Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Holiday Memories in a New Home

Jack-o-lanterns that I previously carved with my kids
You may have noticed that I took a break from blogging about 3 months ago.  I was having tons of fun sharing some of my parenting adventures with you.  However, my schedule got extra busy and complicated, particularly because we were house hunting for our first home and preparing to move.

Searching for homes for sale, making appointments for house viewings, and finding the right house for our family proved to be a tedious and daunting task!  To be completely honest, I can't even remember how many realty ads we skimmed, home profiles we searched through, and potential homes we visited before the best house fell into our laps.

And then it was on to phase 2 of our home-buying saga: packing and moving...another difficult and frustrating chore.  After living in a house for about 5 years, you wouldn't believe the junk and clutter that accumulates!  I spent weeks going through boxes and closets, as well as the basement and attic, finding many things I had long forgotten.  I sifted and sorted, desperately trying to reduce the amount of stuff that we would be packing and taking with us as much as possible.  Coming from a long line of pack rats, believe you me, this was an emotional and stressful journey.

But here we are mostly moved into our new home and preparing to celebrate our first holiday as first-time homeowners: Halloween!  At the moment, I hope and pray that I never, ever, ever have to move again.  I can't even come close to expressing how taxing this move has been on my entire family, but I know that it will be a long time before I forget the hurdles and obstacles I had to overcome to move us into our new home.  Despite all of this, though, I have to admit that all the pain and suffering we endured pales in comparison to the excitement of holidays celebrated in a home that is warm, welcoming, and our very own!

With Halloween less than a week away and this being only the 3rd day in our new home, I doubt we'll get to decorate for Halloween this year.  Still, I can't help but be excited!  This Halloween represents so much more than a single holiday this year.  Rather, it symbolizes a lifetime of happy family memories shared in a place full of love and laughter, a place that my kids can always fall back on and go to to feel safe...something that I never felt I had as a child.

This Halloween will embody all that I wished to have as a child and everything I hope to give to my own children now and always.  I am determined more than ever to fill this new home with such amazing memories--holiday ones and everyday ones--that by the time my children are grown, it will be bursting at the seams.  Every inch of this house will remind us of what it truly means to be a family, making the good times sweeter and the hard times easier.  Yes, this Halloween is the beginning of something amazing for my family, and I'm more excited and giddy than I used to be every year on Christmas morning!  Don't you just love holiday magic?!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fuzzy Dice: A Forgotten Fad

Car with 3 pairs of fuzzy dice!
I remember when I was a little girl, fuzzy dice were all the rage! It seemed like everyone who had a car had a pair of fuzzy dice hanging on their rearview mirror. My dad gave me a pair of fuzzy dice when I was 5 or 6, and I couldn’t wait to finally be old enough to own a car, so I could show them off. In the meantime, though, my little brother and I soon realized that our fuzzy dice made awesome pairs of nunchucks, and we fought many a brave battle with our fuzzy dice flying!

In my child mind, what wasn't there to love about fuzzy dice? They were soft and fuzzy. They came in a bunch of different colors. They even seemed to dance as we traveled along on a bumpy road. I know there were many times I fell asleep watching those fuzzy dice dance and sway during long trips or nighttime rides home.

Years later, I came to realize that fuzzy dice are a bit tacky, and I wouldn’t dream of hanging a pair in my car now. However, fuzzy dice still hold a lot of warm memories, so I could never ever hate them. In fact, every time I glimpse a pair dangling from someone’s rearview mirror, I grin and remember my fuzzy dice adventures.

This week I witnessed something of a fuzzy dice feat: a car with 3 pairs of fuzzy dice! Even though we were late meeting up with my mom to eat out, I couldn’t resist stopping and snapping a quick photo. I was grinning from ear to ear like a fool and chuckling to myself in the middle of a busy parking lot, but I didn’t care.

The entire time my kids were staring at me and asking what was so funny. All I kept saying was, “There’s 3 fuzzy dice in that car. THREE! Isn’t that cool?”

But they just stared back at me even more confused. And then it hit me! My own children had never seen a pair of fuzzy dice before. The joys of watching fuzzy dice swaying in the breeze has turned into a forgotten fad for my family.

What do you think? Are fuzzy dice still fun? Or should they remain a thing of the past?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Just Horsin' Around!

Both of my kids are out-of-the-box thinkers. The silly, inventive, and outlandish things they come up with to entertain themselves at times ensures my life will never be dull. Their many creations and concoctions remind me of my own inventive childhood. And as long as they don’t decide that trash bags would make perfect parachutes or drinking bubble solution can make you belch bubbles (as I once did), I think I will sit back and enjoy the show!

Just a couple weeks ago, my son and daughter decided they wanted to play horses outside in the backyard. Since riding ponies at the county fair a few summers ago, they have been obsessed and can’t get enough of horses and ponies. Expecting my children to run for their stick horses or to gather up their horse figurines, I was surprised when they met me at the backdoor empty handed.

As they put on their flip-flops, I asked them if they were still going to play horses outside. Immediately, my 5-year-old daughter chimed in, “Of course, Mommy!”

Even more confused, I asked further, “But what about your horses? How are you going to play horses without any horses?”

My 6-year-old son just smiled at me and laughed, “Oh, you’ll see!”

Growing more and more curious, I opened the door and sat on a chair on the back porch. They started digging through the plastic totes that we use to store their outdoor toys. Smiling and giggling, they went through each one, whispering back and forth to each other. After a while I grew distracted and went to work sweeping off the back porch.

The next thing I knew, I heard excited, laughing voices behind me. “Hey, Mommy! Look! We‘re horses!”

I turned around and immediately started laughing myself. They were horses indeed! My children had taken the plastic horseshoes from my ring toss and horseshoes set and wedged them between their feet and their flip-flops. As they animatedly walked across the back porch, it sure sounded like a couple of horses, too!

Of course, as what usually happens whenever my kids do something cute, silly, or funny, they simultaneously shouted, “Mommy, take a picture of us!”

I snapped a few photos and then we laughed some more over how silly and cute they looked. Someday, I need to sit down and make a photo album just for these types of photos. Just imagine the crazy memories and laughs we will be able to share when they are grown and have children of their own!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cooking Up Memories

Strawberry angel food cake
Some of my fondest childhood memories were made in the kitchen. I remember all the cookies we baked with my grandma when I was having a sleepover at her house. I still can smell all the delicious cakes I helped my mom bake from scratch. And I still laugh at all the times my dad made silly jokes as I helped him prepare dinner.

All the time I spent being a kitchen helper for my family was wonderful learning experience. By the time I was 13 years old, I could cook quite a few meals completely on my own. Cooking for others made me feel good. I felt confident in myself and was proud of my cooking skills. Plus, I was even more happy to know my food was being enjoyed by my loved ones and friends.

Looking back, I can see that these happy moments had another benefit, something I failed to see until I was an adult: the simple act of helping my family make delicious food fostered a renewed closeness and camaraderie. My family wasn’t what you would call “close knit.” In fact, we had quite a lot of ups and downs. However, all of our disputes and differences would disappear whenever a kitchen task was at hand.

Much has changed since I was that eager little girl. I am an adult now with two young children of my own. One major thing has not changed, though. I still love to cook! I enjoy making homemade meals for my family as often as possible. I have carried with me some of my family’s recipes from the past. I have changed a few family recipes to make them my own. And I experiment with new and different recipes eagerly.

Yet, my most favorite part about cooking, though, is sharing the experience with my son and daughter. Just like their mother once did, they both race to the kitchen whenever there is any food to be made. They eagerly take turns measuring and adding ingredients and sometimes quarrel a little over who gets to stir.

As any parent knows, having young children as helpers can get quite messy, but I don’t care. All the spilled flour everywhere, the honey in their hair, and the tomato sauce splattered on the wall is well worth it. Watching my children hard at work in the kitchen makes me so very proud! Their smiles, laughter, and giggles warm me to my very soul. Each time we bake cupcakes or cook spaghetti or even toss a salad, we are making memories together that will last a lifetime!

