Thursday, June 28, 2007

21 Benefits I Hope to Gain By Losing Weight

Now that I’m 36 pounds into my weight loss journey, sometimes I skip the diet and exercise articles when I’m thumbing through magazines. But not yesterday. I think it was the title that grabbed my attention – "What’s My Motivation: Identifying Why Weight Loss Matters," by Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D. in the May/June 2007 issue of LDS Living.

You could say that my motivation to lose more pounds has evaporated. I guess I’ve been telling myself that 36 pounds is enough. My goal weight at Weight Watchers is 150 pounds, but four or so years ago when I was doing T.O.P.S. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) my family doctor and I arrived at 168 pounds as a reasonable weight for me to shoot for. And I’ve been stuck right there at 168 pounds since October. (I have dipped down as low as 163, but went right back up.)

I can’t honestly say that I’ve been strictly following the Weight Watchers guidelines. I’ve been fudging a bit. But after reading that article yesterday, I’m reviving my motivation.

I followed Cederquist’s advice to take a pile of index cards, think about what benefits I hope to gain from losing weight and reaching my Weight Watcher’s goal, and then write as many benefits as I can think of on the cards – one benefit per card. I came up with 21 benefits. Next, Cederquist advised organizing the cards in order from most motivating to least. Then once they’re in order, write the top five reasons on another set of cards to keep in your wallet or purse, on the fridge, at work, in the kitchen, etc.

Here is my list of what I hope to gain by losing weight and reaching my Weight Watcher’s goal (in reverse order).

21. I will have eliminated my risks for diabetes and heart disease.

20. When I hear about the obesity epidemic on the news or in the paper, I’ll know that they’re not talking about me.

19. My clothes will take up less space in the suitcase when I travel. (More room for souvenirs.)

18. Just imagine how I’ll look shwooshing down the ski slopes this winter. (Hot! Hot! Hot!)

17. I’ll get to buy a "wonder bra" at Victoria’s Secret. (As in, I wonder where my bust went.)

16. My rear end will look really great while I’m sitting on my bicycle seat.

15. I’ll have legs that look great in heels.

14. I can get a new driver’s license with a cute photo and an honest weight.

13. I’ll get to buy a cute, new swimming suit from Land’s End.

12. I’ll need to acquire a stylish new wardrobe.

11. My knees and hips will thank me, and toned legs will help prevent future knee injuries.

10. I’ll buy cute square-neck shirts to show off my clavicles.

9. I’ll live a loooooong, happy and healthy life!

8. I will have firm, fit, tones and muscular arms, legs, abs, and . . . well . . . buns.

7. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to generate a story or two and some publicity for my blog and future website.

6. I won’t have rolls on my stomach when I sit down.

5. I’ll have a great reason to smile, laugh and encourage others to follow my lead.

4. I’ll be qualified to work for Weight Watchers. (Not a possibility with a doctor prescribed weight goal.)

3. I will have set a good example for my family of determination and commitment.

2. I’ll look like I did when I got married . . . maybe even better!

1. I’ll have gained an iron will and the knowledge that I can do ANYTHING!

Now, here comes the beautiful part – what I think will really help me stay motivated. Cederquist counsels readers to review the large deck of personal motivators daily, perhaps starting your day by flipping through the cards or even reading them aloud sometimes.

I took her advice a step further. Yesterday I glued old buttons to the tops of empty Altoid mint containers. (It’s a multi-layered, kitchy sort of look.) Anyway, I selected my favorite button box and cut my cards to fit inside it. Now I have a cute container to keep my cards in to boot!

I’ll keep you posted regarding my efforts. I have high hopes that they’ll succeed!

Trenches / Chapter 2 / 23 Summer Sanity Savers

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your kids.

Whether it’s scribbling with black permanent marker on your cream-colored bedspread, teasing and tormenting a younger sibling just to hear them squawk, bringing a "pet" preying mantis into the house, or asking for a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast, lunch and dinner – kids have a knack for driving parents crazy.

If you’ve come to the end of your rope, try some of these tips to regain your sanity.

