I originally intended to write about how I learned to accept my postpartum body – until I realized that I most definitely did NOT accept my postpartum body. And, honestly, that’s okay.
But first, a [lengthy] preface.
I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and Hunger by Roxane Gay. Both of these women endured trauma – like earth-shattering, heart-breaking, I-cannot-even-imagine-going-through-that kind of trauma – and both women responded very differently. [Theirs are not my stories to share, but you can check out their books to see what I mean.] Reading their very personal stories from their own perspectives gave me some perspective of my own – and reminded me of two very important things regarding body image issues.
We are all different.
These women responded differently, and society would have us believe that one was right and the other wrong. But, that is not the case. Their responses were different because [DUH!] they are different people.
One of the biggest mistakes we make regarding the human body is to assume that there is a one-size-fits all way to look, eat, exercise and be healthy. Every human body is unique and has to be treated differently. And every human body is occupied by a different soul that is dealing with real life shit [excuse my language, mom] that will have an effect on their body. That’s ok. There is no set standard, set weight, set body fat percentage, set pant size or anything else that everyone must strive to reach. The standard of health – what it looks like and what it takes to achieve it – will be different for every human being.
Because, look, we are all different.
We are all complicated.
I’m going to share my personal journey and my perspective, but I will be the first to admit that this stuff is complicated because we are complicated. It’s not as simple as just eating a 1,200 calorie diet and spending 30 minute on a treadmill each day. There is so much more that goes into health and wellness, so much societal pressure to conform, somuch baggage we have to carry around, so much pain and fear and anxiety – and all of it affects our bodies. We cannot expect to find simple answers – or that the answer we find for ourselves will be the answer for everyone.
But, we do have to find that truth for ourselves.
My Truth for My Body
My truth is that I am happiest when I am healthiest – and that means exercising regularly, eating clean and getting enough sleep.
Fitting into my jeans is just a perk.
Before I had babies, I worked really hard for four years to become the healthiest version of myself. I started running [and back then I HATED running]. I learned to cook [and man, I REALLY HATED cooking]. I cut back on the alcohol consumption [and I REALLY LOVE sangria] and fast food consumption [and I REALLY REALLY REALLY LOVE French fries].
But I was terrified that these healthy habits that I worked so hard to establish would be derailed by having a baby. I was terrified that I would never lose the dreaded “baby weight.”
[I’m super ashamed to admit this because “baby weight” – or gaining any weight – is a privilege that many do not get to enjoy. But that is my truth.]
With each of my four pregnancies I gained 50-60 pounds. And after I had each of those babies, I knew that for me to get back to the level of health and energy and activity that I love so much, I needed to lose that weight.
So, I chose to change my postpartum body rather than accept it.
But, at the same time, I have accepted the things I cannot control.
I’m fine with my stretch marks and my wrinkly stomach and stretched out belly-button, and all that. [It’s a little weird but I actually like my stretch marks because I intend to have a badass body again and stretch marks will be the only proof that this body birthed four babies.]
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with wanting to change your body – or improve yourself in any way. I want to love myself, but I also want to work on myself. I accept that I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve. I will never have the perfect body or be perfectly healthy, but that is not an excuse to not do what I can.
Of course, as a personal trainer, my wish is for everyone to be on a journey to their healthiest self – but I also recognize that some people are on different journeys, pursuing other things. And that’s ok. The other side of this issue is that we never have the right to judge another person’s journey.
I hope whatever journey you are on it is in pursuit of your best self – whatever that may look like for you.
In the past 6 months I read fourteen books and enjoyed them all – but of course, some more than others.
Here is my list and my star reviews [purely for fun].
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Beautiful story and quick read since it is young adult [historical] fiction. I don’t know how I missed reading this when I was in school. I, like the author, am moved by the story of how the Danes smuggled nearly their entire population of Jews to Sweden during World War 2 and this fictional portrayal of those real heroes is profound and beautiful.
The Happiness Paradox by Richard Eyre
I don’t even know why I picked this up at the library – I think I was hoping that he was going to say that all our stuff or maybe our money was getting in the way of our happiness. Unfortunately, that’s not what he said, but it was still worth reading. The premise of the book is that three things that we are all pursuing are the very things that are making us unhappy: control, ownership, and independence. I wouldn’t recommend the book though because it is painfully repetitive.
