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How to Talk to Your Kids About World Tragedies

 Posted by on September 26, 2016 at 07:00
Sep 262016
 
Julie

Julie

Bubble wrap ‘em. I’ve wanted to bubble wrap my kids’ hearts, minds and skins on many occasions. That’s what all parents want (right?) — to protect our kids from the hurts, fears and tragedies in the world. I guess packaging them like precious porcelain doesn’t do much for making them resilient human beings even if the image gives us the false sense of keeping them safe. One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is the knowledge of how to handle tragedies and difficulties in a healthy way. So how do we equip our kids with coping skills when we are still trying to figure that out as adults?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, recommends parents and those who work with children act as filters before funneling information of national tragedies and crisis to children. They suggest we present the information in a way the child can understand, cope with and adjust to. Here are five ways to act as filter and guide as you help your children process what happened and build coping skills to see them through life.

1. Check your emotions. Your emotions speak louder than words.

When my kindergartener came home from school on 9/11 she started asking me about why airplanes were flying into buildings and people were jumping out of them. Already emotionally charged from having seen it on the news during my work breaks, I did my best to answer her questions as simply and factually as I could, but I know my emotions weren’t in check. That was confirmed when I asked my daughter (now 20) to remember that day. Mostly, she remembered how mad I was at her teacher for letting the class watch the news coverage. Yikes. Emotions have more hang time in memory.

2. Limit media exposure. Turn it off. Keep exposure to the images, commentary and media’s tragedy-branding theme songs to a minimum.

As adults, we tend to crave the information, and want to know the latest developments. But for our children, all that exposure to the raw images, media frenzy and regurgitation of information isn’t healthy — it forces them to focus on the fear of events instead of how to cope with them. If you do allow your children to watch some of the news coverage, watch it together and use it as a conversation starter. Talking about what happened, the fears the event creates or anything that worries your kids or you is a healthy way to cope with tragedy. Model it and they’ll join the discussion and learn with you.

3. Ask your kids. What did you hear? Do you have any questions? And actively listen to their answers.

Find out what they’ve heard and what their questions are so you know where to start with the information. This can help you find out what their fears are early on and can help you assess what they may need to know in order to help them learn to cope. School shootings were the tragedies that scared my kids the most. It’s something they understand as they go through lock-down drills in school multiple times every year. When you discover their fears, you may be able to help them reframe how they view things. Help them understand the lock-down drills are for safety, just like buckling seat belts. You practice it so when you need it, it’s already in place to keep you safe.

4. Answer their questions. Be direct and honest and stick to answering only what they ask.

There’s no need to overload kids with information. Provide them with the answers they need and ways to cope with the emotions. Let your main message to your children be that it’s OK to be upset by what happened, we’re going through this together and will help each other through it. This is also an opportunity to teach your kids about compassion and empathy. As they tell you how they feel, talk about how you all think others may feel. Take it a step further and discuss how you may be able to help the victims. What is something you can do together to help those suffering? Helping others is another way to cope with the darkness in the world…add in some light.

5. Support when needed. Be there for your children emotionally when they need it.

Model caring and compassion to your children and others, and your children will notice and repeat. After you help them or someone else, explain to your kids how you knew they needed support, what made you decide to act and what to do. Teach them what they can look for in others that will clue them in to someone who may need help. Kids are small, but their hearts and minds are mighty. Give them the power to look for ways and means to help others. Show your kids that being there for someone only takes small acts, but can mean the world to the person in need at that moment.

A little girl in my daughter’s preschool lost her dad during the attack on the USS Cole. Soon after that tragic loss, when my husband would pick up our daughter from preschool, the little girl would always come up to him. Maybe it was his haircut or uniform, but whatever the reason, she just wanted to tell him about her day and other times about her dad. He would take some time to listen and return a hug if she wanted one. Maybe it was her way of feeling close to her dad — a preschooler’s way of getting a message of love through. Whatever it was it seemed to put a smile on her face and helped her at that moment.

Join the conversation. Please share what things helped your kids process and cope with world tragedies.

Aug 122016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Each and every summer there comes a moment when I feel a cold hand of panic propelling me toward the school supply aisle at the store. Usually it’s when I glance at the date and realize school starts within a few hours! Panic sets in, and my kids and I desperately search for the exact folder described on their supply list. It’s usually NOT the ones filling the shelves for 15 cents a folder. When I had all six children in school you can imagine the stress, the cost and the wails of small children left with the dredges picked over by much more organized moms.

