The Art of Having Fun

It has finally happened. I have crossed a line as a parent from which there is no return. This spring I officially became a soccer mom.

As this is primary season, I half expected the candidates in my area to greet me at the YMCA after my daughter’s registration for the spring soccer league begging for my vote. Thankfully, I haven’t heard from any of them yet wanting to know my thoughts on local politics. I’m even more thankful that my daughter is having a blast learning and playing soccer. And she is doing both against all odds. Her new found love of soccer is no small feat. Her ragtag team of feisty 6-year-olds has a 0-5 record and has yet to score a goal as a team (details, details).

But if you could see her on the field, you would never know she was an underdog. She truly loves playing and gives each game her best effort. My husband and I have repeatedly stressed to her that we just want her to have fun and learn. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there’s a time and place for competition. But I don’t believe the Y soccer league at age 6 is one of those places.

Unfortunately, not all parents share this view. I have been disheartened as I have watched other parents place undue pressures and expectations on their children. For some reason these parents think that berating their children in public for their lack of soccer skills will encourage them to be better players. It is so hard to sit by and watch another parent discourage and break the spirit of their child. It has made me even more resolved to make sure my daughter has a healthy understanding of competition. It is okay to want to win, to push yourself to be the best you can be. But achieving those goals should not come at the cost of your child’s self-esteem and view of their self-worth.

As parents it is our job to give our children all the tools they need to be successful. Success in soccer for my daughter is that she is learning the skills of a new game, making new friends and having fun. And fortunately, she hasn’t figured out that her team is not very good! As she was getting ready for her game this past weekend, she looked at me and said excitedly, “Maybe we’ll score a goal this week!” I could not have been more proud of my little soccer star. Go get ‘em!

Don’t Wait to Save for College

Today’s college costs are skyrocketing. I did not think about this major detail when my children were little. But now my what-seems-like-yesterday newborn Jared is 18-years-old and graduating from high school. We’re facing college expenses of $20,000 for his first year. I thought we had years to prepare and save money for the next chapter in Jared’s life, but those years have flown by! Though we had some money set aside for him, panic set in as I realized we were not prepared for this huge expense.

Before you know it, your children are applying for college. Don't wait to save!

Thankfully, his grandmother thought well in advance and our son has one year of college paid for. In hindsight, it would have been helpful had we started saving sooner, enabling the money to grow. But my husband and I were in the thick of raising our children, not thinking about what would happen when they were ready to leave home. We were struggling financially as most families do, trying to pay for child care and just make ends meet.

This was an “aha” moment for us. We were unequipped and unprepared with our oldest son. But we still have time to save for our younger son, Jansen, and come up with creative solutions. First, I researched the available options for college savings funds. We then developed a plan to “beef” up his college fund. For each pay check going forward, I am putting a small sum of money into a college fund for him. In addition, for future tax years, the entire tax refund will go into Jansen’s college fund instead of spending it on material things. By setting aside money, no matter how small the amount, over time these contributions will add up. Finally, I have asked grandparents and relatives to contribute a small amount of money towards college in lieu of birthday and holiday gifts.

The mistake we made was not saving early enough. But I’ve learned that having a college savings plan, no matter how small, is better than nothing at all and will ensure investment towards my children’s future.

Blink — and it’s Prom!

Today the name of this blog, Blink – and They’re Grown, really hit home. My nephew, Nate, is going to the prom and it truly feels like just yesterday he was learning to walk!

Nate is my sister’s oldest child. She called yesterday in tears as she was coming to grips with the fact that he is no longer her little boy. She told me, “It is so hard, in so many ways he is just as cute now as he was then but I know it’s all changing.” Later this month he will graduate from high school and by late summer will be college bound, here in Cincinnati. My sister jokingly reassured herself by reminding me that she expected me to take over once he’s here. My response was to remind her that I could never take her place – nor do I want to!

Nate has overcome some hurdles in his 18 years, and throughout his journey my sister has been there. She’s offered encouragement and reassurance when he took on new challenges. She’s confronted him when he made poor choices and doled out the consequences as needed. My sister has dedicated most of herself and her time to being a mother. For her, Nate’s successes, as well as his failures, are a reflection of her mothering.

And I think this is a common belief for many mothers – that they are responsible for the actions of their children. I get this to a point and yet disagree. I believe providing nurturance along the way and unconditional love is a mother’s task. I also believe it is truly a mother’s role to provide support and guidance; to teach children how to live in this world. A mother is responsible for teaching the rules, expecting certain behaviors and differentiating between right and wrong. Yet, I do not buy into the notion that every action of a child is a reflection of how the child was or was not mothered. For in the end it is the child’s journey – the choices of the child that will define his life.

My purpose for sharing this belief is not to let mothers off the hook, but rather to encourage mothers not to take on or own their child’s journey in this world. Nate is ready to leave the nest. He has been nurtured and prepped. He will always be my sister’s little boy – and I wish him good fortune as he takes on the new challenges. I admire my sister for all she has done as a mother, and I want her to know that it’s okay to let go, to not own what is Nate’s to do.

Although I am not sure she or any mother ever really has restful nights, that’s what I wish for her now.

Nothing Like Sharing a Cold Meal

I lament about how hard life is sometimes, but then I think of those that don’t have what I have.

Like last night. Mom was at a work social. Good for her, she deserves it. When I got home I needed to get Schmee involved in something – anything – to keep him out from under foot, even if that something was Dinosaur Train parts one, two, and three. I needed to make Sweet Pea cozy and give her something to nom on, and I needed to start dinner. But then Schmee wanted eggs instead of fish. Okay, one more pan, another bowl and timing, timing, timing. We needed to eat at a reasonable hour. Did I mention it was already past 6:30?

I found myself dancing around the kitchen while checking in on Sweet Pea and Schmee from time to time and attending to their needs, thinking to myself, I could really use a little help right now.

By the time mom came home, I was still waiting on Schmee’s eggs, and Sweet Pea needed a new diaper, and then she was hungry, too and Schmee was practically kissing the television with love of dinosaurs…

Would you believe I haven’t had a hot meal in four years?

In a recent conversation about socks, baby bottles and the perpetual cold meals I’ve suffered through I was reminded that others don’t have what I have. I was reminded that some people, many more than you may believe, would kill for a chance to be upset over a cold meal shared with family. They would eat crackers and cheese if it meant sharing them with someone else.

I am extremely humbled at the thought that some people eat a hot meal by themselves night after night, without conversation, without companionship. I’m grateful for my cold fish on cold rice. My cold salted broccoli. And yes, even my pancakes, sunken and damp, because at least I have someone to talk to about them.

Can nice girls be bossy?

I recently read an article which outlined the launch of a new campaign to ban the word “bossy” from the playground. Sheryl Sandberg, the author of the book Lean In, contends that the word “bossy” is a put-down that stops girls from pursuing leadership roles. “We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead,” Sandberg said, “and if you ask girls why they don’t want to lead, whether it’s the school project all the way on to running for office, they don’t want to be called bossy, and they don’t want to be disliked.”

We can do more than just "ban bossy." Let's celebrate girls for who they are.

Reading this article brought back some hurtful memories. As a little girl I remember coming home in tears after my neighborhood friend called me “bossy.” My mother attempted to console my pain by suggesting that I quit playing with my friend. This advice did not stick nor was this the last time I was called “bossy.” I can honestly say I do not recall what I did that resulted in being called “bossy,” only that this name calling made me feel disliked.

It has been my experience that “bossy” is a label more readily assigned to girls versus boys. Girls who are prone to taking charge or giving orders may be referred to as “bossy.” Yet is seems that boys with these same behaviors are labeled as assertive. I think most would agree that girls are raised differently than boys; this includes how girls are socialized. As a young girl I remember being given instruction on how to act like a lady. I clearly remember directions on how to sit like a lady. This for me was never natural! I also remember directions to play “nice” or be a “nice girl.” The direction to “be nice” infers an expectation of getting along with others and being polite. This makes me wonder, can a nice girl also be bossy?

I would assert that nice girls can be bossy. Each one of us assigns labels to behaviors. Most labels include either a positive or negative spin. Bossy definitely infers negativity as it carries with it the idea of wanting things your own way, while being assertive is seen as positive because it infers standing up for what you believe. So who determined that bossiness is bad and assertiveness is good? We did. I would contend that these two labels reference a very similar behavior, yet our response to these behaviors is where the difference lies. Bossiness we will try to curb, while assertiveness we encourage.

Maybe the idea of banning the word “bossy” would have an impact. I worry however that “bossy” will instead be replaced with another negative label. This makes me think that a better solution is to celebrate girls for who they are as leaders and for what they can offer. This means that we spend less time worrying that boys are seen differently or given different opportunities than girls, and instead we focus our energies on encouraging our girls to lead from their own strengths. A compassionate girl can lead from a place of empathy in which all are included. A creative girl can lead by arriving at new solutions and encouraging others to take risks. And a willful girl can lead from a place of tenacity and therefore will never give up.

Guilt: It’s a Mom Thing

In the tradition of children raised in the 70s, I was the child of a stay-at-home mom. And life was good. Winter, spring and summer breaks from school were spent taking vacations and generally playing from the time the sun came up until the sun came down. There were no routines or schedules, just pure, unadulterated fun.

Conversely, in the tradition of children raised in the 21st century, my daughter does not have a stay-at-home mom. The decision to stay at home or work will probably be debated and agonized over for the rest of time, but for me, being a working mother is a reality. And as many of you probably know first-hand, it comes with no small amount of guilt. My daughter is currently spending her spring break from kindergarten at her child care center. And while I know she does truly love it there, I have been overcome this past week with guilt that she is not having a “real” spring break. I think about the things I did as a child and wish so much for her to experience those same things.

And then it hits me. While I am wishing for her to share my experiences and childhood memories, she is busy creating her own. One experience doesn’t have to be better than another. Instead of trying to recreate a time gone by, I should be helping her create her own memories and traditions. My memories of childhood are filled with love, a lot of laughter and family. I can only hope that Maddy will be able to say the same someday.

What We Learn When We Struggle

My dream was to become a nurse, but the universe had a different plan in mind. As I have gotten older, I have questioned my purpose. I didn’t see it until recently.

When my infant daughter Gabrielle was diagnosed with subcortical band heteropia, and when  I witnessed her seizing time after time  feeling helpless and I asked myself,  “Why her? Why me?” Although I loved Gabrielle with all my heart, a part of me experienced mixed emotions about her condition. I lived in a “dark place” filled with bitterness, anger and negativity. I just felt so overwhelmed. Why were our lives so much more difficult than those of other families? Why was my life consumed with neurology visits, physical, occupational and speech therapy appointments while other kids were playing outside and going to birthday parties? Why did our hope diminish after every new medication failed to help?

I couldn’t see it then, but now I see with clarity: these experiences were preparing me for my life’s purpose.

Wisdom has taught me that in order to understand others,  I needed to walk through the fire, too. Without my experiences I would not be able to relate, connect and be compassionate with the families I work with. I share a similar path with them. I have found that when I meet someone who is struggling, it is easier for both of us to open up because we know the other “gets it.”  My experiences have shaped my life’s work. I can encourage others with hope and strength, whether it’s a parent with a child with special needs or a preschool teacher who has children in his classroom who have behavioral needs. I get paid to do a job I love.

I frequently have conversations with my son Jared, who will be going to college next fall. He often asks why I am not working in a field where I use my college degree. In the past, I couldn’t have answered his question. But now I tell him that the universe  had another path for me.  It wasn’t the one I would have chosen but when I got out of the way, I found that my life’s path is much more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.