About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

Talking with Teens

My sons have temperaments on opposite ends of the spectrum. One wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll tell me anything (sometimes more than I want to know). The other holds his cards close, and I have to pay special attention for the times when he might feel more talkative.

Still, over their lifetimes we’ve cultivated an openness as a family. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives–our joys and hurts, our successes and failures–so that no topic will be off the table. Our kids know that nothing they do or say will ever change our love for them, though some actions may result in consequences. They know they–and their friends–will always be welcome and safe with us, warts and all.

Recently I watched a sitcom in which two parents lamented that their teenage children had started to pull away from them. The idea arose to “date” their kids, to intentionally spend time with their kids doing things their kids liked (good idea), and to treat their children like “friends” rather than their children (bad idea).

Mom went on a shopping/lunch date with her teen daughter; Dad went with his son to hear his favorite motivational speaker. Misfires and mishaps were meant to be funny, but they made me sad.

I get it. Families are funny, and the teen years are hard on everyone. It can be terrifying to realize that the tiny you birthed and held and fed and doted on every minute is now independently in charge of their own sleep and feeding and transportation.

Teenagers change. It’s in their job description, but it’s in the parental job description to be available to help them through the changes.

I paused the TV and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, where Q14 was reheating leftovers. I asked if he thought parents and kids truly had that much trouble communicating. He rattled off a bunch of his friends and their parents and how easily they engage, which makes me grateful that my kid knows a bunch of well-adjusted families.

Parents, please don’t wait until your kids have become teenagers to try to have  important conversations! Talk to them all the time. Listen to them, hear their fears and insecurities, help them deal with their smallness in a big and broken world. Ask them questions every chance you get. Listen without an agenda, and don’t freak out if they confide in you something you didn’t want to know. They will face situations you wish they didn’t have to (think back to when you were a teenager). Thank them for sharing. Help them find appropriate and healthy boundaries and escape routes when necessary.

Some questions to get you going:

What are you looking forward to today (tomorrow, this week or month)?
Who did you sit with at lunch? How did you choose that person/group?
What one piece of information stood out to you today?
What is going on with your friends?
What do you like about your friends?
What made you laugh today?
Which class/teacher/lesson was your favorite (or least favorite) today?
What are you grateful for?
Did anything make you sad or uncomfortable today, and if so, what and why?
What makes you glad to be you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
What scares you?
If anyone ever put you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable, how might you handle it?
What do you imagine your life might be like in five years? Ten years? 20?
How can I help you take another step toward fulfilling your dreams?
Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

Google “questions to ask kids” and you’ll find so many more options. You probably already have a quiver filled with your own favorites. Just get talking. Those conversations might be life-changing for both of you.

Found It!

Most visitors to Año Nuevo State Park this time of year are looking for elephant seals. Our family went in search of a snake. The San Francisco Garter Snake, to be exact, an endangered species that makes its home in that area. C20 has been desperate to find one.

We decided to make this President’s Day holiday a family day which, for us, almost always involves a trip to the beach. Facebook memories showed me a picture from our last trip to Año Nuevo, years ago, and that influenced our destination.

We couldn’t have ordered a more beautiful day. First stop: Santa Cruz, where we picked up lunch at Pizza My Heart to eat on the West Cliff Drive seaside bluffs. From there, we drove to Natural Bridges State Beach, hoping to see wintering Monarch Butterflies; we only saw a few flitting on the breeze and not the thousands that sometimes shelter in the eucalyptus groves.

Back in the car, we took Highway 1 to Año Nuevo, with ocean views to one side and fields of fluorescent yellow mustard and sour grass flowers on the other. On our way home, we stopped to take a picture in one of those fields and sank ankle-deep in mud. Wet and smelly, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

As we paid our park entrance fee, the ranger asked if we had a reservation for a guided seal walk, the only way you can access the seal breeding ground area. We said no, we were looking for a snake. She cocked her head in amusement and explained that snakes don’t often come out on chilly days, but that they’d be near the pond if anywhere.

Walking the path towards the pond, I muttered to Guy, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I was the one to find a snake?”

Guess what? I did!

