In Which Parenting IS an Act of Courage

Jun 27 2013

ID-10076298There’s a tree on the property behind our house that’s perfect for climbing. Perfect. Low-slung branches that graduate, ladder-style, to higher branches that reach right up to the sky.

My kids beg to go there. Beg and beg.

“Can we PLEASE go climb The Tree? PRETTY PLEASE? We’ll give you anything you want.” 

And, of course, this is one time they can deliver, because what I want is ten minutes of no more begging.

But I have reservations. Concerns. Worries that plague me. Because I haven’t installed a harness system on that tree. Or prepared the inflatable crash pad beneath it. Or had the time to bubble wrap each branch.

The problem with kids is that they want to do unreasonable things.

Like learn to eat food. By choking.

And learn run. On concrete.

And play with toys. At the doctor’s office.

And wipe. Themselves.

And go to school. With children. Who sometimes act like children.

And ride bikes. Downhill.

And use the public restroom. Alone.

And swim. In the deep end.

And drive. Me crazy. My car.

And leave. Me. The house.

These things make me crazy. I don’t like them at all. As Anne Lamott says, “I hate this! So resent this! I want my money back!”

But there’s no way out of the danger of life. Just none.

“The bottom line is that you should never turn your back on the ocean,
but what do you do?”
Five Kids reader, Jennifer Corbett Lones

Exactly. We know that constant parental vigilance is neither realistic nor healthy after a time. But what do we do? Well, we hold our breath, say a few prayers that sometimes sound like, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” and hope the wave doesn’t wipe us out. And we think, “I hate this! So resent this! I want my money back!”

And you know what? That is courage. Because…

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.*

Now, whenever I hear that quote, I think of the huge heroic acts. Firefighters who rush into burning buildings. Men and women in combat who drag both friends and enemies to safety. Teachers who shield their students from the storm with their very own bodies. I am swept up in the terrible, beautiful examples of radical love.

But I will tell you what; our everyday acts of courage – our acts of freeing our children to live full lives – are no less radical. Because we parents triumph over fear with every breath. That is courage. That is love.

And so when my kids beg beg to climb The Tree, I sometimes say yes.

And then I spend my No Begging Break worrying.

Because I am a mom. And that is my act of courage.


What was your act of courage today?


Hey – thanks to all of you at the Five Kids Facebook page who helped me source the list above.

*I’ve seen the courage quote alternately attributed to Mark Twain, Nelson Mandela, and Ambrose Redmoon. (Thanks, Internet.) Anyone know definitively who said it?

(And, psst… who is Ambrose Redmoon?)


“Leaves” photo credit tungphoto via

Summer Family Photos: The Good, The Bad, The Truth

Jun 25 2013

If I have to cajole my kids into a hundred fake smiles and a thousand photos that depict a completely unrealistic amount of family fun this summer, by God, I will do it. I will.

IMG_0910-003I am not above bribery, and I am not above inducing guilt. Some of our best family photos have come from a few well-placed jelly beans or a gentle reminder that I’m under no obligation to take them to the ______ (park, zoo, pool, bathroom… you pick) if they won’t reciprocate with a couple counterfeit grins.

I do believe that the smile to the right, in fact — one of my favorite pictures of that punky kid — was the result of promising him a burger for dinner with a side of chicken. For a carnivore, it was a dream come true. And a win/win; meat for him, a sparkle in the eye for me. I regret that bribe zero percent.

But I’m not doing any of this false framing for the purpose of Fakebooking.

Nope. That’s not it at all.

Quite frankly — and I do believe I’ve established a level of trust here where you’ll believe me when I say this — I don’t have any desire for you to think my family and I are perfect. Absolutely none. Honestly, I can’t take the pressure of perfection because I can’t find the time to maintain the required facade.

So why the manufactured family photo plan? Simple:

I stage happy photos so I can remember our happy family.

