Unexpected Perfection

Things have felt difficult lately. The kids are out of school and Camp Mommy is not going very well. I haven't been getting as much work done as I need to; Ry has had to do more than his share. Because we all do everything together – especially this summer – it has just been too much. It feels too hard. No one is having fun. 

"I need a break. We need a break." Every day, the same sentences.

And then came the holiday. Usually one of my favorites, but this year I just couldn't get excited about it. We let our plans go until the very last minute. "What do you want to do?" I would ask Ry and get the same question in response. Endlessly. 

But once in awhile, when I most need it and least expect it, something perfect happens. This time, perfection was made up of dozens of tiny moments, strung together into just what we needed.

It was taking the kids to the drive-in, hoping they would fall asleep before the second half of the double feature so that Ry and I could watch it – and they actually did.

It was the way that a day at the lake stretched into four days and three nights, because we just couldn't leave. 

It was watching T jump off the dock "all by himself" and not cry when he went under water.

It was hearing A say "Auntie La-la, can I feel the baby kick again?" 

It was sitting on the deck with four generations laughing, talking and remembering. (I won't mention the hair braiding and the ice cream truck, because then you will just think it was too perfect. And it almost was.)

It was sunset cruises on the pontoon boat, watching fireworks displays from all sides of the lake.

It was grandparents listening for little feet first thing in the morning, so they could wisk tiny humans away for breakfast before they woke up Mama and Dada. 

It was having no service on cell phones, being happily disconnected and unplugged.

It was seeing Ry relax and unwind, playing with the kids until their stomachs hurt from laughing so hard.

It was the way A tried to kiss the frog that Uncle Nick caught for her, and the way she proudly carried it around until it finally hopped away from her. 

It was watching the tiny humans play together, nicely, for most of the time.

It was completely disregarding bedtime, and being rewarded when they slept late the next morning.

It was being in the company of people with whom you can say anything or nothing at all and having both things be equally comfortable.

It was going to leave and having no idea where my shoes were, because I hadn't needed them for four days.

It was all those moments, and so many more. It was perfection. It was our much needed break. 

Tomorrow, we will go back to normal. I know there will be fall out of so many days with lax rules and nights with late bedtimes. But tonight – as I get ready to tuck them in for what I expect will the the easiest bedtime in recent history – it feels like it was worth whatever price they decide I will have to pay tomorrow.

 

Birthday Traditions

We don't really "do" kid birthday parties. We have birthday traditions, but in recent years they don't include a huge birthday party. For T's first two birthdays, we did the big family party – aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole nine. Just like everything with the first child – we did it BIG. And it was a lot of fun, but it also felt like too much. Too much planning, too much food, too many presents. And while it was lovely to have so many people and so much adoration for our little guy in the same place at the same time, it didn't feel like it was for him. It felt like it was for us. 

By the time A's first birthday arrived, our house was on the market – and possibly under contract. I didn't have it in me to do the big party. We did a joint birthday brunch with just the kids' grandparents, aunts and cousin. It seemed like a great idea – the people our kids loved the best and a smaller, more manageable celebration. And then my dad, sister and nephew all got sick and cancelled. So our already small scale celebration became even smaller. And thus began the birthday tradition of mommy scrambling to create small celebrations to make up for the lack of the one big party.

Over the years this has included trips to Friendly's, visits to the toy store to pick their own gifts, and sleepovers with my best girlfriends and their kiddos. And since the kids' birthdays are within a few weeks of each other, often they get joint birthday traditions. I think it is fun because it stretches the birthday fun out to a month or so instead of just one day. 

Until now. T is five now. He has his own friends and some pretty specific birthday expectations. So we made a list and sent out an Evite for fifteen kids and their parents. I bought party favors and created a board on Pinterest. The weekend of the party, my best girlfriend arrived with her husband and two kiddos in tow. I felt like we could do this – the big party.

And then there was a cough. Followed by a runny nose. Followed by a fever. Times two kiddos. Of course. We postponed the party, and we did cupcakes and presents just us. We let T pick out his own gifts from Target. Which I know, at this point, feels normal to him. But I feel like I failed.

So stay tuned, because T is going to get the big friend party this year. Even if it doesn't happen until May. 

‘Tis the Season for Charitable Giving

It is finally December. Around here, we've been in holiday mode since the day after Thanksgiving. But for some people, Christmastime doesn't begin until December. Either way – it is here. "The most wonderful time of the year." 

