My favorite teens

For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a mom, partly because I always enjoyed being around younger kids. I transitioned from playing with baby dolls to babysitting to working at an after-school care program to working as a certified teacher. The natural next step was becoming a mom.


When your kids are little, well-meaning people will say things like, “Just wait until she’s a teenager,” as if those early, harrowing years of keeping a newborn alive or surviving toddler tantrums weren’t bad enough. This kind of mentality—the dreading of parenting teens—would seep into my thoughts as I anxiously awaited the day that my precious babies would morph into hideous creatures bent on my destruction. I gravitated toward preschoolers, not high schoolers. Then my daughters reached that pinnacle age that made them teenagers.


I’m not going to say it’s been easy. Hell hath no fury like a 7th grade girl who’s having a bad day. Their moods were erratic. They suffered through the highest highs and the lowest lows. But we’ve survived middle school and nearly half of high school, so now I can say that I truly love teens. And not just mine.


This weekend I was a chaperone of 55 or so teen girls on a church retreat. We drove up the side of a mountain and made our beds in cobwebby cabins full of Asian beetles tapping at the windows. It wasn’t luxurious or especially comfortable, but that’s not why we went up the mountain. The five other moms and I were there for those girls. We cooked for them and prayed with them. We helped them find misplaced sweatshirts and enthusiastically played card games with them. We laughed with them and shared with them. A deep sisterhood developed.


The chaperones told the girls stories about dating our husbands and giving birth to our kids. We frankly answered questions and explained how we didn’t always get everything right. Hopefully, we showed these already loved girls that there are other women who care about them, too, casting that net of safety and protection just a little bit wider.


But the beauty of weekends like these go beyond just a few days. When you reach the heart of someone who is at such a midway place like those teen years, you can see the effects and after-effects for years to come. I’ve already seen it in my daughters. They were once those younger teens, watching and following the lead of the older girls. Now they, along with their friends, are being watched and studied. They are setting the bar for how to treat others.


And I know they are watching us moms, too. They are seeing how we laugh together and cry together and share our icky stuff without judgment or an ultimate need to fix everything.


So when I came home and sorted through the mail, setting aside a pile of graduation invitations, I knew without a doubt that I no longer consider teens “hideous creatures bent on my destruction.”

These sisters are my people.

Yeah. I’ve done a little modeling…

When Ezra, our African-born son, was struggling with his new language last year, we signed him up for speech lessons. At first it was difficult to determine if his issues were basic language acquisition (getting his words) or physically articulating them (saying his words) or both or something else entirely. We needed help!


His speech lessons were a worthwhile way to spend all those mornings last spring. Not only did he get hours of focused attention for his speech issues, but I also got a sounding board for many of my questions. For instance, I solicited their professional opinions as to how often I should correct Ezra’s verbal mistakes.


By the time we started the lessons Ezra had been in America for about a year, so it wasn’t that he was having a hard time speaking English. He was naturally replacing Lingala words (his native language) with English words. The last holdouts were words like lipa (bread), bongo (others), minga (thinking? We were never 100% sure about that one but he said it often).


His most consistent errors were things like leaving out words or ungrammatical subject/verb agreement or incorrectly using pronouns. In other words, he sounded like a caveman. So I asked the director of the speech clinic if I should correct him when he used “me” instead of “I” as the subject (Me sad. Me sleepy. Me lovee bacon.) because he did it constantly and I didn’t have the heart (or the stamina) to tell him he was wrong all day long. She said that I should model the appropriate pronoun and he would catch on eventually.


That day when we got home from speech, as if on cue, Ezra said, “Mom, me hungry.” Remembering what the director told me, I said, “Ezra, I am hungry.” He paused for half a second and said, “Well, eat something.”


Modeling the behavior we would like to see in our kids is often easier said than done. It takes consistency and thoughtful introspection and time. I feel confident that Ezra will eventually use the correct pronoun when he’s referring to himself, though it hasn’t happened yet.


But it isn’t just parents who are role models and it isn’t just kids who need them. Moms of Newborns need the advice of Empty Nesters. Pre-teens need Responsible High School Seniors to look up to. Newly Hired Employees need Seasoned Veterans to guide them through the first months of a new job.


