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What I Learned Over Spring Break

Last week was our spring break. It was the first spring break in about five years that we haven’t had major money problems.

Where we weren’t in danger of losing our house, where the Man from CL&P wasn’t coming to knock on our door on an almost monthly basis, where we weren’t on food stamps, where we didn’t have to return cans and bottles or hold a tag sale in order to pay for groceries.

We aren’t anywhere near rolling around in bags of money. We aren’t in the position to do whatever we want whenever we want. We are nowhere near that. We still have to be frugal and cut the fat wherever we can.

But we aren’t destitute.

Being in a terrible financial black hole for years had put me into the mindset that I couldn’t relax. That I had to spend just about every second of every day working or trying to find ways to make money. And so for the past four of five spring breaks and Christmas vacations and summer vacations, I have basically ignored the kids.

Going away anywhere was clearly not an option. But I had also convinced myself that taking time to do just about anything with them wasn’t possible. Or allowed.

It’s hard to get out of that mindset.

For me, anyway.

So this spring break, I made the conscious decision to be much more available to the kids.

I did this for a number of reasons.

First, Number 7 is five years old.

Five years old!!!

How did that happen so fast?

There are phases of life that have passed us for good.

We are done with diapers and highchairs and strollers and carrying kids. I find myself feeling nostalgic for some of these things that are long gone sometimes.

Although I appreciate where we are now. I am enjoying the kids having more independence. I am enjoying relating to them on a different level.

But damn is it going by fast!!!

I definitely have regrets. And I’ll see an occasional video show up on Facebook from five years ago and it’s scary how quickly I forget. I forget what the kids looked like and what they smelled like and what they sounded like. I know that happens.  But has it happened more for me because I’ve been letting so many opportunities with the kids pass me by?

I spend a lot of time with my kids. I mean, I’m the one who is usually home with them.

But I feel like I’ve been absent for a lot of that time.

I’m in the same place as them, but I’m not really present.

You know, like the stereotypical husband sitting across the table from the wife, reading the newspaper, and not listening to a thing she ways and just uh-huh-ing her without even looking up from the paper or actually listening to a word she says.

So there was that realization.

Then there is the fact that some of the kids are having issues with behavior. They happen to be the kids I spend the least amount of time with.

Maybe it’s just coincidental, but I don’t think so.

I am certain there is a direct correlation between kids behavior and the amount of or quality of interaction between them and their parents.

My kids need my attention. My focused, undivided attention. They don’t necessarily need hours and hours of it.

But they sure as shit need more than they’ve been getting.

So for the first time in years, I made the conscious decision to spend a significant amount of quality time with my kids while they were home last week.

And something ironic happened.

I didn’t get sick of them. I didn’t find myself getting pissed and annoyed and short on patience.

Don’t get me wrong. They did stupid and infuriating stuff. They still tried to annoy the shit out of each other and me. The are kids. That’s what they do sometimes.

But they started doing it less and less.

I spent more quality time with the kids than I have in a long, long time. And instead of me getting to the end of our vacation and feeling exhausted and exasperated and desperate for a break, I felt kind of sad that the break was over. I could have used a couple more days.

What the fuck?

I have never, ever felt that way.

I have spent every vacation for the last couple years desperate for the kids to go back to school so I could have a break.

And the kids (who are usually at least a little bit excited to go back to school and see their friends) were bummed, too.

Number 4 had no desire to go back to school. That’s never happened before.

At least ten times last week, she just looked at me — not in response to going on one of our adventures or in an effort to get something but just out of the blue — and she said, I love you, Mom.

Whoa.

I guess I am having one of Oprah’s proverbial light bulb moments.

I’m not going to stop working, drop everything I want to do, start homeschooling and construct a huge family bed.

But it’s clear that my priorities need to shift. Or at least the way I structure my time does.

Last week the kids and I had one of the best weeks we’ve ever had together. Possibly, the best week we’ve ever had.

I know we did some fun things. But it wasn’t really the fun things that made the break so great.

It was the fact that we did them together.

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If You Are Looking For A Fun (And 100% FREE) Spring Break Activity For Your Kids, Read This!

We did something awesome today!

If you follow NYAM on Facebook, you may have seen my post a couple days ago asking readers to share some of their stay-at-home-for-spring-break-plans.

I thought it would be fun to compile a list of activities and ideas for those of us who aren’t off to Disney or somewhere tropical. (I know I’m especially in need of them since we are heading into the second week of a short break from swim team and my kids are already off the walls).

Then yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook. A friend of mine turned 50, and her daughter wrote her a message. It said something along the lines of, “…Happy Birthday, Mom! Thanks for taking me on lots of crazy adventures!…”

And I thought to myself, what a great thing for a kid to say. And what a great memory to have.

Then I thought about the fact that my kids are already bordering on TOOC (Totally Out Of Control) and it’s only the first day of spring break. With eight days left to go and no swim practice next week to help tire the kids out, I’m not sure we can handle too many at-home, creative activities.

So last night after reading my friend’s birthday message from her daughter, I decided this spring break is going to be the spring break of crazy adventures.

But they have to be crazy adventures that don’t really cost much because I just blew a shit ton of money sending Number 4 to Zones, and the crazy adventure bank balance is in the single digits.

One of the first suggestions someone made when I wrote that post on Facebook looking for stayacation ideas was geocaching.

I had never heard of it before. Am I the only one??? How did I not know about this?

I Googled geocaching right away, and it looked like a lot of fun. Plus it’s totally free, so giving it a try was a no-brainer.

If you are clueless like me, geocaching is basically a real-life treasure hunt. Geocaches are hidden containers that can range in size from something about the size of a film canister to a larger Rubbermaid container. They are waterproof and contain a log book, and some contain “treasures.” (I think treasures are usually more for fun and they aren’t really anything of much value).

There are millions of caches of various sizes hidden all over the world!

Last night I downloaded the app. As soon as you open a (free) membership, you can see where caches near you (and anywhere) are hidden. All you need is a phone with GPS.

Caches have descriptions, and many have hints, so some are fairly easy to find, and some are super difficult.

As luck would have it, there was a cache two miles from our house that was originally hidden by a seven-year-old (with the help of her parents), and it was intended for young geocachers.

So it was perfect for us virgins.

Last night I told the kids were were going on a surprise adventure, but I wouldn’t tell them what we were doing or where we were going. This morning, I pulled them all into the kitchen and explained what the plan was.

They were mostly excited. One may have been a little less than enthused, but he eventually came around.

We loaded in the car and I assigned Number 3 the role of navigator. He sat in the front seat with the phone helping to guide me. We ended up at the nature center in our town.

Here is the kicker. We have lived in this town for eight years, and in those eight years, I have never been to the nature center. I didn’t even know there was one!

So not only did we go on an adventure, but we visited a (really cool) resource in our town that I  had never even seen before!

We got to the nature center, got out of the car, and started walking. The app’s description of the cache gave us a clue which direction to walk in.

As you walk, the app has a built in compass, and it tells you how many feet you are from the cache, and it points you in the correct direction.

Once you get within thirty feet or so, you just have to start looking all around.

Number 4 was the first one to spot the cache hidden in a hole in a stone wall.

Everyone was pretty psyched. Except Number 7 who wanted to hold the cache.

Inside the box were a bunch of little “treasures” — mostly pencils, some little trinkets, etc.

Number 3 and 4 weren’t impressed by the contents of the cache, but we had discussed before we got there that there may not be anything at all inside and that the excitement was in locating the cache itself.

The little kids were pretty psyched, though. Number 7 had brought along some things from home to trade for items in the cache just in case. She and Number 5 and 6 traded some Shopkins, a small toy ladybug, and a Matchbox car for some stickers, balloons and a pencil.

But here is the cool thing. Inside the cache is a log book. And when find the cache, you are supposed to fill out the log book and place it back in the box.

The girl who had hidden the box had written a message in the log book last year:

She came back to update the log book and maintain her cache. And read that last line — she is 18 now! The box has been there for twelve years!

That’s so cool!

So I left a message in the log. Number 4 wanted to write one, and so did Number 6.

 

Number 6’s message: Hi, I’m (Number 6) and I liked the geocaching a lot. Bye bye Guys. Have a nice day!

How cute is that?

We finished up our log entries, and then we explored the nature center a little more.

We found a pretty cool tree and swing. We spent some time there.

We did a little more exploring.

There were a couple bumps in the road along the way.

But overall, we had a great time, it was definitely a little adventure, and the kids were bummed when I told them we had to leave.

Number 4 said to me later this afternoon, Mom, today was a great day. If every day of spring break is like this, it’s gonna be an awesome vacation!

Ha! And it was totally free and two miles from our house!

Will I be able to make the next eight days as fun as today was?

I don’t know.

But I’m up for the challenge!

Where in the world will Not Your Average Family go tomorrow?

Stay tuned to find out!

 

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The Not Your Average Mom Mission

editor’s note: I am in the process of giving my website an overhaul. I’ve revised my “about” page which will be  published when the new site is up.

Until that happens, I wanted to share the new and improved version with you here. Check it out!

Welcome to Not Your Average Mom.

My name is Susie, and I’m 47 years old.

I am a mother, stepmother, wife, divorcée, blogger, swim coach, inspirational/motivational speaker, Positive Discipline parent educator, mental health advocate, failure, and success all wrapped into one.

I live in Connecticut with my husband and our big a$$ family.

Our kids range in age from 5 to 19 years old.

They are smart, funny, gorgeous, talented, inspiring, motivating, challenging, frustrating, infuriating and exhausting. (Sometimes all in one day. Or hour.)

Our life is not usually as pretty as this picture.

Almost never, really.

And that’s why I started this blog in 2012.

Because being a mom can be really fucking hard, and because there aren’t a whole lot of people out there being honest and realistic about what motherhood is like.

Five years ago, I noticed there were a lot of blogs and websites and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts that showed perfection.

But they didn’t portray (or even address) reality.

So when our youngest was about fifteen months old and I was in the thick of it, I resolved to create a place, and honest and relatable place where moms (and dads) could come when they were feeling alone or overwhelmed or like they were failing or when they just need a break.

And I decided to write about the stuff that most people don’t want to talk about. The stuff that most people don’t want to admit. The stuff that people are thinking but are too afraid to say out loud.

You know, the stuff most people wouldn’t dare post on Instagram or Facebook.

When I first started writing, five of the kids were under seven years old and I pretty much told stories.

I wrote a lot about the disasters. This is the infamous powdered sugar incident of  2012.

 

I wrote about the meltdowns.

I wrote about the messes.

 

I wrote about the boxes (and boxes) of feminine products the kids went through.

 

Because if you can’t laugh at the shit that happens once you become a parent, well…

Then you’re fucked.

Oh yeah.

If the word fuck bothers you, this is probably not the right place for you.

If you are looking to judge, please go somewhere else.

If you are looking for perfection, um, I can give you The Pioneer Woman’s website.

She’s pretty perfect.

(But she’s not really perfect. She just shows you the stuff that is).

Which brings me back to how Not Your Average Mom came to be.

About six months after I started the blog, the Sandy Hook shootings took place. I live about ten minutes from Sandy Hook, and at the time, Number 4 was a first grader, the same age as the children who lost their lives that day.

It hit very close to home.

And that’s when I felt it was important for me to write about my battles with mental illness.

This consequently led to me writing about pretty much anything I felt like writing about either for selfish reasons (because it’s therapeutic for me) or because I thought by sharing my stories, I might be able to help someone else.

So I wrote about my experiences with depression. I wrote about miscarriages and divorce and being in an abusive relationship and about how I think being married is way fucking harder than being a parent. I shared my weight loss ups and downs. Our financial difficulties – filing for bankruptcy and almost losing our house to foreclosure. Having to ask (a lot of) people for help.

And I wrote about this stuff because I knew I was not alone. I knew there were other people out there feeling the same way (but who thought they were alone in their experiences).

Every time I wrote about any of these topics, I received emails and messages from both friends and strangers.

Thank you for making me feel normal.

It’s like you are living inside my head.

Thank you for reminding me it’s okay to not be perfect.

And that’s when I really knew that a place like this is important. A place that reminds people that perfection is unobtainable, and that all of us, to varying degrees, are fucked up.

Now that the kids are getting older (the oldest is out doing his own thing and the youngest in is kindergarten), the stuff I write about is changing.

The oldest kids don’t really want to be talked about (why you rarely see Number 1 or 2 mentioned). A pre-teen eleven-year-old is a little – okay a LOT — more self-conscious than a three-year-old. So I respect their privacy and their requests to be kept out of things. (You know — like that other Osbourne daughter that nobody ever knew existed).

Five years later, there aren’t as many powdered sugar incidents, and almost all the kids now know what “those things that look like tiny diapers” are actually for.

As life changes and evolves, so does Not Your Average Mom.

My goal now is to do more than tell stories and share experiences.

I still tell stories.

But I also share what I’ve learned that works and what doesn’t work. I share my successes and my failures. I encourage people think outside the box. I encourage moms to not give a flying f*ck what other people think, and to do what they need to do in order to take care of themselves, their children, and their families.

Being a mom is never going to be easy. You don’t have to have seven kids to know that.

And my mission here now is to make momming easier.

To help you enjoy the highs of parenting while more more easily navigating the lows.

To celebrate the successes and support each other.

To give the finger to mom guilt.

To find ways that work better for each of us.

And to not beat ourselves up when we make mistakes, but learn from them and move forward.

Because we all know that life is like a roller coaster.

And if we’re going to be on this roller coaster together, we might as well do whatever we can to make sure we enjoy the ride.

 

 

Check out this set and and tons of other cute stuff out at Betsy Boo’s Boutique — my fave place to shop online!

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Perfection Is Unattainable. And Stupid. So Stop Trying To Achieve It.

The other day I was talking with a friend who is a bit of a perfectionist.

Actually, she’s a raging perfectionist. She would openly admit this.

And we were talking about how life is such a challenge sometimes.

I was reminded of this picture I recently saw on a friend’s Facebook page:

 

We went back to talking, and my friend told me she recently asked her 81-year-old mother-in-law what the secret to happiness (or just survival) was.

And her mother-in-law told her, You have to stop trying to be perfect.

And my friend was like, I think she’s right!

And I was like, Well HOLY SHIT, Woman, I could have told you that last week, and I’m nowhere near 80 years old!

I was floored that my friend had not yet realized this.

And then it occurred to me that maybe my friend wasn’t alone. That there are still many women (and men) who feel this (self-imposed) pressure to be perfect.

So I thought I’d try to smack some sense into those of you who are still breaking your backs in an effort to obtain the unobtainable.

Perfection is not just overrated.

It’s impossible.

Okay. Let me clarify.

You can probably do some things perfectly. You could maybe maintain a perfect house. (Why you would spend the time necessary to do that, I will never understand, but whatever floats your boat).

But perfection across the board is impossible.

In college, you could maybe maintain a perfect grade point average. But in doing so, you lose out on the perfect social life or the perfect relationship or the perfect level of stress and mental and emotional health.

When I look at the aspects of my life that are the most important to me, there is my health, my kids, and my marriage.

And there is no way to achieve perfection in any of those areas!

If you devote a lot of time and effort toward the quest for the “perfect” body, then something else is gonna give. Your relationships are going to suffer. Or the level of cleanliness in your home will. Or your mental health will.

Besides, what is the “perfect body” or the “perfect marriage” or the “perfect mother” anyway?

We look at people who are seemingly perfect on the outside (or on Facebook).

We look at the impeccably dressed woman or the mom with  7% body fat or the mom with perfectly dressed children, and we think to ourselves, she’s got her shit together.

But she’s not as perfect as she outwardly appears.

Take, for instance, the ultimate example of perfection.

Martha Stewart.

She’s loaded and attractive and successful and can do pretty much anything.

She seems pretty perfect.

From the outside.

She can cook the perfect soufflé.  She can maintain a perfect home and make the perfect bed and build shit with her own hands.

But she couldn’t maintain the perfect marriage. And her daughter wrote a book detailing how she was basically a shitty mom.

Oh yeah.

And she also went to fucking jail.

So scratch that name of the list of candidates for perfection.

While we’re at it, cross all the rest of them off, too.

In fact, just crumple the paper up and throw it directly into the fireplace.

No one is perfect.

It’s the imperfection that makes things interesting. And bearable.

If everything was perfect, nothing would ever be funny.

Could you imagine?

Could you imagine if no one ever fell, if our kids never said anything embarrassing, if bloopers never happened, and if we never fucked up so badly that we had that awesome story to tell six months later?

We would never laugh if people were perfect all the time.

That would suck!

And if we were perfect all the time, we’d never have opportunities to do better. We’d never be able to feel proud of ourselves because we’d never improve. We’d just be on a constant hamster wheel trying to maintain a level of perfection at all times.

We’d self destruct.

Which is what happens on a certain level to moms who are constantly trying to achieve perfection.

And it’s not just moms. It’s dads too. Did you see Randall in the latest episode of  This Is Us? He’s the poster child for the negative effects of trying to be perfect across the board!

Nope. Being a good mom or wife or husband or father is not about being perfect.

And perhaps the biggest danger of all in the quest for perfection is that we are (unknowingly) giving our children the message that that’s what we expect of them.

And that’s not good.

The key to life is not perfection.

The key to truly enjoying the ups of life while navigating the downs, making it through the time when it sucks to when it’s great to when it sucks again to when it’s great again is awareness. And growth. And improvement. And acceptance.

When you possess all those things, you realize it’s the imperfections that help to make you a better mother and wife and person.

Because you are moving forward.

And that’s the key.

Not waking up each and every day and maintaining a level of flawlessness.

But waking up each and every day and simply putting one foot in front of the other.

 

Check out this set and and tons of other cute stuff out at Betsy Boo’s Boutique — my fave place to shop online!

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