A few good gems

Welcome to the weekend. Mother's Day is on the horizon, so I'm hoping our female readers have breakfast in bed, lovely flowers, and a lazy afternoon in their near future. Annie and I are freaking out because Mother's Day is one of ONLY two days in the ENTIRE YEAR that LDS missionaries are allowed to call home. Yep, we'll be skyping with our baby girls -- best gift ever. I'm going to go plan my outfit and test my computer's microphone (50 times). You guys enjoy the best o' the Internet:

Everyone in my family loves a Snickers bar. I'm definitely thinking this brownie is sugar-worthy.

Read this moving essay about how a son learns to love his father. (Tissues may be required.)

Have you read Rob Lowe's account of dropping his son off at college? First off, Rob Lowe (whom I've loved through The West Wing and Brothers and Sisters) can write. Dang Rob. I think he hits the nail square on the head when he describes his wife setting up the dorm room: "Sheryl’s immaculate and detailed reno­vation is an OCD and maternal-love-fueled epic poem of logistics and labor."  Also, when his son worries that his fellow students don't "look" scared, Rob wisely quips, “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” And one final note: How could you NOT be a sensation on campus WITH ROB LOWE WALKING YOU AROUND????

Kelly Corrigan cheers on mothers.

I've never really been on board with the outrage over the every-child-gets-a-trophy practice. Even when my kids get a 'participation' medal, they know the real score. This article in The New York Times says there is no evidence to support the idea that miserable experiences prepare kids for this miserable world.  Here's a taste for you: "Children ought never to receive something desirable -- a sum of money, a trophy, a commendation -- unless they've done enough to merit it. They shouldn't even be allowed to feel good about themselves without being able to point to tangible accomplishments."

I applaud this collection of homemade Mother's Day gifts. I do wonder, however, if any dads read these types of blogs.

I love house plants, but I do have an exceptional ability to kill them. Here's a great (and beautiful) guide for placement and watering.

That's it my friends. I'm heading towards the weekend. See you on the flip side!


The jedi mind tricks of raising teenagers

You've probably noticed that I'm practically a card carrying member of the life-with-teens-can-be-awesome club. We hope the blog kind of gives that overall vibe. Teens tend to get a bad rap and an exaggerated reputation for chaos and disobedience; we really wanted to counter that prevailing image here.

Still. That's not to say it's all sunshine and daisies or to deny that it's tough sometimes. Into every family a little conflict must fall. Arguments. Door slamming. Power struggles. Truthiness. Etcetera. We've all been there, stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it, as the Irish bard poet Bono likes to sing. Sadly, there's no magic wand to suddenly bring kids in line. As the purported adult in the situation, it's more up to the getting myself together side of things; I've gradually realized that I really only have control over my own response in these situations. So along the way I've collected a few jedi mind tricks to play on my own mindset in order to ease the moment and turn the compassion dial up a bit:

  1. Time travel forward to the week before they're leaving home. Instant perspective for the irritations of today, I'm telling you. Whatever's happening in this moment--difficult and irritating as it is, won't really matter then. (Or at least it will remind you there IS an end in sight in the middle of those double-strength tough moments.)  
  2. Time travel further forward to when you're watching them parent your grandkids. What do you want your teen to learn about parenting from this moment? What would you want him to say/do to those practically-perfect in-every-way future grandkids of yours in this situation?
  3. Time travel back to when your teen was 2, 3, 7, etc. and remember every age has its version of tantrums and developmental challenges. Teens just have their own tantrum language (which may or may not resemble the way they were when they were two). Look at your teen with the same kind of compassion you'd give a two-year-old in meltdown mode--or even better, an overstimulated infant. Aw, poor kid. She doesn't have the wherewithal to cope with everything that's being thrown her way right now. You may not have to swaddle her, pat her back and walk the floorboards for hours to support her in her misery but underneath the attitude or the misbehavior I guarantee you she still needs your support. 
  4. Time travel further back to when you were their age. Every once in a while G will tell me some story about when he was a teenager. He's a wise, kind, even-keeled, loving guy so when he describes the rushes of sheer anger and rage that used to flood him in the teen years as the testosterone kicked in--I'm pretty amazed at the power of puberty. Then I remember the dramas and emotions and friend sagas I experienced but didn't always talk about to my family and I recall that a slammed door sometimes has nothing to do with family or respect and everything to do with the uncomfortable proximity of hormones and a rotten day. Think about your own teen years. What was your world like, socially and emotionally? How much did your parents know about what was going on below the surface? How clueless were you to the goings on in the family? I was so clueless, I couldn't be bothered to admire and marvel at the Grand Canyon. Exhibit A:

And this one, sullen and impatient on a fun family trip (as well as many undocumented moments I cringe to remember but try to use here with trick number 4):

5. Adjust your expectations or reframe your role. I heard a talk on teen brain development once. The presenter, a developmental neurologist, gave a lot of technical explanations about brain maturity and frontal lobes and executive function, ending with the conclusion that the brain doesn't reach maturity until much later than you'd expect--more like mid20s than early teens--and the frontal lobe is especially slow, which is the part with all the planning, motivation, ability to choose right and wrong and anticipate consequences. One mom in the audience had a lightbulb moment. Her hand shot up and she said "OHHHHH! So I am my teen's frontal lobe during these years!" Yes. Exactly. They might look like adults and talk like adults but they still need parents helping to give feedback and support while they're waiting for their adult brains to kick in fully. And somehow that biological explanation helps add a measure of compassion now and then.

What about you? What mind tricks work to give you a little compassion and perspective in those horn-locking moments? 

Occupying small street

We said goodbye this morning to our French exchange student who stayed with us this week. It's an interesting experience having a stranger stay with your family around the clock and jump right into your routines with you. It made me look at our habits and our home in a completely different light. (Are our packed lunches up to par? Should we have more structured activities going on? Are we boring? Too busy?) Sure, we have guests and friends here quite often in short bursts but when someone stays with you for a week--and sees you in your pajamas, in your hurry-up impatient times, in your feeling-too-sleepy-to-get-up-and-make-breakfast times--that's another level of acquaintance and sudden closeness! As I told Sarah mid-week, it's tough to keep the shiny facade in tact for that long, haha! Margaux was terrific, though--smart, funny, easy-going--and a lovely guest who spoke English really well. Her visit was a great preview and example for Sam, who is excited to head to France on a school trip for the month of April, including two home stays--one in Lyon and one in Carcassonne. 

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Over the weekend we went to Enlighten, where Canberra illuminates some of the public buildings and museums with artistic light shows.

Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House

Then we happened upon a really cool project in the Museum of Democracy in the Old Parliament House. They had collected hundreds of toy figurines and invited everyone to choose a figurine, make a mini protest sign out of broken toothpicks and small cardboard squares for the toy to hold (either something you believe in or something the toy might advocate for) and add it to the masses assembled in the "Occupy Small Street" there in the hall (sorry for the grainy phone photos!). 

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Some were silly, some were funny, some were serious. Sam chose to speak out on a crucial issue facing the world today:

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It was a fascinating exhibit. I thought I'd mention it here because I think it's an activity that would appeal to most big kids and teens, since identity development in the teen years includes a very typical fascination with advocacy for causes. They are developmentally right in the process of piecing together what they believe in, what to stand up for, what advocacy means. I think this could work as an art installation, classroom or school or even city-wide project. I can also imagine the appeal of using this as an activity at home--a sort of animated version of a suggestion jar!

Okay, so what would your protest/advocacy sign say?  Mine was a little playmobil guy holding a sign that said "Educate me!" but later I thought of several other slightly more witty things I wished I had said.
Story of my life!

Talking your kids down from the research paper ledge

It happens at least a few times a year for most older students. A research paper.  A big project. Some assignment where they need to reach into their brains, pull out a cohesive argument and supporting points, and commit it all to paper. 

Oh, if only it were that simple, right? I remember a passage in Anne Lamott's excellent book about writing (and life), Bird by BirdIt's the experience that gave the book its name:

"...thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

The Little Table by Alberto Morrocco

The Little Table by Alberto Morrocco

Her point in the book is that writing is a little by little, incremental proposition, which is painfully true. My purpose for quoting it here is this: often we the parents are the ones who talk our kids down from the writing ledge when they're at home, stuck in the process and banging their heads on the table. As my kids have gotten older their need for this kind of pep talk has gotten less frequent but now and then I still feel like I need to put on my coach hat and give some moral support. At this stage this has meant less "bird by bird, buddy" and more being a sounding board armed with some good questions to help them get unstuck. 

