Confessions · Life with Kids · What we've learned

Confessions of a Former Homeschooling Mother

I never ever planned to homeschool. When I got pregnant with my first child, my plan was to quit my job as a high school teacher and stay home with my children until the youngest started kindergarten.

Fast forward two years. I’m pregnant with number two. My husband and I are having dinner with friends who have a four year old and a one year old. At some point in the evening they casually mention that they are planning to homeschool their oldest next year for kindergarten. I remember thinking,”Huh? They look so normal.”

I looked at my husband expecting to share one of our subtle ya-gotta-be-kidding-me glances. That’s when he piped up. “Yeah. We’ll probably homeschool too.”

What the what? I couldn’t believe my ears. Still, I chalked it up to the wine. Besides kindergarten was a long, long way off for our son, Jack. I had plenty of time to worry about that.

Then I blinked and it was time for him to go.

But my husband and I weren’t sure. He was young for his age. As a late April baby he did not have a magic birth date. You know, the ones that come before March and that guarantee a child will be an honor student, a star athlete and score a full ride to the college of his choosing. (Give us a break. He was our first, and we still believed all the urban parenting legends.)

Anyway, long story short, we decided to give homeschooling a try. We figured that if it didn’t work we could always red shirt Jack and then send him to real kindergarten the next year.

Turns out, it worked out beautifully. That’s not to say that I didn’t re-question the decision at the beginning of every school year, but that year and every year for the next seven years, we homeschooled Jack and our other three kids too.

Maybe it’s because I never imagined myself as a homeschooler. Maybe it’s because my commitment to homeschooling was always a little tentative. But whenever I was asked about my decision, I always felt like I had to try to make homeschooling sound as mainstream as possible. But now that all my kids are in public school, I guess I can come clean about what we really did all those years.

We started every day by snuggling on the couch. There was no yelling at everyone to find their shoes. There was no scrambling to locate homework and lunch boxes. There was no rush. No fuss. No tears. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a homeschool hippy, we started our days in peace and love. What a bunch of weirdos.

We studied what we wanted to. One year the two older kids developed a fascination for sea life. We went ocean crazy. We read every book about sharks, whales and squid that we could get our hands on. We took a field trip to an aquarium and then a family trip to the beach. We watched hours and hours of ocean shows on Discovery Channel, and we never once opened a single science text book. Funny, I think my kids actually learned a lot of sciencey stuff that year anyway.

My kids were best friends. We were involved in a large homeschool group, so my children had plenty of friends outside of our family. They also knew kids from church and sports.They went to birthday parties and sleepovers just like normal children, but day in and day out, they were each other’s playmates and confidants. They will thank me someday when they are grownups and they need someone to complain to about their crazy homeschooling family. Their siblings will understand better than anyone.

They read books and played outside all afternoon. In my defense, it’s easy to finish school by noon when you only cover two subjects – math and reading. Okay, maybe that’s not much of a defense, but who really remembers anything from fourth grade social studies anyway? So, maybe my kids don’t know the difference between Ponce de Leon and Magellan, but they do know how to play and pretend and entertain themselves. And they darn sure know the meaning of the words, “Go outside and play, and don’t come back in until I call you.” I think those lessons will serve them far better in the long run anyway.

We skipped school sometimes. The truth is, some days we couldn’t even make it until noon. Sometimes the weather was just too pretty to do school. Or the baby was too fussy. Or I had too much laundry. Or a homeschooling friend (who also thought the weather was too pretty for school) would invite them over to play. We also took all the same snow days and holidays as kids who went to real school. So, looking back, that could explain why…

They had some holes in their education. When Jack was in third grade, he had to take the same standardized tests as all the public school kids. No problem. I was (fairly) confident that he was reading, writing, and doing math at or beyond grade level. I didn’t do anything special to prepare him. I figured he’d be fine. And he was – except for one thing. I had somehow neglected to teach him our address. Also, he was a little shaky on the spelling of our last name. But once he got past filling out the personal information portion of the test, he actually did score at or above grade level in everything.

In fact, since my children started public school, they have all been at or above grade level in all their subjects. I guess all that extra play and snuggling didn’t do too much damage. But I still don’t think any of them know who Magellan was.

