Family Rituals, Simplified

This post originally appeared on ACMB in September 2017. By Jennifer Soos. 


Can we talk about family rituals for a minute?

And I don’t mean the big, overwhelming, expensive, Pinterest-crazy traditions that make us feel like we aren’t doing enough and that the childhood memories we’re creating will be no more than a desert of homework, Brussels sprouts, and endless TV cartoons. (Seriously, what even is a “Teen Titan”? Jesus, save me.)

No, I’m talking about the simple, small, routine things that if we were just a little more intentional about—voila!—they would become meaningful parts of the fabric of a childhood that feels safe and memorable.

(By the way, there are a lot of places to read about the WHY of family traditions, like here and here and here. But for now, I’m much more interested in just talking about the HOW.)

Sometimes I think we make this idea of traditions harder than it needs to be. I know that I’m guilty of thinking, I could probably do that once, but I’ll never be able to sustain that year after year. Or, Nice idea, but a new season of The Voice is about to start and I’ll never have that kind of time. However, the truth is that most memorable traditions are quite simple and require only our attention to help them blossom. So, here are four simple ways to create more rituals in your own family that will do just as good of a job instilling a sense of belonging into your little ones as any of the fancy ones:

1. Give a name to a routine that you already have.

Don’t underestimate the power of simply naming something. Giving a regular habit a title makes it feel official and more significant. When I was little and would spend the night at my grandmother’s house, we would sing the same song every morning. It was how she started the day with me. When my boys were little, she and I sang it with them, too. My grandmother passed away in 2011, and whenever I drive the boys to school, we sing that song, which is now called “MeMaw’s Morning Song,” as our start to the day. I don’t know the name of the real song, but that is our name for it, and that has made it feel even more important.

“Snuggle Club” is the official name for when all family members (and usually the dog, too) are piled onto our bed/couch for some intentional togetherness. This is usually the stuff moms’ dreams are made of…right up until one of the boys lets one rip and we are all forced to disperse immediately. Even with one child firmly in the tween years, there are raucous cheers of “Snuggle Club!!” on a Saturday morning if the boys find us still in bed and can wrangle the dog up there to join (though now that I think about it, it is starting to sound more and more like a war cry than a sentimental moment). Regardless, having a name for it gives us all a way to reference a time of connection we have come to count on.

Snuggle Club

2. Add a new element to a routine that already exists.

Chances are pretty good that you sit around the dinner table every once in awhile, or that you have some kind of daily routine. No reinventing the wheel here—just adding a twist to an activity you already do is an easy way to ensure consistency for a new ritual.

We try to have a family dinner as often as possible (sometimes that looks like clearing the table of junk mail and homework remnants just in time for the take-out containers to arrive), and when the schedule gets too crazy for even that to happen, we switch the priority to family breakfast (because toast and eggs take two minutes to prepare). At any rate, while sitting around the table we have several games that help with conversation and solidify the idea that this time is more about family than food. One of those is Two Truths and a Fib: each person tells three things about their day—two true things and one fib—and everyone gets to guess which one is the fib. This gets funnier and harder the older the kids get, by the way. There are a ton of variations for this: Rose and Thorns, Highs and Lows, Table Topics (conversation prompts), and even just out-of-the-box questions about the day like, “What was something that made you laugh today?” or “The lottery is up to $400 million. What would we do if we won?” (A potential side benefit of this activity is that sometimes even picky eaters get distracted by the conversation fun and forget to complain for the forty-seventh time about how they simply cannot eat broccoli.)

The other easy candidate for adding a new ritual is at the end of the day. Each night at bedtime I tell the boys three things I love about them and they tell me three things they love about me. It takes three minutes, and while these are often silly and light-hearted, they have also contained moments that find me wiping my eyes before we say prayers. My oldest considers it an incomplete day if “Three Things” doesn’t happen and has been known to email them to me if I’m not home for bedtime.

3. Add a permanent element to annual celebrations.

Things happen every year without us planning them—birthdays, holidays, taxes, another Harry Potter book or movie—so attaching an item or an activity to these recurring events can build an easy tradition lickety-split.

I had some fairly campy birthday banners made for each of the boys when they were little. They hang on the mantle on each birthday without fail. Their party might be at the house or not, the themes and invitees have changed so much over the years, the cakes/cupcakes/cookies vary as often as my kids change their clothes, but those banners are always there (and much easier to manifest than a fancy homemade red velvet cake, so I let that one go a few years ago!). The silly banners are featured in many birthday photos over the years, so I imagine how we’ll laugh about them when I’m still stubbornly hanging them in their twenties. And, let’s be honest, their forties, too.

