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Father-Daughter Travel Tradition Is Born, Accidentially

Fifth grade is American History year. And four years ago my oldest daughter’s class (then 5th grade) had planned to visit Washington D.C. to tour the National Mall and a few historic sites. The problem was that the “group” plan for the class to travel was going to cost more than $2,000 for my kid—and nearly $3,000 for the chaperone! (And no way was I sending my 5th grader on a trip like that without a parent!)

We weren’t allowed to use air miles or hotel points, we wouldn’t be able to eat our own choice of food, and the hotels booked would be four kids to a room and no guarantee they wouldn’t be co-ed. Um. Yeah? NO.

Instead we put together our own “American History Washington D.C. Tour.” (And my favorite part of the whole experience? It was a Father-Daughter excursion!)

The whole thing cost less than $700 for both of them for over a week, skipping the expensive (yet cheaply done) group tour.

My husband also turned it into a “learn how to use public transportation” excursion. They flew in to Baltimore, took AMTRAK to Washington D.C., and then used subways and buses to get around the city. Best of all, he allowed the 11 year old to map out their daily jaunts and determine the best transportation routes each day!

Her favorite part of the trip was seeing the actual Declaration of Independence. She couldn’t get over that it was the REAL document! They also stumbled upon so-called “Embassy Row”—where all the foreign embassies are located—and found that all the embassies had opened their doors to the public that week! They were allowed inside the Italian Consulate (all the Italian marble, ooh la la), and the London Embassy gave out small Union Jack flags (which they brought home to the younger siblings).

Now, here we are four years later. My middle daughter is now in 5th grade and she’s having none of our “It was a one-time thing” business about her sister’s father-daughter trip. Oh no. This tradition has officially begun! (That's her and her Dad in the photo, above).

She’s super excited about HER trip to D.C. this year! And yup, again it’s Dad doing the honors. (Maybe Mom will get to take the boy child in three more years?)

We’ve been planning the trip for months now. (You have to get permission way in advance to go inside many of the government buildings.)

The father-daughter combo is making it as educational (and fun) as possible. With tours of the White House and Capitol planned, all the national mall time they can stand, and even a trip out to Mount Vernon (bonus!) And it turns out that the Yankees are in town to play the Orioles so even they figured out how to fit that in too!

And yes again they will be mainly using public transportation to get from point “A” to the Lincoln Monument.

Their trip will span the weekend of Easter, which is a little weird, but we decided it was worth it. An unforgettable trip with her Dad, while the rest of us enjoy our own fun weekend with Easter treats and celebrations, seemed WIN/WIN.

The biggest bummer is that the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin will have already bloomed by the time they get there in early April, due to the early spring back East.

Good thing the monuments are fun to see in any season!

What types of “educational travel” have you taken with your kids?

 

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Spring Break: Top 10 Reasons to Consider A Stay-Cation

 We’ve spent our fair share of spring breaks in warmer climates, enjoying far-flung family vacations and returning home plain exhausted and needing a break from spring break! Last year we decided to stay home for the spring break (that's hubby and the kids in the photo, taking a break from bowling), and it was such a hit the whole family requested the same vacation again this year. I think we've started a tradition at my house (at least until the kids are out of school; then you’ll likely catch me on a spring break cruise!)

Top 10 Stay-cation Rules (listed in reverse order):

10. Pretend We Aren’t Home

  • Don’t answer the phone, let the machine get it (We’re on STAY-cation we can’t come to the phone, we’re having way too much fun!)
  • Close the garage door immediately upon returning each day
  • If a neighbor notices us in the backyard playing catch… pretend we can’t see them!
  • Above all, treat the whole week like a real vacation!

 

9.  Bedtime. What Bedtime?

 Every man, woman and child shall fend for themselves. This mom is so tired of waking up too early every day, then fighting each evening to convince my munchkins that, yes, bed time IS still at 8 p.m., even with confusing daylight savings!

So, yay! On a Stay-cation, you can sleep in, go to bed late—I don’t care!

It’s very classy vacationing at “Chez Rogers.” We set up all the kid’s mattresses in the living room with DVDs, popcorn, and their own pillows! The best part of this deal is that mom gets to sleep in her own bed at the end of the night.

 

8. Entertainment

We search out all the local fun things to do, as if we were on a real away-cation, such as:

  • Children’s museums and petting zoos
  • Bounce houses, open gymnasiums and batting parks
  • BOWLING! (It’s become a Rogers Stay-cation tradition that every year we must go bowling! And eat the greasy food of course.)
  • Movie theaters and community plays 
  • Local hikes and parks, depending on weather

 

7. Limit the Electronics

All cell phones, iPads, iPods, (i-everythings) are gathered up and stored in the “basket of screens,” only to be returned for 30 minute increments as determined by the sanity level of the mom throughout the day. Yes, even mom’s computer is off limits for a whole week! (She’s rolling her eyes right now.)

 

6. Family Time

What’s the point of a family stay-cation if the whole time everyone is off doing their own thing? To that end, we have lists and lists of activities, games, and for all of us projects to work on:

 

  • Each year we plant spring pansies together during our spring vacation.
  • It’s a great time to play the least played board games (all at once!), which we set up around the living room with a 10-minute timer. When the buzzer rings everyone switches to a new game.
  • We love dragging out old home movies from when the kids were babies, and then of course we make new ones, including silly family plays the kids make up on the spot.
  • We’re already planning our projects for the week: sewing Easter skirts with my daughter, working on art projects with my creative middle daughter, and performing a whole laboratory of science experiments for my little boy. I’ve warned the fire department.

 

5. Hotel/Pool Time

You didn’t think we would go without the requisite pool time while on vacation did you? No—we’re local after all, which means we know how to get the best hotel deals right here in town! One overnight stay and as much pool time as our prune hands can handle is perfect for our stay-cation.

 

4. Maid Service

We figure with all the money we’re saving on what we’d usually spend on six nights at a hotel, gas money, and other travel related costs, we owe ourselves a few hours of cleaning services. Plus there are plenty of “daily half off deals” to be had. Watch and get a cleaner at a steal (or see if your teen wants to earn a little moolah for her upcoming band trip to Canada, and pay her to clean instead!)

