Category Archives: Parenting

Teaching Children Obedience and Other Great Mysteries

If there is one thing that gives me panic attacks it is reading parenting books.

Once I read one about raising sons. In it the author encouraged mothers to develop a Look. Some kind of glance, some sort of frown, some frigid, I-am-this-close-to-mailing-you-to-Australia facial expression that would strike instant repentance in the heart of even the most mischievous boy. I practiced The Look in the mirror until I scared myself, and then vowed to incorporate The Look into my parenting as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Recently I took my kids up to D.C. to see the sights with my sister. My husband had a business conference and could not join us, so it was I, the single mother, who felt the awesome responsibility of preserving her offspring from a myriad of metropolitan dangers.

I wasn’t worried about my three older daughters (a mistake, as you will soon see), since it was my two younger sons (ages 6 and 2) that were the main source of my anxiety.

The Look was a major part of my method.

First there were the metro trains. (Don’t get too close to the tracks–you’ll get electrocuted. Hurry on, hurry off–you don’t want to be left on the train by yourself! Don’t stick your hand out and touch the trains while they are moving, unless you want to look like a pirate for the rest of your life. STAY RIGHT HERE ON THIS LINE until I am done with this gosh-dang-it-ticket machine.)

And there were the streets. (Get off that ledge. Look both ways. Just because you can see the car doesn’t mean it can see you. Hold my hand. I’m serious, you have to hold it or your head will be smashed like a pumpkin.)

And there were the museums. (Stay by me. Don’t get separated. Don’t climb on the statue. Wash your hands. Don’t crawl under the bathroom stalls! Wash your hands again. Please.)

All the while The Look was heavily employed.

Then we went to the International Spy Museum, and while I was engrossed in Looking at my two younger sons, my phone buzzed. It was my 9-year-old daughter calling from a stranger’s cell phone, informing me that she had been lost . . . .for the last 45 minutes.  I eventually found her, teary and trembling, in the part of the museum called “Behind Enemy Lines.”

After that I hovered over everyone, slathering The Look over my children like poisoned peanut butter, and after three days of non-stop anxiety in Washington DC The Look had become my face. I felt like was trying to gather my children like a protective hen gathers her chicks, but to my children I seemed more like Cruella DeVil trying gather puppies. It is no wonder that when we got on the Metro my kids fanned out among the seats to be as far away from me as possible. At one point my six-year-old son turned to me and said, “Next time we come to D.C. I want it to just be me and DAD.”

 

Another Reason to Hate Little Dogs and Love Little Boys

A couple weeks after the Washington D.C. Naggathon, it was Sunday and time for church. It was a rare morning when my husband didn’t have early meetings and we were going to go to church together as a family in one car! Yippie!

Normally I leave for church 45 minutes early, even though the church is 15 minutes away. Why? Because it takes 15 minutes to get from the door of our house into the car. I’m not sure why, but everyone, myself included, has to go back and get something, and sometimes several somethings, before we are actually settled in the car. And what about the other 15 minutes, you say? I also have to allow 15 minutes for the ritual “dog escape” that happens Every. Sunday. Morning.

Inevitably, when the door of the house is opening and closing so many times in succession the dog will find an opportunity to escape and then we have to catch him. The dog was getting faster and faster and running further and further until this particular Sunday when I had not allowed for my extra 15 “dog escape” minutes, and on cue, the dog escaped. There was no time for this circus, so I told everyone to get in the car anyway, the dog will just have to face the consequences of running away: abandonment. No food. No water. No love. For five hours. Because that is how long Mormons are at church. (We tell people it is three, but that is a lie.)

But my son didn’t listen. “I’ll get him!” He shouted as he ran after the dog down the driveway. “No! Stop! Come back!” I called. I put my hands on my hips and gave him my most deadly Look but he was already gone, running across the street, up the hill and disappearing into the trees.

Now I had a runaway dog and a runaway son. Nothing obeys me!

Alas, we would have to take two cars after all. I took the rest of the kids to church, and left my husband to stay behind and find our son and dog.

Eventually my husband and son made it to church, and I silently noted that my son was wearing a different set of clothes than the ones I had ironed and put on him that morning.

When I got home and found the original set of church clothes, caked with mud, on top of the washing machine, I couldn’t suppress my smile and admiration for a son who is willing to chase down a runaway dog no matter what the distance or terrain. What determination. What tenacity! What a great sense of responsibility. With all of those great virtues, who cares about obedience?

Kidding.

We recently went to Kohls and found the perfect shirt for Danny: IMG_8400As you can see, he was totally excited about it.

But we ended up getting him a shirt that says “Nothing But Awesome,” which is more his style.

As for The Look, after much experimentation I have found it is not very effective, for, not long after I had started using The Look I found that my son developed his own Look, so that when I narrow my eyes and draw my lips into a tight line, his smile widens, his eyes sparkle, his cheeks get all rosy and, ever so slightly, one eyebrow lifts.

Do you know how hard it is to glare at someone who looks at you like that? Especially when he has golden eyes and long black eyelashes?

