What my Dad taught me about living out loud and caring less what people think.

If you want to know why I am the way I am, picture me and an older, manlier version of me printing the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and belting them out at the top of our lungs for an entire afternoon.

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Ever since I was a little girl, my Dad was always the one making everyone laugh. And while his brand of humor might not go over well in all crowds, one thing is certain – he is unapologetically himself.

Dad didn’t want me to go away to theater school and become a starving artist. I think he’s only slightly more comfortable with me having gone away to writing school to become a mom who writes about motherhood, but I know he is proud of who I am – and he’ll be my biggest fan if I ever manage to publish a book.

He’s already my biggest fan. He just encourages me to dream bigger.

My Dad gives great advice and dotes on my family with his time and treasures. When my husband is away, he and my mom spend the majority of their time entertaining or feeding us. He has tinkered with our sound system to the point it seems like Peppa Pig lives in our living room, and he takes pride in decorating our yard with the finest specimens from his nursery. This is how he shows his love.

He shows us how to live, too. Watching him, I have learned to be bold in the pursuit of happiness and quick with a punch line. He taught me to tell it like it is, to stand up for what’s right, to tip generously and to love the same way.

My Dad doesn’t worry about what other people think of him – he’s too busy doing his own thing. And he does it well. He also really, really likes himself, as evidenced by his 7:34 a.m. text message to announce today as “a day to remember.”

Perhaps what he does best is love my kids, who call him “Pob” – an unconventional grandpa name for an unconventional man. We don’t spend enough one-on-one time together, but I always love it when we do. (Next time the Chicken Bhuna is on me.)

Happy Birthday, Dad. I can’t top Alan’s surprise visit from last year, but I hope the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix looks great from my couch.

At least it’ll sound like we’re there.

Don’t let Thanksgiving get lost in the middle.

Halloween was fun. Don’t you love watching your kids getting all dressed up and taking it to the streets? What about the quality control of their candy baskets, just to make sure everything is “safe”?

Nowadays, as soon as Halloween is over, it seems like the whole world launches into holiday mode. It’s all red and green and silver and gold, and the ads on TV are less cleaning supplies for your actual house and more hot-pink accessories for your Barbie Dream House.

Let’s not forget – Thanksgiving is a holiday, too, and an important one.

I’m not even going to get into the Mayflower and who lived here first. This isn’t the place for that. I’m talking about a feast and a moment of peaceful celebration and people coming together to give thanks for their blessings.

These were basic blessings, before Barbie Dream Houses. People lived in simple shelters, with just enough clothing to keep them warm and food to fill their bellies. The children played games outside, or with dolls made of sticks and sacks. But it was ­enough.

In a world filled with plastic toys and abundance so far beyond our essential needs, it is a welcome and necessary act to sit around a table with the people we love and give thanks for all we have. Our children need to see it. They need to feel it.

As parents, it’s also a welcome shift in perspective. I have a wise friend who says, “I get to” instead of “I have to.” Parenting is both a challenge and a privilege. This week, I’m choosing to focus on the joy. It’s the kind of feeling that can last all year, if we let it.

So Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s take the time to pause and reflect on all the good this year has brought before rushing onto the next big thing. This is my wish for you:

May your blessings be enough to keep you warm, safe and loved.

My family will be having a simple meal this year. We’ve come up with a list of our favorite foods, and we’re sharing in the work. I probably won’t have to do the dishes – because my mother and husband are both convinced I can’t load a dishwasher. (Boy, have I got them fooled.)

And while it’s true I’m as eager as anyone to string twinkle lights and cut down a tree and light the candles on our menorah, we’re going to wait.

At least until Friday.

What Frozen 2 can teach us all about life.

I remember when Frozen the original came out. (Are we calling it Frozen One now?)

I wasn’t yet blessed with a little girl, and her older brother wasn’t old enough to go to the movies, so we didn’t have Frozen fever. But we did have the DVD, because my Nana called from Target to ask if we’d like it.  

The evening we first popped it in, I must have been cooking. So instead of watching with bated breath, I caught snippets of the storyline. Flash forward three years, and the film became a staple in our home. A few years after that, we welcomed a new little Frozen fan, who asked for Elsa every morning after the big kids went to school.

