Monday, March 30, 2015

Trying to Figure out my Teenagers

I've got two teenagers. One 13, one 15. And my daughter just turned 12 so she's well on her way.

For a while there, I felt like I was doing a pretty darn good job. Newborns were hard for me. Having 5 preschoolers felt insane at times. But then I had five elementary school-age children and I felt like I really hit my stride as a mom. We'd have great conversations and go on adventures together. They all thought I was the cat's meow and I felt the same about them. Their issues were generally things I could help with - book reports that needed to be finished at the last minute, a friend who wasn't being very nice, a teacher they were struggling with. It wasn't always easy, but I usually had a good sense of what to do and usually I'd come away feeling quite confident that I'd handled things well. That was a very nice phase of motherhood.

But as my oldest approached teenagerhood, things changed. I was often totally at a loss as my smart, fun, adventurous oldest child who'd always been so full of ideas and enthusiasm for life became this kid who drove me just about crazy with his moodiness, his negativity, his cutting comments to his younger siblings, his definance, his frequent lack of respect for me and his dad.

In desperation, I wound up doing a lot of things that didn't work very well (yelling, throwing out over-the-top consequneces, using scare tactics like "I think I'm going to have to send you to one of those wilderness camps for problem kids," or "if you keep going on the path you're on with schoolwork, you're never going to be able to get or hold a decent job so you'll never have a car and you'll never have your own home...").

And when I was being rational and deliberate, I tried some things that really worked great one day then didn't work the next (like giving every bit of positive reinforcement I could, meeting moodiness with cheerfulness, giving more individual attention...).

I tried to find time between everything else going on to read up on teenagers and ask questions to friends and family with teenagers. I learned some important things through pro-active searching - while learning other things through often-very-frustrating trial and error.

I recorded some things I learned and that seemed to be quite consistently true here:
Five Tips for Navigating the Uncharted Waters of Pre-Teens

But actually applying what I'd learned was often easier said than done.

Teenagers can sure humble you!

Now that I'm on teenager #2, I think I've got a few things figured out a bit better. Of course, he's different than his older brother so some of the things that work with one don't work with the other. But I'm less easily frustrated now and thanks to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with my oldest, the stuff my second son does feels less stressful - I've seen that this stage is hard and that it passes.

One of the main things I've learned about pre-teens and teenagers is that their brains are more like toddler brains than they are like the brain of an 8-10 year old or an adult.

A teacher mentioned this to me when talking to me about Ashton's poor performance in 6th grade. I went home and researched this idea that was new to me. And sure enough, teen brains in the process of re-wiring themselves as they go through puberty (read all about it here) and the irrationality and emotion typically seen in toddlers is a pretty normal part of the process. I realized that while I'd given my toddlers a "pass" when they had tantrums, I wasn't expecting to need to do the same for kids who'd come so far past that stage, who'd started to be such rational and fun people. I didn't realize they'd revert. But they do. They can't help it. They can and should do something about their reactions to the way this "rewiring" makes them feel. They need to take responsibility for their actions and work hard to keep their emotions and irrationality under control. But it's important to understand that this is often as hard for them as it is for us.

I remember being incredulous last year when Ashton told me that he was absolutely sure that studying for tests wouldn't be helpful to him. I pointed out that studying helps everyone else in the world and that surely he could see that when you look over something repeatedly, you'll be able to understand and remember it better. He ademantly insisted that he was the one person in the world for whom studying wouldn't make any difference. I was angry that he was insisting something that seemed utterly illogical - when just a few months before he'd seemed to be quite logical and rational.

Now I see that his brain was just doing its rewiring thing and that he was acting much like a toddler does when you try to explain that we need to clean up the toys before we can go play outside or we need to brush our teeth before we go to bed and they throw a full-on tantrum. He couldn't see cause and effect properly.

And just like a toddler, the more I'd insist, the more he'd dig in his heels. My explanations couldn't help when his brain could only see his need to be right and to get his own way.

I loved it when Ashton brought home a test with a great grade on it earlier this year with a big smile on his face. I congratulated him heartily and asked what he thought had helped him do so well. He said, "I studied." I had to smile and ask him whether he happened to remember saying last year that studying didn't help him one bit. And his response was, "That was the old Ashton who was going through his stupid phase."

We now refer frequently to "Old Ashton" when talking about behaviors that aren't doing him any favors and it's so nice that he's now able to see things that he wasn't able to see last year.

So as my 13-year-old, Isaac, digs in his heels about things and sometimes drives me crazy with his irrational ideas and behavior, I'm letting it roll off my back a bit more. I've learned to not take everything he says or does so seriously - or so personally - and not allow myself to be so frustrated. I'm learning to be careful about where I dig in my heels and set up a battle where there doesn't need to be one.

I've still got a lot to learn. A whole lot.

