There’s Nothing Left to Say….

Wow – It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was letting go of B for the first time.  When I say “letting go”, I’m referring to the separation that takes place when your child begins their college journey.  I soon discovered that the “letting go” isn’t just a one time deal.  It happens over and over again – each time you reunite with your child, and then separate again.  I can’t say the “letting go” gets any less painful, but with time, I’ve learned to accept it.

This was last year’s post as I was about to “let go” for the first time.  Hoping it might bring some sense of  peace to those moms and dads “letting go” of their college freshman for the first time….

Given that writing is my way of analyzing, processing and understanding life, it’s kind of a no-brainer that I would have the notion to write a letter to Ben before he heads off to college.  When I first sat down to attempt this overwhelming task back in June, I realized there was no way I could say everything that needed to be said in a typical letter.  Instead, what was created, was more like a journal – sharing my thoughts, experiences, worries and wonders as this summer unfolded.

The following is an excerpt from a recent entry:

As I sit here less than 2 weeks from taking you to Colorado, I really struggle with what to say.  What’s left to say?  What could I possibly say NOW, that would make a difference.  The mommy side of me wants to run through a checklist of life lessons, things to remember to do or say in certain situations.  But I chuckle even as I write that.

There’s NOTHING left to say!  Much like it’s pointless to study for the SAT test the night before you take it.  You are either ready for it or you aren’t.

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YOU ARE READY!  You have been ready for this for quite some time now.  I know you are ready, in my head and in my heart.  I know you will grab onto the opportunities that lie ahead of you – and take full advantage of them.  I know you will make countless great choices, and probably a few bad ones – because that’s life and that’s how we learn and grow!

 So while there’s nothing left to say to prepare you for this major life change, there ARE a few things you’ve heard before, that are worth repeating!

  • I am proud of you!  It’s easy to be proud of your academic and athletic accomplishments.  But I’m way more proud of your character, your attitude, and your choices…..I am beyond proud of the man you are becoming!
  • I am grateful I get to be your mom!   There are hundreds of reasons why I’m grateful to be your mom.  But at the core of it all – you have allowed me to parent you, to practice on you and make mistakes, to guide and direct you, to catch you when you fall down and to gently nudge you off the ledge when you were too timid to take the leap of faith.  You have laughed with me, cried with me, sat in silence with me.  You have taught me as much about life as I hope I have taught you.  You have loved me, with the adoration of a child and now with the compassion and respect of a growing young man.
  • I believe in you!   You can (and will) do whatever you set your mind to.  You have already demonstrated you have the desire and discipline to succeed in life.   You have set and accomplished one goal after another.  You don’t quit when things get hard.  You have a clear understanding of right and wrong.  In the midst of that laser focus, you are kind, compassionate, considerate and respectful of other people.  Who you are, makes it easy to believe in you!
  • I love you!   I love you, I love you,  I love you!!!!!!!!!!  This is one thing you should never, ever question!  I hope through your first 18 years you have embedded in your heart and soul the truth that you are both lovable and worthy of being loved.

Now go fly Ben!

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How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

And just like that….

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9 months have come and gone – and it’s time to move my B out of his freshman dorm. I wish you could see me now, typing and shaking my head in total disbelief! I just don’t know where the time went?

If you followed my journey through his senior year in high school, you know I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. Honestly – I wrote so much I felt like I wasn’t just wearing my heart on my sleeve – but vomiting my every thought and feeling out into the world.  I may have gone to the other extreme this year, by writing very little about B’s freshman year.  But here we are, 9 months later – and I’m happy to announce that I SURVIVED!

If you read no further – I can leave you with the fact that this life changing transition IS survivable.  It’s not an overnight thing.  It’s a long, slow transition.  And while I can’t say I’ve gotten used to B not being home, I think I’ve learned to accept it.  Looking back, there were a few key things that helped me survive this past year…

How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

 

Establish communication boundaries & expectations

About a week before B left for school I asked him to have a conversation with me about communicating while he was away at school. Then I burst into tears. Not an uncommon reaction for me at that time! I wanted to hear his thoughts on how often he thought he’d like to be in communication with me, and I of course needed to share with him what my expectations were.

I was beyond grateful when he volunteered the idea of talking on the phone once a week, since that completely matched my desire. When it came to texting, he only asked that I not blow him up (aka – text constantly, repeatedly and non stop). That was probably a smart request on his part, since I could have easily worn the skin on my thumb pads from over texting those first few days (weeks and months!).

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I told B that texting him would be a way for me to reach out when I was thinking of him (aka – missing him desperately!), and that it would actually help me move on in the moment, versus dwelling in my sadness.   So we came to the agreement that if my text contained a question, I would expect a response. But if I was just touching base, sharing a thought or letting him know I was thinking of him, he wasn’t required to reply (although he usually did anyway – because he’s just that kind of guy!).

Every family is different. Our plan may not fit you and your family. But I guarantee that having the conversation ahead of time, setting rules, boundaries and expectations that work for your relationship, will ease so much of the transition.

Be patient and listen

The first few weeks (and months) of B’s freshman year I felt like an addict in need of my drug.  Our planned talk day was Monday.  So on Saturdays, I was counting the hours until we spoke again. By the time I heard his deep voice say “Hi Mom”, my need for feeling connected had turned into this unbearable sense of urgency.  I would bombard him with questions, but never really give him enough time to answer fully, before I threw the next question at him.  My excitement (and need) for information caused me to break all the relationship rules I had previously lived by.

The conversations felt awkward at times. Probably because we needed to transition from a face to face relationship to a long distance phone relationship.  Without the visual cues we’ve come to rely on, we have to relearn how to have a conversation by phone.  Moments of silence go unnoticed when you are face to face. But on the phone, those quiet gaps are so loud!

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I’ve learned to be quiet and patient through those gaps. In fact – I’ve discovered that the magic happens on the other side of that silence.  As I stopped talking (duct tape helps), I found that B began to open up and share more, which in turn resulted in the ebb and flow of a real conversation versus the question and answer sessions of those first few calls.

With patience, comes the ability to really listen. When I say “listen”, I don’t mean to use your ears to hear their voice, nor do I mean to simply not talk.  What I mean is, LISTEN to the depth of what they are really saying, the emotions they are feeling and the meaning behind their words.

I didn’t just survive B’s freshman year this way – I think the two of us thrived in our communication skills and our relationship as a whole.

Learn how to parent – an adult child

There was a 48 hour time frame in August between when we arrived in Boulder as a family and when we departed as a 3-some, leaving B to his new life. It was during this time that I first began to experience this phenomena of needing to relearn how to parent…an adult child.  My mothering instincts wanted to take over; to plan, schedule, organize and control all the details of this physical transition. But I pulled back, not wanting to embarrass him.

However, each time I’ve been with B this year, I find myself parenting him like he was a child. I reminded him daily to take his antibiotic when he had strep throat over the holidays. I reviewed his packing list for our ski trip, making sure he had all the necessities. I even found myself sharing details of his shell fish allergy with a waitress, while he sat right next to me. When she left the table, he actually turned to me and said  (with a smile on his face)“I can order for myself Mom”.

Uugghh – stab me in the heart!

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Parenting an adult child is an art, and I feel like I’m coloring outside the lines with chunky crayons. We will always be our children’s parents. But the job of parenting transitions over time. We don’t communicate with a 2 year old the same way we do with a 9 year old.   An 11 year old needs different boundaries and conversations than a 16 year old. While our adult-child grows and develops, so must we, in our parenting. I know I’m right in the middle of this long transition.  I don’t think I will ever stop parenting – but perhaps I need to learn to stop mothering, at least unsolicited mothering.

You might have a fear – but it’s not reality

Fear can be paralyzing!  The more we think about the thing that scares us, the bigger the fear grows and the more power it has.  When B was a toddler, I was afraid he might choke on small toys, so I baby proofed the house. When he was 8, I was afraid he might get hurt riding his bike, so I made him wear a helmet and limited where he could ride. When he was 13, I was afraid he might get mixed up in the wrong crowd and make bad choices, so as his circle of friends grew, I made a point to meet each of them, as well as their parents. When he was 16, I was afraid of all that could go wrong with him being a new driver on the road.  So I set non-negotiable driving rules regarding texting, speeding, curfew and more.