Time to Parent by Julie Morgenstern
This book was helpful for me to assess my own parenting and think through ways I can change to be more efficient and more effective. Parenting is broken down into four quadrants with the acronym PART: Provide, Arrange, Relate, and Teach. Biggest take away from the book was that I don’t have to finish every book I start. I have a problem with this. I will spend precious time reading a book that doesn’t even interest me anymore because I don’t like leaving things unfinished. But I see now how that is a waste of time and after reading this book, I actually stopped reading a few books in the middle!
Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline
One of my favorite books of the year. I listened to this book as I got back to running after having my baby. I was so engrossed in this book that I often ran longer than I had intended. I want to read it again [the hard copy way] so I can really let this information sink in. As someone who is already committed to ethical and sustainable clothing, this book opened my eyes to just how challenging – and CRUCIAL – that goal really is.
You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right by Robert J. Brown
I liked this book. Honestly, I had never heard of Robert J. Brown, but this slice of history was important to learn about through the eyes of a man who knew some of the greatest leaders of all time [and some not so great leaders].
Why I’m No Longer Talking [to White People] about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book is on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list [which I am still working my way through] and it was eye-opening. It was obviously written for the British population – but if anything, American history of racism is even more deeply-rooted and upsetting.
“Racism’s legacy does not exist without purpose. It brings with it not just a disempowerment for those affected by it, but an empowerment for those who are not. That is white privilege. Racism bolsters white people’s life chances. It affords an unearned power: it is designed to maintain a quiet dominance.” – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This is another book from Emma Watson’s book club. It is no doubt beautifully written, but looking back on it, I don’t really know the purpose of a lot of it. Still, Lee writes with such an effortless style that I was sucked in from the beginning and read it really quickly [considering the book is lengthy]. I wanted it to wrap up with something profound or have some unexpected development to tie everything together – or at the very least, provide some sort of moral lesson…but I was disappointed.
September was a great month for me physically, but a bad month for reading. The baby was finally old enough to need more attention and I was back to working out twice a day, but I had no time for reading. At this point in the year, I adjusted my goals and aimed to read at least one book each month for the rest of 2019.
Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee
Probably my favorite read of the year and one of only two books that I actually want to go buy [I don’t own physical copies of books unless I literally want to read them over and over and over again].
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I loved this book. It was meaningful and beautiful and it had my three favorite elements in fiction: a profound moral theme, a surprise, and a satisfactory resolution. You know it’s a good book when I am literally yelling out loud while reading. What was so great was not that there was a surprise, but that it kept me guessing the whole time.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
This is easily my favorite fiction book of the past six months. Ironically, it wasn’t on my list. I had never even heard of this book [or author]. I only read it because it was listed as a free kindle book through Amazon and I was bored. I read the first half in a day before my Amazon subscription expired and I had to wait TWO WEEKS to get it from my library. I was dreaming about this book and literally yelling out loud so much while reading that my husband was concerned for my sanity. I guess I respond to books just like I do movies – I laugh, I cry, I try to tell the characters what to do, I get super invested in the story.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
This is another on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list. It has a very slow [and quite frankly boring] start for me – so much so that I almost stopped reading it. But it definitely got better as it went. It was very strange to read things in direct opposition to what I was told in my conservative, evangelical, Republican, and 99.9% white upbringing. It was strange…and liberating.
“I began to see that for some, religion was just a form of politics you couldn’t criticize.” – Gloria Steinem
I kept seeing this book so I placed a hold on it at my local library. Took a few months, but finally got it and read the whole thing in a few days. I LOVE this author. I enjoyed the story, as hard as it was to read at times.
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
This is a great pep-talk, and let’s be real, we all need a pep-talk every once in a while. But unfortunately, it felt too fluffy and egocentric for me. I’m all for reaching for your dreams, but I sincerely hope that your dream is not wrapped up in a Louis Vuitton handbag…or a vacation home in Hawaii…or even a thriving business. I would hope that your dreams are not in any way related to accumulating more expensive stuff, but rather, about giving more away.
Of course, that’s probably just me – which is why Rachel Hollis has 1.7 million insta followers…and I have 60.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to more great reads in 2020!
In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
Two years ago, I made a New Years Resolution that changed my life. Of all the goals you may be thinking of setting for 2020, I hope you will give this one a try.
