A Cradle of Wishes

This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!
A magical cradle, a feud between food groups, and a boy with a pet dinosaur – just a small sampling of the stories my daughter had conjured up while staring dreamily into space.
It began when I met a writer friend for lunch. Over raviolis and mojitos, we got to talking, as two mothers invariably do, about our respective children. Her son, eight years old, had finished the third Harry Potter book, and embarked upon the fourth. I heard her out, completely amazed. My daughter, nine years old, has not progressed beyond Geronimo Stilton, and shows little or no inclination towards Harry Potter. She shies away from “heavy” books because she doesn’t believe she can finish them, or worse, that she would find them boring.
My heart sunk when I first heard her words. I hail from a family of readers, from Kolkata where a poor man foregoes his meals but fritters away his earnings on books and magazines. In my heyday, I polished off two to three books every week with unfailing regularity. But this speed diminished when I had my daughter, and when my son was born the habit of reading print books disappeared altogether and I confined myself to the occasional light read on Kindle.
On the way home after lunch with my friend, I rued my lack of reading. I bemoaned the fact that I now finished no more than a book every month. I regretted that I hadn’t adequately demonstrated to my daughter the pleasure that even “heavy” books could give.
Only much later, it dawned upon me that my daughter has grown way beyond reading books – she is writing her own stories. At age six, when she had first shown an interest in writing, having seen me tapping away on my laptop, she penned the following words:
Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was six years old. One day her mother disappeared.
Over the years she started stories and then left them abruptly, never happy with the direction they were taking.
Last week while in the throes of her exams, she appeared distracted. I implored her to study, but she floored me with a revelation. She had ideas for three stories, and wanted to write them when her exams were over, lest she forget them. Overcome with shock and wonder, I acquiesced.
As soon as her holidays commenced she started writing her three stories. The first is called “The Cradle of Wishes,” about a small boy whose mother buys a magic cradle that grants wishes.
The second is a parable about a fight between fruits and vegetables, who pick a quarrel over which one of them is more valuable to human beings.
The third one tells the story of Charlie, and the unusual consequences he faces when he brings home a dinosaur as a pet.
Eventually, she gave up writing her own stories and resorted to another method recommended to writers just starting out – imitate the greats. She hauled out her copy of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and began typing it out, word for word.
One day as we were discussing the prospect of starting piano classes, I told Hiya I’d teach her the basics of piano even before she began, so she’d have a head-start.
She clapped her hands in joy. “Thank you, mamma! But before that you have to teach me one more thing!”
I was surprised. “What is that?”
“Did you forget already? You have to teach me how to become a beautiful writer like you!”
I remembered the story of JK Rowling writing about a rabbit called Rabbit at age six. Nothing my daughter had done touched the same levels of brilliance, but I like to think of that moment as one where a little girl blossomed into a writer.

The Perfect Films For Your Next Mother/Tween Daughter Movie Night

Besides Nancy Drew, here are 10 new classics for moms and their tween daughters to watch together.

“Wanna watch ‘Nancy Drew’?” I asked my 11-year-old daughter as we settled in for a movie night. The film about a Titian-haired teen sleuth popped up as a recommendation on our streaming service.
“I know we’ve watched it before,” I continued. “But it’s good.” I recalled humor and adventure as teenage Nancy Drew solved crimes.
My tween rewarded me with a blank stare. She had no recollection of the PG-rated flick.
Huh. Maybe we had watched it longer ago than I thought. Quickly, I checked its date. 2007. That was shortly after my daughter was born. I vaguely remembered renting it on DVD, too. So it had been years since we watched it.
This got me thinking. What other “older” movies released before my daughter was a tween were worth watching now that she was a tween?
Besides Nancy Drew, here are 10 new classics for moms and their tween daughters to watch together. These movies resonate with tween-friendly themes such as friendship, creativity, resilience, and courage. My daughter and I have watched them and she approves of their inclusion in this list. As every family is different, I encourage parents to investigate if these movies are suitable for your tween by watching them beforehand or researching them further.

1 | The Princess Bride (1987)

Get swept away in the funny and sweet tale of Buttercup and Wesley, who cheat death and battle the bad guys to find love, true love. I can’t say enough about the witty script, which always makes me and my daughter laugh. I also appreciate that Robin Wright appears to wear no makeup in her role as Buttercup, sending the message that beauty is not based on eye shadow or lipstick.

2 | Soul Surfer (2011)

A surfer girl loses her arm to a shark. But thanks to her resilience, faith, and supportive family, she learns to be a surfer girl who just happened to lose an arm. My daughter and I were in awe that this movie is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton.

3 | Enchanted (2007)

This Disney vehicle stars the delightful Amy Adams as an over-the-top cartoon princess who falls for Patrick Dempsey in modern-day New York City. I dig the creative combination of live action and animation while my daughter loves the musical scenes, especially the one in which urban creatures, like pigeons and rats, clean an apartment.

4 | Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Elisabeth Shue plays 17-year-old Chris Parker in this adventure comedy. After getting dumped by her boyfriend, she takes a last-minute babysitting job and things go horribly and comically wrong. I admire Chris’ quick wit, heart, and pluck as she keeps her charges safe. My daughter finds the story likable and fast-moving.

