Staying Balanced

We are well into January 2017 and I’m happy to say I’ve been creating a more balanced schedule for my little family.  Not only do I verbalize that our priorities are God and family,  we are walking in it day to day so far this year.

It tends to happen every fall that we become consumed with our outside activities as the girls prepare for The Nutcracker and Southern Region Oireachtas (a regional Irish Dance competition).  One of the dance schools is an hour and a half commute so in addition to practice time, add three hours to every time we go, which had been 3-4 times per week, 15-20 hours per week including several Sundays.  The time spent being an Irish dance mom is equivalent to a part time job! The fall spins and spins until we have 3 weekends in a row of big events in December:  Oireachtas, then The Nutcracker and then a piano recital.  Becoming concerned that by supporting their involvement in these activities I was warping their Christmas memories, I suggested to the girls that next year we not participate, instead just relax all of December and see if we like it.  They rebounded with a unison,  “No!  These are part of our Christmas traditions!”   The week of Christmas and New Year we do slow down to reflect on our Savior’s birth with other traditions and enjoy times with family.   To be honest I can’t imagine going a year without The Nutcracker or hearing them prepare for the Christmas piano recital, and, my daughter has worked so hard over the years in Irish dance and is on the verge of making a goal that I can’t take it away from her now.

However, Christmas break and quality time at home helped me to recognize how far I had let us stray from keeping our family priorities.   As I started making our January activity schedule, I focused with two things in mind – God and family.

I know there is more to being a Christian than attending church and I can understand missing occasionally, but missing was becoming the norm rather than the exception for us this past fall. We will not be missing church or relying on their online video service,  when we only live 20 minutes away, to make sure a daughter can attend a required practice.

Having lost my father at an early age, I can’t purposely keep my girls from spending quality time with their dad as they grow.  Research has shown benefits to eating nightly family dinners.  While due to his work schedule we can’t do it every night, we will eat together more often than not.  We will not be out at activities while my loving husband, their devoted father, is home alone eating dinner.

Will this negatively impact their achievement level in activities?  I don’t know.  Time will tell.  (There are benefits and life lessons to be gained their chosen arts, but that’s a topic for another time.)  I do know that years from now if I have a Sugar Plum Fairy or a Championship dancer, it means nothing if they have not grown closer to God or if they have missed out on sharing their daily lives and routines with their Dad.

Please wish me well as the year continues.  I know next fall will come and I may have to say no to extra team activities due to scheduling concerns.  I know there will be times I’ll need to be a little more flexible,  but overall, I’ll need to keep the big picture in mind and stay balanced.

 

Do Something Great

It was mid-Christmas day, my husband and I were sitting together on the love seat in the tree room while he was setting up my new MacBook and he whispered to me, “Do something great.”  Simultaneously, our youngest skipped into the room unknowingly interrupting and started telling us how she was going to program her new robot to dance.  We both joined her conversation, watched the robot dance, and nothing was ever again mentioned about me doing something great with my new laptop.

Yet, I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  He met me when I was doing my part to make the world better place by teaching in schools for children who had severe behavior challenges and taking classes towards my master’s degree.  The year we met I was awarded Teacher of the Year at our school and a couple of years later completed my master’s degree.  Several years after that, early in our marriage, I became a special education coordinator and helped to open a new school in the county.   During that season in my life I felt that I was doing great things.

Currently, as a stay at home-homeschooling mom my efforts are focused on our daughters’ academics and activities, preparing healthy meals, doing laundry, and then keeping a neat house. They were listed in order of importance (to me).  I’m often driving my girls to activities so you can imagine everything doesn’t get done.   And, I admit I tend to dwindle the little time I do have for myself on social media.  I’m doing things, but not sure how great they are.  The girls are doing and learning great things.

My husband is fully supportive of homeschooling.  In fact, it was his idea.  I know he is pleased with what the children are learning.  I know he recognizes the importance of their activities outside of the home.  I think he also recognizes that I have more to share as an individual.  His whisper was motivation to discover and develop my personal strengths again.    While he knows that my time and energy are poured into our girls (not so much the house, but he is usually patient about that); I think he sees that I have put my own learning, activities and striving for personal success on the back burner.

