The Strawberry Patch

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I have been trying to make more of an effort to expose our two year-old and four month-old to new experiences – regardless of their young age, the weather, my mood or any other excuse I make up to avoid the chaos that results from a public appearance with unpredictable sidekicks. I figure if we don’t go now, chances are we will instead spend countless hours staring at Dora the Explorer feeling like lethargic zombies all day.

It’s the beginning of summer at our house which means the sun is out and the heat is on. It also means fresh strawberries are ready for picking a few miles down the road from us. I know the idea of voluntarily picking fruit in the middle of a field under the hot sun with a toddler and infant may seem like a recipe for disaster, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

After applying many globs of sunscreen (or “sour cream” as my two-year-old calls it), we loaded up and were on our way. We arrived at the patch and it appeared only a few others decided to brave the morning sun with us. Hats were strapped on and the baby was nestled tightly in a carrier on my chest. Our toddler ran up to a mound of white baskets and decided which one was suited best for us before following one of the employees to our row.

Whew, we made it.

And then it hit me: do they accept debit cards? After asking, the answer was “cash or check only.”

I convinced my daughter we must turn around, leave our basket at the stand and load back into the car. This is more difficult than it sounds. The two women working at the patch offered to watch my girls while I went to find an ATM. It was a very kind gesture, but the thought of staying with a stranger, understandably, didn’t sit well with my daughter.

We loaded back into the car; out of the carrier and into the car seat. Hats off, seatbelts on.

After finding an ATM and making a withdrawl, we ventured back for round two.

The nice ladies smiled as we returned and prepared, again, to enjoy our first strawberry patch together.

My daughter identified what she believed to be the white plastic basket she had claimed as ours moments before, and we were on our way. The nice women, again, showed us to our row and explained that only berries red to the tip were ripe for picking, and with the grin on her face being shadowed by a pink baseball cap she was wearing, my daughter did it. She picked her first strawberry. And her second, and third, as I took it all in. She then did a little dance and uttered a few short, but moment-halting words.

“Mommy I need to go potty.”

I smiled.

We quickly turned back to the path we arrived on and skipped our way to the front of the patch. On the way, I noticed the only restrooms in sight were those housed in a warm and sticky vertically standing structure – a portable toilet.

One of the employees kindly asked if she could hold my youngest daughter while I went into the cramped space with our potty training toddler. I obliged and we began our walk over to the toilet.

As I took a step up to confidently show my daughter how to use the plastic tower, my sandal caught on the front of it and I tripped, taking my daughter down with me into the door. I quickly stood up and attempted to act as though I had everything together while my two year-old stared at me with confusion.

I smiled.

My “pull it all together” act must not have been very convincing, as my daughter expressed concern for me while using the bathroom.

“Mommy, make sure you don’t fall in.”

Yes, dear.

After returning, the woman holding my four month-old baby half-jokingly said she would love to curb her “baby fever” by continuing to keep her up front while my toddler and I went back and finished picking.

I smiled.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe two of us made it back to our row, spending time together just the two of us for the first time since our newest daughter was born. We spent the next 15 minutes picking the reddest of the strawberries, eating a few along the way.

We returned filthy and hot, but happy.

While I wasn’t sure how the morning might turn out, we ended up experiencing much more than a strawberry patch. My daughter learned how to use a remote, public bathroom and I received a lesson in patience and flexibility.

The best part, though, wasn’t the strawberries; it was my daughter’s bright red and juicy smile at the end of the morning.

Sweet.

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To my daughters: 15 truths about being female

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avniainsleyI was convinced I was having a boy. Complete strangers at coffee shops predicted it too, confidently sharing with me their unsolicited predictions while I was carrying my first baby.

Prepared for conversations full of gory villains and disgusting bowel movements, I imagined our closets would be filled with a tiny wardrobe of grass stains. In a few months, I thought I would comfortably hand off the leadership reins to my husband for him to share lessons of chivalry and tie tying, while sneaking in a few pointers about how to use cologne without smelling like a sock.

Later that September, I gave birth to a baby girl. I suddenly felt unprepared and quickly realized it would be my job to teach our daughter what it means to be a strong, independent and caring woman in a world filled with never-ending stereotypes, unrealistic expectations and unhealthy diets. Dove recently conducted a social experiment and showed just how critical women are of their own beauty.

Fast forward two and a half years. We have welcomed another little girl into our family and our toddler has no trouble wearing grass stains. While I know society will do its part to leave an impression in their young minds, I can only hope some of the advice I share with them about being a female in our society stands out a little more.

