Best Travel Tips – Travelling to Israel

During the summer our family of five travelled across the ocean to Mr. L’s home country, Israel. This was our third family trip to this amazing country that is full of sea, sand and everything you need for a memorable experience.

In this first of a 3-part article series on the trip, I provide the Top 10 Family Friendly Places To Visit in Tel Aviv. 

Enjoy!

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Diving Into Year Three..

Diving, swimming – any thoughts of water to help alleviate a humid early start to summer in this small area of Ontario are much welcome thoughts. Diving into new experiences. Diving into life. So many ways to explore that free-fall experience that ends in a splash..or a belly flop. It can go either way.

We’re heading into our third year here in Prince Edward County. Life is slower at times but I have thoroughly enjoyed the stolen moments with my family or on my own (when not driving to the ends of the each nearby towns to get the kids or that one shop I really like), to sitting or doing simply nothing and enjoy the beauty of this area.

Prince Edward County is a rich oasis of agricultural land, water, art, music and people.  There is a laid-back friendliness that we have enjoyed from shop owners, neighbours and strangers just trying to help. It’s the whole area – stemming from Belleville to Trenton to PEC that is quite welcoming. It’s not perfect mind you, but it’s real with little pretence.

The most recent example of this mindset happened when I was fortunate enough to have a story accepted for a local anthology called The County Wave. At the reading, as I tried to ignore my shaking hands and looked out at the crowd, I noticed that the people were attentive and encouraging. No cell phones. Afterwards, as I signed anthologies frankly overwhelmed at the praise, I got to talking with another contributor. He was a fellow former city dweller who now lived almost full-time in The County. He had the following to say,

“You know what I like about this area? When I tell someone here I’m an author, they just simply say, that’s great. Let me know where I can find your stuff. In the big city, the first thing they ask is, should I know you?”

It’s just a slightly different perception out here and I think we like it. Most of the time.

As we enter into our third year here, I still get the odd comment or tears from the kids. They miss their really good friends, our old house was cozy etc. etc. What I think they miss the most is the ability to walk outside your door and instantaneously often have people to talk to, kids to play with a park around the corner. I simply tell them, I do too. But I look at what  we are building here. A place for people to visit for as long as they want. A retreat they (and us) will appreciate as life gets busier and busier and takes our family in all different directions. Somewhere our children and their friends will want to come back to, I hope.

I can’t predict the future, all I can do is keep taking them with me as I explore the area showing them the hidden treasures of Prince Edward County. I hide my smile when they slip up and say they’re glad to be home after a long day out doing a multitude of school related activities. I know they will appreciate the quiet as Mr. L and I do, I also know they like how bright the stars shine at night, maybe not the mosquitos, but the view is worth it.

Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll run away to the city or even back to the place where they began their lives. Perhaps they will room with those friends that they have longed for since and that they have managed to stay in touch with. Who knows.

As a parent, the biggest struggle for me the last two years is the constant in and out between home, town and school. Sure, I did it back in the ‘burbs. What parent doesn’t? But add in kilometres and 30-45 minute trips to get pretty much anywhere including groceries and supplies, it adds up. It has meant that we had to make some changes in how we manage life.

Country Living with Kids vs Suburb Living with Kids When You Have Three or More Kids

  • 1 activity per kid vs multiple activities per kid.
  • Groceries or Fresh Markets once a week vs. going to the grocery store every day.
  • Gas up once a week vs gas up every 2 weeks. (On a good week!)
  • Bundling appointments/life stuff into 1 day a week vs spreading it out over a week.
  • Finding after school care when 1 kid has extracurricular activity vs just popping home for an hour with other kids – especially important for work from home parents who still need to finish up work by end of day and can’t do it while sitting in the playground for an hour watching the other kids.
  • Always, always having snacks and waters on hand vs finding a coffee shop.
  • Downloading multiple podcasts or playlists for those long drives vs listening to the radio.
  • Telling the kids they have each other to play with because playdates (unless arranged) do not happen spontaneously vs going over to someone’s house after school.
  • Riding bikes up and down the driveway/organize an outing vs riding around the block.
  • Backyard vs park
  • And lastly – learning to let your twelve-year-old babysit the younger kids so you don’t have to schlep the entire crew out to every single outing that doesn’t involve them.

