Thursday, June 30, 2011


2 a : a value in an ordered set of values below and above which there is an equal number of values or which is the arithmetic mean of the two middle values if there is no one middle number

A seven year old (photo by Tiana)

Yesterday afternoon after picking A up from ballet, we drove an hour west to visit my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew who have recently moved to our neck of the woods.  About ten minutes into the drive, B announced excitedly, "I got it!  I was able to reach it without unbuckling my seat belt!"   "Reach what?" I asked somewhat distractedly.  "A quarter!"  Do you remember the joy of finding a quarter when you were nine?  Good times, right?  Only until K registered what B had said because at that point she declared the quarter hers, claiming she had lost it weeks ago.  Needless to say, none of us believed her.  At which point, K burst into tears.  K tends towards the dramatic anyway, but this was a bit out of character for her.  I calmed her down and then suggested that she close her eyes for part of the drive to Clarksville.  Amazingly, she complied and was quiet for the next half hour.

The relative quiet gave me an opportunity to reflect on just why K was so tired.  She was tired because the night before she'd been up until after nine, having gone to a Sounds baseball game and followed it up with ice cream from the new shop around the corner.  Sadly, this was not an uncommon occurrence this summer - we've been keeping pretty late hours.  Luckily that has meant late mornings as well, but K's mini-meltdown reminded me that she is only 7. 

She's only 7, but she's the youngest in the family, so she's not really treated like she's 7.

I think our family functions more based on the median age of our children, not our children's actual ages of 11, 9 and 7.  I plan and execute activities based on what will keep the girls happy, occupied and engaged.  But I base most of this on a relative age of approximately 9 - B's age, not K's.  After the birth of a new child, I think a family (or maybe this is just our family?) is pretty centered on what's possible for the age of the newest family member.  That holds true for a few years - at least as long as naps are absolutely necessary.  But after naps are a thing of the past, it's easier to begin to stretch that littlest girl to do things she might not necessarily choose on her own.

In a lot of ways, I think it's very good for K that she has two older sisters.  She may have seen more museum exhibits, been to more events or tried more adventurous foods because she has older siblings.  K is not one to hold back, so when she has a question about an exhibit, an activity or something she sees, she asks.  And when she asks one of her numerous questions, she learns things.  Having older sisters is helping her grown and learn.  But I can see that it's also tiring her out a bit.

As I pondered the state of our family last night and my use of the median age of my children to center our family, I had an image of a spinning top.  Using a median age, there's one family member plopped in the middle of the top and the rest of us are spinning around it, some of us holding on for dear life. (I've been a bit tired lately.)  We're still a family unit, still functioning together, but perhaps not as smoothly as we might otherwise.

What's a better model?  I think a wheel with four spokes and a center is likely a better model.  That model gives each member equal weight, but allows the center to rotate amongst the family members.  You can also spot a problem right away since a wheel with an off-kilter spoke isn't going to function properly.  This image is a good one for me to keep in mind as we transition to a season in J's life that is going to require working longer, harder and smarter.  We're going to have to share him more with his work and still keep the wheel of our family spinning smoothly.

I'd like to say that I saw K's tiredness and immediately took steps to get rest for her and for our family.  That's only sort of true.  She and her sisters spent the night with their cousins and then we did have a lazy day at home watching last night's So You Think You Can Dance and reading in bed together between piano and ballet sessions.  But it was once again 9ish before the girls got into bed.  And tomorrow we are going berry picking, which requires an early start.

I'm imperfect at this mothering thing.  I sometimes see what needs to be done, but it takes me a while to get it done.  Still worse, there are times when I don't even see the need right before me.  My goal? To rest this weekend and free more days on the calendar next week.  Progress, not perfection.  And I hope that part of my progress moves us towards moving smoothly as spokes on a wheel and not as a top spinning out of control.

