Friday, February 27, 2015

What I've Learned from the Dress Seen Around the World

So last night, with the rest of America, my family debated over the color of a dress that was posted online. It started with Timmy showing me the picture on his phone and I clearly saw a white dress with gold lace trim. He agreed with me, but said that Ryan saw the dress as blue and black. Blue and black? How can that be? Where does he see black? The conversation continued through dinner. Chris came home and the kids showed him the picture. We were a house divided. Three of us saw a white and gold dress and three of us saw a blue and black dress. We were all adamant as to what we saw. I couldn't understand how Chris saw a blue and black dress and he clearly didn't see the white and gold dress that a saw. Then on Facebook, there was post after post about  the color of this one dress. How can so many people clearly see blue and black while others were seeing white and gold?

Then the conversation continued at school. I heard middle schoolers talking in the hall as they stood at their lockers debating the color of the dress. A science teacher in the teacher's lounge was running copies of an article about the science of the color of the dress. She was going to add it to her lesson for the day. Is it our eyes that see the dress differently or is it our brains that process what we see differently? I'm not really sure of the science. But I saw a different lesson coming from this national debate. I had said  that it would also make a great advisory lesson on perception. Our middle school has 20 minutes of advisory every morning. We do mini-lessons on growth mindset, literacy, guidance, and sometimes we just try to get to know our kids better. 

Perception: 1. the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses
2. a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression

This was the lesson that I saw because I so desperately want to see a blue and black dress, the one that Chris, Ryan, and Molly were able to see. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn that different people can be looking at the same exact thing, person, or situation and see something completely different. Maybe, before we tell the other person that they are crazy, we can step back a moment and think of the other person's point of view, that it is possible to see things differently and to value their opinion. Maybe we could ask the simple question of, "What do you see?" Perception is understanding and interpretation. Maybe we need more than one perception of something in order to really understand it.

Last night, Shannon and Timmy who only could see a white and gold dress, can now see the blue and black dress and can even flip back and forth to the white and gold dress. Originally, their heels were dug deep that the dress was white and gold, but as time went by, they walked away from the picture and when they went back to it, they were able to see the very same dress differently. They saw what other people were able to see. 

How many times in life have I needed to walk away from a problem or situation, needed to "sleep on it" so I could get a new perspective in the morning? Shannon went through one of those situations this week. It was a situation with  disappointment and sadness. As her mom, I tried to be supportive and guide her. But after she "slept on it," she had a different perception of the situation. Today at work, I talked to friends about her. Asked their opinion. I wanted to go home to her and be able to help her and support her. But when I got home, she had it all figured out. She had a new perspective of the situation and what was a bag of lemons just the night before, she had made into lemonade for herself. Today I told her how crazy proud I am of her, of how well she handled herself. She and I don't usually see this world the same way. Each of us has our own way of navigating this life of ours that works for us. What works for her, doesn't necessarily work for me. We have different perspectives. But there is nothing that beats the feeling as a mom, when one of your kids does something that amazes you. Just when I'm ready to throw in the towel with this whole mom job, when I question myself for the 9,547th time whether I am doing the right thing, whether I am making the right choices, they show me that everything is going to be alright.

They give me a new perspective!

Monday, January 26, 2015

There Are Three Stories in Every Book

489 days ago, Molly and I started our read aloud streak. We decided that we were going to try to read aloud together for 100 days. Well, we did that and kept on going. We are 11 days away from hitting 500 days. In that time, we have read 25 books together. We have met talking mice and a smiling dog. We have met crickets and a pig named Beryl. We have walked the streets of London with a nanny with a flying umbrella, and a wizard that wasn't quite as powerful as we first thought. We have been to a chocolate factory and Times Square. We have walked through museums and have traveled through time. These last 489 days have really been a great experience.

Every book you read has three stories, the one that the author actually writes, the background story of how the book came to be, and then there is the story that the reader brings to the book. Right now Molly and I are reading Winnie-the-Pooh.

