Back to School is Bittersweet: Start the year off with goals

Back to School is Bittersweet: Start the year off with goals

It’s funny, but I didn’t really get emotional about my oldest starting Kindergarten this year. She’s ready, I’m ready. She’s going to do great.

Am I worried about how she’ll fit in, what she’ll learn and what bad habits she might bring home? Sure. But I’m a person who learns best by tackling new things head on, and I think she is too. So at the end of the day, week, year…we’ll figure it out together. Hopefully…

Raising kids and worrying about their futures is a long game, every change or milestone brings new challenges and frustrations.

 

My girls have both been in daycare since they were 3 months old, so this is no strange thing for them. Last year, we had a rough transition with both of them as they moved to a new daycare/preschool and it seemed like we’d never get through it. A year later, as with all things, we’re in a totally different place. We are not contending with a new baby in the house, so things seem a lot more structured and certain for the older kids. Our middle child is attending the same preschool with familiar friends and teachers. They know what to expect and so does she. Our eldest was excited to start her new school all year and spent the entire summer talking about it. She knows a few teachers, a few classmates from preschool and her cousin just moved up to 1st grade. She’s got this.

Raising kids and worrying about their futures is a long game, every change or milestone brings new challenges and frustrations. I’m just taking it one day at a time and not stressing about the stuff I cannot change. The world is changing every day, it’s incredibly frightening to raise children who will one day have to make their place in it.

My goals for this school year:

  1. Enact change – Find ways to help others and make the world brighter. Hold a door, wave someone into traffic, donate used items, volunteer to help those who need it. Smile more. Big or small, find ways to counteract the negativity around us.
  2. Don’t stress the small stuff – There are plenty of things to worry about. Try to take a step back and ask yourself how much this “thing” matters. Sort the “things” into BIG STUFF or small stuff. Discard the small stuff.
  3. Learn – Life can get stagnant if you don’t push yourself to try new things or strive to learn something new. Don’t dwell on frustration/negativity/the daily grind. Read a book, write to loved ones (like an actual letter), try a new recipe, pursue a goal, take a class, attend a seminar…grow your brain!

A happier you means a happier spouse, and happier kids. They learn by watching, and you’re their biggest role model.

 

If you need me, I’ll be scraping the (almost) 1 year-old off the floor. He’s suddenly decided he can walk everywhere…

How to Curb Parenting Frustration and Find More Patience

How to Curb Parenting Frustration and Find More Patience

Parenting frustration is real and it’s here to stay. We can only work on how we cope with it. How many times have you gotten crazy frustrated with your kids lately? Have they asked the same question incessantly? Have they pushed your buttons one too many times? Are they poking and prodding endlessly about the same topic? Do you wonder how they forgot your instructions from 30 seconds before?

It’s a common story and a huge point of frustration in parenting, especially of small children. You are not alone! We love our kids, even at their most annoying. We are incredibly busy with work and home lives and just trying to get through the day unscathed can seem like a monumental task.

Putting all that aside for a moment, take a little journey with me. I’d say “close your eyes” but that would be problematic. Imagine for a few minutes, that you’re on vacation in a totally unfamiliar country where you don’t speak the language. You somehow got separated from the people you’re traveling with and find yourself in a part of the city you’ve never been before. It is amazing and beautiful and you are completely enamored. Walking onward, you try to keep your eyes open for something familiar as you explore, hoping to spot a restaurant or store where you could ask for a phone. Everything from the customs, the food, the clothing, the buildings are completely unfamiliar and you don’t even know where to begin. Hunger begins to make itself known as you walk onward, night is falling. Do you have that anxious feeling creeping into your belly? A stranger approaches and starts speaking rapidly to you, seemingly alarmed and anxious, gesticulating in an incomprehensible fashion. Looking around for assistance, you see only disapproving and unfriendly stares. You attempt to speak calmly and mime that you are lost and need help. But your every effort is met with more disapproval and confusion. You attempt all familiar ways to communicate but are rebuffed at every turn. Clearly, your efforts to be appeasing are only adding to the stranger’s negative view of you. That anxious feeling is quickly mounting into panic as the stranger begins to get angry and moves toward you. How do you feel now? Are you thinking clearly?

