Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dating Our Kids

On Sunday my husband took our little girl on a date to see Monsters University. I was sure to talk up the event and he accused me of being as excited about their upcoming outing as she was. I can't say that I was more excited than our daughter. After all, we had a nearly impossible time keeping her focused on anything through church. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have reminded my slowly awakening daughter what she was going to be doing after church, but yes, I was excited for them. It wasn't like I was going to be getting "me" time during their date. I would be spending time at home with our son, but I was excited for my daughter. She not only got to see a movie, she got to spend quality time being treated like a princess by her daddy. While it was rare, I vividly remember "dates" with my dad: going to the Home-a-Rama in the Detroit area when I was only a little older than my daughter is now and going to see both Back To the Future 2 and 3. They were great moments and memories I will always have. I want my daughter to have even more of those memories.

When I found out we were having a boy to make for a complete All-American Family set, I had a thought: our children deserved the opportunity to spend one on one time with both of their parents, but more importantly they needed to spend quality time with the parent of the opposite sex. Why? Parents need to date their kids.

Parenting experts have made this suggestion for years, but I wonder how many of us make a habit of doing just that. Many of us parents have a hard enough time fitting in dating each other (I know that is something that we are constantly failing at) let alone our kids, but I believe it is important, which is why I was so excited about our daughter going to eat lunch and see a movie with just her Daddy. And it is why I can't wait until my two-year-old is just a little older to appreciate actual outings with Mommy so that we can begin our own ritual.

Dads need to date their daughters. Girls who have good relationships with their fathers are more likely to delay sexual activity, less likely to get pregnant, and more likely to be successful in school. They have a higher self-esteem and better relationships. And they are more likely to form relationships that lead to successful marriages. When Daddy takes them out and shows them how a real man treats their significant other, girls grow up understanding that they should not tolerate the abuses that teenage boys might throw their way. They understand what it is like to spend time with someone who loves them unconditionally, reflecting their Heavenly Father's love for them. And if the date doesn't go perfectly, they eventually learn how to resolve the conflict because they have to go home and live under the same roof as their Daddy.

Moms need to date their sons. They need to teach their sons how to treat women. They need to give their sons the opportunity to practice being a gentleman without risking being laughed at or offending a potential significant other. They need to learn that dating is not a gateway to sex but instead a gateway to friendship and a potential long term relationship, or even marriage. Just like with daughters, sons learn about the power of unconditional love by spending quality time with their mothers.

In addition I need to "date" my daughter and my husband needs to "date" our son. One-on-one time with our kids keeps us from losing track of them. It keeps the lines of communication open with our children. I'm reminded of a great scene in the movie Horton Hears a Who (very cute film that expands the brilliant Dr. Seuss book while maintaining the original intent of his story) in which the mayor is trying to keep track of time spent with each of his 100 children (99 girls and 1 boy) with a timer. Once the timer sounds the next child is shuffled towards him to talk to him about whatever topic is most important to them. They get only seconds to talk to their dad before they are shuffled along. While a cute scene the mom in me struggles to see the development of any kind of relationship with the Mayor's daughters. While this example is entirely fictional, it highlights the age old question of quantity vs. quality time, something with which I constantly struggle, especially as a working mom. And all of us parents of young children know that we are operating on borrowed time. At some point, kids shut down. Our daughter has no secrets, but I know that will change. And if experience is any indicator, someday our son and daughter will know way more about each other than we know about them (at least I know that is the case with my sisters). But I don't want to be shut out of their lives. There are probably things I won't want to know. And even if I am teaching at the same school they are attending, it is likely that there will be a lot of things I will be unaware of. I want to know my kids even if I don't know everything about their lives. I want to know them well enough that I can tell when things are REALLY wrong even if they refuse to open up about it, at least at first. That might be idealistic, but it's what I want, and I'm hoping that dating my kids will help me in that quest.

Being a parent is hard. Finding time is hard. But we need to do it. Yes, we need to first be an example to our kids by dating our spouses. They need to see how healthy relationships work. But then we need to show them how to treat their significant others by taking them out. I want my daughter to know what it is to be treated like a princess. I want my son to know what it is to treat another man's little girl like a princess. And I want to know my kids, really know my kids. I'll let you know how that's working for me in 10 years.