Molly and I have never read it. In fact, Molly has never seen the Disney movie. I couldn't believe it when she told me, because I have memories of Shannon and Timmy watching it all the time. When they were little, they had a kid couch with Winnie-the-Pooh fabric on it. The nursery in our house was Winnie-the-Pooh and as I had each baby, they went into the nursery and the older sibling moved into their "big kid" bedroom. How did Molly never see the Winnie-the-Pooh movie? 
So before we started reading the book, I shared a little background story with Molly about A. A. Milne. I told her that Christopher Robin was his son, that he was not just a character in the story, but a real boy. I found out that Christopher Robin's real toys are all on display at the New York City library, all of them except for Roo because Christopher Robin had lost Roo in a meadow. How sad is that? And then today we read:

Kanga was frightened at first because Piglet was in her pocket and not Roo. And then we read, "...for she felt quite sure that Christopher Robin would never let any harm happen to Roo."

But Molly and I know the background story, we know that Roo DID get lost in a meadow. We know that all of Christopher Robin's childhood friends are in the New York City library, except for Roo. This made us so sad.

Molly and I planned to go to New York this weekend. There is a children's book exhibit at The Grolier Club that is only there until February 7th. There are 100 children's books on display from the past 400 years. They are first editions of Grimm's Fairytales, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, and Winnie-the-Pooh, just to name a few. Our plan is to go into the city to see these original first edition books and then swing by the library to see Winnie-the-Pooh and all his friends. You see, there are three stories of Winnie-the Pooh, the actual story in the book, the story of the real Christopher Robin, and then there is OUR story, mine and Molly's. 

Now as I write this, New York is under blizzard warnings. Some forecasts are saying they could get up to 20-30 inches. Molly and I are really hoping that they don't get that much and that we can still make it to New York this weekend. We know that whatever NY gets, they will do a better job of clearing the snow than we do here in Virginia. We are almost finished with Winnie-the-Pooh and then we are moving on to The House at Pooh Corner. The Disney Winnie-the-Pooh movie just arrived and Molly's plan is to watch it during the car ride up to NY on Friday. Hopefully the blizzard won't stop us and we will be trudging through snow covered streets of New least it makes for a good story.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Don't Let the Perfect Get in the Way of the Good...The Middle School Years

Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!
Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!

I find myself saying this a lot lately. I need to remind myself...constantly! I'm still adjusting to being a "working outside the home" mama. For the most part, we've got the hang of it as a family. But sometimes the laundry piles up and the kids' rooms need bull dozers in order to get through them, and there are late nights trying to help my youngest as she starts to do reports for school on power points and needs to save to USB drives, and type written reports.

But as my kids get older, it is so hard to find the right combination, the right balance to help and guide them. I don't want to be the helicopter parent that we read so much about nowadays. I want my kids to be independent. I want them to figure out problems on their own. I want them to be advocates for themselves as they get older as they go through middle and high school. 

My middle schooler is in seventh grade this year. He is in the middle of middle school. He is one of the middle kids in my family...and it is hard! I've been trying to give him more responsibility and me be less of that helicopter mom as far as school goes. We have talked about strategies he could use if he needs help in a class. We talked about using his resource time wisely, asking his teachers for extra help if he needs it, using the school website to check for assignments, and plan studying and homework around his after school activities. He knows what is expected of him as far as grades are concerned at school. I tell my kids that as long as I see the effort, as long as I see the hard work, as long as I see you using all the the strategies that we have talked about, that is what makes this mama happy. There have been times that I have rejoiced and did a happy dance with one of my kids who got a B- because so much work went into that grade, and there have been times I have given the mom speech about responsibility and effort for a different B-, the one that could have been a A if only the kid had put forth a bit more effort. It's not the B- itself that we rejoiced about, but hard work and effort that went into that B-. Its not the B- grade that I was upset about another time, but the lackadaisical attitude of the kid that got the B- when he could have gotten a much better grade. It's all about the attitude.

So at the beginning of this second quarter of school, I sat down with my middle schooler and I went over the to what to do if he needed help in a subject. I told him I wasn't going to police him. I hold him I wasn't going to hover. For me, this is a hard thing to do. I work in his school. I know his teachers. I know when his reading log is due and when his tests are going to be. So I try to guide and encourage, but not be that helicopter mom. 

Well, on Friday, I checked his grades online. It is amazing that we can do this as parents. I remember in the "old" days when you had to wait for the end of the quarter to see your grades on your report card, but now, you can check your grade at any given moment. This is good and bad. I've been trying to teach my kids to do it themselves. One of my high schoolers had a zero for a grade and didn't know why. The assignment was done and it was handed in. He spoke with the teacher and she called the house and came up with a solution for the missing grade. He told me later about the conversation. This mama wasn't apart of it. He did it himself. He was a self advocate.

