Surviving Social Media

Bit by bit we are settling into our new digs, but it will be a long process as the five of us, plus Chip the Labradoodle and Sally the Cat, as urbanized as the rest of us, get used to country life.

Back up. What?

Yes, this urban mom, along with her even more urban husband and three children up and moved to the country a month ago. Crazy? Perhaps. But so far we’re enjoying it.

I won’t get into the whole backstory here, you can check out those details at my other site, www.smalltowngal.com where I am capturing our journey and acclimatization to the country.

As part of a way to de-stress over the past few months of packing, moving, boxes, end of school, I listened to podcasts. At first it was just a few and then I got finger happy and downloaded a whole slew of podcasts on parenting, short stories, current events, all things I could play in the background as I drove from place to place and packed up my house.

Now, living a more rural lifestyle, the trips in the vehicle are longer with kids in tow, (shockingly not enrolled in camps this summer as I had no idea about the landscape here), so my podcast listening is reduced to Story Pirates and other kid-related podcasts. Until a couple of days ago.

Having found a reliable babysitter and knowing my kids were bored to tears with my company, I took advantage and started having her babysit at least once a week so I could run into town. You see, errands that used to be quick jaunts to the grocery store have been replaced with planned errand days that take double the time. The kids are beyond grumpy and hungry by the time I drag them in and out of three or four stores to get all my groceries. A babysitter seemed a good option halfway through summer break.

On this particular errand day, I got a chance to listen to a parenting podcast called, Only A Parent (June 28, 2016 Episode). They were discussing a topic I quite enjoyed called, I’m Bored. I loved their discussion and nodded in agreement as they reaffirmed what I knew. It is okay for kids to be bored. I have witnessed (after some prompting and whining) some great imaginative moments when my three kiddies (without planned playdates or friends as of yet) coming up with ways to entertain themselves.

Part of the discussion entered around the pressure parents feel to be “the entertainment” for their kids and dove into a slight side topic of social media. You know what I mean, the Facebook, twitter, Instagram and Pinterest boards where well-meaning parents post beautifully organized crafts or ideas for “How to keep your kids busy this summer.” or “10 DIY Crafts for Summer.” I am not of that ilk, I’m the mom that pushes my kids outside with bottles of water and tell them to play in the backyard so I can get something done. But, I also try to balance that with fun stuff. We go on outings, parks, beaches, hikes, I love exploring and take the kids with me.

And I post on social media, I have for years before it exploded. What I realized listening to this podcast discussion was that I may be considered one of those people who posts only the good, never the bad and ugly side of parenting. Some people would construe my social media participation as trying to depict “perfect family moments.” And, looking back over my posts, I can see their point.

Most of my social media centres around a few things; family life, where we travel, pets, flowers, food and my personal writing. I don’t tend to concentrate on the hard days, parenting or otherwise, when I’m going nuts trying to control the puppy, wash a dish and mediate a new punching game between my two eldest girls. Or the days when I give up and just let them play WiiU and watch movies so I can think for a couple of hours. Maybe I should, but honestly, why?

In truth, social media is a way for me to connect with people. Most of our family lives overseas or away and they enjoy seeing the places we visit and pictures of the kids. Grandparents don’t want to see my kids embroiled in a nasty argument with me as I patiently try to talk to an emotional ten year old and sometimes succeed and oftentimes do not. They see that when they visit. Posts about us enjoying life, well it brightens their day, or so I’ve been told.

I also like to receive and share information. A great place to take your kids, or go on a rare date night, or even finding those quiet spots to go by yourself. I love it when I connect with someone and they tell me, I went to that place too or those times a small business sends me a quick thank you for promoting their business in my small way. Really, how else are people going to be aware of what is in their communities if we don’t share the information? Social media for me is about informing and sharing. If you notice, I’m hardly in any pictures. Because most of my social media is captured by my own personal lens, how I view my tiny area of the world, that does not lend itself to being in front of the camera.

I also like to remember where I’ve been, (okay, to be honest my memory sometimes sucks and by posting where I’ve been I can recommend things to people or go back, so part of it is journal-esque in that way). I capture a special moment and record good things about a day. Life and news feeds can be really hard to read some days and heart-breaking. By putting a little more joy or happiness out there, maybe it will help someone else who is having a bad day.

I live with my feet well planted in reality and by capturing something wonderful or memorable about our simple lives it also helps to remind me that everything will be all right. It is therapeutic for me and I realized listening to the podcast that posting on social media has replaced a regular journal. Life also moves very fast, so on those busy or harder days when I want to just stand still and yell for help, I can scroll back over my posts and remember a lunch somewhere with friends, the way the waters looked at sunset and the precious smile my youngest had eating a huge ice cream. Self-serving? Perhaps, but if it also helps others in the same boat, wonderful. Win-win.

The podcast was great, it mad me dig into a topic I really didn’t think about much. How I use social media and made me stop and think about the lens I captured our life. It also reaffirmed for me, that however you use social media, it is a personal choice. I choose to share the better in life or what I hope people may find useful or interesting. I guess at the end of the day, if you do not want to see my posts, you can always unfollow although I hope you stay. But just know, the story of my life is not carved on social media.

What you see is what I’ve mindfully chosen to share because I hope it helps, informs or brightens people’s days. The rest of it, that bad and ugly part, ask me. I have war stories to tell of being in the parenting trenches and the scars to prove it. I’m happy to share those things if someone wants it. It’s just not going to ever be part of my regular social media presence and that suits me fine.

 

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Responsibility – learning it together.

“It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on. “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943, translated from French by Richard Howard

Nine years old. My eldest child is about to turn nine this week. Some days I feel she is wiser beyond her years. Others I have to wonder if she stopped listening at the age of five. Combine that with a blossoming sense of over confidence that she has her world mostly figured out and a girl who since she could speak, has a question or comment on just about anything. Well, if you have or had a nine-year old, you get it.

The topic this week in our household? Responsibility. Honesty. Building a plan to be more responsible. Why? Well, our clever girl, wanting to do well on a presentation for school, decided that because she felt so good about it, to forge a mark on the paper and pass it off that her teacher gave her an A+ on the spot. Thinking back I should have been a little more suspicious when there was no sheet accompanying her speech and that her attempt to explain that the mark was only for the presentation part was a bit far-fetched, but being a distracted mama, I trusted her.

