Personal Stuff

My Summer Incentive System

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My Summer Incentive System for Kids

I just finished the first full week of summer with both girls home and out of school, and we had a really pleasant week. In summer’s past, this has not always been the case, which is why I am thrilled to pieces at the splendor of what some rainbow popsicle sticks can do.

I attribute the first week success to my new summer incentive system to inspire behaviors that make them nice humans to be around.

And it worked! Well. Which is why I am sharing with you today.

Over the years I have done a variety of things to try to achieve the same result, but nothing has ever worked quite as well as this system. Here’s how it goes…

Supplies needed: 

~ Two vases or clear bowls or really anything that kids can put stuff in.

~ Something to put in them as a token of a good behavior : in my case, rainbow popsicle sticks. You can also use coins, marbles, beads, anything.  But they really like the popsicle sticks.

~ Display in an area of the house where they spend the most time.

Our Summer Incentive System:

1. Each child starts with the same number of sticks.

I started with 20, which I placed in a pile in front of the vases. To keep them separate, I put an orange or white rubber band around them, one color for each girl.

2. A child earns a stick when they exhibit positive behaviors.

Things like playing nicely together, sharing, cleaning up without complaining, helping, generally those sweet behaviors I want to reward.

3. Popsicle sticks can also be lost (or taken out).

If it is an egregious behavior, they will lose a stick immediately. Like my oldest talked to me in a sassy, disrespectful voice and lost a stick immediately. No warning. NOT okay.

But for most everything else, they will be given a warning before losing it. For example, say a bickering episode starts within a game of Barbies, they both want the same Barbie and keep on whining and fighting over it. I could say, “You both have a warning. There are two choices. You can chose to work it out or separate and play something on your own.” Hopefully they work it out, but if they fighting continues, they both lose a stick.

4. When they earn all 20 of their sticks in the vase, they are given a small reward.  I am going to increase the number of sticks each time we start over because it only took 5 days to earn the reward. That’s a lot of rewards.

For the reward, we are talking small things they helped me come up with. My little one wants a frozen yogurt trip (don’t tell her we would have gone anyway), and my oldest wants an hour with me playing Barbies with them (sad!! Note to self…)

I think I will come up with a bigger reward for the last week of summer to celebrate all the sticks they earned over the past couple months.

Random Rules:

1. They may not take a stick without a parent telling them to do so.

2. There is one way to earn an automatic stick: making their beds when they get up. So they can get up, make their bed, and come out and get the stick on their own.

3. If you ask for a stick, you automatically don’t get it. “Mom! I cleaned up my clothes on the floor! Can I get a stick?” NO! I don’t want them to get used to just doing things they normally should just to earn a stick.

4. I told them I am keeping track, and counting them (I’m not), and if I notice there are extra sticks that they did not earn in there, they will lose all the sticks and start over (serious!!)

girlssticks

The Beauty of It All

They are competitive with each other, so if one makes their bed, you better bet the other one will too, lest they have one less stick. They have been tied neck in neck the entire week. Or, for one to lose a stick is a big deal because again, that means the other one will be ahead.

Love This 

Emma said, “Morgan you can play Barbies with us when I win my reward.” And then Morgan said, “Emma you can go to frozen yogurt with us when I win.”

I gave them both a stick.

Do you have a system that works for you? Please share!

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Kids’ Birthday Parties: The Gray Areas

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grayareas

Recently we shared a post on our Facebook page that got a ton of comments and shares and I could just hear moms everywhere yelling “Amen sister!”  On that note, we have some really good stuff we share on our Facebook page, if you don’t follow, please click here to like us. I think you will be happy you did.

The post was from a blogger called Scary Mommy (she’s hilarious – highly recommend following if you don’t already) with an attempt to unite moms across America to end the birthday party favor tradition for kids.

I am so on board.

Nothing bugs me more than cheap trinkets cluttering our house, and once the kids leave the party, they likely never touch them again. I would rather the host save their money. Isn’t the party enough for the kids?

Her post got me thinking about another pet peeve of mine regarding kids’ birthday parties and it has to do with what are often two gray areas: are siblings welcome or is it a drop off party?

When kids are little, typically birthday parties are a family affair. But when they get older, some parties start to become “drop off” parties where parents drop the kids and pick them up after.  In my experience, with girls, the drop off phenomenon tends to start around 5 – 6 +.