To be perfectly transparent, this resolution didn’t actually change my finances at all, but what it DID do was change my PERSPECTIVE of my money. And, let me tell you, perspective is EVERYTHING. Even though I didn’t necessarily have more money at the end of the year [in fact, I probably had less], for the first time in my life, I felt really frickin’ rich.
My resolution was this:
I resolve to give money EVERY TIME ANYONE ASKS.
For the entire year of 2018,I gave money to every person holding a sign on the side of the road, every kid selling candy outside of a store, every collection bucket at an intersection, every additional dollar at the grocery check-out, every mailer requesting donations, every email asking for money, every heartbreaking commercial that I always used to ignore. I never kept track of any of it, so I have no idea how much this actually amounted to over the year, but, honestly, I haven’t missed any of that money and no matter how much it was, it was worth trading it all for the change it made in me.
To be honest, it was a huge relief. I didn’t have to endure that awkward feeling of trying to not make eye contact with whoever might be asking for money. I didn’t have to think about whether this person was “worthy.” I didn’t have to ask myself whether this was a “good cause.” I didn’t bother researching organizations to find out what percentage of their funds goes to administration costs or look up what the CEO makes. I didn’t pass any judgements or make any assumptions. I didn’t even ask myself if I could afford it [trust me, asking if you can afford it is the first step to finding an excuse]. I just said “yes.” Every time.
One time Brett and I were watching a Netflix comedy special without realizing that there would be a legit appeal for donations at the end…so, guess what. We are now proud supporters of Seth Rogen’s Alzheimer’s foundation called Hilarity for Charity.
Another time, Brett and I were on vacation in Baltimore when a woman came to us asking for five dollars. She told us a long story about why she needed the money and though we didn’t find it very convincing, her reason didn’t matter to me. All that mattered to me was that she needed money and I have plenty to share. We only had $20 bills on us at the time so I gave her one and wished her luck.
Now, I know what some people would say [because people have literally said these things to me]. “She’s just going to buy drugs.” “She is probably a professional beggar making $70k a year.” “You are not helping her, you are just enabling her.” “She doesn’t need a hand-out, she needs a job.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Trust me. I’ve heard it all. I was raised with the idea that the only safe, respectable place to give your money is to the church [so they can pay their bills and salaries and then use what’s left for ministering to their church members – am I stepping on toes yet?]. But I wanted to cut out the middle man and give to the needy. Even though my upbringing taught me that you can’t just give money to anyone, it failed to teach me the most important lesson:
Giving is just as much for the giver as it is for the recipient.
Giving money away at every opportunity is something that I do because it is right and good AND because it changes ME.
Giving teaches me to stop holding so tightly to my stuff, to let go of my reliance on my financial security, to live a little more by faith. Giving reminds me that I am blessed, that I was born into privilege, that I am no better than any other human being, and that everyone will face struggles and hard times and I can show simple, tangible love for my fellow humans by reaching into my wallet and giving [literal cold, hard cash] from my heart.
I have no right to pass judgements or make assumptions about the needs or intentions of others – because I am not god.
So many people try to play god, saying “don’t give money to that person because they will probably spend it on drugs or alcohol,” or “don’t give money to that organization because you don’t know if they will use it responsibly.”
Who are we to decide who is worthy of charity?
How are we to know who is “deserving” of our kindness and love? Why do we think WE are qualified to decide who should get money and who shouldn’t? Because we are the ones who have the money? Because we were born into a more privileged situation? Because we were taught the virtues of hard work and money management? Because we had parents who loved us and taught us these things? Does that make it okay for us to pass judgements on them? Or to even view it as an “us” and “them” situation?
We are ALL “US.” We are one big collective group of human beings – unique and diverse except for the unifying fact that we are ALL trying to find our way in the world. And it doesn’t hurt for those of us who are the most privileged to show a little more compassion, to give a little more and to judge a little less.
I like to leave the judging to god. After all, it is impossible for me to know a person’s entire life story from a sign on the side of the road, so I choose to let the universe handle all that stuff and I just do my part, which is give.
And if you believe the Bible, then I think you will agree that Jesus didn’t ask people to give only to those who have been fully vetted or who are completely worthy or who have never made mistakes or who will use the money the wisest. I’m pretty sure he just said to give to people who had needs. That’s the only qualifier. That they have needs.
My job is just to give.
This past year, I didn’t need to make the resolution again because I had already developed a habit. Now, the new resolution is to give more each year than I did the year before.