But my middle schooler isn't quite there yet. When I checked his grades, a couple of his classes were a bit disappointing. Friday afternoon we had one of those talks.

Did you study a few minutes every night like we talked about?

Did you ask your teachers for extra help during your resource block?

Did you ask your teachers if they come in early or stay after school for extra help?

Did you make flashcards like we talked about for the vocabulary words?

I gave him consequences, not for the grades, but for the lack of effort...and then the mama guilt sets in. Should I have guided him a bit more closely? Did I give him too much rope to hang himself? Am I trying too hard not to be a helicopter mom that I dropped the ball with him. Does he need more guidance than his two older siblings because every kid is different and there is no cookie cutter solution?

He was angry and upset. I was angry as well, but also conflicted and reflective. He stormed off to his room and slammed the door. Not a good way to start our three day weekend. I stood in the kitchen and started cleaning up some messes. Unloaded and loaded the dishwasher, cleaned off the kitchen counter, and then started sorting through the mail. 

Bill, junk mail, bill, junk mail, and then there was an envelope from the middle school, addressed "To The Parents of..."

Dear Parents,
We are pleased to inform you that your child will be receiving an IMPACK award. These awards are presented to students for Inclusion, Motivation, Perseverance  Altruism, Compassion, and Kinship. 

My first reaction when I read this was, "Dam-it, he did it again!!! I swear he does this on PURPOSE!!!" 

You see, my middle schooler is the one who makes a joke out of everything. It is very hard to stay angry at him. I can be strict and stern and have on that angry mama face and he has these one liners that completely defuse the situation and I start laughing, but at the same time I start yelling at him, "I'm serious, I'm mad at you!!!" And it just doesn't work. He always seems to manage to get a smile out of me. 

So there I was, standing in the kitchen, angry at first because I wanted to be happy about this letter, I wanted to rejoice with him, but all I could think about was, "He did it again!!!! I'm suppose to be mad at him. He wasn't responsible about his schoolwork! He's not taking school seriously enough! I need to turn this kid around!" And then that phrase crept into my head again,

Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!

None of us are perfect, we mess up as kids, we mess up as parents, we mess up because we are human. Life is the messy bits! So I showed my middle schooler the letter. He read it. A smile came across his face and he said, "See mom, I'm a completely different kid at school, I'm a good boy! I'm not all bad."

Yep, he did it again! Can't stay mad at this kid. He still has consequences for not following through with his schoolwork, but what a reminder to me that I shouldn't let the perfect get in the way of this "Good" boy. I don't know exactly what he did to earn his award, I will find out next week at the ceremony, but I certainly will be a proud mama when he gets it.

First day of seventh grade. See how happy he is about school!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Middle Schoolers Aren't So Scary Anymore

If you had asked me a year ago if I wanted to work in a middle school, the answer would have been no. I had always known that I wanted to be a teacher when I was little. I had always wanted to be an elementary teacher to be exact. The thought of middle school had never crossed my mind. I had always been scared of the middle schooler. But now that my own kids are older and I am working in a middle school, I find that they aren't as scary as I once thought. They really are just big kids, trying to find their way and what I found, is that they are trying to hold on to their childhood just as much as they want to grow-up at the same time. In the past few months, I've seen this a lot.

Back in October, I was in an eighth grade science class. The students were working on a group activity and so they were talking, some conversations were on task, but there was an excitement in the air because it was Friday and it was Halloween. Some were talking about their plans that night. Then one student asked me where I lived and if I gave out "the good candy." So I asked him which elementary school did he attend. It was the same one as my kids. He looked at me with a grin on his face.

He asked, "Did they take the bus or were they walkers?" 


Did they have to take a tunnel to walk home or no tunnel.

No tunnel.

I told him if he found me, I would make sure that I had good candy for him. 

He and all his friends did find me that night. I was sitting at the bottom of my staircase on my phone deleting junk mail from my in-box when a six foot Tigger caught my eye at the front door. It was later in the evening so the trick-or-treaters had died down a bit, but there was this group of boys standing on my front stoop, all in costume, and the boy that I had the conversation with earlier that day was pleasantly surprised to have found me that night. I don't know whether he forgot about our conversation in science class or if he was really trying to find me, but I had a stash of full size candy bars for all of them and they were thankful that they found me. 

