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I'm Pam, and I'm glad you're here. I hope my thoughts on family, faith, and the flux of life help you laugh, fire you up or just make you think.

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the golden rule, expanded

Ever wondered why blue jeans and white shirt is such a timeless classic combination?
What if we all lived this way?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  –Christianity (as drawn from the Hebrew scriptures)

What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn.–Judaism

No one is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself.–Islam

Blessed are those who prefer others before themselves.–Baha’i

Human nature is good only when it does not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.–Zoroastrianism

Be not estranged from one another, for God dwells in every heart.–Sikhism

In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, regard all creatures as you would your own self.–Jainism

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.–Buddhism

Inspired by this poster at Ministry of the Arts, a lovely source of inspirational gifts. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: flickrohit

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turn pouting into possibility with one magic word

Do you wrestle with these conversation killers?

Girl
“I can’t do it.”

“I’m no good at this.” 

“No one wants to play with me.”

or from yourself:

“I’m not one of those big-time bloggers.”

or

“I haven’t written a real book.”

So often we parents argue, countering, “Yes, you can!”, generating a back-and-forth argument, and causing our partner (adversary?) to dig in her heels.  The “I can’t” person gets defensive, adding strength to the argument just to convince the other person she’s right.  It doesn’t seem to help at all, does it?  In fact, we sometimes end up more convinced the original statement is right — or perhaps understated — and further from encouragement. 

Instead, empathize and just add the magic word:

“You can’t do it. . . . YET.”

“Okay, you’re not good at this. . . YET.”

“Today, no one can play with you . . . YET.”

And tell yourself:

“I’m not one of those big-time bloggers. . . YET.”

“I haven’t written a real book. . . YET.”

See the difference?  Three little letters validate the sentiment, open up the conversation, shift emphasis toward the goal, and create a sense of possibility. 

I’m trying to work it in more often.  I’m not quite there yet.  But I can feel it coming.

Visit We are THAT Family  for more Works for Me Wednesday ideas.

Creative Commons License photo credit: nyki_mi

adapted from the archives

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the peace house

The little wooden house sits on our kitchen table, typically unnoticed.  My son brought it home from Sunday’s Cool a few weeks ago (yes, that’s what we call it.  Totally different from that old stodgy Sunday school, you know).  It has little disks with velcro on the back, so the peacemaker of the moment can be honored in the central spot.  The kids created these for a lesson on Joseph, the favored son with eleven brothers:  a story of sibling rivalry gone very bad (and eventually good, but that’s much later in the story). 

For some reason I treasure this little house (and really, it’s not like me to treasure every craft project my kids bring home).  I have to admit, I haven’t swapped the disks yet.  I think the kids might compete about who goes into the peacemaker spot, which would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?  Or maybe that’s a good thing– to try to be the best peacemaker in the house.   That might be helpful.  I might try it.  But must everything be a competition?   

Perhaps, at this age, it does.  Did you notice the little devil horns on one of the disks?  It’s typical of the adolescent banter around here.  To be honest, it makes me giggle.  I’m not too worried, because I know he didn’t really mean it, and his brother does too.   

Yes, I grow weary of the incessant put-downs and bickering in my home.  I do what I can to quell it.  I try often to create a house of peace.  Sometimes, I’m the one who wrecks it. 

But we are imperfect, and I guess that’s why I love this symbolic little house.  We have our scribbles and blots and our moments of devilishness.  But I know down deep, there is love, and sometimes peace, in our humble house.

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jumping in again

[D]
I’ve missed you. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t been blogging for a few weeks.  I let the habit fall off the table as the busy-ness of life took me over.  I thought it was a good idea to set writing aside and try to pay more attention to my family, work and other pursuits.

Truth is, I don’t know if it helped.  I’ve discovered that I pay more attention to the present when I’m writing.  Even when I’m distracted crafting a post in my mind, I notice more details, reflect, and appreciate the seemingly mundane events.  And when I read reflections of other bloggers, I feel like I’ve opened a little gift for the day.  I feel more connected.  I learn so much from you.  I feel like someone other there gets me and my little place in the world. 

These few weeks have been a blur, and I don’t have much record of where it went.  I’m not sure I was a more attentive parent or wife.  I’d rather have a few posts, some words of wisdom from other writers, or a comment or two from you to reflect upon those little moments.

So today, I’m just grateful that I’ve rediscovered what draws me to writing and this strange community of the blogosphere.  There is value in this virtual yet intimate exchange. 

I haven’t figured out the balance (do we ever?).  But I’m back, ready to jump in again.  

Let’s talk.

