14 Circles Around the Sun: Celebrating My Son

Today, my first-born turns fourteen. His birthday always brings back memories of past celebrations. I remember his first fish-themed birthday party in Winston-Salem. We invited all of the neighborhood babies and my new-mom friends, who helped me survive my first year of motherhood…I remember his fourth birthday in Omaha and our first with extended family: My brother-in-law made a surprise appearance as Spiderman. He wore a Youth XL costume that I found on clearance. (Yes, it was WAY too small and slightly inappropriate.) He joyfully shot silly string around our house and on my son’s new neighborhood friends… I also remember celebrating my son’s short-lived electric guitar lesson phase with a rock ‘n’ roll birthday party in our unfinished basement. My husband and father-in-law lovingly built a “real stage” for the preschoolers and hip hop dance instructors to perform on…

My son’s birthday always brings back images of him carrying the Earth around the Sun, one circle for each year…Oh, how I miss his Montessori preschool and his beloved fire truck slippers! I remember sitting patiently at the edge of the circle, counting each unhurried orbit and feeling like life was moving in slow motion.  During the preschool years, each day felt LONG with hours that needed to be filled. Now, I am amazed by how quickly each year and phase has passed.

When I first met my son he weighed five pounds and was small enough to fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. Today, he stands several inches taller than me and has become a person that I look up to both literally and figuratively. In the beginning, I was my son’s teacher. I tried to lead by example, demonstrating the importance of “pleases” and “thank yous.” I showed him how to share and to take turns. I worked really hard (and not always successfully) to teach him the difference between indoor voices and outdoor voices. Actually, we are still working on this lesson.  I’ve always wanted him to maximize his potential academically and to find and follow his extracurricular interests…but my highest goal is to raise a kind kid. Ultimately, that is how I will always measure my success as a mother and his success as a man.

But, somewhere along the line, my son started leading by his example.  He taught me that there is more than one way to do things and that my way isn’t the only one.  So, to celebrate my son’s birthday, I want to acknowledge some valuable lessons that I’ve learned by being his mom:

Be Authentic.

My son has always walked to the beat of his own drum. There was a time when I wanted desperately for him to just fall in line…to sit quietly without waving his hand around and firing off one question after another at his poor teacher…to color inside the lines. But with time, I’ve come to see his insatiable curiosity, strong will and inability to follow the pack as qualities that while challenging to mother will serve him well in life.

Be Loyal.  

If you become my son’s friend, he will always have your back. He’s the kind of kid who will literally jump into a fight to defend a friend…will write a petition to stand up for a friend’s injustice…will volunteer to take a demerit for a buddy who is in danger of redirection room. As his mother, I cannot condone these actions. But, I admire the way he looks out for his friends, stands up for what he believes is right and always wants to help a friend in need.

Laugh a Little (or a Lot).

At times, my husband and I may error on the side of taking life a little too seriously. I think that is why we were blessed with a son who can add humor to literally any situation. I love that he can make his little sister and brother laugh when they really want to pull out their hair in frustration with him. This summer, he spent nearly a week away from our family.  His absence was marked by a strangely quiet house and unusually tidy bedroom… I missed his laugh and welcomed back both his noise and perpetually unmade bed!

The Same = Boring.

At fourteen, my son’s greatest loves are muscle cars, biking, fishing and conservative politics.  He’s completely self-taught and knows more about these subjects than the rest of the family combined.  Our family shares many common values. But, we have learned that life is a lot more interesting if we think independently and accept and appreciate each other’s differences.

I often find myself wondering where my son came from?  One look at him and there is no denying that he is mine. I am so proud of him and grateful for all of the gifts that he’s brought into my life. As I look ahead, I feel excited for his future.  It will be fun to support his journey.  I can’t help but wonder where life will take him in the next 14 years?

xo Kara

 

 

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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Surrender, Enjoy the Journey

9.8.16

Twelve years ago, my first-born son arrived three weeks early and in the midst of Hurricane Frances. I remember the loud rain and crazy winds whirling around Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Nearby streets were flooding; I was so thankful to be safe, inside the hospital with my doctor and husband by my side. The next morning we learned that Frances spawned 101 tornadoes from Florida to Virginia…In hindsight, it seems like the perfect setting for my son to enter the world and for me to become a first-time mother.

