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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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Someone Told Me It’s All Happening At The Zoo

Two years ago I took the kids to the Bronx Zoo for the first time. I took them on a Wednesday, which (unbeknownst to me at the time) is the free day, and the whole entire world goes then, and the trip didn’t exactly go as planned.

It took me a while to build up the energy (and desire) to take them again.

When we went two years ago my parents had given us a family membership so we could go whenever I wanted.

I decided not to renew it be cause we didn’t use it at all after that.

With so many of us though, it’s pretty pricey to take everyone (or even just most of us) to the zoo.

But since I have decided that this spring break would be a break of adventures, I willingly and knowingly took the kids to the zoo yesterday. On Wednesday. The free day.

And I’m pretty sure that will be our last trip to the Bronx Zoo for at least, um…

Ever.

I had visions of an Instagram-worthy or reality show worthy (i.e. totally fake) trip. The kids would all have fun, they’d be mesmerized by the animals, they’d cooperate, and we’d leave with dozens of fond memories.

In reality, things were much different than what I had envisioned.

I knew better though. Most family trips are about 70% fighting/whining/arguing/complaining and 30% Instagram/Facebook worthy. If we’re lucky.

But this one was more like 90/10.

We did start this trip off much better than the one we had taken two years ago.

I knew where I was going this time and we got to the parking lot an hour after we left. I had packed lunches for the kids to eat, and they ate in the car on the ride there. We were meeting some friends too, so that made the trip a little more exciting.

We got out of the car and everyone had a full stomach and was excited to be at the zoo.

For like five minutes.

We stopped at the bathroom by the entrance before we did anything else.

There was a decent line to get into the zoo, but it moved quickly, and ten minutes later we found our friends.

It started raining as soon as we saw them, so we headed directly into the World of Birds.

It was about 4 million degrees in there, and every single person who had gotten to the zoo in the last twenty minutes was inside that exhibit to avoid the rain.

As soon as we walked in the door, Number 6 sat down and started crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“MY FOOT HURTS!” he yelled at me.

Then he sat on the floor and refused to get up.

“HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE GOING TO BE HERE???” he yelled.

“We’re only staying in this exhibit until it stops raining. It’s just a passing shower,” I told him.

“NO! NOT IN THIS PLACE!” he yelled.

HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE STAYING AT THE ZOO???

We had literally been there for fifteen minutes.

“Um… we just got here,” I said to him.

“I HATE THIS PLACE!” he cried. “I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT TO GO HERE!!!”

Yikes. It was going to be a long afternoon.

I took him out of the building, sat him on a bench and looked at his shoe.

“NOW MY PANTS ARE WET!!!! AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! WHY DID YOU GET MY PANTS WET?

I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT TO GO TO THE ZOO!

THIS IS THE DUMBEST. PLACE. EVER!!!!!!!!”

The rain had stopped so we headed toward the seals. The seals are always a crowd pleaser.

“I HAVE TO PEE,” Number 6 said.

What. The fuck.

“You just went to the bathroom ten minutes ago,” I said to him.

“WELL I HAVE TO GO AGAIN!” he said.

“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT BECAUSE YOU GAVE ME GATORADE!!!”

Kill me now.

I set the other kids up with my parents and my friend and headed off to find a bathroom.

It took all my restraint to not rip Number 6’s arm from his socket.

After five minutes of dragging Number 6 around in circles, we finally found the bathroom.

We made it back to our group and continued on.

“CARRY MEEEEEE!!!!” Number 6 whined.

“I’m not carrying you,” I told him.

“WHY WAS THIS SO MUCH FUN THE LAST TIME BUT THIS TIME IT’S

SO STUPID?!?!?

I was beginning to get a headache from clenching my jaws shut.

Around this point, Number 7 got an Incredible Hulk-like burst of energy.

She had a minor bike riding accident a week or so ago and she landed on the handlebars of her bike right on her chest. She gave herself a good burn/scrape.

She pulled up her shirt and yelled,

“LOOK GRAMMY! MY BOO BOO IS ALL BETTER AND MY NIPPLE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE SALMON ANYMORE!!!”

Oh my God.

Then she started doing cartwheels.

I didn’t let myself think about what exactly she was putting her hands into. I was just glad her shirt was all the way on again.

Now Number 3 and Number 4 were getting on each other’s nerves and Number 6 was on his seven thousandth sit-in.

