January 26, 2015

High School, Football, Parties...oh my!

No we haven't fast forwarded ten years since my last post.  I may not be prolific but I do try to update this blog more often than that.  In order to make sure I remembered the three topics I wanted to address in this post, I typed the title and then went about our usual busy day hoping to return in the quiet of the evening.  That was three days ago.

Around that time, the boys were left off the guest list of an event many of their friends (and their friends' parents) were invited to.  No one rubbed it in our faces, in fact, at least one child was told to be discreet about the party plans.  I found out anyway because well, it's almost impossible for a seven year old to be discreet.   I'm fairly certain that the reason the boys and I were not invited is because I don't have a husband.  It was definitely a couple 'n kids type of evening. The good news is that my sons had no idea their classmates were meeting up.

I'm not sure why I cared about being left out--I had other plans for the evening anyway.  I guess it's just human nature.  As soon as I realized what was going on, I sent a friend a "can you believe this?" text.  She commiserated with me and I felt instantly better having connected with someone who gets it.  Later I mused that this incident reminded me of high school and how those years would have been so much better with a smartphone and the ability to text a good friend.   One thought led to another and I found myself wishing I had the friends then that I have now.  High school would have been a lot more bearable.  If only one could merge time to get the right people in the right place,...one would always feel loved and supported instead of lonely and left out.

Then I realized that a) I'm no longer in high school and b) those wonderfully supportive friends I wish I had when I was 15?  I have them now and they're terrific!  I didn't know them in high school, but I know them today--I'm honored and blessed by their presence in my life*.

Who needs a bunch of party invitations anyway?  Even without a big Superbowl bash on our agenda I am excited to share this great game resource with my boys.  I found these football printables on the 3dinosaurs website.  I've never explained the game of football, at least not in any detail, to my sons.  I'm hoping to use some of the activities in the Extra Pack (download #4) as they are geared toward older children.

Speaking of older children, birthday plans are coming along.  I'm grateful for the comments on last week's party post.  Sometimes I get weary of being the only adult around here...constantly putting my foot down and the ensuing tantrums.  The unpleasantness isn't enough to make me give in to my children's every wish and demand, but it is enough to cause me to procrastinate with less than Disney-esque news.  After reading the comments, I felt truly supported.  It sounds funny, I know, but it seemed there were all these moms in cyberspace who "had my back".  I knew when I told my boys that big venue parties were off the table, I could survive the disappointment (as would they) because other moms were standing by expecting me to do the right thing (as was I).

If you posted a comment, thank you!

I've yet to send out the invitations but I did tell the boys that they could each have 5 boys for a special lunch at a fun "theme" restaurant.  No party rooms, no host or inflatables, just a table of friends and good food.  My heart sank when Henry asked, "and then we go to the real party, right?"  I explained that this would be the real party.  In fact, I had to explain that concept a lot over the weekend.  It's slowly sinking in and the boys seem like they'll survive.

*I'm also quite thankful for smartphones (something we never dreamed of in high school).  They make connecting with friends easy even though we are scattered far and wide with our children.

January 19, 2015

My Boys Love Their Toys, Me Not So Much

Santa barely makes it back to the North Pole and already I'm  planning the next big gift occasion? Ahhh! Birthdays.

As the boys were born not quite two years apart, February has become an eventful month for me.  I've yet to decide what to do about parties.  Both boys want separate, special venue parties for their friends.  I would love to just have a family party.  I know I'll never get away with that but I am hoping they will meet me somewhere in the middle.  I really don't want to plan, pay for and attend two ChuckECheese parties.  I'd like to see the boys agree to share a venue like that or have separate parties at the park district.  Either way, I need to a) sit down and discuss this with them, b) book the rooms and c) send out invitations.  Soon.

Liam has been telling me what he wants for his birthday all weekend.  This is very annoying.  Not only is he very specific with his expensive toy taste but he still has Christmas toys in their factory-sealed boxes.  And he doesn't drop the subject either--he brings it up three or four times a day, even going as far as to suggest hiding places if I buy the gifts now.  On the other hand, Henry collected a list of toys he wants, then narrowed it down to just one, asked nicely and then never revisited the topic. Maybe there's hope for this family yet.

I wonder if I would be this perturbed if I had daughters who asked for sweet things like American Girl dolls and clothing, Barbie campers and fashion design software.  Tutus, dance shoes, little ponies and a new comforter set....  I think those things would be much more fun to shop for and I can understand an obsession with getting gifts like that.  

I find myself nostalgic for the days when everything in the under 5 toy aisles was sure to be well-received.  It was difficult to watch them outgrow Thomas the Tank Engine, PlaySkool and Fisher Price but then there was Disney's CARS to fill the void.  Liam loved CARS.  Inevitably he became more interested in Hot Wheels and that was okay too.  But now?  Oh, how I detest shopping for Angry Birds, Hexbugs and Pokemon booster packs.  Of course, he asks for worse and I put my foot down.  When it comes to themed toys, I feel like we're both settling and neither of us are very happy with what ends up in the playroom.

Now I'll grant that this is beginning to sound like a very preoccupied, first world problem post.  And it is--there's no denying it.  I'm complaining that I can no longer make my children smile by bringing home this 
and instead I have to bring home this

We all know that most kids in the world are lucky to have a roof over their heads and one meal a day.  I'm grateful for the abundance and blessings I can share with my children.  I just wish they were as well.*

Let's end on a positive note, shall we?  While I bemoan the loss of their innocent play, I realize it isn't really gone.  Not yet, anyway.  The three of us happily visited our local Build-a-Bear Workshop.  The boys waited patiently in the 30 minute line and enjoyed watching their plush choices come to life.  Of course, I would have preferred that they choose traditional bears or sweet woodland creatures.  But no--their minds were set on a camouflage bear and a Ninja Turtle which they promptly dressed in "skull" pajamas.  I took a deep breath and agreed to the purchase.  

It's okay--they're still soft and cuddly.  (So are their new stuffed animals.)

*Later this year, I plan on handing the boys a more active role in giving to charity--in addition to Toys for Tots and mitten trees.  I want them to see firsthand how the rest of the world lives and what can be done to offer a helping hand.

January 12, 2015

It's All Good

That's how I feel about the past few weeks as I view them in the rearview mirror.  It took three more stay-at-home, don't even think about going out days to arrive, enlightened, at this point.   Schools were closed due to an arctic blast of cold so we stayed home for 72 hours.  I wasn't even sure my car would start when we finally ventured out Friday afternoon.  It did and I was surprised at how relaxed and dare I say it, content, I was after spending so much time alone in a small house with two boys who do nothing little.

I find cabin fever to be a very uncomfortable feeling.  I wasn't gleeful about going back to work after two weeks of holiday "break" but I was glad to return to a world of adults, schedules and students. Even Henry and Liam seemed to welcome the school routine back into their lives.  Then the call came (three days in a row) that schools were closed and we were to stay home. Luckily I had stocked up at the grocery store on Monday.  We had plenty of provisions.  (Who am I kidding, as long as we have coffee and flavored creamer, I don't care what else is in the pantry during a winter storm.  The boys can always have Cheerios for dinner.)

Knitted this scarf just in time for the cold snap!
As one day stretched into another, I wondered why I wasn't feeling the despondency of a week or two earlier.  It was still cold, dark and I had no one to talk to.  I spent hour after hour doing laundry, dishes and vacuuming crumbs from well, everywhere.   But I wasn't blue as I had been during the holidays when I was doing those very same things.  And that's the difference:  the holidays have gone and taken with them their huge expectations and disappointments.

On a cold day in January, I don't expect a gift under the tree or a mug of hot cocoa brought to me as I relax in front of a fire.  I'm not missing absent words of gratitude for the months of shopping and discerning just the right present. There's no more resentment that my relatives don't materialize around the dinner table like a Norman Rockwell cover family.  It's January and I'm perfectly content doting on my own two children on my own.

Since there's nothing special about January, I feel nothing is missing.

My goal is to remember this lesson and eliminate as many holiday expectations I can next December.  One batch of cookies from scratch, the rest storebought.  Many, many meals via carryout, catering and cartons.  And gifts?  Well, the boys will be six and eight.  They'll still want stuff I don't want them to have.  Probably hamsters, Minecraft and iPads again.  I'll attempt to do better meeting them, and their lists, in the middle.

I've got a whole year to make this plan work.  And if it doesn't?  I'll try not to feel so blue in late December.  I'll remember that January is right around the corner.

January 6, 2015

What are you reading?

We just finished Judy Blume's Tale of a Fourth Grade Nothing, SuperFudge, Fudge-a-Mania, and Double Fudge.  I highly recommend these classic chapter books.  They were perfect for my 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 year old boys.  (Note:  Several chapters in SuperFudge need to be skipped over if your child still enjoys Santa Claus.)

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find books that all three of us can agree on.  Liam wants to read about Teenage Ninja Turtles, Henry wants to read Captain Underpants and I still want to read the works of Cynthia Rylant and Doreen Cronin.  Sometimes we open up a Magic Treehouse book (we're on #19) and currently, we are enjoying a Geronimo Stilton tale before bed time.  (For now, the color illustrations and my silly voices keep their interest when the story line is less than riveting.  We're not talking Newberry Award here.)

I continue to search for quality literature that holds all of our interests and yet preserves the innocence of childhood.  As I search our local library, Amazon and Half.com, I sometimes feel like Goldilocks.  This book is too abstract, that one has no illustrations, this one has frightening magical creatures, that one's humor is too crude...

Don't get me wrong, I have no wish to censor what the boys choose to read.  Of course, I want them to read for pleasure--reading for the sake of reading and getting lost in a story.  A big part of that is having free and full choice to pick your own titles.  I let them do that.  Even if it's a cringe-worthy series like Captain Underpants.  But then there's the time we spend together, reading (or listening to) a good story.  What makes a good story?  We have three very different answers to that.

As the boys get older and further along in elementary school, it becomes even more important to me that we share books at bed time as well as during our long, daily commute.  In some ways, books on cd in the car are an easier "sell" because I have a captive audience.  I can get the boys to listen to a thirty year old Beverly Cleary novel that has no pictures.  Within three or four "pages" they are hooked on the story and beg me to turn it on as soon as we get in the car.

Finding the right book to share as a family can be difficult and time-consuming.  Yet when the three of us share an adventure within the chapters of an old classic or newly published story, I know it was well worth my effort to find just the right one.

Which books do you enjoy as a family?

December 30, 2014

The Pressure's Off; Time to Relax

I don't want to leave the holiday season on a sour note.  Although what I wrote yesterday was certainly a true snapshot of life around here, it's not the only picture.  There are plenty of kairos moments and on the whole today was good.  I found myself doing less chores and more reading.  More importantly, the I played alongside both my boys.  Liam and I built freeform with Legos then Henry and I tried our hand at his Zoob Challenge kit.  I was not terribly successful at any of the structures but that's not the point.  All three members of this family sat together quietly and concentrated on something other than a screen.  It doesn't get better than that.

Henry had a long-awaited play date in the afternoon.  The anticipation of that helped alleviate the slight case of cabin fever we've been feeling.  Once he met up with his friend, he was the happy, carefree boy I love to watch.  I'm grateful he has made a good friend at his tiny school.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. We'll be celebrating with balloons and a few fun activities.  On slips of paper, I've printed suggestions like "have a snack", "watch a movie", "take a bubble bath".  I put the slips into balloons that the boys will pop one at a time early in the evening. The activities each have a dollar store component--but no noisemakers. (I have five and seven year old boys, no artificial noise is necessary around here.)   We'll light up the night with glow sticks and our own version of  Hide the Bows in which we choose one dark room, hide twenty Christmas ribbons and search for them using only our headlamps.  (Milton Bradley, look out!)

I began preparing the NYE materials late one night and wouldn't you know, both boys came downstairs and spoiled the surprise.  No matter, now they are even more excited having seen some of the "prizes".  They keep asking me what day it is and how long until our BIG party.

It's much easier to parent when I concentrate on the here and now instead of the pain of the past. Unfortunately, during Christmas the memories are overwhelming and tend to block out almost everything else.  The boys sense my tension, become anxious and their behavior suffers.  The key is to remember this pattern, be aware during the next big holiday and not repeat this year's experiences. So with that lesson (hopefully) learned, things are easing up a bit day by day.  Just in time for a brand new year.

I wish you and yours the very best start to 2015