We are still deeply in the throes of summer at our house, so it's hard for me to fathom that in less than one short week both Madeleine and Carter will be back in school every day, getting back to our fall routine.
This summer was a sweet one in our house. It was the first year we made a serious commitment to vacation, camp and childcare and wow! what a difference that made. I was no longer the crazed, stressed out work-at-home mother who can't get any work done. They were no longer the whining, frustrated, neglected children who can't figure out how to have fun. This simple structure--a regular morning babysitter, somewhat normal work hours for me and plans to look forward to on the calendar--worked magic for all of us. I had to make a big trip mid-summer for my work, but they had a fun beach week with dad and some fun daily outings with me when I got back. I think everyone got what they needed.
This summer also marks some significant passages. Madeleine is on her way to middle school this fall. She spent far less time with her dolls this summer and much more with her nail polish and music. Carter is no longer my sweet baby faced boy. Yesterday I discovered a pre-adolescent pimple on his face. I suspect I'll be chasing him into the shower nightly soon in hopes of fending off that sweaty big boy odor that is right around the corner. My kids are growing up fast; neither one looks like a little kid in the pictures anymore.
I've never been one to mourn my children growing older. I'm hopeful for the changes in their lives. I'm excited for their futures and eager to see who they will become and what choices they will make as their paths unfold. But this week, I have to say, I'm looking at them both and feeling a bit wistful. I have loved being the mother of little children, and I'll miss the days when they were less independent and more full of wonder for the newness of the world.
How about you? What stages are passing for your kids along with the end of summer? What's there to cherish in these days that is sure to be a distant memory when fall leaves come along?
K: Are you frightened?
Ethan: Mom. I'm tall enough now. I'm not frightened.
K: I hate to be a downer, but you do know that the height requirement for rides has nothing to do with your level of fear, right?
Ethan: Mom. I'm TALL ENOUGH.
K: I'm just saying that if you don't want to do it, it would be totally fine.
Ethan: Mom, Harrison says that roller coasters are SO fun and that I would LOVE them.
K: Well, Harrison is an aficionado of rides so I guess that makes sense.
Ethan: Can I go on that boat?
K: Only if your father will go with you. That's the throw up boat.
Derek: Sorry, buddy. It's not happening.
Ethan: But it's a pirate boat.
K: Look at all those good parents on that throw up boat with their kids.
Ethan: Then we can go?
K: Absolutely not.
Derek: Absolutely not.
He pointed to the log flume. I sighed. Along with not wanting my food to touch on my plate unless it is a designated touching food such as a casserole, I have this thing about getting wet on rides. Okay, I have this thing about getting my hair wet any place outside of a shower or pool. It's not logical but it is what it is. If you saw my hair, you would really, really understand how illogical it is. My husband piped in with a "Mom would LOVE to go with you boys."
"Love" is a very strong word and frankly, I think we throw it around too much. But I guess it would be love to go on the log flume with your children. I looked quizzically at Nate. He nodded. Et tu, Brute? He looked me right in the eyes, nodded his head again and said, "I not sca'd, Mom."
I used to be the queen of the roller coaster. Ain't no mountain high enough. I remember going to a nearly deserted park with friends and running from the exit of the coaster to the entrance of the coaster so that we could have a nearly continuous ride. I was able to maintain a level of nausea near vomiting for 8 ride cycles before I called it quits. It was one of my all-time best days ever.
But now I'm old. My body doesn't appreciate such abuse and the nausea reminds me of morning sickness. I spent an inordinate amount of time in a torts class in law school determining liability when the giant swing lost a chair into the crowd. It's as if becoming a parent has driven me to check for that state safety sticker on every single carnival ride before I hand over my precious babies and those really, really expensive tickets.
We got off the log flume and it was as if my baby Ethan was gone forever. He was only limited by the number of tickets in his pocket. Roller coasters, swings, you name it. He was fearless. The crazier the ride, the more empowered he became. My head told me that I just didn't want him to do more than he could handle and end up being scared. My heart told me that I just wasn't ready for my boy to grow up.
Ethan: I CAN do it, Mom.
He was right. He really can. And he did.
