Carol

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I almost skipped out on writing a post this week because I’ve been a bit too busy lately. Busy with important stuff and “important” stuff. You see, I recently discovered that our library carries every season of Downton Abbey–you can see wherein lies my time management issue. Now that I am nearly caught up to speed with the most recent Crawley drama, I thought I’d come up for air and share a quick story with you. Because you all need to know about Carol.

A couple of months ago I met Carol, and she is now one of my dearest friends in our neighborhood. Carol lives kitty-corner from us in the cul-de-sac that’s out our back door. We would often see Carol out in her yard tending to her garden while we were out riding bikes or collecting “seashells” (vacated snail shells). Carol has the kindest eyes and a warm smile. When she greets you, her whole face lights up–you can’t help but be drawn to her.

Carol brings us flowers. She shares marvelous stories with us. She even invites my wild-banshee-boys into her house to visit her tiny dog (appropriately named T-Rex) and to play Legos with her on the floor of her living room.

Carol is 90 years old.

Carol and I are friends now, but we probably would never have even spoken if it weren’t for garbage day. Every Monday afternoon we bring our garbage bins out to the street for collection on Tuesday morning at the crack-o-dawn (I only know the ungodly hour they arrive because my children only ever seem to sleep in on Tuesday mornings–garbage day– only to be abruptly awoken by the crushing sounds of the ever-operational garbage trucks outside their bedroom window).

One Monday afternoon I was dragging our bins out to the curb and across the street I noticed this old woman struggling to move her bins. David (who actually adores tedious chores like moving garbage bins) and I decided to cross the street and see if we might help in some way. She smiled at us with those twinkling eyes of hers as we rolled the bins from her garage down to the curb and I knew that we’d made her day. We offered to return the next day after the collection so we could move the bins back up to her house. Then the next week we returned again, and the next, and the next…and now we just move Carol’s bins every week. It’s a simple gesture, but it has led to so many benefits.

For starters, there’s the friendship. David and Jacob adore Miss Carol as much as I do and she’s become a sort of surrogate grandma who dotes on the boys and worries about whether or not they’re wearing weather-appropriate clothing when they’re playing outside.

I also love that the boys are right alongside me helping Miss Carol each week. They are learning that when you see a problem, you can be the answer–and it feels good. Not because they’re getting anything tangible in return for their “work”, but simply because there is joy in helping others.

Surprisingly, there is another benefit I have gleaned from helping Carol–she helps me. You don’t live 90 years on this earth and not accumulate a vault of wisdom–and Carol’s vault is bursting. Every time I talk to her, she asks how I’m doing and what is happening in my life. Then she listens. I mean, really listens, to what I have to say. After, she’ll tell me about an experience she’s had (or that her kids or grandkids or great-grandkids have had) that relates to my situation, and we talk about what worked and, more importantly, what didn’t work. She prays for me (I pray for her). She says lovely things–like the time we were picking roses in her garden and she noted, “I’m glad for thorns because they bear roses.” I’m sure Carol wouldn’t see it this way, but she helps me in more ways than I’ve ever helped her.

And, so, that is Carol. I hope that each of you can have a “Carol” in your life–someone who you set out to help and, in return, have found great help from. Someone who is genuine and kind. Someone who will bring you flowers on a Tuesday. And even if you don’t have a Carol of your own, maybe you can be a “Carol” for someone else.

Go forth and pay it forward, friend–you never know what small gesture might blossom into something beautiful!

XxX Allison

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The Important Thing About My Son

There is this boy.
He’s loud and silly.
He has an incredible memory.
He is a ball of infectious energy.
He’s usually vaguely sticky and covered in dirt.
He dreams about attacking gummy bears that he fends off with nun-chucks.
He’s feisty and passionate.
He’s strong and fearless.
His name is David. He is my boy, my baby, my son.

When I look at David, this is what I see. I am his mama, and I love him deeply. He is truly unique and wonderfully made. He doesn’t fit a mold, and I kind of like that. And it kind of makes me crazy.

