Saturday, December 19, 2009

An Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Computer...

I picked up a copy of Jack Canfield's book The Success Principles several months ago. I knew I needed a little kick-in-the-pants inspiration that only he seems to be able to provide. Lots of other authors/life coaches and motivational speakers do what Jack does, but for some reason I seem to relate to his philosophies better than others. He's pretty no-nonsense and I like that kind of approach.

So, I bought the book with the best of intentions. The only problem is, the book sat on my counter for months. I was sidelined by something else each time I thought about reading it. I was looking for the perfect time with the perfect setting to sit down, engulf myself in positive vibes and ponder the infinite ways of success. Before I began, I wanted to eliminate all other outside factors competing for my attention, figuring I needed some quality reading time to contemplate his message. Considering I have a husband, two rambunctious boys, a dog in desperate need of attention, a household to run and various volunteer activities to fulfill, my alone time is at an all-time low. I get up two hours before anyone else does every morning just so I can exercise and do my crossword puzzles in peace.

Even though I couldn't find the time to read Jack's book, I still managed to peruse lots of magazines and school papers and newsletters. I read newspapers and blogs. I created photo books on my computer, wrote a few essays here and there, updated my son's teacher's website, read some articles and other books on writing techniques and kept up with my email. I kept looking at Jack's book on my counter and kept feeling a twinge of regret. Was I procrastinating on purpose or did I really not have the time to read this particular book? Days passed. Months passed. The book sat idle.

My time had also been consumed with trying to fix some computer problems I was having. I wasn't able to find the source of the issues by myself, so I took the computer into the repair shop. A simple operating system restore seemed to repair what was most likely a computer virus infestation. After I got my computer back and spent several hours reinstalling software and getting it back to normal, my screen went blank and an ominous message appeared. "Hard disk failure is imminent! Please back up your hard drive and have it replaced."

I was confused by the message because after running initial diagnostics my hard drive was given a thumbs-up for good condition. Why was my hard drive failing now? Needless to say, my computer went back into the shop. And the hard-drive did indeed need to be replaced. I was told it might take up to a week to repair by the time the hard drive was ordered, delivered and installed. I felt a little lost as I contemplated seven more days without my computer. It was like imagining another week without using my right arm.

The next morning as I was pouring my first cup of coffee, I saw Jack's book out of the corner of my eye. Well, I guess now is as good a time as any to start reading this book, I thought. My computer was out of commission as was any excuse to delay reading what I intended to read months ago.

After reading the first few pages of the book I realized that the timing of my computer's hard drive failure and me starting to read the book was not a matter of coincidence, at all. I think the computer malfunction was a very clear, in-my-face, red-light-flashing sign that if I wasn't going to find the time to sit down and prioritize my to-do lists and start setting some goals, someone was going to find the time for me. I'm pretty good at making lists and following through with my to-do items when they concern everyone else, but I can become a procrastinator extraordinaire when it comes to focusing on me. Couple this awareness with the fact that a brand new year ripe with new beginnings is right around the corner and I can plainly see now that everything happens for a reason.

I knew when I bought the book that it would be the kick-in-the-pants that I needed. I was obviously not ready up until now to feel the brunt of Jack's steel-toed boot on my backside. He is very clear in the philosophy that one is 100% responsible for the life he or she leads. Period. I agree with him wholeheartedly and I do take full responsibility for my actions and my decisions. That is not at issue. The tricky part is figuring out what I want to do with my life (deciding what success means to me), setting goals to achieve that end result and following through. I won't bore you with the minutiae of my personal goal-setting, but I will tell you that I am taking the time now to focus on my future.

Message received. Loud and clear!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

The Farmer's Almanac is predicting a "numbing winter with below-average temperatures" for us here in Michigan this year. Hmmmnnn....sounds suspiciously like most of our winters here in Michigan. People are all abuzz about how cold it's going to get this year and how miserable it's going to be. As if winter is ever really that much different from year to year. It's cold. It snows. We freeze.

I'm not a huge fan of the cold, but I have lived here all of my life so I at least know what to expect. I wear long johns under my pants when necessary and sometimes wear an extra sweatshirt jacket underneath my winter coat for added warmth. I have different hats and gloves for different events like a simple after-dinner stroll or a snow-in-your-face swoosh down the sledding hill. One must be prepared for all different levels of cold in the Midwest.

I'm not sure, however, that I can take another winter of people complaining and moaning about the cold. It
is cold. No need to debate the issue. Like I said, not a big fan. But, in order to get myself through at least seven months of it, I have to train my brain to like at least something about the winter.

So, without further ado, here is my Top Ten list of reasons why I will gladly welcome the wintry weather his year:
  1. My Morning Walk. Inhaling my first gulp of frigid-cold air on my way out the door jars me to attention like nobody's business. If I'm not fully awake by the time I open my garage door, I am raring to go after I swallow a few icy shards of air. I feel so alive!

  2. Watching My Kids Watching Their Cold Breath. Another fine example of paying attention to the little things in life. Do you ever stop to look at your cold, winter breath puffing through the air like a smoke stack anymore ? It is pretty amazing.

  3. Snow Angels. It's so fun to see my little angels layered so tight they can barely bend a knee trying to make their own little angels in the snow. Pure Kodak moment.

  4. Snow Covered Branches That Shine Like Diamonds. Some days I can walk outside and see the beautiful snow glistening on the branches in the trees and an immediate calm envelopes me. Nothing seems so pure and tranquil as newly fallen snow.

  5. Building Snowmen. There will come a time when building snowmen will not be on my kids' list of favorite things to do. For now, I will bundle up, happily seek twigs for arms and rocks for eyes and hold these moments close to my heart.

  6. Hot Chocolate After Building Snowmen. Family traditions are what keeps us close. Hot chocolate after a cold day outdoors is a must!

  7. Christmas. We have had snowy, white Michigan Christmases and we have had warm, sunny Florida Christmases. Christmas just isn't Christmas at the beach. Bring on the winter wonderland!

  8. Sledding and/or Ice Skating. Need I say more?

  9. Movies in the Middle of the Afternoon. You just can't justify snuggling up under the covers in the middle of the day and popping The Aristocats into the VCR during any other season. Winter is the only time we get to rationalize being as lazy as hibernating bears.

  10. Indoor Water Parks. When the arctic conditions have reached gloomy proportions one heads to an indoor water park. It's like you're in the tropics but with a really cool water slide.
What are your favorites things about winter?

Friday, November 27, 2009

40 is Freakin' Fabulous

I am 40-years-old today and I feel fantastic. I would never have imagined in my early twenties that 40 would be so great. To all of those youngsters who think that 40 is "old" I have only one thing to say, "it's freakin' fabulous!"

Why is it fabulous? Because I look and feel better than ever. In my twenties I lived on fast food, cigarettes, Miller Lite, stress and severe anxiety. What's fun about that? I worried constantly about my job, my life, my savings account, my health, my future, what other people thought of me. My life was one big worry fest. I couldn't enjoy the moment because I was always planning ways to make the moment better.

I don't worry about those things anymore. I have the best job in the world as a mother. My husband and I save for our future because we don't live above our means. Some years are leaner than others, but we still manage to live comfortably. However, the most important lesson I learned along the way is that it really doesn't matter what other people think of me. I can't make everyone happy so I might as well just focus on making myself and my family happy. As Dr. Seuss so aptly reminds us, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

I don't stress now about things I can't control. Okay...that might a bit of a stretch. I stress less about things I can't control. But, I have a great teacher in my husband. He doesn't get angry very often and I admire his ability to let things roll so easily off his back. He concerns himself with things he has some influence over not the things he doesn't. I watch and learn from him. I am working on it.

I put my health first instead of last. I quit smoking, have been exercising regularly for the past 10 years and made friends with fruits and vegetables. I don't diet but eat in moderation. I didn't give up my beer, although I switched to a higher quality brew. Nothing will come between me and my Sam Adams! I keep it simple. The better ingredients I put into my body, the better my body works. It's not rocket science.

I don't put as much emphasis now on trying to prove myself. I have already proven that I can be successful at work (promotions, pay raises, accolades). I have already proven that I can be successful at home (great family, well-rounded kids). And, I have already proven that the quantity of friendships don't matter nearly as much as the quality (goodbye to toxic people who bring me down or cause me grief...hello friends who add something positive to my life).

Wanna know one more reason why 40 is freakin' fabulous? Because I love my life. I don't think anyone on the planet has a better husband than I do. I couldn't be my best self without his constant love and support. My kids are wonderful little human beings who have brought more joy and happiness to my life than I thought possible. I wake up most days in awe of my good fortune.

As the saying goes, "you are only as old as you feel." In that case, I should be about 18. But, seriously, I wouldn't take a million dollars to go back and do my twenties all over again. What a drag. I have paid my dues and learned some hard life lessons along the way. But at least I learned. I took every one of my mistakes and every sad story and turned it around to an "aha" moment. I constantly ask myself, "what can I learn from this?" I may not always find an answer but I am always aware of the question.

