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Supersisters Weekend Roundup: Military Families

Posted by Jen on April 4, 2009 at 10:00 AM in JenSupersister Weekend Roundup
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Healing Power of Love

If you were very, very lucky you caught the "Coming Home" program on PBS this last week. I had heard from my friend Laura (who'd had a sneak peak) that it was incredibly positive and touching, and she was so right. Check out these snippets here, if you missed it.

Check out these resources designed specifically for parents and kids, whether someone you love is in the military or not. With so many families in our country affected by our involvement overseas, part of being a kind community member means being aware of this pain and also this pride.

And speaking of pride, don't miss these three military moms who are bursting with pride because of the ways their loved ones have committed their all to the conflicts at hand. Whether you're wondering about how to thrive in the store, during bedtime or in the public sphere, these women have something to say that makes a difference.

If you still have unanswered questions about your own experience--either as someone who wants to be supportive of military families or if you are a mom in the military (an often overlooked community of women), please head on over to My Crazy Amazing Military Life and let this exceptional group of mom military bloggers point you in the right direction.

illustration above by jen lemen, dedicated today to all our military families who are coming home and coming back together in new ways. winners of our last two interview giveaways to be announced on monday. stay tuned!


Military Moms and Kids: What It's Like and How to Be A Friend

Posted by Jen on April 1, 2009 at 8:00 AM in Jen
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When Carter was in preschool, he had a good friend named Tommy. Tommy's mom Emily Warner Eskelsen was one of those women who stood out to me on the playground. Her love for her children was fierce; I could feel her gentle determination that her children be happy, secure and strong. It took me a while to realize that for the time that we saw each other every day that Emily was essentially a single mom, her husband on a military assignment for an extended period of time. I remember not knowing exactly what to say when I heard that news and then not knowing what to say again when he finally came home. I asked Emily to share her experience with us as PBS Parents has a special focus this month on helping military kids adjust to family changes when a parent comes home.

How long was your husband away? Where was he sent and how old were your kids when he left?

My husband was away for just over fourteen months. The year before he was away for four months in JAG school, so in a 28-month period he was gone a total of 18 months. He was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. When he left my son was just over 4 and my daughter was 20 months. He got back when my son was 5 and a half and my daughter was turning 3.

How did you explain this absence to your children? What's your advice to other parents who need something clear to say that can really help kids get through?

I explained to my son, many many times, that his dad was a soldier and was helping America. He of course developed his own varied understandings. One was that his dad was in charge of a room filled with hundreds of computers that constantly needed fixing. Another was that there was a jail full of bad guys that kept escaping, and his dad had to run them down and put them back in. I was clear that his dad worked in an office and did no fighting, but at some level my son did not believe that, because his fear of his father's injury or death was unabated.

I did a few things to help my children through this time, and I felt that they were important and effective tools. First, I never talked badly about the military, about our country, or about their father to my children, and I never allowed anyone to do so in their presence. Further, at no time in their presence did I admit to discouragement or depression, and I never let anyone treat us with pity or talk as though we were in desperate or unusually difficult circumstances. I did, however, point out any time anyone gave us respect, and spelled out for my children that people were proud of their father, and proud of them for what they were doing.

What helped you the most during this time? What helped your kids?

There were many people who helped us during this time, but a certain few were clearly inspired and directed to serve a specific role in our lives. There was a family who had us over for dinner and family night every Monday night that Jon was away. More than the food, more than the hour of games and fun, that family gave us the feeling of being part of their family through the continuity of their welcome. We would go sleep deprived, temper tantruming, or in pajamas, and we were treated as part of their casual, tumbling, food-grabbing crew. I still feel emotional about the depth of what that family did for us, when our family was far away.

The other person who comes to mind was a single man of our acquaintance who laboriously took the time to befriend my socially-phobic, hurting son. His patience and interest in a child so many others had given up on resulted in my son having an adult he could talk to, something I would have paid any amount to get for him. I found that many people were willing and able to help me--a dear friend used to come and help me clean my house! Heaven!--but what I could not get enough of, what I needed and valued and treasured most, was for people to connect to and be consistently involved with my children. I am overwhelmingly grateful to those people who did that, especially this man who could allow my son to laugh and talk and express himself freely.

What was your biggest challenge when your husband came home? What was the hardest part for your kids?

A few weeks after my husband came home, I sat my children down, just the three of us. "I know we're really happy that Daddy is home," I began cautiously, "but sometimes we have other feelings about that too that we can talk about." I then brought up confusion, resentment, unfamiliarity, and other emotions I felt sure that my children should be feeling. They stared at me blankly. I tried again. "Tommy, do you have any feelings about Daddy coming home that you want to talk about?" "Yeah, mom," he said impatiently, "It's great. I like having him home." I turned to Ilse. "Darling, what about you? How do you feel about Daddy being home?" My wise little three year old was not fooled. "Mom," she replied, "how do YOU feel about Daddy coming home?" They both stared at me reproachfully. And they were right--they never had a problem, but I did.