This year has been–how shall I put this–challenging.  Throughout the course of this year it has become apparent that David learns differently from many of his peers. A lot of what we’d always done just wasn’t working any more, and it’s been frustrating. Preschool has been difficult. Our little Bible study group has been difficult. Discipline has been difficult. Even so-much-fun T-Ball has been difficult. We have shared our concerns with his teachers and specialists. And it’s all got me doubting. Doubting every decision I’ve made in the past that has led us to this place, and questioning every decision I’ve already made for our future.

The fact is, David has been weighing heavy on my heart lately. Sometimes (most of the time) I just don’t know what to do. So I pray, and cry, and pray, and laugh, and try something new, and pray again. And you know what? Something miraculous is happening.

God is changing our hearts.

He is changing my heart to be more compassionate about the struggles David is facing. He is changing my heart to embrace the person who David is, not who I want or expect him to be. He is changing my heart to accept that I may need to give up some of my own comfort to help David succeed. He is changing my heart to be more like His.

He is changing David’s heart to be more attentive to Him. To listen. To ask questions. To pray to Him. To tell others about Him. To love Him. He is changing David’s heart to be more like His.

A couple of weeks ago we were doing a family Bible study leading up to Easter. We were talking about the significance of the cross, and David was really excited about the story. He was attentive and asking heartfelt questions, and we could tell that things were starting to click for him. At the end of our time together, Jon asked David if he would like to pray and ask Jesus to come into his heart. David said yes–and in his sweet 4-year old boy voice, he asked Jesus to be his forever friend.

In that moment, I knew that the only specialist who actually matters is the One who created him. The One who intimately knows his heart and mind and soul. The One who knows David’s past, his current struggles, and the man he will some day become. The One who knit him together in my womb, who loves him deepest, and whose beautiful thoughts about David outnumber all the grains of sand in all the earth (Psalm 139). And suddenly all of the doubts and fears and confusion I’d had melted away and were replaced by joy. 

There will be challenging days, and challenging phases and challenging seasons in this adventure called parenting. But in the scheme of things, none of the challenges really matter. No matter how difficult things might get, no matter how tightly I’m grasping the end of my rope, only one thing really has lasting significance: Who is my son in Christ? Who am I in Christ? The answers to those questions change everything. We–my son, myself, and the collective whole of humanity–have been saved by grace, and the assurance of that truth never fades.

So, yes.
My son is loud and silly.
My son has an incredible memory.
My son is a ball of infectious energy.
My son is usually vaguely sticky and covered in dirt.
My son dreams about attacking gummy bears that he fends off with nun-chucks.
My son is feisty and passionate.
My son is strong and fearless.
My son has challenges.
But the important thing about my son is that he loves Jesus.

He is my son and I am his imperfect mother, but we are both secure in our Father’s hands.

And nothing will ever change that.

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Happy Birthday, Husband (33 Reasons Why I Love You)

This a monumental, magnificent, marvelous, metamorphic day. Thirty-three years ago on this day, my life changed. I hadn’t even been born yet, but the course of my life was already being set by one simple event. You see, thirty-three years ago on this day my husband was born. It would still be another 20 years until we met, and yet it was a day that would (some day) forever change my life.

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Jon, you have changed my life in every way that is good, and I truly can not imagine what this world would be like without you. I love you more today than the day that I met you, more than the day that we said “I do”. I love you infinity ways, but since this is your 33rd birthday, I’ll start with 33 reasons why I love you:

1. You love me well–even when I’m being unlovable. Which is practically never.

2. You never give up–even if that dang rocket set that we bought off the internet is a dud, and even if the second rocket set that we bought off the internet is still a dud, and even if the third rocket set that we bought off the internet still won’t work, you never give up. Amazon thanks you.

3. You have convinced our children that you are actually a cartoon superhero with an alternate life. Seriously, major props.