Every year we do our “Carlson Countdown to Christmas” with twenty-five holiday-inspired activities. This year, we did some new things and revisited some of our favorites from previous years.
For those thinking of starting a similar tradition, here are the activities we did this year and [at the end] some tips for making this happen!
The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas
December 1: Santa’s Holiday Workshop. This year we kicked off the holiday season with a park district event where we watched Santa arrived pulled by sled dogs and the kids participated in a variety of holiday themed activities.
Tip: Check your park district guide or local event calendar for ideas of things to do with your community.
December 2: Put up the Christmas Tree and Make the Paper Chain. Every year, the kids and I make a Christmas paper chain so that we can countdown to Christmas. This is a helpful visual for them to see how far til Christmas AND cuts down on them asking a million times if today is the big day.
December 3: Shopping for Toys for Tots. This is an annual tradition. We take the kids shopping for toys to give to Toys for Tots then drop them off in a local collection bin. This activity reminds us to appreciate our many blessings and give back to other kids in our community. And, as an added bonus, it helps us to see what toys our kids really love.
December 4: Homemade Marshmallows and Hot Chocolate. This was my first time making marshmallows, but I make hot chocolate every year. The kids and I LOVE hot chocolate and it is so easy to make at home. I can’t believe I used to buy it in packets!
December 5: Christmas I-Spy Game. I wanted to create an activity that would get the kids outside, and since my kids are really into I-Spy and “Look and Find” books, I hid a bunch of Christmas items in the backyard for them to find. They played outside for several hours searching and then re-hiding the items. I wore the baby in a carrier and we got involved in the game too.
Tip: The activity for the day does not have to be a big event or time consuming trip out of the home. I always gather a few simple holiday games and craft ideas to use on occasional days when we just want to stay in [or I’m exhausted].
December 6: Geneva Christmas Walk. This is a tradition for us, even though it always means long lines and walking around outside in the freezing cold. This year we got hot chocolate at Kilwins and took photos with the Grinch. This event is a Christmas classic for us.
December 7: Clay Ornaments. Every year the kids and I make ornaments of some kind. We’ve done salt dough. Last year we did paper. This year, we rolled and cut and painted and glittered cornstarch clay ornaments. This is a great way to make gifts and to add some new ornaments to the tree.
December 8: Christmas Light Shows. This is another annual tradition that the kids LOVE. We have several big, fancy light shows in our area [one was even featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight a few years back]. This year we all got in our Christmas pajamas and drove to the displays.
Tip: Even if you don’t have a fancy light show in your area, there are usually neighborhoods to drive through where the lights are beautiful. I have also seen Christmas light bingo cards on Pinterest which would be a fun game to play!
December 9: Bake Christmas Cookies. Every year, I take one day to bake Christmas cookies because I know that I will eat an obscene amount of cookie dough, and my health [and blood sugar] can only handle it one day. Let me tell you – it’s a special day! The kids love to get involved. Thus far, we’ve been making different types of cookies each year, but I’m hoping that over the years we will settle on our favorites. I think the melted snowmen cookies we made this year might be my favorite cookie EVER.
December 10: Deliver Christmas Gifts to our Neighbors. The gift has been different each year [this year we gave away tins of the freshly baked cookies], but we always enjoy walking to our neighbors to wish them a merry Christmas. This year everyone was home!
December 11: Puffy Paint Snowmen and Christmas Shopping. One of my regular holiday crafts is puffy paint snowmen because the kids love it so much and all it requires is shaving cream and glue. The 11th is also our wedding anniversary so we went out to dinner with the whole family and then took the kids shopping for gifts for each other. It was so sweet to see how thoughtful they were in picking out gifts that their siblings [including the dog], would love.
December 12: Daisy’s Birthday Party. We brought Daisy home three years ago on December 12th as a Christmas present for our kids and every year we celebrate that day as her birthday [we don’t know the actual date]. We bake her a little “pup cake” [humans get banana muffins with cream cheese frosting] and wear party hats and sing to her and give her gifts – the whole deal. It is seriously great fun!
December 13: Christmas Movie. I LOVE Christmas movies. And I love the excuse to watch the cute kids Christmas movies like The Polar Express, The Grinch, and [my personal fave] Arthur Christmas.
December 14: Christmas Tree Waffles. These waffles are an annual breakfast tradition – one day a year only. I didn’t get a picture this year but they are just waffles colored green and decorated with mini M&Ms and powdered sugar.
December 15: Christmas Tree Cinnamon Rolls. I saw this on Pinterest and thought they were cute. They are harder to make into a tree shape than you would think…only half of them came close to resembling trees. Still delicious though!
December 16: Birdseed Ornaments. This is another annual tradition. We love to take care of our feathered friends – especially since we live in a very wooded area.
17. Gift for Peter Rabbit. This year for the first time, we bought and delivered a gift for the bunny who lives in our local nature center, Peter Rabbit. Then we played at the nature center for the afternoon.
18. Gingerbread Houses with Auntie Paula. Of course this is our FAVORITE annual tradition – with our favorite Auntie!
19. Frozen 2 with Judi. My kids are old enough to go to the movies!!!!!!! [At least, my two oldest are…] So we went to see Frozen 2 with my good friend and fellow movie lover, Judi.
20. Read Christmas books by the fire. We have a big collection of kids Christmas books that we bring out in December – and something about a warm fire in the fireplace makes reading the stories extra special for the kids.
21. Oreo ornaments. More treats! No wonder I gain five pounds every December!
22. Puppy Chow and other gifts. We love to give edible homemade gifts that go in mason jars! We make puppy chow every year because it is easy, delicious, and the kids can help. Only bummer is that I have to buy boxed cereal for it, which I ordinarily never do. Next year I think I’ll try making chocolate popcorn instead to avoid the waste since I can buy popcorn kernels and chocolate in bulk bins.
23. Polar Express and 2 Toots. Every year we do our own “Polar Express” train ride to a little train themed diner called 2 Toots Train Whistle Grill. This year, my parents and my sister and her family came up from Indiana to join us.
24. Christmas Scavenger Hunt. This is a new activity that I hope to turn into an annual tradition. When we had our first kid, Brett and I began the tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve – always one Christmas book and Christmas pajamas. Well, our sustainability values no longer include a) buying new books [because we use the library and already own too many books] or b) buying new pajamas when they aren’t needed. We needed to change the tradition, so this year I created a scavenger hunt for the kids to find one Christmas gift for them all to share. Because it was hidden, it didn’t need to be wrapped. And it was also a toy set that I bought used.
They were SO EXCITED.
25. Monkey Bread, Orange Julius, [MIMOSAS for the tired mama] and Christmas gift exchange. Every family has their own Christmas traditions, obviously. Ours include a very extravagant breakfast [compared to our usual oatmeal] and a gift exchange. [I like to use the phrase “gift exchange” as opposed to “opening presents” because the former implies that we are GIVING as well as RECEIVING.]
Tips for a Successful Christmas Countdown
1. Make a LONG list. I brainstorm a huge list of ideas of crafts to make, things to bake, places to go, community events to attend, etc. We don’t do all of it, but it helpsto have options.
2. Include LOTS of simple, stay-at-home activities. The activities don’t all have to be extravagant or costly. We do plenty of simple activities like reading Christmas stories together, dancing to Christmas music, or coloring Christmas pictures.
3. Be FLEXIBLE. I used to tryto plan out the entire month in advance, but it’s impossible to predict what will happen over twenty-five days and sometimes you’ll have to adjust the plan. In those instances, having plenty of simple ideas will be helpful.
PLEASE let me know if you start this tradition in your family! The holiday season is about so much more than just gifts. We have so much fun celebrating it all month long, spending time together, and remembering to real reason for the season.
Every December, we celebrate the holiday season with our Carlson Countdown to Christmas – which is basically an advent calendar of holiday-themed activities for us to do as a family like baking Christmas cookies, driving to local Christmas light shows, visiting Santa Claus, making Christmas ornaments, etc. Each year I come up with twenty-four of these activities [some old, some new] and then go through the process of planning and organizing and actually making all of it happen.
It is a lot of work. It is also a lot of fun, but with four little kids, at this point, it is mostly a lot of work.
So, why do I bother?
Well, I am hoping that it will result in a lot of cherished memories for my kids and holiday traditions that we can all look forward to around the holidays. I dream of my kids getting excited on Black Friday, not to go shopping, but to start prepping for our annual countdown which always begins on December 1st with decorating the house for the holidays.