For me, it often also turns into the "most emotional time of the year." More love, more laughing, more fun but also more stress, more anxiety and more sadness. Most commercials make me cry and the voice inside my head is louder than usual, shouting at me to "do something for someone else. Now." 

We are very fortunate but we try to keep Christmas on the small side. Partially because these tiny humans do not need anything and partially because their birthdays happen so soon after Christmas. But still – they are spoiled, by us and our families. They get new things that they have asked for, and they always get more than they need. Don't we all, in this family?

Each time I pick up a little something for my kids, a nagging voice in the back of my head wonders "what if I couldn't afford this? What if we couldn't afford anything for the children at all? What if instead of this being "the most wonderful time of the year", it felt like the worst because I didn't have enough money for food for a holiday dinner or heat during the winter months, nevermind enough left over to put presents under the tree?"

Luckily, each year around this time, everything begins blowing up with charitable giving opportunities. We try to help, to do what we can, but there is always more that can be done. Especially now that the kids are at an age where they are more aware of the world around them, I want to focus on teaching the kids to give back. At the holidays, especially, but all the time. 

Some of the things we have done in the past around holiday charitable giving include:

  • Salvation Army: Such a simple one, but I try to make sure to carry cash at this time of year so that the kids can drop money into the red bucket. It doesn't have to be much – I know they appreciate every bit, and it reinforces the messages about charitable giving and teaching the kids to give back in a way they can actually see.
  • Supporting a Family: Every year since I was pregnant with T, we get the gender and ages of all the members of a particular family through DHS who could use a little help. It is the most fun when the kids are of ages that my kids can identify with because then I let them choose the gifts. 
  • Donating Gently Used Items: We usually do this in the fall – we go through our toys, books and clothes and round up things that another child would enjoy more than the kids are enjoying it. 
  • Gift Card Exchange: Last year a couple of my favorite blogs set up holiday charitable giving programs based solely on the honor system. If you needed help, you asked. If you could help, you said so. And these mommy bloggers worked day and night through the whole month pairing the "need help"s with the "can help"s. 

It is important to me that our tiny humans realize how lucky they are that there is food on the table at every meal (and what seems like every hour in between as well) and that they have a home to live in that is safe and warm. Not to mention the overabundance with which they live every day. It seems like the best way to teach the kids to give back is to practice charitable giving throughout the year but especially around the holidays. What we can afford to give may not be a lot, but I hope it feels like something to whoever receives it.

Now I have some "can help" emails to send.

 

Past Please and Thank You

R and I were talking the other night about how, because of how "connected" we are as a society, we are losing touch with certain things. Like handwritten thank you notes and holiday cards. So maybe we aren't more connected at all; we are more plugged in but probably more disconnected as humans. 

I have been thinking about this in lots of ways – how people communicate via Facebook, how many more of us would rather send a text than make a phone call, how most of us connect with our people via technology rather than face to face – the old fashioned way. I think important things are getting lost.

When my in-laws were dating, my father-in-law wrote letters to my mother-in-law in this amazing script penmanship. (Do they even teach cursive in schools anymore?) She still has them, tucked away in an album somewhere. When R and I began dating, we emailed and texted but we talked on the phone more than anything. The first time he told me he loved me he wrote it in a greeting card (which got lost in the mail, then ultimately returned to him which created a bit of an awkward situation) that I have tucked away in an album somewhere.

I wonder what the kids are going to have to tuck in their own albums some day. A text transcript that they emailed to themselves and printed out? Not if I have anything to say about it. I mean, I did just have Theo help me send out dozens of holiday cards and we talked about each person as we addressed them and how we know them. And this year they will be sending out their own thank you notes after their birthdays instead of me writing them. The handwritten kind. 

Because I want them to have old-school manners. Beyond saying please and thank you. Teaching good manners feels really important, especially as we are raising a son. I want him to be the guy that impresses his date's parents, the one who is "so polite", who opens doors and pulls out chairs and picks up tabs and gives up his seat on the subway. And I want Ana to look at that and to know that she deserves a guy who acts like that. I want to raise a girl who expects to be treated well. 

I read something today that said "Your children will become who you are. So be who you want them to be." It is a lot of pressure, being responsible for someone else and helping making them into contributing members of society. But I don't want my kids to become who I am – I want them to become better than I am. 

 

Being Here (Gratitude, Final Days)

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I took a break from writing. It was unintentional, at first, then I realized that any time I took over the weekend to write the blog would be taking time away from something that I wanted to do more. So I didn't write; instead I focused on being here. Not just physically being present but really being here with the kids. Less iPhone and iPad time, less tv, more playing and laughing and talking and being. Okay, and a little online holiday shopping. Because I am still me.

