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Make Way for Friends: Hallmark

This post is another Hallmark sponsored post. I am being paid by Hallmark to write it, but all writing, ideas and opinions are mine. Thankfully, Hallmark and I share the same idea–that little moments are to be celebrated and that good people, good efforts and good intentions deserve a spotlight. See Hallmark Life is a Special Occasion for more details, like them on Facebook, and/or sign up for their e-mail messages HERE.

I have this dream of the perfect friend date.
In my mind, it will happen soon.
They’re all there–all the friends that mean the world to me. Especially the ones that don’t know it.
And on this date, I get to spend an infinite amount of time with each and every one of them. I have a hand-written bulleted list of all the things each friend brings to my life, and I present it to them in an envelope I’ve illustrated with funny comics of the two of us together and the funny memories we share. They’ll laugh at first and then they’ll read my list. They’ll be amazed because all the things they’ve ever done for me? I remember it all. They’ll walk away feeling special and inspired and they’ll go home and tell their husbands, “She appreciates me. She even remembered that time I told her to wipe the lipstick off her teeth. She made me feel so loved.”

I wish this could happen. I really do. Because I do remember. And I always harbor a bit of you-could-do-better guilt for not living up to my expectations of loving and recognizing and honoring my friends like I really want to. There just isn’t time.

I think in this enterprising, demanding time of life when kids and family and paying bills are our obvious priorities, we constantly make efforts to trim off excess responsibilities. When we’re busy and stressed, we lighten the load of our ship by jettisoning things that aren’t necessary in our schedule–T.V., naps, long showers. I think sometimes though, in “Time Triage,” we cast off necessary things, thinking the trade-off preserves more family time. Sadly, precious time with friends is one of these.

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Let me tell you something. Friends. Should. Never. Be. Abandoned. If your ship needs to drop weight, throw the clothes overboard. Chuck your cell phone. Hell, get rid of necessary food. But friends? They are the life raft on the ship. The one with the big yellow sticker that says “Do Not Tamper.” And, God forbid, if your ship ever goes down…you need them.

Out of the kajillion blessings Nella’s birth experience brought to our life, one of the most treasured is my deepened recognition of the value of friends. Those pretty orange life rafts that served as decoration, fun, company–well, when the ship is in jeopardy, guess what? They inflate, just like they promise. They hold you up and take you to dry land, and if you’ve ever experienced it, you know never ever to take a friend for granted again.

Easier said than done. There’s always too much to do and not enough time to do it, and the reality of life with jobs and kids and families truly means time with friends is going to suffer. But I’m not letting it go down out without a fight. Nuh-uh.

Behold, a Tip Guide for The Fight:
Making Time for Friends

1. Get Creative.
Sure, I envision Brett watching the kids while I’m cozied up in a bar booth, hugged by friends on all sides and we are laughing and sipping and leaving with the promise to meet up–same time, same place–next week. This is a four-leaf clover discovery though, a lucky encounter cherished on rare occasions. In the meantime, we have to get crafty for enjoying each others’ company. Which is why I like to kill two birds with one stone–turn necessary activities like grocery shopping or carpooling to a birthday party into meaningful friend time.

We “Target Alert” each other. A simple text dispatched to friends: “Hitting Target in five minutes. You in?” And being that a trip to Target is always on the to-do list, more often than not the response of friends is something along the lines of “Meet you in the dollar section.”

And if you haven’t experienced it, Synchronized Grocery Shopping is right up there with dinners and happy hours and perfectly planned events.

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Heidi and I do it all the time–strolling through aisles, cart to cart, throwing embarrassing things into each other’s baskets, planning each other’s dinner menus, catching up on important matters of business.

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2. Incorporate the Kids
Some of my favorite friend moments have been nothing more than two of us, cross-legged on a kids’ bedroom rug, talking about life while we watch our kids smear chap stick on each other or play dolls.

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Park dates turn into afternoon parties when more mamas are present and, while kids are climbing and swinging and sliding, we stretch out on a blanket and dream. And someday, when life is even crazier, we will talk about how great it was when getting together was as easy as an all call to the playground or a pow wow on a bedroom rug.

3. Lower Expectations
I love to entertain friends, but I’ve built up in my mind that it has to be perfect–that I can’t invite people to my home unless the floors are mopped and candles are flickering and the oven’s about to ding in thirty seconds, perfectly timing hot coffee cake for arriving guests.

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This is my friend Dede’s house. She lives across the street and yes, her house always looks like this.

If this was the case, I’d never see friends. I’ve learned good friendships come with vulnerability, and some of the most beautiful conversations can indeed happen while sitting on top of two-day old smashed laundry.

This moment? It will not be forgotten.

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This is my house. I live across from Dede and yes, my house always looks like this. Okay a lot of the time.

Invite them over. Mi casa, su casa, Baby.

4. Get it on the calendar.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve excitedly planned a night out, a trip to the movies, etc. and never followed through. We’ll talk on the phone and say things like “Girls night next week, right?” and we answer, “Absolutely, can’t wait,” but next week means nothing unless it has a date on it. Unless it’s been typed into a phone calendar with an alarm the day before and a back-up alarm the day of. Time with friends is worth the effort of purposely planning dates. Better yet, make a reoccurring plan and stick to it.

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Every Sunday morning, I have coffee with my friend Wylie. It is a given–something I look forward to all week.

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Tuesdays are lunch with my friend Andrea after ballet and Fridays are afternoons with Dot. We do our best not to cancel, and when we have to, we feel the loss.

If we can make time to show up for doctor appointments, hair cuts and ballet class, surely we can pencil in a good renewing moment with friends.

5. Desperate Measures
If it’s been a long time since I’ve contacted a friend or I feel like I haven’t done a good job at showing interest in her life or asking how things are going, sometimes I feel guilty and deal with it by further avoidance. Being forthright and honest is always the best medicine. Sometimes, it feels good to pick up the phone and call. To leave an “I’ve been thinking about you” message on a Facebook wall. To text a funny picture to let them know they haven’t been forgotten. Or sometimes a simple apology. “I’ve been busy, I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you.” The best kind of friends are like a cactus–they don’t take much “work” to grow and are easy to maintain, but even a cactus needs a little water now and then.

Desperate measures mean spontaneity. Call your friend and tell her to drop everything and meet you at Starbucks. Get your kids in the car and invite your neighbor to the park with you. Text an all-call for sunset on the beach, or knock on your friend’s door in your pajamas late at night and tell her you need a chat.

Speaking of, one of my favorite friend moments lately? Pajama dates. When kids are asleep and the moon is bright and I’m about to go to bed…but no. There’s an opportunity to nurture a friendship. A quick dash across the street to Dede’s house. Because finding time for friends means searching for any available pockets of time. And I guarantee you, that fireside chat last night was far more replenishing than the sleep I missed.

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Someday, I will plan that perfect date. But for now, I will continue to make efforts and find ways to nurture my friendships because they are a valuable part of my life.

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Do you have any creative ways for fitting in time with friends? Any memorable traditions that you make efforts to maintain? Hallmark and I would love to know how you make time for your friends. Do tell.

The Friend I Want to Be: Hallmark

This post is another Hallmark sponsored post. I am being paid by Hallmark to write it, but all writing, ideas and opinions are mine. Thankfully, Hallmark and I share the same idea–that little moments are to be celebrated and that good people, good efforts and good intentions deserve a spotlight. See Hallmark Life is a Special Occasion for more details, like them on Facebook, and/or sign up for their e-mail messages HERE.

In my teens, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was homeschooled, a bit sheltered and the closest I came to sleepovers were the ones I read about in Seventeen magazine where pictures of pretty girls with pretty teeth, painting each others’ nails, piqued my interest of a more social world. I met a couple girls in college with whom I really clicked, but I lived with my grandparents off campus from a small Christian school that breathed dorm life, prayer partners and residence halls that served as sorority letters. If you lived in Muffit Hall, you were practically an Alpha Delta Pi. I lived in the back left bedroom off my grandpa and grandma’s hallway—where doilies adorned my dresser tops and the echo of laughter and teenage conversation was replaced with the static of my grandpa’s nightly ham radio broadcasts.

And for the record, if I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

It’s not that I yearned for friends. I had them; they just weren’t my age. I worked in the Cardiology department of a hospital all through college and, along with a useful vocabulary of medical terms (“Print off his echo report, see if he had a thalium stress and send those cath films over to Royal Oak, Stat!”), I also acquired a nice handful of middle-aged women who served as both second mothers and good friends. I cried on their shoulders, pocketed their advice after bad dates and listened to them talk about their own kids who were thriving in college—lining up spring break trips and dog-earring cute bridesmaid dresses for the next of their friends to be married. Me? I was finishing term papers for Old Testament Studies, skipping required chapel visits and spending my weekends driving my busted-up station wagon (The Staysh) over to my sister’s house to live vicariously through her family. My friend Roberta (yes, who was over 50) used to tease me that if I didn’t get out there and meet some girls my age, someday when I got married I’d have an aisle full of bridesmaids all fifty and older—in mauve boleros and calf-length skirts.

