Parenting

in Salamanca, SpainPhotos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

So you’re starting a meditation practice. With a child. Yes, this is possible. And bravo to you! You’re in for a treat. And so is the child who’s about to benefit mightily from learning to quiet his or her mind.

Of course you’re wondering, But how will he/she sit still long enough? Ah, that’s the rub. Below are three keys for creating a successful meditation moment with your child. Likewise, I’d love for you to share yours, if you’ve got a few that work well for you.

First key. Create a quiet, comfortable, distraction-free space. This means no. Other. Noise. Literally. Goose and I do his meditation in the morning, early, before phones begin to ring or texts begin to arrive or other family members begin to be up and doing. Because kids are easily distracted anyway, front loading the experience so it’s interference-free can mean the difference between a profoundly quiet moment or a total bust. We also opt for early morning light rather than artificial light of any kind. Something about the time before sun-up works perfectly for us. Though I have a particular position I like for my own practice, with Goose, we simply sit side by side on the couch. He crosses his legs pretzel style and keeps his hands relaxed, palms up, on his thighs–a way to signal his openness to the creative energy he desires to connect with.

Second key. Breathing matters. Really matters. As his guide, I start the meditation by having him breathe in deep, right from his gut, then hold it for a couple of seconds, just to pull air deep into his body. Since I practice Japa, which involves making a slow “Ahhh” sound on the exhale, I’m teaching him to do likewise. As he breathes out, he simply says “Ahhh.” The sound doesn’t have to be generated with the voice; it can be whispered and still be a powerful lever for focusing and quieting the mind.  I’ve been surprised to see how quickly he falls quiet and still with breathing as the initial mechanism. I pause frequently throughout the meditation to guide his breathing.

Third key.  I provide the mental infrastructure for the meditation, and I do this by narrating a story–one of my own making. My objectives are simple. First, I want him to identify through an empowered ‘self’ (he’s the main character!) going on a brief but intriguing journey of some kind. Second, I want the journey to be vivid enough that he feels he’s there, experiencing it. Third, I want him to feel deeply empowered in both mind and heart once we conclude the exercise.

Our first time, I had him imagine that he was in a Redwood grove, where he free-climbed a giant Redwood tree. Could he do that in real life? Nope. Can he do it in a meditation exercise? Absolutely. Moreover, when we finished, he confessed to being amazed at how real it felt–how much like lived experience. But then that’s the power of a good practice: you can go places in your mind that you’d never be able to go otherwise. And the feeling of doing the impossible proves real enough, potent enough, that you’re transformed–maybe just the tiniest bit, but you are.

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Already, Goose describes the benefits of going deep into a quietly imagined moment in which he is both journeyer and hero. He says he feels calmer, that he trusts himself more. In these meditations, he is a kind of Odysseus, scaling mountains, seeing through the eyes of Bald eagles, diving deep as he searches for sea creatures, venturing into mountain caves in search of rare gems, and finding–wherever he wanders–that real power always resides within.

In a time when gadgets rule the day; when each new form of digital wizardry dazzles and distracts, the wisdom of going deep into oneself might seem like a less-than-impressive place to find the Answers. But one of the greatest benefits of any meditation practice is the way learning to empty your mind in order to refocus it in more intuitive directions actually connects you to the real locus of your power. For every practitioner, that locus feels a little different, but it’s there, and tapping into it unlocks hidden but rich reserves of very real strength.

Being a 21st Century Kid is a fraught business. Why not navigate it knowing how truly fit you really are to do so?

Jaén, Spain

Stay tuned for thoughts about how to craft the perfect meditation narrative!

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Silas happy with ballooon_5215 Photos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

Answering to the name of “Goose,” the youngest member of our family frequently struggles with a problem common to many otherwise healthy eleven year olds. I call it the I Stink At Everything Syndrome, and it manifests thusly.

One. Said eleven year old scores two goals for his team during a soccer game, let’s say. During the second half of the game, when he is put in as goalie, the other team scores two goals. The only post-game thoughts of which this boy is now capable include self-torturing variations of “It’s like I didn’t even score in the first half!” or “Gah!!–how could I have let those balls get past me??” or “I stink as goalie . . . WHY did coach leave me in for so long??”

