All the live long day

Fieldwork in the Lothians  (1883) by Scottish painter James Guthrie (1859-1930)

Fieldwork in the Lothians (1883) by Scottish painter James Guthrie (1859-1930)

I know for many of you summer invokes images of white sand, blue surf, and carefree days. Me? I remember checking groceries and cooking pizzas. For my own kids, I'm aiming for a happy medium -- some fun trips and lazy days along with a solid show-up-on-time-and-learn-the-value-of-a-dollar part time job. This year Madison has a sweet summer internship in New York City (take me!!) and Becca, all on her own, landed a job at her favorite clothing retailer. She's thrilled with the discount. Ahem.

One of my reasons for encouraging the summer job is because I want my kids to learn how to be hard workers -- and this is a way, unlike weeding or cleaning the garage, that can feasibly happen without my constant supervision. Is that cheating? It's not that I don't want to work with my kids. It's more that I want them to have more experience than I can personally orchestrate. I need help. They want money. It's a win/win.

My SIL sent me this link to 15 Ways to Teach Kids About Hard Work, and I think her ideas are a great reminder and pep talk for some summer teachin'. I particularly like her idea of giving kids a project that teaches time management. Her husband left a pile of sand in the driveway that her son needed to distribute around the back yard by the end of the work day. I like this project-in-a-day plan. Sometimes I give my kids more lengthy projects that turn me into Nagging-Mom (can you even imagine?). Beginning and ending in one day seems more effective and easier to manage. Also, having the kids shop and make dinner? I'm all over that!

What about you guys? Any great ideas for teaching your kids to work?

I went on and on about my summer jobs here. Just, you know, if you're bored . . .

Time to make the doughnuts

I try to keep an ongoing list of potential blog posts. I have an experience, or learn something, or see something interesting, and I jot down a few words to remind myself later. Here's my current list:

1. Nothing. Because my life is boring, and I have no personal insight.

So . . . that makes blog writing a bit tough.

But I'm a never-say-die gal, so I tried digging a little deeper -- really thinking about what's going on in my life now (and in the life of my teens). And I can say, definitively, that with Becca (who is 16) we are working on making doughnuts. And, unfortunately, those doughnuts are figurative. Sorry, no recipe folks. But let me be clear -- I am PASSIONATE about real-life, sugar-laden doughnuts.

Do you guys remember this commercial (from the olden days)?


Dunkin Donuts is waxing poetic about just how often they make fresh doughnuts. But the reality is that this poor guy is making doughnuts morning and night, in rain and snow. He's clearly tired, exhausted even -- but he has to push through and make those doughnuts.

When I was in high school, my sister and I left for an early morning seminary class each school day at around 5:45 AM. It was incredibly tiring and steady, and for some reason, as we stumbled to the car in the darkness of the early morning, we sympathized with that mythical doughnut man. We'd mumble "Time to make the doughnuts." And we'd sigh and then move along.

It's the "moving along" part that I'm working on with Becca.  It's the showing up, the stepping up, the complete commitment to do one's job -- everyday -- even when it's not convenient, or it's boring, or tiring that makes a difference. Because really, much of life is inconvenient, or boring, or tiring.

Right now Becca has a tough schedule. She leaves at 5:30 each morning for track practice. On top of school she has make up work for the seminary she is missing (while she is running track). On Thursdays (track meet days) and Fridays, she  gets up at 5 to go to seminary, even though she may have been at at school from 6 AM until 9 PM the day before. It's a lot, and honestly, she mostly sails right through. But there are times when she is tired and grumpy, and she has to make those doughnuts anyway. Sorry hon. The doughnuts are waiting.

I've always liked this quote by Benjamin N. Woodson: "For my part, I have concluded that the quality which sets one man apart from another -- the factor which lifts one man to every achievement to which he reasonably aspires while the other is caught in the slough of mediocrity for all the years of his life -- is not talent, nor formal education, nor luck, nor intellectual brilliance, but is rather the successful man's greater capacity for self-discipline."

Oh, self-discipline! You are a bitter task-master. But the fruits of your labors can be beautiful and bounteous. Becca came in third in the two-mile at her last track meet. She's "almost" caught up in seminary. We registered for her junior year classes tonight. And so, we just keep making the doughnuts. One foot in front of another. And, really, how lucky are we that there are doughnuts to be made as far as the eye can see?