So I am in the “is it drop off or not?” phase with both of my girls now.  And lots of time it is unclear.

Can you help a mother out? 

On your birthday party invites or evites, or even in a separate email, can you make it clear if it is a drop off party or not?

If it is a drop off party, that’s easy, and I don’t have to worry about my other daughter. Taking that a step further, if it is not a drop off party, can I bring my other child or should I make other arrangements for her?

Tell me what you prefer! 

When it has been unclear, I have asked the hostess if it is drop off or if moms are staying and, being the super sweet moms they are, I have heard, “You are welcome to either drop or stay!”

Which is so nice, but what I really want to know is what YOU want me to do! Do you prefer to have parents there to watch over their kids or you would prefer to not have moms standing around?

Here’s the thing: I will do whatever you want. I just need to know.

Invitation wording: give it to me straight!  

Lately I have gotten a few birthday party invitations where the hostess flat out says, “So sorry – no siblings.” And to that, I say, “THANK YOU!” I won’t bring her! No offense taken here – would you agree? Or would you be offended if you saw this?

So it can be as simple as staying “Siblings welcome!” or “Sorry – no siblings.” Either one does the job.

Same with the drop off part.

It can be as simple as stating, “Drop off party” at the bottom of the invite, or including it in the invitation wording, “Please drop off your child at 11:30am and pick up at 1:30pm.”

Or, on the invitation, you can address it to the “Scheumann family”, which would tell me that the party is a family affair and we should plan on staying.

Or, address the invitation using both of my children’s names so that I know they are both included. Which, typically means I should stay too, unless otherwise noted.

Tell me your thoughts! 

I would love to hear what you all think about this topic. Are you offended if someone says, “No siblings?” How do you feel about drop off parties? What do you do if it is a gray area? Please comment…

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The Truth About Family “Vacations” with Young Kids

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The truth about family vacations with young kids

 

That photo above was taken as I was setting the self-timer on my camera in an attempt to capture a family photo of the four of us on our recent El Capitan Canyon glamping trip.

Every time we tried to take a photo, someone was not looking or doing something stupid, and I got to the point where I said, “We will do this as many times as it takes to get ONE good photo of our family together on this vacation!!!!!!”

Note their enthusiastic faces. Husband included.

Which inspired this post: the truth about family “vacations” with young kids.

Yes, we had the most amazing trip overall, but there are definitely moments within a family “vacation” that are not so pleasant.

So here are my tips on how to make the most out of your family “vacation” with little ones.

First off, traveling with young kids is not a “vacation”

I think we would all be better off banning the word “vacation” when it comes to traveling with young kids. Trip, yes. Vacation, no.

When I think of a vacation, I think of relaxation. Me by a pool with a cocktail, good book and a snooze. Vacationing with small kids is anything but.

Let go of the dream

When traveling with young kids, I have found it is best to not set unrealistic expectations.

It is easy to romanticize the family vacation. You plan for it, dream about it, and envision your happy family splashing in a pool together or enjoying a theme park all day with grateful, happy children.

Now let’s talk about reality.

Traveling with  young children can cause nightmarish moments. Whining, tantrums, what have you.

This can lead to disappointment if you have a romantic family vacation vision in your head, because damnit, we are on VACATION people, you WILL have fun if it KILLS me!!!!

As fun as it might be, traveling does throw kids off their regularly scheduled program. Factor in a few hours less sleep per night, spotty naps, extra sugar and exhausting activities, and you will likely have full on CRANK-sters on your hands at times.

What is a parent to do?

First off, recognize these facts and give them a break. If someone is on meltdown mode, get them back to the room with an iPad, TV show, or anything it takes to bring them down.  Chill out time has to be factored in. It’s okay. You might need a chill out moment too.

If a kid is burnt out at the theme park – I give you permission to abort mission before hitting everything you had planned.

Pushing on when kids have hit the limit can have less than favorable results.

Laugh at the bad moments 

On this particular El Capitan trip, we got all packed up and headed down to Refugio Beach for a beach day. We get there, get unpacked, schlep up the beach to find a perfect spot, unpack our beach gear and not five minutes later my 7-year-old gets stung by a bee.

By her reaction, those on the beach might have thought she got bitten by a shark.

As I am carrying a child too big to be carried, screaming up the beach to the car, I start to laugh because it really is, funny. The vision of my trying to carry her on the beach made me crack up.