Victory photo by Derek. FYI, there is also a complete montage of me mouthing "You" "Are" "Dead" "To" "Me" "Now" to him as we went up the steep hill before the log flume soaking. This didn't seem an appropriate place or time to share those pictures.
I've gone on for a long time thinking I would never make this statement, but I think it might be finally time to admit it: In my experience, my girls have been much harder to parent than my boys. Hands down, across the board, they require more on any day of my parenting week.
Now I should also mention, the feminist in this mother has hair on the back of her neck that is now standing straight up after writing such a statement. As a preschool teacher for years, I had the chance to experience all different types of personalities and believed strongly gender was not at work in any way. After a few kids of my own, I'm not so sure.
The dynamic duo of Lucy, age 4 and Lyra, age, 1, had pulled out every toy in their room, had a glorious moment with some glitter, both changed their clothes at least five times and ran to hide when I told them it was time to get dressed for an outing, all before 9:00 AM. I snapped a picture of their cute, troublemaking little faces before the wrangling of getting them dressed.
They fight sleep like nothing I've ever seen, they play with ten toys all at the same time, they make enormous messes, they voice all their thoughts -- loudly, they demand right in the moment, they require all of you, they push hard, yet they also love wildly, care deeply and dive in with their whole hearts. All of it in a particular way I don't see in the boys, who I should also add, carry their own brand of magic.
As far as I can remember, I was not this type of child myself. I was gentle and more reserved, a strength unfolding later in life. Where did these whirlwind girls come from? I have no earthly idea. Even as tired as I am and wondering how I got the challenge on the back end after two chill older boys, I wouldn't trade any of it. I'll keep the drama, the tantrums, the big make up speeches, the running hugs, the constant fashion changes, the immense joy of girl good, even if it's harder.
Do you find one gender is harder than the other with your children? Do you think it is related to gender or just personality?
It's no secret in my family that I've gained a noticeable amount of weight over the last few years. My former days of svelte are gone, and I am now the oh-so-round and comfortable owner of more than one pair of granny panties and a respectable collection of elastic waist pants and skirts--all sized a very ambiguous 2, on a scale of 1 to 3. Even so, I'm well aware that nothing short of a mumu is going to hide this sneetch-like belly of mine.
I've debated on how to handle this new super-sized me with my kids. Do I pretend I'm skinny like I used to be and call a moratorium on my burgeoning waistline? Do I go on and on about healthy eating and exercise and let them watch me work out like crazy to try to turn back the clock? Or do I pretend it doesn't matter at all and go ahead and live in my pajamas while ordering another round of yummy chocolate covered cream-filled cupcakes?
After a year of traveling in countries where a nice round belly is a sign of well-being and good-fortune, I decided my first move would be radical self-acceptance, no matter what the scale says. I am not twenty-five anymore, and my days of being able to skip lunch and watch my muffin top disappear are long over. I am a forty-something, middle-aged mom with a metabolism to match. This body of mine, which is showing signs of wear and tear--and yes, maybe one too many bowls of guacamole before dinner--has carried me through enormous changes, life-altering experiences and essential acts of love and/or domestic monotony. When I die, this old girl is coming with me, and if I won't love this dear body now, when do you imagine would be a more appropriate time? When I'm fifty and even more fluffy? Or when I'm sixty and by some miracle have mastered the art of moderation?
I have decided there is no better time than right now.
To symbolize my commitment to honor my body (and to not give youthful perfection unnecessary airplay in my mind), I dubbed my middle "The Chubby" and vehemently defended her whenever my kids started to play rough enough where someone nearby (i.e. me) could get hurt. Hey, guys! Watch out for The Chubby! I called out one day without really thinking during a serious roughhousing. Both kids immediately laughed and loved it that I was being both protective and playful.
From that day forward, The Chubby became a regular point of conversation between us, and I was shocked to see how lovingly both kids regarded The Chubby in the face of my newfound lack of shame in her very round presence.
I began to see that this glaring imperfection of mine was actually an avenue for my kids to embrace me as a soft, available, accessible, comforting presence. It feels good to hug someone who is a little more wobbly around the middle, and my kids could finally say so without worrying about hurting my feelings. I think they liked no longer having to pretend I wasn't a little bit fat, especially now that they could see I wasn't embarrassed that there was more of me to hold.
