Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. —Ellen Goodman
When it come to holidays, I like to go full-out! I love traditions…the habits and rituals that create memories (both good and bad, but especially MEANINGFUL) and serve to connect families and friends to the past, present and the future. Equally as important, I enjoy sharing where, why and how the traditions came about. So for the last month, my family has endured all of my favorite stories about Halloweens past. I share these little gems, not just for myself (okay, maybe just for myself) but also as a way to join together my childhood experiences, a little history, some faith/religion and finally…to secretly instill some expectations and wisdom upon my kiddos. And you thought I just hung out in my kitchen baking cookies all day :)
Seriously, I think one of the most effective tools in parenting (and a number of other categories) is the personal testimony. That’s why I like telling Sean and Casey all about my Halloween adventures–successes and epic fails (age appropriate, of course.) Everything from what costumes we donned (not ashamed to admit that I was Bat Girl more than once) to trick or treating in the neighborhood to visiting my great grandmother’s house (for peanuts and apples) to haunted houses and everything in between. We compare and contrast classroom parties, popular candy (then and now), real (and not so real) ghost stories all while asking questions and googling Halloween history. Together we’ve learned a lot! And the payoff comes when the kiddos are just as invested in the traditions as I am :)
I would say that I get my love of Halloween from my Dad. He was the first adult (outside of teachers) that I can remember dressing up for Halloween on a regular basis. Dad likes his costumes to be scary, and while that’s not my cup of tea, I have many memories of his gory masks and spooky get-ups. He would help us carve pumpkins and Mom would work on roasting the pumpkin seeds. At the time, pumpkin patches weren’t a part of our Halloween experience…but we looked forward to the carving nonetheless. We didn’t use fancy stencils or patterns and our primitive carving tools could have easily sent one of us to the ER (fortunately it never came to that!) Today, my family looks forward to our annual trip to “the patch” (which my son tells me doesn’t sound quite right) and choosing our own pumpkins from a giant field of orange and green. Over the years, I have amassed a great deal of pumpkin carving supplies and we make an event out of the whole thing…complete with spooky music courtesy of Pandora. This year we added hot dogs and s’mores to the occasion. It’s one of my favorite days of the year (and someday I will master those pumpkin seeds, too!)
The traditions go way beyond the pumpkin patch and the carving. We decorate the house, reminisce over old Halloween photos and spend countless hours discussing, shopping and creating Halloween costumes. The costumes have become one of our best-loved parts of the season. Fortunately, my kids aren’t into scary and with a little imagination and planning, they’ve managed to come up with some pretty creative costumes over the years. And while I’ve quietly lobbied for the “family” costume, I am afraid that ship has sailed. For some years, however, I was able to finagle the kiddos into coordinated costumes, but my luck eventually ran out there, too :(. Oh well. There’s plenty of fun in sharing stories about past costumes, who we went trick or treating with (family or friends,) where we were living at the time and surprisingly no one ever seems to mention the candy.
Typically we watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” once (sometimes twice) each October and I marvel at the questions the kids come up with. When they were younger, they needed help with the character’s names and who was related to whom. Now they ask why Lucy is so mean, how come Charlie Brown can’t get a break, and what Snoopy’s role as the Red Baron is really all about. This year I had to explain that bobbing for apples was a real thing and we discussed some of the reasons why that tradition didn’t carry on (gross.) We marvel at Schroeder’s piano playing skills, discuss party invite etiquette and basically feel bad for Linus.
As the children have grown older, Halloween has included a faith dialogue as well. We talk about the early history of the holiday…a time when pagan superstitions and overall fear fueled the observance. Picture a people who warily watched the seasons change and anxiously retreated into a time of the year when no crops grew, the weather was particularly harsh and their survival depended upon the work that had been done in the warmer months. Harvest really was a reason to celebrate as they prepared for months of cold and uncertainty. Can you imagine how they were compelled to turn to a number of gods for protection and provision? Warding off evil lent itself to carving scary faces on gourds and trees and displaying these items on their doorsteps. And what about trick or treating? A custom that spans ancient beliefs, religious practices and morphed into a “pseudo-war” between the haves and have-nots before becoming the family friendly outing that we now know.
It’s November 1st and costumes lie crumpled up on the floor, candy wrappers dot the tabletops, and tired looking eyes stare up at me. And while the whole Halloween adventure culminates in one day, I realize that it’s not the holiday itself that means so much to me–it’s actually the whole season. We’ve been gearing up, preparing for, talking about and making plans for a whole month. Through it all we’ve carved out special (additional!) time together…outside of mealtimes and the occasional quiet evening. We’ve cooked and baked together. We’ve shopped together. We’ve attended school parties together. We’ve enjoyed nature together. And it feels good. I know these seasons are fleeting. Before long, their Halloween plans won’t include me. The kids are growing up so fast and that probably scares me more than any creepy costume on Halloween. For now I hold onto the imagination and creativity of the season. I look forward to the cooler temperatures and the rustling of leaves and my mind wanders (unafraid) to the approaching season that seems to draw us closer (even if it only is for warmth :) ) The traditions abound and yes, I can still taste the caramel apples that sweeten this already favored season.
