Here's an idea that kind of rocked my world. A few weeks ago, my friend Bridget posted this on Facebook:

Isn't that brilliant?! It feels satisfyingly rebellious to wrest technology into using it the way WE want to use it. When I asked her more about it, she said it's been working really well--keeping up on details, sharing celebrations, revealing daily worries and joys--basically using the technology to help feel closer as a family. She said, "I figure that's what social media should really be for anyway--keeping in touch with those you truly, deeply care about. And who more important than family ties?"

So now I'm curious. Here we are on the other side of the world from extended family and I'd love to minimize the distance and be better at being a part of each other's lives in real ways. (This is why I started blogging in the first place, to provide distant family with a portal into each other's worlds.) What other creative/rogue/connecting ideas am I missing out on? Do you use social media to keep in touch with family? How do you connect across the miles and generations?

"How fascinating!"

Or: Jedi mind tricks of raising teens, part 2

Years ago my mom gave me the book How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael Gelb. A lot of what he had to say about creativity, curiosity, whole-brain thinking and getting comfortable with ambiguity really clicked but one of the clearest take-aways for me was his encouragement to treat any failure or departure from the expected with curiosity. He recommended greeting these experiences (epic or otherwise) with the attitude and phrase "How fascinating!".*

Ten years later G attended a professional conference/retreat where Gelb was the keynote. As part of his presentation Gelb has everyone get up and begin to learn to juggle. G brought home his newly hatched juggling skills and sometimes could be heard muttering, in the middle of a torrential rainstorm of juggling balls, "How fascinating!" We've adopted it as a part-sarcastic, part-sincere (sometimes almost semi-expletive) phrase when things don't go as planned. But the sentiment, especially in matters related to family life, is actually pretty helpful.  Since writing about the Jedi mind tricks of raising teens, I've been on the lookout for other candidates. I think "how fascinating!" may come in handy. 

Think of it as playing curious anthropologist in investigating the native habits, rituals, and behavior of the modern teenager. We're on a quest of curiosity, assigned to gather information and understand this foreign culture. Perpetual socks on the floor? How fascinating! Never turned in the homework for that biology class? How very fascinating! I'll just go file that away in the teen ethnography in my head.

Okay, clearly this doesn't actually address the socks on the floor/missing homework dilemmas. The beauty of this tactic is that it's not about solving but understanding. Sure, it's probably just a rest stop on the way to problem solving but there are moments in this gig when a little detachment--a little scientific objectivity-- is a life saver. 

*Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander use the exact same phrase in a chapter of their wonderful book The Art of Possibility. I'm not sure who captured it first so I'll give them each a shout out here. (But I read it first in Gelb.)

Coming home

At the airport.

At the airport.

My girls have now established a tradition of botched plane rides home from college. I won't bore you with the lengthy list of airline mishaps, but let me just say Maddie arrived home a full day later than her ticket indicated and THIS IS PAR FOR THE COURSE. But we gathered her up from the airport Sunday after church and brought her home for a full day of naps and lemon squares.

I can see that my interaction with my grown kids is becoming a series of arrivals and departures. I'm not so much a part of their everyday lives, but I do get to be there for the special stuff -- the holidays, the big occasions, and the vacations. More than anything, I want my kids to feel special when they are home -- to know that we value having them with us and that we are interested in what they are doing and who they are becoming.

I did a cursory search of the Interwebs to find out what the more experienced parent knows about welcoming adult children home, and there are a number of articles like this:  "7 Great Tips For When Your College Kid Comes Home For The Holidays," which tells you to have lots of good food in the house and give them some space. There are also a number of articles that talk about how to navigate rules and expectations with kids who have had an entire year of relative independence -- like this one

Admittedly, I don't have oodles of experience with this adult-kid-at-home phenomenon, but here's what has worked so far.