After a few years my children were required to “shop” around our home before we ever even ventured out to a store. Usually the folders for sale the previous year that were NOT on the list, would be the hot commodity the next year, and often found in a dark closet somewhere in my house.

This year however, I remembered about halfway through summer to check to see if there was anything I could do earlier rather than later to make the start of the school year a little less stressful. I have decided to be proactive and not have my children slide into the first day of school with pencil nubs and chewed up pink erasers. I figure the last two deserve something special since the first four have worn me out.

To my amazement and wonder the school supply lists were already online. I gleefully printed them off and told my boys I had the lists. I was so surprised when I was met with horrified looks and shocked gasps.

“What?! It’s the middle of summer, mom! Why are you even thinking of that?!” Both boys were appalled and ran from the room in shock — not the reaction I was expecting.

With technology driving the way we work, go to school, prepare for school and even grocery shop, it should be easier than ever to prepare for the changing of seasons and transitioning back to the rigors of a school schedule.

I’ve been able to fill out forms, update information and digitally sign what used to seem like reams of paper. There are still some things that must be done in person, like the sports physicals, but honestly I’m waiting for a “doc in the box” to scan the boys via the internet and a video connection. Until then, here are a few tips for making this year’s transition back to the school schedule a little less harrowing:

  • Check online to see what paperwork might be available to take care of now, rather than those first few days. You will be saving trees AND your writing hand from cramping.
  • Find out if the school supply list is available and tuck it in your purse or wallet. Sales are going on all the time, and purchasing a bit each pay day instead of all at once can really help your back-to-school budget.
  • Schedule sports physicals sooner rather than later. Those appointments get booked fast and there are never enough of them!
  • Check the district and school-specific calendar of events, and get those important dates locked onto your family calendar. It’s a little painful to see all that white space fill up, but it’s better than missing an important event or scrambling to shift things around and arriving stressed and flustered at the last minute.

I feel like it’s a marathon once that first day of school arrives. If you don’t have on your running shoes and water staged along the way, it can be much harder to make it through to the holiday break finish line. In the spirit of enjoying life with school-age children rather than enduring it with your hair on fire, prepare, take a deep breath and get ready to enjoy the upcoming back to school shenanigans!

When Your Child Makes Bad Choices

 Posted by on July 29, 2016 at 08:00
Jul 292016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Raising children is a contradictory ongoing life event. Our children have the ability to bring the greatest joy into our lives as well as some of the greatest sorrows. Not because they are terrible or horrid, but because the work of growing little people into responsible and kind citizens of the world is dirty messy work and glorious at the same time. There are often times there are no words to describe the feelings our children evoke in us. It is no wonder we have some of our most passionate reactions in life involving our children. Good and bad. It’s easy to discuss those beautiful joyful moments. It’s harder to talk about those moments when you feel that mix of mortification, humiliation and deep disappointment. What do we do with those feelings? Six kids, four grandchildren and more to come doesn’t make me an expert, or even confident that I know what I’m doing, but, it does give me some experience. Below are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

It’s not about you- All too often we as parents react out of embarrassment or humiliation instead of taking the time to breathe and look at all sides of a situation. We take our child’s behavior as a direct reflection on ourselves and our parenting skills. We unwittingly allow ourselves to worry how others perceive our worth as a parent. DON’T. It’s not helpful to let the opinions of others regarding how you should or should not correct your child influence how you parent. Setting our own feelings aside, we can more clearly focus on how we can help our child learn from the decisions they have made and make amends where possible.

Keep in mind the end goal- We have to be careful to block out the judging eyes and accusatory tones of those around us and the embarrassment we will inevitably feel at some point along the way. Many times we will have to acknowledge that yes, indeed, our pride and joy has made a terrible choice, one that as a parent we must address. If the end goal is raising our children to be good and kind, strong and self-sufficient, productive and successful then remember; some of the greatest life lessons that will have lasting influence on our children will come out of times they make poor choices. How we help them navigate through those experiences is more important than what others think.

Never assume you know the whole story- I wish, I WISH, I had taken this to heart so much earlier in my parenting career. Sometimes I was too harsh, unreasonably so, and other times I did not see the whole picture and did not stand the ground that needed to be stood. On one occasion one of my children brought a story home to me regarding a P.E. teacher and his disregard for my child’s safety. I was incensed, outraged even! I wrote a scathing letter and requested a meeting. I am after all my child’s advocate. It’s my job to protect her. My husband and I left that meeting still incensed and outraged. The target of our ire however was now my beautiful perfect child. In the parking lot of the school, barely containing my anger, I stood the ground that needed to be stood. I turned to this child and said, “Child, I love you more than I can express and I will fight dragons for you. I will go to the ends of the earth to be your champion, but you had better make sure YOU are not the dragon.”

