How Going Back To Middle School Helped Me Grow Up

You walk into a lunchroom all by yourself. The tables are mostly filled with people who have already found friends, talking and laughing in the comfort that comes with having found their place. You see an empty seat at the very front of the room, right where you’ll have to walk past everyone else to get there. You squeeze between tables, hoping you don’t trip and dump your tray on someone’s head. The successful journey gives you confidence and you ask your potential tablemates if the seat is open. They nod and smile politely, then turn back to each other, and that’s how quickly you become insignificant. The spotlight you felt while you made the journey turns off, and suddenly, you’d like for it to come back so you’ll be noticed. You want very badly to be part of the group.

Did your stomach clench and your heart race? Mine did two days ago when this happened to me! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m starting to think that we never entirely escape middle school. But let me tell you what happened next. I was at a writing conference. Writers can either be the most generous and welcoming people, or the most grandiose and boorish, and you often can’t predict which by looking at them. My tablemates were magnificent. There was a young girl, about 20, and her mom. It’s easy to assume that a 20 year old hasn’t experienced enough life to write about it, but this young lady has encountered tragedy that most people never will in their lifetime. More stunning, though, is her courage and conviction that she can use her pain to educate and support others. Her mom is equally remarkable in supporting her daughter without fighting the battle for her, and in letting her daughter speak for herself. Now, I understand why I need to say no to my toddlers. Why I do them a disservice if I protect them from disappointment. Three small children all clamoring with their wants can be overwhelming and it’s tempting to give in when I know I shouldn’t. But Life will not be so lenient and may deal them a crushing blow someday when I’m not there to protect them. How much better prepared will they be if they’re already acquainted with disappointment, fear, failure, and loss? I hope my kids will grow up to be as courageous as that young lady, as able to confront their anger and pain, and as able to use the pain to become stronger than their loss.

Another tablemate was an older lady, an angel on earth, who helped save a woman destined for deportation to the Congo, where she had been tortured and was certainly facing death if she returned. This dear lady’s book (“Rescuing Regina: The Battle to Save a Friend from Deportation and Death” by Josephe Marie Flynn SSND: about the event was just published last year, and while I knew her story, this was my first chance to talk to her. She’s a quiet, gentle person, not someone who seeks conflict, yet she revealed her iron strength when someone needed to be defended. Although the beginning of that lunch felt like middle school, that beginning became completely insignificant in light of The Stories at the table. And maybe that’s what maturity is all about: We learn that there are so many more things in the world bigger than us, yet just one person can be big enough to make those things change for good.

Everyone has A Story to tell.  Some write it; some use other artistic forms, like music or painting; some are genealogists; some might use quilting to join several stories into one. Find your Story and your way of telling it, and then tell it to your children. Don’t be afraid to include the pain and fear, because those make us human, and often joy and strength can’t be fully understood without them. If your kid rolls his eyes every day when you ask, “How was school?” try this instead. Ask, “What kinds of stories happened today?” Everyone loves a story, and your child just might like to tell one too!

Top 10 Ways To Survive The Winter Blues (AKA: You Can’t Play Outside and Everyone Is Sick and You’ve Had It Up To Here and What Can You Do With These Children?)

By: Abby Plambeck

10. Read 🙂

9. If everyone is home sick and your to-do list is on hold, use the day to sort outgrown toys. One sick day, we brought up four big bins of old toys from the basement and dumped them all over the house. My kids loved making a mess, it kept us occupied all day, and I felt like I got something done. And if your kid pukes on a pile of toys, like my Miss Twin did, well, they need to be sanitized before you can donate them anyway!

8. Soak up sunshine whenever you can. We all feel the effects of too many gray days in a row. Check the weather forecast and plan ahead to get outside or go for a drive in the sunshine. It’ll perk up everyone’s mood!

7.  A drive with the music turned up can revive spirits too. If it’s too cold or kids are too sick to get out of the car, plan a drive-through errand to the bank or to pick up prescriptions or dry-cleaning. (Lollipops are a bonus at the bank, and you’ll feel better having accomplished something on your to-do list.) I’ve always assumed music in the car meant Wheels on the Bus, which does more to kill my spirit than revive it, but I learned recently that my kids are pretty excited about hearing my music too. Score! Our last car ride was spent headbanging to Chris Daughtry, which made us all giggle and restored our goodwill.

6. If your door is closed to visitors because of illness, look at it as a license to make a mess! Get out the fingerpaints and Play-Doh (or Crayola’s window markers:, have a picnic in the living room on fun dishes the kids aren’t usually allowed to use, get out some big boxes and make a train, or let the kids get creative with wrapping paper and duct tape. We’ve found those days are good for tackling our (seemingly endless) garage-full of boxes that need to be broken down and put out for recycling. Again, it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something and keeps the kids occupied at the same time!

