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Proof That the Kids Are Listening and Learning

March 31, 2014

My kids walk home from school when the weather is nice.  My boys are in 2nd and 4th grade and we live only a mile from their school.  We started letting them walk just this year with a few other families in our neighborhood.

At first, I was a nutcase of a worrier over them walking.  Would they be safe?  Would they use their heads when crossing that last, busy street that has no crosswalk?

I started by waiting for them at their final intersection and walking the last couple of blocks home with them in the fall.  But, little by little, I began to let them do the entire thing alone.

Our rules were simple:

  • Walk straight home.  No stops along the way.
  • Stay on the sidewalks.
  • Cross at the crosswalks.
  • Always stay together as a group.
  • Never let anyone walk alone.

They needed to be reminded of these rules a few times when our network of friends would call us to let us know that they saw the kids being stupid.  Running across the street to grab acorns or pinecones, stopping to play in a friend’s backyard without telling anyone, splitting up and getting separated, or failing to find the group and starting on their own were some of their reported transgressions.

Most times they pulled this nonsense, they were called on it and forced to suffer either punishment or lectures about safety.  Nothing makes me happier now than when I hear them dissuade each other from breaking rules because, “the parent spies will catch you.”  Yes, they think we have spies strategically placed throughout the town and I whole-heartedly encourage that belief.

So yes, they are kids who don’t always use their heads, but more times than not, they have been responsible and smart about walking home safely this year.

Fast forward to last week, when my oldest son was home from school with a fever and a stomach bug.  I had heard from one family of neighbors that her kids would not be walking home that day, so I knew I had to find a ride for my younger son so he wouldn’t be alone.  I called up a friend who agreed to pick him up with her kids and keep him for a bit to play as well.  Satisfied and grateful that I have such wonderful, helpful friends, I went back to the business of washing out the puke bucket and monitoring my oldest’s fever.

Shortly after school dismissal time, my phone rang.

“Stace? It’s me.  I’m here with my kids, but your son is refusing to get in my car.”

“What!?!  Oh no, I called the main office and had them tell him he’s going home with you!”

“I know, and he said he got the message, but he won’t get in.”

I was so confused and annoyed and embarrassed.  Here I had called a friend for a favor and my kid was outright refusing an adult he knew very well.  I wanted to strangle him.  But my girlfriend just laughed it off.

“It’s fine.  He said something about not letting anyone walk alone, so I let both of the boys out to walk home with their friend.  I’ll trail them in the car and pick them up once they get to the first house.”

Mortified, I apologized and thanked her profusely for putting up with my stubborn son.

Not even 5 minutes later, my doorbell rang.  It was another neighborhood dad at the door dropping off my son and his friend.

“I saw them walking home with my kid, so I scooped them all up out of the rain.  They said they were going to play down the block, but I didn’t see a car there, so I brought them here.”

At that, I just burst out laughing in my neighbor’s face.  I looked down at my son as he pushed past me to get into the house.

“Scottie, what happened?  Why didn’t you get in the car when you knew you were supposed to go have a playdate?”

My son looked over his shoulder at me while he took off his wet shoes,

“You always said not to let anyone walk home alone!”

It was then that the lightbulb went off for both me and the dad who picked the kids up.  It turns out that their normal walking group all had other plans after school with the exception of my son and this dad’s son.  I had assumed my Scottie would be walking home alone, so I made plans to have him picked up.  But, if he had gotten into the car with his friend, that would have left only one person, this 4th grade boy, walking home alone.

In his refusal to get into my girlfriend’s car, he was actually standing firm in his knowledge of our group’s safety rules.  This girlfriend of mine didn’t know the other boy walking home, and he didn’t know her, so they decided to just all walk home together in the rain instead.

As we figured it all out, we laughed at the confusion.  Grateful for cell phones, we called everyone involved and relayed the story.  No, Scottie wasn’t being rude or stubborn, he was actually being safe and looking out for his friend.  And both my girlfriend and the other dad friend were understanding after both being so wonderful about helping out.

It’s one of my favorite things about this tiny little small town.  That all of the families get to know each other and look out for each other’s kids, even when not asked to do so.  With this little incident, now two more families have gotten to know each other, just further spreading the net of helping hands and watchful eyes over our kids.

And now I know for sure that, despite all of my worrying that they’re all being knuckleheads on the walks home, at least one of the rules has sunk in.

kids crossing guard

Playing Mom Hooky

February 21, 2014

escape keyIf you get a chance to play Mom Hooky, TAKE IT!!!

No, this isn’t a twist on a Sarah Palin post.  This is not about being a Hockey Mom, or playing Mom Hockey.  I’m talking about being truant from a day of chauffeuring, packing lunches, helping with homework, planning and cooking dinner, laundry, and all of the other things that fill our Mom days.  A chance to hit the escape key on the laptop of life and play hooky on Mom duty.

The planets aligned, I called up favors, and I was able to play hooky yesterday and let me tell you, it was downright MAGICAL!

After reading my post listing some New Year’s resolutions, my longtime girlfriend and college roommate called me up and said I had to make #11 happen this year.  We used to ski together in college and she couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been on skis in 13 years. As I listed the reasons I hadn’t been able to do it (babies, money, my husband doesn’t want to go with me and how do I take three kids by myself), she put her foot down.

