Togetherness

The family that _________ together, stays together!

Is it possible to fill that blank with just about anything? Well, barring any illegal activities… yes, it is!

There have been many versions of the saying through the years, and in fact I think it started as ‘The family that prays together stays together’. While this saying may have started out as a slogan to get families to church, I find it has much more meaning when you look at the word ‘together’.

You would think the emphasis should be on the activity the family does, however, I think it’s more important to be together. This isn’t meant to minimize the effect prayer has, but rather to take a look at togetherness in the family setting.

The family that cooks together, stays together!

When I was a child, we were exiled from my mother’s kitchen. Anyone that dared to traipse in there looking for a snack would have to answer to the guardian of all our food, my mother. I frequently have to explain to my mother, that I don’t have time to guard food. I put the best choices I can in easy reach, and hope for the best. It is demoralizing when I have to throw away wilted salad, and then vacuum up debris from chips they got into while I was busy, but I try to remember that more often then not the salad bowls are in the sink to wash, and the chips are still in the cupboard!

When you start to have a larger family, food preparation time can really eat into your schedule. So why do it alone? I like to prep vegetables at the kitchen table, where my two-year-old can always be found. He always is curious about what I’m doing and we have fun naming each item and their color. It also helps me be more mindful of my selection of veggies! If he says “Green!” three times in a row, I know I need to get some more colors into my veggie diet.

Of course, there are endless blog posts about food creations you can make with your kids, in fact I have one myself! Play with Your Food was a post I did last year with Halloween food crafts. But what these posts don’t tell you is the finished product isn’t always so pretty, as the nice pictures bloggers put into their posts, and afterwards, the kitchen is a huge mess. I actually remember taking pictures for that post at such an angle that readers would be able to see the huge mess the kids had made. Although I did mention the mess in a post later that month, about Being Present in the Moment. Maybe, this year, in an effort to be more transparent, I’ll include the mess in my blog pictures, so people will know what they are getting themselves into when they decide to cook with their kids.

One thing I can’t show you in a picture, is the pride my kids have, as they grow older and are able to (and do!) make better food choices for themselves. With the knowledge of how to prepare food, they are given more to choose from than just whatever plastic bag they can rip into. Plus, it becomes an activity that brings them fond memories of their early childhood and time together with us, their parents.

The family that eats together, stays together!

Many people don’t even have time to ponder if sit-down meals bring a family closer together, never mind actually have one. With all the schedules of parents and children’s after school activities, it sometimes seems impossible to get everyone under the same roof, forget about getting them to the same table. But I am a supporter of the family sit-down meal.

When children are small, it is mostly on you to clear enough room in your schedule for a sit-down meal each day. If you don’t, you not only rob your children of time with you, interacting unfettered by the outside world distractions, you rob yourself! We spend so much time doing the less than pleasant part of parenting, it is a really nice change to just slow down and take your children in for a moment. How big they are getting, how much they have learned and what thoughts run through those little minds.

When the kids get older, it becomes more difficult to find that slice of time when everyone can sit down. I remember that my mother somehow made it work, and there was an 18-year age span between the four of us. So, when I started school, my brother was graduating and going to college, and my little sister had just been born. When we all got older, my mom still made us sit down for dinner at least once a week. And I adore her for it. I can recall the enthusiastic way my dad and brother would discuss New England sports, and how my sister and I, only 4 years apart, would kick each other under the table, and then my younger sister would say something adorable and everyone would stop and say “Awwww, how sweet.”

Of course, you can only remember these things if there are no phones at dinner, and although back then, it just meant you would let the phone ring, or later, let the fancy new answering machine pick it up, it’s the same concept. No phones at dinner!

The family that cleans together, stays together!

All this cooking and eating makes a huge mess, of course, and it’s why so many chose not to do it. It takes less time to get through the dinner routine if you don’t pull out all the stops. I mean, for some of you, as you read through the last two sections were already picturing your kitchen sink with plates, pots and pans, the floor and table covered with food and not enough energy to deal with that.

When you have a heavy load, it’s always easier when you have some help. Plus work aids in digestion. So, we all clean it up together. Someone takes the baby and cleans him up, someone else put away the leftovers, while another cleans the table and floor. In 10 minutes we have the whole mess cleaned up and everyone can relax. I have never had a meal cleanup last longer than 15 minutes. I know you may think that’s impossible, it takes forever to do all that work, but in reality, it just doesn’t take that long.

I have many friends that clean the house themselves, to avoid the long, inevitable, drawn out task of getting their kids involved in the effort. Even older children can break out the toddler tantrums when you ask them to do chores. So, I use the same tactic I use with my toddler when I want him to eat something, I make them pick between two things I want to happen. Then I just do the other one and my work has been cut in half. I will warn those that are very particular about how chores are done, you may find yourself going behind your children and re-doing the task up to your standard, but don’t use that as an excuse to skip having them so it. When children see what it takes to keep the house nice and tidy, they appreciate you more. Plus they’ll live on their own someday, and they won’t be able to say that you never taught them how to clean!

The family that games together, stays together!

You begin to see that anything that your family does together can have benefits for your family and strengthen your bond, but what about broadening your horizon, and getting into your kid’s turf for a little bit. My parents never had video games, in Ireland, they were lucky to have much at all, but I got into gaming in college, and now I play with my kids. The games they have are very different from what was available to me, and most of the games, I really can’t see myself playing. But I do play Minecraft with the younger kids and last weekend, we started a action role playing game called Diablo, with the older kids. While they saw it as a chance to show off their superior gaming skills, my husband and I used it as an opportunity to teach team work. With four players on the screen, you need to work together to accomplish the game’s goals. Not only that, but you have to sometimes sacrifice for the team. It is obvious that the other games they play teach them to grab all the loot and horde it for themselves. But in Diablo, your team is stronger if you support each other by sharing loot with the team, so that each player has the best statistics for game play.

It’s great for families to do things together, and you don’t need things to be perfect to spend time with your kids. Other things we do together include working out and vegging out in front of the TV; Being super productive and finishing a big project and being super lazy and doing nothing all day. Any and all of these things are opportunities to spend time with your family. Then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to use the bathroom by yourself again!

What are some of the things your family does together?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Being Present in the Moment

As parents, we have many responsibilities, ambitions, tasks and burdens. Corporations should thank us, because multi-tasking was undoubtedly created by parents. With technology making our tasks more accessible, i.e. mobile banking, online shopping and even an APP to help us talk to our kids, we are being driven to produce more results, more often.

In my childhood, I remember clear boundaries being drawn in regards to my parents’ time. When my mother sat down each month and handled our bills, we were not to bother her. My siblings and I would find something to do, and if we argued about it, we kept it down because Mum was busy and interrupting her was not an option. We weren’t scared to interrupt her, we weren’t under threat of punishment and we weren’t all that considerate that we left her be simply because disturbing her concentration was rude. My parents’ boundary lines taught us to prioritize our needs, so that everything we experienced wasn’t an emergency.

Well thank goodness I don’t have to set boundaries! I can just do all those things on my phone while I attend to my children’s every need and want!

Wait a second… but that isn’t a good idea.

Aside from the fact that children do need to be taught boundaries, I am doing no one a service by splitting my attention in too many directions at once. Can I really enjoy their performance at the soccer game, if I’m making my shopping list through my grocer’s weekly ad app? Am I really listening to the song my son made up on his guitar, if I’m running through a To-Do list in my mind? Will I hear the baby’s first word, if I’m listening to the news while making dinner? Probably not.

I have often struggled in my life to be present in the moment. I barely remember my college graduation, with all the logistics of my whole family coming in from out-of-state, getting them checked in to their hotels and figuring out what restaurant could accommodate us, I forgot to stop and take a picture. I had no pictures of my graduation ceremony, or myself in my cap and gown. The professional photographer at the event only has a picture of me hurrying back to my seat. I couldn’t even take a moment on the stage, to savor the culmination of my college career. I had to throw my gown back on, late that night at the hotel, and snap a few pics.

These days, I’m slowing down a little. It is important to me to make these memories not only last, but exist! Making memories is an active participation task. You must do your part to not only plan these things we do with our family, but you must participate as well. I have gotten a little better at it now that I’m more mature, but I wish I knew these things when I was younger, especially as technology has become a larger part of my life.

These are a few tips, that I would have given to my younger self:

Life isn’t made up of ambitions

When I was small, I was a bit of a dreamer, and spent much of my time planning my future. I’m not talking about the normal run-of-the-mill “I want to be an astronaut” day dreaming. I mean I did research, made lists and planned it out, I even had a list of dogs I wanted to own! (Although, I DID want to be an astronaut, very much so, for about 6 months.)

Now that I am older, I realize life isn’t about the specific job you hold, things you own or places you visit. It is the attempts to achieve your ambitions. It is the memories you create for yourself and others. Especially when you have children. Those memories will hold value to your children when they’ve grown, and they will pass those values to their children.

Set a time to focus on your business, and take care of your business during that time.

When I come into my office during the day, I have time set aside for daily tasks, like running reports, checking emails and making phone calls. It works well at home too. When I get home, I have a little 30 minute routine that I go through that gets me up to speed with the rest of the family.  I talk to my husband, during this time I assess his stress level. If the baby has been crying all day and has worn him out, it is easy to tell. Because he is a man, he just says “The baby cried all day, I’m going to lay down, you’re up.” (A side note, I’ve encouraged my stay at home mom friends to use this line as frequently as needed.) My husband will fill me in on the day, what the baby did or didn’t do, and since I want to teach the baby to talk, I ask him about his day as well. Did he play with his favorite toy? Did he take a nap? Did he drink juice? He just sort of gazes at me happily, I can only assume glad to be part of the conversation. I check in with my older son the same way.

The reason I can take this time to connect with my family is because I have set aside time to deal with the business of running my house. It is so tempting when I see the mail by the door on my way in, to pick it up and start going through it, but knowing that I have time set aside to handle my correspondence leaves me free to check in with the rest of my clan. I planned dinner the evening before, so I’m not stuck trying to figure out what to eat and there is nothing thawed, or I need to go to the store for that one ingredient item, which somehow ran out. And the mail will be handled, just not in this moment.

My secret productive hour? It is actually in the morning. Since I’m blessed with a stay at home spouse, I don’t need to prepare the baby to leave the house for the day. Most days he is only waking up when I am leaving. I realize this is not everybody’s situation, and morning can be quite hectic. But take a look at your day and find that time you can get down to business. Then stick to it, everyday.

Note that it doesn’t have to be the same time everyday. On weekends, my productive hour can shift to just after lunch. Everyone is fed and happy, the baby takes a nap, and I have some quiet to deal with my responsibilities.

No one is saying emergencies won’t pop up, and thankfully we have the technology to make those easier to handle, but paying your electric bill at your kid’s dance recital is not one of them. Transferring funds into your checking account because your husband mixed up the debit card with the credit card might be.

During an activity, don’t worry about the mess.

My kitchen must be cleaned daily, as most people’s do. So, when I decided to do those Halloween food crafts two weeks ago, I started to notice that we were making a huge mess. I immediately shut that thought down.

How do you eat this thing?

How do you eat this thing?

That is the old me, the me without a graduation picture. When I shook the thought off, I caught a glimpse of my stepson opening his mouth super wide to bite into the skeleton pretzel brownies. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for anything, especially not a little extra mess in the kitchen. Ok, a super big mess. But who cares? I’m still going to have to sweep the floor. The odd thing is sweeping the entire floor takes about the same time with a little bit of dust as with a lot of pretzel salt and brownie crumbs. You’re still covering the same area. So, don’t worry about it and instead pay attention to what is happening in front of you.

You are responsible for you

Well, sort of…

You are responsible for your kids, yes, but can you make them feel differently about a moment by changing your behavior? No.

I really wasted so much time worrying about everyone feeling good in the moment, that I failed to notice how I felt about what was happening. When I look back at those memories, they are faded somehow. On my graduation day, I was totally worrying that everybody was comfortable, watching all the interactions between my friends and parents, looking out for my brother, in case there was an area he couldn’t take his wheelchair. But nothing I could have done or not done would have changed their day. It only changed my memory of the day. I definitely wasn’t thinking about how I felt about completing my degree and savoring the victory of a job well done.

Feelings go hand-in-hand with memories, and strong emotion can boost your memory. So, take a second to feel all the feels. And you don’t have to do this only at special family events, do it every day.

Pay attention to these tips, and when you look back, you won’t see lists, bills and your phone. You will see your life, made up of wonderful memories.

This post was inspired by the photography of Eric Pickersgill and blog post by

Play with Your Food

Last week, I happened upon some great ideas for food crafts. With hope in my heart, I went to the store, bought the ingredients required, and set off to have a fun weekend with the kids. These ideas are by Robert Mahar , presented by Julianna Strickland. I loved the ideas immediately, but would the kids enjoy making them as well?

10426257_10208053654088187_3504280038095661407_nI set up at the kitchen table, made a one of each and called the boys into the room. Did anyone want to try or make things with me? The baby was, of course, very interested. All the items on the table just had him ready to create, or at least grab things and push them into his mouth. Then I looked at the faces of my 12 and 10 year-olds. Slightly more reserved than the baby’s reaction, they actually sat down at the table. Now, I just had to reel them in. I started with chocolate, because that is very hard to turn down. I pushed a plate of witch hat cookies towards them. Easy and fun to make, we just used some orange icing on the center of a Keebler’s Fudge Stripe cookies and pushed a Hershey’s Kiss onto the icing to make the point of the hat. 12115559_10208053653808180_5987752917513585714_n

Then, I hit them with the skeletons; a brownie base, with a pretzel spine, ribs and a marshmallow head. More fun to look at, but much more difficult to actually eat. The kids seemed to prefer making them to actually eating them. I have seen a few variations of this one, using a cupcake instead of a brownie, or leaving out the pretzels. If we were having a Halloween party this year, these would make fun centerpieces.

We had a failed attempt at making witches brooms, like the ones shown here. The cheese crumbled too easily, and the chives snapped apart when I tried to tie them. The apple peanut butter marshmallow teeth fell apart when the kids tried to put them into their mouths. Although they said they tasted yummy, I could tell they were disappointed that they couldn’t walk around and use them as false teeth.

I finished off our food fun with jack-o-lantern stuffed peppers, which I had been roasting in the oven while we were having our fun. My planning on this wasn’t best, since the kids were now filled with sweets and weren’t in the mood for something a little more substantial. Oops!

12115553_10208053617967284_5638446046839191436_n

I learned a few things – primarily, that you should have lunch first. But also, I had selected too many projects to do, which resulted in a long shopping list. Although, it is important to pick more than one project, because if it fails, you can quickly move on to the next fun project. You don’t want your kids shuffling back to their rooms disappointed with your craft fail. The reward for all this effort? An extremely messy kitchen, and the gratitude from my children. Yes, actually grateful that I took the time to do something with them. They said it was fun, and they enjoyed it.

I felt the meter move closer to supermom.

It’s Going to be a Hurricane Party Weekend

At the end of my week, I like to think ahead to what I would like to do with the kids for the weekend. If I fail to plan out my activities, it becomes inevitable that we all go to our own corners to veg out after the stressful week. And sometimes that is just what we need.

But being a native New Englander, I realize we are coming up on some dark days. Leaving for school and work in the dark. Not having too much day left after school. Forget about it for me – I can only look out my office window longingly at the sunlight, I never get to step into it during the week.

But that time is not here yet, so we must make the most of the splendid autumn we have before us. Apple picking, leaf peeping, corn maze running – it’s all on our list. So imagine my disappointment that after work today, I will be preparing my home for Hurricane Joaquin. No outdoor jaunts for us this weekend, we’ll just have rain, wind and more rain.

Of course, this means we must have a Hurricane Party! The idea popped into my head this morning as I watched the weather and I realized I had several activities that I had been wanting to try, and this is the weekend for it.

First of all, you must have a good movie. I chose The Avengers: Age of Ultron which is available starting today on DVD. My oldest son has seen the movie already and even he is looking forward to seeing it.

For snacks, how about some Jell-O worms? Anyone? Well they are super fun for the kids to make. I learned how to pop corn when I worked at a movie theater in high school and college, and since have perfected my buttery, light taste with my homemade popcorn, so it’s time for a challenge. I received this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens with a great recipe for caramel corn. My husband loves caramel, and putting it on popcorn is about the only way I’ll eat caramel, so this should be a yummy treat for all.

With the yucky weather outside, it’s the perfect time to break out the crock pot and get going on those slow cooker recipes I’ve been seeing in my inbox. Maybe Betty Crocker’s Mexican Beef Stew?

But enough about food, we need some activities. One thing we’ve been planning for a while is an epic blanket fort. The baby loves it when I drape blankets over things, and he always tries to crawl under them. My older son and I have been saving up items for the blanket fort that we’ve come across. I started a little pile in the corner of supplies. I have an old beach umbrella we though could be useful. Pillows are tantamount to a good fort, square ones with stiff filling. We went through all the sheets and blankets and picked the best ones. How do you know which are the best? Lightweight are best, since the heavy ones droop too much and need stronger supports.

I also have some wax paper and leaves for making leaf pressings. This was a favorite activity of mine when I was small, and it’s a little too early to have very colorful leaves, but I’ve managed to collect some already this fall, so we may as well do it now. For some better entertainment, I’ve been wanting to try out this list from BuzzFeed on 17 easy magic tricks – I kind of just want to see if I can do most of these. That reminds me, I need to add bananas to the shopping list.

Of course, if things go badly and Joaquin follows Hurricane Bob’s path… we will be abandoning our party, and heading inland. Maybe Springfield, MA and the Basketball Hall of Fame?

What are some of your favorite rainy day activities? Mention them in the comments!