Stepping Up the Curb Appeal

When you move into a house that is a disgusting mess on the inside, the outside kind of gets forgotten. After all, you need a place where you can safely live on the inside, right? At least that was our primary concern when we moved into our house. The first summer the outside was primarily ignored, except for my husband's proud purchase of a tractor mower which actually gets a significant amount of use. You see, we have a HUGE front and backyard. It was a selling point, and still is when we think about all the space our kids have for playing, except neither of us are great at yard work. But that is for another blog and another time.

In addition to the interior of the house which has rather large things that bug me, the exterior has had several small things that bug me. While I was working diligently on the living room (Part 1 and Part 2), I decided to tackle some of those smaller projects. First came the front door, which had a faded, poorly painted green color that did not match the forest green of the outside shutters. Perhaps at one time it did match, but no more. My guess is that they didn't use exterior paint, but I also don't know how long ago that door was painted. The front flower box had the same issues.

I am inexplicably enamored with the idea of using red in living areas (I'm not a bold person and perhaps the use of red makes me feel more bold) and I wanted a nice deep red for the front door. So after my daughter's weekly gymnastics lesson at the daycare from where we are taking a summer hiatus, we headed to the home improvement store and I made the bold decision to buy paint. I started prepping that afternoon, was interrupted by the windows guy who was giving us an estimate on our new front and living room windows, and finally got a start on the front door. I painted the first coat while the kids played in the family room and then was bombarded by the request of a two and four-year-old to paint. I am a high school teacher. Early childhood creativity is low in my skillset, but as my children have gotten older, I have discovered an ability to occasionally come up with brilliant ideas. Armed with cups of water and cheap paint brushes, we headed outside so they could "paint" while I painted the flowerbox.

When my husband returned home, he found projects started but not completed. He hates that, but these were projects I knew I could complete quickly. I then mentioned the door to our family room, which is also in the front of the house. That door also looked horrible, but I had no idea what to do with it.

I was honestly concerned that it would look odd to have two front doors the same color, almost like they were two equally important entrances. My husband, however, suggested that it might be a good idea to paint it the same color for uniformity. He was right. I painted the second front door and it also looks spectacular.

The final front exterior project was painting the peeling, rusted railing in the front of the house leading to the main front door.

It looked awful, so with spray paint (and a few mistakes that will have to be erased by a power washer) it also looks significantly better.

While the inside is slowly shaping up, so is the outside. Our house does look a little like a Christmas house now with the green shutters and red doors, but eventually we will get those shutters down so that we can paint those as well. And I'm sure that our neighbors appreciate the front yard looking significantly better.



Now if I could only decide that I really love gardening, our backyard would also look fantastic, but as I said at the beginning, that is another blog post for another time.

Friday, June 21, 2013

So What Really Are the Best Years?

Every new parent has heard the warning: "Enjoy these years; they go by so fast." Yes, yes they do, but after spending a delightful morning and afternoon with my four-year-old and two-year-old I have to say that I do not miss the baby years.

My beautiful children were beautiful babies: chubby, blond, and the spitting image of...their father. I love my husband very much, but hearing over and over again that there was no mistaking the paternity of our children, especially with our little girl, got a little old. I really wanted a baby that looked like me, but apparently the genes run strong on my husband's side, and there was no escape for our children. I loved both children long before for they were born, from the moment we knew we were pregnant the love grew with each stage: the first ultrasound, the first kick, and the first time I held both of them in my arms. But each newborn experience brought its challenges. Our daughter was a terrible nurser, and at six weeks looked right at me with eyes that said "yeah, right." From that point on she was primarily on formula. It was an experience that brought on many not-so-proud parenting moments, including sobbing as I practically yelled at my two-week-old that she was going to starve if she didn't eat while she was screaming at me because she was hungry and just wanted a bottle. I had the opposite problem with our son who was insatiable. I couldn't feed him enough and felt like I spent the first weeks of his life with a baby attached to me at all times. Our challenge with our son was a series of ear infections that disrupted his sleep to the point where we are just now consistently sleeping through the night.

I loved their baby smell, kissing their tiny faces, fingers, and toes, snuggling when they allowed us to, watching them grow and experiencing all the new milestones (rolling over, crawling, first steps, first words, etc.) But there is a lot I don't miss. I don't miss waking up several times in the middle of the night, falling asleep in a rocking chair while feeding my infant and waking up thankful that I didn't drop my baby, a crying baby incapable of telling me what is wrong, having to carry an increasingly heavy child everywhere because they hadn't learned to walk yet, and many other things that I have apparently blocked out. It must be God's way of convincing us that we can have more than one child. It's not like we take pictures of the rough times with our children.

