When You Forget That You’re The Mom

IM5 ConcertSpiky hair, beefy biceps, swift dance moves. They epitomized every girls’ boy band dream. And they were only a few feet away from me, crooning their way down a long stage. My fingers tapped hard at the camera icon on my phone as one of the band members crouched down near the girls in front of me. When he swooped up a smartphone from an outstretched hand to take a few selfies, a giggle escaped my lips.

The air pulsed with excitement and I found myself caught up in the moment, bouncing on the balls of my feet in time to the music. Then one of the singers scooped a preschool-aged girl into his arms. The screams and shrieks of hundreds of teen girls pierced my ears. Suddenly my head throbbed and my feet ached. I backed out of the crowd, nearly stepping on two girls rushing forward, smartphones held high.

“Here, there’s room closer,” I said, shooing them along with a motherly nudge.

As I searched for a place to wait for my daughters, another wave of screams broke out. I scrunched my nose in reaction. A group of middle-aged moms sitting along the top of a wall nearby smiled in sympathy at my grimace. The mom on the end patted an empty spot next to her. I hopped up and breathed a sigh. I had found my tribe again.

Have you ever been there, in one of those moments where you want to full out enjoy something but can’t because you’re a) the mom and b) not young enough to appreciate everything? I think those moments where we’re torn like that can be catalysts to understanding ourselves better. If we know what to do with them. Here are five steps I found that help:

What To Do When You Forget That You’re The Mom:

  1. don’t beat yourself up about it. We’re all little girls and teens inside at times. And frankly, it makes us better mothers, more capable of empathizing with our children.
  2. acknowledge that there’s a need in you. It could be a need to be noticed, to be in the center of the action at a big event, or to recapture something from your youth. Take some time to ferret out what that need is.
  3. connect that desire to a life goal that suits who you are now. Again, this might take a bit of exploration to pin down. Because you’re an adult, it doesn’t mean that everything from your youth is lost to you. But it will look a bit different.
  4. put that goal in writing as something you plan to do one day.  The good news is that unlike in your youth, you have resources and knowledge now that should make more things possible, not less.
  5. tell your goal to another mom friend (or two or three). Go ahead and build momentum around the idea with others who might share your enthusiasm about it.

The (free) IM5 concert I took my girls to a few weeks ago really opened my eyes. I had always poo-pooed the idea of spending lots of money for front row seats at a concert. I couldn’t understand what made people do it. Until I was up close myself and felt the energy and excitement of being in such close proximity (even to “stars” I’d only learned about a few days before). That moment where I forgot that I was a middle-aged mom and became a little gaga over a boy band told me that it would be thrilling to get up close with a band I actually knew and whose lyrics I could sing along with. I never thought I’d say this, but after that I decided to add, “get front row tickets to a concert” to my bucket list.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience that might be trying to tell you something about yourself. What was the experience? What can it teach you?

(Here are my girls checking one off their bucket list:)

Meet a boy band.

Back to School Tips & Inspiration

The August parenting magazines are out. You’ll find lots of tips and inspiration for starting the school year off well. Here are some of the articles I  contributed to this month’s issues:

1408ParentingPlusBecome School Supply Savvy, Orlando Family
By now you’ve probably gotten your kids’ backpacks pretty well stocked. But in case you’re still on the hunt for that last item, you might want to read this. I share some uncommon sources for hard-to-find supplies (tell me: why is it that teachers/schools insist on specific brands and sizes that aren’t on any nearby store shelves?).

School Then & Now, Family Time
Things sure have changed since we moms and dads were in school. But exactly how have they changed? I list a number of tools and practices that are different in our children’s educational lives from when we last sat at a school desk.1408FamilyTimesFLCover

21 Questions to Jump-Start Conversation With Your Kids – Neapolitan Family
If you’re tired of hearing your kids answer “fine” when you ask how their school day went, then you might want to try a different angle. With twenty-one questions to select from, you have plenty of chances to get the dinner conversation humming. Just don’t forget to share your answers too.

Dinner By Design, Family Times
There’s nothing like needing to have dinner on the table while trying to keep the family taxi running on schedule. In this article I offer a method for putting together your own ongoing monthly meal planner.

1408PBParentingFirsthand Savings on Secondhand Goods, PB Parenting
Back to school expenses are among the highest of any outlays for families, so it helps to shop smart. And sometimes that means buying secondhand. I spoke with moms and experts to find out just what makes sense to buy used – and what to look out for when shopping for previously owned items.

Chores Make the GradeWashington Family
Plenty of moms skip having their kids help with housework, thinking it’s more important for them to just focus on schoolwork. But if that’s you, you may be missing out on opportunities to actually improve your child’s academic performance. I share expert insight on how doing chores can help with their scholastic skills. So get ready to hand over the mop and broom, mom!


Growing a Bucket List

MeSUPAs summer draws to a close (only a week and a half until school starts here), I’m fascinated to see what has happened with the bucket lists in our family. We were fortunate to check off a number of goals, and even some long-standing ones. Yet the lists of what we still want to do isn’t any shorter. In fact, I believe every one of our lists grew over the course of the past few months.

Which is awesome! It’s a sign that our family is growing more adventurous. It also reflects a deepening of particular interests.

For example, my middle daughter had the opportunity to ride in both a helicopter and a breezy this summer through the Young Eagles program at a local airport. These were both significant, not because of how long she waited to do them. They’d both only been on her list for less than a year. But they were both daring moves. And she’s a cautious child. Not a thrill-seeker. She prefers quiet to noisBreezye, slow to fast, intimacy to crowds. Yet she put ride in a helicopter on her bucket list. And then did it. And then after that added “fly in a breezy” to the list. And then, after multiple coin flips (go/don’t go) and with sweaty palms, strapped into that open air seat and took off!

Now she wants to attend the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh next July. She plans to fly during as many Young Eagle Saturdays as we’ll take her to. We’ve even had conversations about flight lessons and colleges where you can add courses to get your private pilot’s license.

In short, her aviation-related bucket list has expanded the more she’s checked off. Her interest in flying has deepened.

So if bucket lists in your family, especially among the children, are short or shallow, don’t give up. Get out there and reach just one goal. See what it spurs. Watch how checking things off lists, whether personal lists or a shared family list, expands your aims for the future instead of shrinking what’s left to be done.

Me? I’m thinking about adding “own a stand up paddleboard” to our family’s list. Trying one out was near the top of everyone’s favorite experiences this summer. And if we were to get one, I can see us wanting to expand our family bucket list with a new category of “places we’ve paddleboarded.”

Going After Dreams While Saving For Your Kids’ College

DreamsCollegeSavingsLiving your bucket list dreams has to cost a lot, right? Can only the wealthy afford to check off their goals? Are the rest of us left to fulfill only one or two?

Not really. My family is living out more dreams at a time when it would seem least likely for us to do so.

My oldest child will be a sophomore in high school this fall. Her younger sisters are going in to eighth and fifth grade. College, or to be more specific, paying for college, looms bigger in our minds every year. We’re busy saving up, especially as education costs continue to rise.

Yet we’re also enjoying great experiences living the bucket list life.

FirstCubsGamesmLast week my two oldest daughters went to their first major league baseball game at Wrigley Field. They rode on a coach bus to the city, sat under the overhang between first base & right field, and enjoyed hot dogs Chicago style (or rather, my middle girl did – the one I’d least expect to). It was a breezy summer afternoon, with a slight drizzle, and for once the Cubbies won. My girls’ were in bucket list heaven (minus the beer someone dumped on their feet in the first inning – after all, this is real life).

That same evening I took their younger sister out for dinner and then to meet actor and author, Chris Colfer at our city bookstore. And their dad was on his way to Finland, where so far he’s already played three disc golf courses – adding to his own bucket list accomplishments.

The sum total of what it cost our entire family for all of those experiences? $22.50 ($18 for a hardcover book autographed by Colfer, plus $4.50 for a Chicago style hotdog). Definitely not how little I had expected any one of those to total. Yet there it was!

Now, we happen to live in an awesome smaller city that draws people like Chris Colfer. My daughters got their free tickets and transportation to the Chicago Cubs game through an organization we’ve all volunteered for. A work trip took my husband to Finland. All of us had to simply grab the (virtually free) opportunities that presented themselves.

If you don’t believe you should have a bucket list right now because money is tight, or it’s going to be tight, then you are missing out. Over and over again I have seen how the ideas and goals we’ve put on our bucket lists have become possible without breaking our pocketbook. Saving for college and fulfilling bucket list dreams are not mutually exclusive.

It’s impossible to predict when or how you’ll be able to reach a goal, but that’s half the fun of making a bucket list. Stare down the impossible and dare it to happen. [Tweet this]

After all, getting my kids through college without going into debt is on my bucket list!

Same event, different story

BalloonBurnerMy hair whipped around my face and into my eyes so I could no longer see the crowd gathered round. I held tight to the ropes, turning my back on the cold air. And then came a short blast of burners. Heat rushed past my arms and the nylon envelope of the balloon billowed and began to lift up. Within moments I released the ropes and ran to grab the edge of the basket to keep our pilot on the ground.

Eyes to the Skies 2004

Me and my oldest two girls at the festival in 2004.

It was my first festival working the balloon crew. And I was loving it!

For the past fifteen my family has visited the Lisle Eyes to the Skies Hot Air Balloon Festival. The first few years we rode our bikes in the early morning haze, babies in tow, to watch a field full of balloons inflate. The 6am launches became a family tradition. Some years we headed out for more than one morning’s festivities, during the multi-day event.

Later we feared our move to an adjacent city would dampen our experience of the festival. Instead we were surprised to find our new home on a flight path for balloons launching from the fair grounds. One dawn we were awakened by the familiar sound of the burner blast. I looked out the window above our bed to see a hot air balloon floating over our house. During a more recent festival a beautiful sport balloon touched down in the field behind our house. Other years we’ve sat in our backyard on Fourth of July weekends watching groups of balloons drift in the distance over our fair city.

During the years of attending balloon launches on the festival grounds we have walked among traditional and shape balloons. We have stood inside a cold air inflated envelope (the fabric part of the balloon) for a TV news program. My children have climbed into baskets to gaze up into the balloon, and watched pilots fire the burners as they passed on floats in Fourth of July parades. We’ve witnessed launches and landings and even helped pack an envelope.

It was the same balloon festival that we returned to year after year. Yet every year was different.

From the very beginning, when I learned that the festival took volunteers to help the balloonists inflate and take down, I knew I wanted to be a part. “Work a balloon crew” went on to my bucket list (along with, of course, “ride in a hot air balloon” – never mind that I’m afraid oBalloonInsidef heights).

This year, with our children older and valuing sleep over balloons, my husband and I took the opportunity to join the morning launch crew (the 5:30am shift). And it did not disappoint. We learned a lot. We worked. And we had fun.

It may be another fifteen years before I’m actually airborne in a hot air balloon. But until then, I expect I’ll continue to experience new facets of the sport each year. Because the best bucket list adventures aren’t about the destination. They’re about the journey. SingleBalloon

A Great Summer Read: A Minor, by Margaret Ann Philbrick

I’ve heard that a large percentage of people dream of one day writing a book. We all have stories inside of us waiting to be told. But far fewer of us actually do the writing. That’s because it is really, really hard work. So I’m excited today to introduce you to my friend Margaret Philbrick, whose first novel, A Minor, recently released. I was privileged to read chapters of her novel as part of a writer’s group we’re in together through the Redbud Writer’s Guild. Even those drafts, rough as they were at the time, were fascinating. Margaret is a poet and a gardener, which both come through clearly in her writing.

a-minor-novelAbout A Minor:

Clive Serkin, a teenage piano prodigy, seeks victory at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow, and enlists the help of world-renowned pianist Clare Cardiff. She becomes his mentor and teacher, and even though she is more than twice his age, Clive finds himself falling in love with her. After Clare is diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Clare’s estranged husband Nero takes her away from Clive to pursue further medical testing. Clive is faced with the challenge of traveling to Moscow and performing at the competition without his beloved mentor. Ultimately, he must discover if the music they share is enough to keep them together.

Q and A with author Margaret Ann Philbrick

1. What inspired you to spend four years working on A Minor?

My children all play the piano, and our oldest son’s teacher requested that a parent sit in on the lessons and take notes. We would then review with him during the following week. As he moved on to college, I was left with a notebook full of wisdom that needed to be shared, but I didn’t have the framework for an idea. While I was having lunch in South Haven, Michigan, I started talking to my husband about what it would be like for a concert pianist to lose his or her memory. That question took me on a one year research journey to find the answer.

2. Did you use the notebook from your son’s piano lessons?

Oh, definitely. In many ways the voice of the main character is the voice of my son’s teacher. There are aspects of her in the work that I’m sure she’ll recognize when she reads it, like her clogs. She always wears these precarious, high-heeled wooden clogs. I’ve never known anyone to wear shoes like this in the summer with bare feet. She’s a fascinating conundrum.

3.  Your book has some unique features, like a Discussion Guide in the back and recorded music in the eReader that anyone can hear while they are reading and live links to other resources. How did all that happen?

Well, I love Koehler Books because they are open to thinking outside the box of what a book can be. When I created A Minor, I thought about the music first. If you were only listening to the story, what would it sound like? Then I outlined all the musical works, and I’d listen to them while writing. It was important that the music told the story as well if not better than the words. Eventually, the idea came to me that I wanted the reader to have the same experience. Koehler Books was open to partnering with me in creating that experience. My husband, who is a lawyer, was an enormous help as well. The Discussion Guide is for the classroom or book clubs. As a teacher, it comes naturally for me to ask questions so people can learn more. The live links send the reader to the places where they can get help with memory issues in their own family or even for themselves.

4. Is it hard to raise a family and write a novel?

I can say my writing drives my kids crazy. My youngest son calls me the “bat.” Sometimes he comes home from a piano lesson, and I’ll be at my desk in the dark, writing by the light of the screen, too engaged to turn on any lights in the house. I try to write when they’re not at home, during the school day. It’s definitely not good for them if they feel like my “callings” are taking the place of them. Sometimes I’ve had to drop everything or step away from a project entirely, but raising children is a very short season and hopefully, I can write for the rest of my life.

About Margaret Philbrick:

Margaret PhilbrickMargaret Philbrick is an author, gardener and teacher who desires to plant seeds in hearts. Margaret is a graduate of Trinity University (Lit. major) and has a Masters in Teaching from National Louis University. She teaches writing and literature to children at The Greenhouse School www.the-greenhouse.com and H.S.U. She is actively involved in the fulfillment of God’s vision at Church of the Resurrection, www.churchrez.org and she helps empower the feminine voice by mentoring with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, www.awwp.org. Back to the Manger, her first book is a holiday gift book she created with her mother, an oil painter. Her newly released novel, A Minor, was published by Koehler Books. You can find Margaret in her garden digging in the dirt or writing poetry and you can connect with her on-line via her website at www.margaretphilbrick.com or on Facebook.

A Great Gift For Any Occasion (Hint: It Involves Sharing Time)

A recent issue of Family Circle featured the story of Lynya Floyd, who asked her friends on FaceBook to honor her birthday by leaving a message on her timeline – but not just a generic wish. She asked them to offer a suggestion. Floyd’s request? “Please note one epic adventure we haven’t been on that you hope we will have one day soon… And I promise I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make it come true.”

Isn’t that brilliant? What I love about her request is not just that she’s open for adventure, but that she sees the value in sharing it with others. Floyd made sure her friends knew she would follow any idea. Floyd goes on to share about some of the escapades that have resulted from that post. She talks about how she has learned more about herself, but it is also clear how much of a role her friends are playing in stretching her notions of adventure and how much she is learning about her friends from their responses.

Now, asking all your friends to suggest adventures may seem like a lot to handle, especially if dozens of friends offer their ideas. And it could be overwhelming, albeit thrilling, to receive them all at once. But there’s nothing that says you have to ask for it as a gift to you. Why not turn around Floyd’s idea and use it as a gift to someone else? Especially this time of year when many of us are racking our brains for unique and appropriate ideas for graduation and Father’s Day gifts.

What grad wouldn’t like the gift of a card offering to take them on an adventure of their choosing? High school and college graduation are a time of transition already and grads often have a mindset of anticipation. They are primed for adventure.

And for Father’s Day you could learn something new about your dad by offering this gift. Maybe you already know what adventure your dad would like to take. But when you ask with the intention of it being something he and you would do together, how might that change? In what way would he want to spend time with you that you haven’t before?

Adventures can take so many shapes and forms that fit any budget. Why not invite someone to tell you what kind of adventure they think fits you both – and then do it?

In the comments, tell us one person you’d like to gift an adventure with and what you think they might request (or what you hope they will request).


Bucket List Adventures Imperfectly Done

Grand Ole Opry NashvilleMy family visited Nashville for the first time last week. We spent five days of our spring break in the city and checked off multiple bucket list goals (including seeing Nashville itself). We had a great time that promoted family bonding, even though we could have done better at making the most of it.

Which is how it often goes. There’s life as we envision it and life as it actually happens. I’m getting better at accepting imperfection and embracing the benefits that come with the altered version. Here is how that played out for us last week:

The good

  • we all enjoyed the Country Music Hall of Fame – a bucket list tour of sorts for our country-music-loving eldest daughter. We were able to take our time (about two hours-ish) and were duly impressed. It was eye-opening to see the breadth of musical styles encompassed by the term “country music.”
  • we ate some incredible food. With a rented condo, we planned on only eating out for lunch. We made it to two well-known Nashville eateries: Jack’s BBQ and Arnold’s Country Kitchen. At Jack’s we people-watched out the large second-story windows overlooking Broadway. Arnold’s, with its communal seating and friendly busboy had a down-South homey feel.
  • we spent tons of time outdoors. The weather was amazing – in the upper 70′s/lower 80′s every day and sunny. Thankfully most of our itinerary involved the outdoors. We spent one day touring Belle Meade Plantation and then the Cheekwood Botanical Garden. A second day found us out on a Nashville disc golf course helping DH check another one off his list. And we walked around the campus of Vanderbilt University. After the horrid winter we had, the warmth and sunshine were so, so appreciated.
  • we relaxed. A lot. Planning dinners at our condo meant we spent most evenings just chilling – either playing games or watching TV. That downtime did us all some good. We arrived home at the end of the week feeling pretty relaxed and replenished.

The disappointing

  • we didn’t hear much music. While downtown we ate at Jack’s, not a venue with live music. We stopped in at one of the honky tonks, but with three kids in tow and no meal to eat, it felt uncomfortable. The upshot? DH and I will return to Nashville one day without kids and spend a lot more time taking in the music. Disappointing, but not a vacation wrecker.
  • we didn’t experience as much regional food. I had been hoping to try one of the hot fried chicken restaurants. But the way we planned our days left us miles and miles from one at lunchtime. Twice we just grabbed the nearest food we could find (including a food court at the outlet mall before touring Gaylord Opryland Resort). Bummer for us, since we all would have liked to have eaten better. Under the circumstances there was not much we could have done about it though. And I don’t regret the dinners at the condo for the downtime they provided.