To put it plainly, most everyone can be a role model to someone else. Look around and see if anyone is looking up to you. You might be surprised (or even a little scared) to know that others are watching and taking mental notes. Be the leader they deserve.

Migrating of our herd

When our family takes a vacation that requires a lot of walking, we have an unwritten rule about how we line up. Whether it’s Disney or Dollywood, hiking the Chimney Tops in the Smokys or strolling along the Cliff Walk in Rhode Island, Boston’s Freedom Trail or touring the Coca-Cola Museum, Graceland or Biltmore Mansion or the White House or the security line at the airport, we have an assigned order.


My husband—the leader, the trip planner, the trailblazer, the guy who has an innate sense of direction—is always at the front. He may have his cell phone out with a GPS app guiding him or a map with detailed landmarks to watch for or maybe he uses the stars…I’m just not totally sure. It’s all mystifying to me.


Me, on the other hand, possess a different skill set than my husband. I bring up the rear. I chant phrases like: “Let’s catch up with Dad” and “Put the rock down” and “Well, I have to hold your hand because you’re walking so slowly”.


The kids that span the distance between my husband and me rotate according to their whims, but mostly I am at the back with the youngest and/or whiniest of our children. It’s up to me to create games to keep their minds off of all of the walking (oh, the humanity, so much walking!) we’re doing in some of the most fun (theme parks), most beautiful (mountains), most important (Washington, D.C.) places they’ll ever visit.


I tell them stories. I hum songs for them to guess. We play games. (Side Note: Ezra plays I spy like this: “I pie with my little bit eye.”) We keep a running count of the dogs we pass. Whatever it takes to keep their little legs moving.


I don’t question the left turns and right turns our Line Leader chooses as we cross busy streets or get off at subway stops. And he doesn’t glance behind to make sure I’m not slacking on my job, letting our smallest, most vulnerable members of the herd lag behind. This is how our herd migrates—sometimes in single file, sometimes two-by-two, but always with a clear-eyed leader and a dedicated closer.


When our children are grown, I hope they will remember these family vacations, the inside jokes and the amazing sights and even the not-so-great moments of car sickness or nearly missed flights or constant bickering that turns fully rational adults into sitcom-style parents who say things like “So help me I will pull this car over!” These are the stuff of family legend.


But I also want them to remember how we moved as a unit. How we relied on each other and played to our strengths. How he stepped up to shoulder the community backpack full of snacks and water bottles. How she volunteered to give her little brother a piggy back ride when he just COULD NOT GO ON. How they made the best of something difficult and tried something new.


Because you don’t get to pick your family, and for better or for worse, this is our herd.

Driver’s Permit

Being a parent can feel like déjà vu sometimes. You get to experience some of the same things again but from a different perspective.


For instance, a few weeks ago I took one of our 15-year old daughters to get her driver’s permit. She had studied the handbook, made flashcards, and took online quizzes. She felt fully prepared the Friday afternoon I drove her to the DMV.


There’s a reason the Department of Motor Vehicles has a certain reputation for being a place where joyfulness dies a miserable, hour-long death. They’ve improved the efficiency of the process with innovations such as automated kiosks to renew your drivers’ license, but there are steps that still require talking to a living, breathing human being, preferably a slightly irritated one, apparently.


We arrived at the DMV at 3:30, later than I had planned. The employee at the entrance told us that they wouldn’t admit the people in line after us. Phew! We showed him the letter from my daughter’s school, her birth certificate, a completed and notarized form, and my drivers’ license. (I know. That’s a lot of stuff, right? Just to be on the safe side, I also brought a utility bill, her passport, and a urine sample. Okay. I actually only brought 2 out of 3 of those items on the EXTRA list.)


We were given a number and told to wait. As the minutes ticked by, my daughter Ella grew increasingly more nervous. She said, “I’ve taken tons of tests before. Why am I so worried?”


A different employee sitting behind a part of the U-shaped community desk called us up to review our paperwork and take her picture, then the woman sent us back to sit down.


