table talk

In some cultures, the time is sacred.
Sobremesa, for example, in Spain -- loosely translated, it's the after meal, a short time for relaxing, chatting around piles of empty plates and refilled drinks. Time for digesting food, and ideas.

We don't encourage it often enough here, normally sending one child off to practice the piano and another to put together puzzles and the third to help clear plates. And that's assuming Andy's home for dinner in the first place.

Lately, we've tried to postpone the rushed after-dinner routine with our boys.
We want them to learn to honor the fine art of lingering, so we've left the forks and listened to the knock knock jokes. Amid the meal wreckage - crumpled napkins and corn chip crumbs - we've discussed supreme court justices and shoulder surgery, properties of copper and Zelda castles. We want them to know that the topic can go anywhere, that the words will not go beyond our walls.

While we're still trying to discourage things like elbows (and feet) on the table, we are reminded that we belong around it, that we belong to each other. We know the boys will keep eating, and we want them to keep talking, too.


the start

Progress on the boys' treehouse has been slow. But what was once a veritable honeysuckle farm is finally becoming a place to play. May it be a magical spot for them, the end of here and the start of somewhere else.


light on words

but not on love


happy hours

If you want to find reasons to despair, the world will not disappoint.
If you want to find reason to smile, look no further than these boys with their fish.
The boys had a short break from school, so we spent a long weekend at Poppy's house in West Virginia. They mostly went from french fries for breakfast to fishing all day, but the best part may have been that Aunt Sally brought great Grandpa Jim over, so four generations of Betzes got to cast lines together. The weather was gorgeous, like fall coming in slow motion, the sun not quite ready to close up shop, perfect for sitting on the dock with cold drinks and warm s'mores.
Poppy had a skeleton scavenger hunt prepared and new magic tricks up his sleeve, plus a thumb for Hank to hold the whole time. Grammy had plenty of time for gator rides and golf lessons, and lots of patience for sticky fingers and loud voices.
Coming home, the boys got to carve pumpkins with cousins and share a meal with more family. Great grandparents and grandparents, aunts and cousins, all in one weekend. Such lucky boys.
While they certainly have a way of finding happy in every single hour, they also help me put great thanks into every single day.


fumbling along and figuring it out

Most of the time we're just winging it -- dinner, parenthood, my eyeliner.

One day last week the little boys were fighting over a small Playmobil dalmatian, part of the firehouse set. Tolliver grabbed it from Hank, who'd had it first. Andy intervened, reminding Tols that he needed to ask for it. He went on to explain that if Hank refused, Tols would have to respect that and find another toy to play with, like the Lego german shepherd figure.
Is this the very beginning of consent education, I wondered?


From his perch in the stroller on the way to school pickup, Hank witnessed a squirrel, carrying a walnut, get hit by a car. He wanted to scoop up the animal and take it to Daddy at work, to fix. Being empathetic starts with being sensitive to what's going on in the world and this sudden burst of sweetness from a child whose mantra has been "Mine!" gave me pause.
Could compassion be part of his wiring, I wondered, might the boys grow up to be caretakers of a hurt world?


Tucker received a text message from an unknown number recently. It might've been easier to delete the message and move on, to let the conversation and his fingers veer toward Minecraft again. But it felt important to explain why his contact list is short and familiar, to discuss the dangers of communicating on devices with strangers, to remind him his iPod is meant mostly for maintaining relationships with family members, for listening to music and for accessing information.
Is there an app for parents trying to help preteens avoid digital pitfalls?


We tell the boys they are always allowed to say no, and always allowed to change their mind, and so are we. We seek advice from people with experience, trying earnestly to listen to their wisdom through our own worry. We've established our willingness to have messy conversations with the boys, to be askable parents. But I have so many questions of my own... I don't feel sure about much except the solid sense that we are, all five of us, lucky to be figuring it out together.


this is nine

He reads widely and writes constantly
his eyes swimming inside a soup of words 
his fingers flipping page after page
filling notebooks and his brain,
filling my heart.


maybe just assume we'll be late

I got everyone fed and dressed this morning (minus some shirt tucking, apparently) and wondered, on the way out the door, whether I should begin a new policy, texting instead only on the rare occasion that we might actually be arriving on time.



Hank pretends all day, from spying pirate ships with a telescope to playing a piano built from blocks to cannon-balling off the diving board into the pool.

His agenda pretty much looks like this:

Play more.
Play harder.
Pass out.
Repeat tomorrow.


boys will be... good humans

I took a bag of things to a neighbor one street over this evening, and walking back the older gentleman who lives across from us came out to chat. If I'm being honest, I was actually a little worried that he was upset about something. But he wanted to tell me what good boys we're raising. How glad he is that we moved in. How much he enjoys watching the kids play outside. How smart and polite they are, how kind.
And then he told me I was a good mom.

I want to be a lighthouse of a calm, a deserving mother. Someone who is able to focus energy productively. But when sophisticated thinking goes dark and defense mechanisms kick in, it's easy to forget that I am in charge of my own responses.
Sometimes I feel angry, but the news does not "make" me angry, traffic does not "make" me angry, my children do not "make" me angry -- I decide to feel it. Or not.
I want my boys to be angry sometimes. Not petty anger, but righteous anger - there's a place for that, isn't there? How, though, to explain whether it should spill out on the tennis court or the supreme court, the board meeting or the kitchen floor?

Instead of asking them not to get angry, I want to offer the boys practical alternatives, actions that help strong feelings dissipate, that make a positive difference in their day or somebody else's.
Like collecting a bag of October treats to "Boo" a neighbor, or baking apple cake to share with the grumpy old guy across the street. Like getting lost in a good book or finding time to write a note to a relative. Or to the principal / mayor / congresswoman.
It’s like a super power, really, the ability we have to shape our own intentional reactions.
What I've got to offer as a parent feels pathetically scattered. Be brave but don't be reckless. Regard boundaries but don't let go of dreams. Be fierce and opinionated but respect your parents. Don't let the world make you mad but get ANGRY.
Good thing part of my job is to show them they do not need to be perfect.
But mercy, please let them be kind.


among other things