Parenting (2) Jen and John Speak - page 2

Category Archives: Parenting

Healthy Halloween Treats

My most impressive 100% fruit juice gelatin jigglers from last year's class Halloween party

I’ve written before about how we’re Head Class Parents for 2 of our 3 kids’ classrooms. That means we’re in charge of organizing the annual Halloween Party for these classrooms. We’ve met with the parents and are in the midst of planning. But our school, like many others, has gotten really strict about the food.

There are a couple of reasons. First, allergies have become a big issue. We have to avoid all nuts, and in some classrooms dairy and wheat is an issue. (It stinks to be the kid who can’t snack on the good stuff!)

Then, there’s the “healthy food’ issue. The school wants to make sure the treats the kids have are healthy. That means sugar can’t be the 1st ingredient, avoiding fat, etc. Now while I’m on board with serving healthy food, I do feel like the school goes overboard on this. Particularly because the crap they serve on a regular basis in the lunchroom doesn’t fit the party requirements they require us to adhere to! (but I digress…)

Anyway, here are some healthy snack ideas that the parents in our classes have come up with. Would love to hear if you have any other healthy ideas to share!

  • Popcorn “Hands” – Fill plastic gloves with popped popcorn and serve!
  • Apple “Teeth” – Take apple slices, and cut a slit along the peel side. Add black raisins in the slit as teeth.
  • Fruit Kabobs – Black and orange fruit on skewers (oranges, blackberries, etc.) It’s color themed!
  • Spooky “Fingers” – Cut string cheese in half. Then cut green or red pepper pieces into triangles that are about 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch wide at the base. Cut a small slit in the rounded end of the string cheese half, and insert the pepper triangle (which now looks like a pointy fingernail.) (Or make these.)
  • 100% Fruit Juice Jigglers – Boil 100% Fruit Juice and then add Knox unflavored gelatin (follow the directions on the back of the Knox packet.) Pour into a 13″ x 9″ pan and refrigerate to set. Then use Halloween-themed cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes. Serve on Halloween-themed cupcake liners.
So what other healthy Halloween treats do you serve at class parties, or with your kids at home? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

Playdate Mantra – The Cause and Effect

by John

As my kids are getting older we are starting to arrange more play dates. Like all parents we talk to our kids about appropriate behavior on a play date. Things like use good manners, don’t play too rough, say thank you and please, don’t break anything, cooperate, be friendly, help clean up and listen to the parent in charge. Our play date mantra is “Kids who behave themselves get invited back”.

My kids easily understand this cause and effect. Once I got them to understand the concept of cause and effect I’ve used it for everything. Things like:

  • If you finish your homework early the effect is more play time
  • If you review your school material and study for your test the effect is good grades
  • If you clean your room up the effect is more friends can come to visit
  • If you eat healthy the effect is more energy and feeling better
  • If you brush your teeth the effect is less dentist visits and no painful cavities
  • If you develop good listening skills the effect is less confusion and better learning
  • If you are friendly and positive the effect is more friends
  • If you read more the effect is improved writing
  • If you practice the effect is improvement
  • If you are willing to try new things the effect is finding more things you love
  • If you care about others the effect is others will care about you
You get the idea. With my kids I’m always trying to find their Ah-Ha moments. Understanding their Ah-Ha moments helps me communicate better with them, lay the foundation to more complicated issues, and helps me rediscover the joy of childhood.

No One Told Me About the Parental Aptitude Test for Girl Scouts!


I am not a domestic diva. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t scrapbook or sew or do any of those wonderful crafty things I stand in awe of when I see other moms do them. Sure I can put together a bookshelf with the best of them, but crafty? Not me.

Funny story…when my oldest son started pre-school, we were hanging out together in the “imaginative play” section of the classroom. It had a toy kitchen, ironing board, babies, etc. My kid had to ask me what the ironing board and iron were. Never saw those before. *hangs head in shame*

So anyway, my daughter just signed up for brownies. She has a lot of boy in her life with 2 brothers…Legos, Star Wars, martial arts, etc. I figured she needed a seriously girly activity, but I still wanted it to be character building. Brownies seemed to fit the bill. So we signed her up.

