Tag Archives: family

Our mishmash Christmas tree is full of memories

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What mom could resist?

As we were decorating our tree this year, my son held up two of his handmade ornaments — jaggedly cut pieces of construction paper with black marker scrawled on them.

“Do we have to put these up this year?” he groaned.

The date on the back shows he was nearly 3 when he wrote “Mom” and “Dad” and drew stick figures on them. Of course those are going on the tree, I told him .And so are the wooden ornaments you colored over the years with babysitter, even the one with the crooked googly eyes you made when you were 4.

And the Popsicle stick Gods eye your sister made, and all the other ornaments we’ve accumulated over the years.
I have friends whose Christmas trees are works of art, with impeccable arrangements of elegant ornaments, worthy of the oohs and aahs. One couple we know buys chic new ornaments every year to create a different theme for every season. Some of my friends don’t allow anyone else to help decorate tree, lest they interfere with perfection.

Not me. I’m all about the color, all about the memories.

Christmas deepens my already sentimental, nostalgic side. I love the annual tradition of choosing the tree, hauling out the boxes, then carefully unwrapping our ornaments and decorations. I remember where just about every one of them came from. There are “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, faux wine bottles given to me by friends, and decorations we have picked out as a family on vacations. There are trinkets I bought the first year I lived alone and put up a tree by myself in my tiny apartment. They remind me how far I’ve come.

I have lots ornaments with my daughter’s name on them. She has a daughter of our own now. I suppose I should pass them on to her, but I love having her name hang in our house on soccer balls and sleds and candy canes. And besides the Shrinky Dinks my sister, brother, and I made still hang on my dad’s tree, along with the other prized possessions he and my late mom collected over the years. I like seeing them there when we visit at Christmas.

Our decorating doesn’t end with the tree. On the mantle over the fireplace, we arrange the beautiful Nativity scene three of my oldest friends gave us for a wedding gift, and in the hall, we hang the Christmas prints my mom gave me years ago.

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The peanut savior

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The rocker angel

And on the piano, we place the tiny manger that holds baby Jesus in the form of a peanut with a smiley face and the pine cone angel with haphazardly placed glitter and a shock of curly blonde hair that gives her a decidedly less than angelic look. My son brought them home from his church preschool. I can’t find the tape of the gift tags, but I’ve manged to hold onto that peanut for the last six years. I thought it was ridiculous when I first saw it, but I adore it.

And our centerpiece, our tree, will be covered in hundreds of colored lights and that glorious array of old and new. The are crystal stars next to Seahawks Santa hats, and a sock monkey ornament near a glittery glass heart. There will be no rhyme nor reason to the placement, except for the antique angel always that goes on top.

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Grandma’s angel watches over us all.

My beloved grandma passed her down to me years ago, and I cherish it. She has a painted porcelain face and dainty ceramic hands and feet peeking out from her delicate lace dress, her satin wings outstretched behind her. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I have no idea why I was the lucky grandchild to inherit this beauty.

My kids have asked over the years to instead put up a star, or something with more bling or shine, but I hold fast to this tradition. She’s the last thing we take out, and the last thing we pack away, encased in bubble wrap and cardboard to preserve her for next year.

Our tree is not color-coordinated nor stylish. It’s far from flawless. It’s not picture-perfect. It’s just perfect.

I hope however you celebrate the holidays, they are full of memories you will cherish.

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Remembering my pantsuit-wearing mom on this historic Election Day

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Look at these powerful pantsuit-wearing women of the’70s. My mom is second from right.

I chose my first presidential candidate when I was in 4th grade. My dad told me if I watched the news and read the newspaper he would vote for whoever I told him to. He called me from his office and told me he was on his way to the polls and asked for my recommendation.

“Jimmy Carter!!” I screamed.

I might not have imagined then I would have the chance to vote for a woman running for the highest office, but my mom probably did. Were she alive today, my mom would be a couple of years older than Hillary Clinton, and she would have no doubt have campaigned for her – and voiced her opinions about what she should have done differently.

Growing up in Alaska in the ’70s and ‘80s, we talked about politics and current events a lot in our house. My mom was committed to making sure women were involved in the process – and on the ballot. When my sister and I were young, she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment and was an officer in the League of Women Voters. She and other strong women had raucous conversations in our home and worked hard on the issues and for candidates they believed in.

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My  mom made the news when she was elected president of the Anchorage League of Women Voters.

