* Happy Father’s Day! None of this – my blog, my family’s summer-long adventure, or my family itself – would be possible without my amazing husband. Similarly, I would not be as able and willing to take a three-month hiatus from my job and daily pressures without the support and encouragement of my Dad. Both fathers have been instrumental in helping me create my dream life. Thank you! *
As I wrote in my last post, my family has taken the summer off from our hectic schedule of work, preschool, dance / gymnastics / swimming / soccer classes, birthday parties, play dates, home improvement projects, yard maintenance, etc. in the hopes of slowing down for some quality time together before my oldest starts kindergarden. As much as we enjoy all the people and fun activities in our daily life, we seem to always be busy doing something so there doesn’t seem to be much time left for actually living. Far too often, when one of my kids will ask me to read a book, play a game, or do yoga with them, I say something like, “Sure honey, I’d love to, right after . . . . ” but never get around to it. This summer, I have been able to enthusiastically respond, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
In recent months, I’ve also grown uncomfortable with how much my husband and I instruct our kids to “hurry up,” “sit down,” and “be quiet.” The reality of our busy life means that we are often trying to get somewhere, but it is completely understandable that my child wants to finish the Lego robot he’s building or examine the new flower bud that’s sprouted on her way to get in the car. Why should what we care about always take precedence over what they care about at a given moment? This summer, on the other side of the world with nothing we have to do and nowhere we need to go, we are allowing the kids to set the pace most of the time (although not when there’s a plane to catch or it’s bedtime). Similarly, research has shown that human beings should not sit as much as we do, and kids especially need movement to learn about the world around them. So we are letting them run and climb and even stand at the dinner table if they want. Finally, I don’t want my kids to lose their shout. Their zeal is still unrestrained by social expectations and self-consciousness. They get caught up in a moment of joy, surprise, imagination, anger, or frustration and get LOUD. I want that to be acceptable this summer. Read more…
One of the ways our family likes to pass the time when we are traveling is to tell collaborative stories. We each take turns adding a sentence until we agree the tale is complete. The narration tends to be fast-moving, but this time I did my best to keep up so I could record this one. It’s called: “Clabba and Llabba’s Happy Adventure.”
Once upon a time, there was a family going on a long trip. They had no food, and that’s why they were going on the trip, so they could get some food. There was a little sheep that lived with the family and it went on the trip with them. Since everyone in the car had no food, they stopped at the side of the road and made a sign that said, “Please give us some money for food.”
Clabba and Llabba were driving along and they had some food that they shared with the family and their sheep. They all ate fish and chicken together. They all got along so well that the family invited Clabba and Llabba to join them on their trip.
They drove until they reached the darkest forest ever. It was so dark that the family did not want to go near it, but Clabba and Llabba were brave enough so they took the sheep into the woods. They found so many wild animals so they hunted them and brought back lots of food for everyone.
Clabba and Llabba shared the food with everyone, so even the people who did not have any food were not hungry anymore.
The only constant is change. I know this to be true, and yet, like most humans, I find change frightening and uncomfortable, so I resist it even as it is unfolding.
In a mindful leadership course last month, our guide introduced the meditation mantra, “Nothing needs to change right now.” As that temporary reality resonated in my body, my muscles relaxed, I exhaled breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, and I sat straighter as a weight floated off my shoulders. Since then, I have carved out a few minutes each day to sit quietly in this unchanging place. It feels like getting off a merry-go-round; the surroundings still seem to be spinning but I know that I am standing still. There is a moment of residual dizziness, and then, peace. Unfortunately, these calm minutes always pass too quickly. Soon my To Do list resumes its assault and I am thrust back into the world of constant change. Read more…
There is nothing like watching a baby transform from a wrinkled, helpless bundle into a walking, babbling, little human with his own ideas (“What happens if I scoop all the cat’s dry food into her water dish?”), opinions (books on floor > books on shelves), sense of humor (blowing raspberries on Mommy and Daddy is hysterical), and personality (“Whatcha doin’?”). Birthdays offer a valuable opportunity to reflect on the all-too-fast passage of time and celebrate the countless bumps in the road we traversed to get here.
As my last child reached his first birthday this weekend, I was also celebrating my own growth as a parent. The first time around, these initial twelve months were full of imagined dangers – every fever, fall, and missed milestone was cause for concern. I have since learned that each child is an individual from the day he or she is born and that keeping them safe does not mean protecting them from every physical or emotional injury. With my third child, I finally managed to swap paranoia for perspective.
I decided months ago that I would give up sugar and grains for Lent. That may sound extreme, or like not a big deal, depending on your perspective. I was inspired by a group of parents from my son’s preschool class who jointly undertook Whole30 in January – thirty days without sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol, or caffeine. I don’t eat much meat, so that regime seemed out of reach for me. I have given up sugar for Lent the past ten years or so, and always find it to be a useful reset for my insatiable sweet tooth. By contrast, living without grains seemed impossible, which is precisely why I thought I should try it.