“We should just go one of these days when the kids are in school.  How cool would that be?”

We started giggling on the phone at the possibility.

“You mean we would go out and have fun for a day, doing something just for us, with no kids and no husbands?!”

We knew that if we didn’t pick a date during that phone call, we’d never make it happen.  So we discussed our kids’ schedules and figured out a date that might work, promised to line up babysitters and carpool help, and wrote it on the calendar.  IN PEN.

During the days leading up to our ski date, I felt anxious, excited, and totally nervous.  I kept picturing the worst.  I really was going to break a leg and give my husband “I told you so” rights for the rest of our marriage.  Or I’d get to the top of the mountain and forget everything I used to know about how to ski.  Or my girlfriend would lap me as I snowplowed down the hill, too afraid to ski like a normal person now that I knew the paralyzing fears of motherhood.

But, I am happy to report, none of that happened.

Instead, everything went according to plan.  My girlfriend picked me up and we almost missed our exit, too busy chatting along the way to pay attention to signs and directions.  We literally giggled half of the trip there because it felt so funny and strange to be doing this. It was a surreal experience for us.

We were escaping to do something strictly for ourselves for fun.  This was not about furthering our professional careers.  This was not about researching for a family trip.  This was not about completing long-ignored projects or running errands for our kids.  No, this was an absolutely frivolous trip, with no other purpose than our own enjoyment.  We really felt like we were teenagers, skipping school.  Like we were getting away with breaking the rules and laughing about it.  And we hadn’t even arrived at the mountain yet!

Once we got there, we tossed our stuff in a locker, got our equipment on and headed to the chair lift.  There were no short people to corral, no extra bags to carry and stow.  The two of us carried so little with us, we even shared one locker.  It’s amazing how little you need to carry with you when you leave the kids behind.

As I snapped my boots into my skis, I prayed everything would work as it should and that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself.  I managed to push off and we boarded the lift with no problem.  I grinned to my friend, proud that I remembered how to move on skis.  Then we disembarked and headed for one of the green trails.

It was the moment of truth.  Either I was going to fall and have to re-learn everything again, or I would make it down the trail in one piece.  I let my friend lead the way, took a deep breath, and followed.

Even going as slowly as we were on an easy, green trail, I felt that old familiar surge of exhilaration.  It was a beautifully clear day with temps in the mid-40’s, but still winter enough that I enjoyed that cold wind in my face, making my eyes tear-up a little behind my sunglasses.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 WAfter thirteen years, one husband, four houses, three kids, and a thousand other changes, my body remembered how to ski.  Granted, this body is much different than my body was 13 years ago, but the muscle memory was there.  By the third run, we moved over to the blue trails and I was no longer hesitant and afraid.  I was shooshing again.

My lungs filled with brisk winter air; my nose and eyes felt the sting of chill wind.  Every turn heard the rush of skis carving a path in the snow, part spraying powder, part crunching hardened snow, and that all-familiar scrape of cutting edges in to the ice underneath.  My legs knew when to shift my weight, my arms knew when to plant my poles, and my eyes were ahead, looking to my next turn.

We talked, we laughed, and we skied all day long.  It felt utterly amazing.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was truly a magical, wonderful, fulfilling experience.  Our leg muscles were burning by lunchtime, but we didn’t care.  It was the combination of a beautiful day of fresh air and exercise plus the forbidden feeling of escaping our everyday responsibilities that had us smiling and laughing and living every moment to its fullest.

We ignored the aches and fatigue from underused muscles and kept going and going until we couldn’t ignore the clock any longer.  Feeling like our own kids at the end of a party or a playdate, we begrudgingly packed up our equipment and headed home.

I told my husband that night that it was so perfect, it ranked as one of my best days in the last three years.  It was really that incredible.

Even today, as I hobble around my house because my muscles are so sore, I’m still enjoying the leftover high from our amazing day playing hooky.  I love my kids, my husband, our house, and our wonderful life together.  But no matter how blessed a life we lead, everyone deserves a chance to experience some outside-the-box excitement for a change.

Playing Mom Hooky yesterday gave me such a sense of freedom and exhilaration, that I am ready to face the realities of life again with a smile on my face.  My second-grader woke up this morning with a fever, and my oldest son’s Pinewood Derby car’s wheels won’t turn.  But I can handle these challenges.  Because yesterday, I sailed down a mountain with the wind through my hair.

For one day, I was just me.  I wasn’t a mom, I wasn’t a wife.  I was just a girl who loves to ski.

Stace Leigh skiing

When Husbands Travel – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

February 10, 2014

Sign trip. Illustration of a group of suitcases and a plane tickI want to applaud all of the women whose husbands travel regularly and often.  I don’t know how you do it.  Like everything else in life, I’m sure you get used to it, but it can’t be easy.  Whether he travels on frequent short trips for business, or the much harder, longer deployments for the military, I know I couldn’t do it.  Maybe in my younger, carefree, childless days, perhaps.  But definitely not now.  My hat is off to you all.

