A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

Dear Boys,

This morning started just like any other morning.  The three of us rushed around the house, grabbing breakfast and packing lunches and filling backpacks for school.  We were listening to the news, prepared to hear the latest White House tweet, when Savannah Guthrie’s quivering voice shared something unexpected – that her friend and co-host on the Today Show, Matt Lauer, had been fired.  You asked me why I stopped what I was doing.  You noticed that my voice was shaky, too.

Now that you are both a little older, I choose not to shield you from the news.  Sometimes the news reports are ugly and painful.  Sometimes they introduce you to issues I would rather you didn’t know.  But the news is also the truth of the world that you live in.  I want you to see it and feel it and wrestle with it while you are still living here.  I want you to face reality even when reality is hard.  I want you to ask me all kinds of questions because it’s my job to get you ready to face the challenges of life.

So you are both aware that powerful men have been falling like dominos recently, one after another.  We have watched their belief that power and money could make them invincible crumble.  And our illusion that we can tell whom we should trust has collapsed, as well.

I thought I could trust Matt Lauer, guys.  I really did.

Before you left for school today, we had a conversation about how, even though each new story makes me feel disgusted and sad, we are witnessing a pivotal moment in American culture, a moment in which powerful people – businessmen, politicians, and celebrities – are finally being held accountable for clearly unacceptable behavior.  I told you that this means, maybe, hopefully, that you won’t have to worry about your wife being hit on at work someday or your daughters being expected to excuse demeaning treatment to progress in their careers or even keep their jobs.  I told you that this change could signal the beginning of a more equal balance of power in high-level positions and that all people will have to start thinking more before they make decisions – because there may actually be accountability for behaviors that were conveniently overlooked before.  Ultimately, this is a good and historical moment.

And then I sent you off to school.

But after you headed to the bus stop, I reflected on our conversation and felt uneasy.  It wasn’t because I said anything that I don’t believe to be true, and it wasn’t because I don’t see this as a truly significant moment for women.  I felt uneasy because I had suggested to you that this watershed is a victory for women alone, that you, my sons, will benefit only indirectly through the women you love.

But that isn’t true.

Sure, this moment matters because there will always be women who play significant roles in your lives – women like me and your grandmothers, your aunts and your cousins, possibly someday your wives and daughters and nieces.  All of these women, every single one of them, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect inside their workplaces and everywhere else.  I want you to care about women.  I want you to be empathetic, compassionate men.  I want you to notice and positively impact how other people are treated.

But as a mom of boys, I know that changing our culture in positive ways will directly impact your futures, too.  The society that we have created for you, the unclear expectations that we have set for young men – this stuff scares a mom, guys.  Because it is probably safe to assume that some of the men who have crashed in the headlines for tormenting subordinates with inappropriate advances or making lewd comments to or about female co-workers were raised by loving mothers who taught them to be respectful gentlemen, too.

So what the heck happened?

I don’t know how to answer that question.

What I do know, my boys, is that you will receive many confusing messages from the snake oil salesman that is our culture.  He will tempt you with simple remedies for your insecurities and peddle empty vials labeled “happiness” and “satisfaction” that will never provide the relief that you seek.  He will talk out of both sides of his mouth, confusing you with mixed up ideas about what it means to be a man.  He will tell you to be a gentleman always but then feed you a steady stream of music and graphic images that depict women as disposable objects rather than smart, respectable humans.  He will tell you that nothing is more admirable than being a devoted father and husband but then reward you for showing off your machismo, for drinking too much, for laughing at inappropriate jokes, for choosing work over home.  He will tell you that honesty is a virtue but then persuade you that what other people don’t know won’t hurt you.  He will warn you that you could be fired for behaving unethically but then convince you that behaving unethically is just what you need to do to move higher and at a faster pace.  He will feed your ego with power, convincing you that you are above the rules, and then laugh when that power is ultimately stripped away.

In recent weeks we have seen that the Boys’ Club still exists, that it clearly remains part of the business world in America.  It is exclusive.  It comes with perks and promotions, a sense of importance and often generous financial rewards for the guys who get in.  The men in The Club seem confident and invincible.  Really, it must be a whole lot of fun.

Until it isn’t.

