Guest Post: Searching

by Ben Jackson

As most of us who blog discover from our analytics, people put some strange search phrases together to find things on the internet. Aside from the stomach-churning searches for nocturnal activities (of which there are many), I also often find queries for advice on dadding (“single dad blog. too busy to eat breakfast”), searches for quotes and things to say on fatherhood (“dad eulogy” often appears), and queries for which I simply can’t understand how my blog could possibly be relevant (“waiter with dreadlocks” and “she said prison barber hair shorn”).

And then there are the searches for “teratoma,” and variants thereof.  It’s these people, anonymous through the internet, I want to find, and hug and do whatever else I can to offer some small measure of comfort.

My daughter Emma was born in 2001 with a cervical teratoma – a tumor on her neck which was larger than her head.  It protruded from her mouth, it extended down into her chest and attached from her heart, and it sat like a grapefruit underneath her chin.  It nearly killed her, and she spent almost her entire first year hospitalized as a result.

These search queries in my stats page are small digital prayers.  They represent some terrified stranger, who has just received news that is far beyond their comprehension, and they are pleading into the information ether for salvation or information. They are suffering in a way I can understand more deeply than almost anyone else on the planet, and most of the time I feel powerless to do anything to help.  I hope my writing provides some factual information and a lot of hope, but because of the anonymity of the internet, these deeply personal cries for help are beyond my reach to personally answer.

Last week, I received an email from a mother of a girl who also has a tumor similar to the one Emma had. She talked about being isolated, and was largely reaching out for a connection from a very lonely and scary place—and it knocked me for a loop for a bit.  It reminded me that what we write is read by actual people; that those search phrases bandied about have an individual behind a screen, looking for something to connect with.  That, beyond the creeps searching for their jollies, there are stories, and there is pain, and hope, and love and loneliness yearning for something that maybe we can touch.

It reminded me that we who write have a responsibility to those people behind the queries, that our words matter to someone, and that we had damn well better get what we’re trying to say right—and it reminded me that from my readers I can gain the connection that I seek as a writer, and as a dad.

Here’s hoping that your queries find you the connections you seek in 2014!

Ben Jackson is a father, blogger, publishing professional, creative writing student, and majestically bearded. From time to time, he has conned otherwise sensible editors into publishing his short fiction and essays. As an avid martial artist, one can often find Ben writing through bruises, slings and casts. You can read more of his writing at www.benfjackson.com or www.dadofthedecade.com

ben xmas sweater

Guest Post: Hosting The First Sleepover

by Paul Taylor

Although we try to keep our children as young as possible, they seem to have a mind of their own and desire to grow up faster than we’d like them to. As soon as he or she begins making friends at school, you child will undoubtedly start making plans for sleepovers. As a parent, there are many aspects of this innocent activity that you need to consider. Your child’s first sleepover will be the beginning of many and you should keep your wits about you during this social activity.

1. Your Behavior - You child isn’t the only one who needs to be on his or her best behavior. As an adult, we do and say a lot of things around the home that we can get away with. Why? Because we are adults and we can. However, you don’t want to scare away your child’s friend. Every parent has their own way of raising their children. What works in your home may not be ideal for another person’s child. Watch your behavior for it may put your child in an awkward position with his or her friend.

2. Meals - Find out from the friend’s parents which foods are ideal. You don’t want to inadvertently give them something they are allergic to. You don’t want to continue the sleepover in the emergency room. Make the child feel welcome in your home and provide his or her favorite dish. Even if it’s something you’ve personally never had before, it is a way to share culture with each other. You never know, you might find it to be a common delicacy within your home afterward.

3. Bedtime - You know that the children aren’t going to go to sleep immediately. Have some patience and provide a little leniency. The first sleepover is going to be the highlight of your child’s month and you can expect a certain level of excitement and hyper-activity to be going on. Don’t let the children use you as a doormat, but don’t be the sleep-tyrant either. Give the children a little slack especially if they are keeping the noise level down. Did you go to sleep immediately when you had a sleepover as a child?

4. Entertainment - Another aspect to consider is what kind of entertainment is acceptable for your child’s friend. While some households don’t see anything wrong with a family dinner watching “The Walking Dead,” some parents may be quite upset that you subjected their child to such television. Even video games should be monitored. Remember, not every household is the same and some don’t accept violence in any manner. Although it is your house, you should be respectful towards the wishes of your guest’s parents. It’s not your job to raise their child.

5. Privacy - It is possible to maintain vigilance over the happenings within your home without involving yourself in the play of your child and his or her guest. A periodic checkup is OK, but don’t try too hard to involve yourself in their activities. The children are having a sleepover, not you. It can be hard to let your child live their own lives without involving you, but they need to be able to establish their own path.