But in these early years, the kids don’t really appreciate or understand the lengths to which I go to ensure that we get to decorate gingerbread houses with Auntie Paula, and go ice skating at our local outdoor rink on a night when it is not absolutely freezing, or coordinate with Brett’s work schedule to make sure we can take our annual train ride and read The Polar Express.
Ah, the things we do as parents…
So, for now, I’ve been using these days to build a foundation of gratitude and generosity in my children by intentionally turning their attention to ways we can give rather than things we can get.
Here are some ways that we celebrate the season of giving:
Last year, we had a “Gratitude Tree” in the month of November to count all of our blessings. This year, we are doing a holiday version. At breakfast time, we talk about the things we are grateful for and add some ornaments to our tree.
[I rather like how “Dr. Seuss” our tree looks, pieced together from all the random pieces of green paper I could find in my scrapbook stash.]
We encourage [read: “force”] our kids to give gifts in many different ways throughout the month:
1. We take them shopping to buy toys to donate to Toys for Tots. This is hard for the kids, but each year it gets easier. We always explain in advance that we are picking out toys for other kids to open at Christmas. We obviously foot the bill.
[Side note: this is very helpful for giving us gift ideas for them as well.]
The kids drop them off in a local collection box, and let me tell you, I am so proud every time my kids put toys they love into that box.
2. We take them shopping to buy gifts for each other. In my family growing up, all five of us kids always gave individual gifts to every other member of the family. I don’t know when or how this came to be, but honestly, it is still happening even though we are all adults. I want my kids to enjoy giving gifts to their siblings so we are starting young [and also paying at this point, of course]. The kids also pick out gifts for Daisy the Dog, of course.
I ask them what their siblings would like for Christmas to get them thinking about it and then take them shopping. They did really well this year [after my son stopped insisting that his big sister really wanted a paw patrol truck].
Later I wrap the gifts with each child. My 3-year-old son wanted to put a message on the gift tags so he dictated these sweet notes for his sisters.
This just melts my heart.
3. We hand deliver gifts to the neighbors. We’ve done this every year since we moved into this house because I resolved to be intentional in building good relationships with my neighbors. The first year, we gave store-bought boxes of chocolates. [We had just moved in so I didn’t know if people would accept hand-made goodies.] Last year the kids and I made chocolate covered pretzel rods with holiday molds. This year, we delivered a tin of freshly baked Christmas cookies to each neighbor. [I think they know us well enough now to eat them.] We also give a gift to our postwoman.
4. We make ornaments to give to friends and family. We’ve done different kinds of ornaments – salt dough, paper, clay, etc. We tried mailing clay ornaments to the cousins one year. That was a bad idea. The next year we sent Danish paper heart ornaments. This year we made corn starch ornaments and will give them to local friends and family.
5. We give to every bell ringer. I will write more about this some other time, but we have a lot of fun giving to the bell ringers outside of the stores during the holiday season. I always carry cash to make sure we can do this. This sets an example of generosity for my kids. I want them to grow up seeing us giving freely and generously as often as possible.
The rest of our holiday traditions revolve around spending time together as a family. The “Season of Giving” doesn’t have to be about buying stuff and stressing over what to give who and how much money to spend and all of that. Giving is as simple as spending time with friends and family. The gift of time and attention is worth so much more than anything we can find in a store – especially nowadays when everyone is so rushed and busy and families are spread across the country [or around the world]. Time is the greatest gift.
It is also zero waste. 😉 Just sayin’…
I try to find as many ways as I can to incorporate giving into our holiday traditions because I hope that someday this will balance out the emphasis on receiving gifts that is an inevitable part of Christmas.
When the kids are older, I look forward to volunteering as a family – all year round, but especially during the holidays – to expose my kids to the hardships that face many people even in this privileged country and to show them that the true joy of Christmas comes from giving not getting.
Last month in my “Lessons in Motherhood” post, I confessed that I have been having a hard time dealing with parenting my four little ones. I have been increasingly grumpy and short-tempered, getting easily annoyed and upset at my kids, and then feel terrible and guilt-ridden over it. So I was trying out a more positive approach to parenting using rewards instead of consequences.
Well, I’m back to say that I’m throwing out everything I said in my last post and starting fresh with a new perspective on parenting.
But FIRST, a recap of our “outdoor hours” for October.
[I modified my New Years resolutions in my Q3 Update to include 30 hours outside each month for the rest of the year.]
It was quite a month…
On October 1st, we spent the day at the pumpkin farm, enjoying beautiful 80° weather.