After a few more minutes, Ella was told to go and take the test in an adjacent room. I sat in a new seat in the waiting area—one closer to the computer lab where she was taking the test so that she could look at my friendly, smiling face instead of throwing up all over the keyboard from nerves. This new seat just happened to be by a large and sweaty man, but this is the love I have for my child.


Soon Ella emerged from the testing room victorious. She gave me two thumbs-up. She had been told by a friend that the 30-question test would end early once you had answered at least 24 questions correctly. (You cannot miss more than 6 questions and still pass.) She had made it through question number 26, so by her calculations she had only missed two before the test stopped. Hooray! She checked in with her DMV buddy from the U-desk who told her to sit back down and wait some more.


She texted the good news to her dad. She asked my opinion about a question from the test involving a deer crossing. We held hands, sighing with relief.


When her number was called again, the DMV employee asked Ella, “Do you have a handbook at home, sweetie?” (I remember the “sweetie” part because it was unusually humanizing.)


Ella: Yes, ma’am.


DMV Woman: Well, that’s good because you need to study some more. You failed the test.


Ella: I failed? But I only missed two questions.


DMV Woman: How do you know you only missed two? (As she said this the woman crossed her arms behind her head and leaned her neck into her interlocked fingers, real nonchalant like from a gangster movie.)


Ella: The test stopped after question number 26.


DMV Woman: Huh? Well, you are going to have to come back and take the test again.


I had my hand on Ella’s back, and I could feel the heat rising off of her like the June sun bouncing off the asphalt parking lot outside. I tried to keep the conversation light while simultaneously considering how Ella was going to cry on the way home. I asked the woman if there could be a mistake. Maybe Ella’s score was mixed up with someone else’s? She had felt so sure she had passed.


The DMV employee kept this line of dialogue going for a good five or ten minutes, then she smiled and said, “Oh, I’m just kidding. You passed.”


Ella and I were in shock and not so sure what we were supposed to do next.


Ha, ha, ha. We forced a few laughs out. “You really had us going,” I told her. “Like you REALLY made us think that she had FAILED her test.”


The woman told us how she often got bored, so she and many of the others who work there like to prank people. One guy even made one girl cry and run out the door when he told her she had failed. Someone had to go to the parking lot and bring her back inside.


What I wanted to say was: “I can see how that would be funny and completely kind, because the best people to prank are highly emotional 15-year old girls. That’s hilarious.” But instead I said, “So we’re good to go?” and we left with Ella’s temporary driver’s permit clutched tightly in her hand.


As parents, we don’t really get to choose which things to live through again with our kids. Dentist appointments, booster shots, friend drama, romantic break-ups, failing tests. It’s no better the second (or third or fourth or fifth) time around—maybe even worse. But I was glad to add that day to the story we’re daily writing called “Ella and Mom.”


And it inspired me to make the magnanimous decision to let my husband take the next kid to the DMV. I’m just nice like that. (Here’s where I cross my arms behind my head and lean my neck into my interlocked fingers, gangster style.)


When our Congolese son Ezra came to live with us—me, my husband, our twin daughters, and our older son Knox—he entered a family who welcomed him with open arms but were firmly established as a distinct entity. My husband and I had already been parents for almost 14 years at the time. We had traditions and memories. We had a secret language, a shorthand, created over years of spending time together as a family of 5.


Then, along came a sweet, precocious, complicated 5-year old boy. He came to America on a cool April Saturday, and by Sunday he was walking arm in arm with his new big brother, a boy six years his senior.

Now that we are more than a year into this adventure, Knox and Ezra are solidly devoted to their brotherhood. Always one to enjoy spending time with younger children, Knox took to his role quickly and easily. But this wasn’t an hour working in the church nursery or an evening helping his sister babysit. This was a 24/7/365 job and he approached it much the same way he approaches everything he cares about, with determination.


Their initial connection came through a shared love of sport. Though this love began on different continents, they both held an almost obsession with the game of soccer. In that first week Ezra lived in America, I made several videos of the two brothers in the backyard, kicking the soccer ball and diving to block goals. The videos were blurry. I took them through windows, standing at a distance not to disturb the beautiful scene unfolding before me.


