Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Garden, here we come!

The last danger of frost in Massachusetts may not be for several weeks, but there are still plenty of gardening activities to begin! We're going to try growing vegetables this year for the first time. I am looking forward to being outdoors, the excitement of seeing things grow, and the satisfaction of eating something we've grown ourselves. It's good for us and it's good for the environment. After all, what could be more local than your backyard?

We bought M-Braces from www.artofthegarden.net which have helped us take lumber and transform it into a raised bed with no hammers or nails. I would say no sawing, but my amazingly wonderful husband Greg actually used a borrowed handsaw in the Lowe's parking lot because their equipment for cutting lumber in the store was down. So it was actually pretty labor intensive. But there was the potential for it not to have been!

We're lucky enough to live near Volante Farms, a great place in Needham that has an amazing garden center and their own brand of organic top soil. Upon their recommendation, we're combining a 75% top soil, 25% composted organic cow manure and peat moss mixture.

This year we're going to try carrots, leaf lettuce, cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes. I've made a chart with notes on the planting, growing, and harvesting of each to help me keep track of each one.

Besides our usual container plants, I'm also going to grow some herbs along the retaining wall in our backyard. Since it's too early to plant most of them outdoors, I am working on starting some inside from seed! Chobani yogurt containers, meet scissors, sharpie, seed and soil. I cut holes in one container, and then stacked it in another to create a place for any extra water to go. (Otherwise Greg probably wouldn't let me put them on the windowsill.) If they don't grow well, I can always buy some young herb plants, but I thought it would be fun to try. For less than two dollars a packet, it's pretty inexpensive entertainment! Who knows, maybe it will become a fun spring tradition :)

We've already gotten back something from our garden - we had a wonderful day this past weekend outside with Will on a blanket in the shade, working together to create something.

Can't wait to watch things grow!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lecture Review: "Raising Children of Character"

One of my favorite activities is attending the lectures that are organized by my local mother's forum. Yes, I love the wine, cheese and crackers, passed hors d'oeuvres, and ice cream sundae bar. (I have a system for ensuring that I get both wine and cheese and ice cream without having to eat them simultaneously. On a related note, I go to these by myself, and I don't talk to anyone.)

But more than the food and the atmosphere, I love the actual lectures. With a six month old at home, I am not even the intended audience of most of them. Yet. Perhaps that's why I love them - they provide me with important tools for parenting topics before I need them.

This past week I attended a phenomenal lecture given by Dr. Steiner-Adair titled "Raising Children of Character". She was a brilliant speaker; logical, articulate, well organized. She described challenges our generation faces as parents, and provided common sense, backed by research solutions.

Here are some of the ideas and messages I took away from her lecture that I'd like to remember in the coming years. Many are familiar, but they're good reminders for my future self all the same!

Dear Kelly, please remember.....

People are happiest when they are working hard at something they love.

Don't lie to your children by telling them everything they do is wonderful. They will at some point realize that this isn't true, and then they won't trust you. It will also deprive them of the motivation to improve. You like the picture. You think it would look great with more color. Compliment. Hug. Maybe brownies. Now they've worked for the praise, and I bet it feels better than hearing you gush regardless of what they've produced.

Value your children for who they are, not what they do. Don't introduce them by saying "this is my soccer player, and this is my ballerina..." etc. Those labels make children feel that their current interest is tied into how you value them, and into their identity. It can then be devastating if they lose interest in the activity, not to mention that there are probably better soccer players and ballerinas. Acknowledge that your child's interests will probably change, and encourage curiosity over passion. Don't let them give up lessons after two weeks, but after a few months, acknowledge that they gave it an effort and might be ready to try something else. Let them explore to find their interests.

Our generation, when asked what we want most for our children, overwhelmingly replies "happiness". Our parents' generation more frequently replied "financial security". Therefore we tend to make decisions for our children in an attempt to make them happy, rather than an attempt to raise them to be capable and responsible adults. This might manifest itself as not enforcing boundaries or rules we've set for our children because we think breaking them would make them happier in the short term. This gives them mixed messages about rules and authority and confuses our children.

Resiliency comes from encountering frustrations and failures and bouncing back afterwards. Our children cannot become resilient if we prevent them from experiencing frustration by trying to solve all their problems for them.

Our generation has started to "help" our children with their homework, which usually means coaching them so much that we deprive them of an opportunity to learn, and the sense that we believe they can do it on their own.

We call our children's teachers too much. It gives our children bad messages about respecting expertise and authority, and it gives them a bad message about our belief in them as advocates for themselves. Teachers are a very good place for children to learn to advocate for themselves by asking for extra help and clarification, and helping your child get through a year with a teacher they don't necessarily like or feel likes them can be a character building experience.

Family dinners are important, and they're best when families don't discuss any disciplinary issues, grades, etc. They bring the family closest together when they're used to share how things are going and ask each other for advice on problems. This includes the parents, whose demonstration that they don't always have the answers will reassure their children that successful people still need help.

Your children need to know that they value more than things, and that things are not happiness or part of our identity. When you go shopping and you come home and you are more excited to show them what you bought than you are to see them and be with them again, it inadvertently teaches them that things are more important than human connections. Same with valuing a car because of its make, and not because it can get you all safely somewhere together.