Since then, motherhood has been a lot like a violent, cyclonic storm. No book or class could have possibly prepared me for it. And, I thought I was prepared. I’d read What to Expect when You’re Expecting; being an over-achiever, I’d even read ahead to What to Expect the First Year. My husband and I had taken the “Prepared Childbirth” classes and learned about labor, delivery and how to care for a newborn…

Looking back, I roll my eyes at the judgy person I was before I became a mother. I remember traveling for work and wondering why young parents around me could not calm fussy babies on airplanes?!? Or, why a frenzied mother of three would give her children sugary lollipops to keep them happy in the cart while shopping at Target?!? My son was born before everyone had iPhones, but I imagine that I would also have had an opinion about giving them to children in restaurants and waiting rooms…because I was prepared to be a really perfect mother. I was prepared to have perfect children…

But, God had other plans; we are all perfectly imperfect. And, twelve years into my journey as a mother, I’m thankful for my family with all of its flaws. I’m grateful for the lessons that my children have taught me about the silliness of pride and the beauty of authentic, unconditional love. I’m thankful that they’ve taught me to be humble and to give myself a little grace. I’ve also learned to extend that grace to other parents who are also struggling to do their best.

Back on September 8, 2004, when I first met my fragile, five-pound son, I felt like I was looking into my own eyes. He inherited them from me. Over the years, I’ve seen them reflect my own joy back at me (and my own strong-willed, stubbornness). Although we may not always agree on everything, when I look into my son’s eyes I can see that we are more alike than different.

As we celebrate his twelfth birthday, I can’t help but wonder if we are standing in the eye of the storm? No doubt, his teen years will bring new challenges. But, today I want to celebrate a dozen things (in no particular order) that I love about my son at age 12:

  1. His infinite thirst for knowledge.
  2. His insatiable appetite for books.
  3. His sensitive soul.
  4. His creative mind.
  5. His ability to forgive.
  6. His generous spirit.
  7. His easy laugh.
  8. His courage to color outside the lines.
  9. His kindness to younger children.
  10. His quirky sense of humor.
  11. His strong sense of loyalty.
  12. His inability to be anything but his authentic self.

If I could travel back in time to his birthday, I’d tell myself to relax and to surrender to the storm. As much as I will want to control my children and to protect them from danger, it isn’t possible. The best advice that I could give myself (and anyone who is reading along), is to simply enjoy the journey.

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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Sipping the Select Sport Kool-Aid

6.11.16

Sometimes modern parenting feels a little bit like a competitive sport. Parents sign their kids up for organized sports at age three or four. By age seven or eight, many kids are trying out for select teams and focusing on a single sport or activity year-round; some continue to play other sports for fun, but time and financial constraints make it difficult for most kids to really focus on more that one select sport at a time.

I was raised to be well-rounded, not particularly outstanding at any specific sport or activity. My mom signed me up for weekly piano lessons, swim team, ballet and jazz classes, tennis and golf clinics, and YMCA soccer and basketball (one season to be exact)… We went on family vacations, where I learned to get by snow skiing and scuba diving. She sent me to summer camp, so that I could learn to water ski, shoot arrows and make lanyards… I never developed a drive to pursue any one sport or activity with focused ambition. But, I am thankful for the exposure and for my privileged, low-pressure childhood.

To be honest, I struggle a little bit with this new approach to childhood sports and activities. I think if you’re raising a driven kid who naturally falls in love with one particular sport, it makes perfect sense. If not, it’s nice to let kids shop the spectrum of sports before narrowing their focus. And, if the focus never narrows, I see value in being well-rounded. I like options.

I also recognize that being well-rounded does not always make the cut in high school…especially in today’s competitive youth sports world, where even select players can get cut from high school teams. Although select sports were not really around when I was growing up, there were kids who fell in love with a particular sport and worked really hard to be great at it.

