embrace change

Being Brave Enough To Embrace Change

“Just where you are – that’s the place to start” ~ Pema Chodron

The next six months are a countdown in my life – or a count up, depending on how I look at it. That’s the issue right there, actually: am I brave enough to embrace change?

Ever since Lily went away to college Cam has been watching me – aware of my shifting focus from her to him, noticing my changing routines, a slight twist towards examining myself as the mom of a college kid, and as a result of his observant mom-study, he declared that he “realized how hard I took it when Lily left, so he needs to start preparing me now.”

Way to play on my anxieties, kid.

I suppose in his wisdom there’s some truth to his strategy. I DID take it hard – I knew it was coming, I tried to prepare, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in her convocation freshman year that I could start to verbalize what I was feeling.

I don’t expect a repeat next August when Cam moves across the country. Yes- he’s moving to Boston, just about as far as he could go from California. He was accepted early decision to his dream school, and without hesitation, he committed. Done deal, he’s going.

Early decision is kind of nice, except for the fact that instead of starting my empty next visualization in May with most of the other parents-of-seniors, he kindly gave me five extra months of it.

The silver lining? It made choosing my mantra for 2018 quite simple: EMBRACE CHANGE.

embrace changeI’ve been procrastinating on actually writing about the impending change for months. I guess that’s a strategy – avoidance, right? If I don’t think about it, it won’t happen…except, he’s 18 and reminding me daily that he’s an adult and that I should get used to it. As the days pass, he’s less and less patient with me, and I’m finding myself more and more often in my upstairs writing perch, candles lit, gazing out the window and wondering if I’m actually brave enough to break my own heart….as a mother.

Now logically, I know there’s no choice. My heart will break a little more each day, the cracks carefully covered with smiles and hugs and making his favorite meals. I’ll play along with the ‘when I”m in Boston’ talk, and remind him that roommates don’t like people who leave their wet towels on the floor. I’ll grin when he comes in for a hug now and then, and compliment him when his room looks clean and he goes out of his way to fill the gas tank. I’ll be grateful that he texts me from his girlfriend’s house, and rest easy knowing that at least her parents are getting to see what a nice young man he’s becoming during all the free time he spends hanging out with them, not us.

And I’ll let go of what’s no longer serving me – the story of all the things I thought I would do when he was little, the trips we never took, the books I never read aloud. I’ll let go of all that part that tells me what I should have done…and try to hang on to what I did.

I was recently listening to Cheryl Strayed talk about her writing and her reflections on motherhood, and she shared a story about making decisions as a mother that really resonated with me. No one prepares us for motherhood; we do the best we can with what we have, and hope that everything turns out ok. Along the way, we learn to navigate the rough patches, smooth the hurt feelings and wipe away the tears.

She reminded me of one of the most important lessons that motherhood has taught me: to do things that scare me and to let my kids do them, too. Making decisions for our children is a hard habit to break, even when we’ve been practicing for years. Sometimes when I tell other parents that my kids both chose colleges outside of California they tell me that they would never let their kids move so far away. I hear all sorts of excuses, but really, all I can think is how could I forgive myself if I never let them fly?

I have to be honest – I KNOW I’m brave enough to embrace change. I’m sure I will survive. I made it through Cam’s adventures at the ski academy, and Lily moving to Utah. I know that like all those other times when I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a child that was any older than they were at that exact moment – that just like then, I’m going to find that with change comes joy just on the other side. With change comes a new opportunity to push away what isn’t working and amplify what is.

I wear my mantras on my wrist, daily reminders of the words I promise myself. Courage. Trust the journey. Be here now. And now, embrace change. I trace my fingers over the letters, I twist and bend and alter their position but always, always the words are right there to remind me that yes, I am here and yes, I can.

Being brave enough to embrace change isn’t easy – but it’s worth it. I’m going to trust in that.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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How To Track and Control Your Family Finances

My college aged daughter called the other night and wanted to interview me for a personal finance class she’s taking – isn’t that a cool class for college seniors?

It was interesting to think about my financial training, which happened entirely in adulthood. My parents didn’t talk to me much about finances until I had a job; personally, I’d love to see these types of life skills classes start as early as middle school!

I thought it would be interesting to share some financial tips here, and hopefully, help some other young person just starting out.


How To Track and Control Your Family Finances

One of the keys to creating and sticking to a budget is having a reliable and sustainable system for tracking your family’s financial transactions. Most people have moved on from the traditional methods such as handwritten ledgers and balanced checkbooks, but even in the digital age, it’s essential to record your income and spending. If you are wondering what the best method is, here’s the answer: whatever system works for you. When you like a particular system, you are much more likely to continue using it. If you’re looking for the right system for your family, here are some options.

Cash Envelopes

Made popular by financial advisor Dave Ramsey, the cash envelope system is designed to help people stick with a budget instead of overspending on credit cards. Essentially, once you plan your budget for the month, you divide cash into physical envelopes earmarked for specific spending: bills, groceries, utilities, and discretionary, for example. Many people find it easier to limit their spending when they can see the amount of cash remaining in the envelope. I started this system with my kids when they were little – part of their money would go to spending, another to saving and one more envelope for sharing.


Digital Envelopes

If you prefer to use cards instead of cash, you can choose a variation of the envelope system. You create your own digital versions of envelopes in your bank account or on paper, categorize your purchases as soon as you make them, and keep a running total of how much money you have left in each virtual envelope. There are also some budgeting programs that are based on an envelope system, so you can use one of these if you don’t want to create your own.

Designated Credit Cards

Do you have a credit card that provides a reward system for purchases? You can put this to good use, especially if you have the self-discipline to stay within your financial limits and avoid using the card for frivolous purchases. Consider using your rewards card to pay your monthly bills. You may not be able to use it for your mortgage or rent payment, but paying for your cell phone, TV, Netflix, gas, groceries, and other recurring bills can add up to large rewards. Just make sure you pay off the entire care balance every month.

Automatic Bill Pay

If you love the idea of automating your expense tracking rather than taking a couple hours every week to balance a digital checkbook, look into options for automatically paying your bills. Find out if your bank offers an automatic bill paying service. Some services allow you to see your electronic bills through your online banking interface. Simply set up the automatic payment system to your preferences, and you can see as each bill gets paid. You’ll also have all your payment records in one place which is far simpler than going to multiple account management sites every month. Auto bill pay is one way to make sure no minimum payments get missed, and to also pay yourself with a little savings deposit every month!

Customized Spreadsheet

People who prefer the routine of manually tracking expenses may enjoy creating a budgeting spreadsheet. There are several spreadsheet programs available, including free ones, so all you need to do is decide what format works best for you. Numerous visual options, including color coding, graphs, charts, and summaries, can make it easy to see where your money is going each month.

Online Tracker

Those who like the idea of a budget spreadsheet but don’t want to create one from scratch can find several resources online. Programs such as Mint, You Need a Budget, and Inzolo essentially function as digital ledgers and require minimal time to start and maintain. Most programs begin with standard categories, such as mortgage, auto insurance, utilities, food, and entertainment, but you can modify or add categories to customize the program to your lifestyle. I like to use Quicken; once I’ve set up the categories it’s easy to import statements and categorize expenses. It saves a ton of time during tax preparation season, too!


Knowing where your money is going every month is the first step toward building a financially stable lifestyle. There are several methods for expense tracking, so you can find the one that works best for you and your family.

What kinds of financial tips would you share with young people just starting out?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Heart Is Heavy As I Watch The Hate Unfold In Charlottesville Today

My Heart Is Heavy As I Watch The Hate Unfold In Charlottesville Today

My heart is heavy as I watch the hate unfold in Charlottesville today. I try to distract and distance myself by puttering around in my garden, moving the sprinkler from one dry patch to another, hopefully coaxing a few more blooms into fall. I dodge the bees in the veggie garden and catch a glimpse of a red throated hummingbird as it delicately feeds on my front yard red salvia. My four legged pal naps on the shaded wicker couch as I move in circles, trying to avoid confronting the hatred and violence I know is consuming my news feeds.