Take time to talk and to listen- When stuff happens and people are pointing fingers at your child, or your child is pointing fingers at others, it is never a bad idea to disrupt the chaotic energy stirring up emotions by being still and quiet. Taking time to let emotions settle and to hear what is really going on will go much further than emotionally charged exchanges or decisions being made. Sometimes your child WILL get the short end of the stick. It happens. The short end of the stick is NOT the lesson to teach. It’s what we do with that experience that is the lesson. Those lessons are hard. A sense of justice might never be achieved. In those situations it’s important to model a healthy attitude and focus on what we have control over. There are other times when we need to fight the dragons for our child. Choose thoughtfully where you spend that energy.

Check your expectations- There are times when we overreact and expect more than our children are developmentally able to give. That doesn’t mean we don’t teach, correct or instruct them. It means that we understand a two year old is driven by two year old desires and a two year old view of the world. It doesn’t change when they are ten, twelve or even twenty. Change is constant and those changes often drive behavior. One day you are dealing with cutting teeth, potty training and separation anxiety causing melt downs then all of a sudden it’s body hair, driver’s education and dating. Make sure you are discerning which are easy to pull weeds in the garden of growing children and which weeds might need additional help to pull. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference, but we live in a day and age when we have the ability to gather information very quickly. Parenting is a constant topic of interest; new parents are born every day! It will never be a bad idea to ask questions. Military OneSource has counselors available just for that!

Keep it simple-

Stop and breath – Take time to evaluate the situation before you form opinions or make decisions.

Listen and love – even if they did make a mistake, our kids need to be heard and know they are still loved regardless.

Make adjustments and stay strong – If you need to provide consequences stand by them and see them through.

Let them grow and overcome their bad choice- This is one of the most important things we can do for anyone, but especially our children.

You are not your child’s decisions and guess what? Neither are they! Keep that in mind when you are wondering what in the world they were thinking. They are precious, even when they remind you of a troll and letting go of the opinions of others frees you up to truly love them unconditionally.

Jun 282016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Before you say “been there done that” regarding a PCS move, note that all moves are not created equal. Each time you move, your family is a little older, a little more involved in your community and sometimes a little bigger. If you’re moving with teenagers, strap in; it’s a whole new experience!

Moving with small children was a challenge. It was more exhausting than I realized. As our family grew and we added babies and dogs, the logistics of a move became overwhelming at times. Now that my children are all into the preteen, teenager and “they think they are grownups” stages, I look back fondly on those early moves as being a piece of cake. What I didn’t take into account was TEENAGERS and all their emotions, feelings and independent thinking. How dare they start to grow up and become their own person! Throw out everything you think you know about moving when it comes to moving with teens.

I’m not sure when the shift happens, and it’s different with each child. But when it does and they suddenly become aware of what moving means on deeper levels, you have your work cut out for you. When the kids were little, we could say we’re moving, and you get a new house and a new room! We focused on the journey and all the fun things we would do in our new location. It was an exciting adventure for all.

Teenagers will not swallow that spoonful of sugar so easily. They are egocentric to begin with, it’s just the nature of being a teen; add to that a change in their whole world, and you could possibly have a melted pool of emotions at your feet bemoaning their fate. Preparation for a move takes on a whole new meaning.

In their defense, the teen years are fraught with emotions, hormones, weekly self-esteem crises and the ever-evolving social circle. It’s more like a social amoeba oozing through middle and high schools organizing and reorganizing best friends and social groups.

In parents’ defense, we really never know how our teen is going to react, so really I don’t know that there is any true preparation. It’s more like damage control after you announce the impending orders.

I have one son who was ready to move, or so he thought. He was relatively easygoing through the whole process — even helpful! I was shocked. He and I were the last to leave our duty station heading to our new home. Our family is so large we left in three shifts. You could say he and I were the rear detachment — finishing up the last few things like the packers and movers, cleaning the house, turning in the storage keys and being the last to kiss the town goodbye. Fast forward six months, and it dawns on this man child that he desperately needs to go back and live with someone there. I’ll give you 10 days to visit son-shine, but that won’t happen! His adjustment was a bit rocky and hard to watch. No one wants to see their children hurting, sad or feeling friendless. After about 18 months, he began settling in, finding his niche. Yes, I said EIGHTEEN MONTHS. (This is where you should feel sorry for me.)

On another move, one daughter literally melted onto the floor sobbing when her dad came home and announced orders. “I’m going to die!” “I’ll never make new friends!” “How will I go on?!”