The list looks daunting and each of these bullet points race through my head every time I am asked, why did you move? Or – was it worth it?

The simple answer is yes.

The above list is just one way of doing things versus another. I choose to view it as a puzzle to solve – is there a good way to deal with a busy five-person household while living in the country? If we simplify things, then yes. If anything, the best thing to come out of this move  is the reminder that our family should be more mindful about what choices we make as well as how we spend our time and money.

Who do we want to spend time with in our home? What activities do the kids really want to do versus just doing them because they are available? Do I really need to go and buy that item or can I make do with that I have? In the suburbs, it’s easy to overbuy, overspend and over schedule because it’s available. Out here in PEC, you have to take a pause and think, how important is that right now?

So, in the long run I believe this has been an important lesson for our family to learn and one I hope my children will take with them as they enter the teen years and beyond. The ability to pause, reflect for a moment and make a choice versus doing things just because they are easy. Do you have to change your life and move out to the country to do this? No way. This practice can be done anywhere and by anyone. We just had to move out of the ‘burbs to learn it.

In the beginning, that current catch word, mindfulness,  was not the reason I thought we moved here. I will often hesitate, wondering how to phrase my answer to that “why did you move out here,” question. So I blurt out the first answer that pops into my head. I tell people we moved because out here, we got a better value for property. It was the best, honest answer I could form to the constant inquiry. Yes people, we moved to get what we wanted in a family home.

But in retrospect, or at least during the last two years, although that answer was the best that I could discern from this whole experience and was in part, true, another life lesson emerged from the dive. That one about being more mindful of one’s choices. Now that answer only came to mind once I started to reflect back on the last two years and the corresponding shifts our family have undergone. It was an aha moment as you realize what has shifted within your family over a two year period.

Life is busy when you have kids. Downright insane when you have three or more. If we can slow it down, even a little bit, while teaching an important, unstated lesson to our children about mindfulness, well then at this juncture in our lives, I believe we dove into the deep end and made the right move for us.

 

An ode to True Love..

True love, unlike what it says in the Princess Bride..

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…does not always mean finding that perfect person – the soul mate which you spend the rest of your life. Nice ideals bred out of the romantic illusion sold over the last few hundred years since Prince Charming slipped that slipper on Cinderella’s foot.

For us, Valentine’s Day is a panicked rush where I scrounge to help three children make Valentine’s Day cards for their classes while loading them up with dollar store chocolates hoping most of them are nut free. Valentine’s Day means staying up late to set a table laden with felt hearts and small gifts because a tradition was inadvertently started when your eldest child was four years old and you are now locked into it –  even if all you want to do is get yourself to bed and watch a show on Netflix or read a book. Valentine’s Day means rushing home and not getting any work done because you need to make those chocolate heart cakes for their afternoon snacks – even if it is out of a box.  You do all of these things – even if you don’t want to –  because you’re a parent. If that isn’t true love, then I have no idea what is.

From what I have learned being a parent means living every day for true love.

You know it’s true love when:

  1. Get up early every morning to make sure little people get a half decent breakfast before school.
  2. Become a taxi cab driver who works for free and drives everywhere.
  3. Sleep in your car because you’re too tired to take a walk outside after the morning school drop off and ensuing arguments in the car because a kid forgot something.
  4. Wash and fold clothes non-stop. (Or until you give up and close the door pretending laundry doesn’t exist.)
  5. Give up caring how messy their rooms are because you want them to express themselves – even if it secretly drives you a little crazy.
  6. Still say “I love you” at the end of the day – even if they are being argumentative, moody or downright rude.
  7. Walk away – at any point – without losing your cool and put yourself in a time out.
  8. Try not to cry or make a big deal when they do the dishes for you without asking.
  9. Force yourself away from the playground after you heard someone was bothering them.
  10. Finally – you know it’s true love when you keep waking up each morning and say to yourself – “It’s a new day. Today will be better.” But you secretly know it will be the same and you get up anyway.