I'm not unhappy about getting older. I am embracing the fact that I am much smarter than my younger self. I love that with age comes wisdom. It's true. Every birthday brings me that much closer to the me I want to be. Every year I stop making excuses about why or how I do what I do. Every year I realize that fewer justifications are necessary.

Whoever said "40 is the new 30" wasn't living in her moment. Forty isn't the "new" anything.

It's just plain fabulous exactly as it is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Value of a Dollar

We just got back from an amazing trip to Disney World. I still can't believe how much we accomplished in one week. We managed to tour all four theme parks, spend approximately three days by the pool and even attend the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in seven extremely busy but downright thrilling days. We actually made it home in one piece, but I'm not sure we will ever be the same again.

Never been to Disney? It's stimulation overload to the nth degree. The sheer magnitude of sensory experiences is overwhelming for an adult let alone a 4 and 6-year-old. The music, the lights, the rides, the characters, the food, the...everything. We were pumped up on endorphins from morning until night because we were having so much fun. I don't know of another place on the planet that provides as many opportunities for entertainment for every person.

Nicholas loved Test Track, the automotive-testing ride that simulates the safety and quality tests that General Motors performs on every prototype it manufactures. Christopher enjoyed Soarin', the multi-passenger glider that lifts you 40 feet into the air as you swoop up and soar towards the clouds and spectacular California panoramas. Mark was in full competition mode on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin video-game inspired ride as he blasted away Evil Emperor Zurg's robot minions with laser cannons. And, I couldn't get enough of Expedition Everest, the high-altitude, high-speed, train ride that combines coaster-like thrills with the excitement of a close encounter with the Abominable Snowman.

As your brain is processing all of the fun and excitement, it's hard not to succumb to every single monetary temptation that is dangled in front of your nose every 2.5 seconds. Be it a $4.00 box of popcorn served in a cool, collectible Disney box, a $3.00 chocolate-covered Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream bar or the ridiculously high-priced, character-inspired t-shirts, pens, mouse pads, toys, etc. that are offered along the way, your dollars are subliminally called forth at every opportunity. Whenever you exit a ride or a show you are plopped smack-dab into the middle of a merchandise mecca designed to insist that you part with your hard-earned dollars. Your children are begging, the merchandise is so darn cute and your normal hard-as-nails resolve has dwindled to microscopic size. How can you not buy that cute, little (made-in-china) Mickey Mouse shaped pancake mold for $10.95?

Nicholas and Christopher each received $10 from their grandparents to spend as they wished at Disney World. Because Nicholas was presented with so many mind-boggling options he was basically tortured with indecision. Not to mention the fact that $10 ain't gonna get you much in the most magical place on Earth. Every item available for sale has been marked up by at least 300%. I'm not joking. The fact that some people actually buy some of the merchandise for the indicated price is preposterous. Mark and I had to make a united front, and quick, to make sure we didn't buckle under the cute-kids-acting-all-sweet-and-nice syndrome and buy things we really don't need or want. We even ate breakfast in our condo each morning and packed a lunch, with snacks, every day. We strategized ways to spend as little as possible inside the parks since we already knew the temptation (and price) was way too high.

So, Nicholas and Christopher learned a very hard, but valuable, lesson on their trip to Disney World. They learned they couldn't purchase the $15.95 item because they only had $10 to spend. They learned that mom and dad were not going to give in to each, "but I really, really, really want this" outburst. They had to learn that most items were outrageously overpriced and not worth even one-quarter of its suggested cost. They had to learn to buy something that they would enjoy and get some use out of and not just buy something to buy something. It's such a hard lesson and I felt small twinges of regret as I said "no" time and time again, but I know how important it is to learn the value of a dollar. They are not too young for this lesson. In fact, it's a great time to start teaching them that they will not always get everything they want.

Nicholas and Christopher finally decided on an autograph book (with coordinating pen) that each of the characters could sign. What a great idea! The boys could have wonderful memories for years to come with their autograph books instead of throwing out a toy that ran its course too soon because it was poorly made. Lesson learned.

The boys also learned another valuable lesson on this trip. Memories are created from spending quality time together as a family not spending money on material possessions. No Indiana Jones sword or Buzz Lightyear stun gun can replace the memories of us skipping hand-in-hand through the parks, floating down the lazy river together in the pool or enjoying S'mores by the campfire on the beach.

Those memories are priceless.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I Have Goals and Aspirations Too

Don't tell my children, but I daydream sometimes about returning to work. I reminisce about the days when I was paid handsomely for 2-hour lunches, solo bathroom breaks and leisure time behind my computer. Oh sure, I thought I was busy at work. I would have been seriously offended if you ever suggested otherwise. But, now I know better. I became a mother. And, busy doesn't even begin to describe my day which starts at 5:15 am and ends around, well...does it ever really end?

So, sometimes I daydream about work. I think a little extra money in my pocket would be great. I think that using my brain for something other than umpteen Candy Land or hide-and-go-seek games seems thrilling. I even think that I would be a better employee now that I have multi-tasked my way into power-mom status. Actually, just a simple distraction from the more mundane chores of my day would be a welcome relief.

But, after taking all of that into consideration I remind myself that my greatest accomplishment thus far is being a mother. No other "job" has ever brought me so much satisfaction or made me as proud. When I worked I was always striving for my boss's and co-worker's approval. I was always yearning for accolades about how well I did my job. Now, when I hear my son say, "you are the best mom in the whole world" or when he hugs me so tight I think I might burst I know that I am doing a good job. Nobody has to give me a performance review. No one has to send me a congratulatory email. My kids remind me daily with their "I love yous" and their bright, confident smiles.

So, yes, I have goals and aspirations beyond motherhood. I would love to be a published writer someday. I would love to earn a paycheck. But, I also want to continue to be the parent at the bus stop every morning and the one who greets my kids after school. I want to be the PTA volunteer who attends all the school fairs and fund-raising drives. I want to participate in classroom activities so my kids know that I value their time and effort. I overheard Nicholas telling his friends that I was volunteering for the recent fall fair at his school and he sounded so proud. My rewards don't come in the form of a paycheck, they come in waves of adoration and love.

So, daydreaming about work will stay at the daydreaming stage for now because I have more important things to take care of. Like accompanying my son on his field trip or helping his teacher with her classroom website. Don't assume that because I am a stay-at-home mom that I have nothing to do all day. I won't bore you with my to-do list because it's too damn long. Just know that I am, and have been, preparing my kids to be confident, generous, kind, polite, educated human beings. I take my job seriously.

And it's the best job in the world.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fast Food Fanatics and Advertising Hype

Would you wait in line at a fast-food restaurant for two hours just to order a cherry-limeade drink?

Me neither. But apparently, lots and lots of people in the metro Detroit area are willing to wait two hours or longer for a chance to eat and/or drink at the brand new Sonic -fast-food drive-ins that are infiltrating our area. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that we are almost always cited as being one of the nation's fattest cities.

An article in the Detroit Free Press Sunday, October 18, edition reported that massive traffic backups are common around Sonic openings because customers are waiting for two hours or more in some cities just to get a bite of artery-clogging cheeseburgers, trans-fat loaded tater tots, shakes and limeades. The customer who waited for two hours for her limeade drink was quoted as saying, "They have good, cheap food and the commercials are cool." Good food is definitely be questionable, but I can't argue cheap.

Wow, another example of marketing and advertising madness at its best. Commercials played for what seemed like years before the actual drive-in joint was built anywhere in the near vicinity. I remember saying to my husband, "why do these commercials keep playing here? We don't have any of these Sonic drive-ins." I guess the advertisers knew what they were doing by gently guiding our subconscious and sending subliminal messages encouraging us to want something we couldn't have. Until now.

Now that Sonic has arrived, people are ga-ga over the menu and, apparently, over the commercials. I can't say that I have ever frequented an establishment because I thought the commercials were cool, but I understand that is the advertiser's goal. And, the 18-year old who waited in line for two hours for her drink is an advertiser's dream because she fits the valuable 18-35-year-old demographic. Advertising works.

I remember seeing the first Sonic in our area and thinking maybe the kids would get a kick out of checking out the drive-in, ordering from and eating in our car. I thought it might be a fun lunch outing one day. But, after reading the article in the paper, I think I will just pass up the opportunity altogether. We are not big fast-food eaters anyway and I'd like to buck the system that assumes I am easily swayed by all of the hype. I'm not.

Cities that have opened a Sonic in metro Detroit have had "traffic backups for days" and must hire extra people to handle traffic control. The entire area is afflicted with traffic snarls for at least a week if not more. I am a little disturbed that city planners are spending so much time on traffic management plans for a fast-food grand opening.

Time is precious to me. I don't plan on wasting my valuable minutes or hours waiting in line for a cheeseburger or any kind of drink.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If You Don't Correct Your Child, I Might

I'm not really sure what happened to the notion of "it takes a village" to raise a child because, as I see it, parents aren't taking responsibility for parenting their own children let alone looking out for anyone else's. I hear older adults tell fond stories about growing up respecting authority figures such as their own or other parents, teachers, neighbors, etc. because fear was a common denominator. Bad behavior just wasn't tolerated.

Nowadays it's all I can do to get a kid to even look me in the eye when he's speaking to me. I have to bite my lip more than I care to admit when I observe kids' behavior. I have to sit on my hands sometimes to keep from clutching some unfamiliar boy's wrist in a restaurant and saying, "you are not an animal in a barn. Chew your food with your mouth closed, sit up and start acting like a human being." I have to close my eyes when I see a cunning little girl cutting in line like she is a princess entitled to royal treatment. What I really want to say to the little delinquent is, "taking shortcuts in life will only hurt your chances of ever succeeding at anything worthwhile." Not that she will have any idea what I'm talking about, but I am convinced it would make me feel better. Many times I keep my mouth shut. But, sometimes I don't.

Christopher and I recently went to an end-of-summer fair on "Mom and Tot" day during which all kids under five can ride unlimited rides for $5. The bargain of the century! Christopher was enamored with the toddler train and rode it several times. He decided after awhile that he wanted to act like the conductor and ride in the front car. I explained to him that he would have to wait for a full round and let all the kids get on the train before him so he would be first in line for the next train and get his first choice of seats. He agreed and waited patiently. As the train came to a stop, Christopher waited, again very patiently, for the attendant to open the gate and he then made his way to the front car. Only, the boy sitting in the front car didn't move.

"Didn't you just ride the train?" I asked. No answer. No eye contact.

"Excuse me" I persisted, "didn't you just ride this train?" Again, no eye contact. He wasn't budging.

I looked around for his parents but couldn't locate anyone to whom he might belong. I asked the boy again to move and finally a woman approached from the other side of the fence.

"Does he belong to you?" I asked.

She nodded and I proceeded to tell her that her boy just rode the train but hasn't gotten off yet. It was time for him to depart so other kids, who have been waiting patiently, could ride the train. She stared at me blankly and shrugged her shoulders. The boy didn't move.

Infuriated, I picked Christopher up and heaved him over the seat right next to the line cheater. Christopher didn't seem to mind that the seat was cramped, he was just thrilled to be in the first car. I would have preferred he bask in his conductor's glory alone, but the line cheater obviously had no intention of moving. What more could I do short of yanking the boy up by his collar, pulling him off the train kicking and screaming and risking assault charges? His parents obviously didn't care that he was breaking the rules.

My husband says I shouldn't bother saying anything at all, but I cannot tolerate rule-breakers. I also cannot tolerate the inattentive mother who won't discipline her kid.

We attended a pool play date this summer during which an older boy was tormenting the younger kids by knocking them over the head with a flotation noodle. He hit the kids several times. The mother was sitting right there and didn't make a peep. Not a peep! I asked the boy to stop hitting with the noodle but I received no reply and no eye contact (surprise). The boy's mother remained silent and I assumed that on her planet, hitting with flotation noodles must be a sign of camaraderie. On my planet, it's just plain rude. The final straw came when the tormentor pushed Christopher under the water. I pulled the boy over to the side of the pool and tried to calm my sobbing, anxious-under-the-water, 4-year-old.

"Keep your hands to yourself," I screeched at the boy. And to his mother I shouted, "I think it's about time he got out of the water. He is obviously not playing well with others."

She didn't heed my advice as is her right as a parent. But, she did move him to another part of the pool. They left shortly after that and the other mothers who were part of our play date shared their concerns and thanked me for saying something. But, I questioned their silence. Why didn't anyone else say anything? If they were so thankful why didn't anyone back me up?

I still believe it takes a village. But the villagers need to speak up. I still need help from my friends and neighbors and school personnel to make sure my kids are using their manners, respecting authority and staying out of trouble. If my kid is disrespectful, I give you permission to correct him because I will correct yours.

Parents ,we are all in this together.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unhealthy Lunches and Snacks - Stop the Madness!

I often wonder how seemingly educated, smart and sophisticated grocery shoppers (that includes you, too, Dads) get sucked up in the commercial marketing of unhealthy foods. Really? Do grocery shoppers not already know to steer clear of virtually everything in the middle aisles of the market? Have you been living under a rock?

I can't stand the commercials or advertisements for kids' food. Hate 'em. Marketers know that parents are pressed for time. They know we have busy schedules and lots of lunches to pack. So, they appeal to our need for speed. According to the perpetrators of the marketing madness, the faster we can open a box and plop out a meal the better. The problem is, these meals are not good for us and these products are making us sick.

Magazines include Wal-Mart ads which appeal to our sense of "saving money." The ad says that for less than $1 or two you can feed your family breakfast. You can shove a plain, white bagel down your kid's throat along with some OJ and voila! A healthy and low-cost breakfast! Shame on you Wal-Mart. Parents, can't you offer a healthier alternative and toast a slice of whole-grain bread, add a dollop of natural (no sugar added) peanut butter and include a glass of milk for breakfast? Does it really take that much more time or cost that much more money? I don't think so.

Day after day I see kids with unhealthy lunches. It makes me lose my appetite. The problem is, it's not the kid's fault his lunch is unhealthy. His parents are basically teaching his palette to rely on added sugars and modified foods to satisfy him. He doesn't know any better yet he will pay for this unhealthy practice for the rest of his life when he won't really want to eat anything that isn't sweetened. We owe it to our kids to take a more responsible approach to eating.

Here are some examples:

  • Lunchables. Really? You need to buy processed, packaged food with a long list of artificial flavors, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and more for your kid's lunchbox? These products have no business being marketed as lunches for kids. Why not choose lunchmeat with no preservatives or artificial ingredients (Dietz & Watson, Boorshead, etc), whole grain crackers , and a piece of fruit instead? It's not that hard.
  • PB&J Uncrustables. Parents, you need to buy a PB&J sandwich? One with upwards of 25 different ingredients, some of which you can't even pronounce? You can't make a PB&J sandwich on whole-grain bread with natural (no sugar added) peanut butter and natural fruit preserves? C'mon. Isn't your children's health more important to you?
  • Applesauce. On the surface, applesauce looks like a good choice. But when you add a flavor like Cinnamon/Strawberry/Raspberry, etc. you add unnecessary ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. Why? Applesauce is naturally sweet. Without added sugar. If you want a flavor added to natural applesauce why not sprinkle your own cinnamon or puree your own strawberries. It's not that hard, really.
  • Fruit Juice. The epitome of wasted calories. Sure, some fruit juices are 100% juice and, boy, those marketers love to appeal to your sense of "wholesome" and "nutrient-packed." If it's 100% juice that is high in Vitamin C it has to be good, right? But why not get more bang-for-your-buck and offer up a whole apple instead? Your kids get the benefit of a serving or more of fruit, with added fiber from the apple peel. Don't give your kids juice, give them an actual piece of fruit instead. And, make sure they are drinking water (which they probably need more of anyway) or milk for lunch.
  • Granola Bars. Snacks like Kudos which advertise "excellent source of calcium" and "made with whole grains" try to suck you into the "granola is healthy" mentality. Don't be fooled. With five different listings for sugar and hydrogenated oils to boot, these are not healthy snacks, they are candy bars. Do parents really think that granola bars with M&M's, Chocolate chips or Snickers is a "healthy" choice? Really? If you want to give your kid a candy bar, just admit it and quit trying to pass a Kudos granola bar off as a healthy snack.
  • Go-Gurt. Sounds like a great idea...yogurt on the go! Yogurt is a nutritious snack, right? Not this yogurt. It has more sugar per ounce than a can of Coca-Cola. The problem is there isn't one but two sugar sources listed in the first five ingredients. Both Sugar and
    High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Is this necessary? Nope. Get your kids off Go-Gurt for good! Try Stoneyfield Farms brand instead. Yes, sugar is listed as the second ingredient, but it is a natural source of sugar that isn't processed. The sugar ratio per ounce is much less than Go-gurt and not artificial colors or flavors are included.
Please stop making poor food choices. Please read food labels. Stay away from high-fructose corn syrup, added sugar and partially hydrogenated oils. Use real, whole foods not processed, artificial, fake foods.

Some great places to search for easy recipes for lunches and/or snacks are:

www.ilunchbox.com
www.nourishmd.com
www.101cookbooks.com
www.wholefoods.com
www.laptoplunches.com.

Check them out, print off a recipe or two and see how easy (and satisfying) it can be to make a good, healthy lunch or snack.