Knox would be the first to tell you that being a big brother has not always been easy. Especially at the beginning, watching as Ezra copes with his fevered emotions, tangled and tripped up by his lack of language skills, has been painful for all of us. I’ve tried to give Knox breaks and strategies for slipping away. We’ve told him that he can tag out when he hits his “playing-with-a-little-kid” limit and we’ll tag in. But for the most part and in spite of those frustrating afternoons, Knox has been the best big brother Ezra could’ve asked for.


When I watch this almost 12-year old son of mine as he loves on and cares for his little brother, I think about what we expect of boys. I’m not talking about grades or sports or “manly” accomplishments. I’m thinking of the lesser discussed but far more important Fruits of the Spirit quotient. How high is the bar set when it comes to their evidence of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control? Let’s stop excusing bad behavior from them because they’re “just being boys” and imagine a world where these boys are raised to honor and protect. A world where we expect them to be responsible and compassionate.


If we tell boys that we expect them to strive for these characteristics above their efforts to make straight A’s or make the All-Star Team, then those other things will fall in place or fall away but either way, we will be raising better fathers, husbands, friends, teammates, employees, bosses. Better brothers.

Ready or not

Before a recent soccer game, I overheard a conversation between two of my 6-year old son’s teammates.


“Where have you been?” a little boy asked his tardy teammate as she walked up to the group. “The game is starting.”


“I was eating some hard candy so I would be ready,” she answered.


Though I had a difficult time connecting the hard candy to any pregame regimen, her response was apparently satisfying for her friends so the game began.


I feel like the two words I say most frequently around my house (other than GOOD NIGHT and LOVE YOU and GREAT JOB, of course…I’m not a monster) are GET READY. There may be some nuances to the phrase like: “Why aren’t you ready?” and “Not until you’re all the way ready.” and “Is that enough time for you to get ready?”


So what am I getting them ready for, anyway?


As in any job, it’s helpful to take a moment and evaluate how I’m doing as a parent, and this end-of-the-schoolyear time seems like a perfect opportunity. As a part of my self-assessment, I’ll ask the question: Are they ready for what’s next?


My twin daughters just finished their freshman year in high school (which is weird because I pretty much just graduated from high school myself, right?). When I see what’s just around the corner—dating, college, jobs—I’m excited for them but also anxious to walk through it with them and tell them every step of the way where to set their feet next. I want to hold their hands like I did that first day of kindergarten, a daughter on either side, Barbie backpacks and monogrammed lunchboxes and new back-to-school clothes.


But I know that’s not reasonable or healthy or appropriate (or allowed by high school administrators). I know that at some point I have to let go and hope that they are prepared to make the right choices to be safe and sound. And I have to be okay with the fact that I can’t protect them from everything. (Yuck.) I pray that they are ready.


My nearly 7th grade son is teetering at the edge of his teen years. He’s been marching uphill to this next chapter where there’s more freedom and more responsibility. Less hovering by me and more expected of him. I worry about what he’s exposed to and who he spends time with. I pray that the values we have underlined over and over in our family play book will stand out to him when the time is right. I pray that he is ready.


My youngest, our baby from Congo, will go to kindergarten in August. He hasn’t been away from one of us, someone who lives in his house, for more than a few hours at a time, and I wonder if he’s ready to fly the coop. Is he ready to go to school 5 days a week for 10 months?


He still struggles with his English—his color words, letters, numbers. We’re trying to remind him how to ask for what he needs. He’s holding on to a handful of words from his birth language: bango means them, mingi means lots, biso means us. We tell him to pick another word. We tell him this will help others understand him. I pray that he is ready.


As parents we make so many deposits in our kid’s integrity account, hoping it will add up to an exceptional character with strong convictions and valuable common sense. But, regardless, we eventually have to let go. We have to adapt to the idea that there’s never enough time for preparation.


So after I’ve prayed that they are ready, my next prayer is for myself. I pray that I am ready to change my 2 most frequently used words from GET READY to GO TIME.

