Alpha Mom » Chris Jordan parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:13:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Teaching Kids How to Handle Life’s Disappointments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 14:16:52 +0000

It is inevitable. We all face disappointments in our lives, many times out of our direct control. How we handle those disappointments is up to us. Teaching our children to weather setbacks and failures is one of the more important jobs we face as parents. And after parenting for nearly nineteen years I can tell you, this never gets easier.  The disappointments change, but seeing your child upset never does.

My ten-year-old daughter recently ran for Student Council president. She worked so hard on her speech and posters. She thought long and hard about what her platform would be and was careful not to promise things that she didn’t actually have the power or authority to change- even though her brother told her she should promise extra long recess and candy in the cafeteria. She was the only girl who ran for president and when we had discussed the options for other offices she scoffed, “I want to be president or nothing.”  Go big or go home is her life motto.  We high-fived all around. She possesses a level of self-confidence that I never had at her age.  She is strong, assertive, brave, kind, and wonderful… who wouldn’t vote for her?

To make a long story short, she didn’t win the election. She was crushed with disappointment. As she cried in the car about how all her hard work seemed like a big waste of time, I realized that this was a huge teaching opportunity. This was her first major disappointment and she needed to learn the skills to face these situations in her life. As much as I wish that she would never again be disappointed, I know that it will happen over and over again in her life. The way she choses to react to setbacks and disappointments will shape the course of her life.

I know that sounds very melodramatic, but it is true. Think of people that you know who don’t deal with setbacks well. Think of the people you know who always place the blame for their own failure on someone else. Think of the people who don’t pursue their dreams because deep down they are afraid to be disappointed.

How do you help your children deal with the inevitable disappointments that life will hand them?

Empathize with them

Acknowledge how much they wanted the thing they didn’t get. Whether it was enough votes in an election or a coveted party invitation.

Don’t try to minimize their feelings

This includes saying things like, “It’s not that big of a deal.” “It’s not the end of the world.” “Don’t be so upset.” Don’t say these things. Because to them, it likely is their world. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that school and their peer group is everything to kids. Usually when I find words like these coming out of my mouth it isn’t because I want to minimize my child’s feelings, but rather because it is painful for me to watch them hurt.

Disappointments can be viewed as opportunities

A so-called friend who doesn’t invite you to a party, really isn’t a friend. Use this as an opportunity to help your child find a new group of friends. I know this isn’t easy the older your children get, but sometimes you can help them rekindle past friendships, or sign them up for a class or lesson where they will meet new people. Even invite some new friends over for a pizza and movie party. Anything that makes your child feel like they are less alone. There are lots of people in this world, teach them that they do not have to pine for friends who don’t treat them nicely.

Point out the positives

Sometimes this is not easy, I mean what is positive about not being invited to the birthday party other than realizing your friend is really a big jerk, which still is only positive in retrospect? But in the case of my daughter running for president, I told her (again) how proud I was of her. How brave I thought it was to get up in front of the entire school and make a speech. How some people never go for the things that they really desire because they are too afraid to be vulnerable, so afraid to fail that they don’t even try. That is even sadder than occasionally being disappointed.

Model appropriate behavior

When you are faced with your own disappointments in life, do you wallow in self-pity? Blame other people? Stomp around and slam things? Being upset, angry, and hurt is normal and a natural reaction to life’s disappointments, but make sure your children see how you get past those feelings. Make sure they see how you move on. Remember your children are watching you for cues on how to navigate this world, like it or not they will imitate what they see you do.

Get ready for the next time

What did your child learn from this disappointment that will be useful in the future? Thomas Edison is reported to have said that he didn’t have any failures while trying to invent the lightbulb, he just found 10,000 things that didn’t work.


When Monday rolled around and my daughter went back to school, she had mostly gotten over her disappointment. Sure it still stung around the edges, but the tears and anger were gone. She discovered that her friends rallied around her in the classroom and assured her THEY felt she should have won. She didn’t hide her disappointment or pretend that she didn’t really care. Knowing that your close friends have your back and support you is priceless. That was the positive she took away from the experience.

She is already thinking about her next adventure.

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Getting Rid of the Shoulds Thu, 03 Oct 2013 16:47:32 +0000

I have decided to strike the word should from my vocabulary.

When my daughter was in Girl Scouts, she would earn badges that had to be ironed and/or sewn on to her vest. I was always way behind on getting them onto her vest. In fact, I just came across a few stray badges in the kitchen junk drawer that I haven’t gotten around to attaching to the vest. My daughter quit Girl Scouts three years ago. One of the troop leaders would send out emails reminding us to attach the badges. I always felt like they were directed at me. I should get around to putting those badges on in a timely manner. Surely every other kid there had a mom who knew how to work her iron and probably owned a sewing kit.

I dropped my daughter off one day for her Girl Scout meeting and a little girl ran up to us. I looked down and noticed that her badges had been stapled on. Stapled. On.

I wanted to meet that mother. I felt like we we’re kindred spirits, doing our part to make the other mothers feel good. Somebody has to do it, you know.


I used to feel bad that I wasn’t one of those crafty, always-volunteering-at-the-school-carnival, having-playdates, and sleepovers-every-weekend-type mothers. I would beat myself up often with the Shoulds. I should make my kids an adorable Pinterest-worthy after school snack. I should pack them Bento Box lunches that would be the envy of…. I’m not sure. Certainly not the other kids. I should remember the tooth fairy in a timely manner so my 8 year old doesn’t hand me three teeth and say, “How about you just give me the cash and we can all stop pretending?” I should let my daughter have sleepovers every weekend and not care that no one actually sleeps. Even though I am pretty sure it is my weekend, too. I shouldn’t be so selfish!

The problem with Shoulding is that it implies whatever other choice you are making isn’t the right one. I have been trying hard to not just stop saying should to myself, but to my kids. Instead of saying, “You should do your homework now.” I have been saying “Have you thought about doing your homework?” “You should go to bed earlier” becomes “What do you think you could do so that the mornings are easier for you?” “You should wear a jacket” becomes “I saw it was only going to be 70 here today.” Yes, that is jacket weather in Texas.