It's really, truly, is not rocket science.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Confessions of a Control-Freak Mom

Nicholas started 1st grade today (cue sobbing). He will now officially be under the care and tutelage of essential strangers for the majority of the week for the majority of the year. I get the privilege to see him on nights and weekends and during the occasional school break. I have tried really, really hard to prepare myself for this day, the day that I have to wave goodbye and step completely out of his sight. Not just be in the other room, within arm's reach, as he plays with his race cars. Not just be within eyesight as he tackles the monkey bars on the playground. More or less be absent from his life for eight hours a day, five days a week. To some mothers, the start of school is deserved reprieve. To a control-freak mom, it's an anxiety attack on steroids.

I have had my finger on the pulse of every single event or occurrence in Nicholas's life over the past six years. As a stay-at-home mom, we have enjoyed the closeness that comes with spending all of our waking hours together. I have relished in watching the baby grow into the toddler who grew into the preschooler who was a Kindergartner just last year. I knew the day would come when he would grow up a little bit more and become a little bit more independent. When he would venture off to school full-time with a backpack full of cool pencils, colorful erasers and a trendy lunchbox. I knew it in the back of my mind. But that day was light years away as I changed diapers, held the hands of an unbalanced walker, listened with amusement to the awkwardness of new speech and watched chubby legs transform into strong, muscular limbs. My mind cannot quiet comprehend that the day I anticipated for years has actually arrived.

I know that Nicholas is ready for his big debut as a 1st grader. Just because I'm having issues with his initiation into the world of raucous bus riding, potential bullies and influential older kids doesn't diminish the fact that Nicholas has developed a decent moral foundation. His dad and I have spent countless hours instilling in him the principles of honesty, respect, and compassion. But, up until now, I have been right by his side to encourage him to demonstrate those principles and I have reprimanded him when he has not. Today, he has to accomplish those tasks all by himself.

I wish more than anything that I could stand by him on the playground and lob away every hurtful remark. I wish I could hold a shield over his heart so that anyone who tries to deflate his good nature would be unsuccessful. I wish I could just go back to when Nicholas was a baby and do these past six years all over again. But, I know that's not possible or realistic. As much as I struggle to accept the inevitable, I am aware that I can't be there to wipe every tear or calm every nervous tension. I wish like hell there was a way that I could.

Because he will spend the next 11 years in school surrounded by different cultures, personalities and environments, I pray that Nicholas makes good decisions. That he chooses his friends wisely. That he teaches people how to treat him by not tolerating cruel remarks and callous behavior. That he stands firm in his beliefs and doesn't succumb to unscrupulous influence. It is ironic, however, that I am expecting a six-year-old to accomplish what I have struggled to pull off for the past 39 years. I just hope that Nicholas learns how to stand up for himself a lot sooner than I did.

Nicholas asked me at breakfast today, "what should I do if some boys are mean to me on the bus?" I asked him what he thought he should do and before he could answer, Christopher chimed in with a simple, "just ignore them." Nicholas said he would certainly try this strategy but I also reassured him that it would be OK to ask for help from the bus driver. I resisted the urge to tell him, "just give me the names of the mean boys and I will take care of the rest."

When Nicholas goes to bed at night and asks if we can have a "conversation," he usually has some questions he needs answers to or situations he needs help sorting out. Sometimes he just wants to delay his bedtime, but I never miss an opportunity for a "conversation." I know now that these little talks will become even more precious now as I learn about his teacher and friends and school day from afar.

Nicholas got on the bus today. He turned around and waved goodbye to me today. He ventured off into uncharted, exciting, scary territory today. My control-freak instincts kicked in as I reached for my car keys, but I also resisted the urge to drive behind the bus and follow Nicholas to school. I just have to take a leap of faith and hope that those in whose care I have entrusted him do their best to support and protect my son.

It's tough to let go. I have a sinking feeling that it never gets any easier, either.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Lesson in Boasting (and Perseverance)

Nicholas loves trying to convince his little brother that he is more knowledgeable in just about every topic of conversation. It doesn't matter what question Christopher asks, what statement he makes or what tidbit of information comes out of his mouth, Nicholas is right there to correct him. Poor Christopher doesn't know what to do or say half of the time because his big brother unceasingly sets out to prove him wrong.

We were driving to Greenfield Village the other day when Christopher asked me how long it would take to get there. "Oh, about 45 minutes or so" was my answer. Christopher wondered if we should play our "count to 100" game where the boys count to 100 to see how much time has passed. Usually we play the game in restaurants when the boys are getting antsy waiting for their food. I tell them to count to 100 and by the time they are finished their food will come out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it keeps the boys occupied for awhile and helps them practice their counting skills.

During our drive, Christopher commented that if we counted to 200 we would arrive at Greenfield Village. "I think it might take counting a little bit higher than that," I claimed. So, Christopher guessed that maybe it might take counting to 600 before we got to our destination. "Hmmmmn...yes, counting to 600 might just get us to Greenfield Village." Christopher decided that it was too hard to count to 600 and I agreed. It would take a lot of time and counting to get to 600. Nicholas, on the other hand, chided his brother for thinking that counting to 600 was hard. "It's easy to count to 600, Christopher. Geez, what a simple thing to do!"

In Christopher's defense I reminded Nicholas that counting to 600 is actually a hard, not to mention time-consuming, thing to do. "No it's not" he argued. "I'll show you." With that, Nicholas started to count. When he got to 106 and he said, "See, that was easy. Nothing to it. I told you I could do it!" I said, "Nicholas, you just counted to one-hundred and six, not six hundred. In order to count to 600 you would have to count to 100 six times." I watched the smugness on his face turn to confusion as he contemplated that audacious goal. "I think you owe your brother an apology for boasting that you could do something so easily that Christopher correctly decided was tough thing to do."

Nicholas still maintained that counting to 600 was easy. He was not to be deterred. I encouraged him to try knowing full well that he would probably peter out right around the half-way mark. He counted up to 250 before he decided that his task was more enormous than he thought. He tried to blame me for losing his concentration. He started whining a bit and getting agitated. I told him he could quit counting at any time if he just apologized to his brother for his unnecessary boasting. He continued to count.

When he got to 300 I told him he was half-way there. He was getting tears in his eyes at this point and breathing a lot heavier. I had to help him a bit here and there, but he mostly did the counting himself. He tried to skip some numbers but I subtly reminded him of his error to make sure that he was counting every single number. I wouldn't allow any shortcuts for Mr. bossy britches. Again, I reminded him that he could stop counting at any time if he just apologized. He was still crying and trying hard not to show his frustration, but he kept counting.

We pulled into the Greenfield Village parking lot at number 500. Nicholas continued to count and heaved and sighed his way to 600. He finally accomplished his goal. He breathed a deep, profound sigh of relief as he counted his final number. All in all, with a few stops and starts and some do-overs, it took him about 35 minutes to count to 600. I reminded him that I wasn't proud of his boasting and I hope he learned his lesson, but boy did I admire his tenacity. I told him how proud I was of him for sticking with it. His resolve never ceases to amaze me.

In no way, shape or form was Nicholas about to admit defeat. He realized pretty early on that counting to 600 was not easy and I know he wished at some points that he never uttered those boastful words, but in the end he persevered. He reached his goal. He never gave up. People have watched him and commented to me before on his will and sheer determination including his Kindergarten teacher who wrote me a note at the end of the year saying that she could tell, "he is going to do great things in his life." I couldn't agree more. Nicholas just has to realize that actually doing great things is much more satisfactory than boasting about doing great things.

I have been eagerly awaiting the day that Christopher can offer a comment or observation that doesn't come with a big-brother retort. After Nicholas's counting experience, that day just might be closer than I think.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Isn't Common Sense More Common?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. What you see is what you thought before you looked. Stupid is forever, ignorance can be fixed.

Over and over we hear these common phrases that point out, quite simply, common sense will guide you if you are open to seeing things for what they are. Not your perception based on what you think the outcome should be or how it might benefit you better or what your friend said is true. Just recognizing simple facts.

Common sense is defined in Merriam-Websters dictionary as "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts." The operative word being simple. We sometimes take common sense for granted because we really want to believe something other than the facts presented. Employing the KISS principle, "keep it simple, stupid," universally applies to most situations. Taking out all of the extra crap clogging your brain (like other people's opinions) helps. But, if common sense is so simple, why isn't it more common?

Sometimes we just want to believe something other than the facts staring us in the face. We really want to believe we can make unlimited income selling magical acai berry juice. If Joe is doing it, why can't I? We really want to believe that our friend has our best interest at heart and make excuses for each disrespectful or hurtful remark lobbed our way. We really, really want to believe that if we spend a lot of money on lottery tickets sooner or later we have to win. It sounds so easy. But the facts tell a different story. Joe probably got in on the bottom of a pyramid scheme and will make a ton of money off of you selling acai berry juice for him. Not all of our friends are good ones. Some friendships need to be reassessed from time to time to make sure only the genuine get to stick around. And, let's face it, if it were so easy to win the lottery we would all be millionaires.