I stopped to look at a vine with a distinctly violet hue–I’ve never seen a naturally purplish thorn bush before. As I leaned forward for a better look, I saw a tail slither away. I shrieked in surprise, which brought Guy and C running.

The shriek shook my Cool Mom I’m-so-good-with-snakes vibe, but I honestly did not expect to find the snake. I didn’t even expect that C would find one, though if anyone could find an endangered and elusive wild snake in the thorn bushes along a pond, it would be him.

The rest of us went to the beach while he just about crawled along the path. We saw a number of sleeping elephant seals, and someone did tricky aerial maneuvers in a biplane–disruptive to the beach-calm, but cool nonetheless.

When we had walked the length of the beach in both directions, photographed the log-like seals and some beautiful pebbles, and breathed in deep the salt air, Q14 came down the stairs to wave us back up.

Because he’d done it: C20 had found–and caught–a San Francisco Garter Snake.

Two surprises: 1) the snake is far more stunning than I could have believed, and 2) the snake appeared super chill that this strange dude was holding him and showing him off to passersby. C said the snake knew he wasn’t a threat, and it sure looked like the truth.

The snake may have been calm, but my kid buzzed with happiness. To all the detractors who think I’m nuts because I encourage his passion for creepy-crawlies, we do a lot of things that might seem crazy for the sake of love. And today we got a crazy-fun family day out of it.

P.S. No snakes were harmed in the making of this story, and we left snakey-poo right where he’d been before.

Surprise!

Parenting can be So Fun!

For example, today, when I told Q14 I would pick him up mid-school day but didn’t explain why. And he didn’t remember or figure out that TODAY is the day he gets his braces off! And I got to surprise him with one of the best surprises an adolescent can receive.

I texted him to meet me outside the band room after class and, as he got in the car, I smiled and handed him his toothbrush. Confused, he accepted it and looked at me for further explanation.

Despite the fact that the only times I’ve taken him out of school this year have been for orthodontic appointments. Despite the fact that, at his last appointment, they told him he’d get his braces off at the next appointment. In February. He still didn’t get it.

I laughed and explained, and he laughed in relief that Mom’s odd behavior didn’t signal something scary. Right, because I’m such a scary mommy…

It’s raining and our house was being cleaned, so I stayed in the car with the dogs while the almost two-hour process took place. He did let me take a before picture…

I raced to the upstairs office when they were done for a quick chat with the doctor and to confirm next week’s retainer appointment. Oh, let’s be real: I raced upstairs to see my kid’s sweet smile.

He tried to play it so cool, I’m sure processing this seismic shift in self-image through the pervasive fog of adolescent insecurity, but inside I know he has to be as excited as his mom who simply can’t stop ridiculously beaming at his pearly whites. He indulged me with an after picture…

We picked up Guy from work and hit Chipotle, our regular post-ortho appointment lunch spot, for a congratulatory burrito before dropping him back off at school for his last class of the day.

The only thing that makes me a little sad? I won’t have a built-in to the schedule excuse for playing hooky with my kiddo. Still, I think now and then I might just pull him out of school anyway. Time together, especially in these critical teen years, is way more important than a PE class on a rainy day.

Adventures in Parenting: Snake on the Loose

Spoiler alert for the squeamish: all snakes are back in secure cages.

Yes, you read that right. All snakes, because we (intentionally) have several. Five, to be exact.

C20 thought he wanted to be a herpetologist (reptile expert), but turns out, that college major involves way more math than he wants to do. Meanwhile, it’s his passion and his gift.

So, five snakes, as well as two leopard geckos, a tortoise and a rabbit, three cats and two dogs…quite the menagerie. The first snake, a red tail boa, was the most difficult for me to agree to. He promised it would stay “snake sized,” as he held his little hands to the width of his slender shoulders. I decided I loved my son more than I feared snakes, but that darn thing now measures over six feet, longer than he is.

Having said yes to one–and seeing how he cared for it and followed my careful guidelines–saying yes again was less of an issue. In fact, I suggested Snake #4 as incentive to get his college application essay written. Obviously, he wrote about reptiles.

