SPARROW SKY - Part 1 SPARROW SKY.COM ” | amateur hour in full-effect.
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Better than the average chore chart: The AIR system

Hello all! Today I want to share with you a project that I have been working on for my daughter, Scout. Our little kiddo has recently reached the point where she is capable of helping around the house, and she loves it! My husband and I wanted to find a way to harness this energy and excitement she has for completing new tasks, and turn it into a system that would work well for our family. I began browsing the internet, looking high and low for something that fit our needs. What I found were a lot of great ideas, but none that met all of the goals we were hoping to achieve with a chore system. What were the fundamental things missing from all of these chore charts? Independence, responsibility, and accountability.

Feeling a bit frustrated at my lack of options, I decided to create the perfect system myself. After all, who knows our family's needs, values, and schedule better than I do?

What I came up with is a system that not only encompasses three of our biggest goals, to teach accountability, responsibility, and independence, but also functions as a behavior modification system. I call it the AIR (Accountability, Independence, Responsibility) system.

As a bonus, it also looks great (ok, that's a personal opinion) and was fairly inexpensive to create.

Interested in learning more? Awesome. Read along and see if the AIR board is something you'd want to re-create for your own family! I'll cover all of the system's elements here, and tell you exactly what I purchased, what I created, and how it works.

The entire AIR system. From the top left, the system features Responsibility cards, Job cards, the AIR tracker, Earnings compartment, Rewards compartment, and the +/- cards compartment.

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The entire IRA system


First off, let's cover the design. I had some specifications for what I wanted our system to look like and include.

My main goals were to create a system that is:

Easy to read and use.

This is obvious, however, creating a system for children is very different than creating one for adults. Children need a system that fits their emotional and intellectual maturity level. As an example, I used flashcards with photos for our daughter because she cannot read yet. Giving her cards with text may have made this system difficult for her to use.


I wanted a system that served as more than a simple chore chart. I want to teach my daughter important life lessons that will help her thrive as an adult, and I want to build up the characteristics that we, as a family, find important. This board not only serves to keep track of her daily chores, it also teaches her about responsibility, math, the consequences of good and bad behavior, and the power of self-motivation, amongst many other things.


My family lives a life that is not incredibly stable. My husband and I are both full-time college students. My husband is also a full-time employee and an Army reservist. Each week, in addition to attending my classes, I also co-manage and run an arts group for homeless and at-risk youth through Free Arts (check them out!). As every other parent in this world can say, we are busy! Because we have chosen this lifestyle for ourselves, we have to accept that each week will likely have a very different schedule from the last; therefore, when creating a system for our daughter, we had to take that fact into account. This system allows us to change things around if need be, and also allows us to add, remove, or exchange items as our daughter grows and as our schedule changes.

Accessible, durable, and aesthetically pleasing

Accessibility goes hand-in-hand with being easy to use. If our system board is out of reach or out of sight, it is also out of mind, making it ineffective. To prevent this, we mounted our system board in a location where we can see it, where Scout can reach it, and where we know it will not get beaten up or knocked down. To ensure that our system can hold up to the daily rigor, I laminated all of the paper components and used durable materials for everything else.

Lastly, I wanted everything to be aesthetically pleasing. One of the biggest challenges I faced when I was researching other system was finding something that I wouldn't mind hanging out in the open (again, accessibility). I think our system works to please both my daughter (who loves purple) and myself with the clean, modern design.


Moving on to the actual functions of this board, or the meat-and-potatoes of it all. These are the things we wanted to make sure our system was capable of teaching. What would be the point of making our own system if it did not have unique purposes?

What we most wanted our system to include were functions that would teach:


From a personal perspective, I believe the point of having children is to raise them into healthy, productive, happy, and independent adults. Please take note of the last word: adults. I do not want to raise my children into eternal children. I want them to have the tools and self-esteem to go forward in life on their own and to create their own paths without constantly needing my opinion or my help.

One of the first things I remember about living on my own was how overwhelming it all felt. “You mean I have to pay all of these bills every month?” “How am I supposed to get all of this done by myself?” I have no idea what I’m doing.” These were the thoughts I had on a regular basis. While I cant prevent my children from feeling overwhelmed entirely by adulthood, I can at least prepare them for some of the responsibilities they will assume by teaching them how to be independent. This means providing Scout with expectations that are appropriate for her age and that she can complete by herself.