I mean, sure; we’re not all happy every minute. I have plenty of photos of that. And I think I can speak for all seven of us when I say we’re a family full of well-meaning, irritating people who excel at making each other crazy. We’re loud and messy, weird and kind, selfish, generous, wonky, painful people who love each other.

Thing is, while candid pictures capture the chaos well, they rarely catch the sweet and the sacred. And I’m no professional photographer, reaching for my camera to snap the most magical memories. I’m more likely at any given moment to be reaching for some kid’s discarded, threadbare pants to sop up the gallon of milk that just tumbled to the floor.

So we recreate the magical moments for film.


And that’s OK.

It’s like a sacrament. An outward symbol of an inward reality.

We’re just telling a deeper truth.


I’m also a fan, though, of the whole truth. So here’s the other side:

It’s rainy in Oregon this first week of summer and we all have tiny, little colds.

We’re the kind of sick that’s not really sick sick, but is annoying and persistent and makes us all feel generally blah.

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My middle kid, in particular, is extremely angry that we haven’t been able to stop her nose from running. She came into our bedroom at 11:00pm and yelled, “IT WON’T STOP. WHY WON’T IT STOP?! I CAN’T SLEEP and ALDHGAIUHREWKFLDS!” That last, of course, being some sort of nonsensical depiction of all-consuming rage and so perfectly imitating my own feelings about sleeplessness that my loving husband wondered aloud if she’d learned that expression from me.

The last several nights, I abdicated responsibility for dinner; last I knew, there was candy in the candy basket, a few old bananas in a bowl on the sideboard, and a remnant of cheese in the fridge, so it all worked out.

During the days, we’re snuggling down, under our well-loved, somewhat gross, shredded blankets to watch unlimited television.

That’s right. It’s the first week of summer, and we’re celebrating with a truly unreasonable amount of screens.

So the next time you see fun staged summer photos of laughing kids frolicking in the sunshine, you can remember that’s part of the truth. A deeper truth, even. But not the whole thing.


What’s your summer photo strategy?
Do you stage them?
Is bribery involved?
Or is it just me?


Family photo credits to Joel Bock Photography


Balance: Bethany Lee on Parenting and Imperfection

Jun 24 2013


Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

I’ve written in the past about balance because the longer I attempt to be a mom and a wife and a writer and a friend and a daughter… and and and and and, the more concerned I become about abolishing the overwhelming and totally unrealistic pressure of “balance.” Instead of buying the myth of balance, I’ve written about life as a dance and the importance of finding our rhythmWhich is why I was so excited when my friend, Bethany Lee, sent me her post below.

Bethany and I are in the same book club. You may recognize her from a previous post as the one who’s about to set sail for a year with her family. I admire Bethany for a lot of reasons; she’s friendly, funny, smart, savvy, complimentary of her children, game for adventure, and committed to living life without fear. But my favorite thing about Bethany right at this very moment is the fact that she recommended The Wee Free Men by Terry Prachett to me because she knew I’d appreciate a children’s book about about terrifying, 6-inch, Scottish kilt-wearing fairies whose specialties are drinkin’, cussin’ and fightin’. Sometimes it’s just good to feel known. 

Bethany Lee is the writer behind bread-casting where you can follow her family’s adventures.  Enjoy!

Beth Woolsey


by Bethany Lee

I’ve been troubled for several years about the use of the word balance in our culture. You know…the idea that if you find the right work-home balance, you too will be at peace every moment. Or all your problems with the kids will be solved if you balance consistent discipline with the right routine. Your pants will always fit perfectly if you balance the pie with the treadmill. We often say balance when we really mean perfection.

I gave up on perfection a few years back. Those who have seen my housekeeping can vouch for that. But some days I still think, just maybe, I could pull off being balanced. By which, of course, I mean perfect. Balance is perfectionism’s new disguise.