4. You let me win at Scattergories. Every time.

5. You feed our dog ice cream cones…while she’s sitting in your passenger seat at the drive-thru.

6. You work at one of the most prestigious companies in the world, and yet you still sneaked in wearing a fake mustache and a monocle in your I.D. card photos. How very Colonel Mustard of you…

7. You respect the proper way to drink whiskey: Jameson in a Jameson glass.

8. You put up with my annoying-to-some-people habits (like chewing with my mouth open).

9. You snap flies out of the air like you’re some sort of kung-fu ninja or something.

10. You can carry our whole family on your back. At the same time.

11. You lay on the couch at night and whine with me about how our feet hurt and our backs hurt and how old we’re getting now that we’re in our 30’s.

12. You make me chai tea in the morning. Not in the microwave like I make it for myself, but with steamed milk and perfectly frothy foam on top.

13. You read our boys bedtime stories, and you do all the voices.

14. You eat every morsel of food I ever set before you. Unlike some other members of our family (who shall remain nameless), never once have you thrown it on the floor or spit on it or smeared it in your hair.

15. You always put the toilet seat down and you refill the toilet paper roll facing the correct way.

16. You drove for 18 straight hours in a car with me, a preschooler, a toddler, and a dog. Enough said.

17. You have fixed Buzz Lightyear literally 1,000 times.

18. You give melt-in-your-arms hugs.

19. You stopped me from wearing gauchos. The fashion police applaud you.

20. You let me cry when I see the Johson & Johnson baby ads on TV.

21. You sneak-attack me with marshmallow fights.

22. You know all of your baristas by name and even get invited to their parties. How much do you tip them, anyway?

23. You can cook just about anything en papillote.

24. You laugh at my corny jokes, even when I forget the punchline.

25. You know the power of texting back with a good emoji sequence.

26. You have an impeccable memory. Not that I ever forget things or get information incorrect. Almost never. Ever.

27. No matter how tired you are after a long day, you always come home and wrestle our boys. Even though they punch you in the face.

28. You always do your very best, even when nobody’s watching, and even when some people might find it unnecessary. For instance, when measuring a child’s height on a growth chart, some people might free-hand it or trace the straight edge of a ruler. But not you, because you know there’s a better way. You are the only person I know who has a custom-made, scientifically exact tool for precisely measuring a child’s height to the nearest nano-millimeter.

29. You never criticize me when the only thing I notice about a car is its color.

30. You derive great enjoyment from watching YouTube videos about the Shapeoko 3. Heck, I love that you even know what a Shapeoko 3 IS.

31. You can rock Vibram 5-fingers like it’s nobody’s business.

32. You invented “Zurg Spears”, the single-most effective way to get our boys to eat their dinner.

33. You love me wholly, truly, unconditionally.  And, really, what else do we need?

Happy birthday, Sweetie! To 33 years, and many more!

XxX Wifey

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How We Do Allowance: The 4-Year Old Version

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Money: we all need it, we all want it. But when is the right time to introduce kids to money? I think the answer to that question varies from family to family and kid to kid but, generally speaking, early is best. From a very young age kids can understand wants and needs, and money is the mechanism by which we acquire our wants and needs.

A few months ago it became quite clear to us that David was ready to start learning about money and the responsibility that comes with it. For Christmas this year, David had created a wish list of all the toys and games and books and doo-dads that he wanted. Well, Christmas came and went, but the wish list kept growing. Every day–nay, every minute of every day–he was begging us to add more items to his “wish list”. The want, want, wants were getting out of control. We knew that it was time for an intervention, and the Allowance Jars were born.

Since he is only 4 years old, we wanted David’s allowance to be pretty simple. We had three main goals with his allowance: to start teaching him the value of money, to encourage him to save some of his “income”, and to be generous with his “assets”. As a result, we decided to set up three jars, one for each goal: spend, save, and serve.

To make the jars, I just cut slits in the tops of three mason jars. Then I printed off the labels spend, save, and serve, and I glued one label to the front of each jar. Each week we give David three quarters, one quarter for each jar, as his allowance. He puts the money into the jars himself so that he is learning the responsibility of tracking where his money goes.

