Zombies are popular these days. I’m pretty sure I never knew anything about them when I was a kid. But, according to my boys, they inhabited this Earth even before dinosaurs. I have so much to learn. 🙂
It was a rainy day with nothing to do (how often does that happen, right?). My kids were going stir crazy, so I brought them to the mall to play in one of those play areas (which, admittedly, skeeve me out a bit when I think of all the picked noses and germs in there). I always douse my kids in hand sanitizer after, but try to focus on their fun while we’re in there. People are people — lots of kids play there.
On this particular day, there were two other parents from two other families watching their sons in the play area as well. Since “boys will be boys,” we watched our high-energy monkeys leap off fixtures that seemed a little too high to jump off of, screech a bit louder than we would have liked, balance on the very edge of climbing toys, slide down plastic cars, and bounce around to get wherever they wanted to go. We exchanged knowing glances and nods and an occasional laugh, as well as the triumphant sigh of relief when the kids jumped but didn’t fall.
Within just a few minutes, the boys shifted from playing family by family to interacting with each other, ultimately creating a hide and seek game to keep them busy in this enclosed little haven in the middle of the mall. They were having pure fun. With an occasional picked nose.
Did I mention that I’m a white suburban chic? Or that one of the other parents was a dad with the most beautiful, blackest of black skin? And that the other was a mother, with olive skin and a hijab framing her face and bright smile? No, I didn’t. It doesn’t matter to me. It certainly didn’t matter to the kids that day either. We were all just people, united in play, together for the joy and cringe-worthy moments of watching the kids let their energy out. There’s no pithy moral here. Just a reminder — or evidence, perhaps — that people are people. And all should be treated equally as such.
I have three sons, and they’re not particularly sporty. And that’s OK. There. I said it.
When I had just two sons, I often heard “Wow, you’re the perfect family of four – a golf foursome!”
And when I had my third son, so many new comments flooded in, like “Wow, a soccer team!” Or, “Three boys? You must be so busy with sports practices!”
But I don’t have a soccer team. I have three very silly, high energy, active boys who are more interested in cars and action figures and music and building things than they are in joining a team, going to practice, and trying their best to win a game.
While I’m not sure I have the time or the character to be a “soccer mom,” I do sometimes wish I had a sports practice or game to watch at least one of my sons play in. Why? Is it for me? So I can bond with other sports moms? So I can feel the rush of cheering for my kids? It’s a little of that, but even more so the chance to see my boys in a team setting, trying their best, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always having the camaraderie that comes with a team, and the sportsmanship and strategic thinking that goes with it. And to see them feel proud of themselves knowing they’ve given it their all.
Not only do my sons not play sports, but they don’t really watch them, either. I’d love to start a Sunday football tradition in my house, or follow a specific NHL team or college team. But so far, when I’ve tried, the kids are more interested in what snacks I’m going to serve than what sport we’re watching.
It doesn’t matter, really. Though I admit I cringed recently when my son said “I think the Red Sox are playing the Giants this weekend.” Ouch. What’s going to happen if he says that at recess? Is it my duty as the Mother of Boys to at least make sure they know a socially acceptable amount of team names for each respective major sport, and that they don’t inter-mingle them?
Probably not. I think it’s all going to be OK. As long as my kids don’t feel left out, or like they’re missing out because so many of their friends play sports, then all is well. They play some sports at recess and at camp, whether they truly know the rules or not. They are active in non-team activities like karate and swim class and an awesome American Ninja Warrior gym class. And above all, they’re happy, and that’s all that really matters.
Kids can learn a lot of valuable skills from playing sports, from technical athletic skills to people skills, sportsmanship, and the way they tackle problems. For now, my kids get those skills elsewhere, through their other activities and other social interactions and through the impromptu wrestling matches that seem to playfully erupt daily in my house full of boys. If they follow their dreams as of today, one will be a water-park designer when he grows up, one will be a professional drummer, and the littlest guy (age 3) – I’m going to keep him designated as my Chief Snuggler. They may not be sporty, but they’re mine, and I’m very proud of them.
