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Side Hustles and Single Motherhood: A Rant on MLMs

Philosophy: it takes work. If anyone tells you otherwise, it’s a lie.

I tried the AVON thing and quit before I started. Maybe it wasn’t the right place, time, products…whatever, but I tagged myself a failure at sales.

From the time I was born, my grandma had an AVON lady. She overcharged her every two weeks and she was pushy. So, it came as no surprise that when I thought of Tupperware, Mary Kay…you name it, I thought of red lipstick, a bad perm and a West Virginia drawl talking about Skin So Soft.

Then I found “that Owl thing”. I met my Team Manager at an in-home party (I truly enjoy those) my best friend was having. The same best friend that steals Fiestaware with me.

I got hooked on creating Living Lockets. If I had to guess, it’s because they tell a story, and you know what a sucker I am for storytelling. On an Aqua table cloth, all lined up like little Swarovski soldiers, were these beautiful glass lockets in every shape, size and metal color you could think of. In trays around them were itty-bitty hand-painted charms.

I picked my locket, I picked a ruby, amethyst and pearl; a birthstone for Jack (and me), Elise and my mom. A set of silver angel wings, the scales of justice, a gold compass. I wanted everything.

A few years and 10 lockets later, Katie, my Origami Owl girl, got a hold of me to offer me a discount and the chance to sell these with her.

The discount came with a huge credit toward jewelry and a link to what could be my own virtual storefront. She promised me I didn’t have to sell anything. Heck yeah, I wanted the discount. Hell no, I wasn’t selling a thing.

I knew it was multi-level marketing, i.e. She gets me, I get two, they get two and so forth to build the pyramid. It gets a bad rap. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not a scheme. It just wasn’t for me. Afterall, I didn’t have a perm and I just wanted the Harry Potter charms for Elise.

So, for $19, I got her (and me) $155 worth of Origami Owl jewelry. Win. I wore my new stuff to a wedding reception. Six people asked me about it. I realized I loved telling them about the different things they could make that would tell their story.

Let’s cut to the chase. I started handing out my link and some catalogs. I started playing around with social media posts and strategies. I started building a team because I knew some people who also loved Origami Owl and really wanted the jewelry credit and designer discount for themselves. I didn’t even mean to do it, but it happened.

And, once it did, I realized I still had the ability to set a goal and crush it. So, I set another. Then another. That turned into a pretty decent stream of steady income on the side.

Is there a catch? Absolutely. Are there lies? Everywhere.

Here they are:

The catch: you have to work. It’s not called a hustle for nothing. But you better believe if a company basically gives me a blank check and pen, I’m going to work it to my advantage every time.

This is only possible, though, if you get creative, keep learning, have some patience and are willing to come out of your shell and try something new. It also helps if you really love what you’re standing behind product-wise.

The lie: All you have to do is wear it, use it, eat it, drink it, take it, post it and you’ll sell it. Lie, lie, lie. If you ever heard that, believed it, tried it and failed, let me tell you something. So did I. It never works. Here’s why: that’s only a third of the process of being successful in this space.

Of COURSE you need to promote your products, but you also need to show the ways they fit into your life. You need to show how you’re working your business.

People want to know who you are too, so they can associate your thing with you as a person. That creates desire and desire creates people wanting to try your stuff.

Next comes loyalty, then they make that huge fearful leap to host a party (why it has to be fearful, I do not know) and from there, they may even want to join you. Fancy that. But, getting to that point takes time and it takes w o r k. If anyone tells you otherwise: it’s a lie.

Then you build.

The work is work, but the beauty of a side-hustle with Origami Owl or any other Direct Sales company is that you truly do name your hours. You run your business the way you want to run it. Because it is. Your business.

I “work” (which isn’t work because I love every aspect of this brand and industry dearly) at all hours right from my phone.

I send messages while I dry my hair. I look up sale prices at red lights. I schedule posts to my pages and groups while I feed Tyler.

Because of social media, in-home parties are rare and I can host those on a Friday night in my pajamas smelling like baby sweet potatoes and Elise’s slime.

And yes, I make real money. I also earn credit toward jewelry, which is a perk in itself. But, I get real money, to deposit in my account, every single Friday.

How much? That all depends on hard I work the week before. Sometimes it’s a little. Sometimes it makes a car payment and buys groceries. With three little kids and a full-time job that pays the bills, but just barely sometimes, what a blessing it is to have a gig I can work whenever and wherever I want.

Besides being tempted by earning some extra money here and there without picking up a minimum-wage part-time job that calls for nights out and a sitter, the thrill of a challenge hooked me.

There are ranks and I always thought climbing them was some impossible, lofty goal that suckered people into selling without ever rewarding them with a promotion. I was wrong. It’s more than possible to reach the levels and earn even more.

That challenge is addicting. For me, anyway. There are worse things to be addicted to. That’s a discussion for a different day.

The rant? It makes me mad when people don’t give things a fair shake. It makes me wonder how anyone gets anywhere in life when they buy into a promise that seems to good to be true, then give up when it is without a little sweat first. It makes me mad that they let themselves be spoiled on the idea forever because they’re scared of trying something.