So our culture needs to change for the girls in your class at school, certainly, but also for you.  It is easy for you to say at 11 and 13 that you will do the right thing when faced with your own difficult choices in the future.  But I know that IT’S NOT EASY to choose not to laugh at the boss’s inappropriate remarks when you know what he expects and a promotion hangs in the balance.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to tell your coworkers that rating the looks of the women at the office after a meeting isn’t acceptable, knowing that you may lose friends.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to remember that really big mistakes start with really small decisions – decisions to do things or say things or accept things or overlook things that become the bricks that pave a path toward your own disaster.

As a teacher, I have seen one truth about people proven over and over again: our human nature is to raise ourselves or lower ourselves to the expectations of those around us.  I have seen students at a high risk of dropping out or going to jail achieve incredible personal and academic success because of the challenging expectations, consistent support, and high level of accountability provided by other people.  And I have seen students who had every reason to be successful fail miserably in school or in life because of the low expectations, weak support, and lack of accountability offered by the people they pulled closest to them.  I want you, my sons, to help set a high bar for the people around you.  But I want our culture to start setting a higher bar for YOU.  Because even though I believe that you are personally responsible for making the choices that you know are right in your life, it will be a heck of a lot easier to do the right thing when the climate in your workplace and your circle of friends demand it.

As a woman, I believe that this is a critical and exciting moment for women and girls in America.  As a mom of boys, I recognize that the changes that should and hopefully will come from the recent revelations will help you, the sons I love so very much, to live a better life, as well.  The news has been dark and troubling, but there are so many lessons you can learn from the mistakes of other people, boys.  Just this week, we’ve discussed that the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.  That peer pressure to behave a certain way or to be quiet will still exist when you grow up.  That power is intoxicating and can make really smart people behave in really stupid ways.  That “what happens in Vegas” or Sochi or wherever doesn’t actually stay there forever.  That it is important to have friends whom you can trust, friends who are brutally honest, friends who knew you before you accomplished anything at all.  That people make mistakes and that mistakes can be forgiven but that you can never move past mistakes that you don’t own.  That if you have created a reputation of behaving inappropriately and someone does falsely accuse you, you are going to have a very, very hard time defending your name.  And that it is always wise to imagine your decisions as newspaper headlines first – because the reality is that they could be.

Most importantly, we have been reminded that how we treat one another matters.  Please treat other people kindly, boys.  All of the people around you, the men and the women.

You will be rewarded for it, even if it means that you can’t be in The Club.

Love you always,

Mom 

Let the Leaves Go

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When my brother and I were kids and the trees in southeastern Ohio were garbed in their finest autumnal attire, my parents sometimes suggested that we take a drive through the country.

Why? my brother and I would ask.

To look at the leaves, our parents would say.  The fall trees are beautiful, it will be fun, I know you will love it, my mother would try to convince us.

It was a tough sell.  My brother and I didn’t buy into the joy of “just driving” with a goal of going nowhere.  Driving was a means to an end for us kids, and our parents’ “relaxation” sounded more like our “boredom-with-no-way-to-escape.”  In our minds, fall leaves were good for one thing and one thing only: creating big, soft, colorful, crunchy piles to jump in.

And we did create piles, huge piles made from maple leaves the size of our hands that floated down from the majestic old tree in our own front yard, and even bigger piles of the golden ones that our grandpa collected in the rusty wagon that he pulled behind his tractor and then dumped in one towering heap.  We were just kids, and leaves didn’t look like work yet.  It seemed like gathering them and raking them into a jump pile even made our old grandpa smile.

As we grew older and wiser and the realities of life chipped away at our childish perceptions of the world, we realized the truth about autumn.  Sure, they are gorgeous, those leaves soaked in vibrant reds and fiery oranges and yellows as pure as the sun, but their beauty foretells their impending demise.  Fall gradually seemed less like fun and more like loss, the depressing turn in the circle of life that no one likes to discuss.  So what is a leaf pile, really, but a whole bunch of death raked into one spot?  And we lose more than just leaves in the autumn.  We lose daylight.  We lose heat.  We lose the flashy greens and pinks of the warmer seasons in exchange for winter whites and dreary browns and gloomy grays.  Maybe the pumpkins and the festivals and the cider are a way of distracting our attention from the truth.

