Nathalie’s Parenting Hack: Google Calendar

It’s not a hack at all, actually, but it’s my most useful tool: Google calendar.

Our online family calendar is the alpha and the omega of all our planning.  It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing at night.  It’s the first thing I consult when making plans, and it’s the most-used app on my phone.  I’d be totally lost without it.

61lvzl2H+2L__SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I used to love my Filofax and my Sandra Boynton Family Calendar.  I loved the ritual of writing in all of the lessons at the beginning of each term, and seeing the months spread out before me.  I will not lie: the stickers in the Sandra Boynton calendar were a definite highlight.  The Kate Spade refills for the Filofax made my heart go pitter-pat, and I loved handwriting all of the birthdays of friends and family each January, when I replaced my Filofax pages.  The way the pages would gradually warp and soften as the year progressed was so satisfying.  All of that tactile and visual joy.

BUT, once the boys started hockey, not only did it become a challenge to actually fit all of the information in the little boxes, it became impossible to stay on top of it all, to effectively communicate it all, to make sure that something did not get missed.

So, while it gives me a lot less tactile and visual pleasure, my google calendar gives me enormous peace of mind and security.

The Almighty Schedule is its own entity, and we all feed it information constantly.  Between three boys, we have five hockey teams (two play House League and Select).  We subscribe to all five teams’ online calendars so that the information gets uploaded automatically.  Games, practices, meetings and tournaments all appear (in different colours for each team, no less, and with links to the maps to the arenas–double plus bonus).  Eldest’s school events and school sports teams also each have on-line calendars to which I subscribe, so those also appear automatically.  Lessons, after-school activities, swimming, playdates, doctors and dentists–they all go on as soon as I book them.  All of the Things are collected on that calendar, and if they aren’t on the calendar, they don’t get done.

Those of us with computers subscribe to the main family calendar, so everyone has access to all of the information all of the time.  This, by far, is the biggest advantage of an on-line, shared calendar.  I do not have to be the person responsible for reminding everyone else where to be and when.

It’s not very pretty, and it does not come with 500 nifty stickers or Sandra Boynton’s wonderful humour, but it gets the job done better than my beloved pen and paper.

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Guest Post: Karen Jones on Sending Her Son to University

Three weeks before the university drop-off date, I bumped into a girlfriend, Sue, whose son went off to an out-of-town school last September. She asked me how I was feeling….”Are you ready for drop-off?”

I quickly dove into a confident explanation about how I had my “breakdown” during the university tour process in March. My 18 year old son, Chris, would be completely creeped-out to learn that I would go into his room at night, stand over him, and stare at him until dime-sized teardrops fell onto his face, causing him to stir. Never before in my life had I cried such massive, heavy teardrops. After confidential disclosure to other parents, I discovered that I am not the only mother who has done the creepy-nighttime-bawl-over-your-kid’s-face thing. Chris is an amazing young man and we have always been close, even through the challenging but typical ups and downs of the mid-teen years, because we have always respected one another’s needs. Chris has been a significant source of my personal happiness. I pointed out to Sue that of late, Chris has been very pumped about going off to Queen’s to study his passion, engineering. I also explained how I have taken on a healthy, positive, and upbeat attitude as my feelings of sadness have been completely overshadowed by sheer excitement for Chris. Sue looked back at me, expressionless. After an uncomfortable five seconds of silence and solid eye contact, she leaned over and whispered into my ear, “You’re going to be a disaster”.

