The Banana Bread Recipe

Long ago, on a hot summer afternoon in 2005, two professional young woman bantered back and forth on email trying to carve out and finish multiple conversations. One was on maternity leave, the other finding herself, working at a local arts council after leaving a stable corporate job.

Their emails were filled with affection and updates on their days, motherhood, marriage, gossip about friends and weekend plans.

Prior to the onset of civil pleasantries, a recipe for banana bread was shared. A no-fail recipe with chocolate chips. The receiver of the email (me) was spending some time honing her domestic cooking skills and asked one of the great bakers/cooks she knew, her friend L., for the recipe. Now, eleven years is a long time and I cannot remember if I had L.’s banana bread and that’s why the recipe was shared or I was just trying to fill up my empty cooking journal with something that was easy and delicious. Maybe it was because my partner, Mr. L, loves banana bread and I wanted to make something special. The reason is not very important really, what matters is that today, in February 29, 2016, that reciepe exists.

Folded neatly into a cooking reference book my grandmother made years ago to store recipe and meal ideas (perhaps hoping I would turn out to be a domestic wonder in the kitchen), the recipe comes out every so often. Still printed on the same paper, it brings a smile to my face each time I use it as I wonder if L. knows how much I reread one of our hundreds of emails to each other over the years and use this long ago shared recipe.

Just last week, I pulled the recipe out and asked myself,  “Why can’t I commit this recipe to memory?” After all, I’ve been making it for 11 years, yet, for some reason it will not stick in my brain. The banana bread produced each time has been a hit with my now three children, friends and family members. It is often requested by people who have tried it.

I realized at last, on a cold day last week, I really don’t want to memorize the recipe. If I did, that would mean I would have no need for the paper, or be able to read the email exchange written beneath. I wouldn’t smile remembering that person long ago who had just found out she was pregnant after a long year and a half of trying, had visited her friend L. and her little girl so happy for all of them and was just starting to orient herself in a new community. A woman nearing thirty who was battling tiredness, loss of appetite and the heat.

So instead, I kept it. I tried not to spill anything on it and as soon as I’m done it goes back into the special recipe binder. I have treasured this piece of paper and the person who took time out of her busy day as a new mama to send her friend a Banana Bread Email .

For those who want an easy, no-fail banana bread recipe, I give you my friend’s Banana Bread recipe. Take it from a parent of three or more kids, it is delicious and it is a keeper.

Banana Bread Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (can substitute half with applesauce in a pinch, still tastes good)

Chocolate chips – optional – quantity determined as desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9.5 inch loaf pan. (I use butter but whatever you want.) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter in prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Enjoy!

 

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Birthday Musings

The past couple of weeks have been rather chaotic in our little world. Frankly, life since my last blog seems to be busier than normal, thus the long absence! But whose isn’t?

Regardless, here in Oakville, Ontario winter did not arrive these past few weeks. With stir crazy kids and temperatures fluctuating wildly between spring temperatures with frigid wind chills, we plugged along into the busiest time of year, birthday season.

With Mr. L’s and all the kid’s birthdays falling between the end of December and end of February, this time of year has its challenges, nothing a semi-organized mom of three or more kids cannot manage. See  my past post on Surviving Back to Back Birthdays.

This year Elizabeth turned ten and Audrey eight. Over the years we have tried to pare back the guest count. Last year Elizabeth had to choose her three best friends for a first time sleepover. Being a milestone year, it soared back up to seven. Amelia’s excuse for inviting ten of her friends to her party was that we are moving out of the area and this would be her last birthday with these friends. Parental guilt ensued and I found myself planning two back to back parties, again.

After much discussion and trying to ensure invites were sent out a few weeks in advance as per my comment on being a semi-organized parent, the plans were set in January. Tea party followed by laser tag for Elizabeth. Splatter paint party at a local Oakville art centre for Audrey. One at home, the other out. Perfect. Oh, and a sleepover with their BFF’s forever.

Birthday weekend started with Elizabeth on the Saturday. Mr. L started the morning with her requested Nutella and toast plus sausages for breakfast and asked me what the agenda was for the day. By the time I had outlined all the activities, I thought his head was going to explode.

“It will be fine.” I assured him shooing them all out of the door to their individual Saturday morning activities before birthday madness ensued.

Thanks to some smart planning and wonderful ladies, all the birthday planning was a breeze, okay maybe a bit of a windstorm, but a manageable one.

During a holiday event, I had the pleasure to meet Renee, or otherwise known as The Traveling Tea Lady. I enlisted her help in creating a perfect, not too girly tea event at our house for seven little ladies. Renee was awesome. Responsive and organized she helped me find last minute decorations that Elizabeth requested, made up small tins of her delicious gingerbread loose leaf tea for the loot bags and even gifted me with a new blend of her Stress Free Tea which I cannot wait to try! She arrived with lots of time to get ready, decorated our small dining area, made all the petite goodies, served the tea,  cleaned up all of it done with a smile.

