Thursday, July 28, 2011

In search of a cure for Tattle-itis

Published for Motherhood Matters on KSL.com - click HERE for the link

It’s that time of year when summer’s sheen has lost a good deal of its shine, camps and vacations are winding down and the beginning of school is looming ominously around the corner. Despite my best efforts to change up the routine, my kids inevitably start getting restless and extra grouchy.

It’s also around this time that I resort to drastic threats like shipping every last one of them to a remote village in a far away country. Let me explain.

Restless kids are the number one reason for the epidemic that sweeps through entire neighborhoods, rising to outrageous proportions in late summer. It leaves no kid untouched, every mom unhinged, and it shows no signs of waning.

It is called Tattle-itis.

Without taking the time to look it up, I’d guess that the search for a cure has remained constant throughout the last 23 centuries or so. But every time a mom thinks she has hit upon the perfect remedy, one of her kids discredits all her hard work by tearing around a corner to report how many times his sister touched him for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

A few weeks ago, I was utterly fatigued by the incessant tattling at my house. So I powered up my heat-addled brain and forced it to come up with a decent idea. Surprisingly, I actually thought of one.

I found an empty notebook, labeled it “Tattle Book,” and announced the rules.

“Anything I need to know about someone else must be written down. I will not — I repeat, will not — listen to tattling. But I will read whatever has been written in the book during dinner, at which time we can discuss consequences. The only exceptions are if someone is bleeding enough to require more than one Band-aid or if someone has stopped breathing.”

My kids zeroed in on the obvious loophole, “What if someone breaks a bone but doesn’t bleed?”

“OK. If someone needs to be transported to a medical facility, you can tell me.”

Patting myself on the back, I watched my kids darting to the notebook throughout the next few days, earnestly writing. There were a few occasions when kids approached me and started reporting, but a simple wave of my hand in the direction of the notebook was enough to jog their memories.

Am I genius or what?

A sampling of what I read at the dinner table the first few nights might answer that question. Names have been changed to protect both the innocent and guilty, and spelling has been standardized.

“Austin’s breathing.”

“Kaden called me tubby and kicked me in the arm.”

“Austin made a face.”

“Kaden beat me up but I was tough.”

“Austin called me a name.”

“Kaden backsassed me.”

“Austin ate junk food in his room.”

“Kaden thinks he’s cool or something.”

“Austin said I had a tiny little brain.”

OK, so I’m not a complete genius.

The Tattle Book cure has a few holes, the obvious one being that the kids don’t always take it seriously.

But on the sunny side, my kids’ creative juices and writing skills are being fired up and fine-tuned for the upcoming school year. Plus, on the rare occasion that a serious infraction is reported, we engage in serious discussion and find solutions together.

Best of all, we all laugh a lot more during dinner.

So even though my cure for Tattle-itis is far from perfect, I’m still giving it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

I’d love to hear other cures for this pesky problem.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Writing Prompts for Kids #3: Treasure Hunt

It's not an new idea by any stretch, but my teenage boy recently took it upon himself to create one for his little sister.  He was bored and spent inordinate amounts of time typing, printing out, and then "aging" each note to look as if it had been in the ground for decades (well, months at least). 

I found out not a moment too soon that his motivation was based on teenage boy prank mentality:  the "treasure" was going to be an aged note that said, "Sorry.  You're totally out of luck.  No treasure." 

I did what any reasonable mom would do - verbally strong-armed him into changing the treasure to a gift bath set he had to buy from me because he had nothing else to offer in terms of real treasure.

Back to creating the treasure hunt.  It's super fun for the kids to use their imaginations -- and writing skills -- during its creation.  Following in the footsteps of big brother, my 5-year-old son sat down at the kitchen table and made his own.  It, was awesome.

So get out the markers and paper and raise the flag, mateys!  There's treasure to be found!

Helpful Hint:  As a mom it's your job to know what's actually being buried -- make sure it's treasure material!!

How to win cool points at age 14

Published for Motherhood Matters on KSL.com - Click HERE for the link

In honor of your 14th birthday, I came up with several reasons why I’m glad you’ll be hanging around the house for at least a few more years.

Thanks for engaging in fake punching matches with your 5-year-old brother, who is clearly in boy heaven during such altercations. I know there are times when I don’t seem grateful for the punching — like at the dinner table — but I’ve come to understand its intrinsic value and even feel apologetic for not fake punching you at the age of 5. It simply never crossed my mind.

