Path to the Present: what’s your story?

I worked in academic archives for almost 20 years, and I know how the documents of history are collected. Mostly, “those four guys over there” decide that their work is important and they put it in boxes and give it to someone.

And those documents are how we write history.

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What historical stories are YOU keeping under wraps?   Photo by Dương Trần Quốc on Unsplash

If I sat down with you, and you told me about your history, and we talked about what the women in your family did, and you told me about how your mom made it through domestic violence, how your family came to this country via a different route than Ellis Island, what happened when there were no heirs to carry on the family name, or what the transition from farm to city was like in your family, that story would be unique. And it should be saved.

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Each of my kids came to work with me a couple of days a week in the archives. Yes, that is a typewriter in the background…

There are lots of paths to the present.  And the only stories we can tell about our present and how we got here are the stories that “those four guys over there” decided that they wanted to save.  You can certainly find musicians, or women, or even lefties that collaborate on growing a collection of papers. But the documents of history are only collected by, and saved at, large institutions — when someone does make an effort.  Until now.

What I think is important is this: telling the stories of the real history, and what’s really happening on the ground — for two reasons. First, because it helps families feel grounded and kids feel confident to know their family narrative (stories of hardships, and the coping skills that got everyone through, are particularly strengthening). Second, because the story of history will never be thick enough.

To get started passing your family history to your own kids, I have a handy guide to get you started.  Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk your way through the school week about your generation and your parents’.  Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!

If you’d like to do more, I can walk you through it, researching and sculpting the perfect interview questions, conducting the online meeting/s with up to four attendees from anywhere with online access, and ensuring that you have multiple, accessible copies of your results.  You’ll know more about your family and yourself, and you’ll have another tool in your parenting toolbox, too!  Read more about it here.  Reach out to have a conversation about Capturing Oral Family History: Angela@AngelaLTodd.com

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My dad’s handwriting, and his laugh: why interviewing family matters.

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My dad’s upper-and-lower-case handwriting takes me back to long summers in Maine every time I see it.

Do your parents text you? They do? Then I was jealous of you: I imagine little notes, daily check-ins, a joke, sending them cute pictures of the kids all of the time…. Plus, no long calls, squeezing that flat cel phone between your shoulder and ear, getting your brain irradiated to greater or lesser degrees… My 14-year-old son joked that it’s like sending telegrams, morse code — or even smoke signals!

Anyway, neither of my parents have smart phones, and we don’t do any of that. I used to be jealous of you.

Then, I took a good look at this: my name, in my dad’s handwriting. Very distinctive. Every time I look at it, I remember: living with my Dad all summer — shopping lists on the fridge, notes to remind us what time the yellow school bus left for swimming lessons at the lake, things to do at work the next day (he was town manager of our wee Maine town), notes to himself about house projects he always had going — or about the businesses in development or currently underway.

I went everywhere with him: the dump, grocery store, (he taught me to jump up and click my heels in the air by practicing on a grocery cart!).  We went to the hardware store with wooden floors and to the Red Barn antique shop, where we would stock up on puzzles to get through the winter.  In winter we’d assemble puzzles and play cribbage, as he did growing up in northern Maine farm country.

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Pa’s boots.

And every summer when I visit, we spend at least ONE night sitting at the kitchen table remembering together and reminding each other: when we had a concession stand at the local stock car racing track, when we got pulled over TWICE in a borrowed Cadillac on the way to my grandmother’s house.  That time my car broke down in the Shaker Village (luckily they had a phone!); that time my car broke down and the store-owner wouldn’t let me make a toll call; that time when my car spun into a snowbank and I was closing my eyes to calm my nerves and didn’t see the skiers coming to bail me out — so when they knocked on my window we all screamed and scared each other to death!

Pa has a distinctive laugh, a low throaty chortle. Even if I felt confident that I could remember all the stories, I would only remember my side — not that he’d left a party HE was hosting to pick me up in that broken down car. Or that he’d had words with the shopkeeper. Or that he’d overheard skiers telling friends about stopping to help and getting scared out of their ski pants… And then there’s his laugh.

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Big Nanny

Recording is the answer.