We live in South Texas, which boasts the very best Tex-Mex on the planet. (I have no time to debate this fact of life, so don’t bother.) This means that Christmas is exciting because of Santa and tamales. It has been our family’s tradition for as long as I can remember to have a big Tex-Mex spread on Christmas Eve. That’s right—no turkey or ham or cranberries when we are putting cookies on the hearth, but plenty of chili and guacamole and queso for days. This meal is a permanent part of the holiday, and no matter where we spend it, which family members are present, who is traveling, or any other variables of the season, there will be tamales. Praise the heavens.

4. Use negatives to create positives.

Because rituals work based mostly on predictability and how that creates a feeling of safety for our kids, this means even not-fun rituals can still create a stable, positive environment. I’m looking at you, chore charts! Yay! A ritual that also gets my trash taken out!

When assessing your daily life, be sure not to overlook the less desirable parts of your routines as opportunities to capture a sense of family ritual. I hate, hate, hate to do laundry, but the next best thing to never doing it all was deciding to only do it one day per week. “That’s it, Mt. Laundry—you get one day of my week and no more.” And on top of that, to make it even more palatable, I roped my husband into the gig and we use the Folding-of-Mt.-Laundry time to catch up on whatever show we are currently watching together. (You know, the Netflix series commitment you make when you start a show together and therefore cannot watch one hot second of it without the other person present or it is akin to the worst kind of infidelity? Yeah, that.) Anyway, if the latest episode of Game of Thrones is showing, then the kids have to go to their rooms for bed earlier than usual so we can start “folding laundry” (read: ogling Jon Snow and geeking out over dragons). The kids roll their eyes and moan about getting kicked out of the TV room on Laundry Night—and I smile and gently remind them that if they complain enough we’ll happily put on Frozen and make them fold their own dang clothes, and off to their rooms they go! But, honestly, it is usually with very little grumbling and difficulty, partly because it is expected; it’s Laundry Night, and they trust its regularity so much that they don’t bother challenging the routine. Same goes for chore days and daily reading time and any other necessary thing that your spawn might complain about. See, you aren’t ruining their lives; you are creating rituals and security that will ensure a sense of belonging to your family. You’re welcome.

For other ideas and inspiration about family traditions, there’s a great list here. And I trust our readers will share their favorite family traditions in the comments. Thanks in advance!


To the Moms of Super Fussy Babies

This post originally appeared on ACMB in August 2017. By Jennifer Soos.

My youngest is about to turn eight, and today I started poking around for his birthday book in preparation to write my annual letter to him. (Read: in hopes that I wouldn’t completely forget to write my annual letter to him.) When I found the leather-bound treasure, feeling a little nostalgic, I turned back to the beginning to read my very first letter to him and my own words made me catch my breath.

They read:

“I’m not going to lie and say that this first year was easy. It was not. It was one of the greatest challenges of my life so far. But, I think we’ve made it. I hope.”




“Greatest challenges of my life so far”?

That seemed like a bold statement, especially since I had been through some pretty traumatic things prior to that. But, looking down at the picture of his little face, I instantly remembered it—like deep-down-in-my-bones-and-the-pit-of-my-stomach remembered it. I felt my shoulders tense just at the thought of it. The absolute torment of it.

My youngest son cried/fussed/whined/screamed anywhere from 8 to 12 hours each day, every single day—like it was his job—with very rare exceptions, for the first 10 months of his life. Yes, 10 months. Thank heavens he was so worn out at the end of the day from his full-body protesting that he mostly slept at night. I’m honestly not sure what we would have done if he hadn’t at least been sleeping some. (And yes, we saw a million doctors, specialists, nurses, naturopaths, shamans, and witch doctors over the course of that first year, and we did all the tests, read all the books and blogs, I stopped eating all.the.things and tried all the potions…but that’s not what this post is about.)

Most pictures of him are him sleeping because that’s about the only time he wasn’t crying.

I have many people in my world right now with little babies. Tiny, heads-still-smelling-yummy, bundles of warm snuggles…and some of those swaddles of preciousness cry an awful lot. And those parents spend much of their time and energy trying to figure out why and make it stop. Today, when I read my own words from those few years ago, I suddenly felt very connected—anxiously, frantically connected—to those friends with tiny, crying babies right now.