Silas starts kicking the balloon_5150

Two. Said eleven year old is required to write an essay for a testing exercise at school, let’s say, an endeavor that results in an outbreak of self-doubt and accompanying self-flagellation likely to mortify even the most pitiable Dan Brown character (i.e., Da Vinci Code’s crazy monk).

Three. Said eleven year old notices that a couple of neighborhood friends have congregated for some outdoor playtime–without him. Ipso facto, this means that he has permanently fallen out of favor, that our doorbell will never ring again, that some vague conspiracy has begun whose stated goal is “Leave Goose Out Of The Fun, Forever.”

I ask you: what is a mother to do?

Well, I’ve pondered that question long and hard, and I’ll tell you what doesn’t work–like suggesting that such patterns (failing to catch soccer balls arcing over your head, for instance) are merely temporary. Wow, big mistake. All this does is reinforce a child’s certainty that his mother doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to be the victim of an unhappy fate. Another thing that never works?–suggesting that there might be some valuable take-away or learning that could put everything into meaningful perspective (completing an essay on a topic you loathe, for example, which then serves as a lever for teaching you that you actually can do hard things, and do them well). The fact that a mother has logic and wisdom on her side doesn’t make a lick of difference to a kid who has convinced himself that his is the Worst Life Ever. And finally, one thing that really doesn’t work is suggesting that perhaps the neighborhood chums aren’t deliberately leaving anyone out; they’ve just gotten something going, and now it’s, well, going. It happens all the time, I pointed out one day not too long ago. Nobody’s fault, I added. Go join the game, I urged. (Note: advice like this is often met with The Stare, which communicates a child’s contempt for motherly wisdom as surely as if he’d said, “Could you BE any thicker?”)

Silas_5070

And then, recently–maybe a month ago–I took up a meditation practice. I’d gone in fits and starts over the years–flirted with it, in other words. But I’d never been consistent. So it was with the most profound sense of humility and delight that I realized: If a mother can a) quiet her mind long enough to connect with her bliss, and b) do it for upwards of thirty days, why couldn’t she teach her eleven year old to do it, too? Stranger things have been attempted, am I right??

Silas ambling with balloon_5210

And so, maybe a week ago, I began in earnest, my primary objective being to stage a moment of effective meditation with/for Mr. Goose. Starting out, I had three very simple goals. One, teach him how to breathe and how to attend to his breathing. Two, help him experience the bliss of escaping from thinking patterns that sabotage healthy self-esteem and well-being. Three, like it well enough to want to do it again.

The good news. He not only liked it, he LOVED it! The equally good news. His sudden fascination with the art of quieting the mind promises to keep my imagination busy and my skills sharp for many weeks to come.

Tomorrow: three crucial tips for a successful meditation session with your child.

Silas walking along with balloon_5207

Check out the post from which these photos were taken, featuring Goose with an abandoned, yellow balloon in the town of St. Remy, in Provence, France.

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Dreaming Big

by Becky on October 26, 2013

in Parenting

Snow Capped Mountains

Recently I queued up Grooveshark and listened to the soundtrack from the musical Wicked. Something about Idina Menzel’s Elphaba belting out the grandly hopeful “The Wizard and I” made me think of the way, as a young woman, I was going to conquer the world. Like Elphaba, I felt almost prophetic when I considered how epic my Beautiful Future was going to be. Frankly, I never stopped to think about how I was going to accomplish Something Amazing. I just, well, figured I was on my way. In my very young teenage mind, it wasn’t the process that counted; it was the passionate business of nourishing Big Dreams.

There’s something to be said for Big Dream Love. Yeah, I know, you gotta chunk down those dreams and identify the Measurable Objectives that will propel you forward, and all that (ish). No going anywhere without a plan, I understand that now. But man, I loved that stage of my life, when I just knew deep down that I was on my way to greatness.

Maybe that’s why I love watching my teens dream big, in that improbable, on-the-cusp-of-adulthood way, before the distinct pressures of adulthood inevitably begin to shave some of the beautiful impracticality off the sides of those dreams. If you’d asked my oldest son a few years back how he was going to become a world class surfer, you wouldn’t have gotten the Franklin Planner answer. More likely, you would have heard something like, “I’m going to be in the water more than anyone else, is how I’m going to do it.” To his Mother, my son will always be a world class surfer. Or maybe he’s just world-class–especially because of the way he finally managed to shift a few of his dreams around without compromising their bigness. (Yeah, I’m being a bit cryptic, but I think he’d want it that way.)

As I see it, one of the challenges of mothering teens-with-big-aspirations involves striking a balance: insisting on the work ethic required to fuel a big dream, while getting out of the way enough for that dream to keep all the helium it started out with. Everyone knows a parent who became an unwitting dream-killer. You know, the mom who refused to let her daughter become an Idina Menzel, for example, because she wanted her to be a geneticist (let’s say).

But Ms. Menzel didn’t just leap from teenagehood to Broadway. Like anyone who achieves a Big Dream, she worked for it. And had to sweat a lot and frequent the grocery store and pay bills along the way. Yet I would have loved to take a peek at her life back when she was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen . . . just to get a glimpse of her as a Teen-with-a-dream. I’m told she sang at weddings and bar-mitzvahs while she was studying voice. It’s a far cry from that to the role of Elphaba, which won her a Tony Award.

Only one of my children is no longer a teenager, and I have to confess something about that boy.  I do indeed hope that his dreams will stay buoyant not just because they feel that way but also because he’s learned how to work–hard–to move himself toward them.  And for the petals, still in that stage where their dreams have that ineffable, Technicolor hugeness, my hope is that as they leap toward what they want in life, they can build the mental and physical muscle needed to go the distance.  You know–be willing to be the wedding singers, as it were, as they march toward the Big Time.

A last thought.  The “Big Time” feels vastly different to me now that I’m half a lifetime away from my teen years.  And yes, my dreams changed along the way.  Some days, when my kids were small, my big dream was simply to be able to get my teeth brushed by noon.  But what a revelation, too:  that dreams could take the form of four children who have by turns complicated and beautified my life beyond what I could ever have imagined when I was young.  Motherhood is its own dream, far more fraught and challenging than I realized it would be, but far more meaningful for what it has taught me about sacrifice and love, two words so overused they almost don’t mean anything.  Were I to collide with my much younger self, I’d whisper, “Two boys, two girls, loads of intense work, and a bold new land of joy so big you can’t even map it!”

Snow Capped Mountains

(Photos: Miss Lavender, in the French Pyrenees, leaping and shouting into the void . . . or dream.  Whichever you prefer.)

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Sisters

Text by Becky.  Photos by the Eleven O’Clock Dad.

Shakespeare didn’t think too much of Ophelia.  The way he tells the story, she’s merely a lovely waif with a too-fragile mind–a casualty of her father’s crazy plotting and Hamlet’s crazy . . . craziness.  If you’ll remember, she lies down in a nearby stream and dies, just like that.

Or maybe not just like that.  Sidelined by the father who should have been her ally and the young man who should have viewed her as the main subject of his life, she loses her mind and ends her own life.  It’s a tragic conclusion to a story that never really got to be told.

And that’s precisely the point:  Ophelia never got the chance to be the author of her own life.

When I got home from Spain, I started rereading Mary Pipher’s 1994 landmark book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving The Selves Of Adolescent Girls, and the premise seemed proportionately more important to me now that I have one daughter preparing to exit adolescence and one daughter parked smack in the middle of it.  How do we teach our daughters to know, to embrace, and to own themselves?  How do we set them up to successfully author their own lives?  These are the questions Pipher takes up, and her extensive research underscores the need for parents–especially moms–to shepherd their daughters through the rocky years during which girls too often lose their sense of self.  Reviving Ophelia is a must-read for moms invested in their girls’ journeys toward a vibrant sense of self-identity.

So what are the answers?  One is giving a daughter an opportunity to go deep into the machinery of a particular talent or aptitude, not just so she can develop it but also so she can benefit from the surge of confidence and empowerment that comes from having a distinct strength she can legitimately own.  Sports, music, leadership endeavors, the arts . . . whatever a girl desires to lay claim to as “her thing” can help offset the pain of those blistering middle school years, especially, when the game changes and girls begin to buy into the messed-up message that how they look, or seem, is infinitely more important than who they are.