As we grow from children into adults, we are expected to take on more responsibilities. Homework, household duties, insurance payments, research projects, car maintenance. These are tasks that we can technically opt out of doing, but doing so could have very serious consequences. These are also tasks that other people are not going to pay us to do; we simply have to do them. If someone paid me for every dish I washed, well, I would probably be writing this post from my private island somewhere off the Pacific. Sadly, I am not.

This is a very big point that my husband and I want to ensure our daughter understands: life is full of responsibilities and jobs. You cannot choose most of your responsibilities. Dishes must be cleaned, homework must be completed, laundry doesn't wash itself. Your job, however, is a place where people will pay you, and you can choose what you want to do in order to earn those benefits. In our system, we have provided Scout with a list of her responsibilities (must do/no payment) and jobs (choose to do/payment).


We believe being accountable is part of being a productive adult. If our children are unaccountable adults, they may not be able to go to college classes every day, hold a steady job, or pay their bills on time. Teaching them accountability for their actions and responsibilities as children is another way we hope to prepare them for adult life. Our system includes a tracker for responsibilities, jobs, and payment in order to promote this.


Behavior. Oh, that word. Like many parents, we often feel perplexed when raising Scout. Has anyone found that manual on raising great kids yet? I'm still looking. Let's admit though, until we find that holy grail, that raising kids is hard. It's insanely hard. We don’t have a manual that tells us what to do and when for each child we raise. We have to experiment with different approaches, try and fail, and sometimes just wing it. This system I created for Scout is a way to incentivize her to not only complete her responsibilities and take on new jobs, but also to behave better and with more respect. We created the + and – cards to assist with this process.

Now that you've learned about the design and functions of the system, let's talk about the features and how it works.


As complicated and in-depth as the AIR system sounds, it is actually very simple in features and usability. Starting from the top left, we will describe each component and it's purpose.

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A collection of the responsibility cards we use for Scout. These are 3x5 photos that have been affixed with labels, laminated, and hole-punched. They hang from the top hook on a book ring.

Responsibility cards

These are the cards that show the child what to do each day. The items shown are basic expectations and personal grooming habits. For Scout, we chose things such as brushing her teeth, putting her dishes in the sink, and cleaning up her toys. The point of these cards is to remind Scout what she needs to complete each day in order to build independence. The tasks here are ones that she is able to do alone or with very minimal assistance.

Each card features a photograph pertaining to the responsibility (ie: a photo of the sink coordinates with putting dishes in the sink) and a small label that states the task. This shows her, visually, what to do and also allows for further expansion into reading. Each photo and label is laminated and hole-punched, and the entire deck of cards hangs on a book ring for portability and interchangeability. This way, Scout can take along her responsibility deck as she completes each task, and I can add, remove, or exchange cards as she masters new skills.

*I'd also like to note here that we do not want to run our children ragged with expectations of perfection. I do not dream of a system in which my children live a military-style existence, constantly cleaning things to my exact requirements. The responsibilities we chose for Scout are not time consuming, demeaning, or incredibly taxing. We want her to play and have fun while building independence and learning new skills. Balance is key. 



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A collection of some of the job cards I created for our daughter. These are laminated and hang from a hook at the top of the board.

Job cards

These cards are what I like to call “job postings”. They act like help wanted ads for our daughter and function in much the same way. These are tasks that I can do myself, but would pay to have help with.

The jobs I've created are ones I know that Scout could complete with little or no assistance (again, to promote independence), but also may challenge her to think in a new way. For example, some of the tasks I have posted are taking out the recycles and helping with laundry. These jobs require her to arrange items in our special recycling bag (thanks IKEA!) so they don’t fall out and also to carefully fold and place her clothes in her dresser or hang them in the closet. These simple tasks help her large and small motor skills and also encourage her to problem solve. I also included a parent's choice card, which allows us to pay Scout for jobs that pop up randomly or are needed infrequently. This is also a great way to test out new jobs without committing to making a card, which is more time consuming. 

Job cards are completely optional, but unlike responsibility cards, they are paid tasks. If Scout chooses not to complete any jobs for the day, she simply will not get paid. This is our way of keeping the AIR system fun, fair, and practical. We dont want to punish her for choosing not to work. Somedays life will get in the way, or she'll be in a bad mood, or we'll be too busy for jobs to get done. Keeping it easy ensures that it will function smoothly, and leaving the decision on whether or not to work with Scout promotes self-motivation and self-discipline. 



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The Earnings compartment and job dollars. The currency is just a 3x5 design I created and printed on cardstock. For extra durability, all of the dollars are laminated.


This compartment is where we place Scout's dollars for her jobs. Each job is worth $1 in payment. These faux dollars I've created act as a fun, tangible currency for Scout, so that she can visually see her earnings throughout the week and physically count them out. For small children, this is especially helpful, because they do not yet have the capability to think in abstract terms. Seeing a number on a typical chore chart may not motivate them to complete jobs, because they may not actually understand the value of that number or what it relates to in the long run.

Using these dollars, Scout can go to the rewards bin (discussed next) and make a purchase. I should mention that this earnings system was also created to help Scout with basic addition, writing numbers, and money management. 



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The Rewards compartment and reward cards. These are standard 3x5 photos with printed labels.


The rewards compartment holds all of the fun of the AIR system. In this bin, I've created cards, much like the responsibility and job cards, that feature different items Scout can “buy” with her earnings.

The incentives we used are mostly non-material, as we wanted this system to also incorporate our family values of togetherness, experienced-based happiness, and humility. We did not want to encourage Scout to complete chores simply so she could earn a trip to the toy store. We also did not want to create rewards that would be too difficult for us to fulfill because, hey, we have to be responsible and accountable too! The items we chose, such as “Paint nails” or “Make a special treat” are things we know that 1) Scout will love 2) we will have to do together, and 3) are not incredibly time-consuming. As with the responsibility and job cards, these rewards can be removed or exchanged as she grows and changes interests, which should keep her motivated to keep using the system. 

To encourage Scout to make wise spending decisions and to also teach her the value of patience and saving, I assigned a dollar value to each reward. This means that each reward must be earned through a combination of chores. The only reward we have that can be purchased with a single dollar (and thus, one job) is 30-minutes of iPad time. We only allow her to play games that we approve of, and the greater majority of them are educational, so this is something easy and simple for her to earn.

We also have reward rules. For example, Scout cannot use 6 job dollars at once to pay for a 3-hour iPad binge. You know, everything in moderation and all.



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These are the +/- behavior cards and compartment, which supplement the IRS system by encouraging children to be responsible for their behavior as well.

+/- cards

These are fairly self-explanatory from the photo, but I will add some information here for anyone interested.

We use these cards to teach Scout that good behavior is important and will be rewarded, while negative behavior will not be tolerated and will cause a loss of reward. This is another extension of the raising adults platform. As an adult employee, if you storm into work, throw your computer on the floor, and curse at your boss, there's a high probability that you will be fired. Well, I can't fire my four year old from the family, I can't vote her off the island, and I cannot tell her, “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” What I can do is reward her with an extra dollar when I see her sharing with her brother or completing her responsibilities without whining. Conversely, I can also take a dollar or a reward away when I see her hit her brother or throw a tantrum.

To make these cards easy to read and use, I used basic symbols that Scout can understand (a smile and a frown). This way, to teach responsibility and accountability, I can tell her, “Scout, you behaved very well. Please go reward yourself with a + card.”



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The IRA system tracker keeps a record of responsibilities, jobs, and earnings.

Responsibility/Job Tracker

Again, this one is very self explanatory. Each day, once Scout has completed her responsibilities, she can go over to the tracker and use an included dry erase marker (or crayon!) to put a check by the day of the week. When she completes a job, she can place a tally mark, which is easy enough for her to write, in the blank job space. At the end of the week, we will check to make sure she has completed all of her responsibilities before removing all of the cards from the earnings compartment. If she has completed her responsibilities, we will count out her earnings (dollars and +/- cards), and figure out the total, which we can then write in the box. From there, Scout can choose to purchase a reward or save her earnings by putting them back in the earnings bin.