Remember that you are always setting an example. We teach patience and respect by not cutting lines, or trying to bend the rules at our child's school, or yelling at the cable company on the phone. When they see us take them out of school early to get a better flight for the holidays, and they miss the assembly that their class is presenting in, we are teaching them a bad lesson about how much we value teamwork, community, and education. Gossip? Not so good. And so forth.

This becomes overlong, but I hope I can think about these ideas, and explore their application to my parenting life beyond just the few examples I included for clarity.

Being a parent is a job with limitless potential for how much I can learn, and how hard I can try, and it's actually got a chance of making me a better person so my children will be too. I'll keep trying, anyway :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Happy Choice

This might sound ridiculous, but a few weeks ago I decided I was going to make the choice to be happy. A particularly rough day following a particularly sleepless night had left me feeling miserable and cranky, and acting worse. As I sat down to dinner, I found myself complaining about all the negative parts of my day.

That's when I realized that I was making myself miserable. Yes, I'd had a rough day, but hadn't there been some great parts? A stroller walk where the sun made it through the clouds, Will's hysterical laughter when I tickled his belly, the excitement I felt flipping through a gardening book and planning for spring.

But when Greg came home after a long day at work, I didn't feel right bringing up all those moments. Who wants to hear about how wonderful a stroller walk in the sun was when they were behind a desk working all day? So instead I recapped every rough moment from my day, just to make absolutely certain Greg wouldn't feel bad that he'd been at work instead.

Why wasn't I giving Greg a chance to be happy for me? Did I really think he couldn't be pleased that I'd had the chance to be home with our beautiful son, taking walks, reading him books, making him laugh? Greg works hard so I have the opportunity to do just that. Yes, I also had a day of diapers and spit up and half hour fussing sessions of coercing Will into his morning and afternoon naps. But do I really need to relive those parts of my day every night at the dinner table?

So when Greg and I met friends we hadn't seen in a while for lunch, I tried an experiment. I took the old adage "look on the bright side" seriously, and throughout lunch I focused on the joys in my life. I chose to make it a conversation about story hour at the library, and Will finding his feet when previously I might have made it a conversation about fussiness or sleep deprivation.

At the end of my little lunch experiment, I felt cheerful, optimistic, and happy. Everything I had said was absolutely true, I had just made the choice to spend more time talking about the good experiences I've had. I acknowledged the negatives briefly, and then moved on. And I really did feel happier.

Yes, sometimes I need a sympathetic ear. There's a place for that, too. But it's not every night at the dinner table AND every time I talk with friends or family. Venting had become dwelling, and I was living the unhappy parts of my day over and over again.

So I'm going to try hard to look on the bright side of life. I'm not ignoring the challenges, but I'm giving the good parts of the day more attention. And you know what? A lot of the time, it works!

Look, here's me being happy! And how could I not be next to a friend from whom I probably could have learned the happiness lesson years ago :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writing in Cookbooks

College was the first time I wrote in a book, my name inside the front cover or accidental toddler scribbles aside. I remember the feeling of sacrilege as I made a hasty note in the margin, still not quite believing my own audacity. Probably my note said something like "study this!" or "sounds important!". I'm sure it was quite helpful later.
These days I'm still writing in books - but now they're my cookbooks instead of history texts, and my scribbling marks favorite recipes, alterations, and dates and people I've cooked certain dishes for.

It started with our copy of Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything". When I tried a recipe I liked, I started putting the date and a smiley face next to it. If we made it for friends or family, I noted that as well. Any changes or difficulties started to earn their own little notes, and gradually my cookbook has morphed beyond a collection of great recipes into a sort of family heirloom.

That might sound dramatic, but when I flip through the pages and see a little note and smiley face from three years ago telling me that Greg loved the cabbage coleslaw, it reminds me of the BBQ we hosted in the backyard of our first house. (There's also a little note reminding me that Mom doesn't like cabbage.) On the next page is a remark next to a recipe I made for a friends bridal shower, reminding me I owe her a phone call. Flip to the breakfast section and I see that Greg made me light and fluffy pancakes for breakfast on my first day of teacher workshops. That makes me smile... and it makes the cookbook a treasure trove of memories as well as recipes.

There are technical notes too, about checking the bran muffins after fifteen minutes because mine were done, or that coconut really does burn if you're not careful. One of my favorites is a snippy little aside in the chicken section that reads as follows: "Kelly, at age 25 you do not have the patience to wait for roast chicken to cook thoroughly. And having the oven up to 500 scares you. Pleas just cut the thing up and braise it. 2/2/09"
It's funny now, but it'll be even funnier when my son reads it as he starts learning to cook. (May I say that while I still don't turn the oven up to 500, I am now capable of roasting a chicken to completion.)

I can't wait to make little notes about the first things Will cooks, his favorite dishes, what we made for birthday celebrations. Every time I open a cookbook to one of those pages, it'll be a little snapshot reminding me of the ways food brings us together.

Happy cooking, happy eating, and happy remembering :)