So now here I am typing this at the foot of my son’s bed. He is asleep now, and since one cannot disobey when they are asleep, it is most likely he will live for at least another 12 hours.

How do six-year-old boys ever make it to seven? To ten? To sixteen? But then, when I am around people who have sixteen-year-olds it makes me oh so grateful Danny is still little enough that when we are mad at each other I can pick him up and flip him upside down and hold him until he is laughing.

Perhaps I am making this too complicated. Maybe instead of giving The Look I need to focus on giving The Smile.

Luckily, tomorrow is a new day. Tonight I will review my parenting approach, amend it, refine it, rehearse it, pray over it, etc. Perhaps I will even spend some time in front of the mirror and practice my smile. And tomorrow I will try again.

And if you see happen to see a child running though the streets after a dog, please send him home. You can keep the dog.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lost Art of Concentration

When I was in college I had a good friend who was very tall with sandy brown hair and a delightfully dry sense of humor. Like most of my college friends, he was a musician. He played trombone, and was probably the best trombone player at BYU. His name was Ryan, and he was such a great musician that, when I knew him, he was getting invited to solo with symphony orchestras around the country. I felt honored to be his friend.

One day he took me aside and asked if I would help him prepare for the solo he was about to perform with the Denver Symphony Orchestra.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“I need you to try to distract me,” he said.

I gave him my best evil smile.

So one evening we met at a practice room (fyi, practice rooms are teeny-tiny) and he said, “After I start my solo, and I want you to do anything you can to get me to make a mistake.”

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

This is too easy, I thought.

He began his solo.

My first object would have been to cover up his music, but of course, he had it memorized.

So I waved my hands in front of his face . . . but he closed his eyes.

I strobed the lights on and off. . . .he played on.

I banged on the piano, I clapped my hands, whistled, I sang in his ear, I blew in his ear, I even sprayed him with a spray bottle . . . I did everything I could think of (within reason and decorum) to take his attention away from his music, but he did not even flinch.

After a cycling through these same things several times I finally ran out of ideas so I sat down, defeated.

When he finished he flashed a triumphant smile. He had not missed a note.

Of course.

Although I didn’t get to see him perform in Colorado, I’m sure that if the chandelier had fallen, the emergency sprinkler system had gone off, or if the conductor had decided loosen his tie and leap out into the audience mosh-pit style, Ryan would have continued on, unaffected, and given a flawless performance.

I will never forget that experience. I will never forget the frustration of getting someone’s attention who is completely committed to his task.

For me, being a music major was just fun. But for many of my classmates being a music major was how they were planning on putting bread on the table. Hence the reason why they excelled, and I eventually changed my major to something else.

The desire to excel in music was so important to Ryan that he dedicated hours to not just learning his pieces, and not just memorizing them, but being able to play them no matter the distraction. As the saying goes, “don’t practice until you can get it right, practice until you never miss.”

Ryan married my cousin’s wife’s sister, so luckily I can still keep tabs on him. He played trombone in the Air Force Band of the Golden West and then become a chaplain. Now he is a chaplain in the Navy and is going to be deployed this May for six months on the USS Mercy, a humanitarian ship. He still performs often.

So what did I become? I became what I wanted to be: a mom. Just a mom, folks. I didn’t want to be an airline pilot or a doctor or a lawyer or even a musician. I’ve only ever wanted to be a mom. And here I am, living my dream.

And yet, I am so distracted. I have church stuff, school stuff, writing stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff that could fill up and does fill up every moment of my day. I don’t feel productive unless I am doing several things at once. My great weakness is that I am the kind of person who likes to be good at everything. Must accomplish. Must succeed.

But sometimes being excellent at everything really just means being excellent at nothing.  And when I fall short I get down . . . I am a mediocre pianist, a mediocre singer, a mediocre writer, a mediocre friend, a mediocre everything.

I’m sure no one else has ever felt this way.

The other day I went to the park with my two-year-old. We were only going to be there for 15 minutes. As always, I had the choice of having him play while I got “important stuff” done on my phone or I could focus my attention on him.

But then that experience with Ryan popped into my head, and I thought about his ability to concentrate on the one thing that was most meaningful to him, regardless of all the other tempting, enticing, or annoying distractions around him.

And the most meaningful thing to me at that moment was (and is!) my two-year-old boy. A two-year-old boy that won’t be two for very long. So I deserted my phone and my text messages and my fb feed and all that other blah, blah, blah that can wait, and that probably isn’t that important anyway, and would lead me down the slope of feeling even more mediocre.

And we just played.

I don’t want to live in my phone.

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Whatever you decide to do, do it well.

 

 

 

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When a 12-Year-Old is in Charge of a House Full of Dying People

I heard the rumors.

Something was going around at school. Also at church. They said it attacks like lightning and leaves you feeling like a grenade just went off inside your body. The only merciful part of the ordeal is that it only lasts for 24 hours.

Perhaps my home will be spared, I thought.

But then, last Wednesday, just after lunchtime, the school called.

It is never a good sign when the school calls. And somehow I knew before I answered what it would be.

It was one of my daughters. And she had it. (She will hereafter be known as THE FIRST, since she was the beginning.)