Posted at Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Capture Queen ™

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how to encourage a mom


Natural Woman
 

I’m so moved by all of you out there.  Many of you reponded privately to my last post with touching words of gratitude and relief.   I knew there was a need for recognition and validation of the hard work parents do.  I knew we needed to build up our community, not tear it down;  I just didn’t quite know what a nerve it would touch.  Thanks so much for sharing your stories with me. 

It’s clear we need to uplift one another, but somehow we rarely do so.  Perhaps we’ve just forgotten how or can’t find the words to say.  So in that spirit, I offer some tips on how to encourage a mom.   Share one with your friends, family, or an acquaintance; say them to someone who needs a lift; or simply say them to yourself.  Often. 

When it comes to effective praise and encouragement, a few simple elements make all the difference:

1)  Notice details.

2)  Appreciate the impact.

3)  Make it stick with evidence. 

Here are a few ideas.  They may be a little fantastical, but wouldn’t it be nice if someone said something like this to you today?

I noticed you delivered multiple children, lunches and backpacks to school, fully dressed and fed with only a few remnants of breakfast on their shirts.  Congratulations!

I noticed you held your composure while your child threw a fit.   I was really impressed that you didn’t give in.   You inspire me.

Wow, I really enjoy listening to a little one’s happy squeals and babbles.  It’s been so long since I’ve been around those baby sounds.  Music to my ears. 

I love that you let your children choose their own clothes.   They learn  how to dress for the weather that way.   That’s much more important than matching socks. 

Hey, I’m glad to see your children eat treats sometimes.  It makes the rest of us feel normal too. 

Oh, I remember those days of struggle.  I can see you’re doing all the right things.  Don’t worry, this season will pass. 

Oh, I’m sorry it’s been a difficult day.  It’s okay for your kids to hear your frustration.  It will help them learn to work through their own problems.   How can I help?

Oh, I’m sorry you feel like you messed up.   Kids are resilient.  Your authenticity and request for forgiveness will make a worthy impression.

Thank you for keeping the house from dissolving into chaos today.  I know you’ve probably picked things up seventeen times already.  It’s a nice to come home to a welcoming place. 

Thanks for loving our children instead of fussing with the house today.  I know you focused on what’s more important.  Would you like a break now?

Thanks for working all day, taking the children to and fro, and figuring out what to feed them.  How can I help tonight?

Find a mom who needs some encouragement today.  She might just be you.  What will you say to her?  Go ahead, do it now.  Just begin with, “I noticed. . . “

Creative Commons License photo credit: nathalielaure

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let’s skip the mommy wars

Susie I

She has that look — a shell of the formerly vibrant, social woman clinging to her last rope, reaching for a shred of hope as the overwhelming waves of chaos crash toward her again.  I know it well.  She’s usually in the back row of my parenting presentations, or quietly listening at the moms’ social outing, and she needs someone to tell her things are going to be okay. 

She may be the mother of a colicky baby, a defiant toddler, a learning-challenged fourth grader or a rebellious teen.  She may have wonderful, well-adjusted children but still feel completely overwhelmed by it all.  She also might be a he, of course, who feels like he’s the only one out there forging uncharted territory.  She might get paid to work (or not), but it doesn’t matter.  She loves her child with every ounce of her soul, and she treasures those moments of joy, but she still feels like she can’t pull it together like all the other parents seem to do. 

I know this woman because I have been there.  I am she, and she is we, and we need to do a better job reaching out to that person. 

Parenting is one of life’s most rewarding and toughest challenges, and anyone who says otherwise is not telling the whole story.  Yes, some flow through it more naturally than the rest of us do, but I don’t think it was ever meant to be easy.  Perfect parenting is a myth.  June Cleaver and Carol Brady do not exist in the real world, and the SuperNanny doesn’t even have her own children.  The difficulty isn’t necessarily bad: parenting is a great opportunity to for adults to stretch and learn beyond our imagination, and working through tough challenges is an amazing way to grow.

But I don’t believe we’re meant to face that challenge in a vacuum. We need a friend to hear about our latest episode and offer ideas to face the next one. We need someone to help us see the long view and assure us that we didn’t scar our child for life this morning. We need a frequent reminder that kids are resilient, that our mistakes are forgiven and that next time, we will respond better. We need a friend who pulls us out of that ocean of diapers and tantrums and shines light on the moments we can laugh about and celebrate. We can’t expect all that from one person: we need a community of grace.

So let’s make a pact to skip the judgement, finger pointing and mommy wars. Let’s stop competing over food, child care, schools and activities. Let’s reach out to one another and offer support.

