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  The little orange typewriter has been replaced by a keyboard in each pocket.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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Picky Eater at the Library Party

Academic library folk can party!  Every year we went to a swank restaurant owned by an Italian celebrity chef.  My former micropreemie, now toddling, came to work with me a couple of days a week and was also invited.

It was a pasta restaurant, his favorite! Yummy comfort foods — what’s not to love?

There was a much-anticipated $5 gift swap, wine, and small talk.  A little more wine.  Appetizers.  Then we picked from a special menu pulled together just for us — a trio of extremely lovely highbrow pastas. Gnocchi with duck; garganelli with Prosciutto, peas, and cream; ravioli with wild boar and rosemary.

Fudgey, creamy, or spicy.  Uh oh.

Luckily, I had backup.

I found our waiter and, with big smiles and nodding my head, made my request.  My cheeks felt flushed. Again.  I sat at the big round six-top with Peanut on my lap.

WillNotEatClick

Click here to receive three quick videos with tips for your picky eater.

I ate; he didn’t.

CLICK to tweet:  If you have a sensory or food-averse kid, you know — you cannot wait them out.   They’d rather not eat.  At the six-top, my coworkers noticed, looked worried, asked if he was feeling okay.  I was still smiling wide, nodding, and now sweating, too.  And still flushed.

If you have a picky kid, you’ve probably stuck food in your purse a time or a hundred.

Finally the waiter came out with my secret weapon — purse nuggets!  In those days purse nuggets were my constant companion; just throw them in frozen and by lunch they’re ready to heat up.

He’s still picky at 13, but it’s okay. In the decade since then, I’ve worked out a system and he’s come a long way.  He’s no longer underweight and I don’t fret about his diet.

Purse nuggets got us through some scary times, and I am grateful to the nugget inventors of the world.  But shifting to a deliberate family culture around food has changed everything.  He’s become curious and he even eats outside his comfort zone — and points it out, haha.

If you want tips for building food curiosity in your picky kid, click the link above to get 3 quick videos sent right to your inbox.  And stay tuned, I have a webinar coming up in May that will help you ditch those purse nuggets forever!

If you can’t wait another day, check out my Parenting Picky Eaters program.  And as always, follow along the antics in the fun house on Facebook.

Purse nuggets be gone!

Perks of having atypical kids

preemie tee shirt

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My first kid came 16 weeks early.  I see your math-wheels turning, converting that into months.  Yep.  He spent 3 months in intensive care and 3 weeks in a transitional hospital.  He was about 6 months old when he first brought his hands to midline (the center of his body in front) and 8 months old when he passed a toy from one hand to the other.  Two important firsts for which we had been watching and waiting.

On each occasion we photographed the event, reported it to our parents, physical therapist, occupational therapist, developmental followup personnel, pediatric neurologist, and family friends.  And each time one friend or another said “I didn’t even know that was a milestone.  I wonder what else I have missed.”

A friend on a parallel path called to tell me when her daughter reached for a tree branch outside, around age 8, and how she and her partner wept with the joy of it.  That takes vision, planning, desire, cognition, hand-eye-mind coordination!  States away, I wept into my phone too.  We rejoiced together.

I survived tee

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The highs and lows of raising atypical kids are extremely low … and extremely high.  There are ways that parents of “typical” kids don’t get to experience the intense joy, love, and gratitude that we get to feel.  Initial diagnoses, possible outcomes, and planning courses of treatment are shocking.  Keeping track of appointments, services, medications, medical histories, and both short- and long-term goals are hard, and parenting atypical kids is hard, even grueling, with spurts of hopelessness and a constant quiet drone of worry –like that annoying neighbor who is always mowing his lawn.

In most cases, that’s not ALL it is though.  While the bulk of parents quietly check off those big visible milestones — tick, tick tick — we warriormamas study that list and all the wee steps leading up to each developmental check mark. Waiting. Watching. Hoping.  When it happens, it is huge.  A prayer answered, a celebration inside and out.  Hearts a-burstin’, eyes a-dancin’, skipping, cartwheels, screaming, and jumping for joy.  Jealous?  Our victories aren’t celebrated as points on the way to college, tech school, moving out, or adulthood, they are self-contained victories, and the joy we feel is so enormous, it can almost break us.