A story.  Knowing that Miss Zinnia was about to enroll at a new high school a short month ago, I worried and wondered.  Would she feel comfortable socially?  Would she find her Clan? Would she have opportunities to blossom?  Having collided once again with Pipher’s book and its crucial message, I decided to start a conversation with Miss Z. about its themes.  We were in the car one day, heading through Provo Canyon, in Utah.  “So what do you like about yourself?” I asked, to start things off.  Right away she told me she liked the color of her eyes.  But that was the “outside of her,” I pointed out, and I told her I wanted to know what she liked about the inside of her, at which point she confessed that she liked her singing voice.

And there it was.  Her voice.  Something she herself resonates to everyday.  What a boon, that not only does she like to sing, but she likes the sounds she makes.  And I found myself silently rejoicing that a few years ago, we committed to taking her and her voice and connecting her with some unique choral music opportunities and some extraordinary voice instruction.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy road, either for Miss Z. or for any young woman eager to feel known and valued.  The trick?–not giving in to the abundant temptations to efface yourself as a means to acquiring value in the eyes of peers.  Pipher describes young women who, as girls, were bright, energetic, adventurous, self-assured, their journey into adolescence suddenly becoming treacherous as they quickly gain a sense of how the currency has changed.  In other words, while they might once have felt valued for who they were, they now begin to absorb messages from a society that values women for how they look, among other things.  As Pipher points out, girls too often go from being the subjects of their own lives to the objects of other people’s lives–like Ophelia.

Sisters

Sure, Miss Z. sings, but that doesn’t mean her walk through her middle school years wasn’t fraught.  A group of (not-nice) boys used to tease her, calling her “Peggy Sue.”  Back story.  When she was a sixth grader at a new middle school a few years ago, Miss Z. had a friend who told this cluster of bothersome boys that her name was Peggy.  The reason:  Miss Z. didn’t want them to know her real name.  In the moment, she felt that she and her friend had put one over on them.  What she didn’t bank on was the way the name would stick.  To that particular group of boys, she became Peggy Sue:  the girl who stuck out because of her old fashioned–read “outdated”–manners.  Sure, teachers loved her.  And her likeminded peers followed along when she started her own service club, for example, an effort that included making tray favors for kids in the hospital over Thanksgiving break, and selling mustaches during a “mustache madness” drive to raise money for cancer research.

But if you ask her today whether she enjoyed middle school, she’ll shrink a little, and her expression will go sour, and that’ll be your answer. Striving to be her own person during those years positively wore her out.

We encourage pre-adolescent girls to think, run, climb, jump, explore, discover, and conquer, while in a few short years they’ll be bombarded with another message:  that the shape of their faces and bodies matters more than the shape of their thoughts.  And too many of them, like Ophelia, will become confused by the very wrong but nevertheless predominant idea that as you grow up, being an object of desire trumps just being.

Back when Miss Z. and I had that conversation a month or so ago?  Well, I reviewed what I felt were the basic rules for social “efficiency,” but I framed it as a question of learning a new “language,” the successful mastery of which would help her move around gracefully among peers . . . then free her to be whoever she wanted to be in the meantime.  Sort of like learning the rules to a complex game and then figuring out how to selectively abandon them in favor of self-invented tricks that fast-track you to a decisive win.  “You don’t ever have to apologize for yourself,” I told her, hoping she wouldn’t be confused by my attempts to affirm her even as I was arming her with tricks for navigating the tricky social terrain of high school.

Sisters

Perhaps one of our most important jobs as Moms of teenage girls:  guarding the door to the gym, so to speak, so that our daughters can have some uninterrupted time to bulk up their identities in healthy, defined ways, without anyone storming the place and spreading crazy ideas about how all that matters is how they look in their workout gear.

Ophelia’s mom?  She’s curiously absent from the story of Hamlet.  Maybe if she’d been around, her daughter might have had a fighting chance.

Sisters

That conversation with Miss Zinnia in the canyon ended with her simple declaration that she liked herself.

May that never change!  And may the reason for her straightforward self-acceptance always be something close to what it was that day:  a realization that what she valued about herself was, in her eyes, worth valuing, whether anyone else ever put a premium on it or not.

Moms:  your thoughts about Pipher’s book (if you’ve read it)?  About raising strong girls?  What are your traditions?  How do you set your daughters up to own their lives with confidence?

(Photo: the Petals, in Avila, Spain, sporting their own handmade flower chains.  Distinctly Ophelia-like, but only because of the headware . . .)

 

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CA

So a few weeks ago, I piled Miss Lavender into the car, along with her considerable cache of Crucial-for-college Stuff, and off we went. To college. Miss Lavender, that is. I was merely the ride. Well, not “merely.” I mean more to her than that. (A smiley face emoticon would fit nicely here.)

A few things I miss about my big girl, who used to be a little girl, like, about ten minutes ago. No, really: it happens that fast. One minute, you’re a New Mom, a blue-eyed baby dollie in your arms; and the next, you’re making that one last mondo Costco run, so that your dollie won’t starve during her march toward mid-terms.

To what I miss, then. Definitely the very distinct furrow of concentration on her face when she’d be deep in conversation with me. She’s a good listener, that one. And her delectable smile. And her equally delectable laugh–good and loud, with her head thrown back sometimes. I miss her stylishness: Miss Lavender is a walking lookbook. I miss haunting whatever vintage spot we might have decided to call our new favorite. (At the moment, that would be Decades, in Salt Lake City.) And I always deeply appreciated her take on the world and its happenings. Nothing gets past her. Ah, and I miss her hands, their long, elegant fingers, and their expressiveness. And of course . . . of COURSE her dry sense of humor.

CA

I miss my spirited Petal.

But I’d sell the shirt off my back for her to be able to do what she’s doing. There might not be anything more essential to a young woman’s sense of self-identity than a university education.

So go take the world by storm, Miss Lavender.  You’ve earned the right to.

CA

Un fuerte saludo de tu madre . . . y los dos besitos muy necesarios, claro.

(Soon:  Miss Zinnia blossoms.  And what that has to do with Shakespeare’s Ophelia.)

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Millay in vintage_7956

The petals and I love all things vintage. If you happen to be in Los Angeles, then the only vintage place that counts is Shareen Vintage, a store-slash-warehouse so unimaginably fabulous it needed its own Eleven O’Clock post.

We discovered Shareen’s place a couple of years ago when we ran into a young woman wearing a vintage dress so truly (say it with me . . .) fabulous, we had to stop her so we could tell her what we thought of it. It was this little brocaded number, very fifties, a buttery yellow.  As we were dying over it, she thanked us for our compliments, then told us we had to check out Shareen’s.  “It’s girls-only,” she clarified.  “No men allowed!”

I love Shareen’s for more than just the amazing vintage finds, though.  You see, Shareen herself is Someone Special.  Here’s the story.  Miss Lavender and I made the trek into L.A. one day with the express purpose of talking with Shareen, who, once we had her attention, was so fully present, so in the moment with us, you would have thought we were the oldest of friends.  To my surprise, she looked right at Miss L, took her by the shoulders, and pushed them back.  Gently but firmly, she said to my five-foot-ten inch daughter, now standing straight and tall, “Don’t . . . ever . . . slouch.”  As Miss Lavender processed this injunction given from the Vintage Maven of Los Angeles (and New York, for that matter), Shareen continued.  “Your shoulder blades–they’re your wings,” she explained, “and you want them to touch.”  Then she illustrated, showing us the way Miss Lavender, with her shoulders back, could have been touching her imaginary wings together.

I loved the metaphor:  shoulder blades as wings, always meant to be touching.  But I loved other things, too–the way Miss Lavender had instantly become not just a customer but the Pupil Of The Moment.  And the way drawing herself up to her full height seemed to give her a vision of herself as someone strong, elegant, empowered.  Do you know what that kind of carefully given–and poetic!–advice is worth to a mother anxious to give her daughter reasons to believe she can all but fly if she chooses?

When they fell deep into conversation about vintage, another side of Shareen’s character revealed itself.  As she talked about her passion for helping every woman find exactly the right dress, no matter her age or body type, she recounted how a woman who had decided to throw herself a quinceañera party for her fiftieth birthday had left the store just a few days earlier–before Shareen could properly attend to her.  “She left discouraged,” Shareen remembered as she explained that this woman had decided there was no point in trying to find a party dress that would flatter her.  “We could have found the right dress,” Shareen said with conviction, “but the store was busy that day, and I didn’t get to her in time.”

In the year and a half or so since our visit with the proprietress of L.A.’s most beloved vintage store, I’ve thought about how much she gave my petal:  a charge to stand up straight, always, and–equally important–an expressed belief that every woman deserves to feel beautiful when she decides she wants to dress up.  That’s part of what makes clothing exciting, after all:  the opportunity to play a part, and to make a statement about who you understand yourself to be.  With vintage, every piece already has a history that the new wearer often consciously deploys as part of an effort to communicate her sense of identity.  When Miss Zinnia dressed up for her “Gatsby” shoot on our terrace in Barcelona one afternoon several months ago, she saw herself as a character right out of a book or a film.  Her dress:  Shareen’s, of course.

Millay in Shareen vintage_7938

After our afternoon with Shareen, I wrote her, to thank her for her words of wisdom.  And she wrote back, telling me she’d wondered about me, about who I was.  “And here you are,” she said in her reply, thanking me for acknowledging the gift she’d given a clothes-loving teenage girl.  That’s what makes Shareen a force not just in the vintage realm but also–and probably more important–in the realm of Girl Power.  At Shareen’s place, every woman learns quickly that she deserves to stand up straight and to feel at ease in her own skin.

(Photo:  a Gatsby-esque Miss Zinnia, in BCN.)

 

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Where’s Your Stop?

by Becky on June 14, 2013 · 2 comments

in Parenting

Montpellier

This morning the petals and I made our way up to the BF International School, where they were scheduled to take some final exams, the school’s principal being their approved proctor.  It’s a hike.  Line 5 metro toward Cornelia Centre.  Off at Diagonal.  Over to the train station.  Wait for the train, along with half of Barcelona.  Crowd in.  Find a place to stand.  Off at Sarria.  Then out and up, streetside.  Catch the V7 bus.  Off at Plaza Borras.  Walk the rest of the way to the campus.

After I’d talked with the principal about a couple of matters of importance, I kissed the girls (both cheeks–our way now), slung my backpack over my shoulders, and left.

Instead of catching the V7, though, I decided to walk back down Via Augusta toward the train, and the walk gave me time to think about metros and trains and the passengers they carry.  Not surprisingly, if you don’t know the direction of the metro line or train you’ve just jumped on, whether you make it to your stop is a fifty-fifty.  I planned to grab the train headed toward Plaza Catalunya.  If I didn’t, I’d never make it to Provenza, the stop at which I needed to get off in order to board the Line 5 metro toward Val d’Hebron.  Seems sort of axiomatic, I know, but it’s an easy thing to forget when you’re new to the process and staring into metro corridors that take you in a dozen different directions.

And I started thinking about how, the day before, the petals had made it home from school on their own, in spite of the fact that the stop for the train is Provenza rather than Diagonal, and I’d forgotten to tell them that.  I had wondered:  would they figure it out?–or would they end up in Plaza Catalunya, never realizing they had gone right through the stop where they were meant to transfer from train to metro??

As a primer on life–especially for the teens we want to raise up to be independent thinkers who know what they want and how to go after it–public transportation becomes the perfect metaphor.  You know the end of the line, then you know which direction to go.  You don’t know the end of the line, then your chances of getting there dry up, just like that.

As I rode home today, transferring at Provenza and getting on the Line 5 toward Val d’Hebron at Diagonal, I thought about how crucial it is to be talking with my own teens about their End-Of-The-Lines.  Where do they want to wind up?  Because if they can identify that, then they can work out where to get on, where to stop, where to transfer, how to backtrack if they need to.

I got off the metro at the Sagrada Familia stop, pushed through the exit gates, and made my way up the stairs and out to the street, where I gazed for a moment at Gaudi’s massive cathedral, which remains my favorite in all of Europe.  And I realized:  even if I’d walked all the way home from the other end of the city, I would always have known I was heading toward that landmark, and I could have recalibrated, even if I’d gotten lost.

There might not be one single thing more important than knowing where the end of the line is.  Where you’re headed.  Where you know you’re meant to go.

Don’t you think?

(Photo:  Miss Lavender on her way to Montpellier, France, a few months back.)

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When Is A Blog Too Much?

by Becky on May 30, 2013 · 2 comments

in Meta Blog, Parenting

So I’m taking a break from our travels for a minute in order to take up a theme every blogger will resonate to:  when/what is too much?  For example, when does a fashion blog cross the line, becoming an excuse for the blogger to display her fabulousness,  prompting the rest of us to want to swallow down that last bit of arsenic because we cannot ever (for love or money) get skin like hers, or we cannot afford Chanel bags (I mean, who can?–are bloggers selling body organs to finance such purchases?), or we cannot manage to summon the DNA needed for thinking up/putting together outfit posts that look adorably effortless.  (My ‘effortless’ is men’s pajama bottoms and a Hanes men’s V-neck.)

(I know, I sound a little strident.  Just stick with me.)

My answer?  When a blogger’s having a ball, then the blog works.  Which is why Miss Lavender (a fashion blog junkie) and I never get sick of Design Love Fest, for example, or Wendy’s Look Book.  Yes, endless pictures of Bri Emery adorn Designlovefest.  And yet it never seems to get old because she is SO tirelessly imaginative, that you just look at her blog and think, HOW does she come up with all this fun stuff?!  And Wendyslookbook?  Have a look-see, and you’ll get it.  Every photo features Wendy, yet she never leaves you wondering whether she’s self-obsessed.  Or if in fact she is, you can forgive her that–because she’s imaginative.  And very good at what she does.  Her How-to-tie-a-scarf-twenty-five-different-ways video is off the hook.  Yes, it’s her, her, her doing nothing but messing with a scarf in a video on YouTube, but she is having so . . . much . . . fun!  And eighteen million other people have been having fun right along with her.

Observation number one, then:  having fun with your blog is a huge plus (fun-ness effectively mitigating self-obsessiveness).  And fun-ness works even better when a blog has a strong sense of voice.  Emma and Elsie come to mind:  abeautifulmess offers vintage-inspired/homemade fun and a distinct sense of blog identity as well, all in a venue loaded with photos of both sisters.

So what about mom blogs?  When does a mom blog cross the line into Look-at-how-precious-my-kids-are?  But wait!  Stop.  EVERY mom blog has a strong element of Look-at-how-precious-my-kids are.  Right?  Moms wouldn’t blog if they weren’t invested in creating a register of their kids’ (who are precious to them!) comings, goings, triumphs, challenges, outfits, projects, etcetera.  That’s what mom blogging understands itself to be.  That said, I have to confess that I find myself going back over and over to certain blogs whose tone appeals to me, either because it’s drily humorous or touchingly confessional or brutally straightforward or just wonderfully informative.

Observation number two.  Blogs are like people:  you naturally want to visit with the ones who have stories to tell and authentic voices in which to tell them.  And if lots of photos accompany the stories?–hey, I’m down.

So if you’re wondering what prompted this post, I’ll tell you.  Miss Lavender came to me this morning, wondering whether some of the people she knows had begun to feel that her blog had become self-obsessed.  She showed me a Facebook post, where someone she knew had mentioned that (and I’m quoting very loosely) some people’s photos were merely about self-obsession.  So, let’s clarify first.  This person was talking about no one in particular, though in her own mind she may have been thinking of someone specific.  But Miss Lavender wondered, Was this individual talking about her?  Miss Lavender’s blog is indeed a collection of pictures of her, as most young people’s blogs are.  However, I pointed out to Miss L. that, in her latest post, she was happily unafraid to be ironic, goofy, and distinctly un-fixed-up.  Moreover, she included pics of the landscape and of an iron shill of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza out in front of a restaurant.  Plus, she speaks.  She tells.  She’s exercising her voice.  I thought the post was just cool.

My point?  Miss L. loves blogging and hopes at some point down the road to monetize her efforts.  As a potentially remunerative form of self-expression, a blog says, This is my face, this my story, and I am okay with trading on both.  But it also says, Let’s converse, let’s build a community.  In other words, compiling ideas and photos and putting it all out there:  that’s what a blog is and what it does.  And if you know that that’s what you’re about and particularly if you have a sense of ‘mission’–what you ultimately want to accomplish, let’s say–then deploying your-self as currency, so to speak, no longer sounds as, well, as self-obsessed, especially considering the fact that you’re your own brand.

What are your thoughts?  Particularly about your teens who blog or who spend time on Facebook, a platform that also trades in photos and self-expression?

Really curious!

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Girl By A Stream In Andorra

by Becky on April 24, 2013

in Parenting, Travel

Close-up of Tessa by stream_1119

As I edit the photos of our trips, I’m always struck by the changing faces of my children. Here, the fresh-faced Miss Lavender stares down the camera during our brief roadside stop on our way down the mountain in Andorra. The story is that we had parked for a few minutes, fascinated at the snow runoff that had turned everywhere to waterfalls.

Waterfall feeding into stream_1115

But, as often happens, the camera starts training itself on faces.

Tessa's profile by stream_1121

Leave it to a long drive in a tiny foreign country to re-teach me what I’ve always known about this child: she’s an old spirit in a young body. If you doubt me, have a look at those eyes.

If you have a child like this–one who’s technically been around a decade or two but seems somehow to have been around for a thousand years–then you know how wonderfully odd and oddly wonderful it is to parent him or her.  One minute, mine is talking about a pair of handmade shoes she spotted in the Born district in Barcelona; the next, she’s weighing in on the merits of being able to thinslice someone’s mood based on their facial expressions or body language.  Typical Teen/Highly Observant Adult.

I suspect I’ll always have affectionate feelings for that mountain and the way it drains the snow.  Had we not stopped to consider the phenomenon, I would not have had an opportunity to reconsider Miss L’s eyes or reflect on the way they afford the careful observer a glimpse of an ageless soul.

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Four Sibs1852

So my oldest, affectionately nicknamed “El Surfeador,” will be twenty years old on Saturday.  20 on the 20th.  His golden birthday.  He’s at home, in the U.S., and we’re here, in Spain.  Here were a few things I did to help him start enjoying the epic Two-Oh, just two days away!  (Wow.)

One.  Maybe six weeks ago, I emailed all kinds of people who had been important to him, and I invited them to shoot him a card for his birthday.  A couple of weeks ago, I sent a reminder email.  My hope is that he’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty birthday cards.  A friend at home gave me the idea:  she invited friends to do the same thing when her daughter was turning eighteen last fall.  So exciting, that he’ll be receiving birthday wishes from all kinds of people who have meant the world to him!

Two.  My other three kids–Goose, Miss Zinnia, and Miss Lavender–sang him some birthday songs, and the Eleven O’Clock Dad filmed them.  The video went into an email attachment and then into the inbox of a new Acqaintance, Treat-maker, and Co-conspirator I happened to stumble across . . . who happens to live near my son.  (Funny, how those coincidences happen!)  When my son “happens” by her home on his birthday (there will be a pretext, of course), she and her husband will open the attachment for him so he can hear his siblings sing to him on His Day.  Surprise!

Three.  The package.  All this week, he is opening gifts we sent him in a birthday package–one a day:  things like antique peseta notes (Spanish bills), some dating to the 1920’s, that he can use for bookmarks; a #10 Lionel Messi wind-up action figure (with very sweet moves); two professional yo-yo’s, and other bits of utterly (un)Necessary Nonsense.

Four.  A couple of days ago, we all emailed him our own list of twenty things we love about him.  Goose’s was priceless.  Among his twenty to his older brother:  You’re awesome, You can kick a ball hard and far, You’re one energetic kid in a man’s body, and “I am happy you were born.”

I realized some of you may be far from children whose birthdays are coming up, and, being an inveterate Idea Thief myself, I thought you might want to steal a couple of these if they worked for you.  Or maybe you’ve sent your own Love to birthday kids who are far away?  I’d love to know!

(Photo:  The Kids, on the day El Surfeador reported to the missionary training center in Provo, Utah.  He began serving as a missionary for the Mormon church last August and will finish in August of 2014.)

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