There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch. ~Robert Brault
Did you vote? Or did you “rock the vote?”
Either way on this post-election Wednesday I am enjoying the quiet. As I sip coffee I am mindful of the fact that my phone is eerily and peacefully quiet (yes, we still have a landline!) No longer am I the recipient of ten thousand political robocalls…none of which I ever listened to from start to finish…that is if I even picked up! It was so bad that my children would even groan when the phone rang. The Caller ID (yeah, I still have that, too) flashed phone numbers from around the country. Some robocalls even left messages for me…I didn’t know that they could do that? When an actual “live” person was on the line, they only wanted to know which way I was voting. Sounded like I trap to me. I politely told the fella that I hadn’t decided and that must have put me on another list, because the calls really amped up from there. Vying for your vote is serious business! Outreach that could have boosted my ego and made me feel super popular, actually made me a little sad and not to mention overall annoyed. I makes me wonder how effective this strategy really is and whether or not it even matters any more (the incessant campaigning, not the vote.)
Listen, I’m not apolitical. In fact, I might be a little too political. That being said, I really want to see an end to all of this insane campaign saturation. I understand that the candidates have a job to do, but I also think that the American people have a job to do, too. And in some ways, the candidates are letting us off the hook with their quick 5 point mailers, flashy slogans and negative campaigning. I remember being a student in junior high (man, I am dating myself all over the place…that would be “middle school” for some of you) taking government class and absolutely LOVING it. I enjoyed learning about the history of our country and the hows and whys in which the government was set up. Somewhere along the way I thought it was my responsibility as a citizen to participate and understand politics. I thought the onus was on me to take the time to research the candidates and issues on the ballot. In some ways, I feel really let down to know that this isn’t necessarily the case.
We all know that the negative campaigning has increased year after year, election after election. At times it feels like the political process is more about mudslinging and name calling…bringing to mind childhood playground antics and bullying mentality. Most people who I talk to agree that this is irritating, mean-spirited and in some cases, off-putting enough to cause them to bow out of the process altogether. As an adult, I should no longer be surprised to see how politics causes rifts in families and friendships…yet I am consistently amazed at how divisive it all can be. I try not to be discouraged…and as a result this election season I set out to be more observant of the whole process as it relates to the current political culture in America. I’m taking in the mailers, radio and TV ads, the intense campaign presence on the internet and especially all the attention focused on our newest voters, not to mention future voters. It’s been interesting….
As a parent, I’m particularly invested in how my kiddos see the election process. One moment in particular comes to mind: the Presidential Election in 2008. At the time, my youngest was three and my oldest was seven. Nickelodeon was doing a gangbusters job of involving the kids in the election with the Kids Pick the President campaign. So much so, that my kids were lobbying for opposing candidates. Casey was crazy about “Rock Bobama” (yes, that’s what she called him :) ) She ran around the house mumbling “Rock Bobama” for weeks. She recognized him whenever he came on TV (whether it was Nickelodeon or not.) You would have thought he was a member of the family. She would be mesmerized by the Kids Pick the President promos and would ask us if we were voting for her candidate! It was incredibly cute and sort of disturbing at the same time. She had no idea what voting was, but when the promo showed up during “Dora the Explorer” she knew enough to know this was serious business. We laugh about it now, but it goes to show how well some campaigns work.
On the other side of the ballot was Sean’s candidate: Senator John McCain. Sean was particularly moved by the fact that Senator McCain served in the military and had been a prisoner of war. At the time, my son was a student in Wichita public schools. His class was following the election process and he had a zillion questions for me. We spent a lot of time (clarification…a lot of time for a seven-year old) looking up both candidates and their platforms. Sean felt very confident and ready to cast his ballot at school. When his candidate lost, he was sad and surprised. I was taken aback at his reaction. He explained to me that it wasn’t fair…Senator McCain had given up so much for this country. He was certain that he would be a great leader. He sulked a bit, but if you know Sean…he bounced out of it rather quickly–although I did see him shoot his sister an occasional evil glare whenever she mumbled about the house chanting “Rock Bobama.” The campaign may have been over, but it’s hard to undo a phrase that has been hardwired into a three-year old’s brain. Thanks, Nickelodeon.
As a family, we spent a lot of time talking about the election this year. The kids shared their thoughts, ideas and especially their observations. Casey still has several “new” political catchphrases rolling around in her brain and off her tongue (she knows quite a few negative ads verbatim. Thank you, YouTube!) Living in Kansas, the campaign was particularly mean-spirited at times …especially where the U.S. Senate was concerned. We went over and over what it means to be a “liberal” and a “conservative.” I don’t know about you, but I found it all rather amusing that we spent the whole 20 minute ride to the orthodontist’s office talking about Senator Harry Reid and why he was mentioned in so many political ads. On a more solemn note, never did I imagine that I would have to explain “gay marriage’ to a nine-year old or drudge up the terrible crimes committed by the Carr brothers and why that was a relevant part of this election’s campaign to my thirteen-year old. But this is the real world–good and bad, and politics is certainly no exception.
Overall, I’m glad that we have made time to discuss the importance of voting and the election process. It made my day to see a long line at my polling site and to discover via Facebook that a number of my friends and family voted as well. It is an incredible responsibility–one I don’t take lightly and I hope to instill that value in the hearts and minds of my kiddos. Last night while listening to a local pundit recap the election results, the radio host asked him this question, “What wins elections? What do you think the anti-tax group did that the pro-tax campaign didn’t do?” He simply answered that there are so many factors…money of course, but also repetition of message. He said, “Repetition wins.” I took those two words to heart. I love this country and we have plenty of room for improvement. And if “repetition wins,” then we have some important ideals that we need to repeat…freedom, responsibility, and honesty to name a few. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that repetition can work against us as well. If you hear enough that your vote doesn’t count, nothing ever changes, or that voting isn’t important…well eventually that will sink in, too.
So keep voting, America. Over and over. Repeat.
Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art. —Unknown
When I was a kid, I would tell my mother that I wanted to live in a house without a kitchen. Actually, if I remember correctly, we had several conversations about it. I’m fairly certain that I’ve even brought up the subject with a couple of past boyfriends (just to let them know what they were in for—yes, I’m a courteous girl :).) And my poor husband, he knows all too well how much I LOATHE the kitchen. Turns out that it’s not really the kitchen that I have a problem with…I mean I always planned to have a microwave and a refrigerator (I’m not stupid.) What I really hate is the COOKING that takes place in the kitchen!
Maybe my dislike for cooking comes from possessing a very plain and boring palate. For example…I’m pretty much a beans and rice girl, when we go out for dinner I typically choose one of three entrees: cheeseburger, pizza or chicken, and I’m not very into sweets. There isn’t an adventurous bone in my body when it comes to trying new foods (asparagus anyone?) And I’m actually very okay with this. I view eating in the same manner that I see the need for sleep–a mere necessity and nothing more. I have a hard time relating to a lot of my foodie friends who rave about their latest food find and go on and on about “pairing” this delectable tidbit with that scrumptious delicacy (am I even using those words right?) I really just don’t get it.
In my own defense, I WANTED to get it. I wanted to be a so called “expert” in the kitchen. While I make a mean sandwich, I secretly aspired to be whiz in the kitchen. I own a lot of cookbooks, including the elusive Joy of Cooking CD-ROM and at one point I was absolutely addicted to the Food Network. Like many stay-at-home moms, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, and Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) were not only my idols, but also my best friends. As soon as it was acceptable for me to turn off Nickelodeon (11am or so) I would quickly click the channel to see what my “friends” were whipping up for lunch and dinner. Never has anyone been more into “homemade” and “from scratch” as yours truly. I was rolling out dough, making my own stock, and a regular in the fresh herb section at our local supermarket. I’m not sure if I crossed the line into “cooking obsessed,” but I’m pretty sure I was right on the edge. When my three year old daughter started to request tuning into Rachael Ray instead of Dora the Explorer I finally woke up.
To be honest, I was spending a lot of time, energy and money on a hobby that I hated. Not only did I not enjoy cooking, but truth be told, I was NOT very good at it. In hindsight, I realize that I was fighting a losing battle. Don’t get me wrong…I have the utmost respect for foodies and chefs alike. It just turns out that it’s not my thing. Slowly, I stopped turning in to the Food Network and filling my time with other things. I began adhering more to the Sandra Lee method of food prep—“Seventy percent store-bought, ready-made plus 30 percent fresh allows you to take 100 percent of the credit.” Her kitchen motto was all that was left of my so called “love of cooking.”
Needless to say, my family didn’t starve to death. Not once has any one ever said, “Oh, Anna, how I wish you could go back to making (fill in the blank.)” While there are few remaining recipes that I rely on all these years later, I don’t really sweat it…especially since my children inherited my same plain and boring palate. We primarily live on the basics: a variety of chicken dinners, tacos, spaghetti, LOTS of sandwiches and whatever my husband can grill. It’s not exciting, but it fills a hole. What used to make me feel like a failure as a wife and mother, now has crossed over into the realm of acceptance. I no longer want to be a good cook. If I could, I honestly would quit cooking altogether and live on cereal. Unfortunately, that is not an option. Sigh.
So here it is…I am over the mom pressure from the foodie crowd (I couldn’t grow or can anything to save my life.) I will be the first one to shout from the rooftops that being a successful wife, mother, & homemaker doesn’t mean that you are required to be a culinary genius, too. Just because you stay home with your kids does not mean your worth and value is tied up in what’s for dinner. Serving chicken nuggets does not make you less of a woman. I wish someone had told me all of this years ago. Today, the only chef I pay attention to on the Food Network is Guy Fieri…and that’s because I like to drool over the food (mostly cheeseburgers and barbeque) he samples on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Mmmmm….
