Posted in Friday Rambles

The Best of Times; The Worst of Times

This week, my son is attending overnight camp for the first time.  He packed his bag, and then I re-packed it for him (i.e. folded up the crumpled clothes that had been stuffed in).  I did a mock set-up of his camp bed with him on the basement floor, because I was worried he wouldn’t know what to do with his sleeping bag once he got there.  I reminded him about sunscreen, and to drink plenty of water.  He just finished another level of swimming lessons, so if he falls in the river by accident without a life jacket, he should know what to do.

As he boarded the bus, I wondered what had gotten into me: allowing a stranger to drive my child all that way.  Were there even seatbelts in there?

I followed him onto the bus to make sure he’d found a place and looked comfortable.  There he was, smiling and bright-eyed, sitting beside one of his cabin leaders (another stranger…he seems like a stand-up guy, but still).

Truth is, I do believe that he’ll be fine.  But there’s another question afoot, underneath all of the careful preparations, and the making-sure-he’s-ok’s: What about…me?

It has gotten me to thinking about an empty nest.  Somewhere down the road, the day is coming.  I do look forward to, hopefully, having more time for myself.  Pursuing ambitions and leisure activities.  Hanging out with my husband the way we used to (if we will still know how).  Maybe, I’ll even keep a clean house.

But, along with the sacrifices I made when I became a parent, I also received something that has been extremely fulfilling.  I became a little child’s favorite.  There’s just nothing like it!  Teachers, babysitters, and even grandparents don’t necessarily receive that distinguished place in a child’s heart.  I may not acknowledge it every day, but being a parent has given me a great sense of purpose.

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About a year ago, I remember walking back to our car after a day at the beach with my two boys.  I hung on to a circular floatation toy and fought the wind to keep it, while carrying life jackets and a bag of gear in my other hand.  My youngest, who was one, toddled away and I attempted to reign him back in.  My oldest, who was seven, cried and screamed to stay longer, and I tried to appease him by saying we could come back another time.

A middle-aged couple eyed me, chuckling, and the man commented, “Oh, I remember that.”

“Ah, yes,” I replied with a sigh, “I suppose, when it’s done, I’ll miss it.”  I was anticipating the usual “this is the best time of your life”/ “enjoy it while it lasts, they grow up so fast” commentary.  (Which is mildly guilt-provoking, no?  Because honestly, this doesn’t always feel like the best time of my life.)

To my surprise, the man shook his head and said assuredly, “No.”  And they went on to say something about their grandchildren, whom they obviously loved and enjoyed.  But there was no guilt-ridden speech.  They loved their kids, and remembered when they were little.  But on that particular day, they were quite simply enjoying the fact that they didn’t have to take care of anyone but themselves.

I found this encounter refreshing, and encouraging.  Because when I’m told that this is the best time of my life, and in the meantime I’m exhausted, frustrated, frazzled, living in a mess that doesn’t seem to stop, and can’t even remember who I was before this all started…it seems a hopeless thing to say that this is as good as it gets.

Every season, I suppose, has its joys and aggravations.  Thank God that the blessing of children is so indescribably beautiful to a human heart, because otherwise, how would we put up with the perpetual discomfort and inconvenience that they cause?  And when the season of raising them is over, we gain back some of our old freedoms and luxuries.  But we lose something, too.  Something that sparkles brighter, in our memories, than all of the things we gave up: We were their favorite.  Taking care of their needs, and sharing thousands of moments with them, infused our lives with greater meaning.

And perhaps that is why, when the season ends, empty nesters may watch frazzled young parents with a degree of envy.  And sigh, and say those ridiculous things.

Who knows?  Maybe, one day, I’ll say them too.

“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’  For it is not wise to ask such questions.”  Ecclesiastes 7:10

What’s your favorite thing about being a parent?  Are you an empty-nester?  (What’s that like?)  I would love to hear your perspective in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

Mom Fail Number 99

How long would it take me to reach 99 failures as a mom?  Two weeks?  One week?  A day?

Sometimes, the reality that I’ve been entrusted with two young lives seems like a wild idea.