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In lieu of cake at tea time, Elizabeth requested cupcakes. Now I can make quick and dirty cupcakes, but she wanted something a little fancier. For this task I enlisted the help of Liana from Flavours Catering and Events in Oakville, Ontario. Having used her before, I was so happy with the twelve delicious chocolate and vanilla cupcakes she hand delivered to my house complete with mad hatter fondant icing.

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Post tea time and gift opening, I chauffeured the girls to Laser Quest on the west end of Oakville. It was busy being a Saturday night but I had booked the party room. There was no wait for our turn, they made sure our food, coats and cake were all taken care of.  We had a large room, with all place settings ready to go, pizza hot and delivered on time for the kids. You bring your own drinks and cake. They also give the birthday child a free laser tag game and come in for a “Zappy Birthday” song sung by the enthusiastic host when it’s cake time.  Loud but fun.

Now laser tag isn’t for all kids, those who have photosensitivity or wary of dark places. We had one child that needed to be pulled which was done quickly and handled without incident. But for those who enjoy it, it’s a fun way to entertain a bunch of nine and ten year olds. Party one complete.

Back at the house, Audrey and her sleepover guest were waiting for us to return. Elizabeth and her sleepover guest (note one guest)  quickly changed into their pyjamas and the giggles, nail painting started while they watched Harry Potter, a current favourite on our screen.

Audrey’s big party was the next day. After a waffle filled breakfast, family started to arrive. Some were going to stay at our house while I took some to the art party. As happens, sometimes there is an after party, especially when you have people coming from an hour drive away. The day before we discovered we had almost twenty people coming back to our house after the art party. Thank goodness for online ordering where we got everything from pizza to chicken skewers to be delivered for those waiting the hour and a half for us to arrive with the guests of honour.

4Cats West is an art studio that we have frequented a lot over the years. Their birthday parties are a lot of fun, well organized and messy. What else do you want in a birthday party? Audrey chose the splatter paint party, and in lieu of loot bags, I opted to pay a little extra and each guest got to paint their own take home canvas with splatter paint as well. The end result will be a huge canvas, splatter painted with Audrey’s choice of colours to be hung on her wall. All her friends signed the back of it. What better present is there, especially when this is your last year with this bunch of kids?  The facility does not provide food, you bring everything yourself. They give you the space and entertain the kids for an hour while you set up.

The splattered faces and paint drenched hair were a testament to the fun the girls had. Amelia loved seeing her friends get all messy and I was privileged to get many shots of her genuine smile, something that is sometimes hard to catch.

Back at the house, we finished off the birthday marathon with more food, ice cream cake for both the girls, family wishing them well, more presents and play. My mudroom was a disaster thanks to a couple of rambunctious boys who needed backyard time. The toys littered the house. I’m still finding pieces of chocolate mashed on the floors. But it was a memorable weekend, filled with kind and professional people to help make my girls’ birthdays special. All happening on a quiet street in Oakville, Ontario.

As I sipped a well earned crisp white wine chatting with my family as the kids played, well all over the house, Mr. L was quick to point out that this was it. Our last birthday celebration in this house. For dear readers, we move this summer to a new area in Ontario. A place where I must seek out everything from where to get awesome cupcakes to what grocery store to go to ease birthday filled weeks for a mom to three or more kids.  I will need to find a new village.

My mother, (being a mom), pointed out now that it was all done, I survived another crazy December to February, wasn’t it time to start packing? Yes, it is. But looking back, it will be bittersweet when I start filling that first box. After all, I’ve met some great people here in Oakville, Ontario. I have found great small businesses to support, have the stores I frequent, made lots of great connections along the way. I will miss it.

 

 

Thinking Ahead – Switch How You Meal Plan

Entering the month of August, (Here I will throw up my hands and try to excuse a lengthy hiatus from this blog but such is June and July in our little world, busy with a capital “B!”) a parent of three or more kids begins to sweat. Or perhaps panic is a better word. Their minds race plotting out fall schedules, back to school shopping and how to keep delightful children entertained for another four weeks. If you are back to work after some vacation time you are desperately trying to catch up while juggling various camp options.

If you’re like me, with three young school aged kids (or more!) you still glance at the huge amount of articles and Facebook posts hitting your computer screen. “Plan now!” “Set your schedule!” “Get on track for Fall with these tools!” You may or may not have learned to weed through the crap and bookmark the ones you will read later, maybe. Most of the guilt you used to carry about being super prepared vanished over the last five years. But yet, you still make a half-hearted attempt to plan. To at least have a map to follow when the days get dark and you can’t stand seeking out the perfect backpack for your eldest child because the one she was given earlier this year just isn’t the right one.

Then the messages from the mom’s group you joined a while back start. Women in similar situations with multiple kids pleading for advice on how to manage lunches and back to school shopping and still keep your sanity. You realize you are  not alone.

From one of these boards one mom posted this question:

“Okay I’m going crazy with menus and grocery shopping. How do you plan your meals. Any good websites that post weekly or monthly menus. Ughhhhh please help!”

