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Community Action vs. Empty Gestures

September 28, 2017

Volunteering in Community

To stand or kneel, to post or comment… these are not the issues that should be dominating our lives. Instead, our biggest questions should be posed to ourselves. How can I help? What can I DO to make it better?

Protests have their place to initiate change, but after that initiation, they become trite, bandwagon gimmicks. While I personally dislike the man who began kneeling during my beloved national anthem, sullying a sacred anthem, he started something worthwhile. A discussion worth having.

Now, a year later, his quiet action has become nothing more than an empty gesture. It’s a non-action performed by those who waited until it became comfortable, popular and easy. They want us to discuss THEM, so they stay relevant. But they’re detracting from the initial message by further dividing the giant social chasm that exists.

Why we, as an American people, put more worth in the bandwagon voices of multi-millionaire pro athletes and the Hollywood elite than in the words and actions of our fellow community members is beyond me.

These performers have the American stage for entertainment purposes. They have the mic, so they use it to spout off to stay in the headlines. However, we who do not live in gated mansions don’t have such a mic. Social media isn’t much of a megaphone, either, when we simply drown each other out because no one is truly listening.

Therefore, we need to roll up our sleeves to enact the change we desire. We need to be listening, volunteering and acting alongside the members of our individual communities. Instead of going to Facebook to seek out a post that offends, so we can comment and feel important, we must leave our houses and insert ourselves into our community to DO something important.

We need to volunteer to work with kids in our towns, so we can influence them to work hard and treat others respectfully. We need to give more of our time and our sweat and elbow grease than we give of empty words, gestures, and even money.

Because it is there, working side by side with each other making our community a better place to live and work, that real change happens. Through teaching, building, coaching, cleaning, gardening and leading, we build our world into a more beautiful, beneficial experience for everyone. Instead of focusing on all of the ways we disagree, being physically involved, shoulder to shoulder and face to face, we start to see our shared visions more clearly.

We are the voices and bodies to watch. Not the entertainers who are overpaid for talents. Remember, they work for us. To entertain us, not to drive a wedge between us. We have the power to change how we respond. To react less to their empty gestures that don’t have a direct impact on our lives, and respond more to the people we know and care about.

I’d love to hear about all of the big and small ways individuals are volunteering and making an impact. Tell me what you have done and what you are doing that goes beyond your computer screen or your smart phone. Count your impact in the number of individuals who recognize your face from in-person hands-on work instead of the number of likes from strangers who clicked an icon.

When I see you out there, working to improve our communities and influence the next generation, that’s when I’ll take notice. And if you’re down on your knee, I’ll offer you a hand so we can rise and move forward, side by side, together.


Watch Me — another Scouting Story

April 1, 2017

FullSizeRenderMy middle child, my spirited, stubborn, has-to-be-different kid, just graduated from Cub Scouts and crossed over into Boy Scouts. Last night, along with fourteen other 5th grade boys, this kid walked across a 5-foot wooden bridge and went from the mischievous imp he was when he started out as a Tiger, and came out a young man, a Boy Scout, ready for whatever adventures lay ahead.

As a den leader for my son for the past five years, I’ve been lucky enough to witness these boys at their best. I’ve watched them literally climb to new heights as they tackle the fears of climbing walls; I’ve seen them perform on local television, laughing in the face of stage fright. I’ve followed along as they hiked one more mile on already-tired legs, cringed as they learned how to start fires and fire BB guns, and held my breath as they jumped off rock cliffs into a fresh water spring.

Our job as den leaders was to be there to guide them and keep them safe, so we tried to be as aware as possible with so many young boys who can’t seem to sit still long enough to listen to directions. But sometimes we missed things. We had to look away to help tie a shoe, measure a high jump, chop cooking ingredients or point out wildlife. We blinked once in a while and had to recount heads, yell at the top of our lungs and grumble as we cleaned up many, many, MANY messes.Scottie Tigers pack mtg

But the coolest part about this group of kids was that they didn’t let us miss a thing.

“Watch me!” they used to shout when they were younger.

“Look at THIS!” they beckoned with each new discovery.

Even when bogged down with scheduling, organizing, and trying to corral this herd of unbroken mustangs, their exclamations of joy at each new achievement meant we didn’t miss a thing.

As they got older, and the challenges became tougher, we wondered how they would fare. But in typical boy fashion, they pushed each other much farther than we could push them as leaders.

Some of the encouragement came in the, “You can do it!” form.  Other times, the best outcomes were the result of a, “Betcha can’t….” challenge.  But the response to each of those gauntlets thrown by their peers, always came in familiar form.

“Oh yeah? WATCH me!!”