When youthfulness has passed, autumn kills the joys of summer and marches us toward the cold brutality of winter.  Fall is the darker side of nature.  Fall feels a bit like grief.

This year, fall is like a stranger passing through, one with little time for conversation and no interest in making himself at home.  An icy chill is already biting at our fingers and toes, and wintery winds have battered the trees, stripping the branches bare while foliage tumbles to the ground like fallen soldiers.  Winter is winning and fall didn’t even put up a fight.

But somehow my perception of fall is different yet again.  Maybe our views of nature’s seasons, just like our opinions on so many things in life, evolve with age and our own changing seasons.  No, autumn isn’t just about leaf piles anymore, but maybe it’s not just the harbinger of the long, hard winter ahead either.

Maybe fall is actually a season of promise, a season less about loss and more about preparing our hearts to appreciate the renewal of spring.  Maybe fall is nature’s way of cleaning house, a season specifically and wonderfully designed to clear the dead leaves that steal what nourishes our souls to make space for what is new.

It hurts, watching the leaves fall from our trees, knowing that the season to come will likely be cold and dark and brutal.  But the leaves fall so that the tree can live, and it becomes stronger by accepting rather than fighting the change.  The tree must actually let go in order to survive, even if the exposure and vulnerability are uncomfortable.  And while those sharp, angular branches seem barren to our eyes, the buds that will burst open and bring joy in the spring have already been forming inside of them. The autumn leaves don’t just forewarn us of winter’s icy chill.  They herald the hope and the promise and the newness of spring.  While we see the suffering, the merciless beating that the tree will endure through the winter, we are completely unaware of the incredible changes that are happening just below the surface, preparing the tree for an exciting new period of growth.

As you rake the final leaves of autumn, remember that those fallen soldiers, stained in crimson and littering the ground, aren’t lost in vain.  They have bravely paved the way for the new leaves behind them, buds that are already formed and patiently waiting, preparing for their moment of grandeur in the spring.

And most of all remember that you are not the leaf tumbling uncontrollably through life, swept away by the winds, defeated and bracing for the next breeze to shake you.  You are the tree, with thick, deep roots that twist and turn beneath the soil under your feet, a tree lovingly designed to survive life’s winters by shedding the hurts that no longer serve you to prepare for what is next and what is new and what is good.  The autumn days in your life are not your ending.  They are your beginning.  There are new buds growing inside you, and you cannot predict the beauty that lies just beyond what you can presently see.

Hang onto hope.

But don’t hang onto the leaves.

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***** Hey, friends!  It’s been a while.  I know.  I’m sorry.  I’ve missed you.  I’ve been doing a little more writing on Facebook lately, but I will share more about that in a later post.  If you aren’t following Still Chasing Fireflies there, consider liking and following the page so you don’t miss a thing.  Happy fall to all of you, and happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!     

~Mary Ann 

A Bag of Poop

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There’s a bag of poop hanging from a tree in a nearby neighborhood.

It hangs from a low branch on a leafy tree in front of a small yellow house, a house with a tidy lawn and a cute front porch.

It’s a charming home.

Except for the bag of poop hanging from the tree.

And I haven’t counted the days, but it has been there for a while.

I don’t know – for sure – why a bag of poop is hanging from this limb like a Christmas ornament, but I’m guessing the gift was left by a neighborhood dog. (If not, then this story becomes far more unusual and probably more appropriate for a very different kind of blog.) And I’m also guessing that this neighbor hung the bag there himself, because if he did not want the poop hanging from his tree, he would have removed it by now.  At least I think so.

So the bag of poop may be hanging there to make a statement.

Maybe the statement is “I do not like dog poop in my yard,” which doesn’t really seem like a necessary statement to make. Because no one really likes to have dog poop in his yard. I don’t enjoy dog poop in my own yard, even though I love the dog who leaves it there.

Maybe the statement is “Don’t let your dog poop in my yard,” which is a very reasonable statement to share. But if the dog was with its person, the person may never walk down that particular sidewalk by that particular house ever again. And even if the dog walker does walk on that sidewalk and does see the bag of poop hanging in the tree, she may not realize that the message has her name on it. She may not understand that there is a message there at all. And then there is another complication: Loose dogs are just rude. They are like rebellious teenagers. They have no social awareness.

Maybe the statement is “If your dog poops in my yard, I will hang the poop in my tree! So there!” But really, who cares if you hang poop in your tree? If my dog gets loose and poops in your yard and you want to punish me, you really need to hang the poop in my tree. Hanging it in your tree doesn’t teach me anything. But if you want to hang the poop from your tree, go for it.

And what happened, anyway? Maybe the mess was from a dog who broke out of its jail, in which case the accident in the yard was, well, an accident. Maybe the dog was being walked, and the dog walker left her house after a long day at work, legitimately forgot to put a bag in her pocket, cried as she savored a few minutes to herself because life can be overwhelming, returned home to a family begging for dinner, and would really love it if this guy would just cut her a break today. Or maybe the dog walker is an absolute jerk and just doesn’t care about anyone else’s property. That’s a possibility, too.

But it really doesn’t matter. Because this person has a lovely home with pretty trees in a nice neighborhood, yet the view he has created from his front door is, literally, a bag of poop. And seeing that bag of poop probably makes his blood pressure rise and his muscles tense and his jaw clench because that poop in his yard made him so freaking angry . . . three weeks ago.

He could have tossed that bag out with the garbage a long time ago. But he most likely hung it there himself.

He is the one who won’t let the poop go.

Sometimes little things happen to us, and they are completely unfair or surprisingly unkind. Sometimes strangers are rude. Sometimes neighbors are inconsiderate. Sometimes friends make mistakes. Sometimes we misunderstand situations and make them a much bigger deal than they are.

Sometimes the small things that rub us the wrong way impact us far more and far longer than they should.

If someone has pooped on your day, toss that mess in the garbage and move on. Don’t hang that problem from your tree so that you are reminded of it over and over and over again, and don’t pretend that hanging onto a bag of poop punishes anyone other than yourself.

Yes, some people are a hot mess, and, yes, sometimes their choices can be infuriating.

But when you choose to hang their messes in front of your window, the only view that is ruined is your own.

 

*Disclaimer: Yes, this is the second post about poop in a relatively short period of time, which could raise some concern about my well being.  I promise the timing is just a coincidence.  And, actually, the popularity of the FB post about poop in the pool made me a little concerned about all of YOU!  🙂

**Some details have been changed to protect the identity of the homeowners, and, possibly, the dog, who may or may not be a fugitive from justice.

 

 

The Questions All Parents Should Ask Themselves After the Tragedy in Charlottesville

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This blog is not political. It is about being a hopeful, loving, flawed human being in a broken world. It is about being a mother, a teacher, a woman, and a friend who wants things to be better.

And it is as a mother that I can’t, in good conscience, quietly ignore the uprising of hate in our country or turn a blind eye to the tragic events in Charlottesville last week.

We HAVE to bring this train to a screeching halt right now. This very minute. We MUST stop ourselves in our tracks and ask ourselves some tough questions. ALL of us.

NOW.

Even though we have a hundred more things to do as our kids go back to school this month, we need to stop. NONE of that is as important.

Because whether our children have the trendiest shoes or the right color of highlighter or the college ruled notebook with exactly 100 pages is NOT AS IMPORTANT as preparing them to save a world that seems to be going back in time.

It’s time for us to be honest with ourselves and make the decision to do better. Tragedies should shake us to the core. They should hurt our hearts and affect our parenting. When innocent people die defending basic human rights, we must ask ourselves if we are raising a generation who will be uncompromising in standing up for others. So here are the questions that I am asking myself, as a mother, right now, today.

What am I saying to my kids IN PRIVATE, when it is just us and nobody else can hear, to show them that I believe that we are all equally and wonderfully made?

What am I saying and doing IN PUBLIC, when my kids and other people are watching, to prove that the mistreatment of others, and that means anyone, is not okay?

Am I sharing the ugly events in the world with my kids in an age appropriate way and letting them ask honest questions and giving them truthful answers? Am I creating teachable moments, or am I trying to pretend this is not the world they live in?

Do we talk about the WHY and the HOW – why people become angry and hateful, why divisions exist, how to guard your our hearts, how we as a society can make things better?

Am I sharing with my kids that goodness, mercy, love, grace, and maturity solve problems, or am I teaching them to become angry and vengeful when the actions of others are cruel or unjust?

Am I preparing my kids to be leaders, or am I teaching them never to ruffle anyone’s feathers?

In my conversations, do I model how to respectfully stand up for what is right, or do my kids see me smile and nod because I am too busy, too afraid, or too polite to disagree?

Do my kids understand that if they do not speak up when something wrong is happening right in front of them, that they are complicit, whether the law says so or not?

Do they realize that it is not only okay but also morally right to call out people of influence, even people we like, when they are promoting anger or hate?

Do my kids see me admiring others who model strength, strong virtues, and sacrifice, or do they see me glorifying people based on their talents, income, or level of fame alone?

Am I asking my kids questions about school, about bullies, about who is being treated unkindly and why? Am I helping them navigate the waters of social division where they are right now and encouraging them to be the hands and feet of God everywhere and all the time?

If my child got in trouble at school for sticking up for someone, would he expect me to respond with pride in his choices or frustration that he broke a rule?

Are my kids confident enough in their personal value – which is not based on appearance or achievements – that they will not need to make others smaller to make themselves bigger?

If I asked my kids what they believe controls me the most, would they say the fear of what is evil or the love of what is good?

Am I spending enough time with my kids – at the dinner table, in the car, before bed – for me to continue to influence them as they become teenagers and even adults?

These are the questions I’m reflecting on today as we, as a country, mourn.

Again.

And our mourning cannot compare to the deep sadness of the families who have lost loved ones.

I’m tired of this, America.

Let’s start fixing it, one family at a time.

 

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Dandelions

She Would Remember

Wisps of Sunny’s long brown curls twisted in the late summer breeze.  Her pink cotton sundress was streaked with dirt, especially the back side, from sitting between the tomato vines in the garden, digging up worms.  Her legs were dusty, and her toes were brown from running barefoot through the grass and across the damp soil.  They looked like they had been sprinkled with cocoa powder, darker than the golden tan of her shoulders and the glowing bronze of her cheeks.  The dirt under her nails and the warm hue of her skin were evidence of the hours she had idled away under the sun that afternoon.

Sunny hummed an original tune as she picked another flower from the yard and added it to her bouquet.  She admired her flowers, the deep yellow petals in rich contrast to the brilliant green stems.  She had never seen anything more beautiful, she thought.  She would give the flowers, so perky and bright, to her mother, who would confirm that they were beautiful, and then Sunny would watch her put them in her most special crystal vase, the one that rarely left the cabinet, except on the days when her daddy gave her mommy a yellow rose and a kiss.  Her mother loved yellow.

But just as Sunny turned toward the house, her dimpled hands clutching her yellow flowers, another lovely something in the grass caught her eye.  This was like a flower, but it was different, lighter and cottony and sort of like a ball of fluff.  Sunny picked it, of course.  The breeze caught her curls once again, blowing loose tendrils of hair in front of her eyes.  As she brushed the wild strands from her face, she noticed that the breeze had also caught a few delicate petals from her new flower, and the tiny white pieces were gently drifting away in the air.  They were lovely, and they reminded her of tiny bubbles floating in the wind, and Sunny immediately had an idea.  She took a deep breath and puffed out her cheeks, ready to blow what was left of her flowery puffball into the blue sky.  She wanted to watch the petals twirl in the breeze, just like tiny fairies would.  At least that’s what she imagined.

“No, Sunny!  Don’t!” her dad’s deep voice called to her.  Sunny stopped in her tracks, her cheeks full of air, and looked at her father, who was sitting in the yard on his knees with an old metal bucket.  He had a long, thin tool with an end like the tongue of a snake in his hand.

Sunny looked at the white puffball in front of her.  Everything inside of her said “blow,” but she had a strong desire to please her father, and a healthy bit of fear, as well, and these overrode her instincts.  She skipped over to him, the grass tickling her toes, the yellow bouquet in her left hand and the ball of fluff on a stem in the other.

“Why not, Daddy?” she asked.