Lots of ladies started posting links to multiple websites, suggestions on how to manage a meal plan. All great advice and resources. But one post caught my eye.

“I plan backwards from most people. The grocery store plans for me. I look at what’s on sale in the meat department, then see what’s on sale I can add to that to make meals. I save a lot of money and stress this way.”

I couldn’t believe what I read. Someone else bucked the trend of being utterly prepared at all times? An alternative to the huge amount of time and work that is menu planning? No way!

You see I realized something the last few years. No matter how much I try to plan ahead, something always buggers it up. It’s like an unseen force makes things a touch difficult to mess with me. Then I feel like a failure at this whole domestic stay at home mom deal, wallow in self-pity and get right back on the crazy train. A vicious cycle.

With specific attention to meal planning, I tried different apps on my wonderful device tethered to my hip this past year and combined it with a written monthly menu board. Not surprisingly, I made nothing that I planned for. Out of pure frustration, I attempted a whole different approach. I picked a day of the week where, unless there is an emergency, I go grocery shopping. The same day. (Yeah, yeah. My grandmother did it this way too..but it must have worked. She had four kids.) My kids were all in school so I spent an hour or so wandering the aisles, (No coffee cup in hand. Remember, I was meal planning.) and let the grocery store decide my menu. I based my weekly meal plan on what was on sale that day combined with what I already had in my pantry.

I did one other thing, I stopped trying to plan every day of the week. I planned only for four out of seven days. One day off to do whatever I wanted. (Leftovers or pasta but I had to use what was in the fridge.) One day I asked the kids what they wanted and ensured I had most requests in the freezer. (Usually tacos, hot dogs, chicken nuggets.) One day for spouse to make decisions.

Done.

Each Sunday night I wrote down my tentative weekly menu with just main ingredients, (No fancy quiches dishes) on a dry erase board based on what I bought at the grocery store and our weekly schedule. (Knowing each week is slightly different and how much time I have to prep and make simple or more complicated meals shifts each day.) I asked the kids what they wanted on one of the empty nights and filled it in. Having chicken nuggets one night a week is a treat for them and takes pressure off me. I can buy organic, locally grown, frozen chicken nuggets if that’s what I prefer. Most grocery stores carry a decent brand.

This system worked the best out of any I have tried the last few years. There is less stress trying to manage a list or app. Grocery store shopping is more relaxing without having to manage multiple recipes or the overwhelming list of ingredients I may or may not use. The best reward is that I use up most of the food in my fridge. Less waste.  If I need a recipe, with the abundance of websites it is easy to find one that includes ingredients I have on hand.

I mentioned the above to my sister, a person who is a shift worker, and she rolled her eyes. “Well for those of us who work shifts we need to have a plan.” Fair enough. If having a detailed weekly or monthly menu plan works for you, great. But for those of us parents of three or more kids drowning and overwhelmed with menu planning, perhaps switching perspectives will work. Stop trying to over plan and let the grocery store be your guide.

Follow up to Open Letter to my children’s school board.

In the interest of complete transparency, here is a follow up to the situation in Ontario and our particular school board, the Halton District School Board. Although not exactly what I and many other parents are requesting, it is a step in the right direction. At least we will obtain our children’s grades. Below is an email sent out to all elementary school parents yesterday after a meeting with the Board of Trustees from the Director, Mr. David Euale.

I remain hopeful that communication to my children’s teachers will result in some tangible progress from the last report card before the last day of school as personally I would love to celebrate expected improvements and help prepare my children for the next school year.

June 18, 2015

Important Message for Families of Elementary Students:
Report cards to be provided for elementary students in SK – Grade 8

At the Halton District School Board meeting of June 17, trustees have supported the Director of Education’s recommendation to allocate up to $100,000 to secure assistance to input elementary student academic marks in the report card system.

Currently, public elementary teachers across Ontario are taking part in a legal strike. This action includes not providing report card comments and not inputting student marks/achievement levels electronically. The production of report cards for more than 40,000 Halton public elementary students relies on the inputting of this data by 2,700 teachers. Trustees had previously supported the concept that the data entry could not be managed by principal and vice-principals at this very busy time of year. Therefore, a commitment was made to have principals and vice-principals produce report cards only for students graduating from their schools. These report cards will be distributed on June 24th.

As a result of the approval of funds by trustees, during the summer, report cards for all remaining students in Senior Kindergarten to Grade 7 will be produced with subject grades/achievement levels and learning skills only (no comments). These will be made available from August 31- September 3 at the elementary school your child attended during the 2014-15 school year. Report cards not picked up will be mailed home to families.

The Ministry of Education indicated they could not provide special funding for this initiative. Therefore, we are very pleased that the Halton District School Board trustees chose to support this allocation of funds. This enhancement to our original plan allows for the equitable access to grades and learning skills for all elementary students for this school year.

For more information, please visit http://www.hdsb.ca

Sincerely,

David Euale
Director of Education
Halton District School Board

An Open Letter to my school board. Let’s teach RESPONSIBILITY.

