What We’re Missing in the NFL Anthem Debate

I was only six years old, but I’ll never forget the first time I understood what it meant to be an American.

It was the middle of a long, dreary winter, the kind that leaves you doubting spring might ever triumph. From the muted overcast sky to the dingy, weeks-old snow covering the ground, the world seemed strangely faded and somber.

It matched the mood of my first grade teacher as she gently tried to explain the war that was raging halfway around the world.

Operation Desert Storm was underway on the unforgiving deserts of the Middle East. Back home, the Gulf War had launched turmoil in some of our young lives, too; my hometown is just a few miles from a large Air Force base, so some of my classmates had fathers, uncles, brothers who’d been deployed to fight a bad guy named Saddam Hussein.

It was pretty heavy stuff for kids just learning to decipher phonics and arithmetic to comprehend.

We started each day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, our small hands splayed over our hearts. The flag was mounted high on the wall in the corner of the classroom; it was small, but it sure seemed mighty.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands…”

My heart stirred beneath my hand with a kind of pride and gratitude I recognize now was patriotism. I may not have understood the why behind the fighting, but I sensed the gravity of it all. The grown-ups I knew were worried but brave. Tankers rumbled across dusty deserts on our television screens at night, their red, white, and blue flags whipping in the wind. Americans were rising to the challenge of defending liberty and justice overseas—and supporting each other with kindness and compassion back home.

No wonder that little flag on the classroom wall looked so formidable.

The flag has been in the news in recent days, at the center of a firestorm between players in the National Football League and the President of the United States. Some players have started kneeling during the National Anthem as a way of protesting perceived social and racial injustices across the country. President Donald Trump took issue with the demonstration and turned to his Twitter account to denounce their actions.

My Facebook feed has been lighting up with opinions on the topic, ranging from “How dare they not stand for the National Anthem!” to “How dare anyone question their right not to stand”

I’ll let you Google the details, but allow me to summarize: it’s all exhausting.

I wish I could hit the pause button on the national frenzy du jour and transport every last one of us to my first-grade classroom, for just a moment. We understood something then, at six years old, that I fear we’re losing sight of today, something we desperately need to reclaim: reverence and respect.

Reverence, for me, means standing for the National Anthem and placing my hand over my heart.

Reverence, for you, might mean taking a knee as the anthem plays as an act of peaceful protest.

Respect for all of us means we understand the American flag extends each one of us the freedom to do either.

“…one nation, Under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

When “vacation” is a four letter word

Every summer when my brothers and I were growing up, our family took a vacation to Minnesota. We drove six hours to spend a week at Sunset Lodge on Potato Lake, and they were some of the best days of my childhood, filled with endless hours on the sandy beach, good friends, corn on the cob, water skiing, and plenty of late-night Yahtzee games.

But those couple of days before the five of us piled into the car and headed down Highway 2? My mom used to drive us crazy.

We had to clean our rooms. Straighten closets. Make our beds. Vacuum. Make sure not one single dish was left dirty in the sink when we finally—finally—were ready to leave that Saturday morning.

“But Mo-om,” we whined. “It doesn’t matter if our beds are made, we’re not even going to be here to see them!”

We didn’t get it, the ridiculous need to have everything in its place at home ahead of our departure. We heaved big sighs as we begrudgingly did as we’d been told, of course, but we grumbled and bickered and complained all the while.

(Have I mentioned, we didn’t get it?)

Well, now that I’m a mother myself, I finally get it.

I understand the difference in how a mother and the rest of her family views vacations. When kids think about an upcoming trip, they only see the fun that lies ahead: the swimming, the ice cream, the mini golf, the nights staying up way past their bedtimes. When moms think about that vacation, they have a giant hurdle to clear before they can begin to see the same: packing.

I’m not talking about the physical act of filling suitcases. That’s the easy part. It’s the mental maneuvering that goes along with it. What shoes do the kids need? Does everyone own a bathing suit that still fits? Who’s going to pick up the mail while we’re gone? Where did the camera charger end up? Do we have enough milk to last until we leave so I don’t have to buy another gallon that’s just going to sit in the fridge and spoil while we’re gone?

I understand now how it wears on a woman’s sanity.

I understand that, yes, Mom would have seen those unmade beds after we had left them behind. I understand how her mental cataloging of what each of us needed wore her nerves raw. I understand the pressure she felt to tie up loose domestic ends before leaving town. Mostly, I finally understand why getting ready for a vacation made my mother frazzled and a little bit frantic.

We had a framed poster hanging in our kitchen when we were growing up, one that’s now hanging in my own kitchen. It shows a mother hen, cartoon arms on her aproned hips, fuzzy yellow chicks looking up at her, the words “I’M THE MOMMY, THAT’S WHY!” in bold letters on either side. And that’s it, plain and simple. When you’re the mommy, you feel responsible for taking care of your brood in every way. Feeding them, clothing them, creating a childhood for them that’s filled with memories, happiness, wonderful vacations. So sometimes, an unmade bed or a dirty cereal bowl in the sink could have made it all too much to handle, silly as it sounded to my brothers and me at the time.

So, for all those hours of work you did while we were blissfully unaware and boorishly ungrateful; for the late nights washing and organizing and sorting; for thinking ahead; for anticipating our needs; for laying the groundwork for the happiness we took for granted—thanks, Mom.

Better late than never, right?

Thats why

12 tips for flying with kids

Six passengers.

Five airline tickets.

Four car seats.

Three suitcases.

Two flights.

One trip covering 3,500+ miles.

It might sound intimidating, but repeat after the mom who’s just flown with four kids in tow: “We can do it!”

My husband and I have kids, ages 8, 6, 3, and 4mos, and I’ll be honest: I wondered if we were a little crazy as we walked through the airport doors with our entourage. But, a little pre-planning, some strategy, and plenty of deep breaths made traveling with young children surprisingly simple, and we picked up some tips along the way that are worth sharing.

Before you go

1. Book at the airport for possible lower fares

When we booked our tickets, the online processing fees would have totaled almost $50 per person. We bypassed that by visiting the airport several weeks ahead of our trip and booking directly at the ticket counter. When you consider we were buying five tickets, it was well worth the hour spent at the airport to save more than $200.

2. Pass on selecting seats

New FAA regulations require airlines to seat children under age 13 next to a parent, at no cost. This saved us another $200 on our trip! You may not all sit together (my husband and two of our kids were about a dozen rows behind me and our other two kids), but your kids will not be next to strangers. Tip: If your boarding passes have your family split apart like we were, ask the gate agent before boarding begins if he can move you. On the flight home, we were able to be reassigned to all be in the same row.

3. Make your itinerary kid-friendly

Book direct flights whenever possible to minimize travel time and hassle – and consider flying in and out of smaller regional airports. We flew into Mesa, AZ instead of Phoenix, and were able to rent a car on-site and walk only about fifty yards to it – a godsend when you’ve got kids, a stroller, suitcases, and car seats to transport. We flew home from the (very large) Las Vegas airport, and the experience was much more challenging because of the sheer size of the complex.

Try to fly during daytime hours, too. It’s not easy for anyone to answer a 4am wake-up call, let alone a toddler who may be off her game the rest of the day because of it.

4. Get the kids photo IDs

When we travel, I like our kids to have photo identification. Our local DOT office issues exactly what I was looking for. I brought their birth certificates and social security cards, as proof of ID, and it took just a few minutes to fill out the paperwork and snap their photos for their cards. Plus, even if they end up not needing them during your travel, these cards make adorable keepsakes. Bonus: the first card was free and additional cards were less than $10.

5. Buy something new for each child

It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but a new toy or activity to give each child during the flight is a great trick to have up your sleeve. Stickers, a new book, special treats – the possibilities are endless, and the benefits are, too. A mom friend was traveling solo with her three boys ages six and under when they encountered a 90 minute delay after boarding the plane. She said a cleverly hidden bag of gummy bears saved her whole trip.

It’s also a great idea to pack each child a small backpack with a few favorite things inside. An easy way to organize things like crayons and small toys is to pack them in gallon Ziploc bags; this makes grabbing what they want hassle-free once you’re in the air.

At the airport

6. Check all the things

Most airlines let you check things like car seats, strollers, and Pack ‘n Plays for free – something you should take advantage of at the ticket counter if at all possible. Some might argue you’re better off taking car seats to the gate to check them, that they’ll be handled more gently that way. We lugged a car seat through the airport on a previous trip and gate checked it; when we boarded, I looked out the window and watched it be tossed right alongside the booster seat we’d checked at the ticket counter. Now we check everything we can right away.

If you have an especially wiggly toddler over age 2, you might consider bringing the car seat onboard and installing it in his paid seat so he has a familiar and secure place to sit. I have some friends who swear by this approach and who say it makes the whole flight a much more pleasant experience.

7. Utilize car seat checking hacks

You can buy car seat covers, but there’s a cheaper option: I bring several big, clear garbage bags and a roll of duct tape to the airport to wrap our car seats before we check them. It’s not fancy, but it keeps them a little cleaner during transport and allows me to double some things up – like the Bumbo seat for the baby I taped inside her car seat. It’s also a great place to stash things like life jackets or pool toys if you’re packing them. I use two bags per seat, and it’s worked well every time we’ve flown.

8. Don’t be in a hurry to board

Use the time before your flight to let the kids run off some energy. We sat next to an open area that our kids happily flipped bottles in, and my husband took a couple of them on a walk to get snacks (and use the ever-exciting moving walkways). Take a couple of bathroom breaks, and spend some time watching airplanes take off and land; the airport is a busy, fascinating place – especially for a kid! Once boarding does begin, we wait as long as possible to avoid unnecessary extra time cooped up in the parked airplane. Tip: If you have a stroller, you’ll need to fold it up at the end of the jet bridge so make sure it’s emptied of  toys and snacks when you board.

In the air

9. Help those ears 

We make sure the older kids have gum or chewy snacks to help cope with the altitude change, and I always nurse the baby during takeoff and landing.

10. Capitalize on the excitement 

You’re zooming through the air thousands of feet above the ground – flying is an adventure! It’s fun to look out the window together and talk about how tiny everything looks below. It’s even fun to put the tray table down and enjoy a cookie and drink together, or chat with the passengers around you. For most kids, flying is an out of the ordinary experience that can really be memorable.

11. Hand the kids the camera

This trip, I tried to be conscious of letting the kids take pictures instead of always doing it myself. It’s fun to see the adventure through their eyes, and handing it off means mom and dad have a fighting chance of being in some of the snapshots, too.

12. R-e-l-a-x 

Roll with the punches and stay relaxed – your attitude sets the tone for the little eyes watching you, and they want to enjoy the experience just as much as you do. You’ve got this!

This post originally appeared on Bison Booties

Dear Mama Bird…

Dear mama bird,

It’s been a long day, huh?

Your babies were up with the sun. I heard them, outside my window, twittering like little pint-sized alarm clocks. I don’t speak your language, but I understood what they were squalling: “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!”

It’s the universal cry all mothers know, especially in the wee hours of the morning.

I peered out the window then, wondering how you would react from your perch on a nearby branch. Would you exhale and sink into your your feathers, try to conjure up a few more minutes of rest? It was Saturday morning, after all, the weekend. But no, swiftly, deftly, and with not one scolding chirp, you flitted over to the nest, shiny dragonfly in your beak, and ducked inside.

And then—oh my!—did those little ones go crazy. I can’t see them in there, you’ve so snugly tucked them away inside your birdhouse, but I can imagine the scene. Two, maybe three little beaks straining towards you, clamoring in anxious excitement, probably stepping all over each other. One of them snatched it up (the firstborn?!), causing the others to squawk their indignant fit. You deflate ever so slightly. How silly to think they’d share such a bounty.

You reappear at the window, cast a furtive glance this way and that, and dart back to the dewey grass, searching for another bit of breakfast. Success. Again, you hurry over to your babies, bug in beak, and are greeted with same reaction (and, I’d venture to guess, not even so much as a “thank you.”).

How many times do you perform this same scripted dance today? If only we could lock eyes, I think a moment of understanding would pass between us, across the species. We mothers of young children are all pretty much the same. Feathered or friend, we exist to care for our little ones. When they’re tiny and helpless, with so much yet to learn about the world and how to find their place in it, we are their constant. We comfort when they cry. We nourish when they need. We encourage. Protect. Satisfy.

Then, all too quickly, they grow. They peek their heads out of that window, realize the world is one giant adventure that awaits—and they’re off, spreading their wings and soaring on the love you’ve so freely given.

I’m sure you’ll be nearby, perched on that branch, swelling with pride that’s tinged with sadness. It’s the universal cry of a mother’s heart, dear mama, and I’m right there with you.

This post originally appeared on Bison Booties

Undoing the unthinkable

Have you ever hung on a person’s every word?


Last night, my husband and I played table host at the Dakota Hope Clinic annual fundraiser, the biggest event for this local charity focused on supporting those in crisis pregnancies. The keynote speaker was someone you may have heard about in the news a few years ago: Abby Johnson, a former rising Planned Parenthood star director who resigned after holding the ultrasound probe during an out-of-the-ordinary ultrasound-assisted abortion procedure.

She shared the story of those few minutes that changed her life and her heart; how the moment the cannula that was about to suck the 13-week-old baby from his mother’s womb touched the baby, he jumped, and began frantically twisting and wiggling to get away from the instrument of his impending death.

She talked about watching that baby be dismembered before her eyes, while she stood silently by, assisting the doctor as he jokingly quipped, “Beam me up, Scotty!”

She detailed how that broken body ended up in a glass jar marked “POC,” or “products of conception) and was unceremoniously stored in a staff room freezer, laughingly dubbed “the nursery” by Planned Parenthood workers.

She relived for us, the moment her heart was changed, as she stared down at her hands, fully understanding for the first time how instrumental they’d been in taking thousands of lives during her young career, all under the guise of protecting women. She told us how that day, she felt the power of conversion take hold of her life, and drive her that very afternoon from that office and into the stark realization that what she was doing–what Planned Parenthood was doing–was not only unjust, it was unthinkable.

Today, Abby travels the globe sharing her story with anyone who will listen. She cuts through the lies purported by Planned Parenthood, sharing firsthand information about protocols, procedures, and profit-driven atrocities being done to vulnerable women inside clinics across the country every day. She doesn’t mince words–the abortion industry is a powerful, vicious, murderous machine.

What, then, can we do once our eyes have been opened?

We can support crisis pregnancy centers like Dakota Hope, where compassion is shown to every person who walks through their doors. Where women who find themselves in impossible situations, at the lowest points of their lives, are welcomed with open arms, treated with respect, and unconditionally supported. Where the quiet, steady work of sustaining life goes on, day in and day out.

Before last year, I didn’t know a place like Dakota Hope existed in my city. Chances are, you might not either–but they are there, persevering in their call to rescue hearts and heal the hurts of a vulnerable population crying out for help.

Please, support them. Support life. Support women. Help create a culture where abortion is, as Abby Johnson: ProWoman, ProChild, ProLife so rightly puts it, simply unthinkable. .


Tomorrow Will Be Better

Today was a bad day.

We were all tired–the combination of incessant coughing, middle-of-the-night-toddler-wakings, and endless wintery blahs are getting the best of us, I guess.

Felicity napped for just 20 minutes.

After school, the big kids started arguing approximately 2.7 seconds after they entered the same airspace.

I yelled at them. Meredith cried. Mother of the Year, right here.

Daddy is working the late shift this week, and I’m feeling sorry for myself, so I drove through McDonald’s for dinner.

Felicity splashed water out of the tub and I lost my temper. When I got her out, she ran away from me, and not 10 seconds later, tinkled on the kitchen bench cushion. That’s not to mention the permanent marker toddler artwork discovered on my couch cushion.

I let them all play iPad tonight much longer than any pediatrician would recommend, just to give myself a few minutes of silence and solitude.

I ate a piece of stale leftover chocolate birthday cake for dinner.

The kids got toast, cheese, and water for a bedtime snack, like some sort of second-rate prison ration.

Nolan cried because I brushed his teeth with the wrong toothpaste, and Felicity pushed him off his stool.

It was not a good day.

But, when we finally came to an agreement on which books to read before bed, they snuggled in–and forgave it all. We talked about visiting Mount Rushmore this spring, looked up pictures of what it looks like and discussed Abraham Lincoln. Meredith recalled he was shot, and Nolan piped up, “Just like Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton.”

They make me smile, even on bad days.

They don’t hold my failures against me. Their capacity to forgive my shortcomings and forget my lousy moments is more than I’ve earned.

We parents spend our time stringing together a bunch of failures mixed in with some victories–and that’s OK. We’re human. We’re imperfect. We’re in constant need of grace.

These three little faces reminded me tonight that I can’t do it on my own. That despite the bad moments, the rotten days, the McDonald’s drive-thru dinners, mercy is there if we’ll only slow down, take a deep breath, and accept that which we do not deserve.

Today was a bad day.
Tomorrow will be better.