I don’t usually write and publish on the spot like this. I’m more of a pensive writer, allowing thoughts to mull in my mind, forming connections and thinking deeply about how I share my voice in this vast Universe of creative people. I typically journal and notetake and combine what I read and hear and see into hopefully, some version of hope and gratitude for all that I am and all that I have to learn.

But as I watch the hate unfold in Charlottesville today I find myself heavy with sadness, climbing the stairs to my upstairs writing perch. My phone has been exploding with Twitter updates and live videos from the New York Times, and I find I can only watch and read the smallest amount without having to shut it down.

It’s part self-care, part bewilderment, part fear – combined with an enormous amount of guilty helplessness as I sit safely tucked away, in my white family in my suburban home in my liberal northern California town.

my heart is heavy

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? Those who stay safely tucked away in their beliefs, teetering on the edge of exploding and showing their real selves. I meant to be writing about my children today, about having seniors and about college and starting school years.

But I can’t. My heart is too heavy watching the hate unfold in Charlottesville today, and it simply feels selfish.

I know that racism exists. I know that there are those who believe in the ‘white right’ and above all else, feel victimized and as if they are somehow having their centuries old rights and ancestry stripped away by those who are different. From those who have darker skin, or religious differences, or who love people that they love even when being told that the Bible calls them sinners.

I know all that. I see it hiding in my community, occasionally creeping out in my classroom with greater frequency since last November. I understand the responsibility of raising a white male and think deeply about how I can use my life to make the world a better, kinder, more loving place.

I use my position as a teacher leader to teach compassion, to offer evidence from history about learning from the past, and employ my voice and my words to somehow attempt to do my part.

My Heart Is Heavy As I Watch The Hate Unfold In Charlottesville Today

But today, my heart is heavy as I watch the hate unfold.

I want to blame 45, but I know he didn’t suddenly cause people to think this way. What he has done since November is offered validation for those shallow, spiteful, fearful souls to empower themselves and speak out, lash out, and spew their hateful words into our Universe.

I know signs of hope and light will surface – the first to appear was John Pavlovitz’s “Yes, This is Racism”  for which I am holding onto while my news feed screams “Charlottesville remains on edge ahead of “Unite The Right” rally”, the governor declares a state of emergency, and a car plows down protestors. Violent clashes erupt as people supporting Black Lives Matter join in counter-protest. 45 tweets “Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!”

All that we have done? Who are WE? It’s not me. It’s on you now, 45. All that YOU have done – and what are YOU doing to make it better? Get off your golf cart and step into reality.

Sitting in my writing room, gazing out at the green treetops and the sun dappled grass I feel so far removed, so helpless. I do not agree, I do not believe, I do not support. This isn’t MY America. This isn’t my view of how history should be formed. This isn’t what I want to teach.

This IS racism. This IS hate. This IS fear and vulnerability and small-mindedness.

This is NOT what I choose as the future for my son, my daughter, and the hundreds of children I’m about to share my heart with this school year.

I stand in unity with those using their bodies and voices and hearts against hate. I stand with the women and men and children to whom this is nothing new – just more visible.

I walked with women and men and children in January in hopes that my heart wouldn’t feel so heavy today; I write with hope for tomorrow.

THIS is how I fight back.

My Heart Is Heavy As I Watch The Hate Unfold In Charlottesville Today

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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You’re Adulting Now: Thoughts On Love For My 21-Year-Old Daughter

I don’t want to go, but I know I can’t stay either. You see, you’re adulting now. You don’t need me in the way I thought you did, or that you used to.

I made a party for you last night. I felt like my own mother – hovering a little from the sidelines, content to be in the shadows of you and your friends adulting on the patio. How many times has my mom been there, behind the scenes, while I took the adulting spotlight?

I happily chopped veggies and cooked chicken in the crock pot all afternoon while you were at work. I baked a lemon cake and chatted with your roommate as we frosted it with whipped cream and berries, just like I used to when you were little.

You’re adulting now


I made blueberry and pineapple fruit ice cubes, but this time they were for sangria not lemonade, sliced oranges and got out the real wine glasses.

Later, I listened to your girlfriends chat about summer adventures abroad, pushing themselves when they were scared on the ski slopes, and what they dreamed their lives would be like.

They’ve got a bet going on who will get married first and who will become a Mom before everyone else.

They wonder how long it would take to create better male birth control and why couldn’t we elect a female president and how scary it must be to be a mom, all while sipping their sangria and laughing together.

You really are adulting now.


I made too much food. I really am feeling like my mom right about now, too. That’s a good thing. When I’ve been learning about adulting, my mom has been my greatest teacher. Anything I could or couldn’t do, she could do better. Always.

When I turned 21 my dad threw a big party for me in a restaurant. I ordered my first official cocktail – an old-fashioned – and wore a burgundy and black lace dress that matched my jet black hair. You dad was there, too, but just as my boyfriend. It was big and fun and loud and I remember my own dad smiling a lot. Grandparents, too.

I wasn’t sure how to honor you, though, at 21. It didn’t seem like all the “yo bitches” stuff I found online was quite appropriate. I’m a cool mom, but I have my limits. I couldn’t figure out how to get all the family together out in Salt Lake; one of the drawbacks of you living so far away is we can only visit in small groups.

Grandma has to settle with me texting her photos as we go.

Your grin when you saw the candles on your birthday cake wasn’t any different from when you were two or twelve. You smiled to celebrate you.


I love that every single one of your friends ate a big slice. #stronggirls.

I did the dishes quietly while you laughed outside and took your final photos, hearing your laughter through the screen door. I wasn’t quite sure how long to hang out with you all. We hugged goodbye to your friends with just a bit of sadness from me; I’ve no idea when I’ll see them again.

When the boys showed up I was already reading and ready for bed. I’m glad you fed them the leftovers and sat around the kitchen table. I could hear you teasing each other as I tried to give you some adult space- honestly, I wasn’t up for anymore adulting today.

And while your voices rose and fall through the closed door, I realized how you don’t need me anymore the way I thought you did. It’s not just the number 21 on a cake or the apartment key on your ring. You’re adulting now, like it or not.

You keep your own hours and earn two paychecks. Your friends leave at a reasonable hour to get rested before their “real” job starts on Monday morning. You do your dishes and put a cork on the wine bottle and make sure the front door is locked and the lights are out.


You plan to meet for happy hours after mountain biking and know the importance of eight hours of sleep before a work day. You offer me your bed instead of the couch, and your eyes smile when I tell you that for now, at least, the couch is fine.

I’ve only got five hours before I get on the plane and go back home. I want you to sleep but want to cuddle up with you and fresh coffee on the couch and soak in every last minute together. I’m pushing away the nagging thoughts about leaving and trying to dismiss the fact that this time, I don’t know when I’ll see you next.

I hate it when I cry goodbye. I know it makes you sad, too. Adulting can be hard.

Thanksgiving seems like a long time away. I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of adulting yet- the kind where you hug and say it’s been great to see you and safe travels and walk away without knowing how many more days to count down until I wrap my arms around you again.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that- but I’m sure that you are.

That should take the sting out of leaving just a little- at least for me.

You’re adulting now. You’re going to be just fine.

I’ll have to keep my “how-many-days-til-I-see-Lily” countdown secret this time.

I think I need to hang onto my baby girl just a little bit longer.


Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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the fall of lisa bellow a must read

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must-Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

“Sometimes in the morning, while she waited for her brother to get out of the bathroom, Meredith Oliver would stand in front of her bureau mirror, lock eyes with her reflection, and say, “This is me. This is really me. Right now. This is me. This is my real life. This is me.”~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

When I read the first page of The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Not only am I extremely picky about the novels I spend time with (have you seen my Instagram shelfie shots? It’s obnoxious how long my ‘to-be-read’ list is), but also I spend every work day surrounded by girls like the main character of the novel, Meredith Oliver. Meredith is a typically self-conscious eighth-grade girl. Now I love my job teaching 8th grade, but sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to escape into a  novel nowhere near my real life.

I’m sure glad I didn’t give up on this one. The Fall of Lisa Bellow got under my skin – in a good way. That’s why I’m calling this one a ‘must read’ about mothers, daughters, trauma, and loss.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read

What it’s about:

Meredith Oliver is the youngest in her family; her parents, are both dentists and her brother Evan, is a high school junior. The novel starts off describing her typical teenage angst as she goes about her day, feeling overshadowed by her brother who has experienced life-changing trauma. The plot takes an uptick when on an ordinary day, in broad daylight, Meredith finds herself in the middle of a sandwich shop robbery, quivering in fear on the dirty floor next to the most popular girl in her eighth-grade class, Lisa Bellow. When the gunman chooses Lisa as his hostage, leaving Meredith behind, the plot expands to pull in their families, Meredith’s emotional struggle with being the survivor, and the ripple effects of trauma on the mothers of both girls.

Meredith’s mom, Claire, is uncomfortably pulled into the grief Lisa’s mom is experiencing, which forces Claire to desperately try to cling to her own daughter, the survivor. Claire’s character development weaves threads of maternal guilt, the anxiety of knowing if she’s doing the ‘right thing’, and the universal struggle between parent and child during adolescence. Evan, Meredith’s brother, appears first as a victim of his own traumatic accident and develops as an example of how one can rise and triumph. Mrs. Bellow, Lisa’s mom, portrays the gut-shattering grief experienced by parents experiencing the loss of their child, and the conflict of trying to live without her.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read quote

Why I liked it:

Aside from the fact that I am fascinated by the teenage mind and how humans seem to navigate into and out of its murkiness, I think what I connected with most in this novel was the battle experienced by Claire as she grappled with her maternal instincts versus the reality of her life as a mother, wife, and woman. I know firsthand, like so many mothers, what happens when our children are hurt, either mentally or physically. When my son experienced his ski racing injury and had to rehabilitate and adjust the trajectory of his life experience, I felt the anxiety of second guessing the enormity of his experience and wanting to trust my belief that ‘all will be well’. You can read my reflection on that experience here. Motherhood is no simple task, and add in marriage and career and mid-life disquietude I certainly connected with Susan Perabo’s character.

One of my favorite scenes came about half way through the novel. Claire, in desperate attempt to connect to her daughter’s experience, is consulting Meredith’s therapist. Frustrated at her inability to control the situation, Claire asks,

“How will I know when she’s ready?”

“You’ve been protecting her your whole life,” he said. “You’ll know.”

But he was wrong. Protecting her? …She could not protect her daughter. She could not protect her from the stomach flu. She could not protect her from cancer or AIDS or the common cold. She could not protect her from the mean girls. She could not protect her from her friends. She could not protect her from her own thoughts…She could vaccinate them and make them wear seatbelts and batting helmets. She could give them cell phones with emergency numbers on speed dial. She could give them straight-talk books and scared straight DVDs and a solid, honest, pitch-perfect piece of advice every single morning on their way out the door. But in the end, there was no intervention.

There was only awareness”

~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow, page 165

How many parents have felt this urge to protect, to intervene, to try to anticipate every hurt and shield our children from the pain of real life? This novel reminded me so much of the book If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie with a somewhat reverse plot line. I wrote a post inspired by If I Fall, If I Die called “Please Don’t Go Outside” in which I explored the paradox of wanting your children to grow and love and become their own person and the fear of letting them go where you can’t see. You can read it here.

I also enjoyed the narrative structure of the story; told in alternating points of view, the novel bubbled with tension and kept me connecting with both Meredith and Claire as the plot unfolded. Additionally, there were points in the storytelling where I found myself pausing and thinking about why the writer chose a sort of ‘flashback’ technique that made me wonder if I was really understanding the point of view at all. This beautiful writing, combined with authentic characters and suspenseful plot lines, kept me pushing to finish my end of the year grading so I could reward myself with just a few more chapters of this lovely book.

Who should read it?

As I paged through the story, I questioned if this was a young-adult novel or simply a story for parents struggling with watching their children grow. At the end, I decided it was both. I’m going to share this book in my 8th-grade classroom, and watch who gravitates towards it. I think teens will certainly connect with Meredith’s character and conflict, and I know moms and parents will align with Claire and Mrs. Bellow’s challenges.

Overall, I think The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a must read, and I sure hope you’ll come back here and let me know what your thoughts are.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is published by Simon & Schuster, who provided me with a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.


Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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