Director’s Copy: Independence Scripts

Scene One: A family is driving through their small town. A mother is at the wheel, her daughter is sitting in the front seat; her son is in the back. As the mother approaches a stop sign she turns to her daughter.

Mother: Do you think you could walk to choir from here? It’s not very far, and it would make it so much easier for me to get home.

Daughter: [Shrugs] Sure. Bye, Mom. [She exits the vehicle, and confidently crosses the street. She raises her hand to wave goodbye, and then walks down the hill without looking back.]

Scene Two: The same mother, daughter, and vehicle. They’re heading to a thrift store. The mother puts on a Spotify playlist through the car’s Bluetooth speaker.

Daughter: What’s the name of this song?

Mother: Joy by Andy Grammer. Do you like it?

Daughter: Yes. [She’s in the front seat, so she can access all the media controls – she turns up the volume.]

A few minutes later, a different song.

Daughter: What’s the name of this song?

Mother: Love Broke Thru by TobyMac. Do you like it?

Daughter: Yes.

[She rummages through the center console to find a pad of paper and pen. She proceeds to write down the name of almost every song on her mother’s Spotify playlist.]

Scene Three: At the thrift store.

Daughter: What do you think of these shoes?

[The mother looks down at the glitter shoes with a tiny – but perceptible – wedge heel on her daughter’s feet, not sure how to respond.]

Scene Four: The mother is trying on clothes; the daughter is sitting outside the change room on a wooden chair.

Mother [under her breath]: What I really want to find is some new-to-me shoes.

[Seconds later, several pairs of shoes slide under the curtain.]

Daughter: I found some in your size. What do you think?

Scene Five: The mother and daughter are back in their car, on the way home from the thrift store.

Daughter: I really need to use the washroom.

Mother: Hmmm. Do you think you can make it home?

Daughter: Yeah, I can.

Mother: Actually, let’s just stop at the gas station by the traffic lights. Can you run in by yourself while I find a parking spot? I’ll be waiting right outside when you’re done. Do you think you can find the bathroom okay?

Daughter: Yup.

[A few minutes later the daughter emerges. She proceeds to buckle herself in – of course she buckles herself because, one day (a day the mother can’t recall specifically), this daughter stopped needing a 5-point-harness or a booster seat.]

Daughter [Picks up her notepad and continues to work on her playlist]: Don’t worry, I washed my hands.

Mother: Great!

Daughter: Can you put that Joy song back on, please?

Scene Six: At the family home. The son opens the entryway door. He has walked home from supper at a friend’s house.

Mother: Hi, honey! How was supper?

Son [Taking off his shoes and lining them up somewhat neatly]: Oh, it was good. I’m hungry.

Mother: Didn’t you have enough to eat?

Son: I had a huge bowl of lentil soup. It was good.

Mother: And you’re still hungry?

Son: Mom, I’m always hungry.

Mother [Quiet sigh]: Okay. What would you like to eat?

Son: I think I’d like some scrambled eggs.

[He walks to the fridge, opens it, and locates an egg carton. While the mother puts the pan on low heat and adds a dollop of butter, the son opens a cupboard door to get the folding stool. He sets the stool up in front of the stove. He cracks two eggs, puts the empty shells back into the egg carton neatly and then slowly scrambles both eggs in the pan.]

Son [Several minutes later]: There. Perfect.

[He gets off his stool and rummages in a different cupboard for some tortilla wraps. He hops onto the counter to get a plate, locates a bag of shredded cheese in the refrigerator and sprinkles cheese very deliberately over the tortilla, making sure there is even coverage. He walks to the microwave, heats the tortilla until the cheese is melted, adds a healthy portion of eggs, squirts on a line of ketchup, folds up his wrap and carries his plate to the dining room table.]

[They both sit at the table, the mother and her son.]

Son [Between bites]: Wow. This is really good. [The mother and son talk until he finishes his wrap.] I’m going to go make another one.

[The son repeats the process, solo, while the mother sits at their dining room table and watches her son maneuver around the kitchen. The bittersweet reality of the moment is palpable. After the son finishes his second wrap he loads his dirty plate (the mother has to remind him to do this) into the dishwasher and goes to his bedroom to put on two-piece dinosaur pajamas.]