Spelling wasn't exactly our strong suite - as indicated by this Mommy Appreciation Day poster The Littles made.
Spelling wasn’t exactly our strong suite – as indicated by this Mommy Appreciation Day poster The Littles made.

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Confessions · Life with Kids · New to farming

My Love/Hate Relationship With the County Fair

Anyone even remotely familiar with small towns knows that that the biggest event of the year (next to Friday Night Football) is the County Fair. For one week, normally sensible parents, forego bedtimes, healthy eating, proper hygiene and a whole lot of money in favor the carnival life. Every year I look forward to the fair, and every year I dread it. Basically, I have a love/hate relationship with the County Fair.

The Rides
There is so much to hate about fair rides. For starters, I question their safely. Two story mechanisms that whirl, twist, spin and gyrate while simultaneously defying gravity are assembled and disassembled every week like a fleet of Lego ships.This is terrifying. So, I think I’ll strap my kid on board and watch him rotate at g-force speed until he’s on the verge of vomiting. Here’s my twenty-five bucks for an armband so we can do this over and over. Now, that’s good parenting.

On the other hand, it is the terrifyingness of fair rides that makes me happy to let my kids ride them. It is a good and healthy thing for children to push the limits of their comfort from time to time. It’s empowering to do something scary. So go, Little Man, ride The Zipper and Power Surge and the Ferris Wheel (okay, maybe the Ferris Wheel is only scary for me). Be brave. Be fearless. Just please don’t vomit in the car on the way home.

The Filth
The County Fair is disgusting. My apologies for my continual references to vomit, but it’s a horrifying fact of fairs. People vomit on those rides. Best case scenario, the mess is contained on the ride. Worst case scenario… ya know, let’s not even go there. But it can be bad, like that scene from Pitch Perfect bad. Not only that, but we after leaving the fair there is a layer of dust on everything – our bodies, our clothes, our cars, I think even our teeth. And of course there’s the flies. The fair is like Club Med for flies. I guess this is because of the 24 hour buffet of animal poop that is available to them, but they also enjoy alighting upon food and people too – after wallowing in horse poop, no doubt.

And yet, maybe it’s the farm girl in me, but one of the things I love about the fair is the smell of fresh manure. As far as filth goes, that’s about the only perk, but I do dearly love it. Horse manure mingled with the scent of hay and the faint smell of funnel cakes cooking in the distance. It almost makes the dust worth it. Almost.

The Food
Speaking of funnel cakes, I love fair food. Where else can one or would one ever eat a foot long corn dog with a side of cotton candy and a snow cone chaser? The fair is a veritable smorgasbord of all things fried, processed and sticky.

Which is why I also hate fair food. The food at the fair is basically poison, deep fried and/or on a stick. I feel horrible after eating it. My kids feel horrible after eating it. And I can assure you it does not mix well with those whirling, spinning rides I mentioned earlier.

The Exhibits
Not being much of a rides person myself, I prefer to spend my time wandering through the exhibits. It’s enough to restore one’s faith in this great nation and in the next generation. There are rows upon rows of homemade jellies, canned green beans and homemade pies. There are handmade quilts, handcrafted bird houses, homegrown cucumbers, corn, tomatoes and pumpkins the size of a VW. This year someone even entered a pineapple she had grown in her living room using a solution of tap water and Epsom salt. The exhibits at the fair are a testament to American talent, ingenuity and craftsmanship.

I, on the other hand, once paid someone to sew a button on my husband’s shirt. This is why I also hate the fair exhibits. After walking through the exhibit hall, I am faced, once again, with the knowledge that I lack any sort of crafty, artistic, or homesteading skills. I think this is a tough realization for anyone who grew up on Little House On the Prairie and who spent her childhood fancying herself a modern day Laura Ingals and who has spent much of her adulthood comparing herself to Ma. Would Ma have let Laura and Mary watch this much TV? Would Ma ever stoop to store-bought Halloween costumes? Would Ma use a mix to make her margaritas? I can tell you one thing. Ma would damn sure never have eaten a footlong corn dog. Combine all this with the fact that I run a farm blog (see my byline), and the fair makes me feel downright ashamed.

I guess I am glad the fair is only one week out of the year. On the other hand, I wish my kids could have that kind of fun more often. On the other other hand, the fair is really gross and expensive. But it’s also wholesome and charming. See what I mean about the love/hate thing? Oh well, I can’t make the fair come around any sooner, but at least I have a whole year to perfect my canning skills.