I'm not sure if common sense is inherent or learned, or a combination of both, but I have to believe that those who use common sense generally trust their own intuition and instinct. Using your own instinct, coupled with a simple perception of the situation or facts, is a win-win situation. Trusting your own instincts, however, can be a hard lesson to learn.

Many times Nicholas has come home and asked me if something is true. Usually the "something" is a far-fetched, ridiculous story concocted by one of his little buddies. Usually, the buddy is trying desperately to impress his friends. And, usually, the story hasn't the slightest chance of believability. But, to a 6-year-old with a vivid imagination, anything is possible.

"Mom, Danny told me today that he ate six hundred licorice sticks all at once and didn't even get sick. Do you think that's true?"

Before I crush his brilliantly imagined scenario with an unequivocal, "there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that Danny ate six hundred licorice sticks. Period." I always try to turn it around and ask Nicholas what he thinks. As in, do you really think that Danny could have consumed six hundred licorice sticks in one sitting? How long would it take to even do that? Can his stomach old six-hundred licorice sticks? Does that even sound feasible?

My questions back to Nicholas serve a few purposes. First, I want him to stop and really think about what he hears and not just believe everything everyone tells him. I can tell him that his friend didn't really wrestle a two hundred pound alligator and live to tell about it or that his friend's dad simply did not land on the moon, but it is much more effective if I ask Nicholas's opinion and he comes to the conclusion all by himself. He wants desperately to believe his friend but most of the time he realizes that some things just don't ring true.

Second, I stress to him that because he is even asking me to validate his friend's allegation he already doubts its believability. If he believed his friend he wouldn't have to ask me what I think. So, in the end, we agree that he has already figured out the allegation was nonsense all by himself. I am happy that he applied simple common sense and he is happy that I think he is a genius. Little by little Nicholas is beginning to understand the concept of trusting his own instincts and using common sense when trying to make sense of the senseless.

Seeing things for what they are and not what we want them to be is tricky. But, it is possible with a little practice. Keep repeating the mantras: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. What you see is what you thought before you looked. Stupid is forever, ignorance can be fixed.

Pretty soon common sense might become more common after all.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Boy and His Shovel


 A version of this essay appears in the online collection of NPR's This I Believe essays. 

We meet our friends at the beach every Tuesday at 10:00 am. Tuesday is our beach day. We pack a lunch and make a day of it. We really don't have that many Tuesdays each summer by the time school gets out in June to before it's back in session early September. So, we make our Tuesday beach days a priority. It doesn't even have to be sunny or particularly warm. As long as a shovel is within reach for the boys, the weather, or anything else for that matter, is hardly a concern.

The beach has a huge toy bin that houses anything from dump trucks to buckets to flotation devices. People bring their toys and leave them in the bin for their return visits or for others to enjoy. I also have a bag of beach toys that I carry in my trunk. It doesn't matter how many creative, ingenious new toys are stacked in my bag or in the toy bin, none can evoke the sheer giddiness of a plain, old shovel. Put a shovel in a boy's hands and he is transformed to a secret world of his own making.

My friend has two boys the exact same ages as mine so the four of them have countless hours of fun on our Tuesday outings. They laugh and play and swim and run, but the most fun they have, hands down, is with a shovel. We marvel at their ability to spend hours digging. They dig and dig and dig. They add water. They dig some more. They add more water. They make rivers that chart undiscovered territories, dams to thwart invasion attempts by mean pirates and innovative paths to outsmart the bad guys. A vivid imagination is a beautiful tool and the shovel its best collaborator.

I am amazed at the quality of play each boy has on our Tuesday jaunts. From morning until afternoon, with a break in between for lunch, the boys are doing what boys do best...conquering. Their feelings of supreme power and strength are evident on each sun-kissed face. As the big shovel gets passed from boy to boy the smiles and smirks and sneers give us a peek into his prowess. With a shovel in hand, anything is possible.

I don't know of any television show, video game, structured day camp, or classroom that can provide the kind of creative, resourceful education the boys dig up each Tuesday. In some form or another each boy is figuring out what his role is in their games of make-believe. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. Sometimes his plans go through without a hitch, sometimes they don't. Sometimes he has to stop and consider the others feelings, sometimes he doesn't. But, most of the time, he is just having fun.

Isn't that what summer, and being a kid, is all about?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vita-Mix

I recently bought a Vita-Mix machine and can I just say it is absolutely awesome? Is it possible to really love a machine? It is and I do.

I looked for about a year at the Vita-Mix at various home shows, websites, magazines and such. I had a friend who owned a Vita-Mix and told me she used it daily. I would live vicariously through her stories of how she made homemade applesauce, smoothies and Butternut Squash soup. I wanted one really, really bad but I just couldn't justify the cost. They are super-duper expensive. However, after a year of salivating over this amazing, turbo-charged blender, I finally broke down and bought one at our local Costco for about $100 less than the website retail price. I could justify a savings of $100 even if it meant spending several more!

I have since made the most delicious sorbets, ice cream, smoothies and whole fruit and vegetable juices. How do I love the Vita-Mix? Let me count the ways.
  1. My kids are learning about whole foods, eating nutritiously and avoiding added sugar. After making a delicious Strawberry Banana Coconut smoothie one morning, the boys and I had a lively discussion about how great food in its natural form tastes. We talk about why on earth companies add extra sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to juice or applesauce when fruit is already naturally sweet? Now, we just puree our own fruits for juices or apples for applesauce and call it a day.

  2. When I ask the kids what they want for breakfast they say, "can I have a Vita-Mix?" Apparently it doesn't matter what I make in the Vita-Mix, they just want some pretty, colorful concoction that comes from it. One morning it was Strawberry/Grape Juice, the next it was Orange/Apple/Carrot juice. Their favorite drink so far is an Apple/Banana/Sweet Potato cooler. They don't even know their favorite drink includes sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes for breakfast...imagine that!

  3. We are adding way more fruits and vegetables to our daily menu than I ever thought possible. I can add spinach to just about anything. It doesn't alter the taste and we get a serving or more of a powerhouse vegetable. One day I made pineapple juice and added spinach. Nicholas wanted to know what I put in his pineapple juice because, as he pointed out to me, pineapple juice isn't green, but I just told him I added a super-secret, muscle-building ingredient. He just shrugged his shoulders and downed the juice no questions asked. Yummy.

  4. My husband now eats breakfast. I make enough of "whatever" to give him a glass on his way out the door.

  5. Cleaning the Vita Mix couldn't be easier. I add a little liquid soap, fill the container with water, turn it on High and run it for about a minute. Presto. Cleaned. Done.

  6. The Vita-Mix has more than paid for itself. If I were to buy a smoothie for all of us, every day, at the grocery or health-food store, it would cost me a small fortune. I will be using this machine for years and have already realized my investment.

  7. I use it daily. Every single day. Sometimes twice a day. I love this machine.

We are now trying things in our drinks that we might never have thought to try. I used to pass right by the Kale and beets and mangoes in the grocery store. Now we have a reason to throw in a new fruit or vegetable or two just to see what it tastes like.

Some concoctions have not worked very well, but we keep trying. If all else fails, add a banana. It makes everything taste better!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sometimes You Just Have to Walk Away

My best friend is getting divorced after 15 years of marriage. UGH. What a drag. This is a pretty low time in her life right now and I feel very badly for both her and her soon-to-be ex. It's never easy to end a relationship, but sometimes the absolute hardest thing we ever have to do in our life turns out to be the best thing we should have done a long time ago.

I remind myself often of a very powerful sentence in the book The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. In it he writes, "To realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation." In the story, an Adulasian Shepard boy travels from Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure. All along the way he is presented with several "omens" or "signs" about his destiny but he doesn't always listen. During his travels he encounters many obstacles from his lack of perspective, but his journey is ultimately successful because he realizes he had the tools to find the treasure all along.

I remember the day I finally recognized a strong omen and made the decision to sever all contact with an ex-boyfriend. We had met in college, dated on and off for about five years and had an extremely tight circle of friends. His friends were my friends and vice versa. Although I knew for a very long time that our incredibly dysfunctional relationship was doomed, I continued the charade of a "relationship" because it was familiar...pure and simple. I knew in the deep, deep pit of my stomach that we were not meant for each other. But I continued to coast and continued to silence my inner voice that was screaming at me to get out.

For years I hushed the voice that said to me, "You deserve better than this. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? What's in it for you?" I put a pillow over the voice and suffocated it so I wouldn't have to face the fact that I was making terrible decisions for myself. He finally met someone else and got engaged, but we kept in contact and continued to exchange Christmas cards. I was even invited to their wedding. I tried desperately to believe that we could actually maintain a friendship because, at the time, that was easier for me to accept than the fact that our relationship had imploded right before my very eyes.

