Tag Archives: parenting

The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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Rowing Off Into the Sunset

So there once was a mom who was jealous of her kids.

She was jealous because they got to have piano lessons and violin lessons and swimming lessons and soccer and tennis and etcetera.  The mom watched them learning all of these wonderful things and she wanted to learn something, too. So she decided to sign up for lessons of her own.

IMG_9127She had had her eye on rowing for a long time, and finally a friend told her about a nearby masters crew club that had lessons for novices. The only requirements were that you have to be fit, know how to swim (no one wears life jackets), and you have to be able to lift 40 pounds over your head and walk 75 yards. (The team carries the very long and heavy boat from the boathouse to the water.)

She had the first two requirements down, but she was a little nervous about the last one. (Have you seen the size of her arms? They are like broomsticks!) IMG_9105

Fortunately for her, she was not as tall as the other rowers and once they had the boat over their heads she couldn’t even reach it. A lucky break!IMG_9111

The coach was a fountain of rowing knowledge, and most of the other women were experienced rowers so there was nothing to fear. (Except catching a crab, which she did on the third day of practice. Yikes!)

There were lots new things to learn. Anyone even casually familiar with boats knows that when facing the bow the right side is starboard and the left side is port. But in a row boat you are all facing backwards. So your left side is starboard and your right side is port. It took some getting used to.

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The coach was careful to teach by degrees . . . Sometimes only two rowers would row while the other rowers kept the boat set with their oars. Then the coach increased it to four, and the six. When it wasn’t her turn to row the star of our story would close her eyes and pretend like she was Cleopatra going down the Nile.

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I am in seat number 5, right in the middle with the white hat.

It wasn’t until the third practice that the coach allowed all eight rowers to row and she could now understand why her coach had added rowers by degrees. Eight people rowing with no one to set the boat was quite exciting! And a little chaotic, at first. But eventually she got the hang of it.

IMG_9113The whole experience was a little dream come true and definitely one to repeat in the future. But now it is back to taking the kids to lessons, and watching them grow and learn. Which is not so bad, especially when you have a view like this:

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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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The Great Van of Happiness

Do your kids fight? Yeah, I know. Mine don’t either. Especially in the car.

I calculated how much time I’ve spent in the van this last year just picking the kids up from two different schools (an hour wait time between schools) and taking them to their lessons. I’m not good with numbers, but I think the total was in the millions.

We spend a lot of time in that box.

My kids are good kids. They love each other. They help each other. They do secret acts of kindness for each other. But when it is time to get in the van they turn into flesh-eating piranhas. It is as if some seats in the van are made of solid gold and other seats are barbed wire. The back seat, especially. You would think by listening to the cries of distress and agony as they make their way to the back that they are on their way to the electric chair.   And my children, none of them being shrinking violets, will defend their right to sit in their desired seat with volcanic passion.

So yes, I admit it. We are car fighters. Thank you in advance for all the advice you are going to give me in response to this post. I welcome it with open arms. But I want to assure you that trying to stop the fighting is a short road to insanity.
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Imagine being strapped into a box for an unknown amount of time with nothing to do and no power to escape. Meanwhile the person next to you is poking you in the eye or yelling in your ear or trying to steal your food.  I think in the adult world we would call this “a hostage situation.”  It should be no surprise that children don’t like it, either.

We have moments of happiness. We do. I think there was a time a couple weeks ago that we laughed.

Seriously, though, most of the time the kids find plenty to do. We listen to books on cd, we sing with granola bar microphones, and we play quiz games. I bring snacks, they draw, they write stories, and there is always a lot of reading going on (for those who can).

But the fighting escalates whenever they get in or get out of the van. And who can blame them? Because of the baby’s car seat they are left with one door to squeeze through. (Except for the Golden Child who gets to avoid all the commotion by nabbing the front seat.)

After weeks of the same, predictable fighting, I desperately wanted to turn our van time into something more positive. So I did what any mother who has problems would do: I made a chart. The idea was that the children would rotate seats every week.  The chart was beautiful and simple, and in a burst of optimism I decided to call the chart “The Great Van of Happiness.”

We’ve used The Great Van of Happiness for about a year now with mixed results. Here is my brief report.