I completely understand that no “knight-in-shining-apron” is going to come to my kitchen rescue anytime soon. Research shows that even in today’s modern society, woman are responsible for nearly 80% of household food prep. And while a growing number of men are becoming more and more comfortable in the family kitchen, I realize that meals will continue to fall into the woman/wife/mom category for the foreseeable future. And that’s okay because I’ve already been coaching my daughter to marry a chef. Problem solved. (You’re welcome.)
Today’s menu has two choices: TAKE IT or LEAVE IT!
For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:9
I like Cheerios. A lot. And not just at breakfast time. I think Cheerios are appropriate for lunch AND dinner, too. I should also note that I like them with AND without milk. So, if you are what you eat…then I’m heart healthy and packed with fiber and whole grain goodness! If only it were that easy. Truth is, in addition to my love for Cheerios, I really enjoy pizza, chocolate ice cream, nachos and several different brands of potato chips. I also think these tasty treats qualify as breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Gross, huh? Because now it’s pretty obvious that if you are what you eat (Cheerios aside,) I am junk food—loaded with calories, packed with sodium and in every way possible just a cheesy, greasy mess :(
I don’t want to be a cheesy, greasy mess. Who does? Which is why I’ve carefully chosen the middle of the road where these food cravings are concerned. It’s called MODERATION. We’ve all heard the word. It’s the term that foodies and nutritionists throw around which serves as code for “eat what you want, just not too much.” Have a small bowl of ice cream, instead of the whole gallon. Sounds like a good system. I mean MODERATION allows us to munch on the yummy (yet less than healthy) goodies we desire without any guilt and few consequences, right? Come on…you didn’t just land on the planet! You know that while moderation is all well and good, it can (and usually does) come back and bite us in our ever-expanding back ends. We are human after all…given to temptation and with little (if any) willpower. Watching what we feed our bodies is tough stuff. Health and nutrition can be hard to manage. Time, energy, and money all factor into the equation as well. Which is why I wish Willie Wonka would perfect that “3 Course Dinner Chewing Gum” Violet sampled in the movie. It would really come in handy at my house (sans the exploding blueberry part, of course.)
Clearly, there’s no easy button here. The same goes for what we feed our soul. It seems to be a recurring theme lately. Of course, I’m only speaking for myself. But it feels like everywhere I go, it’s not too hard to decipher one’s soul food diet. For example, the kid who is cussing up a storm at the baseball diamond is palling around with a tribe of kids cussing up the same storm. Never mind that there are three-year old ears in close proximity. Never mind there are grandparents in attendance. Never mind the fact that we all know your parents and you should know better! Somehow, somewhere this child has ingested ugly, nasty words and probably without any forethought, has decided to share them with the world. Look, I’m not the word police. Sure, I personally find it distasteful, but I understand that it is pretty common in today’s culture. That being said, I still would appreciate it if there was some consideration for the “audience.” Comedians, politicians, businessmen/women…most of us know that rule #1 in many parts of the real world is knowing your audience. Bottom line, if you’re going to swear, don’t share. Your friend is sitting right next to you and can easily hear you…so shouting your obscenities really isn’t necessary.
Still, the cussing is pretty benign. When you start adding up all the other foul soul food shares out there…like berating your kids in the store parking lot, trash talking your wife, glamorizing past and current drug use (in front of kiddos no less,) your disdain for the church and religion, your lack of confidence in political leaders, and your basic hate for anyone who doesn’t see life your way…the notion that you are what you eat becomes pretty clear. Listen, I’m not perfect. I know life can be hard. Maybe things haven’t been easy. Rough family life, a bad marriage, children who try your patience and the list goes on. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Often we try to excuse our own behavior by insisting that we don’t know any better or fault the way we were raised. But whether it’s nature or nurture (or a self-labeled “bad habit”) none of this let’s any of us off the hook. We’re not all privy to the good life. Understood. But I think there’s an argument to made for the fact that we all WANT the GOOD LIFE. We want to be successful and happy, so let’s start making some personal decisions that breed success and happiness. Decisions that translate into being the absolute best that we can be! When it comes to good soul food, MODERATION doesn’t seem to amount to much. In fact, myself included, we need to be visiting that good soul food trough several times a day. I mean, would it really be terrible to try to attain a little positivity by feeding our soul a few good things?
Nosh on the POSITIVE. Live better, be better. Find kind neighbors. Be a kind neighbor. Show a genuine interest in your family and friends. Practice generosity. Pay it forward. Feast on GOOD news. Share your time and talents with others. Help a stranger. Say hello. Hug your children (often, or as often as they’ll let you.) Sing! Gorge on HOPE. Seek out good, honest friends. Be a good, honest friend. Affirm others. Believe in yourself. Be playful! Smile (a lot.) Be an example. Offer grace. REPEAT. With this menu you can go back for seconds and thirds–guilt free. I truly believe we are all capable of making good choices for ourselves and others.
