10 Rules for Peeing: A Primer for Kids

Jul 30 2013


1. No playing in your brother’s pee stream.

“Only play in my own pee stream? Got it, Mom.”

2. No playing in your own pee stream.  No playing in pee streams in general. Under certain circumstances, and using your own equipment, exceptions can be made for activities like peeing straight down into snow and then measuring for comparison. I mean, I’m not a monster.

3. No pee fights.

4. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like to pee on the wall or in the garbage can or on the floor or in the toy bin or inside the garage or behind your bed, IT SOUNDS LIKE PEE. STOP IT.

5. A swimsuit is for getting wet. A swimsuit is not for wetting. Don’t pee in the pool. More importantly, when you do pee in the pool, don’t announce it. Announcing it includes both verbal and nonverbal clues. Verbal clues include hollering, “I just peed in the pool, Mom! It made a nice warm spot! Come feel!” Nonverbal clues include scrambling out of the pool, grabbing your private parts and then watching the pee dribble down your legs.

6. Pee is not stamps or coins or baseball cards or comic books. Don’t collect it.

7. Yes, of course you can pee outside. In fact, from March-October that’s required. Usual rules apply. Keep it off the porch. Be sneaky. Keep your bits to yourself. Don’t get arrested. Pretend like you use the potty when guests come over.

8. You can all pee further than your brothers. I know this doesn’t seem possible, but you’re going to have to trust me; no need to keep proving it.

9. Our toilet doesn’t leak. I know it’s pee. Clean it up.

10. No peeing on other people. No, really; I mean it this time.



Do you have rules for peeing? What’s missing from this list? Or which of these rules would you particularly like apply to your family?

Your pee stories needed. STAT.


Flower Toilet Signs image credit to aopsan via freedigitalimages.net

3 Road Trip Games for the Whole Family

Jul 29 2013

We’re away on vacation this week.

Our family has a favorite road trip game.

Our third favorite road trip game is the Hay Game, where you see a field of hay or a truck transporting hay or a bailer bailing hay or a cow eating hay, and you yell, “HAY.” Except, of course, you have to say it as though you’re irritated with your neighbor, like “Hey!” and hope they fall for it, getting all worked up because they didn’t do anything wrong. Then you can smugly point at the hay.

Good times.

Our second favorite road trip game is the Are We There Yet Game, invented by my Marine father, which goes like this:

Kids: “Are we there yet?”
My Dad: “Yep. Get out.”

But our first favorite road trip game these days is the Dam Game, which I invented mostly because I was tired of the Alphabet Game and the License Plate Game and the He’s on My Side Game and the I Have to Pee (right after we left the gas station) Game.

Abby was good enough to capture the Dam Game in action this year, so here, for your viewing pleasure, is a short but complete tutorial.

How to Play the Dam Game
by My Family


P.S. My friend, Elsie (15), has a good joke.

What did the fish say when it swam into the brick wall?


What did the fish who was watching him say?

“Dumb bass.”

He he he. Cracks me up every time. I make her tell it to all my favorite senior citizens. She always asks me if I’m sure she should. I’m always sure.

P.P.S. What’s your favorite road trip game? Or your best joke? We have a long car trip home at the end of the week. I’m on a need to know.


Community Question: What Do You Do When You Feel Inferior to Other Parents?

Jul 23 2013

Every once in a while, I get a letter from a friend of this blog that touches a tender place in my heart. Usually a place that’s been well worn or is still a little sore or takes me back to the desolation that was there before the consolation. This is one.

Hi Beth,

I am an avid reader of your blog and really enjoy your writing.

I have a weird question. I feel a sense of community on your blog because you talk about the insanity of parenting and about crazy kids who do crazy things.

My kids are a very lively bunch. One has special needs but all of them are loud, crazy, messy and don’t really know the meaning of the word quiet or neat. They throw, scream, tussle, hit and seem to run on endless energy.

Sometimes we hang out with our siblings and their kids are just so darn calm and quiet. They actually sit at the table and eat, they don’t randomly whack other kids or jump on couches or spill out a million toys.

It often makes me feel badly, like I am doing something wrong, or I am the only one who has crazy kids, while they all have perfect angels.

I may be exaggerating a bit but any idea about what to do with these feelings of inferiority or jealousy? My husband says lively and energetic kids are more interesting and will go further in life, but that doesn’t really do it for me….

Thanks in advance for your thoughts,

Not Rebecca

Of course, our friend didn’t sign the letter Not Rebecca. That’s just what I’ve named her. Not Rebecca. Like we named Not Evan back in the day. It’s practically a tradition around here.

