing on an iPhone by the way). Most parents I know who can't let go of their iPhones during non-working times are plugged in because they desperately need some kind of escape to recharge and don't know how to take it. They, like me, salve their guilt, by telling themselves "at least I'm here" even when exhaustion, commitment and work-demands probably more accurately necessitate saying good-bye to the kids (and the iPhone) and taking a day or two to check into a hotel where no one--not the ringer or the five year old--can dare interrupt them.
While the researchers prepare the latest study to heap guilt on our heads, my guess is what parents really need is to read the research on the effects of parental burnout (not excessive use of technology) before they decide to do things differently. Every parent I know wants more time with their children; we just don't have the confidence or the willpower to carve out our own private recharge time when both the needs our kids and our work never really stop.
What do you think? What's the solution here? How do you monitor your own screen time when it comes to being with your kids, work and parenting?
My workshop is in the basement. Many a day I put the baby down for a nap in the morning, and I head down the stairs to get some work done. I can print shirts with The Baby around, but I spend more time keeping him out of vats of ink than I do actually printing shirts. He also likes to speed up the dryer, which is not helpful in the least. The other two wander around the basement at will, moving from one adventure to the next. They really aren't a problem.
The other day I was slammed with work, and the boys asked if they could hang out with me in the basement. I was barely paying attention as I murmured an affirmative and I headed off around the corner.
The thing with my parenting is that it is nearly all audible. My children come by their mouths honestly, and they almost never stop talking. They literally talk all day long. When they do stop talking, I know it's time to make my presence known. This works for us. The combination of my excellent hearing (thanks, Mom, for never letting me go to those rock concerts that permanently damaged my husband's hearing) and their chattiness, crisis can be avoided 99% of the time.
The thing with audible parenting is that you should also LISTEN to what your children are saying. This is where I find myself faltering. Especially yesterday.
Nate: MOM. Dad's saws are here. There are tree (three).
K: (distracted) Nate, stay away from whatever you found. Don't touch Dad's stuff.
I kept working and never thought about it again. Well, until the next day when I walked down the stairs for some reason and this is what I saw.
Hmm. The set for a certain popular serial killer drama? Nope. Just my husband leaving his tools out for a job for another day. I called Derek.
K: Hi. You have all these SAWS on the ironing board.
D: I was trying to fix that WALL.
K: You are raising your voice at me?
D: I HAD TO FIX THE WALL.
K: You left a cornucopia of saws out for the kids to get into.
D: They were up.
K: On an ironing board?
D: It's high.
K: It also only requires about a half pound of pressure to knock over. I'm pretty sure both boys can see over the top of the ironing board. I wondered what Nate was talking about yesterday when he said he saw saws.
D: I'm sorry.
K: I have a tough enough time with these children without offering them their own weapons. Forget intent. Nate's clumsiness alone could have resulted in a lost limb.
D: I thought they were safe.
Safety is a relative concept. We had to take every single movable chair off of the first floor because The Baby has taken to climbing onto counter tops and throwing glasses and plates off. I got tired of glass shards, if you know what I mean. So I'm thinking that right about now I could use a little help in the safety department, at least with the big ticket items like saws. I don't think I'm asking too much.
My photography work landed me on a private island off the coast of Maine a few weeks ago for just a weekend. It was only my second destination shoot and I was in a sort of awe the entire time. This particular land was magical in a way I can't quite put words to. Maybe because it was private and so few people were there or maybe because the beauty was so overwhelming, but I could not get over how free and safe I felt. Free to really wander, free in a way I have never experienced before. There was nothing keeping me from soaking all of it in, way down deep.
"Babe, do you feel like we are in Narnia?" my husband asked while we hiked in a soft rain.
"Yes! Oh, I hope we get to meet Aslan!" I cheesily and wholeheartedly replied.
In that moment, I instantly thought of my children and how much they would have loved it. How just by the nature of being newer on the earth would make them the authority on living free and embracing the experience. I wondered how many more amazing places there are to discover and then my unspoken dream for my family swirled in my head once again. It's the kind that feels so crazy, so impossible, so over the top, the kind you will wish you had done when you are old and gray.
For over a year now, I have been stalking those blogs of families who have left their everyday lives to travel with their children. They RV across the United States or sail and fly around the world, traveling together for the experience of a lifetime. I have poured over their different information and planning, but more in an admiring from a far kind of way. I know the round-the-world thing just isn't my family's speed but the idea of all of us on an open road exploring all the natural wonders in the United States makes my heart flutter.
