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A mom recently made a list of 44 things she wanted her kids to learn before they hit adulthood, which is something we should all think about as we’re raising our own future adults. I know for me, there are certainly some major values and skills I want for their lives. So without further ado, here are 15 things I hope to instill in my kids before they hit their adult years.

P.S. Have any you want to share from your own list? Leave it in the comments!

1. Honesty is always the best policy. Best way to not be caught up in a lie is to not do anything worth lying about. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to fib your way out, DON’T. It might make things uncomfortable in the moment, but trust me, you’ll be better for it in the long run.

2. The first step to something great will likely feel insignificant. This goes for anything – learning a new skill, saving money, beginning a new project… But it especially goes for getting a new job. You cannot expect to enter the workforce and be given an impressive job title and high salary right off the bat. The reality is you will probably be paid far less than you want to be paid for a job that only hints at your interests – if you’re lucky to get that close to your dream job. Do it anyway. Even the most successful chefs started out washing dishes in the back. With experience comes knowledge, and that will help you not only learn more about where you want to be in life, but will help others easily recognize your potential. Which brings me to #3….

3. Take pride in your work. I don’t care if it’s sweeping the floor, working a minimum wage job, or climbing the corporate ladder – always put your best effort into what you are doing. After all, if you can’t handle the smallest of tasks with finesse, what makes you think you can handle the bigger ones?

4. Handle your money like an adult, not a kid. Keep your checkbook balanced. Do not rely on credit to get the things you want. Save for expected expenses, and unexpected ones, too. Never pay a bill past its due date. Avoid borrowing money like the plague (but if you must borrow, always pay it back). Live only as large as a portion of your paycheck – not the whole thing, and definitely not more than you make. And regularly give to charity.

5. Learn to cook one meal really, really well. By all means, learn to cook in general. But find that one dish that will impress. There will come a day when you will need to pull that ace out of your sleeve (cooking for your significant other’s parents, inviting the boss over for dinner, contributing to a dinner party…). Wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared beforehand?

6. Do your best to only speak about your spouse in kindness. Not only will badmouthing your spouse kill your marriage, it will also kill your friendships. Trust me, there is nothing funny about being stuck in a room with someone who can only say snarky things about their husband or wife, even in jest. It’s just uncomfortable and terrible, and no way to treat a person you love.

7. Never stop learning. Read lots of books, take a class, learn a new language, study a culture or religion, challenge yourself to a new word a day, pay attention to the news of your community/state/country/world…. Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” This is truth. Live by it.

8. Figure out your passion. And once you do, don’t let life get in your way of pursuing that passion. If you love singing, then join a choir or band. If you’re a writer, join a writing group. If you’re an artist, take classes. If you love to build things, go fishing, play golf, then do it!

9. Make time for fun. Once we get into adulthood, sometimes this part is forgotten. There’s a job to go to, a house to clean, bills to pay, errands to run, committees we signed up for, a family to care for, life to contend with… All of those things are important. But so are you. Schedule in a portion of your week when you can enjoy the things you like to do so you can be a better worker, friend, mom or dad, etc.

10. Treat everyone as you wish to be treated. We all want love, kindness, equality, generosity, honesty, dependability, and more wonderful traits from the people around us. Be this to the world, and the world will be this to you.

But on the same token…

11. Do not give anyone permission to walk all over you. You are your best advocate. Stand up for what you believe is right.

12. Abuse is never okay. Be it hitting, using derogatory names, or making dangerous threats, these are not the actions of someone in love. These are actions of someone who wishes to control their partner. If you are tempted to take these actions against someone else, get help immediately. If someone is mistreating you, get out of the relationship. Don’t walk, RUN. Because if you stay, you are giving that person permission to treat you in a way no one should be treated. You cannot change them. It is not your job to change them. But it is your job to look out for your own safety, because no one is going to do it for you.