Monday, June 27, 2011


3 a : of common quality, rank, or ability

I am reading a great book right now.  It's called I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown and while the book has contained many thought-provoking ideas, today a passage made me actually stop reading to think for a moment about it.  Here it is:

In our culture, the fear and shame of being ordinary is very real.  In fact, many of the older women I interviewed spoke about looking back on their lives and grieving for the extraordinary things that would never come to pass.  We seem to measure the value of people's contributions (and sometimes their entire lives) by their level of public recognition.  In other words, worth is measured by fame and fortune.

Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking men and women.  In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless

I was sitting at the pool while reading this, having conquered - or at least tamed - my fear of joining the local YMCA for the summer.  But these words brought me up short because of a line of thinking I had explored last weekend as a result of reading this book.  Brown argues that a large part of our shame comes from the disconnect between how we want to be perceived and how we are perceived.  She encourages readers to write down how they do and don't want to be perceived in several specific areas.  As I did this, I considered writing down that I didn't want to be seen as average or ordinary.  I don't think I actually included this word, but the fact that it was on the tip of my tongue (or pen) is telling.

Why don't I want to be ordinary?  Do I really believe I am of uncommon quality, rank or ability?  I'm frankly not someone who enjoys being noticed a great deal of the time.  I remember telling my daughter B how I really thought for years (decades, more truthfully) that it was wrong of me to want anyone to pay attention to me.  (Her reply?  "Well, that's pretty much the exact opposite of how I think.")  If I have mixed feelings about being noticed, why would I want to be something other than ordinary?

Perhaps the key to my resistance to being ordinary is Brene Brown's suggestion that ordinary equates with boring.  I've always harbored a fear that I am a bit on the boring side.  I'm passionate about some things, but my interests tend to be narrowly defined and deeply felt, not broad and sweeping.  I'm not particularly funny because I'm not quick on my feet.  Part of me has always wondered exactly why someone would want to be friends with me - though I've never had the courage to actually ask.  So if I fear being boring, and ordinary registers in my brain as boring, I may have found the source of my resistance.

The fact remains that much of my life is very ordinary.  At least as ordinary as life with three extraordinary daughters can be.  Yet I have no problem seeing the beauty in the ordinary.  I think there's great delight, fulfillment and lessons in a day that is packed with ordinary tasks like grocery shopping, swim lessons and pool time.  Everyday, ordinary life is something I treasure - because it goes by so very fast.

Today at the pool, we ran into someone who was in B's kindergarten class.  As she and her dad walked past, I recognized the dad first and thought, "Is that S? Would she really be that old?"  But as I thought back and realized she was B's age, it was definitely the same girl - she'd just been frozen in my mind at age 5.  The dad and I chatted and he talked about how he is about to have a third daughter - who will be 20 years younger than one sister and 10 years younger than the other.  He said he remembers daughter #1 at age ten, even though she just completed her freshman year of college.  Ordinary life goes by so quickly.  I don't want to wish it away by longing for something more extraordinary.

Yet how much of the ordinary do we really remember?  Perhaps there are some cumulative memories that stick for their sheer volume - things like hot chocolate made with real milk or pancakes on snow days.  Mostly, I think the strongest memories are the extraordinary ones, but those memories might be less influential on who we are than the smaller, more common events that slipped through our conscious memories.

I think the key to marrying the ordinary and extraordinary in family life lies in ritual.  The ordinary events best-remembered are those that are a part of the fabric of your family's liturgy.  Pancakes on snow days?  They'll be remembered precisely because we don't have pancakes three days weekly.  Or maybe they won't be remembered at all.  But I do think the things that we treat as sacred, as special, as ordinary but seen through a lens of reverence - those are the things that sink into the hearts of our children.

I'm ok with living an ordinary life.  I'm less ok with being an ordinary person.  So I think I'll focus on finding joy in my everyday, ordinary life and do my best to live as someone whose gifts, weaknesses, accomplishments and failures are uniquely, uncommonly my own.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


1 : the act of reading

My family loves to read. Saturday morning B came upstairs and found J and I like this in bed:

So she ran downstairs to get the camera and document it.  (Note the stack of books on the bedside table.)  It's not just J and I who love to read.  The girls do, too.  Last week a friend met us at the park to play during A's ballet lesson.  She'd been out of town and had recently read my blog to catch up on what we've been up to.  She saw that I mentioned a book I've been reading (the wonderful The Art of Family) and asked whether I ever write about the books my girls read.  I kind of laughed at the idea, partly because it's such a daunting task.  They read so much - and have so much free time to read - that it would be impossible to talk about exactly what they read.  But then I decided this would be a perfect week to tackle a blog post on this.  We've recently made a trip to the library and the shelves are stocked with books for A, B and K - and combinations thereof.