5. Have a pajama day and bake lots of decadent cookies and cakes. The aroma of baking makes a house feel cozy and kids love to help in the kitchen. You can even make it educational by teaching them math skills with measuring cups and spoons. My kids all started helping in the kitchen at age 2, and I’m continually amazed by what they can actually do. My 4 year old can crack eggs better than I can some days! For easier baking, keep a few box mixes on hand or use an Easy Bake Oven. We’ve had some pretty good things turn out from ours, although we’ve had better luck with using two packages of mix for thicker cakes. There are also recipes online for Easy Bake recipes from scratch, which taste even better ( The bonus with baking is that you can follow it with a tea party!

4. Go camping inside. If you have a tent, set it up in the living room, or make one with blankets and chairs. Get out sleeping bags, make S’mores in a fireplace or microwave, and tell camping stories by flashlight inside the tent. If you have family camping traditions or special foods, introduce your kids to them now so they’ll be ready for real camping in the summer!

3. Look around your area for unusual places to have fun. Did you know that Home Depot has a free workshop for kids ages 5-12 on the first Saturday of every month? ( Check with your local Recreation Department, fitness centers, craft stores, libraries, police and fire stations, and music stores/schools. We even have a furniture store in Southeastern Wisconsin (Steinhafels:, which has an indoor play area, free cookies and coffee, whimsical animal home accessories to look at, and car-shaped strollers that hold two kids. If you can find a reason to shop for furniture or home decorating, it’s a great alternative to McDonald’s playland!

2. This sounds like an awful suggestion, but it can actually be fun. Clean your house! There are always closets to be reorganized, or deep dusting needed behind appliances, or paint touchups, or pictures to hang. My kids might be crazy, but they love to help with those things. My 4 year old tackled giant dust bunnies with me for an hour one day when I got manic enough to pull out the fridge and stove. Mine also like to help measure and draw lines on the walls whenever I hang a picture. It’s a great way to accomplish something and teach your kids math and life skills at the same time. Depending on your house, paint touchups might be a grownup job. We’re lucky to have orange peel-textured walls, which are constantly bumped and scraped. If my kids get messy at slapping the paint back on, it actually looks better with the texture!

Here’s the bottom line to all the above suggestions: Kids love anything out of the ordinary. Even if it feels like work to grownups, kids think it’s special and want to be included. It takes discretion, but instead of feeling annoyed at their pestering to help, consider that they might actually be able to. I bet you’ll be surprised at how much even a toddler can do. I know I’ve been!

1. Do whatever it takes to get some alone time. That’s when you recharge yourself, so you have something to give to your family. Moms are great at being longsuffering, but if we do that too much, we and everyone else will suffer long! I get pretty snarly when I constantly take care of others without addressing my own needs, but just a little time away gives me perspective and I come back eager to give again.

A bubble bath after the kids go to bed is always an option, but sometimes you need more than that and it might take some creativity to find it. If a daddy, babysitter, or grandparent isn’t immediately available, look around your area for any place that offers childcare. That could be a health club, the YMCA, or a Moms-Day-Out meeting (like MOPS:

My most desperate moment happened one September day when our daycare was closed for 2 weeks due to flooding, our grandparents were away on vacation, our babysitter had gone back to college, and Daddy had to work long hours. Our YMCA has childcare for a couple dollars an hour, so I packed up the kids and a book, stopped at Starbucks on the way, dropped the kids off in the playroom, smiled when the staff told me to have a good workout, and sat in a quiet corner to read for an hour! It was just one hour, but it restored my sanity and made me a much better mom for the rest of that week stuck at home. Of course, guilt tried to creep in, but I kicked it back by remembering that the kids had fun, the YMCA made some money off of us, and we use the Y for its intended purposes often enough to justify that one sanity-saving moment.

Parents use plenty of creativity to keep our kids content. Let’s use it to keep ourselves well balanced too, because happy parents make the happiest kids. Post a comment about how you handle long days at your house, or something outrageous you’ve done to keep your sanity!

Guest Post: The Worth of a Thousand Words

I’m excited to host my first guest, J.C. Nierad, who blogs about pursuing dreams at While that can sometimes be an ambiguous, hard-to-define subject, J.C. does a beautiful job of writing in specifics about how to identify and achieve dreams. She also provides weekly inspiration and methods to track her own and her readers’ progress. In this guest post, J.C. writes about why she started a journal to her daughter, and how you can do it too. I believe in this wholeheartedly, and started journals for each of my kids during pregnancy. My goal has been to write at least once each year on my kids’ birthdays, but J.C. has inspired me to record more of the daily moments too!

The Worth of a Thousand Words

By: J.C. Nierad

When there is a family event, my mom is notorious for taking a couple dozen photos minimum. I use the term “family event” loosely because my mom thinks every time a grandchild is in her presence, it qualifies as a “family event.” Despite the constant flash photography, my mom is only in a small percentage of the resulting photos. She is the picture-taker, the moment-preserver, the woman behind the camera. I love her enthusiasm, but I also want to see more of her in the memories our family preserves.

As a new mom with a husband who wouldn’t notice a Kodak moment if snow was falling in July, in Phoenix, as a baby seal swam in our pool, I worry about becoming the woman behind the camera — present, but not preserved in our family memories. So, I have taken matters into my own hands and started writing a journal for my daughter. I plan to record special and mundane memories as she grows up and give her the journal(s) at some point when she is an adult. It’s not a baby book or a scrap book (much less cutting, pasting, and planning). Just words. Currently, the entries range from detailing the snow balls we threw on Christmas Eve and the experimental vegetarian meal we prepared, to describing a 30 second moment when I watched her walk down our front path carrying reusable bags over her shoulder and holding her dad’s hand as they left for the farmer’s market one Sunday.

While writing a journal for my daughter began as a selfish activity (wanting to be remembered), the journaling has evolved into a much more exciting tool. I hope these journal entries allow her, not only to know her mom in a different way, but also to find value in family, respect for herself, and appreciation for small moments. Through my words, she’ll have clues to my perspective on life and the values I hold. She’ll know some of my dreams, successes and failures, and she’ll know some of the hopes I have for her life.

Any parent can start a journal for his or her child, regardless of the ages of the children. In fact, Mom or Dad, if you’re reading this, your 32-year-old daughter would love to read a journal written by you. Start now and record little memories and milestones, communicate your dreams for your children, and allow your children to know some of your dreams for yourself!

Most importantly, don’t listen to the voices that say “I can’t journal because…”:

  • I’m not a writer: Unimportant! I don’t draft and revise my journal entries. Journal writing is unplanned and absent of any pressure to be “good.” If you write the truth of the moments, it will be a great journal.
  • I’d never keep up with it: Follow my friend’s lead who has a 3-year-old and twin babies. She keeps simple spiral notebooks readily at hand in the kitchen for quick recording sessions. I may write once a week or once a month. I may not even finish an entry sometimes, but recording little thoughts every so often will accumulate into a really special gift for your kids one day.
  • My kids won’t care: We all love the many ways we can easily share photos, and thoughts, and statuses today (thank you picture messaging, email, Facebook, Snapfish, etc…). However, these methods are focused on the immediacy of moment-sharing and not the importance of memory-preserving. I believe our kids will appreciate memory preservation tools that have a little more longevity. I know I do!

While a picture can be worth a thousand words, a thousand words written out of love for a child may just be priceless. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, consider starting a lifelong, unplanned, perfectly unique love letter to your kids in the form of a journal.

Then and Now

A few days ago, I found a big, thick envelope in my mailbox that made my heart lurch. The return address was our local school district and I knew something that big could only be kindergarten registration. After living with three children age 4 and under, this is fabulous. And awful. That surprised me. It’s one thing to wish desperately for something when there’s no chance of it happening, and quite another to suddenly have it handed to you and have to pony up. So, in the spirit of courage, I thought it would be fun to look at Then-and-Now photos to find out where the time has gone, and if we’ve really grown big enough to have a kindergartner and two preschoolers. I’m pretty certain my kids are ready, but I’m not so sure about me!


A sweet small princess...

...has become a big princess, who knows how to pose!


Sweet sleeping babes...


...have become big kids who play hard, then crash on the floor to recover!


Our Mommy-powered transportation...


...has become kid-powered. Yay!

But our sports haven't changed a bit.



Big Sister's cute clothes... fit Little Sister.


But so fun to see small grr-animals...

...grow into big kids who know why they're dressed up.


Finally, our reading materials have progressed...


...into something that might need further investigation!

 Yes, I think we’re big enough for the next adventure!