I went to the school and picked her up, spoke comforting words, and brought her home.

Later I waited for the bus to come, bringing home my younger kids. I waited and waited. Strange, I thought. This bus is never late. All of the sudden I had that terrible premonition again: the bus is late because of my child.

Sure enough, when the bus finally arrived and my younger two children got out, one of them shouted up the driveway, pointing to her brother, “Mom! Guess who just threw up on the bus!” (She will hereafter be known as THE TATTLER and he will be known as GUESS WHO.)

But I didn’t have time to answer her because just then, THE FIRST threw up again. She had almost made it to the toilet. Almost.

THE TATTLER and GUESS WHO walked into the house, and GUESS WHO told me, “Mom I’m not sick. I just don’t feel well.” After which he went to my bedroom and threw up on my gliding rocker.

I put GUESS WHO in the shower for safe keeping while I attended to the messes. Meanwhile THE FIRST was now curled up in a ball on the couch, while THE TATTLER  told me in detail about what happened on the bus. “We had to climb over the seats to get off!” But in less than an hour the dreaded plague hit her, too.  At least she made it to the toilet.

Now even I was starting to feel woozy. Would I be next? But I couldn’t get sick–I had a critical rehearsal that night in preparation for a huge multi-denominational concert and I was the director. My choir was not yet ready, and there would be hundreds of people in attendance. I couldn’t back out and no one could take my place. But how could I go when my children were unraveling before my eyes? My only comfort and hope was that soon THE SPOUSE would be home and he would be able to help me fight this battle.

In between washing and sterilizing and more vomiting (from all three) I went outside to get some fresh air and lo and behold THE SPOUSE rolled up in his truck! Salvation! He got out, his shoulders slumped, his feet dragging, his face as gray as a sidewalk. “I don’t feel well . . . ” he said.

So now there were four. If they were not vomiting they were writhing in pain or moaning into their pillows. At one point there was a line for the toilet.

Yet there was still one more child left to arrive home. When she walked through the door she gazed in astonishment at her deteriorating family.

“What’s up with everyone, mom? They all look sick.” (We shall call this child THE LUCKY, for the Black Angel of Gastrointestinal Rage had saw fit to pass her by.)

I could only give her a look of desperation and go back to my work of caring for the sufferers.

For the next two hours the battle raged. The horror! The horror!

Finally the time came for me to leave for my rehearsal. I knew I needed Extra Help to get through this rehearsal, least I be victim #5. When I finally found a room where there wasn’t someone laying on a bed groaning I hit my knees and asked God to preserve me for the next two hours so I could direct this choir. After that He could do whatever He wanted with me. Just please help me make it through this rehearsal. I got up feeling a little better.

Now there was just one more thing to do.

I located THE LUCKY who was trying to escape the horrors of reality via a computer and headphones. I took her headphones out of her ears. I grasped her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes and I said:

“I am leaving. You are the only one in this house who can help people. You need to take care of everyone. If someone throws up while I am gone, you have to be the one the help them. I am counting on you.”

She looked afraid.

And I left.

I conducted the rehearsal without an incident, though it went longer than I anticipated. Afterwards I thought I better go to the store and get Gatorade to help replenish dehydrated bodies. When I got back it was very late. As I turned off the car I sighed. I would have a lot to do when I walked in that door. I had left the house in shambles. I hadn’t fixed dinner (what was the point?) and I knew that dishes and cups and crumbs littered the counters. I knew I would have to start the laundry, especially if there had been more accidents while I was gone. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Miles before I sleep, miles before I sleep.

The house was dark and—mercifully—quiet. I walked into the kitchen and received the shock of my life: The counters were clean. The table was clean. The dishwasher had been emptied. The kitchen was spotless. Not only that, there was this on the counter:

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It was hot chocolate–still warm–covered in marshmallows. The living room had also been tidied and put in order. Had THE SPOUSE done all of this, even in the throws of his tribulations? Since my last memory of him was staring at the ceiling moaning, “Death come quickly,” that seemed unlikely. Did he somehow rally the other suffering souls into making an effort to clean the house?

I crept into the bedroom where THE SPOUSE was resting uneasily on the bed.

“Thank you for cleaning the house,” I said.

“The house is clean?” he croaked.

“Yes. It wasn’t you?”

“No. But I know THE LUCKY was doing something in the kitchen for a long time. And when GUESS WHO threw up in his bed THE LUCKY took his sheets down stairs and put them in the washer and started it.”

Really?

As I lay down to sleep that night I couldn’t help reflecting how often we underestimate the potential of others. Especially those who are young. I have asked, begged and pleaded with children many times to clean this and clean that, watch out for your siblings and take care of each other, and there are times I feel like I am shouting into the wind. “Mother deafness” I think they call it.

But when a person, even a child, knows that they are depended on, that they are counted on, that all hope is riding on their shoulders, they find an inner motivation . . . not from obligation or force or even a sense of duty. But a motivation of pure love. That is when someone goes from being THE LUCKY to becoming THE HERO.

Thank you, Sophie.