If this was easy, everyone would do it. It seems like everyone has tried it and not many have truly succeeded, whatever success is anyway.

I’ll settle for meeting and exceeding my goals. It’s learning something new that I can implement to get ahead of the pack. It’s getting to use creativity to create a story with some charms.

If you’re up for following me on this journey as a single mom with a side hustle to see where I end up, you can follow me at

I continue to carve my niche, even though it’s winding. That’s okay. Carve it, I will. Who’s with me?

The Double Knots of Fate: How a Shoelace Might Have Saved our Lives

When I was 17, I was a nose away from joining the Air Force. What stopped me was my dad telling me they wouldn’t let me paint my nails.

I wonder where I’d be today if I did what I usually do and didn’t listen to him. I have an idea, of course. The 9/11 attacks happened right after this conversation and most likely, I would’ve been deployed. 

I come from a line of military service. My mom’s dad met my grandma as an MP stationed in Germany. My other grandpa served in the Air Force when it was the Army Air Corps. My dad was stationed in Viet Nam when he enlisted in the Air Force.

I was thinking about fate the other day. I was thinking about how one move, one seemingly non-consequential choice to turn left instead of right or say hi instead of passing by someone can alter the course of life forever. 

This is not a debate between free will and predestination. I’m not here to argue whether we have the power to make the choice to enlist in the military or whether we were predestined to do so. I’m here to talk about what happens when we leave 5 minutes later than usual and find out we’ve just missed being in a car accident. 

This happened to the kids and me last Thursday. It was meet-the-teacher night. Jack was dressed to the 9s. Tyler was fed and sleeping, and Elise couldn’t wait for me to meet her 3rd grade teacher. I was packing a bottle and a diaper bad, trying to find my phone and the dog so I could lock her up and Jack decided he needed his shoes double-knotted.

If it weren’t for the fact that I understand a little more about his OCD/ADHD/ODD behaviors, I would’ve told him his shoes were fine and we were leaving. I knew that wouldn’t work. I knew I could take a minute and knot them or spend the next 15 minutes trying to go to a happy place in my head while he was in a full-blown rage. 

I put down the baby, the diaper bag, spilled the bottle, got a towel and cleaned that up, knotted Jack’s shoes, put the dog away, locked the door and away we went. 

On the way to the school, we slowed to a stop in traffic. At first, I blamed it on the fair even though fair traffic usually started much further up the road.

Then I noticed an ambulance as we inched forward. Eventually, cars began to turn off the state route onto side streets to get around the deputies directing traffic, but the school was less than a minute in front of us, so we stayed put. 

When the last car in front of us re re-routed, the kids and I saw a pile of metal crushed next to the highway on-ramp.  A State Trooper came up to the window and apologized. He said we would have to find a way around the accident because a small boy was trapped inside one of the cars and they were working to get him out. 

As he stopped traffic to let us on the highway, it occurred to me that had Jack not asked for help, had I ignored him and made him get in the car, had I not spilled Tyler’s bottle and stopped to clean it up, it could very well have been us in that accident. 

I have no idea when it happened, but it couldn’t have been very long before we got there. The ironic part is there’s no way of knowing when fate sets into motion a chain of events that leads to safety or despair. And, if you think about it too long, you’d be scared to death to live. 

Elise was very upset that we were running late for open house by that point. I told her it was a good thing we were. If we left any sooner, like we were supposed to, it might have been us in that accident.

Incidentally, we made it in time to meet teachers. As far as I know, everyone survived the accident and the boy made it out ok.

It makes me wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t cared so much about painting my nails. I might have been a decorated fighter pilot. I might have died in Iraq. 

What I do know is the might haves and maybes will eat you alive if you let them. That’s why it’s so important to grab the here and now and do with it what we can. We can’t know what fate has in store for us. We can only know, when we cross its path, that it’s where we’re meant to be.

Where to Find Grace: A Lesson Learned by Eating Slowly

Philosophy: Slow down and keep your hands steady with your pen, hammer and prayers.

Lunchbox got his first taste of baby food a couple weeks ago. It was a huge hit. After he got the hang of the spoon and the rhythm of his tongue down, the little chow hound was off to the races. I couldn’t shovel it in fast enough.

Tyler has my last name and I see a lot of Doak in him. He’s fairly laid back. He likes to study things and watch them work. He’s happy. His happiness makes me happy. It’s contagious.

The speed at which he eats, however, is not Doak, I learned. Since I lost my grandfathers, I find them with me in the strangest, most subtle places. My Grandpa Doak was the absolute slowest eater I think anyone ever saw, and I loved it.

He was always the last one to finish and everyone knew it. My dad is the same way. When my dad was a baby, it took him so long to eat, he fell asleep. My grandma had to flick the bottom of his feet to keep him awake.

I had the honor of delivering the eulogy at my grandpa’s funeral. It was the second one I’d done in four months. Writing those words was quite possibly one of the hardest things I’ve done and not for the reasons you might think.

It’s always hard to say goodbye. We trick ourselves into thinking we have time; that there will be tomorrow to learn what we need from the ones we love most. We’re also experts at fooling ourselves.

Goodbye was only part of the hard part. The worst of it was trying to take the huge feelings a man of his caliber created in my heart – in all our hearts- and put them into words on paper. I did my best.