My own husband just returned from his annual golf trip.  Once a year, and only for 5 days and nights, he heads south to hit the links.  I know, I know, no sympathy deserved here.  But over the course of those five days, I discovered a few things about myself and my marriage.

Leading up to this trip, I was honestly looking forward to it.  (Shhh, don’t tell my husband!)  After the holidays, January and February bring with them a funk.  This year, that funk was topped with about three feet of snow.  We all were suffering from lack of fresh air and exercise, cabin fever, and too much together time, thanks to Christmas break followed by umpteen snow days.  I was cranky, my husband was moody, and my kids were driving us both bonkers.  So I was looking forward to this trip to give us some needed space to breathe.

Besides, I used to live alone.  I loved those years of having my own place with only my two cats for company.  I wasn’t worried a bit.  In fact, I started thinking about all of the great things about having the house and the kids to myself for the next week.  This would be great!!

The Good

There really are some great things about having your husband away from home for a while.

  • mommy kids drink magnetEasy Dinners!  Ask any mom and she’ll tell you, we’re really happy with a bowl of cereal or a salad for dinner most nights.  Fix the kids some easy pizza, chicken nuggets, or mac n cheese and call it a night.  No meal planning, grocery shopping, prep, cooking, or clean-up required.  Whoopie!!!!
  • Post-Bedtime Quiet.  Once the kids are in bed, the house is MINE.  They won’t notice that I’ve turned all the clocks ahead by half an hour to push that a little earlier, right?  No discussing plans, house issues, small talk.  Just peace and quiet.  Pure bliss.
  • Control of the Remote.  I can watch Downton Abbey, cheesy 80’s movies, or as many reruns of Grey’s Anatomy as I want without anyone scoffing, complaining, or interjecting with jabs about this “special, touching episode.” I have absolute control and refuse to watch Top Gear, golf, or the history of man’s finest inventions.
  • Full Stretch on the Sofa.  Yes!  I can take up all three cushions to myself and stretch out from end to end in complete and utter relaxation!
  • Clean, Tidy Bathroom.  I love my bathroom when he’s gone.  No cans of shaving cream left on the sink, no razors falling out of his toiletry bag, and the bathmat and towels are hung neatly, and the shower curtain is perfectly draped every time I enter.  My absolute favorite here, though, is that I can actually see myself in the mirror because it no longer has that smeared streak down the center of it from him wiping away the shower steam to shave.  Clean, tidy, and just the way I like it.
  • The Whole Bed.  Our rooms are too small to fit a king size bed, so we share a queen.  Without him here, I can sprawl right across that nice, firm bump in the middle that hasn’t sagged yet and not worry about hogging anything.  All the covers and pillows are mine, all mine.  Let the peaceful slumber take me away!

The Bad

Except, my slumber isn’t all that peaceful and I begin to realize that it’s nice to have him around.

  • red wine popcornLate Nights.  I stay up way too late when my husband is away.  No clue why, but I do, every single night.
  • Snacking.  While I’m staying up way to late, I find myself snacking before bed.  I know this is a terrible habit, yet I do it anyway.  Maybe I miss running my mouth, chatting with him before bed and have to keep my lips busy.  I don’t know.  I just know that I’d be huge if he was away any longer than a week.
  • No Alarm.  I haven’t set my own alarm clock in years.  My husband’s alarm goes off, waking us both up as he gets ready for work and I get ready to get the kids off to school.  Late nights plus no alarm equals an unhappy, very rushed morning.
  • Household Duties.  I do just about everything for the house indoors as far as cleaning, cooking, and basic upkeep.  But my husband does the outside stuff.  When a storm dumped another 5 inches of snow, topped with a wet coating of ice and sleet, I didn’t have him here with the snow blower, clearing our driveway, steps, and walkway.  So I had to shovel  all of that very heavy, wet stuff myself in order to get the car out.  I have a new hatred for snow plows after sobbing my way through the sludge they pushed to barricade us in.  When is he coming home again?
  • Single Parenting. I do most of the parenting on my own anyway in our family, due to the fact that my husband commutes to the city for work.  He leaves at 6:30 every morning and isn’t home until 7:30 most nights.  But even with that schedule, I didn’t realize how much he helps with the kids in those few hours that he does have.  All of the help, discipline, and bedtime routines fell to me this week, making me miss having him here.
  • Restless Sleep.  Although this is the same house in which I sleep every single night, when my husband is gone, every noise wakes me up and starts my heart to racing.  Before bed, I bring my cell phone with me instead of leaving it charging in the kitchen.  I triple check every door lock and window, and generally get myself in a horror-movie panic, imagining every demon and ne’er-do-well coming to get me.  Suddenly having this bed to myself doesn’t sound so good.

The Ugly

After the first two days, the luster has worn off and I need my husband back home.  I am a sleep-deprived nutcase, holding it together for the sake of my kids.

