Thursday, May 31, 2012


1 b : to direct on a course or in a direction

Our family has been on vacation in Philadelphia this week.  If you read my last post, you know all has not been lightness and joy. Yet after a bit of an attitude and expectation adjustment on the parts of J and I, the week has (in most ways) gotten better as we've gone along.  Part of the key to this has been letting my children take the lead.

After doing what I wanted to do on Monday by visiting an art museum, we got up early Tuesday morning and headed straight for the Liberty Bell.  This particular item was the catalyst for our entire trip and it was our hope that by arriving near its opening time of 9:00, we would not face long lines.  In fact, we were inside the air conditioned walls of its building in less than 10 minutes.  Was it all we had hoped for?  Perhaps not.  The girls read the exhibits lining the hallway, then quietly walked around the Bell, looking intently.  Finally, A said, "It's smaller than I thought it would be.  I thought it would be as big as K."  B and K quickly agreed.  It's a good lesson for them to realize that many mythic objects aren't as large as our imaginations make them.  They weren't exactly disappointed, just surprised.  And I was thankful we only waited in line a few minutes on Tuesday rather than joining a line that snaked around the building on Sunday.

After seeing the Liberty Bell, the girls begged to ride one of the sightseeing buses that circle the city, dropping you off and letting you back on at various historical, entertainment and cultural spots.  I'll confess here that I would never choose to take one of these buses were I not traveling with my children.  I much prefer to do a bit of research, make my choices about what I want to see and then do it on my own.  I'm sure this comes from my junior year of college, when I lived in England and traveled around the UK and Europe on a college student's budget.  I could never have afforded a sightseeing bus tour back then, so I learned to do it my own way.  But the girls were insistent and we had a good parking spot with an early bird discount.  So J paid the hefty fee and we boarded an air-conditioned trolley with a guide who was both well-informed and entertaining.  After eventually making our way around the entire loop provided on this tour, I will admit it was a worthwhile investment.  The girls were so pleased to have seen so much of the city and we learned things we wouldn't have otherwise learned.  Even better, the girls were happy and satisfied.  (In part, I think, simply because we followed their lead and took the bus.)

Wednesday morning I woke feeling ill and only felt worse as the day progressed.  By early evening, I was in bed with a fever and chills.  So our day in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country didn't go as I'd envisioned.  The highlight: a train ride on a coal powered train outfitted like a train from the early 1900s.  I was disappointed, but the girls have been wanting to ride a train for years, so the day wasn't a total wash.  Instead, it was a lesson for me to pare down my plans.  If I had been honest with myself upfront, the train ride was always going to be the part of this day that they found most exciting.

Today's trip to the Morris Arboretum really brought home a key takeaway for me from this vacation:  vacation - and our family life together - goes best when I alternate leading with letting the girls lead.  I choose the Morris Arboretum for its kinship with one of our favorite Nashville places: Cheekwood.  And while I still wasn't feeling great during our visit, we did feel at home there right away.  We did many of the things we do at Cheekwood: picnic, admire sculpture and play in the creek.  We left tired, but relaxed.

Vacationing really isn't all that different from parenting: it requires some advance planning, but I tend to do best when I can relax, loosen my grip and let my daughters lead.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


: something considered reasonable, due, or necessary

Vacationing with three children invariably challenges my expectations.   Whether it's my idea that they will entertain themselves with the books, music, games and art supplies I provide for the car ride or my vision that they will relax when I want to relax and go when I want to go, I'm always just a little off base.  Our family trip to Philadelphia this week had brought this concept front and center for me.

My daughters are 8, 10 and 12 and this is the first vacation of its kind that we've attempted.  By that, I mean this is the first time we've spent a full week in a city exploring it together.  We've spent a week visiting family or a week at the beach or a week traveling from one place to another, but never before this settle in and poke around together.  But with K recently turning 8, it felt like perhaps we could try this.  In fact, she was the one who prompted this particular trip.  Nearly a year ago, she started peppering me with questions about the Liberty Bell.  I answered as best I could, but decided then and there that if she was old enough to have this specific curiosity, the time to visit Philadelphia was near.

So here we are: in a town home in Manayunk with three full days left in the city.  We've already done several historical and cultural things: we've worshiped at Christ Church, visited Independence Hall, spent a day at the art museum and eaten Philly Cheesesteaks for dinner.  In between and during these events, there has been lots of complaining (by the girls), mild to medium to hot frustration (from the parents), a general discouragement (me) and a desire to press forward and try again (and again) to enjoy this trip (all of us).

The Shenandoah Valley
As we drove up through Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, I thought about school trips back when I was in high school.  One such trip was to Baltimore, Washington, DC and Williamsburg.  I was in tenth or eleventh grade and only a few memories stand out to me: that I wanted to spent more time in the Art Smithsonian instead of moving on to Air and Space, that I bought my then-boyfriend a Georgetown hat, that it was very cold and that our group had to be reminded more than once to enjoy the differences and embrace them instead of complaining about them.

I think many of my daughters' behaviors that have driven me crazy on this trip are not only typical of their ages, but typical of them.  The difference is that at home, I would have enough emotional distance to recognize that.  At home, when they start whining about being hungry or tired, I take stock of where we are and build in a break soon.  That's not always possible on a trip of this type, but it's also difficult for me to discern their generalized complaints from true need.  As we sat in the sculpture garden of the Philadelphia Museum of Art yesterday snacking, I asked the girls why this trip seemed different than a week of Fun Jar activities at home.  Because when I planned the trip, it sounded a lot like what we do around Nashville every summer.  Only this time, we would do an activity each day instead of one each week.  They offered a few ideas of their own, but just talking to them calmly about it helped me see things better.

At Independence Hall

Before this trip, I thought my girls would move seamlessly into visiting Philadelphia's art museum because they are frequent visitors of the Frist Center.  I thought they would have the stamina for two days of traveling because they've been on car trips to and from Wisconsin and Alabama for virtually all of their lives.  And while these past experiences have provided some of the training necessary to make them good and appreciative travelers, they are still 8, 10 and 12.  They range from introvert to extrovert.  They get tired.  They get cranky.  The unfamiliar is both exciting and exhausting.

So here's my approach for the next few days: decide one or two things we will do.  Build in rest times.  Try to listen with my head and my heart when they speak, instead of reacting out of my own exhaustion.  Do my best to enjoy this trip on my own, somewhat independent of their enjoyment.  Maybe they can't appreciate the architecture and layout of a neighborhood, but I don't have to let that dampen my own enjoyment.  And, most importantly, adjust my expectations.  Remember that they are young.  Remember that what they take away from this trip is theirs, not mine.  All J and I can do is offer them the experience, not experience it for them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


: used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency

What I should have done was stay home and do laundry, begin packing for our trip, clean out the van and take it for an oil change.  What I did instead was tell the girls to eat breakfast and dress quickly so that we could head to Cheekwood.  We were a few days early.  Their beloved Treehouse exhibit doesn't officially open until May 26, but we got sneak peeks at the houses:

Sometimes it's hard for me to shake off the "shoulds" residing in my brain.  And this week that began with a birthday and ends with a family vacation definitely has a lengthy to-do list.  But the weather was lovely and B was grouchy in a way that only some time outdoors and engaged with art and/or nature can ever cure.  The to-do list?  It waited.  It was, in fact, still exactly where I left it when we walked out the door for Cheekwood.  And in the meantime, we explored a renovated garden, snacked in a Japanese pagoda and slid down the side of a Hobbit hole.

 While A and I laid on a blanket by the water and read, B took the camera and headed off, documenting and celebrating the day in her own way:

As we drove away, B said, "I love this place." 

"Me, too," I said, "It leaves me feeling so rested."

For this one day, that was more important than anything else I should have been doing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


1: one who guides the studies of another; especially, one whose occupation is to instruct

Between my three girls, our family has been served by thirteen teachers over the last nine years.  Mrs. K is the only one to teach all three of them.  My girls have had good teachers, great teachers, high energy teachers, mellow teachers, nurturing teachers, tough teachers, teachers who liked them as people and teachers who ended the year not knowing my daughter any better than the day they met them.  Mrs. K is the best of the best.  She's the kind of teacher who gets to know every child in her classroom and who then finds something likable, something teachable, something unique and valuable about each and every child.

About five years ago, we were in the process of leaving Hull-Jackson, a public Montessori school that had served as the launchpad for educating our daughters.  Looking back, I know what a gift this style of learning was for A and B.  A learned to read easily and early and a traditional kindergarten would not have been an ideal introduction to schooling for her.  But Montessori worked great - she read at her level, did work at her level and never noticed that she was any different from her peers.  I guess I should more accurately say that Montessori worked great until A reached first grade and then self-selected reading over every other possible activity.  She never wanted to work on math or science or anything other than reading.  That strong preference for one style of learning and one subject, combined with a principal who was nothing short of a tyrant, sent us looking for another school.

In the search for that school, we met Mrs. K.  She was (and is) a second grade teacher at Lockeland.  J met her first and came home enthusiastic about this teacher who seemed kind, knowledgeable and more than willing to help our family make the move to a more traditional style of learning.  Going in, we had no idea whether A would actually end up in her class.  But she made us see that a move to Lockeland was feasible for our family.  To our great relief - and the answer to many prayers - A ended up in Mrs. K's class.  It was a great year for her and the transition was easier than I could ever have imagined.

