A few years ago, we got the family together to go to a Slugs and Bugs Concert for kids at our church. The Slugs and Bugs guy was a writer for VeggieTales, and now he goes around singing concerts for kids with cute, catchy tunes and moves. It was one of those events where beforehand, you picture your kids enraptured, zoned into the music, maybe dancing in the aisles and glancing over at you with glee. And as most perfectly pictured plans go with toddlers, your lofty dream crashes and burns in a fire-y desert death. Vivvi found the game of trying to escape from us far more entertaining than sitting and watching some guy sing, and after the first song, WallyV turned to us and said, “Can we go, this is taking so loooong, when is going to be over?” Because, you know, this concert was an important, life-changing experience for Mommy and Daddy that he was being forced to endure.

But, like most stubborn moms with something in mind (perhaps we were there for me after all…), I made the family stick it out. (Of course, it’s true that if you don’t decide to stick things out when your kids are toddlers, you will never do anything.) And while Vivvi’s distraction and Wally’s whines persisted, I waited, wandering in the desert wasteland of my dream, hoping water was just over the next hill. And then finally, the Slugs and Bugs guy asked if any dad volunteers would come to the stage for a song. Was this a mirage? I thought. Or was this an entertainment waterfall that would take us to the end of the concert in peace (and maybe a little joy)? I pushed Wally up. “You’re going,” I said. He reluctantly went, and as the group of bug-eyed dads huddled on stage, hearing what they had to do, I felt (mildly) bad at using him and his reputation and perhaps his ego as refreshment to pull us from our dried up misery.

But then, the magic happened. The music started, and then this, with the dads singing “I want to help you with, whatever you’re doing!” Hot! (W4 is the one in the front, black and red plaid lumberjack shirt.)

A friend of mine was a few rows ahead of us, and a minute into the song she turned around to me, eyes huge with amazement. My husband was nuts. Nuts, and a big hit. (And P.S., Wally4 returned to his seat, I sat down from my standing ovation, and Wally5 tapped my shoulder, “This is so boring.” Youth is wasted on the wrong people.)

As I thought about it afterwards, I realized that Wally4’s enthusiasm shouldn’t have surprised me. His motto is, “Go big or go home.” And this is what he does, in everything. As a result, this is what our family does also. And it works for us, most of the time.

I recently read a book that suggested that every family is “about” something. So it’s a good idea for your family to get together and think about what you are about. At first I laughed at this cheeseball idea, but the more I thought about this, the more I liked it. After all, we are all about something. This is true of us as individuals. For example, right now Wally Ben is about “brothering”—almost all of the actions he takes at home have something to do with taking care of, bothering, thinking about, loving, pushing the buttons of, or playing with Vivvi.


And right now, Vivvi is about finding an impressive number of things to cry about. I am about reading and writing, and husband Wally is about creativity and, well, going big or going home. But as a family we can decide and talk about these things that are essential to our identity also. And one that works for all of us right now is going big or going home.

This decision about what we are about informs a lot of what we do. We decide to go big in a lot of things. We take a gasp-worthy amount of time doing our Christmas Card (or video, as the case may be) each year. We do the same for our Halloween costumes.


When we dance, we dance like this:

When we cry, we cry like this:


And if preschool asks us to decorate a heart and send it back, without giving any further instructions, it just might come back like this.


“Go big or go home,” though, also means we very often choose the latter part of the phrase—to go home. We go home every Friday night with movie night and a frozen pizza (and I love and look forward to this tradition so much—the kids watch Aladdin for the 1000th time and I get 1.5 hours of blissful, uninterrupted reading time). I go home all the time in my house cleaning and organization—because picking up with a 3 year old in the house is like trying to rake leaves on a windy day. And when Valentines Day came around this year, we realized that between the kids’ classes we would be making 50+ valentines. It did not take long to decide on the $3 boxes at Target vs. our usual creative efforts. Husband Wally is a web and graphic designer, so we did not come to this conclusion without considering the emotional repercussion. (The actual result, after opening all the Valentines—a minor feeling of disappointment that was far overshadowed by the relief of not having spent the mind power or time for something the 3 and 6 year olds don’t give a lick about anyway. “Shut up about this what you are about nonsense,” they think. “And just give us the damn candy.”)

Even Buttercup, our Golden Retriever, has grown up with this “Go big or go home” identity piece. Someone tells your owner you’ll be the best in your puppy class because of your breed? Go to class and attack the ground, poop on the floor, try to be submissive and lay under the miniature daschund that is the size of a hot dog. She chose to go home in such a big way that she failed puppy class. (For real—we were not given the graduate certificate at the end of class.)

So Ottenhoffs are about GB, GH. As the kids get older and we see more what they are like, I’d like to add a few other things to the family identity list. I’d like to add creativity. I’d like to add gratitude. And I’d love to add kindness.

I love that this “What are you about” idea helps you decide how you will spend your time, what you will say yes to, what you will do in given situations. But what I love most about it, is that it gives you freedom from comparing your family—your decisions, your actions, the general state of things at any given time—to what other families are doing. It’s a Pinteresting world we live in. It’s a picture and information sharing and comparing age. We go on Facebook and we see everyone’s smiling kids, we walk into other people’s houses and they are clean and put together (ehem, sister Liz, who has a candle burning in her Norwexed sparkling house when only I am visiting at 4PM on a Thursday). We hear about bedtime routines that work and involve an education element as well as family discussion. We hear about these things and we think, I am not doing that. I could not do that. (I am, in fact, gagging a little, and perhaps poking my eyeballs out at the idea of having to do that.) Am I doing something wrong?

But deciding what you are about allows you to look at those families, and remove the element of comparison. Pinterest tells you that you can do anything. But deciding what you are about lets you take the advice you give your kids when they stick Legos in their nose to see what they can fit: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” If it’s not in your M.O., if it doesn’t bring you joy, if it isn’t compatible with what you are about—then don’t do it. And now, when you see the beautiful things other people can do, instead, you think, “That must be what they are about.” And you are happy for them. You do not judge them and their priorities in any way. And you realize that what they are doing has absolutely no ability to reflect on what you are doing. Because you are about different things. And you are doing great at being about being you. (Because how could anyone be bad at that?)

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