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Teaching Kids To Love Books

I feel that sometimes I am a lost soul on the spectrum of good parenting, but I know how to do at least one thing right: I know how to get children to love books.

You see, I don’t just want my kids to be taught that they ought to read. I want it to be part of their very heart and soul. I want to inject their DNA with poetry. I want them to need words as much as they need water. I want ABCs and XYZs flowing along side their white and red platelets in their blood. Or should I say read platelets.

Ha! I am so funny.

In my previous life (before kids) I was a librarian. And before that I was a reader. And even before that I was a lover of stories, as I think all children are at the very beginning. Your task, as your child’s very own book whisperer, is to coax that natural love of stories into a love of books, and guide the love of books into a love of reading, and snowball that love of reading into a love of knowledge. And isn’t that what we want our children to have?

Here are some things you can do to whisper the love of books into your children’s souls.

1. Start “reading” early.

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Okay, at the beginning it isn’t “reading” at all. Just take five minutes before you put them to bed, find a colorful board book, and point and turn the pages. That is it. No Ivanhoe, no Sherlock Holmes, no Shakespeare. Just your voice, your finger and a picture. Then, after they go to sleep, leave the board book in their crib so they have something to look at when they wake up. This is like “review homework” for infants. When they wake, they will look at the pictures and remember your voice and your warmth. Seriously. And this is the first step to becoming a book whisperer. Also, do not underestimate the power of nursery rhymes. True, the words don’t make sense, but they can feel the beat. This folds into the wrinkles of their developing brain the rhythm of language and the cadence of words. Which is important when your children are going to grow up as smart as yours will be.

2. Provide lots of books

Cover your home with bookcases.
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Have books spilling out on to the coffee table and in stacks on side tables and piled near every child’s bed. With books scattered all over creation like this, somebody is bound to be curious. At the very least they will see how important books are to you.

3. Read books to your child every night, even after they start reading on their own.

The only thing better than curling up with a good book is curling up with a good child and a good book. Hold on to this ritual as long as possible. When you do this kids associate books with warmth, love and safety. Even though I think I have spent 75% of my life reading to kids, I sadly do not have a photo of me doing it . . . so you’ll have to settle for this tranquil scene instead:IMG_2940

4. When you go to the library, check out LOTS of books.

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Twenty books for one child is a good start.

Load ’em up and read them all.  Library fines are overrated. I have paid enough library fines over the years that I am pretty sure I pay the salary of at least one part-time librarian, but it is still worth it. It all goes to a good cause. Consider it your quarterly donation to public literacy.

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5. When your children are in school, go to the library for them.

Find books you know they would like but that they might not get for themselves. Especially non-fiction. Then lay out the books in an eye-pleasing way to greet them when they come home, as if they are walking into their very own customized bookstore. If your kids don’t squeal with delight when they come home, you can have your money back.  How could a child not squeal, when, after a long hard day at school they come home to this: 

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Your kids will grab books and park themselves all over the house and everything will get really quiet.

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6. Show them YOU love to read by reading.

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Share with them the books you are reading and tell them what makes that book interesting to you. Mention to them what your bookclub is reading. And if you really want to get on their good side, read some of their favorite books. My kids love it when I take book recommendations from them.  After all, every parent should know who Percy Jackson is. When they see you sharing books with them they are more likely to pass this love of books on to their younger siblings. Soon you will have a whole house full of book whisperers.


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7. Leave books in strategic locations

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Especially books they *think* they are not interested in. They might just pick it up on a whim. Good locations: breakfast table, coffee table, on their pillows, and in the back seat of the car (where they are trapped with nothing else to do).

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8. Make book-giving traditions
(Shhhh! These beautiful new books are for a soon-to-be nine-year-old!)IMG_7345

Birthdays are obvious times when you can give books, but I always try to give my kids a new book when we are going on plane trips, too (which we do a lot of). It becomes a quiet travel companion that does not require batteries or cords and when they are finished they can trade with their siblings.

9. Ask children what books they’ve been reading lately.

It is a great way to start a conversation with a child you don’t know well or whom you haven’t seen for a while. It is also a good way to find out what is on their mind, and to find something in common. I have already decided that I am going to be the “Book-Giving” Grandma for my grandkids, which will be really cool because by then books will be antiques. (“Wow, Grandma! It has real pages!”  “Yes, my dear, made of real paper. And look how easily they turn!”  “Oh, thank you, Grandma!”)

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There are your nine steps to becoming a book whisperer. I could probably think of ten, but I am tired and I have a good book whispering to me from my nightstand. I’ll leave you with these last words:

When my children were small, I would often read with my eldest daughter tucked in by my side, the boy draped like a panther half across my shoulders and half across the back of the sofa, a tiny daughter on either knee, and the baby in my lap. If we happened to be on one of our cycles through “Treasure Island,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling classic, my husband would come to listen, too, and stretch out on the floor in his suit and tie and shush the children when they started to act out the exciting bits.

This is from a beautifully written Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Great Gift of Reading Outloud.” I love the picture it puts in my mind. I recently heard an elementary school principal say that if your kids can learn to read, they can learn how to do anything else. For sure, it is the gateway to knowledge. But not just knowledge, it is a refuge, a friend, and a connection to those who loved you first.