So here’s what I thought we’d do. I’ll answer Not Rebecca’s letter with my thoughts, which will be a piece of the answer but only a piece because it seems that’s all any of us ever has — just one, tiny piece — and then you’ll share your pieces and together we’ll see more of the puzzle than we can on our own.

Here we go.

Dear Not Rebecca,

My mom-in-law tells a story for which she has my undying gratitude. It’s similar to my own mom’s story, which goes like this: “I always wanted to have 4 kids. Then we had you, and I thought maybe I could handle 3. Then we had your brother and we decided 2 was the perfect number.” In other words, my brother and I were punks. So much so that our parents’ friends used to threaten their children with us. “You’re acting like Beth and Jeff,” they’d say, and their children would settle right down, thoroughly ashamed of themselves. It was like our public service to the neighborhood kids. We were givers, even then.

My mom-in-law tells this story: “When we had Greg, we were very confused about why people found parenting so difficult. ‘If only they were as good at parenting as us,’ we thought as we told Greggy it was time for bed and he jumped up to put on his pajamas, arrange his stuffed animals, brush his teeth and settle in for another quiet night.” Here she pauses and smiles conspiratorially. “And then we had Jeff,” she says and laughs and laughs. Because, of course, Jeff wasn’t wired like Greg, for calm or quiet or obedience. And suddenly my mom-in-law understood that kids are who they are. We may channel them and champion them and provide bumpers and boundaries and rules and reassurance, but kids are who they are who they are.

Greg and Jeff are both brilliant. Both accomplished. Both flawed and perfect, like all of us. But they were different than each other and required different parenting and different encouragement and differently crafted explanations to teachers.

Having the kids they did gave my mom and my mom-in-law two gifts: a) kids they love to infinity, and b) compassion for moms like me.

I know you love your kids to infinity, Not Rebecca. I don’t doubt that for one second. Just like I love my 2 kids who are easy peasy like Greg and my 3 kids who are, um, not so easy like Beth and Jeff and Jeff. 

Here’s what I think: When our kids are calm rule-followers, we want to take credit for our exceptional parenting. Of course we do! This is normal. We all desperately seek confirmation that we’re doing right by our kids, so kids who follow social conventions are easy validation. And when our kids are wild or loud or rule-challengers, we on some level want to take the blame because then there’s a problem that can be identified and fixed, and, at our core, we still want to fit in, just like we did when we were kids ourselves.

Somewhere along the way, we get the message that it’s better to be people who don’t rock the boat. And to be people who are always polite. And to be people who are calm and quiet and the same and blend in with the herd. This is a good message for those of us who are boat stabilizers. Great message. Very reassuring! For the rest of us, though? This message bites.

At the beginning of July, I sat on a hard wooden bench under a canopy of evergreens watching a campfire while my friend Heidi delivered this message to 100 elementary school girls:

If I could plant one message in your hearts and heads this week, it would be that you are not too much of anything.

Not too tall, not too big, not too loud, not too quiet, not too fat, not too skinny, not too emotional, not too reserved, not too stuck up, not too grouchy, not too young, not too old, not too poor, not too immature, not too ugly, not too pretty, not too shy, not too dumb, not too embarrassing, not too new, not too anything.

You are not too much of anything to be wonderful and lovable and LOVED.

And when she said “not too loud,” right at the beginning of her list, I became very still and, ironically, very quiet. My stomach clenched and so did my heart, and I drew a quick, stuttering breath that found its way to my soul while my eyes filled. I was stunned by my instant reaction to you’re not too loud, Beth. Stunned by how deeply at age 39½ I needed Heidi’s words. Stunned by how riveted I was, alongside all these beautiful young women, to a message that was the opposite of the times I’ve felt explicitly or implicitly shushed or silenced or like my words and my personality and my thoughts and my doubts and my convictions and myself were too loud, too big, too much, to be wonderful or lovable or loved.

photo 4 (28)Later the same week, the girls at camp made baked clay pendants for necklaces. Aden’s looked like a glob of squished, overripe banana with some hearts pressed into the goo. She gave it to me as a gift. I adore it.

I thought it was so cool, in fact, I went to craft class and made my own pendant.

photo 3 (47)It’s red with a butterfly and says LOVE. But then I saw one girl whose pendant said WEIRD, and I was jealous. I wished I’d thought of a cool word like WEIRD to wear around my neck. So I did what any mature, grown-up woman would do in that situation and I asked the 9-year-old to trade necklaces. She said no and indicated with her look of disgust that she was not at all willing to trade her rad WEIRD pendant for my gaggy LOVE one.