This is the table that I want to sit at! And I want others to feel free to pull up a chair. Let’s invite our spouse, children, family members we get along with (and especially those we don’t) and our neighbors. Maybe we could all talk it over while enjoying Cheerios (with OR without milk.) Sounds good, doesn’t it? So…who’s hungry?
Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul. Dorothy Day
“The first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest” – Unknown
I guess it’s fair to say that we’ve hit the “rocky stage.” It’s the craggy valley where your kids try your patience, serve up dozens of complaints, defy you at every turn, accuse you of the most outlandish things (like purposefully ruining their lives!) and all before Cheerios. I believe the marketing industry categorizes this phase of adolescence as “tween,” but that sounds a little too benign for this particular stage of development. And while I’m not sure how we got here, (as far as I can tell) there are no posted signs for the nearest exit. The most baffling part (at least for me) is that just when I think things can’t get any crazier and I start wondering who these children REALLY belong to, I find myself the recipient of a hug and a warm smile.
So what’s up? It’s the same old story. Only it seems all the more confusing since I’m the Mom actually living through it. I feel like the victim of some kind of psychological warfare, thus making it hard to balance what I know is age appropriate behavior with these outrageous episodes. I know enough to realize that I wasn’t the perfect child. Yet, I still seem to think that on so many levels I had to be a little easier than my two kiddos. “Can I have this? Can you get me that? If I do this, then will you…” (fill in the blank with some outlandish request), followed by, “Do I have to?” and “You CAN’T make me!” It’s like we stepped back in time and I’m the mother of toddlers again. Suddenly, the automatic kid response to everything is “No” accompanied with eye rolling (that’s new) and foot stomping. I shudder to think of what might happen if the two actually got along long enough to conspire against my husband and I. My sweet, darling daughter often takes her cues from her older brother which only seems to compound the problem. And whoever said that boys were easier than girls doesn’t know squat about my household. So what’s a Mom to do?
Basically, I pray a lot. I try to understand where they’re coming from and channel my own tween years. I take a deep breath and sometimes I actually have to ESCAPE to my happy place. I remind myself that parenting is not easy. In fact, it’s pretty much a thankless job. And I think that’s the part that bothers me the most. That’s the part that hurts so much. The lack of gratitude. These children have EVERYTHING. I’m not just talking about material things, these children absolutely have the whole, wide world laid out before them! My brain knows that their lack of gratitude isn’t something I should take personally, but still my heartstrings can’t help but feel heavy and pulled and sometimes even FRAYED at the end of the day. It’s tiresome, worrying and basically not much fun.
On bad days…well, it’s bad. Good days (as in 24 continuous hours of bliss) are hard to come by. That’s why I’m trying to hang on (and find hope in) the little things. I’ve secretly started calling these rare occurrences “Mom-tastic Moments.” They’re the small victories that I tuck into my heart and hold on to for dear life. They stack up like this….
Like with anything, the good times are unpredictable and unscheduled. The outrageous moments seem to happen at the most inconvenient times. And since this parenting thing doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to call upon my own life experiences to get by…and sometimes that makes for a parent-child disconnect. For example, I remember how much my husband laughed when he overheard me telling our newborn, “If this breastfeeding thing is going to work out, you’re going to have to learn to FOCUS.” Needless to say, my baby didn’t choose to listen to me (even at two days old) and we had to move on to bottle feeding. Short-term loss, long-term gain (the kid had to eat right?) And many years later, my rational approach to life still gets trumped by these two irrational beings. I’ve read all the books, researched and googled every problem, and (in desperation) I’ve even tried to reason with them! Most of which has gotten me nowhere. So while I’m still neck deep in this motherhood thing, here’s What I Now Know (WINK) about parenting:
- THERE’S POWER IN NUMBERS. Don’t go at this parenting thing alone. I know the two parent household isn’t the norm for everyone, and that’s okay. As much as you can, involve the other parent, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and even trusted friends. Role models do not have to be blood related. Many times things that I have harped on my kids about become an “aha” experience when the same advice comes out of the mouth of an adult other than myself. I’m way over feeding any sort of parenting ego…if there’s someone else who can aid my efforts and serve as a voice of reason, then by all means :)
- MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS KNOWN. Not all things go as planned, but I’m slowly finding that if I speak up about what I expect from my kiddos then at least we’re all on the same page (if only for a brief second.) No–this doesn’t mean everything will go perfectly, but it’s better than having that horrible conversation after everything has gone wrong only to hear your child say to you, “Well, why didn’t you tell me that’s what you wanted in the beginning” or “I didn’t now that’s how it was supposed to go down.” Although they sometimes act like three-year olds, I find that things go a lot smoother when I approach them with clear “big kid” expectations.
- DON’T TAKE EVERYTHING PERSONALLY. This is probably the hardest one. I really try to live by the golden rule. I’m not sure this is a priority for my kids…and I have to remind myself to cut them some slack. Science reminds us of all the growth and development that takes place in a child’s mind. Researchers have proven that a “mature,” functioning brain (complete with a rationale for risk taking) doesn’t exist until one’s early 20s. Obviously, they’re not going to be perfect. I often remind myself (and them) that we all have feelings, words and actions both speak volumes, and that we’re a family that LOVES each other. Some days are better than others.
