Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Summer Work Hours

5:30 a.m.: Nudge the husband who missed his 5:00 a.m. alarm and remind him he wanted to get to work early today. Make coffee and pull out leftovers for lunch. Kiss him good-bye and sit down with first cup of coffee.

6:35 a.m.: Hear kid's alarm blaring for 10 minutes and finally go down to his room, turn off the alarm and lecture him (if that's him beneath the pile of pillows) about responsibility and eating a good breakfast before football practice. Head back up for a second cup of coffee. Find car keys in a hurry when he's running late and tells you he forgot to get a ride.

7:03 a.m.: Pour out the now-cold coffee and fix another cup. Sit down to check email. Hop up when the toddler starts yelling, "Mommeeeeee!" Change his wet pants. Toast the frozen waffles and find an episode of Imagination Movers quickly in order to get back to the still-barely-warm coffee.

8:30 a.m.: In come the grade-schoolers yawning after being up way too late last night. Offer cereal when they discover little brother ate the last of the frozen waffles.

10:00 a.m.: Finally take a shower.

11:30 a.m.: Look around and realize there are now seven kids in the house and they are all getting  hungry. Pop Cheese Pizzas #72-73 of the Summer into the oven and crack open Juice Box Case #103 of the Summer to feed them all.

1:00 p.m.: Realize the garden hose has been on full blast for the last 77 minutes. Muddy kids came inside 48 minutes ago.

2:00 p.m.: Discover the toddler is still napping. Debate whether to deal with him being up until 10 tonight or being cranky right now for having his nap interrupted. Decide upon the former and sit down with a new magazine.

2:03 p.m.: Growl at the muddy kids who shrieked by the toddler's bedroom door and awakened him. Deal with his crankiness until the next episode of Doc McStuffins comes on.

3:10 p.m.: Panic when the hamburger that was supposed to be defrosting in the fridge overnight is found still rock hard in the freezer. Locate a teenager to run to the store and buy two packages of hot dogs and hope there is a box of macaroni and cheese shoved in the pantry somewhere.

4:30 p.m:. Do the happy dance when kids are invited to swim with the family next door. Spend 30 minutes locating swimsuits, flip flops, and goggles that still have their lenses.

5:00 p.m.: Clean the kitchen to get ready for dinnertime..

5:15 p.m.: Lose it a little bit when the swimmers (who got bored/had a fight/want to watch TV) stream in the front door and drop wet everything in the hall.

5:30 p.m.: Whip up grilled hot dogs and macaroni.

5:35 p.m.: Stifle frustration when the kids tell you they're not hungry. They ate pizza at the pool.

6:30 p.m.: Locate the toddler by following the trail of sand from the backyard to the basement.

6:40 p.m.: Plop the grainy toddler into the tub and sweep up the sand.

6;50 p.m.:  Locate the toddler by following the trail of slippery bubbles.

7:00 p.m.: Wrestle the toddler into pajamas. Collapse in the rocking chair and grab a story book.

7:01 p.m.: Hear shrieking from the bathroom that the user needs toilet paper. Wonder for the 8,243rd time why no one checks before they go.

7:15 p.m.: Daddy's home! Give up on the toddler's bedtime.

7:30 p.m.: Stand like an ATM handing out cash as the teenagers peel away for their evening plans with friends.

8:15 p.m.: High five the daddy for finally getting the wired toddler to go to bed.

8:45 p.m.: Locate the grade schoolers playing down the street and reassure them that they really do have to come inside as it's getting dark.

9:17 p.m.: Find the bathroom a muddy, sandy, bubbly mess after baths are done.

9:45 p.m.: Agree to 15 more minutes.

10:15 p.m.: Realize it's been 30 more minutes.

10:30 p.m.: Crawl in bed and try to finish a chapter of a book.

10:45 p.m.: Kick the husband who cracks a smile and asks, "So what'd you do all day?"

11:01 p.m.: Growl at the kid who pokes you in the shoulder and proclaims, "Can we go to the movies tomorrow? It's so boring around here."

11:19 p.m.: Dream of winter and its routine, cozy evenings, and beautiful snow.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Evolution of the Snow Day

Day #1: Yes! They called, they called! No school tomorrow! Let’s all do the happy dance and stay up late. Good morning! Stay snuggly in your pajamas.  I’m making a hot breakfast from scratch. Yes, we’ll play outside soon. Eat up and then grab your snow gear. Shoveling is fun! Sledding is fun! Snowmen are fun! Come inside to thaw out with some hot chocolate. Yes, I have marshmallows. Let’s watch a movie while dinner simmers in the crock pot. Pick a game and we’ll all play together. Phone rings. Yes! We get to do it again tomorrow.