My mother has a recording of HER mother from the early 1980s, and hearing Big Nanny’s voice, her tisk-tisk sound, her laugh… it’s soothing and exciting.  I’m a cultural historian, and her voice is as important to me as hearing her words, hearing about her early childhood, and how far we’ve come as a family — and a nation — that nobody lives within FEET of the railroad tracks any more.  The sound of her voice says as much as her words.

A preservation technology firm will preserve and make available my grandmother’s voice.  And I suggest that we get to work on capturing YOUR Family Oral History while you can.  I will walk you through the whole process, researching and sculpting the perfect interview questions, conducting the online meeting/s with up to four attendees from anywhere with online access, and ensuring that you have multiple, accessible copies of your results.  You’ll know more about your family and yourself, and you’ll have another tool in your parenting toolbox, too!  Read more about it here.  Reach out to have a conversation about Capturing Oral Family History: Angela@AngelaLTodd.com

And to get started passing your family history to your own kids, I have a handy guide to get you started.  Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk your way through the school week about your generation and your parents’.  Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!

And follow along on Facebook, where I’ll be posting a family history prompt every #ThrowbackThursday !

xoxox

Angela

 

 

Our Kids Will Always Need Therapy. And It’s Okay.

My stern great-grandmother came from Copenhagen around 1890 and married a stern Welsh potato farmer in Northern Maine.  Katinka assimilated totally; they spoke no Danish, celebrated no Danish holidays, ate no Danish foods.  Children were to be seen and not heard.  My potato farmer grandfather Percival (her son), was equally stern.

He mostly repeated the family pattern, and almost finished his job doing so before big cultural changes came.  His children were born at the end of World War II and were young adults in the 60s.  The peaceniks and free love revolution didn’t quite infiltrate rural Northern Maine.  Percy’s kids (my dad and uncles) had farm exemptions from service in Viet Nam; they worked HARD.  They planted, tended, and picked potatoes. They may not have worn beads and protested, but they played HARD. They rigged their cars’ windshield washers to dispense moonshine into their glove boxes and started families earlier than planned.  Ahem.

They really failed at being seen and not heard. Gloriously.  Their kids, my cousins and I, were not expected to be seen and not heard.  We went on family camping trips and had big raucous Thanksgivings.  But still, we were not invited to speak. I’ve had to learn, as a person, to speak up — and unlearn, as a parent, speaki17105275_10156068423693916_1637972395_nng for or over my kids.

Big cultural changes happen quickly now, generation after generation.  Baby boomers, peaceniks, yuppies, gen Xers, generation Y, millenials — technology, gender roles, economic opportunities, the changing shape of the family.

What we learned about parenting, from our parents, is dated.  Historical trends in parenting have changed quickly, and in the last decades they have multiplied, too.  There’s not just Doctor Spock followed by Dr. Sears.  There’s permissive, free range, attachment, mindful, and authoritarian parenting.  And there’s more: religious (conservative or reform?), Adlerian, gender-neutral, tiger moms, geek dads… you see.

Best practices seem to change with the release of each new study.  New digital technologies mean we fly by the seats of our pants.  There’s no way a parent can stay ahead of it all.

But one thing remains steady — when kids, teens, and young adults misbehave, parents are first in the line of blame — l17101738_10156067620438916_1980051568_n.jpgike we operate in a vacuum.  The stakes feel high, and they are. Parents, kids, schools, and the culture at large see parents as responsible for their children’s behavior.

We simply cannot do it “right.” With high stakes, shifting criteria, changing terrain (new technologies, family shape), how could we?  How can we do those “best practices” about to be announced?  I always joked that my kids will need therapy because the standards of parenting change every decade.

But it’s true.

So when we need to course-correct in the funnerfamily, we get an outside contractor  —  a professional to survey the situation, advise, and help make new supports.   Honestly, sometimes we are late to the game.  Like we should have called in a pro six months ago!  haha.  But better late than never.