I’m  not sharing this to make a declaration of a new me, but to encourage myself and some of you who may be in a similar position of focusing so much on our children that we are losing ourselves. Who will join me?  We can still prioritize efforts on our children and their education, but let’s be sure to make time for our own interests and learning.   What better time than the ending of one year and entering a new one to do some personal goal setting?  Isn’t a new year a great time to take some steps to learn something new or return to a previous passion?   Wouldn’t it set a wonderful example of lifelong learning for our children?  I have no idea yet what it will be, but I’m going to carve out some time, weekly or daily, for myself this year and do something great.

A Morning Walk

When we decided to start our day with a morning walk I didn’t realize how much learning would actually take place.  I agreed to it out of a need for my own exercise and an opportunity for the girls to cross-train (exercise other than dancing) by walking, running or riding their bikes.  Not to mention, it was a beautiful sunny morning!   No, I didn’t consider the discussion about seasons, observations of birds and even math skills that would come in to play as we walked the neighborhood.

My oldest rode her bike ahead and kept circling back.  My youngest started by trying to run to keep up with her sister, but asthma wheeziness started creeping in due to a combination of spring pollen and over exertion, I guess.  Instead she just walked with me….and learned.

As all kindergarteners do, we learned more about the seasons.  We noticed that fall isn’t the only season to have pretty varying colors of leaves on trees.  She noticed the varying shades of green on the spring leaves, as well as some pinks and yellows.

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     Oh, the birds!  They were out in full force this beautiful spring morning causing us to enjoy some impromptu nature studies.  First we heard them.  We just listened to their singing.   We heard one that was probably the baby and then what we assumed was it’s mother answering back.  My daughter shared her thoughts that the baby was asking for breakfast and the mother was telling it she’d be right back with a worm.  Then we noticed the different sounds of bird songs coming from different trees.  A little farther on our walk we noticed a bright red cardinal, along with two female cardinals.  As it’s always surprising for young children to learn, I told her that the prettiest cardinal is the male and the others are female.  As we watched them flit and fly from branch to branch playing with each other she decided that maybe the two females were actually bickering and fighting over the handsome male cardinal.  (It seems thoughts of romance starts young these days.  And, no, we don’t spend our afternoon watching soap operas.)

We learned about math as we counted how long it would take her sister to get from the end of the cul-de-sac to the other end on her bike.  It took 6o seconds, which we reviewed equals one minute.  We continued discussing it would probably take an hour if she did it 60 times, because an hour equals 60 minutes.  How many could she do in 15 minutes?  About 15, of course.  She didn’t realize we were having a mini math lesson.

I didn’t realize either, as we were walking and talking, all the things we were learning while putting off school work for a walk in the neighborhood.  It was as we returned home and entered the driveway that it hit me what a productive morning walk we had had.  She asked to stay out a little longer to play with bubbles and I obliged.  Who knows what else she might discover and learn on her own while she stays outside just a little longer!

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Happiness Does Not Equal Perfection

12/23/2016  I’m reposting this as a reminder to enjoy the peace and love of Christmas with your families as Mary did.  I’m quite certain the stable was not perfect.
I catch myself doing it from time to time;  you know, trying to make a holiday or other special day perfect.  I’m certainly not a perfectionist, but for some reason these ideals creep into my mind around holidays like Christmas or Easter and when I am hosting birthday parties for my children.  I find myself getting so caught up in these ideals that it causes me stress which results in my own unhappiness and grumpiness, and worse yet, it steals the happiness from the people whom I am trying to bring joy.  It’s a vicious cycle.

It was the day before Easter Sunday this year when I started feeling it.  I had not slept well the night before, I had to get the kids to an egg hunt, bake the bunny cake (which was a new thing for us this year, but we were all looking forward to it) and dye the eggs.  Not to mention tidy the house in preparation for my brother and his wife who would be here for dinner on Sunday.   Oh, and finish the routine laundry and prepare a regular Saturday dinner.   My daughter entered the kitchen with anticipation inquiring, “Are we dying eggs or baking the bunny cake first?”  I must have worn the stress on my face and probably didn’t realize I let out a frustrated sigh.  That’s when sadness appeared on her face and she said to me, “Why aren’t you happy?”  Whoa!  What?  Yikes, what am I doing?  OK, I know what I need…a power nap, but there is really not time and I just had a cup of coffee so sleep won’t happen.  I really just need to relax and maybe prioritize.  What is the priority?  Eggs or bunny cake?  Neither.  The priority is to build happy memories with my girls.  It is for them to see the love of Jesus as we celebrate Easter, not the grumpiness of Mommy.  We colored the eggs together and then prepared the cake batter.  Things worked out.  Instead of having a homemade dinner that night, we ended up having Chipotle for dinner on our way back from the grocery store, and that’s okay.  I got some other things done while, get this, they decorated the bunny cake all by themselves.  It looked great and tasted delicious!

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The very next week as I was getting my daughter’s 6th Birthday Tea Party ready and I started to feel it again….the desire for it to be perfect.  The day before the party my oldest, confident after the success of the Bunny Cake, made and decorated the birthday cupcakes all by herself.  My birthday girl and I set out the activities and filled the favor bags together.  I had put off buying the flowers and balloons until the day of the party so they would be fresh.  The morning of the tea party, I started feeling the frantic feeling again of having things tidy, prepared and perfect.  My birthday girl was cleaning off the coffee table and brought me a bookmark which she thought was mine so I could put it away. “Keep Calm and Pray”  were the words on the bookmark.  That was all I needed for a reality check.  I said a quick little prayer and remembered that ten years from now, or even tomorrow, it won’t matter if I had the fruit cut in cute little shapes to match the sandwiches. The party doesn’t have to be perfect to bring my sweet little six year old and her friends happiness.

Am I cured?  Will I never again stress about an event or occasion?  Probably not.  I do think I will catch myself early enough to keep calm and pray, and remember that happiness does not equal perfection.

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Time to Create

imageWe all focus our attention to academics, and making sure our children are active in organized sports and structured activities.  With all of these concerns and commitments, are we allowing  our kids to just be creative?  A little over a year ago, I let go of the morning resistance to get our school work started.  I was realizing that after breakfast (sometimes even before breakfast) was the time my girls seem to get caught up in their own ideas and creations.  Sometimes it was Lego constructions or bead work.  More recently it is drawing, painting, crochet, or even acting, videography and photography.   It was last year that I embraced this time and instead of demanding their obedience to get dressed and sit at the table to do school work, I gave them the time to create.  Within reason, I allowed them time to complete the project they had started.  They understood that the next thing to do was begin their school work.  Yes, it’s also beneficial to incorporate their talents and interests with the academic lessons, but I think the unstructured time without imposing expectations of the end product is also necessary.  Allowing this time to get their creative juices flowing and to express themselves in the mode of their choice made our academic times even more enjoyable and productive.  Currently, I see this optimal creative time of day changing for one and I need to be sure to work with it instead of against it, and allow her the time to create.

They Didn’t Earn It

One week in March my two daughters brought home a total of six award ribbons and two medals.  I’m not bragging. I’m actually expressing frustration.

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One daughter did earn two of her four ribbons and the youngest did earn one of her two ribbons.  They both entered artwork in a community art show.  As their mother, of course I liked their art and a few of the pieces will be hung on a wall, not just the fridge.  I’m proud of the ribbons they were given for actually placing, but I am annoyed with the” honorable mention” ribbons they brought home just because they entered the show.  Every piece of art, for all who entered had a ribbon  placed on it.

Oh, and the medals?  They were given them because they were in a parade!  No, they did not receive a performance award in the parade.  The organization they were representing handed them out just for being there.  When I was young the opportunity to be in a parade was exciting enough.  I certainly didn’t need a medal to feel good about it.

As a family we try to avoid activities which award kids for meeting minimal expectations for a few reasons:

1)  Lessons can be learned in losing.  If you see someone else carrying a trophy or wearing a medal and you are not, you will develop a desire to work harder to earn said award.

2)  Kids begin to expect a prize or award for everything they do.  They become too extrinsically motivated instead of developing the intrinsic motivation, the desire which comes from within themselves.  We want kids to do well because it feels good to them, not because of something someone hands to them.

3)  It minimizes the achievement to the kids who put in the hard work and preparation to win.  Is it right that one who reads about the activity, practices the activity at home as well as in organized practice, and who puts for their best efforts in practice (not just there to socialize) walks out with the same award?  I don’t think so.

I hope our family stance on this will provide positive outcomes for our children.

Praying Dance Mom

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I pray with and for my kids as I’m sure many of you do.  One night as a feis (Irish Dance Competition) was approaching, I was saying bedtime prayers with my daughter.  She just had one more dance to get a 1st so she could move up a level and begin wearing the poofy, blingy skirt and big wig.  She prayed that God would help her with her dance and reluctantly, we prayed for the win.  First we hesitated.  When there is war and cancer and homelessness, is it really okay to pray for a 1st place in a dance competition?  We discussed this, and considered that God wants us to take all things to Him in prayer and petition and that we are ALL important to Him, so we started praying for the win.

A couple of days later she was at the feis and as usual after she checked in and got in the line, I watched and prayed silently over and over again.  I was 0kay with praying for the win.  As the girls stepped out to dance one girl came out and then stopped….she forgot her dance…..she fumbled a bit and then just went back to the line in tears before the dance was over.  I stopped praying for my daughter and even prayed to God saying “We will be ok, don’t worry about us.  Please just take care of that little girl and guide her mom to handle this with care and build her back up.”   A few minutes later it was my daughter’s turn to dance.  She was on fire!  Well, for most of the dance she was on fire.  Near the end I could tell her feet fumbled just a little, but she got right back into it.  Maybe the judge didn’t see her error.  As she came to me after getting off the stage she expressed disappointment.  She could tell the judge was watching her and was impressed until she forgot her step, and yes the judge was still watching her.  She seemed to be handling it well.  I prayed in my head as we walked through the crowd thanking God that my daughter was handling things well and continued to pray for the other little girl who had been crying on stage.

Later when we went to look at results we saw that my daughter placed 3rd in the dance she so desperately needed to place 1st.  She was not surprised, but she was definitely disappointed.  On the drive home that day, as she was eating her traditional after feis M&M Blizzard, I reminded her that God is answering our prayers, but he is saying to her “not yet”.   I noticed for the next week or so that she was somewhat quiet and routine with our bedtime prayers.  She stopped praying about dancing altogether.  Oh no…we should not have prayed for the win.  I set her up to be angry with God.  I also realized that I was underestimating God when I thought he had to forget about her to take care of another girl.  Don’t I know he can do ALL  things and care for ALL of us at the same time?!?!   Oh no.  What have I done?

Two weeks later, early on a sunny August morning, we were on our way into another  feis.  She didn’t want to pray about it in the hotel room.  As she was pulling her Zuca up the sidewalk ahead of me I prayed silently,  “God, whatever happens today, may it bring her closer to You.”  That was all.  That was my simple prayer.  Of course, as she was in line waiting her turn to step out to dance I  continued with my usual prayers for her to have confidence and to do her best, but I didn’t pray for the win.  And my daughter?  She did eventually earn her poofy, blingy skirt and big wig.  In fact,  she is now in her solo dress and wears a tiara in her big wig.  More importantly, she is close to Him.  She prays daily, sometimes with me and sometimes on her own.  The night before every feis she prays aloud for God to be with her as she dances and she prays for all of the other dancers.  My dance mom prayer every feis morning continues to be, “God, whatever happens here today, may it bring her closer to You.”