We all got sunburn today.  All my life, people have chirped in my ear about sunburn, sunscreen, and skin cancer.  My mom used to make me wear SPF 15 on my face every day, because I was ‘fair.’  You’d think I would have gotten the idea.

I suppose it would be rare to go through life never having had a sunburn.  But when my babies’ beautiful, plump, flawless, pristine skin gets scorched – at the hands of my own neglect, no less – it really, really bugs me.

My line of reasoning went something like this:

“I’ve forgotten the sunscreen.  I should go back and get it.  But no, I don’t want to.  We don’t have time, and I’m sure we’ll be fine.  We’ll be submerged in water.  It will all wash off anyway and contaminate the pool water.  We’ll take breaks in the shade.

Besides, look how nice other people’s kids look with their brown skin.  I’ve heard sunscreen is bad for you.  We should build up our skin’s natural resistance and get a nice, gradual tan.”

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that my skin is about as pasty, white, and prone to sunburn as it will come.  And my kids aren’t much different.

Failing, I suppose, is normal.  And yet, it always seems to catch me off-guard.

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Recently I witnessed a friend of mine in the midst of one of her self-described ‘mom fails.’  A group of us moms were getting together at my house.  Half an hour after everyone else had arrived, she was nowhere to be seen.  Because she was in her car.  In my driveway.

Fighting with her kids.

Trying to convince them to come inside, when they wanted absolutely nothing to do with the whole thing.

She gave up, took them home to their dad, and showed up at my house almost an hour late.  Her eyes looked wet, and her eyelids were a little puffy, like she’d been crying.

“I can handle 28 girls,” she said (she manages a hair salon), “but I can’t handle 2 boys?”

Although I understood her sentiment (having felt similarly obtuse, on several occasions, with my boys), I could not see what she was seeing.

Because when I look at her, I see a woman who is nearly perfect.  Who handles whatever life throws at her, with grace.  Who cares about others more than I thought was humanly possible.  Who never misses a great teachable moment with her children.  Who oozes peace, strength, humility, and servanthood.

What if, instead of only counting failures, we also took some notice of the things we are doing right?

So yes, we got sunburn.  But I had raced around the grocery store that morning and done the shopping in record time, so we would have time for fun in the afternoon.  I had beamed with pride as my 8 year-old swam all the way across the pool during his swimming lesson, without touching bottom.  I had held my 2 year-old up on the public toilet seat so he could go, wiped his little bottom, and then washed his brown-streaked shorts in the sink with my bare hands.  I had overcome my body insecurities to don a swimsuit in front of God and man, stayed within an arm’s reach of my toddler at all times, and kept a watchful eye on his brother (praying for safety) as he flailed around with his friends.  The two of them went to bed tonight content, and worn out from play and learning and stimulation and fun, with full tummies and clean clothes on their backs.

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I don’t think we should ignore failures.  I think that we should take note, learn, and do differently next time.  Personally, I pray a lot: for mercy; for grace.

But, for every one failure, there may be 99 ways that you have gotten it right.  (Or, at least, had your heart in the right place.)  I would be willing to bet.

What’s your latest mom fail?  I’d love to hear about it. 😁

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Momming Hard Mondays

Free Printable Chore Chart for Kids (Pre-schoolers and Pre-readers)

Hello, friends!  Today I am sharing another free printable: a chore chart for kids.  Since it uses only picture symbols, and there is nothing to read, it is best suited for preschoolers and pre-readers.  There are 3 duties on the chart, which are to be marked off with either a check-mark or a sticker, each day of the week.  The 3 duties, represented by the picture symbols, are:

  • feed the pet,
  • pick up toys, and
  • obedience and respect towards parents.

(It should be fairly obvious which duties correspond to which symbol.)

There is also a column in which you may tally up the week’s total of check-marks/stickers (or the amount of allowance/reward earned) for each particular duty.

I made this chart several years ago, when my husband and I decided to start giving an allowance to our son, as a motivator to keep his attitude in check and help in small ways around the house.

According to my foggy recollection of learning about behavioural psychology all those years ago, this would qualify as a classic ‘token system.’   Teachers, parents, and therapists use these kinds of techniques all the time to motivate children, and they can be quite effective.  However, they’re not fail-proof.