Once we got Princess Dramatic up off the floor, the discussions began. They turned into negotiations of potential visits to ease the pain of leaving and then threats of finding a tower to put her in if she didn’t pull herself together. She not only made new friends, rather quickly I might add, but has yet to go back and visit. Life took over and she quickly adjusted. Who knew?

Here is my advice for moving with teenagers:

Education

For us this was a big one. I recommend you find a Military School Liaison Officer. NOW. Even if you are moving from one military community to another, you still need to know who to go to if the need arises. You’d be surprised at the “needs that arise.” If you have high school-age students, the officer can be instrumental in helping you navigate the required graduation credits from one state to another.

Emotions

All of a sudden these tiny children, who you could tell what to wear and lead by your example on how to feel about all of it, are suddenly independent and HAVE THEIR OWN IDEAS AND FEELINGS about the move. It can be exhausting. However, it’s so important you acknowledge their feelings and validate them. They have a right to feel the way they feel. It is also important you not get sucked into their feelings, but keep an eye on the big picture and help them navigate those emotions. Think of it as a chance to help them develop coping skills that will stay with them long after life with you and the military is behind them.

Social

Making new friends is not easy for everyone. I have some children who dive in and come home with a new best friend within the first week. I have others who have struggled to find their place. I wish I could tell you how to help manage that process, but I can’t. All you can do is be a soft place for them to land as they navigate the waters of teenage society, and guide them along the way.

These wonderful, difficult, fabulous children are blossoming before our very eyes into incredible adults. We are instrumental in that growth and development, and our role does not take a sabbatical during a move. Do your homework, use the resources provided to you through the installations and Military OneSource to be more fully prepared to help them through the adjustments that come with a move.

Most of all, look forward yourself with a glass-half-full attitude. If you do, you’ve already laid the ground work for an incredible new adventure for you and your family.

 

May 132016
 
Blog Brigade 21-Day Challenge
Kelli

Kelli

I’m contemplating how I’m going to define success in this 21-Day Technology-Free Family-Time challenge, because right now I feel like I’m I the middle of a deployment when the days are long and the nights are longer. I wonder why my family can’t figure out how important this is. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and I’ve been through enough early morning anxiety attacks to have a small sliver of faith that, in the end, these last few days will have been worth the experience.

 

 

Trade Screen Time for Real Time With Your Teens

 Posted by on April 25, 2016 at 00:50
Apr 252016
 
Julie

Julie

We are minions to technology these days. In my relaxed state, you will likely find me on the couch, multitasking across multiple screens (TV, phone, and laptop) … and it must be contagious because my teens and husband do it too.

So how do we get our teens (and ourselves) to unplug and engage with the rest of the family, peers, society — or anyone other than a screen? I think the answer lies in teaching our teens (and reminding ourselves), to make choices to keep our activities in moderation.

Unplug: it’s a family affair. “Do as I say and not as I do” is not realistic. Actions leave a deeper impression with teens than words do. What parents do in their everyday life, teens will come to know as the norm. If we want our teens to unplug from the screen and plug in to socializing with family and friends, we have to do so ourselves. (And I say this while looking in the mirror with one lifted and self-accusing eyebrow.)

Replace don’t quit. Let’s go for a lifestyle change. It’s easier to replace a habit with another, healthier, activity than it is to quit cold turkey. I struggle with this, but am working to improve on creating more opportunities for our family to put the phone down, turn the TV off, rest the game controller batteries and do something more interesting and productive. Here are some ideas to try in place of screen time:

  • Volunteer (many high schools require a minimum number of hours for a seal on the diploma)
  • Practice a sport (at school, on base, with a travel team, or with the county parks and recreation)
  • Be active in a club (join through school, the community, a national or religious organization)
  • Play an instrument (colleges require extracurricular activities and the arts are great options too)
  • Get a job (provides great life experience and a little extra cash flow)
  • Exercise (walk every day with a pet or the family, work out on base, through the YMCA or solo)
  • Read a book (find your local community or base library, used bookstore, or swap with friends)
  • Learn a hobby (learn for free from friends, family or on-base social groups, or pay for lessons)

Experiment with new activities to discover interests and talents. After a few art classes I acquired a new love for painting and drawing. My son is tackling a new sport — he recently joined the lacrosse club at his high school. My husband, son and daughter volunteer as umpires for our local youth baseball league.

Beware of the overscheduled life. Replacing tech time with social experiences and community involvement is a great way to go, but learning the lesson of doing all things in moderation is just as important. I know I started out overscheduling our family thinking it would help keep my teens out of trouble. But I found that, in practice, it lead to all of us being gone so often we were tired when we were home, which lead to excessive tech use.

