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  The little orange typewriter has been replaced by a keyboard in each pocket.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.

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Parenting Picky Eaters: Tactics that Work!

I want to push us all to think about the family as a culture, not just mom’s responsibility.  And I’m starting with food.  Sign up for my free seminar:

stainedglassmama copyParenting Picky Eaters: Tactics that Work

One of my kids is a sensory averse white bread lover, the other is a seeker who snacks on raw onions! If I can feed these two, I can help you feed yours, too.

May 28, 8pm EST; 5pm Pacific
Click here for more details and to sign up!

If you’ve been reading along, you know: I’m frustrated with how much moms are on the hook for cultural problems, starting with kids’ diets.  Obesity, diabetes, test scores, long-term health, even behavior is linked to what moms are feeding their kids.  And yeah, moms.

I’ve written before about the decline of the “typical American family.”  Statistically, there is no longer any one family structure that constitutes a third of American families; there is no typical category any more. And yet simultaneously, the barrier to healthy eating rests on women — studies show.  Somehow it seems that women can’t seem to get out of the kitchen.   Still!

If you have a picky eater, rent those kids a movie, pick up your favorite beverage, and join me as I share some of my best secrets to taking the stress off mealtimes.  You’ll get a free .pdf of three Edible Tools for Fussy Eaters immediately upon signup.

Let’s do this.  See you on the seminar!

 

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.  🙂

 

Balance is a Bitch

Decades ago I was talking to my smart and artsy friends about balance.  We were graduate students, activists, feminists trying to make a mark on or a space in the world.  We went to protests, cultural theory classes, and dance clubs.  We thought deep and hard, organized conferences, started women’s groups, wrote a lot, pulled all-nighters, cooked together, talked nonstop, took road trips, or slept for an age.

ladies at a party

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And when we took a pause, we wondered how to achieve balance.  We all wanted it and thought we should have it; but nobody could really do it.  None of us felt we could strike a balance.  One day, one of us said it: balance is a bitch.  Indeed,

twitter-128 the chase for elusive “balance” was frustrating;

I felt throttled, guilty for not slowing down, so that I could do all the things.  And I was not alone.  That turned out to be one of my best college lessons.

Sometimes balance is just unattainable; and… here’s the important part: that’s ok.

I tapped my fingers through a scheduled massage.  A poetry reading.  A walk in the woods. I had shit to do!

Not every time, but most times.  My fingers would type out what I was thinking while I was trying to force some “balance” on myself.  And feeling like a failure because I couldn’t do it without typing on my leg about the thing I would rather do.

The search, the struggle, for that slippery idea of balance can actually be harder than allowing yourself to live without it.  There is nothing wrong with passion, hard work, or immersion.  Passion projects lend themselves to lack of balance — have you ever been so involved in a project you love that hours slip away like minutes?  To me that’s a really good feeling.

I’ve had no bigger passion project than parenting — where striking a balance implies constant stability, regularity, discipline —  foundational to making a happy home.  IMG_20160314_091030007

And while one kid in particular may enjoy having a more organized home, a less spontaneous schedule, regularly scheduled weekly one-on-one time, it’s not happening right now.  Not every month, month after month.  Maybe two weeks in a row, maybe three.  And I have stopped beating myself up about that.  Instead, I do spontaneously say “we haven’t had our time together, let’s play a game.”  And they have yet to reach the age where they won’t come sit.  And sometimes, too, I am happy to spend a full afternoon and evening playing board or card games. Cuddling. Chaperoning. I love spending a few days in the car, traveling. Camping.

We are finding our own pace, and I’m not tapping my fingers on the sides of my legs while we take a “leisurely” walk by the river.  We still take walks, but sometimes five minutes of eye contact works, too.  And it’s ok.

They know when I’m distracted, and they know when I’m present.  They are learning to ask for time, to keep themselves entertained, and sometimes, to wait.  We all love each other and their grades are good.  They see me taking care of business, following through on commitments, making mistakes and fixing them.  They see a woman following her heart, make time for herself, and make time for them.  It’s not always balanced, and we are all learning that it’s okay.

If you’d like someone in your corner as you find or re-calibrate ‘balance,’ I have some spots in my “funner” coaching programs made specially for moms.  Message me here or on facebook to schedule a free chat.

Moms’ self-care: yet another task?

bath tub at the ocean

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I admit, I despair of those articles telling me all the things I must, should, or could be doing for myself.

Take 15 minutes, practice mindfulness, reach out to friends, take a bath.

self care is not selfish

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They are all great ideas, they are not selfish or outlandish, and they sound so do-able.

But they’re not.