And on October 31st, we built our first snowman and went trick-or-treating in the snow – the first time I can ever remember having snow on Halloween [though it probably happened at some point].
In between, we managed to squeeze 30 hours of playing at parks, visiting zoos, picnicking on the back deck, riding bikes, walking Evangeline to school, and playing in the backyard.
Just for fun, here are some photo highlights:
Ok, so back to my parenting problems…
A story all parents can relate to…
A few days ago, around dinner time, my five-month-old woke up screaming and inconsolable after only ten minutes of sleep, while the timer started going off to take dinner out of the oven, and at the same time, my two-year-old locked herself in my bedroom.
There I was, trying to explain to a toddler how to unlock the door, while holding a screaming baby and letting dinner burn, when my three-year-old son began screaming from the bathroom for me to wipe his butt.
In that moment, I wished I was the one locked in the bedroom.
Not every day is like that, thank god, but there are definitely a lot of rough days when I am so tired and frustrated that I wonder, what am I doing with my life?
And yet, I always wake up with a new resolve to have a better day, to be a better parent, to find a better way.
Now Say This
And that’s what led me to Now Say This by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright.
I read [or rather listened to] this book last year when we were having trouble helping my son process his “big feelings” and it was so helpful for me to see that his outbursts, which would have ordinarily been punished in a typical parenting model, were the result of him trying to learn a new skill: to process big emotions and channel them appropriately. So rather than giving him consequences, we provided a “calm down” space for him to go to process his big feelings of disappointment, sadness, or anger. And sure enough, the episodes became less frequent as he learned to ride the waves of emotions.
I mean, let’s be real, I don’t always handle my emotions very well, and I’ve been alive for thirty-two years. How can I expect my two-year-old to already possess this important life skill?
So, anyway, I’m back to this book again to learn what I canand hopefully become a better parent.
[Side note: it is easy to wish for better kids, but I think often the problem is that I need to be a better parent.]
After reading just the intro and first chapter, I’m already remembering a lot of the advice I had forgotten and I realized that I’ve [once again] been going about it all wrong.
What I WON’T do
So I will not be trying to control my kids’ behavior through punishments OR rewards [aka, threatening or bribing].
As I said in my last “Motherhood” post, my first reaction to a behavioral issue is to threatening with a consequence [“if you hit your brother, you will have a time out”] or bribe with a reward [“if you eat all of your dinner, you can have a treat”] in order to get them to behave. That’s how I was raised. That’s how I thought it was supposed to be done. Good behavior equals good things. Bad behavior equals bad things. But this type of parenting doesn’t teach my kids morality, it teaches them compliance out of fear. It doesn’t teach them to choose right from wrong, it teaches them to do what will be of the most benefit to themselves. And what I’m most afraid of is that it will cause them to hide things from me, suppress their feelings, and worst of all, lose their ability to think and behave autonomously.
I want my kids to CHOOSE to do the right thing because it’s the right thing and even more importantly because they believe it is the right thing – not because it’s what I tell them to do and certainly not because of the reward or consequence they may receive.
However, this does not mean that I am going to let my kids walk all over me or give them whatever they want. Absolutely not. [I’m just as afraid of sending selfish, lazy, or entitled children into the world as any parent.]
What I WILL Do
First, I will read this book on repeat until I can master this empathetic, loving, intuitive method of raising kids.
It is foreign to me because I was not raised this way and I have never witnessed parenting done this way. But after reading it last year, I started following the recommendations and saw a big difference not only in my kids, but in my own reactions to them. This book teaches how to empathize with your child’s feelings while still holding the limit and finding a solution together. Unfortunately, over time, I went back to old parenting habits.
Practice Makes Perfect
Honestly, I always knew I wouldn’t be a perfect parent, but I kind of assumed I could just do my best and “wing it” and that would be enough. But I am realizing now, five years into this, that parenting is like any other skill in life. It requires hard work and patience and humility. It requires practice.
So, after this very, very long ramble, I’ve gotten around to the point.
Parenting takes practice. So, I went to the library when I picked up Now Say This and got a whole stack of parenting books. And I am trying to make improving my parenting skills a priority going forward. Some of these things are so foreign to me or go against the habits I’ve spent the last five years creating that it will literally require focus and intention and apologizing and course-correcting for the rest of my parenting years to get it right.