13. Appearances DO matter. Sure, we say beauty lies on the inside. But can a potential employer really see the inner beauty of the person they are interviewing? First impressions can never be taken back, regardless of the situation. So always leave the house wearing clean clothes. Keep your hair and teeth brushed. Shower regularly. And seriously think about where you place artistic expressions on your body.

14. Don’t forget me when you leave the nest. I want you to be independent and make it on your own. That is my biggest goal for you when you leave this house to create a home of your own. But call me once in awhile, okay? Let me know how you’re doing. Keep me in the loop about what’s important to you, what you’re struggling with, who your friends are, what’s going on in your life. I’m your mom, and I always will be. And you’re one of my favorite people in the whole world. Keep in touch.

15. Love your sister/brother. He/she shares your history. He/she is your closest link to our family. Be there for each other, celebrate each other’s families, cheer each other on. Don’t ever take your sibling for granted. When I leave this world, nothing will make me happier than knowing you have each other to lean on.

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Yesterday, my son decided that a good use of his downtime was to take a knife and stab a perfectly good cantaloupe repeatedly. I found it on our counter in the morning. As a result, the Taz got woken up by the wrath of his mom, and all his electronics taken away to show him what bored really feels like.

When I came home, I found a few new gifts and this note:

“Dear Mom. I’m sorry for cutting the canalope. To prove it I’m giving you my best lanyard and I bought a new canalope. Please forgive me! 🙂 ”

I mean, how can I even stay mad?

He is either really, really cute for doing this, or one hell of a manipulator. Either way, I fell hook, line, and sinker.

Want more stories like this? Download “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows” – our Wine Country Mom stories about the hijinks of Taz, the drama of DQ, and tales of our single-parent family life.

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The Taz and me at his 6th grade promotion

The Taz and me at his 6th grade promotion

In the last few weeks of the school year, our whole family catches summer fever, eager for the day when the last school bell rings and we can enjoy the lazy days of June, July and August. That last day of school is cause for celebration, and we revel in it the whole weekend long.

And then Monday morning hits, and so does reality — because now there’s nothing to do.

Sure, there are camps and vacations to take in between the last day of one grade and the first day of the next. But camps and vacations cost money, and sometimes it’s not possible to load the kids up with paid-for activities to ward off the “I’m bored” blues. So to keep you from going crazy or broke this summer, I’ve put together a list of cheap activities your family can enjoy until school gets back in session.

Go on a backyard camping trip. Spend the day putting together all the things you’d need to go on a camping trip, then set up the tent in the backyard. Bring out the lanterns and sleeping bags, and don’t forget the s’mores! Then spend the evening telling stories underneath a starry sky before turning in for the night.

Pack a picnic. Fill a basket with numerous small bites, from crackers and cheese to grapes and apple cider. Let the kids help choose which kinds of foods would be best to pack up. Then take them on a hike in the hills, to a grassy knoll at the park, or to the beach to enjoy a delicious afternoon of play.

Our new garden of succulents!

Plant a garden. Get the kids interested in spending time outdoors by giving them a small piece of the yard that’s just for them. Help them to plant seeds or seedlings, decorate it with colorful stones and small markers, and encourage them to tend to it daily by watering and keeping it free from weeds.

Stage your own play. Keep the brains of your vacationing kids working by having them think up and then perform a play for family and friends. Dive into the costume box or the back of your closet for imaginative disguises to help them get into character. Encourage them to create programs with the names of the actors and titles of each scene. Then serve popcorn and juice boxes for the neighborhood as they enjoy the performance.

Hunt for buried treasure. Go to the Dollar Store to find small trinkets to serve as pirate’s booty. Have the kids stay in the house and hide their eyes while you bury the booty in the backyard. Then let them loose to discover where X marks the spot on the map you’ve carefully drawn. Not keen on the kids digging up your backyard? No problem. Take them to the beach and let them hunt for their treasure in the sand.