The reality is that I can no longer control the situation in an effort to both protect him and ease my fears. There have been times during these past 9 months when the fear has risen like spit-up in my throat.  I hope and pray that I have done everything possible to raise him to make the right choices in his life. But I was a 19 year old college student once…that did a lot of things that would scare many parents.

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I survived my moments of fear this past year by acknowledging that I HAD my fear, but that it wasn’t a reality – and as simple as it sounds, just accepting that I had absolutely no control in the matter.  That instantly took me to a place of peace.  The most challenging part has been trying not to act on or make decisions from a place of fear.

So here I sit, 9 months later…

His dorm room has been packed and put into storage.  His freshman year has come to a close.  I might have just survived it – but thankfully B thrived in it!  Now, I am just hours from boarding a plane home…without him!

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While I fly back to Virginia, he will be heading to Argentina for 3 weeks of education, adventure and fun!  The fear is choking me.  My head knows how freaking amazing this opportunity is, but the mama bear in me (my heart) wants him to stay here, safe on U.S. soil.  I had to make the choice to not allow my fears to impede him living his most awesome life.

I survived his freshman year of college – I can survive 3 weeks of travel abroad.  It may not be a pretty 3 weeks – but I’m going to take all that I learned this year and put it into practice.

with Gratitude, Joy & Love

Tears…

Tears of joy
Tears of sorrow
Tears of pain

We shed tears for so many different reasons.

As Ben turned and walked away from us for the 5th time since starting college, I found myself surprisingly tearless.

I guess I’m starting to get used to (or numb to) saying “see you later”.  I don’t like it any more now than the first time – but it doesn’t rip my heart wide open in piercing pain like it did the first few times.

Less than 12 hours later, as our plane begins to taxi down the runway, I am blessed with the window view and one last glimpse of the snow capped Rockies.

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That’s when I unexpectedly burst into tears.  But tears of what I wondered?

Tears of emptiness, accepting that I wouldn’t see Ben again for a few months.

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Tears of gratitude for an awesome ski week with my guy and Ben.

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Tears of comfort, knowing Ben is in such a great place – physically, mentally and emotionally.

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Tears of sadness, since I’ll have to wait 9 months until I can ski again.

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Tears of AWE!

As I looked at the majestic peaks of the Rockies, a chill moved through me and I felt God.  I felt him in and around me – and at the very same time – in and around the mountains.

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It was a moment of intensity and calmness, a moment almost too powerful for words to describe.

Does my connection to the mountains make me feel closer to God?  Or does my relationship with God make me feel more connected to the mountains?

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I guess it doesn’t much matter which came first.  What does matter is the fact that I can no longer deny that my heart and soul belongs in the Colorado Rockies.

I can live a beautiful life at the beach.  But in the mountains – my soul sings, my soul dances, and my soul feels so deeply that it sheds tears.

With Gratitude, Joy & Love,

3 Ways to Mark the Milestone of your Child’s Senior Year

My oldest son’s senior year in high school feels like a lifetime ago – and yet, he’s only been a college student for 6 months now.  Living through his last year of high school was a whirlwind , a roller coaster ride of emotions, and that’s putting it lightly.  It was a year that I always knew would come, and yet once it arrived, I was in shock.  It was a year that brought me both immense joy and deep sadness.  It was a year where I  often prayed that I could stop time.  While I was never granted that magical power, I did get to practice being so present in the moment, that it sometimes felt like time stopped.

Now – 6 months later, I feel like the fog is lifting and I can look back with clarity.  I can honestly say that I am grateful for how the year unfolded.  In retrospect – a few things happened that proved to be medicine for my aching heart.  Things that were so powerful, I will intentionally repeat them when I get to relive this  experience with Pete, who is now a high school sophomore.  Here are 3 ways to mark the milestone of your child’s senior year.

SKIP THE SENIOR PORTRAIT

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I’m sure things are different for girls.  They probably can’t wait to do their Senior Portrait (you know – those professionally posed photos involving various outfit changes).  When I first brought up the subject, my son was emphatic that “Senior Pictures” would NOT be happening.  I tried bribing him.  I tried compromising.  I tried begging.  I even pulled the mommy guilt trip on him.  It went something like this; “After all I’ve done for you, for 18 years, you can’t give me just 30 minutes (one outfit / one location) with a photographer so I can have a few darn photos of your senior year?”  Add a pitifully pleading voice to that statement, maybe a tear or two – and it still didn’t work.  No way, no how – he was NOT bending!

I backed off and let it go.

But a few months later I had a brainstorm.  My guy would be celebrating his 50th birthday the same year that our first born was celebrating his senior year in high school.  This was a big year, a milestone year – one that deserved to be captured in photos.  So I purchased a photo session gift certificate from a family friend and photographer as a 50th birthday gift for my guy,  knowing that I would at least get some pictures of B at this milestone point in his life.  He couldn’t argue with my spin on it – and I didn’t disclose my ulterior motives.

I thought this was a viable alternative, but never in my wildest dreams did I think this compromise would exceed my  “Senior Portrait” expectations.  The bonus was two-fold.  First – our family had a fun (and funny) evening together.  We spent an hour at the beach, partly posing for the camera, but mostly giggling and being silly – all of which the photographer captured.  Not only did I get some solo photos of my high school senior, but we photographed every possible combination of the four of us.

I thought I was giving something up by backing off and not forcing the senior pictures – but in turn, I got way more than I could have ever imagined.  There will be NO senior pictures for my Peter!  It’s a family photo shoot repeat in 2 1/2 years!

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MEMORIALIZE THE YEAR

Being a blogger, writing about my experience as the mother of a high school senior last year was kind of a no brainer.  But what began as a form of therapy for me, turned into a year long documentation of  the ups and downs, the realizations and revelations of both myself, as a mom, and my B, as an evolving young man.

Just before his graduation, I intentionally shifted from writing for myself (and you), to writing for him.  I had a vision of giving him a letter filled with my words of wisdom when I left him at his dorm in August.  But the thought of fitting ALL my thoughts and feelings into the confines of a  letter felt constrictive.  So instead I started a journal – dating each entry from early June through mid August.  Sometimes I wrote daily, other times – just once a week.  This letter turned journal, evolved into a 27 page book of sorts, filled with memories of both my childhood and his, lessons I learned as well as lessons I wish I had emphasized more while raising him.  It was both funny and sad, light hearted and deep, but more than anything – it was authentic.

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The end result is that I memorialized both the year, and our relationship, through my words.  But you don’t have to write a letter (or journal).  You could create a scrap book, or a collage.  Make a quilt or paint a mural.  Fill a photo album, or design a slide show.  Write a poem or a manuscript.  Compile all of your senior’s favorite recipes into a cookbook, with mom messages.  Choose whatever form of documentation you are called to.  Let it be personal, therapeutic and fun!  But find a way to both document and memorialize the year.  The outcome is priceless!

KIDNAP YOUR SENIOR

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The pace of the summer following B’s senior year was exceptionally hectic.  He was working full time, preparing for his departure to college and capitalizing on every free minute he could grab to be with friends.  Meanwhile, I was a chauffeur extraordinaire for my 15 year old, who packed his summer with a part time job, community service, pitching and hitting lessons and travel baseball tournaments almost every weekend.  It was obvious early on that it would be close to impossible to schedule our traditional family get away to the Outer Banks.  The only natural alternative was to head out to Colorado a few days early, in order to steal some much needed family time before our family unit as we knew it would be forever changed.

What started as a fall back option, proved to be an exceptional family experience.  One of the unexpected benefits of this plan became clear even before we left town.  Since we knew we’d have B 100% to ourselves for 4 days prior to D-day (dorm move in day), it was easy to let him spend his last week at home, basically not home at all.  His friends took priority, and there was no battle for his time.  This allowed us to freely honor his relationships with his friends – and that felt awesome!

When it was our turn, we were all 100% in!  It didn’t hurt that we were up in the mountains with little to no cell service or wi-fi.  It was 4 full days of family fun; endless card games, adventures white water rafting and ATV’ing, media free days and nights, pick up basketball games, bear sightings and more.  It was beyond perfect!

