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Telling Your Child About Death

Children learn about death in many ways but they learn about grieving from the people they are closest to.

Just three weeks ago I paced the house, cleaning and straightening. I was nervous about breaking the horrible news that our neighbor and first-grade teacher had died suddenly. My eight-year-old daughter adored this woman and I knew that she would be hurt.

I learned of the death after dinner, but knew that the end of a long day was the wrong time to tell her. We were still uncertain about the cause of death and hoped that morning would bring more information.

After breakfast and some play time with her sisters, I found a chance to tell her alone. Random bits of advice and knowledge had swirled around in my head all morning.

Years ago, I heard a child psychologist tell parents that bad news should be delivered to children during the first ten seconds of your conversation. Children often get lost if you spend too much time trying to soften the blow.

Remembering this, I held her hands and told her that I had something hard to tell her. She was sitting across from me on my bed. I watched her head drop and her tiny heart break with the horrible words, “Mrs. Apolzan died this weekend.”

With just the slightest movement of my hands, she fell into my arms so we could cry together. Over the next few days, I answered all of her questions as patiently and honestly as I could. We allowed her to cry, to be sad, but also to forget all about it and just play.

She attended a painfully sad memorial service with me at her request and we talked about different customs regarding death, funerals and burial options. She is a very inquisitive child and the extra information seemed to help her to sort out her feelings.

Death is painful only to the living. I did not want to write about it. Looking back now, I realize I simply did not want to live it. I certainly did not want to be the one to inflict the heartache of death upon my child.

But I’m a mother.

I could never let someone else deliver such a crushing blow. My only real choice was to catch her, to hold her and to love her while she learned this painful lesson of life.

Grace and peace.

We loved you, Mrs. Apolzan, and we will always be grateful for our opportunity to know you.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in From Toddlers to Teens

 

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Shocking Realization: I Married Pa Ingalls

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be married to your childhood celebrity crush? If you’re as old as I am, you may have fantasized about Bon Jovi, Rick Springfield or even Patrick Swayze. But who embodied the ideal husband or perfect family for you?

I grew up in the Seventies in the Midwest, a time before cable television. My youthful obsession was the prime-time series Little House on the Prairie. I read all the books and I was seriously smitten with Michael Landon. I did not realize until recently just how much I must have admired him.

Our three little girls have just discovered the wonder of this show, and anxiously await Friday movie nights so we can watch a few more episodes. While watching the first season again in adulthood, I came to the awesome realization that I had fulfilled my childhood fantasy life. Not only do my three girls look remarkably like Mary, Laura and Carrie, but my husband and I eerily resemble Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

Often in parenthood, we put all our time and energy into our children with very little thought left over for how we got these children in the first place. My “baby Carrie” turned three years old this month, so I guess I’ve had a little more time to devote to my partner, who as it turns out, is the manifestation of Pa. He is loving but firm with the girls, an extremely hard worker, amazing at remodeling and woodworking, plays folk tunes on his guitar and is a fun-loving, affectionate spouse. He is also kind enough to read my blog posts, so I imagine he is completely embarrassed right now.

But, let me be clear about my role as Ma. I still love my (unnaturally) pretty shade of blonde hair and brightly painted toenails. I do not make clothing for myself or my children, with the minor exception of a few Halloween costumes. What I do relate to is her resilience, views on motherhood, devotion to God and family, tireless work ethic and her ability to withstand the misguided arrogance of Mrs. Oleson with dignity and grace.

I wrote last week about how lack of sleep during the baby years can negatively impact your marriage. And recently, my friend and marriage researcher, Lori Lowe, wrote a fascinating post called The Formula for Unhappiness is U = I – R about how our earliest memories about relationships play into our current state of happiness or unhappiness in our marriage.

The amount of unhappiness equals images minus reality. This can be measured for relationships, careers and even how we feel about parenting. If we created an image in our minds during childhood that has not become a reality in adulthood, our happiness decreases.

I have to say that I did not consciously create this life that so closely matches my ideal family image from my youth. My husband admitted that the Ingalls were such a huge part of his childhood that he also unknowingly carried this image into adulthood. We both manifested a life that conjures up happiness for us. We have even joked about wanting to live “off the grid”, the modern equivalent of living on the prairie.