They sent me a list of the stuff I’d need to buy for her uniform…vest, patches, pins. When it arrived I REALIZED I WOULD NEED TO IRON ON THE PATCHES. Like, STRAIGHT. Praise the Lord I didn’t have to sew them on. That might have sent me over the edge.

I looked at the directions. There is pre-ironing, ironing cloths, and flipping of the garment involved. No lie, my hands started to sweat and my heart started beating fast. Seriously. No one told me there was a parental aptitude test for this. Like, if I can’t manage to get these things on straight, my child will be the laughing-stock of brownies. But no pressure or anything! Ha!

So last night I bit the bullet. Laid out all the patches. Placed them all first, prior to ironing, just to make sure. Then I had to remove everything, pre-iron, place, ironing cloth iron, flip and iron, flip, ironing cloth, and iron again. I swear. Those were the instructions.

I only messed up a little by failing to remove a backing from one of the numbers. And that was easily remedied. Her little vest actually looks like a competent mother ironed it.

But holy cow. Next time I think they should warn the parents about the aptitude test!

What puts pressure on you when trying to do things for your kids? I can’t be the only one! Share your stories in the comments.

image source:

When is Trendy Too Expensive? Finding Balance

My daughter is of the age when she’s beginning to notice not just WHAT her friends wear, but where it came from. Because jeans are apparently cool when they come from Justice, but not nearly as cool when they come from Target. Even if they look exactly. the. same. (And don’t even get me started about people who wear pants with stuff written on the butt. Over. my. dead. body.)

And I struggle with this.

Now I lean very much on the practical side of things when it comes to outfitting my children. When they will wear it just ONE season before they grow out of it, the thought of blowing my hard-earned cash on expensive clothes is ridiculous to me. There are perfectly trendy clothes at Target, Old Navy, etc. (and for that matter, the rummage sale and second hand store) that look just fine. And this is coming from someone who is all about dressing well.

But I also remember what it was like growing up and NOT shopping at the trendy store. I struggled to fit in as a child on many levels. This was one of them. And so I can relate to my daughter’s desire to shop at Justice and buy the cool stuff in order to fit in and be cool.

This all came to the forefront when a girl down the street got a diary from Justice. She had it out at the bus stop every morning, and all of a sudden my daughter DESPERATELY wanted a diary from Justice. I told her she could have one from Target (who didn’t, apparently, have one with a lock.) I’m all for encouraging things that encourage writing. We compromised by finding one at Barnes & Noble (where I had a coupon.) And she’s been having a great deal of fun writing and drawing in it. Even though it didn’t come from Justice.

But I wonder about the culture that says to our kids they must have exactly this from exactly this place in order to be cool. And by the way, you have to spend a lot of money to achieve that status.

I want my kids to be aware of current culture. But I also want them to realize that it’s not the label that makes you cool or not. And I want them to have the confidence to carry that message without me having to stand there and tell them that.

I think we achieved that with the journal. It’s serving its purpose and she’s happy.

But she also knows that I think Justice is way too expensive and I don’t intend to shop there. I wonder when that will come to a head. At some point I’ll probably give her the option to spend her own money there if she wants to. But she’ll understand she gets less for her money by shopping there than elsewhere.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you approach it when your kids want the trendy thing from the expensive place? Would love to read your comments.

What are you grateful for?

The last couple of years have been a roller coaster ride to say the least. Lately, I’ve had time to thank God and be grateful for where I have landed.

My morning of gratitude:

6:30am – The sun peeks through my window.

6:35am – Snuggled cozily in my big comforter.

6:40am – The warmth of my beautiful wife beside me.

6:50am – The sounds of chatter and restless feet.

6:53am – My dog whining for me to get up.

6:55am – Morning bear hugs and peppy smiles from my kids.

6:58am – The smell of preparing a fresh pot of coffee for Jen and the circling dog reminding me to feed her.

7:00am – Our first class breakfast menu of yogurt, turkey sausages, mini bagels, whole wheat toast, fruit, nuts, cheese, egg whites and milk.

7:05am – The laughter from PBS educational TV and making healthy lunches for my kids. A Lunch menu consisting of PBJs, flat bread pizzas, bagels, grilled-cheese sandwiches, carrots, fruits, granola bars or money to purchase school lunch on Fridays.

7:25am – A meeting of the minds in choosing the appropriate school and weather fashion.

7:30am – Squeezing their little faces, checking their sparkly white teeth and combed hair.

7:35am – Piano practices and beautiful music to awaken sleeping beauty mommy.

7:45am – Brain warm-ups, a little math, a few spelling words and/or the thought for the day.

7:50am – Free play! A little Legos, dolls, Wii, DS, TV, reading, sharing, catching up or anything the kids want to do.

8:00am – Get ready to leave for school. Jen and I get more “I’ll miss you” hugs, kisses and smiling faces.

8:03am – We walk over to the bus stop and exchange good mornings with our neighbors surrounded by trees and our little quiet neighborhood.

8:10am – The school bus pulls up and the doors open to a smiling bus driver wishing everyone good morning!

8:15am – Jen and I go for our workouts. Sometimes we take a walk together, or she goes for her run, and I’ll do my martial arts exercises.

8:45am – I post my first comments, tweet my good mornings to friends, and make my to-do steps to reach my goals.

Recently, I ended a business post that life is like a river, but sometimes it’s more like a hurricane. Like the aftermath of a hurricane, there’s always new life, growth and beauty. I cherish more vividly all the beauty in my life. I’m so grateful for each day. What are you grateful for? How do you start your days?

~ John

Helping Our Kids Handle Bullies

Recently, one of my children experienced an episode of bullying. It was minor and my child handled it, but we felt it was important for the teacher to know (she wasn’t present at the time) so that no one got hurt if it happened again. So we sent in a note.

What surprised me was how seriously the school took it. Both children were called down to the principal (separately) to discuss the incident, the teacher called us, and the school actually had to prepare a report. Apparently there is a lot of legislation in our state now related to bullying, and how schools are expected to handle it.

And I have to say I’m glad to see it. As a child, I dealt with a lot of bullying. I didn’t have the world’s best social skills, and as a result, there were times I was tormented by the other kids. My mother would try to get the school to do something, but at the end of the day it continued. I finally just sucked it up, because there wasn’t a lot that could be done.

And yet my kids are growing up in a different world. At Back to School Night, I saw posters in every classroom that talked about bullying, what it is, and the rules against it. I know they talk about it in their classes as a group, to make sure no one experiences it, and if they do, what they should do about it. Kids in our school district fully understand what a bully is, and they know they have protection. What confidence this can give our kids!

We’ve also taught our kids at home how to defend themselves. They know that the first thing they should do is to get out of the situation if they can, handle it with their words, and tell a teacher. But if someone is physically doing something to them, they know how to protect themselves. We practice at home.

And we also talk about why the bully might be acting that way. Perhaps something is unhappy at home. Perhaps they don’t know how to make friends except to be physical. We encourage our kids to extend a hand of friendship when it’s possible. It might just change the bully.

Can we fully protect them forever from others who may be mean to them? Of course not. But we can make them aware of the behaviors that constitute bullying, so they know it when they see it. They’ll know what to do to get themselves out of the situation, because they’re being taught about it. And my kids also know how to step up and help other kids who may find themselves in bullying situations. We’ve taught them this at home, and they’re learning it in school.

It makes the playground a happier place for all kids.

How does your school handle bullying? What do you do to teach your kids about bullying at home? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments.

When Supermom Travels

When Jen travels

Every time Jen travels I feel a little nervous the day before she goes away. Because I’m one of those planners, checklist makers, one who tries to anticipate everything that can possibly go wrong, and comes up with the perfect plan, until life happens.

