Cleaning Advisory Scale

As you might know, a little less than a month ago, the hubs got a job offer in Raleigh. In case, you didn’t know, we are already in Raleigh and settled into our new home. That is less than a month to find a place to live, pack, clean and move half way across the country.  There is no way we could have done it without my fantastic in-laws. They watched my kids, packed my house, cleaned my house, drove with us and helped me unpack.  One of the most stressful parts of the entire move was knowing that my sweet mother-in-law was going to be CLEANING MY HOUSE!  This, my friends, is a terrifying prospect.  I knew that there was no way that I would be able to have it cleaned before she arrived so I instigated what I like to call the “Please Don’t Judge Me Clean” pre-clean. It was a this point that the “Cleaning Advisory Scale” was born.

Here’s the deal. I’m not dirty, I’m just the victim of two children and far too much stuff. Some details just get pushed aside. I’m not so great a washing floorboards, wiping down my fridge or capturing the dust bunnies behind my washer and dryer on a regular basis. I am, however, pretty good at tossing all of the clutter in to my bedroom and making the house presentable within less than 10 minutes. See “Bestie Clean”.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one with this talent so I took the time to put the “Cleaning Advisory Scale” in writing.  Are you trying to figure out just how clean your house needs to be based upon circumstances? Hopefully this scale will help you decide how much to clean, or NOT to clean.

Cleaning Advisory Scale

Do I Need to Shower Today?

Before I became a mother, I showered every day. I didn’t wash my hair every day – still don’t – but I managed to make it into the bath or shower at least once a day. Then I had my son. Suddenly, showering was no longer a foregone conclusion. Now, five years later, I ask myself, “Do I need to shower today?” far more than I would like to admit. Add another child to the equation and take away a job in the outside world and I find myself asking this question nearly daily.

Don’t get me wrong, I usually shower. Especially if I have run that day. Do I put off the shower if I know that I will be sweating in the Texas sun again before bedtime? You better believe it. Texas is in the middle of a drought. Really, I’m just doing my part.

I’ve done research. It turns out that I am not the only mom who asks themselves this question regularly. I know that a lot of my friends (especially my friends with kids) don’t shower every day either. Earlier this week, I was discussing this topic with one of my friends. She told me that she would be putting the clothes from her morning workout back on to go walk her kids home from school. Of course she was! Why would you put on clean clothes just to go out into the steamy heat? You are just creating more laundry.

Then there is the kid factor. Do you know what happens every time I start the shower in my house? At least one little person, usually my daughter, comes running into the bathroom tearing off her clothing. She will attempt to climb over the edge of the tub until I relent and let her in. If I don’t have the energy to shower every day, I certainly don’t have the energy to take an 18 month old in for stitches that could have easily been prevented. Thanks to my kids, I shower with foam numbers and sea animals. Apparently, my daughter’s answer to “Do I need to shower today?” is a resounding yes. For me, the highlight of my week is Sunday morning when I get to shower by myself.

Some of you are probably feeling a little grossed out right now. That’s alright. I get it. You will probably look at me a little funny the next time you see me out in public. Not every one shares my dilemma. My own father showers at least twice a day. Maybe you are a classy business woman who has to be presentable every day. Maybe, you too, are a stay at home mom but have personal hygiene far superior to my own. Never once have you thought, “Do I need to shower today?” Bravo ladies! I’m sure your husbands appreciate your dedication to keeping it together. My husband is pleasantly surprised when my leg brushes his without stabbing him. I’m telling you, it is a glamorous life I lead.

But for you fellow hygienically conflicted parents, I present the shower flowchart. The next time you find yourself asking, “Do I need to shower today?” just pull out this handy guide and we will try to help you make your decision.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in the above post are purely Tracey’s opinion. I will not pretend to speak for Sarah and Erika. Even if I suspect that both them frequently ask themselves, “Do I need to shower today?” They are free from any blame that might come from the use of this flowchart. For that matter, I am also free from any blame. You are an adult. Make your own hygiene decisions.

Work In Progress: Sarah’s Adventures in Home Organization, Toy Edition

Tidy. I love that word. I love its efficiency, so immediately evocative of familiar, comfortable surroundings and industrious, practical individuals. Yet, though “tidy” I love, tidy I am not. I’m inherently given to clutter and chaos, abandoning a project to fix myself a bowl of ice cream and picking it up three months later. Frankly, I’d rather spend my time organizing my thoughts, because that’s its own Herculean task to be sure.

But then I married this guy who is, shall we say, fastidious. He craves clear, clean, open surfaces and gets distracted by un-vacuumed carpets. My method (or rather, lack thereof) for loading a dishwasher completely perplexed him.  Many times I have needed to remind him that I am a vortex of entropy, and he’s certainly very patient considering. As with many things in our marriage, we’ve taught each other the benefits of our respective life approaches.

Still, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve itched more and more for a pared-down simplicity that pairs well with proper organization. A place for everything, etc., etc. So, with that in mind, I’ve determined to get. My. Home. Organized!

It’s daunting, sure, and I promise you the process will be a long one, but I’ll bring you along for the ride, okay? First up – toys!

Shelf and Baskets from IKEA (Where else? And does anyone else mentally sing “IKEA” to the tune of “The Dance of the Robe” from “Aida”? Right?)

This is where the majority of our toys are stored, apart from a few large items and stuffed animals.  And up until  a week ago, their insides looked like this:


Not pretty. And worse, not functional. Play time consisted of my children emptying the contents of all the baskets, quickly becoming overwhelmed, losing interest, and investigating the kitchen, bathrooms, and desk instead. Then, all the toys were scooped back in to start the cycle over again. It was unproductive for them and frustrating for me. I had in my mind to fix it for quite a while before I finally did. But oh, how I did.

First, I knew I needed a game plan. While the above photo certainly doesn’t suggest it, I’m a big believer in limiting the number of toys your children have access to. It prevents over-stimulation, encourages longer stretches of play, and fosters imagination and pretend skills. So, I knew I wanted to get rid of quite a bit, and that I wanted to store toys that could be rotated in and out of play as well. Unfortunately, I needed a storage solution that could stay out in the open, at least until the rest of the apartment is likewise streamlined. Luckily, a pin came to my mind of covering cardboard boxes in fabric. (Pinned here, if you’re curious.) With the materials on hand, I jumped right into the project and soon had this:


Pretty cute for 20 minutes work, I’d say. I now had my storage box that fit perfectly above my kitchen cabinets, and I had my resolve. It was go time. I went through each basket one-by-one, sorting toys into donations, storage for future children (they had outgrown it), storage to be rotated into play, toys being kept out for the time being, items that were not toys at all (and every time I’d shout, “She doesn’t even go here!”), and trash. At the end of it, I had this:

I love how the caterpillar at the top right is smiling as if to say, “My home is beautiful now. Thank you.”

Much better. And how has it held up, one week later? I’m thrilled by how much more the kids actually play with the toys – blocks are made into towers and roads, cars are driven over them, and it is well with my soul. Unfortunately, because there is now so much more space after a basket has been emptied, that basket also becomes a toy. They are collapsible, and my kids take every chance to break them down and make them into bridges or baking trays for cakes. I like the ingenuity, but it’s taking its toll on the baskets themselves – we’ll see how they hold up. Also, my oldest is a lot more aware of grouping like toys together when clean-up time comes, not to mention the fact the clean-up time itself is much faster. Still, toys do get strewn all over the apartment, so perhaps it’s time to implement a “one toy at a time” policy. We’ll see how that goes, but overall I’m pretty happy with the results! What are some toy-organizing, or general home organization tricks that have worked for you and your family? Any spaces in your home that need a good gutting? I have my eyes on the spice cabinet and my nightstand next…

The Time I Banned Electronics. A Screen-Free Week

Screen FreeLet’s talk about an unhealthy addiction in my home. I’m not talking about the insane quantities of Pirate Booty, apple juice or diet soda consumed on a daily basis. Those addictions are going to take some professional help. I’m talking about electronics.

Here’s the skinny. Lots of devices/gaming systems/phones. Two adults. Two kids. Eight eyes glued to a screen. One little boy who gets really, uh, intense after too much screen time.

It all came to a head Saturday. My sweet aunt and grandmother watched my kids while Ben and I attended the temple for our church. When we returned, my 6-year old cousin informed me that my son “broke the iPad”.  Sure enough, in a fit of electronics-induced rage, he chucked the iPad (theirs, not ours) and chipped a corner. Mortified people. Mortified.

The ride from San Antonio to Austin was not pleasant for my little guy. By the time we reached our house he had managed to lose all electronics (besides TV) until Wednesday.

Then in a moment of inner reflection, meaning Ben wasn’t home to stop my crazy plan, I decided we are imposing a modified, screen-free week.

Here’s the plan:

  1. No handheld electronics for all inmates residents under the age of 30. This includes iPads, tablets, e-readers, smart phones and gaming systems.
  2. Drastically reduced phone and internet surfing time for mom. I have photo shoots to process and a blog to contribute to so I can’t go cold turkey. I will try to limit this to child-sleeping hours as much as possible. Check out me justifying my addiction.
  3. Limited TV time. I’m thinking two hours a day. Still need to discuss this with Ben.
  4. One “summer fun” activity each day. Something physical.
  5. One engaged family activity each night. Everyone has to be able to see each other and converse. Dinner doesn’t count.

Has any one else unplugged their families?  Any thoughts? Ideas? Sanity savers? Please share. I’ll let you know next week how it all shakes out. This might be one long week.

A Letter to My 23-yr-old Self.

A letter to my 23 yr old self

Dear 23-year-old self,

Hey there missy!  How’s it going? I just thought I’d drop you a quick note. First of all, I want to tell you, congratulations on the awesome life you are going to have.  I’m not going into detail because I don’t want to ruin the surprise. But really, in the midst of all this 20-something angst, just remember, your thirties are going to be pretty fantastic. In fact, just get through the next couple of years and you will be A-OK.

So. Back to the reason for my letter. I was staying at Mom’s last week and I was talking to our sister Beth. Yes, Beth, our 12-year-old sister. Anywho . . . we were talking about dating, school, roommates and such and I got to thinking about you. You are in the middle of one heck of a time aren’t you?  We don’t have to go into the gory details. I was there, remember?  I totally get what is going on. I thought you could use some unsolicited advice right now. Since I am you, I know you probably think you have it under control but I thought I’d toss some out there anyway. So here we go.

1. Give yourself a break. Over the next couple of years you are going to make some fairly lame decisions. (Seriously, no matter what that boy says, dying your hair black is NOT a good idea.  Really.) However, despite the lameness, you are going to figure things out, re-prioritize and end up with a booty-kicking life. Try to remember your end goals; degree, happy marriage, children, financial security, etc  While making decisions try to visualize how they will contribute to these goals. If you go off path, that’s ok. You can ALWAYS change course to get back. Just remember the road might be a little rougher.

2. Be willing to listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you have to hide it, don’t do it  If you are doing it to make someone else happy, don’t do it.  And most of all, if it gives you a sick (I said sick, not nervous) feeling in the pit of your stomach, DON’T DO IT.

3. You only live once. Your future husband hates this phrase. If I were to call him and say “YOLO” to him right now, he’d probably hang up on me. But for real, embrace life. Take opportunities. Travel. Have fun. Build relationships. Don’t be afraid to have your heart broken. All of these things are just experiences that will mold you. And that cute guy from work that is always flirting with you?  You know the one. Just go for it. I promise you, it is going to be fun.

4. Money in the wallet is better than money in the closet  I’m not saying don’t indulge every once in awhile. I’m just saying, maybe think ahead, oh, like a week, to when your rent is going to be due. We both know telling Mom we need some money is NOT a pleasant experience. Just put the sweater down. Oh! And buying groceries at Chevron on your gas card is a bad idea.

5. Go to class. What’s that?  You are only about one semester from graduating?  Then why does it take you another four years to do it?  Hmmmm?  Yes, I know parking is lame at school and you have to climb about a billion stairs to get to class but you are young. Just go already. This will save you a lot of anxiety  and hassle. It’ll also provide you more opportunities. Stop being lazy. Buy a parking pass  Go to class. Also, have you thought of taking a photography class?  Just an idea . . .

6. Try harder at work. While socializing at work is super fun and you are going to make some fantastic friends there, you are there to work.  Work hard and it’ll pay off.  Slack and you’re going to have, you guessed it, anxiety. Also, just be on time for heaven’s sake. Yeesh.

7. Be forgiving but cut your losses. Holding a grudge never helped anyone. Confront issues head-on. Letting them simmer is going to cause anxiety  Are you picking up on a theme here? Try to fix the mistakes you make. Forgive others for the mistakes they make. Toxic relationships don’t do you any good. If you can’t fix it, let it go. Point #2 can definitely be applied to relationships.

8. Exercise. Please. For your 34-year-old self struggling to be healthy. Help a sister out  Oh, and maybe cut back on the Wendy’s a little bit. Thanks.

9. Listen to your parents. They love you. They don’t quite understand you right now but they understand the ramifications of some of your choices. When they don’t seem super excited about a boy that you bring home, there might be a reason. I can promise you they are going to love your husband. Also, remember, they are human and have their own stuff to deal with.

10. Finally, stop buying CD’s. Just go get an iPod already. And maybe invest in Google, Apple and Facebook.

Alright, that’s it for now. I have to go take care of an undisclosed number of children and work off an undisclosed number of pounds. See Point #8. Keep your chin up!  Your time is just around the corner.


Love you!

Tracey (Age 34)

I Love You, Men

Just dudes being dudes, right?
Just dudes being dudes, right?

You know what I’m tired of? Being allowed to rag on men. As in, men as a whole gender. Like that awful, “Men. Easier fed than understood.” ad campaign from Ball Park. So, women shouldn’t waste their time trying to “understand” men, they should just set a hot dog in front of them and leave them to their strange, foreign man things?   Or pick your average sitcom for the last 15 or 20 years – the bumbling idiot of a guy is darn lucky to have his hot, smart wife to tell him what’s what when he messes up.

How did we get so comfortable watching men getting treated so poorly? It’s an old trick, but would you be okay swapping out men for women in those situations?  Of course not, and I’m glad for that. That used to be the case, and it took a lot of work for us to get where we are now. But somewhere along the way, we forgot that men don’t need the generalizations and condescension any more than women do.

Listen, I roll my eyes plenty at my husband.  But that’s not because he’s a dude, it’s because he’s a person, and in a relationship with another human being there are moments of frustration. He rolls his eyes just as much at me, you can be sure.

And we complement each other’s strengths, too. It’s not a case of, “Oh man, I don’t know how he ever got her.” One of us isn’t eternally indebted to the other for deigning to be married.  The fact is, we’re each lucky to have the other. And I think 90% is because we choose to see it that way.  I see my parents that way, too – each of them lucky to have the other.  They are both smart, both strong, both flawed, and both wonderful.

I don’t feel men and women are indistinguishable, just to clarify. Men and women have different things being asked of them, both culturally and – more importantly – in an eternal sense.  This is certainly a discussion for another day, but suffice it to say that still, after we acknowledge the unique attributes of men and women, there’s a whole heck of a lot more in common than there is different.

So can we all agree that it’s a good idea to celebrate the individual instead of constantly referring to a stereotype?  In that spirit, here’s a very short list of some of the great things men have done for me.

Dear various men of my life:
Thank you for the best puns a girl could ask for.
Thank you for that bacon turkey and pear panini you came up with. It was scrumptious.
Thank you for screaming during the haunted house, because I didn’t feel as scared after that.
Thank you for doing crosswords with me.
Thank you for never being too tired to shoot hoops with our kids.
Thank you for asking how I’m doing, and really wanting to know.
Thank you for setting standards in your life and living them.
Thank you for your love.

Happy Father’s Day, men!

How ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and Seven Years of Marriage Work Together

GroomalSeven years ago today I married this guy. As you can probably tell by his amazing “groomal”, I am the luckiest girl in the world. Over the past seven years we have spent less than 30 days apart, had two children, moved four times, made four job changes, ate 752 hot dogs and watched approximately 1,627 episodes of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption.

While the last number is not exact, it is certainly not an exaggeration. We literally watch PTI every single day. We TiVo it. My kids watch it. Sam calls it “Daddy’s show” and he knows there will be no Mickey Mouse Clubhouse if Kornheiser and Wilbon are on.

And you know what?  I like it. I grew up in a family that wasn’t overly concerned about sports. We loved our Nebraska football and we attended many a Omaha Royals baseball game. However, it was never a priority in our home. Now, I’m not saying that Ben is a sports fanatic, but he certainly loves sports. Especially football. He also loves his family. Especially his wife. And I love him. So, every day we spend a half-hour tuned into PTI. It works for us.

So why am I writing a whole post about this? I’m writing it because I firmly believe one of the reasons we have such a happy (yet imperfect) marriage is because we share interests. I’m sure Ben knows far more about photography, Etsy and Downton Abbey than he would like to. He can tell you all about the show Revenge and why Nolan Ross is the greatest character on television.

On the other hand, I can tell you that the last two Heisman winners came from Texas schools. Thanks to PTI, I have been able to actively participate in 4 seasons of Fantasy Football leagues with my husband. I’ve won two of them. Also, I hate Alabama football because Ben hates Alabama football. And he hates Alabama football because he hates Nick Saban. I was enraged when Saban walked into Sandra Bullock’s living room in The Blind Side. This is love people.

So in honor of Tony and Mike, here are five things they have taught me about marriage.

1. Be friends. Mike and Tony have been friends for over thirty years. They enjoy each other and spend time together off set. I think the greatest asset Ben and I have is that we are best friends. Really. Best friends. There have been many times that the opportunity has arisen to hang out with my female friends and I have opted to stay home with Ben. Be with the person you chose to be with.

2. It is okay to disagree. Tony and Mike disagree all the time. Each segment lasts anywhere from ninety seconds to three minutes. Sometimes they fight and argue over an entire segment but as soon as the next segment is up, they are back to being friends and thoughtfully discussing the next topic. 

3. Be yourself, but be better together. Every once in awhile, someone will be on vacation or on the road so they will bring in a guest host. There are some guest hosts we like better than others. If Bill Simmons is on, you better believe we are going to watch. Even though each host has chemistry with their guest hosts, the show is never as good as it is when Mike and Tony are together. Marriage should be the same way. You need to maintain your own personality and beliefs but use them in ways that make you better as a couple. I am outgoing and talkative — Ben isn’t. Ben is deliberate and thoughtful. I’m impulsive. Over the last seven years we have learned from each other and taken the best from each other’s personalities. Ben now talks to strangers in line at the store and I actually think for a minute before I buy a cotton candy machine. (Which they have a Target right now and I desperately want one.)

4. Sometimes a third opinion helps. Tony Reali is the “Stat Boy” for the show. He is also ridiculously cute. He mediates the segments and at the end of the show he reviews facts that they may have wrong. If you can’t agree on something, don’t be afraid to get another opinion. For a long time, Ben and I disagreed about when we should start our son in kindergarten. Finally we consulted with teachers, doctors and other professionals. Ben won. He’s starting in the fall.

5. A little penguin dance never hurts. Every once in awhile Tony does the following dance:

It’s my favorite. I also love Ben’s terrible jokes and the awesome songs he makes up on a daily basis. Keep the mood light people and just enjoy each other.

In the words of my sweet husband, “Ahhhh tender. Heart. Fade out.”

Keep Doing

girls and giggles
Andrea’s company, Girls and Giggles. How cute is this woman?

I’ll tell ya, for whatever reason, this danged post was so haaaaarrrrrrrd to write – in that “Ugh, I don’t want to write this, whine whine whine, grumpy cat face procrastination” kinda way. So yes, it’s coming to you later in the day, and it’s a little messy, but that works, because it embodies the ideas I’m about to set forth.

Just do something. (Okay, “just do it” was taken, alright? As was “just keep swimming”. Golly, this is not a new sentiment, is it?) And keep doing. Take a deep breath, quiet your fears (this step is optional sometimes, actually), and do something.

My example of the day? My friend Andrea, who had an idea, and rather than just bringing it up every few months with her friends and saying, “Gosh, wouldn’t that be cool?” she went for it. Now, she has a patented design and a Kickstarter project (underway now! Check it out and donate!) and she’s got more ideas and she is DOING.

On a much less grand scale, doing for me is usually just getting my house clean. And I’m not saying that in some humorous, hyperbolic kind of way. No dears, that’s quite literal. But this: If I think too much, it never gets done. Thinking is not action. I can plan and figure out the recommended ways and research homemade cleaning supplies and all that, but my house is still in the same state. But if I pick up a fruit snack wrapper off of the counter and put it in the trash, well hey, I’ve done something. The trick is to keep doing after that. Start small, sure, but don’t stop. Eventually, things will fall into place.

“But!” you say. “But! You could be doing things inefficiently – wasting your time and energy!” Yeah. I agree. More times than not you won’t be doing anything right at first, but I’ll hazard a guess that in most instances, it’s just as do-able to figure out those things along the way. This is about not over-complicating things, so if trying to figure out the best way to do something is preventing you from, you know, doing it, then it’s time to set aside that dream of perfection, at least for now.

But most importantly, trust yourself on all of this. You’re smarter than you give yourself credit for, you know? At least about things that pertain to you. Don’t do something because it’s going to get the approval of others and therefore validate you. That’s not producing, that’s taking. Do because you love it, do because you love somebody, do because you just want to try. And keep doing.

Things You Need to Stop Doing on the Internet Part II: Using Social Media to be Antisocial

Today’s post is part two in a series we’re doing about things we all do.  On the internet.  That need to stop.  Today’s topic?  Using Facebook for good and not evil. See Part I on plagiarism here. Got an idea for this series you’d like us to write about? That “Leave a reply” button is all yours, babe.

I’ll preface this by saying that today’s post is rather brief and certainly not earth-shattering.  Just a dose of some good old common sense. However, it’s one that I’ve been needing to hear, so I did me a favor and gave myself a good talking to. Perhaps it will come in handy for you, too.

Sometimes I imagine if things that weren’t tangible suddenly became so. For instance, if every 30 minutes I spent wrapped in my own little bubble of self-indulgence and entertainment became an actual, physical object, I know for certain there would be days that my house would filled, Hoarders-style.  But that’s part of the challenge presented by time spent on the internet – the consequences are rarely that visible.

Another little exercise to put things in perspective: Are you the type of “friend” in the virtual world that you’d like to be in real life?  If Facebook were a party, would you walk in and immediately start complaining about things that have annoyed you that day?  Would you not say a word to anyone but walk around and listen in on every conversation, silently judging/envying everyone around you?  If someone at the party shares something funny, clever, or interesting, would you just give them a thumbs up and move on?

Maybe some days you would do those things, but I’d suspect that you’d want to engage with your friends a little more than that.  We have that opportunity every single time we log into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., so use it. (And of course I’m speaking to myself as much as you. You know this.) Start simple, of course. Say an unsolicited nice thing, post a photo of a good memory, ask someone about their grandfather in the hospital.  It’s so easy.

But won’t that girl I knew my freshman year of college think it’s weird, you know, that I’m commenting on her vacation photos from 2007?   Umm, maybe.  That’s certainly a possibility. But that’s fear speaking, and fear gets in the way of a lot of good things happening. Perhaps the best way to look at it is to ask what you yourself are getting out of your social media time. Are you feeling connected to anyone?

The antidote:
When I need a jolt out of my internet antisocialness, I like to watch this TEDtalk from Ze Frank.  It’s a great reminder of what we’re capable of when we truly are trying to connect with the world around us rather than just consuming it. And since I’ve fallen into a slump myself, you can bet I’ll be making the effort to “get out there” on the internet. Hope to see you doing the same, and if I do, I’ll be sure to say hello!

My Unqualified Words of Mommy Wisdom

I don’t want anyone to confuse our blog with the traditional “Mommy Blog”. Yes, two-thirds of us are moms and the other third hopes to be a mom at some point. (Hopefully soon, because the 26 nieces and nephews I currently have just aren’t enough.) This adventure is about more than being a mom. It’s about sharing our opinions and experiences. However, my experience over the last 1,719 days – it seems like so much longer – involves being a mom. In fact, it has been one of my central roles in life, so since it’s the day before Mother’s Day, the topic of motherhood itself deserves a little bit of attention.

So in honor of all of the lists on the Internet, I am going to share a list.


My Unqualified Words of Mommy Wisdom

1.  Hold your babies as much as possible. Smell them. Marvel at their tiny toes and fingers. They are only little once. Soak it up. You aren’t always going to have the time to do this. It isn’t spoiling, it is loving. Plus, there will be plenty of time for you to ignore them later on. Like when they are 4 years old and incessantly asking you for Pirate Booty as you are placing dinner on the table.

2. Follow your gut. If you think your kid is sick, take him to the doctor. If you think she is delayed in some way, meet with a professional. If you don’t agree with a diagnosis, get a second opinion. Your gut is good. You have a gift from God, nature or whatever higher power you believe in that allows you to figure out what is best for you kid. You are the his parent and therefore his biggest advocate. Be the mama bear.

3.  Parenting is 50% nurturing and 50% manipulation. Every single day I feel like I’m trying to outsmart my kids to get them to do what I want. I use rewards (bribery), logic, and flattery to get things done. Sometimes I even pit them against each other. Our little guy is particularly susceptible to this trick. All if I have to do is say, “I bet Baby Sister can get in the car/get dressed/pick up toys faster than you.” and he will race to complete the task. Keep in mind, by “Baby Sister” I mean me helping her. Is this creating an unhealthy sibling rivalry? Probably. Does it get him to do what I ask? Uhhhhh, sometimes. As Brian Fantana once said, “They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.” Yes, I just quoted a fictional character from “Anchorman” to support my parenting advice. That is how unqualified we are.

4. Pay attention to them when they are talking. They have important things to say. Or you might just hear something hilarious. A couple of months ago, my son told me that his “plunger hurt.” His plunger?! Whaaaaa? Turns out his “plunger” is the word he has designated – all by himself – to describe his “manly regions.” The conversation got even better when he told me his plunger needed a band-aid. Not a band-aid near it.  A band-aid around it. I laughed for days. In fact, I’m laughing now. And I will probably use this as some form of parental manipulation in the future. Maybe when he is fourteen and I want him to clean his bathroom.

5. Take photos. Take photo of your kids. Take photos of your parents with your kids. Take photos of you with your kids. Take photos of you by yourself.  They grow up far too fast and these memories will fade with time. Their memories of you while you were young will fade. Do you have a camera on your phone? Use it. So what if they aren’t the greatest photos of all time? They are your life and in fifty years they will be precious and perfect.

6. Teach your kids the value of work. I remember when I was young, my dad found ways for us to work. Picture two little blonde girls dropping a railroad sledgehammer, smashing aluminum cans in their Las Vegas driveway. You just pictured my childhood. When it came time to earn money for camp or school activities, I folded laundry for a dollar. Hundreds of loads of laundry for 7 people. No wonder I hate folding laundry now. All those cans and pairs of socks taught me a valuable lesson. Things in life don’t come free. If you want something, work for it.

7. From Ben – Sometimes the best way to be a better parent is to get away from your kids. Don’t be afraid to get a babysitter. Maybe for just a night. Or even a long weekend. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Also, a full night of sleep will make you a better person. I promise.

8. Don’t underestimate your kids. As first-time parents, you might think, “There is no way he will be able to _______.” Kids are a lot more capable and resilient than you think they are. We thought moving our son into a toddler bed would be the greatest fight of our lives. Nope. He slept in it happily from the first night. Getting rid of the binky on the other hand . . . Yeesh.

9. In the words of our child’s teacher, Ms. Laura, “Different is okay.” One of our children has unique challenges. One day Ben heard an interview on NPR that described what it is like having a child who is profoundly different. The overall analogy goes something like this: having kids is a like planning a vacation to Italy. You read all the guide books, plan your visit, and talk to everyone you know that has been there. After 9 months of planning, you board the plane and fly to your destination. When you get off the plane, you discover that you have landed in Holland. Holland is not Italy. You didn’t plan for Holland and you don’t have the foggiest idea what to do in Holland. But that is okay because Holland is pretty great in its own way. They have tulips and who doesn’t love a bouquet of tulips? Embrace your destination. Embrace your child’s differences. Realize that God sent this child to you because you are supposed to be their parent.

10. Realize your kids are just kids. Cut them slack. This doesn’t mean let them get away with mean, harmful or destructive behavior. It just means we need to realize that, just like us, they are still learning. As I was writing this post, Ben discovered a crack in our Nintendo 3DS. Obviously our son had something to do with this. Understandably we are annoyed with the situation. Little guy picked up on this and immediately felt remorse for what had happened. He is currently wracking his 4 year old brain to figure out how to fix it. It took his look of remorse to remind us that sometimes the best way to deal with a situation is through kindness and love. Be loving. Be forgiving and remember, they are just kids!