“I’M NOT WALKING. CARRY ME.”

I couldn’t take him anymore.

Fully aware that I was contributing to the problem, I told him I’d give him a piggy back.

That helped for about three minutes.

But his shorts were too slippery and he kept sliding down my back, and that was pissing him off and now he was whining again but now I was actually sweating and out of breath.

So I put him down.

Unlike our list trip, there was no grand finale. There was no final exhibit or ride or display that turned everyone’s attitudes around.

Between the crying and the whining and the refusing and then the kids giving each other flat tires and pushing and shoving and annoying, we came to our senses and decided it was time to go.

I forced everyone to take a picture before we left.

This pretty accurately depicts our trip:

I really wanted my kids to be those kids who LOVE going to the zoo (why, I’m not sure, but still, I wanted them to love it) but you know what? Most of them don’t.

And what Remember whens will they have from this adventure?

I’m not sure, but one thing I am pretty sure of is that we are done with the zoo.

I mean, why drive an hour to the Bronx?

It’s apparent we’ve got plenty of wild animals right here at home.

 

 

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Easy Scavenger Hunt For Kids With A Twist!

On day three of spring break we had a dentist appointment, I had some stuff do to at home, and I had to teach some swim lessons later in the afternoon, so we didn’t have time for a full-on adventure.

But it was super nice out, so I decided to do a scavenger hunt at home with a short adventure following the scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt killed a couple birds with one stone. I could get a little work done and the kids would be outside running around and hopefully letting off a little steam.

Once the hunt was over, we would go on a mini adventure, but I didn’t tell the kids what the adventure would be.

We are struggling a little bit with bickering and tattling, so in an effort to facilitate some cooperation and teamwork, I told the kids they’d have to work together to help everyone find all the items on their lists.

Here’s what I used for the items — I “hid” 6 of the following things outside all over the yard. We have a pretty big yard, so there was plenty of space to put all this stuff.

I didn’t go too crazy with the difficulty of the hidden items because I didn’t want to spend five hours searching for that last red Lego.

I typed a quick list out:

 

I gave each kid a list, a plastic bag, and a pen.

We realized after I gave them the lists that I left red solo cup, blue Lego and a swim cap off of it, but we just wrote those in.

I told the kids they had to find a way to work together, and bring all the items back inside onto the dining room table when they were done.

When there were six of each item back inside on the dining room table, they’d find out what the next part of the adventure was.

The kids who were ten and younger were pretty excited and enthusiastic. The kids over ten were not exactly psyched.

I didn’t require anyone’s participation, but I explained that only kids who participated in the scavenger hunt would be able to come on the adventure.

Everyone participated in the scavenger hunt, and there were definitely some bumps along the way. It wasn’t total smooth sailing, but it did give the kids an opportunity to work on finding ways to cooperate.

This is a great activity for kids who are younger (like under 10 years old), but I really liked this as a cooperation practicing activity for all the kids together.

What was the mini adventure once the kids found everything? I kept it a surprise until we got close enough that Number 4 figured out where we were going, at which point she started screaming and bouncing in the front seat of the car.

We took a trip to Ferris Acres Creamery and we all got ice cream. This is a pretty big treat for us because we very rarely go there.

I’d like to say that getting ice cream and sitting outside on a beautiful and unseasonably warm day in April was the highlight of our mini adventure.

But it wasn’t.

It was watching a high school kid polish off a massive bucket of ice cream, hearing all his friends cheer, and then thirty seconds later, watching him puke his guts out.

We saw my parents yesterday, and they asked the kids what their mini adventure was. Number 7 told them.

“Mom called a kid stupid because he ate too much ice cream and then he puked all over the place.”

(In my defense, I said I thought it was stupid to spend that much money on ice cream only to puke it back up half an hour later).

So our memory of this adventure won’t be, Remember that time on spring break when we had a scavenger hunt and then Mom took us to Ferris Acres for ice cream?

Instead it will be Remember that time on spring break when we had a scavenger hunt and then Mom took us to Ferris Acres and that guy puked his guts out and mom said he was stupid?

But I guess that’s what makes an adventure and adventure.

You never know exactly what to expect.

Onto the next (and hopefully puke-free) adventure!

 

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20 Things To Do With Your Kids Over Spring Break

If you are like me, your kids have spring break next week and you are staying at home.