And there are moments when I feel really scared. The stakes just get higher and higher. I want to be firm about the right things and lenient about the right things. I want to hold them close without holding them so close they'll push away. I want to guide them towards success while respecting the successes THEY feel are important (or simply helping them understand that SOME kind of progress and success is an important part of life...). I want to love them in the way they want and need to be loved - but often they don't know what sort of loving they need and neither do I. There's a heck of a lot of trial and error.

This morning, as with every Sunday morning for the past many many weeks, Ashton and Isaac weren't ready for church on time. I set out their clothes the night before, I reminded them about what time we needed to leave and told them to set their alarms set as I tucked them in. I pleaded with them to please be ready on time because, as usual, I needed to lead the prayer meeting for the Primary teachers before church.

I went to their room to rouse them when I hadn't heard anything (as per the norm, they'd slept through alarms). I reminded them of everything that needed to happen, assured them that there would be just enough time if they kept moving, then headed downstairs to help the younger kids do their hair.

Ashton was quick in the shower (for once!) and I was excited that he'd be ready on time. His clothes were waiting in his room for him and the shower was done. What could go wrong? Isaac was slower and it was hard to hurry him along while doing other kids' hair but I gave him a few reminders. I gave everyone the 10 minute warning, then the 5 minute warning. I yelled up for Ashton for a status report. No answer. Strangely, I can hear just fine when I'm upstairs and someone yells from downstairs - but Ashton never seems to hear... Isaac came rushing downstairs asking for a belt - the one thing I hadn't set out for him. I had no idea where he'd put it. And he said he'd been looking for his shoes so that's why he was late - but his shoes were sitting right by the front door - he could have just asked me rather than wasting time looking for them. As I rushed Isaac out the back door with his shoes in hand so he could put them on in the car, I called for Ashton again and he finally came downstairs, hair all askew, We were now 10 minutes late and the three younger kids had been in the car for a while. On the way to church, I asked Ashton what in the world he'd been doing during the 25 minutes between when I heard him get out of the shower and when he finally came downstairs. He said he was getting dressed. I was pretty frustrated by this time and told him that only a disabled person or a toddler could possibly take such a long time putting on clothing that was sitting there, ready to put on. And I tried to spray down his hair but he wouldn't let me and was totally rude and unapologetic. I expressed, in none-too-polite terms, that I was SO SICK of Sunday mornings full of unnecessary craziness and was SO FRUSTRATED that they kept making everyone late and keeping me from doing what I needed to do for Primary. I took a bad situation and made it worse by letting my anger out.

It's just so hard to know what to do in certain impossible situations like Sunday mornings - I try to set everyone up for success but nothing I do seems to work sometimes. I'd just leave the boys and have them walk to church (it's not that far) but they're Deacons and are really need to be there first thing to pass the Sacrament. Jared's in meetings so he can't help or take them a bit after I need to leave. Arghhhhhh!

I thought it was hard when I had to wrangle a bunch of tiny kids to get them ready for church. And it was. But at least then I could physically pick them up and put their clothes on them and carry them to the car! Now my control is more limited.

Maybe my anger and the talk Jared had with them will make a difference this time. It hasn't previously. But who knows? I'll talk to them more this afternoon now that I'm calm and rational. But wow, there just aren't good answers sometimes. And this is just a little not-too-private incident that is OK to share. There's plenty of way more complicated and frustrating things that have happened and that aren't fully resolved...

So I've still got a ton to learn. But maybe some of this will be helpful to someone!

And to end on a happy note, these big boys of mine are SO much fun sometimes. I love having real discussions with them and really learning what they think about things. I love talking with them about the interesting facts that strike their fancy, seeing the funny YouTube videos they introduce me to, and having them introduce me to cool new music. I love seeing them interact with their friends and getting to know their friends. I love seeing them grow so tall and strong and having these big boys around to lift and move heavy stuff for me. I'm excited about Ashton's new Learner's Permit and the fun (and crazy) driving experiences we're having together (he's learning fast and doing great but wow, there have been a few white-knuckle moments with me trying to slam on some imaginary breaks on the floor of the passenger side). I love how they're always totally up for helping out when someone needs help moving or when there are little kids who need to be tended at our house while their parents are needed elsewhere (they're SO good with little kids - melts my heart to see them interacting with such love and care and fun with their little friends). They're generally really wonderful people and I'm so grateful for them. But wow, sometimes they drive me crazy!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Easter Week Begins

Today is Palm Sunday. Time to get serious about Easter Week! I meant to get going extra early and follow the great program my sister Saydi put together to help focus the entire month leading up to Easter on getting to know Jesus better and preparing for Easter. But I didn't. Somehow the days just kept slipping away, packed to the hilt, and I never quite got it together to get Easter month going. Hopefully we'll do that next year. But for this year, we're getting going on our regular Easter Week celebrations and we'll add in some of Saydi's great stuff to keep it fresh. Plus we'll keep things going after Easter - might as well!

Here's an overview of our family's Easter Week ideas.

And here's the "Deliberate Mother's Guide to a Christ-Centered Easter" that I wrote for Power of Moms (includes lots of links to great videos and simple ideas.)