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5 Meals That Prove How Much I Hate to Grocery Shop

I hate to toot my own oven mitts, but I’m a pretty decent cook. I like to cook, and few things in life give me a greater sense of satisfaction than feeding my family a wholesome, home-cooked meal. That’s not to say that all our meals are Martha Stewart approved. Far from it.  I’m a good cook, but I am a terrible shopper.

I despise going to the grocery store. I loath it. I hate it with the white hot passion of a thousand angry Mongol raiders. I would rather have a root canal than… okay maybe I’m overstating it, but I really really really don’t like to grocery shop. As a result of this aversion, I sometimes have to get a little creative in kitchen to avoid the super market just one more day. Here are five actual meals that I have served my family that prove how much I hate to grocery shop.

The Cereal Buffet. I am a big believer in breakfast for dinner. It’s cheap, easy, and a crowd pleaser. But the cereal buffet is not breakfast for dinner. It is me lining up all the nearly empty boxes of cereal and encouraging the kids to create a cereal medley by mixing various flakes, puffs, and O’s together in to a carb-loaded, milk-soaked meal. In my defense, they are the ones who keep putting the boxes back in the cabinet with nary a fistful of cereal left in them.

Taco Mashed Potato Casserole So, there was this time when I had leftover taco meat but no shells, tortillas, or corn chips. Luckily I did have some potatoes on hand. I just mashed them, mixed in the meat, and sprinkled it all with cheese. Believe it or not, my kids loved this “special recipe.”

Freezer Surprise! A frozen pizza. Some pot stickers. A few fish sticks. A bag of mixed vegetables. None of  these things alone is enough to feed a family of six, but when I break into my emergency junk food stash and serve it all up at once, I’ve got an international smorgasbord!

Popcorn, Fruit, and Cheese Grain. Fruit. Dairy. That is a meal with three of the five food groups! Go Mom!

Anything With a Spoon of Peanut Butter. Peanut butter is to me what WD40 is to a fix-it shop. As long as I can spread a little peanut butter on it, I can probably make it work. After all, peanut butter is an excellent source of protein. Right? Graham crackers and peanut butter – a tasty breakfast. Apples and peanut butter – a nutritious lunch.  Peanut Butter Quesadilla  – genius.

Hey! At least it's a whole wheat tortilla.
Hey! At least it’s a whole wheat tortilla.

Of course there are other perks to stretching the groceries. Fewer things go to waste. I’m setting a good example of frugality for my kids. And when I finally do make myself go to the store, I don’t even have to make a list – because we are out of EVERYTHING!

What about you? What’s the most desperate meal you’ve ever served?

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Forty Days Without Facebook – 6 (unflattering) Things I Learned About Myself

This past Lent, I gave up Facebook.  That’s right.  Forty days without scrolling, posting, or replying.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I did allow myself to use Facebook for blogging purposes, to wish people a happy birthday (if I remembered without FB reminding me), and to check to see if we were having a snow day.  I think these occasional breaks in my Facebook fast, these brief glimpses at what I wasn’t commenting on, sharing, and liking, opened my eyes to a few things about Facebook and about myself.