Often when I tell someone we are seeing a therapist, they respond with pity or sadness or some version of “this too shall pass.”  I think that’s the wrong attitude, frankly.  “The family” and its day to day decision making, traditions, and comforts, just doesn’t move at the same speed, or with the same agenda, as “the culture” with its press toward novelty and innovation.  Bridging the gap requires outside resources!  Haha…

My kids need an orthodontist, I’m not going to even think about doing THAT myself.  I don’t want to be in charge of EVERYTHING!  Our kids need experts.  I’d like to see our kids  invited to speak, and I for one need someone to paint some lines on the road so that I can stay in between “seen and not heard” and “the kids are in charge.”  We will always need professionals — they help me invite my kids to speak.  Our kids will always need therapy… and it’s okay.

I would love to hear about something you wish you had learned earlier, or could unlearn.  Or that your parents had unlearned.  Comment here, and let’s move forward together.  ❤

Holding space for our kids in anxious times.

I’ve written here before about the onus of healthy eating falling to moms.  About moms feeling guilty.  As things shift in larger culture, moms are telling me that they feel more “on the hook” than ever, and I feel it too.

Our grown up anxieties are spilling over onto our kids, and these days I don’t know how we’d ever completely exempt them from adult worries.  Instead:  twitter-128 I urge us to get our coping skills in place; feeling the feelings and making space for our kids to do the same.

I was on Facebook live recently, talking about holding space for our kids and I’d love you to check it out here.

Please don’t get distracted by the water I splashed on my shirt.  Snort.  #LetMomOffTheHook

 

My background is in cultural studies and women’s studies, and I have spent a lifetime tending to women’s changing roles in culture.  Join me as I focus in on helping moms, particularly us moms of sensory kids. Come on over to AngelaLTodd on Facebook and follow along.

Keep the Peace: phrases to protect your sensory kid

Have you ever done a ballet or tap recital? Synchronized swimming or skiing? Line dance? Waltz? You learn, train, practice, rehearse, perform: building muscle memory. Families are just like that!

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You might have moved away and changed your dance, maybe you took up modern jazz — but when you come home, the old gang is still doing the funky chicken. The old dance. Your muscle memory kicks in and you flap your elbows, shake your booty to the floor, and your hands “cluck” like you never stopped. But stick with me, and you don’t have to dance that old dance. Nor do you have to pull the rug out from under the other dancers.

Let’s rehearse some ways it could work for you, your kids, and your extended family. Then work your plan both ways – you are the hinge between your parents and your kids. Work your plan with both of them. Scripts are great for this.

twitter-128Scripts help us decide what’s important & how to speak up about it — respect our parents & protect our kids. <= Click To Tweet

Scripts help us keep relationships with our extended family.

Plan with or speak with your nuclear family, your partner, kids, lodgers, and pet-sitters about the holiday plan. It has taken me some time — and embarrassing momfits — to see that sometimes I should not try for the democratic process. Either I really have a plan or I don’t, but sometimes I (or Dad and I) need to be in charge of how we play it by ear with our families, or maybe I just don’t have the energy for the kids saying, “I vote we just stay home.” Sometimes they don’t get a vote.  And that’s ok.

Lately Thing 1 has been exemplary at checking in with himself and explaining how he feels – he doesn’t like to be surprised by my last-minute planning. Sigh. Teaching self-help skills means having to deal with it when the kids use those skills.

Think in advance – be prepared to compromise. Think about your top three foodie areas where you do NOT want to compromise around your kids’ food. Write them down. I’m a big fan of sleeping on it – go back to your top 3 list later, and then decide if they fit with your desires and travel plans – are you willing to do the work during a 3-day drive to ensure that the family eats leafy greens at every meal? Keep it realistic, reasonable, perhaps even easy.  Are you going to be mad at the extra work, or mad at missing your greens? Weigh that out.

snowman If you are having guests coming, ask if you need a backup food for their fussy or sensory kid, and withhold your judgment … they may show up doing a waltz, but you can still show off your jazz hands.

Your kids. It’s tempting to just buy chicken nuggets or prepared mac and cheese, and while that is one strategy that I use on occasion, I want to propose some ideas that taught our family to be better guests.