What lasts when a person passes away are the lessons they leave. The way they carry on is through the tools we use that were once theirs. My grandpa left me with so many beautiful things in my head, my heart and my home.

I have some of his screwdrivers and a rake that was his. I have a clock he made and an Acme Thunder whistle that was in his drawer, but the only thing I truly wanted was a framed picture.

It was a reprint of Grace by Eric Enstrom. I remembered seeing it hang over his kitchen table when I was little and when I think of him, it’s what I picture. It’s just a man, with a book, praying over bread. It’s that simple. So is life according to Bob Doak.

It’s not, at least life doesn’t feel that simple, but he made it look that way. His philosophy was not complicated. Drink your coffee black. Find the right tool for the job and get to work. Take your time when you eat and especially when you cut in with a paint brush. Keep your hands steady with your pen, hammer and prayers. Your age does not limit you. Wear out your Bible and break in your patience.

I wish my kids got the chance to learn from him the way my cousins and I did. I wish they were old enough to have fun with him and to watch him tinker with things until he achieved a level of perfection only he could master. I wish they knew that when he passed, so did a little bit of the last generation of grace. They may never get to see that anywhere else.

I could let that make me sad. I don’t. Instead, I try to pass a little Bob Doak onto them through me. Afterall, we’re part of him. When I use his tools, I show them. When they’re fascinated by watching me paint or strip wallpaper, I tell them how good Papa Bob used to be with his paint brush (my version of painting includes swearing and taping, his did not).

Lately, though, I find him the most when I start wishing karma would get to work. When life feels especially unfair and I have a second to stop and think about how I got to where I am right now, I try to stop myself from wanting to make the people who hurt me, hurt just as bad. I think about Grace.

I’m able to pray and I have things to pray for. That’s my grace. That was Grandpa’s grace. That’s the grace I find in Elise’s tenacity, Jack’s quirks and Tyler’s smile. I get to teach them all about life and there’s no better lessons than the one’s Grandpa left with me.

One thing he never missed was my birthday. I got a card every single year, right on time. I remember thinking on one of our trips to see him at the hospital that it would be the first year in 32 I wouldn’t get a card from him. I had a hard time accepting that. He died three weeks after my birthday.

It wasn’t long after that, I grabbed the mail one day and saw a pink envelope with his handwriting on the front. It was my birthday card. He signed it in the hospital, my uncle mailed it and somehow, it took that long to get to me. I prefer to think that it was just a little wink from him to show me he was with me.

Tyler’s high chair sits underneath my Grace print. I feed him his baby food there and tell him to slow down. I tell him dinner is nothing to rush through.  I see it every time I feed him, every time I head out the back door to leave and start another day. It reminds me when I start to lose my place or patience, there is grace everywhere and it’s so simple to find if you look.

Just like Bob Doak.

A Letter to Myself at 16: To Whom it May Concern

Philosophy: What’s coming will come and life goes on…even if it’s the hard way.

I know you’re a nose away from signing the papers, but you’re not going to do it. In a year, or so, you’ll thank your lucky stars your dad told you the Air Force won’t let you paint your nails. After all, that’s really what kept you away…in early 2001. Nail polish kept you from being deployed to the Iraq war.

You’re running your heart out now, but you won’t take the offer to run for Walsh College. You’ll think back when you’re 26 and wish you had, but you won’t lose sleep over it.

You will run in the Akron Marathon one day. You’ll see the coach, even in the thousands of people running, that told you you would never have it in you to finish road races. You’ll remember that conversation in 7th grade and you’ll dig deep to pass her.

When you do, that’s what will give you the last wind you need to cross the finish line. You’ll also lose two toenails because of it. A small price to pay.

A smooth-talking professor will pull you aside and tell you you have a gift for Philosophy. He won’t tell you how impractical it is. Neither will your mom. When you ask her why she didn’t force you into business school, she’ll tell you it was because you liked what you were doing. You won’t understand that until you have a daughter.

Your dad knows what it looks like when you jack knife a trailer into the side of his F150. You know that, but you’ll still tell him it was a shopping cart. Even when you’re 35, you’ll wonder why he ever let you drive that thing with a trailer on it.

You’re doing your best to convince yourself you’ll have no problem replacing your first love who just left you for Ashland College. You’ll feel better in the years ahead, but you never will replace him completely, nor should you.

You’ll spend some time hell-bent on proving everyone wrong and living like you know it all. You don’t. But time spent living that way will come in handy later when realize you didn’t know it all, but you were learning most of the things that will get you through the hard times.

Even though you missed the Air Force, you’ll take flying lessons from an arrogant French instructor. He’ll tell you you can’t fly in high heels, so you’ll do it just to prove him wrong.

You’ll pray to die when he teaches stalls and he’ll call you ricochet rabbit because of the way you land. You’ll never get your license, though. You’ll never solo and you’ll wish you had.

When you leave for Texas, turn back around as you drive away. What you see waving to you is what will bring you back home in a year and a half.

Speaking of Texas, you’ll make it through the homesickness. You’ll graduate up at the top, but you won’t stick around to walk across the stage. You won’t regret that either. Oh, and about homesickness, don’t bother crying to your dad about it. He was in Viet Nam.

