The Year of New

2016 the year of new

On the very last day of 2015, I squeezed in this new year’s post and shared this resolution worksheet with all of you.  It was a small token of my appreciation for all of the kindness that you had shown to my little blog in 2015.  Frankly, I am still surprised, humbled, and incredibly thankful that you have come along for the ride so far!

When I posted this worksheet for you, I hadn’t yet tried it myself.  It was still a theory, as in, “I just know this is going to be fantastic!  This is good, right?  Maybe?  Fingers crossed!”  But I am also a pro at embracing theories that fail miserably.  Like my theory that our boys needed a really cute, rather expensive playhouse in the backyard that turned out to be invisible to them except when it interfered with their soccer game.  (Not really my problem.  My kids don’t know something amazing when they see it.)  Or my theory that getting each boy his own hamster would prevent headaches for me in the long run.  (Did you know that a female hamster can get pregnant immediately after delivering the first unexpected litter of baby hamsters?  No?  Yeah.  Me neither.)  Or my theory that roller skating  with  my kiddos would allow me to feel young and free of responsibility for a while.  (You know I’m still paying the medical bills for that one.)

Fortunately, this time my theory proved to be correct, but not right off the bat.

First, let me remind you that I live with three human beings who are all fighting for survival in one stage of manhood or another.  At my house, this means that words like “feelings” or “reflection” or “mom has a great idea” are usually met with some combination of grunts and moans and groans.  Generally, any suggestion that doesn’t involve sports or inappropriate jokes or video games has to marinate with them for a while.  As one of my smaller men said while pretending to cry (to get a laugh from the other men, I’m sure), “Sometimes it really stinks to have a mom who’s a teacher!”

Plus, they always know that I’m outnumbered.  It’s so unfair.

So when I first mentioned at the dinner table that we would be doing this little project, they scoffed and made a few jokes and grunted and acknowledged their masculinity.  Once we got that out of the way, everything went just as I had planned.  Lesson to be learned, ladies: If you have a tough audience, don’t give up too quickly.  That tough stuff is all on the exterior, I promise.  Unless you actually know my husband, in which case I swear that he really IS a tough guy, inside and out.  Seriously.  No, really, he is.  Don’t get me into trouble.

I may have planted the seed during a family dinner, but my secret to learning the joys and the hurts and the longings of my boys’ hearts is to corner them when no one else is home.  Those quiet times, times when we can talk without distractions, when the testosterone level in the house is not at a critically high level, are some of my favorite moments.  And no matter how much they scoff at my crazy ideas together at the dinner table, they are surprisingly receptive to them when we get to spend some quality mom-and-son time with one another.  Honestly, we had a lot of fun filling out these worksheets together, just the two of us, reflecting on the year that was and the year that is still to come.

Sometimes we take for granted that we know our kids, that we know what is important to them, what matters to them most.  But sometimes we are wrong, and that’s a shame, because they will often tell us if we just take the time to ask some questions and then to listen to what they have to say.  I wasn’t surprised that both of my sons remembered 2015 as a year of sadness.  It was a tough one for all of us.  Our fall was a fog of farewells and funerals.


But the second part, the part about Lola, was something that I didn’t even remember at first.  I expected my son to talk about a sports achievement or a report card for this one, but his proudest achievement from the entire year was the time he saved our puppy from harm.  He had been carrying her on a snowy winter day when he slipped on the ice on the patio and crash landed; she was just a tiny pup, and he was responsible for her, so he cradled her in his arms even as his head hit the cold, hard concrete.  I had forgotten about how worried I was that he might have had a concussion.  I had forgotten about how proud he had been.  I had forgotten what a warm, loving heart that boy has when he’s not telling fart jokes.

And then there were conversations like this one, with my sarcastic pre-teenager.


Yes, that actually says that in 2015 he learned that “a date is also a fruit that makes you poop.”  I guess this is a quotation from his favorite cartoon, Gumball.  This kid loves an audience, but he is also happy just to crack himself up.  And he really is funny.  He is witty and smart, and it was nice to take a break from questioning his filtering mechanism just to laugh with him for a while.  He can be serious when he wants to be, too.

year of less

I’m pretty sure that we haven’t cut back on screen time just yet, but he is doing well so far with the others.  He also decided to spend more time on art this year because I think he had actually forgotten what a talented artist he is.  He made this Star Wars card for his friend’s birthday recently, and I am pretty sure that if that kid weren’t one of his best buddies, he wouldn’t have given this away.

star wars

My favorite part of the one-on-one sessions was helping each boy choose a quotation to guide 2016.  My younger son scoured the Internet for quotations from athletes he admires.  We talked about several of the quotations that he found – some examples of good character and others, not so much – and he settled on this one from Lebron James:

“Don’t be afraid of failure.  This is the way to succeed.”

