page contents

Monday, February 13, 2017

the evolution of a parent

Right now my oldest child is three hours away at college, fighting influenza A.  I'm texting her instructions to hydrate and alternate between ibuprofen and Tylenol. My instinct is to hop in the car so her mother
Wish I could send her a cat for comfort...
can lay a cold rag on her head and provide comfort. But she has told me to stay put. So I will.

The dynamic of parenting changes throughout the years, but the mysteries and challenges remain. By the time you no longer wake up in the middle of the night to a crying child, you're laying in your bed watching the clock and calculating what time they should walk through the door. Or in the case of a college student, you might  be analyzing the last Snapchat story and hoping she wasn't trying to send you an encrypted cry for help on a photo that merely appears to be the setting of a party.

Anyway, I happened to ask my budding investigative journalist to give me some thoughts on how to be a good parent to a college kid. (I asked last weekend, before she came down with the flu.) Her responses were not only enlightening, but profound. Here's what she said:

  • Answer any questions we have for you guys. It's our first time on our own, and this may sound like a given but half the time we're making shit up as we go. We realize how much our parents actually have it together when we have to stumble through the weird, legal lingo of our first lease...
  • Care packages go a long way. It doesn't have to be anything big, it could even just be a letter or a picture of the family. Especially in the dorms, getting mail is always a strange pick-me-up. Maybe it's because someone knows where you are when you're in a new place? I don't know, that's a question for a psyche major.
  • If you're able, come visit but not too often. I know plenty of friends whose parents can't get away to see their kids and it wears on them (I'm guessing both sides, but I'm not a parent so just guessing). It's comforting to see the people who have your back regardless, but if it's too often, the excitement wears away and independence is lost. It's like training a college kid off of dependence. You can't go cold turkey and throw them in, but you can't coddle them either because then you have a Failure to Launch situation. I think you guys have a good balance despite the fact you email me every other day ;)
  • If you do get to visit, BUY THEM GROCERIES. This is the biggest stress relief, seriously.
  • Talk to them without judgement. A lot of times we need advice but it's hard to cross over into that world where your parents aren't disciplining you anymore, but you still feel like if you're totally honest you'll get in trouble. Tons of weird situations arise in college that need to be talked about. Idk just be a good parent and help them out so they will talk to you. You feel like a quasi-adult now so you don't want to be dodging/lying to your parents anymore, that's just added unnecessary stress. And it's tiring, you just got through 4 years of it, and college is about moving on.
  • Tell them stories about when you were in college, or when you were that age. That's always fun to hear that your parents messed up like you did ;) Evens the playing field. Don't overdo it though.
  • From a liberal arts perspective, talk to them about assignments or projects they're proud of. You don't really get any recognition for doing well on specific things anymore but a lot of the work we do is important to us now, more so than high school. It is always the biggest confidence boost to have someone dote on your work for a minute, even if it's your mother and she's incredibly biased.

She signed off by saying:

That's all I've got right now, sorry if that wasn't helpful and please clean it up as much as you feel, I was just spit-balling as this is the first I've looked at my email this weekend lol

Pretty decent spit-balling. I've read this three times already–partly to make myself a list of "do's" and partly because I admire the wisdom of my daughter. Maybe her parents are doing some things right.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

teach your children well...and don't judge

After a dose of winter precipitation one evening, I asked our teenage son how he had managed driving on the roads. My ice-induced maternal anxiety had subsided since he had made it home safely. I acted all chill as he responded with a story that made me wonder, "What else doesn't my kid know?"

Here's the scoop.

“Guess what?" Cole said with wide-eyed excitement. 

Oh no. Something happened. 

Then he said, "I have this thing where water comes up on my windshield. It's so cool.”

It's called wiper fluid, kid.

He went on to explain how he and a buddy were driving to the school when they met a semi who mucked up the windshield as semis tend to do. Cole panicked when his friend Conner told him just to use the wiper fluid. 

"Conner!" Cole emphatically replied. "My car is old! It doesn't have that.” 

Cole drives a 2010 Ford Fusion—a real junker with heated seats and a sunroof. Conner reached over and pushed the wiper fluid lever muttering something affectionate like, "You’re an idiot.”

Thanks to Conner's ingenuity and knowledge of basic car features, he saved the day by providing a clear view of the road. But I couldn't help but feel a tiny bit of a parental failure after hearing that story. What else doesn't Cole know?

A few days later, I told Conner’s dad the story because I thought it was amusing. He chuckled and said, “Well you know what? Conner just learned about windshield wiper fluid two weeks ago.”