I remember pouring over that tear-streaked little face, begging for some signal, some glimmer, some miracle that would tell me what I should do. I remember the utter helplessness. I remember the guilt of thinking, I’m the mom. I’m supposed to know. I’m supposed to be able to fix this. When the truth was that, most days, I was just barely holding on myself.

So to those of you treading water right now with the little ones, this is for you.

I remember.

I see you.

I see that enormous deep sigh as you brace yourself to get up and, once again, try to soothe that crying.

I see you stretch your back and arms and neck, searching for some relief from all the holding/bouncing/walking/rocking/swaying.

I see the tears of frustration, fear, exhaustion, loneliness, and end-of-rope-ness that come so easily and readily at the first sounds of fussing.

I see you grasping at those moments of sacredness—when your baby is peaceful and resting—feeling torn between relief and total awe of that tiny creature; torn between your desire to just sit and soak it all up and your need to go do one million other things.

I see you dig down deep to just make it one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more week…and I see you find a strength and resolve you didn’t even know you had.

I see you look longingly at your pillow and wonder if you’ll ever spend enough time there to be rested again.

I see you surrender to the endless piles of laundry, astonished that such a small thing can make so much of a mess.

I see you online—reading, researching, studying, learning—trying to figure out the thing that hasn’t been tried yet.

I see your guilt-ridden look as you tell your other children that you can’t, that you don’t have enough arms, enough energy, enough anything to meet all their needs.

I see you in the kitchen tirelessly working to keep everyone fed and healthy, all the while wondering if food is the solution or the problem. I see how overwhelming that is.

I see your relief when someone shows up to hold, listen, hug, help shoulder the burden for awhile, like a burst of crisp air for your weariness.

My dad on his shift with my crying baby. Thank goodness for the shift-takers.

I see you walking, strollering, swinging, swaddling, singing, bouncy-chairing, baby carrying, driving—oh, the driving—while you pray for rest and quiet for your little one. And for yourself.

I see the eruption just under the surface.

I see the exhaustion at the edges of your eyes.

I see the desperation of the day-in, day-out grind.

But let me tell you what else I can see because I’m not right there in the middle of it anymore; the luxury of some distance means I can also see some other things I want you to know about.

I can see the end of it.

And there is one. Somehow, somewhere, there will be relief.

Nothing is forever, especially not this.

I can see that your confidence will grow from this place of struggle.

I can see how you are learning to trust yourself, your instincts, your child.

I can see that child—a baby no more—happy and loved and oblivious to this season of sacrifice.

I can see the development of a vital tribe forged with those who love you and love that baby, those who show up and stand beside you, and that tribe will be around a lot longer than the fussing. And you’ll be grateful for it.

I can see how you are being pushed to grow—more patience, less control, more vulnerability, less fear—and this more-grounded version of yourself will mother your children even better than you do now. I promise I can see that.

So while it’s true that I’m still up to my ears in mothering, it is also true that many of the early seasons of motherhood have come to a close. The youngest face that stares up at me now is nearly eight. It is tear-streaked much less often. There haven’t been diapers or pacifiers in my house for years. I don’t walk the sidewalks with him at 2:00 A.M. anymore desperately singing a woeful Patsy Cline song and wondering what my neighbors must think. And the horrible tennis elbow I had for months from carrying him constantly finally did go away. (But not the laundry. Turns out, that actually never ends.)

I have even had many nights of good sleep in a row.

And you will, too.

It is all right that it’s hard. It really is.

You and your little bundle of screams are going to be OK.

He/she won’t even remember it, thankfully.

And what you’ll remember will be part of your story about how motherhood challenged you and changed you, for the better.

So take a big, deep breath.

Rally your tribe.

Ask for help; accept it when it’s offered.

Sing louder than that baby cries.


I can see you and you’ve got this.

I Will Not Be a Heli-Mom…

Today, my fifth grader played a part in the school-wide, every-morning announcements. Via video, he was piped into every classroom and presented as a visual example of “What NOT To Do.” Or rather “What Not To Wear.” (And no, Stacy and Clinton were not in the building.) That’s right… in front of the whole school, they showed what he was wearing and then said, “Kids, DON’T do this.” Awesome.

The high was in the low 40s today…and we’re in Texas, so people think that’s cold. And my nearly 11-year-old went to school today in this:


This was taken immediately after school (he’s on the floor)… he’s in a t-shirt made of that tech material that everything seems to be made of now and basketball shorts. Paper thin, athletic shorts. It is exactly what he wears in August, so help me. He had a sweatshirt hoodie in his back pack, but I doubt he ever pulled it out or put it on.