The sleepover is a way of life and children have been engaging in this activity for a very long time. It creates bonds between friends and is a way to continue the play for an extended period of time. There is nothing to fear from these and after the first few sleepovers, your stress levels will diminish. Just try not to embarrass your child too much.

Paul Taylor started www.babysittingjobs.com which offers an aggregated look at sites that help families find sitters and sitters find families easier than ever. He loves writing, with the help of his wife. 

Couple lying down with daughter

When Sleeping & Working Get in the Way of Blogging

When I started this blog back in December 2011, I promised myself that to make it entertaining, shareable and fulfilling, I would write a new blog post at least once a week, if not more.

And for the most part, I’ve been able to do that. It’s never been a chore; at any given moment, I usually have a gazillion ideas for posts swimming in my head. I can usually find a quiet 15-20 mins over the weekend to write. Fortunately, I write fast, the words tumbling out of my head and onto the page.

But it’s been over a week since my last post and I started kicking myself about this. I have decent excuses – several nights of insomnia sucking the creativity out of me, house guests for the weekend, and work is crazy busy. But when I thought about it, I realized that there’s plenty of stuff I already do that sustains interest in and traffic to my blog, even when I’m not writing new posts. Namely:

  • I pre-schedule tweets about popular, already published posts 
  • I frequently comment on other blogs and articles, especially where the topic is complementary to one of my posts and I can link back to it.
  • I maintain a pipeline of potential guest bloggers who can provide good content that syncs well with my stuff
  • I retweet and share other bloggers’ posts – spreading the blog love around

Most of all, I’m not going to sweat it. I’m a working Mom and having it all is unrealistic. So if y’all have to wait another week or so for an awesomely witty or pithy or entertaining or educational or controversial post from me, then so be it!

Advice to My 16-Year Old Self

This morning, a tweet from MumClub asking “what would you tell your 16-year old self?” got me thinking. Often I can tweet a quick, snappy response but this I needed to mull over. So I stepped into the shower, and ideas kept popping into my head. Thanks to my waterproof Post-It notes, I wrote down the following advice to Samantha Stern:

  • Keep working on your writing and languages—they will be the foundation of your success
  • There is so much more than Duran Duran
  • You are not fat
  • Dating/kissing boys that are not Jewish will not be the end of the world
  • Friendships trump religious differences
  • Invest in your friends—you’re going to need them
  • Gary Morris may break your heart but there are lots of fish in the see—explore ;)
  • Red heads have more fun
  • Keep dancing
  • Go on blind dates (the last one will be the best one)
  • You are in charge of your future
  • Mum and Dad were right about many things (but not about only kissing/dating Jewish boys)
  • Find your own style
  • Keep traveling
  • Bacon is not evil
  • In two years, Mum and Dad will take you to see Les Miserables. It will change everything.
  • Try sushi: you’ll like it!

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

How I Blog

Quickly

In the moment

Authentically

Passionately

Interactively

Respectfully

Entertainingly

Colorfully

Economically

Relevantly

A Month of Gratitude: Part Two

Last week, I started the process of taking stock of everything for which I am grateful. It’s an important exercise, stepping back from the daily grind and considering all that is good in your life. We should all do this much more often. It’s both sobering and uplifting.

Where did the last week go? Somehow, among the hustle and bustle, I was able to stop each day, if only for a few minutes, and mentally note the moment or moments that resounded in my heart and head. During the last seven days, these were the things for which I am truly grateful:

  • The teachers who taught my son to read. We spent five hours this weekend at Boston’s Museum of Science and my son’s new-found skill opened the experience up to him like I’d never imagined. It was fantastic to watch.
  • My husband. Because he’s away on business and of course, it’s when he’s gone, I truly appreciate all that he does for me. Warms my cold feet in bed. Brings me coffee in the morning. Puts the trash out. Cooks dinner. Makes me laugh. Most of all, I love to step back and watch him interact with our kids in his unique, special way and miss that most when he’s away.
  • My Mom friends. Thank heavens for other Moms. They just get it. Once a month, I get to hang out with a bunch of them and it’s like the best medicine for the soul.
  • Humor: I was sent this video this week and it actually made me cry with laughter. Everyone needs a tear-inducing laugh every so often. Watch this and you’ll get yours for the week.
  • Charity: This week I read about all the good works being done by so many to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. When the rest of the world and news media had moved on, these people were still knee-deep in the collections and clean-ups. We should all be grateful for the work they are doing and the compassion in their hearts.
  • Words and writing: this blog started out as an experiment, a fancy and has turned into a much more powerful vehicle for me. Somewhere I can write for me (as opposed to my writing for clients) and share my thoughts and words with you. This week I published my 100th blog post and crossed the threshold of 11,000 views, just shy of my one year blogging anniversary. Wow! Thank you all for indulging me.