For all the tired parents out there who may wonder who are the people who go out for a nice adult dinner on Valentine’s Day – once your kids are off their chocolate highs from the copious amounts of candy they had at school (or brought home) – give yourself a pat on the back. You know what true love really is and you live it each and every day.

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Will It Ever End?

blog post jan 30

Mornings. When you have three or more kids (and 4 pets), it is mayhem, pure and simple. Each day some creature needs attention, does something wrong and I look like a crazed lady with uncombed hair trying to feed, manage and send other people out into the world.

Yes, yes. I have tried all the following:

  1. Up early to have morning coffee, feed myself first, do something productive towards my writing. Plus gotten myself completely ready.
  2. Exercised with gentle yoga and meditation to enter a calm zen-like state before the first animal or child wakes up.
  3. Slept in ensuring a solid 7 hours of sleep and then, rushed alongside my children and pets to get ready.
  4. Tried to stay in bed with the hopes that the days Mr. L works from home – he would completely take over and let me rest a little more that day. (Which has never happened yet!)
  5. Taken deep breaths and tried not to raise my voice while at the same time telling myself, it is not my responsibility to ensure they have water bottles filled IF they have lost all said water bottles or to throw things out of cupboards in some bizarre attempt to ensure they stay hydrated all day. They will find a water fountain.

Some days one of these things may work but most days – nothing works. I still find myself scrambling, coaxing, pleading, begging, shouting and ultimately raising my hands in exasperation as the new kitten knocks over a bucketful of water, one kid has no mittens for winter carnival day and the third has come downstairs with unbrushed hair and clothes that fit her two years ago.

On top of that, usually some of the kids are fighting over something petty and I am again saying “hands off please,” one is in tears because of a bad dream they just remembered or a third is arguing with me that they don’t need to double-check they have proper gym clothes. (Typically she forgets at least one item resulting in the teacher finding me at pick up to tell me she forgot her gym uniform, again). So is it a surprise that I ask myself every morning – will this get better? What is the magic trick to less stressful mornings? In truth, I have tried a lot of things to keep myself and our household calm with  no long-lasting solution.

I have resorted to the hard a$$ mom who says, “If you waste my time in the morning by not being ready to go and I have to help you find a pair of waterproof mittens again, (and by the way you have lost two pairs this year), then the consequence is that I can’t get ready or feed the pets or do the marathon list of things that need to happen before we leave and all of you will be late, again, for school.”

This kind of worked. The kicker – being late stresses all of us out more and makes my whole day start late.  Or it is a bus day and they have to be ready to go by an earlier time that adds a whole other layer of crazy.

So -what is the trick? Is it just a matter of accepting that for now, while they are these ages, it’s just mayhem? That because they are not old enough to let go of all the mom-checks before they leave, (Do you have your homework? Do you have the permission form signed? Do you have your water bottle, gym clothes, indoor running shoes, mittens, coat? You do know it’s -10 degrees celsius outside? We need snow pants.), but old enough to get themselves ready and be responsible for their things this age is more difficult? Add to all of this that we have two dogs and two cats who also want outside, treats and food and need to be crated and contained before we leave unless I want my house totally trashed.

Should I just accept that these mornings, the ones that have all been on me for the last eight years with a growing brood of children, takes a toll and I need to give myself a break? Do I go back to work full-time and hire a morning nanny to help a poor mom out or just grit my teeth and wait out the winter so we can all go back to leaving the house in a t-shirt alleviating some of the pressure?

I have no idea. If you do – let me know.

Otherwise, pass the coffee- the house is now quiet. Today, I may pour a splash of Irish Cream in lieu of milk into my mug.

Little bit of this, little bit of that..

Good early, early morning!

As I have been squirreled away, typing out dark fiction stories, I realized that this blog is long overdue for an update. In truth, I’ve been struggling. Like so many of us, trying to find the secret mixture to balance children, household, travel, pets, health and of course, my own creative desires. Something had to give, so I apologize for the lack of posts but here’s another confession – I didn’t know what to write.

