Archive for the ‘Family Notes’ Category

My family culture

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014-blogCaitrin, Liam, Jacob, Johannah, Noah

This weekend, my five adult kids were home for Thanksgiving. This is remarkable to me as it is the first time the entire family has celebrated Thanksgiving together since 2008. Yes, 2008!! They are such travelers that too often someone has been out of the country or off in another state when the holiday rolled around. This year, we did not expect Jacob to be home, but thanks to a scholarship interview, he was flown to the states from Bangkok in time for the the big day.

Much hilarity ensued. And ensued. And ensued.

Oh my goodness, I had forgotten how LOUD these five people are! It was a long weekend fest of traded inside jokes taken from pop culture, song lyrics, books read, movies we’ve all memorized, favorite Shakespeare quotes, and Seinfeld.

There was much SINGING at the tops of their lungs (or rapping, or some hybrid of the two), paired with dancing.

We played endless (I do mean endless) games from Ticket to Ride Europe expansion set to card games like Sushi-Go, a Moroccan version of “I Doubt It” (aka B. S.), Nertz, and Rummy, and Settlers of Catan, ping-pong, and Spoons.

We had too many cooks in my kitchen which was AWESOME. We had more than enough help with the dishes (I even got a text from the one kid who lives with me saying, “Don’t touch the dishes; I’ll do them when I get home from work”). (Yes, there’s hope that they will all one day be GLAD to help you in the kitchen.) Recipes were vegan and not vegan. Noah used his bartending skills to introduce us to new festive drinks.

The catching up on each other’s lives was expansive from learning about the properties of Hindi to the strange lives of the people of ancient Sparta, how ancient Greek compares with modern languages, what it’s like to live in Thailand, how the “system” is rarely fair to under-resourced kids in Brooklyn, and how to become a better and better programmer without going to school at all.

Books were traded, book titles were entered into phones to look up to read to discuss with a sibling via Skype later this year.

Many travel plans were laid so that much intersecting could continue.

Some poignant discussions surfaced in one-on-one times as there were moments available to probe a little deeper, to reflect on past painful interactions that had found their way back to the surface and needed some support or care or understanding that hadn’t been available back when X happened.

It was this weekend where I watched my adults be more of who they are—I recognized them, I was surprised by them, I was proud of them, I was humbled by them.

Kinda cool, actually. All of it. The next step in the parenting journey. We may never have one like this again—no one is married yet so it was just “them.” Love those big kids.

Thanksgiving 2014-blog_2

Cross-posted on facebook.

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The gift of giving is passed down through blood lines

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Grandmother Mom Daughter

















Three Generations: My mom, my daughter Johannah, and me

It occurred to me this morning that both my parents (no longer married) have each sent money/financial gifts to me at various points in my adult life, for things ranging from Teflon coated pans and maternity clothes while in Morocco, to camcorders plus customs tax (no small price back in 1987!), to trips to Kansas City for a conference for the entire (then) 6 person clan, to couches and carpet cleanings. They’ve paid for ski trips when I was in college and new clothes postpartum (five times over!). They use their Nordstrom discounts and their credit cards to buy shoes and dinners, trips on Catalina Express and flights on planes. They’ve loaned me cars and have put my family up in cabins and beach houses.

They’ve sent generous amounts of money at Christmas when Jon and I didn’t know how we’d pay for gifts for the kids. My mom has traveled to France, Morocco, and Ohio to see me/us, and my dad has traveled to Ohio. They’ve given me sentimental jewelry and photos (and photo albums!). They both supported Jon and me financially when we were missionaries, even when they weren’t sure they agreed with the mission. They’ve put us up in their homes, apartments, condos—from just me, on a pull-out couch in college, to the ever-expanding seven of us sprawling throughout the house on couches and in beds, back down to the smaller version of us now.

I didn’t ask for these gifts. They would simply offer, as the circumstance arose. They were quick to send the finances or the tickets or the new skirt, never promising and not following through.

My mom, when I once through tears told her I wondered if I’d ever be able to take my kids to a restaurant or hotel because we were so poor and I couldn’t imagine that ever changing, said, wisely, “You’re just coming into your earning years now. You’ll be amazed at how things change.” It comforted me.

The gifts from my parents were never “bail outs” for mistakes made. They were rooted in generosity for a family on one income with lots of kids. I keep thinking how lucky I am to have had parents who were generous, even when their own finances were tight.

I thought about all these things this morning because all I want to do now is spend money on my adult children any time I hear they have a need. I stopped to consider why I feel that way. Then this long list of reasons spilled out of me.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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The oldest and the youngest

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Noah, Caitrin, and LiamOldest child, Noah, on the left. Youngest two, Caitrin and Liam, on the right.

Have you noticed how your oldest child gets the lion’s share of your attention no matter what age or stage that child is in? It’s as if 7 is the most critical age ever (will she ever learn to read?), or 10 (maybe he can watch the baby), or 13 (when it All Starts Counting), or 16 (he can drive!), or 18 (she’s going to college!).

Meanwhile, your youngest child hits 7 and you think, “Aw. Such a cutie. So young. It’s okay if you don’t read yet.”

That youngest child turns 13 and you think, “We’ve got time. He’s just 13.”

It’s time to drive and you think, “What’s the rush?”

Sometimes in home education, the oldest writes essays by 8th grade, and by the time the youngest hits that age, you realize you literally have done no writing with this child. It sneaks up on you. You wonder how the years flew by and how you never noticed. You panic. “I’m failing my child!”

It’s a common scenario.

It happens to the best of us. Why?

Because the oldest is always doing what you have never parented before.

The oldest child creates in you the most wide-eyed amazement, anticipation, and anxiety (the trifecta!) of all your children because each event, each milestone, each achievement hangs in the balance until you’ve crested that hill together with that kid. You do all of it for your child, yes. But these experiences are also training you. You’re on a learning curve with the oldest that you never feel in quite the same way again.

Which means… if you have 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 kids… as you work your way down the bunch, the newness, the novelty, and the nerves are greatly reduced… in some cases almost to the point of neglect! You wake up to realize that this youngest child is in high school and you almost forgot it would happen!

Guilt rushes in as your energy for doing it all again rushes out. It’s natural, even if not optimal.

One benefit that the youngers have that the oldest didn’t is role models.
They have been watching each older sibling achieve and they are aware of what’s coming. You can capitalize on this benefit. Get the older kids involved. Have them talk to the youngers about what’s coming and how to prepare. Have them ask the sibling: “Did you take your Driver’s License test yet?” or “Make sure you take AP European history. You’ll be good at it.” They can be the ones to help create the trajectory the youngers will follow.

Triangle in help.
It is tedious to go through algebra six – nine times. Maybe a co-op class or a tutor gives you just enough relief and provides the structure you no longer can.

Celebrate all milestones.
You might not throw eight parties every other year for a decade, but you can mark an achievement with a Facebook status, a dinner out, a gift, or photos to commemorate the moment. Take time to say how proud you are of the youngest, even if the achievement feels old hat to you. It never is to the individual child.

Lastly, it’s never too late to get involved in the education of your youngest kids.
If you accidentally lost your way or passion for home education, remind yourself that the goal is a quality education, not proving yourself as a homeschooler. Be sure you put your child’s interests first and find the right context for that child’s education—no matter what that is.

If you want to re-up for homeschool, do it! Get new curricula (so you’ll be interested again) and change up how it gets done. Computer classes, part-time enrollment, using an iPad, studying at the local library instead of the kitchen table…

As the older kids leave home, provide treats for the younger kids. It costs less to have everyone’s favorite drinks or ice cream in the house when you only have two kids at home. Keep them in stock. Go out to eat more. Catch a movie or get coffee.

Take advantage of the portability of teenage youngest kids. Do stuff together. Try a new activity like indoor rock climbing or watching old movies. Make sure these kids get a quality experience, even if a different kind of home education than your oldest kids got.

I love having a big family. It’s a different ballgame with my youngest two still at home and the older three out of the house. I’m still learning how to do it, too.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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That thing called regret

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

UntitledI made a decision early on to live in a way that I would have no regrets. Maybe we all do that at some point. I felt good about the choices I made, the conscientiousness with which I researched before I made those choices. I trusted my worldview and I adopted an outlook about my life that felt solid, reliable, and responsible.

I also committed myself to reevaluation—to question my assumptions.

For instance, I remember when Noah was small and I was pregnant with Johannah, I lived in missionary housing (an apartment building) with a slew of other missionary families on furlough. I remember seeing all these moms running around with their kids while I formed judgments about their parenting. I was in my 20s! That’s what you do in your 20s.

But one day it dawned on me: If I have judgments about those parents, they must have them about me and how I parent too. I can still remember where I was standing when this flash of awareness dawned on me.

I screwed up my courage and went to my favorite friend in the complex and told her: “Kris, we judge each other’s parenting. I just realized that you all must have opinions about how I’m raising my kids. Would you mind sharing with me what you see that I’m not seeing that would help me be a better mother to Noah?”

Kris paused, “What a great question! I want to take it seriously. Let me think for a day or two and then I’ll tell you what I’ve observed.”

And she did. I took her comments to heart. I tried to apply her advice. In hindsight, not all of what she shared worked for my kid (her kid turned out to be a very different kind of person than my kid, as I’ve learned 24 years later, though both are wonderful young adults). But what I felt in that moment with Kris was that I wanted very much not to be in a prison of my own making, blind to my blind spots.