“If I could wish for one thing for my children, it’s patience.”Tweet This!

Ok, I get that this is an extreme example but is it so different from how young children see the world? They are bombarded from all sides with new information, rules, experiences, and sensations that they are attempting to process. Even when they begin to find understanding, inevitably, the circumstances change or a new element forces them back to the beginning. As they grow and learn, we are imposing new layers of rules and expectations upon them. We are by nature, contrary and inconsistent. It stands to reason that we don’t always correct, encourage or guide our children in the exact same way every time. There are also hugely varied circumstances that can affect our interactions with our children, yet we often expect them to read between the lines or understand us to an exacting degree. The cues and expressions we rely upon as adults to assess a situation are completely foreign to our children. They haven’t yet built up their knowledge bank of clues that they can draw upon.

Can you think of a time when you were in unfamiliar territory and suddenly grasped something that made sense? What was your first instinct? Most likely, it was to repeat that action over and over and over again until something new clicked. Then we repeat the next action ad nauseum until we find something else that works. This should some incredibly familiar if you think about it in relation to your children’s actions.

There is no miracle method or proven strategy for moving this process along and creating better listeners who don’t annoy us so often. What we are witnessing is a miracle of self discovery and self worth. We are instrumental in shaping their view of this world and while completely overwhelming, that’s an awesome responsibility. I mean awesome in its true sense, not the overused off-hand way we usually apply it. These kids are getting up every day with a huge sense of optimism, hope, love and energy that they are just aching to send into the world. They fail thousands of times, every day. With barely a blink, they get back up ready to try another thousand times. Their capacity for learning is incredible and they are using every second of their existence to make an impression on their surrounding and the people around them.

“Children fail thousands of times, every day. With barely a blink, they get back up ready to try another thousand times.” Tweet This!

So while parents are frustrated and exhausted by the world in all its mundanity, I challenge you to try to walk a minute in your child’s shoes. Take even a few seconds to look at the world in wonder and awe. Remember that they’re still developing their bearings on EVERYTHING and while they are certainly learning to manipulate us, it doesn’t often come from a place of deliberate disobedience. More often than not, they’re simply looking for love, reassurance and structure. They want to know the rules to this game we’re all playing and they want to excel at it! I realize this is an idealistic expectation, but even if we can put this in action once in a day that’s a huge accomplishment! More often than not, we’ll still find ourselves in that place of frustration but it is worth the effort to invest in ourselves and in our children.

If I could wish for one thing for my children, it’s patience. Modern life has this way of pushing us along at a furious pace and our gut reaction is to race along without question. But what are we rushing toward? I see people all around me from various walks of life, varying ages and backgrounds. Is any one group happier than the next? Does any one person have all the answers? The more I learn and understand, the more I am certain that what matters most is today. THIS moment in time. THIS experience. I have friends of all income brackets with the exact same insecurities everyone else has. I see baby boomers FINALLY getting to retire and then wondering, what now? Their health isn’t the best or they’re so stuck in “work” mode that they can’t or won’t relearn how to just live and enjoy being present.

This is nothing new or revolutionary. Many others have explained this more eloquently and more powerfully than I can. Yet, I think it too important to not repeat from my own perspective in hopes that it might strike a chord with someone. Even one person. Our children are embracing this very concept even as they race ahead into the school years, the teen years and soon adulthood. If we can’t enjoy life as much as possible in the now, then what’s the point?

“Find joy in the details.”Tweet This!

Life is made to be lived, in all its mundane and boring detail. Find joy in the details.

Wondering how to “do it all”? – 5 ways to regain self worth

Wondering how to “do it all”? – 5 ways to regain self worth

Being a parent is incredibly demanding work and our self worth is irrevocably tied to our measure of “success”. Success is a completely arbitrary measure! From the outside looking in, it’s so easy to think that someone “has it all together” or somehow manages to “do it all”. The simple truth though, is that most of us don’t even come close to this ideal…and that’s OK!