You can read all about Saydi's excellent ideas on her blog here - I will be incorporating lots of them even though I don't have a whole month! I love all that she put together and love her approach that she outlines in her blog post.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Our Family's Technology Contract

Now that Eliza is twelve and is out and about more with activities and babysitting for other families, we decided it was time for her to have a phone. And at the same time, we realized that some of the phone/tablet rules we set up when Ashton and Isaac first got phones hadn't been discussed for quite some time. So last night, Jared and I sat down with our three oldest and went over the "Technology Contract" we drew up a couple years ago. It was a great discussion. And I thought I'd share our family's contract here in case it's helpful to anyone else who's trying to navigate this new world of raising teenagers in a world where most kids carry around a phone and have instant access to so many things right in their pocket.

We had such a good discussion. The kids traded off reading the points in the contract and we talked about each one. It was a great chance to talk about how much we love and trust them and want to help them enjoy the great benefits of technology without having it cause them problems.

Jared and I are still figuring out our own boundaries with technology. It's so easy to give in to the desire to check a text or an email at the dinner table or look down at my phone while one of the kids is telling me something. We've got to figure all this out along with our children. And I think it helped them to hear that we're all going to figure this out together.

The following contract started from a contract that my sister Shawni posted on her blog ages ago - and she got it from someone else - and we added a lot of our own stuff. I finally found the original source (thanks to a helpful blog reader!) - here it is: To My 13-Year-Old: An iPhone Contract, With Love. 

Dear Children,

You are the proud users of technology we never dreamed of having when we were your age! You are good and responsible children and we WANT you to have these things.

But as with many things in your life, as your parents, we feel the need to present some rules and regulations because we adore you. We have been around a little longer than you have. We have seen the marvels of all this great technology and we are so grateful for it! But we have also noticed a gradual decline of old-fashioned communication that we feel is so very important for your spirit and your general development. So we’d like to introduce you to some rules and regulations we are establishing in our home.

Please read through the following contract. We hope that you understand it is our job to raise you into well-rounded, healthy young individuals that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. You may be mad at us for a while about some of these things. You have enjoyed some great technological freedom which you have not abused very much and we are proud of you for that. But we feel the need to train you (as we train ourselves) to not let technology take over in our family or with your friends.

Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your technology freedom.

We love you with all our hearts and look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the years to come.

  1. In general, every cell phone, computer, tablet, etc. in our home is a family technology device. We, your parents, have bought these things. We paid for them. We are loaning them to you with the understanding that you will act responsibly.
  2. If you’d like to purchase your own technological device, talk to us about what you’d like to purchase and why. We reserve the right to say no to purchases that we feel will be detrimental to you or to our family. All rules here apply to all devices used in our home whether they were purchased by us or by you.
  3. If you choose to put a password on your devices down the road, we will always know the password. That includes online (e.g. email, social, etc. accounts). Mom and Dad may go through these items with you at various times so we can get a better feel for your lives. Mom will ask to see your texts quite a bit after school and Dad will ask to see your texts every week in his weekly interview with you. We ask that you do not delete any texts until we've had a chance to glance over them. We do this to help you learn appropriate communication skills and be more "in the loop" about what is going on in your life.
  4. Technology devices are primarily tools to accomplish tasks (which can also include entertainment). Every time you get on the computer or TV or a phone or a tablet, you need to have a specific thing that you want to accomplish in mind (it can be a fun thing!). Don’t waste time watching or reading stuff that isn’t particularly interesting to you. Life is too short to waste time just channel surfing or surfing the internet.
  5. Technological tools are not meant to be the only resource for research, entertainment, and communication. Read books. Play games. Go on bike rides. Hang out and chat with your cool parents and siblings.
  6. Limit your time and use technology wisely. We will work with you to determine an appropriate amount of time for you to spend on the things you’d like to do in front of a screen. If you’re not able to control your time, we will have to enforce strict limits for you. We would much rather NOT have to police every little thing you do with technology. The more you prove that you can be trusted with technology, the more we will trust you.
  7. We ask that you do all non-technology tasks BEFORE asking to do tasks involving technology.
  8. Computers are only to be used in common areas. They are not to be used in your bedrooms. Tablets can be taken in your bedroom with permission only.
  9. No texting, emailing or using phones after bedtime.
  10. Pay attention to your teachers at school and at church. Work hard on assignments. Fill your brains with knowledge. NO phones in classrooms and phones must be turned off at lunch. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It's a life skill.
  11. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone electronically that you would not say out loud with your parents in the room. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Censor yourself. 
  12. Remember that texting is for information exchange (like what time to meet where) but talking is for expressing feelings, discussing the pros and cons of where and when to meet and what to do, and handling relationship issues. It can take a long time and result in miscommunication when you try to communicate too much via text. A quick phone call or in-person chat can be much more effective.
  13. Do not text or look at your phone while you are with someone else in person. If you need to quickly text a parent to let them know where to pick you up or something like that, wait for a natural break in the conversation, excuse yourself, and quickly take care of the text. It is rude to text someone while talking to someone else. The person you're with in person should take presidence over others. The people you're not with who are trying to contact you via text or phone can wait until you're at a good stopping point in a conversation.
  14. These devices are not to be used while you have friends over. If you are with friends, you’re not sitting and staring at a screen together. An occasional interactive game is fine, but just watching people play on a computer isn’t how you interact with friends. The same rules apply when at a friend’s house. If we feel that there is too much time in front of screens happening at a friend's house and you don't feel comfortable suggesting alternative activities at that friend's house, we will likely want to have that friend come to our house instead of you going to that friend's house.
  15. At this point in the game, we reserve the right to be the only ones to give you permission to get any new apps, and programs. Please let us know if you want something new and why - even when it's a totally free app. We love to discuss these things with you and we mostly trust your judgement.
  16. No pornography or anything that gives you that sort of creepy feeling that comes from looking at something that doesn't see totally right to be looking at. Be sure you're only looking at information on the Internet that you'd honestly feel totally comfortable looking at if we were sitting beside you. Chances are great that at some point, you'll wind up seeing something inappropriate on the Internet. When that happens, close the window right away and come talk to us about it. If you have a question about anything, ask us...we know more than you think we do:)
  17. Do not take seductive or inappropriate pictures of yourself or anyone else - ever. Remember first and foremost that in our family we seek after goodness and want to shine our light to others. Remember also that cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. Be careful what you put there. It is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear--including a bad reputation and hurt feelings.
  18. If a technological device falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money. It very well may happen, you should be prepared.
  19. Turn off technology and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO (fear of missing out).
  20. In addition to the music you love, download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons. And share your favorite music with us!
  21. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then - there are great options on your phone and it's great to use your phone to exercise your brain. Be sure you're also playing board games and non-technology-based games with lots of human interaction.
  22. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Look out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to people face to face. Wonder without googling.
  23. At dinner time, Family Home Evening, and other family time, there’s no looking at screens.  
  24. Most importantly, remember that your spirit is the most important thing you have. Don’t let technology cramp your wonderful spirit. Don’t ever let your phone or technology seep into your relationship with your Heavenly Father. The noise of technology is quick to make us all think looking at a screen is more important than talking, especially to Heavenly Father. Make a practice to read your scriptures before you check texts or Facebook in the morning. Pray first as well.
  25. You will mess up. We’ll probably have to take away your technology rights at times. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We are always learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.

It is our hope that you can agree to these terms. Most of the lessons listed here do not just apply only to phones, computers, or gadgets, but to life in general. You are growing up in a fast and ever changing world. It is exciting and enticing. Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine.

We love you forever.

Mom and Dad

P.S. I did a Power of Moms Radio episode with Ashton and Isaac where we talked about this contract and technology in general - you can click here to listen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sisters and Mom Getaway

My sister Charity captured the wonderful get-away we had last weekend so well that there seemed to be no reason to write my own version. So here's a re-post from Charity's blog (thanks, Char!). Most of the photos are ones I took but the words are all courtesy of Charity.

Eyre girls... and adore coming from four different states for a weekend together. 

...can throw down and eat about their body weight in deliciousness at a nice hotel breakfast buffet....can engage in active, excited, deep conversation for hours by a pool, in a hotel lobby, you name it....tend to go against the grain and appreciate challenges in many things, like walking/swimming against the current in a resort "lazy river"....are nature freaks that can't get over beautiful vistas, unique vegetations, or especially vibrant sunsets.

...absolutely relish delicious food, and usually end up talking about how good the food is for half of any meal conversation.
...lose their phones and keys multiple times a day. each other and talk each other through any brand of heartache.

...worship together and study god's will and god's love together, seeking to support each other in questions, doubts, and understanding. and adore daughters and nieces and want to instill in these precious girls' hearts a strong belief in the power of womanhood. 

...are night owls that stay up late talking, laughing, and eating cookie dough from the mixer. 

...tear up when touched by art or words or music that is miraculous and/or gorgeous and rings with truth and beauty, like this quote:
when god wants an important thing done in this world or a wrong righted, he goes about it in a very singular way. he doesn't release thunderbolts or stir up earthquakes. god simply has a tiny baby born, perhaps of a very humble home, perhaps of a very humble mother. and god puts the idea or purpose into the mother's heart. and she puts it in the baby's mind, and then-god waits. the great events of this world are not battles and elections and earthquakes and thunderbolts. the great events are babies, for each child comes with the message that god is not yet discouraged with humanity but is still expecting good-will to become incarnate in each human life. {edmond mcdonald}

...feel tremendously blessed and privileged and grateful in so, so many ways, and especially to have each other.

And here's Saydi's take on the weekend - she included some great stuff that isn't in Charity's post.

