On the edge of the nest

This parenting teens who’ve just flown the coop, or are about to fly the coop, or wishing they could fly the coop is the most challenging season of parenting, I’ve decided.  This evening after such a long weary day, I should go to bed.  But instead my heart pines for precious ones that I want to hug, to encourage, to love.  Most of them are just a room or two away, and yet in this moment the distance feels too great to span.

It was so easy when they were tiny. So easy to just scoop a sleeping child up after a long day and bring them into the rocking chair for a late-night snuggle.  Their soft selves would cradle into me not even wondering, not even skipping a breath.  They’d just settle in, where I could breathe into their hair and rock and rock, soothing both our souls, with me luxuriating in the deep down certainty that even thru the heavy weight of sleep they could feel my love.  That their dreams were sweet because they were in my arms.

These days  ‘our’ place tends to be the minivan.  Or the kitchen. I talk and advise, hug when they’ll let me, and cook and feed and shop and drive.  And pray.  And drive.  And drive some more. (Oh, they constantly want to go places.)

But the cozying in.  The loving-mom-back.  Less of that comes these days.  And tonight my momma-heart is missing the adoring baby-eyes, the feel of a little one running full-tilt into my body because he knows I’ll catch him, the slightly older one drawing and handing me love notes at odd moments in the day.  No, nothing was perfect back then either.   And I know those babies still lurk somewhere inside the bigger people who inhabit my world these days.  I recognize a look in the eyes now and then.

But on tough days my throat aches hard for that time when my big gangly teens had zero doubt I was on their side.  And wanted me there. *I* know I’m still there, cheering them on, dreaming good dreams and praying with fervor.  But teens don’t see it so clear some days.

A few weeks back my full-grown son came by for a visit.  He sat by me on the couch and after we’d talked awhile he laid his head on my shoulder and gave a big sigh and we just sat, being together. At that moment I wanted to never move again, it felt so sweet.  That he wanted to be there.  That he found me a comfort.  That he gained peace from my presence. Oh, the happy ache.

It’s easier for us, these days with him all grown.  He’s gained maturity, gotten past the fierce lonely ache of adolescence.  He’s not flailing to find his balance, like these younger ones seem to be. Something about that flailing, it seems, compels them to push me hard away.  As if they fear my very presence will inhibit their launch into the world.

I once heard that parenting a teen has something in common with a pendulum, that the teen years often find kids at the far end of that pendulum swing, nearly out of reach of the parent who is struggling hard to be the steady base.  But that’s the time not to lose heart, because the pendulum is going to swing back.  Give it time.

The other day after taking my gaggle of teens on a less-than-stellar shopping trip– the angst! the frustration! the see-through clothing! — I ran into the grocery store for fried chicken at the deli counter.  When the deli lady asked how my day was going, I laughingly  said something about the challenge of clothing shopping with teens.  She was a few years older than I am and nodded knowingly, listened kindly.  I had the feeling she saw right through my jokes to the honest pain. We continued to talk a minute or two. As she handed me my box of chicken she smiled kindly and said, “Don’t worry, momma, they’ll come back to you.”

And even as I thanked her, I felt the tears welling up and all of a sudden I remembered that pendulum.  I’m in the midst of the pushing-away stage with multiple ones of mine.  But I’m also blessedly experiencing the coming-back stage with others. Love notesThe son I ate lunch with yesterday.  The one with whom I had late-night chats several weeks ago.  The grown girls who bring our grandbabies for visits on the weekends.

And even with the kids in the midst of this pushing away stage, there are plenty of good times.  Shopping trips that end with actual clothing agreement.  Shared jokes and smiles.  Words of thanks for my endless chauffeuring. Lively discussions about movies. Much good.  And there’s also the 11 year old who plops herself on my lap for a snuggle this evening.  And the 9 year old who just yesterday wrote me a love note.