And then I moved to Florida—the state that, I was convinced, had a population ratio of 200 old people for every young person. I was sure my someday wedding had expanded from fifty-year-old, bolero-wearing bridesmaids to an aisle full of walkers and nude orthopedic shoes with black knee socks.

But no. I met friends. Lots of them. Friends that taught me how to be a friend. Friends I would need a few years down the road when I couldn’t cope on my own. Friends that numbed my cravings for home and family—because they became home and family.

I’ve read enough parenting tips on raising girls to know it’s not recommended that you encourage talk of “best” friends because “best” just gets you into trouble and, like playing ball in the house never ends up good, publicly claiming someone as your “best friend” just sends another girl crying and crossing you off her birthday party list. But listen, this chick is my best friend.

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And so are a lot of other girls I love. But I’m going to throw the term “best” around for a bit because it’s a well-earned adjective for my friend Heidi whose warm eyes and friendly smile should appear under “friend” in Wikipedia. So should her tomato mozzarella Paninis and the way she genuinely kisses your kids and treats them like her own.

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Or the tone of her voice when she she’s sitting next to you, holding you, hugging you, telling you it’s going to be okay when your world has just been rocked. Or the loyalty and dedication in her eyes when you tell her certainly she’s tired and needs to go home, and she firmly replies…

I’m not leaving you. I promise I’m not leaving.

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I want to be this friend. And though I sometimes fall short and kick myself for going too long before e-mailing someone back or sending a birthday card or going out of my way to let someone know what they mean to me, I am learning. I am learning how to be a good friend because my friends show me how.

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And so, I’ve compiled a few admirable characteristics from the friends I know. Fool-proof tips of friendship that have changed me, supported me, made me feel loved and taught me how to be a friend—a really good one.

The Friend I Want to Be



Be Vulnerable.


You know that feeling when a friend calls you and she’s crying and needs you, and you say just the right thing to make it better? I love that. I always feel honored when a friend chooses me to share vulnerabilities. There is a level of trust and loyalty that strengthens a friendship. But it goes both ways. Being vulnerable isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that when I genuinely share my heart—the good, the bad, the insecurities, the weaknesses, the moments of despair—it is welcomed by my friends. Women seek to relate to each other. We feel safe and free and challenged to be real when we realize others share moments like ours. The most beautiful moments I’ve shared with friends are always the raw and vulnerable ones. Alright, second beer on the dance floor with our hands in the air to Don’t Stop Believin’ is pretty beautiful too.

Tell them you love them.

Don’t wait for the perfect moment, the long phone call, the big thing that happens that draws the “I love yous” from near and far. Be random, be honest, be a good friend and blurt out nice things when you think of them. Text them after your friends leave your house—things like “Dude, you always amaze me with how well you listen” or “I watched you today with your son and I just wanted to let you know I think you are an incredible mama.” Or simply “I love you—just thought you should know.” It means the world to anyone who hears it.

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Remember little details.

I’m always shocked when someone remembers something I said in passing. Like that I love sunflowers or Lebanese food or plain M&Ms. And months go by and then I have a bad day and someone shows up with sunflowers and Lebanese food and a bag of M&Ms. Because good friends stash away those details until they’re needed. And knowing someone’s favorite candy bar? It’s Friend Ammo. This, you should know. And how do you know these things? Well that’s the next tip.

Really Listen.

I’m not the best listener, I’ll be honest. And it’s hard today with cell phones and texting and thinking about that really cool thing I’m gonna say back when you finish saying what you’re saying. But good friends listen. They don’t just talk about their own stories. They ask questions about their friends’ lives and genuinely listen for their response. I’m getting better, and knowing how good it feels when someone is obviously listening to me and genuinely interested makes me want to do it even more.



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Celebrate Successes.

It’s a given that you show up and support a friend during hard times. But when things are going great—when she nailed that big project, landed her favorite job, got recognized for something she felt passionate about—it’s still important to be there, cheering on your friend and letting her know you share her happiness.

Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Numbah.

How silly I was to think I didn’t have many friends back in the day—just because the ones I had weren’t my age. Friendships don’t need EHarmony questionnaires pairing you with people who share your interests and fall in your age box. Some of my best friends are twice my age, and their wisdom and experience dissolves the many years between us. And let me tell you, Nana Kate can shake her groove thing just as good as the rest of us.

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I have friends that are very different from me—some with no kids, some with grandkids, some who do laundry every Tuesday and never have piles of clothes perched on their couch cushions.

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Dot never says a word when she uses my laundry piles for arm rests.



I need them. I learn from them. I love them.

There are more tips, more admirable qualities that take the spotlight when my friends step onto the stage and remind me with their performance to love like I’ve been loved. I fall short at times and have to challenge myself to love better, to gossip less, to at least post a “Happy Birthday” to a Facebook wall or send a text of “I know we haven’t talked but I’m thinking about you.” To make more efforts to hug their kids, praise their accomplishments, or pick up their favorite candy bar. But there’s time to improve. And many years before I rock out my bolero and calf-length skirt. I think it will have glitter. Yes, I’m pretty sure of that.

Tonight, I am grateful for my friends and what they’ve taught me.



What do you love most about your friends? Is there something a friend did for you that you’ll never forget–something that taught you how to be a better friend? I’d love to hear the qualities you most admire in your friends, and Hallmark would too. If you’d like, please share a story or endearing friend characteristic in the comments.

To see all Life is a Special Occasion posts from this blog, click HERE.

School Talk: Introducing Disabilities to Classrooms and Friends

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When I unzipped Nella’s backpack Friday afternoon, the first thing I pulled out was a Chuck E. Cheese birthday invitation for a little girl in her classroom. I’m sure it was tucked into every classmate’s backpack before they left and shouldn’t mean something special to me–why wouldn’t she be invited?–but the instant welcome to friendship in the first week of school hugged that little part of me–the part that dramatically played out the entire story of her life when she was born, and worried if she’d have friends or be invited to parties or feel part of the group. It is perhaps the greatest concern of parents of kids with special needs in school because while we know we will work hard to overcome challenges with resources, appropriate accommodations, academic growth and life skills, we also know that the underlying foundation to success is a sense of worthiness–of being loved and feeling a great sense of belonging in a community where we are recognized for who we are.

Last year in preschool, we didn’t feel the need to address Nella’s differences with the classroom–at least not in any organized way. They were all so young, focused on their own little worlds, just happy to be together and play, with little notice of how other students performed. But I was aware of a shift by the end of the year–the way her friends lovingly took on helping her, the way they looked at each others’ projects and bluntly assessed who scribbled and who stayed in the lines. Nella didn’t speak near as much at preschool as she does at home, and I’ll never forget receiving a video from her first year of preschool when she played a color game and finally spoke out loud. “Yellow,” she said when the spinner landed on the color. And right before the video ended, you could hear a little boy next to her gasp and yell, “HEY! NELLA CAN TALK!”

The fact is, kids are observant little sponges, perhaps well more aware of the world around them than their grown predecessors absorbed in their phones and schedules and to-do lists. And though we might think kids are naturally good-hearted and inclusive when it comes to accepting and interpreting differences so “why point it out if they don’t notice,” I’ve found they do notice. And they are naturally curious about their friends around them.

Going into kindergarten, I knew I wanted her class informed about Down syndrome–this year and every year–or at least until she’s like, “Mom, dear God, I can do this on my own.” Knowledge is power, and presenting our child’s differences in the way we want them perceived–which is basically what they are: a few different things that make her unique among a sea of things that make her like everyone else (see also: humans in general)–leaves no time or space for kids to form their own misconceptions or to assume, by no mention of it, that the subject of differently-abled individuals is something to be whispered about in private, and it’s not.

As one parent from this Pacer Center guide witnessed, “When there’s an obvious difference and no one is talking about it, children become confused and think there must be something ‘bad’ about it. When the children understood that the disability was not bad, but just different, many were eager to help him.” More understanding leads to more acceptance, loyalty and support. And this isn’t just for Nella. According to the National Organization on Disability, nearly one-fifth of all Americans have a physical, sensory or intellectual disability, and one out of 9 children under the age of 18 in the US today receive special education services. Initiating these conversations is vital for all of our communities. If these friends aren’t in your child’s classroom today, they will be in their communities tomorrow.

If you don’t have a child with special needs, you can initiate these conversations in your own home  (I wrote this a couple years ago as a guide for introducing the topic of special needs to kids). And if you do have a child with special needs starting school and want it discussed (not everyone does, and that’s fine!), reach out to your teachers and school counselors about how you’d like it introduced. Schools will naturally protect confidentiality regarding your child’s disability and know that parents have different feelings on how they want them approached in school–so let your voice be heard!

We reached out to our school counselor and asked her to speak to Nella’s class without her present. Since they’re only in kindergarten, they don’t need in depth information on chromosomes and cell biology. But we do want them to know that Nella is smart, loves her friends, shares a lot of likes and dislikes and might need some extra help and support because of a little thing called Down syndrome that makes her unique. We also wanted them to give them ideas on how they can be her friend, help her learn and yet leave room for her to figure things out herself.

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“What do you want me to share with them?” our counselor asked me. As a former teacher and mom, I needed to write this whole thing out for myself, but I highlighted the important things and handed it over to her with a “Love you, trust you, make it your own.”

Now picture precious little kindergarteners–the future leaders and workers and community-builders of our country–all criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, listening intently, raising hands once in a while to interject completely unrelated information like “my grandma’s cat died” and “can I get a drink of water?” but mostly, listening intently/playing with their shoes.

Talk about things that make us different:  (Can you roll your tongue? Does anyone have any birthmarks? Freckles? Do you know anyone with allergies or asthma?) There are lots of things about our bodies and minds that make us unique, and many of these things are with us since before we were even born. Some of these things we inherit from our moms and dads and some things we have on our own.There’s a friend in our classroom who has something special that makes her unique. Our friend Nella has something called Down syndrome. Down syndrome is not a disease. It’s just part of who she is and what makes her different just like having different hair color or a special birthmark or allergies make other friends unique.

What is Down syndrome? Down syndrome is not a bad thing or something to be sad about! It’s just one thing that makes Nella different. She can do pretty much everything everyone else in this room can do–she can talk and run and play with friends and dance and learn to read and write her name and make art, but because of the way Down syndrome makes bodies work, it might take her a little longer to do these things, and she may need a little extra help from teachers and classmates. You might not always be able to understand her and sometimes her school work might look a little different, but she is trying her very best and is proud of her work just like you feel proud of your work when you work hard. Nella loves to learn and watches and listens to everything around her. Anyone who loves to learn and keeps trying, no matter how hard things are, is VERY SMART.

Focus on similarities: Down syndrome is just a very small part of who Nella is. Even though Nella might learn to do things a little slower and needs extra help, she is JUST LIKE YOU!

*She loves to swim and play outside
*She loves to play with Barbies
*She is really good at playing games on her iPad
*She LOVES music and Taylor Swift is her favorite
*She likes watching shows on Nick Jr. and Disney
*She takes ballet
*She has lots of friends and loves to play with them

What can you do to support Nella and be her friend?

Sometimes when everyone around you is doing something that’s hard for you, it can make you feel bad or alone. We all have times when we feel this way, and we all have different things that are hard for us. WE NEED OUR FRIENDS to support us, help us and remind us that we are all an important part of the group. Remember what it feels like when things are hard for you to do, and think about what makes you feel better.

* You can offer to help Nella with things that are hard for her, but try not to do things for her if she can do it herself. She loves to be independent and do the same things her friends are doing.
* Even if she doesn’t say as much as you do, still talk to her! She understands you perfectly.
* You can play with her at lunch and recess and make sure she knows her friends love being with her.
* If you can’t understand things Nella says, be patient with her and ask her to repeat it or ask the teacher to help you understand her.
* Be a cheerleader. Sometimes if things seem hard to Nella, she may want to shut down and not try. Be a cheerleader and remind her, “YOU CAN DO IT, NELLA! JUST TRY YOUR BEST.”
* Compliment a job well done! Nella loves to be recognized by her friends for her hard work. If you see she worked hard on something and did her best, give her a high five or say “Great Job, Nella!”

Thank you for being such great friends to Nella. She loves being here and loves all of you.

Questions, questions, questions, ask anything!

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There are several children’s books that deal with disabilities and differences. I personally love the non-specific themes of acceptance and different-is-rad such as Not Your Typical Dragon and Elmerfantastic springboards for expanding into themes of acceptance and compassion–but you can find some great lists of books on specific disabilities such as these Children’s Books About Disabilities or this Goodreads list on children’s books that introduce specific special needs themes.

We also know that maintaining friendships and encouraging social growth will take extra efforts on our part for Nella. Providing play opportunities after school, inviting people over, etc. is important. My friend Stephanie, several years ahead of us on this journey, hosts a backyard movie night every couple weeks to foster her teen son’s friendships.

If any of you have any great ideas on introducing these themes to classrooms or tips for fostering friendships and making connections at school, please share in the comments!

This is all a work in progress. But as Nella’s mom, I’ve got three jobs every day that I know I can do: show up, speak up, and dream up. Onward, friends.