Cheers to 30

It's been some time since I've been here. I took a full-time job. Life became rushed. Ella became a toddler. My marriage grew thin. And, my heart questioned my goals. 

I just turned 30 this week. And, it wasn't scary or sad. I'm in a great place. A great life. Good friends. Wonderful family. Beautiful house. And, two amazing kids. The part that has me choked up is if I've really found my place in this world. I'm literally struggling with my identity. Not as a mom, wife, friend or daughter. But, as a person. 

My job is rewarding. I help spread the good word about a great non-profit serving kids. Telling stories. Gaining awareness. And, filling all the space in communications. It's demanding. There's a lot of work towards growth. t's a different side than my life before. It's more purposeful. But, with that comes less moments of cookie baking. Picking wildflowers. Visiting the local nature center. Less cuddles. Less kisses. Less smiles. Missed moments. 

Quality over quantity.

I repeat it daily. Hourly almost. My kids are growing at rapid speed. School has improved each of their independence. Enhanced their skills. Prepared them for life. A life without me at their side every hour. Every day. 

It's tough. Mainly on my heart.

I can't look at the swing set out back. It's filled with my days at home. Ella steadily rocking in the swing. A tiny smile glowing with contentment. Jack giggling down the slide head first. Hands and knees caked in dirt.

On the flip side, the new career has helped us finish our basement. Or, as Justin calls it, our adult bar surrounded by Chuckie Cheese. The toys have found a place to call home. And, when we don't pick it all up, I can't see it when I'm decompressing after bedtime. It's bliss. The new life also includes more spare change for family vacations and day trips to places. Without dipping into savings. 

I just keep teeter-tottering with my decision to work. I'm teaching my children a healthy lesson about life and purpose. But, I didn't make a summer bucket list this year. I'm finally contributing a substantial amount to our family bank. But, we haven't even taking our yearly camping trip. 

Ella has grown into an independent little girl, who knows how to put her older brother in place. And, has no problem telling you how she feels. If you tell her to sit down, she will. She's a Daddy's girl who yells at me to "go! Go Momma!" when she's ready for bed. Joins me to apply make up every morning. Rocks her babies more gently then I ever could. And, offers shushes and hugs when someone's in tears. Our little sweet and sour patch kid.

Jack is wise beyond his years. He's intuitive. Always right. A Momma's boy who's tough enough to handle four bee stings. Bates his own hook. Creates his own stage. Craves new experiences. Remembers everything, but looses all his favorite toys. And, is fascinated by the world turning. Our insightful little man.

I miss them all the time. But, am thankful we can take the train to the aquarium. Spend a long weekend in Traverse City. And, plan a trip to California. 

Cheers to 30. May I breathe in extra hard when those moments happen. And, feel proud to play a part of something extraordinary.


Songs for Michigan Kids

We're proud Michiganders. Even in the bitter of February after months of freezing ice and snow. It's hard not to be when the kids wake up to a surprise snowfall blanketing the back woods. Eyes sparkling. Smiles laughing. The fresh snow silence is unheard anywhere else. And, nothing's as cozy as a warm fire and soft blanket with winter's freeze at the window. Many of us start grumping this time of year. Cabin fever mixed with icy winds. But, not for my kids. Sledding and snow angels never get old. And, it's sure contagious.

I recently reviewed Kathryn Christian's "I'm a Michigan Kid" CD, boasting "fun and inspiring music for the whole family featuring songs of beautiful Michigan."  It even features a Great Lakes song. Jack was attempting the words at first listen. Ella screeched in furry when the songs ended. My opinion? Better then the Wiggles. And, it's easing Jack's curiosity about our home-state. He's no long from Florida. Or begging to go to California.

Christian, her husband and two daughters live in northern Michigan near Grand Traverse Bay. She mainly writes for prayer, meditation and healing, but also sings for children of all ages. For more on Christian, click here. Or follow her on Facebook here.

To listen to the Michigan Kid CD lineup or to purchase your own (iTunes available), click here

For now, here's my littles enjoying the CD.

Ella dancing by the stereo system.