A little kindness goes a long way, I think. I try to model it whenever I can — not just consciously, but because it’s how I’m wired to act — buying a hot cup of chicken soup for a homeless man, supporting a local family in a time of need, donating to charities, smiling at people in the grocery store . . . But it doesn’t always seem to rub off on my kids. Sure, they have their moments when kindness oozes from their bright smiles, but more often than not, I hear them whining in a store to get a toy, or wrestling and punching their way out of sibling conflict at home. I’ve started doubting that modeling kindness would be enough, so I jumped into action to try to prevent my kids from being “those kids” who only care about their own needs, in hopes of them carrying the importance of kindness into their daily lives now and as adults:
Monthly Kindness Projects.
Here is a list of 12 Kindness Projects for you to try throughout the year. Some are more elaborate than others, some are quite simple as many acts of true kindness — like a smile in a grocery store — can be. Only a few have made my boys roll their eyes. They now get excited when I tell them it’s time for our kindness project, especially for the ones where they can see the result. In 2017, I’m hoping to have them come up with their own ideas for our project list as well.
I hope you try some of these, or that these inspire other ideas for you. If they do, please share! I’d love to hear what’s on your list!
Donate to food bank: Monetary donations are often accepted, but we have typically donated food or cleaning/personal care supplies. In our town, you can do this through the Food Pantry itself, or often through elementary school food drives. Any donation is of course helpful and appreciated, but I try to go beyond the ordinary can of beans to have my kids pick out a few foods they enjoy so they feel good about donating them for other families to enjoy, too.
Bring flowers to a neighbor: Pick a neighbor — any neighbor! — and surprise them with flowers. A small bouquet from a local florist is nice, but so is a bundle of handpicked wildflowers (or even weeds, if they’re pretty!) will be just as delightful. Leave them on their doorstep with a smiley face on a note, or ring the doorbell and see their smile as they open the door to this colorful surprise.
Lemonade stand: My sister and I used to have an occasional lemonade stand as kids, and in all honesty, we kept the money we made (keep in mind we charged only $0.05 per cup back then!). These days, it seems so many stands have a greater cause. So when my boys wanted to run their first-ever lemonade stand on a dreadfully hot day this summer, I questioned what they’d do with their money. We ended up raising money to buy a “cheer” present to a friend battling cancer (and I let each son also keep $2 for their hard work). Our neighborhood was so supportive of the cause that we raised significantly more money than the $5-$10 I expected, and were able to buy our friend a gift certificate to a nice local restaurant for her to enjoy a night out once chemo was done and she was feeling good and strong. Whether you raise $1 or $100, having a cause associated with the stand — and one with a concrete benefit at the end (the kids came with me to buy the restaurant gift card and write the note to our friend) — can make a refreshing lemonade a true act of kindness.
Sponsor a family: Throughout the year, and especially at holiday time, I feel grateful for all we have, but also concerned for families who are struggling. Through my employer’s relationship with the United Way, I have been able to sponsor families to help provide them first-day-of-school supplies and clothing, as well as fulfilling wishes for the holiday season. See if your local United Way chapter has such a program — or maybe through a church or local Y.
Write letters: Remember the absolute joy of receiving a hand-written note in the mail? I do. I still love it on the rare occasions when it happens. Encourage your kids to write letters and mail them to friends or family far away, or to an elderly relative who will be thrilled with your child reaching out.
Donate toys to a hospital: Each of my kids, at one point or another, for one reason or another, has been in our local children’s hospital. Each time, they have been thrilled by the act of choosing a toy from the toy basket or toy closet, to cheer them up and wish them well as they were getting ready to go home. All of those toys are donated. Since my kids concretely understand the joy these toys bring, we went shopping and each son chose one present to buy and donate to our local children’s hospital. You can do this any time of year! Just check any guidelines for size and types of toys on your hospital’s website.
Host a toy drive. For the past five years, my kisd and I have been donating to Toys for Tots. We go to the store with the sole purpose of buying a toy not for us, which sometimes is a struggle for these young kids. I decided to change it up this year and get more kids involved — and therefore more toys to donate and more smiles put on more people’s faces. We hosted an event I called “Cupcakes and Kindness.” To participate, each child had to bring a toy to donate to Toys for Tots, After putting their toy in the donation bin, we all decorated cupcakes to take home and enjoy. It was a little bit of mayhem and a lot of fun, and we donated almost 20 toys!