Nice choice, right?  My older son immediately ran to his room to find this quotation from NBA basketball player Muggsy Bogues:

“If you can play the game, size doesn’t matter.”

So many of the things that we worry about don’t really matter if we are willing to work hard and stop making excuses, right?  This boy is passionate about basketball, but he is small, so this quotation motivates him to stay in the game just like Muggsy did at 5′ 3″.  Another good choice!

I shared my quotation for 2016 with the boys, too.  It doesn’t need an explanation:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

Next, we needed to work together to create a family motto, so it was back to the dinner table one evening.  Our goal was to complete the statement, “2016 will be the year of ___.”  I was thinking of something like “kindness” or “teamwork.”  You know, something that would promote good character at home.  But that was just me.

One of my men suggested, “2016, the year of the chicken.”

Don’t ask.  I have no idea what that means.

Another suggested, “2016, the year of awesome.”  Now this seemed, well, AWESOME, at first, but we quickly realized that it would be impossible to measure.  I imagined a year of conversations like this:

           “Wow!  Those roasted Brussel sprouts were awesome.” (Me)

          “No way!  Yuck! That was awful!  You know what was awesome?  That football game
we watched last night!  Remember when that one guy did that one thing and they
replayed it twenty times?  That was awesome!” (A son)

          “Yeah, right, that was great . . .  I loved every minute . . . *Sigh*”  (Me)

Then my husband suggested, “2016, the year of NEW!”  And on the outside I was smiling and nodding, but on the inside I was thinking, What are you doing???  Work with me here, dude!  New?  What does this even mean!  I knew we should have talked about this . . .   However, as the idea started to take shape, I realized that this was a fun and challenging resolution.  New doesn’t mean that we have to BUY new things every week.  It means that we have to TRY new things every week.  And they don’t have to be BIG things; they just have to be NEW (to us) things.  And NEW is easy to measure.  You have either tried it before or you haven’t.  No debate!   So here is what it looks like so far:

Week 1: New Recipe
(It was okay . . . Not wonderful . . . But it was new!)


Week 2: New (Old) TV Show With the Kids
(Parental warning: This has been fun, but there is more innuendo than I remembered!)

image1 (1)

Week 3: Ice Cream Taste Testing
(Sorry, Jimmy.  Colbert wins by a landslide.)

ice cream vote

Week 4: Lunchbox Quotes of the Day
(More about this to come in another post!)

quote of the day

January is almost over, but it’s not too late to start a new 2016 tradition with your family, too.  So far, the “year of new” has prompted some interesting conversations about what we have learned or tried each week, and we already have some fun ideas in store!  It is also relatively easy; you can always try a new food, read a new book, see a new movie, or play a new game without investing too much money in the experience.  From our house to yours, we hope that your 2016 is off to a great start!

Be adventurous!  Try something new!

~Mary Ann

Why All the Fuss About Making a Murderer?

Why the fuss

In the past few weeks, it is fair to say that Making a Murderer has become a national obsession.  News programs have been talking about it.  Celebrities have been tweeting about it.  Netflix has been loving the success of it.  And middle-aged moms like me have been folding laundry veeeerrrry sloooowwwwwly in order to squeeze a few more minutes out of our busy schedules to watch in horrified disbelief.  It really is good television, if good television means that you will send your kids to the basement to play video games a little longer just so that you can see what happens next.  Not that this happened at my house, but I’m just saying that I could understand if it did happen, somewhere.

I admit that I posted a couple of comments about the show on my own Facebook page, fueling interest among my friends, because Making a Murderer is the kind of documentary that you JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT.  And since my husband could not keep up with my break-neck pace in watching it last week, I wanted to find out which of my closest friends on social media were on top of it.  (I might note that Netflix and I hadn’t really bonded prior to this viewing experience, but it is a good place to find other interesting documentaries like Blackfish and Fed UpFortunately, most documentaries don’t require the ten-hour commitment that Making a Murderer does.)