Five Genius Inventions That Could Save The World

My brain is a crazy place filled, at any given moment, with hundreds of swirling thoughts competing for the shrinking available capacity within my cranial region. I read somewhere that if you think too hard, your brain juice will come out of your ears. (Note to self: buy ear plugs to ensure that my precious brain juice remains within. Or maybe I should let it out, bottle it and sell it for some outrageous price. Any takers? Sam’s Special Brain Juice.) But I digress ….

Anyway, what I was wanting to write about here was some of the brilliant ideas I’ve had of late. Why no-one has already conceived these innovations and made millions amazes me. These are simple yet genius inventions that could improve our very existence, save the icebergs, bring about peace for all mankind, and so on.

My first amazing invention is all about solar energy. Enough with fixed solar panels. Surely it would make more sense if the roof of every car was made of collectors which gather up rays, whether the car is stationary in the drive or out and about? If there was a way to immediately funnel those rays directly into the engine, the car could even be self-propelling, using solar energy in real-time.Brilliant, no? I must tell Google and quick! Not only would they have self-driving cars but also self-energizing cars.

Second, also renewable energy-themed. It’s the fart detector/recycler. After all, everyone emits methane (some more than others, naturally.) To make this feasible, first we’d need to be able to see these smelly wafts (which could be extremely useful for identifying whodunnit scenarios.) So we’d need some natural chemical that, when encountering methane vapors, turned them brown. Or maybe neon pink just for fun. Then we need some kind of device for sucking all that neon pink gas out of the atmosphere and into some lab environment which would then process the methane into something way more useful and sweet-smelling.

Next up for the Samantha treatment: feet. In case you weren’t aware of my feelings, I profoundly believe that feet are overrated and, in fact, utterly useless. I think it would make so much more sense – in addition to reducing ugliness, stinkiness, bunions, scratchy toenails and blisters – if we didn’t have feet at all! Instead, we should all be able to buy a variety of filled, weighted shoes that would simply slot onto our ankles. Admittedly, this would put pedicurists and podiatrists out of business but I do think the world would be a far better place without feet. Just sayin’

I was delighted when I found Aqua Notes - waterproof post-it notes – because I do all my best thinking and writing in the shower. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the second I step out, they evaporate, never to be recaptured. At least now I can write them down but wouldn’t it be even “awesomer ” (to quote my son), if it were possible to digitally transfer those scribbles directly to my email, to list, calendar – or to WordPress (I come up with a lot of my blog content in the shower) or into Word (for press releases.) Now that would be incredibly productive. I could even start billing clients for time spent in the shower.

Lastly, I think you’ll all agree that our brains need some kind of USB port. That way, not only could we plug ourselves in for some much-needed recharging but we could also capture short-term content and transfer it to a far more stable environment for storage and access on-demand.

If any of you feel inspired and entrepreneurial enough to run with my ideas and generate billions, let it be known that now that they are out of my head and into my blog, their source is now documented, on this day Sunday September 30, 2012. I’m too busy being a working Mom to do anything other than dream up such geniosity.

I know that is not a real word but it really feels like it should be.

You’re welcome.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

My mojo seems to have left town (along with my abs, but that’s another topic.) If you’ve been following along the last few weeks of our staycation and then my poor hubby’s sickness, this present state of affairs won’t be much of a surprise. I’ve been dragging my lazy ass around for a few days now. I sat at my office desk for 2.5 days last week and achieved nothing and contributed nothing. I’ve been feeling tired and bla every day, going to bed early and waking up exhausted.

I understand this is a temporary lull; usually my mojo is quite active and pumped up, ready for silliness, primed for a giggle. So I need to get it back – stat. I started the quest to unearth my mojo from wherever it is hiding yesterday. It felt good but we’re definitely not there yet.

So I asked some friends to let me know what they do to re-find their mojo. I’ve meshed their suggestions with several of my own re-mojo-activating tactics to create what could possibly be The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo. Here’s hoping that by Monday morning, I’ll spring out of bed, rested, with my mojo fully restored, ready for action.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