First, a look at our library shelf:
See those books falling over the others, misaligned and half-hidden?  I started to straighten them before taking the photograph, then decided to give you a real-life snapshot.  And this is real life in our house - shelves filled to overflowing, with books here, there and yon, complete with tissues for bookmarks.

There are a few categories of books that my girls like to read.  A has more far flung tastes in books than perhaps any other member of our family.  She'll read fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, mystery, biography, you name it.  Even so, historical fiction is probably her favorite.  So when I separate out the books that are just for A, it looks something like this:

Where do we find books for A to read?  From a couple of places - about a third of the books in this stack are books that A found on the shelves of the library and asked to read.  The others came from a list that the reading specialist at B's school sent home.  I went through the list ahead of time to check for content and availability and then had A choose the ones she wanted to read.  I starred the historical fiction ones - like The Darkest Evening, Annie, Between the States, After the War and All Their Names were Courage.  She found Orphan of the Sun on her own, another historical fiction offering that ties nicely to the Ancient Egyptian history we'll be studying in a few weeks.

B's stack is similarly high:
B's tastes are narrower than A's.  This stack boasts books about a three inch high boy, a girl who circumnavigated fairyland, a boy elected president, and knights.  Only four or five of these books are from the reading list.  The rest are the result of time spent in the stacks, checking out covers, reading flaps and following her instincts.  After B selects her books, I go to Amazon on my phone to read the library school journal review and check for content.  This largely keeps objectionable content out of the house, but my girls are reaching an age where they are going to encounter ideas unlike those we have in our home.  That's OK.  I think they are old enough to begin to discern for themselves - and to ask me questions about the rest.

A final category that B enjoys is graphic novels.  Today she read this:
But not long ago, she read a graphic novel rendering of The Odyssey that was excellent.  B's style of drawing is akin to what's found in a graphic novel, so these books are great inspiration for her.  The challenge is finding ones that are appropriate.  Many of those geared to boys are heavy on the violence and the ones for girls are heavy on the romance.  Any suggestions you have would be appreciated...

K's stack is considerably shorter:
And this is the book she's been working on since our last trip to the library:
K really wants to read books that are challenging for her.  There are lots of books out there that she could read in one sitting, but she wants to choose longer books that take her several days to read.  The Royal Diaries book that she chose is one she's seen in our house many times before.  A loves this series and has read every book at least once - some many, many more times.  K has enjoyed reading about Elizabeth and has asked lots of questions surrounding the history of England, which A and I are happy to answer.  I've also noticed that K is far more drawn to non-fiction than either of her sisters were.  She'll check out books on weather, animals and more at the school library.  I just haven't found the right spot for her to explore in our public library for this type of reading material.

Even when I try to capture via photograph all of the library books in our home, I miss some.  A is laying in her bed reading a book that B finished yesterday.  B finished her graphic novel and went to her room to read one of the books she started a few days ago.  (B regularly reads more than one book at once - on Friday she had five books going.)

Some of this love of reading comes directly from my girls and who they are.  Their insatiable curiosities are well-fed by books.  Some of it might be learned behavior.  We certainly do what we can to encourage their reading - both with our words and by example.

If you have reading suggestions - for any of the five of us - please just leave a comment.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


3 a : recreational activity; especially : the spontaneous activity of children

A girl flits into the room wearing a yellow Belle dress, purple cheetah print high heels and pink sunglasses with fur at the corners.  Her sister tears apart teal and silver duct tape, affixes it to a shoe box and creates a seascape.  My girls know how to play.

