Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our unexpected, unsolicited and most unwanted Christmas gift

Published for KSL.com (click HERE for the link)
Published for Deseret News  (click HERE for the link)
Published for Cross Timbers Gazette (click HERE for the link)
Published for familynews.com (click HERE for the link)

This will be my dad’s last Christmas. According to his oncologist, that is, barring a reversal that defies all medical predictions.

I can’t imagine Dad not caroling and delivering cookie plates with Mom at Christmastime. This is purely to show Mom how much he loves her, since I’m pretty sure he enjoys it about as much as undergoing surgery. Christmas will feel different without Dad playing Christmas hymns on the piano in the chronological order of Luke Chapter Two and assigning corresponding scriptures to be read between each song. And finally, tear-inducing Christmas stories and the Christmas dinner prayer won’t be the same in a different voice.

I’m already mourning the necessity of re-inventing next year’s holiday season without Dad.

Once the initial shock and grief of learning about Dad’s abbreviated life expectancy diminished, our family had to decide what came next. In various ways — some subtle, some more conscious than others, some out of pure necessity — we took action. The important stuff quickly began taking center stage, leaving the rest behind.

What’s happened as a result has proven to be positive, inspiring and at times even miraculous.

My teenagers no longer roll their eyes or suddenly remember that they haven’t finished their homework when I tell them it’s time to do yard work at Grandma and Grandpa’s. They just do it, without even whining (launching this directly into the miraculous category).

Unprompted, my younger kids create cards and handmade gifts for Grandpa. Particularly poignant is a card from my 7-year-old, the front of which reads, “I Hope You Feel Well.” On the inside, my son meticulously penned, “I love you because I like you.”

Family gatherings have been more memorable. Deliberately resisting our general tendency to scurry around and be overly busy at such events, family members slow down, sit down and talk. The rest of a family event, after all, is just details.

Phone calls and out-of-town visits have increased. They’re not filled with sobbing and effusive sentimentality, but genuine efforts are made to fill them with substance.

Our family is rather average, meaning we have our share of issues — both big and small. Dad’s shortened life expectancy has offered us all a dose of perspective, however, quietly encouraging us to loosen holds on grudges and to simply let the small (and even some of the big) things go.

Every time I talk to Dad and other family members nowadays, I tell them I love them. This has not always been the case — I’ve always figured that my love is a given. But as I say it more often, I regret all the chances I’ve passed up to say these three short words. It takes about a second.

Paradoxically, knowing that Dad’s life will be shorter than we ever imagined is a gift. It’s bittersweet and unsolicited, but a gift all the same. Without the knowing, there would be no increased efforts to change. And without these efforts, there would be fewer positive, inspiring and downright miraculous changes and interactions in our family.

Generally speaking, most people haven’t been told that someone they love has six months (give or take) to live. But we do know that time with loved ones is a gift, one that can be taken away with little or no notice. My family has experienced remarkable blessings as we have tried to spend that valuable time on what’s most important, leaving the rest behind.

There was nothing preventing us from making these extra efforts long before my dad's diagnosis.

In short, we love each other more, we love each other deeper and we love each other better. This is worth a great deal more than any gift that will appear under our tree this year.

My parents and I with my 3 youngest kids at their
Christmas piano recital this year

Thursday, October 18, 2012

To STAAR or not to STAAR?

Published in the Cross Timbers Gazette.  Click HERE for the link.

My kids walked into the house one day after school.  As soon as they started talking, it was clear that something drastic had occurred.

“We have to eat protein at breakfast tomorrow, Mom!  I mean, seriously, we have to.” This came from the kid who begs (mostly in vain) for sugar cereal every morning.

“I hope we’re not going anywhere tonight.  We have to get at least 8 hours of sleep, preferably 9.”  This came from another kid who begs (mostly in vain) for bedtime extensions every night.

Later that afternoon, a panicked voice exclaimed, “Nooooooo!  We can’t be out of pencils!”

And then during dinner, which we ate a little later than usual, my newly sleep-obsessed kid looked frantically at the clock and asked, “What time is it?  What time is it?  We have to go to bed early, remember?”

Things took an even stranger turn when I walked into the kitchen and found my seventh grader (the most laid-back kid on this planet) carefully gluing a partially-detached label from a used water bottle back into place.  Naturally, I questioned his bizarre behavior.

“We have to bring water bottles to school tomorrow that haven’t been tampered with.  We don’t have any new ones, so I’m improvising.”

“Tampering, you mean.”

“Yeah, but at least it looks new.  Plus I won’t put anything but water in it.”

These were definitely not my kids.  An alien takeover came to mind. 

Our family had recently moved from out of state into the LISD boundaries and this was our first experience with the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills).  State-mandated tests were nothing new to my kids, but the difference between the two states in both preparation and actual test-taking procedures was fairly drastic.  In short, LISD’s approach seemed a bit over the top.