  • I’m weak-minded and idly curious.  Why would I, why would anyone, ever waste time reading things like What Does Your Favorite Donut Say About You?   or Celebrities Who Have Shockingly Small Homes.  I also don’t need to read about the Birthday Party Invite from Hell or The Politically Incorrect Things to Wear to a Music Festival. And I know I could do without Reasons to Give Up Bacon Forever and Signs You are Unhappy and Just Don’t Know It.  The point is Facebook is rife with all too tempting bits of information, gossip, fear-mongering, and funny pet videos that in no way enrich my life or make me a better person. It wasn’t until I stepped away from all that that I realized how much time I spent on such junk. Okay, the occasional well-timed funny puppy video can brighten a bad day, but for the most part, these things are just a huge time suck.
  • I set a bad example for my kids.  I can’t count the number of times during Lent that I absent-mindedly picked up my phone to check Facebook in the car rider line at my son’s school, in the check outline at the store, in the doctor’s office waiting room, WHILE MY KIDS WERE TALKING TO ME!.  Seriously, I had no idea how much of a distraction Facebook is until it wasn’t distracting me.
  • I rely on Facebook for my news.  How many times during Lent did someone say to me, “Did you hear about (some global event or national story)?” And I would have no idea what they were talking about because apparently I’m too shallow or have too short an attention span to pick up an actual newspaper or to tune in to twenty minutes of CNN.
  • I rely on Facebook to make me a better person.  Did you have a birthday in the last couple of months?  Have a baby? Lose a loved one? Share some exciting or terrible news? Well, I am sorry if I did not congratulate you or send you my condolences, but in the absence of social media to tell me what’s going in with my friends, I am completely incapable of reaching out to you.
  • I need you to know that I’m right and you’re wrong. Again, allowing myself to get on Facebook even occasionally during Lent, just brought home how much Facebook affects me.  If I happened to see a post by some well-meaning but woefully misinformed friend, co-worker, blogger, or online publication, it was all I could do not to respond with a strongly worded smack down. Ya know, because arguing with people on Facebook always changes their minds.  Not that I do it very often – I don’t.  But at least when it isn’t Lent, I’m able to distract myself from the woefully misinformed people I disagree with by watching funny videos of puppies fighting with a vacuum cleaner.
  • I am skillfully adept at finding ways to waste time and distract myself. Instagram. Twitter.  Pinterest. .  I might need Facebook to find out if we are having school or not. I might need Facebook to learn what is going on in the world and with my own family and friends.  I might need Facebook to spout off my opinions.  But I certainly do not need Facebook to kill time or to distract me from the laundry.

So, was life without Facebook the spiritual kickstart I was hoping it would be?  Yes and no.  My big epiphany did not come, as I thought it would, from all my Facebook-free time.  Instead my big epiphany came in the realization that in some ways Facebook brings out the worst version of me. Clearly I have some work to do, but I won’t be giving up Facebook for good.  I would miss staying in touch with old friends.  I would forget too many birthdays and be too clueless about what’s happening in the lives of people I care about. I would still find a ways to waste time, but I would just be more isolated when I do. Even though, I found out some uncomfortable things about myself, in the end, I still think there are more positive things about Facebook than negative. And besides, I would really really miss all those funny puppy videos.


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Confessions · Faith · Life with Kids · Parenting teens · Parenting tweens

13 Catholic Mom Fails

I recently got the opportunity to guest post for Jenna at Call Her Happy.  Jenna has a lovely, little-bit-of-everything blog.  We have tons in common.  We are both former English teachers who can’t spell and who love to cook and eat. We are also both Catholic moms trying to do our best with the blessings God has given us.

Since I wasn’t raised Catholic, creating a Catholic culture for my family has always been a struggle.  Thankfully God is good, and I know He’s taking up the slack.  Anyway, to read my lighthearted look at some of my failures click here.  Even if you aren’t Catholic, you might be able to relate to some of these.  If not, you might think I’m crazy, but I really am (mostly) just poking fun at myself.  I think my kids will be okay despite my fails.

Kitty's First Communion
Kitty’s First Communion
Confessions · Life with Kids

What I Really Want for Christmas (a mom’s list)

For weeks now my kids have been asking me what I want for Christmas.  And I have said the thing that I am supposed to say, that I always say –  I don’t need anything.  I just want  all of my children to be happy and healthy.  It’s true.  I don’t need anything.  And I do want my children to be happy and healthy.  But they are good children, so no matter how often I say that I really don’t need anything, they will pool their money and buy me a new bathrobe or nightgown, or a maybe well-intentioned kitchen gadget.  And I’ll be grateful because I know they are buying me presents because they love me and want to show me that they care.

