Letter to My Eighth Grade Self

I saw the movie Eighth Grade for the second time a few nights ago. The first time I saw it with a group of girlfriends at the the theater. The second time I watched it at home with my daughter who just started 9th grade. The movie is hard to watch, kind of like 8th grade itself. It is full of awkward, cringy moments that make you want to turn your head and say, “no, no, no.”

It was so helpful to see the movie with my daughter because it enabled me to empathize with where she is in life in a way that I honestly don’t do very well. I tend to look at my two teenagers (I also have a 7th grade son) and measure them against my adult expectations. I expect them to know what I know, to have figured out the complicated, complex structure of friendships, crushes, popularity, carving out your own identity that’s separate from your parents’, and surviving gym class. And kids today have to do this on the very public stage of the internet, which raises the stakes significantly and makes everything that much more fraught with risk and drama. It’s a lot.

Since re-watching Eighth Grade, I have been trying to remember back to how I felt at that time in my life, who I was in the eighth grade. Ugh, talk about cringy. Adult me would have a field day correcting, nagging, over-analyzing and fretting over 8th grade me. My kids are ten times more mature and together than 8th-grade me was. Sorry, mom!

So, here is my letter to my 8th grade self…. By the way, if you’ve never written a letter to your former self, I highly recommend it. People spend a lot of money for this kind of stuff in therapy! I know I have!

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fullsizeoutput_50c1Dear 8th-grade Elizabeth,

Here’s the hard truth. I’m 43 and I still don’t know everything. I still feel like I’m back in 8th grade a lot of the time. But I have gathered a few little nuggets of wisdom along the way. Not because I was necessarily searching for them, more like they hit me on the head like acorns when I was walking by.

Here’s what I know now that I wish I knew then:

  1. No one is thinking about you nearly as much as you are thinking about you. At first this sounds depressing because, really? They aren’t? But ultimately, it is incredibly freeing because you can stop worrying so much about pleasing everyone all the time.
  2. Typing class will be one of the most important classes you ever take. Seriously. You have no idea how much you will type later in life.
  3. Don’t worry about being popular, worry about what kind of friend you are to the people you care about most. Are you kind? Do you sit with friends when they are hurting? Do you celebrate their victories like they are your own? Do you tell them how much they mean to you? Sadly, adult you has screwed this up a bunch. But I have had some really great friends teach me how to do this better.
  4. It’s okay to be friends with all kinds of people. You don’t need to think so much about what group they are in and whether that group is one that you fit into. People are more complicated than you realize. Cheerleaders are funny. Theater people can be quiet. Orchestra kids like to get crazy sometimes. Even adults are guilty of dismissing entire groups of people. Adult you goes to church every Sunday, tends to vote democratic, secretly loves going to Hobby Lobby and has a mix of hardcore rap and worship songs on her running mix. People are not just one thing so don’t put them in a box.
  5. Don’t worry about whether you are good enough or smart enough or popular enough or pretty enough. You are enough. You don’t have to prove your worth.  But you do have to believe in it.
  6. I know sometimes you are nervous to look people in the eye and say hi first, but you should try it every now and then. People like getting a smile and a hello from you. And everyone’s a little nervous to say hi first. Not just you.
  7. Go outside and exercise a little bit everyday. Grown-up you figured this out way later in life. You tend to get sad and hopeless when you don’t move your body. It is amazing how much better a little fresh air and exercise make you feel. Even better than eating Oreos and watching Carol Burnett reruns after school. Well, a different kind of better.
  8. You have grown A LOT in the last few years. You went from wearing kids’ clothes to women’s clothes practically over night. That would make anyone feel awkward and like they barely recognize themselves. You will get used to this new body of yours. And then just when you are used to it, it will change again. And again. And then you will have children and it will really change. The only constant with bodies is that they are always changing. This is a good thing though. Our bodies are just an outer shell, like a little cocoon. We spend our whole lives inside of our body cocoons trying to become butterflies. When that happens, we won’t need them anymore.
  9. You will try to wear your hair in bangs at different times throughout your life. Here’s the thing. Feel free to try, but it never works out.
  10. As you get older you will try on different personas–pep squad captain, angsty teen, girlfriend, artsy young adult, over-protective new mom, working mom, PTA mom. These are just a few that spring to mind; there are many more identities you will try out. But remember this: no matter how you dress or what your life is currently focused on, always remember you are a child of God who is loved and valued for simply being you. You don’t have to try to BE something in particular. The goal is just to be who you are. That’s when your light can really shine.
  11. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. No matter what anyone tells you or YOU tell you, you are a writer. A real one. Words hover around you like little hummingbirds that flit here and there looking for nectar. You can’t see them, but they are there. Your job is to sit your butt down in a chair and be very still so that the words will come to you. You never know when they are going to come, so you have to be in the chair with your hands and heart open as much as you possibly can. Promise me you’ll do this? Pinky promise?