A facebook friend recently shared a report on which colleges graduate those students who end up making the biggest salaries, disappointed that his kid’s college wasn’t on the list.  As a parent, that is so far from my frame of reference, I can’t believe that we are both talking about parenting.  As I type this I am reveling in one good day — how it sounded smelled and tasted — and I know that in some deep way, I am the lucky one.

Come on over to Facebook and tell me what your hardest joy in parenting has turned out to be.

We need to be tougher on kids. Really?

preemie onesie

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mothers at beach

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A first-time mom to a wee preemie, I was scared.  Hovering.  Defending. That was a great skill for the nearly 4 months he was in hospital, but he did come home.  Then I got confused.  I was just as vigilant. Historically, I was not “a kid person” — small family, not a babysitter, and for some years sported a lapel pin that said “non-breeder” haha.

Then he came.  The best surprise, my biggest challenge.  I turned to my elders with minute-to-minute questions.

“You’ve got to be tough on him to make him a man; slap his hand; bite him back; don’t give in or he’ll be a brat.”

Their answers pained me.  I’m a lover not a fighter, and could not work up that opposition to my wee fledgling. Between helicoptering and slapping, there is an ocean…

Imagine parents holding little kids at the ocean. That kid is hearing the roar, feeling the water, freezing their toes, getting pushed by the waves, wide eyed and squealing.  That parent is watching, excited, proud, and ready to sling that kid to the hip when they reach up.  That seems about right to me.

You are my sunshine

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Alissa Marquess’s recent blog post over on Creative With Kids about folks saying we need to be tougher on kids, Is This What Causes So Many Kids To Be Brats?, led me to understand that not wanting to raise a brat is really based in anger, animosity and an imagined future. And opposition.

“Once we start name calling by thinking of our child as a brat we’ve stepped away from our role as a leader and instead we’re parenting based on fear. “

I believe that we don’t need to be in opposition to our kids, we don’t have to see them as little enemies… though that witching hour right before bedtime is a real test!  Fear and opposition take the fun out of parenting.  Rules can put some of that fun back.  Yep, rules.

List the top three family squabbles.  Make one rule about each.  Write that down, done.  The only thing left to do is point to the written rule!  Well, it’s not that easy, I know.  But I’m finding that talking about the problem with my elementary kids and offering them two or three possibilities for The Rule (one very very strict) usually gets us on the same page.  So if they agree to it, the rule can’t be disputed later.  Consistency is key, and they’ll stop questioning the rules if you don’t back down three or four times in a row.  Don’t crack!  Don’t even let them see you THINK about cracking!  Haha, give it a try and come share your success over on Facebook.

Slumber Party… with a helicopter mom

Slumber Part clip art

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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

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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.

Dry Drowning: A Night at the ER

xray clip art in fun colors

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Thing 1 is very sensitive to pain. Thing 2 can break concrete with her knees, then get up and say “I’m ok!” So when she complained about not being able to breathe deeply after a day at the pool, I paid attention.  Those old NICU terrors were quick to surface.  I drove like a crazy woman!

Don’t do that, I learned that you don’t need to.

Medical Quik-E Mart wouldn’t take our insurance.  Terror swells.  I had tears in my eyes when I felt an arm on my shoulder.

Thing 1, 12 and as tall as me, that former micropreemie, was hugging me.  A moment of selflessness that physically reminded me that more than a decade has passed since the NICU.

fish xray art

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We got to the hospital and they clamped the blood oxygen meter on her finger.

animal xrays

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They listened to her lungs.  They ordered an x-ray.  It was long past bedtime.  “Has Thing 1 ever had an x-ray?” “Yes, every day for six weeks when he was in the NICU.”  Because he was intubated.  And several other times.  He doesn’t remember any of it, huzzah.

The sweet white-haired, moustached x-ray tech pulled the tv remote onto her bed on his way out.  We spent the rest of the night watching American Ninja Warrior.  Eventually they sent us home. She was ok.  You know I have a helicopter history.  Indeed, the next day Dad asked doubtfully: Why did mom take you to the hospital?  Thing 2: Because she loves me.

I did the right thing.  The ER folks agreed.

Read this important article on dry drowning from TodayParents so that you’ll know the warning signs.