Thankfully, my little girl, having a Jimminy-Cricket voice whisper in her ear, came down at bedtime and confessed the whole thing. At first I was shocked and disappointed. Then sad. Sad that through my overly loud insistence, and ultimately not so nice efforts after hours of frustrating conversations to get her to even prepare for this presentation, she wanted us to be happy with her effort so she felt she had to bring home some sort of mark.

I did what most parents would do at the time. I expressed how disappointed I was but glad she told the truth. Then ushered her upstairs as bedtime was not the moment for confessions. We would discuss it further in the morning after I talked to Mr. L.

Having a heart to heart later that evening with Mr. L about the whole  situation, I made my own confession. I am sinking. Being on my own most nights, trying to manage three kids with activities and homework, (both items that will be increasing the older they get), while getting dinner ready was getting harder and harder. All of the above while trying to ensure they get to bed at a decent time as I don’t believe having a grade three student up at 9:00 pm doing homework does anybody good.

Elizabeth is the type of kid who needs constant reinforcement, reminders to stay on task and someone to push her. She hasn’t yet strengthened her own inner confidence or drive to get through a single study session for a simple dictee. Jacob desperately wants to learn and is, but at a slower pace because in truth, I don’t have as much time to spend one on one with him learning the alphabet or how to print his name. Thank goodness Audrey seems inclined to get things done on her own and will just pick up a book to read if need be, but she is also getting the short end of the stick. She wants to do stuff, I just don’t have the time to come up with interesting extra work. Hopping between three kids while trying to keep my “no television or other electronic device weekly rule” in tact is becoming harder and harder, and they are young. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for all this.

Then, this lie happens and I realize all the fighting about homework the last few weeks, the badgering, the nagging, the shouting, did not make one difference. Until Elizabeth understands about personal responsibility and will internalize it, I am speaking to the wall. All she took away from everything was that we were desperate for her to get a good mark. In reality, we did say we simply wanted her to take some responsibility for her own work and do her best, but all she heard was good marks or else.

This past Friday was a PA Day. I made a last-minute decision to put the younger two in a morning camp and have Elizabeth help me do some cleaning as a consequence for lying (as well as taking away her iPad until I deemed she had earned it back). After dropping off the younger kids, I made a pit stop at the local coffee shop. With coffee and hot chocolate in hand, I sat Elizabeth down and had a serious one on one talk with her asking what she thought her responsibility was at the house. She knows. She parrots back everything I have said to her over the years about how important it was to be responsible for your own work, to be proud of what you can accomplish, how at almost nine, she had to start caring about more than just what she wants to do. I stopped  her mid-sentence.

“I don’t want you to be like a robot and tell me what you think I want to hear. I want you to tell me in your own words.”

After a few seconds, she finally started to talk. I listened. I talked.

I think we made progress.

I also realized I need to be an example. Some days I am organized, others I am not. I too have trouble keeping things balanced and organized. Not because I don’t want to, I just don’t have the systems in place quite yet to help me. Systems are hard because you want one that works for your family and then you have to hope your spouse supports the system and the kids understand it.

So I go to seek the systems. The chore/homework charts that may help her. The room she needs as a nine-year old which is different from a six-year-old room that she shares with her sister.

All while standing on my head and planning two little girls birthday parties this week. Is it no wonder that this past weekend, I hid in the house with  my children from friends texting asking for playdates and napped while the kids played one more round of Super Mario during their electronics are okay weekend? I had grand plans to make muffins with them, take out the Scrabble board but with Mr. L gone part of the day, the thought of coaching two kids on the game while the third hurls letters across the room because he doesn’t really understand how to play made me avoid most family activities. I finally stirred after a log of guild ate at me while I read post after post of “Fun Things to do Inside When It’s Too Cold to Go Outside as a Family.” I love family time, but my whole life is family time right now. Scrabble? Who needs it when I have kindergarten Lunch Bag Learning Kits to go through with Jacob before school next week? So I made popcorn, put on a movie and we watched The Chipmunks – Chipwrecked instead.

In this day and age, parents are expected to be involved in everything. Homework is no longer a solitary act but a shared family learning activity. Kids want to try all the wonderful things they can access in their communities. Playdates are planned ahead of time for next weekend. Part of me is all for it or at least parts of it. Another part of me wants to scream.

I know lots of single child parents and they find it hard to do all this with one. Times all of that by three and you have two options. Sink or swim. Some days I have to wonder, do schools/teachers know that some things, although fun to do as a family, when you have three or more all fighting for one’s parent attention to help them or listen to the same book read yesterday, is only setting up parents for potential failure?

Why wasn’t Elizabeth’s speech worked on in class? Or at least some of it? She’s in grade three, not old enough to figure out the nuances of a three-four minute speech without significant guidance. Right now I’m treading water.  I am a big supporter of education, but is pushing our kids younger and younger to make these big jumps in learning with the expectation that a parent is always available to navigate a child through the increasing piles of busy work necessary. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the anomaly who is having a hard time figuring out how to manage three or more kids?

So I forge on, hoping my talk with Elizabeth sticks a little better when delivered during a one on one meeting over hot beverages. I treated her like a big kid. Let’s hope she starts to want to be a big kid. I endeavour to swim so will tread water a little longer until I find the systems I think will work for us and implement them.

What do you use to keep track of your kids activities/chores or homework?  What tactics do you use to help support them and nudge them towards taking personal responsibility? I am on the hunt.

 

Teaching Strength – Morning Musing

 

 

Browsing Facebook this morning I spotted this image on a friend’s timeline. Usually I read these messages, make a brief mental note somewhere in my brain and move on with my day. But this one stuck with me in so much that I went back and reread it for a very specific reason.

My middle daughter, trying to keep up with the reporting tendencies of her older sister, spills all of her daily news as soon as her snowsuit clad legs hit the sidewalk. In the three minutes it takes for us to walk to our driveway, she has tried to fit all her social angst into one conversation ignoring my pleas that we wait until we are inside, warm and all sitting around the kitchen table where I try to negotiate three kids spilling to me about the good and bad of their days.