My daughter is now five, and we’ve been counting down the days until the sequel premiered so we could see it with mother-daughter friends. (Unlike Elsa and Anna, neither Addy nor I have a sister, but these two make us feel like we do.)

Here’s my takeaway.

1. Nobody likes change, but it is as inevitable as the new-fallen snow.

Elsa sings:

These days are precious, can’t let them slip away
I can’t freeze this moment, but I can seize this day

Life is full of beautiful moments, then hard ones, more beautiful ones, and hard ones again. Somewhere in the middle, we grow weary. We forget to soak it in. Especially in the mothering of young children, we can get so caught up in life’s perceived hardships that we miss all of its sweetness. This lyric, in particular, stood out to me, even upon first listen. It’s a poignant reminder that, while we can’t stop time, we can stop to revel in it. 

2. When all seems lost, just do the next *right* thing.

Anna finds her voice when she thinks her sister and her snowbuddy have gone to the great unknown. When it feels like hope is gone (spoiler: it never is), the only thing left is to take the next step. Put one foot in front of the other, and do the next right thing. Note it doesn’t say do any old thing, but the right thing. We have choices when it comes to our reactions to losses and disappointments in our lives. This sentiment gives our children something to hang onto as they navigate life’s twists and turns – and us parents something to say to them when they seem stuck. 

3. Real love is not fragile.

As you may recall, Anna had to learn the truth about true love the hard way in Frozen One. (It’s a thing now.) So hard, in fact, she turned to ice. This time around, Kristoff is wondering if Anna’s love is wavering because he doesn’t know who he is without her, and she doesn’t know who she is without her sister. All three of them have to learn to love themselves before they can become the fully-formed people they’re meant to be. When Anna apologizes for leaving him behind, Kristoff says, “My love is not fragile.” Real love – between sisters or lovers or parents and their kids – does not break, but rather bends. It is unlike ice, and more like the wind named Gale that moves through this movie like the spirit of all things good. 

And, man, was it good. I laughed the kind of laugh that makes all the other people in the theater wish you’d picked a different showing. I cried the kind of cry that makes your friend ask if you need a beer. 

After we waited for the surprise scene at the end of the credits, we made our way to the restroom. In the stall next to mine, my daughter suddenly cried out, “I need you!” I rushed to her side to find the plastic ring I had given her at lunch glistening at the bottom of the toilet. As I rolled up my sleeve to fish it out, so inspired by the love I had seen on the screen, my hip hit the flusher – “Watch out for my butt!” – and that ring went … into the unknown.

But an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart, and her best friend ran over to our car just before we pulled away, placing her matching plastic ring in my hand as she said sweetly, “I wanted Addy to have this.”

On this week of Thanksgiving, so long as we’re talking about counting our blessings under an autumn sky, let us count this movie – and friends who are like sisters – among them. 

Why your mom-friends might be the most important you’ll ever have.

You’ll never forget the friends you make in Kindergarten. 

Middle school? You need those girls, and you need them HARD.

In high school, you discover it’s fun to hang out with people who share your interests and hopes and dreams.

By college, you start to become who you’re meant to be, and you realize what real friends really look like.

As a young professional, your best mates are often your office mates. 

But GIRL, when you become a mother. 

My mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my first child was born. So I spent my days with my brand new best friend and my original best friend, nursing her back to health while coming up with silly ways to make both of them laugh. I was a single mom – I felt cast aside, I didn’t fit anywhere. But it didn’t matter much because I knew where I needed to be.

After I got married and that baby turned four and his grandmother turned a corner and a little sister was born, we moved to a new neighborhood where he would start Kindergarten and make his own first friends.

It never occurred to me, in crossing that bridge, that the parents of his friends would become my friends. Suddenly, as we enrolled in summer camps and after-school activities, our friend group grew.

I started something called Happy Hour Play Dates. (You’re welcome.) This was basically because I don’t like to be out past 9 p.m. and I really like being home. It’s also a lot easier to stay in with 17 kids. 

For a season, we hosted five families on a rotating basis – to share laughs and food and mommy drinks while the kids, ranging in age from fresh-out-the-womb to five, ran around us in a sugar-induced, sticky-fingered blur. 

As time went by, we made more friends in rom-com, meet-cute ways – like the morning on the street corner at the Santa parade – and the Happy Hour Play Dates got bigger. 

