Monday, June 27, 2011

The perfect parking spot

Published for Motherhood Matters on (click HERE for the link)
Published for Allen Publishing (click HERE for the link)

On our way back to the car after an hour of outdoor swimming lessons, my 3-year-old son latched himself onto my leg and began screaming, figuring he’d had enough walking for the day. I figured he hadn’t, so I limped along with my son attached to my leg while the other kids in my car pool ran ahead. I was so happy that I had landed the perfect parking spot an hour earlier.

In an effort to maintain the goodwill of its residential neighbors, the swimming school asks that parents avoid orange cones when parking. I usually have to park at least three or four blocks away, but that morning I had been delighted to find an open space two doors down.

I was only a few yards away from the van, still dragging my screaming son, when a woman materialized at my side asking me if “that” — pointing to my van — was my car. I distractedly answered yes, intent on winning the battle of wills with my son.

As my son let go of my leg and proceeded to scream even louder, the woman held up a piece of paper onto which she had printed a large picture of my van.

It was time to give this woman my full attention.

She raised her voice, presumably to be heard over my screaming son, "You parked in front of my mailbox and I missed my mail delivery this morning because of you. I'm heading over to show this picture to (the owner of the swimming school) right now. What's your name?"

This woman was upset, to put it quite mildly.

Speechless, I leaned down to pick up my son and buy myself time to wrap my head around what had just happened. I was counting to 10 before reacting.

There had been no orange cone, of that I was certain. Seriously, what was her problem? I don’t go ballistic when someone parks in front of my mailbox. Printing a picture of my van and reporting me over one day’s worth of mail seemed a little over-the-top.

But then it hit me how often this must have happened to this woman over the years. How many times had she missed her mail delivery because of someone like me? I could very well be the proverbial straw.

So I straightened back up, took a deep breath and said, "My name is Susie. I am so, so sorry. I was in a hurry and there was no cone, but it’s still completely my fault."


“This must happen to you all the time.”

The woman turned away slightly, "It does."

We were now both at a loss for words. I added, "Can I go pick up your mail at the post office later this afternoon?"

"No, you're fine."

But I wasn't fine, and I wasn’t sure she was either. I thought about it all day and finally had an idea. Later that afternoon, I left a gift bag on the woman’s porch. The card said something like this:

“I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to have an insensitive idiot park in front of your mailbox, preventing your mail delivery. Here are a few items to ease the sting of my actions. You can look at the plant to block out the image of my car in front of your mailbox, eat the chocolate to get the bad taste out of your mouth when you think of me, and read the magazine until your real mail is delivered tomorrow. I am truly sorry.”

I heard the following voice mail message later that evening, "This is Ellen (name has been changed), the crazy swimming pool neighbor. You are sweet. I was thinking after you left how hard and stressful it was at times for me when my kids were little. And your gift was just too much. I want to make sure you always have a good place to park, so please park in my driveway until your swimming lessons are over."

And that is how I obtained the perfect parking spot.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Delightful summer reading with the kids - Penderwicks books

My 10-year-old son walked up to me the other day and said, "Mom, remember when we read that book about the four kids who go to that house for the summer and meet that boy?"

Of course I remembered.  He was referring to "The Penderwicks:  A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy" by Jeanne Birdsall.  Two summers ago, I read it aloud to my kids several nights a week.  I remember them fighting for positions next to me on my king size bed as they crowded around me while I read. 

My son continued, "Remember you said that there was another book about the Penderwicks?  Do you think maybe we could read it this summer?"

This coming from a kid who is way too cool of late to hug me, to tell me he loves me - such gestures are beneath his new maturity level.  But when it comes to listening to me read, he still fights for prime position next to me. 

Guess who's heading out lickety-split to get the next book?   Actually, I found out that there are now two more Penderwick books:  "The Penderwicks on Gardam Street" and "The Penderwicks at Point Mouette."

The books are delightful, the time with kids huddled around me even more so. 

I don't experience great mom moments as often as I'd like, but summer reading with the kids is most definitely in that category.  I can't wait.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Writing Prompts for Kids: #1 - About My Dad

By way of explanation:

For me, summer means shelving almost everything I manage to find time for during the school year in favor of keeping my kids happy, entertained, working hard, learning, and most especially from killing each other.  This is all in theory, of course. 

Plus I'd like to retain a teeny tiny bit of my own sanity & not be a raving lunatic crazy mom by the end of the summer.  Ok so that's a lot to ask but I can dream.

Because summer writing time for us moms is hard to come by, I'll be posting Summer Writing Prompts for Kids about once a week (give or take - I'm not making any definitive promises).  Hopefully these will be helpful and fun and kid-brain-boosting diversions as you navigate the Wonderful World of Summer with your kids!!


Have each of your children answer these questions (changed as needed to fit your circumstances) about their dads  - or grandpas or uncles or other great men in their lives.   This exercise proves eye-opening, downright hilarious, poignant, and makes the perfect Father's Day gift. 

1) Make sure they answer their questions alone so they won't be influenced by siblings' answers.
2) Bribe your eye-rolling teenagers into doing this.  The results may surprise you.  Or not, but at least they will have written something!