Yesterday, (as it typical of an almost seven-year old) her daily dose of problems were friend related. For weeks I’ve been quietly observing her kindergarten neighbourhood crew, two other girls, make the transition from “we all play together” mantra to refocusing their energy on each other leaving my girl as the third wheel. It is little things, not intentioned meanly (I hope!) that I can see when they get on the bus together in the morning. Simply put, the other two girls have grown closer leaving my girl feeling left out. Being a bright little girl who listens, she attempts to discuss her feelings with them telling them they are leaving her out and she feels bad.  In reality, they hear her but they are not processing it the same way as she is. They don’t see the big deal. Some days are better than others but my sense is that she is played with on their terms and only if they allow her to play instead of her deciding if she really wants to play with them.

Now in no way do I think these two girls (whose parents I know and this has been discussed how difficult a three-kid friendship can be) are intentionally leaving her out. However, the social nuances pointing to a change in their friendship.  They are increasingly avoiding her and my girl is picking up on that. So what to do?

I have tried the whole, “we should all play together” mantra which is wonderful, but she looks at me like I’m crazy.

“I’ve tried saying that. They ignore me.”

 

“Maybe you can choose to play with someone else?”

“I don’t want to. They’re supposed to include me.”

How do you tell a child that in a perfect world, yes, those kids who were your BFFs in kindergarten would always want to play with you, respect when you feel left out and alter their behaviour accordingly? She gets it. These children do not and truthfully, are only six years old. Her understanding of the situation and how to deal with it may be above what they understand. They are simply playing with who they want, each other.

Being conversation number five on this subject matter, I decided a different approach was needed.

“Do you want me to talk to their parents again? Maybe try to help them understand you feel left out? They are still your friends you know. Friendships just change sometimes.”

“No. I’ve tried telling them. They just ignore me.”

Personally, at this point I don’t think their parents would do anything that hasn’t already been done. How many times can you tell your own child they must include someone when they just don’t want to for whatever reason?

“Well Audrey, let’s think. What are the other options?”

“I could find new people to play with.”

“Yes honey. You know what, stop letting them decide what you do. You do not have to play with them. There are other girls who would love to play with you. You’ve been so focused on these two, you kind of ignore other people. Let the other girls, maybe those in your class get a chance to know you. Ask to play with them. You make the decision. Stop waiting for them to decide to include you. Take charge of what you do.”

“Yeah. I am interested what the other girls play at recess.”

“Then ask to join them. If E. and A want to play with you, let them come and find you and then you can decide if you really want to play with them or your new friends. Just be polite about it. If they want to play only together right now, it doesn’t mean they’re not your friend. But that also means you do not have to drop everything if they come and ask you to join them. You are in charge of your time. Not them.”

“Okay. I’ll try tomorrow.”

My stomach is in knots for her. Then I read this message this morning and think, exactly. That is what I want to teach her. Love yourself more.

We strive so hard to teach our children to be kind, polite and inclusive to all their peers. All wonderful attributes. But do we sometimes forget  to tell them, especially our girls, that you do not need to stay in a friendship that makes you feel bad? That friendships sometimes do not last forever and only so much can be tried before a change is needed? It may be sad, but it will be all right because another friend may be waiting around the corner, perhaps a better suited friend. Or perhaps that friend will come back one day and your friendship will be stronger.

Why are we afraid to tell them that people are agents of their own fates and should not be beholden to others for their happy moments? As long as relationships are managed with consideration, politeness and respect it is okay to walk away. I want to teach my girls to be masters of their own universe and not let their peers dictate what they do. A grand plan that will not always work out I’m sure, but I can try. Is that not my job as their parent?

With bated breath, I await her report at the end of the day and hope for the best.

Remembering simple things

Passing down a weekend tradition. #comics #kids

A post shared by rhhouse (@house1976) on

 

Sunday mornings.

I’m not sure how they work at your house, but it may go like this.

If we’re lucky and all three have slept in past 7:00 am, we all march with groggy faces downstairs and I start the coffee machine. It’s the one day of the week this militant mom allows her kids out of their rooms in the pyjamas before breakfast and they love it. If Mr. L and I are organized (50/50 chance) one of us is starting a family breakfast of pancakes or eggs while the other tries to fend off the hungry people from eating two bowls of cereal spoiling any chance of them eating the hot breakfast we slaved over.

Once breakfast is cooked, the kids gobble it up before both parents sit down and then rush off with a

“Sunday morning cartoons!!! WiiU!!”

In the meantime, two still not-quite awake parents look at each other and shrug and say, “It’s Sunday.”

Then a little while later, guilt sets in that we are lounging with coffees doing nothing while our kids are being babysat by Disney Junior. What ensues is kind of a ritualistic dance of  getting kids dressed, teeth brushed so we can get on with our day.

Yesterday, I discovered something my poor tired brain forgot. Once upon a time, we got a weekend paper. Being an old soul, I still prefer the sound of a morning paper crackling versus the hum of the computer to catch up on current events. However, as most parents realize, trying to leisurely read a weekend newspaper is pointless with three young kids running amok. Our recycling bin was full of unread wasted print so we stopped our subscription.

By chance, I had acquired this long forgotten treasure the day before while going through the McDonald’s drive-through. (Before you judge, you wake up and get two kids to dance class for 9 am on a Saturday with a third kid in the van who has the stomach flu and may or may not throw up and you would be wanting an Egg McMuffin too! Besides, haven’t you heard those new radio ads stating how few calories there are in this breakfast item?) Well, free weekend newspapers were given to patrons. Score! (Anything free is a score.)

Of course, I couldn’t read the paper on Saturday. Saturday is activity day and playdate day and catch up on chores and well, you get it. The list goes on. Regardless, I was thinking the paper although welcome, would be another item to recycle this week. Until Sunday morning came.

This particular Sunday morning, because I’m kind of crazy like that, I signed the kids up for ski lessons. With a late start to winter, and having kids who picked up this winter sport last year, I made the parental decision to take them an hour drive away each Sunday for the next six weeks for ski lessons.  Mr. L works part of the day anyway, so why not? We don’t have to leave super early, but we do need to get a move on cutting into coffee drinking and cartoon watching time.

Being a little more organized than usual yesterday, I had all our gear packed and we had a little extra time. I was expecting the usual, “Can we watch TV?” However, something amazing happened. I forgot my girls know how to read. When we used to get the weekend paper, they were a couple of years away from wonderful life skill. Now as I tried to sit and actually read the paper at the breakfast table, they both looked with wonder at this relic until Elizabeth piped up,

“Do you remember you used to read me the comics? They were funny.”

That’s right! I would choose a kid-friendly comic and read it to my blossoming eldest child.

Digging through the pages of news and entertainment I found them. The four-colour processed weekend comic section.

“Here. You can read it yourself now.”

Grabbing it, she dived right in. Then her younger sister said,

“Me too?”

Splitting the pages I was awe-struck. We were sitting together, in relative peace on a Sunday morning enjoying a simple pleasure. A Norman Rockwell moment! They were chatting about what they found funny. Switched sections with no arguments. There was no mention of watching cartoons. Why would they? They were reading cartoons. Only the murmuring sounds of little voices as they read the ones they understood and asked me about the phrases with a satirical bent which I tried to explain in a kid-friendly way was heard.

How little it takes to fill a parent’s heart with joy and how quick a new tradition starts.

 

It’s Complicated

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Audrey

 

The staircase groans under the thundering steps of my eldest child.

“Mom! Audrey is crying again.”

Sighing, I glance up from the weeklong emails I am trying to answer. “What is it this time?”

She shrugs the way an older sister does with an impatient tap upon the ceramic tile in the foyer.

Moving the cat off my lap and placing the computer back on the desk, I stretch out my stiff back and follow her up the stairs. Sore legs? Her sister called her a name? It could be a number of things. The middle child, Audrey is the most sensitive. She is the one I worry about letting in the joys and sorrows of the world with no idea how to filter them.

Walking into the dimly lit room I am relieved to see the girls have turned off their lamps. The tiny stars on their finely webbed fairy curtains drape each of the beds.

“What is it darling?”

“I lied to you.”

Wondering what crime a six year old believes she committed, I sit on the bed rubbing her back. “Well, tell me about it and you’ll feel better.”

“I tried to do what you said and stay on the blacktop at school but Emily went into the field and I followed her.”

Trying not to smile I nod, “Okay. But why did you tell me you stayed on the blacktop when you got home?”

“Because I didn’t want you to get mad.”

Knowing that sometimes I can be a bit abrupt and stern about rules, I pause.

“I’m not mad. But you have to stay in your line so you don’t miss going into the school. If you want to take the bus you have to do that so I know you’re okay and the teachers know where you are. When you’re older you can play in the field. We talked about this last week, actually I talked to both you, Emily and her mom who agreed.”

After a spontaneous visit to the school playground last week, I was surprised my grade one student and her friend were playing in a restricted area. Taking a “watch and see” approach, they did not hear when the bell rang and were left behind as the lines went inside. Afterwards, I had spoken to both girls about being responsible and staying in their area. Following up with Emily’s mother she agreed that in grade one, they were to stay in place during the chaotic morning drop off. It was too easy for two little girls to go missing.

Audrey’s brown eyes look up at me, “But Mom, Emily’s mom told her it was okay to play in the field.”

Here it was, another conversation about my parenting tactics versus another parent. Did I believe Audrey? Yes. So either her friend Emily was telling a tall tale or her mother contradicted me, again.

Keeping the annoyance out of my voice I parrot my standard phrase, “Well honey, I’m not concerned with what Emily does. You are to follow our rules.”

“Okay Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” I hug her wiping away the remaining tears. “Now go to sleep. And thank you for telling me the truth.”

As I close the door for the second time, relief washes over me because for now I outrank her friends. At this age what they do is relatively harmless, easily fixed with a hug and repetitive message. Hopefully when the time comes, my voice will be louder than the lure of her peers or other parents.

 

Exhaustion Sets In

November. How did it get to be November?

That question is what everyone is asking. I’ve gotten so used to people stating out loud wherever I go that they cannot believe how fast time is flying that my response is automatic in nature.

“Yes, it is. Crazy eh?”

Although personally I don’t think life is moving any faster than last year. Life has moved fast since I had kids. Sure there are slower periods but generally, the last nine years have sped by faster than my poor tired brain can process. I think anyone with school age children will tell you that generally September and October are a blur. Now it is November. November is the “quiet” month. Or it should be. It is the month of waiting. Waiting for winter to start. Waiting for ski season. Waiting for the beloved craziness of holiday season. However, when you have three or more kids, quiet is a term not often used at any point in the year and waiting is a word not one person in my family likes to hear.

My theory is, November is also the month to recuperate. Recuperate from Halloween and wean ourselves off unnecessary but beloved treats. Rejuvenate from late nights and trick or treating with a coffee and irish cream in hand. Rest from the onslaught of cold and flu season hoping it all passes before December. Rest. What a lovely word. One of my favourite words and a concept foreign I am not sure what it means.

Halloween was a Friday night this year. A fun night, albeit cold and a bit rainy, our costumes this year were well suited. We were the candy family. All three kids wanted to be M&Ms, two greens and a blue. But easy costumes to put overtop of layers of clothes or warm jackets meaning we didn’t have to stuff them with the huge mound of cotton batting I had desperately searched for the week before. It also meant two things for our household. The kids had school and Halloween parties, so they were exhausted. But being good sports, we had dinner (hot dogs upon request) and chocolate cupcakes and off we went. Halloween with three kids means both parents go out. All the preparations and decorating that I did were for our own amusement as we placed a candy bowl on the front steps with a note to please use the honour system and take one or two candies. We were off off quickly joined by our regular neighbourhood crew, all sporting rain jackets and umbrellas. But the kids didn’t care, running with abandon down the quiet streets, all we could hear were their voices carrying in the night air, “Trick or Treat!”

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Kandy Korn witch and her M&M children. Halloween 2014

 

Jacob, not to be outdone this year, waddled from house to house leaving one of his friends behind so he could be with the big kids.  I couldn’t blame him and stopped reminding him to wait for his friend about halfway through when my spiked coffee ran out and I realized how cold it truly was outside. An hour later, Jacob, having opted to forgo the “scary house” looked up at us with his little cheeks bitten with drops of cold rain and said, “I’m done. I’m tired. Can I go home?” Screams from his sisters resulted. “We’re not done yet!!! It’s early. It’s a Friday night!”

Mr. L and I played rock, paper, scissors and I lost. Feeling my active, phlegm-soundin cough resuming I tried my best to look pathetic and thankfully, Mr. L (who had scored a refill from a neighbour on the drink) told me to I could go home, he would take the girls further around the block. Bless him!

So, Jacob and I ran home as the raindrops grew bigger just in time to dole out candy to the onslaught of kids. He thought it was great and he tossed in handful after handful into waiting bags. Rejuvenated, he tore off his costume (showing his glow in the dark skeleton shirt) and declared he was sitting on our stairs to wait for more kids. Thank goodness. It allowed me to peel off my damp clothes and change into snug dry ones and sit, blowing into a kleenex. A half hour later, the kids stopped coming and we started to go through his candy. The little helper deserved a treat. The girls and Mr. L arrived, soaked but happy. As I made hot chocolate for everyone, the kids declared it was the best Halloween ever. Exhausted Mr. L and I high-fived each other trying to convince them that it was time for bed. I shut down the house blowing out the jack o lanterns and shutting off the lights, we showered and changed our candy children back into regular little kids and I piled the wet costumes in the mud room and closed the door. By 9:00 pm we were settled on the couch, Mr. L snoring while I tried to watch a scary movie. A Halloween tradition.

The rest of the weekend was a blur. The damp night had turned my cough into a full-blown sinus cold sapping whatever energy stores I had in reserve. I know the kids got to their activities and I started writing attempting to participate in NaNoWriMo 2014 with a fuzzy head deciding best to start and try to make sense of what I wrote later drinking a lot of coffee which did nothing to help. Exhaustion set in. That along with red wine at a family dinner Saturday night meant I was toast the rest of the weekend.

From jazzlinguist.blogspot.com

From jazzlinguist.blogspot.com

 

By Sunday morning, I was happy the kids had their iPads to keep them busy while I dozed on the couch trying to figure out the bare minimum to be done that day and hoping my ears would clear so I could hear. Mr. L had thankfully taken one kid to work with him. When you have three or more kids, any help in keeping one occupied makes those hours a little more manageable.

As Mr. L returned from work on Sunday afternoon, he announced he had errands to run but to be glad, because he was taking the girls. Awesome. Jacob and I dressed for the outdoors enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Thankfully, our neighbours were also out and he was happy playing with his friend while I mindlessly chit-chatted. Afterwards, we cleaned up the rest of the backyard, getting the kid’s playhouse ready for winter and putting toys back inside the house that had mysteriously made their way to our backyard. The fresh air helped clear my head, for a bit and just as we finished, I heard the girls calling from inside the house.

“Mom!! We’re home. Come inside now.”

I yelled back, “Just a minute, my arms are full of your toys.”

“No Mom! Leave it! Come now!”

Curious, I climbed down the ladder heading into our kitchen. Jacob had already plunged inside dropping his muddy boots and gear all over the kitchen floor. Then I saw it. The girls stood with wide grins holding a carrier case.

“Happy early birthday!!”

A tiny noise emanated from the cage and a pink nose peeked out. “Meow?”

Tickled pink grabbing a tissue to blow my nose hoping it will clear my head for a moment, I looked up at Mr. L (the acclaimed cat hater) who shrugged.

“You said it was too quiet here with Jake gone. She is your present from the kids. The girls picked her out.”

As I scooped out a tiny, ten week old gray and white kitten who won me over as she nuzzled into my neck I blew kisses of gratitude to my crazy family.

Then it hit me. A kitten.

Exhaustion set in.

Sally the kitten.

Sally the kitten.

 

Playing hooky

“Mom!! When are we going apple picking and pumpkin picking?”

“Soon kids. Soon.”

Time was running out. The last of apple picking season was upon us and I knew that first frost was days away and I had promised the kids we would fit in apple picking this year. But birthday party after birthday party. Family events. Weather. You name it, it probably happened over a four-week period preventing me from taking my three anxious budding apple pickers out to a local farm to participate in an annual event. To be honest, the throughout of facing the crowds, on my own, at one of the few pick-your-own places in our area was more than I could bare on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Then it was pumpkin choosing time. The weekend after Canadian Thanksgiving when the kids start dreaming of Halloween costumes and scary lit jack-o’-lanterns.

“Pumpkins! Mom, we have to get our pumpkins.”

“Soon kids. Soon.”

I started to panic. The clock was ticking and I was about to fail a major parenting moment in front of three increasingly vocal and aware children. No longer could I get away with, “They won’t remember the experience anyway.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I love doing this stuff with my kids. I do not love doing it by myself while dealing with crowds of people losing my voice as I should at Elizabeth to stop touching everything, manage Audrey’s emotional state and pull Jacob down from the fifteenth climb up onto the vintage tractors littering these farms all while trying to carry gear, water bottles, snacks all while trying to snap a few pictures as proof of my supermom powers.

Racking my brain I looked and re-fiddled with our family calendar. If we went this day right after morning activities, got back in time so Audrey could go to her party. Mr. L would be home so he could help. Dammit. Both girls have birthday parties and one is a sleepover. I need to have time to dig out the sleeping bags and help her get packed.

For two weeks these conversations rattled around in my brain as my kids started getting nervous we wouldn’t be going.

One night, after all kids were soundly asleep I beseeched in my sweetest voice to Mr. L., “Please…any possible way there is a date you don’t have to work on a Sunday and we can go together? Or you could come home early and we can go right after school? Rush hour up to the farm will be easier if there is two of us!”

Regretfully he shook his head. I know part of him wants to be at these things but his work is such that meetings, hosting duties and court dates set months ago are not easily changed because his wife wants him to go to the pumpkin patch. I also know how tired he is on the weekends and we try not to schedule too much.

Then it hits me. What’s stopping me from playing hooky with the kids? A weekday trip during school hours would ensure the apple picking farm is not busy, traffic would be better and the kids would get a kick out of being pulled out of school early.

So I plan it praying the weather cooperates. I plan a day where none of them have library, or a test to be missed. I write notes in agendas and pack larger lunches hoping it will buy me some time in the afternoon and remind each of them, “Remember, I’m picking you up right after lunch. Try to eat everything and we can go straight to pick apples and get pumpkins.”

The day arrives with cooler temperatures but sunny skies. I ensured they wore mittens, toque and boots thinking ahead to the damp rows of apple trees. I checked the farm’s website seeing that some apples were still available. Eureka!

Rushing through my morning’s scheduled activities I stopped to pat myself on the back for thinking ahead and packing extra warm clothes in my duffel bag and I  happily arrived at the first school pick-up right on time. Ten minutes later both my daughters sauntered into the school foyer, excited and carrying their lunch boxes.

“Did you eat?” I asked.

Guiltily they looked at each other. “Some.” They answered.

“No problem,” I say intent on keeping a cheery attitude. “We have a half hour drive, you can eat in the van.”

The final pick-up goes well too. Jacob is already outside at recess having ate all his lunch. We drove off to Chudleigh’s Apple Farm, due north away from the breeze of the lake and I noticed the temperatures warmed up slightly. Upon arriving the day was even more idyllic that I had dared hope. Cool but not cold.The last of the buses from the school field trips were leaving and my heart sang, it truly would be only a scattering of people there. No breeze in sight and the warm sun helped the kid’s arguments that mittens were not necessary so we left them in the van. As we plunged into the farm, our first stop was to climb aboard the relatively empty awaiting tractor hay ride to head out to the apple orchard.

“Only Ambrosia’s left.” The farmer said.

Grasping our plastic draw-string bags we didn’t care. We were happy to pick anything and enjoyed the ride around the farm viewing the spectacular picture show of reds, golds and oranges bordering the property. As the tractor jerked to a stop, we ran up and down the aisles finally finding a bountiful crop of delicious red apples. We filled each of our bags to the fullest when I realized. I had to carry four bags of apples. The kids being good sports offered to carry their own and after a bit of fiddling on the best position, we managed to make our way out of the orchard back to the farm to find a large, heavy wagon to carry our load.

From there it was easy. We viewed the petting zoo. Picked our pumpkins. Ran a hay stack maze and then to the kid’s thrill, had the slide areas all to ourselves. The bakery was still open so wanting to celebrate our successes, we ate cookies with chocolate milk with pride.

When you have three or more kids, sometimes the easiest solution is to break the schedule once in a while. Play hooky. Be smart. We had a much more relaxed time going mid-week than we would have fighting the line-ups and crowds on the weekend. Especially if you in the position that there is one caregiver for three children, the rule of the day, make it as stress-free as possible. The kids will have much better memories of a day spent outside with a mom not screeching at them to stay where she can see them and that is what is important.

 

 

 

Discovering The Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge

 

Once upon a time there were two newly hitched people creating their first home together. After most of the boxes were unpacked the woman said, “Something is missing.”

It was around her birthday so her mother (who was visiting) took her on a trip to the local animal shelter where a gray tabby kitten stuck it’s paw out and claimed her as his new owner. When she brought home the kitten, the man (not a fan of cats) threw up his hands and said,   “If it makes you happy.”

The two then became three.

A little while later as the kitten, now named Wilhelm, grew and napped as only cats can do, the woman said, “He seems lonely. Something is still missing.”

“No!” the man cried. “We live in a one bedroom town home. There is no room for any more.” He was just finishing graduate school and the woman was working hard building her career.

“But you need a project. When will we have a chance where one of us is home again?”

“Fine. But we’re just looking.” The man conceded.

An ad in the newspaper caught their eye one weekend. Yellow lab puppies available it stated.

“Let’s just go and look.” The woman said with a twinkle in her eye.

So off in their new vehicle they went, outside the bright city lights to a farm where a lovely woman took them to a clean, warm barn. Two puppies were rolling around in their mother’s large kennel. The father stood in a separate kennel, large and muscular showing his teeth as the couple approached but with his tail wagging in greeting. The female lab was smaller, fine-boned and gentle.

“These are the parents.” The farmer’s wife smiled at the two dogs with love and nodded to the dad. “He’s a big baby, he just likes to show off.” She opened the kennel door and the two puppies came out with boundless energy.

The woman sat on the ground observing the two. One was chubby and after running over for a sniff proceeded to nip at her fingers and nibble her shirt. The other was smaller and jumped into her lap bouncing up licking her face before sitting for a moment in her lap.

“This one.” She said hugging the smaller one regarding his large brown gentle eyes.

“He’s the runt of the litter.” The farmer’s wife warned.

The woman shrugged scooping him up to present to her husband. “What do you think?”

She could see his eyes softening and he smiled. “Why not? What are we going to call him?”

The woman closed her eyes and a name drifted across her vision. “Jake. His name is Jake.”

From that day forward, Jake was theirs.

Wilhelm the cat was not happy but they learned to live together. Wilhelm would swat at his nose every once in a while to remind him he was there first and Jake never minded.

Jake was the cutest puppy and all that saw him cooed over the new addition. He never destroyed furniture. He potty trained with ease. He was never aggressive but, he hated being alone. He hated it so much so he would follow the woman everywhere, even to the bathroom.

So the couple got used to having him with them in all the places they went and if they couldn’t be with him, they had family members, dog walkers and sitters along the way to ensure he was never alone for long and the four of them lived happily together.

Jake grew up to be a gentle, quirky dog. Like most labs his nose was to the ground sniffing everything and he never turned down any food. Garbage, leftovers, his own food, other dog’s food, dead animals, he would eat anything except raw vegetables. He hated raw vegetables.  He loved chasing small animals and the family would never forget the time he found the rabbit’s nest in the backyard. He would carry huge tree branches on walks and loved heading to the lake to get his feet wet.

He rarely barked or growled only when the man was not at home it became his job to ensure that people knew he was there and the woman wasn’t alone. Although the couple would joke his big bark, similar to his dad’s bark, would cease the moment a robber patted his head or gave him a treat so he would never be a true guard dog. He just loved people too much and believed most people coming to the house, were there to see him. But his love of people was one of the reasons everyone loved him.

Time went on and the family grew. Wilhelm got sick one night and passed away. The woman was very sad so Jake made sure he stayed near her to let her know he was still there.  Over the next eight years, three human babies joined the family. Each one was a mystery of new smells and rules and Jake would sigh, “Another one?” But then he would accept the new addition, never complaining. He would bide his time trying to make life as easy as possible for the new parents who did not sleep and were cranky. He would still try to sneak on the bed to sleep but one by one the kids took over and his legs wouldn’t allow him to jump up any longer so instead he created a place beside the bed that was his alone. One day he got a brand new comfy bed that was only his and that made him happy. But every morning he would awaken the man or woman with his head laying near their faces waiting to go outside so they wouldn’t forget he was there too.

The kids got older and they started playing with his ears and accidentally poking his eyes and he never minded. He liked the extra attention. They helped feed and walk him and to his delight he realized they dropped food on the floor! Perhaps they weren’t all that bad and the woman was home a lot more to take him for walks which made him happy.

But like all animals, his body started slowing down and one day, after he had been on vacation at a sitter’s house while the family went on another trip where he couldn’t go, he got sick but he didn’t tell anyone. When the family came home, he was very ill and he couldn’t hide it any longer so the man and woman took him to the vet and after a while he got a little better. He had new food he didn’t like and pills to take but he felt well enough to go for walks with his family again. They even took him along on their next trip where he could explore a new grassy backyard and watch the deer outside the window. But he wasn’t the same and the hilly mountains were hard on his heart and legs and he had to go to a strange hospital twice but the man and woman stayed with him. Eventually they went back home and although he was very tired, he was very happy to be in his own backyard. The next few weeks he got used to the bi-weekly vet appointments where they poked him and took x-rays but afterwards he felt a whole lot better so he didn’t complain. He still made it up the stairs every night to sleep in his place beside their bed.

One weekend, the family went away again and this time he went to the vet hospital to stay. It was okay because by now he knew everyone who worked there and they treated him kindly. His family would be back in a few days.  On the third day he wasn’t feeling well again but he knew his family was coming soon. He always knew when they were on their way. So he held on telling his body to keep moving and waited patiently while the vet checked him again. She seemed sad giving him a gentle pat. Then the man came through the door and Jake was so excited to go home! The man seemed sad but smiled when he saw his eleven year old guy and he held out a treat. “Let’s go home boy.”

Jake trotted out to the van but the man said, “Potty first.” So off they went to the grassy patch and the next thing Jake knew, he was floating away and the man was crying. Jake followed him back into the vet where everyone seemed sad and quiet. Eventually the man went home and Jake followed where the whole family was crying. He tried to tell them not to be sad, he would wait for them, but they couldn’t hear him and eventually he fell asleep in the backyard under the warm sun with his favourite tennis ball beside him.

The next thing Jake knew, a gray tabby cat swatted his nose, “Hey, I’ve been waiting for you. Now I have someone to keep my company.”

“Where are we going?” Jake asked sniffing this cat who seemed familiar.

“To the rainbow bridge.” Wilhelm said. “We can wait for them there together.”

“But they’re so sad. I can’t leave.” Jake said.

“Yes you can. They’ll be sad for a while because they miss you. They still miss me. That’s just how humans work.”

“Are you sure?” Jake asked lifting his ears remembering the cat who would sniff his nose and then run away.

“Yep. We have to go because if we don’t no other pet will come into their lives and they have too much love not to pass it on. Come on. You can go swimming. You’ll see them again and while we wait we will have the best time.”

Jake pushed himself up expecting the usual strained effort but realized his body felt better. There was no discomfort and his legs didn’t creak. The idea of a good swim was a pleasant one.

“Can I take my tennis ball?”

“Yes.” Wilhelm said impatient to get going.

So into the blue sky they both flew without a backward glance. Over the marshmallow clouds to the rainbow bridge where a shimmering lake, piles of treats and soft beds await them. This is the place where they will wait until we are able to join them.

R.I.P. my dear friend.

Jake 2003-2014

Jake 2003-2014

 

 

It begins.

And so it begins…

Life with kids is hectic. We, as parents, know this. We know our social calendars get booted aside as our dear ones start creating their own social networks. If you have children interested in well, anything, your nights and Saturday mornings will be full of driving from one activity to another while balancing multiple birthday parties.

It was easier when they are small and portable. They came with you to run errands, napping in the car seat (if you were lucky) or content to sit in a grocery cart with a half eaten cheese bun in one hand while you frantically threw things in the cart praying they did not have to go number two as the thought of abandoning your cart in a panic to find a washroom for your potty-training child made tears well in your eyes.

After you weather these and multiple other things, you breathe a sigh of relief as you children move out of toddlerhood into more independent little beings. No more diapers! No more diaper bags! Soon we will be able to downgrade the dreaded swag wag for a cool SUV because the stroller is in the process of being sold on Craigslist. They all sleep through the night (most of the time), and the oldest one is starting to take showers alone.

But it is all a sham. What no one tells you is that your social calendar downgrades even further. (If that is possible.)  Your newfound free time is not spent elegantly sipping a glass of wine with your significant other. You are both still snoring on the couch trying to spend some quality time together exhausted beyond belief.

Why?

Because you have three children who have started the next stage of their development.

The participation stage.

What is the participation stage? It is the age when your children understand there are a plethora of activities available to them. Dance classes. Swimming lessons. Girl Guides. And all their friends are in different things and they want to go to all of them. Then add in the start of extracurricular activities from school. Cross country meets or choir performances. To even further complicate the issue, this doesn’t even take into account requested play dates or birthday party invitations. I have a calendar just with the kids activities or social activities on it.

friends

What I am slowly starting to understand is that when you have one child in multiple activities there are a lot of benefits. You can ensure one parent is always available or if you can’t for some reason make it, finding another parent who lives close to you to carpool with is an easier task. You have no tag along children needing to be entertained. You can bring a book, your work or just choose to sit in your car and nap. But you have that choice.

When you have two children the participation stage is a tad trickier. But if you can encourage said children to join things together or very close by with staggered start times, it is still doable without too much angst.

With three or more children there is no escape. You live in whirlwind that does not stop. You are either taking children to activities while trying to throw goldfish packages in the backseats because someone is hungry or trying to desperately find a babysitter because your littlest one, exhausted from all day kindergarten, wants to go to bed by 7:00 pm. Your new Coach purse (that you splurged on to celebrate your newfound freedom), resembles a babysitter’s starting kit. Pads of colouring sheets and crayons in case someone needs to wait longer than ten minutes somewhere and not to mention the wrappers and crumbs at the bottom. You arrive home, put kids to bed and cringe at the thought you have to now make three lunches and go through three piles of agendas and paperwork to ensure nothing is missed so you sit, spaced out, in shock from what just transpired that day.

I had the pleasure of starting my kid’s activities this past week. There was a lot of preamble at the end of August as we finalized everything.

“Kids, you get to each pick two activities and that’s it.”

“I want musical theatre.”

“Me too!”

“Great! Two checked off. Oh wait. You can’t be together this year. So Elizabeth you’re Thursdays 515 pm and Audrey you’re at 615 pm. What about Jacob. Hmmm..will deal with that later.”