So what is this Making a Murderer about, anyway?  In short, a man was once convicted of a crime that he did not commit, serving 18 years in prison before DNA evidence proved his innocence.  Not long after his release, he was arrested for the murder of a photographer who had last been seen on his property.  The documentary follows his defense team through their preparation for trial and their presentation of evidence.  It also reveals details about the investigation into his teenaged nephew’s alleged involvement in the murder of this woman.  The documentary raises questions about whether the county, feeling embarrassed by their mishandling of the first case in which this defendant was wrongfully imprisoned, might have bent the rules, so to speak, in order to guarantee a victory for the prosecution in his murder trial and thereby vindicate themselves for their previous mistakes.

Since the docuseries has become so popular, rebuttals to the story shared by the filmmakers are also popping up and spreading like wildfire.  I have listened to part of Rebutting a Murderer by Dan O’Donnell (available on iHeartRadio), and I have also read this rebuttal on The Huffington Post.  The rebuttals share the other side of the story, details from the prosecution’s perspective, some of which were excluded from Making a Murderer, and many of which point to the defendant’s guilt.  They paint a picture of the accused as a volatile and dangerous man who clearly deserves to be in prison.

And maybe he does.

But in the fuss over whether or not the documentary is biased (and it is), I think we are missing the point.  The bigger conversation here.  The reason why a mom like me could not turn off the television while I was cooking pasta fagioli because I had to see how the story would unfold.

It’s not that I see the man at the center of this controversy as a model of good citizenship.  It’s not even that I’m convinced of his innocence.  It’s that he used the same criminal justice system that I may have to use someday, and, WOW, a lot of things went very wrong there.

Sure, there are people with a chip on their shoulder who ignored the bias and watched Making a Murderer for confirmation that the justice system is a mess.  Yes, there are others who viewed it who think they are legal experts because they have a season of Law and Order saved on the DVR.  But most viewers are smarter than that.  They noticed that the prosecution, for the most part, wasn’t talking directly to the filmmakers like the defense was.  They knew that they were hearing more in defense of the defendant than in support of the prosecution.  They know good, honest, selfless people who work as police officers, attorneys, and judges, and they support those people when others don’t.  And they still aren’t sure exactly what really happened in this case.

But that doesn’t make the documentary any less fascinating.

The primary argument of the rebuttals seems to be that the defendant is much more dangerous than the man that the docuseries presents him to be, and that may be true.  However, the filmmakers DO share some details about the defendant that reveal questionable ethics.  A police report shows that he once threw a cat in a fire, for goodness sake.  He wrote angry, threatening letters to his wife from prison.  And those things are IN the documentary.  In fact, they led me to having a conversation with my own children (who did not watch the documentary, so please don’t panic) about how difficult it is to prove your innocence when you have developed a reputation in the community for creating trouble.  (It seemed like a teachable moment.)  The reality is that knowing what I know from the documentary alone, I wouldn’t trust this guy.  But the bigger question raised by the documentary is not about him.  The bigger question is, who CAN you trust?

Because I want to believe that police and investigators always follow every reasonable lead in an investigation.

Because I want to believe that anyone with a conflict of interests is smart enough to remove themselves from any involvement that might jeopardize the truth from being heard and believed in a case.

Because I want to believe that a public defender would do his best for every defendant and work for the good of his own client.

Because I want to believe that there are protocols for working with juveniles with intellectual challenges so that they are treated fairly during an investigation.

Because I want to believe that the goal of the justice system is to find the truth rather than to close a case without certainty.

And, honestly, I still believe that most of these ideas are true – most of the time.  I still believe in and support all of the honest police officers, and hard-working attorneys, and selfless judges who face very difficult decisions every day.  But this guy did go to prison for 18 years for a crime that he didn’t commit, so sometimes there are flaws in our system.  Why is it wrong to ask questions about how we, as a society, can fix that?

The documentary also raises interesting points about what is and what isn’t admissible during a trial, what prosecutors can say publicly before a trial, how financial resources may impact the quality of legal representation, and how personalities can be more influential than facts when a jury deliberates.  These are issues that most of us don’t think about much.

Unless we are on trial.

The real reason that we are squirming uncomfortably in the safety and comfort of our living rooms while watching Making a Murderer is only loosely tied to whether or not we believe this particular defendant is being honest.  The reason our stomachs are in knots is because we aren’t 100% sure that we could prove OURSELVES innocent if we were falsely accused of a crime.

And if that isn’t scary and worthy of a discussion, I’m not sure what is.