Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rescuing Family Dinner - Mealtime Conversation Basket

The beautiful tradition of a family "sit down" dinner seems to be getting lost in our society today. This makes me very sad. I know at our house we are too often on the run, grabbing take out  in the car. Or only half of the family is there. Or we're cramming dinner down fast on our way to the next event. This  habit spills over into nights when we don't even have much going on, and people drift from the table to watch a TV program or do homework. Studies show that when families sit down to dinner together regularly, kids get better grades and have lower risk of eating disorders and getting involved with addictive substances. There is also a lower risk of depression in teens who eat dinner with their families on a consistent basis.

So I've decided that enough is enough.We're going to rescue the family dinner at our home and as I come up with ideas on how to do this I'll post them in a series here beginning with this one.

In order to encourage conversation around the dinner table I put together a basket full of slips of paper containing the "question of the night." Each evening as we sit down to the table to eat, a child will get to draw a question from the basket that each family member will answer. Some examples of possible questions are:

"What is one rose and one thorn from your day?" (one good thing that happened and one bad)

"If you could be an animal which would you be and why?"

"What color describes your mood today?"

"What is your favorite movie?" (or book, or family vacation etc.)

"Who is a famous person from history that you admire and why?"

"Name something you are thankful for"

You can tailor the questions to the ages of your children and let the kids participate in coming up with questions for the basket.  It really is a lot of fun and engages the children in what's happening at the table, so they don't rush so quickly through their food while thinking about what comes next. Plus it's a great way to learn a little more about each other too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Revised Car Seat Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with new car seat safety recommendations. Things have changed a LOT since my older children were little. And remember back when we were kids and even seat belts were considered optional? Wow! We've come a long way since then. Click on the link above for information on how to keep your young ones safer while traveling in the car.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cleaning Out The Mom Mobile

Today while driving my son said, "Mom can you open up the car window? It smells bad in here!" Yikes!  Time to clean out the mom wagon. If you are anything like me, your car becomes your home away from home. We spend a lot of time driving here and there and each trip new things get dropped and left on the seats and floor. We eat in there on the fly from one errand to the next. Kids even change clothes sometimes between activities. I try to keep up with unloading it regularly. One trick I have is that every time I fill up the car with gas I spend the filling time emptying out trash into the station garbage cans. This helps. But even still on particularly busy weeks when we are on the move a lot it can sometimes get a bit out of control. Is it just me?  So here is the honest ugly truth of what I found out there when I went to clear out:

- Several half eaten and petrified happy meals on the far back seat (probably the source of the smell?)

-Various preschool and elementary school art projects and papers

- A grocery sack full of random trash...gum wrappers, scraps of paper with addresses written on them etc.

- A bowl that had once contained the dry cereal that was now scattered on the floor.

- A bag full of clothes from our last trip to the mall.

- Gross napkins covered in the remains of a spilled milkshake from last week.

- Broken CD cases with no CD's in them.

- SAT study books

- Bottle of nail polish remover.

- A few mismatched shoes

- A magazine

- Empty fruit cup with spoon

- Mary Kay paperwork and an order I need to deliver tomorrow

- My daughter's scriptures

- 2 jackets (keep in mind it was 90 degrees yesterday...they've been there awhile)

- 2 ice scrapers (see above)

- Pink rabbit's foot

- Sunglasses

- Mad libs

- 3 empty water bottles under the seat

- Easter grass

- One googly eye

- A box of tile

- Xylophone

- One glove

- A red hand towel

- Emergency room records

- Party invitation

- Small silver bucket

- A check for $65 that I forgot I had...yeah!! Bonus bucks!

Wow! Yuck! Feels so good to have it all emptied out. Next stop - the service station to have the car washed and use the big vacuums to get the crumbs!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Paper Sack Easter Bunny Crafts

Some fun Easter Bunny crafts made with paper sacks, markers and construction paper. Really easy and even a couple of my older kids had fun making these...they got just a tad competitive with each other actually :-)

Hand Puppets From White Lunch Sacks

Made with white gift bags...great for collecting eggs at your egg hunt on Easter morning.

This was made by my 4 year old at preschool. They filled an upside down bag with paper and added feet so it makes a great table centerpiece or decoration.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

packing up the maternity clothes

Pregnant with my 1st child in 1990
Not long ago I pulled a box of maternity clothes out of the basement. It was the very last of the "baby" stuff remaining so it was a little bitter sweet sending it off to charity.  I am almost 43 and have children old enough now that they might be starting families of their own in the next few years. I feel very much at peace that my family is complete. And after 9 babies I think I got the full pregnancy "experience." But even still as I let the last box go there were pangs in my heart. Having babies was a huge part of my identity the past twenty years. I always had a baby in my arms or one on the way. It wasn't always easy, but the sweetness of a newborn smile made the hardships fade away. The wonder of new life kicking inside me was awe inspiring. It seems very odd that I will never experience that again.

We talk and read a lot about the stages of a child's development. Growing from babyhood in toddlers into school kids into teens. But do we realize that we go through growth stages as Mommys too? I think back at myself in this picture. I was completely clueless as to what to do with a baby. When they first placed my new son in my arms I was thrilled, but truthfully scared to death. Giving him a bath was a major event. Every "first" he accomplished was a wondrous achievement.  I worried over his every move, so anxious to figure out how to be a good mother. So afraid I would do something wrong and damage him somehow. He paved the way for his brothers and sisters as my guinea pig, and I did eventually chill out about so many things. He tells me all the time how unfair it is that I now allow froot loops in the house for instance. I'm sure he is right. I am a far different sort of mother to my three year old today than I was to him. I hover less. Worry less. But love just as much. People often think that the relaxed nature of mothers with large families is that they get burned out and stop caring so much. Not true. You just learn and grow along the way. There is a learning curve to parenting for sure and as you gain confidence that you can actually keep these little creatures alive it frees you to stress about fewer things. Enjoy and appreciate the daily miracles from a slightly different perspective.

One stage of motherhood has come to a close for me. My youngest is a toddler now and so the days of parenting babies are through. I will miss that very much. But sleeping through the night has its advantages too. And my mother assures me that Grandchildren are the great reward of parenting. All the fun with far less work. ;-) So I look forward to that in a few years. I am still in the throws of parenting the middle aged children, but am heading toward a new stage of parenting adults as well. No matter how old your children get you are always a mother. But this will be new figuring out how that works from more of a distance as they strike out on their own in the world. I think part of the challenge now is rediscovering myself a little bit. Now that the days of pregnancy are over I have more freedom to learn and try new things. I can take the lessons learned and share them with my children from a different vantage point. My heart will always tenderly miss watching my babies sleep in my arms. But the excitement of sharing my pictures from Italy with my kids was pretty amazing too. And climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with my 18 year old son this summer will be the opportunity of a lifetime. I wouldn't trade it for the world even though I might occasionally long to have him be two years old again...sitting in my lap curling my hair around his fingers while I read him a story. I will remember that moment when standing at the summit with my boy who is now taller than me.

Feeling a little wistful today. They are growing up...but I am growing too. Time to embrace the next stages with as much excitement as I did the ones that I'm leaving behind. I can travel now. Start a business now. Go to the grocery store all by myself now. It's wonderful really. But it would be great if someone I knew would have a baby girl again soon so I have an excuse to go baby clothes shopping. I'd appreciate it. :-)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kids airplane tips

I am coming home tomorrow which means about a ten hour flight on the airplane. UGH. It's been such a great trip, but I'm excited to see my kiddos again too. I have some Italian candy and money to show them. They will like that. This trip I'll be on my own so I can quietly sit and read or watch a movie, but usually when I travel it is with a passel of kids in tow. In the early days of motherhood I used to pack everything but the kitchen sink in my diaper bag. And then spend the trip frantically doling out this and that to whoever seemed about to throw a fit. Anyone been there? It can be very stressful traveling with children. On the plane I worried that they were too wiggly or kicking the seat in front of them. I was so concerned that we would be disturbing other passengers that I spent the whole flight in a state of frantic fight or flight mode. I was an exhausted wreck by the end time we reached our destination. And my back hurt from lugging around everybody's stuff. And from feeling like a crazed person trying to keep everyone happy with snacks and games and paper etc. I finally learned a few things along the way that have made trips much easier for me:

-Relax!!! People really aren't paying as much attention as you think they are. The sounds of the plane really do muffle most of the noise on your row, so unless your child is completely screaming they can probably truly barely be heard by the people around you. They are so absorbed in their own conversations or have on movie headphones, that they aren't as bothered as you might imagine. Even those who do hear you most likely have kids of their own and are sympathetic. As for those few rare moments when your toddler is pitching a huge tantrum and others are staring...just remember this too shall pass. And you'll likely never see these people again. Just do the best that you can. What more can you do? Stressing isn't going to help and will probably only serve to further agitate your child.

-You are not a cart horse. Whenever we travel now we pack individual backpacks for each child and they carry their own gear. Even the littlest ones can carry a backpack. They kind of think it's fun actually. That way you can customize each pack to the needs of the child and they have easy access to the snacks and activities that they want without coming to you a million times for resupply. It takes a little doing to fill the packs before leaving, but saves so much stress on the plane that it is well worth the effort. These individual backpacks come in handy during the waiting time at the airport terminal as well.

-Your attitude makes all the difference. If you stay upbeat the kids will be excited about the trip, but if you are whining about the troubles of traveling guess what? So will they. In most cases you are going somewhere you want to go and making the trip on purpose right? I know the details can be tough sometimes, but think how truly amazing it is to be able to cross the country in a matter of hours to see family or visit and exciting destination. Don't let the hardships get you down. Focus on the positive and your kids will too. Most of the things we stress endlessly about really aren't that bad if we don't grow them out of proportion in our own minds.

- Bribery works...I know I know healthy food is best. But if some junk food keeps them happy on the plane I say go with it. Let them watch the movie and play that hand held video game. Everyone will be much happier if you do. :-)

- Choose your seat assignments wisely. Think through which children are most compatible with one another and put older ones near younger ones. They can help out some so you are not run ragged. Offer an older child an incentive of some sort to be a "travel buddy" to a younger sibling.  It's a win win situation that way and helps out a lot.

Traveling is supposed to be enjoyable. So play some games like "eye spy" and try to keep on smiling. And plan ahead to arrive early so you aren't running and racing every step along the way. Have fun!!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Texting Your Teens

On this trip it has been fun texting photos and messages to my teenagers with cell phones. It's a fun way to connect with them while far away. Truthfully though that has become one of the best ways to reach them even when I am in in town...or in the same house even.  My son once even texted me when we were sitting in the same room watching a movie together. Good grief. The reality is that teenagers can selectively ignore you calling their names. They rarely will pick up if the telephone rings. But a text I can almost always get a fairly immediate reply to. It's the way they talk to their friends and seems to be the preferred means of communication for young people. So it's important for parents to learn the lingo. So they can converse in "teen cell speak"...the abbreviated version of actual speech that teens use every day. Here are some basics to get you started:

LOL - laughing out loud
POS - Parent over shoulder
BRB - Be right back
BF - boyfriend
BFF - Best friends forever
BTW - By the way
CUZ - Because
ROFL - Rolling on the floor laughing
GTG - Got to go
I C - I see
K - Okay
IDK - I don't know
JK - Just kidding
MSG - message
OMG - Oh my gosh
QT - cutie
PLS - please
TMI - too much information
TTYL - Talk to you later
U - You
UR - you are
ZZZ - tired or bored