Baby book

Sometimes it takes the holidays to learn something you already know. Maybe it’s your dislike of Brussels sprouts that annually reveals itself at Thanksgiving dinner, the only time you eat them. Or it might be your aversion to all things spooky, a fact you only notice around Halloween. Perhaps your proclivity for procrastinating is especially highlighted around Christmas, an introspective epiphany you receive as you’re frantically running through the mall on Christmas Eve in order to finish off your holiday shopping.

And then there are those realizations offered to you by others from their various perspectives. For instance, when relatives who don’t live in town see your children, the talk invariably turns to how much they have grown. Unscientific, back-to-back measurements are taken to compare uncles and nephews, cousins and other cousins, grandmothers and granddaughters. Baby faced toddlers are replaced with lanky teenagers and tricycle-riders are replaced with driver’s license holders in what feels like just a handful of Christmases. Time seems to speed up when it is only seen in sequential Christmas card photos.

As parents, we don’t always see these incremental alterations in our children. They change but it’s hard for us to see the difference, that is, until they put on a pair of pants that are suddenly two inches too short. A-ha! You’ve grown!

Imagine Mary’s continual surprises as the mother of Jesus. Her wonder at her son’s milestone moments must have given her whiplash. If mothers had made baby scrapbooks back in those days, Mary would have wanted to include the following high points: Her pregnancy was revealed by a visiting angel. His birth was announced by an angel chorus and attended by a pack of awestruck shepherds. She was given a baby shower by a group of exotic world-travelers who brought her the items every new mother needs—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, once Mary was considered clean enough to enter the temple area, Jesus’ parents were given another surprise to add to the ever growing list. There they met Simeon and Anna, holy and righteous prophets who had been anxiously waiting for news of the Messiah. When I read their story in Luke 2, I want to hug Anna and throttle Simeon. Anna “began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” She sounds like a proud grandma or aunt. No doubt Mary would have wanted a photograph of Anna tenderly cradling Jesus for the baby book.

Simeon, on the other hand, tells Mary that Jesus “is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Vague news of soul-piercing swords is not exactly what a mother of a 1-month old wants to hear.

There was so much to come for the earthly parents of the Son of God. Maybe it was a blessing that Simeon hinted at a little of the heartache. It’s frustrating that apart from His preteen temple meeting with the priests and the catchall verse about Jesus growing up healthy, strong, and wise in Nazareth, we know so little of Jesus’ childhood. So in place of actual information I’ll assume that He outgrew tunics, coats, and sandals at an alarming rate. I’ll guess that Mary covertly watched him from doorways as he played with friends and siblings, trying to convince herself that He was ever a tiny baby.

Or maybe she had a moment with her growing son like I did recently with my youngest. My son stood, feet flat on the floor, and reached his hands up to my face, one hand on each cheek. He said, “Look, Mama. I can do this now. Me big.” No more tippy toes. Just another page for the baby book.

Getting to know you

It’s been enlightening to experience so many Western Culture firsts with a brand new American. We are celebrating the 7-month anniversary of our African-born son’s arrival to the US. His language skills are improving everyday…just in time for the holidays.

For instance, explaining trick-or-treating to a five-year old the morning of his initiation into the holiday (the kids at his preschool were about to go to the church staff offices in costume to beg for candy) went a little something like this:

Me: I’m packing your Captain America costume so you can put it on at school today.

Ezra: Why I bring this to class?

Me: You and your friends are going to walk around church to see the people who work there and ask for candy.

Ezra: Why they give me candy?

Me: Because you will have on a costume and say, “trick-or-treat”.

Ezra: Why I say this?

Me: Because it’s almost Halloween and that’s what people say when it’s Halloween.

Ezra: Why…

Me: (interrupting) Hey, you wear a costume and you get candy. Just go with it.

Now that every store has their Christmas decorations up, I have started explaining Christmas traditions. When I say them out loud, these traditions sound a little absurd. “So when it’s Christmas, we’ll put a tree in the living room. We’ll add lights and a bunch of other things hanging off the branches. You see that box with those four long socks I got in the mail the other day? Well, those are called stockings and I’m going to hang those, too, but not on the tree, over the fireplace. No. They’re not for your feet. They’re to hold toys and candy.” I’m not even going to attempt Santa Claus, and you can forget about any Elf on a Shelf.