That’s when my friend Christy, who was in charge of Crafts and Protecting Kids’ Pendants, suggested I make another one. I grumbled a little about how there’s no word as cool as WEIRD so all the good pendants were already taken, but Christy, remembering my reaction to Heidi’s message, said, “Really? What about loud?”

photo 2 (69)


Oh, yes. 

This is my word. The one I long to claim with pride instead of shame. 

Because I am a very quiet, introverted person, shy in new situations until I’m comfortable, and then… WATCH OUT; it’s going to get very loud, very fast, and also probably very honest and inevitably inappropriate.

I write from my loud place. Obviously.

Now, I know you were asking about parenting and somehow this letter became all about me, but I’ve found that a lot of my discomfort with my kids’ behaviour is, instead, discomfort with what others will think. With how they might judge me. With how I’ll be found wanting. By them… and also by myself. It’s when I secretly wonder if I’m somehow failing my kids that I feel inferior or jealous. It’s when I secretly wonder if I’m somehow too flawed or not enough — not disciplined enough, not a good enough teacher, not a good enough rule follower — that I become unsure that I’m fit for this job. 

It’s an active process to let that kind of thinking go. To champion our rule-challengers. To cheer for our loud kids. To believe they have something incredibly valuable to teach us about living a free and full life when they run around the dinner table in their underpants. Or without them.

What if this is true: what if our kids — calm or wild, quiet or loud, compliant or nonconforming — are exactly who they’re meant to be? What if they’re already exactly right? What if they’re already enough? What if we are, too?

Does that mean we stop teaching our loud kids to quiet down and listen sometimes? Of course not. We encourage them to stretch themselves and learn new skills, and we likewise teach our quiet ones how to get out of their heads and be silly and spontaneous and stick up for themselves.

But what if we — all of us — are becoming? As in, “Oh my goodness! She’s so becoming!” and also, “Look what a wonderful person she’s becoming.” Both definitions: already lovely and still in process. What if we believed that down to the depths of our bones? 

As the years have passed, it’s become easier for me to release my feelings of inferiority and jealousy. Do they resurface from time to time when a friend mentions what great table manners her 3-year-old has? Sure. Do I think uncharitable thoughts about what great table manners my kids would have if they enjoyed a 2:1 parent:child ratio like her baby does? Alright, fine. Am I deluding myself about my kids having good table manners under any circumstances? Almost definitely. But these thoughts are more and more rare as time goes on, which I attribute to 2 main things:

1. I’m very tired, and, unfortunately, feeling inferior and jealous takes energy I can no longer muster. 

2. I have actually come to believe that our loud, crazy kids have as much to offer us, themselves and the world as our quiet, calm ones do. After all, we can’t all be unconventional like Galileo or Mother Theresa or  Martin Luther King, Jr. or Einstein or John Lennon or Ghandi — but thank God someone was. 



photo 1 (62)

Good grief, I’m wordy! That was LONG. Loud and LONG. This is why I suck at Twitter. 140 characters? I guffaw.

So now that I’ve shut up (for now), what’s your take on this?
Do you ever struggle with feeling inferior or jealous of other parents?
If so, what do you do?


Pictures on My Phone: an And Then Story

Jul 22 2013

This in an And Then story.


Here we go.

I was looking through the pictures on my phone because my friend Jody got married this weekend, so Facebook needed updating. Obviously. After all, everyone knows you weren’t really there until you’ve Facebooked it.

photo 2 (68)

Besides, I had some specific pictures I didn’t want to lose.

Jody let me coordinate her wedding, which is an activity I highly recommend to mamas everywhere. See, when you coordinate a wedding, people listen to you and do what you say. It’s like a miracle. During pictures, for example, you get to say things like, “Come here.” And they come. And, “Stand there for 2 minutes and don’t move.” And they stand still. And, my favorite, “Look at the camera and smile.” And get this — they look at the camera and smile at the same time. I’m still totally high from this experience.

My very favorite part of wedding coordinating, though, is the quiet moment when I’m all alone, hiding from the congregation and watching the bride walk down the aisle toward a new future.

They never look back. Not ever.

photo 4 (28)

It’s beautiful.

As was the sunlight streaming through the oak grove as Jody and Jeremy pledged their love to each other.

photo 5 (15)

As were the bride’s toes after all-day outdoor set-up on rehearsal day.

photo 1 (61)

Heh heh.

Yeah. I knew these pictures were on my phone, so I picked it up and started scrolling, ready to smile and laugh a little.

I wasn’t surprised to see that one of my little punks had swiped my phone for a surreptitious photo shoot, so I rolled my eyes, as usual, at the pics of Cai’s feet and the crap under the seats in our car and the gopher holes that are our lawn.

And I laughed out loud at the kid who snuck around while we were sleeping and snapped Greg sprawled in bed in his boxers. 😀

photo (2)-001

And then I kept scrolling ’til I got to the picture of a completely bare butt. A giant picture of a completely bare butt filling the whole screen. 

And then I tracked down the most likely culprit and said, “Dude. Did you take my phone while we were sleeping?”

And then he giggled and said, “Yep.”

And then I said, “And did you take a picture of Dad in his undies?”

And then he giggled and said, “Yep.”

And then I said, “And did you take a picture of a nekked butt?”

And then he covered his mouth in glee and said, “Yep.”

And then I said, “Whose butt is this, man?”

And then he looked at me, surprised, and said, “Yours, Mom. Can’t you tell by how giant it is?”

Bahahaha… ha…  ha… heh?

photo (2)-001


It was my butt.

The End



Here are 2 other And Then stories:

  1. Grandma Mabel’s Banana Bread
  2. Teaching Kids Not to Swear


If you have a story detailing why you’re glad you no longer have to send your film in for professional developing — “Hello, Walgreens Photo Guy! Why, yes, that was my bare end. Thanks for asking.” — do tell.

For example, this would be the perfect time for my dad to tell the Tinkerbell story. (That sound you just heard was my dad hitting the under side of the bus. Wheeeee!)


You Are Not a Bad Mom If…

Jul 19 2013

ID-10091061My kids found stale pancakes in the freezer today and yelled, “JACKPOT!” This tells you in one word how attentive I’ve been to cooking lately. I have lots and lots of excuses. Want to hear them? They go like this:

1. It’s so hot! Turning on the oven would be a HUGE mistake.

2. It’s important — critical, really — that kids learn self-sufficiency and life skills. Like how to forage for food. Good for me for giving them this opportunity.

OK, fine. Two excuses. But that’s, like, twice as many as one excuse. 100% more excuses!

The truth is, after running them to swim lessons and dance classes and doctors’ appointments and play dates and youth groups and parties and barbecues and overnights and, you know, remembering all of the things I have to remember, I don’t have any energy left to invent food plans beyond this one: There is food in our house. Eat some.

This is probably when I should feel bad about myself as a mom. I mean, isn’t feeding our children one of the things we do? And isn’t how well we do it one of the ways we define our self-worth?

Yeah, well. Screw that. (<– How I feel about Should in a nutshell.)

In honor of that profound statement, I’ve decided today is the day we’re going to play You’re Not a Bad Mom If.

I’ll go first.

You Are Not a Bad Mom If

1. You are not a bad mom if you didn’t make dinner. All month.

2. You are not a bad mom if you detest kid crafts and keep accidentally losing the Playdoh. In the trash.

3. You are not a bad mom if you don’t remember when your kids last bathed. Everyone knows that summer sunshine and stagnant kiddie pool water kills whatever germs get through the protective layer of dirt.

4. You are not a bad mom if your kid has a store-bought birthday cake. Or a homemade birthday cake that looks like homemade birthday cakes looked in 1976; baked in a casserole dish with fake frosting from a tub and partially used candles from the back of the silverware drawer.

5. You are not a bad mom if your kids find and eat stuff off the floor. Or if you do. In fact, this is no longer called Finding and Eating Stuff off the Floor. Now it is called Search and Rescue. And if the food is chocolate, you’re a downright hero.

OK. Your turn! What can you add to the list?

You are not a bad mom if…

(You can also play You Are Not a Bad Dad If or You Are Not a Bad Person If. This game is open to all comers.)


Refrigerator image credit to patpitchaya via freedigitalphotos.net

Turns Out, I Don’t Know the Muffin Man

Jul 16 2013


We’ve been singing about the Muffin Man for years. My whole life, really.

Do you know the Muffin Man, the Muffin Man, the Muffin Man?
Do you know the Muffin Man who lives on Dreary Lane?

And I thought I knew the Muffin Man. Raggedy guy. Bakes muffins. Hates his job. But understandably, right? I mean, he’s been pushed down by life. Never went past the 3rd grade. Had to go to work at the muffin factory to help feed all those brothers and sisters. Gets paid a ha’penny and a bag of stale muffins once a week. Shuffles to and from the monotony in his threadbare coat. Never could manage to save enough to leave Dreary Lane behind.

But now, after almost 40 years, I just realized I do not know the Muffin Man. Not at all.

Turns out, the Muffin Man’s been living on Drury Lane. The whole time!


Now the song’s not even a little bit ironic. Or a cultural statement about the terrible working conditions of muffin makers everywhere. The Muffin Man probably whistles on his way to work, you guys. He might even be married. With kids. And a house with lots of windows. And a happy-go-lucky Labrador who steals pot roasts left to cool too near the edge of the counter. And a pension. The guy might have a muffin pension, for crying out loud.

I don’t even know what to do with this new information. It’s like the whole world changed and people keep going on like this is a normal day.

So here’s the question I need to ask:

Do you know the Muffin Man?
If yes, what can you tell me?


Blueberry Muffin image credit to Paul via freedigitalimages.net

The Evolution of My Cape

Jul 12 2013


Truth is they won’t remember (nor do they care) how many baths they took, what they ate for supper, if their clothes were folded or even clean. They will remember how we love them.”
Five Kids reader, Charlie Collier

Cartoon Credit: Steve Nease


It was after dark in October 1998 in a stranger’s house in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam when I was issued my Mama Cape. Of course, it was invisible like such capes always are, so I didn’t see it clip itself to my shoulders the same instant I took Abby from her foster mom’s arms. I only had eyes and ears for my baby. I didn’t feel the cape begin to unfurl down my back or smell the residue of its plastic packaging or hear its starchy snap as it caught the wind on our way back to the hotel that night.

I saw a picture of a new family this week, mom and dad holding their beautiful new baby, all of them radiant. My breath caught in my throat and my eyes stung as I looked into the happy face of that first-time mama and thought, You’re about to discover a whole new kind of love. And also, You’ll never again know a life without fear. And also, I hope you know you’re made of the stuff of heroes.

It’s strange to be on this side of motherhood with my cape as threadbare and tattered as my wedding towels. My kids keep finding the holes my cape and sticking their fingers in them, fiddling and tearing them bigger and bigger before I can mend them. I’ve spilled coffee on it thousands of times. It’s seen more bodily fluid than I care to mention. I was actually glad when the bottom panel ripped off sometime around the summer of 2008; I kept forgetting to move it out of the way while pottying — probably because I was simultaneously breaking up a fight, writing my grocery list, and reading The Cat in the Hat to a rapt toddler audience — and the cape corner dripping down my leg as I stood was an unpleasant reminder of my MIA mama brain.

Still, by 2008, at least I knew I had a cape. Before that, I was sure I was living in a superheroes’ world sans cape or powers or magic wand. My house looked like a super villain had attacked, and so did my feelings of inadequacy, scattered just about everywhere. I didn’t know yet that capes are rarely made from pristine homes, perfect organization, zen-like patience, or magazine-cover meals, and that I was destined for failure when I tried to patch mine together from those things. That those expectations were, instead of a ticket to freedom, my kryptonite, sapping my strength no matter how hard I tried.

I didn’t know I had to stop judging myself by my false cape standards before I could appreciate the ratty, resplendent one I already owned.

Now I know what my cape is made of — a hundred thousand serendipities. Baby bottoms. Sloppy wet kisses. First days of school. Trips to the ER. Reading the same bedtime story. Falling apart. Standing back up. A whole lot of tired. Strength anyway.

My cape is made of just in the nick of time, and right now, and oops, too late.

It’s made of laughter and yelling and smiling and tears.

And smooth sailing and sudden turns.

And friendship and loneliness and building a home, somehow, in the middle of the mess.

Yep; I know some of what my cape is made of now. And I know we all have one, cobbled together from the things we didn’t expect.

We use our capes to dry tears and build forts and clean spaghetti-stained faces. We spread them on the ground for impromptu picnics. We wrap our kids tight in giant cape hugs. We wave them in the air like the white flag of surrender. We hide under them in the midst of the storm.

The best kind of capes are like the best kind of lovies. Used. Worn. Soft. Totally gross to untrained eye. Absolutely perfect with their pilled surfaces and crusty bits and the nutty smell of home.


Some of us talked about this on Facebook this week; your responses were my favorite thing on the internet. So I wanted to ask you here, too, where more moms and dads and nonparents — all of the fallible, fantastic people — can be encouraged:

“…You’re already wearing your cape, mama. You probably just didn’t recognize it because it’s not made out of materials you’re used to. Your cape is made of playing and snuggling and painted toes. Mine is made of Otter Pops and basking in the sun on threadbare towels.”

And you? What is the evolution of your cape? What’s it made of?