My mom ran campaigns and enlisted our help going through rolodexes and making phone calls. She helped elect school board members and state lawmakers, and she also campaigned for candidates who would have brought about real change but didn’t win. She volunteered at polling places, let us go behind the red, white, and blue curtain with her, and even took us to some election night parties.

Alaska is a small state, and Anchorage was a tight-knit community in those days, so many of these people were our friends. I babysat for the former mayor and governor’s kids, went to sleepovers with the daughters of legislators, and greeted many past and present lawmakers at my mom’s memorial service.

My mom was always trying to show us what women could accomplish. When I had to write a report on a historical figure in 6th grade, she suggested I research Golda Meir, who was Israel’s first (and only) woman prime minister. I did.

I remember my mom and her friends cheering when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen to be Walter Mondale’s vice-presidential running mate in 1984. They were crushed in the election, of course, but the progressive women who surrounded and influenced me over the years considered it progress that a woman would be nominated for such a high office. Even though she would have disagreed with her politics, my mom might have even felt the same about fellow Alaskan Sarah Palin.

We talk some politics around our house too. My 9-year-old son helped me fill out my ballot (mail-in state that we are – it’s just not the same. I want my sticker!) He formed his own strong opinions throughout these prolonged campaigns about who he wanted to see in the White House.

“It seems strange that a woman has never been president,” he told me recently. “I always thought they were the most intelligent.”

The grandma you never met, my dear, would be proud.It looks tonight as though my son’s statement remains true and we won’t have a woman president. Still, though disappointed and shocked at the results I saw unfold tonight, I raise a glass to my mom and the many women of her generation who fought so hard to make a difference that led to Clinton’s historic run.

I completely lost my freaking mind in front of my kid and his friends

My son loves to have his friends over, and I usually plan some kind of outing when I can. But sometimes when we do this, he goes a little cray-cray.

Like the day just before school started when I was driving with three hyper boys and our excitable dog in the car. We were listening to pop radio on way home from the park. I spent 40 bucks on lunch they didn’t eat and let them run wild while I played with the dog. I was taking them home to change so we could head to the pool. Awesome mom, right? So fun, so chill.

Suddenly, the car door my son was sitting by flew open. I panicked, slammed on the brakes, and turned around to see him sheepishly trying to pull the door closed. Then I noticed he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”  I screamed, as his friends looked at me with mouths agape. “You opened the door of a moving car and you don’t even have your damn seatbelt on?”

And then I saw his smirk, and my rage reached a new level. When my quite bright son told me with a straight face that door “accidentally” came open, I completely lost it.

“Do not try to tell me you did not do that on purpose! You do not have to act like an IDIOT when you are with your friends. You are not impressing anyone! If this is how you’re going to behave you can play BY YOURSELF the rest of your life! I can’t believe you would do something SO STUPID!”

I mean, this kid is 9 1/2. I thought I was past the point of cheerfully saying, “Buckle up!”  when we get in the car. Apparently not. And maybe we’re not even over those child locks. Seriously?

Yelling, swearing, name calling, idle threats. Not my proudest mom moment, but I know a lot of you have been there too. When I told this story to my friends later that night – over wine of course – they laughed out loud, told me to give myself a break for losing my cool, and toasted to the fact that I got through the whole episode with dropping any f bombs. They got it.

And they understood too that behind my total freak out was fear: Fear that this son of mine, this confident, smart, funny, talented kid, could be hurt, not by accident, but by his own foolishness. Instantly my mind filled with thoughts of his brains splattered on the pavement, his legs mangled, he and the dog tangled in the leash, run over by my own car. I was literally shaking. Tears filled my eyes as I tried to calm down.

There are enough things to worry about when raising kids – especially daredevil boys like mine who start swordfights with sharp objects, wrestle like they’re part of WWE, and walk across the top of the monkey bars and jump down, ignoring warnings of “That’s too high!”

There are a million ways for these boys to hurt themselves, and only so much we can prevent. I mean, kids get shot in elementary schools and movie theaters these days, and babies get sick for no reason. That random violence and heartache we have no control over, but don’t we all try to avert needless danger where we can?

My son wants to play tackle football and I’m like hell no, you could get hurt. I make him wear his helmet over his protests when he’s riding his bike and his electric scooter. I teach him not to open the door to strangers or touch a hot stove and look three ways before crossing the street. But he opens the freaking door of a moving car?

I want him to push himself, to be brave, to be fearless. I don’t want to be overprotective or overreact. I want him to be independent. I want him to be bold. But I also want him to be smart, to avoid intentionally putting himself in harm’s way.