Go thrifting. Speaking of buried treasure … This is a fun way to search out eclectic items you just won’t find in a regular retail store. If your kids are the kind who love combing stores for various trinkets (my son is NOT), then they’ll love digging through other people’s tossed aside items to find their diamond in the rough.

Make a puzzle. If you’re anything like me, you have boxes of photos you despair of ever getting organized. Don’t let them go to waste! Get some Mod Podge and help the kids glue the photos to a piece of cardboard. Then carefully cut the mounted photos into puzzle-piece shapes for them so the kids can put them back together. These would also make cute gifts the kids can make for Grandma and Grandpa.

Throw a spontaneous dance party. Put on your favorite dance jams, turn the music way up, and then spend the afternoon bouncing around the living room with the kids. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a terrible dancer. In our house, we actually have contests to see who can dance the worst. I think I win every time.

My stepson’s first several cranes

Learn origami. My teenage stepson has challenged himself to fold 1,000 paper cranes by the end of 2013. The result is a room filled with cranes of various colors and sizes. Teach your child the art of paper folding, and watch as they spend the afternoon creating all sorts of tiny masterpieces.

Teach them to bake. Forget the diet for one afternoon and spend it making cupcakes! Or dig into the recipe books and bake bread from scratch. There’s an art to baking that should be passed down to our kids, and what better time to teach them than the dog days of summer? Of course, it’s best to bake in the morning before the day heats up too much.

What do you like to do in the summertime with your kids?

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This post will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, Feb. 22.

I hate school projects. There. I’ve said it. I’ve often felt like it was more homework for the parents than it is for the kids. Yes, I understand that school projects are meant to be for the kids. But please tell that to the students who bring in the projects they worked on all by themselves only to be shown up by the child whose architect father built an exact replica of the Golden Gate Bridge out of toothpicks.

True story.

At any rate, I am not a parent who does my child’s project for them. But I do have to sit and hold my child’s hand from start to finish on these projects just to get them done, feeding him ideas because he just can’t come up with them on his own. I suppose these projects are meant to help kids learn in a more fun way. However, forcing a child to sit for hours during the weekend as I suffer through glue gun burns while talking him off the ledge is anything but fun.

Recently my son, Taz, brought home a packet of papers detailing the upcoming science fair. He had a choice to either do homework during this time or create an elaborate project. Of course, he chose the project because it’s “more fun” than homework. In the meantime, I suffered flashbacks of every project we’d done in his 12 years of life.

One year, Taz had to create a report on different leaves he found. He was to collect about twenty leaves, dry them, and then tell a story about where he found them. Sounds like a sweet project, doesn’t it? Wrong. Between his tears and whining and my threats that he’d never see the light of day again until this project was done, I don’t think either one of us wanted to see a leaf ever again. Even now I shudder a little when autumn comes around.

In 4th grade, Taz was given the infamous Mission project. For kids with parents who know how to build, this must have been a blast. For me, it was a really bad joke. The book he brought home from the library with the instructions on how to build a California Mission from scratch was totally wrong in all the measurements. I had to stretch my brain to capacity to figure out what the measurements were supposed to be so that the building would actually stay intact. Then I used way too much hot glue, both on my fingers and on the house, because I just couldn’t trust him with the tool.

mission

This year, my son was given a month of lead-time before the project was due. Taz had chosen an experiment that compared the growth of sugar and salt crystals, which he assured me was very quick and promised we had plenty of time to finish it. Since he is now in sixth grade, I took him at his word.

A week passed by, and then another. The science fair project was pushed to the back of my mind as it slipped off my radar. But when I received the teacher’s reminder that the project was due in five days, I began to hyperventilate. She happily noted that we were probably already done with the experiment, and just needed to finish the poster over the weekend. But we hadn’t even started. Even worse, through research we learned that sugar and salt crystals take 7-10 days to properly grow.

We were so in trouble.

Actually, the Taz was the one who was in trouble. But as his parent, I couldn’t help feeling responsible that I hadn’t pushed harder for him to get this done much sooner. I dragged him to the store to gather up all the materials he needed to finish the project and make a beautiful poster to go with it. Then the two of us went to work setting up jars of water, one with salt and one with sugar, and a stick for them to grow on in each.

The first day, the salt one began to crystallize on the stick while the sugar one did nothing. The second day, the salt one grew a tiny bit more. The sugar one did nothing. The third day, the salt one was still slowly growing while the sugar one was asleep at the wheel.

The science fair was two days away and the experiment had failed. There wasn’t enough time to start over. We were forced to make a choice – keep going and hope that something would happen in the nick of time, or scrap the whole experiment and do something completely different.

That was how we discovered which household item cleans pennies the best.

The completed poster

The completed poster

Have I mentioned how much I hate school projects?

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This article will be published in the Press Democrat on Friday, February 8.

A friend of mine had to teach a group of teenagers about how seeds travel so they can germinate. Her challenge: how to teach about the topic and also keep these technology driven kids interested for more than an hour.

As a crafts teacher for younger children, her natural talents were geared towards more artistic activities. So my friend utilized her skills and had the teens decorate “seeds,” or in this case, wine corks that would represent seeds. You should have seen how fast those teens grabbed at stickers, paint daubers and colorful pens to decorate their corks.

Then my friend took the teens to the local creek. The teens were instructed to throw their corks in the water and watch as they got closer and closer to the finish line/collection point my friend had put at the end of the race, where the corks could be retrieved. The teens got really into it, following their “seeds” as some corks flowed downstream easily while others got stuck behind rocks. In the process, all of the kids not only learned something new but were entertained beyond their smartphones, MP3 players and video games.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of creativity to “trick” youngsters into having fun away from their electronic toys.

One of the hardest parts of raising kids is knowing how to keep them entertained. It’s easy to let them sit in front of the TV for hours on end. But to get them up and moving, or to exercise their mind? Finding ideas to occupy them when they’ve run out of things to do can be a real challenge.

For Robert Correa of Novato, the answer to keeping kids occupied is as easy as giving them a list of things to do every time they say they’re bored.

“Housekeeping, lawn mowing, dog walking, baby-sitting, reading, dishwashing,” Correa listed off the top of his head. He suggested that older kids would find enjoyment in being taught how to cook, and any kid can fly a kite, paint a picture, ride their bike, or skate. He also noted that kids should call their grandparents when they find they have “nothing to do,” just to tell their grandma and grandpa they are loved. And, of course, there is nothing like throwing an impromptu dance party in the privacy of your own living room.
“Put on some of your old records or CDs and dance together or sing together,” Correa said.

Elizabeth Dalton of Santa Rosa has three boys, ages 6 and 4 years old, and 20 months, and knows all too well the importance of having something fun up her sleeve to keep her sons entertained. One activity she discovered is called geocaching, otherwise known as a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. But in Dalton’s case, she gives the activity a prehistoric theme.

“I bury dinosaur toys outside and have the kids dig them out,” she said.

Jessica Snowden of Santa Rosa has a different kind of treasure hunt she suggests for quick entertainment.

“Make a list of age appropriate items,” she suggested, like telling younger kids to find something tall or red, and older kids to find something horizontal or bigger than a foot. As they find each item, then can check them off their pre-made list. “I have done this treasure hunt in teams for birthday parties or sleepovers,” Snowden said. “I have also done it with cameras,” she added, noting that cellphones and handheld video game systems worked well for this activity, allowing kids to capture their treasure through a photo instead of collecting the actual item.

Lorna Brown, owner of My Gym Santa Rosa, is known for having fun things for younger kids to do. One game she plays with kids is to blow up balloons (not helium), and give one to each child.

“Give them indoor space to bop them around, encouraging them to keep them up in the air,” Brown instructed. “Let them know that if their balloon pops, then game over.” She suggested that when the kids need a break from so much play, they can stop and decorate their balloons with markers.

And every kid can benefit from an “I’m bored jar.” Take an afternoon to brainstorm 100 fun things to do. Add in things like making homemade playdough, taking a hike in the hills, building a fort in the living room, learning how to speak Pig Latin, writing an illustrated children’s book, trying to beat your own record of bouncing a ball on a tennis racket, blowing the biggest bubblegum bubble, or anything else you and the kids can think of. Every time the kids say, “I’m bored,” point them toward the jar and have them pick an activity at random.

Do you have any tricks to entertain your kids when they have nothing to do?

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Vintage WC Mom – 2010. An impromptu misty evening of play at the Montgomery High School football field when they left the lights on and we just so happened to have a football in the car.

This article appears in the Press Democrat on Friday, October 6, 2012.

Last month I wrote about the importance of dating your spouse. Hopefully this resulted in some kid-free, uninterrupted conversation, and perhaps even a few steamy moments…. If not, let this serve as a note of inspiration to book a sitter for a much needed night out with your other half.

This week, however, I want to talk to you about the importance of dating other people – your children. That’s right, those little crumb grinders that are constantly hanging around your ankles looking for something to do would love to have some one-on-one time with their favorite person in the whole world – YOU*.

*Note: Level of strength in the word “favorite” as it relates to you directly depends on their age and whether they are going through puberty or not.

There are many sensible reasons to spend solo time with your child. Making time for your child tells them they’re important, helping to boost their self esteem. It gives you a chance to get to know your child as they grow, and also allows the opportunity for them to talk about anything they’re hesitant to mention in front of other family members. Feelings of jealousy and sibling rivalry are lessened as they learn they don’t have to compete for your attention.

Dating your child is an important practice to make at every stage in their life, not just when they’re young. As they grow older and start exerting their independence, it’s especially vital to insist on time spent with them to remain a positive influence in their life. By the time your child is a teenager, you will be in direct competition with your child’s peers, the media, and the community you live in when it comes to instilling values in your child. Every time you lessen your involvement in your child’s life and fail to spend quality time with them, you are taking yourself out of the equation during important value building years. But when you make it a point to spend time with your child, you are ensuring your voice is heard among all the other voices your child hears when making life-changing decisions. Even when it seems you have to fight your child to hang out with you, insist on at least one specified amount of time a week when the two of you can spend quality time together. It gives them the message that you genuinely care, even if they won’t say this out loud.

Here are a few tips to take with you as you plan some one-on-one time with your son or daughter:

Turn off all distractions, and ask them to do the same. This especially includes your cell phone. Unless you have a job that requires you to be on-call for emergencies, ensure that your child doesn’t have to compete with anyone else to hold your full attention. By making this a hard and fast rule, you are also teaching your son or daughter proper etiquette when they are spending time with anyone – whether it be you or somebody else – that it is important for them to treat the person they are with as their priority and not the person that is texting them on their phone.

Let your child take the reins on what you two will do. All too often we are guilty of dictating family activities. Sometimes we even choose things we’re interested in, but are totally boring to our kids. For one-on-one time, give your child the power to choose what the two of you will do. If they have trouble thinking of something, offer them a few choices to pick from. A date night can be as elaborate as dinner to a nice restaurant, or as simple as playing catch in the yard. The important part is spending time together.

Keep the conversation flowing. Ask them to share the best parts about the latest videogame they’re obsessing about. Play the “What’s your favorite” game when you both get to list your favorite things, from places in the world to things to eat, and everything in between. Learn more about them by taking turns listing the five worst things about the week so far, and then end with the five best things that happened this week.

Listen effectively. Listening requires more than our ears, but our eyes and our brains as well. When your child is speaking, pay attention to their body language. Are their movements saying something deeper than their words? When it’s natural, paraphrase what they’re saying so it’s clear they are being heard. As it becomes clear they’re being heard, it will be easier for your child to cooperate in conversation with you, as well as modeling proper listening skills for them to give you in return.