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I have no idea where my “baby” will end up going to college.  But I do know, regardless of location – we’ll be planning a family escape just prior to his D-day.  There’s just something sacred about that time, and I’m grateful I didn’t have to share B those last few days before he officially became a college student.

Perhaps these aren’t the perfect ways for you to capture, commemorate or create memories for you and your high school senior.  But hopefully they will inspire you to find a way to honor and mark the milestones of your child’s last year of high school (and at home).

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

THANKS – a word not taken lightly

I’ve been revisiting some of my old blog posts lately.  I won’t make a habit of continually re-purposing my vintage pieces – since you can easily read back into the archives if you’d like.  But something about this time of year, the Thanksgiving holiday, is prompting me to recycle what I feel are timeless pieces and valuable reminders.

I can’t take credit for this post though.  Thanks is a poem written by my youngest son in 2012, when he was 13 years old.  It is simple yet profound.  I’d love to see what story his words would tell now, 2 years later, 2 years older and surely 2 years wiser!

Perhaps we should all follow this practice, and pause to put into words; to explain, describe and define those things that we are most thankful for in life.

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Thanks – By Peter Feinman

As my eyes rise from the depths of silence,

Peeking over the warmth of my blankets,

My mind begins to tick,

The rays of the golden sun greeting my sensitive pupils,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I tip toe into the bathroom as I complete my morning routine,

And I slowly scan the room in awe as I notice how much I am provided with,

And how fortunate I am to be able to clean my body,

And wear the clothes I do.

While walking to the bus I hear the crunch, crunch as the gravel rolls beneath my feet,

I hear the honking of car horns,

And I hear the whines of other children,

And at that point I know that I do not have to go to school, I get to go to school,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I feel a breeze of excitement rush past me as I open the school doors,

I feel the loneliness wash away as friends reunite at 8:50a.m.,

I feel the love between the teachers as they watch the students glide by while sharing a cup of coffee,

Then, I realize that I am surrounded by friends and teachers who care about me,

Who I can share conversations and laughs with,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I take a seat in a smooth leathery chair of a yellow school bus,

And as I stare out the window, all I do is think,

I think about how great our nation could be if all men were not just created equal, but we stayed equal,

If race, religion, ethnicity, and social class did not make up who we are today,

If people looked at others from the inside and by the way people act,

If all people were born with the same opportunities and chances in life,

With freedom, a gift from God, people can rise to the highest parts of life,

And I know that because I am free I will have many more opportunities that will come my way,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I sit down and start to turn the slick pages of my textbook,

And the steam coming from the fresh food finds its way to my nose,

And I smell the sweet soap from the upstairs bathroom, and I smell the pumpkin scent from the crackling candle mounted on the counter top,

And I am grateful to sit with my family and taste the warm food melt in my mouth,

Before sipping the ice cold water to wash it down,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

I drown myself with the blankets that rest on my bed,

And I squeeze one more yawn out as I stretch until my body tingles,

And I wonder what adventure will I be in tomorrow,

And I tell myself each day a new story is told,

And it is my job to live each one to the fullest,

And I am grateful that I am healthy and able to live my life,

And I think to myself how lucky I am.

 

So I want to say thank you,

Thank you God,

Thank you Mom,

Thank you Dad,

Thank you Ben,

Thank you Gigi,

Thank you Poppy,

Thank you Pagi,

Thank you family,

And thank you friends and teachers,

For allowing me to be myself,

And standing by me in the lows of life,

And flying with me in times of celebration,

Thank you for the life long lessons you have taught me,

And for the amazing experiences and memories that are planted in my mind forever,

And for the inspirational quotes and ideas that have blossomed within me,

I am grateful for everything you do for me,

And thank you for loving me and showing me how lucky I am.

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Me and my favorite poet!

Happy Thanksgiving!

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

Creating a Gratitude Board

When I published last year’s piece  Grow a Thankful Tree , it was with the intention of re-establishing our family’s Thankful Tree tradition.  That’s my cutie-patootie nephew (many years ago!) after hanging a leaf on our holiday thankful tree.

