new beginnings

This past week was a week of new beginnings.

At the open house at the brand new Northside Elementary and Coulee Montessori School, I walked behind a little girl of about 6-years-old who was leading her grandparents on their own private tour of the school.  “You need to follow me and listen.  This is a very, very beautiful school, a very beautiful school”, this young student exclaimed with great elation.

And from what I gathered on my wanderings in and out of the bright classrooms and open spaces, this little girl was right.  And the most significant emotion that flowed throughout the halls – on every face from elderly north side residents to young families checking out their child’s first classroom, to a teacher I spoke with in his brand new classroom after teaching in the old north side schools for twenty years, to a passionate parent I admire whose children attend this school, and who labored so hard to help get the referendum passed – the most significant emotion was pride and hope.

A new school, a bright spot, for all the community to shine.

A new beginning.

Meeting our grandson for the first time this past week was all that I thought it would be – joyful, loving, fascinating.  Holding him, speaking to him, singing to him – with our eyes connected – enchanting!  Such a beautiful baby and such beautiful moments.

What I could hardly have imagined, however, was the thrill of seeing our grown-up son, hands-on, nurturing, so naturally attending to and adoring his own son.  It was like experiencing the passing of the parenting torch.  I had witnessed so many new stages of young adulthood as our son matured over these past ten years, including marriage.

But this one – this one was different.

Seeing both our son and his wife joined so powerfully in love with their first child and so supportive of each other was over the top for me.

It is truly a new beginning.


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“I think I’m feeling much braver now”, a five-year-old little guy told his mom before leaving for his first day of kindergarten, after quite a teary morning at home.

As distressing as it might seem to a parent who is ever hopeful that their child will glide through this separation with ease, what a positive stress reducer it was for this young boy to let his “feelings” be known, face them and find his courage.

For stress can come out in so many other different  and often negative ways – misbehavior, aggression, physical ailments to name a few.   How perfect for this little guy that he knew he could share his emotions with his mom, making their relationship that much more trusting and secure.

The honesty that comes out in moments like these can be so revealing and so poignant.  “I just want to stay here with you like I’m supposed to “, this 5-year-old told his mom.

So many new things to face – one foot in the safe, cozy nurture of family and the other foot stepping into the big world out there.  But this special boy took a giant leap, worked through his stress to discover his bravery and a wonderful first day of school as well.

It’s a lesson for all of us.  Pay attention to our strong emotions, share them, talk about them, cry if we have to, work them out.

We’ll all feel a little braver then.

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trust them

“I won’t leave without you.”, I overheard a two-and-a-half-year-old little girl telling her daddy as she walked independently behind him while shopping at Kohl’s.  Her dad kept stopping and waiting for her, and that’s when she would repeat, “I won’t leave without you.”

How many times probably has this little one heard that said to her and now when she repeats it herself to her dad, she can feel empowered and confident as she assures him not to worry.

It is moments like this that we know our words hit home, make their point, console, encourage, embolden our children’s young spirits.

And so, as many of our children head off for their first day of school, we can be sure that all of the words and good-bye routines and rituals that have evolved over the years between you will replay in their minds as they leave you at their classroom door.

Trust them to own them and be strong from them.

And so, in a way, “they won’t leave without you” – not even on their first day of school.



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Guess what happened today?

Our first grandchild, Theodore James Swift was born –  August 25th, at 7:46 AM, nine pounds, two ounces,  twenty inches long.  I know many of you have been sharing my anticipation through these past few weeks, and I have loved   and appreciated everyone’s interest and delight.

Not so long ago a longtime Parenting Place participant was having a garage sale selling some of her baby things.  She mentioned to her 7-year-old daughter that I was stopping by to take a look at some of the items because I was going to be a grandma.  At that, Laura looked puzzled, “You mean Fran isn’t a grandma already?”

Well, Laura,  now I am an official grandma at last and I love the way it feels.





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eenie, meenie, miney, moe

I stood next to a little girl in the stuffed animal aisle at the Goodwill Store.  She had a problem – a hard decision to make.  She laid both stuffies on the floor, side by side, closed her eyes, and ceremoniously began to chant –  “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe.  If he hollers let him go.  My mother said to pick the very best one and you are not it.”

