My Mother’s Hands

Family Bond Handshake

For years my sister and I have giggled about how much my hands resemble our mother’s. I don’t think Mom will be offended if I say that she and I do not have the most elegant fingers or stylish and manicured nails. We both prefer to spend more time digging in the garden than sitting at the salon. We also share a quirky “reverse knuckle” that makes it look like dimples are dancing across the backs of our hands. It is also likely that the absence of colored polish means you can see the dirt stains under our nails more clearly. We rarely look fashionable with rings on our short fingers. Callouses, hangnails, scars, and wrinkles sprinkle themselves generously across our hands.

As I see the signs of time etch across my hands I sometimes look down to my fingers and somehow see my mother’s hands instead of my own.

I see her guiding hand teaching me how to sew (and then how to rip out those crooked seams as I prepared my 4-H sewing project). She continued the tradition and taught my daughter how to use her machine, although thankfully there were fewer seams to rip.
I see her fingers threaded through mine as she walked with me as a child. Those same fingers now thread between the fingers of her grandchildren.
I see her hands working the rolling pin as she made our favorite Christmas cookies. My fingers now turn the pages of her recipe books.
I see her fingers dancing up and down the keyboard playing what I called “The Charlie Brown Song” over and over again as I danced in the living room. Those same fingers taught me to play, and then guided my children’s fingers as they learned the notes.
I see her fingertips dance across the typewriter and then keyboard and make the familiar clickity-clack of the keys. It appears the writer lives in both of us.
I see her hands in church, folded in silent prayer, calmly and yet ever so purposefully resting on the pew. I often sit in that same pew, my children reaching up to my folded hands as I did to hers so many years ago.

Mom recently apologized to me for “giving me her fingers” as we compared knotty knuckles and the beginning of my own arthritic bump. As I look at my hands I can only hope that I have truly inherited her hardworking fingers and open palms, always accepting of others.

While I will never sign a contract as a hand model, I find myself looking more and more to my hands and hoping, folding my hands in prayer, that I have indeed inherited everything about my mother’s hands. There is nothing as beautiful as the loving, comforting, teaching, and guiding hands of a mother who uses her hands purposefully and joyously. Reverse knuckles and all.


Sliding on the Mom Rainbow

I’ve been sliding on the Mom Rainbow for quite some time now, and I just didn’t know it.

rainYou see, in the beginning, at the very start of the rainbow, the colors catch your attention and you see the upward climb. Your babes are so – present. They are everything beautiful – colorful. They need your eye. They rely on your nourishment. They react to your every pulse. And you to them. Then you climb that rainbow. It seems like at every step you are craving the independence your little one might give so that you might see the growth, the development, the milestones. You can’t wait for them to achieve. To Be. You relish in every moment.

Ahh. That smile. It wasn’t gas. It was genuine. He loves my voice.

And then the realizations of the colors become truer. There is a reality in the climb.

Oh, please. Just keep your eyes closed for ten seconds. Ten seconds. That is all I ask. Don’t make eye contact. Do NOT, by any means, hear me breathe…

I admit I begged this of more than one infant-turned-semi-pro-toddler. I wanted sleep – no I craved sleep – like a drug.

And then they are toddlers, inching their way up the rainbow, sometimes sleeping, sometimes cooperating when you try to wash the sand from their hair, sometimes breathing one final deep sigh before drifting to dreams in your arms.

Shoot! I don’t think I got out all the sand. I’ll try to gently rub away the day’s play.

Shhh. Stay sleeping. Your body is tired, and so is my mommy brain.

Boom. They are reading, writing, and having opinions. They know what they want for lunch, how they want their dolly put to bed, just right, and how you have to sing that last song one more time. The colors of the Mom Rainbow are so bright – everything is alive and active and – well, purely exhausting.

Read this book, Mommy. Do the voice.

I want a bunny. I promise I’ll take care of the bunny. I am getting SO big.

Can we make muffins tomorrow?

How old are you?

I like stickers.

You are my best friend. Well, besides Eric.