How is that? Because tech use can be relaxing and mind numbing — it lets us veg out from our problems or an exhausting day (think about the binging of TV shows, smartphone games, social media sites and video gaming). There’s nothing wrong with doing any of those activities on occasion, but when it becomes a habit, it takes time away from the people in your life and becomes isolating and problematic.

To combat tech overuse and everyone going in opposite directions, try something new as a family. Our family recently started training our dog by attending classes together and practicing the skills at home.

Create downtime at home. Encourage your teens to get outside with their friends and neighbors and start pick-up games of a favorite sport. My son plays a lot of street hockey with friends.

Consider creating a place for your teen and friends to gather. We recently built a fire pit in the backyard and with some smores, hotdogs and soda — it’s an instant party. It’s been rewarding to see them breaking out the guitar and entertaining themselves for hours just talking and singing — and being the silly and fantastic teens they are. They created some videos and took many selfies too, but if they are using tech together while interacting face to face, I call that a win.

Remember that technology isn’t the enemy. It is here to stay and our teens need to be experts with it to be able to function in the workplace one day and in school now. So instead of banning it, embrace it and make it work for you.

Turn TV shows and movies into time spent together and a chance for deeper conversations. Discuss the show with your teen and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Whether you are a veteran gamer or a newb like me, play a video game with your teen to get a glimpse into their world. Ask about their squad of online players and you’ll have more things to talk about in the future.

Make real time a priority over screen time so you continue to learn what is important to your teens and in turn, they learn what is important to you.

Life Hacks: 8 Ways to Get Your Teen to Talk

 Posted by on March 22, 2016 at 08:52
Mar 222016
 
Julie

Staff Blogger Julie

When my daughter rolled her eyes so hard her body seemed to flip around them, I knew she’d entered the Teenage Zone. The attitude, angst and awkwardness of the teen years affected everyone in our home. One of the toughest transitions to deal with when entering the teen zone was that my previously chatty child turned into a sullen, or at least more private, being.

It didn’t take much for my daughter, and my son (four years later), to clam up and for my husband and I to start feeling like we were losing our daily connection to what was going on in their lives. So how do you get your teen to gab — about their life — with you? While I don’t have a magic potion, I do have some experience with what does and doesn’t work.

Talk to your teen blog 2Start with being a safe space for your teen. Teens need to know they can trust you not to judge them, try to fix them or tell them what to do. I’m not suggesting parents turn over the reins completely, but during the teen years, it’s time for our young adults to learn to be more independent and solve problems on their own. Take a deep breath, smooth out your soon-to-be-grey hair and consider the following life hacks for getting your teen to talk.

  1. Connect daily shoulder to shoulder — Much like toddlers, who play beside their friends instead of with their friends, teenagers tend to open up more readily when they are beside you and occupied with other things. Do not look a teenager in the eye and expect them to dish their deepest secrets. It won’t happen. I’ve learned more about my teens while riding in the car than in any room of our house. Try some of the following ideas for shoulder-side chats including: ride in the car, take a walk, shop for groceries, rake leaves, paint a room, build something, fold laundry, wash and dry dishes, or cook a meal.
  2. Unplug to be available — Show your teen they are more important than what you are doing. Stop, drop what you are doing, and listen with both eyes and ears. When they know you will do that, they are more likely to talk.
  3. Listen while on mute — Let your teen have the floor, and you push your mute button. Listen to what they do and don’t say. Do not judge. Let them vent. When they finish, you can echo back what they said so they know you heard them, but do not offer advice unless they ask for it.
  4. Ask specific, open-ended questions — How you ask the question sets the tone for the answer. Do not ask “why” questions because that puts teens on the defense. Ask things like, “What was the best part of your day?” or “What do you think about that situation?” or “What do you think would solve that problem?” Show them their thoughts matter to you and you believe in their ability to problem solve.
  5. Adjust your attitude — I’m sure you’ve heard yourself tell your teens that what they say isn’t always as important as how they say it. Eh-hem … I guess they had to learn that sassy tone somewhere. *blink, blink* Yep, they got that attitude from their parents. You may think you don’t have a tone in your voice, but check again. My teens have called me on it. I own it, and work to double check myself. Take your own advice and watch your tone when you speak to your teens.
  6. Be the adult When your teen’s dark side emerges (as it will from time to time) simply say, “ouch” and walk away. This makes the statement that they hurt you, and you won’t allow them to continue to be cruel. Breathe. Count to 10. Do whatever you can to calm yourself so you don’t respond in anger. Then, you can discuss things after everyone is calm and collected. Give them a healthy example of how to solve personal conflicts.Talk to your teen blog
  7. Make new memories — Take spontaneous or planned one-on-one outings with your teen. You get to know your teens better when they are not competing for your attention with other siblings. Taking them out lets them know you value them for who they are — that you want to spend time with them. Just them.
  8. Show your silly side Give your teen the gift of knowing you aren’t perfect and that you don’t expect them to be perfect. Share your silly side with them. Confide in them with a story of something you failed at when you were their age. Let them know how you handled it and how you wish you had handled it.