 

3. Food

Speaking of vacation cost savings…we don’t have to eat every meal out like on an away-cation, but we still get to pamper ourselves. We eat breakfast out one morning, and lunch a couple of days. We eat out for dinner as a family once during the week, but we grab take-out or pizza on other nights. The one hard and fast rule is that mom and dad get to have a dinner/date away one night during the stay-cation (babysitting—that’s what teenagers are for, right?).

 

2. Day Trips

What are the best off-the-beaten-path day trips in your area? We live near Crater Lake National Park, and it’s breathtakingly gorgeous in the springtime. It’s the bluest blue and something everyone should see before they die. And yet places like that in all our communities fall to the bottom of the priority list because they’re so close that you either forget about them or figure they’ll always be there for a later time. Go NOW! (TIP: On the way home hit the mall and make a sulky teen smile.)

 

1. Relax. Enjoy Your Family (for a change)

Sometimes we forget what it’s like to just BE together. The hustle and bustle of daily life—kid’s crazy school and extracurricular schedules and daily homework; volunteer hours; church dinners; not to mention dad’s travel time—are all on hold during a spring break stay-cation. Enjoy the down time and even the “boredom” time because it won’t last for long. Sleep in, eat cereal for dinner, wear your PJs all day, and above all RELAX. Chill out. Dare I say it? Do nothing!

 

 

 

 

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Does Mom Age Gracefully (or Forgetfully)?

I’ll be 39 in a few weeks.

And—what a surprise—I have a few special wishes for my birthday. First, I want a pair of red boots. A little sparkle, a little kick to make my black boots jealous. And second, I want a new practical, yet “girly,” watch. I wear the time on my sleeve, non-stop. In the shower, to bed, to fancy occasions—everywhere, so it has to be functional and please, can it be pretty too?

There’s one more thing I want for my birthday. I want to stop feeling so old!?

Nearly 40 isn’t all that ancient after all!

Okay, yes the usual aging suspects are tiptoeing in. At night I can’t read the CNN news ticker. My weight is getting harder to control; I almost lost those 10 pounds from the beginning of the school year, but a few pounds always find their way back home to my hips no matter what I try. My husband will tell you my hearing is starting to slide—I’ll tell you I don’t always WANT to hear him! And wrinkles, what is that about? SO not fair.

But the thing that is really disturbing me—making me think I’m officially crossing over—is my memory. Or, my “lack thereof” lately? Plus it doesn’t help that my daughter is playing the song “Memory” from Cats over and over on the piano for an upcoming recital! Good luck getting that out of your head!

My husband has been traveling so much in the last 5 months, he’s beginning to resemble George Clooney in the film “Up in the Air.” It’s really dragging on me as a not-quite “single mom,” which in turn drags on the kids. I’ve even hired an after school assistant to help me with some of the chaos when my husband is out of town. But, still? I’m forgetting small things!

 A little taste of what I mean...

 I left a pork tenderloin out all night that was “thawing for just a few hours.” I completely forgot to put it in fridge before bedtime. The next morning I trashed it, too worried about salmonella to cook it.

 One morning I walked out to start the car and realized I had left the garage door open all night. I should have written a sign that said: “Burglars welcome from 2-4 a.m.; the good stuff is in the back!”

 I bought really nice steaks the other day, on sale, intending to save and freeze them for the next Sunday dinner…only, a few days later I noticed a strange grocery sack sitting on the garage floor. It was over by the deep freezer…yeah, it was the steaks. I had walked over to the deep freezer, set the bag down, opened the freezer, probably rearranged frozen peas and carrots, and then “distraction(?)”  took over and I left the steaks to babysit themselves while I meandered into the house. I was so disgusted with myself!

 Is it really my memory though? (All alone in the moooon-light?)

This is the stuff that’s making me crazy. Is it really my age? I think it’s more like I'm overwhelmed with the kids’ never ending needs, my own work, and, you know, all the household tasks like remembering to take out the trash! Why can’t I simply remember to walk through the kitchen one last time before bedtime?!

Maybe my new birthday watch will have extra alarms for Forgetful, Overwhelmed Mommy Syndrome? Is that asking too much? Otherwise I’m taking my new boots and going for a long walk! (NOT in the moonlight.)

 

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Kids Grow Up So Fast...And I Like It That Way!

Paper airplanes are taking over my living room.

In the past few months my little boy has developed an origami obsession, and The “Great Paper Beast” has vomited all over my house (see photo). It’s getting on my claustrophobic nerves. I remarked about the paper airplane “Olympics” my kids hosted in my living room and a Twitter friend said, “I miss those days.”

What days,” I wondered? The days of having your kitchen plastered in kindergarten art projects? OR A little boy’s ongoing obsession with all things paper folding? Because, dude, I’ll trade all this paper glamour for ONE whole paper-free afternoon!

Reminds me of when my kids were very small and the little old lady dressed as a cliché accosted me in the supermarket, saying, “Oh how cute! Enjoy them while they’re young, it goes so fast.” I thought, “Lady? Maybe you should take these babies home for 2 hours, and see if you can remember what it is REALLY like!”

Because folks have selective memory when it comes to vomit-covered nights, 2 year whining phases and, of course, paper folding fixations.

I know I’m supposed to yearn for chubby baby smells or toddler mischief. But I just can’t do it. I can’t help myself; I enjoy living in the moment, and, even more, I LOVE dreaming about the next phase. (And the next, and the next…)

When my youngest was potty trained and could buckle himself in the car seat I literally celebrated! What did that mean for me? F-R-E-E-D-O-M. If only a few seconds of extra freedom from all that buckling while running around after the older siblings. I once counted how many times I buckled him into his seat in one day…let’s just say it was A LOT!

Now I’m staring down the barrel of a teen who’s less than a year from a learners driving permit. (I know? How did THAT happen?) And even this fearful stage doesn’t provoke nostalgia for the younger version of her.

Don’t tell her—but I’m secretly THRILLED she’ll be driving soon. And in a few years, I can’t wait to drive off on a mother-daughter college-tour road trip. I’m not saying I’m looking forward to boyfriends and the dating crap sure to follow, but what mom isn’t excited to take photos of her kiddo dressed for her first prom?!

And after all, the paper airplane thing is partly my fault. I searched high and low for a how-to “Klutz”-brand book on folding the best airplanes. I sat down with him and helped create a fleet of dive-bombers, until it was clear he didn’t need my help. I bought an origami how-to bible and a ream of square folding paper.