Did you notice? Your voice is now their voice. They are participating in the rainbow climb. It is almost like listening to a record (remember those archaic devices?) on skip. The thoughts are chaotic and beautiful. The colors of the Mom Rainbow keep glistening. This is glorious. There are so many things happening. Soccer practice. Church choir. Volunteering together at the soup kitchen. Reading at the library. Days with friends at the park. Living the mommy dream.

And just at the top of the rainbow. The tip-top of the Mom Rainbow, you feel the lurch in your stomach. It is just like what you feel at the precipice of the roller coaster ride. You know the plunge is coming but you deny it. You don’t want it to be so. They are tweenagers, perhaps teenagers, and they are plunging. With or without you. Buckle up, Mom. This part of the rainbow can be a bit steep.

I thought she was my real friend.

Drop me off around the corner so they don’t see you, Mom.

Mom!!! Will you help me with this?!

Mom – relax. This is how all the kids wear it.

Mom…. Where are you?

You are on the mom-yo-yo at this point. They love you. They love you knot. Tied in deep knots of denial, need, fear, and strives for independence. You keep sliding down the rainbow and you have no brakes. You just pray for a smooth landing.

Mom, I have decided on a college! (survive on just breathing)

Oh, Mom. You don’t understand.

I can’t believe this is the last time we will spend Super Bowl Sunday together! Next year I’ll be in my dorm at this time! (insert fake smile to hide the pain)

Mom!?!? Where are you? I need you to fill out this form, wash my uniform, and make sure I’m up on time for class.

Mom?!?! Today was SOOOO long. Can we talk?

And suddenly, as those colors of the Mom Rainbow all start to merge, and you think – OH CRAP – MY KID IS GROWING UP! – you realize this is just the pot of gold. You did it. Way back when you wished for quiet nights. Now you will have them. You will also have a child who grew in your love and learned how to show his or her colors to the world. And what a glorious sight that is. To travel the Mom Rainbow, getting a few splinters along the way – and see your child plunge into his fortunate future.

Sign me up for the next ride, please. Just don’t spoil the ending. This part has been way too good.


Get Your Kids Some Funeral Pants

Teaching Children the Art of Death

child and griefPregnant with my first son, sitting at the bedside of my terminally ill uncle, I felt sad irony pulling at me. There were jubilant kicks within my womb, sequences of rhythmic hiccups from my unborn son, and a wrenching, labored breathing from the bed. Impending birth sat side by side with impending death. I was the keeper and the witness.

I held the hand of my uncle as he quietly ended his journey on earth. There is nothing to ever compare to a moment like that. But there are things we can do to prepare ourselves and our children for the darkness of dying. We can bring light to this season. There is an art to death, shown in the stories of our history. It is in our customs and rituals, and in how we teach our children to embrace the inevitable.

How we respond to death is the art. It is the church ladies and their decadent desserts, served to the mourners. It is in the classic “hot-dish” that my dad’s hometown church served after every funeral. It is in the tables of keepsakes we arrange, filled with photographic montages of the lives of the ones we just lost. The art is how we carefully select flowers, hymns, and prayers. This art is not for adults only. Children need to be present in mourning so that the realities of death do not frighten them – the art of death becomes a comfort to them.

Do not fear funerals. So often I hear parents say they don’t want to bring their children to funerals because their kids are too young, will be too sad, or will perhaps not behave in a mourning-acceptable way. Stop keeping them from funerals. Help them navigate these rituals. Not only have my children attended these events with me, but as teenagers they now volunteer at church to help during funerals – often not knowing who has died, but knowing that a family is grieving and their small service can help the process.

Be real. Avoid terms like sleeping, going away, and other terms that can confuse young children. Children can be frightened of sleeping or of others leaving when death is compared to these events. Be real with your faith, too. I firmly believe that the reality of death is not as frightening for my children because they have faith – that real and honest belief that this life is not all. It is not the end.

Treat the ill as the living – not the dying. My dear children have lost more loved ones than sometimes seems fair. But when the opportunity has been present – during times of illness or late in life – we seize the moments to share time, emotions, and laughter with those loved ones. We let our kids know the reality of the situation, but we help them focus on the living.