Aha. They're still learning. It's easy to roll your eyes and judge your kid by what he or she doesn't know. But I think it's important to take a step back and consider how much there is to learn about this world. There's a lot to know! Heck, I just am now understanding a little bit about Watergate.

So when another windshield wiper moment occurs, ask your kid to give you a lesson in Snapchat. It'll remind you that perhaps you don't know everything either.

Just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

#momconversation with susie fah, community activist

In our community of Catholic families, I'm what you'd call an underachiever. In other words, I  gave birth to only two children. (The standard is four or five in these parts.) And while I feel I'm sufficiently busy, I'm shocked how these other moms keep it all together. I'd like to think they're closet drinkers. But I know better. They drink wine quite openly.

Susie Wilwerding-Fah was one of the first Earling girls I met when I started dating Doug. I distinctly remember how she confirmed Doug’s cute factor—admitting how she had a crush on him in grade school. (Who couldn’t love that long hair?) I appreciated Susie’s connection with Doug. There’s something about growing up together in a small school that brings you especially close to your classmates. When Susie and her husband, Jeff, decided to move back to the Earling area, we were happy. (More people our age!) The Fah’s bring life to a party. Whether Jeff is busting a move on the kitchen dance floor, or Susie is braiding your hair, they always add that undefinable dynamic that makes you smile through your wine-induced headache the next day. 

Meet Susie Fah.
From the left, clockwise: Stephen, Joseph, Jeff, Patrick, Thomas, Ash, Katherine and Susie.

Quick bio:
5 kids:  Patrick, Thomas, Joseph, Stephen, Catherine and 1 Yorkie named Ash. Hubby:  Jeff J Fah,  Teach preschool at Tri-Center near Neola (Love it!), Grew up on a farm outside of Earling, went to college at Iowa State and lived around that area before moving back to Earling 13 years later to live across the street from my parents.  I come from a family of 8 kids.  Been married for almost 24 years.

Favorite family tradition:  taking vacations with my siblings and their kids, we always have a great time together.

Funniest kid story of late:  I won’t mention which one of my sons did this but . . . two of the kids were sorting clothes and one of them came across nine-year-old Catherine’s bralette/ cami.  Well, he got curious and tried it on.  Jeff walked passed the room and did a double-take.  He was quick enough to snap a photo of it.  Priceless!

Most surprising lesson you’ve learned about being a mother:  Kids want to know that you are there for them (physically and emotionally).  They want to know that you are interested in what they are saying and doing.  If you lend an ear you will learn a lot about them and something about yourself, as well.  I learned a lot about kids through teaching, too.

Opinion on work/life Balance:  Still trying to figure this one out.  I was part time until two years ago.  Going full-time kind of upset my applecart.  I’ve found I am better off letting little things go (like cleaning my house . . . eek!).  I think our kids will remember the more important things rather than stressing over a sparkly clean house.  They know what I turn into when company is coming.  I don’t want them to see that side of me all the time.
A little note about Susie here. While she has her Masters and at one time was a elementary school principal, she changed her career path to teach preschool where she feels she has more impact on kids and has time to be a better mom. This is a great example of the many choices working mothers must face.
Guilty pleasure:  A glass of wine and watching Hart of Dixie with Jeff after the kids go to bed.

Last book you read that you couldn’t quit thinking about:   The Help

Best family tradition:   skiing in Colorado

Favorite or most-used app:  Storm Shield (not too exciting but I have recess duty to think about!)

Who’s your celebrity obsession?  Stef Kramer 
I think she means the actress who starred in that great TV series, Hunter.
What’s your go-to movie?  The Sound of Music

What advice would you give to new parents:  Life goes FAST!  Enjoy every stage because kids grow up!

How do you recharge?  Take a nap, go for a walk or run (jog)

Anything else you’d like to add about being a working mother?  Your kids don’t need to feel your stress if you’ve had a rough day.  Find an adult to use for your sounding board. I try to keep this in mind but I, too, have my occasional explosions.  Jeff might say it’s a bit more often than occasional.  

An occasional explosion with five kids? I think you're justified, Susie!

Susie is an amazing person. In addition to her teaching job and raising five kids, she’s always looking for ways to improve the quality of our community and make memories for our children. She was instrumental to getting new playground equipment for our town and leads an annual Easter Egg Hunt for our parish. Right now she's spearheading a “father-daughter” dance to be held Earling on February 3rd—a night for daughters to get dressed up and be pampered by their doting dads. Thanks Susie for all you do in our community! You're a treasure.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Like a Bridge over Troubled Water

The other day I was channel surfing on XM radio and landed on a song I don’t hear often: Bridge Over Troubled Waters. As soon as I heard the familiar piano accompaniment, I cranked the volume and belted out with Simon and Garfunkel. By the end of the song, I was blubbering—crying my eyes out. You see, this isn’t just a beautiful song from my parents’ generation. It’s a song that holds a particularly special memory for me.

At a pops concert my senior year in high school, I sang this song with my two of my best friends, Nicole Heller and Kira Gaer. I was probably the weak link in the trio. Kira carried a pop star eminence and Nicole had a strong voice of her own. My piano background gave me an acceptable level of harmony instruction and we managed to pull off a fairly decent performance—from what I can remember anyway.
Add Nicole, Kira, and me.
Cannily the lyrics came back to me as if I was still that 17-year-old with my two friends, all caught up in the performance that would probably make us big stars. "Sail on silver girl, sail on by."  As my 47-year-old self drove home in the dark from work that night absorbing the beautifully sentimental song,  I became sadly aware of something. Would we ever have believed, back in 1987, we would've ended up with hardly any contact anymore? Never. We would never have believed it.

Kira, Nicole, and I had that 80's aura, John Hughes-like connection. We loved fashion and pop culture with a transparent goal to emulate Madonna on our audacious days or Whitney Houston on our playful days. We were not opposed to rating boys and did some heavy Bible research on premarital sex. We loved to laugh. And most of all, we loved to dream.

It was a given we were all destined to be rich. Nicole made sure we always drove around with the windows down—messy hair practice for when we purchased our first convertible. I was going to be the lawyer (Claire Huxtable style). Nicole would be the doctor. Kira only considered the medical field as her backup plan. Because she never, ever quit singing. She would be the next Madonna. At the end of one night of cruising our country roads and planning our futures, long after Nicole and I had quit singing to the radio, Kira’s voice went hoarse. She apologized. “Sorry guys. I’m not going to be able to sing for you anymore tonight.” We managed.

Nicole and I stayed in touch after high school, rooming together for a bit in college and standing up in each other's weddings. She married her high school sweetheart and became a pharmacist in Spirit Lake with three lovely children. I think of her often and hope she is well.

Neither of us see Kira anymore. Unfathomably, she died at the age of 22 from non-hodgkin lymphoma. She passed away just as we were starting off our lives. I visit her grave once a year and she still visits me from time to time in my dreams. "And friends just can't be found... " What would she be doing now if she would've lived? Would she be settled in with her family? Like Nicole and I? Navigating work and kids' activities? Mailing off our annual Christmas cards to each other? Or would she be competing against Beyonce for a grammy? I kind of like to think maybe.

Cheerleading days
My teenage self probably wouldn't have been surprised that I turned out to be banker, nor Nicole a pharmacist. But I wouldn't never have imagined Kira, the most vivacious of us all, to be gone. But then again, she did always seemed to be destined for the stars. The truth is, she’ll never be gone–nor will the memories of my best pals and the dreams we dreamed. They will always live in a special place in my a bridge.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


It's January 5th already! How many of you have forgotten all about those nifty resolutions you created on January 1st as you nursed that champagne-induced headache? 

I have to admit, I’m one of those people who love to make a list and measure my progress. So, yes, New Year's Resolutions are right up my alley. Typically my resolutions are fairly cliché–you know! The kind that involves great transformation of appearance...
  • Run a marathon!
  • Master yoga!
  • Eat celery instead of chips!
  • Revamp my wardrobe!
  • Publish a book! (to help me buy a new wardrobe)

Sound familiar? Sound kinda vain? Yeah. I thought so too. So this year, I'm trying a different approach. Instead of making my resolutions so "inwardly-focused," I decided to require my resolutions to benefit others. Jesus-ish.

I've got my list started.
I'd love to help out with these cuties!
  1. Send meaningful mementos to Alex, my college-aged daughter. She'll appreciate the thoughtfulness of a tangible gift more than a mundane cash transfer. I know! Because she has a great liberal mind who doesn't allow possessions to motivate her. I can't wait to hear how appreciative she'll be when I switch out the cash for something like a candle.
  2. Help Cole more diligently with his studies. What teenage boy doesn’t want to spend more time with his mother…learning algebra and science and the mechanics of grammar! It's making me smile just thinking about it.
  3. Be more involved in my husband’s farm operation. I'm positive Doug will love my opinions and ideas. Maybe I don't know much about agriculture, but I'm very creative. I see this really bringing us closer.
  4. Make more of an effort to help my mother with her store without any ulterior motives. In other words, quit asking if she's got any damaged property she needs to get rid of.
  5. Last, but not more interested in my father’s motorcycle hobby. I know…this sounds entirely selfish. I feel a little guilty listing it.
    4 of the 5 recipients of my 2017 resolution targets.

