Category Archives: Parenting: Joys and Tribulations

Week 3: Vacation in Pictures

What an interesting week. This was our first family vacation in 5 years. We returned to Boston where I spent nearly 20 years but haven’t visited in more than eight. Although I was born and raised in New Hampshire, I tend to think of Boston as the place I grew up. In a way it really felt like coming home.

Going on vacation when everyone else is in school is a wonderful perk of homeschooling. Although some places we visited were still pretty crowded – the New England Aquarium in particular, most were very quiet. It was so nice to see the kids exploring the Museum of Science without having to worry that another child was waiting for a chance, they could take their time. One disadvantage to visiting in the beginning of the quiet season we discovered was that in some cases the most popular exhibits were closed for routine maintenance. The Planetarium was closed, the famous electricity demonstration was modified because the giant Van Der Graaff generators were being cleaned. All in all, as a family that avoids crowds when possible, the upsides far outweighed any downside!

Home Away

Our lodgings for the week

Mathematica Room

Planetary Gravitation

Robot programing


Cownose Rays



Myrtle the Turtle coming up for air.

Myrtle grabs some air



Kid Power!



EJ and the plesiosaur


Hancock viewed from the Pru

Thanks for peeking!


Three Little Words

I have three words to talk about. What do these words have in common? They are words that I am trying to remove from my everyday vocabulary, or at least use less often, with my children because I don’t think they are helpful for any of us.


Photo by Gail Williams

Most of the parents I know seem to be are aware that saying “no” too often, or as the default position isn’t great for kids. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but we try to turn it around into a yes.

A1: No, you can’t have candy before lunch.

A2: Yes, you may have candy after lunch.

It may seem like word games to us. But for kids like my JD, the difference between those answers is the difference between an explosion and calm acceptance. Really, I didn’t used to do this but then I tried it out and it was like a miracle! I explain it this way. How would I feel if I heard ‘no’ as many times in a day as I might say it to my children? I think I would feel pretty defeated and I assume so must our children.

I have been ending statements with this word as long as I can remember.

Finish up what you are doing because it is time to leave. Okay?

It’s similar to when you say: Right? after making an opinion statement.

Vanilla is the best ice cream flavor. (Am I) Right?

In the second case, while I might be hoping for agreement, I don’t necessarily expect it. However, in the first case, I’m not really looking for agreement at all! Certainly there are times when my child might disagree and I’m willing to hear him out. But, I add OKAY because in my mind it turns the statement into a question that has to be answered. Does that even work? I suppose it does sometimes because my kids have come to expect it. Instead, perhaps it would be better to wait for acknowledgment, and only if it doesn’t come, then simply ask if I was heard.

Be careful!

Photo by Tuomas

I have noticed lately, perhaps because my older son replies with “I know, mom” in that annoyed, you are being ridiculous voice (come on, you know the one), that I tend to use the word CAREFUL, and the phrase BE CAREFUL reflexively, and much, much too often.

EJ (8) has made scrambled eggs a handful of times. What is the one thing I always tell him when he gets out the 8″ chef’s knife to chop the ham?

Be careful, that’s sharp!

Sometimes it’s no wonder he doesn’t get all sarcastic on me. “What? Really! I had no idea that this big pointy knife would be sharp mom! Thanks so much for telling me for the 5th time.”

What did I say yesterday after JD, my 5-year-old, flipped over his bicycle handlebars onto his head? (Thankfully he was wearing his helmet and was fine although rather shaken up.)

Please be more careful next time!

What!? Because clearly a simple word from me will teach him something that actually flipping over the handlebars didn’t. I mean, come on! How ridiculous and ineffectual is that!

Okay, so these two examples definitely have the potential for real harm. Maybe my warnings are justified? Well, not really. EJ and I discussed the proper way to use the knife the first time he used it and I’ve watched him every time since to be sure he is being safe. JD certainly didn’t expect to flip over the handlebars and of course he knows that would hurt. CAREFUL just isn’t specific enough to be helpful. Also, I use it so reflexively that I say it even when the risk is quite low:

  • Someone is running around the house: Be Careful!
  • Falls down: Careful!
  • Drops food on the floor: Be more careful next time!

I’m sure there are other things I say that would probably be better off unsaid. But these are the ones that I am trying to become more mindful of. I do wonder if I will be successful, will it ever become second nature to bite my tongue when I think CAREFUL, or phrase my NOs in a different way, or stop turning statements into questions with OKAY?

Those are my words. What are some things you hear yourself saying that you wish you wouldn’t?

Catching up and a story: Code Adam.

We are still unpacking and getting settled into our house but it’s already feeling like home. It helps to know that, barring unforeseen circumstances, we should never have to move again.

