A Good Mother Would’ve . . .

It’s February again, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I’m sure the holiday is welcomed by romantics, but not so much by this clutter-minded momma of four. Especially not this year: It’s my youngest child’s last year in elementary school. My baby girl is growing up. There’s to be no more class parties where sticky-cupcake fingers exchange obliged valentines. Bittersweet. I’m trying to maintain a semblance of parenting perspective.

Two years ago, when my daughter was a third grader, she taught me a lesson in planning ahead—being prepared. I was in the kitchen, hurriedly slopping together a late dinner when she said, “Momma, don’t forget I have to take in a decorated box with my valentines tomorrow.”

“Valentines?” I rummaged through a stack of school papers on the counter: Father-Daughter Dance invite, spiritwear order, the soon-to-be-late soccer physical, donation requests, and an urgent plea for Box Tops. Near the bottom, I found it. I glanced over at the calendar. Darn it. She was right. But in my mind, Valentine’s Day was still floating faraway in next week somewhere. A good mother would’ve remembered.

I turned down the stove, then rummaged through the recycling bins until I found a shoebox. I plopped the box on the table and reminded my daughter where she could find the construction paper, glue, and tape. I returned to cooking while she assembled her shoebox—unaided, other than help with the scissors. She patched her box in various shades of blue and created a kitten of sorts on the top; its mouth cut open to receive the cards. It was simply beautiful, completed all on her own. But still, we had no Valentine’s Day cards. It was very cold outside, and I’d just spent two hours at the grocery store not four hours earlier. So we ate our dinner and went to bed. A good mother would’ve run to the store for valentines or stayed up late making homemade hearts.

The next morning, after I got the high-schooler fed and out the door, it was time to wake the middle-schooler. My first daughter. Some mornings she’s delightful and thoughtful, but some days, like this day, she was totally unreasonable. From wanting to wear shorts in eighteen-degree weather to the food she was not going to eat, everything was a battle. By the time her carpool ride pulled up, I was emotionally drained and still wearing pajamas. That’s when my third grader ambled down the stairs, rubbing sleep from her eyes. I remembered then! Hastily, I got us ready and out the door. No time for breakfast. A good mother would’ve made the time.

At the nearest store, the boxed valentines were nearly picked clean. It’s no longer acceptable to give out just valentine cards; kids expect candy now, too. We continued looking, hoping. Most of the remaining valentine-candy combo kits had the dreaded warning: “May contain peanuts or tree-nuts.” Finally, I spied a lovely box of “Tootsie Pop Valentines.” The ingredients read safe! I smiled down at the promising, colorful images that plastered the packaging: butterflies threaded with sucker sticks. Simple, but cute. We checked out and left hurriedly—and hungry. I’d forgotten to buy a package of string cheese and mini muffins like I’d planned. A good mother wouldn’t have let serendipitous luck derail her plans.

We stopped at McD’s to eat and label the valentines. We walked carefully in the parking lot, avoiding icy patches, only to realize at the door that I’d forgotten the class list and permanent marker in the car. After navigating the ice again, finally, we settled into a booth near the cashier counter. I left my daughter at the table to start assembling the cards and suckers while I ordered. After paying, I looked over and saw her making funny faces—arms waving wildly. And then startling words reached over the short distance that separated us, “There’s no cards! Only candy!”

I slid the tray of food onto our table, and then studied the sucker box. Near one of the endearing butterfly images, in the tiniest of print it read: “Use your own cut outs with the enclosed pops.” I had nothing but a box of regular suckers. I turned one over in my hand, hoping for a writable place on the wrapper, but nothing. Time was ticking loudly in my head now. I looked at my disappointed daughter’s face and wondered if skipping school would be an acceptable option. Damn it. “Okay, look. This is what we have—suckers and a Sharpie—and we’re gonna have to make it work. Write the names on the white sticks of each sucker.” She printed the miniature names as instructed, while I marked each completed child off the list. Our food sat on the tray getting cold.

Fifteen minutes later, I was driving us to school, sipping my cold coffee at the lights. My daughter finished her breakfast sandwich. Time still seemed doable—maybe we’d only be slightly late. But then, I turned the corner and saw the surprising line of minivans and SUVs. I pulled to the side of the road. “Let’s walk,” I said. We jogged instead. A good mother would’ve anticipated the loads of box-carrying kids not riding the bus.

I got my third grader to the school door just before the bell rang. She flashed me a sweet goodbye smile. I watched until she disappeared into the long hallway, then turned and headed back to my car. While walking through the parking lot, I noticed some things: shouting mothers pulling their kids along, late kids popping out of minivans, and several little red faces streaked with tears. Many carried elaborately decorated valentine boxes that were just too perfect, too precise. Too pink. My child went to school happy with her self-made blue box, filled with unadorned suckers. Even though I’d goofed in preparing for Valentine’s Day, it got done. And maybe my daughter learned a few things too: improvisation, making do, and just how to go with the flow. Cluttered mind or not, a good Mother did well.


This year’s box.


Where does a writing voice come from?


Can voice be taught? That is the question!

For weeks, I’ve been attempting to help my twelve-year-old son with his assigned middle-school writings. This has not been an easy endeavor. “He lacks voice.” So I’m told. Evidently, there’s a new writing buzzword in our local schools: voice. Students need to have their own unique, vibrant, and creative voice to engage their reader/teacher. This sounds great in concept, but in reality, is this an easy skill to teach? Let alone assess and grade based on a rubric checklist full of conforming standards?

In the past years, my son did an okay job writing, getting by with putting together complete sentences that were error-free. If he had a writing style before, it was (still is) sparse, reticent, and painfully to the point. He’s a quiet person. That’s his voice, too. Maybe to the teacher, the material seems obtuse and nowhere near engaging, but, alas, that is his own, unique writing voice.

In comparison, his slightly younger sister brought home papers exalted in praise of her “excellent voice.” She wrote a short homework assignment on pork last week effortlessly, while my son and I banged our heads together for over an hour trying to add “voice” to his assignment. In just a couple of paragraphs, my daughter had an energized commentary that was both funny and persuasively moving (enough so that I felt a pang of guilt for sneaking bacon into her soup the previous night). But that’s her personality too. It wasn’t taught, but rather, organically filtered into her writing.

So, I’ve been thinking about writing voice lately. Can I even articulate its meaning to my kids? What are the differences that might influence, or enhance voice? Regarding my children, I’ve observed the following:

  1. My daughter loves reading; my son does not.
  2. She does not fear (or care much) what others think of her, whereas my son does.
  3. They have totally different personalities!

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.”
― Kurt Cobain

Hmmm, number two intrigues me. Perhaps voice becomes most potent when we let go of the fear of saying something wrong. Speak with an authentic essence of self. But, again, how can that be taught? How can you teach someone to let go and be expressive without fear, especially young writers, and most especially, young writers that don’t really want to write?

I believe writing voice to be a fragile and subjective thing, that can’t quite be described, explained, or forced. My fear in schools objectively grading subjective material, like a student’s writing voice, is that eventually a paradox is created. One where being genuine to self and expressing a unique voice is graded against conforming, standardized criteria. Thoughts!?!


Side Notes:

  • My son rewrote his English paper three times, while I baited, hooked, and pulled personable responses out of him. The paper was finally accepted and highly scored—hopefully containing enough voice.
  • Not long after drafting this post, my first-grader brought home her first writing assignment of the year. The graded rubric scored her a 2/4 for writing voice. (Yes, you need voice in kindergarten and first grade nowadays). And that is perfectly okay, because I read it and graded the story with hugs and kisses to the moon and back.

Today I can have a pumpkin latte . . .


It’s officially fall. We all know this, except for those that profit from the gratuitous, pre-extension of holidays. For many weeks, commercially, Halloween, fall, and even Christmas, have been pre-emptively pushed down my throat. Stressed by the never-ending list of back-to-school requirements and requests, my mind has mutated this pre-mature “let’s get ready for the holidays” mindset into a beast that waits, ready to insert itself into my busy back-to-school month.

So, I vented my indignation against this unwanted pressure in the only way I could think of: boycotting. Did Starbucks notice that I had sworn off anything pumpkin flavored until true fall? No. And the local department store did not take down their Christmas decorations because I openly gawked in dismay. (It was very early September and I was shopping for back-to-school socks!) And yeah, just days ago, that was me shaking my head, entering the grocery store. Its doors flanked with pumpkins on one side and watermelons on the other. I bought the watermelon out of rebellion. After all, I was still wearing summer flip-flops. My right to enjoy a season or holiday in its proper time frame is being taken away.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running a race and just as I near the end banner, it’s being taken down and replaced for the next race. One that has already started without me. The week before school, and for a couple weeks after, days are packed with deadlines, never-ending packets of paperwork, new schedules/commitments, and a myriad of other changes that need tending to ASAP. I need to be present and focused for that onslaught, not distracted by the next busy race. I mean really, pumpkin spice is in everything food now, starting as early as July.

You might be asking, “What the heck does any of this have to do with a writing blog?”

Because I have been struggling, that’s why. I’m diverting my frustrations toward the poor pumpkins that represent so much hurry. And, I have not worked on my current novel in over a month. There, I said it. I feel a mix of shame and regret to admit that, but it’s true nonetheless. I could produce a long list of things I did complete, or have almost completed, but won’t. Perhaps venting against the commercial industry is merely a self-soothing way to lessen my guilt while allowing my writing to fall victim to a busy month. Eh, but still.

IMG_8282So now, it is officially fall. I can sense a return to “normalcy” in the household (if that even exists). My kids’ schedules & my volunteering days are plotted. Their afterschool events are aligned, the long back-to-school nights have come and gone, and the avalanche of back-to-school paperwork has been completed and returned. Now, I can return to writing. But first, I must tackle the laundry (this is what just a few days of falling behind looks like)!!! Oh, and my writing space—that is another blog posting all together though! IMG_8612



Human Trafficking

A few months back, my book club’s theme for the month was Human Trafficking. I’d been hearing more of trafficking in the news lately, as most people have. It’s the latest crusade among many celebrities. However, I didn’t fully appreciate the depths of those words, “human trafficking,” and what it could mean on a microscopic level, until I read several books on the topic. I’m bereft at what I’ve come to know.

This insidious beast, some call it slavery, snatches up the youth, either in a literal kidnapping or beguiling its victims into servitude. The use of humans for the benefit of others is not a new concept. Perhaps, I’m overwhelmed that we as a society, have yet to evolve enough as beings to recognize the audacity in allowing slavery, in any form, to continue. Without a doubt, this will not be an easy battle. However, awareness is the beginning, and that is happening!

I wrote a poem, “Shame.” It represents only one facet of trafficking; for it hides many faces. In my poem/story, I wanted to show that what appears to be a choice, could actually be the tragedy of circumstance, and ironically—lack of choices. And, ultimately, the message is: without the malicious need for bodies, there would not be profiting made from the supply of human beings. The shame is in the circumstances, the failure of protection, and the eye of society that looks the other way when culpable “Johns” purchase a young soul.

“And thereon every child I met, who has been violated and abused I made sure the child understood that he/she is the one who is wronged and being a victim is not something one should be ashamed of.”
~Sunitha Krishnan http://sunithakrishnan.blogspot.com/

Below are the three books discussed during book club that month. If pressed to choose one of the three to read, I’d recommend A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison. It is fiction, threaded into a compelling, quick read that pulls you into the story and keeps you there, while exposing the various heartbreaking, real-life scenarios and aspects of trafficking. Please learn more, and be aware!








Know Them as They Grow

To Know Them as They Grow

Wow, what a beautiful message! I think everyone struggles with being present in the moment. But think about how especially vulnerable the moment is when a child’s heart is involved. ❤

Add words into your child’s daily life . . .

A couple of years back, I decided to add a “word board” to our already cluttered kitchen wall. A nice visual to gaze upon over a bowl of morning cereal, reminding the kids of school. Although, I still read aloud nightly to my children, it’s not enough to combat the increasing infiltration of electronics insidiously creeping into our home—and the school as well. So, with a discarded, glass-less frame and some purchased dry-erase backing, I made the board you see here for less than five bucks.


I began by adding, or updating, two or three words weekly. It wasn’t long before I was scribbling meaningful quotes, mantras, or scripture as well. I want to foster kindness, empathy and other attributes amongst my children, and I believe words have the power to do that. (For a short time, I added a Spanish word-of-the-week, but this didn’t go over so well.) While the weekly “word board” talk about philosophical meaning and/or the definition discussion isn’t mind-blowing, it is often engaging and usually near the mark. Regardless, they are thinking!

Honestly, my kids now seem acceptingly indifferent to the board, and have come to expect it to be updated regularly. Of course, they don’t recall the meaning of every word that’s been presented, but many words, especially those that we’ve made everyday connections to, have become part of their vocabulary. And that, makes it so worth it!

What’s their all-time favorite word? Insolent: it is heard quite often here 😉