Earlier in the day, Ryan was trying to come up with his own plans with his friends. I asked him a number of times what they were going to do and he didn't know. I kept telling him that if he was going to go trick-or-treating that he needed a costume, that he couldn't go out without at least attempting to put together an outfit. These are the middle school years, this is what middle schoolers do, they want to hang on to the fun of Halloween, but none of them are willing to make the decision and say let's go trick-or-treating and then decide what they are going to wear. Ryan had gone home on the bus to a friend's house that day. I called him up to find out what their plans were. Did they even have plans? They knew they were going to go trick-or-treating but this group of boys did not have costumes. It was 6:00 on Halloween night. So I went into the basement and found our bin of dress-up clothes and old costumes. I dug-up an egg costume, a bacon costume, and a hotdog costume. I drove over to the friend's house and they were thankful for them. Ryan knew when Halloween was, he knew he had to dress-up, but the decision making process for these middle schoolers is hard. They are struggling between trying to grow-up and still wanting to be a kid. 

Just the day before, I was sitting with a few students in my eighth grade resource class. It was toward the end of class and we were talking about Halloween coming up and if they were going to go trick-or-treating. Again, middle school is that transition time and when you are talking to eighth graders you never know if you will get an enthusiastic "yes" because it's all about the candy or if you will get the eye roll because they think they are too old for trick-or-treating. On this day, it was the enthusiastic "yes" and then they told me about their plans and what they were going to be. The conversation then turned to Christmas and one girl said that she believed in Santa. This surprised me. This is eighth grade, they are thirteen and fourteen years old. But here I was sitting in the middle of a conversation about how they believe in Santa because the cookies are always gone on Christmas morning or how a piece of red velvet was caught on a hook on the fireplace. What I really was in awe about though was that none of the other students that could have overhear our conversation broke the magic of the moment. They just sat and continued doing what they were doing.

I see my own kids trying to hold on to the magic of their childhoods. Timmy went to the mall the other day with his friends. They all pooled their money together and had a picture taken with Santa. Goofy, silly high school boys, taking a picture with Santa...I love it! We took our own family Santa picture the other day. We have been taking our family picture with Santa for seventeen years now. No one complains, no one says they are too old, we just do it, it's tradition. When the kids were sitting with Santa, the photographer was trying to arrange my four, now big kids, for the picture. She said to Ryan, who is about to be thirteen, "I know you aren't going to like this, but I need you to sit on Santa's lap." Ryan jumped up from his spot and yelled, "Yay," with a huge smile on his face. Because he was so enthusiastic to sit on Santa's lap, Santa said he would take a selfie with him. How cool is Santa!?!

So here we are at the beginning to the Christmas Season. My house is all decorated because Shannon and Molly are HUGE Christmas fans! They wait and anticipate all year for Christmas. They plan their activities and have their "to-do" lists and look for different Christmas crafts to keep them busy. Buddy and Jovie our Elves on the Shelf have returned. It is year five of them visiting our house. It is getting harder and harder to come up with ideas for them to do. Molly is in fifth grade. I was thinking that this would be the year that Buddy and Jovie would start to tone it down. But Molly was so enthusiastic about their arrival. She can't wait to see where they are each morning. She is at the age that I can't exactly tell if she still believes or if she is playing along with the whole thing because she wants to hold-on to her childhood. How many times have you heard, "If you don't believe, you won't receive." 

So just like I don't like looking in the mirror and seeing another laugh line on my face and knowing that I'm getting older, my kids worry about getting older as well. They don't want to let go of their childhood. Yes, they want more independence and they want to do more stuff on their own without their mom around, but their is a part of them that wants to stay young, that wants it to be okay to go trick-or-treating and not be looked at as too old to be participating in the fun of getting candy. They want to sit on Santa's lap...or believe in the elves.

 So even though I thought Buddy and Jovie were going to start to fade a bit this year, they are still going strong. They will just have to come up with some new ideas for the next 24 days before Christmas.

Monday, October 13, 2014


It is Saturday morning and the Nealons have nothing on the schedule today. What a pleasant change of pace. Shannon has a break in her soccer schedule at the moment, the boys' basketball seasons haven't officially started yet so they only have practices during the week, and Molly's dance performing troupe hasn't had any weekend performances yet either. 

