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.

Why I Didn’t Create an Over-the-Top Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day yesterday was low key at my house. My husband cooked an amazing meal for me on Sunday. I gave him chocolate and each of my girls a little Valentine’s candy on the 14th.

Over-the-top Valentines Compared to the heart-themed-breakfast, love-notes-in-lunch-boxes fusses many of my fellow moms made, it doesn’t sound much like a bucket list celebration, does it?

There’s a reason for that.

Over-the-top celebrations aren’t sustainable for me. And I would argue they aren’t healthy or sustainable for most. They raise the bar and set expectations such that we’re often scrambling to find ways to make the next event memorable, to wow our kids or spouse or friends or social media followers with our creativity and pizzazz, to outdo ourselves. And in the process we cheapen everyday life and rob our kids of anticipation.

Going big has become such a way of life in our culture that I suspect we’re losing the ability to appreciate the ordinary. Our sense of perspective has been skewed by this desire for every milestone or occasion to be bright and amazing. When Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day and Easter share the same level of riotous hype in a household, how do kids learn which of those days is most significant?

When teenage girls become accustomed to up-do’s and manicures and professional makeup for homecoming dances, preceded by an elaborate “ask” by their date, then prom must include limousines and multi-hundred-dollar dresses and fancy “after parties.” But what’s left for the day they become engaged? And how can they help but expect the type of wedding that requires an exorbitant price tag when a mere high school dance merited so many frivolous expenses?

We have become so focused on giving our kids everything now, that we are leaving nothing for later. What will your children’s bucket lists look like when they reach their 20s and their 30s? When they are your age, what will they be hoping to do? How will they not be bored in retirement having done it all already?

More importantly, what do your kids bucket lists look like right now? In the wake of the hype and the busyness and the constant need to go big and achieve much, I’m hearing from kids how they just want a day to hang out at home and do nothing. They want a break from it all. Are you brave enough to give it to them? Or do you fear making them feel “left out” by not giving them every over-the-top experience you think their peers are getting?

Break the cycle. Dare to be the parent who invites their kids to enjoy the ordinary and leaves some bucket list experiences for the future. I know a lot of other moms who would appreciate it. And I’m pretty sure in the long run, your kids will too.


1603UdemyDisct Feeling exhausted from trying to match the over-the-top expectations prevalent among parents? Are you still eager to give your kids meaningful experiences that bring your family closer? I can teach you how. Check out my book Family Bucket Lists, or take my online course, Bonding Through Bucket Lists.

Bucket List Bonds: Another Reason the Cubs Win Was Such a Big Deal

I have talked often about the way going after life goals brings connection (it’s the theme of my video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Bucket Lists). And usually I’m talking about connection in the present tense, with those in your life today. But this past weekend in Chicagoland I witnessed how powerful that bond can be even with those gone from our lives. Like my grandma.

bucketlistbondscubswinGrandma Seman loved sports. When she moved from her home in Hawaii to a suburb near ours a few years after my grandfather died, I got to spend a lot of time with her. On almost every visit to her house, her tv or radio would be tuned in to a Chicago sports game. To this day, I take great comfort in the hollow sound of a ball game on AM radio. Because it brings back those days at Grandma’s house.

While she enjoyed sports year round – football, basketball, and hockey, Grandma’s favorite team by far was the Chicago Cubs. She would sit in her recliner with a crochet project in her lap and give her own play-by-play of the game. She’d exclaim over runs scored and scowl at what she thought were poor calls. And more than anything, she’d talk about the players. Grandma knew each one by name, reputation and background. Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg came up most often. But she could chat just as fluently about Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and other ball players. And like many Cubs fans before and after her, Grandma suffered disappointment after disappointment.

It’s hardly news that the Cubs finally had their day when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fight for the National League Pennant on Saturday. All over the Chicago Metro area longtime fans danced for joy, sang “Go, Cubs, Go!” and shot off fireworks. My own daughter shrieked and bounced all around the house (and she’s only waited 17 years, nowhere close to what others have).

My first thought was of Grandma. How thrilled she would have been to see her Cubbies get to the World Series. As she did with other Cubs’ wins, she would have talked like she never had a doubt they’d do it. Grandma always had faith that the Cubs could go far. Seeing them win the National League pennant would have been on her bucket list. Which made it a bittersweet day.

