Simplifying Parenting [Part 5: Kids Clothing]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 5: Kids Clothing]

When it comes to my own wardrobe, I’m a minimalist, fitting all of my clothing into three small drawers that fit into my closet [plus some hanging clothes that I rarely wear but keep for “just in case purposes” such as a black dress for funerals]. A few years back when I went through all of my clothes and purged everything I didn’t need or love, I found the whole process to be immensely gratifying. And, I’m pleased to report, that simplifying my kids’ clothes has every bit as satisfying.

Principle #1: Only clothes that are needed.

How do you know how much clothes your child will need? First determine how often you do laundry. I dedicate one day per week to laundry. Which means my kids need seven days worth of clothes [and maybe a few extras for accidents or emergencies]. Since a lot of our clothes are hand-me-downs, we do end up with extras of some things, but I make it a point to avoid getting extra clothes we don’t need.

For example, when I switched my son’s wardrobe over to warmer clothes, I found he needed more long-sleeved shirts and a few more pairs of pants for the winter. Brett found someone selling a used set of clothes — seven pairs of pants, two t-shirts, one sweat pant outfit — all for $15. But we didn’t need most of it, so we paid $8 for two pairs of pants and the sweat pant set. I found three long-sleeved shirts at a resale shop, and that was all that he needed. Theo is now all set for the winter.

Theo’s clothes [both summer and winter] all fit in two drawers in the dresser that he shares with Jojo.

Principle #2: Only clothes that are used…for the most part.

This is so important to me since I have learned about the clothing industry and how it continues to wreak havoc on our planet and hurt economies and take advantage of workers around the world. So, as a principle, we always get our clothes used, unless of course there are certain items that we can’t find used. Underwear is one of those things, so I buy my underwear from Boody and I get my kids underwear from Pact — both ethical, sustainable brands that I love to support.

I mean, really, it is criminal that kids clothing gets worn for a season and then tossed. We need to keep clothes in circulation for as long as possible since each item of clothing represents costly natural resources and a lot of labor. I wouldn’t even care if used clothes cost more, but, of course, buying used is cheaper which makes it a win-win. And we find really nice stuff used!

Evangeline’s drawer of adorable hand-me-down and used clothes for winter.

We like to use Facebook marketplace [Brett handles that since I am not on Fb] or OfferUp or nearby consignment shops and even resale stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army to find used clothing. In our small town we have a resale shop where I have found new tennis shoes for Theo, an Express undershirt for Brett, and jeans for Evangeline. [I also found a beautiful North Face sweater that I really wanted, but didn’t need, so I passed on it. Hopefully someone who needs it finds that treasure.]

Principle #3: Only clothes to play in.

Two of my daughters are wearing dresses [with shorts for modesty purposes] as they dig for fossils in the dinosaur museum.

It’s a bit of a pet-peeve of mine how parents like to dress up their children. All of their life experiences until the first grade revolve around play, so they should be dressed for play. It makes absolutely no sense to me to put a little kid into dressy clothing and then try to keep that child from playing in it or getting it dirty. Let the kids be kids for goodness sake! Even at church, Christmas dinner, and weddings, kids should be dressed in play clothes.

The other problem with dressing up kids is that it requires you to keep an entirely separate set of clothes. Your kid will need a full wardrobe of play clothes and a full set of dress clothes. Why on earth?

We just keep one type of clothing for the kids: play clothing. They can wear it on vacation, on a hike, to church, to school and to play in the backyard. My daughters each have some dresses that they love and these are not special occasion dresses. Their dresses get as much use as the rest of their clothes. Which is fine. They like to wear frilly pretty clothes, and I expect these items to get throughly played in, dirty, messy, and worn out.

Principle #4: Only clothes they love.

In this Easter picture, my middle daughter is wearing her pajamas. Still cute!

I let my kids dress themselves. I have since each of them were three and old enough to open a drawer and pull out an outfit for the day. This relieves me of the stress of fighting with my kids about what to wear and allows them to choose clothes that they love and that express their unique personalities.

It seems to me that, as parents, we want our kids to look like mini fashion models because it improves our own image. I don’t think the kids care – nor should they! So what if they want to wear plaid with polka-dots? Who really cares?

I definitely don’t want to send the message to my kids that what they wear matters, that they need to dress a certain way to “fit in” or be accepted, that love is based on how someone looks. These messages are everywhere in our society, but I don’t want them in my home. I also don’t want to teach my kids to conform to fashion trends. Instead, I’d rather teach them to wear what is practical, comfortable and something they love – something that shows the world a piece of themselves rather than just a reflection of everyone else.

I’m having a hard time finding pictures of my kids in unusual outfits – they usually dress so cute! No one would guess they always choose their own clothes.

Over the years, with absolutely no help from me, my oldest daughter [now 7] has figured out her own way of dressing that is unique and absolutely adorable. I wouldn’t change anything about her style.

[I once wrote an essay for Parents Magazine about this very topic, which they published in 2018. You can read it here.]

Don’t be afraid to pare down the kids’ clothing! It feels GREAT!

👚 👖 👕

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Taking it Day-by-day [aka mommy survival mode]

Lessons in Motherhood and Taking it Day-by-day [aka mommy survival mode]

Last month was a bit of a shit show, if I’m being honest. I spent the first two weeks of the month scrambling to prepare for school to start: getting my kids registered at their new school [which I had to do twice because communication is not this school district’s strength], sorting out the confusing bus situation [in the end, I decided to screw it and walk my kids to school], making all the necessary doctor, dentist and eye appointments, buying school supplies, backpacks, and tennis shoes.

Yes, I admit, my brain was still so stuck in summer mode that I didn’t realize until two days before school started that my daughter didn’t have any tennis shoes and these are apparently required for gym class. 🤦‍♀️ And, if you’ve been around my blog long enough, you know that I don’t buy new footwear unless it is ethical and sustainable, so I couldn’t very well go out and buy tennis shoes at Walmart [the only store in this town that sells shoes]. Thankfully, before I descended into a full-on panic, I remembered that my sister-in-law was coming to visit and usually brings some hand-me-downs for Evangeline, and voila! New [to Eva] tennis shoes for school arrived right in time for school to start.