229_2975Given that my boys and nephew’s age range last year was 12-17, I figured the tree idea might be a little too crafty (or like an elementary school art class) for their teenage liking.  So instead of growing a Thankful Tree – I decided to try creating a gratitude board.  I had big expectations, but lots of apprehension that this new tradition would take off.  Nonetheless, I laid out a large whiteboard (approx 34 x 22 inches) and a basket of dry erase markers, and crossed my fingers.  I shared with my family that this was replacing our Thankful Tree, and all they needed to do was simply write down something (or many things!) they were grateful for.

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To my surprise, the Gratitude Board was a HUGE hit, with teenagers and adults alike!

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I left the board propped on a chair in the corner of the kitchen, and as the week progressed, the white space slowly disappeared as the board filled up with gratitude.  Everyone enjoyed reading each other’s gratitude…and I continued to read them long after the holiday ended and my family departed.  Plus I took a photograph so I could read (while literally laughing out loud at our humor) and re-read our 2013 Thanksgiving Gratitude for years to come!

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I bought some fresh new dry erase markers and cleaned the board spotless so we can document and share all that we are grateful for this Thanksgiving 2014!

Below is my post from Thanksgiving 2013.  I hope you have fun with whatever way you choose to record your family’s gratitude.   Feel free to comment and let me know what works for you!  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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Thanksgiving is one of the two times each year that my dad, sister and her two boys travel south to visit us….and I am counting the days (hours & minutes) until they arrive!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because the expectation is simply to BE with family.  It’s 4-6 days filled with cooking together,  playing board games, sleeping in, overdosing on football, taking walks, eating large quantities of once a year yummies, and watching late night movies.

Each year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving arrives and I’m filled with sadness that the time passed so quickly and my family is leaving.  In an effort to combat this already expected outcome, I’m going to set the intention to be totally present to my family, to honor the relationships and to share my gratitude with them.  This is going to require an awesome action to help me fulfill my intention…..

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In anticipation of next week’s holiday – this awesome action is…..

To GROW a THANKFUL TREE!

When the kids were little we used to create a thankful tree each Thanksgiving.  Sadly, it was one of those family traditions that disappeared as the boys hit double digits.  This is the perfect year to bring back this awesome action and  re-establish it as a family tradition.

I love growing a thankful tree because it’s an outlet for each of us to express and share what we are grateful for, plus it’s a visual representation of our family’s expanding gratitude.

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How to grow a thankful tree…..

1.  Collect fallen sticks or small tree twigs and place them in a vase to create the foundation for the thankful tree.

2.  Cut leaf shapes out of red, orange and yellow construction paper, mimicking the richness of the autumn leaves.

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3.  Set the paper leaves around the base of the vase with a few pens, and family members can write down what they are grateful for.

4.  Punch a hole in each leaf and use a thin ribbon to attach it to the twig tree.

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5.  By Thanksgiving dinner, your thankful tree will be in full bloom.  Throughout the meal, take turns reading what everyone is thankful for.

You can grow your thankful tree, exactly as I described.  Or feel free to take the concept and mold it into something better suited for your family.

*  Thankful journal – purchase a journal and invite your family members to write (and date) their gratitude directly into the journal.  This would be an awesome way to keep the gratitude lists together year after year.

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*  Thankful box – use a shoe box or photo keepsake box to collect each person’s gratitude list during the holiday.

*  Thankful whiteboard (blackboard) – leave a whiteboard and dry erase markers easily accessible, allowing the family to create a colorful graffiti board filled with gratitude.  Before erasing it, be sure to add the date and take a photograph to capture it forever.  Better yet – take a family picture around the thankful whiteboard.

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*  Thankful scrapbook – build a holiday thankful scrapbook with photos, handwritten gratitude and other memorabilia and keepsakes.

*  Thankful chain – cut construction paper into 5 inch by 1 inch strips.  As each person writes down something they are grateful for, curve the strip into a circle (held by staple, tape or glue), creating links that connect, building a chain.  Each year could be an individual paper chain, or add on year after year, creating a growing chain of gratitude.

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Get creative or keep it simple.  The point is to give your family a way to express, share and record what they are grateful for.

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,