When B was assigned to Mrs. K's class the following year, I wondered how that would go.  A is an easy child to have in your classroom - compliant, well-behaved, a fairly quick learner.  B is another story - let her get bored at your peril.  As we prepared for parent-teacher conferences the fall that B was in 2nd grade, I said to Mrs. K with a smile, "I'm sure we'll have more to talk about this year."  I will never forget her reply, "Oh! B is great.  Sure, she's different from A, but I love having her my class."  I knew right then that it would be OK.  And it was.

Relief is the only emotion I felt when K was assigned to Mrs. K this year.  K has wanted to have Mrs. K as her teacher nearly her entire life.  The first morning of kindergarten, K got dressed and said, "Do you think Mrs. K will like my outfit?"  I didn't have the heart to tell her she was going to have to wait two years to actually be in Mrs. K's class.

In the years since our family has known Mrs. K, she's given birth to two girls of her own.  They are blessed to have her.  They have a mom who, I feel sure, will use all that makes her great in the classroom to help them succeed in learning who they are and growing into the best girls and women they can be.  In many ways, that's what Mrs. K has done for A, B and K.  She's seen them as individuals, taken the time to get to know their strengths and weaknesses and guided them through second grade - a year that serves as a bridge to a more independent stage of childhood.

While she's been busy teaching these girls of mine, I've been learning from her, too.  Learning to see the challenging aspects of my daughters as part of the whole package.  Learning to teach my girls where they are instead of comparing them to some guideline set by a stranger.  Learning to take the teachable moments and enjoy the just-be-present moments.

I am always ready for summer to arrive and that is no less true this year.  But combined with my desire for summer is a thankfulness for the year K had with Mrs. K - a great teacher.

Monday, May 21, 2012


: filled with strong excitement of feeling: ARDOR

K turns 8 today.  It's both hard to believe and terribly exciting that my youngest child is eight years old.  In many ways she's exactly as she's always been - full of life, exuberant, inquisitive, talkative.  Of the five readers in our family, K is the one who will choose non-fiction over fiction.  She wants to know about the Olympics, volcanoes, the solar system and polar bears - all at the same time.  She's the kind of girl who brings her father his shoes in order to get him to brave the mosquitoes and kick the soccer ball around in the back yard.  She makes a friend one day and wants them invited to her birthday party the next day.  She is our family's ambassador in the neighborhood and meets all new neighbors before any of the rest of us, "Oh, you're K's mom," I've heard a time or two.

Of my three daughters, K is the least like me - at least from my vantage point.  She's bold, cute, confident and knows no shame.  In the photos that started this post, you can see the photographer trying to get her to stand still for a shot.  K never really does, but her smiling face makes for a great shot anyway.  I'm good at being still - physically and mentally.  In fact, it's one of the things I do best.  And while K can learn from me, there's a lot I can learn from her, too.  I'm often hesitant to run towards the things in life that spark my interest - I'm sure K would find that concept completely foreign.  I am quick to see my mistakes as larger and of more import than they actually are - K does not beat herself up over a slip-up, but moves on.

Today at church, we were sitting in our pew after taking communion when a family we love walked past on their way back to their pew.  K jumped up and down waving to them.  And while decorum might have dictated that I encourage her to sit, I could only smile at her.  She wasn't being disrespectful, she was being enthusiastic.  And every member of the family smiled back at K - she's infectious, that girl.

As the final member of our family, there are ways in which K sets the tone for all of us.  About this time last year, K started asking about the Liberty Bell.  I answered her questions as best I could, but what I was thinking was, "If she's old enough to ask about these things, we can go there on a vacation!"  So this Friday, we leave for Philadelphia.  K's old enough to hang with us while we tour Independence Hall, visit the art museum, drive out to Lancashire and see the sights.  She doesn't need naps and in fact probably has more energy than the rest of our family.  She won't be bored with the historical information we encounter.  Instead, she'll want to read every item and ask countless questions.  My baby is finally growing up.

A and B were born just twenty months apart and during a very busy time in our lives.  J was in graduate school, I was working full-time.  We hardly knew which end was up.  Yet when we'd had time to recover for a few years, we began discussing whether we wanted to try to have a third child.  I am so thankful that we agreed to try for one more because the result was much more than we could have asked or imagined.  I felt back then that our family just wasn't quite complete, but K definitely completes it.  She is the quintessential representation of good things coming in small packages.  She stretches the rest of us, demands that we pay attention to her and brings joy and frustration (sometimes in equal measure).  In short, she completes us.  We are blessed to have her.  She brings an undeniable enthusiasm to her life - and ours.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


1 a : to place confidence : depend

Do you trust yourself?  When faced with a big or small decision, where do you turn?  A spouse?  A friend?  Or the small, quiet voice inside you?