You’ll fall in love again. When you do, say yes. Even though it falls apart and burns worse than a wrecked semi full of diesel, say yes. You’ll get two of the most precious gifts you’ve ever laid eyes on out of it.

When you lose your grandpas, you’ll find it in you to write again and you’ll find it in you to stand up and deliver the words you owe them. So when your mom and dad ask you to speak, don’t think twice.

When you’re out on your own, doing the work of two people alone, you’ll resent the people and reasons that put you there, for maybe all of five minutes. There isn’t time to dwell on it. You’ll be content for the first time knowing what’s coming is going to come and life goes on.

And do it again. Fall in love, that is. Even though you know you shouldn’t. That time, you won’t break. And, you’ll get to raise a son the hard way because…

despite everything you’ve learned in all the lessons the good Lord gave you in the past 18 years, you’ll still insist on doing things the hard way.

How to Make a House a Home

Philosophy: You and the little ones tethered to you. That’s what makes a house a home.

Almost literally in my backyard is the house I bought when I was getting divorced. It was tiny and dated in spots, but it was all mine and the kids loved it. I loved it. I loved that it was full of promises and warm light and potential. It stood for freedom.

We’ve moved twice since then. We needed more space. But it was in that house that I learned what makes a house a home. It turns out, it’s not two parents, rigid rules, perfection or brand new appliances.

Countertops? I’d trade granite counter tops for the light blue Formica I had there any day. I used to have granite counter tops. They were nice. But, it was on the blue Formica that the kids and I had just enough room to stand side by side and make dinner together.

Bedroom Size? My bedroom had precisely enough room for a double bed, one dresser and a night stand.  There was still enough room in my bed for two extra little people who had bad dreams, though and that was all that was important.

Finished Basement? The basement was nothing special. Paint was peeling off the floor. In the winter, it was the perfect spot for riding scooters in circles and bouncing tennis balls off the walls for the dog.

Walk-In Shower? The ceiling above the shower slanted. If I was another half inch taller, I would have to duck to get in. I painted it my favorite shade of lavender and left all the original hardware. There was a window above the bath tub, so the kids would stand up during their baths and try to see outside.

Needless to say, it was far from perfect., but its scars are what gave it so much charm.

To answer the question of what makes a house a home, it’s having a place to make dinner together. It’s having enough room in your bed in case of bad dreams. It’s a place to play when it’s snowing outside. It’s a room that’s painted your favorite color that reminds you each time you walk in that your have your niche carved out in the world.

It’s not something you have to own. It’s anywhere you can walk over the threshold and feel the world’s weight leave your shoulders.

Our house has four floors. It has more than 11 rooms. Our nights go like this: I sit down on the couch with Tyler. A few minutes later, Jack makes his way up there. The Elise bounces down on the other side of me. Four of us are crammed onto on couch cushion (give or take) and when she calls for Angie, the dog makes 5.

I solved this problem by getting a bigger couch.

I find myself wondering why everyone always needs to be right on top of me. I read a quote somewhere once that said, “Kids know nothing about personal space. They’d crawl right inside your eyeball if they could.”

I think it’s because the world out there seems so big when you’re very little. They need to be tethered to something to anchor them down. Those first few wobbly steps as babies are the beginning of a long sequence of going and coming.

The older they get, the farther they go. Each time they return, they lose a little wariness. So do we; until as parents we forget what it was like the first time their baby feet touched the ground.

A house is where we live. A home is a harbor to which the people we love want to return. A home is what keeps the tethers strong.

An Open Response to The Invisible Workload of Motherhood (From a Happily Single Mom)

Philosophy: I do it for them; even when my nerves are shot and my mind feels like the junk drawer I don’t have the wherewithal to clean, even when I feel like nothing more than a pack mule in heels.

I’m sitting at my desk, screaming baby on my lap, dog barking at someone jogging, dishwasher running (it won’t be emptied until it needs refilled) and all I can think about is missing my daughter’s soccer game today.

I missed it on purpose. I missed it because I’ve run myself ragged since Wednesday, stopping only to sleep, and I needed a day with as little to do outside of home as possible. Sure, her dad was there. But I missed it for selfish reasons. I know I don’t get this time back.

I’ve been reading a lot about the invisible workload of motherhood in the blogging world lately. It’s true. Us moms do everything for everyone but ourselves and rarely get noticed. But I disagree that it’s killing me. It’s the reason I live.

It’s precisely because I don’t get this time back, because of this highly visible “invisible” workload that I sat today’s game out. I not only don’t get this time back with the kids, I don’t get this time back to sit on the couch while the baby sleeps or go to the store with only one child in tow. I don’t get this time back not to be on a schedule for one or two days.

My day goes like this when I have the kids: Get up, brush my teeth, take the dog out, feed the baby, change and dress him, nag Elise and Jack to get dressed, shower while singing to the baby to try to get him to stop crying, nag Jack one more time to get dressed, hair, makeup, breakfast (for them not me), medications, lock the dog up, pack the bookbags, head out the door, work 8 hours where I could be in any one of two locations in any one of three Courts doing any one of 6 jobs, pick up the kids, nag them about homework (at least 5 times), take the dog out, change, unpack backpacks, sign papers for school, force them to sit down and DO HOMEWORK, pack lunches, get Elise ready for soccer, pack the car, pack the baby, sit at practice for an hour and a half, come home, throw laundry in, help with baths, eat somewhat of a dinner, collapse into bed, get up because I forgot to feed the dog, and finally, lay down for good.