I take full responsibility for his recent engineering obsession.

I’m just ready to move on to the next fascination.

(Hopefully it’s not bottle rockets!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teenage Girls Are Messy, and What IS That Smell?!

No one told me teenage girls are so messy! (And stinky?)

 

My oldest daughter is downright disgusting when it comes to her room and her laundry, and I’m scared to look under her bed. Her little sister (poor thing shares a room with the hoarding/moping/older girl monster), however, is a neat freak and the two DO NOT a happy shared-bedroom sisterhood make!! (The photo shown is an actual picture of my daughters’ shared bedroom. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.)

 

Movies and sitcoms make it clear that teenage boys are the stinky ones, not girls, and so I was led to believe that:

 

  • Boys leave slices of pizza to mold under blankets
  • Their gym socks get up and walk away on their own
  • In general, body odors from boys are much worse than girls

 

Well, I beg to differ.

 

Girls stink. Sorry, there’s no easy way to share this with you. The teen thing sets in STRONG by 14 years old and a mom can nag and whine, but no matter how many showers—and despite industrial strength deodorant—there is still a just-woke-up, morning girl smell that could knock over a hippo.

 

I once heard a child psychology expert talking about teens and bedrooms. He said you really have to think about their rooms like hotel rooms. When you’re on vacation you aren’t there for the hotel room; instead, you’re all about the stuff to do in the city you’re visiting. And it’s like that for teens. Their bedroom often is simply a stopover and a refueling place for the next “thing.”

 

My teen lately spends more time at school and at play practice than at home (including sleeping). And since she has nowhere near enough time to do that plus her chores and her schoolwork, and spend time with the family—which is more important to me right now than a super clean room—I’m trying to let it go.  

 

A lot of that will change, however, when her high school musical is over (they’re staging a production of “Anything Goes!”) We’ll get her back in all her smells-like-teen-spirit glory in a month, after the play!

 

So which is it, SchoolFamily.com readers? Do girls win the "Teen Disgusting Bedroom Award" or is it boys who have a corner on the reeking stench market?

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Attention Stay/Work at Home Moms: Is It Okay To Hire An Assistant?

In my former life I was a molecular biologist. I know. Weird huh?

 

Except working in a lab is a lot like, well… cooking. Mixing up recipes (only much more precise than a dash of this and pinch of that), and growing vats of various bacteria and other stinky stuff.

 

But in reality, I haven’t seen the inside of a working lab since the turn of the century. The closest I get is laughing at the folks on CSI with their fancy equipment, pristine labs, and lightning speed with which they “sequence a human genome”...um yeah, NOT something that happens overnight people.

 

Yet try as I might to prevent it, I still find “science projects” growing in my fridge! Plus often you can find me experimenting on a new cake recipe, tweaking the ingredients just enough to fit my “dessert” hypothesis better. (I’ll be testing out a new banana/chocolate cake theory later tonight!)

 

I moved into full-time-mom mode when my oldest was about 18 months. Yes, I chose to become a SAHM. (Note: the recognizable abbreviation for "Stay At Home Mom" had not yet been invented.) Two babies later, and then two states later, my youngest was finally old enough to enter kindergarten. In case you’re confused, I am NOT one of the moms you’d catch outside the first day of class with tissues. No. I was more likely headed out the door to my well-deserved first day of school pedicure!

 

 

I have been “working from home” for the past 3 years. I’m thinking about having desk plates made that say: WAHM (Work At Home Mom). And my work? Well, I basically fell into this thing called blogging. I write on my own blog, GoodNCrazy.com. I’m also the “Good N Crazy Mom” blogger here at SchoolFamily.com, and I work with a handful of small clients, doing project management for their social media marketing. And I’ll be darned if I’m not having a total blast! Best of both worlds, as the saying goes.

 

I pay a tidy share of the family mortgage and last year my biggest goal was to buy (with my own money) a fabulous desk! (Check.) I’m enjoying it right now as I sip my morning cocoa and type away.

 

However, a problem has arisen in that my children’s afterschool needs are heavily eating into my “work at home” time. I’m talking carpooling and piano schlepping and late evening dinner delivery to starving teens at their play rehearsal! And my husband’s recent increase in whirlwind around-the-world travel has created a level of stress in my world that I can only compare to having a newborn again.

 

Fast forward to my husband’s suggestion: Hire an assistant. A what? Me?

 

But I’m a WAHM? We don’t need no stinkin’ help. We do it ALL. I create fabulous Valentine family dinners, I volunteer with Cub Scouts, I keep my daughters dressed modestly, and pay attention to their hobbies and talents. Isn’t it against the code of WAHM ethics to hire an assistant?!

 

Well, I did it.

 

A month ago, my husband was gone for 3 weeks straight. And it finally pushed this proverbial mom over the edge.

 

I hired Brooke, a college kid (pictured in the above photo with two of my kids), to help me out in the afternoons for a few hours twice a week. (WOW, who knew what kind of savior that would be?) Let me tell you, I’m a cheapskate; I make those paid hours SING! I get more done in 3 hours than several days combined at times. And knowing dinner is often started, dishes are tidied, and I’m not stressing because my freshman had a change in plans and needs to be picked up—“right NOW! Mom!”—is a huge relief on several levels.

 

Oh and no one’s complaining when cupcakes magically appear upon return from Scouts!

 

I’ve officially changed my tune. I now believe a home assistant for a WAHM who “thinks” she can do it all is the sweetest melody I’ve heard in months!

 

What do you think? Have I crossed over the unwritten stay-at-home-mom-rules?

 

Am I in danger of losing my WAHM “street cred”?

 

 

 

 

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Confident Child Syndrome: Letter To My Pre-Teen Daughter

Dear 11-year-old daughter,

 

You are smart, cute, witty, and have a spirit about you not usually found in a girl your age.

 

Earlier this year when you ran for student government and easily won the “popular” vote for vice president of your elementary school, I was amazed. Fifth grade class subjects glide into your brain like you were born with them. I realize school isn’t always challenging, but I’m impressed with how you deal with the occasional boredom by getting creative. Do you know that teachers (both school and Sunday school) reach out to tell me, “I love having your daughter in class, she has the best laugh.”?

 

Your art skills are more advanced than most kids twice your age! You have an eye for color and design that makes me jealous. Your desire is to organize your world and increase the beauty around you, and you make me proud to be your mom. 