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You may have tangible wealth untold; caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be. I had a mother who read to me.

Strickland Gillian







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Blue Ribbon Bathrooms: Getting Kids To *Really* Clean The Bathroom

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When a parent says “clean the bathroom” they have something very specific in mind. They want to see smooth counters, a sparkling mirror, hair-free floors and a pristine toilet. When a child hears “clean the bathroom” they have a vague impression that they are supposed to take the cleaner and spray as much as they can, and then take a rag and wipe as much as they can, and when their arm feels like it is about to fall off then they are done and it is time to play.

Let’s just say that for children, cleaning the bathroom is not intuitive.

Over the years I have had many informal training sessions with my kids, teaching them how to keep the mirror streak-free and how to keep the counter from getting sticky and to always remember that little forgotten ledge at the back of the toilet. But even after all this, when I told the kids to “clean the bathroom” it never seemed to meet my hopeful expectations.  Sometimes the bathroom looked worse after they had “cleaned” it than before.

I have realistic expectations, I know they are children and that they shouldn’t be expected to clean as well as an adult. And that I should keep my standards low.

. . . or should I?

In my heart I had a hunch that they could do a really good job on the bathrooms if they wanted to, and if they had a clear understanding of what “clean” really meant. Plus I wanted the child, whatever her age was, to feel success for whatever level of cleanliness she achieved. And if she went the extra mile I wanted her work to be rewarded. So this summer I introduced the idea of Blue Ribbon Bathrooms. This is based on the concept of Good, Better, Best. This way they can see that there are different levels of clean, and all levels are rewarded respectively.

There are three parts to the Blue Ribbon Bathroom plan:

  1. I assigned each child a bathroom for the entire summer.  This was important, since this would be her bathroom to take care of. The better she cleaned her bathroom the first week, the easier it would be for her to clean the next week and so on.

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    Naomi gets the half-bath since she is younger.

  2. I made a list of what I felt like was a Good cleaning job, a Better cleaning job and a Best cleaning job, laminated it and stuck it on the wall in each bathroom.

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    The full, readable version is printed at the end of the post.

  3. Then I gave them incentives to match their results. The first incentive was that they got a “ribbon” on the door to show the world what level of cleanliness their bathroom had obtained.
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    I couldn’t find ribbons at the store with toilets on them so I had to resort to my own trusty pen, paper and scissors.

    The second incentive was that they got stickers that could be traded into cash at the end of the summer. A Blue Ribbon bathroom would receive 20 stickers, a Red Ribbon bathroom got 10 and a Yellow Ribbon bathroom got 5. (These stickers were part of a much larger incentive program that also included getting stickers for instrument practicing, book reading, and other chores that lasted the entire summer. Each sticker, at the end of the summer, could be traded in for 10 cents each. But you could use other incentives, too.) The third incentive was the most important: if they cleaned their bathroom well, than the next time they had to clean it it wouldn’t be so hard. The better they cleaned, the less they would have to clean in the long run.  This was what I really wanted to teach them.

Even if the kids settle for doing a yellow or red ribbon bathroom, I am still happy. This system has worked great this summer (although not perfectly) and so far it has been the best way to help them understand the difference between a dirty bathroom, a clean bathroom and a spotless bathroom.

Best of all, when a bathroom has really been cleaned, from the faucet all the way to the folded triangle in the toilet paper, and the Blue Ribbon has been placed on their door, I can see the pride that they are feeling, knowing that they went beyond Good or Better but they did their very Best.

Here are the requirements:

Yellow Ribbon Bathroom

  • Counter cleaned
  • Mirror cleaned
  • Toilet cleaned

Red Ribbon Bathroom

  • Counter cleaned
  • Mirror cleaned
  • Toilet cleaned
  • Toilet bowl scrubbed
  • Trash taken out
  • Toilet paper refilled

Blue Ribbon Bathroom

  • Counter cleaned
  • Mirror cleaned
  • Toilet cleaned
  • Toilet bowl scrubbed
  • Trash taken out
  • Toilet paper refilled
  • Rugs shaken out
  • Floor swept
  • Floor washed
  • Cupboards washed (if needed)
  • Tub cleaned of soap scum and hairs
  • Cleaned behind door
  • Toilet paper folded in a triangle

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The Method To Our Madness

This is our secret weapon.

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It is the only way anything gets done in our house.

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It is in the kitchen, by the breakfast table, so it gets seen constantly.IMG_6727

And it provides the perfect place to put assignments,IMG_6737

reminders, IMG_6672

threats, 
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and encouragement.

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If you do not have one of these go get one. Now. Run. (Buy a pack of colored chalk while you are at it.)IMG_4926

Never underestimate the power of a good chalkboard in the right place.

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The Burning of the Parthenon

For a school project Sophie and a friend were required to make a scale model of the Parthenon.

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There was some good father/daughter time involved, and a beautiful replica was created. This was at Christmastime.

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It is now April.

And we still have the Parthenon.