Dinner In A Cupcake Tin

“Unquiet meals make ill digestions.” ~ William Shakespeare

I’ve given up on having family dinners during this stage of our lives. I know how important they are for raising well-mannered, confident, happy children, but it’s no use. Most nights of the week, our Daddy has to work long past dinnertime. The twin 2 year olds only sit still for 2 minutes, and while I could put my foot down and make them sit longer, I think there’s a reason why timeouts are recommended as one minute per year of age. That’s how long their attention span is! On the nights when Daddy is home, by the time we finish the marathon of dishing out three plates, filling milk cups, cleaning up spills, and filling our own plates, the kids are done and begging for release just as we sit down. We learned quickly that bored toddlers at the table will shriek, jump, spill their milk, bonk their heads when they retrieve their cups, and cry. If they’ve eaten their fair share, quite frankly, we’d rather set them free and have a quieter grownup meal.

The joys and pains of being a stay-at-home mom to three kids age 4 and under mean that we love each other dearly in the morning, we’re still good friends by lunchtime, and by dinnertime, we’ve all had enough of each other! So we adapt. We often have better family meals at lunchtime, and Daddy can still participate when he’s off work. Or, if we’re out-and-about at a fun place, we take a break from playing and talk about our adventure while we eat. More bonding is accomplished during those times than during the war zone of our evening dinner table.

Our favorite adaptation is “the picnic.” Especially on the nights when Daddy works late and I’d like to make a decent grownup meal without the kids careening through my kitchen, I turn to our new blue cupcake tins and a TV show. (Because the metal tins were used so much they got rusty!) Each kid gets their own tray with six food choices, always several healthy ones, but usually a treat too. I think everyone should have the choice occasionally to eat desert first, and my kids do. However, they always eat all the healthy foods as well, and they often quote my advice back to me, “Eat healthy food first and then have a treat.” I hope my kids will have a healthy relationship with food as they grow up, and it seems they’re on their way. Neither binging, nor deprivation, just moderation.

I agree that kids should eat what they’re given and not treat my kitchen like a restaurant. However, with twin 2 year olds who eat the same 4 things every day, but not the same 4 things as each other, I do make room for accommodation to save my sanity and my eardrums. Thus, Mr. Twin gets more fruit and Miss Twin gets more cheese. I’m so glad I have Big Sister to continually remind me that the twins are in a phase and it too shall pass. She eats all kinds of foods now, and while her loves and hates change every day (apparently, the 4-year-old stage), she’s much more open to trying new foods than she was 2 years ago. Since their tastes continually change, I finally learned to not make mealtime a battleground. We have enough other battles in a day!

While we’ve adapted to raising twin cavemen, I see their progress every day toward civilized human beings. That gives me hope that we will one day have family dinner times, and will turn out well-mannered, confident, happy kids–who will then dash off to soccer games, friends, and homework, and Daddy and I will still have our grownup meals. 🙂

“Meals, in the sense in which we understand this word, began with the second age of the human species.” ~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

Contest Winner!

The winner of the first “Insane Days With Our Kids” Contest is April Horton Back! This dear lady has a just-turned-4-year-old little girl and almost-3-year-old twin boys. That’s enough in itself, but the family recently moved to China and is adjusting to life away from family and friends, language barriers, and major cultural changes as well. April, we wish you easier days and lots of fun with your activity jar!


Since we all have insane days with our kids, let’s share the stories, laugh, and win something! Post about the most insane day you’ve had with your kids by Sunday night. Whoever has the worst story will win a “Help! We’re Driving Mom and Dad Insane” activity jar! The jar contains unique, fast, fun activities when you need to distract your tribe and reset everyone’s buttons. (Examples are listed here: The winner will be announced on Monday, January 30.

Our most insane day was right before Christmas. We have a paraplegic dachshund, named Ernie Dog, who’s essentially a fourth child. He developed diarrhea, in addition to being in excruciating pain from a herniated disk in his neck. (For which he later had surgery and has now recovered beautifully.) As with all dogs, he doesn’t like to poop where he sleeps, and because he can’t walk without his doggy wheelchair, he scooted all over my house that day with diarrhea. Including across my Ethan Allan couch cushions, which I discovered CAN be put in the washing machine and still come out in one piece! (We would have needed new cushion covers anyway, so I had nothing to lose.)

On top of that, I had my three human children to care for. We had haircuts already scheduled, so we left the miserable dog at home for an hour. As soon as we walked in the door at the hair salon, Mr. Twin pooped. That’s when I remembered that I had used up our diaper supply in the car the previous day and hadn’t restocked. I cleaned him up the best I could in the salon’s employee bathroom, but the diaper couldn’t be salvaged, so I stuffed paper towels in his pants and he went commando to his haircut. All was well until I paid the bill, and then the paper towels failed. Mr. Twin peed all over the welcome mat. And then we went back home to diarrhea from the dog. Insanity!

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