Secrets of Parenting Success

What is the secret formula to raising a happy kid?  a successful child?  Since we are just making it up as we go along in this household on many days, I certainly don’t have the answer.  But we remind ourselves of certain basic principles from time to time.

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” ~ L.R. Knost

The world needs more people who value charity, gratitude, empathy and understanding.

OK, there may need to be an exception for certain brotherly interactions . . . 

Snow fight in Glacier National Park, Montana

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” ~ Anna Quindlen

Books are an escape into worlds of fantasy, dreams and adventure, while other times they act as the doorway to a new realm of knowledge and understanding.  Do what you can to cultivate your child’s love of reading, and teach them to treat a good book like a good friend.

(Note:  I am still working on my husband and youngest son on the whole “treat books with care” concept — my oldest son and I will not let the other two members of our family borrow our most treasured volumes, for fear they will be returned to us appearing to have gone through the washing machine, or unceremoniously jammed into a bag or briefcase. I am thankful for the ability to share ebooks with them . . . )  

Peaceful winter bay

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” ~ Margaret Mead

Instill good values, and let them figure out how to apply those values to the world around them.

I do have to say, though, that my husband forgot this tenet when introducing them to NFL football, being the passionate Minnesota Vikings fan he is (I remain in denial when it was the first time I heard one of my sons utter the words, “Packers Suck.”)

Twilight at the cabin

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.” ~ Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Many of my favorite family memories involve experiencing the wonder of the world together — watching a herd of buffalo cross the river to their evening grounds in Yellowstone National Park, sitting on the shores of Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park with a picnic lunch watching the mountain goats play on the snow-covered mountainside above,  or gazing over the vast depth of the Painted Wall at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

As I have noted in prior posts, time together spent exploring places of wonder can strain the family ties, as well . . . such is the risk of spending endless hours confined in the car together, enjoying a classic summer road trip.

Painted Wall at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

There is no one right way to raise a child  . . . indeed, that is what makes us so unique and interesting to each other.  How dull life would be if we were all the same.

Unique inukshuk along Lake Superior's shore

On that note, I leave you with the words of the poet e.e.cummings:

“To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.” ~ e.e. cummings

Blog on, friends.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Getting Out of the Way

“It is one thing to show your child the way, and a harder thing to then stand out of it.” ~ Robert Brault

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And so it begins . . . Or depending on your perspective, and so it ends. The first of the college acceptance letters arrived in the mail this week and we were reminded again how quickly this year will go as our oldest bird stretches his wings and gets ready to fly.

How exhilarating to have the world at your feet and a blank canvas to fill with your life story ahead of you. Watching your child consider the possibilities, you cannot help but reflect on your own life and choices. Would you take a different path if you could do it again?

More importantly, what will you do with the time that remains?

Ciao! ~ Kathy

Life Lessons: Success Is Letting Go of Perfection

I was disappointed when the sunset did not contain the brilliant colors it had displayed earlier in the week, as I stood on the icy shoreline of Lake Superior with camera in hand.  I thought, “Is this all?”  Seemingly flat colors, uninteresting cloud formations, no breathtaking moment as the sun dipped below the horizon.

lEarly Spring on the shores of Lake Superior

But, the longer I stood on the shoreline, the more I appreciated the “imperfect” scene.  I knelt on the hard-packed ice and snow to examine the delicate mounds formed by the water and wind, battling to keep hold as Spring fought to take over, and enjoyed the solitude for a time.

Early Spring on the shores of Lake Superior

As I sat and watched the changing light across the ice, I thought about conversations my oldest son and I have had in recent weeks, as the scores from his standardized college tests are revealed and he continues evaluating where he might be interested in applying to college in the Fall.  We are blessed in many ways — so blessed we are unlikely to receive any financial aid from colleges to help with expenses, and not so blessed that we can write  the check for private college tuition, room and board.  Closing that gap between the reputable public universities in Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin, and the private college price tag if that is where he decides he wants to go, comes down to our son successfully competing for merit scholarships.

Early Spring on the shores of Lake Superior

We are proud of our son (OK, son #2, if you happen to actually ever come across this blog, we love you and are proud of you, too, but a post can only be so long) — he has done his job as a student, challenged himself with his coursework, is a competitive athlete and knows how to draw a bow across a string to produce a beautiful melody.  He also realizes that there are many others who will be applying to college with resumes just as impressive . . . which brings us back to standardized test scores.

When I learned of his ACT score, I was pretty darn impressed.  However, being the over-achieving first-born, his immediate reaction upon reviewing the score sheet was, “I can do better, I am going to take it again.”  Frankly, he does not have a lot of room for improvement, but while my husband and I are trying to support and help provide guidance through this process, we do not want to dictate.  So . .  . registration for another round of the ACT was completed, with SAT scores pending in the meantime.

Early Spring on the shores of Lake Superior

This week, the SAT scores were published, and he again did very well.  I gently suggested he just “leave it be.”  He was well within or above the upper half or top quartile of the statistics for schools he is considering at this point, and he meets the thresholds for most competitive scholarships.  We talked about what the numbers meant, we revisited our discussions regarding what he is seeking in a college environment, and what were his impressions of the schools he has visited thus far.  Is another point or two on the tests, when you already have crested the threshold most folks consider more than sufficient, going to truly be a game-changer?  Are you wanting to do it to seek another feather in your cap without really needing that feather?  Could your time be better spent elsewhere?

We had a similar discussion earlier in the year concerning an opportunity for a select talent-based group that would involve a significant amount of additional time investment his senior year.  I finally asked him — “Do you want to try to qualify for this opportunity for the sake of being able to tell people you are talented enough to do so, or because you actually want to spend the time doing that activity?”  It would mean taking time away from other activities, perhaps detracting from the level of performance he desired in those other areas.  I reminded him that leaving room for some fun and downtime as the year goes on is important, as well.

Early Spring on the shores of Lake Superior

So it goes with life, as we feel the pressure to climb ever higher on the career ladder, add another degree to our resume, lend our name to another non-profit or corporate Board of Directors . . . the list goes on.  Is that pursuing success, though, or pursuing society’s (or friend’s, family’s) concept of what success should be?  Life is about trade-offs.  We can perhaps have it all, just not at the same time.  Having it “all” or being a success is not always the corner office, not always the top box on the organizational chart.  In my office hangs a wooden sign on the wall with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”  To me, that is success.

Saying something is “good enough” is not always failing to realize your potential, sometimes it is recognizing that “good enough” is being the best you are, whatever you are, and being content with that.  Continually finding reasons for discontent, for imperfection, living life by a string of “if only” thoughts, is a great way to let life pass you by before you realize it is gone.  Even in high school, while we want our children to fully realize their talents and opportunities, setting goals and aspirations for the years beyond high school, we hopefully also want them to spend some time enjoying life now.  Life can quickly become a treadmill of expectations, with that perfect concept of “success” always just out of reach.  Step off the treadmill once in a while, maybe even explore the road less traveled, and help your children learn to do the same.

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~ Anna Quindlen

Ciao! ~ Kat

Family Road Trips: Time Together that Breaks and Bonds

As parents before us always cautioned, “Time goes so fast, enjoy it before it’s gone.”  Words of wisdom, and words we tried to heed in between those other moments when every parent feels that a little alone time would not be so bad?  So it goes with the family road trip.

My recent travel consisted of acting as a companion to my son as he visited universities in Boston and Washington, D.C., while my husband and other son held down the fort at home with the four-legged family members.  As my oldest son and I traveled together for the week, I was struck with the thought that our days of the week-long family road trip are probably over – the boys’ summer activities, social life and work schedules increasingly interfered with trying to schedule family time this past summer, and in not much longer than a year from now, we will see our oldest off to college.  Time does go fast.

Geocaching along the highway
Running back to the car while geocaching alongside the highway, before mom threatens to drive off . . .

Our family’s road trips over the years are full of memories — the good, the bad and the ugly.  So it goes when spending 24/7 together in a car, in a tent, in a small rustic room of lodging, on the trail, in the heat, in the cold . . . .

Road-tripping across North Dakota and Montana
Road-tripping across North Dakota and Montana — endless fields, endless skies.

Our road trip a few summers ago to Glacier National Park in Montana involved the long drive across Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana to reach that stunning northwestern Montana scenery.  But don’t knock the scenery in between — the prairie land of North Dakota, the endless yellow canola fields of Montana, the miles and miles of blue sky in all directions, and the wildlife along the way.

Free range cattle
“Look, there’s buffalo!” OK, so the lighting was off, and they are free-range cattle instead . . .

After several days of exploring Glacier National Park’s trails and the surrounding area (I shared one stunning example with you in this post on the Iceberg Lake trail), it was time to reverse the road trip and head back home to Minnesota.

Entering the North Dakota Badlands
Entering the North Dakota Badlands

The novelty of 18 hours in the car over two days wears off more quickly on the return trip home.  Mom’s choice of music (driver’s pick) gets tiresome (or so I am told), my husband has trouble sleeping for nine additional hours each day as front passenger, and my boys have to continually find new ways of pushing each other’s buttons.  Sure enough, with each trip, new and novel ways to entertain emerge.  Enter “gum guy.”

“Raising a kid is part joy and part guerilla warfare.” ~ Ed Asner

Kat navigating through North Dakota

“Gum guy” ended up in “time out” status on the dashboard before his reign was complete.  He was the creation of my oldest son.  We are pretty sure that gum guy’s sole purpose on earth was to torture my youngest son.  I will say that gum guy left us in stitches before he was confiscated, as he had some witty one-liners in between his aggravating antics.

Gum Guy
Gum Guy

Seriously, though, when I think of the countryside we have explored by car together, sometimes traveling for hours by interstate, but often taking that road less traveled to see the nooks and crannies of the scenic side roads, I am grateful.  I hope my boys will be, too, as they look back years from now.

Road tripping provides opportunity to stop and appreciate the wonder of a changing landscape.  As one example of many from our road trip travels, we approached our stopping point for the night on the western border of North Dakota.  Storm clouds moved in and let loose some heavy rain for a time.  The clouds were still dark and heavy when the sun broke through on the horizon behind us.  The result was the most rewarding scene for miles — a rainbow which blossomed into a double rainbow, so breathtaking in its beauty that it even had two adolescent boys exclaiming in awe!

Double Rainbow in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Double Rainbow in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Never have we seen a rainbow so vibrant, so large.  We pulled the car over to a scenic overlook spot along the highway to enjoy nature’s special show. The sight left us believing that if we ran across that rugged landscape we would be certain to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. ~ Vincent Van Gogh

As the sun began to set, the rainbows faded.  My oldest son had discovered a geocache was located nearby; I called out for him to return to the car so we could finish our journey for the day.  When he shouted back to me, I turned to see his silhouette atop of one of the buttes, making his way back to the car.

Geocaching in the North Dakota Badlands
Geocaching in the North Dakota Badlands

Our trips to the big cities have been exciting, full of interesting museums, historical sites, eclectic food, sometimes posh lodging.  But our road trips in various directions across this diverse landscape of the United States have held memories you cannot create by buying a ticket or making a reservation.

 “Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”   ~ Thomas Berry

Ciao! ~ Kat

Travel Does Not Always Include Rest and Relaxation

When the 6-hour road trip starts like this — with the mini-van loaded to the hilt, the ski box bursting with multiple tents and camping gear, and five man-sized teen boys along with your husband (over)filling the passenger slots — rest and relaxation are not at the top of the list of attributes for the weekend.

Thank you, Toyota -- 156,000 miles and still working hard!
Thank you, Toyota — 156,000 miles and still working hard!
(photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)

As a parent watching my kids draw closer to leaving the nest, though, I recognize these opportunities to spend time together are increasingly limited . . . whether it be time at home or time on the road.  That is as it should be; as children grow up, they should develop that independence, set of interests and group of friends that slowly pull them from you.  This means that as they grow up, time spent “together” may consist of the parent serving as the chauffeur in a situation which is a poster child for a Febreze commercial.   With this in mind, we hit the road — destination: the NWIRA Championship Regatta in Kenora, Ontario.

Rigging boats in Kenora (photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)
Rigging boats in Kenora
(photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)

Days are long at a regatta — upon arrival, rowers need to meet at the regatta site and help unload the trailer and rig the boats for the following day’s races, followed by getting settled in for the night at a campground nearby.  Lodging for the next three nights consisted of a group campsite at the Anicinabe RV Park and Campground in Kenora.  Kenora is a small city situated on the northern shores of the very large Lake of the Woods, so even though the campground is in the city itself, the setting is not your typical “RV Park” (a label which usually makes this tent camper cringe).

Just as days go long at a regatta, they also go early.  Waking up to the loons calling across the lake is not an unpleasant alarm clock, although when I walked down to the shore of the Lake of the Woods to watch the mist rise off the lake as the sun crept over the horizon, I was only greeted by a gaggle of geese paddling around the bay of the swimming beach.

Anicinabe Campground Sunrise ~ Kenora, Ontario (photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)
Sunrise at the Anicinabe Campground in Kenora, Ontario
(photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)

Thankfully, weather was good for spectating other than a bit windy at times.  When you watch a team of talented rowers move their shell down the lake, it is an incredible display of synchronicity.

Wrapping up a day of rowing at the Kenora Rowing Club on Rabbit Lake (photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)
Wrapping up a day of rowing at the Kenora Rowing Club on Rabbit Lake
(photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)

Two days, eleven hours of races each day.  Making sure there was a row of fruits, breads and energy bars sitting out ready for a quick grab as the boys stumbled out of their tents and into the car for the drive to the rowing club at the crack of dawn each morning.  Making sure the cooler was full of sandwich fixings and other healthy snacks (along with some classic unhealthy ones!) throughout the day at the rowing club.  Making sure we parents had a Starbucks Grande Latte with extra shot of espresso in the morning so we could make it through eleven hours of races.

Rest and relaxation?  Not quite, but a satisfying weekend nonetheless.  Sometimes travel with your children is just about being there.  And, sometimes, that is enough.

Happy travels!  ~ Kat B.