And then, one day, I had one of my shower epiphanies and realized that I needed to just walk away from this whole mess. Cut ties and walk away. No other option existed. I realized that we could never be friends and that it was grossly inappropriate to even try. His life had moved in one direction and I needed to move mine in the exact opposite. Even though some of our mutual friendships suffered and several ended completely, I had to do what was best for me. It was my obligation to realize my destiny attract a better life for myself.

In retrospect, what was an extremely painful decision turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I could never have opened up my life's possibilities by continuing to close the door on my inner voice that was saying, "you will have a better future if you endure this pain today." I finally listened and finally heeded its advice. As a result, my life has turned out better than I could have ever expected. I am still amazed at my good fortune. I met my amazing, wonderful husband, I have two terrific kids and I live a pretty fantastic life. How's that for kismet?

So, I say to my friend today...congratulations for listening to your inner voice. Congratulations for wanting to make a better life for yourself. Congratulations for believing that you are worthy of more. Although it's a painful time in your life and some people will, unfortunately, get hurt in the process, it's a life direction you are supposed to take. You can only prosper by charting your own course and listening to your destiny. If your omens are telling you to walk away, heed the advice and reap the rewards. The rewards are out there and you will find them. I have no idea how long that will take but it's up to you to put yourself on the road that will lead you there.

The best piece of advice the Alchemist shares with the Shepard boy in the story is, "When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person realize his dream." Don't fight it. Listen to your instinct. Shut out the noise.

Trust yourself.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Game On Little Man

Check out a version of this post on the Findlay Area Family website.

I was bamboozled by a 6-year-old. Tricked. Hoodwinked. Duped.

How is that possible? How did I let myself get sucked into the guilt-inducing games of a clever little boy and also, for a brief moment in time, actually think I might have done something terribly wrong? Boy, he's good...he's really good.

Nicholas is starting the "you love my brother more than me" and "I am no good at anything" ridiculousness that drives me nuts. He likes to see how upset I get every time he says, "You hate me!" and I protest for long periods of time trying to convince him otherwise. He likes to see me squirm when he says, "you think Christopher is a better piano player than I am" and I go on for hours about how he is a fine piano player and because of his ability he is always given a harder song to play for his recitals. He loves it when he says, "I am a terrible writer" and I gush about how I love to read his stories and am so impressed with his handwriting and how he is spelling the words so much clearer than before.

Keep in mind that I give praise where praise is due and often when the boys least expect it. I tell them I am proud of them even when they aren't doing the specific thing I am telling them I am proud of. But, I have been feeling kind-of bad lately that, boy, I must have really done something wrong for Nicholas to have such low self-esteem. How is it that he thinks he is bad and stupid and unloved? How did that happen? Where did I go wrong? I know that I give my kids praise. I know that I nurture and respect their differences and different abilities. I know that I offer words and actions of support.

One night after Nicholas got ready for bed and he and I were reading in his room he started acting really goofy and flopping around like a fish. It was time to turn out the lights and go to sleep and he was babbling about how I don't like the way he reads and I hurt his feelings. I was confused and asked him to specifically tell me what he meant. How did I hurt his feelings? His reply was "I don't want to tell you" and that set off the next half-hour of coaxing and cajoling to get him to tell me what was bothering him. He kept repeating that he wasn't going to tell me what I did and I kept insisting that he explain how I hurt his feeling. I needed to know how to remedy the situation but I couldn't do that if I didn't know what was at the root of his feelings. We danced around this until I realized that it was way past his bedtime and we were getting nowhere. Time to turn out the lights.

I was walking with my neighbor the next morning explaining what happened with Nicholas the night before when she said matter-of-factly, "yeah, my kids started that right around Nicholas's age and they still do it now that they are 10 and 12. Not quite as much as when they were younger but they still do it." Started what? Do what?

Try to get as much attention as possible; that's what. Whether it's claiming to love one sibling more than another, announcing that they are no good at anything or declaring that a parent has made them feel really bad about "something" it's clear that these self-absorbed little rascals have stumbled upon a really good way to get lots and lots of attention and push mom's buttons.

As my friend and I were walking and she related some stories to me about the way her kids did (and still do) practically the same thing that Nicholas did the night before I stopped dead in my tracks. I realized instantly that the inane conversation Nicholas and I had the night before had nothing to do with his hurt feelings and everything to do with his desire to keep my attention for as long as possible and avoid going to sleep. It worked. He had my attention and his bedtime was pushed back by at least 30 minutes. Chalk one up for Nicholas.

I felt a lot better after my conversation with my walking friend because I realized that I'm not a bad parent, I just have a clever kid. Now that I am aware that this happens to other people in other families with strikingly similar stories I can feel confident playing the game instead of sitting on the sidelines frantically reading the player's manual.

For example, every night before the boys go to bed they ask me what we are doing the next day or as Christopher puts it "when the sun comes up." I told them the other night that we were taking Grandma Murray to Greenfield Village for the day. It's one of our favorite places and the boys always have a great time.

Nicholas tried earnestly to delay his bedtime that night by insisting that I read what he wrote in his notebook. I let him come downstairs to show me and saw that he wrote "I do not fel lik going to Grenfeld Vilg." Hmmmmnnnn. Don't feel like going to your favorite place? That's weird. I asked him why he didn't want to go and he declared, "I hate Greenfield Village! It's boring." I asked him why it's boring and he said there is nothing fun to do there (which is utter nonsense). I sensed that he was wanting desperately to avoid his bedtime by announcing that the plans I made for the next day were clearly unacceptable to him. So, I told him calmly and simply that since his dad was working from home the next day he could stay home and I wouldn't make him go to the nothing-to-do-boring-dull place. Problem solved.

Only Nicholas did not get the reaction he expected from me and was perplexed. I told him he needed to get back upstairs into bed because it was past his bedtime. He said again that he didn't like Greenfield Village and I said again, simply, you don't have to go to Greenfield Village but you do have to go to bed. My conversation about Greenfield Village was over. He turned to me, stomped his foot and yelled emphatically, "Fine! I'll go to Greenfield Village." His tune changed completely when he realized that I wasn't falling for his shenanigans and that his option to stay home with his working dad wasn't quite as appealing as going out to have fun for the day. Chalk one up for mom.

I can't believe I was hoodwinked before by a 6-year-old, but kids instinctively know how to push buttons. Nicholas especially can zone in with amazing precision on what makes me crazy. Talk like "I'm no good" or "you hate me" makes me nutty because it's simply untrue not to mention unfair. But, I am learning to read his cues a whole heck-of-a-lot better and like the old saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me."

Game on, little man. Game on.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How Did You Get To Be Six?

I write a letter to each of my boys at the end of every month. In the letter I tell them about all of the fun outings we have been on during the month; all the people, places and things that we have seen. Writing my monthly letters serves two purposes; 1) to keep an historical record of their childhood and 2) let them know how much I thoroughly enjoy being their mom.

I shy away from writing too much about the negative (yelling, fights, temper tantrums) but focus more on the quality time that we spend together. I would rather they remember the good times and not the bad when they are older and reminiscing (hopefully with their own kids one day) about things like our trips to Greenfield Village, the science centers or the zoo. I wish I had kept a running tally of how many times we have actually ridden in the Model T cars at Greenfield Village. No one would believe us!

Every once in awhile I get a little down on myself for thinking that I didn't give Christoper the attention I should have when he was animatedly explaining his play date to me or when Nicholas asks for a long bedtime story and I'm trying to convince him that the shorter one is better. The easiest way to get out of that slump is to sit down and read my letters. Page after page describes from the day they were both born how we have spent our days engaged and totally captivated by one another.

I'm not quite sure how so many months and years have passed by already. We were all driving in the car the other day and Nicholas wrote something on his hand with a marker. Mark told Nicholas not to write on his hand with a marker and Nicholas said, "well...you did it Dad." (My husband was on the phone with a customer and needed to write a number down really quick and didn't have any paper. So he wrote on his hand.) Anyway, I said to my husband, "I guess he got you on that one." We had a good chuckle and I said, "really, what do expect a 4-year-old to do?..I mean a 5-year-old...wait a minute...holy crap...he's six!" I laughed when I realized that I still think Nicholas is four or at the very oldest five. I haven't quite grasped the fact yet that he is 6-years-old. It's too mind-boggling.

I sat down with Nicholas the other day and thought it might be fun to read some of his letters together. I did not even get through the first page because the tears were streaming too hard down my face. Just starting off telling Nicholas about the night of his birth brought back so many incredible memories. Hopefully, one day we can get through some more of his letters together without my waterworks display. I don't really see that happening, but I can only hope.

People tell me all the time to enjoy every age and stage because it all goes by so fast. Fast doesn't even begin to describe it. I blinked my eyes and my babies are little boys...no longer babies or even little toddlers. Little boys with boy faces. If I didn't have pictures of Nicholas and Christopher's chubby baby cheeks I might not ever remember them.