Offer to do a neighbor’s yard work: I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where neighbors help neighbors. It’s not uncommon for someone to snow-blow someone else’s sidewalk or rake/blow leaves off of half of their yard. As my kids get older, I hope they proactively adopt this as one of their acts of kindess. They love to be outside, so they might as well spend some of their outside time helping a neighbor.
Bring a sweet treat to a neighbor: Baking brownies? Make some extra and bring them down the street. Whether the recipient eats them or not, they will certainly appreciate that you thought of them.
Help someone in need: I love this one, because it spans such a wide range of options. Hold the door for someone whose hands are busy carrying many things. Water plants for someone who is away for the week. Help a friend move from one home to another. Help put your baby brother’s shoes on while Mom is packing lunchboxes. Little acts that can go a long way, simple enough to become routine.
Tell someone what they mean to you: I tell my kids at least every morning and every night that I love them. I greet my friends and family with hugs. I write heartfelt thank-you notes and birthday messages. But how often do I tell someone what they truly mean to me? Not that often. I’m guessing you don’t either. A few years ago, one of my childhood best friends was approaching the end of her three-year battle with cancer. After she gave me a sense that the end of her life on Earth was nearing, I wrote her a raw, honest note about how much and what exactly she means to me, and I sealed it up and sent it. She called when she received it, and we talked about it — about us — about the multi-decade friendship we had from childhood through adulthood. It was, quite possibly, once of the most refreshing, albeit difficult, conversations I’ve ever had with someone. Try it. Hopefully not in a grave situation like this one, but on a sunny day, at a picnic, lean over and tell a friend what you love about them. I bet it will make them smile.
Give Mom and Dad — no, just Mom — a day off: We haven’t tried this one yet. But I’m really hoping my husband thinks it’s a great idea and plans it with the kids. If you try this one, please, please, please let me know how it goes and whether you actually get time to relax your brain and your body.
Have you ever had just 15 minutes you need to pass with your kids, and you desperately need a quick activity to fit into that time? Here’s a quick and easy, yet sparkly and festive, easy holiday craft you can do with even the rowdiest of boys.
Holiday Hanging Ribbons:
What you need:
(and patience, of course)
What to do:
Let each child pick their color bow and whichever color ribbon they want.
Cut several pieces of ribbon — your choice whether to have them all the same length or varying lengths. I usually do a range between 4 and 6 inches.
Curl each ribbon. (I did it for my 3yo, but allowed R and E to try on their own)
Attach each ribbon to the sticky underside of the bow.
Reinforce with clear tape.
Cut one more piece of ribbon and tie to the top of the bow. Tie it in a loop if you plan to use this as an ornament, or leave it straight if you plan to hang from a door frame.
Hang it up and enjoy the festive flair!
You may be thinking, “Can’t I just go buy one of those fancy bows that has the squiggly riboon already attached to it?” Yes, you certainly can. Or, you can fill 15 minutes with your kids doing a quick and easy holiday craft that they can feel proud of and which leaves you basically no mess to clean up. In my situation, a dose of patience is also needed, as the boys shouted about whose ribbons were curled better, whose were stuck on the bow better, and whatever else they could find to shout about. But in the end, when we hung up the decorations, they were excited to see their work displayed. And I was excited to hang it high enough up that they can’t easily rip it down and throw it at each other.
What other quick and easy holiday crafts do you do with your kids?
Lessons in motherhood come often. I’m constantly discovering things about motherhood that I never knew to expect. Like my latest revelation that motherhood can be a lot like marketing. Every day, I’m marketing me as mom. Those of you who know me outside of this website know that I have a career in marketing, so it’s fair to say I often have marketing on my mind. But even if you don’t work in marketing like I do, I bet you can find truth in this thinking as well. Maybe even some helpful hints!
Marketing principles in motherhood:
It’s marketing 101 that nobody can buy your product or know your brand without, well, knowing it is out there. In my house full of active boys constantly running by me at record speeds, I often have to shout, “Doesn’t anyone hear me? Do you even know I’m here? Do you know I asked you four times already to please brush your teeth?” How can I drive awareness in the house that I, MOM, a critical force, am indeed there? And, more importantly, that I’ll always be there for my boys. I’ve found these awareness-driving techniques to help:
Leave occasional notes or sweet treats in their lunchboxes, to “surprise and delight” (a common marketing goal) them during the school day. I have to do this before the kids are too old for this to be cool . . . but hopefully this will never become uncool. I loved getting care packages from my parents when I was in college, so I intend to drive awareness of my existence at least through that era.
Tuck notes in their clothes for each day that I’m away, if I’m away for business travel, for example. Just little things that show them I’m there even when I’m not physically there — like “Have fun at karate today!” or “Good luck on your spelling test!” or my favorite, “I’ll be home tonight, and I can’t wait to see you!”
Hugs! Mandatory hugs!
And, more daily shouting of “Doesn’t anyone hear me?” They eventually get annoyed and grunt, “Yes, Mom,” and then I’m secretly satisfied.
When in doubt, remind them that you grew them in your belly. And therefore you deserve all the attention and connection you desire.
In marketing, the goal is to make sure your brand or product means something to your consumers, that it plays a certain role that fits nicely into their life and fills a need of some sort. As the only female in a house full of boys, I sometimes worry that it will be hard to find this kind of common ground. We may not have many tea parties or shopping sprees together, but I keep up my relevance by diving deep into the brains of these boys and participating in their adventures, sometimes even initiating them myself.
Mud. Be willing to get dirty, or at least let them get dirty. Bring on the mud.
Attend their homemade haunted houses, their impromptu breakdance shows, and even watch their pretend wrestling matches on the inflatable mattress — just don’t let them see you cringe at the thought that they might actually clobber each other.
Learn to make the amazing sound effects only boys seem to be able to make, like light sabers and explosions and weird animals. Or at least try.
Know about their day. Participate in their classroom if you’re able. Know their friends. It helps spur conversation, sometimes accompanied by eye-rolling.
Once you have your target consumers aware of your brand and meaning something to them, the goal is, of course, to keep them coming back for more. You want them to stay loyal. How do I keep my boys wanting more and more of Mommy’s amazingness? More time with Mommy, more traditions with Mommy, more memories with Mommy?
Make mashed potatoes, whenever they want them. And scrambled eggs. Or brownies. Have a signature food that they find extra-special when made by the one and only Mommy.
Create traditions. Special holiday traditions, vacation spots, songs you sing, books you read. R is eight years old now, and already knows what to expect as we decorate for holidays, because he remembers the traditions from prior years.
Instill an emotional connection. Thankfully, I think this happens automatically through parenting. And when you’re not sure it’s strong enough, remind your kids again, that you grew them in your belly and they are therefore forever bound to (indebted to?!?) amazing, wonderful you.
The 4P Model:
A common marketing construct — the 4Ps. In my professional life, this stands for Product, Placement, Promotion and Price. But as the mom of three boys, I offer you this:
Pee: It’s everywhere.
Poop: It’s frequent. And talked about a lot. And often the crux of conversations including giggle-worthy words like “buttcheek” or “poopy pants.”
Penis: It’s everywhere. It’s always, always, always on their mind . . . or in their hands.
Let this Pumpkin Bread yumminess become a fall tradition for your family like it has for mine!
If you’re like me, you love baking with your kids, but you cringe a little every time you deal with a fight over who will crack the egg (because it inevitably leads to shell in the batter) or dealing with savages begging to eat more of the batter laden with raw egg (note: I begged my mom as a kid, too). Here’s a pumpkin bread recipe that has NO EGGS, is fun to make, and is even more delicious to eat!
This recipe has a special place in my heart. After my second son was born, I baked this for the first time with my 2 1/2 year old son on the first day my husband went back to work. It seemed like a huge undertaking because it involves sifting (so advanced when you’re sleep deprived and suddenly have twice as many kids as you did the week before!) and lots of ingredients (I remember having to borrow a cup of flour from a neighbor the night before, to make sure I had enough!). I measured all the ingredients in advance and put them in sealed containers so it would be quicker and easier for my toddler and me to just dump them into the bowl when we were making the recipe. We’ve got it down to a science now, and the kids are 8, 6 and 3. We measure together and then take turns pouring in the ingredients and mixing.