5 | Legally Blonde (2001)

My first instinct is to hate this movie. It’s about a super cute sorority girl, after all. But the super cute sorority girl uses her savvy, kindness, and smarts to earn a law degree and respect from the peers that once looked down at her. The sorority girl is played by Reese Witherspoon, who I like to point out to my daughter is a successful actress, entrepreneur, and mother.

6 | The Princess Diaries (2001)

Anne Hathaway plays Mia, a gawky teen who learns she is a real-life princess. Mia stays true to her honest and approachable self while learning regal grace and manners from her grandma, the Queen of Genovia (Julie Andrews). My daughter likes the ugly duckling turns into a swan theme while I adore Julie Andrews’ performance.

7 | 13 Going on 30 (2004)

An awkward 13-year-old (Jennifer Garner) wishes to be popular and older. She gets her wish only to realize that she was her true self and knew her best friend when she was 13, not 30. If you are a Gen X mom like me, then you’ll enjoy the soundtrack laced with 80s hits. My tween delighted in the slumber party scene between 30-year-old Jenna and her new teenage friends.

8 | 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Julia Stiles plays Kat, a cantankerous teen that no one likes. No one, that is, except high school bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). I like that this romantic comedy is a modern-day interpretation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. My daughter likes that Kat is an interesting, different female protagonist.

9 | High School Musical (2006)

My 11-year-old had heard of this movie, of course, but had never seen it until recently. That’s when she became captivated by the foot-tapping ditties that tell the story of Troy and Gabriela, two teens who battle the odds to sing together in the (wait for it) high school musical. We found this movie sweet and entertaining.

10 | Dolphin Tale (2011)

This family drama stars Winter, a dolphin who tragically loses her tail. With the support of a lonely boy she befriends, Sawyer, and a new prosthetic tail, Winter learns to swim again. My daughter likes that this movie features a strong boy-girl friendship between Sawyer and his best friend, Hazel. I might like it because Hazel’s dad is played by the handsome Harry Connick, Jr.
There you have it, tween-friendly flicks to watch with your daughter. My hope is that you and your tween enjoy the romance, comedy or drama brimming from these 11 flicks. The time you spend watching these movies might just lay the foundation for successful, happy movie nights when your daughter becomes a teen, too.

Teaching Kids How to Goal Set With New Year’s Resolutions

Surround yourself and your kids with piles of magazines and update vision boards for the fresh, new year to come.

Each year on December 31, I surround myself with piles of magazines and begin to update my vision board for the fresh, new year to come. Last year, my daughter wanted to do one alongside me so I used the opportunity to introduce her to the importance of setting goals and the power visualizing the things we want.
Even though she was only seven years old at the time and bounced back and forth between dreams of being the next Taylor Swift and a construction worker, depending on the day, it’s great for children to feel a sense of responsibility for the things they want, no matter the age.
When we started, the only advice I gave her in crafting her own vision board (she used sparkly poster board) was to turn the pages of the magazines and tear the things out that made her stop and feel something. I wanted to make sure I had no input on the things that caught her eye because I did not want to take the fun out of the activity and also, wanted her to feel in complete control over her desires. Instead, I talked openly about my own board and the aspirations I had for the months to come. I made sure to include phrases about being committed to the work in order to get results and being flexible about obstacles that may arise.
In an essay about goal-setting, Dr. Michele Borba writes:

“To help children feel comfortable talking about goals, we parents need to share our own aspirations. So take time to share a few of your dreams and wishes and the resolution you plan to set for yourself like losing those extra pounds, learning to text, finally reading and finishing Moby Dick, taking that gourmet cooking class. Whatever!”

One of the best things about doing this activity together was the conversations that stemmed from the different things we cut from the pages. We talked both realistically and imaginatively about far away places we’d like to travel and what it would be like to own a bakery or start a podcast. If nothing else came from this evening together, we exercised our creativity and bonded while reenacting some of the over-the-top advertisements we came across.
When we sit down to update our boards this year, I want to talk about what we accomplished, what we changed our minds about and what will be different in the year to come.
On her site Kiddie Matters, LCSW Yanique Chambers writes:

“Children are more likely to work towards their goals when they see progress. They can track their progress by using a sticker chart, graph with tally marks, a spreadsheet, etc. Make sure the child can readily see the progress they are making towards achieving their goal.”

Since it was her first time doing a vision board last year, I didn’t really think about using a way to measure her goals because I simply wanted her to enjoy the process. Now that she’s in third grade and has some consistent extracurricular activities she’s into, I plan on choosing a date every couple of months to “check-in.” Again, I want to make sure it’s something she gets excited about, so it’ll be kid-friendly with fun treats and maybe some Taylor Swift in the background.
After all, a quarter of the time, she still wants to be a pop star.

8 Cool Things Kids Can Get in the Mail

Want your kids to see the mailbox as an invitation to adventure? Here are seven of the best opportunities we could find.

