Churning through life with four under four


We were blessed with four sons under the age of four, the last being a set of twins twenty-one months younger than our middle child. Four in diapers; four car seats; four child seats at the table, four snowsuits, a million little socks and six loads of laundry a day… 

I nursed all of the boys,  so I was well indoctrinated by the time our little groundhogs arrived on February 2nd. Our middle of the night routine was a well-orchestrated dance: The first baby would awaken and Daddy retrieved him for the first suckle. When he was satisfied, #2 was awakened and presented to Mama. Daddy took # 1 for diaper change while the second nursed. Baby #1 would be returned to me so I could “top him off” while the second received clean dipes. He was then returned for seconds, while #1 was tucked back in. Then I would convey the second back to the crib shared by both, for a nice uninterrupted 30 minutes of sleep. This, two or three times a night, interspersed with lost pacifiers and the occasional “bad dream” or other upset on behalf of the others.

Our plan for the day seemed simple enough: be out of the house by 9:30.

A new day began at 6 am with my being nudged out, if not shoved right over the edge of the bed by the five squirming attendants. The two big boys had migrated in the wee hours, and Mama had been too lazy to return babies to bed after the last feeding.


We hit the floor running: Pee. Nurse babies. Line the boys up on the living room rug to change diapers assembly-line fashion (thankfully one was in daytime undies!) Nurse and change diapers again, for invariably it was necessary after breastfeeding. Get breakfast for the two elder sibs. Change diapers. Get the boys dressed. Nurse. Change clothes that had been spit up upon. Nurse. Naptime for babies. Sesame Street (Thank God!!). Get laundry in, clean up cereal that has been flung all over the kitchen, make a plan for the day, pee and get dressed. Snack time for little boys. Babies awaken and nurse. Change diapers. Get snowsuits on. Take snowsuits off to poop in the toilet. Time for lunch. Naptime. Laundry time. Snack time. Change diapers. Snowsuits on. Ah… out the door at last! And it’s only 4:30 pm! The realization that I never even got my teeth or hair brushed! Round and round we’d go churning through our days.

The older boys wore disposable diapers, the babies wore cloth. Groceries for our family then were $75 per week without disposables, $95 with. So the wee ones would not get into the stinky mess, we had an arrangement next to the changing table. Hanging from a macrame’ plant hanger was the basket into which the disposable diapers were pitched. Under that was the high backed stool holding the diaper pail for cloth diapers. There were times when the disposables were heaped to precarious avalanche state, and the cover on the pail below sat on top of a mound surpassing its rim by 8 inches – Quite the conversation piece!

As they grew, the babies never even had the experience of solids during their first nine months. Their sole means of nutrition was breast milk, for it was much easier to just “whip it out” so to speak than to try to prepare conventional meals for everyone single-handedly. They nursed simultaneously, crossed over one another in my lap. Once when the phone rang I got up with the two latched on and sat them on the counter while I took the call and they continued, uninterrupted.

When they were big enough, the twins sat in seats hooked over the edge of the counter, kicking their feet frantically and waving their little arms as though ready to take flight. Phil sat in his high chair, more often than not nodding off into his lunch. Henry, in his big boy chair, was becoming devious, trading Phillip for the “good stuff” when he thought I wasn’t looking.

When they had all graduated to peanut butter sandwiches, they each exerted their individuality thus: one wanted peanut butter and jelly with crust; one peanut butter and jelly, without crust; one peanut butter, no jelly, no crust; one jelly with crust, no peanut butter. “Do you want your banana big or cut up? “Big. No, cut. Ummm, big. No, I want it cut” Are you sure?” “Yes,” I cut the banana. “Whaahhh! I want it big!”


Our middle child was of the age that ideally, we would have ditched the pacifier, but you can’t do that to a one and a half year old that has just been dethroned. Alas, by the time he was three, the only time that thing was not in his mouth was when it was resting on his lip as he cried 20 times each night until someone came to stick it back where it belonged.     

In frantic desperation one night before our weekly garbage pickup, I decided enough is enough and threw the slimy snot covered thing into the trash- as it happened, the basket containing the disposable diapers. As I was changing my youngest (by one hour and four minutes!), I started thinking maybe I should talk with # 2 son about this.

Then a wondrous thought occurred to me: Maybe the poop from the diaper… I peeked under the stinker I had just deposited. Nope, no such luck. I reached into the basket, opened the shit filled sack, swiped the pacifier through the mess, crying “Eeew! Phillip! Look what happened to your pacifier!” “Eww! We better throw it away!” “Oh! Good idea Phil.” We stood at the window waving bye-bye to “paci” as the garbage truck traveled down the street.

We owned a Honda wagovan, only seating five at the time of birth, so bolted two of the car seats into the cargo area facing backward. My husband devised a “Ben watcher” (a round, convex mirror on the driver’s sun visor so he could keep an eye on Baby Ben sitting behind him when he drove without a copilot. 

One  Christmas Eve the babies were in the way back, packed in amongst the groceries and I looked over my shoulder, aghast to find Jordan waving an empty egg carton about! “Stop the car! Stop the car!” 
When you live in that type of mayhem, so much of it is a blur. But there are those life-altering moments that remain clearly etched in one’s memory. 

One morning as my husband and I were awakening, we delighted in the babies jabbering away in the room next to us. Then silence. “What are they doing?” Suddenly, THUMP! “hehe hehe!”, THUMP!!! “hehe hehe!” as they learned to free themselves from the captivity of their cribs.

Things were about to get crazy!- RDW, 11-12-11




Final Blessings

Traveling through the Berkshires on Amtrak, I’m on my way to see my sick father. Dad has pancreatic cancer and is back in the hospital with severe vomiting, dehydration, hyper-hydration, low blood pressure, congestive heart failure, intestinal bleeding, high bilirubin, weight loss… Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to be in much pain. We may be facing the beginning of the end.

I feel awful: guilty and regretful, that my life circumstances have not allowed me to be more involved in his day-to-day care; jealous of the fact that I will not be allowed the opportunity to spend much anticipated alone time with him; and terribly sad that he is getting so sick so fast.

