Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Parenthood and perfectionism are a tough combination.  Because there's always a new challenge right around the corner, it's virtually impossible for a parent who tends toward perfectionism and unhealthy self-criticism to live up to her own expectations.  I battle this regularly, often measuring our family, and myself as a mother, against an unrealistic ideal that I've created.  This time of year, when I'm working overtime to make the holidays magical and ensure that Little Brother's Christmas birthday does not get lost in the shuffle, that sort of noise becomes really loud in my head.  I'm not doing enough, I tell myself.  The house isn't decorated enough, we haven't baked enough, we haven't seen enough lights, we haven't done enough crafts, we haven't made enough gifts, we haven't focused enough on the meaning of Christmas, we haven't spent enough quality time together, we haven't stayed in touch with friends well enough, and on and on and on.  Next thing I know, my to-do list has grown into something truly unachievable, and I all I can think about is the impossibility of it all.

I know what I need to do.  I have to bring myself back.  A few deep breaths, a moment in the sun and some fresh air, a cup of tea, and I'm all set to RESET.  The only way out is to change my outlook.  Instead of what I haven't done and can't done, I need to think about what I have done and am doing.  Instead of the unachievable ideal, I need to focus on what I'm doing right, what I'm giving my family and what I'm doing for others.  Because really isn't that the better measure of success? 

In the spirit of resetting and reframing, I want to tell you something that I've done right -- I am raising a family of volunteers.  My children each began volunteering regularly at age three, and now they view community service as something we do.  In our family, we have blue eyes, we read each night before bed, we put a fairy on top of the Christmas tree, and we volunteer.  Community service has become part of the fabric of our family, and I am so very proud of that.

Organizing reading material at Operation School Bell.

Marking storm drains for the City Watershed Department.

When my daughter was a toddler, and the perfectionism noise in my head started to become unbearably loud this time of year, I began looking for a way we, as a family, could get out in the community and help some people.  Not by giving money -- we already did that -- but by using our time and our talents to do something.  I had grand hopes of involving friends and their young children.  Wouldn't the holidays be brighter if instead of buying each other gifts, we could come together and do some good in our community?  I was terribly disappointed to find that volunteering with children was almost unheard of in my community.

The next year I looked again and was thrilled to discover a nonprofit startup with a mission of creating local volunteer opportunities for families.  I invited myself to lunch with the founder and asked how I could help.  I knew this was something important -- to our family and scores of others, to local nonprofits who didn't yet know how much families could help them, to community members who benefit from the good work that nonprofits do.  I began volunteering behind the scenes (working mostly on funding strategy and grants), and we soon began volunteering as a family.  Now, thanks to Little Helping Hands and the many nonprofits and local organizations LHH partners with, we are volunteers

Helping maintain the park where Mr. Great and I got married.

I knew, as everyone does, that volunteering is something we should all try to do, like eating veggies and flossing our teeth.  What I didn't quite realize was how volunteering would inform the ways in which our children view the world around them.  Our volunteer experiences have provided a foundation for talking about difficult topics (like homelessness, hunger, child abuse, refugees, disaster assistance).  As our children become more aware of imperfect and unfair aspects of our world, they can find some balance in knowing that good people are working hard to help find solutions.  They are experiencing all sorts of ways people can and do help their communities, and it has become natural for them to think about how they, and others, can make a difference.

Making Mother's Day flowers for moms with hospitalized children.

Painting over graffiti for the City.

When confronted with others in need, my children don't turn away or pretend not to see, as so many adults seem to.  No, they ask what we can do to help.  Because they know that even small children who can't yet read can help.  Families, together, can help. 

Helping maintain city parks.

Cleaning trash from a beautiful local landmark.

Bagging groceries at a food pantry.

Making thank you cards for the American Red Cross.

We've even gotten the grandparents involved.  On some school holidays, instead of going to the movies or playing games, Big Sister and Oma volunteer together.

Assembling backpacks for Project HELP.

Preparing food for the hungry at Caritas.

We have not hung lights on our house, and I still haven't found our tree skirt.  We haven't baked cookies, and I've still got loads of gifts to buy and wrap.  But you know what?  This family has done a lot of good.  As Mr. Great and I said in our wedding vows so many years ago, together we are stronger.  Together we are making a difference.  That's what really matters.

Breaking down computers for recycling at Goodwill.

Making dinner at Ronald McDonald House.

Helping food pantry recipients.

Making visual aids for Komen Foundation.

Last year, Big Sister did so much volunteering that she was honored with an award.  A trophy!  And a certificate from the mayor thanking her for her service.  Little Brother got a certificate too, and a ribbon.  Hard evidence that we're doing something right here.

This special kid was very proud, and we were very proud of her.  She took her trophy to school for show-and-tell.  She told her Brownie troop about her award and the work she'd done to earn it.

I have to tell you that I am every bit as proud of myself, too, for committing to spend much of our family time in a productive way, for making it happen, for modeling the importance of volunteering to my children.  They know that I spend some evenings helping Little Helping Hands in its search for funding and grants, they know that I help lead the Brownies troop and that I help organize charity projects at my office.  We are volunteers.  They know.

As I try to reset, reframe, and refocus, and as those not-enough thoughts invade my mind during this busy time, this is what I want to remember.  

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I think Halloween is pretty much the pinnacle of cuteness when you have little kids.  I mean, really, does it get any better than a tiny, ripped wrestler and a gap-toothed garden gnome?  I'm not sure it does.  Although we have set the bar pretty high in Halloweens past.

Seriously, that's pretty great, right?

Let's take Mr. Lucha Libre.  He's got abs of steel, gold pants, a star on his forehead, wrist-blades and a cool cape.  That's what I call a good costume.  I can't take credit for much here.  I owe almost all of it to Tamsin of iwishiwasa, who put together the gold, the mask, and the vinyl bits.  All I did was make the lumpy muscle shirt.  And for that I owe Sew a Straight Line, who put together a fantastic tutorial.  I'm thankful that I didn't have to do too much sewing, even if I found myself making an emergency ninja mask late last night for today's school (backup) costume.

Hey, who is that masked man?  Oh yeah, it's this cutie pie.

Now, my girlie decided last Halloween that she wanted to be a gnome this year.  And she stuck with it.  All year long.  Thankfully that gave me plenty of time to think about how to make a gnome costume, since she insisted that it be mama-sewn.

Actually, I didn't do it all.  My kiddo sewed most of the hat herself.  We used a pattern from MysticMoor.  She's turning into quite a little seamstress.

The capelet was based on a free pattern and tutorial from Prudent Baby.  The shirt is a cute raglan with shirred neckline and sleeves, the Provincial Top pattern from Terra's Treasures.  The skirt I created, inspired by Jocole's double layer ruffle skirt.  The awesome polka-dot red boots are from Ebay (gnome boots!).

I didn't get nearly as many pictures of my little gnome.  It turns out that while wrestlers like to show their moves and demonstrate their toughness, garden gnomes like to stand still and look cute.  Really, really cute.  See?

So there you have it.  Halloween 2013.  Hope you're enjoying it as much as we are!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

We've been keeping the Tooth Fairy busy lately.  See?

It all started with a tooth that had been a little wiggly for ages, and a cold apple.  Next thing we knew, that tooth was very wiggly.

When it became apparent that Big Sister wouldn't have a mouth full of teeth for much longer, I insisted on taking a picture or two.  "Show me how loose that tooth is," I said.

I snapped one quick picture before the tooth jumped right out of her mouth and landed in her hand.

What a happy surprise!

So we put the tooth into a special box, to make it easy for the Tooth Fairy to find.

Big Sister wrote the Tooth Fairy a note, asking if she could keep the tooth.  

We read The Tooth Mouse,  a lovely story about lost teeth, and off to bed we went.  The next morning, Big Sister woke to find that the Tooth Fairy left her a special gold coin, a $2 bill, and a little bottle to keep her teeth in.  Such a generous fairy!

Two days later, Big Sister lost another tooth.  That one fell out at school.  The Tooth Fairy returned that night.

Tooth 3, like Tooth 1, had a run-in with an apple.  This time it happened in the stands at a football game, with 100,000 of our closest friends.  There was some blood and some drama, but Big Sister was tough and pulled that tooth out.  Mr. Great carried it home in his pocket and delivered it safely to the special tooth box. 

Tooth 4 got more wiggly than the others.  It was barely hanging on.  We had many conversations about whether the tooth was ready to come out or not.  

There was much wiggling, and maybe a little pulling.

And then it was out!

And now this is the toothless smile that we love to see.  

I know this toothless grin will be gone in the blink of an eye.  It's kind of like a baby crawling -- it's a fleeting moment that's over before you even realize that it began.  But I never want to forget.  I've really loved the smile of the little girl with the little teeth, and now this smile of the big girl with no teeth.

7, 2, Rainbow.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It seems like just yesterday that I had a tiny, two-week-old baby girl who hadn't yet reached her due date or gained back her birth weight.  Now that baby is seven, and today she started second grade.
I had long suspected that when I finally had a baby, it would be a tough, stubborn, and determined little creature with the power of perseverance.  She is every bit of that. 
She is also the sweetest little soul I have ever known.  She has a tender and kind heart; she's a sensitive little thing.

She's smart, and she loves to learn.  I haven't yet seen an educational challenge too great for this kid.
There's no question in my mind that she's ready for second grade.  This kid has all the tools she needs to succeed.  I feel sure that she'll do great things, and that she'll live up to all the lofty hopes and dreams I had for her when she started school and the more practical hopes I expressed when she started first grade.
This year, I'm condensing all those hopes and dreams into one:  Do your best, kid, and do it with zest.

Remember that you've got a powerful fan club behind you, cheering you on every step of the way. 
Sometimes we hold on a little too tight and don't know how to let you go. But it's because we love you.  And we're proud of who you are and who you're becoming.

As the big kid heads off to second grade, this little one heads off to his last day in the Rainbow class.  In one year, we'll be sending him off to kindergarten, lunch box in hand, giant backpack on tiny, strong back.

What a day that will be.