[Evangeline is in 2nd grade – and check out those nice sneakers!]
[Theo is in Kindergarten]

I also was scrambling to get myself registered to take some classes at the local community college. Turns out, having a bachelors degree and trying to return to college after fifteen years is a huge headache. I had to call every school I’ve ever been to, every testing center I’ve received credits from, and every person on the college staff to try to get registered in time for classes to start.

Somehow, miraculously, it all came together just in the nick of time and I am now taking two prerequisite classes for the nursing program at Southeastern Illinois College.

On top of that, we had family in town for a week [the first week of school for me and the kids, no less] which was fun, but exhausting.

[My two youngest girls and their cousins at the zoo]
[At the county fair]
[At the park]

Also, our cat [and by “our cat” I mean a stray that my kids fell in love with and we now feed and let live in our garage] had a litter of five kittens who are absolutely adorable, but began wreaking havoc in our garage and created an absolute infestation of fleas, which had to be treated, and then treated again, and then treated again. And now we have five kittens wreaking havoc in our kitchen.

[Proud and exhausted momma cat with her day-old kittens]
[As irritating as it is that we took in a stray cat just in time for her to have FIVE MORE CATS, they are really stinkin’ cute].

And last, but not least, I’ve been sick for two weeks now with some sort of cold, cough, allergy thing that has me using my son’s nebulizer three times a day. We’ve ruled out Covid, though I never thought it was Covid because I never had a fever or any flu symptoms, just this frustrating and frightening inability to get oxygen into my lungs.

I think the kittens might be to blame.

🤔

So, anyway, I’ve been basically in survival mode. Each day is a desperate attempt to get my kids to school, my own school work done, my household chores managed, my pets [now totaling 9!!!] all fed and walked and let out and litter emptied, etc…and not hack up a lung or pass out from lack of oxygen in the process.

[This is what survival mode often looks like in my house]

Sometimes, being the one who stays home all day really sucks. Sometimes, it’s nice. Or at least, sometimes it’s nice in theory. But in reality, I’m just taking it day-by-day. Just trying to hang on until we get into a rhythm…or the kids graduate from high school…or at least until we find homes for these kittens!

But, lest I sound ungrateful for my incredibly privileged existence on this earth, here are some of the photos of good times last month [more as a reminder for me than anything else]:

[Lots of time with my babies]
[Breakfast date]
[Baking muffins…lots and lots of muffins]
[These two are my book lovers]
[Learning to play chess – Theo LOVES it!]
[Evangeline got a karaoke machine for her birthday and she LOVES it!]
[Still getting lots of yummy food from our garden!]

Anyway, I didn’t post much last month because I’ve had a lot going on, but I am going to be better this month.

Some things I plan to write about are:

  • My attempt at vegan carb-cycling
  • My new safety razor
  • My family’s unprocessed meals
  • My kids minimalist wardrobes [another post in my Simplifying Parenting series]
  • And anything else that strikes my fancy…

Thanks for letting me unload all that on you! I hope everyone else had a better August than I did!

😜

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

In my home, toys can get overwhelming fast. I have four kids who are six and under, so the playtime is real and involves legos, little people, costumes, race cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and a million other toys. Some days I feel like all I do is pick up toys.

So, a few years back, as part of my zero waste and minimalist journey, I began weaning down my family’s toy collection.

Now, I’m not going to say that now they have very few toys – the quantity is still quite large, but I keep it manageable through regular maintenance and a few rules that I’m going to share here.

“A place for every thing, and everything in its place“

This is a cardinal rule of minimalism and applies to everything in the home – especially toys. We have some “catch all” toy bins in the kids room for random toys, but almost every toy they own has a special box, container, drawer, or shelf. This provides structure for the kids as they pick up the room too.

Years ago, I purged all the excess toys for the first time and then organized them so that everything had a place. Then I set about the challenging task of teach my kids to put things away where they go. We are still working on this, but they are young so there is plenty of time.

This is the base rule – the rest are all about maintenance.

The “In and Out” Rule

Basically, if a toy comes in, then one must go out. [We use this rule for a bunch of other things too, especially clothes, so that we never end up with too much of anything.] We try to keep it down to only what we need.

If my kids have a new toy that they are wanting to play with then their attention will be taken from an older toy, so it gets donated.

Let the Kids Take Charge

I have my kids do this themselves. They get to choose which toys they no longer want. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at recognizing what toys they don’t play with anymore and giving them up.

Recently, the kids wanted to go to a neighbor’s garage sale. I told them that we already have too many toys, but if they pick out some toys that they don’t want anymore, then we can go pick new [or “new-to-us”] ones from the garage sale. They immediately got to work and filled an entire bin with toys they no longer play with. We bought six toys from the garage sale and we donated about 50 toys. A good trade in my book.

Declutter Frequently

It’s inevitable that toys will get broken and that kids will come home with worthless pieces of junk that interest them for all of five minutes, so I gather all of these types of toys into a bag the moment I find them hidden under the couch or buried at the bottom of a toy bin. I obviously don’t take any of my kids’ treasures, but so many little plastic toys end up scattered around our house that I have to declutter them regularly or it would get out of hand quickly.

The bag of broken, cheap, or discarded toys stays hidden away in my closet for a while – just to make sure someone doesn’t start looking for one-legged Cat Boy. I’ll tell you how I deal with this bag in a little bit.

Purge Occasionally

Once again, I have my kids do this themselves when the toy quantity is overwhelming. I know it’s time for a purge when their room has toys thrown everywhere and it takes them an hour to pick it up. Most things that get dumped are just in the way of toys the kids really want, so I have my kids remove the obstacles altogether.

However, sometimes I do take toys that I notice the kids haven’t played with in a long time and quietly set them aside….

