Friday, September 9, 2011

I will be guest blogging on KidScoop!

Look for an article soon on KidScoop

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Have You Read "We Need To Talk About Kevin"?

Over the last few weeks I haven't had the time nor the inspiration to write, however, after finishing a book last night that had one of the biggest impacts on me ever, I felt compelled to blog about it.  It left me somewhere between speechless and having too much to say.  A very strange crossroad indeed.  The book I finished reading was entitled We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

I remember in April asking my friend Bonnie who is an avid reader if she had read it - she told me that she had read it as part of her book club and that it was the one of her most memorable book club meetings ever.  We spoke about the book briefly and so I knew what I was in for, knew it was going to be a hard read, but I felt it was an important one too.  I can't say it was the best book I've read (far from it) but it was one of those books you kept reading due to morbid fascination - kind of like passing an accident and feeling compelled to look even though you know you may see something you don't want to see.  I believe it's important that we sometimes see the things we don't want to see.  Anyway, last night I felt like I just had to finish it because I didn't want to read it anymore!

For those of you who have never heard of this book, it's the story of a mother, Eva, who recounts through letters to her estranged husband coming to grips with her son Kevin who kills 7 students, 1 teacher and a cafeteria worker at his high school 3 days before turning 16.  It recounts how she debated over having children and how from the moment Kevin was born, she felt no bond to him.  As a result, Eva tries to scrutinize her role and responsibility for the resulting massacre, as well as trying to answer the question "why?".  The review on Amazon asks "Was it for revenge, then, that from the moment of his birth Kevin was the archetypal difficult child, screaming for hours, refusing to nurse, driving away countless nannies, and intuitively learning to "divide and conquer" his parents?"  Was it Eva's coldness and distance as a mother that turned Kevin into a killer or was he just born that way?  I won't provide any further details about the story should you wish to read the book, but let's just say that the ending left me crying in my bed.  I'm not sure I saw the end coming... or maybe I didn't want to see the end coming. 

I'm one of those people who doesn't necessarily have trouble falling asleep, I'm usually good until about 3am and then have trouble staying asleep.  Last night however, I sat in bed, cried and tossed and turned trying to fall asleep. I usually go to bed between 9 and 10 pm but was up well past midnight because I couldn't get my mind off this story.  Although it was fiction, there have been enough school shootings to feel it's reality - not to mention all the questions it raises about maternal love.  I had to go in and kiss each of my children in their sleep - something I never do for fear of waking them up. 

The book made me look at the bond I have with my children - unquestionably, my love for them comes naturally.  However, they are human so I don't always like them - or maybe it's just their actions I don't always like.  In any case, the book raises the question of the difference between loving your children and liking them.  I don't necessarily believe all parents like their children - I think you can love someone but not always like them.  Could you still love a child and come to grips with something so horrible as a school massacre?  Eva continues to visit Kevin in jail and tries to understand him.  Because the reader has such a dislike for him, it's hard to understand how she can sit across the table from him at all, especially given her dislike for him growing up and for the fact that he ruined her life.

At the end of the book I was left with a feeling of desolation.  We all know that when something terrible happens, it reminds us to take one day at a time and cherish all of the little moments in life, but when you think about it, it is kind of crazy to have to "remember" to enjoy these moments.  Our days are so jammed packed that we often go on auto pilot - an unfortunate reality of modern life.  There are those odd people out there who are born with the gift of appreciation but I think those people are lucky and it's not the norm.  Just like some people are born eternal optimists or with a happy disposition, some people just get the gift of seeking enjoyment in all they do.  Yesterday I was drafting a blog post for the ShaToBu website and at the end I wrote how life is a journey, that it's not just about the destination.  That if we are so focused on where we are going, we don't always stop to enjoy the ride.  After finishing the book last night, the weight of that hit me head on.

So what left me so unsettled was not just the precariousness of life itself, but also how to make "taking time to smell the roses" a part of my everyday life.  How do you hold on to this feeling and apply it without needing reminders?  I don't want something bad to happen in order to make me stop and enjoy each day.  I want to live that way always.  Is that even possible?  I think it's a whole lot more difficult to live in the present than it is to live for the future... but then, what a waste of today.  If anyone at all reading this has accomplished this feat, I beg of you to share the secret.  Until then, take this as a reminder to stop a moment today and be grateful for what you have and stop worrying about what you want.  There's always time to worry about that tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Faking It - Do you?

There are a few things that come to mind when you say "faking it" - usually the first is orgasms.  But there are a whole lot of things that people fake in their lives.  I don't think faking it at times is all bad - it has it's time and place.  Can you just imagine if people didn't fake things on a regular basis?  Say, for example, when you ask someone "How are you?".  They may actually be feeling like crap and be miserable, but they will probably answer "Good, and you?".  Would you consider this faking it?

It made me start thinking about what else people fake, and why they do it.  Here is a short list of things people often fake:
  • being nice to someone you don't really like
  • being sick (or the good old "headache")
  • knowing about something you really don't know anything about
  • being rich or successful
  • weight
  • confidence
  • a smile or laughter
  • giving an honest opinion (really, those jeans don't make your butt look fat)
  • your resume
  • your age
  • a tan
  • plastic surgery
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and some may cross over into "lying" territory rather than "faking it" territory.  So in which situations is faking it a good thing?  I see nothing wrong in little white lies where you have someone's best interest at heart and no harm is ultimately done.  I also believe in faking how you feel at certain times.  If you're down in the dumps, it's often easier to fake being happy - not only for you but also for those around you.  Often pretending to be happy results in you ultimately being happy.  Of course I'm not talking about major things but rather more temporary or trivial things.  I don't propose that people suppress their negative emotions and not deal with life's challenges... but sometimes it can be useful.  I remember faking being happy after a breakup - not only for his sake, but also for my pride and for the sake of my friends (who I'm sure did not want to hear for the 100th time what a jerk the guy was).  I've also heard that smiling boosts our immune system, reduces our stress, lowers our blood pressure, and makes people like us more. A pretty good argument for putting on a happy face.

I'm also trying to be a believer in the good old "self-fulfilling prophecy" philosophy.  I was recently given a book to read called The Biology of Belief.  There are people who just generally believe good things will happen, and for them, they usually do.  Take my husband for example.  He never worries about parking, he just expects there to be a spot.  Most of the time, that's the case.  On the other hand, I worry about finding parking and I often have to circle and circle to find a spot.  So I've been trying hard lately to "fake" believing in the things I want to have actually happen.  I guess when things do start to happen, I'll become more of a believer.  I will say it's hard to make the change in my head.  I think some people are just born as positive thinkers and believers, while others who are more worriers - like me.  I'll let you know if faking it helps change that!

I also think faking confidence is a good thing.  I remember my first day on the job as an articling student at a big downtown Toronto law firm.  One of the first tasks I was given was an Affidavit of Documents.  I think I was hyperventilating because I had no idea what it was.  But I remained calm and when I found out what it was... no big deal (basically just filing all of the documents in the case in date order).  I take this lesson into many aspects of my life - I reckon I'm bright enough to figure things out in most cases - so why not fake it till I do?!

I think we fake things for the most part to mask insecurities and to feel better about ourselves.  We're concerned with the possible judgment that may be passed by our family, friends and peers.  I think this is especially true in motherhood.  We worry about so many things and wonder if others will find us lacking if truth be told, we didn't always have all of the answers.  I'm sure we've all had those mom moments when we discover that another mom has a similar challenge and concern and we feel utter relief that we are not alone.  Those are the times I think faking it is bad.  The times we need the support and encouragement from fellow moms.

At the end of the day, we all do it to a certain extent.  As long as we do for the better good and stay true to ourselves, I really see no harm.  When faking it ends up suppressing or hurting ourselves in some way (or others), then it's time to step back and re-evaluate.  In the meantime, I'm super happy it's Friday afternoon and the weekend is upon us.  And I'm not faking that at all!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kids Who Don't Listen - Do You Have One?

I've noticed a disturbing pattern developing in our home lately and it seems to be escalating.   It's also one I need to break... quickly.  In one breath I'll tell one of my kids to either (1) do something or (2) not do something... and they just completely ignore me.  It's like I never uttered a word.  Does this sound familiar...

Myles/Charley (insert your child's name), dinner is ready - go wash your hands and come down to eat.  Nothing.... Did you hear me?  Dinner is ready, let's go!  Nothing... Myles/Charley, stop colouring now and come down for dinner!  Nothing... If you don't come down right now, then there's no TV and no dessert tonight!

Or how about...

Don't touch the papers on the kitchen table.  I turn around for a second and when I turn back, papers are scattered all ove the table.  I said don't touch, which part of "don't touch" did you not understand???  Only to have the same thing repeated with something else 5 minutes later.
 
You get the picture.  I have to say, repeating myself 100 times over is driving me crazy.  Of course my fustration is mounting and so when this now happens, I've begun snapping.  I don't want to be be snapping AND it doesn't appear that the snapping is helping anyway.  I've also tried the good old "If you're not going to listen, you're going for a time out" and "If you're not going to listen, I'm going to take away XYZ".  Nada.  I need a new tactic!  Or two or three.

So first off, I wanted to check how common this problem actually is.  Check out this tidbit I found:  "Most children don't listen much of the time. In fact, Sandra Rief, a noted educational specialist, reports research that suggests children only retain about 25% of what they hear as compared to 50% of what they see and hear. In parenting, as well as teaching, there is too much reliance on talking as the primary means of getting children to learn new behaviors or follow the rules."

I also found this very interesting piece on Ezine Articles about what we might be doing wrong:

1.  We talk too much. Loving parents want to do the best for their children so they feel if they tell them all the stories of how they struggled and how they know all the answers, the child will give up and do what we ask. This method of communication is lecture, advise, order and threaten.
2.  We talk too loud. We feel that if we raise our voice they will respond. Actually, it is the opposite. When you speak softly, they have to pay attention to what you are saying.
3.  Every conversation is a criticism. The parent feels the way to motivate is through blame, shame, name-calling, sarcasm or jokes in order to put the child down.
4.  We don't listen when they speak. Good communication in a family, workplace or world is built on mutual respect. That means we allow others to express their beliefs and feeling honestly, without fear of rejection.
5.  They have trained us to nag. Why should they pick up their jacket the first time you tell them if they know by experience that you will yell 6 times and then do it yourself?
OK, I see the point.  Perhaps I'm making a few of those mistakes.  When I review this list, I know that I hate being yelled at, interrupted and being nagged, so why wouldn't they?  I know I can definitely keep trying to talk more in the positive.  It's just that it comes more naturally to state what you don't like about the behaviour rather than turning it around and finding a positive way of saying it.  But if it works and it benefits my kids, it's well worth the effort. 

Here's another solution suggested by iVillage:

I suggest parents teach their kids to listen using the A, B, C and D's.
A. Ask in a no-kidding-around tone of voice
B. Be clear and specific
C. Communicate your request in six words or less
D. Don't make not listening an option

For instance, if you ask the kids to get ready for bed and they tune you out, say, "Bedtime. Please, turn the television off." Don't walk away and hope the kids will do as they're told. Stay with them until it's done. Turn off the television yourself if needed, and just thank the kids for listening. Don't yell, don't threaten the kids, just do it. Be creative. Getting ready for bed can be turned into a game, or you can give the kids motivation to cooperate by saying, "Go get ready for bed and choose the book you want me to read."
I will definitely be giving all of these tips a try.  Albert Einstein did say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  So I obviously have to make a change.  At the end of the day, all I really want is a peaceful home, and a peaceful home includes children who listen.  I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Do Your Kids Play Outside Unsupervised?

I recently read a comment from a mom who let her 3 and 5 year old play on their street unsupervised (they lived on a quiet court) and was upset because one of the neighbours was a fast driver and she felt she should slow down and pay attention to the small children playing outside on the street.  Wow!  My kids are 4 and 6 and I'm thinking their not playing outside without someone watching for a LONG time to come.  We do let my 6 year old son play in his sand box in our fenced in yard, but only if the dog is out there with him.  Even then, I'm usually in the kitchen and checking on him regularly.  But it did make me wonder... at what age should they be allowed?

When I was a kid, we all played outside without supervision from a very young age. That is not the reality in today's world... we are either much more knowledgeable or much more paranoid, but either way, it ain't what it used to be!  There are no laws that stipulate at what age a child can play unsupervised, so I went to look online... there are lots of conversations on the topic, however, no real consensus.  I guess there are too many factors to consider... if you live in the city or in a more rural neighbourhood, your child's personality, if they have older siblings, if there are other neighbourhood kids playing outside unsupervised, etc., etc.  

In the US, there are many Home Owner Associations that are passing regulations that children under the age of 16 cannot play outside alone.  I found articles on the topic from Colorado and from Florida.  Personally, I think 16 is a little crazy - but it appears that the HOAs are not only worried about safety, but also vandalism (and one in Florida is a retirement community - another whole story there). 

Basically, I found nothing.  If I had to go on pure impulse, I would say somewhere between ages 9 and 11  - depending on my child when he/she reaches that age.  What do you think??? 

And here's something else to consider... because we don't let our children play outside unsupervised, they are less active, watch more TV and play more video games.  What about those consequences?  I read an article from the UK Telegraph discussing the fact that limiting unsupervised play may affect our children's development - here's a quote:
Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, said it was important that children were given more opportunities to play outside.
"We know that 80 per cent of children prefer to play outside and 86 per cent of parents agreed that on a nice day their children would prefer to go to the park than watch TV," he told a Sunday newspaper.
"Yet children spend less time outside than they would like and less than parents did as children. In our consultations parents told us this is because there are not enough safe places to go - and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that parents think their children are safer playing inside on a computer than outside."
The consultation paper follows a report by Dr Tanya Byron, a psychologist, on the harmful effects of video games and computers on children.
I definitely want to make sure that my kid are active... which means more structured activities.  That's of course another topic of it's own.  It's also important to me that they enjoy the outdoors.  When it's nice out in spring/summer/fall, I do try to take them to the park or let them ride their bikes/scooters in front of our house after dinner, but as a working mom I'm not always up for it at the end of a long day.  It's a challenge sometimes, but I do try and push myself since our nice weather is so very fleeting.  Thankfully, they've always had time outside at day care and now at recess.  I'm so looking forward to this summer when my son will go to day camp for the very first time - he has no idea how much fun he will have being outdoors all day, every day.  I will, however, point out that this is still ALL supervised outdoor play.

What I remember from my childhood was running wild with friends and exploring.  That must do something for our sense of adventure and self-confidence.  How will our kids fare when they are finally allowed out on their own?  Does it make the world a scarier place?  Will they be so used to our guardianship that they won't know how to take care of themselves?  Or will they rebel and be risk-takers?  All scary stuff with not a lot of answers.

As our world continues to evolve, so does our parenting.  We assume that we know more today as parents than previous generations, but do we really?  I feel like we are often in uncharted waters and just hoping we are heading the right direction.  One thing is for certain, we can't go back... so here's hoping that what we do today will do right by our children's futures.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Do You Live Beyond Your Means? How Do People Do It These Days?

Between mine and my husband's salaries we make a pretty good living, and yet we never feel like we have a whole lot of disposable income.  I often look around at friends and acquaintances who can't be making that much more than us, but who seem to live much more lavish lifestyles - more trips, bigger houses, fancier cars, dinners and shows, etc. I can't help but wonder, how do they do it? 

We try hard to put money away toward savings, but I never feel like I'm doing enough.  Our priority right now is definitely our children's education - we contribute the maximum to their RESPs every year.  And of course, money goes toward RRSPs.  I recently created a budget and tried to figure out where to cut on expenses... I didn't have a whole lot of success.  And I kept asking myself, are we doing something wrong?

Expenses for certain things have definitely gone up - I find our grocery bill ridiculous.  I saw an episode recently of TLC's new show Extreme Couponing and thought maybe I needed to try coupons.  Then I read a couple of blog posts from women who had also seen the new show and experimented... the time it took to find the coupons and go to the right stores didn't seem to make it worthwhile, unless you wanted to do it as a full time job like the women on the show.  Since time is something I don't have a ton of as it is, I'm thinking this is not the way to do it for our family.  Although using a few coupons here and there can't be all bad if they are for stores where I'm already shopping... I'll put that on my to-do list.

In all seriousness though, I did a little search on "how to live within your means" and found mostly the same stuff.  Here's an article that had one of the most common list of tips.  We already do quite a bit of what was included:  I have created a budget so we know what comes in and how much goes out, we don't have credit card debt, we don't eat out often, I bring a lunch almost every day, I don't buy coffee daily (although my husband often does, despite my purchase of a Nespresso machine), I make a shopping list before doing the groceries, etc. etc.  The reality is, we are pretty simple folks.  We don't make extravagant purchases or feel we have to keep up with the Joneses, but somehow, others seem to just do more.  Of course, they may be living in debt or on credit, who knows!

This is one of those areas that just doesn't get discussed amongst friends, and often even amongst family.  It seems intrusive and off limits.  But I am asking... how do you do it?  For any of you brave enough to answer, I'm sure that I'm not the only one wondering! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Would You Consider Plastic Surgery?

As I edge closer to my mid-40's, I understand how natural it is for many women to contemplate plastic surgery.  So far, I'm pretty darned lucky and look much younger than my age, however, I am definitely noticing changes with my body.  Probably the most notable to my own eyes is my skin tone - it's not as smooth and even as it used to be (yes mom, I know you told me the sun is poison...).

I'm not a vain person but I do start to wonder how much one's looks are tied up with both one's self-confidence and happiness.  There's no question that when you're at your best (i.e. good hair day, feeling less bloated than usual, brighter eyes from a full night sleep, hot outfit, etc.) you feel better and your whole mood changes.  So as things start to droop and sag, I wonder if I will be able to maintain my sense of self-confidence despite the aging process.

I've always said that there was no way I'd go under the knife.  I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with it if you do, but it's just not for me.  I might, however, be in the minority.  With the ever growing popularity of cosmetic procedures, it has not only become widely acceptable, but also widely accessible.  In addition, there are also many less invasive and less expensive options to choose from... which may be the reason so many more women are turning to these types of procedures.

Here were the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures for 2010*:

2010 Top Five Cosmetic Surgical Procedures
Breast Augmentation 296,000 (2% increase from 2009)
Nose Reshaping 252,000 (1% decrease from 2009)
Eyelid Surgery 209,000 (3% increase from 2009)
Liposuction 203,000 (2% increase from 2009)
Tummy Tuck 116,000 (1% increase from 2009)

2010 Top Five Cosmetic Minimally-Invasive Procedures
Botulinum Toxin Type A 5.4 million (12% increase from 2009)
Soft Tissue Fillers 1.8 million (3% increase from 2009)
Chemical Peel 1.1 million (no change)
Laser Hair Removal 938,000 (5% increase from 2009)
Microdermabrasion 825,000 (9% decrease from 2009)

*Source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons


I get it... if there was no pain, no risk and it cost nothing, I'd be the first in line for the tummy tuck!  Birthing two kids in my late thirties... well, need I say more?  In the meantime, I just work the abs as best I can and suck it up that I now have a permanent muffin top.

When I look at the stats, my concern turns to what this means if we choose NOT to pursue any kind of procedure, invasive or not.  Is it possible to age gracefully while we socialize with friends and family who look "better" or "younger" because they chose cosmetic surgery?  Do we develop a stronger sense of self-esteem as we get older (in addition to the lines and wrinkles) to deal with this? I'm not so sure.  Of course, there are many examples of cosmetic surgery gone bad and in that case, those of us who choose to stay "au naturale" will feel much better.  With this ever-growing popularity, I think that many women are going to feel like this is one instance they may have to "keep up with the Joneses".  For me, unless they develop some very cool laser that is painless and risk free and makes us look 25 again, I'm out of this rat race.

My bigger concern, however, is what this means for our daughters.  They're growing up knowing that if you don't like something about yourself, you just go have it fixed.  What happened to self-acceptance and appreciating our uniqueness?  Will they want to achieve the media's version of beautiful and end up all looking the same?  And then when they have daughters who look nothing like them, then what? 

And how sick is this - a plastic surgeon wrote a book called "My Beautiful Mommy" for mother's with young children contemplating plastic surgery.  So we're supposed to explain to our young daughters that mommy is just not beautiful the way she is and that she has to go through painful procedures in order to be so... while at the same time telling them they are beautiful just they way they are?  Talk about being a hypocrite.

I'm all for making ourselves look and feel our best.  I also completely understand fixing a feature that has caused abject embarrassment and teasing, especially when it gets to the point of damaging our self-esteem.  But where do we draw the line?  When is enough enough?  Let me know what you think... would you consider plastic surgery (or have you)?  If so, why?

Friday, May 6, 2011

How Did Mother's Day Get Started?

Like many holidays, we take them as they come but don't always think about their origins.  I was curious on this one so I did a little digging.  There's a very handy site called 123holiday.net that provides this kind of information.  Of course, honouring mother's goes back to Greek times, but if we are speaking specifically about our modern version, here's what they had to say:
In the United States, Mother's Day started nearly 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day."

Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed they bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.

In 1905 when Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Legend has it that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."

Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers. At one of the first services organized to celebrate Anna's mother in 1908, at her church in West Virginia, Anna handed out her mother's favorite flower, the white carnation. Five years later, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for officials of the federal government to wear white carnations on Mother's Day. In 1914 Anna's hard work paid off when Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.

At first, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. With the increasing gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day's sentiment was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations for a war mother's group. Before her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever starting the mother's day tradition.

Despite Jarvis's misgivings, Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. In fact, the second Sunday of May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honor and to express appreciation of their mothers.

It is amazing that so many holidays with more meaningful origins have evolved into Hallmark occasions.  It's like it's not a holiday unless we commercialize it in some way!  In our house, we don't usually exchange much in terms of gifts, but we most definitely do cards.  This year, like last, we'll go with my husband's family to their golf course for brunch.  The kids have a blast because they usually do some type of entertainment for them.  Last year it was a magician.  Not sure what this year will bring.

I think my most special Mother's Day was my first.  I felt awed by the mere fact that I was on the other side of the holiday for once.  Since I had my son at age 36, it was a long time coming!  Since then, I take them as they come.  I can't say it feels different than any other day.  In my house, every day is Mother's Day (unless the kids are really being a pain in the ass... then not so much).  But no, really, I appreciate motherhood so much and never take it for granted.  You know that feeling when there's something really, really good in your life that you're afraid if you blink it may disappear?  Kind of like when you were younger and had just starting dating a guy you were really into and you were afraid to use the term "boyfriend" because you knew as soon as you did, he might break up with you.  Well, that's how I feel every day when I look at my kids.  I'm so crazy about them and I feel incredibly blessed that I have the honour of being their mom.  To me, that's all the gift I need.

Happy Mother's Day to all.  Hope it's a wonderful day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Read Together, Eat Together - A Recipe For Success

As a very busy working mom, my brain doesn't always retain everything I would like, but something said by my son's Principal at her welcome speech last fall is still crystal clear hear in my head.  She looked out at the sea of parents sitting in the school gym and said, I have two pieces of advice for you that will be fundamental in the parenting of your children - if you hear anything tonight, hear this:  read to your children and sit down and eat dinner together at night.

Maybe the reason this resonated with me so much is because I love food and I am a passionate reader.  I loved food and cooking so much that I went to culinary school and got a degree.  As for reading... I was that child my parents had to discipline to get my nose OUT of the book.

Let's start with eating together.  We are almost there - I sit down with the kids every night for dinner, but my husband is usually not home in time during the week.  I know this poses a problem for many families and can be a challenge.  My suggestion is trying to at least accomplish dining as a family a minimum of 3-4 times a week.  Perhaps there is a night or two during the week where schedules can be flexible, and if not, then weekends are a must. 

OK - so we have mostly accomplished the dining together part... but I'm not sure yet how it's actually faring for me.  You see, dinner hour is often the most stressful part of my day.  We're all tired from a long day and it's easy for the little things to get to us all.  Here are some of the highlights of a typical dinner hour at my house:
  • Calling the kids to the table approximately 6-10 times before they appear
  • Kids complaining about what's on the menu (or what's not on the menu)
  • Kids getting up 2 minutes after sitting down to use the loo
  • Kids getting up for any reason whatsover
  • Kids not sitting properly on chair... leading to spills and other fun accidents
  • Kids arguing over who gets juice poured first (or which cup they want... buy duplicates!)
  • Kids using cutlery to make music or gouges in my table... and inevitably landing on the floor
  • Kids playing with their food
  • Kids talking over one another and fighting over who spoke first
  • Me resorting to negotiating (close to begging) to get them to eat... you know, the countdown of how many more bites and the dreaded "no dessert" threat
Believe me, I try.  I imagine the whole Leave It To Beaver good old-fashioned mealtime and try to emulate it... so honey, tell me about your day?  How was school?  Did you listen to your teacher?  Did you get along with your friends?  I always ask them what the best part of their day was (what made them happy).  I find this puts a positive spin on things and hopefully gets the conversation on a positive note too.  In a perfect scenario, we all chat amicably, eat peacefully and are just happy to be together.  Unfortunately, it usually doesn't go that way (see bullets above).

So I thought I would search for some tips on the web on how to make dinner time more peaceful.  Welllll..... surprise, every tip I found was stuff I was already doing!  Things like setting expectations, turning off the phone, including your child in the conversation, teaching manners, taking turns on who can speak, eating what is prepared (i.e. don't be a short-order cook), etc. Since I appear to be doing the right things but clearly not getting the desired results... I am going to ask for tips from any of you seasoned moms out there... and I'm going to switch to part 2 of this post... reading together!

I have always been a passionate reader.  I love to lose myself in the many worlds and lives found in books.  On my recent post where I discussed the things I missed from before becoming a mom, you will notice that reading a book was NOT on the list.  That's because I can't NOT read.  One way I've been able to do this is by incorporating reading into cuddle time with the kids.  I will first read to them - thankfully, they love books as much as I do.  After reading to the kids, we snuggle up in front of the TV so that they can zone out and watch cartoons before bed.  I find it's a great way to help them relax and transition.  So while they are watching cartoons, you guessed it, I'm reading.  This is also part of our Saturday morning routine.  We get cozy together, they watch cartoons and I read.

There are so many great books out there for children.  We recently got the Leapfrog Tag Readers and the kids love it.  They can not only read the books themselves but also play educational games.  A great feature is that you can attach headphones so not everyone has to listen (great for restaurants).  I love how interactive the books are - it really captures their attention.  We also read tons of regular books - interesting enough, even if I'm reading girl books for my daughter, my son will sit in rapt attention and vise versa.  We haven't yet experienced that they won't listen if it's not one of "their" books.

We're in the process of helping my son learn to read.  He's definitely wanting to, but I think he's also a little bit afraid to really try.  It's a work in progress and I just keep plugging away at it.  I'm sure it will simply click one day.  I did find this very helpful guide for parents on the Ontario Ministry of Education website.  I think, however, that even when he does learn to read by himself (and my daughter too), I will keep on reading them stories at night.  I think there is something very special about reading out loud and sharing the story together.  I hear about parents who take more advanced books and read a chapter a night... definitely something I'm itching to try (I just have to find the right book to start).  Suggestions welcome!

As an avid reader, I'm always on the lookout for good books myself.  I keep a memo list in my blackberry and keep a running list of books to read.  I always have my phone with me so no matter where I am or who I''m speaking with, I can keep an updated list.  Since I have a kindle, I purchase almost all of my books on amazon.com.  They send me regular emails on new books and book recommendations based on my purchases.  I love that.  And when you are on the site reading a book review, they always have a ton of other suggestions based on the book you are reviewing. 

I also joined something called Goodreads which allows you to share book recommendations with friends.  I only have one connection at the moment - but she always makes good choices and we have the same taste in books!  And I of course always exchange book titles with my other avid reader friends.  Feel free to comment on my blog post below with any of YOUR recommendations, or if you connect here from my facebook link, on there as well.

So I leave you with one thing in mind... read to your kids and dine together as much as possible! Until next time...

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Things I Miss From "Before Becoming A Mom"

There is an endless supply of advice from all kinds of people when you are expecting - everyone has an opinion on what you should do and what to expect.  When pregnant with my first child, I heard things like sleep as much as you can before the baby comes (as if you can actually bank those hours... not), see lots of movies, read lots of books, got out to lots of restaurants, etc., etc. In other words, do all of the things you like to do as an individual because after the baby comes, you're just someone's mom and you come last.

Personally speaking, I paid attention to what people were saying but not whole-heartedly.  I had waited a long time to become a mom (I was 36) and so all of those things I would easily give up for a baby and the chance to be a mom.  They seemed inconsequential (and often still do).  With Mother's Day fast approaching, I started to think about how I've changed in the last 6 1/2 years and what I miss most about my previous "self".  I would obviously not change a thing about my present life as a mom, but you don't stop being you and so it's completely expected that looking back, there will be things you will miss.

Here are some of the things I came up with (in no particular order)...
  • a day spent leisurely and aimlessly shopping with friends... and spending money on frivolous things just for me
  • my completely flat stomach
  • going to the toilet in privacy (that includes taking a shower)
  • traveling without a million bags, extra changes of clothes, toys, etc.
  • watching what I want to watch on TV
  • seeing all of the latest movies in the theatre, instead of on video
  • getting only myself ready in the morning
  • taking a "time out" - you never just get to turn off as a mom
  • my things were "my things"
  • talking on the phone without interruptions
  • saying bad words without fear of imitation by small humans
  • eating a meal without getting up 10 times (especially to wipe a butt)
  • having a clean car without crumbs and sticky stuff
  • a third glass of wine which would actually make me tipsy (any more than 2 and I feel it the next day, even if it doesn't make me tipsy - that sucks!)
  • being sick without having to get up and take care of anyone else
  • exercising for more than 20 minutes, especially taking long walks
  • just being alone
So here's a surprise as I write this post... after finishing the list, I realized that in fact, I actually don't care all that much about most of it.  Sure, it was fun to think about. Those things are nice and all, but they can't hold a candle to what I have now.  Here's a glimpse... yesterday was a glorious day and we took the kids out for a picnic lunch on the mountain.  As we walked toward the mountain, my 4yr old daughter held my hand and started skipping and singing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay".  I don't know much of the lyrics but after the first two lines, she kept singing the words and actually knew the song.  It was the cutest thing ever.  I looked over at my husband and our eyes connected and I knew he was thinking the exact same thing - we were amazed and delighted.  It may seem like a small thing (my daughter singing a song we didn't know she knew) but it was so much more.  Her happiness and free spirit as she skipped and sang was so pure and so innocent.  It captured a moment of such joy and I loved being a part of it.  I loved being her mom.

It's moments like these that make me realize how much I have changed in the last 61/2 years.  I may miss glimpses of my old life but those things will come again one day.  In the meantime, I have gained more than I ever thought possible which has made me a much better version of myself.  I can't express how blessed I feel that I have the privilege of being their mother.  I may worry that I don't always do the job perfectly, but I will always try my best.  There's no better job in the world...

Friday, April 29, 2011

After The Wedding Comes Marriage...

In light of today's historical wedding of William and Kate and the crazy "wedding fever" gripping the world, I thought it might be interesting to discuss the magnitude that such a day plays in the lives of so many women.  The fairytale wedding to a handsome prince charming is the dream of almost every little girl, and it's crazy to think it's all over in one single day.  Look at all of the shows on TV dedicated to this one day:  Say Yes To The Dress, Rich Bride Poor Bride, Wedding SOS, A Wedding Story, For Better Or For Worse, Who's Wedding Is It Anyway, Bridezillas, I Do Let's Eat, I Propose, Engaged And Underage... and on and on!

We already know about all of the excitement and joy a bride-to-be feels in preparation for her big day, but the planning of the wedding can also lead to all kinds of stress, anxiety and drama.  It is kind of crazy to think of all of the effort that goes into being a bride, especially compared to so little that's put in to becoming a wife.  And we all know, the wife part lasts a whole lot longer than the bride part! 

Now that Kate's big day is almost over, real life begins.  She's probably had a whole lot more training for what that entails given she will be leading a public life, but what about us common folk? The honeymoon comes to an end and the excitement wanes - for many women the transition from bride to wife can take some getting used to.  Marriage is wonderful, but it also takes a lot of work to keep it that way.  In the fairy tales we grew up on, "happily ever after" ends when the princess marries her prince.   

When I got married, I was 35 and pregnant (yes, it was planned).  Since we had already been living together, I had a pretty good handle on what the wife part was going to be.  Given our age and circumstances, our priorities for a wedding were not the traditional ones.  My husband had been married previously and had told me from day one that he didn't want to get married unless he knew for sure that he would be a dad (hence him knocking me up before us getting married).  He had also had the traditional big wedding. 

When it came down to it, I was more than happy to put whatever finances were earmarked for a wedding toward a down payment on a house.  I thought nesting at that point was a whole lot more important that one big celebration.  We eloped and got married on the beach with 4 witnesses and a Rabbi.  We didn't tell our families in advance but simply called them after the ceremony to let them know.  A week after we came back they threw as an intimate luncheon that was just perfect.

Although I had no issue giving up the fairytale wedding of my childhood dreams, I must say there were two things I did feel badly about missing... firstly, the whole dress experience and secondly, having my father walk me down the aisle.  I did wear a white dress that was perfect for our beach wedding (together with white flip flops), but it wasn't the same as having that whole princess dress shopping experience (and I do love to shop).  That said, I have absolutely no regrets over our wedding and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

So what makes a "good" wife in today's world?  I found a very funny article that told you what it meant back in 1955 - the contents are posted at the bottom of this post.  In my humble opinion (we're just approaching our 7th anniversary), what makes a good wife depends on the partnership you have.  Each relationship is different and what works for some, may not work for you.  On that list, however, there are some ingredients which are non-negotiable for a happy marriage: 
  • love
  • mutual respect, honesty, loyalty and acceptance
  • open communication
  • picking your battles and fighting fair (let's face it, you will fight)
  • being secure both as an individual and as a couple
  • having realistic expectations of each other
  • a healthy sex life
  • sharing in household and child-rearing responsibilities (hopefully on an equal basis if you both work full time)
  • being supportive of one another
  • giving each other space
  • treating each other as you would a best friend 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. 

I'm not sure why we're so fascinated with weddings and brides - but I have to say I loved watching the ceremony this morning.  Do we just love the romance part of it?  Do we want the things that traditionally followed... security, house, children?  Or does it just represent "happiness" - something we are all seeking?  Whatever it may be, I do hope that Kate gets here happily ever.  I hope that as husband and wife, Kate and Will have a successful marriage.  Now we will all wait with bated breath for the first new little royals!

The Good Wife's Guide

From Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May, 1955.
  • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have be thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
  • Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
  • Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
  • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a dustcloth over the tables.
  • During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
  • Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.
  • Be happy to see him.
  • Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
  • Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
  • Don't greet him with complaints and problems.
  • Don't complain if he's late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.
  • Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
  • Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
  • Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
  • A good wife always knows her place.
*picture courtesy of thestar.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The "Work" In My Avoiding Working Mom Burnout

Since starting my blog, I've discussed all kinds of topics relating to being a mom, being a woman and juggling a million priorities... but I've never actually talked about work.  That's half of the two words I use to describe myself "working mom".  Also, I thought as readers, you might actually like to know a little bit more about the products I market... if you're like me, then you're the target audience for it!  I promise this will not be an infomercial blog... hang with me for a bit!  As a crazy busy working mom, I'm always looking for shortcuts - not only to fit more into my day, but to also lead a healthier and happier life.  So I thought I would tell you a little bit about what I do... which in turn will lead me to share with you some great shortcut ideas for sneaking a little bit of exercise into your day.

For those of you who don't know me, I'm the Director of Marketing for a company called Mayfair Tech Inc.  Our initial product launch was ShaToBu - The Workout You Wear.  The name stands for "shape", "tone" and "burn".  I'm sure you might be wondering what the heck it is... first let me ask, do you know what shapewear is?  I assume the whole world knows about Spanx, but just in case, it's the modern day girdle you wear under your clothes to suck you in and smooth you out.  Many of us have tried this under a special occasion dress (or under anything post-baby LOL).  Our ShaToBu shapewear, however, doesn't just suck and smooth, it was scientifically proven to also tone your muscles and help you burn extra calories as you move about during the day.  I won't bore you with all of the science that's been done, but I can assure you it does work, and it is real.  If you're really interested, you can check out the proven technology page on our website. 

When I first interviewed for the job, it wasn't the shapewear part of things that caught my interest, but rather the workout component.  I wasn't a shapewear wearer, but I was and have always been into exercise.  When I first went back to work after both my maternity leaves, I was in fighting form.  All of the baby weight was gone and I was toned and fit.  And then real life happens.  The long walks with baby in the stroller and time to exercise disappear and the weight starts to creep back on (and body gets a bit "soft" - ugh).  If you're a working mom, I don't have to tell you how hard it is to fit exercise into your regular routine.  Even if you do manage, things come up... kids keep you up at night, travel, stress... etc. Basically, extra sleep can often win out over the early morning workout.

What I thought was so cool about ShaToBu was that it made you look better instantly (sucked in the dreaded muffin top and eliminated VPLs... visible panty lines) AND it also gave you an edge long term to help you get/stay in shape.  It's NOT a miracle product and doesn't replace going to the gym, but it does that little bit of extra that may just get/keep you on the right track.  Perhaps you may wonder how it can do this... well, there are built-in resistance bands in the back of the garment (just like the resistance bands we use in the gym) - wearing it makes your muscles work just a little bit harder than doing the same movement without, which in turn helps you burn the extra calories.  It was developed by a female chiropractor who was concerned for the health of her female patients.  I liked that part too.  We now have shapers, tights, leggings and coming soon, everyday wear.

Without turning this into a sales pitch for ShaToBu, let me get to the part that I found cool - squeezing in the light workout in my regular daily routine.  There is a lot of research out there that shows that doing small spurts of exercise are just as good, and maybe even better, than doing a longer workout.  Doing less is also easier on our muscles and joints (another problem if we are older working moms LOL).  Check out this study done in Scotland and another study done in UK.  Good news for us!  At the end of the day though, doing anything is always better than nothing.  Every little bit helps! 

So in addition to wearing ShaToBu, here are some of the other things I have done to sneak a little bit of exercise in my day, especially on those when I miss my workout!

  • take a 10-20 minute walk at lunch
  • get up from my desk and stretch for 10 minutes in the afternoon (or however many minutes I can manage)
  • do some exercise while sitting or standing at my desk when on the phone (see images below - I created these for ShaToBu) - you can also do these while watching TV
  • take the stairs when I can
  • in nicer weather, play ball or do something active with the kids before/after dinner (walking the dog together is good too... especially for the dog)
  • put on some music and dance with the kids - they LOVE it
  • take one of the farthest parking spots in the lot

At this stage of my life, I find all of the little things add up... whether they are the pluses or minuses.  Those extra bites off my kids' plates add up to pounds on my butt, so it goes without saying that whatever little extra I can do to stay active will hopefully have the opposite effect.  It certainly can't hurt.  If I include my kids in the activity, I get the bonus of spending time with them too.  And just as important as spending the time together, teaching them about an active lifestyle instead of one sitting in front of the TV, computer or video game, will hopefully create healthy habits to last them a lifetime. 





















P.S. Does the silhouette look familiar?  It's me LOL!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Are You Guilty Of Judging Other Mothers, And Even Yourself?

In simpler times past, a woman's role was that of wife, mother and keeper of the home.  As we gained our independence and took on new roles, our choices grew tremendously.  And with so many choices, we can't help but question ourselves and the choices we make.  It's not surprising then, that we not only judge other mothers, but ourselves as well.  Why?  Because comparing ourselves to others tells us if we are performing in our chosen role - in other words, it helps us determine if we are a good or bad mother.  I think it's completely natural to judge ourselves and others as a result of being insecure about our choices, and we're insecure about our choices because it's impossible to do it all by today's standards. 

It's almost like we have a checklist in our heads of "good" mom and "bad" mom moments.  We look at another mother and see something she is doing and say "Crap, I don't do that, I must be failing in some way", or "Phew, I do that too so I must be on the right track".  I think we play a good game of pretending to do it all and be happy doing it.  I think it's taboo to talk about the truth and whether or not we are truly happy in our new roles and all of the choices we have to make in today's world.  I think there is so much guilt in whichever choice we make that we are basically set up to fail in our own minds.  I think it leads us to feeling as if others are judging all of our actions, as well as to us making choices based on those perceived judgments.  Those judgments can come from everywhere, family, friends, colleagues, as well as other mothers.  It's a virtual pressure cooker!  Whether you choose to be a stay-at-home mom, a working mom or a part-time working mom, we feel like people will have something to say based on the choices we make.  And the crazy part is, we're scared they'll look down on us for the choice, rather than praise us!

We judge other mothers for a variety of reasons... one in particular is when we don't know what to do ourselves.  I think the "safety in numbers" mentality comes in to play and we look around to see what others are doing so we can figure out the "right" thing to do.  But just because something may work for the majority, it does not necessarily mean it will work for you.  We have to dig deep to really question ourselves on whether a certain choice is the right choice for ourselves and for our family - having the confidence to do so can sometimes be daunting.  Why do you think it's so hard for us to trust our own judgment?  In other aspects of my life, I don't hesitate to make decisions, and I do so with authority. 

I also think that we tell ourselves that certain things make us happy, because they are supposed to make us happy (and because they are supposedly making other mothers happy).  I think we're scared to dig deep and be honest with ourselves about our thoughts and our lives.  I think when other moms ask us about our lives and choices, we often tell them what we think we should say (or what we think they want to hear), rather than the truth.  I think the truths is often too scary.  The truth is, I think we are all afraid of failing our kids in some way.  Or even worse, that the choices we have made which we presumed would make us happy, are not in actual fact making us happy.

I've really been digging deep lately and asking myself what would make me happiest?  I know that trying to compete with other mothers can only end up making me feel bad.  Although it's very difficult, I'm trying hard not to be influenced by what others are doing (or not doing), in addition to what I think everyone expects of me. I don't think we can truly find happiness in the roles we have chosen unless we are completely honest with our deepest thoughts and desires.  And once we figure these out, have the courage to make the changes despite our worries of what others may think.  It's a fine balance for sure... trying to be happy while still doing what we feel is right for our kids, our family and ourselves.  But in the end, if we don't try, isn't that the biggest failure of all?

I know I'm not alone in how I am feeling.  There are lots of other moms blogging on this topic.  Check out this post by The Mom Crowd - she gives some good tips on how to stop judging other moms.  I also recently read I Was A Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids:  Reinventing Modern Motherhood by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile.  A really thought provoking read.

Date Night Part 3!

It's a fun Monday for me... it's my first time as a guest blogger - check out my date night blog that was posted on Erica Diamond's site today - Women On The Fence!

Also, stay tuned for my next post... it will be an interesting one (now that I'm back and all refreshed from our family vacation).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Do You Know What Makes You Happy?

This is a good TGIF - last day in the office before we're off on the family vacation for a week.  That makes me REALLY happy.  It made me start thinking about what else made me happy.  And then I thought, what if I made a list of those things and then tried to do or experience more of them on a regular basis?  It's definitely a habit worth making.  Do you know what makes you happy?

Here is my list.  No particular order.  It includes big things, as well as small ones. Probably not all-inclusive... but a good start.
  • family vacations (right now this is top of the list)
  • the first sight of my kids' faces in the morning and at the end of the work day
  • date night with my husband
  • the moment when I finish the 5am workout
  • a good hair day
  • the sound of my kids laughter, especially when they are laughing together
  • indulging in a delicious ice cream (or any other dessert, but I love ice cream)
  • sunshine warming my face (well, warm & sunny weather in general)
  • a success at work or praise from my boss(es)
  • writing my blog
  • when someone comments on my blog (hint, hint)
  • hearing from an old friend
  • shabbat dinner with family at our house
  • a glass of wine at the end of the day
  • waking up on the weekend and not having to rush out of the house, especially because it includes cuddling with the kids - no better way to start my day
  • reading a great book
  • playing bejeweled
  • watching my kids do something they enjoy and their sense of accomplishment when they master something new
  • shopping, especially when I'm in another city (and I get to browse at leisure)
  • feeling fit and healthy
  • cooking with my husband (and/or kids)
  • a great chick flick
  • an income tax refund (it's that time of year)
  • 8 straight hours of sleep - a rarity
  • hiking or walking outdoors on a beautiful day with the family
  • cuddling with my husband and kids in bed
  • some good female bonding
  • the beach, the ocean and mountains (in other words, beautiful scenery)
  • receiving flowers for no reason... at the office
  • a great, stress-relieving massage
  • a great song that makes me want to dance (even though I'm a crappy dancer)
  • a pedicure (thinking about the beach here and that my toes are not yet done)
  • a good traffic day - it means extra precious minutes with my kids
  • stimulating conversation
So I think I'll stop there... I could probably keep going but I'm feeling that you probably not only get the point of this exercise, but also a good idea about what makes me happy!  It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges of the hectic life of a working mom, it's a lot harder to slow yourself down to enjoy the moment and squeeze in a few extra things that put a smile on your face.  A reminder once in a while is not a bad thing.

Wishing you all a good weekend and a happy passover to my Jewish friends!  I'll be back in a week ;-)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Family Vacation - The Importance, Fantasy & Reality

We usually take a vacation with the kids twice a year... and one is coming up this weekend.  Firstly, I'd like to say YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!  We're heading down to Florida for a week to celebrate Passover with our families.  Secondly, I'd like to talk about why I think the family vacation is so important and how to make it a good one.

When I look back to when I was growing up, the one thing I always remember are the family trips we took with my parents.  For some reason, those memories stick more than any others.  I think the family vacation is even more important for my kids because as working parents, it's the only opportunity we get to spend any length of quality time together.  Even on weekends, there are errands to do, people to see or things to do, so vacation time is truly, truly special.  I cherish every second of it - there are no responsibilities, no schedules, nothing to do but concentrate on having fun together.  I can't wait to wake up each day and not have to rush the kids out of the house... to just be. 

You might remember that I wrote two posts about our weekend trip to Ottawa - the first was my anticipation of spending a fun weekend together as a family by taking a spur of the moment trip, and the second was post-trip detailing the actual reality of that trip.  I can't stress enough the importance of having a realistic view of what your family vacation is going to be, as well as knowing how to make the most of it.  Part of that is knowing what to expect when you get there, including the quality of the hotel or place where you are staying, what the activities will be, and what resources are available to you.  The weekend get-away to Ottawa was a first for us and we had never been to the specific hotel in question - this definitely led to some disappointment.  At Christmas time, we usually go to the same resort and know exactly what the vacation will be, and same goes for our trip to Florida... which means less chance for disappointment.

When we go on vacation, here's what I expect... and how I will plan in advance to make the most of it...
  • my kids will probably whine and give us some sort of challenge both in the airport and on the flights to and from.  In preparation, I usually go to the dollar store and get some crafts and new things for them to play with.  This is usually a distraction for part of the trip.  I also pack their favorite toys and the portable DVD player to help pass the time. 
  • one of them will most likely have some type of accident i.e. spill their juice on themselves, so in preparation, I always pack an extra outfit.  And it doesn't hurt to pack some band-aids, tempra, gravol... you just never know!
  • my kids will probably fight while we are away and I and/or my husband will be driven nuts and want to kill them.  In preparation... hmm... not much one can do except maybe have a glass of wine at lunch... it is vacation after all.
  • while at the beach/pool they will invariably need to pee or be hungry.  In preparation, I will bring snacks & juice boxes and locate the nearest restroom in advance (and when desperate, there is always the ocean).
  • 7:30pm bedtime will probably not happen every night so I will be prepared for some crankiness.  In preparation... another glass of wine at dinner?
  • should we enter a store of any kind, the kids will definitely "have to have" something.  In preparation... either leave them with their grandparents or tell them in advance that we are absolutely NOT buying anything for them (that doesn't seem to work but we still need to say it)
  • things just move slower when you have kids in tow... so I remind myself to just relax and have fun - no agendas required!
As the kids get older, it does seem to get easier.  We've done the family vacation enough over the last few years that I think we no longer have any false expectations.  The fantasy is pretty much the reality.  I love to get the kids excited in advance (we are now counting do do's - 3 more to go) so that they are prepared not only for the travel, but also for the fun.  And most importantly, when we are actually there, I will tell them several times how great it is to be with them and how special the time is... given that they are young, I want to make sure that they take a mental note of the time together and that it shouldn't be taken for granted.  These moments are to be cherished and remembered (and the 100+ pictures I'll take should help in that regard).  Hopefully they'll look back as fondly on their family vacations as I do on mine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Do You Teach Your Kids About Charity?

I've noticed lately that my children are really in the "I want" stage and seem to be under the impression that things are always coming their way.  I know this is completely normal for young children but quite frankly, I really don't like it.  So when I heard about "Mitzva Day" this past Sunday as part of the YLC Outreach to help families who don't have enough for Passover, I thought what a great way to start teaching my kids the art of giving.  Not to mention something about their Jewish heritage!

I think what your parents do and the examples they set definitely impact how you are as an adult with respect to your involvement in the community and charitable organizations.  Growing up, my dad did volunteer work and was actually president of the Kidney Foundation of Canada, but that was when I was much younger.  This was pretty much the extent of my exposure and I never really got involved personally.  I have always made donations to certain causes, but never volunteered my time.  My husband's family is quite active and my father-in-law is currently the President of the YM-YWHA in Montreal.  One of my co-workers (the one who told me about Mitzva Day) is extremely active and involved, and devotes a significant amount of her time to charity, as does her family.  I find that very impressive and it motivates me to get more involved and to teach my children what charity is all about.  I have to say, I was truly surprised by how many young people were volunteering at the event this past weekend.  It was a really nice sight to see.

With my son starting kindergarten, we've already had several fundraising activities from the school.  I of course have spear-headed each campaign and raised the money on his behalf, figuring that he's too young to do it himself.  I think I made a mistake... although I discussed it with him and he knew about the fundraising event, I probably should have made him do the asking and had him more involved.  I'm definitely going to do so next time. 

So when is the appropriate time to start teaching your kids about charity?  And how do you do it?

I always talk to my kids about others who are less fortunate than us - for example, donating clothes that no longer fit or toys they no longer play with, or even when they don't care to eat their meal.  Yes, I swore I would never do the "starving kids in Africa" thing, but I do.  That said, I'm really not sure it worked for me as a kid, so I'm not convinced it will work for them either.  It just becomes another thing mom says.  I know conversations are important to help them understand about world affairs, whether it's the natural disasters like the Tsunami in Japan, global warming, clean drinking water, etc., but I think to really make an impact on what these things really mean and how they can affect them personally, I need to do more.

It goes without question that the first place I looked to figure out where to start was on the web.  I found several suggestions on how to help teach your kids to be more charitable.  Here are some tips from eHow:



  • Require that your child donate an old toy for every new toy he or she is given. Make a trip to a local charity that accepts toys part of your child's birthday activities.




  • Organize a clothing drive in your neighborhood and have your child donate clothes he or she has outgrown.




  • Take your child to the local library with an armload of books to donate. Later, you can visit the library to find these books on the shelf and, if you can, check inside the cover to see how many times the books have been borrowed.




  • Allow your child to choose a canned or boxed food item to donate to the food bank when you go to the grocery store. If there's a donation box at the store, let your child place the donation in the box. Or you can let your child bring the items into the food bank using his or her wagon.




  • Help your child and his or her friends perform a play or sing at a local nursing home.




  • Buy a large bag of dog or cat food and go with your child to the animal shelter to donate it. If the shelter allows, let your child place a dog biscuit or cat treat in each cage for the animals to enjoy.




  • Take your child along as you check in on elderly or sick neighbors and let him or her help you do errands for them such as raking leaves, cooking a meal or delivering flowers.




  • Encourage your child to set aside part of his or her allowance to give to charity. Help him or her choose the charity that will receive the money.




  • I think these tips are very helpful as a starting point and easy to incorporate into one's lifestyle.  However, what if we want to take things one step further and volunteer our time for a specific cause?  A bit daunting if you have never done this.  I know it's important to choose something that is going to be a fun learning experience while helping in some way.  I don't want it to be something I have to force them to do, I want them to WANT to help others.  My other concern is that given they are still very young, I'm not quite prepared to expose them to certain hard truths - I feel I need to still protect them from some of the harsher realities life has to offer.  For example... they love animals, so I thought about volunteering at a local shelter, but I'm not sure I want to explain that these animals have no homes and that if nobody adopts them, they may be put to sleep.  How would that affect them?  I see it already, they will want to take all the animals home! So choosing the right opportunity may not be as easy as it would first seem.

    I started looking on the web and found several websites listing local volunteer opportunities... there is even a Volunteer Bureau of Montreal that lists all of the current requests for volunteers by category.  I'm sure there is something similar in every major city.  When I just checked their site, there were 904 volunteer opportunities in Montreal.  There is also a very helpful section to give tips to those volunteering for the first time (like me) to help you get started.  Here is what they suggested to help you narrow down what type of volunteering you would like to do:
    • If you had all the human and financial resources in the world, what problem would you solve, what would you change or what would you create? Your answer will tell you what matters the most to you.
    • What kind of time commitment are you willing to make? Are you looking for regular, weekly volunteer work, or for a short-term or one-time commitment?
    • Would you prefer to volunteer with other people or by yourself?
    • Would you like to work from your own home, or would you prefer to volunteer at an organization?
    • If you would like to volunteer away from home, where is the best location for you? Near home? Close to work? Near your child's day-care centre?
    • Do you have specific skills or talents you would like to share with an organization?
    • Would you like to develop a specific skill?
    • What are your personal goals? Are you re-entering the workforce?
    • Do you want to meet new people?
    So far so good... then I started to search through the different categories and found one for those under 18 years - unfortunately, it appeared that there were no opportunities for children under 12.  Hmm... so then I started searching opportunities to volunteer as a family in the Montreal area - not as easy as it sounds.  I actually tried calling the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal but I was put on hold for way too long and hung up.  So now I'm at a bit of a loss as to what we can do.  I'm sure there is something out there for us to do, but I'm not quite sure how to find it! 

    So I'm turning this blog around... if any of you out there have volunteered with your kids and know how to proceed or of some actual opportunities, please do tell!  Please feel free to comment below, or since I have heard that some people have had a hard time adding comments to my blog, reach out to me on facebook or on twitter!  I really want to do this!

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    How I Learn From My Kids By What They Do Right - You'll Be Surprised!

    A good number of my blog posts have centered around the challenges I face in balancing work and family, in addition to those concerning motherhood.  You know, anything that helps me avoid burnout while trying to do it all???  It started me thinking that perhaps I'm giving my family a bit of a bad rap because I don't often talk about how great they are and what they actually do right.  Even as adults and parents, there is a lot to be learned from others, including our children.  I think one of the big joys in having kids is delighting in watching them experience childhood moments that we may have perhaps forgotten.

    My children are uniquely different (as are yours, I'm sure) and so the lessons learned from each are also different.  My son is a lot like me personality-wise, while my daughter is totally my husband.  That means I really "get" my son and his reactions because he acts in a way that I would expect, but even still, there is a lot I can learn from him.  As for my daughter, there are so many things that are not like me, that she can sometimes keep me guessing.  Here are some of the lessons they have taught me:

    Lessons from my son:
    • He has boundless curiosity and asks lots of questions, which makes me question things I would perhaps take for granted.  He is able to put things in a new light.
    • He has an incredible memory and reminds me of a lot of the little things I might otherwise forget.
    • He is extremely observant and points things out I wouldn't normally take note of.
    • He does things "his way" and for an A-type personality, it makes me see my way isn't always the "only" way.
    • He cannot end his day without "cuddle" time, which is a great way for all of us to end our day.
    • That there is joy in things, even if we don't do them well - he unfortunately has my sense of rhythm but when there's music on, he doesn't think twice about getting up to dance - and he does so with total delight.  I don't look forward to the day he develops self awareness and quits doing things because he's embarrassed that he doesn't do them well... despite the fact that he loves doing them.
    • That colouring and arts and crafts are really fun - I used to love that stuff and now I get to do it all again!
    Lessons from my daughter:
    • Her constant happiness and positive outlook just leave me in awe.  In this, I wish to emulate her.
    • Her ability to really live in the moment shows me I don't always have to think about what's coming next.
    • Her boundless energy in tackling anything she does with total abandonment makes me want to get up and go.
    • Her mischievousness and teasing reminds me to lighten up and have a little more fun.
    • Her sense of discovery makes me think outside the box.
    • Her fearlessness makes me want to try new things and be more adventurous.
    • Her unconditional love no matter what reminds me to accept people for who they are.
    • Sometimes it's OK to cry if you don't get your way.
    I think that due to all of the pressures we face with respect to our kids reaching certain childhood milestones, that we spend more time evaluating where our children may fall short, rather than focusing on all of the things they do right.  This is separate and apart from praising them and building their self-esteem - that focuses more on their "accomplishments" and less on who they are as people.  Although we love our children unconditionally and, if you are like me, in total awe that we created these little human beings, we don't always stop to appreciate the little human beings they actually are.    

    There isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel blessed to have been given the privilege of being a mom.  My kids may often drive me crazy, make me lose my patience or just plain make me want to tear my hair out, but I wouldn't want it any other way.  Some days are easier while others harder and totally exhausting, but one things is for sure, I won't EVER take this journey for granted.  As with every Friday afternoon, I wait with impatience for my weekend to begin so I can race home to spend it with my family - the best thing that has ever happened to me.  TGIF!