A Tale of Two Jennifers

When we had been in California just a few weeks I surprised Rob by sobbing myself to sleep. I have had many wonderful friends in my life, but I was particularly missing my great friend Jennifer. She’s the kind of friend who takes you just how you are. The kind of friend who invited me over for giant salads for lunch while the kids play and we chatted on the couch and folded laundry together. She was the woman I was doing the business of motherhood with. We traded piano lessons for my kids for doula support during her fourth daughter’s birth. My 6 year old stood on her porch in a temper tantrum and refused to take lessons from her. I almost had to catch her baby girl because she was birthing so fast the midwife nearly missed it. We have been in the trenches of life together.

brunch:jenniferI was lonely for her company and the comfort of knowing she was just 5 blocks down the road and I could meet her in the park at any time. I was sad that her sweet children would be growing up and I would only see it on facebook.

We grew close after years of hanging out with a wonderful group of ladies for regular brunches. We both lived in the same neighborhood so we had set up a weekly lunch on Wednesdays so we could have consistent babysitting for doctor appointments and such, and on the weeks we didn’t need a sitter we just enjoyed our time together. We took zoo trips and saw children’s theater performances. We canned tomato sauce and peaches. I loved all the women from our brunch group, but losing Jennifer’s company was like moving away from family.

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It was quite a surprise to me when, after moving to California, I met another Jennifer who became like family. We met at a homeschool park day and we were both new to the area. I invited her family over to dinner because we were desperate to make new connections and I thought maybe they’d be lonely for friendships too. That first dinner together we became fast friends. We joked comfortably. Her husband Ben and Rob had a great time as well, and the kids trampled all through the patio playing like long-time friends.

beach:jenniferOver the course of the year and half I have known my California Jennifer our friendship has grown dear. Our kids are like cousins. She’s seen my kitchen loaded with dishes. I’ve seen her floor scattered with orphan socks. I can call her when I’m stuck in a horrible mood, and she can stop over for impromptu dinner on a week night. We have been in the trenches of life together. She’s not my only friend here in California, but she’s grown to be like a sister. Just like my Ohio Jennifer.

And just like my Ohio Jennifer, my California Jennifer and I will be living our friendship at a distance. Jennifer and her family will be relocating back to their beloved Pennsylvania. Though I am happy for them that they are going home, I am sad because they are taking a large piece of my sense of home with them.

So this post is an ode to the two Jennifers of my heart. Ohio Jennifer and California Jennifer. O.J. and C.J. My life is sweeter because you are in it, even if I will have to count on social media and phone calls to stay close.

Risk and Vulnerability

Our family generally rewards risk taking. We climb high things and say “yes” to opportunities. We watch YouTube videos of extreme skiing and sky diving. We homeschool and camp and drive cross country.

This week at our homeschool park day one of our daughters, E, was climbing a tree with a friend. She was about 3 stories high in a sappy pine tree and going higher. This is the child that fell 8 feet out of a tree onto her head last fall. This is the child that more than anyone else in the family needs to “save face” when disciplined in public.

I told her I was uncomfortable with how high she was in the tree and said she needed to come down. Her friend began to climb down, grumbling about how her dad would have let her climb the tree. E stayed in the tree. She wasn’t budging. I was trying as hard as possible not to lose my temper as she blatantly told me she wasn’t coming down out of the tree. I didn’t want to yell at her or threaten to take away her privileges, but she was not coming out of the tree and I was running out of patience. There was quite a bit of back and forth about getting out of the tree as my blood pressure started rising.

Finally, my daughter forced herself to say, “I can’t come down. There is something keeping me up here but I don’t want to tell you unless I can tell you in private.” I wasn’t going to climb a sappy pine tree, so we were still at a stalemate.

“Come down out of the tree so you can tell me in private.” I called.

“I can’t come down. I can’t tell you why.”