Two weeks before drop-off I was sufficiently distracted with “the list”. A pile including bed linens, toiletries and organizer bins was slowly growing in our hallway, looking more and more, as each day passed, like a mountain of disaster relief supplies. I was definitely becoming obsessive about “the list” and panicked at the thought of overlooking something. It was like Chris was heading off to a remote land far away for an entire year, with no money and where there were no stores. I also seemed to be imagining that Chris would be living in a room the size of a gymnasium with ample space to store “necessary” extras such as emergency medical supplies (the Kingston General Hospital is literally steps away from his residence), cold temperature survival gear, a full selection of dried-good food inventory, and of course, the spare, extra-padded desk chair. I was also collecting lists from other moms for comparison. My work paid off as I discovered I had forgotten about zip-lock baggies. (Yes, this is how crazy a peri-menopausal, over-protective, control-freak mom can get when her first is leaving the nest). One day, I found myself in the grocery store, excitedly texting Chris, “I found 3-ply tissues for you…3 ply is the best you can buy…and I searched for ones that come in non-flowery boxes”, to which he replied with the all too-familiar words, “Oh gaaawwwwd, Mom…STOP! ” Yes, I was sufficiently distracted by the list.

One week before drop-off, I began collecting advice from “experienced” university parents. The resounding opinion about drop-off day was, “Have your breakdown in the car…not in front of your child.” I also learned, for whatever reason, that all “newbie” university moms were obsessed with the whole bedding situation (I mean linens…not “bedding” as in the verb…to which I could dedicate an entire separate article covering moms’ concerns). Early Saturday morning, I announced to my husband that our goal for the weekend was to find a good mattress topper for Chris’s bed. “A WHAT?”, he replied, “Are you serious?…I went to university with a duffle bag full of clothes and a blanket…he’s going to get laughed out of the residence” (Fast forward to drop-off day…the garbage bin was full of mattress topper wrappings.) Yes, things had changed in the world of mom-preps-child-for-uni. Chris was nicely set-up with a vinyl-free, non-dust-permeable mattress pad, two sets of organic cotton sheets (500 thread count, no less), a 3” memory-foam mattress topper, down pillows, down comforter (extra-warm), and a duvet cover set. I still don’t quite understand why it was so important for his bed at university to be significantly more comfortable and exquisite than his bed at home…it just had to be. In my mind, this was somehow going to be the substitute for my comfort and care.

Two days before drop-off, I felt remarkably calm and content. Chris gave us our instructions…“Mom, please don’t make a scene. And when we get to my room, just leave everything…I will set it up myself”, to which I replied, “I won’t make a scene, but there is no way I am leaving without making your bed…no negotiation on this, Christopher”. We had a deal.

One day before drop-off, I started to unravel. At precisely 4:00pm, while setting the table for dinner the tears started. I hid from Chris most of that evening and got extra hugs from his younger brother and sister.

On the day of drop-off, the excitement on campus was palpable. Chris’s room was cozy and everything was organized in an hour although he left the zip-lock baggies in the trunk of the car when I wasn’t looking. It was a quick goodbye. I was so excited for what lay ahead of him and gave him a tight squeeze. He pulled my sunglasses down from the top of my head to cover my eyes, for fear of a scene.   As I got in the car, the tears flowed. My sister called during our drive home to check on me (an experienced mom who knew the exact moment to offer support), but I couldn’t speak to her. That first night was utterly dreary and depressing. I texted with other newbie moms and they were all upset.   I realized that for the first time in 18 years, I would no longer have any idea about what he was doing, when he would make it back to his room to sleep at night, and I no longer had the right to text him as frequently, to ask. It was the strangest feeling – a complete loss of control. I was feeling very sorry for myself, and I already missed him. My husband was very quiet. He asked me not to talk about Chris being gone because he didn’t want to think about it. I’m pretty sure I saw him wipe a tear from his eye before turning over in bed to go to sleep that night. The next day came and went exactly the way experienced moms said it would. I was upset when I woke up, and then I was fine for a bit, and then I would spontaneously cry, and then I was fine. There was simply no pattern or trigger; instead, it was random sobbing and sadness. The only thing I came to expect was that I could burst into tears at any moment.

