Halloween 1982I remember the smell most of all- the plastic, chemical-like smell. I remember the stiff, molded shape smooth against my cheeks, and the edges-sharp and scratchy against the sides of my face. The eye holes were sort of in the right place and the elastic band stayed attached on one side, but kept slipping out of the other side. I remember my tongue getting pinched and stuck over and over in the mouth opening. I could only keep a Halloween mask on until my face started sweating uncomfortably, then I would remove it and the cool air would shock my damp skin forcing me to pull the mask back down. The children wearing masks were completely unrecognizable to friends and parents, but there was no question as to who the children were dressing up as. I laugh remembering the sound of my own voice, so loud in my own ears, muffled to everyone on the other side of the plastic. Trying to eat candy through the mouth opening was impossible, yet, I tried.

Pretending to be someone or something else is an intriguing concept for children and adults, though the effect is quite different. Children love to play dress-up all year. Encourage your children to pretend by providing items like scarves, hats, shoes, and various other pieces of clothing. Always monitor young children with items like scarves and necklaces as they may become a strangulation hazard, and remember to wash dress-up items often-especially when little friends stop by to play. Don’t worry if your child chooses to adopt a new persona for several days or about the perceived gender type of the clothes they choose, it’s all normal. I once worked with a child who only communicated with new people as a dog. For the first month I visited him he crawled on all fours, barked and panted. Eventually, he began interacting as a human. Respecting his process was important.

What are some of your early dress-up memories?

Bubble Wrap

Bubble_wrap_playI received a delivery yesterday. It was a box containing something I can’t remember, but also containing a large amount of bubble wrap. I was excited! One of the best inventions. Designed to protect fragile items, the combination of plastic and air provides so much more. Pressing a bubble between two fingers, feeling the plastic stretch with the pressure, and then POP! There is a satisfaction that happens at that moment and a desire to keep going. Bubble wrap can be used for stress relief, management of anger and frustration, and the enjoyment of a simple cause and effect experience. Children often respond positively to bubble wrap. When I worked with school aged children I set up a “Peace Corner” designed to offer comfort, solitude, and a get away from the activity of the classroom. Often, children who were frustrated and on the verge of lashing out would seek out the Peace Corner to let go of some energy. The corner contained items such as play dough, bubbles, pin wheels, squish balls, stuffed animals and bubble wrap. I could hear the bubble wrap popping like a machine gun for several minutes before a child emerged, often more relaxed.

I remember how much of a treat bubble wrap was in my house, growing up. My brothers and I would see who could get to it the fastest and then beg for a turn.

Besides relieving stress, bubble wrap can provide exciting stimulation for young children. The sharp, loud pops and the sensation felt by little fingers or feet bring startled smiles and squeals. So, the next time you find bubble wrap in your possession, enjoy it before throwing it out but do be cautious and never leave young children unattended with bubble wrap or any plastic sheet material.

What recycled materials did you enjoy as a kid?


“I Just Called to Say…”

telephone“…I Love You”, the hit 1984 song from Stevie Wonder. It was everywhere, on the car radio, MTV, at the grocery store. “…I just called to say how much I care, I do”, the lyrics are playing in my head now.

In 1984 we moved from Louisiana to Kansas and my brothers and I were enrolled in a small Catholic School. It was so small that grades 3 and 4 occupied the same classroom and were taught by the same teacher. I spent my 3rd grade year on one side of the room and 4th grade on the opposite side. There weren’t many children in my class, less than 15 I believe, but we had the necessary distinctions: mean kid, rich kid, nose picker, nice kid, smart kid, stare out the window kid (me)…

It began with a game of “Red Light, Green Light” during recess with most of the 3rd and 4th graders. The game soon changed to “Freeze Tag“. I was quickly frozen but my friend, Christa, ran by and ‘unfroze’ me. The kid who was “it”, Gabe (aka. mean kid), became frustrated and angry that he wasn’t able to keep everyone frozen and started shoving more than tagging kids. I was frozen and watched him push kids with his jaw clenched and brows creased. As he ran out of my line of sight I felt a light tap and my friend’s voice sing out, “You’re free!”. I took two running steps and then felt the air leave my lungs as my body shot forward landing on the concrete, palms scraping on the ground. The stinging started immediately. I looked down through the tears in my eyes to my hands streaked with blood, pounding heartbeat loud in my ears. My chest began to burn and I realized I couldn’t breath. Kids crowded around me, helping me up. My face was burning and I was panicking, I needed air. Then, as I stood up my body’s survival instincts kicked in and my lungs flooded with air causing a searing pain to fill my chest. Crying came next, more like sobbing with tears and snot running down my face. I felt the back of my red t-shirt being pulled up and a classmate yelling at Gabe, “Look what you did!”. I kept trying to pull my shirt down, but the kids were like ants  at a picnic. Finally a teacher came over and took me inside to the principal’s office. Adults asked me what happened as I blew my nose and wiped my face. I wasn’t really sure. My back was examined by the teacher, principal and nurse. My mom was called. Gabe was brought in, protesting that it wasn’t him, it wasn’t his fault, she just wants to get me in trouble.