Your silliness and imperfections are some of the things that may earn you more respect from your teen. Remember, teens have well-developed fakeness detectors. Be real with them and they are more likely to be real with you.

 

Give it Back: A Lesson in Paying it Forward

 Posted by on November 26, 2015 at 22:42
Nov 262015
 
Kristi

Kristi

Somewhere around four years and three states ago, my son lost that breathtaking excitement a child gets out of something as simple as a cardboard box. Maybe all the moving has desensitized him to cardboard, who knows? At age 2, my daughter still has it. She gasped so long after opening a care package from her Nana and Papa that I had to remind her to take a breath, and this was before she even knew what was wrapped up in the packing paper.

As their mom, I knew it was on me to deliver an attitude adjustment (or, in my daughter’s case, bad attitude prevention). Teaching graciousness, thankfulness and respect is my job and my husband’s job. It’s definitely not the job of a cartoon character or a teacher (trust me, teachers’ plates are full without adding this to the lesson plan). So, last holiday season I decided to take action against:

  • Tantrums brought on by the word, “no”
  • Stand-offs because I gave my kid the red straw when he was clearly (silently, in his own head) envisioning sipping his milk through the blue straw
  • Whining
  • Complaints of boredom
  • Complaints that all of our toys are boring
  • The sense of entitlement
  • Selfishness
  • Dinnertime protests against anything unprocessed or covered in cheese
Not-so-random acts of kindness

My plan was to get the kids involved in giving back. For 25 days, we worked together to help others, give instead of receive and make our community an all-around better place for everyone. Every day, for 25 days, the kids opened an envelope to find their act of kindness mission for the day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Hold the door open for 10 people.
  2. Hide five $1 bills around store shelves for shoppers to find.
  3. Leave stamps in the stamp machine at the post office.
  4. Donate supplies to the animal shelter.
  5. Send cookies to work with daddy.
  6. Donate change to the Salvation Army.
  7. Drop off lunch for firefighters.
  8. Pay the tab for the car behind us at the drive-thru.
  9. Donate canned goods to a holiday food drive.
  10. Mail letters to loved ones.
  11. Donate stuffed animals to the police station to comfort children in traumatic situations.
  12. Take cookies to hard-working teachers before their holiday break.
  13. Clean up trash around the neighborhood. For safety, the kids wore gloves, and anything especially gross was mommy’s job to clean up.
  14. Deliver flowers to a nursing home, and ask that they be given to the resident who most needs them.
  15. Compliment three people.
  16. Donate clothes, toys and books we’ve outgrown.
  17. Mail a care package to a service member spending the holidays overseas.
  18. Leave money with a parking lot attendant at the airport to cover the fees for the next driver. (I initially wanted to do this at the hospital parking garage, but the parking was free. I figured stressed holiday travelers could use a little kindness too. The attendant was so excited to be a part of this act of kindness that you would’ve thought I’d given her a check for a million dollars!)
  19. Give Santa a present at the mall — the kids drew him pictures.
  20. Leave a stack of pennies next to a fountain with a note that says, “For wishes.”
  21. Deliver breakfast or coffee to the gate guards.
  22. Drop off crayons and coloring books to a hospital waiting room.
  23. Leave bus fare on bus benches around town.
  24. Pack and deliver chemo care packages to the cancer center.
  25. Donate a toy to Toys For Tots.

Some of these will be back this holiday season, but I’ve been busily brainstorming a few new ideas to throw in the mix:

  1. Corral shopping carts left around a parking lot.
  2. Deliver holiday treats to our neighbors.
  3. Cheer on runners at a race.
  4. Please and thank you day — say them all day when you ask for something or receive something.
  5. Plant a tree.
  6. Leave homemade bookmarks with kind messages inside books at the library.
  7. Let someone go ahead of us in line.
  8. Donate school supplies — pencils and paper aren’t usually on anyone’s mind after August, but those supplies run out, and teachers often dip into their own pockets to provide for their students.
  9. Clean up a neighborhood park.
Make it work for your family

My kids are pretty young, so, for now, the acts of kindness are fairly simple with lots of parent involvement (which I didn’t mind because even grown-ups need reminders once in a while). If you have older kids, you might find success in volunteering time or giving your teenagers the reins to come up with ideas of their own.