Several years ago, I had a Christian friend tell me that she did not trust herself.  "My heart is sinful," she said, "I can't trust what it tells me."  I don't remember the circumstances she was facing, nor the decision she ultimately made.  What did stick with me was her assertion that trusting herself was wrong.  I didn't question her then, but I've come to not only question but ultimately reject the idea that I shouldn't trust myself.

In fact, one of the things God showed me this Lent was that I should listen to myself because I know more than I think I do.  I'm not saying I should always go with my gut instinct.  There are definitely times when my initial reaction is driven by untested emotions.  And the voice of shame lurks in my depths, surfacing every now and then to sabotage my efforts.  But I know the difference between those voices and the inner voice that I can trust.  That inner voice is, in all likelihood, a combination of the wisdom I've acquired over the years and the Holy Spirit, offering a wisdom I'll never earn, but which I try to receive with gratitude.

Learning to trust myself means learning to not listen to what the world or even my friends and family tell me is true.  Some of this is easy and clear.  Today, I was driving along the interstate with my daughters when 12 year old A saw a billboard and said, "Do better legs really equal a better life?  I don't think so."  We went on to have a great conversation about learning to listen to our hearts and minds instead of what advertising tells us.  And while I can pretty easily learn to distrust the idea that having some varicose veins removed will result in a better life, it's tougher to listen to my heart when it whispers, "Rest" and my daughter's school and my daughter's ballet schedule and our social calendar all say, "Go. Go. Go."

We are leaving for a family vacation one week from tomorrow.  There is a lot left to do to prepare for that - things like an oil change, a trip to the library to stock up, some hours devoted to cleaning so that we can return to a clean home.  There are end of year activities for K, a birthday party at the lake on Thursday and a van that needs to be packed and ready to go Friday morning.  The vacation itself (to Philadelphia) will bring historical highlights, great art, beautiful countryside and, hopefully, some rest.  The question I am currently asking my heart is, "What do I need to do to be ready for this trip?"  I don't just mean what lists do I need to make and complete, but how can I start rested and present and anticipatory, not stressed and panicked and drained.

A few things I know will help.  Read more.  Take a nap or two between now and next Friday.  Build down time into the family's vacation plans.  Know that things will not go as planned and be ready to receive what comes and let the rest go.  And trust myself - when I am tired, rest.  When I am intrigued, pause to learn more.  When I am hungry, have a cheesesteak.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


1 a : a slight error typically due to forgetfulness or inattention

There has been a significantly longer than usual lapse in my blog posting.  While it hasn't been due to forgetfulness, it has been an exceptionally busy month.  Over the course of the last six weekends, I've hosted an Easter lunch and egg hunt, been a single parent while J went to Atlanta, managed volunteers for a dance recital and then a performance of Coppelia, attended a KY Derby party and hosted a prayer and planning day for homeschool moms.  Please stop to breathe now.  Like I said, it's been a bit busy around here.

Blogging hasn't been the only lapse.  There have been laundry pile-ups, lessons pushed from one day to another, prepared foods instead of homemade ones.  This week has brought a bit of breathing room.  Ballet is over (for a few weeks).  A & B's tutorial is over.  We have finished our math book, much to the delight of both teacher and students.  Instead of decimals and fractions, we are spending our time reading a classic book together and planning a family trip to Philadelphia.  The laundry is oh-so-momentarily done.  The weather is lovely and beckoning and I can't wait for summer to arrive with its gifts of time at the lake, sleeping in and Fun Jar activities.

Last week, as I was still feeling rocked by busy-ness, I went to my Wednesday evening Lectio Divina group.  While there, we read and contemplated the Mary and Martha passage in Luke.  I was struck by both my desire to be Mary (who sits at Jesus' feet instead of helping her sister) and my need to be Martha (who gets busy hosting Jesus and his disciples).  At this season in my life, I can't completely forsake either of these parts of myself.  The only wisdom I saw as I prayed was that there is great blessing in listening to my own heart.  It is a gift to myself and my family when I do what needs to be done but stop for rest and rejuvenation.  And the only way to know when one activity should yield to the other is to listen to what my heart is saying and go where it is leading me.

I can't promise there won't be another lapse in blogging - or in my thinking - or in my laundry processing.  In fact, I'm pretty sure those lapses will occur again.  But I hope I'll feel the freedom to stay in the moment and let my knowledge of my lapses slip through my fingers like grains of sand instead of smacking me in the face with shame.  Because we all make errors - we just don't have to let them define us.