Because of the temperatures today, there was a weather advisory in place at the school (cue laughter from all my northern friends/readers) and he wasn’t allowed to go to recess because he was wearing shorts. Not allowed outside at all, actually.

Now, before you go and assume I’m upset about any of this – the public display of his inadequate clothing and the restriction from recess – or that I’m writing this post to rant about the school – I’m not. I’m not upset. I love his school, so that’s not what this is about.

I’m writing this post because today I was reminded about how hard it is sometimes to NOT be a helicopter parent. I have vowed again and again to not be Heli-Mom. And, when you work really hard at NOT being the helicopter mom, it means sometimes YOUR kid will be set forth for all to see as the example of what NOT to do.

Here’s what actually happened in our house this morning:

He came downstairs for breakfast in those clothes.

I said, “The high today is only going to be in the low 40s…and it’s pretty windy.”

He said, “OK.”

I said, “I got an email from your teacher about the weather advisory…if it’s too cold and you are without a jacket, you might not get to go to recess.”

He said, “OK.”

He looked at me. I could tell he was weighing whether this was going to turn into a “thing” or not. I was also trying to decide that.

He said, “Mom, I’m never cold. I hate wearing pants. I’ll be fine. I have a hoodie in my backpack. It’s not like our classrooms are outside.”

I looked at him while I was talking to myself in my head. “Let him make his own choices. This is how they learn to take responsibility for themselves and how to make better decisions.” “Are you kidding? Your husband just put on a coat and a hat to walk the dog for 5 minutes and they were both nearly blown into the pool by the gusts of wind…and you are about to let your child go off to school in the same amount of material as some of your nightgowns??” “Yes. It is his choice. He knows the potential consequences. And no one will suffer them except for him.” “No. Order him to march upstairs and change his clothes right now – be the mother.” “No. Choose your battles. You can’t actually control him anyway… don’t pretend that you can.”

What I said out loud was, “OK. I’m not sure that you aren’t going to regret it, but I’m not going to fight with you over pants. Just know that if you wind up sick because of this, you can count on me to be less than sympathetic.” He smirked and said, “I’ll be fine.”

I felt the brisk air gush into the garage as they opened the door to leave. I thought to myself, “Mercy, that kid is gonna be cold today. He is out of his mind and just as stubborn as I am.”

Fast forward eight hours and he’s getting off the bus, dumping his backpack, taking his shoes off and heading for the kitchen to devour everything he finds…and he’s saying, “Hey mom, I was on the morning announcements today to show kids what not to wear to school. It was pretty funny. And, you were right, I didn’t get to go to recess.”

Wait. What?

My personal struggle to let him walk out of the house half-dressed this morning was broadcast as “textbook failure” into every single classroom for over 800 people to see? I had considered briefly this morning what his teacher would think when he showed up like that – especially after her email specifically addressing the issue. I wondered, will she think that I don’t read her emails? Will she think that I just don’t care? Well, hopefully all the other reasonable stuff will outweigh this, I thought.

I hadn’t considered full-on publicity.

Now I was trying to quiet all the voices in my head that were panicking about what this will mean…about what all the teachers must think…what the other moms must think…what they are now saying: “Poor kid, his mother must not lay eyes on him before he leaves the house in the morning.” “Poor kid, maybe he doesn’t have any good winter clothes.” “Poor kid, what kind of negligent mom would let him come to school dressed in what might as well be his underwear?!”

And I did quiet them. Those voices were put to rest. Partly because my personality is such that I am usually unconcerned with what others think, so it doesn’t feel natural to worry about it. But also because I know that fretting about the favorite past time of the mommy war participants – shaming and judging other moms – is not helpful to my mission to avoid the Heli-Mom status. It was a significant reminder of one of the biggest reasons that letting our kids fail is so hard – the fear of judgment and condemnation from other parents. That pressure to parent in a certain way, to parent how other people might be doing it just to avoid the criticism can really get in the way of doing what might ultimately be best for our kids.