I find myself sitting at the computer, in a quiet house, reflecting on the word change. Change, it is one of those words that is used everyday, one of those words that we say and don't think about and yet, we do think about change all the time. As I sit here, I can see just a touch of change in the color of the leaves on the trees outside my window as the season changes. I can see my flower pots on the front stoop that we changed out to mums to replace the dying summer flowers. I tell my kids to change their clothes, change the channel, or change the subject. People talk about having a change of heart, changing their minds, or needing a change of scenery. People have used the word change in campaign slogans and there are websites like you can use to start or sign a petition to change anything under the sun. Go to Pinterest and you can find lots of inspirational quotes like, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

People like to divide the world into two groups, the haves and the have nots, the leaders and the followers, the givers and the takers, and then you have the people that want change, embrace change, fight for change, and those that do not. But the thing is, you can't stop change, everything changes, it's just all in how you deal with it. 

The Nealons have been going through some changes. The biggest one is that I have gone back to work. For twelve years, I have been the mom at home taking care of the house and the kids, doing the laundry, making the meals, paying the bills, figuring out schedules, making doctor and dentist and orthodontist appointments, carpooling kids to all their after school get the picture. Now I'm the mom that STILL does all these things (that has not changed) AND I go to work outside the home. What has changed is getting a text from one of my kids to meet them in the hall at bell change because they left their Spanish homework on their desk and they need it for next block. No more running up to school with a lunch box that was left on the kitchen counter. No more last minute requests at 10:00 at night for me to go out the next day to get whatever it is they need while they are at school. 

I have been thinking about going back to work for a while, trying to figure out where the right fit for me would be. I NEVER would have thought about working at a middle school. Middle school seemed a bit scary to me. I loved my little second graders from all those years ago. I have fond memories of those years. But things change, out mindset changes. My own children have been or are middle schoolers now and they're not so scary anymore. My head was always at elementary school and yet now I am spending everyday with eighth graders. I was talking with another teacher friend on a Friday afternoon. He and I taught at the same elementary school years ago, and he was telling me that just a year ago he thought, "No way, not doing middle school," and now he loves it. We change.

Another change...Shannon is DRIVING! How did this happen? They grow up so fast! I can't be old enough to have a kid that can drive! We've heard it all before. 

There is a line from the book The Fault in Our Stars, "I fell in love the way you fall asleep slowly and then all at once." This line of "slowly and all at once" can apply to so many things in my life, like slowly watching Shannon for 16 years grow into the amazing, wonderful person she is today and at the same time, the Shannon that stands before me has appeared all at once. How can this be?

So even though it is not a new concept that the only constant thing in your life is that life changes, I find myself thinking about it more lately. Shannon is driving, we are starting the process of looking at colleges, Timmy started high school this year, Molly is my LAST kid in her LAST year of elementary school. Where has the time gone? It all happened slowly and all at once.

I cannot stop all these changes, but I can change my mindset. It's all good, this change thing. It's still a bit scary when your kid pulls away from the house in a car all by themselves. I check my text to make sure she made it to where she was going. Each stage of life my kids enter they gain a little bit more freedom. Inside of me there is a tug-of-war of letting go just a little bit more and being the proud parent of the people they all growing up into, and then there is the me wanting to pull them back with all my might and keep them close to me. This parenting job is tricky busy. It's an emotional roller coaster. 

My phone just buzzed with a text. Chris just registered Shannon for her first college open house. 

They are growing up slowly and all at once.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lessons from the Fairy Tales

Molly and I are on day 311 of our read aloud streak. I have been reading to her everyday for 311 days straight. We have read 18 books so far together. Molly has been very much into fairy tales lately. She has a book of Hans Christian Andersen stories that she pulls out every so often and now she is reading from these fairy tale books that were mine when I was little. Sometimes she enjoys reading a story from start to finish in one sitting instead of a whole chapter book.


During the school year, I watch very little TV. By the time the kids get home from all their sports, eating dinner, and then getting ready for the next day, it is time to go to bed. But recently we got Netflix and being that's it's summer, I've watched a few series that I have heard are good. I've seen commercials for the series Once Upon A Time and tried to watch it a couple of times, but it is one of those series that you need to watch each week to understand what's going on. I've tried to DVR series before, but by the time I get a chance to sit down (or lie down in bed) to watch something, I usually fall asleep and by the time I get around to it, it's already the next week and a new episode and I just never seem to keep up. 

But now that we have Netflix, I can watch at my own pace and so I thought Molly and I could watch Once Upon A Time together since she has been so interested in fairy tales. 
We are loving it! Every time a new character is introduced, she tries to figure out which fairy tale character he or she is. She has gone back to my old fairy tale books to reread the original stories to refresh her memory or read the story for the first time if she hasn't read that story yet. The other day, Molly came to me and asked if we had any chapter books that are based on fairy tales. I told her we could look through our book shelves.

This is what we found!

Years ago if you were to ask me what genre I enjoyed reading the most, I would have said realistic fiction and historical fiction. I never would have answered fantasy. It is not what I would have grabbed off the shelf of a bookstore or the library. But since Molly and I have started this read aloud streak, I have noticed that most of the books do have fantasy in them. We have read four Mary Poppins books, fantasy, Roald Dahl books, fantasy, The Wizard of Oz, fantasy, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, fantasy. We have only read a few books that are realistic fiction but I have really enjoyed these fantasy books we have read. 

Back at the end of the school year, Molly's teacher told me that they were starting their fantasy unit in language arts and asked me to bring in some books for a read aloud to introduce the lesson. When I started researching a bit, this whole genre of fantasy, I realized there are all these sub-categories of fantasy, many, many sub-categories. So to try to make it simple for Molly's fourth grade class, I broke it down into three categories: high fantasy, low fantasy, and portal fantasy. 

High fantasy takes place in an alternate world, there really isn't anything of this world in the story. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings would be a great example. I never read it. Again, I always though I didn't like fantasy.

Low Fantasy is set in our ordinary everyday world with some magical elements sprinkled throughout the book. Molly and I read A Snicker of Magic, and Savvy. I really enjoyed these books.

Portal Fantasy takes place in our everyday world and an alternate world. There is some sort of portal between the two worlds. The Wizard of Oz, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe are all example of portal books. They all start out in this world, but the main characters all find themselves in an alternate world through a portal. 

The TV series Once Upon a Time is a portal fantasy. The fairy tale characters have been cursed from their world and are now in our world. The show goes back and forth between present time, in our world, and then flashbacks to when they were in their fantasyland. What I love about the series is that the two villains are Snow White's evil step mother and Rumpelstiltskin. We hate these characters. They are mean and evil, why wouldn't you? But little by little, you learn about their background and why they are the way that they are. It's a little bit like the play Wicked. We all grew up scared of the Wicked Witch of the West, but the play explains how she got to be the way that she is, you start to empathize with her. You start to understand her. 

And shouldn't we all do a little more of that? I wonder if adults had a little more empathy for each other, maybe the world would be a little bit gentler. It's all in the point of view, we need to understand more that no one side can be completely right and the other side completely wrong. Molly and I just finished listening to the book The Julian Chapter. It is Julian's point of view from the book Wonder which is an awesome book about bullying and empathy and a whole lot of good things with great discussions to be had with your children. Each section of Wonder is written from a different point of view. Every one is represented, except the bully, Julian. The Julian Chapter is his story. We listened to it during the car ride to Ocean City this past weekend. I did not feel sorry for Julian, it does not excuse him from the things that he did in the book Wonder, but you do start to understand him better and as an adult, and a parent, it made me think about ways to teach kids kindness because Julian truly didn't understand what he did was first.

Right now, Molly and I are reading Rump. It is Rumpelstiltskin's story. We are only up to chapter three, but we already can empathize with him. The first line is, "My mother named me after a cow's rear end." Think about it, the kid doesn't have a chance with a name like Rump. Molly has been reading these fairy tales that are hundreds of years old. We are reading books and watching a TV show that are based on these stories from hundreds of years ago. There must be a reason why these stories have stood the test of time. They lead us to use our imagination, to add on to the the stories, to come up with prequels and sequels. There are lessons to be learned.

I have learned two things this summer from our reading; first, I like fantasy, low fantasy and portal fantasy and fair tale fantasy. The second, is that the more you read books, especially ones that have good vs. evil themes, ones with a definite bad guy, that bad guy is never exactly what they appear to be, there always is a reason for the way that they are, and if we could just apply that to the real world, to that grumpy person we just met in the mall or the lady that yelled at you in the grocery store, that maybe before we judge them, we take a moment to think that maybe this person is having bad day and that we should

Kindness Counts!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Molly's Mantra

Back in June, when the boys went to basketball camp, I took the girls up to New York to visit Grandma in the Red House. When we arrived, my mom had a new sign by her front door and a new statue. As soon as I saw it, I thought of Molly. THAT IS MOLLY! Look at her, hands outstretched, smile on her face, ready to soak in whatever the day has to offer her. Throughout the years, I have taken thousands of pictures of my kids. I was always a big picture taker, even before the cell phone cameras. My kids know that I need to take a picture of them to document the soccer and basketball wins, the dance performances, the birthdays, the holidays, and the everyday ordinary stuff in our life as well.

So when I saw my mom's new statue, my mind went right to all the pictures I have of Molly with her arms outstretched, savoring the moments. 

New York

Harpers Ferry
Even with a broken arm!

Newport, Rhode Island

Plymouth, New Hampshire

Dollywood, Tennessee

Great Falls, VA

Smokey Mountains, Tennessee

Lake Winnipeasaukee, NH

Poconos, PA

Charleston, SC

Montauk, Long Island

New York City

Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay Long Island

Central Park

Drayton Hall, SC

Kiawah, SC

So as you can see, her arms seem to always be outstretched. It doesn't seem to matter where we are or what we are doing, she likes to soak in an experience, take it all in, she notices the big details as well as all the little details of a day. When we went to Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt's house, she searched through the museum to find all the answers to the scavenger hunt. When we walked on the nature trail to the bay, she stopped at each tree to look at the leaves to identify them. She noticed that the north shore of Long Island is hard and rocky and that the south shore is soft and sandy. When we got to the water, she noticed the crabs and the shells and the horseshoe crabs and the birds and you could almost hear the wheels turning in her head as she thought and processed and learned and just was taking it all in.

Back in May, Molly and I went to NYC with her dance performing troupe. We saw the musical Newsies and she just fell in love with it. She has watched the Disney movie dozens of times, can sing all the songs by heart, and can recite certain parts of the movie with a thick New York accent. One of the songs is Seize the Day and that has become her mantra. This ten year old will talk about seizing the day and savoring the moment. These words are now a part of every daily vocabulary.

Last night, I was at one of Ryan's basketball games and was sitting with a group of moms. One mom that I hadn't met before was talking about a camp that her son went to last week and how wonderful it was. She said it was a bit out of his comfort zone and after the first day, he came home not wanting to go back. She said he was going, that he was with his friends, and that he had the choice to make it a good experience or sulk about it and make himself miserable. It was his choice. She said her son ended up having an amazing week. We each have a choice every. single. day. How are we going to take on the day? Are we going to seize it? Are we going to savor it? 

The thing is, I don't have Molly's SEIZE THE DAY attitude. Molly usually wakes up happy, ready to go to school or dance or Shannon's soccer game or her brothers' basketball games. Even if it is something that she particularly doesn't want to do, she makes the most of it. It seems to come naturally to her, it is who she is.

I, on the other hand, am cranky and crabby in the morning. I certainly do not wake up with a Seize the Day attitude. My worst mommy moments are probably in the morning trying to get the other non-morning people out the door and to school on time. There is no seizing the day, it's more like survive the day. 

And that's life. You just can't seize the day, every day, but for some, like Molly, that positive outlook, that seize the day, that dance even when it's raining outside attitude (One of her favorite movies is Singing in the Rain.) it comes easier to her than others. It's as if she doesn't make the choice to be happy, she just is. But I'm more like the little boy that didn't like his camp on the first day. I need to make the choice each day, it doesn't come so easily. I have to think about it and make the choice.

One day last week, we were sitting at the dinner table and the kids were discussing personalities and they were saying that Ryan is a "mini-me" of Chris, which I agree with, they do have similar personalities as well as Ryan looking like Chris when he was a kid. They also said that Molly was my mini-me, that we like the same things; school, books, museums, musicals. This may be true, we do enjoy similar things, but it is me who wants to have her attitude of arms outstretched to take on the day no matter what. She is my example.

And now, I have a reminder of that in my front garden because when I told my mom how much I loved her new statue and how it reminded me of Molly, guess what came in the mail a few days later?

Here is my new statue, arms outstretched, birds sitting on her arms, it makes me want to start singing Zippity Doo Dah…Mr. Bluebird's on my shoulder.

And here is Molly and Grandma, standing like statues, trying to get the birds to come to them.

And one finally came.