As soon as we got back from Maine, I saw a very wise friend who encouraged me to do this adventure without knowing anything about my secret dream. The next day I very casually asked my husband to break down the budget and tell me what he thought we could live on at the bare minimum. I may or may not have explored what an RV might cost. The most dangerous part was telling you, giving words to my unspoken family dream. It's scary because if I never say it then I don't have to risk a different kind of disappointment or can tell myself a story to try to work it out in my head.
This isn't the story where I tell you that all is worked out and we are leaving tomorrow, this is the middle place. The place I might struggle to really claim it, or maybe discover that by putting it out I am giving it life to let it unfold. I'm not sure but I have a feeling this work is important to do in order to live our best lives, and to show our kids how to do the same.
Do you have an unspoken family dream? If I get a chance to do mine, tell me the dreamiest parts of the country. Where would you want to take your kids if you could go anywhere? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
I spent a few hours yesterday in a promotion ceremony for Madeleine's fifth grade class. With a dedicated staff, kind administration and diverse group of engaged and enthusiastic kids, Madeleine's school experience in this little third, fourth and fifth grade neighborhood school has been something to remember.
What touched me the most yesterday, however, was the awarding of promotion certificates. Madeleine's teacher, Ms. Lane, took her time to acknowledge each one of her twenty-seven students by calling each one forward by name and saying a few words of appreciation about each child. This kind of situation always makes me nervous in schools, because most of the time you end up learning more about the teacher than you do the child. Case in point: Madeleine's first grade teacher used this opportunity to give one last scolding to the kids who were clearly on her nerves. Ouch.
Madeleine's teacher, however, took a very novel approach. Instead of pointing to each child's obvious strength (which would have sent eyes rolling as the kids registered the reality of that child's unspoken weakness), she highlighted something about each child that might appear on the surface to be a problem.
The troublesome questioner was acknowledged as a divergent thinker that sometimes pushed the class in directions no one wanted to go, but whose intensity often yielded more profitable conversations.
The kid with the penchant for gore and fantasy was celebrated as someone who knew how to appropriately walk the line and develop an active imagination in an appropriate venue--creative writing.
The child who was struggling with mastery of basic skills was heralded as someone who was mastering the art of practice, an invaluable skill for future success--no matter what the endeavor.
What struck me most about this exercise was the way Ms. Lane was able to respectfully acknowledge what was sometimes unwelcome or difficult without excusing or candy coating the truth, and then take that same quality and recognize the hidden gift--the treasure that in the long run benefited the child but also the entire group.
The proof that she mastered this task was in the response of the children--there was a collective ease and comfort in the room as each true observation was shared. The kids concurred with laughter and knowing nods--she got it just right.
I wonder if this isn't primarily our challenge as parents--to see the merit hiding in our children's weaknesses. To find a way to acknowledge that the areas where they can't manage to fit in or conform or even excel, just might be the very arenas where their finest achievements will grow. What do you think?
I don't have the answers on this one, but I'm very thankful for Ms. Lane and this final way she unknowingly challenged me as a parent to reconsider my perspective and grow.
Summer is upon us here in Washington D.C. I seem surprised every single year when the thermostat reaches 90 degrees and I'm not sure why.
Take your walk early in the day. It may be humid when you wake up but humid and 75 is much better than humid and 90. Get out of the house as quickly as possible after breakfast and head to the park or take a walk through the neighborhood. It will wake you up for the day and take the edge off of the kid's energy before it gets too hot to do anything else. Explore to your heart's content.
Do a cool art project. Lay out a piece of butcher paper on the ground in the driveway or out back and let the kids finger (or arm or foot) paint to their heart's content. When you are all done with your masterpiece, give everyone a chance under the hose. Even better, give everyone a chance to hose each OTHER off. This always results in a ridiculous amount of laughter in our house.
Take time out for an energizing snack. Frozen grapes or blueberries are such a treat when the weather is so hot that you feel like you can barely breathe. You can try this Gooey Tasty Dip Stuff if you want a little extra pick-me-up.
Put your kids in charge of the garden. Ethan and Nathan are out every evening when it has cooled down a little, helping to weed the vegetable beds and to pick the raspberries that have already arrived. Kids can learn about healthy fruits and vegetables, the importance of using organic practices to keep our food safe and how to be conscious of our water usage. I have Ethan working on a drip irrigation system as we speak, and I swear we will figure it out by the end of summer.
Go catch a movie. Movie expert Sandie Angulo Chen offers some tips for surviving summer movie mania. There are lots of options this summer. Check out free family movies showing all summer long or check in your area for outdoor movies playing for free in your town.
Let's hear your ideas for things for kids to do to survive the summer heat.
I was talking with a group of friends the other day about the latest stitches incident in our house. I believe it was the gushing head wound that was the result of one son throwing a train track piece at his brother. Someone mentioned that she was impressed that I was telling the story so calmly since it was so horrible. I told my friend (with girls) that this is my life and I have just figured out how to plod through and save up my hysteria for the really, really bad things if they happen.
Fast forward to last Friday. I was busy trying to get ready for a food and wine show. I was loading up the van with crates of clothing to sell as my kids wandered around somewhat aimlessly. Ethan was around the side of the house with Mason (or so I thought) and Nate was standing on the driver's seat turning absolutely every single lever on that he possibly could.
I had one eyeball on the driveway and one eyeball on the back of the van. I looked up to glare at a loud truck barreling down the road above the unenforceable 20 mile per hour speed limit sign on our dead end residential street. He wasn't going much faster but I have grown weary of diving into ditches off the street on walks down our usually deserted street.
Thirty seconds later I heard a yell on the street.
"Hey, buddy, STOP!"
I turned around in horror to see fifteen-month-old Mason standing at the top of the driveway in the street. He laughed and ran toward my neighbor. He was around the side of the house seconds before with his brother and then he was in the street. I ran up the driveway and snatched Mason from my neighbor's arms. I scolded him and turn to apologize to my neighbor.
"You shouldn't be sorry. You should be terrified."
Well, that's one way to tell me. I mumbled thanks and walked back down the hill. I looked at Ethan and he looked back at me. He's five. It's not really his job to watch his baby brother and for me to expect him to watch Mason is really not acceptable. I had done the math and decided I had three choices. I could strap him in his car seat (in 92 degrees), I could leave him in the house unattended until I finished or I could let Ethan watch him. Clearly I made the wrong choice.
The thing is, while I'm sure my neighbor was just as upset as I was, his judgment of my outward emotions was incorrect and completely wrong. If I freaked out every single time something horrible possibly could have happened to my children, I would have to be committed. I'm sorry I didn't SAY I was terrified and I'm sorry I didn't collapse in a puddle of tears like he thought I should. From here on out, Mason gets strapped into the car seat. Life is full of "but-for" lessons and I learned mine. That's enough emotion for me.
I start to feel it every Spring. It is the excitement of growth in the air and knowing something fresh is in store for us. Our bodies perking up for the nutritional bounty about to become available and marking the end of relying on less worthy substitutes.
Every where I go people seem to be talking about it. It's all about local, organic, green , sustainable farms and healthy living. The local farmers markets are buzzing, old CSA friends are popping up, home gardeners are scrubbing dirty fingernails. Moms at the playground are holding Michael Pollan church sessions in the sandbox, while the First Lady takes on childhood obesity.
I find I usually have two reactions on the subject. I'm either totally inspired or feel completely guilty. Inspired to make changes, inspired to see so many innovative ideas on how to live better and smarter, inspired to work harder or contribute. Then of course, is the guilt, guilty about how much take out and processed foods travel through my house, guilty I can't afford to buy as much organic food as I would like to, guilty my family isn't more active. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and wish there wasn't so much I needed to work on and obstacles to overcome.
How can I afford to buy local organic produce?
How can I shift my life to exercise more?
Why is faster and cheaper usually not very good for you?
I end up trying to be radical or just giving up all together.
After a few chance meetings with friends and experts on the topic this week, I'm wondering if there might be a third option. What is the family food revelation of the week/month/year? Can I get a drum roll please?
I've decided maybe small changes mixed with some doses of grace, increasing over time might just be the way to healthier living. Shocking right?
So this weekend we will use the money from the skipped take out dinner to eat in and use saved money to buy a few more things off the organic list. We can head out to the farmer's market for breakfast and pick up some funky produce we wouldn't normally try. Right before the sun is getting ready to set, maybe we can bike to our favorite ice cream joint instead of drive.
Next week I might just find myself busy and a total mess, falling off the very small step I just stepped on. I don't know the magic solution but I bet trying is a good start.
Check out our Healthy Kids section to take your own baby steps.
How do you go about incorporating good nutrition and exercise in your family life? What are the biggest obstacles? What a your greatest tips for triumph? Tell us in the comments.