Tag Archives: kids

Raising the Artists

Noah Louvre

When my oldest was about eight years-old, he wanted to be an astronaut.

“Yes!” I agreed enthusiastically, “You can be anything you want!”

Thus, he went several weeks wearing a NASA costume and having adventures with his stuffed animals in ships made of cardboard boxes and fuzzy blankets.

I was pleased. How AMAZING to raise a person who not only wanted to pursue science but also had the adventurous spirit to be blasted into the galaxy on an engine of fire.

 I would keep the tissues handy for the moment he said, “I owe it all to you Mom,” from the space station on Mother’s Day.  

Homeschooling Mom triumph.

Mission accomplished.

Phenomenal social media potential.

So when the space fervor died down, and this same child (upon whom the fate of many future Facebook posts rested) started sketching ghoulish creatures and writing stories involving ninja mice and robotic dinosaurs, an alarm went off in my head. And when he later expressed interest in a career as a *gasp* filmmaker; I thought to myself, “Well, at least I have three other kids who can pursue something ‘practical,’ ” while handing him a camera.

When you have four kids, odds are one of them will turn out “well.”

But now that two of my other children have gone over to the art side, it leaves me with the hope that the one careerishly undecided child might do something for a living that will fund a winter condo on Santorini.

This same child attends a German school, and interestingly enough, when he was tested for a possible career, the experts said that while he has all the makings of a good engineer, they noticed he thinks outside the box and could pursue a more creative field.

The shock! The horror! What did I do wrong? When the most practical, logical people on earth are against me? 

I suppose my kids never had a chance with a Mother who, as stated on her Kindergarten report card, has her head in the clouds. This same mom with a Masters degree in English Literature (nominally more practical than a creative writing degree) and a passion for fiction writing, not only permitted, but encouraged a multitude of creative endeavors.

The real shock is not that my kids have turned to their artistic sides, but the shock is that it took me by surprise.

How could I NOT see it coming? What, with all the puppet shows and frenzied writing marathons during NaNoWriMo. Maybe if I’d forced them into science boot camp (if there is such a thing) they would’ve chosen careers that would pay for our future family reunions in San Tropez.

No. I have raised artists.

kate sus bw

*Parents Beware: When you allow children to spend time plucking stringed instruments, dancing in full costume, writing books, and performing home-grown scripts, you increase the chance that they will WANT to follow their dreams as adults.

Holy hell, what was I thinking, building that puppet theater in the basement?!

The bare-bones fact is that our own insecurities force expectations on our kids that fit them like straight jackets.

Can you imagine a world without Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, or Hogwarts or R2D2?

Why are we so damned afraid to raise artists?

Life would have the depth of a mud-puddle, without art to reflect precious intangibles, such as beauty, spirit and love.

I have slowly made peace with the idea that there is a place for artists in the world. It is a gamble, but maybe it’s okay for my kids to eat ramen noodles and work two jobs while they happily pursue their passions.

If I, as a parent, can live simply yet contentedly doing what I love, then maybe the young artists under my roof can also be satisfied in the richness and beauty of the lives they create for themselves. And when they share a higher ideal with someone else; when their art moves another person towards an emotion; then life becomes that much richer.

I don’t want to button up my kids with my fears. Though my motives might be “practical” and though they might make more “money” as bankers or dog psychologists; I would rather have them live free; and breathe; and make beautiful things.

There is too much ugliness in the world already.

It’s time to boldly raise the artists.

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School Crossing

school crossing

I hear the coffee maker de-calcifying, as I sit in my living room, drinking a second pot. Even with the gurgles and steam blasts emanating from the kitchen, the only other sound I hear is that of our labrador’s too-long nails, clacking on the floor as he searches for the kids.

A certain energy seems to have been packed up with their school books and taken out in rucksacks.

My kids have never been to a brick & mortar school before–not in their entire lives. And now, they make the daily trek to a place where they’re expected to learn in a completely different language.

They HAD to go to school somewhere–that was evident. But they did have the choice. They could go to the US or stay in Germany.

They chose Germany.

So, I walked them over on the first day of school and handed over the reins to people I’d never met.

Having been a homeschooling Mom for 12 years, I thought this would be tougher to do. I thought I would have tears or sadness. But honestly, it was a relief.

The teachers were friendly, the principal helpful and the students, as I would hear later, were friendly and curious about these American kids who’d just been woven into this tightly-knit Franconian world.

As I walked home alone from the school, I felt happy and excited for my kids.

I was so proud of them.

Proud that they saw German school not as an impossibility but merely a challenge.