If you are also like me, you may be looking for things to do with your kids that won’t cost you an arm and a leg but will keep everyone in your family from killing each other before Easter.

So, with the help of some readers, I compiled a list. We have already done one of the things on the list, and I’m hoping to do a couple more over the course of the next eight days.

Stuff to do when the weather is good:

1. Put the bikes in the car and head to a bike path or rail trail you’ve never checked out. Not sure where to find one? Just Google “rail trails” in your state and you’ll have a whole list. We may check out the Farmington River Trail in CT this week.

2. Take a trip to the zoo. If you live near NYC, the Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it!

3. It’s baseball season! Some minor league teams have started their season or are starting it this week. Check out a minor league game! They are cheaper than major league games, you can get decent seating fairly inexpensively, and there are often some fun activities for the kids at the game!

4. Visit a state park you’ve never been to before. Here in CT it’s supposed to be 80+° on Tuesday, so we may check out one of the beach state parks, bring some shovels and buckets, make some sandcastles, pack a picnic lunch, and chill out!

5. Go for a hike. One of our favorite hikes is at Kent Falls State Park in Kent, CT. Lovers Leap State Park in New Milford is also an easy hike when you have young kids. Google “easy hikes for kids in (your state) and you’ll get a good list of choices.

6. Visit your local nature center. We just visited ours for the first time yesterday and the kids loved it!

7. Try geocaching! We just discovered this yesterday also (which is what led us to the nature center). The kids absolutely loved this, and so did I. Definitely fun for all ages.

8. Go on a scavenger hunt! You could do this in your own back yard or you could do this on a hike/at a state park/nature center.  Need some ideas? Check out these 30 printable scavenger hunts for kids!

9. Make an American Ninja Warrior course/obstacle course/decathlon in your back yard.

10. Put your kids to work and do a family yard clean up. If you have space, help them clear out an area where they can have their own garden, or set up some container gardens for them.

11. Visit a local working farm. UCONN’s animal barns are open to the public seven days a week. Google working farms in (your state) to get a list of farms you can visit with your kids!

12.  Try your hand at disc golf (Frisbee golf). This is so much fun, and it’s just like regular golf, except instead of using golf clubs and a golf ball, you use a Frisbee, and the “hole” is a metal and chain basket. If your kid can throw a Frisbee, your kid can play disc golf (you’ll need to bring your own discs). There are courses all over the country — in CT there are more than ten different courses (I’ve played the one at Cranbury Park in Norwalk).  Click here to find a course near you!

13. Make a bonfire during the day and make s’mores.

Stuff to do when the weather sucks:

14. Make a seriously kick butt fort. Simple string/rope, clothes pins or binder clips and a couple bedsheets are all you need. Or, if you want to go one step further, check out this one that uses pool noodles, duct tape, and sheets.

15. Visit a museum you never have the chance to go see during the year. Your local library often has free passes to many museums.

16. Clear a space inside where you can grow some seedlings to plant outside when the cold weather is gone for good. Recycle egg cartons/milk cartons/yogurt containers/etc. to plant seeds in. (If you are really ambitious and make those gardens/container gardens when it’s nice out, you can transplant the seedlings into the gardens you prepared outside on one of the good weather days).

17. Have a Stay in PJs Movie Marathon Day and make popcorn/snacks/etc. If you’re worried about the kids getting antsy make a chart and every time they say certain words in a movie everyone has to do jumping jacks or jog in place etc. ( A modified drinking game!)

18. Have a “Messy Day.” Make slime, flubber, playdough, all DIY recipes you can find on Pinterest. Simple, easy fun without too many rules!

19. Have a “Chopped — Spring Break” competition. Take four ingredients out of your pantry/fridge and challenge your kids to come up with an appetizer/entree/dessert.

20. Give your kids a cookbook and let them pick out a new dish to try as a family. Make a list of ingredients. Take your kids to the store and teach them how to shop for the least expensive items on the list. Then get cooking!

Be sure to take lots of pictures of whatever you do. You could even make a Spring Break Staycation 2017 photo album, just like you would have if you had gone away. Get some individual pics with each of your kids with you. Moms are so often behind the lens, your children will appreciate a Mom and me photo, and they will love these in the years to come!

Is there something your kids love to do that isn’t on the list? Please share!

Have a great spring break!

 

 

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