My husband and I can go weeks without checking our mail. All the good stuff gets dropped on our porch at all hours of the day and night by Amazon’s new delivery fleet, so we rarely need to trudge down to the box. When we do, we’re usually rewarded with print copies of bills we’ve already paid online, zombie catalogs for garden trinkets that keep appearing despite our cancellation requests and lack of garden, advertisements for half a dozen window cleaning companies, vague recruitment pitches for jobs in some “sizable Midwestern city,” or notices from our alma mater that continue to refer to us as “Dr. and Mrs. [husband’s name],” even though I graduated first and we are both doctors.
My childhood forays to the mailbox were not dutiful grudge work. They were independent adventures that could lead anywhere. There could be anything in there! The next installment from the Dr. Seuss Book Club. An issue of Highlights. A sample of Cracklin’ Oat Bran. Letters from friends who had moved out of state. Columbia House stamps.
I wanted my son to see the mailbox as that same invitation to adventure, so I Googled around for “free mail for kids.” I would discourage you from doing the same. Free sample sites abound, but many require product reviews and social media promotion, which means you would be receiving “free” stuff in order to nag your friends about how great that free stuff is. There are tons of “free” books, toys, and clothes, as long as you’re willing to pay hefty shipping and handling fees.
I wanted to find freebies that would introduce my son to something new while not compromising my integrity or depleting my bank account. Here are seven of the best opportunities I’ve collected, as well as one paid one that is worth its price.

1 | Posters

Want to get your kids free mail and inspire them toward greatness? The Government Printing Office has a number of posters for download or delivery, including a 22 x 34 inch wall poster telling your kids everything they’ll need to do should they wish to climb to the highest job in the land. If they don’t have their sights on the Executive Branch, this poster can teach them about all three branches.

2 | Stickers

Loads of companies offer free stickers to promote their products. (Annie’s enormous cheddar bunny is particularly fun). The problem with these stickers is two-fold. First, you have to time your request just right. Many companies only release stickers once per month, and the time you wasted trying to get free stickers probably cost you more than just buying stickers. Second, branded stickers don’t expose your kids to anything new.
PETA solves both parts of the problem with their ever-available stickers, which help teach kids about various threatened animal populations. The stickers arrive on a postcard, so if your kid gets to the mail before you do you may find “Let Them Be Free” messages festooning your walls. Our accidental field tests suggest that the stickers won’t destroy paint or furniture.

3 | State tourism packets

Visit your state’s tourism website to request brochures that can help you plan out mini adventures to parts of your home that you never knew existed. Or pick a state far from your own and plan an imaginary trip to help teach your kids about different people and places.

4 | Books

Depending on where you live, your zero- to five-year-olds can get free books once per month from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Since its launch in 1995, the program has mailed nearly 100 million books. The library’s website also offers activity sheets to accompany its books. You can check here for availability. If there is no program in your area, consider starting one.
Read Conmigo is a English-Spanish book program that prioritizes bilingual learning in kids from preschool through fifth grade. All kids may join the program and download free e-books. Kids in Florida, Texas, and California can also get free print books every four months.

5 | Catalogs

Many of us, understandably daunted by the phone book size of Restoration Hardware’s catalog, are putting ourselves on “do not mail” lists. But a few printed catalogs are still a delight to receive. Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer includes funny product write ups as well as a shopping planner your kids can use for your next outing. The Zingerman’s Mail Order Catalog features drool-worthy subscriptions like a bacon of the month club, but even if you don’t shop it’s a terrific educational resource about foods from all over the world.
Parents of teens take note: While your younger kids might find it boring, The J. Peterman catalog, made famous by Seinfeld, still exists. It’s as over-the-top as ever, including its Merry Christmas 2017 catalog and this introduction to a women’s Edwardian Blazer: “One of the chimneys on the left wing topples into the greenhouse overnight, let’s say, and Spencer and the cook haven’t been paid for six months.”

6 | LEGO Life Magazine

If your children are between five and 10 years old, and you are willing to expand your LEGO budget to accommodate all the new things they will learn about from it, LEGO Life Magazine is a great piece of free mail. It features obvious product placement, but it’s also tons of fun.

7 | Letters

This will sound crazy, but bear with me. The best way to get mail for your kids is to just write a letter to someone. Kids can write to grandma. They can write to their favorite authors. They can write to Disney characters. They can write to NASA’s astronauts. They can write to the president. They can write to complete strangers.
You can also help your kids make new pen pals. Do you follow a parenting blogger on Instagram who you wish was your pal in real life? Reach out and send them and their kids some actual mail.

8 | Nature boxes

All of the other items in this list have been free opportunities, as long as you don’t count all the extra treats and LEGOs you’ll buy after reading about cool new products. Nature Pal Exchange, started by bi-coastal homeschoolers in 2015, will cost you, but it is a great way to view the world from other kid’s eyes.
Each exchange comes with a fee, as well as the cost of shipping your nature finds, but a look at the amazing things sent around the country, as well as the charities that are benefited by your purchase, makes the price well worth it.
You can sign up for updates about upcoming exchanges. While you’re waiting for the next exchange, check out some of the amazing things sent around the country on previous exchanges here.
Do you have any ideas to add to the mix? Let us know in the comments below!

How a Positive Relationship With Grandparents Can Shift Views of Aging

This recent study shows that the benefits extend beyond your child when they have a positive relationship with their grandparents.

Watching my children with their grandparents is one of my favorite parts of parenting. It was something I decided early on to foster because I could see that the grandparents felt almost as much love for my children as I did. They looked at them with a love and interest no other adults did. I wanted my children to have as many people in their life to look at them with adoration.
This recent study shows that the benefits extend beyond your child when they have a positive relationship with their grandparents. Published in the journal Child Development, the study investigated the relationship between grandparent contact and ageism. Children as young as three have been found to have prejudiced beliefs about older people. The current study wanted to investigate what, if any impact, grandparent relationship had on ageist views in children.
The study found that ageist stereotypes in children generally decrease around ages 10 to 12, and that children who say they have very good contact with their grandparents have the lowest levels of ageism. “The most important factor associated with ageist stereotypes was poor quality of contact with grandparents,” says lead researcher Allison Flamion. “We asked children to describe how they felt about seeing their grandparents. Those who felt unhappy were designated as having poor quality of contact. When it came to ageist views, we found that quality of contact mattered much more than frequency.”
1,151 children and adolescents ages seven to 16 from a range of socioeconomic statuses participated in the study. The researchers obtained children views’ about the elderly and getting old via questionnaires. Information about the health of the youths’ grandparents, how often the two generations met, and how the young people felt about their relationships with their grandparents was also collected.
The study found that opinions about ageing expressed by the children were mostly neutral or positive. Girls held less ageist views and had a more favorable view of their own ageing. The most prejudice was found in seven- to nine-year-olds and the least by 10- to 12-year-olds. This outcome is consistent with cognitive developmental theories. At the age of 10 perspectives taking skills build and this reduces prejudice in general. However, prejudice was also high in the 13- to 16-year-old age group.
Quality contact with grandparents was found to be the most important factor influencing youths’ views of the elderly. If children rated the contact as good or very good, defined in the study as feeling happy or very happy when they saw and shared with their grandparents, the children tended to have more favorable feelings toward the elderly than those who described the contact less positively. Meaningful contact with grandparents resulted in the most positive views and the most negative views of ageing.
Quality of contact mattered more than frequency of contact but frequency did have an effect. 10- to 12-year-olds who saw their grandparents at least once a week had the most favorable views toward the elderly. This is likely due to the multiplying effect of frequency with quality according to the researchers. Grandparent health also impacted on ageist views. Children with grandparents in poor health were more likely to hold ageist views than children with grandparents in better health.
“For many children, grandparents are their first and most frequent contact with older adults,” notes Stephane Adam, professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “Our findings point to the potential of grandparents to be part of intergenerational programs designed to prevent ageism. Next, we hope to explore what makes contacts with grandparents more rewarding for their grandchildren as well as the effects on children of living with or caring for their grandparents.”
When grandparents offer grandchildren a safe, loving and quality relationship, it seems the benefits extend beyond the child and the family relationship. Seeing grandparents more often can also help, but only when the relationship offered is a quality one. These important relationships can help shift views of ageing which is important in our society as people live and work longer.

8 Peculiar Chapter Books for Inquisitive Kids

If your child is particularly adventurous or curious, consider stories with unusual characters or plots. Need some help? Check out these titles!

Jacqueline Kennedy once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” A good book can feed a child’s imagination and desire to learn. When the time comes, chapter books add depth to this reading experience. Unlike picture books for younger readers, a chapter book tells a story primarily through prose, rather than pictures. Yet, unlike books for older readers, they still contain lively and poignant illustrations. If your child is particularly adventurous or curious, consider stories with unusual characters or plots.
Need some help? Here are eight peculiar chapter books for inquisitive kids:

PeterNimble

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

by Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble is a thief. And a blind orphan. One day, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher. Inside are three pairs of magical eyes. He thinks this could be his lucky day. But after trying a pair, he is transported to a strange hidden island where he must complete a quest: to rescue the people of the Vanished Kingdom. Can he complete such a complicated task? Will he use his new eyes or his trusted instincts to save the day? “Auxier has a juggler’s dexterity with prose that makes this fantastical tale quicken the senses,” says Kirkus Reviews.


TheWildRobot

The Wild Robot

by Peter Brown

Can a robot survive in the wilderness? This wonderfully curious book sets out to answer this question! Roz is alone when she firsts opens her eyes, alone on a wild and desolate island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is being on the lonely stretch of land. All she knows is that she needs to survive. Soon, she encounters raging storms, ferocious bear attacks, and unforgiving surroundings. She endures, and soon makes friends with the animals inhabiting the island. It finally feels like home, until her past comes back and changes her world.


MiretteOnTheHighWire

Mirette on the High Wire

by Emily Arnold McCully

Mirette, the daughter of a widow, lives at a boardinghouse where life becomes a little humdrum. One day, a mysterious stranger arrives. Mirette discovers him crossing the courtyard on air, and pleads with him to teach her how to do it too. She doesn’t realize that the strange gentleman was once the Great Bellini, a master wire-walker. Now, after an accident, he is filled with fear. Can Mirette teach him to believe in himself again? The text is accompanied by “sweeping watercolor paintings carry the reader over the rooftops of 19th Paris and into an elegant, beautiful world of acrobats, jugglers, mimes, actors, and one gallant, resourceful little girl.”


ContagiousColors

The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School

by Fowler DeWitt (Author) and Rodolfo Montalvo (Illustrator)

Something very peculiar is happening in sixth grade, and student scientist Wilmer Dooley is determined to crack the case. Wilmer notices his classmates changing color. Some are green. Others are orange. And a few have turned chartreuse-fuchsia polka-dotted. Now, using his keen sense of observation, he’s set out to find the cause and cure this strange illness. Does he have what it takes to save sixth grade from the mysterious case of the contagious colors?


TheHouseoftheScorpion

The House of the Scorpion

by Nancy Farmer

Matt was not born. He was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium. Matt was grown in a petri dish, and then his womb was placed inside of a cow. Although he is an ordinary boy, so he thinks, most consider him a monster. As he grows, Matt struggles to understand his existence and place in the world. Escape is his only hope. But soon he discovers his differences are more profound than anyone, including himself, could imagine.


CityofEmber

The City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau

It is always night in the city of Ember. But there are no moon or stars. The city is illuminated by floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets 12 hours of the day. Ember is the last refuge for humans. Now, 200 years later, the lights are flickering. When friends, Lina and Doon, find an ancient message, they’re sure it holds a secret that can save the city. But have they run out of time?


Extincts

The Extincts

by Veronica Cossanteli (Author) and Roman Muradov (Illustrator)

“Fans of unusual animals and mythology will enjoy this exciting mix of fantasy and realistic fiction, and Muradov’s swoopy spot illustrations make most of these cryptids and other creatures more cute than menacing,” says “Publishers Weekly.” George wants a new bike, so he sets off and tries to find a job. A help wanted ad at Wormestall Farm catches his eye. He decides to take a leap of faith and go for it. Much to his surprise and delight, he gets the position. But what awaits is not what he was expecting. Extinct creatures, mythological beings, new friends, and a maniacal taxidermist will keep him busy.


Frindle

Frindle

by Andrew Clements and Brian Selznick (Illustrator)

Nick Allen might be a troublemaker; a troublemaker that loves to egg on his teachers. One day, he decides to show his vocabulary-obsessed fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Granger, that if he wants to, he can invent a new word, and that word will end up in the dictionary. He’s sure of it. With the help of his friends, Nick succeeds in renaming a “pen” a “frindle.” Although Mrs. Granger acts annoyed, secretly, she’s rooting for frindle, and, Nick, despite his typical time-wasting schemes.
Which peculiar chapter books for inquisitive kids would you add to this list? Share in the comments!
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The Sting of Being the Uninvited 

Doesn’t everyone know what that feels like, some personal version of Annie and the birthday non-invitation heard round the world?

My oldest daughter, 11 now, was waiting for me when I walked in the door from work. Before I had set my bag down, she was sobbing, her face crumpled under the stress of crying out whatever she had been holding in.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, a ticker tape of terrible images flashing through my head as I waited for her to catch her breath enough to be able to manage speech.
“A party,” she started, pausing to wipe her nose on her sleeve. “I’m not invited.”
And just like that, all the parenting badges and medals I had earned, all the honors of having birthed four children (and the last one on the bathroom floor), all the wisdom of more than a decade’s worth of dealing with every flavor of crisis that could come along and reduce one of the six of us to a messy pile of tears flew out of me in one long exhale.
Because right then, I was eight again, still convinced that a girl we’ll call Annie was my best friend. I knew it had to be truth because I’d proclaimed it as many times as anyone would indulge me to listen, and then I’d sealed the deal with those chunky best friend necklaces that together formed one heart.
I was awkward and unpopular and a little jacked up, but the weight of that half a heart against my chest comforted me. No matter what the world took from me, I always had Annie.
That is, of course, until I didn’t. Until I realized I never actually had had Annie at all. Come to think of it, she’d never worn her half of the interlocking heart necklace, and I’m certain I’d never heard her mention me as her best friend. Hell, I’m not sure I’d ever heard her mention me at all.
And she definitely forgot to mention me when she gave her mother the list of people she wanted to invite to her extra super special mega blowout birthday bash at the skate n’ place roller rink, because out of our entire third grade class, I was the only one not invited.
You can imagine the heartbreak.
So I stood there in my foyer, 30 years later and very much an adult, still in my adult heels and my adult coat, and trying my adult best to summon words to make everything better for the little love of my life who stood before me as brokenhearted as my sad unrequited necklace. But I couldn’t.
The ticker tape was back, except this time, it flashed ideas of what I should say here to fix it. “People are terrible” seemed harsh. “Never trust anyone” was likely a little too bleak. I had nothing, I realized.
Except that wasn’t exactly true either.
What I had was the sadness of a 30-year-old heartbreak that I could still feel if I closed my eyes, even though I had grown up to feel wholly loved. I knew there had to be a lesson in this, a teachable moment maybe, but I hadn’t found it yet. What I found was my compassion.
So I stepped out of my heels and the shadow of my past. I shed my coat and the weight of the grudge I might have still been carrying against Annie – not a bad one, like I was going to boil her bunny or send her a horse’s head, but more the kind where if I saw her in the grocery store and her hands were full and she needed to reach the good ice cream on the top shelf of the freezer, I would reach in for her and grab it and then run away cackling with it tucked under my arm.
I got down to where I could be eye level with my bleary-eyed girl. I wrapped her in my arms and rocked slow and said the two words I did know to be true: “I know. I know I know I know I know.”
Because didn’t I? Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone know what that feels like, some personal version of Annie and the birthday non-invitation heard round the world? Who would ever wish such pain on their kid?
It was later, after the sting of both our wounds had settled into a dull ache in the background and we had words again, when I asked her what she thought she could do to make things better. And I saw the lesson had been there all along.
“What can I do? Maybe nothing,” my daughter said, “at least not about the party. But I could try really hard to make sure I don’t ever make anyone else feel like that.”
That’s when Annie rushed right out of my heart once and for all. There just wasn’t any room left for her, what with all the love and gratitude swelling up in there.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Put a Mobile Spy on Your Kid’s Cell Phone

