The Turkeys Grew Up

This summer, when we visited Grandma and Grandpa at Goose Hill Farm, you could hold the baby turkeys in your hands. The boys took charge of feeding them and locking them up for the night to protect them from the hawks and other wild animals prowling for meat in the dark.

Now visiting for Thanksgiving, the turkeys have grown waist-high. They are cautious, but curious. The male leads the females up to the kitchen windows, and they peer in at us from so close you can see the short hair on their heads. There are shades of pinks and light blue in the male turkey’s face. He struts and fluffs his tail feathers, a hundred different browns.

Abandoning her flock hiding from the snow, the only white chicken comes adventuring with the turkeys. We are told she prefers them and follows them around like a little sister. “Hey, wait for me!” Shorter legs racing to keep up.

But with “Turkey Day” only two days away, we expected this crew to be gone. Isn’t that the turkey’s sad story in all the picture books? In fact, for third graders at our sons’ school, the Thanksgiving homework is to take a cut-out paper turkey and “disguise” it so that it does not become part of the feast. Using any mix of materials and creativity, the kids dress their turkeys as football players, clowns, pilgrims, lions, mermaids and more.

Our youngest disguised his as a tomato plant. Very unusual and sneaky.

But the three Goose Hill turkeys don’t need a disguise. They are members of the family this Thanksgiving: the crazy uncle with warts on his nose, the cousin wobbling around the table after too much wine, and the vegetarian sister who every year, loudly mourns the poor bird.

The Cell Phone Challenge that Disrupted Dinner

My boys have been clamoring for cell phones for two years now. I believe that eighth grade is the appropriate time to get one. They are in fifth and sixth.

Recently however, when my husband realized he was going to want to upgrade to the iPhone 6 as soon as it came out, he concocted the Cell Phone Challenge for our oldest son, who lacks stamina, to get in shape.

The challenge was that if our 6th grader could complete the app called Couch to 5K by embracing the 9-week process and finally running a 5K in 30 minutes, he would get the phone that held the app.

He was not eager. So I agreed to do it with him.

We are in week two and run three times a week. One day, he is furious and whiny. The next, he admits that he likes these runs because we get to talk.

But drama came in the guise of his fifth grade brother, with skinny legs and arms and the stamina of a horse. “If I run a 5K, can I get a cell phone?”

Too easy a task for him. So, believing that a challenge is good for all concerned, and added muscle might benefit the wily and wiry boy, my husband promised that if he could do 100 good sit-ups and 100 good push-ups in half an hour, he too would earn the prize.

We both thought this task impossible, until… dinner, Friday evening, week one of the Cell Phone Challenge.

“I’m bored of training,” said the fifth grader. “Can I just do it now?”

And so began a series of 10 sit-ups, then 10 push-ups with brief rests in-between. If the push-up was weak, he had to do it again. Much shouting. A few victory laps around the dining room table as he closed in on his goal.

“I am getting that phone!”

We assumed it would take too long and his skinny arms would betray him.

Then with six minutes to spare, and his big brother in tears of envy, he completed the challenge. A florescent green cell phone is now his.

He is the one who really wanted one. He showed his mettle, his arms in pain for two days after. Set him a goal, he will go for it. If there’s something he wants, he will do what it takes to get it. He is all will.

After an initial meltdown, his older brother seems content to go slow. And he will, in the end, get more out of it if he sticks with it. For the process. The alone time with mom. The knowledge that he powered through to do something that was really hard for him.

And we learned what a strong will can achieve before clearing the dishes.

And the Question for Today Is…

How does a boy climb over his electric guitar to get out of the minivan in the morning and still forget it?

I have studied this phenomenon for several years, and it entails a seven-step process.

Step 1: Leave your electric guitar in the house despite multiple reminders that you have band practice after school.

Step 2: Think really hard after mom asks, “Did you forget something?” Race back into the house to get your instrument, thus delaying school arrival. 

