let’s clean the house!

<<sigh>> I’ve found that one of the biggest deterrents to getting housework done is simply the bigness of the task. There’s just so much to be done. No surprise, kids, too, can feel overwhelmed–it would take, like, forever to get it all done!! It’s easy to feel defeated before the work even begins.

What we all know is that getting something done is an improvement, and even the smallest tidy up can greatly improve a mood, a homework session, or getting dressed the next day. In our book we talk about the importance of breaking a task down into manageable parts for children. Another tactic, to circumvent the feeling of being overwhelmed, is to settle on a certain period of time that everyone will be helping tidy up. It could be that each focuses on their own room or a particular room in the house. The session could be 15 minutes, 50 minutes, or “for these 3 songs.” Each does what they can during that time, and then stops. Stops! This small shift from “get it done” to “clean for 15 minutes” can work wonders. It’s amazing how efficient you can be when you know you’ve only got 15 minutes and the work isn’t stretching out endlessly before you. And the room you’re in? Voila! So much better!

I love better. –t

noticing along the way–a favorite outing activity

The sun is shining today after a long, long cold gray winter in New England. We get a little manic around these times, disproportionately thrilled at our sudden good fortune. It makes me think about getting out again into the world!

I live in the Boston suburbs, and one of my favorite family outings when the kids were younger was to take the T into the city, stroll through the Public Garden, and grab something tasty at a bakery or corner shop. Totally easy, and pretty low-budget.

For several of these outings I created simple scavenger hunts that kept the kids engaged along our low-key adventure. Not yet readers, I sketched out things that they could spot on the journey: the T logo, a Red Sox hat, a squirrel, a vendor cart…the kids loved it, a spark of magic each time something was spotted. There was no keeping score or tracking what was found, just noticing. Looking and noticing details.

I am a big fan of noticing details–really taking the time and explicitly noticing–which requires a certain kind of attention and focus. For children, nurturing that skill helps to develop increased ability to be aware of one’s surroundings (safety! beauty!), as well as tuning into others’ emotions and expressions (friendship! empathy!).

While every encounter with our kids needn’t be a “learning moment,” this activity tied to our downtown adventure was fun for all and educational, too. While I know it’s sometimes desirable to plug a child into any available technology–for even just 30 freakin’ minutes!!!–for everyone’s sanity (I have done it myself plenty of times), hooray for the moments when kids can look around and really take it all in.–t

P.S. This kind of general “find it” checklist can work for any adventure and for all ages. On a more recent day we set out with a list that included an afternoon coffee in an independent café; the wackiest candy we could find in a convenient store; and a photo in front of a random monument…so fun!

parent activity: what i like about us

i love usIt is all too easy to settle into a place of comfort and blindness when it comes to a partnership, and harder still to see and appreciate the subtle but essential aspects of  teamwork that make a family work when life gets busy and loud.

Today we encourage a reflection on your parenting with your partner, and a challenge to identify things that would be on your list titled “What I like about us.”

Perhaps it’s the way one parent plays off of the other when a child needs a different approach. Maybe you appreciate the way you make hard decisions together, or simply the way the first one up warms two mugs for coffee.  Whatever it is, start the list and keep noticing things you can add. -n&t

best friends

Screen shot 2014-03-04 at 2.16.53 PMI got shut out of my medical benefits login the other day because 1) I couldn’t remember my password, and 2) when I tried to reset it, I was unable to answer the three security questions correctly: my mother’s maiden name. My favorite vacation spot. My best friend’s last name. Hmmm… I’m pretty sure I got the first one right, but I simply don’t know where I went wrong with the others. It could have easily been the one that asked something about “my best friend.”

A lot in our culture suggests that we all should have a best friend, that we should find our soulmate, that we should settle for nothing less. For children and adults alike, this can be a difficult and damaging message, particularly for kids who may not feel like they have a best friend, or who cling desperately to a friend for fear of losing that relationship to be be cast adrift.

