We are priceless

I recently was in a teacher training meeting where we saw an object lesson that I couldn’t help but go straight home and replicate for family home evening. It’s a message that I think will stick with me for years to come, and one I hope my children will remember too.

The message required a crisp $100 bill, which I picked up from the bank. We gathered our children around the dining table and asked them, “How much is this worth?” They ooh-ed and ah-ed for a moment, as I’m not sure any of them have actually seen one. Then they said “100 dollars.” Yep! “OK, now let’s pretend this bill is you. What things have you accomplished that you are proud of?” I asked. They said things like this: “I’m good at piano, lacrosse, soccer, dance. I am kind. I got 100 percent on my spelling test. I am a good big sister or brother. I am a happy person. I got three merit badges last month.” For each of the things they said, I put a little sticker on the bill.

“Now how much is it worth?” I asked. Zach, calculating the price of the added stickers said, “100 dollars and 25 cents?” We laughed, and then I said, “It’s still $100.” No matter all the accomplishments and amazing things we do in our life, we are still ultimately worth the same.

“OK,” I said. “Now let’s talk about our mistakes.” I put the $100 bill into a plastic bag and grabbed a cup of dirt. “What mistakes have you made?” Their answers included things like, “I’ve been mean. I’ve forgotten to do my jobs. I’ve lied. I’ve been whiny.” For each answer, I poured a little dirt on the $100 bill. The kids were a bit flummoxed, thinking surely I had protected the bill in another bag. Nope. The bill was getting filthy. I topped it off by pouring water into the bag with the dirt and shaking it up.

“Now how much is the bill worth?” I asked.

The kids looked at each other. They looked at me. “Still $100?”

Yep. They got the idea. I pulled out the bill and rinsed it off. (Thankfully, it has dried just fine and will be returned to the bank pronto.)

We ended the night be giving them a paper that says “25 things I appreciate about me.” We handed out pencils and asked them to write down things they liked about themselves. It took us all a few minutes to do. And some of us needed some help and ideas from each other. I was so happy to see that each one of us was able to come up with 25 things we liked or appreciated about ourselves. I don’t think we usually let ourselves spend much time considering the neat qualities about ourselves. I did notice that our 13 year old seemed a little more cheerful after doing the exercise. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of what we have to offer the world.

Here’s what touched me most about our evening together, as a bit of an A-type overachiever. Ultimately, our accomplishments don’t change our value. Our mistakes don’t either. Our Heavenly Father finds us absolutely priceless no matter what we do. Isn’t that incredibly comforting to remember? Even if we have done every stupid thing imaginable, our Father still loves us and sees who we really are and who we can become. And it doesn’t matter so much to Him whether we make the dean’s list at Harvard or the cheer team in high school or become President of the United States. I wanted our kids to know that. Sure, we like them to learn new things and do their best and find joy in their accomplishments. And we expect them to make mistakes. They will probably end up with a few ribbons, and a few scars. But at the end of the day, I hope they know that they are priceless, no matter what. I hope I remember that too.

D&C 18:10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

My privilege

It was one of those days where things weren’t going super well at home. I can’t remember the specifics, but I think one of the kids wasn’t remembering to turn assignments in at school, two of them were fighting all the time, and one of them was peeing on the floor for the 19th time, despite all my best potty training tricks.

After that blessed hour where all four were finally asleep, I crawled into bed exhausted and discouraged. I started saying a prayer with some level of complaining. “Why is this so hard?” I remember asking. I asked for help knowing what to do and how I could help these precious kids find their strength and happiness. That’s when a thought came into my mind, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t just from me. It said clearly: “This is your privilege.”

I thought back to the night before, when we held a family home evening on the topic of becoming like Christ. We watched a great video about some of the attributes of Christ: He was kind, selfless, forgiving. Then we emphasized this message to our children: We aren’t perfect now, and that’s OK. No one expects us to be perfect now. We are simply trying our best to become more like our Savior, and we get to make as many mistakes as we need to on our journey. He is the North Star, guiding us to where we want to be.

These thoughts swam around in my mind until I saw exactly what my job is as a mother. I am here to help my children through all the weakness and struggle and all the failure and challenge. I am here to help them learn to become like Christ.