Being embroiled in fiction writing in 2017 with a mandate to tell as many short stories as possible, I had no ideas left on what to write about from a parenting perspective because in truth, I felt I didn’t have a handle on anything.

I know, I know. None of us do – not really. We pretend and we do our best each day but let’s face it – as these kids get older although some things are much easier – some things are much harder. The stakes are higher. You want to reach them, guide them, mentor them and give them the solid foundation – and they resist. Oh boy, do they resist. So you drink your glass of wine (or martini or tea – whatever your preference), and you realize how mentally drained you are at the end of the day and certain things, like this blog, go by the wayside. Scattered remains leftover by a busy life where we possibly cannot do everything.

And you know what? It’s okay. Blogs, books to read, projects to finish will be here when I have a bit of time or the spark of creativity focuses its lens on something other than monsters under the bed. So, this morning,  I am taking the time from my bed, still in pyjamas with our two dogs keeping my feet warm (oops!) and simply write.

Sparred by a podcast I listen to with sincere awe and dedication every Tuesday and Friday, I started realizing I had something new to say. A parenting challenge the last little while that I could share. That I even had a strategy in place when I wrote it out that I had not even realized. A simple response to For Crying Out Loud‘s last podcast turned into a huge Facebook post because something resonated – how I handle one of my children.

Being a parent of three or more kids – any kids for that matter – requires being part investigator and therapist with a dash of imagination. Each child is unique, there is no one size fits all and you know what? It’s hard. Damn hard to try to tweak your own instincts to suit another human being with their own whole host of personality quirks. But we try to do it – figure out these little human puzzles every single day – why? Because we love our kids and want the best for them.

Here’s my FB post in response to a situation that one of the hosts of FCOL when she described a challenge she was having with her older child. It resonated with me because I heard so many things – the personality, the struggle to reach that child –  that I was like – hell yes! What’s up with these type of kids?

Posted on January 16th – For Crying Out Loud – Reel It In (A closed group for listeners of the show – so go and listen to podcast and then join the conversation.)

Listening to today’s podcast where Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is describing Sadie, she could be describing my middle girl (who is almost 10). I have STRUGGLED with how to reach this bright, artistic kid who is often out-talked and overshadowed by a chatty older sister and charismatic younger brother. I’m slowly figuring it out, for now. I was fighting a losing battle, so here are some tips I am trying:

1) Listen – she often feels no one listens to what she wants.

2) Let her go at her own pace as much as possible.

3) Make deals – she had to take organized ski lessons last year – she hated it although she’s really good. I told her if she finished the session, (I explained how all I wanted was for her to learn basic skills to which she replied, I know enough.) I would not ask her to take lessons again and she could free ski. She went out for the whole two hours just last weekend, on her own, happy as a clam while the other kids were at lessons. She was happier and was skiing.

4) Give her time to think about things. I make suggestions and give her space and time to consider what she wants. Basketball this year, she wanted to go last year, she got frustrated as she was behind other girls but she stuck with it because she had asked for it. This year, I haven’t pushed her into it, I just asked what she wants to do and the date I need to know. She’s thinking and I have to practice patience and respect our agreed upon timeline.

5) It takes time to find a good fit – I have had to accept that the right teacher/coach is key for this type of child. She needs someone to bring her out of her initial shyness. Example: She is an awesome drummer/musician – was ho-hum with last year’s instructor and was unmotivated. (She’s already given up piano due to not liking structure lessons) New teacher the past two weeks and it’s like a light went on. She’s motivated and excited. 

Lastly, keep on telling her I’m on her side – that sometimes I want her to try new things but ultimately I will listen and respect what she wants to do. I found this mindset has helped, she talks more to me about what she wants and has opened up a bit – at this point I’ll take anything she gives as I feel like it’s been a long road to get her to open up and trust we’re all on the same side. If this helps anyone with a kid like this, great. At the very least, I am so glad to hear my kid is not the only one who is like this – sometimes I have no idea what to do with her!!

At the end of crafting this hugely long FB post – unusual for me – I realized maybe I do have something to share and more importantly – some semblance of a plan for my middle child.