I’m faced with this struggle of negative, childish feeling and a supreme sense of inadequacy that is so prevalent when I am with my family of origin and give myself the ritual pep talk. I have a role of my own in this drama. I’m here to listen to and support Dad and my sisters and brother. I am told that my daily letters are “the high point in his days.”

I seek Spirit guidance in staying in the light: stopping negative self-talk and projection, thinking before I speak, making the most of my time with Dad. I would love to be able to make disappear the competition and comparison and rivalry that has remained an undercurrent in the relationship between the five of us siblings. I remind myself that Dad admires me for who I am: for having overcome great difficulty, and for having the initiative to do something important with my life.

When I do finally get my wish for the one-on-one time I have so craved, I’m the good guy because he is being discharged from the hospital on my “shift”. Dad is visiting his apartment for a short while now When people see how well he is doing, their jaws drop because a week ago he was in such bad shape. He is one pissed off boy, as is typical for someone in his position, but it is very difficult being the brunt of his anger.

Once Dad returns to his apartment, the days drag by ever so slowly. At times I feel like I’m on vacation- when he is in good spirits and not treating us like shit, he can be a real pleasure. But try to get him to take his meds as directed, or to use his cane or walker as he stumbles about, and I just want to walk out and leave him to his own devices. I don’t know how my sisters have done it week after week all summer. I’m grateful though that Dad fought (yes fought!) his way back home. His first day back I am so happy to see him in his chair that I almost start to cry.

Time here is a reality check in letting go. I can remind Dad of the things he needs to do, but if he falls or has an oil spill (i.e., leaks an oily substance into his pants as a result of not taking his medication with meals), the consequences of his inaction will be clear enough. (Likewise, my teenage sons do what they’re going to do in my extended absence.) The most I can do is make sure that I’m doing the next right thing.

Dad’s home, but has gone downhill in a big way in just the last few days. I was happy to have him at home at all because I really didn’t think that I would ever be here with him again. I greatly fear a downward spiral and feel so powerless.


Shortly after my return home following the visit with Dad, a friend and I are shopping at a large fabric store, and I have an episode whereby cloth becomes brighter, tilting in a weird way… I wonder if I am having a seizure, think: “Wow, feels like I’m on drugs, this is pretty cool, what is going on, oohhh, I don’t feel so good.” I get dizzy, break out into a cold sweat, and barely reaching the bench, grab a bag of M&M’s on the way. Low blood sugar? What is going on??? Later my sister calls to tell me of the episode that Dad had, winding up on the bathroom floor, at the same time I almost passed out.

Dad is terribly sick, although Nancy has seen to it that he has remained at home, as is his wish. I wind up having 45 minutes’ notice to make flight reservations, arrangements for coverage in my classroom, pack and find a ride to the airport.

Once there, I find there are moments that I need to distance myself from my siblings and get the hell out of Dad’s apartment. He has an apartment in a lovely retirement community, attached to which is an assisted living and nursing facility. By chance, I meet an elderly gentleman named Paul, as he is shuffling past Dad’s building, binoculars in hand. We have never met before. In my upset, I have to force myself to acknowledge this man, before rushing on. But he looks so frail, and I begin to wonder if he has wandered off unbeknownst to his caregivers. So turning back, I ask if I may join him in his walk. What a dear, dear man. We walk the same walk that I have taken with Dad on numerous occasions. He reminds me through his descriptions of birding adventures, and his wife’s authoritative knowledge of wildflowers that I want to pursue these interests. I share with him my reasons for stopping social work and not becoming certified in education. As we return to the entrance of Dad’s building an hour and a half later, I learn that his wife has died two days previously, and tell him of Dad’s pending death. We share tears and I feel in that moment that Spirit has brought us together in our grief. He tells me how proud Dad is.

Upon my return, I sit writing in the lobby of Dad’s building. A neighbor stops to find how things are going. This is the first time we have met. We get into this amazing spiritual discussion about how Mom and the others are joyously awaiting on the other side; Mom is admonishing him to wait until something is finished; that he hangs on waiting for something to happen; that something amazing always comes of even the worst of events…

Thankfully, Dad is comfortable after getting meds into him that he has been refusing until this weekend. He is amazingly clear and in good spirits most of the time, but continues to hang on waiting for who knows what. Beth and Catherine are here and have taken on most of his care. I pretty much just sit quietly with him so when he wakes up there is someone in the room with him.

The minister has just left. While he praying for Dad, I open my eyes and Dad looks at me wryly as if to say, “What is he talking about?” Then, “That was a beautiful prayer, but I don’t understand why he picked that one.” I comment to his pastor that Dad is still in denial and he replies, “No he isn’t. He’s ready.” So it occurs to me to ask a prayer in the way that I prayed when my firstborn was a baby. I pray that Dad is welcomed with open arms and celebration as he crosses over. That Mom and his mother and the multitudes of people upon whom he has had such an impact are lining up to greet him. Please let him know that we will all be fine. I thank him for setting such an amazing example. His generosity and humor and wisdom will travel through future generations.

Early this morning Dad’s utterances are heard through the baby monitor in the living room, “I’m afraid to let go.” God be with you Dad. You can go and know that we will be with you always, that your mark here is everlasting. “Oh dear, I don’t want to let go”

Dad has a tremendous sense of humor and has taken great pleasure in shocking people. One of his favorite pieces of advice over the years has been, “Don’t forget your rubbers.” Even when there is no one in the room with him, he is aware of the fact that we remain vigilant through the use of a baby monitor. At one point he sighs, “And he died with a smile on his face and his hand on his pecker.”

I feel so lost here, and focus my energy on just being. I fight my sense of exclusion as my sisters and brother repeatedly put their heads together. Between my lack of involvement in his physical care, and projections of negativity (anger, judgment, resentment, loneliness) I take myself a-wandering through the building. I stop to visit with the woman from the lobby, so comforting had been our previous visit. She gives to me an angel identical to the Hummel that Mom had as I grew up.
Next, I am sitting out in front of the building, where Dad and I had spent several gorgeous afternoons just a week and a half before. While walking with the elderly gentleman a few days ago, he mentioned that he was surprised by how few birds there were, that he had not seen or heard any on his last couple of walks. I have since noticed the truth of this. This morning, however, there are all kinds of birds in the trees, flitting about. And there is a blue jay outside of Dad’s window that sounds for all the world like it is calling his name, “Dick! Dick! Dick!” -Mom?

