Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Loving 2015

Every year way before even the hint of summer, I think of all the fun activities the girls and I will do, but this year work has been rewarding and busy thus my list is a few months behind. Tomorrow will mark my first official day of summer vacation of the completion of a new summer school course, the fun will be well deserved by all.

1. Hugging Puppies. SouthEastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, right over the Skyway, gives visitors the opportunity to get a tour of these great amazing pups and at the end you get to play with the puppies. You donate $10 per person as a donation. Inexpensive cute community service and fun.

2. Makeme Studios. They have several arts and crafts classes for kids from age 2-12. The classes each have a different theme for something to create. They also have an Authors and Artists class where there is a story time and then they make something related to the story. Inexpensive and fun. Classes are about $10.

3. Library. The library is often on the list of things to do. The St. Petersburg Main Library always has weekly story times but they have kicked up their game this summer. They are offering Family Flix once a week there will be a family friendly movie, and activity for free. Over the last could of years they have turned the Preschool Storytime into a combined music time. Free fun.

4. Busch Gardens. We have the Fun Pass that we purchased at the beginning of the year and with the Preschool Pass kids under 5 are free. I plan on getting my money's worth this summer. The kids area is awesome there and my girls love it. They also have fun concerts and events in the evenings. The best tip I have for families with young kids is they have stroller parking for free if you ask at the parking gate. It takes you right to the front of the park without having to tram it with all your stuff.

5. Lowry Park. The girls grandparents purchased for them the Lowry Park annual passes when the Zoominations was in town (which was awesome!) They have a great splash area there too and of course animal viewing fun is always a good time for small children.

6. Crafty Fun! I plan on having the girls make canvas pictures frames, play with chalk paint on the drive way, make a tape city and turn the living room into an aquariums with fun sea creature art.

7. Movies. We have so many local cinemas that are offering inexpensive movie watching opportunities this summer, but we have had our eyes set for Inside Out for months. And though I have now heard some mixed reviews about how much my girls may understand about it, I think we will see it.

8. We will also be doing a lot of nothing. Cuddling with my babies on the couch, splashing in the pool, playing outside with the neighbors, being crafty, rainy day activities and taking a family vacation. This is the best time of year to really just be.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Easter Basket Advice

Easter seems to be getting pretty big in terms of the gifting for the kids. As many parents, I opt for
getting them toys rather than candy. My kids don't eat a lot of candy, so what I buy ends up getting eaten by me. I am the sweet tooth in the house and the one that has no will power so I eat all the candy. What are my options?

This year, the candy only appears in the eggs we will hide for them. There is no candy in their baskets accept gummies in the shape of letters. Both girls are obsessed with letters. I chose some small Pringle cans, and little cookies. So what's in the basket?  I have 3 pieces of Easter basket filling advice. 

#1 Just the Basket
As I am also obsessed with our plenitude of stuff, I made a rule that all items must fit in the basket. No scooters. No giant dolls. No separately wrapped items. It makes it in the basket or it gets saved for another occasion. 

Following this advice will make you happy. It will remind you of your childhood before the 4 aisles of Easter junk at the store existed. It will also make the hiding of the basket easier if you are into that tradition. It will also keep things into perspective a bit, Easter isn't really about the bunny and the basket. Just saying. 

#2 Make, Take and Release
The girls enjoy doing hands on activities and lucky for me, the Target $1 or  $3 area has several options. I have been walking through the aisle for weeks picking up a thing here, another item there and that has been the bulk of the basket items. I like the idea that they can receive something, make it,  use it, display it and then recycle it. 

I am not one of those moms that saves every piece of art my children have ever created. I take pictures of it all. The plan is a digital photo book, when the time comes. This idea will provide instant family fun time, especially if your kids are still young. You will have a few silly easy activities to do with them and there won't be more junk in your house to stay forever and ever. 