This summer, as I spend time with my lively, imaginative, and increasingly verbal children I am discovering that I not only love them dearly, but I find them to be a lot of fun to be around. Some might see this as callous. I said I love babies, but my experience over the last three weeks is teaching me that it only gets better. Yes, I did treasure the time that I spent with my babies, and I'm sure I'll miss those times when we hit the dreaded teen years (if my husband is any indication, we may be shipping my son off to military school around his 16th birthday) but listening to my son's growing vocabulary or my daughter's elaborate plans for when she and her brother are all grown up and living on their own (she currently sweetly believes that she is going to live with her brother and they are going to build a house together) and watching them play (and yes, fight) together with an imagination that I wish my students had still possessed when I directed the musical Seusical is just FUN! The first time my youngest (and at the time very single) sister visited her newborn niece she commented on the fact that she didn't really do anything. At the time it made me laugh. After all, I was a new mother madly in love with my little girl. She was everything. She wasn't boring. After four years watching her grow into the funny, smart, insightful, intelligent little girl she is now I can safely agree that yes, she was boring, but at the time I was rightly enjoying the moment, the experience of being a new parent who was enjoying the little bundle that God had blessed me with. But I'm loving this new stage as well. I'm more rested, I can have a conversation with both of my children (although conversations with a two-year-old are very limited), they both love sitting and listening to me read books, and their world is so BIG, at least in their eyes. Yes, as parents we should treasure each stage, including those dreaded teen years, and yes they go fast. But are any years really the best years? I don't think so. I believe they can only get better. And now I think I will go back to watching my children paint the front of my house with water and cheap paintbrushes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Light As a Feather?

Well, not quite. When most people say they are at high school weight, it indicates a certain skinniness. I've never been that skinny. Slender yes, skinny no. And as the older sister of three sisters who have always appeared skinnier than me, I've had lifelong body issues. Even when I was in the best shape of my life (high school) I didn't see myself as skinny. My body issues were never enough to driving me to eating disorders. I like food too much to be anorexic and I hate the stomach flu too much to be bulimic. And that is not to downplay those very serious eating disorders. I could have very easily have been one of those girls (or boys) who succumbed to an eating disorder. I am a control freak, I don't share my deepest feelings very easily, I moved in 6th grade and the summer before my junior year which seriously disrupted my support system of friends twice, and like most teenage girls, I hated the way I looked. The reality is that my love for food and disdane for puke is what kept me from being one of many secretly hiding their struggle with food from their friends and family.

My struggle didn't go away when I left for college. In fact, my struggle with weight only got worse. I hit my lowest weight my senior year of high school. I was happy with myself and I honestly felt relatively skinny for the first time, well, ever. But then came late nights of studying and a campus cafeteria that served ice cream and the best deserts ever. Convinced I was shrinking my clothes in the campus washers and dryers, I stepped on the scale when I went home at Thanksgiving. Nope, Freshmen 15 strikes another victim. I returned to school with a renewed determination to work out and lose the weight. But I was 18. It's a lot easier when you are 18. I managed to keep it that way for over a year, then an awesome semester in London changed all that.

It wasn't just the carb loading. Yeah, in Europe there is a lot of really good bread to eat and the fish and chip shop was just down the street. We walked a lot. In fact, we walked everywhere, so I should have been getting enough exercise. What really destroyed my waistline was that while everyone else was enjoying the lowered drinking age by drinking local brews I discovered that liquor with fruit juice is amazing! At least, to my 20 year old self it was amazing. It also added A LOT of calories to my diet. When I returned to the States I discovered that I had gained at least 10 pounds.

It was weight that never went away. I kept working out. I was pretty faithful about it. But I also turned 21 and then eventually moved off of campus and was cooking for myself. By the time I started trying to get pregnant several years later and then started hormone treatments when it just wasn't happening, I gained more weight. By the time I was pregnant I was definitely not where I wanted to be with my weight. I started working out again after our daughter was born, but I still didn't lose all the weight. Then I got pregnant again and once again I was gaining more pounds, this time concerned that by the time I gave birth I would hit a number from which I would never psychologically recover.