Be OK with tears and confusion. Cry in front of and with your children. Let them cry, ask questions, or even seem unaffected. They process in their own time and in their own way – but only if you’re honest with them and let them move through it. You don’t have to have all of the answers.

Have funeral pants. When my oldest was about 13 she was cleaning her closet as fall ended and the start of school neared. I called to her from the hallway – Be sure to let me know if there is anything in particular you need before we go shopping! Her relaxed reply met me at the corner – Well, I have enough funeral pants but I need a new coat.

Just like the changing seasons from summer to fall, and from carefree play to school studies, our wardrobes reflect the seasons of life. We have those date-night dresses, interview jackets, lazy Saturday yoga pants, and backyard BBQ capris. And we have funeral pants. Our go-to outfits for saying fare-thee-well and I’m going to miss her, too. For all the living we do, death is inevitably a part of our living. Get your kids some funeral pants.

Tools for Visual & Linguistic Learners

Tools for Visual & Linguistic LearnersHelp Your Child’s Learning Style Come Alive

The world must be a uniquely beautiful view for one of my kids. He sees things many just walk right past, hears things in a different way, and finds the humorous, perplexing, and inspiring in what we might consider the mundane. His learning styles are unique to him, but I consider it my job to help find tools that will enhance his learning. If you’re the parent or teacher of a child who thrives on visual or linguistic learning strategies, you know that his or her view on the world is intriguing, and that it is not always easy to use typical teaching tools.

Linguistic learners have skills for reading, writing, speaking – those tasks that revolve around words and communicating ideas through them.

Visual learners thrive on seeing things in action, through demonstrations, charts, graphs, pictures, and any other way they can visually connect with an idea.

You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way. ~Marvin Minsky

I treasure that quote by Minsky. It reminds me that just because things have been taught in certain ways for so long, it doesn’t mean those are the only effective ways to learn. Visual and linguistic learners often have similar traits – they enjoy stories. The following learning tools incorporate both of these in unconventional, yet successful ways.

Language Arts Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners


We use idioms often without thinking too much about them. They are a natural part of the English language. Some people, however, struggle to decipher idioms, usually taking them literally (which would be a very confusing way to spend the day). One of the markers of kids on the Autism spectrum is an inability to comprehend idioms. The phrase, “I’ve got a frog in my throat” takes on a whole other meaning for these kids.

Teach your kids about idioms using books like my son’s favorite, Horsing Around – Making Sense of Everyday Idioms, by Katherine Scraper. In the book there are 50 common idioms, each illustrated with funny interpretations and a story passage using the idiom in a dialogue situation (a few short paragraphs). This book appeals to both visual and linguistic learners. The pages also each give space for kids to write their own interpretations of the idioms.

Understanding idioms improves language by

  • Helping with oral language development, especially in the early preschool and elementary years
  • Building reading skills
  • Developing creative writing skills
  • Improving speech for ESL students (English as a Second Language)

Mathematics Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Math doesn’t have to be just rote calculations. Perhaps it is my love of the written word that draws me to these next two math tools, but I’ve also seen my kids relate to numbers and mathematical theories in a different way since adding these resources to our bookshelves.

Life of Fred

  • The Life of Fred books are a series of “story” books, ranging from elementary all the way through high school, that are designed to get students thinking about math. The unconventional approach uses humorous or just plain wacky stories to teach kids how to apply mathematical concepts.

Charlesbridge Math Adventures

  • This series of math adventures, perfect for early elementary students (even my older kids love to listen to these, too), is an engaging way to introduce and reinforce math concepts. Colorful and wonderfully illustrated tales have characters experiencing adventures that are all intertwined with mathematics. Some of our favorite titles include:
    • Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter (a tale that teaches kids how to calculate things such as the area of a circle)
    • Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (yep – a story about calculating with pi)
    • Alice in Pastaland (an adventure centered around problem solving skills)
    • Cut Down to Size at High Noon (ratios and proportions set in a western story)

Social Studies Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Do you remember memorizing the list of presidents when you were in elementary school, the names and locations of countries, or the capitals of states? If you were like me, it was simply based on rote memorization, grouped by perhaps 10 names at a time. And the memorization lasted long enough to pass the test – and it was usually not an entertaining experience. If you’re looking for a new way to help your kids memorize these basic (and sometimes boring) facts, try some of these books.