  1. Tell social stories about the trip – why you’re going, what to expect, how it might go, another way it might go, how they might feel and it’s okay to feel our feelings. Give them some scripts, too: “Mom, it’s too loud in here, can I sit in the car?” “Mom, I don’t think I can wait until dinner. I’m hangry. Can I have a healthy snack?”
  1. Strategize about where a kid can get some peace and quiet. In the car, bathroom, a big cardboard box, grandma’s porch, even under the bedcovers. Tell them how to excuse themselves, where to go, and what to do when they are overwhelmed — even if it’s at the dinner table.
  1. Teach them how to decline politely. Don’t hurt the cook’s feelings and don’t “yuk on someone else’s yum.”
  1. Discuss in advance that your family “new food” rules always apply (if they do. If they do not, clarify what the traveling rules will be), then expect them to stick to your one-bite rule, or smell or lick, or a bite for each year old they are. Tell them this before you go.
  1. Tell your kids that they can come to you if someone says something that makes them feel sad, mad or bad so that you can handle the situation for them — or if they are being pressured to eat something or to clean their plate or whatever else happens. Be sure they know that they can, and how to do so with respect, perhaps out of earshot or even by text message.
  1. Show your kid(s) three recipes and have them choose a healthy one that they will eat to make and bring – even if it’s not a potluck. Veggies-n-dip, fruit-n-yogurt, a side of snap peas, or a healthy yeast or sweet bread, all make great hostess gifts. Or consider a bowl of melon, pomegranate seeds, or berries.  Older kids might be trusted to peruse the cookbook, but set some parameters – a slice-and-bring dish? High fiber? Crockpot warmable? Bring a side, a vegetarian or gluten-free or allergy-free dish, offer to bring a side and bring 2, and even something just for your kid.
  1. 15349645_1354173004595977_3822187472669593966_n-1Involving them in making the dish is a great way to teach executive function. Have them decide, list the ingredients, shop for what you need, make the recipe, clean up, store the dish, and make a plan for warming and serving it when you get there. “Math it” out loud if you are doubling or halving the recipe. If you can include granny when you get there, all the better.
  1. Look away if you can. If the food is not a dangerous allergen, let them flounder just a little … if they’re hungry, they may stretch a little or a lot. Also, looking away changes the food dance. Your stepmom, mom, or dad become the food bearers, which changes the dynamic.
  1. At the same time, set them up for success. My pickiest eater would cross a line and just not be hungry any more – especially when he was smaller. So before grown-up dinners, parties, plane rides, and the like, we would snack him or full-on feed him. As he got bigger, around 5th grade, I started looking away more. He is usually well-mannered enough to at least try. Be sure to teach them the manners that they need to take care of themselves without offending.

Your parents.  You are the hinge between these two generations. You don’t want their judgment, but don’t give them yours either. A friend says “apathy is your personal savior.” And that’s a good phrase to remember when bringing toddlers to grandma’s house. Explain to them, “We’ll be out of our schedule, we’ll be on the road three days, no, this is not the way we live all the time, but I’m going to let them stay up late or eat junk (or or whatever it is) so I don’t spend our time together punishing them.

Everyone has someone who needs to be “always right.” I have those people; families are full of them! Haha. But you can protect yourself by actively believing that they just want to help, or make themselves feel better, or be loved – no need to bristle at them. I am not above taking All. The. Blame.   Then we can get on with dinner or building a fire or skiing or whatever it is we are doing.  I’m willing to do that.

  1. Some people have no skills for respecting boundaries, being kind, or self-regulation and many of those people have kids – you might even be a kid of someone like that. If you’re here reading this, chances are pretty good!  We’ve solved some of these issues by staying in a hotel in town, staying in a camper in the yard, scheduling a couple of short trips instead of a longer one – we may break up a week with grandma by spending a few nights with Pa, or Auntie, or with my old high school friends. When you are in their house, they may ask you to abide by their rules, and if that’s a conflict, offsite housing or offsite visits might work best if you’re not willing to go toe to toe on why junior does not have to clean his plate, even if s/he is at grandpa’s house.15673533_10155788423513916_1458279869_n
  1. In advance, tell your parents social stories about the trip – what they can expect, how it might go, or another way it might go. You can say something like “It’s just impossible to stay on schedule while traveling, so we’re going to just go with the flow in terms of planning the week, or sticking to time limits on the ipad or eating leafy greens at every meal.” And then repeat that in person when your kid throws a fit, or when you don’t bring down the hammer on some infraction – even if you would at home. My dad is a merciless tease, and before one trip I just came out and said “he wants to grow his hair and I just don’t care – it seems like harmless self expression. But he’s very sensitive to being teased, and I just don’t want you to hurt his feelings.” He might have rolled his eyes over the phone, but he did not tease my kid about his hair. Or his disdain for chewy meat!
  1. When they make suggestions about how to solve a parenting problem, nod, give a thoughtful look (this is usually called active listening – or just acting haha) and say something like:

Huh, I’ll have to do some research on that.

