Sunday, June 12, 2011

play ball

Yes, we make choices on the activities our kids are engaged in.  Yes, there are too many for many a reason (time, money, etc).  But, with that said, I am humbled by all that I have learned about myself and kids through this part of our journey.

We are at the end of the baseball season.  Even though this is our third season, I am still learning.  The start of this season in particular began with tears.  I am second guessing our decisions, which is silly, since they are way in the past.    #1 doesn't like his picture to be taken, but values a good one when taken of an amazing play.  How am I supposed to accomplish that?  Neither kid likes to be endeared as "baby" which I still often call them.  They also don't like "woohoo" in a motherly pitch to be hollered.

We decided that #1 & #2 would tryout for the leagues above them.  Our intent was not for them to play in the tougher leagues, but to have the experience of the tryout process.  Based on last year's league structure, very few kids actually "played up".  Well, that was not the situation this year.  We got our team assignments and unfortunately, hubby was out of town.  Neither kid made it into the higher leagues.  I was not surprised, until I heard that most of my guys' peers did make it.  So, this year's league was a different animal.  I had misjudged the dynamics.  It turns out that with the SF Giants winning the World Series, everyone decided to play ball.  This created a situation where lots of players needed to be pushed up into the higher leagues.  I had just created the first of many disappointments with this process for my kids.  In their eyes, they had failed where so many had succeeded.

#2 is uber-competitave.  She plays in the boys' league.  Our original agreed upon purpose was not to make it.  She agreed but then the time came and she cried and protested.  This was several days after we heard about #1's team placement.  Each hour and day in between she would ask if I received her placement notice.  Those were tough "no's".  The anticipation created more tension.  More and more peers had "made it" until she felt she was the only one in her grade who had not.  She then set a condition saying, "If I don't make it, I'm not playing".

#1 heard his team placement right away.  He was to be an older fish in a younger pond.  The good news was he had friends and peers he knew on his team.  Last year he did not know anyone on his team.  So, this year, it was meaningful to have friends.  He said he wouldn't play.  The team he was drafted on was a different story.  Last year this particular team did not have the best behavior when they played his team.  It was on his list of teams he did not want to play on.  The thing is, no one asks who you want to be with or which team you want to play on.  Even though our intent was to not make the higher league, other coaches did not know this.  I did not know that the lower league would not be present or know his stats because he was at the higher tryouts.  In retrospect, this was probably a mistake.  Should he have done both tryouts?  Was this an option?  I didn't have the answers then or even now for that matter, but knew the stress we were dealing with as a result of the choices.

What did we do?  We reacted, and maybe overreacted.  We cried, we talked and we made decisions at the parental level.  In retrospect, we would have approached the pre-season differently.  That being said, we survived and quite well I might say.

We told #2 that if she chose to not play this year, she would not be allowed to play next year.  This was an opportunity to be a leader and improve her skills.  One of the things we did right was to ask that she not be on a team with younger kids from her school.  This is because the youngers were #3's peers and friends.  That would have exacerbated the situation for sure.  I am confident that this was good forethought on our part.  It turns out she was not the only one her grade who was in her league.  It also turned out that her entire team from last year, except for her, was drafted into the higher league by her coach from last year.  This team, that had drafted her buddies, won 1 game this year.  They had a tough season.  The team she was on touted her as their best fielder.  They won all or almost all (depending on who you ask) of their games (even though score is technically not kept).  I am so thankful that she did not make the higher league.  I am thankful she swallowed her pride and stuck with it.  As amazing #2 is at almost everything she does, it is okay to not be the top of something and to take a ride to see what will happen.  I am thankful for the situations we went through on this journey to have had the experience we did.  She still wants to be a Major League ball player and this means her confidence is intact.  She made new friends and received good coaching at all levels.  She could also focus on her tae kwon do black-belt.  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

We explored our options for #1's situation.  Even dad supported him in his impulse to not play.  I couldn't imagine him not playing when all of his friends were ready to.  His choices were to play on a team he didn't want to be on, ask to be traded or to not play.  The risk in being traded would be that he might end up on a team where he had no friends.  As good and experience last year's season turned out to be, I hadn't realized how stressful it was to not have friends on his team.  Sure, he ended the season with friends, but how could I have missed the stress he carried from it?  I e-mailed and talked with his coach discussing our concerns.  In the end #1 chose to stick with the known quantity.  We would have supported him with any of his choices (obviously).

Was playing baseball supposed to be this hard?  His season had it's ups and downs and so did his attitude.  In the end, his team had a decent playoff and a weak season prior to that.  If you read my tae kwon do post, you'd know that attitude is an issue that permeates all facets of #1's life.  I'm glad he knows what winning in this season feels like.  He said he wouldn't trade the weak season for the great playoffs.  Hopefully this learning of persistence can payoff will go with him in his future journeys.  I am still waiting for the coach and teacher that can unlock his potential.  For now, I'm happy he's happy and we're maintaining.  I've learned he doesn't need me to tell him to get ready.  He may not look ready, but it is not my job, nor does it motivate him to have me hollering "get ready" or "pay attention".  When the ball is hit to him, he will do what he is capable of doing without my words.  What he really wants is for me to see him do good.  Whenever there is a good play, after the game, he'll ask "did you see that?"  So, instead of worrying about things that are his coaches' jobs, I should just pay attention and enjoy the ride.

Going forward we will continue to learn these lessons of patience and persistence.  They are not easy, but I suppose they are necessary.  It feels good to cheer your kids on and to see them overcome stressful situations.  It feels good to learn together as a family.  The examples #1 and #2 worked through were great lessons for the youngers to learn from (if they were paying attention).  If they missed the lesson, mom and dad will be there to remind them with love, understanding and probably a few tissues for the tears.  Stay tuned, we're heading into the unchartered territory of competitive soccer for #2 and #3....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Korean Bar Mitzvah

This post has been under construction in my brain for the last few weeks.  Three weeks ago #1 and #2 cleared their pretest at their tae kwon do studio.  This was not just any test, it was their black belt pretest.  I have never been so anxious for my kids to do well.  This was something they had been working towards for 5 and 4+ years respectively.  When I say they, I really mean we.  Extra sisters and I have been waiting and watching class upon class upon class.  As the belt-rank increased, so did the time requirements and the class times shifted later and later.  With this progression, our household bedtimes shifted later and later.  It has been a true family commitment.  We spend more time and money at tae kwon do than we do at our temple.  Years ago I realized the benefits of starting this journey early.  If my kids wanted to pursue their black belts, they would need to be young enough to not have major commitments in their way.  Commitments like Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, school, other competitive sports, etc...  Each year, as our contracts expired the kids have had a choice to continue or not.  They have always chosen to move forward.  Now, during several times, the quest to move forward stalled but never stopped completely.

