Don’t let others limit you

When given choices in life, remember that there are always other (unspoken) options.

Here's a recent conversation with my 3 year old.

Me:  Would you like milk or water with dinner?

3yo: Gatorade!

Me:  Milk or water?

3yo: Gatorade, please.

Me:  Milk or water?

3yo: Chocolate milk?

So next time you're asked which team you'd like to be on or which task you'd like to do or what hours you'd like to work, remember there might be a few options that aren't mentioned. For example, see 20 things you can negotiate in a job offer for some options available when you are considering a new job.

My Grandpa: An Outstanding Record in Hauling Live Stock

GrandpaAwardNewspaper In 1945 my grandpa received a citation for an outstanding record in hauling live stock by truck to the Sioux Falls Market. (It's the emblem on his truck in the background of the picture.)

I was excited to find this 64 year old article and the letter that accompanied it not only for the glimpse into a part of my grandpa that I never knew, but also because my grandma had deemed it worthy of keeping. (And my grandma could have taught classes on clutter free living.)

By the time I was old enough to remember my grandpa, alcoholism and emphysema had taken their toll. He spent most of his time at home leaning on the banister at the top of the stairs. He usually had a moment for us kids – either to complain that we were running through the house or to stop us and tease us – and to tell us that the sandbox behind the house was his. (The sandbox wasn't his I discovered. Although I staunchly defended my grandpa's claim to the sandbox, it belonged to the neighbor kid. The neighbor kid and I settled the sandbox dispute with an agreement. I agreed to play toy soldiers – my first and last game ever – in exchange for a game of tag and we quickly became friends, running around the neighborhood playing made up games that enlisted all the kids we could find. Grandpa teased me about that as well.)

There's one memory of Grandpa that made an impact on my adult life. One of my older cousins brought her infant daughter by to visit. When my grandpa held the baby, his whole face lit up. The baby was soon snatched away from him but I promised myself that when I had a baby I'd bring him by for Grandpa to hold. Unfortunately Grandpa died 22 years before that could happen, but every time I visit a nursing home – with my dog before and now occasionally with my kids – and watch people's faces light up, I remember that promise.

Mommy come back!

This week I've taken Caleb, my two year old, into daycare a few times and had a few entertaining discussions. (Normally I pick the kids up, not drop them off. But being gone for 10 days for GUADEC was hard on the family so I've been trying to help Frank get caught up at work. My agreement with the family is that I'll be home on weekends and try to make trips short. GUADEC doesn't fit that arrangement very well.)

Actually, every day I was at GUADEC, I had the same entertaining discussion with Caleb:

Me: What did you do today?

Caleb: I caught two fish, Jacob caught none!

Jacob: (In the background.) But Daddy helped you!

On Monday when I took Caleb in I talked to him about what we'd done over the weekend.

Me: We went to the jazz festival, we played in the sprinklers and went to Granny and Papaws! What else did we do?


It was good to feel loved! 

The next day on the way in, he commiserated with me that I wasn't a kid:

Me: What are you going to do today?

Caleb: Play friends.

Me: That sounds like fun.

Caleb: Mommy do that?

Me: I wish I could. It sounds like it'd be a good time.

Caleb: Mommy be small.

If I was a kid, I could play all day too!

Trains, trains, trains!

We recently rode the train in Napa. Our two year old was just delighted. (Especially since the conductor gave him a lollipop every time he came around.)


But then it got to be too much:


We all enjoyed the scenery:


Books, kids and sex

It's wrong for books targeted at kids to be full of underage kids drinking to get drunk, sex between people that don't care for each other and kids using drugs. I don't have a problem with kids reading books that contain those things, but I think books targeted at kids have to take into account how influential they are and they have a social responsibility to use that influence for good.

I've been actively looking for book suggestions for a 12 year old that really liked Stephenie Meyer's books, so this weekend I was thinking about kids as I read Vampire Academy. While I enjoyed the book, I would not recommend the book to a 12 year old. And I was pretty upset that the book is targeted at kids. It's a book about teenagers and the reading level is marked "Young Adult". And it has drunken underage parties and sex for favors.

Now the vampire and werewolf genre is full of romance and sex, and although I don't always like that, it doesn't bother me because I can just choose not to read the ones I don't like – like Laurell Hamilton's books, good stories, too much random sex that doesn't further the plot. And I chose to leave them off of my list of recommendations for a 12 year old. And that's all ok.

But to find a book so clearly targeted at kids that contained so much inappropriate sex and alcohol use … I felt like that was irresponsible on the part of the author. (Although I'd feel differently about that if you told me the author is a teenager.) Now I realize that "inappropriate" is highly subjective. I'm not a fan of the way we teach abstinence in schools and others think that is the only right thing. But sex for favors is pretty universally frowned on. And drinking to get drunk, while obviously not a social taboo (at least in the US), is probably not something most parents in today's society would encourage their kids to do.