Holiday Traditions

Now that we are past Thanksgiving, we are well into "the holidays." Some years I love this time, others I find it stressful and can't wait for it to be over already. This year I am loving it. 90% of my holiday shopping is done, the tree is up, the house is decorated, and I feel like for the next few weeks I can just sit back with the kids and focus on being here with them. 

T is closer to five than four now, and this age is the most fun we have seen for the holidays. He is really starting to "get" stuff like the Elf on the Shelf and other holiday traditions. For the first time ever, he sat with me while I addressed all of our holiday cards. We cranked up the Michael Buble holiday station on Pandora and T stamped and stickered every card while I addressed and return addressed them. It was like a holiday assembly line. And even though he was tired, T stuck it out and stamped and stickered every single card. We were both so proud of his handiwork. 

So for my final gratitude post, I am grateful for all the writing in did in November. I think it got me back on track. I look forward to writing more in the coming weeks, but not feeling like I have to write every day. I bet the next posts will be more genuine and representative of my real voice.

I am also grateful for the coming weeks and all the things we have to look foward to with our holiday traditions. Hopefully I can remind myself to focus on being here, creating holiday traditions for our little family and letting the other stuff go. 

 

Second Chances (Gratitude – Day Eight)

Today, I am grateful for second chances with the tiny humans. Which super-sucks and is NOT what I had in mind for today at all.

It snowed last night. T woke up at 5 am SO EXCITED about the snow. And didn't fall back asleep. Even so, I was excited for him and excited about the snow. As a true lifelong New Englander, I get excited at the beginning of every season – first day warm enough not to wear a coat, first beach day, first "brrr it's cold enough for a sweater and hot cider" day and, yes, first snowy day.

I ceased to be excited about the snow 'round about the time he shoved his oatmeal away from himself at the table with a declaration that "it smells funny." I hate it when my children refuse food – especially food they asked for five minutes previous – because there are so many children in the world who have none. It makes me irrational.

A quick peek at the clock let me know that we were running late for ballet and school pictures. Awesome. I find myself in this situation often, and I rarely handle it with any type of grace. So this morning, like many mornings previous, I morphed into "mean mommy." There was yelling (me), there was crying (them), and there was avoidance (R). It was ugly, and it totally killed the magic of the first snow of the season.

In my mind, I wanted today to be "First Snow (Gratitude – Day 8)." I wanted to listen to Christmas songs on the way to school (too early? NEVER!) and make plans for playing in the snow in the afternoon and show the tiny humans that I was as excited about the snow as they were.

It didn't happen that way, and the morning was rough all around. T made it to school pictures on time, and A to her activities on time as well. I walked around with a yelling hangover, feeling guilty for ruining everyone's morning.

Then A fell asleep early for her nap, which meant I could leave her with R and pick up T all alone. He was thrilled to see me, and we talked about presidents and the snow and school. When we pulled into the driveway he said, "Mama, can we play in the snow NOW? "

Usually, I would say "sorry kiddo, I have to work while A is napping. Maybe when she wakes up." But today, that wasn't good enough. The snow had turned to sleet and was headed toward rain. I knew by the time A woke up, it was unlikely there would be much snow left to play in.

Instead of working, we played outside. We scrambled around and made snow angels and a (kind of sad, leaf and grass covered) snowman. We played until the sleet was definitely rain and we were soaked all the way through. Then we made hot chocolate and watched President Obama's acceptance speech – at T's request. A-mazing, all around. 

 

So today I am grateful for second chances, and that the kids are at ages where they are still sweet and forgiving. They don't hold grudges on the days that we have a rough start. They are gracious when I apologize and overjoyed when I make it up to them with something fun. I know my days are numbered with them being so forgiving, and wanting to be with me at all. I am trying to soak them up. Most of the time, my work can wait. But my kids' childhoods won't.

Not the Kind of Mama (Vol. 1): The Crafty Kind

There are a lot of things that I am not as a mom, which is why this is titled Vol 1. I bet there are more volumes to come.

So…Pinterest. I was early to the party, so I have been a member for awhile. But like a really good party, it isn't any fun until your people start showing up. And over the past month or so, my people are arriving in droves. So I've been pinning, and it's more than a little bit addicting.

(For those of you who don't "pin", Pinterest functions like a virtual pinboard that your followers can view and "repin." And because of this Pinterest algorithm, pins that get repinned "go viral" rather quickly.)

