My 4-foot, 11 inch Mother is the Biggest Person in Any Room

If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Mothers. We come in various ages, shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We bring our love, our quirks, our fears, and sometimes a little bit of our crazy to the job of parenting.
My parents grew up in the Bronx, New York, as next door neighbors. Yes, my mom literally married “the boy next door.” They are 100 percent Italian and grew up in a neighborhood of other Italians.
I’m sure they thought that everybody woke up to the smell of “gravy” cooking on Sunday mornings in preparation for the 3 p.m. dinner with 19 other relatives. I’m sure it was normal for families to scream and yell and gesture wildly during meals and for mothers to chase people around the house with wooden spoons and other impromptu weapons of torture.
If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest. But my parents relocated us to Orange County, California, where it quickly became evident that my family was not the norm.
Let me rephrase that. More specifically, “one of these mothers is not like the others.” For anyone who has ever been driven crazy by their mother, I hope you can relate.
Here are a few things other moms definitely didn’t do:
Other moms did not make their child’s friends wash their underarms and feet when they came over to play after school. “You girls stink,” she would say. “You have B.O. and I don’t know if it’s your underarms or your feet, so go wash them both.”
Totally mortified, I would take my friends into the bathroom to wash up, and I would wonder if anyone would ever want to come over to my house again. Somehow, they always came back, probably because we had good snacks.
Other moms did not picket at school and start a petition when their youngest daughter was not named 8th grade valedictorian.
Other moms did not hire a stripper for their son’s family-friendly 18th birthday party in the backyard. Because what boy wouldn’t want his mother there when interacting with a stripper?
On a similar note, other moms did not also hire a stripper for their daughter’s 21st birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, with her boyfriend and all four grandparents present.

Finally, other moms definitely did not hire an older, unattractive man to come dressed as a pink monkey for their three-year-old grandson’s birthday party and then – surprise! – take off his monkey suit to double as a stripper for the 21st birthday of her youngest daughter, terrifying all children (and adults) in attendance.
Other moms did not write a letter to Rosie O’Donnell (who had one of hottest talk shows on TV at the time where their son has just been hired in the mail room) to brag about how talented he is and how he basically should be running her show. Italians calls this the “my son” syndrome.
Other moms did not somehow force the school district to re-route the entire bus schedule so that their children could be dropped off directly in front of their house rather than on the corner bus stop like all the other kids.
Other moms did not go against the wishes of their grown children and secretly baptize their grandchild in the laundry room sink. With “permission” from the local priest, of course.
Other moms did not fill their entire car with lemons and picket in front of the car dealership (standing up through the sunroof with a giant sign that said “Lemon by BMW”) when it had mechanical problems.

Other moms did not bring a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to their 17-year-old daughter’s high school prom date’s house and give it to his mother to keep in the fridge because “Jami doesn’t like beer.”
Other moms did not tell their daughter’s new boyfriend, after knowing him for five minutes, that she wants another grandchild, then add that, at this point, she doesn’t care if they get married. She will even raise the child as long as they can just make one for her.
Other moms did not block traffic at the roundabout in front of the high school at pick-up time as they stuck themselves out of the sunroof waving a giant bouquet of balloons and honking their horn to wish their daughter a Happy Birthday.

Yes, my mom did a lot of things other moms didn’t do.
On second thought, perhaps other people didn’t have a home that was constantly filled with family, friends, food, and laughter, or a mom who let her kids’ friends live with them when they needed a place to stay.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who “adopted” the little old lady who sat alone in the back of the church every week and invite her to family dinner every Sunday.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who cooked dinner for her grown children and grandchildren every Tuesday night, year after year, making nine different dishes so everyone could have their favorites.
My mom stands only 4-foot, 11 inches, but I’ve never thought of her as small. To me, she was always the biggest person in the room (and by biggest, I mean loudest).
All kidding aside – from your eldest daughter who pours the milk before the cereal, to your only son who hasn’t touched a public door handle in 20 years, to your youngest daughter who will only eat ice cream with a fork – we may have turned out a little quirky, but all in all, I guess you did okay.
So thank you, my crazy Italian mother, for all those childhood memories, for being our fiercest protector, our strongest advocate, and our worst nightmare.

My Kids Said “Mom” 159 Times in 6 Hours and I Nearly Lost It…Until I Made a List

At the end of the day, let’s face it – kids and their questions are frustrating, maddening, and hilarious.

