Preparing for Christmas

Christmas is almost here and it seems like it's come so fast this year!  I feel like I just put away last year's decorations.  We got the tree up last weekend and I'm loving it!  I went back to an artificial this year and I must say it was much easier to set up. 

Christmas baking has been started and the annual frosting and decorating of cutouts is done.  We made about 100 this year and have about a third left a week later.  They'd probably all be gone, but I froze some and have been rationing them out! 

I went on an afternoon of Christmas home tours last Saturday that really inspired some Christmas spirit.  It was fun seeing new ways to decorate for the holidays!

Holly the Elf and her sidekick Peppermint Kitty have rejoined the family.  The girls love to find her each morning even though they're long past believing in Santa and his elves.

This year seems a little more subdued as far as shopping and holiday obligations.  We only have one school program to attend and just a few fun get-togethers with family and friends.  It's nice keeping it more simple and having time to enjoy the season. 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I have a confession to make. I hide things from my kids. You do it too, right? It's terrible, but so necessary. If I don't, I won't have yummy treats, beauty products, or special clothes.

Currently, I'm hiding ice cream, chocolate, cookies and raspberries, as well as chapstick, make up wipes, make up remover, facewash, and various items of clothing, including socks and a sweater. Unless I hide these things, they disappear, taken into the great unknown by my kids. If I ever do see my missing things again, they're usually used up and worn out, not at all like they were before.

The problem with hiding things is that I forget where I put them. Then I can't find them either!

Eye make up remover. I can make a bottle last several weeks, maybe even a few months. My teenage daughter, on the other hand, can go through one in a couple weeks. Then she takes mine. I don't like having my eyes all wet, with mascara running down my face, while I run around trying to find where she's put my stuff. And when I do finally find it, it's down to almost nothing. 

Scented lotion. I have a bottle by my bed. This is a risky move. The last time I had a bottle there I got a sweet request to borrow some. Being the generous mother I am, I agreed. I meant, you can use it this one time. I failed to take into account that allowing a kid borrow something once now means they own it. Pretty soon I found that bottle with no more than a teaspoonful left in it. 

Sometimes I get overly confident. This happened recently with my make up wipes. I was tired of hiding them and thought maybe they'd be okay left out a couple times. Maybe I was being paranoid they would disappear. Bad move. That was the last I saw of them. They are nowhere to be found.  Vanished into thin air because no one is admitting to taking them...

Chapstick. I've offered to buy every kid their own. Do you know how long they can keep track of their own chapstick? About two seconds. So my chapstick becomes a breeding ground for every cold and flu virus known to man! It's gotten so bad that I now have to keep two chapsticks in my purse. One for the community and one (hidden, of course) for me.

Food. Some of you might be wondering why I have to hide food. Am I denying my children nourishment? Not at all, they get plenty! It's just a reality that if something good is in sight, they will eat it. They won't think about saving any for anyone else. And let's face it, most of the time, kids really don't even appreciate mommy treats. I mean they're just as happy with Hershey as Godiva. My boys inhale their food without tasting it. They're not stopping to savor anything. 

My brother in law posted a picture on Facebook of my sister's closet this week. In between the sweaters on the top shelf was a big bag of chocolate. He wrote that he's sure she just has it there for safe keeping. Ah, right...

What are you hiding from little eyes and hands today?

First Born Academics

This morning I read an article entitled Why First-Born Kids Do Better in School. The author, V. Joseph Hotz puts forth the premise that first born children do better in school because parents punish their older children for poor school performance more than their younger children.  According to the author's research, parents are stricter and expect better grades from their firstborn children as a way to send a message to their younger siblings.  Parents are hoping that the younger children will take note and do well because of the parental discipline applied to the oldest.  This interested me because I was just thinking about how differently we approach schoolwork, and parenting in general, with our younger vs. older children. With five kids I've definitely noticed my parenting has relaxed over the years, but I don't think that punishment for poor school performance, or the lack thereof, has made as much of a difference as other factors.  As we've added to our family, my parenting experience and flexibility has increased, while my time and focused attention with each child has decreased.  

With my first child, I was determined to do everything "right" and parenting books made me believe that if I input A, I'd always get B.  Take the area of food. With my oldest, I followed the baby book advice and introduced the vegetables first, then the fruits, avoided processed sugar foods until a year old, and so on.  Supposedly this method was going to make my child a voracious eater of vegetables and they'd never crave a twinkie. My second child was having an after dinner bowl of ice cream every night by the time he was six months old.  With the third, fourth, and fifth children, I introduced whatever was there without a thought.  All of them eat vegetables and none of them are addicted to sugar.