Then my husband got serious about losing weight for his company's weight loss challenge and he encouraged me to work on it with him. He knew I wasn't happy with my weight a year after our son was born and three years after our daughter was born. So, with my brand new iPhone 5 loaded with apps and the new Fitbits that we purchased together, I got serious. I set my first goal (15 pounds) and then started tracking my calories with My Fitness Pal. What I got was a dose of reality.

My husband had been telling me for years that I had been sabotaging him. Feeding him the wrong foods and encouraging him to eat food late at night when he shouldn't have been. Yes, he is a grown man and can take care of himself, but he was right. I had NO idea how much I was eating. I knew I liked food a lot. What I didn't realize was that I had a slight addiction to it. It was an addiction that had kept me slightly overweight (according to my BMI) since before we got married. Once I started tracking and seeing how much I was eating, I was able to cut back. And I really cut back. While my plan had me at losing one pound a week, there were some weeks I lost more than that. Oh, I hit frustrating plateaus, but I didn't stay on them and in less than five months I hit my adjusted goal of 23 pounds. Now I vacillate between 22-25 pounds lost, but I'm happy where I am. At least, I'm happy with my weight. I have other body issues now, like my mommy badge of honor (a slight baby belly that needs some serious toning) and the fact that I lost at least a whole cup size in the process, but I'm healthy and a good example for my kids, especially my daughter. And I'm also proud to announce that my husband lost at least 25 pounds (and second place at work) in the process as well, and I continue to encourage him to not give up on it. In fact, we both weigh less now than when we got married.

So one of my goals for 2013 is complete. Now I just have to maintain it. I won't be slipping into a bikini anytime soon (I said I still have that baby belly to consider) but I'm very happy with my shrinking pants size and the fact that I have a lot more energy with which to chase around my two little monsters. Like so many women I will continue to struggle with my body image, and as the clock ticks towards 40, I know that my body will most likely rebel against me at some point. But hey, 40 is the new 30 now, right? At least I hope to treat it that way and I look forward to many more healthy years to come with my husband and babies.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

More Wallpaper: The Living Room Saga - Part 2

Sometimes our flaws and good qualities are the same thing. For me, one of my simultaneous flaws/positives is that I can get very focused on a task and do not stop until I finish a task. That might be why several house projects have been at a standstill. During the school year I can't divert my attention from all my teaching responsibilities (lesson planning, grading, parent communication) to take time to work on something in the house while still maintaining important time for my family. Evidence of my ridiculous focus would be the time I put into working on our guest room when we first moved into the house. I stayed up late several nights in a row to get the room done. I needed to have at least one pretty room in the house, and I lost sleep making sure that happened.

So it should be no surprise that I have worked tirelessly since Sunday to FINALLY finish our living room walls. These walls have been the bane of my existence for three years, and I decided that they needed to be done before I could get anything else accomplished this summer. Our living and dining room need to look good.

Monday afternoon I started tackling the wallpaper as soon as the kids were down for naps. I refused to stop for the day until I had removed all the paper and sanded off excess from one wall. My initial thought was that if I could at least get this wall painted and finished I would feel better. Monday night I crawled into bed at 1 a.m.

The reality is that having one more nice wall wasn't enough. Tuesday morning I started by repairing the wall that was completely stripped. Then during naps (which didn't last very long) I started stripping the rest of the walls, in the process incurring one wallpaper removal injury while I was finishing the last wall.

Regardless of the injury, I would not rest until the walls were completely stripped and further wall repair was done. Tuesday night I crawled into bed at 12:50 a.m.

Wednesday morning I got up before Jeff, ate breakfast and got started on sanding down the walls that had dried from wallpaper removal the night before. Then, while trying to keep both kids out of the mess (another hazard of home improvement) I worked on the last of the wall repair. During naptime I started washing down one wall. Once both kids were awake, I got a little more done and was all set to stay up late for another night priming. Then the megastorm hit. I spent the rest of Wednesday night carefully watching the weather and waiting for a warning that would have us getting the kids out of bed and into the basement. Thankfully that warning never came.

Thursday morning was busy, but between our daughter's gymnastics lesson and swimming lesson we managed a trip to Lowes to get a can of paint so that I could paint our front door and front flower box. One project wasn't enough. I needed another project to occupy my time. Actually, my reasoning was that I couldn't get much wall painting done while the kids were awake, so instead I would do small projects while they were napping and save the wall painting for when they crashed for the night. That would have worked, except that our son took a really short nap while the window guy was here to give us an estimate on window replacement. After the window guy left, I had the kids play downstairs while I quickly painted the front door and then I took them outside to play while I painted the front flower box. They were very excited about Mommy's painting project, so I gave both of them cups of water and cheap paint brushes to "paint" the front steps while I painted the front flower box. They were thrilled and I got a coat of paint on the front flower box. Even with a single coat (and anyone who has painted red knows that red takes more than one coat no matter how good the paint) both the flower box and the front door looked significantly better.



