Random Thoughts

I hope you’re in the mood for a Random Thoughts post. Here are some of the things on my mind (it’s mostly thoughts about my kids):

-Yesterday, Maude moved to New York for the summer! She has an internship at Best Made, plus she’ll be working with the amazing Jodi Levine of Super Make It and Amanda Kingloff of Project Kid. I’m super proud of her for figuring all this stuff out and hope she has an amazing experience.

Her flight had an unexpected all-day layover in Chicago. She’d never been to Chicago before, so she explored the River Walk and had a lovely day. The original plan was that she would arrive in New York at 3:30 in the afternoon, instead, she arrived at 1:30 in the morning! But she made it, and got to her apartment (a sublet in Brooklyn), and she just called me from Central Park. So she’s feeling great. : )

She’ll return to Berkeley in the fall for her Junior Year. As far as studies go, she was undecided, but as she finished her second year, she concluded she wants to major in English. She’s not sure what she wants to do with it, but really likes the idea of being a high school English teacher and getting to introduce teens to books like Catcher in the Rye. We’ve encouraged her to check out the Teach for America program — the schools she would teach in would be very similar to her own high school and I think she would like that.

-Ralph is spending a couple of weeks in Utah, visiting friends and family. He is almost done with community college (one more semester to go!) and is exploring transfer options. He’s interested in transferring to Berkeley for a Media Studies degree, or a Film Degree. And he’s also looking at a Design Degree from BYU.

He knows he wants to make movies for a living, but doesn’t necessarily want to major in film. In the meantime, he’s been able to get a lot of consistent work on video and editing projects — you can watch his vimeo page to see his personal projects.

-Olive just finished her junior year of high school, and she has big plans. Instead of attending her senior year, she’s has taken an Au Pair position in the South of France! The position is September through July and she’ll head out at the end of this summer. Ben Blair or I (or both!) will accompany her to get her settled and meet the family she’ll be staying with and working for. We met them over Skype, but want to meet them in person and make sure Olive is all set.

Olive has 3 more classes she needs to graduate from high school — and one of those is a PE class. : ) So she’s taking two classes this summer from a local community college (Ballet and English), and she’s taking one online class as well (Gov/Econ). Her goal is to finish the online class at the same time the summer classes end (which is at the end of July). That way, she’ll meet with her high school counselor in August, confirm she’s done with all graduation requirements, and can head to France with all of that finished up.

While she’s in France, she’ll need do her college applications, but won’t need to worry about finishing high school. Her high school counselor told her that if she wants to come back next May to “walk” at graduation that she can. But Olive knows it will depend on her Au Pair schedule.

Olive has been working on finding an Au Pair position for the last year and did this totally on her own. She looked up websites, filled out a profile, and made inquiries. Pretty cool, right? She got job offers in Berlin and Paris, but was most pleased with the position in the South of France, so said yes to that one.

-On Saturday, Oscar will be awarded the Life Scout rank. He is working toward his Eagle, and the Life Scout rank is the rank just before Eagle. So he’s getting close. He’s wrapped up most of the needed merit badges, and will attend Scout Camp in July to finish things up.

He also has a goal of completing his Eagle Scout Project by the end of the summer. I would love that too! It would be great to feel like his scouting accomplishments are all settled before he starts high school in the fall. (Can you believe Oscar starts high school in the fall?)

-Oscar and Betty started their orthodontia adventures this week. : ) Oscar got an expander and will get braces in a couple of months. Betty is doing Invisalign.

-I know it’s late in the game, but we just barely mapped out our summer plans. The kids have Girls Camp, Scout Camp, and Band Camp. Swim Team too. We’re also looking at Sailing Camp and Theater Camp. And if it works with the camp schedules, there’s Cousins Week in St. George.

-Last week I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, and my head doubting every parenting decision I’ve ever made. Should we have stayed in New York or Colorado and never moved to France? Should I have made the kids take piano lessons more consistently? Are they watching too much Youtube? Remember when we quit gymnastics so they could do the play, and then we never re-signed up for gymnastics? Am I not paying enough attention to what they need?

I eventually calmed myself down and fell back asleep. But I keep thinking about it, because it was unusual for me — very little wakes me up in the middle of the night. How do you handle stuff like that? Do you ever doubt your parenting decisions?

-I remember as a kid, that my mom would always be slow to leave a gathering, or even church, because she was chatting with someone. Sometimes my siblings and I would walk home because that was faster than waiting for Mom. : )

I would have predicted that I would be the same way as a mother, but it turns out I’m not. I seem to sit evenly between extroverted and introverted. I love going to a party, but once I’ve had my fill, I’m done and want to be home immediately. My kids have noticed that between me and Ben Blair, he’s the one most likely to stay behind and chat. How about you? Are you more chatty than your spouse/partner? Or are you both pretty equal?