That’s just the standard format. That doesn’t include doctor’s appointments, birthday parties, sorting bills, the constant texting to arrange and rearrange schedules when their dad is out of town. That doesn’t include folding the laundry, cleaning up dog puke, shoe-tying lessons, or gagging as I pour out spoiled milk when I finally get to the store to replace it.

Is it by choice or by chance that I’ve taken on this workload? Both. I chose my children. I still choose them, every time. But chance led me to do this all alone… in a way.

It doubled the work and halved the partnership. I cut my own grass. I take my own trash can down and bring it back (man, I miss having someone else to do that chore). When it comes to choice, in that regard, I don’t have one.

Some mornings, I’m sweating so much by the time I actually get to work, I could use a shower again. Some mornings, I feel like I’ve already fought a war, especially when one of the three just will not cooperate. Some days, work is a break for me. Some nights when I pick them up, I resent the fact that I don’t get paid for this second job I do and I don’t have time to get a second job that pays me because of it.

I can tell you this much, though, I’m not angry that no one notices. There’s not really anyone here to notice besides the kids and I don’t expect them to understand the amount of work that goes into running a household. The no one I’m talking about is a husband.

I used to be the mom that did all these things, ran the ship, battened the hatches, surfed Pinterest for cute holiday snack that never turned out, all while trying To be a good wife. Let me say, I was much unhappier then. I was unhappier because there was also another adult I was caring for who also didn’t bother to notice this “invisible workload”. He made sure his workload was very visible and very noticed, but mine was just…expected.

That’s why I don’t mind doing these things and doing them alone. I did them anyway and did them alone even with a partner. That’s the worst; feeling alone when someone is right next to you.

So, I think all us single moms are the lucky ones. Sure, we don’t get noticed and rarely appreciated, but that’s understandable and expected. It’s not like they sit in pre-k circle time meditating on how grateful they for the PB&J you slapped together that morning.

At least our invisible workload isn’t unnoticed by the ones that are supposed to be sharing it but aren’t. This work that I do is to keep three tiny humans that depend on me alive and well; it’s not for fame, glory or praise. It means I’m making a place in the world for them and they’re watching me do it.

In other words…I’ll carry the weight of it. In heels if I must. I might complain about it sometimes, but in the end, I do it all for them. We all do.

I’ll Always Button Your Cuffs and Other Promises I Can’t Break

Philosophy: I’ll always button your cuffs.

My first husband and I wrote our own vows. Part of mine were my promise to him that I would always button his shirt cuffs.

He came to me every morning and asked me to do that one simple thing for him. After a while, he didn’t have to ask. He just came up to me with his wrists out and I did it. That’s part of the language of love; the things we say without speaking.

I forgot about doing this until the other night when Jack came up to me with his wrists out and asked me to button his shirt cuffs for him. It caught me off guard for a second. There was a little mini version of my ex-husband, dressed just like him, asking the same thing of me.

“Of course, Jack, I’ll always button your cuffs.” I think I said it out loud just to hear myself say it again. I made that promise once before. I had to break it.

Sometimes life is very ironic. The things that happen to me, I couldn’t make up if I tried. It’s worth taking a step away from yourself once in awhile and looking hard at everything around you. It’s worth looking back to see where you came from and ahead to how far you have left to go.

If someone told me when I was writing those vows how important that particular part would be – not because I was promising them to my husband – but because years later, we would be divorced and I would be promising my son the same thing instead, I would never have believed them.

I had no idea where our life would take us after we walked back down the aisle that night, but it certainly wasn’t here. The best laid plans…But I took the time to think for a minute about all the little things that happened between then and now.

I had kids, I lost loved ones, I hurt and I made it out alive. All of those things led up to the moment when Jack reminded me a promise I made that I had to break.

I always tell the kids I will never break a promise to them. That’s true. But, when I say that, it reminds me of all the promises I’ve had to break over the years.

My mom used to tell me it wasn’t okay to break a promise. I believed that for a very long time. I disagree with it now. It’s always okay to break a promise if it means you simply can’t carry its weight anymore.

Sometimes the weight is worth trying and sometimes, no matter how much you want to or how hard you try, you have to let go to carry on.

I’m glad I get to keep some form of them, living here Somehow. They have a different meaning, but they surely carry more weight.

Jack’s cuffs, I’ll always button. Jack’s cuffs give me hope that promises have the potential for keeping no matter what.

Heaven: Remembering Candace Fettuccine

Philosophy: All guinea pigs go to heaven, and yes Jack, there are ball pits there.

The first experience I ever had with trying to explain heaven was when Candace Fettuccine passed away.

Jack and Elise each got a guinea pig last year. Ginger, Elise’s pig, is alive and well; Candace is not.

Where he got the name, I don’t know. Jack wanted me to name his brother “Trashbag Milkjug”. I digress.