  1. It’s OK to get dirty (even in a skirt). Throw a baseball; dig for worms; sleep in a tent. Your clothes can be washed and won’t last forever. Memories will.
  2. Clean and cook because you want to, not because someone else expects you to. Knowing how to do both well will give you peace of mind.
  3. Don’t expect flowers.
  4. If you’re hungry, eat. It’s important to take care of and listen to your body. Eating will keep you healthy (and much happier!). Splurge on some chocolate every now and then, too.
  5. Be who you are. If you like science, great. If you would prefer to write a poem about the purple flowers blooming outside your window, that’s fine too. But, whatever you do, don’t be who you think others want you to be.
  6. Invest in a good bra.
  7. There’s only one man who loves you the most. Your Daddy loves you in a way no other man can. Even if he doesn’t always seem to know how to connect with you, he still loves you.
  8. Men don’t get it. They don’t understand females and it’s likely they never will. It’s hard enough for us to grasp the idea of periods, child birth and mood swings. It’s best to give them a break.
  9. Challenge yourself – physically, emotionally and mentally. Your body is more resilient than you can imagine. Find ways to test your limits and allow yourself to fail. Once in a while you might be surprised and do something you never thought possible.
  10. You will cry – sometimes for no good reason. There’s also a good chance you will fail to cry when others expect you to. Bring eye drops and thank your hormones.
  11. Speak up. Share your thoughts without apology and instead exhibit confidence, respect and tact. Anything you believe in is worth the fight.
  12. Be alone. Live by yourself and find out who you are. Find happiness and success by standing on your own two feet.
  13. Find an older brother. Well, not really – but, really. Every female should grow up with an older brother, and since you don’t have a biological older brother, find a male to stand in. While their pranks, burps and punches might not seem like an advantage now, you will thank them later.
  14. Wear comfortable shoes.  
  15.  Age is just a number. We are all in this together. Whether a teenage girl or a woman in her 80’s, all females share a common thread. You can choose to reject our differences or embrace the similarities.

I will always be a few decades older, ready to navigate this world alongside of you.  But for now, I am going to work on removing the grass stains.

 

Dreaming for the Future

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If you were to ask me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have confidently stood up and shared with you a glimpse of my future – I would someday become the President of the United States. If you were to ask my older brother the same question about my future, he would have quickly insisted there was no way I could do this because I was a girl. My parents never let him have the last word and left no room for confusion while explaining we could be whatever we aspired to be. In other words, they encouraged dreaming.

I recently attended the first TEDx Greensboro event, one of the many Tedx programs hosted around the world to share ideas, foster learning and inspire communities through a series of speakers. The particular focus of this event was dreams, with topics ranging from the future of aviation to the building of community through the act of turning strangers into neighbors.

tedx_briggsOne of the speakers, Dr. Cyndi Briggs, shared her personal and professional thoughts about dreaming through introduction of the Imagination Installation Project, a social capital movement that harnesses the collective power of community. As one of the organizers of the grassroots effort, she invited all attendees at the event to participate by finishing a statement beginning with “Imagine when…..” to tap into imaginations and initiate dreaming. The cards included each contributor’s name and were then posted on a wall for all to view throughout the day. The results were fascinating, thought provoking and interesting.

Even more interesting, though, was the nervousness and lack of confidence I felt (but didn’t expect to) seconds before mustering up enough courage to write down my own initial response on one of the cards. According to Cyndi, I was not unlike many of the other adults she’s witnessed participating in the exercise. In her presentation she explained that dreaming is a major part of childhood, but somewhere along the road adulthood we lose confidence to share ideas and future aspirations. Sad, but true.

Every morning I ask my  two year-old daughter what she dreamed about the night prior. I can usually count on a response including one of the following: doggies, Dora the Explorer or sunshine. She’s at a fun age with a budding imagination. Most days, she informs me that Dora and her friends are at our house and joining us at the dinner table, using plastic containers to hold their invisible food. I often drink invisible coffee out of toy buckets for her enjoyment and act surprised the seventeenth time she delivers a plastic farm animal to me as a new piece of “mail”. She’s just beginning to scrape the surface of her imagination and dreaming, while I am at an age it is no longer encouraged by society.

While I no longer believe I am headed to the White House, I am now a mother of two young daughters who will need me to encourage them to dream as they age, just as my parents have into adulthood. But just as important will be the reminders I share with them, pointing to the positive events, relationships and conversations in their life that they might not have dreamed of. These moments, along with their dreams, will shape their future and help make possible what once seemed impossible; simply by imagining when.

Clearing the Happiness Fog

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In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin accurately describes the way I’m feeling these days taking care of a defiant toddler and newborn baby – extremely happy, yet in a fog. It’s something she calls “fog happiness,” described as being the kind of happiness resulting from activities that, at the time, don’t seem enjoyable.  Instead, feelings of happiness are delayed and appear once the fog clears. For example, hosting a party may bring happiness, but it’s not usually until after the party that we realize it.

This is exactly the way I feel about parenting; enjoying every single moment, yet not realizing much of the happiness until about 11 p.m. each night when the house has settled down. After watching and listening to coffee shop patrons, I found I am not alone. My favorite example of this concept was the exchange between a father and son one morning.

The man rushed in the front door, wearing a flannel shirt and stained jeans. His hair was fluffy and uncombed. At his side was his son, a toddler with curly blonde hair. The boy was fidgety and impatient until his Dad brought him a scone to eat. As most toddlers do, he wanted to eat the treat at his own pace, his own way.

The Dad, noticeably impatient, began helping the young boy.

“It’s OK if it’s broken; you’re only going to eat one piece at a time,” he said softly.

The boy didn’t seem to care and wasn’t ready to take the advice and instead continued taking his time.

“Eat it, throw it away, or put it in a bag to take with you,” the Dad said before picking the boy up and carrying him out of the building as if resembling a human airplane.

While the Dad might not have thought so at the time, I found his words to be helpful and applicable to parenting experiences. Accept them, get rid of them, or take them with you to look at once the fog clears.

 

 

R.I.P. Halloween Costume

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Without thinking about it too hard, what was your most memorable Halloween costume? I’m not asking for your favorite, but rather the costume sticking out in your mind like a thorn among the rest of the black and orange roses of childhood. Perhaps it was the oh-so-original orange pumpkin or pink sparkling dress your mother stayed up until midnight making the night before. Or, maybe you felt your best approaching a stranger’s doorstep behind a grim reaper mask stained with fake blood.

Either way, why is it your most memorable?

My most memorable Halloween costume also found itself placed in the ‘most embarrassing’ category while I was fearlessly navigating my teenage years. In those days, every outfit was required to match, fit perfectly and follow the current trends. As a child, however, that was not the case.

Halloween cat costumeAround the age of seven, my parents did something as a teenager I vowed never to let my child do – wear an outfit I wouldn’t choose. Seems a bit controlling, doesn’t it? Yes, but I also didn’t know yet what it meant to be a parent, either.

That year for Halloween, I was convinced I’d be dressing as a cat and not just any cat; I wanted to prowl the neighborhood streets as a feline in black tights. This doesn’t seem too unreasonable except for the fact that my version of wearing tights also included a one-piece black leotard, black ears and nothing more. The costume was so creative, in fact, that it shared a peek of my oversized little girl Lion King underwear. I didn’t mind and walked proudly up and down the streets of our Colorado neighborhood fetching candy for my stash.

Now a mother myself, I realize the best part about my costume that year was not the ensemble itself, but instead the way my parents allowed me to make my own decision – tights and all – without worrying too  much about the harmless underwear seams showing though.

My daughter is now two and will be dressing as a ladybug this year, complete with thick black and red striped tights. The costume wasn’t exactly her choice, but made its way into our home following an after Halloween clearance special last year.

I, too, will be joining her on a hunt for treats this week in our neighborhood, but this time leaving my own tights far behind.

Blowing out quarter-century candles

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Birthdays are a good reminder of time and the realization of how fast hours, days and years pass by without warning. The saying “time flies” is not anything new, but it’s the truth.

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday. During a phone call with my Dad that morning, he made sure to remind me that any day after my birthday would be “sliding down the hill to thirty.” What happened to a fatherly rendition of singing happy birthday in front of a well-lit cake?

You know what though? He’s right. I’m no longer in the twenty fifth year of my life. I’ve shut the door on childhood, teenage rebellion and college living and have entered the next quarter-century of experiences, pitfalls, challenges, friendships and celebrations. As I sat down that evening feeling more exhausted than at any previous birthdays, my mind swirled with memories of the past year.