- IT’S OKAY TO BE A LOSER. This one is going to need some clarification. Remember how I mentioned short-term loss, long-term gain? That’s parenting in a nut shell. We lose a lot in this exchange: sleep, control, time, energy, money, arguments…and the list could go on and on. The gains don’t typically take place in the parenting trenches. Often times they come much (much) later. It’s a miracle to me that any of us signed up to do this! But then I think about the gains: smiles, hugs, love, and eventually…appreciation, respect, and wisdom :) This is big picture stuff, and the big stuff never is (and maybe shouldn’t be) easy.
- CALL YOUR MOM (a lot.) She has a way of putting things into focus. My mom reminds me that I’m not the first mother to go through this and that it’s all NORMAL. I need to hear it and you probably do, too! Mothers who have graduated into “grandmotherhood” have an insight and a perspective that just cannot be matched. Besides, acknowledging your mother’s hard-earned wisdom is a heartwarming way of showing your mother how much you love and appreciate her…even if it took you decades to get there! No one person has had more influence on my life than my mom…and she deserves to know that!
I am far from the perfect parent. There are still days when I’m as far away from the win column as any one person can get. I lose my cool more often that I like. But, like most of us, I’m in it for the long haul–these kids have my whole heart :) For some crazy reason, (as irrational as it sounds) I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And when my children are 40…well, maybe (just maybe) I’ll get that tally mark I’ve been waiting for…. Hope you get yours, too!
;) What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) is a recurring entry on this blog. The idea of WINK as an acronym popped into my head the other day while I was doing laundry. You see, aside from being a slave to housework I actually have quite a bit of knowledge filed away in my overworked brain. While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, I know something about a few subjects that just might be worth sharing. And just like that this new blog idea was born–WINK (What I Now Know). I hope to share a little bit of what I’ve learned as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and all-around regular, ordinary girl. Look for ongoing posts, but What I Now Know (as a busy wife and mother) is not to promise weekly entries because life happens– and it usually happens when I want to blog! (Here’s where if I could wink at you, I WOULD.)
It’s that time of year! And the back to school vibe is so pervasive you can practically smell it…(and it ain’t rosy!) Alarm clocks set, buses running, backpacks on and lunches packed, this is show time! So whether you’re Best Dressed or Total Mess, Ready Freddie or Nervous Nelly, the school bell’s ringing and there’s no stopping it. Like most dutiful moms, I’ve done the shopping and the supply gathering, made sure the kiddos have been the recipients of stylish haircuts and good shoes, and we’ve definitely run the gauntlet when it comes to Back to School Night. Still, there’s a few things that I wish I could bundle up and tuck into the backpacks of my children (and every child for that matter.) You won’t find them on the shelf at any discount store, but they might just make all the difference. So load up on these seven BIG back to school necessities….
1. To Thine Own Self Be True. Let’s motivate our children to walk into the classroom with a sense of self. Remind your children WHO they are and WHAT they stand for. Let’s be authentic and real with one another, forget the game playing. The mean girls garbage, the bullying and the backbiting. A good majority of us are capable (even at a young age) of understanding what is acceptable and what isn’t. Parents be an example.
2. Be Kind, Rewind. Remember this saying from the days of video rentals and VCR’s? Might I suggest that we urge our children to adopt this little mantra as a way of extending grace to one another and ourselves? One of my favorite exercises in kindness invites us to think BEFORE we speak. We can effectively offer kindness by pausing to check ourselves, especially when dealing with a difficult person. PAUSE…and ask, “How does this sound out loud? Am I treating others the way I want to be treated?” I often remind my kiddos to be kind to themselves, too. Sometimes we’re our own worst critic. Kindness is a wonderful gift.
3. Mind Your Zzzz’s and Eat Your Peas. Do your children a favor and help them develop healthy eating and sleeping habits. Numerous studies show that students learn better and have a more positive school experience when they get enough sleep and eat regular, nutritious meals. I’m just as guilty as the next Mom. McDonald’s is soooo easy and convenient and one more episode of their favorite show won’t hurt…or will it? Remember, grown-ups we ARE in charge!
4. Game Plan. Having a strategy for homework, school projects and extra-curricular activities is vital to maintaining a sane household. We’ve all had that child come home and have a breakdown because they’ve procrastinated on a project, didn’t pay attention to a lesson in class, or flat out fell behind. Let’s encourage our children to be proactive, make a schedule and take pride in all that they do.
5. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously. This applies to kiddos AND parents. There’s nothing like laughter to diffuse a tense situation. Finding the joy and the fun in life is critical to a person’s overall well-being. Make time to laugh, giggle and create good times (and good memories) with one another. Remember, it’s not all rocket science.