With my son in particular, we ended up phasing out this system after a time.  Initially, it was successful.  But eventually he came to realize that, along with the possibility of being rewarded, there was a possibility that he could fail.  This seemed to cause him stress, and his behaviour worsened.  When we removed the chart (actually, he tore it in two) and stopped harping about it (but still required the same behaviours), he became more relaxed and obedient.  Perhaps, by then, we had made our point.

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If you are looking to introduce your preschooler or kindergartner to the concept of having a few daily responsibilities, a chart and reward system such as this one could provide the small amount of structure and inspiration that you need.  However, it is important to carefully observe your child’s responses, and shift or modify your strategy when needed.

The preschooler whom I designed this chart for is now 8 years old.  I no longer give him an allowance.  He is required to pick up his toys at least once per week, but other than that, he probably helped more with cleaning when he was little than he does now.  When you’re 3, it can be great fun to put dishes away and play around with a mop bucket.  Not so when you reach school age and the novelty of such things has worn off.

However, he’s been reminding me repeatedly in the past few days that he would love to have a skateboard.  His birthday is not until next spring, and Christmas is still a ways off, so I’ve suggested that maybe we should dust off this old concept of ‘allowance’.  Saving up for a skateboard seems like a perfect motivator to learn more advanced household skills, such as:

  • vacuuming the floors,
  • folding laundry,
  • loading the dishwasher,
  • cleaning the bathroom,
  • taking out the garbage, or
  • dusting.

While discussing this possibility, he asked me if I could make him a chart!  So perhaps the old one had made a positive impression, after all. 😉

Once again, here is the link to the chart if you would like to take a look or use it:

Chore chart for kids

Do you give your kids allowance?  What’s your system?  I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

Today Can Be Wonderful

Isn’t that a cheesy and idealistic title?  If you are like me, you will have passed right by.

Naturally, my tendency is to worry, and project imagined, negative outcomes long into the future.  I will wake up in the morning and think, “What am I doing with my life?  Will I ever be able to get a job after all this time spent at home?”  I will look at my kids and wonder, “Are we messing them up?  Are they developing to their fullest potential, or do they need more – vacations, extra-curricular activities, quality time…omega-3 fatty acids??”

At the very least, I’m not one to close my eyes and ignore the difficulties of life, in favour of a whitewashed, artificial, ‘positive’ outlook.

But a friend of mine recently told me about a technique she learned from a counsellor, that she calls 3-3-3.  Very simply, it is an exercise in which you thank God for: 3 things you can see, 3 things you can touch, and 3 things you can hear.  I tried it, and my mood improved.  I felt calmer.

I had practiced intentional thanksgiving in the past: thank you for my family; thank you for my health; thank you for my coffee maker; etc.  And yes, that helped too, but I felt there was something unique about the “see,” “touch,” and “hear” component.  What was it?

I think that by focusing on see, touch, and hear, you pull yourself out of your fearsome imaginings and bring your mind back into the present moment.  Back to today.  Look around you!  And listen, and feel – all of the things you have been ignoring, because you were so busy stressing about things that have not yet happened (and probably never will).

More than likely, you will come to the conclusion that: there actually are wonderful things all around you.  And no, not every day can be wonderful.  But many of us are privileged enough that the vast majority of days can be, if we will only open up our senses.  (Maybe sometimes, it’s good to be a little short-sighted.)

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There’s a woman living on my street who has the bubbliest, friendliest personality, and the most infectious giggle, that you could ever imagine.  She’s one of the first people I met when we moved here.  She’s probably the first person everyone meets!  Because, that’s just the way she is.

After our morning chats at the school bus stop, she will often send me away with an exuberant salutation: “Have a wonderful day!”

I have often heard people say: “Have a nice day.”  I’ve grown accustomed to it.  But here she is, with the nerve to speak of a “wonderful” one!

It got me to thinking.  Could today be wonderful?

And you know what?  Most days, I wake up to a fresh pot of coffee that my husband has brewed.  To healthy, joyful children bounding around the room and climbing up on my bed.  To warm sun on my face, or crisp, cool air in my lungs.  And to many other great things that I can see, hear, and touch.

