At Issue: Kids, Parents and The Great Outdoors

Ruth Lera could be any mom.  She describes herself in her 2012 article “Learning To Love The Natural World” for Today’s Parent as a “hodgepodge” and says that finding a place to pat herself on the back can be difficult.

Being a parent is wrought with not-so-proud moments, so when you recognize something you’ve done well it’s nothing short of inspiring.

Lera has made connecting with nature a priority and because of that her children have developed a love for it.  A respect for it.

Author Richard Louv is worried that not enough children are making connections with nature and fears that many children are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder.  This is very concerning to the man who authored Last Child in the Woods and who believes that when childhood passes without any connection being made to nature during the formative years, the resulting deficit is a serious detriment to society’s wellbeing.

Louv has spent years researching, collecting anecdotal evidence and inspiring policy makers because he believes a connection with nature can boost mental acuity and creativity, promote health and wellness, and build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities and economies.

This week we will be discussing parenting and nature.  Catherine Ross, a mother of two and of the blog Learning is Fun will be our guest this week.

As always we welcome your comments and insights.  Join the conversation by leaving a comment or follow us and share via Facebook and Twitter!

Here are a few videos on the subject to get you inspired:

Imperfections

049Yesterday when I was at a restaurant with a friend and our collective five children, she turned to comment on how my two year old’s speech has really blossomed.  His talking also included borderline yelling, lots of demands, and utensils banging on the table – this in addition to the racket from the other kids.  “Actually,” I replied, “I just want him to stop talking.”

I don’t, of course, not really, so I should have known something was off.  I promptly fell asleep with all three kids at 8pm and waking up half an hour later realized I was plain sick, and so were two of my three boys, which was a big part of the reason why dinner wasn’t more fun.

Morning came too soon, with dripping nose and ringing head, presenting a full, uninterrupted day with toddler bearing similar symptoms.  Judge me if you must, but I asked my five year old to stay home from school to help me take care of his younger brother (they play with each other, and having two is often easier than having one).  The angel said yes.  My kindergartener said, and I quote, “I can take care of him and maybe you can take a nap.”

The nap didn’t happen, but the childcare by the child did.  My two younger boys played forts and some other things that I didn’t register.  They watched some television and ate whatever leftovers I put forward for lunch.  I floated around in a fog.

After picking up my oldest from school, the usual mayhem of late afternoon led me by the nose into a couple of parental tantrums.  I was unreasonable, I know, but I did make some efforts.  We made people sandwiches of ourselves on the bean bag.  We did pull out the woodworking that they are always asking to work on.   I cooked, as opposed to warmed up, a dinner.

Doing isn’t the same as being, so listing these efforts gives me only partial comfort; I really wasn’t great to be around.  The best part of the evening was facilitated by the house illness that had facilitated the worst bits:  my two year old asked during dinner to go to bed, and fell asleep early.  This meant more reading time for the older boys, and because my middle had fallen asleep without me noticing in the car, he was awake at his bedtime and joined my oldest and me during our homework window.

My boys flanked me on either side while we read chapter upon chapter of On the Banks of Plum Creek of the Little House series.  So far as I can tell, these books are largely a love letter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ma and Pa, who are a perfect combination of loving, firm, gentle, giving, and playful parents and spouses.  I think about this sometimes as I am reading to my boys, and the contrast to the imperfect combination of traits that is me.

Then again, that is a book while these are actually the days that we’re living.  I believe more than ever that perfection is the enemy of the good.  I called on my five year old to help me today because I am imperfect, I was impatient with my children because of same.  But I was also there, in the bed, holding them with stories to close the day, as I am almost all of our days.  It is not perfect, but it is good, and maybe it is good enough.

 

The Pitfalls of Living With a Love Polyglot

il_570xN.526702741_rgt8Despite winning the French fluency award in the eighth grade, growing up with a bilingual father and being married to someone who speaks three languages, I am what one would call a monolinguist.

I am no fun at parties. I raise my glass with a meek “Cheers!”

I don’t even know the dirty words, the cuss words, in any other language.

Nope.  I am decidedly a unilinguist.  And even that’s questionable considering the number of times in a day when I find myself at a loss for words, desperately searching for the perfect adjective and settling for a sub-par alternative.

However it seems when it comes to love and speaking the 5 Love Languages, I am a regular polyglot (I had to look that up)!

Either that or I am painfully insecure.

Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of services and physical touch: I speak these eloquently, without accent or hesitation, no stumbling or incorrect conjugations.

I have friends that can start a sentence in Italian and complete it in a flourish of French.  While I don’t know le from les, I know that my three boys and husband each have their own love language that is as different from each other as their thumbprints.

I transition from one love language to another with the ease and fluency of a professional translator.  This innate ability is not startling to me; it’s matter-of-fact.  It’s as natural as speaking Russian – if I were in fact, Russian.

My kids and husband benefit from my understanding the 5 Love Languages.  But there is a challenge in living with a love polyglot like myself: knowing on any given day what is being spoken when you walk through the front door.

“I was thinking of you today when I walked by the patisserie.” He says handing me my favourite, a bag of still warm pain au chocolate.

“It’s Thursday!  Thursday’s garbage day!  Do I have to do everything around here!?”

Poor guy.

 

The artwork is available at YourOwnWords on etsy.

That’s Mrs. Manners to you!

imagesYou might as well call me Mrs. Manners – not that mine are perfect (close) but I am the self-appointed manners prefect of the family.  When did kids stop using Mrs., anyway? Like Nathalie, I am not always polite about reminding my boys to use their manners but remind them, I do.

Some (cough, cough the boys) may call it nagging but I call it “constructive guidance”.  It sounds better.

Sit up straight.  Elbows off the table.   Use your utensils.

I also excel at something that I’ve coined “verbal coaching”.  Before leaving the house, going to someone’s house, entering a store, straying more than an arm’s length from me, I like to prompt the boys:

How do we greet people?  What do you say when you arrive?  How do you shake a hand?  What do you say when you leave?  Remember to look at the person when they are speaking to you.  Use your voice, don’t mumble.  Be polite.  Say please, thank you.

Sometimes my gentle reminders are met with an eyeball roll.  I am quick to point out that’s quite rude.

It’s exhausting work being Mrs. Manners in addition to my regular gig as Super Martyr Mom but no one said raising three young boys to be kind, respectful, thoughtful men was easy.

Receiving accolades as a parent is as rare as experiencing a day free from whining.  Spoiler alert: it never happens.  Yet when report cards are sent home, no amount of A’s will make me as proud as when I read how my boys are polite, considerate and courteous.

It’s like I have been graded, and I have passed.  For now.

____________________________________________________________

Cookie: Bite-Sized Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol Mccloud have been read many times over in our home and serve as fantastic tools for teaching manners and kindness to my boys. 89d59b4cef6fd34a9e31f3533d879446

 

 

Marketing Parenting

Over-praising.

Special snowflakes.

Attachment parenting.

Ferber.

Tiger moms.

Resilience.

Parenting buzz-words are heard on the playground, read on the front pages of newspapers and discussed over lattes and text messages.  You’d best be aware of the latest trend or your child is in danger of winding up on a therapist’s couch at 28 years old unable to zip up her own coat, completely incapable of having a meaningful relationship and an absolute super-star at everything from singing acapella to sewing Christmas stockings and roasting a leg of lamb.

Really?

Keeping up with the latest parenting methodology is a little like keeping up with those Joneses.  The pendulum is in constant motion, swinging liberally from latchkey to helicopter.  We praise too much, we encourage too little.  We hold the reins too tight; we let them grow up too fast.  There is always something that we are doing wrong and there is always someone quick to point out the error of our ways.

We’re suckers for it.

Sadly parenting, like everything else from yoga to book clubs, has been expertly packaged, merchandized and publicized.  Smiling experts with more letters after their names than we can decipher, look down at us from their glossy book covers and claim to have all of the answers.

And for the most part guilt-ridden parents eat it up because no one wants to fuck-up raising their kids.  No one.

And marketers know this.

In my paltry six years of parenting, I have learned a lot, mostly that I won’t know all of the answers but I am not helpless.

In those early years, before making any decision, I would consult “the books”, and scan the Internet.  Terrified of making the wrong decision and being on the receiving end of furtive glances from the other moms in the playgroup, I would appease my anxiety with research.

And the beauty of the bookshelves brimming over with those parenting experts?  If you’re thorough enough you can always find someone to agree with you.

Danusia Lapinski, a Montreal-based parenting coach, suggests that when it comes to parenting ideology parents “have to decide if it’s right for you.  If it resonates with your values and needs.  Everyone’s different and you have to question the ideas you hear.”  (globe and mail)

There are a handful of parenting experts whom I turn to when I am seeking guidance or a helpful suggestion and these experts do echo the values and beliefs that my husband and I hold as our gold standard.

Whenever I am in doubt, I think about my sons as grown men.  I think about the character traits that I believe make up good men: persistence, worth ethic, curiosity, compassion, passion, self-control and kindness and I ask myself, am I helping or hurting their chances of growing up to be the best men that they have the potential to become?

Family Rules

I’ve been on a bit of an organizing and (re) decoration kick lately, in anticipation of the upcoming holidays and the possibility that someone I’m not related to might visit my house. We live in a typical east-end semi detached house: not huge, but with long hallways just begging to be covered in photos or art.  I’ve been perusing my local Home Sense on a regular basis, looking for cheap and cheerful prints. One trend that I’ve spotted, which I’m sure is just about played out, is those “Family Rules” prints that seem to be everywhere. You’ve probably seen them too: usually printed subway roll style, they list those rules that every family has whether they declare them on canvas or not. Here’s one from the Etsy store Chestnut and Lime:

Cute, right? The best part of these, of course, is that when someone’s not being patient, grateful or forgiving (for example), your kids can just point to the sign and say “Mom, you have to forgive us! It’s the rules!” and there won’t be a darn thing you can do about it.

I keep thinking, though, that I really would need one that outlines OUR rules. I mean, my kids know all about sharing (that’s why they went to daycare) and doing their best (about which I reminded Second Child about eight times between 4:33 pm and 4: 57 pm yesterday). I need a sign that repeats the most frequently repeated rules in our house:

Dirty dishes go in the dishwasher

You don’t need it, you want it. There’s a difference.

The sour gummies belong to Mom

Flush the toilet. PLEASE!

Soap and water are good things. Especially when you use them on your hands (see rule #4)

Socks do NOT live in the Living Room.

Yes, you can always have more broccoli

Snuggling is not optional

And the most important rule?

Love each other. That’s all that matters.

Addiction to the iPad

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines addiction as:

“ a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

My almost 5 year old does not have a compulsive need for heroin and doesn’t experience with drawl symptoms as one would imagine (like night sweats or the shakes) but he definitely has an addiction.  To the iPad.

Is the substance known to be harmful to the user?  According to most experts who flood our screens, yes!

As usual I find myself balancing on the fence post.  Not quite sure where I come down on this one.  Back when I was a better mom before I had kids, I said that my children would never watch t.v.  That’s before I went days without sleep and even longer without a shower and then Baby Einstein came into my life like a angel sent from the heavens.  The fireworks, puppets and bubbles would transfix my babies with its hypnotic ability.

Since then there’s been a steady stream of Treehouse characters in our home from Ming-Ming, Iggle Piggle, Bob and Thomas.  All them at one time or another were charged with keeping my boys entertained for the twenty minutes it took me to get dinner from the stove to the plate.  Now my family room is flooded with the noise of shrieking tweens and toilet jokes and I find myself longing for a return to the sing-song musical love-ins of yesteryear.

Television viewing at our home has always come with parameters: not before school, only after homework and it goes off when I say so.

But then another vice entered our life.  The iPad.

My oldest son has been known to enjoy a game or two of Joy Ride Jetpack and my littlest occasionally screams for Peek-a-Boo Barn but my middle one . . . he shows all of the signs of a full-blown addict.  And he’s not the only one.  David Pogue of The New York Times wrote about his son’s addiction with the iPad back in February 2011 and received almost one thousand comments.

It’s amazing to me to watch my son navigate apps with finesse and skill that far surpass my own.  I see him developing a genuine interest for how the games work, how to display our family photos and search for music.  Where his brother finds relaxation and inspiration in art projects he finds the same benefits searching for Waldo and playing Letter Buddies.

But limits are needed.  I imagine that even Mark Zuckerberg’s mother told him to put down his computer and get out of the house (after seeing The Social Network, maybe not??).

A friend of mine has a one charge per week rule.  The iPad gets charged once a week and when the charge is done, it’s done.  I imagine that could work in theory but it would also require cooperation (and most likely a few busted lips) between the brothers.

We are testing out iPad free week.  The weekdays it rests on the shelf, gathering its strength for the weekend.  It’s day three and the puzzle pieces are scattered on the floor and mini-cars zoom underneath the couch.

If this keeps up, I think that I can keep balancing on that fence post.

Truths We’re Told

I’m not sure I can add much to what Nathalie and Beth-Anne have already so eloquently said on this topic.   I will let the other mothers’ writing stand on its own, but I share the sentiment already expressed that entitlement is an unattractive quality, in both children and adults.

I want my boys to grow up to be modest, unassuming, deservedly proud of what they accomplish, without any inflated sense of self-worth, confident but not cocky, and above all, I want them to be grateful for the opportunities they’ve had, and to show that gratitude appropriately. And because I was raised to show appropriate gratitude, I have to give the credit to those people whose words helped shape me, and whose values I want to pass along to my own children:

From my grandfather: “Don’t show off who you are.” In other words, be modest. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself. You gain nothing from it. (Clearly, my grandfather could not have anticipated You Tube, but I digress…)

From my mom’s cousin: “When you’re famous, don’t forget who you come from”, an admonition that also took the form of, “Don’t think we’ll be afraid to knock you down a peg if you get too high and mighty”. I may not be famous, but when I’ve caught myself thinking too highly of myself, these words come back to me.

From my Dad: “You’ve got to make luck to be lucky”. What people think of as “luck” is really the pay-off of hard work.

From my Mom: “You can do anything you set your mind to! Well….except ballet. Honestly Marcelle, you’re not going to be a prima ballerina. You’re too tall and your feet don’t arch.  You don’t have to like it, but it’s the way it is. You DO need to practice your violin ….” Not everyone can do everything. Find what you CAN do, and do it the best you can.

Is there a home-grown truth about how to be that you carry with you? I often wonder which of my frequent platitudes will stay with my own children long after I’m no longer there to utter them.  Whatever it is, I hope they take it to heart.

Guest Post: Patsy Spanos on Being a Dancing Queen at 40

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiz...

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiza por la noche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My situation is a unique one. I am a mother of three young boys — six year old twins and a nine year-old — and for the last five years, I have spent my Julys in Ibiza. For those of you who don’t know Ibiza, it’s a Spanish island close to Barcelona, with a party scene that resembles Babylon during the summer months. Seeing body-painted, half naked women, in their G – strings, is as common here as Lululemon pants are for us in Canada. Bare breasts and string bottoms on the beaches are more accepted than tankinis. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what a tankini is in Ibiza.

Along with this eccentric fashion sense is the out-of-this-world nightlife that starts somewhere around at 2 a.m. and goes strong until 7 a.m. Luckily dinner in Spain is usually at 10 p.m. and if I feel like putting my dancing shoes on, I tuck the kids in bed by 1 a.m. and away I go! This 40 year old, Canadian mom turns into a Dancing Queen.

Let me stop right here for a second, and put things into perspective. I am a stay-at-home mom from Stouffville, Ontario. The most excitement I get throughout the school year is scoring two free slices for the school pizza lunches. Dancing in the V.I.P section in all the hottest clubs in Ibiza (thanks to a very connected brother in law) throughout the month of July is a far stretch from my home life in Stouffville.

Needless to say, I feel like a fish out of water in this subculture, kind of like Madonna, with her toned arms, desperately trying to hold on to her youth. But the saving grace in all this is that I am a certified YogaDance instructor and I love to dance. So this old maid feeling I get amongst all the young beautiful ladies quickly disappears for me once I start to dance and allow the music to take over.

It is this passion for dance is that controls my Mother Bee instinct and keeps me from throwing a sweater on these half naked 19 year old girls, or from having a one on one with a go-go dancer and strongly suggesting that she read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.  If I did, I’d be behaving like a frumpy Oprah in a Lady Gaga world. Nobody asked me for my opinion, and these girls are all having a great time…so maybe I’m the one with the issues…Maybe I’m just too rigid, and uptight…Maybe I have to change my angle, and let loose….

So, last night, at a very happening club, I made an extra effort to embrace this foreign world. When my husband knuckle-chucked the bouncer, who then waved us through the VIP entrance letting us bypass the horde outside, I instantaneously allowed my I.Q. to drop by five notches. I squeezed my husband’s arms and whispered in his ears, “You are HOT!” After 16 years of marriage, no matter how hard you try, a comment like that oozes with sarcasm, so my husband grabbed me by the waist and pulled me in for a long, romantic kiss. For the first time in a long time I felt like he and I were the only people on the crowded dance floor.

I slowly turned into a Solid Gold dancer, twisting and moving, and turning my body into pretzel positions that would make most people blush in Canada. It was fun! I smiled at strangers and danced close to them. I didn’t know their first names, but I definitely knew the size of their waistlines. I laughed, made funny faces, and challenged them with a dance move that would make the shirtless guy with the cowboy hat on City TV’s Electric Circus nervous. Oh yeah! I would have given him a run for his money that night.

Last night, I wasn’t a conservative, Canadian stay at home mom, looking for the latest specials at Wal-Mart. I was a Goddess who was offered a drink while her husband was in the restroom. Of course, my instinctive reaction was to scream, kiss the boy and thank him for reminding me that I still got it. Whatever “it” is, I like “it”! Even though I had to say, “No thank you,” to the young boy with a Mrs. Robinson fetish, at that moment, I was fifty shades happier 40 year old in Ibiza.

You Were a Kid Once Too

Last month I wrote about toilet training my 2 year old.  I have decided to adopt Carol’s attitude and allow myself to follow his lead.  Some days we cruise through the day with barely an accident and other days I am cleaning up poo that has been tracked through the house.  It’s a process.

Recently I took the boys to their favourite store and with money in hand they agonized over their selections.

My eyes were drawn to my four year old.  One leg was crossed over the other.  Then the leg from behind wrapped around the leg in front.

Forget any seasoned parent, an amateur babysitter would be able to tell you that this boy had to pee.  And if experience has taught me anything it’s this:  when kids say that they have to pee now they mean NOW.

The bunch of us hurried over to the nearest sales person and in my sweetest voice asked if we could use the washroom as it was an emergency.

“The washroom is for employees only!” the surly woman snarled at me.

“I completely understand your policy but it’s not for me, it’s my son.  It really is an emergency.”  I pleaded with her, motioning toward to son.  I could tell from the frequency of the legs folding over each other that we had seconds to spare.

“Employees only!” She hissed at me and went back to stocking the shelves.

I wanted to snap back at her, remind her that she was a child once too, tell her that karma is a bitch.

An older man standing behind me gave me a look of sympathy and validated my irritation by saying aloud that this was ridiculous.

Instead, I took a deep breath and walked with my boys out of the store where upon my son just could not hold it a moment longer.

I shrugged my shoulders and through the closed door the older man gave me a thumbs up.

 

image courtesy of: www.funnysigns.net