I share this because the reality of any bucket list adventure is that it will not turn out one hundred percent according to plan. At the time, our family enjoyed ourselves so much, we didn’t particularly notice what was missing. It wasn’t until we got home and recapped the trip that we noticed the lapses. So overall it was a success. And that’s the point, right? It’s not so much about getting everything perfect as it is to be present to what you are doing and take joy in that. Plus, if a place or experience is that good, what’s not to like about finding a reason to do it over again?

When have you let go of “perfect” in order to enjoy an adventure as it happened?

Help for Spring Break, Spring Cleaning & More: March/April Articles

The kids are bickering, the house is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all. Does that sound like your family’s spring break? No? Maybe yours goes more like this: the kids are bickering, your car/hotel room/suitcase is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all.

Spring TipsParenting and its challenges has no end. There is no getting away from the needs of children and the pressures of running a household. But there are ways to keep yourself in the midst of the joy more often. There are solutions that help you get away from the stress to regroup and refuel – together. I’m thankful as a journalist that I can take some of these common problems and run them by experts and fellow moms for interesting, helpful and doable solutions. In the March and April issues of parenting magazines in the U.S. and beyond, I have articles that offer great insight and tips on these very problems. I hope you’ll read them for yourself so that you can enjoy your family – both during spring break and in the months to come.

Spring Break & Having Family AdventuresFlagler Parent

Planning a Spring Break that Doesn’t Break You, Calgary’s Child

Have You Ever: An Invitation to Adventure, Flagler Parent

Spring Refreshers & Why Kids Should Help with The Chores

31 Refreshers That Take 15 Minutes or Less, Okanagan Child

Chores Make the Grade, Houston Family

Sibling Spats

A Special Solution to Sibling Strife, Atlanta Parent

Public Restroom Comic

Parent-Child Relationships

Mother & Daughter, Shoulder to Shoulder, Family Australia Magazine

Humor for Moms of Preschoolers

The Perils of Public Restrooms with Preschoolers, The Village Family Magazine

Photo credit: Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire… by Kivanc Nis on Flickr via CC License.

Bucket Lists & Delayed Gratification

I share in my Op-Ed published in today’s LA Times why I think crowdfunding is not the way to go when it comes to underwriting your bucket list adventures. Not that I’m against crowdfunding. It has a great history and serves a purpose.

One factor I didn’t mention that I think is at play in the rise of “narcissistic” fundraising is the degrading of our ability to delay gratification. The internet and other technologies have trained us to expect everything in an instant. But instant doesn’t work for bucket lists. In fact, instant disregards the very nature of a bucket list: we haven’t yet done something that we look forward to one day. It’s important enough, meaningful enough for us to put on a list and wait for it (or move slowly toward it, depending on your perspective).

I’ll admit that there have been multiple occasions where I have satisfied a life dream before even putting it on my list because I realized how much I had been longing to do or see that very thing at the moment it presented itself. And while those have been amazing experiences, the ones that would have otherwise been less significant but were long-awaited brought me more satisfaction.

My point? Be willing to wait on your life goals until you have saved up for them. The waiting can be an experience itself where you learn more and grow into someone who is better prepared to make the most of that life goal. I truly want to travel to Tuscany one day. It’s at the very top of my list. But in the meantime, I have a much longer list of things I will do to prepare for that day – like research where I’ll stay and what I’ll do. By the time I can afford it, I will be so excited and ready.

If you stopped by here after reading that Op-Ed, welcome. I hope you’ll check out my list of bucket list resources, which includes digital tools for writing and tracking your bucket list. There are some pretty cool ones out there that integrate social media (yes, you can engage with others about your list – I would just say refrain from asking them to fund it).

And if you haven’t already made a bucket list, particularly if you want to make one for your family that contains ideas of what you want to do before your kids are grown, check out my guidebook, Family Bucket Lists. I offer questions to help you make a more motivating, meaningful list than what you’d think of off the top of your head (if your list right now only involves travel, you are missing some amazing, easily reached goals). It is available in paperback and on every digital platform. You can download it now and be creating your list today or working through questions this weekend during family time.


Photo credit: Crossing of a 3rd item on the list by Kyle Clements
on Flickr via CC License