My laughter distracted her from the trauma of it all, and she asked why I am laughing. I tell her, “We will NEVER forget this beach trip.” Which makes her laugh too.

And we won’t. We will always remember the time she got stung by a bee at Refugio beach.

Don’t set yourself up for disaster

On another family trip, we found ourselves having a blast at the pool and leaving later than expected to go back to shower and get ready for dinner.

Kids swam all day. They were sun-kissed and exhausted, and even though it was 7:30pm, we thought we should head up to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I had a romantic family vacation vision of us sitting up on the beautiful outdoor patio enjoying a lovely al fresco dinner together.  Deep down I knew it would end in disaster.

Mother’s instinct is always right. Trust IT ladies!

We get to the restaurant, and it is another full hour before we get our food. My kids were a hot mess.

We should have called for a pizza or I should have sent hubby to run out to a local place for take out.

Carve out a little time for your own sanity

Family trips are a lot of together time.

And yes, we love each other so very much, but dear God, we also need a little break so I urge you to carve out an hour here and there to have to yourself.  Take a walk by yourself, go and sit and get a coffee alone somewhere, just get away for an hour if you feel you need it.

Even if working out is not your idea of vacation – well, it just might have to be on your trip! An hour at the fitness center alone or participating in a resort yoga class might be what the doctor ordered.

Don’t do yoga? Yes, you do. Fake it.

Hour on, hour off

When my kids were too young to swim on their own, my husband and I would switch hours when we were off and on kid duty. When we were on, we were responsible for watching the kids in the pool. When we were off, we could read and feel free to sit in the lounge chair and watch from the sidelines.

This gave us both a break so we could find a little relaxation.

Even better, ask your hubby to treat you to a morning at the spa and trade him for a round of golf!

High hopes

This summer my girls are 5 and 8. They are not little kids anymore, so we are taking our first family trip with older kids. Note I still do not use the word vacation just in case. We are are going away for a week, including plane ride and six nights in a hotel.

It will be my girls first time on an airplane and the first time we have gone away for more than a few nights.

I have high hopes that I might be able to use the word vacation for this upcoming trip. But that remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

Embrace the good moments

In any family trip, you will come away with moments that you will remember forever (and some you might want to forget), but, those moments you remember will be SO worth it. It just won’t be EVERY moment. Go in with that mindset, and you will be ahead of the game. Happy summer mamas!

happyfamilyvacation

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What I Learned About Slowing Down

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What I learned about slowing down for a week

Last month I hit a wall and got fed up with our non-stop, busy days and the endless pinging of texts and emails so I called “Uncle!” and decided to take the week “off”.  This post is about what I learned from slowing down for a week.

Now, as moms we know, unless you are physically away from your home and children, there really is no such thing as taking a week off. What I wanted even more than that was simply a week to SLOW DOWN, unplug (somewhat) and try to focus on being more relaxed.

I told myself I would check email just once a day and try to stay off my laptop and phone best I could.

The weekend before my Slow Down Week, I wrapped up some work stuff, answered emails I needed to, and closed up shop so to say.

If free time presented itself, I was going to focus on taking time to read and do things that relax me instead of finding ways to run around and be productive.

Sounds good in theory, right?

This is how the week went down…

Day One – Monday morning

When I wake up, the first thing I do is reach for my phone or laptop and check my email and social media. On the first morning of my Slow Down Week, I wake up and resist the temptation to pick up my phone. This is sad to say, but I actually feel anxious not checking my phone.

I attempt to just take some time to do some deep breathing and focus on what I want from the week. But instead of feeling relaxed, I felt anxious.

Observation:

Not checking in on my device first thing in the morning actually gave me anxiety causing a physical reaction.

Lesson:

This is frightening.  Must work on that.

The morning goes on as usual, and after getting both kids out the door and dropped off at school I find myself with options.  I am not supposed to be productive, however my car had not been washed for months and it was getting embarrassing, so I decide to get my car washed.

I am sure the guys grimaced when they saw the minivan pull up. I am surprised there is not a minivan carwash surcharge for the extra effort  involved in snack crumb cleanup.

As I was waiting, I would normally be on my phone the whole time, but not today. What to do?

Read a magazine? Talk to my neighbor? Wait, everyone is on their phone. Hmmm…journal? Yes, journal!

