On our recent family vacation to Florida Marc and I listened to bits of a few audio books, one being The Secret of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler which gives tips on making family life work better, and thus, be more pleasant.  We’ll be implementing many of the morning ritual suggestions when school starts again in the fall. (For now we’re going with the “Get up whenever you feel like it and see what happens” plan for the summer.  We’re executing it perfectly.)  We also liked the idea of having a weekly family meeting to discuss what worked and didn’t work so well in our clan throughout the week.  But I think the biggest thing I took away from the intro and first two chapters was the importance of telling our family story to our kids.  In the book the author tells of a study done by two psychologists about how children deal with stress.  They found that “The more children knew their family’s history the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and more successfully they believed their families functioned.”  After 911 they studied the same families, and found the same thing to be true.  “The children who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”  Sounds good to me.  This is one child-rearing technique at which I should be able to succeed.
          Lily often asks me to tell her about things I did as a child, and I remember asking the same of my mom.  Even the smallest tale of summertime walks to the fountains on the KU campus, or where my brother and I went sledding as kids, or my childhood family vacations bring joy to her heart.  I loved my own mother’s stories of picking apples in my great-grandmother’s orchard, fighting with her brothers, floating on a raft at the lake on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I didn’t know then that I was asking her to fill up my family-history tank so I could moderate stress, and neither does Lily.  I just knew I liked it.  Even the stories of mistakes and mess-ups were interesting to me.  In Feiler’s book he also points out that of the three types of family narratives – the ascending narrative (we came from nothing), the descending narrative (we used to have it all) and the oscillating narrative (ups and downs), the last is the most helpful.  The book states that “…children who have the most self-confidence have…a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”  I want that for my children.
          I have always had a solid sense of my heritage.  We have a hard-bound book on the history of one side of my family, and my grandmother on the other side was, until her nineties, a walking encyclopedia of the other half of my roots. I didn’t always appreciate this wealth of information growing up.  I took it for granted, thinking everyone knew that their great, great grandfather came to America in 1877 escaping religious persecution from the Russians.  That everyone had family reunions with hundreds of people, where the oldest generation sang hymns in German and you could view photos of the family’s first homestead.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, my teenage self thought.  But though I didn’t appreciate it, I felt grounded.  I didn’t know that my family history was a gift – to understand what came before and how it might shape my future.  How it explained me.
          I hope my children have the same sense of heritage.  I want them to know what our family is and was, so that they can decide what it will be.  They can continue the story with confidence and freedom.  Moderate stress, feel part of a larger narrative, know that the ups and downs of life are to be expected. So I’ll be telling and re-telling the stories of my past to my kids.  As much as they want, even when they don’t want, even when I’m tired and I’d rather not, even the parts that aren’t so pretty.  My husband and I will be the story-tellers until they can take over.  Until they see the big picture – the story arc of their ancestry – and begin adding the next chapter.
          Let the storytelling begin.

The Homestead
The Homestead

Making Peace

Things I loved about our trip to Florida:



white sand

bike rides

eating pizza by the ocean

getting a tan

coconut ice cream

amazing granola/blueberry quinoa/coconut milk breakfast

time to play Uno with the kids

dinners in our rented house


Things I didn’t love:

biting flies

sand fleas

jelly fish (Only sightings, no stings.  They’re beautiful but they scare me.)

pancakes (apparently it’s possible to screw them up) at a local restaurant

Everyone taking turns being grumpy


Things I thought about on the trip:

whether it’s better to be poor in a rural or urban area.  Decision: neither

I can’t stand pastel polo shirts and khaki shorts

toddlers in bathing suits are cute

family time is needed

silliness is needed

really good watermelon is better than sucky watermelon

vacations with kids wear you out, no matter what

funny stuff happens when a toddler is overtired

I am better at remembering things fondly than enjoying them while they happen

I am so enormously glad it’s summer

Marc said something on our way home on Saturday.  “It’s June 1st.  We’re almost half way to Christmas.”  Man, shut up.  After a long winter that only recently passed, and after a gloriously warm week spent on the beach, I don’t want to think about anything winter-oriented coming.  Ever.  Ugh.  I’ve got summer camps, pool time, lemonade stands and the fourth of July on the brain, and introducing the possibility of snow and ice is jumbling it up.  I’m looking at the puffy clouds of a summer storm looming outside the car window and am so thankful the drops won’t freeze when they fall.  Thankful for the green in the trees, the RVs on summer exploration dotting the highway, my bare legs and feet.  Even for my complaining kids in the back with thousands of library books and activity pads that just aren’t enough to delete “I’m bored” from their vocabulary.  Because it means we’re on a trip!  The mail has been stopped, the fish is at the neighbor’s, the plants are being tended to by someone other than me.  The freedom of a summer road trip is upon us, and winter feels a million miles away.

But apparently it’s not.

There isn’t much to do with that bit of information except pull a Nixon: deny, deny, deny.  Not give it one more second of consideration.  Kick it out of my brain until the hot August days are wearing on me and cooling temps are welcome again.  For now they are not.  Being sweaty actually sounds lovely this first day of June.  I know I’ll be singing a different tune come September 1st, and I’m fine with my hypocrisy – I’ve made peace with being ridiculous.  If I could have a superpower of my own design I would experience a perfect temperature at all times, unaffected by the weather, able to enjoy the snow without numb toes and fingertips and heat indexes without needing more deodorant.  I bet someday that will be possible, and I hope I can afford the technology, but until then I guess I’ll simply be hypocritically thankful today.  Even for my ridiculously bored children.  It seems they’ve made peace with it, too.