Groundhog Day is really Thanksgiving day for me. Seventeen years ago today while we were living in Maine, Steve’s car lost its purchase on black ice. The ensuing head-on collision happened on the little country road right in front of our neighborhood. One of those worst case scenarios I fretted over in the middle of the night? It was happening in real time. Steve was hurt, and we were miles from anything resembling support. But I was still unaware of all that as I was tucking my two toddlers into bed. After wrestling little warm bodies into footie pajamas, brushing teeth, and reading just one more book, I had just found a moment to breathe when a stranger came to the door.
“There’s been an accident.”
I don’t remember losing my breath or crying or reacting at all really. Some people report such things when disaster arrives on their doorstep. But that was not me. With our closest family and friends over 12 hours away, I had no real options. So I absorbed the words being spoken to me by a man I had never met. This stranger, a young professional on his commute home, was the first man to the scene. Apologetic in his lack of details, he told me that Steve had sustained a head injury and was being taken to the local hospital. As he was not a medical professional, he tried to reassure me that Steve had been alert enough to give him directions to find me (this was pre-cell phone for us). Because he wasn’t a medical professional, that gave me little comfort.
Of the many things I learned from this first crisis of my marriage, I remember these three every Groundhog Day:
1. Not all fears are unfounded.
I was a young mother whose first child was a honeymoon baby. Confidence was a fickle friend. I doubted myself often and loudly. But this crisis taught me to lean into my intuition and trust my abilities. This helped me confess my fears about 4th child to the pediatrician, advocate for my middle son’s dyslexia diagnosis, send my son away for the summer, and hone my senses to parent teens. I handled everything in those first few post-accident days from medical jargon to childcare to family notifications on my two shaky shoulders. If some of it was messy and uncomfortable and scary, well, I cleaned it up, asked for help, or even cried. But I learned that when the world hits hard, I bounce, if not beautifully, at least, passably well. We all survived, but the experience gave me a stronger spine, a more open heart, and a head that trusts that gut a whole lot more.
2. You can make family.
With my social safety net existing of moms I had met a handful of times at the library and playgroup , I felt panicky. My family wouldn’t be able to help me any time soon, and I needed mountains of assistance pronto. So I called one of them who I liked a lot, the one who would become my “Maine Ellen.” I relayed to her the scanty details I had about the accident. Ellen ony knew me as a playgroup buddy, but she didn’t blink an eye.
Register that: she would being taking care of my babies who were both under two for an indefinite period of time. She had two toddlers of her own. I had no idea what I would find when I got to the hospital, and no idea when I would be able to pick them up again. Her “absolutely, no problem, drop them off” was only the most beautiful thing someone has probably said to me EVER. The deep gratitude I still feel today for this gift is hard to measure. I had many things to worry about that day, but my kids were not on that list. “Maine Ellen” and her family have been a beautiful grace note on our life ever since.
3. When you are lucky, be grateful.
Our story has a happy ending of course. Steve is still here, and Ellen is still a big part of my life. We were hugely lucky that day. Steve had a head injury that, in the end, was truly just a laceration ( a big one, but STILL). The what-ifs haunted me for a short while, but then we got back to the lovely, blessed task of just living. With each extra year we have been given and the three children who have joined us since that day, it seems appropriate to take a moment to just sit in my thanks once in awhile or, in this case, once a year.
So every Groundhog Day, I try to really feel that gratitude and be in that moment again, a difficult task for an impatient, slightly hyper puppy of a woman like me. Remembering the gift of Steve that our family still has is important to me. We are largely who we are today because of the love we have shared and grown over the past twenty years. Honoring Ellen and the gift of friendship I received that day is important to me too. She taught me what it really means to show up for someone. I have tried ever since to give even a small measure of that gift to others when I see a need.
Groundhog Day is really no big deal for, well, everyone. For me, however, it’s truly a day of Thanksgiving, a day to remember what was almost lost and to appreciate all that I gained.
Today will never ever be about a groundhog for me. It will be forever and always one of gratitude and love!
But I really hope spring is just around the corner!
Many times in my nearly twenty years of parenting, I have felt the need to adjust my course and reroute us. This weekend was one of those times. Tempers were short starting at breakfast on Saturday morning. By mid-afternoon, we weren’t just crabby, we were ducking for cover. If only I could say what sent us careening off our happy family road, I might have been able to tame the tempest brewing in our midst. But alas, the usual culprits—misunderstanding, miscommunication, misfiring temperaments—were reeking havoc on our normally happy home life with no endpoint in sight. Sleep did not restore my people to their more human selves and Sunday dawned with no respite from the relentless bickering. With nowhere to retreat to, I issued a maternal decree: we were taking a family hike, all hands on deck, and now. Their response was swift and pointed, and it prompted this post: Nobody had the insight to see that they were the very worst versions of themselves. Nobody realized that they were making me long for the days of toddlers. Anyway, a little fresh air and exercise away from screens was just what the Momma ordered. Nature recalibrated my crew and set us back into our reasonably happy routine. This ability to take terrorists and turn them back into fully functioning and fun people is just one of the many reasons that I prefer to parent outside. But there are many more and I feel like I need to share this piece of parenting good news with anyone who will listen. Because this quick fix is cheap, easy, and packs a lot of family fun into its itty bitty price tag.
Other reasons why in no particular order . . .
1. I suck at crafts.
We are all living in a Pinterest world, and ain’t nobody need that kind of pressure. While Ellen can bust out container gardens, repurpose pool noodles like a HGTV host, and turn a picnic table into a coffee table, I am a Pinterest craft fail waiting to happen. Honestly, even simple t-shirts are outside my realm of competence. Just ask my oldest son about the “pink pumpkin” shirts I made for his soccer team to wear in a Halloween tournament. In any case, parenting outside is exactly the kind of hands-free parenting that makes Pinterest go ’round without subjecting me to sticky fingers. Also, I’m at least competent on a trail, not so much with a hot glue gun.