This is a tradition that I absolutely fell in love with last year, and I can’t wait to get started on the acts of kindness this holiday season. However small, my kids are making a difference and they’re seeing the value in that. These gestures can turn someone’s crummy day around (even our own). They can offer a little hope in a hopeless situation. They offer thanks to someone in an otherwise thankless job. They can cause a chain reaction of kindness. A little kindness goes a long way, and that’s a lesson worth teaching at any age.

When All His Friends Are in Kindergarten

 Posted by on September 16, 2015 at 10:05
Sep 162015
 
Kristi

Kristi

So, you PCS in the summer between preschool and pre-K (which, it turns out, are totally different), and you decide to homeschool your little genius instead of spending 70 percent of your salary on a part-time preschool. It’s intimidating. It’s exciting. But is it crazy? Here’s our rationale:

  • We refused to spend more than our Basic Allowance for Housing to get both kids into preschool, and we just couldn’t play favorites with those sweet little faces.
  • We refused to spend our grocery money on 36 hours of “preschool” each month that wasn’t going to challenge our kids or give me enough free time to draft my first to-do list of the day.
  • Our kids might not learn a single thing in those 36 hours of preschool each month, but they would, without fail, bring germs and bad habits home to share with the rest of the family.

So, for me, it was pretty much a no-brainer:

  1. Support husband in his career — please be in touch for my wife of the year award.
  2. Save oodles of money on preschool.
  3. Spend less time stressing about deadlines.
  4. Spend more time enjoying my babies before they grow up and start calling me lame behind my back.

Our new duty station was hitting a daily home run. There was a new adventure every day — my bucket list has never been less dusty. My kids were stepping outside their comfort zones on the daily, and making new friends at every park visit. This was it. This was what thriving after a move looked like.

We had been homeschooling for about a month because the kids were bored at home before summer’s end, which — as any parent knows — is a dangerous emotion for kids. I knew if we didn’t kick off homeschool ahead of schedule those freshly-hung curtains would be ripped from the walls. We had our routine — our park days, aquarium days, school hours, picnic spots and more.

Then school started.

We stopped at the park after our first run of the week (yee-haw — double jogging stroller uphill) for the routine socialization hour. Instead of melding into a flock of loud 4-year-olds, that park was a ghost town. Seriously — I’m almost positive that there was a swing moving by itself and a tumbleweed rolling under the monkey bars.

Like any rock star mom, I kept my cool because everyone knows that kids can smell fear. I took that vacant park as an opportunity to play tag with my own kids, play on the monkey bars (welcome back, 8-year old Kristi) and remind my youngest — my shy little lady — that she is the coolest girl in the whole world.

That was all unicorns and rainbows for a week(ish). I was exhausted, but I was doing it. I was ready to see it through no matter how many hours I had to spend after bedtime to piece together some worthwhile lesson plans. Then, one day, my almost kindergartener had a meltdown. A friend that he’d come to expect seeing at the park didn’t show at the usual time.

TidalPool (800x600)After 45 minutes, we left. Or — at least — we tried to. I was loading up an armful of sweatshirts and snack bags, when I turned around to see my 4-year-old’s eyes filling with tears. Like any concerned mom, I dropped to my knees and asked, “What’s wrong, bud?”

“We can’t leave before my friend comes.”

…sob, sob…

“Why doesn’t my friend want to play with me?”

…sob, sob, snot wipe, sob, sob…

“I miss my Texas friends.”

…sob, sob, ugly cry, sob, sob…

Oh no. I hadn’t cried on a playground since the second grade, and I feared my streak was coming to an end. I’m a strong, stubborn, sarcastic woman, but a real tear in this little boy’s eye was almost more than this mom could bear.

I started exploring options right then and there for ways to mingle him with kids his age. Sure, he was signed up for soccer, and he could always play with his sister (two years his junior) or his parents (26 to 28 years his senior), but he needed something more age-appropriate and something more consistent than a game once a week.

For our family, this translated into part-time preschool (again…even though I swore I wouldn’t). For your family, maybe it’s the same. Or, maybe it’s:

  • Library story time
  • Coordinated playdates
  • Organized sports
  • Mother’s morning out
  • Child development center
  • Classes or lessons — dance, gymnastics, swimming, etc.
  • Full-time daycare or preschool

 

PicnicLunch (800x600)The bottom line is that you do what is best for your kids. Cost, convenience and sanity aside, you make it work. Sometimes your heart breaks. Sometimes your wallet stays empty to keep those little hearts full. Sometimes your best-laid plans fly out the window. Sometimes the last thing you expected to do is exactly what you — as in all of you — need.

So, whether you decide to homeschool for the first time ever or the last time ever; whether your baby is walking through the doors of kindergarten for the first time or you’re involuntarily dropping your middle-schooler off around the block as instructed; whether you enroll your child in preschool to pursue a job that you love or need, or you pause your career to pursue parenthood to the fullest, you’re OK. Your kids are OK. And no matter how hard it seems right now, you aren’t going to remember the long days, you’re going to remember the sweet moments in between rushing to and from the car — in between the stress.

Did School Start?

 Posted by on September 15, 2015 at 09:43
Sep 152015
 

School is back in full swing and I somehow missed the preparation. I’m scrambling to catch up. I wasn’t ready for summer to start and now school snuck up on me. I was that mom who sent two of her kids to school with a pencil, notebook and the promise we would buy school supplies later that evening.

Kelli

Kelli

It seems I’ve been a month behind since February. I’m not sure why or how I’m going to catch up a full month, and do I really need to? Is it possible? My head condemns me, but my heart forgives me, and somewhere in between there has to be a neutral ground to satisfy both.

I think I make up for it by singing made up songs to the boys to entertain and deflect from the fact I have failed at crafting a bento box lunch, and didn’t even have the wherewithal to draw a smiley face on their brown lunch bags. I am not so sure they view my singing as a bonus. “I’m your mother and I struggle — I’m not perfect, I’m just a muggle. Please understand I’m all you’ve got, so watch me drop it like it’s hot.” My accompanying dance is some of distorted deep knee bend. They can’t wait to get to school.

How do you catch up? I don’t think you can. I think you just have to start from where you are and move forward the best you can. Here are some things I’m trying, some a little more successfully than others.

Get organized

Did I just hear a few screams? Did you just say, “If I was organized I wouldn’t be a month behind in my life.” Yep, me too. But the sad truth of it is this is one reason we are behind. The upside is you can start now, with just one thing. I saw this super cool idea for organizing kids’ clothes for the week. I also saw this clever idea for organizing after school items, like homework, backpacks, schedules, all the papers we get, etc. — like a back to school command center.

Choose your battles

I am officially giving you permission to not be perfect in everything. I am asking you to consider choosing one area to really go after. Maybe it’s your command center, making more nutritious lunches or helping your tiny learn to dress him or herself. Just don’t try to win the war on being an A+ parent all in one week. It’s like learning to not bite your fingernails. Just start with one. Once you’ve managed to not chew on that finger, move on to the next. Pretty soon you are left with eight or nine beautiful fingers and only one or two raggedy looking appendages. Start with one area of chaos and conquer it before you move on to the next. It will feel good to have a success. That will motivate you to tackle the next corner of craziness.

We are imperfect beings

Just because someone else has a beautiful command center with fancy cubbies, or a high tech calendar on a tablet, doesn’t mean your chalkboard and shoeboxes won’t work. We are all in the process of becoming better versions of ourselves. In fact, I advise against any major investment until you figure out exactly what works for you and your family. Just start with something that helps you organize your time. I think diaper boxes covered in wrapping paper, or scrapbook paper and a little glue all over, work very well. In fact, you can make creating your command center cubbies a family affair.

Set goals

Seriously, are you shaking your head at me? I struggle with goal setting too. However, it does make a difference. Decide what you want to accomplish in the next few months that would help you manage your time and family better. Go crazy — make it fun and fancy. That always helps. I like to add a little bling to things as well. The boys don’t seem to appreciate the bling, but it makes me happy. One of my goals was putting real clothes on to drive the kids to school. I usually go in my pajamas. I decided that goal wasn’t really working for me, so now I focus on getting them to school. No one cares what I’m wearing. However, if you walk your kids to school, you would probably move the pajama challenge up on the scale of importance. And that leads me to my last tip.

Be flexible

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are we. I may not be the well-dressed mom, or the mom who bakes the really cute cupcakes or even the mom who provides the gluten free after-school snack. I mean, I want to be, but there is no way I can do it all at one time. What I do know is that I am a mom who desperately, passionately, adoringly loves my children and they know it too. The rest is the work of living and that is something we do together — with a little bling of course.

 

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