We use a weekly system, as opposed to a daily one, because of our hectic schedule. Again, this system must be accessible and eay to use, which means it shouldnt drive us crazy. Remembering to check the tracker and pay Scout her earnings every single day may not happen, because of life, vacations, sick days, etc. Keeping it simple like this does throw one caveat in, however. Because our "pay day" isnt until the end of the week, instant gratification does not happen. For children (and many adults!) this can be frustrating and create some loss of interest. Using positive encouragement or small daily rewards ( like a sticker or small piece of candy) can help to keep kids motivated. 


If you've gotten through all of that reading, congratulations, you're either crazy or incredibly dedicated. As a reward, I'll show you how I made it!

The board- $10 

The board is from Hobby Lobby. It is essentially just a piece of sheet metal covered in chalkboard paint. This one in particular is 12” wide and 24” long, which is the perfect size for all of the AIR system components. We hang ours vertically, as shown in the top photo, using 3M picture hanging strips. You could also drill holes into the top of the sheet and hang it from a ribbon on a hook, or screw it into a wall in your home.

The magnetic hooks- $4

I purchased these from the office supplies section of Walmart. They come in packs of 4 and are strong enough to hold the responsibility and job decks without sliding.

The compartments- $6

These were also found at Walmart, near the corkboards and dry erase boards, but I have seen tons of varieties at Target, Office Max, and Staples. This particular type was exactly the size I needed, and at $2 a piece, they were economical enough to try out.

The responsibility and job card decks – $2

These are simple enough for anyone to create. I walked around my home and took photos of the responsibilities and jobs I wanted to include in each deck. I then created a top card for each one listing either responsibilities or jobs, and printed these on white cardstock. If you aren't especially handy with a graphics program you can use scrapbooking supplies, draw them up, or just type the words out in Word. When I had my photos and top cards ready, I created labels that corresponded to each of the tasks and cut them into individual strips. Using my laminator (I have one I found for $20 on Amazon), I laminated the photos and labels together. To complete the decks, I used a hole-punch at the top of each laminated card and put them all onto a single book ring. You can find a pack of 8 book rings at Walmart (again, in the office supplies) for under $2. The actual size of the cards is 3in x 5in. 

The tracker- $2

Again, this would be very easy for anyone to create, even without a graphics program. I drafted mine up in Photoshop, printed it in a 4in x 6in size onto cardstock, laminated it, and then attached it to a self-adhesive magnetic sheet. I found these at Walmart in the craft supplies at $2 for two 5x8in sheets.

The dollars- free

I created these in Photoshop and laminated them before cutting them into individual dollars. If you want to re-create the system for yourself, you can easily draw up some funny dollars of your own, use Monopoly money, or go for real, cold-hard cash!

Total: $24


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A love song to one am.

I love being so tired, and yet so awake that I can almost dream with my eyes open.

I am 26 now. Hello.

It's been just over one week since my birthday and it still feels so very, very weird to say that.

'Oh, hi, I'm Natalie. I'm 26 and my life is crazy.' 

This is what 26 currently looks like from over here:

486359 4337205541199 171165508 n A love song to one am.

That's right, 26 means Tupac, lots of black leather, gold studs, coffee, cigarettes and photography. I dont know if I feel relevant with the times or just plain strange. Whatever it is, I like it. I feel me-er, as though I'm finally coming into my own personality, or rather, showing my personality for once. Oh look, this has turned into a coming of age tale! People, grab your lawn chairs and popcorn because this is going to be fabulouuus. 

26 also means that I'm still an Army wife, still a student, and definitely still a mom to the coolest kids I know. Not many things have changed other than that I am farther through school than I was 6 months ago, and I am slowly (read: molasses) getting better at my favorite hobby. The upgrade from the Nikon D3000 with 18-55mm to the D7000 with 35mm 1.8g has been wondrous. I feel like I'm really getting into it more than ever and nothing feels quite as refreshing. Sitting down to edit has become a full-blown crackfest for me during which I squeal and gasp and wring my hands until it's complete. Can't get enough. 

Where is this even going? 