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He is allowed to use the money in the spend jar whenever he chooses (usually a gumball from a vending machine or a trinket from the dollar store). This money never lasts long, but that’s fine! He’s learning what he can buy with his money and, as an added bonus, it’s cut down a lot on the gimme’s when we’re in a store (I just remind him that he can use his own money to buy that bright blue lollipop in the checkout line). I’ve also taken David on a couple of special outings with me specifically so he can go shopping with his money–he feels so grown up when he places his goody up on the check stand and pays for it all by himself!

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With the save jar, he is working toward a spending goal. We came up with a goal together of something more expensive that he really wanted (a Zurg action figure). We researched the cost of his goal purchase then printed off a picture of the toy to put on the jar as a visual reminder of what he is saving up for. He still has a long way to go, but I’m sure with grandparents visiting soon he’ll reach his goal in no time at all ;)

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The serve jar is my favorite. Right now we have him bring the contents of that jar with us to church each week so he can put his money in the offering basket. As we’re packing up his coin to bring to church he always exclaims, “That’s the money I get to give to Jesus! That’s God’s money!”. As David gets older we’ll probably work with him to come up with more ways to use his “serve” money to be generous and help others, but for now he’s grasping a simple and wonderful truth.

So, there you have it! Easy-peasy allowance that even a 4-year old (and their parents) can handle.

X

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DIY Easter Resurrection Garden

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Easter is coming! Easter is coming! Easter is coming!

Easter is the holiday I look forward to all year, and I can hardly contain my excitement. The time of preparation and waiting is coming to an end, and soon we will celebrate the greatest joy in our faith: Jesus is alive! I want to be really intentional with my kids during this season–I want to teach them and include them in as many activities as I can so that they will experience the joy of Easter for themselves.

Awhile back I came across this idea for making an Easter garden. The idea behind the Easter garden is to have a concrete illustration of the events of Easter. It is also a “talking point” to spur on further discussion with your kids about the meaning of Easter. Plus, it involves digging in dirt–so of course we had to make it. Here’s the how-to:

What you need:
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-Bible (we like the Jesus Storybook Bible for kids) or a printed version of the Easter story
-Large pot
-Small pot
-Dirt or potting soil
-Small, smooth stones (you’ll need as many stones as there are days left until Easter)
-1 large stone
-Permanent marker
-Plants or flowers (real or artificial) or seeds

*Note* I bought all of my supplies at the dollar store and spent a whopping $5 on everything I’d need for about 5 gardens. Gotta love the dollar store!

What you do:
Start by reading the Easter story to your kids so they will have some background on the story. As you’re reading, ask lots of questions and encourage your kids to share their thoughts with you.

After you read the story, it’s time to build your garden! First, fill the large pot up with soil to within 2 inches of the top. Place the small pot in the dirt and bury it partway down so that the opening of the small pot is still open and accessible (this will be the “tomb”). If you want to, you can now cover the soil with moss or ground covering plants.
IMG_2806Now for the rocks. I had the boys collect rocks from our yard and then we counted them to make sure we had enough (1 rock per day leading up to Easter). On each rock we used a permanent marker to write one word relating to the Easter story. I started by letting them come up with words on their own that stood out to them from our recent reading of the Easter story (cross, friend, tomb, 3 days). Once they ran out of words, I suggested my own (grace, hope, resurrection).
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We placed our rocks upside down in a pathway leading to the “tomb” (the small empty pot). Each day leading up to Easter we will turn over one rock in the path and discuss how it relates to the Easter story and to us personally.

Next, we placed our final two rocks. Inside the tomb we put a stone with the word “Jesus” on it. Then we rolled a large stone across the entrance to the tomb to seal it off until Easter.
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Finally, the boys decorated our garden with flowers (I was using artificial flowers because, let’s be honest, the real ones wouldn’t fare too well under my care. If you decide to use seeds or real flowers, however, you’d want to plant them way back in step 1 right after you put the dirt in the pot.).