Oooh, I’ll look into it.

I’ll ask the pediatrician about that (or physical therapist, feeding consultant, teacher, school psychologist, occupational therapist…. defer to a higher authority than either you or your parents).

  1. Or you might shrug, give an apologetic look (even if you feel annoyed) and say something like: **We’ve consulted with the pediatrician and we are just going with this for now.

 

I love my elders, but they do drive me nuts. These tactics have helped me keep my relationships with them, keep them in relationship with my kids, and teach my kids both how to be respectful to their elders and also how I want to be treated when they are adults.

Good luck and happy holidays!

If you have a sticky situation or shocking success, drop it in the comments and I’ll chime in or cheer you on!

Winter Holiday Sensory Tips for Kids

Is your kid easily overwhelmed?  You don’t need a formal diagnosis to notice sensory preferences, and if you see a trend in meltdowns and over-stimulation, chances are you’ll see more of those over the winter holidays.  I’ve got some guidelines for preventing those meltdowns, and they might be applicable to adults in the family, too.  Ahem. (That bell ringing over the kettle for donations makes me do a u-turn right out of the parking lot, muttering under my breath!)

First, manage expectations: yours and theirs.  Parents with sensitive or sensory kids may review what they think “typical” families do: is that an achievable expectation for your family without getting tied up into knots?  As the family planners, consider i15349645_1354173004595977_3822187472669593966_n-1.jpgf you might need to give up on your vision or modify it. Kids’ expectations can wreck an otherwise great event, and getting a handle on those expectations will help the season go smoothly. A great  way to do that is to talk!  Before you go out, as you plan the holiday meal, schedule events, or invite folks over, find age-appropriate ways to check in with the kids and tell them who is involved and how long you think it will be: 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days?    Will there be food?  Other kids? Will they be expected to sit quietly, sing songs, play tag outside?

Kids’ expectations aren’t always clear to THEM: all the presents, all the sweet treats, read from the Torah, do the reading, not do the reading, light the candles, decorate the tree, travel, crowds, manners, strangers…  take the time to check in before and during events, and be open to offering descriptive language to younger kids and getting more information from them as it dawns on them.

Second, have a plan: Coach your kids on a way to indicate that they are overwhelmed or have had enough.  We agree to two fingers on the arm while I’m talking.  When I reach a break in the conversation, I’ll tend to the kid.  When the fingers push harder, I know it’s a bathroom emergency (or some other “emergency” and we are refining what counts as an emergency haha).  Have an exit strategy — or two.   If you’ve gone over how long you think the event will go, have a strategy in place for if the meltdown comes…. it might even be yours!  Haha.  Everybody gets their own coats and meets at the front door?  Designated parent takes melting down kid to the car?   And waits for a cool-down so they can return, or waits for the family to leave the event (does the rest of the family finish touring the conservatory of leave right away)? A quick review of the family plans can extend how long everyone can stay — just knowing there is a meltdown plan can increase everyone’s endurance.

Third, bring supplies.  Discuss the event, air the kids’ concerns in advance, and take this opportunity to prepare for the overwhelm: bring sunglasses or a hat with a visor for light displays, bonfires, or even crowds.  Bring earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or even an iPod.  Consider a snack and drink, a comfort toy, quiet entertainment, extra binkies.  A couple of times we even brought a friend!

Kids’ engagement and endurance aren’t 100% predictable.  Even at 13, my son may grit his teeth through an entire event, or he may find his niche and really enjoy it.  His enjoyment may be due to talking to other adults, finding a kid with similar interests, or just finding a place to zone out with a book or tv.  He does always expect to grit his teeth through social events, so having a review of what we think will happen, supplies, and an exit plan help us get there in the first place.  And in case you experience unexpected delays, check out my list of games and bonding activities HERE.

Other things to consider:

Lights: displays, on the house, at events.  Twinkling, flashing, and color-changing lights can be overwhelming to sensory kids.  For kids with seizure disorders, they can even inspire a seizure.

Sound: Malls, adult parties, kids parties, THAT BELL!

Gift expectations: getting less than you hoped for, getting an overwhelming amount, presents that don’t come with batteries, don’t work, or fail in their advertised promises.

Eating schedules: Stealthily sliding your kid a granola bar when you realize that food is delayed, or snacking before leaving home to avoid HANGRY meltdowns, can really save the day!

If you’d like some support around any of these issues, or want to sit down and map out strategies that work for your family, just hit reply to this email.  We can schedule a free 30-minute chat, and if you’d like to set up more time after that, we can!

As always, do follow Funnermother on Facebook. 🙂

 

 

Chocolate, Gummis, and HUGS, oh my! Three interventions in the Halloween hangover.

THIS year I walked the hood instead of handing out candy, and it was glorious, like a tiny suburban, clean (but scary) Mardi Gras!  It has taken me a long time to come to accept that Halloween will happen.  Year after year.  I’ve slowly chipped away at my “candy is immoral” position, eeking my way toward a more workable, reality-based one.  I’ve actually come to enjoy dressing as, say, Phyllis Diller.  14938286_1310713398941938_580177616813119416_n.jpgSharon Osbourne. PeeWee Herman.  And I’ve got strategies for the candy!

First, managing The Candy: 

Lots of trading and organizing and negotiating happen between the two kids, and those are ALL GOOD SKILLS!  Haha.  We’ve consistently said that the kids could have 2 pieces after dinner. On weekends they negotiate for more, and *I* think we’re lenient, but Running Mate does not.  Nor do the kids.

Running Mate does ask for and eat some of their candy, the Dad Tax.  That’s the closest we get in our family to tithing, but we are community-oriented parents who believe in taxes and community services.

Second, teaching with The Candy:

Candy overload is a great teaching tool for both kids and parents, as we learned from a kid vomiting in the car because of too much birthday cake and ice cream.  Twice.  I just did not get it the first time, I guess.  It was ages ago, and it didn’t take much cake.  Vomit is a great tool for parents;  we can talk plainly about the perils of evil evil sugar, and about moderation, and about taking our advice.

Stupid tiny wrappers are a great chance to practice picking up your own garbage. Ug.

A few years in a row, Thing 1 wanted to melt down and mix together a bunch of candies and make some kind of Frankencandy or fudge.  Kitchen experiments are fun sensory experiences, they encourage executive function skills and basic chemistry lessons (probably more than basic if I knew more).  The Frankencandy looked too yukky to garner more than the obligatory taste.  The fudge concoction looked edible, we nibbled on it a little, but it wasn’t what he’d expected and we didn’t eat it all.

This year, while  doing dishes, Thing 1 made a joke and I laughed and laughed.  He offered me a peanut M&14955805_1312471322099479_4602202210808270260_n.jpgM. He was sweet and funny and we hugged. He offered me a peanut M&M.  I thanked him for helping me with the dishes, UNASKED.  He offered me a peanut M&M.  Big Bang Theory fans will know why I stopped laughing and asked, “Are you trying to Penny me?”

His turn to laugh.  HARD.  “Yes.”

Third, giving The Candy:

This is a great opportunity for the kids to GIVE!  Yes, you have a large amount, you have things that other folks might want more than you (trying to say nicely to give away the stuff you don’t like) and lots of people on your “thank you” list: send a special piece to each grandparent, give to the crossing guards on your way to school, to the neighbors who did not participate this year, sadly, because their kids are grown.

Your candy will be gone in no time.

As always, I’m here for you.  Please do follow along on Facebook, and share this post widely.  🙂

Travel time bonding activities

Before kids, I was leery of sitting near kids on planes.  Having two of my own now, I am committed to NOT being the one with the annoying kids!   The very best way to keep kids amused on planes is to give in to giving them your full attention.  I’ve skipped their naps and let them have bottles on planes, and that has worked.  But they are 9 and 13 now! Set them — and you — up for fun.

Travel time doesn’t have to be an annoying waiting game, even if your flight is cancelled.  It’s a great time to talk and bond!  Here is my list of tech-free strategies — no mind-numbing beeping or squeaky little voices:

*Phone Pictures 1348.jpgLook for unusual signs. Read them aloud, imagine why they are there (hilarious accidents leading to “one way” signs, for example), or imagine what they’d serve at this public supper, and photograph them. Look for and try regional, unusual, or new foods.
*What’s in there?  Trucks, cars, buses, wagons, warehouses.  To simplify for younger kids, make crazy suggestions like penguins, pingpong balls, or bean bag chairs when you see those cargo planes or big trailers on the runway. For biggers, figure out the system that it’s part of: shipping, luggage transfers, food access?
*Uno is a great card game for the plane, and in general the plane is a great place to capitalize on having your kids’ undivided attention to teach them card games or practice a foreign language.

*Tell the kids’ stories: one of mine came out with a small peep; one came out screaming her head off!  Haha.  The first one stayed in the hospital for a while; with the second one I said bring the car seat and winter coat tomorrow, and Running Mate said “It’s not like they’re going to just send her home with us.” But they did! haha.  One kid got a first bath from Nanny, one got a first bath from Running Mate (dad).  They had different baby songs, we lived in different places.

*Keep lists: when my son was small, on road trips we kept a list of mighty machines; my daughter likes animals.  You could adapt this for plane travel and your family’s personality: plaid pPhone Pictures 1291.jpgants? someone traveling with a pet? a bird, flying dragon, or good witch out the plane window? Spot a necktie or fuzzy hat in the airports or rest stops, keep track of your points.  At takeoff and landing, look for back yard swimming pools, parks, parking lots full of school buses.
*Mad Libs!  Filling in the blanks is great practice for learning nouns and verbs.
*Rock paper scissors – we’ve found that if you do this often enough, the competition goes out of it.  We also occasionally throw a new sign, the “thumbs up” sign might be a grenade, the wick of which scissors and sharp paper can cut. We did one with Chinese food – two fists beside each other for egg roll, two fingers for chop sticks, and thumb between the pointer and middle fingers (like “I’ve got your nose”) for fortune cookie.  Just make up the rules as you go.

*Cat’s cradle – another cooperative game for the kids.*Sound effects game – make a noise and have the other players build a story around it.  Creaking or clapping are good to start with, and using props like ruffling book pages is encouraged — but be warned, preteen boys and dads tend to deteriorate into body sounds. And this one is better for the car.

*With pen and paper, you can play tic-tac-toe, hangman, draw your pet and let the kids color it in, play an impromptu drawing-and-guessing game similar to dictionary,  draw the head (or spikes) of a dragon and let them finish it.*Hum-a-song — one person hums and the other guesses.  Itsy-bitsy spider, happy birthday, holiday songs.*Origami — teach your child one simple construction.  My 5-y-o made penguins till the paper was gone!  Then we gave them away everywhere we went.Phone Pictures 902

When I drive, my mind always wanders back to the Native Americans that lived here before the highways, and I imagine if one could come up this hill and know exactly where they were, or if they followed a river up to it’s source, or could fish out of my Dad’s pond.  I talk about it with my kids, but I don’t know yet if they really “get” it.  They indulge me, mostly.  I think Pioneer Culture, with wagons and paths, are more imaginable for them, and we do talk about that, too.

I’d love to know what kinds of games YOU play that aren’t on this list; please do add them in below and share with us.

And if you’d like to chat about making the transitions from vacation to home to school, shoot me an email at Funnermother [at]funnermother.com.  Happy dog days!

Summer ain’t what it used to be. But it can still be fun!

As a kid, Maine summers with Dad stretched on endlessly. I had a friend or two but spent my time on my treadle sewing machine, watching old movies, going to the library and reading the Nancy Drew series, walking downtown to look at fabric, or sitting on one of the big rocks around our little pond in the woods with my orange plastic typewriter, tapping out profound things.  I. Loved. It.

I had kids late, and summer ain’t what it used to be.