My daughter and I almost a year ago

Since becoming a parent, I’ve promised myself to jot down stories, frustrations and insightful memories to share with my children when they are older. This was no exception. On the back of my daughter’s daycare newsletter, I began scribbling – in no particular order – the lessons I have learned during the past year leading up to turning twenty-five.

  1. Traveling 13 hours with a tired husband, two dogs and baby to see family, even if in a few hours notice, is well worth the trip.
  2. The southern translation of passing gas is “poot”.
  3. Kickball is more than just a game played in gym class. There are leagues of teams playing eight-week seasons, complete with playoffs and concession stands.
  4. Being a parent is the most rewarding, complicated and fun profession out there.
  5. It is possible to make edible hard-boiled eggs in the oven.
  6. Spending Christmas without family (or snow!) is as difficult as it sounds.
  7. Some farmer’s markets sell “throw away” peaches at a discount; all you have to do is ask.
  8. Potty training is more difficult than it sounds.
  9. Andy Griffith grew up in Mt. Airy, N.C.
  10. Every pregnancy is different.
  11. Contrary to the way I was raised, many children will never known what it’s like to eat food out of your own garden.
  12. Ponytails can be fashionable.
  13. Babies grow way too fast.
  14. Meeting new friends without comparing them to others is impossible.
  15. There are never enough photos.
  16. Growing grass is similar to spending your paycheck on clothes without bringing anything home.
  17. It’s important to donate – anything.
  18. A routine drive to work and daycare can be a good opportunity for a toddler to learn colors of cars.
  19. If accidentally locked in a pantry, my Border Collie will make a mess.
  20. It’s possible to lose sleep excited for someone else.
  21. Two-year olds are smarter than people give them credit for.
  22. My husband needs to throw away fraying shirts he still has from high school.
  23. Waking up thirty minutes early to sit in peace before the day begins makes a world of difference.
  24. There is nothing like Michigan in the Fall.
  25. Strangers will surprise you, in more ways than one.

Reflecting on the last year of life has helped me appreciate the knowledge we learn from each other. I’m ready to start the next quarter-century full of experiences and lessons, but think it’s best I light the candles before cutting into the cake.

Parenting musical chairs

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There are many benefits to being a parent, and more specifically, a new parent. The unforgettable first moment of seeing your sweet baby; the first smile; the first word; a belly laugh. All of these are commonly referred to as milestones in a little one’s life. But, I’d be remiss if not to mention the art of playing parenting musical chairs.

You may remember playing a competitive game of musical chairs during your youth, breezing by fold-up chairs in a circle as if running an important race. Once the music stopped, you were left scrambling to find an empty chair to avoid being ejected from the game. The key, of course, was to keep an eye on the empty chair, secretly hovering during each round.

As a new parent, the rules are the same, but the playing field is different. Sometimes the music is soft and easy going.  At other times, it can be fast and unforgiving. In both situations, it’s important to react. I recently encountered one of the challenging rounds while searching for an empty chair – literally.

Before heading to my daughter’s swim class, we planned to meet with friends of ours for a cup of coffee. I thought I would out-smart the logistics of preparing a baby for swim class by putting on her swimsuit and pool outfit before grabbing coffee. I was sure this would eliminate a few steps and make our morning less stressful. I was wrong.

While I am known for my tardiness, this time we arrived before our friends (they went to the wrong place first, but that’s beside the point).  After ordering coffee, I waited at the counter only to look down and see my daughter had spilled her cup of water all over the floor of the busy entry way. I smiled at the customers, used a few napkins to soak water in an effort to make the mess look minor, grabbed my coffee and headed out the door.

We found a seat outside by ourselves. After situating my daughter, laying out her apples and new cup of water, I sat back and took my first relaxing sip of caffeine. It was then I noticed my daughters chair was leaking. I quickly made the connection to identify what was dripping onto the ground. Thanks to what I thought was being overly prepared, she had a swim diaper on, not a regular diaper. For those of you who are parents know there is a significant difference between the two in the way they absorb. My daughter was peeing her pants and there was a small puddle under her chair.

After rushing back inside, I learned there was no changing table in the bathroom. My daughter and I returned to the car for a quick diaper and clothing change.  I wiped down the chair and exchanged it with a dry chair from a nearby table just before our friends joined us for coffee.

Parenting moments like this one have taught me an important lesson. Life is not about choosing the music we listen to; it’s about learning a new dance to the same tune.

It’s important to continue the race, just make sure you find a clean empty chair when the music stops.

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