To Be Continued…

Your turn. Do you have vivid memories of major independence milestones from your childhood? If you have kids, how does independence factor into your parenting experience these days – are 5-point harnesses a distant memory or a current reality?

Header photo by Abdul Azeez Garbadeen on Unsplash

Why the Picture Book Thing Is Making Me Sad

A few weeks ago, when I was turning out all the lights before bedtime, I took a wistful look at our little picture book basket. It’s had a place by our living room armchair for years now, and I’ve been feeling an aching dread over how quickly we’re reaching the end of an era in terms of family reading habits.

I thought the sadness was because I love picture books so much. I do love picture books and have loved sharing the experience with my kids. We’ve laughed at silly rhymes, we’ve marveled at illustrations, we’ve explored hard topics in wonderful ways, we’ve discovered favourite authors, we’ve handpicked 1000s of books off the shelves at local library branches.

But that night I realized the biggest reason the end of this era is making me so sad: this was the one parenting skill in which I felt fully confident.

Every day I feel like I’m screwing up in countless ways. But reading out loud to the kids was my thing. I knew I did it well. And this aspect of parenting is slowly – but undeniably – coming to an end.

I don’t have a great way to wrap up this post. Just the observation that reaching the end of an era of picture books in our household signals the end of a major source of parenting confidence. And that bums me out!

Onward and upward, I suppose, but with unmistakable sadness…

Can you relate – if not with picture books specifically, then in some other aspect of your life where you felt great confidence in a behaviour which naturally timed out?

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

P.S. We also read chapter books (not quite as near and dear to my heart as picture books); here’s a post I wrote about our long phase of reading books that have accompanying movies!

Sometimes, Everyone Can Be Happy

In our household, emptying the dishwasher is one of Abby’s main responsibilities. There is the expected groaning about it being unfair and just about every day she asks: Didn’t I just empty this dishwasher yesterday? Yes…yes you did empty it yesterday; I also laundered your clothes yesterday and the day before that and the day before that…for the last 11.5 years.

Yesterday’s chores needing to be repeated again today is one of the unsettling realities of life.

While dishwasher duty is officially “her” job, I often come alongside and help. There are some dishes that are hard for her to put away on higher shelves and, well, teamwork expedites the process and makes it more enjoyable!

I always used to think I hated emptying the dishwasher (which is one of the reasons I delegated this chore to one of my children; there are perks to being an adult), but have come to realize I only hate emptying the cutlery. I would rather scrub a dozen toilets than put away clean cutlery. I truly loathe dealing with forks and knives – though I’m not sure why.

Abby happens to enjoy doing the cutlery. (Okay, enjoy might be a stretch; how about tolerates without complaining.) On the mornings when I help with the emptying process, I cheerfully stack plates and put away mugs while she tends to the spatulas and spoons. And it always feels like a win-win.

Your turn. Do you ever break down a task into subparts and divvy out portions of responsibility based on different personal preferences?

P.S. This topic reminds me of my favourite scene from Two Weeks Notice (Sandra Bullock/Hugh Grant) where the main characters – without even speaking about their actions – mechanically exchange different ingredients in their salad until they end up perfectly happy with their meal. She takes his sprouts, he picks through her salad for chunks of beet. The whole time this food exchange is going on, the characters are discussing other topics. They know each other so well, the behaviours are automatic. Every time I watch this movie, this scene stands out as such a tender reminder of how familiarity (and counterbalancing a partner’s likes/dislikes) can be a powerful demonstration of love.

Header photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

She Can Still Be A Doctor

WordPress tells me I’ve hit Publish 334 times now. But of all the posts I’ve written, this one is probably my favourite. I first published it back in June 2021, but I think about this story regularly. It came out of a relatively forgettable moment – a single comment from a friend – but the memory of it has remained vivid.

And even now, all these years later, I sometimes need to remind myself that she can still be a doctor…

When Abby was born life turned upside down – literally. Delivery required far more medical intervention than I had expected and my vision of motherhood – rocking a contented baby, having hours just melt away while I watched her delicate little features in sweet slumber – couldn’t have been further from reality.

I’d pour a bowl of cereal at 8 a.m. and, if I was lucky, eat it by noon. The first few months were a haze of sleepless nights and days filled with tears (hers and mine) while we navigated infections, colic, and seemingly endless feeding challenges.