  • Snow Sucks.  (and perhaps my attitude does, too.)  I think the weatherman predicting more snowfall during my husband’s drive home should be hanged with his own ugly tie.  If one more snowflake falls on my shoveled walkway, I’m buying a flame thrower.
  • Empty Bed.  My covers are cold and my nightmares are haunting me.  I need my husband home to reach out and touch in the middle of the night.
  • Kissless.  They may not be the steamy smooches of romance novels, but I really miss morning kisses as he walks out the door, evening kisses when he comes home from work, and good night kisses before bed.  I am kissless.  Even my lips miss him.
  • Kids Who Miss Their Daddy.  My kids adore my husband.  He is a great father.  Hearing my daughter say how much she misses Daddy is breaking my heart.  I can’t wait for him to come home so he can see just how much he is loved.
  • Post-Bedtime Quiet.  Once something I looked forward to, now it’s just too quiet.  All other noises are amplified and it makes this big house feel so empty.  I never knew I could feel such extreme isolation in the comfort of my own home.  There are four people living here, yet it is so very lonely.
  • Missing His Wit.  Control over the TV remote is great, but I actually miss my husband’s sharp wit and silly puns.  No one makes me laugh and smile as much as he can.  I miss his company so much.
  • soap barsFeeling Incomplete.  When he is gone, I feel like part of me is missing.  After so many years together, we have become like two slivers of soap in the shower, slowly molding ourselves around each other until we’re one solid chunk.  We may be worn around the edges, and a little soggy from overuse, but we work best when together.  Separate us, and neither piece is enough to get the job done on its own.  But together, we’re a fresh, clean whole.

I suppose absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  Each trip away proves to me that I married the absolutely perfect man for me.  It’s not just missing someone when he’s gone; I miss everything about who he is.  The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and everything in between.  He’s home again and I am whole again.

You Only Have To Start

January 28, 2014

You Only Have To Startpencil-pusher-1235996-small
by Stacey Biemiller Maisch

Staring at an empty page
tears rolling down his chin.
He sighs, frustrated,
thinking that I don’t understand him.

I want to tell him that I know
exactly how he feels.
I want to hug him, comfort him
assist with this ordeal.

Instead I stand one room away
just peeking in to see
if he has started working yet,
but I can’t let him see me.

He needs to puzzle through this,
Needs to get there on his own.
He needs to learn how to begin,
so he can get it done.

He’s only eight, in second grade,
hating both homework and me.
It’s not that I don’t want to help;
I just need to let him be.

I need to let him flail and fret;
I need to let him be upset.
I need to watch him struggle.
If it’s too easy, he’ll forget.

Once this is finally finished,
I know he’ll stomp and fuss.
He’ll claim how much he just hates school,
and even, possibly, us.

But when it’s over, he will know
that he completed this task.
And any future hurdles
won’t be too much to ask.

By butting out, a room away,
I just hope he learns
The best rewards cannot be given;
No, they must be earned.

I hope someday that he will know,
deep down in his heart,
that all things become possible.
You only have to start.

I wrote this poem after reading the following phenomenal article from Forbes, 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders. I am guilty of more than half of these things, so I still have a long way to go.

Holding Hands

What Richard Sherman COULD Have Taught Everyone

January 22, 2014

photo 2I was sick of this story before I even read a single word.  After cheering for the Broncos, I watched the first half of the Seahawks v 49ers game, then kicked my husband and son down to the basement to watch the rest because my DVR was busy recording Downton Abbey and Revenge, so we couldn’t watch a third show.  I don’t have a dog in this Superbowl race this year.  My Giants were out of it in the first month of the season.  My Panthers lost the previous week.  So I was down to rooting for Peyton Manning and former Panthers coach, John Fox.

It wasn’t until I received a call from my girlfriend about this whole Richard Sherman thing that I actually knew it had happened. (Yes, husbands. Your wives actually had a phone conversation about football.  You may consider yourselves lucky.)

When I watched the video interview, I was predictably disgusted and disappointed.  What a missed opportunity.  This cornerback could have been featured on every sports page, every social media outlet, even every front page headline for being a fantastic role model, or even an eloquent spokesperson.  But no, instead, he used his five seconds on camera to exemplify selfishness, arrogance and ego.  What a missed opportunity.

I chatted with my husband about how frustrating it was for my friend, who is striving to supply her athletic son with positive role models. We ended up agreeing that this was as much Sherman’s fault as it was the network’s and the team’s.  These interviews are arranged beforehand, with full knowledge that they are giving the spotlight to a trash-talker with a bad reputation.  It was obvious that this was simply a ratings ploy.  And it worked.  Here we are, talking about it, just like they wanted.

I wasn’t planning to spout off about it at all until today, when I read some of the articles defending Sherman.  Specifically, this BlogHer article, claiming to offer a mother’s perspective, and this HuffPost piece, which brushes the broadest stroke to say that America is upset because Sherman is from Compton and we don’t like outsiders.


First, as a mother of three, I can 100% accurately claim that no, neither I nor my children have ever proclaimed ourselves as the “best ever” after a game.  Not in our house.  Not on a field.  And certainly not in a public forum, much less on national television.  Why?  It’s not because we are repressed, or self-doubting.  It’s because we were taught better.  Our parents, teachers, coaches, and communities instilled in us a sense of good sportsmanship that precludes this kind of angry, self-aggrandizing showboating.