My world brightened after Chris called for the first time…on day two (I know…it was frosh week and we were lucky). After I heard his voice, full of excitement, and his rambling words highlighted by “amazing”, “unbelievable”, “so much fun”, “party”, “so dope”, “party”…and the clincher “absolutely everyone is so incredibly warm and friendly”, I felt a wave of joy wash over me. My son was happy. I could trade not seeing him for a month or so for that happy, happy voice. And before he hung up, he exclaimed, “oh ya mom…my bed…it’s SO comfortable!”. I knew then, that “drop-off” had gone incredibly well and I would join the ranks of “experienced” moms who survived.

Karen and Andrew Jones with their son, Chris, after high school graduation last spring.

Karen and Andrew Jones with their son, Chris, after high school graduation last spring.

Guest Post: Laura Brown-Bowers on Sending Her Daughter to Kindergarten

As I get ready for all the fresh faces to enter my classroom this year, I can’t help but be completely distracted. “Distracted” might not be the best word. How about FREAKED OUT!

IMG_2453 (2)You see, my 3 ¾ year old daughter is going off to Kindergarten for the first time this September. My little, precious, bright eyed, feisty Beatrice is heading off on her own educational journey, and I will not be there to hold her hand at the very beginning. Instead, I will be greeting children who have done this before, many times. I have been an educator for 10 years, but it was not until or only when I had my child that I realized the amount of trust that parents put into my hands each and every day. For 10 months I see their children more often than they do, and it is my job to provide a space where the students will continue to grow and develop their love of learning. I need to make learning magical.

As Beatrice heads off to school, I am looking at that job and that magic from a new angle. Will my daughter enjoy learning at school? Will she find it exciting? Will she struggle? Will she develop a sense of trust with her teachers? Will her teachers see what I see and nurture her strengths? Change is huge for all of us, but I can’t help thinking how monumental this will be for Beatrice. As I said before, I can’t be there to hold her hand on this first day of school, but hopefully she knows that I am there to support her and set any teacher straight who doesn’t meet my standards come parent-teacher interview time. My husband has already said that I won’t be allowed to attend.

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Laura Brown-Bowers lives live with her husband, daughter, and 4 month old baby bump in the west end of Toronto.  She loves to paint, walk in the woods, and eat good food.

 

Defining Motherhood

Brandie Weikle, a long-time parenting editor and writer created The New Family to speak to a new generation of parents. The blog is a resource for today’s modern family and the 1,000 Families Project was born from Brandie’s own modern family and is an inspiring collection of stories highlighting the many ways we can be a family.

Today my story is featured on The New Family and I am grateful for the opportunity. Writing this essay allowed me to reflect on my experiences as a mother and how I define motherhood for myself.   Thank you Brandie!

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I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a mother until my first son was 5 months old.

I was a child of the eighties and early nineties. Latchkey kids were commonplace; I can’t remember a single mother who wasn’t juggling work with raising a family. A frozen pizza pocket and a reminder note to take the dog for a walk is what greeted most of us after school. The few moms who were not bringing home the bacon were buried deep in text books studying for a Masters degree in nursing, social work or education.

When I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, I was heady, simply thrilled that I was growing a life, a little boy half me and half my husband. While I debated the merits of cloth diapers versus disposable, and formula feeding over breastmilk, I never once doubted my plan to return to teaching the fifth grade just ten months after my son was born.

I had gulped down the Kool-Aid, just as many of my key-wearing friends had done. I consumed every ounce, licked every drip.

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Beth-Anne with her son, age 5 months.

Having a baby? Going to a baby shower? We’ve got the latest in baby gear!

It’s safe to say that the three mothers are past the stage of babies, diapers and midnight feedings but we know that not all of our readers are. We’ve relied on our own experiences and we’ve tapped some 4th mothers … Continue reading

Guest Post: Kristi Ashcroft: “These things they go away; Replaced by Everyday” — R.E.M., Nightswimming

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To my three boys,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it’s over. When the school bell rang on June 27, and we were staring ahead at 65 days of unscheduled, unstructured time at our rustic cottage on somewhat remote Manitoulin Island, it seemed both daunting and exhilarating. We all claimed this was what we wanted. But, with no camps booked for any of you this summer, with Dad’s work schedule requiring him in Toronto more than at the cottage, and with few good friends nearby, I felt like I was embarking on a tight rope across a wide chasm. With just the right balance, it could be great. Or it could go another way.