The problem with the shoulds is that they cloud your head. Shoulds make you feel weak, like a failure. Shoulds sit on your shoulders and weigh you down with their perceived enormity.  Shoulds get in the way of you appreciating what you actually do–the things that matter to you and to your family.

Getting rid of the Shoulds is empowering. It means that the other choices we make are valid. I could do X, but I chose to do Y. I may not have sewn those badges on in a timely manner, but I certainly wasn’t doing nothing with my time. There is only a set number of hours in the day, and try as we might, we cannot get more. And have you ever had someone tell you “what you should do?” It’s no surprise it doesn’t work when we say it to our kids, because hearing someone say it to you instantly makes you want to do the opposite. What does it do inside our heads when we say it to ourselves?

This year I am taking the photos for my son’s football team. I volunteered to make the memory books for each kid and I am in charge of making the weekly game programs. I love this stuff. To me this isn’t drudgery. It’s fun. Last week a mother of one of the players came up to me and commented that I was doing a lot. She said it in a way that led me to believe she was feeling bad for not volunteering to do more. I told her, “I am making up for all those years when I didn’t volunteer at the class parties and field days.” She laughed. “I did do all of those things. And I loved every minute of it!”

I would have rather stabbed myself in the neck with one of those cafeteria sporks. And yet, I always felt like I should have been there.

The feeling I had after the conversation with this woman was maybe we not only need be kinder to ourselves, but also to each other.


This week there was Pajama Day at my children’s elementary school. My kids don’t have pajamas. Or at least none that are acceptable for wearing to school. And they don’t want pajamas. They prefer to sleep in shorts and t-shirts. And yes, sometimes, some of them will wear these to school the next day. I’m looking at my 8-year old son here.

For a moment I thought, I really should get them some pajamas.

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Your Child Says Their Teacher Is Mean, What Do You Do? Mon, 23 Sep 2013 06:35:39 +0000

Over the past few days I have had several friends tell me that September is wearing them out. I know the feeling. Between getting everyone organized for school and re-establishing a routine, September is never as relaxing as you imagine in August when the last bits summer and family togetherness have worn you down. All the free time you thought that you would have when the kids went back-to-school is just a myth. My closets are still just as cluttered. My rugs just as dirty. My DVR just as full of shows not appropriate for children as it was a month ago.

We are a few weeks in and the shine of going back-to-school is wearing off. Waking up early, doing homework, packing lunches… all of it is a whole less fun than it was just a few weeks ago. And not just for the parents. It is also the time of year when you begin to hear complaints from the kids about their teachers. Cries of “My teacher hates me!” “My teacher is mean!” are played out over the dinner tables in many of our homes.

So what do you do? None of us wants to raise children who go through life looking for excuses when things don’t go their way. “I got a bad grade because my teacher doesn’t like me.” “My professor is a jerk.” “I didn’t get a promotion because my boss hates me.” We all want our children to be empowered and have a sense of personal responsibility.

How do you know when to step in and when to let your child work it out for themselves?

1) Get to the bottom of it. Ask questions. What specifically happened that makes your child think their teacher is mean? Often a one-time misunderstanding can cloud a child’s perceptions. Helping your child see that situation from the teacher’s point of view can help in these instances. Young children, especially, often use the words always and never, when in reality they are describing a one-time event.

My son came home from school once saying his teacher was mean because “she would NEVER let him have a drink during recess.” Since it is not unusual to have days that are over 100 degrees here, this could raise concerns if it were true. Knowing his teacher, however, I also highly doubted the accuracy of his story. After asking a few questions I realized that the kids were lining up to go back inside when my son asked to get a drink. One time.

2) Empathize with your child and their frustrations, but don’t jump on the I-hate-the-teacher-bandwagon. Even if you really want to! Doing so will just fuel their anger and cloud their ability to rationally think about the situation. Allow for the possibility that your child is misinterpreting the teacher. Some people are more difficult than others to get along with. Not so much for the younger elementary school aged children, but those in high school need to realize that they will have to get along and work with people in their lives that they don’t like. This is a good time to practice that skill.

3) Is the teacher “mean” or just one who demands excellence from her students? The teacher is not mean for making you rewrite a messy paper. A teacher isn’t mean for making you skip recess because you were too busy socializing to finish your schoolwork. A teacher isn’t mean for making you sit in the front of the room next to her if you are being disruptive. However, as a parent, if these things are happening on a daily basis you probably need to go speak with the teacher and find out what’s going on in the classroom and what you can do to help your child be successful.

4) Help the child see things from the teacher’s point of view. Role playing situations can help them empathize with what the teacher is going through. It might seem funny to the children when someone acts like a class clown, but how would it feel as the teacher to constantly be interrupted. Being able to see the world through someone else’s eyes is truly a life skill. If everyone learned this skill as a child what a better world this would be.

5) If your child’s complaints are ongoing, reach out to other parents you know who have children in the class and ask them if their child is coming home with any complaints. You might want to ask how your child behaves in the class. Prepare yourself for that answer. I speak from experience here.

6) If you decide to approach the teacher, do it carefully. Most teachers are good and caring people, who really do love their jobs, at least that has been my experience. They want to know if your child is unhappy and come up with strategies to make the classroom experience a positive one. But don’t go in to talk them in a way that puts them on the defensive. Use positive language, not negative.

7) Volunteer at the school or in the classroom. There is no better way to know what is going on in the classroom and the school than to be there. And no better way to make sure that your child is on their best behavior.

And despite all of this, sometimes you do get a teacher, or class, that just isn’t a good fit for your child. And there are times you get a teacher who really is a jerk, though I have found these to be few and far between. If you try everything above and there isn’t any improvement in the way your child feels, then it would be time to reach out the administration and see what they suggest.

