Bring a Book!

I’m delighted to be featured at All the Wonders this week talking about one of the most often heard phrases in our home – bring a book!

Summer has always been analogous with reading for me, as far back as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other summery things too—the swimming pools, the backyard barbecues, the roasted marshmallows, summer camp, the fireflies, the road trips, all of it. But for me, those things all had one thing in common—the book that was (and still is) always tucked safely in my bag. Just in case.

Now, as a mother of two young boys, these are the reminders as we get ready to leave the house:

Did you brush your teeth?
Yes, you have to wear shoes!
Bring a book!

And at least one member of our family takes that last reminder very seriously.

Reading at Six Flags…
and at Go! St. Louis marathon…
in between customers…
and at the beach. Like mother, like son here.



Today, I’d like to share a few book recommendations for all the places you or your children might find yourselves this summer. They range in age from picture books to young adult. So, brush your teeth, grab your shoes, and above all, bring a book!

Please continue to All the Wonders to see my recommendations for books for the beach, summer camp, the pool and more …

Meet Emily Arrow + a Giveaway!

I love introducing readers to new books for kids, and today, I’m excited to introduce you to someone whose own love of children’s books inspires her music.  Meet Emily Arrow! 

Emily Arrow is a music educator, singer, and songwriter who has carved out her own musical niche she calls kidlit tunes.  You already know how I feel about children’s books, and many of you have seen the plentiful ukuleles that adorn the walls of our home.  So, when I first heard this talented, ukulele-strumming artist singing a song about Be a Friend, I became an immediate fan.  

Ukuleles + Kid Lit = YES!

I had a chance to catch up with Emily and ask her a few questions about her music.  She had some great things to share about her sources of inspiration, favorite books, and more.

What inspired you to write music based on children’s books?  It’s certainly a unique niche!
As a classroom music teacher, I began using my favorite picture books in the classroom in conjunction with my music units. For example, for Earth Day, I read The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Then I wanted to infuse music into each lesson that involved literature. After scouring the internet for resources and finding virtually nothing, I decided to create my own songs to go with books! I then began offering storytimes at local bookstores and developed my style, and ultimately genre, of kidlit tunes.

What artists/singers/songwriters influence your music? 

The most influential children’s musician I’m influenced by is Raffi. I was raised on his music, specifically his album pioneering a movement to respect the Earth and its resources. His message-driven music gives me inspiration to create music that’s simple and meaningful to all ages.

Music is a huge part of our family’s life.  I started singing to my kids before they were born, and this blog is named after the Bob Dylan song that was our morning anthem all through their preschool years (though we usually sang the Elizabeth Mitchell version).  Now our home is filled with instruments and music of all kinds.  How do you encourage families to incorporate music into their daily lives?  What about parents who don’t feel particularly musically-inclined themselves – any tips for sneaking more music into the day?  

I love to hear how musical your home is!! YAAAAY! There are lots of fun ways to include music in the home, starting with accessibility. An instrument should be just as accessible as an iPhone in the home. Percussion instruments like drums, egg shakers, and tambourines encourage rhythm and musical participation. I also recommend creating playlists together –  “coloring” playlist, “getting ready for school” playlist, “packing for a trip” playlist. This gives young listeners a sense of ownership over their music choices and builds a lovely relationship between experiences and music.

How about books?  What are your favorite tips for sneaking in a little extra reading time with the family?
 Not having a family of my own, I can imaging reading time is hard to come by. But I have a cool project that I recommend to parents of young readers: Video record yourself reading the story the night before during bedtime (or whenever your preferred reading time is). Then during the chaos of the day, why not sneak an extra read in by letting your kiddo watch? Parents tell me their kids get a kick out of this and it’s fantastic modeling for them to watch a read aloud-even if it’s their own parent!

What was your favorite book or books growing up?  What are some of your favorites now (that aren’t featured in music on this album)?

