The Girl Who Burns Down Shadows has Left the Building

Every parent knows that time is relative. The toddler years last about 100 years, while the elementary years last Ariel and mearound three. The teen years are gone in six months. And the three months from when my daughter announced her engagement until the wedding day arrived took place in the span of a deep breath.

The past month has been a whirlwind that culminated in moving all her stuff from our house to her house. The room is now empty. I didn’t find myself tearing up at the wedding, but at the boxes full of her things, at loading them into the van, at seeing the room without her. She’d painted, “You’re the girl who burns down shadows,” on her wall a couple years ago. That girl no longer lives here.Ariel's room

The reality is, she’s not coming back home. This adventure that started with a little pink line on a pregnancy test has come to an end. Now, I know that I’m still her mom, but it’s different now. It will never be like it was and that is a bittersweet realization. 

So, I wanted to share my wedding speech with you. 

A baby is a terrifying prospect. Terrifying and wonderful and overwhelming and beautiful. I was twenty years old and this perplexing baby girl was placed in my unprepared arms. Ariel Ann Friesen has been a great adventure. A small thing I was given for too small of an amount of time.

Ariel is a feisty, energetic story.

Ariel was always getting into mischief. I had to make sure she was well occupied before I stepped out of the room or hell would be unleashed. When she was five, our laundry room was in the basement. I needed to change loads over, so I decided to give her a bag of raisins to share with her one-and-a-half year old brother. I thought, surely that would keep her busy for the five minutes it would take me to attend to the laundry. I hurried through my chore and returned to the living room to find raisins scattered over every square inch of the room and her skipping around, tossing the remainder over her head. I stood in the doorway and asked, “What are you doing?” She froze and stared at me. “Ariel, you have to clean this up.”Ariel and Corban

Her mouth fell open and she exclaimed, “Why do I have to clean it up?”

Her tenacity, at times difficult to deal with, would prove invaluable. I’ve many stories about the mischief she got into, but what you may not know is that she is a hero, a lifesaver. She saved her younger brother, Corban’s life. He was just over a year old when he fell into the baptismal tank at church. She was the only one who saw. She screamed and yelled until she had our attention. We bought her a happy meal for her good deed. I can say with absolute certainty that Corban would have drowned that day without Ariel.

When she was too young to remember, I lost our second child through a traumatic miscarriage. I was heartbroken. I came home from the hospital and held my precious baby girl in my arms and marveled at what a miracle she was. And she was with me, a comfort and a reason to get up in the morning, through losing two more babies. She probably doesn’t know that she saved my life too.

James, if you give her the freedom to be who God created her to be, she will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine. I wish you both decades of blessings.


Ariel and James

It’s been an honor to be a part of her story.


Can the Ability to Dream Big Be a Curse?

aIn 2008 we built a new house. I say we “built” as though we had picked up hammers and actually worked. I should say, we contracted a builder to build our house. We picked out flooring and counter tops and wrote checks.

During the building process, someone made the comment that it must be fun building my dream house. Dream house? Um, no. Don’t get me wrong, I love my house, but it’s not my dream house. I can dream pretty big. I once had a dream that my husband bought us a house with a water slide in the bathroom. I was pretty upset at him because I felt it a little over the top, upset–until I slid down the thing, and then I realized he was a genius. Needless to say, the house we “built” does not have a water slide in the bathroom.

My daughter inherited this “dream big” gene. When she was four years old, we picked up circus tickets. For weeks, we pumped the event–elephants, clowns, acrobats. She was most thrilled about the acrobats. She talked about them non-stop. Finally, the day of the circus arrived, and I sent her to her room to get dressed. When she emerged from her bedroom, she had on tights and a leotard. Turns out, she misunderstood. She thought she was going to be in the circus, not merely watching it. The whole thing turned out to be a big disappointment for her.

My dream of publishing my book was much the same. I dreamed big, huge, colossal. The reality didn’t quite match. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very pleased to have my book, but sometimes being able to dream big is a bit of a curse. Sometimes there is no way for reality to match dreams–no matter what it is–house, spouse, career, children.

My daughter’s big dreams ruined her time at the circus. Instead, of a fun time, it was a disappointment. My big dreams could have ruined the excitement of setting foot inside my new house for the first time and finally publishing my first book. It’s okay to have big dreams, but I’ve realized the need to keep them in perspective, otherwise life becomes one big disappointment. It’s my choice–view my life with thankfulness or with disappointment. Life can still be exceedingly good even if dreams aren’t realized.

So dream big, but don’t let them ruin your reality. Never forget to be thankful for what’s real.