Not for me.

I am a little jittery already, and taking time to smell the roses just… makes me uncomfortable.

Those self-care ideas still feel selfish, even though I know they’re not.

Or they feel like tasks: things I need to remember, maintain, or organize.

And before I could take a bath, I’d have to clean the tub.  Boo.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned some alternate self-care strategies!

self care

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I have, and they fall into three general categories: incorporate, schedule, outsource.

Incorporate nurturing things into your life.

After finishing a huge project I paid myself with luxurious flannel sheets, and every time I use them it is a treat for both eyes and skin.

Add a scent to your nighttime routine.

self care

Click this image to purchase this soap from Magnolia Essential.

Or a luxurious soap to your morning routine.

self care

Click this image to purchase it from Funnermother.

“Surround yourself with” sounds like an enormous task of planning and commitment to me.

Instead, find one image that you love.

It could be a place, a trip, a person, a color, a dream.

Something that you will see and smile.

Then, put it where you will see it.

Or plant a perennial — my lilac tree looks good, smells good, and throws some shade.

Done once, enjoyed daily.

Schedule the things that get you through the week.

If you are reading this, you probably know that I love Mondays because it’s moms’ night out.

self care

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Every Monday, rain or shine.

And it must work, because our families respect it and make sure it happens.

Lunch, massage, a britcom, playing cards, a knitting or exercise class, a drink, or Wednesday evening gardening.

Schedule it once, enjoy it regularly.

Outsource what you can.

Start by getting your kids to do whatever age-appropriate chores they can.

self care

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Getting my kids to take out the garbage and recycling, and wipe and put away dishes, was far more gratifying and stress-reducing than I imagined.

And Thing 2 loves food prep: retrieving, washing, slicing. She loves setting the table.  Thing 1 loves lighting the candle if we have one.

It all adds up, and she chatters through the whole thing to the “audience” of her imagined cooking show.

Maybe you have someone who does your taxes, teaches your kids an instrument, or cleans your house.

self care

Click this image to purchase the print from Flourish Cafe.

And if you are juggling food sensitivities, diets, picky kids, or newly declared vegetarians– you can also hire an experienced researcher and planner to work with you on streamlining your family meal.  Me!  🙂  We can work together to get mealtime back on track.

Visit my website to see details on my short course on Feeding the Finicky and my more intense family meal overhaul called Kitchen Coaching.  And as always, pop on over to Facebook to catch daily tips and quips.

I love Mondays.

vintage black and white photo

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“I’m always hungover on Tuesdays.”

On the phone scheduling a date, we laughed, but it’s true!  Monday nights are moms’ night out.  I go with my neighbor to the local pub, where they can set their watches by our arrival.  We catch up, comment on the news, and laugh. Those hard and long belly laughs that cause chemical changes in your brain.  Have we been doing this for half a decade?  Yes, I think so.  That’s a lot of chemical change!

ladies at a party

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This is part of my self-care.  I love Mondays!  Who can say that?  It’s just a couple of hours, but it erases so much strife — like how exhausting the mundane can be, especially when there are bumps in the road. A system can’t just be implemented for kids; it’s constant change.  Rethinking the same questions over and over: rules, food, screen, bedtimes, friends.  Keeping them fed with healthy food, fresh air, challenging books and some kind of spiritual wonderings…  Exhausting and mundane is not part of that sexy cultural narrative that convinces us to choose parenting.  But that’s a real part of the experience.  I say that with love, but I don’t know if I could, were it not for Monday nights.

ladies in hats

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On Mondays we talk about those mundane things too, though her kids are grown. There’s still so much to laugh about, so much the same.  And it’s working.  Our proof?  Our mates!  They bend over backwards to drive us, rearrange schedules, give us cash…  They make sure we don’t miss a Monday.  We laugh that we must be pretty hard to live with when we miss a week.

What’s your treat?  Your regular self-care?  Let me know in the comments.  And if you’d like to chat about managing the mundane, drop me a line.  🙂

Seven Phrases to Help You Back Off the Helicopter Parenting

helicopter parents

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I’ve written before about being a helicopter parent, and as my kids moved from private to public school, man, I was on high alert in my very mommy cells!  But my rational brain wants them to be self-sufficient and feel capable, so my mommy cells and my brain continue to fight it out.  As Thing 1 moves into tweenhood, I find it much easier to back off at home — not bring him water after *I* am in bed, ask him to get his own snacks, dinner condiments, whatever — than to figure that out about the rest of the big wide world — how far he can go from home alone and for how long, and when he can have a cel phone…

1. “Oh, good idea, you can do that yourself!  Let me help you with it.”  Then, a few months or years later, “If you need help let me know.”  From getting water for the bedside table to packing up the backpack for school, make it clear that they have the ability and you trust them to do it, and you’re still there if they need you.

running postage stamp

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2. “Ug, I know how much that sucks, I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about it?”  Don’t blame the other kid, the school, or the world for their pain.  Let them feel the pain, move through it, and bounce back.

3. “Everyone fails.  Nobody ever gets it right the very first time, that’s how we all learn.”  Our kids should expect to fail and have some coping skills for when it happens.

4. “Yeah, I think you can!  Give it a try, let’s see how it goes.”  Constant praise and you-can-do-its can be deceiving.  You can still be positive without making them think success is guaranteed.  See #3.  🙂

5.”Aw crap, I messed up.  Let me see if I can make this right or try again.”  It’s a lot of pressure to think of ourselves as models for our kids at all times.  But we are, and that does not mean we don’t make mistakes.  In fact, those mistakes are great opportunities to teach them what to do next, how to fix it.

stylized foot print

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6. “And then this one time, I embarrassed myself so badly {hearty laugh and tell the story}”  Laughing at ourselves is the very best gift we can get. Or give.  It took me until my mid-to-late 40s to figure this out.  One of my kids really resists it, and I work to remember in the moment to laugh instead of being defensive when he catches me goofing up.

7. Everyone has a family story like this one: my father raced my nephews: on foot, all the time, he always won.  ALWAYS.  I said, Pa, that’s rough, you’re being hard on those boys, they’re only 4, or whatever.  He didn’t say a word.  Fast forward 20 years. One day the older boy looked over and slowed down until Pa passed him.  Then Pa stopped.  “Don’t patronize me, kid.  I never let up on you, and now it is your turn.  You earned this.”  My own kids love this story, and they understand.  Their dad never lets them win on family game night.  It’s agonizing, even though I know it’s the right thing to do.  Tell your kids your family story, and beat the pants off them on family game night.  Eventually they WILL stop throwing the game board, they will stop crying, they will stop being angry about it.  And they will be stronger.

Come on over and join me on Facebook as we work together to ditch the helicopter.

Talking to kids about suicide

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Wolf watercolor

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Crows.

Those birds.  All their feet, pointing at navy blue crystal clear glass.

The deepest smartest you’ve seen.  And today they are glittering with tears.

“I’m tired, sissy. I’m ready.”

“I know.”

But I don’t, I can’t.

25 years on dialysis, held captive by machines on the one hand and chemicals — from pharmacies or liquor stores — on the other.  How could I know his struggle?  Struggle, not upward, but struggle for stasis.  Struggle to manage demons, to manage health, to manage money and family and love, rejection, every everyday affront.

 

We are stoic on the outside, but I toss and turn for weeks. His children are turning into men, not ready for fatherless lives.  Who is ever ready, though?

One of those weeks a celebrity kills himself.  The nation calls it a tragedy.  I am icy, unmoved, somehow.  At 62, he was an age where Hollywood began to turn away.  His last project or two did not fit his or our ideas of a trajectory of success.  Upward, always upward, and ageless.  He had children.  They say “Depression” but I find it unforgivable because of the children.

glass cuff links

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My tossing and turning are back.  This moment recalls those moments as a kid I worried about a parent killing themselves.  My powerlessness over my brother seems like a certain guilty freedom, compared to the powerlessness of a kid, feeling helpless and overwhelmed and frightened and still planning what to do in case….

Which brings me around to parenting.  So far I have sheltered the Things (7 & 11) from both this big public and big private idea, suicide.  It feels like teaching them about a private little bruise that I have to show them and poke at to get them to understand.  I’ve left a little opening, “your uncle has been sick and tired a long time.”  But I’m not sure where to start.  As our house goes unsold and we start school Away, Again, I am not on top of my own emotions.  But before the decisive moment, I need to talk to them about depression, about human agency, and about death with dignity.  Also about handling their own emotions and how to take care of their own mental health.

This article, Cruising Toward Mellow  gives  excellent starting points for younger kids, but I’m coming to this late, I worry.

August 21, 2014: So I asked them each (separately) if they knew what suicide meant, and that it has been in the news because a celebrity committed suicide, and it turns out that he was depressed and nobody knew.  I told them that I was committed to teaching them to deal with their feelings, that they were just feelings, and that they could always talk to Dad and I about how they were feeling, and they could get help or we could help them get help — we’ve been to a Talk Doc as a family, and it was kind of fun, so they aren’t afraid of professional help at this point.  Tonight I ran across this article on depression and physical fitness, and I will talk to them each about it: “Depression in young adolescence can be prevented by physical fitness.”  The article targets the sixth grade (Thing 1’s grade) as a crucial one for increased correlation between fitness and depression.  I’ll keep updating with what I find.  The hard part will be the turn I want to make to talk to them about death with dignity, about taking the situation into one’s own hands.  We stoic New Englanders all seem to agree that years of pain at the hands of illness is undignified, and unnecessary….  Stay tuned!