  • Curfew: My college kids seem fairly nocturnal -- staying up into the wee hours of the morning and then either sleeping late or napping during the day. Unfortunately, our home is pretty much in bed by 10:30 on weeknights, and I'm way too uptight to sleep while they are roaming the streets. While home we pretty much keep our college girls to the midnight curfew initially instituted for our high schoolers. If they are planning to be out later, they arrange things ahead of time. They understand that it's as much for my sanity (and sleep) as anything else. (I'll also say here that our kids have been home for such short periods of time, that up to this point the curfew hasn't been much of an issue.)
  • Chores: I'm not super proud of this, but we don't require too much in the way of chores on a regular basis. Everyone has a dish day. Everyone does their own laundry and keeps their own things picked up. We all chip in if there is a big job to do. The college kids are definitely scheduled back into the dish rotation. (There may even be some college-educated weed-pulling soon.)
  • Lunch: When Jordan was home last summer, she and I had a great time going out to lunch together (just about every day). Often she visited with her friends in the evenings, so this arrangement made everyone happy. Madison asked me last week if we'd be going out to lunch while she was home. Here's the downside: I gained a full five pounds in the six weeks Jordan was home last summer!
  • Preparation: I stocked Madison's bathroom with all new supplies -- shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand soap, razors, tissues . . . and some fluffy towels. I made sure her bed had clean sheets and that her room was tidy. It wasn't a big deal, but I did want her to feel like her space was ready for her (instead of stale and crusty since it had last been used in December). 

I'd love to add to this list. Any seasoned college parents out there? Or what do you remember from your own college days?


Today's guest post is brought to you courtesy of my sister, Jennifer. She's a single mom just entering the big kid years (her kiddos are 13 and 11). As my younger sister I love to boss her around and tell her just how to do things. The thing about Jennifer is that she is very disobedient to my bossing, always insisting on her own unique way and perspective. Typically, her "unique way" is hang-loose and hilarious. So I keep bossing, she keeps ignoring, and we both keep laughing. In the spirit of honoring all different kinds of big kid parenting, I find her single  mom experience a particular gem. Enjoy.

This week, Spring Break, with my kids off to their Dad’s house, I jumped into the car with my sister Sarah and two of her four children for an epic road trip from Texas to Utah.  There have been so many moments during the trip when I see my sister in the act of everyday parenting that remind me of my children and the moments I am missing, but there are equally as many moments of hilarious laughter and fun memories.

Deciding to end a marriage is understandably one of the most difficult decisions of your life, and I put it off for years for fear of the sort of frayed existence we would all have once that thread had been severed. 

And just as I had imagined, once it inevitably happened, a whole new world of shuffling began. I am a full-time parent Monday through Thursday morning and then a single girl every Thursday night and every other weekend.

School holidays alternate between parents, creating a weird spectrum of either being completely in charge with no help from a partner or being everyone’s favorite childless aunt.  It’s an all or nothing existence, and switching gears between these roles is often challenging and sometimes just plain annoying.

Obviously I would prefer to have my children with me all of the time, but after those first few desperate weekends without them, slowly, as with all things, I began to get used to it.

The shuffling has had some worthy benefits.  It gives me time to catch up on work, date, and stay connected to friends and family.  I have a closer relationship with my siblings and their children than would otherwise be possible.  In the constancy of full-time parenting, there is very little time to build deep bonds with a niece or a nephew, but in the shuffling world such things are possible.

In its best iteration the shuffling creates a wider circle of life and understanding for all of us.  The children enjoy having friends and traditions at both houses, and because of our frequent absences from each other we openly value our relationships with each other.  Because we are made to miss each other, we are also made to understand how much we really mean to one another.

In its worst, it’s a discombobulated mess of reestablishing authority and patterns of living over and over again.  We are constantly restarting with each other and relearning how to work together.

Obviously, my goal is to live the shuffling in its best iteration as much as possible, and over time I have learned to enjoy my kid-free time.  I have learned to stop mourning my losses and just enjoy the chance to be the favorite aunt or girl about town. I have learned to just let go and give myself over to jumping in a car and heading across America with my sister, or Face Timing with my daughter from the top of a mountain because it was the only chance that day to talk, or speculating for hours in different sessions with both nephew and son on what we really want in our bunker during the Zombie Apocalypse.



Sibling power

Here are my five siblings and my Dad. I'm on the far left with Sterling -- the first Christmas after we were married. In my mind we were more hip. But maybe not.

Here are my five siblings and my Dad. I'm on the far left with Sterling -- the first Christmas after we were married. In my mind we were more hip. But maybe not.

I grew up the second child in a family of six children. We were all fairly close in age, with just ten years separating the oldest from the youngest. This made for instant playmates, loads of sibling rivalry, and lots of lessons on getting along. My mom has always said that one of the functions of siblings is to keep each other beat down. (I'm sure there is a more politically correct way to phrase "beat down," but I'm all about keeping it real.) What she means, of course, is that if the family is the classroom for life, siblings are a highly reliable reality check. 