Snakes #2-5 are ball pythons ranging in length from about four feet to about eighteen inches. They look smaller because they curl up in balls, hence the name. Bred for  coloration, each looks different, which makes them fun for him to “collect.”

The week after C20 brought home #5, he and his dad refurbished an old media cabinet, adding a mesh top and glass doors, transforming it into a condo for the Big Snake. Without reminder, he added a sturdy lock, my Top Priority. Impressed with their creativity and elbow grease, I posted a picture online of the finished result and, predictably, friends commented on how small the lock was in comparison with the snake.IMG_3172

I didn’t realize that the new snake did not have a lock on her cage. He figured she was so small she couldn’t get out. When the neighbor brought her children over to see the snake in condo, Guy thought he’d show them Baby Snake in comparison. He opened the lid, reached in, and found…nothing.

The first time a snake got loose in our house, C had been holding her on his lap while he played a new video game. She slithered away without him noticing. When I discovered kid and dad taking apart our couch in search of snake, I promptly took myself shopping and returned when they’d found her, hours later, across the living room inside the warm printer.

I didn’t panic this time. In fact, I almost wished Snake #1 had gotten out instead of #5; stuff of nightmares, but he’d be easier to find. C did a thorough cleaning of his room, then got his brother to do the same. Online research suggested putting plastic grocery bags on the floor so you can hear the snake, or flour so you can see a trail (I nixed that one). Everyone said to leave the lid off her cage; he moved her cage from its spot on a closet shelf to the floor.

Days later, still no snake. When I commented that we’d probably seen the last of her, he quipped, “Nah, Mom. I predict you’ll be putting on a shoe and find her…”

Finally, he put a heating pad on the floor with her hide on it, thinking she’d come back for warmth and security. He also moved her cage back to its shelf since that idea hadn’t worked, though he left the top off. He went to bed Sunday night feeling hopeful.

First thing Monday, he checked the heating pad. No snake. He heard something, and was shocked to discover she had returned to her cage (hallelujah!). But we all can attest that the shelf had been empty… Snakes aren’t like geckos, able to stick to and climb straight up. How she managed to return to her cage is a mystery. We’re flabbergasted.

C names his snakes for ancient mythological characters. I suggested he change her name from Aurora to Loki or Anansi, the tricksters. But then I realized: she reappeared at dawn, and Aurora means dawn. So, aptly named after all. And now there’s a great big, heavy book weighing down the top of her cage. No more unintentional adventures for this snake.

No Longer “Home”

I woke up early Friday morning, heart racing. It took me a second to calm down and think clearly before I realized: no one I know has a key to my childhood home. No one I know had slept there the night before. It’s no longer our “home.” Who knows if, by month’s end, it will even still be standing?

My parents bought the house more than 42 years ago. I was in first grade, and my youngest sister was months old. Two years later, my mom gave birth to my brother–by herself in their upstairs bedroom–while my dad was on a business trip. Many years later and some years apart, my dad and then my grandma passed away from cancer under hospice care in that house. Birth and death, the whole circle of life, took place under that roof.

I lived in that home for eleven years, less than the rest of my family. Still, ages six to seventeen–first grade to college freshman–are obviously formative years. Birthday parties, pets, holiday celebrations, pool parties, sleepovers…so many memories times four children who grew up together and went their own ways (though not that far) and came home with children of their own who also, some more and others less, grew up in that home.

In the last few years, each trip home involved work projects and clean-outs. We made sure for family’s sake to include some fun, a trip to the beach or the zoo. We worked hard, sifting through family treasures and piles of items to donate. Talk about looking for sparks of joy (thanks, Marie Kondo), we sorted leftovers from eight family members over four generations!

Though I’ve lived elsewhere for three decades, I feel slightly unmoored knowing that our “home” now belongs to someone else; I can only begin to imagine how adrift my mom must feel…

I cried as we drove away for the last time, tears of loss and joy, remembrance and hope for the future. And my family, sweetly understanding the enormity of the occasion, began planning our next trip to San Diego. Where would we stay? What might we do and who would we visit when we had no ‘work’ to tackle? We may not have my childhood home to return to but we will return to San Diego which, in some respects, will always be home.IMG_2794

Happiness Questions

Ready to think about your own happiness? Want to have more meaningful  conversations, whether you’re driving your teen home from school or having family dinner? Or (do what I did) gather a group of friends and have a chat about happiness.