When kids struggle with the “best friend” question, one thing to do is help them think about the contextual nature of friendship. Start with your own—I, myself, have friends who I enjoy talking about my family with. I have other friends who I will call to go running, share art, or who love to have a drink and listen to live music. I have friends who make me laugh all the time and some who will always have good advice. There are some great people who I really like spending time with, but with whom I probably would never share a deep secret. These are not one person. Sure, there is a lot of overlap, and a very special few who are many kinds of “friends” to me. But they each have their place, and my life is richer because of every single one of them. Does your child have someone special they like to play with on the playground, and another who they like to do crafts with? Is someone particularly fun at imaginative play, and another good at building?  Is there one friend who is fun to meet for lunch and another who is a great homework buddy?

Feeling like we have to find everything in one person is unrealistic. It puts pressure on relationships and makes us look too critically at what someone isn’t giving us. Better to focus on and value what each person brings to a friendship and what parts of ourselves we enjoy when we are with them. –t

mindfulness amid the noise

It’s February school vacation and cold and snowy and gray here in the northeast. I was at the grocery store this morning and overheard a mother, sullen children in tow, sigh to someone at the other end of her phone: “and I didn’t even get to yoga this morning because of the kids. It’s going to be a long week!”

I, too, like my yoga. I like the dedicated time to consciously center myself physically and mentally, and in so doing allow some of the static that builds up to drift away. I am a better version of myself when I take the time to be actively focused and mindful. I am a better decision maker, I am more patient, more creative, more present, and I’d hazard to say, more likable.

But a secret (that’s really not such a secret) is that so much of the benefit of mindfulness practice that comes from active meditation or yoga is (woo-hoo!) available everywhere and in everything we do. Every moment is an opportunity to do whatever-you’re-doing mindfully. Folding laundry. Grocery shopping. Cooking. Walking. Playing with your kids.

Probably people know that. It can just be hard to get there sometimes, what with all of the thoughts and feelings and things-to-remember constantly bubbling up. So I want to share a strategy that helps me shift into that place of conscious awareness, something simple that I’ve been doing for truly as long as I can remember, that you can just break out for a few minutes anytime, anywhere.

And that is to do something–whatever it is–as quietly as possible. I did it as a child walking in the woods and descending the stairs in the morning. I do it now putting away dishes and laundry, or preparing a meal. There are sounds inherent in any activity, of course, but the effort required to control my contribution to the noise has a magical way of bringing focus and mindfulness to the task at hand. Just the frame of “quietly” forces me to slow down, to hold and place things with care, to be cognizant of the sound of a plate under a stream of water, a sponge on a plate, a plate in a dish drainer. I notice the weight of my footfalls, the scrape and click of a doorknob. It changes the quality of time as it’s passing, and even in just a few moments, shhhhh…a hit of mindfulness and renewed focus.

I’ll take it. Happy vacation week. –t


writing lettersCommunicating with pen and paper is increasingly rare these days. In our fast, digital, swipe and click lives, writing a note is a more deliberate, physical act that requires us to slow down, think it through, and write legibly.  

As we look for ways to find balance in our fast-moving days, here is a fun family activity: set up a mail system in your home. Turn an old box, a can, or a jar into a personal mailbox. Then decide on some period of time (a week or a month) and exchange notes.  Write notes and “mail” them when others aren’t around so checking is exciting and the surprise of finding a note is real. Deliver a compliment. Share a thought that might be easier written than said. Send invitations to play games or for outings. The pace and the method of interaction may inspire and offer connection in rare or unexpected ways.

accept help

help wantedOver the past week I’ve been in the situation where I’ve had to talk people into accepting help. Namely, my 75 year old father and my 11 year old son. I mean really talk them into it, which meant walking them through why it’s okay to accept someone’s help, whether with outsourcing certain aspects of international travel logistics or finding the area of an irregularly shaped garden in chapter 12, question 3a.

It got me thinking again about why it’s just so dang hard for us to accept the help sometimes. In our book we talk about the shift to parenthood being a time to sift through feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, a time to thoughtfully recalibrate the needs and demands of a new and complicated role. It can be hard to let go of our sense of control, to feel our competence questioned.