A doll elevator
The doll and her ladybug enter the elevator
The elevator in action

Cardboard and aluminum foil choker

Getting in character
Over the last few days, B has made a child's elevator, a doll elevator and a goth metal stud choker, amongst other things.  If I'm lamenting an over-scheduled summer with ballet and piano virtually every weekday, my girls do not seem to be suffering for it.  Instead, they are making the most of their downtime, using it to create, playact and read.  There's a definite difference in the ways each girl plays (K revels in imaginary worlds, B creates) and a noticeable drop off in A's willingness to play.  She far prefers reading to crafting, dressing up or playacting.

Yet even tween aged A came home from her first lock in this morning excited about the game night. One of the things she thought noteworthy?  That they played a spy game in the church sanctuary.  "Yes, this space is sacred," A was told, "but no more sacred than many other spaces.  Just don't break anything."  What this wise youth minister gets is that play is sacred, too.  A book I'm reading puts it this way:

Play keeps us attached to the sacred, the imaginary, the human.  We grow bigger, become larger entities, in the act of play.  We become creators more than creatures.

I've learned from watching my children play.  Play doesn't come natural to me.  It's something I need to learn to allow myself to do, need to train myself to want.  I take life far too seriously.  But I've been playing in my own way over the last week:

Is summer fun for you?  Are you watching your children play?  Are you making time to play? Play isn't just for children, you know.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


1 c : leisure (time for reading)
4 d : the present time

Yesterday morning as I lay in the bathtub, I prayed for enough time in the day.  Sound strange?  Maybe it is, but I knew what needed to get done and that the allotted hours just might not be enough.  Here's a quick sketch of yesterday morning:

8:00 - everyone awake and in some stage of eating breakfast
9:00 - depart for grocery store (K joined me)
9:35 - return from grocery store, unpack groceries
9:45 - depart for K's swim lesson
10:00 - swim lesson (B joined me)
10:20 - B's school friend shows up at the pool, B begs to stay
10:30 - kind friend agrees to let B and K stay at the pool with her
11:00 - return home
11:40 - depart to take A to ballet
12:30 - collect B & K from the pool
12:45 - lunch
1:10 - depart to pick A up from ballet
1:50 - pause for breath before beginning laundry and dinner

Yesterday was our first day of thrice weekly ballet classes for A.  This seemed like a good idea several weeks ago when I needed a break of a few weeks between ballet sessions.  Yet now that we have activities scheduled for four weekdays during the summer, I'm wondering whether there will be enough time to have fun with my girls, enjoy lazy time together, just live life the way I want to live it.  My response was to schedule plenty of fun into our week.  What remains to be seen is whether we can all enjoy our summer if I exhaust myself in the process.

In the midst of this transition, I'm in the middle of the best parenting book I've ever read.  In the section on child-led spirituality, there is this passage:

Children's sense of time is different from adults'.  It is elongated because they haven't yet suffered from the accumulation of many experiences to detract from the present.  They take all the time they need to address what life puts in front of them, in the right now.

This is how I want to experience time.  By taking what's right in front of me and not getting too far ahead of myself.  This doesn't mean I throw my plans out the window.  I need to plan so that we don't waste the free moments we have.  But I need to hold those plans loosely, not clench my hands around them.  Today we went to the state capitol, a field trip K has been begging to go on for weeks.  When I signed up for the field trip, I clicked a couple of extra boxes for activities in the state museum.  But when yesterday arrived, I didn't think an extra hour after touring the capitol was a good idea.  So I canceled that part of the field trip.  Instead, we hung out at the library, doing a much needed restocking of our book supply.

After the library, instead of the pool or Chick-fil-A or anything else, we came home and read, read, read.  This is something else The Art of Family has affirmed.  That reading teaches us spiritual lessons that can only be learned through the art of reading.  The art of quietly spending time alone, waiting for the action to unfold and imagining other worlds, teaches us to stay in the moment on the page and wait.