I dont know, it's nearly 2am and I'm required to be up at the dawn of whenever my kids decide tomorrow. Writing has been on the slow side for the past, I don't know, eleventeen months due to school, stress, anxiety, stress, school, rinse, repeat, blah, blah, wakka wakka. JUst as with photography, I have a very simple on/off switch for writing that compells me to either verbal vomit spontaneously for hours or, oppositely, remain quiet on the western word front for months at a time. I wish I had a more viable excuse, or any excuse at all, really, but truthfully I just dont write the way I did as a teenager (see: time constraints). It simply isnt enough. I need to will myself to write more, if only here and if only for the express purpose of releasing my thoughts onto virtual paper. As with most people who have even the smallest of passions for writing, I find the practice to be somewhat therapuetic. I'm a ball of anxious mess at my core, and writing down what I feel somehow brings me off that manic high and back into practical thought and function. It also works to embarass the hell out of me in the future (I sense a foreshadow here somewhere). But yes, write more, self, please. 

As if this hasn't rambled far enough into the territory of "are you kidding me, this is a blog post?" I'd like to discuss my adorable creature, Scouty, and her upcoming fourth birthday. Yes, FOURTH. F-O-U-R-T-Oh fuck it. I can't believe 1) that she has been in existence for this long and 2) That I have been a mother for this long. All I can say to that is what. the. hell. Also, please stop it right now before my head/heart explodes into nothing. Scout growing older means I have to face all of those deep-down fears that every daughter-having parent has. I am knee-fucking-deep in princessland over here and I am about to lose my mind. The practical side of me says, "It's just a phase, lady" and the feminist in me shouts indignantly, "Burn the Barbies! Rip apart the dresses! Ban the television!" In other words, I have no idea what I'm doing and where is the current baby-guru elect on this shit? 

Back to birthdays. I am waxing rhapsodic lately about my little lady and feel overcome with emotion as we approach the looming unicorn-themed birthday party. Girl has a penchant for making everything magical, so the theme fits. Needless to say, my inner 6 year old is screaming in joy as I browse Etsy for party decor. My inner-26 year old is weeping because my once chubby, whispy-haired little baby is now a full-fledged pre-K with flowing brown locks and a preschool boyfriend named Keegan. She loves princesses, Minnie Mouse, glitter and the requisite favorite girly colors. If I ask her to wear a purple plaid button-up shirt she wil announce to me, in no uncertain terms, that she looks like a boy. Basically, here is my nightmare, please send help. But, even though she wages war against my feminist ideal, she is still ridiculously fabulous to be around and makes me happy every day, no exceptions. Things she has said lately that made me die a little inside: "On your honor, I promise we watch Brave tomorrow.", "I'm nervous about Keegan. He makes me shy." "I love Jasper. He was a small baby and now he is my big baby. Can I sing him me-shine?" "What does Hanukkah look like?" and a million more things that only as a mother do I find adorable. 

In other words, this blog post was mainly a way to say "Hey internet, I'm still alive" and also that I'm crazy about one particular four year old named Scout. The end. More soon.

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Life captured.




"I never question what to do, it tells me what to do. The photographs make themselves with my help."

-Ruth Bernhard

Sometimes I dont take photographs. I think there is this popular opinion that anyone who has a rather obsessive hobby, such as painting, sculpting, drawing or photography, is always engaged with it. I'm the same with photography as I am with writing, I only engage in it when I'm struck by what I call "creative energy." Sounds weird, but it's the only way I know how to explain the feeling- a magnetic, must-do, cant-think, energy. When it hits me, I pick up my camera and magic happens. Just as Ruth said, my camera feels more like a porthole I'm looking through, catching glimpses of the world as they are forced by me. I can't photograph with honesty and intention when I dont have that thrill. 

Here's a pretty obvious fact: I dont set-up 99% of the photos I take.

