Being Present in Transition

PresentinTransitionWe’re a family in transition. We have been for a few months now. My husband started a new job in early May. Our eldest graduated from high school a few weeks later and then left the state for a summer job. Our sixteen-year-old took her first job a month after that.

It has been exciting and exhausting all at once. Which is to say that it’s an emotional time in our house, even if those emotions aren’t readily apparent on the surface. For that reason – the transition and its accompanying emotional weight, I’ve been largely absent from the virtual world. Where many others are posting pictures from vacations and outings and summer fun, I’ve been offline. While blogging moms and writer friends have continued to explore and document life as it occurs, I’ve been silent.

So I apologize if you’ve stopped by this space and found it growing stale and musty. I haven’t been here for a few months.

Instead, I have been playing board games or card games after dinner nearly every night with my husband and two of our daughters. I have been texting with our other daughter who has been away at camp for her second summer working as a lifeguard. I have stayed up late eating, laughing and talking with my parents, siblings and nephews during a week-long family reunion/getaway. I have stared at the stars and breathed deep of evergreen and campfires while on our annual camping trip. I’ve both paddled hard and drifted lazily in a kayak. I’ve talked and listened and walked and run and read books and lazed around.

In a word, I’ve been present.

I knew as we reached the exhausting end of my daughter’s senior year that I needed a “reset” of some sort. I needed centering; grounding; a disengaging from my relentless pursuit to Be All The Things – wife, mom, writer, secretary, speaker, friend, volunteer.

So this summer, instead of being something or filling some role, I’ve just been. In the place of doing and giving, I’ve been receiving. And in the space of being, that is, being present, I found my capacity for joy and gratitude expanded. Where anxiety and compulsion once resided, I found room for acceptance. I learned that I could take life as it comes and appreciate it for what it is. I moved through my days with less anger, less frustration, and more compassion, more warmth.

We’re still transitioning. In fact, I feel like the biggest transition is yet to come in a week-and-a-half when we drop our eldest off at college. But being present for the past ten weeks has me better prepared. Maybe not for the emotion of sending her off, but for the sendoff itself. I know I can, and will, be fully engaged with that process. I’ll be able to make the most of the handful of days between her return from camp and departure for college. I’ll continue to be cognizant of her youngest sister’s grief over the impending change. And I’ll hopefully be attuned to where I’m wanted in my college-bound daughter’s preparations and where she needs to step out on her own.

If I’ve learned one thing about bucket lists from the journey of being present this summer it is this: once in a lifetime is the moment you are in right now. That moment will never return. Yes, keep a list of what you’re looking forward to. Go after your goals and dreams. But in the meantime, get as good as you can at savoring what’s in front of you. The ability to be present in the day-to-day will serve you well during those long-hoped-for experiences too. Including the awaited moment of sending a child off to college for the first time.

The Roller Coaster Ride of Raising Children: When Your Child Turns 18

Roller CoasterIn many ways, raising children is a roller coaster ride. We hop on (at pregnancy or adoption) in anticipation of the thrills, fastening our restraints and holding our breath for what’s to come. And then the dips and loop-de-loops of late night feeding, tantrum calming, homework helping and all the rest of what it takes to raise kids consume our focus. The in-betweens of snuggles on the couch and giggling together over bedtime stories fuel us for the next round of whiplashing turns and spins.

And then comes high school. You sense the ratcheting click, click, click of the roller coaster climbing the last long, tall hill when your child reaches their junior year. ACT and SAT exams and college visits remind you that this is it. There’s not much time left until this child is grown and done being watched over in such close quarters. Click, click, click. You feel the gravity of it, your body pressing harder and harder against the seat, your face tilted nearly straight up to the sun. And then you reach the summit. The pause just before you’ll plummet full speed, terrifyingly fast to the end of the ride.

We’re there this week with our eldest. At the summit. We’ve click-clicked our way through the college application process and college acceptances. The decision is made. And all is still. Come Sunday we’ll attend our first senior banquet. Monday she turns 18. The Saturday after is prom. And then award banquets and assemblies, final exams, graduation, departure to work away at summer camp. College drop off. The end of the intense roller coaster ride of raising this girl from birth to young adulthood.

I talk a lot here about family bucket lists and seizing all the opportunities you can while your children are under your roof. Make the most of those 18 years, I’ve said. Now here I am. And I wonder, did we do it? Did we make the most of that time?

I’d like to think that we did. We didn’t check everything off our family bucket list. But we’re still a family. And there will still be college breaks and other family time together. We did pour ourselves out on our daughter’s behalf, taught her how to treat others well, encouraged her to think for herself, reminded her over and over again that she is loved by us, however imperfectly, and loved unconditionally by God. We’re proud of the confident, bright, ambitious young lady she’s become. We’re as ready as we can be for the ride to end.

Just don’t be surprised to see us walking on shaky legs in the next few months. It’s been quite a ride, as it is for all parents!

If you want a small glimpse into my own journey during those 18 years, an essay I wrote, “This is What It Costs,” has been published in an anthology called Everbloom that releases next week. I’ll be doing a giveaway for it here on April 25th. But in the meantime if you want to learn more, check it out on Amazon.

Road Trip Planning Help

Help Road Trip PlanningPlanning to head out on a road trip with your family soon? If you’re like me, the days leading up to your departure will be filled with trying to remember everything that needs to be done – stop the mail and newspaper, arrange for pet sitters or house sitters, double-check hotel reservations, check that the car is in good shape. And that doesn’t include packing. I always climb into our car for long trips with a sense of dread, as in “what have I forgotten.” Because all it takes is leaving behind one key item to throw a trip out of whack. On the flip side though, sometimes bringing along just the right item can turn the miles on the road from humdrum to delightfully memorable.

So for your sake and mine, I put together a list of Family Road Trip Must-Haves. These are the top 10 things I’ve found to make a positive impact on our trips. They’re the essentials I want to remember for every trip. Some of them might seem obvious (snacks!), but believe me, in the thick of preparation when mom is juggling packing lists for multiple family members, along with all those other duties, even the obvious can get overlooked. Some of the items I only discovered or only became available after years of traveling with kids (portable hotspots, anyone?). And others we learned to pack the hard way (cleanup supplies!).

I hope this list helps you as you get ready to head out of town. While you’re at it, I’d encourage you to also download the free 18 Summer & Family Vacations chart. It’s a simple way to plan and record how your family spends free time together. It allows you to see at a glance how you’re doing and what you want to pursue to maximize the years you have as your children are growing.

How about you? What is on your list of top things to bring on a family road trip?

I always enjoy hearing what other families can’t do without. I often learn how I can improve the experience for my crew.

Ensure Your Wizarding World Visit is Truly a Bucket List Experience

Family bucket list tripNext to Disney World, a trip to Universal Studios tops many family vacation bucket lists – especially with the addition and expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the last few years. And rightly so! Universal has come a long way in creating amazing experiences for their theme park guests.

UniversalSignSince our family enjoys Harry Potter, and our youngest, who is a big fan, was feeling left out of the fun after her two sisters had summer adventures (at camp and in Europe), my husband and I felt the time was ripe for a trip to Universal Studios Orlando. And while the trip alone would have been bucket list-worthy, we made a few key choices along the way to ensure it exceeded our kids’ (and our) expectations. And we made one or two goofs that I want to share about to spare you the same mistakes.

By the way, we’re a frugal family, and while theme parks don’t equate with small budgets, I did find ways to save significantly on this trip. I’ll share those tricks in a later post.

Here are the highlights of our Wizarding World experience (along with a few tips):

We arrived in Orlando during our kids’ second week of Winter Break. It also happened to be a lot of other schools’ winter breaks too, so the parks were crowded. At times, it was difficult to even walk through areas of Diagon Alley in Universal Studios or Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. We made the best of it, and generally were able to plan our tour of the parks to avoid the areas and attractions that were the most popular at the time (for example: on one occasion instead of waiting 60 minutes to ride the Hogwarts Express between parks, we chose to make the 15-minute walk). If crowds bother you, or you’ll only have one day at the parks, you may want to try to take your trip during a quieter season.

Girls at OllivandersWhen we entered Universal Studios Theme Park on the first day, after jumping into the line for Minion Mayhem (which turned out to be an excellent choice because we only waited about 10 minutes and never saw a line that short afterwards), we immediately went to Ollivander’s Wand Shop in Diagon Alley to buy interactive wands for our girls. Now you can either go directly into the shop itself to buy a wand, or you can wait to see a show in which the Wand Maker helps a wand choose a park guest. Since the line was short for the wand choosing show, we went to it –  but even so we still waited about 20 minutes. We enjoyed the show, but I wouldn’t suggest waiting much longer than a half hour. For our two girls (13 and 15 years old), finding wands on their own in the shop was much more exciting.

Bucket list tip for The Wizarding World: The interactive resin wands (either character wands or Ollivander’s “wood”)  are not cheap at $50 each for a wand and map of spell locations in a classy box. But all four of us agreed they added a priceless dimension to our visit. I’ve advocated before for strategic splurges that take experiences to the next level. The interactive wands would fit that category. Being able to “cast spells” to make it rain or turn on lights or reveal invisible ink (shh! that one is at a secret spell location), was cool! And the fact that the wands had to be swirled and flicked in just the right motions showed that Universal Studios knows their audience well.