The New Judgement Zone: Parents in the Public Eye

free range kid

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Parenting is becoming — or has become — a sort of turf war. The “mommy wars” of course are not new.  Nursing moms, formula moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, homeschooling moms, public school, private school…. the debates go back as far as women have worked (and working class women have always worked).  Over the last few months we’ve seen several families brushing with the law about their parenting decisions.  We’ve seen uproars over representations of interracial and same-sex families on mainstream tv (remember the great Cheerios outrage?). We’ve seen lines drawn and sides taken.

I have written before about a study that I think is related to this increase in public judgement — the one proving increasing diversity in what constitutes a family, and the consequent lack of one particular family shape as the “typical American family.”  No family shape constitutes a third or more of US families.  I claim that the recent increased battles over kids playing or walking alone, free range kids, junk food as child abuse, and criminalizing parenting decisions, are various reactions to the quick and drastic changes we have seen in what families look like. As though we might think that if we can’t recognize what a family is, we can at least recognize what a family should do.

working mom

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We’ve also seen some interventions in this recent swell of side-taking.  This short video is great until you realize that it’s a commercial (I’m not for or against your decision about formula; I’m wary of business interests).  But it’s funny and has a nice happy ending and I’m a sucker for that.  🙂 Jen Hicks over at Real Life Parenting wrote a very funny letter to a Mom on the I-phone that got a huge response.  Over on The Mid, Megan Larkin tells free rangers that recreating 1985 isn’t doing anyone any favors.   I tossed my hat in the ring with a very personal admission about my own helicoptering style — though I’m trying to jump out of that helicopter.

World's Okayest Mom

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I want to suggest that the real change in family structures, and the inevitable cultural representations of these diverse families, has set off a new cultural anxiety about families.  What is a family, what does it do, and how do we make sense of it?  Has there been a time that “we all” felt such freedom to judge another family’s actions? Is the rage to judge driven by technologies of voice and opinion?  By fear of the innumerable shapes and sizes of families? Do you feel unsure or downright worried about your family or parenting decisions?

I propose that we band together, no matter where you are politically.  The no-judgement zone is so important to my Funnermother projects.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or on Funnermother on Facebook — come on over and chime in.

My Top Two Tips for Picky Eaters

Walrus and Flamingo card

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My kids are 7 & 11, and they are OPPOSITES.

I have one defensive kid who likes bread and cake; one seeker kid who is a devout carnivore and eats raw purple onions… and chives right out of the garden.

Successfully feeding them both is an adventure!

If you have a picky eater, it may even be a grown-up.

painted paperclay landscapes

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It’s funny what grownups bring along with them… unfamiliarity with flavors or vegetables, family prejudices or favorites…  kids or adults, I want us all to eat together and work on making that pleasant for everyone at the table.

But of course I want it to be easy on me, too!  🙂

My best tip to accommodate picky eaters is this: Keep your ingredients separated.  Soups, casseroles, sandwiches…  Most of the time, that’s all it takes. Thing 1 will eat noodles, chicken, and carrots.  But not if they are mixed together in a broth.

gentle rhino

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Once I figured this out, it saved me so much stress and worry!

Most of the time, he’s eating the same things we are, after all.  Perhaps a little more noodles and a little less everything else, but he’s eating in each food group.  And that is progress — no more chasing him with a spoon for “one more bite.”

I have also been working on tip2: creating delicious smells for them to come home to, or to sneak up on them if we’re all at home, and asking them to smell new foods or dishes to get acquainted with them.

orange abstract painting

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The olfactory sense is an integral part of taste.  Cultivating an acquaintance and eventual pleasure of something baking in the oven or simmering in the crock pot is a hassle-free way to introduce new foods and new flavors.

Sometimes those savory aromas will convince your picky eater to try something where the foods are all touching!  Indeed, I credit the school lunch program at the little hippie private school they attended — where delicious dishes were cooked by moms from around the world — with enticing my kids into eating Indian, Russian, Asian, and Mexican flavors.

I’ll be giving a free call with more tips for picky eaters soon!  Get in the loop by following me on Facebook, following this blog, or signing up for my biweekly E-zine.  Thank you for reading, good luck!

Bye-bye, Typical American Family: Diversity is on the rise

diverse family

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Remember when families were either typical or “broken homes”?  I do; I was from a broken home.  I’m happy to report that those two easy categories are officially irrelevant.  Yep, they’re dead.