A few years ago, we bought a boat and learned how to sail (yes, in that order). Since then, the idea of balance has taken on new meaning for me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the cardinal rules of boating is, “One hand for me, one hand for the boat.” (We often have work to do that requires two hands but one must sacrifice convenience to follow the most important rule, “Don’t fall overboard.”) As I move around on deck or down below, I chant it to myself, a reminder to stay alert. To stand wide and hang on, one hand always firmly gripping something stable. And when the wind rises and the waves follow, the rule’s importance grows even more evident.

Last month, we came across the Columbia River Bar in our sailboat. After 48 hours on the ocean, we were tired of motoring and racing the tide to get tied up safely in Astoria. We’d been across the bar twice before and though the engine died both times the weather cooperated well. Today, the engine was running fine but the notorious entrance was living up to its nasty reputation. Short, steep waves played keep-away with our little boat. Moving around was painful, like traveling in a life-sized pinball machine. Galley doors popped open and vomited canned goods across the cabin. I double-checked everyone’s safety equipment and crab walked to my bunk to get out of the way. More than once, I found myself floating in air, momentarily weightless until gravity caught up and slapped me down into the thin cushion. I hung onto the edge of the bed and leaned back against the wall, working hard just to stay still.

Back on watch a few minutes later, I settled into a lopsided dance, feet wide, hips swaying with the motion. I breathed deeply against the visceral fear and obsessively plotted our location on the chart. And from the middle of the mess, I helped guide us up the channel to a still harbor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn an ever-changing sea, balance does not look like full-lotus-position peace. Some days the seas are so calm, I could build a house of cards in my cockpit. Other days, balance may mean bracing myself against the mast and hanging on for dear life. But true balance, at sea or in life, is about responding to the changing conditions, not finding one perfect schedule/diet/method that will bring peace every day foreverandeveramen. Peace is not an external condition, after all. If you’ve ever tried to live a perfect life, you know it doesn’t bring peace. Peace only comes in the middle of messy days, from the center of the dance.

This week, we’re moving. So balance looks like paper plates, caffeine, and frozen dinners. There’s a take-and-bake in the oven as I write. I could kick myself for the damage to my wallet, my waistline, or the environment. Or I could settle into the truth of the weather this week–it’s getting stormy–and hang on for the ride.



BethanyLeeBethany Lee, her husband and two middle-school daughters live in Oregon but are currently in the process of moving aboard their 50-year-old sailboat for a year-long journey to Central America. When she’s not sailing or homeschooling her girls, you might find her baking, reading, making music, or writing. She aspires to live without fear, pour love into her community, and occasionally find time for the laundry.


So. Balance. What do you think? Yay or nay?


You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.

The Last Doll

Jun 22 2013

I stood in the mall in the tiny store crowded with books and toys and trinkets of all shapes and sizes, and I stared at the wall of stuffed animals as I tried desperately to narrow down my choice.

I was 8 years old, and my fourth facial surgery was just a few days away. The stuffed friend I was about to pick would be my hospital companion, tasked to stay with me after visitor hours ended when my parents would be required to leave.

That’s the way hospitals worked in the early 80’s, without fluffy modern-day nonsense where parents remain with their kids in the hospital around the clock. And, of course, by “fluffy modern-day nonsense” I mean nothing of the kind; parents of the 80’s were made of stronger stuff than me, no doubt, because it would take an elephant tranquilizer, a team of Navy SEALs, and a reinforced cage to get me out of my kid’s hospital room.

Still, I was never afraid in the hospital as a child due to equal parts Unflappable Parents, Unlimited Popsicle and the kind of Unshakable Companionship only a teddy bear can provide.

Choosing that bear was tough, though. A whole wall of bears and lambs, and I had to hurt all their feelings except one. I was that kid. The one who truly, deeply believed my animals and dolls were alive. The one who hid outside my bedroom and then JUMPED through the doorway to try to catch them moving. The one who whispered that I was trustworthy and if they’d just let me in on their secret, I’d keep it. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. So when I picked my bear in the mall that day, I cried because I couldn’t take them all, and I told them quietly not to worry; their turn for a family would come soon.