October is right around the corner, parents.  Hopefully all the wrinkles will be ironed out by then.  Lord knows those TV shows aren’t going to watch themselves.

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Make Back-to-School Week The Easiest Ever Fri, 30 Aug 2013 09:23:16 +0000

I have written about how to make the back-to-school transition easier, here and here. Everything I wrote in those posts still holds true, but this time I am focusing more on what you can do ahead of time to ease back into the school year with as little stress as possible.

If you do all these things the first week of school will go off without a hitch. The weeks after that, well, you are on your own. But at the very least you will be able to look back and say, “Hey, remember that first week? Man, I had it under control!”

1. Get those physicals done as early as possible in the summer. The earlier the better. Unless you are like me and one year you waited until the last minute and now your insurance company makes you wait a full calendar year for the next physical and so you are stuck doing them the second week of August. Many schools require the doctor to fill out forms so your child can participate in sports. Bringing those forms with you is a lot less hassle than trying to get the doctor to fill them out at a later date. My pediatrician’s office also charges a fee should you bring the forms in not during your scheduled appointment time.

2. Get everything in to the school BEFORE the first week. (It may be too late for this tip. Remember this for next year.) I am specifically talking about vaccination records, physicals, medication dispensing forms, change of address forms… whatever the school needs. Get it to the school officials before the rush, when they, too, will be overwhelmed.

3. In conjunction with the above, photocopy everything and save it. Having a copy of everything means you don’t have to worry about replacing the forms should they get lost.

4. When your children come home from school on the first day, photocopy their schedules. This is helpful not just for them, but for you when later on in the year you need to make dentist appointments and don’t want to keep pulling them out of the same class over and over.

5. You may as well invest in a copier, if you don’t already have one. And a lot of ink. The one investment that I made last year that I highly recommend to everyone is get a laser printer that only does black and white. I was going broke on color ink cartridges, even though we rarely print in color, the printer used all the colors to make black ink. Now on those rare occasions that the kids need something printed in color I go to our local office store and have it done.

6. Find their backpacks/lunch boxes from last year and empty them. Oh, I know that all you very organized types are thinking What? I did that on the last day of school. And you know what, the rest of us, who are unpacking moldy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches three months after school ended, we salute you. Make sure the bags are not broken or torn and give them a good scrubbing. I threw our back packs into the washing machine and they came out looking as good as new.

7. Program all the important numbers at the school into your phone, including the classroom phone numbers. This way you won’t be guessing when you see the number pop up on Caller ID. You can better determine whether you need to pick up or if you can let it go to voicemail. Not every conversation is appropriate for the grocery store check-out line.

8. When you do back-to-school shopping think “outfits” rather than individual items. I wish I had thought of this advice two weeks ago when I did back-to-school shopping. My daughter now has 20 new tops and three pair of shoes. I am pretty sure that the school dress code requires bottoms also.

9. Sort through all the socks and get rid of all the ones that have holes or stains. Yes, get rid of them. You will never turn them into a rug or sweater or puppet. Get over it and toss them. No, you aren’t going to dust with them either. I matched and sorted the socks into piles according to the kid they belonged to. It was through this process that I discovered my 8 year old son had no socks.

10. Do the same thing with their underwear. You will have similar, but even more horrifying results. “What do you mean you only have three pair of underwear?”

11. Then lay out the entire first weeks worth of clothing. Everything the outfit requires. After the first couple of weeks I pretty much let the kids match their clothes however they want. And I cross my fingers that during the first week of class the teacher realized that they do have nice matching clothes and instead of judging me harshly, she will wonder if my children are color blind.

12. Buy all the school supplies. Just push your cart down that aisle of the store, scoop it all from the shelves, and take it home with you.

13. The same way you plan school lunches and dinners, plan the after-school snack. My kids eat lunch so early at school and come home starving. Having a snack ready for them eliminates a lot of the pre-homework whining.

These are my thirteen ways to make the back-to-school week easier on all of us. The first week of school is ending here for us in Texas, and so far so good. The one exception is a pair of shoes that were bought two sizes too big. In my defense he tried them on in the store and said they were perfect. It wasn’t until he went to put them on for the first day of school that I noticed their clown-like proportions.

And now, if you will excuse me, the bus is coming soon and I have some fresh fruit to arrange artfully on plate as an after-school snack. Oh who am I kidding, it’s a sleeve of chocolate chip cookies.

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How to Raise a Spoiled Brat to Adulthood in 18 Easy Steps Thu, 15 Aug 2013 22:47:48 +0000

I have been a parent a long time, almost half my life at this point. (When did I get so old!?) I hear people talk about the phenomenon of self-entitled young adults and they all seem to scratch their heads and wonder out loud just what happened. I know how it has happened. Self-entitled young adults didn’t spring up one day on the own.  They didn’t grow up in vacuum. They are this way because they were taught to be this way.

Here is a list on how to raise your very own spoiled brat who will grow up to be one of those self-entitled young adults that we hear so much about.

1.  Don’t say no. When your child is young and misbehaving on the playground, for example he is throwing sand at another child. Don’t tell him No. Instead give him a very long explanation of why it isn’t nice. When he does it again, because he will, count to three. Punctuate each number with, “Do you hear me?” “I mean it!” And finally, “Don’t make me say three!” Then offer up no consequences, except a long sigh. Even better, get angry at the people who won’t move their children away from your sand-throwing child. Repeat this scenario as often as possible for the next 14 years. So your child can know who really is in charge.

2. If you do make the mistake of saying No, fix that as soon as your child whines or complains. This may make a lot of things difficult for you in the early years, such as when grocery shopping, but remember it isn’t about you. Often giving her what she wants will make her be quiet and stop whining for a few minutes. Until of course she wants the next thing. And make sure you give her that thing, too.

3. Give your child every thing he wants, without him ever having to wait for it or, heaven forbid, work for it. Even better, get him things that you don’t have because you can’t afford them. But that’s what you signed up for when you became a parent. It doesn’t matter what you want. You should only be happy when he is happy!