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I’ve found that my kids rarely miss a toy. My son would definitely notice if all of his legos suddenly disappeared and my daughter would throw a fit if her stuffed animal Brown Puppy was suddenly missing, but pretty much anything else could be taken away and they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because they often lose toys and don’t even realize they are missing until I discover them in the bottom of some bin or the back of a closet.

So, I take the toys that I’ve gathered – the bag of broken misfit toys, and a box of forgotten toys – and hide them away for a while. After some time had passed and no one has asked for any of them, I donate, recycle, or toss appropriately.

[A collection of toys and books that I had hidden away to be donated.]

BUT, sometimes, my kids do miss a toy and so I return it to them. For instance, in the photo above, we kept the farm toy, the pink flamingo, and the frog beanie baby, because my kids wanted them back.

I’m not a monster. I don’t just take my kids toys away. But I do recognize that too many toys is overwhelming for our home and for my kids. There is no reason to have so many choices when they really only play with a handful of favorites – until new ones come along to replace them.

A note about sustainable toys…

I wish I could say that all my kids toys are made of hand-painted wood and corn husks or some super sustainable option, but let’s be real – kids like toys with bright colors and fun noises, and kids will destroy anything that is not indestructible. Besides, I’m not the one giving my kids the majority of their toys. They usually get toys from other family members who may or may not [but probably not] be concerned about a toy’s environmental impact.

As much as plastic is bad for the planet and unsightly in my uber-chic green home [I kid obviously], it is a long-lasting material which means that toys can have life beyond just one childhood.

Let’s all make toys more sustainable by teaching our kids to take care of them [great life lesson, btw] and then pass them on to a new child to enjoy when they are done with them – rather than throwing them in the trash.

Also, buy used toys!!! Seriously! Kids don’t care [at least not until a certain age and only if we give the impression that only new toys are acceptable gifts]!

As a parent, I think that toys can either be a constant source of irritation, or an enriching and educational experience for the whole family. But for the latter to happen, we’ve got to control the quantity, so they don’t overrun the house!

Happy purging!

🧸 🧸 🧸

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 3: Making Space for Childhood]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 3: Making Space for Childhood]

Last year, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which is an excellent resource for parents who want to rid their family of all the excess so they can focus on what is really important for childhood.

“Children need time to become themselves – through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff – with choices and pseudochoices – before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”

Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

It is a common misconception that kids need a lot of toys, social activities, educational programs, and scheduled time in order to become caring, productive, functioning adults. But in reality, kids need less structure and less “stuff” so that they have the space and freedom to become themselves. Instead of filling their rooms with toys and their lives with activities, we should be creating a space that gives kids freedom to discover, to imagine, to create and to rest.

Freedom to Discover

Instead of handing our kids tablets, videos, and phone apps that are supposed to encourage kids to learn, all we have to do is plop them outside. They will do plenty of discovering on their own.

[It’s ironic to me that there is a children’s television program called Nature Cat by PBS, which teaches kids about nature…while they are sitting inside on the couch.]

One of our favorite ways to pass the time is to be outside. It’s great for grumpy babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, “bored” kids, and even me. My kids have no trouble at all finding something to do outside. Of course, we do provide them with tools like bikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, tire swing, etc. But truthfully, most of their time is spent chasing butterflies, examining bugs, smelling flowers, climbing trees, and playing imaginary games that they created.

My kids in their favorite tree.

My childhood was filled with lots of time outside. I was apparently from one of the last generations whose parents kicked us out of the house when we were annoying rather than sitting us in front of a screen. [Of course, my parents didn’t have the screen option available…or they might have.]

Rain or shine, we go outside. Another great book about time outdoors is There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk.

I highly recommend this book for parents because in America we are often afraid to let kids play outside. Afraid of the weather. “It’s raining,” “Its too cold,” “Don’t get dirty!” – These have become our excuses that keep kids from jumping puddles, building snowmen, and making mud pies [which are some hallmarks of childhood]. Afraid of strangers. Afraid they will get hurt. Afraid of what trouble they might get into. While it’s important to keep kids safe, they don’t need stifling and they don’t need overly fearful parents keeping them from exploring their world. The benefits outweigh the risks [which are minimal].

“As a parent, a great way to support them is simply to spend a lot of time outside, ask open-ended questions, and encourage your child’s innate curiosity and willingness to investigate.”

Linda Åkeson McGurk

Being outside also ignites my children’s imaginations. They spend hours pretending to be superheroes or animals or monsters. The great outdoors gives them space to let their imaginations run wild.

Which brings us to the next important part of childhood…

Freedom to Imagine

In Simplicity Parenting, they recommend giving kids toys that encourage imagination and avoiding toys that already have the stories written. For instance, why give your child a doll that is already a Disney Princess when you can give him or her a doll that they can imagine to be anything? Open-ended toys are great for encouraging kids to use their imaginations.

Imaginative Play

My children love imaginative play. When they were younger, I actively participated with them, but now as they are older, they play together for hours. Though we haven’t exactly taken the advice of Simplicity Parenting [though, I wish we had, but o read the book after our home was already filled with Little People, Paw Patrol pups, and action figures], our children still love creating worlds and characters and stories around the toys they have.

[Simplifying kids’ toys will be my next post in the series, since – though I’m not an expert at much – I am an expert at paring down the toys in our home.]

Even my youngest, who just turned two and is just starting to talk, can sit for hours engaged in imaginative play.

Books

But my favorite way to cultivate my kids’ imagination is through reading books. I’ve been reading out loud to my kids since my oldest was 3-months-old. Even my youngest gets a story or two before bed – though she can barely sit still through Goodnight Moon.

For children, books are all about imagination. They allow them to imagine talking animals, magical fairies, unicorns and dragons. Books provide source material for children’s imaginations. It gives them the tools to see possibilities beyond their own limited experiences.

The Library

As minimalists, we don’t keep a lot of books, just the most cherished ones. For our reading, we go to the library once a week [sometimes more] and swap out books. I swear the library is the most underutilized resource in any community. We LOVE the library. Every week we have a whole new collection of books to read together. It’s like getting one of those subscription book boxes except free and we get at least thirty new books at each visit.