Our realization has been joyful and even divine. We are so grateful for all the stages of our lives, even the less happy struggles when we were not living as we truly desired.

So, what images did you create in your mind during childhood? If you are currently unhappy in your partnership, can you attribute it to lack of sleep (see link above) or a large gap between your images and your reality?

Has motherhood turned out the way you imagined or are you simply recreating your own reality from childhood for better or worse? And most importantly, do you have a plan to lessen the gap between your ideal images and your current reality?

Grace and Peace.

 

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Love Yourself this Valentine’s Day

Reflections of Motherhood asked moms what they would tell themselves if they could go back to the days before they had their first baby. They created this video of the responses. I thought it was perfect to share with other moms, especially on Valentine’s Day. Please take a few minutes to watch.

Now take some time today to love your life as a mom; to love your children and to express that love to all the people in your life that matter.

Grace and Peace (and love sweet love)

Brought to you by Nummies Maternity Bras http://www.Nummies.com

Song is “Days Away” by InAshton http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/days…

Photography by Sara Collaton http://www.SaraCollaton.com

Produced by UnMarketing http://www.Un-Marketing.com

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Weekly Bits of Baby Love

 

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Battle Hymn of the Chicken Mama

According to the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the year of the rooster, but I prefer to think of myself as a chicken. I couldn’t help musing recently at how I would measure up in the much talked-about book about Chinese parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I have not read the book, and while she writes with style and wit, I have no desire to read it. If you have not heard all the hoopla, I encourage you to read the response from her daughter, who admits that her mother is not quite as ferocious as the book implies.

As a mother raising three daughters in the United States, I have no problem being a chicken. Persons born in a rooster year are characterized as sharp, practical and tenacious. We are also hard-working, eccentric, a bit show-offish, loyal, charming and we really hate any viewpoint that disagrees with our own. Hence, many roosters own our own businesses or pursue careers in art or entertainment or you know, blogging. We like to be noticed, and probably care about our hair just a tad too much. I am totally a chicken.

But a Chicken Mama has a different code of ethics and expectations. Much like a Tiger Mother, we are very proud of our flock, and do not care to hear anything (at all) negative about them. However, when my daughter brings home anything less than an “A”, we assume rightly that she has a slight learning disability, was placed on the wrong side of the classroom, or simply failed to properly learn the material because of faulty teaching.

And, also like the Tiger Mother, this Chicken Mama does not allow TV (on week nights), we do not subscribe to cable television nor do we own video games. Personally, I am not a fan of play dates, but I do give in on a case-by-case basis. (Mostly to moms who are artsy or eccentric like me.)

As for musical prodigies, I have a much different stance. I spent about 5 minutes researching the Suzuki method when my firstborn was in preschool, and nearly fell off my nest when I realized how much of my own time would be spent teaching the piano or violin. Forget about it. Our piano teacher’s primary qualification is that she has a car and comes to our house. My eight-year-old is musically gifted, that’s for sure, but hates to practice. I set a timer when necessary, and we get about 30 good minutes of practice each night.

Will she ever play Carnegie Hall? I really don’t care, but if it’s important to her she will make it happen on her own and not by my constant pecking. I will completely support and encourage her, but I won’t be the one who pushes her in the direction of my own dreams.

As for defiance or unruly behavior at home, I also take a much different approach. As a Tiger Mother, Amy Chua once (or more often) called her daughter “garbage” when the girl acted disrespectfully. I’m not into shaming or name-calling to get my children to obey. I do not see the value in this. My children are expected to act respectfully and are often complimented on their good behavior. I have many strategies that make this happen; most importantly my children feel loved, respected and confident. We model respect in our actions, as opposed to the ranting, screaming, hair-pulling tactics given by Ms. Chua.

As for our typical home environment; Western Chickens are very proud of our nests. Our homes are fun, organized and filled with laughter. Chores are required, meals are always taken around the dinner table and homework must be completed the moment the kids step off the bus. When my three little chicks get out of line or have trouble controlling their behavior, I resort to a much different sort of Battle Hymn. We crank up Keith Urban and dance it out. Nothing lifts a mood like a guitar-heavy country lick, especially when the artist looks so fine. Give it a try, it will raise your spirits, or at least your heart rate.