I had never seen my kids (or their teachers) so stressed out, and I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it.  How much of this undue pressure was truly necessary in order for my children to be successful?  It didn’t seem ideal.

It compelled me, however, to reflect back on my days of teaching English and German (in a different state). At the time, I appreciated being giving the freedom, within reasonable boundaries, to decide what to teach and how to teach it.  I’d even like to think that most of my students came away from my classes loving (well, at least tolerating) Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird and being able to ask where the nearest restroom is.  In German.

But how well did I prepare my students for tests like the SAT and ACT, or for college?  That would be hard to say, since my students’ knowledge wasn’t measured in any standardized format.  That wasn’t ideal, either.

As a parent, I want my kids to be well-prepared for college entrance exams and college.  So what are the optimal methods to meet this end?

Currently, most states – including Texas -- have decided that annual (one-time), standardized high-stakes testing is the answer.

It sounds fine in theory, but I can’t turn on the news without hearing about teacher pay being linked to test performance, systematic cheating (by teachers), schools being closed, teacher strikes, and administrators being fired.  All due to controversies surrounding high-stakes testing.

Most importantly, what happens when students don’t pass these tests?  Are these students given the resources they need to fill in their learning gaps?  Are they able to move from being “behind” to “catching up” as a result of these yearly assessments, or do they just fall through the cracks?

By all accounts, the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness), which replaces the TAKS beginning this school year, holds students to a more rigorous academic standard than its predecessor.  This means that intensified pressure will be placed on administration, teachers and students to perform well.

As a parent, the most valuable way for me to help my children be successful is to receive frequent, consistent feedback from their teachers. For me, a yearly standardized assessment is too infrequent and loses most of its efficacy.

I am encouraged by the recent news that, thanks to the efforts of numerous educators and parents in this area, LISD applied for and was accepted into Texas High Performance Schools Consortium.  This is a group of 23 districts across the state that will be “collaborating to redesign education in Texas.” 

According to the district’s website, members of this consortium believe that “public schools must transform education and that accountability must be beyond a one-day high stakes test.”  Hats off to LISD, educators and parents in the community who are working diligently to help our children best prepare for their futures.

I’m interested to learn the results of these efforts as they unfold.  In the meantime, I’ll stock up on breakfast protein foods, pencils, water bottles and smiles.  I’ve discovered that smiling helps calm nerves, both of the human and alien variety.

What do you think?  What have been your experiences with standardized testing?  Time to weigh in.

Monday, September 3, 2012

18 months to 2 years

“18 months to two years.  Average.”

This was the oncologist’s answer to my dad’s life expectancy question, posed after the devastating news that his lung cancer had moved into his bones, making it officially stage 4 and incurable.

I sat in the doctor’s office with my parents, crying silently, watching their reactions.  They had both been taking notes about medications and dosages.  Both stopped writing, both looked up at the doctor’s emotionless face, both were silent and still for a few seconds.

Then both started writing again.

I mean, what do you do when you get this kind of news?  (In their case, not skydiving -- not yet at least.)

I saw that the word my dad had been writing ended up unintelligible and incomplete.   Mom put her pen down, rubbed Dad’s back a few times and then resumed writing as the doctor continued to talk, talk, talk, talk.

The doctor finally left the room to order meds and a shot and schedule a brain MRI (since the cancer may have spread there) and chemo treatments for next week.  The kind that will make him nauseous and his hair fall out and his bones ache and his extremities tingle.

“With this new life expectancy, I’ll have to re-think our finances and what we do with them.  I’d always planned on living as long as my dad (early 90’s),” Dad said.

Mom stated the obvious, how shocking this was.  We knew it wouldn’t be good news but had been expecting 5 to 10 years.

Dad said, “At least my mind won’t go first.”

My parents then opened my dad’s official Cancer Treatment Binder to the calendar section and started writing in the chemo treatment dates, counting weeks, speculating whether Dad could fly out to California for a grandson’s 12thbirthday at the end of September.

There is so very little they can control, but they can write things on the calendar.

This they could do.

We went to In-N-Out Burger for lunch on the way home.  While Dad was getting our order, Mom said, “We’re going to have to put everything in both of our names, like cars.  It’s so much harder to do that after the fact.  I don’t know anything about the bills, Dad pays them all online.  And the AC filter in the attic – I don’t know where it is or how to change it.”

When Dad sat back down with our food, he wondered aloud if there was a senior discount at In-N-Out.  “You could always play your cancer card, Dad,” I said, “Just tell them you’ve just been diagnosed with stage 4 incurable Cancer and have 18 months to 2 years to live.  They’d probably give you the entire restaurant.”

We managed to laugh.

Dad’s bucket list includes a trip to Peru (where he served his Mormon mission) and a cruise with his kids.  We talked about kicking the planning into high gear.

All the while realizing that we have no idea what is realistic and what would simply be pie in the sky hopes.