The New York Times  reported in fall 2013 on astonishing research about changing family structures:  “Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.”

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“In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows. Good friends join forces as part of the “voluntary kin” movement, sharing medical directives, wills, even adopting one another legally.  …We’re sappy family romantics. When an informal sample of 52 Americans of different ages, professions and hometowns were asked the first thought that came to mind on hearing the word “family,” the answers varied hardly at all. Love! Kids! Mom! Dinner!”

Free to be a family

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Interesting four words, right?

In fall 2014, the Council on Contemporary Families released Paul Cohen’s study on the shape of the family that found that “Diversity is the new normal.” The report says that it’s not simply that families move from two-parent homes to single moms, either: “we can better understand this transformation as an explosion of diversity, a fanning out from a compact center along many different pathways.” At the end of the 1950s, 65% of kids lived in a family with two parents, the father employed and the mother not.

biracial family

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“Today, by contrast, there is no single family arrangement that encompasses the majority of children.”  The 2012 census counts kids who live with: neither parent nor grandparent, grandparents only, single father, formerly-married mother, never-married mother, cohabiting parent, married parents both unemployed, married parents mother employed, married parents both employed, married parents father employed. “Family” means kids in this study, which charges that public policies need to understand and keep up with these changes.  When we factor in all the same-sex relationships, racial diversity, political and religious affiliations mentioned in the NYT article last year, it’s pretty mind-blowing, right?

woman in kitchen

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I wrote a few weeks ago on a recent sociology study’s findings that home cooking might not be worth the stress it puts on women. Women.  Certainly there are single dad families where “the woman” doesn’t cook.  And two-dad families. The point of the study was to show the stress.  But I’m a little concerned about the women.

And I have been.  As Funnermother, I’m in some big groups of other women in business, and it really can be stressful to feed everyone!  And yes, maybe its our elephant-like memories or our octopus-like multitasking, but the feeding falls to the women still, we chat about it all the time.  I want to change that.

I really want to change that.

Women in the kitchen

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So I’m designing a Kitchen Coaching program where, for 8 weeks or so, we’ll talk all about your family meals.  In a no judgement zone. We’ll talk for an hour or two and you can tell me how it is.  And tell me how you’d like it to be.  And we’ll work together on the structural and/or mindset changes that will get you there — or as close as humanly possible!  I mean, I’d love to have a home cook or eat takeout every night.  But I’ve found some great hacks for simplifying it IN SPITE OF two very finicky eaters and one slightly finicky eater.  🙂  I’m working with a couple of clients right now, and will clear space for more soon.

Stay tuned for details.  Here, or on Facebook, or sign up for my weekly-ish newsletter.

I failed him as a parent…

My brother

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I failed him as a parent.

He fell through the cracks in school, he might have had a learning disability, it’s not clear.  But you know how struggle and failure, end to end, over and over, changes you… your attitude, your choices, your willingness to be open and try.  He changed.

It was hard.  He was sent away from me.  He got into trouble, trouble I couldn’t keep him from or deal with.

He grew to a teenager.  One night at a party, he drank too much, went out on the porch for fresh air.  But it wasn’t a porch, it was a roof and he slipped.  Nothing was ever the same. The ambulance driver knew his dad.

First responder

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When his dad got to the hospital and saw the gravel still stuck in his boy’s face, he fainted.  His dad… well, his dad is my dad.  My brother slipped.

Divorce naturally puts the oldest kid in position of helper, caretaker.  A sort of parent.  I swore I would do it “right” the next time.  And so, before I had kids, before the 7 years of infertility and baby chase, decades before I met my current amazing Running Mate, before I finally got pregnant, and before my first kid came early, I was preparing to be a helicopter parent.

So when you see us at the playground, ensuring our kid gets their turn in line; sanitizing their hands every few minutes; running around behind them with our hands outstretched, palms up, to catch them; going down the slide backwards in front of them to clear any pebbles and not let them out of our sight; unpacking an enormous bag of wipes, snacks, drinks, stuffed animals, jackets, hats, band-aids and supplies — be gentle in your criticism.  I was doing what I clearly saw as  BEST for my child, even if it had everything to do with me.

And if you want to jump out of the helicopter with me, come on over to join Funnermother on facebook or sign up for my weekly-ish E-zine.