Day #2: No you may not stay up until midnight. Good morning. Already?  Little ones are up too early, older ones are up too late. Turn down the cartoons. I’ll fix you some frozen waffles. No, we are not out of the good syrup. Time to turn off the television and play outside. How can you lose a boot overnight? You came in with both of them on your feet, didn’t you? You don’t know? Seriously.  Mom, he keeps taking the best sled! Mom, can I go to a friend’s house? Mom, there’s nothing to eat in this house. Leftovers will reheat just fine for dinner. Who was supposed to shovel the other side of the driveway? If you can’t agree on a movie then we’ll just watch my favorite travel show. No? Kids?

Pleasant weekend. School on Monday. Another storm? Make a list for the store.

Day #3: No, I’m not making breakfast. You slept so late it’s almost lunchtime. Have some cereal. Can ____ come over? There is nothing to do. Here, I made a list of chores. Fine, go outside to play then. Put on whatever snow gear you can find. No, it doesn’t matter if your boots match or your gloves are too big. Where is the good sled? Who broke the snow shovel? What’s for lunch? Frozen pizza. Neighbors challenge a snowball fight. Perfect outlet for all this energy! Back inside, baking cookies. What’s for dinner? Is there leftover pizza? Husband calls, need anything? Please grab a bottle of wine. The phone just rang again. Yes, it’s true. Another snow day. I don’t care if you stay up until midnight. Just let me sleep.

Day #4: Are you people ever going to get up? You’re going to be sorry when it’s time for school tomorrow. Yes, school. Remember that place? Sure, have cookies for breakfast. Where is my coffee? If I hear the Sponge Bob theme song one more time, my head might explode so please TURN IT DOWN. Damp socks everywhere. Muddy boots in the bathroom? Yes, you have to shovel again—it snowed again! Which is why you are out of school again. We’re out of frozen pizza? I’ll turn on the stove for grilled cheese. Wait, who ate all the cheese? PBJs for lunch. Did I hear the B-word? You’re BORED?! Here’s that list of chores. No, I’m not kidding. Just find something that is semi-dry and get outside to play. Yes, it’s cold. it’s SNOW! You prayed for this snow so go outside and enjoy it. I am locking the door. Go play! Hot soup for dinner, time for one more game, warm baths, loads of laundry, another funny story. House is finally still. 

 Two parents yawn and raise a toast to family fun. But mostly to the blessed quiet of sleeping children and a phone that does not ring again.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Once Upon an Egotistical Daydream

My 18-year-old senior won a writing award this week. Not that I wouldn't be just as proud if she won a math award, but a writing award ROCKS! Several people asked me to post her essay when I mentioned it was about the dark side of the Disney princess genre. Before we go all serious and deep, here's some proof that we are not a princess-free household. 
Princess Birthday Tea Party. It was AWESOME!

All three little brothers have been dressed in princess
pink tulle and fairy wings.
At least until they were big enough to protest.
I agree with everything she wrote, but parenthood is full of contradictions. Now, and I'm not making this up, I have to turn on Sofia the First for her 2-year-old brother. It's currently his favorite show. 

Life is funny.