Even with such an ernest attempt to fairly decide which one to buy and take home with her, it was difficult.  She started over again several times, perhaps to see if she could make it come out differently.  Her mom came around the corner as I moved along, and I believe the decision was hastened, “one or the other – let’s go!”

There are so many choices out there for all of us in every aspect of our life, from the everyday supermarket variety to the really hard meaningful family and lifetime choices we might face over time.  Letting our children experience making their own limited choices about simple everyday things is empowering and often a good way to avoid power struggles.

Choices are a big part of the master plan for The Parenting Place’s  Children’s Festival 2014 - where play happens.  Children have the opportunity to freely choose whichever activity it is that attracts their interest.  And within each activity, we attempt to keep options open so children have the chance and the freedom to select from many  different materials and to do it all in their own personal way.

For me it is always so revealing to observe children engaged and “working” at what they have chosen with such focus and purpose.  Over the years, parents have recognized and shared their enthusiasm for the types of simple play options we carefully select for our Festival.

I hope you will all make the first big choice and get your buttons for this year’s Children’s Festival 2014 , August 23rd, 9 AM to 12 PM at Myrick Park. Buttons are $4 each, 3 for $10; $5 the day of the Festival; children under one year are free.  Please keep in mind that all proceeds will help us continue to fund our free parent education and support programs. Buttons can be purchased at all Parenting Place sites. For more information, call The Parenting Place, 784-8125.

Eenie, meenie, miney, moe,

Off to the Children’s Festival we go!


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anticipation in the air

It feels every breath I take these days is full of anticipation.

With August disappearing faster than a cat can wink its eye, The Parenting Place Children’s Festival is practically upon us – August 23rd, a few days shy of two weeks.  That’s always an alert – the final countdown, the rush to make sure everything is ready and accounted for – everything is special – everything good to go.

And there’s my family’s own personal August countdown and expectation – 1st Grand-baby Watch for us – which brings me such great pleasure and joy just in thinking about this new arrival.

I imagine all of you have your own anticipations – it’s that time of year for sure.  New beginnings – perhaps a move, children going off to preschool or kindergarten or middle school for the very first time – grand milestones of their own.

And as we face these anticipations, these events and big steps, human nature has us programed it seems,  to pretty much try and plan them to the nth degree, to over-think them in some cases, to try to control the way things will play out.  We are all so busy with our to-do lists to check off while our deadlines loom,   (The Children’s Festival on August 23rd  – school starting for most on September 2nd) as we rush and worry and flurry about.

But not the baby.   For the baby will come when the baby comes, and no matter how busy, no matter how we try to guess and put a date for the arrival on our calendar, the arrival is when the baby arrives.

And, miracle of miracles, that will be exactly  the right day!

So…  perhaps there’s a life lesson here.  Take each day as it comes, enjoy the process that is happening day by day – focus on what’s in front of us right now – let it unfold -breathe in the present as we patiently accept and relish the anticipation of new and lovely things to come.

And be grateful for every minute – even the messy ones.

I’ll keep you posted!


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Share a laugh

Who doesn’t experience moments and times of anxiety and frustration?  Children are no different.  Laurence Cohen, Ph.D, author of Playful Parenting and The Opposite of Worry refers to these feelings of distress as a “knot of tension” linked to some particular emotionally charged experience like separation, sibling rivalry, transitions, meals, bedtime, rules, demands …  you can add your own.

When children are reacting to their own knot of tension, parents tend to experience an emotional reaction too.  Dr. Cohen says, in fact, it usually takes at least two people to “pull on the knot”.  The child’s knot tightens when we yell, punish, label, threaten and rely on negative and punitive means to solve the problem.

Dr. Cohen encourages us to loosen this knot of tension through laughter, surprising and unexpected responses, increased closeness, playfulness,  empathy, allowing a child to release feelings, and reconnection.

A mom told me recently of a moment one morning when she found herself at an impasse with her young daughter.  They were definitely both pulling the knot tight and something had to give.  This mom realized that they were stuck, decided to try a different tactic – an unexpected, playful one, and rephrased her comment to her child to be - ” What I should have said ….” and then continued on with a funny and surprising remark  – and ta dah – they both laughed, the knot was gone, and all was good on both sides.

It’s not always easy to be able to try humor and playfulness to make our points but it seems like it’s sure worth a try.

“Now go pick up your socks from the floor but try not to tickle them when you do!”.

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