Tessa and Millay in ruins

I never had a sister, a fact that used to bum me out when I was growing up. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to have a sister to be a sister, or to spot a real Sister when she enters your life. As I see it, there are three ways to recognize a Capital-S Sister when she ends up on your doorstep wrapped in Midori ribbon.  (My first one arrived when I was Goose’s age, and she’s still a Sister.)

Tessa and Millie looking out over wall_1364

One. A Sister will be interested in you–in your mind, your emotions, your tastes. She will want to know your thoughts, she will show concern for your feelings, she will respect your likes even if she doesn’t categorically share them. Such a Sister is a gift. When the universe tosses someone like this into your path, embrace her!  And hold on.

Tessa and Millay by bronze door_1768

Two. A Sister will be gentle with you. She will not belittle or denigrate you. In her presence, you will feel like an equal not only because she shows you respect but because she views you as a peer in the best sense.

Tessa and Millay on street_1735

Three. A Sister can be trusted with confidences of every kind. Sometimes it’s a terrifying risk to reach out to a would-be Sister in the hopes that she is what she seems to be. Ninety-nine percent of the time, your gut will steer you right. If you are blessed to have in your life a Confidence-keeping Sister, it’s probably because you are a Confidence-keeping Sister.

There’s always room for younger women to grow into the role. Raising a generation of Sisters–especially if they’re related to you and to each other by blood–might be one of the most important things we’re about in this short life, don’t you think?–showing daughters how it looks? Indeed, that might be the trickiest act of all: creating opportunities for girls in the same family to value each other not just as sisters but as Sisters.

Girls looking through wall at Sagunt

Living abroad has strengthened my daughters’ attachment (which is both rich and, at times, complicated), but I’m convinced that travel can involve something as basic as a trip to the local yogurt shop.  There’s something about just logging time together:  it acts as mortar.  What’s more, if you’re paying for the goodies, the girls’re on board.

What are your thoughts??

(Photos:  Sisters in the ruins at Sagunt.)

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Facing forward_1707

You want your daughters to fly–if not from the walls of old fortresses, then at least into their futures, with confidence.

Levitating in ruins_1711

This thing Miss Lavender does, where she ‘levitates’ in some gorgeously odd spot, has a cool factor of like a gazillion–don’t you agree? And for me as a mom, it’s not just the illusion of flying that I find breathtaking; it’s the way the image just shouts girl power.

Levitating two_1254

I’m not saying I want my girls to rule the world.

Once again_1255

But I want them to rule themselves. And to be able to count on themselves to go far and fast when they desire to.

Tessa levitating in Sagunto_1245

To gather motion as they organize their goals.

Tess and Millie in air_1265

And to take care of each other, so that all the nonsense that too often pulls girls down won’t. Because they’ll know how to rise together.

Also:  for a look at the breathtaking images of the Japanese girl whose self-portraits inspired Miss Lavender to want to try levitating, visit her website with your kids!  It’s impossible not to be amazed at the mindblowingly graceful way she seems to defy gravity.  Her last post was in 2011 (sad!).  But all the material leading up to that post–wow!


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Restaurant exterior_1816

The other night we stepped out for some paella Valenciana. I should point out first that here in Spain, we rarely sit down for a full meal out. With five (perennially) hungry people, eating out often would get pricey for us. But on a particular evening a couple of weeks ago, we got cozy around a table at Eugenio’s place, in Sagunt, where we had spent the afternoon hiking through Roman ruins.

Did I mention we were hungry? There was no way we were going to make it back to Barcelona without real food.

Enter Eugenio, whom I met when I walked into his little restaurant to ask how long it might take for him to make some paella for us.

Three kids at the table_1831


Three things struck me as my family clustered around a large table on which sat a large, round pan of the most amazing paella I’ll probably ever be privileged to inhale during my natural lifetime.


One.  Food makes people talkative.  As we ate, we chatted about the food: how rich it was, and how wonderfully good. But talk about food inevitably phases to talk about other things.  And pretty soon, you’re talking about All Kinds Of Stuff. Together. And between the food and the talk, you realize: Ah!–this is what mealtime is meant to be.  Moreover, sometimes quieter family members find their voice at the table, a distinct bonus.

Forks in the rice_1894

Two.  Moments spent eating together go right into each member’s cache of family memories.  Eugenio encouraged us to use the spoons he gave us, not just the forks.  He told us to scrape the bottom of the pan in order to get the socarrat–the layer of rice toasted in meat juices. So each of us scraped away, working to get the socarrat, which, as promised, was indeed rather mindblowingly savory. But it’s not just the taste I’ll remember; it’s all of us cleaning the bottom of the pan together. Food-turned-experience. Food-turned-memory. I believe just about any meal has the potential to be that!