We called her Candy. Jack wrapped her in a receiving blanket and carried her everywhere. She laid on him while he watched TV, she played with him in his room. Then, one day, I came home from work and realized Candy met her maker.

I braced myself for the inevitable. I was completely prepared for devastation from Jack.  I told him Candy went to guinea pig heaven.

When you have kids, you’re forced to talk about heaven at some point, whether you want to or not.

It’s one of those things I never thought about trying to explain until I had to do it. To use the analogy of Alan Watts, trying to explain heaven is like trying to “bite your own teeth”.

I had my own thoughts and opinions about what heaven is and isn’t and what it’s like, but I never had a reason or opportunity to put the thoughts into words.

I told him Candy went to guinea pig heaven and held my breath for what was surely about to be an explosion. I watched the wheels turning while he made sense of what I was saying.

Then, he asked, “When will she be back?”

Little man clearly had no idea what I meant when I said heaven. I guess he wouldn’t. He was too little to remember anyone dying.

“She isn’t coming back. It’s like Jimmy when he went up to dog heaven.”

“Oh. How did she get up there? Did she fly?”

Here’s where I let it get tricky. I should’ve said yes and been done with it. “No. She has a spirit like we do. Her spirit went to heaven, but her body stayed down here.” I waited for the onslaught of questions. I got…crickets.

“Oh. Does she have food there?”


“Yes. She has all the food she could ever want.”

“Does she have water?”

“Sure. She probably has a huge water bottle that’s always full.”

“Is heaven fun?”

“Jacky, if there is such a thing as more than fun, that’s what heaven is, I think.”

“Can we go there and see her?”

“No, not today, but someday, when you go to heaven, I believe you’ll get to see everyone you know that’s there; even your animals.”

“But I want to go today.” The sheer innocence of his inability to comprehend finality – that going to heaven meant dying- made me smile inside.

“I know you do, buddy, but I don’t want you to. Someday you’ll get there.”

“Mommy, do they have ball pits in heaven?”

“Absolutely. There are definitely ball pits in heaven.”

It was about here that Elise yelled at both of us to quit talking about it because it was making her sad. She was a little more familiar with the whole losing pets and great-grandparents and talking about heaven routine.

“But Sissy, heaven has ball pits. It’s not sad.”

And there you have it. Heaven has ball pits. It’s not sad.

I’m not sure which part of this I thought about the longest. For starters, I realized just how much little ones trust their parents’ word. Then again, why wouldn’t they?

It made me realize, in his eyes, I had all the answers. I was prepared for a debate that didn’t happen. He asked, I answered. I knew what I was talking about because I was mom and for now, my word was gospel. End of story.

It isn’t until we’re adults that we require proof of every little thing. It made me wonder when blind trust stops and hard proof begins to be required. Not everything has to be complicated, maybe. Maybe, we need a little more blind trust; a little more faith.

It also made me realize one of the purposes of heaven here on earth. I’m sure there are many. I know there are. I’m not here to debate religion (I’d rather do that with my 6-year-old). But one of the purposes of heaven is to make life bearable.

Life means death and death is hard. It’s final. I think we’re much older before we can wrap our minds around the concept of “final”. I realize there are people who believe in reincarnation or that death is rebirth into the afterlife that would want to argue over finality, but I’m talking about dealing with something you love going away for the rest of your days here on earth.

It’s comforting to the point of almost being necessary to have heaven.

Heaven softens the blow of death for kids. But it does the same for adults.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather believe that all of my grandparents, and all of the dogs I lost, are reunited and playing in a great big ball pit, having a blast, than to think that death was the end-all.

I prefer to believe I’ll see them again; that they’re just passing the time doing all of the things they loved doing here on earth, but without the suffering, until I get there to meet them.

I like to think of death being nothing more than a steward into the next phase of being. Of course, that’s only what I like to think.

What I know for sure, though, is if heaven exists, there will be ball pits.

The Kazdin Method: Does it Work?

Philosophy: Stop riding on the downward spiral of punishment and catch the wave of praise.

I’m open about any and all diagnoses assigned to Jack. I know what it’s like to be lost in the sea of acronyms doctors give to kids who may just be plain old having a tough time.

Currently, we’re exploring the possibility of ADHD, OCD and placement on the Austism spectrum with a definite stake in ODD and we haven’t even seen three of the five specialists yet.

Having tried every form of discipline to cope with the outbursts, anger, hostility and indifference that come with ODD, without success, I took to researching alternative discipline methods.

If anyone out there feels that a good spanking or an endless time-out or even taking away his favorite toy is the simple solution, don’t think I haven’t tried. See this post.

A simple Google search brought me to The Kazdin Method. I read the book. I tried it out. This is what I found.

Dr. Alan Kazdin is a child psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with defiant children. His method is brilliant, in theory, but I wanted to try it myself and decide how it fared in practice.

It goes like this: the best way to eliminate behavior that’s unwanted is to build an alternative behavior in its place. Focusing on punishment of bad behavior reenforces bad behavior. Focusing on praising good behavior reenforces good behavior. How do you do it, then?

Bribery, of course. Bribery in the form of a sticker chart.