Let me start by saying that I love my children. More than anything in this world. More than the nirvana of shopping alone at Target, more than Ben & Jerry’s Truffle Kerfuffle. Even more than Maggie Smith on “Downton Abbey”.
BUT. If I hear the word “Mom” just one more time today, I am going to lose my shit.
In fact, I just googled “how many questions do kids ask in a day” because I know I’m not alone here. Are you ready for this? According to a UK study, moms field nearly 300 questions a day from their offspring, making them the most quizzed people around, above even teachers, doctors, and nurses.
Fun fact: Girls aged four are the most curious, averaging a question every one minute, 56 seconds of their waking day.
No wonder emails go unanswered, laundry piles up, library books expire before they are read, we scramble at the last minute for that birthday gift (please don’t ever leave me, Amazon Prime). We are constantly interrupted during any given task.
As an experiment, I decided to make a list of all the times I heard the word “Mom” followed by a question or comment for the rest of the day. I grabbed a small notebook like Harriet the Spy and lasted six hours before my hand cramped from all the writing. In those six hours, I was beckoned ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-NINE times.
While I won’t torture you with reading all 159 questions and comments posed to me, here’s a small sampling below:

Nine-year-old daughter

“Mom, come look at this picture of Miley Cyrus.” (Please let it be the Hannah Montana version of her.)
“Mom, guess how many butt cheeks are in our house?” (Um…does the dog count?)
“Mom, who are you?” (Like, in an existential way?)
“Mom, this kid at school said that one middle finger equals 20 bad words. How is that possible?” (Oh, it’s possible.)
“Mom, I just found a HUMONGOUS house in California and it only costs $14 million dollars.” (Okay, I’ll get right on that purchase, sweetie.)
“Mom, can I put a ghost detector app on your phone?” (I’d kind of rather not know when there’s a ghost near me sooo…no.)
“Mom, I have a super duper secret.” (There should be no secrets from your mother. Ever.)
“Mom, do you want to play catch with me?” (Can’t, because I need a free hand to write down the 29 questions you will ask me while playing.)
“Mom, can I have a timer?”
“Mom, I can run down the hall and back 10 times in 37 seconds. Do you want to try?” (I’m good, thanks.)
“Mom, do I have to get the flu shot tomorrow? Because I’d like another few days to rest in peace before they poke a hole in my arm.”
“Mom, I got hurt.” (x3)
“Mom, what are we doing today?”
“Mom, can I invite a friend over?”
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”
“Mom, can I have candy?”
“Mom, do you think my Halloween costume will be good?”
“Mom, can you tell the dog to move so I don’t hurt him?”
“Mom, is today October 15th?”
“Mom, what’s a compass?”
“Mom (watching me type), why are you doing that?”

15-year-old son

“Mom, can you tell Ava to leave? I’m trying to watch a show.”
“Mom, have you seen my phone?” (x3)
“Mom, I can’t find my phone.”
“Mom, can I borrow your phone?”
“Mom, she’s bothering me again.”
“Mom, what are you writing?”
“An article.”
“On what?”
“How many questions I’m asked in a day.”
“Why, is it a lot?”
“Seriously? I’m adding that one.”

18-year-old daughter (away at college)


Mind you, I did this experiment on a Sunday, and my husband was home the whole time. He is a great, very involved, hands-on dad. But do you know how many questions I heard them ask him during that time?
ONE.
When I said no to playing catch with my daughter, she asked him to play. He immediately said yes, probably because he wasn’t exhausted from 158 prior questions.
When I sat down to write this, I only had to glance at the kids’ lists to realize something significant. The older they get, the less questions they ask. The less they share. The less they actually talk. They have their friends and their smarter-than-a-mom phones.
I mean, my older kids would never ask me what the population of China is, they would simply google it. To my little one, I’m still the go-to, the one with all the answers. And I guess that’s a pretty great thing to be.
It’s hard to face the fact that, though my older kids still need me, it’s just not in the same way my younger child does. Someday all too soon my nine-year-old will be my 18-year-old. One morning, I’ll wake up and there won’t be anyone left to pepper me with questions all day long. And the thought of that makes me sad.
Sad enough to try harder not to lose my shit when I hear the word “Mom” one too many times in an hour. Because, at the end of the day, let’s face it – kids and their questions are frustrating, maddening, and hilarious.
Feel free to comment with some of your kids’ best questions. I’ve only heard upwards of 159 today. I think I can handle a few more.
This post was previously published on the author’s blog.