I welcome any suggestions for handling this delicate topic here, or over on my Facebook page.

 

 

 

I am in my happy place

Old Orchard Beach Pier

Click this image of Old Orchard Beach to purchase it from Elizabeth Thomas Photo.

Tantalizing.  So much is about the smells of lake and ocean.

Pine, wet earth, the salty air, coconut sunscreen, high tide, my childhood home, my other childhood home.

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Click this image to buy it from CEJPhotography.

We left Running Mate behind, packing and cleaning without us under foot. The Things miss him, achingly so!

The 13-hour drive was doubled by jumping jacks breaks — my response to their bickering. But all that falls away in the cold waters of home.

When others talk and write of ethnicity, this is what I reflect on.  New England.  My family is a broad mix of bloodlines. We identify with family and regional histories.  And I want the Things to have that platform, too.

So we are a heartbreaking 3/4 of us as the Things hear stories about how Silas was followed home by a cat, how Pa drove a school bus for an integrated school near a military base in Maine while he was in college, how Big Nanny would let her children (my mother) cook potatoes right on the cast iron stove on cold Saturday afternoons.  The one-room schoolhouse, the potato harvest that shut down the schools each fall so all could work, our potato inspector and grave-digger grandfathers.

Family stories are proven and re-proven to strengthen families, an Emory University reconfirmed this recently.  Huffington Post published a “DYK: Do you know” questionnaire, and it was fun to go through it as a family.  But the facts in the questions, the article points out, are not what’s relevant.  It’s the time spent relaying them.  You can follow our Maine travels and our neverending attempt to move to Maine, over on Facebook.  Stop by and tell me if your kids know your family stories, and what they are!

Radiolab Changed My Parenting

Thing 1 had a short playdate on the far side of the city that disallowed driving all the way home & back. I LOVE it when this happens. I’m a high-strung mom from Puritan stock… being idle wreaks havoc on my nerves.  But when gently forced to pause, I adore it.  Waiting rooms, city buses, friends who never show up.  Love!  So I sat in a parking lot listening to public radio and crocheting. Bliss.

parenting

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I listened to Radiolab’s “Sound as Touch.”  I learned of Anne Fernald’s findings that there are a set of common tunes within the words that parents all over the world speak to their babies. Across cultures, parents sound the same.  “Sound is touch at a distance.”  I learned about the 1913 riots during the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring when brains could not make sense of the unfamiliar dissonance. And about the mechanics of how the brain understands sound.

Waves of vibrating air start compressed in your voice box, then upon iteration they travel through time and space into my ear, through a little tunnel — they vibrate a few very small bones, which in turn transmit the vibration into this salty sea where fluid literally bends little hairs to make sound, and then charged molecules rush into the brain.  “Sound is touch at a distance.” Dissonance (unpleasant sound) has chemical consequences – neurons revolt and dopamine is released into the brain.  Extreme dopamine release is one symptom of schizophrenia, and at lesser levels would have instigated the Stravinsky riots.

Yelling

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You see where I’m going as I circle back to parenting… But for me it was huge. I yell. It’s not my primary parenting tool, but I do.  And I had a theory that to withstand big emotions would be a good skill that I wish I’d had. But whoa. A stranger’s dissonance can drive a group of people to riot, we know.  When that dissonance is ratcheted up, what happens?  When it is one-on-one?  Coming from the person you love most, your life source? And then, what if you have sensory processing disorder, which one or both of my kids do?  Yes, there is a science behind why shouting at someone feels like an assault. It is. Sound is touch at a distance.

So I have joined an online group of moms who are all trying to stop yelling, and I have slowed down our nightly read-aloud time to bathe them in my gentle voice.  I try to look my children in the eye, look at the color of their eyes (he has dad’s, she has mine), at their souls.  I look for my triggers — and they are often sound!  I am overwhelmed by repetitive, jarring, or loud sounds.  As are my kids. Sigh. I am also humbled by the Radiolab story enough to share it with you, to hope that we can speak with kindness more often. To keep up with my progress, sign up for my weekly-ish Ezine over at Funnermother.com.

Listen to Sound As Touch and see what you think.  Then drop me a line on Facebook.