I love the way new people come into our lives in the weirdest ways, like when a lovely human whose husband I didn’t kiss in high school showed up in my inbox like an early Christmas present, then told me she was going away for year. (Not to prison, but to travel the world. We’re gonna be pen pals.)

We’ve all had more babies, and lost some. We’ve gotten new jobs. We’ve gone back to school. We’ve moved into new houses. We’re doing life together. 

These are the friends who bring lasagna when you’re pregnant and your husband has to hold you upside down in a headstand at four in the morning because you can’t pee and you come home from the E.R. with a catheter just in time for your older son’s birthday weekend. They’re the friends who secretly drop things in your mailbox or at your front door, whether it’s wine or diapers or a personalized ornament with everybody’s name on it every Christmas. The ones who host New Year’s at the last minute because you just had a miscarriage and they know it’s your favorite holiday.

These are the friends who come over if you tell them something’s wrong, and know that you need them even when you don’t. The ones who take your kid to jiujitsu because your husband’s away and you can’t do it all by yourself. The ones who cry with you on the carpet when you feel like the world is falling apart, and pull you up off the floor with pizza and good advice. The friends who sit with you on the roof like schoolgirls – one foot out the window, but all the way in your life – and tell you their secrets as the sun goes down.

These friends are stars, twinkling in the night sky and shining like the golden sun even when they’re as exhausted as you are. You can tell them anything, because they’re walking this journey right beside you, and they’ve been there, too. 

So hold on to your mom-friends, because, as far as I can tell, we’re gonna be moms long after our kids stop climbing into our beds all hours of the night and can finally use the toilet on their own.

And it’s nice to feel needed … but it’s even nicer to be there for a friend who needs you. 

You made me a mother, and you make me better every day.

To the child who made me a mother –

You are so much bigger now than that magical night I first held you in my arms, crying in chorus with you because I didn’t know how to make you happy. 

I hope I make you happy now, even just a little bit each day, because you have made me happier than I ever thought possible. 

Whenever I am down, you lift me up as high as we could swing from the rope in our back yard. (Unless Dad pushes.) When I’m frustrated with the noise and the mess and the chaos, you bring me peace – straight from your kind and loving heart.

You help me be a better Mommy to your little brother and sister … but am I a good enough Mom to you?

I still remember when you called me “mama.” You all do, before you grow up and make friends and we mamas fade a little more into the background every day. 

Even though you don’t need to hold my hand anymore, I hope I’m still your best friend. Because you’ll always be mine. 

I don’t know what I did to deserve a kid like you. Up with the sun before the rest of us, I find you finishing your homework at the kitchen table, ready to greet another day with your sweet smile and a song you made up in your head. 

You are my favorite song, the rhythm in my heart, the melody that gets me through. 

Thank you for all the times you pull me out of the background and down onto the floor to laugh or dance or build or play. Thank you for noticing when I need you, just as much as you used to need me. 

You’re so strong now and so wise – but your mama’s still here for you.

So tell me what happened at recess. Ask me questions about the world as you see it. Share your dreams for the future and walk into it with me – if not hand-in-hand, then heart-in-heart.

For as you told me many moons ago, not far away at all, you had something big to say, but in a voice so small – 

“I love you to my heart.” 

We are the Griswolds, and I love every minute. (Okay, *almost* every minute.)

Some people do Disney. Some people cruise to the islands. Some people jet off to fabulous resorts in far-off cities.

We are not those people.

We are the Griswolds – just swap out the station wagon for a minivan, and stick us on the highway headed north. 

My husband is a mountain man, and MAN, I wish he could sport the beard to prove it. But flying for the airline and the military, the only time I see him with some stubble is during our annual vacation to the high country.

Where we live is FLAT. I never had a problem with it. We’re minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but when the hills are calling, we answer. If Jared and the kids could be outside all day, they would. But much of the year, it’s really-really-really hot at home, so heading to the mountains is our favorite escape. 

And it truly is a lovely change of scenery (and pace).

Getting there is another story. 

Over the past three years, we’ve driven twice and flown once. The drive is long, so we split it up over two days, each time picking a different halfway point on the way up and spending time with family on the way home. 

The first year, the baby broke his nose according to Dad (I think it was just a bruise) and we had to buy snow chains for the truck because of a sudden impending blizzard. It turns out, there was no snow and we couldn’t even go sledding, let alone use the expensive chains.