Forty years later, my childhood summer is unavailable…Children’s Services snaps up kids on their own, or worse, someone else does.  And though it’s statistically unlikely, the news warns us about both and we are all thinking about it all the time.  The little orange typewriter has been replaced by a keyboard in each pocket. It’s a long walk to the suburban library in the next town; we don’t have woods or pond.  And “kids these days,” including mine, don’t even want to do these things.  Harumph.

When I worked in academic libraries, my kids were in care or camps.  Basically, year-round school.  I couldn’t wait for them to spend the day reading on the lowest branches of our maple tree, or finding a little nook on the path that caresses the side of our house.  Or laying on a quilt with me and watching the clouds, you know, like you do.  For hours.

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None of those things has happened.  None!  I’ve stopped feeling bad, almost.

Click to tweet: twitter-128Expectations about our kids’ summers set us up for disappointment or guilt. We think they’ll be just like ours, or magical, or full, or blissfully empty.  On the other side of that, of course, is only compromise.  We can’t force a 1970s summer; authorities would step in! Ha!  But I’d love to help you work out a summer that leaves you and the kids happy.

With a plan and a laugh about how our kids don’t want our dream summer, we’ll hash out what you want and what will work. We’ll work out a screen contract, build in touchstones during the day and week.   We’ll make a fun summer bucket list, and a plan for moving those kids to the next level of independence and contribution before school starts up again.  For all the details click here, and if you’d like to talk about my Summer-Saver VIP day, let’s schedule time to talk.  Just email me at Funnermother [at] Funnermother.com or message me on Facebook.Facebook.Facebook.  Let’s make summer funner.

What’s a White Mom to Do?

I cried all the way to the library.  Then I told my kids about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  “Remember last summer when I said not to leave a black friend if a cop showed up or if you were all doing something and it went sideways?  Or if things started to unravel, or if any one of you did something wrong? To ask the cop if you can call us before you reach for your phone? And that we will come and support you all?”

They nodded solemnly.  When I cry it gets their undivided attention.

“Well that’s not enough.  I’m sorry that the world is not a perfect place.  But each of us by being here has the responsibility to leave our place better than we found it.  We need to figure out what we can do to heal this place.”

They blinked.

“I want us to try harder.”

How? they asked.  “Be friendly. Look people in the eye, say hi.  Let’s start there.”

My slightly atypical, rather antisocial teen bristled: But I don’t associate with ANY people, white, brown, or any race.  And I know this is true – we’ve been trying to figure that out already.

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Click this image to purchase this set or see other ceramics from Acme Humane.

“Just talk to Fred at the bus stop.  It’s just you two.  I’m not asking you to be his friend only because he’s brown, but I AM asking you to be friendly.  Just start by saying ‘hi.’  Do you ever talk?” If there’s something going on at school to talk about. “Okay, good, start by just talking.”  I know I am asking a lot of this kid, but I am asking anyway.

“And you, sister, have you noticed that the bus stop breaks into 2 groups by color when we’re there?  You have?  Talk to those brown kids, too.” But those are all boys and they’re rough and act crazy.  “Yep, I know, they’re younger than you and when they get together, they can act silly.  I’ll help you.”

I’ll help you.

Inside the library, an African American boy about 2 or 3 is being held to a very high standard by a black adult woman: “That isn’t yours.  Put that back.  Look at me. I don’t like that.”  And I wonder about how much the pressure on her has increased over the last 48 hours, the last year — or 2.  A white couple arrives with three biracial toddlers.  I wonder who is at the most risk, how the visible markers of skin color override history, behavior, rules, rights… Race matters, and being “colorblind” does not help, as Mamademics has pointed out.

We are white like salamander bellies.  It is up to US to breach this gap.  Imperfectly, perhaps, but we need to start.  Because we are outside the script that gets laid on people of color.  They cannot heal this rift alone, it is too dangerous.

We must.

We must start somewhere.

I would dearly love to hear what you are doing in your family or neighborhood to breach this gap.  Pop on over to Facebook and let me know; let’s talk.  And if you don’t know how to get started, pm me over there.  I’ll help you.  Or I’ll talk to your group, or share a reading list, or just listen.