Today I wanted to take a break from unpacking to share something experienced by my husband and JD (5) while they were out shopping yesterday.

As you can probably imagine after moving, it seems like we are at Lowes or Home Depot daily, and that was where my husband and JD were when the ‘incident’ as I like to call it, happened. The shopping was done and the boys were checking out. The cashier convinced Mr. Hamp to sign up for a Home Depot credit card because she could give him the $30 shower sprayer he was buying for free, and 10% off the rest of his order. Awesome! Unfortunately that is where things became chaotic to say the least.

JD who had insisted on sitting in the shopping cart, decided he wanted to get out and move around. In the confusion of trying to answer the cashier’s questions for the credit, my husband lost sight of JD and casually mentioned to the cashier that he had lost track of his kid. Now, he wasn’t asking for help. He was NOT reporting a missing child. I assume he only mentioned it so the cashier would understand when he walked away for a moment. I would have done exactly the same thing.

His cashier, who happened to be the shift-manager, must have heard something different because she immediately went into action. She called a Code Adam. All employees shift into gear to find the missing child, the store is in lock-down. The shift manager answers another customer’s innocent question with “I CAN’T HELP YOU NOW, CAN’T YOU SEE WE’VE GOT A CODE ADAM” (or something like that). Seriously, to hear Mr. Hamp tell the story, it was pandemonium.

My husband is flustered, taken aback by the over-reaction which seemed more “OMG, A CHILD HAS BEEN STOLEN,” instead of, “Oops my active 5 year old got curious and decided to check out the rock salt just around the corner where I can’t see him.” Bewildered, JD who didn’t know he had done anything wrong, was quickly located and a stranger led him by the arm back to dad.

I know if it had been me, I would have been mortified. I understand that stores need to have procedures in place for particular situations. But a little common sense should be used before putting the procedure into action. My husband wasn’t given even a few minutes to look for JD before the alarm was called. My kids have the run of our small neighborhood, go to public restrooms by themselves, and even sometimes are trusted to {gasp!} go out of sight in the grocery store to grab something I forgot from an earlier aisle! In short, they know how to handle themselves when out of mommy and daddy’s sight. My husband wasn’t panicked, why was the employee? Could it be that the media has drilled into our collective psyche that children are in danger every second of the day (even though it’s not true)? Perhaps it was simply inexperience that caused the manager to over-react. I really don’t know. I’m not saying Code Adam shouldn’t exist. I’m just saying that it should be rarely used, because it is extremely rare for children to be abducted by strangers in public. Isn’t there something that can be done BEFORE all out panic ensues scaring everyone for no good reason?

Most people do not need to experience code Adam. My husband and child should not have experienced code Adam. It’s not a big deal in the long run, it just makes me wonder where we are going if we are afraid all the time.

Is that you blog?

I hear you calling me every now and then and yet I haven’t returned your siren call. Yes, I’m still here but my brain has not had time to think about writing much. Stuff happening, life, new house, blood, rain.

Today it is rainy and cold, just as it has been for the three previous days and just as it’s supposed to be for the next several days. My children are going bonkers being inside. JD is quite the instigator and I’ve had to put out a restraining order on him for poor EJ who is at the butt of JD’s antics.

Seriously though what has been going on here lately?


Battle Wounds

Well, poor JD was hit in the face with a metal baseball bat on May 6th. He’s doing fine now, healing well but it was quite an ordeal for all of us. We haven’t been doing much school, instead getting ready for the move and taking a long break until we gear up for summer learning. This is most likely contributing to the kids being bonkers as I mentioned above. We have painters and floor guys in and out of the new house, it’s starting to look really amazing, we can hardly wait to move.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be an introvert. I often say things like “I’m not a high energy person,” or “I don’t DO busy well.”  But I always feel that these sound like cop-outs to most people. See it turns out that it’s not all in my head, there are some actual brain chemistry differences between extroverts and introverts. Seriously, this explains a lot and I think I am on the fairly extreme end of introverted. Too bad introversion is listed in the psych DSM as a disorder. I had a blog post planned, but right now it’s lost in the beautiful mess of our life. Hopefully I’ll get back to it later.

I started working on a project I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I have approximately 4,500 photos on my hard drive, mostly from when the kids were babies, that I want to go through. Edit and delete, upload to Flickr and save to my external hard-drive. I love looking at those early photos, and I’m always struck by how alike they look. Different yes, but no one would ever mistake them for anything but brothers.


Wordless Wednesday—Breakfast for Mom!

If you saw this on FB yesterday I apologize for the repeat. It was too awesome to NOT post to my blog too. But then, you might like the whole story below.

My Breakfast

Yet again I can’t manage to post an actual “wordless” Wordless Wednesday. Too bad.

Yesterday morning I could hear from my room on the first floor that the kids were up to something conspiratorial. JD would come to the door, peek in and then holler “Oh good, she’s still asleep!”  I was laying in bed cracking up listening to them while pretending to be asleep.

“Let’s make fruit salad. What should we put it in it?” From my food experimenter JD “Onion! We have onion!” and later “lettuce, we can put lettuce in it!” and finally “sour cream, mom loves sour cream!”

Thankfully a more cautious EJ was there to temper JD’s exuberance and their fruit salad contained orange slices (with peel), apple slices, grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts (a bit weird in fruit salad).

They made my morning Chai Latte. Couldn’t decide what kind of toast I would want so made one slice of wheat, one white. Couldn’t decide on the topping: butter, peanut butter, nutella, and finally decided on gobs and gobs of grape jelly. All rounded out with a YoKids Strawberry-Vanilla yogurt. They even went outside to fetch the newspaper!

It was the best breakfast I’ve ever had!

The Great Toothpaste Escapade

This is about the kid, but also about the parent who, much like the kid, sometimes needs to learn better anger control. This is also about punishment vs. making amends for our mistakes.

This morning I was helping JD pick up some toys when I noticed small spots of blue on his nose, forehead, and shirt that could only be one thing. Toothpaste! I didn’t say anything since it seems like a small thing. But then…he turns his head and I see that there are GOBS of toothpaste behind his ear. Look at the other ear and it’s the same story, with some actually in his outer ear. Sigh… dare I go into the bathroom? No, of course not.

Okay so this is JD, mischievous, in the moment and well, five years old. But what about the parent that has to now clean up both child and bathroom. I try to stay patient with him, I really do. But nothing makes me more mad than repeats. All I could think was “didn’t we just go through this a week ago?”. In fact we did go through a similar toothpaste event a week or two ago.

There were stern words, leading inevitably to real anger. I was flummoxed and on the verge of jumping to punishment. If you’ve read Alfie Kohn’s books or other books that espouse positive discipline, you may understand why I try not to resort to punishment. I believe that most punishment is arbitrary to a child and arbitrary consequences serve only to make the child feel more sorry for themselves than sorry for what they did. I want my kids to eventually learn right from wrong by understanding how their actions affect other people. We don’t make huge messes with toothpaste because 1. it cost money, and 2. it makes a mess that someone has to clean up. The problem is that when I’m angry and inevitably thinking about how much work this will cause me (not unlike a child being punished), I find it difficult to be creative about consequences.

Before I lost my top completely I told him to get himself cleaned up and ran down to our bedroom where I vented a scream of frustration that was bubbling up inside me. Unfortunate for my husband, who was asleep after working until 4am and probably didn’t fully appreciate that I was trying not to yell at our child. Oh well, at least he’s old enough to understand, I probably didn’t scar him too badly.

And then during a hot shower, I came up with a solution. A freaking obvious, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it right away, solution, in two parts.

Part I: The clean up. I handed my boy a bottle of cleaning spray (vinegar/water), and some paper towels and informed him that if he was going to make this kind of mess, then it was going to be his responsibility to clean it up.

Part 2: Replacing the goods: JD started getting $1 a week when he turned five. So I told him that he would have to replace the toothpaste that he wasted by buying a new tube with his own money.

Okay now, this is so obvious that if you are reading this you are probably yelling at the computer screen now, right? But this is about what we do as parents, in the moment vs. thinking through possible solutions. How does a parent stay calm and actually think up creative answers to childhood behaviors that are unacceptable for us? It’s easy to get angry and send a child to their room. But how does that help the child? How does that help the parent be confident that their child will learn something from the consequences imposed?

In the end, my son actually enjoyed his consequences! “You mean you want ME to use this spray bottle?”  If you had seen him at the store making his very first purchase with his own money, you would have thought he was the cutest thing on the planet. Buying toothpaste of all things! It was a positive end for me because I didn’t have to clean up yet another sticky childhood mess and saw some of the best from my child instead of just the worst. My hope now is that the next time he gets the urge to play with the toothpaste, at the very least he’ll remember that he can clean it up himself and at most might refrain from making the mess in the first place. For me, I would like to think I will remember the great toothpaste escapade the next time he or EJ does something similar and draw on the experience to help me not get angry first but go right to the obvious solution. Of course I know from experience, that there’s a good chance neither will happen and we’ll each repeat our mistakes of today. Wash, rinse, repeat.

For anyone interested in positive discipline here are some books to check out. I have only read a few of these but all have come recommended to me by other parents trying to discipline positively rather than using punishment.

I’m sure there are other good books to recommend. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments.