Friday, March 28, 2014

Reflecting on Risk: Part 4

Finishing up my reflections on risk today. To read my earlier thoughts, click here, here, and here. To read Hanna Rosin's article, "The Overprotected Kid," click here.


My point is this: there is no truly safe place in this world. Risk is the name of the game when it comes to life. We have to decide what’s best and healthiest for our kids, knowing the risk that’s out there.

And what’s best and healthiest for our kids is a small dose of risk, doled out in appropriate amounts at appropriate times.

One day it may be walking to school. The next it might be allowing them to sleep over at a friend’s house. Then we move on to handing them the car keys. And sending them to college.

The risks start small, but get bigger and bigger as our kids grow and learn and mature. That’s how it’s supposed to work in order for our kids to become productive citizens.

(Little nod to a family joke here.)

But what if it doesn’t work out? What if we let our kids take risks and they backfire—our kids get hurt, or worse? I’ve lived most of my life with the deep understanding that risk sometimes doesn’t work in our favor (I guess that’s why it’s called risk).

Many of you know that when I was a girl, my younger brother drowned in a tragic accident at summer camp. Had my parents known what would happen on that day would they have sent him? No. Of course not. But could they have known with 100% certainty that an accident would not occur? Again, no.

Sadly, it did.

Many years later it was time to put my own firstborn, at age 11, on a bus to head six hours north to summer camp for two weeks. Did I know the risk? Yes, I did. I felt it in my bones. It was one of the hardest days of my life.

So why did my husband and I decide to send her?

Because we both agreed that a life without risk is a life without trust. In other words, God was asking me to trust Him with the life of my child, and we trusted Him to take better care of her than we could. No matter what.

We still do.

I also believe that a life without risk is a life without growth. The day my daughter walked to school by herself was probably a day in which she stood a little taller, believed in herself a little more.

Does that mean that I deliberately put my daughters in harm’s way or that I’m advocating for you to do such a thing? Absolutely not. I assess risk, just like anyone would—I think about the cost every day—but in so doing I have to accept that often my fears are not justified. And if I’m acting on unjustifiable fears, I’m definitely not doing what’s best and healthiest for my child.

My oldest, that little pipsqueek who merrily walked off to school by herself in first grade, is graduating from college this May. She’s making plans, talking about the future, looking ahead.

Do I have fears for her? Of course I do, but I refuse to let those fears hold her back in any way from doing what she wants to do. Because my fears are not justified.

There is so much about this world that I do not know, that I cannot know. So what I must do is hold on to what I do know.

And in the end, here’s what I do know:
  • -       Jesus loves my children so much more than I do. (John 3:16)
  • -       He sees their every move. (Psalm 121:3-4)
  • -       God has a plan for the lives of my children, and it is good. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • -       He directs their steps. (Psalm 37:23)
  • -       He knows what their future holds (Psalm 31:15). I do not.

My job, I believe, is to trust God completely with my children and to allow them to grow in their trust of God, too, by letting them take appropriate risks at the appropriate times.

Life’s risky, that’s all there is to it. There is so much that is out of our control and that was never meant to be IN our control. But I believe with all my heart that God’s got this. Our kids are safest when placed in His care and when walking in His will.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reflecting on Risk: Part 3

This week I'm reflecting on Hanna Rosin's article, "The Overprotected Kid," from The Atlantic. You can read my previous posts here and here


Our natural stance as parents is a protective one. We want to keep our kids safe. We all do.

Many parents spend most of their waking hours thinking about how to keep their children safe, anticipating potential dangers and attempting to eliminate those from their children's lives.

Hanna Rosin’s article brings to light many statistics about child safety that might seem a bit counter to our strong parental intuition. She mentions, for instance, that playground accidents today are actually occurring at about the same rate as they were in the early '80s, even with so-called safety guidelines in place, and that rubber matting might actually be causing more broken bones because children have placed in them a false sense of security. 

Rosin also cites a researcher into children's fears who states that, "'our [parents'] fear of children being harmed,' mostly in minor ways, 'may result in more fearful children.'"

I know that's not what we're after as parents.

And what about child abduction, because isn't this one of our greatest fears? Interestingly, Rosen, citing an extensive study that shows that children are no more at risk of abduction today than we were in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

So why the alarm about child safety? Two reasons, I think: the media and the state of the family.

I don’t really want to get into an argument about the media. Let’s just all agree that that group can tend to be a bit . . . alarmist . . . at times. And they’ve got the bullhorn, so the word gets out that horrible people are lurking at every corner, trying to get to our kids.

I found Rosin’s commentary on the state of the family even more compelling. She points out that, according to one study on childhood risk, even though crimes against children have declined since the ‘90s, one type of crime has increased: family abduction. You know the scenario—Parent A has custody, but Parent B wants the kid so s/he takes the kid anyway.

Sadly, Rosin sums up the situation this way: “If a mother is afraid her child might be abducted, her ironclad rule should not be Don’t talk to strangers. It should be Don’t talk to your father.”

I’m shuddering at that thought.

So what's the takeaway? What can we learn from Rosin's use of statistics? 

One thing I think we could learn is that our own fears for our children might be holding them back. We have to fight our own fears so that our kids can feel free to take some risks that actually might help them build confidence as they grow up. 

And then there's the stranger-danger issue. While I think it's important to be wary of strangers, we need to realize that not every person is out to harm our children. In fact, I think our kids need to know that there are some very kind people in the world, and, should a problem arise, it might very well be a stranger who helps them out.

So tell me, what do you think about fear and raising confident kids? What are some fears you have for your children?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reflecting on Risk: Part 2

This post is part 2 of a four part series in which I'm reflecting on Hanna Rosin's article, "The Overprotected Kid" and thinking about risk and kids. You can find Part 1 here.


My oldest started walking to school by herself when she was in first grade. My husband and I had purposely bought a house near their little public school so that the girls could eventually walk themselves to school, but I didn’t expect it to happen when Kate was quite so young.

In January of Kate’s first grade year, I got the flu so badly—about four times in a row in just that month—that one day I could not get out of bed to walk her to school. I simply said, “Kate, you’re going to have to do this on your own today. You know the way and you know all the neighbors, so if anything happens, knock on one of their doors. And I can watch you from the window until you get almost all the way there, so you really don’t have to worry.”

That morning my little girl practically skipped out of the house.

Sure, she was a little nervous, but I watched from the window, as promised, until she turned the corner and was just a few feet from the school grounds. She made it safely. And then she made it safely the next day. And the next day. And the next.  For the next few years. I’d go with her on most days, but if I couldn’t, she knew she could make the walk by herself.

I think it made her feel grown up.

Was I being stupid to let her walk to school on her own at six years old? Obviously I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

I would never let her take unnecessary risk, but a certain amount of risk (in which I'm watching from the window), at the appropriate time, I think, helps build confidence. 

Hanna Rosin's article describes "the Land," a park in Wales where kids are pretty much allowed to roam free and do whatever they want, with very little supervision. She writes, "When Claire Griffiths, the Land’s manager, applies for grants to fund her innovative play spaces, she often lists the concrete advantages of enticing children outside: combatting obesity, developing motor skills. She also talks about . . . encouraging children to take risks so they build their confidence."

I want to raise confident children. Children who are aware of their surroundings, but who also have enough common sense to get themselves out of a tricky situation every once in a while. (And, frankly, I'd rather not know about some of those tricky situations.) Children who are confident in the decisions they make for themselves. Children who can navigate life on their own without looking over their shoulder.

So far, I think we're doing that. 

How about you? What small steps have you taken to instill confidence in your kids? What are some appropriate small risks you can allow your kids to take that might help instill confidence in them?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Responding to Risk: Part 1

Just outside Central London lies a park so terrifying, so dangerous, so death-defying that only the bravest of souls bothers to visit. Four years ago, my daughter and I summoned our courage and ventured out to Kew Gardens. We were glad to have made it out alive.

If you’ve ever thought about visiting Kew Gardens, specifically to experience their Treetop Walkway, you should know a thing or two about this little project, which opened in 2008. First, it’s high up in the trees—18 meters (or about 60 feet), according to the Kew Gardens website. Second, the railings are kind of low, compared to U.S. standards—the rail came about to my waist (and I’m 5’9”). I could have easily toppled (or climbed) over the side. Third, it’s a bit rusty. Fourth, it sways in the wind.

You take that walk at your own risk.

In fact, the Kew Gardens website offers some further advice for people who are thinking about taking this walk (or roll—unbelievably, wheelchairs are allowed, but strollers for babies are not).

  • There are no age or height restrictions. They just ask that children be supervised at all times.
  • Pregnant mothers can make their own choice about whether to go up, but they should be aware that there are 118 stairs.
  • The handrails are 1.3 meters high.
  • The structure is designed to flex slightly in the wind, as I can attest.

And yet, every time Caroline and I talk about our visit to Kew Gardens (which, by the way, is lovely and not dangerous at all), we mostly talk about our adventure of climbing the 118 rickety stairs up to the top of the walk and taking the terrifying stroll through the tops of the trees on a rusty, swaying, barely-guarded, piece of metal.

We felt like we had stared death, or at least risk, in the face and won.

The entire terrifying experience (it was terrifying) makes us giggle with glee because we DID IT. And it is something neither of us will forget.

And yet, the entire time we were walking around in the tops of the trees, Caroline and I kept commenting: “They would NEVER allow something like this in the U.S.”

We remarked over and over again that in the U.S. somebody would do something stupid, get hurt, or worse, killed, and sue the park. There would be signs everywhere, explaining the risk and detracting from the sheer beauty of the scenery. Guardrails would be so high that you’d feel like an animal in a cage. And there would be park rangers posted about every 10 feet along the way, making sure that everyone was acting in a safe and appropriate manner.

(By the way, those park rangers would need to be paid, so admission would be required as well.)

None of that in England. Nobody checking to make sure kids were, indeed, being supervised. Nobody supervising the adults, watching your every move. Just unimpeded views of the gorgeous gardens from the tops of the trees.

Enter at your own risk.

I worry that kids today don’t get to experience that kind of risk anymore, and so does Hanna Rosin, the author of  “The Overprotected Kid” published in The Atlantic this month. Rosin writes about a park in Wales called “The Land” where kids can roam free among cardboard boxes, rusty chairs, a rope swing, and even (gasp!) a small creek. What’s worse, there’s even a fire pit where kids (boys, probably) can play with fire.

What?! you’re probably thinking. That’s crazy!

Is it?

As I read the description of “The Land,” it reminded me so much of my childhood on the farm. Most of my days were spent wandering outside, creating, playing, imagining. I’d ride my bike unsupervised for hours, my mom never knowing where I was most of the time.

At the end of the day, we’d all meet around the dinner table and share our adventures of the day.

I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have then, but now I look back and marvel at the freedom I had.

Today, most kids don't have the freedom to roam. Parents are too worried that something terrible might happen. And it might. But does the possibility of risk demand that we eliminate risk from our kids' lives altogether?

What do you think?

I had other ideas for my blog this week, but then I read this amazing article (please, click the link above and read it!) and had such a reaction to it that I ended up writing a four-part series. I hope you enjoy my reflections and that you'll share your thoughts in the comments this week. Let's talk about this.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Joy

I haven't participated in Five Minute Friday in a LONG time, but I thought today might be a good day to have some fun with it because Lisa-Jo chose a great word--joy. I love the word "joy." I try very hard to bring joy into my own life as well as the lives of the people around me. 

Joy is so important, and so, today, I give you five minutes on joy.


I remember clearly the day I chose joy.

They were standing around me—well, two of them were standing; one was probably in a baby carrier or lying on the floor or, quite possibly, in my arms. All three, very young, and I stood in our little dining-room-turned-family-room-so-we’ll-have-more-room, simply surveying the scene.

I’m sure there were toys scattered about—building blocks that hurt when I stepped on them, beanie babies, dolls, and books. Lots and lots of books.

I’m sure there was laundry lying around, too. That never-ending job that has always been the bane of my motherhood. The piles that never seemed to get put away.

I’m sure the kitchen nearby was a complete disaster, too, since we didn’t have a dishwasher, and I usually didn’t get around to really cleaning up breakfast until lunch was well over, or maybe even until Daddy was just about to come in the door from work.

I’m sure if you had walked into my house that day, saw the chaos, heard the noise, you might wonder if I had lost it as I stood there grinning.

But, truthfully, I gained it that day—the day I looked around and said, “This is so good.”


Linking up with Lisa-Jo's Five Minute Friday today. Head on over there to read more reflections on Joy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to Really Live in a Time of Transition

I’m in a time of transition, I wrote to a friend the other day.

Some big changes are coming, and I thought “transition” sounded like a much nicer way to say “change.”

I’ve never been good at change. I like things the way they are, and the possibility of things changing makes me, well, scared, if I’m really honest.

Three years ago I was in a time of transition, too. I had quickly, surprisingly, said yes to the chance to teach again—something I was pretty sure I would never do after taking five years away from the classroom. But the question was asked and out poured the word: “Yes.”

I was surprised by the transition, how easy it was, and this, I believe, because of how God-ordained it was. And because I knew in my heart that this is what God wanted me to do, I kept my eyes open, looking for what He had for me there, both to do and to receive.

And what He had for me to do was to pour into people. Students, mainly, who needed a friend or a listening ear. Colleagues who became friends.

This surprised me, too.

Reflecting on it now, going back to work had very little to do with teaching and a whole lot to do with ministering. 

What God also had for me was blessing upon blessing, also unexpected.

These past three years could have simply passed by had I chosen to live in the status quo. All would have been well; my life would have been consistent only in its lack of change.

It wouldn’t have been scary.

But three years ago I said yes, and I’m so glad I did.

What I’ve learned over these three years is that searching for God’s will in our lives, opening our eyes and our hearts to whatever He has in store, is so much better than the status quo.

Now I’m saying yes again—to uncertainty, to letting go. I don’t know what the future will look like after school ends in May, but I do know that God has something else for me. I’m keeping my eyes, ears, and heart open to whatever that might be.

Finally, for the first time in my life, I’m excited about the transition.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Giveaway! : Minted

Are you creative? {I know you are!}

Do you have an eye for good design? {I know you do!}

Have you heard about Minted? {I hope you have!}

A while back, my very creative daughter, Kate, who has an eye for design (she designed my blog!) and who probably should have added Art as a third major, told me about this amazing website for invitations and all things Party. She explained, excitedly, that Minted doesn't just sell creative works of design, they also invite creative people to submit their own designs and give their customers the opportunity to vote on some of them. 

It's become a community over there.

In fact, on their website they state this: "Our mission is to connect the world's best design geniuses with a community of design savvy customers who enjoy the creation and appreciation of good design."

Kate insisted that we use Minted for our Christmas cards this year, and so one afternoon Julia and I, having only an hour to spare, quickly and easily designed our own card that I think might be one of the cutest cards we've ever sent. 

So when Minted contacted me with the opportunity to give something away from their site, I quickly said YES!! PLEASE!!

Here's the thing that I know about you, dear readers. You're having babies. You're getting married. You're throwing showers like crazy right now. 

You need Minted.

Right now, Minted is having a sale on birth announcements. Hop over here to get 15% off before March 17. 

Isn't this one cute?

But you don't just have to be having a baby to enter this giveaway. Two of my lucky readers will receive a $25 gift certificate to Minted that can be used on anything on their website.

From party supplies . . .

. . . to table decorations . . .

. . . to straws . . .

. . . to these adorable cake stands.

And if you're having a wedding, Minted's blog will give you LOTS of great DIY ideas.

Seriously, why wouldn't you want to enter this giveaway? 

You only have to do two things to enter: 

1) Follow me. You can add my blog to your reader or receive it via email, but I'd love it if you'd follow me. 

2) Leave a comment below telling me that you're following me and what you'd like to get with your $25 from the Minted website.

Easy peasy, right?

I'll choose two random winners one week from today (that would be March 21). Good luck and happy designing!!

Disclosure: Minted offered me compensation for this post, which I will happily use on their website.

Update: Congratulations to Glenda and Kate (not my daughter!) who won the Minted giveaway! Numbers were chosen at random by my family and winners have been notified. Congrats!!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


It's spring break at the school where I teach, so Caroline and I spent some time roaming around the east coast for the past several days, taking in the sea, sailboats, and even a bit of sun. Breaking away from routine is always nice, even for a few days.

Even though it's nice to be home with the people you love and a routine you feel comfortable with, it's still a little hard to adjust. It takes time.

But today there was no time. One kid needed to be driven to school. The dog needed to be walked. And the snow--blessed snow--needed to be removed from our sidewalks.

We returned last night, and this morning awoke to yet another three inches of snow on the ground. This, on top of the 69 inches we've already had this winter, making it the second or third snowiest winter on record, depending on which airport you use.

And what has usually been a light, fluffy type of snow (because it's been so unbelievably cold) this morning was "heart attack" snow. Heavy. Sticky. Thick. The kind that makes your back hurt and may even give you a heart attack (for real!).

You know what? Re-entry is hard.

My parents who live in a sunny, warm climate, have told me that I really haven't complained about the weather much this winter.

Really? Me?

Maybe they haven't heard me say it, but I've surely complained in my heart because, you know, there's the persistent cold to deal with (I'm so DONE with the red, puffy parka and boots!), the neighbor who apparently doesn't own a snow shovel and also doesn't notice that SOME PEOPLE WALK THEIR DOGS AROUND HERE!, and the constant tracking in of slush that leaves my floors less than desirable.

I could go on, but I won't.

Because, honestly? I know people who complain incessantly about the weather and it gets a little tiring to listen to. Which is why I really actually have tried to hold my tongue this winter.

Winter is winter and there's not much you can do about it.

And besides, when I really think about it, I realize that I may have one reason to complain, but I have thousands of reasons to NOT complain. I'd rather focus on those.

Like my daughter taking a trip with me.

Or another learning to take brave steps.

Or the fact that Kate wasn't hurt in her accident.

Or "Phantom of the Opera," which we got to see a couple of weeks ago, or "Bye Bye Birdie," which Julia will perform in this week.

Or having the privilege of speaking to a marvelous, caring group of women who blessed my soul.

Or . . .

We all know it. We all know it's a matter of perspective, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of just what that perspective should be.

So this morning, as I painstakingly shoveled the back-breaking snow, I looked up and what I saw was . . .

. . . brilliant.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Top 10 Lines from Downton Abbey, S4:E8

Well friends, I haven't been posting lately because, I suppose, I've been in mourning now that our beloved Downton Abbey has ended for another season. Is it just me or did this season seem to fly? How could we have gotten through eight episodes already?

So much time has passed since the finale that I almost didn't bother with this last "Top Five" (or Ten) post, but my dear husband has asked me at least three times why I haven't posted yet. So, B, this is for you. I hope I pick your favorites!

Before we get to the Top 10 Lines, though, I have to say that this episode was among my favorites of the season. I felt like the season got off to a bit of a slow start, but ended on a high note. This episode was fun because of the humor and the intrigue. The Levinsons always bring humor with them (oh, that Shirley McClaine has been fantastic, hasn't she?!). And intrigue? We had plenty of that between the Prince's stolen letter and the Granthams running around trying to save the Monarchy. And then there was the train ticket that was found by Mrs. Hughes in Bates's coat pocket.

Oh my!

And that brings me to my first pick.

1. Yes, Mrs. Hughes finds a train ticket in Bates's coat pocket, confirming that he was in London on the day that Mr. Green was pushed (?) in front of a bus. She reaches into the pocket, pulls out the ticket, and looks at it curiously . . .

. . . and then she says . . . nothing.

So, yes, my first pick isn't even a spoken line, but the look on Mrs. Hughes's face says it all.

2. So everyone is in London, preparing for Rose's presentation and the big ball. The Levinsons arrive, bringing their valet, Ethan Slade, with them. Ethan has never been overseas, and, truth be told, they make him look like a stupid American. Even so, he's funny and endearing and he tries so hard, even asking Daisy, "Are you excited?"

To which Daisy replies one of my favorite lines of this episode: "I'm never excited."

I love that girl.

3. Later, Daisy receives a letter from Alfred, and she's excited (ironic, no?!) that Alfred has been hired on at the Ritz. Ethan, ever the eager American, tries to make conversation with Daisy.

Ethan: That sounds like quite the American dream to me. Poor boy from the sticks becomes famous hotelier.
Daisy: Well, I don't know if it's American or not, but I think it's smashing.


4. Poor Robert--he hasn't had much of a season, has he? If he's not losing money, he's acting generally clueless. But this week they gave him a great line that you just might have missed.

Robert: I wish Tom had arrived.
Cora: It's so nice to hear you say that!
Robert: No, I mean, he's bringing Isis, and I do miss her.

A man and his dog.

5. For some reason that I cannot figure out, Violet stays behind in Yorkshire, heading out a day or two after the rest of the family. Isobel decides at the last minute to go with her, and the two share a wonderfully funny scene in the car.

Violet: Cora insisted I come without a maid. I can’t believe she understood the implications.
Isobel: Which are?
Violet: Well, how do I get a guard to take my luggage? And when we arrive in London . . . what happens then?
Isobel: Fear not, I’ve never traveled with a maid—you can share my knowledge of the jungle.
Violet: Can’t you even offer help without sounding like a trumpeter on the peak of the moral high ground? 

Oh, those two!

6. As I said earlier, the Levinsons always offer some levity (ha!), and this week Harold (played by Paul Giamatti who, by the way, was fantastic in "Saving Mr. Banks" earlier this year) provided just that. After Rose's presentation, Harold approaches the Prince of Wales, awkwardly attempting to introduce himself.

Harold (holding out his hand): How do you do? Harold Levinson.
Prince of Wales: You are mistaken, Sir. I am not Harold Levinson, whoever he may be.
Harold: No, no. I'm Harold Levinson.
Prince: Then why did you say I was?

The prince is then whisked away, and Harold just stands there and laughs.

Who's on first?

7. Poor Harold not only causes trouble upstairs, but downstairs as well.

Carson (approaching Mrs. Patmore): Do we have anything I can take up some ice in?
Mrs. Patmore: Why do you need ice?
Carson: Oh, Mr. Levinson seems to want it in everything he drinks.

8. I really love Tom. He's sweet, he's endearing, and he's his own man trying to do the right thing in this world. And he really gets along with the old ladies. (Remember the scene with Isobel in the car a couple of episodes ago?)

This week, Tom and Violet share a moment that I just loved. It's kind of long (so a little more than a favorite line), but so worth it.

This takes place at Rose's ball as everyone is dancing.

Violet: Are you glad you came? These are your people now. You must remember that. This is your family.
Tom: This might be my family, but these are not quite my people.
Violet: That sounds like a challenge.
Tom: Does it? Well here’s another--would you like to dance?
Violet: Oh! Are you sure?
Tom, nodding: Yes.
Violet: Well then, I accept the challenge. I know I can trust you to steer. (And she giggles.)

Too cute!

9. As I've said before, I love how they are developing a potential relationship between Mr. Molesley and Miss Baxter. This week, Molesley, who suspects that something in Baxter's past could be a problem for her, gives her just one sweet word of advice:

"Sometimes it’s better to take a risk than to go down the wrong path."

10. Finally, I'm pretty sure that my favorite scene was most everyone's favorite scene. They made us wait for it--the closing scene of the episode and thus of the season. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are finally able to take a break from their many duties and are enjoying a day at the beach with the rest of the staff.

In this final scene, Carson and Mrs. Hughes wade into the water together--he, hoisting his suspenders; she, clutching her cardigan. Carson is shuddering and grousing about the cold water, hesitating to go any further.

Mrs. Hughes: Come on. I dare you!
Mr. Carson: What if I get my trousers wet?
Mrs. Hughes: If they get wet we’ll dry them.
Mr. Carson: Suppose I fall over?
Mrs. Hughes: Suppose a bomb goes off? Suppose we’re hit by a falling star? You can hold my hand; then we’ll both go in together.
Mr. Carson: I think I will hold your hand; it’ll make me feel a bit steadier.
Mrs. Hughes: You can always hold my hand, if you need to feel steady.
Mr. Carson: I don’t know how, but you manage to make that sound a little risqué.
Mrs. Hughes: And if I did? . . . We’re getting’ on, Mr. Carson, you and I. We can afford to live a little.

And off they walk, hand in hand toward the water.

Well, there we have it. Another Downton Abbey season has come to a close. Thank you for following along with me, my friends, and thank you for your encouragement as I write these posts. It's been fun!

Now it's your turn--what was your favorite scene or line of the season?