1. Just say no. Practice saying no to extra activities and projects that you don’t have time for.

2. Let go of things beyond your control.

3. Keep a gratitude journal. Before going to bed at night, write down five things that you’re grateful for from the day. ("I’m grateful for Band-aids.")

4. Occasionally eat cold cereal for supper.

5. Give yourself more time when you have to do anything with kids.

6. Connect with your kids. Studies show that the more you distance yourself from your kids, the easier it is to get angry at them.

7. Read to your kids or have them read to you.

8. Do the unexpected. Every so often Jared delights in playing copy-cat. It drives me nuts. One day, instead of letting it get my goat, I said, "I think I’d like to clean toilets today." He repeated it, and we both ended up laughing.

9. Don’t forget to pray. Try this one: "Dear Lord, so far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or overindulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to be getting out of bed. And from then on, I’m going to need a lot more help. Amen."

10. Feed children before taking them grocery shopping, and avoid going when it’s close to nap time.

11. Enjoy present pleasures. Savor holding your little boy’s hand while he’ll still let you. Sing "The eensy-weensy spider" with your daughter. Kiss a face covered in cookie crumbs.

12. Exercise.

13. Keep romance alive. Establish a ‘date night’ – or at least set aside money each month for dating. Also, play board games together as a couple once the kids have gone to bed.

14. Read one of Erma Bombeck’s books.

15. Occasionally put yourself in time-out. Explain to the kids that you need some time to cool off. Then go to your room and shut the door.

16. Whisper. Sing. Yodel. Do something creative to get your child’s attention.

17. Get more sleep. If your kids take naps, join them. Otherwise, try to hit the sack early.

18. Capture childhood’s Kodak moments – faces after a spaghetti dinner, kids playing in fall leaves.

19. Make friends with your neighbors.

20. Ask spouse and other family members for help. (Note: If you want continuing cooperation from your spouse and others, give them a job and let them do it. Don’t insist that it be done your way, or it may not get done at all.)

21. Build some quiet time into every day for thinking and relaxing.

22. Establish an early bedtime for the kids and stick to it.

23. Work on demanding tasks when you have the most energy.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Moments of Bliss

Don’t look now, but this is a "real" blog entry. By "real" I mean one that is fresh, not a re-run from the parenting columns I wrote seven to ten years ago. (Can it really have been up to 10 years ago that I wrote them? Wow.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about bliss lately. Sometimes when I’m writing a card for a newly wed couple I like to say something like, "Best wishes on the road to wedded bliss." But what I’m really thinking is, Hold on! Keep one eye closed, and the other half shut. And other encouraging and realistic thoughts.

But just lately, I’ve found myself acknowledging that I really have found bliss. The paperback Webster’s dictionary that we use when playing boggle defines bliss as a noun meaning great happiness or spiritual joy. That sounds about right. But what it doesn’t say, and what it’s taken me so long to figure out is that bliss is not a destination. Got that? Bliss is not a destination.

You don’t wake up one morning to discover that your home is perfectly decorated, your children are near-perfect, your husband has overcome all his little quirks that have been niggling at you for the past 14 years. No, bliss isn’t any of that. Instead, bliss is found in perfect moments.

What, you ask, is a perfect moment? I’d like to share a few I’ve experienced lately.

Bliss is being in the kitchen and hearing Beans and her friend out in the backyard through the open window. They’re giggling in the pink princess tent that Beans has set up out there, and apparently something is so funny that Beans snorts while she laughs. Listening to happy children, that is bliss.

I know it’s going to sound hokey, but I’ve had moments of bliss while walking the dog. I’m not sure how much of it is because I’m walking Annie, and how much of it is being out in the wonders of creation. I think it has to be a bit of both. This morning, for instance, I was walking home from a quick visit at my mom and dad’s with the dog. As we got to the bottom of their street and were crossing the road, a shiny blue Mustang passed us. Although I have a fondness for fast cars, I found myself thinking, "If I had to choose between Annie and a new Mustang, I’d choose Annie." And remember, I love muscle cars. But apparently I love my dog more. I finished out the rest of my walk in bliss – realizing that I possess one of life’s great pleasures – a beloved dog.