Please, use your library!

Reading Aloud

Brett and three of our kids, circa 2019

Since they were babies, I have been reading aloud to my kids before bed. As time has passed I have read increasingly more complex books to them – even some of my own childhood favorites like Mr. Poppers Penguins, Heidi, and The Chronicles of Narnia. My older kids are only 3, 5, and 6, but they are enthralled by these stories.

Don’t be afraid to read chapter books to your kids, even when they are very young. They will love it, and hopefully, a love of stories will translate into a love of reading – which it has for my 6-year-old daughter who reads 10+ chapter books a week.

My oldest, then 5, reading to her two younger siblings.

We love reading so much, we’ve dedicated an entire room in our house to it – our “reading room.”

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

J.K. Rowling

Freedom to Create

My three-year-old daughter’s drawing of me. She nailed it.

As I read recently in Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, creativity is so important – for us as adults, and for our children.

“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and those who don’t.

Brené Brown

What we create is how we share ourselves with the world, and how we leave a mark on the world.

In our home, I cultivate creativity by giving the kids space to create without judgment. I provide different mediums [clay, paint, crayons, paper, tape, kids scissors – and also legos, magnet blocks, Knex, and other building tools] and no direction in order to create [We also likes structured crafts and building legos from the instructions – or “map” as my kids call it.] I also encourage them to write, act, sing and dance. It is truly remarkable what they come up with. My son made me a stand for my phone out of legos. My daughter made me a flower crown out of paper to wear.

Using things we found in nature to make art.

I’ve noticed with my kids that the more screen time they have, the less they are interested in engaging in these types of creative and imaginative activities. They are bored more easily and they are much more fussy.

Which brings me to another part of childhood that I try to protect in my home: rest.

Freedom to Rest

As a fitness professional, I know the importance of rest for the human body – but I’m not only talking about sleep at night. We all need regular down time. Time to relax and take it easy. Time to be alone. Time to have nothing to do and no where to be.

For my kids this translates into not over-scheduling them with activities, extracurriculars, and play dates. I start to stress out when we have something going on every day of the week, and that’s when I know that something needs to go. We simply can’t do it all. Even if other families do, we can’t. I cherish our time to sit down together at dinner and go for walks around our neighborhood and relax together with nothing to do. So I protect those times.

This is getting harder and harder to do as my kids grow up and have school sports and music lessons and other extracurriculars all pulling at their time and attention. I don’t know what it will look like in the future, but I do know that I want my kids to have the downtime that they need to recuperate and to discover themselves, without the pressure to always be a part of something else.

What I’ve found to be true for my kids is that the more stuff, the more screens, the more busy time, the less room there is for these important parts of childhood – curiosity, imagination, creativity, and rest. In our family, we intentionally keep our toys to a manageable quantity and our activities to a bare minimum – so that our kids have more time to “become themselves.”

❤️

Karis

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 2: The Baby Registry]

Ah, the blessing and curse of the baby shower, which would be a fun party, reminiscent of a wedding shower, if it weren’t for the fact that you can’t drink and your feet are swollen and you don’t get any sexy lingerie. [Also, it is not fun pretending to be excited about baby bibs and bottle scrubbers – especially when you haven’t had a good night sleep in three months…and you can’t have a drink.]

Well, I guess if you are the father you get to enjoy it. [Men don’t know how good they have it.]

Worst part of all, the gifts sit in an empty bedroom until after the delivery and most don’t even get used for the first month – at which point it is too late to realize that you don’t actually need three different types of pacifiers [“ya know, just in case”], five hundred adorable outfits [that are so impractical your baby will never wear them], or a mechanical baby swing that promises to rock your baby into sound slumber [it’s lying to you].

Ok, ok. I’m mostly kidding. I had four babies and three baby showers [which is more than most people get] and I am incredibly grateful for each of them. I remember really enjoying myself during all three – yes, even without the booze.

[My co-workers threw me a surprise baby shower for my first baby and it was truly special. They gave me my glider, which I still have and now use to rock my fourth baby.]

Still, I ended up with shit load of stuff I didn’t need. Of course, I wouldn’t fully realize that until my fourth baby. Also, at the time of my baby showers, I wasn’t a minimalist. I was a maximalist. So maximize I did. I was an expert maximizer. I waltzed through three different baby stores with that handy little scanner and put everything that I might even possibly need or want on my registry – plus anything that looked cute, interesting or convenient. And being the privileged person that I am, I got the majority of it at my baby showers.

Unfortunately, looking back, it was all very wasteful. Many things I never used. A lot of it was just extra stuff that cluttered our house and the baby room for years. A big portion of it was stuff that I wanted so I could appear like all the other moms – cute diaper bag, fancy baby wrap, adorable decor for baby nursery, matching lined baskets to hold diapers, the all-important “stroller hook” to hang my many shopping bags on my many shopping trips with the baby, that I guess I thought I would be taking.

🤷‍♀️

[Theo’s “Have Truck Will Travel” Nursery Decor – cute, but ridiculously over the top for a child who only cares about sleeping and eating for the first year of life.]

I realize now that a lot of what I wanted “for the baby” was really just a disguise for what I wanted to make myself look like the perfect parent OR to make my job as easy as possible.

But I’ll tell you this secret right now: there isn’t a single product that you can buy in a store that will make parenting easy. It just ain’t going to happen. And, quite frankly, no parent is perfect, no matter how good they appear. So feel free to acquire only the baby items that will serve you.

The Minimalist Baby Registry

The registry is a great idea that helps people know what to buy the new mom; the trouble is that the new mom has no idea what she needs. And, if you walk through one of those baby stores, it’s whole purpose is to make you believe that you need EVERYTHING.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that you don’t need everything. Not even close. In fact, you need very little.

As a minimalist and low waste momma, I recommend sticking with the basics and necessities and adding additional things as you find you need them. Because, honestly, you will discover that you don’t need most things.