Just One More Time

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
There is a skate park in our town, built sometime in the decade before we moved here. It’s steep concrete bowls are confined to a space that could park a half dozen cars. It’s because of this park that our youngest son received a used skateboard from his best friend on his seventh birthday. We saw excitement, not determination. That would come later. But, that skateboard, in a tiny skatepark in rural Colorado was the fuel for a dream.
By his eighth birthday he wanted to be a professional skateboarder. His mind was made up. Two years later he was still skating at the park everyday after school and all summer. In the winter he’d read skate magazines and watch the same videos over and over. Just before his 12th birthday a half-pipe ramp became available in Denver. If you don’t know what a half-pipe ramp is, imagine two, vertical, 12-foot walls you roll off, no nets, no ropes, and no rules. It required two truck trailers to move the wooden monster 180 miles up into the mountains to our back yard. I was less than excited to buy it, worried about injury, and thought it was total overkill on my husband’s part to be the cool skate dad. It would require hundreds of hours to assemble. I shelved my aggravation and pulled out the screw gun. It was my son’s communion.
He skated that ramp nearly every day. The number of people who could skate our behemoth paired down to a narrow few. After a few hours he was generally alone again. Back and forth. Fall. Climb. Skate. Fall. Climb. Skate. He’d bake in the summer sun and shovel the snow off before school in the winter. He’d skate at night under farm lights. His dad and I would watch him practice the same trick repeatedly, for hours. I’d try to talk sense into him after watching his 50th failed attempt, but he’d always say “wait, just one more time,” until he’d either land it, or collapse in a demoralized heap. He competed in any and every competition in Colorado. Later, in the pursuit of his passion, we’d spend a couple weeks a year traveling to competitions in California. Oh, California. The skate Mecca.
Watching passion at work can be a gut-wrenching experience. For years he made lists of the tricks he wanted to learn and stuck these lists to the fridge. He followed his heroes on Instagram and Youtube, bought into brands, and saved for gear. There were countless pep talks, and so much frustration. He had so much love for this sport that beat him to pieces. It wasn’t the competition he loved, but the camaraderie he found with other skaters. He was finding his people in this artsy, off beat, punk rock world and to lose them would have been unbearable.
He was a good skater but isolated by climate and geography from becoming great. He worked and saved his money. He planned. He skated the wooden beast that his dad had known, early on, would be what he needed to stay inspired and relevant. He graduated a semester early and at 17 moved to Southern California. His grandmother gave him her old Subaru and we watched as he drove away on a brisk, brilliantly blue, winter day.
We never told him it was going to be hard, or that he should go to college (though he had good grades). We never told him he should have something to fall back on. He was too excited, so full of hope and passion. He was so much braver and fiercer than I had ever been, with a sense of humor that could help bolster his resolve.
As parents, we watch our babies move through a series of somewhat predictable progressions. In the early years, their reward is, in large part, the adulation of a caring adult. That back and forth feels so natural. But, later their independence and character seems to hijack the process and it’s hard to build them big enough wings. It was hard to watch my baby step out of the nest, and off the edge, with nothing but words of encouragement because his determination was always a force beyond my understanding, but something I learned to respect.
It’s been two years. He’s worked numerous jobs, and found his crew. In the last nine months he’s traveled to Australia, six countries in Europe, Mexico, and China exploring and competing with many of the skaters he worshipped. He’s happy and busy. An artist, and an athlete willing to practice the same trick over and over and over until he can barely stand. Then he’ll yell to his friends, ”wait, just one more time.”

The Best Predictor of Success, According to Science

We want to set children up on a path towards success later in life. What contributes to a person’s success in the long-term?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

I’m sitting on the sidelines at my five-year-old son’s soccer game listening to parents and caretakers yell out encouraging words to the players. It’s clear that, from the time our children are little, we want them to excel and reach their full potential. We want to set children up on a path towards success later in life.

What contributes to a person’s success in the long-term?

According to Dr. Angela Duckworth in her groundbreaking book “Grit,” one of the best predictors of long-term success isn’t talent or intellect (though these are also helpful for obvious reasons). It’s grit.

Duckworth explains that the highly successful have a kind of fierce determination that makes them incredibly resilient, hard-working, and focused on their long-term goals. This combination of passion and perseverance in high achievers can be described in a word as grit.

In “Grit,” Duckworth draws on studies she performed on teachers working in schools in tough neighborhoods, cadets facing the challenging environment at West Point, and finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She illustrates that level of grit is the one factor that predicted which study participants would excel in these demanding settings.

Duckworth also found that grittier kids are less likely to drop out of high school. Grit determines graduation rates more than the level students care about school, how thorough they are about their studies, and even how safe they feel at school.

Watching my son’s soccer team play, it’s clear that certain players are more naturally inclined with athletic ability than others, but Duckworth would likely caution me not to jump to conclusions about how the player’s talents will play out over time. She argues in her book that, as much as talent counts, effort counts twice as much.