As a mother, I say, yes, encourage kids to celebrate.  But teach kids humility, even in the heat of the moment.  No, especially in the heat of the moment.

microphonePride in accomplishment is absolutely encouraged, but awareness and acknowledgement of a team effort should never be overlooked.  Whether it’s a great play in a football game, a win in a spelling bee, or an award for a scouting achievement, teach kids to be aware of and acknowledge those who didn’t win in a way that shows you appreciate them for the competition.  I wouldn’t allow my kid to behave like Sherman did, even on the sideline.  But if my son ever spewed that garbage from his mouth to a camera, I’d have him suffering punishments and serving time in some way that ensured a new-found appreciation for the losers.

Sherman’s charitable actions and scholarly achievements off the field only serve to bolster my point.  Sherman is an underdog. If we’re talking winners and losers, he began as the latter.  It’s great that he has worked his way up to the former, but he of all people should know better than to perch himself too high to fall.

As for What Richard Sherman Taught Us About America, this drivel spouts that our citizenry is too prejudiced to accept this kind of behavior because of where Sherman grew up.  On the contrary, I believe the fact that Richard Sherman was given a microphone at the end of his most successful game in his career states otherwise.  We simply were hoping for something worthwhile to come out of his mouth.  Instead, we got his ego, up close.

I feel like every HuffPost author seems to think we are all too selfish and should give more to others, that we are bad people for wanting to keep anything that we have earned or enjoy the fruits of our labors.  But how do you justify the hypocrisy of sharing and equality and boosting our fellow man versus championing Sherman’s selfish, glory-hogging, rant?  Have we lowered our standards to the point where we should be honoring him simply because he hasn’t been arrested?

I don’t think Sherman taught us anything about being Americans.  I think Sherman sets a perfect example of what not to do for our kids and our country.  If Sherman is a lesson on class, I don’t think the lesson is that we don’t accept those from lower-class upbringings.  Instead, Sherman’s lesson is that we all should show a little more class when opening our mouths to a national audience.

Class doesn’t come from money; it comes from character.  There are millions of rags to riches achievers who had class long before they had success.  Being a Stanford graduate and donating money to charities shows drive and generosity.  But it doesn’t show class.  Using your five seconds to shout and cheer excitement for your team, your city, the sport, that would have been nice.  Using it to nod your head to your competitors in a gracious way could have been a real example of class.  Instead, Sherman erased everything we know about his achievements and his philanthropy and showed the world an example of having no class.

No, this one clip does not define the whole man.  At least, I hope not.  I hope that, in addition to whatever apologies he makes for this moment of diarrhea-mouth, he shows better judgement in his future actions.  Empty words of apology are far too common in the news.  However, learning from this and showing real class in future moments could teach everyone a bit about true progress.

dark football

Does Birth Order Affect How We Parent?

January 19, 2014

birth order blog quoteWe all know that parents worry.  From the instant the pregnancy test reads positive, there is a sinking realization that, despite thinking we had all the answers just five minutes ago, we now know for a fact that we truly know NOTHING.

Parenthood is the ultimate equalizer.  Unfortunately, everyone else does such a good job faking it, that we each suffer a silent misery, thinking we are the only parents without a clue.  However, even though there are stacks upon stacks of parenting books out written by so-called “experts,” we all end up figuring out this parenting gig on our own, mostly by trial and error.

That original worry from the early stage of diaper changes, feedings, and sleep deprivation becomes both stronger and weaker with each passing phase.  We learn to take things in stride and try to save our freak-outs for bigger issues.

Likewise, when you have subsequent children, your worries over your crappy parenting become both bigger and smaller, too.  We know what worked and what didn’t with bottles or breasts, but we panic when we worry that we’ll have to divide our time and attention among multiple kids.

We go from, “How can we do this to our first-born?” to “We’re giving him the greatest gift in the world…a sibling.”5320_1174737814185_625212_n

We try to balance our efforts between kids, while learning from our mistakes and experience.  Suddenly, we realize that, because we are learning on the job, we are not parenting each of our children the exact same way.  Guilt over taking time and attention away from our first-born morphs into guilt that we have screwed up our oldest worse than his younger siblings.

I’ve always told my oldest that he has the toughest job in the family because he is the one who has to teach me how to be a mom.  Yet, just yesterday, I had the first inkling that maybe an experienced mom does not always equal a better mom.

My middle child had a playdate after school, during which they mostly watched TV and played a video game.  Sure, there was snack time and Lego time mixed in, too, but the majority was TV and computer.  If that had been my oldest child when he was in second grade, I would have announced, “Okay guys.  No more screen time. Go play outside or upstairs for a while.”

It was that realization that made me wonder, “How does birth order affect how I parent?  Am I really doing right by my younger kids?”

I mean, we all joke about how crazy we were with our first babies compared to our younger kids.  Dropped pacifier?  Wipe it on a pant leg — third kid!  Missed nap time? Oh well, she had to tag along to soccer practice.  Even diaper commercials use that theory in advertising.

We like to think that we “get the hang of it” and are better for our experience.  But are we really being better parents?  Or just lazier?