I’m glad you’re able to recognize teaching opportunities, like when you saw your brother kissing me loudly and repeatedly on the cheeks. Knowing that I am completely out of touch and would never think to address the issue of smooching as it pertained to being cool, you stepped right in and warned, “Dude, that’s not going to win you any cool points!”

Speaking of cool points, the treasure hunt you created for your 8-year-old sister earned you a few thousand. I’m sorry I interfered by suggesting you choose something from my stash of grab-n-go gifts to use as the treasure instead of what you had originally intended.

Having been a girl for some time now, I had a hunch that a gift bath set would go over better than a note that said, “Sorry. You’re totally out of luck. There’s no treasure.” Even if the note had been wrinkled and rubbed and worn to aged perfection.

I can only imagine how hard it was for you to knowingly sabotage a perfectly good prank, so I'm giving you two thumbs up for deferring to your mom on this one and hoping there will come a day when you’ll thank me for interfering.

The ear piercing tutorial you gave your sister is another example of your uncanny ability to seize ideal teaching moments when they present themselves. You must have remembered that I wasn’t keen on your sister getting her ears pierced quite yet, because you jumped right in to help me out when she asked, “How exactly do they pierce ears?”

Your explanation left me at a loss for words.

It seems the inexperienced ear piercers often have trouble with their aim, which explains the plethora of lip and nose piercings out there. This could be unfortunate, you explained, because brand-new ear piercers are often assigned to the 8-year-old girls who walk into the store. But there's always a bright side; if anything except for ears happens to get pierced, it’s absolutely and completely free.

Nice job dissuading your sister — her interest in having pierced ears has waned significantly. My efforts up to that point had paled in comparison.

So many times I’ve happened upon you being truly compassionate, kind and helpful. But for the sake of protecting your dignity, I promise to keep all such instances under wraps.

I’m sorry that I’ve shown some irritation with your altered communication methods. A little slow on the uptake, I’m finally beginning to understand your new language. For instance, I no longer feel sad when I you answer with only a short, “OK,” after I tell you I love you.

Because I understand what you really mean. Of course you love me — and will actually be able to use those words to tell me at some point — but now is simply not the time.

For now, it's not going to win you any cool points.

I get it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Speaking at "For the Love of Reading" conference

I've been asked to be a presenter at UVU's "For the Love of Reading" conference sponsored by the UVU Forum on Engaged Reading.  The conference will be held on February 17-18, 2012 at the Zermatt Resort in Midway, UT.

This conference brings together parents, teachers, and librarians.  No other conference in the country brings together these three groups to connect and promote reading.

For more info visit the website: For the Love of Reading


Or Like the Facebook page and get tips on reading and links to reading related material. UVU Engaged Reading Facebook
 
As I was getting ready for my first day of kindergarten, I started bawling.  My mom asked what was wrong and I sobbed, "I can't go to school!  I don't know how to read!"

That was soon remedied, and I have been an avid reader ever since.  
 
I have spent untold hours in libraries as both patron and employee, was a secondary English and German teacher, and have been a mom for going on 16 years now.  So I might just have an insight or two I'll be able to add and look forward to the opportunity.

I hope to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones at the conference!  Save the date!

Cake crumbs on the kitchen floor

Published on KSL.com (click HERE for the link)

A brief 19 months after we had purchased our first home, my husband was transferred and we had to sell the house and move. After everything in the house had been packed and cleaned, I swept the kitchen floor one last time and was flooded with memories.

My toddler had taken her first steps and dropped an entire carton of eggs on that floor. We have a picture of our second baby asleep in his car seat on the kitchen table, surrounded by flowers and balloons that had come home with him from the hospital. I had paced that floor comforting my colicky baby for more hours than I care to remember, fed countless friends and family members around that table, and was in the kitchen when I found out we were moving.

So even though I had already done plenty of packing and cleaning, it wasn’t until I was sweeping my kitchen floor for the last time that I cried.

Not that there was much to the house itself — we had lived there for close to a year without air conditioning until we could afford to have it installed — but we had created memories there, so it was difficult to leave.

Thirteen years and five moves later, I’ve discovered that it never gets easier.

Once I’ve swept my old kitchen for the last time and moved into the new one, we inevitably hit a rough patch. I feel invisible in my new neighborhood, the kids come home from school demanding that we move back to where their real friends live, and I always manage to get in the car to drive to the post office or library only to realize that I have no idea where it is.

But then one day I find myself sweeping birthday cake crumbs or Legos or glitter from off the new kitchen floor and understand that we’re beginning to create memories, to feel at home even.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, (http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/mobility_of_the_population/cb11-91.html), “In 2010, 37.5 million people 1 year and older changed residences in the U.S. within the past year.”