Saydi's post on our getaway

Monday, February 09, 2015

Update and Valentine's Ideas

Have you missed me? I've been keeping up really well on Instagram if you want to follow me there. My username is sarenloosli (clever, huh?). When it comes to recording all the little things - fun stuff the kids are doing, regular bits of my life that I want to remember, beauty that makes my heart happy, Instagram is just such a nice, immediate, easy way to do it. When I want to record my thoughts and feelings about things, this blog is the place to do it (as long as those thought and feelings aren't too personal to me or others they might involve - that stuff gets written down elsewhere as I process it...).

But I did want to share this post I updated from a couple years back - it contains a collection of really great ideas for simple and fun family activities and I think you'll like it:

7 Family Activities to Fill February with Love

Here's a collage of the latest stuff around here:

Click here to see explanations in the captions and a lot more photos.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Jared's big 4 - 0

Look at that cute kid on the right. That's Jared.

Jared turned 40 on New Year's Eve.

I wanted to make his birthday really special and thought through lots of different scenarios - A surprise party with lots of dear friends gathered from near and far including all his favorite games and treats? A lovely dinner party with just close friends? A get-away for just the two of us?

But New Year's Eve didn't turn out to be a good time for a party. Pretty much everyone I contacted already had New Year's plans and it would have been pretty darn difficult to get someone to watch the kids overnight if we were to try to do a get-away.

And in thinking about what Jared really loves, I realized he might really enjoy a special day with mostly just our family given that we've been with so much extended family and that Jared is away so many evenings with Bishop stuff.

So the kids and I planned out a fun day (at least for the parts of the day when he didn't have to work).

We made him a special breakfast (eggs benedict), gave him a few little gifts, and took him to lunch:

Then we gave him our big gift - a certificate for a new(er) car (just a homemade certificate with a pile of printed-out descriptions of possible cars from this used car place where we got our van - it has really good deals on low-mileage 2-3 year-old cars in great condition.

He's nursed along his 1997 Mountaineer (basically a Ford Explorer) for long enough. For about five years now, he's always been fixing something on that thing - or just living with the things that proved too hard or expensive to fix (the heat and A/C only came out of the defrost, making for some freezing toes in the winter and only slightly air conditioned heat in the summer, the driver's seat had mostly detatched itself from the floor and had something sticking up out of it that had ripped holes in most of Jared's pants, the back doors could only be opened from the outside since something went weird with the child locks, the radiator leaked, the engine made dubious it's a gas guzzler). And he has a 45 minute commute each way for work every day. So having a comfortable, fuel-efficent car just makes sense.

He's talked about different car options for a long time now (every time something new would go wrong with the Mountaineer) but he kept saying he could fix it and it would still serve him just fine. I couldn't tell whether he was emotionally attached (I think that's part of it even though he won't admit it) or whether he was just being his regular very unselfish self and sacrificing his driving comfort so we'd have money for other things (this was probably the main reason). But I figured that this big 4-0 birthday would be the perfect time to take action.

We planned to go do some test driving in the next couple days (we'd hoped to do it right on his birthday but the weather and timing didn't work out - we found too late that they were closing early for New Year's Eve and it was just above 0 degrees - not great weather for fun family car shopping). So we went car shopping a couple days later. As always, everything was more complicated than hoped, but he ended up with a much more comfortable, fuel-efficient car that he loves.

Ashton made him a great video full of fun old photos - I'll post it here when I get a chance.

The kids and I also gave him a fun table-top ping pong set that was an immediate hit.

I told him he'd need to take a little break from ping pong so that I could take him out to dinner and he was very pleasantly surprised to find some of our best friends there at the restaurant (they live in CA so he wasn't expecting that at all!). Plus they brought him his favorite dessert ever - pecan pie from Maddox (I'd tried in vain to get it myself, happy to drive the 30 mintues there to get it - but they said I hadn't ordered far enough in advance and were out of pies for that day - I was trying to pick it up the day before - and on the actual birthday, I thought we'd be car shopping in SLC so I wouldn't be able to drive up there and pick it up - but our friends were staying with relatives near Maddox so they were able to pick it up for us - perfect!). We had such a fun dinner and then headed home for pie and ice cream and games with our friends for a while then just with the kids when they had to head out to be with their own kids.

We played game after game until it was quite suddenly almost time to watch the ball drop. Then we brought in the new year with sparkling cidar and toasts and kisses.

I think Jared had a good day. He sure deserves it. And we were able to do a follow-up birthday celebration with one of his best friends from MIT and his family a couple weeks later - a whole day of hanging out and catching up with a great family we haven't seen in WAY too long.

Anyway, here's my birthday list of favorite things about this wonderful husband of mine - I was going to do a top 10 list but I just sort of kept going and before long, I had 40 - one for each year of this wonderful man's life.

1. He can build just about anything - and has a great time involving the kids and helping them learn and have fun with building projects. He's built a new back fence, a super-cool hill and tunnel and whole backyard, a pergola, our falling-apart front porch, shelves in many areas our our house, lots of furniture that came un-assembled, tons of Pinewood Derby cars, and so much more.