 

You make friends with everyone, and everyone wants to be your friend. You are competent in both a large group of differing personalities and in a one-on-one setting with a socially slower friend. And I’ve stopped being surprised when you shine in a dance class and regularly win the “front and center” recital spot (although being short could have something to do with that, I’ll admit.) In gymnastics you excel, and in the schoolyard monkey bars grow out of your arms!

 

You are a mother’s dream daughter.

 

HOWEVER. I’m worried. (I’m a mother after all.)

 

I’m worried about your beautiful confidence blossoming into an ugly shade of pride.

 

I want what every mother wants for her daughter: I wish you happiness in your 5th grade world and in junior high, high school, and far into college. I want you to love yourself and find profound pleasure within, never relying on others to determine the best in you, but to discover for yourself where and how you will sparkle.

 

Please cultivate empathy early. When an algebra concept is easy for your brain to attack and you realize that others might be struggling, I hope you’ll ask if you can help—instead of saying out loud. “Gee, that was easy for me, what’s wrong with you?”

 

When a friend is struggling because she doesn’t understand why her group of gal pals isn’t talking to her, I hope you can see the bigger picture and help her through the trial.

 

Because putting yourself in others’ shoes is a talent that will help you the most in your life.

 

I know boys are imminent in your future. And I want you to meet and fall in love with a spouse who will love you and cherish you, and of course I want grandbabies…but not for about 15 years!

 

I promise you will meet your husband in college (not high school)! High school is for learning about yourself and for figuring out your personal style and your desires. A 16 year old may think she’s in love, but she’ll also think she’s in love at 17, and again at 18, and again and again. High school is for dating! Remember to have fun!

 

You know I’m your mother and that I worry about every tiny tidbit. Simply said, this is what I most want for you:

 

While knowing you are incredible with almost everything you touch,

I want you to be mindful of others first and to always remember

to stuff your pride under your pillow!

 

Love,

Your Mother

 

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Is Romance Dead For A Busy Family? One GoodnCrazy Plan for Valentine's Day

 

 Valentine’s Day is around the corner. What’s a busy mom to do? After throwing all our creativity (and plenty of Pinterest searching) into kids’ Valentine’s Day friend cards, I have no time to find a fabulous gift for my sweetheart. Instead I’m thinking we should create a wonderful family-fun night with dinner, candles, pink cupcakes, and call it a “Valentine Family Date”?

 

And if we do, does it mean romance is dead?

 

Oh wait… Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday?! Rewind. Scratch the homemade menu and fancy decorations. Tuesday afternoons=non-stop chaos and driving; piano lessons (round trip times 2); extra afternoon trips back to pick up the teen from play practice; and little boy has chess. What am I forgetting? Something… Oh yeah Tuesday means “old lady basketball” night. And I’m not giving that up for Valentine’s Day!

 

Time to send out a Valentine Mayday! (Do they make heart shaped pizzas? Blogger Brooke Leigh does; see her pizza photo above!

 

My GoodNCrazy Valentine’s Day game plan for this year includes:

Plan Ahead—The night before, rope the kids into creating a special dessert for our Valentine Family Date on Feb. 14. We’re choosing between a giant heart shaped cookie; Pink Lemonade Cake (my vote!); or tri colored cherry-chocolate cupcake brownies. Or, it could be any one of these equally delish sounding recipes for Valentine’s Day found on SchoolFamily.com’s Pinterest page.

 

Order Pizza For Dinner—Everyone wins with pizza. Mom can relax, and kid bellies are happy. (Another option would be to purchase store bought pizza dough and let all create their own mini pizzas with favorite toppings. Heart-shaped, optional.)

 

Keep Romance Alive with a Bit of Surprise—I’ll warn his secretary in advance that I’m planning a surprise attack on my husband’s office. Before he gets there, Love Bomb his door with heart Post-it notes, then leave a Valentine Card and treat on his desk, and, finally, show up with a “picnic” lunch from his favorite take-out joint.

 

Adult Time on the Weekend—I bought Friday night play tickets for a community theater (my sweetheart has a soft spot for local drama). The babysitting arrangements are already made, and two other couples are meeting us for dinner before the play!

 

See, who says romance is dead? You can have it all! Family time AND a hint of romance.

 

How do you fit in romance for Valentine’s Day?

 

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Teens' Low-Rise Pant Fashion Nightmare: Is Mom the Enemy?

My freshman asked me to drop her off early for school near the corner bakery. She wanted to grab a hot cocoa with a friend before school.

 

Upon rounding the corner, several older students were monopolizing the outdoor seating. Without a thought I turned and looked at the group. One girl sitting down was…um… to put it nicely… showing her whole backside. Also known as her “crackside.”

 

I turned to my daughter and said, “THAT is why I make a big deal out of your clothing choices each day.”

 

What is the deal with teen falling-down pants? Who decided lower inseams are better (and “even lower” is best of all)? Belts are no help when your pants don’t reach halfway up your derrière in the first place. I don’t care if you are skinny, tall, short or muffin topped—crack is NOT attractive!

 

I dare you to find a pair of remotely mom-approved jeans these days from Walmart, Target, TJMaxx, or any other teen clothing mecca. You can’t do it. They don’t exist. They stopped manufacturing jeans with a normal “rise” circa 2005. (I made that up—but it totally seems like it.)

 

So what’s a mom to do? How do I beat the inseam lowering standards of teen youth today?

 

I call it saving my daughter from “crackside’”exposure. I love the increase in shirt “layering” styles. We stock up on extremely long T-shirts, tank tops and camisoles whenever we find them. All colors all the time, is my motto.

 

I think we’re keeping ModBod brand in business with just my two daughters alone. You can find sets of 2 pack long tank tops in Costco from time to time. LOVE that! If you haven’t checked it out… go. You’ll thank me.

 

Another option is the stretchy bands of fabric meant to cover from the mid-tummy down past the tops of pants, a faux under-layer of T-shirt. We haven’t gone this route. But I’m tempted to try making my own. Cheetah print anyone?

 

When my daughter whines at me after I ask her to add a layer or pull her shirt down, I say, “Remember, I love you enough to cover you.”

 

Please tell me someone out there has more solutions to the low-rise pants fashion nightmare?

