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Posts Tagged ‘family bonding’
I was talking with some other parents this weekend, and one word kept cropping up in our conversations: ”overwhelmed.” When did parenting (and life!) get so pressure-filled? It just feels as if we’re faced with so many decisions to make on a daily basis. Do we vaccinate the twins, homeschool our son, enroll our youngest in both soccer and baseball, and is our daughter really mature enough to have a Facebook account? And then there is all the advice from friends, family, parenting books, blogs, and even nannies on TV! No wonder we’re overwhelmed; we’re overloaded!
Add to this our fervent desire to make the right choices — i.e., ”perfect” choices (so our children won’t end up in jail or join a cult) — and it’s enough to make us wonder why we didn’t stick with raising goldfish! But does the likelihood of our daughter ending up either with a Nobel Peace Prize or on a psychiatrist’s couch for the next 25 years really hinge on whether we enroll her in the local elementary school or the pricey private one across town? Are we really that powerful — and are our children really that fragile? If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent over the past 27 years, it’s that good decisions don’t always guarantee good results. How could they when there are so many variables (genes, peers, natural disasters, etc.) that we have little or no control over. Fortunately, this also means that bad decisions don’t always result in bad outcomes.
I think we sometimes forget that our children’s lives (as well as our own) are a work in progress. Thomas Edison’s boyhood teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything; Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade; Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school (twice); and Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. They all ended up accomplishing great things, despite whatever decisions their parents made or didn’t make. As long as we parents and caretakers are motivated by love and a genuine desire to see our children grow into independent, contributing adults, I’d like to think that they’ll find their own way too — regardless of our choices. We cheered them on as they took their first wobbly steps, and they eventually learned how to get around. There really are no guarantees other than that our children will wobble, probably fall, hopefully get up, and (best case scenario) try again. Summer is such a great time to lighten up. When we start getting that feeling of overwhelm, let’s try returning to the simple formula of just being there for our children, cheering them on, providing a safe place for them to fall, and then letting go of the outcome. May you and your little (and big!) works in progress enjoy loving times together and smooth landings whenever possible!
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It happens to the best of us. While we’re busy living, life just about passes us by. Never is this more apparent than with our children. We have our babies, and then in that veritable blink of an eye, they’re crawling, walking, and talking. Our little ones amaze us with each new milestone that seemed impossible just a month ago. Before we know it, they’re in kindergarten, with circle time, ABCs, and even reading. Another blink of an eye, and they’ve finished elementary school and are well into middle school, learning more facts, making new friends, playing sports, having fun. In short, living their lives.
I bring this up because the latest hurdle we’re facing is high school. My voice still quavers a bit when I tell people my oldest son is now in high school. Gone are the days when I could sit in the back of the classroom and help staple some construction paper together, read with a group of kids, or help others with their multiplication tables, while keeping half an eye on my son. Sure, if there’s a clean-up day or a call for some kind of assistance at the high school, I help when I can. But those days of hanging out in the classroom are gone.
While a part of me grieves this loss, another part is starting to accept the inevitable change. Not too long ago, I was reminded of our true role as parents by some gentle neighbors whose kids are now adults. John said it so eloquently and it rings true for me during these days that seem to be just flying by: Our job is to set our kids free, like a mother bird nudges her young from the nest, ready to fly. Whether we are ready for it or not, they are ready.
So these days, when I’m thinking about which college might be the best fit rather than which art project students could make for a teacher present, I remember these wise words. Hugging my now-towering sons and saying ‘I love you’ more often also seems to help me appreciate the time we have. Like it or not, they will be on their way sooner than I may want, but for now I will try to savor each day we have together. As summer unfolds, I hope you enjoy some special times with your children, knowing that soon enough they will be on their way.
Recently, while cleaning someone else’s bathroom floor, I thought to myself, ”My mother would have had a fit.” Although the middle of the floor had been kept clean, the sides, corners, and behind the door hadn’t been cleaned in years. I was taken back to my teens, with my mother telling me how important it was to clean thoroughly, and me arguing back, ”Who cares; no one ever sees it anyway?” She was teaching me the right way to clean, and as a teen, I was arguing for the easy way. Now, years later, I was witnessing what happens when you don’t know how to clean properly. Not only had I never thanked my mother for teaching me this valuable skill, I had argued with her about it.
My mother passed away before I owned a house, was married, or had children. While she was alive, I was in frequent touch and told her how much I loved her, but while cleaning this bathroom floor, I realized she gave me so many gifts I had never really thought about — gifts I use or benefit from to this day. So, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my mother for all the gifts I didn’t know were gifts:
• Teaching us that a clean house is important, but family time was more important.
• Showing us that people were more important than things. No matter what broke, spilled or went wrong, you always asked ”Are you ok?” before you asked about the things.
• Having us work beside you until we could do the job right by ourselves.
• Making us clean the kitchen and stay there until everyone was finished. At the time, I thought you were just trying to make sure the whole job was done and no one said, ”That’s not my job.” Now I realize you were also creating bonds between us siblings.
• Making us go to our siblings’ activities. This increased our circle of support and helped keep us out of trouble.
• Teaching us to be polite to older or lonely people — sometimes that is the only chance they get to communicate all day.
• Being there to listen when we needed someone to listen (I doubt anyone realizes what a gift this is until their mother is gone), and listening to us with your full attention — not only to us but to our friends as well.
• Believing in me. To this day, I think of you when I am having challenges.
• Teaching me how to iron, stand up straight, and swim.
• Enjoying my company and biting your tongue when I came up with my grand philosophical ideas.
• Letting me learn and accepting that Chemistry was as hard for me as Spanish was for you.
• Showing me that even after failures or problems, we can pick ourselves up and go on with life.
As we approach this Mother’s Day, I hope we can all take the time to think about the intangibles gifts from our mothers and the other important women in our lives.
I don’t think there is a worm left in our yard that hasn’t been turned. My son has discovered the joys of digging in the soil, and every rock, block, and grain of sand has been flipped in his search for underground creatures. At any given time I am sure to find a container of dirt in the yard, a new ”home” for his bugs until he releases them back to the earth. I think his fingernails will always have dirt embedded underneath them, despite my attempts with a nailbrush and a firm scrubbing every night.
I used to enjoy digging and getting dirty too, back when I was called a ”tomboy,” rode an oversized bicycle around the neighborhood, and didn’t come home until the streetlights came on. I spent spring days after school outside with my mom’s trowel, digging big holes in the yard (which I know my mom appreciated!). I’d happily scrape my trowel deep enough to reach past the sandy top layer, through the moist dark layer, down to the red clay treasure until it was too hard to dig anymore.
This spring, may we all have time to dig a little deeper and get our hands messy alongside our kids. By gardening, bug hunting, and exploring in the dirt together, we not only connect with our children and to the earth, we are also reminded of the outdoor memories of our own childhood. Remember the delight of holding a leaf that was bigger than your head or the fascination of watching an earthworm or caterpillar wriggle in front of you? And of course you could just take a trowel and dig as deep a hole as possible, not with any purpose, but just because you can!
Once again, I am rushing around trying to spruce things up before guests come over. Don’t get me wrong, things are picked up and relatively organized, but why does it always seem that stuff just appears right before visitors are due to arrive? I know for a fact those dust bunnies I can see under the chair as I walk up the stairs were NOT there last night. Neither were the fingerprints on all the light switches, nor the smear across the front of the refrigerator. Where does it all come from? Maybe from the two teenage boys, the dog, the cat, and the perpetual remodeling projects in progress both inside and outside the house?
So, I take a deep breath, rip a drooping, yellow leaf off a plant as I pass by to answer the door, and have a sudden flashback of a weekend my family spent camping out in a friend’s backyard. There was nothing fancy about it; in fact, the yard was filled with 19 old cars, all in various states of disrepair, a few stacks of tires, some rusted yard implements, and several little buildings (shacks?) in need of a fresh coat of paint, among other things. There were three different enclosures filled with chickens, doves, parakeets, cockatiels, and finches. Not to mention three or four domestic turkeys, as well as two wild turkeys that hopped the fence one day, hoping to make new friends, and decided to stay. That yard was a little boy’s dream, bursting with endless possibilities of exploration and discovery. Resort-like, it was not.
The thing that sticks in my mind the most, though, is how much fun we had. Those turkeys were a riot. Every time someone laughed, those silly birds would gobble. Laugh, gobble, snicker, gobble, giggle, gobble, gobble. We spent time with precious old friends, cemented friendships with couples we don’t get to see too often, and started new relationships with folks we had never met before. That ramshackle yard, with the mismatched stools set around some old doors for tables, the tub from an old washing machine commandeered as a fire-pit, and the goofy gobbles of the turkeys, became a haven. It wasn’t the place (although it did provide a lot of atmosphere!), but the people that made the weekend so special—the laughter, love, and open hearts of good people just spending time together. I can’t wait to go back.
As you rush around this holiday season, trying to fit in all the activities and functions that are a natural part of this time of year, I hope you find yourself not worrying about the dust and fingerprints, the stray sock on the floor, or the wad of dog hair in the corner. I hope you laugh with the turkeys and delight in the people you are with. I plan to. And my friend waiting at the door? I just kick the cat toys out of the way and greet her with open arms and a smile that comes straight from my heart.
I’ve used lots of conversation starter tools with children (and adults!), but these are my favorite. Maybe that’s why they’ve won more awards than I have room to list! Anything that gets families talking together these days deserves an award, don’t you think? Each of the durable conversation decks is attached to a cool carabineer clip, making them ultra portable. Whether you’re at the dinner table, in the car, or in a waiting room, just draw a card, read the question, and let the fun begin. Great for family get-togethers! I’ve used the Family Talk cards at the dinner table with kids from 5 to 55, and nobody wanted to leave the table! The deck includes 100 cards, and here’s a sample: ”If you could do any job in the world for one day, what would you choose and why?” (5+ yrs.)
#15365 - 100 3.5” x 2.25” cards
Our price $9.95
Interview with Susan Magasamen, author of The 10 Best of Everything
When I read Susan Magasamen’s book The 10 Best of Everything, I found myself lusting after her job a little. Just as we at Chinaberry scour the nation for books and other treasures to enrich people’s lives, this woman has made it her mission to find destinations for families. While we’re searching for life-changing stuff, Susan’s out and about “testing” ice cream shops and campgrounds! (Sigh . . .) We just had to find out more about this woman and her amazing job, so we’d like to introduce to you Susan Magasamen!
Janet: What words of advice would you like to share with our readers for having the best family vacation of their lives?
Susan: Incorporate everyone into the planning! This will make the trip something adults and kids are interested in and are looking forward to! If you can start the planning early enough, it is great to introduce films, books, art, music and other aspects of the culture prior to the visit. We also find that after the trip there is always a heightened interest in a new topic. For example, we just came back from a trip to Vienna and discovered our kids had a real interest in opera. We are now renting operas!
Another tip is to allow for the unexpected and change your plans! No matter how much reading and research you do on a place, it is never the same as being there and experiencing it firsthand. That is really the wonder of travel…the unexpected and the expected exceeding your expectations.
Janet: As I read your book, I wanted to dog-ear every page because all of your incredible “finds.” I especially loved reading about the “best road trips.” If you could only go on ONE of these road trips this summer, which one would you choose and why?
Susan: As you know, this book is a compilation of other people’s experiences!!! We have families sharing their favorite places in California, another exploring Boston, or a folklorist talking about Philadelphia. The “best road trips” are amazing and I would like to do all of them. Hmmm, right now I think I would like to take my family to The Ultimate Florida Keys Vacation. This is the trip from Deb Kirkland and her two boys. They planned an adventure-packed, nature-filled week, from hand-feeding the rays to an alligator show.
Janet: Out of all your experiences, from checking out wilderness hikes to resorts in the Key West, which was the most memorable for you personally?
Susan: Throughout the book we share travel stories of famous folks — from scientists and artists to poets and explorers. I loved hearing about the places and experiences that helped shape their lives. This was very inspiring to me and reminded me that as a parent you have an opportunity to expose your children to what they might become in their lives. Elizabeth Spires’ visits to authors’ homes was very moving to me. As a writer, I relate to the way she got to understand the writers by seeing where they wrote. Often we don’t get the biography or background of things. When you have the opportunity to see where someone wrote something, what inspired them, what their life circumstances were, it helps to understand yourself, the world and perhaps even your place in it a little bit more.
Janet: During the course of putting together this book, what surprised you the most?
Susan: How much people love ice cream! And also how important time spent together is for families. As we travel, visit and see new things together, we create memories that last a lifetime. I come from a family of five girls. Whenever we get together we still talk about some of the crazy trips we have taken. I remember once my sister and I took our young children to Colorado to what we thought was a dude ranch. It ended up being a disaster of a place. So our husbands and kids all banded together and we went on a road trip all the way to New Mexico. We had the time of our lives! Again, expect the unexpected.
Janet: What’s the biggest mistake you feel parents make when planning family vacations?
Susan: Overbooking and pushing kids to “learn.” When your kids are engaged, interested and active, they will have a great time.
Janet: What is #1 on your Wish List right now for your next vacation?
Susan: We want to see the Northern Lights! We’re thinking about going to Norway to do that. Interestingly, this has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. At supper one night I said I really wanted to do this, not thinking anyone else would be interested. As it turned out everyone was! We’ve all done our homework now and have found a really cool website that reports on the Lights like a weather report!
Janet: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
Susan: The biggest and best piece of advice I can give is to take naps! Usually when kids are bored they are tired. If you can take a rest, eat a great snack, and get something to drink, you can get back in the groove.
Children are natural helpers. They love to share our work. But we must slow ourselves down enough to make space for them to work at their own pace and in their own way. They may not do things to our exacting standards the first few years that they are helping us, but with lots of opportunity and encouragement, as well as a healthy dose of acceptance for a job almost done (especially when they are very young), they will grow into capable workers. Teach skills sequentially, gradually adding the more subtle details, and soon you will have children who can see the dirt in a dirty sink and know how to clean!
Once a week, we clean our house as a family. Dividing up the chores, we go through our list and clean everything all at once. Our younger children always have a cleaning partner and are given a small but important job to do. A three-year-old equipped with two paper sacks can quite skillfully be in charge of sorting the trash and the recycling. As long as there is someone in the room with them, my children have always been quite thrilled to have tangible work that is in their care. Each year as we give them more freedoms, we also add to their responsibilities. By the time they are ten, they are capable of doing all the simple chores around the house—dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathrooms. They still like company when they work, but now their efforts are truly helping. When you clean as a family, no one has to be the “house slave.” More important, children learn that work is intrinsically satisfying and that it takes the whole family to make the home run smoothly.