But, I have my letters to take me back to those days of first smiles and first steps. I have my letters to remind me that Nicholas used to say "moozget" instead of "music." I have my letters to tell me again how Christopher used to sing "The Owl and the Pussycat" with the sweetest, most angelic voice you have ever heard.

Whenever I get nostalgic about the past I just need to remind myself that I am really looking forward to reading the letters of our stories yet untold.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Keeping It Real

Check out a version of this post at the Hybrid Mom website.

I was staring into the eyes of a strange-looking boy whose face was so contorted with rage and whose fists and teeth were clenched so hard I thought he might explode into a million little bits. His face got redder and redder while under his breath he made inhuman gurgling sounds and looked as if, one-by-one, he popped all of the blood vessels in his face. He was so angry I was convinced if his red face were actually green he might look like the Incredible Hulk did when he was 6-years-old.

Only this was no stranger. It was Nicholas. And, this wasn't an isolated incident. These angry episodes occur over and over again. I never thought I would see the day that my generally mild-mannered son would turn into a livid, unrecognizable creature who foams at the mouth and is unable to articulate a coherent sentence. But, then again, he started school. He spends more time with his friends. And, he turned six. Welcome to my world.

I share this story as a way to reassure others that it happens in my house, too. I have kids who break rules, question authority, scream at the top of their lungs (note to self: stop yelling at boys and model better behavior) fight and act out. It's no surprise that with three fire signs living under one roof things tend to get a little... heated. Nicholas and Christopher are both Aries who according to their astrological description "do not make very good followers because they are too 'take charge.' They may be unwilling to obey or submit to directions for which they can see no reason or with which they disagree." Oh boy. As a Sagittarius I am "impatient and demand too much of people who cannot work at the pace I require." Hmmmnnnn. We are in for a lot of fun times at my house.

Seriously, though, I find it laughable that some parents choose to put on such a false facade of perfection when it comes to their kids. No one is perfect. Not my kids, not your kids, not your neighbors' kids. I always get a good chuckle when I hear a parent say exasperatingly after, for example, a particularly extreme outburst or after their kid said something mean to someone else, "I have no idea why Junior just did that. It has never happened before. Junior never acts this way." Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That is me laughing at the expectation that some parents expect me to believe such poppycock.

I remember an acquaintance of mine who commented to me on how well the boys got along and how nice they play with each other. She has boys right around the same age and was frustrated that, according to her, her boys don't get along as well as mine do or act as well in public. I had to remind her that she only sees my kids occasionally and she has, fortunately, never had the opportunity to spend a day at my house when it's raining and the boys are inside all day and I'm trying to clean the house. Let's just say it is not a pretty picture. I assured her that my boys have their "moments" just like everyone else's and you never know what goes on behind closed doors. It's too easy to compare ourselves to others but what we fail to realize is that it's rarely an apples-to-apples comparison. Too many other factors affect what we "think" we see.

Let me "keep it real" for you. Nicholas still writes his nines and sometimes his twos and threes backwards. He is reading above his grade level, but he has a hard time recognizing the value of coins. He can play complicated piano arrangements, but can't follow two-step instructions like make your bed and brush your teeth. He can be very polite, but his sassy mouth gets him in lots of trouble. He gets very angry that he has to follow some of my rules (when his friends don't have the same rules) and will have to learn the hard way that I am still in charge. Regardless of what new, exciting, forbidden things he is learning in his ever-expanding world, he still needs to know that he has boundaries.

On the other hand, Christopher can be very charming and tells me often that I am beautiful, but he cries and whines waaaayyyyy too much. I thought he might outgrow that phase when he turned four, but I don't see an end in sight. My neighbor half-jokingly told me last summer that he didn't have to set an alarm clock in the morning because Christopher's crying woke him up every day at 8:00 am. Yup. I have that kid. The crier who wakes up the neighborhood. I may not be able to open my windows this summer if Christopher doesn't get it under control.

My boys and I continue to learn about each other, continue to grow and continue to change. I love being at home with my boys and I love that I am witness to their incredible past, present and future. I wouldn't change my circumstances for anything in the world. However, all this parenting and all this change has turned my once brunette hair gray at an alarmingly fast pace. I have good days and I have bad days. But, I am not ashamed to admit that my kids are not perfect and I have long since abandoned the notion that my parenting style requires input from or comparison to others. It is what it is.

I just wish the Incredible Hulk would take up camp in someone else's house. He is really starting to wear out his welcome.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mind the Gap

I usually have profound, life-altering epiphanies while taking my morning shower. I don't know what it is about this particular space and/or time, but it generally happens while I am having conversations with myself and preparing for my day. I'm not a shower singer, I'm a shower talker.

The other morning my epiphany had to do with being cognizant of my ability to either talk myself into our out of a positive experience. We, as human beings and expressors of free will, have the capacity to train our brains to be positive or negative. It really is a choice. However, to be successful in our endeavor we need to remind ourselves, often, of that goal. Sort of like keeping a gratitude journal, or filling (real or imagined) buckets, or whatever else relates to expressions of happiness or joy.

We all have "tapes" we sometimes play in our brain of words or phrases we constantly repeat to ourselves. These words can be things we heard from parents, teachers, spouses, friends, etc. The words can be either positive (such as, "you are successful") or negative (such as, "you will never amount to anything"). Regardless of the source, we play these tapes over and over in our heads until we actually believe the claim. If we tell ourselves something often enough we believe it to be true. The key is to change the tapes from negative to positive and realize that we are in complete control of our own emotions regardless of who said what to whom.

When I lived in London, England after college I used the underground subway (or "tube") as a mode of transportation. When you are waiting for the train to arrive, an automated voice comes over the speakers and repeatedly says, "Mind the Gap." This is simply a warning to stay clear of the space between the platform and the train until the train comes to a complete stop and you can get on. When you first hear the warning you realize you need to be aware of the "gap" and you move appropriately. When you hear the warning for the 6,000th time your brain has already processed this tape so many times that it's not even a conscious effort to mind the gap. The motions to move away from the gap are automatic whether you are even really hearing the automated voice or not.

If we can get to the point where we tell ourselves often enough that we are good or successful or beautiful or whatever, we can get to the point where it's not even a conscious effort to actually say the words, we will simply just believe. It takes time, no doubt, and that time frame is different for everyone. But, the point is to say the positive words. Repeatedly. Again and again. Over and over.

I tell my boys all the time that they have to believe they can accomplish something in order to actually accomplish it. Nicholas will say,"but I can't do this, that or something else" and I say,"I have faith in you. Why don't you have faith in you?" I ask Nicholas to repeat the mantra "I have faith in me" as many times as necessary until he believes he can do it. He needs to make sure that he controls the tapes that are playing in his head before the tapes start to control him. I just have to learn to practice what I preach. I'm working on it.

The other day Nicholas finished some math problems he was having trouble with. He was really proud of himself, as was I because I didn't help him at all. He said, "you know, mom...that was actually pretty easy." I asked him how his solution went from being practically impossible to so "easy." He said to me, grinning from ear to ear like the Cheshire cat, "because I have faith in me." Hallelujah and amen!

What is your "Mind the Gap?"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Filling Buckets

I came across a fabulous book for kids about how to treat other people and how important it is to be nice and kind. The book is called Have You Filled a Bucket Today? and it encourages positive behavior as children see how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation, and love.

This book explains to children that we all carry an invisible bucket in which we keep our feelings about ourselves. When our buckets are full, we are happy; when they are empty, we are sad. We fill our buckets by doing nice things for others such as offer a smile or a helping hand. It's important to know that other people can fill our buckets but we also fill our own bucket when we do something nice for someone else. We can also dip into our own bucket when we are not nice to someone else. The premise of the book is that we want to be "bucket fillers" not "bucket dippers."

I have read this book to my kids several times and they really seem to take the message to heart. They are very inquisitive about why people would do things to dip into someone else's bucket. We have used this book several times as we determine how to be bucket fillers.

What I like about this idea of being bucket fillers is that my kids now have something to aspire to. To just tell my kids to "be nice" or "be kind" or "don't be rude" is one thing. I could explain myself until I am blue in the face, but when I can say something tangible like, "If you tell your friend's mom thank you for a nice party, you will fill her bucket" my kids can actually put into perspective what being kind really means. They envision an actual bucket and someone with a smile on his or her face that they helped put there.

The bucket premise also works wonders for explaining why bucket dippers really hurt someone's feelings and how being rude is not acceptable. When we eat breakfast and one boy interrupts the other or calls names or doesn't say please and thank you, I can say something concrete like, "please don't interrupt your brother and be a bucket dipper." I see a light bulb go on. Bingo. They get it.

