Sunday, August 31, 2008

Curious behavior....

I love to watch my children play – especially when they don’t know I’m watching. I love the dialogues, the interaction, the creativity without restraint. The times when they play peacefully together definitely seem few and far between; inevitably an argument or disagreement eventually erupts – but during those times when they do, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be their mother.

I’m amused by their behavior (well, when they’re being good, that is… there are certainly many times when their behavior is anything but amusing as well). I’m amazed by how many things they seem to inherently just “know” – without ever being taught or formally shown. Granted, a large part of it is based on mimicking what they’ve seen in others, but other elements come from somewhere deep inside – an inborn part of their personality.

My mother-in-law once asked if Emma, age 2, is becoming a tom boy because of her two other brothers, and the fact that they always want to play the stereotypical “boy” things…. No - She is such a girl! She’ll play cars & trucks, dinosaurs, and the like right along with them, but still, she is such a girl – interested in purses and dolls and pretty dresses, getting into my make-up and nail polish more times than I can count. Each of my children have teddy bears, but with my boys, their teddy is their “buddy;” whereas with Emma, it’s her “baby.” Every time her baby sister needs to be fed or burped, so does Emma’s teddy, White.
(Emma gets her superior stuffed animal naming abilities from me, by the way… When I was little I had a stuffed animal parrot named “Brown Beak.”) We’ve gone through countless wipes when White’s imaginary diaper needs to be changed. (Despite our best efforts, she is not convinced that imaginary wipes or a burp cloth will do a fine job for a teddy bear that never has bowel movements). I’ve frequently gone to set Lyndi (the baby) in the bouncy chair or swing, only to find the seat already occupied by White…. Clearly, she is mimicking what she has seen me do.

So imagine my surprise when I went to pull something out of the freezer for dinner, and I saw this:
I can assure you that I have never put one of my children in the freezer, so I’m not sure where her thought processes were with this one, but it is amusing to me all the same. I’m just glad I made this discovery before bedtime, when the search for the beloved bedmates always begins…. because the freezer is the last place I would have thought to look!

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Energy to Discipline....

I have three wonderful children, and am six months pregnant with my fourth. I truly love being a mother, and am SO very blessed to be able to stay home with them, but when the oldest is only five (which means they’re all still young enough that I have to take care of the majority of their needs for them), I have to admit that I am completely worn out at day’s end.

Maybe it’s the pregnancy that is contributing most to my utter state of exhaustion (I don't have the easiest of pregnancies, and never feel very well when pregnant)...

Maybe it’s that my husband currently has a schedule where he works nights (and often works 9-10 hours at a time, and 6 days a week). Even when he is home, he has to sleep (in fact, my boys find great amusement in telling their friends that their dad is nocturnal), and although it’s not from a lack of appreciation for what he’s doing, I very often feel like I’m completely on my own these days with all parenting and household tasks and issues….

Maybe it’s a combination of the two, along with countless other hassles and pressures that we all deal with on a daily basis. Whatever the reason, I find myself at times wondering – do I have the energy to discipline?

My youngest is two, and is very much a two-year-old in every aspect of the term. She can be the sweetest thing in the world – doling out hugs and kisses unexpectedly at any given moment – or she can be, well, let’s just say it’s something from the other end of the spectrum. She is currently quite enthralled with testing my boundaries, and seems to do so at least a million times a day.

I do my best to give her options ("Do you want to wear this outfit, or this one? Do you want pig tails or a headband for your hair today? Do you want the red cup or the blue one?") and let her help with things that would be exponentially faster without her “help” – all in the name of letting her feel as though she has some control over her life, and that not every little thing is simply dictated to her. That being said, however, there are some things that are just not up for discussion (Biting her brothers is never okay. Whether or not she can ride in the car without being buckled up in her car seat is not negotiable.) Blatantly disobeying (while looking straight at me and watching for my reaction the whole time) must bring about consequences – and I know consistency is the key – but this is where I struggle. Why must discipline require so much energy – energy that I just do not seem to have these days?

Putting her back in Time Out again (after she has been sent there and has come out at least two dozen different times) seems to be ineffective, to say the least…. but I’ll continue with my efforts nonetheless – all the while trying my best to keep a firm, but calm and loving tone. Some days I keep a pretty good grip on that resolve, and other days I’m not as successful. But I’m doing my best, and that’s all I can do. Thankfully my children are forgiving of those times when my patience has been worn just a little too thin…. how much I could learn from them… if only I had the energy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My most treasured works of art....

Years ago, before I had children, I would sometimes dream of what my future house might look like. I would look through Pottery Barn magazines, or Better Homes and Gardens, making note of features or decorations I especially liked, and would envision my “perfect” home. Each room would have its own distinct features, yet would blend effortlessly with the flow of the rest of the house. Impeccable taste would be demonstrated with just the right accents, decorations… and works of art would create an unmatched but sophisticated and organized sense of style.

Well, its fun to dream…but the reality is that my dream house would require endless sources of money, and a 24-hour on call housekeeping service to keep it looking the way I envisioned it – neither of which are accessible to me.

Three children (and another on the way) later, I look around my house now….at any given time, scattered about the floor are no less than a dozen different shoes, papers, books, toys, crayons, etc. The refrigerator and walls of my children’s rooms are plastered with drawings, art projects, birthday party mementos, $0.39 souvenirs, stickers… the list goes on. There are no valuable paintings or pricey decorations, and any accents that exist (pillows for the couch, cornices for the window, table runners, curtains, and wreaths for the front door) were all hand-made by me. It’s certainly not comparable to my Pottery Barn or Sundance catalog, but it’s our home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And today, two more priceless treasures were added to our collection: painted figurines that my boys picked out and painted at “The Artful Potter” as a birthday surprise for me. My oldest, age 5, came up with the idea completely on his own, but graciously allowed his 3 year old brother to tag along on their outing with my husband a few days ago. I knew where they went, and that they had painted something, but beyond that they didn’t reveal a thing. A few days later, after the figurines had been glazed, we received a phone call that they were ready to pick up - and the boys were thrilled!

I’ll never forget the look on their faces this afternoon as they each handed me a wad of scrunched-up newspaper with the instructions to unwrap them carefully.

I don’t think I’ve ever loved a gift more. Could anything be more valuable?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Some Days...Some Months...It's All About Survival

As a mother of 4 children 8 years and younger…some days, I simply feel like I am in survival mode. That is, I feel like “going through the motions” is simply the best I can do. I consider it a great feat if we all manage to get dressed and out the door without screaming, yelling or someone getting hurt. My plan to spend quality time with each child often gets lost in the day-to-day near-Herculean effort it takes just to get by.

Each morning, I wake up with the best of intentions: no yelling, regardless of whether or not Cannon teases his sisters to the point of high-pitched shrieking. I will keep my cool whether or not Brynnley refuses to put on “real clothes” (that is, not shorts or skimpy little ballet dresses. It
is, after all, January in Cleveland and our inside temperature only tops 64 degrees!). I will simply sigh a deep breath and clean up the mess not if, but when, Kenzie throws her soggy Bran Flakes all over the kitchen floor.

“I will try to stay calm and happy.”
“I will try to maintain my composure.”
“I will try not to lose my temper.”
“I will try to let it go.”
“I will try...I will try…I will try.”

Despite my heroic intentions…most of these attempts are out the window by 9:30am. And that is on a good day.

I think we’re fairly normal in our attempts to survive “normal” life.

These last few months, however, have truly tested my limits as far as patience, sanity, and overall emotional perseverance are concerned.

You’ll notice, we haven’t posted a blog on our website for months. That’s because, we’ve been in all-out-I-can’t-handle-one-more-thing-survival-mode.

Sparing the details, let me just say that some rather unexpected events could have derailed us from the path we hope to follow on this journey we call life. We’ve been in survival mode – since August.

As is so often the case – as we are forced to look at and re-evaluate our lives and our direction, I can see that we aren’t meant to stay in survival mode forever. Life, as defined in the dictionary, means, “the state of an organism characterized by certain processes or abilities that include…growth, reproduction and response.”

“Survival Mode,” or the act of “going through the motions,” is merely a stepping stone - -meant to give us a little break – a rest along the way if we need it – but it’s not a stopping point. Just because I clean up soggy Bran Flakes and spilled milk every day doesn’t mean I quit allowing 20 month-old Kenzie to feed herself. She needs the growth this experience provides and I need to learn to master my response to her growth.

And just because Brynnley and I don’t agree on the effects of wearing ballet dresses in January in Cleveland, (she thinks she’s beautiful; I think she’ll get sick.), that doesn’t mean we quit trying to reach a compromise. Again, she needs the growth that learning to make decisions provides her. And I need to learn to master my response to her growth.

Some days we battle the same issues…over and over and over again.
And we survive.
Other days (and months) we battle new issues…many of which we hope to never repeat again.

And we hope to survive.
I hope to survive.

Someday, as a parent and as an individual, I’ll be able to look back at my times in “survival mode” and realize that I’ve somehow crossed the threshold into "survivor mode".

We can all become survivors…that is…we can all become, “one who will not accept defeat.”

Let this be our year.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Newsletter Readers....Comment Here:

If you've had the chance to read our latest seasonal email-newsletter, we asked for your comments regarding family meals. Please leave your comments at the end of this post:

Family Dinners by Mitzi Carlson

Fall is upon us, and kids are back to school.... As the weather cools and the carefree, lazy days of summer are fading into memories, schedules seem to get more and more hectic. Between school, sports, extra-curricular activities, jobs, friends, and....well, life - we're lucky to get even a half hour of just "family time" a day. Nevertheless, despite the obstacles, we make a valiant effort to eat meals together, with as few distractions as possible (no TV, no computers, no phone calls, etc.). Yes, we make the effort, but no, it does not very often play out the way I might wishfully envision it in my head. In an ideal world, my children would be playing peacefully with each other in the family room, enabling me to fix a tantalizing and healthy meal in the kitchen. As I announce that dinner will be ready in about 10 minutes, child #1 would notice by glancing at the chore chart that it is his week to set the table, and would do so without being asked. Child #2 and Child #3 would quietly go about picking up whatever toys they were playing with, and then proceed to wash hands and come get up to the table. My family would exercise complete manners while eating, they would have nothing but sincere compliments for the meal I prepared, and our dinner table would be full of witty and enlightened conversation. The activities of our day would be shared, bonding would ensue, and my husband would offer to do all the dishes and clean up the kitchen so that I could simply relax after cooking such an amazing meal.

Now here's a more realistic scenario: Around 5:00 p.m., as I realize that nothing is thawed out and I have no thoughts on what to prepare for dinner, I alternate between opening the pantry and refrigerator doors, hoping something will jump out at me. When nothing does, I continue to go back and forth between the two, as if the contents of either will suddenly change after the third time I open the door. About this time, my youngest begins to do "figure 8's" between my legs, and under no circumstances can be persuaded to join her fighting brothers in the family room. I finally settle on a course of action, and begin preparing dinner, trying to ignore the whines of the "figure 8-er" who now wants me to pick her up. I stumble no less than four times on separate toys that have mysteriously made their way to the kitchen floor, and Child #2 is sent to Time Out on three different occasions. I have repeatedly informed Child #1 at least six different times that it is time to come set the table, but yet he is still sitting on the family room floor, playing with the 72 million toys that are all out at the same time. When we finally sit down to eat, I am met with vehement protests about what I have prepared. (In fact, I have noticed a distinct correlational trend: The more time and effort I put into a meal, the more my children complain about it.) During the meal, food is launched from the highchair, plates and cups are overturned, spills occur, and there is an unseemly amount of belching. When I ask Child #1 what he learned about in school, "I don't know" is his dismissive reply. We end the meal by setting a timer. If the children have finished eating by the time it goes off, they get a small treat. If not, they are tearfully dismissed from the table, and nothing further will be served until breakfast the next morning... And on to the next battle - getting them to clean up the 72 million toys that are still all over the family room.

OK - so maybe that's more of a "worst case scenario" than actually the norm - but despite the obstacles, we still try to have daily meals, especially dinner, together as a family.

According to The Importance of Family Dinners, 2006, by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are:
  • At a 70% lower risk for substance abuse.
  • 1/3 less likely to try alcohol.
  • 1/2 as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana.
  • 1/2 as likely to get drunk monthly.

The statistics are definitely food for thought, but it's more than just that for me.... My children are growing so fast... at times it seems almost warp-speed. So I'll cherish every moment I get - spilled food, complaining, and all.

We want to hear from you!! What are the biggest challenges for your family when it comes to mealtimes? What solutions or tips do you have for others who may be experiencing the same frustrations? Please leave your comments!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A New Phase of Motherhood

Shortly after I became a mother for the first time, I read an article that said something to the effect of: "From the moment they're born, you have to learn to let them go just a little bit more each day." I read that article, looked at my newborn sleeping peacefully in the bassinet, and although the logical side of me understood the wisdom in that, the emotional side of me wanted to shout, "No, No, No! I don't want to! I just want him to stay little, and close, and in my arms forever!"

And now, nearly 5 1/2 years later, as I watched that same "newborn" go to Kindergarten last week, I felt very much the same way.

I had told myself that any unease I was feeling as the school year approached was strictly for him. He's always been reserved by nature, more of an "I'll-hang-back-and-watch-for-awhile-before-I-jump-in-and-participate" kind of kid. But because of his ultra-shy personality, something as simple as raising his hand to say he needed to use the bathroom would be terrifying for him in a room full of strangers.... And I know that his school experience during the first few years - regardless of what is actually learned - will set the tone and have an impact on his attitude toward school and learning for the rest of his life.

He had a great experience with preschool for three days a week last year, but his teacher was my mother, and she teaches out of her home - so he never really had to leave his comfort zone (or more accurately, perhaps I should say my comfort zone). And by law, in order to be licensed, there could only be six children to one adult - so it was a very small class size, and not very intimidating. (I'm not sure why, only one year later, it is perfectly acceptable to have classes four times that size.) But now he'll be at the BIG school, sharing the halls with 5th graders! And under all those other influences - simply put: away from me.

Nevertheless, we did our best to "talk up" Kindergarten all throughout the summer. I frequently told him how much I had loved Kindergarten, how nice my teacher was, how I met a girl who went on to become one of my very best friends throughout all of school (and who is still a good friend to this day), and any other fun and exciting stories I could remember about my elementary school and Kindergarten days. I also did my best to familiarize him with the school: I made sure we went to Kindergarten Round Up, Open House, and since I was asked to be on the PTA executive board last spring, anytime I had to go to the school over the summer, if it was feasible, I took him with me.

However, despite my best efforts, I could tell that he was getting a little scared the weekend before school started. So Sunday night as I was putting him to bed, I said to him, "Grey, I'll bet all the kids who are getting ready to go to school tomorrow are excited, but they might also be feeling a little bit nervous. Do you know what it means to feel nervous....?" And soon he was in tears - saying he didn't want to go.

"But don't you remember how much you loved preschool last year?" I asked him.

"Well, I just want to go back to preschool then," was his response.... So I hugged him tight, and we sang some songs, and talked some more about how much he would love it. We said a prayer together, and then he was calm and ready to sleep. I was able to make it out of his room - so that he wouldn't see - before I started to cry too.

The next morning we had heart-shaped chocolate chip muffins as a first-day-of-school treat, and then it was time to go. Despite some nerves and a little hesitation upon entering his classroom, he didn't cry. The parents were invited to stay for the first few minutes, and his teacher read, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. (I only teared up once or twice during the story.) My husband and I each kissed him goodbye - and then it was time to go.

Two and a half hours later, as he came out the door, he was all smiles - and he said to me at least three different times that day, "Mom, I just can't wait to go back to school again tomorrow." Success!! (Clearly, this was much harder on me than it was on him.)

I have entered a new phase of motherhood: I now have a child in school. Gone are the days of hanging out in our pajamas until late into the morning, being lazy simply because we can - we now have Monday through Friday morning schedules and routines, and I know it will only get busier from here on out. Although part of me still wants to shout, "No... I just want him to stay little, and close, and in my arms forever," I am so proud of the big boy he is becoming, and am excited for the "school years" adventures.

Written 09/03/07

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer's Gone

"I was riding in the car with my mom and dad,
Dad was driving the car, the kids were driving him mad,
Dad looked and us, then he looked at his wife,
He must have wondered where we all came from.
Mom just smiled and said, 'It won't last for long, before you know it, summer's gone."
So long."
~The Kinks

School starts tomorrow. If you count the hours spent in front of the TV or logged on to Webkinz, school can't start soon enough.
But, if you count the hours blowing bubbles, riding bikes, catching 'roly poly's,' or sliding down the waterslide in the backyard, school starts way too soon.

After having all 4 kids home all summer, the house is going to seem eerily (pleasantly?!?) quiet. People ask what grade the kids are entering and I have to stop and think.
Didn't Addysen just start kindergarten yesterday? Can she really be starting third grade?
And toothless little Cannon...did he really just turn 7? As a secondgrader- he's suddenly not so little.
And Brynnley - little wannabe princess that she is -- starting preschool. She's already emphasized numerous times that she does not need her mom going to school with her. She's a big girl now. Yes, she IS a big girl now.
And then there is Kenzie...born only last year...yet already talking and walking and climbing on the table.

Where does the time go?

School starts tomorrow and summer is gone.
Reflecting back, it was a good summer...a busy summer.
Much busier than the summer's I remember growing up. Perhaps the only difference, however, is the difference between a mother's and child's perspective.

We spent many mornings at the gym and many afternoons playing outside or at the park. We participated in Spy Kids and the library reading program. We flew over or drove through about 15 states. We celebrated life in the form of an 80th birthday party and as we welcomed two new nieces and a nephew to the family.We folded endless piles of laundry and shucked numerous ears of corn. We got lots of rain and spent many hours wishing for central air conditioning. We read, "Ida B. Applewood," "Junie B. Jones," "I Love You Stinky Face," and many, many, more. We crammed as much as we could into 2.5 short months.
Yeah, school starts tomorrow. If you count the hours spent in front of the TV or playing on Webkinz, it can't start soon enough.
But if you count the waterfights, fireflies, games of 'Sorry,' forts built, movie nights, fireworks, bbq's, pictures taken, laughs shared and memories starts way too soon.