What Does Opportunity Look Like?

Our house is crazy busy on the very quietest of days, three kids will do that naturally. Throw opportunity into the mix and…well let’s just say the schedule whiteboard is colour coded and backed up on a paper calendar in ink!

There are always two questions asked when people see our schedule. How do you find the time? and How do you afford it?

Answer number one is easy. If you remove, or drastically reduce, television, computer time, and video games you are left with a lot of hours to work with. Waiting an extra hour to turn on nightly viewing gives you five extra hours a week! What can you do with 5 hours? Part two of this answer is that we don’t do anything we don’t want to do. Seriously. I might think a saxophone player in the family would be great but not if it means arguing and nagging to get said saxophone prodigy prepared, practiced and dragged into the car for their next lesson. We save a lot of stress and enjoy our time a lot more if everyone is doing what they want.

Answer number two is easy as well. I don’t pay for much. Most everything our family is involved in is either free, nearly free or time traded opportunities. If you think financial restrictions equate to providing less opportunity to your children take a look at this list. I’ve compiled it from my own family schedule board and borrowed ideas from friends and a few other great resources.

  1. Communities offer days of free skating and swimming, it has also been a great year for outdoor rinks
  2. Libraries are goldmines of ‘free’ opportunity: books, story hours, author talks, workshops.
  3. Bookstores and Craft stores hold events at minimal costs.
  4. Almost everyone offers a ‘free trial class’ wouldn’t you like to know that your son doesn’t enjoy fencing as much as he thought he would before you commit?
  5. Community center programs are most often taught by volunteers who also offer high priced classes in studios and gyms.
  6. Follow your local teams and stay in the loop.  Our local OHL team routinely hosts opportunities for the public to join them for skating and autographs. Sometimes the events are free, sometimes they ask for foodbank donations.
  7. Follow your local charities. Charities hold events all the time to generate public awareness. Guest appearances, cake decorating contests, street hockey tournaments, visiting circuses, Nascars, writing contests, art contests, toy drives and free concerts for donations of simple items like food or mittens.
  8. Win opportunities! Radio stations, online contests, newspapers, local theatres all hold contests for upcoming events.
  9. Volunteer. My kids have had some great opportunities through volunteering. Find out what your child is interested in and then help them find an opportunity to fit. My oldest daughter is into theatre and F/X make-up, she spent October dressing zombies and terrifying grown-up at the local Scream Park – amazing opportunity!
  10. Take in everything nature has to offer. There is nothing like a sunny day hike through a new wooded area, an afternoon fishing or catching butterflies. Borrow a canoe and some life jackets – try something new to the whole family. Re-visit your local park and dust off those high school basketball or tennis skills.
  11. Follow your City website. There are always free movie nights and concerts in the park, free days at heritage homes that are great for kids with a passion for history. Many cities open public buildings for tours.

Don’t overlook church groups, little theatre, museums, senior’s centres, school clubs, neighbourhood associations….. if you look at what your family expresses interest in and make the time available it is quite possible to completely fill your week with very little expense and a whole lot of memorable opportunity!

What have I left off the list, share your favourite ‘Opportunity’, you might spark and idea for someone!

Raising Boys to be Men

I am a girl, my two oldest children are girls, I have a mother, a sister and girlfriends.  I ‘get’ girls; understand the way we think, what makes us tick and what shuts us down. It makes sense that we cry for reasons unknown and that we have a compulsion to save the world. Girls make sense.

Boys, do not. I should ‘get’ boys, I married a boy, I have brothers and fathers (yes plural), I have ‘boy’friends and uncles. I even have a son.

‘I have a son’. Right there is where everything I thought I knew about boys falls apart. Why do they make those noises? What is the fascination with fart jokes and peeing outside? Do they ever sit still and just think? Is it possible to leave a boy alone with a stick, a wheel or a bag of marbles and not end up in the emergency department? I need answers, better ones than I get from my husband when I look at him with saucer eyes pleading for an explanation “WHAT is he doing?!?!”

“He’s being a boy.” does not satisfy my natural female instinct to understand things. In all seriousness there are some real questions I would like logical explanations for so that I can help my son thrive, in a world I do not comprehend, using the ‘talents’ bestowed upon him through the blessing of testosterone.

Why doesn’t he like school? Why does he despise homework so very much more than his sisters did? Why does winning make him so happy and why doesn’t he feel as bad for the ‘other guy’ as I think he should? Answers to these questions would go a long way. I wasn’t getting satisfactory ones so I did what I always do; I bought a book.

Boys Adrift by: Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.

Thank you universe for guiding me to this book!

I’m finding a lot of answers. The biggest… I’ve been raising my son the way I raised my daughters; like a girl. I didn’t even know I was raising my daughters like girls. I was aiming for gender neutrality. It turns out that my gender neutrality is bias towards female perspective (go figure) that means my girls did okay, but I’ve thrust a lot of expectations on my son that boys simply aren’t wired for.

It is comforting to know there are actual reasonable explanations for why boys can’t sit still, need to win, don’t do homework, grow unhappy with school, do the opposite of what you ask and why sticks, wheels, and marbles might be heck on a mother’s nerves but are essential to a balanced boy.

Boys Adrift is a giant ‘ah, that’s why’ light bulb that has me thinking about the number of parents I talk with who are really struggling to get the best out of their boys. I want to send them all running for this book. Learning how boys think and what my son needs from me, from school, and from life to be and feel accomplished is changing the way I ask questions, discipline, coach and comfort.  I still don’t know why fart jokes are funny but I am learning that they are important.

So this post turns into a book recommendation. To quote Dr. Oz… “A must-read for any parent of boys.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Other books by Leonard Sax, M.D.,Ph.D.  which address gender uniqueness are Girls on the Edge (this is next on my reading list) and Why Gender Matters.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

 

Having Everyday Success

by Michelle Iuelo

Here we are on the starting line, the beginning of a New Year. I’m going to use the ‘R’ word here…Resolution, did you make one? Maybe you made several. There is always a compulsion at the beginning of something new to declare our intention of effort, we make plans, talk strategy and celebrate ourselves as though success is fait accompli. In reality our success, or promise of, lasts about as long as the ice in our cocktail. Real change is hard to work into our lives permanently.

I often wonder what affect all of this declaration and defeat has on our children. Do they get the message that self-improvement is doomed for failure? I heard my oldest daughter make a resolution one year to be nicer to her little sister. She promptly finished the statement with “that should last a couple of weeks!” The room erupted with laughter. In my head I was calculating the odds at two days not weeks. I was right; while her attempts to treat her sister nicer were valiant her success had the life span of a bowl of cereal. That was the last year New Year’s Resolutions were declared in our home.

Change, self-improvement and growth should be an everyday goal anyway, right? Not a thing explored just once a year. We’ve replaced New Year’s Resolutions with New Year’s Reflection, an opportunity to acknowledge the activities, people and events that make us happy and bring us joy, in an effort to add more of the same to our everyday lives.

I love the switch from Resolution to Reflection, but what about the changes and improvements we need to make simply as a matter of personal growth? They can’t be tossed aside because they are too difficult. How can we help our children to be successful? How can we help ourselves to be successful?

It may be as easy as turning breakfast into a planning meeting. Ask your kids over a glass of OJ what they have planned for the day, what they are looking forward to and what they want to accomplish before they brush their teeth and climb into bed at the end of the day. Very successful grown-ups do this every day with themselves. They plan their day ahead on paper, list everything they desire to accomplish, then they head off. I promise they accomplish more before noon that most people do in a week!

Knowing what your children what to be successful at in a day provides the best chance we have as parents to support their efforts. It gives us clues to the opportunities and tools to put in front of them. Knowing their goals prompts us to keep them accountable to themselves by asking follow-up questions throughout the day and at the end of the day. It gives us most importantly reasons to celebrate! I finished reading my book is a high-five. I aced the spelling quiz… a celebratory hug. I perfected my somersault… pure happy dance material.

Experts recommend setting small, realistic, attainable goals and breaking large goals into bite sized pieces; “I want to get all of my homework done this week.” is easier to face than “I’m never going to miss an assignment again.” I need to lose 20 lbs. is easier when you focus on the 2 you are working on this week.  It’s easier still, when you focus on the food and exercise for the day at hand. This may be what makes breakfast work. By focusing simply on the day at hand we have greater opportunities to be successful, a better shot at turning resolutions for self-improvement into positive, doable accomplishments. Our children can see goal setting as a successful endeavour not a doomed to failure exercise. It is no secret that success fuels success.

All the best to you and your family in 2013! Here’s to a year of celebrating!!!

 

Catch Them Doing Good

My teenagers are ditching school on Friday. How do I know this? I’d like to claim it was clever detective work and extreme expertise in motherhood cyber-sleuthing but no, I know they are ditching because I’ve planned it. We are going to get up in the morning, get ourselves already for a regular day and then just not show up. The whole thing is going to be a fantastic waste of time, an orchestrated event of unruliness. We are going to the mall and out for lunch instead of going to school.

Ditching Day is a special treat, my way of saying thank you for giving your all to your academic responsibilities, thank you for getting to class when so many of your friends are heading downtown. It is my way of ‘catching then doing good’.
At the beginning of this parenting journey I read a fantastic parenting book “How to Behave so Your Children Will Too” by Sal Severe Ph.D. The pages were filled with valuable words of parenting wisdom, among them, the phrase ‘Catch them doing good’. The line stuck and I’ve never forgotten it. How simple. Focus and reward the behaviour you want to end or avoid the behaviours that you don’t want.

Those four simple words have saved my sanity over the years and quite likely saved my children too, from the scars of being nagged through childhood.

Once I read ‘Catch them doing good’ I changed my focus. Suddenly I was saying things like “thank you for hanging up your coat”, “nice manners” and “Great work getting that homework out of the way” The results; I was saying “pick up your coat.” , “where are your manners?” and “Get that homework done.” a great deal less. I’d like to say that it completely solved the homework issue but I’m convinced magic that powerful does not exist.
There is something else that ‘Catch them doing good’ has a great impact on… that sibling thing that seems to be so hard to cope with. You know the one where you swear one of your children is going to come into the kitchen holding the other’s eyeballs in their hands asking how to put them back in. You can’t make the battles go away, they actual have a developmental function and nature protects them from eradication but you can ease the frequency, severity and most importantly increase your tolerance by focusing on the behaviour that makes you happy.

‘Catch them doing good’ ….Try it for one week, be on the lookout, catch them and praise the heck out of every little gesture of kindness towards one another. See if you notice anything different.

 

I am always amazed in parenting that it is most often the very simplest words or actions, like Ditching Day, that produce the most dramatic results.

 

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Winter Survival Guide

The first traces of winter arrived this week. I cried. Winter with it’s cold, snow blowing winds, ice, car scrapping, and shovelling, is not my season. I would much prefer to freeze time mid-autumn at the precise moment when the leaves have changed to brilliant shades of fire but have not yet fallen to the ground. I would live quite comfortably if every day was that first cozy sweater, latte walk of fall. Every year when that perfect autumn day arrives I make a secret wish for it to last forever.

My wish was denied again, and here I am, in a state of resignation. Winter coats are hung in the front hall closet; each pocket is stuffed with a magic pair of micro gloves, destined to disappear. By March I will be sending my son out the door in one cancer awareness mitten and one of Dad’s snowmobile gloves. Thankfully most people won’t get past his running shoes to judge his hand coverage. Each October I think to myself  ‘buy two pairs of boots, that way when there is a gaping hole in the bottom of lefty on January 4th and the stores are back to flogging flip-flops and beach hats, you’ll have a backup.’ I never listen and my kids always opt for ‘non-insulated’ rather than bread-bags in their boots. No wonder they get sick.

Okay, maybe getting sick has less to do with the temperature and cold feet and more to do with bottling them up inside where the air is unexchanged and teaming with germs. By November 30 our classrooms become ginormous living breathing petri dishes of viral, bacterial and completely unidentifiable germs.  Our kids inhale them, pass them around, wipe them on each other, little kids eat many of those germs. (Just a friendly note to teachers here: I would love if you would disassemble the student group desk arrangement where Jimmy coughs directly in the face of my child in favour of the traditional row seating where his germs land on my child’s back.) Whatever germs they get, however they collect them, there is one certainty…they are bringing them home.

We’ve had our first battle of the bug already this year for the 2012-2013 cold and flu season. It was nasty. If I ever had to do this parenting thing again I would skip lessons in sharing. It was two full weeks of exhaustion, stuffy noses, burning lungs, aching ears and vomiting. At one point I seriously considered replacing the air freshener canister in my automatic dispenser with Lysol disinfectant spray and aiming it at the door to neutralize anyone entering our home.

In light of the inevitable chilly, illness and outdoor smelliness (what is that ‘I’ve been playing outside’ smell? Gross!) I’ve updated my winter survival list.

In the Kitchen: Gingerale, Saltines, Mint tea, Ginger tea, Chicken Soup, Orange Juice, Red wine (maybe this last one should go under medicine cabinet)

 

In the Medicine Cabinet: Vapour Rub, Something for coughs, something for Fever, Something for Congestion, Something to knock Dad out when he gets sick so Mom can survive his whining (Gravol – Check)

 

Always close at hand: Tissues, heating pad, whoopee bucket (This was my Gran’s word, we just call it the ‘bucket’ – everybody knows what we mean) extra blankets, new toothbrushes.

 

In the Backpack/purse/glove-box:  Extra extra mittens, socks, tissues, chapstick

I also have a few tips to reinstate from my Home Daycare days (now there is an open invitation to illness)

  • Replace the Hand towels with paper towels in the busy bathroom (the one everybody including guests use)
  • Use the ‘stuff-it’ rule even at home but especially at school – remind kids to stuff their hats & mitts into their coat sleeves. Wash hats weekly too. They go over looked but this is also head lice season. (Personally I would rather have everybody down with a 96 hour stomach bug)
  • Spread the word NOT the germs. Tell people you are ill, the kids are ill or under the weather. Cancel play dates, sleepovers and birthday party attendance. Stay home!
  • Disinfectant wipes are your best friend! Every night start at the front door and wipe everything your hands touch; door knobs, light switches, taps, phones, fridge handles, flushers and drawer knobs. Five minutes that will save your sanity, I promise!

As I head out to prepare my house and family for the impending angst of winter, I bid you good luck against the loss of apparel the acquisition of illness and the battle to beat the cabin fever. I will be picking up some extra cocoa, some old-fashioned popping corn and a couple of great new family board games to surprise everybody with and turn moods around when it all get to be too much. Secretly I hope they also delay my inevitable participation in outdoor winter activities.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Do you Trust Your Kids?

 

I have a very important question this week…

Do you trust your kids?

Now before you blurt out a curt “Of course!” Followed by a disgusted grunt and a “Who doesn’t?” Really think about your answer.

I’ve spent a better part of the weekend asking myself this question. Do I trust my kids? Absolutely! I trust them completely with unwavering conviction, without question, hesitation or uncomfortable pause.

But do they think I trust them?

That is the real question in our house. I thought, they thought I trusted them, I really did. I follow all of the parenting expert rules and advice. I never suggest they are lying or question their integrity. I even try really really hard not to arch my eyebrows in a “is that your final answer” fashion. I put a lot of concentrated effort into this last one because my husband reminds me all the time that I do not have communicative control over my facial expressions. Like Pinocchio’s nose, my face gives me away every time.

I thought about this when one of my children blurted out this weekend “why don’t you trust me?” Maybe I am giving off a scent, signals; the unintentional, not even aware I’m doing it, kind. Why would my child question my trust in her? Right after making sure they know I love them to bits the next most important thing to me is making sure they know I trust them completely. It broke my heart for a few minutes and I began one of those flashback sequences in my brain to replay every instance that might have left the impression of mistrust.

Maybe it was the potty training years with that continual

“Do you need to potty?”

“No Mommy.”

“No? are you sure? I think we should try anyway……. No. okay, make sure you tell Mommy?”

And the inevitable inward ‘Agh…I knew it’ *sigh*

 

That might have done it.

 

Or perhaps it was those 18 months I followed her around the house asking her to spit out the thing in her mouth that she didn’t have in her mouth, that I insisted she had in her mouth. I bought it one time until I was extracting it forcibly from her wind pipe. ‘Agh…I knew that too.’ *sigh*

If those instances didn’t tear the trust fabric I wonder, could it have been the times I caught her red handed pummelling her sibling? Maybe I should never have asked “what happened?” because then how do you handle “I didn’t do it”?

How do you appropriately respond to a teacher during a conference when they tell you that homework is not getting done? Do you stand up on the chair, stomp your foot, point your finger at said teacher and shout LIAR! Then explain that your ever honest and truthful child has assured you for months that there is no homework.

Truth be told, kids, little ones especially, are lying machines. They do it so well and so often I don’t think they even know they are doing it. I once had three kids stare at me and swear nothing happened as purple grape juice rained down on me from the kitchen ceiling.

To complicate matters, for their own safety, the safety of others and the development of their character, you have to call them on it. The challenge is doing it constructively and with enough tact that they do not assume the unintended liar label. It all makes the next stage difficult doesn’t it? We want them to know we trust them to make good choices for their lives, good choices for their bodies, their friendship and their futures. We want them to believe it because it is true, we do trust them. Trust is the cornerstone of a solid parent-child relationship. What if you spend the years between potty training and adolescence working like crazy to rebuild the trust lost in the “what’s in your mouth” years and they look at you with adolescent dagger eyeballs and ask “why don’t you trust me?” Can it be true?

Can this issue be played from both sides of the fence competently? Anybody know?…because I think I might have broken one of my kids, their trust anyway, without even knowing I was doing it. Worst of all I’m kind of lost for how to fix it.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Anti-Bullying: Do you walk the talk?

Parents, even really great parents (you know the ones whose kids are always clean, coordinated and sporting matching socks) make mistakes. Some of us (okay, I mean…I) make more than our fair share of mistakes; those of us with children old enough to talkback never hear the end of our mistakes. Parents (even the ones who think they are pretty great already) spend a lot of time playing over our mistakes, analysing them, working out ways to correct them and taking steps to make sure we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. It is part of growing as a parent (because kids aren’t the only ones growing on this journey).

Ordinarily I prefer to try and ease burdens rather than add to the weight of them but October is Bully Awareness Month and it is time to check ourselves, correct ourselves and put an end to some mistakes we might not even be aware we are making.

Take fifteen minutes this week for a good long look in the mirror. Head out to a busy public park, go sit in a food court among the tweenagers and ‘young adults’ or sit outside the playroom door undetected and just listen. Listen and observe. Do you detect kindness, cooperation, and consideration for the feelings of others? Are there signs of defamation, exclusion, judgement, humiliation, or degradation? Everything you hear, the good and the bad, is a direct reflection of the world adults are modelling.
Check yourself

Do you…
• Speak well of others, even when you think your kids aren’t listening?
• Demonstrate patience when patience is tough to come by, in traffic, in grocery store line-ups, in waiting rooms?
• Keep opinions to yourself when they are hurtful, judgemental or degrading? (This includes conversations around the dinner table about your stupid boss, your brother-in-law who needs a life, your neighbour who parks their junk heap out front and passing remarks at supermarket tabloids.)
• Avoid gossiping with friends while the kids ‘play-date’ in the other room?
• Listen to other people?
• Show respect for others?
• Stand up for yourself with thought-out responses and control in your voice and actions?
• Speak up for others when you see or hear them being treated or spoken of unfairly?
• Practice common courtesy?
• Speak to the people inside your home with the same courtesy and respect you show to strangers?

Bullying, is a direct by-product of how we as adults behave out there in the world, how we behave in our homes, in our workplaces, our neighbourhoods and our peer groups. If we are going to turn the tide on acceptance, human kindness and consideration, if we are going to make tomorrow a place with less humiliation, torment and fear for our children, it is going to be up to the ‘ones who should know better’ to show them how it’s done through our own behaviour, words and actions. We must, as Gandhi said, “Be the change we wish to see in this world.” and we must be diligent in our efforts because our own children are not the only ones watching and they are always watching.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Welcome to Parenthood, Please Surrender Your Pillow

Are you getting enough? Sleep, I mean. Growing up it was drilled into us ‘get your beauty sleep, eight hours every night’. Who wrote that fantasy piece for science weekly? Has anyone ever gotten eight hours of sleep a night? I think I may have once, but I am pretty sure it was also my graduating week of college and it may have been an ‘induced’ slumber, which by all practical terms doesn’t count because, well, you don’t feel any better for it the next day.

Sleep must have, at some point in my life, been something I was enjoying, otherwise I would not be so saddened by its’ absence. There was also a time in my youth when I was wrinkle free and perky in all the right places, so I must have been fulfilling my ‘beauty sleep’ quota. My recollection is foggy at best. Today, seventeen years post induction to sleep deprivation (or arrival of my first child) there are days when my ‘beauty’ resembles the “I put that $%#& on everything” lady in the Frank’s Red Hot commercial. My name is Michelle and I have not slept in almost eighteen years. Yes, my youngest has been out of diapers and night time feedings for well over 10 years. Mothers of newborns I hereby apologize for extinguishing the light at the end of your tunnel but having come this far I firmly believe there is a distinct possibility that as parents, we may never sleep again.

The only good advice I received about sleep when my babies were born came from my Gran; she was a fountain of good, practical, spot on advice. She said to me “Sleep when the babies sleep.” That was a great tip and I made sure to quote her each time my husband commented about a clean sock and underwear shortage.

Sadly, when my Gran passed away my children were still ‘babies’ so I never got her next stage of advice. Gran what do I do when they aren’t babies anymore and I am still deprived of sleep. What do I do when my kids are big enough to pee in the dark, put their own blankets back on and make it to the bathroom before throwing up and they still keep me up with nightmares and tummy aches? How do I get rest when they have fevers, fall out of bed and sleepwalk? What then Gran? I wondered. I imagined my Gran telling me to muddle through. So I did, thinking that she would also advise that my sleeping years were just around the corner.

We are around the corner I imagined she meant; my children are teenagers now. There is no sleep. If anything I get less sleep now, picking kids up from work at midnight or delivering them on a Saturday morning at 6am. I am not getting more rest waiting for them to get home from babysitting jobs or driving friends home as curfew times approach. My beauty is not being improved tossing and turning waiting for them to be returned home by other DPs (Designated Parents) or the very scary ‘newly licensed ‘friend’ or worse still, the terrifying ‘newly licensed selves’. I don’t rest well listening to them enjoy late night TV or demolish the kitchen in the moonlight.

I am in a desperate pit of sleep deprivation! In the absence of my Gran’s wisdom on child rearing I asked my mother, “When am I ever going to sleep again?” do you know what her answer was? …. “You sleep when you’re dead.”

I decided not to ask her advice about the ‘other’ things my children are ensuring we might not be getting enough of in the bedroom.

I miss my Gran.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Get Your Kids Talking

They are going back, they are… they really really are! *insert video clip of the Manic Back-to-School Mom-dance*

Can you believe it? The summer has flown by. For some parents, children returning to school is a long awaited blessing. I have been standing on my front porch for days with a handful of backpacks, a pocketful of kisses goodbye and a couple of false, yet requisite, tears (I have however been through the first days of school routine 35 times in 14 years of schooling, the event has taken on a new tone for me). There are parents however not looking forward to the first weeks of September, especially parents of younger children. I remember being that apprehensive Mom and I feel your worry. I promise by grade 7 you too will be doing the Manic Back-to-School Mom dance.

Until then be comforted in knowing you are not alone or feeling anything different than most every other parent standing outside the primary grade door. I think it is perfectly normal to have concerns about a school/teacher’s ability to care for (survive) and nurture your child. I used to worry about how my kids would negotiate life on the playground without my gentle guidance, supervision and knees to hide behind. It’s a tough job letting go of their wee hands and releasing them into the big wide world.

Every parent faces the delicate balance of letting go and holding on. If you are struggling you are not alone. If I could offer only one piece of advice it would be to stay involved. You could ask your child’s teacher everyday but let’s face it, nobody wants to be that parent, and you don’t have to be if you can get the info from the source…your own child. Ask your child about their day, every day. That sounds pretty easy, doing it effectively to get the best answers and insider information that’s the trick! Okay in the beginning maybe you don’t have to be too creative, a six year old will never hesitate to tell you that little Jimmy Jackson is a royal pain in the butt who could use some manners and a wash cloth. They will also tell you that colouring is stupid or Miss. Mostwonderfulteacherinthewholewideworld reads stories better than any other grown up alive! (Yes, even you)

One day though you will ask “How was school?” and the answer will be “fine” “Okay” or “good” You aren’t going to find out much with answers like that. You run the risk of losing touch really quickly. A week in grade school is like a year in grown-up time. We need better, less ‘parent frustrating’ answers or rather we need to ask better questions.

A few helpful ‘how to get them talking’ tips…
• Ask generic, specific questions that demand more than one word answers “What was the carpet time story about today?” “What did you play with Sally at recess?” Anything that requires some explanation or elaboration and can start a conversation.
• Set aside the time to hear the answers. Choose a routine time every day that your child has your undivided attention. Supper time, before story time, bath time, while walking the dog, sometime of the day when you are not answering phones, on the computer or attempting to balance your cheque book. You know that your kids know when you’re not tuned into them.
• Give them some space. You might be excited to see your child come home from school and be eager to hear all about their day. They want time to decompress. Imagine if you walked out of work to be greeted by a person ready to grill you before you have even had the chance to drive home, drink a coffee or take your bra off (because we all do that – right after removing our shoes) Let your kids come home, take a load off and let the day go. If they are really excited about something they will ramble on without prompting.
• Save your concerns. Build a space where your child is excited and comfortable talking with you about their day. If you pick up on an issue and conduct an inquisition your communication line is going to get cut. If you hear something that raises an eyebrow, shelf the interrogation in favour of some gently placed casual questions later and connect with your child’s teacher.
• Change it up. If you ask the same questions everyday everyone is going to get bored and stop talking. Ask about social adventures one day, academics another. Be as unpredictable as your child is! Keep them guessing for once, I didn’t say this wouldn’t be fun. Whatever starts a conversation qualifies as a relevant question.

Hearing about your child’s day, sharing their excitement, hearing their concerns, fear and frustrations, and celebrating their triumphs and accomplishments eases the worry, and keeps you connected even when you are worlds apart. I think it lets them know that they can go out into the big wide world, have their adventure confidently, knowing there is someone at home who can’t wait to hear all about it. I think it helps us to as parents too. There is something pretty special about knowing that no matter how big their world gets it you can always fit your arms around it.
Enjoy the early years with your kids and their first days at school. For the record when the tears stop flowing (and they will) and the reality of the freedom you have just gained sinks in, it is perfectly acceptable to bust a move.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Summer Road Trip

Summer is here, the days are long, and the nights are warm. Kids are filled with excitement and carefree whimsy. There are games to be played, sun to be soaked up, books to read, sights to see, beaches to visit, and amusement parks calling you in the name of family adventure. There are cottages to enjoy, lakes to be swooned over, and tent and trailer adventures waiting, complete with smore’s and insect bites. Not to mention family waiting to pinch your cheeks and over feed your children red dye #3. It’s all waiting for you…but first you have to get there.

Long live the road trip! No, let me rephrase that, long live the batteries in the electronic gadgets that will get us where we want to go without the kids pummeling each other in the back seat! Each time we saddle up for an asphalt adventure I say a little prayer of gratitude to the makers of MP3s, android phones, portable DVD players, Nintendo DS and PSP systems. I acknowledge the cleverness of repurposing the cigarette lighter into an auxiliary plug and I wonder how in the world my parents survived road trips without them? It usually doesn’t take long to find out. In my experience you have to keep those gadgets on hand at the ready, fully charged and accessorized; they get you through that first hour of picking up coffee, filling up with gas, stopping at the bank, stopping to reposition and test the security of your roof load. (Are we the only ones who always have something on the roof…a canoe, a roof top carrier, a kayak?) Gadgetry gets you through it.

Only for so long however, two, three, four hours on the road that can easily turn into seven, eight, nine if you find yourself in the confines of a 400 series parking lot is a long time even for your kids to be enamoured with technology. I know at home you plead them to take a break but out here on the open road the game changes. Eventually you will find yourself facing your road trip ‘old school’; the way our parents did in the station wagon or caravan. This is going to be great, can you feel it? Yay for harebrained schemes to get somewhere different!
You can and will survive! Keep some simple tips in mind.

• Pack great low sugar snacks in the cooler, pack water, Yes, I know that means extra pit stops but there is a reason this country is dotted along the country side with gigantic cow statues and Adirondack chairs the size of small apartment buildings, they were put there by our forefathers to ease road trip monotony. Get out stretch your legs, make your pit stop, take a picture standing beside the ginormous apple.
• Give someone the map. Silence your GPS, you can get there without Samantha, it’s just one long continuous stretch of highway to anywhere after all. This is a great opportunity for kids to learn map reading and Canadian geography not to mention the creative art of map re-folding.
• Play a game. Research some road trip games or re-invent one from your childhood. Our favorite is the alphabet game where each person in rotation finds a word that begins with the next letter in the alphabet; airport, boulevard, caution…you get the point. The trick is not finding your word Mom or Dad until chaos threatens to break in the backseat, delay, delay, delay then reel everyone back in with ‘Do not Enter!’
• Hand them the unexpected. Latest issue magazines, puzzle books, colouring books, new crayons, travel connect 4 or checkers. In your mom-bag filled with Gravol, ibuprofen, sanitizing hand gel, tissues and wet wipes keep a stockpile of ‘WOW! cool’.

Above all enjoy this time! Turn up the radio and sing along or turn it off and make up your own songs. The adventure to get to where you are going is the perfect time to reconnect, reacquaint and share some silliness. The opportunity to enjoy such closeness is rare, soak it in, have some fun. I promise you will either laugh your way to your destination or you will bore the kids back to their plugged in state. Whatever gets you there I say!

Enjoy your fabulous summer adventures; these days are fleeting, the sunny ones and the ones that find you adventuring as a family.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

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Candace also blogs for
the Yummy Mummy Club!