Are You Guilty of Garboflage?

Garboflage: the act of camouflaging your kids’ art in the garbage.

Admit it. You’ve hidden a drawing or two underneath the junk mail and leftovers. I commit garboflage weekly. It’s not that I don’t adore their work, it’s just that I’m just trying to keep our family off of the A&E show Hoarders.

 

I have three children and everyday they come home with backpacks bursting. As soon as they unzip their bags, out pops an insane amount of papers: worksheets, PTO letters, art projects, sale order forms, notes about book fair, behavior charts, reading logs, homework. It’s overwhelming. So I make piles of what to keep, what to return to school, and… garboflage. Over the years I’ve learned what is keep-worthy for me and what I can let go.

One item that always escapes the trash can? First grade writing. It seems like first grade is when children’s writing really comes alive.

By first grade most children recognize the relationship between sounds and letters. They are encouraged to write without worrying about spelling, which often results in writing words according to how they sound. For example, mornen = morning. For the child it makes perfect sense. For adults it’s like translating a secret code. It’s so much fun!  Decoding these messages gives me little clues into how my child’s brain works. How cool is that?!

Just the other day my first grader came home with a letter proclaiming his desire for a pet fish.  After decoding/reading it, I glanced up to his eager face as he asked, “Did I convince you?”

You bet he did.

So he got a pet fish and I got a cherished memory. It’s a win-win.

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

I am typically one of those people who professes a love for all seasons. I find things in each season that brings me joy: sitting poolside, watching football, walks in the snow, gardening.

But this winter has been very different for me, and I have been feeling a bit unmotivated. Which puzzles me – is it that we haven’t had enough snow? Is it a lack of sunshine? Is it being stuck more indoors?

Whatever the cause, I have spent more time on my couch than I typically do. And though I have found joy sitting in my comfy clothes under a blanket watching movies, I have felt a little selfish. There are many tasks on my list to accomplish this winter. You know the list – the one with cleaning out the clutter and making ready for spring. But my biggest accomplishment this winter? Watching all three Lord of the Rings movies!

So, where does this feeling of selfishness come from? If I am finding joy in cocooning indoors, why do I let the thoughts of what I “should” be doing creep into my mind? I think it comes from two places. One is that I’ve always measured success by what I have done. The other is a place of negative feelings associated with being selfish.

I have noticed that the men in my life do not have the same angst about doing what they want. They tend to assess their level of energy, weigh their options and make a choice. Yet I, like many women I know, consider the needs and desires of others when I make decisions. I think to myself, I can’t just sit here, there are so many things I should be doing. But do I really believe that cleaning out the closet is more meaningful than paying attention to what my body and heart want to do?

Of course not. My well-being is very much connected to how I take care of myself. There have definitely been times in my life that I have ignored what my heart and body needed, and those times have taught me to be much more in-tune with the messages I am receiving. Sometimes my body lets me know when it needs more rest, or I get the urge to be creative. Other times I recognize that I need some quiet time to turn off my mind, or the laughter of friends.

The trick is to ignore the tendency to describe taking care of myself as selfish. If I frame my current desires to create a cocoon as taking care of myself, then I am more apt to give myself what I need. Mothers of daughters, this one is for you, too. Your self-care encourages them to give their own needs as much attention as the needs of others, to value their own feelings in the same ways we teach them to value others’ feelings.

 

Good Neighbors, Great Friends

We’ve lived in our cul-de-sac for a little over four years and up until this summer my nine-year-old son Levi has been frustrated that he didn’t have a buddy in the neighborhood. Sure, we’ve got triplets with two boys right next door, but they’re a year older and not in quite the same place as he is developmentally. So, I was beyond excited for Levi when a friend who is the same age and attitude moved into the house two doors away.

After a little bit of a rough start, Levi and (I’ll call him Michael), soon became best buds. They act, behave and even seem to think alike. It’s been so much fun watching them run between houses playing Nerf wars, dressing up in Star Wars costumes and bringing Minecraft to life with pick axes and diamond swords when I’ve run them off of Xbox. And sleepovers are hassle free. No packing, dropping off or picking up required. Best of all, when one or the other has had enough, they just zip back across the yard. Boom. Done. They’re great friends.

Given how well the boys have gotten along, the fact that they had their first fight on Christmas Day was unfortunate. Sometime that afternoon Michael popped in as we prepared to leave for vacation. Levi had gotten the Diamond Edition Minecraft sword and pick axe and I could hear them battling downstairs. They were a little more rambunctious than usual but I chocked it up to too much Christmas excitement. The next thing I knew, I heard the front door close and assumed Michael had to get home. When I came downstairs, I could see from Levi and his eleven-year-old sister Liv’s expressions that something had gone wrong. “I told him to get out,” Levi explained angrily, but I could tell tears were close to the surface. According to Liv, when Levi kept boasting about defeating him, Michael punched him in the nose! “I’ve lost my best friend on Christmas,” Levi shrugged, again trying to act macho about it all.

Of course I wanted to rush in and help the boys patch things up, but had to finish packing, so I only asked Levi to think about whether there was anything more to the story and if he wanted to go out of town with things the way they were. As much as I wanted him to, Levi didn’t go talk to Michael that night before we left and it hung like a cloud over him for most of the trip. Time and again I had to fight the urge to contact Michael’s mom and intervene, fearing that the longer the silence stretched, the more awkward things would be, not only between the boys but between us as moms who’d formed a bit of a relationship through them.

I needn’t have worried. On our way home, Levi asked if he could text Michael. Apparently there was more to the story, and he wasn’t merely an innocent victim. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Michael should have resorted to violence, but I also know my son’s behavior can be provoking. Levi must have known it, too, because his text simply read, “I hope you can forgive. Your best friend – I hope.”

Everything turned out well in the end. For Levi and Michael, and for us moms too.  What a relief! We get to choose our friends, but not our neighbors. Life is so much better, for children and their parents, when you’re both.

Brothers and Sisters

When Sweet Pea was born, Schmee, then a 3-and-a-half year old, thought that his sister would come into this world a primed, ready and willing playmate. Someone he could tumble around with, run through the grass with and enact intricate and dramatic scenarios with dinosaurs and robots.

He was sadly disappointed.

 

Since then, he has been attempting to engage in cooperative play with her on a daily basis, getting more frustrated as time went on. If he only he’d known that soon she would be interested in what he was doing… just not in the way he intends.

Sweet Pea’s has gained a little more stable footing as she runs through the house, her reflexes as quick as a striking snake. She seems to be saying, “I’ll gladly play with you, but first I’m going to take your robot, see what it tastes like, and then run off in a random direction and see what you do about it. How’s that for playing together?”

Schmee seems conflicted. He so eagerly wants her to play with him but when they do it’s usually on her terms and that is frustrating for him. So what can I as a parent do about this? What should my reactions be?

For the most part, I let them work it out. Sure, I set boundaries so no one gets hurt but I let them engage in a kind of give-and-take and talk to them both about how they feel and what they want. It’s certainly not easy and not everyone always gets what they want.

Recently, Schmee had worked really hard on a drawing of a train. He insisted it was his best one yet and he wanted to share it with Mom. But it was not to be. Sweet Pea, only trying to see what he had made, accidentally crumpled the paper, “Ruining it forever!”

So what did I do? I talked with Schmee, showing sympathy and compassion for his lost art. “That stinks,” I commiserated, “But maybe you could draw it again?” I explained that Sweet Pea must’ve really liked his drawing, too, and set them both up with their own paper and crayons. Though initially he had his arm raised and fist clenched, he soon relaxed, allowing me to help him draw another train. He even gave Sweet Pea a couple crayons to use for her own work. Things don’t always get resolved so quickly or so well, but we do keep trying to communicate our needs.

Angels Among Us

“I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us, from somewhere up above. They come to you and me, in our darkest hours, to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”

– Alabama

These lyrics are really resonating with me lately, given what my family has experienced over the last few months.

Upon returning home from work one evening, I noticed something was terribly wrong with my daughter, Gabrielle. Her stomach was extremely distended and hard. Immediately we proceeded to the emergency room. Upon reaching the hospital, my husband and I learned Gabrielle was very dehydrated, her kidneys were shutting down and her heart rate was extremely high. Lactic acid levels revealed that her body was in distress. I was very scared. I knew the information doctors were sharing with us didn’t look good.

Although surgery was not required, the doctor proceeded to tell us Gabrielle’s breathing was labored and a ventilator would provide the support she desperately needed. We consented to these measures, despite the risks of pneumonia and an inability to wean from the machine.

Our first angel appeared when our friend came to the emergency room and sat with my husband and I until early morning. She was our extra set of ears who listened to information objectively and articulated questions to the emergency room staff when we were unable to.

Little did we know that one week would turn into two, three, five. My husband and I took turns keeping a vigilant watch over our girl while still trying to be present for our sons at home. By week two, my husband and I were exhausted. When others realized this wasn’t a short term situation, they asked how they could help.

At first, I declined help as I thought we had this and I didn’t want to burden others, but as time went on, I knew we needed help. We were in crisis. It felt uncomfortable accepting help initially but there were more “angels among us,”  the family, friends, co-workers and hospital staff who carried us through a very difficult and lengthy situation.

People were checking in with texts and phone calls, even daily cards in the mail. We were given meals and gift cards. Coworkers helped out with my workload. Friends and family came and sat with Gabrielle to give my husband and I a much needed break. My sister was such a tremendous help: she spent many nights at the hospital with Gabrielle, sacrificing time with her own family to support ours.

After 5 weeks of hospitalization, Gabrielle is now home and recovering. We couldn’t have made it through this ordeal alone. Our “angels” were ready and willing to help. All I had to do was to take hold of their outreached hands.

The Moments That Make Up a Year

Have you ever seen the musical Rent? There is a fabulous song whose lyrics always inspire me: 525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?

What inspires me about these lyrics is the concept that a year is made up of 525,600 moments – lots of little moments that in the end represent one year of your life. For me this means there are lots of chances to be my best, to follow through, to appreciate my family, to be healthy and treat the children in my life well.

It is very common to set goals at the start of a new year. Many people identify what they want to do differently when a new year comes around. There is also a sense of a newness that comes with a new year that gives us permission to forgive our previous failures or shortcomings. A new year is a new day, right?

What I notice is that many people who make resolutions at the start of a new year become frustrated when a few days into the new year they have already failed to follow through with their new commitments. Once they fail, many will give up all together. It seems they quickly forget how many days and how many minutes make up a year.  There’s 525,600 minutes, which is a lot of moments to do it right!

With this is mind, maybe the best New Year’s resolution is to appreciate all the moments for what they are – 60 seconds that alone do not equal much and together can make a difference.  If we thought of moments in this way, would we be more apt to forgive ourselves for the minutes we fall short? Would we also be more aware of the difference each moment can make? It seems to me that we might.

Motherhood: Be Prepared

It was the Saturday before Christmas and like most everybody else, my daughter and I were at the mall. We had our trip all mapped out: lunch in the food court (according to my daughter, they have the best pizza), Build-a-Bear for a gift for her BFF and then a visit to Santa. I knew it might be crowded but we were prepared. We were going to take our time and enjoy our girl’s day out.

And then things went terribly wrong.

We had finished lunch and had just walked into Build-a-Bear when the fire alarms in the mall starting going off and the lights began flashing. At first I really wasn’t that worried. I assumed it was a false alarm and we continued shopping. Then a clerk from the store approached me and told me we had to evacuate the store. Ok, no problem. I still wasn’t concerned.

But as we left the store and entered the mall, I panicked. People were screaming as they ran toward the exits. I quickly grabbed my daughter’s hand and we began running with the crowd. She kept asking me what was wrong and telling me she was scared. I told her just to keep holding my hand and I would keep her safe.

As we entered Macy’s to exit the mall, the gate to Macy’s closed behind us. We made it outside and started walking the distance to our car. As we approached our truck we encountered a woman who looked both terrified and confused. I asked her if she knew what had happened. She said she had been in Macy’s and that there was a shooter and then a loud explosion. I didn’t wait to hear any more details; we got in our car and got out of there.

Later that day we learned there hadn’t been a shooter at the mall, but there had been an explosion:

A tank had exploded in the food court and from there, panick ensued. I explained to my daughter what had really happened and tried to calm her fears. She said she was never going back to the mall (that actually made my husband happy) and then began asking all kinds of questions about fire and fire safety in our home. She became obsessed with making sure the Christmas tree lights were off anytime we weren’t in the family room.

We have had many conversations about fire safety since then and I think she might even be ready to go back to the mall. But me, I’m not so sure. I honestly don’t remember every being so scared and feeling so helpless. Keeping me safe is one thing, protecting my daughter is on a whole other level. In retrospect, I am pretty confident I overreacted and probably did my daughter more harm than good. But I don’t really know that I would do anything differently if I had to re-live the experience.

Before you have children you think you understand how much you will love your child but you can’t really know the depth of that love until you hold them for that first time. Your whole world changes. You will run like a crazy woman through the mall holding your child’s hand without even knowing why. You just will.