The first step is to pick one behavior you want to alter. Start with one. I chose the cyclical self-repetition Jack went through every night (think: “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. My throat hurts.” on endless repeat without being able to stop it). You might choose refusing to go to bed or thumb-sucking. Whatever.

Then you choose the behavior with which to replace it. I chose doing homework the first time I ask. This is the end goal. Make it specific. It doesnt have to be associated with the unwanted behavior either. You could replace thumb-sucking with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Again, whatever.

Now, for the harder part. You design the chart and decide what earns a sticker and how many stickers earn the holy grail (praise, Dollar Store junk, extra play time, ice cream…you pick, but the biggest of these is praise).

Essentially, each time Jack sat down and completed a page of homework without breaking the pencil or ruining the page, he earned a sticker. I was very specific about how he earned one. The sticker went on a calender for that day. He got a huge high five, picked his sticker, stuck it himself and got to pick out of the holiest of holies: the “Surprise Bag”.

I filled it with Kinder Eggs, Play Do, Blind Bags, coupons for Dairy Queen, chapstick, notepads…trinkets only Jack adores. Be caeful with this part, though. If they pull out a Dairy Queen coupon, be prepared to deliver on that promise like right now. Part of what’s making this work is the immediate reward for wanted behavior.

Once the chart is made, the bag is filled, the requirements are explained and they have a sneak peek at the rewards, you do a practice run. They get a sticker and reward for it too, so they know you’re serious. I had Jack get his homework out, sit at the table with his pencil and as long as there was no complaining, he got the sticker and the prize. And he did, get the prize.

I told him what to do next time in order to earn his sticker. Hs favorite part was the praise for doing what he was supposed to.

He was shocked that I noticed and he loved the praise he got for behaving. Each ime we made it through a point in the night he would usually whine and complain about school without him whining and complaining, I got very excited and he got another sticker and a high five.

As he started to get better at doing homework (maybe a week?), I gave him the opportunity to earn two stickers each night. One was for homework the other was for not repeating himself. Basically, one for doing something he was supposed to and one for not doing something he wasn’t supposed to.

At the end of the week, if he had two stickers on each calender space, he got to pick out a new board game or get ice cream.

The longer we stuck to this method, the less he complained about school and homework. After about a month, I weaned him off of the stickers and prizes down to praise for doing what he was supposed to.

There were times he did not get a sticker. No yelling, no punishment, no arguing. Most of this was because he whined about school. It’s important to be firm, explain why they lose their sticker one time and tell them thet can try again tomorrow.

This part was the hardest. Jack is a natural-born negotiaor and doesnt take no for an answer. This began to have the opposite effect and, when he lost a sticker, he started repeating himself, begging to earn it back. I tweaked the method here and allowed him one chance to earn it back if he stopped whining immediately. If he started at any point that night again, he lost it for good.

I’m still using praise for wanted behavior four months later. What’s difficult – and this is a terrible thing I realized about myself as a mom – is to recognize his good behavior. I was an expert at picking out every little “bad” thing he did and enforcing punishment. What I sucked at was praising him for everything he did right.

Once I did that, though, his behavior gradually improved. Plus, it made me start to notice all the things Jack did so well.

Th Kazdin Method is not a miracle. I think it works and I had some success with it. In order for it to work, though, you do have to be consistent and follow-through.

International Student Hosting: Meet an ICES Coordinator

Philosophy: Share the love.

With back-to-school everything taking over the lives of moms with school-age kids everywhere, I wanted share a unique perspective with you guys.

I had the opportunity to meet and a collaborate with Jackie Willock, a local coordinator for International Cultural Exchange Services who lives and operates in Florida.

A Panama native and mother of two, Jackie is a mentor, role-model and lives by the motto, “Knowledge is power.”

The best way to get knowledge, of course, is hands-on and what better way to cultivate this power than to dive into the culture of another country?

In our conversation, Jackie mentioned how many adolescents in other countries have access to Netflix and dream of coming to the United States to experience what we (kids and adults alike) take for granted.

ICES provides the opportunity for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel here to experience American culture and education first-hand.

She was kind enough to share the information below. If you’d like to know more about this program or any of the other extensive topics in which Jackie works, drop her an email! (These topics range in everything from completing the college application process to information on our National Parks).

International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES), is a non-profit organization, is authorized by the U.S. Department of State to match international high school students with host families in USA.

ICES provides host families a network of support, starting at the local level. Their trained Local Coordinators are available in all 50 states to help with any questions or concerns you and your family may have during the hosting experience. Jackie Willock specifically works with families and schools in Miami, Florida. Host families are given an orientation before their students’ arrival to ensure they understand all aspects of hosting.

What Does the Host Family Provide:
– Room (can be shared with another child of the same gender).- Meals eaten at home (The students pays for their own school lunches and restaurant meals.)- Nurturing home environment and parental supervision.

What Does the Student Bring:

– Their own spending money to pay for everything else (i.e. toiletries, entertainment, etc.).- Full medical insurance.

