After the familiar routine of reading stories, singing our good night song and arranging pillows and blankets around my little daughter, I wander into my 11 and 14-year-old boys’ room.
Picking my way through the minefield of legos, wet towels and disassembled motors, I find safe haven on the lower bunk bed.
Gabe, 11, scrambles down from the top bunk for a long hug and a quick kiss before retreating back to his book, but Xander, 14, wants to talk. In the safety of bedtime, my usually quiet boy spills his worries over school and friends and soccer practice.
Hans, 16, huddled over late night homework at his desk, gets a half-hug and a quick kiss in his sandy blond curls. He doesn’t want to talk now, but Friday night, when he comes home from a date or basketball game with friends, he sits on the corner of our bed relating who is dating who, what they ate, where they went.
My now 19 and 21-year-old sons kept the same habit while living at home. And while sometimes they simply wanted to say goodnight and go to bed, other nights we sat up late discussing the girl they really like, kids selling pot at school and what he said when the football captain offered my boy his well-worn copy of Playboy.
I credit our bedtime routines for much of the honest and open communication at our house. We talk all the time, about everything, but our nightly connections send the message, “I might be exhausted, but you are always worth my time.”
A friend recently asked my husband and I, “What do you do when your kids talk back?”
We both looked at the friend blankly for a minute before my husband replied, “We listen.”
Make birthdays a big deal.
Like most parents, I scaled down my kids’ birthday parties as they got older. But last year, on a whim, I sewed banners, hung streamers, created games, decorated the table — all for a ‘You are my Sunshine’ birthday party for my quiet, unassuming second son, Stefan.
My efforts were richly repaid when his face lit up, “This is all for me?” We ate his favorite foods, played bingo based on ‘Stefan trivia’ and even smashed a pinata. After the party, he thanked me over and over (something my little kids often forget to do) and quietly asked, “Do you think we could do this for my birthday every year?”
Now, it should be noted, all my over the top decor was for our family party. When we invited his friends over a few days later, the celebrations were much more low-key.
When my fourth son turned fourteen this February, he didn’t want presents or a party with friends. So, I created a party around things he does like: dry ice, shooting balloons, Diet Coke/Mentos fountains, sparklers and dry ice bombs. Sometimes all the fuss hardly seems worth the effort, but everyone loves to feel loved.
Of course I have to share a party-related find. And since the first is illegal in many states I’m going to cheat and share two.
Sky lanterns. You admired these in Tangled, do you know how inexpensive they are on Amazon.com? For $12.14 for ten lanterns shipped, you can create magic. It’s especially fun to write notes and wishes on the lanterns before sending them drifting into the night.
Here’s a video from when we used them to celebrate Stefan’s 19th birthday:
Another perfect surface for notes and drawings lies in humble butcher paper. Before every gathering at my sister’s house, she rolls butcher paper across her kitchen table and throws out handfuls of markers and crayons. We’ve adopted the practice and found butcher paper gets people talking. Doodling and penning silly messages creates an instant bond among strangers (and it’s good for making banners too).