The biggest sticking point? I’d always planned to nurse my children. It was healthy, economical, convenient. It was also what a good mother would do. Not only did I want to do it, I was inundated by messaging that championed and elevated this aspect of mothering.

I was also surrounded by mothers that could do it. Baby-hour at the library was basically a lesson in how to feed and nurture your little one naturally; you could find me wallowing in a corner covertly wielding a bottle.

I dealt with these things – as one does – by cycling through stages of denial, anger, depression, and pseudo-acceptance (there wasn’t much bargaining to do, she was only 2 months old after all). I researched techniques, bought supplements, and consulted experts before officially conceding defeat.

She got older and things got easier. By 9 months she was pure joy – full of all the spunk and personality we cherish today. She was happy and well fed. Though the crying was behind us, guilt lingered. And then a new friend entered my life and helped to shift my entire perspective with just one sentence.

This friend and I were out for an evening walk. Somehow I had circled back to discussions of feeling less-than because of my inability to naturally deliver and feed my (now toddler) daughter. This friend paused for a minute and said wisely: “You know, Elisabeth, she can still be a doctor.

What she meant – and what I needed to hear – was that the future was unwritten. The unexpected complications of the past, which were completely out of my control, didn’t mean Abby was doomed to a life of illness, missed opportunities, and continual disadvantages. If she wants, she can still be a doctor. Or a stay-at-home mom. Or a physicist, a mechanic, an artist or anything else her determined self wants to pursue.

When Levi was born several years later, I met with a lactation consultant proactively, bought new supplements and did all the “right” things. I gave it my all for a week. When the nurse told me, gently, it simply wasn’t working…I cried. The second time around it was still sad and disappointing. But I also knew: he can still be a doctor. Or a pro-surfer. Or a stay-at-home dad. Or an electrician. Or a teacher, or a financial analyst, or a playwright. The sky is the limit.

It really is – after all, he could still be an astronaut.

Your turn. Did anyone else find certain (or all!) aspects of the transition to motherhood different from your original expectations? The subtle irony in all of this is that I was a formula-fed baby and I don’t think it hasn’t slowed me down too much in life?

There Is No Rush: And Other Sayings

I’ve loved reading all the responses to my post on family sayings and vacation mantras. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking through more go-to lines that have subconsciously embedded themselves into our lexicon.

More by good luck than good management. I’ve mentioned before how my maternal grandmother loved to play the board game Crokinole. I first referenced it because she was forever saying: So near, but yet so far while competing in weekend-long tournaments with my older brother. But, with equal frequency, she was quick to say: More by good luck than good management. If someone managed to accidentally knock one of her players off the board, her commentary on the situation was always the same: It was more by good luck than good management. I can’t remember if she would apply this logic to herself when she made a play that was more by “good luck” than “good management”…?

Be kind, be safe, be neat. We adored the preschool Abby and Levi attended with good reason. It was amazing. John and I used to joke we wanted to quit our jobs and attend preschool full-time. Outdoor classrooms. Incredible staff. Delicious food (Levi still raves about many of the dishes). Sand and water tables. Dress up stations with costumes. Magnets and puzzles and books and magnifying glasses and every creative delight you could imagine. And, perhaps most alluring of all, someone to encourage you to lie down after lunch who would also rub your back until you fell asleep. #BestLifeEver. They also did great preparatory work with the kids, offering them support in handling conflict at the pint-sized level. One year, when Levi was still attending, the class was tasked with coming up with a saying to promote good choices. They settled on: Be kind, be safe, be neat. We still repeat this line to our kids regularly. Kissing them goodbye outside the school? Be kind, be safe, be neat. Dropping them off for a playdate? Be kind, be safe, be neat. In the last few years we’ve added our own family twist with one extra line: “…and have fun!”

Nobody loves us…but at least there aren’t any bills. This one might not be the greatest quote to mention publicly. Are you familiar with the truly disgusting/horrible song that goes: Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…guess I’ll go eat worms. If you’ve never heard this song, count your blessings. It gets worse in the following verses, detailing the specific characteristics of said worms. Ick. Yet, somehow, this chorus has stood the test of time and continues to make its way ONTO CHILDREN’S ALBUMS. Anyhoo. Somewhere along the way our kids learned this ditty (can I blame preschool), and found the whole worm-eating bit rather hilarious. Sigh. Where does this fit in with regular family sayings, you might ask? In our household, checking the mail remains a very serious endeavor. One child is primarily responsible for this task and takes the job very seriously (woe to the other sibling should they abscond the mail key and check the box first). At one point somebody said, in response to an empty mailbox – Nobody loves us. How depressing, right? I pointed out an empty mailbox was GREAT news since it meant no bills. It has become a family ritual, when the mailbox is empty, to say: Nobody loves us…but at least there aren’t any bills. *For the record, both kids regularly receive fun things in the mail. Many people love us – mail or no mail.

Home again, home again. I know my Dad used to say this, but it’s in regular rotation at our house, too. As soon as we pull into the driveway someone will either sigh – or scream with delight, depending on what situation we’re leaving/entering – home again, home again. (This originally comes from To Market, To Market to Buy a Fat Pig; we apparently get a lot of our material from questionable and antiquated nursery rhymes?)

You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Another preschool saying, and one I know has made the rounds in daycares and homes around the world: You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Does saying this to the kids eliminate all their angst? I wish. They still love to complain – especially if they feel like a sibling has gotten an extra microgram of chocolate sauce on their ice cream or in other matters of equal importance. If complaining was a sport, our kids could vie for the top prize. But occasionally, when I remember to repeat this line, something clicks into place in their sweet little brains and it actually does make a tangible difference. And let’s be honest, I need to repeat this line for my own benefit, too. Elisabeth: you get what you get, and you don’t get upset. It works…occasionally.

The things that go wrong often make the best memories. I got this line from Gretchen Rubin years ago and we say it all the time. All. the. time. It’s so true. The things that go wrong often do make the best memories; or, if not the best, then at least the most likely to be retold around the dinner table.

And in the current chaos of finishing out a somewhat oddly configured summer schedule, I’m still trying to lean on my vacation mantras like: It costs what it costs, Choose the bigger life (I actually said this out loud to Levi yesterday when I jumped off a diving board at a public pool), and This will feel different tomorrow.

My newest addition to the repertoire: There is no rush.

90% of the time when I find myself rushing, there is literally no need to rush. Rushing adds an unnecessary layer of stress to the day and is usually self-induced.

I wrote this line in the front of my daytimer. I’ve said it over and over to myself when I’m bouncing like a pinball around the house or the grocery store. I don’t have to run down the stairs to get the mop. I can walk. I don’t have to push my cart at top speed to get Greek yogurt. I can saunter.

There is no rush.

A few weeks ago John went on a long run and we coordinated a rendezvous point I could meet him with the car. On our way home he asked about stopping to go down a side road he knew provided access to a field covered in freshly baled hay. The detour was a bust – when we arrived a tractor had just cleared the field of our photo op. But as we drove back up the little dirt road, we spotted a huge wheat field with a beautiful cloudy sky as the backdrop. Would I mind stopping, he asked?

It was supper time. I had a list of things to get done at home. But we stopped, he hopped out. He got the picture. There was no rush.

Here’s the sad truth. Too often I don’t stop for the wheat fields in life. I rush past. And I suspect I’ll continue to do this because, well, life is busy and once you get started, it can be hard to slow down. But sometimes these little reminders of simple truths – There is no rush, This will feel different tomorrow – can change decisions or attitudes long enough to create little bits of magic.

Your turn. Any new sayings you’ve come across lately?

South Carolina: There and Back Again

I drafted this post two months ago and, for some inexplicable reason, never got around to clicking publish. I had jotted down some of the things that contributed to our (air) travel experience feeling relatively pleasant, even with kids in tow. But there is definitely some irony in looking back since I mention, in the first paragraph, “both kids are old enough to be fully independent for…toileting.” Which they are, of course, but isn’t it telling that every post of our big city recaps involved the distress of finding public washrooms! Perhaps we’ve not quite hit the “golden zone” for cities

We’re back and our time in South Carolina was wonderful!

Traveling with kids is a very different experience than traveling solo or as a couple. The considerations feel rather endless. That said, I think we’re in a golden zone in terms of family age configuration – both kids are old enough to be fully independent for feeding and toileting, but they’re young enough to appreciate the adventure of travel and aren’t yet sullen teenagers.