Audrey has been brought up before on this blog – for a while I have been frustrated trying to find a way to reach this amazing child, one who remains a bit of mystery to me but who is also a mirror of some of my own inner challenges as a person and a parent. She has taught me patience, to listen and joy because when you reach her and she lets you into her world – a light goes on that makes you feel wonderful.

Do you have a child in your life that you struggle to reach? Love to hear how other parents handle these types of situations and children.

To Allowance or Not To Allowance?

Do you give your children an allowance?

This is a topic I have struggled with off and on since my oldest child was about 7 years old.

A bit of background about my own angst with money.

Growing up we had a very precarious allowance system. Sometimes we would get it, sometimes not depending if there was enough money left over once all the bills were paid. Money was tied to completing our chores. Some months, we would get an allowance and then asked for it back by our parents to help buy milk at the corner store. There was never any consistency. All allowance stopped when I was old enough to start babysitting and made my own money –  around 11 or 12 years old. I never wanted for anything. I had a clothes and supplies every school year. But if I wanted extras, I was on my own.

Post childhood, into university. I was completely dependent on my own self to fund university, pay my bills and start a life. I was left with no sense of how to budget, manage a student loan or credit cards. I had just enough sense to know paying my bills on time was paramount and if I had to work two jobs while at university so I could pay my rent and have money for books for class, I did it.

Looking back it’s no surprise my heart races when anything to do with finances, allowances and money comes up. This topic was a contentious issue with my parents. Bills always led to an argument and money was a stressor in our family life. Arguments about money filtered down the vents in whispered arguments at night. So my relationship with money, budgets and allowance has always been fraught with tension.

Back to present day, with all of the above in mind and still grasping a bit blindly but not unsuccessfully with budgeting and money as a woman starting her forties – when my eldest child was old enough to start thinking about an allowance, for obvious reasons, I panicked.

How much, what age and most importantly, how do I start teaching my children about money so that they are more educated and better financial planners than I was and am? How can I help them so they have to struggle less and have a healthy relationship with money when I’m still trying to figure it out?

Opinions are plentiful on the subject. From the internet, articles, parenting experts and of course, other parents.

I tried the go-to allowance method at the time with my oldest. I explained about the three planks: save, spend and charity. I opened up a savings account in her name and put in the first $50 dollars.

She was eight years old.

To give her credit she tried, but a few things became clear at once.

  1. She was way too young to fully understand what I was trying to do.
  2. I could not keep up the monthly allowance – with three or more kids. In turn, all of the children wanted some sort of allowance and there were times I just simply forgot. There was no consistency.
  3. Unless it was completely unreasonable, (For example a $40 Collectible Barbie that she would never play with!) she (and her siblings) got pretty much got anything they asked for. Want a book? Sure, I love bookstores and things are going well that day. Let’s go. Want that special candy, have you been good today? All right.

The word no was used too in my futile attempts to teach them they could not get EVERYTHING they wanted.  (No. We are buying a birthday present for your friend, you do not need another book today!) But the yes’s and the no’s are often evenly matched.

Needless to say, allowances have been inconsistent and I feel and felt like I have failed to start them off on a strong footing with money. The intent to teach is there – but my follow-through needed some work.

I started an allowance with Elizabeth. Stopped when life got busy. Started again with the two younger kids. Stopped again when we moved and life got buys. Started again this year with the youngest being 6 years old, was foiled again within two months as work picked up.

Except this time, they are all old enough to realize I stopped.

“Mom! You owe me $11 dollars for this month.” (I took the rule of thumb in most opinions out there, $1/week for each age of the child.)

“Mom, you forgot my allowance again.”

“Mom – buy me this, just take it off my allowance.”

This went on and on, driving me crazy, making me feel guilty that I was failing a major life learing event –  until I stopped. Cold turkey. Trying to play catch up, listening to three little voices and keep track of the amounts owed in my head gave me a headache. The system I tried so hard to implement that I thought would teach them wonderful things about budget and money – it simply did not work for me.

“No more allowance,” I stated and tried to ignore the slack-jawed mouths open in shock.