 

 

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Little Boys and Lego Woes

My little boy (see photo) loves Legos. Okay. What 7-year-old boy doesn’t?

 

However he loves them for about 10 minutes. Or as long as it takes him to put together the elaborate “puzzle” of pieces via the boxed instructions. And dang, he’s unbelievably good at putting them together with picture-instructions and no words! (A grown-up’s worst nightmare.)

 

Then they’re cleaned up.

 

Fast forward to after the cleanup.

 

They sit in a Lego graveyard, and he never builds with them again. That is, until a new box of vacuum-destroying pieces show up. He received a huge K’NEX  rollercoaster set for Christmas and spent the whole holiday break putting the monster together, but got frustrated at the last step—and it’s sitting in a corner, only nearly-finished.

 

Will the same thing play out again and again? Once he “puts the puzzle” together, will that will be the end of it? Take it apart, load it into a bin, and forget about it?

 

Because we are running out of bins.

 

Is my kid the only one who loves building with a new set… only the first time?

 

I’m thinking we should track down the puzzle glue and weld these various contraptions together for display on a shelf (at least then they’d get some decorative use!). Oh, but the mom-voice in my head says: “Don’t do it! Think about the dust it’ll capture. And what will you do with the Lego City when he heads off to college? Who wants hand-me-down Legos all glued together!?”

 

Beyond Legos, where else will this lead? With all the dirty laundry he piles up around his room, should we create a statue of stinky clothes? (Or a mountain of forgotten, lost and half-mated socks?) How about a special shelf devoted to depressed board games with orphaned pieces? No.  I’ve got it. We’ll create a shrine to his messiest (and most loved) science projects. The Bubble Bonanza. The Volcano of Terror. And of course the Stinky Cabbage Color Experiment!

 

That shelf is gonna be crowded!

 

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My Teen’s Love/Hate Relationship With Science: A Corn Story

My freshman daughter hates science. Okay, maybe hate is a too strong a word, but she sure doesn’t love it. And that’s all very sad for me since I have a biology degree and made university research my home for 8 years!  She works hard nonetheless and this year she’s studying biology.

 

Her class has been assigned to read the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. One thing is certain: She hates this book. I’m talking visceral, primal, with-all-her heart kind of hate. For the past 6 weeks my family has been swimming in an ocean of teen whining and complaining.

 

The non-fiction book starts out chronicling the life and times of the humble corn plant. And that’s the problem. It goes on and on (and on) about corn. It’s dry, boring and seriously stinky reading for a high school student more accustomed to Harry Potter and “Expelliarmus Spells.”

 

As part of the project, she had to look up 10 common food items in our pantry and note which had corn products in them. She realized nearly every item from crackers to soda pop to all sorts of condiments contained corn in one of its various forms. More interestingly, while completing this assignment, my younger two kids couldn’t help but listen and (shockers!) learn along with her.

 

The other night 3 teen girls were in my kitchen making peanut butter brownie bar (Carissa's  daughter is second from left in photo), surrounded by two of her friends. About half of the conversation during the mixing and baking consisted of bits and pieces related to the sinister corn syrups and corn stabilizers. (I think the propaganda is getting to them.)

 

So, for a book she (and all her friends) detest so much, why are they talking about it non-stop? I sent a note to her teacher after the brownie incident to share what I was hearing and seeing at home. And to thank her for creating the love/hate relationship my kid has with this book! How strange—could it be she’s actually learning from a dry, boring, and realistic book? OR, weirder, that she might like it?

 

The class hasn’t finished the book yet, but I plan to steal it from her when she’s done. I want to know why the unfortunate corn plant has become so despised. 

 

I do have one kid (my little boy) who loves all things science. And now seeing my daughter diving in and maybe liking a little of it as well, perhaps my genes did transfer after all?

 

 

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Make Martin Luther King Day a Family Day of Service

Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did you know Martin Luther King Day has morphed into an official “Day of Service?” If you check the website, MLKDay.gov, you’ll see that they suggest “Making it a Day On, Not a Day Off.”

What a great idea. What an even greater idea to make Monday a day of service with your family!

I thought about the things our family does and about any service projects we organized or attended, and at first I couldn’t think of a single thing. How could that be?

And then I thought harder about it. I discovered that volunteering and serving with your family happens all the time! Here are some of the many tiny wonderful ways:

Neighborhood sneak and treat. We made treats every week in November and part of December, and delivered them to unsuspecting neighbors—doorbell ditching and running!

Cub Scout pop (soda) can drive. As a Cub Scout leader I helped the boys recycle and use the money to purchase a holiday gift to “give back” to a 10 year old foster kid. (My family saved all our cans for a whole month, happily donating them for a good cause.)

Church food drive for pantry. As a family we participated with our church by hand delivering empty grocery sacks with a note about our group’s service project. A week later we collected all the bags, which were filled with donated food items, and also donated a generous cash amount to the local food bank. (Did you know $1 in cash is worth $12 of buying power to your local food bank?)

School PTO service in the form of time. I thought about listing all the various events, fundraisers, and school projects I’ve been involved in over the past 10 years … Instead, I’ll just point out that this year my official PTO role is coordinating the yearly Elementary School Rummage Sale. Does that sound exciting or what!?

Chili dinner holiday party. Recently I volunteered to organize a chili dinner for a holiday party. I used VolunteerSpot.com to organize all the volunteers, and the free online sign up sheets made it easy to get more parents involved! (And don’t tell, but I didn’t have to cook a single bean!)

We are a foster family. For several years now we have hosted multiple children in our home who’ve needed a loving, safe environment while their parents work to put their lives back together. My children have benefited in more ways than I can count, so on a big level we often feel like the recipients of the service!

Donate to the United Way. We donate to our local United Way. Not a lot, but every little bit counts, right? We also donate a tithing to our church—even the children pay attention and pay their tiny share.

I was surprised when I realized all the different ways we help and give back in our community. Not all of these examples are “organized service projects,” but it made me realize how easy it is to serve others. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re doing it!

I will be sitting down with my kids this week and asking them to help me come up with a “Day of Service” plan of attack for next Monday. Should we surprise some neighbors and clean up their yards? Or maybe we’ll take a bunch of paper and card making supplies to a local nursing home and help the residents make birthday cards for their families or for each other! How about creating a basket of gently used items—toys, blankets, coats, and a pretty dress or two—and delivering it to a local women’s shelter?