I suppose I could crush them into submission by calling them names; but this German/Irish/Native American so-called Western Chicken Mama would much rather teach my little birds to fly.

Grace, Peace and a bit of humor.

(And thanks again to Totsy. Last week’s sale of the Baby Love Carebook was ridiculously successful!)

 

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Drowning in Motherhood: Three Survival Skills

A family member used this phrase last week to describe her life with a newborn and a toddler. I remember so many days just a few years ago of my own fierce determination mixed with immeasurable joy and overwhelming exhaustion that left me drowning in motherhood.

As a former lifeguard and 8-1/2 year veteran of motherhood, I compiled my top three survival skills to share with new moms who may find themselves in over their heads.

Survival Skill #1: Relax and Submit to Your New Reality

I recently researched an indoor swimming facility for my three young girls to escape this long, dreary winter. I learned that the swim instructors teach a “rollover” technique to children as young as four months. When a submerged child rolls onto her back instead of kicking and fighting for the surface, the air in her lungs creates enough buoyancy to bring her head above water.

Motherhood is like that, too. When we learn to relax and give in a little, the stress and struggle of mothering eases up. Maybe the house is a mess or you’ve served canned soup and grilled cheese for the third time this week. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of mothering. Sit back, put your feet up and catch your breath.

Survival Skill #2: Find Your Life Preserver

Getting your head above water is only the first step, now you need some help staying afloat. When you first become a mom, it’s common and so easy to become isolated from your former world. Your past relationships and lifestyle may not fit any longer; and that’s okay. But motherhood is a lot more difficult if you put yourself in solitary confinement.

You’ve got to reach out to find new connections that will help you through this part of your journey. Consider joining a play group, striking up a conversation with other moms at the park, or enrolling your little ones in a cooperative preschool or Mother’s Time Out program. You will learn so much about parenting and child development, and hopefully, you will start lasting friendships based on the commonality of motherhood.

If you are parenting with a spouse or partner, tether yourself together during this time. Losing your connection to the person you love most is not only possible, it’s common during the first year of parenting. It’s true that your relationship will never be the same, but with a lot of work and communication, you will build yourselves an unsinkable lifeboat.

Survival Secret #3: Count Your Blessings

How many times have you exclaimed, “Thank God!” after pulling through a harrowing experience? It may sound cliché, but learning to appreciate what you have each day will give you the strength to endure whatever comes your way. I give this advice frequently, but only because I’m given so many reminders of why it is important.

Last week, I received the staggering news that a friend’s 12-year-old daughter had died suddenly after a mild illness. It is a tragedy like this that causes you to shift your priorities. In my case, it reminded me of the first few weeks after my second baby was born. I was struggling to care for a 2-year-old and a newborn. And then came a phone call that changed my life forever. A teenage family member was hospitalized in the intensive care unit because of kidney failure.

From that moment on, I cherished the dark, quiet hours at night when I fed and rocked my baby girl. I was still tired, but no longer frustrated or overwhelmed. I understood then, and now, that I am blessed and make sure my children know every day how much they are loved. After many surgeries and weeks in the hospital, my family member survived. The lessons I learned from her struggle remains.

My second daughter is now six years old. Last weekend, she crawled into my bed in the wee hours of the night. She was feverish and wanted to sleep with me. My desire to make her feel better overcame any worry over catching her illness, so I snuggled close to her and listened while she drifted off to sleep. I took a deep breath and whispered a prayer of gratitude. And when – two hours later – my two-year-old daughter padded in wordlessly and climbed into bed on the other side of me, I repeated the ritual.

Grace and Peace.

 

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Is it Really Better to Give Than to Receive?

Last month, I participated in 29 Gifts, a challenge started by Cami Walker who published a book by the same name. Each day for 29 days, I gave a gift to someone. Nothing major. Sometimes just kindness or a phone call. I was to give mindfully and with love, with no resentment or expectation. I was also to reflect at the end of each day what I had received in return.

What I learned from the process was that giving was easy and a natural part of my life. I’m a worrier when it comes to others. I feel the need to take care of people; to lift them up when necessary and keep everyone around me healthy and happy. I think I’ve had the mothering instinct long before I had children.