What are some things you like to do with your kids? Leave some suggestions in the comments. 🙂

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The whole family went out to dinner last night, including my parents and uncle. The celebration behind the occasion was to get together before my dad went on a cross country excursion, and my kids left for another 10 days at their dad’s house. So we all met up at La Vera’s restaurant in Santa Rosa during the Wednesday night market.

Following the dinner, Taz and I went to the bathroom before he left, except he took a really long time to come back out. So we came up with the brilliant plan to disappear around the corner and hide from him as a joke.

Except there’s nothing funny about an 11-year old who comes out to an empty table and thinks that his whole family has abandoned him.

Vintage Taz (circa 2011)

At first we thought it was hilarious, and we stood silently giggling as his back was to us and he surveyed the area. But when he turned at us with a shocked look on his face, quickly replacing it with a wide smile when he saw our familiar faces, I could see the thoughts racing through his head. Behind that smile was a valiant effort to keep the tears at bay. And any humor I found in this was instantly replaced with feelings of shame. I had placed my son in a position of facing his biggest fear – of being forgotten. Beneath all his bravado, silliness, and attention seeking behavior is an effort to make himself noticed and remembered. And it’s possible that it’s all an act to ensure he won’t be overlooked. And here he was, shaken up by a mere 10 seconds when he felt the most alone at the expense of his family’s amusement.

Needless to say, I feel like a horrible mom.

The poor guy kept his smile plastered on his face, doing his best to not even let on the appearance of tears. But I wasn’t fooled. I’m not sure anyone else in the family besides me even knew just how hard he had taken it. I tried not to make a huge deal out of it so he wouldn’t feel embarrassed or start to really cry. But I couldn’t help but apologize profusely and then insist on holding his hand for most of the walk back to the car. I overcompensated by acting ultra silly until he was finally past the point of wanting to cry and no longer wanted to hold my hand.

Ok, practical jokes are normal in families, and our family is no exception. It’s a rare day when a sarcastic quip or humorous tease doesn’t occur. But that still hasn’t stopped me from reliving that moment, and then mentally bear hugging my still-so-young son in protection against his horrible family.

The kids leave today for their dad’s house, and this time I’m not ready. The first excursion I couldn’t kick them out fast enough. I just needed a break from being a mom, and welcomed the quiet a kid-free house would bring. During that time, I heard from my daughter several times about how she couldn’t get along with her dad, begging me to come home. And I even got a call from their dad who was at a loss about how to deal with a hormonal teenage girl. Naturally I wanted to fix it all. I encouraged my daughter to talk with her dad when they weren’t on speaking terms, and I gave my ex pointers on how to handle the emotions of a stubborn and delicate daughter. But I eventually took a step back and stopped absorbing their problems. It wasn’t mine, it was theirs. And it was up to them to make it better. By the time they came back, they had wordlessly patched things up, and they also had a new brother (their stepmom had her baby the day before they were to leave). I had thought they were going to fight me on going back, but both kids were enthusiastic about returning in 5 days time.

And here we are, 5 days later, and it’s time for them to leave again.

Vintage Wine Country Mom and kids (circa August 2010 in San Diego)

During the last few days I have felt the need to soak up as much time with the kids as I could. It seemed like both the kids were too. They each had their own separate times of spending quality time with me. DQ hung with me at the kitchen table, both of us perusing catalogs and gabbing about this and that. Taz took time away from his video games each night to hang out and watch the Olympics with us. He kept prodding me to play a board game with him during this time, but time just got away from us. Now I wish I had.

They’re only going to be gone for 10 days. When they’re back, they probably won’t see their dad for a few months. I’m starting to see a tiny portion of what he goes through when he says goodbye, because I’m really, really going to miss them. And it’s possible that for the first few days, I might feel just as lost as a forgotten 11-year old kid.

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