There is no shortage of cultural messages that portray independence as a sign of strength. And, don’t we raise our kids to move toward greater autonomy and self-reliance, applauding as they feed and dress themselves when they’re little, hoping that someday they will be able to “stand on their own two feet?” But as kids move toward greater independence in all the places that are developmentally appropriate, it is also important to help them balance this increasing independence with maintaining interdependence –  connection to others. And being in connected relationships includes accepting help. (No surprise, it also includes helping.)

Relying on others—and being reliable and relied upon—is an important part of being a family, of being a friend, of being a citizen in the Great-Big-World. People help each other. And it feels good to help—which requires a recipient— and we all need to take our turns. Someone who understands the ways in which he can be helped is a good thing. It is self-knowledge. Hooray for the person able to recognize their own limits, to self-advocate, and to know how to connect with the experience, talents, or insight of others. What better way to learn and grow? -t


consider intention

Screen shot 2014-01-07 at 2.26.17 PMThe other day I was having dinner with friends, all parents of our son’s crew at school. (In order to protect the innocent, who might just want to have a cocktail on a school night, yet still share this story which is straightforward but confusing when everyone is called “friend,” I will call one Jane and one Emily.)

…So Jane was recalling a day when she had offered to cover school pick up for Emily, only to discover a conflict late in the day that left her unable to help out as planned. Being the generous and thoughtful person she is, Jane was recounting how badly she felt about her mistake, about letting Emily down. She then proceeded to tell us what happened next.

When she reached out to tell Emily that she could no longer help, Emily replied in a way that brought a healing and helpful frame.  Her response was relevant to that day, and so useful in many of our daily interactions with others. She drew focus to intention. The intention was to help, not to inconvenience.

It seems so simple, but considering someone’s intention—particularly in the case where something hasn’t quite gone as planned—helps us to understand a context, be more empathetic, and see the good.

Rather than the one who messed up or lost track of a schedule, Emily saw Jane’s intention, which was one of kindness and generosity. Focusing on the positive elements was, and almost always is, a good thing for everyone.

As parents, when our kids miss the mark, or further, maybe don’t think before they do something that ends badly, it’s also helpful to think about intention. Instead of quickly finding fault, in considering a child’s intentions, we can often find patience and understanding, which is so important in supporting our children as they learn and grow. –t

how can i help?

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 11.47.28 AMOn a recent trip we stayed in a hotel in a small town in western Pennsylvania near where I grew up. At least one person in our family is particular about their morning coffee, so we had brought some along to make in the room. Most in-room hotel coffee service now has single use self-contained brewing pods to put in the basket over the carafe, but what we needed was a filter.

I went down to the breakfast area and asked one of the employees, named Cindy, if they had any coffee filters. The desk clerk overheard, and quickly offered more packages of pods. I clarified what I was after, but neither Cindy or the woman at the front desk knew if they had them, or if so, where they were kept. “I know where they keep them in the other hotel,” Cindy mentioned, “I work over there too,” she said, pointing out the front door to another hotel across the way. “Give me a minute…” she said, and headed out the door.

A few minutes later, she was back with a small stack of filters.

Call me cynical, but these days I so often I hear “I’m not authorized” “I wish I could help you,” or “Let me connect you with someone who can assist you (only to encounter someone with a gentler voice and greater patience who, in the end, is only says “I wish I could help you” in a nicer way), that this woman’s simple gesture of seeing a solution to a problem and making it happen nearly brought me to tears.

When did it become so difficult to be helpful? Why did this feel like such an exception?

In addition to the coffee we were hoping for that morning, it reminded me how much better it is, in SO many ways, to come from a place of “how can I help?” rather than “not my problem” or “not my job.” I would argue retrieving coffee filters created no more additional work burden for this woman, and in a few short moments many people were warmed and bouyed by her kindness. It was an opportunity to appreciate someone’s simple effort to be helpful, to notice how much it affected me and my outlook that day, and realize the value of being able to pass it along.

As we kick off this new year, here’s to looking for places where we can help others.
Cheers, –t

friendship, peace, quiet time

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…wishing you all the best of the season. –n&t

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