Author Archives: fmswift

Celebrate the trees

Most people who know me realize how much I love trees – bark – sticks. I love the sight of them, the feel of them, the warmth of them.

I have my own personal collection of sticks that remind me of different kinds of animals.  I’ve had “bark” and special sticks left on my desk at work – from someone(s) who thought of me when coming upon a treasure they knew I would appreciate.

When I think about why – and how this passion for trees developed, I go back to the very large maple tree that graced our side yard as a child – where I played daily around its roots sticking up from the ground – embracing the trunk as I stepped from root to root circling around the tree.

It was  shady under which to play “house” with my dolls – or drive my toy cars up and over the hilly roots –  then place them in the niches that made perfect parking spaces.

It was a beautiful very special spot.

So there’s no surprise that the new Bandshell at La Crosse’s Riverside Park has won my heart.

Eighteen white oak trees form the arches of this new structure. You have to see it to experience its natural, majestic beauty.

In this world of noisy computerized games, images, exchanges, glitz – how fortunate we are in La Crosse to have this magnificent display for our children to see –  to remember – for the whole community to appreciate and admire the strength, power, beauty and serenity these white oak trees add to our new Bandshell at Riverside Park.

Yes – let’s celebrate the trees!





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Can I come too?

Being included.

Who doesn’t want that feeling of being included – a part of a group – a part of a family – a part of the plans.

A mom who recently moved to this area from a very long distance was sharing that when she and her husband were making their moving plans and finalizing the details together, their young 3 -year-old, listening nearby, spoke up hopefully, “Can I come too?”

This mom felt terrible that he would ever feel so left out about such a big move.

Not taking anything for granted, however, this little guy thought he’d better speak up.

Our children really do want to know how and where they fit into our plans – whether it is a big move, a week-end trip, a night at Grandma’s, or a morning baby-sitting- exchange with a friend.

But, certainly, telling your child too much too soon – before details are worked out – can be confusing and stressful.

Best to wait till plans are set for sure.  Then the news can be shared at the dinner table for all to hear –  quietly at bedtime – while taking a walk – giving a child a bath – over breakfast – whenever there is time and space to share and answer questions.

This kind of inclusion lets everyone – little to big – know “they can come too“.


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many hands

Once again I’ve witnessed it, seen it with my own eyes, smiled to myself, shared mutual appreciation with others, believed it – loved it.

And what is it?  It’s simple – but significant.

It’s children – helping – alongside adults – in a common purpose – where they feel included, needed, and valued.

Every year when The Parenting Place packs up the items for The Children’s Festival- small ones, big ones and really big ones – into our rental U-haul truck, it requires a lot of help – hauling in and out from our building to the waiting truck.

Then it’s off – everything and everyone to Myrick Park – where we begin again – this time unloading the U-Haul into the Shelter. All of this activity is in preparation for what The Parenting Place believes is the magic of the Children’s Festival.

And when the morning is over, the festival is taken down – packed up once again into the truck, and driven back to The Parenting Place to unload into the building.

And through it all, there are children with their parents – eager to help, to carry, to experience being a valuable part of our working group.

And one can sense their satisfaction, their confidence, their strength, their pride – palpable before your eyes.

And so I encourage parents to think of sharing jobs with children, working together with others, and having your children experience this power of unity.

Here’s a hint – raking leaves is right around the corner.  How about your kids, your relatives and friends and their kids jointly working together – to have fun while the yards get clean – with rakes and baskets and treats for all.

“Many hands make light work” – and strong connections.


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Ceremony – when it happens,  you can feel it – sense it- breathe it.

But ceremony doesn’t happen all that often in our busy day-to-day lives.

But it could.

Actually, you can create a sense of ceremony just by simply lighting a candle at dinner once a week – holding hands around the table for a moment of silence – end with a squeeze gently passed hand to hand.

Believe it or not, your children will be responsive to this quiet pause in their lives.

A few weeks ago we went to a reunion of a school that our family was involved in in the Seventies.  Ceremony was present.

It was there in the memories and gratefulness shared as our large group stood in a circle, and one by one revealed what Riverhaven School in Winona, Mn meant to them – as children, as now-grown adults, as teachers, as former parents.

Speaking with a dear friend from Connecticut recently whom I taught with years ago, we got on this subject of ceremony.

My friend has been a nursery school teacher for 40 years – seasoned and passionate still.

