The Daily Grind And How To Change It

Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, ‘A house guest,’ you’re wrong because I have just described my kids.” Erma Bombeck

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Brewing beneath the surface of most households is the inevitable and quiet resentment of parenthood. Knowing that you are required to take on task after task, giving away your time and space because “that’s your job” is a really, really hard thing to do.  You know you need to teach your kids life skills, but honestly, after a long day of work and negotiations about well, everything, that last thing you want to do is manage and argue about household chores. So, good intentions and important lessons on responsibility go by the wayside.

But what then happens to the parent(s)?  Burn out and then, burn out turns to anger and in the end, we find ourselves in a crazed state shouting at the sky wondering why no one will help us. Well let’s be frank, a lot of the time it’s because we didn’t ask for it in the first place.

We’ve all been there. We want to provide a safe and organized home for our children. We unselfishly want to make it easier for them and encourage them to do the things we did not always get a chance to do. We want school to be a priority and for them to reach their full potential. We want them in bed at a decent time. (‘Cause you know it’s wine-o’clock!) But in reality, the cost can be too high.  At least for me it has been. I was tired. Very tired.

So, I regrouped. Took a nice, long break and started asking some hard questions. What could I do differently moving forward to make long-lasting significant changes? Consistency. Instead of letting the wind decide what chores or responsibilities my children have, I wanted a regular schedule. I wanted more help around the house. Plain and simple. My molly maid days were over, and I told them so, again. But this time I meant it.

The most important thing to make this a success was letting go and then, choosing the things that mattered the least to me. Dishes. Laundry. I don’t care how or when they get done as long as they get done by the end of the day. These chores are low stake tasks that will teach my whole family life skills, responsibilities and give me a break to go and read that People magazine. (Or write this blog!)

So we started this new reality a few weeks ago, but at a snail’s pace. First, I stopped micromanaging their homework. Of course I help them when asked and still ask everyday, “What homework is there tonight?” But I took a step back, a huge step.

When you have three or more kids, you can’t be a homework coach to all of them at the same level. I have to decide who needs me most in what way and let the rest go. My 5th grade student is going to have to start figuring some stuff out on her own and managing her own time so I can focus on a fundamental skill like reading with my 1st grader. And thank goodness my 3rd grade student seems to have a teacher who does not give homework, at least that’s what she tells me.

Next on the list, dishes. Some people like doing dishes. I do not so the kids can do them. After all, I have six little hands that can put a dish away, load the dishes, wipe sinks and vacuum floors.

Next? Laundry. For the last year they each have to put their clothes away. I leave a basket of freshly laundered and folded clothes each weekend and don’t look back, at least until I need the basket back. It is time to up the stakes and teach them how to use the washing machine and dryer. Maybe they will learn to really consider if something is dirty or not once they start seeing the huge piles of clothes.

And last for this crazy new world, dinner preparation. One night a week if I have to eat hot dogs and nacho chips with melted cheese and sour cream that they made – then so be it. At least they are learning to prepare something, use the appliances and set up dinner at the table. Although I will be encouraging them to think about nutrition moving forward and include a vegetable with every meal.

The research backs this philosophy up, time and time again the benefit of children doing chores outweighs anything else. After all, are we not supposed to be raising competent, capable adults? Chores and sharing the household responsibilities can be the stepping stones for other things. Doing chores as a family increases time spent together and provides children a sense of pride that they helped out, at any age.

Now, my children have had their certain “chores” over the years. Once a week room tidy up. Putting laundry away. Bring garbage bins in. Feed the pets. Other chores too as asked. But as of yet, we have not set a serious schedule that will really help me out. It’s been a kind of ad-hoc system where I still end up doing the majority of things around the house.

The first week was a bit rough. Remember, my children are older so resistance was expected, especially with the older two. I tried to carve out time for me to “take breaks,” and keep myself together because (and let’s be honest here) it’s hard to be the bad guy.

The second week has been a bit easier. I pinned a rough outline of the chores expected on the fridge, let them know that chores may shift as things come up (as in life it does) but the plan was to be followed the best we could.

Now, I had to let stuff go. A load of laundry sat unfolded for a couple of days,  we ate hot dogs for dinner and I bit my tongue as I wiped up the puddles of water on the cupboards.  I also had to endure whining, eye-rolling and complaining. But I did it. You know what, this may actually work if I stick with it. This past weekend as we all did chores Saturday morning, well it went a bit quicker and I was met with a bit less resistance. Progress. It’s all a parent can ask for some days.

How long does it take to break a habit? 66 days seems to be the most recent consensus. So I figure with a family of five, breaking bad habits and replacing them with new ones will take 3 months. So I’m setting a goal date of August 22, 2017. A little longer than the norm but with summer, change of schedule and let’s face it, a large family to re-train, I think it is realistic.

Wish me luck and I will post results the week of August 21, 2017.

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The Tree.

A good friend of mine posted on her Facebook status the joy her Christmas tree was giving her this year and posted a picture of the tree. It is a beautiful tree and my heart was warmed as she shared her special moment of gratitude and family memories.