Many times, success followed that phrase. Other times, they failed. But I can’t think of a single time with this group of boys that one failure was where it ended. They took their missteps and tried again. And made some adjustments and tried again.

It is that “Watch Me!” spirit that I’m going to miss now that they’re moving on.

Don’t blink with this bunch, future Troop leaders. They are going to be a group worth watching.



If you liked this, also check out…

Sharing a Scouting Story

“Are You Tougher than a Boy Scout” on National Geographic

Year-Round Sports Are Hurting Our Kids

August 5, 2016

Remember the days of being a kid in the 80’s? When someone asked what sports you were into, you’d respond with, “Football in the fall, Basketball in the winter, and Baseball in the spring.” Or “Cheerleading in the fall, Gymnastics in the winter, and Lacrosse in the spring.”

Those were the formative years of our childhood. We got to try different activities every season, every year. Some were favorites and we looked forward to that season each year. Some were great to try once with no pressure of tough choices or limitations. If you didn’t like it, it was just for a season and you’d try something new that season the next year.

I loved playing sports for fun as a kid. I played little league (yes, girls were on the same team as boys!) on the worst team in our town. We lost every single game. I spent my time in right field picking dandelions and turning cartwheels. But I loved getting my turn at bat and running the bases. It was fun. I only did it the one year, but I enjoyed it.

It wasn’t until high school that we typically chose what “our sports” were going to be. It helped us learn flexibility and allowed us to experience a multitude of different interests in our elementary school years. It also helped us to use different muscle groups in our bodies, and hone different skills and strategies in our minds.

Now, as a parent, I see this trend toward forcing kids to play the same sport all year round. We’re asking them to specialize in one sport, and if they haven’t decided by the ripe old age of eight years old, too bad. Apparently, age eight is now too old to be a beginner in any sport.

I have seen this happen three different times, for three different sports for each of my three kids. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson and “started my kids younger” on those teams, right? Nope. Each of my kids played different sports in first and second grade and wanted to try something new in third grade. But so many kids had already had SO MUCH experience, that we were told that my 8-year-old beginner would have to play in the beginner clinic or younger classes with the 5-7 year olds.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Since when did EIGHT become too old to be a beginner in a sport? When did we decide that our kids could no longer change their minds and try something new? When did we stop encouraging our kids to be adventurous?

When I have asked these questions, I usually get responses like, “We wanted to offer an option to the kids who really LOVE this sport.” Or “My son/daughter doesn’t like (insert fall sport here), so we wanted to give them an opportunity to play (insert spring sport) again.”

I get that most of these year-round leagues first came about with good intentions. However, I feel like we’ve missed something important. Kids can still play their favorite sports with friends in pick-up games year round. Why do we need to create entire leagues for off-season sports? The impact is detrimental to the on-season sports teams, not to mention hurting our kids.

Instead of encouraging our kids to try new things, we have created entire teams just for the ones who refuse to try something different. There have been studies proving that specializing in one sport all year is actually harmful to developing bodies. Plus, many kids end up feeling burnt-out in what used to be their favorite sport because of all of the added pressures that come with commitments and competition for formal leagues. Yes, burn-out by the age of 10.

I see too many teams suffering the impacts of these year-round leagues. We have a youth football team in town who can’t find enough players to field a team. Instead of 18 boys, they may have to tell the 14 who registered that they can’t play. Why? Because many of the boys their age are playing fall baseball instead. So coaches and league leaders are struggling to find solutions.

A 3rd grade cheer squad might have a portion of the girls quit because the fall softball team is holding practices on the same days and times as cheer practice. Spring baseball has lost half of its players to spring soccer teams. As a result, coaches are left on game day with half of a roster or a crumbling stunt pyramid because the kids playing year-round sports don’t show up.

Now kids are forced to choose. Either play our sport year-round, or you’ll lose your place on the competitive travel team. We are forcing 8, 9, and 10-year-old kids to choose only one sport or else suffer the consequences. These pressures are not coming from the kids, but have been forced on them by the adults driving the rules of the year-round leagues.

I get that most, if not all, of these leagues are run by well-meaning parent volunteers. I have volunteered and coached myself. I know it is a thankless job and it feels like everyone is a critic. We feel that if our league isn’t pushing the year-round participation that our teams might suffer. But we as adults owe it to our kids to stand up to the pressure from other towns, other leagues and other sports. It is time to say enough is enough.

We need to show our kids by example how to stand up to the pressure to follow along. We need to heed the advice of the sports scientists, the behavioral therapists, the child psychologists and the pediatricians instead of blindly following the trend. We need to STOP PUSHING YEAR-ROUND SPORTS and instead, encourage our kids to try new things, experience being a beginner again and go play pick-up games with friends for fun.

NP kids in green and white

My own three knuckleheads in their fall sports uniforms.






The 12 Best Things About 12-Year-Old Boys

June 6, 2016

stand by me 12 poster


My oldest just turned twelve today and I had the pleasure of spending the majority of my weekend with him and his friends. Please note, there is zero sarcasm here. I sincerely enjoyed being in the company of these boys.

It made me realize that there are so many misconceptions about this age. Sure, twelve-year-old boys have some awkward things going on in their lives. Yes, we hear backtalk and see the eye rolling. And sure, they’re still learning the finer points of regular grooming, deodorant and foot powder.

But as a whole, twelve-year-old boys are pretty fantastic creatures.

The 12 Best Things About 12-Year-Old Boys


  1. Sense of Humor.  You can really laugh with twelve-year-old boys. These are clever, witty young men who are able deliver rapid-fire observations of the world and each other. Their brains are amazing, but they’re still kids, so they are the perfect mix of intelligence and fun. No one can rewrite song lyrics like twelve-year-old boys.
  2. Ability to Laugh at Themselves. While adolescent hormones wreak havoc on their vocal chords, growth, skin, and sweat glands, these boys are able to recognize that it’s out of their control and laugh at themselves. They tease each other with good humor and take it all in stride. Sure, some days are mine fields, so tread lightly. But most days, they give a shrug and a chuckle when I shriek in surprise seeing a 12-year-old form when I know I just heard the baritone of a stranger’s voice in my basement.
  3. Genuine Kindness. Maybe I’m lucky in that I am experiencing the best group of boys ever. Perhaps not all fall into this category. But I see just amazing kindness and caring in these twelve-year-old boys. They make efforts to help each other without being asked. Whether it’s with homework, on the sports fields, or playing games together. These boys have a natural inclination to teamwork and brotherhood that is heart-warming. This kindness extends to younger siblings and strangers, too, which only makes it more amazing.
  4. Helpful, Able-bodied, Hard Workers. The combination of their growth spurts and kindness makes these kids the ones I want around whenever there’s work to be done. From carrying in grocery bags without being asked, to hauling furniture, to doing yard work, you can give these boys real jobs now and know that they will do them well.
  5. Voracious Appetites. If you ever need a boost in confidence as a cook, just feed a group of 12-year-old boys. They’ll eat seconds and thirds and ask for more. It gives you new appreciation for army cooks. What’s great is that most are now old enough to realize that too much junk makes them feel terrible, so they want more healthy options, too. Just be sure to stock on multiple full gallons of milk to wash it all down.
  6. Politeness. Moms of younger boys who feel like you’re on endless repeat, I have great news. By the time they reach this age, some switch gets flipped, and all of those years of reminding them to use their manners are proven worthwhile. They ask, “Please,” and say, “Thank You,” without prompting. And they even clean up their own table messes. Hallelujah!
  7. Knowing, Shared Smiles. Twelve-year-old boys get it. All of those jokes in movies for the adults that used to go over the kids’ heads? They hear them and get them now. When you and your spouse talk in short-hand code in front of the kids, the twelve-year-old will shoot you a look of awareness that is just awesome. Eyes wide-open with the knowledge that he is privy to something that used to be hidden from him, he’ll lock eyes with you and smile a fantastic crooked grin. You nod or wink in return acknowledgement. In those wordless moments, he knows he’s accepted on your level, and you know that he’s capable of handling it. Awesome.
  8. Comfort with who they are. Most people think of pre-teens as being unsure of themselves and questioning who they are. But at twelve, there seems to be this sweet spot where they’ve learned enough about people to recognize true friends and how to stop worrying about trying to impress anyone else. They are who they are and most of them are 100% comfortable in their own skin. Old enough to recognize their strengths, but not yet concerned with popularity or the older teenage insecurities to come. The confidence and self-assured twelve-year-old boy is a persona most would love to emulate.
  9. Catching glimpses of him as a man. Watching a twelve-year-old boy is like looking through an old-school flip book. On each page, he’s drawn as a boy, doing typical boy things. But every once in a while, you see him speak or interact in a way that is so responsible, so mature, and so adult-like, it can throw you for a loop. It’s like some illustrator drew him as an adult and stuck one page into your flip book out of order. Kid, kid, kid, kid, man, kid, kid…wait, what was that?? If you’re lucky enough to catch one of those moments, you know you are witnessing a glimpse into a fantastic future.
  10. Intelligence. Twelve-year-old boys are smart. They no longer spit back rote facts that they’ve learned, but can carry on intelligent conversations about things that really matter. Their analytical minds are developing, so they question how and why things are done. Yes, they question authority, but not merely out of rebellion. They are putting together their own understanding of the world. It’s incredible to see them recognize that everything presented to them in marketing and media is colored to try to sway their opinion. These boys are smart enough now to make up their own minds instead of blindly following suggestion.
  11. Front Seat Conversations. Because of their intelligence, humor and wit, these boys can carry on fantastic conversations. And now that they’re big enough to ride shotgun, front-seat conversations are amazingly entertaining. Twelve-year-old boys don’t always open up to mom when confronted face to face, but sitting beside you in the car while looking out the window, they talk. And they talk about things that matter. These conversations are little gifts into their hearts and minds and often leave you thinking long after about the amazing insights these boys have.
  12. Hugs. Twelve-year-old boys are not known for hugging their mothers much if they can help it. But every so often, before he goes to bed at night, he’ll give you the obligatory good-night hug and he’ll hold on. Just a little longer, just a little tighter. You never know when these are coming, so be ready to squeeze back and hold on for as long as it lasts. These hugs are pure gold. They let you feel your little boy, who is still somewhere inside this pre-man body. And they tell you that you have the rare, awesome gift of getting to be his mom.


The Rules of Calling Shotgun

September 14, 2015

Shotgun Rider baseball capOver the summer, my middle child reached the size requirements for riding in the front seat of the car, which means I now have two eligible passenger seat riders. While I love the front seat company and the new opportunities for conversation with my older kids, I cringe at the battles that erupt as they vie for this coveted position.

In one of those all-too-frequent, unthinking Mom brain moments, I told them,

“I’m not refereeing this. You have to call shotgun and figure it out yourselves.”

I did not consider the fact that I may be starting a years-long game of one-upmanship, or sparking sneaky new ways to bend rules in one’s favor. I should have predicted these ripple effects since I’ve known them since they were fetuses, but I didn’t. Therefore, I have had to re-visit the simple “You have to call shotgun,” rule and outline the following list of specific Shotgun-related regulations.


  1. You must be outside in order to call Shotgun. You cannot call Shotgun from behind the glass wall of a store while we are checking out. Likewise, you cannot open your bedroom window and stick your head out the window, claiming that your head is outside. Your whole body must be outside to call Shotgun.
  2. You must be in view of the car in order to call Shotgun. You may not race out of the store or amusement park and call Shotgun the instant your foot hits the parking lot. If you cannot see the car, OUR car, you may not call Shotgun.
  3. You must be ready to depart in order to call Shotgun. In the mornings, this means being fully dressed (no, pajamas do not count as clothes. If you wore them to sleep in, you may not call Shotgun). You must have your teeth brushed, bed made, backpack packed, and be wearing shoes ON. YOUR. FEET. in order to call Shotgun.
  4. If you are called back inside because you forgot to do any of the above, or if you forgot something else, ANYTHING ELSE, someone else who is 100% ready may call Shotgun. Shotgun is awarded to those who are ready and prepared, not to those who rush.
  5. You may call Shotgun no more than 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure. I love that you got ready super early, but no, you may not call Shotgun at 5:00AM, then go back to sleep in your school clothes. Likewise, you cannot call Shotgun the night before.
  6. You may not phone-in (or text) your Shotgun call. I don’t care if you are outside, ready to go, and can see our car in the driveway from your friend’s house. Shotgun must be called in person.
  7. Shotgun rules apply to ALL. Yes, your friends may call Shotgun even though it is our car. These Shotgun rules apply to anyone who wishes to call the front seat in our car. These rules go with our vehicle. If other rules are enforced in other cars, you must learn them.
  8. Shotgun may be awarded by the driver for special circumstances. This is especially likely if the honoree is in dress clothes for a special occasion, or if a large project or food container is being carried for a special event. No, Shotgun will not automatically be awarded to you in your soccer, football, cheerleading, scouts or other uniform for activities that occur on a regular basis.
  9. Shotgun may be repealed by the driver for bad behavior. Mom, Dad, or other adult drivers may rescind the offer of Shotgun for any behavior they deem unworthy of the privilege. This includes, but is not limited to, bad attitude, back-talk, hitting, lying, laziness, or general disregard for the rules of the house and family.
  10. Shotgun riders and drivers share the control of the radio.  You may choose your music and volume level when riding Shotgun, but the driver may overrule you at any time.
  11. Shotgun riders must be responsible for closing their window and door every time. Unlike the automatic, rear sliding doors in the minivan, the front doors still require manual closing. Forgetting to close the door in the school carpool lane may result in temporary suspension of Shotgun privileges.
  12. These rules of Shotgun may be amended at any time.

Shotgun baby meme

Safe driving, everyone!

Never Forget

September 11, 2015

Still ringing true four years later. Wanted to share again.

From Grind to Whine

I cried a lot yesterday.  The tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks brought back all of the memories and emotions of that day.  Each time Taps played, I felt each note in my very core.  It’s amazing how music has that power to physically jar you more so than just words or images.  Along with the rest of the country, I spent yesterday remembering.  Along with the rest of my family, however, I remembered even more.

My late grandfather, Robert H. Brumell (for whom my son is named), was born on September 11th.  He passed away only five years ago, so his absence on his birthday brings memories of him rushing back for our family.  Mixing the emotions of personal loss with national grief made yesterday a long day.

My grandfather was a World War II veteran, as just about every man of his generation was.  It’s amazing how…

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Just Fine with Turning Forty

May 20, 2015

forty-sparklersToday is my fortieth birthday.  I’ve heard lots of jokes about old age this month. My nine-year-old said he hopes someday to live as long as me.  My ten-year-old was floored when he realized that he was the only kid who knew me in my twenties (I was 29 when he was born), which means that he’ll have known me for THREE DECADES.  Whoa, mind blown.  My husband kissed me last night and said, “Man. That’s the last time I’ll kiss a 30-something!”

But my six-year-old daughter’s remark was the one that hit home.  When I joked over dinner that I planned to just skip Wednesday this week so I’ll never turn 40, she got sincerely upset.  “But Mommy, you HAVE to have your birthday!  Birthdays are FUN!!”  And she’s right.  Birthdays ARE fun.

Birthdays are a celebration of life, of identity. I have lived for four decades. I’m proud of the experiences I’ve lived and the lessons they’ve taught me.  No more moping about getting older.  It’s time to embrace this milestone. As I look back on the years behind me, I’m honestly psyched for what lies ahead.keep-calm-forty-s-not-old-it-s-retro

In that first decade, the baby years, it’s all about learning the rules of life.  How to walk, talk, eat, dress, learn, and interact with the world. But it’s a safe place, surrounded by family and caregivers.

In our second decade, the teen years, it’s all about testing the rules we learned during the first ten years. Our friendships mean everything to us. Sometimes they break our hearts and hurt our feelings, but those first ties outside of the bloodline help us decide who we want to be. We push boundaries, gaining independence and stretching those apron strings until they snap so we can take off on our own.

In our third decade, our twenties, it’s about paving our path. We are fearless. We are strong. We are SO READY for this life. Friends are in abundance. Romance blooms everywhere. Our bodies are in prime, gorgeous condition, and our minds carry enough experience and knowledge to instill confidence at every turn.  Bring it on!

Then our fourth decade, our thirties, hits and smacks us in the face, teaching us that once again, we know nothing. Marriage and parenthood turn the world upside-down. It goes from being to all about me, to being all about someone else, everyone else. In my thirties I realized that, at least for a few years, I had to come last. That lesson is a necessary one for maturity and growth, but it shook me to my core. I struggled with both identity issues and postpartum depression. I was no longer working, so what WAS I?  How did I define myself? Would the title of “Mom” be enough?  It was a rough ride.

But through that struggle over myself, I was gifted with meeting my three favorite people on earth. My kids. Yet as a result of meeting these great kids, my marriage was tested in my thirties. We were both initiated into the parenthood club full force. We had to figure out our new roles as parents while still being there for each other. There were many times in the last ten years that I failed on that one. I was so busy taking care of my kids that I was no longer taking care of my husband, yet I had an unjust sense of resentment that he wasn’t taking care of me.

It was hard. We yelled and fought and ignored each other in turns. But now that our kids are all in school and needing us just a little bit less, we are able to find each other a little more. In addition, we lean on our friends more, too. We learn that friendships matter just as much or more than they did in our teens. Unfortunately, we still feel the sting of betrayal from friends, too, even in this stage of life.

Now, as I face forty, I realize that I have the power to choose which friendships to nurture and which to let go. I also know that my marriage has survived babies and is stronger for it. I love being on this team of husband and wife and am glad for the chance to reconnect.

Similarly, as I enter my fifth decade, I realize that who I am is more than what I do. I no longer seek to find a single label for myself. I’m a mom. I’m a writer. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. I’m a teacher. I’m a volunteer. I am all of these things. I am loyal. I am smart. I am still beautiful, despite the extra padding. Perhaps just beautiful in a different way. Yet I am loved. So, so much.

How lucky I am to be turning forty today. Bring on the next chapter. I’m ready!

family boardwalk selfie 2015

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