Over the past few weeks that message has popped up again and again in my mind through the hard parts of mothering: the temper tantrums over not getting ice cream after lunch at Chick-fil-a because the line was too long. The fighting pre-teen girls who seem to only see the other person at fault. The repeated conversations about why it is actually important to wash your hair when you shower. The struggles are how they learn to be patient, how they learn to work hard, how they learn to forgive. The weakness is how they learn to depend on and become like Christ. My job is to love them and be there alongside them, reminding them that this is all part of the plan. And sometimes, reminding myself too.

I love this scripture: And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

Our children have weakness for a reason. How blessed I am as a mother to be there while they struggle and learn to turn those weaknesses into strengths. That is my privilege.

Image result for mom and child on porch

Finding Family Love for Valentine’s Day

I used to think Valentine’s Day was all about mushy love notes, chocolate, and flowers. I actually got upset the first Valentine’s Day Scott and I were married because he didn’t give me anything. I feel pretty silly about that now. Those things don’t matter so much to me these days. Don’t get me wrong–I like all of those things. But after 17 years of marriage and a family of two that’s turned into six, I’ve learned a thing or two about love.

First off, love is hard sometimes. And it’s not always about having good feelings toward someone. I have to remind my children about this regularly. Loving my husband is pretty easy. I don’t have a hard time seeing the good stuff in him–because there is so much of it. And at our age we’ve learned to talk through our disagreements without calling each other names (though we may still need to take a break sometimes when we aren’t getting our way!).

My kids are still learning about love. They didn’t get to choose each other the way I got to choose my roommate. They fight. They say mean things. Their personalities sometimes clash. They ask regularly why they can’t have their own room. Sigh. Those times are hard. They are heart-breaking for a mom who’s maybe a little oversensitive. I know they always love each other. Sometimes it’s just really, really deep down there.

Ah, but then there are those other times. The times when, like last night, my two older kids were up talking and laughing at the dining table way past their bed time. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt them, even though I knew they’d be tired in the morning. These are the moments when they are putting deposits into their sibling bank accounts. My job is to just take a breather when they decide to pull out some of those deposits–because tomorrow there is a very good chance one of those kids is going to tell me they’d prefer their sibling move to a different planet. We’ll get past it.

But for Valentine’s Day, I wanted to see if we could focus for a little bit on what it means to be a family. I sat them all down and said, “I know it’s hard having siblings sometimes. And it’s hard having parents sometimes” [this was particularly directed to the 12 year old who was mad at me for not buying him the $70 Vans his friends have!]. “But the great thing about this family is that we will be together forever, no matter what. And the people around this table are going to love you forever, no matter what. How great is that?” They looked around at each other. One person rolled her eyes but the rest sort of smiled and nodded. (I guess 5 out of 6 ain’t bad!)

Addie, my 7 year old, then passed a big paper heart to everyone at the table. On each heart was the name of someone in the family. “Here is the plan,” I said. “On this heart is someone’s name. You have one minute to write everything you love about that person. Go.” Addie set the timer and we started writing. When the timer went off, we passed the hearts to the right. It was cute to see them want more time. After everyone had a turn writing on every heart, Addie passed the hearts to their owners. I loved seeing everyone take a look at what their siblings and parents had written. Siblings who had fought earlier were writing things like “You’re a great sister!” and “You are so funny!” and “I love you. You are a great big brother.” I think everyone enjoyed taking a minute to realize how much they are loved–no matter what.

Today, the hearts still sitting on the dining table made me think of a book I wrote that came out a few months ago called “I Can Love Like Jesus.” I always thought it looked more like a Valentine’s book, but I hadn’t picked it up and actually read it for a couple of months. Today while I was snuggling up with Sam for his nap time, we read the book. It reminded me of why I wrote this book. It’s all about Christ’s love.

I wanted to capture the idea that we say “we should love like Jesus” but we don’t often talk about what that actually means. I loved cuddling Sam while we read about service, and forgiveness and thinking of others before ourselves. That’s what love is really all about, and we have the perfect example to learn from. [Side note–I love how this author captured how we live in the world today but can still love others the way Christ did 2,000 years ago. And I love that the kids are fighting on the couch–perfect! Thanks Chase Jensen!]