The truth is, we can’t tell which way of parenting is better or worse.  Is my oldest such a worrier because he picks up on my unease over the unknowns of all of his firsts?  Or am I raising a slacker kid in his younger brother who has learned how to manipulate me more expertly?  Will my daughter be spoiled and vain because I raise her as my last baby?

It’s no longer a question of “Am I screwing them up?” It’s become more a worry of “Which one am I screwing up the worst?”

I guess we can’t ever really know the answers until they’re grown and charging us for their therapist bills.  I only hope that, by then, they’ll realize that it was all just a giant crap shoot for us as parents.  That our intentions were good and always driven by love, and pride, and a little bit of fear.

I just hope they know that, no matter how much we worried over parenting them fairly, there was never any limit to how greatly we love each of them.


20 Resolutions for 2014

January 6, 2014

2014 glassesI am not good at sticking to resolutions.  Never have been.  I have great ideas, and usually start out well, but I am a creature of habit, and habits are really hard to break.  However, I do think it’s a good idea to look inward and see the many ways in which I can improve and become a better person.  That is not to say that I am unhappy or that resolutions are a way of making us feel bad about ourselves.  But the New Year is a fresh start and I could use a few of those.  So here I go.  I’ll try to check in every three months or so with a progress report to see how I’m doing.

I got this idea after reading it on Amy’s Real Life. Thanks for the idea, Amy!

Resolutions for 2014

1.  Follow Through – If I make plans, I will do my best to stick to them.  I’ve become a bit of a homebody and would rather stay home than go out.  So friends, I’m enlisting your help.  If I say I’ll go, then try to back out, call me on it.

2.  Limit Computer Time – When I do get  spare minute, my instinct is to reach for the computer.  Often I’ll put off the kids for 5 mins (or an hour) because I’m caught up reading something online, or checking Facebook or email.  5 minutes too easily becomes 45 minutes for me, and other things around the house suffer, too.  I need to put time limits on my own computer use, just like I do for my kids.

3.  Get Outside – I am a fair-weather runner, which means I’m only exercising outside in Spring and Fall.  My body and my mind need more time spent with nature.  Whether it’s a walk around our neighborhood, a hike in the woods, or simply playing basketball or hockey in the driveway with the kids, I need to spend more time outside.

4.  knittingKnit Something – I know, I’m not eighty years old, but when the kids got their Rainbow Looms, I realized that I like the catharsis creating something with my hands.  Last month, I started a test square and it’s almost finished, albeit with many many mistakes.  I’d like to start a real knitting project, even if it’s something as simple as a scarf.  Maybe if I start now, it’ll be finished in time to give as a gift next Christmas!   

5.  Listen to more music – I love music.  All holiday season long, I’d tune into the OnDemand music channel and listen to Christmas songs.  I get more done with music playing.  It boosts my mood and spurs me onto to accomplish more things.  I need to turn on the tunes more often in the house.

6.  Take guitar lessons – My son wants to learn and so do I.  I’ve had an acoustic for almost ten years, but I can only play the intro to Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”  I want to learn chords and how to read guitar music.  Anyone know of a good local guitar instructor?

7.  Write my next book – Or, at the very least, START it!  I’ve had the idea for my next book for months now, but haven’t written a single word.  With all of the indoor time I’m facing now this winter, I resolve to get it done.  Or at least started.

8.  Teach More, Do Less – This one is a parenting skill I need to improve.  With three kids under the age of 10, I tend to do more FOR the kids in the interest of saving time and mess.  Whether it’s shoe-tying, taking out the garbage, setting the table, or cooking, I tend to be a control freak.  I know that I’ll do it the right way, so I just do it all myself.  Then I get angry that no one helps out around the house.  My fault.  My daughter is the “Teach Me!” kid and she’s reminding me just how capable children are if we simply show them how.  I need to slow down and teach.

9. Make my bed every day – Seems silly as an adult to have this as a resolution, but I need it.  On days that I make the bed first thing when I wake up, the day seems to go more smoothly.  Maybe it’s seeing that one, restful space, all neat and tidy when so many other areas of my house and my life are a cluttered mess that puts me in a good mood.  I don’t know.  But I need to make the bed every day.

10. Get a colonoscopy – Yuck, I know.  But as my family reminded me over the holidays, colon cancer took my maternal grandmother way too young.  I was shocked to know that every one of my cousins had already done this.  I need to get on the ball.

11. Go skiing – I used to LOVE skiing.  I learned when I was 4 years old and went all the time. I was on the ski team in high school and even coached my racers when I was a teacher.  It shames me to admit this, but I haven’t been skiing for over 13 years.  I need to get my kids on skis and teach them how much fun shooshing down the slopes can be.

12. Keep receipts – I did an okay job of creating a tax folder this year for things like medical records and charity donations, but I need to be better at remembering to put everything in that folder.  Tax season comes and I know I’m throwing away money with all of the missing receipts.

13. Eat more veggies – I love vegetables.  When I actually make the effort to cut up raw veggies or prepare cooked ones in tasty ways, I eat a ton of them.  It’s not that much effort, but I need to focus on getting more veggies into my diet.