What is at stake is much more important than being judged by other parents who usually don’t know any more about what they are doing than the rest of us. What is at stake is raising kids who will readily take responsibility for their own actions…kids who make decisions based on the natural consequences, the real consequences – not based on just staying out of trouble with mom or dad. Because someday very soon, I’m not going to be around when every potentially big decision is being made and the fear of my punishment won’t even exist for all the stuff I’m not going to find out about. I definitely don’t want his decision-making skills to be limited to “what mom will say or do if…”

Sure… today it was just pants. Not a big deal in the large scheme of things. He was allowed to make a questionable choice over something that was small – the risk of consequence was negligible. That’s the point – that’s how I hope he learns – small failures and corrections when the stakes are low. Because in a few short years it won’t be pants. We’ll blink and he’ll be standing in a parking lot somewhere expected to get into a car with friends and the driver will have had too much to drink. In that moment, I don’t want him in the habit of making choices that are motivated solely by trying to stay out of trouble with me. I don’t want his responses to have been learned and practiced only in an environment where I have controlled every single thing, because that’s not real life. I want him to make the right choice because he understands very deeply and clearly that whatever the consequences will be, they will be his, and I will have little or nothing to do with them, nor can I protect him. I want him to know how to make decisions because he’s practiced it and failed and corrected and, along the way, he’s learned that not only do I trust him, but also how to trust himself.

So, yes, I’ll take today’s non-heli-mom “failure” a thousand times if it will get me to that end. (But tomorrow, the kid is wearing some damned pants.)  😉

A Dozen Years

My oldest son would have been 12 this year, 2016. In fact, it happened way back in February. It’s been 9 months since our annual Act of Kindness Memorial for his birthday and I’m just now putting them all together in one place. (Here’s 2013, 2014 & 2015 in case you are so inclined.)

I’ve thought about this many times over the past 9 months… “why haven’t I done that yet?”, “What if I don’t get around to it before his next birthday comes?”, “Do I really need to do it? I mean, it’s all captured on Facebook anyway…” I’ve had this little conversation with myself off and on over the past nearly-a-year and finally, here I am. Doing one little part of the small amount of mothering that is still left to me when it comes to my oldest.

Here’s what I think I know: mothering my dead child can be very similar to what mothering my living children feels like sometimes.

The rare days I push snooze too many times and they have to eat in the cafeteria because I simply didn’t feel like rushing to help them make their lunches. Somedays I just close the doors to their rooms because I don’t have the energy to lord over them long enough to get it cleaned up. Some weeks I pretend reading logs don’t exist…and feel pretty certain the only reading happening is Calvin & Hobbes. And sometimes they play video games before they do homework and chores because I simply want 30 more minutes to sit in my comfy chair and stare at Instagram or finish a book or listen to a podcast before the after-school grind begins.

And some years, apparently, it takes me 9 months to sit down and pull together the photos and acts of kindness from one of my very favorite family traditions… our WWS RAOK Day.

So here they are, from February, all TWELVE:

RAOK #1 – Ron and I had a vocabulary contest on and donated over 2500 grains of rice to those in need around the globe. It’s super easy – check it out.


RAOK #2 – The boys helped out at Crescent Bend Nature Park with the bird blinds, which are 100% volunteer-supported. They cleaned out the baths and put out water and filled feeders… happy birds!


Then we headed to McAllister Park for RAOK #3 to share a little love with our four-legged friends:


RAOK #4 – Next up was the creation of a dozen blessing bags to have on hand for the many intersections in town where people are asking for handouts. The boys and I often talk about the individuals who hold the little cardboard signs and they decided that having practical things to hand out would be nice.


For RAOK #5 we donated eight brand new duffle bags to a local charity that supports foster children. Did you know that when nearly 95% of children are pulled from their homes by a case worker, they gather their few belongings into a trash bag? Some children move from home to home over several years with only a trash bag to hold their most precious items – stuffed animals, family photos and toys. Too sad. A local group aims to fill every case worker’s car with something more dignified than a trash bag and we support that for sure!

Quite often, while driving into one of the entrances of our neighborhood, Whitman will comment on the trash and scold imaginary people for being litterbugs… so for RAOK #6 the boys cleaned it up!  (Don’t let Lincoln’s face fool you – they were happy to do it – he was irritated with Whitman’s lack of focus. As always.)


Our local burger joint has an awesome outdoor play area that is usually full of kids…and never full of enough footballs and basketballs. So we left a bunch behind when we had lunch… RAOK #7


RAOK #8 – Here we are shipping off all my old cell phones to a domestic violence advocacy organization – because for women trapped in a dangerous situation, a phone can make all the difference. (


For RAOK #9 we distributed gift cards all over the place all day… lots of little surprises left on car windshields and in car doors all over town. The boys loved this one!


Lincoln wanted to be in charge of RAOK #10 this year, because he just turned 10. And he spent his own newly-acquired money to buy stuffed animals to donate to the emergency room “for kids that have to come in here and are probably scared and need something to help them feel better.” His sweet heart makes mine swell.