Bringing this back to school performance...I think first time parents are understandably super involved and conscientious with everything related to the classroom and homework because they want to do it "right". There's a sort of pressure to prove you can do it.  If your first child is successful in school, you think of yourself as a successful parent.  All kids thereafter get a pass. Plus by the time you get to the younger siblings, the words school project strike such dread in your heart that you'll offer to do ANYTHING for your spouse if only they'll, please, please, be in charge of it!  A night with no homework becomes a treasured gift.  You care about how they do and help however you can, but you don't obsess (as much) anymore. You learn to accept and appreciate the reality, that good enough is often truly good enough. 

All of my kids have gotten similar treatment for bad grades and I don't think we'll ever get to the point where working below their academic potential is acceptable. But having a high school senior has made me realize that I ultimately have very little control over how well my child does in school.  Punishment for poor school performance can only do so much.  A lot of it really depends on the child's own internal motivation and desire to apply themselves.  Sandwiched between two older and two younger siblings, my middle child has the least amount of parental pressure applied to him, but he is very internally motivated.  He wants to do well for reasons that have nothing to do with fearing parental discipline. 

Of course, it's just a stereotype that first born children do better than younger siblings in school.  There are many exceptions to the rule and we can see these exceptions within our own circle of family and friends.  But when it is true, what do you think?  Is it because of parental discipline falling by the wayside or are you just a different parent as your family grows?  Which ones have the greater advantage in life, the older or younger children?  I'm an oldest, my husband is a youngest, and I think it's a toss up that evens itself out in the end. 

Pumpkin Patch

Last weekend we went to a pumpkin patch with my sister and her family.  Only our two youngest wanted to go, so we were a smaller family for the afternoon.

It seems like we've been taking our kids to the pumpkin patch for years, but now even the twins are getting to the age where they may not want come next year.  This place had lots of things to do including a hayride, corn maze, petting zoo, and a huge playground.  We had to park in the overflow of the overflow parking, so many others had decided this was a great afternoon activity too!

Time ticks by and I can remember well the fun we've had with each of our children at various pumpkin patches over the years.  It seems a rite of passage each fall to choose a special pumpkin and experience farm life for a day. 

Life is busy and sometimes it's hard to take time out for fun.  Honestly, we had to make ourselves go on Sunday, but I'm glad we did.  Next year my girls may not be as enthusiastic about petting farm animals and riding in a wagon, but this year they're still young enough to ride a pony and get excited to carve their pumpkins.  These are the things I'll someday miss in my normal everyday life.

Family Vacation Reality Check

See this view...

Don't get too excited.  If you're a parent, you will not be enjoying this view.  You'll be too busy making trips back and forth to the hotel room carrying heavy beach bags filled with sand toys, boogie boards, and beach rocks that your cherubs declare they can't live without.  You'll help build sand castles, play football, and take out kayaks.  Planning and acquiring enough snacks and drinks to fill hungry children will take up an extraordinary amount of time.  If there appears to be a lull in the activity and you attempt to nap in one of the comfy chairs, there will immediately be a siren song of sibling rivalry demanding your attention.

Remember that bike riding on the beach you were fantasizing about?

It will be fun for about a half mile.  Then someone will complain about going too fast, too slow, it's too hot, too far, or beg to stop.  Chains will fall off multiple bikes, multiple times, and you'll look wistfully at the other bikers as they ride joyously by with none of these problems.

You'll end the bike ride hot and on edge as you try to encourage your kids to hold it together through the last few feet of sand. 

Meal conversations will consist of, "Can I have some?", "Mmmm, this is good", "I hate that!", "Sit down in your chair", "Hey, I didn't get any! That's not fair!", "Do I have to sit there?", "Can I sit by you?", "I don't like this", and "Are you going to eat that?"  Lively debate will ensue over whether lemonade or chocolate milk is better.'ll also have funny inside jokes, moments between siblings that warm your heart, and the freedom to just be without all the daily obligations. Less time will be spent on electronic devices and more time will be spent really seeing the ones you love.  

Yes, your family vacation will be a lot of work, but it will be worth it.  Worth it to see and do new things together.  Worth it to establish family traditions and memories that you can laugh over in the years to come.

And these are the reasons you'll plan to come back and do it all again next year.  Right after that loooong drive home!


My two boys are almost five years apart, so they don't need to compete with each other because they're each at such different stages.  They're free to enjoy what they have in common like sports, sports, and more sports!  Plus it doesn't hurt that the younger looks up to the older and defers to him in most conflicts.  These beach pictures capture what I find to be so interesting about their relationship...let's provoke one another and see who gives up first.

Either the older will push the younger into a screaming rage, or the younger will drive the older into some physical altercation that stops just short of inflicting major pain.  For the most part, it's all done in fun though and seems to be something they have to do when interacting.  I'm fascinated and entertained by this while my husband is annoyed and tries to break it up more often.  Maybe because he is a younger brother and can identify more readily?   My boys remind me of puppies competing for the title of top dog.  It's an amazing thing to watch, this jockeying back and forth, that ends up coming full circle into friendship.  I hope they'll always be close because I think what they have is a treasure.

Getting Away

It's fall break and we're using hotel points to enjoy a relaxing few days on Hilton Head Island.  The biggest reason I wanted to come back here was the great bike riding.  You can bike forever on beautiful flat trails around the island or for miles right on the beach. 

It's a slow time of year, so both our rooms were upgraded to larger suites.  All of the kids have their own beds in one suite and the other is just for mom and dad!  Bring on the fun and relaxation...                             


Typical Saturday

Saturday...aaah, sleep in, relaxing breakfast, maybe a long walk...lazy Saturday...NOT A CHANCE if you have five kids.  Knocking on the bedroom door starts early with a request to "look at my reflection for reading", then a different voice requesting help with college application essays.  People are up, the kitchen is busy, and the day has officially started.  Thirty minutes later, there's a fight between my husband and daughter over attitude.  The college application process has been in full swing for a month now and the essay questions will drive us all over the edge.  Someone in the house does not want to write about the greatest challenge facing her generation or what she's intellectually curious about.  I'm desperately trying to throw out helpful ideas, but I'm really thinking...Dear College Board,  My daughter is 17 and her greatest challenge is getting up before noon. Her intellectual curiosity shuts down at 2:30 every Friday and will not be heard from until 7:30 Monday morning.  Please give her money so she can graduate with very little debt and never have to live at home again after graduating from your fine school.

Soon it's time for sports practice and my husband and I fit in a walk.  A quick run to the library and then back home for the lunch chaos.  Only ten or so complaints about the temperature of the apples, why are there stems on my grapes, and please don't make me have peanut butter.  Negotiations over who gets the last few chocolate chip cookies rival a Middle East Peace Summit. 

But wait...stop the presses, did all three of the younger kids just play a game together for two hours??  This is worth writing down.  I left them like this to run errands and when I came back they were still here!

We've reached our limit for the day on college resume building and my daughter has left to look for a homecoming dress.  I'm still recovering from the emotional trauma of picking out two prom dresses last April, so she's on her own for this one! 

My niece and nephew come over to play and they head outside with the twins.  They've had forts they call "man caves" set up in our yard for a couple weeks.  Sticks, sleds, buckets, hockey sticks, swim toys and more have all become an elaborate part of an Indian village.  It looks like someone or something is camping out in our pine trees.  Enter our yard at your own risk!

It's almost 3:30 and the "what's for dinner question" will be coming soon.  Seriously, didn't we just clean up from lunch??  Maybe the girls can cook us something over the outdoor fire pit.  It looks like they've got their guns out and are ready to shoot some something!

Saturdays are really busy.  They're emotional.  Our household can be erupting in a fight one minute and laughing the next.  There's yelling and minor injuries and tears.  There are loud sports games on TV and music playing in the other room.  Doors slam and sweaty kids run in and out grabbing popsicles.  Laundry is going and the backpacks still lay where everyone dropped them yesterday afternoon. There's an impromptu dancing celebration over completing one scholarship application. It doesn't look like the movies and isn't in any magazine.  Just wonderful, normal everyday life!

What did you do on Saturday?    

Missing the Messes

The other day I saw one of those signs on Facebook that urges moms to appreciate the little handprints and messes because someday we'll miss them. I totally get the point of such sentiments, but on their surface they strike me as funny. It made me think of this craft that my oldest brought home from kindergarten, Christmas 2001.

Oh, the mommy guilt that welled up in me when I saw this poem.  Guilt that I didn't appreciate the messes. What was wrong with me??  Since that time I've gotten several more of those art projects with that poem and each time I feel the GUILT.  Why can't I just say, "Kids I don't care about you destroying every little thing you come in contact with because it's the memories, the wonderful memories that matter!"  But I really enjoy some structure, a clean bathroom, a bed that's made, clothing put away in drawers, furniture not covered in food. 

As I looked at that Facebook sign, I remembered this view that I see on an almost daily basis as I walk down my hallway.  Now if this picture doesn't inspire mothers everywhere to stop and appreciate the preciousness of their teenage daughters, I don't know what will...

Yes indeed, every time I pass it, I stop to cherish this mess and the wonderful child who created it.  Not.  It's more like I think, what am I doing wrong that after almost 18 years she still can't make her bed and pick up her clothes?!?  Can we not even reach the point that she could shut a closet door?

Or how about these scenes?  Cherishing the mess is the farthest thing from my mind as I risk a broken leg on the footwear obstacle course exiting the garage.

A surge of love does not spring forth when I turn and see the kitchen after everyone has left for school.

Yes, I'll certainly miss the children that made these messes, but I don't think I'll miss the socks strewn all over the couch, the mountains of paper on the countertops and tables, and the things that shall remain unnamed in the bathroom.  And if I do, I'll just pull out these pictures for a fresh dose of reality!

So come on all of you guilty feeling mothers, what messes are you really not going to miss?

Teen Driver

My son has had his permit for almost a year now and I've wanted to capture this moment in time for awhile.  He's the second one I've taught to drive, so he's benefited from my experience and much lower level of anxiety than I had with his older sister.  Now I know it is possible to teach a child to drive and they really can get a license and not harm themselves or anyone else, knock on wood!

This time I've been able to sit back and enjoy the experience more.  Shortly after he got his permit, I gained a new friend in the van.  Going out for a quick milk run, he's in the driver's seat.  Going to pick up a younger sibling, he volunteers to come along.  Going to the doctor and he'll have to sit bored in the waiting room, no problem, he's the driver!  Before having a permit, none of these errands would have interested him in the slightest.

I've gotten to know his sense of humor more, heard more stories about school and sports, and generally feel like I know him better.  It's been a wonderful window into his world and I'm going to miss it.  Already, he's planning for his soon-to-be license.  Where he'll go, what he'll do...Understandably, none of the plans involve his mom tagging along.  In fact, an alarming number of his plans seem to involve driving a vehicle at its maximum speed.  I've lost track of the number of times he's begged for a motorcycle or asked questions like, "What's the fastest speed you've ever gone, have you ever gone 100 mph?"  Um, for the record, absolutely not, and neither should you!

Of course, I've taught driving lessons this year, trying to instill every tip I can, lest I leave him unprepared.  Now there are fewer white knuckle moments and he's asked me to quit telling him to "slow down and be careful" more and more lately.  I can tell he's losing patience with the training process and wants to get on with driving independence. But I've also had the chance to teach about life, to teach about being a young man and entering a new stage of responsibility and privilege.  I've had the chance to make a friend, and I hope he remembers those lessons too, as he drives off into the future.


Am I Normal?

I love to read lifestyle and home blogs.  Lately though, I've noticed I often come away feeling bad about my house, my parenting, or my life choices.  So often the images presented send the message that the writer has it all together.  Even when they try to do a post to be more real, showing you a messy house or kids coming undone, it still feels staged and way better than my own "real" situation.  I like to read about normal life, the things that happen everyday.  Things that make me say, "Oh, I can relate to that!"  The posts that stick in my mind the longest and keep me coming back to read a blogger are the ones that inspire the feeling that she's just like me.  She's had those "losing it" moments where the house is a wreck, there's nothing for dinner, and the kids are talking back.  She knows what it's like to fail as a wife, a parent, a friend.  And she's gotten back up, said she's sorry, and started all over again.

Normal everyday life for me right now involves two teenagers and three elementary age kids.  I have a husband that travels two or three nights a week. There's a lot of running around, early morning and late nights, homework that never seems to end, and sports practices.  In the background, there's a ticking clock reminding me that this is the last year my senior daughter will live full-time at home. Have I done enough, been enough, instilled enough? 

Normal everyday life also is full of sweet moments that I don't want to forget.  All of my kids are old enough to joke with now.  It's such a special feeling to laugh with your teenagers.  They understand and tease like almost-adults now.  I treasure the times we laugh over fashion choices (theirs and mine), teacher quirks, silly mistakes, things we don't know.  I treasure the times we talk about grown up issues and hear their own personalities and opinions come through.  We've moved past the kid movie stage and can all enjoy TV shows and movies that appeal to parents, too.  Now we often get wonderful snapshots of the friendship we will hopefully enjoy with our someday adult children.

I'm creating this blog to document my own normal everyday life, but I'd also to love hear about yours!  What's happening in your life at this stage?