What if we sat next to that woman in the back row and listened to her story? What if we reached out to the parent whose child misbehaves in school? What if we remembered how hard it is to simply get out the door with young children and congratulated that mom for a job well done?

Just for today, let’s stop pretending we have all the answers. Let’s hold back our judgment and encourage one another. It will make a huge difference to that struggling parent. And I bet it will make your day a little brighter too.

It works for me

Creative Commons License photo credit: Béni Rivière

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half empty, or half full?

coffee

Not long ago I decided to get off my bum and drive my kids to the bus stop in the pouring rain.  The pouring rain is a happy thing around here.  Rain (instead of snow or ice) means there might be a God out there who is considering sending spring our way, someday.  It washes away the old snow and slush and leaves a fresh landscape of potholes, mud and weird grit, so we can freeze up and cover it with snow again.  Such is the freeze/thaw cycle in Michigan, but it really makes us appreciate the miracle of spring.  Anyway. . .

I had to prepare my gigantic mug of coffee for the 3-minute trip down the street.  I’m one of those people who needs to have a coffee mug in hand for at least the first two hours of the day.  It makes me happy, and you know the motto, “When momma’s happy, everybody’s happy.”  

So I grabbed my coffee, hopped into the car and headed down the street.  I wedged my big round coffee mug as best I could into the cup holder. 

I bet you can guess what happened next.

As I pulled up to the stop, my unsecured mug tipped over, and out poured the entire contents — directly into the adjacent cup holder. 

That’s right.  It didn’t spill all over the car, it poured right into the cup holder, filling it up like a cup of coffee itself.

My first reaction?  “Oh ______ (fill in your favorite expletive here), I can’t believe this happened.  What a schmuck I am.  G is going to kill me (because this isn’t the first time I’ve done something dumb with my coffee).  This is starting out to be a lousy day.”

Then I realized, “I am the luckiest woman ever.  Who accidentally spills her coffee directly into another vessel without splash or spill?  It’s going to be an amazing day.” 

After the kids finished laughing at me, I sent them on their way, went home, and cleaned up easily.  Zero evidence. 

What do you think?  Schmuck or luck?  Half empty or full?

(No, you’re not crazy if you think you’ve read this before.  Things have been a little crazy around here–in a good way–so I thought I’d share this little ditty from the archives.  Thanks for understanding.)

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life is NOT fair

good question
One of my part time gigs is helping high school students prepare for the ACT and SAT.  I actually enjoy it–I’m geeky like that.  It’s a good mental challenge for me, and while I’m not a big fan of standardized testing, I do enjoy helping kids beat that stupid test and open doors to their future.   

Most of the kids I work with already have a wealth of resources at their disposal.   Some attend expensive private schools, enjoy the support of dedicated guidance counselors, and hire a cadre of private tutors to make sure they excel.  Others go to regular public schools and invest in a test prep course to make the best of their chances. 

Sometimes I feel guilty for helping kids with plenty while others don’t have that advantage.  It isn’t fair.  But the kids I work with have the same confidence issues and test anxiety as any other teen, and it really feels good to help them do their best.  I feel all mixed up about that. 

A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to tutor a couple of students from inner city Detroit.  As you may know, the Detroit Public Schools are in desperate straits after decades of financial corruption .  The problems in that city are huge, and thousands of children are caught in the crossfire of politics, poverty, racism and so many things outside their control.   

But in this case, a handful of caring adults found some motivated high school students and took them under their wings.  They channeled their passions into advocacy and service.  Within this group, they identified kids with promise and committed to helping them get into a great college.  That’s where I entered the picture.

Two kids I tutored, D and B, seem just like any high schoolers you might meet.  They’re fashionable and funny.  They’re also respectful, highly motivated, and engaged in their community.  They do many projects helping underpriviledged kids and hungry folks in Detroit. 

I noticed that D and B had their own hurdles that most kids I know don’t face.  They rode public buses or hitched rides to our meeting location–no parents drove them.  They didn’t have easy internet access, so they borrowed the computer at the office where we met.  They couldn’t afford the expensive graphing calculator  most high schoolers use, so they passed one around for homework and tests.   These little things required time, planning and energy that most of us take for granted.  I was pleased to meet some kids in Detroit who overcame these hurdles and showed leadership potential. 

Then I learned more about their stories.

B’s father died suddenly in the middle of her junior year.  Her family relocated, and she had trouble getting to school, due to both transportation logistics and difficulty coping with her father’s death.  Her grades plummeted, but an inspiring summer school teacher sparked her interest in school again.   In short order, she turned her grades around and hopes to make it into a good university.