The room our Christmas tree is in, is the only, and I mean only, room in our house that is clutter free, toy free and is an oasis of calm. The room is quiet, clean, simply decorated and looks upon our quiet suburban street, except during December when our tree blocks our view, but sparkles wonderfully for all the neighbourhood to see. I love it and do not spend nearly enough time in it.

As I sipped the last of my wine, very late tonight, I took the glass into my little sanctuary and looked at our tree. Painstakingly decorated by three sets of little hands each one placing their own small but growing accumulation of decorations on the slim branches. Jacob, the little guy, insisted on putting every single decoration on, even those ones I had put to the side as “retired.” It is the first year all three of them have the ability to decorate most of the tree. Well, at least the lower half of the tree.

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As I gazed upon the twinkling white lights and thought…hmmm..there is a lot of red in this tree….I wondered what I thought of my tree. It’s pretty. Not real to my disappointment but a concession I made with a husband who had to acquiesce to having a tree in his home next to his menorah. It is not heavily decorated but I kind of like it that way. We added homemade garland from a craft my girls did with their grandmother a few weeks ago of pretty red and silver pipe cleaners pinched together with glittering beads circling the upper half of the tree. (Because I haven’t had time to go get the materials to continue the garland all the way to the bottom!) There are little stuffed snowman and woodland animals. Old wooden decorations of angels and jack-in-boxes. Shiny red and green balls hand painted with gold flowers and glitter from a long ago shopping trip. A star of David hangs proudly next to the driedel decoration, both gifts to my husband for being a good sport about our multi-faith household. Then I remember the cinnamon stick reindeer I still have that adorned a present one year from my grandmother or the Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas wooden decoration that was one of my first own decorations from years and years and years ago when I still lived at home. These are my precious ornaments, most of them gifts from my late maternal grandmother. In fact, the stuffed animals and tiny wooden decorations were things I inherited from her estate.

Every year I give each child a new decoration. I have done it since their first Christmas with the plan one day to pass  onto each of them their own decorations as they start their own family traditions, a long, long, long time from now. Many of our decorations mark a milestone for our children. Their first Christmas, their second Christmas etc…Elmo gave way to ballerinas which gave way to cute elves with first, middle and youngest decorations (and all Mom’s favourite) to fairly-traded sequinned hearts and stars or a carved wooden gingerbread man. Also our tree has many handmade decorations. Those decorations each child secretly worked on at school to bring home to us. I will never have the heart to dispose of these precious memories, especially if there is a picture attached.

So although our tree is eclectic, it really is a memory tree. It holds memories of a girl having Christmas at my grandparent’s farm to a teenager who rolled her eyes at a tacky glittering santa decoration from a well-intentioned grandmother but secretly stashed it for future use to buying my first grown-up set of beautiful red and green glass baubles. Our tree reflects that we respect different cultures and religions in our house and the birth of our first, second and third child. It holds their growth each year via pictures and their interests that arrive and flee so easily. The tree holds the memory of my grandmother who bought and passed on many of her own decorations so I could have a beautiful tree and perhaps, remember her a little each year.

As you decorate or gaze upon your tree this year, take a moment and reflect. What does it signify for you? Simply happy family time? A way to brighten up your room in a festive spirit? Or perhaps when you look again, your unique way of decorating the tree, tells you more than you realize. Embrace it. Remember it and have a wonderful holiday season!

Where did the pumpkin seeds go?

Minutes ticked by.

“Is it Halloween yet?”

“I want to get my costume on. Now!”

“When are we carving pumpkins?”

“No kids. Chill. It’s Monday. Halloween is Thursday.”

This was the conversation that started early last week at our house. Having to downgrade this blog to a once a week posting due to my other writing committment, a preschooler who has dropped their naps and Halloween, it is only now with Jacob taking a bit of a rare nap due to the time change, that I can try to post something about our Halloween experience.

Usually in our house, pumpkins are carved the weekend before Halloween. It saves my sanity instead of trying to squeeze carving jack-o’-lantern faces during the after school rush. In our house, three kids equals three pumpkins to gut and carve. However, Mr. L and I took a rare opportunity having my in-laws babysit the Saturday before Halloween and whom agreed to stay overnight to go on a “super date night” complete with renting a hotel room in downtown Toronto and ordering room service for dinner. (And yes, for breakfast the next morning too.) A little reprieve which was so exciting that Mr. L fell fast asleep halfway into the rented movie we were watching from the king size bed. Another luxury.

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto, ON

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto

Although a little piece of personal heaven, getting back mid-afternoon on Sunday rushing through homework, dinner and all the rest, the pumpkin carving time was pushed to early in the week, after school.

I tried to plan the week carefully. Monday – piano lessons equals no time for pumpkin carving. Tuesday – free except normal homework.  So an early dinner was planned, homework for my grade two student completed so we could get right into pumpkin carving as a post-dinner activity. I even managed to paper the table pre-bus pick-ups and lug in three good-sized pumpkins to warm up. Homework went a little later as did dinner prep and the light outside was fading fast as were my three little monkeys. Gulping back a scalding cup of coffee I rolled up my sleeves, put away the spelling duotang and opened up each pumpkin letting each kid start digging. While they made their first foray into the still cold, although thankfully not freezing pumpkins I tried to capture their grossed out faces on my camera, finish dinner and help the smaller ones. Dinner was served alongside pumpkin guts and seeds plunked onto the waiting baking sheets and my crew took bites in between pulling out stringy orange goo. Mr. L walked through the door,

“Where am I supposed to eat?”