When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out and was cut from my high school tennis team. My weekly clinics simply did not prepare me to compete with the girls who trained so much harder and spent their summers competing in the Missouri Valley. Maybe if I’d given up some of my other activities and really focused on tennis my outcome may have been different? Maybe not? Luckily, I was able to find other ways to get involved in high school (which is the ultimate goal for my three children).

A couple years ago, my daughter declared that dance was her thing. She loved, loved, loved ballet and wanted to work at becoming a better dancer. Following her lead, I enrolled her in a conservatory dance program at a small studio with excellent teachers; I kept encouraging her to keep playing soccer and basketball with her friends at school. A year later, she asked to audition for the Junior Repertory Ensemble, a performance group affiliated with our local professional ballet company. With the encouragement of her teacher, I let her try out and she’s spent the last year performing at various venues around our community. This year (after much discussion about how making the dance team will limit her ability to continue to play recreational sports with her classmates), she auditioned and earned a spot on her studio’s competitive dance team. She’s incredibly motivated to work hard and to see where this new experience will take her. I am excited for her, but a little nervous about closing the “well-rounded approach to childhood” chapter.

Last night, I attended one of her recitals at a local senior living center. The image of pure joy that was reflected on her face as she performed made me feel at peace with her decision… well really our decision to take a sip of the select sport Kool-Aid. I truly believe that part of growing up is discovering what brings you joy and makes you feel alive. Each person’s recipe is unique. There is something incredibly rewarding about watching your child discover his or her thing and pursue it with purpose.

Teachable Moments: Finding the Good in the Bad

6.3.16

Sometimes it feels like you are sailing though life…loving your family, making new friends and feeling authentically happy. That is how I would describe the first weeks of summer: filled with sunshine and freedom.

My kids feel relieved to have a break from the rigors and routines of the school year. They’ve been enjoying long and lazy days, filled with unscheduled stretches of time that allow them to read books, play Legos and pick up spontaneous games of kickball with the neighborhood kids. This week, swim team practice and tennis clinics began; it’s felt good to add a little structure to our days… In short, our summer has been filled with abundant blessings.

Yesterday, I had a reality check when I walked into a situation where a pack of boys was treating one of my kids with cruelty. My child was asking “Why?” and was being laughed at as I walked up and stood next to him. The kids stopped and looked at me, wondering what I was going to do. I simply put my hand on my child’s shoulder and said that it was time to go home. As we walked away, I wondered if I handled the situation correctly…

This event completely sucked the wind out of my sails. My mom’s old saying describes my feelings perfectly: “You are only as happy as your saddest child.” I just cannot shake this overwhelming sense of sadness.

When your kids are toddlers and have a “booboo,” you can kiss the pain away. As they grow up, you become more of a passive spectator…a fan, cheering for them to make the right choices and to pick the right friends. You are backstage, making sure that they feel loved and supported at home; but, you realize that most of their daily experiences are completely out of your control.

Growing up is hard. Everyone wants to fit in and to be accepted. Some kids struggle more than others to find friends that click. Although I desperately wish that I could turn back the hands of time and prevent the ugly incident from happening, my hope is that this will become a teachable moment. From it, I hope that my child will learn to pick his friends more carefully. I hope that he will choose to fill his life with kids that make him feel happy and who can appreciate all of the qualities that I love most about him.

I need to let go and to move on with the understanding that all of the boys involved are also growing up and learning who they are and who they want to become. What I witnessed was a snapshot in time, not their defining story. Maybe my intrusion will create a teachable moment for them, too? Who knows? It’s time for me to focus on my blessings and to enjoy the short season of summer.

 

Treasure or Trash?

5.16.16

I spent my childhood chasing golden trophies, wooden plaques and blue ribbons. The bookcase in my old bedroom was lined with gleaming statuettes of poised swimmers and golfers; my bulletin board displayed ribbons and medals, each one representing countless hours of hard work and determination. As a young girl, I considered these awards to be my most prized possessions.

My parents are in the process of downsizing, so I spent this past weekend trying to pack all of the remnants of my childhood into a single tote that will go into my own basement (where it will likely collect dust for the next 30 years). I approached the project with the attitude that I would simply put all of my old stuff into the dumpster and move on with my day; my own storage room is a disorganized mess and the thought of adding anything else to this massive project is overwhelming.