“But how are we going to buy a new book this month?”

Hmmm..how about I already bought you a book via Scholastic from school last month so that should be enough and it helps out your classroom?

Then I started asking other parents about the allowance situation. Especially those with three or more children. The more experienced parents laughed.

“Allowance? I can barely keep up with the laundry.”

I asked if they tied allowance to chores. It was a mixed-bag of answers just like any information out in the general public. But the consensus came back as this:

Yes, allowances are great. For older kids who want more stuff. (10 years old seems to be a general starting point.) Younger kids get what they need and then some. Why do they need to buy more stuff? (In this day and age of gift cards younger children do get opportunities to spend and consider costs. Save any they get for one big shopping trip or reward.)

No, not tied to everyday chores. But sometimes tied to extra work done around the house for older children. Sometimes. The importance of learning how to take care of the house coupled with learning the art of pitching in outweighs any allowance. Why should you pay them for doing what they SHOULD be doing anyway?

Yes, debit accounts for kids are a necessity – once they start working at a part-time job but not before. Savings accounts are a good alternative for those cash-only birthday gifts but only if you want to – not a necessity. Alternatively, keep the cash in a safe place until you are ready to open the account.

Yes, they usually kept back part of a cash gift and put into savings account/safe unless the child requested a big-ticket item. (New iPod or game system.)

All of this information came from other parents I respect who are in the same boat as me. It gave me an out but still – why did the thought of allowances and opening bank accounts make my stomach churn?

The answer –  there is so much information out there about what is the right and wrong approach. It is overwhelming, especially for a person who 1) Did not have much guidance growing up on how to handle money. 2) Has a fear around money. 3) Is desperate to do something different or more right with how to approach allowances and money with children.

We all want the best for our children, and sometimes, what works for your family is different from what works for another. Sometimes, there is no money for allowances. And sometimes, it’s just too much work when you have three or more kids.

After much waffling, I decided the best approach was no approach. I cut off the allowances for everyone after I had been asked for the hundredth time when was allowance day coming? If I couldn’t be consistent, than it was best just to stop and take stock of the situation at my own pace.

The children were not happy but in truth, the complaining lasted a day.  As I mentioned, it is not like my children are suffering from lack of well, anything.

Instead of focusing on allowance, I decided helping around the house was a bigger mountain to tackle first. Baby steps.

Are allowances gone forever? No. I do see the importance and value of teaching them about budgeting, earning money for a job well done and not to be afraid of it. I started using the term, budget instead of snapping at them when they asked for another small toy that would fill their already full toy bins that money doesn’t grow on trees. Instead I calmly try to say, “Sorry, not in the budget this week.”

And I stopped tying the items they were lucky enough to get each month, (a new pair of shoes they were eyeing, a book, hair accessories), to behaviour. Good behaviour and manners were a necessity, not a bribe. They get stuff when they need stuff or I see something that I think will make their day.

But they are learning too. Along with my new “not in the budget” proclamation, they actually sit and think about the best way to spread out that birthday money or gift card they have received. How much do they want that item if all they have is a set amount and have to wait until their next birthday?

Want to know a great thing I noticed when I took a step back? My kids are generous.

With no probing from me and left to their own devices, if one of them is out of birthday cash on a special trip to the local mall, another will buy them the coveted item. No strings attached.

And these trips to the mall or book store or even time with on iPad to get that app – that IS tied to behaviour. Not the actual thing they covet, not an allowance – but the experience of going out together. I’ve cancelled and drove away from stores or restaurants that we were just about to go in with a shrug and firm parent tone when any kind of established breaking of house rules like respecting each other, hands off and manners is broken. I have also taken them on a spur of the moment when they are behaving well and we have had a relatively stress-free day. (AKA –  no one arguing with each other in the back seat of the vehicle.)

Dumping the allowance discussion allowed me to really address other things first. How to treat each other. Manners. Responsibility for your own things. Expectations around household chores and pitching in. I also got to see them start to budget in their heads, really think about what they wanted because there was no regular influx of cash each month.  Lastly, I am starting to see the natural charitable side of my children. Towards each other or when my eldest pulls out a five dollar bill of her own  money for a homeless person.