 

 


The Velveteen Van: How My Minivan Became Real

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

-From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

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The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my all-time favorite books when I was a kid. As a devoted stuffed animal lover, I totally related to the message that love takes a toll on the beloved. Balding fur, eyeballs hanging on by a thread, and deflated stuffing are simply signs of how much something has meant to you.

As an adult, this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit still rings true. Now when I read these words I nod my head in agreement, wipe a tear from my eye, and think of…

My minivan.

My minivan has been puked on. And not in a contained way. Puke has found its way into the crevice between the seats that fold down for extra storage, and into the seatbelt buckle. There is that space where you insert the metal part of the seatbelt so that it makes that satisfying clicking sound. There has been puke in that thing.

My kids are older now, but my minivan had car seats strapped into it for so many years that there are lines in the seats that can never be erased. Those lines are like lines on a map, charting my kids’ journeys from babyhood to adolescence.

Before we moved back to our hometown of Austin, our van used to carry the five of us across the country twice a year so that we could visit family. During those epic drives our van was like a little house on wheels where we would watch movies, eat meals, sleep, yell at each other, change diapers, and where I would unsuccessfully try to nurse babies who were strapped into a car seat. Those of you who can do that are my heroes.

Now our minivan carries us back and forth to muddy soccer games, tennis lessons, basketball games, high school carpool, camping trips, garden workdays, and sweaty workouts. On a good day our dog gets to come along for the ride.

Feed a wet dog a bunch of chocolate ice cream, then when he pukes it up, bake everything in the 108-degree Texas heat and you get the idea of what our minivan smells like. I try to do something about the smell sometimes. I stuck an almost-used-up volcano candle in the floor storage compartment to try to trick people into thinking our minivan was actually Anthropologie.

There are layers of smells in there is what I am trying to say. And maybe I’m also complain bragging a little about my floor storage compartment. Sorry. But it is pretty cool.

We have shared countless meals in the van, dropped sippy cups of milk that rolled under the seat to be found six months later. There are lights that come unhinged when I open the back, dangling there like dead bodies.

Recently we considered trading in our van for something a little snazzier. I couldn’t bear the thought of buying yet another minivan as I have been driving a van for 10 years now. I didn’t want to drive a huge SUV because I think it would just make me feel like I was in a drug cartel or the secret service. Also because the environment. When you have three kids who like to go places with their friends, that pretty much requires that you need either a minivan or a giant SUV or one of those shuttles you take to the remote parking lot in the airport.

Thinking about trading in my car for a new, shinier thing sounded like a dream come true at first, but ultimately I decided that, while others might not get it, I love my minivan. It will be paid off soon. All those memories and smells, I’ll be driving those around for free.

We can take that money we save on a car payment and put it toward college, which is coming in less than four years. I have a feeling the closer college gets, the less I will mind my stinky, well-worn ride, which is becoming less minivan and more time-capsule as the years pile up.

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Maybe there’s still a sippy cup trapped somewhere in that thing. If I’m lucky.


Like a Mother

When I had my first child, I remember it hitting me for the first time that everyone had come into the world a helpless, adorable baby. And that everyone had a mama who went through nine months of body-morphing, magical weirdness and the pain of childbirth in order to bring that person into the world. I know it’s sad that it took having a baby of my own for this to dawn on me, but I can be slow and a little self-absorbed.

After my daughter was born, I couldn’t pass a homeless person without thinking about that person as a baby–a baby with a mama who had probably loved him or her dearly and fiercely at one point.

I couldn’t stand in line at Starbucks without seeing the baby-ness in everyone. Once you start seeing people this way, those crazy specific drink orders seem less annoying in their toddler-like pickiness, and become more endearing.

Everyone becomes more endearing if you search for their baby-ness—that fragile infant inside of them who is scared and needy and so hungry for food and love and acceptance…and could probably use a nap.