It is also a helpful planning tool for my SIL's upcoming baby shower, the kids' upcoming birthday party and Valentine's Day. So today, more than a little tired of hearing the sound of my own voice I enlisted the tiny humans for a little Valentine's craft-time-slash-dance-party, inspired by Pinterest. (My small people and I – we like to dance. It lessens the yelling.)

So, it turns out that this craft has been described (via Pinterest and also on my Facebook news feed) as a "great way to upcycle broken crayons." But I am not the kind of mama who keeps broken crayons lying around waiting for an upcycling craft project. Let's be honest, I am not the kind of mama who keeps anything lying around waiting for a potential craft project. Which meant that to complete this project, I had to purchase a box of new, perfectly good crayons to break and peel.

This may not sound like a lot of work, but I assure you, it is a giant pain in the ass. Especially as T & A are much better dancers than they are crafters (I mean, they are mine, so I am not shocked). But I soldiered through, and I am pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Here are a couple of tips I learned along the way:

1. Know your fellow "pinners." That way, when they tell you about a "quick and easy craft" you can adjust your expectations accordingly. That smiley girl you went to high school with who was a member of about a gagillion clubs and currently has 1224 Facebook friends? She's not a good candidate for repinning. Neither is the "stay-at-home mom" who also employs a full time nanny or daycare provider. Just saying.

2. Crayons are easier to peel if you break them first.

3. Multicolored mixed media crafts are great for hiding things – flaws, dog hair, and blood from paper cuts, in this case. (Just kidding about the last part.)
 

4. Pay attention to instructions for things like sizes. I ended up using about 2x as many crayons as necessary because I bought large-sized heart baking sheets. If I had bought the ones with a dozen instead of a half-dozen hearts per sheet I wouldn't have needed to break the new crayons up – I had enough slightly-used-but-definitely-not-broken ones. The silver lining? These heart shaped crayons are like the everlasting gobstobber of crayons.

 5. Preschool Valentines are not about the children. They are about the parents, trying to define what kind of mamas and dadas we are – or are not. And this year, T's mama is sending him with homemade – and pretty freaking awesome – valentines, wondering if it is one of those situations where you "fake it until you make it". Because I might not be the kind of mom who "crafts" yet, but if Pinterest has anything to say about it, maybe I will be someday.

 

Hoping for the Best –

There is this saying, "Hope for the best, expect the worst," which I have always found annoying and pessimistic. Perhaps it is because I am what my husband calls "overambitious" – not with everything I undertake, only with things that involve our children and "outings."

He will look at me as I am on my way out the door, off for my latest "adventure" with our children, and just kind of smirk. Like, "Really? You think this will go well for you? Good luck!" And these are not overly ambitious adventures. I am talking about going to the mall. Or the grocery store. Or the Children's Museum.

And it is not that my husband is an asshole – sadly, he is often correct, which I am reminded of a few hours later when I return home. It looks a little like this:

Me: "NEVER again. Do you know what YOUR CHILDREN DID? Are you aware of how they behave in public? Horrible. It was horrible. They were kicking (each other) and screaming (mostly at me) and people were STARING.

Him: "Where are they now?"

Me: "WHAT? WHO? Oh, THEM? They're in the car, in the garage. I ran in to pee by myself before I get them."

Him: (Trying – failing – to suppress a self-righteous "I told you so" smirk) "I see. I'll grab them."

Here's the thing. I get these ideas in my head of the things I *should* be doing with the children. Like taking them out and teaching them how to behave in public. I feel pressured by Facebook frenemies and their annoying pictures of their perfectly well-behaved children; by mommy friends who make their own organic Play-Doh; by mommy bloggers who seem to have it a lot more together than I do.

I don't want my kids to feel like they came up short in the parent lottery because I am not the kind of mom who buys Moon Sand (too much cleanup) or bakes with them (I prefer booger-less baked goods, athankyouverymuch) or smiles and says "it's okay, love" no matter what they have gotten into (anyone who knows me know that I can be shrill – okay, I yell). And one thing I got from my own parents was that there are a lot of things you can do with kids to make up for the other stuff. So I keep trying, dragging them out into the world, and failing miserably.

But maybe I am not, in fact, failing miserably. Maybe I need to readjust my expectations – hope for the best and expect the worst. That way, the day we make it through the checkout line without temper tantrums and pitying looks, it will feel like a tremendous success. And there are days where I am reminded of a different perspective when T says to me, "Mumma, this was a really fun day." He doesn't remember that I yelled, or he screamed, or A threw a tantrum when it was time to leave. He remembers only that we did.