What are some of your favorite ways to make memories with your own family?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Daughter Tamed My Inner Tomboy

Hair styling with my princess
From the age of 7, I drove my mother crazy with my tomboyish ways. I despised dresses and the color pink. My dreams of becoming a princess were replaced with the glories of knighthood. I was often more fascinated with my brother’s toys than my own. And I absolutely loved to get covered in mud. As I grew more and more comfortable as a tomboy, my mother’s dreams of beauty nights, clothes shopping, and other more girly activities went up in smoke!

As a woman now, I am still stuck in some of my old tomboy habits. I am much more comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt than a dress or skirt. I still cringe at the sight of high heels and like to take pink in small doses. I have yet to start wearing makeup regularly (and really don’t know how to wear the infernal stuff anyway).

However, I am slowly getting more in tune with my feminine side, thanks to my 5-year-old daughter. My little princess is just that, a princess. She loves everything frilly, lacy, sparkling, pink, and purple. She has a multitude of purses, putting my single purse (I finally broke down and bought my first one 2 years ago) to shame! She has tutus, high heels, tiaras, and jewelry boxes full of costume jewelry. She even asked for her first makeup set for Christmas last year.

Now I find myself learning to become a hairstylist, makeup artist, manicurist, and fashionista little by little. We play dress up together. We spend hours trying out new hairstyles. And I am even getting better at painting fingernails and toenails. Maybe when she gets older, we will learn to put on makeup together . . . something I swore I was never going to do until the day I died!

It is funny how life can change you. It is even more ironic that it took a little girl, my own flesh and blood, to start making me more comfortable with being a woman. It is a lesson I should be teaching her, not the other way around. Yet, I know deep down that I had to learn that lesson first before I could ever hope to teach it to my daughter.

When we first become parents we worry about how we are going to teach our children to become responsible, caring adults. Little do we realize that parenting is NOT a one way street. We learn just as much from our children as they learn from us--sometimes even more. If you would have told me 6 years ago that one day I would be wearing a tutu and pretending to be a ballerina or that I would someday be eagerly perusing the nail polish aisle with my daughter, I would have thought you were insane! Here I am, though, enthusiastically planning for our next girl night. Who knew a sweet little girl could hold such amazing power?!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sparklers, Smiles & Simpler Times

Sparkler time!
Last night, as our 4th of July celebration started to wind down, I sat in my yard and watched as my fiancé lit sparklers for my son and daughter. Their smiles and giggles of pure joy and excitement as they twirled the sparklers in the air warmed my heart. There is just something about sparklers that strikes a chord deep in my soul. And as I painted the sky with my own sparkler, my mind drifted back to when life was so much simpler for me . . .

In my mind, I could see me as a little girl, happy and carefree. Giggling and dancing in the summer breeze, there were times I really did fly. As I spun in circles and closed my eyes, I was soaring high above the ground and hopping from cloud to cloud! And as I tumbled into the cool grass and opened my eyes, I swore I could feel the earth spinning beneath my body.

Nothing seemed impossible in those days, and I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could see the world. Both day and night, my imagination ran wild! I dreamed about rocket ships, deep sea divers, and jungle safaris. I had a LONG list of all the things I wanted to be and planned to do whenever I was an adult, and I was positive I would get to each and every one of them!

Sometimes I wonder how that determined and optimistic little girl grew into me! How did I become so jaded and pessimistic? What happened to my endless imagination and my bright dreams of the future? Is it all gone forever? Or is the girl I used to be still inside me somewhere or active in my dreams at night?

As I watch my own children, so carefree and joyous in their play, I miss that little girl terribly! Most of the time, she feels like a separate entity--like someone that I once knew a long, long ago. I usually only glimpse bits and pieces, fragments of a shattered past. However, once in a while, like today, something triggers a memory buried deep inside, and I can see, hear, and feel her again. It is as though she is alive and well all over again, and my soul wakens in a way it has long forgotten. I feel joy and pure happiness, and my heart is, for a moment, no longer scarred and worn!

I get lost in these moments, so far and in between--so precious, and I stare off into the distance, forgetting for a minute the here and now. But then a giggle or a hug from my children draws me back to the present, reminding me again of how truly I am blessed. At times, I know I’m not the perfect mother, but I take solace in the realization that despite my shortcomings, I have done everything to preserve my children’s innocence and wonder. And I will fight to protect them for as long as I can. If my son and daughter grow up and take with them clear, heartwarming memories of their childhoods, I will know I did part of my job perfectly!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Time Flies By So Fast

Our three young robins preparing to leave the nest!
Today I was reminded of just how fast time truly passes. After nearly a month of having to dodge the mother robin nested on our front porch, my kids and I witnessed the young robins become confident enough to leave their mother’s nest forever. This morning, the three little robins sat in their nest looking down at us, chirping and flapping their wings.

Suddenly, the first robin took flight. Then the second one took off, followed by the smallest of the young birds. They hopped and twittered on a branch of the tall maple tree in front of our house for a few moments and then flew off, flapping their wings desperately to try to caught up with their mother. They have yet to return and it is late into the night. All that remains of our cute birdie friends is an empty nest.

It was such a small event in this vast world, but tears formed in my eyes. Although human children take much more than a month to grow up and become independent, I know one day I will have to allow my own children to spread their wings and fly. It is the natural order of things, but I know it will be a bittersweet time for me. I will be so proud of my children and be happy that I raised them well. Yet, my children are my world, so I know it may take an army to pry my arms away from them when the time comes.

One day, it will be my own empty nest that I will be checking frequently to see if my young ones are truly gone. Some people may insist it is much too soon for me to be dreading the empty nest. My children are only 5 and 6 for goodness sake! But part of me wants to remind myself of it every now and then so I don’t ever take these precious years for granted. I want to make the most of now because time flies by at an incredible speed. I want to relish these Mommy years and savor every second I spend with my children. These truly are some of the best years of my life!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Imaginary Bundle of Joy

Meet the newest member of our family, Chaya.  Yes, she’s only two dimensional and doesn’t have any hands or feet to speak of.  However, she’s part of the family just the same.  She loves the color pink and has lots of pretty black hair.  Her favorite animals are horses, and she wants to be a doctor when she grows up.  She is the “bestest” baby sister in the whole wide world, too . . . well, at least according to my 5-year-old daughter.

My little girl is still going through baby sister withdrawal.  Her best friend finally got a baby sister last year (after having to deal with 4 brothers for years).  And ever since then, my daughter has asked and asked and ASKED for her own baby sister.  She has prayed for one, asked Santa Claus for one, and even asked Grandma to buy her one for her birthday.  She has even asked for her younger cousin (by 3 months) to come live with us so she could have a best friend and sister every day!

In her 5-year-old world, she can’t comprehend why she just can’t have a baby sister.  So, she has become desperate enough to make one up.  In fact, she’s drawn several pictures of her.  She plays with her imaginary baby sister, Chaya now a regular basis.   She pretends they are having tea parties together.  She has imaginary dress-up, makeup sessions with her baby sister.  My little princess even makes up stories about adventures they have had together.

At first, I was a little concerned.  Was my daughter getting enough attention?  Was she playing enough with other children?  Was I spending enough time with her?  Finally, I asked her about Chaya and if she knew that she really didn’t have a baby sister.

To my relief, she replied immediately, “Oh, I know, Mommy.  I’m just practicing for when I do get a baby sister!”

I suppose time will tell if she will ever have a real baby sister.  I know I’m not ready right now to be considering another baby.  But you never know.  Every now and then, I catch myself missing those days.  I see the tiniest, cutest baby shoes and think, I really want these!  Or I see a smiling, giggling baby ahead of me in the checkout lane and my heart skips a beat and melts at the pure sweetness.  I admit I miss the cuddles and snuggles with my babies.  I still haven’t been able to part with all the adorable baby outfits my kids have long outgrown.  Yes, perhaps, one day there might be another little Amanda in my arms . . . and then we shall see if it’s everything my daughter expects.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Holy Molely!

My 6-year-old son is one cool dude!  He loves to rock his shades and baseball cap.  The little girls at the playground love his shy smiles and silly jokes.  Maybe someday he will be a ladies’ man, and this mama will be worried out of her mind!  However, right now, I think it’s cute and chuckle at how the little girls chase him, while he acts all nonchalant and suave.

Despite his cool demeanor, though, my son can get wound up by the strangest things.  Just this past April, April Fool’s Day in fact, I had to deal with one of these little incidents.  I was downstairs washing dishes after lunch when I noticed that the water upstairs in the bathroom had been running for at least 5 minutes.  Curious, I dried my hands and went to find out what was going on.  The bathroom door was closed, so I knocked.

At first, I didn’t get a response.  I leaned closer to the door.  I heard the sink facet running and the muffled voices of both my son and my daughter.  Wondering what on earth they could be doing, I opened the door.  There my kids were with wash clothes in both hands, frantically scrubbing their arms and legs.  Soap and water was everywhere, covering the sink, walls, and floor!

Shocked and upset, I yelled, demanding an explanation.  Startled by my outburst, both of my children jumped around, their eyes wide and their mouths even wider--their wash clothes spraying soapy water through the air!  My son stuttered a couple seconds and then replied, “Um, Mommy, we’re washing off our arms and legs.”

Reaching around them, I shut off the facet, and shook my head in disbelief at the huge mess.  “But why?!?!”

My 5-year-old daughter’s bottom lip started trembling as she squeaked, “Because we don’t want our moles anymore!”

My son, still unsure of himself, nodded and explained further, “Yeah, I found more moles, and I hate them!  I don’t want to be covered with moles.  They are awful, and I keep getting more and more.”

Even more confused, I asked, “But why is there water and soap everywhere?”

My daughter rolled her eyes (as she loves to do) and sighed (as if the answer were obvious), “Because we are washing our moles off . . .”

My son frowned and resumed scouring his left arm.  “But they just won’t come off!  What are we gonna do?!”

Their little solemn faces and the bizarre mess in the bathroom were too much for me.  I started chuckling so hard that I couldn’t even stand up straight!  Here it was April Fool’s Day, and history was playing the ultimate prank on me.  About 22 years ago, I was the one flooding the bathroom with my little brother in my own attempt to be mole free.  And my mother was the one stumbling upon the mess.  What can I say?  History loves to repeat itself and in pretty outlandish ways, too!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mavericks Maniacs

My family is a family of music lovers.  My childhood was FULL of music.  I remember my parents had piles of records.  We would have evenings just for playing records and dancing and singing until we were out of breath!  My parents used to play guitar together, too.  Country, rock and roll, classic rock, folk, and a lot of things in between, they were the soundtrack to my childhood.  I grew up knowing and appreciating great music, and I’m thankful even today that my parents shared their love of music so freely!

Now that I have children of my own, I have passed that passion to my son and daughter.  When they were babies I sang them traditional lullabies, but I also sang all of my favorite songs to them, too.  I noticed right away that my kids had their own distinct musical tastes, and they still do.  My daughter was wooed by Dean Martin as a newborn baby.  My son shrieked and screamed every time I played a Ray Charles song.  My now 5-year-old princess is a soul lover, while my 6-year-old son is my blooming rock star.

Although my kids and I are all a little different, we all share a common deep love of my favorite band, the Mavericks.  I can play anything sung by Raul Malo, the Maverick’s lead singer, and my kids get a huge smile on their faces and start dancing like there’s now tomorrow!  I can play the same song every day, several times a day, and they still ask for just ONE more time.  If you don’t believe me that we are all a bunch of Mavericks maniacs just yet, let me add that my kids have decided to take our family’s Disney World fund (their allowances) and change it to the Maverick’s concert fund.  What young child picks a band over Disney World?!  My music-loving children, that’s who!

I give my kids the room to be individuals and to dream their own dreams.  But I can’t deny that I find it cute and satisfying to know they share my love for the Mavericks.  I’m a strong believer in the family that dances and sings together stays together.  No matter how difficult life may get, we have our common loves and joys to fall back on.  Great music is good for the soul, and I hope that as my children grow older, they never forget that!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Milk Is Moo-Moo Goo?!

My grandmother is eager to take my son and daughter to the farm to show them where food comes from. I’m all for teaching my kids about fruits, vegetables, and grains. However, I am extremely hesitant to show them where meat comes from. I, for one, don’t like to dwell on that subject. However, my 5-year-old daughter is super sensitive about animals. About two years ago, I learned just how sensitive she really is . . .

During one of my grandma’s visits to our home, she brought me some bread and milk to save me a trip to the store. The brand of milk we always use doesn’t have any photos of cows. The gallon of milk my grandma picked up, though, had a cute cow grazing on the front label.

Since my kids were so excited to see their great grandma, they didn’t notice the milk until the next morning at the breakfast table. As my children and I sat down at the table to enjoy our cereal, my daughter made a face and exclaimed, “Great Grandma got the wrong milk! People don’t drink cow milk!!!”

I chuckled as I poured some milk into her bowl. I explained that the milk we have been drinking all these years comes from cows and that this milk would taste the same. It just had a different container.

My explanation, though, only made the situation worse. Her face turned pale and she became visibly shaken! I asked her what was wrong and my princess began to sob. “I don’t want to drink cows! Cows are so nice and cute. I love them!!!”

She ran out of the room crying and raced back up to her bedroom. When I finally caught up with her I found my daughter hiding under her blankets and hugging her teddy bear tightly. I gave her a big hug and then I tried to make her understand that milk comes from mommy cows. It isn’t cows turned into gooey liquid.

After our talk she looked truly relieved. Then she started giggling and asked me, “Mommy, can we go have some milk now? I love moo-moo goo!”

Every now and then she still calls milk “moo-moo goo” or “moo-moo juice,” and I laugh about that crazy morning. But I remember the sheer horror on her face when she thought that milk is made out of cows. As such, I don’t think our family will be going to any meat farmers anytime soon!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Big Bang Baby

My grandma (taken by my daughter)
The perceptions of a child can be so innocent and heartfelt, bringing a renewed clarity to our lives that we may have lost years ago.  They can also be completely bizarre and hilarious, sending us into fits of laughter that can produce tears and hiccups in the gloomiest of individuals.  Both are extremely rewarding, but I hold the laughter-inducing insights closest to my heart.  They can turn the worst of days sunny and take us back to our own days of innocence.  Besides, hearty laughter is good for the soul, right?!

My 5-year-old daughter is particularly funny.  She has a quick wit, much like her mother.  A lot of the time, though, it is purely accidental.  She will look at me with her big brown eyes, flash me a big smile, and then say something that makes me fall over laughing.

Today, she seemed to be on a roll with her hilarious statements.  We were visiting my grandmother for the evening, and my son and daughter were enjoying themselves immensely.  My children absolutely love to go to great grandma’s house because she has a huge yard to play in and she always knows how to spoil them JUST right!

After a delicious spaghetti dinner, we all were relaxing in my grandma’s living room watching TV.  The show “The Big Bang Theory” came on.  My fiancé and I love this show because it is so hilarious, so my fiancé exclaimed, “Hey, ‘The Big Bang Theory’!”

Immediately, without skipping a beat, my daughter tugged on the front of her hair and chimed in, “I’ve got your big bang here . . . !”

We ALL erupted into side-splitting laughter, except for my poor princess, who was clueless to what could be so funny!  We tried to explain to her that that was the name of the TV show.  However, we were laughing so hard that we could barely breathe.  After another attempt at an explanation, she finally understood . . . at least partially.  She batted her eyelashes, grinned, and exclaimed, “Well, my bangs are STILL bigger!”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Boys & Their Toys

My son's 1st mower drawing
Spending a lot of time with my father and his friends before he passed away last year, I am no stranger to the fact that no matter how old they become, boys have to have their toys.  Cars, motorcycles, tools, boats, electronics, guns--whatever it is that fascinates them, they must have them and show them off to the other boys.

Nevertheless, what has caught me by surprise is how quickly and how young boys tend to yearn for the big boy toys!  This month my 6-year-old son has become extremely enamored with my self-propelled Craftsman lawnmower.  Every time I and my fiancé use it to cut the grass, I swear my son hardly even blinks.  The entire time he watches in wide-eyed wonder and fascination.

Now I must point out that my little buddy has been interested in mowers for the last few years.  However, I have noticed it has reached a whole new level.  He has drawn a series of pictures that feature lawnmowers and that depict him mowing the lawn when he grows older.  He has also been making a make-shift lawnmower out of his play shopping cart and a battery-operated foam disc shooter (for proper sound effects).  He uses this contraption to “mow” our upstairs hallway for hours!  On top of all this, he has asked me countless times this month when he is going to grow up so he can finally own his own lawnmower.

Now, I know I can’t stop time and deep down I know my kids will eventually grow up.  Still, what mother wants to rush things and be constantly reminded of that inevitable truth?  I sure don’t!  I’m in a sensitive state as it is since my “baby” boy just graduated from kindergarten this week.  And now my son wants to grow up even faster so he can start collecting manly toys?  The irrational side of me is freaking out here!

On the other hand, though, my rational side is chuckling.  He is so much like his mother, father, and grandfathers.  He has grease monkey in his veins, so I would be shocked if he never took an interest in mechanical things and how they work.  I suppose I have also influenced him plenty because he has sat in my lap or by my side a thousand times, watching and handing me tools as I tinkered and fixed things.  He started when he was still in diapers, so how can he not love mechanical things?

In the end, I guess I have to admit that girls like their toys, too, and some of us love to get greasy and tinker just as much as the boys . . . !

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day Memories

My father's high school senior photo

With Father’s Day right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about my father, William Dollak, a lot lately.  My daddy, the hero of my life, passed away January 2011 from pancreatic cancer, so this will be the 2nd Father’s Day without him.  Of course, I miss him every day, but when a special day approaches that is a celebration of him, I feel his absence down to my very soul.  I really could go on forever about how much I miss him and the pain his sudden death has left behind, but I want to honor and remember the silly, quirky man that will forever remain in my heart.

My dad was one of those fathers who never failed to make you laugh until your ribs cramped up and your cheeks hurt.  He wasn’t into sophisticated or intellectual humor, although he was nowhere near a dumb, crude hick.  No, he was more like Abbott and Castello with a little Jim Carrey thrown in for good measure!  He wasn’t above a good booger or fart joke, and he had slap stick humor mastered.  Yet, there was always something charming and witty about his jokes, and I never feared taking him anywhere.  He was sensible enough to be behave in public.

I like to think of myself as a unique individual, completely unlike anyone. I must admit, though, that my love of goofy puns and witty sarcasm developed much under his tutelage.  And even though he is gone, I have my crazy sense of humor to carry with me, always a reminder of all the years we spent matching wits and just blowing off steam.  Oftentimes, when a person is still alive we forget or never notice how much they influence our lives.  But once they are gone, it starts to become extremely clear.  I never realized how very alike my father and I were until this past year as I tried to cope with his passing.  It was a difficult journey, one that I never imagined or believed I could endure, but I learned so much about my dad and about myself.

My dad & my son in 2006
My father wasn’t perfect.  No parent is or ever can be.  But as their mistakes and shortcomings fade, we start to truly appreciate their strengths, talents, and gifts.  My dad had a big heart and an even bigger laugh.  He loved to help people and to see the best in others, even when everyone else saw nothing but bad.  Although some people took advantage of his generosity and kindness (seeing it as weakness), I know that he truly cared about others, and he left a lasting mark on some people’s lives because of it.

I hope to pass on his teaching of laughter and love to my own children because the world is in desperate need of more laughter and kindness.  It is my dream to see my dad’s simple legacy continue to live on through me, my children, and then my children’s children.  Even if I never accomplish a single great thing in this life, I hope that my laughter and love will change the world and other’s around me.  In my mind, things like these can cause a ripple effect that could be felt much longer and stronger than fame and fortune could ever bring.

Happy Father’s Day to you all!  Don’t forget to tell the special men in your lives just how much they mean to you.  You never know how much time you have left to express your deepest thoughts and feelings.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Joys of Bug Catching

My daughter proud of her ladybug
 Summer is full of fun and exciting things.  Days are filled with swimming, fishing, hiking, and cookouts.  And nights are just as fun with campfires, marshmallow roasts, fireworks, and camping. It seems like the summer fun never ends . . . until fall sneaks up on us anyway.

However, for my kids, summer would not be summer without some bug catching!  During the day, they are chasing ladybugs, watching butterflies, and digging up worms and pill bugs.  Then, at night, they are giggling across the yard after lightning bugs.  Their shrieks of joy and beaming faces never fail to warm my heart.  Their enthusiasm is so catching that even after a long, tiring day, I soon find myself running around the back yard and trying to catch some bugs, too.

My first lightning bug of 2012
As I race around with my son and daughter, all my cares and troubles vanish.  I become a kid again, giggling and smiling as we hunt together to see how many bugs we can spot and capture.  My spirit becomes light as I forget for a moment all the heavy burdens that weigh adults down.  For a while, there are no bills to pay, no overdue chores to finish, no life-changing decisions to be made.

There is only me, my kids, wondrous nature around us, and a feeling that anything is possible.  All that matters during those moments is the here and now.  I have no past.  I have no future.  I just exist in that time frame.  I am alive only to rejoice in the beauty of nature and the love I have for my children.

Although a life can’t be lived solely in such isolation, it feels amazing to simply break free from the chaos and monotony of everyday life.  Once again, we remember to be thankful and to enjoy the simplest things in life.  We rediscover joy and happiness again with every little break we take.

The most challenging part of it all, though, is realizing that usually these moments don’t appear on their own.  We must make a conscious effort to seek them out.  They almost never come to us.  We must go to them.  I am lucky enough to have two beautiful, spontaneous souls for children.  They remind me all the time what it means to truly live and to celebrate life.  As I grow older and wiser I realize that I have a lot to learn from my son and daughter and that I would become a happier person if I became more like them!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Full-Name Frenzy

As a child, I wasn’t always sure why I was in trouble, but I always knew when I had done something wrong.  My parents, especially my mother, had the habit of using our full names to call us whenever they weren’t happy with something we had done.  As soon as I heard “Amanda Rose Dollak!”, I would tremble and shake.  I would reluctantly run towards my parents’ location, frantically try to figure out what it was I could have done wrong along the way.

Who knew that 3 words could put such fear into a little girl’s heart?  And who knew my own name could conjure up the worst of feelings?

Over the years, I often wondered if perhaps this was the main reason I used to hate my own name.  Either way, I knew I abhorred the way my parents had used my full name in anger and frustration and vowed that if I ever had children of my own, I would NEVER use their names in such a manner.

Yet, here I am, years later, a mother with a 6-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter . . . who is clearly guilty of the full-name shout when my kids get too difficult and won’t listen to anything else.  I don’t resort to this tactic very often, but there are those days that could try even the most seasoned and patient parent.  Typically, those days will go something like this:

Daughter: (running up to me while I’m busy)  “Mommy, he’s being mean to me!”
Son:  (not far behind) “Nah-uh!  SHE started it!!!”
Me:  “It doesn’t matter who was mean first.  You are both fighting, and it’s not nice.  Give each other a hug  and say you’re sorry!”
Both:  (very reluctantly)  “Oooookay . . . Sorry!”  (each giving the other a poor excuse     for a hug)
Me:  “That’s a little better.  Now go play nicely.”