Three.  Wherever, whenever, whatever–just so it’s the fam.

So it doesn’t have to be paella.  Honest.  Some of our happiest dinner meals involve pancakes and homemade syrup.  The point is that we’re passing the syrup around, to each other. You do it enough times, it becomes a ritual. You learn how each member of the family likes their pancakes fixed: some with the syrup drizzled, some with it around the sides but not on top. As people settle into the meal, they relax, and the chatter starts. And often the laughter. Why people laugh so hard while they eat, I don’t know. If I had to say how many times one of my children had to leave the table because they were laughing so hard milk was about to come out their nose, I couldn’t do it.

It’s that combination of nourishment and family. Nothing beats a decent meal with your own little clan for making life seem downright good for a moment or two.

(Casa Eugenio:  Plaza Peixcateria, Sagunt.  96 266 58 31)

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Photo of Becky by brick wall_2233

Friends.  You will be happy to know that I changed out of the men’s pajamas.  The Volcom pullover stayed, however (as pullovers often do).  The subject of the day was blogging about the business of raising older kids.  The refreshments, as you know, included chocolate.  I would happily have shared, had you all been here.

There’s my transition:  “had you all been here.”  That was the impulse that got me blogging–the urge to get moms of older kids conversing with each other about themes common to this Moment in our parenting–like friends sitting around a table while they talked and sipped something hot that also happened to be chocolate. (Wink.)  I knew I wanted to focus on the positive, hopefully without coming off as cloying.  And I knew I was going to talk some about my efforts to bring culture into my teens’ lives, since I’m a lover of books and music in particular and also a big fan of staging half a dozen garage sales, putting your entire life in storage, and moving to a country where no one speaks your native language but will nevertheless blithely kiss you on both cheeks immediately upon learning your name.

So here’s why I often blog about my older kids:  they’re interesting, sometimes complicated (though I don’t view that as an insult, not in the least), often funny, highly imaginative, and, not surprisingly, eager to hear as well as be heard.  I suspect they are not that different from your teens.  If I stumble across something that works–a tool that’s helped me–I’ll pass it along, as I hope you’ll do.  Particularly with issues of teens and self-identity, a theme I’m passionate about, I’m always on the lookout for tools to add to my kit.

So:  they’re around-the-table, accompanied-by-very-good-treats conversations, these blogs about teens–at least as I envision them.  Where Mothering-with-a-capital-M is a foregone conclusion, though there’s certainly not a single definition of what that looks like.  And where we can take up themes we all think about, a lot, in order to acquire new skills, which’ll help us, well, to love more successfully, I guess.

My, my.  Thinking this hard requires serious calories.  I believe I’m headed to the closet again.  (Another wink.  And a conspiratorial smile.)

(Photo taken at Els Encants, a few months ago.  By now, the hair color has changed, as hair color will do.  The dull shade of “Oops” I am sporting at the moment was one of those can’t-back-up collisions with a bottle of wrong, by l’Oreal.)

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The Eleven O’Clock Dad grabbed Goose a minute ago, and they went to get haircuts and pick me up some of my favorite Greek yogurt.  Miss Lavender and Miss Zinnia took off for the library maybe an hour ago.  I am alone in my flat, a rare occurrence and an excuse to break out some of the chocolate I have “hidden” in my closet.  (The quotation marks indicate my certain knowledge that everyone knows where my stash is.)  I confess I am rather comfy at the moment in a long-sleeved Volcom pullover that once belonged to El Surfeador and a well-worn pair of men’s pajama bottoms.  I have cranked the heater–a strange-looking contraption of European origin that pumps out the most fabulously warm air–and no one can tell me, “It’s not even cold!” because they’re not here to say it.  The sun is out, but the weather’s been a big tease lately, messing with whoever gets cheeky enough to start believing it’s actually spring.

I spent an hour or so blog-hopping just now–something you might be surprised to hear I don’t do a whole lot of.  It’s Miss Lavender who’ll sometimes tell me, “Mom!  I found a blogger with older kids!”–as if such a discovery ought to be front page news.  The Mom Blogosphere is an interesting place, don’t you think?  Lots and lots of moms talking about their young ones.  Fewer of us talking about our older ones.

Really:  why do you think that is??  And does any serious discussion of that question pretend to happen without a) men’s pajamas in the mix, and b) chocolate as well?  (I particularly like the German brand that makes Milch & Schokolade, with a yogurt ganache in the center.  Yes indeed.)

Stay tuned for the afternoon session of these musings.