It migrated around our house, going from the dining room to the living room until finally finding a temporary home under the coffee table.

“We have to do something with the Parthenon,”  I finally told Scott.

“Let’s burn it,” he said. “With gasoline.”

“No,” I said.

“With starting fluid.”

“No,” I said.

“With lighters.”

“I can’t use a lighter,” chimed in my 5-year-old son, “Let’s use matches!”

“Who taught you to use matches?” I said.

“Uncle Seth.”

Thanks a lot, dear brother.

So for Family Home Evening (something we do every Monday night) we took a box of matches and commenced the destruction of the Parthenon.

Since we are responsible parents, we also used this as an opportunity to teach the kids how to use a fire extinguisher.

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It was pretty exciting for everyone involved, and filled with valuable teaching moments.

We wanted to let the flames consume as much of the Parthenon as possible before we let the kids use the extinguisher, so we let it burn.

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There were photos taken, and some merry-making.IMG_6638

The flames rose higher.

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And higher.IMG_6640

At one point the merry-making stopped and we all watched the fire with a growing sense of unease.

“Perhaps we should not have done this so close to our house,” I murmured.

“Nah, it will be fine,” said my husband.

When the flames started to melt the aluminum barricade that stood between the Parthenon and our deck I thought this was the perfect time to share a little family history.

“You know . . . ” I said. “The mountains around Malibu often catch on fire, and when my mom was a little girl her dad would sometimes stand on the roof with a hose to wet it down so their house didn’t burn.”

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“I think I’ll go get a hose,” said Scott.

Once the side of the house and the deck were hosed down we felt better.

Then we decided it was time for the kids to do their own fire fighting.

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Family Night didn’t last too long–maybe 20 minutes at most. By the end the Parthenon was an ashy pile of black ruins. Although it became a little dicey there for a moment, now we have four kids who can wield a fire extinguisher.

And our house is still standing.

All’s well that ends well.

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A Bulletproof Marriage

So I started dating this new guy.

We’d known each other for a couple of weeks. He was tall, blond, funny, and a little cocky. He told me he was good at tennis. So when he invited me one weekend to watch him play in the annual 4th of July tennis tournament in his hometown I tagged along. I was curious if this guy was actually as good as he said he was.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about tennis. So I sat on bleachers outside the courts, next to his 14-year-old brother who was clearly amused by my vast ignorance. But he was nice and patiently answered my questions and kept me updated on the score. As the tournament progressed I began to see that my date really did seem to excel at this sport. I smiled. I sat up a little straighter. I flipped my hair. If anyone asked me who I was I didn’t bother with my name. I just pointed out to the court and said, “I’m his date.”

But the best was yet to come.

During one match my date jogged up to the chain link fence and said to his little brother in mysterious tennis language, “Watch this. I’m going to ace him on the next serve.”

“What is an ace?” I asked loudly, not wanting to be left out.

Whispering, (because that is what you are supposed to do when you watch tennis) the little brother smiled and said, “Just watch.”

I peered wide-eyed through the fence as my date prepared for his serve by bouncing the ball a few times and casting a piercing stare across the net. Then he tossed the ball up in the air, at the same time bending his knees and pulling back his racket. Time stopped for just a moment as he waited for the ball to make its decent. Then, when the ball was in the perfect spot, he whipped his racket out from behind him and pummeled the ball,  hurling it across the court. Before his opponent had a chance to even wet his lips the ball crossed the net, hit the corner of the service box and shot passed him, rattling the fence. Without his opponent even touching the ball, my date had scored.

Then he turned, pointed his racket straight at me and said, “That is an ace.”

Six months later we were married.

Rising in Love

Falling in love was so exciting. Scott was by far the most fascinating person I had ever met. But soon the “falling” part of love quickly got . . . well . . . impractical. Life happens. How are we going to divvy up responsibilities? How do we pay for the things we need and still have something left for things we want? Should we go into debt or wait till we can pay in full? Should we move or should we stay? Then children come along and all of those fun, private “couple-moments” are the first thing to be thrown overboard as each of us is just trying to do our best to keep the ship afloat. When all this is going on, who has time for each other?

In addition to that, those wonderful things that attracted you to each other in the first place can become unbelievably annoying. (“You are going to go play tennis again?”)

That is when you stop falling in love . . . and you start rising.

Falling in love is spontaneous, unexpected, surprising, a little reckless, and oh so easy.

Rising in love is deliberate, thought-out, scheduled, and sometimes very, very hard.

I don’t know why some marriages work and some don’t. I am only an expert on my own marriage (although Scott probably thinks he’s the expert). I don’t think anyone gets married with the expectation that the marriage will fail. At the beginning every bride and groom intends for their marriage to last forever. After all, we are soul mates. Nothing will ever extinguish the love we have for each other. We are bulletproof. Right?

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But before you know it there are a zillion bullets zinging toward your marriage every day. Bullets from the outside, bullets from the inside . . . and you realize your marriage is anything but bulletproof. Often it is the small, “every-day” bullets that can do the most damage.