Our trip went very smoothly despite the fact 5 out of 6 legs of our journey involved delayed flights. John had planned VERY long layovers (mostly so we didn’t have to rush and the kids could explore the airports) so we ended up not missing any of our flights and arrived in South Carolina one hour later than planned; ditto on our return to CANADA. First tip: on multi-leg trips…schedule in lots of buffer.

Here are a few things that worked well for us in terms of prepping to leave and the journey there and back again.

countdown chart + Step challenge

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but ahead of our trip we wanted to find a fun way for the kids to get engaged in “earning” some vacation spending money. John – who had done some iteration of this through work before – came up with a $tep Challenge.

We are a walking family. I even wrote a Q&A post about how we get the kids to walk so much; during the height of the pandemic we were walking 7 km+ together most days. But things have slid over the last year. Leading up to our trip, John offered 20 walks that were a minimum of 4 km. This means the daily trek to school didn’t count.

Most of the time, our family walks are mandatory. For the step challenge they were optional. After each walk, they earned $1 USD to spend on whatever they wanted in South Carolina, with a $5 bonus if they agreed to go every single time one of these optional walks was offered.

A playdate invite from Levi’s best friend the day of the second walk was too good an opportunity to miss. Levi remained very content in his decision to forgo the $5 bonus which I actually love! He prioritized relationships over money. Abby was very determined to get every possible dollar available to her; she also had a lot of friends she wanted to buy souvenirs for, so every dollar counted!

we left the house clean

I try to do this for every trip (even if it’s just a quick overnight getaway). The day before we leave I do a quasi-deep clean. I aim to get all the existing laundry washed and put away. I vacuum floors, use up any food remaining in the fridge (I start this process about a week out if we’re going for any length of time), and attempt to leave everything as neat as possible. When we arrived home at 2:30 am it was very nice to have a blank slate on which to drop all our suitcases and travel paraphernalia.

unpack right away

This is also quite typical for us after any trip. While it can be easier said than done, I actually had a boost of energy when we got home in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t go to bed until 3 am – at which point the laundry basket was full and my luggage and carryon bookbag were empty!

pack light

Admittedly this is significantly easier as the kids get older (diapers, bottles, car seats – all that stuff is big, bulky, and also completely necessary when travelling with infants/toddlers). We each took a single small carry-on rolling suitcase and John and I also each had a bookbag for laptops, passports and other things we needed easy access to. Most of the time the kids rolled their own suitcases, but in a pinch it was no problem for John and I to handle two.

I used every single outfit while we were away (most of them twice; we did laundry once at my sister’s). Going to a warm destination is easier because we didn’t have to pack bulky layers, but we put a lot of thought into what we would take. We went down with extra space which was great for a few souvenirs and some much-appreciated hand-me-downs the kids received from my sister. We also tucked in two small drawstring bookbags, which we ended up using quite a bit on various outings.

Each of the kids received one of these drawstring bags for Christmas last year from a friend and I didn’t know when we would use them?! Turns out…ALL. THE. TIME. They are so convenient. The drawstring top opens wide we can fit things like soccer balls and bulky gear inside with ease. But, when empty, they fold down into a tiny footprint. So handy!

Packing light also means we had no checked bags to worry about with all the delays…and it also makes unpacking a much faster process!

MORE packing notes

Full credit to John (who should seriously post YouTube videos of how efficiently he can pack luggage; it is insanely neat and is almost like watching a work of art in progress) who helps us maximize space. One accessible hack even I can manage independently: stuff small shirts, socks, and underwear inside shoes. I’m also going to publically admit he often repacks my bag for me because he’s just so much better at it.

Despite heading to a warm destination, I packed a puffer coat; it is light and compresses into a tiny little square. Most importantly, it was very warm on the plane – a location where I’m always frozen. This was much more efficient than carting around a bulky sweater, which I’ve done in the past. I wore this coat non-stop on all our flights and even in some parts of the airport.

Our 4+ hour delay in Charlotte. John and I each did long walks through the airport, Levi napped at one point, and both kids spent a lot of time on moving sidewalks. I continued to sport a down-filled coat.

have fun incorporated into the travel

We had the advantage of having access to lounges due to John’s status (I’m not sure how much it costs to purchase one-off entry, but it might be worth it? Lounge access is always wonderful, but the free food and additional space were so, so nice with kids).