I admit, the bickering almost undid me. “Stop it”, “Owwwwww”, “Mommmmmmmmmm”, “He started it”, “Stop copying me”, “He pinched (kicked, punched, scratched, poked) me”, “He cheated”, “That’s mine”, “I hate you”, “You don’t even know what 45 plus 56 is”, “You suck at hockey,” “You’re an idiot”, “What?”, “What did I do?”.

And that was before breakfast.

I vacillated between refereeing, cajoling, bribing, punishing, peace-brokering, distracting, and out and out losing my mind. None of those strategies seemed to be particularly or consistently effective. One morning, out of fury over some territorial conflict involving a pillow fort, you my littlest one, managed to strip off your pull-up from the night before and bonk your eldest brother over the head with it, thereby causing the diaper to explode and sending pee-soaked polymers across the room where they settled like a yellow-tinged snow. We were only about two weeks into summer and my coffee hadn’t even finished brewing. I promptly declared summer cancelled, and in a further fit of hyperbole, threatened to sell the cottage and use the proceeds to send each of you to summer camp, separately, in perpetuity. Because clearly we couldn’t survive summer together.

But we plodded on. The memories of the fighting do eventually fade to white noise. We can all now laugh at the diaper snow story, and you each delight in regaling others with your part in it. And thank goodness I didn’t throw in the towel. There is so much I would have missed.

First, I would have missed our talks: talks that don’t get cut short or interrupted because there’s a brother to pick up or a practice to get to; talks that stem from your questions, fears or curiosities. We talked about wolves and tornadoes and cancer and dying a lot this summer, though I can’t really explain why those themes recurred. Our “where did I come from” talk started after you learned about an initiative to repopulate the Great Lakes with sturgeon, and I found myself in the somewhat awkward position of having to compare and contrast fish procreation with the human variety. You were captivated by stories of when you were young, and of when we were young, creating a trove of family lore that I hope will stay with you and eventually be retold by you.

We had time to focus on things that often get swept aside during the busy seasons, like manners. You had the chance to hone your skills of being a good guest, a good host and a good neighbour. I don’t want to jinx it, but this summer may have paved the way for 2014 to be declared “The Year Everyone Started Holding Their Fork Correctly,” although I’m guessing you guys won’t remember it that way.

You had more freedom and I got to give it to you. You could ride way ahead on your bike, wander the woods with your brothers, or burst outside on a whim without a corresponding admonition from your mother to “stop at the stop sign”, or “slow down”. I loved observing how you handled the mutually reinforcing responsibility and independence. I also loved that I almost never heard myself say “Hurry up”, “Time to go” or “We’re late.”

I had a chance to shed my roles as chauffeur, guidance counsellor, tutor, nag-in-chief and disciplinarian, and to have the opportunity to just DO things with you. Do things WITH you. The nights we kayaked out past the point so we could see the sun set. The quiet mornings when we felt like we were the first ones to make ripples in the water with our paddles. The bike rides that we’d finish with sprints, pretending we were chasing down a hockey player from the other team who was on a breakaway. The walks where we noticed all the things we miss when we drive that same stretch of country lane. The swims, the saunas and then more swims. The time I got up on water skis for the first time and saw you all cheering me on from the boat. Moms don’t get cheers very often, and we don’t necessarily expect or need them. But when we do get woo-hoos and high fives from our kids, it is incredibly special.

I loved all the games we played together. (OK, except Junior Monopoly. I actually hated Junior Monopoly, with its skewed economics where you’re either enjoying an immediate 100% return on investment, or suffering expropriation of your properties with the mere draw of a Chance card, thereby leaving all participants somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and incensed by the end of the game). But matching wits with you in Connect Four or Qwirkle, playing series after series of Crazy Eights and Uno, and watching your logical minds at work cracking codes in Mastermind were some of my favourite indoor moments of the summer.