When I went back to work after nine years of being at home with my kids, my boss figured out what made me tick pretty quickly. I was overwhelmed by the job I had been tasked with, which required that I project manage the publishing of twenty-something online educational modules. Each module was in a different stage of development and there were a million details to remember. It felt like I was solely responsible for remembering each and every one. I must have looked at my boss with big eyes one day. Sensing my anxiety, she told me something that has always stayed with me. She said that I needed to think about those modules as my babies. Each one was on a different schedule and each one needed different things at different times, but she knew that I could handle it. She knew I would be okay because I knew how to be a mama. All I needed to do was be a mama to those modules.

I know that sounds weird, but for someone who felt insecure in the workplace, but totally confident in my ability to be a mom, that advice really resonated. I mommed those modules so hard. I got on top of that job and convinced our agency that we needed another person to help because the amount of work it took to be a good mama to those modules was not a part-time job by any stretch. Those modules needed two mamas. So we hired another person and together we took very good care of our module babies.

Mamas are heroic. Mamas get their hands dirty. They get up before everyone and are wiping down counters and prepping for tomorrow when everyone else is done for the day. They drive forgotten lunches to school. They know when someone hasn’t really washed their hands in the bathroom. They can sense when someone has had a bad day the minute they walk off the bus. Mamas can’t sleep if one of their babies is hurting or sick. They have a Spidey sense that jolts them awake the second a baby cries out in the night.

We are able to do all this stuff not because we are superhuman, but because we care so much. The heroic things we do to care for our families are just a by-product of the intense love we feel. We can’t help it.

My challenge for myself and anyone reading this (whether you are a mama or not) is to apply those mama superpowers to everything–everyone you encounter and the work you do in the world. Care so much that you can’t look the other way when someone is hurting. Care so much that you simply have to stop what you are doing and help someone in need. Care so much that you can’t not march at that rally, cheer at your friend’s race, volunteer to help kids learn to read, teach that Sunday School class, bring someone a meal. Do it because you love the world too much not to.

Be a mama to everything. Be a mama to yourself. Have you eaten any vegetables today? Do you need to get some rest? Are you hustling too much to please others and forgetting to fill your own cup? There is a baby inside of you too and that baby needs rest and food and a little tucking in. Caring for others when you are not caring for yourself is like taking a tired, hungry toddler to Target—you could do it, but it probably won’t go well.

Are you anxious? Stressed? Stretched too thin? Worried? Feeling shame about that thing you said or didn’t say, or that thing you ate or didn’t eat? Try to imagine what you would say to your own baby girl if she felt those things. You are okay. You are more than okay, you are amazing! Look at all the things you do so well. You are so much more than this thing you are focusing on. You are valuable and worthy of all the love and kindness in the world. Stop beating yourself up, baby girl. Now, say those things to yourself.

Our world is a mess. It needs us to love on it and clean it up. Our world needs one of those crazy cleaning sessions you do when company is coming in an hour and you are suddenly a force of cleaning wizardry. It needs us to smile at strangers and look at them with light and joy in our eyes, to let that person with his blinker on merge. For the love of God, let the people merge! It needs us to pay for the coffee of the person in line behind us, to feed someone who is hungry, to walk with someone who is hurting, to listen to someone who needs to talk.

Be a mama to everything. And let others be a mama to you. See how it changes you and filters everything you see through a curtain of gauzy love that brings you to tears with how much goodness there is in the world, how much kindness and humor and joy.

In some ways the world is a place only a mother could love. So let’s go love it. Like a mother.


But First Tacos

but first tacos

Photo credit: 5thandGraceCo

 

You know how they say put the oxygen mask on yourself first? Well, the same is true for tacos. You can’t be a good you on an empty tummy. But it’s hard to find time to feed yourself in the midst of the tornado that is getting everyone out the door each morning.

Well I have a solution for all you hangry mamas out there!

This is going to sound like a pretty obvious tip, but it took me a while to figure this out and since I have started doing this one thing, I save a good 30 minutes making and cleaning up breakfast everyday. That’s like a good 3 and a half hours a week!

Are you ready for me to reveal my tip?

You sure?

Okay. Here it is. All I do is make a bunch of bacon and scrambled eggs at one time and then reheat them throughout the week to have an easy, delicious breakfast ready in seconds. I know, not exactly earth shattering in its originality, but I have been making breakfast for a long, long time and it just recently occurred to me to do this. So it made me think maybe others have not discovered this little nugget of efficiency.