This morning, I decided to send a letter to our local school board. After that, I made the decision to go public with my letter. Here in Ontario, as a result of work to rule action, some children in some elementary grades will NOT be receiving their final grades. The basics of the situation are this: as a work to rule action, teachers submitted the marks to the school administrators but refused to input them as in other years or provide comments. Boards had to respond accordingly. Each board is responding in whatever way they deem appropriate but it keeps shifting. Yes people, this is what my high property taxes to the public school systems pays for. In my personal opinion, not a great use of my tax money.

Now I do not mean to simplify a very complex situation, but as a parent, the above is the basic premise of what is happening.

I have no desire to enter into a political debate about what is wrong or not or why this is happening. Truthfully, I understand the complexities and arguments, difficulties of ALL involved including teachers/their union, administrators and boards.  But in the end, this is not my fight.  It is simple. I want my children’s marks and have a right to them.  I want to tell my child that anything is possible and mean it. When I teach them about responsibility, I want them to witness it first hand.

If you want more information, there is a lot of media attention on this as school boards across the province deal with this. Just google Ontario school boards, EFTO, Ontario elementary schools to get the latest news.

I share this letter for those parents in the same situation and encourage them to contact your local school board, parent groups and trustees. Make your voices heard. My children are too young to deal with this, so I must. As for anyone else reading this lucky enough to have your children’s final report cards in hand, well enjoy our ride. Maybe you will have to deal with this in the future too. I hope not.

**Note: Mr. Euale is a public figure and Director of the Halton District School Board thus I have left references to him. I have removed all other personal information to protect the identity of my family and children.

**Note 2: I did receive a response from Mr. Euale thanking me for my suggestions and letting me know our board, Halton District School Board, is looking into strategies to communicate with parents. With seven days of school left, I hope it’s quick and takes our children into consideration. I remain cautiously optimistic they will release our children’s marks.

June 17, 2015

Dear Mr. Euale,

We are aware that we may be one of many, many parents contacting you and the board in lieu of the announcement this past Friday. As directed, we are attempting to reach out to our children’s teachers to obtain their end of year marks with no response as of yet and if the media reports are accurate, the teachers will not be answering our pleas to release our children’s marks to us in an informal manner, although we were directed by the email on Friday to contact their teachers.

However, we wanted to reach out to you in light of the decision by the TDSB announced this am, the question on our minds (as many others) is why this strategy is not possible in Halton? For your reference:

http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2015/06/16/toronto-elementary-students-will-get-report-cards-despite-teachers-manoeuvre.html

In fact, although Halton has indicated it will send report cards home for certain elementary grades, which is the least to be expected for these important transition years, we would argue that other elementary grades also be given similar considerations. In our situation, we have three children within the Halton District School Board, all in primary grades. Do we not have a duty as a collective to ensure they are well prepared for September? That is difficult to do as a parent without some sort of feedback or indication of progress from this year. Perhaps a modified version, such as a summary of marks as the TDSB is doing should be the minimum the board/administrations provide to all the parents in Halton.

We want to share with you our situation with one of our children. We share this with you with the hope that if you understand a real life situation, you, the Board and Administration will reconsider the decisions made on Friday. We are cognizant our situation is most likely not unique but perhaps highlighting to you the difficulty you are placing parents and the concerns we have in not obtaining feedback as well as the possible detrimental affects on primary learning, the decision will be altered.

Our eldest daughter (Grade Three, French Immersion) has been working hard since her last report card in February to improve her learning skills and bring her grades up to a place we believe she is capable of achieving. We also need to ensure she is well prepared for grade four, a huge transition year from primary to junior level learning. There has been a lot of work at home, extra tutoring and attempting to access the very, very limited resources at our particular school for a child who just needs a little extra support to succeed. Her teachers for the most part have tried to help within their limited means as well.

The final measure for this hard work was to be her final report card. Our daughter, Elizabeth, is one of those kids (as are most children in my experience) where positive, tangible feedback on her progress helps builds her confidence leading to steps for success. Being only nine years old, she is also very literal. Telling her I think she did better is not what the public school system has prepared her for.  At the end of it, marks are marks and one of the measures our children expect and deserve to know.

Throughout the last four months, albeit with overall positive general feedback from her teachers, her personal ultimate goal was to see her efforts translated into marks on her final report card. Can you imagine the end of the year when she holds that piece of paper in her hands and says “I did it!” That is a priceless moment.

Well Mr. Euale that is what is possibly being taken away from her and hundreds of students like her, this sense of accomplishment.

How do you explain to a nine year old that her efforts weren’t important enough to warrant even a letter home stating her grades?  Now, as her parents, we are of course assuming her marks are improved based on recent conversations and items coming home from her classroom.

But, what if she hasn’t improved enough? What if we are completely off base in our own personal assessment? Well, as a responsible parent who cares about her education, if her grades haven’t significantly improved and there are still gaps in learning, we must know that too and as soon as possible.