We placed our Resurrection Garden on our dining room table as a center piece. Each night at dinner we can turn over our stone and have some conversation over our meal.
IMG_2818On Easter morning we will roll away the stone to the entrance of the tomb, but–surprise!–it will be empty (so long as I remember to empty it the night before…). This will be a visual for the boys that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. He is alive! And now the real party can begin :)

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The True Story of St. Patrick’s Day

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate one of my new favorite holidays: St. Patrick’s Day–and it’s not because I have a strong affection for leprechauns and green beer. As with most holidays today, St. Patrick’s Day has become a commercialized celebration of silly nonsense. And I get it–it’s fun. I love fun just as much as the next person–and there is certainly a place for fun in all of our holidays–but what gets to me is that up until very recently I didn’t even know the “true” story of St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a true story.

In fact, the true story of St. Patrick’s Day is one of deep historical–and spiritual–significance. Far more than celebrating pots of gold and wearing green, St. Patrick’s Day is a vivid illustration of God’s power and redemption. For me personally, the day is also a reminder of the singularly beautiful place that I got to call home for a short time: Ireland. The Emerald Isle will always hold a special place in my heart, and I want people to know her story.

This week I’ll be going to David’s preschool to share my rousing rendition of The True Story of St. Patrick’s Day. It will go something like this:

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Last year our family lived in a country far away from here called Ireland. When we were living in Ireland, we learned a lot about the country and the people who live there.

 

 

 

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You know how in fairytales there are princes and princesses and castles? Well, in Ireland there are real castles! The castles in Ireland were built a long, long time ago. We got to visit many castles in Ireland to learn about the stories of the people who built them and lived in them. Although plenty of castles are still standing today, people don’t live in them any more.

 

 

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Not everybody in Ireland lived in castles. A long time ago, people built other kinds of houses to live in. This is called a beehive hut. It is made from small stones stacked on top of each other to make a kind-of rock igloo. Grass has grown on top to make a roof. Does this look like the house you live in?

 

 

IMG_4768Quite a bit later, people in Ireland built another kind of house. These houses looked more like the houses that we live in today, but most of them were still built entirely out of stone. The people who lived in this village all left during a time when many people in Ireland were very poor and sick. In just a few years’ time, the entire village became deserted. Many of the people who left this village boarded ships that were going to America. They hoped to find a better life in America. Today in America, there are many people whose families came from Ireland long ago.

IMG_2822This is called the Dromberg Stone Circle, and it is a very, very old statue. There are several stone circles like this in Ireland. Nobody today knows exactly why people long ago built the stone circles, but they think it had something to do with the gods they worshiped. Throughout history, people in Ireland have worshiped different things. For a long time, though, people did not worship the one true living God.

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Over 1,000 years ago, in about the year 400, a man helped to tell the people in Ireland about the one true God. He was not the first or only person to be a missionary in Ireland, but God used his words and his work to change many peoples’ lives. Today, we know this man as St. Patrick.

 

 

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Before St. Patrick was called St. Patrick, he was a boy with another name. He was born in a country called Scotland that is just north of Ireland. When he was 16 years old, he was captured and sent on a ship to Ireland as a slave. The young boy was scared and alone.

 

 

Sunny Sheep Pastures near Kingston

Once he arrived in Ireland, the boy was given a new name: Patrick. He worked each day as a shepherd, taking care of his master’s sheep. Patrick would be alone outside all day, every day taking care of the sheep. While he was alone, he came to know the one true living God. He started praying to God, and asked God to protect him.

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God answered Patrick’s prayers and, a few years later, Patrick escaped to safety. He left Ireland and didn’t think he would ever return. But God had a different plan. God changed Patrick’s heart to love the people in Ireland, and Patrick knew that he had to return to tell the people there about the one true living God. When Patrick returned to Ireland as a grown man, he spent the rest of his life teaching the Irish people about God. He used shamrocks, a plant that grows everywhere in Ireland, to teach people about the trinity. He would point out that each of the three heart-shaped leaves is unique, but part of one unit. In the same way, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit work together as one.

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Patrick would also point to the rainbows in the sky–and there are many of them in Ireland!–and tell people the story of the flood and God’s promise to protect His people.

 

 

 

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Partly because of Patrick’s work teaching about God, many people in Ireland came to know the one true God. Today, there are many churches in Ireland where people can go to worship God.

 

 

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Because of his work in Ireland, Patrick became known as St. Patrick. Today, we even have a special holiday named after him: St. Patrick’s Day. On St. Patrick’s Day we dress in green to remind us of the green hills in Ireland where Patrick used to live and teach.

 

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Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with fun activities like games and parades. Now when you see green and shamrocks you’ll know the reason why we celebrate this special day!

 

 

 

As I was putting together my little preschool presentation, I was struck by how significant St. Patrick is. Yes, Patrick was just a person, but God used him mightily. In his day, Ireland was widely considered to be the most heathen corner of the planet–and, yet, God broke through. Using the voice of an obedient man, God spoke Truth to a people who so desperately needed it. More significantly, however, there are many ways that Patrick actually points to the work and life of Jesus.

Patrick was a slave to his master. We are all enslaved to sin, yet Jesus came to conquer sin once and for all.

Patrick was given a new name and identity upon his arrival in Ireland. God gives His sons and daughters a new identity in Christ Jesus.

Patrick was a shepherd. Jesus was the lamb of God.

Patrick was obedient to God’s call on his life to rescue the lost. Jesus was obedient to His Father to the point of death on the cross and resurrection.

Patrick has been immortalized as a “saint” who we celebrate once a year. Jesus is a Saint who we worship every moment of every day, for now and forever.

So now when you’re eating corned beef and cabbage or setting leprechaun traps with your kids, you’ll know that there’s something more to the revelry. We can all celebrate because God is, and always has been, GOOD!

 

 

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Why Being A Grown Up Is Better Than Being A Kid

Earlier this week I was dealing with a crisis. David was lying on the floor shrieking because I was forcing him to put on pants before we left the house, or some other similar form of child-torture. I told him suck it up, kid, and we pulled up his pants anyway and left the house. And about five minutes later, another similar scene ensued and I realized what I’ve always known: being a kid is a tough job. You’ve got these “grown ups” who just like to boss you around and dictate your entire life–right on down to the pants you have to wear in public.

I remember being a kid and just wishing I could be old enough to finally call the shots. And, luck of all lucks, now I AM the grown up. I get to make the rules–not just for me, but also for my tiny minions. It’s a good gig. Actually, it’s a really good gig.

Being a grown up is better than being a kid because…

You get to say “because I told you so”–the sweetest 5-word phrase that will ever pass your lips.

You get to lick out the whole bowl when you’re baking brownies. You can also eat frosting right out of the jar and nobody’s going to stop you (I may or may not have eaten entire jars of frosting. Just because.)

You don’t have a curfew.

You are allowed to use real dishes and glasses at family gatherings.

You can decide for your own dang self if you’re going to eat your veggies.

You don’t have to deal with cliques…at least not as much. Among my grown-up friends I have a jet-setter, a prom queen, a book-nerd writer, a sorority sister/cheerleader, a former professional athlete, a Dungeon Master, an artist, a homeschooling mom, a songwriter, and a business leader. Tell me which high school would foster that group of friends?

You drive a car–the ultimate form of control.

You can wear a t-shirt out in a snow storm, and nobody’s going to yammer at you to put on a coat and a hat and gloves and some boots, for pete’s sake.

You can wipe your own bottom after using the toilet.

You don’t have to feel bad if somebody isn’t sharing their favorite toy with you. You can be as selfish as you want and just buy your own if you want it so bad.

You are expected to make your own decisions rather than having them dictated to you (like, deciding whether or not you will wear pants when you leave the house today…)

You don’t have to get “pokeys” every time you visit the doctor.

You’re tall enough to ride all of the cool rides.

You don’t have to do homework or take tests (even if your kids do test your patience every minute of every day).

You can order off the “real” menu when you go out to a restaurant.

When you wear mismatched outfits that don’t make any sense, people call you a trend setter.

You get to experience the magic of childhood from the other side.

You can stay up late drinking wine and writing your blog when you’re supposed to be in bed sleeping :)

 

To all the grown ups out there: Happy Friday!

 

 

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