I was able to explain this to him later that night when he was getting ready for bed. He said he’d never seen me so mad before.

“Sorry for losing my temper, especially in front of your friends,” I told him. “But you really scared me.”

I told him he’s the most important thing to me, and keeping him safe is my job. There will be a lot of things you will confront as you get older that can be bad for you, I said, so you might as well start now with making the right choices.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he murmured.

And then I laid down beside my growing-up-way-too-fast-but-still-little boy, kissed him and hugged him.

And he let me.

This post originally appeared on Ravishly. Check out their site.

 

 

 

My dad is my hero

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I don’t remember this photo being taken, but I know my dad has been holding me up all my life.

It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about my dad.

He is kind, wise, generous, honest, funny, hard-working and compassionate. He was a provider, a supporter, a caretaker, and my biggest fan. He always told me, “Go for it!” and made me believe in myself.

How do I adequately say “thank you” to the man who who helped me become who I am?  I am fortunate to have had the parents I did. I hope my kids feel the same about me.

I tried my best to show how much I love, admire, and respect him long before I started blogging, when I submitted an essay, “Priceless Treasures” (starts on page 53) for the anthology, “My Dad is My Hero.” I was honored it was included, and I share it now in honor of Father’s Day, and this man who really is my hero.

Happy Father’s Day. I love you, Dad.

 

I missed my son’s playoff game to make music

Hey kiddo. I’m sorry I missed your big baseball playoff game the other day. It was your best game yet, and your huge hit helped send your team to the championship. I wasn’t there because I was at my high school — a place I hadn’t been for 30 years — singing with other former choir students in preparation for a reunion concert to honor the director who inspired and influenced countless students over her career.

During a break from our rehearsals, I checked my text messages, and Dad had been keeping me up to date on the game. I let out a “Whohoo!” and told everyone around me about your great success. We all cheered for you and your team.

Then we headed back on stage to keep singing, which was where I really needed to be that night. It was a big decision to go on this trip during this incredibly busy end-of-the-school year rush. I felt guilty about leaving Dad and you, about buying a plane ticket, asking my friends to help shuttle you to your activities (thanks to my mom tribe, who totally got why I wanted to be there).  I told you there would be a lot of games in your life, but this reunion concert was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I really wanted to be part of it.

Once I was standing on the risers under the lights, sharing harmonies with singers who I had known for decades, I knew I had made the right decision.

I haven’t gone to my class reunions because our family had other things going on. But being at this reunion was important for me, and it turned out it was even more meaningful than I expected. I stayed at Grandpa’s house with two of my best friends from high school. When we all piled into the car, parked at our high school and walked into the auditorium for rehearsal, it felt like no time had passed. We had made that same trip hundreds of times during high school.

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The Hee Haw Honeys, from our yearbook. Two of these silly girls were at the reunion with me.

I spent endless hours in that auditorium over four years, rehearsing for concerts, learning songs from “The Messiah,” and practicing for musicals like “Hello Dolly” and “The Music Man.” One year, my friends and I went on stage for a special number, dressed in robes with  bandanas and curlers in our hair and sang a song called, “We’re Not Ones to Go Round Spreading Rumors” that was made famous by an old TV show you’ve never heard of. We made up our own lyrics about classmates and teachers and we brought down the house. I hadn’t thought of that for a long time.

There’s a lot of stuff about high school I’d rather forget. But being in choir was the best part. Music does bring people together, and it was magical to reconnect with classmates and others who were just as moved as I was to sing together again under the direction of a woman who was a big part of our lives at a time when we were learning who we were. This time around, people were older, some grayer or balding, some heavier, some gorgeous as ever. But the voices were the same, and I felt sheer joy sharing the stage with them all. Our conversations picked up like we had been there yesterday, like we were all still the teenagers we once were trying to get our songs pitch-perfect.

When we weren’t rehearsing or reminiscing, our conversations revolved around what had happened since then, our families, our careers, and our real lives that started after we left high school and our parents. We have all lived through a lot, survived blows more crushing than not being asked to prom, and had moments much bigger than high school graduation. No one can tell us that things that seem like the end of the world at 16 won’t matter one bit when we’re holding our grandchildren.

See, this is who I was long before your dad or sister or you came along. Just a teenage girl who loved singing, worked on the school newspaper, hand-wrote papers for class, went to parties, and worried about whether any boy would ever like me. We giggled with our friends on phones mounted on the wall and met up at McDonald’s to see what was going on that night. We laughed, we cried, we sang. So many memories flooded me as we went through seven poignant songs in that auditorium that was so strangely familiar.