When Abby, my oldest, was 10, she campaigned for an American Girl Just-Like-Me Doll. I resisted because Oh my word! EXPENSIVE. We’re not the $100 doll kind of people. We’re more like the Look It’s On Sale or We Can Get It at a Thrift Store or Hooray for Hand-Me-Downs kind of people. Plus, American Girl Dolls need clothes and a hairbrush and stuff, stuff, stuff. And Abby was a fairly grown-up 10 who was already more interested in make-up than make-believe. How long would she play with a doll, anyway?

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But then I remembered my hospital bear and my favorite childhood book, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Have you read it? It’s still good. Much better than her more well-known The Secret Garden which is kind of spooky and sad and yellow.

A Little Princess chronicles the story of Sara Crewe after her father reluctantly leaves her at a boarding school. Before he goes, father and daughter search London for Sara’s Last Doll. “Dolls ought to be intimate friends,” Sara says. And finally, they find Emily, with her attentive gray-blue eyes that read as though she knew Sara all along. That’s because she does, I thought when I read it for the first time. She really does know you, Sara.

IMG_0688-EditAnd with that memory, I was done in. It was time for Abby’s Last Doll.

She picked Tiffany, who was everything you hope for a Last Doll to be.

But time went by, as it usually does, and eventually Tiffany was boxed up and put on a shelf and forgotten.

Until 6-year-old Cai found her yesterday. A beautiful box that revealed a beautiful doll. He pulled Tiffany from storage, and he held her reverently because he knew somehow that’s what you do with a doll like her.

I sat quietly in the living room yesterday, watching as Cai, with Tiffany in his arms, pushed Abby’s creaky door open. “Abby?” he said, “Is this your doll?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Can I play with her?” he asked.

And Abby was quiet for a long moment before she said, “Yes, Cai. Her name is Tiffany, and she’s very special. You’ll have to be careful with her and treat her kindly.”

“I will,” Cai said, and he withdrew from her room and closed the door.

photo 1 (58)

And I swear I saw Tiffany smile.


P.S. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is currently free on Amazon for Kindle.


UPDATED: The Directly Proportional Law of Housekeeping

Jun 19 2013

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m making important contributions to science. Discoveries as profound as Newton’s Law of Gravity, really. A couple of years ago, for example, my work focused on  the Transitive Property of Parenting. This year, I discovered the Directly Proportional Law of Housekeeping.

The Directly Proportional Law of Housekeeping
The clean areas of one’s house are directly proportional to the dirty areas, such that cleaning anywhere is futile because of the immediate, opposite effect somewhere nearby.

I’d like to point out that I take the scientific process very seriously and I do not use the word law lightly.

“A scientific law is a statement based on repeated experimental observations that describes some aspect of the world. A scientific law always applies under the same conditions, and implies that there is a causal relationship involving its elements.”  Wikipedia (Wikipedia said it. I believe it. That settles it.)

In fact, I consider my ongoing efforts in this specific area of science to be my life’s work. I conduct experiments daily. Or hourly. Sometimes every minute, so dedicated am I. And guess what? I can repeat exactly the same results every single time. Every. Single. Time.

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For example, last weekend I did all of the laundry. All of it. Except for the entire load of miscellaneous stuff we found around the house and scattered around the backyard in the 15 minutes after all the laundry was finished. To be clear, before all the laundry was finished, those stained shirts and muddy towels and mismatched socks and haphazardly discarded undies were not there, and then, when the laundry was finished, they materialized. Had I not finished the laundry, they would never have appeared, is what I’m saying. CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP, folks, and ongoing proof of the Directly Proportional Law of Housekeeping.

Because good scientific process is transparent scientific process, I’m happy to duplicate the results in your laboratory. Especially if your laboratory is in the Bahamas. Or the Cook Islands. Or the Galapagos. Or on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.

I’m also seeking additional researchers to conduct like experiments worldwide before I publish these results to the broader scientific community. If you’ve performed a similar experiment – if you are performing a similar experiment right now, even – please share your results!