I was sensitive about the distance there was between my husband and his children, about his accidentally heavy-handed discipline, or his ignorance of what their behavior was really communicating. My kids weathered it just fine. My relationship with my husband was a different matter entirely, of course. The military told us to expect one month of recovery for every month he was gone. We felt sure that we would be above average on that. We were wrong. I joked with a friend at the two-month mark that I was no longer actively seeking a way to send him back, but I'd still be open to it. At a full year back I was still wondering if we were going to get through this, and at sixteen months home I decided that yes, we might actually be able to stay married after all.

Luckily my husband is humble, communicative, and patient, so he was able to survive my frustration with his refusal to understand how our family worked now, how the house should be run, how to care for our children, and what I was thinking. Within the first few months he relearned an obscenity-free lingo and the empathetic model of family communication, but I am very sorry to report that although he has now been home two full years, he still folds t-shirts wrong.

What advice would you give to friends who want to be supportive of military families during a deployment? Any tried and true tips on how to be truly helpful?

We humans have a terrible habit of deciding how we would feel or react in a certain situation, and then demand that of others who are actually living that reality. I'm afraid that I disappointed many people in the way I coped with this deployment, and some of them turned away from me in confusion. Yes, it was true that sometimes I was quite desperate, nearly depressed, or hysterical, but I could not do that on demand and I could not open up to just anyone at any time "how bad it must be"! When I was succeeding at fighting my demons some people would feel so alienated from me, guessing (incorrectly) that they could never do this thing, and I must be so different from them. The very first helpful thing that anyone did for me was to not assume they knew how I felt or how I was doing, and to not treat me with pity. Pity always includes condescension, and that is never helpful.

Second, I would say that a small gesture done consistently was worth far more than random acts of kindness. One of my friends had lunch with me once a month. One agreed to host us for a playdate once a month. We needed a schedule, and we needed consistency. We didn't need to go to dinner one time at the home of people we barely knew where we would have to overcome our own shyness and perform socially for virtual strangers. That's who we were; others in our situation might feel differently. Unfortunately, I lacked the courage to tell these well-meaning people what a nightmare it would be for me to drag my poor kids to their house for the evening, so I made us all suffer in the name of shared kindness. The lesson for others who are well-meaning: make the effort to find out what would actually help; don't assume.

Third, I mentioned before that the best way for anyone to help me was to help my children. I could not be okay when they weren't; it had to start with them. Similarly, I needed my husband to be okay as well, and I deeply appreciated those friends who managed to keep track of a complicated military address and remember a guy who used to work with them, or go to church with them, and drop him a line here and there.

Thank you, Emily. Leave a comment today in support of our military families and PBS Parents is giving away green PBS Parents photo envelopes and two PBS Parents bookmarks.


Mermaid Warriors: An Interview with Mccabe Russell

Posted by Jen on March 25, 2009 at 7:00 AM in JenRaising Girls
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mermaid warriors final

When I first discovered Mccabe Russell online, I knew this dancing mermaid would be just the person to encourage supersisters (and superdads) who want to see their girls grow creative and strong. McCabe is a self-taught artist who has dedicated her work to helping young girls feel good about themselves through art and creative play. In her mermaid camps, girls of all ages weave affirmations and poetry into art journaling, mixed media. homemade candles, and fairy jars to name a few. I asked Mccabe to tell us more about her mermaid warrior classes and what she knows now after fifteen years of creating safe space for girls to explore themselves while also learning the power of supporting others.

What is a mermaid warrior?

A mermaid warrior is a girl who is not afraid to be herself. She also supports her mermaid sister-friends~its all about encouraging each other through art and friendship.

What are your little mermaid friends telling you about what little girls need these days? Any tips for moms who are having trouble connecting?

What I hear most from my little mermaid students is that they need to feel understood. I think as adults we sometimes rush to find a solution or teach the lesson. These things are important and have a place, but it is equally important to just listen to what they are saying. When a tender issue arises, try to give them your undivided attention so that they know their feelings are valued. I have also found that even when a child is not ready to share, a simple, "I know it feels hard right now" can do wonders. Feel WITH them. We all want to feel normal and connected even in our hardest emotions.

Why do you think little girls are so drawn to the princess thing?