There, another project started that was making me feel better about the state of the house. Thursday night we ran some quick errands and once the kids were in bed I got to work. I primed all three walls and then made the decision to paint the first coat.

Walls primed

It might have seemed a little silly at the time. It was after 10:30 when I started painting, and I didn't crawl into bed until almost 2, but I'm glad I did it. I went to bed with a coat of paint on the wall and suddenly the end was in sight.

Then we ran into a slight problem. I bought the original paint at Sears. We discovered Friday night as I was trying to get one last gallon of paint that Sears no longer carries paint. At least, our Sears no longer carries paint. It was time to test the claims of the home improvement stores' color matching services. Ironically enough I had been complaining on Thursday that I wasn't looking forward to going back to painting with a paint that wasn't paint + primer because I had discovered that the newer home improvement store paints were just better in appearance and ease of application. Now I was back to a higher quality paint. Thankfully I had purposely stopped painting at a corner, so there would be no mixing of paints. And for those of you wondering, the color matching worked! I was in bed by 12:30 Friday night, tired, but happy to be able to claim that the painting was done.

Part three will cover finishing touches, including possible discussion of our new windows. Until then I must state one more time: I HATE WALLPAPER!!!!!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

More Wallpaper? The Living Room Saga - Part 1

The first thing I noticed about our living room was the wood floors. When we saw the pictures online, I immediately noticed what looked like wood floors. Unfortunately, those wood floors are in terrible shape, and we were so distracted by everything else in the house that I didn't notice that the living room walls had wallpaper as well, until we returned for another look AFTER putting the offer on the house. Yep, more wallpaper. Paintable wallpaper. You know, the stuff with texture that people put up on walls and then paint whatever color they want.

I have never thought that was a very good idea. It had to look tacky, and if we had kids, how were we going to keep those walls clean, no matter what kind of paint we used? But the previous owners decided at some point that this is how they wanted to cover their living room walls. I was disheartened to discover more wallpaper, but it couldn't be that bad, could it? When we moved into the house, this is what the first floor looked like, minus pictures of the kitchen.

Living room with the fireplace all painted white.

Long view from the living room to the dining room.

The corner cabinet of the dining room.

Close up of the fireplace.
Staircase after the carpeting was removed from the stairs.
One of my first projects after moving into the house was to paint the fireplace and mantle, mostly because doing so made me feel like something was being accomplished in our mess of a house.

This is what our living room looked like for most of the first year.
Otherwise, the living room was ignored for most of the first year we lived in the house. After all, we had bedrooms that needed to be painted, a family room that needed to be made habitable, and many other small projects that needed to be completed. The living room was usable, even with the filthy worn down floors. As we got closer to our son's birth, we decided to see what was underneath the wallpaper. Everything surrounding the stairway and front picture window came off fairly easily, and we also discovered a couple layers of wallpaper, including the wallpaper below:

Beautiful, huh? Wish the rest of the walls looked like this. That would have been spectacular.

We kept tearing off wallpaper, and ended many weekends with the floor covered in debris, like in this next "work-in-progress" picture.

Then we got to the other side of the fireplace and discovered that the wallpaper didn't come off as easily, or at all. The first layer of wallpaper came off, leaving a layer of paper backing and glue which stubbornly stuck to the walls.

Like this

Or this
When our son was born, my dad helped patch and paint the walls to the right of the fireplace. For two years, that is where our progress has remained. Occasionally I have picked at the rest of the wallpaper, seeing if I could find an easy way to get the wallpaper to come off. It hasn't. But after three years the time has come to finish the living room and dining room. I hate looking at the walls. It is frustrating, depressing, and defeating to look at an unfinished project that makes our house look terrible. Today I got serious about it. I soaked the paper backing with water and started scraping and scraping. My hope is to have the wallpaper removed and walls repaired by the end of the week. I want paint on the walls. I want to put up pictures and curtains. I want my living room to feel like home. And as always, I will keep you updated on the progress.