4. Make sure your child knows how much you sacrifice for her. This will further the belief system that she is in fact the most important person in the world. Your child is so important that you have been wearing the same clothes for years and talking on a flip phone. Point this out to her as often as possible.

5. Never let your child fail, if you can help it. Do her homework and projects for her. If she forgets something at home, immediately bring it to school for her. If she forgets to study for a test, let her stay home from school.

6. If your child doesn’t do well at something, make sure you blame the other people. He didn’t get an “A” because his teacher hates him. His team lost because everyone else on the team is horrible. He didn’t win the election because all his peers are jealous of him. It is never his fault, remember to reinforce this.

7. Bad mouth everyone in authority. The coaches, the teachers, and the police officers. None of them deserve respect. You have already shown your child that he has more authority than you, now just extend that to the community. Your child is the most important.

8. Model a lack of respect for basic rules and laws so that your child can understand that those things don’t apply to the most special people. Whether it is cutting in line, lying about your child’s age in a way that benefits you or your child, speeding, texting while driving… whatever it is, show your child that obeying basic rules and laws is optional.

Want To Raise a Spoil Brat into an Entitled Adult? Learn How-To in 18 Easy Steps! |

9. Allow your child to gossip about friends, family, neighbors. In fact, do this with your own friends so that you can model how to properly tear someone down to make yourself feel superior. Remember the goal is for your child to feel to superior to everyone else. Because, duh, she is.

10.  If your child breaks something, replace it. Hopefully with something better so he is able to forget that slight moment of sadness and regret he felt when the item broke. Everything is replaceable..

11. If your child makes a mess, both literally and figuratively, clean it up for him. He is probably tired from all his shopping, texting, taking selfies in the mirror.

12. In fact, don’t make your child do chores. It takes more effort to get her to do chores than it does to do the chores. So just do it yourself! Seriously, why waste your time arguing with your child. You know how to work the washing machine, you can pick dirty clothes up off the floor, you can unload the dishwasher. Set the precedent early: the world is here to serve your child!

13. It’s never your child’s fault. I know I have said this one already. But it is a big one. Lack of personal responsibility is the cornerstone of raising a self-entitled adult.

14. Never let your child be bored. If she has tons of toys already and can’t find anything to play with, buy her more toys or video games. You obviously have been buying the wrong ones. It is your fault, never hers! Plan and schedule every moment for her so that when she’s an adult she can expect the world to entertain her.

15. Never let your child be unhappy. If you don’t know why your child is unhappy, just buy him things until he forgets.

16. Make rash threats and unenforceable consequences that both of you know will never happen, because you don’t want to make your child sad or mad at you.

17. Let your child quit anything and everything, whenever she feels like it, regardless of the impact on everyone else involved. Because no one else matters as much as she does.

18. If someone tells you about something your child did wrong, blame the other kids who are involved. Blame the other parents. Be angry at the person who is telling you. Your child is perfect. And therefore, by default, so are you.

If you’re just pregnant now, do all these things and you too will have your very own self-entitled adult in 18 years or so.


I have done some of these things. Some I have done more often than others. Haven’t we all? Because we are human and flawed and sometimes want to take the easy way out of a situation. Or, because we really don’t want to make our children upset. Or because we are just weary. Or maybe because your child has been diagnosed with  behavioral and/or emotional issues and you are trying to pick your battles. I raise my hand here and still wonder if I fought the right battles.  It isn’t easy to pick up your child and leave the playground when you, too, want to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine on your face. It isn’t easy to have a child throw a tantrum in the check-out line while people stare at you. It is time-consuming to insist with your preteen to redo a  chore because s/he didn’t do it as well as you know s/he could the first time. And then lather, rinse and repeat. It isn’t easy to admit that sometimes your child is the one who is acting like a little brat.

It is doing all the steps above consistently that will get you a spoiled brat. If that’s what you want, carry on! If not, it is never too late to change your ways.

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To Get A Second Dog, or Not to Get a Second Dog (A Real Family Drama, in Two Acts) Fri, 09 Aug 2013 18:51:28 +0000

To me it isn’t even a question.
My children have been trying to convince me to let them get another dog. Something which is not going to happen. Nope. Never. Not getting a second dog. No thank you.

I grew up without pets of any kind. I wasn’t upset by this. I didn’t feel deprived. I could have lived the rest of my days without ever entertaining the thought of getting a pet. My children felt their lack of pets was cruel and unusual punishment, bordering on abuse. They told me over and over how deprived they were. They promised that they would take care of a dog if we got one.

When the kids had grown older, I relented. So a year ago we got Rosie from the shelter. I fell in love with her. She is a great dog. I finally understood all those people who think of their pets as children. I was content with one perfect dog. In fact, I wrote a post not long ago about why everyone should consider getting a dog. And for the record, my children exceeded my expectations in the way they care for her.

Now my children think we need a second dog. They look at the photos of cute dogs on rescue websites. They tear up when that sad commercial with the Sarah McLachlan song comes on the TV and beg me to rescue another dog. My God, those puppies are so sad and abused, what kind of monster is my mother not to want to go get another one. They don’t verbalize this, of course, but I’m sure that is what they are thinking. Hell, I am thinking that. Despite that, I really don’t want another dog. I like having an “only dog.”

Over the course of the past few months we have had numerous conversations like these, conversations which prove that my children are listening to me, even if they sometimes pretend otherwise.

Me: “I think the dog we already have is perfect. We will never find another dog as great as she is!”
Kids: “Don’t you think all of us are great?”

Me: “What if Rosie hates the new dog?”
Kids: “She won’t hate a dog sibling. We don’t hate each other.”

Kids: “Rosie seems lonely. She wants a playmate.”
Me: “I don’t think she cares.”
Kids: “We would be lonely if we didn’t have each other to play with.”
Me: “You mean bicker and argue with?”
Kids: “We would be so sad without each other.”
Me: “Not if you never knew each other existed!”
Kids: “No, we would know!”