I bet you are wondering what my point is here.  Well, with the paper to test for black belt, the kids were assigned an essay topic.  This had to be heartfelt and written without help.  Their topics were specifically assigned.  #1's was "attitude" and #2's was "patience".  Both topics resonated with me.  Please, please, let me contribute to their essays.  What?  This is their journey?  Well, I'll just put my thoughts here then...

Patience.  Uh-huh.  Take a deep breath.  I am not a very patient person.  I have learned patience through our tae kwon do journey.  Patience from sitting through multiple classes per day and week.  Patience from seeing other kids pass my kids in belt advancement.  Patience from things being done differently than I would do them.  I have had to have patience with myself and kids in ways I would never have expected.  Patience with those darn uniforms that never come clean.  One little thing gets on them and it will never come out.  Patience when #3's class time was not consecutive with #1 & #2's.  Occupying my time and that of extra sisters'.  Patience when #1 was not performing to his personal best.  Oh, the torture.  Lastly, patience to let this be their journey, not mine.

My guess is that the intent of "patience" being #2's topic was to take her time.  She started tae kwon do 6 months after her brother.  Within a few months, she caught up to him.  On one or two occasions she even tested for the next belt before her brother.  Her focus is unfazed.  Her determination and teachability are both top notch.  She needs patience to be the amazing girl she is without being too hard on herself.  She needs patience with her brother to understand he is a different person and learner than she is.  She needs patience with her mother to allow her to help.  She needs patience with her little sisters; to remember she is one too.

Attitude.  This is something I am so qualified to talk about.  Oops, this probably isn't a good thing.  There are different ways to look at attitude.  It can be a way of thinking or feeling about someone or something.  It is also defined as uncooperative  behavior.  I think I have a little bit of both.  I have to be careful to keep my attitude in check and in my head.  In a way, attitude is related to patience.  Someone with a lack of patience can be seen as one with a bad attitude.  How do you explain to a 6, 7, 8 etc.. year old that their attitude can impact so much?  Others' perception of one's attitude has a lot of power.  There are places we are held accountable.  In life, no one has to give you grades or reviews.  If there were grades or reviews in being a mom, I'm sure my attitude would be a factor.

"You only have one chance to make a first impression".  This is true.  I've seen #1 work for months to redeem his value to have it shattered in one afternoon by uncooperative behavior (aka a bad attitude).  Yes, these are teachable moments, but so much of it is maturation.  Until a child is able to comprehend the concept, it is so difficult to teach.  Tae kwon do has been so good for my wiggly boy.  His perception versus reality has always gotten in his way.  This affects his self esteem and confidence.  To see him advance in belts and stick with this to achieve his black belt has been amazing.  There have been times when his attitude has gotten in his way and gotten him in trouble in class.  He always felt this meant the teachers wanted him to drop out.  Time and time again I'd try to explain to him that it really meant they believed in him.  Really they saw more in him than he did himself.  His potential and ability versus his performance is prevalent in school, religious school, soccer, baseball and tae kwon do.  I am so hopeful that this achievement can serve as a tangible example of what he can do.  That people are not out to get him.  That his attitude is a frame of mind that can be tamed.

During the black belt test, Sensi was reminding the kids testing to breathe.  Each time he said this, I noticed I was holding my breath.  I wanted them to reach this goal to be proud of themselves.  Each class prior to their test was an opportunity to learn, but it was also an opportunity for lack of patience or a bad attitude.  The decision making was not in our control, but the performance was.  We, as a family, made this last stretch a priority.  I don't think I realized how much it affected me until their speeches were written.  Yes, I had a sneak peek since I am the household editor-at-large.  For once, tears I shed at bedtime were tears of joy and not sadness.  Both #1 and #2 gave a glimpse inside their heads and hearts.  #1 spoke of himself as a boy and looks to the future to becoming a teenager and going to college.  #2 gave understanding perspective of herself and both school and home life.

My last thought on this is that I cannot imagine being any prouder.  My heart soared as my kids reached this achievement.  This was an amazing happy moment in life that I look forward to holding on to forever.  I know there are more events in life for us to learn from, be proud of and be touched by.  I'm happy to have patience and take them one at a time as they are earned and given to us.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mother's Day, schedule accordingly

Wow, it's been a while.  Sorry.  I've gotten lost in life.  I'm resurfacing just days before the "all-important" Mother's Day Holiday.

Now, this probably will not shock you, especially if you read my previous post on Valentine's Day.  I'm a scrooge with respect to certain holidays.  I'm not totally sure where Mother's Day fits in.  It's not my birthday, which is my favorite holiday.  I really like my kids' and hubby's birthdays too.  Thanksgiving, Passover and Hanukkah are up there.  Mostly because they center around food.  Even though I don't celebrate Easter, I like the holiday because of traditions we have with friends.

Regardless of how I feel about Mother's Day, I'm being asked to celebrate around the previously scheduled activities of my kids.  Hmmm...  I think I'm a mom because I have kids.  Not totally sure how it all works, but I'm pretty sure about that.  It's like celebrating a birthday because it is the anniversary of the day you were born.  Oops, I'm digressing, back to the topic at hand.  I've been asked (in e-mail) to send my kids to Sunday school and celebrate later.  A coach of one of my kids asked for me (in an e-mail here too) to celebrate before or after practice.  What these e-mails are saying to me is that yah, we know it's "your day", but it really isn't going to be any different from every other Sunday, or weekday for that matter.

Now, maybe some of you have lovely traditions.  Maybe you have families that plan without your input or effort.  That is not my experience with any holiday that my family celebrates.  I love my family to pieces, but they are not planners.  When I say family, I mean my husband.  It's not that he doesn't care.  He does.  He'd do anything.  He's chock full of ideas.  The problem is that most of his ideas are things HE wants to do.  It's really cute, but also annoying.  It does come in handy for planning for HIS birthday, etc.

The kids are too young and are also casualties to the holidays where "mom should be taken care of".    They aren't prompted ahead of time to create cards or have a plan on how to be nicer that day.  This puts them into a panic on the day of and then they start giving me "little treasures" (aka junk) that symbolizes how much they love me.  One of my kids actually gave me $1 on my birthday.  If they're not scrambling to find me gifts at home, they're making me special gifts at school.  In the 10 years I've been a mother, I've gotten ONE useful gift on Mother's Day.  I'd much prefer a hug, kiss, day with no fighting, doing chores without asking and maybe someone cooking my favorite food for me.  This has me reflecting back to trying to buy my mom nice gifts for Mother's Day.  She was born in April, I'm sure she'd like an Aries Ram necklace to symbolize that.  Ugh, sorry Mom.  We tried.

Oops, I'm straying off topic again, sorry.  Whatever we do will have to be done before 8:30 and between 1-5:30.  We already have our tradition of donuts before Sunday School (which I cannot eat) and that's about it.  Do I need more tradition?  Nah.  Then the pressure sets in on Monday.  "What did you do/get, etc.. for Mother's Day?"  Um, nothing?  Isn't being the mother of 4 unique, healthy, amazing kids enough?  It's like Mother's Day is every day.

I'm probably missing the point of this holiday.  While you're busy explaining it to me, explain Father's Day too.  A day where the kids shower the Dad with love and affection and the Dad gets to take time off from doing Sunday chores.  How is that fair?  It seems to be the "anti-Mother's Day" holiday instead of Father's Day.  It's double the work on Mom who does everything during the week and 1/2 of everything on the weekends.  Hmmm, maybe I'll start celebrating Father's Day.....

Monday, February 21, 2011

what cookies have taught me

This weekend I chaperoned my 2 oldest girls selling cookies.  This is our second year going through this process.  Well, last year #2 was the only one selling and the process has changed a bit.  This year, we hoard cookies in our garage and sell from our independent inventory.  Last year we "pre-sold" and delivered later....but I digress...

What I noticed or learned from this weekend has been varied.  I learned that #3 is a go getter.  She was hawking her wares at school, handing me sticky notes after school for the orders she took.  These were orders we filled and were paid in full within 24 hours.  She also is good at taking feedback.  After she tried to sell to her friends at taekwondo, I let her know that she has to start with the cost or sell to the parents.  Her friends thought she was giving them something.  Oops.  But, she did not make that mistake again.  She also honed her opening speech.  And she walked and sold and walked and sold.  She cautiously opened gates, checking for dogs.  She knew I was at the sidewalk waiting to help if needed.  Some gate latches were too high, but for the most part she persevered.

I have learned that #2 is consistent, yet not always predictable.  #2 is apprehensive, but confident at the same time.  She will not look adults, strangers or not, in the eye when she speaks to/or is spoken to.  This is without regard for what she is doing.  Last year, when she set out solo to sell, she let #3 come with her for moral support.  This year she took #4 with her for support.   She even let her brother help.  She is competitive, but is sharing with her sister.  They never share.  She is also willing to let #3 go to the more challenging houses.  The girls have worked out a deal to share prizes.  Reminder, they never share.  This is letting her good side shine and lessening her competitiveness.

I have learned that there are a lot of cookie sellers in our neighborhood.  We don't want to encroach on other girls' business.  #1 felt we should still "double knock".  What I mean is even though every other house said someone else had been by, he thought we were quitting when we acquiesced.  We rolled home due to darkness.  The next day, the group gave up a trip to the city to sell again.  #2 chose to do a quick sell and head to a play date knowing #3 would pick up the slack.  That is pretty trusting when the combined sales will dictate both of their prizes.  Smart girl.  #1 rolled with us for over an hour.  He went home when we were short on inventory to bring back more cases.  Way more motivated than I ever expected.  Especially when he has nothing to gain.  It also seemed to be an opportunity for my group to see that following rules and etiquette has a place.  They would be the first to complain if they had been wronged.  Maybe they will remember this when they have a choice and I am not there to be the voice of reason.

This is also a lesson in not making assumptions.  I learned that in college business and fashion merchandising classes.  You never know who will buy what and how many.  This is a great way for my kids to see this rule.  The vendor at the farmers market may be our best customer.  Even though these cookies are as far from local and organic as you can get.  Ya' never know...

I have learned that our neighborhood is way bigger than I thought.  Many more people have gated properties than I ever expected to see on our journey.  Some properties are huge and there are even a few mansions among tiny cottages.  There are a lot of dogs, many off leash.  People are generous.  Some donate change, others buy cookies to support the cute freckly girls at their door.  People ask about the girls' favorites and let them do the math and bring them change.  They are patient and kind, even if saying "no thank you".  It is almost like trick or treating, but in the daylight.  We see so much more.  Their support is priceless.  This is what makes us go out again.  And grow.

Yes, my girls are doing this because they get stuff.  But, this has been a great opportunity to hang out with all of them and see so many parts of their personalities and our neighborhood.  I don't think they realize that they get more than "things" and I get stuff too.  Our family is brought together by something I can't even eat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Let's just start this by saying that I know a lot of you will not agree with my point of view here.  It doesn't mean either one of us are right or wrong.  We will have differences in opinion and that's all this is or will potentially be....

I am not a fan of Valentine's day.  the Zero Waste Home blog says it better than I have been able to articulate.  In addition to all of her points, it's a hassle.  It's a hassle for my house to produce 90+ valentines to pass out to "friends".  It's a hassle to receive 90+ valentines and have kids who hoard cards from "friends".  It's a hassle to implement my eat it as you get it candy policy when each child is getting 20+ pieces of candy to bring home.  Why don't they have the kids eat the candy at school, since that is where it is coming from?

