The Appeal of ‘Just Once’

The Appeal of Just OnceA handful of years ago, when my daughters were preschool- and elementary-aged, I surprised them with a Valentine’s Tea. I set out my china, made tiny cucumber sandwiches cut in the shape of hearts, baked cookies, and brewed up some hot tea. When they arrived home at the end of the school day, instead of after school snacks, we sat in the living room and enjoyed afternoon tea.

They drank daintily, holding pinkies high in the air, sipping gingerly. They munched on sandwiches and chattered about their school day, being careful to place their teacups on saucers and wiped at their mouths with the cloth napkins I’d set out.

It didn’t take a lot for me to put on this special holiday tea for them. A bit of baking and sandwich making. It was a pure delight to me, something I’d been wanting to do with my girls since the first of them was born. And the effect was marvelous. They ate it up, literally and figuratively. I’d loved them by spoiling them with something different that Valentine’s Day.

We haven’t had a Valentine’s Tea since then. My girls still talk about it – it is probably one of their most memorable Valentine’s celebrations. And that actually is the point of it. It’s memorable because it happened just once. I had wanted to do it for them. I did it. We enjoyed it. And now it is a fond memory.

As Valentine’s Day approaches this year, I see where more moms could use a “just once” bucket list approach to treating their kids to something special. Because many of us get worked up about creating a great experience that we will repeat year after year. Which makes no Valentine’s celebration memorable. And it wears us out.

Many of us get worked up about creating a great experience that we will repeat year after year. Which makes no Valentine’s memorable. – Tweet This

So as you contemplate what you will do to love on your children this February 14th, consider this: what would you do if it was only “just once”? Is there a special way of celebrating you have wanted to do for a while, but haven’t (like my Valentine’s Tea)? Then ask yourself whether this is the year for it or not. Recognize that your children do not know about all the wonderful ideas you have that you may not execute. If you don’t have any “just once” Valentine ideas, then give yourself a break. Going overboard does not make you any more loving, nor will your children feel any less loved if you do not.

And if last year you made a terrific display of affection for your kids, release yourself from the need for a repeat performance. Let it stand on its own and relish the memory. Relax and stop beating yourself up over what you don’t do. Show yourself some love this Valentine’s. Even if it’s just once.

Ever done something amazing for your kids one time, never to repeat it? Or have you been wanting to do something special for them “just once,” but haven’t yet? Share your story in the comments.

The Date Night Passport: A Bucket List for You & Your Sweetheart

The last date night I had with my husband was the day after Thanksgiving. He won tickets to Muriel Anderson’s annual hometown concert. So the two of us went.

Date Night PassportIt was an evening of fantastic harp guitar music with accompaniment by artists Paul Wertico (from the Pat Metheny Group) and Jeff Coffin of Dave Matthews Band. During intermission we munched on homemade cookies and drank hot apple cider. And we chatted, just the two of us, without interruption from kids.

Here it is, less than a week until Valentine’s and we haven’t been out together since. Our kids are old enough (11, 13 and 15) that we don’t have the excuse of finding a babysitter to blame our dating lameness on. Just inertia and lack of ideas.

Before last fall we most often met for lunch dates during the week. With my husband working on the other side of our city it was easy enough to catch an hour together. But then one of our daughters became ill at Halloween and has been home at lunchtime ever since. That and doctor’s appointments and the holiday season made it tricky to manage a lunch date.

But we’re well past the holidays now. We’re due for a date. And as my eldest points out, we deserve a night out together now and then too – not just lunch dates.

So we inked it on the calendar. Tuesday for lunch – our Valentine’s date. We’re not much for crowds, so we have rarely gone out on February 14th. The 10th is close enough. But we also have a new source for inspiration: a Date Night Passport.

I had seen this idea on Pinterest – a booklet of date night ideas that you mark off as you complete them. And it immediately resonated with me. We could create our own date night bucket list. In fact, I had already been lamenting the fact that we live in a small city known for its top-rate restaurants, but we’ve never taken advantage of this. I knew we needed to get intentional about trying new date spots (besides which, our favorite gyros shop closed down).

So I created our very own passport. It has the names of 46 restaurants in our city that I want to be sure we try out. I included addresses, phone numbers, and price ranges for all of them to make it that much easier for us to decide (and make reservations if we need to). Italian, BBQ, steakhouse, French, Japanese, Irish pub, even pizza await us.

Tomorrow we’ll try Cajun at Heaven on Seven. I can’t wait.

If you’d like to create your own “Passport to a Great Date Night,” you can download the printable booklet here. It contains categories for 14 different date nights (mostly restaurant-themed, but you can interpret the prompts as you wish. Italian could mean going to a bocce court instead of pasta).

Updated February 2017: Now the Date Night Passport is available for Date Night activities (bowling, improv, wine tasting, etc). This version has 30 different ideas of things to do on a date to keep you and the one you love inspired and having fun together. Use it to create your own date night bucket list that you can check off and fill with “stamps.” Check out my Etsy shop to buy your copy to download and start using tonight!

Help for Spring Break, Spring Cleaning & More: March/April Articles

The kids are bickering, the house is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all. Does that sound like your family’s spring break? No? Maybe yours goes more like this: the kids are bickering, your car/hotel room/suitcase is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all.