How are we to address possible issues this summer if we are not aware of what they are? It’s like trying to solve a problem blindfolded. We have a sense, but not the whole picture.

The argument, “you should know where your child is in their learning” is not a realistic in our circumstance and I’m sure many other families. Although we may think we know where her grades will land on a final report card, seen improvements at home and with her tutor, we cannot know for certain how that work translates in tandem with her in-class work and learning skills. Truthfully we are not comfortable or equipped to guess what her final marks may be and we should not have to. It is the board/administration and teachers responsibility to communicate with the parents their children’s progress and final marks.

We are not political in any way and sympathize with the difficulty everyone finds themselves from the teachers, administrators and the board. We understand it is not easy for anyone.  However, at the end of the day, this is not our fight. I want my children’s report cards. It is an expected duty of the board and schools to provide end of year report cards to parents. We very much hope that in light of what other boards are beginning to realize, the Halton District School Board reconsiders their position, responsibility to parents and children of their district and if not any of that, consider what you are doing to a child like my own.

How do I teach my children the value of school and learning when they can easily shrug their shoulders and say, “What does it matter? We may or may not get grades anyway.”

We have spent a year trying to instill a love of learning, responsibility and foster a sense of personal accomplishment for a job well done. All values taught in their classrooms. At a pivotal time in their personal development, as we are trying to teach these primary students the importance of words like, responsibility, we believe the board and administrators should be the example and make the responsible choice. 

 Release their marks.

Get it done in any way possible because when we tell our children that anything is possible, we would really like to mean it.

We will be forwarding this letter and encouraging our network of parents, organizations and media to contact you with their concerns in the hopes that HDSB responds accordingly.

Thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing your response.

Rebecca House

(Name of child changed above and personal information omitted for privacy.)

 

 

Get the gear ready!

Elizabeth's first baseball game of the season.

Elizabeth’s first baseball game of the season.

Second week of May and spring sports season is here!  Many parents will give wonderful advice about how to prepare for this time of year. (Me included!) Going into my fourth year of the kid-time hustle, here are some pointers on how to look like you are way more organized than you really are.

1. Your vehicle is a mess from the winter. Salt stains on the carpets. Food encrusted everywhere. It’s going to get worse. First, clean your vehicle or get it detailed. People won’t believe how you manage to keep crumbs off the floor because chances are, as you pop open the side doors and trunks of your multi-child vehicle of choice, people are peeking in to see if the interior of your car is worse than theirs.

2. If you don’t have them, buy enough camp chairs as you have seats of your car. Keep two or three in the vehicle and the rest in the garage just in case your mother – in -law decides to come and watch the kids.

3. Invest in a good waterproof picnic blanket. It will save damp butt syndrome especially when your kids want to sit on the dew-misted grass.

4. Find a friend who sells cool gear like Thirty-One. Tons of bags and organization ideas. Invest in one per sport. I have a large bag that can hold baseball helmets, extra bat, gloves for the family and anything else.  The worst thing is looking for a baseball glove and find instead a bike helmet in that closet you just can’t seem to get organized. If you can, leave the bag in the van. Why bring it inside?

5. In our house, I often have to take sibling along to game nights. This year I am going to have pre-packed knapsack per person for: sunblock, hats, sweaters and toys/colouring etc. Having a couple of cool toys also brings kids together. The best distraction for your kids, the other siblings at the games. If they don’t find a kindred spirit, a good book or colouring helps distract them. Your knapsack should include the water/snacks for your family, camera/camera phone for snapping candid pictures and an umbrella.

6. Don’t stress if your kid can’t make every game or practice. Nobody can.

7. If your kid’s coach isn’t pushing the “every parent rotate to bring snacks for the whole team,” don’t suggest it! I prefer to bring snacks for my own kids that are not juice boxes or granola bars. They had a full dinners before or will be having a full dinners after. Snacks are at my discretion and to be honest, lugging all my kids plus snacks for fifteen other kids through ankle deep grasses to the field the farthest from the parking lot is not high on my wish list.  Plus, I have two extra kids and I’m sure most families have other kids there too, it’s like a virus. If one sees another having a snack, they want one too and where does it stop?

8. Throw an extra blanket or two in your vehicle. It gets cold some nights and you (or your other kids) will want it at some point.

9. Bring a book/magazine or crossword puzzle for yourself. Sometimes it works out and we find new parent friends to pass the time with. Other times, we don’t. Bring something just in case for that inning your kid is on the bench. We are pro multi-taskers and baseball games are long. Don’t be afraid to finish that chapter if you want.

10. BUT, make sure you are off your device/looking up when your kid is up to bat or is just about to score on net. You don’t want to miss it and make sure to cheer every time your kid’s team gets a hit or scores. Your kid will notice if you weren’t watching that.

And lastly, (because that’s how I roll) after you get home, get your kids cleaned up and into bed, make those nights your special drink of choice night. Could be that new wine, beer, summer cocktail or mint tea. Drink it and relax. It all starts again tomorrow.

