Less is More.

8.17.18

I remember when I was a new mom and made the decision to stay home full-time with my first-born son.  I decided to treat motherhood like a career.  I studied parenting books, listened to parenting podcasts, joined mommy groups and filled my days with “enriching activities,” like Book Babies at the library and Kindermusik.  My husband would come home from work and ask about my day: I’d proudly tick off all of the things we’d “accomplished.”

As our family grew from three to four and finally to five, I continued to add activities with each additional child. Last summer, I often felt like a pinball: bouncing from one drop-off to the next pick-up.  I heard myself bark orders at my kids, “Hurry up and change out of your swimsuit. It’s time for math camp!”  “Hustle! We need to eat lunch in the car, so we can to make it to tennis on time.”  I would wake up at 5:30 each morning in order to find time to attend a yoga class or to run and shower before swim team at 8 a.m. At the end of each day, I felt exhausted and unfulfilled. I missed the lazy days of summer when my kids were in preschool, back when time was measured by rest break whistles and afternoons included naps at home.

This summer, for the first time, I took a dramatically different approach to scheduling my kids’ activities.  First, I told the kids that they weren’t allowed to do swim team. I didn’t want to drag them out of bed each morning at 7:30. And, selfishly, I wanted to eliminate three trips to the pool before 10 a.m. Unlike previous summers, math camp was not offered at our school. Consequently, I eliminated four trips to the school to drop off and to pick up kids after swim team practice. I also told the kids that we were going to skip all summer camps.  In the past, my kids signed up for various sport camps and educational camps at local colleges and museums.  Instead, each kid picked a single activity for each day…and the rest of the time was free for creativity, reading, biking, swimming and just being kids.

My husband and I plotted out time for old-fashioned family vacations. We went on a road trip to the Black Hills and took hikes, caught fish and visited Mount Rushmore.  We spent nearly a week in a cabin without WI-FI or cell phone reception. We played board games, read books, enjoyed campfire s’mores…and each other.

We also spent a week exploring beautiful Oregon as a family. We went rafting, biking and hiking near Mount Hood.  The kids swam in the river and jumped off rocks.  We visited the Coast and caught crabs, discovered starfish, saw seals and witnessed the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The result? We had the best summer ever. It taught me that less is more.  I would never argue that kids don’t need a little structure or routine; but, by eliminating all of the extras and allowing my kids time to just be kids, we created a summer that was both restful and “enriching” in a completely different way. The unscheduled time allowed my thirteen-year-old to discover a love for fishing and biking, which gave him a new independence. The unscheduled time provided the opportunity for my twelve-year-old to launch a slime business with a friend; it taught them real-life lessons about profit, loss and successful marketing plans.  And, the unscheduled time enabled my seven-year-old to build forts, create Lego action scenes and simply play with friends…something that was difficult to fit into our previously over-scheduled calendar.

This summer, I learned that it’s okay to not fill every free minute of our life with “enriching” activities. I found that there is real value in unstructured playtime.  I discovered that it’s okay to carve out a little piece of my day for myself. I also realized that my kids are getting old enough to take on more responsibilities around the house, which is actually a positive parenting move. Yes, this summer taught me a lot of important life lessons. And, I’m sure that if my new-mom self could travel through time and witness my evolved approach to motherhood, she’d think that I was doing everything wrong! The truth: Now, I know better.

xo Kara

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Sometimes You Just Have To Laugh…

8.20.16

Ever since my first-born went off to kindergarten seven years ago, I’ve been dreading the day that my baby would follow in his footsteps. For the past month, I’ve felt depressed about sending my caboose to full-day kindergarten. Each new school year marks the passage of time in a tangible way: We are all a year older…and closer to graduation…and a quiet house (if all goes as planned).

This week, the first day of school arrived and my alarm went off at the crack of dawn; I realized that I really hadn’t slept at all: I’d had a long, restless and sad night…dreading the next morning’s drop-off and my youngest son’s first day of real school.

That morning I awoke three very tired and unhappy children. I made a big, healthy breakfast from scratch, which no one ate. I helped everyone get dressed in their stiff uniforms, combed their hair and laid out their brand new school shoes. Both boys started crying and yelling – telling me that their feet had grown or shrunk (one of each) and that the expensive school shoes no longer fit… I started seeing red and asking, “Why did you say they felt great when you tried them on in the store?”

Next, I loaded the kids into my car and the fighting never stopped… They couldn’t agree on the radio station. The kids in the back seat were arguing about trespassing across an imaginary line and invading each other’s personal space. My oldest child was upset because my youngest child was so excited for school (which was not cool). It went on and on and on…yelling…physical squabbling…loud unhappiness and bickering…

I pulled up to the front of the carpool line and looked out the window. All around me, mothers were taking photographs of their beautiful, beaming children, who were posing like perfect angels. I turned up the volume on the radio to try to drown out the angry voices around me. Then, it happened. My oldest child emitted the most horrific cloud of gas that I’ve ever smelt; I started gagging and kicked them out of my car…all three of them! My sweet little kindergartener took my daughter’s hand and walked to school with his little blue oxford shirt untucked. I thought, “Oh well, his first uniform infraction.” Then, I followed the car in front of me out of the lot. And, just like that, the moment I’d been dreading for seven years came and went in a cloud of putrid dust.

I was so thankful for the calm that surrounded me as I drove home that I forgot to be sad. I drove home with a sincere sense of peace and realized that I was grateful for that awful fart and all of the morning’s cacophony. I found myself laughing at the absurdity of the chain of events. As I look back, I see that crazy morning as a big, beautiful completely unexpected blessing. I am so thankful that God used humor and a little naughtiness to help me see that it’s okay. We are all ready for a little more independence and fresh air to breathe…

xo Kara

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End of Summer Blues or Celebration?

8.7.16

I’ve recently identified two camps of “mom friends.” The first camp is eagerly counting down the days/hours/minutes until the school doors swing open for the 2016-17 school year. The second camp is mourning the end of summer, commenting on how quickly it’s passed and how they wish it would last until Labor Day…at the very least!

I have mixed feelings about the end of summer. On one hand, I agree that it’s zipped by. The days were long, jam-packed with activities and quite exhausting. But, the weeks flew by. We all got older. The kids grew a little taller (and I grew a little wider). But, I think we maxed out summer. I think we packed as much fun into each day as possible. Now, I’m preparing for the next season.

I say preparing because I’m not quite prepared. This year, the first day of school for my kids will be my last official day as a full-time mom. For nearly twelve years, I’ve had at least one child with me during most of my waking hours. When my oldest was getting ready to start kindergarten, I began dreading this day and convinced my husband that we needed one more baby to keep me company… just to put off the inevitable a little while longer.

As my caboose’s first day of kindergarten approaches, I’m finally ready to begin my next chapter: one with time to take deep breaths and to refocus. To stop measuring all of my success in terms of my children’s behavior/academics/achievements… To start defining a few goals for myself as I enter my second half of life… Six years ago I wasn’t prepared to address these scary questions; now, I’m older, wiser and ready. (I think. I hope!)

Until September 23, my school hours will be consumed with planning a fundraiser for a local non-profit. I agreed to take on this role a year ago, thinking that it would be a welcome distraction from the sadness of sending my baby off to kindergarten. I reasoned that the flurry of phone calls, e-mails and meetings that go along with benefit planning will fill the new stillness of my days as I adjust to my new normal. Although all of the planning has made this summer more chaotic, I think it was the right choice. In the beginning, I will need to be busy.

My friends with school-aged kids tell me how quickly the school day flies by. They laugh when I tell them that I’m sad and worried about it… I realize that my standard “to do” list will not disappear and that it will be easier to knock it out without my little buddy in tow. But, I’m going to miss him. And I’m going to miss his preschool, his playgroup and our trips to the park, zoo and children’s museum… I also know that when the clock strikes 3:20, I will have to hit the ground running. There will be homework, activities and dinner: a lot to pack into those precious hours before bedtime.

While my heart is authentically blue about sending my baby off to kindergarten and having another summer behind us, I must choose to celebrate everything that’s ahead. This is going to be a big year. My baby is going to learn how to be a successful student, make new friends and important skills like reading and writing. He is probably going to lose the cute way he pronounces certain words. (I love the way he says “guls” instead of girls.) For my other two, I felt like kindergarten was the biggest year of change in their elementary school lives. That makes me excited for him…but part of me wants to keep him just the way he is. I do love my son at five and a half.

My middle daughter is going to start middle school. It will be a big year for her, too. But, I’m excited for her and know that she’ll rise to the occasion. She’s ready to decorate her locker and will enjoy mixing up teachers and managing a more challenging schedule. My oldest son began middle school last year and will help guide his little sister along. It’s going to be a year of change for all of us…a year of big, positive changes. I just need to keep focusing on all that we are gaining (not losing).

xo Kara

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