Here’s what you need:
3 1/3 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cinnamon
2 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil (I use canola)
1/4 cup applesauce
2/3 cup water
2 cups canned pumpkin (I buy two 15-oz cans or one 16-oz can and have some left over)
1 cup chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
And here’s what to do:
Grease three 9×5 loaf pans (I use butter). Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients together. Add remaining ingredients. Mix with spatula until smooth. Fill each loaf pan approximately 1/3 full. The recipe says to bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean — in my oven, they are done in just 35 minutes, so I recommend checking frequently after 35 minutes or so, since every oven is a bit different. Cool on a drying rack, and then ENJOY!!! (these are also great as mini breads or mini-muffins)
Don’t forget to grab a spoon and finish off every last drop of the batter — no raw eggs = gobble it up!
My family has a lot of Thanksgiving traditions: My mom will take out her ancient list of what to serve, she will polish silver platters, she will work extra hard, my dad will take the gross stuff out of the turkey, someone will tell a story that makes no sense at the dinner table, everyone will break out into laughter, there will be turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and kugel and crescent rolls and 10 other things my mom has added over the years to ensure that every person has their favorite requested dish. There will be kids, there will be adults, there will be that awkward age when older kids don’t quite want to be there but still manage to have fun because of the turkey hat we all pass around and wear. There will be the same chocolate truffles we’ve made for 31 years now, and they will be called “stupid chocolate balls” by my uncle as he secretly sneaks them from the fridge before dessert is served. But one thing there won’t be: us going around the table and stating, one by one, what we’re thankful for. It’s not that we’re not thankful . . . we just don’t really state it, assuming instead that it’s reflected in our laughter and our togetherness.
My kids are, of course, learning the history of Thanksgiving at school. I want them to realize it’s more than a big meal and lots of desserts at Grammy & Boppa’s house. Here are two simple traditions I’ve started with my sons to capture their mindset each year and to get them thinking about things to be thankful for.
Turkey Traced Hand:
It’s a simple as tracing the child’s hand, turning it into a turkey, and writing on the paper what they’re thankful for. We do this every year, hang them up during November, and then save them to look at in future years. It’s fun to see how the answers vary over time, from being thankful for candy and Cheerios to being thankful for family.
The year my first son was born, I gathered some smooth rocks (or you can buy some like this) and a Sharpie marker to bring to the Thanksgiving feast. I asked everyone to write down the year and what they were thankful for, and then I filled a glass vase with the rocks. We’ve kept up the tradition — another way to see how the answers change over time, and a nice, always-present reminder on the shelf that we are thankful for so many things.
What are your favorite simple Thanksgiving traditions?
Holiday decorations are up in stores, Halloween is over, but IT’S NOT WINTER YET! If you’re looking for some fun fall activities that are quick, easy, free or cheap and which even the most high energy boys will enjoy, here are some of my favorites (aside from jumping in leaves, painting pumpkins, and picking apples, of course)!
Make-your-Own Scavenger Hunt:
What you’ll need: Paper, pen, pail or bag, imagination!
Whether you have five minutes to fill or an hour, you can size this activity to meet your needs. Simply make a list of fall items you want your kids to find, hand them a bag or a pail to collect their items in, and set them off to look and discover! If you have a child who can’t read yet, make a picture version of the list so they can play along, too.
“Stained Glass” Autumn Window Craft:
What you’ll need: An iron, 2 pieces of construction paper, scissors, wax paper, crayons, tape, 3-4 leaves (feel free to use leaves you collected in the scavenger hunt!).
This is a project I did way back when I was in kindergarten. Yep. That long ago. I remember loving the final product, and I have since done this craft a few times with my kids.
Cut the construction paper to look like window panes.
Cut wax paper to cover the construction paper “window.” Tape it onto the back of one of the pieces of construction paper.
Place the leaves however you want them to appear in the window.
Use the scissors to shave off pieces of the crayons, and let the shavings sprinkle down over the leaves.
Size a second piece of wax paper to go over the leaves and crayon shavings. Tape it down to the window pane so the leaves and crayon pieces can’t fall out.
Quickly iron over the wax paper until you see the crayon shavings melt into what looks like stained glass splatters.
Tape the second window pane piece to the back of the first, to complete the window.
Hang in the real window to let the sun shine through and light up the colorful creation!
What you need: Chalk and a surface to draw on.
Little D and I had fun drawing fall-themed sketches on our driveway, and it was a great way to teach him about the season!
Whether you are planning for a fun weekend or you just happen to find yourself with a few free minutes, enjoy any of these activities with your kids! Let me know how it goes!