I think Disney plays a big part in that! I think it seems exciting and glamorous to them with all the pink tooling and handsome prince bouncing on a white horse. Being a princess seems to equal a happy ending. A part of me cringes when I hear a little girl say she wants to be a "princess when she grows up." I love fairy tales, but they often don't tell the whole story. I want girls to feel like they are beautiful without the costumes and drama...that they are perfect and enough in their everyday self.

We're all about ages and stages here on the supersister blog. In your experience, is there any difference between what a five year old or a ten year old mermaid needs?

The five year old mermaids (at first) need to be assured that they are doing it "right." They feel safe in knowing that their artwork and presence is approved by others. At the same time, they thrive in independence and love the opportunity to do so. I feel it is important to teach them the joy of doing art for yourself, whether it gets put up on the fridge or not. When asked my opinion on a piece of artwork I love to ask, "Do YOU like it?" Once they start school they begin comparing their art to other kids, and a piece of the magic gets lost. At the same time five year olds are very free and not afraid to ask questions or give new ideas.

Ten year old mermaids need to feel their uniqueness is honored and valued. Many of them are torn between wanting to establish their own individuality, and yet not feeling brave enough to be themselves. It is a tough pull, so 9 and 10 year old girls need extra encouragement and love in this area. This topic might not be regular dialogue between their peers, so getting them together to talk about these things is powerful and healing. They are so relieved when they discover they are not alone in their feelings.

One more. What drew you to this work?

I had a really hard time as a kid, especially around the age of twelve. So much was happening and I did not have anyone to talk to about it. It makes me sad that i carried all that shame around for all those years, and yet it is my superpower to help others in this special way. In my early twenties, I found an art healing class, and began the long journey back to myself. I kept thinking how great it would have been to have a class like that at twelve. Over time i discovered that my passion was being the person I needed as a child to other girls. It is empowering for everyone. Our pain has great power if used correctly.

Thanks, Mccabe!
Supersisters, leave a comment telling us the thing you love the most about raising girls. We'll send a special mermaid surprise to one lucky commenter.


Supersisters Weekend Roundup

Posted by Jen on March 21, 2009 at 10:00 AM in JenSupersister Weekend Roundup
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jonah crawls

What's on your weekend roster, sisters? Has spring arrived to your part of the world yet? Are your kids in the middle of spring break? Here are some links for you and yours that might be interesting and encouraging in one way or another.

Ben's Bells. Tuscon Mom Jeanette Packard is finding a way to bring hope and light to the world by offering back kindness in honor of her son Ben who died unexpectedly at age three. Click through and I promise you will be inspired not only by the goodness happening here, but also by Jeanette's kindness and courage.

Picture Hope. One of my lifelong dreams has been to travel to faraway places for a deep and hopeful purpose. Check out this video. If all goes well, I'll be off on a hopeful storytelling adventure with one or the other of my children by my side. Can't you see Carter in Nepal? Madeleine in Rwanda?

You can find me here. Here's a lovely reflection on the sweetness of a new baby and a moment in an everyday life. Do you have a new baby at your house? Leave us a link to your stories and how your other children are handling the new addition in the comments below.


The What If Whirlwind and Other Storms We Face

Posted by Jen on March 18, 2009 at 7:00 AM in JenRaising Boys
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carter's hands

He's wringing his hands over a little egg case of praying mantis eggs sent over from Meryl.

At first, it's the most exciting thing ever! 50 to 400 eggs! Praying mantis bugs everywhere. Can you even imagine?

We sit on the couch and marvel. This is fantastic. And then. The wheels start to turn. And turn. And turn and turn and turn.

What if I'm not here when they hatch?
What if no one is here when they hatch?
What if no one sees them when they're born?
Can we go to the doctor and get an x-ray everyday so we'll know when they're coming?
Can we put them somewhere really warm will they hatch faster? On time? Right now? Like popcorn?


When Carter is in grief, it's the most heart-wrenching thing in the world. None of us can take it. It's the saddest, sweetest grief you've ever seen. You don't know whether to laugh or cry or, in our case, say all the wrong things to make it better. And not just us, but four next door neighbors, two from each side. Not a single one of us had something good to offer that could help Carter stop crying as his emotions traveled through all of life's most primal moments--birth, home (can we make 400 individual shelters for each of them), loss (what if they fly away? what if they're not with me anymore and I needed them?), death (what if they die???).

An hour and a half into the meltdown, I had only two thoughts in my head:
1. This is clearly not about the eggs.
2. There is a whole lot of love for one little boy in this room.

Tell me, please oh please, how do you deal with meltdowns--the kind that aren't about bad behavior or not enough to eat or not enough sleep--but those tears that are telling you that something is truly not all right. I'd love to know.