While they were gone (for a whole 2.5 hours); I distracted myself with some deep cleaning and brownie-baking; as baked goods seemed a first-day-of-schoolish sort of thing.

When the bustle and energy returned to the house, I heard story after story about teachers and students and books and language and food…

My youngest even walked home with a new friend, and though there was a limited mutual vocabulary, these two had become buddies on day one.

I was relieved.

Sometimes you charge forward, not knowing if you’ll wave your flag on the hilltop, or if you’ll have to retreat and regroup, and figure out where the hell you are on the map.

But for this day; for this hour; for this very moment, my kids have won a significant battle that will change the course of their histories.

And I am damn proud of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Parenting with Chocolate

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… and yes, I am pregnant in this picture!

I ate chocolate.

It wasn’t dark, paleo-friendly chocolate either.

It was a big, square Ritter bar with nuts.

I ate two of them.

Not the little squares that you break off the grid–but ALL the little squares.

Two bars’ worth.

After I ate them, I thought: “Wow! That’s weird. Why did I eat those?”

Considering the mountain marathon I have coming up in September, I’ve been pretty good about my diet. I eat lean meats and veggies. No sugar, no gluten (as always), no nuts, eggs, fruits or grains. I ‘cheat’ on Friday with my gluten-free pizza and a glass of red wine, while the kids and I watch a movie; and Pancake Morning (or lately, Crepe Morning) on Sunday. IF I have chocolate, it usually coincides with Movie night. But TWO bars?! This was a first.

Why? I wondered. Why?

I can’t just eat chocolate and enjoy it–no, I have to psychoanalyze it.

I think it started with my eldest son saying he was buying a one-way ticket to Guatemala.

I’ve been preparing myself for his launch for a while, and honestly, I’ve been happy for him. But it’s just that talk about airline prices made the event a little too real.

But I know how it is when you’re waiting for life to start. While I LOVED raising my kids in Alaska, I always had this feeling that life had not quite begun for me. That while I WAS involved in the toughest, most important job on earth (which ironically included mind-numbing bouts of Dora the Explorer), there was always this sense that there was something else out there that would light the fire in my soul. For some women, child-rearing is that spark–and they are good at it. They have their babies, they adopt, they homeschool, and I truly respect them for how well they do this.

But no matter how much I enjoyed it, and no matter how good I was at it–it wasn’t quite me. Not quite.

It’s the same with teaching.

I love interaction with the students.

I love being there when the ‘light bulb’ clicks on.

I love being helpful.

But it’s still not quite me.

The one thing that does ‘light the fire’ is writing. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In fact, sometimes I hate writing. I’ll sit down to the computer, stare at the blank screen and think, ‘What the hell am I going to write?’

But if I stop over-thinking, the words will come. And before I know it, I have something to say.

When I was writing my fiction manuscript, I would read a new chapter to the kids every morning at breakfast–and even though it was course and unrefined, they loved listening to the adventures of the main character. We were transported from those dark winter days, sitting by the sunshine-lamp at the breakfast table, to another world where animals could talk and girls could fly.

While I can (and do) write non-fiction, fiction is my passion, my true love, and hopefully the words I craft can help people along the way. I am a firm believer that even fiction can make lives better. I mean, why do we have such a love for Cinderella stories or happy endings?

It’s because fiction gives us a sense of the good things in life. That life CAN and SHOULD be lived to the fullest.

It’s hard work though. Cinderella did get stuck with all the dirty chores and emotional abuse before things turned around for her. And while we can’t always expect a Fairy Godmother, we can work hard towards our dreams.

Why go through life without dreams?

And so…with the words one-way ticket and Guatemala in my mind… I prayed that I would have the strength to let my son go.

It didn’t take long.

After two bars of chocolate and a little crying, I felt genuinely happy for him.

Because I know how it is to feel stuck. To feel like your real life hasn’t started. And our time on earth is very limited. It should never be wasted.

Marathon running, CrossFit, writing–these things are part of me. They shape who I am as a person. Parenting is also just one part of my life–not the whole of it. Because if my only job is to be a parent, then I lose myself. And it makes launching children into the world nearly impossible.

I want them to live their lives and strive for their dreams.

That’s my job.

I just have to let go.

Of the kids, as they become independent.

And of the chocolate.

Because it doesn’t really help after all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Different is Good

bw fountain

My birthday is perilously close to Mother’s Day, which means I only get one cake. On the bright side, the kids never forget my birthday because every store window reminds them to get something for their Mom.

This year had a different feel to it; and when things have been pretty much the same for twenty years, (to quote Groundhog day): “Different is good.”

My birthday landed on a Thursday–a non-Crossfit day–which meant no birthday burpees for me. Instead, I took the kids to Wurzburg to my favorite Thai food place and afterwards for the best coffee (at a nondescript little hole in the wall) and ice cream in Germany. Interestingly, both places are run by Italians. I’m thankful they brought their beans and gelato north of the Alps.

The difference this year was that there was no spouse to take pictures of me with the kids. It was a strange feeling.

As we walked through the palace garden, it was hard to watch couples strolling along holding hands, or to see a kid riding on his dad’s shoulders. You start to ask “Why can’t we have that?”

Why do I only have a strong espresso in my hand where fingers should be laced?

But questions that don’t have answers only set you down the road to self-pity–not a good place to go.

It’s far more productive to be thankful: for the unique individuals I call my offspring; for the laughter; for the coffee; for the ability to walk and run and lift heavy.

I’m even thankful for the trials because they are forcing me to become the person I want to be.

But I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: my life is not The Notebook (which, for the record, I only saw once and could not stand it).

My life comes with tears that work my abs and moments where I have to pull the car over because my sweet little family is unraveling in the rear view mirror.

I have come to understand that my life ‘before’ wasn’t life at all–it was existence. I did not have some incredibly amazing passionate marriage in which my partner suddenly had medical problems, and I, as the ever-loving, patient wife would care for him and see him through. The hard reality is that things had been messed up for a long time; and I though I wanted things to be better, I was smart enough to have already begun the long journey towards independence, well before the medical problems complicated matters.

I AM a Taurus, which means when something isn’t working,  you either fix it perfectly or smash it all to hell and start over.

That stubbornness, a quality I had loved about myself,  had been covered with twenty years of dust before Crossfit came along to clean house.

I’m thankful it did.

I’m starting to figure out what kind of person I really am–even though I sometimes don’t like what I see. I want to be like ‘good’ people–you know, the ones who always seem happy.

My kids are feeling this too. My youngest and I were talking about how ‘different’ we feel these days–and how it’s almost painful to be around ‘good’ families. I guess part of this whole process is discovering the joy of being a family exactly like ours: figuring out how WE roll and not comparing ourselves to others and sure as hell not WANTING to be like other families.

Our scars show that we’ve been actively engaged in life, not merely witnessing it from a protective bubble.

Different is scary.

But different can be good.

So, we press on, move forward, and scrawl out the first word of the first chapter of this new life. 

 

 

 

 


Strong Enough to Move a Deep Freezer

moving day

CrossfitterMama working hard

I used to think phrases like “find your inner strength” were kind of…well…cheesy. Like something that should be written on a gym bag. However, over the past four days I’ve discovered something about myself: I am strong enough to move a deep freezer.

Sure I had help from my teenage son. Okay, he did most of the lifting on that one. But I did manage to scrape it against the stairwell in such a way that left a nice gash in it, which we will fondly remember whenever we reach for the pineapple-coconut Haagen Dazs.

Moving an entire household is a pain in the ass (and the legs, and the arms, and the hands); and when it is just you and your teenage son, it can be outright comical. And tragic.

Alas poor washing machine, I knew him well Horatio. 

(The washing machine was left behind due to…((ahem)) technical difficulties removing it from the water supply).

When I first realized that as the adult in charge, I was responsible for the entire move (and I wasn’t willing or able to part with the 1,800 euro quoted by the movers, who may or may not have criminal records) I was a little intimidated. My facebook messages that day to certain friends would probably be rated R for foul language and adult emotional themes (if there is such a thing).

Basically, I wanted to pack our bags (the children, dogs and I) and run away. But after a few words of wisdom and re-direction from friends, I knew that I HAD to do this move. I also knew that if I could run 6 marathons and NEVER, EVER willingly set my kettle bells down during a WOD, I had the inner strength (stubbornness, as my mom says) to do this move.

We did it, my son and I, with support from friends. But the heavy lifting was all us. And I am damned proud of my son. In fact, I’m proud of all my kids, and the way they rose to the challenge, pulled together to make this happen. It truly bonded the kids and I and marks a shift in the family dynamic.

This whole ordeal has shown me one, single, important, life-changing thing.

I am strong.

This might not be a revelation to some of you. But for me, this is something that has shaken me to the core. For years I have imbibed the message that we are weak. And when we are weak, God can make us strong.

I still believe this is true to a certain extent.

But I also believe that sometimes you just need to suck it up. God doesn’t want to hear you crying anymore about how weak you are. Maybe God just wants you to pick your ass off the floor and go move something heavy.

If I had to label myself a year ago, I would have called myself a “Conservative Christian Homeschool Mom.”

These days, I am peeling back those labels to find the real person underneath.

Labels have so much wrapped up with them–mostly the ideas of other people. And if you don’t measure up to their ideals, then something is wrong with you. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of people wanting what I can’t give. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I also want to be myself, even if it means showing my ugly side once in a while.

I would love to live a life where I felt comfortable being myself. Where I could say what I wanted without fear. For years I have played a role that wasn’t true to that person I am on the inside. I AM a people-pleaser. And the problem is that as a people-pleaser, you often find yourself miserable.

And the (erroneous) theology that has blanketed me for so long told me that if God wants me to be miserable, then I had to accept it and BE miserable my whole miserable life and trust that He would reward me later.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Not that I will just run out and do every selfish thing that pleases me, but I have learned that my happiness IS important. It IS a treasure that needs to be guarded, because people will try to take it from you.

Sometimes we cannot control circumstances, but things like misery and happiness are choices we make.

And now I know, at heart-level, that if I am strong enough to move a deep freeze, refrigerator, couches, a dryer (sans washer), untold numbers of books (I AM a lit major), and five bedrooms worth of furniture, I am strong enough seek, guard and protect happiness in my life.

It will be a fight.

But I will win.

And I hope the same for you.

YOUR happiness matters.

Grab it tightly, and never, ever let it go.


Pure Unadulterated Stress: How to Cope

BOL barbell

I was standing amidst a pile of rubble and cardboard boxes, which once was my room, when I realized my son had an orthodontist appointment that day. Like a good mom, I checked the time five minutes before I thought we were supposed to leave, when SURPRISE, I had already missed the appointment.

When I called, the receptionist said we could reschedule for 15:30. We walk in at 15:15, and they look at me like I’m crazy and then tell me I was SUPPOSED to have been there at 10:30 (zehn and funfzehn sound remarkably similar when you can never hear on the phone to begin with, usually because of kids and dogs disturbing the peace, but mostly because I just can’t frigging hear on the telephone; and when you are second-language impaired).

We reschedule.

I revert to speaking English because my brain has completely SHUT DOWN. Even when she used short, slow words to help me, I could not process them. It was like she was speaking yet a third language.

The receptionist, who is now somehow speaking English (and I hope that I am as well) patiently works out everything I’ve messed up (including making arrangements for my son to see a dentist?!! before the next orthodontist appointment), pins the note to my overcoat, puts a lunch-pail in my grubby little hand, and shuttles me to the bus stop.

Just kidding on that last part, but the attitude was the same–plus it might’ve helped.

Food. My son needed food. But I was still trying to work out appointments and replaying conversations in my head in German. Should I have said this? Should I have said that? HOW do you say this or that??? Do I have time to make it to Crossfit? Ugh! Brain overload!

Meanwhile, my kids were home taking screws out of furniture to prep for the move and my husband was at the doctor having vials of blood drawn to test for scary diseases.

There were more stress layers flaking from this day than paint on a midwestern farmhouse.

*author is not responsible for the accuracy of metaphorical language.
*In fact, the author is not certain her metaphors are even making sense at this point.
*author does not care.

My son and I went for Chinese food, and over a plate of chicken fried rice, I regained my senses (somewhat).

I always used to say that stress is a reaction. But sometimes, it builds up to where your brain simply shuts down.

Usually, Crossfit helps me to relieve this kind of stress, but of course with the move, I hadn’t been to the box in three days. Despite the fact that I’ve been lifting boxes and carrying furniture downstairs, the lack of WODing has taken its toll.

I don’t know exactly how Crossfit works its magic. It seems so simple: lift something heavy. But how does lifting something heavy clear your mind? I can’t answer this. I only know it works. It’s my form of meditation. I come away relaxed, focused, de-stressed, and a little high from endorphins, or whatever chemicals wake up in my brain.

Plus there’s the added benefit of multiple hugs from my friends and the occasional emo purge while we stretch.

I’ve got a lot on my mind this week. What if my husband’s tests come back badly? Does it suddenly change all of our marital problems? What if they can’t diagnose anything, and he just goes on feeling crappy all the time? What if I forget another appointment? How will I get my old house cleaned out by the end of the month? Will my couch fit down the staircase at the new place? What about my daughter’s birthday? Or my anniversary? Do you still celebrate when you’re barely communicating? Do I post a ‘happy 20 years, darling’ on facebook, because that’s what people expect? Or do I say, ‘i hope we make it to 21’? What if he has cancer? 

Fears.

Stress.

Negativity.

I need to let it go.

Crossfit is the master reset button.

So, instead of packing more boxes today, I’m taking a time out.

I need to think about nothing but the steel in my hand, so I can loosen the grip stress has on me.

It’s time to let go.


Stop Feeding Your Baby Crack

6437676865_28eecdda8e_z

I’m about to offend many of you and possibly hurt your feelings. But if you were giving your kid sleeping pills before the WOD, I might take you aside and say, “Dude, don’t you think that could hurt her?”

I am not a doctor, so this rant is completely unscientific. But I am a mom of four kids, so I feel like I can tell you this with all love:

STOP FEEDING YOUR BABY CRACK!!!

It is ironic that people will spend months or years training to lift their own body weights, but they won’t take the time train their kids to sit still for more than 60 seconds. Apparently, a “good” kid is one who sits zombified in the corner with his own little flatscreen.

No, that’s not a well-behaved kid. That’s a kid on heroin. A well-behaved kid can sit in a corner for an hour and entertain himself with his own imagination AND stay out of the way of people lifting heavy weights.

Wait…what about toddlers, you say?

Toddlers are a breed of their own. And guess what? They’re not supposed to be QUIET. They are loud, screaming terrors who will exhaust you before they’re even awake in the morning. But is that any reason to give them a flat screen?

When you toss a baby a flat screen, you create an addict, and you fall victim to LAZY PARENTING SYNDROME. Which is harder to do: train a screaming kid or toss a sedative into the playpen?

Yes, a screaming kid is going to annoy people, but you CAN work through it.

Toughen up, buttercup!

If you can deadlift 115% of your body weight, you can handle a 20 pound toddler! 

I promise!

While there’s no “proof” that screen time is related to ADHD, you can look around you and know right away which kids get a LOT of screen time, and which ones don’t. Seriously. My kids get 1-2 hours PER WEEK, maybe 3-4 if they’re sneaky [*teenagers not included, as they are on their own now].

When my kids were babies & toddlers…NADA. I was afraid to let them watch Baby Einstein for an hour. By the time my kids were 3, I could reasonably expect them to sit still anywhere–from a seat on an international flight to a restaurant with cloth napkins and candles.

How?

Work. Hard, difficult, gut-wrenching, grueling, sweaty, exhausting, emotionally-taxing work.

When we moved to Germany, I had 4 kids under the age of 6, and I found that during car rides, my kids fought MORE when they had personal video game gadgets. That’s because the video games encourage you to tune out the world around you, and overcome obstacles in the virtual world. And when anything gets in the way of achieving those false goals (like a chatty sibling), it creates tension and frustration–not exactly good qualities when you’re on a 12 hour car ride to Tuscany.

The thing that inspired today’s rant was an article someone sent to me about an infant seat that is equipped to hold an iPad above your baby’s head, which I thought was akin to child abuse.

Please, people. You’re harming your baby’s brain. Stop feeding them crap! If you Crossfit, you should inherently know the value of having tangible goals, of working your body to improve it. So why is inundating your child with a false reality ok?

What to do instead?

Give your kid a big, thick, heavy rope.

  • When she’s a baby, she’ll drool on it.
  • When she’s a toddler, she’ll stumble over it a few times before learning to climb over it.
  • When she’s a pre-schooler, she’ll try to drag it around.
  • When she’s school-aged, she’ll play tug-of-war with it (if her friends can lift their side).
  • When she’s in high school, she’ll teach the kids she babysits to climb it.
  • When she graduates, she’ll want to take it to college…
  • …but you won’t let her because you’re hoping you’ll be able to let your grandkids drool on it someday.

Is the rope scratchy? Will she fall? Will she (gasp) hurt herself?

Maybe. But it’s better than a lifelong diet of brain damaging stimuli.

Afraid to use the words ‘baby’ and ‘rope’ in the same sentence? Get her a ball.

A big, heavy med ball.

She’ll drool on it. She’ll push it around. She’ll pick it up.  She’ll break your Polish pottery with it. She might even piddle on it during potty training.

But she’ll be strong.

She’ll be like you.

Crossfit is not about muscle. It’s about grace, flexibility, perseverance and using what you have to leverage things that are difficult for most people. Parenting is the most difficult job you can have, but if you put in the effort, you’ll see the results.

Eventually.

Hang in there, friends. Don’t let iPad be your baby’s little addiction. Make her a Crossfit addict instead. 

*For more info on tactical parenting, you can read the book I co-authored: The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel with Kids, available in hard copy through Lulu.com or digitally (ironic, I know) through Amazon.com or download directly from Uncommon Childhood.