Spring TipsParenting and its challenges has no end. There is no getting away from the needs of children and the pressures of running a household. But there are ways to keep yourself in the midst of the joy more often. There are solutions that help you get away from the stress to regroup and refuel – together. I’m thankful as a journalist that I can take some of these common problems and run them by experts and fellow moms for interesting, helpful and doable solutions. In the March and April issues of parenting magazines in the U.S. and beyond, I have articles that offer great insight and tips on these very problems. I hope you’ll read them for yourself so that you can enjoy your family – both during spring break and in the months to come.

Spring Break & Having Family AdventuresFlagler Parent

Planning a Spring Break that Doesn’t Break You, Calgary’s Child

Have You Ever: An Invitation to Adventure, Flagler Parent

Spring Refreshers & Why Kids Should Help with The Chores

31 Refreshers That Take 15 Minutes or Less, Okanagan Child

Chores Make the Grade, Houston Family

Sibling Spats

A Special Solution to Sibling Strife, Atlanta Parent

Public Restroom Comic

Parent-Child Relationships

Mother & Daughter, Shoulder to Shoulder, Family Australia Magazine

Humor for Moms of Preschoolers

The Perils of Public Restrooms with Preschoolers, The Village Family Magazine

Photo credit: Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire… by Kivanc Nis on Flickr via CC License.

The Best Question to Ask Your Mom This Mother’s Day

PinkFlowerPinWhat would make Mom’s day? If you’re in the midst of shopping and preparing for Mother’s Day, that question is probably on your mind. And maybe you’ve even asked the mom in your life that question directly (or had it asked of you). But asking that question doesn’t always make the celebration any easier. Often we get stuck in the rut of following the clichés. Flowers. Perfume. Breakfast in bed or brunch at a hotel. Those might all be nice, yet it’s hard not to think that mom occasionally deserves something better. Getting to what would be better, or best, is the challenge.

So what if you asked a different question instead? What if you asked your mom (or grandmother or mother-in-law) this question: what is one thing you’ve dreamed of doing, but haven’t done yet?

A friend told me that she recently asked her own mom, who is widowed and feeling the effects of age, that very question. She’s eager to hear the answer and actually gave her mother a deadline because she wants the opportunity to give her mom the gift of a dream come true. I’m interested to hear what comes of that – for both of them.

I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to break their Mother’s Day budget on an extravagant gift. But I do think that even the act of asking that question and then attentively listening to the answer could be a great gift to both you and your mom (and I also think it is an excellent question to be asking of fathers too, when their day comes).

Or ask her a question about her dreams in the past: what did you want most to do when you were a kid, or a teenager, or before you had kids? Moms lead complex lives, but we often see them in only one dimension – as “Mom.” Asking this question provides an opportunity for Mom to reminisce and share about herself as a whole person. You may learn something new about her. You may come to appreciate her in a new way. And she will appreciate being given the attention and chance to share her stories.

Asking Mom about her dreams, and listening to her answers, can be a powerful way to show you love her. And it just might inspire a gift for Mother’s Day, whether it’s in time for this year or next.


Celebrating Amidst Imperfection

A symmetrical evergreen bedecked with ribbon garland, white lights, and glass ornaments sits in the front window giving off a subtle pine scent. The soft sounds of carols play throughout the house, mixed with the crackles and pops coming from the glowing embers in the fireplace – the perfect counter to gently falling snow outside. And in the kitchen, mom pulls a fresh batch of cutout cookies from the oven.Cozy Winter Fire

Um, yeah. I don’t know whose house that is, but it’s not mine. In fact, yesterday I didn’t even have an oven in my kitchen for baking cookies. And there’s no room for a tree in our living room because of  kitchen carts, tarps, and one uninstalled toilet. Our fireplace is buried behind the refrigerator, kitchen table and cabinets.

We’ll get the house put back together soon enough. And there will be a tree and a fire in the fireplace and cookies in the oven. But I’ve given up on striving for the “ideal” holiday. Much as I’d like to envision my family enjoying a magazine-perfect Christmas, reality says it’s not only not possible, it’s not even preferable. These idyllic images come at a price. They take time, energy, and money. And ultimately they require a level of control that none of us has.

We set ourselves up for disappointment every year when we put a checklist of expectations on our holidays. They’ll never match up on every count. And in fact, we may miss the value the very flaws themselves bring to our homes. I’m guessing my kids will remember more clearly this year where Christmas decorating was postponed as we scattered to friends’ and family’s homes to live while our floor was being refinished. It will stand out in relief against the backdrop of all the other Christmases where the day-after-Thanksgiving-putting-up-the-tree tradition was kept.

What will you do when reality and expectation don’t line up this year (as surely there will be at least one aspect out of sync with the holiday of your dreams)? Will you do as the Who’s down in Whoville and choose to sing anyway in spite of the lack of Christmas-as-you-wished coming? Will you embrace the flaw as a memory-building opportunity? Or will you miss the celebration because you’re caught up in a lament for what couldn’t be?

I’m hoping for the resilience to find a celebration amidst the imperfections.

If it’s sickness – minor, major or terminal – that is throwing off your plans, be sure to check out this article I wrote with tips from experts and everyday moms on how to weather sickness amidst the holidays.

Now tell me this, dear reader: was there a time where the thing that threatened your celebration ended up being the source of fond memories? Share your story with us here.