Finally, I asked her friend if we could have some privacy and she trotted away.  E immediately began to climb down out of the tree. She was really angry with me and was crying. “I couldn’t climb down because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying,” she said as I hugged her. “You have to let me take risks mom. I was being very safe up there and it felt really good to try to get that high.” I understood what she was saying, but I was just not comfortable with her climbing so high in a public park.

“I know, but if you had made a mistake and fallen it would have been really bad, and I didn’t want to let you take that risk.” I said. I stood my ground like a good parent should. I had said, “climb down” and I didn’t relent until she had climbed down.

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But I could see she was disappointed in me and confused about the whole situation. I’ve let her climb boulders that high on Mount Diablo and given her permission to ride a really high zipline. I always tell her to be brave enough to make big loud mistakes so she can learn. And now I’m making her climb down out of a measly tree?

I remembered when I was a kid we’d climb this enormous pine tree in the back yard. There were 4 or 5 kids all at the very top. We’d all hold onto different branches and take turns leaning back so the tree would bend at the top, and we would try to make the tree top spin around. We were at least 50 or 60 feet high. We were 7 or 8 years old. Our parents yelled. They grounded us from playing outside. We would try to pretend we hadn’t been in the tree but the sap smeared on our hands gave us up. We felt free. We were alive. When we were forced to climb down we were being crushed by tyranny and oppression, held back by uncomprehending parents. I had become that tyranny.

E wouldn’t look at me. She was really mad. She wanted to take risks. We value risks. Why wouldn’t I let her take this risk? Couldn’t she prove what she could do? I discovered something very true about myself in that moment and I decided to take the risk of being vulnerable with my kid.

“Hey!” I called to her as she walked away from me with a big pout on her face. “Come here. I wanted to tell you something else. I just wanted you to know that if we were in our own yard, and this was our tree I would have let you climb it. I really think you could do it. But the real reason I was uncomfortable and made you climb down is because I’m worried that the other moms at the park will think I’m a bad mom for letting you climb the tree. I probably shouldn’t care what they think, but I do. I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK, Mom. I understand.” She hugged me. She ran off and played. I don’t know if that was the “right” thing to do in this situation. But it seemed to me that taking the risk of honesty was probably a better choice than playing the tough guy when my kid was hurting.

What do you think? Have you ever been totally vulnerable with your kids like that? What happened when you did?

Literature Circle Club

Our Park Day kids happen to be fantastic thinkers. Over Christmas break I asked the families we meet with weekly if they would be interested in participating in a Literature Club Circle. The goal of the meetings would be to read through a Roald Dahl story together a few chapters at a time and discuss the story in a group to enjoy a more enriching reading experience. I couldn’t wait to discover what these younger thinkers would have to say.

Literary Circle Meetin pg1We decided to start off by reading James and the Giant Peach together. All of the kids are either reading the book to themselves, or having it read aloud to them 4 chapters at a time. I created a curriculum to use with the kids which asks them to think about a specific literary device in prep for each meeting. Our kids range from 3 years old to 6th grade, so I worried if we were asking too much of the kids, but I decided to default to my optimism and believe that the kids would be excited to learn from one another no matter what age.

I have been blown away.

Not only are the kids sitting down for 20 to 30 minutes to thoughtfully discuss literary devices at the park, with play equipment just a few steps away mind you, but they politely argue their points and ask amazing questions. I set up the expectation at the beginning of the meeting and make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak, but otherwise the whole event is kid led. Our most intriguing question yet has been from an 11 year old boy, “Is the Peach a character?” We’ve met three times now, and we keep coming back to it. The group is divided, but we have spent a good deal of time discussing the merit of each position. Our kids are going to be experts at reader response criticism by the time we finish this book.

Our next book to work through is going to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, complete with visit to the local jelly bean factory as a field trip.

Homeschooling is kind of the best, and I’m blessed to be able to use the skills I learned in college and my love of children’s literature to engage these students. If you are looking for a similar styled lesson for your group of homeschoolers or your classroom, feel free to visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store and download the curriculum for yourself. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about the group in the comments or by email.