One tool that I think we undervalue and often under-utilize in parenting is the sibling check. For instance, when my younger sister was in elementary school, she had a penchant for wearing her slip around the house as a dress. It was silky and lacy, and she thought it was beautiful. As the older, cooler, and more worldly sister, I was horrified at the thought that my mother might allow her to wear that slip in public. So every time I saw the slip ensemble (usually accompanied with plastic high heels), I'd say something like, "Ummm . . . you know that's not a dress, right?" Or I'd tease her. To this day, when I bring up the slip incident my sister squints her eyes at me and starts a slow boil. I'd forever squelched her slip dreams. Sorry, sis. 

Actually, I didn't squelch anything. She continued to wear the slip (to my horror), but she was aware that slips in public might be outside of the line of normal slip usage. I made sure she knew the line was there. If she wanted to take a flying leap over that line in all her silky, slip-ey glory -- then that was up to her. FLY FREE SLIP GIRL!

Here's another example:

Parker is noisy. As seems befitting the twelve-year-old male group, he is constantly beat-boxing, machine-gunning, bleeping, blurping, humming. Lots of noises. When it gets to be too much, one of his sisters is bound to say, "Parker, enough with the machine gun noises." Me? I'm busy wondering if we have enough ground beef in the freezer for dinner, reminding myself to get to the post office before five, and worrying that the last five pages of the chapter I turned in were utter drivel. I barely hear the machine gun. What machine gun? Huh?

Joneskids03 web.jpg

My point is . . . it's a cold, cruel world out there and siblings can offer an unbiased point of view. They can teach manners and courtesies and social cues. They can teach how to get along with others, even when the "other" is difficult, or unfair, or in a bad mood. The teaching method isn't always cute or well-delivered, but it can be informative and effective.

Now, I'm in no way advocating bullying or harmful, coercive behaviors. However, in this era of "everyone gets a trophy," the sibling relationship can be especially important in teaching our precious babies that they are not always the center of the universe. I mean, my kids are the center of my personal universe. But, unfortunately, I'm not high up enough on anyone's ladder for that to matter too much in the grand scheme of things. In other words, siblings are often particularly situated to teach life lessons in more powerful, realistic ways.

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Some helpful hints for encouraging healthy, yet helpful, sibling relationships:

1. Thoughtfully orchestrate sibling time when the parents aren't around (or immediately accessible). Parker loves to play board games, and that's a perfect place for him to practice being fair and being a good winner, and his sisters aren't likely to cut him a break. I'll often suggest one or all of the girls play with him while we are out. He LOVES this.

2. Let your kids work out their own differences. I try to only step in when I feel the situation becomes unhealthy emotionally. But if someone returns an item of clothing stained (or doesn't return it at all), then they are going to have to suffer the consequences of a disappointed or angry sister. This is a hard one because I dislike contention in the home, and I desperately want everyone to get along. But this is where the sibling magic CAN happen. They have to figure out how to make things better on their own. (There is also a tendency to just separate the kids, but again, this is missing out on learning to 'work it out.')

3. Try to build up sibling relationships. Part of the efficacy of sibling power has to do with understanding natural consequences within relationships. Ideally, this means there are ups and downs. But there do need to be ups, so I'm quick to pass along compliments or convey similarities or shared interests. This can be as simple as commenting on an outfit, "Ooh. You are wearing that scarf that Jordan loves." Or remarking that Madison likes the song Rebecca is playing. This subtly tells her, "See? We are all a little bit alike and a little bit different." Spreading cheer and good will never hurts a learning environment.

I don't want to underplay that sibling relationships can be complicated and difficult in the throws of teenage years. But now that two have mine have flown the coop, I can look back with some perspective and realize just how significant those interactions were in teaching them to be grown up, cooperative people. And, on a hopeful note, my oldest two (just 15 months apart) often did NOT get along -- and now they are hoping to room together next year at college. So. Wow. Hang in there.

Mom Minutiae

You know how there are little things that come up in the course of your parenting week that irritate/horrify/amuse and just beg for a little parental intervention? (Or is that just me?) EnterThe Mom Minute*, a somewhat weekly feature at our house where I get to teach/prod/embarrass/amuse our crew with whatever small issue that's on my mind. 

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Here's the lowdown:

1. You could do this anytime--at Sunday dinner, before bed on a Thursday, or just whenever the urge strikes--but we usually do ours during our family gathering time on Mondays. Somewhere between going over our schedules for the week and having some dessert, I clear my throat and commence The Mom Minute (theme song optional). 