6. Your Loved Ones Have Your Back. There’s nothing quite so overwhelming and utterly terrifying as feeling alone and like no one understands. Create an atmosphere in your home and in your relationships where each person knows their value and worth. Most parents (guardians and caregivers) would go to any length to protect the children they love. I want my children to succeed and you want your children to succeed, too. Fostering a safe and loving environment can be the catalyst that moves a child in a positive direction.
7. You Gotta Have Faith. We’ve all heard the term separation of church and state, as well as the countless other arguments about keeping religion out of school. Fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your personal faith in the school parking lot. Let’s remind our kids that God is present and active in our daily lives, not just at home or at church, but all the time. It’s okay to carry your Christian values into the school building. Christ’s example of grace, mercy and love will be a welcome addition to any education environment. Looking out for one’s neighbor, a spirit of forgiveness, and a desire to treat each other justly and with respect will make any school year one to remember. I tell my children it’s perfectly acceptable to say a silent prayer before a tough test, for a classmate going through a trying time and especially for our teachers and administrators. In our home, we pray for our schools, our classmates and teachers before bed each night…why would we stop between the hours of 8am and 3pm during the week? I want my kiddos to know that there is a 24/7 God who knows each of us, loves us dearly and has a wonderful plan and purpose for our lives.
So as we snap and post those first day of school photos, let’s be intentional about making this THE school year where we put first things first and load up on all the essentials for our best school experience yet (kiddos and parents alike!) :)
Intelligence plus character…that is the goal of true education. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Love is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything! But let me back up a little bit because every good love story needs a little background.
So, a little boy showed up at school one day with a toad in a small plastic habitat. And in “monkey see, monkey do” fashion, my son had to have one, too. And since his birthday was coming up (and since I’ve been known to slip into moments of complete mom idiocy) we decided to add to our family. After a trip into Wichita a purchase was made in a somewhat questionable pet establishment in an equally suspect part of the city. The sales fella assured us that this was an easy enough pet to care for and that our new fire belly toad would happily enjoy the little plastic habitat that we had already purchased at Toys R Us. (FYI: living creatures almost never thrive in plastic containers.)
So, Todd the Toad moved into my son’s bedroom. WAIT…I forgot to mention that fire belly toads (which are poisonous by the way…so should have looked that up before we brought it home) also need LIVE crickets every 3-4 days. Okay–if you have never seen a toad devour a cricket you might be surprised to discover that it’s pretty amazing and just as cool as some of the things you’ll see on Animal Planet, except that it’s happening right in front of YOUR face! So Todd would entertain us during feeding time, but that was about the extent of it. And since this particular toad didn’t have much of an appetite, more crickets drown than actually made it into his mouth. And this was a problem because cleaning this little plastic habitat became not only necessary, but also quite gross. To top it all off, poor Todd wasn’t thriving. He seemed miserable, sad and scared. My only thought at the time was: please, please don’t let us kill Sean’s birthday present! Something had to be done and thus another moment of mom idiocy ensued.
Google is one of my best friends. It wasn’t long before I had loads of info and armed with knowledge we headed back to a different pet store (in a better part of town) and looked for a whole new set up AND a companion toad (because two is always better than one and who doesn’t need someone to pal around with? I know, even more mom idiocy!) Almost $100 dollars later, we were set up with a new industrial terrarium and cover, a special light bulb, a new lamp, spring water, an electric thermostat and even a little greenery and log to keep our toad chums happy. The children were ecstatic and tossed names back and forth on the drive home. They settled on Bob and Todd because it sounded like good radio DJ names (???) and the dynamic toad duo settled into their new digs. We are such good parents :)
So here’s where the actual love story begins…you thought I forgot? Within a week my son had a few questions. There’s nothing quite like the “birds and bees conversation” presenting itself when you least expect it. After a very matter-of-fact talking to…Todd was renamed Trudy and my daughter declared the two “married.” Casey began praying for baby toads while I couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into. Back to Google…more research needed to be done. (I am pleased to report that we were NEVER blessed with the “pitter-patter” of tadpoles!)
Bob and Trudy were quite the pair and displayed text-book fire belly toad characteristics. Trudy was quite docile and ended up being much smaller in size than Bob. Her skin stayed dark in color and she would secrete the poisonous milky fluid that wards off predators whenever she became frightened or uneasy. Bob on the other hand ate like a champ, his skin color would fluctuate between various shades of green according to his male hormones, and he frequently “barked” through the night to communicate with his beloved Trudy. (The barking sounds like a high-pitched dog bark, but it is so faint that for weeks we thought our neighbors must have purchased a small canine.) Bob was very protective and frequently “bowed up” when we would get too close or stare a little too long at the goings on in the tank. However, Bob displayed one unusual characteristic…while Trudy would hide and bury herself in the rocks, Bob was always trying to escape. On more than one occasion we would find Bob tucked up in the top corner, trying to get out. Although the crickets did manage to escape the terrarium on a regular basis, it basically seemed impossible that Bob could ever get out. He was easily bigger than Trudy but still small for an amphibian (2-3 inches at best) and the tiny crack that separated the cover from the terrarium was just too narrow. Bob wasn’t anywhere close to strong enough to move it on his own. It just couldn’t happen, right? Yet, he continued to try. We imagined he was on a quest to take his beloved Trudy and blow this popsicle stand…aka our house.
