What Do You Remember From Your Childhood Vacations?

After spending a lovely, expensive week on Florida’s Gulf Coast, I was surprised to hear my children talk about the vacation memories they’ll cherish.

For a glorious week, we slept in, swam in the pool, played in the ocean waves, fought like the Kardashians, built sandcastles, read great books and spent time with family and friends. We even visited Winter the famous, tailess dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, something we’ve been wanting to do ever since watching the movie Dolphin Tale.

Will my kids remember Winter?

Will my kids remember Winter?

What did my kids say they enjoyed most?

Ava (9 yo):  Playing with my cousins and having a TV in my room.

Rhys (4 yo):  Having a TV in my room and playing with my cousins.

Basically, they would have been happy at home. After a trip to Costco for televisions. Good to know.

TVs are more memorable than this? "Yes, Mom!"

TVs are more memorable than this? “Yes, Mom!”

My strongest memories of family vacations as a kid involve swimming pools and free sweet rolls at a little pancake restaurant called Wolfie’s. No matter where we went, as long as we had a pool (and free mini cinnamon buns to wash down my pancakes) I was happy.

A good friend recalls traveling as a child with her parents to European cities many of us would consider dream destinations. Her most vivid memory?

Frosted Flakes.

She clearly remembers the sugary cereal she wasn’t allowed to eat at home. Apparently, hotels around the world are familiar with Tony the Tiger’s innumerable charms.

Photo courtesty of Kellogg.com

Photo courtesty of Kellogg.com

What memories stand out to you from your childhood vacations?

A highlight of this family vacation for me was unexpectedly running into an old friend on the beach …

I haven’t seen Laura since she moved away to the Chicago suburbs years ago. She has three beautiful children ranging from 11 to 6 years old who I haven’t seen since they were babies. Imagine walking on the beach in Florida and running into a long-lost friend. Serendipity!

Laura and I caught up on our non-spring break lives while our kids built sand castles together. Laura mentioned that her son, the oldest, asks her to hang out with him at night before he falls asleep. She doesn’t always want to, but because she knows he won’t be asking for much longer, she’s says yes. And she’s discovered they have their best conversations as he’s drifting off.

Her words really stuck in my head. I’ve been saying no to Ava a lot lately when she asks me to hold her as she falls asleep. We read together every night and by the time we’re done, I’m usually ready to have my own down time. Reasonable? Of course.

But last night when she asked me, I remembered Laura’s words and said yes. We cuddled and for a few minutes I experienced one of the purest joys of motherhood – cuddles and kisses from my not-so-little girl.

Soon my daughter won’t want me around as much. I already see her wanting to spend more and more time with her friends. I celebrate and support her friendships, yet I’m more aware of the precious, fleeting moments we spend together. At least some of the time.

My kids are so much a part of my life today I can’t imagine a time when they won’t want my undivided attention. But that time is quickly approaching. And I plan to enjoy every moment we have left.

So, move over, kids. Mama needs to cuddle.

From my favorite daily affirmation site:  Notes from The Universe (www.tut.com)

From my favorite daily affirmation site: Notes from The Universe (www.tut.com)

Guess Who’s Having a One-Year Blog Anniversary?

I planned to write a wise, funny yet gripping one-year blog anniversary post featuring a riveting celebrity-type interview (think Vanity Fair or Oprah Magazine) of me (playing the celebrity) by my daughters (playing the adoring interviewers). Here’s how that worked out:

Plan A:  The Celebrity Interview-Style Post

Me:  “Ava, it’s time for the interview. What questions do you want to ask me about blogging for my one-year anniversary post?”

Ava (9 yo):  “What’s your favorite subject to write about?”

Me:  “Great question! I love writing about the lessons I learn from you and Rhys about …”

Ava:  “Mom, the right answer is ‘Ava.'”

Me:  “I love to write about you, honey!”

Ava:  “Good. Are we done yet? I don’t have any more questions.”

Me:  “None? Don’t you want to ask me what I love about blogging or when I started writing or what I wanted to be when I was a little kid?”

Ava:  “No. I really want to go back to reading my book.”

Me:  “Okay … Rhys, honey. You know how I told you it’s my one-year blogging birthday. What questions do you want to ask me?”

Rhys (4 yo):  “What is three plus three?”

Me:  “Six. What else?”

Rhys:  “That’s all, mama. You did great!”


Plan B:  Interview Myself (with some questions I stole from a celebrity interview in Oprah Magazine.)

Best Childhood Memory:  Jumping off our home’s front stoop and biting through both sides of my tongue. It didn’t really hurt, and I still remember all the sympathy, ice cream and Italian ice I scored.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood):  My mom’s homemade chocolate/strawberry/whipped cream birthday cakes. Every year for decades. The best.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood or food):  Let me get back to you on this one …

Best Hidden Talent:  Holding it in. But I’m working on it.

Best Karaoke Song:  Santa Baby (I can’t carry a tune, but when I turn on my pout-y, entitled gold digger persona, ain’t nobody got nothin’ on me.)

Best Surprise:  Feeling increasingly nauseous while in a theatre watching the movie Rabbit Proof Fence with my husband in late 2002, rushing to the nearest drug store for a pregnancy test and finding out we were unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. That and this red tandem bicycle.

gift fail, tandem bicycles, romantic gestures, inexpiable gifts

My Second Best Surprise

Most Memorable Holiday Moment:  Christmas 2002:  Telling our families that we were pregnant with Ava. I wrapped a book, “The Expectant Father,” and gave it to Mike to open in front of my family on Christmas Eve, then rewrapped and presented it to him again on Christmas Day with his family.

Best Escape:  Going to Costco or Target by myself. Or perhaps you meant travel? New York City. Or anywhere I can walk/sightsee/people watch with my husband or dear friends, be inspired by great art and theatre and get a massage.

Best Keepsake:  Curls from my daughters’ first haircuts and the many blankets and sweaters my mom lovingly knit for both girls.

Best Attribute:  Willingness to own my side of the street (eventually)

I Never Miss an Episode of:  The Good Wife with my husband (And we all know what kind of trouble that causes.)

Best Parenting Tip:  When in doubt, call 911.

Best Mom Skill:  Calling 911

I’m Proud of My Kids For:  Expressing all their feelings, speaking up for themselves and knowing & asking for what they want (I didn’t say I always like it, but …)

Most Prized Possession:  Other than my laptop for digital photos, this goose (which I am now aware is, in fact, a duck). I’ll write the story someday, but until then, I’ll tell you this goose/duck went with us to the hospital for both of our daughters’ births.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Duck, Duck, Goose

Anything Else You’d Like to Add:  On the one-year anniversary of A Teachable Mom, I’m beyond grateful for the love, acceptance and inspiration you all have shown me this past year. Thank you!

–As told to me by me.


A Teachable Mom

And That’s Why God Created Doctors

Where did I get the idea that as a mother I have to be an unmitigated expert at everything?

I blame Google.


I’m honored to be guest posting over at The Mommy Mess today talking about our family’s latest trip to the emergency room, our third in the last six months. A veritable trifecta! (Surely we now qualify for the hospital’s frequent visitor program. I’m expecting discounts on medical services, complimentary valet parking and a commemorative plaque in the lobby.)

If you haven’t been following our ER saga, you can catch up here and here.

And if you aren’t familiar with the talented Adrienne Bolton and her touching, funny and poignant blog, The Mommy Mess, get thee over there pronto. You won’t be sorry.

Here’s the link again:  And That’s Why God Created Doctors.

The Mommy Mess

Basketball, B Teams & FGOs*

Photo by J. Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by J. Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Every weekend for the past several months, I’ve sat on the sidelines of my daughter’s basketball games, cheering her 4th grade team to victory. I’ve enjoyed the social aspects of the game:  applauding the girls’ budding talent, getting to know the other parents and reveling in our shared experience. Who knew a custom-made FGO* lurked amid the air balls, sweat and horrible nylon uniforms? (*F–king Growth Opportunity)

For the first few games, I felt shame that my daughter wasn’t a better player; embarrassed that she wasn’t more coordinated, more talented and more willing to be within ten feet of the ball.

I implored my husband, himself a skilled basketball player, to work with her. “Please do drills with her and help her get better,” I said.

“If she wants me to work with her, I will,” Mike replied. “But I’m not going to pressure her. She’s fine exactly as she is.”

I hate it when my husband is right; his wisdom both inspires and infuriates me. We both know that pressuring is my specialty, my raison d’etre. “Better, faster, stronger” is ingrained in my DNA.

Doesn’t everyone want to be the best? Isn’t that the ultimate goal? While I want to believe life is more than a competition to be won, I come from a long line of perfectionists. In my playbook, if you can’t do something as well or better than others, you either must try harder or quit. Nothing is more humiliating than being on the “B” team in any aspect of life.

These outdated beliefs have never served me, yet eradicating old messages is harder than mastering a well-timed jump shot. As much as I want to teach my daughter that slow, steady progress is brave and worthwhile, I hate slow, steady progress. And if I don’t have something or someone to measure myself against, how will I know I’m okay? Or justify feeling less than?

Several of my writing friends are succeeding at a pace that far outshines my own. My writing endeavors have forced me to face my oh-so-flattering issues with comparison and competitiveness; issues that I thought were long healed. Or at least deeply buried. Hah! When I’m not competing, it’s easy to sidestep the muck that gets stirred up.

At times, I want to quit writing altogether and move on to something else, ideally something I’m naturally gifted at (I am soliciting ideas on what that something might be). Other times, blessed fleeting moments, I glimpse that my friends are simply leading the way, providing a beacon of inspiration.

Continuously showing up and striving to do my best while trusting that slow improvement is worthwhile and will actually lead somewhere positive is a frightening proposition. Believing there is enough success for all of us is a lesson I long to embrace. And teach my children.

On Sunday, her stomach in knots before a playoff game, my daughter announced she wanted to stay home.

“I’m scared, mom,” she confided, “It’s hard not to be the best. We all know who the best players are, and I’m not one of them.”

“I get it honey,” I said, kissing the frown lines creasing her forehead. “I compare myself to other people too. And it hurts. I don’t know how to stop comparing. Maybe just for today we can trust that we’re good enough exactly the way we are.”

“I suppose so,” she replied, doubt underlying every syllable. “Well, I am better at basketball than I used to be.”

“You’ve practiced hard and grown so much these past few months,” I said. “I don’t care how good you are at throwing a basket into a hoop. I care that you face your fears and try. Keep doing that and you’ll conquer anything.”

After the game, she told me how much she loves basketball, loves being on a team. I am incredibly proud of her. I’m learning from her, being reminded how scary and exhilarating it is to learn something new and not be the best, but try my hardest, and let go of the results.

Using those criteria, every time I sit down to write, certain I have nothing useful to say, and write anyway, I’m growing. Every time I navigate relationships with my writing friends and confront my envy and self-pity without giving up, I’m hero material. Every time I trust that I am exactly who and where I’m supposed to be, I’m a miracle.

FGOs? You bet. Bring ’em on.

Linking up with Yeah Write. Click on the badge to read some great writing, then come back on Thursday to vote for your five favorite posts.

How To Be A Popular Mom

How to be popular

We have enough toys and games in our home for any self-respecting little kids to lose themselves in our playroom for days; certainly enough dolls, dress-up clothes, ride-on toys, sports equipment and art supplies to keep a troupe of preschoolers entertained and satisfied. In my mind, we’re the cool house for the five- and-under set.  We have that going for us.

However, as I found out recently when Ava (our 9 yo) invited two of her good friends over for a play date, when it comes to activities to entertain the young tween set, our house is decidedly uncool (according to me).

From the minute her friends walked in our home, I was anxious. We don’t own the latest tech gadgets; the ones I imagine ALL of Ava’s friends have (and of course, all of you have also!) – iPads/iPods for everyone, Wii, Xbox, Smart TVs.

With nothing but our treasure trove of Polly Pockets and Bitty Babies, we are not the cool tween house.

Sure, I had good food on hand, but the girls came over right after lunch and didn’t touch the spread of quesadillas, guacamole and overly-frosted cupcakes I lovingly set out. They wanted to play. And I panicked.

What would they do for two hours? How fast could I get a Wii set delivered and set up? Who offers that service? Anyone? Best Buy?

I’m a big believer in free play, and we limit our kids’ screen time, except when my my daughter’s popularity is at stake!

Not one to let go and trust without a fight, I went into control mode. I offered idea after idea of how they could spend their time together:  Play Trouble! String friendship bracelets! Put together a 4000-piece puzzle! Put on a Broadway-caliber show (I’ll make costumes!). See, we’re a fun family! Really!

My ideas were endless, my interference bordered on ridiculous. Why did I have to work so hard? Why did I need these kids to be entertained?

I’ll tell you why. Because I like these girls and I want them to like Ava and I want them to want to gather at our house.

Did the fact that these girls already like Ava and apparently enjoy her company enough to hang out with her on a Sunday come into consideration? No, no it did not.

I want Ava to be popular and happy and never feel embarrassed or less than … and …. and… Hmmm. Who wants to be popular, happy and never feel embarrassed or less than? Me?

Perhaps I need a hobby other than controlling my daughter’s social life and reliving my own childhood through her?

Growing up, we never had the cool house. My parents, Italian immigrants, didn’t know cool from cavatelli. My mom and dad didn’t have the financial means or interest to invest money in gadgets and technology – no Atari, VCRs or cable for us.

We did; however, always have an abundance of food. And supervision. My mom hovered; continuously asking my friends if they wanted a slice of her freshly baked onion pie. Or a cannoli. Good god, the embarrassment! Somehow, despite this depravity, I survived. And had friends.

How likely was Ava to say the same? How long would the riveting game, “Stay Away from Ava’s Lunatic Mother,” hold her and her friends’ interest?

I finally surrendered. I told myself Ava and her friends would be fine, this was my anxiety (can you say “b-a-g-g-a-g-e?”), and they could twiddle their thumbs for a couple of hours and probably have fun doing it. Or maybe they could play charades?

When I finally settled down and attended to my own lunch needs (I make a damn good quesadilla!), Ava and her friends settled in too, choosing to huddle in the family room and sing karaoke. (Good thing I bought that karaoke machine last Christmas – my genius finally paid off!)

After a few minutes, I heard them playing with the microphone – pretending they were broadcasters interviewing each other for their school’s television show. They happily did this for more than an hour before belting out songs like miniature Beyonces and melting into giggles.

Perhaps we are still in the running for the cool house after all? Just in case, should I order a Wii?

Limit Setting for the Squeamish

One minute they’re debating whose Barbie sleeps in the Diamond Castle, the next they’re giggling over the cute members of the band One Direction and planning sleepovers. Such is the life of our tween, Ava, and her friends. Gone are the days when the toughest limits I set were how many gummy worms or Disney Junior episodes she ingested before dinner. Now we negotiate limits on appropriate app and music downloads and how much I’ll spend on a pair of jeggings. Before we graduate to the big issues of dating and driving, I need a remedial class in limit setting. Or maybe a private tutor.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, Ava had an unexpected play date at a new friend’s home, whose parents my husband and I had only briefly met. The girls go to the same school and play basketball together, but until recently had never hung out. An hour before pick-up, Ava called to ask if she could sleep over at her friend’s house.

The easy answer was “yes,” and my brain quickly reviewed the perks of choosing easy. Not only would a “yes” thrill Ava, it would mean I could avoid a long car ride in traffic to pick her up. I also salivated at the idea of an unanticipated evening alone with my husband once our four year old fell asleep. “Hell, I’ll put her to bed right now,” I thought, imagining the romantic time we would enjoy.

“I’ll call you right back, honey,” I told Ava. “Let me talk with your Dad, and we’ll make a decision together.”

I took the issue to my husband, he of sane thinking and generous sensibility. Mike is the “yes” man; usually I hold the overprotective parent mantle for both of us.

I knew in my gut that I wouldn’t relax for the rest of night if we said yes to a sleepover, but I secretly hoped Mike would tell me I was being overprotective and let me off the hook.

“Tempting, isn’t it?” he said when we discussed the option.

“Tempting, but troubling,” I replied. “I don’t feel comfortable with a sleepover on New Year’s Eve, especially with people we don’t know.”

“I agree,” Mike said.

Surprised and relieved by his response, I knew instinctively this decision was right for our family. And I immediately feared telling Ava.

“I’m not telling her. You tell her,” we joked, the truth of our discomfort apparent to us both.

We decided we would offer Ava and her friend options:  her friend could spend the night at our house or if her parents agreed, they instead could have a “sleep under,” which includes the movies, junk food and staying up late of a typical sleepover, but usually ends by 9 or 10 pm.

Loathe to disappoint our daughter, but eager to appear a strong, decisive parent, I chose to call Ava back with our decision.

From the moment I heard the expectant optimism in her voice, I knew I wasn’t up to this task. Rather than say “no,” and offer our options, I started explaining. And then explained some more. While I believe Ava deserved a short explanation (e.g. “We don’t know your friend’s parents so a sleepover won’t work tonight”), by trying to make her understand and agree with our decision, I unwittingly put the burden of setting the boundary on her rather than shouldering the discomfort myself.

As my lips parted to promise a rescheduled sleepover the next night, I shut up, put the phone on mute and called Mike over.

“I am fucking this up. Please handle,” I said.

Mike calmly and confidently restated our decision and relayed the options to both Ava and her friend’s parents. They agreed he would pick up Ava at 10 pm so the girls could have the giggling, movie watching and staying-up-late experience without the full monty.

I was in awe of my husband, always a heady feeling, and proud of myself for turning the conversation over to him. And the evening worked out in my favor. After cuddling and watching a movie, Mike left our cozy couch and drove across town to pick up our daughter while I chatted for an hour on Twitter and Facebook. Thrilled with her New Year’s Eve experience, Ava got enough sleep to avert a crankiness crisis in the morning.

Although I recognize that setting and keeping firm limits is a skill I need to improve, I think I’ll put off that particular resolution for another year. Or two. Mike is in charge.

Linking up with the supportive group of writers over at Yeah Write. Check us out!

Moving On Up: Elf on the Shelf

Elf Promotion

As we were decluttering yesterday (and I use “we” lightly for it was only me), I went back and forth on whether or not to give our Elf on the Shelf to Goodwill along with the two big boxes of toys our girls have outgrown (whether they know it or not).

He’s been in his box on a shelf in our playroom for the past five years, ever since we received him as a gift. We don’t use him in his traditional capacity (I don’t believe in his message), but I hate to give anything away unused.

Instead, he’s been repurposed (how very green of me!) and given a promotion.

elf vp (812x1024)

Our Elf has been assigned the enlightened and highly regarded task of holding all of our family’s mean, critical or self-limiting thoughts. Or at least mine. If my husband and kids don’t want the Elf’s help, I’ll keep him on as my personal assistant. A consultant of sorts. (Talk about job security!)

While I don’t believe in the Elf on the Shelf in his usual holiday context, I’ve decided he can believe in us and serve our family’s needs throughout the year. When a self-defeating thought or belief enters my consciousness, I’ll give it to the Elf and let him hold it for me on his shelf. Here’s how he works:

Me:  sitting at my computer to write:  “I don’t have any ideas. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t deserve to be a writer – I have it too easy, too good, what do I know about life and writing? Who do I think I am? I’m a ‘wanna be.’ And a crappy mother too.”


Me:  “Here you go, Elf. Hold these shitty thoughts for me so I can enjoy my day and my writing time. Thanks.”

For me, putting these beliefs into words and turning them over to someone can help free me to enjoy and create. Elf is an always available someone, and he’s perfectly suited to the job. I mean, he’s been underutilized (but not overpaid) for years! Let’s give the kid a real job, a worthy position suited to his strengths.

I’ll load him up with all the self-defeating, critical messages that sprout in my head. And maybe I’ll offer his services to others. For a fee. He can become a profit center … Ah, the possibilities are endless!

My kids can use him too. When they feel scared or angry, they can leave the Elf a note explaining their fears. Or, more likely, their complaints (his job responsibilities are flexible). They can kvetch to the Elf all they want. He’s up to the task.

Ava:  “I hate my sister and don’t want her touching my stuff. I’d rather be an only child.”

Me:  “I hear you, honey. But my job responsibilities have changed. The Elf is now in charge of the Complaint Department. Why don’t you tell it to the Elf?”

elf complaint department (390x800)

Sweet little guy, welcome to your new life! Enjoy!

Elf will smile. Rather than his traditional role as cajoler and threatener, Elf will become a source of love and comfort.

Ava (our 9 yo) thinks it’s mean to load up our Elf with all our mean thoughts. But is it better for us to keep them inside? I think not. And our Elf seems to have adjusted well to his new role. Of course, he’s probably happy to finally be out of his box after all these years.

With Elf’s help, I’m betting 2013 will be our year! Yay, us!

And, yes, I’m well aware I had too much time on my hands this morning!