My plan for Valentine’s Day is to focus on what love really is all about. Not so much the chocolate (though I will be enjoying some of that) or the paper valentines (though I will be helping my kids make those) but real, no-matter-what, so-glad-you’re-part-of-my-life, you-couldn’t-get-rid-of-me-if-you-tried love. That’s the kind of love I want to celebrate.

Home

Tomorrow we get the keys to our new house. I can’t say home yet…because it won’t be home for a while. Right now, home is still the place we’ve lived for the past 10 years. It’s the place we first came when our oldest son (and only child at the time) was only 18 months old. He’s almost 12 now. A place only becomes home with time, and that’s what we’ve had here. Lots of quickly moving time.

Thankfully, this was our choice. I wasn’t pushed out of my home by a bank, like my parents were when I was little. I wasn’t evacuated because of a heartbreaking storm like so many people have been in recent weeks. We had a door open and, even though we weren’t looking to move, something started to feel right about taking our family to this beautiful, new, more spacious place. It wasn’t terribly hard to say yes. We had, after all, started to feel a bit squished in our 1500 square feet of finished space, with 6 people and a puppy. My grandmother said it first years ago when she first came to our little home: “You are going to need more space.” I insisted she was wrong at the time. Turns out, she was right.

And yet, after this last weekend of putting our home on the market and having people come along, looking to take our place, I’ve had a hard time. I cried several times after groups of people left and I had the quiet house to myself again. The emotion has surprised me. But I can’t help remembering the times we’ve had here.

I think of coming into the home, our first home, for the first time, giddy with excitement for what we were absolutely sure was our forever home. I think of Scott painting the bedroom upstairs blue for Zach’s Christmas present since he had a new baby sister coming to take over the nursery. I think of bringing home our precious newborns–first Ellie, then two years later Addie, then four years later Sam. I think of my kids sipping Otter Pops on the back patio steps or traipsing around in the snow in our beautiful little backyard. I think of family night movie nights by the fire in our family room and bedtime stories snuggled together upstairs. I think of making breakfast by my beautiful stained glass windows and the sun coming through in the morning. I think of my little ones riding their bikes around our circle and taking walks around the block. I think of the friends and neighbors we love here. So many memories. I love this home.

And I hope the family who takes over will love it too. It’s not their home yet, but in time it will be. Thankfully, there is one thing I know about a home–it becomes that way with love, and with family, and with the memories we will create. I look forward to turning our new house into a home, over time. But I will always love this place we’re leaving behind. Thank you, home, for having us these past 10 years. You’ve been a wonderful gift to my family. We’ll miss you immensely.

A Blessed Nation

This time of year I like to spend a little time thinking about the people who came before me, who sacrificed so much so that my family can enjoy the blessings we have. It is so easy to take our nation for granted. Just being able to live in a home and neighborhood of our choice, to have the opportunity to send my children to school, to worship as I choose, to choose what I wanted to study in school, to marry the man I love, or even to be free to drive down the street as a woman. Not everyone has these freedoms, even today.

We didn’t get here by chance. For starters, there was the courage of a select few who saw an injustice and chose to do something about it. I will forever be grateful to those people who were willing to fight and die for our country. I can’t imagine having to make that choice. But in addition to the courage and sacrifice of men and women, I believe that God has been guiding us along and helping build this nation for centuries. I love the book 7 Miracles that Saved America, which points out some significant events in our nation’s history that are really just impossible to explain without a higher power being involved. If you haven’t read it, please do.

One historical story I came across in the book The Lincoln Hypothesis by Timothy Ballard captures another example of what seems too impossible to explain without some kind of divine guidance. This was a Civil War story I had never heard before. It isn’t a well-known story in our history books. But that’s probably because our history books don’t usually include much about divine intervention.

I’m no Civil War expert, but here are a few of the facts of what was happening in 1862. According to a private memo which titled “Meditation on the Divine Will,” Lincoln was actually praying about whether he should let the slaves be free. He even told some colleagues that he had made a covenant with God that if the North won the next battle at Antietam, he would take it as a sign from God that it was his duty to move forward with Emancipation.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Lee’s troops had set up in a field in Maryland where Lee gave out five top secret orders (Special Order No. 191) to five military leaders. The orders were not written by Lee because of an accident with his horse that caused him to wear hand splints for a period of time. The orders were instead written by Lee’s assistant, Robert Chilton. The leaders who received these orders were instructed to guard them with their lives. One leader had the order sewn into his jacket and one even memorized it and then ate it–it was that big of a deal. If these plans got out, it would significantly shift the South’s ability to gain victory over the North.