God is good to give me such balance in my life.  Such reason for hope each and every day.  And so I will keep on hoping and keep loving and keep on praying God’s very best for each of their lives.  Because I’m the momma and that’s what mommas do.  And I trust that God has good plans for each of their lives.

~~~~~

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel.   ~from Isaiah 44.

 

 

 

Teens and job interview success

Teens and Job Interview Success

Okay, folks, I’ve got some questions for you this fine morning!  This spring several of our teens will be job-hunting.  Along with basic job interview hints like making eye contact, being on time, speaking respectfully, and dressing appropriately, John and I would like our kids to be prepared to answer some of the most common interview questions that bosses ask.  Here are some of the questions I’ve come across while reading about this on the internet.

  • How has your background influenced what you are today?
  • How do you define success?
  • What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve overcome?
  • How do you deal with deadlines?
  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • Why are you leaving your old job?
  • Why would you be good for our company?
  • Where would you like to be five years from now?

But I’m sure there are lots more questions that could come up. What questions have you been asked in a job interview?  Or, if you’ve been in the position of interviewing others, what questions do you like to ask?  And if you’ve got any tips for increasing job interview success, would you share those hints as well?

I’m planning to gather together the kids and have them take turns answering these questions so that they will have more of an idea of what to say when the time comes.  I might even videotape them so they can see if they need to improve their tone or eye contact or facial expressions.  They’ll probably hate it, but I’m hoping it will help them be more prepared– and more competitive– in this difficult job market.  Thank you in advance for your help with this project!

Also of interest

Movie Giveaway: Against the Wild

The winner of The Perfect Score is commenter #5, Ticia.  Send me your address, Ticia, and I will get that book headed your direction.

~~~~~

Today I have yet another giveaway.  It is for a family movie called Against The Wild.  You can see the trailer here on youtube.  Our family watched it together and to be honest, my older teens didn’t find it riveting material– I think it’s geared more toward the elementary age group.  But it is  safe movie to watch with the whole family, and the dog is just beautiful.  (Of course I’m biased there– we have an Alaskan Malamute too.)

If you’d like to enter to win a copy of the movie, comment below and tell me about the best family movie you’ve watched lately.  I’m always eager to hear family movie recommendations.  Most recently (after reading the book to the younger girls) we watched ‘City of Ember’ again, and really enjoyed it.  I’ll select a winner of the video on Friday.  And if you’re interested in buying a copy of this movie, it is on sale at Wal-Mart.

Book giveaway: The Perfect Score

The other day I shared some SAT essay ideas, and then forgot to mention the thing that got me thinking about the SAT in the first place– a book that I was recently offered for review.  It’s called The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT.

It’s the story of a mom who wanted to help her son do better on the SAT, and in the process of figuring out the secrets of the test, she herself took the SAT seven times.  NO way I’d like to do that, but I was very intrigued with her story and the things she learned on the way, both about the test itself, and about what worked and what didn’t work to motivate her teens to prepare for the test.  The book is an interesting combination of memoir and how-to. As I read, I sticky-noted resources that I want to remember, and also found myself sticky-noting funny sentences and interesting observations she made along the way.

If you’d like to own a copy of this book, comment below and tell me either about your experience taking the SAT– do you remember it?– or about why this book sounds interesting to you.  I’ll pick a winner early next week.

so that I will remember

My girl
She comes out into the kitchen in the morning in tired black leggings a touch too small and a black long sleeve shirt a lot too large and my first reaction is puzzlement, then a grumpy wondering why she’d chose to wear THAT this morning. This child has a quirky/adorable sense of style and LOVES clothes, usually the brighter the better. And the truth is, I love to see cute clothes on my kids every bit as much as I enjoy wearing cute things myself, so when they look scruffy, it kinda bothers me.

But somehow the moment moves forward, until a bit later, thinking of errand-running later in the day, I ask her to put on a cuter shirt ‘instead of all that black’. And she complies, a little huffy, but silent. And still that little niggling thought is at the back of my mind, wondering about all the black.

But again the day sweeps me forward — reading, chemistry, math, laundry, cooking– until lunchtime where she mopes over her food. I ask her what’s up and she doesn’t tell me and pokes at her food some more. Finally I tell her sternly to eat her five bites of mac and cheese and get it over with. And after lunch when she growls at me or a sister, or maybe both of us, I ask her to rest on the couch near me til she gets her head together.