P.S. Although I’ve observed the Law of Directly Proportional Housekeeping in action many times, I’m at a loss to explain how it happens. Do you have any hypotheses? I’m thinking it must have some basis in the Laws of the Conservation of Mass and Energy.



It turns out Greg and I have been conducting parallel research. His studies resulted in the Law of the Conservation of Housework.

Law of the Conservation of Housework
Within a problem house, the amount of housework remains constant and is neither created nor destroyed.  Housework can be converted from one form to another (potential laundry can be converted to dirty laundry) but the total housework within the domicile remains fixed.

In conclusion, Greg and I are to the Laws of Housework as Newton and Liebniz were to Calculus.

Also, if you get that Newton/Liebniz connection, congratulations. You’re a true geek.

Also-also, if you get that Newton/Liebniz connection, you understand I’m doing some hot and heavy flirting with my mathematician of a husband. Sorry you had to see that.



After showing you that I’ve learned how to flirt with my Math and Science husband, I thought I’d also show you that he’s learned how to flirt with me.

Yesterday, after taking kids to and from organized activities all day (summer’s gonna kill me, y’all), I was sitting at swim lessons for 4. Swim lessons scheduled during dinner time, of course. So Greg texted to ask if he should boil some pasta for dinner. Total flirting in my book. And then I abdicated all parental responsibility. And then he flirted even harder.

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It is good to be known.


They Do Grow Up Too Fast: Carpe Diem as Lament

Jun 17 2013


Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Today’s post is brought to us by my friend, Melanie Springer Mock. I love Melanie for a lot of sensible reasons; she’s smart, she’s witty, she’s a fellow adoptive mom who gets it, and she’s willing to reveal her insecurities because she recognizes that telling the truth somehow sets us all free. But I find Melanie particularly endearing because, even though she’s an accomplished author who teaches university-level writing and enjoys quality literature, she’s doesn’t ever make me feel like a faker or a dummy, even though I’m often both. The older I get, the more I believe that’s one of the best endorsements of friendship out there.

Beth Woolsey


They Do Grow Up Too Fast: Carpe Diem as Lament
by Melanie Springer Mock

This morning, I walked my son to school, his arms crossed, his bottom lipped shoved out just to let me know—if I hadn’t figured as much already—that he was mad. About important things, mind you: shortly before leaving for school, Samuel had discovered the car parked in the driveway, making it impossible for him to play soccer against the garage door. And minutes before that, his brother had taped a collage of baseball stickers on their shared bedroom door, an entirely egregious act because Samuel did not like baseball. Not right then, at least.

While his oblivious brother skipped ahead (this was not his day for crossed arms and pouty lips), I matched my younger son’s strides, trying to convince him anger would not win the day, and that the offenses against him were relatively minor. Looking over at his arms, tight across his chest, I recalled the many pictures of me in the fifth grade, assuming the same posture, letting Kodak and the world beyond know I was pissed: at my mom, my siblings, bad karma, who knows what.

Obviously, being an eleven-year-old on the cusp of middle school and Big Feelings and adolescence is hard work. Being the parent of an eleven-year-old (two, actually) might be harder work still. Not because of the inexplicable anger, the petty sibling fights over insane minutia, the ad nauseum poop jokes, but because parents of fifth graders recognize the ephemeral nature of elementary school, the swift passing of music programs and book fairs and reading logs, all vanishing into thin air. Or middle school, which is essentially the same thing.

Over the last few months, I’ve read several confessional pieces from parents of young children, exasperated by well-meaning strangers who offer up advice about how time quickly passes. To tell new parents that time passes quickly is apparently thoughtless and insensitive, akin to putting baseball sticker collages on bedroom doors or parking in one’s own driveway.