Once Upon an Egotistical Daydream
Animated Disney movies are a staple of the complete American childhood. Ask any group of children, and they will know all about Simba, Ariel, Pocahontas, and Aladdin. The fascination extends beyond youngsters to teenagers and adults. Everyone, it seems, loves Disney.  The franchise began in 1937 with the release of Snow White, Disney’s first animated full-length feature, which did wonderfully at the box office. The movie reinvented the classic tale of Snow White in a benign, kid-friendly way, setting the tone for the rest of the movies. Indeed, it is the princess movies that are the most successful and well-loved among viewers. Young girls, especially, are entranced by the portrayals of beautiful, enchanting women who win the love of a prince and live happily ever after. Disney’s portrayal of women on the big screen has an undeniable influence on society, social norms, fashion, commercialism, etc. In her article, “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?”, Peggy Orenstein observes that “even Dora the Explorer… has ascended to the throne…” (1). In short, Orenstein is pointing out how America’s princess obsession has gone beyond the bounds of Disney and influenced other children’s shows. Our fascination with royalty in an anti-monarchy nation is strange, if not a trifle concerning. Americans today tend to believe that Disney films have harmless, even positive, influences on their children. However, these are films that require close analysis to determine the true effects of the princess mentality on young consumers. In sum, beneath the top layer themes of bravery, love, and family, there is an equally present, if less visible, layer of negative messages including superficiality, selfishness, and stereotypes.
            Many Disney princess movies encourage the idea that physical appearance is the easiest way to find happiness, and more importantly, to get that prince. Every female character is strikingly, impossibly perfect. They all have tiny waists, long legs, gorgeous hair, beautiful voices, flawless skin, and intelligence. They are all traditionally feminine. Their ankles are small, and their voices are high and soft. Most of them are of medium height and have long hair. Their noses are perfectly straight, their cheeks are pink, their lips are red and full, and their eyes are unnaturally enormous. According to E. A. Lawrence, “Good characters (e.g. Simba, the Sultan, Ariel, Pocahontas) exhibit juvenile traits such as big eyes and round cheeks and are drawn in curves, smooth, round, soft, bright, and with European features” (as qtd. in Lee Artz). Lawrence goes on to point out how villains such as Scar, Jafar, the Hun, and Ratcliffe possess sharp angles, dark, oversized features, and have a general ugliness about them. Lawrence’s claim is important because it illuminates the superficial nature of Disney in regards to the viewer’s reception of specific characters. When the villains are first introduced, audiences are immediately clued into their evil nature not because of words or actions, but because of appearances. With constant exposure to films that so strongly support the idea that physical features mimic the heart and mind, children’s perception of reality may be altered for the worse.  
Furthermore, the majority of the female leads fall in “love” at first sight—literally—with an almost-as-perfect prince. The princes usually lack basic personality traits. This is especially prevalent in Snow White and Cinderella, whose princes do not even have actual names and go by the generic “Prince Charming”. They are like Jake from Sixteen Candles. They are there to look cute and save the day, but rarely is the viewer given any reason to believe that they will be a stable and loving relationship partner. Of course, there are always exceptions. Li Shang and Mulan did not become romantically involved until the last five minutes of the movie. Aladdin has a man as the lead character, so he has some depth to his personality. At the end of most of the movies, the princess is beaming, having triumphed over ugly evil, her trophy husband on her arm.  
In addition, Disney princesses exhibit, at times, shocking levels of selfishness. Take Ariel, for instance. She has everything at her fingertips: power, wealth, family, friends, and her health, yet she yearns to be a human. She is unhappy with what she has. The underlying selfishness that Ariel has motivates her every action, including that to abandon her father, sisters, and kingdom to chase an unfamiliar life with an unfamiliar human (let’s not forget that Prince Eric is also technically an entirely different species). Although it is true that the Little Mermaid may possess some admirable qualities such as determination and bravery, her less wholesome traits cannot be overlooked (Clausen/Kielbasa, 1-3). However, Ariel is by no means the only princess with blinders. Pocahontas spends all day out gallivanting in the woods instead of helping her tribe with work. She is so wrapped up in her own love affair with the outdoors that she has put her own desires above her responsibilities. Even Tiana from The Princess and the Frog is a workaholic who is unable to see anything but her dream of a glorious and lavish restaurant. What appears to be good, hard work is actually self-absorption. She is willing to give up all her time with family and friends in order to save up the money. While the concept of saving for a future goal is generally positive, the extremity to which Tiana has gone is downright unhealthy.
Finally, there is the intensely stereotypical side of Disney films that is the very essence of the films themselves. The fact that the lead characters are princesses at all, in fact, is stereotypical of Disney movies, especially those aimed at female audiences. Is it not strange that the media in America, a country which began by rebelling against monarchy, is infatuated with the idea of royalty? From William and Kate’s wedding to Sleeping Beauty to the new Disney Channel show, Princess Sophia, little girls sure do love their princesses. The stereotyping goes on in other way, such as in The Lion King. The lions, especially Mufasa, all speak with perfect diction, while the scraggly group of hyenas speak with a ghetto accent. It was reported that in a shopping mall, a young white child was heard to shout, “Look, Mom, hyenas!” when they were nearby a group of urban, black teens conversing with one another (Whittock, as qtd. in Lee Artz). Not surprisingly, the child was referring to the Disney hyenas and connected the voices of the youths with those of Scar’s idiotic, malicious posse.
Moreover, since the dawn of Disney, young, innocent women have been tormented by wicked stepmothers and taken it with a smile. Though Cinderella is practically a slave to her evil stepmother, she does all of her work with a cheerful attitude. She behaves perfectly and does everything she asked to do. Belle is ridiculed by the townspeople and sexually harassed by Gaston, and yet she consistently treats these people with kindness and decorum. Snow White is hunted by her stepmother and finds herself homeless in the dark, cold forest, and as soon as she finds shelter, what does she do? She cleans house (but of course, she doesn’t get all tired and sweaty- she has woodland creatures to help her out).  Mulan is abandoned by her band of brothers and almost killed by Shang, yet ends up saving them all. Jasmine, only a teenager, is forced by her sultan father to find a prince to marry, and she holds no grudge against him. In fact, she has a fantastic relationship and understands that he has no choice because it is the “law” (one would wonder how she could forget that her father is the master of the law). Princesses never yell. Princesses never lose control. Princesses always have a level head. They are good girls who are constantly “the bigger person,” and though they might cry on occasion, they are never allowed to ugly sob like the rest of us.
In conclusion, while Disney princesses are not the best role models, they are perfect for commerce. Disney knows what sells, and that is why the company continues to produce princess after princess. Certainly, the characters have evolved—no longer do we see princesses who are devoid of personality and passively do as they are ordered. Perhaps in the future the princess infatuation will die out, but only if our culture changes and turns away from the idolization of self-gratification and flawless, easy romance. Parents should think carefully about what they allow their children to watch and not assume that just because a film is a Disney movie, it is healthy. After all, Disney is merely answering the demands of the consumer, as all successful businesses do. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ten Things a Retiree's Spouse Misses About the Military