Beyond explaining the holidays and other pertinent facts about us, we’ve had to learn new things about our little fella, too. Like, his sneeze. It’s an explosion of sound and fury, and it comes ashore with no warning. The first time my husband and daughters heard him sneeze we were at a funeral visitation for a family member. People gathered in hushed circles all over the church. Upon returning from the restroom with Ezra, I walked towards them where they were sitting in a pew. Right at the front of the church, he paused and let out a thunderous sneeze. The looks on his family’s faces were priceless. There were learning a new aspect of our boy, another piece of what makes him Ezra.

During the past 7 months, we’ve had several “mis-ezra-standings” that needed clearing up. When he saw a picture of me very pregnant with our now 11-year old son Knox, Ezra pointed to my belly with a questioning expression. “That’s Knox,” I said. “Mama, you mean,” he scolded. “Why am I mean?” I asked. “You (gulp sound) Knox-y. You mean. You no eat him!” Oh terrific, I thought, now I will explain The Birds and The Bees using the 50 simplest words I can think of. It’s like Dr. Seuss wrote a book about “Your Ever Changing Body”.

Every day brings more discoveries. There are times when I don’t feel up to the challenge of explaining why ice cream is cold or why leaves change color. And If I don’t express my answers carefully, I’ll invariably get the question: “Mama, why you mad?” I’ll tell him I’m not mad, just ready for a break from talking for a few minutes. This little boy has learned to read expressions and tones so quickly. He works hard to gather information from conversations (both verbal and non-verbal) so he can make inferences to better understand his family and their crazy American ways. We are getting to know the essence of him a little better with each passing moment.

Even though I’m looking forward to things being easier, smoother, not so fraught with confusion, I will miss the intentionality of learning each other. Like the excitement of a first date, there is something special about falling in love with someone whose path you know you were meant to cross. Something special about learning their likes and dislikes and what makes them smile and that funny way they sneeze.

Fast Pass

During the week of Fall Break, my family and I went to the place where dreams come true: Orlando, Florida. We spent five days at Walt Disney World and 2 days (give or take) at Universal Studios. (Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, or at least the threat of Hurricane Matthew, we spent 24 hours hunkered down in our hotel on Friday. Then we rose early Saturday morning to squeeze in a few more hours at the park before our flight out of town.)

This trip was just one more way to Americanize our African-born son. He saw ordinary people lined up to get signatures of other ordinary people dressed up as famous movie characters. He saw able-bodied 8-year olds being pushed in strollers. And with the Disney meal plan, he got a dessert with every meal. Fame, food, and easy living, brother, that’s what we’re all about!

For our 5-year old, the most maddening part of the trip was the lines. He loved the rides and the shows and the general atmosphere, but those lines! The planners of the parks usually try to make the lines tolerable. They often add fans, interactive games, and television screens. Sometimes, they even make the lines snake around cool set pieces, preparing you for the ride you will eventually board. But a 45-minute wait is still a 45-minute wait and to a 5-year old it might as well be a month.

This is especially true when said 5-year old needs to go to the bathroom. Like, hypothetically-speaking, when he tells you that he needs to pee after you have spent half an hour waiting to make a daring escape with Harry Potter through a series of goblin-guarded bank vaults but he doesn’t tell you he needs to go until you are almost there so you tell him to hold it which he does until just after the ride is over and now he is standing in the middle of a scale replica of Hogsmeade village with wet britches and no extra clothes so his mom goes in to a shop and buys the only pants available—a pair of Harry Potter pajamas—which he will wear the rest of the day sans underwear.

There are times when you are given the opportunity to get permission to move to the front of the line. At Disney World this is called a Fast Pass. It is an ingenious way to teach kids about the “haves” and “have-nots”. When you have a Fast Pass, you practically jog down the short line to step in front of the suckers who are suffering from heat stroke as they wait to climb on the ride. When you don’t have a Fast Pass, you see those arrogant jerks looking fresh as a daisy and walking right on the ride without even stopping for a minute and you try not to hate them. Voila: Empathy education. (Beware: The Fast Pass mentality can really get in your head. I found myself wanting to get a Fast Pass for the bathroom and the restaurant lunch lines.)