14. air purifying house plantsKeep an indoor plant alive – Plants are supposed to be good for healthy air.  I like plants.  I just tend to kill them.  So I’m going to see if I can find an indoor plant that I like and remember to water it enough to keep it alive.

15. De-Clutter – This one goes on every resolution list every year.  I guess it will continue to show up until I get it under control.  I have too many piles of everything (mail, folded laundry, books, etc.) on too many surfaces.  When my house is clutter-free, my mind is clearer.  This is one for my whole family to tackle.

16. Find and hang curtains – We’ve been in this house over 7 years and still only have sheers on our dining room windows.  I’m too picky.  I need to finally just choose from what’s out there and buy and hang them.

17. Drink water every night – When I remember to do this, it really helps.  One full glass of water before bed really helps me to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed.  I’ve heard it’s good for your skin, too.  I need to do this every single night.

18.  Figure out how to use the Cloud and give each kid their own Apple ID – We currently all share one iTunes Apple ID (mine) and I’ve done that on purpose so I can get notifications and see everything that the kids do on their ipods, etc.  However, syncing iTunes, games, and keeping track of everything is getting difficult.  I need to learn how to use the technology we have to make life easier, not harder.

19.  Schedule real date nights with my husband – My parents have offered to babysit the kids for an overnight once a month.  We know this, yet our schedules tend to get so crazy that we don’t make it happen.  We need to go out, just the two of us, as least once a month.  We love each other and date night helps us remember why.

20. Set-up my coffee maker every night – I insisted on a programmable coffee maker so I could set it to brew my coffee every morning on a timer.  I love waking up to a fresh, hot cup of coffee every morning.  However, it only works if I set it up the night before!  There’s that follow-through thing again.


What do you resolve to do this year?

From Grind to Whine 2013 Year in Review

December 31, 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

2013 Crunchy numbers

2013 Attractions

2013 How did they find you

2013 Where did they come from

2013 Who Were They

see you in 2014

Thanks to all who have visited in 2013!  I hope to bring more fun and interesting stuff in 2014!

Happy New Year, everyone!!


See how this year compares to previous years:

From Grind to Whine 2012 Year in Review

From Grind to Whine 2011 Year in Review

6 Ways to Keep the Kids Believing in Christmas

December 12, 2013


My son and daughter watching Santa arrive at our town's annual Christmas Walk

My son and daughter watching Santa arrive at our town’s annual Christmas Walk

There’s a rumor going around that some of the kids in my son’s 4th grade class are mouthing off that there is no Santa Claus.  Now, I know some of these kids are older than my very young 9-year-old who won’t turn 10 until this summer.  I know that this is the normal age that kids stop believing.  But I am not ready for this milestone.  Especially because he is my oldest and I really don’t want Christmas to be ruined for his two younger siblings.

I still remember the day I stopped believing.  I was 11 years old.  A naive, innocent, sixth grader.  I was sitting at a lunch table with my friends when one of them casually said, “You know Santa’s not real, right?”

Not wanting to seem stupid or uncool, I nodded and said, “Oh yeah, of course,” between bites of my sandwich.  I slowly chewed whatever it was I was eating, not wanting to swallow any food anymore.  On the outside, I was calm and unworried.  But on the inside, I was crushed.  I felt like someone was squeezing my heart and ripping it out of my chest.  I felt stupid; I felt sad.  I felt like someone I loved had died, but I couldn’t show it.  I felt like crying, but didn’t want my friends to think I was a baby.  That 11-year-old memory is so clear that I still feel as heartbroken now, telling the story, as I did then.

My son hasn’t shown any signs of not believing yet.  But I see him watching closely, taking it all in.  He is very much like me in that regard.  Even after that fateful lunch period, I still didn’t go home and tell my parents what I had learned.  I kept it all inside, until I came to terms with it on my own.  I have a feeling that’s how he will handle it, too.  I just hope he believes a little while longer.

Here’s the thing about not believing in Santa and all of the magic of Christmas.  It turns kids from innocents with pure hearts into skeptics.  It transforms them into doubters and makes them question everything in life.  Of course, this would naturally happen anyway, as it’s part of growing up, but what’s the harm in holding off that unpleasant inevitability for another year or two?

So parents, this is what I ask of you.

PLEASE do not rush this discovery.

PLEASE allow them to stay little, for just a little while longer.

Follow these ideas for helping the kids continue to believe.  And, if your child is one who has stopped believing, PLEASE sit them down and tell them NOT to talk to other kids about it.  Your little smarty-pants just might be crushing a classmate from the inside out.

How to Keep the Kids Believing in Christmas:

1.  The Elf on the Shelf — Either do the elf or don’t.  But be sure you’re willing to take on the responsibility. You don’t have to get crazy, but try not to follow some cookie-cutter identical schedule followed by every household either!  And, as with Santa, if your kid doesn’t have an elf, or doesn’t believe, sit them down for a talk about keeping quiet on the subject.

2.  Elfie Joe's potpourri Christmas treeThe Elf Stands Alone, Part 1 —  Please stop sharing pics of your kids hugging your elf.  If my kids see them, they’ll wonder why all elves don’t follow the same rules and will begin to doubt.

