Life, Parenting

About the 2nd, 29th and 200th day of school…8 tips to managing a school routine.

Adult kids
It’s not the first day of school photo.

I have always loved fall. The cooling weather, the leaves turning colors, new clothing and the fresh start that a new season and school year brings.

Since my kids are grown and there is no backpack photo to share, I am providing a little unsolicited life advice for parents on how to manage school routines with kids. Here are eight points to help you navigate the new school year.

  1. Celebrate each day. Beginning a new school year is a big deal and gets so much attention, as it should. But I also encourage you to celebrate every day. Talk to your children about what was amazing and what was difficult about each day. Help them learn to recognize the good, even in the midst of challenge. This habit will serve them their entire life.
  2. Don’t compare yourself. A friend of mine shared recently that she was a loser because she didn’t have the requisite photo of her children on the morning of the first day of school. Social media provides a snapshot of one micro-moment of others. Did you ever consider that none of those photos show the parent? Who knows, they may be haggard and cranky monster on the other end with a meme-worthy morning of pure chaos to capture that photo. Remember, you only get to see one side of the lens, so be gentle to yourself. Each of us is uniquely created and we love and nurture in our own way. It does not require a cute little chalkboard sign. But if you are that parent who stages a photo shoot each year – you are awesome and the photos are adorable. No shame – just be you – either way.
  3. Eat a meal together. I’m not kidding. There is a lot of research that suggests sitting as a family unit together for a meal, is so important to health – emotionally, mentally and physically. I didn’t do everything right by a long stretch, but one thing I can say I did, was make sure we ate dinner together most nights. Was it frozen pizza sometimes? Yes.  The content of the food itself was not the point, sitting together provided not only a structure to our lives, it was our opportunity to talk and just land in the same place together. Now don’t get all spun up about time. Sometimes we sat for just 15 minutes, but that time was ours and it was important as a parent to listen and keep tabs on our how our kids were doing. This time was also our chance to check in on any homework assignments or permission slips needed.
  4. Prepare the night before. Ok, stop the eye rolling. Before you clean up after dinner (and we still do this today), make up the lunches for tomorrow. Side benefit is that you only clean up the kitchen once. Then once that is complete, have the backpacks with homework, permission slips, instruments, gym clothes, etc. packed up and placed in the same spot every night. I never had the benefit of an Instagram worthy entry with cubbies and hooks, but we had one spot where everything went the night before. The mistake many parents make is doing this step for your children, which leads me to my next point.
  5. Involve the kids in the process. No where in the universe does it say the parent must do all the work. Nope. Not true. Nor should you. Even kindergarten students can help with some of the preparation for school and every student should be taught to take responsibility for their success. So, make them pack their backpack and put it near the door. Expect them to help pack lunch, get their permission slips signed and ensure they have everything they need for tomorrow. I can tell you how wrong I did this for so long, but once I shifted the balance of accountability, it changed me and my children for the better. Note for parents of high school students: this involves “waking up” for school too – especially when they are driving themselves. Don’t give them an excuse to blame you, they need to take responsibility and secretly, they like it. It did wonders when I began to expect them to get up on time to do the 10 minutes or 1 hour of primping they needed. This may be a big shift, but if they know what is expected, they can do it. (BTW: Ask me about the day the high school called to have me excuse my late child and I did not. Mean? Maybe. But, they were not late again.)
  6. Pick your battles. This one is tricky depending on your personality. But seriously, decide if a perfectly picked up room is the highest priority or not. This is especially true to older kids. We had only two rules – no food in the bedrooms and if it starts to smell, I will get involved. When I learned to just close the door and let them have their space, they began to self manage and got tired of the mess themselves. Parents, please don’t do all the pick up after your kids – it does not serve them well in life…trust me.
  7. Dealing with uniforms. Whether school uniforms or gym clothes, this point is important. When my kids were little and had a uniform, we couldn’t afford multiples of everything, which meant washing during the week. My kids knew which days I had to wash and when they got home, they put their uniforms in the basket so I could get them started right away. Remember, I worked full time, so this little habit served as a reminder to me too! Side note, if your uniform involves small items like a tie, keep that in their back pack to avoid the search in the a.m. Those are scars talking here….you’re welcome.
  8. Be flexible. We had a routine, which worked most of the time, but sometimes when life blew up, so did the routine. Be flexible and go with the flow. That might mean that you buy lunch that day or eat a granola bar in the car, or dress in the car….but adapting to life’s surprises is a critical life skill for all of you. If you are going to be late, what good is it to show up 3 minutes late and in a frazzle without the parts you need? Just own it. Take your time, get your selves in order and then deal with the 15 minutes or 20 minutes late…or, dare I say it?…a call out day to work through the situation. Life happens, give yourself a break and do what you must, but our ability to show our children flexibility is important. And spoiler alert: your grown kids will remember what choices you made and the priorities you placed on things, time, obligations.

I know you are all so excited for school to have begun and I can remember those days. I do hope you will enjoy the second, 12th and 200th day of school as well. These ideas aren’t brand new or rocket science, but even choosing just one will help your school year hum a little bit better. Best wishes to you and your homes this school year. Hope it’s the best year yet!

 

 

Life, Parenting

A Mama’s Heart at the Orphanage is Tough!

Image“Papi,” cries a beautiful baby girl with dark brown eyes to my husband who is catching them on the end of the slide. We’ve had an empty nest of sorts for a bit, so our time of slides and babies is like a fondly remembered movie from years ago. But there is something about the sound of a deep, belly laugh. If you’ve head it you know it. Like you can almost feel it and you absolutely can not contain a smile. Belly laughs are a gift. Absolutely, undeniably one of the sweetest sounds on the earth.

This crooked pony tailed baby girl and all of the others are full of joy. They soak up the love around them, they smile and laugh like they have not a care in the world. They are in a safe place. Loved. Precious. Celebrated.

This darling thing was found in the dumpster? I’m sure there are desperate situations, but I struggle to even imagine the dark space you would find yourself in to think that “tossing” a child out is the only option. This adorable, sweet baby boy absolutely stole my heart with his smile. I can not imagine a more perfect and precious human. Absolutely heart breaking that any beautiful child would be treated as trash. It’s just a reality I can not wrap my heart around. I whisper a prayer in my heart for the mama, the child, those who knew and walked away. I can’t imagine.

Another moody little girl flashes her feisty attitude, angry that she had to share our attention. Adorable. Seems like a lifetime ago when we were facing these very moods in our own home. A lifetime indeed.

The children had their strong allure and pull on my heart and my emotions and my mind reeled thinking about each story and their journey. I thought, prayed and contemplated each one and marveled at the house moms who left their own family for the week to stand in as a loving mother to these little ones. And yet my mind kept coming back to my “little one”. This confident adult woman who has spent months giving to these kids, pouring out of her own time, her own treasures and her own heart to be with them. My heart ached so that I felt self conscious of it. I was confused by the mix of emotions I was experiencing but I knew a deep and profound heart ache was coming.

Fast forward one week. Time for baby girl, our nearly 21 year old baby, to return home.

I was antsy, emotional and had no tolerance for BS today. Everything seems to rile me and I found myself agitated in my heart. What was going on?  Why am I behaving this way. I whisper another prayer…this time for her…for me. Probably should have for those around me. I was a wreck.

After finally taking time to just settle and listen, I realized my reactions were merely deflecting from the real state of my heart…my hurting heart. As I lay quietly trying to whisper another prayer, I realized I could feel actual physical pain in my heart. I knew my kid was hurting. Still too far away for a hug and too grown up for a trick or a treat to forget the pain. I felt rushes of the same protective urges I did when she was three. Her heart was hurting and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help her. No words would help. I could not wrap her up and promise her everything would be alright. Her social media posts were mature, grounded, full of heart, yes pain, but so sincere and so pure that I felt ashamed of my worry. She has grown and changed.

Somewhere, when we weren’t looking, our baby became an adult. A beautiful, confident adult who will no doubt change the world. I know several little kids whose lives have been changed already.

 

Life, Parenting

Wait…is Old Cool or Not?

My daughter and I found this darling little ornament at a vintage Christmas sale.  We love shopping in antique stores, estate sales and thrift shops.  Each trip is like a treasure hunt and we can linger for hours among “old stuff”.  But the irony of this faddish vintage craving of my 18 year old daughter amuses me. 

She has boldly laid claim to pieces of the family heirlooms we have in our home “when I’m gone” and regularly announces plans to take the antique iron bed frame, the vintage slipper chair and other treasures from our home “when she moves out”. It’s not that I mind these references to life without mom, nor do I feel at risk of a sudden unfortunate demise. No, this allure of “old things” by my youngest is more like a play I sit and watch, wondering if the final scenes will surprise with a sudden twist of story.

Not yet even 50, my husband and I are reminded often that we are “old”.  Nevermind that the things we played with in our homes as children are showing up in those vintage stores…we are not old!  At least not in our own mind.  In fact, on the verge of an empty nest before we turn 50 holds so much possibility, we are nearly giddy with the thought. Listen, don’t judge, we adore our children, but come on…who wants them to live at home forever?

Anyway, because I love antiques as well, this is a fun phase for me.  But I wonder, in the final scenes of this drama, if my husband and I become cool as well?  I won’t worry about it.  In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy these moments with my kids.  You know, for young ones, they are pretty cool.

 

Life, Parenting

A few of my favorite things

It’s December! There is something about this time of year that makes me just plain happy. Everything about this season holds a bit of hope, thrill and delight to me. Sure, I’m a grown woman with grown children, but you’re never too old to believe. These are some of my favorite things:

1. I adore my family. They are my favorite company, friends and fans of Elf, sappy Hallmark movies and treats.

2. I am so grateful for my job. I get to represent an amazing organization that takes care of kids. And part of my job is getting to receive blessing after blessing from our community for the kids. It is moving to see the goodness and kindness of others!

3. I love, love Christmas music. Oh Holy Night is my all time fav. I remember as a kid caroling through the neighborhood with my siblings. Not sure if we sounded good, but we were convinced we were making others merry! For the life of me, I still don’t know what “figgy pudding” is. Pretty sure It’s NOT on my favorite list.

4. I love my neighbors! I’m so blessed to have the greatest family behind us. Their little three year old came in and saw our tree. She picked an ornament off the tree and asked, “can I borrow this?”. That kid could have my kidney if she asked. Absolute innocence and joy makes me smile.

What do you like about this time of year?

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Life, Parenting

Hunt & Gather – Musing About Black Friday Shoppers

It’s Thanksgiving. Well, technically it is the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving. I’m giggling silly in the aisles of Target and it is nearing 4 am. I’m not quite to the can’t-stop-giggling-no-way-in-hell-I’m-losing-my-place-in-line-to-run-to-the-bathroom stage, but given enough time, I could get there easily.

Snaking our way through the rest of the questionably sane humanity trying to save five bucks by waiting in line for hours, we have opened our box of pop tarts and are snacking. Three nearly grown kids and I are really buying stuff that is not such a great deal, but I refuse to do this and come back without a kill!

I ponder this ritual and can only assume it’s some primal connection to our prehistoric instinct to “hunt and gather”. As I observe, there are a few distinct types of post-Thanksgiving meal shoppers that emerge.

1. The Trophy Hunter – armed with lists, coupons and exact strategy to each stop, this shopper easily maneuvers the crowds with their eye on specific targets. The big prize. They know what they are after and with laser like focus remain fixed on the best kill. Be cautioned, trampling, shoving and camping may be involved.

2. The “If It Moves Shoot It” Hunter – driven merely by the idea of life-changing savings, this shopper wanders the aisles, flitting from end cap to end cap and throwing anything with a red sticker or sign into their cart. They are typically the ones that clip your heels with their cart as they drive without watching the road.

3. The Socialite – content with the “let’s bond with fourteen thousand of our closest friends” concept, these are the shoppers who try on every hat, cluelessly block the aisles to stop and visit with Susie from the gym and blissfully wander in their bubble, sharing gossip and Starbucks with their fellow warriors.

4. And finally, The Hunter Becomes the Hunted – seriously, at 1:30 in the morning with dozens of people in line, you choose now to do a return? Enough said.

So to all you successful shoppers out there, here’s to your finds and the good times on gathering them!

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Life, Parenting

Help! Someone Save Me From Myself

After a relatively crazy travel schedule, I told the boss, I need some time off.  So, I planned four days off at home.  Four. Full. Days.  For a working mother, heck a woman at all, that is a luxury!  I imagine the scene, almost in slow motion.  A June Cleaver grin spreads across my face as I dream of the lingering at home, the perfectly clean home, meals prepared, the entire day in my pjs (OK, that’s NOT June Cleaver, but she wasn’t real anyway).  I’ll take a nap, do some crafts, bake, relax….well, you get the idea. Feeling like a child at Christmas, I almost giggle to myself imaging FOUR-FULL-DAYS to reign in my home. Alone. Doing whatever I please.

Because I can’t ever just “settle down”, I vacuum and dust the whole house, finish the dishes and shine the counters so I can relax. Once things feel relatively peaceful, I seek for the ever elusive, magical kingdom called, a NAP.  (Insert sound of angelic hosts and a soft glow here).  I’ve kicked my shoes off, settled in to my bed, little dog by my side, big dog on her bed.  Deep exhale as I let myself go.  I’m drifting, drifting, BAM! Eyes wide open like a gunshot went off, I jump up to go switch the load of laundry. After all, I can’t relax if I think about those clothes growing sour with time. Then, I’ll settle back down and rest for real.

Take 2 – settle in, deep exhale, drif….BAM! Phone rings in the other room.  What if it’s the kids. They need me.  I dash out of bed to answer…was a survey.  Sorry about the curt refusal honey, you called me back from the magic kingdom for this???!!!

Take 3 – settle in, deep…BAM! Dogs hear something and begin to bark! It’s a knock on the door.  I put on my best smile through annoyance and open the front door.  Really? Really?  Sure I’ll buy your $20 bag of carmel corn to help the Cub Scouts. Now leave me alone!

Take 4 – Settle in, ah, hell.  Who am I fooling?  Get up to begin dinner and fold the laundry.

Unfortunate genetics (sorry mom!) or personality has to be the blame.  Try as I might, relaxing and doing nothing fits like a square peg in my round world.  Somebody save me from myself!

Life, Parenting

Don’t tell me I can’t….please.

I sat recently in a session about young philanthropists and the power of Generation Y that changed my life. I know, you’re probably thinking…. “Whoa, now… don’t be so melodramatic!” Seriously, in thirty minutes, Lee Fox of KooDooz shared story after story about children who have raised millions and millions of dollars to help our world, homelessness, disaster relief at such a speed that you felt you were drinking from a firehouse.

At some point, you have to stop the twitter posts and set your notes down and just let the words sink, rattle around and have their impact.

In her summary of the world events that these change-makers grew up within, she mentioned that these under 18year olds are not discouraged by those who tell them they can’t, because they have grown up believing in the power of one and that every single person can change the world. It’s not about fame and recognition, it is just the right thing to do!

At some level you sit there deciding, as a responsible, too-busy-with-life-to-get-involved adult, if you are ashamed, inspired or just have a renewed hope in our own ability to make a difference. More, a renewed hope in mankind. And that’s what marinated all night on my soul and heart and what has led me to this revivalist claim today, “I’ve been changed!”.

I was reminded of my own passions for change that I have sidelined for any number of worthy excuses and was re-energized to push back against those who say, “you can’t”. You see, I realized I have lost my fight, my spunk, the hunger to do better, to help others, to make a difference and I have reduced my existence to a mealy form of complacency. To quote my new heroes and mentors, “ewwww, gross”!

My name is Sally, and my life’s dream is to more like a fifth grader!
@KooDooz for full info and stories