Now back to the wonders of creation. Walking, even short walks around the block, give me a lift if only because of the beauty that’s right outside my door. Today it was a pair of Orioles streaking past. Although they’re done blooming now, the smell of Russian Olive trees in June always lifts my spirits. Ditto colorful sunsets. And drops of dew hanging from overgrown grass.

This past Friday our family attended a dinner at my husband’s work. All the tables in the shade were taken, so we sat in the sun. I noticed that my kids didn’t take much of the main dishes (Mexican fare), and that made me happy. It was gratifying to know that it’s not just my Mexican cooking that they don’t like. Oh, and dessert was individual-sized containers of Aggie ice cream. Eating Aggie ice cream is bliss. Watching your kids eat it is bliss. Sharing bites with your family, that’s bliss too.

As the capstone of the evening, my husband’s employer gave out passes for either mini-golf, bowling, swimming or a movie. We chose the movie and all went to Fantastic 4 – Rise of the Silver Surfer. And, you guessed it, bliss again. Not that the movie was ultra-great, but watching it together as a family was great. Sharing a common experience with kids and parents, one that we all enjoyed, that’s bliss. Kids not complaining that they’re bored – that’s bliss.

I guess you could say that bliss has caught me by surprise. I expected something with a little more fanfare. Maybe something more along the lines of winning the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. You know, Big Stuff. But that’s not bliss. And if it were, how many people would ever get to experience bliss? Only a few.

Fortunately bliss is an equal opportunity experience. Everyone can have it. We just have to recognize it as the small, sweet, perfect little moments that we live.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Trenches / Chapter Two / Stop the Whining!

Were I to write my own personal dictionary, under whine it would say: 1) to generate a high-pitched nasal sound that torments, pesters and annoys parents into giving you your own way; 2) to complain over every little thing in an extremely aggravating and childish way.

No one I know needs the definition of whining. We all know what it is. Many of us hear it all too often. What we do need, however, are strategies to reduce the amount of whining we’re exposed to.

Believe it or not, whining is a natural phenomenon. All kids whine–at least until they’re taught other appropriate ways to communicate. In fact, whining is the stepping stone between crying and gaining the ability to verbalize requests. Babies, for instance, cry to get you to feed and change them. Toddlers rely on the same plaintive tones, plus words, to express their wants.

Kids also whine because it works. Just ask my daughter. I often give into Amanda’s whining simply because she’ll stop making that annoying noise. Knowing this, she then resorts to whining because it gets results. Our behaviors reinforce each other, and we’re caught in a classic catch-22.

So what can a parent do? Is it possible to have a whine-free home? I certainly hope so.

First off, there are all sorts of reasons kids whine, and just one strategy won’t work in every situation. For example, if your normally sunny child is unusually whiny, perhaps she’s feeling under the weather. Caring for the aches, in this case, often cures the whine.

Same goes for tired kids. If whine-fests are triggered by morning rushes, missed or late naps, and bedtime, consider ways to help your child get more rest – an earlier bedtime or maybe half an hour of "quiet time" in place of outgrown naps.

When trying to reduce whining in your home, there are a number of responses that don’t work at all. They include:

threats – If you don’t stop whining, you won’t get dessert.

commands – Stop it right now!

giving in – Oh, all right. You can have the toy.

making vague promises – We’ll do it later.

and whining yourself.

Instead, try these strategies that are effective against whining:

labeling the whine -- That’s a whine. It’s not a very good way to ask for
something. Here’s a better way to say it . . .

ignoring – I don’t listen when you whine. Or say nothing at all.

using empathy – You sound unhappy. Sit here for a minute and think about why you’re sad. When you’re calmer, I’ll help you.

and praising – I liked how you asked me that. You’re doing much better at not
whining, and that makes me happy!

My personal favorite is the line my mother-in-law uses with her first graders. When a student asks for something in a whiney voice, she simply says, "Would you please speak in your low voice?"

I’ve tried it with my daughter, and it actually works!

I'd love to hear any success stories and strategies that you have.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Trenches / Chapter 1 / The Lap of Luxury

Lately the realities of motherhood have been wearing on me. I'm getting tired of toting laundry up and down the stairs. I dread trying to figure out what to have for dinner night after night. And if I find another stray toy in my closet, I think I'll scream.

To escape my life of drudgery, I turned to the ever-popular pastime of daydreaming. I imagined that instead of a frumpy housewife I was a wealthy heiress.

With my fabricated fortune, I immediately hired a housekeeper and a cook. No more cleaning toilets or mopping floors for me! Never again would I have to confront the question of what to make for dinner.

I wondered what other staff positions my imaginary wealth would support. A chauffeur for the kids? A personal fitness trainer? The possibilities seemed endless.

"Mom, does this shirt go with these shorts?" My son's question temporarily interrupted my flight of fancy. I replied in the affirmative and added "personal wardrobe consultant" to my mental list of new hires.

Again my thoughts were grounded when my daughter toddled in, a brush and ribbon in hand. I pulled her hair into a ponytail like she wanted, and continued to dream. Yes, having my own hairdresser would also be a nice convenience.
I spent a few more minutes living in my make-believe mansion before it became necessary to return to real-life motherhood. My daughter's nose and diaper both needed immediate attention.

As I wiped my daughter's nose and fastened the tape on her clean diaper, it struck me that here was the girl who lived in the lap of luxury. Both she and her brother breeze through most days, their every need being met. They have a cook, housekeeper, laundress, storyteller and more. Me.

As I contemplated their pampered lifestyle, I thought of my own childhood. My feelings of self-pity instantly vanished. For the first time, I realized that I have had my own cook, housekeeper, and laundry service. I was just too young and self-absorbed to appreciate her.

Today I hope to make amends, to let my mother know that I am beginning to understand what she has done for me. I don't remember crying for a bottle in the middle of the night, but I bet she recalls getting up and soothing me back to sleep.

Family photo albums show me getting all sorts of toys for Christmas. I have vague memories of playing with some of the gifts, but don't ask me where our old toy box was located. I only emptied it. I'm sure Mom, on the other hand, remembers filling it.

And talk about laundry. I've got it easy. Mom raised kids in the days before disposable diapers. Although I don't ever recall wearing a diaper fastened with safety pins, I doubt Mom will ever forget washing, drying and folding enough white flannel squares for diapering two little girls.

It may seem a strange sentiment to declare for Mother's Day, but Mom, I want to tell you thanks for being the best nurse, housekeeper, cook, teacher, maid and chauffeur a little girl could wish for.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Perfect Mom, My Foot!

For many moms, Mother's Day means facing the love/hate relationship they have with the holiday. They love the extra help they get around the house and the cute kid-made cards, but they hate the guilt trip – feeling like they’re anything but the perfect mom.

Who is this perfect mom everyone seems to venerate on Mothers’ Day? Does she exist? Is she the woman who keeps her cool while reprimanding her kids for leaving a path of destruction in the grocery store? Could she be your child’s friend’s mother – the one he keeps referencing every time he doesn’t agree with how you handle things? Perhaps it’s your neighbor. She is a devoted wife and mother to six children, maintains a spotless house and cooks a homemade meal every night.

Sorry to say, but none of these ladies qualify as the perfect mom. In fact, she’s a myth. She doesn’t exist. Repeat after me, "There is no such thing as a perfect mom."

Part of the reason we cling to the belief that there is a perfect mom out there is because we’re not privy to insider information. In other words, we get only a limited look into other moms’ behavior.

I’ll use my own mother as an example (sorry, Mom). My mom teaches school and gives motivational talks in our community. She’s a dynamic and enthusiastic woman. Growing up friends would say to me, "You’re lucky. It must be fun having her for a mom." Having only limited experience with my mom, they saw only one side of the story.

I, on the other hand, lived day in and day out with the real Mrs. Austin. And she did all the things that regular mothers do. She nagged, told me to do things I didn’t want to do, nagged some more, didn’t always see things like I saw them, and when provoked, lost her cool.

Another reason we feel guilty on Mothers’ Day and believe someone else must be doing things better is because we have a selective memory. When our kids give us cute little cards telling us we’re loving, kind and good – the best mom in the world -- we remember our outburst over yesterday’s muddy trail through the house. And we don’t quite feel worthy of the generous praise and adoration.
Unlike Moms, kids tend to focus on fun. If asked, they might recall the episode of the muddy shoes, but they’ve likely moved on.

For children, Mothers’ Day means thinking about all the good things Mom does for them. Whether it’s reading them a bedtime story, letting them eat ice cream before dinner, or giving them an under-dog on the swings at the park, kids know moms are fun.

On Mothers’ Day, cut yourself some slack. Remind yourself that no one is perfect, that every mom has her bad days. Instead of dwelling on your short-comings and weaknesses, focus on your strengths.

Listen when your kids say, "You’re the best!" They believe it, and you should too!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Be different -- be great!

One of my mother's favorite phrases is, "Revel in your idiosyncrasies." I think the first time I heard her use the saying, I was about 13. "Revel in your what?" was my reaction. I had no idea what idiosyncrasies were, but they certainly didn't sound like anything I wanted to revel in.

Eventually I learned that idiosyncrasies are the little quirks, mannerisms, and personal peculiarities that make each of us unique. A light bulb came on.
"A-ha," I thought. "No wonder Mom wants to revel in her idiosyncrasies. She has a ton!"

My mother is to earrings what Imelda Marcos is to shoes. She speaks fluent Pig Latin, has her own rubber vomit, delights in collecting Halloween costume accessories, strikes up conversations with strangers standing in line at the grocery store, and is the best pie-maker in northern Utah. And she's proud of it.
You might think my Mom sounds like a nut. She is. You might also wonder how all of this ties into parenting. I'll tell you.

Parents who revel in their idiosyncrasies send their children the message that being different isn't just okay, it's wonderful. This, in turn, can give kids the ability to accept, even celebrate, their own unique traits and abilities.
"All right," you say. "So we each have idiosyncrasies. But when do busy parents who are usually focused on their kids get time to revel?"

Truth is, it takes time, planning, and a little patience.

Just ask Kathryn Stevens, mother of 11 children. As a high schooler she participated in the annual Powder Puff Derby -- an all-girl drag race held at the county fair. This, combined with the influence of older brothers who meticulously cared for their cars, left her with a love for classy automobiles.
The summer before she got married, Kathryn worked in Ann Harbor, Michigan, and before coming home she bought a brand new '67 Pontiac Firebird direct from Detroit. It was her first love.

With marriage and children, however, the car soon spent more and more time parked in the garage. Eventually, the Stevens sold the car and bought a vehicle that would fit their growing family. In spite of this, Kathryn never stopped loving her '67 Firebird.

A few years ago Kathryn tracked down her beloved car, now greatly in need of repair, and she bought it. It has been restored to its original glory, complete with candy apple red paint, black vinyl top and red interior.

Every year Kathryn enters the car in a local cruise-in and enjoys seeing people do double-takes. Perhaps they're asking themselves, "What is a mild-mannered housewife doing with a car like that?"

The answer is simple. She's just reveling in her idiosyncrasies!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fun Ways to Get Fit (for kids and families)

jump rope

have a hoola hoop contest

play hopscotch

have a relay race (we like the "old clothes" relay)

have a hippity hop race or obstacle course

run through the sprinklers

go for a family bike ride

put on fun music and dance like crazy!

go for a listening walk

jump on a trampoline

rollerblade at a park

play tag (freeze tag)

go for a hike as a family

play kickball

walk your dog (or your neighbor's)

play night games

have a water fight

play frisbee

go for a bug hunt

play with a balloon--don't let it touch the ground

go swimming

play catch

practice your favorite sport with a friend

play laser tag

make a village in a sandbox

Not so fun activities, but good for fitness
(to add an element of fun to the below activities, have participants wear comical hats or gender-bender accessories -- i.e. have Dad wear a woman's hat or a feather boa)

work in the garden


wipe mirrors or windows

sweep the garage

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Nothing Short of a Miracle

On December 6th we welcomed a new little life into our family. When I heard her first startled cries, my heart skipped a beat. "Oh! A baby. I have a baby!" Somehow the recent months of friendly tummy taps and watching my middle expand hadn’t exactly prepared me for this moment.

Even a week later I found myself holding a little bundle wrapped in pink and marveling that she was mine. The little rosebud mouth, the thick brown hair that was a departure from the Hansen norm, the long slender fingers–all belonged to my daughter.

As I rocked little Natalie and continued to examine her tiny features, I found myself thinking of my sister . . . Feeling grateful to even have a sister.
Most people are a little puzzled when I tell them that my sister and I are only five months apart. Sometimes I let them noodle over that fact a while before I explain that Sherri is adopted.

Growing up, I thought I knew what it meant to have a sister who was adopted. Basically, instead of bringing baby Sherri home from the hospital, Mom and Dad flew to California and brought her home from there instead. Although the story of how she came to be in our family was different from my own, I didn’t consider it extraordinary.

Having children, however, has altered my perspective. As I held my newborn daughter, awed that she belonged to me, I realized that years ago another mother had also held a tiny daughter–a daughter that would be hers to cherish only momentarily.

What must Sherri’s birth mother have felt, knowing that the infant she had just given life to would soon spend that life cared for by another? Although I will probably never be able to fully answer that question, I do know that sticking to her decision was anything but easy.

When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, a woman may decide to terminate the pregnancy, keep the child and raise it herself, or give the baby up for adoption. Living with any of these options creates challenges. Only one of the choices, however, made it possible for me to have a sister.

I often find myself holding my precious newborn and thinking of Sherri’s birth mother and others like her. Their decision to have a baby and choose adoption is nothing short of a miracle.

Monday, June 11, 2007

There's a lot of work to do! (Get help)

After posting quite a few of my "Trenches" columns, I’m realizing that they probably won’t ever make it into a book. So enjoy them for what they are. Instead, I’m hoping to use the title "I’m Not Your Slave – I’m Your Mother" to possibly write about how to get kids helping out around the home. I’m even thinking that this one might have a decidedly LDS slant. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I loved our Relief Society lesson yesterday! It was from the President Spencer W. Kimball manual – chapter 11 on provident living. It made such an impression on me that I read the following paragraph to my kids when we got home from church:

We want you parents to create work for your children. Insist on them learning their lessons in school. Do not let them play all the time. There is a time for play, there is a time for work, and there is a time to study. Be sure your children grow up like you know they ought to grow up.

I’m afraid I didn’t make it all the way through reading that paragraph to the kids without a little giggle of glee after the first three sentences. Whee!

"See," I told the kids, "we’re doing just what we’re supposed to be doing." Their response?

"We know. Dad read us that same passage too."

Now, like any other principle of spirituality, it’s the actual DOING that’s hard. So, if you’re unconvinced that having your kids help out is really worth it, or if you’d like ideas on age-appropriate tasks, job charts, reward systems – you name it – I’ve tried it. I wish that my technology arrangement here at home were better, then I’d simply have a website with Adobe files you could download and print out. (Kid Kash, charts, wheels, tokens, etc.) Until we get our new computer set up, I guess we can just do things the old-fashioned way. You can e-mail me with your needs, and I’ll e-mail you some ideas and encouragement.

In fact, I think that encouragement is just what all parents need when starting to have their kids help out. ‘Cause kids will complain. And complain. And complain. (That’s why we call our place Belly Acre Farm – because of all the bellyaching that goes on.) But don’t give up or give in.

Sure, your kids will act put out, but they will actually be building their self esteem. The more tasks they’re capable of doing on their own, the better they’ll feel about themselves. And the reverse is true. If you’re currently doing everything for your kids – especially little things they could be doing themselves – you’re sending them the message that they’re not capable, or that you don’t think they’re able to do things.

Perhaps you feel that childhood should be for relaxing and playing. I think so too! Many hands make light work. Once you’ve taught your children how to help out with the jobs around the house, EVERYONE will have more time for relaxing and playing – especially you. And kids love to spend time playing with their mothers!

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Happily Ever After

Who says you need a wicked step-mother and ugly step-sisters to make you feel like Cinderella? Two young kids are enough for me. From when they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night, Jared and Amanda keep me hopping.

The first words out of Amanda's mouth most mornings are "high chair." She wants breakfast, and she wants it now. Jared, four and very opinionated, informs me he'll have a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of juice. Well, they're just going to have to wait until I get a batch of laundry started--Jared’s nose bled in bed again.

Halfway through breakfast I'm on my hands and knees mopping up Amanda's cereal. Moments later Jared spills his juice down the shelves of the refrigerator door. After I finish cleaning up the fridge and breakfast dishes, I discover why it's been so quiet the past few minutes. Both kids are in the bathroom having a "water experience."

Where is a fairy godmother when you need her? I'm in need of some major bibbity-bobbity-boo!

The reality is that no wand-wielding fairy is going to help me live happily ever after. Much as I'd like it to, fairy tale quackery won't alleviate any symptoms of Cinderella Syndrome. There is hope, however. In my search for a cure, I've come across some real-life remedies -- small breakthroughs that help me survive rough days of parenting.

One way to focus on the positives of parenting involves capturing the wonders of childhood -- the cute, funny, and often embarrassing things kids say and do. This doesn't require anything fancy. A notebook and pen are my favorite recording devices. Reading the following entry from Jared's notebook works like magic, transforming me back to my usual self:
July 28, 1996 -- Grandma asked Jared, "What do you eat that makes you grow big and strong?" Without hesitation he responded, "Red popsicles!"

Another attitude aid I use is a gratitude journal. Each night before going to bed, I review the day's events and find five things that I'm grateful for. Big or small, I write them down. One night I wrote, "I'm grateful Jared didn't throw-up more than once today." More recently I noted, "Happiness is a spur-of-the-moment trip to the park, pushing the kids on the swings, feeding the geese and ducks, and kicking the leaves along the sidewalk."

Keeping a gratitude journal not only helps end the day on a positive note but also provides a needed dose of perspective when Cinderella symptoms flare up.

I still cook, clean, and do laundry, and Jared and Amanda continue to create challenges. But by making an effort to capture the magical moments of childhood and cataloging my blessings in a gratitude journal, I'm happier. In fact, I'm discovering that when I stop and notice, every day contains pieces of happily ever after.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Are We Rich?

Are we rich?

My son returned from kindergarten the other day and asked me, "Mom, are we rich?"

Us, rich? Ha! Just a few hours earlier I’d written out a bundle of checks to cover our monthly bills. I felt anything but rich.

But over the next few days as I went about my usual activities, my son’s question remained at the back of my mind. Are we rich? Upon closer examination, I may need to change my answer.

Although the words "high fashion" will never be used to describe my wardrobe, I have a closet full of clothes. So does my husband and our kids. Are we rich?

We still sit on folding chairs around a hand-me-down kitchen table, but at mealtime there is always plenty of food on our plates. We never go to bed hungry. Are we rich?

Our car is ten years old, but it is reliable and paid for. When the tank gets low on gas, we simply fill it. Next summer we’ll buy a minivan. Are we rich?

I grumble to myself as I write out the check for the doctor’s co-payment. Fifteen dollars to find out that, no, her ears aren’t infected. She’s just teething. We have decent health insurance coverage, and ear infections are our most serious health concern. Are we rich?

Catered black-tie galas are beyond our social reach. Instead, we invite family and friends to informal sweatshirt and blue-jean affairs, asking them to bring casseroles or Jell-O salads. After everyone has eaten too much, the men swap hunting and fishing stories, the women exchange recipes, and the kids play tag in the backyard. Are we rich?

I drive by grand mansions and gated homes and wonder at the wealth. Ours, in contrast, is a modest home. Instead of living in an exclusive community, we’re part of an inclusive neighborhood – one where we refer to our neighbors by their first names. Are we rich?

I’ve pinched my share of pennies, and funds are always tight at the end of the month, but my husband has stable employment. We always know where our next paycheck is coming from. Are we rich?

Childbearing has forever changed my body. My stomach sags. My hips are wide. I can’t afford a personal trainer and even just getting out for a walk most days is difficult. My friend just told me about her brother and sister-in-law. They’ve been married for six years and seem to have everything. Everything except the one thing they most want – children. Are we rich?


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Help Wanted

Local start-up family is seeking a first-class family manager to join our team. Looking for an optimistic, dependable, mature person who enjoys working with children. Full-time position available for mornings, days, evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. Must have flexible work schedule and be available for diaper changing, story reading and tear wiping at a moment's notice.

Applicant must have a current driver's license and dependable car to provide transportation of children to school, sporting events, piano lessons and other activities. Additional duties and responsibilities of the position include: settling sibling disputes; light housekeeping such as making beds, cleaning bathrooms, fixtures, furniture, and carpets (windows negotiable.) Will also run errands and plan, organize, direct and monitor meal service.

We're looking for a self-starter who's not afraid to work. Successful candidate will have experience in creative fiscal management, grass stain removal, potty training, and lullaby singing. Stress management experience a plus!

Qualified applicant will have excellent interpersonal and organizational skills, be able to incorporate teaching moments into everyday life, and have a soft lap and a listening ear. Ability to speak with an authoritative voice also a plus. Although a college degree is not required, a high degree of tolerance is. reference given to those with nerves of steel.

We offer no insurance, retirement, or sick leave benefits, and there is no salary associated with this position. Other compensation, however, is provided. Receive countless hugs, kisses, even love notes from adorable children. Re-experience the magic of childhood as you watch youngsters take their first steps, taste ice cream for the first time, and ride a bike all by themselves.

If you are interested in this position, apply in person.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Not Your Slave

During the course of the day, I assume many different roles: Laurie Laundress, Clara Cook, Ella Entertainer, Betty Book-Reader, even Nellie Nag. On one particularly trying morning, I seemed to be Polly Put-it-away more than usual. After depositing my son's pajamas in his drawer one too many days in a row, I turned to him and said, "You need to put your own pajamas away. I'm not your slave!"

"What's a slave?" he asked. "A slave," I explained, "is someone who has to work but doesn't get paid for it." This simplistic answer seemed to satisfy his curiosity while summing up my own feelings.

The rest of the morning I worked like a slave--or at least I felt like one. I cleared off the breakfast table and grumbled. I loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, and swept the floor. Even while dressing my daughter and changing her diaper I remained mopey. I think the only thing I took pleasure in that morning was my shower. And that was interrupted half-way through by both kids pounding on the bathroom door. They were thirsty.

After putting my daughter down for her afternoon nap and quietly slipping out of her room, I turned around. There in the hall was my son, holding a handful of coins, pennies mostly, that he'd collected from his grandparents. "Here," he said, giving them to me. "Now you're not a slave."

I thought about it for a minute and decided he was right. For a total of 13 cents, he bought my freedom.

Reviewing the morning's activities, I realized that my feelings of self-pity had affected more than just my attitude. By considering myself a slave, I had unwittingly cast my children as the loathsome taskmasters. How much of my resentment for my work-load had been carried over to them? Not much, I hope.
So now that I'm emancipated, how do I go about my day? Reality is that I still have all of the same jobs to do. How do I keep from feeling like a slave?

For starters, I've begun think of myself as a volunteer. Together with my husband, I made a conscious decision to have a family. You could say that I volunteered to be a mother. On days when motherhood is a bit more than I bargained for, I find it helpful to remind myself that I chose this lifestyle.
Another way to feel liberated hinges upon service. Who has the time to ladle soup at the local soup kitchen? We all do. Only we have to stop thinking of the soup kitchen in strictly traditional terms. Why not think of it as our own homes? The very things that can make us feel like a slave--doing laundry, cleaning toilets, picking up toys--when viewed from another perspective, can be acts of service.

Of course, now that I'm beginning to get the hang of home-based volunteerism, my son has other ideas for me. Just the other night as I was sorting the last pair of socks, he approached, more coins in hand. "Take these," he urged. Once I was holding them he said, "Now come with me. I need help picking up my room."

My Book is Coming to This Blog . . .

Don’t look now, but I’m posting a serialization of the book I hope to someday have published: I’m Not Your Slave – I’m Your Mother: Parenting Wit and Wisdom From the Trenches.

There are five chapters, each with approximately eight essays. (I’ve selected 40 of my best columns from my three years of weekly self-syndication.) I’m hoping to post a new essay on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’ll title them something like . . . Trenches / Chapter One / Truncated Title. You get the idea.

As I’m hoping to run this same material past future prospective publishers, please give me feedback on what you think. And feel free to share my blog address with whoever you think might enjoy hearing another parent’s perspective from the trenches.

Enjoy your summer!