The Best Label I Never Wanted

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I sipped my coffee slowly while absentmindedly scrolling through Facebook one rare lazy morning. Without much thought, I clicked on one of my favorite features: the “memories” tab. I scrolled past pictures of my now 11- and 9-year-olds as chubby toddlers and gap-toothed preschoolers to find one that made me chuckle. It said “5 Years Ago Today: “God bless single moms! I have no idea how you do it.” I laughed out loud as I shared it with the caption “life comes at you fast.”

Five years ago, I was a happily married stay-at-home mom of two girls. I worked part-time at my gym, but never really worried or thought about money and reveled in the security of my marriage. My then husband traveled for work, so I felt like I had some sympathies for the plight of single moms because I spent a few days each week without a spouse at home.

Ha.

There were many crushing blows I underwent in 2018 which are probably familiar to many of you reading, and just when I felt like I had recovered from one, another came. There was the initial shock and disgust of being told my spouse didn’t love me anymore, the anguish of watching my kids ride away to spend a weekend at their dad’s, and the soul-crushing reality that I wouldn’t get to spend every holiday or summer vacation with them anymore. But one of the more unexpected blows came from dealing with the changing of my identity to a single mom. While single moms were people that I sympathized with on some level, if I’m being completely honest, I felt a little bit of pity, too. How hard it must be, I thought, to have to do everything alone? I felt sad for single moms and so glad that I would never have to worry about that, or so I thought.

Actually becoming a single mom has completely changed my identity. Although it’s nothing that any of my married friends did, I immediately felt different from them. Whether it was being the only single person at a party full of couples, or just trying to talk about the fresh hell that is dating to friends who hadn’t dated in 15 years, there was definitely a difference between us, even if it was only palpable to me. Other than that, there was the fact that I was learning how to do so many things on my own for the first time, and that consumed so much of my time. I found myself Googling things like “what does escrow mean” and “how do you unclog a garbage disposal,” and even trying to figure out how to handle my own finances again after 13 years. And yes, you may be thinking to yourself, as I was, I should have known these things all along, and this realization was yet another layer of guilt added to the slew of guilty feelings I was already having.

With all of this, I had also become, seemingly overnight, an actual single mom. As many of you can relate, everything with regard to the house and parenting was up to me alone. And so I realized what it was to actually be a single mom, not someone who’s spouse left town a few nights a week. Not only did all household and child-related responsibilities fall to me, but I lost the emotional support of being able to commiserate with a partner as soon as he moved out. When one of my kids would do something amazing, or even terrible, I had no one to share it with. While friends and other family members were happy to lend an ear, no one can truly relate to the joy and frustration of parenting your own kids like their other parent.

Eventually, what I came to realize was that single moms were no one to be pitied. We are  women doing the work of two parents, and what is there to pity about that? While our lives are in some ways more difficult than they would be with a partner, in many ways they are much richer. We may not have a spouse at home to commiserate with, but we have unique bonds between us and our children. And there is no one to help us put together furniture or mow the lawn sometimes, but we have the feelings of accomplishment from doing it ourselves. I found my youngest daughter’s old writing notebook earlier this week and she had an assignment to brainstorm some things that describe each family member. Under “Mom” she wrote “builds things.” That was something that would have been laughably ridiculous a few years ago, but now I’m proud she remembered helping me put together a table and chairs. My lawn might not be the best looking in the neighborhood, and a screw might fall out of my table every few days, but I am so proud of myself when I look at both of them.

So while being a single mom is a label that I never wanted, it is one that I am now proud to have.

But I’ll save the dating for another post.

A Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding

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As expectant moms, we put a tremendous amount of work in the preparation of all things motherhood. We work on nurseries, birth plans, prenatal and postnatal care and picking out the cutest outfits for our bumps and our little ones. The hardest, most anguishing decisions I’ve made had to do with simply feeding my newborn. There is no absolute in breastfeeding. Every birth, latch, and circumstance is different. What works with your first child, will very well probably not work with your future children.

Making the commitment to breastfeed, while rewarding and life-changing, is a roller-coaster in experiences and emotions. As a new mom, I had no idea the challenges ahead of me, or the way I would feel about my body providing life for the tiny being that viewed me as their new 24-hour buffet.

Fast forward seven years, and I have just recently weaned my second child, my “baby” boy at four years old. Along this journey, I have spent an immense amount of time speaking with other mamas going through it as well, a sisterhood that has been there for advice. Below I have compiled, as much as this mommy brain can remember, my tips and advice to help you have a successful breastfeeding experience.

It can hurt like HELL

Pain is an understatement when it comes to those early days and weeks of breastfeeding. Milk coming in and letdowns make you feel like you are in labor again. Yet, you aren’t and your nipples are on fire as well. There are many conditions and adjustments that will alleviate this pain, most of which start with helping get the correct latch and position that is best for you. I promise, this immediate pain will also ease as your baby gets bigger and you heal from birth.

Take ALL the time you need

With my first, she was so small that her latch and sucking ability were affected and it was like trying to fill up a gallon bucket with a faucet drip. I read all the advice on how to give them both sides during a feeding, with a burp in between, that I was misguided into stressing over it instead of letting her do her own thing on her own schedule. We both had to just lay there in the best position for the time it took and that was that. Learning how to slow down and sit on the most comfy chair all day with my boppy pillow rather than feed her for a specific amount of time every few hours was hard at first but then it became our time and it was cherished.

Call on your support system STAT

Family, friends and specialists were there to support the highs and lows of breastfeeding, from a personal and critical standpoint. My husband would bring me water and rub my shoulders so that they wouldn’t cramp while hunched over getting the right latch. My friends would answer my crazy middle of the night texts about nipple cream and spit up. A lactation consultant kept me from giving up about a month in because I could not get my first off of a nipple shield. There are many online resources and groups that can be that system if you do not have one at home.

Have NO shame in your game

My boobs were constantly being pulled out of my shirt, fiddled with and practically put on show the duration of my time spent nursing. At first, I pulled blankets over them; purchased special and expensive nursing tops, left the room and pretty much shielded all eyes away. That took too much work and stressed me out even more. I am not saying I walked around with my shirt open but every collar in my wardrobe was stretched beyond my bra line. It was freeing to loosen up about it and once I did, I realized that nobody really was looking and I worried over nothing. Own it. Be damn proud that you are doing it.

Do NOT give up

While it is hard, painful, time consuming, and the trifecta of exhaustion (mental, physical and emotional), persevere. Growth spurts, pumping for time spent away and having someone connected to you all the time are mountains to climb, but the slope down is not quite as tough and goes way too fast. I miss the cooing sounds while swallowing, the post feeding snoozes and the instant stop button to crying and fussing.

The “Yes Mom” Challenge

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Okay y’all, I have to admit something. I have a hard time with being a fun mom, and quarantine with kids has really taken it out of me. We all started this coming off of the Spring Break high. We hoped it wouldn’t last too long. The weather was beautiful, and we spent all day everyday outside and on walks around our neighborhood. We made forts in the family room and had movie nights and awesome color-coded schedules for balancing online school and tasks. We bought a bounce house and put magna tiles on the garage door and made sidewalk chalk art and rearranged bedrooms because, why not?

Now that we’ve been at this for a good 5 months, I am out of ideas. Not only am I out of ideas, I am out of the desire to even try anything fun. I feel run-down, tired, behind at work, and just plain over all of this. I just feel stuck in a rut and want to throw in the towel and let screen time be mom for a while. Also–and I cannot stress this enough–I am not a Pinterest mom. You won’t see me out there making a refrigerator box into a play house complete with a locking cut out door. I’ll save that for their grandmas to figure out. Messes from crafts and Play-Doh never seem proportional to the actual fruit of the labor. But, I am also tired of saying “no” all the time.

So, I came up with a plan to be a “yes” mom for a day. Here are the ground rules that I set for our family:

1. Say “yes” to everything that isn’t harmful.

    • Kid wants to make waffles for breakfast and you really want to say “no” because it’s messy and time-consuming and just so much easier if you do it yourself? Say “yes.” 
    • Kid wants to ask Alexa to play the Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtles theme song on repeat while everyone has a jumping jack contest? Say “yes,” and participate too!
    • Obviously, we can’t say “yes” to every single thing they want to do. If they want to give the cat a bath, or pillow fight on the top of the bunk bed, we have to draw the line somewhere.

2. Purchase nothing.

    • Surely we have enough junk around our house to have a fun and crazy “yes” day! We have games, a craft closet, overflowing toy boxes, a mostly-stocked pantry, Amazon boxes, pillows and blankets, shovels for digging…so many things! So, resist the urge to go out and buy more “stuff” for your “yes” day.

3. Let the kids lead.

    • They will come up with lots of ideas of things to do! Just say “yes” and go where they lead.
    • A note here: respect rest/nap times. If your kids usually nap from 1-3, for the love of all things quiet, have them nap. The afternoon will be so much more fun if they’re rested! Plus, you can use that time as your timeout from the “yes” day. Make yourself lunch, scroll Instagram, turn on a podcast and clean for a bit. Just recharge.

4. Leave it.

The laundry, the work emails, the phone calls and texts, the unmade beds, the messes. Just leave it. Trust me, it’ll be there later.

5. And last but not least, no screens.

    • WHAT?
    • I know, it will be hard. And exhausting. Especially for someone like me that relies on screens so I can get a few things done for work during the day, or for chores around the house. Just put the tablets and TV remote away for the day, and see how it goes.
    • And yes, this means your cell phone too. I know it’s tempting to want to take a bunch of photos of your “yes” day. Documentation is the best! Being able to look back on those memories is awesome! So maybe you limit yourself to one photo per activity. Or 5 photos for the day. The point is: you don’t want this to be another day that your kid is trying to compete for your attention with your phone. I’m not trying to guilt anyone, because I’m the guiltiest of all of us, but just think about it: what if every time they want to get your attention, you’re already looking at them?

Here are some of the things we did during our “yes” day, and how it all went. I only took a few photos of the first couple of activities, but you could totally ditch the phone completely, and I think it would enhance the experience. Or give your kids the task of taking photos!

First of all, I need to come right out and say that things did NOT go according to plan. We did not follow all of the rules for the whole day, and you’d better believe I was exhausted and ready to call it quits after the first 30 minutes of this madness.

For reference, my oldest just turned six and my twins are 3.5 years old. When I first told them what we were doing and laid out the ground rules, they were so excited! But when it came down to it, they needed some help with figuring out what mega-fun thing we should do first. I suggested that we make an obstacle course, and we got to work! We designed and built the course together and they had so much fun running through it approximately 2 times each. Then my six-year-old got frustrated and broke it, so there’s that. Off to a solid start! After we regrouped, they were excited to come up with some ideas of their own.

 

After the obstacle course, we broke out the long-hidden Halloween face paint crayons, and everyone got to choose what they wanted. To be honest, this is where the rule breaking began. First, in order to reign in their grandiose, artistic dreams, I had to use Google on my computer to find some examples of face paint masterpieces that I could actually accomplish with my limited artistic abilities. Second, I had to say “no” to a lot of their ideas because we either didn’t have the right colors, or the idea they had was way too difficult. Finally, we landed on Harry Potter, Marshall from Paw Patrol, and a rainbow! Believe it or not, everyone waited their turn beautifully, and they were so excited for each other and kept running to the mirror to check out their faces. Mission accomplished!

This is where I stopped taking photos, and you’ll have to just trust. After face paint, they wanted to play a game, but they wanted it to be something they have never played before. We made up our own game that was a mixture of passing a ball around our four person circle and “Truth or Dare.” This was pretty hilarious actually! There was a little “my turn” drama, but fun prevailed.

After this, we had to break for me to make lunch. I got out some Play-Doh, and they had some independent play time. This made a huge mess at the table, so we decided to make a fort in the living room for them to eat their lunch in. This was a good idea only in theory, because they kept fighting when someone would bump the fort and displace blankets. Maybe I’m not the best at fort-building, but overall it was a good effort.

After lunch, we went to our normal nap and rest time. The twins napped, and I tried to give my oldest non-screen activities for as long as I could, but in the end I gave in and let him play Minecraft so I could sit and relax for a bit. Truthfully, the “yes” day was all downhill from here. To make a long story a little shorter, we had to run an errand after nap. The errand took longer than anticipated and everyone had epic car meltdowns when we got stuck in traffic on the way home. By then, my husband was home from work, so we just cracked open a cold White Claw each and called it the end of the experiment. We did let them have a movie night with a floor pallet and popcorn, which is always a hit in our house!

I know I didn’t complete the whole challenge I envisioned, but ultimately, I think the experiment was a success! We had a really fun morning that was jam-packed with exactly the things they wanted to do. I was off my phone and paying attention to only them and it really showed in all of their attitudes. So, maybe I’ll amend the Yes Mom Challenge to the Yes Mom Morning and call it good? And, I do think we’ll make it a tradition! Please let me know if you have your own “yes” mom day. I would love to hear how it goes for you and your family!

Mamas: Find Something Just for Yourself

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I did a very bittersweet thing this week. I resigned from my very first writing job.

I have been writing for a small, neighborhood newspaper in Houston since 2012. That job came into my life at a time when I had a preschooler and a toddler at home. I had never written professionally and wasn’t even sure how to do it. All I knew was that I enjoyed writing and it was something that others had once told me that I was good at, so somehow, I found the confidence to apply for the job and I got it. 

That little side hustle provided me with a sense of self that I hadn’t felt since way before I became a mother. It gave me something that was all mine and something that scratched a part of my brain that had lay dormant for a really long time. That job also gave me a new purpose and helped me set other personal goals for myself. In a lot of ways, that job changed me and made me a better mother, in a round-about way. 

My kids are in middle school now, but I vividly remember what it is like to have little ones at home. Your days are spent so absorbed in keeping all of your humans alive that the idea of finding a job or even a hobby for yourself feels ridiculous and, honestly, too exhausting to even consider. 

There are certainly times in motherhood when seeking something for yourself just isn’t in the cards. But, sooner than you may realize, you might find yourself in a place to begin getting to know yourself again. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job that you embark on–even just an online class or a hobby that you can do after the kids go to bed. Anything that you can find that reminds you of who YOU are outside of parenthood is important.  

My friend Tiffany, who is 49 and the mother of a college student, decided last fall that she wanted to take tap dancing classes. While her son rolled his eyes and her husband showed his support through a thinly-veiled snicker, Tiffany diligently attended her weekly lessons and, in December, I was in attendance for her Holiday tap dance recital. The recital was incredible and Tiffany absolutely rocked it! 

The week of Tiffany’s recital, her son texted her from his out of state university, telling her that he was sorry that he couldn’t be there for her recital and how proud he was of her for doing it. That, Tiffany confided in me, made it all worth it.  

Another friend, Katie, who is the single mother of three young boys, decided that she wanted to be in a play. She auditioned for the Christmas play at her community theater and got a starring role! I went to see her performance and was amazed at her talent! I was also amazed that she had found the time and energy to commit to the grueling rehearsals that the performance required–in December–all with three young kids at home. 

So, as I close the book on my first writing gig, I have fond memories of those first feelings of pride, accomplishment and that I was able to overlook the exhaustion and lack of confidence that often comes along with motherhood and went for something that I wanted. In fact, I attribute a lot of the good that has come into my life to that writing opportunity–not only the subsequent writing jobs that I’ve gotten since then, thanks to the skills and knowledge that I gained at the newspaper–but also the self confidence that that job afforded me. 

I can’t recommend it enough, mamas. Find something that you want to do and get out there and do it! If you don’t do it yourself, trust me, no one else will find it for you and you deserve to shine! 

Virtual Social Hours Are Not My Thing and That’s Okay

Between work conferences, volunteer board meetings, and distance learning, I am simply and unapologetically done with looking at anyone over a computer screen.

At first, when it seemed as though everyone and every group was hosting happy hours online, I tried a few times. I waited for chat room hosts, strong internet connections, and familiar faces, but it wasn’t the experience I expected or needed. It actually made me sad. Friends and family that I was used to being in the room with were more distant than just hearing their voices on the phone.

The invitations kept coming, and the RSVP lists grew as more and more people figured out the apps and programs to create their own meeting times, and with that, grew my guilt of ignoring them all. With a serious case of FOMO, I made the decision that I would only do the required meetings.

With the struggle of keeping in touch with loved ones through this unprecedented and unfamiliar time, we have to figure out what works for us. If entering a zoom call, selecting video and audio, stresses you out or doesn’t fill your happiness cup, there are many other outlets to connect.

Simple phone calls and texts, voices that were usually heard on a daily basis on early school mornings in the school parking lot were most meaningful in those early days of navigating virtual learning. The group texts deliver mutual support and cocktail memes. The phone calls that last a minute or an hour, relieve the stress of the day without having to move the screen, turn the camera away from naked toddlers, or stare at myself in a little box. The mute button on my phone is easier to find than on my computer when my husband decides that he really needs to use the blender as soon as I get on a call. Not to mention, the added bonus that I can be on mute without anyone ever knowing.

My mom’s group arranged for our regular nights out to be held in empty parking lots, “socially distanced” apart with lawn chairs. While we still avoided hugs and shared food, being near them while talking made it not seem as different as before. Our friends started hosting driveway parties; we hosted outdoor play with our children and pool dates with family. These new gatherings are something that we are continuing to do, seven months later, even though it requires me to wear a bra.

With the new school year upon us, with vast differences from what it looked like last year, my children are also craving socialization beyond the faces in the screen. Everyone has emotional feelings about what is best for their family and we are navigating these deep waters looking for a safety raft. I am grateful for friends that drive by and open their windows and chat for a while. I am grateful for the class parents that think outside the box for us to have our children be connected in person. I am grateful for the hearts that read my anxiety over texts and pick up the phone and call me. I would also like to apologize to all of the runners at the grocery store and numerous restaurants that have carried on frivolous chit chat in the last few months.

I sincerely believe that after this is done and we are able to physically be together, our connections with our friends and family will be deeper. We will be stronger.

Why I Quit PTA

After five years of serving on the PTA executive board at our elementary school, I quit. But not for the reasons you might think from watching movies that portray certain kinds of “PTA moms.” I didn’t get into a power struggle with other moms, it’s not that I didn’t get my way in a vote, and it doesn’t have to do with social drama. I quit because I love my PTA and my school that much.

When my oldest child started kindergarten, I was thrust into the PTA. My neighbors, who were also parents at the school, convinced me to take a position on the board. They did it in that way that we always do when we’re desperate for someone to fill a volunteer position. They promised it would be so easy! I would get lots of help! I can do it all from home! And with a new kindergartner, a 3-year-old, and a newborn, I needed to be assured of all those things in order to agree. 

For some reason, I said yes to being the volunteer coordinator. I had never volunteered at the school, I did not know what the volunteer opportunities were, and I only knew a few parents at the school. I was obviously perfect for the job. 

I spent the next five years on the board, two as the volunteer coordinator, and three as treasurer. As unprepared as I was for these responsibilities, I loved it. (Insert plug for serving as your school’s treasurer. It is the best kept secret in PTA!) And now, here I am, starting my sixth year as a parent at this school, and I have stepped down from all of my PTA responsibilities. 

When I came onto the board as a new kinder mom, I figured out why I was heavily recruited. Almost the entire PTA board from the previous year had left the school. Some had graduated out with their kids, and some left the school because they all transferred to a new charter school. It left our PTA with a volunteer void. The parents that remained had to scrape together an entirely new group and make plans from scratch. Everyone was unprepared and navigating the newness together. It taught me how important it is to take turns with leadership so that institutional knowledge isn’t hoarded among a small group of parents. Because when they leave the school, their experiences leave with them. 

My kids’ elementary school is a “Lighthouse” school, meaning that it instills values of leadership into all aspects of their school experience. PTA provides parents with the opportunity to model that kind of leadership too. And by stepping down from my position on the board, I am sharing a leadership opportunity. If I hoarded that opportunity, I could certainly continue to serve and further deepen my relationship with the principal, staff, and teachers. But at that point, who am I doing it for? 

Good leadership is about service, not about self-promotion or power. I don’t want to control the school, or make sure everything is done the way I’d do it. I serve in leadership for my kids and their classmates. And it’s better for them to have more than just a few parents they see around the halls. 

So I decided that my job this year was to step down and give someone else a turn, while being available to help with a smooth transition so the next treasurer doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

There is another reason I quit this year. All three of my kids are at one school for one year. I’ve been looking forward to this precious year since my youngest was born and I did the math. One school drop off and pick up, one PTA, one fundraiser, one cafeteria to visit for lunches. I had long ago decided that this would be my year to drop the PTA board and spend my volunteer time really investing in each of their classrooms.

Enter 2020, and add my perfect plan to its long list of casualties. Instead of finally having all my kids in school all day…they are home with me. And instead of volunteering in their classes when I have time, I’m managing their Google Classrooms and their three uncoordinated schedules, while working full-time for the first time in my life. And when the kids get to go to school in person, I’m sure there will not be any volunteering in their classrooms or eating lunch with them in the cafeteria. 

Education experts have told us over and over that parent involvement makes a good school great. So I’m still a member of PTA, and I’ll be there to help and support in whatever ways I can. Because this, to me, is one of the most important things I can do to help my kids become successful learners and leaders.

Now, not every school has the luxury of parents lining up for PTA positions. (In reality, almost every PTA has to beg people to serve!) But if you are presented with the opportunity, and you can give the time, take the leap. You don’t have to do it for five years, or even two or three. It’s ok, and even sometimes the right thing, to step down and let someone else have a turn. You will know that the time you invest in your kids’ education by doing tedious volunteer work and event planning and check writing and report giving…it actually really matters. It takes the burden off of teachers to provide the “extras.” It helps bring the fun into school, which makes kids want to be there. 

My favorite thing about being a PTA parent: walking down the hall and a child I barely know recognizes me and says, “Hi Finley’s mom!” They smile at you, and their eyes light up, because they associate you with the good things about their school. Those are the moments that keep you coming back. I may have quit PTA this year, but that doesn’t mean I’m out for good. 

How to Maximize Talk Time with Littles

We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. This has definitely rung true with my son. I know I couldn’t confidently handle his journey with hearing loss without the support and guidance of his audiologist, speech language pathologist, and listening & spoken language specialist. One thing they have all told me, however, is that their work isn’t what makes the greatest impact. Each professional has confirmed that while their role in my son’s language development is important, mine as his parent is paramount. 

Turns out they weren’t just flattering me; research actually confirms this. Early language environment has been found to affect the future learning trajectory of a child more than any other contributing factor. How you talk to your kids and how much you talk to them is the game changer. I am hyper-aware of this as the parent of a child who wears hearing technology. As amazing as his cochlear implants are, my son will not overhear new words the same way my daughter will. I have to be very purposeful in exposing him to enough language. That being said, even if your child has typical hearing and speech development, this is still extremely important. You create your child’s early language environment. That’s a fancy way to say that your presence makes a difference. How much you talk, read, and sing to your child matters. A lot. 

Unfortunately, I think that most of us feel as if we can’t add one more thing to our plate. Rest assured that this is more about doing things with intention than it is about adding more stuff to your life. Over the last three years I’ve learned a lot about maximizing talk time with my kids. Hopefully these tips help you find ways to foster language development and not go crazy. 

Daily Routine

You may not have time for a pretty, organized language development activity from Pinterest, but you are definitely going to make sure you change your kid’s diaper. What else happens without fail each day? Chores? Work? Brushing your teeth? Believe it or not, parents who talk as they go about their daily activities expose kids to 1000-2000 words every hour. A therapist once told me to imagine I’m a sportscaster relaying the action to my baby. Now I’m getting out the diaper and laying it on the table. Next I’ll open the box of wipes. You can also describe objects that are part of the routine. Let’s take off your diaper. It is squishy and wet! This new diaper is soft and dry. Child-focused routines like changing a diaper, taking a bath, and buckling the car seat are also perfect for singing. A nursery rhyme or even a made up song that goes with the routine works wonders. 

Meal Times

Meal times are that magical opportunity to interact with your child when they are both seated and occupied (if you’re lucky enough to still be in the high chair phase, they’re also restrained). Take advantage! You can describe your food–its texture, whether the taste is sweet or salty, if the temperature is hot or cold, or how many pieces of food are on the plate. You can share the highs and lows of your day (I love this Rose & Thorn routine suggested by former contributor Danielle). You can ask questions. My three-year-old is working on yes/no questions so right now we have a small stack of simple yes/no questions on the table. Bottom line: meal time is talking time. 

Reading

I will admit that there have been moments when narrating my actions or describing my food felt too hard. Life happens; we get tired, stressed, and depleted. In those moments, I am especially grateful for books. It’s a way to provide language that requires little from me other than my reading voice. Granted, reading to babies and toddlers can be…different. When my son would randomly flip pages or try to eat the corner of the book, I’d just start talking about the pictures we could see or his own silly actions. Still language and still valuable. If including books in your routine is a struggle, throw one in at dinner, before bed, and anytime you are waiting (doctor’s office, curbside pick up, etc). Research has shown that parents who read one picture book with their children every day expose them to an estimated 78,000 words each year

Play Time

As much as I love the idea of creating a language-rich environment through already-existing routines, sometimes it feels productive to have dedicated time. If your schedule is jam-packed, do not fret. Carve out one manageable block of intentional play time. Fifteen minutes of you playing on the floor with your baby is a gold mine of language exposure. Brownie points if you do an activity that requires turn-taking as this fosters conversational skills. Take turns rolling a ball, shaking a rattle, or tapping the floor. For toddlers, you might go back and forth pushing a car or rocking a doll. It doesn’t really matter what you do, just be sure to talk as you do it.

Talking seems like a simple task, but in our world of crowded calendars and handheld technology it easily gets lost. I know I need the constant reminder of how important it is. The good news is that we can make the most of the moments we have with our children. With a little more intention and a lot more talking. 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Remember: Living With What We Have

When all of this COVID-19 “fun” began, folks were flocking to the stores, stocking up (we’re using this term versus hoarding, but if you bought 47 packages of toilet paper, that’s not stocking up.)

Not going to lie – we added quite a few supplies ourselves. We stocked up and hunkered down. Then the frenzy calmed. And we were home staring at that stash. I looked at our pantry, our closets and our shelves and shook my head. As I sorted through things, the bounty we had slapped me in the face.

Before we stocked up, our shelves were far from bare. We just tend to go for the newest, shiniest, yummiest-sounding thing versus using up what was already there. Random jar of you name it, still in there. Along with all sorts of bottles, cans, and boxes that we hadn’t used. Hence the discovery of Bisquick marked “Best by 2017″.

As I pulled the older items forward, I shook my head at the waste. Wasted time shopping. Wasted money on things we hadn’t used. Wasted resources that were headed to the landfill.

The average American throws out nearly a pound of food a day. And yet grocery store shelves were empty, people were hoarding all sorts of things, and, of course, there were—and are—lines and lines of people in need of food. And that food insecurity has increased exponentially as COVID closures have hit our economy.

Credit unknown

They say that stockpiling toilet paper, bottled water, and all of the other things people were drawn to was actually an attempt to gain control over what was going on. I decided to take control a different way, by making use of everything we had. Rather than throw things out or buy something else, I looked for ways to use things up.

REDUCE

I decided to reduce what we bought by better using what we already had. Rather than fill my online shopping carts, I tackled what we already had with a renewed passion.

It makes so much sense now.

When my grandmother passed away years ago, we questioned the bread bags and twisty ties she had saved, not to mention used wrapping paper and more. She was a child of the Depression. Flash forward to COVID and I marveled at her resourcefulness.

The graveyard of almost empties I was determined to drain.

I deboned chickens and saved the meat for soups. I cooked down the chicken bones to make stock. I washed and re-used aluminum foil. No more plastic bags: reusable containers rule. Almost empty containers were turned upside down to get every last drop and tubes were cut in half to squeeze out anything and everything that might remain.

That pantry full of packages became a game. What could I make? Googling recipes became an obsession as I found what I could make with what we had. Rather than let something go to waste, I’d find a recipe that put it to use. Cookies made from refrigerated pie crust? Sure. Using up the milk before it hit its expiration date and using that Bisquick by making a custard pie? No problem. A cake with no eggs, milk, or butter? Bring it on! Croissants made from crescent roll dough and old jam? Not exactly Paris, but they were pretty good.

A Bisquick pie that worked even with “old” Bisquick.

Along with recipes, I started researching. Turns out that many of the product dates are just that: guidelines, not a hard and fast rule. Before you think I was putting questionable food on the table, there are guidelines detailing what all of those “Best By” labels mean—and what should be tossed when. There’s even an app to help identify how long something can be stored, even after it’s open and taking up shelf space in your refrigerator. And crystalized honey? Soften it in the microwave and use it anyway: honey never goes bad.

REUSE

I already mentioned the aluminum foil. But I found myself inspecting everything before it was discarded. Could we find another way to use that milk jug? Why yes, it can become a bird feeder. (Bonus: an activity that keeps kids entertained!) Yogurt containers became flower pots, growing seeds we saved from a bell pepper. That potato that decided to sprout eyes? We planted it. Sadly, I couldn’t get my avocado seeds to grow, but I’ll keep trying.

It’s not pretty, but it’s been popular with the birds.

Cleaning out old t-shirts gave me new dusting rags and since we decided to wash our car at home, we put other old rags to use scrubbing. We gathered old towels and earmarked them for donation to Animal Care Services. A stack of old books is headed to our library store, where they’ll be sold to earn money for the library.

Organizing the bathroom cabinet, I found myself shaking my head again as I came across bottles and jars of unused cosmetics and toiletries. I have ridiculously sensitive skin and a lot of products just don’t work for me. And there they were, staring back at me. But rather than throw them out, I repurposed them.

Use it up before throwing it out.

The face cream that made me break out? Turns out it made a great foot moisturizer. Ditto on the lip balm that made my lips itch. My feet were never softer. That hair serum I didn’t like? It gave me a natural wave and a different look that worked for days spent in quarantine. Random samples I’d squirreled away? They got trotted out and used. If my skin broke out, it’s not like anyone was going to see me, right? I used them up, helping my regular products last longer, and kept them out of the landfill.

RECYCLE

As we cleaned things out—and continue to—I find myself looking for ways to repurpose everything or find it a new home. Like everyone else, we turned an area of our home into a space for distance learning. Rather than buy new, we scoured our closets to see what would work. With a husband in IT, we had an old laptop to get online, as well as a mouse and even a keyboard.

That same closet cleanout yielded other old computers that we were able to update and share with other families who needed something for their kids. At a time when laptops were hard to find, it was a great way to use what we weren’t. And we weren’t alone:  neighborhood groups trading/swapping items became the rage during lockdown.

A found can of spray paint let me refresh some metal garden décor and sorting through forgotten items in our shed unearthed pots and other pieces we added to our outdoor space.

A red cookie tin became home for art supplies in our new learning center and a free calendar some real estate agent had mailed us became how we tracked due dates. When it became easier necessary for me to move my workspace to the other end of the dining room table to answer the million questions that arose from distance learning, I turned an old headset into my version of noise-cancelling headphones.

And when we couldn’t find hand sanitizer? I used aloe vera and alcohol to make our own. And it felt good to be making do with what we had.

REMEMBER

As I was organizing things, I realized how much we had that I didn’t remember. Sure, there’s stocking up, but when you’re buying something because you didn’t realize you already had it? That’s another issue.

One of my favorite products is a local skin care line, In the Weeds Natural Skin Care, an ACM Favorite Thing from 2017. Alamo City Moms is actually who got me hooked on In the Weeds and when it’s time to repurchase, I always buy two or three of my favorites at the same time so I don’t run out. But I found a crazy stash I’d mistakenly hoarded. Oops.

I’ll definitely love using it, but that’s where REMEMBER comes in. I realized that when the hustle and bustle and craziness of everyday life came to a screeching COVID halt, my focus returned. I was able to better organize our things and honestly, better use what we had. There was no more haste. I had time to make lists and track what we had. I stopped grabbing something I thought we needed and actually checked to see what we had that we could use before I bought something new.

It’s not that we couldn’t buy more, it’s that I didn’t want to. As things relaxed and toilet paper returned to store shelves, I realized that the sense of control I had was also a sense of peace—and prosperity. By better using what we already had, I was saving money that we could repurpose. I was doing my part to make a dent in our overflowing landfills and being kinder to our environment. I was teaching my son to be more responsible and resourceful.

And I’m pretty sure my grandmother would be proud.

 

How to Host a Drive-By Baby Shower

It’s 2020. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, social distancing has become something we accept, because at least it’s some sort of human interaction and if you’re friends are anything like mine, EVERYONE is pregnant. Between now and the close of 2020 my close friend group will welcome four new babies (my daughter included), my sister-in-law is due a week after me, and adding in friends from church we easily reach double digits. Needless to say, figuring out how to celebrate these sweet, unborn angels and their mamas has been a whole new experience. Although, after hosting and planning a few, I have to say, I am officially a fan of the new drive-by baby showers.

So, you’re hosting a socially distanced baby shower but have no clue how to begin? Fear not, I’ve put together a list of things that have been super helpful for me as I plan and host showers for all my favorite mamas:

1. Get the nitty gritty out of the way first.

The most difficult part about hosting a shower (drive-by or not) is getting everyone on the same page. Start by getting a group conversation going to agree on some of the foundational things: date — have some dates in mind that you know the mom/parents-to-be are free), time — I’ve preferred early morning because it’s so dang hot right now, budget and theme. Once you all agree on these things the planning goes a whole lot smoother.

2. Get those creative juices flowing and see what needs to be done.

The fun part begins! I love searching the web (Pinterest is my favorite for party planning) to get inspired by the chosen theme. Sometimes we stick with a simple color scheme, but other times we choose a specific theme (an upcoming one is pink lemonade) and then decide what needs to be purchased, what can be used that hostesses already have, and how much you can fork over for decor and any other add ons based on the chosen budget.

Things I’ve discovered are must haves:

Cute folding or easily transportable chairs for mom-to-be and hostesses, pop-up canopy, folding tables, drinks for mom-to-be and hostesses, decor and party favors. Before you go out and purchase anything, ask around to see if you can borrow from friends. I haven’t had to purchase anything big yet because usually someone, if not one of the hostesses, has everything we need.

3. Divvy up jobs.

Make sure things that are time sensitive are taken care of first so you’re not scrambling last minute to figure it out. Choose a date to have invites sent out (Evites have been popular — especially with mamas having their second baby). If you choose to go with the digital option a cute way to make it special for the guest of honor is to print out a copy of the invite, slap it in a cute frame and gift it for the mama to display somewhere.

A popular party favor for drive-by showers has been decorated sugar cookies, but you have to make sure to book a cookie lady early because they get busy fast; especially as the holidays approach. Other easy favors are bagged kettle corn with personalized stickers, a fun beverage of choice based on the theme, etc.

Decide if you want to give a gift as a hostess group or purchase things individually. I usually prefer going in as a group to get a more expensive, big-ticket item that I know might not be purchased otherwise.

After that, divide and conquer…who’s in charge of tables and chairs, flowers, balloons, drinks, favors, and gifts. Letting each person take one specific job helps make it less burdensome for any one person.

4. Don’t shy away from the balloon garlands.

A balloon garland is an inexpensive way to really spice up a drive-by party. It can connect with any type of theme and be a great backdrop for pictures. Find your balloons on Amazon or Oriental Trading (a good balloon garland typically has 150-200 balloons), purchase some balloon garland tape and if you want to save a lot of time buy an electric pump. It’s helpful if you have two people to assemble (one to inflate and another to put them on the strip). Make sure to add some big round balloons and vary the sizes you inflate to give it a professional look.

5. Set Up and PAAARTY!

Most of the drive-by showers I’ve been to or hosted have been in front of the house of the mom-to-be. It’s super convenient for the guest of honor and setup can be quick since it’s just a few tables, chairs and a canopy. Hostesses arrive 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time to make sure everything’s squared away and the mama comes out just before the guests begin arriving. Have masks and hand sanitizer readily available for the hostesses and mama to wear as you’re passing out favors, taking gifts (you can always encourage attendees to mail these ahead of time) and interacting with guests. Enjoy your beverages, snap some photos and revel in the simplicity of a drive-by shower.

 

These are unprecedented times and it’s easy to think nothing can be normal. While these showers look a little different, you’ll see, they can still be a blast. So make it your own, add your unique flair and embrace the time you have to socialize, albeit a bit distanced, and celebrate someone you love with family and friends.

Lunches During Virtual School

As a mom who is always nutrition conscious first, I’m counting my blessings with being able to ensure my kids are eating great during their school day–at least while they are still home and in virtual school for the next few weeks. This not only helps them remain easily focused for the rest of the afternoon, but also helps ensure they will be in great moods after school by avoiding a sugar crash midday. (And that helps all of us!) As an aside, my kids are definitely old enough and perfectly capable of making their own lunches, but I’m taking full advantage of this odd moment in history to help reenforce that healthy can also mean tasty and interesting.

I feel so fortunate to have the time available to make my boys’ lunches each day before their break. However, even when I was working full-time and didn’t have much brain power or energy to spare in the way of food each day, I prepped their lunches the night before. On particularly busy weeks, I would make a couple days’ worth of grab-and-go items at a time. This made it easy for them to choose from some healthy options on their way out the door in the morning. No matter what your circumstances are, there are lots of ways to influence our kids’ desire and ability to eat healthier foods. Here are some of the things I am considering now that I have the chance to make their lunches, and will continue to focus on as they return to the hustle and bustle of being back at school.

Plenty of Protein

My kids (maybe even more than most) will be starving in five minutes if I don’t make sure their meal is balanced. A big part of keeping their blood sugar up and avoiding the afternoon slump is ensuring every meal has a healthy-sized portion of protein. We eat meat in our home most days, but we do have one or two meatless days a week. (Shhhh. Don’t tell my kids. I don’t think they’ve noticed!) When we go meatless, I make sure to build the meal around foods like nuts or nut butters, lentils or peas, beans and rice, or Ezekiel (sprouted grain) bread because the protein content in each of these items is high.

Fresh Vegetables and Fruit

Everything fresh counts, so I try to get creative with ways to slip fresh foods in as often as possible. If the serving isn’t obvious to the naked eye, then you can be sure I’ve included fresh celery and onion in the tuna salad, or crisp spinach and ripe tomato on the sandwich. A couple of days out of the week I will make a small side salad, and almost every plate houses a serving of fresh fruit or has a fruit and spinach smoothie on the side. The effects of fresh foods are widely known and discussed, so I know this isn’t new information. For me though, keeping these items at the forefront of my mind when I’m planning meals helps keep me out of the ‘turkey and cheese on bread sandwich with a bag of chips everyday’ rut. (Although, sometimes I might include those items, too!)

A Rotating Mix of Colors and Textures

Presentation goes a long way for everyone, but I think this is mostly what’s kept any complaints over healthier choices at bay. I make sure to include a variety of things to look at that are brightly colored. Literally, I try to capture at least half of ‘the rainbow’ in every meal. This may include a small green salad with some orange and red veggies to garnish, and a mixed serving of fruit, like pineapple and blueberries, in order to fit in a couple of other colorful foods.

I can’t be the only one that appreciates a variety of texture in my meals, so I consider this when making lunches for my kids, too. From the crisp crunch of fresh celery or apples, to the chewiness of cubed cheese or the creaminess of tomato basil soup, the variety of ways I’ve found to switch up the mouth feels of lunch are endless when I remember to select them on purpose.

Easy Variety Within a Budget

Preparing great food that keeps my kids intrigued doesn’t have to mean that the meals are complicated or expensive. It can be easy to find myself in the routine of making the same lunch every day, especially when my mind is preoccupied with so many other things right now. I’ve tried hard to use up my groceries in ways that keep things interesting, but still keep the effort and budget fairly low. This may mean that today’s tuna salad served with crackers will appear again later in the week on a tuna melt, and the apples and oranges that were served solo alongside Monday’s lunch will find themselves in a fruit salad with banana and blueberries by Friday. Many of my chosen ingredients each week make several appearances, but I dress them up differently all week long. So far, the boys seem to dig it and haven’t noticed!

Something Sweet(ish) at Every Meal

My kids (and I’m sure yours, too) tend to prefer sugary snacks when given the choice. We aim for healthy snacks as a majority occurrence in our house, but I still keep treats stocked. I have snack bins in my pantry and refrigerator as a go-to location for my kids’ better-for-you-snacks, but may add a single serving bag or two of treats for each kid to enjoy as they wish during the week (they know to share what’s available equally). I could be totally wrong about this one, but I feel like this gives them the autonomy that teens crave so deeply to choose what they eat, and models what moderation looks like without requiring any direct feedback from parents.

To my mind, the nutritional requirements for lunches are different than snacks, because our kiddos are required to focus for so long after eating. (Not to mention, we also have a football player in our house whose practice takes place after classes and requires plenty of energy.) I’ve noticed that when I keep fruit as a constant on their plates the impending sweet tooth is automatically satisfied, and I don’t find them digging through the pantry after lunch. Having a balance of flavors (like salty, savory, and sweet) leaves them happily full and wanting for nothing after they’ve finished eating. On the days when I’ve tested this theory? Cookies immediately after lunch. Every. Time.

Include Hot Foods, Too

This is something that wouldn’t be realistic for lunches from home on a normal school day, so I’m taking full advantage while my boys are here. They’ve enjoyed lots of different grilled sandwiches, hot soups, quesadillas, and next week I even have their favorite casserole on the menu. (Two lunches for the effort of one when I plan for leftovers they’ll love!) These are things I can assemble the night before while I’m making dinner, so all that’s left to do in the morning is heat it up. It’s kept me out of the kitchen more than I would already be on any given day and added something new and different to the standard lunch menu.

Having the chance to reset what a “good” lunch looks like has been one of the blessings to come out of virtual learning. There are so many things out of my control right now, so I’m focusing on what is in my power to do that helps benefit the health and wellness of my family. It makes me feel good to be able to care for them in this way, and I can see when their faces light up with anticipation that it makes them feel good, too.

My idea of what a healthy lunch looks like is undoubtedly different from yours in one or many ways. This is one of the beautiful things about parenthood, isn’t it? There are a million ways to boost the health and wellness of our families, and they are all ‘right’ when we deem them to be right for us and our kids. I’d love to learn some new ideas from you, too! Will you share what you’re doing for your kids’ lunches in the comments?

I Caught A Glimpse Of You Today

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I caught a glimpse of you today.
The sun danced in your eyes and memories flooded my heart.
The structure of your face is changing but visions of your chubby cheeks staring up at me made me want to steal moments of the past.

I caught a glimpse of you today.
The look in your eyes forced me to understand that you’re seeing things in your own frame.
The twinkle I saw made me realize that you’re becoming who you’re supposed to be and pride and fear swirled in my soul.

I caught a glimpse of you today.
The way you look at me is changing.
What once was a look of need is now a look of independence, and I simultaneously wanted to pick you up and put you down.

I caught a glimpse of you today.
Your half-smile lights up the room and gives an air of mischievousness.
Pictures in my head flashed forward and I could feel the weight of your teen years.

I caught a glimpse of you today.
The little white bow that keeps your hair tamed is almost ready to retire.
Visions of a big white bow dancing on the back of your dress as you make your way down the aisle caused a wave of tears race down my cheeks.

I caught a glimpse of you today.
And so many emotions filled my body that I’m torn between wanting to relive the past, needing time to freeze, and eager to fast forward.
The look in your eyes grasped what was and reflected what will be and my heart scrambled to find space for it all without crumbling into a mountain of emotions. 

I caught a glimpse of you today.
You were precious.
You are amazing.
You will be incredible. 
And through every moment and every season, my heart will struggle between holding on tightly and gracefully letting go. 

I caught a glimpse of you today.

How to Support a Friend who Contracts COVID-19

In late June my family contracted COVID-19. It was far and away one of the least favorite experiences of our lives. My husband I were, unfortunately, super sick. Our small children (4 & 2), never showed any symptoms. The only good thing that came from this experience was the outstanding reminder that we are not alone. We have an amazing group of friends and family here that rallied alongside us as we recovered and tried to care for our children. To be frank, we were debilitated, and I don’t know what we would have done had family and friends from church not been so generous and loving.

It’s likely that you will have a friend that gets COVID-19. I don’t know if their symptoms will be mild, we know many who have only lost their sense of taste/smell, or more intense  like ours. We had it all, fevers, headaches, body aches, and fire from Hades burning wildly inside our lungs. We were so tired we would fall asleep without realizing it. We were so weak that picking up our 2-year-old seemed impossible. But we made it. And we made it because of the support we had. I’ve comprised a list of the top 5 things people did and provided for us in hopes to equip you to love your neighbor well if they have the misfortune of encountering COVID-19.

5 Ways to Help a Friend with COVID-19

1. ALL the Paper Goods

Listen. I love the environment. We recycle. I try to limit my single-use plastic consumption. Mostly. Kind of. I’m not an activist or anything but I FOR SURE like nature. But when a friend who previously had Coronavirus dropped a TON of paper plates, paper bowls, plastic forks, plastic spoons, and plastic cups off on my doorstep I could have wept. Maybe I did. I was so sick I don’t remember a lot. But she wrote me a note and told me to use them and all I know is that they saved me. I didn’t have to add washing dishes to staying alive and caring for our children. An added bonus: my kids are in that sweet stage where they like to throw everything away to be “helpful,” so most of the time they just chucked their stuff in the trash when they were done and then I never had to worry about it again.

On that same note, I have to acknowledge any food that was delivered in a Tupperware that I didn’t need to give back or that I could toss. This made things SO easy. It also gave me great peace of mind knowing that if my Corona Germs got on a fork or a container I could toss it and not worry about sanitizing. I know at present paper goods can be hard to find, so even for your own peace of mind you may want to grab a pack or two to have on reserve if someone you know (or you!) gets sick.

2. ALL the Foods

When I first got sick and my husband wasn’t sick yet (his symptoms started 5 days after  mine did), and friends wanted to start a meal train to provide food, I didn’t want to impose by saying yes. When my husband also got sick my friends weren’t having any of my pride and demanded to help. Enter the meal train that saved our lives. We had meals delivered every other day for 2.5 weeks. Friends were amazing. There are countless meal providing websites where people can sign up for different days and include what they are bringing so there isn’t a ton of overlap. My advice here is: push your friend to accept the help. Start one even if she says no. The present Corona-world has NO room for the pride of Pre-Corona. Things that could be easily stored, frozen, and reheated were the most useful.

If you are unable the provide a meal we also received a TON of food delivery service gift cards. This was amazing, and honestly something I had never considered doing for someone before this experience. When we tested positive we were quarantined for 2 full weeks. What you may not realize, though, is that the weakness and exhaustion lasts WELL beyond that time period. For a full month we had to take several naps a day and went to bed so early just to wake up exhausted the next day. Food delivery was a massive help because it took the need for us to get groceries or prep food and threw it right in the trash with our single use paper goods.

3. ALL the Kid Stuff

Our kids were amazing throughout this experience. Children are so resilient. I really think my kids would say the best time of their life was the season in which their parents were the sickest. I would also say that is partly due to the fact that they got to watch as much TV as their little hearts could ever desire. Mostly though, it is because so many people wanted to provide things for them to do while we were sick.

Our kids were showered with love through tons of gifts and activities. I would say the most useful would be activities that they could take out on their own, execute on their own, and, you guessed it, put away on their own.

Some examples would be:

  • Kinetic Sand Bins

    My sweet friend Sofia put together sand bins in Tupperware containers. She included things to dig with and sea creatures to bury over and over. I put these on the kitchen table and when my kids would take a break from their true love, the T.V., they would come to the kitchen, grab their bins, and play for at least 30 minutes. It was also great because their names were on their bins and this freed us from any of the “That’s MINE!” fights that little people are so prone to engage in. I have already bought some extra bins and Kinetic sand to have ready for any kiddos who need to be entertained while their parents are down for the count.

  • Mess-Free Coloring Books/Water Wows

    We were gifted so many of these fun and mess-free books. I put them all in a basket and if my babes came up to me needing a different mental stimulus, they would sit on the floor next to me on the couch and I would watch them color. These are a great, low-cost thing to provide for friends with little kids. At first I was a little overwhelmed with how many we got, but trust me, they were lifesavers!

  • Fort Building Kit

    This is actually a two-part suggestion. My sweet friend Emily lives on the other side of Texas but was so generous in wanting to provide something for our family. She sent us some funds to put toward both food and something for the kids. We purchased a fort building kit from Amazon, and let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint. My kids loved building all sorts of things. My husband would often build a small fort in the morning and my kids would add onto it and take it apart all throughout the day. It made us feel like they were doing some sort of hands-on learning when we were unable to sit and build with them. All that to say, when in doubt, you could always send some funds to parents who know what will most interest/distract/entertain their children. For us it was the fort kit, for your friends it could be something else! Again, when you aren’t sure what you can provide, send funds and they will figure it out and be so thankful!

4. ALL the Miscellaneous Goodies

  • A package of toothbrushes

When you have a nasty virus spread through your spit…you definitely want a new toothbrush. We were able to change our toothbrushes weekly for over a month because we were gifted a big pack of new ones.

  • Throat Coat tea

This was the only thing I cared about for about 2 months. I drank 3 cups a day with local honey and some lemon. Cough drops were no match to the relief that this tea brought my dragon-cough-damaged throat.

Clorox Wipes

This is tricky. These are hard to find. Especially in June/July it felt like no one could ever find them. But when these were gifted to us I breathed a sigh of relief. We were down to our last canister and we needed to sanitize everything twice a day. If you have an extra one, you may want to set it aside because it will be a huge blessing to someone with Covid who needs to wipe down every square inch of their house.

5. ALL the Encouragement

We are so loved. And people reminded us of that constantly in so many different ways. It was a box of macaroons and a card dropped on my doorstep late one evening by my friend Sofia. It was daily check-in texts and kind words from my friend Amy. It was the care package from my grandmother with comforts from my childhood. It was messages that I never responded to but never found an upset friend on the other side when I was finally able to sit and reply. It was love and generosity and sweetness of friends who just wanted to remind me that we weren’t alone. If you live far away, if you have no extra funds to provide a meal, if you don’t want to overwhelm your friend but still want to do SOMETHING, tell them that you are there, you’re thinking of them, you’re praying for them, and you love them. Corona-Season is isolating. We are all so far from each other. When you actually have Covid it’s even worse because you feel, quite literally, like a leper. I can honestly say, though, that even in that isolated, exhausting, and wild time, we never felt alone because people took time to continually remind us that we never really are.

I hope you don’t get COVID-19. I hope your friends and loved ones don’t get it either. But if we all continue to just keep getting it, I hope there is a flood of generosity that envelopes our daily lives and spurs us on to love each other more deeply. I hope you’re able to walk through hard things with people you love and come out the other side with a greater appreciation for every person you get have in your life. I know that’s what happened to us and I know it’s made us want to love others as we have been loved.

What I Hope My Kids Will Remember About the Summer of COVID-19

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All of our kids had their school year cut short without notice and then had what will probably be the strangest, loneliest summer. We all hope they won’t have to experience anything like it again. But as we say goodbye (and good riddance!) to the summer of 2020, I find myself reflecting on the small yet memorable moments we shared. Moments we might only have shared under these conditions that forced us all to slow down and stay home more than we ever have.

Here are the five memories I hope my kids (currently 2 years old and 7 years old) will remember about the summer of COVID-19:

1. We had a car parade.

Like many others, my son’s elementary school coordinated a car parade to lead us all into summer. What made this one special for our family is dad got to participate with the kids this time while I was volunteering for the event. I just wish I had gotten a picture of the three of them in the car to document the occasion!

2. We helped others.

Twice this summer we were able to volunteer with Meals on Wheels to deliver to seniors and those in need. My mom even came along to help with the kids and we made it a family affair. On the second route my oldest was able to greet some of the folks we served and we were reminded that even those brief, socially distanced interactions might bring a smile to someone’s face in addition to a nutritious meal.

Another short volunteer gig my oldest and I did was sorting and bagging books with the SAISD Foundation for our school district’s summer distribution to students. I’ve told my oldest over and over during this pandemic, what I want him to remember about this time when he gets older is that we helped people. We may not be rich but we can always try to help others with our time and service in addition to material donations.

Meals on Wheels volunteer drivers line

3. We swang, and sometimes we swang and talked.

Some of the most joyous moments I have with both kiddos are the evenings we spent swinging in our backyard. I want to remember how my two-year-old, in his fearless ways, taught himself how to pop right up into the swing. How he’d ask, “Gimme my boost, Daddy!” And how Dad would swing him high and he smiled without any hesitation.

Other nights I swang, or at least sat on the swings, until late the in the evening (it’s summer after all!) with my oldest son and we talked about life. We talked about the protests happening around the country, we talked about civil rights and racism, we talked about the pandemic, we talked about our ancestors, and we talked about helping others. I loved those talks.

4. We had lots of sprinkler and kiddie pool time.

This one was sort of a mixed bag, if I’m being totally honest! Usually my intention would start with trying to keep the kids occupied while I sat on the back patio with my laptop and tried to get some work done. “Tried” is the key word there! So many times I would end up more frustrated playing referee between the two of them than if I would have just let them sit in front of the television and watch yet another PBS show. But, we were grateful to have a pool in a summer of high demand for kiddie pools! 

5. We enjoyed nature.

Summers prior to this year were often spent at Hemisfair. The kids and I would go play early in the day and come home in time for lunch. But since that wasn’t an option during the summer of COVID-19, we put our Texas State Park Pass to more use than we’ve done in years past. Our favorite getaway was Guadalupe River State Park. The kids got a kick out of driving the hills of Blanco Road all the way to the park. “Whoa!” and “here it comes!” the kids would say to each other and giggle as we went up and down the road. We started going later in the day when there were fewer people at the park and more room to play. My favorite memory was spending our wedding anniversary as a family at the river. Catching tadpoles, tiny frogs, and minnows, watching vultures fly over the river, and even tracking a few armadillos as they came out of the brush for dinner. That will be a special memory for all of us.

The outdoors and nature helped us get through this summer. We would have loved to go to the beach but we’ll wait for a better time as our coastal community struggles with COVID-19. 

While the summer of COVID-19 often felt like a free fall and I longed for more structure, I now find myself nostalgic for the simple, unstructured times we were able to spend as a family. I don’t take for granted how lucky my husband and I were to be able to work from home this entire time. I don’t take for granted how we are lucky to both still have jobs. And I don’t take for granted how grateful I am that summer in our little circle was COVID-free.

What are the simple memories you will hold onto from the summer of COVID-19?

Three Languages, Two Nationalities, One Amazing Father.

“Eso fue SO exciting!” “Mamá, dónde está mi casqueta?” and “Quiero una pomme de terre!” are typical phrases you’ll hear on a daily basis in my casa. Frenglish, Spanglish, Esfrañol is what happens when you add more than one language into the mix. My family’s adventure into becoming a multilingual household began in 2012. I am not an expert in linguistics or any relevant language field, yet the wild idea that began as wishful thinking of gifting my kids more than one mother tongue has shown to be fruitful, chaotic, and enriching.

I never envisioned having multilingual children. But then I married JP. You see when I met him in Mexico, apart from being completely smitten by him, if I had to describe him in one word, it would be: multicultural.

He was American by birth, but Mexican by family heritage. He spoke English and Spanish perfectly. You couldn’t tell which was his mother tongue. The way he dressed, the way he talked or engaged in conversation, well, to me seemed very American. And I liked that about him. He was different.

So I did what any sensible girl would do. I went after the guy, pretended to be his friend for six months, stuck my fist in my mouth at a nightclub to get his attention…just kidding. Not really. But that is for another time.

Back to the story. We started dating and I learned that he also spoke French. Cool, I thought – For when he takes me to Paris or to help me pronounce French wines (Two things I still have yet to accomplish by the way). But little did I know that this single fact was going to change the way I live my everyday life now.

We got married in 2010, moved to Mexico City in 2011 and a year later found out that we were pregnant. We decided that I was going to speak to the baby in Spanish and that he was going to speak in English. Then we moved to San Antonio, and our plans had to change. Since English was going to be learned organically, and I would speak to our baby in Spanish, he told me “Okay, I´ll speak to her in French.” Et voila.

I could tell it was hard for him. Not the language part per se. He is fluent in French. But the part of having to force yourself to use a language that doesn’t come naturally when speaking tender words to your newborn. Spanish came more naturally to him in that sense. But that didn’t stop him. He adapted.

He also had to learn new words. He had to learn how to say things like diapers, strollers, pacifier, blankie, and all the new vocabulary he obviously didn’t have the need to learn when he was a twenty-something living “la vida“ in his year abroad in Montpellier. He even learned nursery rhymes. We became fans of “Monde des petits tounis” an online French channel with songs and stories.

He persevered. He stuck to his word. He, to this day, only speaks in French to our four kids. I couldn’t be prouder of him.

Let me also say that, we didn’t know if what we were doing was right or if we were going to mess up and confuse our kids, honestly. We were told by a good friend who is a teacher that as long as he spoke only in French, and I only in spoke in Spanish to the kids, it would work.

I cannot express the satisfaction I saw in his eyes when our daughter started babbling her first French words. Like “lo-lo” for water (l’eau) or “neh-neh” for nose (le nez). It worked!

For a year or so you are practically just feeding information to a tiny human, not knowing what the outcome will be. Then you see the result and it is just fascinating. As everyone says, babies truly are like sponges!

Now our kids are 7, 5, 3, and eleven months old. In some ways the language part has become more challenging because now with English being so prominent in their lives, we have to be diligent about keeping the other two languages relevant.

I did a little research and found out that what we actually do in regards to raising bilingual or in this case trilingual children, has a name. It is called the OPOL method, or “one person, one language” approach.

Tips for Using the OPOL Method at Home

If you follow OPOL method like we did, these would be the seven things I would recommend.

Only speak to them in that language.

This can be hard especially if it’s not your first language. For me it is easy because I grew up speaking Spanish. For my husband on the other hand, it can be challenging. Sometimes the words come out easily in the language you are used to speaking the most, but your children will respond better if you follow this. They will identify you with that language. Each parent is a different scenario for them. They switch languages very easily and they do so instinctively.

Pay close attention to the pronunciation. Since you are the most important source of language to them, whatever mistakes you let pass will become harder to correct in the long run. Make it playful. In Spanish, for example, I make them roll their “r’s” with a poem. But if not, a simple repetition of the word in the correct pronunciation, is enough.

When they talk to you, it has to be in the same language.

It is very easy to fall off the wagon with this one. My kids often ask me for things in English, and because I understand them, I could very easily respond to them back. Instead, I just tell them, “en Español” or if they don’t know the word I tell them the word in Spanish and then they repeat it. Don’t tell them “I don’t understand you” if you actually do. Because kids are smart. Just remind them in what language you speak something like: “Daddy speaks to you in French,” or “In Spanish please.”

Have them learn about the culture behind the language.

This has played a huge role in their love for both their Spanish and French knowledge. Language serves as a gate to expand our love for cultures, people and places. Have them read about the country your language comes from. Show it to them on a map. Have them try native foods. Teach them about the festivals, traditions, and history of the place or places where the language comes from.

Have other people talk to them in that language.

Listening to different accents in the same language will train their ear. I notice that when we come back from a trip to Mexico, their Spanish improves greatly. In our case, we don’t have people close to us that can speak to our kids in French. So, the next point is very helpful.

Take in movies, books, and materials in those languages.

Have your kids watch everything that is available to them in the less-used language in your household. To our delight, both Disney + and Netflix have many shows in French which is always our first option. If not, Spanish comes in second. Having all this available to them will reinforce the language in a fun way.

Music. Lots of music in that language.

I love this one. Music has such a powerful impact. As I am writing this, my husband has his music on in the kitchen, and sometimes I don’t even realize it is in French as I am so used to it. So are my kids. It is a very natural, almost intuitive way of learning and appreciating another language.

Make the language relevant.

All of these “rules” if you will, that I am sharing with you have one single goal: to make the language relevant in the lives of your kids. If they love it, they will learn it. If they are proud of it, they will continue to pursue their knowledge of it even if you are not around to enforce or teach it. If you make it an essential part of who they are, the grammar, the pronunciation, the spelling, everything will be easier to learn.

 

What started as an experiment with our daughter has since become a beautiful part of our family life. Mexican, French, and American cultures permeate many aspects of our life. I can even say that I have been a lucky bystander recipient to my husband’s gift to his children. I proudly have the French vocabulary of a seven-year-old and I can hold my own if need be in simple, casual conversations.

I am so thankful for all the wonderful content, music, poems, and movies that I have been exposed to thanks to his willingness to teach his children. A whole world of new enriching entertainment has been made available to me. And that is just the cherry on top.

Being a multicultural, multilingual family can be challenging, and often we want to throw the towel in and call it quits. But most days, I am glad he decided to put in the extra effort.

“Is my dad from France?” my daughter asks.

“No,” I say. “He was born in the United States, but he is also Mexican.”

“And why do we speak French?”

“Because he wants you to know what he knows,” I tell her.

 

In other words, Le juice is worth le squeeze.

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