One of My Most Horrific Parenting Moments

All my posts lately have been bookish, so I’ve decided to throw a little personal one in here. Let’s go with a story–a story about my kids. Ooh, my favourite subject. But, not just any story, one with drama and gore, one that you may or may not believe, but one I guarantee is absolutely and 101%true. levi1

It all started in a dirty little pediatric walk-in clinic. There were sick kids everywhere. Snot flowed like like water over Niagara Falls. My three kids happened to be behaving themselves mainly because I had developed no-fail walk-in clinic survival kit that would keep them from exploding–snacks, books, toys. In those days there were no smart phones full of games–we had to entertain our kids ourselves–with books and toys and snacks. Gasp! Oh the horror!

The kids had some sort of sinus/throat issue that required antibiotics. Of course, I had to wait three hours for the doctor to tell me what I already knew. By the time, I was buckling everyone into car seats, we were past nap time, the snacks had run out and, let’s face it, they were sick and unhappy. Let the meltdown begin!

My two year old began to wail. He had an interesting wail too. He’d kind of hold his breath and then push out this gutteral cry like he was giving birth. While I felt moderately stressed from the morning, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. We were on our way home. I only needed to maintain my sanity for twenty more minutes. As I cruised down the highway, I said, “It’s okay, buddy. We’re almost home.”

He howled louder. I looked up into the review mirror at the boy. That’s when I saw it. My child was CRYING BLOOD.levi2 I’m not exaggerating. His eyes were red and drops of blood were sliding down his cheeks like tears. I hit the brakes and began to swerve in the middle of the highway. I came to a screeching halt on the shoulder, tore off my seat belt and jumped into the back seat. Grabbing tissues, I started mopping up blood. Then his nose started bleeding too. God help me his brain was exploding or something. 

He continued crying and bleeding and I tried to figure out if I should try to drive to the hospital or get out of the car and wave someone down. Please stop! My child is CRYING BLOOD. As I rocked him, he began to calm. The calmer he got, the clearer the tears became. I held him until his nose stopped bleeding. 

It took me a few minutes to realize what actually happened. To make a long story short, he strained so hard that he caused a nose bleed and then that straining pushed the blood up through the nasolacrimal ducts that are supposed to carry fluid from the eyes to the nose, not the other way around. 

We all went home and had a nap.

And yes, the title did say, One of my Most Horrific…” There is another that rivals this one. We will save the teeter-totter story for another day. 



To Reluctant Readers and Those Who are Concerned for Them

girlreading1I’m in a minority among writers. Most author bios I read refer to the their lifelong love of reading, that they started reading at a young age and devoured book after book.

I am not one of those writers. Don’t get me wrong–I love to read. Now. Not when I was a kid. When I was a kid, reading was the last thing I wanted to do. 

I vividly remember my first grade teacher calling a meeting with my mother. They discussed how I was behind, how I just wasn’t picking up on reading the way I should be. They wanted to put me in a special reading group. I’m not making a judgement call on the teacher, regardless it made me feel like I wasn’t very smart. All the other kids were getting it and I wasn’t. Before that point, I hadn’t been concerned. I felt like I was learning and slowly getting better. I was trying hard to do classroom-488375_1280what the other kids were doing. After the meeting, I felt there was something wrong with me. I was embarrassed when they pulled me out of class for the special reading help. To add to my negative feelings, I was also placed in speech therapy. I needed it. I’m glad they did it. But, as a kid, it didn’t feel good. It reinforced my growing belief that something was wrong with me.

My second grade year was much the same. I was in the lowest reading group. Going to the library made me nervous. Books were for people who were good at reading. If I checked out a book at my level, the other kids would know I could only read baby books. Classmates would discuss books they’d read and I’d always find a way out of the conversation or lie and say I’d read the book and agree with whatever they said about it.

girlreadingWhen I changed schools for grade three my file followed me. Again, I was in the lowest reading group. I hated it. I looked at the kids in the higher groups and envied them. I changed schools again the year after and the year after that. I loved story time, when the teachers read to us, but reading for myself was tough. I could read, but I was slow. I couldn’t skim and it took me a painfully long time to get through a book, but I got it. I understood all of it. I hated being in the low group because the stories were too simplistic. I wanted more even though I knew it would be hard.

In the sixth grade I changed schools again, only this time there was a glitch. My new teacher told me that my file hadn’t arrived yet and he wanted to know what reading level I’d been in the year before. So I lied. I’d been in the highest level, of course. He put me in that group and I was determined to stay there. I worked hard. When my file arrived, my teacher and I had a little talk. In the end, he allowed me to stay in the group since I seemed to be doing well there. 

In junior high I was moved into the talented and gifted program and continued on in advanced classes all through high school.

Now, I’m an avid reader and a writer. I’m still a slow reader. I still can’t skim. I still read every single word, but I feel that it’s made me a stronger writer. 

What I’m hoping you take home from this–don’t write kids off if they don’t pick-up on reading when you think they should. Give them time. Help them to feel good about reading instead of feeling a ball of anxiety in their gut every time they look at a book. 

And if you’re a kid like I was, don’t label yourself. You are smart. You are a reader. Find someone to help you find a book you can read and that you’re interested in. And whatever you do, keep reading. Do NOT give up on yourself!



My Nuclear Freak-out

Blogging has been tough lately. I usually blog about what’s on my mind, but lately what’s on my mind has been a series of secrets. Yep, stuff I can’t share. So, with those things so consuming my thoughts, my mind’s drawn a big fat zilch when it comes to blog ideas.

But, last night on Facebook secret #1 went public.

There are many questions that plague mankind—whether the chicken or the egg came first, whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons, how the fourth season of Arrested Development could suck that bad.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve had an answer to one profound question: How would I react, if say, my daughter got engaged a couple weeks before her high school graduation?

Now I know.

I totally freak out. Not on the outside, on the inside. On the outside I’m calm. On the inside I’m Ivy Mike (the codename given to the first full-scale test of a fusion nuclear bomb). Ivy Mike vaporized an island. Wiped it off the face of the Earth. Not literally because it probably ended up in the upper atmosphere and fell as rain all over the world. Kind of poetic in a sick, destructive kind of way.

The end.

I know that’s no way to end a blog post. There’s no closure, but that’s how it is. I don’t have grand advice. No epiphanies. I’m still kind of freaking out, but I’m trying to do it in a supportive and encouraging fashion.

Maybe by the time I post next, secret #2 will have gone public too.

The Mother Who Sits

We rarely recognize the good that is done by a sitting mother.

IMG_00000107Christmas long ago lost some of its magic for me. It’s different when you’re the mom. I don’t look forward to it. In November I compose a mental list of all that needs to be done. Gifts. Baking. Shopping. Christmas Cards. Dinners to organize. Grocery shopping. Decorating. Tree hunting.

For me Christmas equals work, more stuff to buy than money, and a responsibility to make the holiday magical for those around me. And I know what you’re thinking—this is a depressing blog post. Don’t get me wrong. I love the looks on my kids’ faces when they open gifts. I love sharing my home with others and helping them to have a merry Christmas. I do derive some joy from it, but by the end, I’m tired. IMG_1617

There’s always so much to do and we often get praised for those accomplishments—the dinner cooked, the sweets baked, the house decorated—it’s all doing. What about being?

So this blog post is both a reminder and permission giving. I want to celebrate the mother who sits.

  • The mother who sits down to dinner with her family.
  • The mother who sits and reads her children stories.
  • The mother who sits and sings to her children.
  • The mother who sits at the bedside of a sick child.
  • The mother who sits long enough for a child to fall asleep on her lap.
  • The mother who sits and watches Christmas concerts.
  • The mother who sits and nurses a baby.
  • The mother who sits and prays for her family.

The mother who sits is an available mother and an approachable mother.

May your Christmas be filled with what’s truly important. May you disappoint some because you’re being instead of doing. May your children nestle into your side and know they’re loved.

A Milestone in a Mother’s Life

Today was one of those milestones in the life of a mother—grad dress shopping with my only daughter. I kept thinking, how did I get here? She spent roughly 80 years as a toddler, but the high school years have only lasted a few months.

I was twenty years old when I had my baby girl. She was the tiniest little thing, weighing in at only six pounds, two ounces. Her pinky toenail was a marvel. How could toenails come so small?babyA

She was a difficult toddler. Busy, busy, busy. She gave up naps when she was 18 months old. She ran me off my feet. She was a temper tantrum thrower and a mischief maker. But, she got me through some hard times. We had to say goodbye to three babies after her and holding her in my arms was a salve for my soul.


She’s been a great big sister. She’s kept her brother is line. She even changed diapers.BabyA3

We made it through some tough teenage moments. I’ve been so angry at her that I couldn’t look her in the eye for days and I’ve been so proud of her that I’ve wanted to cry. Joyful and anxious. Elated and heartbreaking. Laughing and weeping. Raising a daughter is always both.


Great Family Friendly Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen

The weather has turned cold. Movie season has begun!

Finding family friendly movies that cater to multiple age groups can be tough. My kids range in age from eight to seventeen, so I’m always searching for movies that are entertaining and appropriate. Here are some of my favourite family friendly movies that appeal to kids, teens, and parents.

Click on the title for a plot summary.

City of Embercity of ember

Meet the Robinsonsmeet the robinsons

Fantastic Mr. FoxFantastic mr fox

Mr. Bean’s Holidaymr. bean

Writing With Kids in Tow

 My kids are my priority and my writing needs to fit around them. The writing has to be Photo_080410_006flexible, not the kids. But there’s more than a few times where there’s tension between the two.

In my house there’s a never-ending demand for food, probably because I have boys. One day stands out in my mind. I had made everyone breakfast, cleaned up from breakfast, and put a load of clothes into wash. I promised myself once this work was complete and the children otherwise occupied, I would spend some time writing.

After five minutes of writing my youngest finds me. “Mom, I’m hungry.”

“We just had breakfast.” I check the clock. It’d been almost two hours. “Why don’t you go and have a banana.”

He disappears up the stairs. I sank into a scene in my book and I was just gaining speed when Mom & Jasonhe appeared at my side again.

“I’m still hungry.”

“How hungry?”

“Really hungry.”

Heavy sigh. Shoulders slump. “Okay.” I close up shop and go upstairs to make lunch. 

Here’s a few strategies that have kept kids and Mom happy.

Contract a time. If they’re home, especially over school breaks, I contract an amount of time with them. “Mom’s going to go write for one hour.” I set a timer. “I don’t want to be interrupted unless it’s an emergency.” They’re usually pretty respectful, but if they forget I point to the timer. It’s also been helpful to frame this in terms they understand. “How do you feel when you’re in the middle of building Lego and I tell you you have to go to bed?” Then they can understand how the interruptions feel to me.IMG-20130826-01206

Involve them. When I need a teenage word, I ask them. One day I was searching for a name for a villain. I asked them over dinner and we had a lively and hilarious discussion. They came up with some great villain names. Another time I told them a story and asked them how they would finish it. They’re amazingly creative and came up with endings I never would have thought of.

Keep them informed. I had been furiously editing one of my manuscripts when my son asked what my book was about. It struck me that I had never told them what this particular book was about. So I pitched it to my son. As I went on the edge of his lips started to curl and his eyes got wider. Was he holding back a smile? When I finished he let the smile go. “She’s a superhero,” he said. I cocked my head to the side. I hadn’t thought of her that way, but I could see his point. Not only did he help me to see my protagonist in a new light, but I now had him rooting for this book too.

Boys, Superheroes, and Body-Image

I can’t say I was thrilled when my son opened one of his birthday gifts to find a poster inside. He loved it as evidenced by the stellar taping job he performed to make sure it stayed on the wall. The Avengers

 It’s not that I don’t like superheroes. I’m a geek at heart. I watch all the movies and enjoy most of them. I spent years as a child spinning faster, and faster, and faster. Sure that if I spun fast enough there’d be a flash of light and I’d transform into Wonder Woman. I even wore brass napkins rings on my wrists.

One image, in particular, bothered me. Black widow in her leather cat suit and titanium reinforced bra.Black Widow

 I worried about the effect of this unrealistic portrayal of women on my boys’ psyche. Did this image evoke respect for women? A valid concern but, I learned, not what should’ve been my biggest concern.

 After school a few weeks ago, my youngest son asked me to measure him. He stood against the wall, full of height lines and ages of all my children, and I drew a line. He was inches shorter than my other sons at the same age. Not that I mentioned it. I focused instead on how much he’d grown since I last measured him.

 Then, with wide, glossy eyes, he said that now maybe he won’t be the shortest kid in his class. The pain that came with his admission made my heart ache. No one likes to be the smallest in the class. But, it’s especially hard for boys. Especially, when this is the image of a hero:IMG_4637

 It struck me that the damage from this poster may not come from an unrealistic portrayal of women, but from an unrealistic portrayal of men. Every boy wants to be “big and strong,” but men come in all shapes and sizes and some, no matter how hard they try will never have the musculature to burst through their t-shirts. With so much focus placed on size and strength, how do I, as a parent, convey and encourage my boys’ true strengths—that they can be heroic, admirable, and strong even if they aren’t ripped like Thor. And that they are made in the image of God, not in the image of gods

“[T]he pressure to become muscular begins even earlier, as evidenced by the extreme bulking up of male action figures.  These popular toys, including G.I.Joe and Star Wars characters, have increased in muscle size every decade since the 1960s; such subtleties can begin to exert size pressure on boys at a young age.”
―     Susan Morris Shaffer,     Why Boys Don’t Talk–And Why It Matters: A Parent’s Survival Guide to Connecting with Your Teen    

Do these images help build our sons grow into good men, husbands, and fathers or do they have the opposite effect? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

More on this topic:

Super Hero Muscle Costumes: Bad for Boys

Can Adolescent Boys Have Low Self-Image?