I like to put my eggs and bacon on a corn tortilla and plop a little salsa or guacamole on top. One time I had leftover pork chops (the ones from my 30-day meal plan), and so I sliced up one of those bad boys and put it on top of my eggs instead of bacon. Whoa. It was good. You could also make a big batch of frozen hash browns and add those to the mix. I am happy with just simple bacon and eggs, but sometimes I add a little grated cheese if I am feeling fancy.

Here’s how I make bacon the super easy, no muss, no fuss way. 

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  1. Cover a large sheet pan with heavy duty foil.
  2. Set an oven-safe cooling rack on top of it.
  3. Line your bacon up on the cooling rack so that the grease can drip down onto the foil-lined pan.
  4. Bake at 420 for 10-20 minutes, depending on how you like your bacon. I like mine crispy, so I leave it in there longer. *Confession: I have a tendency to burn bacon. It’s my one flaw.
  5. Let things cool down before trying to dispose of the foil. Letting the grease cool down and solidify a little makes clean up less likely to give you a third degree burn.

 

 

While the bacon’s cooking, make your eggs:

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  1. Crack however many eggs you think you’ll need into a bowl. I usually do six at a time.
  2. Over low heat, melt a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick pan. I also give the pan a little spritz of cooking spray for good measure.
  3. While the butter is melting, whisk your eggs until they are all mixed together and are basically one solid color.

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I mean, look at that action shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pour eggs into the pan and gently start to lift and fold them gently with a rubber spatula. Lift and fold. Lift and fold.

The goal is to not let any eggs stay in one spot too long and get brown.

Brown scrambled eggs=gross scrambled eggs.

Don’t forget to add a little salt and pepper. I think it’s easier to season the eggs once they’re in the pan. You can get a better idea of how much salt and pepper you really need when they’re all spread out as opposed to when they’re in a bowl.

Keep cooking on low heat until they are as done as you like em. The big thing to remember is slow and low is the key to cooking eggs. Slow and low…that is the tempo. You want to lovingly coax them into luscious scrambledness. This cannot be rushed.

Let your eggs cool and pack them up for easy living all week.

Once you’ve got your eggs and bacon at the ready, you can have a quick, yummy, filling breakfast in minutes with no mess to clean up. Like I said, I like to make a taco by microwaving a tortilla with a little cheese topped with eggs and bacon. I microwave it for about 45 seconds and then I eat it standing up over my kitchen sink like an animal.

You could also toast an english muffin, microwave the eggs and bacon separately and then build a little breakfast sandwich. Yum. Or just eat them as eggs and bacon with a little toast. Feel free to mix it up. Add some veggies. Slice up some avocado. Once you have your base of eggs and bacon, you can do with them as you choose and it really doesn’t add much time to the equation.

Side note: Supposedly the way you like your eggs says something about your personality.

So, if you could only eat eggs one way forever, which way would you choose?

Did you say scrambled, like me? Here’s what that means, according to the internet: 

You’re a loyal friend to the end! Conservative, but always friendly and inclusive of others –– not the life of the party, but always at the party. Sometimes really bland, but whatever — people still like you so who cares.

Yay.

I don’t care if I’m a little boring. You over-easy people can have your wild parties and mucousy eggs. I’m scrambled eggs for life.

So sometimes, you will find yourself in the position I was in today. My bacon and egg stash had run dry, and I didn’t have time to make more. What could I eat…what could I eat….

Well, necessity really is the mother of invention because today I invented what I believe to be the next big thing…

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Yep, that’s a waffle taco. And it was delicious. And there was fruit, y’all, so it was healthy.

All you do to make this amazing handful of self care is toast a blueberry waffle. Swipe on a scant amount of Nutella. Just the tiniest amount. Like, so little, it doesn’t even register on My Fitness Pal. It’s like you basically didn’t even eat any Nutella at all. Pile on some blueberries and fold it in half. Voila! You have made an entirely different, but equally yummy breakfast taco.

So, what do y’all like to eat for breakfast? I would love to hear if you can top my waffle taco. It gets a ten out of ten for both easiness and deliciousness, but it needs a better name. Maybe we should call it… Wacco? Taffle? I need your thoughts on this.