It doesn’t matter if the chart says this: IMG_6715 Or this: IMG_6716

The children always feel like this:
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But we still use it because it is the best thing we’ve got.

It is flawed, because everyone has to rotate to the back seat but not everyone gets to rotate to the very front “favorite child” seat because some are too young.

Fireworks also come out when people forget to check the Great Van of Happiness chart before they sit in their seats and then there is a great bottleneck of kids in the doorway of the van, some sitting, some half-standing and all of them snapping at each other.

“Well what does the Great Van of Happiness say?”

“I don’t know. You check it!”

“No, you check it!”

I’ll check it,” says Danny who is holding my iphone. “Siri, what does the Great Van of Happiness say?”

Siri answered back with what she found on the web for “What does the Gravy Van of Happy Nests say.”

But there is hope.

Once a week we pick up a little neighbor friend from middle school and bring her home.  I try to reserve shotgun for her, not only because she is our guest, but also to give her some distance from the rest of the wolves, that her life might be spared. (She is an only child.) Sometimes, when she is sitting next to me and the battle is raging behind us she asks me in a very grown-up tone if I am going to do anything about it. Being that she is an outsider, I am always interested in any input.

“Well, do you have any good ideas?” I ask her, very sincerely.

She didn’t at first. Every now and then she would glance in the back as if she were observing from the other side of a mirror in an insane asylum and giving me the play-by-play. “Did you know that ____ is undoing his seat belt? Did you know that _____ is biting ______? Did you know that _____ just threw ______’s ______ out the window?”

Towards the end of the year our little friend had had enough. Driving home, amid the normal and terrible sounds of choking, whining and attempted strangulation she asked, “Miss Chelsea (because that is how we address people here in the South), do you mind if I read?”

“Of course not. You don’t need to ask.” After all, when they are not torturing each other that is what Dyrengs do best. (Those over five years old, anyway.) I was assuming she was just going to read to herself. But she had no intention of doing that.  She opened up a book and cleared her throat.

“Chapter One,” she announced loudly.

Everyone went quiet.  You could have heard a Cheerio drop. It was as if someone had suddenly stuffed peanut butter in everyone’s mouth. And miraculously everyone stayed quiet the entire way home. Peace. Tranquility. Hope for the future. Once we arrived home I tried to refrain from kissing her little red head.

When we picked her up the next week she again read to everyone, plunging the van into another deep, meditative silence. The book was not particularly interesting (in fact it was a book on how to play video games, something that seems very odd to me) but there was something about the loud, constant cadence of her voice that mesmerized everyone. I had to keep checking everyone in my rear view mirror to make sure they weren’t in comas.

Who knew that adding a sixth child to the mix would calm things down? Unfortunately school is now finished, and the Great Van of Happiness will have to do with out our neighbor until next year. Or perhaps her mother will let us adopt her for the summer. Or I could pay her.

In the meantime there is not much I can do except keep reminding my kids that they are all important no matter what seat they have to sit in, and that no one in the Great Van of Happiness is mouse droppings. Sometimes we just have to bloom where we are planted. Even if it is in the very back seat.

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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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Talking to a Child Who Does Not Want to Talk to You

Several years ago I was in a quaint, small-town bookstore. As I chatted with the sixties-something bookstore owner she noticed my three daughters. “Are those girls yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly.

“Hmmm . . . ” she said, stroking her chin. “Come with me.” She beckoned me to an obscure corner of her store, and, glancing furtively at my girls, she leaned in close to my ear.  “Let me give you some advice,” she said in a low voice. “Someday, when your girls get older they will want nothing to do with you. They will not even want to talk to you.”

“No,” I reassured her, “Not my gir–”

“Listen closely,” she interrupted, “and I will tell you what to do when that happens.”

Then she whispered to me her secret. It was truly brilliant. I tucked her advice away in my mind so that I would be able to use it someday “when my daughters want nothing to do with me” (which of course will never happen). I will share her secret with you.

But first I am going to tell you another story.

I was that child once.

I was that child that didn’t want to have anything to do with her parents. My rebellion hit when I was in my second year of college; the year I fell in love with Trouble.

My parents were frightened for me. My brothers were disappointed in me. My sisters prayed for me. Everyone did all they could to persuade me and admonish me and warn me that I was dating Bagley Family Enemy #1, but I wouldn’t listen. Why? Because when you are 19, very few things matter more than a 6’4″ green-eyed boy who also happens to be an excellent kisser.

Around the time all of this was happening I went to Wal-Mart with my dad. Just before we checked out he grabbed a stuffed bear from the shelf.

“Why are you buying that?” I asked him.

My dad shrugged mysteriously. “Just in the mood.”

In the mood to buy stuffed animals? I thought. Dad, you are weird.  I eyed him suspiciously as he paid for his purchases and we left the store, the bear tucked under his arm.

“So . . . are you going to name him?” I asked as we walked to his truck, wondering what my mom was going to think that night when my dad cuddled up with his bear.

“Who?” he said.

“The bear,” I said. “What are you going to name him?”

“Oh, yes.” Thoughtful pause. “Him.”

Him?”

“Yes. His name is Him.”

On that bewildering note my dad put the bear down in the backseat, drove me to my apartment and dropped me off.

A few weeks went by. Awesome weeks. Trouble and I went on long drives, we ate out a lot, we laughed a lot, we kissed . . . a lot.  All the while I knew I was creating quite a panic on the home front.  And as I desired to be with Trouble more and more, I visited home less and less. After all, why would I want to go home only to get reprimanded? Trouble made me happy. Trouble was all that mattered.  Me + Trouble = True Love.

Then, early one morning, I opened the apartment door to leave for my campus job. There on the doorstep sat a vaguely familiar stuffed animal.

It was Him.

Under his paw there was an envelope with my name on it.

I brought the bear inside the apartment, sat down and opened the letter. “Dear Chelsea,” it read. “This is a letter to Him. Since Him cannot read, I was hoping you could read it out loud to Him.”

Okay . . . I thought. My dad truly is the King of Weirdness. But, I sighed, if he took the time to bring this bear to my apartment in the middle of the night I decided to at lease humor him. I read the note (out loud, as directed) to the bear. It wasn’t anything ground breaking. Just a letter about life and working through tough decisions.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what he was trying to do. A few days later there was another letter on the doorstep addressed to Him, presumably for me to read out loud.  Then letters started coming in the mail, too. It was happening so often that my roommates were getting thrills every time a “Him letter” showed up. And even though I stopped reading them out loud (too many ears in those apartments!) I secretly began to look forward to the letters because a.) my dad was a funny man who did unpredictable things, and  b.) I wasn’t as happy with Trouble as I wished I was.  Trouble was a good kisser . . . and that was about it.

My dad wrote to Him about everything: decision making, being wise, having an eternal perspective, and even techniques on how to get to sleep.  He drew diagrams and pictures so Him (who had a small brain) could understand.

I did finally break up with Trouble. And then we got back together. Then we broke up again.  Finally Trouble went on a mission, but it wasn’t until he came home two years later that I finally pounded the last nail in the coffin of our love. Believe me, Trouble is hard to shake off.

The letters to Him weren’t what saved me from getting into serious problems with this young man. But the letters to Him kept me connected with my dad in a unique and vital way. The fact that my dad took the time to make his messages creative told me that he loved me but did not want to offend me. And because his method was so strangely endearing I didn’t have the heart to get defensive about the advice I was getting. Each letter was a gentle reminder that I was loved and I was being prayed for, and most of all, that I was being trusted to make the right choice on my own.
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Now, back to the bookstore owner who had me cornered in her store.

This is what she told me:

You will need a bag of mini marshmallows, some tooth picks and a little candle. Late at night (when people are most willing to share their deepest dreams and fears) invite one of your girls to the kitchen table. (You must only do this with one child at a time.) Light the candle. Turn off the lights. Stick the little marshmallows on the toothpicks. Roast your marshmallows. Because the candle is so small you will have to sit very close to each other. Because you are doing something edible she will not leave. And because you are doing something unpredictable she will know that you care. Then let her talk, and you listen.

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I’ve already done this with two of my kids, with magical results. (I am starting this method early, as a preventative measure.)

It is our job as parents to remind, correct, discipline and warn. But it is worth remembering that kids may not always listen to words, but they always listen to love.

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“If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands, and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may possibly be led to if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.”   –Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

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