Once home, my mom explained that Gabe had punched me in the back, along my right shoulder blade. All the kids in my class saw it. The deep bruise that was forming was about four inches in diameter and oval shaped. To say that Gabe was strong for his age was not an exaggeration. He had participated in junior wrestling for the past few years, was quite good at it, and unusually muscular for a nine year old. As a skinny dance and gymnastics nerd, I was no match for him. My back ached, I felt every breath, and it hurt to move my arm.

I believe mom let me stay home from school the next day. I remember laying on the couch mesmerized by the T.V. and ice packs on my back. Later in the evening, after dinner, the phone rang. “Jessica, someone wants to talk to you.” I got up, walked over and took the phone. Holding it to my ear I said, “Hello?”. The voice on the other end was a boy’s voice. He started, “I just called (pause) to say (pause)…”. My head was spinning, Stevie Wonder’s voice rang through my mind, the tune so loud. No! This can’t be happening! I was so confused and then he finished, “…I’m sorry.” “What?” I shot back. His voice came back a little more forceful, “I called to say I’m sorry. My mom told me to call you to apologize.” The last word sounding acidic. “Oh, okay.” I replied. Stevie Wonder fading from my head. Then he hung up the phone. I put the phone down and realized my heart had been pounding. Mom asked what was said and I told her. She said something like it was the least he could do.

Almost every time I hear that song, I remember that phone call.

Have you ever had to give or receive an apology that was forced upon you? What was it like? Gabe was nine at the time of the apology, and likely had the capability of understanding right from wrong. Here is an interesting article about apologies and children.


Joe 1982Mom enrolled my younger brother in a nursery school when he was a little over two years old. I remember visiting the center, noticing the light blue walls, royal blue trim, and the smell of new diapers. He hadn’t attended long, maybe a week, before he was expelled. The owner decided that he was too much of a liability to continue there and promptly gave him the boot. The cause of the expulsion? He ran away. One afternoon at the end of outside playtime the staff called the children in. Joe hid behind some equipment until everyone was inside. Once alone, he climbed the chain link fence surrounding the yard and made a beeline for the highway. The owner of the nursery school had just returned from the grocery store. With arms full of purchases she spied Joe, tiny legs moving as fast as they could, running down the small hill to the highway. She dropped everything and gave chase, catching him just before he stepped into traffic, a semi truck whizzing past. The call my mother received that day instructed her to pick him up immediately and never return. Joe was obviously trying to communicate his feelings about the nursery school. His language skills were not advanced enough for him to communicate clearly otherwise. Later, my mother found a small daycare run by a husband and wife. The setting was very much family-style and the couple cared for only a handful of other children. Joe was happy there and never attempted to escape.

I remember being eight or nine and unhappy about something my parents had disciplined me for. My initial reaction was to hightail it out of there. I had a vision in my head from several television shows of what that looked like. So, I located a long stick and large handkerchief. The impulse didn’t last long, especially when I realized how little fit in the handkerchief.

Children need to have some control in their lives. When they feel a loss of control one impulse can be to remove themselves from the situation. A child may run from the room, turn their head to look away, or leave the home. Parents can help support their children by identifying their child’s need for some control and meeting that need. Parents do not need to give their child full control. By giving them the power of choice in some situations, children will feel a part of the process and invested in it more. The child will feel respected and valued. When decisions must be made without child input, usually for safety and well-being, it can be very helpful to explain to the child what is happening and to acknowledge their feelings.

How have you managed this in your life?

For the kiddos who just like to run:


Crossing the Line


My brothers and I were spending a few days with Uncle Wayne and Aunt Barbara at their house in Mississippi. It was amazing. They gave us so much freedom. We had acres of land and clay to explore, four wheelers to ride, and a buffalo to observe. They were very patient with our tons of questions and detailed with their answers. They treated us like people instead of kids, though were certainly acted like the latter. One day Aunt Barbara took us into town to run errands. The drive along the road was beautiful with green grass and massive trees lining both sides. The trees hung over the road with sunlight filtering through in lace-like patterns on the asphalt. On the way home I asked Aunt Barbara about the painted lines in the center of the road, why some were solid and some were in dashes. She patiently explained that the dashes allowed you to cross over into the other lane. I asked if she would do it. She demonstrated, then returned to the original lane. I then asked if she could go back and forth over the line whenever she wanted. She asked what I meant and I demonstrated with my hands on an imaginary steering wheel, turning back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. “Like how a snake moves.” She laughed and said no, explaining the reasons why and that driving that way wouldn’t be safe. I was a bit disappointed, because driving would be that much more fun if you could drive that way.

Children ask questions. It is important for their cognitive development. When parents and other adults address children’s questions respectfully and willingly it not only gives answers but also helps support and strengthen the adult-child relationship. If a child asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, that’s ok. You can tell them you don’t know, but that the two of you can look up the answer or ask someone else. You can also ask them what they think the answer might be. This helps a child develop critical thinking skills- just make sure to find the answer later on so that the child can compare their idea to the facts.

Thanks, Aunt Barbara, for your knowledge, patience, and willingness.

aunt barbara 1981 thanksgiving


DSC01452I think I was nine years old. My brother, Jeff (12) and I were running around my grandparents’ ranch in Nebraska, exploring, chasing cats, looking for snakes, avoiding chores…normal kid stuff. It was summertime, dusty and warm, and there were rows of huge rolled hay bales lined up and stacked near one of the barns. Expert climbers that we were, we decided to climb the bales. Once on top, we ran back and forth along the length of the rows. We leaped over the open spaces and chased each other. Suddenly my arms were stinging, scratched from the hay, and I couldn’t breath. It was dark all around me and I was inside a very small space. I looked up and saw a small patch of light. I had jumped into a space between four bales. I tried to holler, but the sound was muffled and when I tried to take another breath to call out again I just sucked in more dust. My heart was pounding and my body began to prickle. Lifting my foot I tried to climb out, but I couldn’t get it high enough to step onto the twine wrapped around the hay. Then I heard Jeff calling my name. I tried to scream but the sound came out choked. I could hear his voice getting closer and I screamed again, the sound barely making it’s way out of the hole I was in. Finally he found me. I was beginning to cry. He told me to climb out and I said I couldn’t. Then he reached his arms down the hole, grabbed hold and pulled me out.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day other than stinging eyes and lots of coughing. I’m pretty sure we didn’t say anything to the adults either. I’m glad my brother was there with me that day, saving my life. He’s still saving lives today. Thanks, Jeff.




Reasonable Risk

1981 jeffjessjoe woodThe first part of my childhood spent in Louisiana holds such a special place in my heart, it always feels like home when I go back. My father worked outside the home, but we lived off the land as much as possible. Both my parents grew up that way. Gardening, hunting, fishing. We cut trees for fire wood.

I was five at the time and I remember the dusty, sweet and slightly bitter smell of the trees as dad cut them up and my mom, brothers and I carried the logs back to the trailer. I remember mom telling me to hold out my arms. She stacked a few small logs until I said it was heavy, then she took one off and directed me to the trailer. She filled up my brothers too, then followed us back. We stacked until there were no more logs left. Our pickup truck’s bed was full and so was the trailer. We had ridden out in the back of the pickup truck, but on the way back we were allowed to ride on top of the piled wood in the trailer. I don’t remember if my youngest brother was allowed to, or if he had to ride in the truck with mom and dad on this trip. Mom was a little nervous, but dad said he wouldn’t drive fast. I felt exhilarated as the wind rushed past me while holding on to the logs beneath me. This felt much more free than riding in the back of the pickup, almost like flying. Then we hit a bump in the road, literally. The logs shifted and the fingers of my right hand became pinched between two of them. Tears began to fill my eyes as I looked left to my older brother. He was smiling and laughing. Apparently this was fun. And, it was fun, except for those darned pinched fingers. I managed to pull my fingers free, scratching the skin and feeling the sting. I adjusted my position just as we hit another bump in the road. The bumps weren’t particularly big, but it feels much different when on top of an unsecured load. My brother laughed again and I smiled. By the time the next bump came, I was ready. I braced myself and laughed as we both lifted a little and plopped back down. We were almost home.