Two blog posts in particular went viral, both essentially about well-meaning strangers and their ill-timed comments regarding time. Links to the posts littered my social networking feeds, passed from one parent to parent because the writers’ sentiments were widely embraced. Steve Wiens, blogging at The Actual Pastor, expressed barely sublimated rage against those “time passes quickly” commenters, saying he would like to “secretly want to hold those people under water. Just for a minute or so. Just until they panic a little.” And Momastery’s Glennon Melton, writing on the Huffington Post, wanted to tell those conveying “enjoy the moment” sentiments to shove it, in the nicest way possible.

While I can empathize with that the frustration, and know they are writing from a place of hyperbolic humor, I want to offer them—and those weary young parents to whom they are writing—a different perspective. Now almost a decade removed from toddler-raising tedium, I now see these “they grow up so quickly!” comments not as advice, but as lament. The interlocutor isn’t necessarily chastising the frazzled mom, imploring her to stop growling at her kids and to celebrate the moment. Instead, she’s mourning what has passed in her own life, and is passing still.

After all, most parents remember well the stultifying boredom of raising toddlers: Those long mornings, stretched to infinity, with only a trip to the grocery store a welcomed distraction. The weariness of strapping kids into car seats, taking them out, strapping them in. The despair of a 30-minute television program’s ending, signaling the conclusion of your own rest as well.

I don’t know that I want to experience that season again (God save me from ever having to watch one more Dragon Tales episode), though its swift passing is a reminder to me that this next season—and the season after that, too—will also go quickly. Soon, my boys will graduate from high school and be set off into the world without me—and hopefully, without too many tattoos or piercings.

Telling a young parent “it all goes so quickly” is my own song of mourning, a requiem to those sweet nights, rocking my sons to sleep; and holding them on a hip, their arms around my neck; and teaching them to ride bikes, their small legs pumping in fear; and helping them learn simple fractions, knowing their math homework will soon be too hard for me.

Another movement of this requiem is now being written, because in less than a week, I will be done walking them through the city park to Dundee Elementary, their arms crossed fiercely—or, on occasions, their steps light, the poop jokes flowing freely. With summer break, my sons’ time at our neighborhood school will be finished. Next year, they will attend a middle school in a nearby town, riding a bus that arrives way too early and carries them too far away.

Enjoy this season, a friend told me recently, her youngest son having graduated high school. It all goes so fast. I knew exactly what she meant. Her comment was not an indictment of me, my harried parenting, or my inability to enjoy the quiddity of the inane, when one son hits another over nothing much. It was lament that this part of her life—the part of mothering in the moment—was now over.

So I’m steeling myself for whatever comes next, because I know from my own childhood experience that middle school can be hell on parents. But I’m reminding myself, too, that it all does go fast, and that even the most ridiculous times—a fifth grader’s pout over a car in the driveway, for example—will someday be part of my lament, a song to a season’s quick passing and to children, growing into adults before our very eyes.



Melanie Springer Mock is a Professor of English at George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon. She is mother to two ten-year-old boys, stepmom to two adults, and grandma to one (though she is really too young for such a role). Her most recent book is Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, published in 2011. She blogs about images of women embedded in evangelical popular culture at Ain’t I a Woman? and blogs for Christian Feminism Today at FemFaith.


You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.


How to Mop

Jun 15 2013

This is part of our ongoing series on housekeeping.

P.S. We don’t really have an ongoing series on housekeeping.

P.P.S. Because housekeeping’s not my area of expertise.

P.P.P.S. Also, this isn’t a real post.

P.P.P.P.S. I don’t think the postscripts are supposed to go at the beginning. You might want to take this as an indicator that we don’t always do things the right way.

Nevertheless, we mopped this morning.

Mopped! Us!

Here’s how we did it, step by step.

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How to Mop:

Spill Stuff
Add Water
Add Kids
Add Towels

Ta da!

I just solved a problem you probably don’t even have! I give and I give. You’re welcome.


If you need more helpful housekeeping tips, check out:

How to Organize a Linen Closet
The Five Kids Guide to Home Organization
The Ultimate Laundry Solution


What’s your favorite housekeeping tip?