2. He can fix just about anything - he's fixed that Mountaineer countless times, the dishwasher, the furnace, the garbage disposal (lots of times), the stopped-up toilets (he's awfully good with a plunger). He's installed new outlets and lightswitches. He's stopped up the drafty gaps all over this old drafty house. And he's constantly fixing things on the Power of Moms website and helping me with all my computer and phone difficulties. Whenever there's something to be fixed, he's the man for the job.

3. He's the most selflessly helpful person I've ever met. He's always willing to help move someone's furniture or talk through a hard issue someone is going through or give a blessing even when he's got 100 things on his own plate and is super tired. And he does it in a way that makes people feel like he really enjoys helping them - because he does.

4. He is a great listener. He's always willing to listen to my problems and ideas and those of others.

5. He's got the best eyes. Hazel/brown with flecks of gold. I love seeing them full of concern as we talk about someone in the ward and seeing them well up with tears on rare occasions (that have become just a bit less rare over the years) when the kids do something really great or when there's a beautiful spiritual moment.

6. He is a great leader. I've loved seeing him lead our congregation at church with so much love and care this past year. I love how he gives people the information they need, sets them apart, then really trusts them to do a great job and come to him when they need help. He never micro-manages. He

7. He's so great with little kids, always making them feel special. I love seeing how he looks right at little kids and pays attention to them. They can feel his goodness and that he likes them. A couple tiny little kids at church want to sit with him more than their parents and it's pretty cute - especially when they go up on the stand where he's sitting as Bishop to sit on his lap.

8. He is probably the most un-moody person imaginable - but still accepts and weathers my emotional storms without judging me.

9. He's always up for adventure - and helping make adventures work.

10. He sees things in a beautifully simple and straight-forward way and doesn't waste time over-analyzing things.

11. He so good at helping the kids with their math homework - explains things so patiently.

12. He has a great laugh - almost a giggle sometimes - the kids love tickling him until he's laughing like a little girl.

13. He's a great teacher - he's taught the kids about so many things - from rock climbing to skiing to fixing things around the house to shoveling walks to being king and helpful to others. He's great at helping with homework and teaching the kids computer programming.

14. He's amazingly strong - he can lift an amazing amount of weight and can push himself well beyond what seems reasonable when it comes to running or biking.

15. He rolls with whatever comes without letting himself be stressed out at all.

16. He's got a strong stong body. He can lift just about anything. He can make himself run a marathon with very little training. He can mountain bike up and down crazy hard stuff.

17. He's got a strong mind. He can will himself to do things that others would shrink at. He gets himself right up in the morning (something I seriously need to work on). He can force himself to keep going and do what needs to be done when he's tired or sick. He doesn't shy away from challenges or hard things - he hits them head on with amazing stamina and fortitude.

18. He's got a strong spirit. He knows what he believes and has a firm and unshakeable testimony.

19. He's terribly handsome.

20. He's always willing to listen to me.

21.He's always totally respected anything that is important to me.

22. He's really good at Reverse Charades - he can act out anything with the best facial expressions and his team always wins. Plus he gets everyone laughing to tears.

23. He uses his hands a lot when he talks - very animated and sort of Italian-like. I love that.

24. He loves sports and shows full of action - but he also really involves "artsy" films and is happy to watch Downton Abbey with me as well as all the other British costume drama movies I tend to favor.

25. He appreciates art and classical music and ballet - he's always happy to go to cultural events and really enjoys them.

26. He's taught me to let out kids take reasonable physical risks - so they're some of the most kinesthetically aware and physically confident kids ever.

27. He is so patient and kind to everyone - even people who are being pretty crazy and rude and demanding and unappreciative when it comes to his office as a Bishop.

28. He's always able to fix all my technological difficuluties with my phone and computer and other things. Sometimes he'll just sit down to look at a problem I'm having on my computer and it'll magically stop doing whatever weird thing it was doing. It's like the computer respects him and is a little scared of him.

29. He makes great breakfasts - great homemade waffles and pancakes, amazing eggs with sauteed onions and tomatoes and cheese.

30. He really appreciates everything I cook and is always complimentary. He's not picky at all and is always complimentary of my cooking.

31. He never complains about anything - seriously. It's amazing.

32. He is such a helpful, loyal and kind son. He's always happy to help his mom with anything and plans to do some fixing and helping around her house whenever we visit her.

33. He's such a great brother. He'll do anything for any of his siblings - or mine - and just loves being with them.

34. He sets high standards for the kids and they know he means business. But they also know he loves them dearly and would do anything for them.

35. He is so great about reading scriptures with the kids before breakfast every day. I love listening to him explain things as I make breakfast and pipe up with my own comment once in a while. I love that they have that special time with their dad every day.

36. He drives Ashton to early morning seminary every day. Oh, how grateful I am that I don't have to do that!

37. He's thoroughly supported and helped with everything I do with Power of Moms. He built the website for us, watched the kids so I could go do Retreats, fixed everything that goes wrong with the website and helped us figure out what we can do to constantly improve our website's functionality.