Waiting in lines at an amusement park is a lot like life. You spend most of your time doing the mundane and boring—emptying the dishwasher and folding towels—waiting and dreaming and counting down the minutes until the precious, magical seconds will finally arrive. It’s not unusual to work for hours for a meal that will last 15 minutes or plan and prepare for days for a 2-hour birthday party. This is how life often feels, mostly cloudy with sporadic rainbows.

What if we take at least a few of those mundane moments and make them a different brand of magical and precious? What if we turn off our cell phones and tell our kids a story or play rock-paper-scissors with them instead? What if magical moments can occur in places outside of Orlando like the grocery store or the front porch? They don’t have to be documented. They don’t have to be planned. They don’t have to cost more than the price of your time and attention. Don’t Fast Pass the commonplace. They may be the ride you didn’t know you’re waiting for.


A few things I’ve learned about parenting…

Being a parent is really hard, so much harder than I thought it would be when I played “house” with my baby dolls growing up. Dilemmas involving my kids arise nearly every day that call for some major, on-my-knees prayer time: when to step in and when to let them fail, grades and friends, time management and basic courtesy, boundaries and responsibilities, actions and reactions. It is not for the faint of heart.

I am fairly reluctant to write a “Parenting How-To” for anyone to read, partly because I am sometimes a failure at this job and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of thinking I have all the answers. There are times when I lose my cool. There are times when I prioritize in a wacky, mixed-up way. I have done and said things I have regretted, all while wearing my “Mom Hat” (assuming there’s a hat for everything we’re expected to be and do).

But just like any job, parents have days when they rock at their stuff and days when they should’ve stayed in bed. My kids are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but—as of right now as I type this—they haven’t stolen any cars and they don’t kick stray dogs. Keeping those parenting credentials in mind, allow me to lay out a few of the things I’ve learned about parenting.

Don’t give young children too many choices. They will begin to suspect that they are the boss of the family which should actually be your job. While we’re on the subject, while they are allowed limited input, don’t let your kids tell you what to do. You don’t have to be ugly about it. It’s just the cold, hard truth. I am not above saying the following to my kids: “You’re not the boss of me.” In fact, I said it earlier today when one particular little fella said I shouldn’t go past the bank before we met up with some friends. “I am the driver. I am the adult. I am the boss.” (Repeat this to yourself several times a day if you have a preschooler…or a teenager.)

Tell them stories about you. When our girls were small, they used to say, “Mommy and Daddy, tell us a story of when you got hurt.” (I’m not sure why these painful stories were their favorites but sports enthusiasts and accident-prone people have a lot of these in their memory bank, ready to be withdrawn.) Our kids now know stories about things that happened to me and my sisters growing up. They know about family trips my husband took with his sister and parents when he was little. They could tell you about the time my husband fell on a toothpick and it was embedded in his side and he had to go to the doctor to get it removed. These stories become a part of their legacy and inheritance (and a cautionary tale about toothpicks).

Answer their questions. When your 3-year old asks where babies come from, don’t blow her off, waiting for the perfect opportunity to explain the miracle of life with age-appropriate charts and graphics. Give her a basic answer to her question, such as: “They grow inside their mommies.” See if this satisfies the question. That may be all she needs but if she asks more questions, then answer those, too. You don’t have to feel comfortable explaining “The Birds and the Bees” to all kids, just yours.

Ask them questions. For the past nine years, I’ve had elementary-aged kids to walk to school. (I’ll get to start all over again with a kindergartener next year!) This was the perfect time to ask them questions. “How was school?” and “Fine” can only get you so far. Over a period of time, you’ll be able to get more specific as you build on prior conversations.

There’s lots more that I could say about parenting: Don’t hold grudges. Have reasonable (yet high) expectations. Read books to them. Apologize when you mess up. Try not to embarrass them. Get to know their friends. Be a good example of kindness and generosity. Among these, the best advice I could give anyone is this:

Tell them you love them and act like you like them.