First it was birds and then it’s the bees!! We threw a ton of these seed bombs all over the neighborhood – which the boys thought was awesome, of course. We hope we added some flower love out there for our bee friends on RAOK #11.


And finally, #12, was a crazy, ridiculous tip for our delightful waitress at Cured. Best of all, it was split by my sweet cousin and her husband who were so happy to get to participate in our WWS RAOK Day!


As regular readers know, this day is one of my very favorites. It seems to get sweeter and more fun every year even as the emotion and energy of the day continue to evolve. I’m still not completely sure what my reluctance/resistance was about to not put the final bow on this one for so long… maybe I was dragging my feet because 2017 means the dreaded teens begin and I was trying to put it off! 😉  Or maybe this year was simply one that felt weary. Twelve years is a long time to carry so much missing. As his brothers get older, it is easier to imagine what he might have been like and the relationships they might have had. I still look at moms with three boys and feel jealous – even after all this time.

One thing I do know is that I felt compelled to finally do it because a lifelong friend of mine had to bury her son yesterday. And today she drove for hours to his college campus to clean out his room and bring all of his belongings home. And for the last week, since I heard the news, I’ve just been trying not to throw up. I’m going to write another post entirely on that experience, but suffice it to say that I’ve thought a lot this week about the road that is ahead of her. The years she has still in front of her in which she will have to figure out how to keep mothering him when he is no longer on the planet with her. My heart is broken for her and it also knows that rituals and integration are key to surviving all of it. And so I could not neglect this any longer – this ritual of mine, this integration of my son’s death into my family’s life – it serves a purpose greater than most will ever understand and, after a week like this one, it deserved my attention.

So, at long last, my dear boy,

Happy birthday!  …I’m sorry your letter is nine months late. My world continues to have a space in it that was meant for you. Your space contains all kinds of things at any given moment – wonder, longing, joy, connection, grief, laughter, and more. It is a space that is known and seen by many and because of that it is dynamic and connects me to all those who would have loved you. Mostly, though, it remains the space where you are best remembered. It’s my most important job as your mom – to simply remember. To remember the absolute perfection of you when you came silently into this world. Your dark, curly hair – such a surprise. My grandfather’s miniature nose right there on your precious little face. An intensity about you, visible even in your death, that has lent itself to my imaginings over your personality all these years. The unmistakable infant smell that lingered on your tiny blanket much longer than I expected it to, but not nearly long enough. I remember. I will always remember. Here’s to the first dozen years of remembering…

All my love, for all time,


As a mom, I’m 11.

I’m going to officially declare February as the most complicated month of my life. Is that a thing? The most complicated month?

Remember this February in 2011? Whew.

But even when they are “regular” they are full of love and sad and brimming tears and bittersweetness. And this year, well, it was no different.

I spent the first half of the month in London. (Poor me, I know!) It was a fantastic trip – a touch of work, but mostly play – and I felt incredibly grateful for such a luxurious experience. But, as any mom knows, over 10 days away from home and away from your kids has its consequences and requires serious catch-up…even if they were under the super-awesome care of one of the world’s greatest grandmothers. (Thanks Mom!) So, five days after returning from Europe, we had a brand new 9-year-old in the house…cue hosting family parties and birthday breakfasts and herding a gang of kids all over a bowling alley for an afternoon.

Then, with less than a week to go before this year’s WWS RAOK Day, I got the flu. Again. (I suppose Type A had so much fun, Type B wanted to have a go… argh.) I tell you about all of this chaos because this year was a great reminder for me that, while parenting my oldest has never looked exactly like parenting my other two children, I’m most definitely still his mom.

Because, really, what else besides motherhood would make a woman with stubborn jet-lag, post-birthday-party exhaustion, certain-death-by-cough and a low-grade fever** even get out of bed, much less run around town inflicting kindness on people??!! And that, my dear friends, is how Year Eleven would begin…

Here they are, all in one place… Eleven for WWS RAOK Day:

First, my sweet, talented, awesome-teacher, sister-in-law had her whole wonderful class make these adorable little compliment cards…and almost everywhere I went all day I left them on windshields and public bathroom mirrors and stuck them in little hidden spots for just the right person to find. (And if you want some, but don’t want to be crafty, I got the idea from Erin Condren and hers are also gorgeous.)

 **Relax! I’m kidding about the fever part…it had been gone for a whole 12 hours before I exposed myself to the public…
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It was a grey, dreary day and I couldn’t resist these stunning flowers which I promptly delivered to my sons’ teachers, just because.