Hi.  My name is:
I am going to tell you about my dad.
His name is:
and he is ___________years old.
My dad's favorite foods are:
My dad's job is:
When he's at work, he:
My dad loves my mom because:
My dad's favorite thing to watch on TV is:
My dad loves to:

Where have all the good dads gone?

"Serious MomSense" column published for the Motherhood Matters section of
(click HERE for the link)

The flood of recent stories about prominent men committing crimes or being unfaithful to their wives makes me wonder to what degree such behavior is beginning to be tolerated or even expected in our society.

As a mom of three sons, the current media trend of dedicating an inordinate amount of air time detailing the bad behavior of prominent men is alarming. If one were to rely solely on media coverage for information about dads these days, it would be easy to wonder where all the good dads have gone.

Luckily, I don’t have to look far to find that they’re still here. So as Father’s Day approaches, I want to turn the attention of my boys away from these poor role models and toward all the “ordinary” fathers who live remarkable lives, quietly flying under the media’s radar.

One such man was my father-in-law. After spending 2½ years as a missionary and later receiving a Purple Heart during World War II, Lawrence married his sweetheart at the age of 44. They had sixchildren, a daunting challenge at any age.

Mandatory retirement at age 60 with all of his children still home required that Lawrence find further employment. The search was especially difficult without the benefit of a college degree. After many rejections, he was hired to be the custodian of a nearby church meetinghouse, a job he approached with hard work and dignity.

Lawrence’s biggest trial, however, was his wife’s bone cancer diagnosis. She lost her battle after five years, leaving her children in Lawrence’s mourning yet loving hands. He was 70 years old and the children were in junior high, high school, college and on LDS Church missions at the time. When Lawrence passed away last fall at the age of 90, he left behind a legacy of faith, perseverance, determination and dignity.

Another such man is my brother-in-law, Dale. My boys love to visit their uncle because he’s hilarious and keeps them laughing. But this Father’s Day I will remind them about the courage and determination their uncle has shown in the face of extreme challenges.

Shortly before graduating with his pre-med undergraduate degree, Dale was in a car accident that rendered him a quadriplegic. The days, months and years that followed were at times nearly unendurable.

Based on experience and solid statistics, the health care professionals involved in Dale’s recovery expected his marriage to fail and his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor would be abandoned.

But Dale didn’t take the expected, easier roads. Due to pure determination and hard work, he became the 10th quadriplegic in United States medical school history to be admitted to medical school and graduated with honors. Dale is currently working as a highly-respected nuclear medicine specialist and will be celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary this year.

Lawrence would often state that he lived an unremarkable life. Dale says he’s nobody special. Scores of good men my sons know — fathers, grandfathers, uncles, teachers, and friends — also feel that their lives are mundane and unremarkable.

I beg to differ.

It takes unusual courage and hard work and determination to avoid the easy roads in favor of roads that build character, maintain trust and create true role models.

The way I see it, the only remarkable thing about prominent men behaving badly is the amount of media coverage they get.

On behalf of my sons and so many other impressionable boys out there — boys who desperately need to know that the world is still full of honest, faithful, good men — thank you for not taking those easy roads. Although you may never catch the media’s attention, you truly are remarkable.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rain not a welcome addition to a family camping trip

Published for Motherhood (click HERE for the link)

The idea of stuffing camping gear and food and kids into a van and driving for four and a half hours made me tired. But I plowed through by keeping my eye on the prize: spending three nights camping as a family at the mouth of Bryce Canyon, with lots of hiking and swimming in a heated pool.

My kids, having performed very little of the manual labor necessary to prepare for the trip, were excited. Once we finally got on the road, so was I.

The campground exceeded expectations with its gorgeous scenery, playground, heated pool and nice restrooms. Dinner was perfect because it was cooked over a campfire and slightly charred. As we were cleaning up and tucking in for the night, a few raindrops started to fall. But we didn’t worry because the weather forecast had assured us that the chance of rain was less than 10 percent.

As we all know, a rain forecast of less than 10 percent basically means it won’t rain. Plus, we were the proud owners of a brand-new waterproof tent complete with rain fly.

We learned a few things that trip:

  • A 10 percent chance of rain could in fact mean that it will rain all night and into the morning. Waterproof tents with rain flies keep the water out for approximately three and a half hours. Puddles of water inside a tent are a huge deterrent to a restful night’s sleep. Soft dirt paths and roads and campsites turn into muddy paths and roads and campsites in a downpour.
  • Pancakes and bacon cannot be cooked outdoors on a camp stove while it’s raining. RV owners who cook pancakes and bacon in the shelter of their tiny, yet very dry kitchens are looked upon with much envy and some malice by tent campers whose stomachs are growling as they trudge through sludge to use the facilities.
  • Mom should never sing or even hum “Singing in the Rain” while her husband and older kids are attempting to cram muddy, uncooperative camping gear back into and on top of the van in pouring rain. Despite good intentions, the song will do nothing to help lift spirits.
  • Attempting to wipe mud off of shoes with a soggy towel as kids are piling back into the van is an exercise in absolute futility.