So those are some of my goals this year. Basically I'm planning to be a major pest to my loved ones. It will be fantastic. Perhaps it generated some ideas for all of you as well.

Wishing all my friends the happiest of New Year’s! I hope you reach all of your dreams in 2017!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Clark Griswolds


For the last few years a tradition has been unfolding in our house. Our little Cole (who's now the tallest in the family) insists on putting up the tree. And for a fifteen-year-old boy whose room is filled with gatorade bottles and dirty socks, he's strangely particular how the tree is decorated.

When it all went down a few weekends ago, I tried help Cole by rearranging a few ornaments–only to be scolded by my very own Christmas Nazi. My eldest and wise daughter Alex sat quietly and knowingly on the chaise, reading her book and not daring to say a word after her one unfortunate mention of the tree's lobsided-ness.

Overall, Cole did a pretty nifty job. Once he had completed his masterpiece, he made a hot chocolate run to the kitchen. That's when I noticed he had hung the balls without hangers. While I was impressed how he had squeezed the branches through the  tiny holes of the ornaments, I understood too well that these balls were at high risk falling off–especially with a frisky cat around. (I secretively fixed the problem when he got back to work playing his PS4.)

But his spirit was contagious that day. I decided to keep on with the decorating, urging him off his gaming system to tackle the outdoor lights since Doug was in the field. He jumped right into it. Alex remained in her peaceful position, reading on the chaise.

Frustrated Elf
The first task in our exterior illumination project was to decde which lights to hang. Plain white? Colored twinklies? Colored bulbs? White dangling icicles? We quickly ruled out the white lights. Too boring! And we had been there and done that last year. For this Christmas we first chose the white danglies–so elegant and charming. After spending a fair amount of time untangling, we tested. No bueno. Most of these lights were on strike. (Wind is tough on lights on the farm.) But we weren't discouraged! On to the next set: colored bulbs. Fun and festive. Again, we repeated the untangle and test process to find more dysfunctional lights. Finally we settled on the colored twinklies and were awed to find brilliant success! So we set about to hang them, by first laying them in position. And then taking an hour detour to find extension cords. Once the extension cords were secured, we seemed to spend the next  one or five hours figuring out how we'd plug them in, which should have been easy since we've lived here for 16 years. But it never is. But we finally go it! And now it was time to hang, starting at the tall scary end of the house with our shaky ladder and monster shrub. But we did it! We made it past the challenging parts and were on the final pass WHEN...all of the lights went out. Every single strand. I won't even tell you about our struggles we had with the replacement bulbs. Let's just say we dismantled them with a fair amount of disgust threw away almost every strand of lights we had.

Our only hope at that point was the boring white lights. And Doug.

Fast forward to Sunday. Sunday, cold Sunday. With Cole's help, Doug hung those white lights in twenty minutes. No problema whatsoever. And what do you know? They aren't one bit boring! Every night when I come home from work, I see that single row of white lights running across our roof and I feel like the Griswolds as they stood looking at their audaciously-lit home. It makes me happy.

Of course, we've added a few more elements, like snowflake spotlights and flashing rope lights on our front railings, which still doesn't begin to compete with Clark. But it does make our entire family happy. These lights, as challenging and simple as they may be, fill us with a festive air as we prepare for the most important birthday of all–on December 25th.

Good luck to you and your family as you prepare for this great holiday!


Enjoy this video we sent to our college girl Alex, capturing the essence of our light show.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


You bet it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But it’s also freaking busy. 

Shopping. Baking. Activities. Not to mention...WORK! I’m finding myself short of breath, a bit snippy, and quite frankly, a little scatterbrained. I tell myself to pray and breathe. Pray and breathe. Pray and breathe. But I still find myself distracted with little to-do lists running through my mind as I talk to God. Forgive me Jesus.

One of my coworkers came back from a Catholic Retreat a few weeks ago and gave me a list of speakers. I came across Father Michael Schmitz and found a video clip I found particularly relevant. For anyone who is overwhelmed right now, I encourage you to watch.

Now. Go out and just take that next step throughout this holiday season!