Another goal for the week – journal my thoughts and feelings.

I pulled out my journal and pen and started to write about my morning, what I had felt and how I was feeling. Turns out putting pen to paper is very therapeutic.

I left with a spotless car and felt, dare I say, more relaxed than I had been in awhile.  Having my car completely clean made me feel happy.

Observation:

Cleaning something clears the mind. Writing with a pen, with no emails dinging, or messages popping up, is relaxing.

Lesson:

Do more of this.

I get home and find myself with 45 free minutes before preschool pick up. I give in and decided to check email “just once” to make sure nothing popped up I needed to see.

Most of my email is junk, but one is a request from a PR contact for high res image copies of some photos I took for a publication. Since I am without kids I feel compelled to take care of this right away because who knows the next time I can get to it.

I rush to the computer to find the images, edit, and upload to send, noticing my heart rate picking up a bit and tension seep into my shoulders.

A few others were things I had to respond to, silly social things, but was out of time and needed to get my butt in the car to do preschool pick up.  But the unanswered emails were out there hanging over my head.

Observation:

Email can stress me out.

Lesson:

Don’t check email unless I have a chunk of free time to respond as needed.

What I don’t know is waiting for me in my email won’t kill me. Will try to check email only when necessary and when I have time to respond and give it my attention.

Rest of the day goes along like my regular days do with my kids.  School pick ups, swim lessons, dinner, bath, bedtime, etc.

At one point early evening when I should have been cleaning up the dinner prep dishes, I feel a little tired, so I force myself to take a break. I decide to sit on the patio and read a magazine.  Girls were playing nicely, so I told them I was reading for 20 minutes and wouldn’t be getting up out of my chair for anything until the 20 minutes were over.

Little inquisitive eyes studied me and then went about playing.

About 2 minutes in, I am asked to get down a bowl to make a Barbie bath. Nope. 5 minutes in, I am asked to get them something to eat. Nope. Tried a few more requests and they realized I really wasn’t going to get up.

Those 20 minutes were blissful.

Observation:

20 minutes to force yourself to sit down is helpful.  My girls can make it through without me being at their beck and call for a short time.

Lesson:

Do more of this. Especially this summer.

I go to bed feeling good about Day One.

4:00am – Day Two

 

I wake up to calls from my 7-year-old. We have a barfer on our hands.

The relaxing week lasted 21 hours.

Sick Days

Initially I had that “Seriously?!” reaction. Cleaning up barf was not on the agenda for my Slow Down Week so I was, a tad disappointed. Best laid plans. UGH.

She was home from school for two days, but what could have been miserable, was actually quite lovely.

After the initial middle-of-the-night barf, it was over, and other than being tired and having no appetite, she felt pretty good. Not good enough for school, but she could do stuff.

My 4-year-old went to preschool both mornings she was home sick, so had some great quality time together those two mornings.

We played Yahtzee and read books, made banana bread and colored.

Because she was not 100%, I cleared the afternoon schedules and called her in sick to her activities.  We had three school day afternoons with NO plans. It was awesome!

Observation:

Having three days with no afternoon activities was a great break and forced me truly to slow down more than I would have otherwise. Having quality time alone with one child was the best.

Lesson:

Do more of this.

By Day Three she is better, but still not up for doing much, so we head to the library and check out some movies. One of which is Mary Poppins.

Watching Mary Poppins with my girls on a Thursday afternoon was one of my favorite memories of the past year. They were as enamored with it as I was as a little girl.

Julie Andrews is a goddess.

sugar

Day Five – Slow Down Week Conclusion 

Although it hadn’t gone exactly as planned, overall I did feel that Slow Down Week was a success. I think somehow those sick days presented themselves to teach me some valuable lessons about not filling every free moment with stuff to do.

By Friday, life was back to the regularly scheduled program.

On that night, my parents brought down dinner for us. It was such a beautiful night, warm and summery. We all sat on the patio and watched the girls play on our swing set.  I felt so happy.

My husband was pushing my little one while she was hanging by her arms on the trapeze bar attachment. Like he has done a million times.

Then in a moment, in one of those slow motion, movie moments, I see her hands slip on the backswing, and when she falls, because of the backward momentum, instead of falling and landing on her feet, her body goes horizontal and she lands with her arms down to catch her.

Off to the E.R. we go.