What will you do with your family on your day off—I mean—your day ON?!

>Martin Luther King Jr. Day worksheets and printables

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My Daughter’s On Facebook; What Are The Rules?

When it was time for my daughter to start using Facebook, we read articles, talked to Internet safety experts, and researched Facebook terms of service (TOS) rules for children. (Did you know children younger than 13 aren't allowed to have an account, according to Facebook’s TOS?) Then we sat down with her and explained the rules, both the Facebook rules and our “family” rules. Here they are:

 

  • Your parents will know your password

 

  • You will be Facebook “friends” with your parents

 

  • Your privacy settings will always be set to the highest level

 

  • You will only have friends on your account who you know in real life and who are only one year older or one year younger (to adjust as she gets older)

 

  • Mom is allowed to read your private messages

 

 

And just like that, she took off flying, learning the ins and outs of Facebook behavior faster than she could whip out her mascara wand.

 

But the thing is… no one tells Mom how she should act on social networks once her kid joins in the fun! I mean, wham!—you gotta be careful what you say from now on. That funny inside joke your girlfriend shared? Unless it’s PG13 (or less) you’ll need to censor how you respond and whether you will re-share it. Maybe you’ll want to change how your updates are viewed: just friends or allow friends of friends? (Can your daughter’s friends see your updates and photos? Um, WEIRD.) And have you made a decision about whether your child is allowed to  “friend” teachers?

 

I have no idea what I’m supposed to do when her friends want to be “friends” with me? Should I friend all of her friends? Where do I draw the line?

 

Isn’t it all a bit strange?

 

In case you’re wondering, there aren’t social media “parenting” experts to contact, or Facebook “parent how-to’s.” Nope, you get to wing it and hope for the best.

 

My husband, however, bravely marches into her social networking world. He “likes”  a post of hers here and there, and finds ways to joke with her on her turf. Me, not so much; I prefer to let her do her thing and watch from afar. That’s starting to change though…

 

We are gradually crossing paths more often. Recently, I suggested a yummy cookie dough truffle recipe she should make. (I mean what’s a teen for if not gourmet chocolate-dipped treat-making?) Later she responded to an update of mine, saying that a clarification was needed (ahem) after I’d posted a fabulous photo of cupcakes. She wanted to be sure everyone knew that she was the actual cupcake decorator (but I swear I baked them!).

 

Maybe there’s something a mom can learn about her relationship with her daughter via social media—who would have guessed? I’ve observed how my daughter is careful of others’ feelings even in the online sphere. And yes, she is definitely boy crazy—OY! But I’ve also seen her humor and creative intelligence blossom and I don’t think I’d have seen that otherwise. And I think she watches how I handle my relationships with my husband, my family, and my friends. I’d like to know what she sees and what she’s learned about her mother via this thing called Facebook.

 

What are you learning about your kids while watching them play in the social media world? Have you learned any parenting lessons? ‘Cuz I’d love to hear your tips!

 

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10 Resolutions for 2012 This GoodNCrazy Mom’s NOT Making

January is having a staring contest with me.

There’s less than a week left of 2011 and I feel like the past year is making fun of all my goals. It knows what I accomplished, it knows what I failed. It knows the big ‘4-0h’ birthday is waiting to knock the wind out of my 30-something self.

But this coming year I am not going to let New Year’s resolutions get the best of me. Because I’m NOT going to make any. That’s right, Mr. 2012, you can take your ball and go home. Here are 10 GoodNCrazy resolutions I am NOT going to accomplish this year.

  • I am NOT going to get enough sleep. With 3 children, piles of dishes, mountains of laundry, 23 DVR’d “House” episodes, and multiple cell phone alarms, all starting at 6:20 a.m.—each urging me to do this, remember that, and leave the house no less than 10x before noon—who needs sleep?!
  • I am NOT going to listen more. I know I talk too much and I’m too loud. If after nearly 40 years I haven’t been able to change that fault, why should I start now?
  • I am NOT going to spend more “one-on-one time” with my kids… so far they’ve turned out okay, and we have all that car-pool time to have meaningful chats right? I’ll start texting them more instead.
  • I am NOT going to travel more. With a husband constantly traveling to various continents and time zones, this mom will be staying home, sipping hot cocoa, and wearing her new Christmas slippers, thankyouverymuch!  (Besides, for me, one ocean hopping trip per 5 years is plenty!)
  • I am NOT going to be Marge-In-Charge at PTO. Instead this year I will be the soldier. I will volunteer my time at the book fair and the elementary school rummage sale. When they ask for volunteers to fill out the board, I will be out filling up the water pitcher.
  • I am NOT going to find more “me time.” Sometimes I feel like I’m bathing in me, me, me; of course it’s my children’s voices I hear in my head not my own inner sanctum getting a blissful (and badly needed) pedicure. But, oh well…
  • I am NOT going to exercise more. Wait… actually I am. (Shhh, don’t tell the resolution police!)

  • I am NOT going to pay more attention to little details. When there is a friend in need, a sick neighbor, or my husband has sore feet at the end of the day, I’m simply going to begin chanting: I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you.
  • I am NOT going to take a digital photography class. I’ve only wanted to do this for the last 7 years of my life. What’s one more year? (2013, watch out; I plan to digitally re-master you till you cry.)
  • Finally, I am NOT going to make any resolutions this year.

So, if you catch me sleeping-in past 7, baking a casserole for my pregnant friend, sneaking into a digital photography course, or raising my hand to chair a PTO fundraiser…pretend you don’t see me. Just wink and turn around very slowly. 

So, what Un-Resolutions are you going to make this year?

 

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Handmade Gifts Kids Can Make for Their School-Age Friends

For many years now, we had a no-gift policy for our kids’ birthday parties. We even went so far as to let people know any gifts brought would be graciously donated to a local shelter.

However we soon had to amend our “no-gift” rule when a friend asked about making a gift instead. One of the reasons we created the no-gift rule was that gifts were often plastic store-bought items and we felt the point of the party was to celebrate a birthday, not host an “open the plastic gizmo” event.

But a thoughtful handmade, gift? Sure, that made sense, and soon we were saying, “Bring on the handmade presents!” 