Years ago, I asked a couple of our teachers, a bit too close to the actual celebration date, to consider alternatives to the individual valentines.  In pre-school and even kindergarten, the kids really aren't writing each friend's name.  And, if they are, it's excruciatingly slow going.  My alternative suggestion was for each child to bring in an 8.5x11" paper as a homemade valentine.  Then, each "friend" could sign the valentine.  They could be displayed in the class and then everyone could take theirs home and be done with it.  No candy, no valentines mailbox or bag or anything else needed.  I was told that people like the process of the individual cards and that they would encourage homemade, but that was about it.

How many valentines are actually homemade?  We color on an 8.5x11" paper and write our message.  It is the same for all friends.  I then scan the artwork and print it on post cards.  The older kids personalize them with each friend's name.  The younger ones say "to my friend".  I guess it's half-way homemade?  Before the Halloween candy went into the garbage for mis-behavior (see previous post for details) the kids decided to give each friend a piece of candy with their valentine.  In all of the swapping of cards and candy, I doubt their friends would know that the candy they received was purposely given to them.  Larger ones for certain people and so on.  It solved part of my "we have too much candy in the house" problem (before I threw it away).  I recognize that shifting my issue onto others isn't fair either.

Does this mean that when the kids and I clean out their hoards of stuff and I put the trinkets in the Halloween bucket that I'm transferring my problems to others?  I like to see it as reusing and preventing more candy or trinkets from being purchased and put into the mix of things we (or none of us) really don't need.  To be more like Zero Waste, we'd need to refuse and then have nothing to reuse.  I'm afraid we've been too long on the current path and I'd have a revolt or mutiny in my house.  But then again, I did eliminate the Halloween candy hoarding situation and shift gears there.  I guess I'll just keep trying to make mini-modifications and hope my kids outgrow some of the wasteful habits and holidays.

I feel like a Valentine's Day Scrooge.  Yes, I know it's a holiday about love.  Shouldn't love be every day?

Friday, February 11, 2011

I'm your mother

A few weeks ago we witnessed a boy speaking out in taekwondo class.  Sensei's response was that he was not the boy's friend or father and that he needed to show respect.  Last night, my son said to me, while imitating Sensei's tone, "I'm not your friend or father, I'm your mother."  He was joking at the time, but I know the mother he was referring to.  The one he has that bursts out yelling commands and demands.  If I don't want my kids to yell at each other, why do I yell at them?  When I don't yell, I talk and am accused of talking too much on subjects the kids want to go away.

I write about this because it makes me think.  We are not our kids' friends, but are their parents.  There is a difference.  I once read in a book (right now I can't remember which one) that you are not doing a good job if your kids aren't mad at you.  At the same time, I follow a lovely blog by an awesome pediatric doctor, Essential Parenting.  He encourages a wise and loving heart for parenting.  To be honest, I think both are right.  I have a hard time balancing between the two.

This past week, I was tired and cranky.  Hubby was out of town for 2 nights.  The kids were on a roll with not listening.  I had to ask several times for the mundane tasks of getting ready for bed or shoes on in the morning.  I had already lectured the kids in the car about how they needed to help mommy at home.  Everyone said okay.  Well, I'm sure you can guess, they weren't doing any better when we got home with their listening.  I managed to make dinner and the kids all got their homework done.  A few more reminders at dinner and during work time with promises of compliance going forward.  Ha ha ha.  Post dinner they needed to go potty and brush their teeth.  That's it.  I was clearing the kitchen and heard a ruckus.  All four of them were messing around in the girls' room.  Fighting, playing and plain not listening to my requests or demands.  "That's it!"  I screamed.  "All of your Halloween candy is going in the garbage!"  Their screams and cries of "Noooo!  Noooo!" followed.  #1 finally hopped into the long awaiting shower.  The rest sobbed in their beds and blamed others for their behavior.  "It's not fair," they complained.  I told them they were right since they had promised me something they couldn't deliver.  That wasn't fair.  I also ask them to show me with actions, not words.  I appreciate an apology, but only when the behavior is changed to I relish it.

Truth be told, I was looking for a way to reverse the hoarding of Halloween candy.  I had been threatening it's demise for weeks and finally had followed through.  With this, I stated that we would no longer save any candy.  If you got candy from school or a party, you were to eat it all in that day.  For Halloween, they will be allowed to eat themselves sick and have one night of gluttony during a movie night closely following Halloween.  Pfew, got that out of the way.  They seemed kind of excited in the challenge of eating everything when they got it.  But, I digress.....

The day after the great purge, I took a shower.  Upon getting out of the shower I noticed some words written in the mirror (another peeve of mine).  "I hate you."  Well, I guess I accomplished my kids not liking me by the looks of that statement.  #1 is 10 and I have a diary as proof that I felt the same way towards my mother for various reasons at about the exact same age.  Maybe I should buy him a diary so he doesn't mess up my mirrors.

So, which comes first?  A tired, cranky mom or kids who don't listen.  Chris has a point in Essential Parenting that we lead with our energy.  I guess my goal should be to get more sleep to be less cranky.  Then maybe my kids would listen without reminders?!

Monday, February 7, 2011

what's for dinner?!

We've come a long way baby.  Long ago, pre kids, we enjoyed cooking.  We cooked elaborate meals, shopped on the fly, entertained on a whim.  I envisioned cooking every day I was on maternity leave.  Hmmm, reality set in.  I could manage to bake a batch of cookies, because that was what I was craving, but  complex meals went by the wayside.

Kids happened and we cooked for them.  When they hit the solid food stage, I would make a weeks' worth of baby food, using every pan and surface in the kitchen.  Hubby would clean up the war zone.  This was our teamwork to get this accomplished.  With this, our kids ate the best, most local and homemade food.  Hubby would come home post work when I was on leave and would cook the 2 of us a nice meal.  We would shop at the farmers' market on Saturdays and make whatever looked good, with no real plan.  Once I went back to work, I still let hubby do the dinner cooking.  We'd peruse cookbooks, but with little ones abound, cooking together was a thing of the past.  We'd eat when the kids went to bed after 7.

