Thank You, Taylor Swift, for the Parenting Advice

I’m a big Taylor fan and not just for her toons. Mostly because “Shake It Off” has become the most awesomest parenting tool.

Her popular song has helped me reinforce some key messages with my kids. Stuff parents have said throughout the ages – but somehow now, with the Taylor seal of approval, now the kids are listening.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” still rings true but telling a kid to “shake it off” when other kids say mean stuff seems to resonate more.

And yes, accidents happen, but if you can “shake it off”, child, then we can all learn and move on.

And so on.

I put Taylor’s words of wisdom to work recently with my daughter. We were selecting boxes of Valentine’s cards for her classmates. Now my kid’s a tomboy (and I love it) and in the past, she’s rushed to pick out Transformers or Star Wars-themed cards. But this year, she hesitated and instead, picked out a Hello Kitty box. Because, she claimed that her classmates don’t think it’s cool that she “likes boy stuff.”

Well, this made me mad. And so it begins, the peer pressure that makes kids feel they have to fit in rather than stand out. I get it, I really do. At their age, non-conformance is abhorrent. But I want my kids to be true to themselves and their passions. To stand up for their beliefs, have conviction. Even if that belief is that Transformers are cool. (They are.)

But how to instill in them that it’s OK to follow their hearts and be different? The kid and I had a serious chat. With tears welling in her eyes, she explained that she was embarrassed when the other girls told her it wasn’t cool to like boy’s stuff.

I looked her in the eye and asked, what would Taylor Swift do?

Shake it off, she responded, knowingly, her head held a little higher.

Thank you, Taylor.

 

For Your 10th Birthday, 10 Ways That You Amaze Me

Dear son, today you turn 10. And while every birthday is worth celebrating, this one is particularly poignant.

For ten whole years, I’ve held you, fed you, hugged you, entertained you, laughed with you, cleaned you and cleaned up after you, answered your questions, dried your tears, high fived your achievements. I’ve spent hours fretting, researching, discussing, wondering about how you’re progressing socially, cognitively, biologically, emotionally, academically.

I’m often telling you to quieten down, slow down, clean up, hurry up. I may nag, I may yell, I may sigh with frustration. I discipline and punish. I lay down tough rules. And yes, I make you empty the dishwasher, pick up your stinky socks, turn off your device, do your homework, eat your vegetables, flush the toilet, and play nicely with your sister.

Because this is all part of the contract I made with my heart when I became a parent. Its design, other than to protect my sanity, is to show you the path to becoming a good person. Because I consider that job number one.

But mostly, throughout this past decade, I’ve admired you. You, Gabriel, amaze and inspire me, and here’s why:

  1. You are high on life. You are always 100% in the moment (even if that moment only last 60 seconds before you are on to the next moment!) You grab each day with gusto and joy, extract from it as much delight as you possibly can. May your lust for life and joy always be with you and rub off on the people around you, so they can light up the room, like you do.
  2. You are creative. Your inquisitive and imaginative mind, sharp, curious eye and lithe fingers compel you to express yourself through detailed sketches, funny doodles, paintings, sculptures and, oh so many, fantastic origamis. There’s no doubt you have an innate talent. I hope you continue to explore and challenge your art because when everything is grey and dull, your creativity will bring color and energy.
  3. You are a book worm, a reading ninja. You surround yourself with all kinds of books from Captain Underpants to National Geographic. Almost every evening, as I tiptoe into your room to kiss you goodnight, I have to first peel from your cheeks the pages of the book you were reading as you fell asleep. Please don’t ever stop reading. It will feed your brain, your imagination and your sense of adventure.
  4. You are sensitive. Grandma always said you have an “old soul.” This past year you’ve dealt with some tough stuff – your beloved dog died and you were in a frightening car crash. You cried, you hurt. You were scared. But you worked through it all with more maturity that I ever imagined a nine year-old could. I’m sorry that sad and scary stuff happens. I wish I could protect you from it all but it’s part and parcel of life and I’m proud that you are sensitive and brave enough to show your emotions. Because it’s always OK to feel all your feelings. Except the cold. Please put on a coat when it’s cold.
  5. You love animals and nature. You cried when we had some trees removed because you were worried the birds would lose their homes. If there’s a moth or spider in the house, I want to crush them, but you insist on saving and releasing them outside. You want to pet every dog you meet. Maybe you were a golden retriever in another life. It would explain a lot!
  6. You make friends with ease. You are so personable and easy to know. With kids and adults alike, you interact with confidence. I hope to continue to pick – and be – the best friend. Because we need friends, in good times and bad.
  7. You are generous (you get this from your father.) Just last week, you spontaneously made an origami for the waitress at a restaurant. This past weekend you told me you’d saved enough money to buy your sister a Christmas gift. Generosity is so important; it keeps you ever mindful of the needs of others. But remember, generosity is not just about things: it’s about being generous with your time, your attention, your skills. And it demands no reciprocity. It just is.
  8. You are funny. I always say you’ll be the next Conan O’Brien. Your teachers think you are hoot. But please remember there’s a time and a place for your hi-jinx!
  9. You have an amazing metabolism. The sheer volume of food you can consume in a sitting is crazy yet your body remains lithe and lean. You enjoy being active and understand what comprises a balanced diet – even if you have the wickedest sweet tooth. Just keep everything in moderation and keep moving.
  10. You love your family. Grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles and especially your cousins (especially Emma!) You are always so sad when it’s time to leave them. Remember family is everything: your roots, your anchor.

I can’t believe how time has flown and I’m so excited for the next ten years. OK that’s not entirely true. I’m terrified of the puberty years. Of hormones. Of teenage temptations. Of you learning to drive! But I’m also confident that you have the building blocks to show you the way.

Happy birthday Gabriel, I love you.

And don’t forget to wear a coat when it’s cold please.

And turn off your bedroom light.

And no, you can’t have a third slice of birthday cake.

Gabriel

 

 

 

How I Measure the Passing of Time

The sheer volume of Cheerios that can be consumed in one sitting

They still hold my hand

How quickly his buzz cut goes from sharp to disheveled

Her diminishing fear of auto-flushing toilets

They want their privacy

Volume of homework

Discussions waver at any given moment between poop, Pokemon and deep questions about religion, life and death and right and wrong. Also tooting.

Kids portions at restaurants are now too small (for him)

She still wants to snuggle with me at bedtime

Their beautifully expanding minds and vocabulary – including awareness of curse words

The escalating pencil marks and dates on the kitchen wall

Chapter books and intense reading sessions

The tooth fairy visits more often

Their bed times and mine are getting closer and closer

They need me less and yet they need me more

Taking Off The Training Wheels: A Mother’s Perspective

She’s a lot like me. A little cautious, a tad fearful. Prefers to set her own pace. Doesn’t take criticism awfully well. But determined, so determined.

Last year, she really tried it but took a spill. And that was it. Her confidence was grazed, never mind her knees. She decided she didn’t want any more of it. The wheels went back on. We didn’t push it.

A year later, things are different. After all, just look at the glee in her big brother’s eyes as he crazy speeds up and down the driveway, purposefully weaving this way and that, doing tricks? Taking spills but getting back on. She wants some of that action.

If I were the only parent, she may have never learned this. I’m the mother than cannot watch as they struggle to gain balance, take off and then wobble. With my breath catching in my throat, I put on an eager, supportive face but my insides are jelly, my nerves are screaming, waiting for the inevitable swerve and crash, tears and wails, grazes and bruises and hopefully, really hopefully, nothing worse. I’m terrified but I’m still cheering her on.

Fortunately, there’s him. Cool as a cucumber. Instructive. Determined and patient. Under his steady eye and hand, she really works at this, confidence building like a three-layer cake. And something clicks. She gets it. And she’s off, a little wobbly at first but she’s off. Self-propelled, balanced. Proud. The pedals turn, kinetically building energy, speed and conviction.

As she practices, her balance becomes stronger. The thrill of the ride shines in her eyes. “Wooohooo,” as she picks up speed. If she wasn’t wearing a helmet, the wind would be buffeting her hair, locks streaming out behind her like the dust Road Runner leaves in his wake.

I’m still terrified, of course. It’s the mother in me. But so proud of her hard work and grateful for his steady determination.

Of course, there will be spills, grazes and tears. But she will deal with them and get back on. She will learn when to switch into a higher gear, to look out for bumps in the road, to enjoy coasting, and when to apply the brakes.

And if that isn’t a metaphor for life, then I don’t know what is.

 

 

Three Lunch Box Strategies

My early memories of school lunches were very formative. From age 5 to about 12, it was all very Hogwarts-style. Long tables, steaming bowls of overcooked cabbage, ghastly steak and kidney pudding and sloppy semolina for dessert. Teachers staring down at you, ensuring you ate every last bite – or else. Being made to eat crisps (chips) with a fork because young ladies don’t eat with their fingers. Once we were into middle school, things became a little more modern. A cafeteria approach with less discipline and doom and more choice. I cannot remember if there was a salad bar or fresh fruit available – but I do remember the wonderful rhubarb crumble and custard. Most kids participated in the lunches provided by school, though a few (a lucky few?) brought in packed lunches, as we called them in the UK. (I don’t remember why my sister and I never had packed lunches: was it a parental mandate or our own choice? Note to self: ask Mum.)

Fast forward several decades and now I’m the Mom, pondering the school lunch landscape. Fortunately, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Michelle Obama’s program, school lunches here in the US are not as dire as they used to be and there is far more awareness of what constitutes a nutritious lunch, despite push back from school departments and economic challenges, especially here in Boston and Framingham.

My kids’ school district)has made good strides in providing healthier launch options and I commend them. Still, I’m not altogether sure that my kids would always make good choices or appreciate the food on offer (see below – roast turkey fricassee, anyone?) So every day they go to school with a home-packed lunchbox. Except Friday because pizza.

Have you ever done a quick search on Google or Pinterest for lunch box ideas? There are thousands, offering suggestions for alternatives to the tired PB & J, strategies for lunch planning and prep, and ways to create artistic masterpieces that will convince your kids to actually eat celery sticks.

Given that I’m not the artistic kind when it comes to food prep and taking into account the standard morning mayhem in our house, fancy sandwiches and sculpted vegetables were never going to be in our repertoire. In fact, in the spirit of divide and conquer, my role has always been on the grocery shopping/provisions side of the equation while my husband (a professionally trained chef) handled the actual prep. However, we kept on hitting three chief problems:

  • Not enough variety – we’d always default to the same foods
  • Both kids didn’t like the same things – son would eat the ham and cheese and leave the bread; daughter would eat the bread and leave the ham and cheese
  • So much wastage – their lunch boxes would always come home with loads of uneaten items.

So, in order to ensure their little tummies were full, their taste buds challenged and that we weren’t tipping all the leftovers into the trash every evening, we decided to try out three different approaches.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Theory: This phase involved cramming their bento-boxes with lots of different choices. Call it pick ‘n’ mix, the theory being that hopefully they’d eat a little bit of everything and get a well-rounded meal.

Conclusion: Failure. The kids ate what they liked, left what they didn’t and good food went to waste.

Shock and Awe

Theory: Surprise “baba ganoush and black beans” for lunch! We assumed that they’d be so hungry at lunchtime that they’d surely eat whatever unexpected delight they found in their lunch boxes.

Conclusion: Failure. It appears that kids would rather go hungry than eat suspicious food stuffs. Meaning crabby kids at the end of the day and yes, wastage.

Do-It-Yourself

Theory: A few months ago, I was struck by the realization that unless we stop doing stuff for our kids, they will never be able to do anything for themselves. So we decided they could make their own darn lunches every day (except Friday because pizza.) We provided some basic ground rules, like you must include protein and vegetables and the ratio of sweet stuff must not outweigh said protein and vegetables. My husband even taught them how to slice their own cucumbers which terrifies me despite the fact that my seven-year-old proclaims she is now “good with knives.” Oh joy.

Conclusion: Other than the daily concern of finger amputation, success! The kids are making good choices (see below), taking responsibility for feeding themselves, and best yet: they eat everything. Plus, my husband has an extra 10 mins in the morning.

My only regret is that we didn’t go the DIY route earlier. The next challenge is to get them to mix things up a little (my youngest picks the same foods almost every day) but all in all, DIY has been the way to go. Lunch box dilemmas solved!

School lunch mneu

School lunch menu

Kids lunchboxes with healthy food choices

Kids pack their own lunches for school

 

Separation Anxiety

Last week my kids offended me.

Not with any rude behavior or flatulence or other biological substances, but rather because they did not give one hoot that I was going away for a few days.

Yes yes I know. It’s a good thing. They are independent, confident, grounded, yadayadayada.

But please, surely one of them could have squeezed out a teeny tear? Or clung to me just for a moment? Maybe uttered the words, “don’t go?” I mean, no one even asked when I’d be back!

Have I done such a thorough job that they have no worries that their every need has been thought through, seen to, anticipated? I really should let something slip through the cracks next time.

Kids: here’s a tip from your loving mother. Please make her feel like you’ll miss her, even if it means faking it just a teeny weeny bit.

Seven!

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On this day, seven years ago, you arrived – two weeks early. You’ve not been early for anything ever since.

You are my funny girl, my ray of feisty sunshine, my karate ninja, my pop diva.

You know your own mind & I love that.

You can now read (oh the places you will go!)

You are blissfully unaware of your beauty. Your exquisite almond eyes and deep red lips.

You love love love your “rocky” music. And you move like Jagger.

You are my concert companion: first Bruno Mars, then Maroon 5. (Sshhh, there’s more in store this summer!)

Your appetite has grown as your beautiful body (that I made) has lengthened & strengthened. But you still consume food molecule by molecule. Meatballs, Mac & cheese, milk and chocolate rule your world. You are a broccoli machine. But NO SAUCE. Sauce is evil.

Your remain loyal to your main man Optimus Prime, but welcome his pals from Hero Factory, Lego Chima, and Ninjago. And Pokemon, of course.

You still want to be vet when you grow up. Or a pop star. Or a normal person.

You’ve mostly conquered your fear of new toilets.

You still burp like a beer-swilling trucker. (Grown men have been known to snort with laughter upon hearing such sounds emanate from one so small and cute.)

I’m training you to load the dishwasher to my exacting standards (this thrills me!)

You still maintain a freakish mental database of everyone’s ages and birthdays.

Most of all, you love to snuggle and give the tightest hugs!

Happy 7th birthday, my T!

 

Wanted: Me Time

Like most busy Moms, the tradeoff for all the joy of motherhood and family life is the loss of “me time.” And we all know and read about the need for self-care: if we don’t look after ourselves, then how can maintain our multi-tasking superMom status for everyone else?

I don’t blame my kids, my husband or my full-time job. In fact, my husband, knowing me as well as he does, often asks me what am I going to do for myself each weekend. I’ve tried my hardest to make “me time” a priority at the weekends; sometimes it works, more often than not, it’s 30 mins grabbed here or there that, in truth, doesn’t amount to much of anything in the way of soul-soothing.

Truth is, there’s just not enough weekend in the weekend for “me time.”

So this morning, I decided it was time to take some action. I am demanding one whole Saturday per quarter for me and me alone. Because I need a whole 12 hours to unwind my mind and body. To do things for me. At my pace and to my agenda.

I am claiming my “me time” because I need to know that it’s there, carved out on the family schedule. It’s something to look forward to, to plan for. To decompress the depleting stress that creeps up on my brain and rattles my sleep. To recharge my silly.

I know that everyone will benefit from my “me time.” Not just me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puppy Love

Guest post by Vikki Friedman

First there was just me. Then ‘me’ and the love of my life became ‘we’. We became three with the arrival of Harper, our fluffy champagne coloured kitten. The next five years whizzed by in a blur of nappies, sleepless nights and the juxtaposition of joy and insanity that our three unique, loveable and crazy baby boys (Hugo, Milo and Luca) bought into our world. Next came Molly, our fluffy white bunny (formally known as Buster the boy bunny – but that’s another story!).

Life in the Friedman family to this point could be described as semi-controlled chaos. Although my kids had begged us to get a puppy, the answer had always been a resounding “No way!” This was despite having grown up with the most wonderful four legged-friends, our gorgeous Shelties Leo and Ollie.

A few of my reasons were as follows:

  • Dogs are smelly and have really stinky breath
  • They pooh and wee everywhere
  • They destroy everything – your house, your garden and, according to my sister, steal and bury multiple household items including remote controls amongst other things!
  • I would end up doing EVERYTHING associated with looking after the dog!

Pretty good reasons not to get one, eh?

But I remember the day something seismic shifted within in me. My eldest son was having a lousy time getting to sleep and was really worried about ‘bad guys’ breaking in. He seemed to feel responsible for listening out for all the creepy noisy in the house that might mean trouble. That night I had an epiphany – a puppy would bring him the sense of security that he needed and deserved.

Suddenly, I was like that possessed woman who is desperate to have a baby and only sees pregnant women around her! Everywhere I looked everyone had a puppy and my doggy hormones just went into overdrive and I wanted one RIGHT NOW!

But of course it’s not that easy. There is a gestation period involved! First you have to decide on a breed that will suit your situation. We needed a puppy that was low maintenance, child and pet friendly and definitely not fluffy! After hours of research, we decided on a Pugalier – a Pug/Cavalier cross. However, finding one that did not come from a ‘puppy farm’ or other dodgy breeder was a tough task and it took months of research to eventually find a family who we felt comfortable buying a puppy from.

The next consideration was timing – it was important to introduce our new ‘baby’ into our crazy household at the right time, so I waited for the last two weeks of the summer holidays to do this. So, on a steamy 44 degree Melbourne day, Coco (or Puppy as she was known then) took a JetPets flight down from Sydney and flew straight into our lives and we haven’t looked back since.

“So what’s the verdict?” I hear you ask. Well yes, she is a bit stinky. And yes, she is still in the “here is my pooh as a present on the carpet” phase! She is nuts and sometime nips and sometimes steals things she shouldn’t and digs holes in the garden so that the bunny escapes under our back yard deck! She chases the rabbit around the garden and the cat has basically moved out since she took up residence!

But despite all this, she is friendly, loveable, playful, fun, loyal, so cute and has bought endless joy and entertainment to our family life. Our kids adore her. She adores them. They play with her first thing in the morning and first thing when they get home from school. There is less iPad, computer and TV time in our household and more fun and puppy play time. All she wants is love and be loved. And really, what more could any family ask for?

coco

Vikki Friedman is a English mum of 3 boys, who lives in Melbourne, Australia. She works in online fundraising, runs her kids’ school parents’ association and is starting her own face painting business. (Editors note: she’s also my sister!)

Busted By The Art Police

Art appreciation is hugely subjective. Especially when it comes to kids’ art.

As new parents, we naturally pore over every scribble, finger painting and nascent stick figure with enthusiasm, curiosity and caution. Will my kid be a future talented artist? What does this picasso-esque rendering of our family reveal about my kid’s psychological state? Why is Mummy’s head so much bigger than Daddy’s?

We proudly stick these pictures to our walls. We photograph their artwork, we post them to Facebook and Instagram. Heck, I even created an online gallery of my son’s best works.

But, really, seriously people: there’s art and there’s art. The reality is that 90 percent of the “art” that our kids bring home from daycare and school is junk. Go on, admit it.

Just recently, a good friend posted on Facebook that she had been “busted by the art police” – again!  Discussion followed with other parents about their strategies for clandestinely disposing of crappy art work, including these cunning maneuvers:

  • in the dead of night, I remove all traces immediately to the outdoor recycle bin
  • I fold them into tiny pieces and stuff them way down at the bottom of the big can in the kitchen under the icky wet coffee grounds
  • I hand shred and place them into old envelopes that bills came out of
  • I wait until recycling morning, then put it all out at the curb after they go to school

Genius! Me, I wait till they are in bed, rummage through their backpacks and then if there’s a roaring fire ….. Alternatively, if they come out of school or worse still, after the craft table at Papa Gino’s on a Thursday night, proudly showing off the paper doily decorated toilet roll snow man they just made, then I put it on the passenger seat of my car as we drive home. Inevitably, as they bundle out of the car and into the house, said artwork nonchalantly slips into the trash can in my car ….. and nobody ever seems to notice. Lucky me.

Parents, trust me. There’s a time to ooh and ah over your kid’s latest masterpiece and there’s a time to find a way to get rid of it.

What to do, however, if your kid insists of keeping his or her drawing? Well then, I’m not above grabbing some tape and sticking it to an assigned wall somewhere. But don’t overdo it or the kids will insist that their art is plastered everywhere. Better to finesse your sneaky disposal habits, trust me.

Have you been busted by the art police?

P.S. For greats tips on how to talk to your kids about their art, check here.

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