Duckworth explains that effort applied to talent builds skill, and effort applied to skill makes skill productive in the form of achievement. Without applying effort to talent, talent only remains untapped potential (this would be the case for the talented kids on the team that later decide to quit soccer). Without applying effort to skills, a person produces and achieves less (for example, a child that might play fewer games may fail to move up the ranks in soccer).

Duckworth draws on the scientific findings of Stanford psychologist Catharine Cox to explain how IQ comes into play. Cox studied accomplished historical figures. She concluded that, as a group, the historical figures were smarter than the rest of us, but she also noticed that IQ mattered very little in distinguishing between the most and the least accomplished in the group. What did matter in separating the most from the least accomplished in the group was – you guessed it – grit.

The good news is that grit is not a fixed trait. It can grow over time, and Duckworth details in “Grit” the ways we can grow our grit from the inside out by connecting interest, practice, purpose, and hope to shape our long-term goals.

While observing the parents at my son’s soccer game, it’s clear that there are different approaches to the level of encouragement we give to our children. Some parents are very vocal about correcting children during the game and others are laid-back.

How do we best encourage grittiness in our children? Is it fostered by demanding high standards, or is it nurtured with loving support?

Though Duckworth admits that much more research is necessary for the area of parenting for grit, she suggests that parents and caretakers should be both demanding and supportive. She also recommends that we look at our own levels of grit. If we are raising our children in a way that makes them want to emulate us, our grittiness will likely show up in our children.

Another key point made in “Grit” is that before hard work comes play. Duckworth encourages allowing children to explore their interests. She points out that children of parents who let kids make their own choices about activities that they enjoy are more likely to develop an interest that is later identified as a passion.

In the end, the effort we apply to our potential might just determine our potential itself. Doesn’t that information make you feel grittier?

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Putting the Train Together Again

Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments you feel real, powerful grief when your child is with you and you can’t show it.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
For months after I sold the house, it remained inside a large plastic bag in the loft. One of my daughter’s toys. The pieces were disorganized, and I was not certain that we had them all.
One day I began to organize the loft. Christmas was on the horizon, and our artificial tree was in the corner behind too many items for it to be accessible for the holidays. I got to work. My five-year-old daughter was with me.
“Daddy!”
“Yes, sweety?”
“Is that the pirate train?”
“I think so. Let me check.”
It was.
“Can we build it again?”
“I don’t know, honey. But we can try.”
“Oh Daddy, please let’s do that right now!”
“Maybe once we get the loft better organized. Okay?”
“Okay.”
The toy was a plastic pirate ship. A train track circled around it. As the train made its way up towards the mast, it reached a smooth part of the track where it would invert on its rapid descent down. Katie loved it. We had kept it outside on the covered portion of our pool deck, since it took up so much space in our small home.
Now that home was gone, one of many casualties of the divorce I had filed for nearly two years before.
Losing your first and only home feels like parting with one of your internal organs. A part of your life is over, and it isn’t coming back. And just like the body that must live and go on post-operation, you have to thrive once more though it may not immediately apparent how to do so.
I pondered the pirate train and its current state of affairs. I knew we had to be missing a few pieces. I didn’t see the train itself anywhere, just the caboose that attached to it, and while I may possess certain talents building things without a clear plan isn’t one of them. I saw all these obstacles before we started, but I didn’t want to disappoint my daughter. We spread the pieces out on the living room floor.
“Alright, sweetheart. Let’s see. I think this is the mast.”
“What does that mean?”
“The part that goes on top. Here.”
I fixed the mast to the topmost portion of the pirate ship.
“Daddy, look. The track goes together here.”
My champion puzzle-maker was right.
“Katie, that’s really smart. Good job. Let’s see how to do the rest of it.”
We set up the rest of the track. There were a few long plastic arms that didn’t seem to fit anywhere.
“What about these, Katie?”
“I don’t know, Daddy.”
“Me either. Let’s think about it.”
We both looked at the half-completed structure in silence. Then I had an idea.
“Look, Katie. This one goes here.”
“You’re right, Daddy.”
Then one of the arms connected and made a support for the other.
“That’s it, Daddy!”
As I enjoyed our success building together, I felt a tinge of sadness. I knew we couldn’t completely rebuild her toy. It wasn’t that it was broken, precisely. It was incomplete and destined to remain so. That’s why the pirate train could never be put together again.
Realizing that the same thing had happened to our family, a shudder went through me. I couldn’t put our home or my marriage back together, either. It didn’t matter what I did. I didn’t have all the pieces. Our old life was gone and more for my daughter than myself, I grieved. I was the one who filed for divorce and I still believe that I had to do it, that there was no other choice. But that didn’t make it easier.
Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments that you feel real, powerful grief when your child is present with you and you cannot show it. It takes every ounce of restraint you possess.
Sometimes, if we can learn from their unique form of wisdom our children lead the way. This was my daughter Katie. Her attitude was constructive. Absolutely, she wanted to build the entire train. She regretted that we couldn’t do so. But she has enjoyed playing with the mostly-finished structure for weeks. She didn’t regret, she just moved forward. She epitomized determination.
I may be a dummy, but watching her I knew she was showing me exactly how to move on and that I had the internal resources to do it.
“Besides, Daddy, maybe Santa will bring me something better for Christmas.”
“He just might, Katie. Christmas is only a couple of months away.”
Hope for the future that has every reason to be better than the past, no matter what is behind you. That’s what my daughter taught me. I hope I can teach her half as much.