Christopher gets very upset when he thinks he has dipped in my bucket. If I have to repeat something to him several times or he doesn't do as I ask, I simply tell him that he is emptying my bucket. He does not like to empty mommy's bucket and gets very upset. He cries and says, "I didn't mean to empty your bucket, mommy. I'm sorry." Bingo. He gets it.

I'm not saying that discussing buckets is a panacea for all of my kids' transgressions. Sometimes I talk about bucket dipping and am met with blank stares and glazed expressions or rolled eyes. Eye rolling is a serious bucket-dipping offense! My kids do still push boundaries and take everything to the limit (just as they are expected to do). They can sometimes be bucket dippers more than bucket fillers. But we have made great progress in our quest to consider the feelings of others, treat others how we expect to be treated and understand the consequences of our actions.

All thanks to a little bucket.

Friday, March 20, 2009

OK, So I'm Not Controller of the Universe

I surrender. I wave the white flag. I admit defeat and sadly relinquish my self-proclaimed title of Controller of the Universe. I am annoyingly reminded (way too often) that I am not actually Controller of the Universe, so I am just going to stop trying so hard to make sense of the senseless. My Controller of the Universe moniker needs to change to something more realistic like...Controller of a Few Random Things Here and There.

I am a planner and, I admit, a bit of a control freak. As such, I like things to be a certain "way," in a certain order, and in some kind of logical system. My theory has always been that the better prepared I am for...well...anything really, the better outcome I will personally have regarding said thing. I don't think it's too much to ask for a prepared person to be rewarded with her desired outcome? Guess again.

As Controller of the Universe I put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything in my life go as smoothly as possible, unwavering in my preparedness. I plan, I edit, I plan again, I edit again, I tweak, I twist, and I end up with what I think is a feasible solution. Whew! That took some effort! I work out the kinks and forge ahead. The problem is, things don't always go according to my plan. I have had it up to my eyeballs with things not going according to my plan.

For example, I had a "birth plan" before Nicholas was born, as any ridiculously prepared pregnant woman would do. I listed everything from labor and breastfeeding preferences to what music to play in the delivery room. Because I diligently studied my breastfeeding options, I was adamant that my child be put to my breast immediately after birth and not be given a bottle. That is what the book said so that is what I was prepared to do. Under no circumstances should my baby be given a bottle. I will breastfeed. It was in my birth plan. Mothers everywhere, including myself, are laughing hysterically at the naive young girl who thought she actually retained even a modicum of control after childbirth. Control? Ha! A birth plan? Ha! Ha!

I was in labor for 22 hours and Nicholas was not progressing. He was already six days late as it was...this kid did not want to come out. Time to prep for a c-section. Wait a minute? Prep for what? A c-section was not in my birth plan. Where is my birth plan? WHY ISN'T ANYONE READING MY BIRTH PLAN? After they whisked me off to the operating room and cut me open like a fillet of fish a beautiful baby boy was born. I did not see beautiful baby boy for two more hours because they knocked me out with more anesthesia after I screamed hysterically that I didn't think I was supposed to feel anything. I felt alot of everything.

My first words, which I slurred incoherently after awakening from drug dreamland, were, "...don't...give...baby...bottle." Even in a half-drug-induced state, I was worried about my birth plan. My husband came in to inform me that the nurses gave Nicholas two bottles since his birth because I was knocked out and could not feed him. Seriously, did anyone read my birth plan?

I planned to breastfeed because that is what all ridiculously prepared new mothers do. That was my plan. I read the books, I practiced with dolls, I had it mastered. Even though Nicholas was given a bottle for his very first suckling experience, I was not deterred. That is until almost two weeks later when I finally admitted that breastfeeding for us was not the mother-baby bonding rapture that other mothers experience. After many, many futile attempts I bought a breast pump and mechanically squeezed breast milk into bottles to feed my baby for the next six months. I could have fed a small village with the amount of extra milk I produced. The extra milk ended up in the freezer, but thawed to completely unusable portions after the electrical Blackout of 2003. Thank goodness I had an adapter for my breast pump because I spent the next three days filling my bottles back up in the front seat of my car, in the garage, in the dark. Really, really, not part of my plan.

I was convinced with my second child that I could master the breastfeeding thing. Because I was scheduled for a c-section I knew that my husband would have to be my eyes and ears in the operating room and tell my doctors to not, under any circumstances, give my baby a bottle. I will breastfeed, dammit! After Christopher was born they whisked him away to the ICU because he had low-blood sugar. For the next two days he was fed via a bottle. So much for my plan.

When Nicholas was ready to start Kindergarten, I filled out all of the necessary paperwork, quizzed my neighbors about teachers, took my son to the school to get a feel for his new academic surroundings and talked to him about riding the bus with his neighbor friends. He was ready and I was prepared. Three weeks later I got a notice that our district changed its Kindergarten curriculum from part-time to full-time. What? He ended up going to a different school that offered the part-time hours and I ended up driving him every day. Clearly the Superintendent did not consult the Controller of the Universe for any input before making such a drastic change. The nerve!

Christopher has been prepared to go to the same preschool as his brother. He told everyone all year that he is going to the "red" school in the fall and Ms. Holly will be his teacher. We were both eager for Christopher's new adventure and talked about Ms. Holly and the red school all the time. Well, Ms. Holly had a difference of opinion with the board of the preschool and is no longer teaching there. No more Ms. Holly. No more red school. That was not part of my plan.

Now that I think about it, my Controller of the Universe status seriously started to deteriorate the moment I got pregnant and had kids. Not much of anything I plan now comes off without a hitch. I have to rework my plans continuously and without much of a break. I live through constant bombardments of "...what the hell just happened?"

So, I have come to terms with fact that, contrary to my own popular belief, I am not Controller of the Universe. I am not controller of much of anything else for that matter. I have been reminded on too many occasions that I am a tiny dot, a small crumb, a "who" living on a infinitesimal speck of dust in this immensely huge world of ours.

I vow to try, from this day forward, to give myself a break, not take myself too seriously, go with the flow, do some yoga, meditate and take more deep breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

That is my new plan.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This Isn't About You

Christopher and I walk Nicholas into his school each day as part of our morning routine. I enjoy walking with Nicholas to his Kindergarten classroom and Christopher enjoys feeling like one of the "big kids" as he rushes down the hall with all of the other hurried kids who have places to go, things to do and people to see.

The other morning in our car, Nicholas looked at me and said, "Mom, do you think you could just drop me off at the front door and not come into the school today?" Uh oh. The day I have been dreading. Please, please, please don't say what I think you just said! I'm sure I must have misunderstood the question...

I said, "hmmmnnnn, so....Nicholas, why can't we walk into the school with you today?" He replied, "Well, I just really want to go in by myself. I can do it, mom. I can do it by myself."

Yikes. I am sort-of a liar when I say that I want my kids to be independent. I secretly want them to depend on me at least a little while longer. Just a little while. Is that so bad? Is that so wrong? All these years I have encouraged my kids to learn to be independent and do things by themselves without realizing that the day would come too damn quick when they decide they want to walk into school by themselves. What's next? Asking for my car keys?

I composed myself, took a deep breath and thoughtfully looked at my son trying in vain to invoke his compassion gene. I tried to explain my position. "Nicholas, I know you can walk into school by yourself. I know you can find your room. I know you are capable. I know you are ready. But, this isn't about you. It's about me and my incredibly selfish desire to walk with you into school each and every day because this is the last year that I can. Next year you will ride the bus to 1st grade and I won't be able to walk with you at all anymore. This is 100% totally and blatantly about me holding your hand just a little bit longer." I decided that the direct approach was best; here is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Nicholas being his reflective self, pondered my request for about a millisecond. "Mom, I really want to go in by myself." Well...what else could I say? I stated my case and it was dismissed. I kissed him outside the school door and Christopher and I waved as we watched him walk in unaccompanied. We stared at his backpack that heaved with each step until Nicholas turned the corner and disappeared.

The next time we drove to school, Nicholas did not say a word about going in alone. He was content to walk in with his brother and me, holding hands just as we have done day in and day out for the past several months. He did what he needed to do, accomplished his solo-entrance goal and now was offering to resume the routine that satisfied all parties involved. I hugged Nicholas profusely at the corner by his Kindergarten room and whispered, “thank you, buddy. Have a great day!”

Nicholas might not realize that he did something special that day. He might not realize how important our routine is to me. But, sometimes we just need to do things for people that we might not necessarily want to do. Sometimes we need to appreciate that someone else’s needs outweigh our own. Sometimes we take and sometimes we give. By giving unselfishly we gradually build our reserves so that one day we can withdraw from our karmic bank account without regret.

Nicholas was obviously the giver and I the taker, but I don’t feel any guilt or shame. As a parent, I have made numerous deposits in my karmic bank account to justify this small withdrawal. If Nicholas was even remotely determined to continue his solo entrance I would have relented. But, I believe that Nicholas was also secretly relieved to continue on with our morning ritual.

Not that he would ever say that out loud.

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