“Mommy..I want to do tap dance this year.”

“Okay Audrey, you can do two activities as long as it fits into Saturday morning. I want everything on Saturday morning when Daddy is here to help me.”

IMG_1932

“But mom!! My two friends are doing Girl Guides again this year. I realllyy wanted to do that too.”

“No Elizabeth. We talked about this. You’re in grade three now. You’ll have more homework so can only have one activity during the week at least for the fall until we know how you’re doing. Okay? Plus Girl Guides is on the same night as musical theatre.”

“But it’s not until 630 pm and I’m done at 615 pm! We have time to get me over there if Dad comes home early and stays with Audrey at her class.”

Big sigh. How to explain to an eight and a half year old as much as I would like her to do everything, I can’t be in two places at the same time and her dad doesn’t get home on time for weekday activities and I have to consider her younger brother and how much he can handle in one night? So I try a different approach.

“Elizabeth, you can’t do both musical theatre and girl guides on the same night. Pick one.”

Musical theatre wins out and off we go. Thankfully Jacob is content with his one activity on Saturday mornings with the promise that I’ll look into hockey for him in the winter after he turns four.

A few days before our crazy Thursday night I realize two things. One, I can’t take Jacob on the crazy after school activity ride. Poor kid is struggling with full day kindergarten and exhausted. I’ve never seen this kid rub his eyes so much once he’s home from school. So I contact a new babysitter I’ve interviewed and ask her to come for a few hours until Mr. L arrives home. Done. I’ll reassess if I should keep her or try to take Jacob with me after a couple of weeks.

Second, all of Elizabeth’s homework is due on Fridays. She has two dictations (one French and one English) and needs to hand in a French reading report each week. I’ll need to ensure she gets most of it done before Thursday night and spend a half hour with her (while she wolfs down take-out dinner) at some random coffee shop quizzing her while her sister is at class. This issue reaffirms the need for a babysitter even more so I can focus on Elizabeth and her homework.

We get through the Thursday night in not too bad of shape. It was nice to have dinner with just Audrey and then be able to focus on Elizabeth (even if we’re in a food court). Some fine-tuning is required with regard to homework as she still had to rush Friday morning to finish something, but we did it.

carpool_01

Saturdays are infinitely better. With two parents we can divide and conquer. I can take one to her dance class. Mr. L can take Jacob to his class and Elizabeth (who is supposed to be doing extra reading) is the tag along but being older she should be able to handle it the best.

We get to the dance studio on Saturday and find a good friend has signed up his two daughters for a jazz dance class. I can see Elizabeth’s mind swirling and it isn’t long before the question arises,

“Mom, can I take jazz since I’m here anyway?”

Another sigh but I ask her. “Will you promise when we get back home after you will still do your extra reading homework?”

She nods (although I know this will be an ongoing battle) and I go over to inquire if there is space in the class. Two spots left and a few hundred dollars later (and a realization that I need to increase our kid activity budget at some point) she is enrolled.

So my Thursday nights will be crazy but if I can schedule and budget in a sitter each week, manageable. Saturdays will be busy but with all kids occupied at the same time, when I’m not bouncing back and forth between two classroom windows to wave and smile at my two girls, maybe I’ll be able to sit for ten minutes and reflect upon weather it’s possible to clone oneself? I will accept the fact that this is only the beginning. Next week we add in three birthday parties over a two-day period. I’m still not one hundred percent sure how we’ll manage that but I think come Saturday night, we’ll have to plan a very lively comedy to watch to keep us both awake.

Let the crazy times begin…..

The Home Stretch

Deciding to celebrate the summer solstice this year with a coupe of like-minded friends, five sleeps before our BIG family trip, we had a half-pack of kids and six adults enjoying one of the nicest days so far in our area. The weather wasn’t too hot, but the sun was wonderful. It cooled down as the adults began to eat and the kids were changed into jammies and persuaded to go downstairs to our rec room for a movie and popcorn night. Mr. L thought I was crazy.

“You’re wasting a whole Saturday getting ready for this.”
“Yes, but all the yard work that needs to get done before we leave is now complete. The house is relatively clean and I’m using up some of the food, wine and beer we have on hand.”

What I didn’t add was that I needed an adult only patio night before the onslaught of last week of school activities plus getting ready for our BIG trip. I knew no matter what, even with oodles of time, I wasn’t packing up our brood until at least a couple of days before and I would pull all nighters if I had to. We have traveled enough at this point that I know how I work. Better under pressure and doing things at the last-minute. I make lists in my head and on my phone to give me a guideline, but really it usually all comes together with a little coffee, little wine and a little crazy.

It was a lovely and well-deserved evening with a couple of good friends. Our kids all get along and each of ours had an age appropriate playmate. They watched two movies and we all settled back taking in the longest day of the year until the mosquitos chased us indoors. Jacob fell asleep on the couch (a first), Audrey and her friend were the night owls but all in all, a good night.

 

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice

Sunday was a blur from the late night on Saturday. One jazz recital and piano recital later and huge thank you to a mother-in-law taking the three year-old for the day, I learned never say no to a free offer to babysit if it makes your life easier, especially with three or more. Mr. L and I were amazed how easy it was with just two kids! We both had fifteen minute naps and they did, whatever. (I think they drew pictures but nothing was destroyed and they weren’t glued to the tv.) A mini break from the chaos we generally survive in.

But it gave me some good ammunition to face Monday. D-day when I know I am in crunch time. I see other parents cringe when they ask if I’m all packed and I shrug and say, “Not really.” But little do they realize I do have a plan, a sprint to the finish line! Just today I managed to get all the teacher’s gifts (Thank you LCBO gift cards!), fit in a yoga class, daily clean-up the house, get to a kindergarten end of year celebration, write this blog piece and down a cup of coffee. Next, luggage out and hit the drug store for my items before end of day and thrown a load of laundry. (Right, that’s what I have to do, unload the laundry and make dinner.) I look towards the goal, golden beaches and time with my family. No matter how crazy the next few days get, I will try to keep that in mind and let go of the mommy guilt if my kids are eating hot dogs again and watching a tv show so I can throw carry-on items in a suitcase.

 

Audrey Kindergarten Celebration

Audrey Kindergarten Celebration

After all, if I’m going to write about living in organized chaos, I should at least live it to the fullest.