Are these not the very lessons an allowance is supposed to teach?

We will circle around, now that other work is going well and the time will come to address an allowance. But instead of an all in one approach – I think tying to their age makes the most sense and is less overwhelming for a parent.

Elizabeth is now 11 years old. She is ready to start with a more regular allowance as she begins to want to hang out with friends on her own or really wants that particular piece of clothing or book. I figure by the time she is 12 years old, we will have a regular allowance system in place to set her up for those teenage years. The other ones will have their turn when it’s time.

The difference now? Me. I can take my time and teach instead of rushing to do it the “right way” and in my opinion, way to early. Introducing an allowance systems at an age-appropriate level with a person who is beginning to understand the world is bigger than our family makes the most sense to me.

And I’ll do it again and again with each child as they hit a milestone birthday but this time – it will be done right.

How do you manage allowance with your family?

 

 

 

 

Travel With Kids

For the last few months I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to write guest articles for www.sixsuitcasetravel.com. An informative website about traveling with your large family and a great resource I have used for a few years.

My latest article was about our trip to The Poconos a few years ago.

To read the article you can find it here:

7 Must Do Magical Moments in The Poconos

Poconos Countryside

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.

The New Birthday Trend

Gray and rainy days of spring are perfect for thinking back over the past few months. It is also that time when parents give collective sighs of relief when, at last, the weather  turns and we can gently nudge our children outside to play. If you are a lucky, you’ve reached that sweet spot where your kids can be outside playing in your backyard, street or even better, neighbour’s yard, with minor supervision. If you are not there yet, well, you will be.

For me, the beginning of April is a time to reflect, renew and plan. I survived holiday season, birthday season and March Break. There are a few challenges along the way, but one thing we did this year that was different were birthdays.

To recap, we moved out of suburbia last summer. Life is different when you live rural. Playdates are sparser, birthday parties are ordeals in logistics with most being held in homes. My girls have not quite yet made the social connections to have sleepover  birthday parties with their classmates and still pine for their old friends. I also have birthday season starting right after Christmas and go to the end of February and then March Break hits. (To note, not just my children’s birthdays. Mr. L’s birthday, my sister’s birthday and my Mom’s birthday.)

The weeks between December – March are often like parenting boot camp. I’m not kidding. If anyone wants to some real-life experience what having 3 kids is like, be my assistant next year. Come see what life is like with three or more kids during Christmas, Hanukkah, birthday season and March Break. It can be great fun, and exhausting.

I am also birthday-partied out.  For the last eleven years I have coordinated: full-class indoor birthday parties, outings, theme birthday parties, favourite cartoon character meet and greet parties, sleepover, tea parties, art parties, movie parties, surprise parties, family parties combined with holiday gatherings and I’m sure there are a few more. I am on auto-pilot when it comes to coordinating all the details and the same spreadsheet is used for all birthday planning.

Planning typically starts mid-November for the upcoming season. If I lived in another era, it is almost like every year, the kids have a “coming out” party schedule. Besides coordinating schoolmates for any celebrations, there is family to consider. Now that we have moved further away, this is a challenge.

Not to speak of the cost. I always try to have a budget for each child, but as it goes things get added and life happens. Remember, Hanukkah and Christmas fall in there too. Before you know it, you close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope it all works out in the end.

This year, Mr. L and I took stock.

  • We live further away from family. The big family parties of the past inviting both sides to our home to celebrate are over.
  • Our kids are in a new school this year and have not yet made the friendships that lend themselves to a birthday sleepover.
  • They desperately miss their friends from where we used to live.
  • Places to have kid birthday parties here are more limited.
  • It is winter. Any home parties are all inside and we just came off a lot of entertaining for the holidays. Mr. L vetoed big in-home parties this year.
  • Every year he is desperate to go away somewhere warm.

So the decision became easy that we pitched to the kids. A family trip in lieu of birthday presents or parties this year. The girls were all in, old enough to understand the birthday parties of the past were  pleasant memories and staying at home would be a reminder that they were not with their oldest friends. Jacob, being in first grade, was a little harder to convince.