Jack's "I'm a little shy but trying to learn the words" face


Discipline: Laying Down the Law

In two years of daycare, Jack's been in time out twice. Twice. I sometimes question if we're dealing with the same three-year-old. The one that whines for hours because he wants two gummy worms, not one. Who pushes his 14-month-old sister around five thousand times a day. Argues that he's not arguing. Claims he's being careful after hitting the wall twice with a hockey stick. And, expects a treat because he got out of the bath and dressed without fighting. 

He's a challenge. That's for sure. And, we've recently reached the rope's end with a few upper-cuts to the face. One for each of us. So, I dug into discipline research. Determined to get answers we haven't heard. The discipline secrets that actually work. The ones that don't just tell you to stay calm. That actually streamline our techniques. And, are simplified enough for us to absorb. Stick to. And, hopefully, get results. 

Step One: Sync Up

Research shows that parents with drastically different child-raising styles are more likely to have behavioral problems. The trick is to avoid power struggles with your partner.  Sit down and draft the basics

Always settle discipline disputes away from little ears. Vow not to badmouth the other's technique in front of the kiddos. Compromise. But always confront the kids as a unified front. "You need a 'yes' from both parents."

Most importantly, keep encouraging each other. After all, we're fighting the same war. 
For more on getting in sync with your partner, click here.

Step Two: Set the Stage

Focus on two to three challenges at a time. Ours: whining, aggression, not listening. Explain the rules before the breakdown. "We set the rules and you're expected to listen or accept the consequence." 

Also add a few responsibilities, aka chores and rules. Always take your plate to the sink when your finished. Make your bed. Leave your shoes by the door. Babies can participate too. Ella claps for more food, helps pick up toys and hands over dirty dishes when done.

Step Three: Know the Punishment

This typically means time out. We've tried to let Jack tantrum in place. Take things away. Leave the scene. Nothing works better. Just prolongs the freak out. Time outs can begin as early as 18 - 24 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Keep in mind that, time outs should only be used for extreme behaviors, like the three "challenges" outlined in Step Two. We also take things away for less-horrific outbursts.

Here's some general guidelines for time outs:

Pick the space. Make the time out spot a boring place with no distractions, maybe a hall or corner. Don't use a crib or bed, that's for sleeping and never lock a child in a room.

Determine your warning strategy. We're a one-warning-your-done family, but the three-strikes-your-out policy has great results, says Nanny 911.

Simplify the jargon. State what you're doing and why. "You hit your sister after I warned you. That's not nice." Lecturing only looses the impact and understanding.

Quite and still vs. minute-per-year. The AAP suggests that time out should mean "quiet and still" until the youngster has a grasp on calming, usually around three years. Then, it's one minute in time out for each year of age. Use a timer in plain view. And, no getting up. If they move, place them back without talking and reset the timer (if used).

Discuss the behavior with them afterwards. Clear the air. Encourage their input, ask what happened and listen.

After the time out, there needs to be a time in. Don't dwell on the negative, he's served his time. Give some hugs and attention for something else.

Step Four: Stay Consistent

I know, I know. Consistency is key. But, here's the situation: After a six-hour night of broken sleep, 10-hour work day, messy dinner and overly-playful kids, my energy is extinct. Jack's still bossing his little sister after my third warning. So. Unbelievably. Tired.

So, my vow starting today is to never overlook misbehaviors because I don't want to deal with the never-ending punishment battle. It's time to nip the bud. Every single time. Don't give in. And, don't reward. According to experts, it usually takes three weeks to correct a misbehavior. One warning, then it's consequence time. Over. And over. And over. At least there's an end in sight.

Our new motto: Calm and consistent. The hubs and I are both half-German, blended with Italian. Not so good with calm. Especially when I'm an hour late for work, still have to drop the kids at daycare, drive 45 minutes and I'm exhaling my thousandth warning to finish eating breakfast to Jack, who's doing everything but. And I'm everything but calm. At this point, that's when the other parent has permission to step in. One's about to blow. So the other defuses the situation. And keeps the calm in consistent. 

Expect resistance. This is where we fall apart. Jack will challenge us no matter how many times he's been in time out for the same thing. See our issues with calming above. Also our reasons for the inability to accept resistance.

Kick the "accidental" inconsistency. Being preoccupied (Justin) or too busy (me) to enforce a rule only sends the "it's not important" message. Meaning Jack will ignore it too. 

Reward the good. And be specific. "I'm proud of you for sharing your toys" instead of "great job!" has more of an impact, experts say.

Step Five: When It's Not Working

No one ever tells you what to do if it's not working. If time outs aren't working, revisit your plan and make adjustments. Some preschoolers find it hard to sit still for a few seconds, let alone a few minutes. Maybe the kid needs three warnings instead of one. 

If you've done it all and nothing curves the issue, consider a behavior chart. Make a chart with a box for each day of the week. Decide how many times he/she can misbehave before being punished. Or, how long the proper behavior must happen before it's rewarded. Post the chart on the fridge. Every day, track the good and bad. Once it starts to work, reward for learning to control the misbehavior. 

Jack usually springs up instantly after being placed in time out. I sit him back down. He's up. I place him down. He's back up. Instead of playing Jack-in-the-Box, literally, if he instantly gets up a third time, we sit down and I hold him for the duration of time out. No talking until he's "quiet and still."

Never use your child's room as a time out space. We're super guilty here. Mainly because we just don't want to hear the continuos freak out. His bedroom should be a sanctuary, not a prison. We've since moved the "spot" somewhere more manageable.

He just won't stop crying and whining. Trying to console your child while in time out only  introduces a new power struggle and diminishes the point you're trying to make. Try to issue the time out before the point of no return.

He's not just crying, he's full-blown freaking. A tantruming preschooler has lost full control and only he/she can regain it. So we know. Forcing him to sit still just makes it worse. So, the best expert advise is to let him work it out, hard as it is, and not get swept under the craziness. 

For more on what to do when time out's don't work, click here.
For a discipline tool kit based on every age group, click here.


One Thing We Can't Live Without. Well, Two Things.

Almost a year ago I asked mommy friends, readers and followers a question: "What's the one thing you can't live without as a parent?"  My plan was to take a personal survey.  Compare trends.  Post responses. And compare secrets. Maybe help us all uncover a new trick to help manage the madness. 

As answers poured in, I realized not one response was the same. All were completely unique.  So, I decided to sit on the survey.  Wait until everyone forgot their answers. Now, it's time to see if they've changed!

Back then, my response was my kids' beloved Little Giraffe blankets.  They wipe tears. Calm meltdowns. Stop hurting boo boo's. Are perfect size for peek-a-boo. Ensure my uninterrupted sleep. And, provide the comfort when my kisses just aren't enough.

Below are the initial mommy responses. Tell me, has your's changed?  How so?  If you weren't involved in the first survey, share your single-most precious item in the comments!

"The one thing as a mom that I could not live without with my children was LUVS diapers. They never leaked and never caused rashes. My children have eczema and if I tried any other diaper, instant rashes and leaks.  I hated that they didn't have pull ups as they got to that stage, but we survived and it was well worth it!"
- Full time working mom of three (ages 9, 8 and 5)

"As a new mom to a three-week-old, I would be lost with the itzbeen timer (www.itzbeen.com). I can hardly remember to check my phone for missed calls, let alone when I fed or changed her last.  One less thing to worry about and gives me a ballpark for where we are time wise."
- First time mom

"I couldn't of made it without a breast pump. I worked full-time when both kids were infants and when one developed thrush at seven weeks, pumping allowed me to do what needed to be done."
- Single mom of 12-year-old and two-year old

"I couldn't live without Target brand diapers! They work great, save tons of money and gives me a reason to HAVE to go to Target!"
- Working mom of two girls (ages one and two)

"I fought and fought getting the dreaded mini-van, as I never wanted it and had tried every medium-sized SUV, but they couldn't compare. Of course, I got the van and made sure it was decked out with all the bells and whistles! I don't think I could ever go without my van. Soccer, friends, vacations."
- SAHM of three (ages 6, 4, 2) and a Lab

"Since I have a child with eczema, I couldn't live without Aquaphor. I actually buy the Target brand equivalent to save some money, but it is amazing in helping keep the breakouts under control!"
- Mom of two

"I cannot live without my son's Jump-A-Roo that distracts him while I work. He loves jumping in it while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse!"
- Work-from-Home mom of a seven-month old boy

"I couldn't have lived without the video monitor. Although Easton's room is right next to ours, the video monitor allowed me to check on him without actually going in the room. This was great for before and after naps, and first thin in the mornings when Easton is awake in his crib playing, talking, etc, but not yet fussing. It also provides a little comedy when we watch him throwing all his toys and blankets out of the crib, and jumping up and down on the bed.  Lastly, it allows me the flexibility of going outside."
- Working mom of a one-year-old boy

"The one thing I could not live without would be the Fisher Price Rock 'N Play Sleeper. It has been a life saver with the second baby. She sleeps in it at night and is content to lay in it during the day while I help my crazy two-year-old! Plus, it's high enough off the ground to keep an over-loving brother off her face!"
- Working mom of a two-year-old boy and three-month-old girl

"If I had to choose I would say a supportive partner is at the top of my list! Number two, I think, is my rocking chair. Funny that 'rocking chair' and 'Kris' are neck-to-neck for the number one spot on my 'must haves' list, but if Kris up and left, I think the cruddy uncomfortable Target chair that has put in more miles than a pair of spanks could probably help me make it through.  Not really, but I have spent more hours nursing and nurturing my sweet little man on it over the last two years I can't imagine living without it!"
- Mom of a two-year-old boy

"Now that my food-allergic baby is getting big, I can't live without Earth's Best and Naturally Preferred organic baby food.  No soy in any of their products, including cereal (which is very hard to find!). Also, Kroger brand diapers Little Comfies are great for sensitive skin and sooo much cheaper than other kinds."
- My sister-in-law and mom of a 13-month-old (then)

"With a third little lady, our days are filled with playing, walking while holding the sweet little girl and me trying to desperately keep up with dishes/laundry/toys/food prep. I have a SAH husband, so I'm pretty sure it would take an act of God to get it all done without him! Plus, having some kind of snack/treat/distraction on board at every turn can really help perk up the older girls (3.5 years and 19 months) when I can't be available to everyone's needs at the exact moment." 
- Working mom of three girls

"I cannot live without my iPad. Obviously for many reasons, but the most improtant is my calendar.  It's so difficult to keep everyone on task, whether it is school projects, daycare days or doctors' appointments. I have been using the app 'Cozi' and it is amazing."
- Working mom of two boys (ages six and eight)

"With two kids (a baby and a preschooler), I could not live without my baby carrier.  It frees up my hands to help my older child, but still lets me keep the little guy close and happy!"
- Working mom of two (ages 2 months and 3 years)

"I can't live without my iPhone! Not only can I keep track of my grocery list, but also keep the kids entertained with games, music or inter-active learning games while in the car or at the store."
- Working mom of three


Keeping the Christmas Tree

By now, the Christmas lights are off. Trees once covered in sparkles now cover the curbs (or, like ours, the bonfire pit). No more silly tricks by mischievous elves. I meant to get this post up before the holidays. Mainly to catch your inspiration before the tree hit the ground. But, the week before Christmas filled up quickly with colds, Ella's impulsive tubes surgery, cleaning, decorating, baking and tidying up my actual job. Then, wham. Christmas Eve. 

So, hopefully it's not to late for you to save a slice of this Christmas. 

Last year, I read a blog about how one family keeps a part of every tree and we've since incorporated it into our Christmas tradition. Before we toss the tree in the backyard bonfire pit for spring burning, Justin cuts a piece of the bottom. I write all the family members names and the year on it. And then, Justin applies a clear coat. 

The pieces create a uniquely personalized Christmas keepsake. A fun little decoration. Ours accompanies collected pinecones in a glass vase on the kitchen table. My plan is to cut a piece until the kids are 18. Will be fun to see how our family dynamics and tree size have changed.

Happy late Holidays!

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