Yo, Millard Fillmore!

  • This fun and engaging book helped all of my kids not only learn the names of the US presidents, but their memory of these facts is long lasting, and they really enjoyed the illustrative approach. Each president has a picture and short description as to how the picture fits with that name. Then, each picture (president) is somehow linked to the following one, helping to reinforce the order of presidency.

Yo, Sacramento!

  • Just like Yo, Millard Fillmore!, this book engages readers through humorous illustrations that teach kids how to relate the capital names to the state names.

The Scrambled States of America

  • You might be familiar with this title of the book that teaches about the US states. I also use the board game (by the same name) to reinforce the illustrative concepts presented in the book.

Visualize World Geography

  • I admit that when I first saw this book I raised an eyebrow. The graphics are – unique – and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get past their uniqueness in order to actually learn from the materials. But then my kids and I started using it and we realized that these mental maps that the book creates really do work. There are short bits that go with each graphic to help tie the mental map together, appealing to both my visual and linguistic learners.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a homeschool parent is that learning styles not only influence academics, but they transcend our personalities. It is more than learning about reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is about learning what makes each one of us tick – what gets us excited to try new things, and helps us overcome failures. When we tune into our kids’ learning styles, we give them tools that go far beyond their report cards.

Busting My Pity Party – and Being Thankful for the Moments

pityAll my Pity Party was missing were balloons and streamers – and a great big attitude adjustment by yours truly. For a few weeks I’ve been looking to May 2nd with a knot in my mother-belly and a woe-is-me feeling of resentment. I’ve been resenting not being able to be everywhere at once, not being in charge of an Almighty Calendar, and not being able to do everything I want to do.

May 2nd will be an amazing day for my three boys – in completely different cities. And since I can only be in one place at one time, I will miss being by two of their sides, taking in the magic of their growing years, and sharing in the moments. So I’ve been perfecting the Pity Party and letting myself be swallowed by the idea that I can’t be everywhere for every child.

My Pity Party thankfully was busted. You see – what I didn’t bother to remind myself is just how lucky and blessed I am to have three sons who each have such wonderful opportunities and plans that I will miss something (and a beautiful daughter who is helping in the chaos). It is a gift that each one, in his or her own way, is leading a life filled with energy, passion, a bit of mischief, and a lot of determination. Even when that takes them in different directions from yours truly.

The true bust of my Pity Party came when I read the post of another mother. For her – May 2nd will have what she hopes to be wonderful moments – but will also likely experience what I imagine to be moments of true grief (not this Pity Party kind of sadness). May 2nd for this mom is her son’s 20th birthday. And she won’t be able to be with her son, either, to celebrate in his moment, for he now celebrates his birthdays in Heaven.

She could – without any argument – have the biggest Pity Party imaginable. Instead, she is planning the kind of celebration that comes from recognizing the blessings, remembering moments, and celebrating with faith the gift of life. In remembrance of Matt, a young man I remember as a younger boy with a gentle older-brother guiding hand, his family wants to mark May 2nd with Random Acts of Kindness. To further bust up my Pity Party I plan to participate in this celebration and use the list inspired by Matt’s personality and favorite things to share some wonderful moments with others.

There are moments when we realize that we got it all wrong. For me – my attitude about May 2nd is one of them. Sure, I wish I could be there with each son during his moments, but I hold in my heart that at the end of the weekend I’ll get to see pictures, hear stories, and relish in their tales of adventures and moments.

My oldest will morph from teenage boy to young man as he wears his first tuxedo and attends prom. I won’t be there to take the pictures, try to straighten his hair one last time before he leaves, or let a tear slip as he escorts his lovely date out the door. But I’ve asked his date to make sure he cooperates for lots of pictures and I’ll hear from my husband how our son looked in his penguin suit.