A few days later the Confederate army had packed up and moved out. That’s when Union Corporal Barton Mitchell was taking a walk in this same field and looked down in the grass to find three cigars with a note wrapped around them. Corporal Mitchell unwrapped the cigars and opened the note–it was a copy of Lee’s secret order. Of course, they couldn’t be sure it was authentic unless someone could verify the handwriting. As luck would have it, Corporal Mitchell’s assistant happened to be good friends with Robert Chilton, who wrote the order. He knew the handwriting and was able to confirm that the order was legitimate.

According to Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian and Antietam expert James McPherson, the odds of that order being found and authenticated were “a million to one.” The Union’s having that order significantly altered their ability to come out victorious at Antietam, which was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War. Without the advantage of that order, the Union may very well have lost that battle, which ended up being a major turning point in the war.

The field where Lee’s Special Order No. 191 was found by Union Corporal Mitchel.

Because of Lincoln’s personal covenant with God, the outcome at Antietam caused him to say, in a draft meeting of the Emancipation Proclamation, that he must keep his promise to himself and to his maker. The Union had won the battle, and thus Lincoln was driven to emancipate the slaves, as promised. The Union was also a step closer to ending the war. Who knows what would have happened if that order had not been found! To this day, no one knows who the order belonged to, or how it came to be lost. But what happened in that field may very well have changed the course of history as our nation’s leader was then motivated to keep his promise to make freedom a priority for millions.

The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

If we think that God is not involved in directing the affairs of our nation, then we are giving far too much credit to Fate. God is there, in the details, helping our nation become the beautiful, strong, free land that I love. I hope I never take for granted the work of the many souls who have given so much, or the Father in Heaven who wants to bless us all.

Heartbreak and hope in Sandy

This is hard to write about. But my head and heart are swimming with so many emotions that sometimes the only thing that I can do is write everything down.

Last Tuesday, my girls came home from school after their usual half-mile walk up the hill on Alta Canyon Drive. But their knock when they arrived home was more urgent. I opened the door to see their white faces and heard them say that they had just seen a car accident and a man with a gun who started shooting at the bottom of the hill. Then they had run. Over the next several hours, we learned what had happened to our neighbors.

Memorez Rackley, and her 6-year-old son Jace along with her 11-year-old son Myles had been walking home from school when a crazy, obsessive man started harassing them. They tried to get help from a woman who pulled over her car. Then the man started shooting. Memorez and Jace were killed and Myles was shot through the shoulder, neck, and jaw.  Another girl was shot in the leg. Dozens of children and parents were right there in the chaos. Our neighborhood was broken apart in a way I had never thought possible.

Some tragedies are the result of forces of nature or sickness beyond our ability to control. But some happen because there is evil in this world. I don’t have words to express the sadness I have grappled with as I have thought of the Rackley family, or the children and parents who watched these events unfold, or my own children who were so close to it all. I don’t have words to explain how a man could use this kind of violence here. I don’t know why this all happened. My heart breaks for this family every time I picture their faces, or look outside my front window, across our quiet cul de sac, to their lovely suburban home.

There is evil in this world. But the days following the incident have shown me how much goodness is here alongside it.  I saw it in the “Good Samaritan” who pulled over to help this scared mother and her children. I saw it in my neighbor who pulled over just behind the scene and screamed for my son and his friends to get in her car so she could drive them to safety. I saw it in the police officers and first responders who were so quick to arrive at the scene, but who have expressed their grief that they were too late to stop it.

I saw goodness in the woman who let a bleeding girl into her home and cared for her while they waited for paramedics. I saw it in the church leaders who immediately went to the hospital to be with the Rackley family, and then spent hours working on a plan for how to help them and the community heal. I saw it in my husband’s willingness to stay up until 4 a.m. organizing and communicating a plan to help our neighborhood. I saw it in the makeshift memorial on the sidewalk, full of teddy bears, flowers, and balloons and in the vigil at the school where floating lanterns were lit and counselors were available for anyone in need. I saw it in the Interfaith meeting held two days later to help us all learn how to grieve and heal together.