Excelling in one area, means that many other areas are taking a back seat. That mom who shows up with the beautifully made cupcakes and treats for every birthday or school event? Her mother is ailing and she bakes and crafts to keep her brain from considering the possibility of loss. That dad who volunteers for every work project and always seems one step ahead? Well, he is one step away from foreclosure and never makes it to his daughter’s soccer games. It is so easy to see a snapshot of someone’s life and believe that it encapsulates everything about them. However, it’s the story behind the smallest moments that are really worth learning about. There is no-one who “has it all”.

Rich or poor, sad or happy, engaging or shy, life of the party or withdrawn. These are all just small facets of who we are in any given moment. With the explosion of social media and the ease of communication, one would hope we would become more connected. Yet it seems that more than ever our society causes us to withdraw from one another and live our lives in isolation.

Despite the isolation, we are constantly competing with ourselves and others to chase an indiscernible goal post. The the constant urge to be better, richer, happier drives us to live frantically. It has become so commonplace that we rarely stop to ask why. Are there studies showing that our kids will be smarter if they have four activities a week plus music lessons? Will they lead more fulfilling lives because they’re always chasing the next best thing rather than enjoying life’s simple moments?

I see this every day when I’m interacting with my children. Often, I’ll find myself racing around the house, scrambling to get ready with three children in tow so we can all get to school and work on time. Inevitably, one or all of them will want something from me at the exact wrong moment and I’ll snap. Seconds later, it all becomes clear and I quickly understand they were trying to help in their own way. In the moment I was too frazzled and distracted to pay attention. The moment might be gone, but I still try to take the time later to show them that I appreciated their effort. I make a million mistakes a day and that will never change. But I will always strive to find meaning in those mistakes so that I can keep moving forward.

Are there days when you want to crawl back into bed and ignore the world? Do you have days when you wonder how the heck you got here? Has your self worth plummeted into a dark abyss? Do you have a list a mile long of all the things you feel you need to do, or need to learn? All those thoughts swirling around in your head? Yeah, I’ve got them too.

Often it feels paralyzing, like there’s no way forward.

Here are a few ways to take that first step:
1. No one is perfect. Everyone you think is acing it? They’ve got their own problems. Try to give yourself and others a bit of grace. Take a second to connect with someone.
2. What’s the hurdle immediately in front of you? What’s the one thing you can do RIGHT NOW to make it better? Then find the next thing, and the next.
3. Stand back and look at the big picture, remember how much worse things were a month, a week, a minute ago? You’ve got this.
4. REMEMBER! Somebody loves you madly, deeply, unconditionally.
5. Be strong, think strong and nothing will hold you back.

Take the time you need to wallow, take the time you need to breakdown, take the time you need to cry. Then get back up and do it all again.

Making the choice to keep moving and find a better way? Those are the moments that will lead to unexpected joy. Find the joy.

Family Organization when you can barely remember what day it is

Family Organization when you can barely remember what day it is

Not going to lie, we have a LOT on our plates these days and I have a feeling we have less going on than most. Between work, daycare, family and friends, school events, extracurricular activities (we currently only have one!), house projects and day-to-day life, we always seem to have an overflowing todo list. Keeping a family organized, especially when three of them can’t take much responsibility, is a daunting task.

I have gone through SO MANY different methods trying to come up with one that works for all of us. There are tons of great task management apps (some even designed for family organization), calendars, websites, you name it. What I’ve finally settled on, at least for the moment, is a mashup of some of my favorites. I’ve learned through much trial and error, anything I hope to use MUST live on my phone. If it’s paper, it will be lost or destroyed. Probably at the bottom of the diaper bag and trust me, no one wants to find that mess. It must play nice with Siri. I’m almost always driving, juggling kids or hauling too many bags at the exact moment when I need to remember something. If I don’t make the note right then and there, it’s out of my brain in .2 seconds never to be heard from again. Lastly, it must be SIMPLE! There are many, many gorgeous and complicated apps out there that will try to redesign your entire life for you. They’re amazing, but they are not for me. I need simplicity. Multiple steps just won’t get completed, I don’t have the time or the energy. Not gonna lie. I am on a quest for simplification.

Must Haves for family organization:
1. task lists must live on my phone
2. accessible via Siri for jotting down tasks/thoughts
3. simple, simple, simple

Currently, my system consists of three components: iPhone reminders/calendar, Trello and IFTTT (If This Then That That). If you haven’t heard of or used the 2nd two, fear not. I was mostly using just the first one until recently.

You can do SO much with just your native iOS reminders and calendar. Seriously. I’m pretty sure my kids know how to do it at this point because they’ve listened to me talk at my phone so often.

– Add oatmeal to my groceries list
– Remind me to pay summer camp tuition next Tuesday
– What’s the weather tomorrow?
– Remind me to turn on the oven when I get home

Endless. Possibility.

The calendar is self explanatory and I always add any pertinent date specific items in there that are necessary to keep our family organized. Create a separate calendar for each family member, work, etc. and then share them with the appropriate people. You may also want to harass them endlessly until they are also in the habit of adding every event too. No pressure or anything.

In Reminders, I simply create a list for any group of tasks we typically have. I have a grocery list, a house list, a work list, etc. Anything and everything that pops into my head and needs to be accomplished, it goes on a list. I cannot be trusted to “remember” unless I get it out of my brain. I have plenty of things I do accomplish without needing to jot it down, but this system helps me keep on top of the big stuff.

The one main thing I felt was lacking with this system was prioritization. I also wanted a way to help organize larger, long-term projects so I set out to find a better way.

A few weeks ago I finally took a leap and explored Trello in depth. My world has shifted. I was looking for a way to organize certain projects for work and stumbled across a few templates and my brain exploded. In approximately 30 seconds (okay, maybe over the course of a few days), I downloaded my brain (and my previous to-do lists) into Trello and I haven’t looked back since. I’ll explore more in depth soon, but a few things I fell in love with are:

– drap and drop cards (just move them wherever you need them to be, no need to re-write.)
– checklists (the items don’t disappear so you can uncheck when they’re needed again, think grocery lists!)
– Linking cards between boards (you might have a home improvement board and want to assign a few tasks to your current week tasks, easy!)
– Pretty backgrounds (you can “steal” these even if you don’t have a paid account, more on that another day.)

To really throw you for a loop, you can then sync this all together using IFTTT (If This Then That) which is such a cool site/app. Essentially, you can make Trello (and many, many other apps/sites) sync information to your phone and vice versa.

Ok, so family organization in a nutshell? Find a simple system that you can do easily and stick with it! Try not to get distracted by all the pretty apps and sites that promise to make it easy. If you can find something that works in a similar way to your natural inclinations, that’s the way to go.

More to come on Trello and IFTTT.

What are your biggest todo list challenges? Do you have an effective strategy for your family organization?

How having kids is like that dream where you walk into school naked

How having kids is like that dream where you walk into school naked

Ever gotten really peeved at work and managed a few cutting remarks that left you feeling vindicated? Have you had a moment when you screamed at your spouse/parent/sibling/friend/child and suddenly realized you weren’t alone in the parking lot? Had that awful feeling in your gut a few hours later as you replayed the scene in your head? Did you spend the night squirming in embarrassment wondering how you could show your face in public ever again?

Well, there’s nothing quite like having your worst moments acted out for you, out loud and in person…by your four-year-old.

There are few things I’ve experienced that are quite so humbling as having children. Not only do you deal with the awe, the joy, the humiliations and the frustrations that make being a first-time parent incredibly overwhelming. You also experience the gut-wrenching shame spiral that ensues when you witness your darling child trying on all your snippy remarks and exhaustion fueled set-downs.

We all try to be good role models and decent human beings, sure. But in the privacy of your own home, you know you’re far from the pillar of humankind that you encourage your children to be. Sometimes, they are better role models than we could ever be. You can admit it, this is a safe zone. No judgements here.

We’ve been dealing with some adjustment problems with our two-year-old (since the addition of baby #3) and have been spending a lot of time trying to keep our little chaos bubble from spinning out of control. Once we manage one hurdle, another gauntlet is thrown into our paths and we lug our exhausted bodies out of the ditch and trudge ever onward. There’s nothing quite like having notes sent home about your toddler’s behavior in daycare week after week. We’ve moved from shoving other kids, to tackling them, to punching them in the nose (self confessed), to screaming “NO!” all. the. time. Our darling girl?! Never…

That’s not to say she’s not sweet and loving and everything nice. Just don’t stand in her way, she’s got strong opinions and is not afraid to show them. I know I’ll appreciate her strength and conviction one day, when she’s 30. Maybe.

The crux of the matter is that we’re all learning, as individuals, as a family unit and as a community. It’s painful, it’s frustrating as all get out and it’s incredibly humbling. In the moment, it feels agonizing. With a little perspective, it starts to resemble growth and gosh darnit, maybe even feels a little rewarding.

It’s empowering to know that we are a work in progress. We are NOT perfect role models. We are not finished. We are aspiring to be something better, we are inspiring these little minds (though not always in the best ways, if we’re honest), and we are growing with each and every awkward, imperfect step.

Failure is not an option, it’s an inevitability. It may not be pretty or Pinterest worthy, but it’s life and it has meaning and it helps us to be better people. Own it.

The seven week shift – regaining sanity after a newborn

The seven week shift – regaining sanity after a newborn

The joy and awe of having a newborn is immense, and overwhelming. This is especially the case when you have two other kids running around with the same needs they’ve had for the past 2 and 4 years. As with any new addition to a family, sleep is highly coveted commodity and chaos is only a hairsbreadth away.

After the first week or two of adjustment, the older kids quickly realize they can exploit this new bundle of joy. They will get up to all sorts of antics knowing mom is trapped in a chair feeding their newest sibling and so, can escape any and all repercussions. Enter the month of yelling. Deprived of any other recourse, Mom quickly devolves into a hoarse mess as she attempts to keep all the tiny humans alive and relatively well taken care of. Socks may not match and baths a thing of the past, but they’re fed and rested aren’t they?! Meanwhile, the tiny humans are rejoicing in their freedom and flaunting their newfound power as they blithely go about any activity they find amusing. Needless to say, nothing that Mom wants accomplished is on their to-do list.

As the days chug along with excruciating slowness, the new babe gradually begins to fall into the rhythm of the household. During waking hours, Mom can at least count on an hour or so of slumber from the little one, provided the babe is constantly snugged up against a boob or tucked under an arm. Allotted this modicum of freedom, she can now rampage around the house and one-handed, attempt to rectify the fracturing discipline she has managed to hold onto. Understanding that yelling is never the answer (though that was never in doubt), she gamely attempts to re-establish the love and trust that once reigned supreme. Enter the age of the tantrums.

While a semblance of order has begun to creep back into existence, the toddler and pre-school variety of tiny humans have entered a new phase of rebellion. Gone are the days of outright, smiling smugness and enter the age of tears, buckets and buckets or tears. The toddler now employs epic tantrums at the slightest of provocation, or just because. The preschooler responds to the re-establishment of tyranny by dissolving into tears and whining before she even hears more than one word uttered from a parent’s mouth.

Not all hope is lost. As the weeks go by, the babe reaches the magical age of 7 weeks and a monumental shift is about to transpire. The babe will sit or lay, awake or asleep…alone! Gone are the days of Mom’s one-armed failings. Slowly, but surely the minuscule footholds that were being put into place will begin to hold and order will gradually return. Mom will begin to remember she isn’t caring for three well-mannered demons, but instead the three darling children she loves so very much. No doubt the future holds many more challenges, but she can rest assured that there is a light…somewhere down the deep, dark tunnel.

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