My youngest will have a day filled with hour after hour of rehearsal for the following day’s ballet performance. Yes – I’ll see the performance – but it is the rehearsal day when I feel like it is my Mom-Duty to calm his nerves, run like a chicken to find his lost ballet slipper, and help apply the stage make-up he detests (big sister to the rescue). So I’ll let that go and look forward to seeing his exhausted smile at the end of the day – the one that says he is enjoying life and giving it his all.

My middle son I’ll have the pleasure of accompanying to the State History Day competition. He and his project partner have worked extraordinarily hard to make it here and I am thrilled to see them perform their project.

These are the gifts my family is experiencing May 2nd. We will also share in the gifts of Matt’s birthday celebration. If you’re like me and are ready for a diversion from your own Pity Party, I encourage you to step outside yourself and celebrate with these Random Acts of Kindness. For it is in all these moments that we find the beauty and peace of lives well-lived.

B is for Boys – Raising Gentlemen in a Digital Whirlwind

datingBoys are creatures of impulses, ingenuity, and energy. This can make for an amazing combination and forces with which to be reckoned. It can also make for a terrifying journey for parents of boys in the digital age.

The familiar buzz of a cell phone, alerting one of my kids that he or she has a new text message. The low rumble of someone’s phone on vibrate, crammed up against the couch cushion and a pile of homework, is a familiar sound. From seemingly nowhere this digital world appears – and as parents we are making up the rules as we go. Certainly my childhood memories of dragging the phone cord through the hallway and praying its ring didn’t wake my parents at a late hour don’t prepare me for this. This constant connection we now all have with each other – and strangers around the world.

So it begs the questions: How do we teach boys to be gentlemen in a digital world?

There are no lessons I can recall from my own childhood experience, no words of wisdom my parents gave me about cell phones, emails, and webcams. The most extravagant our home got was having a separate children’s line installed so my parents could finally have free reign on their phone (yes – before the options of call-waiting), and computers were fancy typewriters incapable of instantly sending pictures and videos.

Raising Digital Gentlemen

Technology has changed the game when it comes to raising our boys to be gentlemen. As the mom of three boys, I desperately want to guide these gents to become men of integrity, compassion, and strength, all the while growing into gentlemen. Like so many other parents, however, I am learning that these boys are in the fight of their lives to become true gentlemen. Technology challenges their decisions and their moral compasses.

I’ve decided that I can’t throw away the computer, ditch the cell phones, or hide my kids in the basement, which leaves me with only one option: I need to find ways to raise digital gentlemen.

Cell phone etiquette – Most kids don’t actually use their cell phones for talking – they are texting or Snap chatting or IMing all of the time. We should not be surprised to know that more than 40% of teenagers can text while blindfolded. It is what these kids include in their messages that we need to target.

  • Keep the conversation going about respectful texting – just like the birds and bees conversation, this shouldn’t be just a one-time deal.
  • Give concrete examples about what might be disrespectful to send in a text message to a young woman. I always tell my boys to remember that at any given time the text message they send to a girl could be read by her father, so always imagine her father reading anything you have to say.
  • Set guidelines for texting. It is never the right way to as someone on a date – or break off a relationships. If my kids are mature enough to be in relationships, that means they are mature enough to treat the other person with enough respect to do these things in person.
  • Help them understand not to settle arguments or make decisions via text. Way too much is lost in translation.
  • Get to know the acronyms that kids are using in their texting – and make sure they know what they are sending and receiving.

Pictures and video on demand – Just because your kids can take a picture of themselves and post it for the world to see doesn’t mean they should. Teaching discernment to boys about the differences between appropriate and inappropriate images and videos is a challenge, but even more challenging can be helping them to make wise decisions with the images and videos that are sent to them.

  • Redefine privacy for your boys. Make sure they understand that just because they might receive a message doesn’t mean they should send that message on to others or keep it stored on their computer or phone. Not only are there risks of becoming unwittingly involved with child pornography issues (even when a girls sends a flirty picture of herself), but boys are also at risk of contributing to the invasion of privacy of someone else.
  • A frightening statistic shows that almost 90% of teens’ flirtatious, racy, and sexually charged pictures (which – as much as we don’t want to admit it, they do take), are found and copied by parasite porn companies and reposted on pornography websites. Make sure your boys understand the risks involved and the dangers (legally, emotionally, etc.) for being any part of this scary trend.

Digital footprints – What kind of digital reputation does your son have? Help him make sure he has an online image that reflects him as a gentleman.

  • Know what pictures your son has online, and who is tagging him in their images (he can be tagged, even if the photo is not of him). Teach him to discern which images to post, and which ones to delete, but most importantly, which ones to never take.
  • Make sure your son understands how his comments online can either show him as a respectful young man, or as one who discriminates, demeans, or disrespects.
  • Colleges, athletic recruiters, and prospective employers look at digital footprints. What does your son’s footprint reveal about his life?

It can be hard enough to wrangle these grass-stained and forever wrestling boys to gather politely at the dinner table. When we add technology into the mix of raising gentlemen, suddenly parenting feels like a steep climb up a mountain, with no protection from the elements or a GPS. But don’t give up. Keep climbing – our sons need us to be the trail guides.


I’ll Bring the Jelly Beans

easter eggs

Easter Lost

That first year Shari missed our Easter celebration was hard, but we knew that she needed to rest and keep fighting the monster of cancer. Her children still came– and together the cousins celebrated as they had since they were babes. They couldn’t remember an Easter apart.

The following year she was gone from this Earth. I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare the Easter celebration without her. For more than a decade she and I plotted, planned, and prepared as we brought our kids together for this special weekend. Our children, cousins by birth and close friends by gift, spent years of Easter weekends together coloring eggs and helping prepare special Easter treats. They readied their baskets cushioned with that cling-to-your-pants plastic grass.

Then it was our turn. Shari and I giggled as we collected those baskets and carried them away for our mission. Glasses of wine in hand we filled each with sugared treats, special trinkets, and memories. Then we devised hiding places – based on age and ability of each child – combined with just how mischievous we were feeling ourselves. Each Easter built upon the previous. No hiding spot was duplicated. No basket looked the same. Each tradition we shared with the kids solidified year after year.

Early in the morning the kids flung themselves out of bed and scrambled through the house to find their hidden baskets of treasures. After limiting the chocolate intake, we readied for church and the celebration of Easter service. My heart always lifted on these days, celebrating Easter together.

That first year with without her sagged my heart with the weight of grief. I was as empty as a plastic egg. I desperately still wanted to provide the kids – hers and mine – with their traditions. But I was without my traditions. There was no celebratory glass of wine. No stealing jelly beans for ourselves. No giggling. No laughing over devious hiding places. No wrangling kids with Shari the next morning to hurry to church and Grandma’s.

Easter Found

Here were these kids, though. They needed this tradition. I needed to do this for them – and for me. As Easter nears again, my 4th year without Shari here for Easter, I’ll be buying way too many jelly beans, watching cousins color eggs, and thinking of devious hiding spots for baskets. These cousins – some in college and all probably past the age of typical childhood holiday anticipation – will still celebrate together with one ginormous, loud, amazing sleepover. They will still search for baskets (and still eat chocolate for breakfast). In fact, last year I heard one cousin tell the other that when I no longer do this they will sneak into each other’s homes and hide Easter surprises. I looked up to the Heavens and smiled. It is our tradition. It is our Easter. Death does not take Easter from us. Easter reminds us that death does not remove our joys. Easter gives us the opportunity to see the light in the dark and feel the joy through the pain.

Shari is still here. Her life lives on. She is in the smiles of my niece and nephew, the beaded ornaments she made that hang year-round in my kitchen, and in the memories and traditions we shared. I count on the day that Shari and I will again rejoice together. I also count on my hope that she’ll have a glass of wine waiting for me. I’ll bring the jelly beans.