We think for sure that Dad is on his way. He is going deeper and deeper, and at one point does not respond to my sister’s ministrations. Catherine is Dad’s Angel of Mercy, so very gentle and loving as she keeps him medicated. Hospice is called and a social worker comes and yanks poor Dad back. “Where’s the eagle? Where did the bonny eagle go? … behind the black cloud… Did we save your life little boy?” Catherine is so upset: “Nobody goes in that room!” Later I am compelled to go sit with him, against the strong expression of disapproval on the part of my sisters, their belief being that our presence is holding him back. All I want is to go sit. I so do not want him to be alone, and in fact, at one point he says, “Well here I am, here I am by myself. I’ll go by myself if that’s the way you feel.” They refuse to acknowledge my assertions that we should be with him. I sit against my sisters’ wishes, for about an hour and a half, and just before I leave the room I whisper, “Let go, Dad. It’s time. They’re waiting and we are going to be fine. It’s ok Dad, just let go.” After I leave the room, he does stop breathing for longer than the usual 50 or 60 seconds, and Beth goes in. After several minutes, he awakens again and is so amazed. He keeps saying over and over, “I’m awake! I’m awake! I was asleep and now I’m awake. God told me that I’m awake. I was asleep.”

The day after he asks about the bonny eagle, Nancy shows us an article in the paper about a horrible accident in which 3 teens, students at Bonny Eagle High School have been killed.

For the rest of the day, he is clearly between Here and There. When Pastor comes, he wakes Dad in the first loud voice since his previous rude awakening. “Dick, I’ve come to say goodbye.” “Where are you going?” “Nowhere, you’re the one who’s leaving.” “Oh yeah, I’ve already been there and back.” After prayers, I don’t think Dad speaks directly to us again. He speaks of and to people all around the room when there is never more than one or two of us in the room at a time. He repeatedly admonishes, “Nothing mentioned, nothing gained.”

I go to sit with him, holding my book in my lap, staring at the words, when Dad’s breathing becomes more rapid with almost a moan. When I look up there are tears in his eyes. Nancy comes and asks to sit, and I point out that Dad is crying. “Oh my God, he is.” I think, “That’s why he doesn’t want to let go: he loves us, and life too much to leave.” A while later, I read to him in his unconsciousness, from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, on life, love, marriage, children, death. Catherine medicates him; we turn out the lights and are watching Notting Hill when he dies at 10 pm on Thursday, September 23, 2004. Nancy goes in to check on him and her keening announces his death. Later, Catherine mentions that the sound reminds her of a bird that she isn’t able to identify. Nancy’s reply: “A nightingale pierced by a thorn.”

I have asked Dad to try to “make contact” with me.

As I shop for something to wear to the service, I come across this great red felt hat that actually fits!! I am compelled to wear it for his memorial despite such impropriety in the face of death. After the initial head shaking, the realization that Dad would have loved this brings laughter to his friends.

As we travel to Winchester, the town that is to be his final resting place, the urn holding Dad’s ashes rests in my lap. As George Winston’s piano rendition of Pachabel’s Cannon plays through the car, I am swept back to our walk across the lawn for my marriage. How fitting that the music that signifies him giving me away, plays as I prepare to give him away.

And later, as I wander in search of “something” to give my siblings in remembrance of this huge event in our lives, asking Dad’s guidance, I come across a children’s book called “You’re All My Favorite.
Saturday, October 9, 2004, 4:15 am

“Try to make contact…”

Dad looked at me with wonder when I said that to him a day or two before he died- like yeah, right. Or, maybe I will…

As has been usual since Dad’s passing, I awaken hours early and lay tossing about, falling back into that delicious visionary sleep that occurs early in the morning. Having overslept then, I start instantly awake as Coconut by Harry Nilsson plays on the radio, the subject of music trivia. That had been a particular favorite of Dad’s in the seventies- he even bought the 45. I had sent him a card that made reference to it earlier in the summer. I have repeatedly searched online for that song since I found that card. I haven’t heard that song in 25 years! It’s him.

This morning I again awaken, mind a-race with things that I want to make priorities and goals, and things that Dad would do differently to make my business more financially viable.

How perfect.

“Try to make contact…”

I inherited my love for clocks from Dad. One of my fondest memories is of the time he was visiting and on the way to pick up some groceries he slammed on the brakes as I pointed out an old clock in a yard sale. The clock was broken, so as was his custom, he had it repaired and it has since been on our mantle. On a shelf in the next room, there is another clock that he has left to me. Since his death, the clock on the mantle has developed a quirk that can be rather annoying. It will strike and continue either until someone turns it off or the clock winds down. So we keep the chimes on that clock turned off.
One night I am awakened by the endless chiming of that clock. I’m too lazy to get up to turn it off, so it continues its music for twenty minutes or so before stopping of its own accord. Immediately Dad’s brass clock chimes in for another twenty minutes, followed by repeat sessions by both clocks. As the clock on the mantle begins again, I come downstairs and the chimes cease. Dad just wants some company.


My sister e-mails me with a journal entry regarding our growing up and lack of nurturance from our mother as little children. I call her after a futile attempt to gather my thoughts on paper, sharing with her how i go about filling that inner longing for something that is so elusive. I tell her about my toy drawer and my snuggly elephant and how it feels when I hold it close to my heart. I tell her about how I try to give to other kids what I feel they are not getting, and how doing that, having that outlet, fills me; how I believe we need to circulate the loving energy in the universe and that as long as we are vigilant in doing that on a daily basis, what we feel we lost out on as a child is somehow compensated for because we are giving it to someone else who may not have it otherwise, and that is so healing.

Immediately following this conversation I came downstairs and the back yard is filled with birds: nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, cardinals, tufted titmice. Ben and I are so enthralled. As I re-dial my sister to tell her of this event, I am filled with peace. When I come down, the birds are gone.

Children are for the birds!