KPygmyPuff

Pygmy Puff Naming Ceremony

Another tip: If you have a child who loves stuffed animals and they want to “adopt” a Pygmy Puff (and who wouldn’t, they’re so adorable!), make sure they go through the naming ceremony at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Katherine, our fifteen-year-old did this and was enchanted by the process, and by Genevieve, her pink fluffy Pygmy Puff.

Our bucket list “miss” in The Wizarding World: We didn’t have our girls buy costume accessories early on. All throughout the parks we saw folks decked out in wizarding gear, some in full Hogwarts uniform, many others just in their house robes. Being surrounded by people in costume made the experience more immersive – being in costume herself would completed it for Evelyn, our Harry Potter fangirl. However, in our case it wasn’t until the last day that our girls chose their souvenirs. Evelyn bought the Gryffindor tie and headband, along with a patch for us to iron on robes we’ll sew ourselves ($110 for official robes was too much for her souvenir budget). If I had it to do over, I would have encouraged her to buy the accessories on the first day to wear throughout the rest of our visit.

What makes The Wizarding World of Harry Potter so magical is how immersive it feels. Both areas are fairly well hidden/shielded from the rest of the parks – Diagon Alley more so than Hogsmeade (we even had other park visitors stop us to ask where it was, when they had just been standing right outside it, unaware). Music from the movie soundtracks plays continuously in the background, one of my favorite parts of being in those areas, and no detail is spared in the buildings themselves. In fact, keep your eye out for actual props used in the movies. You can also eat in both The Leaky Cauldron (Diagon Alley) and The Three Broomsticks (Hogsmeade) – for sure you want to try the Butterbeer!

Platform 9 3/4If The Wizarding World is on your family’s bucket list, consider splurging on those elements that complete the immersion: buy the interactive wands (or one for the family to share), let the kids dress up in costume (save money by making or buying your own before you go), and have a meal in one of the Wizarding restaurants. You won’t regret it!

Editors note: You might want to hold a Harry Potter movie marathon in the weeks leading up to your trip. We did and it was great to have the scenes fresh in our minds to recognize the significance of everything we were seeing at the park.

4 Ways to Bond One-on-One with Your Kids

4 Ways to Bond 1-on-1 TimeTuesday mornings are my Chick Fil A breakfast dates with Evelyn, my 12-year-old. We started going in February for their free mystery breakfast offerings and we’ve kept it up ever since. This month, with our eldest working 2 hours away at a camp and our 15-year-old in Europe with a friend for 12 days, I’ve enjoyed even more one-on-one time with Evelyn, but we’ve still kept that Tuesday morning date going. There is something about the ritual and our corner booth that makes it a special time for the two of us.

Even if you’re the parent of an only child, once your kid reaches a certain age, you may not be seeing much of them in a “hanging out” sort of way. And with busy schedules, it often takes planning and purposefulness to capture meaningful parent/child interactions. Here are 4 ways that have worked for me:

1. Get physical. Sharing a sport or physical activity can be a memory-making experience, even if it feels ordinary at the time. You could bike, play tennis, go golfing, run a 5k race.

2. Play a game. When you play games you laugh together, think together and shed the worries and stresses of life. You bond. The beauty is, there are games for every type of person. If your kid says he isn’t into games, you may not have found one that suits his personality. Check out boardgaming.com for game reviews and suggestions.

3. Go out to eat. Removing yourselves from the distractions of home allows you both to focus on each other better (although you might want to suggest that you both put your cell phones face down on the table or in a purse or pocket). Make a list together of places you want to try, and work from that whenever the opportunity arises.

4. Tackle a quest. Evelyn likes to quilt. I like to quilt. And while we do spend time working on our own projects in tandem (one of us at the sewing machine, the other ironing or cutting fabric), that shared interest recently afforded us the chance to go on a quest to visit a number of quilt stores in our area in what is called a “Shop Hop” complete with free patterns, raffles and discounts. You may not want to Shop Hop, but I’ll bet you can turn a shared interest into a quest of sorts. Try to use all of the LEGOs in your house in one huge project, test out recipes for your favorite dessert in search of the ultimate version, or see how many characters you can collect in Pokemon Go. You get the idea – a big shared project can equal a great time to bond.

Have you paid attention to how often you interact one-on-one with your kids? Are you due for a date or outing with each of them? Try one of the four methods above with your child this summer while your schedules are more open.CoursePromoImage


If you’re looking for more ideas to engage in bonding with your family that you can use this summer, sign up for my online video course “Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists”.