A baby’s early life involves only four things: eating, clothing, diapering and sleeping. So, at the very least, you’ll need:

A set of boobs [and a whole lot of patience] and definitely a burp cloth or two [or twenty].

Onesies and maybe a few other staple clothing pieces. Think baby capsule wardrobe – and think comfortable. Don’t get more than need. Two outfits per day between washes is plenty. I do laundry once a week, so I would only need 14 comfy onesies and maybe a sweater and a few warm leggings for cold weather. Baby clothing [and children’s clothing in general] is so wasteful. In the first year, babies will grow out of clothes every few months [excluding maybe some rare cases], so don’t stock up on it! Also, buy it used! If a baby has previously worn clothes, it was probably only a handful of times because everyone always overbuys baby clothes. Look, I know it’s so frickin cute, but don’t get caught in this expensive and wasteful trap.

Diapers [cloth or disposable are the current choices and I’ll talk about these options at length in my next post, but for now, if you can, go cloth], and wipes [preferably reusable]. Unnecessary items in this category include: changing table, changing pad, changing pad covers, wipe warmer, wipe holder, baby powder, diaper bag. I’m not saying these things aren’t useful, they just aren’t necessary. You can change a baby literally anywhere [trust me, I’ve done it] and you can carry diapers and wipes in any bag.

A safe sleep setup of your choosing. This will look different for everyone. Some will go the traditional crib, crib mattress, crib sheet route. Others, maybe a pack-n-play. Maybe others will do the bedside crib or a bassinet. Still others will co-sleep [safely]. Choose what works best for you.

• Another items you’ll most likely need are: car seat, stroller and thermometer [preferably the forehead scan variety].

[If you give birth in a hospital a car seat is 100% required to bring your baby home. This is Brett and I at the hospital with our firstborn.]

Beyond those necessities, here are some things that I used often and that were helpful for me, but again, not necessary:

• Noise machine [still use it for all four kids]

• Nose Frida [still use it when one of the kids gets sick]

• Baby Nail clippers [still use them on all my kids]

Of course, there are lots of optional extras. If you are going to be a baby-wearing momma, then you’ll want a wrap [probably the mobi wrap]. If you are going to a running momma, you’ll want a jogging stroller. If you are going to be a working momma, you’ll want a breast pump [and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you can get one free through your health insurance] and bottles. If you’re going to be a rock-the-baby-to-sleep-and-sneak-out-of-the-room momma, you’re going to want a super comfy and super quiet rocking chair. It’s all about finding what works for you. No one else can tell you what you’ll need.

[I am a running momma. This is me after a run 32 weeks pregnant with my first baby. So a jogging stroller was on my list of “must haves” and to this day it is one of my most prized possessions.]

Basically what I’m saying is make an intentional registry.

An Intentional Registry

There is so much extra stuff that you don’t need. You don’t need a bumbo or a bouncer. You don’t need a play mat or Sofie the Giraffe. You don’t need teething toys. You don’t need pacifier clips. Does that mean you shouldn’t get these things? No. It just means you shouldn’t get them just because everyone else does. There are plenty of simple, practical alternatives to these products that don’t involve going to Buy Buy Baby [I mean, seriously…listen to the name of that store!].

I beg of you, don’t make the same mistakes I did and just scan everything just because…because other parents use it, because you mother says it’s an “absolute lifesaver,” because your best friend recommends it, because of clever marketing, because it’s cute, because it’s there…

Simplifying parenting is about intentional parenting and that begins with what we bring into our home. So, don’t get caught up in all the gadgets and gizmos that the world says are “must haves.” Instead, judge for yourself what would serve you best. What kind of mother do you want to be. What products will get used and what are just for show.

In the end, you need a lot less than you think to take care of a baby: lots of cuddling, lots of patience, lots of time, lots of caffeine, and of course lots of love.

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Veganism [Do I feed my kids meat?]

Lessons in Motherhood and Veganism [Do I feed my kids meat?]

Now that I’m a vegan, I have to face my own inconsistencies about how I feed my kids.

The Conundrum

For years I was a moderate vegan or “vegan before six,” and I never changed my kids diet. We have always eaten a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes anyway. But my kids also got yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, chicken nuggets, burgers, ice cream and even the occasional macaroni and cheese. It didn’t seem so bad.

Now, however, I’m fully vegan because of my own personal convictions about the healthful, ethical and environmental necessity of a fully plant-based diet – so how can I, with a clear conscience, feed my kids animal products?

[Side note to clarify my statement above: I believe it is unhealthy to eat meat in the large quantities that we do in America, and I believe that it is unethical because our demand for large quantities of cheap meat has caused significant suffering for the animals we consume, and I believe that meat and animal products are the leading cause of damage to our planet. I am not saying that any meat at any time ever is wrong or unhealthy, but rather that in this current time with our current systems in place and our current ecosystems at stake, it is best – even necessary – to be vegan. I wrote in more depth about my reasons for becoming vegan in my post Why I’m Going Vegan [and why you should too]]

I obviously want my kids to be healthy. In fact, I care even more about their health than my own [hence why I hide the junk food for after they are in bed…and maybe partly so I don’t have to share…], so if I believe that Veganism is the healthiest and most ethical way of eating, am I wrong for feeding my kids the traditional American diet of Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and go-gurt?

But on the other hand, is it right of me to force them into a vegan lifestyle [purely by omission of all animal products]? Will they feel like they are “missing out”? Will they resent me?

But then again, is it right to raise them to be carnivores? Will they later ask me why I forced them to eat poor butchered animals? Will they resent me?

Do you see my dilemma?!?

Reflecting on this made me think about my own upbringing. I was raised in an omnivorous [mostly carnivorous] family and no one bothered to ask me whether I wanted to eat animals or drink their fluid secretions or not. I was given cows milk from the moment I stopped nursing until…well, milk was a big staple in my childhood home. We consumed at least a gallon per week. Meat was the main component of every meal and ice cream was the dessert of choice after every meal.

So basically, we ate like typical Americans.