Looking out of the window 10 minutes into the return trip and gazing upon a beautiful lodge advertising rock-bottom rates complete with complimentary hot breakfasts is a bad idea that will only cause indigestion and maybe even trigger a migraine.

The rest of our return trip was incredibly long and uncharacteristically silent until my 13-year-old broke the silence by saying, “That pretty much sucked.”

Well said. I pretty much had to agree.

You could never have convinced me at the time, but I honestly don’t regret going on that trip. Had we stayed home, we would likely have no memory of that weekend. Now we have a whole new batch of wet and mucky stories to rehash, and even laugh about on occasion.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that it took a solid six months of recovery time before I could laugh.

I’m currently planning a summer getaway for our family and sincerely hope it goes a little better -- ok a lot better -- than our camping trip. But a perfect vacation isn’t necessarily the end goal. It’s more about the experiences, whatever they turn out to be.

Here’s to family vacations. Even the muddy ones.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Joplin tornado stories lend perspective, redefine priorities

Published for Motherhood Matters - (click HERE for the link)

After years of home ownership, our circumstances changed and we have been renting the home in which we now live. This has not been easy for me. In fact, I admit to feeling sorry for myself and even whining on occasion. So it’s been especially exciting to plan furniture placement and decide who gets what bedroom in the home we are currently in the process of purchasing. My husband isn’t quite as enthused about his new honey-do list, but he smiles anyway.

I was thus preoccupied with all things house-related when the Joplin, Mo., tornado struck and reports of absolute devastation started pouring in. In light of our current circumstances, a few accounts really hit home.

NPR reported the reaction of Shawn and Renee Trejo, a Joplin couple whose four-year-old home had just been declared a total loss by an insurance adjustor. “When we got the [house] keys, me and my wife, we went outside and yelled," said Shawn Trejo. "You know, we had champagne, thought of what things we were going to buy — what kind of furniture, what color we were going to paint the walls. And now, you know, all that's gone.”

Furniture placement suddenly seemed trivial.

Creed Jones, a Joplin tornado survivor interviewed by Piers Morgan on CNN, told an amazing story. (click HERE for the video link)

Jones and his wife were driving toward their home as the tornado approached. Knowing that their daughters were following about 10 minutes behind in another car, they sent frantic texts to alert them. Unable to exit their car due to the pressure, they hugged and prayed in their shaking car while the tornado raged.

After not hearing from their daughters for an hour and a half, they finally received a text that said, “We’re OK. Can’t go home. It’s gone.” Their daughters' car had been lifted into the air by the tornado and had exploded from the pressure, with “shards of glass going everywhere.” The girls were able to exit the crushed car only with outside help. The father said, “My wife and I…had a good cry, so grateful that what was important we still had. We didn’t care about anything else.”

What bedrooms the kids end up sleeping in became completely inconsequential.

A grief-stricken woman told Brian Williams at NBC Nightly News of her husband throwing his body on top of hers as a shield from falling debris. In saving her life, he sacrificed his own. (click HERE for the video link)

In an instant, my husband’s entire honey-do list disappeared.

We live in a comfortable home, my kids are here each night for me to tuck into bed, and my husband is still by my side, smiling.

It’s high time I quit whining.

I want my kids to understand that the needs of countless other people in this world greatly exceed our own. And like it or not, the level of empathy my kids are likely to feel hinges primarily on me. I need to think carefully about how I react, what I discuss and share with my children and let them actively participate in planning how we can help. I realize that our contribution will be small, but it will be ours.

My hope is that our efforts will shift our focus towards what’s really important, letting everything else fall into its rightful place on our list of priorities.

There are so many homes and hearts that need rebuilding. In the end, everything else is just stuff.

Bean sprouts and whey

When it came to kids, my parents went all out and had eight - five girls and three boys.  Three of the eight siblings (including me) have passed the magic age of 40 after which almost everything health-related seems to go rapidly downhill.  Except, of course, the scale.  A cruel and unjust fate.

Debbie, one of my amazing sisters, has decided to light a fire under anyone willing to stand over it & has come up with a fun plan designed to motivate us to rise up off of our couches to get healthier & maybe even lose some weight over the summer.  All the sisters, my sisters-in-law and my mom are on board. 

The men are sitting this one out which surprises me not at all.  Sticks-in-the-mud, the whole lot of 'em.

There are many more complicated and time-consuming plans out there, but none of us will have extra physical or mental energy during the summer so Debbie has come up with what she calls the

1) Exercise 6 days a week
2) Eat three whole fruits & 3 cups of veggies a day
3) No eating after dinner
4) One dessert per week

As a kick-off motivator, she wrote the following poem:

Us Boyces, we all have big buns
Even some of the married-in ones!
So we'll suffer each day,
Munching bean sprouts and whey
Until ounces replace prior tons.

Awesome.  The laughing should definitely help us shed a pound or two - any additional weight loss will simply be a nice bonus.

Here's to summer and sisters and buns of all sizes!