I'm sure the book with its drink to get drunk parties and sex for favor scenes reflects a reality. But is it a reality the author really wants to encourage to kids? I could understand portraying the reality in a book targeted at parents, so they would know what's going on. And I understand that if the author doesn't portray real teenagers, she'll lose her audience – teenagers. However, I think she could have left out the drinking-to-get-drunk and having-sex-so-guys-will-do-you-a-favor scenes without losing her credibility, audience or story.

Perhaps Richelle Mead feels like she is doing the right thing by showing that the good character waits to have sex but I think she's more likely spreading the word that drinking to get drunk is a fun and cool thing to do.

(And in case you are wondering, I recommended Patricia Briggs, Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper, Orson Scott Card, Robert Jordan and Diane Duane.)

Putting Crucial Conversations to work

Since I recommended Crucial Conversations but didn't really talk much about what it taught, I thought I'd share how I'm trying to apply it in my life.

The authors of Crucial Conversations recommend practicing your new skills with your kids because they are always lots of opportunities. They were right!

Last night I practiced my new skills on my 8 year old and to my surprise it actually worked. (Some day he's going to read this blog and realize what I've put him through!)

I find it really frustrating that you can ask a kid how his day at school was and in spite of the fact that he just spent seven hours there, he'll say "good" and when you ask "what did you do?", you get "I don't remember."

So we usually play 20 questions. (Did you do math? How did that go? Did you read? What did you read? Did you go to art? What did you make? …)

Yesterday on the way home from school (which is a 30 minute drive) I asked how his day went.  And predictably, it turned into 20 questions.

When he started yelling "GOOD!" back at me, I realized I'd hit a "Crucial Conversation". One of the three signs of a crucial conversation is when emotions get involved. So I started applying my new learnings.

  1. What did I want from this conversation? I was trying to "hang out" with my eight year old. Find out about his day. Talk to him. Build our relationship. What I was not trying to do was get him trouble. This is key because usually when he acts like this, he's hiding something bad that happened and I usually drill him until I figure out what it is. But that's never my original intent, it just comes out. This time I decided I didn't really care unless he wanted to talk about it. Learning why he got in trouble was derailing me from my intent of building up my relationship with him.
  2. Make it safe. When people's emotions run high they often don't feel safe. (And the signs are that they turn to "violence", perhaps yelling like my 8 year old, or they "withdraw".) So I told him that it looked like he was getting upset and asked him why. That didn't work – he got more upset. "NOTHING! MY DAY WAS GOOD!" So I backed up and told him I was just trying to talk to him, not get him trouble. (With a lot more words.)
  3. Establish common goals. I told him I was just trying to "hang out" with him and talk to him. And I told him that if something I'd done upset him, I wanted to know what so that I didn't do it next time. Because I wanted to talk to him. (I don't think he was upset about something I did in this conversation but rather something I'd done in lots of previous conversations! Also, there was probably a good chance that he was upset because he'd done something wrong, but discovering that wasn't our goal in the conversation.)

And what do you know? It worked!

I got to hear all about his day. The friends he played with, the marbles that sounded like a machine gun, the general assembly where they learned that their school is going green, …

Photo by T.SC.

Mommy do it

I know Caleb thinks I'm omnipotent. I've been requested to produce food out of thin air, stop rain, and make time go backwards, … But today I realized exactly how all powerful he thinks I am.

Looking at a picture of a bunch of men pushing a boat onto the beach, I said "Wow, that boat must be really heavy, look how hard they're working."

Caleb turned and looked at me and said "Mommy do it."

Photo by *Susie*.

Never assume the other person has even basic information

Phonecallnews This weekend we had the annual Secret Santa party at our house. It wasn't our weekend to have my stepson Jacob so on Sunday morning I went to go get him, so he could attend the party.

On the way home, he asked some of the strangest questions. First, he asked if his little brother could come. Of course he's coming, I responded! He lives with us. I then wondered why he asked, did he think that kids just get arbitrarily left out of half of all the things their families do?

Then when we got to the house, he asked if he could come in! Of course, I responded! It's our house, your house! Then I wondered, what did I do to make him feel not welcome?

So we're inside and I'm recounting all these strange questions to my mother-in-law, wondering what in the world I've done wrong as a parent, when Jacob spots the cooler full of sodas and beer and says "The party is here??"

You see, it had never occurred to me to tell him that the party I was taking him to was at our house. So here I am wondering about all these deep things like kids growing up with two homes, four parents, parenting styles, etc and the whole problem was a very basic lack of information!

So next time you're talking to someone and you're thinking "they just don't get it!", maybe it's time to stop and go over the basics. They just might not have that really basic and really vital piece of information that you are assuming.