Here you go!

1. Share a happy childhood memory.
2. Which of your possessions make you feel happy? Which don’t?
3. Describe your perfect happy day.
4. Do you think others perceive you as happy? Why or why not?
5. What changes have you made in life to increase your happiness? What changes could you make?
6. Name 5 things guaranteed to make you smile.
7. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss
What memory does this quote remind you of?
8. Name some things you do regularly that increase your happiness. What do you do occasionally that increases your happiness?
9. What obstacles get in the way of your happiness, and how do you handle them?
10. When have you felt happiest recently?
11. “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” –Jim Rohn (American businessman)
How are you designing (or not) your present happiness?
12. What happiness do you add to others’ lives?
13. Who do you admire for their happiness and why?
14. What do you think is the key to your happiness?
15. How do you balance what makes you happy now with what will make you happier in the long term?
16. Why is it sometimes hard to do things you know will make you happier, and easier to do things you can expect to bring unhappiness?
17. “There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.” –George Sand
Who loves you toward happiness?
18. Is happiness the same as joy? How would you define each?

Create Happiness

My One Word aspiration for January 2019 is to Create Happiness. A microcosm of life, this month presented both expected and unexpected happiness challenges. I know I’m living my best life when I am reading, writing, and cooking regularly; this month has been all out of whack on all fronts and the best I’ve been able to do is to ask myself whether I am present in the moment (sometimes yes, others no). Still, I’ve been conscious of happiness and what I might do to develop more.

To that end, I’ve read a few articles on happiness (this one from a minimalist perspective and this one on time). The best was this one in The New York Times. Culling together what I’ve learned, here are some things I’m committed to to increase my happiness.

MIND
Process my life through writing. Writing helps me become aware of myself and it’s a whole lot cheaper than therapy.

Talk to myself like a friend. I can get lost down the rabbit hole of my own ruminations, completely stuck in negative thinking. I’m going to try to stem that flow by imagining I am my own best friend.

Keep up my gratitude practice, which also helps me stay in the moment. I keep a gratitude journal to record at least three unique-to-today things for which I’m grateful, along with quotes from Scripture or other books.

Use the Pomodoro Technique. Set timers to focus for 25 minutes/5 minute breaks x4 for 2 hours of increased productivity.

BODY
Move for 30 minutes most days and some days more. Just do it.

Say thank you. It’s too easy to be critical. I want to increase my appreciation for the gift of being a living, breathing, healthy human.

Get outside with my pets and my humans. Four things working together here: exercise, beautiful NorCal fresh air, the joy of furry loves, and shared time with people who matter.

Cook and eat real food. Bulk cook so that there is (almost) always something healthy in the fridge. Choose fresh over processed food.

Hydrate. More water, more tea.

Smile more. Find reasons to laugh. Be silly. Don’t take myself too seriously.

ENVIRONMENT
Declutter at the speed of my own life. Don’t wait for time to do the massive decluttering projects, just spend 1-15 minutes right now (not on social media but) eliminating, organizing, or cleaning to make the environment more satisfying. I already make my bed (research shows that happy people make their beds!), but I want to turn my bedroom into an oasis, which means no clutter.

Light candles and turn on the diffuser. Pretty light and intoxicating scent are relaxing.

Practice silence. Minimize noise and negativity of all sorts and choose quiet, deep breathing.

RELATIONSHIPS
Invest in positive relationships. Minimize negative ones. I have my go-to people, but I can more consistently invest in them: both in time and in letting them know how important they are to me.

Spend money and time on shared experiences. Create memories rather than collect stuff.

Be kind and generous. Let people know I’m thinking of them. Become more thoughtful towards those I don’t see regularly, especially in recognizing important events (birthdays, etc). Give away time and stuff to bless others.

Enjoy alone time. Relish time alone to indulge in my favorite pursuits, especially reading.