I Coach Five-Year-Olds and We Keep Score

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win.

The little five-year-olds in blue jerseys were running like cattle toward the soccer ball – bulls all mushed together. There was the occasional red player trying to squeeze into the herd, but they kept getting bowled over. The other kids in red stood there in the grass like scarecrows, only scaring no one. The black and white ball was repeatedly hitting the back of their net. And as their coach, my hands were chapped from clapping, trying to “rah-rah” my conquered troops.

The director of our youth soccer organization asked me to coach my son’s team. They had no one else to do it. I was reluctant because we all know kids listen to every other adult on Earth better than their own parent. But I said yes and my son has surprised me, in many ways actually. He listens, hustles, and waves his pom-poms for his teammates.

The first game was much harder than I had anticipated. How difficult could coaching these kids be? Play some games, let them run around, and feed them a snack, I thought. Well, my players stood petrified as ice sculptures and the other team easily scorched them.

On the car ride home, my son was stripping his legs of the sticky shin guards, socks, and cleats. The roots of his light brown curls were dark from sweat. “We did bad, huh Mommy?”

Now I was the scarecrow in the passenger seat. I was not ready for this teaching moment.

“No, honey. You guys tried really hard, and you had fun. They only beat us by four goals.”

But my son couldn’t ignore billboard-sized scoreboard in his brain. “No, Mom. The score was five to zero.”

He was right. I forgot about that last goal because I was too busy watching my stopwatch, praying it would tick faster, but it felt like the pause button was stuck.

My son took losing that first game pretty well. We’d been practicing at home because, just a few months prior, there was door-slamming and punching the wall when he was defeated. In the car, I recited the lines I was supposed to as a parent. “You tried really hard. Maybe we’ll get ‘em next time. You can’t always win.”

However, since that first game, I’ve been keeping score. Technically, I’m not supposed to in the league we play in. Plus, they’re only five. I keep track anyway. My son and most of my players tally the goals, too. When they ask, “Did we win or lose, coach?” I tell them the truth. I don’t say, “Oh, the score doesn’t matter.”

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win. We need to teach our kids that when we lose, you can still puff out that chest, as long as you left no regrets on that field. When you win, yes, you can puff out your chest too, but you better be humble. No gloating. If we don’t teach the true results of competition when our kids are young, we’ll have ten-year-olds throwing tantrums like toddlers because they can’t handle a loss. Or we’ll have the winners taunting the losers in a good ol’ bullying session.

I want my five-year-old players to know why they shake the other team’s hands. It’s not because we both won, it’s because both teams battled and earned respect.

I’m not into saving my players’ feelings, but I’ll certainly help them deal with these emotions. You learn way more in life from being on a losing team than a winning team. Winning is easy. And losing happens, in more than just sports. Someday, my players may not get into the college they applied for, ace the test they studied for, or get the job they interviewed for. Accepting a loss doesn’t mean giving up, it means quite the opposite. It means fighting.

Since our first defeat, my son and his teammates have won every single game. Maybe they didn’t like the feeling of that lost battle, I don’t know. Either way, they learned that working hard feels much better. We may lose again, but for now, they’ve lost their scarecrow costumes and have become the herding bulls they were meant to be.