But here’s the thing.  I’m lying. I don’t just want healthy happy kids. Sure that’s the most important thing, but there are a few things that I desperately want.  I want ’em real bad.  Perhaps it’s not too late to give my family my real Christmas list…

  • I want everyone to lick or wipe the peanut butter off the spoon before dropping it in the sink.  Better yet, lick it off and drop it in the dishwasher.
  • I want to never hear the words. SHOTGUN! again.
  • I want to never open the cabinet and find a box with approximately two tablespoons of cereal left in it.
  • I want a vehicle free of dead french fries and straw wrappers.
  • I want all the socks in whole world (or at least in my house) to find and keep their forever mate.
  • I want counter tops free from crumbs.
  • I want well-fed dogs and chickens and livestock.  And I want to eliminate the phrase Did you feed the….  from my vocabulary.
  • I want to stop pretending that the little flecks of green in the pasta are seasonings.  It’s spinach, ya’ll.  Okay.  It’s spinach.  It has always been spinach.
  • I want to sit down with my coffee or my computer or my book for more than five minutes at time before someone says, “Hey Mamma!  Will you…”
  • I want to always be able to find a pen.  And my scissors.  And the duck tape.  Seriously.  Who keeps running off with the duck tape?
  • I want to stop repeating myself.
  • I want to stop repeating myself.
  • I want a TV show that comes on during primetime that I can watch with my whole family and that does not involve wildlife or people wearing cammo – and that will not be interrupted by commercials for tampons, Viagra, or Victoria’s Secret.
  • I want to learn how to use the television remote control, and I want the kids to forget how to use the television remote control.
  • I want, just now and then, to arrive at church with a relaxed, well-dressed family at least 15 minutes early.
  • I want to pray more as a family.
  • I want to play more as a family.
  • I want to sit down to dinner more often.
  • I want to cook from scratch, and I want someone else to clean the kitchen.
  • I want more nights at home with my family and fewer nights all going in different directions.
  • I want to slow down time.

Obviously, some of the things on my list are within my family’s power to give me and some are not.  But in the end, I know I will get bathrobe or a nightgown or a kitchen gadget.  And that’s okay.  Because even though whatever I get might not come with a life-time supply of  spotless kitchens or perfectly matched socks, it will come with love. And I really could use a new bathrobe.

My Greatest Gifts!
My Greatest Gifts!

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Why I Spoil My Kids – No Apologies

When my children were babies I picked them up every time they cried, despite all the dire warnings.  I buy my kids things that they have not earned.  And I often do things for them they could easily do for themselves – sometimes even their chores.  So, I suppose some people would say my kids are spoiled, but I disagree.  By definition, spoiled means ruined.  And I can assure that you my children are not ruined.  In fact, I would argue that these extravagances are not only not spoiling my children, they are actually helping them to become the best version of themselves.

We as parents take great pride in our children’s accomplishments.  And as American’s we have a particular admiration for independence and hard work.  We hold in high esteem the “self-made” man, and we want our children to possess the qualities we believe made this country great.  Maybe this is the reason this quote by Anne Landers has been circulating around the Internet so much recently:

It’s not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.

Pshhhhst.  As if the entire point of raising children is to make them independent, self-sufficient human beings.  It’s not that those are bad qualities in a person.  In fact they are essential.  But I certainly don’t think they are the supreme measure of success. What about compassion?  What about kindness? What about generosity?   In fact, I’d say a better motto might be:  It’s not what you teach your children to do for themselves, but what you teach them to do for others that will make them successful (and good) human beings.  

But how do you teach generosity, kindness, and self-sacrifice?   You model it.  This is not to say that I am the perfect model.  In fact, I struggle daily with my own selfishness.  But my own parents were and continue to be so incredibly generous in every way, that I am at least aware that there is a better way, and I want to teach it to my own children.  Here are the ways I “spoil” my kids for the sake of generosity.


I remember once when I was in high school and my mother took me shopping.  On the way home that evening, it suddenly dawned on my how selfless she was.  This was by no means the first time my mother had spent a day out with me like this, but as we drove home and she chattered excitedly about how cute my new boots were and about all the places I could wear my new outfits, it occurred to me that she hadn’t spent a dime on herself.  She was absolutely delighted to have spent the entire day walking around the mall, waiting outside dressing rooms, and spending money on clothes all for me.  I don’t even remember exactly what we bought or how many things.  I don’t think that mattered.  But I do remember being suddenly and utterly awed by my mother’s generosity  – not because she spent a fortune (I’m sure she didn’t), but because she was just as happy to spend her money on me as she would have been on herself.  In fact, happier.

So, yeah.  I do the same for my kids. Not all the time and certainly not whatever they want.  But I don’t always make them wait for a special occasion or until they’ve saved up their own money to buy them nice things.  Recently Charming Mary wanted a record player.  Apparently in this age of digital downloads, record players have suddenly become very hip.  It was shortly after Christmas – not the time of year one usually buys gifts.  But I did.  For no reason other than the fact that she wanted it, and I wanted to do something to please her.  And please her it did.  She was completely delighted and extremely grateful.  (And as an aside, I might add that the record play has been transformative, improving her taste in music and inspiring her to reorganize her room.)  Of course I could have made her wait  and save her money, maybe do some extra chores, to earn her record player.  There are certainly valuable lessons to be learned from that kind discipline – patience, hard-work, frugality – and those lessons should be taught.  But so should lessons of unearned generosity and kindness for the sake of kindness.  That lesson was certainly worth the price of a record player.


I make my kids’ beds.  Well, not usually, but for Lent this year I’m doing it.  I also sometimes offer to do their farm chores if they have friends over or if they are in the middle of a good book. I fix them snacks that they could easily fix for themselves and, while they know how to do their own laundry, I often do it for them.  Why?  Because I want them to be the kind of people who help other people.  As parents we want kids have to learn to be responsible – even when it’s hard.  But sometimes in our eagerness to make kids responsible, we neglect to make them kind, flexible, or compassionate.  Rigid rules about who does which chores and inflexible schedules not only build resentment, but they also run the risk of building a kind of pride ,and they foster a  notion that we shouldn’t help those we presume are perfectly capable of helping themselves.

My parents have always seemed to derive a real sense of pleasure from doing things for us.  Even today my father goes out of his way to pick up my kids from school to save me a trip. I don’t wait on my kids hand and foot. But I do help them – even when they don’t need it.  Because the truth is, they rarely need it.  But I want them to see that helping others is a kindness that doesn’t have to wait until the need arises.  Helping others can just be a way to make someone else’s day a little easier or a little brighter.


When my kids were babies, I heard all the dire warning about my children manipulating me with their tears.  I was warned that they would never be able to sleep alone or self-soothe.  I was told they would control my life.  Meh.  I picked them up anyway.  We let them sleep in our bed when they got scared.  And I carried them way past the age when they could walk on their own. (all just like my parents did for us)  Well, they are all big now.  And no one wants to sleep in our bed or be carried around, and they never cry to get their way.  Those years when they were little were a vapor.  I am so glad I rarely missed a chance to cuddle or comfort.  And I am convinced that their own sunny and compassionate personalities were formed, in part, by a childhood of extravagant love.


Next to God, that is.  And my husband.  Actually, alongside my husband.  That’s how we want it.  We’ve heard all the marital advice about not letting your kids come between you, but we think it’s silly.  Sure we need to make time for us and we do. But it was our love that created them.  Giving more of our love to them does not drive us apart.  It brings us closer.  It’s not us against them.  Our family is one unit. And our love doesn’t divide.  It multiplies.  When we were first married, many well-meaning people told us that we should put each other first.  Well, who says anyone has to be first?  Our policy has always been to put the person first who is neediest in the moment.  When they were little, it was usually one of them (or all of them at once).  But sometimes it’s me.  Or Charming Hal.   The point is that I want every person in my family to feel as if he or she is most important person on earth to me.  The current wisdom is that kids need to learn they aren’t the center of the universe.  I’m not worried.  The universe will make that pretty clear as soon as they walk out the front door.  But I do want them to think they are the center of our universe because our love for them should give them a glimpse of the love their Heavenly Father bears for them.  And He loves them with a love that is completely self-giving and all encompassing.  He does not worry about sending us the wrong message about our own importance.  And it’s a good thing because the cross sends a pretty strong message that God thinks we are a big deal.  He is capable of loving each of us as if we are the most important person in the universe.

So, there it is.  My dirty little secret.  I spoil my children.  But the thing is, I don’t think I’m the only one.  If fact, most parents I know are just as generous and helpful with their own kids.  However, thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and 24/7 info-tainment, we are constantly reminded of all the ways we can screw up our kids.  It seems like a lot of the advice we are getting warns us not to over-indulge them, coddle them, or make them think they are too important.  Yes, there is some great wisdom in all of that advice, but I must have missed the posts, pins, and articles about teaching kindness, generosity, and self-giving.  The funny thing is, for most parents, those things are the easiest things to teach because they just come naturally.

The center of my universe
The center of my universe

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