38. He doesn't speak ill of others.

39. He has a remarkable ability to be both compassionate and tough at the same time. He totally listens with love as people tell him about their financial woes in his role as Bishop - but shows them that they can help themselves rather than just handing them things. He acknowledges the hardness of things that I'm going through or that the kids are dealing with - but helps us see that we can do what needs to be done rather than fixing everything for us.

40. He's so many things I'm not and I love how he completes me so wonderfully well. He's everything I never knew I needed - and I'm eternally grateful for this wonderful man of mine.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Keeping Kids Safe in a Sane Way

Did you see this Nationwide commercial during the Superbowl or in many of the articles that have been written about it?
Yep. Nationwide spent $6.75 million to put this ad smack-dab in the middle of the Super Bowl.
People have compained that the ad was a downer and cast a shadow on the fun they wanted to have watching the Super Bowl. When it came on as I was watching the Super Bowl with my family, it sure did change the feeling in the room.
But here's what really really bothered me about the ad (and I can't stop thinking about it so I'm writing about it here).
Parents already worry plenty about the safety of their children. Nationwide points out that preventable accidents are the #1 cause of death in children.  Isn't every accident ultimately preventable? If we didn't drive anywhere ever, could we get into a car accident? If we didn't walk down the stairs, would we ever fall down the stairs and get hurt? If we didn't eat anything, could we ever get food poisoning? But we all deem that the benefits of driving, walking down stairs and eating vastly outweigh the risks. It scares me that our society seems to be casting aside traditional joys of childhood because they are deemed too risky.  Things that were once viewed as something as normal as driving a car, walking down stairs and eating - like walking to school with your friends or climbing a tree or swinging on swings at the park - are now considered recklessly dangerous to some. So it seems like we're on a track towards bubble-wrapped kids sitting in front of screen in their child-proofed houses, missing out on so many of the joys of childhood that I think are totally worth the relatively small risks involved. 
I think it's so important that we allow our kids to do things that are a bit of a stretch for them so that they can have fun and learn limits. I'm OK with the bumps and bruises and scrapes - and even broken bones - they might get as they do this natural experimentation and stretch their abilities. 
And as far as in-home accidents, they are so very rarely a result of real negligence of a parent or caregiver. Bad things, terrible things, just happen sometimes - even with vigilant and caring people around.
No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot stand over our children every second of their lives and ensure their safety. We can secure bookcases to walls and stay with our children when they're in the bathtub and keep dangerous chemicals and medicines out of their reach and put a gate on the stairs when our crawling babies don't understand the danger and aren't ready to learn to get up and down stairs carefully. But even with every smart and reasonable precaution, bad things can happen. 
Our kids have needed stitches on several occasions from doing things like smacking their head on the floor when slipping on a little spilled water on the floor while dancing around and running into the exercise machine which doesn't even have sharp corners. And Isaac broke his arm when he was two by falling off a low chair onto the carpet at an odd angle. Were these accidents preventable? Sure. Isn't everything preventable if you could somehow think of every possible contingency and hold your child in your lap every moment of every day? Usually accidents happen in ways that we really couldn't have imagined (so there goes thinking of every coningency) and there is no reasonable way to keep our children safely in our arms all the time (they'd go crazy and so would we!).
I know of several very good parents who've had their toddlers somehow find and eat medications or cleaning fluids or stuff from an older child's chemistry set and have had to call poison control, sometimes finding it was OK and not to worry, and sometimes finding they'd better rush the child to the ER to get the stomach pumped. Luckily no serious harm was done. In each of these cases, they generally kept the poisonous substance in a very safe place but some odd thing had happened to make it accessible to the child. They felt horrible about the incident and were all the more vigilent after the accident, I'm sure. But is it really possible to keep every possible dangerous thing tucked away 100% of the time - especially when you have other children around who might not be as vigilent as you'd like? (i.e. the chemistry set).
I know of a mom whose 2-year-old died in the swimming pool in their backyard - while she thought her toddler was taking a nap and she was doing laundry, he snuck out of bed (the baby monitor didn't alert her - he was so quiet ), got out of the back door (which had an alarm that somehow didn't work and with the dryer running, she didn't hear the door open) and through the pool gate (which hadn't latched correctly) and fell through the pool cover (which had just one small tear in it that he happened to fall next to). By the time she realized he wasn't in his bed, it was too late. Could she have prevented this accident? Some would say they shouldn't have had a pool in their backyard. But they lived in a very hot place and that pool had been a source of great joy and exercise for their family for years. Should the tiny chance that a drowning could happen have prevented them from purchasing a home with a pool? The chances of great excercise and family fun seemed to greatly outweigh the risks. 
Bad things happen. But when we take away too many good and positive but potentially risky experiences from our children because of the small chance of something bad happening, we aren't really serving them well. 
I'm all for preventing tragedies if that were indeed possible. We all should be careful and smart about what we have in our homes and the supervision we give our kids. But we should also be careful and smart about not over-protecting our children and preventing them from having important childhood experiences. There's only so much we can do to keep them safe - and if we put keeping them safe ahead of helping them learn and grow, that's a problem. 
I'm OK with the 1% chance that my child might be hurt and the probably .00001% chance my child might be seriously injured or kidnapped or even killed doing something like skiing or walking to their friend's house down the block or climbing a tree because there's like a 99% chance they'll learn and grow and have fun through that experience.  
I thought this writer put it well:
"Today’s most-lamented style of childcare isn’t lax parenting; it’s helicopter parenting. Overparenting is the order of the day: too much fear and not enough risk, too much supervision and not enough independence, too much Purell and not enough germs. We ban swings on playgroundschapstick,sunscreen. We’re socialized to see danger in the most innocuous places...What we don’t really need is a reminder that gut-wrenching accidents happen every day. Everyone already knows that. "
 by Jessica Goldstein on the blog Think Progress