These antics played out day after day, month after month, and eventually year after year. We became regulars at the pet store (our frequent cricket purchases earning us occasional freebies) and we became experts at fire-belly toad behavior and habitat maintenance. These tiny toads became members of the family. They were my son’s roommates. We learned to recognize their barks and moods. We had to arrange care for them whenever we traveled. Not to mention, our dog was extremely jealous of his pet brother and sister. Like any family member, they were thought of and cared for on a daily basis. So imagine our surprise when sweet, little Trudy started slowing down. She would bury herself in the rocks for days now or hide in the log. While she was never the most active toad, her lethargy became worrisome. When she stopped eating, we feared the worse. We were about to lose a member of our little family.
We had lost ants (and countless other bugs) and a Beta fish named Swimmy, but on some level we all knew this would be different. We had cared (and dare I say loved) the toads for quite some time. They really were a part of our every day. I wondered how the kids would take it. Would they cry? What kind of questions would they have about death? And heaven? And ultimately, our Great Creator? I’ve read countless articles about the important lessons we learn through our pets and that death is a part of the life cycle that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about. And while all of this was milling about in my mind another thought occurred to me, what about Bob?
I wish I could say that we had plenty of time to delve into the subject of death and loss, but we didn’t. Trudy’s time had come. And afterward, Bob barked and barked and he continued to try to escape. And it wasn’t but a blink after Trudy passed away that her companion, her partner, her protector, her “husband” (my daughter pronounced them married, remember) went missing. MISSING! A poisonous toad was lost somewhere in our house. Good gravy.
Of course, the kids were distraught. Bob just had to be found. How could he have possibly escaped? They couldn’t lose BOTH of them. It was too much. We searched the tank…uncovering rocks and logs and faux plant life. Nothing. We searched the bedroom. Under things, behind things, and around things. Nothing. We systematically began searching the next closest bedroom, closet and hallway. Finally, the thought occurred to us. If Bob did manage to escape, would our dog have eaten him? I know it’s gross, but we were in sleuth mode and had to check off all the boxes. My husband made a quick call to the vet and we waited, but Maddie (the dog) was as healthy as ever. And no Bob.
After a week all hope was lost. We gave up. We wondered if some how he managed to make it out of the house. And the question became, if he did–how long could he survive? We cleaned out the tank. Repurposed the table it sat upon and eventually moved on with life.
Every once in a while the toad topic would come up. Everyone had a theory. 1) Bob just couldn’t live without Trudy. 2) He escaped in a desperate effort to find her. 3) He met his doom in the belly of our dog. 4) Or….he some how managed to make it outside..found freedom and made a new life for himself. 5) Perhaps, he was eaten by the crickets (I know this one sounds extremely far-fetched, but research shows that the crickets can and will turn on a predator and in large numbers crickets can actually take a small toad down.) We just didn’t know, until…well, until we DID know.
About half a year later, I discovered Bob (or what was left of Bob) shriveled and flattened…hidden under a pair of old baseball cleats in the far corner of my son’s closet. Now, before you think I’m a bad housekeeper I must say that YES…we had searched that closet dozens of times, YES…Sean regularly gets in and out of his closet, and NO we are not like many on the popular Hoarders TV show who neglect their surroundings to the point that critters frequently die and go unnoticed for months at a time. I don’t know how Bob made it across the room. I don’t know how long he survived in that closest (he would have needed a food source, water and tropical temperatures.) What I do know is that he was found, the mystery was solved and my heart was heavy. The love story was over.
Those itty-bitty toads taught me many things. First of all, I never thought I could love such exotic, and let’s be honest–ugly, creatures. I didn’t think that something so small and needy would ever survive in our care! I couldn’t imagine what a time commitment they would be or how much fun it would be watching them grow, play and change. These tiny creatures were awesome in so many ways. It is just another example of a truly amazing Creator! How could I have known that these toads (like children) thrive in routine and schedules, they’re very social and live in a communal setting in nature, they pair up and protect one another, and at the same time they are remarkably equipped to protect themselves from predators of every kind? They were such a wonderful example of a committed love relationship. And in many ways they came into our lives at just the right time…their parting prepared us for difficult moments to come. It still blows my mind.
Love truly is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything! What a wonderful lesson for our whole family. In the past few years we have experienced loss (unfortunately, on more than one occasion) and as we grieved it occurs to me that while acknowledging the death we have also celebrated the LOVE. The love of family and dear friends. Of course it hasn’t been easy (it never is,) but I think we honor those who have gone on when we remember them well. We still talk about the toads. In fact, as I was writing this, I wondered did I ever take photos of them? Will there be images to keep their tiny spirits and their special story alive? And to my delight, I found many pictures and thus, many happy memories.
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. –Helen Keller