Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Well, it seems my mom-blog is a hit in Slovenia...27 hits. Hmmm???

First Day of School Brings Mixed Emotions

It was cooler this morning.  Sorta like the weather knew it was time to start school and put away all the fun and frivolity of summer.  As we dragged our second grader out of bed, fought for space in the bathroom and grabbed the kids in time for in-front-of-the-maple-tree, annual first day of school pictures, I couldn't decide if I was happy or sad to see it all end. 

I was certainly ready for structure and a chance to work in my home office without the blaring of Sponge Bob and various neighbor kids poking in their heads to ask for treats.  The house would look the same when I got back from work, as I left it in the morning (OK, I know that might not be a good thing, but come on!  What teenager decides to clean and straighten up the house while on summer vacation?).  I wouldn't be scrambling to make sure that bathing suits and towels weren't congealing into some mildew-infested mass in the nether regions of tote bags and closets.  I was ready for some normalcy in our lives.  Well, as much as we ever have it in our home!

However, this year the transition back into the school year felt different.

I've had enough children, and first days of school, to know that each new school year marks a passage of time, and bittersweet moments you can never get back. 

This year my third child is starting her senior year in High School, and this is her last "first day of school". Her older sister was starting her first day at the University, and my oldest son was on his way to work.  Only the youngest still needed a walk to the bus stop and kiss on the cheek.

How in the world did this happen?  It feels like it was just  a couple of years ago that I put my oldest on the bus for his first day in Kindergarten.

So today, I am reflecting on all the times I wish I had spent more time enjoying and noticing the little moments of each of their childhoods.  I really do wish I had cleaned less and played more.  I am sad because it has all gone very fast.

I feel fortunate to have ten more first days of school with my youngest child, and am enjoying the excitement of my daughter's senior-year experiences.  But, believe it or not, I wish I could have all of the other ones back again to do over.

So as the big orange bus drove away, I'm not too embarrassed to admit: Those were tears in my eyes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Returning from the Land of Oz: Do people really live like this?

I recently went to a family reunion held in a relative's lovely neighborhood.  As we pulled up to their beautiful (insert: clean, orderly and meticulously decorated) home, I marveled at the row upon row of manicured lawns, weed-free gardens and picture-perfect children we had passed.

Where was I?  Was this heaven?  Was this Iowa?  No, I was merely in a suburb a scant twenty minutes from our own home.  So why did I feel like I was on a different planet?

"How do they do it?" I asked my husband.

"Huh?  Who does what?" he replied distracted, attempting to park between the numerous cars of our various family members.

"All of these houses.  All of these people.  How do they, I don't know, keep it all so...Better Homes and Gardens-esque.  So perfect!"  I was amazed.  I was taking in sight of the stone-front-wood-shingled-bricked-driveways all in a pristine row.

"Maybe they have a lawn service."

"Maybe," I said uncertainly.  If I lawn service could do all this, I wanted one.

 "They probably don't have a dog,"  I suggested uncertainly.

We have three dogs.  Two labs and a bigger-than-life Maltese. They dig in our yard, pee on the floor and shed all over creation.  Yeah, they're loud, messy and lovable, and my husband and I are our own lawn service.  Even if we hired those guys in the green trucks and farmed out our menagerie,  I'm convinced we could never reach this level of orderliness.

"I'll bet there aren't many big families here.  The kids are probably all grown up,"   I continued.

My husband looked confused.  "Who are you talking about?"

He stopped the car and we got out of our family SUV.  As I open the door, I bump over the baked beans I have brought to share.  Only lost a scant blob on the passenger side floor mat.  Have to remember to clean that up later. 

"Never mind."  It seemed my husband didn't notice that we had just entered the Twilight Zone.

My car door slammed.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by birds flying about, wafting scent of flowers and a community of orderly houses, filled with apparent peace and bliss. I followed my two of my four kids and the love of my life up the driveway, lugging a crock pot and an overflowing bag of clothing, sunscreen and towels.  Shaking my head I disputed his assertion that the lawn service could do so much.  I was walking up the Yellow Brick road and entering the Land of Oz.

We rang the bell.  The door opened.  It wasn't the Wizard, but a distant cousin.  As we piled into the house, I climbed over a pile of shoes.  Down the hall I could see the bowls of jello salads and mounds of desserts, napkins and casseroles.  The noise of children running drifted up the stairs.  There was a smudge on the wall.  I think it was chocolate.  Their cat ran up the stairs, a nephew in hot pursuit.

Hey wait a second.  

This isn't perfect.  This isn't meticulous.  It's not even pristine.  It wasn't far different from my world.

The house was still beautiful and still decorated, but it was truly a home.  Looking at the relative uproar, I realized that we all have things that are a bit different behind the closed door or our public facades.  We often don't get to look behind the scenes.  But even without that glimpse, its important to remember that the man (or woman) behind the curtain, may not be the Wizard of Oz, but may be a member of normal, crazy, sometimes messy family like the rest of us.

Gosh it felt good to know I'm not alone!  

Take that Rod Sterling.  And Dorothy, no need to click those ruby slippers, cuz you may be already home.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm Bored Mom! Ideas to save your day

I don’t know about you, but am really feeling exhausted after coming up with an entire summer of activities for the kids. With only a few days left until school, I needed some quick options to get me through the week, and few remaining nice weekends.

So here are a few ideas to share with you. They don’t cost much, if anything, and beats hearing “I’m bored.” Enjoy!
  1. Call a friend and meet at a park. Babies in strollers and teens with attitudes are fine.  Try and leave the ear buds at home and talk during the walk over.
  2. Bake cookies, or take the fast and easy way out and add frosting and sprinkles to purchased ones. Take some to the neighbor lady who lives alone down the street.
  3. You can also have the kids decide what’s for dinner and let them help cook.
  4. Go rollerblading or strollerblading. You can go around the Twin Cities lakes, or try out the Metrodome or a local roller-rink (remember those?  They're still open!)  for an indoor option.
  5. Go to the State Fair and check out the animal barn.
  6. Go to an indoor playground. Invite the other parent, have coffee and TALK! The Eagles Nest in New Brighton, Maple Grove Community Center and Edinborough Park in Edina are all great Twin Cities Metro options.
  7. Explore your local wildlife park. In the northern Minneapolis suburbs Springbrook Nature Center and Silverwood are great options.
  8. Try bumper bowling. There are coupons online and in the Happenings/Entertainment books that make this a cheap fun option for ages five and up. I love the bumpers, because then even I can look like a pro!
  9. Go to the zoo. The Como and Minnesota zoo have indoor and outdoor choices. 
  10. Organize a Kid-Swap with friends. They take your kids for a morning and you take theirs for an afternoon. 
  11. Visit a farm and see all the farm animals, you maybe be able to feed and pat some of the tamer ones. Emma Krumbees in Belle Plain has a nice one that is perfect for smaller kids.
  12. Go to a local museum. The Minnesota History Center or Gibbs Museum is a great to show the kids how things use to be. The Minneapolis Art Institute is free and is next to the Children’s Theatre. Rush tickets are half price and if the kids aren’t too tired after the museum, it’s a perfect add-on. Get in line a half an hour before the show!
  13. Grab your bike helmets and go for a bike ride.
  14. You can also give them the video camera, and have your own Oscar-winning production. 
  15. Stop down at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market. They are open until Christmas and even have healthy snacks and coffee for the adults.
  16. Have a movie afternoon. Rent a couple of good kid’s shows on NetFlix, make some popcorn and snuggle up with blankets and enjoy.
  17. Try family camping at Baker Park. They also have fun family classes and year round campfires.  You can even try a tent and campfire in your own back yard!
  18. Weed the garden and check out the progress of the tomato plants!
  19. Try Horseback riding or a wagon ride. For an easy short option, try the Forepaugh’s area in St. Paul or down by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
  20. Take a day trip to a historic town. Red Wing, Afton and Stillwater are fun year round!
  21. Have an indoor/outdoor picnic lunch. Let the kids help pack their own, break out the picnic basket and spread out a blanket. 
  22. Play a game of Hearts or Uno.
  23. Smile! Get out the digital camera, let the kids take some pictures, download them and create a slide show, or go online and make a book or poster.  
So give these ideas a try, and know you can make it until school starts!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Five is the New Forty

I have a theory that answers all of life's relationship questions.  Not discovered by Freud, Jung or even Dr. Phil, all our interpersonal issues boil down to a simple fact; No matter our job, our social status, our fame  or our chronological age, we're really all just five years old.  

No really!  It's true.

Okay, give me a second to prove my point.

That angry check out clerk?  A vinyl nap mat and a snack would do wonders.  Very Kindergarten. Very five.  

Great-Aunt Minnie arguing at the family reunion with her 87 year old brother, Milt over an ear of corn?  She needs a five minute time-out and a reassuring hug.  She's still five.  

The President of the United States and Congressional Leaders arguing about the National Debt Ceiling?  Definitely a group of  I'm-taking-my ball-and going-home five year olds. Gentle limits and defined consequences could have made all the difference, and may have prevented the US credit rating from taking a dip in the world's financial potty chair.  They were all just five, and we forgot.

Think about it in your own life.  When things aren't going quite your way, inside don't we really just want to stomp up and down and cry giant crocodile tears?  Sometimes, I'm tired of pretending that I don't want to have an all out hissy fit about having to be the grown-up, when I just really want a hug and a graham cracker.

Actually, Robert Fulghum had it right in his poem  All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten.  Sharing and playing fair are still some of the most important rules to live by.  What parent wouldn't love their teenager to put things back where they found them, and clean up their own mess?  (My teen is obviously one of the late birthday kids that should've been held back a year.  She hasn't yet reached the All I Really Need To Know Kindergarten clean-up level yet).  

However, as chronologically-aged adults we still struggle with the lessons we learned at five.  I have a hard time saying sorry when I hurt somebody I love. I don't always take the time to play, or sing or dance.  But inside, I still really would love to do just that, and top it all off by skipping down the street.  I miss finger paints and might still enjoy a side-order of paste with my Play-Dough sandwich.  

I think we'd all be so much happier if we let our inner-child free to have a warm cookie and a tall glass of milk, and forgot the double mocha with a low-carb something.

More importantly, remembering that everyone else is five, can help us forgive the little pouts of our spouse, the temper tantrum of the boss and give us the ability to smile at the angry waiter as he slams down a bowl of pasta in an attempt to provide customer service.

We all want to be liked for who we are, and sometimes would feel less alone if when we go out into the world, there was still someone there to hold our hand, and keep us safe.

So, I'll be there for my five year old family and friends, and take care to be kind to the rest of the Kindergarten class I interact with out in the big, bad world every day.

Are you convinced?  If not, have a nap and a couple of raisins on me.  Things will look better in a little bit.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

So What Do You Say to MIA?

I've gone missing.  Really and truly what-ever-happened-to, you'd-better-return-my-call. bad-PTA-parent MISSING.  Last December I was beginning to embark on a new position in my paying job.  The job involved some travel, some additional education and a bit more time.  I was really was excited to start, and have loved the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment I've gained from the endeavor.

What I didn't realize was that the job would cause me to disappear from my social life, my blogs and even the fun and interesting woman who cuts my hair every six weeks.  I am over scheduled.  My hair is a hot mess.  I am missing in action.  And I am not apologizing for it.

After a job, a house, a husband, four kids, three dogs, a cat, two fish and a frog, I am accepting that I am done, and its OK.  While in my twenties, I tried to be superwoman and made myself (and everyone around me) stressed out and miserable.  All I had to do was to look to Martha Stewart to realize that my options were divorce, jail or a fabulous line of personal crafting supplies.  She chose all three.  I chose to keep trying to have the parties, the exercise classes, the parent meeting and the fully balanced dinners.  Then one day, I grew up.

I realized, I didn't have to do it all.  I wasn't Martha, and in that light-bulb moment, I was relieved.  I suddenly understood that there would be moments where I couldn't take on one more thing.  Moments that I had to just say no, or perhaps not even pick up the phone or sign on to Facebook and say just that.  At those times I began to disappear.

I disappeared from the have-to social obligations.  Oh yeah, I missed a lot of great things too, but I realized that, unlike the song,  sometimes it was too hard to have too much fun.  I didn't sort through the 300+ emails that mysteriously would fill my box in a day and a half.  I gave myself permission to let the dishes sit in the sink, to use baby powder to fluff up my less than pristine hair and to acknowledge that I wasn't a bad parent if I let someone else volunteer for whatever school event was upcoming.  In disappearing, I had the energy to take care of myself, be with my family, focus on my job and be happy being less than perfect.

Disappearing was a good thing.  Being missing in action didn't diminish my tour of duty when it came to being a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend.  It allowed me to have some perspective and realize that I wasn't all that vital in the scope of the world.  Things proceeded just fine without me.  My real friends understood that I just needed time to reflect and take care of me, my family and my new position.  The Facebook friends survived as others moved forward to fill their status with exciting events and insights.  I learned how large an email box can get without emptying it for 3 months.  A social experiment in living in the new world of instant social media gratification without interacting was invigorating.

So I am back now, somewhat.  I will probably never return to my previous level of connection, but am content with my decision to drop out for a bit and drop back into my life and the lives of those I love so closely and deeply.  I am here, not MIA, but I now will only do that which I can and wish to do.

Martha, take note.  I'm glad I did.