I think life is about more than simply preserving life. It's about learning and growing and having joy - even if that often involves some inherent risk.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Figuring Out How to Enjoy More With Less Guilt

Our Christmas and birthday season is now officially over. After the busyness and beauty of Christmas, most moms get to take a bit of a break as far as their job as the family coordinator of special occasions after they put away the Christmas decorations. But for me, the special occasion planning and execution just keeps on going! Jared's birthday is December 31st, then Ashton's is January 3rd, then the twins' birthday is January 14th. And this year, all four of these birthdays was a big birthday. Jared turned 40 and I wanted to make that extra special. Ashton turned 15 and his birthday was supposed to be sort of low-key with a nice day snowboarding with his dad followed by a simple party with some of his good friends - but he broke his arm while snowboarding and that made the day quite a bit more eventful! And the twins turned 10 which felt like a very big deal to them - double digits and all. Their birthday was on a Wednesday so we celebrated with lots of family stuff and then did their party on Friday evening since weekdays are hard for parties. So their birthday seemed to go on and on. But they were SO excited about it and it all turned out great.

I love all the celebrating. I really do. I love to really make birthdays special and feel like when you've got quite a few sibings, it's extra important to create a real "king (or queen) of the day" type of experience for the birthday person. They have to wait their turn and be patient and eat whatever is served every other day of the year so it's great just one day of the year to pretty much have everything be just the way THEY want it. But that adds up to a LOT of work for me and can feel sort of overwhelming when it comes right after all my big efforts to make Christmas special. I just wish it could all be spread out a bit more! (For a year or two, we tried celebrating 1/2 birthdays for Jared and Ashton since their birthdays are at such a tricky time, but it just didn't work out that way - we ended up needing to celebrate TWICE since they still needed something on their actual birthday...)

This year, right when we got doing with the twins' birthday celebrations, we went into a 4-day weekend which was great but which meant I had to put off some of my holiday/birthday catch-up even further. And then this weekend, we're off to a wedding for a nephew and that'll be another long weekend which I'm really excited about but which will put off catch-up even further.

But you know what? That's just how it is. I've contempted and tried doing things different ways but ultimately, it feels like the right thing to keep making these birthdays really special and to not work very much when the kids are out of school and I want to enjoy extra time with them and to go to this family wedding and enjoy a little family get-away as part of that. I accept the busyness and the overwhelmed moments as part of the life and priorities I have chosen.

I've got lots of blog posts to do to catch up (I really love writing out all my favorite things about each child on this blog for their birthday - makes a great motherhood journal and perhaps one day I'll gather all their birthday posts together into a special book for them - given that I don't scrapbook beyond some half-hearted baby books, I'm thinking this will be a great thing to give them when they head off to college one day).

I've got some exciting new projects for Power of Moms that I've been moving forward every chance I get.

I've got a house that needs to be cleaned and kids that need to be fed and laundry that never stops.

But rather than doing what I've done in the past - pushing my catch-up into afternoons when the kids could use help with homework and support from me on their chores or into time for quality tuck-in's or into the few evenings that Jared and I could spend together - I'm just going to do what I can do during the hours I can reasonably spend while the kids are at school or while we're driving to this wedding this weekend.

I need to be done with holding myself to a way higher standard of productivity than I would ever expect of anyone else and cut myself more slack. I need to spend more time prioritizing and praying about what is most important to do and saying "no" more often - rather than just rolling up my sleves and working super hard on whatever I've committed to (which is usually way too much). I need to commit to less deadline-driven work. I need to prioritize enjoying over getting things done more often. And I need to figure out how to feel less guilty about the "no's" I have to say to put relationships and enjoyment before accomplishment and productivity.

I certainly don't have all the answers. But I know some of what I need to work on. I accept that life will never be particularly simple for me. I've chosen paths that are essentially complicated and busy. I can stay  on the paths that feel right to me without driving myself forward at a break-neck pace anymore. I can put more focus on the paths that matter the most to me (the motherhood and wifehood paths) while still moving foward on the other paths ata slower pace.

So there are my thoughts for today.


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