My family will always be my priority. You guys are my heart, my present (my gift) and my future. But my past, experiences like those I relived last week, shaped who I am and made me the person I became that led me to you all. It’s important to maintain those relationships, to nurture the parts of me that are all mine, so I can help you become the person you want to be.

I’ll probably be humming, “How Can I Stop from Singing,” and “Thank You for the Music,” for a while, as I recall this special time with longtime friends. But I’ll be in the stands for that championship game this week, uplifted from my time away.

 

 

 

 

 

A toast to the moms and the motherless

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On the last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom, I gave her a keepsake box, with a Maya Angelou quote on top:

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”

That box now sits on my dresser, holding some of my most precious mementos: photo of my kids, my mom’s charm bracelet, the hair clips my stepdaughter and I wore at my wedding.

On Mother’s Day 10 years ago, my husband gave me a jar of baby food. We had just learned that I was pregnant a few days earlier. Yesterday that little baby scored a couple runs at his baseball game and a touchdown at flag football. Today he gave me a handmade card:

“Thank you for being so supportive of me, caring for me, and giving me so many opportunities though my years so far. I know how hard it is to take care of a kid, so I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done.”

That one’s going in the box.

And my beautiful stepdaughter is about to have a daughter herself. She was the first one to make me a mom when she came into my life 15 years ago, and soon she will make me a grandma.

That Maya Angelou quote is fitting for this holiday, which is wrapped in so many memories and emotions. On this day reserved for Moms – who, let’s face it – will still be doing laundry or changing diapers, packing lunches and checking homework – we all have reasons to celebrate, and reasons to mourn.

Many of my friends are without their moms today too, some for the first time. And there are the heartbroken moms who have lost their children and women who long for babies of their own.

This Mother’s Day, I had brunch with my husband and son. They toasted me and gave me flowers, and I felt their appreciation. Thanks, guys. I love you.

And I thought about my mom, of course, because so much of who I am today I owe to her, and I will always miss her. I thought about all the strong women in my life who are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, single moms, nieces, cousins.

As we make our way through this life, becoming mothers and motherless, I will take Maya’s words to heart.

I adore you. I cherish you.

 

 

First crushes and being crushed

1 A girl has a bigtime crush on my 9-year-old son. She is cute, smart, and funny, with a bit of attitude and a bold streak. She has not been subtle about her feelings for him.

She has recited a poem to him, rushes to sit with him on the bus, and talks to their classmates about how cute my boy is. Other times she chases him around the playground and they pretend to hate each other, because, well, they’re third-graders.

I admire her confidence and find the whole thing pretty adorable. I’ve known this girl for a couple of years and her mom for much longer. I like this girl. My son likes her. But he is not ready for this talk about “liking” someone.

“We are in elementary school!” he says emphatically when the subject comes up. “El-e-men-tar-y school.”

I agree with him. I’m glad he can be friends with girls and boys, and I told him no matter how he feels, to always be nice to her. (“Obviously, Mom!”) I don’t want her feelings hurt. Kids aren’t always kind, and boys don’t always express their emotions in the best way. I think my son has a good handle on the situation, and I predict they’ll be friends for a long time.

But I remember how those crushes go. Don’t we all? Even as adults who have survived actual heartbreak and real relationships, we remember those childhood hurts.

The boy I was in love with when I was 9 presented me with a palm branch at church on Palm Sunday and asked me to marry him. I was over the moon. I kept that branch, that token of his undying devotion, until it was brittle and brown. We flirted off and on for a few years, but as childhood romances go, nothing else ever happened and I was crushed when his crush subsided.

(I’m happy to report that we are still friends all these years later and he is happily married to his husband.)

I remember those feelings that you don’t really understand but that you can’t avoid when you’re just a kid. Palm branch boy broke my heart for a minute, and I did the same thing to another boy.

He was a bit of a nerd, super smart with curly hair and rosy cheeks. He always wore turtlenecks and his favorite thing to do was study ancient Egypt. He was intelligent, nice, and made no secret of how much he liked me.

He wrote me notes and complimented me. One year he drew my name for a class holiday gift exchange and I remember him literally squealing with delight. He gave me a perfume and powder set. The powder came in a bright green plastic apple and the perfume in a bottle shaped like a turtle. It was a much nicer present than kids usually exchanged.

Our school took an annual trip to the roller rink, which was a highlight of the year. And there was always the “snowball dance,” when they would dim the lights, turn on the disco ball, and skaters would make their way around the rink holding hands. (I know this would never happen in elementary school today, but it was the ‘70s.)