Yet as much as I love reading, I want time for other things, too.  Which is why after reading, we watched a movie together.  This is the kind of time I want - time to read, time to hang out together, time to simply be a family.  So I'll keep praying for more time - and to be fully present in the time I have.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


: a nonflammable platform from which a rocket, launch vehicle, guided missile, or girl can be launched

It's difficult to write the perfect blog post for every occasion, but as I was thinking about Father's Day and how to encapsulate what J is for our girls, the image of a launchpad came to me.  I recently read Lift and if motherhood is about breathing life into your children's hopes, dreams and talents, then fatherhood is about giving your children - especially your daughters - the firm and stable ground from which to launch themselves.

J is just this stability for our girls.  They know who he is, what to expect from him and that he will be there for them no matter what.  Girls can't jump as high, soar as far or fly as long when they don't have a launchpad for a father.  Any basketball player will tell you that you can't get as much height when jumping in sand as you can when you're on the court.  Girls know when their fathers are dependable like a launchpad and they know when they're like shifting sand under them.

They also know that some fathers allow them to land gracefully, crash and burn or take the long way back home.  This knowledge gives them the confidence to pursue their dreams, knowing they'll never be alone in their successes or failures.

I was talking with a friend not long ago whose husband enjoys a more flexible schedule than J does.  (On weekdays, J is consistently gone between 11 1/2 to 12 hours.)  She asked how I manage it with grace.  I admitted that I don't always handle it gracefully, but that it's easier now that the girls are older.  There's the added factor that J loves his job.  More importantly, when he's here, he's fully present.  He eats dinner with us every night.  He helps put the girls to bed.  He attends every game, every recital, every school.  He knows what's going on in our girls lives and knows who they are as people.

This is a dad who willingly watches our daughters' favorite TV show, which happens to be So You Think You Can Dance.  He doesn't just watch it, either.  He watches with us, critiques choreography and execution, has his favorites and his not-so-favorites.  Is he a closet dance fan?  Not really.  But he's a fan of our daughters.  And they love watching this show.  A loves the dances, B loves the music, K loves the performances.  So we do this as a family - we watch, we vote, we laugh together, gasp together, recall our favorite routines from past seasons together.  And if J is sometimes wishing he was watching a baseball game instead of a dance show, he never lets on.  This television show is more than a way to kill a few hours on summer evenings.  It's a launchpad for family memories.  It's a shared experience that helps strengthen the community that is our family.

I have no aspirations for my daughters to be astronauts - A hates math far too much for that, B could never follow all of the rules required and K will probably never be tall enough - but I do look forward to seeing the confident, bold, strong women they will be because they have a father who served as a launchpad for them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


1. one who causes another to know something

A writer of a blog that I read recently wrote about all that she learned over the course of the last year with her children.  This resonated with me as much as if a chord had been actually plucked in my heart.  As our school year wound down, I was focused on what A learned this year and whether it was enough.  I didn't stop to consider the very real value of all I learned through the process of being teacher in addition to mom, cheerleader, chauffeur, chef and guide.

So what did the teacher learn this year over the course of the Truss Academy for Girls' first year?

To relax and plan in equal parts.  In other words, to make a plan and then hold it very loosely rather than gripping it fiercely.  At the beginning of the school year, I was resistant to writing down any sort of plan for the week.  I had created a rough monthly plan (that went largely unheeded as the year went on), but I was worried that creating a weekly plan would lock us in.  Worse, I was worried I would be unable to relax and enjoy the ride when things inevitably did not go according to plan.  What changed?  At Advent, I began making a weekly plan for A because I was crafting a unit study for us from two other studies I'd found online.  It was easier for me to do all of the planning on the weekend, write it down and then go about our week.  At the time, I didn't see this as a big shift in our daily approach to homeschooling.  It was only when we finished the study and I attempted to quit the weekly plans that I found A really enjoyed having her week laid out before her on one piece of paper.  This taught me...

