Our Daughters: Helping Girls to Be Honest in a Good Girl World

When the Truth Hurts: Helping Daughters Be Honest in a Good Girl World

I had just started a fifth grade class when a student began waving her hand and doing that “Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!” thing that I used to do when I couldn’t contain myself.*

“Okay,” she said, “what if, like, my friend asks me if I like the dress she was buying and I didn’t like it and I wanted to tell her but I was afraid she would get mad at me?”

This is the dreaded teaching moment when I want to stand up like a lounge performer, wave fondly and shout, “Thank you so much! Good night!”

But I had a whole class left to teach, and I had to deal with it. This is a question that can break your heart. It’s the moment when a girl announces her awareness of Good Girl pressure – the rules that tell girls they must be unfailingly nice to others at all costs, even at the expense of their own integrity.

This girl was perched at the crossroads of girlhood and womanhood – the girl in her wants to tell the truth, and the young woman knows that if she does, she might damage her friendship.

The question also brings to mind one of the most common questions parents asked me on my recent national tour for The Curse of the Good Girl: “So you want me to raise my daughter to speak her mind? If I do that, what’s going to happen to her? I mean, we’re still living on a planet where assertive women get called names.”

True story. So check out what I did in this class and let’s talk about how you deal with this. Facing those ten year olds, I didn’t try and pretend Good Girl rules don’t exist. I admitted that it was a hard question, and that I, too, often didn’t know what to say. Here’s what I did next:

Do the Cha Cha

First, I put the question in the girls’ hands and asked them to think through their choices. I call this doing the “Cha Cha” – an exercise where girls think about different choices and the possible outcomes of their choices. It works like this: If you make this Choice, what might Happen?

The first choice is telling the truth and saying, “I don’t really like the dress.” What might happen? The girls thought the friend might have gotten upset. The second choice is saying, “I think it’s great!” What might happen then? “Then I’d be lying,” one girl chirped. Nods all around.

Be Honest

I leveled with them about the Good Girl rules. “Sometimes, when a girl asks how she looks, and tells you that she wants you to be honest with her, she might be scared to hear the truth. She might be feeling insecure or worried about her looks. Because she’s feeling freaked out, being honest might end up hurting her feelings. Sometimes, a friend wants to be reassured just as much as she wants to hear the truth.

“For example,” I continued, “have you ever heard someone ask, “Do I look fat?’ What have you heard other women and girls say?” Note that I wasn’t asking girls what they say – just what they’ve heard. “Even if someone does look overweight, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if they really want to know the truth, or if they are feeling worried, afraid, or insecure.”

“Sometimes, the truth hurts. Honesty can hurt. If we don’t want someone to be hurt, we might feel like we have to lie. But then we’re not being true to ourselves. Is it possible that there is a way to answer the question where we don’t lie but we try not to hurt a friend’s feelings?”

Then we talked about different ways to answer the question without selling yourself out or launching a dressing room meltdown.

“If you like it, that’s what’s most important,” one girl suggested.
“I think it’s great for you,” another offered.
“You seem to really love it and that’s what counts.”
“It’s not my favorite, but it looks great on you.”

How do you know who you can be honest with, even if she says it’s okay to tell the truth? There isn’t a clear path to navigate Good Girl pressure; the answers often depend on the context. My approach is twofold: be straight with girls about what they’re facing but put them in charge of finding solutions. There is little to be gained by me — or anyone — telling them what to do and how to do it.

* This would be the behavior that consistently earned me a minus sign next to the report card line item that said, “Shows Growth in Self-Control.” I so would have failed the marshmallow test.


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

The End of the Happy Cluttered Household

It’s Memé Clean!

One summer, when the boys were little… say around 10 and 7… we had quite a fly problem in the house. It seemed no matter what I did — spray, fly paper, clean, clean, clean every day — there seemed to be more and more flies bouncing off the windows and zoom-buzzing by my head, seemingly taunting me with their existence. I became obsessed with ridding the house of them and spent hours on end… (Okay… it SEEMED like hours) with a New Yorker magazine rolled in my tight fist trying to sneak up on the little buggers to whap the life out of them. (Dear Editors of The New Yorker, please don’t let the fact that I used your literary greatness to squash flies influence your decision to one day let me write for you. I hope you can empathize with me after reading this column. And HEY… if you happen to like the writing… give me a call!)

Anyway, one morning, I noticed a couple of flies coming from our finished basement (otherwise known as the boys’ encampment).  That was puzzling because the boys had just given it a good cleaning. I inspected it myself. I had been impressed that even the sticky spots on the coffee table had been wiped away clean. The flies couldn’t be originating from this room… or could they? My super-mommy-sense was tingling and despite the horrific screams from the voice of reason in my brain (“For the love of god don’t go down there!”) I let my feet take me down the stairs. When I got to the bottom, I started sniffing. Don’t ask me why. It just seemed to make sense. If I could find something that smelled, perhaps I could find the source of the flies. As I mulled around, nostrils flared, bent over at the waist lifting pillows, hefting the couch to see underneath it, I became more and more convinced that I was not going to find anything that could produce that amount of flies. After all, to the naked eye, everything was orderly, tidy and quite clean. As I trudged up the stairs seemingly defeated, I noticed a pair of flies soaring out from behind our console television. Again, despite the terrorized screaming of my voice of reason, I walked myself back down the stairs to inspect. What I found dear readers shook me to the core, made me double over with nausea, and caused purple rage to blast like a freight train to my throbbing temples.

When I became a mother at the young age of 23, I can remember that my one goal… the single goal I had was to not be a slave to the cleanliness and orderliness of my household. Growing up, the spotlessness of my childhood home was such a major thing. With four girls, my mother (whom my boys call Memé) quite often would become extremely irate at the messes we’d leave. Looking back, we didn’t appreciate how difficult it must have been to be sure the tiny three bedroom cape we lived in was tidy. But, what stuck with me was the constant tension that it caused and so, I was going to be a “different” mother. Not live in filth mind you, but to at least teach the boys to relish the clutter, convincing myself that a cluttered well-lived in house meant a house full of love. Had I steered them wrong? Could that be what caused the sight in front of me?

Then of course there is that age old adage that boys — if left to their own devices — will live hand and hand with filth and garbage. I mean how many of us have heard of the horror stories of a bachelor’s apartment? Not one respectable woman would be caught dead in said apartment’s bathroom. Men and boys just seem to have an affinity for the gross and disgusting. Could that affinity be what led my boys to think that sight before me was an acceptable method of making sanitary?

All right you’ve been patient with my diversions and have waited long enough. It is time to reveal the revolting fly-breeding scene that I discovered some ten years ago perpetrated on an innocent house at the hands of my marauding little men. It seems that my sons believed the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” and had been piling all the basement garbage for god knows how long behind the console television. No no… don’t misunderstand me. There was NO garbage can there. Nope, just TV wires, an electrical TV cord and a carpeted triangular piece of floor. But you couldn’t see any of that because the trash was vast and waist deep. To the point that all the scraps of food, paper, soda bottles, used tissues, candy bar wrappers and any other item of trash a boy could possibly conjure up was LEVEL, that’s right I said LEVEL with the top of the television and buzzing with flies.

Well what happened after that will forever remain locked in a vault of untold stories of the Fisher household, but let’s just say there was a lot of tension reminiscent of my days as a young girl growing up in my childhood household. I invoked many phrases and tones of my dear mother, the boys’ beloved Memé, that day and every day since. But still getting my sons to clean thoroughly has been an uphill battle and one I worried would never be won. Each cleaning day would bring such carnage that I dreaded each and every moment of it. It was as if the boys were blind to what needed to be tidied. They’d call me downstairs, chests puffed out at the pride of a job well done just for me to burst that bubble and point out that the rug looked like the streets of Time’s Square after the ball had dropped. “But we vacuumed!” they’d exclaim as if that made the debris disappear. “Did you turn it on before moving it?” Was a favorite response of mine.

But this Christmas Eve my choice to leave the “happy cluttered household” behind and to take on a more dictatorship stance on the cleanliness of our home paid off in a big way and gave me some hope for the character and the capabilities of my eldest son. In preparation of guests, I insisted that he clean the basement. After an hour or so he came up the stairs looking like a rooster crowing about the “fantastic” cleaning job he had accomplished. I tentatively descended the stairs bracing for the fight and the eye rolls that would inevitably come. But to my astonishment the room was spotless; miraculously spotless-not even an ounce of Times-Square-confetti-like paper on the carpet.

“Aidan, this is REALLY clean! Nice job! I exclaimed.

“It’s ‘Memé clean’ isn’t it mom?” And so it was. Mom would be proud.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s MotherhoodEye on EducationFaces, and Appleseed.

  • Become a Hilltown Families Contributing Writer/Artist
  • Hilltown Families Isn’t the Only One Turning 5!

    Happy New Year & Happy Birthday

    Now we are in the hammock week of the year. You start out the year in January and, well, the year is like an egg. You start out January first on the top of the egg, just off center, and you slide down it. June is at the bottom of the egg, and then you kind of climb back up it until you get to Christmas, back up at the top. Then you have one week that’s shaped like a hammock between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. That’s the hammock you sleep in for that week, resting in the quiet, dark, wind-howling, snowy days of that week. Then you get to January first again and start a-skiing downhill again!

    You know, this January begins Elmer’s fifth year in bidness after I came along. We have a lighting display in the side café room to commemorate it—it is a string of lights with cows, flamingos and palm trees. The cows, see, they represent Ashfield. The palm trees, they represent me coming from New Orleans, where we actually have palm trees, and the flamingos, they represent the flamboyant stuff I do here that makes people look at me sideways.

    So happy five years to us!


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

    Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”  nanparati@aol.com

    A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

    Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

    A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

    (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

    Three little figures resembling the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man’s offspring weave in and out of the maze of spruce, firs and pines in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Immune to cold fingers and dripping noses, the threesome separates and soon their voices, muffled by the wind, are heard shouting through the dense man-made forest, staking claim on a tree.

    As their parents who have been carefully watching this ritual from a distance approach, they overhear the protests.

    “No, that one’s too short,” one sibling tells the other.

    “Your tree is too fat,” another comments.

    The parents call for a vote. Everyone carefully mulls over the pros and cons of each tree and places their vote carefully. “This one?” the father asks when it’s all done and said. The family stands by their decision.  The child whose tree has been chosen rejoices. Once again, we have found the perfect tree.

    In our family it has become a long-honored tradition to trek to various tree farms throughout Berkshire County in search of the perfect tree. From the top of Windsor Mountain to the back roads of Washington to one of our favorite little tree farms on Barker Road in Pittsfield, no farm is too far for the McIlquham family as long as the trip produces the picture-perfect Christmas tree — not too short or too tall, nor too fat or too skinny, with soft, evergreen needles releasing their pungent pine scent — and each of us gets a chance at the saw.

    Last year we forewent the car ride and the trek to distances far and wide and ventured into our backyard, which just so happens to be 100-acres of forested land. During a hiking expedition earlier in the fall, McKenna and Mark had found our tree tucked neatly between another mammoth pine and a barricade of pricker bushes; but nevertheless — it was perfect.

    This year, we strayed from tradition and our children were none too happy. With basketball games and practices seemingly on the schedule 24/7 and feeling a bit overloaded by the impending holidays and early deadlines at work, my husband and I were struggling to find a day, hour or second to squeeze in a trip to a tree farm or even the nearby woods. And then fate stepped in.

    My husband appeared at the front door, tree in hand, cut down from our friends’ yard.

    “What do you think of this one?” he asked proudly admiring the tree and himself for finding a solution to our Christmas tree woes.

    I didn’t have the heart to tell him how “Charlie Brownish” his trophy tree was looking and besides, he pulled out the “Green Mama” card.

    “It’s a recycled tree, honey. How much greener can you get than that?”

    But our children weren’t convinced and had no problem at all telling us what they really thought.

    It was too bare, too prickly, too skinny, too nontraditional, too short, too sticky and on and on they went.

    “What?” Shea asked through an exasperated sigh. “We aren’t going to cut down our own tree?”

    Yikes! What were we doing to Christmas? Had our stressed-out, overworked, overtired selves turned my husband and I into Grinches? I wasn’t so sure, but continued to sell the tree to my children.

    After unconvincingly assuring Shea and our other two children that although we were breaking tradition we would still have the “perfect tree,” and with a promise (that we have yet to keep) that we would head into the woods at a later date to gather material for a homemade wreathe, their protests finally quieted and they half-heartedly accepted that this scraggly specimen of pine needles and wood would grace our living for the next few weeks.

    Now it was time to make it ours.

    My husband somehow managed to get the tree into its stand by himself and called for my help getting it into the house. As I ventured outside he tossed me a glove. “You’re going to need this,” he warned.

    Let’s just say the pricker barricade in the woods last year had nothing on this tree. The razor-sharp needles grabbed at my arms and threatened to breach the leather barrier between my fingers and its assaulting branches.

    We managed to wrangle it into the houses (no stitches were required) and then spent the next hour trying to find our tree’s “best angle.” Placing it in a corner helped, but the sickly looking thing must have been crowded betweens its siblings on the edge of our friends’ driveway where it previously stood because its growth had seriously been stunted on one entire side and then some. But we made due … then it was time to send my husband in for the lights.

    Another hour passed, and the battle wounds my husband incurred had us questioning whether this tree would have faired better on the top of our burn pile, but our quest to turn this deadly barbed porcupine disguised as a tree into the perfect tree could not be deterred.

    After the first couple of scratches and periodic “ouches” my kids quickly learned how to manipulate the branches and their ornaments (and their gloved hands) in a way that produced the least amount of blood and displayed their decorations in the best light.

    With each new ornament placed on the branches of our recycled tree, it began to resemble our perfect trees from the past and soon the jagged arms that had rendered us bruised and bloodied earlier, seemed to relax and soften before our eyes. As the kids shared each ornament’s story — who’s it was, when it was received and how it ended up on our— their eyes began to sparkle as brightly as the multicolored lights on the tree and their frowns of disappointment were replaced with smiles of a tradition not forgotten.

    And when the kids were done hanging the last decoration and everyone took a step back to admire the finished project, just as Linus’ decorated tree had been unveiled to his friends, so too was our perfect Christmas tree.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Kelly Bevan McIlquham

    Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com

     

    A Day at the Children’s Museum in Holyoke

    Children’s Museum in Holyoke

    It’s winter here. The ground is cold, but not yet snow-covered. The days have been getting shorter and we’ve hit the point at which they will grow longer again. We spend our time at home with playdough, legos and K’nex. My two older kids, Henry and Isaac, are at school. Weekends have been filled with cookie-baking and holiday traditions of many kinds. Henry is tired from school. Isaac is busy with friends and homework. I still have a preschooler home most of the time, even while I learn to parents a soon-to-be adolescent. It’s my youngest son, Theo who requires keeping busy during these winter months. He wants and needs to run, jump, climb, crash, spill and splash. At a friend’s house, he begged for the pool so he could float some boats. The thermostat said 17 degrees. I shuddered to think of it, but I do see his point: cabin fever.

    I’ve been looking for a few spots worthy of the preschooler’s outing: either in the morning before his afternoon preschool starts, or on Fridays, which for Theo are currently school-free, stay at home with mom days. The Children’s Museum at Holyoke is a fantastic winter spot for preschool aged kids looking to get out some energy. Henry is on the younger side for 1st grade, and I will absolutely return during one of our vacation weeks because I think he’d enjoy it as well.

    The first thing to know is that the museum is not big. You can take a preschooler there for an hour or so, so you don’t have to wait for the weekend when it may be more crowded. We picked up our library passes from the Forbes Library in downtown Northampton so it was a free visit for the two us.

    What Theo loved the most was the over-sized water table. It is really more like a water-course with multiple levels. He is at an age where engineering the course of the flowing water was interesting to him and he set about it very diligently in a scientific way. I am at an age in which I am pleased to sit down on the bench and take out my knitting while he did that for as long as he liked (about 25 minutes – I counted just out of curiosity.)

    There is a 2-3 story indoor climbing structure. As a playground, it isn’t much — but in the dead of winter, while stuck inside, it really captured my little guys’ attention. I kept sending him back up over and over to see how long I could keep his body moving — again, me with the knitting and verbal encouragement from the bench.

    There were some areas for pretend play such as an ambulance, a restaurant and grocery store. Theo buzzed through these a bit in favor of more physical activities but if your toddler or preschooler is deep into pretend and dress-up, they’d be very satisfied.

    Other exhibits that attracted Theo were anything that he could call science. He has learned from his brothers that science is cool. He played with the gravity maze for such a long time — arranging and rearranging tubes to make ping-pong balls travel down a complex path — that I began to wonder if I should make one whole wall of his bedroom magnetic. We’ve bumped into that same gravity maze at the Cup and Top Cafe in Florence, MA where it will entertain him while I chat with grown-ups and drink my tea before it gets cold.

    The Children’s Museum at Holyoke is open Wednesday – Saturday from 10-4 and on Sundays from 12-4. There are bathrooms, water fountains and the ground level has indoor picnic tables that look like you could pack a quick bite if there is no birthday party or field trip taking up the spot. In warmer weather, we will go back and hit the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round as well. It was a lovely trip and a sweet reminder to me that I still do have a very young child at home and taking him on his own adventure is very satisfying for both of us.  For m0re information visit: www.childrensmuseumholyoke.org.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Karen Bayne

    Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

    The Goings-On at the Old Creamery Co-Op: A History

    Holy Cow! A Creamery Co-Op!

    The Old Creamery in Cummington, MA (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

    The Old Creamery in Cummington began its long presence in the Hilltown community as The Cummington Cooperative Creamery in 1886.  At that time, a co-op of dairy farmers brought fresh cream from their farms to be churned into butter.  During the Co-op’s most active period, 145 dairies produced 20,000 pounds of butter per month. With the advent of widespread refrigeration and motor trucking in the 1940’s, the needs of the community changed and The Old Creamery began a long legacy of transforming itself to respond to those changing needs.

    The Old Creamery has at times been a restaurant and at times a general store.  In 1988, the Berenson family merged these two functions when they purchased the building and business and made major renovations including the addition of the sunny café area.  Current owners, Alice Cozzolino and Amy Pulley, purchased the Old Creamery in 2000 and have worked to transform it into a vibrant community hub in the Hilltowns where people love to gather year round to sample the Old Creamery’s delicious fare, shop for groceries, visit with friends, grab a quick breakfast or cup of coffee, read the paper, or more recently surf the internet.

    When Alice and Amy began to think about transitioning the Old Creamery to new ownership, they wanted to insure that it would continue as a place dedicated to the needs of the Hilltown community.  Thus began the dream to return the Old Creamery to its cooperative roots.  On January 31st this year, Alice and Amy held an open community meeting to discuss their co-op idea and gauge the response of the community.  The response was overwhelming.  Over 300 community members attended the meeting.  A steering committee was formed and began to work enthusiastically on pursuing the plan.

    Throughout the spring, the steering committee made site visits to other local co-ops including Berkshire, Wild Oats, Greenfields Market, Leverett, and Putney VT.  They put together business and communications plans, analyzed the financial history of the current store, created future financial projections, and compiled estimates for purchase and start-up costs.  On July 30th, the founding member-owner drive was launched with a goal of signing up 300 founding member-owners by December 31st.  This goal was reached on October 21st, more than two months ahead of schedule!

    On August 6th The Old Creamery Co-op was incorporated as a legal entity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the steering committee became the Co-op’s first Board of Directors.  The Board of Directors is now engaged in developing a business plan and in raising equity through continuing to sign up founding member-owners — and through grants and loans to the co-op.  There are new founding member-owner goals:  350 by Dec 31, 2010 and 500 by the summer of 2011.  Currently there are 336 founding member-owners.  If you would like more information about what the Co-op is doing, please visit our website www.oldcreamery.coop or email the Co-op’s Outreach Coordinator cherylann@oldcreamery.coop Stay tuned for more exciting news to come!


    Old Creamery Co-Op by Cherylann Richards

    Cherylann Richards is the Outreach Coordinator for the Old Creamery Co-op and writes about the ongoing adventure of working to transition the locally beloved Old Creamery in Cummington into a community owned food cooperative. Cherylann is a past employee of The Old Creamery and completed her Masters of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School this past May.  She is in the process of becoming an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a board certified chaplain with the ultimate goal of working as a medical chaplain.  Cherylann loves Old Creamery made chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and all things outdoors; cross country skiing at Notchview, hiking or swimming with her dog Tula, camping, and bicycling.- Check out Old Creamery Co-Opevery second Wednesday of the month.

    A Cure for What Ails: How to Stay Healthy in the Happy Valley

    An Introduction

    We’re thrilled to welcome our newest addition to our team of contributing writers, Tony(a) Lemos of Blazing Star Herbal School, with her monthly column, A Cure For What Ails. Tony(a) will be sharing monthly excerpts from the out of print book, A Cure for What Ails, a book of folk remedies from the Pioneer Valley here in Western Mass.

    Rosemary Gladstar writes:

    This book is a real treasure. Let’s hope it doesn’t get lost on the bookshelf among the more polished books with fancy covers, because as an herb book, as a collection of folk remedies, and as a compendium of down home sensible living, this is a big book with real soul.

    A Cure for What Ails began as a project between editor Tony(a) Lemos and singer songwriter Dar Williams when they decided over “a cup of coffee” to “harness the spirit and wisdom of the favorite folk remedies of the local’s of the Pioneer Valley. They could not have done a finer job. One not only finds excellent remedies- well organized, by the way- but tidbits of earthy wisdom, poems written by locals and wise sayings from the folks of the Happy Valley. “

    A Cure for What Ails is a collection of tidbits for living well, remedies for common ailments, and wise words for staying healthy written by folks who use their suggestions. That’s what I loved about this small delectable tome -it is a book of common sense practices flavored with just the perfect touch of spice! Thank you, Tony(a), Dar and Diana. You create a real jewel not only for people of Pioneer Valley but for all of us who  appreciate simple remedies for living well.

    Rosemary Gladstar
    Author Herbal Healing for Women, founder of California School of Herbal Studies, Sage Mountain and United Plant Savers.

    Check out A Cure for What Ails the second Tuesday of each month and look for Tony(a)’s first post in January.  Join her in and discover local folk remedies from here in Western Massachusetts!


    Tony(a) LemosTony(a) Lemos

    Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA, she also maintains an herbal medicine practice in Western Mass. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest and the Women’s Herbal Conference.  Tony(a) is presently working on her next community supported project, a collection of the spirit and wisdom of the valley’s women offerring alternative remedies and support for those dealing with Post Partum Depression and related condition.  A call for submissions will follow.

    Can Teen Boys Feel Empathy?

    And Then They Grow Up….

    (Photo credit: Logan Fisher)

    Something happened this week in my home.  Something so rare I am afraid I may make other parents of teen boys jealous.  But then again, telling you about this rarity make give some of those same parents some hope for the future.  What I have to tell you might shake the teenage world as we know it.  It is so earth shattering, earth shaking, earth quaking that what we know about the adolescent boy might forever be changed by the news I am about to share in this one column.  Are you ready?  I’ll try to say it quietly so as not to startle those understandably skittish parents of teen boys.   Come closer so you can hear me.

    My sixteen year old spent the entire week being…dare I say it???  Being….oh I can’t believe what I am about to write!  Being…human.  Human?  Hmmmm.  That might not be the correct word.  Let’s try another one…kind?  Or how about…thoughtful?   Of course there is always….Pleasant.  Heck why don’t I put them all together.   Ok.  Let’s try this again.  My sixteen year old spent the ENTIRE week being humanly kind and pleasantly thoughtful.  Yes.  That’s right.  I said ENTIRE, and I meant ENTIRE.  He didn’t have one moment of his typical hibernating-bear-meets-man-eating-lion-meets-the-king-of-the-world-centers-around-me behavior.  Not. One. Moment.

    What could have caused this scarce occasion?  It could be that in two months, Aidan turns 17 and is turning a corner on adolescent selfishness.  It could be that he is trying to prove that he is responsible with the impending license looming, but to be honest with you, I am not sure either of those are the reasons.  I think the real reason is much more profound which is why the revelation is to me so earth shaking, so moving.

    I think, in fact I am pretty sure, this new found sweetness has to do with empathy.  Did you hear the collective gasps?  Empathy?  In a teen?  NO WAY!  But, dear readers, I am certain that this is true.  Let me explain. Lately I have been feeling low.  I mean REALLY low.  I know what you are thinking.   All moms have ups and downs…but this particular low has been bottom dwelling.

    Many changes have taken place in this house during the last year–most out of my control–and the pile has begun to weigh me down sitting on my chest like one of those barbells that super lifters lift.  You know the ones I am talking about.  The ones with the weights on each end that look like an 18 wheeler’s tires.  I have done my best to try and keep my chin up and to keep a smile on my face for the sake of my family.  (Don’t all moms do that?)  But if truth be told, it has been very difficult to hide the misery that I am wallowing in lately.  Could Aidan’s personality shift be due to the fact that he has sensed that his mom needs some positive energy?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

    Listen to this list and YOU decide!

    1. On Saturday, my husband suggested a jaunt down our local highway to visit my very favorite store (a store that has a particular December holiday in its name.)  He thought that maybe it’d cheer me up.  As we were packing the baby bag, Aidan said, “Where you going mom?”  I said, “Shopping in Colonie.  Nothing you’d be interested in.”  To my surprise he answered, “Actually, I’d love to come.  Would you mind?”  Mind?  Would I mind?  Since when did that matter?  I stood speechless. He took the toy from my hand and finished packing his little sister’s bag.  On the way down the highway and on the way home, he sang happily to the Sesame Street CD that played repetitively never once asking to listen to his own music.  He had full-sentence-conversations with us at lunch and happily filled the cart with knick-knacks for an hour and a half at my favorite store.
    2. All week when I said, “Do you have homework?”  Instead of the usual eye roll and heavy sigh.  I’d get an enthusiastic, “Oh yeah!  I should probably do that now.  Thanks for the reminder mom!”
    3. Every Tuesday I typically take the baby to visit my parents.  This week, Aidan asked to go with us.  He ASKED to go.  On the way home he told me how much he enjoyed going and suggested that he come every week.  That evening, he genially carved pumpkins with his baby sister and step father.  That moment is worthy of a column in itself.  One I promise to write.  You can see a few pictures of our fun above.  It was just special a special moment.  Purely special.  One that was full of happiness.  One that lifted me.
    4. Yesterday, after receiving bad news in the mail, I was particularly teary, unable to hide the anguish that was mounting.  Standing at the microwave watching the vegetables steam, tears streaming down my face, I felt two arms wrap around my shoulders from behind.  “I love you mom.”  Aidan whispered quickly.  He hugged me firmly and walked away, and just like that the tears were gone.
    5. Today, before leaving to spend the weekend with his dad, I took Aidan for a quick parallel parking lesson.  We talked about his day.  He took my pointers and used them.  He tried over and over to perfect this tough driving maneuver, never once losing his temper or complaining.  Getting out of the car he thanked me for taking him and once again hugged me sweetly.  “I love you mom.”

    I was mute, the breath taken away from me quickly by the gesture of warmth and encouragement.  I could only smile a very real smile and nod vigorously as he got in the car to leave.  However had my voice not disappeared during that tender moment, the words I would have spoken would have been simple and to the point.  I would have answered quietly, “I know you love me Aidan.  I know.”


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Logan Fisher

    Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

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  • A Day at the Botanic Garden of Smith College

    Pet-Free Till Now: The Botanic Garden at Smith Works its Magic

    Koi pond in the Stove House at the Smith College Lyman Conservatory. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    We’ve been a pet-free family for almost 15 years. The first three years of our marriage we worked so much that having a pet would have been animal cruelty. I was finishing my degree, writing some huge thesis and drinking too much Chai. Matt was working a few jobs and writing.

    We added a child, then two more kids, one with some extra needs. Pets are beyond us.

    Theo, my youngest, has some fear of animals. Ever since he was a baby he has seemed unenthusiastic. I remember taking Henry to a little petting zoo farm when we lived in Connecticut. He was a happy three year old running around pointing at goats, sheep, chickens and making all the appropriate sounds. Theo, at age one, just wanted to crawl back inside mama. I had to wear him on my back — he hid under the cape of the Ergo. By the time he was two, it was pretty clear he didn’t like it. “No, no, farm! No, no horses, neigh!”

    As he grew older, I realized he was fearful of dogs, but no more so than my oldest who outgrew it and now loves dogs. I kept thinking Theo would just outgrow it, but this summer I discovered he was afraid of cats, squirrels and chipmunks too. At my in-laws he was refusing to go downstairs alone for fear of a very ancient, sage cat who does not care about his existence. Outside at friend’s house, a chipmunk raced by his feet and he sobbed for 10 minutes.

    In the Succulent House, prickly cacti made the boys stay close! (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    We have a problem, which is why nothing surprised me more than when we had our first ever animal breakthrough at the The Botanic Gardens at Smith College, in Northampton, MA.  Theo fell hard for the koi in the pond in the Stove House.  He sat there patiently, kneeling on the narrow pathway, begging, “Fishies, come jump out of the water and say hello to me, Theo. I like you! I will take care of you!”

    We tried to move on, but he kept running back to the pond. Eventually, the big fish, whom Theo called Momma Fish, swam towards the surface near Theo and made a fishy-kissy face. Delightful! Thank you, Momma Fish.

    We were then able to fully enjoy the rest of the Botanic Gardens. Henry and Theo enjoyed pretending to be monkeys as they were able to recognize the jungle plant found in the Palm House. Following the paths, looking the the oversize leaves and blooms was warm adventure on a chilly weekend.  Another favorite spot was the Succulent House, where the prickly cacti made them stay close to mom and dad. We got to show them lemons, oranges, and other fruit hanging off the branches

    We got to show them lemons, oranges, and other fruit hanging off the branches. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    Although it is getting chilly outside, we toured the Rock Garden. These hearty plants like the weather.  It was lovely to explore this outdoor garden before it was snow-covered. — We plan on returning for the Fall Chrysanthemum show in a few weeks (Nov. 6th-21st). In the meantime, Theo and I walk up frequently to the Botanic Gardens sell hello to Momma Fish. We are talking about perhaps a fish of our own. “I will wake up early on Christmas morning, at 6:30 o’clock,” says Theo, “and I will tell Santa I am wanting a fish pet for Christmas today.”

    I hope you decide to visit the arboretum and gardens at the Smith College  with your kids.  The conservatory is open daily from 8:30—4 o’clock. There is no admission fee, but donations are graciously accepted.  If you’re driving in, find out directions and where to park here. A nice idea before you go would be to visit their Kid’s Corner on-line and to take a look at their Conservatory Map and Virtual Tour so you can get your bearings before your visit.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Karen Bayne

    Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

    Green Mama: Get Out Of Bed You Rotten Kids!

    Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

    No One’s Ruining My Day

    We marveled at the views as our car made its way to the Mount Greylock summit and then we took the rare family photo when we got there.

    Authors note: This column was originally intended be about all things “green” from learning to be more environmentally friendly to my naiveté as a parent. As knowledgeable as I think I am about parenting (from my former days as a psychotherapist and now mom of three) there are always those days when I realize just how green I still am. The following column describes one of them.

    “Get out of bed you rotten kids you’re ruining my Christmas!”

    Those words were spoken more than two decades ago by my mother to her two teenage daughters who, like many teens, decided to lay nestled in their beds a little longer than she would have liked one Christmas morning. Grunting and groaning, begging for “one more minute please” Tiffany and I reluctantly crawled out of bed to begin the present-opening. And as usual we ended up having a wonderful family Christmas.

    My sister and I still tease our mom about the rude holiday awakening we received that year, but Sunday I found myself on the verge of yelling very similar words from the bottom of the stairs to my pre-teen 11-year-olds; just a glimpse of things to come. …

    Fall has been, to say the least, chaotic. From the slow-paced, unscheduled days of summer, our family of five leapt and bounded into September with force. School, drum and guitar lessons, sports practices and games were just a few of the myriad activities that engulfed the minutes of each day, leaving little time to breathe let alone connect as a family.

    I felt as if my marriage had been reduced to the occasional flirtation via text or e-mail (in between the one’s that described when and who we had to shuffle where, and what needed to be picked up at the grocery store). And physical intimacy, well that consisted merely of the high-fives we gave each other as we passed each other on the way in or out of the house.

    As for the kids … As involved as I thought I was as a parent the family was so busy that I missed the fact that my son’s medication dose for ADHD had long-since stopped working because I never saw him. My husband was usually responsible for getting him where he had to be so I didn’t notice the change in his behavior until my husband went away for a few days and I was carting him all over creation by myself. Poor kid. I also had no idea who the friends were in Shea’s class that he was talking about let alone the kid whose birthday he was invited to and McKenna, well my lack of attention to detail had me missing the fact that for the entire soccer season she (and most of her teammates) had been triple folding the waistbands of their shorts so that there butt cheeks were almost hanging out. What? I guess short-shorts are back in style, but that short. Really? I probably would have noticed what had been going on if I had stopped to breathe even once in the last two months.

    So, I decided to do something about it… Read the rest of this entry »

    Driver’s License: A Teen Rite of Passage

    Give Me a D! Give Me an R! Give me an I V E! But Put Your Seatbelt on First!

    Late Breaking News: Aidan Wright, resident 16 year old of the Fisher household, will be taking (and hopefully passing) his driver’s license test on November 2, 2010. All drivers in the upstate New York/ Massachusetts area take note and take caution. Just sayin… Am I nervous you ask? Let me spell it out for you.

    D is for doubt. Can my son really be old enough to operate an automobile…a heavy piece of equipment—a careening cannonball on four wheels-on his own? Without me sitting on the passenger side slamming my foot down on the imaginary brake, barking out orders and white knuckling the handle on the door? Is he ready for the responsibility that comes with not only ensuring his life and the life of the passenger in his car, but the lives of other drivers on the road? D. The doubt is deafening.

    R is for rejoicing. I have never seen my tres chic-tres-cool sixteen year old dance a happy little jig, but I am telling you he came close the moment we made his driver’s test appointment on line this week. The corners of his mouth turned up. His eyes twinkled. His face softened. I mused, “What do you call this look I see on your face dear teen? Could it be that elusive smile I have heard much about? I was told such a thing existed. But until now, I didn’t believe I’d ever see it.” A major 16 year old eye roll followed my teasing. But even that wouldn’t damper his mood. I think I saw him skip as he went down the stairs to his bedroom.

    I is for I-will-soon-have-my-very-own-gofer. “Let’s be positive,” said my ever chipper husband, “whenever you forget something at market, you can just send a very willing driver to do the errands that you hate.” He may have a point. Did I ever mention how I hate the winter cold? This impending license gives me visions of sitting cozily by the fire saying things like, “Aidan, please go pick up your brother.” Or “Aidan, could you please run to the store to buy me some hot chocolate? Run along and don’t dawdle…”

    V is for velocity and verification. Velocity….need I even explain this one. The mere mention of the word makes my toes curl in my new gray cowboy boots. I have visions of a car speeding swiftly down a country road in a game of chicken with perhaps a pickup truck, a van, or worse an 18 wheeler. This nightmare has me thinking about how I can keep tabs on my newly mobile teen, which brings me to VERIFICATION. Some parents, (whom I shall keep nameless lest I give away family secrets) told me about a very nifty gadget that you can put under the hood of your car that acts as a GPS babysitter. Said gadget would come with an application for your cell phone that a parent could check at will to find out the location of the family automobile. Part of me relishes the fact that I can check up on him. That part of me screams… “Run lady! Don’t walk. Where can we get us one of those?” But on the other hand, another part of me feels like that nosy neighbor we used to see on Bewitched, wringing her hands and peering into the front door…saying, “What’s IS going on in there!” And then there’s this: If he ever has a girlfriend, do I REALLY want to know he is parked somewhere on a deserted mountain road or a highway rest stop???? Ummm…I think I’d rather skip that kind of knowledge.

    E is for Eager Earning. On the bright side, all this talk of driving and cars has motivated my usually oh-so-unmotivated teen to work many hours at a shall-we-say very popular sub place. I have been impressed with my son’s ability to save (not a trait he inherited from his shopaholic mother.) His bank account over the summer and fall has grown substantially. He is actually at the point where he is looking at cars that he could possibly purchase off of the internet. Of course there is also the fact that we the powers that be at home insist that he pay for his own gas and insurance. But at the rate he is going, that won’t even make a noticeable dent in his cache of cash. “Ummm hey honey…son of mine…could I borrow a 50? There are these to-die-for shoes I can’t live without calling my name.”

    R is for REALITY. Despite my reservations, (HA! Another R word) I know that every day brings us closer and closer to November 2. There is no way around it, just like walking, kindergarten, or riding a two wheeler, getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage that every human should experience as they journey towards independence. I know in my heart that Aidan is ready to take this next step towards adulthood. There is no question about that. The real question is am I ready? After all, by now you know how vivid my imagination is. So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that on the day my eldest takes his driver’s test, I will be waiting patiently, but sadly envisioning the moment that that boy of mine who takes up so much of my heart will leave home driving down the road that we call life.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Logan Fisher

    Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

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  • Sunny Day: Elizabeth Mitchell’s Newest CD

    Elizabeth Mitchell: Sunny Day

    'Sunny Day' offers "handmade music" which invites listeners to join in. As Amanda Blake Soule, the author of "The Creative Family," notes in the 28-page full-color booklet enclosed with 'Sunny Day,' "These songs bring our attention to the magical, mysterious, fabulous and special simple moments of everyday living." They provide a soundtrack to brighten any day, "inspiring family connection and togetherness," as Sooule says.

    Elizabeth Mitchell’s new CD, Sunny Day, came out earlier this month and at just the right time for my family.

    With the air getting crisper and school back in session, kids will invariably pick up (and bring home) fall colds. It’s no fun for anyone. When both mommy and child are feeling under the weather the best thing for everyone is to relax and take it easy.

    Yes, I realize this is easier said than done, but Elizabeth’s soothing voice and mellow tunes really helped my son to calm down, rest, and focus on getting better rather than on how awful he felt. And that helped mommy feel better, too!

    Elizabeth sings many traditional folk songs from around the world, but combines them in her seamless style. Her voice and arrangements are soft and safe; you can’t help but feel comfortable and comforted while listening to her music. It’s perfect music for after-school-wind-down time, for snuggling, or for just feeling happy and at home.

    To get a feel for Elizabeth’s style, try listening to her version of Mr. Rabbit or the Japanese song Ooki Na Kuri No Ki No Shita De (Under the Big Chestnut Tree), two of our favorite songs on the new album.

    If you’re looking for something easy to listen to, something you can pop in the CD player when you’ve just about had it with all the noise and the distractions, you’ve found it. Relax. You’re entire family deserves it!


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Amber BobnarAmber Bobnar

    Amber lives with her husband and son in Watertown, MA. Originally hailing from Hawaii, Amber and her family moved to Watertown to be closer to the Perkins School for the Blind where her son attends preschool. She has a Master’s degree in English from Tufts University and spends most of her “free time” writing about being a parent of a disabled child on WonderBaby.org or about the family’s musical adventures around Boston on BostonChildrensMusic.com. But really most of her time is spent caring for and playing with her little boy. info@bostonchildrensmusic.com. (Originally posted at Boston Children’s Music.)

    

    A Day at the Norman Rockwell Museum

    An American Weekend: The Norman Rockwell Museum

    Outside the Norman Rockwell Museum

    We celebrated Labor Day weekend here in New England with family.  We had a full house and more than our fair share of Bub’s BBQ to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday and his retirement, a bit belatedly but with full fan fare. We planned a family trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.   Sadly my little ones were a bit under the weather, but my oldest and I went along with the rest of the extended family to enjoy the museum.

    I was a bit concerned that my 11 year old boy child would be bored at this museum. He had begun giving me that sullen look, hoping he could fake illness. It was too late for that though. He’d already eaten heartily and bounced around the house. It was a sunny day and with the promise of a Berkshire chocolate shop hidden in my back pocket, we forged ahead. Nothing ventured, nothing gained; all the same,  I was happy to see the museum admits guests under 18 for free, so I didn’t have to venture much, just the journey. I will say that again, in case you missed it: children under 18 free, all of them! Thank you, Norman Rockwell Museum. Taking kids to a museum is hard. Parents want to do it. We want to do it well, which means doing it often and in short spurts that kids can tolerate. Allowing kids into an art museum for free not only welcomes kids but encourages families to try it out, see if it can work.

    Kids are welcome to climb on the totem outside the musuem. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    The museum itself is lovely. It rotates art from its collection of Rockwell’s works. We were able to see some of his later, more political work, which was new to me, as well as the traditional pieces that I think of when I think of Norman Rockwell, such as the Four Freedoms. I was pleased to see Isaac and his fellow 11 year old cousin getting the jokes and jabs as we perused all the Saturday Evening Post covers, more than a lifetime’s work.

    The Museum goes out of its way to make itself a family friendly place. In addition to admitting all kids up to age 18 in for free, they provide an art space where kids can make their own Saturday Evening Post covers to hang on the wall.  Isaac and my niece were more interested in the scavenger hunt through the upstairs galleries. All the grown-ups had fun with that one, spying fishing poles, paintbrushes and other items all through the paintings in the upstairs galleries. Even better we enjoyed explaining to the kids all the old fashioned looking stuff they saw in the pictures: big box shaped cameras, wired telephones, antennae radios, and old-fashioned train cars that included dining rooms. We were able to visit the preserved studio space of Rockwell himself, which had been moved from Stockbridge to the Museum grounds.  Isaac, cousin and uncle all enjoyed roaming the grounds and clambering over the sculptures.

    The museum was crowded. I felt happy to have ventured forth on such an American holiday to celebrate some very American art.  Chocolate Springs awaited!  Since my husband is an illustrator, and because I truly think my younger children will enjoy the art, we are planning a full family trip back that way soon. I’m sure it is just lovely at Christmas time. Read the rest of this entry »

    Teen Boys and Their Friends

    Boys and Their Friends: A Drama Free Zone

    When I was a “tween” and adolescent girl, it was difficult to maneuver and understand the nature of my friendships with other girls. The cattiness and moodiness, the cliques and the clashes, the fakeness of friends who pretend camaraderie just to gossip behind your back made being friends with girls a maze of confusion. Most times it felt like a lead jacket of the mind constricting movement of thought. Don’t get me wrong, I too definitely partook in that kind of behavior. It was what you did when you were in a group of girls, a sort of pack mentality–Plain and simple, girls back then could be mean! Unless I am grossly mistaken, I think that kind of churlishness continues today. I see it quite often in my classroom and out on the playground. The unkindness of adolescent girls may even happen at a greater rate nowadays due to the greater ease of communication thanks to technological advancements. Heck, those pesky adolescent behaviors persist even with some GROWN women. Gossiping about how absolutely horrible someone’s children are to one set of friends, but taking a trip to the apple orchard with that very same family as if spending time with them was nothing but pure joy. Friendships between teen girls–between women–are difficult at best.

    Not so with boys, in my opinion. Boys just seem to not possess the drama gene that girls tend to have. They can fight, but minutes later head to the ice cream stand together. They don’t gossip… because if they have something to say it is done to the friend’s face in a way that is laughed off instantly. They don’t tend to be cliquey…Hey the more the merrier…playing touch football or a pick-up game of soccer takes a lot of people! Friendships between adolescent boys– between men–seems so much less complicated and so much more inviting. As evidence of what I am espousing, please read the following story of an extraordinary event that I was privileged to witness. With all the other complications that come with raising adolescent boys, thank heaven for the ease of their friendships.

    Shaking his legs and arms in a runner’s fashion, Sean loosened up at the starting line getting ready for his school district’s annual mile race. His hands were sweating and his heart was pounding in his ears. Had this been a year ago, he would never have felt nerves like this. A year ago he was the best runner in school. This race would have been easily won…one year ago. But that was before Gannan arrived, a new kid in school. For the first time ever, someone’s hand slapped the school wall before Sean’s during their daily recess races. From that point on, Sean and Gannan were fast friends. Running was in their blood. They zoomed like lightning around the playground, around the block, around the town.

    Now, at the race, Sean was sure that his 3 year winning streak was going to be broken by his best friend, Gannan. Sean glanced over at him. He took some comfort in the fact that he looked as nervous as Sean felt. His head was down and his eyebrows furrowed.

    “Runners in line!” shouted the official. The mass of students pushed and shoved jockeying for a good starting position. Gannan elbowed Sean and gave him a look that said, “Let’s do this!”

    “Runner’s get set!” Sean’s heart beat almost drowned out the man’s voice, and then, “Bang!” The gun shot signaled the runners’ stampede, a burst of energy. Bodies shoved, legs tangled and in the chaos, Gannan tripped and fell. Sean ran a few paces before he realized what had happened.

    When it did register, he looked back to see his friend struggling to get up among the trampling feet of other runners. For a split second, Sean realized that this was the break he was looking for. If he kept running, he’d win for sure. A cold rush seeped into his heart. It didn’t feel right to win like that. A few more paces and Sean knew what he had to do. He turned on his heels and headed back against the stream of runners, a flying fish swimming against a fast current. It took just a few seconds to get to Gannan. Sean reached down and grabbed his friend’s forearm and picked him up. Their eyes met for a brief moment and then they were off, friend next to friend, running the trail together.

    Approximately five minutes later, as expected, Sean and Gannan were the first runners to approach the finish line. Side by side they ran–the perfect twosome. Both exhausted from the fierce competition, they ran in tandem. Gravel crunching under the weight of their dashes; left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Their breath mixed with the sound–crunch, whoosh, crunch whoosh. Most of the crowd was unaware of the circumstances before them, but still they sensed that something extraordinary was happening. Perhaps it was the mixture of pride and awe and tension and worry on the faces of each boy’s mother that gave it away. Maybe it was the pure elation of the coach’s cheers, “Yeah!! That’s the way to do it boys! Team mates! Team mates!!”

    Ten yards from the finish line a subtle change came over the pair. Gannan inched his way ahead of his friend just slightly–a hair here, a thread there…slowly solidifying his win. But just before the finish line Gannan hesitated and looked behind him. He was no longer sure if he wanted the win, not sure if he deserved it. After all, where would he be without Sean? How different would this race be had his friend not helped him escape the trample of the crowded starting line? As if sensing his doubt, Sean, shouted, “Run Gannan run!” Gannan’s hesitation melted away and reaching down deep found an extra spurt of energy. From his second place position, Sean’s heart burst with pride as he watched his best friend Gannan crossing the finish line in first place, knowing that he wouldn’t have it any other way.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Logan Fisher

    Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

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  • A Day at Look Park

    Northampton’s Big Backyard: Look Park in Florence

    Kids can cool down in the Splash Park at Look Park. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    The first day of school for my gang is in the books. We wave and kiss summer good-bye. We look ahead to our fall schedule with apprehension and relief: school days, homework, swim lessons, clarinet, collapsing into a heap at the weekend. And I realize, as I pack up snacks and fill out forms and do the calculus involved with different pick ups and drop-offs, I’ve not yet written about our extra backyard. Our own backyard is postage stamp sized, but Look Park is gloriously big, and is the place we end up when we need to stretch our legs, run extra fast and meet up with friends.

    Bummer boats, mini golf, train rides and paddle boat rides are extra at the park. Pay half price on Wednesdays. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    We go there for a few hours or entire day. We run through sprinklers, clamber on rocks in the creek, and play hide-and-go-seek-tag all over the play structures.  I’ve been known to occasionally indulge the boys in popsicles or ice-cream sandwiches from the snack bar. On half-price Wednesdays, we’ll ride the train through the zoo, then walk through it to feed the goats, then go for a bumper boat rides.  The boys love to bike or scooter around from one spot to the next,. It is in fact where my youngest discovered that he is truly good at biking, peddling away from me shouting,“I’m good at this! I’m good at this!”

    Nearby creek bed for exploring. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    It was our first retreat when we moved here in last summer’s heatwave. We’ve been back time and again, for birthday parties, picnics and sports. Its shady play structures are the only ones we head to on warm summer days. Henry and Theo often lead us on hiking trails through the woods to discover pine cones and different views of the creek. It is the best place to take them when I am tired of kid wrangling and may need a fast retreat to the van to head home for dinner, bath and bed.

    You’ll find us there this weekend for the hot air balloon festival. Hope for clear skies and bring your camera, the opportunities for pictures, should not be passed up. See you there!


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Karen Bayne

    Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

    Choices Are The Hinges of Destiny

    Choices

    Every school year moms have cookie cutter thoughts. How to make sure their children do their homework. How to make sure they are involved in outside activities. We think about schedules, how to give equal time to the one child who is the announcer for varsity football games and the other child who is running varsity cross country. We think about school clothes and new sneakers and notebooks and pencils. We memorize locker combos just in case we get a frantic text in the middle of the day from a child who can’t remember it. We arrange our time so we can drop off our kids at school and still get there to pick them up, and if we can’t do that, we arrange carpooling. We worry about the just-barely-passing grades from the year before and what that might mean for this year. These are the thoughts that take up residence in the minds of mothers the last two weeks of every August. Each year it is the same. Right?

    Not so fast! This year, I am experiencing new and uncharted thoughts. It feels uncomfortable and frankly a little scary as often the unknown is known to do. You see, it’s Aidan’s junior year. Junior year! It’s a big one. It’s the threshold of independence, the table setter, if you will. So along with all the thoughts you read above I am also thinking about college visits and applications and SATs and prom and girlfriends and driver’s licenses. I am thinking about holding on and letting go, about time running out on the influence I may have over him. This year, this junior year, feels like no other school year.

    Pythagoras once said that “Choices are the hinges of destiny,” and I think that sentiment is what is weighing so heavily on my thoughts when it comes to Aidan. His future really truly relies on the choices made this school year. Some choices are out of my control. For instance, the effort Aidan puts in to his school work, the grades he get, those things are in Aidan’s hands. He’s been blessed with a quick mind, but doesn’t always use it. It doesn’t seem to concern him at all. But as all mothers of teens know, the grades, the final average is the all powerful decider when it comes to possible colleges. Work-ethic-choices affect Aidan’s destiny.

    That brings us to college choice itself. I had always been a firm believer that as a parent it was my job to provide my children with a chance to visit all different colleges with the understanding that the final say was theirs. But in talking with friends of mine whose children have gone through this process, I am finding out that that choice is really limited by how much financial aid the family will receive. After all, we do have to pay for it somehow. Financial decisions affect Aidan’s destiny.

    There are other choices to ponder of course. For instance, there is a multitude of questions that surround college entrance exams. Which ones does he take? How many times does he take them? Is it true, as some have told me, that the more times he takes the exams the less impressed colleges are? College-entrance-exams-choices affect Aidan’s destiny.

    It isn’t ALL about colleges either. As a mom I worry about the new found freedom-choices of a licensed teen with money in his pocket. My mind consistently ruminates over the tragedies that seem infinite in which adolescents are distracted by friends, or alcohol or drugs or a combination of all three, and a car accident leaves them maimed, in trouble with the law, or…gulp…..dead. A mom can only hope that DARE lessons and sex education, and especially her incessant lectures, talks, concrete examples about being responsible rings in her son’s ears as he drives away to exciting destinations with friends or his girl. Freedom-choices affect Aidan’s destiny.

    For the sake of not feeling so bleak and in order to practice a new skill I am working on (that could benefit all moms with as loud a worry-voice as I have…) I will “reframe” the “junior-year dilemma” by mentioning other choices equally as important. When thinking about Aidan and his grades, although it is up to him to choose whether or not that is important, he has two teachers with whom he lives that will be sure to help him with that in any way that he wishes, and he knows that. Although we are not financially independent, Aidan’s mother and step-father will explore all the many options to pay for college. As far as college-entrance exams go Aidan can choose to rely on the expert advice of his guidance counselors and good friends of his parents who work in the college world or have had children go through the process. Lastly, this mom can relax knowing that when Aidan makes those freedom-choices he will make those with two feet firmly planted on a foundation of solid earnest parenting that will help to keep him steady. Positive-parental-choices affect Aidan’s hinges of destiny. Hopefully his will swing easily and the door to his future will be wide open!

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Logan Fisher

    Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

  • Become a Hilltown Families Contributing Writer/Artist
  • Environmental Education Through Music

    An Environmental Education for Kids … Through Music!

    We’ve become big recyclers, we drive fuel efficient cars, and we take our reusable bags to the grocery store…but even though the best way to teach a kid any lesson is to practice what you preach, it can still be hard to explain exactly why protecting the environment is important and how doing things like recycling can really help. Featured here are four kids’ musicians who celebrate the message on environmental awareness, in a fun sing-song way…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    A Day at Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation

    Into the Woods

    At the observation town of Mt. Sugarloaf in South Deerfield, MA. (Photo credit: Karen Baynes)

    When the heat broke recently we headed to the woods in New York for a week. If you have ever been to the Adirondack Park you know what it means to cross the blue line on the map into 6 million acres of preserved land, watching the forest thicken and the peaks climb around you.

    We returned last weekend to the Pioneer Valley from our mountainous adventure in NY, with a few more mountains under my oldest son Isaac’s belt. He has now climbed six mountains over 4,000 feet, and a handful just under.  My younger boys made it up and down Chimney Mountain while in NY, a nice accomplishment for them.  The trail was just a few miles, but it was quite steep. The view from the top was very satisfying, as were the caves for scrambling and climbing.

    We’d been home for only a few days and all of the boys had mountains on the brain.  I was looking for a satisfying climb I could do with the boys on my own, without needing to pack a meal, and keeping us in cell phone range. Being a birth doula, when I’m on call for a birth, one thing I seem to lack is Wow Them type activities that don’t exhaust me if I get called in – and don’t take me too far from where I need to go whenever it is time. There are times I’d be pretty happy to go to Look Park everyday, but sometimes we need a bit more.. so we took a small climb up Mt. Sugarloaf in South Deerfield, MA.

    Dusty south side trail up the mountain. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    When we arrived at Mt. Sugarloaf we took the south side trail up, which I have to say is a fairly steep ascent. The dry weather made the trails is dusty to the point of being slippery. My four year old needed several hand-ups but managed it fine. Anyone younger may be in need of a hiking back-pack because it is hard to imagine a larger or heartier four year old than Theo. He is all Viking, I assure you.

    Steep as it was, it took us only 30 minutes to get to the top. For a hill with an elevation of 652 ft, it has some kind of view. You can see farmland for miles, and the beautiful wide Connecticut River bending around Deerfield and Sunderland.

    After our snack and climb up the observation tower, we opted to descend on the long driveway that climbs Mt. Sugarloaf on the north side. I was somewhat concerned that Theo would not be able to go slow enough on the steep descent, beating us to the parking lot by way of too many somersaults. But the nice wide drive way made for an easy climb down. The boys kicked acorns down the hill, ran to the side at the slightest sound of a car, and were suitably impressed by joggers, power walkers and grandmothers with strollers taking that route up the mountain. – We did see a longer, possibly somewhat steeper part of the north side trail.  When we return to Mt. Sugarloaf, we will try that out.

    As soon as we reached the trail-head where we had begun, Henry and Theo asked to do it again – and if I had packed a meal, I might have let them.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Karen Bayne

    Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

    Green Mama: Kelly’s Top 10 Reason to Live a Greener Lifestyle

    Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

    Let’s Hear It For The Bear

    (ccl) Alan Vernon

    Photo credit: Alan Vernon

    Apparently no one told the neighborhood bear that the McIlquham’s were making an attempt to live greener and had enough forces working against them in their attempts to do so, so we most definitely did not need his/her help in thwarting our efforts.

    Really, every time we feel like we are making great strides forward, something gets in the way. The spring sports season rules our dietary intake (as I’ve said before there’s nothing organic about the food at the Little League snack bar). My husband or I forget to pick up the organic fruit and vegetable basket for the week and have only canned, processed fruits and veggies to feed our kids for the week. The weather gets so hot and humid that the bedroom feels 50 degrees warmer than a sauna and we break down and put the air conditioning unit in the window. And now the BEAR.

    As I might have mentioned in previous posts, we purchased a composter and began using it a couple months ago. We had been wanting to get one for a long time and when my husband came home one day and presented me with this beautiful, green, plastic canister I couldn’t have been happier than if he had done all the laundry, folded it and put it away. I purchased a pretty green countertop canister online to house our daily scraps and the kids were temporarily fighting for the chance to be the one to bring out the scraps and turn the composter. All was well and green at the McIlquham house. But the scraps were not composting as quickly as we had hoped and soon we had two problems. The smell began to deter our children from the chore of emptying the bucket while at the same time attracting our curious neighbor — Mr. or Mrs. Bear.

    Each morning we would find the composter pulled of its stand and pushed half-way down the blueberry path. I guess the bear realized the encroaching forest would make it difficult to roll the canister all the way home so he/she developed another tactic: the bear decided to try and remove the compost cover and get at the goods inside, while hanging out in our backyard at all hours of the night.

    His first few attempts merely left a few claw marks in the plastic and the composter left to be retrieved from the blueberry path, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out how to get the cover off. That incredibly clever bear was able to rip the screws right out of the plastic and the cover right along with it. After a few choice words, Mark had had it and for a week or two there the unused, coverless composter sat, our scraps making their way back into the trash can. Hey, it was a good effort on our part, but apparently composting in the backwoods of Hinsdale wasn’t meant to be. Or was it? Mark and I began making lists. These lists included all the reasons to continue our green journey. They also included all the ways that we had changed in a few short months. It was unanimous that one of the most noticeable changes was evident in the amount of trash we were collecting (significantly less than the waste months before), and that was a direct result of our recycling and (you guessed it) our composting.

    Renewed with our lists my husband (with some help from my dad) found a way to fix the cover, we moved the composter to a sunnier location so it would compost more quickly, smell less thus deterring the bear from the area and not the kids, and we began collecting our scraps again. We are back in composting mode. Yahoo! We even used some of the composted soil to repot a few plants recently.

    But I know this is not the end of the “forces that be” and I know somewhere along the line in the not-too-distant future we will contemplate just giving up on this whole green thing and be tempted to go back to living our old, wasteful way of life. So in anticipation of that day I have created a new list of why we should continue on this journey, for myself and my family … maybe it will help you when various forces of nature try to thwart your environmental efforts.

    Kelly’s top 10 reasons to live a greener, more environmentally friendly, health conscious lifestyle:  Read the rest of this entry »

    Attachment Parenting for Working Parents

    Making the Choice to Love

    As with many other mothers I discovered a number of my choices as a parent, directly conflicted with my perceived notion of parenting, prior to having child. Not exclusive to this realization is my choice in parenting style.

    It seems that as a new parent I found my prior views on the parent-child dynamic to be challenged as I felt the need to co-sleep, babywear, and strived to be proactive and attentive to my daughter’s needs. This new concept was given a title when I became a parent: Attachment Parenting.

    The advice others openly give regarding my parenting varies greatly from: support; to those who intentionally made me feel I’m not doing enough to really be there as a parent; those who subscribe to some of the same views I had prior to actually having a child; and those who believe I am spoiling my child by tending to her needs.  Read the rest of this entry »

    The Teenage Blame Contortionist

    It’s ALL Mom’s Fault

    My thirteen year old, Gannan, is a blame contortionist. Lately when something isn’t right, no matter his actions, no matter his mistakes, he very adeptly twists, turns and wrings it into something that I did wrong. Take last night for instance, he was hungry. (Not an unusual occurrence. Teenage boys’ stomachs are colossal chasms.)

    Gannan: What can I eat mom?

    Me: Well there’s goulash left over. There’s potato salad, pasta salad, chips, strawberries….

    My voice trails off as Gannan’s entire being begins to protest my food list. He begins with a gigantic eye roll. This is followed by a body wave meant to indicate his disgust. It starts at his knees. They contort into crooked angles and knock together in a haphazard way. He then bends at the waist and pitches his arms out in front of him. It ends as he stands up straight and places his hands in his long shaggy hair, tugging a little.

    Gannan: UUHH! There is NEVER anything in this house to eat. Why don’t you shop better? (Mom’s fault- number one for those keeping score.)

    Me: Gannan I won’t be insulted. Please go and quietly get your food or go to your room. Your choice.

    I listen intently as his feet pad down the hall. I hear the clanking of jars as the refrigerator door opens. Heavy sighs permeate the silence as he makes the all important what-to-eat-decision. All of a sudden fast feet pad back down the hall.

    Gannan: There are Pizza Hut bread sticks in there!

    Me: Yes. What’s the matter with that?

    Gannan: NOTHING! I love those. Why didn’t you TELL me we had bread sticks??? (Mom’s fault-number two. Put it on your score card.)

    This time he happily rushes down the hall. Jars in the refrigerator clang louder as the door is opened with great gusto. I hear the whisper of the miniature pizza box that holds the breadsticks as it slides off of the fridge’s shelf. A pause in the sound….and then….an exasperated “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!

    Feet pound down the hall back towards me.

    Gannan: Where’s the little cup of sauce?

    Me: There wasn’t any left to take home.

    Gannan: (Another body wave of disgust…see above, and then cue the whining.) Why does this always happen to me? Why didn’t you ask the waitress for more? (Mom’s fault-number three. Oh but there’s more!)

    His feet pummel the hall floor. A plate is yanked from its comfortable spot in the cupboard and the microwave door slams. I get more comfortable in my chair, hoping that the sustenance scene has played itself out.

    Losing my vigilance too soon, a hungry, ornery Gannan somehow shows up in the doorway; plate in hand, bottom lip drooping, eyes squished to slits, clearly out of his mind.

    Gannan: Why did you tell me to put blue cheese on these? They’re RUINED! (Mom’s fault-number four!)

    Me: (Stifling a snort.) What are you talking about Gannan? I never told you to…

    Not wanting to hear what I have to say lest it proves his ranting wrong, Gannan cuts me off.

    Gannan: This is just a waste of food. I’m not eating this. I’m going to my room where I’ll starve to death and THEN you’ll be sorry! (Mom’s fault-number five!)

    Me: I might not be sorry Gan….

    Gannan: Ha ha! Funny mom. This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for you. It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Logan Fisher

    Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

    Green Mama: There Is Always Someone Who Needs It

    Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

    A Lesson from Brazil

    The honking of the car horn as they approached the driveway announced their arrival. Max, who had been helping me make the bed, quickly abandoned the task (and me) and bolted down the stairs to greet his friend. Discarding the pillowcase in my hand I quickly followed suit. Menial tasks could wait: Our friends who had just returned “home” after a year in Brazil could not.

    Arriving seconds behind Max, my heart did a silent leap in my chest at the sight before me. All three of my children stood in the driveway taking turns embracing our visitors and then it was my turn.

    I held out my arms in invitation and 11-year-old Nick quickly accepted. He ran into my arms and squeezed. My sentiments exactly, I thought as I proceeded to squeeze him right back.

    The Julianos had moved back to their native Brazil last July after five years in the United States. None of us had been happy about it, Lilly and her children included. But that moment in the driveway reconnected us all in a matter of seconds and it seemed as though my friend Lilly and her two sons Nicholas and Arthur (her husband could not make this trip but we had seen him the previous week when back in the area on business) had never left and most importantly, hadn’t changed a bit.

    But first impressions are deceiving, and after six days of togetherness and countless hours of conversation later I realized that one cannot go from the backwoods of Hinsdale, MA, to the suburbs of Sao Paulo in Brazil and not change.

    The most notable change was with the kids. They had grown a lot in a year, not only in size but in maturity. Their English was interspersed with Portuguese more than ever and the two brothers who previously had only spoken English to each other slang and all (they were so “American” when they were here) most often than not spoke to each other in their native tongue.

    Lilly still had the same laid-back, loving personality, but I noticed she struggled more finding the right English word to use in describing Brazil, food, her emotions … everything.

    What I noticed most though, was Lilly’s unwavering appreciation for the place she called home for five years — Berkshire County.

    She commented on the birds that woke her up in the morning: “It was beautiful.” She took great joy and even cried in the supermarket when she reunited with the brands she hadn’t seen in a year: “Ahhh, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” she said. She relished the low, low prices in the U.S. despite the current recession: “A $20 video game here costs $120 in Brazil.”

    But most of all Lilly talked about how much we had in the U.S. — “You have no idea.” She discussed the great disparity in social classes at home, and she talked about the need of others.

    In Brazil, nothing goes to waste. I knew that’s how Lilly lived here, the same food made it to dinner, lunch the next day and dinner again, and if it still wasn’t gone it was frozen for another day. In Brazil, Lilly informed me, everything is recycled as much as possible including clothes, furniture and other household items and appliances.

    “There is always someone who needs it,” Lilly has commented on more than one occasion.

    During this time with Lilly (that is not over yet) I even learned some things I hadn’t known about her. Like how disappointed she was when she moved that no one would accept the dining room table she wanted to donate so it ended up getting burned in a farewell bonfire. To Lilly that was shameful.

    After living in a disposable society for five years, Lilly moved back to a place where everything is precious either because of the cost to acquire it or because you know that a great number of people cannot afford it.

    It’s something to think about as I continue my Green Mama journey. Living greener, it seems, is as much about people as it is about the environment. I think sometimes that’s something that can get “lost in the translation” and we should work hard to ensure that it doesn’t.

    So when Lilly leaves in a couple weeks she will not only leave me a little sadder and slightly heartbroken to lose the constant company of my friend once again, but also a little more aware, a little more appreciative of what I have and where I live, and little more inspired to continue our family’s journey.

    Vamos nessa!


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Kelly Bevan McIlquham

    Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com

    A Day at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum

    School’s Out

    Engineer Polly Bartlett shows the boys how to operate the pump car at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

    School’s out! The last time it was this hot, my family and I had just moved to Northampton from a sleepy Connecticut suburb, there were two weeks until school started, and we knew nothing and no one. We spent every hot afternoon at Look Park, running through the much beloved sprinklers. Now that it is summer again, we are more or less unpacked and ready adventures. My boys are 11, 6 and 4. The age span can be a challenge for us. My summer goal is to find places we can frequent that satisfy us all, build bridges between the boys’ different ages and temperaments and wear them out so they will sleep heartily at night.

    I decided to surprise Matt on Father’s Day with a short day trip to Shelburne Falls. The Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum is home to trolley car #10. This trolley belonged to the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Railway company which closed up shop in 1928. It was saved by a farmer, used as a chicken coop and then refurbished in 1999.  It is a charming little trolley, with a shiny dark wood interior, the original frosted glass windows at the top and fresh exterior boards painted a perfect farm yellow. Our tickets were punched, the lights came on, the kids sat at attention for the short ride.

    While the conductor turned the line around for our return trip, we had a bit of a history lesson from the guide.  We learned that car #10 was a combination car. It carried both cargo and passengers. One side hauled cotton, apples and vinegar from the farms to town and the other side carried passengers, usually workers or students who used the trolley to commute to high school in Colrain.  High school feels like a world away to me now, but I pictured my boys as teenagers, commuting by trolley in 1920, hopping on, eyeing the barrel full of apples in the cargo section, borrowing the fare from a friend, swimming in the Deerfield River to cool down once they reached home again.

    Bridge of Flowers, built in 1908 by the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Railway company. (Photo credit: Isaac Bayne)

    When #10 headed back, we found ourselves in a race with the pump car on the nearby track. Engineer Polly, along with a teenager and her grandpa were flying down the track pumping the handles, hair whipping everywhere.  My six year old assures me that we won, as trolleys cannot be beat. The boys were intent on riding the pump car, because they are the fastest ever. I thought maybe Theo was too young so Matt took Isaac and Henry first. Polly, our engineer, assumed control of our family for a short time, as she explained the purposes and rules of the pump car. Henry was to stand on the side and hold on to the bar in the center.  Isaac and Matt face forward and pumped side by side at the back. Polly pumped at the front and controlled the foot break.

    On the way back, Henry was allowed to pump, as she determined he was both tall enough and old enough to follow the instructions. When I took Theo on he held on tight with two hands and kept his feet on the platform. He will have to grow a few more inches until he can pump without it bumping his chin, but he has just turned 4. Polly instructed him not to wave at daddy, as she wanted both hands on the bar. When we coasted in, Theo did not wave but gave a big smile, with a “hello there!” He was quite pleased with himself. All the kids got a “I drove the pump car” sticker.  Before we left, the boys crawled all over the yet to be restored little caboose. They climbed up to the upper seats, admired the wood burning stove & the “closet potty” in the corner. We poked around the museum for a bit, enjoying this store house of trolley treasure, with telegraph machines and electric trains running.

    Glacial Potholes in Shelburne Falls, MA. (Photo credit: Isaac Bayne)

    Since we were in Shelburne Falls, we crossed the famous Bridge of Flowers, which was built in 1908 by the trolley company itself. Just a few years after the trolleys stopped running, the town itself saved this bridge transforming it into a glorious garden. I expected to have a difficult time in engaging the boys in the viewing of a garden, but walking on a foot bridge over a river was entertaining for Theo. Henry was happy to direct my attention to the smell and colors of different roses and Isaac was pleased when I set the camera to macro and showed him how to photographs the flowers close up.  On the far side of the bridge, we visited the Glacial Potholes. My kids are easily impressed by geological formations (also known as rocks), and these were very impressive rocks which can be very safely view from the observation deck. The boys itched to get down and scramble in the river bed, but the glacial potholes are actual holes in the river bed left by stones swirling in the river when it swelled with the melting of the glaciers. We left with promises to find another spot for river scrambling and swimming. There are many hot days of summer ahead.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Karen Bayne

    Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

    Green Mama: Waste-Free Home

    Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

    At Peace with Living Green

    If you are a diehard environmentalist you may be familiar with the name Bea Johnson. And if you weren’t aware of her before there’s a good chance that name is now ringing a bell with families everywhere.

    An Associated Press article that appeared in local newspapers across the country earlier this month documented Johnson’s efforts to create a “zero waste” lifestyle within her home and highlighted her blog (zerowastehome.blogspot.com) which documents the past year and a half of her journey. And if the new comments on her blog are any indication of her growing popularity, then it won’t be long before Bea Johnson becomes a household name.

    Johnson’s waste-free endeavors put this green mama’s conservation efforts to shame.

    Johnson shops in bulk with reusable bags, jars, etc. from home to aid her in her commitment to create a wrapper-free home. According to the article she uses sealable glass jars to house her meat from the butcher and fills reusable bags made from bed sheets with rice, pasta, oatmeal and nuts. She also blogs about her attempts to have a waste-free Christmas and this fashion-conscious mom replenishes her wardrobe each year by shopping at thrift stores.

    After reading this article I was inspired to peruse my kitchen to see what extra waste we McIlquhams could eliminate in our home and was both pleased and appalled at what I found.

    First I never did understand why grocery stores had plastic bags to house one’s fruits and vegetables. For years I found myself filling a bag with apples only to take them out as soon as I got home to wash them and put them in a bowl on the counter and throw out the bag. Without realizing it our family had eliminated the extra plastic when we switched from buying most of our produce at the grocery store to purchasing it from an organic market in town. The vegetables come in returnable plastic containers or cardboard boxes with no other packaging whatsoever. We recently switched to a cardboard box which we recycle because my husband kept hoarding the plastic containers and forgetting to return them, but I think we may rethink this choice for the future.

    Thanks to Johnson I also ran into the grocery store the other day to pick up a red onion and passed on the plastic bag. Why didn’t I figure that one out before is beyond me?

    I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I looked in the pantry.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Zen and the Green Art of Decluttering

    Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

    Give Me a Break

    There is a saying that says something along the lines of, “If you want to see what’s going on inside someone’s head just look inside their drawers.” And this weekend as we were preparing to head out of town and stress levels were running high because we couldn’t find flip-flops, bathing suits, towels, sweatshirts, DS chargers, etc. … I knew it was time to look inside mine: my drawers, my closets, my laundry room.

    One look around the house and I began to get restless. I couldn’t concentrate and I couldn’t get organized. My mind was cluttered and so was my house. I had been blaming my constant anxiety on our family’s state of greenness (see my last post), but in retrospect I think the state of my house was the culprit.

    All these months of focusing on living a more environmentally friendly life, as well as running kids to soccer and baseball games, working my editorial job, helping with school projects, freelance writing and life in general had left no time to focus on our house and our family was paying the price.

    We were leaving in 15 minutes, we weren’t packed because we couldn’t find anything and I was beginning to hyperventilate. I knew a trip to the shore would relieve me of that stress, but I still had to return. Something had to give.

    So I did want any mother would do with a house (and mind) in the sad, desperate shape that mine was in: I threw the half-packed bags in the car (kids are resilient) and sent my husband and three kids off to his brother’s house in Connecticut without me for TWO DAYS.

    Cue the beam of light and angels singing … Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

    OK their might have been a small ulterior motive to staying home besides digging my way out of the heaps of clutter. My sister was in town with my 7-month-old niece (so cute) and I was definitely in need of some downtime (I don’t think I had taken a day for myself to just “chelax” since September). So I waved goodbye, shed a few tears (Ah the GUILT) and I headed off to the lake, played with my niece, ate lunch and came home and took a nap. Can you say heaven?

    I even watched a girlie flick that first night with no interruptions or eye-rolling and side comments from my husband.

    But then Day #2 arrived and the real work began. I headed to the laundry room and began to weed my way through the mountain of clothes. Did I mention I hate laundry? I separated. I washed. I folded and still that pile remained knee-deep. I could say that, being in the midst of our quest for green, our lack of washing was an extremely lame attempt to conserve water, but this was not the case.

    Sports uniforms, the missing bathing suits and sweatshirts, the T-shirts I had already washed and folded not too long ago all lay before me in a giant smelly heap begging to be released of the dirt and grime. It tried to suck me in and divert me from the task at hand, but I persevered. I refused to quit. That laundry was one piece of the puzzle that when completed would resemble my long-lost sanity, and nothing was going to stop me from getting it back.

    Then I moved into the guest bedroom where my husband had been dumping the clean laundry for the past month and folding about a quarter of everything he put there. I made a pile for things that didn’t fit anymore or that no one would wear. I put away winter sweaters and turtlenecks until next year and miraculously I began to feel a little less agitated.

    Next I tackled the closets. And again I separated the piles. One bag of shoes and two bags of winter coats later I felt victorious. My house was beginning to mirror the calmness I was beginning to feel inside.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales

    Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales by Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Logan Fisher

    I Beg To Differ!

    It started years ago when my boys were very young. Well-meaning moms at the playground, preschool and parks would cluck their tongues and sigh. After a few years of experiencing this over and over, I grew accustomed to what usually followed their wistful puffs of air. “You don’t know how lucky you are. Boys are SO much easier than girls.” I heard this statement so frequently that I began to believe the adage myself. Okay, perhaps I needed to believe it because as my boys grew older that ease promised to me by mothers of girls didn’t seem to exist in our world. My boys were NOT easy. Let me rephrase that, my boys ARE not easy. Even now at 16 and 13, Aidan and Gannan continue to challenge and test.

    That isn’t to say that mothers of girls have it easier. In fact, when watching friends of mine blessed with children of that particular sex, I am convinced that they don’t. Therefore, I have decided that neither set of parents have a cake walk of any sort. It is just that the problems experienced by each are vastly different. I am sure you have heard of the book “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.” In that same venue we could say, “Sons are From Saturn, Daughters are from Jupiter.”

    For instance, boys are not great communicators. I therefore find myself performing criminal-like fetes to get them to share SOMETHING about their lives with me. I find that captivity–say in a locked and moving car–gets me results. Boys are also physical and clumsy. I shudder to think about the money spent on new windows, furniture, paint for banged up walls and repair men for broken appliances. Heck, I’ve had to replace the curtains in Gannan’s room four times in the last year. (Don’t ask!) When the fourth set ripped, and the rod broke, I told him that I hoped he enjoyed the great outdoors because he’d be seeing it through his naked windows from now on. These are just a few examples of the adventures in raising boys, but of course there’s more! How about the sassiness that seems to appear out of nowhere the moment they set foot in high school? Oh! What about the incessant competition? Ugh. Don’t get me started. Those boys can make a contest out of anything. I once suggested that they each say a reason why they love their brother, and Aidan and Gannan’s conversation went something like this:

    Aidan: Gannan, I love you because you don’t care if you take showers every day.

    Gannan: Aidan, I love you because you don’t care that I have more friends than you.

    Although it’s true that I have recently added a girl to our brood, for the sake of this column, I will be discussing, contemplating, and sometimes lamenting about my adolescent boys. Join me as I let you in on the challenging, funny and sometimes heart wrenching events with a boys’ spin that occur weekly, daily, hourly. Feel free to comment! We mothers of boys have got to stick together!


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Logan Fisher

    Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

    It’s Nothing, Really, Just Abstract

    The Power of One: Art Smarts
    BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

    There are few things more wonderful than a child’s creativity. Daisy recently crafted this family portrait from a kit of felt pieces that includes many more children and babies, cats and dogs. Usually her scenes are complicated affairs, large families with scads of children lined up in rows. I love the sparse, crisp quality of this little trio. I find it interesting that the girl is shown angling toward the mother. The mother, in turn, seems to lean away from the father’s hand-hold towards her little one.

    Like most kids, Daisy likes to draw flowers, frogs and ducks, and the occasional rainbow, but people really are her ‘forte.’ These days, influenced by her Kindergarten friends, princesses are all the rage, replete with towering tiaras, wide billowy pink skirts, and pocketbooks festooned with plentiful bows.

    This family portrait, on a magnetic doodle pad, is from about a year ago. I love that we all have big smiles on our faces. Here the child is sandwiched between her parents. Granted, she is closer to the mom (females are made up of a single blob of a dress, while males have a top and a bottom, like a shirt and shorts). Arms, apparently, are optional!

    One of the luxuries of having an only child is the ability to focus on art activities together. There is no crying baby needing a diaper change right when the paints have come out, or an older child waiting to be driven to soccer practice when glitter is all over the floor. I dance a secret jig when Daisy asks to do an art project: other kids would rather toss a ball or watch a video. I’m just so happy she enjoys art as much as I do. Personally, I just love the smell of poster paints, the aroma of a new box of crayons, the feel of play-dough, and peeling dried glue off of my hands.

    When Daisy was smaller, we somehow came across Susan Striker and her book about fostering creativity in children. This link from the Artful Parent, a wonderful blog about doing art with young children, sets it all out nicely.

    In short, your child’s imagination should decide how art materials are used; never draw, paint, or write on a child’s artwork; never point out similarities to realistic objects or even show a child how to draw. Striker suggests not entertaining a child by making realistic pictures yourself, and never ask, “what is it?” Instead, praise use of color or design. And, the biggie: never give a child coloring books or dot-to-dots.

    Of course, nothing beats reading Susan Striker’s book, Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art. I recommend it highly, although you need to take what works for you, and put some of it on the back burner. Adhering blindly to her philosophy without flexibility could prove exasperating. When Daisy wants to color in the coloring books at our local food co-op, providing me with fifteen minutes of shopping freedom, I am not going to say no And I can even imagine Striker’s dismay at my allowing Daisy to play with pre-cut felt pieces — I suspect she would want Daisy to cut out from felt the people and their outfits herself.

    Whether or not we can credit Susan Striker, Daisy’s creativity is boundless. She is a master at thinking outside the box. At a local museum’s family day, kids were filling bottles with different colors of sand. Each bottle was turning out quite nice, but all the bottles looked vaguely similar. Daisy decided instead to take the extra sand that was on the table, mix it together, and put that mixture into her bottle. Inspired, she then began making different combinations out of all the available sand colors. Her bottle, when finished, was truly unique. Other kids looked on in awe, and then they too began to create mixtures and experiment.

    I must admit it took Daisy longer to paint and draw recognizable objects, and her pre-school teachers showed concern that she wasn’t making faces and people. Perhaps it was because I didn’t draw people for her to copy, but I think it was she just enjoyed scribbling, the feel of a crayon in her hand, the experience of color, the process of creating. Even now she still likes to doodle away — one time I asked her about a particularly ebullient painting, and she said, “it’s nothing, really, just abstract.” I love that she knows what abstract means, at age five. I think she’s doing just fine.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Dana “Dee” Pilson

    Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world. dpilson@aol.com

    Eli and Elizabeth

    The Power of One: Oh My Only-itis
    BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

    I admit it.  I have “only-itis.”  Or perhaps you could call it “pedia-envy.”  Now that it’s spring and all those heavy coats are disappearing, bulging bellies are all the rage.  It seems as if everyone I know is pregnant, and everyone I don’t know, too.

    This past weekend Daisy and I visited Hancock Shaker Village and saw the baby animals.  A wonderful day, those little critters are darling and fuzzy and oh so cute.  There were tons of kids everywhere, of course, and wherever I looked, another bulging belly, another belly-button popping out, another telltale glowing Mona Lisa smile.  I bumped into an acquaintance while we were there, and she mentioned they were waiting until the baby was born before planning a big move.  Baby?  I glanced at her belly.  Yup, her too!  Congratulations and all that.  But I felt that tell-tale mixture of jealousy and sadness.

    I wasn’t the instigator of this one-child thing — I always thought we’d be having another.   Pregnant with Daisy, I was a nervous wreck, a total hypochondriac.  I couldn’t wait for everything to turn out okay, and wouldn’t even dream of setting up the baby’s room until I had her in my arms, knew she was healthy and heading home.  Completely superstitious, I reluctantly agreed to a baby shower, but it was under protest. In the back of my head was always the thought, it’ll be easier next time around.  Next time I won’t be so nervous, next time I’ll sit back and relax, and enjoy the ride.  I just didn’t realize there wasn’t going to be a next time.

    In the fall of 2008, we were living in New York City, and my period was three weeks late.  I suspected, but had not confirmed, that ohmigod I might be pregnant.  I decided not to say a word until some sort of test said it was so.  But I did spend three weeks walking around the city feeling like I was carrying a wonderful secret.  I took Daisy to Books of Wonder and the first story she wanted to read was about a mommy explaining pregnancy and babies to her child.  My breasts tingled as we read it.  It must be true, I thought.  I felt so smug, so jangly and happy.  Yeah, I’m reading a book about babies to my daughter, and there’s another on the way.  For three weeks I counted days past when I should have gotten my period and predicted a due date: the end of May!  At one point I dreamt I might be having twins, and I named them, Eli and Elizabeth.  I thought about Eli and Elizabeth every minute.  Would they be blond and blue-eyed, like Daisy, or would my darker coloration win over this time?  Would they be tempestuous and stubborn or would my more easy-going personality hold sway?  We’d been giving away much of Daisy’s clothes and toys and baby paraphernalia, so in my head I drafted a breezy email to friends asking for loaners and hand-me-downs.

    It was finally time to take the pregnancy test.  I bought one at CVS and then walked to a Starbucks, where I huddled in their fetid bathroom unwrapping the stick.  I peed.  I waited. Negative.  Oh.  I did it again.  Still negative.  I wrapped up the sticks and threw the wads into the trash, and walked out.

    A week later, still no period.  Another trip to CVS, another trip to Starbucks.  Still negative.  Against the odds, I continued to believe I was pregnant.  I thought about buying Folic Acid, I asked a friend about a doctor she could recommend, I rubbed my belly absent-mindedly while Daisy played with her friends at the park.

    Finally, four weeks late, my period arrived.  And I cried small secret tears and told no one except a close friend who was trying to conceive via IVF.  She had been through the same ups and downs, elation and depression, countless times.  She believed I had indeed been pregnant, but it just didn’t take.  We commiserated over thick hot chocolate and decadently rich chocolate chip cookies.

    And now, my friends are having their second and third children, even a fourth is on the way for one.  The friend I bumped into at Hancock Shaker Village had long ago confessed that she and her husband would probably not have another, would stick with one.  I felt a solidarity with her then, like we were members of a special club.

    At night, I sometimes count up my friends with only children.  Those friends are fine, wonderful people.  Their children are beautiful.  My child is beautiful and a wonder of nature.  My one child makes me a mother.  More children would not make me more of a mother.  But it doesn’t mean I didn’t wish it to be so.

    A year and half later, I continue to shed silent tears for Eli and Elizabeth.  I miss them.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Dana “Dee” Pilson

    Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world. dpilson@aol.com

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Supporting Only Children Through Literature

    The Power of One: The Bounty of Books
    BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

    Would Arthur be as amusing without D.W.?  Who would Stella impart all her worldly knowledge to, without Sam?  Sister and Brother Bear might squabble like grizzlies, but could we imagine one without the other?  Annie is spunky while Jack is shy, the two of them make a dynamic duo in their magic treehouse.   Could we imagine Laura Ingalls growing up on the prairie without her rhyming sisters, Mary and Carrie?   It recently dawned on me that my five-year-old’s  most beloved characters all have siblings! They all have their sidekicks, a foil, a partner, another half. My daughter Daisy has been constantly asking why she can’t have a big sister.  “Everyone else has a sibling” she insists, “in real life and in books.”

    Thankfully, I can counter that no, not everyone has a sibling, not in real life, and not in books either!  The storybook universe is populated by plenty of precocious only children.  Little Bear is a favorite, and I might add he never seems to complain about being an only cub.  His human friend Emily seems not to have siblings either, but rather a doll that only she can understand.   Loads of books feature one child for simplicity’s sake, such as Rainy Day Together, a sweet story about a girl spending the day inside with her mom, or Frida’s Office Day, about a young ‘cat’ going to work in the city with her father ‘cat.’  Some stories are more self-consciously focused on the only child experience, such as My Only Child, There’s No One Like You (one in a series of ‘Birth Order’ books), and Mr. and Mrs. Smith Have Only One Child, But What a Child! and Here I Am, An Only Child, written from the child’s point of view.  I recently read these three books to my only child at the library, and while she sat patiently through them, she didn’t beg to borrow them, in fact, she was pretty bored by all this only child business.

    Stories about only children are much more interesting when there’s more of a story than simply, here’s what being an only is all about.  The “Rose” series, the continuation of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books, is our current favorite.  Rose is the only daughter of Laura and Almonzo Wilder.  Sure, sometimes she bemoans not having siblings, but the books follow her as she grows up in the Ozarks among other families, large and small, in the 1890s.  She plays in the creek, has crazy adventures with friends, rides her donkey to school, and wins the class spelling bee.  We love Rose! We read a new chapter every evening and we play “Rose and Laura” during the day.  Rose figures so strongly in our lives these days that she is basically one of my daughter’s best friends—actually, Daisy often plays that Rose is her big sister.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Green Mama: One Hilltown Mother’s Journey into “Greendom”

    Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

    No Such Thing As a Perfect Parent

    Nobody ever said parenting was easy, but we certainly don’t make it easier on ourselves … and I’m no exception.

    I am a 38-year-old mother of three — almost-11-year-old twins McKenna and Max, and 8-year-old Shea — I am somewhat of a perfectionist in certain aspects of my life, and I am slightly competitive too. (People who are reading this and who know me are having a good chuckle right now.) So, OK … I am VERY competitive. Those traits have served me well in school, in sports, and in my careers, but as a parent? Let’s just say that sometimes those traits can cause a little anxiety, quite a bit of insanity, and a whole lot of guilt.

    I used to handle my downfalls as a parent much better when my twins were younger. How was I supposed to know that if the childproof lock on the food cabinet broke that it would result in a “fluffernuttered” black lab? Or that if you leave Vaseline on a changing table outside your two-year-old twins’ bedroom that their heads would glisten for days, or at least until you and your husband discovered that vinegar would return their hair back to a normal sheen?

    But after Shea was born, and all three kids began to get older, my parenting mishaps seemed to matter more, almost as if one little parenting mistake could set my kids on a path for failure, destined for a life of crime. And that’s when the guilt, that I know every parent has experienced at one time or another, began to set in …

    Was I “really” doing the best job that I could as a parent? Was I reading enough to my kids? Playing enough? Teaching enough? Was I yelling too much? Expecting too much? Giving too much? The guilt became overwhelming and it was beginning to depress me … and as my husband has often said, “If mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” (I think that statement alone puts undo pressure on the mothers of the world, but that’s an entirely different topic.) But really, it was true — for a while.

    My latest parental guilt fest occurred about a month ago, when I was watching an episode of Oprah. (No, I don’t have time to watch it daily, but I do TIVO it and try to sneak an episode or two in every weekend.) The episode previewed the new “Food Inc.” documentary about the food industry, and what we as a society were putting into our food and in turn, our bodies. Suddenly, the words of my friend, who I consider a “stereotypical hilltown” mom, were echoing in my brain: “Our kids only get one body in this lifetime, so I’m going to make sure I give my kids the best one I can.” She was talking about eating organically, and doing without the extra chemicals and preservatives that have become a major staple within the food industry. She wanted to ensure that she did everything she could to ensure that her kids were feeling the best they could physically and mentally.  Read the rest of this entry »

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