There were only 2 days when I realized I had not given out a specific gift, but several days when I gave out more than one. My most cherished day was writing a letter to my childhood friend’s father who was battling cancer. He lost his battle one week after receiving the letter. While his death still saddens me, on the day of his funeral I was given an entire afternoon with my sister who also attended. It was rare time together where we could simply talk and catch up.

In fact, I wrote a lot of letters. I realized that putting your thoughts of love and encouragement into writing becomes a timeless gift that can be cherished again and again. I still believe that saying what you feel is more important, but writing it down is a close second.

I also became more mindful of the small gifts that I was receiving: cookies in my mailbox from a neighbor, kindness from a stranger in a parking lot when my car died, and even a check from the library who admitted that they had actually found a long lost book that I had been forced to pay for.

What was shocking, I guess, is that I rarely put myself in the position to receive.

I often say no to invitations or brush off my desire to attend certain events if I think it might inconvenience my family or myself. I rarely speak up for what I desire. My real challenge during these 29 days was to say YES to life.

I forced myself to schedule time with friends. I bought tickets to hear one of my heroes, Michael Pollan, speak – even though I didn’t have a babysitter or someone to attend with me. And much to my surprise, it all worked out. I found two friends to sit with me and finally – finally – asked for something that would seem trivial to a more extroverted person. I asked Mr. Pollan for a photograph and had a short but delightful conversation with him.

My moment of truth; I asked and I received. Here I am with a look of sheer joy, practically sitting on Michael Pollan's lap.

Right now many of us are busy buying gifts for Christmas or perhaps you just finished Hanukkah celebrations. It clearly is the time of year when gifts are front and center in our lives. During the course of 29 Gifts, I was encouraged to give with love, joy, remembrance, abundance and gratitude. I like to think of all five attributes as simply giving mindfully.

I encourage everyone this season to really think about the essence of giving and receiving. Perhaps a store-bought gift is not appropriate this year for everyone on your list. Even small children can appreciate time spent with you as more important than any toy.

So, is it better to give than to receive? Here’s a better answer than any I could give:

“Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” Luke 6:38

Grace and Peace.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2010 in Weekly Bits of Baby Love

 

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Maybe Your Problem, Isn’t

When the doors close, look for the open window.

My children hate the answer, “maybe.” They assume that “no” is not far behind. Lately, the word maybe has become my best glimmer of hope.

Last month, we were surprised by news that our neighborhood was being redistricted and our children would be moved to a different elementary school. Above all the worry and anger, the echoing sound of “maybe” played over and over in my head.

I’ve stumbled across the following story several times in the last year. It has been attributed to both Zen Buddhism and Taoism, but it’s lesson is universal.

The Maybe Parable

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Three Cups of Perspective

While perusing a bookstore with my husband (a rare event for us these days), Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson practically jumped off the shelf. In the dusty recesses of my mind, I’m sure I had heard of this book. I couldn’t resist the cover image of three young Pakistani girls reading. If you’ve never read this, please give it a look.

The timing of this book entering my life more than four years after it was published was providential. The annoying issue of redistricting melted into trivia. My girls have incredible schools and absolute freedom to attend. I even talked with my eight-year-old daughter about the children in the world who don’t have schools. She seemed to relax about the prospect of change.

Maybe a new school isn’t such a bad idea after all. Maybe it will all work out for the best. Indeed, a few weeks after learning of the proposal, it was suddenly revoked. We are staying at the same school. Even if we had been moved, we were all prepared for a new adventure.

Just in Case I Wasn’t Paying Attention

Two weeks ago, I received a crushing blow to my already struggling retail business. After signing a contract with a major buyer and postponing my fourth quarter sales and marketing plans, I’ve learned that the buyer is trying to back out of the contract. Without these sales and no time to implement other sales plans, my year-end outlook is at a six-year low.

Maybe giving up on this opportunity will open new doors. Maybe it’s not quite over yet. Now that I’ve had two weeks to process the situation and to get over my initial anger, I’ve offered the matter up to God. And I am at peace with whatever the answer may be.

Mom Dare: Practice the power of maybe. Just as an enormous blessing often carries with it new burdens of responsibility, bad news can sometimes lead to a greater place of power and peace. When you feel the stress of resolving a problem, remember that sometimes a problem is really a blessing in disguise.

Grace and Peace.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2010 in Weekly Bits of Baby Love

 

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