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My husband travels a lot. (Leaving me with lots of time to write blog posts.) On this particular trip he was going to be gone over Valentines Day. We had been having some internet issues with the way our phone and internet were set up. Sometimes the internet and phone would both crash and in order to get things working again Scott would unplug a bunch of cords and push some buttons and plug cords back in, blow three times, say the magic words, watch little green lights come on, do the hokey pokey and turn himself around and then the internet would start working again. For some reason I could never get it work, and my greatest concern was that the internet and phone would go out at the very moment one of my kids started choking (or some other catastrophe). I voiced this to him several times. Just before he left Scott handed me a paper of detailed instructions on how to restart the internet should it fail. Then he picked up his suitcase and said as he rushed out the door, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry I didn’t get you flowers.”

I held the instructions to my heart. “This is better than flowers,” I said.

We dodged a bullet.

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I remember one week when Scott had back-to-back sports activities. One night was church basketball, the next night was doubles tennis (mixed!) then he got up early and rode his bike with friends, then that night there was another tennis match. Meanwhile, I was languishing at home with three girls under three, gulping for some respite like a dying goldfish stranded on a counter gulps for air. Then came the last straw. He came home from school, went to put on a new type of sports outfit, grabbed a new type of sports paraphernalia,  turned to me and said, “Do you have any cash, Mom?”

Ah . . . Mom?

Well, that was the end of his sporting events for the week. He felt so bad that Saturday he surprised me with a light box he made himself that I could use for my art projects.

We dodged another bullet.

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Then there was the time I was a week overdue with my fifth child and I found out I had contracted lice.  Yes, you read that right: LICE. In my HAIR. “The world is ending!” I told Scott. But he helped me wash everything in the house and then he sat on the bench behind me and pulled every nit out of my very long hair. It was not romantic. But it was true love.

Another bullet dodged . . . which was a good thing, since that night we had a baby.

There are other “rising in love” stories, most of which will only ever be known to Scott and me. And I know there will be many, many more in the future . . . since we have a lot more rising to do.

Connected at the Core

After we had been married for a while one of the teenagers in our church youth program asked her mother a perplexing question, “Why did Brother and Sister Dyreng get married? They have nothing in common.”

What an observant child. Scott likes sports, Chelsea likes to read. Scott likes dogs, Chelsea likes cats. Scott likes to go to bed early, Chelsea likes to go to bed late. Scott thinks math is interesting.

But we do agree on some things.

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When it comes to the important things, Scott and I are connected at the core. As for the things we don’t have in common–the things that make us opposites–well, that just keeps life refreshing.

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Despite what you may read or hear otherwise, marriage is still the best place to find happiness, the best place to give children the best odds for success, and the best place to develop selflessness.  It is hard to rise by yourself.

(Click here for a short video that shows a heart-stopping example of what I mean.)

More and more I am discovering that the key to success in marriage can be summed up in one word: generosity.

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Giving what is expected, and then giving more.  And when that happens, marriage isn’t something that you are working hard to hold together . . . the marriage is what holds everything else together.

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So there is no such thing as a bulletproof marriage. And that is good, since it keeps us on our toes.

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To the Mother of Young Children

Part 1

You have only so much love

In your cup.

Most of it goes to your children all day

but you share some with neighbors

and their children.

Sometimes you save some love for yourself

but not very much, because you’ll need love for

older parents

teachers

friends

strangers

and the family dog.

By the time your husband comes home

you only have a little love left.

You could drink the last bit up yourself or

you could give it to him.

Of course you give it to him

because that is the kind of person you are, and

you know that there will always be more in the morning.

Sure enough, when you wake,

your cup is full again and

you pour out your love again

to all those thirsty people around you.

 

Part 2

One day

you use up all your love

for the people around you and

when your husband comes home

there is no love left in your cup

for him.

So instead you go to sleep

because you know

there will be more in the morning.

And there is.

And as long as your cup is full every morning

you know you’ll find a way to make it last.

 

Part 3

Then one morning you wake to find

that your cup is empty.

The children clamor for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your husband yearns for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your friends and neighbors and teachers and

strangers and family dog need your love.

But you are empty, empty, empty, empty.

Everyone depends on you.

Everyone is thirsty.

You want to say, I need a vacation!

But everyone knows there is no such thing

as a vacation for mothers.

This is a problem.

So you try to fill up your cup with your tears

but that is hard

and besides, no one wants to drink

your tears.

 

Part 4

This is when

you come and find Me

and hold out your cup.

(Please be sure it is not upside down.)

I will then fill it with My Love.

And when you know your cup is filled

with Love from Me

it will fill your heart

and your heart

will become a fountain.

And then you will not need a cup

anymore.

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Camping With Kids

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

When I say the words “camping with kids” what images come to mind?

Inconsolable babies? Thunderstorms? Full diapers, mysterious rashes, tick bites? Mosquitoes, bats, burned food, no food, rustic latrines with no toilet paper, snakes, mountains of laundry . . . shall I go on? Would you rather not talk about it?