The second year, we started out with a stomach bug, gave it to my mother-in-law who had already suffered a migraine (sorry, Nina), came home and bought a van because we liked the one we rented so much, and decided to cap off our trip by heading to a nearby theme park where we promptly lost the keys to said van on an upside-down roller coaster.

This year, as we hit the highway, Jared said:

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a vacation where no one got s— ”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!! DON’T SAY THAT OUT LOUD!*&@*#!”

Two days later, my daughter started coughing. Five days after that, the baby woke at midnight, shaking with a fever, and threw up every 30 minutes until dawn. 

We had family photos the next day with sweet photographer friends from back home. They, too, had driven 10 hours to get there. I was afraid I was going to have to cancel. But the baby was feeling okay, so we carried on. 

When we had arrived a week earlier, the leaves were at their peak – golden and red and orange and magical. 

A few days of rain and one very windy night later, they were all but gone when we drove down the parkway for pictures. Cell service was spotty, so we got to the trailhead a while before our friends. The sign at the bottom said 2.5 miles up. It was wet from the rain, and muddy. We knew we couldn’t make a 5-mile round trek without a sick baby, so we waited until they arrived and made a last-minute swap. 

On a previous drive, we had spotted a pretty pond. So we got back in the van and met near the water. The light through the leaves was perfect, and there were even a few red and gold ones hanging on. 

None of us were feeling our finest, and I looked like I had been awake for a solid week, but we laughed our way through the woods, throwing piles of crunchy leaves into the air and capturing our time together in one of our favorite places. 

The drive there was hard, and the drive home was brutal. A friend texted and told me to put diapers on everyone (including adults) and to be sure to blog about the experience to save others from making the same mistake. I chose to do only one of those things.

So maybe next time we’ll fly – Daddy is a pilot, after all – but we won’t stop being the Griswolds. That’s just our thing. Nothing fancy. Nothing fussy. Just a messy, sneezy, sleepy, happy week of hiking and gem mining and leaf watching and shuffleboard playing, cabin-staying good old fashioned family fun.

Holy sh*t. Where’s the Tylenol?!*#%$!

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*For those who don’t watch it 15 times per holiday season, and occasionally in July, that’s the end of Clark’s rant in Christmas Vacation, and generally how I feel after getting home from ours.

We’re all in a giant ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story.

I was reading to the big kids at bedtime. They had chosen a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book called The Lost Jewels of Nabooti – so, true to form, I emphasized the “booti” for a laugh.

As if that wasn’t enough, when we came to the last page of the adventure they had created, it read:

“You have fallen into a hole. It is pitch black. There is no food, no water. 

You are doomed. 

THE END.”

For some reason, this was just about the funniest thing we had ever heard. Their Dad came downstairs from putting the baby to bed, and we all took turns coming up with our own dooming endings, which went a little something like this:

Eli: “Mom has farted and pulled up the sheets. You can’t breathe. You are doomed. THE END.”

Addy: “There are no more cookies in the entire world. You are doomed. THE END.”

Mom: “Peppa Pig has been cancelled. You will never watch them fall on their backs laughing again. You are doomed. THE END.”

Dad: “It is bedtime. You have to be quiet now. You are doomed. THE END.”

It got me thinking about life and the choices we make, and how we’re all really one wrong turn from being doomed. (The end.)

Lucky for us, our lives aren’t made up of spy adventures and mountain climbing and gun fights and speeding trains. We aren’t super likely to wind up at the bottom of a pitch-black pit in the middle of Morocco after being chased by bad guys searching for mystical jewels. 

We do have choices, though. There are broken hearts and broken homes and missed deadlines and lost jobs. We don’t always say the right thing or turn the right page, and sometimes it’s too late to go back.

But we can always go forward. 

You and me and my kids and everyone in the whole world is right in the middle of their own story, and while it may not feel like a story worth writing about, it’s one worth living to the fullest, for sure.

So the next time you have a hard decision to make, think about what might happen if you “Turn to page 54.”

Will there be an exciting opportunity, or will you fall into a pit? If you do, will you be able to climb back out?

The scenarios in the books are sensational and glamorous. In our simpler, routine, day-to-day lives, we’re more likely to encounter literal and figurative doo-doo than doom. 

What you do with the doo-doo is up to you. 

Wash your hands, and turn the page.