How do you handle the work of Christmas?

First off, I have to say I laughed all day yesterday about the "branding" of Father's Famous Flapjacks. Part of my amusement came from my realization that I've sort of branded something with my husband. You see, part of the time Sterling works from home, and 98% of this is wonderful. But every now and then I get a hankering to have the house to myself. For some unknown reason, I've taken to saying, "Okay. Go to work. It's my super-special-me time." Sterling finds it humorous, and he totally gets it. Super-special-me time. It's a thing.

Now, on to today's material . . .


Rebecca and I have a penchant for Lifetime Christmas movies. I understand they are formulaic and often ridiculous. At times I spend the bulk of the movie criticizing the improbability or predictability of their inane plots. Still, I can't help it; I like watching them. Yesterday afternoon we flipped to a movie I recognized from last year, On Strike for Christmas. The movie starts out with the mom desperately trying to corral her two teenage sons and husband into those preambles of the Christmas season: picking out the tree and putting up the decorations. Of course, the boys have other plans and the husband just plain isn't interested. After a failed attempt at hanging the outside lights herself, the movie momma throws up her hands and calls a strike. Then a bunch of Lifetime stuff happens . . . and the men of the family realize they need to pitch in for Christmas, and the mom learns that the holidays don't require perfect decorations or exquisitely produced foods . . . the family just needs to be together.

All at once now . . . aaaaawwwwwwww.

As we were watching Becca remarked, "We're not like that at all."


No, they're not like THAT. But, I do find, as the kids get older, they are not quite so enthusiastic about bringing down the boxes of Christmas decorations. They definitely want all of the old traditions, but perhaps served on the side -- leaving them free to participate or abandon as their interest waxes and wanes. I totally get this. Sometimes I feel the same.


Last year we sat the kids down and asked them each to submit three things that made the holiday feel special. I really wanted to pare down the superfluous activities that were stifling our teens and making me nigh-on-to-crazy as the grand ringmaster of nagging. They definitely wanted to keep making gingerbread houses (phew!). They wanted to deliver gifts to neighbors and friends. They wanted to go to Starbucks for hot chocolate and then drive around looking at lights. They looked forward to our white elephant gift exchange with extended family. They wanted to host our annual Christmas Eve party.

Those five things were my priorities in celebrating the Christmas season with my kids. I downsized the decorations, since no one else was interested in putting them up or taking them down. I dispensed with the ONE-REALLY-FUN-ACTIVITY-EACH-DAY advent thing. I kept the Christmas music playing and the hot chocolate flowing. And it was enough. And the Christmas nagging was kept to the bare minimum.

What about you? How does your family divvy the holiday responsibilities? Any tips for simplifying?


Laundry & launching

Monday is typically laundry day at our house and today our dryer is suddenly, inexplicably broken. Ugh. It will dry for 11 minutes and then can't be bothered to finish the job and gives up. While I can certainly commiserate with that inclination, it's pretty inconvenient in a dryer.  Anyway, I've got laundry on the brain (and everywhere else, for that matter) so let's talk laundering and the mid-stage family. 


I think laundry is a life skill everyone should learn. One professor friend related the following question that was asked of her by some parents dropping of their freshman at college: "Who does his laundry and when do they come pick it up from him? Weekly? Bi-weekly?" Um, your 18-year-old young adult does, as often as he wants in the basement laundry room. Leave him some quarters if you want. 

Having said that, though, I have to admit that in practice I do most of the laundry around here. We do teach our kids how to do their own by around age 12 but, truth is, I don't really mind it and it makes more environmental sense for the four of us to do our clothes all at once since that way, after sorting for color, I end up doing just about five loads a week (whites, lights, brights, and two loads of darks) not counting sheets and towels. [I know it's a completely different story for families with more kids, more sports playing, or if kids don't wear uniforms to school (somehow that's cut down immensely on laundry).]

But I do have my limits. Here are my iron-clad laundry rules:

  1. I don't pick up clothes from the floor (which, after all, amounts to more work and essentially means cleaning their bedrooms) so I only do laundry that is in the dirty clothes basket.
  2. If you end up doing your own laundry, you have to work around my use of the laundry room (with a dose of: next time put your clothes in your hamper and you won't have this problem). 
  3. There is no faster way to the wrath of mom than to put clearly clean (sometimes still folded!) clothes back in the dirty clothes. Just no. 
  4. I'll probably fold (especially if I treat myself to a movie or tv show catch-up in the process) but when it comes to putting away the piles of clothes, all bets are off. Everybody gets their own clothes and (ideally; see #3) puts them away.  

I'm definitely willing to change things up in the laundry room, though, and turn more of the process over to someone else for a while. I'd love to hear how other families do it. Do chime in!  What's your laundry philosophy?  Do your kids do their own laundry? If so, when did they start and what's your system? 


On work & disappointment

XC web.jpg

Both Becca (10th grade) and Parker (7th grade) decided to run cross country at school this year. Becca had run last year and knew what to expect, but this is Parker's maiden voyage. In preparation, I signed the kids up for a summer 'running camp' supervised by our local high school cross country coach. The camp meets every weekday morning in the summer (okay, they get the week of July 4th off). Every other weekday? Be there. 6:30 - 8 AM. I'm going to tell you that the combination of summery late nights and early morning running can be brutal.

But if you want to be a distance runner you've got to put in the miles. Right? 

Becca, in her estimable experience, pretty much gets this, although there was a fair amount of negotiating in the early hours of our summer mornings. "How about if I run by myself this afternoon?" 


How about if I stay home today and go tomorrow? 

Still no. 

This is not to say I didn't allow them the occasional day off. I'm human. I understand enough can be enough, but balancing commitment with mercy is extremely difficult. Mostly I just went with my gut.

By the end of the summer I was pretty pleased with running camp. The kids were in excellent shape -- well prepared for their Fall sport.  

Then I get an e-mail from Jordan (in France). She was giggling over an e-mail Parker had sent her. I can't find the exact e-mail at the moment, but it went something like this: "Dear Jordan. I hate this running camp with all of my heart. This was a huge mistake. I will never ever ever ever do this again. This has been a bust." 

The e-mail was half funny and half tragic. I wanted him to feel positive about all of the hard work he'd put in, and apparently that wasn't his vibe. His vibe was venom and spite. Hmmmmmm.  Not good.

But here's the good part. At his first cross country meet last week, Parker did pretty darn well. He came in 27th out of about 150 7th grade boys. Even better? He felt totally great about his performance. He thought it was fun and was anxious to improve his time. Being the know-it-all that I am, I certainly took the opportunity to point out to him that that he had reaped the rewards of his summer of work. He agreed! Score! What a lesson -- hard work pays off. Cue the white hat . . . Ta da!!!!

PJ XC web.jpg

But here's the rub: Becca has seen this any number of times. She and her teammates are at every early morning practice. They work hard. They put in the miles. And there is ALWAYS someone on the team who barely works out, skips the early mornings, and who also breezes through the meets -- placing in the top three (out of hundreds).

That's where things get complicated and sticky.  How can we teach our kids that hard work and commitment are important values? What happens when hard work does NOT equal success? What do we tell them when their very best just isn't good enough?

My approach has been to try to have a positive conversation about their effort -- what they've learned from working towards a goal. This includes pointing out how practicing discipline and honoring their commitments will help them in their future.  Interestingly, my kids are usually so invested that they have eagerly jumped on the 'what-did-I-get-out-of-this' bandwagon. Working hard isn't just about the outcome after all, it's also about what they learn along the way.

Secondly, I try to allow them the space to feel frustrated. As much as I want their lives to be continually rosy, I also feel it's important for them to learn how to deal with disappointment and imperfect situations. There does seem to be some process here: feeling hurt or frustrated, figuring out what they learned or what they need to improve on, and making a plan to move forward (and sometimes that includes renewed dedication).

I think there is also something to be said for avoiding blaming others for poor performances, whether that includes criticizing a coach or other players. AND I  want my kids to learn to be happy for their teammates' successes. That's one of the things I love about cross country -- so often those kids who come in first will stand by the finish line and cheer the other runners through those painful last strides. That's what I'm talking about -- competition and kindness all rolled together.

What about you? How do you help your kids deal with disappointment? 

Articles on 'when your kid doesn't make the team': found here and here.


Baby steps


Right now I'm working on macaron-making. Here's the skinny: the macarons pictured above were made using Tartelette's recipe. This was my second batch, and while they look pretty darn decent in the picture, they were slightly undercooked! I know. So finicky. My first attempt was an unmitigated disaster. And the third? Those went straight from pan to garbage. Ugh!  As soon as I go buy myself another kinda expensive, tiny bag of almond flour -- I'm trying these -- because I like to punish myself. 

In between macaron experimenting I started attending a boot camp in the evenings and on Saturdays. I've been three times so far. As I type this my shoulders are tight, almost crampy. I also need to cough but am trying my best NOT to cough because my stomach muscles simply don't have the energy. Also, they burn and hurt when I cough. When I'm actually at boot camp? Let's just say the image vacillates between sad and ugly. Guys! I have the upper body strength of a newborn. Let's not even talk about my core. It's on fire, remember?

And thirdly . . . last Friday, I had a meeting with my dissertation chair over one of my chapters. It went okay. We had a good discussion: she explained the weaknesses in the chapter, I argued my own position. She was nice, even (somewhat) complimentary at times. But she in no way patted me on the back, handed me a cigar, and told me that what I had written was brilliant, erudite, and ready for publication. No. Not any of that. There is more work to do. Argh.

When I was young, I pictured my 40-something self as capable, assured, making things happen. And yet, the real 40-year-old me is still taking baby steps -- fumbling in the kitchen, struggling on the playing field, pecking away at my computer keyboard. It's hard work, this life of frothy egg whites and unruly thighs and theoretical feminist concerns. I do wish for mastery, make no mistake. In some ways I need just a modicum of success, a whisper that "I'm okay," or heck, I'd take small french cookies that are perfectly baked. But right now . . . I'm feeling my back up against the wall, and it's not an entirely bad feeling. My best work generally comes from defiance. Tell me I can't do something and I WILL SHOW YOU. I'm feeling the need to gird up my loins, fresh courage take -- to make lists, to read, to run up a hill without having palpitations. 

The frothy egg whites? No promises there.

A note on summer

Photo credit:  Emily Brenner

Photo credit: Emily Brenner

My first summer job was at a card shop in the mall. My mom loaded my older brother and I up in the car, dropped us at the mall, and told us to fill out some applications. When the card shop called me back I was thrilled. Cards didn't involve food prep, grease, or bathroom cleaning, so I figured I was on easy street. And it was a decent enough job. They let me arrange the pewter trinkets and glass paper weights and Precious Moments figurines to my heart's content.

I also worked at a kite shop, taught aerobics, made pizzas, dressed up as the Foley's Easter Bunny, and had a pretty decent stint as a grocery checker (that job is heck on the fingernails). One summer, for two weeks, my brother and I even agreed to take on a friend's mammoth paper route delivering the Houston Chronicle. We borrowed an old van, and I folded about eight million newspapers while my brother drove (in a lurching fashion) through an endless tangle of streets. Occasionally, I would throw up in the back because the smell of the newsprint at 4 AM made me nauseous. Yep, I'm a trooper.

All of this to say, I worked during high school. A lot.

With summer approaching there's been a lot of talk around here about the girls finding jobs. In the past I've been a bit on the fence when it comes to my kids working. The rational part of me knows that having a job teaches responsibility, commitment, and the value of a dollar. But the philosophical (and let's face it, hippy) side of me says, "RUN FREE YOUNG ONE. BASK IN THE SUMMER SUN. REVEL IN THE LANGUISHING DAYS OF YOUR YOUTH," which, roughly translated, might just mean: sleep half the day, watch a whole bunch of Netflix, and hit your mother up for cash to hang with your homies.

This summer, Sterling and I are encouraging a solid 20 hour a week job. For us, right now, I think the kids need the structure as well as a goal to work towards We will be having a conversation with the older girls about what financial obligations we expect them to meet next year -- like . . . nail polish, doughnuts, and Chipotle burritos are all on them.

What do you think about summer jobs and teens? Did you work in high school?

There was an interesting article in Time last summer discussing teens and summer jobs. You can read it here.