Before you fall for a company’s “You MUST monitor your child’s cell phone” scare tactic, consider these things.

You can find an app for pretty much anything these days, and there’s definitely no shortage of options when it comes to cell phone surveillance. Whether you want to call it mobile spy, spyware, surveillance, or mobile monitoring, there are plenty of companies out there that will sell you their software, claiming to “keep your child safe” or assuring you that it’s “for their own good.”
Now the question “Should kids have cell phones?” is a whole other article. The truth of the matter is they have them. The Center on Media and Child Health shows that 22 percent of kids ages six to nine have cell phones. As they get older, the numbers rise – 60 percent of kids ages 10 to 14 and 84 percent of kids ages 15 to 18.
If you’ve read your child’s text messages, you’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, about 50 percent of parents have admitted to doing so. Far fewer have used an actual spy tool, but more than 60 percent say they monitor websites their teen’s visit and check their social media profiles. (Let’s be honest – this is probably the biggest reasons parents have Snapchat.)
I have friends that fall on both sides of the question “Should you monitor your child’s cell phone?” For some, it’s a given – they see having a cell phone as a privilege that they pay for, so they make their child hand it over every night for review. For others, they wouldn’t dream of opening up their kid’s phone unannounced because they remember what it was like to have their privacy disturbed as a teen.
While this is a very personal choice – whether or not to use a mobile spy – I’d challenge you to ask yourself a few questions before you say yes:

1 | Do you suspect they’re up to no good?

Is your child suddenly being dodgy or secretive? Did they go from being on their phone sometimes to constantly checking it, and going out of their way to keep you from seeing the screen?
Before you get too concerned, think about it logically. Perhaps they have new crush or friend. Maybe they are at a really high level in the latest app game craze, and they can’t get enough. Before you assume the worst, think about other scenarios.
And finally, just ask them. You have this right as a parent, even if they do try to roll their eyes and shut down.

2 | Are you worried they are in danger?

This is one you don’t want to overlook. If you truly suspect that your child is in danger, then it’s time to have a real heart-to-heart conversation with them.
Better yet, make sure to have these tough conversations with your child before you suspect anything. Sure, it’s awkward to talk to your kid about child predators that pose as teenage girls and people in other countries trying to dig up security details. However, it’s a lot better that they know about these things. This way when that little alarm goes off in the back of their head, they’re comfortable enough to come and talk to you first.

3 | Do they already have a poor track record?

This is where the privilege part truly comes into play. If your child has been caught sending inappropriate messages, photos, or going on websites they shouldn’t, then it’s your job to stop the behavior. This is a case where having random cell phone checks could be in your best interest until they earn back trust.
Remember, they’re not going to like it. They’re probably even going to despise you for it, but stay strong!

4 | Is it actually for your own curiosity?

Be honest – do you just want to know if Sabrina is dating Jake or if Tristan broke up with Megan (yet again)?
If you find yourself getting sucked into tween and teen gossip, then you need to have a little chat with yourself and find a way out. This also goes for constantly monitoring what they do. Sure, you can watch on the sidelines as a silent observer and occasional commentator, but don’t be the first person that always “likes” what they post or comments on their status.

5 | Are you just bored?

If you said yes to the above, then this one might be true as well. Maybe you just have a habit of checking your phone – most of us check our phones 85 times a day! If this is the case, try to break this habit. Everyone talks about kids have a problem and addiction with technology, but adults are just as bad – or worse.
Let your mind get lost in something else. It’s good for the brain.

6 | Do you want to lose their trust?

Before you use a mobile spy, this is a really good question to ask yourself because you will lose your child’s trust. Some parents might say that you should be your child’s parent and not their friend, and I agree. But trust is a two-way street. If you absolutely need to monitor your child’s activity, just know that this could affect that.