D has lived in poverty his entire life.  He admires his mother who attends school and works temporary jobs to support her family.  Last January they hit hard times, and his lights and gas were shut off for three weeks.  He coped with the bitter cold by wearing extra layers of clothing and doing homework by candlelight.  D wants a good education so he can break his own cycle of poverty.  He describes school as his escape, salvation and source of self-esteem.

I keep wrestling with a couple of things:  1)  the stark contrast between D and B’s experiences and the advantages my family enjoys; and 2) the striking similarities between these charming teens and the others I know. 

We’re all subject to the same tests, but the playing field is not level. 

Life isn’t fair, that’s for sure.   For now, I just hope my roundabout path through the wealthier suburbs might give D and B a boost that makes a difference. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: e-magic

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savoring

She’s in there somewhere.

It happens every night.  Somehow, she shuffles around in her sleep, rolling into a little ball and piling the puffy down cloud on top of her into a mountain of coziness.  She’s deep underneath in her warm sweet slumber, and it’s my job to coax her out to greet the morning.

It’s my favorite part of the day.  After her brothers have caught the early bus and before the chaos of the day begins, just she and I steal a few precious moments of our own.  When I’ve planned it right, I slip in under the cloud and spoon around her, soaking in the radiant heat of her skin and the scent of her shampooed hair.  She mumbles a little and we snuggle as long as we can.

Has it really been almost nine years since I held this babe in my arms, nursing her to sleep, cherishing every moment with my last, littlest one? 

She’s not a babe anymore.  She’s lean and long.  I can’t reach the full length of her legs, and when she jumps into my arms, my back aches.  I catch my breath when she saunters up the stairs with a slight sway of her hips –not on purpose–  just naturally feminine. 

There’s trouble ahead; I’m sure of it.  The posturing and friendship dramas already flare upon occasion, and I have no doubt there will be more to come.   But there’s also great joy in the glimpses of profound thought and compassion that arise more often as she grows.  

I cannot stop the flow of time.  I don’t really want to. 

So today, I savor a snuggle with my baby girl.  I never know how many more mornings like this we’ll have.

This is part of Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky.

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open my heart to haiti

Broken Heart
I’m stunned by the sea of devastation.  My heart aches for the people of Haiti who have been through so much and now have to endure so much more.  It is unbearably tragic. 

But why am I not more upset?   How can I listen and watch those pictures from my cozy home and keep on going with my mundane daily tasks?  Oh yes, I add one more thing–I go to the UMCOR website and enter a donation–a drop in the bucket to help the folks in Haiti, but if I’m honest, I also do it to help myself feel better. 

What else can I do? 

I have been near the epicenter of a strong 7.1 earthquake, but in a wealthier place with architecture built to withstand the earth’s movement.  Few people died, but it rattled me to the core.  The aftershocks kept coming, and we never knew when another “big one” would hit.  For years I would grab my desk–ready to dive under–every time a truck drove by or heavy boots walked the halls, even where an earthquake was highly unlikely.  It was a gut reaction.

Where is my gut reaction today?

Why does the flood of news about another horrible tragedy make me uncomfortable and sad, but not outraged?  How can I compare this news with the number of souls lost in other tragedies?  Why am I surprised when my children come home from school, shocked by the horror of it, and realize that they are more emotionally vested in this than I am? 

When I hear of a famous man’s despicable statement about Haiti, pointing fingers instead of offering love, why do I roll my eyes and move on rather than wrestle with outrage like dear Heather did

I don’t know why. 

Am I jaded, overwhelmed by the great need in so many places?   Have I decided that my efforts are too small, have too little impact?  Am I coping with the emotion I cannot handle with calculated logic?  Has my heart grown cold, numb, hardened?

I do not know the answer.  But I need to put why aside.  

For now, there is one thing I can do:  to give where I know it will serve.  There are so many wonderful, generous efforts underway.  Our family supports UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, who is already working in Haiti and is often the first in and last out.  100% of gifts go directly to the relief effort.  If you’re looking for a trustworthy place to give, I highly recommend it. 

We can also harness the collective spirit of community.  My husband and I would like to contribute at least $1 extra for each unique commenter on this post toward UMCOR’s efforts in Haiti.  We had an amount in mind, but we’re open to being stretched and shaken by your compassion.  So please, add your thoughts about how to connect and respond to such global (or local) tragedies.

And we can pray.  I pray for the people of Haiti, and I pray for God to bring forth an earthquake in my soul–to shake me up and crack open my heart. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: CarbonNYC

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