The spectacular beauty of winter is not always as obvious as it is after a fresh snowfall, or when the trees glisten with ice. But if you look closely, you will see muted splendor in the reds, browns, golds, and forest green of garden and roadside brush. 


On closer observation, you will see that winter vegetation is aflutter with wildlife. Squirrels frolic in the trees and scrabble about in search of hidden nuts; birds flock seeking nourishment. 


In order for the birds to survive through winter, they need a sufficient food supply to maintain their high body temperature. The scarcity of food causes a drop in body temperature, often leading a bird to freeze to death. 


Children love to observe nature, and setting up a feeding station in your back yard will provide a valuable service to the wildlife in your neighborhood, as well as a memorable learning experience for you and your children. Easy access to binoculars and a field guide for bird identification further enhance the experience.


During the winter, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees scavenge for hibernating insects in crevices and openings in trees. They benefit from the supplementation of suet (available in meat and pet supply departments of the grocery store). Finches, sparrows, blue jays, juncos, and grosbeaks munch on shrub berries, tree and weed seeds, and flock to seed feeders.


Children enjoy looking for tracks left behind by our feathered friends. You will notice that ground varieties of birds (pigeons, starlings, crows, pheasants) have alternating imprints while hopping or perching birds (sparrows, blue jays, finches, juncos) leave paired tracks in the snow. 


Make a trip to the library, and check out a field guide on birds to determine what kinds of seed attract which type of bird. 


Get your child involved by stringing popcorn and cranberries. Stale, unsalted popcorn is best. Cut an orange in half and remove the fruit. The remaining skin forms a cup ideal for holding birdseed. Hang the seed-filled “cup” from a tree and birds will be attracted to the bright color! String bits of a dried doughnut, bread, and pieces of fruit (orange, apple, raisins) to add to the variety and make interesting decorations for the shrubs on your property. Discarded Christmas trees may be relegated to the back yard for this purpose.


Before long your family will be identifying birds by bird. Even toddlers will no longer exclaim “look at the birdie”, but “look at the nuthatch!”, or “look at the junco!” The delight on little faces as they learn to recognize the different varieties of birds provides one of those “snapshots” we keep in our mind for years to come. My little friend Kyle was thrilled to observe, “That chickadee knows its name!” My eldest became such a nature enthusiast that he would save his allowance for weeks and then agonize over which field guide to buy next.


When feeding the birds, squirrels can be a tremendous annoyance as they pilfer the food you have intended for the birds. There are special feeders that make it difficult for them to raid seed set out for the birds. A left-over handful of holiday nuts, or wildlife food found in the birdseed section of stores, will help to distract the squirrels from your feeder. Observe how they communicate “through the grapevine” as these bushy-tailed critters scamper from all over the neighborhood within minutes of discovering these treats! 


If you decide to feed the birds, please remember! They will become accustomed to feeding in your yard and may starve if they are disappointed. If you plan to be away, get a neighbor to care for them in your absence. Also, the object is to keep the birds, and not the neighborhood cats, nourished and satisfied! Be sure to put a bell on your Kitty’s collar, and encourage your neighbors to do the same!




– RDW (2003, revised 2010)

Priming the pump when your well runs dry

In our day to day whizzing about, our feet hit the floor running. Work; kids; relationships; meal planning, shopping, and preparation; laundry; cleaning; errands; ferrying people about; making and keeping appointments; volunteering; providing a shoulder to cry on… 
We give and give and give, sooner or later to have nothing left to sustain ourselves, let alone anyone else. Then where are we, and all of those who depend on us? 
The problem is that we think we don’t have the time, the money, or deserve to do the types of things that are indispensable in keeping us sane. They need not be time consuming or expensive. And it’s not necessary to resort to alcohol or other chemicals for relief or relaxation.
  • Pamper yourself. Light some candles, put on some relaxing music, and luxuriate in a bubble bath (you’ve seen what a nice bath will do for wound-up kids).
  • Go to a beauty salon just to get your hair washed, or find someone willing to sit quietly and brush your hair or rub your feet.


  • Visit a library or book store. Browse an area that is of special interest, be it travel, art, garden, cooking, poetry, inspirational, or some other topic of wonder. Children’s books are great fun to look at. You may come across one from your childhood; certainly, you will discover some new ones with stories or illustrations that will take your breath away or bring tears to your eyes.


  • Allow yourself daily contact with nature. Smell the flowers, the fresh-cut grass, the soil. Lookup through the branches of a tree and drink in the many shades of green as the sunlight filters through the leaves. Revel in the gentle breeze, the bird song, the crickets, and cicadas making their music. Watch the squirrels and their antics, the sparrows tormenting the crows. Visit the spider that is bound to be spinning a web someplace in the yard. Wonder at how all of life has its own routines and boundaries…
  • Get yourself some really nice colored pencils and a coloring book geared toward calming the frazzled minds of adults- Roger Burrows’ Images, OptiDesigns, Mandalas, Coloring Books for Women. Coloring is very relaxing.
You may notice that I tend to suggest things that seem more appropriate for children. We all have an inner child and being able to access him/her is very useful in connecting on a deeper level with the children in our lives. Not only that, but we can give ourselves the nurturance we wanted and may not have gotten as a child. 
That said, it is my firm belief that even adults should have a stash of toys of their very own. I keep a drawer of toys in my office: bubbles, slide whistle, magic wand filled with glitter, slinky, kaleidoscope, magnet sculpture, Jacob’s ladder, Koosh ball, and a snugly stuffed animal that is actually a comfort to me when I am sad or lonely. My personal favorite is a handheld labyrinth that serves to collect my thoughts when they scatter following intense and extended concentration or spending a few hours in the company of several children all vying for my attention. 
Make your own list of ideas for when you just can’t take it anymore! In the end, we must rely only upon ourselves to provide the nurturing our soul so desperately craves, to fill our spirit so that we can care for those who need us, and stay on top of the many other demands in our lives. To expect it from someone else leads only to disappointment and resentment.
RDW (2007, revised 2010)

Are We There Yet??


As summer approaches we start fantasizing about hitting the road, but the reality of traveling with little kids brings our revelry to a screeching halt. So many of us are intimidated by the idea of making a long trip with very young children, but doing so is not only great fun, it lays the groundwork for a future of traveling undaunted by mere distance. 


Given that we have family in New England and California, our kids became accustomed to entrapment in their car seats for many hours on end, and to this day we all love long road trips. That is not to say that we didn’t learn many lessons the hard way. I am here today to spare you some of these headaches.


First of all, make a comprehensive list of the things you will be needing to bring along. When you are finished with it, put it someplace (e.g., your underwear drawer) where you can find it for future reference. Likewise, keep a copy of house notes left for the person caring for pets and plants, etc. so you don’t have to write new ones each time you go away. Changes can be made as necessary before the next trip, without having to create the whole thing from scratch.


Bring along lots of nutritious snacks and drinks. Stopping in parks or playgrounds for snack or lunch, and runaround time will make the next stretch of travel much easier. You can spend an hour having a picnic and getting the wiggles out instead of having to further restrain the children in a diner. If you plan to go the restaurant route for meals, go on-line and map out the locations of some acceptable choices. Having to search high and low for someplace to eat with a car full of hungry, cranky kids is not fun! (Remember to do a headcount when leaving a pit stop. Driving off without one of the children happens far more often than one would expect!) 


Packing a bag of “stuff” (notebook, crayons or colored pencils, small toys, books, a deck of cards, a ball or Frisbee for pit stops) for each child to keep themselves entertained is most useful. Or, you may want to dole these playthings out one at a time every hour or so.


Never travel without a large box of Ziplocs and a couple of bath towels kept within easy reach in case of a sudden onset of carsickness. The bags don’t leak and the smell is contained until you are able to dispose of it. 


Perhaps most critical is lots of kid-friendly music that parents can fall in love with and tolerate listening to hundreds of times because this is what kids do. It doesn’t have to be “kid’s music”- so much of that becomes terribly annoying in short order. But there are a few gems out there. Our very favorite children’s artist is Tom Chapin. He is a singer storyteller and in my opinion a talented genius who either knows kids extremely well or has a vivid recollection of childhood. 


Exposing children to a wide variety of music is a gift that lasts a lifetime. You can’t go wrong with the Putamayoseries of world music, Benny Goodman(big band/jazz), folk music (Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Weavers), or classical music that tells a story (Carnival of the Animals, Fantasia


While you may be tempted by the possibility of keeping the kids occupied through the use of a DVD player, keep in mind that when children are watching TV, they are missing a world of first-hand experience. Children become so excited when they see a herd of cattle, or the huge sculpture of a dinosaur, or various other landmarks. 


Numerous travel games keep the whole family entertained. Have everyone in the car pick a color and count cars. See how many different states can be identified on license plates. Play word games. (I learned how to read playing the alphabet game using the signs we passed).


You may be surprised to remember the large repertoire of songs you learned as a youngster in school or in scouts. Even if you can only remember part of a song, it is very easy to find the lyrics on-line. Kids love learning the silly songs we learned as children.


Of course, long road trips with little (and not so little) ones are not all fun and games. There are the inevitable spats that have a way of escalating to unacceptable proportions. Pulling over to the side of the road, turning the ignition off and sitting quietly (without letting yourself get sucked into the fray) until they decide it’s time to move on is most effective in restoring the peace. In extreme situations, removing a child from the car (regardless of weather, and always with close parental supervision) provides a clear message that the behavior will not be tolerated.


When planning a road trip, including all family members creates a team spirit. Discuss beforehand the expectations, limits, and consequences of certain behaviors. When children are equipped with this information ahead of time, they are eager to cooperate; and if it becomes necessary to enforce disciplinary measures, it is by choice of the person misbehaving .- RDW (5-13-10)

Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow

Year by year the complexities of this world grow more bewildering. We need all the more to seek peace and comfort in the joyful simplicities and to teach our children to do the same. For in so doing, we enable them to seek contentment within themselves rather than relying on electronic devices for their entertainment.   

Being from Maine, I’ve always liked it when winter really acts like winter, with lots of snow and subfreezing temperatures. If you are like me (and most kids!) and there is a rumor of a big snowstorm, you wake up every half hour all night long to see if it is still snowing and whoop with glee when school is canceled. Perhaps you are able to stay home as well. Make it your priority to create some wonderful memories with your children! 
Remember the joy of winter as a child, and reacquaint yourself with the luxury of that pleasure. Shovel snow together, but don’t be surprised if your kids want to shovel the yard and not the driveway. Create snow angels.; build a snowman; make a snow fort. Go sledding at Babcock Park Hill, or Stonybrook, or some other great place near your home. Chances are quite good you won’t have to go far.
Take a walk in the woods on snowshoes or cross country skis. Look for winter birds, and squirrels’ nests. Notice animal tracks and try to identify them. If you find any animals hibernating (bats, insects) do not disturb them, as they may die if they are awakened. Notice how tightly leaf buds are wrapped so they won’t freeze; observe what happens if we get a stretch of warm weather. Go to a frozen stream. Notice ice formations and water running underneath. (Stay onshore lest one goes through the ice!)
Make bird feeders using popcorn and cranberries; pine cones with peanut butter rolled in birdseed; seed cups using the peels of half oranges and lemons with string hangers. Decorate the trees with treats for the birds and animals.
Have a Neighborhood Winter Carnival. Snow sculpt a glorified snowman, dragon, Big Bird… Set up target games for hurling snowballs. Have a tug of war in the snow. Afterward, share in the warmth of a pot of cocoa made with real milk, or hot spiced cider and popcorn.
Even if housebound, having an expectation of time together as a family for a couple of hours without electronic devices affords the quiet companionship snow days and Sunday afternoons are perfect for. Playing cards or board games; sprawling around the living room, each with his or her own book, or reading a book aloud together as a family; making valentines for school and each other; writing letters to grandparents or journaling; working a jigsaw puzzle together; making tacos, or shaking it up with a dance party, lay a foundation for close ties between siblings 
This time of year, as the pace seems to slow somewhat, it is easier to find moments for quality time with the children. Sometimes when we are immersed in the trials of parenting and day to day living, it is hard to realize how truly fleeting this precious time with little ones is. Children have so much to teach us. Please take the opportunity to really enjoy this priceless gift of childhood. And take lots of pictures! You won’t regret it. (RDW 1-19-11)

Disciplining your child: It’s not what you think.

When expecting our first child, we make certain basic preparations. We read parenting books, obtain a crib, stroller, car seat, high chair, layette. If both parents hold jobs, childcare arrangements must be made; new living arrangements, perhaps; a bigger car…
Having children forces us to reconsider and rethink everyday matters that we take for granted, as it becomes necessary to create a safe environment. We need to put covers in electrical outlets; locks on drawers and cabinets; keep dangerous objects (chords, sharps, glass…) out of reach; cleaning supplies, medications, and other hazardous materials locked away. We constantly scan for objects a little one might choke on; enclose areas that might be harmful; gate the stairways…
 In the beginning, our main concern is to keep these vulnerable little folk safe and cared for in a way that babies are incapable of doing for themselves. Paying close attention to details involving basic safety becomes second nature. We become disciplined in remaining vigilant.
Even as babies become mobile, they are not ready to learn what is and is not okay to get into. Punishment is pointless- a slap does not teach a baby not to do something. She feels only the pain, coming from the one she looks to for safety and comfort.
Babies and toddlers are curious and get into everything. We must eliminate temptations—put knick-knacks up; video equipment, and stereos out of reach. When an active baby or young toddler approaches danger, the best intervention is to remove the child from the area while calming telling him no, and distracting him with something appropriate. That is all that is needed at this age.
As their world expands, we begin to teach young children how to avoid dangerous situations themselves. This involves setting limits, creating boundaries- teaching discipline.
Discipline does not necessarily mean punishment. It can be characterized as a rule or set of rules governing conduct, involving self-control, will power, and consequence. It provides clarity and stability and intention and safety, which are necessary for the pursuit and fulfillment of our highest potential. Without discipline, our world is chaos and we become so burdened by confusion and distraction that it becomes difficult to follow any path, let alone to create and pursue meaningful life goals.
Raising well behaved and successful kids are hard work that takes the better part of twenty years of vigilance and consistent guidance. We must learn how to mold their behavior in a way that is effective in teaching them to successfully cope in this world and lays the groundwork for positive learning in all areas of their lives. Being clear and consistent about expectations and consequences regarding behavior eliminates much of the ambiguity that can interfere with having a fully satisfying life.
  • If you destroy that in anger, you will have to use your allowance to replace it.
  • If you’re not careful with your library books, the librarian won’t let you borrow more.
  • If you are mean to your friends, they won’t want to be your friends anymore.
  • If you don’t do your homework, you’ll get behind and it will be harder to learn the material.
  • If you spend all of your money on candy, it will take longer to save for that toy you want.
Over the years I have noticed a definite shift in the current approach to parenting. So many parents are more concerned with being a child’s friend than being the one who enforces (self) discipline.
In more extreme cases, there is no attempt to correct inappropriate behavior. These parents believe that it is best to allow kids to fully express themselves in the way that the child sees fit, and that by interfering with his actions, they are somehow limiting the capacity for him to be who he is.
As a result, these kids tend to walk all over their parents, becoming the literal ruler of the home-(”You can’t tell me what to do-I’ll come when I’m good and ready”). These children may be inclined to show little consideration for the rights and property of others, steamrolling their way through public venues and other people’s homes. Meanwhile, the parents are helpless to intervene, if not oblivious to the upheaval their kids are creating.
At the other end of the continuum is the overprotective, controlling parent who doesn’t let their child out of their sight, limits activities for fear of injury to the child, demands perfection in every endeavor, or constantly steps in on the child’s behalf, thereby not allowing him a chance to work things out for himself or to learn from his mistakes.
Neither one of these approaches is fair to the child.
Kids want to be given guidelines and to know what to expect. Toddlers begin to understand the meaning of no; indeed, it is one of their first words! And everyone has observed a little one mischievously, or defiantly look the parent or caregiver in the eye and proceed to do the very thing he has been cautioned not to do.
When creating rules and boundaries for young toddlers and preschoolers, remember that the bottom line is Safety. Little kids can make sense of this. 
  • Biting, hitting, kicking, pinching, pushing and throwing things at people hurt. It’s never okay to hurt someone.
  • Keep your toys picked up so no one trips on them and gets hurt.
  • Matches and lighters can burn you and start fires. They are never for playing with.
  • Sharp things cut people. Knives and scissors are not for children unless a grown-up says it’s okay and is paying attention.
  • Don’t go near the pool/pond/river without a grown-up: children need supervision near water because it’s not safe.
  • Jumping on the furniture is dangerous- it’s not safe to be wild in the house because there just isn’t enough room- you might get hurt or break something.
Setting limits is good for everyone. A child who has no restrictions lives in pandemonium; with clear limits, he knows where he stands. Being inconsistent confuses him and makes him try harder to get away with everything that he can. Children will test the limits we set, but if we remain consistent, then there is no need for a huge struggle. You both know what the boundaries are, and if they are significantly crossed, there are consequences. It’s just the way things are.

The Joys of a Good Dump

We write to communicate, make lists, leave messages, write thank-yous, correspond with family and friends, share recipes, arrange for events, leave reminders, fill out applications, pay bills, make labels, give directions, make complaints, take minutes… The list goes on and on.

Then there are those of us who write because we have to. We have something to say, to explain, to teach, to understand, to envision, to brainstorm, to remember. We need the page to seek answers, put things in perspective, come to terms. We write to create a record, an illustration of the evolution of our families and ourselves. We want to leave something behind that is tangible.

Are you kidding?? I don’t have time for that. Besides that, I can’t write!
Relax. Writing can take different forms and need not be the least bit intimidating.
In Success is a Journey, Jeffrey J. Mayer recommends creating what he calls a “master list”. This is no ordinary, “manageable” to-do list. This is a mind dump! Get yourself a small notebook (4×6”). Make a list of every single thing you think you need or want, or wish to do or have: obligations, home improvements, events, things that you really want to do with your family, places you wish to go, shopping lists, chores, decorating ideas, recipes, every single thing that has been running around in your mind keeping you awake at night and making you feel stressed and miserable
I keep mine in my purse year-round for writing movie ideas, books I want to read, great quotes, gift ideas, garden ideas. Even if you don’t use it as a checklist (I rarely even refer to mine), you can look back at it another time and be amazed by how much you have accomplished, or how much it didn’t matter. Plus, it serves as a diary of sorts.
(Remember this: So often when we are beating ourselves up for not getting this or that done, it is the result of our own unrealistic self-expectations. Once I realized that no one else knows how much I don’t get done, it didn’t matter as much!)
Another form of writing is journaling. Journaling is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. It had been recommended over and over before I finally decided that I was willing to do whatever was necessary to be a better parent and a better person, and this turned out to be the ticket.
The challenge comes not only in being faithful but in completing the three pages that are necessary to untangle the mess that clutters our thought processes, preventing us from fulfilling our deepest dreams and fullest potential.
Now, three pages is a lot to write every day and at times you will find yourself at a loss for what to write. So you look around you and write about the mess, or how lovely your house is, or the weather, or any random thing and before you know it, you have found another thread to unravel.
Setting aside time for journaling- each morning, or while the kids are doing their homework, or after they are in bed- will change your life. It helps one to center; to work out conflict, anger, depression; to plan and dream… When you have those old negative tapes running around inside your head (“I’m fat, ugly, stupid, a bad mother, a bitch, blah, blah, blah…”), you can get them out, over and over if need be until they become so diluted they become meaningless; or you realize that you can only whine so much about something before you recognize that the only way things are going to change is if you do something about them!
Writing helps to keep your mind free so that other thoughts and inspirations may enter. When you go back to reread your pages at a different time in your life, not only do you have a record of happenings, you are able to see just how far you have come on life’s path.
When I get out of the discipline of writing a full three pages every day, I become out of sorts and lost. Like the Master List, it keeps my mind open to inspiration and the positive energy that helps us to create the life we are meant to have.
You deserve to do this for yourself. Still, need convincing? This will set an amazing example for your kids. And isn’t that what being a good parent is all about? -RDW (2007, revised 2010)

Leaving the Gender Gap Behind

I believe that the women in my generation have faced the biggest challenge in coming to terms with the legacy of the submissive role that previous generations of women in our family and society have accepted.

I was bound and determined not to fall into the subservience that had been so prevalent. I knew in my early twenties that should I have children, I would go back to work rather than lead the life of drudgery that my mother had for so many years. 

Given that we are on this earth to learn certain lessons, I am blessed with four sons, clearly making one of my life objectives learning to reconcile my role as a woman in today’s world, and teaching my sons to fit into a role more in line with what I hope is to become the norm. I am inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” 
As it turned out, I did stay at home with my children. Lucky for me I like snakes and frogs and spiders. I was not able to deter their interest in weapons or to squelch the tendency to employ anything in hand (sticks, rocks, legos, blocks) as a gun. I learned to accept the broken glass and furniture and holes in the wall created by four very robust males who insist upon wrestling and tumbling about, even to this day. Wishing not to transfer my fears to them, I was able to learn to squelch my terror as they jumped off 40-foot cliffs into the river, climbed 60-foot trees, created dangerous contraptions and explosions and all of the other foolhardy things that boys do. I am still repulsed by the rude and disgusting habits that seem inborn: hawking in the sink, belching, flatulence, whizzing all over the bathroom and leaving the seat up…
In an effort to discourage the idea that women are here to serve them, I have insisted upon their self-sufficiency, teaching them at a young age how to prepare their own lunch, do dishes, dust, and vacuum, set the table, do laundry, and be responsible for their own room.
Dinner table conversations revolve around topics that are generally of much greater interest to the men in my family than me, and I so often feel left out as they discuss their “manly” movie interests, and mathematical, scientific and computer pursuits. Sometimes I find myself obsessing over the woulda, coulda, shoulda. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to develop the interests that they have. If I made more of an attempt to get involved in reading and watching science fiction, learning to like the music that sounds like noise to me, participated in more of their activities, I wouldn’t feel like such an outsider in this family.
I refrained from doing more of these things in my endeavors to develop my own identity and place in the world. And while I was doing this for myself, I felt as though I was doing it for my mother, and her mother as well.

Our Parenting Roots


Often we develop our manner of raising children by way of the example set by our own parents, whether that be to mimic their style, decide to take a different approach altogether, or something in between. In identifying our personal and family values, and how these came to be shaped by our ancestry and upbringing, we become better prepared to make conscious decisions about our own approach to parenting.

You can learn so much about how you have come to be the person you are, by considering the basis for your parents’ child-rearing practices. What was going on in the world in the way of current events, media (music, television, movies), and the economy, when they were young and as you were growing up? What social issues were being addressed? What was their religious upbringing and how has that affected your spirituality? What interests and ways of life have you acquired as a result of your upbringing (Sports? Politics? Environment? Social action? Career goals? Dietary habits? Communication style? Discipline? Behavioral expectations?)
      From whence I come
  • I come from stock of the Depression era, with resultant parental frugality; and my childhood sense of deprivation in the midst of the well-off and ritzy suburb of Boston in which I spent my first 13 years.
  • I come from the fifties… Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best sense of strong family values and clear division of labor, martinis and cigarettes, the middle of five children- three sisters and a brother
  • I come from the sixties… Flower children, the Vietnam War, peace mongers, Kennedy assassinations, Martin Luther King and civil rights;
  • I come from a safe neighborhood, unstructured time, freedom to play and roam, to time fraught with stranger anxiety and relative isolation.
  • I come from the seventies… the Woman’s Movement and Environmental Awareness.
  • I come from Christian upbringing, Sunday School, parental pillars of the church, church fairs, pageants, youth group, Sunday School, potential seminarian…to become a “rejector” of Religion and an avid spiritualist with deep faith in a power greater than myself.
  • I come from generations of book lovers and wordsmiths; trips to the library and bookstores a weekly occurrence. Love of good books and writing is in our genes!
  • I come from a house filled with classical music; show tunes, Mitch Miller and Benny Goodman. I am a wannabe musician, former Student of the clarinet. Today I connect and attend to other cultures through world music…
  • My mother was a leader, a mover and shaker in the Girl Scouts as I grew up, hence my active involvement in scouts throughout childhood. That and family camping initiated my love and concern for nature and the environment.
  • I come from the anti-bureaucrat (my father)… resisting becoming controlled by state regulation and refusing to be categorized and limited by guidelines deemed necessary by the powers that be…
  • I come from a long line of alcoholics: family secrets, roles, and messages concerning worth and potential. I come from Violation by presumed friends of family and upstanding community members.  