The boy approached me in front of all my friends and asked me to skate with him. I was interested in this hand-holding idea, but I wasn’t so sure about doing it with him.

I said no.

He looked grief-stricken. It took him a lot of guts to come up and ask me, and I rejected him. My friends giggled as he walked away. I have felt bad about it for decades.

After that, we didn’t talk much, and the next year we went to separate schools. I saw him again when I was a senior in high school when we shared a class together. I said hi, but neither of us initiated any more conversation. I feel bad about that too. It seems like it was up to me.

Who knows if he even remembers me or this slight that haunts me. I have Googled him a few times – he has a distinctive name, so I thought he’d be easy to find somewhere. But I have never located him. I don’t know what became of him and his life, but I imagine he’s successful, and I hope he’s happy.

I’d like to tell him thanks for asking me to skate. Thank you for the gift and the notes. Thanks for thinking I was special. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.

But you know, we were in elementary school.

(Do you have a story about a childhood crush? I’d love to hear it in the comments. And if you liked this post, feel free to share it.)

 

 

Please stop calling our kids assholes

My kid is not an asshole.

There’s this trend lately – that apparently a lot of people find pretty damn hilarious – for parents to talk about what big assholes their kids are. I’ve seen columns, blogs, memes, Instagram photos, entire Facebook groups full of parents throwing around the term about their little darlings.

Look, I get the idea. I understand the sentiment behind it. We all have our days, our trying days, when our kids drive us to the brink – or to drink. But what’s with the name calling? A 2-year-old throwing a tantrum might be exhausting. But he’s a 2-year-old. Not an asshole.

My son is generally good natured and adorable, but he can work my nerves pretty good on occasion. But I teach him not to call people nasty names or label them with derogatory terms. We don’t call people fat, stupid, or weird.  Would I permit him to refer to another kid as an asshole or a dick?  Hell, no.

So why would it be OK for me to do it? I don’t think it is. I’m not a prude when it comes to language, believe me, but I don’t find it amusing to see a photo of a beautiful sleeping baby with overlaid type declaring, “I was an asshole today.”

Let’s save those choice words for people who willingly hurt or betray us, not a child who is testing his boundaries or learning a better way to communicate which shoes she wants to wear. I think these little wonders we create and are raising deserve better. I remember the time I screamed at my then 3-year-old to stop being such a pill and he ran to his room crying. Pained and angry at myself for losing my cool, I followed him. He wrapped his arms around my neck, and tearfully said, “Mommy, I’m sorry for being a pillow.”

Nothing assholeish about that.

I’m sure these parents don’t intentionally call their children assholes to their faces. But if the word is in our minds, if it’s repeated with such regularity, kids sense it. And it would be a whole lot easier to let it slip in one of those moments when our heads are about to explode when they just won’t put on their socks or go to sleep.

When my daughter was going through a rough patch with a friend, she was dropped off early after being out with her. She burst through the door in tears and went straight to her room. My husband went out to talk to the friend’s dad to see if he could sort out what happened between the girls.

The dad shrugged and said of his 11-year-old daughter: “She’s just being a little bitch.”

We were stunned. Who calls their little girl a bitch? To another father?

While I’m on the subject, can we do something about the incessant use about that word too?

“Bitch” has worked its way into our vernacular in a way that more than unsettles me. I find the word offensive because of the venom with which it has been used against women for decades. I hate the way women now use it as a term of endearment. “My bitches!” women exclaim on Instagram photos with their girlfriends dressed up on a night out. It’s all over TV now, with women greeting each other, “Heya bitches!”

We wouldn’t accept being called a bitch by our male partners or a boss. So why is it OK to use it with each other? I can only think of one time in my life when I have referred to someone as a bitch – and it wasn’t to her face. (And believe me, she deserved it.)

Words carry weight. I think we should use them judiciously.

I have to believe other parents agree with me. I’m sure a lot of them won’t, thinking I should just lighten up.

Maybe I am too sensitive.

Or maybe I’m just an asshole.

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How do you stick to your guns when it comes to video games?

I have been arguing with my 9-year-old son for weeks about why we won’t let him play Grand Theft Auto. I kind of blame myself.

He was at an older friend’s birthday party where they were playing games he knows we don’t allow. He texted me from his iPod: “I feel left out because everyone is playing video games I can’t play.”