Love,

Elizabeth

 

 

 

 


How to Win at Back to School

back to school conceptual creativity cube

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are two types of moms out there—the ones who never want summer to end, and the ones who start planning for the fall in July. As much as I’d like to believe I am an endless summer fun mom, I am decidedly not. I like structure, a quiet house, and people learning things from professional teachers. My kids actually really like school too. We are all much happier once school starts.

I want to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way that help us live our best back to school lives.

Treat Back-to-School like it’s New Year’s. Have the whole family come up with resolutions (goals) for the school year. Whether it’s learning a new instrument, trying out for a new sport, making straight A’s…harness those New School Year vibes and make some goals. Talk to your kids about coming up with goals that are within their control (tryout for the soccer team vs. make the soccer team) and that are measurable (read all 20 Bluebonnet books by December vs get better at reading). Don’t forget to make goals for yourself and share your goals with your kids. Somehow my kids did not realize I was writing a novel until I shared recently that my New School Year goal was to finish my novel by January. It was motivating to share that goal with the kids and get their encouragement.

Think about setting three big goals in three different categories (personal, professional, family). Be real about what you can do each day to accomplish those goals. This translates to looking at how much time you have and how much time it takes to accomplish your goals. When I really looked at what it would take to finish my novel by January, that translated to writing 10 pages a week, which meant I needed to carve out two hours a day every weekday for that goal. And I needed to do that at a time of day when I’m not totally brain dead. Which leads me to my next tip…

Make a schedule and be realistic about where your time is going. Look at drop off times, pick up times, soccer practice, after-school tutoring, gymnastics, church youth group. Write down everything you will be doing in a week in some sort of calendar—you could make one yourself, bullet journal style, or use a printed Google calendar set to a weekly view. But I would recommend using paper and pencil to write down a master calendar with what is happening every day at what time. Don’t forget to add the driving time. The amount of time I spend driving is always a shock to me. And it is a huge reminder about why it’s so hard to figure out family dinners during the school year. So much of my time between 4-6 is spent in the car on weekdays. This year I actually wrote down what time we need to eat dinner each day to accommodate all of our activities. The timing of everything then led to my next tip…

Make a weekly meal plan that aligns with your driving schedule. Refer to your weekly schedule. If you have to be in the car during prime dinner-making hours every Tuesday, then that is not a good night to make a dinner that requires a lot of time and babysitting. Plan to make a slow-cooker meal on days when you know you will be out all afternoon. I love to wing it in the kitchen, so this has been a hard lesson for me to learn, but, man, once I started doing this, I felt like I had cracked the dinner code. I actually went next level this month and made a month-long meal plan, which I’m going to share in my next post. Stay tuned for that.

And while I am loving having a plan, and I think plans are super helpful, I do want to add that they should serve you and not the other way around. Which brings me to my last and probably most important tip…

Be flexible. The older my children get (I have a freshman, 7th grader and 4th grader), the more I learn that parenting is not about enforcing my will and plans on them but about listening to their needs and desires and adjusting as necessary. I try to plan my time and schedule as much as I can so that I can be available for those last-minute crises that pop up, or to host spur-of-the moment study sessions or playdates or trips to get a frappuccino  when they’ve had a bad day. I am so not perfect at this. I screw this stuff up all the time, but my intent is to be able to provide a soft place for my kids to fall when life is hard. And it’s impossible to do that if you are super rigid about sticking to a routine at all costs.

So that’s how we not only survive, but THRIVE now that school is in session. I’m sure there are a lot of other new school year tips and tricks out there that I haven’t thought of. I’d love to hear what works for your family!

Happy New School Year!

Love,

Elizabeth


Summer Solstice

 

If only there were a sunscreen to protect you (and me) from all the blue light absorbed into our bodies and brains each day.

I would slather it on thick as frosting.

I’m writing this online while I listen to you and your friends play–each of you in separate houses with headsets on. You guys are a squad, and you’re looking for people to, let’s face it, kill.

At least it’s kind of social, I rationalize. At least you’re talking while you kill people.

Meanwhile, I’m typing stuff that maybe someone will read if I let them.

You guys are laughing at least, connecting. I should stop typing and make you take your headset off and we should go outside. It rained earlier and the grass is still wet. The light is perfect. It’s like one of those Instagram pictures people hashtag “no filter.”

But what would we talk about? It would be so quiet. We might have to come up with something to say. We might find ourselves boring. And there are so many ways to avoid that awkwardness. Me at my computer, you and your headset.

Which is how we got ourselves into this situation in the first place.