Now we apply the handmade idea to holiday gift giving too. Since my older kiddos usually want to give Christmas gifts to several of their school friends, we think up easy, affordable, handmade items. Ideas like "Hot Chocolate in A Cup," posted at SchoolFamily.com, is a super simple gift a child can make with just a little assembly help from an adult.

As the kids have grown older the gifts have become more sophisticated. At first it was a paper bookmark tied to a candy bar. More recently, however, my oldest has sewn simple elastic skirts for holiday gifts. And this year my 5th grader has made a bunch of beaded elastic bracelets for her BFFs.

Here are some of our other ideas. Hope they help your kids come up with the perfect handmade gifts for their friends (TIP: These gift ideas can also do double duty as Teacher Holiday Gifts!):

  • Christmas Ornaments: I love the elegant look of the White Finnish Star ornaments from CraftIdeas.info. They’re simple to make with strips of paper and glue sticks!
  • Beaded Rings: Instead of bracelets, make up a bunch of rings out of small beads and stretchy elastic cording. Then stretch them around a tube of lip gloss as part of the gift! (Keep extras for another gift giving event).

In addition, SchoolFamily.com fellow blogger Connie McCarthy, also a teacher, suggests these easy-to-make gifts in one of her recent blog posts.

Does gift giving (or receiving) give you stress during the holidays? Have you ever tried giving homemade gifts? If so, was it wonderful or a huge flop? Let me know!

 

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Can We Postpone The Holiday Hustle and Bustle?

A few years ago, my husband’s office holiday party was postponed ’till January because they simply couldn’t find a Friday night to host it. However, that party was quite possibly the best (better late than never) holiday party I’ve ever been to! We laughed and snorted just as hard at the white elephant gifts, which were still wrapped in red and gold paper with sparkly bows and candy canes—just as if it’d been December. And we definitely enjoyed the evening together sans kid and without the stress of two other events the same night!

 

It got me thinking …

 

What if we could postpone some of the crazy, umpteen, school holiday events? If we did, would I get laughed out of the PTO? Would my Facebook page light up with criticisms and Bah Humbugs? Or would I get extra eggnog at the next parent-teacher conference?!

 

I’m being serious. Think about it. Would it be so terrible to have a band concert the last week of January? Half the time there are only a few Christmas songs on the playlist, and it’s been renamed the Winter Concert as it is. I don’t know about you, but we get more snow in February than December anyway!

 

Imagine if the piano and dance recitals, the band and choir concerts, or even the 2nd grade school play were delayed until January? You know what that would do? It would allow my family to concentrate on OUR holiday in a way that focuses on FAMILY TIME.

 

I’ll volunteer to host the ugly sweater party in February! Cookie exchanges? Oh honey, I’m game for cookies year-round!

 

Why do we insist on heaping numerous activities and parties into 2 or 3 short weeks in December? Maybe the answer is in picking and choosing and letting the things slide that aren’t high on your family’s priority list, and then making an even bigger deal of the events that mean the most to you and yours.

 

For my family that holiday priority list would include the occasions where my whole family is involved. Things like church Christmas parties—where the teenager is involved with wrapping little kid gifts, the younger kids sing Christmas carols, and my husband cooks up 14 hams. Another tradition I wouldn’t postpone are our Monday family service nights where we bake up treats and deliver them secretly to neighbors, (they always know it’s us, and we can’t figure out how!). Extended family gatherings will always be high on our list as well as several other community—and yes, school—holiday events.

 

I’m not suggesting we postpone EVERY holiday event…but there must be way to make the holidays less chaotic, because December in my world is crazy right now!

 

What usually-held-in-December event would you postpone for a month or two?

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Rewards, Movies, and Holiday Parties? Oh My!

Is any work getting done in school during the holiday months?

I recently came across a Facebook group discussion about using classrooms using movies as a reward for everything from meeting accelerated reader (AR) reading goals to good behavior. The main complaint was that movies chosen seem to be mindless. And one mom complained that it was the second movie her kid had watched in two weeks (as a reward for “good behavior” the first time.)

This former PTO president wondered why the reward has to come in the form of a movie. Mr. Bean’s Vacation is worse than mindless and certainly isn’t teaching kids anything but pop culture pointlessness.

Plus, realize that this “reward party/movie” comes on the heels of November, a month where there was only one full week of school! Do the kids really deserve a “break?”

December has only a few weeks of school time as it is. Add holiday parties and probable breaks and “reward” days and you might not see even half the days in December instructed either.

Personally I absolutely think kids deserve breaks during the school year, and “reward parties” are certainly a viable way to encourage reading and good behavior.

But maybe it’s time to brainstorm with your school about ways to better celebrate an achievement.

My 6 Alternatives to Mindless Movie Rewards in School

  • An extra art day
  • Going for a nature walk/hike
  • Educational or historic movies
  • Working on a service project
  • Read-A-Thon afternoons
  • Extra recesses

What types of breaks would you suggest as rewards for kids during the holidays—or year round for that matter!? Does your school overdo the break/reward system? How do you feel about movies as rewards?

 

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"Yes, Virginia—Grades Do Matter" Or, My Attempt to Make My Kids See It This Way

It’s that time of year: time to stress about sending holiday cards, time to battle the shopping frenzy, time to sneak one last glass of eggnog (I’m not judging); oh, and time for REPORT CARDS!

 For years now it’s been a simple stampede of S for satisfactory and N for needs improvement and E for….(what the heck is E for anyway)?

 We made it through junior high with mostly As, and a few Bs sprinkled in for spice. Not bad we thought. And it’s all practice and building and preparing for high school, right?

 As a parent what can you really expect from your high school student? Do they really understand as a freshman that these grades matter? As in—matter which college, and matter how much money out of their pocket, oh and the little matter of affording to EAT during the college years or not?

 The other night my 5th grader was listening to a conversation my freshman and I were having about whether getting one B is really all that big of a deal. The younger one said, “Who cares about grades anyway?” (She thinks a report card is just a piece of paper you bring home and shove in a box along with 3rd grade sloppy essays and glitter covered kindergarten art.)

 I explained in no uncertain terms.

 Grades DO matter. College matters. And it’s getting more and more expensive. Scholarships will make a huge difference and good grades will decide the bottom line in the university money game.