The talk shifted to the pharmacy and Dad’s meds.  “Now that one pain med,” he asked, “the one the doctor said I might need a higher dosage of eventually – what would cause the pain again?”

“Your bones, Dad.  Your bones.”

“Oh.  But I feel so good now, it’s hard to wrap my head around this.”

My parents possess a strong faith in God and profound optimism.  Dad will make the best of what is left of his life, of this I am confident.  Mom will be strong and make the best of the rest of Dad’s life as well as hers (Dad says she’ll reach the ripe old age of 100), of this I am also confident.

Taking their lead, I will too -- and help my kids do the same. 

I’m praying that I will be able to do this sooner than later.

But for right now, my heart is broken.

My parents at Dad's 70th birthday party in May

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book List: NPR's 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

Young adult lit is one of my favorite genres, since there is so much cross-over into the adult world.

Click here for NPR's Summer 2012 List (a result of 75,220 listeners' votes and a panel of experts to help narrow the list down to 100):

Your Favorites:  100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

I can't wait to dig into this list!

Friday, July 27, 2012

No-kids-allowed movement brews controversy

Published on KSL (click HERE for the link)

“You are what is wrong with America today.” That is the first sentence from one of the hundreds of comments and emails I received in response to my recent column titled, “No-kids-allowed movement growing in popularity (http://www.ksl.com/?sid=21017551&nid=999&title=no-kids-allowed-movement-growing-in-popularity).”

Granted, I had put myself out there and described a time in a grocery store when I hadn’t handled my toddler’s atrocious behavior nearly as well as I (hopefully) would today. As a mom, there are few things more painful than having to actually make a mistake before learning from it.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about readers’ responses to the idea of banning children from businesses as a reaction to misbehaving kids (like mine at times) and imperfect parenting (again, like mine). As illustrated by the reader who feels that I shoulder the blame for America’s problems, readers’ responses to these “brat bans” were not only interesting and eye-opening, but tremendously diverse and polarized.

Since everyone is affected by this issue on some level, I thought I’d share some of the more (or less, as the case may be) enlightening comments.

“Every business who enacts this policy is my personal hero and will get my business.”

“I would like to get a list of those businesses that enforce these no kids allowed policies so I can avoid giving them my business.”

“Why should the childfree continue to be treated like second class citizens and continue to have to be subjected to people who refuse to control their children? When I shell out money to go to a movie, is it fair that I miss out on the experience because some parent brings their screaming child to the movie and chooses not to do anything about it?”

“This is just part of growing up. Older people love to armchair quarter back what others are doing, but think back to your own days as a young parent and you will find that things are really not that different."

“The support for this type of movement is common in countries that have declining populations. Being less accepting of children can only speed the decline. Less children will mean less adults eventually and this trend seems to affect higher income brackets most. So the poor will populate, overall education levels go down, and the gap between the haves and have-nots increases. Sad to see us come to this.”

“Unfortunately the kids are getting painted with the broad brush when the majority of the blame should go to the thoughtless, brain dead parents who don't even consider how disruptive and annoying their little sweetheart is to others. This is an opportunity to teach them how to behave in public.”

“For all those saying it is a parenting issue, I ask you how we should parent this generation? Our only option is time out. Everything else is considered child abuse. Disciplining is now so over analyzed that it is extremely hard to figure out how to do it. I wish I could use the techniques my parents used on me and just go with the flow, but everywhere I turn I am being told that it is abusive, psychologically damaging, etc. Please be compassionate to those of us that are doing our best.”

“It is a violation of the families' rights to ban them from establishments for the sake of others. This whole ban idea targets a specific group of individuals and is wrong.”

“We should use common sense about where we take our children. An outright ban is unfortunate, but may be necessary in some situations. I have been in too many movies that I would never consider taking a child to, but someone else had no problem bringing their toddler, making the experience unpleasant.”

“Racial segregation is no longer acceptable, but age and class seem to be fair game. There's something wrong with that attitude.”

“Rather than focusing on the term ‘ban’ I like to look at it as ‘guidelines for parents who don’t know when the kids should stay home.’ ”

“I'm completely supportive of this as long as:

— We can have old people free zones where I don't have to try and get around the folks driving 10 mph under the speed limit.

— We can have cell free zones where I don't have to hear loud talkers yelling into their cell phones about things that no one cares about.

— We can have perfume/cologne free zones where I don't have to smell your attempt at a French bath.

Well if we really get down to it, there's something that annoys just about everyone, so why don't we just all stay in our own homes?”

“I agree that there are times and places where kids shouldn't be part of the scene, but it's really up to the parents to understand and respect that. I also think there are times and places where kids are to be expected and in those cases, it's up to the childless adults to respect that. I definitely don't want to live in a society where children and their parents are banned, but everyone needs to understand reasonable boundaries and I sometimes find that lacking these days. As if everyone believes a certain experience should be 100% geared for them and their specific needs. What happened to being part of a community made up of lots of different types of people?”