I read a lot of parenting books. I like books, and I trust books. I read friends’ blogs for fun, and I Google questions in a pinch, but when I want to learn something, I look in a book (something I have in common with Super Why). So when I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately asked my doctor what book I should get to learn how to raise it. My doctor just laughed. “If there was one right way to raise a child,” she told me, “everyone would be doing it and millions of parenting books would not exist.”
With no parenting bible to guide me, I have been working my way through a library of child-rearing books over the last six years. I have read more than one hundred, and generally find one or two aspects of each that I hold onto and incorporate into my repertoire. For example, Harvey Karp’s “5 S’s” helped me avoid feeling frantic when my newborn was crying. Charlotte Kasl’s “If the Buddha Had Kids” gave me a sense of perspective of parenting as a marathon, not a sprint.
Visiting my parents earlier this year, I came across an autographed copy of Ron Taffel’s “Parenting By Heart” in my mom’s library. It was the subtitle that made me pick it up: “How to Be in Charge, Stay Connecting, and Instill Your Values, When it Feels Like You’ve Got Only 15 Minutes a Day,” but it was the subtitle of Chapter 10 that prompted me to read it: “How to use bribery, threats and other ‘dirty’ tricks to help your child become a better person.” The book was published in 1991, and throughout the author laments the “good old days” before TV ads targeted at kids (when was that?) and Nintendo. I imagine the second edition, released in 2002, makes the point that all of Dr. Taffel’s advice is even more relevant in the age of smartphones and social media. [Although his tip to “put on your walkman” when siblings start fighting is likely less effective when you just slip in your earbuds.] Read more…
“Ships are safe in the harbor but that’s not what ships were made for.”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“Attitude determines altitude.”
Since becoming a mother, however, I have been unable to find a motivating mantra that fits my new reality. Now my priority is keeping my little ships safe; the thought of them sailing beyond the harbor of our home terrifies me. I have also become more risk-adverse in my personal and professional life. I need job security, good health insurance, and workplace flexibilities that allow me to support and enjoy my family. And while I try to remain upbeat, it is easy to become impatient or overwhelmed. My default motto has become, “One day at a time,” but that is not how I want to live my life (figuratively, at least).
Last Sunday morning, my kind husband whisked our two younger children downstairs so I could sleep in. But it was not to be, as a few minutes later I heard my five-year-old at our bedroom door. “Do you want to come cuddle?” I asked him.
“I ALWAYS want to cuddle you,” he enthusiastically replied. He seemed puzzled when I told him I hoped he’d always feel that way.
My son began to tell me about a dream he’d had, in which he was a superhero saving the day. After recounting his dreamland adventures, my son turned to me, “I think everyone is kind of a superhero, don’t you?” Read more…
I hope you and yours are enjoying a very Merry Christmas, or at least, rejoicing in a day off work. I am sending my best wishes for a wonderful celebration with family and friends, and for a New Year full of blessings. But I did not send any holiday cards.
It’s a tradition as sacred as pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving (okay, bad example, we didn’t do that either this year, but only because I couldn’t find canned pumpkin in South Africa). Every year, with the arrival of December comes a steady stream of holiday cards from family and friends. As a kid, it was among the most exciting mail we got all year. My mom is one of eight and all of her sisters and brothers sent cards from across the country; it was usually the only time I got to “see” my far-away cousins aside from family reunions. My parents put a lot of time and effort into our holiday cards. My dad would devise an elaborate theme or scene (for example, one year we brought a little Christmas tree and Santa hats to the beach and wrote out, “Merry Christmas from the Sandy Clauses” on the beach) and my mom would painstakingly write out each one and send them to dozens of family and friends. Deciding who would get a holiday card in a given year was a complex undertaking involving multiple variables such as: did they send us a card last year? do we think we have their current address? are we still friends with them? Read more…
We are on the tip of the African continent, visiting my in-laws in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. After an unexpected death in the family a few months ago, my husband and I decided to come out to throw his extended family an American Thanksgiving. Although the hot weather necessitated some menu modifications (for example, cold potato salad instead of hot mashed potatoes), we had a gorgeous turkey with cranberry sauce and gravy, stuffing, salad, noodle kugel, green beans, and an assortment of pies. My kids made foam turkeys for each place setting and a gingerbread turkey as the centerpiece. As per tradition, we all over ate and enjoyed one another’s company until late into the evening. The South Africans were grateful we had shared our American custom.
The next morning, however, we were horrified to discover that while Thanksgiving remains uniquely American, South Africa – and likely other countries as well – has adopted the more modern U.S. tradition of Black Friday. We happened to be at one of the area’s largest malls on Friday morning (for an animatronic dinosaur exhibition) so had a first-hand experience of the consumption hysteria. People with trolleys ( that’s what they call shopping cart here) loaded with TVs, designer clothes, and new gadgets pushed past each other to scoop up the next “Black Friday” bargain. The shops seemed to encourage this stampede effect by publishing in their ads how many of a certain item would be available at the discounted rate. Read more…