She shared that when the children in her class are moving on at the end of the year, she gathers them in a circle.  She has a velvet box – and in the box is a firm rock.

The rock is carefully passed from child to child as their teacher shares something about that particular child – unique to each.

She told me that there is perfect silence in this group of 4’s and early 5’s as they sit , wide -eyed, listening attentively to what is being shared about each child – as they wait for their own turn.

My friend said a few other faculty who witnessed this power of ceremony were speechless.

I believe it.

That’s kind of how ceremony leaves you.



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I believe it …

“Nothing lights up a child’s brain like play.” Stuart Brown – National Institute for Play

I truly believe this –  and more true than ever when children are the ones leading the play – and what they are playing with are natural, open-ended items that stir the imagination.

This past weekend walking along the river at Riverside Park, I was fascinated by watching four young girls, about eight- or nine-years-old ,off on the grass playing with a hefty ten-foot branch that must have fallen to the ground during the most recent storm.

These girls had a plan that they were working ( i.e. playing), very hard to figure out – a way to balance all four of them on this branch.

But the branch was crooked and this was not easily accomplished.

However,  they didn’t give up – trying different ways and angles and taking turns holding down the branch so others could balance – figuring it out.

This playful determination went on for at least the 30 minutes or so that we were there. And it warmed my heart – to see this kind of fun – this kind of hands-on natural play “lighting up these young girls’ brains”.

And observing something like this is why I believe so passionately in The Parenting Place Children’s Festival coming up quickly on Saturday, August 24 from 9-12:00 at Myrick Park – rain or shine.

The festival offers children this very opportunity to “light up their brains” as they engage in pure child-led play.

There’s no prizes, no competition, no waiting in lines for a give-away.  It’s a child’s world – of choices, of creativity, of fun, of play.

It’s about “lighting up many children’s brains” all at once.

And it’s freejust the way play should be.

Hope to see you there – 9:00 AM sharp for the “Dumping of the Dirt”!

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a different tone

Back to school shopping – usually a highlight of August days for families – takes on a different tone after this past weekend’s devastating events.

And no this didn’t happen here in La Crosse or Onalaska or anywhere in Wisconsin, but when something so horrific happens in the lives of other families, our own security is weakened and our hearts are heavy for their losses and their grief.

So, once again, as parents what do we do?

Hopefully for young children under the age of  six or, if we’re lucky, eight years old, they will be shielded from this news completely by carefully guarding our own conversations in front of them, as well as any news and television sounds and coverage.

However, if there is any chance of them overhearing, tell them in as few sentences as possible, that something very sad happened by a person who used a gun to shoot people.

Then unplug, go out in nature, get together with friends, read together, stay close, pay attention to signs that children are worried, “gather the wagons” as I’ve said before by being connected physically and emotionally with those important to you.

Children will take their cues from the adults in their lives.

When children are older, ask first what they have heard, and still keep images and repetitive news coverage off. Answer their questions and perhaps find a way to reach out in some manner to offer support to those affected – if this is something you believe your child will want to do –  as well as share positive stories of people helping others.

For the rest of us, we can only hope that someday, somehow, these heart-breaking events stop happening – and we can help our children grow up secure in confidence, caring and concern for everyone.

Please remember to call The Parenting Place if you are looking for other ways to help your child deal with fears .

Be strong.


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A friend shared a story with me of his young 8-year-old grandson who asked him recently “where do our thoughts go?  I think about something and then it goes away – yet often the same thought comes back again later – I wonder where did it go while it was away?

Needless to say, my friend’s grandson is thoughtful and quite wise for his young age – for any age.

But … what do they say …“out of the mouth of babes” – we can often learn, often  realize, often ponder.

This morning I went to the last session of my 4-week group on Wisdom -through the Ages at The Franciscan Spirituality Center and I believe all of us there were very sorry to see it end.

It is a very special gift to meet ten other people whom you don’t know at all and then throughout the sessions talk, share, reveal, and connect with each other on such a very honest and personal level – about age, about trust, about gratitude, about experiences, about life.

And so we were all touched by each other’s sharing and, yes, their wisdom.

And I believe it reminded me once again of my friend’s young grandson’s question.

Where had the thoughts and sentiments, questions and reveals our group of “strangers” shared over our times together – where did they go during the days in between – when other thoughts and things to do occupied our minds.

Who knows.

But here’s what I think.  I think – perhaps – they’re resting- resting in our hearts – just waiting to be shared, just waiting to be understood.





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