To be intentional and flexible.  Making a plan for each week allowed me to be more intentional, especially about our approach to history.   By looking ahead at what was coming, I was able to craft essay questions that helped A retain the subject matter far more than when she was taking notes and summarizing passages (both of which I still believe are important skills for collegiate success).  What I had to be careful of - as a Type A personality - was to still be flexible.  Sometimes I built flexibility into the plan, leaving blocks of time for us to go on a walk or visit a park.  Other times, we seized the moment and just moved part of one week's plan to the next week.  And all of this was possible because I was learning...

To listen.  I was beginning to listen to A's verbal and nonverbal cues.  Sometimes she told me what she wanted more of, other times I had to watch the way she approached a subject to know whether to move on or stop and graze for a while.  Alongside learning to listen to A, I was meeting monthly with a spiritual direction group, where I was learning to listen to God and to look for the ways he was working in my life.  How many subtle communications from God, friends and family have I missed over the years because I've been focused, rigid and preoccupied?  This year I learned to hear what was said and not brush it away in haste because it didn't fit my plan.  And I was able to listen because of an ongoing lesson about making time...

To care for myself.  One of my husband's main concerns about the plan to homeschool was summarized in one quiet question, "Can you do this and be nice to the rest of us?"  That was the question going into this experiment - was there enough of me to give?  Would I be exhausted at the end of each day, snapping at everyone, disappointed with myself?  I've learned a great deal about myself and my needs over the years.  I need time alone, I need a certain amount of quiet, I need space in my day to just be.  Would this be possible while homeschooling?  I found that it was not only possible, it was crucial.  Early on, I found that if I waited until lunch time to shower, I could retreat upstairs to read, bathe and rest.  This hour or so midday gave me enough fuel to get through my days. 

I'm not sure what next year will look like in many regards.  Will an hour of quiet be possible with two daughters to teach?  I'm not sure.  But if I remain relaxed and flexible while being intentional about caring for myself, I'm confident a new balance will emerge.  Because another thing I've learned this year is that...

I have something to offer my children as their teacher.  I'm reading a beautiful book about family right now and one idea that has immediately rung true with me is that we should give our children ourselves.  I don't mean we should forgo who we are in order to help them become who they are meant to be.  It's the opposite of that: it helps them become who they are meant to be if they understand who their parents really are.  And I am both learner and teacher.  I love learning.  Love, love, love it.  It excites me like few other things can.  I get an almost physical jolt upon learning a new fact, making a connection, seeing a link.  This is part of who I am and it's a huge blessing to get to share that part of me with my daughters.  Sharing it with them doesn't mean they're going to feel and experience learning the same way I do.  It does mean they will know and understand me better - as their mother, as a person.

I told my husband part way through the school year that I think of all the jobs I've ever had - in marketing, business development, non-profit program management, non-profit administration and development - homeschooling is the one that uses nearly every gift I have.  I am their teacher, but I am learning so much as we go along.  And I couldn't be more grateful.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


1 c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location

In third grade, B and her classmates created quotes for memorizing.  This is B's.

I'm like the John Mellencamp song.  I was born in a small town.  At my high school reunion a few weeks ago, J got to see the small town effect up close and personal.  He's a city boy through and through, so he doesn't have a friend he spent grades 4 through 12 making memories and mischief alongside.  Even two decades after high school, there was a familiarity as we sat at that table and talked.  J liked what he saw.  He wants that for our girls.  He wants friends who've known them their whole lives.  He wants deep and lasting community for them.  That's harder to come by in a city the size of Nashville.  (Which is one reason my husband would be happy to move to a suburb, where this type of community is easier to find.)

My take is a little bit different.  I enjoyed my high school reunion far more than I could have anticipated, but it reminded me of some of the things I don't miss about small town life.  I don't miss the gossip and feeling like people are in my business.  I never liked feeling like people knew everything about me and were talking about all of it - the good, the bad and especially the ugly.  It's easier for me to jump in and out of the flow of community in my neighborhood here.  Sometimes I'm able to ride the current along anonymously.  Other times I'm willing to know and be known.  It's up to me.

Last week several milestones were reached in our family (including our first daughter to get her ears pierced!).  These milestones were largely A's, and B was feeling sad, frustrated and decidedly left out as the middle child.  She knew rationally the reasons that A was being celebrated, but that did little to mitigate her feelings.  At one point, B was crying and I was thinking about how hard it must be to be the second born, especially the second born girl.  I'm two years older than my only brother, so I don't know exactly how B was feeling.  But I can tell you that I'm sure it would have made me as angry, sad and confused as it made her.  I tried to talk to B about it, to validate her feelings a bit.  Yet there was only so much I could say.  I haven't actually walked where she's walking right now.

So I contacted a friend to ask if she'd take B out for ice cream and commiserate.  I first got to know this friend years ago when she babysat for us.  She would later tell me that the first night of babysitting didn't go so well.  B crossed a line and Miss M (as my children call her) put her in time out.  B's response?  Something along the lines of, "You're the worst babysitter ever!  I'm going to tell my mom never to call you again!"  It would be years before I heard this story because the next morning all I heard from my girls was, "When can she come again?"  In addition to being an awesome sitter and a dear friend, Miss M is a middle child - the middle of three girls, no less.

Sunday evening she arrived to take B out for some middle child time together.  I'm not sure what they talked about.  I just know they enjoyed being together and I felt a little lighter for having found someone to share the burden of walking B through this time in her life.  B might have been completely over what she was feeling by Sunday evening, but I wanted her to know that she's being heard.  I wanted her to know there are other adults who've watched their sisters do everything first - and are now amazing people, just as B is sure to be.

I can't parent my children alone - whether I live in a small town, an urban neighborhood or a suburb.  I need community.  I need someone - many someones - to help carry the burden of parenting.  This burden of knowing that my children have needs I cannot meet on my own.  That is, in fact, probably the hardest part of community for me - it shows me all that I cannot do on my own.  It shows me how much there is to be learned from others, how much I have to give to others.  It shows me that life is lived better together. 

I have no plans to move back to a small town anytime soon. I love our city - and all it has to offer our family.  I love getting to choose whether and how I will engage with community.  It's been a blessing to be able to choose community instead of having it foisted upon me.  But I hope I'll grow more and more willing to stake my claim in the lives of others.  A stake that will require me to give, to receive and to take their eldest daughters out for ice cream when they need it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


1 : emptied of or lacking content
2 : marked by lack of ideas or intelligence : stupid, inane

Do you have any irrational fears about your children?  Anything that you know to be highly improbable, yet worry about anyway?  Or am I the only one?  I recently shared with some friends my fear that my girls will turn into vacuous blondes if we get a summer membership at the YMCA.  Rational?  Not by a long shot.  Still a fear?  Yes.  I bought the membership anyway, letting logic reign over fear.  Our first two visits have gone well and I can see even now that it was better for me to go ahead and join this summer, rather than wait another year.  They are ready for regular swim time, more frequent routine, a way to build their confidence in the water.

Most of my friends laughed at me when I said I worry about my daughters turning vacuous (one said that was about as likely as them turning blonde without numerous hair treatments), but one said, "Where does that fear come from?"  I wasn't sure, so I've tried thinking about what I'm seeing in my mind when I'm feeling that fear.  I often find this a good technique for me when I'm feeling something, but not quite sure of its origin.  I'm a pretty visual person, so when I'm feeling something strongly, there's generally a mental picture to go along with it.

I spent a lot of time at the pool, especially when I was the ages of my daughters.  Was I vacuous?  Is it myself I'm remembering?  I'm not sure.  I can't call up a mental picture of me at age 7, 9 or 11.  But I'll say straight out that I'm fairly certain I was never vacuous.

Today J and I were joking around about vacuous daughters when one such daughter asked what the word meant.  I told her empty-headed, like a vacuum had sucked out her brain.  She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "That's never going to happen, Mom."  When I saw the actual definition of "lack of ideas or intelligence," I knew how right she was.  Will my daughters ever be void of ideas?  I hope not.  I certainly can't envision it.

I think perhaps it's the shift from girlhood to adolescence that has triggered these particular irrational fears.  Will adolescence change my daughters, emphasizing some less desirable traits, minimizing others I value?  Probably. Will it change the very core of who they are, emptying their brains, removing their interests, making them dull shadows of who they really are?  Probably not.  Certainly not if I have anything to say about it.  I love their complex selves just as they are right now.  I love the books scattered around our house, the art projects that go on constantly, the imaginative play that transcends age gaps.  I love how varied they are from each other.  How decidedly full of personality they are.  The very opposite of vacuous.

I can't stop myself from feeling irrational fears.  What I can do is remind myself of who my daughters are - and, if a time comes when they forget who they are, gently remind them of who they are.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


2 b : hint, spark

For more than a year, I've had disdain, disgust and disinterest in movies.  (Lots of dis-ing.)  I haven't always hated movies.  In fact, it was one specific experience that led me to give up on movies altogether. I've continued to let my children watch movies and have watched some along with them.  But on my own?  I've only seen two movies in the theater over since February of 2010 and I felt like a bit of a hypocrite both times.  I just don't want any part of an industry that takes the best our culture has to offer in literature and perverts it.  Movies take great ideas and turn them into mental fast food.  Over time, I've all but stopped paying attention to what movies are even coming out because I know I'm not going to watch them.  Instead, I've found creative, engaging, thought-provoking television shows to watch.  Many of them are BBC productions, several are science fiction.

Imagine my surprise and delight to have recently happened upon two clever, original and entertaining movies.  One, surprisingly enough, was Easy A.  The cover doesn't look appealing at all:

It looks sophomoric, trashy and immature.  Instead it's subtle, funny and wise beyond its years.  It took a classic novel (The Scarlet Letter) and made it thoroughly modern and relevant.  The other thing this movie did (which I find so rare in today's movies), is assume the viewer has some intelligence.  Today's movies feel the need to spell everything out for the viewer, dot every I, cross every T.  Old movies - great movies like Roman Holiday - gave the audience credit for being able to fill in some gaps.  Easy A does the same.  It references Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain without explicitly detailing the link.  It cleverly gives a nod to classic 80s movies while acknowledging that the main character doesn't live in a John Hughes movie.

Here's what I want from entertainment - be it books, movies or television - I want something that makes me think, that makes me feel, that lets me escape my real life ever-so-briefly.  But I want it to be well done.  Otherwise, I can't escape at all because I'm too busy being frustrated at being talked down to.

Many children's movies are especially bad about talking down to their audience.  There seems to be an assumption that children can't fill in any blanks - which is far from the truth based on my experience.  My daughters often connect the dots in ways that I might have missed entirely without hearing their viewpoint.  They are able to see possibilities that I would miss because I'm so ingrained in my own way of thinking. A children's movie that's engaging, beautiful to watch and touches on great art? That's a good summary of Secret of Kells.  I'm not sure how Netflix, in their logarithmic formulas, decided to recommend this movie for my family.  But they were dead on.  Unlike Easy A, the cover of this one drew me in:

But even more than the cover, the title drew me in.  Could this movie possibly be about the Book of Kells?  It was worth watching purely to find out.  Once I started watching, the animation style so captured my imagination that there was no way I was going to not watch it.  Animated movies and television shows have never been my favorite, but this movie was drawn in a completely unique way.  It was like a well-done graphic novel come to life.  (My middle daughter B has a lovely drawing style akin to cartooning and this movie was food for creative thought for her throughout.)  I'll be honest that the plot for the movie wasn't as strong as I would have liked, but I was willing to forgive that because it did revolve around the Book of Kells.

I first saw the Book of Kells in January, 1994 at Trinity College, Dublin.  It was beautiful.  The next fall I wrote a paper on it as a part of a Medieval Art and Architecture class.  The anthropomorphic shapes seem so alive, so ready to leap off the page that I could look at them again and again.  And seeing a movie where the shapes could do just that was beautiful.

So from two different fronts I'm seeing a glimmer of hope for future movie-watching.  Maybe I shouldn't write off the entire industry after all... Is there a movie you've seen recently that I should watch?  Because for the first time in over a year, I might just be willing to give it a try.