2. The open air wears my kids out.
Seriously, I’m raising puppies over here. Laps around the house are not uncommon. Trails, especially long, hilly ones, are my friends. If you too have offspring with boundless energy, heed this good advice.
3. They talk more outside.
If you have never been stuck on the other side of a sulky teen in a conversation, you might not feel me on this one, but it’s scientific fact. A good walk is the equivalent of popping the pickle jar open. The words which were few and far between in the living room flow free and easy in the great outdoors. There’s no explanation, but who really needs one. Results talk.
4. Nature’s buffer is most appreciated.
The herds whisper more than thunder in the open air. Trust me on this one.
5. I’m a sucker for a pretty view.
Aren’t we all? Well, all the good ones are outside.
6. It’s affordable travel at its finest.
We all have a heart for the wild blue yonder, but this cash-strapped mom with almost two college tuitions to fund needs her adventure to really have some bang come with every buck. Outdoor adventure brings the adrenaline rush without the credit card bill.
7. It’s my passion.
One of my friends said that the definition of joy was when your kids love something you love. Well, even though I have been throwing books at my kids since they were cuddled up in the womb, nobody is a bookworm yet. I love games too, but our competitive natures can turn family fun into bloodsport. And while we all do enjoy a good Netflix marathon, coming to consensus on what to watch can be tough. (Except for Sherlock. We all love Sherlock.) But the one thing we all like/love/tolerate well as a group is time together in the great outdoors. I’m taking this as one for the win column.
8. It’s solid gold for making the memories.
Because most of my life is like this up and down weekend, I sincerely hope in the overall balance of my parenting that my kids can point to mostly positive moments when they remember me and our family life together. The memories where we are stretching ourselves together in beautiful places with no real agendas are the ones that will knit tightly in the fabric of our family bond.
Because while I can’t make all their roads smooth, I can strive to let my kids know that they are not traveling alone. I want the things that stick to be the ones where we enjoyed each other’s company in a simple, uncomplicated way. But mostly, I just really want them to stick. I want, in the final sum of this beautiful family I am making, to find that this cache of memories is hardy and stands up to the harsh sands of time. I want these pieces of our life together to be the things that bolster them in hard times and walk with them on lazy afternoons. I want our special brand of family to burrow into their marrow and become the very fiber of their selves. And nothing, absolutely nothing, makes the kind of teflon memories I’m striving for like parenting outside.
If you think I’m just waxing poetic here, I also wrote about this here and here. I’m all in when it comes to the Great Outdoors.
Any great ideas for bonding with your crew outside? Drop those here.
Five years ago, we had THE TALK. Not THAT ONE, the other one—the one where you meet with the preschool teacher about whether to send the baby to kindergarten. Mothering a brood is supposed to make decisions like this one less fraught. Experience times 4 or 5 should make you wiser, right? Was I really supposed to still be wringing sweat from my hands trying to decide if my child was ready for kindergarten?
Unfortunately, there was no “GET OUT OF THIS CONVERSATION FREE” card for me this time. I promised my husband to muzzle it and let the teacher talk. The main arguments for holding my son back were that he was physically small, has a birthday in the late summer, and the majority of his class cohort has much older birthdays so he looks even younger in comparison. These were fair arguments, just not compelling ones—at least to me. With no concerns about my son’s academic readiness, his social skills, or his developmental readiness, the teacher felt strongly that another year could be a gift to him—another year to play and be a little boy. Who wouldn’t get on board with that? The only thing I said during our hour was “Thank you, we would like some time to think this over.”
And that’s what I did, except when I said “think it over” what I meant was give myself time to read everything I could find and poll every person I know. At this point, I want to be able to say that the research (the paper kind and the people kind) clarified everything, but what I found was. . . contradictory at best.
There were some very good reasons for holding him back. One study found that the youngest students were much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and were three times as likely to repeat a grade. Umm, no thank you. Another study found that the oldest students were most likely to become student leaders. Well, what parent DOESN’T want that? At this point, I started daydreaming about my sweet boy as class president circa Class of 2022! But by far the most compelling argument for another year of PreK was what my mother (former preschool and kindergarten teacher) said: “You cannot underestimate the power of feeling confident and capable in the classroom.” Maybe Momma IS always right.
I was all ready to give him another year, but, of course, then I kept reading. The arguments against another year of Pre-K pushed me right back on my fence. There were negligible long-term academic benefits. The differences between the oldest and the youngest are the largest on the first day of kindergarten, but the advantages decrease over time. Younger students catch up with the oldest by third grade. Even studies that matched each child who delayed entrance with a child of like intelligence who had not delayed entrance did not find any solid proof that this practice made any difference at all.
Wowzers. What’s a good girl to do with data like this? So I shared it with my husband and then with Ellen, who both love a good dive into some research the way I love me a Netflix marathon. In the end, this was the take-away: despite research indicating there is no real benefit, it is becoming a common practice to “red-shirt” for kindergarten. While there are no large studies with good statistical significance to show that it is beneficial to hold back, it is most often recommended to white males with summer birthdays. Quite frankly, there are also whiffs that it is recommended so that schools have better scores on their rankings.
But even after this fair-minded even-handed analysis, I was still undecided. I called my dad, the fair-minded judge and father of 4. It’s his daily work to evaluate two sides of an issue, balance interests, and come up with good solutions. He just said, “What did your mother say? Do that.” Well, that was helpful. Thanks, Dad.
And my girlfriends? I leaned hard on those who had a summer baby that had started school already, but I was open to all advice. The results, while very much appreciated, were mixed and, in the end, not all that helpful. Asking the question did help move the needle a little though. I heard validated time and again what I already knew: all of these kids, including mine, are going to be just fine no matter what side I came down on. The decisions to start preschool or kindergarten and when are important decisions, but they are not deal-breakers. Kids grow where they are planted and nourished and cared for. I knew that. I needed to remember that. And the fifth time around this tree made it easier to see that.
At decision time, despite having to surrender my Good Girl crown, I went against the teacher’s advice and sent my child to kindergarten. This conclusion didn’t arise from any single thing we read or brilliant insight someone shared. The readiness assessments, while they did make us feel better, weren’t the deciding factors either. In the end, our son went to kindergarten, because one night after we put him to bed, Steve and I looked at each other and at the same moment said, “He’s ready.” He went because he was ready, and we both felt that to be true.
So five years later, how did things turn out for us and our boy? Well, there were mixed results for awhile. While he adjusted to kindergarten well and was meeting academic milestones with his peers, when I had a meeting with his teacher in the spring, she still had some concerns. Chief among them was that he was the youngest in his class (sound familiar?) and because this particular class skewed old, he looked young. Was he still appropriate for his age? Yes. Was he a behavior problem? No. Was she concerned about him academically? Not really. Was he driving her a little crazy? Maybe. We repeated this pattern in the classroom for the next couple years. But by third grade, he was doing so well, he earned himself the Citizenship Award that earned him a dog. But that’s a story for another day.
Bottom Line for You: If you plow forward with your summer baby and keep him or her with their birth cohort, you might still be talking about this or thinking about this. For AWHILE. This means that if you follow this path, you may be sitting in the little chairs discussing issues a little more often than other parents.
Remember what the literature said: it can take until third grade until everything evens out. Or not. All kids are different.
We are still putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward taking one day at a time with this child, but that’s honestly just parenting as I know it. Now we ask questions like: is he ready for the next step, challenge, or opportunity? So far, with love and guidance, the answer has been yes.
‘Tis the time in the season where we all hit gift gathering crunch time. Are you checking your lists and just now realizing there is nothing on there to “WOW” them? I mean, I know they really, really wanted that sweater and those boots, but will there be anything under the tree to surprise them and make them squeal “this is the best!”?
Are you thinking, “That’s a great point, but I’m also tallying up my credit card statement and there’s not a lot of ‘flow’ left to my cash.”
Well, delight can come cheap and easy, my friend. That “may” have not come out exactly as we intended, but with this list you can be a hero on par with Santa for not a lot of reindeer chow.
These right here are the entire reason this post was written. A friend told Ellen about them, and she was amazed! Every person Ellen has told about them has been amazed! Virtual reality for UNDER $10? It’s amazing!
So this is the world of Google Cardboard. You download the apps to your phone, pop it into this viewer, and you’re off to play games, explore ancient temples, or immerse yourself in the world of Star Wars. Just with this little thing. Really. These sturdy gems come fully assembled, and the only real complaint at this price point is that the cardboard hurts your nose. Some genius in the Amazon reviews discovered that slitting a Nerf dart along its length and slipping it over the cardboard edge provides the perfect cushion for your $8.99 wonder.
If you would like a bit more of a comfort upgrade, you can check out this plastic model. Still under $25!
Got a baseball player, tennis player, golf pro, or musician on your list? This fun little gadget can get them in tip-top shape in the most conversation-igniting way possible. You basically have to provide resistance against its spinning. It’s more addicting than it sounds. Trust us.
Never again get caught in the dark searching blindly through your handbag desperately trying to find your keys, cosmetics or other items that settle to the bottom of a cluttered purse. This little light is motion activated and turns off after a couple of seconds. Genius can be found in the simplest of ideas.
Speaking of losing things, we feel like we keep buying USB cables because we keep leaving them like breadcrumbs everywhere we go. Even if we have a plug or car charger available to us, we don’t have a cable. This beauty clips onto your purse or backpack to always be handy in a form meets function kind of situation. Works for Android and iPhone (there’s even a lightning cable).
Okay, maybe the last three gifts weren’t so much “wows” as much as they were “that’s pretty cool.” But seriously, just get the virtual reality glasses, be a hero, and call it a day.
It’s that point in the busy holiday season where we are all calling which corner we want to rock in later when we get a free moment. We say that you can keep on railing against the gods of time suck or you can make some adjustments. While we can’t stuff your stockings, hang your baubles, or roast your beast, we can help you find happiness amidst the hullabaloo. In fact, finding calm in the Christmas chaos is as easy as putting down the paper and scissors and putting on your thinking cap instead. We’re gonna keep this short and simple, folks, because quite frankly, who’s got the time, but here are five things better to give than presents. It truly is better to give than to receive, and these will bring you back to the holiday spirit in no time. Promise.
1) The Gift of Experience
We both believe that experiences trump things. To that end, over the years, we have given concert tickets, special trips, museum visits, and special lessons. We could say that the memories from those special moments were as much a gift to us as to our kids. But spending special time with their awesome moms is the ultimate gift for our kiddos AND they usually end up with a souvenir AND we end up with great pictures! Consider this idea a win-win-win!
Bonus that these gifts don’t need to be wrapped either.
The lads and Ellen AND her kids had a brilliant Christmas.
2) The Gift of Tradition and Time Together
We both be-deck our halls and weight our trees with as many memories as the walls and limbs can stand, but we never underestimate the power of unplugging.Erin’s family kicks it old school with a new puzzle every year. After they work as a family to put it together, then they mount it, and use it for a Christmas decoration the following year. A foolproof plan for fun and festive flair!
We both also give games. Sure, one might argue that our deeply rooted competitive natures might be at the heart of this one, but we offer this counter-argument. The Great Scrabble Rout of 2007? The Epic Camel Slaughter in Parcheesi? The time the four year old won the UNO tournament? These memories all rival any trip we have ever taken in the annals of family fun. So bottom line, you can think what you want. And if you are coming over this Christmas, be prepared to pick a card.
Every year, Grandma likes a photo with all of her grandbabies. It goes reasonably well most of the time. Not this year, apparently, but most of the time.
3) The Gift of Memory
Each year we both work our Shutterfly accounts like a boss to create calendars with pictures from the past year to guide us through the new one. We also both make family yearbooks. Because we started blogging in 2011, Erin is a little behind so her family is getting the 2011 yearbook this Christmas. Resist the urge to point out that we are now in the fleeting days of 2016. She knows. She KNOWS!
We like the also ran photos more than the album-worthy ones. These are the memories we hope we don’t lose.
4) The Gift of Acknowledgment
Every year Erin’s kids pick someone who has been an angel to their family. Then they give a plate of cookies and an angel ornament to that person. The conversation as they decide who to pick each year is a gift to them all as they realize how many wonderful people they have in their life.
5) The Gift of Each Other
As a general rule, the best gifts don’t actually fit in a box or bag. When Erin’s kids were young, they spontaneously created a play one Christmas Eve. Even as the kids have crossed over into Planet Teen, they have never given up creating a special performance for that night. It is, without question, the best gift Steve and Erin get all year and they are really hoping that one of the videos from these performances will hit it big on Youtube. Then it can keep on giving all the way to the Ivy League. How’s that for a Christmas wish?
Watching a little girl get all her big cousins to play trains with her is wish fulfillment of a different but equally great kind.
But that’s not all.
Our trees are trimmed to the nines with handprints, school pictures, and handicrafts of all skill levels. Our schedules are crammed with band concerts and Christmas plays and choral recitals. Our houses are full of trays of cookies, homemade decorations, and gingerbread houses.
Apparently when boys outgrow gingerbread houses, they get creative and start crafting things on their own. Like the TARDIS from DOCTOR Who.
We know that this is the good stuff. So we clean up the glitter glue and the paper confetti on the floor, work our crockpots to the max to get dinner to the masses before each performance, and buy more cookie sheets to keep our little cookie sweat shops cranking. The big wide world will be taking these kids soon enough.
For now, we will just take a deep breath, enjoy the chaos, and be grateful for our gifts.
And if none of this helps, we have found that nothing will help you get your holiday spirit on like a reluctant angel.
These are some things that have helped us find the happy sweet underbelly of Christmas in the midst of the madness. Think of them as the cookies before the main course. What? Cookies don’t come first? We’ll never tell. It’s the most wonderful time of the year after all.
Even on Planet Teen, the “making of the memories” part of parenting is the silver lining to all the other stuff that’s not fit to be shared on social media. We love investing in our family memory vaults even more when we can do it cheap and easy. That’s why this Christmas tradition is a slam dunk. On the one hand, you get a great family tradition to enjoy in the here and now. On the other hand, you get a holiday decoration you can pull out each year to relive the fun from years past while making even more memories. What is this fabulous unicorn of an idea? A Christmas puzzle. Here’s our short, sweet guide to an easy Christmas tradition you can start today and enjoy year after year.
Erin’s family grew up with this puzzle-making merriment, and she has spread this idea as far and wide as she can.
Step 1: Get a Christmas puzzle.
In Erin’s family, St. Nick brings the Christmas puzzle and leaves it by the shoes left by the fireplace on the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th, BTW). You can do it however you want. Heck, that crazy Elf could bring it. In any case, this whole thing will be a moot point if there is no Christmas puzzle to assemble.
There is already enough crazy this time of year. Just buy the puzzle already.
Step 2: Build the thing.
We highly recommend a puzzle with 500 pieces if you are new to puzzles. Traditions are supposed to be happy and bring joy, not take your family to the edge of sanity. Look for lots of different colors and patterns. Then designate a table with good lighting and have at it.
Bad lighting makes the natives restless. Proper illumination required.
Step 3: Stand back and admire your handiwork.
Not gonna lie. One man will carry your team to victory, and one other man (or woman or child) will claim he is the one who made the magic happen. That’s why it’s best to record these things for all eternity.
Erin may have said this when she placed the last piece.
Step 4: Mount the thing.
Do not skip this step. Puzzles do not go back into the boxes. It is now on its way to becoming your Christmas wall art. You must now carefully cut a piece of 1/4 ” plywood to the dimensions of your puzzle.
When we do this, we put a piece of contact paper on the front of the puzzle. Then we use a foam brush to put glue all over the plywood, and then we carefully attach the puzzle to the backing and remove the contact paper. But we are not awesome crafty people like Ellen. If there is a better way to do this, please tell us. We then let our puzzle dry for at least 48 hours before we move it.
Step 5: Record something special about the puzzle-making magic on the back.
Don’t skip this step either. We love reading the comments on the back of the puzzles almost as much as the puzzles themselves. We have no time for baby books or fancy journals, but this is so worth it. Honestly.
Step 6: Replace every last wall hanging with PUZZLES!
Not even every puzzle we own, but you get the idea. No more wall art. Only puzzles. All season long.
You get the incredibly awesome, super simple, relatively cheap idea. Join us in holiday merry-making at its most fun!
Enjoy you holidays! Feel free to share with us any great traditions you all have!
Man, it has been a rough teen week in the Dymowski household. My daughter is finishing up all of her college applications, my fifteen year old is learning to drive, and the thirteen year old who hates to read has a book report. We are, in short, a hot mess of emotions. As is our way, we are splashing this everywhere, a fair warning to anyone considering a visit or even a casual conversation. The conditions are, however, optimal for a little introspection and reevaluation. So it’s the perfect time to remember a tip for parenting through the teen years, one born many moons ago before Steve and I were even parents.
Back then, we were just two kids on our honeymoon in Ireland. The wildly changing temperatures meant that even in August, we might freeze like popsicles on a moor or dissolve in puddles of sweat walking through a quaint town. We casually mentioned this to our host at one of the bed and breakfasts. His reply? “That’s Ireland. Our country’s motto should be: don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Such straightforward, unadorned, and simple advice was exactly what we needed to adjust our expectations. Knowing that whatever foul weather befell us would swiftly give way to sunnier times made it easier to wade though the uncomfortable and unpleasant moments. Armed with newfound hope and perspective, we enjoyed the rest of our trip a little more.
Shortly after we returned home, we moved to the lovely coast of Maine. Ireland and Maine have much to recommend them in terms of raw, natural beauty and friendly natives. In terms of weather, not so much. To be frank, weathermen in both places have the easiest job ever. Pick a weather condition, throw it out there, and for at least part of the day, they are probably right. In any case, we felt that our friendly Irishman’s insight worked here too. “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute” became a salve on a raw, frigid day, a buffer that took the edge off a wet and miserable one. Better times were a-coming. We could soldier on.
Fast forward thirteen years (we had a honeymoon baby), and we were facing down a storm unlike any we had ever seen before. Our newly minted teen son was shaking our house with the full force and raw power of his adolescent fury. Gale force winds wish they had the power to rattle the windows like he did that day. Completely at a loss for what to do, Steve said under his breath, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”
“This too shall pass” on steroids, these words defused the situation. We both exhaled. Things were ugly now, but they wouldn’t always be. We could stay calm and cool. We could deflect his words and anger with a soothing presence. We could use the minute we were taking to practice empathy for our son. And we were lucky. This storm, like most teen tempests, blew hard but fast. Dawn brought cooler heads, better talks, and with them some much needed perspective.
Planet Teen can be a rough and inhospitable place. Harsh things are said, emotions run high, and terrible storms blow up. But here’s the thing, they also blow over. The key to staying high and dry when you are in the thick of it is to remember that most of the teen landscape, while a little rocky, is also full of wonderful things to see and do.
But if you have had a week with your teens like I have, let’s all just give ourselves a minute. Not all days are going to make the Facebook feed, but we are still living them. This bad weather we may be experiencing, while tough, isn’t the overall climate of our home. Better times are a-coming, and we are going to soldier on.
Even this far out, the first days of motherhood stand out in relief against the the thousand days that came after them. In between the marathon feedings, the endless diaper changes, and the general taking-care-of-new-baby time suck, there wasn’t a whole lot of time for a breath let alone a shower. The baby book was an Everest we felt we needed to attempt simply because it was there and everybody else was doing it. Well, time and experience are wonderful teachers and we can say with all authority that you can skip the traditional baby book entries. Who really needs to know what Junior’s first food was? Get to the heart of what parenting is really about anyway with these firsts that should be in the baby book. Childhood moments aren’t slaves to Hallmark standards. So in the spirit of true sisterhood, we are opening up our old archives now to share some of our favorite firsts. But we offer them with this this caveat: you don’t really need to write them down, they’ll be burned on your heart and brain.
1. First Epic Spit-Up
Are you wondering who can remember a spit-up since they are as common as political rants on Facebook? Well, Ellen can. It’s all about timing . . . and volume. Ellen had settled down on the couch with her hubby to watch a movie — what was to pass for their date night in their new life with a newborn. A spontaneous date night because they didn’t expect the baby to sleep. Hooray! There was no time to go to the video store and no, streaming was not an option. Did you not notice video stores were mentioned?
So at the mercy of HBO, they settled in to watch Dante’s Peak, a purely cheesy movie about a volcano erupting . . . when the baby awoke with a wail. Newbies that they were, they didn’t see that coming. So Ellen, desperate to watch the movie grabbed the baby and started nursing, and nursing, and nursing. At the EXACT moment the volcano erupted on their television, the baby erupted on herself, on Ellen, on Frank, on the couch, on the wall . . . are you getting that it was epic?
2.First Epic Diaper Blow-Out
Everyone has a great blow-out story, but Erin’s, like Ellen’s above, has the added bonus of uncanny timing. The scene: one sweet baby in a beautiful heirloom white christening gown, in the front row in Erin’s hometown church, with 300 witnesses present. As the strains of the first hymn floated out over the congregation, the sweet baby at the center of the scene let loose with a diaper blow-out that seemed completely at odds with the size of said child and necessitated not one, but TWO, wardrobe changes (for mom AND baby).
Unfortunately for Erin, as she checked the diaper bag, she realized that the only option for clothing was big brother’s dinosaur t-shirt. Seeing as how she was in church, it seemed like an awkward time to take the Lord’s name in vain, but she was thinking it. Long story short: Kid was baptized in brother’s growling dinosaur t-shirt. Come to think of it, this one was immortalized in photographs and probably doesn’t need a mention in the baby book.
3.First Time Baby Bites You
Nursing moms recognize this as the moment where you fully realize pain on a whole new level, the level being apocalyptic-holy-crap-that-hurts. It is also the moment when you realize that you could imagine putting a “Baby For Sale: Cheap” sign around his neck, if you could just get his clenched teeth off your nipple.
4.First Time Traveling with Kids Alone
Traveling with two mobile kids under the age of three on an airplane with a connecting flight was almost her undoing. Natural disasters pale in comparison to the maelstrom Erin’s kids whipped up in the Bangor Airport circa 2000. Things began unraveling the second she checked in. Erin was so worried that her little girl who was faster than Speedy Gonzales was actually going to vault her way onto the baggage carousel that she left her son’s jacket at the front desk. We’ll just call that Casualty #1.
When she finally wrestled the kiddos to the holding pen — ahem, the waiting area — things went from kinda crappy to Defcon 1. With kids intent on running in two equal but opposite directions, their belongings unattended and exposed to the whims of terrorists and thieves, and public opinion of her mothering skills tanking, Erin snapped like a twig. She stood in the middle of the airport waiting area and said, “Somebody is gonna have to help me. NOW.” Erin’s sanity, well, we’ll just call that Casualty #2.
Someone half-heartedly collared one of her two little n’er-do-wells long enough for Erin to kind of nudge the kids in the direction of the boarding area as she attempted to carry two carseats while pushing the stroller and shouldering the bags. This memory is a little lost to the elements of time and Post Traumatic Stress. Suffice it to say, casualties #3 and #4 were a second jacket and the stroller lost during the boarding process.
5. First Time Offered Unsolicited Parenting Advice By A Stranger
Erin survived the above scene without so much as a whisper of advice; Ellen was not so lucky in the grocery store. Her gaffe? Using big words with her toddler. In reprimanding her little bundle of fire, she may have used “unacceptable” and “deplorable.” A nice man actually turned his cart around to come back and tell her that her problem was that she used “big, fancy words.” Yeah, the country would just go down the toilet if more children had enriched vocabularies.
6. First Time Being Scolded By a Professional For Your Parenting
Ellen apparently gets all of the hate attention. The scene is now the dentist office where she was upbraided by the hygienist for the condition of her daughter’s teeth. “So did you manage to keep the two teeth she has left without fillings clean this time?”
Ellen was outraged but managed to calmly reply, “That’s not my daughter.”
The hygienist points at the chart, “Well, that’s her name.”
“But, that’s not her birth date, so I’d appreciate OUR chart so we can go to another dentist. One that takes malpractice a little more seriously.”
You should definitely double-check your facts before scolding Ellen.
7.First Time Getting Kicked Out of Story Time
Erin is part of a tribe of moms who all bear silent scars but should be wearing t-shirts that declare “I survived a Toddler from Hell.” Her wonderful, beautiful, spirited child could scale any surface (gravity be damned), escape any restraining device, and hurl herself to the precipice of disaster at any moment. It took great resolve for Erin to take this child into civilization AT ALL to spend time with other children. Therefore, it cut pretty deep when the sweet, lovely lady running the library’s story time took Erin aside and didn’t ask or imply or suggest, but practically begged her not to bring her child back. For the foreseeable future. Ouch.
Don’t let the curls and cute smile fool you. This one is a terrorist.
8.First Time They Read to You
Nothing wil thrill you more as a parent than watching your child enjoy something you love. As readers, those first moments when our kids picked up a page and made that special brand of magic for themselves was a great moment indeed.
9. First Time Your Kid Makes You Laugh Out Loud
We love that moment when the kids cross over from baby to little person. One of Erin’s favorite moments like this was with her then three year old. He was riding in the back seat with his friend whose dad is a hunter. His friend was explaining that you can tell how big a deer is by the number of points on his antlers. Her son thinks about it for a minute, grabs his ears, and then says, “I guess that makes me a two-pointer.”
So take a little piece of advice from two moms who have crossed kids over into young adulthood: celebrate, document, and record the little big moments. The really good stuff of parenting and raising kids isn’t in the neat lines but in the messy borders.
If there is a better gift to give than books, we don’t want to hear it. Here are thirty books we loved reading this year. They could easily be on a Best of 2016 list, but we think they belong here as gift guide for you. Every last one is just perfect for someone on your Christmas list. This is The Ultimate Book Gift List from us to you with love. So just fire up that Amazon Prime and start crossing people off your list today.
Coming of age stories, while charming and poignant, don’t always make great novels. This novel with its plucky, awkward 14-year-old narrator June avoids the pitfalls of the genre. June feels like she was born in the wrong era and yearns to be a falconer. When her story begins, it’s 1987 New York and her favorite uncle has just died of AIDS. June’s unlikely friendship with her uncle’s boyfriend forms the backbone of the novel. Erin gave up an afternoon to read it in big gulp. This is one you’ll miss when it’s over.
While these fictional stories are not necessarily true, their “truth” is irrefutable. A masterful storyteller, Gyasi weaves these stories of slavery and racism without ever becoming preachy or judgmental. While she structures the novel to bridge two continents and cultures to tell the stories of two African half-sisters and their descendants, she can easily not just tell the poignant details of their lives, but reveal larger truths about mankind’s cruelty to each other.
One of Erin’s friends recommended this one with the caveat, “When it gets hard, that’s when it starts to get good.” This book slammed into Erin’s life. By articulating the class struggle and placing it into historical context, it forces the reader to confront prejudices and an examination of some of the darker truths of the American Dream. A quick read that generates introspection, it will sit with you long after you turn the last page.
Erin’s brother-in-law recommended this one and if you want to be challenged about what you think you know about human history and how you know it, this is the book for you. It’s a delight to read and the ideas inherent in it force you to confront your expectations of mankind and what we have done as a species. As a Social Studies teacher, Erin found it fascinating. As a reader, she found it to be a quick, satisfying read that gave her space to contemplate some larger questions about the world.
Haunting and beautiful with depths that beg to be plumbed, this book brings it and then some. Well-rounded characters and gorgeous imagery set the stage for one killer knock-out of a book. This book is sexy with a capital S. Flawed, lovable Hazel and magnetic Claire will change everything you thought you knew about love, sexual attraction, and chemistry.
A quick moving plot, well-defined characters, and settings that transport the reader to another time and place set the stage for a book that you will not want to put down. A debut novel by an actual architect, this story of the transformation of Bernard, a man caught in historical and moral crossroads, delivers drama and authenticity, a double whammy any reader can appreciate. Riddled with uncertainties, Bernard decides that he can work with both sides, but as the novel unfolds, he discovers where he truly stands. The journey to that self-discovery is the heart of this novel.
As parents of young people just starting to make their way in the world, this is a hopeful book. As women of a certain age, it’s a bit devastating too. On the one hand, Kalanithi and his story is a beautiful tale of a life well-lived. On the other hand, it was one cut tragically short by cancer. A coming of age story as well as the story of his battle with cancer, his tale is populated with poignant and illustrative scenes. But by far the best thing about this book is Kalanithi’s lovely writing. His beautiful mind and spirit come alive in the pages. Our world is better for having had this man and now his book in it.
A riveting account of the crew that captured the gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Told through the eyes of Joe Rantz, a remarkable man who overcame much adversity to be one of the “boys in the boat,” this story is not so much about rowing as a sport but the power of sport to change lives. Erin rowed crew in college and Brown gets the details of the sport just right even though he never rowed. Vivid characters and a moving story propel this story to the ranks of “Must Read.”
Our friend Nina described this book as a book lover’s book. She is one of those friends who is usually right, so we just nod and listen to her. We are oh so happy we did. The quirky A.J. Fikry is an unlikely one to root for, but as the story unfolds, you can hardly help yourself. Loss, romance, and even a bit of mystery are peppered throughout and layered with humor. Each chapter doesn’t just advance the narrative but serves as an homage to one of Fikry’s favorite books. If you have ever lost or found yourself between the pages of a book, this is a must read.
We just love Ann Patchett, so it’s always hard when a favorite author has a new book. Will it be the worthy of the same love and devoted following as her other books? The answer here is “Oh, hell yeah!” A novel about two families whose fates are sealed at a Christening party with a large bottle of gin and ripe oranges. Moving back and forth in time and between members of the Cousins and Keating families, Patchett nails family life. The Greek tragedy and comedy of the whole enterprise is alive and well in her telling here. You will nod your head in recognition, laugh out loud, and even mist up. It’s a helluva read and that’s why it has to be one of this year’s best!
This is a hard read, but you just have to do it. “Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” This right here is the silent whisper in the shadow of each chapter. It’s what compels you to keep reading all the hard things contained in these pages and keep confronting the systemic inequities that cripple our ability as a nation to truly be free. We read this one with a group of friends and were able to laugh, cry, and wrestle with the uncomfortable truths within together. Whether you go it alone or find a buddy or ten to share it with, this book is one that needs to be read in the way that air needs to make it to lungs and water needs to slate thirst. This is not a just a book, so much as force of nature in your life. You will be different from reading it, but that’s the beauty and gift of it.
On the surface this book is nothing special, a familiar story about a SAHM who suddenly has to work full time. But “Danger, Will Robinson”, it’s the quiet ones that will get you. With its light, breezy touch, infinitely likable characters, and easily recognizable tensions, this book will sink its stealthy hooks into you and then spit you out an afternoon later. Erin adored Alice, her kids, and her very believable relationship with her husband. This may not be ground-breaking fiction, but it is a wholly satisfying, utterly delicious piece of literary pie.
We both love every opportunity to worship at the altar of the inimitable Strout and this book illustrates perfectly why. This simple and unassuming story is a powerhouse of story-telling. Lucy is recovering in a hospital bed when her estranged mom comes to visit. However, Lucy is no ordinary protagonist and Strout is no ordinary writer, so the results are literary fireworks. Small but mighty, this slim novel packs a lot of extraordinary into a tight, narrative thread. The perfectly rendered imperfect relationship between Lucy and her mother is a reader’s dream: nuanced, fully realized, and ringing with truth. This one is a keeper.
Every member of Erin’s family devoured this book this summer. The premise: a plane crashes, and there are only 2 survivors, one of them a young child. The promise: a story that unfolds with a few surprises full of characters you care about and a mystery you are interested in solving. You will stay up late to read the backstories of the people on the plane and find out what happened to the ill-fated flight. Fascinating and entirely unputdownable, this is a book that was on everybody’s must read lists this summer. If you haven’t read it, move it to the top of yours.
Any parent who has been through it will tell you: college admissions is an emotional pressure cooker. Nothing quite captures the high highs and the low lows quite like this utterly delectable piece of fiction. The Hawthornes are a family so familiar you feel from the first page like you might be reading about your next door neighbors. As their oldest gets put through the wringer applying to Harvard, dad’s alma mater, so do the rest of them. As the pressure is on, things start to unravel and secrets are revealed. Bottom line: an immensely enjoyable read for you that will make you grateful for your own process in comparison.
When it comes to advice about college, we listen to our friends Lisa and Mary Dell who write over at Grown and Flown, a great online resource for parenting through this next phase of life. They told us to buy this book, and we are ever so grateful they did. Chock full of great research, stellar examples, and good advice, this book is a gem, but what we felt was most helpful was the overall tone. Damour’s message time and time again is that we, as parents, can do this very hard thing of parenting our girls through this tough phase of development. With the cool confident tone of a priest or a hostage negotiator, Damour emphasizes that there is more than one way to “get this right.” Our harried teen mom hearts wish we could clone her and carry her around in our pockets to talk us down off our ledges when the time comes. In the end, this is one book that will deliver all of you to the other side and get you ready for the big, beautiful things that lie ahead.
This one might make you want to lock up ALL of your college aged kiddos, but you HAVE to read it. You know how we love to talk to kids about everything from sex to drugs to alcohol. Well, Krakauer lays out why we need to talk to our kids about alcohol and campus rape too. YIKES! But why, you ask? WHY?! We get that this is a tough read in many places, but Krakauer’s firm steady journalistic hand makes this one of the best, most important (but still immensely readable) things you can read, especially if you have kids filling out college applications or already cozied up in dorm rooms. It is a book that launched a thousand conversations for us. We are sharing it with you in the hopes that it will do the same in your family. A MUST read!
This, from Julie Lythcott-Haims’ Amazon author page, is one of the reasons we love her and her book:
I am deeply interested in humans – all of us – living lives of meaning and purpose, which requires figuring out what we’re good at and what we love, and being the best version of that self we can be. So I’m interested in what gets in the way of that.
Um, yeah, all of what she said. This is not a book about helicopter parenting, per se, so much as a path through the fears that can interfere with our parenting and foil our relationships with our kids. Lythcott-Haims tells us how we as a society evolved to this style of parenting and how to break the bad habits that threaten the job we are trying to do. Such insight in such a readable form! A book we keep coming back to again and again!
After a lovely party at the lake house, the Edevane family’s 11 month old son Theo goes missing. Morton’s page turner takes this pivotal moment in a family’s history and creates something special and utterly unputdownable. Told from two vantage points–2003 London and 1930s Cornwall–this book will have you ignoring kids just to figure out what is happening and where this story will go. As always, Morton’s gift for managing complicated story lines while simultaneously creating well-developed characters will make you grateful for all that extra time you have to read.
A good friend recommended this book calling it a “sexy beast of a read”. If you are anything like me, that alone might make you want to read this book, but if it doesn’t, try this: this is a novel that won’t be compartmentalized. A virtual smorgasbord of all good things literary, this book has action, suspense, courtroom drama, some literary allusions, and even a tiny sprinkling of horror toward the end. There are no small bites here; you will devour this book. Without a dull moment in sight, this book grips you from the first sentence and keeps you entertained and hungry for more until it delivers one sad reader at the very end. You will miss these characters and this story when it’s gone. Lucky for all of us, this is book one in a five book series. Read on, book warriors!
Don’t read the dust jacket: this book is neither Gone Girl nor The Girl on the Train, both books we really, really liked even with their creepy, psychological suspense. It IS a great read though. In fact, it reminded us more of Leanne Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret with the marital secrets and the mystery at the heart of it. Sometimes, multiple points of view can be distracting, but in this case, the structure of the novel contributes to some of the magic. Be forewarned: you could easily lose an afternoon falling down this delightful rabbit hole, but the pay-off is worth it!
Our book club read this one this year, and we universally loved and were inspired by it. So much so that those of us who had borrowed it from the library purchased copies to share with our kids. We were mesmerized by Malala’s chilling account of her hometown being taken over and then living under extremist terrorists, moved by her descriptions of the Swat Valley where she grew up, and emboldened by her courage. The book held up for us as a read, not just a recounting. 2016 is The Year for Global Girls. Lose yourself in Malala’ s incredible story and find yourself fired up about getting girls all over the world access to educational opportunities.
We share a huge author crush on Rainbow Rowell. We both LOVED Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, so we had huge expectations for this book, especially because favorite characters from Fangirl show up again in this story. Well, the inimitable Rowell never fails to surprise, entertain, and stun us with her craft and cleverness. She can also give you that rare stomach flip. Even in a book about magic, she is the real deal. Before you start to call this book Harry Potter for big kids, you have to know that this book is its own brand of special. How do we know? Over 500 pages disappear in a flash before your very eyes. This is Rowell at her best. The results? Magical.
Erin gobbled this one right up. She even took it backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. Nothing says “must read” like a willingness to cart those extra ounces up and down a mountain. In any case, the novel opens as stay-at-home mom Allison’s life is about to go off the rails. She goes to her childhood best friend’s book signing one night and has a little too much to drink. Mere hours later, she is involved in a fatal accident in which a child dies. The air you take into your lungs in the big gasp in the beginning takes this whole well-paced novel to be released. This may not be high literature, but it is a captivating read that makes you think. Like we said, you are gonna want to take big bites of this one.
Erin laughed, cried, and ignored her kids for three days to finish this piece of book crack in the big, sloppy gulps it demands. You know from the beginning that there has been a terrible tragedy at the local school’s Trivia Night, because Moriarty leaves little crumbs at the end of each chapter. But that’s not the story here. This is NOT another legal thriller. A big, sprawling character study of modern moms, it may be. An ironic, funny take on modern parenting, it definitely is! It’s also a rollicking good time. You’ll laugh and cringe at just how right Moriarty gets all the characters hanging out in the school parking lot. A great read for fall while still reminiscent of that last joyful moment of summer indulgence.
A book lover’s dream, this first novel has the trifecta for a satisfying read: great well-developed characters, a dynamic and well-paced plot, and some nice curve balls to keep you guessing. Our protagonist Grace looks like a simple girl from Tennessee, but she can’t hide her complex and slippery character for long. You’ll root for her and want to wring her neck in equal measure. There’s a question that hangs over the novel from the beginning that’s begging to be answered and when Scherm finally gets around to it, you are grateful for the care she took in the build-up as well as the payoff itself. This is a debut that leaves you wanting more.
Moms of daughters, beware: this read will make you want to lock your girls up and throw away the key. But despite the dark cloud that hangs over this novel as a teen girl goes missing, there is so much to enjoy as well. Ng is a writer’s writer and she doesn’t so much document this family’s unraveling as their personal hell unfolds as invite you to pull at the fraying threads with her. At once, a novel about family, the mother/daughter dynamic, and cultural divides, this book is also achingly real and familiar. The truth hurts so bad in this one, but the reader is so grateful for every perfect note Ng hits. If the ship is going down, we might as well learn something from the trip. Ng makes sure she plumbs the depths so well that this is one dark corner now revealed.
Erin always considers it a good thing when she wants to throttle and hug the characters in equal measure. Straub’s story offers up characters that deliver on this front. College bandmates now mellowing in middle age, Elizabeth and Andrew who are married live down the street from old bandmate Zoe and her wife Jane. The band’s fourth member Lydia achieved some success on her own. When a film about Lydia’s life requires them all to touch the past, their present unravels a little at the seams. Straub’s deft hand controls the realistic tensions, steers the careful and realistic examination of midlife, and delivers characters that resonate. A satisfying, well-paced read by a gifted writer.
If you can judge a family by its flaws, the Plumbs are a perfect hot mess of a crew. They also couldn’t be more charming. The novel kicks off with the family inheritance in jeopardy after one of the siblings gets himself into hot water. As the four siblings wrestle with the mess left behind, it would be tempting to dismiss them as shallow or lacking substance. However, Sweeney gives each character multiple dimensions. She exposes their humanity and moves the story along. In doing so, their tale of personal woes, family ties, and thwarted ambitions is reminiscent of challenges we all face. A thoroughly entertaining read.
Marriage isn’t a straight narrative so much as a thousand shimmering moments—beautiful, terrible, and strange—and Offill lays them all out for us in this gripping, lovely book about what it means to take this particular trip. With her unique gift for plucking the extraordinary from the everyday, Offill doesn’t just offer up moments from a marriage but gives us glimpses of the diamonds hidden in the rough patches as well. Offill’s structuring of the story can be the reader’s hard work. Through her careful curation of snippets from the marriage at the heart of this novel, Offill leaves the reader asking on every page—how do these pieces fit together? what does this mean here? Yet it’s these tenuous but important questions that serve the story she is trying to tell and give the reader a satisfying and wonderful read.
We hope these page turners will make it easier to thrill any readers on your list.
Of course, you could just print this list out and hope they end up under your own tree.