So many! Growing up, I loved Corduroy by Don Freeman, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, and when I began reading on my own, I was obsessed with The Boxcar Children series. 

My favorites in 2016 (in addition to the album books of course) include Be a Friend by Salina Yoon,  I Love You Already by Jory John & Benji Davies, the newly released Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube, and the upcoming Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

What’s your favorite part of performing for children?

Audience participation. We make kazoo sounds, we yodel, we draw in the air, we basically do everything fun you ever wanted to do at a show but couldn’t because you’re an… adult. 

I love Emily’s creative ideas for integrating music and reading into our homes.  I think I need a “putting away laundry” playlist!  

Emily’s debut album, Storytime Singalong, features songs based on some truly delightful picture books including Louise Loves Art, The Curious Garden and The Dot as well as several original pieces.  The sweet and memorable songs are a great way to extend the pages of picture books for your youngest readers.  

I’m giving away a copy of Emily Arrow’s award-winning Storytime Singalong to one lucky reader!  If you’d like a chance to win the album, do any of the following for an entry in the random drawing:
1.  Comment on this blog (or on the social media outlet you read this post) and share one way your family incorporates music or reading into your daily life. 
2.  Check out Emily’s YouTube Channel, then come back and let us know your favorite song!
3.  Share this blog post.

Make sure to tag in me in any of the above options so I see it and add your name to the drawing!
If you’re not the lucky winner, you’re still a lucky reader because you can purchase your own copy of Emily’s album right here.   The deadline for entries is March 31st at midnight CST.  I’ll announce a winner on April 1st – no fooling.  😉   Good luck!

Misadventures in Gardening

Once upon a time, there was a mama and a glass of wine and a simmering pan of roasted garlic. It was witching hour, that crazy hour of the day when the children are hungry but it’s too early for dinner and Dad is not home but it’s time to start cooking anyway and there aren’t enough snacks in the world to stop the whining.

I’m thrilled to be published at Mamalode today, please continue reading on their site

The Measure of a Year

I have thousands of photos sitting on my computer and a decade old abandoned promise to myself of making digital photo books out of them.  I have this pipe dream of sitting down in front of my computer and choosing a handful of favorites to represent each year, tossing them onto a pre-made template and hitting the order button.  Nothing fancy, no text, not letting perfect be the enemy of good enough, just simply done.  It has yet to happen.

I just sat down and started scanning through the photos of this past year, thinking maybe I’d start now and work my way backwards.  As I scrolled through them, I couldn’t believe everything that transpired in 2015.  It feels like the year just started, yet I have tangible proof that a very full year has indeed passed.  I also have tangible proof that I take way too many pictures of my cats.

But without these pictures, my own introspective year in review would be left to the whim of my ever-changing emotions.  Catch me on a good day, and I could tell you it’s been a banner year.  I could rattle off the things accomplished, the lessons learned, the trips taken, the babies born, the lives joined in marriage, the highlight reel.  Or, following a week of rain and dreary skies, my vitamin D deficient self might tell you that it’s been a hard year.  A year of difficult parenting moments, challenging medical diagnoses for many that I love, a year of loss, a year of global struggle, a year that brought me to my knees on more than one occasion. 

But my pictures tell the whole story.  I can look at any random picture from this year and remember how the moments almost always held multiple emotions. 

Like this one, when I hit the road with my two boys in January and drove to Texas, excited for an adventure. How we got derailed nine hours in by a migraine, trying to recover at a booth at a Braum’s in Oklahoma.  Trudged the last two hours to Dallas, feeling relief and triumph upon arrival.  I look at this picture and think, oh Jess, you don’t know what’s about to hit you.  Maybe don’t call Jason from Joplin and brag about what great time you’re making so you don’t have to eat your words later, over ice cream and Imitrex.

Or this one, at my aunt’s bed & breakfast in Texas, helping my granddad settle in for a winter’s stay, his first winter without his wife of 64 years by his side.  We were so grateful to be with him, yet we all missed her so much behind our smiling faces.

This could have been any mid-winter’s day, escaping the house for a change of pace.  We had so many good days in our first year of homeschooling, but this one probably wasn’t one of them.  This one was probably a hard day, a second cup of coffee day, an “I need a break day.”  

This picture, of my basement after I got rid of over 40 bags of stuff in 40 days.  That was a process, and it was a highlight of my year.  I loved hearing from all of you about your own journeys with your stuff. However, my basement doesn’t look like this now, and I’m still processing that.  Which means you’re probably going to hear about it later.  😉

The boys on our family farm in Indiana.  My first visit back in many years, to celebrate the life of my grandmother Gigi.  A realization that our family gatherings are likely to continue to be marked by loss for years to come, that the co-mingling of joy and grief is an ever-present thread in life. 

My happiest place is always by the water, but this picture was taken on a day that we received bad news about a family member.  Liam is joyful in this shot, and I am heartbroken.  He jumps off the dock again and again, and there they are, joy and grief, holding hands.

It rained incessantly this summer in St. Louis and this was my favorite of those days.  I laughed so hard that I cried as we started kicking puddles at each other, riding our scooters in the gutters, watching cars drive by, passengers staring at us like we were crazy.  Maybe we were.  But this day felt like healing.

A failed attempt at a photo shoot in crazy wind during a beautiful week away at the beach.  Strike that.  Not a failed attempt.  This looks about right for my family. 

Our sweet new kitten Eragon (left) with our Ginger cat (right), who we lost this year after 14 years together.  Joy and grief, grief and joy.

When Jason comes home from work and we are accidentally wearing matching clothes.  And I look up at his smiling eyes, with the lines around them that remind me how damned lucky we are to have had so many years together, and how our house becomes home again every day when he’s here.  

The pictures tell the whole truth, if we let them.  We get to choose which pictures we keep and curate and catalogue, much in the way we choose the way we view our memories.  We get to choose the way we measure a year.  And since I often find my truth in the lyrics of musical theater, I’m going with Jonathon Larson on this one.  All of it can be measured in love, if we let it.  There is no grief without love, no loss without love.  No moments of loneliness or frustration without love.  The joy stems from love, the laughter and the tears.  And when I look at my pictures from 2015, that’s what I’m going to remember.  I’m going to remember a year that I fiercely loved. 

“In daylights,

in sunsets,

in midnights,

in cups of coffee…

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.”

Let It Come In Waves

“Mama,” he repeats, over and over, as he presses his body closer to mine. He speaks my name like an inquiry, like he’s trying it out to see if it still fits.

I wonder if the days of “mama” are numbered, if soon I’ll become “mom” to my youngest just as I did to my oldest. I wonder if he senses this too.

I continue reading aloud, running my hand through his wavy hair, remembering the ringlets of his toddlerhood. He has an undercut now, and likes to style the top in a mohawk with blue hair gel. He says he wants a man bun. 

This piece is published in its entirety at Mamalode.  Please continue reading here

Joining Ranks With the Sisterhood

“Kids Have Surprising Results If Mom Works Outside the Home”

