parenting Jen and John Speak

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Survival Instincts

By John

I grew up in some pretty tough neighborhoods in New York City. By the time I graduated Elementary school I had dodged a bank robber, gotten away from muggers, lived through a riot during a blackout, and learned how to avoid drug dealers.

When I was ready to start a family, I wanted my kids to have the perfect suburban life. And they do. From time to time, like a kid again, I share in their wonderful, safe, carefree childhood that I didn’t have. It’s a wonderful feeling to laugh, be silly and live innocently in their world.

But now, as my oldest son is about to graduate from elementary school, I wonder what kind of survival instincts he possesses. Is he ready for middle school? Still to this day, I have my spider sense to alert me to danger. I’m really good at avoiding all kinds of trouble. I know how to walk down the street and not look like an easy target, and know when and how to puff up my chest when I’m confronted by a bully. My kids are peacemakers, something that the schools have taught them and a theme that’s reinforced at home. I don’t think my kids have the spider sense to warn them of danger.

So I decided to help my kids develop some survival skills. Yet as I began to develop my plan, I couldn’t stop smiling as I visualized my kids having fun and enjoying life. I realized that my kids have many friends, possess great social skills, have good manners, are very happy and love the world. They have their own set of survival skills.

• They may not know how to get away from muggers, but they know how to make friends and respect others.

• They may not know how to dodge a bank robber, but they know how to deal with a school bully and be involved in school.

• They may not know how to puff up their chest when confronted by a bully, but they know how to do well in their classes and help with the food bank.

• They may not have a spider sense to warn them of danger, but they’re kind, caring, helpful, and as one teacher described my oldest, he’s really comfortable in his own skin.

Yes, I learned how to survive in the big bad city, but my kids are developing instincts beyond fear that give them a future to engage in a world of hope, peace and justice. And even though usually I still have a plan, its much water-downed.

What kind of survival instincts do your kids possess? And what kind of survival skills are you teaching your kids? Please share your tips and thoughts. As a parent you know you’re always looking for a better way to help your family.

Great and Now I Feel Guilty…

I am a bad mother.

As much as I love my children, there are some things that other mothers think are SO fun and are so delightful that make me want to run and hide.

Case in point, a couple of weeks ago my daughter received a letter in the mail. It was from one of her friends. It told her she was now part of the “Sticker Club” and all she needed to do was mail a pack of stickers to the girl listed on the letter, then add her own name to the letter and mail it, along with a blank copy, to 6 other friends. Within 2 weeks she would apparently receive 36 packs of stickers!

Shoot me now.

The letter sat on the hall table for a week just staring at me before my husband started badgering me about it. Pointing out the fact that good mothers had probably already gotten on the ball and sent theirs out.

What he didn’t understand was that first, I had to figure out what copies I had to make, what addresses I had to find, how many stamps I had to buy, and also run out and buy a pack of stickers. Then I had to set aside time to hand write all the addresses, make all the copies, etc.

I barely have time to wash my dishes.

I finally sucked it up and mailed out the letters with my daughter last night. She was of course clapping her hands in delight the whole time. (insert mommy guilt.) I’d also like to point out the fact that I was a week late in sending these out. Which means there will be other disappointed girls who don’t get their stickers on time.

Sigh.

Now I feel guilty about all the other moms we probably stressed out with this project. (If you get one and you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)

How do supermoms do it all? Because I sure can’t figure it out!

Your thoughts?

Conquering the Math Beast

I know exactly when I started hating math.

It all started in 4th grade. I got Mrs. Potter as my math teacher. I hated her and she hated me. I was a kid with lower than average social skills and she couldn’t stand me. I returned the favor. It was a miserable year. And then she moved up to 5th grade and I got her again. That pretty much ended any chance that I could have a positive view of my ability to do math ever.

And the unfortunate thing is that I carried that through for pretty much the rest of my life. And it has affected my ability to manage finances. And I think I’m not the only one. So many women have been led to believe that they are not good at math, and that has carried over into finances. (Barbie says “Math class is tough,” remember?) And that’s a big deal, because I believe that it’s part of the reason our economy tanked. We’ve spent too much because we weren’t looking closely enough at what we were doing.

Budgeting is not that hard. You look at how much you make, figure out what your fixed expenses are (mortgage, car, groceries, etc.) Whatever is left over is saved, donated, or spent. Don’t spend more than you make and you’re in good shape. Spend more than you make and you’ll never be able to retire. It really is pretty much that simple.

But how many of us avoid looking that closely at our finances because instinctively we’re afraid to? We’ve been so programmed to think that this is beyond us that we make bad financial decisions? And then WE PASS THAT ON TO OUR CHILDREN.

I’m not saying you have to be good at higher math. But adding, subtracting, and multiplication can be done on a calculator. It’s not that hard. And if you want to be a good parent, you have to teach your kids financial responsibility. Heaven knows the schools aren’t doing it.

So conquer your own math beast and get over your fear. The math required to make good financial decisions is not beyond you. And your kids need your good example if they are going to be financially secure one day themselves. Don’t spend more than you make. Save some. Delay gratification when necessary.

Conquer the math beast.

Your thoughts?

Communicating with the Working Parent

With all this technology, you'd think it would be easy to send messages to working parents.

Communication has changed drastically since we were kids, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of schools and kids’ after school activities failed to get the memo.

As a working parent, I feel the brunt of this on a weekly basis.

My husband is responsible for going through the backpacks and managing the paper so I don’t see everything. And as a result, I find out about things like the fact that it was Crazy Hat Day when we arrive at the bus stop in the morning. Without our crazy hats, of course.

And then of course you have after school activities like ballet, where the preferred mode of communication is pinning up notices on the bulletin board. Which of course only works if you are the one dropping your child off and picking them up.

It seems like the entire world of communication around kids is geared towards the stay-at-home mom sitting in that waiting room, and going through the backpack after school.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who would be completely on top of things if they would just send a damn email? Or a text? Or a Google Calendar invite?

Gen Y considers email passe, and the schools haven’t even caught up to that yet. How on earth are they going to communicate with parents as communication ever changes?

I am a working parent. PLEASE send me an email if I need to know. So my kid arrives with the crazy hat on Crazy Hat Day. Thank you.

What do you think?

I Want to Be Supermom But My Cape Ripped (And I Don’t Know How to Sew)

My patch-less brownie 🙂

I am a working mother.

I have a husband who makes sure the household stays running smoothly so I can take the lead in running our company. (God bless him.)

Our roles are often reversed. Parents in town sometimes make the mistake of coming to me to make plans with our kids. After giving them a blank look, I send them to the master schedule keeper (John) who will also most likely be the one who shows up for the playdate or birthday party with kids in tow. He also does the laundry and the taxi driving of the kids. (God bless him.)

We really do like the way things have worked out, even though it’s rather non-traditional. But sometimes it’s hard, too. I’m on the road a lot and miss performances and things. I try to show up for things when I’m around, like caroling with the Brownies.

But I also sometimes think about moms in generations before ours. Those superwomen who cooked and cleaned and got the kids where they needed to be (in heels and pearls, God bless them.) The definition of supermom back then was a lot different than it is today when we’re balancing work and family and everything else we want to do.

Heck, they even knew how to SEW (a talent I simply do not possess.)

Case in point…brownies. I have written before about the stress the whole brownie patch thing has added to my life. I still haven’t added the last 2 patches to my daughter’s vest because I’m not sure where they go. When we went caroling with the brownies at the nursing home, I figured I’d check out the vests of the other girls and then do my daughter’s.  Only when we got there, EVERYONE’s patches were falling off. And it made me feel better. LOL Maybe it’s not just me.

So even though I try very hard to be supermom, there are simply things I’ll never be able to do like June Cleaver. I still haven’t attempted to attach the brownie patches. My husband doesn’t ask me to sew hems (he asks his mom.) And yes, I’ll miss the occasional child activity.

But you know what? It’s OK. It’s what we’ve chosen. It’s the life we created. The kids are happy most of the time.

Even if I don’t know how to sew.

This Thanksgiving, We Went Out for Chinese

Our family on Thanksgiving Day

This Thanksgiving we went out for Chinese food.

Now I can of course claim that part of the reason we did so is because half of our family heritage is Chinese.

But I have to tell you, as I was walking through the supermarket on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I felt a little smug that I was simply picking up essentials as I walked among the folks with the glazed eyes who were stressed out over preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

This year I only cooked little desserts because I wanted to.

This year we spent the day hanging out with each other and putting up the Christmas tree. Instead of spending quality time with my oven, I spent it with my kids. And it was sweet.

And I didn’t have to do dishes after dinner.

Don’t get me wrong…I love to cook. But I love that we avoided the whole “command performance” thing (and honestly, my kids don’t even LIKE turkey.) It was fun, when people asked the inevitable question: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” to answer, “We’re going out for Chinese.”

Granted, it was good Chinese. It was the place where my husband and I celebrated our wedding banquet.

Sometimes it’s fun to buck tradition and do something different.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Fighting the Germ-Fest

With the cold weather comes the germies!

This is that time of year when we begin battling the school germs in earnest. One son has already battled bronchitis, the drips from fall allergies begin, and I shudder to think about what those little hands do before they touch the things my kids touch. After a couple of years of constant sickness in the house, I’ve started to get pretty serious about fighting the germs. Here is some of what we do:

  • Hands get washed the second they get home from school. They’re not allowed to do anything else before that happens.
  • I wipe down the shopping cart handles, sides, etc. I love it when supermarkets provide wipes. But when they don’t, I have my own in my purse. I focus on more than just the top and bottom of the handle…I wipe anything on the cart my kids might touch.
  • I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car. It’s in the pocket right behind the front passenger seat. That way I can reach it from the driver’s seat, and the kids can also reach it and pass it around. Whenever we’re out, the first thing we do when we get back in the car is sanitize.
  • All children have been trained to cough/sneeze into their elbows, NOT their hands.
  • Healthy diet. This is always, but especially during the cough/cold season, it helps.
  • Staying home. The second a child shows signs of illness, we pull them out of school. It doesn’t help their immune system or the rest of the kids at school to send my kids back as contributing members to the germ-fest. Instead, they stay home and get better first.

Do we avoid every illness floating around the school? No. But we definitely do better than if we didn’t take these steps. I never want that year of constant sickness again!

How do you avoid the germies passed around school this time of year? Would love to read your tips and hints 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.

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