Those numbers — combined with the fact that moving can be one of the most stress-producing experiences a family faces (http://www.aacap.org/galleries/FactsForFamilies/14_children_and_family_moves.pdf) — suggest that millions of people every year hit some rough patches. They are likely missing the people and places they left behind, feeling invisible in their new neighborhoods and maybe even getting lost.

Since July is the biggest moving month of the year, my guess is there are at least a few moms out there who have recently cried while sweeping their kitchen floors for the last time.

My latest move was a few weeks ago. We had been renting a house I didn’t particularly like until we found a home in the same area to buy, so I didn’t feel sad as I was packing and cleaning. My kids would still have their friends and I would still know where the post office was.

But then I walked into the kitchen.

My oldest daughter had proudly presented me with her driver’s permit and my son had cleaned out my entire food supply after football games and track meets in that kitchen. Hours of spelling and math homework had been completed, and my baby had blown out the five candles on his Mario birthday cake at the table. And I was in that kitchen when I found out that our offer on the house had been accepted.

So even though I had already done plenty of packing and cleaning, it wasn’t until I was sweeping my kitchen floor for the last time that I cried.

We have a birthday party at our new house next week. I welcome the cake crumbs that will end up on my kitchen floor.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tales from a truly terrible Scout campout

Serious MomSense column published on KSL.com (click HERE for the link)

My boys came back from their respective Scout campouts this summer with various grievances: gross food, bad weather, nasty bug bites. I smiled and reminded them that it all builds character.

That being said, I’m well aware that not all character-building Scout campouts are created equal. Take the survival campout my brother Dan went on at age 13, for example.

Each boy was dropped off alone in the middle of nowhere with a blanket, a coat, one empty tin can, one match, one knife and lots of critters to keep him company. The goal was to survive for 24 hours.

In theory, this was a piece of cake because these Boy Scouts had “mastered” every outdoor survival skill needed while earning the required merit badges. In reality, most young boys have limited retention capabilities and only vaguely remember to stay away from plants with three leaves.

Only after excessive goofing around did the boys decide they should probably get to work starting their fires.

Most of them didn’t fully appreciate the significance of having only one match at their disposal and watched their chances of staying warm that night go up in small wafts of smoke under their hastily-constructed stick teepees.

The Scout leaders -- to their credit, and who had likely planned this all along -- had stationed the boys relatively close to one other along the banks of a stream. So when a boy started to panic after his match failed to light a fire, he discovered that shouting could easily determine the whereabouts of a fellow Scout. If there was no useable match in the newly-formed alliance, they would simply resume shouting.

In this manner, all seven boys eventually reunited and found that there was but one good match among them.

Knowing that temperatures during that November night were likely to dip into the 30’s, the adrenaline-fueled Scouts set about constructing history’s most-prayed-over stick teepee. Lighting the precious match resulted in barely a smolder, at which time the boys panicked and started grabbing any leaves and sticks within reach to throw onto the teepee until it eventually caught fire.

The boys had never felt so relieved and they fed the fire with great care throughout the night.

Regrettably, starting the fire had zapped so much energy that they hadn’t given food much thought. Try as they might, no one could quite remember how to differentiate between edible and poisonous plants, so they went hungry except for a wild cucumber someone found and tried to boil in his tin can.

My mom remembers Dan’s phone call on Saturday afternoon: “Mom, I’m back. Bring food and I AM SERIOUS!”

The ordeal was over.

Until Sunday morning, when Dan woke up with a red and slightly swollen face. By Monday, his face resembled a puffer fish, his eyes were completely shut, and his fingers were so inflamed that two of them had fused together.

The doctor took one look at him and asked how he had ever managed to expose himself to so much poison oak.

Those leaves the boys had grabbed to start the fire -- the leaves they had fed the fire with all night -- were poison oak.

Without going into too much detail, every boy at the campout had poison oak on virtually every part of his anatomy, as proper hygiene such as hand-washing hadn’t been strictly adhered to. And because Dan’s skin is especially susceptible, he was affected everywhere the smoke came into contact with his skin. Dan was given multiple shots and had to stay home from school for a week.

So after listening to my boys’ campout grievances, I could only offer a token amount of sympathy. And then I said,

“It could be so much worse. Just ask Uncle Dan.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Writing Prompts for Kids #2 : Tattle Jar

It's that time of year again - the time I want to ship every blasted one of my kids to a remote African village.  At the top of my "Reasons why shipping my kids far away is reasonable" list is TATTLING.  It comes in every form, from every age of kid, and it never ever ever ends.