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Millay in Dutch shoes_8449

How do you know when your teenage son or daughter’s friend is a good fit? How do you know when a friend is really a friend? I’ve asked myself that question so many times! Moreover, as a mom of teens for nearly ten years now, I’ve had many opportunities to observe the various friends who’ve crossed my kids’ paths. Three things I’ve observed about genuine friends–a litmus, if you will.

One. A good friend will bring out the best in your child. In other words, your son or daughter will tend to be his/her best self around that friend, the effect sometimes lingering even after said friend has left. How do you measure this?–it’s observable! If your daughter, for example, seems lighter, brighter, happier, kinder (especially to siblings!), more connected to her dreams and gifts and sense of humor and generally to all the hopeful possibilities of her life, then that friend is a good one.

Two. A good friend will never undermine your parental authority or love by talking negatively to your teen about your family’s culture, rules, expectations, values, or anything else you hold dear. It’s that simple. Nor does a good friend use manipulation as a lever to get your teen to do anything that could be viewed as a rejection of family beliefs or infrastructure.  If a friend respects your family and what it stands for, then that friend is a good one.

Three. A good friend–either intuitively or consciously–strives to practice ‘compassionate joy.’ The concept was initially Buddhist but translates beautifully to any world view, the idea being that if your child succeeds, then the friend, too, desires to celebrate that success rather than resenting it or being envious of it. When life blesses your child, a good friend will feel delighted, not threatened. The friend capable of feeling compassionate joy is a good one.

If we’re using this litmus to thin-slice our teens’ friends, then we likewise ought to be actively encouraging our teenage sons and daughters to be that friend to others: working to bring out the best in their friends; respecting the family values of which their friends are a part; and being sincerely overjoyed when their friends’ lives take a brilliant turn.

I’ve watched my kids collide with all kinds of friends, and I’ve seen the results. Naturally, I nourish a particular affection for the friends who have proved over time to be an especially good fit. If you’ve got your own litmus, I would LOVE to hear about it! I am passionate about growing each other’s tool boxes and skill sets!

In an upcoming post: how to help your teens build solid friendships.

(Photo above: Miss Zinnia, trying out the fit of a pair of clogs in Haarlem, North Holland, while her older brother hears the siren call of gelato.)

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Lighting in basilica_1095

By now you can tell. I love to bend the subject of a photograph in order to explore a theme I’ve been pondering. Today’s theme: illumination.

Lights in the basilica_1094

The unimaginably beautiful lights in the Templo de Sagrat Cor at Tibidabo draw the eye as surely as the art or the architecture.

Lanterns in basilica_1098

Makes me think of the women I’ve looked to for illumination during my years as a mother. One of them, Señora K (not her real name), has been a bright and constant light in my life. We became friends years ago, after my own mother had passed away, and she instantly became a mentor. I still call her a few times a year for advice when I’m really confused about something, and she talks me through it.

Maybe eight months ago, I faced a situation I just couldn’t puzzle out on my own–a challenge involving one of my children’s friends. This was a tough one. A real Stumper. But Señora K did what she always does: repeat what she’s heard me describe, so she’s sure she understands, then dive deep, interpreting the situation from her perspective and offering the kind of sage and highly specific advice you simply cannot put a price on. After our conversation, I knew exactly what I needed to do, and I was able to proceed decisively and with a sense of peace.

There is no substitute anywhere for the quality of light the Señora K’s of the world offer. None at all. So how do you find one? You look around for an Admirable Woman who’s farther along the Path of Motherhood than you are (they’re out there!), and you invite her to lunch at your place. Or you simply call her and say, “Here’s my situation. I’m feeling a little stuck. What do you think? What would you do?”

If your own mother is a Señora K, count yourself blessed.  And hold her close!  Otherwise, keep your eyes and ears open.  Because she’ll show up.  They always show up in our lives, these wise and encouraging Señoras, with exactly the light we need.  I believe this.

And someday, we’ll have the opportunity to give it back–to become a Señora K to someone else who needs a bit of illumination.  That’s how it works:  grab the light that comes your way; be the light when it’s your turn.

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Something very Mister Rogers-esque about this short stop-action video of an Eleven O’Clock trolley trip, shot by the Eleven O’Clock Dad here in Barcelona. Don’t you think?

I loved Mr. Rogers, and I loved the beautiful tribute to him written by the amazingly articulate James Poniewozik of TIME magazine after Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer at age 74, back in 2003.  As Poniewozik points out, “Mister Rogers was softer than anyone else in children’s TV because so many of the messages he had to impart were harder. That your parents might someday decide not to live together anymore. That dogs and guppies and people all someday will die. That sometimes you will feel ashamed and other times you will be so mad you will want to bite someone. He even calmed fears that may seem silly but to a child are real and consuming — like being afraid to take a bath because you might be sucked down the pipes. Mister Rogers gently sang, ‘You can never go down/Can never go down/Can never go down the drain.'”

I swear one of the hardest things about mothering is knowing how to help your kids manage their reactions to the sometimes frightening (or just bothersome) realities life throws at them.  In fact, I suspect any one of them could come up with a short list in about ten seconds–that some friends’ priorities are different than yours; that feminine hygiene products NEVER want to fit right; that siblings go through confusing stages that can throw you for a loop; that parents do actually age.  And on it goes.

Fred Rogers had the proportions just right–equal parts straightforwardness and gentleness. Delivering a necessarily truthful message to a child, whether he’s five or fifteen, works so much better when it’s done with a soft touch.  Kind of cool to realize, so long after the fact, that Mr. Rogers was talking to the adult me–the one with four sensitive, delicately wired children–as well as the elementary-age me.  From the Neighborhood, he mentored us both.

Not many people you can say that about.

(Homeschoolers: check out John “melodysheep” Boswell’s very cool mash-up in collaboration with PBS–it’s an homage to Mr. Rogers. Also visit Boswell’s “melodysheep” channel on YouTube, where science gets digitally musical–and therefore a lot less opaque.)

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I love Shakespeare. My kids know this. Especially El Surfeador, who grew up seeing me buried from time to time in the Yale edition of Shakespeare’s complete works, which I toted around for years.  It’s several inches thick and probably weighs more than my husband’s truck, but that’s neither here nor there.

Point is, my oldest son referenced Shakespeare the other day, in a letter. I had asked him to do something for me, and he responded by quoting words from Hamlet to his mother, Gertrude: “I shall in all my best obey [thee] madam.” (Hamlet says “you,” not “thee,” but who cares?)

I laughed out loud–out of pure delight.

His tone in the letter was tongue-in-cheek. But the reference to Hamlet wasn’t. He knew it would throw a smile onto my face quicker than anything else.

This boy doesn’t go around quoting Shakespeare; he never has. There are certainly things higher up on his list: grabbing the right waves on the right morning, at the right spot–ideally when the locals have Huntington Beach to themselves. Or getting deep into a Mario Kart fest with his little brother on our old GameCube.

But it was just the tiniest bit cool to see the reference to Hamlet. Made my heart smile in that highly particular way that occurs when I’m happily thrust into the intersection of Child Love and Literature Love.  I adore it when those streets cross.

What do your kids do that throws a smile onto your face?  As a mom, which ‘intersections’ do you love to stand in?

(Photo:  El Surfeador, air surfing last summer in Nuremberg, Germany.)

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Tess and Millay walking_6596

Thing Three. Whenever possible, view your daughter as a front page story. Then get the story.

Tess and Millie on a bench_6593

These photos of the Eleven O’Clock Girls in Bratislava, Slovakia, remind me just how much I remember about our trip through Europe last summer. Which is a lot. Which is a direct result of its having been documented. I remember the day in these pictures like it was yesterday. Because there are photos of it.  The companion story for this photo could be, “The petals fall under the spell of some interesting new acquaintances.”

The caption for the one below could read, “Miss Zinnia.  Silly girl.”

Millie on sidewalk_6594

Take photos.  And when you’ve got a minute, write down a place, a date, an impression or two. The story in the one below:  “Blue eyes. In Bratislava.”

Millie by door_6548

I want to be clear: when I say “get the story,” I don’t mean sit down and write War And Peace. Nor do I mean mortgage your home to get the appropriate scrapbooking supplies.  I love that some folks scrapbook!  I wish I did.  I kept trying.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get that gene. Once, I walked into a scrapbooking store in Arizona, looked around for a bit, and, when someone asked if they could help me, out of my mouth came the bizarre (and involuntary!) words, “Do people ever report wanting to slit their wrists when they come in here?”–at which point said woman (very helpful, bless her) gave me a brisk smile and hurried away. Fast.

The story for this photo of Miss Lavender could read, “Something’s going on behind those eyes.”

Tessa by door_6547

Or this one. “Oh happy day!”

Tessa on streetlamp_6552

Or, “Zinnie and Lavender doing something vaguely yogic.”

Millie and Tess get silly_6561

The Official Story of your daughter on any given day, at any given moment, gets written with the click of a shutter and a few thoughtful strokes on a keyboard (or in a journal, say). But we’ve gotta get them, these stories. Before our girls walk off into their own lives.

Millie and Tess in Bratislava_6585

Wish I’d started this in earnest.  Sooner.  I’d remember so many more days like they were yesterday!

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