7 | Are you just doing this because other parents are?

Have other parents convinced you that this is the thing to do? Before you buy into someone else’s parenting method, step back and think of your own. If you have a trustworthy kid that has never given you any reason to question them, then maybe it’s good to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Technology is a wonderful, crazy, and sometimes scary thing. And it’s undoubtedly going to change and evolve faster than we can imagine. Before you fall for a company’s “You MUST monitor your child’s cell phone” scare tactic, try having a conversation with your child first. There are so many things you can do before taking it to that level. After all, even though “there’s an app for that,” it doesn’t mean you have to use it.

Tender Both Ways: When Pain Becomes Precious

My emotional posture toward that time is one of holding it close to my heart. In short, I am discovering that pain can be precious.

It was July, and our family of five was living temporarily in Cologne, Germany. “A learning experience for the kids,” we said. “A family summer abroad!” The trip, our grand adventure, had been planned months in advance in exacting detail.
We selected our apartment especially for its child-friendliness. Two kids’ bedrooms and a play room were fortuitously outfitted with all the sturdy, German-made toys my three children, ages 10, eight, and six, could possibly desire. Mounted on the wall in each of the bedrooms hung loft beds, well guarded with protective railings, perfect for fort building. My kids argued all the way up to our arrival date over who would get the two loft beds and who would have to sleep in a lowly “regular” bed below.
I shudder now to think of those conversations – and especially to think of those loft beds.
On the night of the Fourth of July, about halfway through our summer, I was asleep when I was awakened by a loud thud in the next room. Racing into my daughter’s bedroom, I found her in a pool of blood on the floor, incoherent, my husband screaming over her. Somehow, she had fallen in her sleep the nine and a half feet from the loft onto the hardwood floor below. A confused, desperate scramble followed. Despite all our planning for our experience abroad, my husband and I had never educated ourselves about what to do in an emergency. Now, with our daughter injured to an incalculable extent, we did not even know how to call for help in Germany. 911 was obviously not the right number, but what was?
Eventually, my husband tried dialing 911 anyway, which (incredibly) got him through to emergency services. After an agonizing 40-minute wait, during which the ambulance went to the wrong address, help arrived.
My daughter spent a total of five days in a German hospital. She had fractured her skull, sustained a serious concussion, dislocated her inner ear, and broken her right collarbone. Despite my being fluent in German, the hospital experience was a labyrinth of cultural differences, uncertainties, and frustrations. And with no family or friends nearby, I felt plunged into a nightmare of confusion and terror with no emotional support. While my daughter dozed in a semi-conscious state for most of the five days, I spent the time sobbing helplessly in a corner.
It was the worst week of my life – a picture of pain.
But as the incident recedes further and further into the past, I find my reaction to it is not horror or even sadness. Rather, my emotional posture toward that time is one of holding it close to my heart. In short, I am discovering that pain can be precious.
Pain is intensely personal. It identifies us. Though I didn’t ask for it and would never wish it on anyone, the time my sweet little girl was injured in Germany is becoming a part of my family’s story – and of mine. The incident is gradually taking its place as a piece of the patchwork quilt of me: as a parent, wife, and human being. There is something unique and distinguishing in it, stamped upon me now like the color of my eyes or the signature dimple in my left cheek. Having lived through it, I will never be the same.
Precious to me in retrospect is the strength and intimacy this time established between my husband and me. My husband rose to the occasion of being the father to an injured child in every way, and I love him more than ever for it. There’s a closeness that arises from shared experience, good or bad. No one else on this earth knows what it was like in those moments when we found our child senseless on the floor, not knowing if she would live or die. No one else spent nights lying beside her and the five beeping machines attached to her body, wondering if she would ever regain her spunky personality after the head injury, or recover from the subsequent facial paralysis. These are dear secrets only the two of us share, locked in the treasure box of mutual memory.
Like the intimacy gained with my husband, I found a similar spiritual intimacy with God through this incident. During those five days and the ones that followed, while my husband cared for our other children, I had to face many difficulties alone. But believing that I was not truly alone – that God saw me – held me up through some of the worst of them. I know He saw me when I held my daughter’s hair back as she vomited blood, or as I made the hour-long public transit ride to her hospital, red-eyed with lack of sleep, suppressing sobs. His presence comforted me when I faced the awful task of cleaning her bedroom of the aftermath of her injury. These are tender memories now of times spent in the arms of One who never lets go.
Finally, my pain holds a precious place in my heart because it opened my eyes to the fragility of life – a lesson we don’t often speak openly about, but has great, quiet value. My daughter easily could have died that night. Coming face-to-face with that sobering reality has made me love her better. I comb her hair with extra gentleness now, read her the extra story before bedtime. A deep thankfulness rises within me every time I think of how close we came to losing her.
I always knew that the word “tender” had two meanings: one painful, one sweet. A wound can be tender and sore; a loving memory can be tender and dear. But it wasn’t until my daughter’s injury that I came to realize that the two seemingly disparate meanings of this word could coexist as one.

When All I See Are Snakes

Where is the balance between protection and paranoia, between caution and completely shutting down?