I relished the opportunity to watch you be you. Your true natures reveal themselves when you are responsible for combatting your own boredom. I noticed, without judgment, who was more likely to reach for his hockey stick and who was more likely to work a puzzle. I watched as you would spend hours in character as imaginary brothers who are 12- and 11-years-old, respectively, undertaking no end of wild adventures, Stanley Cup quests, and other complicated plot lines. I was intrigued to hear your takes on the books you read, and was sometimes surprised at which ones you loved and which were just OK. I noticed which friends from school you mentioned and which issues from home permeated our summer bubble. I made a mental note of these for when we return home and other factors sometimes muddy our priorities.

I stopped myself on more than one occasion this summer and wished I could bottle these moments, or that I could hit the pause button and keep you at ages 4, 6 and 8, picking raspberries, catching frogs, chasing sea gulls, digging in mud, jumping on trampolines and letting me read stories to you. The summer felt fleeting, perhaps because I don’t know if conditions will ever permit us to have another 65-day spell like this one.

But now it’s time. Tomorrow I send you back to your real worlds of school and sports and social lives. You’re blonder, taller and tanner than when you left. But I think you’re changed in less visible albeit more permanent ways as well. I know I am. I hope we get to do this again sometime.

Love, Mom

Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 4, 6 and 8.

Island Time: What a month away with my children taught me

11738059_10155931974745083_6601488050755240455_nI just returned from a month away. With my kids. All three of them. 24/7 at arm’s length for 4 whole weeks. We ate every meal together, woke up at an ungodly hour every day together, and spent every second together for 28 days.

Believe it or not, it’s what I wanted. In fact, I was desperate for it. I longed to be free from the schedule: the schoolwork and the activities, the play dates and birthday parties and the overwhelming feeling of always being on the go. I wanted to spend the days with the boys doing nothing. Teaching them that doing nothing is in fact doing something – it’s recharging. Re-setting. And all of us need to know how to do that.

Residing in a busy city and having busy schedules and living with a big, busy family, it’s hard to not get swept up in always “doing”. Checking things off “the list” with compulsion and not really enjoying any of it. I’ve spent lots of time this past year reflecting on how much time we spend “doing” and not “being”. I want to change that.

Most importantly I want to impart to my boys that their self-worth is not tied to how busy they are. And what better way to do that, than to show them how.

We unpacked our bags in Grand Cayman and settled in for a month of island living, where “island time” is a real thing. We spent the days at the beach discovering the sea life, and learning about our world. Snorkelling adventures spanned hours and walks on the sand were slow and unchartered. Mealtime was unhurried and evenings were spent watching old movies, playing cards and lost in our imaginations.

Escaping the perils of boyhood is not possible – even in Paradise. They still fought, and whined, and complained. They still didn’t want to be touched, breathed on, or looked at. The iPads were still taken away and threats were still made, but all to a much lesser degree.

Free from distractions, the boys reconnected with each other and with me. The conversation flowed and while my boys studied mollusks and coral formations, I realized who they are. Their distinct personalities revealed themselves to me in new ways, and my understanding of them and their fears, anxieties, dreams and excitements, became clearer.

The weeks passed in a blur, a painful reminder of how fast the years are slipping by, and tears came with the realization that I can slow down and be more present but I can’t stop time.

Guest Post: Lisa Betts on Raising a Vegetarian Family

I am so excited to welcome Lisa Betts to the blog today.  Lisa is the author of the blog Vegan Cookbook Academy, where she takes vegan cookbooks through their paces.  Lisa is also Nathalie’s sister-in-law.  Not only is Lisa one of the major inspirations for Nathalie’s becoming (mostly) vegetarian, she is an inspiration for energy, experimentation, variety and fun in the kitchen, and we have been on the receiving end of many of her excellent meals.  (I tried all three of the Three Birthday Cakes, and, yes, they were all as good as they look!)  I’ve never met anyone with more of a passion for learning about the science and art of eating well.  Check out her blog and get your vegan groove on!

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The kitchen is truly the heart of our home. At least, it’s where I spend most of my time, and I put a lot of work into making yummy, healthy food. Of course, feeding children is always a challenge. We have been fairly shameless in our tactics to make the vegetables go in. Basically, the favoured food becomes the reward for eating a less enticing item. On our eldest son this worked amazingly well – “You can have more tofu if you finish your spinach!” – up until quite recently. Now he has particular ideas about how food should look and taste (i.e., no sauce of any kind). Our younger daughter is made of sterner stuff, and is much more difficult to manipulate. I think it is partly because she sees her older brother now resisting his food, and also because she is just that much more independent than he ever was. Second child, after all. I try to get 3-4 different vegetables into them daily, plus at least one big round of protein. I’m still struggling to increase their fatty acid intake, as they don’t reliably finish their smoothies anymore and I am loathe to waste the precious Udo’s Oil. So far, I’m sure this sounds like fairly typical family food dynamics. The only twist is that we are raising our kids as vegetarians.

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My husband and I have been vegetarian since 1997, and we eat very little dairy in day-to-day life. It has never been easier to be a vegetarian, or to be a vegetarian kid. Meat and milk alternatives are flooding the grocery stores, even easy kid foods like veggie dogs and nuggets (basically, things that go with ketchup). Celebrities are crowing about their vegan ways, and there is a growing interest in the health benefits of plant-based eating. The cookbook world is exploding with vegan authors, as my blog can attest (vegancookbookacademy.wordpress.com), meaning that the traditional home cooked meal is evolving from a meat + 2 veg into something more diverse. Not to mention the vegan baking – ditch the eggs and eat the batter, worry-free!

There are so many children with food allergies and intolerances these days that making special vegetarian requests at school and special events is not ostracizing. My eldest eats dairy and eggs, so he is easily satisfied by cheese pizza, chocolate milk, and birthday cupcakes. I do worry when my daughter starts school that she will find it a bit harder, because she is lactose intolerant and has been vegan all of her life. Even when she was exclusively breastfeeding, she would spit up – like, a lot – if I had milk or eggs in my diet, so I followed a strict vegan eating plan as well until she weaned. She may outgrow her intolerance, but I’m not going to push milk on her because I strongly believe that I can raise her to be a strong and healthy vegan. I’ve told enough diaper horror stories to our extended family that they no longer offer her dairy-based treats. When she is sick, and people suggest that perhaps she needs to eat some meat, I politely point out (often through clenched teeth) that all the other children are also sick with the crazy superbugs that are floating around, and their diet is not providing them with any magical immunity. I know that I will bump up against that bias time and time again.

IMG_2071We are at a very critical stage with our oldest, who just completed his first year of junior kindergarten. He has known for a while that being a vegetarian is different, especially at our large family gatherings with the aunts and uncles and all of the cousins (all of his 8 cousins are devouring the turkey and ham at the holiday gatherings). When he recently stayed with his grandmother for a week, he would ask, “What animal are you eating today, Nana?” Up until his time at school, his food was always controlled by his parents. It still is, for the most part, but there are often treats and candy that are handed out and he is now paranoid that they contain meat. Have you ever known a 5-year-old to turn down a bag of candy?? He is even asking me now whether the food that I’m making for him contains meat, and whether the store we are at contains meat. I feel bad that this is a cause for anxiety for him, but he’s figuring it out, and we answer all of his questions the best that we can. I admit that it was a bit tricky to explain my t-shirt that reads, Kale is the New Beef.

Will my children stay vegetarian? Will my son ask enough questions about cheese and milk to give up his beloved dairy? My husband and I have talked about it, and almost expect that eating meat will be a form of rebellion when the time comes: “You will not eat meat in my house, young lady!” When they are old enough to feed themselves and develop their own politics we will let them make their own food choices. Perhaps they will become the faces of the new vegetarian generation. Time will tell…

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