“Because you are trying to grow weeds, and I am trying to kill them.”  He looked up at her and smiled, and she noticed the soil embedded in the deep creases of his big hands, and she noticed that his bucket wasn’t filled with weeds at all.  It was filled with the same yellow flowers that she had carefully plucked from the dirt and precisely arranged for her mother, the very same flowers that were in her left hand as she spoke.

“Daddy!” Sunny exclaimed, surprise exploding from her voice.  “What are you doing?  Why are you tossing those flowers in your bucket?”

“These are weeds, Sunny.  We don’t want them in our yard.”

“But they are beautiful!  And I love them!  And I picked some for Mommy.”  She paused.  “Why are you being so mean?”

“Awwww, Sunny.  Your mommy will love your bouquet.  She will love any flowers that you pick for her – because they are from you.  And they are yellow.  You know she loves yellow, don’t you?”

“Yes.  That’s why I picked them.”

“You’re such a thoughtful girl, Sunny.”

“I am thoughtful, Daddy.  I’m thinking thoughts right now, actually.  I’m thinking about those flowers in your bucket, and I’m thinking that they are not weeds.”

“Sunny, Sweetheart . . . Weeds, well, they will trick you.  We didn’t plant these here.  We didn’t invite them to our home.  Yet they find a way to sneak into our flowerbeds and into our yard, year after year.  They hide under our leaves and our grasses.  They blend in while they make themselves comfortable.  And some of them even deceive us with their beauty.  But the truth is that they are weeds, and sometimes we miss the truth of what they are, and sometimes we let them grow very tall and become deeply rooted before we realize that we’ve been deceived.  That’s why it’s best to catch the problem early.”

“Why are they so bad, though, Daddy?”

“For one thing, they spread like fire, Sonny.”  He wiped the sweat from his forehead, leaving a dirty streak above his brow.  “The first weed seems insignificant, but soon that mother weed spawns baby weeds, and before you know it, your one insignificant problem has given birth to many, many others.  And then those weeds, fighting for their own survival, they begin to choke out the good things that you’ve sown.  They steal the resources that the nourishing vegetables and the beautiful flowers that you’ve planted need to survive.”

“Oh.” Sunny sighed, disheartened.

“You picked those dandelions, Sunny, and they are pretty, right?  But that one,” he pointed to the puffball, “is full of dandelion seeds.  If you blow them into the air and they float away on the breeze, you are planting more dandelions wherever those seeds land.  And guess who gets to dig those up?”

Sunny frowned and dropped the puffball into the pail.  But then something occurred to her, and she smiled.

“At least I helped you, Daddy.  I picked all of these weeds from the yard.  No more weeds!”

“Thank you, Sunny.  You picked a lot of them, didn’t you?”  He looked into her eyes, and the sun shone on his face, and the lines at the corners as he squinted were familiar and comforting to her.  “But this is also very important to know, Sunny, if you want the good things you are planting to flourish and the bad things that are uninvited to stay away.”  He grabbed the snake-tongued tool and pushed it into the ground below another dandelion.  “You can’t kill a weed just by removing what’s above the surface.  You have to dig deep.”  He popped the whole dandelion from the ground – the leaves, the flower, and a long, light-colored tail.  “You have to get to the very bottom of the deepest root to rid yourself of a problem.”

He pointed to the dandelion’s tail.  “Do you see that, Sunny?”  She nodded, hanging on his words.  “It’s hard sometimes,” he said, “to make that effort, to find what’s down below.  But if you don’t, the same weeds will just keep cropping up in your life, over and over again.  They will detract from all of the beautiful things that I know you will plant someday, Sunny.  They will try to choke them out and kill them.  Do you understand?”

Sunny nodded, and she glanced at the yellow flowers in the bucket, and she knew that a dandelion would never look the same again.

“Just because something looks beautiful, Sunny, doesn’t mean that you want it in your garden,” he added, returning to his work.  “You should decide what to plant there, and no one else.  I hope you choose wisely.”

There was something about this conversation with her dad that felt important, Sunny thought.  She would remember it.  She didn’t understand it yet, but somehow she knew that it mattered.

Sunny started to reach toward the bucket but stopped.  She would still give the bouquet of yellow sunbursts to her mother.  If you find out your flowers are weeds, she thought, you might as well make the best of them before planting something new.  She headed toward the house in her dirty pink sundress and bare feet, the dandelions, already drooping, gripped snugly in her dimpled hand.

 

Hey, friends!  I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from a fiction project I’ve been working on.  I wasn’t planning to share, but, well, I just couldn’t stop myself!  If you aren’t following Still Chasing Fireflies on Facebook and Instagram, please do!  Thanks for reading, and keep chasing fireflies!

~Mary Ann 

 

Our Disney “Don’t Miss” Lists

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Okay, friends, if you read my Tips and Tricks for a Dreamy Disney Vacation, then you already know that we enjoyed a very special vacation this summer.  This is my second and last post about that experience, I promise, but I thought those of you who have vacationed at Disney or might someday vacation at Disney might appreciate this.  Plus, it is a fun way for me to document our adventure for our own future reference!

As soon as we hopped in the car for the long drive home from Florida to Ohio, I asked each person in our crew (ages 3 to 40ish) ten questions.  These questions covered their favorite aspects of our Disney experience to what they would change about our trip if they could.  Each interview and photo collage below reveals the details of our trip through a different set of eyes!  Any experience that was mentioned by more than one person must have been very special, so those are highlighted in purple.  If you would like more information about any specific park, ride, shop, or restaurant, you can just enter the title in the search bar on the Disney website.  Enjoy!

Mary Ann, Teacher, Writer, and Mom of two boys
Favorite Park: Tie between Magic Kingdom and EPCOT
Favorite Family Ride: Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Thrill Ride: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Chocolate cake pop from the Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Lunch at T-Rex at Disney Springs
Favorite Dining Experience: My birthday luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: A caricature drawing by an artist at the All-Star Sports Resort
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my three-year-old nephew’s excitement at the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: It’s probably going to rain, so pack a pair of extra shoes in your suitcase and bring a poncho to the parks.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would save a little extra money for expensive meals and special snacks.

Scott, Teacher, My Brother, and Dad of Two Boys
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Cinnamon ice cream from L’Artisan Des Glaces in France in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Chip ‘n’ Dale Character Breakfast at the Garden Grill at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Lunch at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Souvenir: Memory Maker Photo Pass (professional photos of the family from all of the parks)
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my nephews experience Disney World for the first time
Disney Tip: Download My Disney Experience app on your phone to watch wait times and book fast passes
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Get everyone moving faster in the morning to get to the parks for early entry.

Stacey, Teacher and Mom of two boys
Favorite Park: EPCOT
Favorite Family Ride: Frozen Ever After at EPCOT
Favorite Thrill Ride: Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Caramel apple from Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Family-style Polynesian dinner at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Dining Experience: Patio view of Cinderella Castle at Casey’s Corner in Magic Kingdom
Favorite Souvenir: Alex and Ani bracelet with Cinderella Castle, Walt, and Mickey purchased at the Emporium in Magic Kingdom
Favorite Disney Moment: Only one? Maybe watching the boys enjoy an impromptu tea party in Morocco in the World Showcase at EPCOT . . .
Disney Tip: Plan carefully, but also do something spontaneous! For example, we tried using a water taxi for the first time, and it was a special moment.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I wish we wouldn’t have said we would come back to do something or return to enjoy a ride again later. I wish we had done those things in the moment. Weather and time sometimes prevented us from doing the things we planned to come back to.

Gavin, Age 13
Favorite Park: Hollywood Studios (with EPCOT a close second)
Favorite Family Ride: The Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: The Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Mickey pretzel with cheese (available all over the place)
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Nachos at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Dining Experience: Eating with dinosaurs at T-Rex at Disney Springs
Favorite Souvenir: Customized phone case from Launch Bay Cargo at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Disney Moment: Seeing the castle, hearing the happy music, and riding my first Disney ride (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and thinking “THIS is Disney . . .”
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Skip the 50’s Prime Time Café. We waited a long time even with a reservation, sat at a table that was too small for us, and the experience and food weren’t as good as I expected.
Disney Tip: Leave half a day open to hang out at your hotel and swim.