It's been almost three years since they cased the colors at my husband's retirement ceremony and we said good-bye to the only way of life we'd ever known as a married couple. There are a few things I miss more and more as time goes by:

1. The excitement of a PCS. Much like childbirth, the painful memories fade with time and I'm left with how much fun we had planning for what life would be like at the next place. In our dreams, it was always the place our children would thrive more, we would travel more, we would have more kitchen cabinet space, and we would save money for college. The fantasy never actually matched the reality, but I miss those "We're moving on up in the world, baby, and it's gonna be great!" conversations.

2. A man in uniform. Though I love my husband's longer hair and dashing business attire, I miss the way my Soldier dropped in the chair each evening and unlaced his boots. I miss the section of the closet that was all camouflage. I miss the rattle of his dog tags. Seriously, I miss how much easier laundry was. Business suits do not wash and wear.

3. The impromptu dinners. I miss the call from my husband at 4 p.m. saying an old friend/a new colleague/a Soldier in need is coming for dinner. I used to always have a lasagna and chocolate cake in the freezer for just those occasions. I don't do that anymore.

4. The Dining Outs. I miss dressing up and going out with an entire room of people who understood my life because they were living it too. I miss watching my husband across the room as he schmoozed a commander or introduced a new Solider around. I miss holding his hand as we left the Club and reliving the night's punch bowl ceremony with laughter.

5. The patriotism. I still get plenty of chances to salute the flag, but I miss the Color Guard at formal dinners, the National Anthem before the feature film in post theaters, the retreat ceremony each day when everyone stops what they're doing - even driving - and salutes as the flag is lowered at the end of the duty day. I miss the tearing up at the beginning of "The Army Goes Rolling Along". Okay, I still tear up when I hear it. It's just rare now.

6. The diversity. I miss the people our family got to know as co-workers, neighbors, classmates, friends. They were from all over the world and from every walk of life. They gave my children a sense of their place in the world that I cannot duplicate here in civilian life. I thought I appreciated it then. I truly do now.

7. The TDYs. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" should be the motto of the military spouse. I have seen that a few days apart is just good for a marriage. A few nights of having the bed to yourself is good for the soul. I love the man. I like being with him. But I do so appreciate the chance to miss him. And if he gets paid a little extra to be away, bonus!

8. The travel. Sometimes we watch European travel shows just to torture ourselves. We are still looking for that dream job that will have us six months in the States and six months overseas. It's just not as easy to plan the travel when you're settled. While I feel like we took full advantage of every place we lived, it's hard not to think of all the things we did not get around to seeing. And it's hard to close the book on the possibility of ever getting stationed somewhere exotic and exciting again.