My Father
Dad was the working man, breadwinner, fearsome, fun-loving Boss who fixed things, painted and wallpapered, did the yard work, shoveled us out after a blizzard, and took us to the museum, the library, the park, historic sites, sailing, camping, and comet chasing at 3 am.
He had a strong work ethic and high expectations. He was strict, and we were afraid of him. He was bull-headed and “never wrong”.
Having grown up during the Great Depression, he was a frugal man, always pinching pennies, and insisting upon a clean plate at dinnertime (“take all you want but eat all you take”). Never one to waste anything that may be of use someday, he recycled long before recycling was in vogue.
Ever the consummate engineer, he did his own plumbing and electrical repairs amidst oil can, baby food jars filled with old screws and nuts and bolts, TV and radio tube tester heaped around him on the dining table. I have a vivid recollection of him sitting on the edge of the bathtub shaking the commode in his lap and cursing as he tried to remove the Ban deodorant bottle that had been flushed down the toilet and lodged in the trap.
He considered the impact of his employment situation on our family, uprooting us from what he considered to be a pretentious community and the unreasonable demands of his work in a large corporation. We relocated to a small town in Maine which offered easy access to what he considered to be the finer things in life.
For you see, my father truly was a Renaissance Man. He was a wildlife enthusiast and taught me to be a grateful witness of natural beauty through all of my senses. A loyal patron of the arts, he sought opportunities to expose us to the humanities, passing along his deep appreciation of good music and art.
Despite the overwhelming financial obligations of starting a business partnership, raising his family, providing medical care for a desperately ill child, and putting his daughters through college, he persevered day after day. This is an amazing feat that is so often taken for granted. But his business sense was extraordinary and after many years of diligently paying off his debt, my father entered into a position of financial security.
For all of his hard work and the pressures of day to day life, Dad had a tremendous sense of humor and took great pleasure in shocking people. He loved a good practical joke and was so much like a big kid in so many ways.
Between his loathing for bureaucracy and disdain for taxes, he made a practice of giving much of his wealth to organizations he deemed worthy by virtue of their impact on his community and the world.
His curiosity and enthusiasm for life carried him through to the end of his days. When he was 75, he learned the art of Chinese cooking. At the age of 80, Dad started piano lessons and taught weather classes to senior citizens. His death in 2004 left a gaping void in the presence he held in the lives of so many.
My Mother
I once came across my mother’s old girl scout book (c.1929), an explicit account of how each room in the house should be cleaned, beds made, table set, how to do laundry, how to cook, how to take care of minor injuries, and most importantly, how to catch and keep a husband.
As I grew up, there was a strict division of labor within our household. Mom stayed home with the five children, taught us right from wrong (deferring to Dad as necessary), took care of us when we were sick and made a full course sit- down dinner seven days a week. She cleaned the house (Monday: bathroom and kitchen; Tuesday: dust and vacuum downstairs; Wednesday: dust and vacuum upstairs; Thursday: wash and hang laundry; Friday: iron (no permanent press back then!); Saturday: change beds, go shopping for groceries and make Saturday/Sunday dinners. She was given a meager weekly allowance, which she carefully eked out to cover groceries, dry cleaning, housekeeping necessities, and cigarettes. She had to ask for extra money to get her hair cut. Discretionary funds were out of the question. It was her job to care for her sick, incontinent and demented father-in-law who despised her. In fact, the huge house she was responsible for was not her house but her in-laws, complete with hideous décor and furnishings, which she abhorred and was powerless to alter in any way.

At age 45, Mom was uprooted as she approached menopause, and hit the bottle, had to contend with a gravely ill daughter and a marriage in which she was miserable. It was not until she was 54 that she got “out of the house” and into the workforce. The transformation in her sense of self was astounding to behold. Her resolve for independence and self-expression allowed her to break out of the subservient role that had defined her and the women in our family for so many generations.
My mother had a determination and gift for turning the most earth-shattering experiences to the advantage of others. She was highly respected as a leader and mentor for youth and young adults, inspiring me and other women following in her footsteps to create a better world for ourselves and our children. She was a mother not only to her own children but to others in the absence of their mothers, teaching me that motherhood must extend beyond our own children to any child in need of mother spirit.
My parents shared a strong sense of community and dedicated themselves to the betterment of society through their involvement with our church and its youth, the Girl Scouts, and the local hospital. They never hesitated to give someone a helping hand, a ride to church or the Synagog or doctor, making dinner or repairs for an elderly neighbor, footing the electric bill for someone in danger of having the power turned off.
While my parents had a difficult and at times stormy union, they remained committed to their 48-year marriage, joking that it cost too much to divorce, until my mother’s death of lung cancer in 1996.

Once you have a clear picture of where you have come from and how you have come to be the person you are, you can begin to identify the values you wish to carry into the future, as well as those better left behind.

This is a fantastic opportunity to set, or reset, the compass for future generations. As you determine how your own background will influence your parenting style, you must realize that you will be the primary example for your children. You are their most significant role model and they are likely to follow your lead:

  • If you show respect for them and the other people in your lives, they will learn to be respectful.
  • If you are environmentally conscious, spend time in nature, and feed the birds, they will learn to appreciate and care for the natural world.
  • If your children see that you find great pleasure in books, they are more likely to become avid readers themselves.

On the other hand:

  •  If there is swearing in their presence at home, they will curse in public.
    •  Physical and verbal abuse encourages bullying.


  • Children raised in a racist or sexist home find it difficult to see others as equals.