3.  Be Tight With Santa — Santa cooperates with parents.  Explain that we tell Santa what we get you to avoid duplicates.  Sometimes Mommy forgets who got what for whom.  We cooperate.  We work together.  Yes, some of what was on Mommy’s Amazon wish list was actually delivered by Santa, not by the post office.

4.  The Elf Stands Alone, Part 2.  Regular toys don’t come to life during the year.  The elf is the only one who moves, hides and plays tricks.  No leprechauns, no birthday fairies, and no mischievous dinosaurs.  Keep the elf special and unique by not doing the exact same thing all year long.

5. Take the credit.  It’s okay to get credit for doing things as parents.  If you want to see that look of awe and magical wonder on your kids’ faces, surprise them as much as you want!  But it’s okay to admit that you, the parents, have done this wonderful thing for them.  Let them experience that amazing special feeling that they are so important to their family, that their parents would do something magical for them.  Santa doesn’t need all of the credit.  He’s very good about sharing.

6.  Watch the movies.  Explain questions as they arise, but keep quiet if they don’t.  And, for the love of God, don’t turn it off halfway through because you’re afraid that the movie may make them question their belief.  Every Christmas movie has a happy ending.  The kids need to see that to know that the doubt gets resolved!

Please help keep kids just a little sweeter and more innocent for just a little while longer.  Talk to older kids about the importance of keeping quiet around their friends and siblings.  And encourage the younger kids to believe.  We all could use a little more Christmas magic.

Christmas Walking in a Small Town

December 12, 2013

Originally published in 2010
Christmas Walk Santa bank roofI am relatively new to the town of New Providence. My family and I moved here a little over three years ago from Charlotte, NC, where we were for six years. For those of you not familiar with Charlotte, it’s a sprawling, mid-size Southern city. It’s usually toward the bottom of the list of Top 25 US cities by population, but it’s there. With New York and Philly as our two closest cities to us here in northern Jersey (both in the top 5 of the population list, by the way), we may not perceive it as a “big” city, but there is no denying that it definitely is a city, not a small town.

Even though I was in Charlotte for so long, I am a true Jersey girl. I grew up in Morris Plains and went to school in Morristown. So when we decided to move back to NJ, I knew that I was coming home. I wanted to make sure we moved back to a small town like the one in which I was raised. A town where you could walk from one end of town to the other if you had to, even though no one really does. A town that had functions like Rotary breakfasts and small-town parades and street fairs. I knew my cousins had grown up in New Providence years ago, and that it fit the good schools and small town bill, so we moved here in the fall of 2006.

The Christmas season came on fast that year for us. With the craziness of moving and settling in, it felt like we barely had time to breathe before we were putting up our tree and lights. We didn’t know many people here then, so when my aunt called to tell me that the New Providence Christmas Walk was the Friday after Thanksgiving and we should go, we went. We wanted to take advantage of the small-town things like this that were the reason for our move.

After six years of living in the city of Charlotte, it was that night, at our first Christmas Walk, that I discovered the true joy of coming home. We were only a family of four then. My oldest son was only two and my youngest had just had his first birthday, so we had the double stroller for them, but soon lifted them out onto our shoulders to enjoy the sights. They pointed and laughed as Santa appeared on the roof of the bank and was brought down in the bucket of the fire truck. They clapped along to the high school marching band playing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” and looked around in wide-eyed fascination at the crowd who walked behind the truck and the band down the streets of their new home town.

We followed the crowd that night to the lawn of the Presbyterian church where we pet the live animals and gathered around to watch the children perform the story of the first Christmas. There were many memorable moments for me that night, but the one that hit me the most was standing there that night when the town started to sing Christmas carols together on the lawn of the church in front of the live nativity. There was something about singing “Silent Night,” along with strangers sandwiched together on a cold night outside of a small-town church that just made me feel like I was home.

I will never forget my feelings from that night. I was almost in tears from being just so happy as we loaded our family back up in the car to head home. After we got back and put the boys to bed, I sat down and emailed all of my friends in Charlotte about this Norman Rockwell experience we had just had. I knew then that this would be a tradition our family would repeat year after year.

Three years and four Christmas Walks later, this small town does not disappoint. I now recognize faces of friends and neighbors as I walk through town and take part in the festivities, though. My sons are now in school and we have our daughter to join in and experience the wonder as well. My parents join us for the Walk every year now, too. In fact, I just learned this year, that they used to come with my aunt and uncle for this experience when they were dating.

I am one of those people who loves music and finds meaning in song lyrics. I had adopted Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Come Home” as my own personal theme song for our move back to NJ in 2006. Every year after we go to the New Providence Christmas Walk, I remember that song and that night. I am able to relive the magic and wonder of feeling a part of a small town again and the absolute joy at realizing that, although this wasn’t my childhood home town, it was our new home town that would give us memories and moments like this to just take in and take with us for the rest of our lives.

As one Jersey boy put it:

“It doesn’t matter where you are; it doesn’t matter where you go

If it’s a million miles away or just a mile up the road

Take it in, take it with you when you go

Who says you can’t go home.”

Kids Christmas 2009









First published by The Alternative Press.

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