Me: “Two dogs mean twice as much work.”
Kids: “But we take care of Rosie. Don’t we?”
Me: “Yes, but this would be even more work than you do now.”
Kids: “We will do it!”

Me: “I just don’t know if I can love another dog.”
Kids: “But you say you love all of us… Have you been lying? Is there an end to how much love you have?”

Me: “I worry that maybe you guys won’t like the new dog as much and ignore it.”
Kids: “No, we would so like the new dog just as much. We like each other! It would be like if you had another baby, we would like it.”
Other kid: “Hey, that’s a good idea. You should have a BABY!”
Yet Another Kid: “Yeah! A baby! We’d like a baby!”
Another kid: “Well, not instead of a dog.”

Me: “Have you all lost your minds? I am not having another baby!”

Kids: “Why? That would be awesome!”

All of this culminated into the final conversation on the matter a little over a week ago.

Kids: “Can’t we just go look at this puppy? Look how cute he is. We will just look.”
Me: “I don’t know why you want to torture yourselves by just looking at a puppy we aren’t going to get.”
Kids: “Please, Mom. Pllleeeeeeeeeaaase?”
Me: “Okay. But don’t be disappointed.”

Let me introduce you to Max.


Should My Family Adopt a Second Dog? at

Hi, I’m Adorable.

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Summer Craft: How to Make Terrariums with Kids Thu, 01 Aug 2013 16:36:09 +0000

If there were a superpower for killing perfectly lovely plants, it would be mine. So when I saw all these terrariums out at stores and in catalogs I thought, hey I can do that! They are self-contained, so for the most part self-watering. How adorable! It’s own little ecosystem.

Even better, it is a project that the kids could be involved in from picking out the plants to doing the actual planting. And the end result is something that looks nice on display in the house.

If you are like me, at this point in the summer you are looking for things to occupy your kids and burn some of those daylight hours.  This project did both of these things and provided a nice little science lesson on self contained ecosystems.

How to Make a Terrarium Instructions

Step One:
Collect large glass containers with lids you already own or purchase some. The jars I have came from Hobby Lobby and were purchased around the Christmas holidays to use as decorations. That store has great sales if you are willing to wait. I have also seen giant glass cookie jars with glass lids at stores Target and Walmart. As an aside, I have seen these giant cookie jars in these stores and wondered why anyone has that many cookies in their house. I would have to hide that many cookies from my children not display them.

I discovered during this process that you need the jars to be larger than you think. I have seen photos on the Internet of tiny little jars being used with tiny little plants and I have come to the obvious conclusion that those were made by tiny little elves.

How to Make a Terrarium

The terrariums look best when the top of the plant hits about the 1/2 to 2/3 mark inside the container. So you will want to keep this in mind when purchasing both the containers and plants. Also keep in mind the diameter of the bottom of your jar if you would like to use more than one plant per container.

I think the tallest jar in the above photo turned out the best and would be the size I would purchase if I was going to make another one. The two smallest jars were way too short to produce a visually appealing final product. But this did not stop my daughter from cramming plants into them.

Step Two:

How to Make a Terrarium


Purchase your plants. Just as the jars need to be larger than you think, the plants need to be smaller. Don’t make the mistake of just looking at the part of the plant that is sticking up out of the ground. You need to take into account the roots of the plant. Plants need roots to survive. I know you are thinking right now, ‘Really, Chris? I must have missed this lesson in second grade science!’ But trust me, I have a friend who made a couple of these after seeing mine and she said the same thing about forgetting to take into account the root system.

How to Make a Terrarium

I read the labels on the plants to try and determine which plants would work best in a jar. I picked plants that seemed like they would be hard to kill.

Step Three:

How to Make a Terrarium

At the bottom of your jar you are going to want to put a layer of tiny river rocks. This helps the excess water drain away from the soil. And I like the way it looks in jars, providing texture and weight at the bottom of the jar.

Step Four:

How to Make a Terrarium

Pour in your potting soil mix. Use the pots that your plants came in as a guide for the depth of soil that you need.

Step Five:
Put your plants inside your jar. I had visions of having several types of plants on one jar, but none of my jars were wide enough to accommodate more than one.

How to Make a Terrarium

My daughter planted this one completely by herself. I am not sure why or how dirt got on top of the leaves, but even this plant is still thriving. If this happens to you, water the plant so the water washes off the leaves and then keep the lid off the jar until the soil mostly dries out. On the face of the sun where I live, this only took an afternoon to accomplish.

Step Six:
This is Spanish moss.

How to Make a Terrarium

You can put this Spanish moss around the plant on top of the soil. I did this because I liked the way it looked and thought it gave it a more finished and lush appearance, but I think it also helps to keep the soil moist. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want.

How to Make a Terrarium

In case you weren’t aware, this is definitely an outdoor project. I began doing this inside at the kitchen table, it was probably 120 degrees outside on this day, but very quickly brought the whole operation outside. “‘Tis better to sweat than to yell at small children about being messy,” I always say. Actually I never say that, but like all parents I do try to eliminate unnecessary annoyances. So take my advice and do this project outside.

Step Seven:

How to Make a Terrarium

Water your plants a little bit and put the lid on your jar. Find a place for your terrarium to live where it will get sunlight, but not too much direct sunlight.

How to Make a Terrarium Tutorial

I love the way that the terrariums turned out. One of my sons even made a terrarium to give to his girlfriend because he thought it was so “cool.” So far mine are doing really well in an area that has a lot of diffused sunlight. And, by “really well” I mean that it has been three weeks and I haven’t killed any of them yet. If you knew my track record with plants, you would be duly impressed.

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Alpha Mom Book Club: The Whole-Brain Child Book Review & Discussion Mon, 22 Jul 2013 07:59:03 +0000

Alpha Mom book club logoI really enjoyed reading The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson more than I thought I would. From the book summary, I thought it was going to be a dry, clinical sort of parenting book, explaining the physical development of the child’s brain and using those explanations to offer “excuses” for why kids act the way they do. However, once I began reading it I realized that was far from the truth. This book was engaging and informative on how the brain develops, but not to the point where you felt like you were reading a science textbook. The Whole-Brain Child offers practical solutions for the most typical misbehaving issues, while explaining what is most likely going on in their brains that is causing them to “lose their mind.” The use of a closed fist to describe the brain and how it works to children (and their parents) is brilliant. (page 62)

A Young Child’s Upstairs & Downstairs Brain

The Whole-Brain Child Book review and discussionI loved the use of the terms “upstairs” and “downstairs” brain and the imagery of the stairs connecting the two to form a fully-functioning brain.  And the amygdala of the brain as the “babygate” across the stairs. The job of the amygdala in the brain is to quickly process emotion, especially anger or fear; it is the primitive part of the brain. It is also responsible, according to the authors, for being the reason why our children will seem to lose their ever lovin’ minds and have a tantrum over something that just doesn’t seem to warrant that type of reaction. The anger or fear take over the amygdala and in effect slam shut the babygate to the upstairs making the child unable to even access their higher reasoning skills. Anyone who has ever had a child is nodding their head in agreement right now, because how many times have we all as parents tried to talk our child out of a tantrum that was over something completely ridiculous and yet failed miserably at it?

The thing I liked the best about The Whole-Brain Child was that the authors don’t tell parents to just throw their hands up to the sky and say, “Oh well. My child can’t help himself. It’s just his brain.” In fact the authors do the opposite, which is to show you how to use these moments as incentives to do the work as parents in helping children develop the faculties that result in appropriate behavior. (page 44)

The comic book style drawings throughout the book that described scenarios and interactions between parents and children are wonderful. If you are anything like me, you will recognize yourself in some of the examples. And I don’t mean the examples showing you what you should be doing. I was pretty shocked by how many times I thought I was being empathetic, but really was dismissing my children’s feelings.  Seeing examples of interactions between a child and parent was somehow more illuminating than just reading about it.

Integrating Memories

One part of The Whole-Brain Child that I found helpful was the section on helping our children integrate their memories. The Siegel and Bryson go in depth about implicit memories, the ones that aren’t readily accessible but form “expectations about the way the world works, based on our previous experiences.” (page 72) An extreme example of this is PTSD. Not all implicit memories are bad, but when a negative experience happens, we’re not always aware how it has impacted our children. So when they then seem to over react to a situation and we have no idea why. This chapter alone was worth reading the book, in my opinion. I think it is essential to give our children tools to reframe their memories into ways that don’t get them stuck.

Cheat Sheet

The back of the book has a cheat sheet, or refrigerator sheet, that outlines the important points from the book. And further back in the book is a reference chart that is broken down by ages and stages of development, with specific tools for you to use for each of the twelve strategies for helping to integrate children’s brains.

The Whole-Brain Child is one of those books that I really wish were around when I first began my parenting journey. I think that I made a lot of situations more difficult because I didn’t really understand what was going on in my children’s undeveloped brains. Especially for one of my children, who was an epic-tantrum thrower, and ignoring him didn’t work. Now I know why. Fortunately at 17-years old, the days of him throwing himself on the ground, kicking and screaming are over.

Those of you who have read The Whole-Brain Child, what did you think of it? Did the concept of the upstairs/downstairs brain help you to understand what is going on with your child’s brain? Have you found yourself stopping to think about some of the things you read in the book before reacting to situation? I know I have on all counts.

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To My Daughter Mon, 15 Jul 2013 20:28:30 +0000

Dear Daughter,

Last weekend we went swimming at a nearby state park. One particular swimming area has cliffs on the bank of one side of the river from which people jump. Before the rest of us could put our things down you were in the water, swimming across the river to reach the cliffs on the other side. Even though you are a very strong swimmer, just seeing you swim across the river made me anxious. But you are confident with your own abilities. You are not like me.

Your momma doesn’t like heights, or thrill rides, or scary things. As I examine this I realize that I don’t like these things because I have always felt that real life is scary enough, thankyouverymuch. But you are not like me. You do things like run for Student Council, something I never did because I was afraid I would lose. So many opportunities in life I have let pass me by because the fear was holding me back. That’s crazy isn’t it? You probably don’t know that about me, you see me just as your mom. You march to your own drummer. You wear sneakers with every outfit, because you “never know when you are going to want to run somewhere.” (I hate to tell you that I know because I never want to run anywhere.) You take competition very seriously, that’s the thrill of sports for you.

You climbed up the face of the rocky cliff, surefooted and agile. You were the only little girl over there and one of the few females of any age. I joke that the lack of females is because women have brains that they use. And those brains say, Danger, Danger, Danger! However, I think the truth is that  many females, like us but my age, were discouraged starting at a young age from doing brave things, both literal and figurative. We got the message that being brave and strong is about physical size, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

You climbed to the top. You watched a few older boys before you jump off and then you stood up and claimed your turn. You looked across the river to us and I imagine I saw I twinkle in your eye. You waved. And then you jumped. There were college boys sitting next to us on our side of the river. One of them turned to me, “Is that tiny girl yours?” he asked. And when I said yes he replied, “Wow, she is fierce.”

Dear child, not once in my 44 years on this planet has anyone described me as fierce. You are not like me.

You jumped off the cliff to the whooping and clapping of people who don’t know anything about you, except that you were brave enough to climb up those rocks and leap. That you were more fearless than most of us who were content to lounge about in our inner tubes.

You swam back across the river. The young men next to us high-fived you when you came out of the water. “You are awesome,” one of them told you. You just shrugged, as if they were telling you something you already knew. I love this about you. The way that you are comfortable in your own skin is something that I admire. I never want you to lose that.

I never imagined that I would have a daughter. I always thought I would be the mother of sons. Having a daughter was frightening. How would I be able to watch my daughter navigate the same path I had walked.  How would I teach her to avoid the pitfalls upon which I had stumbled? When I was pregnant with you I couldn’t even imagine having a girl, which is why you ended up with an unisex name that suits you so perfectly. Somehow before you were born I didn’t realize that you would not be reliving my life.  Your life would be your own, with different paths and different things to stumble over.  The map I hold, for avoiding all the painful things, is virtually useless. Despite this I still clutch it anxiously.

You catch me staring at you. “What?” you ask, half exasperated. “Why are you looking at me?”

I wonder how it is you don’t know that your beauty make me stare in awe. For all the things I don’t accomplish in my life, I can point to you and say I made this. I MADE THIS. You can keep your mason jar crafts, Pinterest.  Whatever else I do with my life raising you and your brothers will always be my greatest accomplishment.

I wonder often about walking the tightrope of telling you how beautiful you are. Do I tell you too often, not often enough? Will you think that only outer-beauty matters, or if I don’t say it enough will you think you aren’t beautiful? I measure and weigh my words with you in a way I never do with with your brothers. I know that this comes from a place of my own insecurities.  And I suppose that is half the battle.  You are nothing like me.  The insecurities I feel, the baggage I carry, the past I lived are all mine and I try hard not to let them color how I interact with you.  Try being the operative word.

I don’t know where this confidence you have came from, but I would like to bottle some of it up. Maybe wear it in a little vile around my neck like Billy Bob Thorton did with Angelina Jolie’s blood.  Yes, that was creepy. I wonder what the upcoming teen years will bring. Will they be full of self-doubt? Or are you confident enough to weather them with ease?

We were lounging in our inner tubes on the river.  You leaned over in a whisper to me said, “That was really scary, mom.”

“Was it? You didn’t look scared at all.”

“Everyone up there is a little scared. You just have to pretend you aren’t.  Then the next thing you know, you’re not scared.”

I nodded.  There is wisdom in those words.

“I’m going to go jump off again. So I don’t forget I can do it.”  And, off you swam.

So far, none of the things I have worried about have come to pass. You are nothing like me, in all the best ways possible. Where I am shy, you are confident. Where I am weak, you are strong. Where I am laid back, you are fierce. When people talk about grrl power (without the i, why without the i?) you are what they imagine. There are times when I wish you would be more assertive vocally and stand up for yourself, but I am beginning to realize that the quiet way you claim your space is also powerful. And that my desire for you to be more assertive has more to do with me and my own issues than it does with you.

You stand at the edge of cliff again.  I scan your face closely and still I detect no fear.

You are not like me.  Yet, everything I wish I could be.



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11 Tips For Living Clutter-Free With Children Wed, 26 Jun 2013 19:12:15 +0000

Summer is here. The kids are home from school all day. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I sort of feel like I am “owed” a summer vacation too. I don’t want to clean. I don’t want to cook. I don’t want to organize things. I want to stomp my foot and take a book outside to the hammock and read all day. However, that’s just not possible.

However, summer is the perfect time to establish some new habits and cleaning routines that will free you up to have more time for doing things you enjoy. When people come to my house, they always remark that it is so clean. I’m not sure clean is the word that they mean, I think they mean tidy and clutter-free. But having things put away makes it seem clean. Fifteen minutes and I can have the main floor of my house “company ready.” But honestly, if you stopped by my house unannounced most of the time I could invite you in for coffee and not be at all embarrassed. That is freeing.

Because my house is an open floor plan, the kitchen, family room, breakfast room and kids’ study are all visible. This can be a curse- nowhere to hide anything! But I like to think of it as a blessing- nowhere to hide anything!

How do I keep the house clutter-free?

Everything has a place. Everything. This also means that you have to be willing to let things go. Most of us live in houses that are big enough to accommodate our possessions, or at least should be big enough. How many of us really need 30 wine glasses? I decided that I did not.

Recently one of my friends said that she just doesn’t even know where to start when it comes to cleaning up her kitchen and she asked me for advice. She feels like she spends forever cleaning it up only to turn around and have it look exactly the same. Her kitchen has become the dropping ground for everything. Papers cluttered up the counters, bags hung off the stools at the counter, food smears on the cabinet handles, dishes piled in the sink… and looking at it I agreed. It was a wreck. I also know from experience that when you devote a large amount of time to one project like this, the rest of the house can go to shambles and then you are just creating a vicious cycle of only having one area that is clean and feeling overwhelmed.

Looking around I had told her that I didn’t think the kitchen was the problem, it was a symptom of other issues. First, all the bags hanging off the counter stools, where did they go? Did the kids have a place to put their school bags when they came home from school? Why are there close to 30 glasses in the kitchen sink if there are only 4 of you? Why are there so many piles of papers?

Tackling Clutter

I helped her tackle the clutter and papers on the counters. Most of the papers could be discarded, she found very few that she needed to save. We put those in a pile and after we finished the counters, she brought that pile into the office. It needed to be filed, and bills need to be paid, but that could be dealt with tomorrow. It is important not to get sidetracked.

Every thing off the kitchen counters. Yes, everything. The only exception is the coffeemaker. I think this is especially important when you are trying to get into the new habit of keeping a clutter free room. If there is nothing that belongs on the counter, you can’t justify putting stuff down. And even more importantly, your kids will also not put things on the counters. I think once you get into the habit of keeping your kitchen clean and clutter-free you could put decorative items back out if they make you happy, but until you have established the new habit, I would keep them put away.

I hate things stuck on the refrigerator. It is my own personal pet peeve. It just screams messy to me. I know other people love having photos and invitations where they can see them, but what about a magnetic board inside the pantry door? Or inside on the of the upper cabinet doors? While you are at it, take that pile of stuff off the top of your refrigerator, people can still see it even if it is up high. Basically you don’t want your eye to rest on anything as it scans the room.

My kids are older now, gone are the days of toys strewn all over the house. But they still make messes, they are just different messes. They are far more likely now to leave craft supplies everywhere, take off their clothes and drop them in the middle of the floor, or make themselves a snack and leave crumbs, utensils, drinks behind in their wake. A common excuse I hear for the messes in the kitchen is, “I thought someone else wanted to use it after me.” Even teenagers seem oblivious to the small messes they leave behind. I do not let them get away it. I will call them downstairs, make them get up from the table, end a phone call, to put their stuff away. Sometimes it just seems like it would be easier to do it myself, but in the long run it won’t be. Trust me. I made that mistake frequently with my older kids.

These are the main tips that I have, based on years of keeping my house tidy and clutter-free.

1. Everything has a place. I know. You have heard it before. But what does it really mean? What does “a place for everything” look like? It means that I can hand my child any item that belongs to them or is communal and say, “Put this where it belongs.” and they know exactly where to go.

2. Just Do It. No one really feels like doing chores, but if you just do the chores instead of putting them off you will feel much better. More importantly, you are setting an example for your kids.

3. School papers. We all have this one, don’t we? Most of the papers the younger kids bring home go right into the recycling/trash. I don’t need to save piles of worksheets of math facts or editing sentences. The things I save for them fall into one of two criteria: a) will they need it again to study for a test, or b) is it something really adorable. If it meets those criteria it goes into a wicker basket in the study. This basket is probably 10″ x 12″ x 5.” Very few of their things ever go into this basket. The middle school-aged kids empty their backpacks of quizzes and tests and stick them into this basket also. I can’t tell you how often in the past they would throw things away that they needed a week later. This way if they need it, we have it somewhere safe, not being crumpled in the bottom of a bookbag or locker. At the end of the marking period I go through again and toss whatever wasn’t needed. If I still think something the younger kids did is adorable, but not something I’d want to save forever, I photograph it and toss the item. I just went through and did this at the end of the school year. The basket had filled up with miscellaneous notes from school about end of the year activities, projects, etc. Now the basket is empty, everything has been filed away where it belongs. And most belonged in the recycling bin. The key to making this work is that there is a designated place for all the school-related papers to go and we all know where it is.

4. Shoes, jackets, backpacks, lunchbags. Where do these things live? Are you constantly telling your kids to “do something” with these items? If so, then they need a better home. I have a coat hooks that hang on the wall outside the foyer closet. Oh sure, in fantasy world the children would open the closet and use the hangers inside to hang their coats up, but in the real world I have never seen kids use hangers for anything other than makeshift weapons. Their jackets go on the hooks, the backpacks on the floor under their jacket, and we have a giant shoe basket where all the shoes go.

5. Embrace the idea of clean enough. I pay my 12 year old-son to clean the bathroom he shares with two of his brothers. Is it perfect? No. But it is cleaner than it would be if I hadn’t done it. It also means when I go in and do a really thorough cleaning, I don’t have to wear a hazmat suit to do it. That is worth $5 to me. I use cleaning wipes to wipe down my bathroom sink and counter and the half bath every day. It only takes a few minutes. I know that many people hate these cleaning wipes because they don’t think they “clean” as well as traditional methods. But in my world any cleaning is better than nothing. And when you make it a practice to do it every day nothing gets away from you and becomes an overwhelming task. Having a half bathroom that unexpected guests can use without me cringing is a worthy accomplishment when you have six boys.

6. Toys and electronics all need a place.  I have a designated charging area for all the Kindles, iPads, iPods, etc.  Every night electronics get plugged in and left in the charging area.  We always know where the cords are. We always know where our electronics are. Most of our toys are small now since the kids are older, but they all have places to live.  Board games, Legos, K’nex, etc all organized in bins inside of an armoire. Smaller baskets in the family room end table hold cards, marbles, yo-yo’s, random smaller toys that are usually ignored until they are wanted RIGHT THAT MINUTE!

Clutter is Like a Magnet. 11 Tips for Clutter-free Living with Kids.

7. Clutter begets more clutter. Put a pile down on a flat surface and the next thing you know there are three piles. Clutter is like a magnet. I have noticed that if there is clutter in the kitchen the kids are far less likely to clean up after themselves. It’s as if the standard has been lowered. They think, Why should I clean up after myself if no one else is?     I sometimes sound like a broken record because I say so often, “Don’t put it down, put it away!”

8. Everything off the floor. This is an easy cleaning rule. Nothing belongs on the floor except for the furniture, right? I send my kids up to their room to clean them this is pretty much the only thing I say. I give them control of their own bedrooms and as long as they aren’t dirty I am willing to overlook the messiness, but I need to see the floor. In the family room this means shoes put away (see shoe basket), electronics in the charging station, throw pillows back on the furniture, etc.

9. Make your bed every morning. It makes walking into your room a joy. It feels like you began your day with intention, not like you could go crawl back into bed at any time. I think of it as getting the bedroom dressed and ready for the day.

10. Clean the kitchen completely after dinner/before you go to bed. Set up your coffee pot for the morning, run the dishwasher. I promise you that making a small effort to have the kitchen tidy and clean before you go to bed will make a huge difference in your mood when you wake up in the morning. The few times that I haven’t done this and have woken up to a messy kitchen I feel as though I am operating on a deficit. Like I have a weight hanging over me before I even drink my coffee.

11. Periodically assess if there are new “hot spots” or areas of clutter that just seem to appear. I have a niche in my house where I sometimes will set down my keys, because it is just so convenient. Then the next thing I notice is that there will be sunglasses, a belt, an iPod, random chargers, and mail sitting next to my keys. It really is true that the clutter collects itself.

In the end it really comes down to cleaning-up after yourself and teaching your children to do the same. While it seems like an overwhelming task at the beginning, it gets easier. It becomes a habit, the good kind. And, then you really can spend time reading a book, baking, or playing games with your kids. When nothing is hanging over your head, you will be able to enjoy the time more.

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