Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Strength for My Friends

I have so many friends who are hurting.  Lost loved ones, sick children, struggles at work and at home can sometimes threaten to bring even the most hope-filled Mom into a dark place. 
So, I'm sending this out to Moms in need, and friends that I care about... to let them know they are not alone.  Tough times cannot last forever.
Peace to you, my friends.
~Midwest Mom

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Gardening: 15 Minutes to a Beautiful Garden

March is a great time for your Midwest garden. The problem is, most gardeners are all caution when it comes to Spring planting, telling you it's too early for your tomatoes.. (Of course it is, silly.)  But tomorrow is the first day of Spring!  So, even if it's only for 15 minutes a day, you can get out and get started.  (You know you want to.) 

The Lawn
Now is the time to reseed the yard, especially if you use a seed product that has crabgrass preventer.  The warm-ish days and plentiful moisture make it perfect for germinating grass, especially if you can manage to keep the kids -- and the dog -- out of the yard for a week or so.  (Rainy, chilly weather can make that easier than you think.  Perfect time for cooking lessons, if you ask me. Mmmm.... soup.)


The Vegetable Patch
There's a reason spring onions have that name.  These are mine.  Looks like a jumble of half-green mess, doesn't it?  Give them a month, and they'll look (and taste!) far different.  Some crops, like Spinach and peas, actually germinate best in cold soil.  So, the freeze/thaw cycle that works its magic on local sugar Maples can be a great sign that the time is nearing to plant.  I usually wait until the tail end of the Maple sugaring season, then get my Spinach and peas in the ground.

The Herb Garden
Love to cook?  Tend to your herbs, especially the ones you planted close to the house or in that magical microclimate close to your furnace vent.  At our place, our parsley and oregano are already showing fresh shoots.  (And yes, I've cooked with them in the past week!)  Cut back woody perennials like sage and rosemary, being sure to save/dry/use what you trim back.

The Flower Beds
Even if you didn't plant bulbs last fall (See, Mom?  My daffodils and tulips really are already out of the ground!) you can plant some bulbs now.  Glads and Asiatic Lilies planted now will provide you with tall, beautiful blooms in June.  Pansies in pots that you can handily pull closer to the house on cold nights can give your front porch early color.  After a long winter, isn't that what every gardener needs?

Whatever little ways you can edge your way out into the garden will help you celebrate the start of Spring.  Because what's better for the soul than nurturing brand new life?  And these tiny jobs -- like planting your peas! -- are perfect for getting your kids into the garden, a little at a time.

Keep in mind that the lovely brown, leafy, grassy mulch you put on your beds last year is a cozy blanket for everything growing.  If you tend your plants, be sure to tuck them in when you're done.  By the time those daffodils bloom, though, you'll be safe to open the garden, with just a turned-over bucket or floating plastic row cover to keep late frost away.

So get out there!  It's the perfect time for a little sunshine.  Soothes the soul.

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reshaping Negativity: Teaching Kids to Think Positive

"Today was awful."  "I got teased on the bus."  "That teacher hates me." "Those girls are mean."

Every mom hears this litany from time to time.  For me, it happens when the kids walk in the door from school or during my first few minutes in the door.  I have three of them (amazing, hilarious, talented... and talkative!), and my husband and I work hard to make our home a place where they can feel safe and listened to -- especially when the world outside feels unfriendly. 
But hearing everything bad that happened in a day, from a broken shoelace to a broken friendship, all at once, right as you walk in the door can feel overwhelming... leading AnyMom or AnyDad to ask themselves silently, "They were so cute as babies... So quiet.  Why, exactly, did we teach them to speak?"  (Oh, stop your judging... you don't say it out loud, but you know it's true.)
Seriously, though, the question then becomes: how to turn the barrage of negative talk in a positive direction? Do I have to be the kung fu master of child development?  Do I arm myself with a teflon super shield that sheds negative energy? Do I take it all in?  Do I ignore?  (Do I lock myself in the bathroom for ten minutes of peace?)

The answer -- for me, at least -- is... a little bit of each.  Yes.  Including the bathroom.  (I call it my 'home office', as in "I have an important meeting.  If you need me, I'll be at my home office.") 

Here are a few strategies that may work: (Throw them at the wall and see what sticks.)

Divide and Conquer: Learn a lesson from the old West: one animal is easier to handle than an entire herd.  Give each child a little one-on-one time that they can count on, maybe associated with a ritual activity like doing homework, driving to an activity, setting the table or getting ready for bed.  Use that as the time to share the day's stresses.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed, each parent can really listen.  Reliable alone time can help your child feel valued and give you both the space you need to talk about issues that matter.

Start Happy: Set a family goal to start with something new or amazing or cool when we talk about what our day was like.  I redirect the wave of troubled talk often with these phrases, "Tell me something happy from your day." and "What did you learn today?"  Do it often enough, and the kids know that they'll get as much (or more) attention by sharing something positive.  (The habit of thinking positive first is a great one for moms and dads, too.)

Step Back, Be Brave: Sometimes, the result of having an open, listening household is that there can be challenges to our own way of doing things. (The complaint isn't always about the kids on the bus.)  Being open enough to hear without dismissing, deflecting or defending takes parental bravery.  (I'll admit, this is something I have to work on.  It's tough, especially now that my oldest is a 'tween'.)  And one way to handle difficult conversations or feedback constructively can be to reframe a contentious issue in general enough terms to make it less personal.  Asking open ended questions is a great means to do that. A useful book that teaches this skill (the hubs and I read it often) is Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman.  I'd highly recommend it to any mom or dad.

Be Thankful: Every so often, we take time at a shared meal or in the car or at prayer time to say something we're thankful for.  Often, it can be an affirming time in our family. I hear my kids say how thankful they are for a small kindness one did for another, and we can openly express how glad we are for our time together.  Every time we talk about being grateful, we are focusing on a small happiness in our life.  And that focus helps us weather the not-so-good moments a little more resiliently.


In the end, a little positivity helps our whole family -- especially when life happens, unexpectedly. 

What works for yours?

- Midwest Mom

Monday, July 16, 2012

Who says I'm done growing?

My kids are always asking to measure themselves on our measuring wall.  Even if I just made a new pencil mark last week... they want to see if they're growing as fast as they think they are.  Often times they react with disbelief if they haven't shot up an inch in the past seven days.  But then they look at me (with pity) and say, "That's right.  You don't grow either."

Well, what they don't know won't hurt them, I guess...

In the past year I've grown more than my kids could ever imagined. I've transitioned from a stay at home mom to a part-time working mom to a full-time working mom, and what a transition!  My years as a full-time at home parent were so valuable -- but they couldn't have prepared me for the confidence I feel, the sense of growth in this new part of  my life. 

But with growth sometimes come growing pains.

At first, when I started working full time, I had a lot of guilt about not being 'there' for my kids.  And by not being there, I mean having a babysitter for my kids during the two hours of the day they weren't in school.  Trust me -- those two hours had me missing my crew like crazy.  The toughest part, though, was not being sure whether I could trust the care they were receiving, because let me tell you, the 'day care' experience was rough.  My kids encountered all the things I didn't want for them.

That's why I'd stayed at home for so long.  No one could care for my kids, could understand them like I could.  At the worst times, the (horrible) babysitter would refer to my children as "my kids".  I would correct her; No.  They're MY kids.

It was tough.  I had a friend who asked me over a casual lunch one day how I could live with myself, abandoning my kids.  Mom-judgment.  From someone I trusted.

Then there was the re-adjustment to professional life.  The learning that only comes from experience; learning that business is business and openness and friendship aren't always returned.  I'll admit, the ups and downs of the office involved a learning curve that was wholly unique.

But there have been bright spots.  I have become friends with people I never would have known otherwise.  I have learned to stretch myself, challenge myself, to be willing to take on more than I can handle comfortably, to try new things and build new skills.  I am working with people I respect, and who show me respect in return.

As I've helped my kids (and defended them) through the struggles of this year of transition, I have seen them become tougher, more resilient, more self-reliant and more cohesive as brothers and sisters.  Family has come to mean something -- a uniquely safe place that the pressures 'out there' can't touch.

My daughter has come to understand that her mom is strong.  Not just loving or understanding or fun.  And that even when I'm exhausted or stressed, I'm never too overwhelmed to love her more than anything else in my life.  I have seen her develop a strength of her own, and it amazes me.

Personally, I have found that my return to the workforce has given me something that motherhood alone was hard-pressed to provide.  Confidence. An intellectual challenge. An identity of my own. 

Maybe it's just a new life stage.  But it's one I like and love. 

So the next time one of my kiddos decides to sidle up to the measuring wall, maybe I'll consider taking a turn.  Who knows what I might find?

- Midwest Mom

Monday, August 9, 2010

Busy Busy Busy

What an August it has been -- full of new beginnings for all of us. As a few of my bloggy friends know, I've started teaching preschool and have a roomful of three-year-olds to call my own.

I have to admit, I love it so far. It feels like work I was meant to be doing.

As for my own three... back to school has been and always will be complicated. They're happy to see old friends, but not thrilled about homework. They're anxious about who will be in their class or what their teachers will be like. They're excited for new supplies and clothes and hope everyone notices how much taller they are now that a summer has gone by.

They haven't been disappointed.

Now, we're getting ready to enter into the busy season for after school activities. Soccer starts in a week or two. Dance class for my youngest will begin again. And my second grader will begin preparing for his First Communion.

These are busy times for our little clan. I hope the time doesn't slip by too quickly.

- Midwest Mom