“Wealthy Moms Receiving Wife Bonuses for Raising Families”
These are the headlines this week.  They are the headlines every week, the words simply rearranged, a different study found in the footnotes, a variation on last week’s vitriol in the comment section.
I’m not here to talk about these headlines, not this week or next week or the week after. 
I’m here to make a promise to you:  I won’t ever use this blog as a platform to participate in the media-driven mommy wars while there are actual wars on mothers and their children.  
I won’t use this platform to debate the merits of choices we are privileged to even make when a woman like Sozan has to choose which children to bring in a shipping container that doesn’t have room to carry them all to an uncertain future where their safety is not guaranteed.  
Sure, I’ll talk about parenting, and share my own struggles and tiny victories.   I’ll use my voice to speak up when our freedom to make choices is threatened, but I won’t use this platform or my mental energy to decry a loving and intentional parenting choice that is different from my own when there are thousands of children without a parent to make any choices on their behalf at all.   
I want to have a different conversation about women, with women, for women, and I know that a great many of you do to.  I want to have a conversation about what is possible when we refuse to participate in an orchestrated argument with one another and instead reach out and boldly declare that we belong to each other.  I want to talk about what is possible when we come together to use our talents, our gifts, our resources, and our privilege to lift up women here and abroad.  Because the truth is, if we have any energy left at the end of the day to fight with a stranger on the Internet about breastfeeding or sleeping arrangements, we are coming from a place of privilege and that privilege can be squandered or it can be gifted right back to the sisterhood of mothers.  
This week, there is a particular struggle that is weighing heavily on me.  I read the piece linked above about Sozan yesterday, and if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to take a moment to do so now.  It’s written as an open letter to the North American (Christian) Church, and while I certainly believe that the church is an appropriate recipient of these words, I also believe that Sozan’s story and the stories of thousands of people and families murdered and displaced by ISIS are for everyone to hear.  
I don’t have a single political or militaristic solution for the escalating violence in Iraq.  Not one.  But I keep coming back to the same place I always do in times of violent conflict in this world.  I keep coming back to those who fled, those who declared through their furtive and terrifying escapes that they want no part of this terror, that they want to live, that they want to see their children survive.  I may not know what to say when I call my representatives about how to intervene in conflict, but I know that I will plead on behalf of the refugees.   
If you have read this far and want to take action on this particular issue, I’ll include some additional resources and organizations to consider supporting at the end of this post.  There are many more out there, and many people more knowledgeable than myself on this issue.  Please share your resources, I’m listening.   I will also include the contact information for your representatives, as well as information about current legislation impacting refugees.  
I want to say one more thing.  I’m asking you to consider donating to women in desperate situations but I understand that you might not have extra money in your own bank account.  I get it.  Our family lives on one income, follows a tight budget, and doesn’t have a lot left over at the end of the pay period either.  But yet, I spend money every day.  I spend money on groceries or utilities, I spend it with every shower I take, every sprinkler I run, every time I fill my gas tank.  I spend some of that money with little thought to the opportunity cost, and I’m challenging myself to really think about that.  I can pass on a new swimsuit this year so another mother can dream of a better future.  I can let my yard go a little brown as my sprinkler sits dormant so another child can get access to fresh drinking water.  
I’ve spent the last few months letting go of material possessions that brought little meaning to my life.  When I mentally add up the cost of it all … I can’t finish typing this sentence without crying.  It guts me to think what that money could have done.  
I’m hopeful when I think of what it can still do.
So this is it, the only type of mommy war I’m willing to engage in.  I’ll speak for my sisters whose voices are silenced, and I’ll advocate for children who don’t have parents to make choices for them.  I’ll support women who are trying to build a better future for their families.  Because the mommy wars?  They’ve got enough foot soldiers.  I’m joining ranks with the sisterhood.   I hope you’ll join me.
Additional Resources: 

The UN Refugee Agency

Refugee Legislation

You Don’t Have to Eat the Potato

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

We have this saying we use in our house, “you don’t have to eat the potato,”  that serves as a gentle, coded reminder that it’s okay to change course or back down in an argument (well, it used to be coded but now it’s on the Internet).  It comes from a Shakespearean play episode of The Amazing World of Gumball my ten year old was reading binge-watching in which the kids get in a fight with their parents, their parents refuse to do anything for them until they apologize, and rather than apologize or admit to wrong-doing, they resort to eating a raw potato for dinner.  When our family finds itself in the grips of stubborn conflict, one of use will say to the person who is doing the heel-digging (and though the role changes hands, it’s usually obvious in each situation who is doing the heel-digging), “you don’t have to eat the potato.”  It’s our way of saying that it is okay to let go, and further, you can let go without having to face an “I told you so.”  The action of dropping the potato and moving on is louder than words, and we will acknowledge it by moving on with you.  Sometimes in this life, we start to feel backed into a corner by an opinion we’ve held or a decision we’ve made and I want my kids to grow up in a home that acknowledges changing your mind or changing your course for what it is – courage.  

Before I pontificate all the ways I’ve mastered practiced this skill in my ten years of parenting (ten years people…surely that makes me an expert and my “10 Years of Service” plaque is in the mail), let me tell you that my experience with eating potatoes is vast and long.  I come from a long line of potato-eaters (who are, coincidentally, from Ireland).  I have actually seen a member of my family argue that the ocean was a river while in plain view of the ocean.  I spent my own entire childhood refusing to clean my room because “I liked it messy and I could find things easier that way.”  So, it’s not too surprising that I’m now raising a child who would rather eat a raw potato than change his point of a view and another whose favorite food is actually potatoes.  It’s also not surprising that my little potato eater’s most adamant point of heel digging is keeping a clean room.  

Folks, this kid’s room can reach epic proportions of messiness, and like I mentioned, I speak with some authority on the subject of messy bedrooms.  He likes to keep every toy he has played with in the last month in easy arm’s reach (all over the floor) and if you suggest that the toys may be easier to find or less likely to break if he puts them where they go, he will dig in further and assert that the toys are already where they go, and that he has “organized” them this way on purpose.  And it’s not just toys.  He also likes to keep all the things.  Get a new blender for Christmas?  Awesome, he’ll hang onto that box for you.  Broken remote control to the DVD player?  Sweet, that’ll come in handy.  You don’t want that copy of Gigliyou got in your family’s White Elephant exchange?  Oh, he does.  He definitely needs that.  When my little man was four years old, I went into his closet to get his laundry basket and found a pile of kitchen trash hidden behind it.  I’m talking actual food waste, like empty yogurt containers and apple sauce jars, items he had taken right out of the recycling bin and trash can.  I asked him why these things were in his closet and he did not have an answer for me.  We had a discussion about the importance of keeping food waste in the kitchen and I even tried some heavy-handed scare tactics about tracking bugs into his bedroom.  I left the room feeling confident that it would not happen again and also worried that I had not set aside enough money in my kids’ therapy savings accounts (it’s like a college savings account, but without the tax break) for treatment for severe hoarding.  I was wrong.  The next week, I found another pile of granola bar wrappers and banana peels on his closet floor.  I’m not going to lie.  At this point, I was fairly wrecked.  I was convinced that this was an early warning sign of a serious issue and I sat down with my son to get to the bottom of it.  Why was he stealing trash and hiding it?  How could we help?  And where had I gone wrong?  Finally, in his sweet four year old voice, he said, “I wanted to save it from the fire.”  The fire?  What fire?  “The fire where the trash goes mama.  I don’t want our trash to get hurt in the fire.  Like in the movie.”  The movie.  Sweet relief flooded over me as I remembered the scene in Toy Story 3where the toys are on a fast-track to the incinerator in the garbage dump.  My son was not a hoarder!  He wants to save the trash!  He’s being kind!  It took a lot of convincing and a little stretching of the truth (Did you know that all garbage dumps convert the waste into reusable energy?  Yeah, me neither.) but he agreed to leave the food waste where it belongs.  Flash forward three years though, and that’s about the only progress we’ve made on his messy room.

 Those toys look terrified.  I can see why my son wanted to rescue the trash.  
Thanks a lot Disney/Pixar.  I’ll send you the therapy bills.

But here’s what I’m learning about living with a potato eater.  He needs his course correction to come from a place of self-discovery.  This means that I need to take a backseat and let him figure some things out on his own.  Sometimes, I let his room go a little longer than I’m comfortable with myself, and he’ll lose something important to him, or break a toy, or step on something and get hurt.  In those moments I bite my tongue so hard it bleeds (because “I told you so” is the enemy of the potato eater) and wait.  More often than not, he’ll acknowledge that his room was too messy or the toy was in the way.  He’ll clear a path (which is not the same as cleaning but it’s progress) and put away the things of real and lasting value.  Yesterday, when we were doing our annual post-Christmas room clean/put away the new things/donate the things we are finished with ritual, he asked for my help (!) and even mentioned afterward that it was easier to play on his empty floor.  I nod and sometimes even add a little “That’s a great idea, I might try that in my room, thanks!”  Later, down the road, we’ll talk about how changing our minds is brave and wise, but for now, I’m treading lightly.  I’m learning that this tread lightly approach works with kids or spouses, friends or familyWhen faced with a potato eater, I can check my ego at the door, drop my own potato first and let go of my need to be right or verbally recognized.  It’s not about me anyway.

I was talking with a friend the other day about course-correcting and change and how it gets a bad rep even in our adult lives.  We were discussing the various incarnations of managing our kids’ chores.  In my house alone, we’ve had chore charts, chore tin cans with popsicle sticks, chore magnetic boards, chores on clothespins affixed to door hangers, a “Work for Hire” board, and the latest, a total re-branding of chores as “teamwork” that is incorporated into the boys’ daily lesson plans.  All of these systems work for awhile, until they don’t, and then I make a change.  I made some kind of self-disparaging and half-joking comment about my inability to make a system stick and my friend pointed out that if change is required to make the thing work, that’s not exactly a failure.  And she’s right, it’s not.   

 It’s hard to understand why no one has taken on any of these jobs.   
That’s a whole dollar for cleaning all the windows and mirrors.  A whole dollar!

There are people in this world who are remarkably adept at creating a routine that lasts.   You may know some of these people.  They wake at the same time every day, eat the same thing for breakfast, do the same exercise their entire adult lives and they thrive on this routine.  It works for them, so they don’t need to change it, and in fact, changing it could be detrimental to their overall quality of life.  Then there are the rest of us.  We start off strong but often falter and it is at the point of faltering where we can make an important decision.  Do we course correct or do we eat the potato?  Instead of claiming defeat or worse, digging our heels into the choice that is not working, can we redefine success to mean the ability to change our minds?  

As for our family, we’ll stick with our now not-so-secret phrase and keep creating a safe space for admitting we are wrong, changing our minds and changing course.  And I’m sure we’ll eat a few potatoes in the process.  Hopefully baked, with a lot of sour cream.  

What’s Not Better Left Unsaid

I want to tell you a story about my oldest son, a family vacation, and a white rental car.

When my oldest was about four years old, we took a family vacation to visit family on the east coast.  We flew into Philadelphia and rented a car, spent a week with my mom on the Jersey shore and then drove up to Connecticut to visit my husband’s brother and his family.  It was a great trip, full of the kinds of memories you make when you travel with two little ones across the country.

A couple of years ago, we were reminiscing about that trip and my son (at this point 8 years old) says, “I remember that white car.” 

“What white car?” I ask, not remembering the fact that our rental car had in fact been white. 

“The car you and Dad stole from the airport.” 

My son thought, for four years, that his parents were car robbers. 

Hilarity ensued as we realized what he was referring to, and we laughed as we explained how car rentals work and sorted out in our minds how he possibly could have thought such a thing.  He was at baggage claim with me while Jason worked out the rental, he never saw any monetary exchange, he has not been in a rental car since, and most importantly, he didn’t ask, so we didn’t explain. 

The bottom line is, he’s a child, and in the absence of factual information from trusted sources, children will create their own answers to their unasked or unanswered questions. 

Most adults that are parenting right now were raised, in varying degrees, in a culture that said there are things better left unsaid, or there are things you just don’t talk about.  While this approach might prove useful when you don’t love your neighbor’s taste in yard ornaments or you are tempted to share information that truly is not yours to share, it has had devastating consequences when applied to difficult topics like race, sex, money and power.  Entire generations came of age carrying deep shame about things that should have been brought into the light of day.  And while we are doing better in some areas, we’ve got a long way to go in others.