To the Cheesy End

This newfound frustration with being able to swallow undesirable foods seemed more than I could fight after such a long toddler day.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
“I don’t know how to swallow,” my oldest cries with a mouth full of broccoli. My head sinks into my hands because this newfound frustration with being able to swallow undesirable foods seemed more than I could fight after such a long toddler day.
“You’ve chewed and swallowed broccoli successfully many times, my dear. Please keep trying. It’s no different than any other food you eat. Just swallow,” I reply as calmly as I can and end up sounding rather Eeyore-esque. And then I follow up with a typical mom-tactic, “If you finish, you can have a treat.”
The clock ticks, time disappears, but also eventually the broccoli does too.
A hard earned treat after a grueling process of eating noodles and broccoli for dinner, my oldest was given a few Doritos. Mama has been known to knock back a bag of these bad boys in a sitting with no problem, and only a side serving of guilt. Unless no ones knows it happened. In which case, it didn’t.
Bag of what?
Anyway, while having a few chips for herself, my eldest looks at me, distressed, saying, “These chips are burning my lips.” Her eyes shine as tiny pools begin to well up within them. You can read the frustration on her face. After all, she swallowed all that broccoli just for this. And now, this “treat” was causing an “ouchie” and that was not supposed to happen. This isn’t how treats are supposed to work.
“Awe honey, are your lips chapped a little? Let’s get you cleaned up. You don’t have to finish them. I’ll get some chapstick.” But rather than turn and fetch said chapstick, I stand there, looking at my daughter, looking at me.
Mouth slightly agape, cheesy bits visible on her toddler tongue, she stares at me blankly. You’d think I had suggested that she step away from a brand new pony with the way she looked at me in total shock and horror. Or like I’d suggested she not open her Christmas presents she had been waiting for all year and forever. They were just chips … at least to me.
To her, this was her reward for her troubles. Her dinner’s Holy Grail. Earned with the grueling task of swallowing a vegetable. (It doesn’t matter whether or not it was a vegetable she previously used to love. And by previously, I mean, like, last week.) She had put saliva, sweat, and tears into choking that stuff down, and here I was trying to lift away the reward with nary a care in the world.
She turned to face this challenge, her delectable yet slightly stinging treat, and with a look of utter determination, grabbed another chip, exhaled and said very calmly, “No.”
This was not really a no of defiance, but rather one of “no, I will not let this deter me. No, I will not be denied this satisfaction due to a little pain.” So this little girl kept plugging along, savoring every cheesy crunch and the finger-licking which ensued afterward.
Oh, my dear little girl. May you face every adversity with such determination and reap life’s cheesy rewards.

12 Books that Reflect the Diversity of the World Around Us

I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help.

We know eating a variety of foods is healthy. Now that I have three children with various repetitive eating preferences, I often reassure myself with a classic tidbit of advice often delivered by pediatricians: Worry more about what your child eats over the course of a week than in a given day.

This principle is a helpful frame of reference in other aspects of parenting, too. What if you applied this concept to your children’s reading lives? How diverse is their weekly book diet?

In 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop, professor at Ohio State University, penned what would become an iconic essay in the world of children’s literature titled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” In short, she argued that books reflect readers’ own lives and give glimpses into others’. Bishop warned how imbalances can warp children’s perceptions of the world. A predominance of mirrors makes it seem as though the whole world is the same. Exposure to only windows can leave a child wondering, “But what about me?”

One of the many unearned privileges of being a white family is that “mirror” books aren’t hard for us to find. If you’re a parent to a child of color, though, you’ve probably already thought about “the apartheid of children’s literature.” The good news is that there have been major initiatives in recent years to encourage more diversity in children’s books. Data shows 22 percent of children’s books published in 2016 as being about children of color or First/Native Nations. This figure is an improvement from the 13 percent noted at the start of data collection in 2002, but it still doesn’t come close to aligning with US population statistics.

I began thinking more about diverse books when we moved from San Jose, California, where we were regularly in the minority at the playground, to a small town in Maine. We love where we live – the view from our actual window is gorgeous – but I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help. These questions helped me stay tuned into balancing our family reading diet:

Do some of the books we read feature characters of color having everyday experiences?

I’m not talking about books about slavery and civil rights, although those are important titles too. Decades ago, books like “The Snowy Day” and “Corduroy” were unusual in that they showed children of color doing regular things like playing outside and shopping. Luckily, more such titles are hitting the shelves each year. Sometimes my kids bring up a character’s appearance or ethnicity, but mostly, we just enjoy the stories. Some of our family favorites include:

OverandUnderthePond

Over and Under the Pond

by Kate Messner

This story tells about a mom and son spending a peaceful day canoeing near their home. The descriptions of wildlife appeal to my kids and the nonfiction information at the end helps answer their questions.


MarisonMcDonald

Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol McDonald y la Fiesta Sin Igual

by Monica Brown

Proud, Peruvian-Scottish-American Marisol is just about the most lovable children’s book character out there. She likes so many things that she can’t decide what kind of birthday party to have. She ends up doing it her way, as a soccer-playing pirate unicorn in purple high tops. The icing on the cake is a surprise Skype call from her grandmother in Peru.


JabariJumps

Jabari Jumps

by Gaia Cornwall

My kids are always amazed that Jabari wants to jump off such a high diving board at the local pool. Jabari makes the dive and the family celebration is priceless.