Step 3: Lay your electric guitar on the floor of the minivan, where you and your brothers will have to step around and over it to get out.

Step 4: Drag your backpack over the backs of the seats into the third row, hitting your little brother in the head as you do so. Act like his head was in the wrong place.

Step 5: Roll your eyes when mom reminds you for the fifteenth time about where to go after band practice, for which you will require your electric guitar.

Step 6: Arrival at school. Yell at your little brother that he is taking too long to get out of the car, while he avoids stepping on your treasured electric guitar at his feet. 

Step 6: Your big moment. Drag your backpack over the backs of the seats. Hit your head (that’s just karma) as you climb over the electric guitar on the floor. Jump out. Swipe your long rockstar bangs out of your eyes. Close the door.

Step 7: Walk half-way across campus before mom asks, “Did you forget something?”

Thanks to the Victor

Last weekend, our Family Fantasy Football League had its Super Bowl – its much-discussed trophy, the ability to choose a special dinner.  Had the dog won, we all vowed to eat bacon for a day. I was gunning for a nice restaurant, anything I did not have to plan or cook.

In the end, however, our 2013 Family Fantasy Super Bowl pitted Dad’s Rockin’ Red Peppers against our fifth grader’s Team Orion. A poor showing this season by the Atlanta Falcons meant the preseason favorite (Fire Spirits managed by our fourth grader and fountain of football knowledge) did not make the playoffs.

Rockin’ Red Peppers had chosen peanut butter eggs for his prize, so of course, he had the family cheering madly for Orion, who promised dinner at the Olive Garden, where the bread apparently “rocks” and Mom would not have to cook.

Peanut butter eggs were concocted by my husband when he gave up carbs. His theory was that if he liked scrambled eggs and a piece of toast with peanut butter, there was no reason not to nix the toast and melt the peanut butter into a warm plate of pale yellow protein. I have since given up scrambled eggs altogether.

So his victory by more than 30 points meant disaster for Mom and three boys who hate eggs.

The morning of his celebratory feast, our fifth grader walked through the house moping that “today is going to be terrible.”

At lunchtime, we loaded everyone in the car on our way to a restaurant Dad discovered that “actually has peanut butter eggs on the menu! Can you believe it?!” Our fourth grader Googled it, but only found an Easter recipe for chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs.

When we pulled into the parking lot of Dave & Busters, the fifth grader asked, “There are two restaurants here?”

When we sat down in the booth at Dave & Busters, they rapidly scanned the menus, “Can we get something else if we eat the peanut butter eggs too?”

Then they fell silent. The fourth grader smiled first.

The fifth grader looked at Dad confused. “They don’t have peanut butter eggs!” Then he smiled too. “And we get to play games?!”

The kindergartener jumped up and down in the booth.

Dad’s victory celebration – a feast of nachos, wings, macaroni and cheese and an hour of video games. No peanut butter eggs to be found.


The Ice Pack of Doom

My sister used to “un-make” your bed if she was mad at you.

My nine year old topped that tonight with the “Ice Pack of Doom.” Apparently, one fills a sandwich bag with ice and hides it between the sheets, as close to the feet as possible, in an unsuspecting brother’s bed.

These are the moments when I realize how truly lacking in creativity I was as a kid.  The “Ice Pack of Doom” would never have crossed have mind.

Fantasy Football: Peyton versus Copernicus

A second year of Family Fantasy Football has begun. Mom’s team, named Last Place Lulu for her last place finish last year was on a comeback after Week One.

First, Yahoo ranked Last Place Lulu the best draft picker of the five-person and one-dog league. Go Mom!

Then she came away with a huge first week win over the nine year old, even though she did not play Peyton, who rocked the house.

But in Week Two, she faced Bacon Puppies, and for the second year in a row, lost to the dog. Again, she benched Peyton because she assumed that when playing his little brother, who he loves, the game would come out fairly even. Apparently, not that even.

