Dashing to the car, to class, to the store, and through the front door soaking wet seems like the daily routine this winter. As much as we need it there is only so much singing in the rain one can do to make the best of a very wet season. During a recent break in yet another thunderstorm, and in that last hour of light; I grabbed my coat, collar, and baggies because the dog needed to get out before my youngest daughter came charging in from her play date.
With our newly rescued dog, who suffers from an uncanny obsession with windshield wipers (she hops like a pogo stick while barking incessantly), I made my way down the street to drop off a sleep-over bag for my older daughter. The fifteen minute walk was just what I needed; the reflection of the sun going down was like a spotlight across the clouds and I welcomed the cold breeze graciously …until I heard the honk, my younger daughter was home early. Thankfully my mom-friend caught my moment and offered to drop Callie at my destination. I picked up my pace.
With a quick drop-off and a scoop up of Callie I said good-night to my oldest daughter just as Callie realized she was now going to walk home. “Ahhhhh, mommmm I don’t want to walk.” “I’m tired.”
My kids love the outdoors and are enthusiastic hikers but the realization that one was walking while the other was playing just didn’t sit right. The tears began to roll as I strategized a distraction: “Look, the clouds are chasing the moon trying to cover it before it reaches the stars.” Callie looked up, tears turned to giggles. “Quick mom, let’s catch the moon before the clouds do and we get all wet.” The wind picked up with our pace and I could sense the rain was only moments away. Taking her lead and with Gracie, aka “Cracie,” we ran.
“I can still see the moon hurry up mom,” she said as the first few drops patted our faces. We raced and raced to the dog’s delight. The end of the path was near, three blocks to go. Callie rounded the corner and shouted: “Catch the moon, Mom. Catch the moon.” As I rounded the corner I could see Callie leaping through the air to catch the moon illuminating from the small cracks left in the clouds.
And then the rain came down like the roar of an audience begging for an encore. Callie stopped at the red light and belted out to the cars with their wipers now swishing swiftly: “The sun will come out tomorrow! Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.” I caught up to her and smiled at the passersby not knowing if they were in awe of my little outdoor adventurer or Gracie now hopping like a pogo stick while barking at their wipers. Either way, we skipped the rest of the way home belting out the theme song from Annie while the rain showered down on us and the moon peaked out from behind the curtain of clouds.
Just a quick reminder that on a day when you might feel stressed from traffic, rain, and the daily chaos …the joy of being a parent is best celebrated one puddle at a time. Put on the boots, leash up the pooch and jump …jump …jump. Your kids will delight in the moment.
Don’t worry about the mess …just warm up some cocoa. Off we go!
…it’s that time of year when we think about who’s coming to town, who’s going to cook, and who’s bringing someone new to the table. But the table is where we all gather and there is something to be said about family time.
So why do we wait for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays to gather everyone at the table? There are plenty of studies telling us that time at the table actually benefits everyone. Working parents let go of the office stress, kids connect with each other and eat healthier, and it establishes a daily ritual which is the foundation for family traditions. The table gives everyone a place to gather: it is a social networking site and that alone should have your kids texting BHS (yes, “be home soon”).
Recently, I read the rounds of mommy blogs bemoaning the lack of time to get everyone to the table for dinner. There was a lot of empathy and sharing of reasons why it’s just so hard today but no real solutions. Dare I jump in? Oh, I dare.
Breakfast! Why hasn’t anyone combined the important ritual of gathering family at the table with the most important meal of the day? Without even realizing it, my daughter and husband started this ritual the day she started preschool. He stayed to have breakfast and wished her a great first day. Then he stayed the next, and next. Now in sixth grade, she’ll get up at 5am in the morning and roll herself to the table for a bowl of Cheerios followed close behind by her younger sister for a “sunnyside up.” We laugh, we wish each other a good day, and then we scramble out the door.
As the winter weather gives us its first wink this week, and with the holidays just around the corner, it’s time to unwrap a tradition long put away with the holiday ornaments from our childhood. Breakfast or dinner, prepared or packaged, make it a resolution to get everyone to the table before the New Year and you’ll really have something to celebrate.
Sometimes what we’re looking for is at the end of our nose, right in front of us, or right outside our front door. So the saying goes.
I travel to New York more than a few times a year and, no matter what the occasion; I always take a stroll through Central Park. It amazes me: lush, natural, an island in a sea of sidewalks and skyscrapers; it is the perfect setting from movies to marriages. Even with mountains just beyond my front door in Marin I always think how lucky New Yorkers are for having Central Park.
Recently I was presenting the Let’s Go Chipper!(tm) series during the New York Green Expo and a father mentioned how living in NY keeps his kids from experiencing nature. He happily purchased every product we had on display to the delight of his four year old flipping through the pages of “Out to Sea with Sally,” a recent book release. I mentioned that he had one of the most amazing open spaces in the country and, in fact, Central Park launched the urban parks movement in the mid 1800’s. Oh, the things that make you go “huh.”
“Central Park is for the tourists,” he replied. Needless to say I was up on my soap box, momentarily, to confirm with this father: his responsibility to his children included the importance of connecting them with nature. Then I looked down at his daughter and asked if she wanted to see some turtles. She said “yes.” Then I asked had she ever chased squirrels, climbed sparkly rocks, or chased clouds. A shy “no,” was her reply. Her dad raised a brow and shrugged I was a “tree hugger” but I could tell he was a dad who adored his little daughter.
I mentioned that in less than a New York minute he could go to www.centralparknyc.org and see why Central Park is such a landmark in the big apple. But to his daughter I whispered, “Or you could just tug your daddy’s arm when you leave the building and head left just a few blocks.” She giggled, I smiled, and daddy was on his way.
Of shoes, socks, snacks, sunscreen.
Of lunches, backpacks, cleats, and …snacks.
Of classes, schedules, homework, and …play dates.
Of work meetings, teacher meetings, PTA meetings …and doctor’s appointments.
Of shopping lists, my “to do” lists, his “honey-do” lists, and …school supplies.
Of friends nearby, of friends moved away, and classmates …just seeming different.
Of the high points, of the low points, of the transitions life just brings.
Keep track of these moments.
It seems to be the motto this summer and reminds me of my own summer days as a child. My mother used to take us to the local pool and we’d spend all day long playing “Marco/Polo,” diving for rings, practicing cannonballs, standing on our hands, and doing somersaults underwater. By the time we arrived home our eyes were as red as Twizzlers and we smelled like chlorine. The days were full of laughter until it was time to exit the pool.
“Just one more dive” … “Just one more cannonball” … “Just one more somersault” …and then the pranks of “oops, I fell back in.” …It was funny until my mom’s lips grew tense, her eyes fixed sternly on us and her voice dropped low but sharp: “Just one more time.”
My five year old is a natural when it comes to pool antics, she manages to pull out all the excuses and “oopsies” and still get away with a trip to the vending machine. It’s hard not to resist when you’re living life and trying to set ground rules yet reminiscing about childhood at the same time. I find myself trying to be stern but turning and cracking up in a towel. I just can’t pull off that low growl my mother could do so well; it still sends shivers up my spine. When I was a child, if you defied the count to three you really did get pulled out of the pool …and by your ponytail, and nobody flinched or “tsked.”
I can feel triumphant that a little one …two …three magic does work when I mention “no mint chocolate chip ice cream if you don’t get out of the pool,” but I have to say I secretly look forward to the giggles and screams of “just one more time!”
That’s what my mother always hollered right before “Dinner is ready.” There was never any discussion, you got to the table; like it or not, and that went for the meal and the conversation.
I received a call from a Cutco Cutlery representative the other day and immediately flashed back to my brother standing in the kitchen wearing suit and bowtie as he set out for his first job. By the end of that summer every mom in town had a new set of steak knives on her table. I couldn’t believe the company still existed (60 year anniversary if you check out the site) so I said “yes” to a demonstration and a potential trip down memory lane.
A few days later, I opened the door to a young man looking like he had just come from surfing. No suit or bowtie, just a laid back expression and a bag of knives over his shoulder. I let go of nostalgia as he laid out his knives at my table and turned on autopilot.
“Do you own a set of knives, Mrs. Wilson?” “Yes, I do.”
“How often do you use them?” “Daily.”
“How often do you sharpen them?” “Rarely,” I said.
“I bet you like to barbecue on a day like today.” “I love to barbecue anyday.”
“What’s your favorite meat?” “I’m a vegetarian.”
He faltered momentarily then plugged a paring knife for my veggies before switching to autopilot again. The demonstration started to feel like the dull knives I apparently had in my drawers; that’s until he cut into something I can get fired up about.
“How many meals do you prepare in a week?”
“That’s a good question,” I replied. “I’d say 14 or so.”
Silence, then “A week?”
“Yes, that’s right, at the table with napkins in lap.”
He stared stunned and I wondered if he was envisioning my entire kitchen being decked out by Cutco, or if he was imagining that many moments at the table with family.
The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California reports the average family spends about 18 hours a month together. From TV to technology, distractions are cutting into dinner and family time. But I’m not ready to scrap mealtime for computer time. I’ll take the occasional arguments and grumblings over the meal, or who got more ketchup. It’s the sharing of daily activities, jokes, and planning of weekend hikes that helps us circle our wagon to keep tabs on each other. It is both grounding and comforting, and expected now by our children even at a young age.
So while my Cutco representative frantically flipped through the pages looking for the bigger knife block to sell me, I sat contentedly knowing I get flustered about a lot of things throughout the day but not getting the meal to the table – even if it means breakfast for dinner.
Too many kids, the neighbor’s dogs …and the first sticky patch of floor presented itself today. With a goal to break from work mid-afternoon through dinner to embrace the roll of active parent I rolled my eyes wondering if school had let out early for summer this year. The warm weather kept my girls and their friends outdoors, and I thought their moment of “independent play” would actually allow me to sneak in a few emails. “Mom, will you count?” my five year old hollered out. Hmmm, I thought. “Sure, I’ll count to 100.” There back to the email.
“Mom, did you count?” I looked over trying to hide my guilt. “65, 66 …” she dashed away squealing “Everybody hide!” Finishing the email, I closed my laptop and recommitted to my goal of “turning off” so I could tune in to my girls until their bedtime.
Looking from bush-to-bush, behind the trees, and around the house I hollered out everyone’s names and delighted in the giggles coming from kids I pretended not to see. Before I knew it, dinner was upon us and I was thankful my mother had taught me that meatballs are always better the second day. With the bowl of strawberries and blueberries Callie had picked from the front yard, I turned to the table and welcomed the sound of extra feet scrambling to the table with an enthusiastic “yes! I love your mom’s meatballs.” Cones, cups, and a little bit of whip cream solidified my standing as coolest mom for the day.
With the sun setting and the air cooling quickly I know summer is still a few weeks away but this little wink of what the school break will bring made me smile that a few longer nights at the desk are worth time spent hollering out, “olly, olly, oxen, free.”
My girls love visiting family so it’s not a farfetched idea for us to pack up spontaneously and drive the six plus hours to Los Angeles or Orange County to visit grandparents, cousins, and friends. With over 36 relatives within 45 miles of each other, my girls are ready to go. Most people think we’re crazy to drive the 5 freeway because, to them, “there is nothing to see.”
But springtime delivered us a picture perfect drive and we found ourselves tuning into music that had us belting out show tunes, Dolly Parton, and a little bit of Hannah Montana. Even when we broke down to put in a movie, the girls couldn’t help being distracted by the vast fields with poppies that continued to bloom all the way up hills and mountains.
When the road did become flat and seemingly desolate we were given the quintessential meaning of springtime: babies! We saw calves and baby lambs running free, chasing each other, nursing and sometimes just nestled next to their mothers. It was amazing to see such playful life out on the land so many just drive by without stopping to take a look.
I realized that every few miles there was a sign reading “Vista Point”. I wondered how many people pulled off to take a look and I was grateful for the people who paved the road years ago and were thoughtful enough to realize this was land that should be viewed.
Most of us are more likely to pull off at one of the pop up convenience exits and grab a Happy Meal, fill up, and hit the road again. It’s ingrained in me since childhood that we stop for gas, and snack from the provisions packed. With my two girls singing in the backseat munching on the goodies packed we decided a new tradition would be to pull to the top of a Vista Point and for once just stop to enjoy the view.
Though spring is officially more than a month away, the early time change and a welcomed break in the rainy weather seemed to lighten everyone’s mood today. Even after a wrong turn and no Garmen to show me how to get home, I chose to just go with the road while my girls kept worrying out loud over our predicament. That is until we came upon the most incredible playground alongside a marsh we’d never explored.
With dog in tow we took the path for a while hoping to see some of the birds mentioned on the welcome sign. Accompanied by Mallards and Mud Hens in the water, with incredible shape-shifting marshmallow clouds above, we followed the meandering path until we reached the far end of the playground. The girls immediately raced to this incredible apparatus, worthy of an Outward Bound course, full of kids swinging and dangling trying to get to the center of what looked like a spider’s web. One child hollered out “Como estas hombres” and I laughed at Avery questioning if the three year old had just called her a boy.
Dropping to the ground, Callie dashed to a section of the playground that seemed to be calling her name. She was immediately joined by another girl and I smiled at her mother, also pondering the instant connection. The girls, undeterred by the language barrier, simultaneously started digging. Callie suddenly screamed and lifted up her arm; her hand clenched tight in a fist. She raced over to me and opened up her wet, sandy hands. “It’s the most beautiful rock in the world,” she exclaimed. Frankly, it looked like a snail that had been crushed and rolled in sand and I cautiously touched it hoping I was wrong. I was.
Callie sat with her rock marveling at the “specialness” of it. Setting it on my bag, she dashed back to her new friend and knelt down to resume scooping. I cleaned up the rock and the few more that Callie brought with pleas of keeping them all. I sat next to the family of rocks so thoughtfully lined up and smiled at what looked like my Pet Rock collection from a craze that took over the country when I was a child. How ironic: my younger self had stormed like so many other kids to the stores searching for the same treasures my daughter had just uncovered in the sand, and in the company of a new friend.
This great serendipitous moment was not lost on my girls who proclaimed: “this day rocked” as we walked the path back to the car where my phone sat blinking with a text message from my husband wondering if we had found our way home.
“I did it!” My almost five year old exclaimed. “I reached, and I reached and I finally did it.” It was a milestone; that miracle moment when she discovered that by letting go, she would actually move forward. A child swings back and forth on the Monkey Bars anticipating what’s to come while so many of us dangle, hesitantly, wondering what we might miss by not holding on.
Now more than ever is the time to reach out for what you’ve always dreamed of doing. Reach for the opportunity that will help you achieve a goal you’ve always wanted to achieve. Holding on so you feel safe won’t stop you from falling; and falling into complacency is the greatest let down of all. Believe in yourself and reassess what matters. Family and friends, and a good walk in the great outdoors should land pretty high on your list.
Reaching for what you want and what matters is goals achieved, but for just a moment see the world through the eyes of a child and go swing on those Monkey Bars of life.
It started with a 36-piece then moved to a hundred and finally a thousand tiny little obscure shapes covered the table as we made our way through the holidays. The hallway to the girl’s bedroom was covered, a wonderful landscape became the front door Welcome mat and the girls keep going.
The idea of sitting around a table with friends and family to do a puzzle isn’t new but I certainly hadn’t seen it for a while. And when I brought one out after Thanksgiving dinner I got “puzzled” stares until both my father-in-law and step-mother helped rally everyone to the table. It was hours of political and social conversation, family memories and jest as my father-in-law persevered to get a piece in: “If you push hard enough, it will eventually fit” I believe is what my brother-in-law kept saying. It continued through the holidays and we’ve just stocked up for winter.
I did a little research and discovered that the “cutting” of puzzles goes back to the 1760s when a London mapmaker glued a map of Europe to a piece of wood and sawed around the nations. The popularity grew and, in America, it was the great depression that took puzzles mainstream as it was the most economical form of entertainment.
So with 2009 upon us I say let go of complaining about the economy, eliminate the confusion for what’s to come, dismiss the notion that there are still “Jones’” out there to keep up with and celebrate what Norman Rockwell captured so eloquently in his illustration “Freedom from Want”. Family and friends are clearly the most important “goods” in our lives for 2009. And if you’re so inclined, it’s available as a 1000 piece puzzle.
The holidays are here and it’s time to hunker down and embrace the chaos. …work and the whirl of parties: school, family, and those pseudo work/networking opportunities. While most kids look forward to holiday books, my oldest daughter always wants the story about the almost-holiday mishap: yes, the time we thought it was an all-ages Open House. I should have turned around and walked out the door the minute the host said my daughter was always so fun to be around.
All was going well, but adult parties don’t end at 8pm. By nine-ish conversation was lively and laughter filled the room but my daughter had grown bored …until she discovered little figurines which I imagined had come from some far off land during a great adventure. I learned that night that museum putty only holds down objects in the museum if the kids stay behind the red rope. As I spoke to another guest I caught my daughter successfully prying a figuring from the side table.
“Put that down,” I said in the most pleasant voice but with pleading eyes. She just stared, the person I was speaking to waited patiently. But the tension only mounted because when time is up for a child, time is up. So again, I smiled pleasantly but spoke with stronger persuasion “We don’t touch other people’s things so put that down.” She hopped off the sofa and waved the object in front of me; tauntingly I thought. Looking directly at her I whispered again, “We don’t play with other people’s things, so let’s put it down.”
Suddenly, she happily galloped the tribal figurine across the glass table making just the kind of noise that can stop a host cold in her shoes. I strained to smile and knelt down to whisper through gritted teeth: “Read my lips!” That was it! She stopped immediately and turned with an enlightened grin.
Clapping my cheeks in her hands she squeezed tightly and pulled my face close to hers. “Oh what do I do now,” I thought. Pulling my squished lips close to her eyes, she read out: “Once upon a time, there was a bear ….now let me read your cheeks.” Before I could respond, laughter erupted; more people than I thought had begun to wonder how I was going to wiggle out of this situation. I wasn’t, so I had to embrace it. The life of a three year old can be quite literal.
Family and life take patience. Work takes practice. And the two together are chaotic perfection. Embrace the chaos, it’s all good.
Competition between siblings offers more than just a lesson in winning and losing: it’s the realization that success often times includes sacrifice.
On a recent hike to what we now call “Lizard Rock” my husband and older daughter, Avery, were on overdrive trying to catch the little prehistoric creatures sunning themselves on a lone boulder jutting out from the hillside. The lizards seemed drunk with sunshine but, to our surprise, proved adept at escaping the swift moves of both my husband and older daughter …not so swift when Callie, our younger daughter, just casually walked up and scooped one off the rock.
As we continued hiking, Avery seemed detached from the family and intent on her mission to seek out and catch the biggest lizard. Near the end of the hike she spotted a rather robust lizard and began the prowl; unfortunately her sister saw the same one and the two gave chase. Their race to the rock ended with Avery overtly relishing the win over her sister. But the thrill was short lived.
“What’s that wiggling on the rock?” Callie asked. Avery, with blue-belly in her hand looked to the rock where the tail of the lizard lay wiggling. The mountain went quiet and I imagined every lizard, squirrel, deer, butterfly, and bird looking up with sympathetic anticipation as her wail shook us to the core.
“I’ve killed it,” Avery cried while looking at the motionless lizard in her hand. “Put it down,” my husband said calmly. The lizard lay next to its tail for only a moment then dashed off. Avery sobbed while Callie begged to take the still wriggling tail home with her.
Avery realized in her zeal to out-catch her sister, even when her sister had no clue that they were competing, she had sacrificed another in order to come out the winner. The tears streamed the entire ride home even as we explained that lizards use the tail-release as a defense mechanism and her little blue-belly would be okay. A few hours scrolling through sites finally calmed her and the day provided a great science and life lesson for our little nature-lover.
Like so many kids, I was teased throughout childhood and even into adulthood. Not for being too fat or too skinny…I was teased for always being too nice, too giving, and the one most likely to be taken home to mom. A childhood friend once said I needed “b****” lessons. A college friend once said “no one is ever that happy.”
The comments bothered me because it mocked what I liked to do and be in life. My mother always said things like “just kill them with kindness” and, at times, “you will do it and you will like it.” The latter quote was often given in a more stern voice but it resonates beyond childhood. Because there have been plenty of moments in my life that were not “happy.” No one likes to move away from friends. It’s not easy losing a parent or discovering your child has a medical condition. These are moments which have tested my philosophy but I still say I’m lucky and let’s pass around the lemonade.
If you choose to do what fits your interests and values, everything will fall into place. Once your heart and your work are in alignment, all the adjustments within your home, finances or other areas of your life will start to fall into place and eventually will seem like they were always meant to be.
This value is not lost on my two girls. My oldest daughter fine tunes her revolutionary Pet Hospital Hotel business plan in an effort to keep families and ill pets together. She is growing up with a sense of empowerment to do something she loves because it has always been what she’s seen. And if my mom were here today she would say “Bravo! …That is a life well done.”
Anyone selling a product or setting up shop will tell you times are particularly tough when it comes to winning over customers these days. Customer service is more important than ever as I learned during my recent adventure into Hot Lunch duty.
I was on active bagel, hardboiled egg, and yogurt parfait duty – the “fill” if you will for kids who did not take the main protein, starch or vegetable. Yes, just like a business “build it and they will come” …not so on this hot lunch duty day.
I was in work-mode mindset so I was ready to deliver and close the deal on every plate that went by without the proper food groups represented. I had dutifully loaded all the cups with yogurt and filled them with granola “parfait.” But alas, the customers walked by without so much a look when I hollered out “hardboiled egg, bagel, yogurt parfait.”
There’s nothing worse than watching a customer walk by especially when they are barely ten and holding a plate with an apple slice on it. I was confused at first; my section was laid out perfectly “well merchandised” and I looked as hip as any mom there. By the end of the first lunch shift I still had 50% of my inventory on the tray, and the lunch duty director was less than thrilled.
I assessed my situation and remembered a few rules-of-thumb with customers: make it quick, convenient, and clear. I questioned what kid had time to crack, peel and eat an egg when there were dodge ball, 4-square, and volley ball to play during lunch. And did I really believe kids knew what “parfait” was?
Second shift began and as the first child without the proper food groups represented came by, I said “Hi, would you like your vanilla yogurt with or without granola?” “With granola please,” she said. Most kids like granola but have no clue what parfait is. “Clear message,” check.
I was ready for the next child without chicken on his plate, “Peeled and ready egg,” I asked. “Okay,” he said. “Here’s your bagel and cream cheese, and yogurt with granola?” “Without please,” he said. “Quick and convenient,” check.
Lunch service was over and I had just one item left. I graciously offered a teacher walking through the lunch room, “Yogurt Parfait? …It’s low-fat and organic?” She smiled and accepted enthusiastically, “Absolutely.”
I saw a cartoon in the paper the other day featuring a mother reading her daughter the story of the princess who went off to work with the blessing of her husband …”and they lived happily ever after.” Of course, I clipped and posted it on the refrigerator as a daily reminder: the daily juggle is only calmed when there is mutual respect and admiration between working spouses and parents.
Respect for my husband went to a new level this past summer and if my husband were writing the blog this week it would be titled, “Pleasing Your Wife, One Load at a Time.” Literally, we have found our peace after months of chaotic transitions with my business and the “I’m busier than you” comparisons. It began when my husband exiled himself to the makeshift play/family/craft room …which conveniently houses the laundry machine and television. (cue “ding” and the light bulb going on).It began with just a load at the end of spring. Sure the TV was on and basketball season was well underway …but so was the laundry. I think my husband was nervous when I poked my head in to ask what he was doing while I was putting the kids off to bed – again – when I should have been finishing a presentation.
“Laundry,” he said nervously. “Hmmmm,” I thought.
It wasn’t until morning when I pulled out a perfectly folded and crisp white shirt that I started to see the light. I didn’t say anything …as I knew it would end with the season but then baseball season started. And the laundry continued. Nothing discolored, nothing shrunk, and everything folded neatly. During the Olympics, even our dog’s towels looked like fine linens.
I’ve actually never been very good at laundry and hate doing it so this was an amazing turn of events; my husband pleases me daily and the added bonus is that our daughters love to do crafts at the table while he folds. Greg explains great plays, players, teams, and the history of every sport he finds while surfing hundreds of channels on his DirecTV sports package. So the juggle of work and parenting continues but the chaos has calmed even as the laundry spins.