SparkleBoy

Sparkle Boy

by Leslea Newman

This is the perfect story for my son, who loves glitter and pink. Casey begs his parents and Abuelita to let him wear a skirt, sparkly nail polish, and jewelry. They agree, and when he’s teased at the library, his sister comes to his defense.   


NotNorman

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

by Kelly Bennett

When a boy gets a goldfish for his birthday, he makes big plans to trade him for a more exciting pet. Before he can make it to the pet store, though, sweet little Norman proves himself to be a faithful companion.


ShoppingwithDad

Shopping With Dad

by Matt Harvey

A dad takes his daughter grocery shopping while Mom stays home to work, subtly bucking traditional gender roles. The errand turns into a hilarious adventure when the little girl sneezes and sets off a chain of events that upsets an entire display. Books about biracial families can be hard to find, so that adds to the appeal of this title.


Do some of the books we read broaden my children’s views of the world?

Of course, the books that broaden your kids’ perspectives will depend on your actual perspective. My family knows a lot about winter weather and lobsters, but not as much about city buses and chopsticks. These titles give us the chance to talk about the world beyond our little corner:

Beebimbop

Bee-bim Bop!

by Linda Sue Park

The catchy rhyming text describes how a family prepares and eats a traditional Korean meal. My kids love to join in when we read it and the recipe in the back even inspired them to request bee-bim bop for dinner.


OneGreenApple

One Green Apple

by Eve Bunting

Farah, a new immigrant, navigates a school field trip to an apple orchard. Eve Bunting sensitively portrays her cultural confusion and limited English, and the immediate kindness displayed by her classmates is touching.


Laststoponmaple

Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Pena

This title is deservingly well decorated with awards. CJ and his grandmother ride the city bus route to help out at a soup kitchen. CJ – with all his complaining – is relatable, and the story gives us so much to talk about.


Thestoryilltell

The Story I’ll Tell

by Nancy Tupper Ling

We’re expecting our fourth child, so my older kids are well-versed in the arrival of babies. This mother’s bedtime story about her child’s adoption from China captivates them, though, and initiates conversations about the many ways families are made.


Rainbowweaver

Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Acoiris

by Linda Elovitz Marshall

In her village in the mountains of Guatemala, Ixchel wants to weave like her mother. Thread is at a premium, so she has to improvise. She ends up twisting up colorful plastic bags, cleaning up her village in the process. This fascinating story – with its factual roots – offers a new viewpoint for everyone in our family.


Thisishowwedoit

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

by Matt Lamothe

This book shares details of the lives of children in Italy, Japan, Peru, Uganda, Russia, India, and Iran, from what they eat for breakfast to what they play after school. It isn’t a new book concept, but this one is thoughtfully done. Whether we read just a few pages or the whole book, we all appreciate the diversity and the common connections.

Need more ideas for your family reading menu? Check out the following lists of diverse titles, including suggestions for older children: Where to Find Diverse Books from We Need Diverse Books and Books With Characters of Color from Commonsense Media.

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If Determination Could Grow Gills

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
For the fourth time my five-year-old came up sputtering and coughing. The other people in our community pool were starting to look at me with what I can only call “judgy” eyes.
“Sweetie,” I admonished her in a whispered hiss, “ don’t breathe when you go under okay? Just hold your breath like we talked about.”
Her big blue eyes looked up at me and she smiled. A drop of water rolled off her nose an instant before she pinched it shut, puffed out her cheeks and stuck her face back under the water. Sure enough, not two seconds later, she surfaced, sounding like she was coughing up both lungs.
The lady in the lawn chair nearest us lowered her shades to give me a “why are you drowning your child?” glare. But it wasn’t my doing. My child was determined. She has a kind of steely resolve built in her soul. And it serves her well.
She was born with a birth defect called spina bifida. She has had seven surgeries and she has worked in physical and occupational therapy since she was a few months old. Along the way she picked up the message that if she wants something, she just needs to do her best, work hard, and eventually she will get there, even if she needs a little accommodation to do it. She will be able to do what she works hard for.
And my girl is one hard worker.
Her first physical therapist said she would never sit up unassisted, never crawl. She disagreed with his assessments on pretty much everything. She worked for what she wanted. We got her a new PT who helped her reach the goals she wanted. She not only sat unassisted as a baby. But she four-point crawled as a tot. She walked now with braces and a walker. She plays T-ball. She makes honor roll in her kindergarten class.
She is unafraid of anything. When they brought the giant snake to class on critter day, she was the first one to raise her hand to hold it. She always has a smile and loves greeting her many friends with a hug. She knows that when you fall down or make a mistake you try again and do your best.
Though generally, determination is a commendable trait … Unfortunately, at this point in her life my darling daughter’s determination makes her think that if she just keeps practicing, like at PT or reading, she can do anything. Including breathing underwater.
And she doesn’t believe me when I tell her “no.” The biological differences between humans and fish seem to escape her, though I’ve tried explaining. Her solution was that I should buy her a mermaid tail. She’s seen them for sale on TV and she’s seen mermaids also. I tried explaining that mermaids were not real and that the ones she had seen were playing dress up.
She thinks I’m trying to scam her. She has even tried to convince ME to try and breathe underwater.
“Mommy YOU do it!”
“Mommies can’t breathe under water either. No adults can.”
“You should practice with me.”
And all I can do is facepalm. Because on one had I have to admire her spirit. She never lets it be said that she can’t. On the other hand, the sooner they cover biology in school, the safer she will be.  Her father is certain she will win in the end. As soon as she gets old enough, she will take a SCUBA course and breathe underwater just like she wants to. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Ten Proverbs That Unintentionally Taught Me to Be a Better Parent