Carson, Age 11
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom (with Hollywood Studios a close second)
Favorite Family Ride: Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Apple cinnamon ice cream from L’Artisan Des Glaces in France in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Nachos from Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Dining Experience: Luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: A soccer jersey from a gift shop in England in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my little cousin wave at characters in the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: Be sure to ride the monorail.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would have taken a little more time to swim. Our hotel had a neat baseball-theme pool.

Ethan, Age 8
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Fresh popcorn from popcorn stands at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Pizza from Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in Italy in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: Mickey Mouse beach hat from the All-Star Sports Resort gift shop
Favorite Disney Moment: Being with my family and sharing adjoining hotel rooms with my cousins
Disney Tip: Get up and go to the parks early to get through security more quickly.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would skip the gift shops to have more fun!

Aidan, Age 3
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Frozen Ever After at EPCOT (It’s only a thrill ride if you are three years old!  Check out his face on the one small hill!)
Favorite Snack: Mickey-shaped sugar cookie from the Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Pizza from Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in Italy in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Getting character autographs at the Chip ‘n’ Dale Character Breakfast at the Garden Grill at EPCOT
Favorite Souvenir: Robot puppy from the gift shop at the exit of Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching the Festival of Fantasy parade in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: Let little kids make choices, too, and go on family rides all together.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Meet more characters!

Today I Felt Like a Bad Mom

Empty Spaces 2
Today I felt like a bad mom.

My kids were bored, and I did not entertain them.  I did not take them anywhere or buy them movie tickets or arrange for their friends to come over.  I told them to find something to do.

When I asked them what they wanted for lunch, they weren’t ready to eat.  So when they were hungry, I listed a few ideas that they could fix for themselves.  They wanted me to do it for them.  I didn’t.  I told them I was sure they could handle it.

I didn’t entertain them.  I didn’t serve them.  I didn’t do things for them that they could do for themselves.

And I’ll be honest.  I felt guilty about it.

I wondered if I was doing my job.  You know, my mom job, the constant emotional and practical parenting work that leaves us moms exhausted at the end of every day.

Because the truth is that sometimes I measure my success as a parent by the extent of my weariness at the end of the day.  Sometimes I rate myself as a mother by how much I personally sacrificed to make everyone happy that day.

I mean, if we went to the zoo in the morning, packed a picnic for lunch, hiked at the park all afternoon, stopped for ice cream on the way home, and squeezed in a quick date with friends at some point before I cooked their favorite dinner, then I was the most amazing mom ever, right?  And if my kids were happy at breakfast time and at lunch time and at dinner time and at bedtime, if I made everyone happy all day long, then I totally rocked this mom thing.

But then I thought about what I DID do today.

I gave my kids an opportunity to use their imaginations, to create their own fun, and to manage their own time.

I did them a favor by letting them actually feel a void and then allowing them to resolve that discomfort all by themselves.

I gave them a chance to be independent young men in a safe environment and to gain confidence that they are capable human beings and to rest assured that they are on a path that will prepare them to take care of their own selves and their own families one day.

And at ages 11 and 13, that day is approaching much more quickly than I would like to believe.

Maybe I was actually a really good mom today.  Maybe we moms feel guilty about way too much stuff.  Maybe we’re trying too hard to create happy adults and shooting ourselves in the foot in the process.  Life isn’t always happy, after all, and grownups need to be able to cope with life when it isn’t.

Maybe we are wearing ourselves out while inadvertently teaching our kids to expect others to fill their empty spaces – whether those are in their hearts or their minds or their stomachs.

Yikes.  That’s a scary thought, right?

Ain’t nobody got time for working extra hard just to sabotage our own goals as parents.  There are WAY too many other things to do to keep all the plates spinning.   We don’t want to waste time shaping our kids into the opposite of what we want them to be, mostly to ease our own guilt and to secure their happiness in the moment, and then waste more time trying to un-create the selfish or entitled attitudes that we created.

Plus, it would be nice to salvage a few minutes to read a book every once in a while.

Really, reading an entire chapter in one sitting would be wonderful.

So I don’t feel so guilty anymore.

Maybe today was one of my better parenting days after all, and I didn’t even try so hard.

We can always pack a picnic for the park tomorrow.