I saw goodness in the phone calls and texts and meals and gifts brought to my family, with notes and words of comfort. I saw it in the community gathering held to release blue balloons into the sky (Myles and Jace’s favorite color) and to tie hundreds of blue ribbons on every tree and post in sight. I see more goodness every day as I drive through our neighborhood, past those ribbons signifying our unity, our heartbreak, and our love.

There is a form of Japanese pottery called kintsugi where a broken pot is sealed back together with gold adhesive. Potters cherish the end result for its unique beauty. The pot, after its cracking and subsequent sealing, is stronger than before. I suppose our neighborhood has been through a sort of kintsugi–broken and sealed back together in a way that quiet possibly makes us stronger than we were. I know that after this experience, beyond the grief and fear and pain, I feel grateful for an incredible community of heroes.

I have seen darkness this week beyond anything I have ever experienced.  I have seen the destruction that one person is capable of.  I will continue to pray and ache for the Rackley family. But I will also feel the incredible power of the goodness and love that has taken place here. I feel hope. For now, the words from Sunday’s congregational hymn will remain as an echo in my heart:

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end. 

Twelve Fun Places to Take Your Kids This Summer in Salt Lake Valley

Summer is coming. I sense it with a mix of excitement and dread. I love having my kids home and getting to see their cute faces all day. But ALL DAY is a long time when we are talking about 2 and a 1/2 months. We need a plan. They have a few things going on that I can count on–sports and art camps and a few daily must do’s, like chores, music, math, and reading. But I find that having one day a week where we plan a fun outing together gives us all something to really look forward to. Call it “Take-a-Trip Tuesday” or “Field-Trip Friday” or just “Let’s-Get-Out-of-the-House-Before-Mom-Goes-Crazy Day.”  Whatever you call it, you’ll feel armed and ready to experience plenty of adventures with your kids this summer if you have a list in your back pocket. Here are some of our favorite stops in the Salt Lake Valley:

  1. Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. I’m a grown woman who has never tired of watching orangutans, gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). All of these and so many more amazing creatures you’ll find at the zoo, along with a great little water play area for cooling down when it gets hot. Admission: $16.95 (adults), $12.95 (children 3-12). Annual family membership: $149 
  2. Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake. We love the free interactive exhibits at the planetarium, where kids can learn about Earth, our solar system, and outer space. Cool educational IMAX and Dome Theater shows about the sun, black holes, the Amazon, extreme weather, the moon and more play daily. Show tickets for ages 3 and up are $7. Make it extra fun by riding TRAX downtown.

3. Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We love getting up in the mountains to explore rocks, trees, water, animals and all the other beauties of nature. And guess what? If you live in Salt Lake Valley,you are only minutes away from some amazing options. A few of our favorite fairly easy hikes are Mill B South Trail, Bells Canyon Reservoir, and Donut Falls Trail. I have a two year old, so he would normally ride in a backpack (on my husband’s back!) when we hike. But he can meander for a ways on his own, and I can get a great workout if I decide to haul him on my shoulders. Win-win!
4. Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City. This is a fun way to explore the outdoors (without as much hiking as you’ll get in the canyons). You’ll find over 100 acres of display and natural gardens, walking paths and hiking trails. The whole family can enjoy activities year-round including concerts, classes, festivals, events, and exhibits. Admission: $12 (adults), $7 (children 3-17).5. The Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City is a fun and fascinating look at natural history subjects, with an emphasis on Utah and the Intermountain West. Kids will enjoy the many interactive exhibits (mine especially love the dinosaurs). Admission: $14.95 (adults), $9.95 (children 3-12). 6. Tracy Aviary and Liberty Park in downtown Salt Lake. If you love birds, this is the stop for you. With 8 acres that feature our colorful feathered friends, you might just feel like you’ve entered the Amazon. Admission: $11.95 (adults), $7.95 (children 3-12). Also in central Liberty Park are a few fun carnival rides that my kids love to hit (the ferris wheel especially). Before you head home, consider stopping by the pond to see the ducks and maybe rent a paddle boat! 7. Discovery Gateway in downtown Salt Lake is a hands-on, interactive children’s museum with dozens of fun options for kids of all ages, including obstacle courses, a pretend grocery store and gardens, a fun gravity exhibit, and a life-flight helicopter to explore. Admission: $9.508. Treehouse Museum in Ogden offers interactive, hands-on exhibits and experiences with a focus on literacy and creating a lifelong love of reading. I haven’t been here yet but hope to take my kids this summer. Admission: $5 (adults), $7 (children 1-12).9. The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper is a beautiful hands-on aquarium, home to 4,500 animals representing 550 species. Our favorite part is the underwater shark tunnel that makes us feel like scuba divers in the Caribbean. Admission: $19.95 (adults), $14.95 (children). Family membership for up to four children: $189. 10. Lagoon in Farmington offers spinning, soaring, flying, and falling for all ages.  If theme parks are your thing, look no further. Admission: $39.95 (48 inches and under) and $55.95 (over 48 inches).11. Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. You truly could spend your whole summer here. You’ll find Farm Country, the Museum of Natural Curiosity, the Museum of Ancient Life, and the Thanksgiving Point Gardens along with concerts, summer camps, cooking classes, restaurants, gift shops, and a farmers market. Annual family membership: $220. Museum admissions: $15 (adults), $12 (children), .

12. Seven Peaks in Salt Lake City and Provo. After receiving 17 emails from Groupon and KSL about this deal, I finally caved and bought the Pass of All Passes for $20 a person. But guess what? We’ve been to these waterparks twice already and it isn’t even summer yet! My kids have had a blast. Tubes, slides, waves, and rivers…this may very well be our favorite stop all summer (and we’ll go again, and again, and again…because we can).

So, yes. Summer is coming, ready or not. Don’t worry. Aside from the daily bouts of sibling squabbles and occasional boredom, you’ll have a wonderful time together. Especially if you have a few fun plans along the way. And before you know it, those favorite people of yours are going to be back in school all day, and you’ll miss them like crazy. It happens to me every summer. Let’s make every day count.

8 Reasons to Take Your Kids Camping This Summer

I like a nice hotel as much as the next gal. You know . . . jacuzzi, swimming pool, soft king-sized bed, fluffy pillows, crisp white sheets, and cushy slippers. What’s not to love? But every summer from the time our first child was 6 months old, we have taken our kids camping. We’ve been to dozens of beautiful places filled with natural wonders that you just can’t experience the same way unless you are sleeping right there in it. With the stars above, songs around the campfire, and sleeping with now 6 of us in one tent, it’s a tradition that I now treasure. Here are five reasons you might want to consider pitching your own tent this summer too:

  1. It fosters a break from technology. Technology is running rampant in our fast-paced, plugged-in, high-tech world and it is stealing the attention of our little ones. Don’t get me wrong–I like a good movie and I appreciate my iPhone with all it’s cool gizmos and gadgets. It’s how I listen to podcasts on my morning jog or audio books while I’m folding laundry. And it is a perfect tool for capturing photos and videos of our life. BUT recent research says that kids ages 8-18 are spending an average of SEVEN HOURS a day in front of screens. That’s a lot of time that kids aren’t having experiences in the real world–spending time with family, exploring, playing with friends, and problem solving. Which brings me to my next reason:
  2. Being in nature makes you better at problem solving. According to cognitive psychologist Dr. David Strayer at the University of Utah, being in nature (away from technology) for three days actually made people 50 percent better at solving problems! I read about this research in National Geographic and called Dr. Strayer to ask for more details. What is it about getting away that makes our brains function better? As he said, “The technology actually makes us pretty distracted. Our brains can only process so much.”
  3. Being in nature makes you healthier physically. I don’t know about you, but when we go camping, we are not sitting around our tent all day drawing in the dirt with sticks. Yes, we do that for some of the day, but mostly we are out and about. We have picked a place to explore for some reason or another (maybe because of its beauty or its history or its cool hiking challenges) and we spend our days exploring. The childhood obesity epidemic is real enough, and the problem is linked to inactivity. It is impossible to be stationary when you are hiking to see beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite or biking a path with dozens of geysers on either side of you in Yellowstone or swimming in the luke warm waters of Lake Powell (all things I highly recommend).
  4. Being in nature makes you healthier mentally. Think about it–how do you feel when you are sitting in a park, green and blue surrounding you? Or lying down in the grass, watching the clouds go by? Or walking a trail surrounded by the brilliant colors of flowers? Stress goes down, relaxation goes up. Researchers who study this have found that people who simply live near parks are less likely to have 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and asthma. In one study, even being able to see trees through a window helped people perform better in school, recover faster in hospitals, and get along better with others! What surrounds you when you are camping? Usually–trees. Lots, and lots, of trees.
  5. You connect more as a family. Our kids LOVE playing with their friends. Our oldest son especially is asking almost constantly to have friends over to our house or to go hang out at his friends’ houses. I thought this phase wouldn’t happen until he was a teenager. He’s eleven! Still, friends are healthy and good, so I support it (within limits). BUT I love getting so much of his attention when we steal away together as a family. You know who else loves it? His sisters! They don’t get a lot of his time when we’re at home. But when we are hanging out together camping–with no screens or friends to be seen–our three older kids can’t seem to get enough of each other. (I mean, we go through the normal family spats too, but overall, they discover how much they like each other). Yay for family time!
  6. You get to see beautiful places. Truly–some of the most incredible places I have ever seen I experienced camping. Some of my favorites are Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. Over spring break we took our kids on a beach trip to San Diego and stayed at an amazing campground called Campland By the Bay, complete with hot tubs and swimming pools (seriously, if you like California, you should check it out). This summer we are taking our kids to explore the San Juan Islands and two other national parks in Washington. And for my husband’s 40th birthday, we are backpacking in Kauai. These are adventures of a lifetime, and they are doable!
  7. You get to work together as a family. I don’t know about you, but our regular life doesn’t consist of a whole lot of working all together as a family (especially when Dad works all day at an office). Sure, everyone has their individual chores–but it’s not like living on a farm where EVERYONE was involved in working hard toward the same end goal. Camping gives us that opportunity. There is a tent to set up and sleeping bags to unroll and mats to lay out and food to cook and dishes to clean and we are all right there doing the work together. It’s a very bonding experience.
  8. It’s cheap. Think you can’t afford to travel? Think again. Once you have your tent, sleeping bags, and maybe a little camping stove, you’re set. It only typically costs around $15-$20 for a campsite through the National Parks Service at www.recreation.gov.

So, yes, I like hotels. And I like the creature comforts of home. But camping has so many awesome benefits that it’s hard to find an excuse not to go. If you think you aren’t a camping sort of person, I dare you to try it. I bet you’ll be surprised.

 

Book Review: Unlocking Parental Intelligence

I like getting my hands on a good parenting book now and then because it helps me step outside my own perspective long enough to get some helpful nuggets of wisdom. I found that I read these kinds of books a lot more when I was overwhelmed with the prospect of becoming a parent and when I was trying to figure out for the first time what to do with a tiny newborn who never wanted to be out of my arms. Now my kids are in different phases–but I still find myself occasionally perplexed about their behavior and the best way for me to respond. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals for their unique make and model (though wouldn’t that be nice?). But we do have a few excellent resources to turn to for answers. One of them is the book Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior by psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.

In her book, Dr. Hollman offers parents a five-step process for approaching their children’s undesirable behavior. She helps the reader see that rather than reacting to a temper tantrum, for example, it’s important to step out of the immediate scene and attempt to understand the bigger picture. She encourages parents who are faced with a situation of unwanted behavior to ask “What does it mean?” not “What do I do?”

Dr. Hollman’s five steps toward gaining “parental intelligence” are:

  1. Stepping back. Try not to react in the moment. This may prove difficult if, say, your two year old is wailing in the checkout line that he wants a pack of gum. The idea is that we shouldn’t yell and snatch it away. Rather, take a deep breath and look at your little one without becoming emotional. Why is he acting this way? This step allows us to get into a mindset of seeking understanding. But it does require “tolerating frustration–a skill we are also hoping to teach our children.”
  2. Self-reflecting. Dr. Hollman says we need to look at how our own past and emotions may be affecting how we respond to our children. If I can realize that I am feeling embarrassed that my son is throwing a tantrum, that might change what I do in response. Our own emotions, past experiences, and relationships with our own parents may be complicating what is happening with our children. By self-reflecting, we can adjust our approach as needed.
  3. Understanding Your Child’s Mind. “Understanding your child’s mind is central to knowing your child,” says Dr. Hollman. I need to ask myself “What is he going through right now? Is he tired? Is he sick? Did he have different expectations that might be causing the breakdown?” This is the stage where instead of asking “What do I do?” I should ask “Why is he upset?” That takes some patience, yes. But it is a wonderful road to understanding the deeper layers.
  4. Understanding Your Child’s Development. It’s important to understand that children go through different stages at different ages. Dr. Hollman says it’s important to ask two questions: What is expected at my child’s stage of development? and How far apart is my child’s chronological age from my child’s developmental age? So, this is where we can break out the books on child development and see what we should be expecting. Temper-tantruming 2-year-old? Yep, right on target. If my 9 year old is doing this, on the other hand, we may need to have a conversation about what happened earlier that day.
  5. Problem solving. Once we’ve stepped back and tried to understand the bigger picture about what is going on with ourselves and what our child is experiencing, we can begin to work toward a solution.

After introducing her five steps, Dr. Hollman discusses examples of 8 different parent/child dynamics and how the parents were able to work through difficult issues by seeking understanding and problem solving together. The approach is a refreshing reminder that as a family, we are an interactive system, constantly affecting and being affected by each other. As Dr. Hollman put it, “Parental Intelligence is a relationship-based approach to rearing children as opposed to solving problems by punishment. Parents don’t lose their say about their children’s behaviors, but rather they understand the reasons behind the behavior, its context, and workable approaches that help their children and themselves to change the behavior or their view of the behavior.”

I appreciated using this new approach as I’ve interacted with my own children in the past few weeks. When my son got upset about my insisting that he wear his helmet when riding his bike, I tried harder to step back and ask what he might be experiencing at this pre-teen age and all it’s peer pressure to be cool and live dangerously. (That doesn’t mean he gets to ride without a helmet. We still have to problem solve this one!) When my 7-year-old got upset about her big sister leaving her out during a playdate with friends, I tried harder to look at what her emotional experience must be and invited her to be my special shopping helper at the store. Or when my 9 year old cried about cello not being fun anymore, I tried hard not to lecture, but rather search with her about what might be causing the extra frustration (we discovered that her new teacher simply hasn’t realized how much Ellie loves learning new pieces even when she hasn’t mastered the technique of older pieces).

Overall, I think this is a wonderful parenting book with an important reminder that our children need us to seek understanding about who they are and what they need as they grow and experience all the newness of each stage. They need patience and love and trust and a guiding hand as they figure out how to be their best selves.

Here’s to Mother Eve

I was on a walk today at a park, pushing my son in his stroller and listening to a podcast that mentioned something about Eve. I don’t remember what was said specifically, but my thoughts started to wander as I thought more about Eve and the example she set for the rest of us mothers.

Eve had it pretty good, in the beginning. She was in a beautiful garden. She didn’t need to worry about cooking or folding laundry or shopping or making sure her children did their homework on time. She didn’t need to vacuum or clean toilets or break up sibling squabbles or pay the mortgage. She just had her husband and a lovely place to dwell. Paradise, you might say.

So what was the problem? We don’t know how long it took, but at some point Eve looked at the fruit she had been forbidden to eat, and she thought, “What if there is more to life than this?” She somehow came to the conclusion that it would actually be better to know good from evil, to feel sorrow so she could truly know joy. So she transgressed the law, meaning she crossed over the limits God had set. She did it because she knew that happiness was more than endless, frictionless sunny days.

I like frictionless, sunny days. But I like them especially after a storm. I feel so happy when my children are playing nicely together, because I have seen them fight. I love having a clean house, because I have seen it torn apart. I relish a delicious dinner, because I shopped and chopped and cooked and got it on the table for my family to enjoy. And I feel gratitude when I hug my healthy kids, because I have cared for them when they’ve been sick.

Here’s to Mother Eve who understood. She knew that there was more to life than a beautiful garden. She knew that hard times and work and children would bring frustration and sacrifice, but that they would also be the means to indescribable joy.

Here’s to the mothers out there, including the incredible women in my life. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your love and your work and your patience. Thank you for seeing the bigger picture and for helping us all grow. Thank you for everything you do to make the world (with all its thorns and thistles) a better place.