Shrugging I suggested he get changed first or risk a splatter of pumpkin juice on his nice blue suit.

Thankfully, after a meal, he got right into the last part. The carving. As each kid chose their face, I stenciled and he carved I was able to clean up from dinner and finish the final cleaning of the other waiting pumpkins. Team work at its best. Elizabeth wanted to roast the pumpkin seeds that night but I explained they had to dry.

“Can we have them Halloween?”

“Sure.”

Pumpkins complete.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Next came the dreaded Halloween cake.

“Mom, I want a homemade Halloween cake this year.” Said my 7.5 year old Elizabeth her hazel eyes pleading with me.

“Oh honey, you know Mommy doesn’t bake very much. Really?”

She looked so forlorn that I immediately gushed, “Of course I’ll bake you a Halloween cake.”

“From scratch?”

“Ummm..sure.”

Wednesday. Time was running out.

“You’re making the cake right?”

“Yes.”

“I want to help.”

“How about I make it before you get home from school and we’ll decorate it together?”

“Okay!”

So after gymnastics, lunch and all the rest I started the cake. Not hard. I’ve done it before. Devil’s food cake from Betty Crocker. Best mix ever. Actually got it done before bus pick up and the three cakes were cooling on the racks. I was so proud of myself when I realized. Crap. Dinner. Wednesday is also the night I have a writing class. A must-go for me. So scrambling I pulled out leftovers for another attempt at an early dinner. During homework time, I quickly made the homemade icing. Three little hands reached for the beaters and I passed them off ignoring the “you’ll spoil their dinner” mantra in my head. Their faces were amazing. I vowed then and there always to make homemade icing. After half eaten dinners, we melted marshmallows and four sets of hands reached into the warm gooey mess stretching the white goodness all over the iced cake making spider webs. Lastly, Elizabeth added the plastic spiders. Cake complete.

“Can we have a piece?”

“No. It’s for tomorrow night.” I call blowing kisses as I run out of the door. Thankfully I am only five minutes late to class.

Spiderweb Cake

Spiderweb Cake

Halloween Night. Costumes are all tucked into three knapsacks ready for costume day at their respective schools. Little treat bags, made post-class last night at 11 pm for my kindergarten daughter and her friends are ready to go. It’s pouring outside. One nudged onto a waiting bus.  Another is gratefully picked up by a neighbour as she doesn’t want her son’s costume getting too soaked before he gets into school and has offered my daughter a ride.

“Don’t forget to roast the pumpkin seeds!” Elizabeth calls as she skips out the front door.

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

The third is dropped off with his big hammer. Little blonde Thor in all his glory.

Halloween celebrations have started. Having all three out of the house allowed me time to finish decorating, get the dinner table ready for a planned pre-trick or treating pizza dinner with another friend and her two sons.

After school is a blur as the kids anxiously await their friends dancing around the table. Soon our friends arrive with pizza balancing pizza boxes and we commence convincing five kids (all 8 and under) to eat at least one slice while we give out popcorn and cut up veggies. Finally it is  cake time and it is a success. All of them got a huge piece, took two bites and then the doorbell rang. Our first trick or treaters of the night. That ended our dinner as five kids went flying to get their costumes back on and out the door not caring if they had coats on or it was drizzling rain. Thankfully, we got a reprieve from the rain and spent an hour and a half chasing the kids up and down our neighbourhood.

The pizza party.

The pizza party.

“Mom, where are the pumpkin seeds?” Elizabeth asked as she counted her candy warming up on our family room floor.

Shoot. Caught red-handed. They were still on the baking sheet in the oven, but not roasted. I had forgotten about them.

“Umm…how about we do it this weekend? They still have to dry.”

“Okay.” Distracted by the bucket of candy, she is easily distracted.

Halloween complete. Week complete. Thank goodness for the extra hour on Sunday night.

But then I wake up this morning. Puttering around the house, cleaning up while Jacob nicely plays with his toys. We go to get groceries. Come home and I’m opening the oven door to get some pans out. I spot them.  There they are. The pumpkin seeds, still “drying.” Damn. Thankfully Elizabeth hasn’t mentioned it yet. Maybe I can surprise her and roast them this week. A nice reminder of Halloween.

Post-Race Round Up

It is hard to believe but autumn is upon us! The first official day today and the weather has gone from balmy humidity to crisp fall air in a microsecond. All I am thankful for is that I finished my first mini Tri race last weekend when it was cool but not crisp outside!

Yes, I finally reached my own personal fitness goal. The race was swam, cycled and ran last Sunday at Lakeside, Ontario organized by MultiSport Canada. A four-hundred meter swim, ten kilometer bike and two-and-a-half kilometer run all in one shot. I reached deep into my own stubborn nature and pushed my training the last two weeks getting ready determined not to let my first race intimidate me. How do you train with three small kids? In truth, pockets of time are so precious that more and more thought goes into how I spend any time I can carve out for myself. This race took precedence over everything else. I had committed to it and was determined to finish it. I went swimming at night after I had kissed my babies good night at a local health club. I ran in the dark the last couple of weeks. I cycled on the weekends as Mr. L napped during a mandatory quiet time in our house.

We managed to fit it in my training and Mr. L was supportive, for the most part. I tried to run anywhere I could. My little guy, still at home with me most of the week, would jog with me to the park his cute little laugh echoing down the quiet streets once the older kids went back to school. At times it was tough to fit in training. Family events, a friend who needed a shoulder for support, Mr. L’s insanely busy schedule. They all took precedence over the training because for me, my training does come second. It is as important, but being flexible and creative organizing my time was paramount. I had to be okay if my Sunday morning planned run was delayed because we decided at the last-minute to squeeze in one more family outing. I still did it, just later that day.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Race day came. I plunged into crisp lake temperatures on a gray day as my family looked on cheering. I ignored the weeds at the bottom of the lake and used whatever stroke felt right swimming to the  finish line praying I would not have to pull the cap off and wave down one of the nearby aides. I shook off the stiff fingers as I pulled socks over wet feet and tried to do up the laces on my shoes ignoring the others bypassing me in transition as I stumbled over what shirt to pull over my wet bathing suit. I groaned but kept pedalling up the rolling hills of the Ontario countryside cursing myself for only road bike training on the flat and safe streets by Lake Ontario. I threw my bike onto the rack and hit the pavement during the run ignoring my feet that had gone numb from the cages on my bike and let my legs do their job. And I finished, not last and not feeling like a truck hit me. My family was at the finish line cheering me on as I sped up and I felt great. Great for finishing and then cold. Asking for a sweater to pull over my quickly cooling body, my sister-in-law asked, “Wasn’t that fun?”

Finish Line. Photo by Zoomphoto Inc.

Finish Line. Photo by Mike Cheliak My Sports Shooter

Fun? No. No it wasn’t. Challenging. Satisfying. Absolutely. I had set a goal and accomplished it. But fun? It was not the first word that came to mind. My hip hurt, a residual post-pregnancy ache that will probably haunt me whatever I decide to do next for the rest of my life. I was tired. I was cold. I was hungry. It was absolutely nice to see all the encouragement from my family, the other racers and the great spirit of camaraderie at the event, but for me, fun? Not really.

A week post-race where I indulged in massage, chiropractic care, a facial and even a new pair of running shoes (Hot pink Saucony pair much lighter weight than my old clunkers. This alone is new behaviour!) where my only exercise was chasing my kids and a couple of much-missed yoga classes (something had to give during training and it was yoga which I desperately missed), my hip is still aching. I got some writing done for my new class I started as well a couple of weeks ago with my new free time. However, as much as I resist, the fitness mama has been born. My body used to the regular activity and exercise craves a run down by the lake or a few laps in the pool. Even a quick bike ride. Something that gets my body moving. I know something has shifted, slightly, when yesterday morning during the girl’s tennis lessons, instead of hiding drinking another cup of coffee typing on my laptop, I asked Mr. L if he wanted to play tennis instead. I needed to move.  To help my hip, I have to balance light running with training to give it a chance to rest but my body is starting to scream…no! Get out before it snows. This alone is a new outlook for this parent who craves a good nap, warm bed and good book.

So what is the lesson learned from this experience? Do it. If you’re thinking about it, go for it. It may be fun, challenging or a goal but whatever your reason, if you want to do it, you can.  If I can find time to train for a mini tri, you can find time if that is what you want to do. I did this as a goal and truthfully, to get my behind moving knowing I needed a bigger goal than “let’s go to the gym” to reach for helping create what is I hope a regular lifestyle choice for me that includes some fitness. The biggest question people have asked me this past week, “Are you going to do it again?”

Without hesitation I answer, “Yes. I want to better my swim in open water.” Even six months ago, I had no idea I would say something like that and mean it. Than I usually add, “And maybe have some fun next time.” Because, at the end of the day, if you cannot find the fun in what you are doing, what is the point?

Refresh and Recharge

Drinking wine at lunch on a sun-soaked patio overlooking a glorious turquoise pool. Having a nap, in the morning after a full breakfast complete with egg-white omelette that I did not make. An impromptu massage before a 9 pm dinner. Glasses of wine served in pristine glasses overlooking beautiful vineyards. Feeling a cold wave crash over your head fighting the Niagara Rapids in an open jet boat. Having a conversation with adults (including a husband) that is not interrupted by “please do not eat with your hands.”

These are a few of the precious memories this mom of three took with her into this past week from a luxurious, too-short mini trip away with Mr. L to Niagara-on-the-Lake. An agreeable grandmother who took on all three of the kids (plus the dog) for a weekend so we could sneak away for some much-needed R&R led to a weekend full of food, wine, friends and fun. And much too short….

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I could write away with abandon on everything we did, the amount of wine consumed, the delicious food, but all I will state is that if in the area, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Pillar and Post are two of my favorite things right now and if you can, run for a visit.

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Instead, it became clear to me how much I needed a little recharging. As parents, couples well, people, I find if we don’t find a balance in life and slow down, life can turn from being busy and full to difficult and something you have to endure. As a mom home alone with three kiddies, dog and on her own for much of the time, it was a necessity.

The whole trip was based upon another couple. Good friends who were celebrating their twentieth anniversary, they had never been away from their son for one night. He is now sixteen. At dinner a winter ago, and after a cocktail or two the subject of their upcoming “china” anniversary came up. I volunteered to take them on a wine tour, something they have never done and we would make a weekend out of it. Planning is a strength for me, even in these crazy days, so with a little research I booked everything and then tacked on an extra night for Mr. L and I as a belated anniversary gift to ourselves.

From www.clipartof.com

All during the spring and early summer I looked forward to our weekend knowing that my hard work at home with the kids would be rewarded. And it was, very nicely. It was a picture-perfect weekend, (except for my red-eye due to severe allergic reaction this year to ragweed) and it seemed the weather gods had even listened providing the perfect weather to take a wine tour and enjoy the posh amenities at the Pillar and Post.

The other couple was so grateful  and had enjoyed themselves so much, another tentative trip back is planned in January. I have a feeling now that they have a taste of alone time away from the responsibilities of house/child they will crave more of it. Or perhaps they were finally at a place where they felt comfortable to leave their son for a night or two with good friends or family. Either way, the embraced the weekend.

For me, a SAHM who spends most of her time catering to the demands of four other people,  these carved out chunks of time are a welcome respite from well, normal life. I learned on this trip that it was not only me who craved and appreciated these times. Mr. L and our friends enjoyed a couple of days away from, well, the kids. Time away could be something as simple as a visit to my mother’s house, alone, but to be able to hear one’s thoughts for even a day is welcome. I have been known to take long walks to clear my head in order to achieve a little clairty.

In the everyday rush of life, I think sometimes we forget a bit of silence, rest and enjoyment from pleasures like a bike ride down a country road can work tiny miracles upon ourselves. It has done wonders for me this week. I feel calmer. My head feels a bit clearer. I can see things not as a constant to-do list but the big plans ahead with time to complete what I need to do. Life does not seem as overwhelming. I call it the “post-vacation high.” Sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes longer. But I will soak it in while I can.

And on the upcoming days when things seem to start to spin out of control, I will close my eyes and picture the vineyards and remember I can go back. Even for a day. Soon.

A milestone – a Mom’s turn.

Milestones. We celebrate them. We reward them. We rejoice in the accomplishments of our children reaching them. The first time they sleep through the night. Potty training. Losing teeth. Riding a bike. Reading.

This past long weekend, I reached a parenting milestone. A mini getaway, just me and the kids.

Now do not misunderstand. Mr. L is always welcome and appreciated on any family adventures. Most of the time he is very present, being a hands-on modern dad. However, he is a busy guy with his own business. This past year it became apparent to me that I cannot wait for his schedule to clear on each and every family adventure we have. It is not because he does not want to come with us. It is simply he is not yet at the point in his career where he can take off on a whim for a two-day getaway. It has taken me some time to realize, admit and grudgingly accept it. It is simply our situation. My rose-coloured views one child ago of us doing absolutely everything together; not even imagining planning anything without his prescence, has been altered into a more realistic point of view.

It became apparent after a marathon and rushed planning session with Mr. L regarding day trips, camping overnighter and lots of open time to just wake up and plan our day with the simple pleasures of summer (as per his wishes) that I was left with an unsatisfied feeling. I wanted to do something else with the kids. I wanted to take them somewhere new this summer.

My childhood summer memories overflow with grainy images of camping trips, Canada’s Wonderland, my grandparent’s farm, Storybook Gardens and of course, Niagara Falls.  I also realized over the years that my mom was typically the sole parent most of the time. Or at least that is how I remember it.

Then it hit me. If I wanted to take the kids on a mini getaway, why shouldn’t I? Why did I feel as if I had to wait for Mr. L’s schedule to open up? We do not have a cottage I can simply take the kids and go to when the urge to getaway strikes. No time share in Florida. What was stopping me?

From

From helenismostoshare.blogspot.com

Fear. I realized I felt fear upon hitting that milestone of traveling with the kids on my own. Fearful and overwhelmed. Granted I have three young children, but still. Me, afraid?

I found it strange to have such a feeling since I spend most of my days with the kids ,alone, and manage (most of the time) to keep us all sane and semi-put-together.  I plan things to do around town, take them on picnics, parks and hikes. My choice to be at home is a role we both agreed that I would take on, at least in their early years.  However, that does not mean I have ultimate say in their lives. Mr. L is very much involved in the important things that have to do with our children and home. He is very much present scrambling to get home to give them baths, play a goofy game of tag and tuck them in.

Yet, fear was stopping me. Fear of being able to manage while travelling further than my parent’s house and back with them. Fear of taking that step that can sometimes make a family feel more separated when one parent is more present than another. Pondering this irrational fear it struck me that most likely lingering memories of how much my mother did on her own with me and my siblings and how un-present my father was at times due to work, may have been unknowingly feeding my fear. These memories seemed to be at the forefront of my determination and fear that our family would (and should) do everything together or else “suffer the consequences.” Yes, my parents ultimately divorced. (And yes, I am a psychology major in another lifetime.)