Then I stopped working and had to prepare meals for 3 (and then 4) kids 3 meals a day.  There was no way with dad working and not home until 7 that the kids could get to bed by 7 without feeding them at 5.  I had basic, staple meals I'd feed them.  Sausage, gnocchi and broccoli was an example of this.  When #4 developed chronic fluid in her ears, she had to go on baby solid food and I started to make her formula from scratch.  The recipe was from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon.  I'd separate the whey from the yogurt, purchased lactose and a zillion other things whipping this formula up 2 times a week.  You see, the doctor wanted #4 on food and not formula.  She needed to gain weight.  But my life, the life of a mom with 3 other kids 5 and under could not sustain a baby that couldn't eat on the run.  Hence the formula.  She outgrew her ear issue and the formula.  Now I had 4 kids eating the same meals.

Sounds simple, but we were still shopping for kids' food and parent meals as separate menus.  We were not paying attention to cost.  Most especially since we paid a lot by cash at the farmers' market, and charged our way everywhere else.  Then one year, I recapped our spending and saw what we had spent at our local Whole Foods Market.  Yes we are a family of 6, but ignorance is no excuse.  We also were buying prepared foods from Three Stone Hearth.  It was cooked food that just needed heating up, made the way we'd make dinner so long ago.  Saving time had a price and we had to cut back.  We also had to cut back eating out.  When I was pregnant, we'd do takeout a couple of times a week.  We replaced it with the Three Stone Hearth, but it was starting to add up.  When the 6 of us eat in a restaurant, it was totaling close to $100.  Yikes.

At about that time, I came across a 13 week meal planning cookbook Supper's on the Table, Come Home by Rachel Masters.  13 weeks of home cooked meals including shopping lists.  The food was simple and quick including vegetables, entree and a starch.  There was a bit too much condensed soup, velveeta and religion interspersed in the recipes and book for my taste, but I managed to substitute and ignore what I didn't want.  We cooked through the entire 13 weeks along with a friend who did the same week by week.  We'd compare notes and laugh at our mis-steps.  I often missed the parts that said something needed to cook in the crock-pot all day or should be started at 4, not 5:30 to marinade or some silly other little detail.  The beauty of this process was that every week I knew what I needed to purchase to make 5 good meals.  We'd end up with left overs and an impromptu dinner out here or there.  The other great thing was that I started eating with the kids.  Due to extra curricular activities, the kids were staying up a tad later, so they were eating at a more normal adult time.  Hubby would make it home eventually and join us in progress or reheat.  The kids started to have some favorite meals.

I'd never been able to figure out how my mom had made family dinners every night with all of us eating together.  This is probably partially because I don't necessarily remember when I was little, like my kids' ages.  She cooked awesome meals for us with variety and love.  I was on the verge.

Once the 13 weeks were up my friend and I decided to make our own 13 weeks.  We called it our cookbook adventure.  We sifted through years and years of collected recipes torn out of papers and magazines.  We threw out all of the ones that took longer than an hour to prepare and sorted the keepers into meat types, side dishes, vegetables and soups.  We planned 13 weeks of variety with 5 meals a week.  We varied the meats and types of meals, trying to include a crock-pot dish per week.  There was less usage of condensed soup and no velveeta.  We copied and spiral bound the collection.  Since these recipes were untested, it was an adventure for sure.

This led my friend and I to create our own 3-ring binders of recipes that worked for our families.  Armed with a box of sheet protectors, I pulled all of our family favorites into this binder.  It is now separated by meat, rice, pasta, soups, breakfasts, snacks and desserts.  I've been known to let the kids peruse the book and pick a recipe for the coming week.  This gave at least one kid per meal ownership of what we were having.

At the same time, I began budgeting our groceries for the first time ever.  I tracked for years our spending, but never recapped it.  I looked back on all of our spending and picked a weekly average number.  This amount included eating out and everything but cash spending that had been recorded in our tracking.  Each week, on Sunday, we'd pick out 5 nights of meals from the book.  Well, it wasn't just from the book.  I follow several food blogs (smitten kitchenlynns kitchen adventures and dinner a love story) and print out recipes I see that look like they'd fit for us.  I swing those into our weeks and the ones we like move to the binder.  I've even taken to printing on 3-hole punched paper to bypass the sheet protector step.

Things I've learned are that planning one meal as a family is infinitely easier and less expensive than separate kid meals.  It also provides less wasted food.  Shopping farmers' markets gives us the freshest food possible and enables us to carry meals over to the next week if we don't eat 5 meals.  It has simplified our shopping, making it more efficient.  I've also learned that we can do more with less.  I've cut our budget by 20% and am now trying to squeeze it down another 5-10%.  This is without sacrificing quantity or quality. be continued with further conversation about kids eating habits.....

Friday, February 4, 2011

When I grow up

The title of todays post could also have been "hurry up, slow down".  I should remind you that I am not a very patient person.  I hear my kids projecting their future and it makes me think, hope and wish.  As a parent, my greatest wish is for my kids to be happy and secure.  Some days I question how we'll get there.  I wonder what paths they will choose and what will inspire them.  I feel the need to expose them to as many choices and opportunities as possible without making us all poor and crazy.  How and when do you find the inspiration if you don't try things?  When will the the great opportunity happen?  How does this work?  I'm past 40 and am still figuring it out.

#1 wants to work in or own a donut shop among other things.  Prior to that job, he thinks he'll work in one of the local frozen yogurt shops.  He's also wanted to sing the "national anthem" at a Cubs' game and play football.  His most significant wish is to be a University of Michigan Wolverine.  We have no ties to Michigan or its schools.  I'm supportive of all of his wishes and aspirations, except the football one (to be discussed later).  He wants to go to Michigan and play football and wonders how he will do that if I won't let him play football.  Go Blue and hopefully it will keep motivating #1 who hates school to trudge along.  Dad thinks he'd make a good Lawyer.  Don't tell #1 that that means law school and lots more tests.  He's the one questioning why there's school and why if his days are spent at school do they make you take more work home (aka homework)?  Life is unfair, but I hope he can find peace with the process because he's not even 1/2 way done with the school part.  To be honest, I'd envisioned him going to Davis since he has always loved animals.  Even longer than frozen yogurt and donuts.  Maybe because it is closer to home than Michigan, but I'd be fine with either.  He has amazing potential.  What will inspire him?  I can't wait to see.

#2 is hoping to play Major League Baseball.  She'd like to be the first girl, but I think it might be easier if someone else paved the way before her.  She's also expressed interest in being an artist and a teacher.  She is inspirational in every sport she does.  Part of it is because she's playing the boys' versions of the sports.  Boys are usually just wigglier creatures than girls at that age.  She's one of those girls who has very very good focus and memory.  She does not get those traits from her mother.  I've seen glimpses of entrepreneurialism  in her.  She's tried to think of businesses that can have a charitable component to them with a product that appeals to her peers.  I hope she can find balance in the boys world and still fit in with the girls and be happy.  I envisioned she'd go to Cal Poly.  I think it's a good school and it's close to where we like to camp.  Selfish and an unrealistic way to pick my kids' schools, I know.  Remember, this was just conjecture a few years ago.  I think maybe I'll keep her closer so her amazing memory can help me to remember all the stuff I tend to forget.

I see #3 going somewhere like Santa Cruz.  She has such a gift for connecting with people and doing things that suit her outgoing spirit.  I feel like Santa Cruz is a place with lots of personality, but not stuck up.  That describes #3 too.  She's already joined up with a friend and friend of that friend in a jewelry making business.  Crafts always hold her attention, especially when she should be doing homework.

#4 is capable of anything.  In her mind, she already knows how to do everything.  She can fly helicopters, knows directions to everywhere and is willing to use her money to buy anything we need.  She's been to college and can drive a car too.  She's been doing homework for years, even though she is not in kindergarten yet.  Her confidence is amazing.  She, like #3 has a way of story telling and connecting with people.  She's in charge of the house and her life and has been raising herself, her way all along.  I'm just here for opening her back and tickling it and refilling her tea.  She aspires to be a mom and have lots of babies.  I just ask her to wait until she is done with college.  I'd better be careful since in her imagination, she's been there and done that with respect to college.

I look to my future and wonder if there will be something momentous or inspirational to set an example for my kids.  For now, I guess trying to be the best parent I can will have to be it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In case of emergency

We are almost upon the 1 year anniversary that #3 had an appendix bursting situation.  I've meant to post things I've learned, but .....

1.  Trust your instincts.  I called the doctors office at 4 concerned enough about the day of #3 not feeling well.  They said give it a day, unless her symptoms changed.  Really, we know our kids well enough to know when the pain and uncomfortableness is different from "normal".  I say "normal" because unless there is an extreme amount of blood or other bodily issues, I tend to keep one eye on the problem and go about my business.  I let my kids self administer bandaids, icepacks, arnica, epsom salts and vitamins.  When I called the after-hours medical advice line 4 hours later, they urged me to go to the hospital ER immediately.  Prior to receiving morphine (8.5 hours without pain meds or diagnosis) #3 stated that her pain was 11 out of 10.  She never cried.  Who really could have guessed the extreme pain and condition that was happening.

2.  Have an opinion about what hospital is best for kids.  Just as you check out schools before your kids go, you should know what hospital you want your kids to go to and why.  We are equi-distant between 2 hospitals.  One has a pediatric ER and one does not.  One has pediatric surgeons and one does not.  One is near a maximum security prison and one is not.  Guess where we ended up?  11 1/2 hours in the wrong hospital made for a long night and then some.

3.  Take a plug-in cel phone charger and snacks with you when you go.  You never know how long you will be and how important your phone with texting and games can be.  Also, no one is there to help the parent of the patient.  There is no way I'd leave my child in a space, in 11 out of 10 pain, to hunt out a vending machine, next to prison inmates and stabbing victims.  Normally, I wouldn't be eating between 8 PM and 8:30 AM, but something about staying up through the night helping a sick child made me want a soda or something to keep me up.  I guess it is a good thing I didn't have anything with me to eat or drink because then I'd have to go the bathroom.  Non-ped ERs don't care that there isn't anything to keep your in pain, puking and pooping child entertained.  Thank goodness for phone tic-tac-toe and Dora movies, but what a drain on the battery.  Also keeping in contact with the spouse at home with the 3 other kids and any other support throughout the night is a handy thing too.  Running low on energy from no sleep or food and battery power on the phone are very stressful.  Thank goodness for the Ambulance driver with a phone plug that matched.  We barely made it with power, but we made it.  I now travel with a plug charger in my car in case I end up in a similar situation.

4.  Question the doctors.  We started with an ER doctor that I swear we've had before.  When #4 had an ear infection and the ER was our only option for pain relief, I believe this doctor was very dismissive.  He did not trust my instincts or believe my concern was valid.  He was wrong and was the person saying to me, "If it was my child, I would not run the invasive tests".  Really he was saying this because he must see a lot of cases of gas that parents think are appendicitis.  After 8.5 hours in the ER, I wished we ran the tests when we got there and not 3-4 hours after we had gotten there.   He was basing his opinion on how stoic #3 was being.  He doesn't know her though.  The most whining and crying is usually over a sibling issue.  Since we were without siblings, there is no one to show off for.  We also learned the hard way that nurses and doctors don't always communicate when they change shifts.  Asking questions is important when you don't think you are being heard or need to clarify something.

5.  Go to the bathroom before the ambulance ride.  Luckily I had the foresight to ask the ambulance doctor to stay with #3 while I did this task.  Once we got to our destination, it was straight to surgery prep and such.  No time to pee.

6.  Write everything down.  Bring a small notebook and pen.  I did not and wished I had.  After 2-3 days with little to no sleep, it is hard to remember what you are being told or who is saying it.  People change shifts and days blur.  Write it down.

7.  Have a phone tree established for emergencies.  Determine when you are not in crisis who needs to know.  Set up a process to notify them without you needing to call everyone.  Create an e-mail dist-list to have if necessary for updates.

8.  Use social networking sites if you belong.  It is a way to give simple updates to a larger group than text or e-mail.  You never know who has advice, knows someone to help or can help you in ways you haven't thought of.  It is also a nice way to have communication with those other than your sick child, nurses and doctors.

9.  Accept help.  There is no way to keep a family of 6 running when one of the adults is missing.  Plenty of help is offered.  There is no way to predict who will help or how or what, but be open to it.  We were blessed with friends who took multiple kids, prepared meals, came by to visit and so on.  The kids' schools were flexible and so were others we had prior commitments with.

10.  Be patient.  Tests take time, recovery takes time and then it takes more time.  It took time for the family to adjust when we were discombobulated, and then not.  Recovery took time, and then it took time for the residual attention to stop.

11.  Lastly, you are always your child's advocate.  You know your child.  It is not as if people are out to get you or your child, but knowing when to say stop or how far the whining should be accommodated is your job.  Being a parent means making the best decisions for the welfare and goodness of your child every day all the time.  It doesn't change in case of emergency or not.  I repeated myself in situations I felt were worthy many times to everyone who came into our room.  At the end of the day, I doubt I will see any of the nurses or doctors again (hopefully and nothing personal) and if I offended them with redundancy, then oh well.

p.s. We have now learned that appendicitis is not more or less common in children.  It is not hereditary.  It is ambiguous until it is not.  There is nothing you can do to prevent it and you don't need an appendix to live.  Hubby did research and said it is a leftover organ from when we were more related to cows.  Moo.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hair of the Dogg

This post is on my brain.  So much so that instead of starting my new regimen of going to bed early or when I'm tired, I'm writing it.  Also because it relates to tomorrow night.  Once again, I have made a parenting decision and am shocked at the negative feedback by friends to my choices.   Let's be clear, I am not second guessing myself.  I am seeing more how there are so many ways to look at every situation.  Where I see an exciting opportunity, others may not agree.  Even when those others are people I trust a lot.

I'll start by saying that I love music.  I especially love live music.  I went to my first concert in the 7th grade with a friend and her dad.  The Kinks!  What I remember most is how many times Ray Davies changed outfits, not the lyrics.  The only time I obsessed about the lyrics was when it was the Violent Femmes singing "Add it up".  Where I grew up, we had tons of opportunities for live music.  For me, it was a mainstay.  As I grew older, I still made sure to see shows that interested me.  As a parent, I still see live shows.  Things that I notice are that I like more intimate shows now or being close.  Also, prices are soooo expensive.  My recollection is that for $20 I could get a ticket for the show, and a t-shirt.  But, that was almost 30 years ago.  With prices of shows now, and festival styling, how would my kids ever get to see live music to the extent that they want to compared to how I did?

My mom would be happy to know that I don't like most of my kids' music choices.  My oldest listens to a station that sounds like a morning shock show all the time.  They do like some of my music, but prefer the new fangled stuff.  When #1 was 8, before he jumped into the world of pop and hip-hop, I took him to "Not so silent night".  It was a mix of bands that I swore if they ever played together again, I'd be there, regardless of the venue.  It was at an arena and our friend's husband couldn't come.  With an extra ticket, I felt that it would be a great way to let #1 see live music that we both enjoyed.  At the time, his favorite band was the White Stripes and bands like the Killers, Deathcab for Cutie and Franz Ferdinand were of a similar fashion.  What happened that night was interesting to me.  He slept through one band and loved one that I didn't care for (not listed above).  It also sparked the interest in live music.

So, since that night, when he hears on the radio that bands are coming to town, he begs to go.  None of this music sounds good to me.  Also since that night, #2 has been indoctrinated into live music.  She got to see Jack Johnson at the Greek in Berkeley.  A lovely venue and singer all in one.  She would have never chosen it, but really had a nice time.  I have also been heard saying that I will always see live music, even if it is a band I don't care for.  This is not new.  I took my then boyfriend, now husband, to Dire Straits.  Yuck.  But it was live and I still had fun.

Fast forward to now.  Snoop Dogg is coming to the Fillmore.  I have never seen a bad show at the Fillmore.  It is a beautiful venue.  I want my kids to appreciate where as much as who they are experiencing with music.  The Fillmore is a great place for this.  Snoop seems like a compromise.  He's a bit old school and less ridiculous or transparent as current newbies.  He has kids, is laid back and has some good beats.  I think he's even been on Nickelodeon shows that my kids watch.  It is an all ages show, so I got 3 tickets.  #1, #2 and me.  A friend would have joined us, but the show sold out.  Tickets weren't cheap, but since it's a location I love and show I'd like to see, it should be worth it.

I have restricted music #1 wants to download based on lyrics.  I don't care for Flo rida's lyrics and his redo of "Right Round".  To be honest I haven't paid too much attention to the rest of lyrics since then.  Until #1 had a homework assignment of an essay on a song of choice.  He printed it out, blacked out the inappropriate stuff and went on his way.  The next day I looked at the lyrics sitting on my computer screen (the boy never closes out his documents).  Um, so not okay on the lyrics.  The whole song would really have to be blacked out due to sexual content and innuendo.  I guess I should be happy that all of the innuendo went over his head and he had no clue.  When he got back from school I explained that the song couldn't be used due to sexual content.  His reaction was "eeew".  I'll take it for now, but see this as an opportunity to talk about these types of topics in the not so distant future.

When friends and such have heard I was taking the kids to see Snoop Dogg, most reactions were about the potential for the kids seeing "smoking".  I think I'll be okay on that since their reaction to people who smoke is "don't they know they're going to die from that?" and "who was the Beatle who died from smoking?"  My main objective was to have them keep their judgement to themselves to discuss after the show without pointing fingers.  Then a good friend was so appalled with the idea.  Not for the smoking, but for the content.  It really caught me by surprise.  Was I doing my kids a disservice exposing them to this?  Weren't they already exposed to this?  "Yes," he said, "but, not in person".

I still stand by my decision, but it has prompted me to obsess about the logistics.  I know the kids can't stand for multiple hours at a time.  My plan was to get there early and perch on a wall near the bar that I usually like to hang near.  I'll remember the ear plugs.  Hmm, with only one adult, how will the logistics of the restrooms work out?  Seeing the show is one thing, but do I feel comfortable sending my boy to the restroom by himself?  How do I wait for him without leaving #2 or lose our spots?  Well, no bathroom breaks until after the show is my plan.  Not really sure how it will work out.  There is also a section upstairs with balcony seating.  I have never been early enough for these seats.  I guess we'll have to get there when the doors open and work it out.  It's an adventure.  One I hope we all enjoy.

The more I write, the more opportunity I see for open dialogue.  My rule has always been that I will expose the kids to things we enjoy.  If they abuse it, they will have restrictions.  This has been in place for swearing, content and the like.  With a 4 1/2 year old still amongst us, we all have to watch what we say/do.  So far, they have handled the responsibility pretty well.  Last year, I played hooky with #1.  A day he planned for us.  I asked him if he and his friends talked about girls.  He said, "no way, we talk about swear words".  I realized then that there is still room for interpretation and opportunity for discussion.  I also realized that it may be the perfect time to discuss it since we all know it's in the future. I can't shield my kids from everything imaginable, but I can control the content we discuss.  I see tomorrow as one of those opportunities.

p.s. Is $50 + t-shirt $ the new $20?  That's crazy talk!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 recap

All these recaps of last year pushed me to give you an update of some of my blog posts from last year.....  Also, I've been wanting to revisit some of them with new statuses but am not savvy enough in blogging to post changes.

Bunks:  We are all back to our own space.  #1 in his own room and all 3 girls together.  We disassembled #1's bunk bed into 2 single beds.  We thought the illusion of the 2nd bed could double for the sofa request.  No such luck.  We're still looking for a solution for his room without being too    and maintaining a creative flair.  Each of the girls has gotten to personalize their bed with new linens, compliments of Grandma and Grandpa for Hanukkah.  We're trying to accessorize to bring their choices together.

Sugar:  We still have 1 gallon bags of "new" candy from Halloween in the freezer per child.  #1 was motivated with M&Ms by his tutor and raw chocolate by his therapist.  It's crazy how it makes his world go round and him so much more amenable.  We have stopped allowing yogurt past after school snacks.  With 20+ grams of sugar per serving, it was doing us a disservice.  Now, fruit only after dinner.  We still do donuts on Sundays before Sunday school.  The go all sugared up, but then it's God's problem, right?  The tough part is that Mom (I) am temporarily/possibly permanently gluten free.  No donuts for me.

Schedules:  We had #2 choose 2 of 3 seasonal sports to compliment the year-round taekwondo.  Since she and her brother are within striking distance of their black belts, we wanted to focus only on it for a season.  I am still torn with requests and interests of/by my children, friends and parents.  Just today we were swayed into signing up for winter indoor soccer.  My basic thought on this league is that it is expensive ($165-$190) for the short game only season.  It's in small cramped gyms where it is hard to be a spectator.  #3's dear friend and amazing coach pretty much begged and stalked us today to get us to sign up.  Because we love her and him, we waffled and as soon as we can figure out how to get the late fee waived, will be signing up.  Oh, the games are Sunday.  Ugh, now we are paying for Sunday school and not going.  Pfew, only 2 games have conflicts.  Topic for the future is summer camp and camps in general....

Freedom:  Not only did we let #1 go to practice twice a week with friends, but we are now having all 3 big kids come home by themselves 3+ times a week.  The caveat is that #3 is always accompanied.  #1 and #2 alternate who "has" to go with #3.  We make sure in the morning that the wheels match up, meaning that if someone is on a bike, something similar in speed is with the partner.  This plan has received concern based on situations in areas not our own.  There have been abduction attempts near my folks, but I cannot let those deter my plan to give my kids some freedom.  It is freedom that is not unplanned or unworried.  There is no playing after school or on the way.  I am home waiting 95% of the time.  They do not have phones and can call from school before they head home if there is a problem.  We have not had any problems.  Future post is still going to be cell phones with kids.

Buckle up:  #4 is now our only child in a booster seat.  Funnily enough, when she is not in the car, #3 likes to sit in her booster.  I guess it is always better when it is someone else's.  #1 is now allowed to sit in the front seat for non-freeway trips.  We've decided that the speed for these in town trips is low and the seatbelt isn't choking him.

Choices:  Our same friends have had us over.  Some others have asked us for help.  Some Tuesdays I take 8 kids to school.  Some other days, my neighbors take portions of my kids to school.  We recently suspended our annual holiday party, but were able to pull-off a new year's chile-fest.  Again, choices.  #1 wants to go to sleep away, mucho expensive camp this summer.  We are in birthday party/present, etc... choices..

Health:  A few runny noses, but no major illnesses.  #1 is now taking vitamin D and all vitamins are self-serve on the table.  #4 has to be monitored so she doesn't take too many, they're like candy to her.  So, cod liver oil, sambucol (elderberry), vitamin D, a probiotic and enzyme are on the vitamin train.  No flu shots and other than a suspected but negative case of whooping cough, we are healthy!  We tried switching out gluten bread for non with a revolt.  Now cinnamon bread is only for the weekends.....

Volunteering:  Still a believer, still helping out in the class.  On a bond oversight committee and working on neighborhood projects and saying no to everything else of the volunteer type.

Praise:  I have been better, but not perfect.  It's not easy to not react.  It's not easy to connect without conflict.  I keep trying to improve and communicate.  It's all a mother can do, along with paying for therapy....

Gamey:  No, Hanukkah did not warrant us an iPod touch for #3 or an x-box blah blah blah for #1.  Boy have they been haranguing.  I still don't see the benefit since we don't have time for the things we do have.

Charity:  Same as before.  Only cranky part was the in-class giving.  Hanukkah was way early this year.  We were done and gone with our in house part.  2 weeks later was the school portion.  How crazy and time consuming.  It all adds up.  We ended up giving within the school to needy people we have never met, but couldn't give to people who have helped us throughout the year.  We'll find a way for balance, somehow.

Piercing:  I've heard we've inspired some friends to "let" their daughter get their ear pierced.  Other friends have seen our place of choice and rejoiced.  So far so good all of our recent piercings are healthy.    We have slacked off on our cleaning regime.  It's been a month, I feel like we're out of the danger zone.  One more month to go and then we'll be hearing clamoring about more earrings.  The girls are vying for some of my earrings.   Uh-oh.

Planning:  Oops, I forgot to look at the assignment packet that was given to #3 the week before break.  Yikes, 3 big things due along with normal stuff, the first week back.  Not a good mix with cranky kids who don't want to go back to school.  We will find a way.