Then I reconsider and pull her, stiff and long-legged and cranky onto my lap, where she suddenly melts into my lap like that’s where she needed to be all along, and all of a sudden she says, “Did you know I had the most horrible dream last night?”

And she launches into a story of her Ethiopian dad dying, and her being in America not able to help him, and it all being so very sad that she couldn’t bear it. “That’s why I wore all black today,” she said.

And suddenly I am awash in sadness at her bearing those sad thoughts alone without telling me. And I wish she’d just SAID at the beginning of the day what was bugging her, for crying out loud. Clueless mommas like me need HELP with this kind of thing, after all. But mostly I am repentant of my busy-ness, and my not-asking-ness, for ignoring my own instinct about my kid.

And here in my arms, long legs or not, I see how little she is and how very much she still needs her momma to look her in the eyes and snuggle her in close and ask her how she’s doing today. And tomorrow. And every day.

And I write this so that I will remember. Today. And tomorrow. And every day.
Us
(story shared with my daughter’s permission)

day brighteners

because sometimes a simple thing can improve a hard day

Sometimes small things can bring a smile and brighten an afternoon. How do you lift moods at your house on hard days?

SAT Essay Tips (news flash: say goodbye to the SAT essay!)

SAT

Today I happened across this really interesting article about plans to overhaul the SAT, again.  The last time it was changed in a substantial way was in 2005 when the dreaded ‘essay’ component was added and weighted to be 1/3 of the total value of the test. This part of the SAT gives each student an essay topic and 25 minutes to write an essay on that topic, usually formulated as an argument for or against the statement given in the essay topic.  Understandably, this is a hugely stressful component of the SAT for most high school seniors. Twenty-five minutes is just not long enough to pull together a reasonably coherent essay, even for someone who enjoys writing.

Well,  good news! In Spring 2016 the SAT essay will become OPTIONAL.(Down side– they will be making the SAT compliant with Common Core.  Bah humbug. (Here are some other changes being planned.) Anyway, the essay is being removed because they’ve found it isn’t very indicative of college success anyway.  There’s a much stronger correlation between high school grades and college grades than there is between high school testing and college grades.  There is also a concern that lower-income kids are testing low simply because they don’t have access to the types of SAT coaching that upper-income parents tend to get for their kids.

HOWEVER, if your kid is graduating this year or next, he’ll still need to do that essay.  So how to approach it?

  •  Begin that precious 25 minutes by spending 3 minutes brainstorming all you know about the topic.
  • Quickly choose whether to argue for or against the statement given in the essay prompt.  It doesn’t affect your score which you choose– but it will affect your score if you spend too long debating which side to argue.
  • Then write a brief 5-paragraph essay consisting of an intro, a conclusion and 3 central paragraphs, each with a different sub-point of your argument.
  • If time runs short (as most likely will) it’s okay to skip the third sub-point and go straight to a conclusion.
  • Save a couple minutes at the end to proof-read.

Some additional ideas for higher scores:

  • Memorize a few all-purpose quotes that could fit a variety of situations, so that you can use one in the essay.
  • Begin with an interesting or attention-getting sentence.
  • Write as LONG as possible.  Longer essays almost always get higher scores.
  • Don’t feel like you have to KNOW everything about your topic.  You aren’t getting graded on the accuracy of your facts.
  • Don’t overdo the long words, but do be sure to use a few correctly.

Here are a few articles explaining these types of strategy in greater detail.

The ‘Fast Food’ Essay

11 Tips for a Home Run Essay

Ace the SAT Essay with Time to Spare

Grammar Survival Tips

 

 

When they were almost two

Playing outside

Recently I was playing with our two little grandsons, both of whom turn two in the next couple months. They’re learning so much– talking and running, and showing understanding of so many things about their lives. They come to our house each Sunday, and walk in with smiles on their faces, eager to play the same games over and over again.

SnackingThey ride their little bikes. They ask me for stories. They follow their Auntie Julianna around with utter adoration. They sit in their high chairs at the kitchen counter, snacking with her and watching me make dinner.  They play with the same toys over and over.

Filling the Kitchenaid

They go into the pantry and fill up my Kitchenaid bowl each and every week, usually with raw potatoes, but sometimes also with toys.  They savor each repetition, each ritual.  Toddlers are creatures of habit, after all.  It’s so much fun to watch them.