I was proud of him for being honest and following the rules, so I told him it was OK to try them out with his friends. I didn’t expect him to like them so much. Up until now, our biggest challenge had been pulling him away from Minecraft, which is pretty universally praised as an educational game that encourages creativity and critical thinking.

He had tucked his Christmas cash into his homemade duct-tape wallet, and my son was determined to spend that money on GTA, a game that “EVERYONE plays.”

He kept telling me he doesn’t want to do all that bad crime stuff, he just likes to drive around and play tennis and stuff. Are there really scenic byways and recreational facilities in this violent virtual world that I heard mostly consists of bank robbers, guns, hookers, and drug dealers?

For weeks, he’s been alternating between sweet talking us and screaming at us about why he should get GTA.  He has negotiated and promised, and we have threatened and researched. I don’t like video games and detest guns, so these allure of these games is lost on me. But I read the online reviews from other parents. I watched YouTube videos. I talked to friends who do and don’t let their kids play GTA. And I came to my conclusion: No way.

“Mom, it is not as bad as you think,” my son insisted. “And I know right from wrong. It’s not like I’m going to go out and rob a bank or steal a car.”

He has written too many persuasive essays in third grade, this kid.

My son, like seemingly all boys, likes video games. But he also swims, plays basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis. He’s active. He’s a good student. He likes art and music and jumping on the trampoline. Like all moms, I wonder how much screen time is too much? How damaging are these games to his precious psyche?

Finally, he wore me down. My husband and I took him to Game Stop to ask about the game. The first salesclerk warned me about the mature themes. I asked him about this “just driving around” thing, and he said you really can’t do that for very long.

Then the clerk told us if you buy a used game, you can return it in seven days if you don’t like it or decide it’s a mistake. That sounded like a reasonable option. We went over the ground rules, and our son said he understood that if Dad or I objected to it in any way, we would take the game back with no backtalk. Against my better judgment, I told him he could try it out under close supervision.

Beaming, my son walked up to counter with the GTA case in his hand. A different clerk was there and looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You sure this is OK?” he asked.

The conversation began again with this employee. He told us it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the violence, sex, and profanity.  “It’s really the worst game out there for kids,” he said, confirming my fears.

This conscientious clerk directed us toward another game we’d never heard of that he said was just as fun, without the inappropriate language and crime sprees. He backed us up, without knowing how much we needed it.

These guys are the experts, I told our son. They are super gamers. It’s their job to sell games, and they are encouraging us NOT to buy this one.

I reneged on our agreement. I knew I was in trouble. We’re all about keeping our word in our family, and our kiddo was not happy that I broke mine. But I also knew I was right.

Thank you, Game Stop guys for making this mom stick to her guns.

New Year’s Realizations

My New Year’s resolutions are always the same: get in shape, be smarter financially, be more organized. Drink less wine and eat more kale, yada yada yada.

I still want to do all those things, but I’m taking a different approach to 2016. Last year brought a lot of big changes in my life, and I’ve had some time to think about what really makes me happy, what fuels me. Some of it has surprised me, and it’s exciting for me to discover that I am still learning and growing.

As I was thinking about the New Year and the many facets that can lead to happiness, the “4 Cs” kept popping into my head. My summer job during college was working at a jewelry store, where I learned a little about the 4Cs of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, and carat.

So here are my 4C realizations (not resolutions) for 2016:

I need to create. Whether it’s a few words on this blog, working on the novel I really will finish writing,  a professional project that fulfills my creative side or a cool experiment with my son, using my imagination inspires me. I will devote more time to it this year. (But don’t expect anything too crafty.)

I need to contribute. Whether volunteering at school, collecting pennies for uncompensated children’s hospital care, sending toys to Syrian refugees or buying groceries for someone who has less than me, these small gifts mean more to me than the recipient and teach my son compassion. Giving back rewards me, and being part of something bigger than myself grounds me. I will find new ways for my family to give this year.

I need to crack up. I love laughing out loud. My friends are hilarious. My family makes me giggle. I need more of those laughing to tears, side-aching, sore cheek moments in between the rushing, the working, the worrying.

I need to connect. I value my longtime friendships with my most trusted friends, and I’m grateful for growing connections with fellow moms. I need to make time for coffee dates and happy hours and family gatherings and date nights with my husby. Having people in your life you can truly count on, who you can fully support, makes all the difference.

I know that when I’m pursuing these core beliefs, other good stuff follows. I’m even craving spinach right now instead of chocolate. At least that’s what my creative self is trying to tell me.

What are your New Year’s Realizations?