Good luck to us all!

From overwhelmed parent to grateful parent. Repost.

I decided to repost this blog from May, 2014. It is still relevant, albeit with some minor changes in our lives but I thought it was a good reread for this time of year for parents of three or more kids. Happy reading! 

There are generally three times each school year that leave me feeling breathless, rattled, unsure of my ability to be supermom, flying from this to that. And that was when I had just one kid in school full-time. Having two this year and a third gearing up for kindergarten in September, I wonder how I’m going to handle it all.

The first time is back to school. If you have one or eight kids this is a crazy time as you prepare you little student for their upcoming year. Second is just before Christmas break. Concerts are planned, gingerbread house making nights, presents to buy and the holidays to prepare for. Third is right now – mid-May until mid-June. Four weeks of frantic activity from everyone involved.

The kids start getting their first taste of warm sunshine. They want outside. All the time. Desperate to soak up the rare vitamin D in our part of the world and chase the explosion of white butterflies and bumblebees. Especially after a year like 2014 that has been low on the sunshine and a what seemed like we lived in the movie, “Frozen” where snow and ice-covered our land.  Trying to get them to bed at their regular bedtime is challenging, even with blackout shades as the older ones know how to raise them up and peek out the window at the sunset.

“Mooom!! It’s not bedtime yet. The sun is still out. I can’t possibly sleep when it’s not dark.”

“I know honey, but while school is still on you have to go to bed at your regular time. Read for bit.”

So they read, chat and play and don’t fall asleep until after 9 pm and it is dark outside. For some reason it doesn’t phase them getting up with the chirping robins at 630 am. The only person in the house who is still going to sleep no matter what is Jacob, the three year-old.

“I’m done everything and ready for school. Can I go in the backyard?”

“No dear. There’s still a heavy dew on the grass. You’re feet will be soaked.”

So, trying to match their boundless energy I coerce them into completing homework and practicing for upcoming recitals and performances.

Yes, every single program my kids participate have their end of year performance, recital or celebration within this four week period. If you are blessed with children who like the performing arts, it means costume trials, dress rehearsals and early morning line-ups to buy tickets to your blessed child’s five-minute routine during a three-hour show. It also means trying to prepare them for these routines the best that you can while they blow bubbles in the backyard because how can you deprive them outside playing time when they have waiting almost seven months for warm summer breezes?

But we try. Oh do we try.

end of school year

Another testament to my patience this time of year is the endless “end of school” celebrations. I admire and appreciate the school’s desires to honour parental volunteers and celebrate the end of the year. But between you and me, having three kids means I have to squeeze in trying to attend all of their school-related stuff. Spring concerts, BBQ’s, Fun Fairs and volunteer teas. Not to mention the onslaught of trying to do that last-ditch attempt at fundraising so movie nights and art nights. Trying to attend them all,  I enthusiastically cheer and really do appreciate the time it takes to organize these things and have a lovely time when I’m there. But then my kids can’t complain when their summer clothes are being pulled out of the bins as the temperatures increase and I really can’t send them in cords and long sleeved-shirts any longer. A quick check to see if too wrinkled and a sniff to see if items pass the smell-test I throw summer dresses and short-sleeved shirts their way hoping they haven’t grown out of them. Something has got to give!

Oh, did I mention soccer started? Yes, all the spring activities start during this time frame as well and with that means extra nights for picture nights and Friday evenings fraught with on the go dinners to get two kids to soccer.

In between all of the above are teacher-parent meetings as teacher’s start collecting their marks for the year and parents try to encourage their kids to “give it all you got for these last few weeks!” Time to shop for year-end gifts and decide if other parents are giving the jazz class instructor a token of appreciation and who makes the cut and who doesn’t in my quick and dirty gift-shopping spree. Having three or more kids means you also have to remember, did I give that gift to that teacher last year? Will the bus driver appreciate yet another gift card from me for coffee at Tim Horton’s or should I do something new?

Oh and I’m trying to pack for our first summer trip of the year, finish editing a book (this is where I am glad I finished it before this time period), exercise to get ready for two and a half weeks at the beach and squeeze in those last playdates with my kid’s friends because goodness knows there are some kids they won’t see all summer (gasp!) and they absolutely must have them to our house one more time.

GratitudeCiceroquote

But yet, although I may complain about how crazy life is about to get I am aware this is brought all upon myself. I can pick and choose how absurd our life gets and for that I am thankful. I am thankful I have schools in our area that care enough about their students/teachers/parents to celebrate a successful school year. It is with gratitude I give tokens of appreciation to all the people who taught my children all different things this year or kept them in safe environments. I will buy tickets to support a local community theatre group and try to coerce my relatives to come and see our kids play pirates in an hour-long play or drive to the obscure theatre to watch my daughter dance for five minutes. For these are the markers of another year gone by. One where despite the full and crazy life we have, I manage to get out once a week for a run. I get to travel a little bit with and without the kids. I completed a novel. I took my son to his first professional baseball game. These are the memories they and I will have.

And that, makes it all worth it.

One last note.

Even though all worth it, do not think for a moment that this particular mom of three, will not hesitate to pour a big tumbler of wine after dinner while the kids sing “Let It Go” to the neighbours and sit with my feet up on my toy-laden patio table looking forward to bedtime each night. For it is only after my little darlings are finally asleep and the house is quiet can I permit myself to do nothing. Absolutely nothing at all and for the next four weeks and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

Beware the Chocolate

With Easter just passed I learned how different my children are. Elizabeth, the eldest, always enjoys the hunt Easter morning. Filling her basket with brightly coloured eggs she grabs them sometimes remembering to leave one or the little triage of treats for her siblings. It’s all about how much she can fill her basket. She’s at the age when she knows she’s supposed to ask before diving into any of her treats but reaching that age that she’s learned how to sneak one without mom knowing. (Or so she thinks.) At least she puts those bright foil covers in the garbage to hide the evidence.

Our middle child, Audrey, carefully seeks out eggs in her favourite colours, (shiny purple ones this year), counting how many she grabbed in a neat winding line. She always asks before touching the chocolate treats.

Jacob, being four years old, was the most excited for the Easter Bunny this year. Scoring an egg with treats was beyond belief and he happily grabbed anything his little hands could reach filling multiple baskets. What I did not take into account, was a basket being left out of the supervision of an adult.

After pancakes, morning cartoons and discussion whether it was a pajama day or not, the girls went to work with their new art pads and pencil crayons and Jacob quietly disappeared up to his room.

“Honey, what are you doing?”

“Getting dressed.”

Strange since we had decried today a pajama day but I didn’t think anything of it.

A little while later it was quiet in the house, too quiet for a mom of three or more kids. Putting the last dish away, I remembered that quiet sometimes means trouble so I went hunting.

The girls had snuck onto the WiiU, frolicking with Luigi and Mario their art pads flung to the side. Their Dad lay sheepishly by on the couch as I frowned shaking my head.

“Come on Mom..it’s Sunday!”

Sunday in our house is electronics day so I let it go.

“Where’s Jacob?” I asked.

Mr. L shrugged and went back to napping. (6:30 am on a Sunday is a bit early and he did make us all breakfast.)

“Jacob? Where are you?” I hollered across the house.

“In my room.”

“Still?”

“I”m playing.” He was playing with the door closed.

Fearful of what I might find, I went upstairs and slowly opened the door.

Jacob yelled, “NO!” Slamming the door closed.

Opening it back up I scolded, “Jacob, you know the door is supposed to be open.”

There was the evidence, all over the floor. The blue and yellow straw basket tipped over with many, many brightly coloured foil wrappers decorating his rug. I gasped in horror wondering how this was going to be managed the rest of the day, “Jacob!That’s too much chocolate!”

With his hazel eyes glinting and mouth covered in chocolate he tipped the remaining eggs on the ground and shrugged, “They were in my room.”

I couldn’t disagree, they were.

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Hal

One on One

quote mar 23

Any parent of three or more kids will understand the phrase, “If only I had the time…”

Lately, one of the things that I think is becoming more and more important for me is trying to carve out some special one on one time with each child. Tricky yes, impossible no.

Each day I try to attentively listen to each child share a story (or two or three if you have chatty kids like mine) during snack time. It’s the single time every day that I refuse to look at the dishes in the sink, pour myself a mug of tea and let the kids rattle on. Then it’s onto juggling three different sets of homework and each kid gets another set amount of one on one time and of course, bedtime is never complete without a hug for each child and special “I love you.” Not bad for the most part during regular busy days.

But I miss having those longer stretches of time with each child because it’s in those times that I can really listen, or talk to them or just be with them.

For the last couple of years I have struggled to find time. As most people do, I set my expectations way too high.

“Once a month!” I declared to Mr. L. I want an afternoon one a month to spend with each kid doing something one on one.

Well, that didn’t work. Life got in the way and then mom guilt would enter and I would try to make up for something that the kids didn’t even realize they were lacking. Why? Because in truth, they were too young. They were content with the time I could give them and liked us doing stuff all together. But then, six months ago it started. First with Elizabeth.

“Mom, I want to do something with you. Just the two of us.”

“I know honey, me too. We just have to find a time.”

That was easier said than done. Then Audrey chimed in a few weeks later.

“Mom, can the two of us just go for a walk?”

“Umm..sure sweetie. But right now I have to take the dog and everyone else because they can’t stay by themselves.”

Than Jacob started, “Mommmmyyy!! My mommmmyyy!!!” His little voice would scream and he would then close his door so we could cuddle without anyone interrupting.

So along with wanting to find time alone with each child, they were now asking for it as well. Double whammy of mom guilt and feeling overwhelmed made me want to go and hide under my sheets.

With the once a month plan out the window, I focused on trying to find time when I could. Running to the grocery store? Take one of them along and buy them a treat. Hair in desperate need of a long overdue appointment? Take one of the girls and get their hair done at the same time. I was trying to find any opportunity to take one along. But soon enough, it became a competition of who was going when and me trying to remember who got to go with me last time. Foiled again. (No pun intended.)

What choices are left?

Seasonally? Try to do something special with each child when the seasons change? May work and may not. The last thing I wanted to do was promise them something and not follow through.

Birthdays? Great if it works but may not as well.

I still don’t have the answer but one thing I do know, I will keep trying to figure it out. It may not be perfect, but I can only try my best.

The benefit of one on one time is very clear to me after this past weekend. For my daughter’s birthday she asked to go to Toronto, just her and I overnight. Having attempted to do this last summer, she bided her time and requested it when she knew that for a birthday gift, I would put everything else aside which I did booking a room and presenting her with a date on her birthday.

This past weekend, we drove together into the city.  For the first time in a long time, I hung out with my nine-year old. We visited an aquarium, the CN Tower, bought very bad for us snacks to watch a movie in a big king size bed and had an enjoyable dinner out together. Long overdue but worth the wait. I remembered what a curious kid she is but noticed the overly chatty child was turning into a girl who asked thoughtful questions. The child that would crawl all over me to cuddle had morphed into a kid who liked her space when she slept although I still got a tight hug before drifting off. (Thank goodness!) I learned she really is a light sleeper, waking up at the slightest noise to find out what’s going on. Most importantly and with a weepy heart I learned that she was no longer a little kid and I asked myself, when did that happen?

Having the opportunity to do this with her made me even more determined to ensure I make time for one on one with each child, whenever that is. I want to remember these moments. They may not be as frequent as I, or they would like, but when they do happen, it’s a pretty special experience.

Lovin' the fish! #aquarium #toronto

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Advice from a March Break Expert

It is that time of year, SPRING BREAK! A chance to relax watching the snow slowly melt while sipping a hot floral tea taking the time to catch up on quality time with your kids.

Ummm..what? In some alternative universe that may be a reality. For this mom of three or more kids, it’s a juggling act of planned activities and free time that tests the upper limits of patience and mediation skills.

Here are some coping strategies I’m trying this year:

1. Get a firm commitment from your partner, family or wherever your support comes from for helping out a couple of days. After pleading and bribing, Mr. L agreed to take off two days and we decided to book end the week meaning Monday and Friday. Yesterday we were able to join another family for an overnight ski trip and I had help for spring skiing which was most welcome.

2. A quiet day at home is never truly a quiet day at home. Not being a fan of having the kids tied to their devices for a whole day, our quiet day at home has turned into a joint playdate. Elizabeth’s friend wanted to come over. Well, I have to manage the two other kids so my older girl and her friend can spend time together. Solution? Invite two other friends, buy a bunch of snacks, put on a pot of coffee and invite the parents to stay. All during a very specific window of time. Social and fun.

3. Book a cleaning person halfway through the week. Maybe towards the end to help clean up from above joint playdate.

4. Catch up on any missed lessons. We have piano lessons booked and ski lessons that we had to miss during the last few months. No extra costs involved since you already paid for them and takes up a whole half a day with three kids!

5. Plan time with extended family. March Break is a good opportunity for the kids to visit grandparents, cousins or whoever is around and each family will appreciate having other kids around too. Meet up for bowling or lunch.

6. If lucky enough to have convinced partner or other parent to go with you, go someplace different and avoid high traffic areas that will be filled with other families looking to keep their kids distracted. We live close to the Buffalo border. They do not have their spring break at the same time. Rochester is a couple of hours drive away and there is a great, inexpensive museum there called The Museum of Play. That coupled with a visit to Olive Garden for dinner on the way home (a great family restaurant we do not have anymore in Ontario) makes for a fun, budget-friendly day.

7. Forget about your fitness or diet routine. Let’s be realistic, it’s not happening.

8. Don’t change your plans too much. I have a regular writing group I meet every Tuesday. Mr. L needs to work late to make up for the time he’s taking off this week. I chose not to cancel the meet up but hired our babysitter. It will be heaven to get out for a couple of hours.

9. Do a bit of homework. This also makes for a good use of time and keeps the kids brains going. It could be a spelling bee, reading together, or Scrabble. You have enough kids to do stuff like that, but make sure to do a little each day.

10. Ask your kids to help out. They can tidy their rooms, put away the laundry, pick up their toys or get them in the kitchen helping prepare snacks for above mentioned playdates. Especially relevant if you have older kids. It shouldn’t all be on you and it’s good for them to learn a bit about how the household works.

Lastly, not as a point but a comment. Take twenty minutes every day and stretch, mediate, actually shower, read, nap or whatever works to help you relax and don’t wait until the end of the day to do it.  The kids can watch a coveted TV show for a short period of time. You will feel much better and be able to better mediate the next inevitable battle when someone touches someone else on the arm or stop the kids from chasing the cat to give her extra cuddles. Also, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, go ahead. Pour that Irish Cream into your mid-morning coffee. I won’t tell anyone.

Good luck!

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