Basically, Last Place Lulu has a quarterback problem. She drafted two excellent quarterbacks: Peyton and Colin Kaepernick. In the first two weeks, both played well, but Peyton has been on a roll. Last Place Lulu, almost ten years his senior, keeps thinking the “old guy” will get tired or hurt. Knock on wood, he looks stronger than ever.

And Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener. On any other fantasy football team, he would be a smart choice.

So here we go into Week Three. Last Place Lulu is set to play Orion, managed by a smack-talking ten year old who is studying the constellations for fun.

Sitting at the computer, Last Place Lulu looks at her quarterbacks. On the advice of her nine year old, she actually reads the player updates. She debates. She avoids a Week Three decision by looking at her growing Running Back problem (none of them are scoring).

“Go Peyton, mom,” says the nine year old, “You can’t even say the other guy’s name. It is not Copernicus.”

Still, what if Week Three is Kaepernick’s time in Copernicus’ sun?

Last Place Lulu is playing Orion. Will it be the Week of the Astronomer? Or the brilliant Peyton once again?

The Joy of Learning with Your Kids

Most of the time, as parents, we encourage our children to do things we already know how to do. We help them with homework we did ourselves many years ago. If we are baseball fans, we sign them up for a team and smile when they first put on their uniform. If we play the piano, we help them read the notes as they learn an instrument. If we are multilingual, they learn a second language at home. If we like to read, they read along with us.

Our kids also discover their own unique talents as they grow up.

Rarely, then, do we have the opportunity to learn something entirely new together. And it is a surprisingly amazing experience.

On a recent trip to the beach, my three boys and I all went snorkeling for the first time. So we got accustomed to breathing through the apparatus at the same time. We struggled a little with the flippers together. We simultaneously tried to empty our breathing tubes. We each wondered about what we might see and whether we would be brave enough to stay in the water with a shark or a stingray.

We got to test ourselves together.

We did not all learn at the same pace. We did not all last as long in the water. The five year old mastered it the fastest, but tired of the waves earlier than the rest of us. The ten year old proved to be a relentless underwater explorer. And mom did not get to see the octopus!

But we had a great time, which was cool to be both witness to and a part of.

So I thought I would put together a list of ways in which Denver parents and their children might learn something together this summer:

• Sign up for a novice knitting class at the Lamb Shoppe (
• Learn to kayak together with avid4adventure, which runs half-day family programs (
• Discover your family’s artistic genes with some of the amazing family programs at the Denver Art Museum (
• Build a website together
• Attend a free DIY workshop for families at your local Home Depot on the first Saturday of every month to learn building and craft skills
• Sign up for a family golf lesson
• Learn to fly fish together by participating in Angling University’s Kids & Parents courses (
• Conquer your fear of heights together by zip lining at the Colorado Adventure Center (
• Try a simulated skydive with the entire family at SkyVenture Colorado (

There is an intense vulnerability that most people experience when they try something new. For parents, diving out of our comfort zone with our kids watching can be especially intimidating. “If they see that I am afraid to jump, will they be scared too?” “If they see how un-crafty I am, will think I am not as good a mom?” “How will I feel if they are better at it than me?”

From recent experience, it actually feels great. Not only was learning something new more fun because I absorbed their child-like enthusiasm, but I was also proud that they were venturing out of their comfort zones and pushing me to join them on an adventure.

To My Fourth Grader

In the last days of fourth grade, I wonder what you will remember from this year. I still have memories of being ten and Mrs. Parker’s class in the new building. But I feel like we had more time to play and were under much less pressure to excel at everything than you and your classmates are. So I hope that when you look back, you realize how much you grew, how much joy you gave those around you, how proud we were of you. And that it was fun.

I remember studying Egypt and wanting to be an archeologist like the Leakeys. Will you remember that you had plans to study physics and chemistry so you could build the first time machine?

