Thursday, January 30, 2014

Keep Calm and Carry On: How I'm Trying (and Failing) to Teach My Kids Patience

I used to be a pretty laid-back individual. I think it’s time for me to admit that I’m no longer the easy-going, patient person I once was. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I abandoned my que sera sera attitude and replaced it with one of perpetual annoyance, but it has definitely happened. I want to be an eternally happy person. I strive toward that goal. I want to be the kind of person who brings a smile to the face of everyone I encounter. I fall short of that goal. Daily.
The other day, I took my kids to a theme park. Somehow these happy places tend to bring out the absolute worst in me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t always act like a nice person at theme parks, and the last time we went I noticed my kids taking my cue and getting frustrated over things that never used to bother them. I don’t want them picking up bad behavior from anywhere, least of all from me! This time, as I drove toward the entrance to pay for parking, I vowed, “I’m going to be really good today. I’ll keep a smile on my face, I’ll be happy, and I won’t say that I hate people even once. I won’t even get mad when self-absorbed tourists randomly stop in the middle of a walkway like they’re the only people on the planet because they’re inconsiderate jerks who shouldn’t be allowed out in public!”
“Mom, it sounds like you’re already mad at people.”
“No, no, noooooo, no. I’m just saying that I will remain positive and will not get mad at rude people today, ” I said in my best ‘talking a person down off a ledge, scary-calm voice.’
Dubious, my kids rolled their eyes and murmured, “Uh-huh.”
“Seriously. I can do it! I’ll be really nice!” I insisted.
We made it to the booth where I paid for parking, then I sat there unable to move forward because the car in front of me had simply stopped driving and was just sitting there for reasons known only to them.
“The accelerator is the one on the right. Use it!” I instructed the car in front of me, sarcasm dripping from my voice.
“I think you blew it already, Mom,” came the comments from the peanut gallery.
“No, noooooo. I wasn’t being mean. I was just trying to be helpful because they seem to have forgotten how to drive.” Then I turned back around and addressed the car through my windshield. “I’m not sure what your problem is, but perhaps you can continue to drive while figuring it out so as not to create a huge back-up,” I said in a voice sweet enough to cause a cavity.
We inched through the parking garage like a line of ants marching to the watermelon at a picnic. “Oh, come on, people! This is not rocket science! You follow the line of cars and park in the next empty spot where the guy is directing you! Really, why is this so difficult?” My lament broadly covered every vehicle in front of me.
“Um, Mom … ” My kids looked at me disapprovingly.
“I mean – take your time, people. There’s no rush. I understand that parking can be pretty complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to see the employee in the bright orange vest with the light stick motioning to the parking space,” I backpedaled while using Herculean effort to tamp down the sarcasm.
We parked, disembarked, and shuffled along like cattle, lost in the crowd of people approaching the park.
I stepped onto the moving walkway and continued walking toward the entrance. Several people in front of me were standing on the moving walkway, blocking the path. After saying, “Excuse me” numerous times, finally the crowd parted and moved out of my way. I muttered under my breath, “Does no one have common courtesy anymore? If you want to stand, move to the right, keeping the left side clear for walkers. If you want to walk, stay to the left, don’t plow into people who’d like to stand. Why does everyone think they’re the only people on the planet?”
“Ahem, Mom,” my kids shook their heads at me, a silent reminder of my vow.
“What I meant to say was – We don’t need to walk, kids. Patience is a virtue. Let’s just stand here behind these people and admire each other,” I stated with a smile that stretched my face so far I thought for sure my ears would touch in the back of my head.
My kids and I voted on which ride to visit first and headed in that direction. On the way, we were confronted by groups of people who came to sudden, screeching stops while walking along. Like cars that had run out of gas, they grinded to a halt causing a multi-car, er um, multi-person pile-up in their wakes. I launched into a passive-aggressive rant. “Oh, let’s stop right HERE! Nevermind that it’s in the middle of a walkway! Who cares about the people behind us. We own this park!” I dramatically stalked off, stomping around the offending park-goers in a huff.
“Mom, you totally blew it!”
Ashamed of my behavior, I tried again. The next time a group of people who stopped dead in their tracks right in front of us, I asked (instead of going postal on them), “Can I help you? Are you lost? Do you want me to take your picture?”
The family looked at me like I’d just told them I wanted to eat their livers with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
I whipped my head around to my kids and gave them a pointed ‘See? SEE? I tried to be nice and THIS is what I get!’ look. Then, with concerted effort, I shrugged it off like it was no big deal. I had been friendly and helpful. I have no control in how others respond.
I made a hasty retreat and continued walking. We arrived at our first ride and got in line. People filed in behind me, and by “behind me,” I mean that people started mistaking me and the guy “behind me” for conjoined twins. I considered my options. I could:
Start talking loudly about how the test results had come back and none of the doctors know what my rash is, but they agree it’s highly contagious.
Turn around and start fake-coughing like I have Typhoid.
Swing my backpack up over my shoulder, taking out his eye with the maneuver.
Turn around and say, “If you hit me in the butt one more time, I’m going to expect dinner!”
Take a deep breath, pretend like some random guy isn’t attached to me like a barnacle, go to my happy place, and show my kids that we can still be civilized even when surrounded by annoying people.
I chose option 5. Then I got a beer immediately after the ride.
When you become a parent, you become an automatic role model. Your kids will see and absorb every little thing you do. How you behave matters. Yes, there will be times when you fail, times when you display the very behavior you don’t want them emulating, times when you fail to display the behavior you do want them to follow. We’re human. We’re flawed. It’s going to happen. But what you do when you behave in a way that is less than perfect matters too. Let your kids know that grown-ups make mistakes and don’t always act appropriately. Then try your best to correct your less-than-wonderful habits and replace them with better ones. You’ll be happy you did when you see your kids following in your footsteps (and your footsteps are the kinds that leave smiles on the faces of the people you encounter, not the kind that demonstrate impatient intolerance.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I've Discovered the Secret to Getting my Kids to go to Bed!

I don’t have cable TV, so the kids and I watch a lot of Netflix. My oldest daughter will get hooked on some series and obsessively watch 5 seasons worth of episodes in a week. My youngest kids get their fill of SpongeBob, or Good Luck Charlie, or whatever kid show they’re into until they’ve watched every episode 497,000 times. Each. (Yes, I can pretty much quote every episode of Phineas and Ferb, word-for-word, and in fact, had the Ducky Momo song in my head for so long yesterday that I contemplated stabbing myself in the brain with a fork to make it stop. But I digress.

So, we were flipping around Netflix last night after dinner, and I saw that West Side Story is on there now.

“Oooo, West Side Story! I haven’t seen that in forever. I want to see it!” I announced.

“What’s it about?” asked my kids.

“Well, it’s a musical about 2 rival gangs. It’s got a ‘star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet,’ sort of theme. It’s a musical. It’s got songs like dada-da-da-da, dada-da-da-da-dada.” I proceeded humming a lovely medley of songs from the play. My kids looked at me like I had 2 heads. Or like I was a middle-aged mom humming show tunes. (The looks are pretty much the same for either scenario.)

As we watched the movie, my kids supplied the running commentary.

“Why do they keep snapping?”

Because it’s a musical.

“Why are they singing?”

Because it’s a musical.

“Why are they dancing?”

Because it’s a musical.

“Did people used to just walk along and start singing and dancing like that in the old days?”

No, it’s a musical. People randomly break into choreographed dance numbers while singing in musicals.


That’s what makes it a musical.

“That’s weird.”

It’s not weird; it’s awesome! I mean, I guess it’s a little weird if you think about it. I mean, people don’t generally start singing and dancing in sync as they’re walking down the street. Unless it’s a flash mob. But that’s another thing altogether. Still, weird or not, musicals are awesome. Maybe I’m biased, because I’m a Thespian and have some great memories from all the years I was in theater and all the plays in which I acted.

Shortly into the movie, the Jets and the Sharks started dance-fighting to The Jet Song. The kids instantly piped up.

“Hey! That’s from Alex the Lion! That’s from Madagascar!”

Yep, West Side Story, made in 1961, stole this from a cartoon lion voiced by Ben Stiller.

“Why are they dancing again?”

It’s a musical.

“Is he singing about her name???”


“What if her name wasn’t Maria? What if it was Broomhilda?”

That would be hard to rhyme.

“Broomhilda is Ponyo’s real name! Can we watch Ponyo? This movie is weird. People don’t really sing and dance all the time like that.”

So by your reasoning, singing throughout a movie is weird, but there’s nothing weird about a goldfish who turns into a person. I see.

Thankfully, when the intermission rolled around it was bedtime, and for once, my kids didn’t argue about not getting to finish the movie before going to bed. I was able to finish the movie in peace, and my kids went to bed without stalling. I call that a win-win! Tonight I think I’ll put on The Phantom of the Opera, and when I’ve exhausted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, I’ll roll through Rodgers and Hammerstein’s entire repertoire. Bedtime’s going to be a breeze for weeks!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Kids' Resolutions

A couple nights ago I asked my kids if they had made New Year's Resolutions. This is what they said:

AUSTIN: I have no resolutions.  (Way to shoot for the stars there, son.)

SAVANNAH:  I want to lose weight and become a better water polo player.  (What normal, well-adjusted resolutions.)

JACKSON:  I want to keep my room clean and get better grades.  (Bwaaaaa haaaaaa haaaaaa! Oh wait, you were serious?)

LEXINGTON:  I want to wake up earlier so I have more time in the morning and I want to be more ladylike and burp less.  (That's my truck driver girl!)

CLAYTON:  I want to become smarter so school is easier and I want to be a better artist.  (What? You didn't say you want to poop more? Are you feeling okay, Clay?)

BROOKLYN:  I want to learn how to paint and I want to learn how to drive a car.  (Oh yeah, good idea. A 7-year-old driving. Let's just call that Plan B, okay?)

Not only are those resolutions great, but they made me remember some of the kids' past resolutions from years ago.

This is Savannah's resolution from kindergarten. "This year I will try to clean my bedroom and do my homework." She's always been the responsible one.

This is Jackson's resolution from preschool. "My New Year's resolution is to help my mom by doing dishes." I don't think he's washed a single dish in the 11 years since he wrote this.

Here's Brooklyn's resolution from preschool. Well, she gets along just fine with her sisters. She's halfway there.

Here's Clayton's preschool resolution. It says, "I want to have summer." You and 95% of the country, kid.

Here are Lexi's resolutions from first grade. I especially like the one that says, "I will try harder to remember to take my glasses off my face." I don't recall Lexi ever forgetting to take her glasses off. Forgetting to put them on, on the other hand . . .

These are Austin's resolutions from kindergarten. "This year I will try to roast marshmallows and read more." Oh yeah, roasting marshmallows - one of the more common resolutions for people everywhere.

And there you have it. So what are your kids' resolutions this year?

Monday, January 6, 2014

If You Always do What You've Always Done . . .

Every year I make New Year's Resolutions. And every year I blow them by February first (if not before.) I'm nothing if not consistent. 

I like to put inspirational quotes at the top of the white board in my classroom. When I went back to school today after my 2 week vacation, I wrote across the board "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten." That about sums it up. You can make all the resolutions in the world, but unless you change the way you do things, you'll never attain your desired goals. Making goals without putting a plan of action in place is like telling your kids to stop talking and go to sleep. It ain't gonna happen. (Or maybe that's just how it is in my house.)

This year, I only made one resolution and I took steps to make sure I can reach that one goal. My resolution was to put God first. It's not exactly that I stopped believing or anything, but admittedly, I've been wavering this past year or so. For some reason it's really easy to get swept up in all the negative that surrounds us day in and day out. It's easy to focus on all the bad. It's easy to get overwhelmed and depressed. But when you stop focusing on all the crap that keeps getting dumped on you and look outside yourself, it's amazing how things start to fall into place.

I remember the pastor at my church demonstrated this many years ago. He took a large glass jar and filled it with sand, then pebbles, then small rocks, larger rocks, and one very big rock. The last several rocks he tried to put into the jar, tumbled out of the overflowing container. They wouldn't fit. He dumped the contents out and started putting the rocks in once more. This time, however, he put in the largest rock, representing God, first. Next he dropped in the big rocks, representing family and friends. After that, he put in the small rocks - your job, and other important commitments. He then filled the jar with the pebbles - those hobbies and things that fill your time, but aren't really all that important. Finally, he poured in the sand which represented everything else in your life, all the trivial stuff. And guess what. Everything fit in the jar perfectly. When you put the important things first, everything else falls into place. 

I got a new devotional book and read it every morning to start me off in the right frame of mind. I got a ring inscribed with Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future as a reminder when I'm feeling hopeless. (The ring is a mobius strip and mostly I just look at it and get a headache trying to figure out how it's possible. I'm convinced it's witchcraft.) I said goodbye to relationships that only brought me down. I put inspirational quotes all around my computer monitor at work in case I ever forget that I have the opportunity to be a blessing and an inspiration to everyone I come into contact with every single day. 

Already I feel a little lighter. The burdens that have been weighing me down aren't quite so heavy. The headaches and sore jaw that I've been waking up with every day seem to have disappeared. Some exciting opportunities have come my way. A renewed passion for writing has flooded through me. Some amazing people have reached out to me in wonderful ways. It's just amazing what a little change in perspective can do! No longer do I feel filled with dread. I'm looking forward with anticipation to what this year will bring! And I hope you are too! Just remember, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten. If you want something different, maybe it's time for a little change.

P.S. I did make one more resolution - drink more wine. It's important to have attainable goals, after all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

How Not to Change a Roll of Toiler Paper

As a mom, I consider it my duty to teach my kids all the skills they'll need to be well-adjusted, happy, productive members of society. It's a work in progress, of course, but I think I'm doing a fairly good job. My kids understand the difference between right and wrong and have developed a decent set of morals. They think of others and spend time volunteering. They are learning that every choice has a consequence and they're starting to comprehend what it takes to be responsible. I feel like my kids are coming along and will eventually be the kind of people who don't make others want to strangle them. 

Then there are times like today when I'm pretty sure they'll never get jobs, move out of my house, or be able cut up their own pork chops. Days like today when I walk into the bathroom and realize there's no toilet paper. Most of the time when my kids finish a roll, they simply leave the cardboard tube on the spindle. My guess is that they're leaving the empty roll for the elusive TP Fairy to exchange with a fresh new one. Today, however, I couldn't find the spindle at all. It was nowhere in sight. Finally Savannah called out, "I found it! Apparently they think when the roll is done, there's no longer a use for the toilet paper holder at all."

I guess when I scream and complain kindly ask my kids to throw away the old roll and replace it with a new one, I'll have to be a bit more specific. I might need to make a training video like the one I did for hanging up coats. Either that, or they're going to have to start going out in the woods and using leaves to wipe their butts.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Easy-to-Make Good Luck Cake for New Year's

This is a recipe for Vasilopita, a traditional Greek cake served on New Year's Day. It's easy to make and everyone will love the rich, buttery, orange-flavored cake. I'm Greek and if there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that Greeks are all about food and traditions and traditions that include food and superstitions of good luck and food that brings good luck and more food. And of course, let's not forget about the food. This cake is not only yummy, but it contains a coin. Traditionally, the first slice is cut and reserved for God. The second slice is given to the head of the household. The third goes to his wife, additional slices are cut for the children from oldest to youngest, then other relatives and guests. The recipient of the slice of cake that contains the coin will purportedly have good luck for the year. It's a fun tradition and hey, you can't go wrong with cake, right? I'm all for any excuse to eat dessert.


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