Here’s my mental checklist for Jen’s travel (it used to be on paper):

  • Jen and I review all the business needs and priorities
  • Discuss how I can reach her in an emergency
  • Make sure her travel plans are clear
  • Make sure she has enough travel cash
  • Talk about travel safety
  • Make sure she is sure everything is packed
  • Check any last-minute mommy duties
  • Get her off on time!

And of course Jen always seems ready even without a little help from me.

Now that I’m home alone! This is the part I worry about the most, especially when Jen first started traveling for business. I’ve always been a hands on dad, but kids without their mommy sometimes get a little crazy.

Here’s my mental checklist for kids, home, business and pretending to be (super) mom (I still make little lists):

  • Double check emergency phone numbers
  • Make sure there’s plenty of food
  • Know and prepare their menu for the days Jen is gone (menus to take-out places)
  • Make sure they follow daily routines precisely to reassure kids everything is normal
  • Have treats, games, toys, videos, stories on hand in case kids miss mommy too much
  • Make sure my parents are there to back me up if I need help (fortunately, we have a two family house and my parents live two doors apart from us)
  • Make sure to remember all their school, extra curricular and homework schedules and assignments
  • Make tent and campsite for kids to sleep in my bedroom, in case they need comforting at night
  • Make sure Sugar, our dog, gets plenty of walks and treats so she’s comforted, because Sugar will miss Jen the most (Sugar is the baby of the family)
  • Make sure I’m on top of all business needs and duties
  • Get breakfast, lunches, dinner, clothes ready, check homework, extra curricular schedule and everything else that’s not on a list ready for the next day (if Jen isn’t back yet)
  • Make sure I’m there to pick up Jen from the airport with Sugar our dog on time when her plane lands
  • Fill her in on all the events, dramas, business that have happened since she been gone before the kids smother her

Sure, I’m a planner, but when life happens and messes up your plan, the best plan is to trust your instincts, do your best and pray! I know Jen feels guilty and misses the kids when she’s traveling, but it’s a great opportunity for me to practice being a (super) mom (in my book any mom that works and takes care of the family is a supermom even if they’re not perfect), once in a while to stretch and help me grow as a parent and as a man.

Do you think this is the new reality for families? How would your family manage? How do single parents do it?

Being There

As I write this, I’m sitting on a train headed to Washington DC. I didn’t see my kids this morning because I left too early (although I gave them extra hugs last night). And I stuck little notes in their lunches for today, letting them know I love them, and that I’ll see them when they get home from school tomorrow.

As a working mom who travels a lot, one of the things I struggle with is being there for everything. I have missed the occasional school performance, birthday (although we celebrated when I was home), etc. And I have struggled with guilt over this. Because I know I need to do my job to make the money needed for the family. Yet I also want to be the good mom. The one who is always there for my kids, with baked goods waiting as they walk in the door from school.

I know it’s not a unique experience. June Cleaver messed us all up. We struggle to be supermom while dealing with the realities of today’s society. I’ve tried to be the stay at home mom. And I nearly lost my mind. It just isn’t me. I crave the challenge that comes from my business, even though I also love being with my kids. But it does mean I can’t be there all the time.

And so I’ve learned to cut myself some slack. Heck, I might even be teaching my kids a few lessons that relieve some of the guilt for them when they become adults. I hope I’m teaching them that they are incredibly important to me, and their celebrations matter. They just might not always happen on the exact day. They will, however, happen (even if it means I have to watch that performance on the DVD). And when we’re all together, they get my full attention.

They’re also learning what it means to work hard. They know full well that getting the toys they want, the roof over their heads, the food on the table, is a direct result of John and I working hard, and me being away sometimes. It’s our reality. (And they’re actually pretty fortunate in that when I’m not traveling, I work from home. So they may actually see us more than the average kid with 9-5 parents.)

And my kids are still happy, funny, and secure.

Am I June Cleaver or Supermom? Nope. But my kids know I love them, and they’re learning how hard work translates into a good life.

And that may be even more important.

How do you balance it all? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments.