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

 

 

 

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

 

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A Love Letter to my Father

Phew, at least Father’s Day is the same in the U.S. and the U.K. You’d think that’d mean that I’d be organized enough to get cards/gifts in time for both my Dad and for Devin. But not so much. But hooray for my blog where, even better than a Hallmark card, I can express in my own way, just how special my father is to me.

My Dad is one-of-a-kind. Brought up during World War II, he’s made of strong stuff, with a big heart and a firm grasp on the what really matters. My Dad’s feet are always on the ground. His needs are few. He is generous to a fault. His principals are steadfast and admirable. His smile lights up a room. His dedication to my Mum and his family unwavering. I may be an adult, making my own way in the world, but my path, character, confidence and my success are 100% attributed to what my father has taught me. Several examples include:

  • Picking yourself back up: After being laid off the first, or was it the second time, I was down and in a funk. One day Dad presented me with a twenty pound note, told me to go buy brushes and paints, and paint my bedroom. 24 hours later, I was like new. Focused, with a plan, a goal. 48 hours later, bedroom walls freshly painted, I felt accomplished, energized. Ready to go get the world again. Genius, Dad.
  • Determination and taking risks: As a child, I never fully appreciated just how canny a businessman my father was. Only as a parent myself, can I appreciate the dedication and effort he put into his self-made enterprise, and his employees, every single day. I try to mirror this in my life and career, which has caused me to stay true to my career choice, despite some bumps along the way, and to even forge my career in new countries.
  • Family first: My parent’s marriage has always been a joy to watch. My Dad is what I call an old-fashioned husband, his love is enduring, he is a romantic at heart, I’m sure. My father’s love for his family has extended and deepened as our family has expanded over the generations and there’s room in his heart for us all. What’s more, he’s diligently researching our family past and even finding long-lost relatives.
  • Don’t forget the silly: From jumping out the dining room window shouting “bunny bunny bunny” and cavorting across the lawn, to April Fool’s jokes and creating treasure hunts around our neighbourhood, Dad’s silly-side is often surprising, always effervescent.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love you!

Are Dads the New Moms?

This morning, I read a blog post that suggested that parenting magazines are making a mistake by catering so much to Moms and leaving Dads out. On the one hand, I agree – Dads these days play a large role in parenting and should be represented as such within parenting magazines. On the other hand, I’m not so sure that Dads turn to glossy magazines for parenting advice. I’m fairly sure they either speak with other Dads, follow a couple of Dad bloggers or wing it, the best they can.

I consider myself to be one lucky Mom as my husband has not only been a very participant Dad from the moment number one child popped out (actually, he didn’t just pop out but that’s another story) but he also makes me a better Mom. I observe the same in many of my friend’s husbands, as well as my brother and brothers-in-law, and it’s really heart-warming. These are the ways that my kids’ Dad is as good as (and often better than) their Mom:

  • He folds the laundry (is there anything sexier, I ask.)
  • He shares the school drop-offs and pickups.
  • He cooks, shops, cleans, mends.
  • He has cleaned up his fair share of poop and puke (though I always seem to be on the receiving end of the puke.)
  • He encourages me to go out with my girlfriends at least once a month.
  • He takes care of both kids one evening a week so I can work late.
  • He shares taking the kids to their dentist/doctor appointments/playdates/birthday parties.
  • He is a more-than-equal enforcer of discipline.
  • He attends parent/teacher conferences with me.
  • He does it all when I have to travel for work.
  • He is super silly (which is the secret to our happy marriage.)

So yes, if the above tasks comprise what was once considered motherhood, then Dad is the new Mom and I see nothing wrong with that. The fact is that parenthood is wonderful and tough and incredible and exhausting and uplifting and messy and expensive and complicated and a lot of hard work. Having an equal partner makes it manageable and way more fun.

Hooray for Dads!

(Did I mention that my hubby is in the wine business – triple bonus for me!!!)

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