We also spent a lot of time just walking around the airport on foot. The kids loved the moving sidewalks (free) and enjoyed looking at various stores (we didn’t buy anything, so also free).

We also made our airport hotel (overnight before we left for the US) part of the adventure – using the pool, eating snacks in bed. Because of our early flight time, it made sense to stay as close to the airport as possible. Also, the free 2-week parking included with our overnight stay made the hotel a significantly cheaper option than using the Park n’ Fly. Plus we got a free breakfast before we shuttled to the airport!

entertainment/flight log books

We took very little along in terms of entertainment. I used to pack goody bags for the kids for long drives but, honestly, they always felt like a lot of work and money and the kids seem to have grown out of this stage.

We brought our audiobook phone along (an old phone we’ve repurposed solely for the kids to listen to audiobooks or to occasionally watch downloaded Netflix shows) and both kids listened to an audiobook during one flight. But mostly we just talked, explored the airport or, when the plane had a screen, the kids watched a movie.

We did take along one very specific “entertainment” item. For Christmas a neighbour – who works for Air Canada – gifted the kid’s personalized flight log books. I didn’t even know this was a thing.

It was so, so fun. I wish we’d had this when Abby was a toddler, but since this was Levi’s first time on a plane (and Abby’s first flight she could remember), it feels like we’ve started capturing this information at an opportune time. We handed these books to a flight attendant as soon as we boarded and they took care of getting the pilots to fill out relevant information and then returned the books to us just before takeoff.

One of the pilots even filled out a sweet postcard for each of the kids, too. The whole experience was great and provided an ever-present reminder of the thoughtfulness of our neighbour.

marry (someone Like) John

I can’t finish a post like this without acknowledging that John was the biggest reason our travel went so smoothly. He is such an experienced, savvy and naturally-gifted traveler. He keeps a level head and has great instincts! He is also very good at reading airline personnel and winning them over with his charm; hence why we got upgraded to business class on one leg. He knows how to navigate airports with ease and I could essentially put my mind into neutral and simply follow his lead which made what could have been an incredibly stressful experience (okay, running full speed through the airport masked to try to make a connecting flight was stressful), often downright fun.

What are your air travel tips? Are you an over-packer? Do you freeze on airplanes, too?

A Minimalist Hack: Use the Same Toothpaste (Repost)

I started this blog a little over a year ago and, for the first few months, had basically no readership. But then a friend commented on the post below – originally from May 25th 2021 – and I’ve had a special affinity for it ever since. I wanted to form an online community to talk about the big stuff – like mental health and parenting, but also a space where we could talk about the hassle of finding public bathrooms while on vacation…and toothpaste habits.

So without further ado, and because I think current readers will have some very fun comments on this topic, a repost:

I’m no grassroots minimalist. My family has a storage room full of boxes: camping supplies, Christmas decorations, and plenty of creations from the preschool era. Marie Kondo could surely help us find lots to purge. But, overall, we appreciate clean aesthetics and are always looking for ways to reduce friction with regard to how our home functions.

Take toothpaste.

When Abby was young, I remember debating – for an inordinate amount of time – what toothpaste flavour to select for her maturing teeth. The pharmacy aisle was full of options. Would she prefer Berry Blast, Strawberry Swirl, or Bubble Gum Twist? Each brand – and there were many – had its own combination of tube characteristics (twist cap vs. flip; hard tube vs. soft). I hadn’t even gotten to the fluoride vs. no fluoride conundrum yet and was already completely overwhelmed. Should buying toothpaste for a 3-year-old really be this hard?

Then one day, during a well-check visit with our doctor, she happened to bring up teeth-brushing. She mentioned, in an off-hand way: “Feel free to use a rice-sized amount of whatever toothpaste you’re using.”

Surely it wasn’t right to deprive my firstborn of whatever bold-coloured, highly-flavoured concoction the big conglomerates told me she should have? But, I grew up on regular Crest…and I don’t think it held me back in life.

Since then, our entire family has used the same toothpaste (Colgate with Scope); my kids don’t even know they could be frothing at the mouth with Minion-themed Cotton Candy.

Not only does it require fewer decisions at the store, since we all use the toothpaste interchangeably, I only pack a single tube when we travel (we also all use the same bodywash and shampoo).

Your turn. Do you use different products from your kids or spouse?

Family Sayings + Recent Vacation Mantras

Long-time readers may recall how much I love quotes. I collect them from a variety of sources and am always on the lookout for new inspiration (last week: a sidewalk plaque outside the NY Public Library + on a wall at the American Museum of Natural History). While formal quotes from famous authors or philosophers are wonderful, I find it equally fascinating to hear what sayings work their way into individual family cultures.

Let’s start with a walk down memory lane…

family sayings from my childhood

So near, but yet so far. I use this one with my kids regularly and it gives me warm fuzzies every time as this line originated with my maternal grandmother. She was particularly fond of saying this when someone narrowly missed a shot in Crokinole. She and my brother would organize weekend-long Crokinole tournaments whenever they were together, and she had cause to say So near but yet so far regularly during those epic events.

It builds character. My father would say this about everything. Wet sneakers on a hike in the rain? It builds character. Shoveling the walkways after a big snowstorm? It builds character. Let’s just say, by my Dad’s reckoning at least, I should have a lot of character.

Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you. My parents had high expectations for their kids, but they never demanded perfection. If I got a test back with a less-than-stellar grade, it would be met with a simple: Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you.

Obey. In modern contexts, I suppose Mom and Dad were relatively strict disciplinarians, but as Baby #4 it never really felt that way. There was an established structure for discipline but, beyond that, we actually had quite of bit of freedom. I spent lots of my childhood roaming, didn’t have enormous chore lists, and they never grounded us. We were taught to respect our elders and do our best but there was a fair amount of leeway in many regards. But if Mom made a request or gave a command, she meant it. If we put up resistance, she would reply in a steady, calm – but unmistakeably “Don’t Mess With Me” tone – Obey. If we made it to the point she just said Obey, we knew she meant business. No lecture or dithering or arguments or repeatedly asking us to do something. She’d just say: Obey.

Immediately or sooner. I had forgotten all about this line, but Mom recently brought it up and I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember my parents saying this! When do you want me to set the table for supper? Immediately or sooner. When do the cookies need to go into the oven? Immediately or sooner.

frost family sayings

And then you grow up and leave childhood homes; old routines and habits make way for new, blended family cultures, including a curated selection of go-to family sayings. The kids would likely be better sources for this information, but here are a handful that are in regular rotation in our house.

You can do hard things. We say this to the kids a lot. We don’t try to downplay that certain things are hard or unpleasant, but do want to affirm that they can do hard things!

You are a joy and a blessing. I read this line in a book years and years ago and say it to the kids regularly, especially at bedtime. I have to admit I don’t always feel this way in every moment of my parenting journey but it’s still always true. They are a joy and they are a blessing.

I have high expectations and I know you can meet them. I’ve started saying this after reading Grit by Angela Duckworth where she mentions an iteration of this line. I do have high expectations but I like to think they’re reasonable. Mostly I’ve been saying this in the context of interpersonal relationships between the kids and/or with their friends. (Eg. I have high expectations of how kind/compassionate you can be to your sibling, and I know you can meet them).

vacation mantras

A few weeks ago, right before we headed out on our road trip, I was visiting with a friend and discussing the upcoming rigors of traveling with family. I told her I thought I needed to adopt some mantras and we talked through them together that very evening.

(A note before I start. Years ago I read Dan Harris’ book called 10% Happier. I have always, always been in awe of this title because I love the realism. The book is never promising a story of absolute change (100% Happiness) or rainbows pooping out puppies. Nope. It’s discussing a 10% increase in happiness. Sometimes tiny improvements can feel too slight to celebrate, but 10% is so much better than 0%.)

I digress on this point because none of the following mantras dramatically changed my outlook on this trip. I knew two weeks on the road, with thousands of kilometers of driving, 100+ kilometers of walking, and extreme changes to our schedule were going to be tough. But I do think these mantras made things at least 10% happier/easier. And that’s a win in my books.