My brothers and I were forever climbing trees, swinging on vines (really) to land in big piles of leaves and dirt, wandering around acres of land full of venomous animals, and playing in running streams. Our parents checked on us, but if they knew what we were really up to I’m not sure I would have gotten to experience half of the things I did. Bruises and cuts were a part of our daily existence. There are several of those “When I was a kid…” stories and checklists bragging about how when we were kids no one wore a bike helmet, kids didn’t come home until the street lights came on, etc… I was one of those kids, but today’s environments are different, and more of us are distracted, kids included. Distraction often leads to danger. Guarding children against danger is a good thing. BUT we still must allow children to take reasonable risks. Children still need to be able to climb, jump, run, fall down… A reasonable risk is an action that poses both positive and negative outcomes. For example, a toddler climbs on the coffee table and stands up. The risk is that the child may fall and be seriously injured (negative outcome), but the child may not fall gaining confidence and building useful skills for motor and cognitive development (positive outcome). Safeguards can be put in place to minimize the risk of harm such as teaching a child how to safely climb up and climb down, or by giving them something acceptable to climb on such as the couch or bed perhaps. I am a big supporter of bike helmets, seat belts, and other safety equipment designed to protect us from injuries such as traumatic brain injury.

Children will often find a way to take risks when given the chance. If they are allowed to do so from a young age, they will likely develop the skills to safely physically navigate risky activities. If not given the chance to take reasonable risks from a young age there is the potential that their cognitive and motor skills may not be able to navigate risky activities safely when they get older and want to try something new. The activities my brothers and I engaged in growing up were quite rigorous. I give credit to those experiences for keeping me safe when I began participating in organized sports in high school and college. My one and only broken bone occurred during a cheerleading practice in college. As I dismounted from 15 feet in the air, landing perfectly on both feet, the catchers tasked with slowing the dismount were just a second too late. My ankle snapped. This scenario could have been much worse, right? I could have broken much more, received a head injury… but I didn’t. My body absorbed the impact, brain and organs safe. I had the motor and cognitive skills, in development since toddler-hood, to navigate this risk. All the bumps, bruises, cuts, sprains and stitches were worth it.

What are your thoughts on reasonable risk?

This Car Doesn’t Work Without Seat Belts

imageWe were driving along when our car began to slow, mom pulling over to the side of the road. Silence, except for the hum of the engine. Uh oh, I thought, someone’s in trouble. Without turning around mom calmly said, “The car doesn’t work without seat belts”. My heart beat a little faster. How did she know? I slowly reached down and re-buckled my lap belt. The ‘click’ it made was so loud. Mom pulled back onto the road and we were on our way again.

“This car doesn’t work without seat belts.” was repeated to us so many times that any trip in the car didn’t seem right if  we didn’t hear it. It became so engrained in me that when I began transporting children in my own vehicle or for field trips, I found myself saying something similar. While it seemed nearly impossible to get comfortable while wearing a seat belt, we certainly survived. Today, with almost all seats having a shoulder strap, there are several adjusters to help provide a more comfortable fit.

I guess when I was very young, the rule about seat belts only applied when we were IN the vehicle. Pickup truck beds and wood-piled trailers didn’t really count. 🙂 Story coming soon.

Safety in and around vehicles is very important, especially for children. Arizona has updated the child restraint laws and recommendations recently. You can check them out here.

Feel free to share your own transportation stories in the comments below.

Look At Me! Smile! Say Cheese!

Jess taking photo 77

Capturing the moment gives us a memento, something to look back at. A photo or video helps us remember and tap into the feelings we had at the time, but do we capture too many moments? Are we truly present while capturing the present? What I’ve noticed is that the act of taking pictures has, for some, become THE moment, THE connection and activity, and less about the product of the photo (bravo). I think for many people, it is quite possible to remain present while capturing those special moments. For others it is a challenge and becomes more about getting the perfect photo or video which may develop barriers in the relationship – especially in relationships between children and their parents.

So, how do you capture the moment? Are you able to be present?





JimJess1983It was seven days after my birthday, eight days after Uncle Jim’s birthday, and he had just come home from the Air Force for a short visit. The family gathered, coming from several states. There was always a buzz of excitement when family got together, catching up, teasing each other, laughing, eating, helping, dispensing advice. Kids were everywhere, myself included, and pictures were snapped in clusters regularly. Often, the background scenery wasn’t scrutinized which may be why I became an accidental photobomber at the young age of seven. Tampering with photos seemed to be a pastime of my family, mostly the infamous ‘rabbit ears‘. We do it partly as a tradition and partly as a way to maintain connection- to feel included.

I think intentional photobombs are essentially a way to join in, to be connected to others. Yes, even those creepy looking ones. From infancy, our brains are wired for connections. Some develop strong and healthy connections from childhood, and some don’t, but the desire to be connected to others remains.

Last night I accompanied Uncle Jim to a formal Military dinner. After the dinner we decided to loosely recreate the 31 year old picture (above). I’ve always felt connected to my family members, no matter how much time passes between visits, and last night was no different. Thanks, Uncle Jim!