You walked in as I was writing this and I let you read it over my shoulder.

My words made you sniffle a little laugh at first. Then in the end you felt like I must hate what you love and that made you mad. I tried to explain myself. It’s not you, it’s me. That old line. I don’t hate what you love. I feel guilty. There is a chorus of moms like a Greek play in my head, shaming me for letting you check out in this way. For not always giving you the perfect childhood that I dreamed up from books and movies. I feel guilty for being lazy and checking out on my own screens too much. For me it’s not about the kills. It’s about the likes. But we are the same. Only I should be better. I should be all the things I want you to be.

The summer solstice is Thursday. Thursday there will be the most light-filled minutes there will be all year. Let’s fill each of those minutes like a bucket, with real things, things that aren’t stitched together with code. Let’s walk to the bakery and take the dog. Let’s make lemonade from actual lemons.

 

 

 

 

 


Turning the Car Around

This past weekend we learned a valuable lesson in parenting teens. Sometimes you have to be willing to turn the car around.

Let me explain. We were on our way to a camping trip that had been on the books for two months. Our friends had invited us to go camping at a dance hall in the Texas Hill Country. We’d swim in the Blanco River, eat a yummy potluck dinner and then dance the night away to Texas swing music. I was really looking forward to it.  It was exactly what I wanted to be doing last Saturday. The perfect little getaway.

But the two teens in our family had different ideas. Charlie had been invited to a marathon scavenger hunt birthday party that lasted eight hours and involved every single cool thing you could do in our very cool city. We compromised and said Charlie could go to half of the party, then we would go camping. By the time we rendezvoused to pick him up at the scavenger hunt, the party was at an escape room and Charlie was not happy to be missing out on that. He was pissed actually.

Meanwhile Emma had been invited to hang out with her friends that night. They were going to walk to get pizza and then watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.  My daughter who rarely cries, was wiping streaming tears off of her cheeks about the prospect of missing out on eating pizza for the second time that weekend and watching a Netflix show with friends she sees everyday. And not only was she missing this stuff, she was going to have to sleep ON THE GROUND. Oh, the injustice!

On the other hand Teddy (age 9) was already wearing his bathing suit and really pumped to swim in the Blanco River and go camping.

Did I mention we had a cooler full of food and our car was one hundred percent packed with camping gear? And we were already on the highway to the Hill Country?

After some pretty intense discussion involving gems like “you never listen to us! You always just do what you want to do and don’t ask us!” I gave Brandon the throat slitting gesture, which I intended to mean it was time to abort this mission (and not “you’re dead,” which thankfully was not how Brandon interpreted it).

We turned the car around and took Charlie back to the escape room. I didn’t know if they would let him in late and told him that. “It’s okay, I’ll just wait in the lobby until they’re done,” he said. That was how much he didn’t want to be going camping with us. He’d rather wait by himself in the lobby of an escape room. Thankfully they let him in. I left just as the escape room lady was explaining to a very happy Charlie, “your mission is to stop an evil wizard by finding eight potions…”

I walked outside in the bright, sunshine-y, 80-degree weather (perfect for swimming and camping) to our overstuffed car where Emma, Teddy and Brandon were waiting in the parking lot. We came up with a plan so that Teddy, who was sad to be missing out on swimming, could still take a dip in a natural body of water. We drove across town to a park on Lake Austin where there was a little public beach. The four of us had fun hanging out and playing in the water and enjoying the beautiful summer-like temps until it was time to pick Charlie up from the party.

When we got home, Emma walked over to her friend’s house while the rest of us unpacked the car. The act of unpacking made it feel like we’d actually been somewhere. In a way we had. It felt like we left that morning the parents of kids and came home the parents of teens. Not really your dream vacation, but all part of the parenting journey. We greeted our dog as though we’d been gone for a week, and admitted that it was going to be pretty nice to sleep in our own beds.

And you know what else is nice? That feeling that comes from listening to your kids and giving them a voice. It’s hard to know how to show love to a teen sometimes. They’re not really into PDA anymore. But turning the car around and showing them with your actions, I hear you and I get it. That is pretty much their love language.

I’m not arguing that your teens get to decide everything you do as a family and that their needs and desires always trump what you have planned. But in this particular case, it felt right to sacrifice our idea of fun to let them have their idea of fun. Plus, has anyone ever camped with a sullen teen? Neither have I, nor do I ever want to.