However, as I started to sort through the boxes labeled “Kara,” I found it difficult to separate the memories from the things. I found myself saving essays written by my fourth grade self about what my life would look like when I grew up. (It included long-forgotten dreams of living in New York City with my handsome husband and adopted twins; I did not want to have kids.) I lost track of time as I went through my elementary school class photos, looking at all of the young, familiar faces of old friends and beloved teachers. And, I felt joy as I discovered my long-lost, complete set of Garbage Pail Kids! The idea of consolidating my childhood into a single box suddenly seemed draining.

So, I started with my big, bulky trophies and tossed them into the trash bin. Next, my plaques and a large zip lock bag filled with ribbons from my old swim team. It made me a little sad to see them go, but I realized that they had served their purpose and that I really don’t have space for them in my life.

As I prioritized what would stay and what would go, I found myself placing more value on my childhood journey than my accomplishments. I couldn’t part with the Garbage Pail Kids that I spent countless recesses trading with my best friend Kelly, my reflective essays with thoughtful comments by Mr. Hall (my favorite English teacher), or a single photograph. I know that there is value in setting goals and working towards them, but the real treasures of my childhood don’t include any awards for “Best Sportsmanship” or “Hardest Worker.” The real treasures of my childhood are simply childhood itself: The friends I made, the time I spent with family and the love that was given and received…all things that cannot fit in a box.

I hope that I can keep this perspective as I coach my kids through their young lives. Yes, it’s important to work hard and to maximize your potential…to set goals and to go after them. But, it’s equally important to enjoy the journey: To develop close friendships and to foster relationships with family. Because in a blink, they’ll be sorting through their own dusty boxes from my basement and wondering if their childhood treasures are trash or antiques?!?

 

5 Lessons My Mom Unintentionally Taught Me

5.8.16

When my oldest was in the throes of the “terrible twos,” I went to his pediatrician seeking advice and perhaps a self-help book recommendation or two. His response? “Don’t worry, he will be fine. Great parents are positive role models. They teach kindness, good manners and healthy habits by example. He will watch and learn. It really is that simple.”

I left his office feeling both relieved and intimidated. I had just been handed a prescription for a lifetime of good behavior (no pressure).

On Mother’s Day, I find myself reflecting on his advice and considering all of the things that I learned from my own mom, just by observing the way she lives her life.  Here are five life lessons she taught me (in no particular order):

Be Generous.  I was raised by a mom who always fought her friends for the bill; I never saw her offer to split anything. As a kid, I thought this was how it was done. As an adult, I can see that she’s exceptional. I love that she taught me that it’s more important to give than to receive.

My mom is also generous with her time.  As a young girl, I loved having her volunteer at my school; she was a regular room mother and served as the Community Club President.  I grew up watching her volunteer in our community, supporting local non-profits that were important to her.  She taught me that you can make the world a better place; you just have to go out and do it.

Be Proud.  I remember watching my mom carefully print “homemaker” as her occupation, when filling out paperwork for school or the doctor. At the time, I wondered why she didn’t write “stay-at-home mom” or leave it blank? Now that I stay home with my own kids and struggle to do everything well, I appreciate the pride that she took in her title. She was the one who made our house a home that was welcoming, tidy, organized and always stocked with nutritious food and fresh laundry. Without her love and devotion, it really would just be a house.

Pray.  I think one of the most challenging things about being a mom is that as much as you want your kids to succeed, you can’t do it for them. I was the child that constantly put myself out there. I wanted to be president of my elementary school’s student council. I wanted to be the lead in the school musical, despite my complete lack of talent. I wanted to win the district speech contest year after year… I think my mom would have been more comfortable with me avoiding risk and any chance of disappointment, but she supported and encouraged me…and she prayed for me A LOT. She taught me that I should work hard and pray hard.