These days I really am paying attention to my well-being and my general health. I'm walking everyday and eating more bowlfuls of kale than candy and making sure that every meal is full of choices that will give me wholesome, natural energy. I've lost a little weight, but I'm pretty sure at my age and with my particular body type that The Chubby will always be with me, no matter what.
"Don't worry," I tell Carter when he begins to panic that all this good eating will be the disappearance of The Chubby. "Some signs of imperfection are also signs of comfort and they are meant to always stay." This I say as he folds himself happily into a deliciously round, warm hug.
What do you think? Can you celebrate The Chubby at your house or do you think that sends the wrong message to kids about the importance of fitness and health? What do you think about separating the idea of how much you weigh from your body image? You can be honest. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
*picture above shot by tracey clark, catching my better side, depending on how you look at it.
Derek walked in the other night as we were all making homemade pasta. Flour was everywhere and Nate kept reaching in to give the homemade dough a little love pat. I physically cringed every time he did it. Even if I dipped these children in a vat of anti-bacterial soap, I will still remain suspect of their cleanliness.
D: Did you boys wash your hands?
Ethan and Nathan: YES!!
K: They did.
D: (to me) Are you okay?
K: I'm fine. It's just they are so gross.
Derek laughed and handed the boys their very own pasta mound. It was a brilliant move. The boys put the pasta into the machine and patted it repeatedly. It fell on the ground. He picked it back up and handed it to them. They squealed with delight as they continued to make their own dinner. I finished making our real pasta and made the dirty pile disappear before the noodles went into the boiling water.
The kids greedily ate their dinner. It was a hit. That's when I realized that having the kids cook with me was a sure way to get them to eat their dinner. It seemed that because they were invested, the food seemed to taste better to them.
Use simple ingredients. Tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil and oregano will make a lovely sauce for pasta. My kids love picking tomatoes from our garden. Some are redder than others, but you can always wait a few days for those not-so-green tomatoes to ripen. Nature is kind.
Use a recipe that is forgiving. Pasta is easy to make. Flour, olive oil and an egg. There are a million and one recipes for making pasta on the internet if you are looking for one. Mix it together and roll it out with either a rolling pin or a pasta maker. Kids love rolling pins. I would highly recommend spacing your children out with approximately 6 inches to spare, but that's just the crazy that is our house. Exact measurements for pasta are not required. Another fun thing to make is sorbet. Fruit and simple syrup and you are on your way to a delicious dessert.
Shop together. At this time of the summer, the food at the farmer's market is fabulous. Everything is fresh off the farm. Lots of farms have u-pick programs that encourage people to pick their fruit and vegetables directly from the source. This promotes local farms and sustainability as well. My kids love to go picking. Learning about how the strawberry goes from the plant all the way to the table is part of the fun.
Make dinner colorful. My whole life my mother never made two vegetables that were the same color. And let me tell you, she always made two vegetables. She reminded us on more than one occasion that her home economics teacher taught them that dinner should be inviting and colorful. My kids seem more drawn to the orange food groups (carrots, peppers) but greens are not far behind. It provides a great opportunity to practice colors, although Nate still thinks everything is green but needs us to know that his favorite color is orange.
Don't worry about the mess. As the flour piles up on the floor, take a deep breath and let it go. You can clean that flour up when you are done. Better yet, your kids can clean it up. Stressing out about the mess is only going to ruin your good time. If you are Cathy Cleanup, set a goal for the amount of time you allow the mess to accumulate. That way you can focus on your kids and on teaching them how to cook and less time worrying about the little things.
Cooking with kids is as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. Here are more tips for cooking with kids. I'll admit my goal is to have my children cooking all the meals in my house by the time the last one is ten, but I don't see anything wrong with that. Do you?
It's that time of year again; summer is winding down, and we are shifting our focus to all the joys of the upcoming fall. In our house this means apple picking, lots of Halloween costume talk, and starting the big prep for a new school year.