Not even 15 minutes later, I will hear arguing in the next room, so I go to investigate:

Me:  “Okay, what is going on in here?!”
Both:  “Nothing!”
Me:  “I know it’s not ‘nothing’ because I heard it from the other room.”
Son:  “She wasn’t listening to me and playing like I want her to!”
Me:  “You shouldn’t be bossing your sister . . .”
Daughter:  (interrupting me)  “I don’t like him anymore ANYWAY!”
Me:  “Why don’t you two go to your rooms and play separately until you can be nicer to     each other?”
Both:  “FINE!!!”  (storming off to their rooms)

Almost a half an hour I hear the little pitter patter of feet above my head and giggles as they race from one room to the next.  With a sigh of relief that the war has ended, I turn my attention back to the task at hand.  Then, from out of nowhere, shrieks and screams ruin my relieved mood.  I call up the stairs for my kids to come down and tell me what is happening.  But even after I yell at the top of my lungs, I get no answer.  The squabbling only gets louder.

Racing up the stairs in record time, I reach the ruckus, finding my son and daughter in an active tug of war with a toy.  I yell some more to get their attention, but they don’t even acknowledge my presence.  Feeling my patience waning, I knock on the door with a couple loud thuds and then throw the full-name shout out there in all its glory.

Immediately, the chaos ends, and my children both stare at me with their mouths open and eyes wide.  They don’t move a muscle or make a sound.  They know now that Mommy means business and that they had better listen up!

With my frustration vented and the situation diffused, I have them both sit down with me and talk the problem through.  A compromise is reached and a real apology is exchanged, and then my kids are back to playing as though nothing had ever happened.

As I sit for a while longer watching them play, I can’t help but feel a little guilty.  Am I a hypocrite for resorting to a tactic that I once hated?  Or is it worth the outcome?  Really, is the way I use the full-name ploy the same as my parents’?  In the end, I have to conclude that although I picked up that little habit from my parents, I have learned from their mistakes, and my kids are happier and more carefree than I ever was . . . even with the occasional frustrated use of their full names!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

When Nature Comes Knocking . . .

The robin's nest on our front porch
As some of you may know from my previous writing, I’m a huge nature person.  I love the sun, beautiful landscapes, plants, and animals . . . the whole works.  In a perfect world, I would stay outside all day, every day, and then sleep out under the stars.  The fresh air is so exhilarating and the beauty of the nature leaves happy and content!

However, when the indoors and outdoors clash it often means disaster!  Yesterday, my family and I were reminded of that very truth.  Most of yesterday was a normal day and passed with little event.

In the morning, my 5-year-old daughter and I found a bird’s nest on our front porch.  Thinking it was abandoned I considered knocking it down.  However, ever curious, I decided to use my cell phone to take a photo of the inside of the nest, just in case it broke it apart while removing it.  To my surprise and excitement, there were 3 beautiful blue eggs inside the nest.  I was overjoyed to share with my kids their first robin’s nest, but I warned them that we needed to keep our distance to avoid provoking the mother bird.

Later, in the evening, my 6-year-old son and I were in our dining room, getting ready to leave for some errands.  When suddenly we head a LOUD commotion behind us.  I jumped around and there was our cat Tigger running at full speed towards the living room.  Rather than wait for someone to open the screen door and let him in, he had jumped through the screen and kept running without skipping a beat.

Immediately, I noticed Tigger had something in his mouth.  Since he is a wonderful mouser, I thought perhaps it was a mouse or a mole.  As I got closer, though, I noticed it was pretty big and dark brown.  It certainly wasn’t a rodent.  As I continued chasing him into the living room, I decided no, it had to be a bird.  He had caught and killed a bird a couple weeks ago and had attempted to bring it into the house.

Yet, when I finally caught up with my pudgy kitty I realized in horror that it was a chipmunk--a VERY alive one at that!  My kids and I started yelling and screaming, trying to get Tigger to let the poor thing go.  But that only provoked Tigger to run back towards the back door, hoping to escape with his prize.  As he neared the back door, I all but pounced on top of Tigger, frantically telling my son to open the door.  I hoped to get our kitty to release the chipmunk and try to shoo the frighten creature out the back door.

I managed to get Tigger to let go by the grabbing the skin on the back of his neck.  However, instead of running out the door, the disoriented chipmunk ran back into the living room!  Almost immediately, Tigger broke free and recaptured the chipmunk . . . and once again, my children and I were chasing the cat all through the downstairs again!

Finally, in total desperation, I tackled Tigger in the living room and the chipmunk pop out of his mouth, flew through the air, and then scurried under our computer desk.  Not wanting to risk having the whole scenario repeat itself, I snatched up the very unhappy kitty and closed him in the basement.  Then I turned my attention to how in the world I was going to get a frightened chipmunk out of my house.

I told my kids to stay back because chipmunks bite and I didn’t want them to scare him enough to send him scurrying through the house again.  I crept up to the desk with a small paper waste basket and a shallow cardboard box (to use as a makeshift lid).  I was in position and ready to trap the chipmunk when out of nowhere my daughter came running over yelling, “Did you catch it, Mommy?!?!”

That was all it took to spook the chipmunk once more.  It shot out from under the desk like a thousand cats were on its heels.  Of course, that’s when my dog finally noticed, hey, there’s chipmunk in the house!!!  She took off after the poor critter, and they zigzagged all over the downstairs until the chipmunk disappeared, hopefully out the open back door.

We searched the house a little longer but could not find a trace of the chubby chipmunk.  Since we were running late, we decided to leave for our errands and then resume our search later.  Although all was quiet on the home front when we returned, at least with the chipmunk, my crazy evening was topped off with another surprise!

Forgetting all about the robin’s nest on the front porch because of the chipmunk chaos, I opened the front door to get the mail.  As I reached my hand into the mailbox, I heard fluttering of feathers and angry chirping.  Then, the next thing I know, I had an angry mother robin diving straight for my head!  She chased me around the front porch.  Miraculously, I made it to the front door, flung it open, and slammed it shut behind me--thankfully, with the bird outside, not inside!

Even I, the nature lover, was in total shock over such an insane evening.  It makes you think twice about wanting to live free in the open air, doesn’t?!  I know it did for me!

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Son, My Little Brother

My son making silly faces, like my brother used to do
Contrary to this post’s title, it is not going to involve a topic worthy of a day-time talk show. Nor will you find this story in any of the tabloids that litter the checkout aisles at the supermarket. Rather, it is a tribute to all the mothers who have ever realized that God has a sense of humor!

When my son was a newborn baby I couldn’t help but dream of all the joy and fun we would share together as he grew from a baby into little boy.  I envisioned the sweet, smiling baby in my arms growing into an adorable, loving toddler . . . full of energy, giggles, and kisses.  He would be my little helper, always eager to help out around the house.  Of course, I was prepared for the occasional spirited temper tantrum and messes that could rival natural disasters.  However, neither my babysitting/daycare experience nor the best parenting materials available could ever prepare me for the truth I would discover a year later.

I am not even sure when exactly it happened.  But one morning I awoke and realized in horror my sweet bundle of joy was turning into my little brother!   It started with an annoying poke here and a little childish taunt there.  Then, it progressed to a fascination with everything revolting and disgusting.   Now my six year old is steadily becoming a master at getting under my skin as only my younger brother was once able to do.

My son’s little antics are constantly resurrecting memories of my childhood.  My brother was and still is a relentless instigator and prankster.  Even though I love my little brother dearly, sometimes I swear that his primary purpose in life is to drive me insane!   I have endured years of punches, boogers, farting, pranks, and teasing at the hands of my brother . . . and now that I’ve finally gotten away from it on a daily basis, my little boy is taking over?  Where is the justice in that?!?!

The craziest part of all this, though, is the fact that my son developed into my little brother’s clone, almost entirely away from my brother’s influence.  Since my brother was an MP in the Army for several years, he was away from the area except for occasional leaves.  As such, I have to wonder if somewhere in my family’s genetic makeup, these traits are hidden somewhere, waiting to be released.  Could there be an annoying little brother gene lurking inside of me somewhere?

Whether it is nurture, nature, or a combination of the two, I have to laugh at how no matter how hard we try to distance ourselves from our past, it can pop back up again in strange, unexpected ways!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Faithful Furry Family Members

Honey Bear, our 8-year-old poochie
For those of us who are animal lovers, our family is incomplete without our fur babies. With their sweet faces, loving behavior, and funny antics, they bring added joy and laughter into our lives. We love them to pieces and they fill a whole within us we never knew even existed until they came into our lives.

I was reminded this past weekend of the connection between animal lovers and their pets. Our beloved bunny, Boo, who we had for 3 years, became ill suddenly, without warning. There wasn’t anything to be done, so Saturday, we had
to say goodbye. My kids and I had a long cry together, and we spent Sunday mourning our lost friend and family member.

Some people might laugh or not understand our tears, for Boo was “only” a rabbit. Yet, to us, he was a part of our family and we loved him dearly. We have many fond memories of watching our bunny hop around with glee or racing around with the cats in their own version of tag. My kids enjoyed making Boo special salads from the yard and picking handfuls of dandelions every day during our walks. Believe me it was hard for us to say goodbye to our sweet bunny, and it still hurts immensely to not have him here with us anymore! 

Tigger, our 7-year-old kitty
During this difficult time, I noticed that our other furry family members sensed our mourning and the loss of Boo. Our little dog, Honey Bear, spent most of the weekend moping and whimpering. Our oldest cat, Tigger, (who was Boo’s best friend) spent a great deal of time during the day sleeping where Boo’s cage used to be. At night, Tigger watched over my kids, taking turns to stand guard over my son, then my daughter . . . back and forth.

Tigger is especially loving and faithful. Every night when I’m tucking in my son and daughter, he comes to tuck them in as well. He has done this since the day my children were born. Whichever child makes it to bed first, that is the one he tucks in first. He kneads their blankets, purrs up a storm, and gives them goodnight kisses. And then it’s on to the other child after they are comfy and relaxed.

If someone is sick in bed, Tigger senses it and stays with them most of the day. He lies on their feet or snuggles up against them. He sleeps whenever they are resting but watches intently when they get restless. Out of our 4 cats, Tigger is the most in tune with us and he continues to surprise me.

Although it’s difficult to lose a pet, I wouldn’t give up the rest of my fur babies for the world. All the wonderful things they bring into our lives are worth a thousand times more than the hurt when losing them. Certainly, with pets, the old adage “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” could never be more accurate!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Handprints on the Heart

My son's handprint
As I was scrubbing more dirty handprints off of the living room wall today, my mind started wandering . . . parenting involves a lot of handprints!   As soon as our children learn how to walk, our homes become invaded by little messy handprints.  Baby’s sitting in his highchair practicing with his spoon?  Soon his little fingers are right in his food, making art on his tray and anything else he can reach.  On a trip to the ice cream stand?  Those sticky little fingers are bound to leave a mark somewhere.  The junior artists are fast at work on a finger-paint masterpiece?  You can bet there will be rainbow handprints everywhere.  The kids decide to come in from playing in the backyard?  They never fail to leave a dirt trail to the sink.

Now, I’m not complaining.  All those dirty, sticky, and gooey handprints tell me that my kids are happy, healthy, and active.  Still, they make me stop and consider what other handprints my kids could be leaving in my life and within my heart.  These other impressions aren’t very noticeable.  In fact, some of them are invisible and impossible to detect with the human eye.  But they are felt nonetheless . . . and oh, so important to me!

They can be small, such as our nickname for my daughter (which her big brother started) or the way we now cut our sandwiches into fourths (or ‘baby sandwiches’ as my daughter calls them).  And they can be a lot larger, including how I’m now consciously trying to live a healthier lifestyle for my children or how we take time out just to be silly (something I’ve forgotten how to do years ago).

Either way, I can’t imagine my life without these life/heart handprints.  They have become such a huge part of my existence that I know they’ve changed me forever.  I am a better and happier person because of my son and daughter, and I’m positive that they are affecting me in even more wonderful ways that I may never realize.

Parenting can be difficult, but it is a very rewarding experience.  You create life, shape that life, and hope and pray that in the end, you raised your children correctly.  Yet, we often forget that parenting also reshapes us and makes us grow.  Children are a blessing beyond words, and with their love, laughter, joy, and innocence they leave a permanent mark in our very souls.  So the next time you are scrubbing walls or shaking your head in wonder at the handprints almost to the ceiling (as we parents often do), bear in mind your heart is a thousand times more covered!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Teacher Tall Tales

My son showing off his first backpack
Now that my daughter has turned 5, both of my children will be in school come fall.  It is going to be the start of a great adventure for my daughter.  Lately, the realization that my princess is growing up fast has me thinking back to my own grade school days.

I remember that at first I HATED it, but then later I enjoyed it immensely.  My little brother, though, never seemed to really like school and went through quite a few periods when he insisted his teachers hated him.  He used to come up with all kinds of outlandish tales about his teachers, trying to justify to our parents why he should be allowed to stay home.  In fact, his tall tales inspired me to write this poem about 10 years ago:

Just ask my little brother
‘Bout his new teacher at school;
He’ll say she’s like no other
‘Cause she makes lava seem cool!

He claims she is a teacher
From deep outer space somewhere;
A mean and ugly creature
With large horns beneath her hair.

He imagines that she ate
All her students from before
For not staying at school late
And doing homework galore!

He says that she breathes fire
And vents smoke when she is mad.
He cries, “We’ll all expire
If we fail to keep her glad!”

Now can you understand why
My brother can’t go to school?
For to go would mean to die,
And that would make him a fool!

Although it is years later, I still find myself chuckling at my little brother’s crazy stories.  And I look at my own children now and often wonder if they might eventually do the same.  School is an exciting journey, but it is also so full of changes and new things that it can be a little scary, too.  I hope both of my children will have an easier time than I did during the first few years of school.  I will be reminding them every step of the way that they aren’t alone . . . that I’m there supporting them and rooting for them 100%!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Adventures of Mighty Mommy

'Mighty Mommy' cupcakes
(decorated by my sprinkle helpers)
Once upon a time, there was a woman named Mighty Mommy.  She was the strongest, most beautiful mommy in the world.  She could move freezers with her own bare hands.  She could do dishes, wash laundry, talk on the phone, and still make the most delicious meals ever!  She was the coolest mommy, staging treasure hunts, baking yummy cupcakes, and giving piggyback rides.  All the other mommies loved her and wanted to be just like her.  She was Might Mommy, and she could do anything

If my children could write a story about me, I think it would go something like above.  In fact, all of the characteristics and feats mentioned were things my son and daughter complimented me on within the last week.  And after single-handedly moving our small deep freezer outside to defrost, my kids dubbed me ‘Mighty Mommy.’

Yet, I have to marvel at the love affair young children have with their mothers.  I’m no egomaniac.  I haven’t deluded myself into believing I’m the world’s greatest mom.  In fact, I see my flawed nature clearly and merely try to be the best mother be in my imperfection.  Still, my children never see my flaws, only the best in me.

I’m carrying around extra weight.  I’m in desperate need of a fashion makeover.  And my hair gets crazier than an electrocuted mad scientist.  All they see, though, is the most beautiful mommy ever.

Sometimes I’m crabby and irritable because I have extremely long days.  My to-do lists frequently spill into the next day since there’s never enough hours in the day.  I don’t always laugh or have enough fun.  And sometimes, I take life much too seriously.  Nevertheless, they only perceive the coolest, most fun mommy in the world.

What is it that makes young children adore their parents so?  Is it something we don’t see in ourselves?  Are we so critical of ourselves that we’ve lost touch with reality?  Or is this love, so unconditional and strong, how we all are meant to love each other always?  What do you think?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Surviving the Heat Wave

With the forecast calling for weather in the high 80’s for this weekend and into next week, my family and I are struggling to keep cool.  Today, we cruised around in my fiancé’s car with the A/C cranked up high.  We wandered around the mall, taking our time to window shop and to allow the kids time to play on the indoor slide.  We even took extra time grocery shopping, just strolling up and down the aisles and savoring each minute spent in the cool air.

These days of high temperatures with high humidity are hard.  Without air conditioning in our home, heat waves can be a disaster.  Tempers get short.  Appetites become minimal.  And we are all left wondering when the heat wave is going to end!

It’s days like these, though, that make me glad that my parents were resourceful when I was young.  When the temperatures start rising I break out the squirt guns, sprinkler, and water balloons and we have a family water battle--just as my parents did when my brother and I were children.  Some of my favorite and happiest memories from my childhood surround those unbearably hot summer days when my parents became children again, launching water balloons and chasing us with an arsenal of squirt guns.

This heat is also the perfect time for enjoying some of our favorite summer joys: making sun tea and homemade popsicles; eating cold watermelon and holding seed spitting contests off the back porch; and having cookouts in the back yard.

The weather may be difficult, but it never fails to bring the family together.  It forces us to slow down, allowing us to notice and cherish the little things in life.  I’ll readily admit I can’t wait until this heat wave is over. However, I’m truly enjoying the extra family time, and I’m honestly looking forward to our first water battle of the season!

I hope all of you who are also experiencing this heat wave stay safe and cool.

So, what are some of your favorite summer memories?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spanking: A Thing of the Past For Our Family

My daughter pretending to cry.
Recently, I was talking with another mother as we watched our children play.  As moms often do, we started discussing and comparing horror stories of past mischief our children have gotten into.  The conversation soon turned to punishment.  When I mentioned that I no longer spank my children, though, the other woman gave me a look like I just proclaimed that I’m into animal sacrifice or believe I was once abducted by aliens!

No, I am NOT a push-over parent.  I don’t allow my children to run free unchecked.  My children aren’t constantly getting into everything or tearing the house apart.  In fact, they are the exact opposite.  My son and daughter are well behaved, and I get compliments all the time whenever we are out about what good children they are.  So why do some people react so strongly and negatively that I have decided spanking is not for my family?

Of course, my children still act out and get into trouble periodically, as normal children do.  But I have learned that using time outs and revoking of privileges for undesired behavior and offering rewards for good behavior work far better than spanking ever did, especially for my son.

Growing up, my parents put fear into me and my little brother by spanking us with their hands and my father’s belt.  This is how discipline was dealt out on both sides of my family for generations, and it just continued from one generation to the next.  I know my parents meant well, but I can still remember the pain, humiliation, fear, and hopelessness like it was yesterday.  I also remember the tears and the worry as I would lie in my bed at night wondering if my parents might actually hate me.  Although this spanking played only a part, my difficult childhood made me decide pretty young (around 13 or so) that I never wanted to have children of my own.

Obviously and thankfully, I didn’t stick to my vow to never become a mother.  Nevertheless, my childhood is always present in the back of my mind, and it is ultimately what made me decide over 2 years ago that spanking was out for me and my family.

My son, who is now 6, was quite the temperamental toddler.  He would have temper tantrums that would make the most patient parent exasperated!  In desperation, I tried spanking him, but he’d scream louder.  I’d spank him again, and he would throw things in his room.  I’d spank him even more, and he’d start slamming doors.  As a single mother, his tantrums were starting to wear at my nerves, and I was feeling overwhelmed beyond words.

Then one day, he was demanding that I take him to his father (who had disappeared from our lives).  When I told him that I couldn’t my son started hitting me and telling me that he hated me.  I was so hurt by his words and angry at the world for suddenly being forced into single motherhood that my temper snapped.  I grabbed my son and went to put him over my knee to spank him (as my parents always did), but the sheer fear and shock on his face made me physically ill.

I was becoming just like my parents--what I had always feared and hated--and I cried.  I hugged my son close to me, and we cried together.  I told him that I loved him and that I understood that he was hurting inside because his daddy had left.  I told him that it hurt me too to not know why his daddy had chosen to leave.  But I promised that I’d always be there for him and never leave.

From that day on, I decided to no longer spank my kids.  It has been a hard journey learning to parent differently than what I was raised to do.  I have slipped sometimes and doubted myself many times along the way.  Yet, seeing how my children have become so well behaved and how my son has grown to be a happier, much more mellow boy has made the struggle so worth it!  I have become a happier and more positive person and parent as well.

Ultimately, I will never go back.  Other parents can ridicule me or think I’m insane all they want, but I know what is right for me, my children, and my family as a whole.  I have seen the positive changes in myself and my children, and I’m happy with the results of my new parenting technique.  That is what truly matters!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hiking Your Pants Off

My kids hiking their pants off!
As part of my resolution for a healthier 2012, I have decided to add more active time each week not only for me but for the whole family.  My children’s enthusiasm is a wonderful motivator to get me off the couch.  But most importantly, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to teach my son (6) and daughter (5) that staying active is an important and fun part of daily life.

Yesterday, we decided to hike at one of my fiancé’s favorite local nature spots, the 1889 Park in South Fork, PA.  Although I had visited this park in the past, I had never hiked the nature trails, so I was excited!  I was also excited for my children because they had never gone hiking before, and I knew they were going to have a blast!

I love the outdoors!  The more I surround myself with nature, the more relaxed and content I become.  As a teenager, I did plenty of hiking, fishing, camping, and mountain biking.  Living in the country was the greatest feeling, and I found any excuse to be out in the woods.  I even studied and read every opportunity I could, resting against the roots of my favorite tree.

Although I moved to the city 9 years ago, I want to still pass on this passion to my children.  So this Sunday outing promised to be the beginning of something wonderful.  I was a little concerned, though, that my children might have trouble keeping up.  They are still pretty young and my daughter is petite yet for her age.  But I hoped with a little handholding and a slower pace, they would enjoy themselves immensely.

However, soon after we reached the 1889 Park and set out hiking on the trails, I realized how wrong I had been in assuming they might have trouble keeping up.  Instead of my fiancé and I needing to slow down, we were huffing and puffing, trying desperately to keep up with the little ones!  In fact, on several occasions, I had to tell my son and daughter to stop and come back because they were getting too far ahead!

They were speeding down the trails so fast that they were literally hiking their pants off!  My fiancé and I were near hiccups laughing as we watched them trying to simultaneously run and hold their pants up.  Pure joy was radiating from their faces, and I knew that they couldn’t be any happier.

The fresh air, beautiful weather, laughter, and fun exercise made for a perfect afternoon!  In fact, I don’t recall us having that much fun in quite awhile.  It felt so wonderful to share an experience that each one of us was thoroughly enjoying.  I know we’ll be doing much more hiking as a family in the future.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Crunchy Creepy Critters

Blueberry scorpion lollipop
My younger brother served several years in the military as an Army MP.  Since he was stationed away from home and was deployed overseas on 2 occasions, my family always looked forward to his visits back home.  My children especially missed their uncle and awaited his next leave with extreme impatience!

During one of my brother’s trips back home, he saw in the airport gift shop lollipops with real scorpions in the center.  For years, he and I have bought each other little gag gifts, so he decided a blueberry flavored one would be the perfect gift for me.

When my brother presented me with my little gift I got a kick out of it and thought it was interesting.  It brought back memories of 4th grade science class when my teacher brought to school chocolate-covered grasshoppers, and I was the only student to volunteer to eat one.  I remember it was actually kind of tasty, much like a chocolate-covered nut.

However, I am older and wiser now, so I am much more particular about what goes into my stomach.  Consequently, that scorpion lollipop has been sitting around inside my desk drawer for close to 2 years.  It has become melted and sticky over the last few months--and less and less appetizing.

Finally, after finding my pens stuck to the scorpion lollipop one too many times, I decided it was time to throw it away today.  Right when I was about to throw it in the trash can, however, my 5-year-old daughter rushed over and yelled in panic: “Mommy, what are you doing?!”

I told her that I was throwing the lollipop out because it was getting too gross and was starting to ooze all over my pens in my desk drawer.

She frowned and exclaimed, “But Mommy, I wanted to eat it . . . I love lobster!”

Immediately, I started laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe!  As soon as I could talk again, I explained to my little princess that the lollipop didn’t have a lobster inside of it.  Rather, it was actually a scorpion, a type of bug.  My daughter, who has a severe insect phobia, turned really pale and ran screaming from the room.  As she slammed the door shut, I heard her cry out, “Ewwwwwwwww, never mind!”

Looks like no one is eating “lobster” tonight!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Blessings of Parenthood

My son, the smiley baby
Yesterday evening, my family welcomed a new addition.  My cousin had her fourth child, a precious baby girl.  Since she and her family don’t live near by, we waited impatiently for the first photos to be shared on Facebook.  Finally, last night, I received a notification that a photo had been posted and I was ecstatic!  There’s nothing like the excitement after the birth of a newborn baby.

My son (6) and daughter (5) gathered around my laptop, eager to take their first glimpse of their brand-new cousin.  My daughter, particularly, was beside herself with anticipation.  She had known for a while that the baby was going to be a girl and had been waiting for so long to finally see (as she calls the baby) her new best friend!

When the photo loaded the room was flooded with my children’s exclamations.  They thought their new cousin is so cute and the cutest baby ever!  And then, the zillion questions started:

“Mommy, what’s her name?”
“When can we see her?”
“Why is she so tiny?”
“Why are her eyes closed?”
“Why is she wearing a hat?”
“Where is her mommy?”

As I tried to answer all their questions, my mind drifted back to the days when my son and daughter were born.  Those days were two of the happiest days of my life, and I can’t imagine my life without my kids.  Sometimes, I try to picture what I might be like or where I might be in life if I hadn’t been blessed with them.  But it’s impossible!

All their hugs, kisses, romping, giggling, smiles, and yes, even their mischief have become such an integral part of my life that who I am has been and continues to be shaped by my children.  The old me hasn’t died or been erased.  In fact, the old Amanda is still right here.  But the more time I spend with my children, the more I grow and evolve, adding on to who and what I used to be.

Some people are terrified of becoming parents because they are afraid they will lose themselves.  Yet, after over 6 years of motherhood, I can assure you that you gain so much more than you ever lose.  Yes, gone are those late nights out and lazy Saturdays when you can sleep in until noon.  Yes, you may find yourself with a few extra pounds and stretch marks.  Nonetheless, under it all, you will see that rather than losing yourself, you find more of yourself.  Without even trying or expecting to you discover new things about yourself and finally find the person you truly want to be!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Backyard Boundaries

I don’t normally question other peoples’ parenting techniques or choices.  In fact, I’m the first to admit that I am far from perfect and I have made my share of parenting mistakes over the years.  However, I witnessed something last Friday that shocked me so much I still am left trying to make sense of it all!

Friday afternoon, after my children and I returned from walking our dog, I noticed a toddler wandering around in my backyard.  Thinking the little boy might be lost, I was about to go back outside when I heard a voice calling from a few yards away.  Looking out my window, I noticed it was a woman, possibly his mother.  She was hard at work raking her fenced-in backyard.  But instead of answering the woman’s calls and returning to her, the toddler exclaimed, “NO!” and went right back to his wandering.

Immediately, I thought that she’d surely come and get him now since he was running even farther away and was refusing to listen.  Instead, she continued her yard work, yelling even louder to try to get the little boy to come back.  Every minute or so, she’d yell again, but the toddler showed no sign of wanting to return.  He was too busy picking dandelions in my yard.

I didn’t want to interfere because neighborhood drama is the worst, but I also didn’t want anything to happen to the boy.  I stood there watching him in utter disbelief.  I had never been in this type of situation before, so my mind was racing, what should I do?

Finally, after several minutes of them yelling back and forth, I decided I had had enough and I started for the backdoor.  But just as I went to reach for the doorknob, I heard the woman call again, and the little boy yelled, “Okay!” and ran back to her.

Yes, she was watching him the entire time he was running around in neighbors’ yards.  Yes, she wasn’t happy with his behavior and was making sure he knew it.  Yet, I can’t help but feel a little disturbed!  Toddlers can be quite a handful and can get into trouble in a heartbeat.  What if he had decided to veer for the alley behind our houses?  And what about teaching our children to respect other people and their property?

I have taught my children from a very young age to not go into other peoples’ yards or to pick their flowers without permission.  There are people who find that sort of behavior unacceptable regardless of age or circumstance, and we should respect that.

Maybe I’m an overprotective parent with old-fashioned ideas, but I would never leave my children do what this toddler did.  In my mind, not only is it unfair to neighbors, it is also putting the kid at unnecessary risk.  We hear about kids wandering off and getting hit by a car far too frequently.  And that doesn’t even count the accidental drownings and deaths from other accidents.  I know most parents have the best of intentions with their children, but sometimes I wonder if some parents are truly thinking about the possible consequences.

What do you think?  Have/would you ever allow your own young children to do something similar?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother's Day Mambo

My son and daughter are currently music maniacs.  If they aren’t asking for me to turn on the radio or CD player, they are singing, making their own music, or dancing.  They equate music with happiness and excitement.  If it’s sunny outside finally after a week of rain, let’s sing about it!  If we just watched an amazing new movie, let’s run around dancing to the music during the end credits!  If a special occasion is coming up, it won’t be complete with some music with loads of singing and dancing!

Their enthusiasm and energy are inexhaustible and make me laugh and smile each and every time.  I often wonder how on earth such happy and lively children came from me.  My family has often told me that I was a reserved, thoughtful, and serious child.  Of course, I had my hyper and excitable moments at times.  However, from a young baby, I was often content to simply sit quietly and study the world around me.  My late father used to tease me growing up that I was an old lady stuck in a child’s body.

Over the years, I have learned to live it up more and to act like a total goofball to have a good laugh.  But truthfully, most of what I’ve learned about the lighter side of life has come from my own children.  We have water battles, run races, dress up in funny costumes, and talk to each other in silly voices.  It is as though my inner child has finally escaped and now has room to run free!

My children challenge me all the time to break out of my comfort zone and do things completely out of character for my reserved self.  For example, my daughter (almost 5) has decided I must dance to celebrate Mother‘s Day this weekend.  She explained to me yesterday that I am, quote, “the best mommy ever so [I] need to dance!”

I told her I don’t really know how to dance, but she immediately insisted that everyone knows how to dance.  I only have to listen to the music and move.  My own dance will just happen.  She also added that I have to do my Mother’s Day dance with her and in front of others.  (What’s the use of dancing if not to share it with others?)

The thought of dancing with other people in the room mortifies me!  In fact, besides a little swaying to the music, I haven’t attempted to dance in over a decade.  Yet, my little princess is set on having our little mother/daughter dance session.  And who am I to disprove her Best-Mommy-Ever title?  So, here goes nothing . . . wish me luck because this mama is off to find her inner rhythm this weekend!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, grandmas, wives, and special women out there!