Shop Sales.  My mom made shopping a game. The goal: to achieve the greatest value while spending as little as possible. She taught me to shop sales and to clip coupons. To this day, I rarely purchase anything that is not on sale or the best price available. My dad, who is an avid golfer, explained it this way: “For your mom, finding a really good deal is like getting a birdie or eagle; it generates the same amount of excitement. Bargain hunting is like a sport for the women in our family.”

Collect Friends. When my husband first met my mom, he commented: “Your mom has incredible social graces.” He’s correct. Rather than collecting trophies, my mom collects friends. She treasures old friendships, while expanding her circle to include new ones. She keeps their social calendar full, which makes her heart happy. For her, relationships are life’s most important treasure.

I think that my son’s pediatrician was right: children learn by what they observe. This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my mom and all of the lessons she taught me when she didn’t know I was watching. I am truly blessed to have been raised by the mom I aspire to be.

Happy Mother’s Day! xo Kara

 

 

 

 

Life is all about collecting new experiences.

4.28.16

Sometimes an off-handed remark can challenge your way of thinking.

I recently traveled to Kansas City with my daughter’s dance group, so she could participate in workshops at various studios and perform at different venues around the city. While our daughters were dancing, the mothers made small talk.

As the weekend went on, we moved past our daughters’ dance resumes and started to have more real conversations. As I was talking with an intelligent attorney and mother-of-three, she mentioned that her family was in the process of narrowing down where they’d like to live next. She explained that her company was relocating to another city and that her position would be ending within the year. I told her that it seemed exciting to plan a “second act” for her family. I asked her how the kids felt about moving and she said, “Life is all about collecting new experiences.” I nodded in agreement.

As I consider her philosophy on life, I realize that I’ve approached life from the opposite direction. Thinking back, most of my new life experiences have been unintentional. It’s not that I deliberately avoid them; I just feel more comfortable going with the tried and true.

I remember when my husband was in medical school and was interviewing for residencies around the country. On a whim, he applied to do his internal medicine year in Hawaii. We did a quick analysis of what the residency would cost us, factoring in my loss of income, the high cost of living and the incredible moving expenses. The value of collecting a new life experience was pushed aside for practical reasons. Our decision to stay put for his internal medicine year enabled us to save for a house and to get our feet on steadier financial ground, but it cost us the experience of living in Hawaii for a year. All of these years later, I find myself wondering if the money saved was worth the experience lost?

When it came time to interview for medical residencies around the country. I was supportive, but firmly in the “stay in the Midwest” camp. I reasoned that we’d be starting a family soon and that I wanted to be close to family. When my husband matched in North Carolina, it was a complete shock. I had never been to the state. I didn’t know anyone who lived there. It was 900 miles away from Kansas City. And, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. This life experience was the ultimate, unexpected gift.

When we decided to move back to Omaha, I wanted my children to grow up near my childhood home and to attend the same elementary school. I hoped they’d enjoy swimming on my old swim team and develop a mild interest in tennis, so they could play with their dad. Eight years later, I am shooting zero for three: My elementary school was not the right fit. None of my kids embraced competitive swimming. And, the simple question, “Anyone up for tennis?” is consistently met with unanimous groans and eye rolls. In other words, despite my intentions, my children have forced new experiences on me; I’m grateful for them.

I’ve learned that as much as I’d like for my children to enjoy everything that I loved about my childhood and to embrace the interests that my husband and I share, you can’t force a square peg in a round hole; they will follow their own hearts. I need to meet them where they are, not where I want them to be. My son will choose books and robotics over organized sports every time. Given the opportunity, my daughter would spend all of her free time dancing. My youngest loves Legos, sports and learning right now; I look forward to following his journey as he discovers “his thing(s).” By following my children’s lead (not my own plans), our family will collect new experiences, friends and pieces of wisdom along the way.

Looking back, I can see that my accidental collection of new experiences has exponentially increased my own happiness throughout the course of my life. In the future, I will try to be more intentional about collecting new life experiences and supporting of my husband and children when they don’t choose the tried and true route through life. Collecting new life experiences requires a little leap of faith, but the risk is worth the reward.

Do you deliberately collect new life experiences or do you tend to choose things that are familiar? Why? Thanks for sharing your thoughts; your feedback is the fun part.  🙂  Kara