We had unintentionally put a pattern into place with Elizabeth. One large all-class party (usually in kindergarten) and then dwindling numbers until Grade 4 when it would be down to a few close friends. Both the girls had gone through this pattern. Jacob had not. He got his all-class kindergarten party last year complete with Iron Man. But to go from that to no party at all, well, his face said it all.

So we relented and planned like mad to have his birthday party with one caveat, it had to be outside of the home. His birthday is right after Christmas, two days to be exact. I could not wrap my head around hosting Christmas and New Year’s with family and then planning for a birthday party in our home.

Jacob chose a bowling party. Considering the lack of indoor birthday party spaces in the area and availability during the holiday break, it was an easy one to plan. His class this year is also only 12 kids so that seemed a reasonable amount. (For reference, his kindergarten class last year had been 24 children.) Except, unbeknownst to me unlike the suburbs, siblings come along to birthday parties. The time commitment to drive to the bowling alley in the nearest town means that parties are family affairs. So our little party of 12 kids ended up being closer to 20 kids. Not too big of a deal as being held during the holidays meant that some of his classmates could not attend anyway.

Around this time, we also booked our family birthday celebration, a cruise the week of the girl’s birthdays in February.

Post birthday party, holidays and back to school, the cruise seemed ideal. It was for the most part. Weather was great. We made sure to try to celebrate each special day and the crew decorated our state rooms. Docked for their actual birthday meant they got to choose a family activity for the day. We had a great time exploring underground caves and relaxing by the pool.

But sitting here on a damp cold April morning I have to wonder was all the cost and planning worth it?

There were great times and not so great times as there always is when you travel with kids. The dining room staff were on top of things. They brought cakes and sang for each girl on their respective days. Even Jacob got a birthday cake in honour of his birthday back in December.  We spent time together and got some sun on our faces.

The cost was certainly more compared to having two smaller parties and three presents, but it was also a trip full of experiences. Of course I had small gifts for each girl to open on their morning, but we also went that extra mile and booked a very fun but expensive excursion for Elizabeth’s birthday. Another experience. Our kids have way too much stuff anyway, why do they need more?

In the end, I don’t think the girls liked not having parties this year. It took some of the pressure off them and us. Would we do it again? Maybe.

As kids get older, birthdays shift from huge all-class parties to smaller gatherings or maybe no gathering at all. It doesn’t have to be a birthday to have a sleepover with friends or family come to visit. I think ensuring your child feels celebrated and special is all that matters. Our kids weren’t happier with large or small birthday parties or even no party at all. They just wanted the day to be about them.

The real question becomes, are you having the party for your child, yourself or their friends? It is tricky because we all want our children to have fun, make memories and feel special. Having done it all, it does not matter. If you are not the kind of parents who want to host a birthday party. Don’t. Go out and invite a group of friends to join you. Or having a small family dinner with a favourite meal. That may be just what your busy family needs. Even take a trip all together or just do something special for the day.

When I was a kid, my Mom used to pull us each out of school on our birthdays and we spent the day with her doing whatever we wanted and eating whatever we wanted. It felt special. We also had parties and sleepovers but I remember no matter what, we got that one great day.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what kind of party or event you have for children’s birthdays. From my experience, as long as your children know that for one day they have your undivided attention, to is good enough.

Now, are birthday parties a thing of the past for our family? No.

Elizabeth turns 12 next year and with that comes the possibility of a Bat Mitzvah. Mr. L (the Jewish contingent of our household) wants each child to experience this traditional coming of age party. I think this is a gray area, tradition coupled with what the parents think is best versus what the child may really want.

What if Elizabeth doesn’t want a huge party? What if she simply wants to spend a night in Toronto and see her best friend? Each child is different and we will have to consider what they want too as each birthday season arrives.

But who are we kidding? When we asked her about her 12th birthday and mentioned a huge Bat Mitzvah, of course she wants the party. She is that kind of kid.

Now, try planning a Bat Mitzvah with family and friends who are spread across the province in a rural part of Ontario, in February.

Oh vey.