I simply expect my kids to do their best. Do I want them to get straight As? You bet your 10th grade report card I do! I know it’s important to be realistic and supportive. If my kid is struggling to pull a B in geometry and I see her spending extra time and effort, then a B is perfect and we’ll celebrate with all 31 flavors! But what do you do when you see a B on midterms and then find out assignments are missing and a recent test was a flop, (a test they can re-take by the way)?

That’s when it’s time to jump in and help the kid understand this isn’t junior high  anymore, and S for Satisfactory is in the far distant past. When all the kid’s other classes result in As but one class is lagging, it’s time to pull out your pom poms and short skirt and start up the Parent Cheer Squad. It’s time to help your freshman learn the fine art of STUDYING. And TIME MANAGEMENT. And PRIORITIES.

Okay, yes we took away texting for a few weeks.

We limited any type of “screen” time after 8 p.m.

And we made it clear we believe she can do better, and met with the teacher to map out exactly how.

It may sound like I’m doing the work for her, but I already took geometry (and memorizing all those theorems isn’t something I’d ever repeat)!  We will love and support all of our kids despite a little thing like grades. But until the last bell rings, we’re here to cheer our kids to do their best and send them off to college with the skills to put the smackdown on the 101 crowd.

Do grades matter? Yes.

Does it matter when you help your kids do their best? Absolutely.

Does parent involvement matter? Ask me again in 4 years.

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A Gratitude Shout-Out From Our “SchoolFamily” To Yours

 

Our family’s world revolves around the activities of our three school-age kids.  And as much as it often looks like we don’t know whether we’re coming or going… all those activities we’re involved in are things we choose to do and wouldn’t change.

  • Free guitar lessons on Wednesdays? Great. We’re in.
  • Chess Club starting on Monday? Perfect; where do we sign up?
  • 5th grade Scarecrow Crafting contests! (Please bid on the…um, “creative” creations? Yes, but if I win the auction will it be okay if we don’t bring it home? The wet hay stinks!)

If you think about it, all these activities and extras, whether during or after school, are all thanks in huge part to brave volunteers and already-weary teachers who go the extra mile and take the time to care.

Chess Club, for example, is run by Mr. Young, a 4th grade teacher. He’s been checkmating 2nd through 6th graders long enough to know college-age kids who used to be on his team! That scarecrow bonanza owes its brain to a room mom who spent umpteen hours rounding up multiple parents to help with supplies and valuable time. And the music teacher who spends her Wednesdays teaching young kids to strum a mean Kumbayah? She doesn’t get paid for that; it’s on her own string.

All around us in our extended “SchoolFamily,” there are numerous people that we’re grateful for. I’ve created a list of just a few specific to our family; Who are YOU grateful for in YOUR community’s “SchoolFamily?”

  • All our schoolteachers of course! We totally get that they are a huge influence in our children’s lives. And if there is ever a job that doesn’t get enough thanks it’s that of being a teacher. Our “SchoolFamily” supports and thanks ALL of our teachers!
  • The SMART reading volunteers across our whole town. Hundreds of SMART volunteers (stands for Start Making A Reader Today) read one-on-one in schools to younger grades. Thanks to all those participating in a reading program that really hits the needed mark.
  • After-school activity teachers and leaders. We’re grateful to our piano teacher, art teacher, volleyball volunteer coaches, T-Ball coach—and of course we can’t forget the drama coach! Over the years we’ve had ballet teachers, karate teachers, and multiple other types of teachers—thank you to all.
  • Church/Youth Group volunteers. We are always grateful to Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, and Cub Scout leaders who are all volunteers and are not only unpaid, but often under-appreciated!
  • Community and cultural volunteers. Have you thought about all the people-hours that go into the various parades, festivals, and town/city carnivals in your area throughout the year?  Some city positions are paid, however remember that many, many volunteers help support and spend their own time and resources to create memorable events like a Veterans Day parade, a Christmas Carnival, or planning and running a successful 4th of July  Festival! And every time there is a cultural event, be it a play, a choir, or a community children’s performance, there are sure to be volunteers behind the scenes helping your community be a better place to live.

THANK YOU to all of the people who give of their time and talents to my “SchoolFamily.”

Who is your “SchoolFamily” gratitude list?

 

 

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Drama vs. Sports: Is There A Difference?

Welcome to our first year of high school. My daughter is a freshman and has all honors classes, with promises of double homework. She also has piano, marching band (marching during home football games), and all the friends and Facebook time she can fit into her schedule! (Let’s just say we don’t get a lot of babysitting privileges anymore.)

Imagine my surprise when she announced she was trying out for the school play!

 Okay, I thought, IF she makes it we’ll deal with the time issues. I made it clear her grades always come first, and she adamantly maintained she could handle it all.

The thing is I don’t think her Drama Coach got the memo.

For seven weeks, every day after school, she was expected to be there, be on time, be prepared, and never miss a single practice. All this? To be a “Townsperson.” That’s right. She has a small part. But if she misses a single practice she’s been warned she could be kicked out of the play. (Or so she tells me when I complain that it’s all too much!)

We’ve had to reschedule orthodontist appointments. I cartwheel around her schedule to get younger kids to various activities while at a moment’s notice find out I have to drop everything and go pick her up (at 5 0r 6 p.m. or later!). There is no real schedule. Oh, and sometimes Saturdays are thrown in just for fun!?

Do I sound like an unhappy theater Mom? I am.

And I finally lost it, and let her know this is not acceptable.

The crazy schedule, the inflexible rules—it’s all crazy unrealistic.

This was her response and it really threw me for a loop.

“Mom, I’m not into sports. THIS is my thing. If I were on the volleyball team you wouldn’t have any problem with me staying after every day, practicing late, dealing with a neurotic coach. And you know there are times kids don’t get to ‘start’ if they miss a practice. It’s really the same for me.”

Wake-up call to Mom! 

I was the kid who WAS into sports. I played team sports all through junior high and high school. I had not compared her insane play practice to a kid on a sports team at all. And believe me, she cares about this every bit as much as I cared about basketball!

Her first performance was this weekend. And we were so proud of her.

Think about what she learned from all this? Perseverance, memorization, stage presence, courage to stand on stage, and a mean new set of negotiating skills to debate an irate mom and a neurotic Drama Coach!

Now guess what? Tryouts for the school musical are in two weeks.

Welcome to Season II, Mom.

L-R, Carissa Roger's daughter, a high school freshman, and a friend, both in character as "A Townsperson" for their high school play.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016