And finally, “How are our kids supposed to learn how to act in public, if they are not welcome in public?”

In a world where nothing will ever be ideal, I vote for tolerance and support of each other as we navigate through our lives — earnestly but imperfectly — as we try to build strong communities made up of lots of different types of people.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2012 Summer Writing Prompt #6: Your Mountain is Waiting

I just spent a week in the mountains and was awed (as always) at the beauty and majesty and pure awesomeness of a mountain.   Read these quotes, look at the pictures, and WRITE.

Here are a few ideas:

  • What would you do if you were left alone on a mountain for a week?
  • What mountains are waiting for you or what mountains have you already climbed in your life?  How will or did  you conquer them?
  • Have you ever hiked a mountain?  Describe your experience.
  • Write a list of adjectives describing what you see in this picture.  How many words can you come up with?
  • What does the following phrase from the last quote mean to you?  "...all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing"

"Today is your day.  Your mountain is waiting . . . so get on your way." 
--Dr. Seuss

 "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."  
-- Edmund Hillary
 "I've learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Life lessons, pranks, trivia help strengthen family ties around the dinner table

Published on KSL (click HERE for the link)
Published in Cross Timbers Gazette (click HERE for the link)

I turned up the car radio and listened closely to the rest of an interview with a celebrity, wondering if I had perhaps misheard. I hadn’t. Here’s the quote (taken from the radio station’s website to ensure accuracy):

“You could name on one hand anyone who has one meal with the entire family sitting down together. It doesn't happen anymore. And also, the meals that we had at home were the most horrible experiences of my life. (They were my stepfather’s) only chance to torture the family altogether, and so he made the most of it.”

How very sad for that man, I thought. My own kids would never suggest that eating a meal with their family is horrible.

Or would they? I guess it all depends on one’s definition of horrible. Family meals at my house can be challenging.

My kids often feel that saying things like “please” and “thank you” is highly inconvenient. And they find it irksome that they must eat their vegetables (which starving kids worldwide would be most grateful to take off their hands) if they want dessert. And they are put off by the fact that no one (Mom in particular) wants to watch food being chewed, even if the teeth doing the chewing belong to her very own children and are (mostly) cavity-free.

Admittedly, conversation is taxing at times. My cheerful and carefully worded inquiries about my kids’ days are at times met with grunts or eye rolls. Heated arguments break out over weighty matters, like who gets the last roll or whose turn it is to load the dishwasher. And my kids are forever trying to one-up and out-insult each other, prompting me to break out in song.

Oddly, my relatively pleasant rendition of “Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words" tends to have the opposite effect of its intended purpose.

Frankly, the kids aren’t the only ones who feel put upon. I’ve come away from an undisclosed number of family meals feeling as if I have just run the gauntlet, after which I devise clever schemes like installing pet flaps on each child’s door and serving meals via cafeteria tray.

But just as I’m about to head to the home improvement store for small rubber doors, I pause and reflect on what truly transpires at our family dinner table.

We learn life lessons. Recently, my 11-year-old son asked his 14-year-old brother for water and was handed a glass of water, scalding hot. I intervened by clarifying that the water must be cold. My son was soon spewing cold, salty water across the kitchen table. Unwilling to take any more chances, he got up to secure his own water. My 14-year-old then offered some sage advice, “It just goes to show that if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself.”

We try our hands at solving conundrums. My son once queried, “Those stories about lambs being eaten by lions don’t make sense. Lambs don’t even live on the Savannah — when would that ever happen?” My daughter gave it her best shot, “At the zoo, maybe?”

We share trivia and (ideally) show tolerance. For example, I have learned at my kitchen table that kangaroos can’t hop backwards and that a cow can be led up stairs but not down. My 6-year-old even insisted that the initials S.I. stand for “Shoe Ice Cream.” My kids argue over many things at the table, but they didn’t challenge their baby brother on that issue. Instead, they smiled and wondered what shoe ice cream might taste like. The consensus was probably not very good.

We feel and (ideally) show empathy. One of my sons has gone to great lengths to rid himself of freckles. At the dinner table one night, he was particularly distressed and fervently wished his freckles gone. His is older sister listened to his complaints and said, “I have freckles, too. They’re not that bad — they’re kind of cute on you.” My daughter has one, maybe two freckles. I blinked back tears, thanking her with a huge wink.

Orchestrating regular family meals can be tricky — preparation, management, cleanup — not to mention getting everyone home at the same time. And even when all of those variables align perfectly, one person’s rotten day can easily derail the meal experience for everyone else.

Yet shared meals can anchor a family. According to Time magazine’s “The Magic of the Family Meal," social scientists say that family meals act as a kind of vaccine, protecting kids from all manner of harm.

In fact, experts in adolescent development say that “it's in the teenage years that this daily investment pays some of its biggest dividends. Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use.”