It stuns me that this notion is uncommon amongst photographers today. Almost everything I see from other photographers (whether they be hobbyists or professionals) is staged in some way. I dont understand it, and yet, I do. The urge to set things up just-so and to photograph them hits me sometimes, but it's rare. The more and more I take photos, the more I've come to realize that my preferred "style" (if you can call it that) is editorial. I want to capture the genuine, the truly authentic, moments of this life. The rest is waste to me. Self-portraits are the only area where I sway from this ideology, and I'm comfortable with that. I'd say it's difficult, if not completely impossible, to take a completely spontaneous self-portrait that captures an emotion in progress. But everything else? Give me real. Give me the kids running around wearing monkey suits, or throwing tantrums, or screaming and smiling and living. I dont care if the photos are blurry, I dont care if they're poorly composed, so long as the mood, the feeling of that moment, is captured. I will advocate this form of photography to anyone who picks up a camera, because truly, when you look back on the photos you take now, do you truly think you're going to have the fondest feelings for the sit-down, dress-up portraits taken at the local mall? Doubtful. Instead, you're going to smile, laugh, cry, and reminisce over those photos that captured your life in all of it's wild, beautiful and magical moments. And, if you aren't going to capture them now, then when? 

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A post about not posting.

So, what's been going on with me? Well, I've been busy. Is that even an appropriate word? I dont know. Everyone's busy.

Over the past few months, everything within my house has basically self-imploded or given up on life. It's like a mass suicide al a Jonestown and no one is sharing the kool-aid. I'm trying not to be pissed off or stressed out, but holy hell is it annoying when everything falls apart week after week. Let's discuss.

First, the garbage disposal went. It simply grinded to a halt and stopped functioning. Went to look under the cabinet to repair it and boom goes the dynamite. We discovered that the entire cabinet under our lovely farmhouse sink is essentially rotting away from water damage that was caused by a slow leak in one of the tubes from the disposal. To boot, the sink is barely being held up by one flimsy screw and a piece of wood that's been haphazardly rigged to support the ten-ton weight of that behemoth beauty.

Next up, the plants in the front yard began to die. We're in Arizona, and most plants out here are fairly hardy to the dry heat. When stuff begins to die off suddenly, it's usually too late to intervene. We've lost essentially all of the landscaping in the front yard (save for a few hideously ugly, and dreadful to remove bouganvilleas) because surprise! the entire sprinkler system out there has mysteriously stopped working. 

Shall we continue? Cool, because clearly you arent bored enough already.

Next up, was the garage door. We returned home from a fabulous vacation with sunburns and smiles only to discover that our garage door had been dented and was inoperable. $600 to replace that sucker because, of course, the previous owners had installed a garage door that was far too heavy for the garage door opener. Instead of being able to replace just the bottom two panels, the entire thing had to go.

Two days later, my husband's car threw up both middle fingers and said "Peace, bitches!" Or something similar, I imagine. $700 to get it to a point where it was safe to drive. A few days later a random stranger decided to pull up into our driveway, nail the entire left side of the car and drive off. Huge dent, long scratch, no good. This happened just after we had made the decision to trade it in for a more reliable vehicle. Hurp durp.

Up next, we have the water heater, which greeted us with a gushing stream of water and a flooded garage. The timing could not have been more perfect. 10:30 pm? Check. Two sleeping children in my car? Check! Extra money in bank account bled dry from repairing previously mentioned catastrophes? DOUBLE CHECK, WHAT WHAT. Emergency plumbing services called out, days without any water for showering, and a $900 estimate later, we were spent.  My generous parents arrived with superhero capes blowing gloriously in the wind, and replaced and installed the whole she-bang for us. I owe them mass quantities of beer and steak.

Water heater replaced, garage door replaced, car sold and we still had a chance of going to Disneyland this year! What can I say? We were living the h-i-g-h life.


Until we arrived home from our Mother's Day celebration only to discover that, "Hey, that's the second time an unopened gallon of milk has gone rancid this weekend.. and HOLY CRAP ALL OF THE ICE CREAM IS MELTED AND THE CHEESE IS WARM AND WHAT THE HELL IS THAT GROWING ON THE STRAWBERRIES?" Apparently, after taking advice from all of the other major appliances, our fridge decided it was time to join the fiesta of "I'd rather just sit here and die, thanks." Ice coolers were loaded, hundreds? thousands? of bags of ice were purchased, and many rotten food items were trashed. Fortunately, this little puppy decided to not give up completely and instead taught us a lesson in "Oh, right, defrosting the fridge every once in a while might be helpful." Gotcha, fridge. Thanks for that.

So there ya go. There's my pathetic story of how I cant blog because my house is going on strike. 

Hopefully the unions will be pleased and agree to a compromise. I will work to better maintain working conditions and in return, I expect to be rewarded with a few more months of peace… please?

In the meantime, Jasper is walking, Scout has speech therapy, Jared has physical therapy, and I'm starting 3 accelerated classes this month. God save us? 

collection twomonkeys 2012 13 A post about not posting.

Also, monkeys, because this post was far too long and lacking anything of value. May my misery be your good fortune! 

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I can hear the kids playing up in their shared bedroom and I'm torn.

I'm sitting downstairs fighting the urge to go up, scold them for staying up past bedtime, and tuck them back into their respective beds. I want to, but I wont. If I march up there, head swimming with annoyance, I know I'll ruin that memory. Instead of looking back at the times when they would stay up all night, alone in their secret world of childhood and make-believe, they'll simply remember that time, one of many, where Mom came up and yelled. I've been doing so much of that lately: yelling, separating, controlling. I've been selfish, trying to wrest back this person I've only recently discovered is me.

The problem with having kids young is that you're stuck trying to figure them out while you still haven't quite figured out yourself.

Babies having babies, they say. Maybe they were saying it right, maybe I was wrong.

These past few years have been a whirlwind. It's so typical, really. Finding myself in the midst of finding out what it means to be a parent. It's disarming, at best. Suddenly I've become aware of how much I'm not only wanted, but needed, and it is the most terrifying feeling I've experienced. The thought runs through my head constantly: I am responsible for a human. Not just one of them, but two. I made this choice. I must be solely dedicated to their well-being. There is no escape, there is no easy, there is no way to turn back and say maybe we should start over and do it better. I have to be present in every moment, and that is not something I'm good at.

I never could understand why people waited to have children. The wild one in me still doesn't at times. Why spend so much of your life missing the people who will become your life? They argue that you need money, that love isn't all you need, that the romanticized version of a bohemian existence is not truly all that romantic. I didn't want to listen; I didn't want them to be right.

Having children has always been my greatest ambition. I said that if I died, I only hoped to have become a mother first. But now I know that motherhood isn't all. I know now that I still need to do other things before I'm content with leaving, and that list doesn't only include watching Jasper get married and have children, or seeing Scout navigate through her chosen career.

I'm caught in a place that is difficult for me to realize. I'm shell-shocked, awe-struck, by the reality of where I am at twenty-five years old. I am closer to thirty than I am to eighteen, and thirty feels old. Thirty feels like I should have my shit together. Twenty-five feels old, too. Twenty-five feels like a master's degree, possibly a marriage, a stable career, or at least a career choice. Instead I'm standing at twenty-five, surrounded by all of this maturity in circumstance and all of this ignorance in emotion. I still feel eighteen. I still feel like I have all of these options ahead of me, that I can still make mistakes, and that life will be forgiving. And yet, I can also feel that all of these things are wrong. I'm under constant anxiety over the thought that I cant get up and run, that this is where I have to be, that I have to accept this, live this, love this. My life? It's this.

There are so many mixed messages out there about motherhood, but one thing remains the same: you have to be good at it. Apparently it comes naturally, too. And it's the most fulfilling experience of a lifetime. Oh, and it's exhausting, but definitely worth it. I wish someone would have said that even to the most confident of prospective parents, motherhood does not always come naturally or easily. I feel so disjointed in this role. I'm a dreamer, a wild one, but right now I have to learn to be patient and present and selfless. I'm a thinker, a learner, and an over-analyzer, but right now I have to learn to be simple and easy-going. I'm an escapist, a person who is not happy with never-ending sameness, but right now I have to learn how to create ritual, tradition and stability for my children. Most of all, I am a motherless child, and right now I have to learn how to raise the children of a mother. I don't know how to do that; that just doesn't come naturally to me.

There are moments when I can amp myself up, let my mother-bear battle-cry roar out with indignation. "I'll prove you wrong! I know what I'm doing!" And according to the majority opinion, I am doing it right. I do the crafts, I take the photos, I educate them, I monitor their television watching, I carefully select nutritious foods for them to eat, I research the best pediatricians, I do the preschool interviews, I take them to the museums and zoos.

It's never enough.

I cant show them what I want to show them. I cant take them all over the world in my backpack. I cant force them to see the logic in my requests. I cant make them love me if they don't want to.

Becoming a young mother, for me, meant standing face to face with my very controlling nature, and learning that that shit just wont fly. For me right now it's slowly learning that I have to actually model the behaviors I want to see in them, that I cant just magically will these children into well-functioning adults, whatever that means. For me, that's hard. I'd still rather be out traveling the world with wild abandon, sitting in college classrooms absorbing as much information as possible, blasting my stereo at full volume, smoking clove cigarettes and having "intellectual" conversations with people around me.

But I cannot do those things. I'm a mother now, and being a mother means loving so hard it hurts and it scares. It means staying in and losing friends and, sometimes, opportunities. It means worrying and waiting and whispering and wondering. Mostly it means yelling at the top of my lungs because I just want them to actually hear how much I love them, feel how much I want for them, in spite of all that I still want for myself.



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A little heart and soul.

APRIL2012 27 A little heart and soul.

This girl. Princess Diva Drama Pants.

I swear that when they said three year olds were pure evil incarnate they weren't lying. I've been escaping to the bathroom to cry almost every day because we're on power struggle number 50 and I just dont want to fucking fight over whether or not waffles can be considered "dinner" food. In between those power struggles, though, she's an absolute gem with a heart of gold who melts my brain cells into mush when she tells me "Mom, I love your hair today" or "Mom, you my best friend, right?". Well, of course we are, duh, but if we're going to be best friends I suggest you go grab your own damn ice cream and let me watch this Annie Leibovitz documentary.


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“Don’t copy me!”

Sounds childish, doesn't it? I can't say that phrase without hearing the whining voice a 5 year old ringing in my ears.

Truthfully, no one likes to have their work copied, and yet everyone loves to copy the work of someone they see as inspirational. I believe this stems from two things:

1) We view our own work as unique, special, and possibly private. When we create something, especially something we're proud of, we assume intellectual property over it. When someone copies our creation we feel as though the value of our efforts has been cheapened or stolen. We may even resent the imitator because they took our idea and improved upon it.

2) We love to copy others because, well, we can! Unless there are specific laws in place to protect the works of others, we are essentially free to imitate them as much as we like. There isn't a person out there who can stop you from dressing up babies in flower hats and photographing them a la Anne Geddes, so long as you took the photos. We love to re-create the things we admire because it gives us a small piece of ownership over them. When we adopt those ideas and change them, to whatever degree, we regard them as ours and we can again view them as unique and special.

So, why shouldn't we copy other people when it comes to art?

The first and largest problem with imitation, when it comes to creative pursuits, is that it detracts both from the "copier's" work and the original artist's work. The more times we see a copy of an original, the less valuable the original becomes to us. The original art piece may be unique and special in it's own right, but it quickly becomes overwhelmed by trendiness and is lost in the shuffle. Sometimes, when we see work imitated over and over again we forget what the original catalyst to the trend even was.

Right now a huge trend in photography is shooting newborns with tons of bows or hats on their heads. The babies lay in unnatural positions on large blankets and are the focus of the image. These photographs can be beautiful, but I honestly cannot tell you who the original creator of the idea is because I have seen over 1,000 variations of this set-up. It is no longer unique or special; instead, it has become a sales pitch that photographer's use, selling themselves solely on their ability to capture this specific style.

And yet, the reason I recommend refraining from copying those you admire is not solely because I think their work deserves to shine in its own light, but because I believe your work deserves its own light too. If we busy ourselves with trying to be the next so-and-so we lose sight of the original purpose, which is to create art that is uniquely ours. The truth is, we each have a perspective unlike any other, and ideas that are not 100% shared by everyone else. If you don't use those two things, your rare ideas and perspective, to create your own art, who will? Say it with me class: no one. So go ahead, be inspired by others, but don't imitate them. Be the one who others want to imitate.

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I cant ever pick a favorite Third Eye Blind song. Their music moves me in a way that nothing else can, musically speaking. I've been listening to the same songs since 1997 and I never get bored hearing them.

Here's one of the best.

Deep Inside of You by Third Eye Blind on Grooveshark

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lady killer

ladykiller lady killer

And that, my friends, is the face of a boy who will go on to break a thousand hearts. BRB, my future phone is ringing off the hook.

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