A few years ago I put Operation Tattle Jar into effect and it yielded pretty good results, so I am re-instituting it this week.  It serves two purposes:  1) I only have to address children's grievances once a day, and 2) It's great writing practice for the kids.   Here's how it's done.
  1. Choose a container of any sort (I'm a simple person & grabbed a Mason jar but anything including super-cute stuff will work) and label it TATTLE JAR (or BOX or whatever fits).
  2. Put slips of PAPER and PENCILS into it.
  3. State the RULES clearly.  They are simple.  If you have a complaint, write it down.  Mom will not listen to verbal complaints.  She will only read them once a day (dinner table or your choice of time) and give her verdict.
 After the first few days, the kids will only write it down if they feel very strongly about the infraction.  It serves as a great way to discuss issues with the kids, it cuts down on all the reporting, and I pretty much guarantee it will make you laugh more than once.

The first Tattle Jar complaint I received was:  "Seth called me a platypus!"

Have fun and may the force of the Tattle Jar be with you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What it really means to live in America

Published for Motherhood Matters on KSL.com (click HERE for the link)
Published for Allen Publishing (click HERE for the link)

Once my kids were out of school for the summer, it didn’t take long for their teasing and arguing to escalate to ridiculous extremes.

Enough already.

So I announced a new rule this morning at breakfast: Whoever teases or argues gets to scrub a toilet. My 13-year-old asked if they got to choose which toilet.

“Of course not.”

“But I thought this was a free country!”

“In our house, not so much. End of discussion.”

But what it means to live in a free country is most definitely worth discussing with my children.

My husband was a typical 13-year-old kid growing up in Salt Lake when his parents temporarily disrupted his care-free life by sponsoring a Vietnamese refugee family who lived with them for six months.

The two small children had never seen a toilet and had to be taught the art of sitting instead of squatting. Other new experiences for the family were things like sitting in chairs at a table to eat, almost every food offered them, driving and riding in cars and speaking English.

In short, virtually everything in America was new and strange and foreign — but exactly what they had hazarded their lives for.

What the family had experienced before arriving at my husband’s doorstep was something he did not fully comprehend until years later.

The UK’s history learning site, (http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam_boat_people.htm), reports that approximately 1.5 million Vietnamese people took to the sea — risking drowning or tortuous deaths at the hands of pirates — in the desperate hope that their children would be raised in a country where basic human rights are protected and freedom is expected rather than longed for.

My husband’s refugee family was among the fortunate. An untold number of Vietnamese boat people — some estimate as high as 200,000 — died before arriving on safe shores.

My husband watched his mother carry around a dog-eared English/Vietnamese dictionary. My father-in-law spent the necessary time and resources to help the parents secure employment in their respective trades as welder and cook.

Driver’s licenses became a necessity, so my mother-in-law took on the task of teaching them how to drive. Seeing as traffic lights and paved streets were a brand-new concept, this was no small undertaking.

And here I thought driving with my teenager and her newly acquired learner’s permit was stressful.

My husband’s family kept in touch with their Vietnamese friends over the years and watched as home ownership and college educations became realities for them, realities that would have formerly been inconceivable.

According to Freedomhouse.org (http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15), 20 countries are on a list of the world’s most repressive societies. These societies “are defined as exerting pervasive state control over daily life, banning free speech, independent organizations and political opposition and practicing severe human rights violations.”

The total population of these 20 countries is a staggering 3,227,021,426. The United States, in contrast, has a population of 307,006,550.

It would do my children good to take a careful look at these numbers and be given age-appropriate glimpses into the lives of those who simply cannot conceive of enjoying the basic freedoms and rights that we take so much for granted.

So while I’m grilling hamburgers and swimming and watching fireworks with my family over this 4th of July weekend, I am keenly aware of those in this world who have little reason for such festivities.

At least 3,227,021,426 of them have no freedoms worth celebrating.

Like most people today, I’m worried about the direction our country and society seem to be headed and how this will impact my children’s futures. There is certainly much to be concerned about.

But I’m not convinced that these concerns outweigh everything good and great this country has to offer. I am raising my children in a country where they can live and work and worship and learn and take advantage of endless opportunities. I live in a country where freedom is expected rather than longed for.

For this I am deeply grateful.

And because I am free to raise my children as I see fit, I am also grateful for clean toilets. If today is any indication, my toilet-scrubbing days are over.