They follow her like she's the Pied Piper

But lately while watching their happy and growing competence, I’ve also been struggling with grief.  Not for them;  they’re enjoying a wonderful start at life, and are so treasured by so many.  I’ve found myself grieving anew for my own precious kids who came to us through adoption.

All of them experienced dramatic life-disruption at some point.  The two who keep coming to my mind when I watch our grandsons are the two who came to us at exactly this age.  It’s such an aware age.  So much learning has already happened.  And yet they’re young enough that it’s impossible for them to fathom a life-change as complicated as adoption.

EmilyI remember waiting to bring them home, staring at their pictures, and worrying about the coming upheaval in their lives.  But even then I don’t think I let myself fully imagine the pain that they were about to experience.  How hard it would be for a little one to leave every scrap of the familiar that they so treasure at that age. To be placed into the arms of strangers, and then begin a whole new life.  New bed.  New food.  New faces.  New language.

In 2000When I see the deep awareness and the growing understanding our little grandsons have at this age, I see so clearly WHY many, many adopted kids need, not weeks, but YEARS to settle in well.

I am profoundly grateful that our grandsons are growing up in security.  In love.  I wish all my kids had gotten that wonderful beginning– without relationship rupture, upheaval, and complete world-change. Blessedly, God’s love and power is bigger than hard beginnings, and He’s done much work in their hearts and lives.  Our kids are overcomers.  They’ve grown and settled in and are thriving.

But I don’t take easy beginnings for granted any more.

Maybe that’s good.  We’d probably all be kinder to each other if we remembered that some scars are invisible,  and that not everyone began life feeling secure and knowing they’re loved.  It’s good to also remember that God works mightily right in the middle of the hard, encouraging us toward growth, showing us His love. And very often He uses people to be that love in the flesh.  How awesome would it be if we could each look for ways to be part of His healing plan in the lives of those around us.

Ways to help a new mom

Our first baby

Our first baby was born during my last semester of college.  I had to go back to school when she was just ten days old.  I was able to bring her to class with me, so it wasn’t all that bad.  But that first morning, as I was trying to shower and get ready to go, all she wanted to do was nurse.  Finally, in tears I called my mom asking her to come help me get ready to go.  She did.  And finally I made it out the door to class.

Whether a couple adds to their family by birth or adoption, there’s always an adjustment period, a time when the family needs to find their way  to a new normal.  During that time, those of us who care about them are often eager to help out.  But what are some of the best ways to do it? I’ll share some ideas that I think are helpful, and I hope that you also will comment below and share what others did that you found most helpful when you were adding new children to your family.

1. VISIT GRACIOUSLY.  Wait awhile before visiting and keep visits very short.  Even if you tell a momma not to clean up the house or get dressed, having company very soon after a new child’s arrival can be stressful and tiring.  Bonus points if you stick a load of laundry in and do a few dishes before you leave.

2. FEED THE FAMILY.  Bring food in disposable containers.  If you’re not sure of your cooking abilities, Pizza Hut gift certificates are awesome.  Do check for food allergies and family preferences. Bonus points if you add a stack of paper plates to relieve the family of dish duty for a few days.

3.  OFFER TAXI SERVICE.  If you have a comfortable relationship with the other children in the family, offer to run them to sports practices, pick them up after school, or take them to the park for an hour or two.  Bonus points if you ask the new parents what they need at the grocery store while you’re coming to their house anyway.

AmandaAscher4. ENCOURAGE HER TO COCOON.  As much as you love visiting with your new-momma friend, she may not have the energy to be out and about visiting and running errands for awhile.  Especially in the case of a difficult delivery, or a newly adopted baby, it will probably benefit everyone to stick really close to home for awhile.  Later will be soon enough to rejoin the larger world and be social again.  Be the kind of friend who encourages and respects that time of quiet.

What did friends and family do that most helped after you added to your family?