For parents, camping with kids can be one of the most pointless, frustrating and miserable things you may ever do in your lifetime. Why would you take your entire family out of their normal schedule and air-conditioned environment and purposely put them in a situation where they are cold, wet, dirty, hungry and as uncomfortable as possible?

Scott and I have taken our kids camping in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

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Sinks Canyon, Wyoming

We’ve camped in bitter cold, pounding rain, merciless wind and catastrophic thunderstorms. We’ve camped in the mountains, on beaches and in the swamp.  And we still go out for more. We can’t get enough of it. We love it.

Perhaps we are insane.

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

I understand if you say that camping with kids is not for you. It is a lot of work. When we go camping we only take the things we know we will use and it still looks like we are planning a three-week vacation to the moon.  You’ll have to bring diapers and bikes and pack-and-plays and books and sleeping bags and tents and extra clothes and food and stoves and dutch ovens and coolers and propane tanks . . . you get the idea.  And remember, you will need at least an entire day to prepare for your camping trip and two entire days to clean up when you get back!

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And then there are the nights! Oh, the agony!

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

It will most likely be one of the Top Three Most Horrible Nights of Your Life, right up there with the other two times you went camping with kids. You will either be freezing cold, sweltering hot or getting eaten alive by invisible bugs. You will hear strange noises, have weird neighbors, and there will almost always be someone who needs help finding the outhouse (hopefully it will be one of your own children and not someone from the next camp). And if you bring a baby, even one that regularly sleeps through the night, expect that just when you finally drift off to sleep he will wake up with a 4-alarm cry. If you expect to sleep through the night, you are in trouble.

Better instead to expect to have a great story to tell everyone else at breakfast.

And speaking of breakfast, did you know camping has a magical effect on food? There is something about not having an option for food for miles and miles that makes any scrap of food taste unbelievable. Dirt and charcoal become flavor enhancers instead of reasons to throw food away. It is miraculous how the outdoors changes your perception of “tasty.”

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

And when food does turn out perfectly, well, you eat like kings. Grateful, ravenous kings.

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

If the above scenarios seem unappealing to you, than camping with kids is not for you. But then, isn’t that the point? It isn’t for you, right?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

What you see as a world of work, your children will see as a world of discovery.

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Eastatoe Falls, North Carolina

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Grayson Highlands, Virginia

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Merchants Millpond, North Carolina

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Stone Mountain, North Carolina

Camping gives kids the opportunity to do a lot of things that are normally off-limits. They can get as dirty as they want. There is no schedule to adhere to, no clocks, no lessons, no school.   Boys can swing from trees and girls can find their inner Amazon. They can revert to their carnal nature that their parents are always trying to suppress.  They get to sleep outside, pee outside, eat with dirty hands. They howl at the moon. They worship fire.

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Camping builds character exponentially and fosters gratitude. Little things become big things: a zipper that zips up–a miracle! A warm sleeping bag–a luxury!  A spoon–incredible! Dry socks–to die for!! A flashlight with batteries–heaven!!

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Eno River, North Carolina

Camping makes work meaningful and concentrates the big, grand, hard-to-fathom Law of the Harvest into a small period of time that they can comprehend. Would you like a fire to get warm? Gather fire wood. Would you like a tent to sleep in? Set it up. Want to get across the lake? Paddle.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

 

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

But getting kids to do that stuff is easy. The hard part is getting everyone to fold up the tents when we are done, because seriously, who wants to go home?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

Have I convinced you yet? No? Well then I know what you are thinking . . . the cost!  Surely it must cost a lot of money to get all the camping paraphernalia you need to go out in the wild, especially for kids. But I guarantee that it will cost you less to take your family camping, even if you had to buy all the gear from scratch, than it would take to get your family to Disneyworld. And you can use your camping stuff over and over and over again.

Plus, when you are outside and you don’t have electronics and time commitments, strange things start happening. Kids talk to each other. Kids talk to you. They play games with real, live people.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

They get to use things like knives and axes; tools that were used for hundreds of years before computers. Tools every child knew how to use by the time they were twelve. Tools that built civilizations.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

Then, if you really want to see something cool, give your kid a camera and tell them to go far a way. Then see what they bring back.

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Ferron Reservoir in Utah, taken by Sophie

For me it is worth it just to see how excited they are to sleep in hammocks or see the light on my son’s face when he says, “You mean I can go to the bathroom in the WOODS?! Awesome!” (Granted, my daughters’ reaction is quite different.)

When they are 75 years old they may not remember the video game or the toy or the book you gave them, but they will remember the tree that almost hit your car (true story!) and the time you fell in the creek, and they will remember listening to the coyotes howl and they will remember the way that trout wriggled when they touched it. And every miserable act of suffering will become a legend in the grand hallways of your family history.

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Duck Fork, Utah

But when it all comes down to it, the reason I go camping with kids is for the adventure. There are not enough adventures in our current lifestyle. Why? Because all we do is push buttons.  We push buttons for work, for fun, for social needs, for school. Believe me, unless you are breaking the code of the Enigma, it is hard to have an adventure pushing buttons.

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Some place in North Carolina

So go on. Get out there. Suffer. Be miserable.

And make adventure happen.

 

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