I also stopped in at the library near our house and anonymously paid off some people’s library fines… I was so grateful that the sweet woman at the counter had particular people in mind who really needed the boost. I love it when that happens!


Some more compliments along the way…

The next two RAOKs were in support of two great causes – Kiva, which does microloans across the globe and Free The which provides jobs to sex industry survivors in developing countries. I’ve done two other loans through Kiva and it is so powerful to see the incredible progress made possible by such relatively small amounts of money!! Check it out.


And if you have any drawers that are full of these (not cats!) you might consider sending off the ones you don’t ever wear to support Free The Girls. Because, seriously, slavery? How is this still a thing?? We should all be doing whatever we can to bring an end to such tragic nonsense.

For Number Six, it was more flowers to combat the dreary day. I placed fresh flowers on my grandparents’ graves and also about a dozen of their neighbors… including the graves of a 3, 4 and 6-year old. (heavy sigh) I have a thing for cemeteries, always have. Does anyone else share that odd attraction? They are so peaceful and full of interesting tales…


Number Seven was four free rounds of bowling for the next crew of people to head into the Bowlero… free bowling – on a rainy Friday – who wouldn’t love that?


Some more love for the parking lot….

Number Eight happened as I was leaving the parking lot of the bowling alley. It was raining and super, duper cold and, as a general rule, we Texans are fairly unprepared for both cold and wet. I saw this woman standing at the bus stop with the tiniest, brokenest umbrella ever to exist…and she was holding it sideways to try to make the wind blow it back down into position so she was totally getting wet anyway. I slammed on my brakes and jumped out and handed her the Green Giant which has lived all alone in my car for forever. I’m sure the Green Giant was happy to finally be of use!!


Then we took the boys to get haircuts and we pre-paid for the next family who was coming in for haircuts, too. It turned out to be the next morning and I got the sweetest email from the mom of the little boy who was treated to the free trim. I love thinking about the ripple effect that happens when others let the gratitude and goodness flow out of them into the world around them – it’s one of my favorite parts of the day!

Well, also this munchkin with his newly trimmed hair! Those faint little freckles slay me.


While we were getting haircuts, Ron was out buying a bunch of coats. (I’m serious, it’s cold here y’all!!) We headed down to the Salvation Army shelter and asked the volunteers to please give them to the people who need them most. (Even the really nice jacket that Ron tried to keep!) 😉


And our final RAOK for the day (by this time I was nearly feeling human again!) was for our very kind waiter at dinner…for his special attention and patience with our two little tortilla faces, we left a 100+% tip. And that’s all eleven, folks!!


At the end of it all, I’ll be honest, I felt pretty lucky to have pulled it off at all. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Grateful. Full. Loved. Supported. Ready to collapse. Bittersweet. You know, like a mom. This year had a different flavor to it, for sure, but I think it’s all part of this journey – continually figuring out how to evolve within the on-going transformation that grief brings. There is no end, no closure…there’s just trying to keep up with how it changes you and how those changes keep showing up.

I will never really be able to explain to you how much it means to have all of you – friends, family and even strangers – joining in the day with us. So many here and on Facebook wrote to me about their anticipation of the day, their own acts of kindness in Wheeler’s name, and their joy at watching the day unfold… it is beyond description, really, what this day has become for me. But I’m so grateful to have so many who share in it with me and the day is filled with many happy tears.

WWSAnd now, to my sweet Wheeler, happy birthday again!

It seems that each year this experience with you changes and grows and, in that small way, it is so much like raising your brothers – they won’t stop changing or growing either. You know, eleven years ago I wrote a letter to you for the memorial service and even in the fog of my shock and grief, it turns out I was able to articulate some things that have held up pretty well. Remember this?

“…you are teaching us so much without even being here – I’m humbled to think of how much we would have gained if only you could have hung around for a while – I know you would have shown us what life is really all about. I’m so sad that we are missing that.

I’m claiming this prayer for all of us – from Isaiah 61:

God will proclaim this to be the year of His favor over you…to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…they shall be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.

Thank you for being part of God’s plan for our lives – for making us stronger, like the “oaks of righteousness,” and helping to mold us into the people God hopes for us to become. You will always mark a huge turning point in our lives – one that I hope I can look back on someday with appreciation and understanding – someday when I’m not quite so sad anymore.

Please know how much you are loved and missed by all of us. I think of you constantly and expect that I always will. Your father and I can’t wait to see you again someday and when we do, I hope you will be proud of us.