So, I faced my fear. I talked with Mr. L, who frankly and admittedly would not undertake any trip with the three kids on his own himself, but who said, “If you want to do it, then do it. I’m okay with it.” I am not entirely sure he understood why I felt I needed to plan this mini getaway with the kids, but he was supportive and I made my plans.

Scrambling to put together an itinerary and book hotel and tickets, a mini trip to Niagara Falls was planned.  One night with Mr. L followed by a family day at Safari Niagara. Mr. L would then head home on an evening train for work the next day and for one night and day it was just me and the kids, exploring the hotel’s pool and restaurants followed by a day checking out Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls before our drive home. Nothing huge but a milestone for this mom of three whose biggest overnight adventure alone with the kids was to the small town I grew up in where we were surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Not really the same thing as being completely on your own.

Kids at Safari Niagara

Kids at Safari Niagara

All of it went without too much drama. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather on a long weekend. The second night on my own was a bit tricky as the girls were getting grumpy sharing a bed for the first time in our two-room suite at the Embassy Suites and Jacob decided to wake up at 2:45 am to “sleep” with mom. (Mr. L is the normal go-to person for middle of the night wake up calls which are fortunately, infrequent.) But I got through it. Thank goodness for Starbucks in the hotel lobby!

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The day in downtown Niagara Falls complete with Skywheel ride, Build-a-Bear, Rainforest Cafe for lunch and then Hershey Store all went off without a hitch. I was proud of my kids who for the most part, were a fun little crew to be with for a day.

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Mr. L missed us and I think was regretting his decision not to stay. (He actually considered it for a couple of minutes before leaving for his train. After all, we do love having him around and he does enjoy being with his family versus work.) I received a couple of random emails from him asking what we were doing and to send pictures, which I was glad to do telling the kids to smile big for daddy.

What this experience taught me, because let’s face it, moms are always learning new things about ourselves, was that I can do it. I can travel with my kids. I do not need to wait upon someone else’s schedule to do everything I want to do with the three of them. Of course, I would prefer having Mr. L with us, but sometimes, as is normal and realistic, it is not going to be possible. So, I need to be okay with this part of life and also realize, it does not take away from our family. But in fact, enriches it a little. A little separation from the daily grind of routine, bath times and rushed dinners is not a bad thing. It made me appreciate how much I enjoy having Mr. L with me on family adventures and how much he does when we are together as a family. Mr. L appreciated being at home and getting some work done in a quiet house. He missed us and was looking forward to our return, but sometimes he needs some quiet time as well.

The night we returned home, exhausted but brimming with stories, we sat down to a casual family dinner of pizza and I realized I had no reason to be fearful. I could embrace the experience as achieving a milestone, conquer a fear and look forward to our next family adventure, on my own or all together. Either way would be fine for our family.

Summer Musings.

Monday. The day I have been looking forward to.

“Really?” you may find yourself asking. “But why?”

In the most basic way, I am free this week from camps. It was a day we could wake up and just float through the day puttering around. Last night as my pen wrote at a frantic pace filling in plans for August followed by the quick tapping of inserting all of the plans in my iCalendar, I came to realize how fast these summer weeks can fill up. My lofty dreams in June of hiking down the local trails with three little kids have given way to blocking out precious time at home where the most exciting part of our day is a trip to the library. I have no idea how this snuck up on me. Trying to plan a park/picnic playdate with a friend who I have not seen in a long time, I realize with horror we only have three open days in all of August. How is this possible?

Part of me embraces the rich experiences we will have and people we can share our summer with and the other wants to run and hide playing board games with two older ones in our rec room while Jacob naps and stop answering calls, texts and emails.

So, I will protect those days like a fierce tiger mama and try to remember it is all brief. Soon enough school bells will ring and my voice will become once again raspy as I plead with three kids to get out the door. I want my kids to have a fun and full summer. I have the rare opportunity of being able to be with them for two months and see all their little eccentricities.

Now all of the above is coming off a crazy mixture of insane baseball playoffs for our two girls Saturday morning followed by trying to celebrate our eleventh anniversary Saturday night. Having three or more it was a “divide and conquer” type of weekend. I took Audrey to her baseball play-off/fun day and Mr. L took Elizabeth. We flipped to see who would take Jacob with them. I won. Now we love spending quality family-time with him, but a rambunctious two-year old trying to emulate his older sisters in well, everything, would spend some of the time running onto the field trying to also play baseball. So, I ensured to pack his mitt and plastic bat along with a few choice Tonka trucks to play with in the gravel dug-out if need be. The text messages from Mr. L started as soon as we arrived at our noon hour game,

“It’s raining here and I didn’t bring an umbrella.”

‘”:(” I wrote back while trying to grab Jacob’s attempt to hug his sister as she went up to bat.

“Damn” I thought to myself, “hope it doesn’t rain here. Good thing I brought my umbrella.”

Audrey and her baseball trophy.

Ten minutes later another text from Mr. L.

“It is POURING here and they are still playing. I have to go to the bathroom but can’t find it. I am soaked. There is nothing to eat, you said there would be a concession stand.”

“:(” Then I added, “Look around, they said there would be a concession stand. That is probably where the bathroom is. I don’t think there is one here either.”

As I pop up our umbrella watching the drizzle of rain start to fall but happily watch Jacob munch on the pizza organizers of the league had brought over to the parents/siblings.

I can’t help myself. “They brought us pizza, thank goodness. Jacob and I were starving! ;)”

After that I don’t get too many other text messages.

After eleven years of marriage, kids and everything in between, I’ve learned how to get my digs in now and then. After all, I spent the entire baseball season driving one, two or sometimes all three to various baseball diamonds since May sitting through freezing cold nights wrapped in blanket, arranging babysitters for the other kids when he couldn’t make it home on time, boiling in the heat and sitting in the rain. I thought it fitting I get the better end of the deal this last Saturday.

The day ended with Mr. L taking a nap once our babysitter arrived and waking upon my  nudges (and a huge cup of coffee) so we could make our dinner reservation. Good thing he sent me a beautiful bouquet of roses earlier in the day!

Eleven year anniversary!

Eleven year anniversary!

After the baseball frenzy of Saturday, a quiet Sunday was very much welcome. Our first inaugural family bike ride with two out of three riding was a milestone for our family. How much I look forward to future bike rides!

First family bike ride!

First family bike ride!

Yet, as it goes during the summer, my parents stopped by with their anniversary gift. They had brought beautiful plants for our backyard, which they planted, bonus!  I have learned over the years to welcome last minute visits, embrace them even, especially during the summer. After all, it was a couple of hours the kids had doting grandparents to entertain and all I had to do was get out a casual picnic lunch eaten on our patio enjoying the garden. Bliss.

Looking ahead to August, it may be busy but I will look forward to the things that fill our days. After all, summer will be over before we know it.

Chucking the checklists, at least once in a while!

From sheknows.com

From sheknows.com

Checklists. A parent (or parents) of three or more kids rely on checklists. Checklists on my iPhone. Checklists on my calendar. It seems there is a constant checklist in my brain. Sometimes I can turn it off and remember life is not about checking items off a list. Other times the list seems so huge I give up and take the kids for ice cream.

How many checklists can one person have? For myself; one for me, one for the household stuff I am responsible for (which is most of it), one for each child (so that is three), the dog, the occasional request to help with Mr. L’s business and then if we make any plans, an additional checklist of packing items for road or overnight trip. Each day I have anywhere from eight to ten checklists to be considered. I love them and I loathe them.

However, the feeling I get from checking off a major item is very satisfying. For example, I have a fitness checklist for myself. It is more of a goals list, but at its essence, it is still a checklist. Finish a 5K run. Check! (Yeah!) Immediate pat on the back. Borrow road bike. (Check!) Plan out another mini checklist for training for said Try a Tri. (Sort of check.)

My training, as with other parents, is very dependent on other people’s schedules. My kids, our family commitments and life in general including weather. There are some days when it seems easy to fit it in. Kids asleep, weather fair, head out for scheduled bike ride. Check! Other days, all good intentions fall to the wayside. Pick kids up from camp. Head to health club to fit in swimming laps while kids splash around in pool with Mr. L and eat their Friday night pub-ready grilled cheese. Swim five of ten laps and realize Mr. L cannot chase two-year old and fight off wasps attacking our food at the same time. Reinforce my belief that men (or my guy in particular) although great in some things, cannot multi-task children with other activities. Swim-time aborted. Black clouds roll in. Winds and pouring rain ensue. Bike ride planned for the evening cancelled. Take kids home and feed them microwaved s’mores. Indulging in the gooey deliciousness myself because lets face it, who can resist s’mores? Summer fun. Check!

Wait, all of that was not on my check list! However, seeing my kids messy faces and happy smiles as we put on a rare evening cartoon after indoor s’mores and then tucking them into bed after followed by continuing to watch the amazing lightening display last night over our house. Mr. L finishing some work so we could enjoy Saturday without any distractions. Perhaps not on my planned checklist, but it is okay. Sometimes life cannot be planned by a checklist.

One thing I try to remember each summer is that for us, summer is short. Before too long we will be in the midst of school and activities wishing we could return to a July night eating treats before bed. As much as I depend on our checklists to keep us semi-organized, letting them fall by the wayside is sometimes more fun.

Running through summer.

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From technorati.com

Running. Fitness. Goals. Not me, generally. However, this past spring I took on a bunch of new fitness goals. Why not? The pockets of time I possess need to be filled with something. My casual saunter through life needed a bit of direction. My mother thinks I should rest. “You’ll wear yourself out!” she says. To be fair, being on the petite side she was always afraid I was sicker than other people or not strong enough to compete or would get hurt. Becoming a parent I realized, those are her issues. I was not sicker than other children. I kept up with those bigger than me. I even played field hockey and was a decent wing player. So, I reassure her I am fine and head out the door to run 5K after my wee ones are tucked into bed.

Others applaud me on. Mr. L encourages me and does not bat an eye when I tell him I am heading out to run, again. He has learned to back off the coaching. At first he gently nudged me to get my yoga, nap-loving, television show catch-up butt out the door. He would email me work-out plans and sign me up for races I could not hope to finish. He would frown when another chocolate cookie was popped into my mouth after dinner with a sarcastic comment. We both quickly learned although well intentioned, him being my coach would not work. I appreciate his input and ask him for opinions but his way and my way of welcoming fitness into our lives are different journeys.

After all, he did it about a year ago. He went on a fitness life change-over that I am extremely proud. He changed his eating habits and how he spent his free time. I love looking at my buff husband and glad he has found something of his own besides family and work.  However, I am one of those people who just has to figure out her own way. The kids take up a lot of my energy and I am generally exhausted at night. When I took on my journey to a more fitter Mama, I had ease myself into a routine that I felt comfortable with and celebrate the smaller milestones. I am not trying to lose weight. There are no apparent health reasons for me to get moving. It is a lifestyle choice to welcome regular physical activity and fitness into our lives and our children’s lives.

Life is also full of schedules, (other peoples) that interfere with my own. Being the main caretaker of house, home and well, our lives, there were some weeks if I got out to the gym or for a run it was an amazing feat of creative scheduling. But I kept plugging along, ignoring that little voice telling me “why bother?” June was crazy with end of year activities, school wrap-up, planning and packing for our family trip. I ran on the beach in Israel. Loved the camederie of seeing other runners sweating in the blazing heat at eight am. One of my favorite, personal memories of our trip is going for a run and then spontaneously going for a swim (yes, in my running clothes) in the choppy waves of the blue Mediterrenean to cool off. I was by myself and felt wonderful, powerful even as droplets ran down my legs walking back to our apartment. But in that moment I felt for the first time that I could do this. I could reach my fitness goals and maybe even learn to like it.

Upon our return home life slowly returned to normal. The kids were driving me crazy and we were all suffering from jet lag. But I kept going out even when my body was up at 4 am, I would be out by 6 am running by Lake Ontario seeing the sun rise knowing I have my first 5K run this Thursday so had to “ramp up” my training. I had forgotten how beautiful Ontario can be in the summer.

Sun rise over Lake Ontario

Sun rise over Lake Ontario

Four days until my first race of the summer. I have run the course twice, bettering my time by shaving four minutes off the total 5K. I can finally see the improvement Mr. L and others have told me about. My lungs do not burn and my legs keep pumping. Will I ever learn to love running? Who knows. But I can say, I have learned to appreciate it.

In Anticipation

The countdown is on! What countdown you may ask? The end of school where parents anticipate lazy and less-scheduled days? The time of the year when there are no more mad rushes to get lunches ready for the next day? Or perhaps simply the beginning of summer where the weather warms up and the sun shines into the evening? Could it be the big family trip of the year that makes a parent’s stomach tingle as they look beyond the packing to frolicking somewhere on a beach with their most cherished ones?

A parent’s anticipation this time of year could stem from all of these or the anticipation can be mixed like a less than satisfactory weekend cocktail, with dread. For a SAHM, summer can be the hardest part of the year. Running at full throttle to ensure our brood has a balance of rest and relaxation coupled with activities or camps to keep them busy so the house is not entirely destroyed. Checking the cupboards and filling them with healthy snacks as they attack like scavengers desperate to fill their never-ending empty tummies. We ask with a hint of panic in our voices to other parents at the park, “What do you have planned for the summer?” in the hopes a future playdate will be offered as we look ahead to eight weeks alone with our kids.

Now please do not misunderstand me, there are some wonderful things about spending eight weeks with a group of young, young people. The morning cuddle in bed knowing you do not need to rush to get out the door. (If it is not a camp day.) The leisure to have a planned reading time lounging on the newly put together patio set with coffee in one hand and Ramona the Pest in the other enriching your children’s mind with wonderful children’s literature. Successful outings to the ice cream shop to reward excellent behaviour. The family trip planned overseas to introduce the kids to a new culture.  All of these and more will build memories.

However, for a SAHM of three or more (at the younger age spectrum) who is for better or worse, on their own with the kids for eight weeks, with the wonderful comes a big dash of reality. The reality if it is a rainy, cool summer. The reality the house will not really be clean for eight weeks. The reality my time really becomes their time. The reality that I am up to bat. Some days I may strike out and others hit a home run, but all I can do is keep going.

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When I have brought this up to other people they look with confusion at me and state, “why  not enrol them in camps?” Sighing, I often wonder how to explain the budgetary constraints of enrolling three kids in never-ending camps throughout the summer when you are on one income? Or the logistics that it would be harder to enrol three kids in three different camps at three different locations because their ages are far enough apart my options are limited. For all of our sanity I need to be able to have a one-stop drop off and pick up. Not to mention my two-year old is too young to even appreciate camp and going through the inevitable separation disaster of a new environment makes my skin crawl to upset his schedule again a week later. My older two are in a couple of camps for the summer. Carefully chosen for not only their individual interests but convenience there are a couple of weeks where two out of three kids will be exploring theatre, art and the wonderful outdoors. But after that, our days will be casually planned with well, whatever strikes my fancy.

So think of me and others like me this summer and if you happen to see a red-haired woman walking a yellow lab with three small kids trailing after her and she looks a bit tired, give her a thumbs-up. She will appreciate knowing that she is doing an okay job and that somebody noticed.