Recently someone recommended a book--Engaging Ideas, by John C. Bean--intended to help professors coach their students in deepening their thinking and writing. It's given me a lot to think about not just professionally but also at home. I think his tips are equally terrific as helps for parents in supporting their kids' writing without interfering with the writing itself. For example:

If ideas are thin:

- Encourage your writer to make an idea map and brainstorm for more ideas
- Play devil's advocate and help the writer deepen and complicate the ideas
- Encourage the writer to add more examples, better details, more supporting data or arguments

If you get lost in the paper's thoughts or organization :

- Ask the writer to talk through the ideas to clear up confusing spots
- Help the writer sharpen the thesis by seeing it as his (the writer's) answer to a tough question; get the student to articulate the question that the thesis answers
- Make an outline or, even better, a tree diagram together to help with organization
- Help the writer clarify the focus by asking him to complete these starter phrases:
  "My purpose in writing this paper is..."
  "Before reading my paper, my readers will think this way about my topic: __________;      
  but after reading my paper, my readers will think this different way about my  
- Show the writer where you get confused ("I started to get lost here..." "I thought you were going to say x but you said y here...")
- Show the student how to write transitions between major sections and between paragraphs

If it's hard to see the point:

- Nudge the writer to articulate meaning by asking "so what" questions: "I understand what you're saying but don't quite understand why you're saying it." "What do these facts have to do with your thesis?" (adapted from p. 307)

. . .

Do you have any tips or experiences to share about kids and writing and homework? Recently I said all the wrong things, accidentally stressed more than helped (which sent me on the search through this book for help) and had to ask for a do-over. 

On a related note, last year I wrote this post on figuring out the right amount of help with homework by asking what do you want? what don't you want?

Daring to (let your kids) fail

Dare to Fail print  by Lisa Mann Dirkes

Dare to Fail print by Lisa Mann Dirkes

There is a well-worn chapter in a book I love. The book automatically flips open to it, proof of the many times I have returned there for a pep talk. It's the chapter "The Blessing of Problems to Solve," from Wendy Mogel's fantastic parenting tome--drawn from both parenting research and Jewish traditional teachings--called The Blessing of a B Minus. I don't happen to be Jewish but that detail doesn't really matter here; the wisdom in the book transcends religious affiliation and speaks to the heart of parenting teens (and if you were a very early Nest & Launch reader, you might remember I also reviewed the book here).

A while back someone wrote in to us with a question about what to do when your child fails or is going through a rough patch: "I have awesome kids, but even so, sometimes they fail at something. It is bad enough when MY best isn't good enough, but I can hardly take it when their best isn't good enough for something they really want to do."  I've started to draft several responses but then I realized that this chapter nails it and applies really well to the reader's question about how we as parents can respond to our children's problems and failures.  Here are a few highlights:

"If we want to raise young adults who know how to solve problems, we must let them have problems to solve while they are still adolescents. Yet it's harder and harder to find parents willing to expose their children to difficulty. More often, parents keep their teens busy in adult-supervised activities so there is no time for trouble, or rush in to solve problems instead of leaving the solution in their teens' shaky hands...

"How to strike the right balance between appropriate guidance and restraint? The story of the Israelites' trip out of slavery in Egypt offers some clues.

"The book of Exodus describes the quality of God's presence during the Israelites' travels as a 'pillar of cloud by day...and a pillar of fire by night.' This beautiful image is a model for parents whose children are wandering in the wilderness of adolescence. Like God, you stand by, providing shade and light when needed, but mostly you stand back...you give him the freedom to make mistakes, even big ones.

I love that image of parenting--cloud and fire, shade and light. Mogel gives the following strategies for parents when their kids are faced with problems or failure (and each are described further in the book):

- Give them good suffering
- Wait it out
- Be empathic, not entangled
- Normalize setbacks
- Encourage them to enlist the aid of other adults
- Demonstrate confidence in your teen's problem-solving skills
- Distinguish dramas from emergencies
- When they create their own problems, let them experience the consequences
- Be a counselor, not a servant

"Our challenge as parents is to foster a loving attachment to teenagers' large spirits and ragged souls but stand slightly apart from their daily theatrics...the rhythms of parent-teen relationships change every day, which means you will succeed today and screw up tomorrow.

"Expect to be confused. Expect your sleep to be disturbed...Remind yourself, daily if you have to, that we serve our teens best not as active protectors or problem solvers but as tender, compassionate, composed listeners..." 

Okay, friends, we're going to be trying out a MWF posting schedule for the next while so Sarah and I can each make a dent in our academic writing loads. In the meantime, we'll continue to share good finds and links on our Facebook page throughout the week.  You can follow us by liking our page there. Okay, over and out.

Tap, tap . . . is this thing even on?

Photo not related to post -- just still dreaming about our snowy holiday.

Photo not related to post -- just still dreaming about our snowy holiday.

First off . . . Happy 2014! I've got lots of hopes and intentions (that seems to be the new catch-word for 'goals') for the new year. I wouldn't go so far as to say there will be a new me in the new year, but I definitely am aware that there is room for improvement. So get ready for some really annoying posts about being healthy and choosing new drapery material for my living room and how I'm learning to discipline my work habits. Actually, maybe someone else should write about how to discipline my work habits. Anyone? Anyone?

Secondly, neither Annie nor I planned to effectively disappear from Nest & Launch. Seemingly, we had our editorial calendar well in place just before Christmas. But then Christmas happened, and Annie traveled across the entire world, and I traveled three hours away (by plane), and then it just all went kerfluffle. Or something like that. Here's the great thing about being your own boss -- you can give yourself time off! 

While we get all of our figurative ducks in a row, here are a few good gems to express our appreciation for your patience in this our time of hedonistic laziness. (Of course, I'm only speaking for myself there.)

  • Check out this article on consumerism, gratitude, and kids in the WSJ
  • Or this article, that thinks that American parents are missing the proverbial boat. Could be.
  • I made PW's newly-posted hamburger soup this week. It was a big hit on a chilly day. Get this -- I even left out the potatoes, cuz, you know, I'm being healthy and all.
  • I'm generally of a mind that the movie is NEVER as good as the book. But this list intrigues me.
  • It's never too early to move on to the next holiday. Minion valentines!
  • The Internet is a-buzz with calls to disconnect from technology (which is ironic, considering folks are using TECHNOLOGY to tell us we are ruining our lives with TECHNOLOGY). Check out this cool new gadget that promises to keep the phone out of your hand.

We plan to resume regular posting on Monday. See you then!


Brace yourself, son. Twice.

Today I'm going to tell you the heartbreaking saga of two sets of braces and one boy--a story of betrayal, triumph, disappointment, and hope five years in the making.

First, let me take you back to 17 December 2008. Let's see...Obama had just been elected in November. A journalist had just thrown his shoe at President Bush at a press conference in Baghdad days before, remember that? Congress was considering a bailout of the auto industry in Detroit and Bernie Madoff had just been arrested.  Here's where we find our boy Sam, age 10, enjoying life without a care. And here's what I recorded for the purposes of Sam's future therapy:

17 December 2008
Today was not one of my finest mothering moments. Sam had an orthodontist appointment, a follow-up to his getting spacers last week. We knew braces were in the future eventually and that there were a series of appointments leading up to it. The office said something, in passing, about bands and a headgear (remember headgears? I can't believe we haven't progressed orthodontically enough to come up with a better solution than those torture devices). I was a bit fuzzy about the details--and, honestly, so was the orthodontist staff--but told Sam I thought he was getting bands around his back teeth where the headgear would be attached. I reassured him that he was definitely NOT getting braces that day.

He came out of the appointment just under an hour later with a betrayed look in his eyes. He opened his mouth and showed me the source of his displeasure: braces! What?! Somehow I had missed the idea that he would have brackets across his top teeth. Worse, I hadn't prepared Sam AT ALL for the possibility. He managed to make it through the little braces indoctrination session with the dental assistant (what not to eat, how to brush, the scared-straight pictures of gross mouths who didn't take the hygiene advice) but the minute his feet hit the blacktop of the parking lot, the tears came.

Have you ever heard of a worse surprise? Ever? What a spacey Mom. Oy.

So, of course, he took the rest of the day off from school. To go to lunch. To choose books at the library. To look in the mirror and adjust to a mouth of silver.

Personally, I think he rocks the braces and looks very handsome. And after a bit of talking through it, he's on board for the whole braces thing.



This is one of those sagas that was not expected to have a sequel. One and done was our motto. Sure, the early braces concept was never a guarantee but the hope was that they would make room for his future teeth, which would then slip cooperatively into place. Well, apparently someone forgot to tell his rebellious pearly whites that plan! And so today, five years later, we have the next episode we're calling Braces 2: The Return of the Silver Smile. This time around we knew exactly what we were getting into and I didn't make any false guesses.  The staff here were very clear and even used the actual word braces in the appointments leading up to B day.  It didn't mean he was excited about them but he's been a good sport. 

And, yes, he took the rest of the day off of school, got a new book and chose his selection of braces-friendly treats. Mini tradition alert! 



My mom always recited this poem, just as her parents had before her, on the first day of braces for each of us. So here's the traditional first-day-of-braces poem, now on its third generation:

Children with braces
Should wear happy faces
Because it is easy to see
That sooner or later
When their teeth are straighter
What good-looking people they'll be!

(Yeah, it didn't make me feel better when I got braces and it probably didn't help Sam much--since he already IS good looking and all--but it's part of the circle of life, that poem. The tradition continues.)

Did you have braces? Did/do your kids?  Or--help a gal out--what's your best flaky-mother-of-the-year story?