I remember sitting at the round table near the sink with Mary, Sarah and Amy. They would all get sent out in the hall for talking, but I was too quiet for Mrs. Parker to hear. So I was left alone in class – the first injustice I remember suffering. Will you still be friends with the kids at your table?

I remember that Mrs. Parker was too old to manage a camping trip, an annual tradition that started in third grade at my school. So the whole class went to Brian’s house in Annapolis. I think that was the year someone dumped cool-aid in the water, and I got stung by jellyfish up and down my legs. Will you remember chasing the Sting Ray while snorkeling for the first time?

That was the year I read Little Women and got stuck for two months on the chapter about Meg. And the Christmas when Mrs. Parker told me I had to stop reading biographies until Spring Break, because I had read Florence Nightingale and Helen Keller 14 times each. Will you remember reading the Percy Jackson books one right after the other?

I took piano lessons in a red brick house across from school. My piano teacher had beautiful white hair and multiple organs, pianos, and even a harp in the room where she taught. Each week, I arrived wishing I had practiced more. Every once in a while that room appears out of nowhere in my thoughts. Will you look back on playing “Square Dance” at your spring recital? Or Mrs. Valet letting you play the xylophone at the end of each lesson, because that’s what you really want to play?

I remember that the house we moved into the summer before had a dogwood tree out front with pink flowers on one side and white on the other. I still believe it was the only one in the world. Will you remember telling me that we should never sell our house because you want to live in it when you have kids?

I loved homework, although you have much, much more than we did. I remember writing a ten-page book report that included colorful illustrations just because I was so excited to bring an assignment home. It made me feel important and wise. Will you remember working on your South Dakota report? Or rehearsing your Wright Brothers speech? Or making that crazy relief map of the U.S.? Or proudly instructing your brothers that they’d better shape up for Mrs. Grant, as if you have earned a badge of honor for surviving the toughest teacher in Lower School – and you need to protect her from your errant siblings.

I remember a skeleton named Charlie in a white wooden closet in Mrs. Bishop’s Science Room. Will you remember how obsessed you were with the digestive system? That when you finally believed you could not get polio, you started worrying about the dog catching it. Or how much fun you are having building your rocket with Mr. Gifford, who always keeps you laughing?

I believed, and still believe, I have the best parents, sisters and best friend in the world. Will you remember what it feels like to snuggle with your mom? How excited you are each night when Dad walks in the door? How amazing your brothers are?

To my fourth grader, when you are all grown up, my hope is that you look back on fourth grade – even though you had to work hard, be more independent, run a timed mile, join the swim team – and remember it as fondly as I do.

How Not to Out-Cool Your Brother

Lately, we spend much time at dinner trying to out-cool one another. Last night was no different.

“I’m awesome!” sang third grader, pulling out his best Zeus pose with a mouthful of pasta. “You can’t name someone who is more awesome than me! Bam!”

“You’re not always the best,” said the fourth grader, who does not yet grasp the art of self-promotion.

“Oh yeah, who is?”

“I am… sometimes.” But he desperately wanted out of the conversation.

The preschooler, who typically climbs on the “I’m the greatest” bandwagon by wiggling his very small butt at you, tried instead to weasel out of a long day of bad behavior. “Dad gets a sweet convertible, then he gets whatever he wants. Bam!”

“Pop quiz!” the fourth grader blurted out, “Who was the first Pope?”

Interesting way to change the subject.

“Did you know he wanted to be put on the cross upside-down so he didn’t die like Jesus?”

Total chick magnet.

The New J-O-B: Moms Getting Innovative about Work

With my youngest going to kindergarten in the fall, I have been struggling between going back to work full-time or continuing to build up my small list of freelance clients. The money with freelancing is inconsistent, but the flexibility is important to me. I went on interviews. I stressed. And of course, I wrote about the experience. The result of that, (at least the first night of writing as a means of processing all this), was just published on Yahoo. There is probably more to come….