Supersisters Weekend Roundup

Posted by Jen on March 14, 2009 at 10:16 AM in JenSupersister Weekend Roundup
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This video came right at the perfect moment this week. It's the perfect pick-me-up is you want a little credit for sticking it out in the everyday moments. And if your family (like ours) is weak in the hair brushing department, you'll love how rumpled everyone looks.

And while you're at it, why not check out how one woman is making lots of kids in Tanzania extremely lucky this St. Patrick's Day. You'll feel lucky, too, when you see how little it takes to make a big difference.

Do you have a nana who's 90 years young? Check out this sweet photo essay from one Maine momma who knows how to capture love in her lens.

Looking for something to do with your favorite girl and her cadre of friends? Learn how to teach a mermaid warrior course where little girls in your neighborhood can make art journals and feel the full weight of their princess-y power.


10 Magic Messages Every Princess Needs to Hear

Posted by Jen on March 11, 2009 at 9:59 AM in Jen
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1. You are powerful.
2. You can say no when you need to.
3. You know the right thing to do, and you can do it.
4. You are beautiful.
5. You can be strong and need tenderness at the same time.
6. Your big strong emotions are safe with me.
7. I will honor your strength.
8. I will respect you and your wishes.
9. I will teach you how to be brave and kind.
10. I will love you no matter what.

At least, that's what the princesses in my life are telling me they'd like to hear, in hushed whispers at the dinner table, when their mothers are ready to strangle them for being such divas or devils, you decide.

What do you think, supersisters? Will we turn them into monsters if we give them more rein (or maybe that should be reign!) I'd love to hear your honest opinion in the comments below. Is it possible to give little girls too much power?


Supersisters Weekend Roundup

Posted by Jen on March 7, 2009 at 9:00 AM in Jen
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Are your kids growing weary of their tried and true online games? This new photo mashup tool on PBS Parents makes Madeleine a sage and the li'l PBS girl her muse (see above). Lots of lovely ways to be creative with your pictures here.

Wondering if you could ever dare do art with your kids when you are feeling so no creative yourself? Here is a gentle photo essay to demystify the process. All you need is a blank piece of paper and a box of paints.

Here's a kind reminder to soak in whatever the day brings--whether the little one in your house is eleven days, eleven months or eleven years. Lovely reflections for such a sweet sunny Saturday.

Since we are incredibly new to TV at our house--we've only had a television with actual channels you could watch since last spring--my kids (and I) are still trying to sort out all this business about what it means to get ready for DTV. Here's a nice educational DTV video that makes sense out of the changes ahead.


Wacky Wednesday and Other Things That Make a Seven Year Old Happy

Posted by Jen on March 4, 2009 at 9:06 AM in Jen
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It's Spirit Week at Carter's school and I've never seen him happier to wake up, get dressed and be there now before it's too late.

"What's wacky Wednesday?" I ask, since the whole week sounds wacky to me.

"You just have to be waa-aaacky?" he answers, ever so helpfully, blue eyes shining with maniacal glee.

I shrug my shoulders and go back to making what Madeleine describes as "the ultimate lunch"--turkey, cheese on whole wheat bread, chips, juice box and pudding--my penance for an entire school year of jelly sandwiches thrown into a old grocery bag.

Fifteen minutes later Carter comes down dressed in an old ratty t-shirt, a shiny red polka dot tie, two different shoes and a pair of underwear on his head.

Yes, underwear on his head and a chopstick which he announces will help him eat his sandwich. Bwahahahaha. What could be more mischievious, more wacky, more wonderful than that?

Go ahead, treat yourself to something wacky today. Surprise your kids with an unexpected moment of silliness and find out how happy they can be when no one has to button it up, tuck it in or do it right.


Supersisters Weekend Roundup

Posted by Jen on February 28, 2009 at 10:00 AM in Jen
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oldest and youngest

Why I Love "Bad" Babies. If you are walking around this morning positively mortified by your children's behavior in the grocery store, check out this post from a woman who's seen it all and loves your kids anyway. Low on judgment, high on humor, this checkout girl offers gentle advice from the trenches.

The Gimme Monster. And just in case, your children really do need an intervention for horrific grocery store behavior, here's some tried and true advice about how to stave off the urge for acquisition in your tiniest shopping companions.

Living the Day You're Given. And if you're worried your life is wasting away, picking up blocks and hosing down your little messmaker, this piece by the waste-less mom will give you just the mojo you need to get on the floor and cover what the true needs are of the day.

You Have Everything You Need. Single mom and writer Jennifer New writes about the struggles of starting a new life on your own with two kids in the midst of a painful divorce. Her honest reflections will be sure to buoy moms of every situation who are looking for ways to bring strength and resilience to trying times.

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