2. Use a light touch with your captive audience. Aim for a tone that's equal parts charming and cajoling, something like a blend of the kitschy irreverence of SNL's Weekend Update with the instructive admonishment of a Martha Stewart tutorial. Or something like that.

3. Stick with one topic at a time and keep it short and direct and kind of campy. Here are some of our past topics over the years (some more recent than others):

  • Why are there hardly any underpants in the laundry this week?
  • Toilet Flushing Etiquette for Dummies
  • Shaking hands with adults 101
  • Where have all the spoons gone?
  • A quick guide to cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen
  • Extremely loud and incredibly close: The consequences of burping at the table
  • What's the brush next to the toilet for and what does it have to do with you anyway?
  • Your sibling mission, should you choose to accept it: Project B.O.D. (Benefit Of the Doubt)
  • A refresher course in thank you notes
  • Though we haven't done this ourselves, I have a friend who did a hilarious yet very educational barf training video several years ago for her kids. See? The possibilities are endless!

The beauty of the Mom Minute is that it helps me delay my nagging and immediate (read: disproportionately irritated and embittered) reaction and address these little things later, which saves a lot of grief on all sides. I have time to prioritize what I want to talk about and to turn it into something more lighthearted and palatable (rather than coming across like Charlie Brown's teacher wahwahwaaaahwah). It's also universally delivered with no names mentioned so no one feels targeted even if it's one certain person who ALWAYS FORGETS TO FLUSH. And, on the off chance that anyone feels particularly burdened or afflicted by the Mom's only a minute.

There you go. You probably already do something like this, though, because isn't that how the world gets civilized, really? One Mom Minute at a time? 

*if you're a dad, you can of course change the name to Dad Minute. Or Dad Decree, if you're aiming to preserve the alliteration. Dad Dictum? Father Fiat?

. . .

Psst...follow Nest and Launch on:

May you build a ladder to the stars

When we first arrived here last year, we came to an empty house. Greg had rented a few pieces to hold us over--a table and chairs, two sofas, and comfy beds--but really we were a bare bones operation. After the rushrushrush of selling the house, packing up, driving across the country, and booking visits with as many friends and family as we could before we left the continent...suddenly all that busy-ness came to a screeching halt and we had absolutely empty calendars and six weeks before school started.

For the first few days, it was novel. We were really tired and spent the time filling up on some rest and getting that fuzzy travel feeling out of our heads. But after that we had to go through a kind of busy detox.  My internal odometer was at odds with our new peaceful pace. It took a while to get it out of my system.  I had this vague feeling I should be somewhere and that we should be doing things, filling our days with errands and motion to justify our existence. The kids seemed to feel it, too, and got cranky and flopped around, sighing about the empty house, empty life.

[After a few days, we got into the rhythm of it, as though we had come out on the other side of a chattering detox. It felt really good. Different things grow in that kind of space--a different kind of listening and creativity, time to really pay attention, think, and look. A different kind of self discipline. It was a lovely change.]

But that's not what this post is about. No, this is more of a fangirl post.


This might sound utterly pathetic (I know it does) but do you know who accompanied us through those weeks? The Bravermans. Yes, the fictional tv clan from the show Parenthood. We watched an episode (or two) every day, starting with the first season and plowing on through until we were caught up. They were our vicarious family friends at a time when we didn't have anyone but ourselves. We were more than a little homesick for those deliciously chaotic Sunday multi-family dinners of our own that we had left behind (oh, the Braverman long outdoor table! Would we ever fill our table that way again?). We even cried cathartic tears along with them. We sang along to the theme song (Bob Dylan's Forever Young) at full volume, an anthem and prayer sung in the midst of this teen-seismic move and all its unknowns:

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.
May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young

A year later, we have schedules and friends and busyness and lessons and furniture and much less time to just sit around together. It's a case of both see-everything-works-out-just-fine and be-careful-what-you-wish-for. The Bravermans no longer serve as placeholders for future friends and have retreated like all good imaginary friends at the end of their run. Last week found me singing along during the opening credits of the new season of Parenthood with a tiny lump in my throat, a bit nostalgic for those simple, echo-y empty house days when our world boiled down to just each other for six weeks or so. Well, us and the Bravermans.

- I couldn't resist this Forever Young locket as a special gift for Maddy last Christmas. I think it makes a great graduation, birthday, Bat Mitzvah, quinceanera, or Christmas present.

- Parenthood has a terrific soundtrack.  They know their tunes, those folks.

- What shows are you watching this season? Do have a family show you all watch together? Have you had a certain touchstone show/movie/book that came along at the right time?