Entering the woods after spending the first week of October stuck in the house with sick kids is supposed to offer me restoration. I’m raw, and a close call that involved my eldest child trapped in a chest that had to be broken open with a hammer shattered what footing I had left.
The beloved nature preserve plopped down in the middle of suburban sprawl offers solace at low points. My daughter and I are the most enthusiastic hikers, so we pack our backpacks and venture out on our own.
I usually feel a melting away of stress and fear when we head into nature. Despite the proximity to the suburbs, the sound of traffic melts away, and it’s easy to imagine being in the wilderness.
However, on this Saturday I can’t see the fall leaves or the blooming buds as we head down the concrete path that will lead us to dirt trails. I see a sign I’ve never paid much attention to before warning of venomous snakes. My brain heightened towards fear, all my mind’s eye focuses on for the rest of the day are snakes.
Bypassing the sign, I let my nine-year-old daughter, Wren, lead us while I try to appear more relaxed than I am. We are trudging in companionable silence when Wren asks, “Mom, do you think it’s going to rain?”
I didn’t, somehow, notice the cloud cover until now, but I recall a sign warning hikers to stay off the trails during storms. It was propped right by the one about wild, poisonous animals. Determined to prove I wouldn’t be driven by fear, I moved on without checking the weather.
“Maybe. We’re okay,” I say, trying to convince myself as much as Wren. I don’t make us turn around.
A fellow hiker with binoculars is coming towards us smiling. “There are two baby wildcats just ahead right off the trail. I watched them for a while,” he says enthusiastically.
Wren beams, the possibility of creatures usually unseen fascinating.
“Mom, let’s go off trail and find them!”
“I don’t want to find them. We’ll eventually find their mom, and that will be bad if we’re near her cubs.”
“Why?” she asks.
“Because mothers protect. It’s their instinct,” I say. As soon as the words escape my mouth, I wonder if my instincts are so lost that I’ve somehow pushed us into a situation where she’s not protected.
We hit a fork in the trail, and Wren looks to me for guidance.
“You choose,” I tell her, trying to remember what I would do if my mind wasn’t swarming with mass shooting reports, emergency room visits, and Wren’s voice calling to me from inside a locked chest. I couldn’t see her, only heard her screams as I wondered how much carbon dioxide she’d already inhaled, the tips of my fingernails ripping off as I attempted to lift the lid on my own.
“What’s the right way?” she asks.
“There’s no right or wrong. As long as we remember where we turned, we’ll make it back.”
She chooses a direction and we persist.
Within minutes two men are behind us, close enough that I can hear the sounds of their heavy breathing. I usually chat with other hikers, exchange pleasantries of some sort, but I feel threatened by the presence of these strangers. I have no weapon. I could swing Wren’s sketch pad or throw a plastic water bottle, but those are my limits.
I’m faced again with the fact that with very little thought, I dragged us both into the woods under the assumption that no one nefarious would be out here, an assumption that can’t be proven. The world shows the opposite all the time. My ignorance hurts since I know the men behind us may look nice, but I have personal experience with knowing better.
I grab Wren’s shoulder and pull her to the side of the trail to see if these men will pass. They do, waving to us as they go by. I breathe again.
“Mom, are you okay?”
I nod. “Let’s head back. The temperature has dropped. It might rain.”
We head back the direction we came, and I’m struck by how masquerading has become a part of parenting I didn’t expect. My value of total honestly at all times competes with my desire to protect my children from the harsher truths about humans, their abilities to be merciless, their motives never explained. There’s also chance, the wrong choice, the wrong place, the accident that costs everything, which sometimes seems even harder to explain than the evil of humans.
Wren looks out over the fields as we watch the grass being moved by creatures unknown, absorbing every second we still have on the trail. Her eyes return to me, a smile lighting up her features.
“There’s so much out there, and we don’t even know what it all is.” Possibilities unseen excite her. She’s just described my worst nightmare.
Where is the balance between protection and paranoia, between caution and completely shutting down?
I am still more afraid to stand at the start of the path unable to take a step – with fear my motivator and paralyzing force – than to take chances. I’m determined to offer her more than a life based on making decisions from the worst-case scenario approach. I let her lead us out of this path because I want her to know she can, and that most days, the world won’t throw you a completely shattering loop that changes everything. There’s no way to prepare for when it does anyway.
Still, as the grass continues to sway, moved by invisible forces, I’m not sure if I’m made the right choice by fighting fear with risk.
We walk for what seems like too long, but when Wren shoots a concerned look my way, I tell her to follow what she knows: “Have faith that you will come out where you should.” I feel the first drop of rain and realize my faith is slipping.
An ex-boyfriend from years ago berated me, saying I had no sense of direction in the woods, was useless at camping, stomped like a damned quarter horse. It’s his words I hear as the trail winds on long past when I believe it should have returned us to our starting point. It’s her voice I hear next.
“Mom, I recognize this tree. Listen, do you hear the water?”
I do. We turn a corner and the creek that accompanied us the first part of the journey appears, as well as the opening to the trail leading us home.
This time, I was right.