I cannot know or control what will happen in the next 10 or 20 years.  But yes, today can be wonderful.  And probably, tomorrow can be too.

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34

Do you struggle to live in the moment?  I would love to hear your perspective in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Momming Hard Mondays

Easy, Breezy Iced Coffee

Recently, my husband and I were at McDonald’s (dollar drink days!) and he bought me an iced coffee.  Although I’m a huge coffee drinker, I had never really gotten into the iced variety (maybe because I’m already always cold). 😉

To my surprise, I really enjoyed it!  And since I realized how easy a great iced coffee is to make at home (and probably even cheaper than $1), I haven’t stopped guzzling them.

Here’s my oh-so-simple recipe:

Ingredients:

  • Strong brewed coffee (preferably cooled)
  • Ice (duh!)
  • Sweetened/flavoured coffee whitener (such as Coffee Mate)
  • 35% cream/whipping cream (why be skimpy?)
  • Milk

Directions:

Fill a glass about halfway with ice.  Add the brewed and cooled coffee, again until about the halfway mark.  Pour in a *splash* (technical term) of coffee whitener, and another splash of the 35% cream.  Fill the glass the rest of the way with milk, and stir it up.

Adjust all of the amounts to suit your preference.  I also use lactose-free milk in mine, because, well…you know.

I’m thinking of making a large jug of this concoction next week, when I plan to have a few ladies over.  Do you think they’ll like it?

If you make it, let me know in the comments what you think!

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

Vitamin D O.D.

I love summer.  I love the warmth, the sunshine, the vitamin D, the fresh fruits and vegetables, the activities, and the scenery.  I love the time with my kids and making memories with them.  (You can read more about all that in this post.)

But here I am, just over a week in, and feeling completely overwhelmed.  My head is swimming with everything I am trying and wanting to do.  I’m stressing about whether I’ll miss something on my summer ‘bucket list’ and deprive my children of some grand experience.  I’m trying to stay on top of my cleaning schedule in the midst of it all.  And did I mention that I’m potty training my youngest this week?  (We’re going hardcore this time – cold turkey on the diapers.  I suppose I’ll let you know how that goes.)

The biggest problem with becoming so overwhelmed is that my kids usually bear the brunt of it.  This morning, I certainly wasn’t the patient mama that I strive to be.  Sure, they were misbehaving, but I could have kept my cool a lot better if I hadn’t been feeling so stressed out.

Amongst the many things I am trying to do, I’m keeping a few plants in my backyard.  I have two planter boxes for vegetables.  Today, it was time to thin out the carrot and dill plants.  I’ve learned in my short years of vegetable growing a simple yet profound truth: less, is more.

I absolutely hate thinning them out.  I’ve watched them from before they were sprouts, and now, they’re perfectly good plants.  However, by the time I am done, I will have uprooted more than half of them.

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My itty bitty garden

And why do I do this?  So the few that are left can flourish, have room to grow, and bear more fruit than they would have if they were crowded out by countless others.

Life is a LOT like that.  If I try to do too much with my kids over the summer, we won’t have room to enjoy any one thing to its fullest potential.  Stress, exhaustion, and worry will crowd out the fruit that I am trying to grow: joy, positive interactions, rest, and renewed health.

Tomorrow, I will have to tell myself to simmer down.  I know I’ve got to let some stuff go.  I pray that I choose well – what to keep and nurture, and what to uproot.

How’s your summer going?  Do you have a ‘bucket list’?  Are there things that you are having to let go of for the time being?  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

One of the things I remember from prenatal class was when the teacher said: “You cannot do everything, well.”  I have also heard it said: “Women can do it all.  Just not all at the same time.”

And boy, have I ever found these to be true in my life.

After having my first child, I really tried to cover all the bases on my own steam.  I tried to keep up a successful and current career, keep a clean house, cook all our meals, and spend tons of time with my child.  All by myself.

But I couldn’t.  It tumbled down pretty quick.

I really loved my job.  But, I felt bitter about it when I came home to a dirty disaster of a house, and had to scramble for meals for the family to eat.  I also began to feel disconnected from my child, and worried that if I continued on that path, I would miss out on the precious years of him being little.  Years that I would never be able to get back.

I remember, coming to a crossroads.  The term position I had was ending, but I had been offered another one.  It was the sort of job that I would have never dreamed of having.  It really fed the part of me that craved significance, value, purpose, creativity, and excitement.

But, I was starting to realize that while I worked at a job, there was another full-time job at home and with my kids being left undone.  If I were to continue working outside the home, someone needed to help with all the other stuff.  I sat down at the kitchen table and crunched the numbers.  I knew that I would need to pay for housecleaning, and childcare, if I were to take the job.  However, if I stayed with a smaller 1-day-per-week contract, I would be able to do my own housecleaning, and my son would only need daycare one day per week.

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It may not surprise you, that both options were about equal from a financial standpoint.  So, I chose to stay home and keep a side-hustle that wouldn’t use too much time or energy.  I wanted to spend my days with my kids while they were little, rather than apart, if I had a choice.

The decision of whether to stay home or not is a pretty big deal.  (And let us remember that to even have the option of staying home is a privileged position.)  But since it can be such a difficult decision to make, today I am sharing the things that I considered at the kitchen table that day.  If you are in the same situation right now, I hope the following thoughts will help you.

  • Finances:
    • Can your family afford to live on one income?  Are there things about your life that you will have to change?  Are you all willing to make those changes?  (We eventually ended up selling our house and moving.)
    • What will you need help with if you go to work?  (Housecleaning, childcare, cooking, driving or dropping off children, yard work, etc.)  Who will help you?  Will you have to pay them?  What will this cost?
    • What do you expect to make from your job?  What is left over after paying for the additional expenses you will incur by working?  (Paid housecleaners, childcare, fuel and vehicle expenses, clothing, memberships, other work expenses, etc.)
  • Quality of life:
    • What will your child or children experience while you are away at work?  Will the childcare situation be beneficial and stimulating for them, or stressful and exhausting?
    • How will you keep up relationships with the people that matter?  (Husband, children, other family members, friends, etc.)  Will you have enough time and energy to spend on them?
    • What do you and your family need or want in terms of – household cleanliness, meals, vacations, extra curricular activities, etc.?  How will you best achieve this?
    • What will your own schedule look like, realistically?  Will you thrive on this schedule, or will you be exhausted?
    • Is your job a valuable outlet that you will miss?  (For creativity, socializing/networking, academic stimulation, energy, etc.)  How will you fill this void if you decide to stay home?
  • Professional development:
    • Would having a job right now help you advance professionally?  How?
    • Would staying at home cost you, professionally?  How?  (Loss of: learning, promotion, status, income, etc.)  Would you be able to recover from this loss?  Are you willing to make these sacrifices?
    • Is there a way that you could keep your career going on a part-time basis?  (Reducing your role at work, working from home, starting a small side business, etc.)

While I took all of the above considerations into account, I do remember a pivotal moment when my decision was made, before I even acknowledged it consciously.  After explaining my position to a wiser, older woman whom I trusted (but who was not personally invested in the situation), she did something very bold.  She told me what she thought!  She said:

“Usually, it’s better for the children if the mother stays home.”

And I just couldn’t argue with that.  How could it not be better during those pivotal years, for my kids to have time at home with the one woman who loves them the most in all the world?

I understand that every family is in a different position.  There are families where fathers are able to spread themselves out more between work and kids, and then the wife does the same.  There are families who just can’t afford to live on one income, and if it’s a matter of eating or not eating, they do what they have to do.  There are families with grandparents who are able and willing to watch the kids for a few hours a day.  There are families who thrive on a lot more activity and stimulation than my family and I can manage.

Whatever your situation, there will be benefits and drawbacks.  I’ve seen kids thriving at home, and at daycares.  I’ve also seen the opposite…at home, and at daycares.  If you pay attention to how your kids are doing, make the best choices that you can within the options available to you, and ask for help when you need it: they will thrive.

Is this a decision you have made or are making?  Where’re you at?  How’s it going for you?  Tell me about it in the comments section.

Warm wishes,

Lisa