I love how beginnings give us a chance to invite something new into our lives. Here are five ways to help kids start the year off right:
1. Send some lunch box love. This is an oldie but a goodie. Send a note to your child; a little reminder that you're thinking of her the first week. Get a tad more creative and fun, write it in invisible ink and send the special reveal marker with another note to explain the directions.
Attach a small sticker or one of those awesome silly bandz for a special surprise. You can also make a coupon for a park day, or an ice cream date to be cashed in after school.
2. Go large and colorful with your encouragement. You may remember when the Supersisters and friends welcomed the kids back to school with a little sidewalk chalk love. Wake up early and write a message or just leave a sign in front of your door encouraging your child on the first day. You can even make it a family project and do it on the walk to your school for lots of kids. Here are a few messages:
- Have a great first day!
- You look fantastic!
- It's going to be a great year!
3. Do a kindness project together. The good folks at AARP have a lovely site set up called Create The Good telling you exactly how you can gather supplies for kids who are in need. Go to the store together and make up a box to donate, let kids locate and pick the items and then deliver to a school near you. Kindness always brings lots of joy to all involved.
4. Make a school wish jar. Cut strips of paper and write your wishes for your child and the school year. Fold them up and drop them in a canning jar or vase. Let your child open a wish every now and then. Wishes can be funny, serious or even deep; it's best to have a mix. This is a great way to show your child you are behind him, even down the road or the middle of the year.
5. Send a little piece of your heart. The beginning of school can be a little overwhelming. So many new things are happening all at the same time. Sometimes we need a little grounding. Cut a little heart out of felt or get a small token of some kind that your child can put in his pocket. Tell him this is a little piece of you he can hold throughout the day when he needs some of your love.
What are your traditions or special ways you send kids off at your house? Tell us in the comments.
I recently had the opportunity to spend two full uninterrupted days with my nine year old Carter--just the two of us. Originally we planned for Carter, Madeleine and me to have a weekend away somewhere together, but at the last minute Madeleine opted out in search of tweenage bliss with her good friend Isabel. That left Carter and I alone in the car for five plus hours on our way to New York City where we would spend the next two days wandering the streets, seeing the sites and getting to know each other in a brand new way.
I've always been very tuned into my kids, so I wasn't expecting any big surprises. Carter is an easy kid to be with in general and has for the longest time been excellent company. Still, 48 hours completely alone with anyone and you'll learn something new.
Here's the shortlist of observations (some new, some old) from our time together this weekend:
1. Carter is way more sensitive than I realized. He needs a super safe environment free of sarcasm and harsh tones before he can really start to unwind and relax.
2. Carter is super affectionate and needs more chances to demonstrate his emotions, especially the super loving, positive ones.
3. Carter is a chatterbox. For a kid who is notorious for his introversion, Carter could not shut up on our ride up. I think he told me at least fifty well-memorized jokes.
4. Carter needs long stretches of silence and downtime. We were able to find this best on long walks around the city with nothing to do, nowhere to go.
5. Carter is on a secret campaign to feel less all around, since his big emotions feel so overwhelming to him. This taps down his joy as well as his sadness. He needs even more support to let his big emotions out, so his not so healthy no-feel strategy can come to an end.
6. Carter actually enjoys the limelight. He was thrilled to be a little outrageous in his new shades (see photo above) and happily basked when complimented on his style by the tour guides at the New York Water Taxi.
7. Carter did well to be on his own, away from his uber-confident sister, to have his own chance to try on his own brand of confidence. The shades definitely helped.
I was so thankful for these two days to really focus on Carter, have unstructured time with him and tune in to his inner world. I have some data now as a parent that I desperately needed to be able to meet Carter's needs in more intentional ways.
How about you? Have you noticed something new about your kids this week? Something about the way they are, what they need or how you'd be better off to change your tact a little?
Tell us what you're observing and learning in the comments below.
I thought I heard my name as I crossed the lobby. I glanced over my shoulder for a brief second but never stopped. It isn't the first time this week that I have heard a "Kristen!" directed to someone other than me and it is not like it is an uncommon name.
I raced to the door and began to text Derek. My phone rang instead. Evidently they had been chasing me through the lobby but to no avail. I turned around and Ethan and Nathan came racing up to me. They tackled my legs and I thought for a brief second that I would go over. I leaned up to kiss The Baby in his father's arms. He gave me a big grin but didn't move from his spot of comfort.