I still have conversations in which I hear “we’re raising our kids to be color blind”  or “my kids just don’t see color.”  These words are usually spoken by kind and wonderful women who are trying to raise their children with intention and care.  This idea, that children don’t see color, has been passed down now for a couple of generations with little question to its validity.   But it’s just not true.  Children see color.  They see age, size, gender and every other physical identifier a person carries.   In fact, research shows that babies as young as six months can discern differences in race.   What they do with the information however, has to do in large part with what we say and do as parents. 

And it turns out, a lot of us aren’t doing anything. 

According to one study, almost 75 percent of white families are not discussing race with their children at all.  I know that this often comes from a place of good intention.  I know these families think that by not pointing out or over-emphasizing our differences, their kids will focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different.  But the subtle message that is also sent says that our differences are bad and have to be ignored in order for people to be accepted.  It says that we should love and respect one another in spite of differences in race, rather than affirming that YES humans come in different colors and we love and respect one another because all human lives are inherently valuable.   If you want to read more about the kinds of answers kids come up with on their own, take a look at this excerpt from the book NutureShock.  For me, the young boy who says to his friend,  “Parents don’t like us to talk about our skin, so don’t let them hear you” sums up the impact of our silence.

We have to do better than this. 

This epidemic of silence extends far beyond race.  Any conversation you choose not to have with your child is a conversation you choose to subcontract out to someone else.  Moreover, you don’t get to interview or hire your subcontractor.  If you skirt the answers to your child’s earliest questions about sex, there is a very good chance he is going to seek out answers somewhere else next time.  If the thought of discussing your household budget with your kids makes you uncomfortable, she’ll form her own conclusions about how money is earned and spent and you may not get to decide if she chooses Dave Ramsey or the guy offering her a free t-shirt with her shiny new credit card on her college campus to inform those conclusions.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of watching one of these really important conversations go down.  My friend’s 17 year old son came to us with questions about the rioting in Ferguson.  This young man had the humility to begin this conversation by saying, “I don’t know anything, and I’m trying to understand.”  Friends, I truly believe that anytime we are willing to start with “I don’t know anything” we set the stage for learning and understanding.  I won’t go into the details of the conversation that followed, but I will say that I have watched this family parent this child since he was very young and have seen them build conversation currency.  I’ve seen them lean into uncomfortable questions and difficult conversations time and time again.  If you want a 17 year old that turns to you for answers, you have to start answering the tough questions when they are tiny because it takes time to build that kind of currency.

I’m not sure how often I’ll delve into parenting on this blog.  I’m far from a parenting expert. I’m only ten years in the trenches and my wise mentors ahead of me tell me that I’m just getting started.   Some days I feel closer to the diaper days then the driving days even though my calendar tells me that’s not true.  I’m not even an expert at this stuff with my own kids.  I have a seven year old who knows exactly where babies come from but also believes in Santa Claus and thinks he might be a wizard.  I struggle with the balance between honest and age-appropriate and I’m not about to offer advice on how to have these conversations.  I only suggest that you have them at all.

In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, at-your-fingertip internet,  and constant connectivity to friends, our kids will seek and find answers to their questions.  Unless you intend to seclude yourself deep in the woods in a like-minded community without access to technology or the outside world (by the way I’ve seen that movie and it did not end well)  it is likely that your kids will have access to information you don’t provide.  This is not all bad.  Sometimes you’ll seek outside answers right alongside your child.  In fact, that “I don’t know anything” phrase is also a currency builder with kids who love a parent’s willingness to learn alongside them.  (Equally powerful currency builders include “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry”.)  Outside information is not the enemy but without the guiding context we provide as parents, it can lead kids to draw conclusions we never intended or imagined.  Take it from me, the grand theft auto mom.   When it comes to the tough topics, we have to decide as parents if we want to be one of our kids’ primary resources or not, and if we are silent on these matters, our silence makes the decision for us.