#3 Select the Worthwhile
It all can't be devoid of candy and filled with disposable junk. I suppose if I had not invested years ago in substantial sized baskets for my girls, this wouldn't be a problem. A good hint may be pick a small basket to start, but I didn't. I have always made a habit if purchasing children's books when they are on sale, toys when they are on sale, art supplies, clothing and I store them in Tupperware containers that slide under our bed. Because of this thoughtful purchasing, I am prepared for birthdays and holidays such as Easter. 

This year the girls will receive pajamas, books and Disney classic dolls in their baskets. They also have umbrellas and galoshes. I bought this stuff over 3 months ago. I stuck it under by bed and before I ran out to fill their giant baskets, I took a look at what I had. Some of these items definitely have utility and they are going to love it. Know your kids. Get a couple of things they will love. Mine love books.

Basket building should be fun, not stressful. It shouldn't be a financial drain. Keep it simple. Make it fun. Celebrate the promise of hope in Christ through time with your families and the silly fun of Spring equinox with a playful basket that will make your child smile. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Things to Remember as a Mom

1. It may seem fast in a couple of years, but today is still made up of hours and minutes to appreciate and enjoy. Like Walt Whitman, suck the marrow out of parenthood and take the good with the frustrating one step at a time. If you can take it in day by day, in 10 years when you look at your tween daughter and wonder where the time has gone, you can confidently say and feel that it was a well spent childhood filled with love and play.

2. These little people following you around have never been here, on Earth, before. They aren't trying to driving you nuts on purpose. They are just testing the waters just as you are trying to figure out how to be a parent. You are in this grand experiment together. Give yourself and them a little slack.

3. There is no perfect sock, or dinner or life. Relax. Do your best with the best of intentions. Sometimes you have to give up cleaning all the toys up for 20 minutes of playing on your cell phone at the end of the night. Things will always need to get done. The laundry basket in my entry way has been there for at least 2 days. I will not get a fine or lose my mom card because of it.

4. As a woman in the year 2015, you can work, be a good mom, have a strong marriage, have girls' nights out, make a soufflé and write the next best seller, but it's likely something is going to get slightly less attention. It's okay. The women's equality movement wasn't meant to be about doing it all, it was meant to be about choices. Too much work or too much kid time can lead to feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated. Balance seems to be the great key. Excess always leads down the wrong path.

5. Don't compare yourself or your children to other moms or other children. If there is one thing we can do for each other is hear the wise words of Tina Fey in Mean Girls, "We need to stop girl on girl violence." Put in your best effort and feel good about that. Kids grow differently, mature and learn at various rates, comparison fosters envy which will cloud our opportunities for feeling at peace and fulfilled.

6. One thing I figured out early on is that you can't always predict what your kids are going to do or say. This becomes more true with every passing day. The older Lydia gets, the more I know I can't dictate everything that comes out of her mouth. Though I wonder why we insist on socializing our kids because I assume the snotty remark that came out of their mouth was from another child in her class, because she would never get that from us at home (right?) I am reminded of the beauty and richness of relationships. It is the fabric of community, the village, that help us grow.

7. No one in the history of parenthood has ever said this was an easy gig, but many agree it was one of the most rewarding. Be thankful everyday. Appreciate the opportunity to be with these little people and to love them deeply. These little people will grow into bigger people that will be pretty incredible too.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Painters Tape Saves the Day!

There are days that you just can't make it to be the outdoorsy family you usually are. Perhaps it's a late season snowstorm or hurricane day off of school or my favorite, is the Florida heat is so suffocating today that the layers of sunscreen and gallons of water required for outside play is just too much to bear. I enjoy arts and crafts with my girls. I find things on Pinterest like the next mom for sure. But sometimes we are just in need of something different, then crayons and glitter. My secret for creative indoor play? Painter's Tape. 

There is no painting but Painter's Tape will make adventures appear in your home that weren't there before like obstacles courses, hopscotch fields, giant Tic Tac Toe, alphabet search, and race tracks.
The great thing about Painter's Tape is that it doesn't hurt the surface you put it on. There is no lasting damage to your walls or floor. 

1. Obstacle course. 
A hall away is best, but if there isn't one that can be an obstacle at the moment, you can recreate the same effect with furniture. Simply you tape stick the tape on either side of hallway in crisscross ways. Place some tape really low and some of it really high. Consider the size of your kids in the process. If you kids are bigger makes sure that they will be able to crawl without tearing everything down immediately. I added areas for my little ones to crawl, stand up, jump over and then crawl again. After it was set up, I told them we were secret spies that had to get the magic sparkling treasure on the other side but we couldn't touch any of the "sensors" (aka tape.) It was so fun. 

2. Hopscotch 
We have a big brick hallway and I taped down hopscotch field with numbers. Since my kids are young it was a fun and easy number activity. We threw things and hopped down the hall. We counted backwards and forwards. Then I had a pack of dollar flash cards that had different numbered animals on it. We matched the animals to the numbers. So, we got a little early math skills and large motor jumping skills out of the fun.

3. Tic Tac Toe
A large board was made on the floor and we picked toys to be the X's and O's. Stuffed animals were X's and dolls were O's. We played for a while. This board was the least successful because my kids aren't quite into the strategy of Tic Tac Toe yet, however it was a good distraction. 

4. Alphabet Letters
On an area of the carpet I taped all the letters of the alphabet in half hazard ways. We sand the ABC song slowly while going to every letter. Then I called out letters to see who could find it first. Then we sounded out words with the letters, then I had another dollar set of alphabet flash cards and they matched the letters on the floors with those on the cards. 

5. Race Tracks
On the family room rug, I created a race track with straight shots and swerves. The girls got out all their cars and played on the track. Eventually they raced cars and got other toys to ride in the cars. The imaginative play they created was amazing. The track became the road to the castle or the circus. All the friends were on their way there and having great time. 

After the day of tape was done, I peeled it all off and there was no trace of using the indoors like an outdoor play area. It did take a little prep time, but well worth the effort. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Top 7 Choices for Children's books with Black Characters

All of these books provide a positive images of racial differences, however not all the books address this directly. In The Color of Us the little girl is struggling with her own skin color and begins to notice that all her friends in the neighborhood are have different shades of skin. Whereas, Lola loves Stories is just about a little girl that goes to the library with her parents and becomes the characters in her books. There are millions of options these are just some of the ones in our bookcases. 

Children of minority groups rarely see main characters in books that look like them. According to the NYT, in over 3500 children written in 2013 only 3% were written by Latinos over 1/4 of the population of the United States is of Hispanic heritage. Out of the books written by Latinos not everyone has a Latino protagonist. Children of color doesn't see themselves as positive central characters in imaginary worlds, how must this translate to their realities? 

If the goal is for young white children to see these images as well, then there must be intentionality to the that mission. If we, as parents, believe in equity and inclusion for all people then we must make it a priority for our own children. We create the lens in which they see the world. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

3 Tips to Discussing Race with your Kids

Keeping the silence about racial issues is often the response of many white educated American families in genuine hopes that this alone will be teach our children that there is an inherent equality among all people. Parents have convinced themselves that by saying nothing to our children they will grow up in a colorblind world.  It turns out this is untrue. Studies have revealed that children make up their own understandings of race if parents aren't brave enough to have a conversation about racial differences. It's not easy to do. Race is a touchy subject. Adults can barely muster up the courage to discuss race with other adults. The idea of having to navigate these types of conversations with a 3 year old is mind-boggling. 

It turns out; it's not that hard. You are literally pointing out the obvious. Your child already knows that their friend is black. Chances are the friend knows she's black too.  Here are 3 tips to discussing, exposing and teaching your young children about race and racial differences.

1. After school or after a play date, on the way home ask your child if they had fun? What was the best part of playing with Camilla? Simply ask your child what is something different about their friend? They may say anything.  You can always just ask directly, what color is Camilla’s skin? Is that the same as yours? Is that okay? Your child will point out the differences and come to the conclusion on their own that they like Camilla and her skin color doesn't change that. At the core of what we want our children to learn is that people are good regardless of race. Walking them through those connections is the goal. 

2. Read books with your child that have people of color in them. On one hand just having protagonists of color will create the implicit message to kids that those stories are important too and that those stories are fun and funny too regardless of the color of the character. Reading to your child makes a difference, not just because it increases literacy, but it opens up new experiences and opportunities for your child. A universe were little girls can be the most powerful leaders in the world, where little black children play crochet and dislike basketball or a planet where no one is ever without food, or shelter or love. The idealism of childhood is reflected in board books and pictures books, as parents we can show our kids those stories with people of color. This will place people of color in roles of power, thus changing the traditional power paradigm.

3.  Be intentional about picking various experiences for your child. If your children are white, live in a mostly white neighborhood and attend a mostly white school, then consider when it’s time to pick a week of summer camp to pick one that may have a more diverse group of participants. Consider taking your kids to play at different parks around town in hopes to expose them to different communities. Attempt to expose your child to kids of other racial backgrounds. It will be through relationships that kids will experience equality in imaginative cooperative play. Young kids will become friends quickly and fiercely regardless of race.

This morning a friend at work who is in an interracial marriage with two kids shared a story with me. She is biracial and her husband is white. They have two girls. One little girl is tan with coarse very curly dark locks, the other that is white with wavy blond hair. They don’t even look like sisters however they act like sisters. The girls were fighting with each other over a doll. The younger white sister yelled in anger to the older tan sister, “Well you are ugly! You have tan skin!” Everyone in the house halted. Froze in their steps. The parents immediately sat down and talked to the girls about how we treat one another. The situation settled and the girls continued to play. The parents sat in shock. Why did my kids just do that? They assumed that they know they are sisters. The same two people created them and yet one has systemically more social dominance than the other, even though they have been raised in the same communities and attend the same school.

My advice to her was the same. Talk to your kids about racial differences so it doesn’t stop everyone in their tracks, but rather it is an acknowledged nurtured part of who they are as a family. Become empowered to be the parent that has the tough conversations with your kids. If you start when they are young, it will get easier to be brave. Colorblindness does not exist, but ignorance does.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lean In

Recently, I read an yet another parenting article where the author gave great practical doable advice about reducing your daily parenting stress and keeping up with the daily things like making dinner, getting the kids dressed and doing one daily chore around the house. As I skimmed it, I realized I already do all of those things and still I feel parenting stress. My two year has spent a week eating nothing but pretzels and pickles. Nothing works. No positive reinforcements, no negative reinforcements, and no bribe has been alluring enough to convince her otherwise. She has dug her heals in and pickles and pretzels are it. The parenting stress has peeked and I can chose to handle in two ways:

1. I can follow her around the house with a variety of food choices, fork in hand and pray for the miracle of her giving in and eating something slightly more nutritious.


2. I can let it go (you may add the Frozen tune here if you like or let that go too.) Chances are that my two year old will all on her own want to broaden her pallet and try something different.

I opt for #2. I call this Leaning In. My second child has given me the greatest gift of awareness and parenting skill I could ever imagine: learn to pick your battles. Most of us moms have already consider what the tween and teen years may bring and we have heard this idea of picking battles with hair styles or clothing styles with our future 15 year olds but the thought doesn't occur to us when juggling our preschoolers. If they want to wear dirty pajamas, why not? If they want to wear sandals with socks, why not? If they want to wear everything blue and pick out what character on their diaper, I say LEAN IN. These are not the fights.

My parenting goals are that our children grow up to be kind, respectful, hard working members of society. Lean in. Let things go. And do it often.

We are lucky enough to live close to the beach. Beach trips typically take a lot of preparation with kids. You must remember the sand toys, the snacks, the towels, the blanket, the sunscreen, the drinks, etc. Sometimes the idea of packing it all up is exhausting, instead I take them to the park which they love and requires no prep on my part. However, upon recent reflection I considered that perhaps the complications were mine. The kids love the beach. They won't care if I forget something. I threw some sand toys in a bag along with a couple of juice boxes, grabbed the sunscreen and a blanket and away we went. For two solid hours the kids played. They ran up and down the shoreline, hunted for shells, created castles and instantly smashed them. By the end of excursion, they had gotten a little more wet than I expected since the water was still freezing it didn't cross my mind they would want to get in to it. I didn't bring back up clothes. When we were ready to leave. I pulled off their shorts, wiped off their sandy feet with the sandy blanket and we trotted off to 7-11 to get a post beach slurpee.

I didn't worry about the sand in the car. I didn't worry about the pant-less children in the convenience store. I worried about making lasting memories with my kids and appreciating their childhoods as deeply and thoughtfully as I could that day. I say Lean In! Allow some chaos. Allow piles of dirty laundry or heck all piles of freshly folded laundry! Don't let your stress become their memories.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Spring Break Bucket List

One the greatest blessings at teaching at my independent school is the glorious two weeks of Spring Break that we have at the end of every March. Here is my Spring Break Bucket List this year.

We are headed to Orlando for 4 days with Abuelos and little ones all in tow. We plan on going to Disney just for one day because we have seasonal passes. These passes have black out dates for most folks this doesn't work at all, but for us as locals we have more flexibility in going, so it works well. Plus as a Floridian I am thankful never to go to Disney in July because the heat is unbearable. For this break, we will be at a villa hotel room, plenty of room for us all. Here are a few things I am taking for the girls to do. I always take hotel room items because I hate having them in the sun for 12 hours, however we do plan on lots of pool and outside time.

  • Disney Junior Super Stretchy which is just like Twister
  • Paint a Chick -- wooden Easter chick with paints
  • Alex My Collage Farm
  • Go Fish Card Game
  • Puzzles -- as many as I can find

Here are my other Kid Friendly Plans:

1. Ft Desoto Historic Park There is a toll on the way out there otherwise it is a free excursion
2. Great Exploration Museum Terrific Tot Time We have annual passes that we got dirt cheap with a Groupon.
3. Rowdies Opening Game Which is free for everyone young and old via the Rowdies Soccer Club
4. Turns out our Groupon Great Exploration museum passes have an Florida Aquarium reciprocal in April so this is a free trip too.
5. Lowry Park Zoominations (my father in law purchased annual passes for him and the girls, so we get a discount.)
6. Watch Dolphin Tale and go see Winter at the Clearwater Aquarium which is a year long reciprocal with our museum passes.

It is also Egg Hunting Season. We are hoping to hit up a couple of new egg hunts this year. Here is the best list I found locally: Eggs. There are couple that I think will be awesome when my girls are even a little older such as the Flashlight Egg Hunt in Dunedin.

It's this time of year in Florida where I wish I went ahead and got my pool heater fixed. The outside temperature is ready for a nice dip but the pool water is still way too cold. It only really matters 2 months out of the year.

Making Bunnies

It has been a bit since I have blogged our happenings and I miss it tremendously. Over the weekend I had the girls make giant bunnies using the giant chart paper made by post-it. Since Lydia is 4 now I wanted her to practice her cutting skills. She did very well. I still made her bunny mouth but otherwise she did well. It was tedious. Vivian being 2 wanted to cut the just like her sister and not as successful. She did cut her papers up but not quite the same level ability but she was happy trying.

I had them on "islands" created by vinyl table cloths and gave them each a paper plate with mod podge and a disposable foam brush. Because I cut the bunny head from the post-it paper it stayed in place.

They both really enjoyed it. Afterwards, they made giant Easter eggs. I drew 3 lines creating 4 sections on the egg. My intention was that each section would have a different shape, circles, squares, stars and triangles. But the girls ended up putting them all over the egg which was okay too.

Each of their masterpieces were placed on the window of our sliders as decorations for the Easter Season.