-The bridge we built in our backyard is in need of repairs. I was looking for photos of it and realized I’ve never actually written a blog post about it. I’m sure I meant to and then just got busy and forgot! I’m going to try and write one — it’s a really cool part of our house.

-It’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I wish we were in France to witness the memorials. When we lived in Normandy, we got to know the D-Day sites and history really well, and I was always so touched at how the French people treat those places as sacred and special.

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to my random thoughts, or you can leave your own random thoughts in the comments. I always love to hear what’s on your mind.

P.S. — More random thoughts.

42 thoughts on “Random Thoughts”

  1. English professor here, so of course I think Maude’s choice is a good one! It will carry her into a teaching career and into other options later in life, should she choose to pursue them. Learning how to think, read, and write will always be useful skills.

  2. As a Harvard Law grad (and previous Teach for America supporter!)- I have been surprised to find that almost all of the TFA alums I meet have had overall negative experiences (even if they have learned a lot and focused on the silver lining.) Just a suggestion to research the less-organized side of the much-celebrated organization!

  3. Teach For America was one of the best experiences of my life. It was incredibly difficult but has profoundly impacted my life trajectory and world- view. (And I do not work for the organization now so I have no problem speaking my mind.) My sister ended up joining after me (loved it as well) and a girl I used to babysit joined much later and is still teaching in low-income communities in NYC. I wholeheartedly recommend it!!!!!

  4. The fact that you worry about these things shows you probably did a good job as a parent. But you should really look into teach for America. It de professionalizes the teaching profession and supports the privatization of public schools. Maude seems like a thoughtful and smart kid. She doesn’t need TFA as much as they need her. Any school district would be thrilled to have a kid like her with real teaching credentials. Check the criticism yourself.
    May your summer have a few moments of peace amongst the crazy but wonderful parenting chaos.

  5. You’re raising such wonderful and adventurous kids, love it! I completely understand about questioning your parenting decisions, although my kids are only 5 and 2. My 5 year old is starting kindergarten in the fall and she got into a wonderful arts-integrated school, but we’ve decided that it’s too far from home, so she’s going to her zoned school. So of course I wonder if this will affect her future ability to do certain things and what not, but I feel like that’s all so normal. It would be nice to have a crystal ball and see all of the paths our different decisions will lead us down.

  6. English degree here with a daughter who teaches high school French and English. She has found her career as a teacher to be completely rewarding and I love hearing her stories and how she problem solves and advocates for her students. I am so proud of her commitment and dedication to her students and what she has to deal with on a daily basis (so many mental health issues).

    I’ve had braces and am currently doing Invisalign (broke my jaw in a bike accident). I’m curious how Oscar chose braces and Betty chose Invisalign?

    It’s always darkest before the dawn, as they say. When I wake up in the middle of night with those dark thoughts and worries, I always remind myself that I will feel differently/better when I wake up in the morning. Your kids are amazing and you know what that means-YOU and your husband have done an amazing job raising them!

  7. Would you (or Olive?) be willing to write up a post about how to search for international Au Pair positions? I think that would be such an incredible experience but I have no idea where to begin as I don’t really have an international network. I would love to have at least a little idea of how things work. Do they need to know the language already? What’s the pay like? What are the safety precautions you put in place?

    Thank you!

  8. After that long list of wonderful things your kids are into, I’m not sure why you are doubting your parenting skills! Brava, sounds like you all are on the right path.

  9. As Nancy already said, this whole post reads to me like a list of everything you’ve done RIGHT.
    I am so inspired by your approach to parenting and I think you and your kids are killing it. I love how you’ve empowered each of your kids to pursue his or her passions and I love that their paths don’t necessary look alike, but they share the thread of focusing outward and taking risks.
    That said, I do appreciate your honesty. Nice to know I am not alone. (I have to admit, though, my first thought after reading this was, “If GABRIELLE is questioning her parenting, how much must I be messing up my own kids??)

  10. Another TFA alum here. I had an incredible experience and have remained a teacher, all thanks to my experience with TFA. I’m now a proud union member but I refuse to attack TFA for the standard political or solidarity reasons. As soon as I saw you mention the program in the post I knew there would be kneejerk attacks from people regurgitating the soundbites that it’s a terrible program and part of a concerted movement to privatize public schools. I don’t think it’s a perfect program by any means, but I have seen firsthand the difference it has made for some students, districts and schools. I long for the days when we could have a meaningful, fact-based discussion about the needs of urban and under-resourced students and schools, and not resort to myopically focusing on polarizing themes like charter schools and TFA. To my mind they are being used as red herrings, as they are symptoms of the problems in our education system rather than root causes.

  11. Hey there – your kids are inspiring! I am currently looking for an au pair (we live in Perth in Western Australia) and tend to get a lot of applications from Europe. But none from the US. If your kids or their friends are ever looking this way there are a lot of options here. Great weather, on the beach, safe etc.

  12. Loved the updates on all your kids. Sounds like they are all finding their way. It is so inspiring. I can relate to questioning the parenting decisions made – and yes sometimes it keeps me up at night. I’ve found one powerful way to calm my brain down is to get real specific about all that is going right right now. It’s like I need hard evidence and no matter what I’m worried about I can find it. That’s what I read at the beginning of your post – EVIDENCE of the rich and varied lives your kids are creating for themselves.

    Also – I thought of you when I read this.

  13. Your family is so passionate and brave. I love it. Will Maude consider City Year? One of my best friends did it and loved it! I think it’s a stronger model than TFA.

  14. I’ll add to the others saying I cannot believe you doubt your parenting decisions after writing down all the interesting and independent paths your kids are taking! You of all people should be resting on your laurels, but I am really grateful you shared the doubt and anxiety, too.
    I question what impact/detriment our four year move to London had on our kids. I often told myself when I was there that I was a bad mother for taking them away from all their friends, making them learn a new language, interrupting their school careers, only to turn around and give them a whole new set of problems re-integrating into the old life (after living in London, every other place can seem BORING!).
    I remind myself not to choose to tell the ‘bad story’, I can also choose the happy story of all of us getting to meet new challenges as a family and experience something we’ll never forget.
    We’ll never have a crystal ball… Once we made the decision to move back to our home country, I was terrified one of the kids would die in a car accident (we do a lot of driving here) and that would mean I had made the worst mistake of our lives. After five years had passed, I allowed myself to take that particular worry off the table. It’s weird what we will do to torture ourselves and twist ourselves up hoping we did things ‘right’.
    It’s life, all we have to do is live it, if we’re doing that, we’re doing it correctly.

  15. “Do you ever doubt your parenting decisions?”
    All-the-time :)

    Just reading the description what each child is doing at this moment is enough for you to sleep like a baby. <3

  16. Thanks for touching on your kids and youth sports. I would love for you to talk more in depth about it and the ways it impacts youth in the American culture. I can’t believe the insane drive that Americans have for youth sports. Our son is 14 years old, and I tried to resist this trend for as long as possible, but we find ourselves with 9 months of basketball and a summer scheduled around out of state basketball tournaments. Every morning this summer, he has two hours of practice for another sport. This is way less than other kids we know- especially gymnastics kids, who travel across the country. You definitely made the right decision to take the kids out of gymnastics.

    Also, the specialization that young children can have in a sport, with personal trainers, etc, is something I can’t wrap my head around. We live in the midwest, so I thought it was perhaps a midwest thing, but in talking with friends across the country, it sounds like we aren’t any worse.

    All that to say, I’d love for you to have posting featuring families who have dedicated their lives to youth sports and what that yielded long term. Our son, like so many young men, dreams of playing college basketball, but I’ve repeatedly been told that unless he plays on this team or does this training or signs up for this or that, he doesn’t have a chance. To me it just sounds like big business. A long time ago, I think I remember reading a house tour from a family who moved to another country so their kids could attend a specialized tennis school- I’d love to hear an update.

    That’s my random thought for the day- lol!

    1. I just want to chime in that when I ask my friends whose children are in college, what regrets, changes or mistakes they have about child rearing…the emphasis on sports for the sake of college is the number one response I’ve received. They lament that the time and money spent on Club, Travel, Gold level or private coaching/training is the biggest thing they would change. They are sad that the time that could have been better spent building family vacation memories was spent traveling to tournaments and winning awards that are only recognized by those participating and forgotten once they leave for college. And that the money spent on 15 years of training was better spent saving for college. They were told they were “sooo close” or that their child was really talented but could be better if they just…

      My kids attend a school where high level division 1 scholarships are offered very frequently. In the end, some of my friends’ children received sports scholarships to colleges they didn’t want to attend or weren’t a good fit so they went somewhere else and didn’t play. Other children were admitted to higher ranked universities for their academic achievements, but not to play their high school sport. And some of my friends received really great sports scholarships to amazing institutions like Stanford or Ivies that they wouldn’t have gotten into otherwise. However they mention there are a few things that aren’t spoken about much. Firstly, at some point, college level scholarships becomes more about genetic gifts and less about how hard they train or how badly they want it. And that window is very small, somewhere between sophomore and end of junior year. That you can clearly see the talent that rises to the top, like cream, with or without the special training. One of my friends is wishing her daughter will quit Division 1 volleyball at a huge institution. She sadly reported that her child has no time for anything else. Yes she absolutely loves her teammates and the comradery, but her schedule consists of: Rise at 6am for physical training. Shower. Go to class. Tutoring. Team practice or a match travel. Shower. Homework. Sleep. This is every day and her body hurts all the time (this part is especially killing mom). She has no time for clubs or to join a sorority (which was something she wanted to do) because her coach said that Volleyball has to be her number one priority. And of course right? Because if a team continually loses, the coach loses his job. My friend is concerned because college is also about personal discovery (oh all the crazy mistakes made in college) and advanced education to further one’s future career, and those things are made secondary or third priority.

      I’m not criticizing anyone who does all the sports things for their kid. If that’s your kid’s thing and it doesn’t put you into debt, then by all means go for it. But that’s the dominant culture and I wanted to share an alternative point of view since you wondered.

      1. Oh how interesting. We have seen so many people dump money into sports. We chose inexpensive rec. and yep they give participation trophies. We know we do not have the genetic predisposition. I ran in high school and I worked so hard, but was slow. My friend started after me and lapped me immediately and now is the coach. We know of one girl who finally made it to do gymnastics in college. (Her life dream!) Well, she got injured. That’s inevitable in a sport like that. She doesn’t know what else to do with her life since she spent her entire childhood doing that. Her mother was complaining about her lack of motivation to do anything.

        1. I so relate to this!! I often wonder, what are these people hoping to get out of the completely insane sports/gymnastics/ dance schedules their kids have at age 6, 7, 8? We barely keep up with one kid who does Irish dance and a few red sports throughout the year. And yet I constantly wonder if I’m the one doing it wrong.

  17. PS- In addition to TFA, I highly recommended that your daughter look into the New Teacher Project, which is similar to TFA, but you apply to the city you want to work in as a teaching fellow. I taught with them in New Orleans, and while family circumstances had me depart early, the program was great and removed the worry of “Where am I going to end up?” so I felt that I was better prepared for the community I was moving into.

  18. As always, I am so grateful that you normalize anxiety about parenting even as you celebrate the incredible people your children are turning into. In my opinion, the hard truth is that our educational system is, if not entirely broken, then significantly sprained. Any choices our children make educationally will involve unpleasantness that seems so avoidable somehow, and yet really isn’t without a miraculous overhaul of the system. And then the social experiences involved in growing up while navigating cultures, learning languages, and forming a personal identity–oh, my heart! Every one of us, no matter how confident in our parenting skills, would wish to spare our children the pain of growing up. Thank you, Gabby, for helping the rest of us to talk about these very normal, but difficult, issues.

    Oh, and the tree bridge reminds me: how did you address concerns about damaging the trees themselves? When we inherited a treehouse upon moving onto our current property, we tried to hire an expert to ameliorate the rotting base and were told that the entire thing would have to be torn down and rebuilt without attaching it directly to the tree–to the tune of many thousands of dollars. No, thanks! A raccoon latrine it remains, alas.

  19. In our house we call that middle-of-the-night wake-up the “irrational hours.” For some reason, I can find the strangest things to worry about in the middle of the night. Dental work is a common topic. So is sun exposure. I find that it’s usually not directly about whatever your mind has decided to churn through at 3:00 a.m. That being said, I CONSTANTLY question my parenting decisions…and my kids are only 3 years and 6 months!

  20. Another mom here who is constantly questioning not just her parenting decisions, but basically all life decisions in the middle of the night! For a long time I would wake up at 3 am and never fall back asleep (which made me an even more ill-equipped parent!), but with some changes and a good therapist, I’m back to sleeping (though of course I still worry). Author Ada Calhoun has a book coming out called “Why We Can’t Sleep” which I read (I got an advance copy) and a lot of it really resonated. Anyway, your kids sound like they’re doing awesome!

  21. Gaby, your kids look amazing, I understand doubting some decisions, but you know you’ve been a great parent when you see how they thrive!
    I’d like an account of the bridge, it looks fabulous.
    – we were on the D Day beaches with my family last summer, and that places always makes me tear up. I don’t get how tourists can take fun pictures goofing around next to statues of worthy soldiers who gave their lives to free Europe; my 13-year-old daughter hadn’t studied WWII at school then and after I told her about US and GB soldiers, she said we’d better be worthy of such a sacrifice, she really got it! I visited the Caen Memorial back when it had just opened and it was overwhelming!
    -I’m always the first one who wants to go home after a party, and I feel the same way, when I have my fill, I want to go home asap. My husband would camp there if he could!
    Thank you for these cool random thoughts!

  22. My policy is…no life evalutions while it’s dark or I have PMS. I’ve gotten myself into a good habit of saying, “we can reconsider this when the sun’s out/I get my period.” Everything is always better then.

  23. Oscar will be in high school??? Oh my! For some reason, that’s the detail that brings home how time is flying by. As far as questioning parenting decisions … I still have those moments when I wonder about choices that were made years and years ago (my children are 26 and 23!). Sometimes I’ll feel such anxiety, too, that I have to remind myself that it all worked out okay :).

  24. I actually almost started freaking out when I read that Oscar is going to high school— proof that time really is accelerating and the time I have with my kids as kids is zooming by! But how awesome too!

  25. I LOVE how adventurous your kids are! Surely no need to worry about the decisions that you have made for them – they sound like such intrepid, confident children to be proud of!

  26. I had no idea the anxiety that would come with motherhood and all the decisions we have to make that involve the kids lives!! I’m not naturally an anxious person, but these kids of decisions give me anxiety. I always wonder if it’s a more modern thing? More choices now? More pressure for the kids to be doing everything!! I don’t know, but motherhood anxiety definitely surprised me!

  27. I believe I read before that you require your sons to complete Eagle Scout. Am I remembering that correctly? I saw that your talked about Girl Scout Camp. Are your girls required to complete an equivalent of the Eagle Scout ranking for girls, or do you make them to the Mormon Personal Progress I’ve read about? I am intrigued by all these sorts of required milestones/achievements, as I see them as a curriculum beyond school to prepare children for adulthood. While we are non believers, and as such, have some issues with both scouting organizations, I have been looking into creating a secular personal progress type milestone/achievement for my children. If you don’t have your girls do something equivalent to the personal progress, do you have some sort of skills and critical thinking “checklist” you work through casually with them?

    1. Hi Katie. We don’t actually require our sons to do an Eagle Scout. It’s not something that was personally important to us as parents. But it turns out both of our sons really like scouting, so wanting to get an Eagle was a natural path.

      For our girls, we haven’t participated in Girl Scouts (not out of protest, we just have been busy with other options). The girls camp I mentioned is through our church — one week each summer for ages 12-16. Interestingly, the Personal Progress program you mentioned is ending this year. I’m not sure yet what it will be replaced with. Olive has finished the program, and Betty is trying to finish it this year before it ends.

  28. I’ve had something you mentioned a while back on my mind ever since, and wondered if you’d consider a larger post about it (or even just further discussion in the comments). You mentioned that you have consciously tried to keep the sarcasm/snark out of your family dynamic, because it was a big part of your own family growing up (or something vaguely along those lines). Anyway, it struck a nerve with me, because I have felt for a while now that I am WAY too snarky/sarcastic with my kids (or whole family is kind of like that) and I don’t necessarily like it. But I’m not sure how to change it. If I think back to being a kid, my mom wasn’t really like that, but my dad very much was, and I always felt very safe with my mom. And not really at all safe with my dad, emotionally.

    Anyway, you guys are clearly doing something incredibly right with your kids (this post alone makes that very clear!!) and I think part of it is how unapologetically interested they are in everything…no sign of “too cool for school” for them :D I’m guessing your thoughts on it would be really interesting, so just wondered if you’d elaborate!

  29. Katie Vieceli

    Thanks for your posts – as always, lots of insight and thoughtful attention to design detail and parenting process 😊. We live in the Bay Area and I wanted to say that we have found sailing to be very rewarding for my kids. The independence of being on a (little!) boat and learning to be responsible for their own knots and course has been really great. Most of the classes they’ve taken are taught by retired sailors who really have a passion for the sport and that translates into a really engaged instructor. We sail mostly in Santa Cruz but I’ve heard there is a great yacht club in Oakland where kids can be jr. members and do the camps and classes.

  30. Gabby, both of my parents were teachers and it’s a great profession. There are some very thoughtful criticisms of TFA that are worth investigating and that I think you will find compelling. There are also alternatives in which Maude could participate.

  31. I was introduced to the term ambivert this past semester in a course. I wish I could find the official description but it was something like: a person who shows both introvert and extrovert tendencies. That’s me, and I was just so excited to know there was a word for it. (Previously I had been frustrated that I always land squarely in the unnamed territory in the middle of most personality tests!)

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