Are we as parents undervaluing ourselves when we conclude that sending kids off to every conceivable extracurricular activity is a better use of time than an hour spent around a table, just talking to Mom and Dad?

My kids’ meal experiences will never resemble Beaver Cleaver’s. But in anticipation of the next hilarious, delightful, thought-provoking or poignant mealtime moment — and I know that these will occur, albeit irregularly — I’m going to set food on the table, invite everyone to sit down and see what happens.

Despite the occasional horrible episode, I suspect it will all be worth it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

2012 Summer Writing Prompt #5: 4th of July Fun

Most of us will be attending or watching fireworks displays.  Here are a few questions for your kids to research (gulp), think and then write about BEFORE the fireworks.  It may help them see the fireworks in a different "light," so to speak.

July 4th is a holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 and declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Why do we use fireworks and parades to celebrate this holiday?

What are the Top 10 reasons that you are glad to live in the United States.

Happy Independence Day!!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Momsensical: No-kids-allowed movement growing in popularity

Published on KSL (click HERE for the link)
Published on KTAR (click HERE for the link)
Published in Cross Timbers Gazette (click HERE for the link)

I ran into a grocery store with my three young kids. My youngest, a toddler whose mood changed with every passing box of cereal, was particularly volatile and I remember thinking that I would have to be quick about this.

He took advantage of me not buckling him into the cart (huge mistake) by hopping in and out of it at one second intervals. So I tried to wrestle him into the belt, which he resisted with body contortions, kicks, screams and various other unpleasantries. In the end, I hoisted him over my shoulder, secured my left arm around the back of his legs, and used my right arm to navigate the cart and my two other kids through the aisles.

At this point, I should have left my bread and eggs (completely overrated at times like these) and exited the store with a teeny shred of dignity. But I was young(er) and wonderfully optimistic and had not yet experienced — well, what I was about to experience.

So I stayed while both my son’s behavior and my optimism deteriorated at the speed of light. Feeling utterly defeated, I was finally ready to swipe my credit card — after which I planned on retreating to my car for a good cry.

But then, as with the most memorable learning experiences, things took a turn for the worse.

My son chose the very second I was swiping my card to try something brand new. Using a weapon I had left unsecured and readily available — his teeth — he clamped down as hard as he could on the back of my shoulder. A vise grip, if you will, that he seemed intent on holding until he reached his next birthday.

Cussing like a sailor (a bit out of character for me), I barely made it through the transaction.

I would never choose to repeat that experience. But here’s what made it bearable.

Although I am positive that there were people in the store who judged me or my son on various levels (before I had kids, I would have judged both me and my son), no one was openly critical. Moms gave me empathetic looks and wide berths in the aisles. Customers in my line were patient and helpful with my other two kids. The cashier was kind despite being somewhat alarmed at being in such close proximity to my son (for which I can hardly blame her).

An employee even opened the door and offered me assistance to the car — unprecedented for that store. This was very likely on account of wanting to get rid of us as quickly as possible, but the gesture was appreciated nonetheless.

Even though my kids are older now and I am no longer in danger of being bitten by one of them (knock on wood), I value the general sentiment of public support for what I’m doing as a mom. For the most part, the attitude I experience when I’m out and about with my children is that kids are pretty awesome and totally worth it — even at their most annoying.

So I am conflicted about the “no-kids-allowed” or “brat ban” policies that are growing in popularity (click HERE for an interesting article on the subject). Not surprisingly, it all began with adults-only resorts. But now, a wave of restaurants, movie theatres and even airlines have established policies that either ban kids altogether or stipulate times when kids are allowed and when they’re not.

This got my wheels turning. Should our kids (and, by definition, their parents) be banned from local movie theatres or grocery stores? In Texas, one cinema chain has even reversed the model and completely banned kids under six, except on specified “baby days.”

I understand that it is difficult for businesses to ignore revenue from the increasing number of childless adults, the group fueling this movement. But I hate to see society becoming less kid-friendly. What does this mean for the future?

Does this mean that my kids might be raising my grandkids in a society where their families are banned from as many (or more) places than they are welcomed? Does this put parents in danger of becoming second-class citizens?

There are certainly times when I’m on a date with my husband and would rather not be seated next to a screaming (or, heaven forbid, biting) child. And someday I hope to be able to confirm reports that vacationing at adults-only resorts can be quite lovely.

But I’ll more than tolerate — I’ll even be kind and helpful to the parents of — tantrum-throwing kids if the alternative is a society that doesn’t welcome them. The way I see it, all of us adults — even the ones who choose not to have children of their own — were once kids ourselves. And for the most part, we were totally awesome and completely worth it — even at our most annoying.

In your opinion, where (if anywhere) should businesses draw the line on these types of policies? What do you think about the growing number of “no-kids-allowed” bans? 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wherein I decide that turning 43 and being an average, not-famous mom is where it's at

There is a certain celebrity who happens to be exactly my age. For as long as she has been famous (20 plus years), the media has not let me forget that she always looks perfect and tanned and toned.  And that she always smiles.

There have been times in my life when I have envied hers.  A few weeks after I brought my third child home from the hospital, I remember wiping poop from three backsides within a 60 second time frame (my oldest was potty-trained but there are times when assistance is absolutely necessary), and then sitting down to breast-feed my baby in front of the TV while my other two crawled like ants back and forth over my legs.

Not surprisingly, this particular celebrity’s beautifully tanned body appeared on screen.  She was vacationing on a picturesque beach in an exotic location with one of this world’s most handsome men (according to People Magazine – I only know this because I spend a lot of time standing in the checkout aisle of Wal-Mart).

I considered my bread-dough belly, my stretch marks, my everything else that was far from perfect.  And the fact that I was the same age as this most gorgeous and fortunate of creatures. 


I sighed, thinking how lovely it would be to switch places with her, just for a day.  Or even a few hours.

Eleven years later, she is as fabulous and famous as ever.  Just last week, I heard an author of a diet and wellness book discussing her in an interview.  About how she (and celebrities like her) spend inordinate amounts of time on their bodies (said they train much like Olympic athletes).  And that they eat next to nothing.  This is the only way to achieve the results I see plastered on magazines every time I turn around.

I do not want to disparage how this woman lives her life.  I’m sure she’s fantastic.  If we lived next door to each other, I’d be willing to bet that we could find a common interest and maybe even become friends.

But it’s been a lot of years and two more kids since I’ve sighed when making a comparison between the two of us.

Oddly, I'm proud of (while still not loving) my bread dough belly and stretch marks and am OK with the fact that I will never in two trillion years look like her. 

In short, I simply don’t choose to spend my time the way she does.  The huge majority of my waking hours are spent preparing my kids to enter the world standing on their own two feet, knowing that there is a God in heaven, that they are loved by their parents, that nothing will work unless they do, and that this world is full of people who could use an extra measure of kindness along the way.

This undertaking is far from easy.  It’s demanding and exhausting and downright heart-wrenching at times.  And I rarely get it completely right.  But if I were given a chance to switch places with this gorgeous celebrity - but had to exchange even one teeny part of my life for the switch - I wouldn’t take it.  

I wouldn’t have taken it on the day wherein I wiped three backsides, either.  I just would have sighed a few more times whilst declining.

Because what I do matters, and is always worth it.

On my 43rd birthday, one of this world’s most wonderful men (according to me – I know this because I’ve spent a lot of time with my husband over the past 19 years) took me to an exotic location (a restaurant with ethnic flare qualifies as exotic) to celebrate.

I ate too much, so took my cue from the alleged eating habits of celebrities and decided not to order dessert.  But our waiter brought me crème’ Brule anyway, as it was, after all, by birthday.  I ate the whole thing.

My husband took the one picture of the evening on his cell, and it’s a pretty lousy picture to boot.  So I guess it would be a stretch to claim that the paparazzi stalked me.

And I sighed the very best kind of sigh, thinking that somewhere in the middle of my immensely imperfect life, my life is pretty much perfect.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012 Summer Writing Prompt #4: Most Awesome Book Reviews

I'm making two assumptions here.

1) Your kids are reading books over the summer

2) Your kids have opinions about the books they read

If these do not apply to you, skip this prompt.

Or better yet, give your kids and kick in the pants and a book or two to read.  Then you can re-visit this prompt in a week or so.

My incoming 4th grader took it upon herself to make a chart that rates the books that she has read.  Here's her rating system:

***** Most awesome
****   Pretty awesome
***     Pretty good
**       Not good
*         Really bad

I am going to suggest that she also leave room to write a review of sorts.  I'm thinking that short and sweet is best for the summer.  Dredging up book report memories from past school years -- that may or may not be positive -- would probably be counterproductive.

A reading incentive idea to link to the kids' book reviews is to make a goal of the number of books to read by the end of the summer, at which point the kids receive a reward of some kind.

Any kind of reward, of course, but since it's summer here's a visual to get your wheels turning:


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Learning to love (while still hating) my dad's cancer diagnosis

Published on KSL.com (click HERE for the link)

Me, my parents and my sister on Memorial Day weekend -- right before Dad began treatments
I was sitting across from my dad in a restaurant several weeks ago when he told me that his cancer (which had been eradicated a year ago) was back. As if that weren’t bad enough, a different kind of cancer had been discovered elsewhere in his body.

Dad then explained how devastated he had been at the diagnosis until the phrase “come what may, and love it” ran through his mind repeatedly. After an intense inward struggle, he had decided to embrace that concept and would be at peace with — would even love — whatever might come his way.

“I’m ready,” he announced with a smile.

I looked at him over taco salad and enchiladas, trying to let his words sink in — especially that one word that didn’t fit.

Love that my dad has stage 3 lung cancer? And will soon be undergoing aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatments and surgeries? And that his hair will fall out? And that his golf game will surely suffer? And that his statistical chances of living beyond the next five years are suddenly 23 percent?

I cried and prayed and shook my fist at God (just a little). I acknowledged that it could be much worse but it sure could be better and that I most definitely did not like this.

Once the fist-shaking subsided, my kids came immediately to mind. From the second my first child took her first breath, love has been a given. But I certainly don’t always like them. In fact, I can honestly say that I hate some things that happen to or with them, some things they choose to say or do.

I even cry and pray and shake my fist at God (just a little) on account of less-than-ideal circumstances with my kids. Somehow, though, the word "love" always fits.

Come what may, I love my kids. There is so very much to love.

So here’s the short list of what I can love about my dad.

I love that he is a great man — honest, good, kind and faithful. I love that he cherishes my mom, his kids and grandkids. I love that he attends a staggering number of my kids’ extracurricular events, and that he calls and invites them individually to go fishing or shooting hoops or to lunch. I love when Dad frequently shares his stories, convictions and faith.

I am also glad for the cancer-related experiences that I can love — or at the very least laugh at.

Like when my parents and their friends went out to lunch, dubbing it Dad’s "pre-biopsy lunch." The very idea of such a lunch made me smile, but what made me laugh was when my mom, upon telling me about their party of sorts, inadvertently called it Dad’s "pre-autopsy lunch."

And I laughed even more when my brother (who lives on the East Coast and sees my parents once or twice a year) flew in for a surprise visit, knocked on my parents’ front door and was greeted by my dad. “Yes, sir?” my dad asked, very politely.

As luck would have it, Dad had just finished a chemotherapy treatment. So the fact that he didn’t recognize his own son was quickly and irrefutably chalked up to chemo brain fog (which, it turns out, is an actual side effect). Still, we all know that Mom will never in a million years — or even in five years — let him live it down.

Cancer or not, some stories are simply too good not to tell. And love. And laugh at.

I’ve decided that I don’t have to love Dad’s diagnosis. I even think it’s OK if I hate it sometimes.

But come what may, I can still love.

There is so very much to love.
Dad and my brother who surprised him at the door.

My parents with grandkids in Florida on spring break

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

2012 Summer Writing Prompt #3 - Father's Day Fill-in-the-Blanks

I've always loved open-ended statements about dads  that kids can finish.  You can fancy these up by adding pictures & putting them into cute notebooks, or you can simply have the kids write.  Either way, they're priceless.

No matter the age of the kid, these always turn out precious, poignant, surprising and downright hilarious.

*Tip:  Don't let the kids hear their siblings' answers.  The power of suggestion can often prove too strong.

My dad is special because:

What matters most about my dad is:

I like it when my dad helps me with:

My dad can do many things!  I think he's best at:

My dad has a great smile!  I like to make him smile by:

My dad is as handsome as:

My dad is smart!  He even knows how to:

2012 Summer Writing Prompt #2 - GO! (Top 10 Lists)

"Begin with the end
in mind."

With that fabulous advice in mind (i.e. dreaming, making goals.....) write AT LEAST ONE Top 10 List -- a few would be better.

Here some ideas to get your wheels turning:

  • Top 10 Places I Would Go this Summer if I Could Go Anywhere (and why I want to go)
  • Top 10 Things I Want to GET DONE this Summer
  • Top 10 Books I Want to Read this Summer
  • Top 10 People I Want to Spend Time with this Summer
  • Top 10 Things I Want to Learn More About this Summer
  • Top 10 Songs I Love

Once your lists are done, put a big star next to the ONE ITEM PER LIST that you want to do first.  

Start NOW getting them done.

It'll will probably be easier and faster than you might think.

It'll definitely be way more fun and interesting than you might think.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book List: Moms Weigh In - Books We Adore

I polled oodles of moms across the country to come up with this list.  If you have favorite titles that aren't here but absolutely must be, please comment on this post or email me at susie@seriousmomsense.com 
and I'll get them added.  Remember, only ABSOLUTE FAVORITES!  My goal here is quality, not quantity!

Author Title Comments
Cambell, Rod Dear Zoo:  A lift the flap book  
Boynton, Sandra Moo, Baa, La La La  
Boynton, Sandra But Not the Hippoptamus  
Wood, Audrey The Napping House *  
Wood, Audrey Silly Sally  
Carl, Eric The Very Hungry Caterpillar * anything by Eric Carle
Donaldson, Julia Night Monkey Day Monkey  
Love, Marianne Cusimano You Are My I Love You humor with heart
Brown, Margaret Wise Goodnight Moon  
Konnecke, Ole Anton Can Do Magic  
Gag, Wanda Millions of Cats  
McGee, David Elmer  
Thomas, Jan The Doghouse New favorite
Willems, Mo Pig and Elephant Books * awesome for acting out while laughing out loud
Henkes, Kevin Kitten's First Full Moon All Kevin Henkes books are great
Wilson, Karma Bear Snores On several books in this series
Wood, Don Little Mouse  
Wood, Don The Big Red Ripe Strawberry *  
Wood, Don The Big Hungry Bear *  
Ahlberg, Janet The Jolly Pocket Postman interactive book
Feiffer, Jules Bark, Geroge!  
Cronin, Doreen Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type  
Cronin, Doreen Diary of a Worm (or Fly)  
Wilcox, Leah Falling for Rapunzel  
Barnett, Max Guess Again will have your kids laughing
Fox, Mem The Magic Hat anything by Mem Fox!
Gannett, Ruth Stiles My Father's Dragon  
van Allsburg, Chris Mysteries of Harriss Burdick wordless picture book, the pictures are amazing and the kids have to create their own stories to go with the pictures
Osborne, Mary Pope Magic Treehouse Series *  
Polacca, Patricia Pink and Say her other books for older kids are also great
Park, Barbara Junie B. Jones series * hilarious, can start girls reading chapter books, mixed mommy reviews on Junie's bratty attitude & sometimes poor grammar
Rey, H.A. and Margaret A Treasury of Curious George  
Long, Melinda  How I Became a Pirate delightful illustrations by David Shannon
Dahl, Roald Charlie and the Chocolate Factory favorite read-aloud; anything by Roald Dahl
O'Brian, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh  
Burnett, Francis Hodgson A Little Princess  
Cleary, Beverly Ramona Books other Beverly Cleary books
Burton, Virginia Lee Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel anything by Virginia Lee Burton
Scarry, Richard Cars and Trucks and Things that Go any orinigal Richard Scarry is fantastic; his son took over for him and the newer books aren't quite the same
Lobel, Arnold Frog and Toad Books  
Macdonald, Betty Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Series classic read aloud
Juster, Norton The Phantom Tolbooth classic read aloud
Banks, Lynn Reid Indian in the Cupboard  
Warner, Gertrude Chandler Boxcar Children Series*  
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web anything by E.B. White
McKissack, Annie Never Forgotten Caldecott committee missed this one
Shea, Susan Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? delightful
Spinelli, Gary Maniac McGee  
Sachar, Louis Holes  
Gaiman, Neil The Graveyard Book  
Mull, Brandon Fablehaven Series  
Lewis. C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia  
Fitzgerald, John D. The Great Brain  
Peck, Richard A Long Way from Chicago  
McKinley, Robin Beauty *  
Levine, Gail Carson Ella Enchanted  
Hale, Shannon The Princess Academy  
Hale, Shannon The Goose Girl *  
Clements, Andrew Frindle* any other Clements book
Riordan, Rick Percy Jackson Series * can be the catalyst for kids to graduate to longer chapter books
Haddix, Margaret Peterson Shadow Children Series similar to hunger games but less violent, thought-provoking and exciting
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter Series * last two books in the series are more violent and disturbing as the characters get older
Carter, Ally Gallagher Girls Series delight for early teens (girls)
Whitesides, Tyler The Janitors looking forward to second book coming out this fall
Lin, Grace Where the Mountain Meets the Moon * one of the best examples of storytelling anywhere, fantastic read-aloud
Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables Series  
Rawls, Wilson Where the Red Fern Grows  
Rawls, Wilson Summer of the Monkeys  
Sweet, Melissa Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Pupeteer of Macy's Parade Outstanding NF ook of 2011
Lane, Andrew Death Cloud Sherlock Holmes as a teenager; sequel is 'Rebel Fire'
Selznick, Brian Wonderstruck  
Gantos, Jack Dead End in Norvelt one of best new books of 2011, Newbery Author, great for boys
Carter, Ally Gallagher Girls Series delight for early teens (girls)
Clements, Andrew Frindle  
Fitzgerald, John D. The Great Brain  
Gaiman, Neil The Graveyard Book  
Haddix, Margaret Peterson Shadow Children Series similar to hunger games but less not violent, thought-provoking and exciting
Hale, Shannon The Princess Academy  
Hale, Shannon The Goose Girl *  
Levine, Gail Carson Ella Enchanted  
Lewis. C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia  
Lin, Grace Where the Mountain Meets the Moon * one of the best examples of storytelling anywhere, fantastic read-aloud
McKinley, Robin Beauty *  
Mull, Brandon Fablehaven Series*  
Peck, Richard A Long Way from Chicago  
Riordan, Rick Percy Jackson Series * can be the catalyst for kids to graduate to longer chapter books
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter Series * last two books in the series are more violent and disturbing as the characters get older
Sachar, Louis Holes all other Louis Sachar Books
Spinelli, Gary Maniac McGee  
Taylor, Theodore The Cay  
Whitesides, Tyler The Janitors looking forward to second book coming out this fall
Stiefvater, Maggie Scorpio Races fav teen book of 2011
Bragg, Georgia How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awful Famous Awfully Interesting