  • It costs what it costs. I have a very hard time spending money, especially if it seems at all frivolous. I shop sales, buy all my clothes (and many other items) secondhand, and want to think I’m getting the best deal on just about everything. There are lots of motivators from my past that have led me to this point but, needless to say, vacation can be a tough pill to swallow because of the apparent nonstop “frivolous” spending. Hotels, restaurants, entry fees. When we were debating doing a second Broadway show and I was inwardly balking at the price tag? It costs what it costs. I still hate spending money, but repeating this in my head really does seem to help…a bit.
  • Choose the bigger life. I’ve been chewing on this one for several years (courtesy of the Happier podcast), but it felt especially relevant for this family trip. As an introvert (who doesn’t like to spend money; see above), saying yes to adventure doesn’t always come naturally. But I know that choosing things that might be slightly more uncomfortable in the short term, often makes for the best memories long-term. On our last full night in Toronto, John wanted to see the skyline after dusk. We ended up walking a LONG way to get to a specific view of the city. I was tired and every ounce of me wanted to turn around for home, but I said: Choose the bigger life. And the view was absolutely worth it!

On our way through Canada to the US, we passed within 15 minutes of Niagara Falls. It was a bit of a nuisance to route to the falls and we knew we might have a hassle finding a place to park. We discussed it briefly but, in the context of choosing the bigger life, the answer was obvious. So we went.

  • I can’t keep everybody happy. This one is huge for me. I hate, hate, hate (x 10,000) conflict and really do want everyone (including myself) to be happy at all times. And it’s just not possible. I told myself this a lot on the trip (one child wants to do/eat/see/watch X, while the other wants to do/eat/see/watch Y = only one child is happy). I was frustrated regularly by my lack of control over keeping everyone happy, but repeating this line did help me manage my expectations…slightly.
  • This will feel different tomorrow. This mantra ended up being my favourite, but I didn’t come up with it until partway through the trip. Last Monday was…not so fun. It had some great moments, but I ended the day crying in our hotel room which wasn’t exactly Highlight Reel material. It rained/was hot and muggy all day. My period started. The kids were tired and grumpy. I forgot most Broadway shows don’t run on Mondays, which meant the evening I had originally planned wasn’t going to happen. The kids were underwhelmed/overwhelmed by city life and insisted on fixating on the negative: too many people, too much cigarette smoke, Wolfville is so much better (true on all counts, but it’s New York City! How can you not love this place?). At one point I told myself, This will feel different tomorrow. I didn’t try to spin it into: This was a fully awesome day. But a simple acknowledgment that the events of the day would feel different in retrospect.
Best of friends, mere minutes before the wheels feel off our proverbial roadtrip Happy Train.

Thursday night was another tough evening. Despite a good day of travel, we were all emotionally and physically tired from adventuring. We had a gorgeous lighthouse stop planned and all was going well until someone (who will remain nameless) tickled someone (who will also remain nameless) and that someone did not enjoy being tickled, bumped into a rock as a result of said tickle, and a gigantic meltdown ensued. I was beyond frustrated. Please everyone be happy, I wanted to scream (but kept to a dull yell once we reached the car). While I really should have been repeating Mantra #3 above on repeat, I did not and chose to ugly cry (that time of the month + 42 hours of driving = an emotionally sensitive Mama), but after a hot shower I told myself – and believed – this will feel different tomorrow. And it did.

As part of my evening wind-down, I happened to read Laura Vanderkam’s blog post about a recent family vacation. I appreciated how she starts off a paragraph by saying “we had a good time” and then goes on to document a number of things that went wrong including poor sleep, an ear infection that required a trip to the hospital, and sunburns. But then she wrote something that turned my day around. “My goal…was to have…a few enjoyable moments, and that definitely happened.”

I turned to John triumphantly and said: we had lots of enjoyable moments. If my goal was to have a few – or even lots – of enjoyable moments (instead of wanting to keep everybody happy and have only enjoyable moments which just isn’t reasonable with the dynamics of a young family or the realities of LIFE), then our vacation was an overwhelming success.

So cue my newest vacation/life mantra:

  • My goal is to have at least a few enjoyable moments…

How about you? Any treasured phrases from your childhood, or things you currently say to friends, family or coworkers? Any vacation mantras you’ve been incorporating this year to make things 10% happier?

Whatever you’re doing this long weekend I hope you have many enjoyable moments.