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

 

 

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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.

Methuselah Moms: Rise Up

In  Balance is a Bitch, I recently wrote about moms being immersed, about the struggle to achieve a life/work ‘balance’ that works, and about what our kids learn by watching us do work we love.  Older moms like me, caught between two parenting paradigms — the baby boomers and the millenials — need to hear this message about sculpting our own “balance.”

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Want help with your “bounce”?  Call me.

We older moms are established in our careers or professional/artistic paths, solid, and tired.  This very special position is an exhaustingly rich one, and one we recognize as a gift of this historical moment like none before.  And our kids are seeing new possibilities in what it means to age, to be a working woman, to be a mom.  But we are ready for a new metaphor  — to help us be happy, to help us conceptualize the often incongruent projects of parenting and careering, and to help us see our pattern and be okay with it.

The heartfelt comments that y’all wrote on “Balance is a Bitch” led me to think of  the big long swinging turns of giant slalom skiing: GS turns, strong and loving the turns, always in motion, first one way then the next.  Choose a word that fits your style: Braiding, three strands twisted around one another inextricably: working, parenting, and the self.  Or  weaving: one atop another over-under then under-over — many strands, colors, patterns, working together.  The pendulum has been my term (until the GS turns).  I go through periods of rocking parenting, and of being average, and of needing help.  Success at working, for me, is usually in inverse proportion to my success as parenting.

And that is okay.

Methuselah moms, fear not.  We have it “all.”  Where the ideology trips us up is in imagining that everything is always perfect — and of course it’s not, not in real life. Not always.

twitter-128Click to tweet:  Nothing’s perfect. But imperfection doesn’t mean failure, nor that work & family aren’t both worth having.

Imperfection does not mean it’s never good nor that it is effortless.  And in those moments of seeming failure, when we can’t gracefully patch everything together, those are the most important ones for our kids — because of what happens next.  You know what that is? You bounce.  You get a grip.  You rewind, apologize, hire someone to do it, just do your best, laugh at yourself, cry on someone’s shoulder, or reach out to a friend.  Knowing what to do is important; having coping skills is essential.  And imperfection gives us constant opportunities to model coping skills to the littles.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your braid or pendulum, or if you want someone in your corner strategizing, reach out to me at Funnermother@yahoo.com.  We can have a chat and see if we could work together on brainstorming, making some systems that work, or talking through what it means to bounce.

And as always, you can come on over to Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.  Come on, let’s hang out.  🙂

 

Sensitive, Picky Eaters? Listen in as I’m interviewed on this very topic!

Listen in tonight at 7 as I discuss with Donna Ashton my signature system for building food curiosity into your family culture.  Learn the four words that are derailing family dinners.

Donna is the founder of The Waldorf Connection, where parents can get support giving their children an education of art, music, and movement.  Donna is a champion of home-schooling ease and a mentor for family-first home-based businesses.
My talk is free, so just click here to jump on the call.

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Slumber Party… with a helicopter mom

Slumber Part clip art

Click this image to purchase this darling clip art from 1EverythingNice.

Thing Two had a slumber party!

Her friend came for dinner, and when I asked if she’d eat spaghetti and meatballs, salad, garlic bread, she responded “I don’t care what I eat.”  Heaven!

The sleepover was a cliche, with every element you might imagine when 8-year-olds have slumber parties.

There was giggling, squealing, whispering, stuffed animals, nail polish, and puking.

What?

Slumber party art

Click this image to purchase it from Jessica Stasie.

Yes.  I was holding a long blonde ponytail watching a colorful work of art develop.

And panicking.

Someone else’s kid was at my house!  Sick!

Running mate was out with our car, and our guest was starting to cry.

I couldn’t take her home!

Luckily we had ginger ale.  I called her mom. “Oh, yeah, this is her first sleepover without her sister.  And she’s overtired.  Just send her to bed.”

Oh huzzah. Reaching out is a crucial skill for helicopter parents.  Whether it’s a friend, a coach, another parent, the pediatrician, the insurance company health hotline, poison control…if you have a finely tuned panic reflex, brainstorm an outreach list right now and put a post-it note on the calendar or fridge.  You will thank me in the middle of the night one night!  🙂

If  you are struggling with parenting stress, find me on Facebook, Pinterest, or reach out for help.

To cheat or not to cheat… on your kids

Eat more veggies.

Click this image to purchase a copy from Blossoms and Billows.

Smiling veggies

Click this image to purchase it from Ninas Design Studio.

I haven’t been a fan of sneaking food into kids.  But.

New studies point more to clearly to the importance of healthfulness in kids’ early diets in predicting long-term health “What your child eats now will make an enormous difference to his adult health….Produce may ward off asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, metabolic syndrome, artery-clogging plaque” and more (Parents, June 2015, p. 66).

When my micropreemie was two and still underweight, my mom put a cotton ball on the ceiling fan and hit the switch.  Yes, one could see it as an early introduction to mindless eating, sneaking it in while he laughed hysterically.

vintage botanical print of spinach

Click this image to purchase it from Vintage Inclination.

When he was about 5, I bought a cookbook of recipes for foods that had healthy ingredients secreted inside them.  Unnoticeable.  Don’t ask, don’t tell — toddler style.

Does that strategy “teach” kids to like or tolerate, say spinach?  A nursing student mom I know says yes, some other moms say no.  I opted for a little sneaking in while I worked on educating their palates.

But what if — what if we re-thought brownies let’s say.  What if brownies could just BE a dessert that had a healthy dose of spinach?  What if “spinach” came to be associated with spinach pie, greek pizza, salad with bacon, AND chocolate spinach cake, aka brownies?

What if we eliminate the stigma on healthy foods?  What if we just stop sneaking, but don’t stop making those same recipes? This is my goal.

Our chocolate chip cookies have mashed beans in them, and Thing 2 just doesn’t care any more.  “They taste good, that’s all I need” he says.  A few of my best dessert recipes are available on my Free Resources page… then head on over to Facebook and tell me how they turned out for you!

Planning Now for A Kids-At-Home Summer

kids running through field

Click this idyllic image to purchase this print from Vickie Wade Fine Art.

I’m setting up some daily structure for the summer now.  We have one important rule: no computer before 11 am. They are allowed an hour a day during the summer, and it works better if I give them “time to earn” that privilege.  This summer they’ll also be allowed an hour of playstation time, but not before 3.  And they are required to read for at least an hour a day. That’s our day by day.

They are looking forward to ending their first year in public school and having a long leisurely summer.  They did a great job tackling a big transition, and I’m happy to have the chance to stay home and allow them the kind of summer I had as a kid.

But I also asked them to put a couple of fun things on their wish list for the summer, and here’s what they picked.

vintage circus camel

Click this image to purchase this fun instant download from Digital Design Vault.

Thing 1: Living Treasures Animal Park, Build A Cactus Garden, Grow a jade plant

Thing 2: Get good Pokemon cards, Ride a camel, play laser tag at Lazer Storm

All pretty manageable goals for a summer vacation.

We go to the library regularly year round, we have a big-for-the-suburbs garden to tend, and I’m going to continue having them prepare dinner one night a week. So those are our weekly activities.

I’m also going to get them to the water park, to Maine, and with luck I’ll get us ALL organized for a camping trip.  Our first.  Eek.

colorful waterpark print

Click this image to purchase it from Supkophoto.

My friend Gina over at Sister Serendip has a great summer plan for loose weekly themes and manages to keep five little ones lightly focused and fairly busy all summer.  Check her out, too.  And then tell me what YOUR plans are, over on Facebook or in the comments below.  Here we go!