Until then, all my love –

Your Mom”

How about that? I can definitely testify to the beauty and gladness and praise that have grown out of our mourning and despair. These birthdays with you are so much about the display of His splendor in our lives…and I had no idea what that would really mean when I wrote that over a decade ago. Thank you for continuing to teach me and for continuing to let me see your legacy at work in the world. I can’t imagine being any prouder of you and your sweet little life than I am today. But, hey, I know it’s motherhood, so it’s gonna keep changin’, right?

All my love for all time –


Advent Calendar Make-Over

A few years ago I distinctly remember feeling DONE with the advent calendar. I was at a loss for what to put in the little boxes – seriously, there’s enough candy everywhere already – and how many teeny, tiny gifts even exist that won’t just wind up in the trash? The boys were only so excited about endless stickers and temporary tattoos. Not to mention that I forgot about it as many nights as I remembered…and there’s nothing quite like scampering about at 6:21am when you hear the kids stirring awake and remember that the little box is empty – again. I vowed to free myself from the advent calendar ridiculousness.

Advent Calendar

Also, the older I get, the more allergic I feel to anything that even smells like entitlement or sheer, unadulterated consumerism… so that certainly helped progress the transformation. Over the past few years we’ve transitioned to a month of family activities, gift giving and acts of kindness in place of the candy and toys… disclaimer: I’m not a total Scrooge, so there are some Skittles and Starbursts thrown in the mix!  😉

The boys and I posted (almost) daily on FBTwitter and IG (#adventwiththesooses) but, I had several requests for the whole list in one place, so this is for YOU!

1. Gather up all the Christmas books for a month of nightly holiday stories.

2. Make and send Christmas cards for service men and women deployed away from home.

3. Send stuffed animals and blankets to the boys’ school for their student council drive “Barrett’s Bears.” (They collected over 700 items to give to the Children’s Hospital!!)

4. Do something nice for someone at your school today. (And I made cookies for them when they got home and we talked about who and what and how it went.)

5. First round of holiday goodies going to school for principal and nurse and counselor.

6. A New Year’s package for our sponsored child.

7. Go through clothes and donate to the Children’s Shelter and Goodwill.

8. Second round of holiday goodies to the school for the front office staff.

9. Write love letters to selected family members.

10. Leave a gift for the mail carrier.

11. Do something nice for your brother. (Yes, they hated this one!!) 🙂

12. Take a gift for the bus driver.

13. Love notes and goodies for the nanny.

14. Go through toys and donate to the Children’s Shelter and Goodwill. (Also filed under:  🙂

15. Goodies for the garbage men and recycling guys.

16. More love notes to other family members.

17. Third round of gifts to the boys’ school for specials teachers.

18. Go see Christmas lights with grandparents…have hot cocoa and s’mores!

19. Take gifts to your teachers.

20. Build a fire tonight to go with your Christmas stories.

21. Donate to Wheatens In Need…or current favorite charity.

22. Candy cane bomb a parking lot.

23. Leave popcorn at a RedBox for renters.

24. Put out treats for the birds. (no photos after this because the flu came to visit our house just in time for Christmas!!) 😦

25. Huge chocolate candy coins to have with Christmas breakfast.

And that’s how I finally survived an advent calendar!

For other ideas and inspiration for your own advent makeovers, you can look here and here and here. There was also lots of talk this year about transforming the infamous Elf on the Shelf into a Kindness Elf… same concept and Pinterest is full, full, full of more ideas including these cute printables.

I hope this post finds you healthy and grateful and looking forward to a brand new year! Merry Christmas!

Fuss-free Halloween Treats

DSC_0002Because the bags and bags of candy lying around the week of Halloween aren’t enough… I thought, “Hey, let’s make that bark stuff where we pile it all together and coat it in chocolate!”

So easy – and it does kind of look like a party on a plate.

I modified the recipe here because I couldn’t find the Halloween Oreos, so I used brownie crisps, instead. The boys had fun stealing candy while I tried to make it before all the ingredients were gone.


Oh! And I almost forgot! The other day I made these silly mummy dogs to help us get into the Halloween spirit…also super easy and a big hit.


Yes, they are exactly what they look like. Hot dogs (organic, non-cured, non-nitrate of course ;-)) wrapped in crescent rolls and baked…with mustard dots for eyes. The boys had a good laugh at breakfast and started asking when they could wear their costumes.


Well, they aren’t THAT scary. 🙂

Happy Halloween Week!!