Calm mom: be what you want to see

Calm Mom

One of the hardest things in the world to do as a parent is to keep from ‘going there’ along with your kids when they’re losing it big time and spilling their frustration all over you.  Maybe your two year old is flailing on the kitchen floor because you won’t give him a cookie before dinner, or your 9 year old is stomping around mad over having to set the dinner table, or your 16 year old wants to go to the mall when he’s got mountains of homework. Here we are, doing our best to parent wisely, and there they are, spitting mad and sure we’re just being mean.  It can be pretty darned tempting to lose your cool right alongside your kid, can’t it?

Back when all my kids were preschoolers, I fondly imagined having loads of patience by the time my kids were teens.  What I didn’t realize is that often the teen years can be more frustrating than the teeny ones, and with my houseful of teens and preteens, drama happens on a daily– ok, sometimes hourly — basis. Decisions are bigger. Hormones are everywhere.  (Four girls live here, after all–okay, 5 counting me.)  By their teen years, kids have a pretty good idea of where mom’s buttons are.  So when they’re mad, they often try to get you to join them there in frustration-land.  Maybe not all teens do that, but some of mine sure do.  Maybe some of yours too?

Two books by Daniel Seigel have been a hugely helpful to me in moving past gritted-teeth frustration toward something that looks and feels more like real grace. I mentioned them to you last year:  Parenting from the Inside Out and The Whole-Brain Child.  I’m still benefiting from reading those books and better understanding (everyone’s) brain function.  To look at a person who’s losing his cool and to be able to remind myself– “Oh, he’s/she’s dysregulated right now.” — well, it has just been huge.

Because here’s the thing: no amount of logic is going to touch a really upset person at that moment. That kid is going to need to be heard and soothed before I will have much success steering him towards right behavior.  It’s not about sanctioning rudeness– it’s about accepting where they are and sometimes being willing to wait to talk about what behavior is okay and what isn’t. Everyone returns to calm more quickly when they feel heard instead of squelched. And kids with very intense personalities, loss issues, or trauma backgrounds are going to need a whole lot more time and help getting to calm before successful correction and redirection can happen.

For me, a big part of the equation has been getting better at recognizing when I myself am following my kid down into dysregulation. You know, that place when your heart speeds up and there’s tension in your chest and you can practically feel the steam hissing out of your ears? When I go there, whether or not I manage to fake calm, I’m rarely especially wise or kind.  That of course does nothing to help my kids toward calm.   On the other hand, when I AM able to model calm (have you heard of mirror neurons?) I can avoid fueling the fire and often can help him find his way back to calm a little sooner as well.

Calm Mom:  be what you want to see in your childSO–what kinds of things can help us BE the calm that we wish to SEE in our children?

  • Remember in the midst of the interaction to ask children about their feelings and reply with empathy.  Let them vent a bit.  Yes, even if they’ve been rude. Once calm has returned is plenty soon enough to talk about any inappropriate behavior that happened while they were angry.
  • Hang onto your compassion.  Try to remember how it felt to be a kid, and out of control of so many things in life.  Try to guess what’s most frustrating for your child about this moment.
  • Ask yourself honestly if this is a big problem or a small one. Hang onto your perspective.  Many things that feel big in the moment will not matter a week or a month  or a year from now.
  • Take a deep breath and (if your child is somewhere safe) step away for a few moments.  Grab a cup of tea if you have time.  Remember that in most cases it’s okay not to resolve the entire problem right then.  Just do what it takes to get people moving back toward calm.
  • Call or text a friend who understands and is willing to listen to you complain for a bit.  I think every mama would benefit from having a texting buddy for those hard moments– a true friend who understands you can feel terribly frustrated with your child while also still loving him greatly.  (Come to think of it, almost all moms should understand that, right?  Haven’t we all been there?)
  • Pray for your child. Remind yourself that God has a plan for his future, that He is growing him each day amid the challenges. Then remind yourself of five things you love about this kid.  He’s worth every ounce of effort and hassle, isn’t he?
  • Finally, don’t forget to give yourself grace in the middle of this messy work.  We all lose our cool sometimes.  And one of the hard but beautiful things about motherhood is that tomorrow and the next day and the next we’ll get many more chances to jump in and try again.  Be blessed, momma, and remember you’ve got Jesus right there beside you on this journey.