Who are the Students: International high school students from Latin America, South America, Europe, Asia & Africa are excited to become a part of your family. They participate in a pre-departure orientation as well as an arrival orientation, so they understand the rules and expectations of their program. ICES works with their partners overseas who do the pre-screening of students. The partners recruit only those students who they feel will be excellent candidates for the program. They continue the screening process to ensure they have a genuine interest in becoming an exchange student. Here are some of the things they screen for:
– Academics: A minimum of a “C” average in all courses taken over the past three years. Transcripts translated into English and a Teacher’s Recommendation.- English Language Skills: Students must demonstrate acceptable scores on the Standard Test for English Proficiency and be comfortable in using English conversationally to follow course work and socialize.
– Personality: A personal essay written by the student to describe their personality, hobbies and home life.
– Attitude: The ability to deal with the inevitable challenges of adapting to another culture and communicating in a foreign language.
– Intellectual Curiosity: An open mind toward learning the ins and outs of another culture, such as its social customs, as well as concrete experiences such as food and fun.

Benefits of Hosting: The student becomes a part of your family (you gain a new son/daughter, sister/brother), they participate in family activities and even do chores at home. You and your family learn a new language, customs and traditions of another country. Wouldn’t you love to have family around the World? It’s your chance to be GLOBAL while being a local! You also play an important role in promoting (in the evolving process) of a peaceful world by increasing international awareness and cultural understanding.

How Students Benefit from Being Hosted: Students around the world contemplate and dream about an exchange experience, they wonder what things will look like once they are actually living with an American family and going to school. The impact an exchange experience has on these student’s is profound and meaningful. Being a host family not only gives students a place to call home, it changes their view on Americans, their perspective on life; it gives them the gift of friendship and of “family”. As you change their lives, you change yours, cultural differences melt away and the rewards of hosting come with the realization that you made a difference.

Role of the Local Coordinator (LC): Finds families interested in hosting and works with them during the application process. They coordinate with the local public high school, near to where you live, to enroll the student, under the J-1 Student Visa Program.

Host families receive an orientation before their students’ arrival to ensure you understand all aspects of hosting. The information is also shared with the student upon their arrival, to ensure everyone understands all the rules.

The LC checks in with you, the student and the school at least once per month, to ensure all is running smoothly. The LC prepares a monthly report that is sent to DOS, which is also seen by the student’s natural parents. The LC plans activities and events with the students (optional participation of their host family) so that all the local host students (and optional for their host family) can meet and can bond. Should any concerns, issues or anything arise, your LC is your first contact to help resolve anything. They are available 7 days per week, during normal business hours. ICES has a toll free number for support after normal hours, which is available 24/7.

Who Can Be A Host Family: Host Families come in all shapes, colors and sizes (i.e., families with or without kids, single parents, a single person with no kids, empty nesters, same sex couples, etc.). All members living in the family:

– Must have a Social Security Number.
– Can not have a felony conviction.
– Can not have a DUI or a DWI conviction in the last 5 years.
– Can not receive income-based assistance for food or housing.
– Both host father and/or host mother must be at least 25 years old.

Steps to Apply to Host a Student:

1) Complete an Application Online: You will receive a link for you to log into our secured website, where you will create your own user id and password to start the application, by providing general info about your family (names, address, rules that you want the student to follow, etc.).

2) Complete a Background Check: The application includes a link to complete a background check for everyone living in your home, age 18 or older. We use security company OneSource that specializes in background checks. I don’t see the info you provide in the link, I only see a status of Pass or Fail. Below is the info you will provide for the background check:

– Name
– Current Address
– Social Security Number
– Date of Birth
– Phone Number
– Address
– Driver’s License Number and Issuing State.
– Annual Household Income

3) Provide Three References (List 2 Personal & 1 Business)

4) Home Visit: With your Local Coordinator an appointment is scheduled to visit your home. The LC only needs to see the areas the student will use. This is a Department of State (DOS) mandatory requirement, to ensure the student will be placed in a home that is safe and sanitary.

Selecting Your Student: Once everyone 18 or older living in your home has passed the background check, the Local Coordinator will email full student profiles to you of students that share the same interests as you and your family. It will include the student’s application, photos/videos, report cards, letter the student wrote to his/her potential Host Family, letter the natural parents wrote describing their child, etc. etc. etc. Once the application, background check, home visit is completed and you have selected your student, you and your student may begin to communicate to begin to bond. The LC requests the registration of the student into a regular public high school near to your home. Once the student is registered in the school, the travel arrangements (i.e. J-1 Student Visa and flight arrangements) are arranged.

Student’s Arrival to USA: Your Local Coordinator will go with you to the airport to greet the student. Within a period of 1-2 weeks after the student’s arrival, the LC provides an orientation to the student to reiterate the rules they received from their international agent before departing their native country.Feel free to call or email with any questions.

There is also a demand for high school students in the form of a subject program. This is where the USA high school student is the point of contact at the school for international students who attend the same school, so that the USA Global Ambassador can help them meet friends, show them where their classroom is, etc.

Also, to promote hosting among their classmates, so the teens can ask their parents if they can host. The ambassador also goes with people like me (Local Coordinator) to events, like fairs, Library, etc. to work a table or a booth to spread the word about hosting.

If you would like more information on hosting or the subject program, please feel free to reach out to Jackie! Her contact information is below.

Jackie Willock / Local Coordinator

International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES)


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