So it's going to be like that, huh? Mama leaves for 4 days and somebody got a little bitter. I can understand that. I waved to him and Derek tried to convince him to come to me. I could see that Derek was panicked that I would do something crazy and break out into a good quality howcanyounotloveyourmother rant complete with tear-stained cheeks in the highly public train station.
I grabbed Nate's hand and told Ethan that I had missed him so much.
E: Really? Then why didn't you call?
K: I did call.
E: I don't remember.
K: I did. Remember that I called that one day but The Baby tried to eat Dad's phone and then Nate kept hanging up on me?
K: So I should have called more? Why didn't you call me?
E: I don't know.
K: It's not like you don't know how.
E: Good point. Well, I missed you too. And Lindsey let me play Wii WHENEVER I WANTED.
N: And she bringed us crayons.
K: Did you tell her we don't have any because The Baby climbs up on the table and eats them?
E: MOM. Lindsay WATCHES The Baby so he doesn't EAT the crayons.
Who knew that was the trick? Huh. A greater mother would have felt horrible and questioned her parenting skills against those of the hyper-chipper, highly-engaged, college-aged babysitter. I just stood there feeling really bad that the babysitter probably spent a ridiculous amount of time digging crayons out of The Baby's mouth. Or she just waited until The Baby took a nap. Hey, there's a winning idea!
The trouble is that I really didn't call very much. The Baby screeches like a pterodactyl from start to finish on the call , while intermittently chewing on the phone. Nate rips the phone out of his brother's hands, yells something relatively unintelligible and then hangs up. Ethan calls me back and tattles about the latest bad behavior (because that is so few and far between). By the time Derek gets the phone back, everyone is frazzled. It's actually kind of funny if you don't need to convey any pertinent information or really want to know how anyone is doing.
So Derek sends pictures of the day's events and I call the babysitter to see if they haven't given her slip yet. Other than that, it was pretty quiet while I was away. I got home and everything was relatively intact. I would complain about them setting the carpet on fire with a lamp but I'm really just glad they waited to nearly burn the house down until after I got home.
The Baby finally climbed up onto my lap and forgave me. No harm, no foul. I think I would do it the same way next time I go away. What do you think?
In ten years of parenting, I have moved seven times with kids. Even just writing that sentence makes me tired. I thought for a long time we were just nomads, but I realized it was really a kind of family strategy. No one place or space defined family for us. We are a family wherever we go; every move called and reminded us to stay close to each other and not our surroundings or things. It felt like we were on a new adventure together whenever things started to get stale.
Luckily, our kids are pretty laid back and never seemed too bothered by the change. It helped that we managed to stay in the same city for all the moves except one. This last move, however, was pretty brutal. I kept a running list in my head of all the tips that would have made things easier.
So here you are, from the moving mother:
1. Spread out the move out over a couple days. Moving an entire house in one day makes for very exhausted and grumpy parents. It is more work than anyone should do. If you are moving locally, see if you can get into your new house just a few days early, it is worth every penny. Moving room by room is one thousand times better than trying to sort out a sea of boxes. It makes for an easier transition for the littlest members of your family, too.
2. Hire multiple babysitters or enlist family and friends to help. Hype up a play date extravaganza week for the kids. Pick their most favorite people and friends to watch them for short or long stretches depending on their ages. Trying to do anything on a timed schedule with kids around is near impossible and having kids gone will let you go at lightning speed. Also enlist helpers for after the move, which will be a life saver when you really need to get settled and make your space finally feel like home.
3. Honor your old home and welcome the new house. We left a pile of boxes one day to take a break and go pick berries for our old and new neighbors. We made a list of all the things we will miss in the old and all the things we want to do in the new. We wrote thank you notes to our old neighbor who was always so kind to our kids.
If you are moving far away you may want to self address envelopes and hand out to your kids' most important people and friends to send them a letter during the first few weeks when everyone may start to feel homesick.
4. Make a check list and give everyone a job. Most small children worry about if all the things they care about will make it during a move. Make a check list with your kids listing the things most important to them. Pack the "special box" together and take it in your car if at all possible. Pretend like you are going on vacation; pack a bag of snacks and loot to pull out in difficult moments or to buy some needed busy time.
Give kids simple jobs to keep them feeling connected and part of the decision to move. Call family meetings to check-in with each member about how things are going and what everyone might need throughout the move.
5. Don't wait to make connections. Find local list serves, co-ops and other neighborhood connections that might make your transition and introduction to your new place smoother. Introduce yourself on the block or floor as soon as you can, knowing your neighbors is the best way to get the lay of the land.
6. Invite some art into the process. Big brown boxes might be the most popular toy of all time. Buy a pack of markers and let the kids go to town coloring and making their own playhouse out of discarded boxes, or even create a box city in the back yard. Hours of fun, I promise!
Are you a mover, too? Tell us your best moving tips in the comments.
"I need to talk to you about this tweenage thing," my friend said to me a few weeks ago. Her voice was heavy with the need for confession. I didn't know if she was about to confess hatred for her impossible tween or some other more unspeakable act of parental frustration.
"Okay," I answered, all ears. "What's up?"
"It's just, you know...the Justin Bieber, the vampires, the glitter toenail polish..." She could barely get the words out. "I just LOVE all of it. Every single second. She's doing so well, and she's so happy about her life. Is there something wrong with me? I just can't get enough. I think it's great. Do you think that's bad?" She looked at me with the kind of worry a parent might feel after letting their teenager have a sip of champagne at her parent's 50th wedding anniversary.
I laughed. "Not at all," I reassured her. "I'm right there with you. As long as we're talking to them and staying connected and making sure we're honestly pursuing our own dreams for happiness--instead of living vicariously through our girls--I think it's fine. You're living your dreams. You're being honest with her about the hard parts. She can see all of that. I think it's great."
She sighed a deep sigh of relief and we sunk down into the couch for a long conversation, without the threat of censorship or the worry of "Good Mother" hanging over our heads. While some may be appalled and warn of worse pop culture influences to come (and believe me, I've got my eye on that horizon), there's something completely pure and innocent about being excited about the next chapter in a young girl's life. Some of these recent media crazes have taken on cult-level popularity for exactly this reason. They reflect the tension between being innocent and becoming wise. They mirror the euphoria of sometimes getting it right and the adventure involved in learning the difference.
So many of my peers were raised to be afraid of the teen years--the predatory boys, the potential pregnancies, the STDs. But what if in all of our caution and fears about what could happen, we're missing out on one of the biggest gateways to tween/mom connection--an ongoing conversation about what's good right now? What if in an effort to shield our girls from the negative messages their getting from the media, we're missing our chance to be a part of an ongoing dialogue about the things they don't want to miss--healthy friendships, really positive interactions with boys and the magic of discovering they are strong, beautiful and capable of learning the wisdom of their own intuition? Justin Bieber may not be a poster child for any of the above, but he taps into the hope of someone loving you passionately. And why shouldn't our girls expect that?
There's an old saying that youth is wasted on the young. At my house, right now, with the music blaring, the constant toe-nail polishing and the long conversations about the bright and exciting future, I beg to differ. Mistakes will be made, difficulties will be encountered, but all in all, there's something incredibly valuable about being excited about the ride. That's where I see my tween right now; that's what my friend sees, too.
We can't bring ourselves to not be excited for their high hopes--not because we haven't achieved our own, but because in so many ways we have and are doing so right now. And maybe a little late, because we lacked the courage to dive in headfirst. May our girls retain their courage and excitement for love, adventure and true happiness. May we not let our fears of the inevitable disappointments keep them from giving their all to the joys and delights that are theirs to be had.
I know this isn't the party line on raising girls these days, and I know there are dangers to uncensored media exposure. I'm not arguing that. But if you're connected and involved with your tween girl whose heart is open to you, why not be in that process of discovery together? What say you, internets? How are you handling your tween girls and the silly excesses of tween culture? On the continuum between keeping them young and letting them go, where do you fall?
And maybe more importantly, what do you think about the idea that we hold them back because we don't want them to be hurt or disappointed, the way we were (and are) ourselves?