And I’m not mad at my parents in the least for feeding me animals. They fed me and I am immensely grateful. But now that I have a choice, I choose not to eat animals, which is different than my family, my partner’s family, and, quite frankly, every other human being I know on the planet […except one coworker once].

Maybe that’s what’s so tough about choosing veganism for my family – it is different, and different is a little scary. Honestly, I don’t mind making choices for myself that go against the grain [I rather enjoy it, in fact], but it’s harder to make those choices for my kids, knowing that my choices will greatly influence their worldviews and their lifelong habits. Even if I believe it’s the best thing to do, I know that it won’t always be received well. [So help me, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I get enough protein…] I know that my kids will eventually realize that they are different and I don’t want to force them to be outsiders.

The Crux

As parents, we make a lot of choices for our kids. I, personally, make a lot of controversial and unpopular choices for my kids [at least in my circles]. So maybe choosing to feed them only plant-based foods will not be any different than my decision to, say, not take them to church or not hit [aka “spank”] them or not circumcise my son or any of the other ways that we choose to do things differently than other families.

What is most important to me is that the choices I make for my kids are intentional, not merely the result of “going with the flow,” not just doing it because everyone else does or because that’s how it’s always been done, and not eating without considering why and where and how and how much and to what end.

I’ve come to discover that eating, like everything else in life, is a moral choice. And what I feed my kids is an even greater moral responsibility.

The Conclusion

So, I am going to switch my family to a vegan diet when we are at home. I am not going to be the meat nazi at restaurants or the rude guests at dinner parties, I promise.

I am going to model healthy eating habits, including not binging on junk food, not snacking late at night, not starving myself, and not eating animal products. I am not going to force my kids to become vegans nor discourage them from eating a wide variety of foods.

I am going to make vegan food delicious and exciting by trying all the recipes and being creative. I am not going to be heartbroken if my kids don’t love being vegan and choose a carnivorous lifestyle for themselves.

I am going to be flexible and course-correct if this plan doesn’t serve my family best and I am not going to be upset about it.

Anyone else rethinking how they feed their kids????

🌱 🌱 🌱

Karis

September Shopping Audit [and my birthday party fail]

September Shopping Audit [and my birthday party fail]

September was supposed to be the month that we revised the budget to reflect our new income; however, our income continues to fluctuate, as does our spending. Despite a lack of strict regulation, we still aren’t spending very much because we have effectively made ourselves into “savers” rather than spenders. In fact, over the course of September, the combined total of money we saved, invested, and gave away was significantly greater than what we spent – even including our bills.

On a reduced income, I’d say that’s pretty good!

Also in September, I participated in Charity: Water’s September Campaign [raising money to get clean water to 20k people in Mali] and raised over $1,000 in addition to the $200 that I donated toward the cause. I am planning a larger campaign of my own to raise money for Charity:Water starting in January.

That, my friends, is where the good news ends. We had car trouble [tire trouble, more specifically] which cost us $575.24!!! We bought two books for my father-in-law’s birthday for $37.48 and I bought several books for my kids about religions and mythology that I couldn’t find at the library for $77.97 [these books were obviously SUPER important to me because I haven’t bought a book – other than as a gift – in over three years]. I bought a pair of used black pants for work from Goodwill for $7.00, which have turned out to be my favorite pair of pants EVER [now, that’s $7 well spent!].

But the real trouble started when it was time to get a gift for my daughter’s third birthday. Per our gift policy, Brett and I found a beautiful Mickey Mouse racetrack used for $30, and I planned to take my older two kids to Goodwill to pick out their own gifts for their sister. The night before her birthday we waited for Josephine to go to bed and then snuck out of the house to go shopping. Unfortunately, Goodwill has shorter hours than I realized [thanks, COVID!], so it – and all the other resale shops – were closed for the night.

Out of desperation, I took the kids to Walgreens [because it was in the Goodwill parking lot] and they each picked out a gift for their sister.

🤷‍♀️

Sometimes I have to bend my own rules.

The incredibly cheap [and basically worthless] walkie-talkies that Theo picked out and the plastic tea set that Evangeline chose were the first brand-new toys that we have purchased in three years. I was very nearly depressed about it – especially seeing all that plastic upon plastic wrapped in plastic entering my home – but the next morning, Josephine was so excited to see her racetrack and open her gifts from her siblings.

It made the whole thing [almost] worth it.

Josephine painting with the new paint sticks she received from her Aunt Amber [and cousins] for her birthday.

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Handling Stress

Lessons in Motherhood and Handling Stress

I used to think that I handle stress well, but now I realize that I’ve actually never been really stressed out before. Come to think of it, I remember that sick-to-my-stomach stressed feeling when I was in junior high and had procrastinated a big project until the night before the due date – but I only experienced it once because I vowed to never do that again. I HATED that feeling so much that I did all of my school work weeks in advance for the rest of my education. I am not kidding.

So it turns out that I handle stress fantastically – if by “handle,” I mean “avoid.”

But when it comes to adulting – and especially mothering – some stressors are unavoidable. And the past five months, with a pandemic raging and lay-offs and new jobs and going back to college and homeschooling my kids and a death in the family, I have been SUPER STRESSED. I didn’t even realize it until I went all day long without eating anything and I started shaking [probably more due to the lack of food than the stress] and having what might be described as a nervous breakdown.

At that point I knew I had to do something.

So, I handed the reigns to my wonderful partner, Brett, who took over the dishes and the laundry and the baking and the grocery shopping and the cooking and…pretty much all of it.

Brett with three of our four kids [My oldest is the photographer]

It made me realize that sometimes the stress of motherhood and homemaking is a little bit self-imposed. I will be the first one to say that I don’t believe in any of that sexist bullshit about women being better caretakers and homemakers, but it didn’t at first occur to me to have him take over [ask him for help, sure, but I still had to be responsible for everything].

Well, all I had to do was let go and – turns out – Brett is AMAZING at doing all of these household tasks. He even brews my coffee and prepares breakfast for me to take to work every day [I leave the house at 3:30am]. He also bakes bread and makes OAT MILK. And for dinner one night last week, he made a mushroom galette [!!!] from scratch! I don’t know very many men who know what a galette IS let alone how to make one. And Brett doesn’t even like mushrooms.