I doubt some of the parenting advice I gleaned from these proverbs was exactly what the original authors intended, but it was helpful nonetheless.

I’m not really one for trite sayings in general, but especially trite sayings about parenting, like “the days are long but the years are short.” Then one day, I realized how much parenting wisdom is tucked away in our most common proverbs. Though I doubt some of the advice I gleaned was exactly what the original authors intended.
Here are 10 proverbs, modified to suit the parenting life:

1 | If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

True. Except here’s the thing. If a kid or spouse is doing it and you think you can do it better, ask yourself a simple question: “Do you actually want to do it yourself?”
If no, shut your mouth, carry on and, if necessary, take notes for constructive feedback later.

2 | A watched pot never boils.

Similarly, children can never put on their shoes and socks while you’re watching them. Watching kids struggle to get dressed is like trying to get through a “Lord of the Rings” marathon to impress a first date.
Seriously, walk away. Have a second cup of coffee.

3 | If you can’t beat them, join them.

Every now and then, when your kids are off-the-wall bonkers and you can’t calm them down, just join in. Nobody really wants to be the one sober person at the party.
I can tell you from experience that watching your kids toilet-papering your living room can send you into a tailspin. But doing it with them is oddly satisfying.

4 | No use crying over spilled milk.

My kids spill their milk and other things a lot. It used to upset me a lot. But there are only so many yells in one day, and I decided to save them for more important things.
Our current mantra is, “Well, at least it’s not blood. Now go clean it up.”

5 | Familiarity breeds contempt / Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I’ve lumped these together because they’re opposite sides of the same coin. Any parent who has ever spent several days (okay, hours) trapped in a house with their kids will understand. You start off at 6 a.m. with nothing but love, but by bedtime…pure contempt.
On the flip side, nothing makes me love my kids more than a little break. So when you find yourself climbing up Contempt Hill, work to arrange a get-away fast, even if it’s just a quick run to the drugstore to buy things you don’t need.

6 | Good things come to those who wait.

This can be applied to a million things, but comes in particularly handy for dinner and tantrums. When trying to get my kids to eat something not high on their list of top foods (i.e. anything that’s not pizza), I’ve learned to plop it down and walk away.
Don’t make eye contact, don’t cajole or discuss, just leave it and wait. At some point, they’ll eat it, if the dog doesn’t get to it first.

7 | You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

I love cooking and I love my kids, but initially, I didn’t love the two together. Eggshells got in the batter, flour got on every surface in the kitchen, butter got places butter should never be, and it took roughly two hours to complete a 15-minute recipe.
But, oh how they loved it. Once I embraced the disaster (and learned to have them crack eggs, one at a time, in a separate bowl), I loved it, too.

8 | No man is an island.

I really, really struggle with asking for help. I once cut my fingertip off with a mandolin and then pushed my two-year-old two miles in a stroller, while pregnant, looking for an urgent care that took my insurance.
Once I had two kids, I realized this wasn’t sustainable. Learn to ask for help, because most people don’t mind and you can’t get it done yourself.

9 | Better late than never.

This obviously applies to day-to-day lateness, but it hit home for me in terms of child development. My daughter didn’t walk until 18 months, and my six-year-old son, while showing early promise in engineering, still can’t tell me the difference between the sounds ch and th.
It’s easy to get caught up in intense worry over these things, but the truth is, kids really do develop at different rates. Comparing will make you crazy.

10 | When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Sure, we want to model how to stick it out for our kids, but we also want everyone to survive until they reach adulthood. No one benefits from a crazed parent. Sometimes, it’s best to just walk away.
Give yourself a timeout in your closet, preferably with a drink or snack of your choice.