Turns out, a lot of other people were feeling the same way. That win brought back the memories of so many Cubs fans who longed to see their team go to the World Series. Social media lit up with people giving shout-outs to those they wished had been alive for that day. The connection in that moment of a long-awaited dream come true spanned generations and even death.

If you ever wondered about the power of a life goal to bond people together, talk to a Cubs fan about last Saturday. They know that power.

It also explains why Steve Goodman’s song, A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request, has such staying power. Take a look:



How Do You Spell Success as a Parent?

spell-successI nearly blew it again. My youngest daughter turned thirteen this past weekend and I almost didn’t have a card for her. As a rule, I don’t buy cards. I’m a crafter and I know I can make a card that I like much better than anything I’d find in the store. And I enjoy making them. But I have a hard time getting down to the business of making cards – it requires pulling out my stamping supplies and finding the creative bandwidth to generate a design.

On my daughter’s birthday, cards arrived in the mail from her grandmother and great aunt, as they do every year. Me? I missed sending my nephew’s birthday card last month. And I hadn’t started yet on my daughter’s card.

I beat myself up about it. I want to be like my mother and my husband’s aunt. I want to be the person who always sends a birthday card. And I’ve always felt like a failure because I’m not.

Then it occurred to me this week: whose priorities am I trying to live by? What do I really want success for me to look like?

I once met a dad who boasted about never missing one of his son’s basketball games from youth league on through high school, despite holding a job that required him to travel. It was impressive. He had committed himself to being there. It fit his definition of success and he fulfilled it. But me? I’ve missed gymnastics meets and soccer games. I haven’t bent over backward to be present for every one of my girls’ sporting events because that isn’t what I feel called to do (not to mention that it’s physically impossible when you have kids in events at the same time in different places). I’ve never considered myself a failure for missing my girls’ meets because perfect attendance was never part of my definition of success.

I realized this week that as much as my bucket list gives me goals to shoot for, I have to pay attention also to those I am not shooting for. I have ask myself, “How do I spell success as a mom? When my girls graduate from high school, what do I want to be able to say I did without (or nearly without) fail? What do I want to be able to check off my parenting bucket list? And what am I not going after?”

My priorities include serving a family meal every night of the week (success!), seeing them off to school every morning (success!), and making them a card for their birthdays (working on it). But my priorities don’t necessarily include being that person that doesn’t miss sending a card to everyone else. That might be a priority for me in another season of life.

I’m ready to stop trying to measure myself against other people’s priorities. I hope to recognize when I’m tempted to feel bad about measuring up against a standard that I haven’t subscribed to. And I’m only including on my parenting bucket list those things that truly matter to memy priorities.

Would you do the same? Think about how you spell success as a parent. Let go of trying to be the mom who throws Pinterest-worthy birthday parties if that’s not you. Don’t push yourself to execute the perfect bedtime tuck-in every night if it’s not working. Find the goals that do suit you and pursue those. Put them on your bucket list so you, like the perfect attendance basketball dad, can celebrate your accomplishment when the time comes.



Back to School Tips & Helps

1608AlaskaParent It’s back to school time and the parenting magazines have plenty of good tips, information and inspiration for parents this month. I’ve rounded up some of my contributions to August issues that I think will make back to school better for you and your family.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your child’s academic performance this school year, you should check these out:

Help Improve Your Child’s Memory gives you 4 methods you can use with your child to improve his skill at memorization. They’re simple and sensible enough for any parent to put to work.

Exercise Smarts for Teen Brains offers strategies that teens can use to maximize the proven benefits of physical activity on brain performance. Have your teen try them out!

Studies say that families ought to sit down to dinner together, but how do you get the conversation rolling once you’re at the table? If your kids are anything like mine, they’re probably expert at giving one-word answers to questions about school, 1608PittsburghParenttheir day and what’s up with them and their friends. 21 Questions to Jump-Start Conversation gives you alternatives to “how was your day” that can enliven your dinnertime chats this school year. Like this one: “what part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”

Fall sports are ramping up, which means football for the boys and girls’ basketball – two sports known for concussion-producing collisions. Lest you think a concussion is merely a bump to the head followed by a headache, read the essay I wrote following the 9-month ordeal my daughter went through with post-concussion syndrome: Heartbreaking Moments for the Mother of a Concussed Teen.

My girls go back to school today. It’s the last First Day of School for me with my high school senior. I’ll be spending the day trying not to be weepy or sentimental. How about you?