Here’s a question from a reader named Amy:

I’m struggling with my Penelope tendencies and my ability to effectively mother. I tend to want to pick up the Legos immediately upon them being emptied from the box. I’m not exactly carefree and laid-back, and I’m afraid that my (ahem) more controlling nature might be negatively impacting my son. Thoughts?

First of all, Amy, let me say “I HEAR YOU.” This is a huge issue. I get so many emails from Penelopes lamenting the exact same thing.

And I find, personally, that one of the hardest things about parenting is my natural inclination to have things neat, tidy and quiet all the time. Once you have kids, you realize, that ain’t gonna happen.

Given that I have 4 kids and have been a mom for 19 years now, I’ve had a lot of time to think this through. And, since 2 of my 4 kids are now actually adults, living away from home, I have a sense of how being parented by a Penelope has affected these children.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Do you have to be carefree and laid back to be a good mom? No.
  • Do you have to allow your children (and their stuff) to overrun your house in order to be a good mom? No.
  • Does having a messy, cluttered, disorganized home mean you’re a good mom? Absolutely not.

I actually hate sayings like this one which pissed me off so much I snapped a photo of it at Target and posted to the Penelope Facebook page.

Good Moms Have Messy Kitchens

I call bullshit on that. Why? Because my kitchen is not messy, nor do I have piles of laundry sitting around, and my kids are happy, too.

But, (and this is the big but) can you be rigid and hyper-controlling and be a happy mom with happy kids? I don’t think so. In fact, no.

We must, as in all things, but here especially, strive for a middle ground. It’s not all or nothing. That’s what I’ve learned.

In short, we have to be ok with the Legos being out while they’re being played with, but not out all over the place all the time.

One way I cope with this is to think of life as being divided into “seasons”. For example, right now, my youngest is 2. That means, he makes messes. He wants to touch everything all the time. He spills things, he throws things, he dumps things out and walks away.

But, I realize that life won’t be like this forever, that’s the first way I get through this season.

Secondly, I am taking the time to lay the groundwork with Jackson so that, later, he can help clean up the messes he makes. I want his “messy season” to be as short as possible. So, I’m teaching him that we take out just a few toys at a time. And when we’re done with those, we clean them up before we move to another. He’s not a fan of this. At. All. He’ll whine and cry and throw himself on the floor about half the time.

But he knows that, 100% of the time, he’s not moving on until he helps me clean up. And as we do, we sing together, we count things, we play. We spend quality time both playing and cleaning up. He’s getting my best attention, and that, to me, is what makes a good mom. Sure, if I were constantly vacuuming instead of interacting with my children, that’s going too far, way too far. But I am not going to feel bad that my children live in a tidy home. Or, that my expectation of them is that they will help keep our home tidy.

I want this for me, but I also want this for him. I don’t believe that creative, productive thinking can happen amidst chaos. I want him to know that order and routine can help him thrive. I also want to teach him that we do things we don’t feel like doing, like cleaning up after ourselves. I think that’ll make my future daughter-in-law happy.

So, Amy, I think it’s ok that you want to clean up the Legos. I don’t think that makes you nutty or compulsive or controlling. I don’t think you’re harming him if you want to put the Legos away when he’s done. I think that makes you a neat, ordered mom. At that point, you’re not refusing to let him play with Legos, you’re simply saying, after you do, we’ll clean up before we move on.

In short, I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods when we believe that good moms have messy houses. Some do. But, there isn’t just one way to be a “good mom”.

Messy kitchen or clean one, what matters is how we make our children feel. The time we take to invest in, teach and love them. That’s what makes us good moms.

And I’m not going to let some stupid pail at Target make me – or any of you- feel different.


25 nicely neat comments

 Zoobean is not paying me for this, nor do they have even the most remote idea of who I am. I just love what they do and wanted to share.

The only things I hoard– the only things I can stand piles of–are books.

I’ve been like this my whole life. Books represent some of my best and earliest memories and any time I have a moment to myself, my first thought is “I think I’ll READ one of these things!”

So it follows that, as a parent, buying, sharing and reading books with my children is a primary joy. It’s literally one of the biggest reasons I wanted to have a 4th kid at 37: I just kept thinking of the library of books I could build for him.

So, when I heard about Zoobean, I immediately subscribed. I love monthly subscription services- I’m a sucker for surprise gifts and love getting one each month. And knowing that the gift would be a book? Sold.


Here’s how it works: you log on and enter some info about your child. Nothing intrusive, just enough to give them a sense of the type of book and subject matter your kid might enjoy. Then, once a month, the child gets a package addressed directly to him/her and a book chosen for his/her age and stage in life. Monthly plans start at $9.99.

We’ve never been disappointed. Almost without exception, a year into our relationship with Zoobean, both Jackson and I have loved each book. In fact, some of them we’ve read dozens of times. And by dozens, I mean 50+. (What’s the right word for that? Countless times, maybe.)

But what I REALLY enjoy is that none of these books would I have chosen on my own. but somehow, they know what Jackson is going to like. It’s really kinda magical.

Three of our favorites are:

“Oh No, George!”

Oh No George! by Chris Haughton

“Everywhere Babies”

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers
“A Sick Day for Amos McGee”

A Sick Day for Amos McGee
(And, their searchable list of books is a goldmine if you’re looking for ideas for a shower or birthday gift.)

Each month, I get an email saying the book is on it’s way and that email includes a Reading Guide, with helpful tips for getting the most out of reading the story together. Really useful stuff.

And, mid-month, they send me an email suggesting an app that Jackson might like. And you know what? They almost always get that right, too.

I don’t know how they’re doing it over there at Zoobean, but they’re a cool little operation and I wanted to make sure all my Penelopes knew about them.

Interested? If you were considering joining Zoobean, now’s the time.  They are offering a 25% discount to Penelopes through April 30, 2014 with the code SMARTPENELOPE. Also, tune in on Friday, April 18th to see them pitch the Sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank.


2 nicely neat comments

Dropping by quickly (you have so much to do, don’t you?) to tell you about yet another product I found  at The Container Store that I’m currently loving.

I’ve struggled to find the right container for the “dry” fruits and veggies that I store. The tomatoes, lemons, sweet potatoes, eggplants. You know. I had them in a pretty bowl, which looked alright, but they really need to have air circulating around them to stay fresh for a long time.

I found my answer when I happened up on this basket from The Container Store. It’s the large York Open Stack Basket. (Not to be confused with the small version.) These have a compact profile and stack easily. They fit perfectly under my kitchen cabinets, too, which is a plus. Lots of these kinds of stacking baskets don’t fit under my (I guess rather low) cabinets.


They also have them in stainless steel, which is nice and clean-looking, but, for my kitchen, I think the rubbed bronze was perfect.

Large York Open Stack BasketLooks great, the fruits and veggies are keeping much longer and it doesn’t take up too much room on the counter. Win-win-win!


2 nicely neat comments

I need advice! Am I insane or is this a reasonable request?

March 14, 2014

I need your advice. I need for the Penelope Community to let me know if I’m just being normal nuts or over-the-top, somebody-stop-her nuts. This is the view from my back patio window. And, let it be said that I spend a lot of time working and glancing up at this view. The neighbors that […]

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How to Clean Your Glass Cooktop and Regain It’s Shiny Goodness

March 13, 2014

I love my kitchen. I really do. Since we had it remodeled, I actually delight in cleaning it up after every meal, it brings me joy.   Because of this, there are few things I hate more than getting my kitchen all shiny and clean and then realizing my new glass cooktop (seen above when […]

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So there’s this mouse, you see…

March 7, 2014

I’m pissed at this mouse. I am. As pissed as a person can be at a rodent. My husband and I are getting ready to go out for a Date Day. A rare opportunity for some out-of-the-house alone time. I’m excited about this. I love me some Husband. As we’re getting ready to leave, I […]

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Go Green or Go Home: or, How This Penelope Honors St. Patrick’s Day

March 3, 2014

This is a guest post from the Original Penelope, my sister, Melinda Keller. I’ve always thought the way she celebrates St. Patrick’s Day was really fun, and I know her kids love it. So I asked her to give us all a peek into how she has fun on St. Paddy’s Day. In my house, […]

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