Two’s Company, Three’s a Big Mess

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By: Aimee Tafreshi

 

I grew up in an All-American family with two children, spaced an ideal three and a half years apart, complete with a loveable Golden Retriever/lab mix. I had time to bond with my parents and didn’t feel threatened by the arrival of my baby sister (other than hiding my mom’s car keys when she went into labor). I gleefully pushed her as a toddler around the living room in a laundry basket. And I tolerated her creating a “tornado” on the Monopoly board when I was in the lead, ending our game.

Despite our idyllic set-up, I secretly admired my friends with large, boisterous families. Everyone in my extended family limited themselves to a practical one to two children, usually of the same gender. I wondered what it would feel like in a family of three to four kids with multiple cousins running around at holidays, too many to count. During a phase as preteens, my sister and I pretended we had a mysterious older brother. His “room” was my dad’s study. We nearly convinced some friends that he existed. At some point I knew that, one day, I would have three children. I also wanted to answer the eternal question—Do middle children live up to their reputation, as, shall we say, a tad odd?

Fast-forward into my 30s and my prophecy has become reality. I have an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 6 and 4, not so neatly spaced at 21 months apart. The biggest rivalry exists, however, not between the two little boys but between the big sister and middle child. I have learned from my husband’s childhood experience, as well as my current situation, that their 2.5 years spacing is perfectly suited for explosive sibling rivalry and constant one-upmanship.

Do I regret having three children? Absolutely not. Is the middle child really as different as they say? Absolutely. I have no regrets about our family make-up, but there are some things you should know if you are considering taking the plunge into three kid-dom.

First, the middle child is a unique individual. I actually used the word “unique” on a class form to describe my son, because I couldn’t think of a third adjective. Was he funny? Not really. Was he super kind? No. I jotted down as many synonyms as I could think of for smart and then threw in “unique.” This kid is going to work for NASA someday. He will be the guy at the computer with a row of empty soda cans and crumpled candy bar wrappers. We secretly refer to him as Pig Pen because he’s always inexplicably covered in dirt. I don’t know if he will get married or not. He will need a wife who will wait on him hand and foot and who has the talent to cook without taking any time to do so. (Yes, his need for instant gratification is probably my fault; plus I’ll blame Minecraft.)

My middle child has been uniquely challenging since he came out of the womb, but as he gets older, I appreciate him more. As a baby, I would feed him around the clock, and he was always hungry. I would load him up on milk before play dates and would then spend the entire gathering feeding him more as he fussed. I used to think we were very different, but now I realize he is a lot like me. Sometimes the children the most like us drive us the craziest. After all, who would want to parent themselves?!

My conclusion: I can’t speak for other middle children, but mine fits the bill as marching to the beat of his own drum. And I love him for that.

Another point to consider—life in a large household is chaotic. Some parents like to use the term “organized chaos,” but let’s face reality; the chaos is often a free for all. One must employ a triage approach—if no one is profusely bleeding or has a broken bone protruding from his skin, then you can carry on with those dishes. Pick-up time in the afternoon is the worst. The kids yell over each other as I drive, screaming about their day, and crying when I choose to listen to one’s story first. I end up screaming the loudest that I’m going to get in a car accident if they don’t put a cork in it, and by the time we pull into the driveway, everyone’s eyes are stained with tears.

Which brings me to the competitive aspect . . . each child will constantly keep tabs on what the others are getting. I have had to tell them to stop counting M&Ms when I hand them out for a treat. Woe to me if one gets 22 little candies and the other receives a meager 21. At Christmas time, the presents were initially allocated so that Santa happened to bring one child a few more gifts than the other two. “You can’t do that,” I screamed to my husband, “they will count the gifts and think Santa is punishing the other two!” He stared at me in disbelief—Do you really think they will count the presents?—and then helped me reclassify the gift giver of the extra packages. Sure enough, the next morning the kids raced up to the table where St. Nick’s gifts sat and exclaimed, “Why did Santa bring us only two gifts each?” I smiled, satisfied that the question was not, “Why did Santa bring him two more gifts than us?!” Crisis averted.

Fights will often ensue about perceived minor issues, like who gets to sit next to Mommy in the restaurant, or who will push the elevator button (the latter is a big source of contention in two-child families as well, to which my sister can attest.) Simple decisions are fraught with peril and the potential for large scale fights to erupt, so parents must anticipate these conflicts and plan for a peaceful conflict resolution.

Another big issue for large families is logistics. As in, there is no way we are participating in winter swim league, spring soccer and Little League in the same season. I have to be judicious with what activities we commit to each year. My youngest son has yet to do much in the way of organized sports, but I’ve heard there are benefits to delaying team sports until children are seven or eight.

Schedules are a consideration for parents who have visions of raising the next Olympic gymnast or swimmer. Either limit yourself to less children or plan on dragging around the others to a ton of meets and practices. I have found endeavors in the arts (like dance and music lessons, theater camp and art classes) to be more forgiving to busy schedules, as you don’t have an added game or meet every week. We are doing swimming AND soccer this spring, and I am scared. I drew the line at tee-ball. My youngest will have to wait another season or two to begin his Major League baseball training.

The result of these logistical nightmares challenges—parents become better than FedEx at delivering their children from Point A to Point B on time. We have become experts at packing like an Apocalypse is coming—no detail is too trivial—and transforming into drill sergeant mode, adept at delivering orders with military like precision. I’m not here to be my child’s friend; I’m here to deliver him to soccer on time.

Another aspect of logistics is the effect on a parent’s personal schedule. I work, albeit remotely, and there are some weeks where there is literally some type of appointment or school commitment on the calendar every day. I feel for the majority of working parents who have a set work schedule because the parenting world is stacked against having an uninterrupted workday.  Which brings me to sick days. No, not for a parent. We’re not allowed to be sick.

With three children, it’s a darn near miracle if someone isn’t nursing a viral or sinus infection on a given day. I can’t count how many times I’ve said in recent months, with great exasperation, “Oh god, his snot is green again; we have to go back to the pediatrician.” (Big sigh.) I mean, can’t the pediatrician just give me carte blanche to call in a prescription when I need one? We all know when the runny nose just isn’t going to get any better, so let’s stop wasting everyone’s time. Because there is no time!!!

The bigger problem with illness is once someone gets sick, we all fall down like a weak house of cards. And Mom and Dad with our old rusty immune systems usually take the brunt of the evil virus. I won’t forget my trip to the ER for dehydration for a lovely sickness my son passed on to me, only to come home to two more barfing children. There’s nothing like doing laundry all night long with a hospital admission band still on your wrist. (My husband was out of the country, so he had a nearly valid excuse for his absence.) I like to remind him of this story a lot.

And finally, the elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about—money! Children cost a ton of money. Every month we hemorrhage cash like Trump drops Tweets. We try to shop for the deals, but all of a sudden a cute and economically priced $20 fleece jumps to $60.00 plus shipping and handling. A restaurant outing to a casual dining place approaches a Benjamin. (And they don’t like McDonald’s or Burger King—where did I go wrong?!) Think you can score at a Kid’s Eat Free night? Guess again! You will still pay for that third child’s meal. The deck is stacked against us.

Want to travel? Better start saving—parents who want a modicum of privacy in the evening know that hotel suites are the way to go. That reasonably priced hotel quickly exceeds a luxury one when you are scouting out the largest suites on the property. Renting a vacation home is the next logical step, but I want the free hotel breakfast and maid service! (Free breakfasts are a must for large families traveling to avoid racking up a massive food bill each morning for half-eaten Cheerios.)

And finally, the one thing I want to leave you with, perhaps the biggest nuisance of them all—homework. Yes, homework. When the three kids are all small and in diapers, parents will dramatically lament having “three under three” or multiple kids in diapers. The stakes get real, however, when the tikes start elementary school. You will spend hours upon hours each night assisting each one with various stages of learning, including teaching “new math” that you never learned. When deciding whether that third child is the right decision for your family, simply do the math. That is, can you handle 13 years of homework times X number of children (adjusted for overlapping school years and volume of homework)? If you can solve that equation, then you might be ready for number three.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

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Ready, set, go!

By: Aimee Tafreshi

img_4345What would you take with you if your house faced destruction and you had limited time and space? Clearly your children—well, most of us would. Dogs, definitely. We faced this conundrum last week. The week started normally enough with viola lessons, soccer practice and STEM night at my daughter’s school. In the background, a hurricane churned in the Atlantic and barreled its way through the Caribbean. The weekend before, I advised my husband to fill up with gas, as you never know. He thought I was paranoid, I’m sure.

On Tuesday, he was supposed to fly out to Virginia for a work trip. By this point, the hurricane “spaghetti” models showed Hurricane Matthew working its way up the East Coast, in some form or fashion. One lone bright pink line diverged from the others and showed a possible path right along the coastline, right near our coastline. It’s just one model, he reasoned with me. Come Tuesday morning, his trip was almost called off, but co-workers had already boarded flights. The outing was now back on. I imagined evacuating the house, kids and dogs by myself. I knew his particular airline would mercilessly cancel all flights mid-week. I am a hurricane virgin. I have never lived through a hurricane nor evacuated because of one. I can do this, I told myself with false confidence.

Lo and behold, divine intervention, fate, common sense, what have you, stepped in and canceled his work trip minutes before he was to board the plane. I was jubilant when he told me the news. This hurricane was coming; I could feel it. Wednesday arrived, and the rain and wind started picking up. We both worked all day, work obligations and deadlines, as I daydreamed about boarding up the house. We didn’t have storm shutters; hurricanes weren’t supposed to come this way. Finally, the mandatory evacuation order came. It was go time.

My husband got home from work, and it was time to pack and prep the house. Our preparations did not include boarding up the house or putting up storm shutters. That ship had sailed. There simply wasn’t time. Instead, I thought about what would probably happen. The front room windows would likely shatter, and water and debris would soak everything in its sight. Unfortunately, the front room is a dining room turned home office, which means it is a staging area for kids’ artwork waiting to be filed, toothy school portraits waiting to be shared and other sentimental papers and musty greeting cards.

I didn’t really care about our beat up furniture—we have two sons—or things like the TV. All of that stuff can be replaced. What I did care about were drawings forged by small hands, endless sheets of imperfectly written preschool letters and scattered photographs.

I remembered that during a devastating fire at my parents’ house, my mother had remarked that the items she had stored in plastic bins had not been touched by the ash and soot that had ruined much of the other stuff. Ah ha! I smartly packed all of the sentimental crafts and papers in a large plastic bin and stored it upstairs, in case of storm surge. Other random things I moved included the kids’ art portfolios from their past school years, three painted glass bottles they had created on a Saturday at the downtown art co-op, and a glass Longhorn Bevo, an homage to my beloved Texas team.

I also pushed my grandmother’s antique chair away from the window, as I knew she would not be pleased if I let her heirloom get ruined by broken glass or an errant tree limb.

The things I couldn’t stand to lose the most were the things that could never be replaced. I later cursed myself for not taking down my daughter’s bulletin boards, covered with her best kindergarten paintings, and mentally pictured the papers disintegrating as the rain blasted through blown out windows.

Now it was time to pack. As the evening wore on, I thought less about packing for a short-term trip and more about packing for months. I initially packed one extra set of disposable contact lenses and then realized I should take the entire pack. My husband reminded me to take any valuable jewelry. I don’t have a ton of fancy baubles, other than a few things I wear everyday, but I decided on an antique watch my dad had gifted me, because it makes me think of him. I also grabbed a roadrunner pin that had belonged to my grandmother—she obsessively collected roadrunners—and a vintage Texas Longhorns brooch my mother had given me.

I told my other half to grab my daughter’s baby book; her younger siblings’ books weren’t quite finished, so what was the point with theirs? We also took the wedding album and some important papers to show proof of our existence.

The next morning we arose at 4:00 a.m., and as usual, I wanted to hit the “snooze” button repeatedly and stay in bed. But then my instincts kicked in, as a monster storm was heading our way, and I had better wake the heck up. We were out the door by 5:15 a.m., three kids, two large dogs, and two tired parents crammed into an SUV. My poor son woke up in the middle of the night, afraid we had evacuated without him. He raced downstairs at 5:00 in the morning, exclaiming that he was “just in time” to leave. Boy was he right.

I was expecting to sit on the interstate for 12 hours and pee in plastic bottles, after seeing many nightmare traffic jams on the news over the years, but the one thing you can count on with an island is that people don’t like to wake up early. We made it to Tallahassee in record time. Our hotel room wasn’t ready until more than six hours later, so we bided our time walking a verdant nature trail, stuffing ourselves at a local diner and playing at an expansive park with fellow “evacuees.”

The next day, the storm track looked ominous. The models showed it shifting west with the eye wall going directly over our small historic town as a Category 4 or worse. At that point, I wanted to cry, not just for us but also for the entire town. I was worried for those who decided to stay and ride out the storm, worried for everyone’s homes and worried that our quaint historical island would be wiped off the map. I fell asleep not knowing what would face us on The Weather Channel the next day.

Promising news beamed in with the sun on Friday. The storm had shifted east, and our town would be spared the eye wall. I’m no meteorologist, but this meant less wind speed and less chance of total devastation. That evening, while the hurricane whipped through Northeast Florida, we attended a friend’s hurricane party, held at her in-laws’ sprawling property. Her mother-in-law had gone all out with homemade salads, a variety of chips and dip, pizza and drinks galore.

As we chatted with new friends, improbably brought together by an unlikely storm, our children played exuberantly on an oversized, outdoor hammock, erupting in laughter each time they tumbled off together onto the soft ground. The kids danced around each other, blowing bubbles and playing hide and seek among the protective trees. The end of the evening was capped off by glow in the dark bands the little ones wore on their necks and limbs as they twirled in the dark. I didn’t know what was happening to our house, but I knew I was happy, and that we had everything we needed. Most of all, I felt grateful and content.

We traveled home Saturday and were amazed that our house was largely unscathed by the storm. Others around us weren’t so lucky, and those in places like Haiti face yet another devastating recovery. I’m not sure why our small town was spared, but through this experience, I realized that we have very little control over nature or even our own lives, at times. I learned that if I had to walk away from my house and give it all up, I think that I could. And also, I plan on investing in some good storm shutters for next hurricane season.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

One Mom’s Return to the Work Force

By: Aimee Tafreshi

ID-100338823Like many moms today, I worked a full-time job when I gave birth to my first child. I remember how hard it was to leave my baby after my 12 weeks of maternity leave were up—a generous policy compared to many work places, yet meager compared to other parts of the world. I blinked back tears as I commuted to my office and felt a huge part of me left behind at home.

I also remember the day I packed up my office for the last time, a few weeks before my little girl’s second birthday. I would miss looking out my wall of windows to behold the Capitol and downtown Austin—I doubted I would ever score such a view again—but I looked forward to my freedom and more time with my growing toddler.

Back then, I was a single mom, sharing custody with my child’s father. I saw my daughter for two hours each weeknight after work and every other weekend. She lived with me, but the practice of law is a jealous mistress. The rest of her time was spent with my devoted, Spanish-speaking nanny or my child’s father. It was probably these circumstances that led me to walk away from the work force at the time, but only after I was engaged to someone able to provide financial support. Single parents have the first and foremost priority of providing a roof over a child’s head, food and health insurance; everything else is secondary.

Fast forward six years later, and I’m a mom of three, happily married and enjoying life as a freelance writer and Zumba instructor. And then life dealt me a broken foot, so teaching the latest Latin moves was out of the question. As I clomped around in my boot, I pondered my next move. I loved my free time with my kids, but in the back of my head I always wondered if I would return to the work force. I knew the longer I stayed out, the harder it would be to return. The corporate world could understand some time off to raise children—women seem to be given this latitude more than men—but how long of an absence was acceptable? Five years? Ten years? Six years had elapsed since my time at a law firm, and I decided it was time to dabble my feet in the water again.

While sidelined, I reactivated my bar license and had fun watching continuing legal education videos about white-collar crime. This may sound fairly boring, but as far as the law is concerned, this is exciting and interesting stuff. I spent a week’s worth of time applying for a few prosecutor positions with the Department of Justice. They happened to be hiring in a nearby big city, and those opportunities don’t pop up everyday. I have no prosecutorial experience, but being in the courtroom going after bad guys has always been a dream of mine. Of course, it may not be the job most compatible with balancing motherhood, but I would worry about those details later.

Fast forward a few months, and the feds hadn’t called yet. As I mentally prepared for my foot surgery, I periodically checked out the online job listings to see if anything fit my requirements and vice versa. Most legal jobs here are out of the question because I am not licensed to practice law in Florida, and there’s no way in heck I’m sitting for another bar exam. One day I saw a listing for a part-time job where I actually understood most of the responsibilities and seemed to meet their hiring criteria. I quickly shot them my resume and a hastily written cover letter, as I didn’t want to waste multiple hours on an application only to hear crickets in response. My surgery was coming up soon, but I figured it would be months until I’d hear a response; after all, the job posting was brand new.

Lo and behold, I received an email requesting a telephone interview. I was floored and realized I hadn’t interviewed for a job since 2006. The timing was interesting. I was scheduled to have surgery the very next day. After much thought, I brilliantly (or stupidly) set up the interview for the following morning, hours before my surgery. I didn’t want to risk fielding questions while under the influence of post-surgery pain meds. I would go through an interview sans caffeine (or anything), as I was about to undergo general anesthesia. I’ve never experienced a job interview without adequate hydration or caffeine coursing through my veins. I told myself this was all mental and that I could do it. I was so nervous about the interview that the impending procedure became an afterthought.

The phone call seemed to go okay. I didn’t really think the interviewer was too impressed, and I figured I did not get the position. To my surprise, I received a job offer at the end of the week, as I floated around in my post-surgery stupor, non-weight-bearing for nearly one month. I was excited but also very scared. I was returning to the world of deadlines, responsibility beyond my family and the billable hour.

Two months into the job, and it is the perfect fit for my life. I work remotely and bill about 30 hours per week. The company is flexible and doesn’t micromanage my time. I can go to work in pajamas with greasy hair and don’t have a commute. The hardest part is the aspect I struggled with years ago—mommy guilt. When I got the gig, we scrambled and had to put all of the kids in full-time care, not an easy feat at times during the summer. Luckily, there were a few day camp options, and my youngest son’s school goes year round and caters to working parents.

A part of me felt guilty at first. As my foot healed and I regained my ability to walk, and could finally fit my deflating big foot in flip-flops, I wondered, shouldn’t I be hauling the kids every day to some cool summer location, like the beach, pool, or the museum? I know the days are long and the years are short, and I don’t take a day for granted with them. But then I thought back to my days as a single, working mother, and I remembered what I did back then to cope.

When I came home from work, I completely switched into “at home” mode. My attention was on my daughter for those two hours before her bedtime. My nanny tried to bathe her but I insisted on having that duty, as I needed every minute with her. I treasured reading to her each night as we rocked. I remember waking up most Saturday mornings to attend a parent and me music class, as we often rushed home afterwards so her father could pick her up for his time.

When you work, you don’t necessarily miss out. You just have to become more present when you are with your kids. Ask them about their day, look them in the eyes, engage them in conversation, put down your phone. For working parents, most of these things are no-brainers because you can’t wait to see your little ones at the end of each day. You are tired, but you find that extra reserve of energy and enthusiasm to share with your greatest work in life: your children.

You also become a weekend warrior. When you have a blank canvas of a week in front of you, Saturday and Sunday don’t seem as crucial to fill with meaningful time. As a family, I feel like we have really lived life lately. We’ve been to the beach, the pool, the zoo, church, brunch, the movies . . . we are exhausted come Sunday evening, and sometimes the solitude on Monday morning after the kids are dropped off is a welcome one.

Whether you work outside of the home, at home or stay at home with your little ones, I can say there is no easy path. You can only choose the best option for your family, and make the most of your precious time together.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming…

By: Aimee Tafreshi

FullSizeRender (1)“How will the suffering end?” inquired the earnest man standing at my doorstep.  I chuckled, surprised by the question, and replied, “Well, I might be the right person to ask.” He looked down at my bandaged foot, assessing my knee scooter, and good-naturedly nodded his head. Five minutes earlier, I was parked on the couch, my recovering foot propped up on the ottoman, when I heard a knock on my front door. It must be the neighbors across the street stopping to say goodbye, as I had noticed their moving van earlier. Let’s hope it’s not the unscrupulous tree trimmers “terrorizing” our neighborhood, charging too high prices for shoddy work. Ahh, the perils of suburban life.

This better be good, I thought, as I hoisted myself onto the wheeled apparatus and propelled myself to the front door, accompanied by my protector, Faith the German Shepherd. I peered outside and saw a nice-looking family pushing a baby in a stroller. I hesitantly cracked open the door, Faith making her presence known in case of any mischief, and a man with kind eyes began to speak. After polite hellos, the man launched into his pitch. “How will the suffering end?” he began. Is this a rhetorical question? I wondered. I was beginning to formulate a well-thought out answer, and then stopped myself. “Now what are you selling here?” I asked. He responded that he wasn’t selling anything, so I proceeded to answer the stranger’s question as the smiling baby looked at me. “Faith, hope, determination, patience, resilience, a positive attitude.” He nodded his head with approval, and then chimed in, “Suffering will end through God’s Kingdom,” handing me a brochure for the local Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I smiled at the man and wished them a good afternoon, as his wife complemented me on our potted plants before leaving. In the past, I would have met a solicitor at my door with an eye roll or had simply ignored the knocks, but I found the visit well-timed and perhaps a sign to keep pressing on. Now, I was not about to go join the local Jehovah’s Witness chapter, although I have to admire them for going door to door these days to spread their word, as they are most often greeted with disdain or indifference. But I liked that this encounter forced me to verbalize how I would make it through this chapter of my life.

Earlier that week, I underwent surgery on my right foot to remove a broken bone that had essentially “died” as well. I had been temporarily disabled since early December, when the stressed bone finally fractured. Before the big surgery day, I went into “nesting” mode and took on the mammoth task of decluttering and organizing my daughter’s bedroom. She is a Stage 1 hoarder (like her mother), so this project took about two solid afternoons of focused work. My oldest son was pretty distraught that I didn’t purge his room of old toys before I was rendered useless.

The weekend before the procedure, we celebrated my daughter’s eighth birthday with an outdoor pool party. I clomped around the pool deck on my lame foot in my bulky black boot, disregarding the pain. The following Monday I chaperoned my daughter’s second grade class on a boat excursion to study the local saltwater specimens. We marveled at the multiple dolphin pods we encountered, taking in the majestic creatures feeding, playing and rolling upside down on the water’s surface. I noticed how the sea breeze felt gently grazing my face. I was happy to embrace these moments before the coming weeks of immobility when my usually active life would be on freeze frame.

Post-surgery, I am non-weight bearing for at least four weeks and cannot yet drive a car.  I have fears that when I do put my foot down to take that first step, I will feel immense pain or will not be able to stride normally. My right foot feels weird, like I am missing something. My present finds me lying in bed or sitting on my new perch, the sofa, streaming endless hours of whatever happens to be on TV. I know a lot of us moms dream of being couch potatoes—I have fantasized about watching marathons of HGTV episodes or Dateline while doing nothing else. Well, the dream has turned to reality, and let me tell you, eternal couch-potatoeing is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The first day or so post-surgery, I felt like a newborn baby, alternating between alertness for a few hours followed by sleep, repeated again and again. As the pain lessened and I transitioned off the strong meds to good old Advil, I resolved to remain awake during daytime hours. Five days post-surgery, I have evolved to wearing contacts, getting dressed and maintaining a clean face. I still can’t get the incision wet, so showers are out of the question, but I successfully took a bath a few nights ago, while propping my foot out of the water. I have also become quite adept at knee-scooting on my wheeled device or utilizing the crutches in tight spaces, like the bathroom.

I know I am not the only mother who has faced a health challenge like this. Many parents face more serious health battles, like cancer. I am fortunate because my foot is expected to heal, so daydreams of biking to the beach on a new shiny beach cruiser with a quaint woven basket and walking my dogs around the neighborhood keep me going. Some parents have no guarantee of their return to normal activities, and some fight the illness of their lives. There are many role models to look to when one gets down in the dumps about their current state of health. I think about amputees who returned from war-torn countries, patients undergoing grueling chemotherapy and elite college athletes facing career-ending injuries. If people facing those obstacles can keep their chin up and cling onto hope, then I can feel grateful and optimistic that this temporary hiccup will eventually heal.

There isn’t much I can do without use of my foot, along with strict doctor’s orders to lay low these first few weeks post-surgery. Sometimes sitting in a cool, dark house gets a tad depressing, and House Hunters becomes a little mundane. Yesterday I decided I needed to hobble outside and relax on a lounge chair to feel the warmth of the sun and enjoy our re-mulched garden and blooming spring flowers. My husband and I sat on the deck for nearly an hour as our son seesawed and rode his tricycle. I noticed the little things, like the yellow butterfly that constantly flits around our garden, the cloudless and perfect blue sky, and the paths of the small airplanes dotting the ether. My life might be on pause, but I still need to find and appreciate meaning and beauty in each day we are given here. And also remember to hold onto faith, hope, determination, patience, resilience and a positive attitude.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com.

Reward Charts—From Candy to Corvettes

TafreshiFamily-Sept2015_045By: Aimee Tafreshi

I hazily remember lying in the hospital bed holding my third child, while my 21-month-old son and four-year-old daughter waited at home. The nurse gave me some sage advice about paying attention to the eldest children while caring for a newborn. “Do a responsibility chart for the four-year-old,” she advised. She explained that children that age did well with a sticker chart as positive reinforcement. Knowing I would need maximum resources in my arsenal with three small children, I took the wise nurse’s advice to heart.

Soon after, I ordered a personalized, fancy responsibility chart for my daughter with cutely illustrated tasks or goals on Velcro labels. Examples of such positively reinforced behaviors included “Eat My Veggies,” “Try Not To Whine” (nearly impossible!), and “Say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.’” For parents facing other issues, the kit included blank labels for any other problem areas. We immediately wrote “Listen!” on a blank form. It’s shocking this behavior did not come standard on the chart. We labeled another one “Wildcard” to address any random behaviors that popped up.

At the end of the day, my husband or I would go through the five responsibilities of the week with our daughter, rewarding a gold star for achieving one, or withholding the coveted star if her behavior fell short. Every Sunday, we set a goal for a certain number of stars required to earn the weekly reward. At the beginning of each new week, we jointly decided on a reasonable reward with our daughter’s input. Examples of incentives that came standard with the kit included “Go to a movie or rent a DVD” (easy enough), “Go out for a treat” (another favorite), “A new book” (double bonus, encouraging reading), or “A new pet” (Are you *$%#@*% kidding me?!). Needless to say, we didn’t utilize the new pet option.

Not surprisingly, listening, whining and using good manners were the most difficult stars to earn. We would set the amount of stars needed to earn a reward high enough to require consistently good behavior but reasonable enough to allow occasional slip-ups and off days. Though not perfect, the chart seemed to encourage greater awareness of desired behaviors and nudge our daughter toward picking up her toys or finishing her portion of veggies.

Eventually, our middle child reached the ripe old age of four, and we decided a star chart might be just the ticket to get him in line. His goals overlapped somewhat with our daughter’s but he had some unique objectives as well, like “Don’t use bad language,” a necessity for his potty mouth. A write-in option included “Wipe yourself.” I’m not sure why the star chart makers didn’t include that personal hygiene milestone.

Like our daughter, whining tripped him up often, and he frequently stumbled on “showing respect.” However, he beamed with pride at the end of each week when he usually managed to achieve his goal, and the chart did encourage him to pick up his toys and even the messes made by his little brother.

Creating and maintaining a star chart week-to-week does take a commitment on the part of the parents, and sometimes life gets busy, and the chart falls by the wayside. Toward the end of last year, when my husband became insanely busy at work, the charts entered into a state of neglect. He eventually began traveling for his job, and I didn’t have the time or energy to focus on this extra responsibility. I felt like I deserved a gold star for keeping everyone clothed, fed, alive and relatively clean.

With my husband’s absence, the natives became unruly, knowing they could take advantage of their “good cop” mom. If I was going to survive solo parenting three wild children, I needed to bring in the big guns. I was going to create the mother of all responsibility charts. There was nothing fancy about it—no monogrammed names—all I required was a piece of plain white paper, a Sharpie (different colors if I was feeling creative), a piece of tape, a plastic bucket and a bunch of cheap crap from China. With that in mind, I promptly headed to the local dollar store to buy up their gadgets, trinkets and other goodies to stuff into the bucket (also acquired for a dollar).

Any non-crafty mom can put together this reward chart. Simply write the days of the week across the top row (abbreviate if you are feeling especially lazy), and write in your children’s names or initials along the left-hand side. Create a column for each day and a row for each child, and you are set. This is not a complex chart. I give a single sticker out at the end of each day per child based on the totality of the day’s behaviors. There is no assessing different elements or types of conduct. Bottom-line: was Junior a helper or a huge butthead? Just go with your gut on these determinations.

For a good day, the child will get a sticker of my choosing. Have fun with it—I used St. Patrick’s Day stickers in March. When I run out of stickers, I take my trusty Sharpie and draw on a lopsided looking smiley face. For the child who fails to earn a sticker? He is either left with a blank square for the day, or if I’m having fun, a big diagonal line through the day, or a dramatic sad face.

The chart also ingeniously plays on the children’s natural competiveness with each other. The child with the most stickers will get to draw out of the coveted prize bucket first. Since no reward is alike, there is an incentive to earn the most stickers and choose the first prize. For children tying in their number of smiley faces, we follow a system similar to how college football conferences decide who goes to their championship game. It’s super straightforward and easy to apply our rules. Basically, if you drew first last week, your sibling will draw first this week. Easy peasy!

The appeal of my prize bucket is its immediacy and tangible nature—the children see the potential rewards of their hard work dangling in their faces everyday. So the reward is not some abstract, to-be-determined prize in the stratosphere.

Recently, my daughter wrote down some suggestions for prizes I might purchase for the prize bucket. Her handwritten list went something like this: “makeup to[o],” “I like white tictacs,” “Siance books” (I hope she means “science” and not “séance”), “bath toys,” “stuffed animals” (you can’t ever have enough stuffed animals), and “peppermint ‘gumb’ that says long lasting ‘gumb.’” I appreciated her specific instructions. Mom needs all the help she can get!

Looking down the road, my daughter helpfully brainstormed a list of rewards for the future, things that might entice my children to behave when they are teenagers. The list read as follows, like a ransom note: “$200,” “Birds from Petco,” “our own phone,” “our own car,” and finally, a “trampoline.”

I’m now thinking these reward charts may have an expiration date. Otherwise the responsibilities might need to include a well-paying full-time job.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com.

Make a Spring Break For It

By: Aimee Tafreshi

IMG_0128Punxsatawney Phil did not see his shadow last month, so Groundhog Day left us with a prediction of an early spring. For some, the end of winter means putting up the snow blower, downgrading from a down jacket to a fleece and not worrying about the next blizzard. For others, it simply means we can put our cardigans back in the bottom drawer, and stop wearing socks with our flip-flops.

Spring is a time of rebirth, reawakening and … vacation! March is here, and in a few weeks, students will start the time-honored tradition of Spring Break, their week of freedom from school. Spring Break can be a source of excitement for children, or utter dread for parents. Many parents do not have the luxury to take a week off from work and other commitments to plan a get-away for their brood. For those lucky enough to have the time and resources to get away, here are some ideas for places to maximize your family fun.

Stay Cozy with a Luxe Staycation

For many, the thought of air travel, with its bag restrictions, weather delays and scaled back services, is not an appealing option. Throw in a couple of impatient, pint-size travelers, and a one-stop flight can turn into a never-ending nightmare. Gas prices are super low, but some parents cringe at the idea of road-tripping it with babies or toddlers. Hazards of road travel include frequent chants of “Are we there yet?”, bathroom stops every twenty minutes, and occasional projectile vomiting from carsickness. (If you go down this road, I strongly recommend Dramimine for Kids, which conveniently induces sleep while preventing nausea).

A staycation is the ideal solution for parents who don’t want to mess with the headaches of traveling. Yes, you will still have to pack your bags, but if you forget something, you can just run back home. Do you live in a city with a kid-friendly hotel, or one that offers roomy suites and a nice pool, or proximity to local attractions? I reside in a touristy town, so we are fortunate to be down the road from two acclaimed beachfront resorts, but you don’t have to live near the coast for a cool hotel stay.

For those in Austin, three resorts jumped out at me as the ultimate family destination: the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, and Lakeway Resort and Spa. Each of these resorts offers amenities such as kids’ camps, kid-dedicated pool areas and recreation schedules for the whole family to enjoy. Not to mention, the “Spa” part—relax with a massage while your mini-me is hiking through the beautiful hill country with her new friends. Just remember the sunscreen and bug spray!

For those closer to San Antonio, the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa boasts a lazy river, five-acre water park and pools, poolside cabanas for protection from the sun, and a zero-entry wading pool for the littlest water babies. From this sprawling property, you can easily eat and drink your way around the San Antonio River Walk, remember the Alamo, shop at El Mercado, go spelunking at Natural Bridge Caverns, explore the historic Spanish colonial missions or seek cultural enrichment at the Witte Museum, in addition to the city’s various theme parks. I grew up in San Antonio and remember field trips to many of these attractions, which I took for granted at the time. One day I hope to take my kids to this city filled with Texas history and rich culture.

Even if you don’t live close to a resort with all the amenities, look for a hotel that offers options like family-friendly suites, free breakfast and an inviting pool. Kids are easily entertained and don’t need an 18-hole golf course. Poolside food and drink service is a plus!

The “I’m on a Budget” Staycation

Many of us don’t have the funds set aside to stay at a fancy resort. You don’t have to check in to a hotel to live up your (kids’) Spring Break to the fullest. Get together with your offspring, and make a list of activities in your area you would like to do together. Seek input from the smallest to the eldest children. You can designate each day, or morning, for a particular outing. Many museums offer a free day of admission each week to the public; you may want to use that day to check it out for free, or if fewer crowds are important, go during an off-peak time. Google searches now allow you to view the “popular times” of particular venues to determine crowd levels.

Some ideas for daily excursions include: a picnic at the neighborhood park, trips to the zoo or aquarium, an easy hike at a nature preserve with trails, a visit to a children’s museum, an art museum with a kid-friendly section, a museum of natural history, a low-profile sporting event (ex: high school baseball game, local soccer match), volunteering at a lake or beach cleanup or soup kitchen, going to a scenic location in your city with sketch pads, and colored pencils or water colors, and drawing or painting what you see. Many of these activities obviously depend on your children’s ages.

I have discovered that the older my children get, the more complex the activities can be. With a baby or toddler, you need to respect their feeding and sleeping schedules, and work around those times with easy, no fuss outings. A walk around the block with a months-old baby can be considered a successful outing when the new mother has been cooped up in the house for days.

The All-You-Can-Everything Option

Many days I dream of an all-inclusive vacation near a sandy beach and turquoise waters where my children are whisked away to an enriching kids’ club. The hubby and I will lounge by the pool, drink piña coladas and snorkel. I have spent countless hours researching this dream trip, and the destination that checks all the boxes is Beaches Turks & Caicos. The price tag is enormous, especially for a suite, as my husband and I require separation from our children in the evening hours. I put this resort on my bucket list, and until then, I will dream of basking in the glowing sun with bottomless drinks.

Another promising destination is the Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica. This property caught my eye on TripAdvisor one day when I read glowing reviews of its nanny service(!). Each family is paired with a nanny to care for the children during the day so the parents can enjoy their time together. These nannies come with the all-inclusive package and also act as your personal assistant and refrigerator stocker. I’m all for quality family time, but I’m sure the kiddos would have a blast with their nanny playing on the beach in the Caribbean. I wouldn’t feel an ounce of guilt.

Disney World & Theme Parks

We live in Florida, so naturally every week someone’s Facebook post includes pictures from their latest trip to Disney World. We have braved Disney World twice, once staying at the budget-friendly and fun themed Disney property, the Art of Animation Resort, and the other time staying “off-property” (some Disney fans shudder at this word.) Disney World is a lot like childbirth. I forget how painful it is, and then I decide to give it another shot. A glutton for punishment, I have considered visiting the land of Mickey Mouse this spring.

If I do take the plunge, I have my eye on Disney’s Old Key West Resort. The suites are large, the property is older and less hectic than the other resorts, and you can take a boat ride to Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney).

Besides Disney World, Orlando has a ton of appealing attractions such as Universal Studios, Discovery Cove, Legoland and Gatorland. I personally would not visit Disney World during Spring Break but would instead opt to pull the kids out of school in late April, as waiting in lines for hours with thousands of people is not my idea of a fun vacation.

Take a Cruise

If you live near a departure port, like Galveston or Miami, a cruise could be an excellent option for a family vacation. There are many different price points, types of cruises and destinations offered. I have heard from many experienced cruisers that Disney Cruise Line is top notch. Carnival has caught my eye in the past because they offer a kids’ club to ages three and up, which would suit my family’s needs, and appear budget-friendly, though the extras can quickly add up.

If you don’t mind sticking to a ship’s schedule, or worry about a sickness outbreak or rough seas (can you tell I am afraid to go on a cruise?), then hitting the high seas might be an ideal way to explore different vacation spots and literally be entertained from dusk until dawn. (Don’t forget the stretchy yoga pants because I hear the food options are out of this world!)

The Great Outdoors

This is the option that I know the least about, because we have yet to take our children camping. We live near a beautiful state park, where you can rent a spot and plop down your camper or tent. Personally the camping that calls to me includes cabins and running water, or its modern spin-off, “glamping.” There is something appealing about hearing the crickets at night, roasting s’mores over a blazing campfire and bonding in the simple pleasures of nature.

For those in need of nearby civilization and fake characters, I have heard rave reviews about Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, a campground property within the Magic Kingdom (with posh cabins or basic campsite set-ups), as well as Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. These options cater to families with outdoor amenities and cuddly characters like Chip ‘n’ Dale hanging around the campfire. We plan to go camping in the future with our three young children, and I will report back with my observations.

Send Your Kids Away

And the final option, which is appealing in its own right, is a Spring Break camp for kids. It’s a safe bet that your city contains multiple options for your children, whether through their after-school programs, the YMCA, the local kid-friendly museums or sports, to name a few. If you can’t take time off or swing a family vacation, or would rather enjoy your quiet time at home spring cleaning or watching HGTV, sign your kids up for a camp. They will come home worn out each day, and you can rest easy knowing that they are making happy memories during their time off without breaking the bank or your sanity.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She has no affiliation with any of the hotel properties mentioned in this blog, other than being in desperate need of a vacation. For how not to do Disney, check out her recounting of a disastrous trip here.

I Resolve To Be A Couch Potato (And Other Resolutions)

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In case you hadn’t seen all the ads on TV for cheap gym memberships and weight loss plans, January is here! Society commands us to start fresh and emerge from our holiday cocoon as new and improved human beings. All of a sudden, we need to morph into fit and healthy goddesses with shiny hair and a fat wallet. It’s time to become perfect, people.

This is the time of year that I least enjoy the gym because all of the machines are taken like coveted parking spots, and the group exercise classes only have room against the back wall. I know that by March, much of the New Year’s crowd will have dissipated.

Even though I fashion myself as a writer, I don’t usually jot down any New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I keep a mental list in my head of things I would like to accomplish or improve upon. (This is smart because there is no accountability.) This year’s aspirations are a little different than past years, but I think these goals might have tangible benefits.

For starters, I resolve to not work out. This is a difficult resolution for a Zumba instructor and Les Mills devotee. I have not hit the gym since I broke my foot last month, and it is nearly torture. On the advice of my doctor, I tried swimming laps with my bum foot and ended up needing a hospital visit as a result. So while images of celebrity “beach bodies” and “biggest losers” taunt me off the pages of my beloved gossip magazines, I must feel content to accept my slightly tighter jeans and softening abs.

My “no exercise” plan goes hand-in-hand with my next resolution: eat real food. I’m not going to start counting calories, go on a liquid diet or pop pill supplements, but I am going to eat less processed foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I am not a “veggie person,” but I figure if I start treating food like the fuel that is necessary to power my body, then perhaps these nutrients can expedite the healing of my foot. Revolutionary, right?!

Plus, with healthier meals, I am less likely to gain extra weight with my new sedentary lifestyle. (I am usually a follower of the “work out hard, eat a ton of food” school of thought. Your body can function on this approach if you are burning a lot of calories. Take out the key ingredient of exercise, however, and you are simply stuffing your face.)

I also resolve to eat more mindfully. I will listen to my body. I will eat when my stomach cues me that I am hungry, and I will attempt to stop munching when I feel satisfied, before the point of beyond full (even when inhaling chips and queso). I will also enjoy dessert, but I won’t eat it every night, because it is a treat, not a habit. I will make sure to savor each bite and pick out only sweets that I am craving. (If you want chocolate, eat chocolate, better yet, make it dark!)

I will also savor a glass of my favorite red wine in the evening, but I will try to stop with glass number one. I will allow the calming effects of a glass of vino to set in before reaching for glass number two and incurring a headache. Antioxidants are healthy; overindulging is not.

And speaking of chilling out, I will resolve to relax. Before my foot injury, other than my writing time, I could barely sit down. When the kids were home from school, I would stay standing because sitting down was an invitation for them to ask for something else. I stood at the ready, anticipating each need before they even verbalized it. Four days a week, we raced around to extracurricular activities. I was always hustling them like a football coach, “Come on, hurry! The play clock is running out!”

My bum foot has taught me, rather forced me, to slow down. I currently move at the pace of a geriatric turtle. Needless to say we have trimmed our list of obligations, and now we are driving to activities merely twice a week, a marked improvement. We have culled down the list of “must do’s” to the endeavors our children truly enjoy. This reduction in obligations is part of my resolution to simplify, streamline and purge unnecessary items, distractions and “enrichment” activities.

We also have a garage full of overflowing bins of baby clothes and various things collected over the last few decades. I plan to slowly chip away at getting rid of every extraneous item that we don’t need or use, with the plan to consign or donate these obsolete possessions.

Related to slowing down, I resolve to sit on the couch and watch TV. You would think a stay-at-home mother watches a ton of television, but I rarely do. Sometimes you just gotta kick your feet up for thirty minutes, put on your favorite home improvement show or true crime story and veg out. I vow to take more advantage of my kid-free, down time because goodness knows there is no relaxing once the three little ones are at home.

Speaking of kid-freedom, I vow to kick “mommy guilt” to the curb. I think most of us moms feel guilty about something from time to time, if not everyday, with respect to our children and our choices. My sons recently transitioned to a full-time schedule at their preschool to permit me more time to sit and heal, since my husband is seldom home due to work.

Do I ever feel guilty that they are at day care, and I am not heading to an office to help pay for this added expense? Yes. Do I feel guilty that they are now at school from morning until evening without seeing their Mommy? Yes, I do. But I also realize that the quicker my foot heals, the sooner I will be able to go on walks and bike rides with them and kick the soccer ball on the field. I resolve to trade short-term guilt for long-term rewards.

And when the children are at home in my care, I resolve to set the phone down, turn the laptop off and focus on those little human beings. I resolve to take in their faces, their voices, their silly comments and even their bickering. Social media and online distractions will always be there, but my children won’t. One day they will stare at their phones tuning me out. I better pay attention to them now while they are still talking to me.

I resolve to have more patience with others and myself. The house will not look super organized while I am using crutches, and if papers stack up, the world will not end. I will feel more in tune with others in need and ask myself if the elderly person in the grocery store needs help reaching an item but is too proud to ask. Because once you’ve had some of your physical independence removed, it makes you think about others who are even less mobile and able.

On the professional front, I resolve to finish writing a legal thriller that has been outlined and sitting in a drawer since 2004. Whatever your goal is, you have to carve out the time and make yourself do it. I have a silly saying that I tell myself: Stop, drop and write. It means stop doing anything else, stop making excuses, and drop into your desk chair and write. It’s simple but the mantra works. Whatever your goal is in 2016, in the words of Nike, JUST DO IT.

Okay, I said I wouldn’t exercise but I lied. I’m going to try to find a new way to exercise that doesn’t put weight on my foot. I’m going to follow in the footsteps of warriors who take a hit but get up and keep on fighting. If I can’t use my foot, then I will use an exercise band and small weights to keep in shape. But if I get tired or if the movement hurts, I will stop and rest. We all need to listen to our bodies and common sense.

I will seek out an adventure that I can do, like kayaking on a weekend. We humans have things that limit us in our lives, whether physical, temporal, monetary or something else. But we can seek to work with what we do have and open up an undiscovered world of possibilities. Here’s to challenging yourself in 2016.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. If you would like to help Aimee get her legal thriller published, please vote for it here.