  • Lie on the couch and watch re-runs of Friends, Ally McBeal or whatever show or movie takes you to your happy place. Do not watch any weepies.
  • Play music that makes you happy. Or in my case, music that makes you groove. In fact, I think I’m going to create a Mojo Playlist. Today, I’ve been shaking my booty to some newly discovered tracks including Calvin Harris “The Rain,” and Fun “We Are Young.” My other mood-and-groove-enhancing favourites include Abba “Dancing Queen,” Bee Gees “Night Fever,” Stevie Wonder “Living for the City,” Katy Perry “Firework,” Jackson 5 “I Want You Back” and The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket.”
  • Read (I often return to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to set me back on the right track. Or anything by Bill Bryson for his laugh-out-loud travel experiences and wry observances of human nature.)
  • A good chat with a good friend; try picking up the phone and calling someone you’ve not spoken with in a while (Annemarie, you’ve been warned.)
  • Work up a good sweat (pick your poison: dancing, exercise, sex, weeding, pillow fight ….)
  • Get a mani/pedi – or some other indulgent spa treatment. (I am sporting some freshly polished, vibrant purple toe and finger nails!)
  • Write (a letter, a blog, a to-do list, some goals – by the way, this would be a good time to plug my pal Matty P’s great new book Goals Gone Wild.)
  • Clean/organize something you’ve been putting off – might sound weird but it feels really good to finally get to it.)
  • Sit on the deck and listen to the soundtrack of nature.
  • Imbibe – whether it’s coffee to give your system a jolt, or a large glass of wine or sangria ( my latest addiction)
  • Shoe shopping.
  • Do something nice for someone else. It feels good to be both the giver and the receiver, believe me.

So there it is, the formula I’ve already started using to hunt down and rekindle my joie de vivre. What do you do to find you’re mojo when it’s left town? What would be on your Mojo Playlist?

(P.S. If you happen to find my abs, could you kindly return them – much appreciated.)

(P.P.S Here are some links to some other good mojo-finding blogs and resources:

Have You Lost Your Mojo?

How to Give Your Mojo a Boost

Finding My Mojo

10 Ways to Get Your Groove Back )

10 Parenting Gratitudes

There’s nothing like a rainy Saturday for blogging. Especially when I am home alone with the kids all day. On days like this, I am usually challenged with figuring out what I am going to do to keep the little people occupied and entertained, rather than in front of the TV or computer. Sometime, if I am suitably motivated, I’ll research something going on locally or a museum trip and off we’ll go on an adventure. (However this requires a certain amount of energy and spontaneity that, in truth, I don’t always have on tap.)

Today is one of those days and I was fearful that we’d end up annoying each other with cries of “I’m bored” and bickering. However, much to my pleasure, the kids have been happily playing free-form imaginary games like “pretend I’m a Ninja and you’re a dinosaur and we’re stuck in a boat and there’s an evil witch on a sparkly rocket ship coming to get us ” or “pretend you’re Katy Perry and I’m Luke Skywalker and we’re on Tatouin and there’s a bunch of dwarf monsters after us but we have light sabers and the force is with us….”

And it struck me just how good I have it, especially at the ages that G & T are right now (7 & 5, respectively.) For this, I must remember to be eternally grateful. (I must also remember to revisit this post when the kids are in the throws of puberty and we all hate each other.) Like many others, I often find myself complaining, dishing out sarcasm or being wistful for life before kids but right now, I am the luckiest Mom on this planet and here’s why:

  1. I am grateful that G & T will happily play without me having to create/manage the game (or even participate, though I do of course from time to time.) They can occupy themselves for good chunks of time, either independently or playing together. Legos, puzzles, reading, board games, Pokemon, fort-building, dress-up, light saber fights, or torturing the cat. Long enough for me to take a shower or write a blog post without worrying about them killing each other, raiding the snack cupboard or getting up to other hi-jinx. If the result is a completely messed-up playroom with toys and legos distributed everywhere, then so be it – that’s a price for which I am also grateful!
  2. I am grateful that they are living in an society that is, for the most part, accepting of a broad spectrum of lifestyles and love choices. They do not question and are growing up without bias and prejudice.
  3. I am grateful that, in spite of the shocking cost of being a working parent, we can still provide well for them – but at the same time teach them that money doesn’t grow on trees; it must be earned and spent wisely. And that being charitable is just part of who we are.
  4. I am grateful that both my kids are learning to be open-minded (we have good days and bad days!) and that they are sociable, outgoing creatures who make friends and laugh easily.
  5. I am grateful, despite the fact that G won’t eat eggs and T won’t eat anything spherical-shaped or with a sauce, that they have good appetites, eat their vegetables, drink their milk and even enjoy fish.
  6. I am grateful that they are learning to be resourceful and self-reliant (which means they can not only do more for themselves but can also do more things for me!)
  7. I am grateful that they see their father as a man that contributes equally to the job of parenting and their mother as someone who follows a career.
  8. I am grateful that they know and love their extended family, despite that fact that we all live far apart. I am also grateful for the technology that lets us all be closer.
  9. I am grateful that, thanks to parenthood, I have met other parents and founded many wonderful friendships.
  10. I am grateful for their good health and active minds.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 60 other followers

%d bloggers like this: