Sturm und Mom

The Storm & Stress (& Joy) of Motherhood

Archive for the category “Parent Hacks”

That Which Does Not Kill You, Will Stop You From Blogging

Greetings from the Infirmary!  Know what it’s feels like when a toddler does squats on your chest?  Or at least some kind of chest infection that makes you think there is an invisible one there?  We do.  By “we”, I mean my husband and myself, and for now, just one kid.   But if the Law of Something Going Around holds, soon everyone else here will be part of the Royal We of Illness.

This is to be expected, because next Tuesday we are starting a new school.  Again, by “we”, I mean the four oldest, but after 11 years of Motherhood, I am increasing unable to separate my identity from the group identity of those I feed.  You get one, you get us all.   This sickness seems to hit my eldest whenever she starts a new school.  In Grade 1 she was sent home the second day with a sick stomach.  I took her to the Doctor, and was summarily humiliated to learn she had a fever and untreated bronchitis.  Later, I could hang my head that I didn’t realize that my 5 year old couldn’t hear anything.  The Kindergarten teacher tried to make me feel better.  She told me about the son of a nurse who didn’t realize he was half-blind.  I think we could improve parents lives by installing LED displays on the back of kids’ necks that give a read out of the complete health status at all times.  At the very least, it would solve the “stomach ache in the morning, bouncing on the Tramp in the afternoon” syndrome.

For a while, it looked like I was going to be the only healthy person in house of sickness.  This always strikes me when it happens, as a foreshadowing of what it would be like to survive one those apocalypse scenarios from zombie shows, and the Prime Time line-up of the History Channel.  You sort of wander around the house, dealing with emergencies, making your own rules while everyone lies around and moans.  The only time you can eat straight peanut butter sprinkled with chocolate chips for supper while watching a Weird Weather marathon and no one’s there to bother you.  It’s all fun until loneliness sets in, and by then, everyone starts to feel better.  The take away being,

The Apocalypse:  It’s Fun Until the Chocolate Chips Run Out

The other reason I’m sure I’m sick is that I’ve finished Back to School Hell Shopping.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this pic.

This is missing the indoor shoes, pencil boxes and a few boxes of tissue.

I’m so obsessed with back to school shopping, I even wrote a little article about how to save money by acting like a Civil War Quartermaster and submitted it to the nice folks at YummyMummyClub, who actually published it!  (Thanks so much, guys!)  I realize I am writing for a niche audience in this case.  I keep trying to tell my friends all my “strategies” and I can hear their voices glaze over on the phone.  But, if you ever have a very big event/holiday/group to buy for, this approach really does work.

For now, I am going back to lying on the sectional, wondering how I could feel like I spent 12 hours last night chain smoking in a bar, when I never left the house.  (I realize that I have excluded an entire generation with that statement.)  The kids are happy because Sick Mom vacillates between Easy-Going to Grumpy to Guilty to Buy Kids Off with Ice Cream every half hour.  Luckily, there’s a full carton of Cherries Jubilee in the freezer.  At the rate I’m going, I’m on schedule to dish up in about 15 minutes.

Baby Shower Gifts That Are Total Don’ts

Now that spring is upon us, I’m sure most sane people’s minds turn to thoughts of Bridal Showers and Wedding gifts.  But since I’m nuts, everything becomes about babies.  It occurred to me that there may be thousands of childless people out there, scouring the internet, looking for gift suggestions and never realizing just what a minefield they are about to step into.  So in the interest of saving well-intentioned Baby Shower invitees pain and suffering, I present:

A Mom of Six’s Guide to Baby Shower Gifts That Sound Good — But Aren’t.

1. Gifts which reflect a lifestyle decision.

Examples: cloth diapers, waterproof diaper covers, bottle warmers, slings, playpens, breast pumps, etc.

Why it’s trouble:  Parents, especially first time parents, can be extremely touchy about their choices and a gift, which you assumed was in every home, may just lead to a five minute monologue on formula companies’ third world business practices.  Also, they may not be able to use them — slings, for example, can be extremely hard to fit, and don’t get me started on those pumps.

2. Parenting books.  Period.

Examples:  Anything with the words “Train” “System” “Attachment” “New” “Case” “Discipline” or “Sleep” in the title.

Why it’s trouble:  I have witnessed more fights between mothers over competing child raising ideologies than I proud to admit.  Most diehard adherents have convinced themselves that the other side has embarked on a course of child-abuse, and must be set right at the first, and every subsequent opportunity.  This would include saving an unsuspecting Mother-to-be from the terrible curse that your evil proselytizing tome will bring.  And when the fight starts, all the other guests will probably be more interested in keeping the peace then defending your free speech.  Leave these sore points on the shelf.

3. Gifts that (accidentally) create work.

Examples:  Baby food makers, scrap booking kits, books of kid crafts.

Why it’s trouble:  New moms are too busy to shower.  Don’t accidentally hand them a bunch guilt over all the stuff they an’t going to get done.

4. Ironic clothing gifts.

Examples: Onesies with pictures of rock bands, questionable sayings, “Future ” whatevers, jokes at the expense of the child who is wearing it.

Why it’s trouble:  Yeah, it may have seemed cool at the kiosk at the Mall, but would you entrust a child to the guy selling them?  I rest my case.

Luckily for you dear Gift Shopper, there are a million other good options:

  1. Board books — after reading the same 6 pages over and over, Mom will thank you for the variety.
  2. Children’s Classics in hardcover — baby may be able to pass them down to his own children.
  3. Feeding plates, spoons, and sippy cups — you can never have too many of these.
  4. Clothing that makes you involuntarily emit vowel sounds its so cute – see above.  Plus, new parents tend to be broke, and have to scrimp on the fun clothes in favour of the necessities.
  5. Anything that the Mom asked for — yes, even if it contravenes those laws above.

I hope this little list saves you from the dreaded group stare, the “oohhh — well, oh, that’s different”, the cold shoulder at the punch table.  ‘Cuz anyone who says that women are the gentler sex has never been to a Gift Shower.

Happy gifting!

Happy Gifting!

Waiting is Empty

Waiting is an activity robbed of its activity.  Anticipation is waiting plus joy.  Dread is waiting plus fear.  But sheer waiting itself is empty.

But this is what we are doing now, with the house spic and span and the pictures on the Internet, we wait as the white and black For Sale sign swings on the front lawn.  And I ramble about the empty house with its echo, and scrub stray fingerprints off the barren fridge.  No pictures, no knick knacks, all the toys in bins.  Everything valuable is either pack in numbered boxes in the basement, or stuffed into a black gym bag to be stowed in the trunk of the minivan when someone comes to look.  Look at a house which is still ours, but may not be for long, or maybe ours forever.

The next item on the house selling project agenda: wait.

I went for a walk with Princess, Big Boy and Baby yesterday.  As I pushed the Chariot stroller down the icy sidewalks, and I looked up at the front room windows of my neighbours and I somewhat envied their state.  My emotions reminded me of sitting in the reception area while waiting to be called in for a job interview, as they employed nonchalantly moseyed by trying to get a look at who they might share a cubicle with.  Meanwhile, all I could think is how great it would be to be one of them, with a pass card and a paycheque.  Now here were all these  Not For Sale houses, and I imagined their toothpaste stained counters, stacks of personal papers and corners of unfinished projects, with no worry of someone calling an demanding entrance to peek in their most distant closet.

But at least the waiting has given me a chance to stop working at getting the house ready to wait, and I have had a chance to slow down with the kids again.  I realized that my parental skills had slipped this past month when today, Art Girl kept jumping up from lunch to play a musical accompaniment on the computer.  I finally got up to check what she was up to and found that she was jumping from game to game on the National Geographic Kids website.

This last month Princess changed the most.  Sometime in the last 4 weeks, she grew up.  I noticed it first at the restaurant on Tuesday when she confidently ordered a cheese pizza, carrots and chocolate milk from the waitress with no help from me.  Full eye contact, please and thank you.  Then today, I dropped her off at her preschool dance class.  I kissed the top of her head and she ran off into the room, and started leaping toes pointed, across the floor, her arms out, smiling.  She was wearing her hot pink and blue tutu tunic, with leggings covered in multi-coloured heart polkadots.  She looked like a deer in the sugar plum forest.  And it filled my heart with such joy that I could have stayed there all day and watched her and wept.   As I dragged Big Boy, Baby and myself back to the car, a lady passed by.  She looked up at the blue sky and sunshine.  “Isn’t it a glorious day?” she asked.  It was.

The problem with waiting, is wishing the now over, wishing the time to pass and the days to fall away.  With so little time on this earth, and so much to make us happy, it seems a sacrilege to wish it away, to pine for days ahead.  That’s why I see waiting as empty, and a waste.  So we will call this phase resting.  Because whatever the future brings, we will find some joy in it.

Parenting Advice I Learnt from TV: The Christmas Edition

I’ve learnt a lot about parenting from television, but not from an “expert” giving me the latest advice.  No, I mean from the actual medium of television itself.  And quite a few lessons applied this Christmas, for example…

Commericals Really Do Make Kids Greedier

I never really noticed until we got rid of commercial television during the spring and switched to Netflix/Boxee/iTunes.  For some reason, I honestly thought that by shouting back “No” to their constant chorus of “Can we get that?” I was dealing with the gimme problem.  This Christmas though, our kids gave us sensible lists early on, and everyone was genuinely grateful after the gifts were opened.  Having grown up watching hours of commercials I never realized what a corrosive effect they had on my childish wellbeing.  It’s shocking to think that my lifelong dream of a house with The Clapper in each room, may ultimately have originated outside my soul.

Nice Things Don’t Make Kids into Good People

It’s one of the oldest plot devices out there, whether prime time soap, Masterpiece Theatre, or reality TV — super rich people acting badly.  They have everything you could possibly want, all the advantages, all the toys, and they still stoop to worst behaviour possible.  And on the surface, I don’t think that anyone would disagree with this.  But spoiling our kids just feels so good, it’s pretty easy to start sneaking in a little bit of justification into the mix, too.  I mean, it would be great to be the hero of Christmas and make our kids into living saints.  Which would be acknowledged by all after they receive the Order of Canada for jumping into a frozen river to rescue a toddler they saw on the way  home from volunteering at the soup kitchen.  Alas, I have never heard a selfless person upon reflecting say “I did it all because my parents gave me every damn thing I wanted.  Booyah!”

If It’s Not Working, It Gets Cancelled

No matter how popular a show was, as soon as the ratings do a nose dive, it’s history.  So too with holiday traditions that just don’t work any more.  No one likes Grandma stuffing recipe with the pecans and dates — gone!  No one can sit still without whining for 4 hour of present opening — figure a way to speed it up!   Kids cranky and irritable waiting in itchy dress clothes for 8:00 o’clock formal sit down dinner — comfy clothes and dinner’s at 4!  Just like syndication, you’ll always have the memories, but life is too short.  Make space for stuff that you actually look forward to doing.

“Inspiration” is Not Theft

Ever notice how two or three of the same “theme” will appear in different shows on different networks each fall?  TV folks know that if it seems like a good idea over there, it just might work back home.  While I tend to decry this kind of creative laziness, I’ve decided that in parenting it’s OK!  So, if you see something cool that another family is doing — cookie decorating party, Christmas treats for the birds in the yards, carolling parties, whatever — take it!  It’s yours!  There is no copyright on Christmas fun, baby.  Now, go for a walk tonight and see if you can get any tree ideas from the people who haven’t drawn their curtains.

Tradition is Framework for Innovation

Here’s an example:  the award show format.  Every year the producers try to mix it up.  But think if they decided to go “crazy” and have two stand-ups ad lib the entire 3 hours, who told us who won everything in the first 15 minutes.  Even if it was the “best thing ever,”  it would stink.  Why?  We want an award show to follow some simple rules — the change up comes between the parts we expect.  Christmas with kids is the same way.  I love to be spontaneous.  However, you have never heard a room so quiet as when I suggested we get together on Christmas Eve, rather than the 25th.  And my husband had to duck for cover when he floated the idea of roast beef instead of turkey.  People like what they like.  Put the new and improved between that stuff.

Hopefully this proves that all those hours in front of a cathode ray tube has not rotted my brain, but in fact made me a better Mother.

And extra TV time for all who agree.

Check Out My Article at YummyMummyClub.ca!

Wow!  I’m really honoured that my article,  Get Those Kids to Pitch In , is being featured at the Bring Back the Break hub at YummyMummyClub.ca.  It’s filled with quick, easy, and big-brood-Mom-tested ways to get your kids to help with housework.  There are a lot of other awesome articles posted there as well, like how to take better digital pictures, time management advice from an organization whiz, and tips on grammar for blogging Moms (hmm…better check that last one out!)

Take a few minutes and mosey on over!

How a Mom of Six Gets Stuff Back Under Control

Usually, my husband says I run a “tight ship.”  This morning, I think he just used a bunch of words that rhyme with “ship.”  With this many souls running around, I need to keep on top of things.  When I don’t, everything breaks down, like it did sometime between 7 and 8 am today.  Between losing about 6 hours on Sunday at the Emergency Room, working on my kids’ Halloween costumes (because every year I forget that it is not easier or cheaper to make them yourself!!! I need to auto-email myself the beginning of every October with that reminder,) and having to take 4 kids to another Specialist appointment this morning, well, as my Grandma would have said “Everything’s gone to pot!”  There was no cereal for breakfast, no clean underwear for the preschooler, and just the general “chicken-with-head-cut-off” running around, which ensues from such a situation.  I need to get my, er, ship together fast.

So, here is my quick and dirty guide to re-attaching the head to the proverbial chicken:

1) Deal with urgent things first

Usually when things are this bad, you have a couple of burning fires that need attending to ASAP.  My lack of breakfast, for example, an urgent email that needs a reply, bills that are overdue, the over-flowing kitchen garbage, or permission forms without signatures, are things that you just need to muscle through. All those little tasks are about to turn into major problems.  Get them done first, and try to leave the non-urgent things alone until then.

2) Laundry, laundry, laundry

If you are a Mom, you have laundry.  I can guarantee it.  Children make laundry.  Sometimes, I wonder if they have a magical ability that enables them to reproduce their clothes, so 5 shirts turn into 10 by the end of the season.  And, in the rush to do all that laundry for the little ones, I am also going to guarantee that you have been putting off your own, so that you are “recycling” those yoga pants and your last clean t-shirt for more days than you want to mention.  Make laundry a priority and it will reward you with a happy home.  Remember – laundry’s not done until it is folded and in the drawer.  This is a cruel reality, but any woman who’s had to walk out of the Hospital with a newborn still wearing her maternity pants, knows life’s not nice.

3) What are you going to eat?

Mealtime screw ups and laundry are the two big killers to household harmony.  Write down, or commit to memory what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch and supper for the next 2 to 3 days, or until next big grocery shop.  Now, I don’t mean “Coq au Vin on Monday, Poor-man’s Paella on Tuesday…”  If you usually end up eating Mac and Cheese with Weiners, then write down “Mac and Cheese with Weiners.”  If breakfast is always cereal and juice, then write that down for each day.  You’re not trying to impress the editorial staff at Bon Appetit, you are just trying to save stress at meal time.  Then, check if you actually have the ingredients to make those meals.  Do you have enough bread, bologna, chicken fingers, yoghurt or are you about to discover, right before you load the family into the car for yet another unscheduled restaurant visit, that you are running out?  Either make substitutions, or buy enough to tide you over.

4) “Emergency” Clean your Home

By this I mean, clean the house the way you would if your mother-in-law was due in 20 minutes, without all the closet stuffing.  Grab a laundry basket and pick up everything on the floor, tables, etc.  Hang up jackets and straighten shoes.  Wipe down the counters quickly with a cleaning wipe.  Suddenly, everything will look better.  There is something calming about seeing bare floors and flat surfaces.  Now, take that basket and start sorting by the garbage can.  Why?  Because 80% of that basket will be either garbage or laundry.  Children adore trash.  I had a friend whose son refused to throw out the cotton ball taped to his arm after a needle.  He wanted to create a special box for it, so he could keep his medical waste for ever and ever.  This is typical childish behaviour.  The only thing they like as much as junk, is to drop their spontaneously created laundry all over as a way of marking their territory.  So toss, toss, toss away.  All those lame fast food toys, lidless markers, foamy craft shapes, pieces of sticks, Sponge Bob colouring sheets — gone.  It’s going to feel freaking awesome.  Be ruthless.

By the way, this is not the time to “tackle that closet” or “create a filing system” or “finally get organized.”  With the 20% that’s left in your basket, assign a kid (if the are able) to help put it away.   Pile up (or file if you have a place) bills and important papers.  Note dates from school and extra-curriculars on your calendar — remember to toss/recycle the paper once you’re done.  You don’t need to keep a lot of the paper that comes into your home.  Just put it on your calendar, which is the safest place anyway.  When’s the last time you lost your wall calendar?  Stack dishes in sink, or empty the dishwasher and stack them in there.  Recycle all those bags and paper towel rolls you’ve been saving for “crafts.”  Breathe deeply.

I hope my tips help you out.  It goes without saying that your kids can help with a lot of this.  Even a toddler can run around and put things in a laundry basket.   You’ll be amazed just how much better everything will be once the frozen lasagna is in the oven, there is a path to the front door, and you are looking forward to wearing clean jeans tomorrow.  Trust me.

Now, I’m going back to sewing gold sequins onto Athena’s chiton.  (I know, I know…next year I’m buying a costume…)

Does your kid need preschool?

Kudos to mom Laura Armstrong for resisting High-Value Offspring parenting!  In this article in the National Post on preschools, Laura says that she doesn’t think they are necessary:

“People don’t see the benefit of the child being with their parents,” she said.

“I don’t think preschool is awful or anything, I just think it’s unnecessary. It’s a form of child care that parents can feel good about.”

If a kids can get into college and never step foot in a traditional school, it probably a good bet that a parent can get a kid ready for Kindergarten without shelling out $12500-$3000.  Just buy a copy of Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s and check the Ministry of Education’s Kindergarten readiness checklist.  Maybe some workbooks at Costco.  Visit the library.

Two of mine went to preschool, and one didn’t, and the youngster had the worst school experience was a preschool kid.  Trust me, your kid will be fine without preschool.  And you won’t feel so broke!

Surrender is not an option!

Yesterday, my middle daughter was joining Sparks for the first time and she needed a pink sash for the ceremony that was only available online through the Girl Guides store.  The tracking link said that it was on the truck, bumping around the city, and was due to be delivered at any time.  I must of thrown the door open 20 times hoping to see a little packing box on the door step, but as the clock chimed 4, I knew that drastic measures were needed.

I ran upstairs and started raiding my older daughters “Special Boxes” for their Sparks mementos.  I took off the pins, flipped it inside out and – Voila – one makeshift Sparks sash, suitable for picture opportunities, and general sleight of hand.  The District Commissioner told me after that she had to stop laughing when she went to poke the Sparks pin through the fabric, and felt all these badges on the other side!

The secret to large family logistics:  Plan, plan, plan for success, and if it doesn’t work out — fudge it until it works!

Update – Checked the tracking link today, and it says “Freight not worked.”  I feel like someone stood up by a blind date.  🙂

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