9. The change. It is very surreal to think I may be looking at these same walls in two, five, ten, even twenty years. It is suffocating to think of never rearranging furniture, or making trips to parts unknown to hunt for the just-right house, or meeting brand new people, or having a fresh start. It takes practice to get good at the same old, same old. There's an element of escapism when you move every couple of years. There's an element of endurance when you don't.

10. The dreaming. It seems we were planning for after-the-Army for many, many years. We knew retirement would come and it was a captivating past-time to imagine our dream home, dream careers, dream future. It's odd to be living it now. Not every dream came true (what were we thinking...a six-bedroom chalet with a weekly housekeeper? Really?), but there are lots of lovely perks we didn't even know to dream about.

Just as I would not trade our 21 years of military life, I would not trade the almost-three as civilians. The peace of mind and stability is rejuvenating. The roots our family is sinking now are strong and true. The permanent projects and renovations on our house are thrilling - we won't have to pass it along to someone else in 18 months! But, nevertheless, some things are vastly different. In a way, retirement is a new land with a new assignment. We've adjusted and we're happy to be here.

It's just too bad we can't have it all.

Friday, January 24, 2014

One Step Closer

The Cub Scout Pinewood Derby is a great place to ponder society. It’s an unusual cross-section of our community. Sometimes the only thing we have in common is a little boy running around the room with high hopes for victory, but on that night it’s all we need to feel a sense of warm camaraderie and friendly competition. There is something so basic and traditional and squeaky-clean-fun about a Pinewood Derby. After all, it’s been going on year in and year out since 1953 and not much about it has changed.

Loads of appreciation should be showered on the leaders, parents and other volunteers who spent the better part of last Saturday wrestling the track together, setting up tables and chairs, manning the weigh-in station, and setting up the scoring system and award ceremony. It’s a rare Saturday that doesn’t find all of us stretched thin and I’m sure there were plenty of other places we could have been. But the Pinewood Derby is just that important to a whole gaggle of little boys and the folks who love them.

This is serious business.

           Another load of appreciation goes to the families who supplied a truly fantastic potluck dinner. Though the table was piled abundantly, there was scarcely a spoonful left over. I watched as kids came back for seconds or thirds and listened as recipes were swapped and new friends bonded over the most amazing poppy seed sandwiches. Honestly we could have been starring in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

So many emotions.
The highlight of the evening, of course, is the big race. After a brief delay due to technical difficulties, cool heads found the solution and the squirmy onlookers were rewarded for their patience. Heat after heat knocked out some competitors and moved others on up the leader board. Few things rival the intensity of an 8-year-old’s excitement. The cheers were loud, the high fives prolific, and the anticipation built nicely over an hour or so. When the time came for medals and trophies, there were huge smiles all around.

Okay, I’m not going to lie. There were some tears too. We learned at our very first Pinewood Derby more than a decade ago that the tears are going to flow. We have yet to build a winning car and so we’ve been the ones wiping some of those tears every single year. Including this one.

With three sons spread over 14 years,
we'll be Pinewood Derbying for a long, long time.
However, our little Cub made a solemn observation the next day. “At least I did one place better than last year,” he said. That he did. A friend told me her Scout fist pumped when he came in sixth (of eight) and said the same thing. “I made it one step closer.” Would that we always see even a tiny step forward as a thing to celebrate. And that we maintain all year the bond we feel over little boys, little cars, crock pots, and shiny trophies.

Long live the Derby and all for which it stands.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thankful for the Little Things

1. a child who loves to wake up slowly after a long nap and the sweet puffs of baby breath as he snuggles into my arms.

2. blond whiskers on a teenage son's chin that catch the light and make me catch my breath because he was just a little boy a few seconds ago.

3. the way a youngest daughter's pony tail swings when she walks exactly like an oldest sister's always has.

4. the gleam in the eye of a child who has struggled and finally reached a goal.

5. the shrieks of joy as a toddler is chased around and around by a big brother.

6. the sound of the car door in the driveway when a college student is expected home for the weekend.

7. the lisp of an 8-year-old who is working hard to correct his lisp and slips back into it when he's tired or excited.

8. catching a kid in an act of kindness when he doesn't know I'm watching.

9. removing the book from a sleeping child's grasp and turning off the lamp.

10. realizing my children have inside jokes protected from the rest of the world, even me, and realizing this makes them friends.

11. hearing, "Thanks, Mom" in any one of six different voices.

12. that these children are blessed with a father who believes that the best way to love his children is to love their mother well.

My tree of thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Me in Real Life

At least once a year we sit down together and watch Dan in Real Life (Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, 2007). A well-written, sweet family comedy that anyone would enjoy, it's become our official family movie for several reasons. There are eerie similarities -- we own the same old twin beds, an almost-identical station wagon, and a copy of Everyone Poops (now I know you're going to rent the movie). Also the movie stars Steve Carell (one of our favorites) as Dan, a writer of an advice column who dreams of big syndication. How crazy is it that there is someone in this house who also dreams of big syndication? Okay, that person dreams first of being paid at all to give advice. I would totally kill at advice columning. But I digress...

Probably the biggest reason we love the movie is the setting -- an older couple welcomes home their four grown children and all their families for a long weekend. The interaction between the grown siblings (and the young cousins) is just what we would love to see one day when our own brood comes home with their families in tow. No idea where they will all sleep, but we really hope we are having as much fun as Dan's family. A big, happy family is such a beautiful thing.

Dan in Real Life (2007) Poster

Our family is definitely big and mostly happy. Because I write about them so much, I get asked now and then about our best advice for growing great kids. (I told you I am destined to be a popular advice-giver. I'm just waiting for the phone call from the people who are going to pay me big bucks to do it in a pithy, daily format. Oops, digressed again.)

Seriously, I don't have any formula for producing perfect children. We have been all over the map about sleep training, toilet training, sports training, spiritual training, academic training, etc., etc., etc. We often still find ourselves shrugging in disbelief, drowning in self-criticism, and cringing in embarrassment when something or someone doesn't turn out like we had planned.

A couple of blogs have gone viral lately (good for them...whatever) concerning the stupid pressure we put on ourselves and other parents to perform perfectly. They are worth reading here and here. All I have to add to them is a resounding, "Amen!"

But after a thoughtful discussion with my husband about this whole business, we realized that we do have a list of non-negotiable principles when it comes to the big picture of having a successful family.

1. Love Not only do our children need to know we love them (not hard to do), they need to know that we love God and love others above ourselves (hard to do). They need to see that love is our abiding focus. That's from Jesus, by the way.

2. Security Those little people need to know that home is the safest place they will ever be. I have plenty of friends who have to deal with a fractured family thanks to divorce or death (not to mention long term separations due to the military or other such jobs). Can those families produce great children? Absolutely. It's just way harder when you throw insecurity into the mix. If for no other reason, this should be why you nurture your marriage as much or more than you nurture your kids.

3. Confidence Not the "you can do anything because you are a superstar" kind. The "I have no doubt you can meet and even exceed the standard I have set for you" kind. We firmly believe most terrible twos and terrible teens are self-fulfilling prophecies. Kids are not incapable of doing the right thing as long as the goal is clear and they have you to help. Not kicking them when they're down is helpful here too.

4. Vision They won't be two or 10 or 16 forever. They need to realize that every thing they do is an investment in their adulthood. This doesn't mean loads of lessons and performances and competitive teams necessarily. It means loads of practicing the manners, skills, habits and character traits of successful adults.

5. Individualism We all need to know that we are created to be something special. It's rare that you can tell what your 2-year-old is destined to be. Or your 10-year-old or 16-year-old, for that matter. If they can nail the abilities listed above, they can go forth and be an academic, a plumber, an executive, a coach, an accountant, a whatever. Our kids know that we don't care what profession they choose, we just care what kind of character they take with them into that profession. (Although having at least one who is capable of and willing to take care of his/her old parents one day would be a comfort. You know, in case this rich-and-famous-syndicated-advice-giver business doesn't pan out.)

6. Joy, JoY, JOY! We fervently believe that this is key. Life is full of disappointments and frustrations and occasional tragedies and we remind our kids that happiness is not an inalienable right. The pursuit of it is inalienable, but for a multitude of reasons some of us are going to have less happiness than others. It's joy that goes down deep into the soul and gets us through. And joy is imbued best at home from the people who love you, have confidence in you, have a vision for you, and believe in the amazing individual with whom God has gifted them for a season.

Naturally there are lots of other practices we believe are non-negotiable (think church, limited screen time, reading of the great books, healthy eating and exercising, pitching in with housework, and all those other "duh" things). But the practices are where we regularly fall short and beat up ourselves and others. If our principles are in place as a solid foundation, it won't shake us quite as much when things don't go exactly as planned.

Like being a syndicated advice columnist. After first going viral. Right. Did I mention that already?