As my children got older, I read all kinds of books (the most helpful for conversational style and tone were the two by Faber and Mazlish—How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and Siblings without Rivalry), I went to therapy, I joined online discussion groups, I attended parenting classes, I sought advice from friends, I consulted my mother, I watched other families and often determined I did not want what I saw there, and in some instances, very much wanted what I saw there.

Over time, a core philosophy grew in me. But it came at a price. I often wished I knew “then” what I had just adopted and learned “now.”

Regret is born when you revise your primary assumptions.

Let me rephrase that.

You feel regret when you shift paradigms, when you discover that what you have been doing (even with resolve, commitment, and good intentions) turns out not to have been as good for you and the rest of your clan as you had originally believed.

Regret doesn’t only come from bad choices or even failure to live up to your ideals.

Regret comes from discovering that what you knew then wasn’t as good as what you know now, and you wish you could go back and have a “do over.”

But you can’t go back. There’s no time turner for life.

As my local running store slogan reminds me every day: “Live life in forward motion.”

You can only do what you know to do now. You can repair through apology, but the most powerful way to get out of the cycle of regret is to enthusiastically embrace the new insight and live into it. Drop the self-recriminations, be glad you have a chance to change, and move into the new paradigm with alacrity.

One benefit to regret: you become human. People like you better when they know you’ve been through a few things, like they have, and are still going, still trying, still learning.

No one gets it right on the first try, or the last try. We all operate with the insight of today. The worst thing to do is to cling to what isn’t working to avoid regretting it.

Be gentle with yourself. Be open to change and growth. Embrace the adventure of living.

Peace. ♥

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Guilherme Yagui

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What are they doing now: Noah

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Noah and Julie

June 18th was Noah’s 26th birthday so it seems entirely appropriate that I finish this series about my kids with him, my first born and oldest son.

When I first became pregnant, I hoped for a boy. As I told Jon (Noah’s dad), I assumed that if I had a boy first, he’d naturally have the “first born” characteristics—he’d excel in academics, he’d want to please his parents, he’d “go with the program.” I was nervous about raising a boy. Since I was a firstborn, I thought having my boy come first would give me a headstart on parenting.

I could not have been more wrong.

Whether or not birth order factors into how your children develop, I can’t say. But what I will say about Noah is that from the beginning, he’s very much known who he is and what he can and can’t, will and won’t do. Noah did not have a “strong will” of the kind you read about in parenting books. He wasn’t a rebellious kid or an angry kid or even a disobedient one. Rather, Noah always had a strong sense of two things:

1. The limits of his body. Noah was incredibly clear-sighted about his abilities and proved reliably aware of what he could do/attempt and what he couldn’t. However, as a parent, that sense of power and competence in his body meant watching him climb the outside railing of a two-story stairwell at age 2, and shimmying up tall trees by age 4, indoor rock climbing at ages 9-10, and playing lacrosse in high school (after no previous sports experience whatsoever), and eventually doing urban gymnastics as a young adult (like jumping off two-story buildings and flipping over hand railings).

2. The unlimited power of his mind. Noah never met an idea he didn’t want to chase. He read voraciously from 8 years old and hasn’t stopped. His curiosity about language led him to study Klingon, Esperanto, and constructed languages for what would have been his junior and senior years in traditional high school. Instead, as a homeschooler (unschooler, really), Noah pursued what interested him.

I often say that Noah is the child sent to teach me to be human. He was playful, free-spirited, curious, not interested in rules for no reasons, confident in his abilities, willing to talk about anything, and utterly guileless. Rewards and punishments never worked with Noah, though believe me, I was suckered into trying both, frequently.

What worked for us was to become close to each other, for me to become a student of his temperament and a friend to his spirit. Noah showed me the value of learning for its own sake—for self-directed, absorbing, pursuit of a topic because you must wrestle it to the ground and know it intimately.

Noah never did go to high school (like a couple of his siblings). He did take Algebra 2 at the local high school (we couldn’t afford tutoring for him at the time). When I picked him up after his first test, he jumped in the car and I said to him: “How was the test? Did you feel okay about it?”

Noah replied: “It was okay, but guess what? I wrote two poems.”

“Excuse me? You mean during the test?”

“Yeah. I got done quickly and then wrote these two really awesome poems. Want to hear them?”

That in a nutshell is all you need to know about Noah.

He is currently in college (for a second time – first time quit due to frustration with the system, but is now ready) studying computer science. He is moving to Connecticut with his longterm girlfriend who will be in a Master’s program there. Noah will study at the local college.

Noah was, as all firstborns are, the guinea pig. I’m so grateful for his energy, his ability to forgive me when I overstepped, his cheerful optimism about life, his passion for self-directed learning, and for teaching me how to be a mother and a compassionate human being.

Cross-posted on facebook.