Fractured her forearm. Poor baby.

But she was such a trooper and was so darling had the staff at CHOC smiling because she was so mellow and sweet.

Side note: The staff at CHOC E.R. in Orange is AMAZING.  They made a terrible situation tolerable by how good they were with my daughter.

familyphoto

 

There she is in her cast after her dance recital. Only one more week to go, and we have made it through.

Reflections 

Life as a parent of small children is so unpredictable.

Here I started the week with a stomach flu and ended in the E.R., but even though those hard times, you can find joy and a silver lining.

We want so much to be able to press “Pause” on life at this stage with children. The days all sort of start to run into each other and it sounds cliche, but it goes so fast.

Looking back I think I learned some valuable lessons by taking a week to slow down.

I learned I don’t have to check email every 10 minutes, it can wait until I can get to it at some point during the day, and attend to things at that time instead of having things hang over my head taking me out of the present moment.

Taking the time to clean out something does more than organize, it can clean your head too.

Writing with a pen is amazing. Try it. You will be amazed at how good you feel.

I learned I need to carve out quality time, alone, with both of my girls. As they age, this gets harder to do, but it’s important. Like scheduling date nights with your husband, I am scheduling dates with my girls.

Reserving one weekday afternoon, or weekend day where you clear a schedule and do nothing is so good. So, so good. We run around a lot. Getting off the hamster wheel for a day is a great recharge.

My girls (8 and almost 5) are at an age where they are so capable of being independent. I don’t need to be at their beck and call. This summer I am going to make myself sit down and read for 30 minutes. They are fine. But I have to be clear about not getting up, because they do enjoy asking Mommy for things.

Oh, and yes, watch Mary Poppins with your kids. Practically perfect in every way.

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Be Careful When You Set the Bar

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Holiday Hoopla

This post has to do with holidays, and how we as parents, can be tempted to get a wee bit overzealous on the holiday hoopla and traditions. Consider this post mom-to-mom advice, especially for you younger parents out there, from someone who has learned from experience about setting the bar.

Let me start by saying – it’s not our fault!

The holiday hoopla has been taken to new levels with this next generation and we are only stepping up the plate. Holidays have gone on steroids. Do you agree? (f yes, you have to read this post by Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan. Love.)

All it takes is one look at some super cute idea on Facebook or Pinterest and we find ourselves planning our trip to Michaels in our head. I blame social media completely for the holiday hoopla madness.

Couple that with your child’s first holiday experiences and a desire to make them the BEST EVER, and well, you risk setting the holiday traditions bar too high.

For example, the first lost tooth is a big deal. Huge. We want the Tooth Fairy’s first visit to be a magical one.

But the Tooth Fairy has to remember that teeth can fall out on vacation. Or, at a not-so-convenient time, like when saying good night.

Therefore, I wish my Tooth Fairy would have realized that before setting the bar of a coded note printed out with a magical font, tooth-brushing accessories, special coins and sparkle heart confetti, that perhaps, those items would be hard to keep up because, (newsflash!) kids lose a LOT of teeth. There were teeth popping out left and right over here for a period of time.  Didn’t quite realize that when the first came out.

Or what about our friend Elf on the Shelf come holiday time?

It’s very tempting to get inspired by all the shenanigans one might see on Pinterest or otherwise, but if your Elf sets the bar too high, you risk kids getting disappointed when the Elf just simply moves. But wasn’t that the whole point?!

Now let’s talk about Leprechauns.

I used to just wear green to school. When I got older, green beer was also involved, but Leprechauns NEVER visited my house.

Now days, the Leprechauns are visiting and doing all sorts of amazing things. But you better believe the kiddos are going to remember that next year, and will be anxiously awaiting to see if your little Leprechaun will outdo himself.

The list can go on and on…Easter bunny, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, first day of school hoopla, you name it.

I am ALL for celebrations, believe me. I absolutely love celebrating holidays with my kids. But, even very small kids remember what happened that last holiday, so there is a certain expectation already in play once the bar is set.

And who wants to have disappointed kids on any holiday?

Which is why, you have to be very careful when you set the bar on your holiday traditions. Baby steps, mamas. Isn’t the holiday alone magical to little ones? We really don’t need to be sooooooo amazing, do we?

Have you gotten trapped by setting the bar too high? Dish, mamas! I want to know your thoughts!

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