[This is why I call our marriage a partnership – because it is not governed by the typical gender roles, but rather by what best serves the whole family. Right now, my family needs me to work and so Brett is doing the unpaid work of taking care of our home.]

So, what I’m basically saying is, Ladies, if you need some help, don’t be afraid to ask. And I know there are women out there without [romantic] partners, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask someone for help! Don’t be so stressed that you stop eating [or eat everything in sight], when help is available.

We don’t have to do it all. This is the 21st century and we women have earned the right to get some help with the kids and the house and the job and whatever else – we just can’t be afraid to ask for it.

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Social Media

Lessons in Motherhood and Social Media

One of my favorite quotes is from Brooke McAlary’s book, Slow:

“I don’t need a photo or a video to remember it. And I don’t need an audience to validate it.”

Brooke McAlary, Slow

I’ve been thinking a lot about that quote since I [re]joined Instagram last year. In that time, I’ve been reminded of all the reasons that I left social media in the first place:

  • A waste of time: No matter how good my intentions may be, my time on social media always feels wasted.
  • A false connection: Even though I enjoy seeing updates from friends and family, this seems like an impersonal and lazy way to “keep in touch.”
  • A need for validation: Social media creates a need for approval and a dependence on validation to prove our worth.
  • An inability to be present: For myself personally, being active on social media trained me to view every moment as “gramable,” to be on the lookout for good photo ops, to be thinking of sharing the moment rather than being in the moment.

On the other hand, social media has some valuable uses, such as sharing information and impacting society’s belief systems. We’ve seen that through this past month of protests around George Floyd’s death. Social media has been a way to express and hear the voices of the people in a way that major media is not capable. Social platforms have been used to expose corruption, inform ignorance, and change the world. I have benefited from hearing the voices of people on social media that I would not have otherwise heard. I follow a wide variety of humanitarian and environmental organizations and activists who keep me informed about topics that matter to me.

So, maybe we can’t throw the whole thing out, but I think that I am ready to take another extended break. I’m not going to shut my account down, but I am going to limit my Instagram usage by:

  • Hiding the app. I’ve found that I am less likely to open the app if it is hidden away in a folder so that I have to choose intentionally to find it, rather than using it as a means of killing time.
  • Using Screentime limits. The iPhone [and probably other smart phones] have a feature in settings that allow me to limit my time on specific apps or apps of a certain type. I put a 15-minute limit for my collective social apps [which really includes Instagram, Pinterest, Marco Polo, Skype and FaceTime].
  • Not posting about myself. I am going to start using my account for activism rather than sharing pieces of my personal life. I don’t need the validation and the people who I have real relationships with [along with my blog readers] will learn about my life and my kids. Some things that I will post about:
    • photos of our CSA food hauls to encourage people to support local agriculture and healthy eating.
    • zero waste products and zero waste shopping trips
    • quotes and information about giving and supporting local NGOs working to end poverty locally and globally
    • support for Black Lives Matter and racial justice
    • other humanitarian and environmental issues as they arise

For me, these are the ways that Instagram [and social media in general] are useful to me – as a tool for education and activism and social change, RATHER than a tool for personal sharing and seeking approval.

As for my personal life, I would like to keep it personal. I would rather live in the moment and not care about what anyone else thinks.

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Karis

Racism in America: Breaking the Cycle

Racism in America: Breaking the Cycle

I am a mother of four kids, who are my whole world. I have other identities – partner, minimalist, personal trainer, environmentalist, baker, health freak – but they all revolve around my primary role as a mother. Sometimes I am envious of other women who have glamorous corporate careers while I spend a large portion of my day chopping food into bite-sized pieces. But I am glad that I am able to spend these formative years with them, since this is a luxury that many mothers do not have.

Because being a mom is such a large part of my life, and because this blog is about motherhood [well, motherhood and other things, obviously], I wanted to share how I am trying to raise my kids to be racially-aware, inclusive, and anti-racist.

Are Kids Born Racist?

I don’t believe that racism is a part of the human nature, though its existence is evidence of the general selfishness of humanity. Rather, I believe that racism is a learned behavior, passed down through the generations, whether intentionally or subliminally.

Racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

There is evidence to support both sides of the issue. Some studies have concluded that children are born with a preference for their own race, and other studies have shown that children learn racist beliefs from their parents, schools, and culture.

I agree with the research that indicates that we are most comfortable with people who share our race and culture because it is most familiar to us. That just makes sense. Our first encounter with a different race may be startling or uncomfortable, but that does not mean that we are racist – that we believe that our race is superior. It means that we fear the unknown. Which is why research has also found that the more time we engage with people of different races [and cultures and beliefs and lifestyles], the more comfortable we become with these differences.

Because institutional racism is so ingrained and so automatic and so accepted, without enough people wanting to enact true, long-lasting change, institutional racism ends up becoming our personal bias.

Sarah Gaither, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University

A great article about this can be found here [partially quoted above.]

I can also see from my own kids that we are not born racist. My children are happy to play with any other kid, it doesn’t matter in the least what color skin they have. My daughter, who is incredibly outgoing, won’t let race, age, gender or even a language barrier stop her from becoming best friends with other kids at the library or on the playground.

Breaking the Cycle of Racism

It is important to understand that racism is learned because that gives us hope that our children do not have to necessarily become racist adults.

[I know many adults don’t believe themselves to be racist, but as I wrote about it in My White Awakening, unless we have been actively working to overcome our own prejudices, we all have racial biases that inform our view of the world and we all benefit from a racist system based on white supremacy].

We have the ability to end the cycle of racism.

What this means to me is that I have to be especially careful not to taint their worldview with prejudices or biases or any negativity toward people who differ from us. Of course, I would never do that intentionally, but, as I realized while examining my own childhood [which I wrote about in my first racism post], racism often gets passed down from generation to generation very subtly. So in order to not unintentionally perpetuate racist beliefs, I have to intentionally teach my children inclusivity and equality.

It is up to us as parents to ensure that we put an end to the subliminal messages of racism.

1. Talking about our differences [including race]. The first thing that usually happens when kids encounter people who are different is that they ask about it – usually very loudly and in front of the person they are talking about. Rather than being embarrassed and trying to hush my kids, I usually give an apologetic smile to the individual and then give my kid an honest answer. Sometimes if the stranger is standing there, I let them answer for themselves. I view these moments as opportunities instead of embarrassments [even though they are usually still embarrassing], because they allow me to talk to my kids about how we are all different and that’s okay. And this is not limited to race. Some people ride in wheel chairs, some people have curly hair, some people wear hijabs, some people have nose rings, some people are missing teeth, some people speak a different language, some people have lighter skin, and some people have darker skin, because we are all different – but we are all people.

These are some unwritten rules that I have been teaching my kids:

  • We praise our differences. I allow my kids to ask questions, without feeling shamed for noticing differences. It is okay to notice that people are different from us. The key for me has been to speak positively about these differences. Differences do not divide us, they make us unique and special. They make the world a more enjoyable place to live.
  • We recognize that we are all different. I want my kids to understand that to us, someone’s skin may be dark, but to them, our skin is light. It works both ways. We may think they eat strange food, but they probably think that our food is strange, as well. I am trying to teach them that the world does not revolve around their perspective. This is the beginning of apathy and compassion for other people – being able to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what they world feels like for them.
  • We treat everyone with kindness and respect. Again, this is not just limited to race. In fact, I think these are all very important lessons for loving and accepting all people, regardless of their race, culture, religion, orientation, family structure, outward appearance, abilities or disabilities. Teaching my kids the inherent worth of all human beings is vital to ending racism.

Of course, accepting that people are all different is great, but our culture will still teach them racist ideas if we don’t intentionally intervene, which is why the job is not done here.

2. Exposing them to many races and cultures. I love other cultures, so it is a lot of fun to learn how other people live. I want my children to understand that the world is a very big place and it is filled with all kinds of people who believe different things and eat different things and wear different things and, yes, sometimes look differently. One of our traditions during the Christmas season is to celebrate other holidays from around the world. We also like to attend the “Diverse Voices Story Time” at the library, which includes songs in another language and some stories about people from diverse backgrounds. Hanging out at libraries and parks and public places gives us the opportunity to meet people of different cultures and races. And we enjoy going to local festivals and events which offer opportunities to expose my kids to other cultures. As more of my kids enter school, they will meet more kids of different races and I look forward to watching their relationships develop unhindered by the negative affects of racism. I hope that all of my kids experience a much more multi-cultural upbringing than I did.

A children’s book that doesn’t explicitly deal with race, but shows multiple different races within one family and talks about different foods and customs.

As I mentioned previously, research has shown that the more exposure we have to different races [and differences, in general] the more positively we feel about them. This makes a lot of sense, because oftentimes, we don’t interact with people outside of our own race and so we really have no experience to teach us that racial stereotypes are wrong and hurtful. We have to engage with people who are different and when we do, we will discover that they are just people like us.

I don’t want to raise my kids in a white world – I want to raise them in the real world.

3. Teaching the history of racism. This year around MLK Day, we picked up several kids books about the Civil Rights Movement. These books were the perfect way to discuss some of the unpleasant truths about racism in America’s history. One of the books also talked about the holocaust and anti-Semitism. I realized that I need to be more intentional about teaching my kids these important stories. We need to talk about the injustice that minority groups around the world have suffered at the hands of white society. We need to know their stories of struggle. We need to feel the weight of our whiteness.

Additionally, I need to teach my kids stories of minority leaders and heroes and champions and victors. I cannot allow them to grow up with only white protagonists. The same books I mentioned earlier told the stories of MLK and Anne Frank and Audrey Faye Hendricks, real-life heroes who I want my kids to look up to. There are also excellent books about leaders, mathematicians, scientists who prove that race and gender do not determine intelligence or capabilities.

4. Providing diverse toys and books. As a white family, it is easy to end up with all white toys and books, but this is not sending the right message to my kids about other races. I want them to grow up surrounded by diversity, and that starts in the home. In order to do this, I have to basically enforce affirmative action for the toy bin. I want the toys and books and television programming that my kids experience at home to mimic the real world.

This is a great book that deals with race in an age-appropriate way.
I picked up this book because our family was moving and I thought it would help my daughter adjust to the idea. I love how my daughter only noticed how much she had in common with the little girl in this story – not how they are different.

We don’t buy a lot of toys for our kids [and at these ages, they are usually animals anyway – Paw Patrol, My Little Pony, Baby Shark] but I have started intentionally including diverse books and being more aware of what races are represented in our home. Black is not the only race that needs to be represented. My kids also need to be exposed other minority groups – some of which are harder to find represented in the toy aisle, evidence that we still have work to do.

We also no longer allow toys that depict racial stereotypes [such as “cowboys and Indians”]. We don’t allow programming that depicts certain races as inept or inferior or as always “the bad guy.” And, though a slightly different discussion, we don’t allow toy weapons of any kind because weapons are for the intention of harming someone or something, and that should never be a part of play.

5. Model anti-racist activism. In my previous post, I wrote about all the ways that I am supporting the racial justice movement. I can’t turn all my kids into little activists, but I can show them by my example that there are things that we can do about injustices that we see in the world.

As I have said before, there is a difference between “not being a racist,” and “being anti-racist.” An anti-racist actively denounces racism in all its forms and promotes equality for all races, ethnicities, and cultures. As a parent, I want my kids to not be racist, but I also want them to be anti-racist.

My hope is that by immersing my kids in the “melting pot” that is American society and modeling an anti-racist mindset, my kids will be able to break the cycle of systemic racism that is so often perpetuated in white families.

How are you promoting racial equality with your kids? Would love to hear other input – especially from parents of older kids.

👧🏼👦🏼👧🏼👶🏼

Karis