Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hello June.

Can you spot the kid in ballet whose mom couldn't find any clean white socks today? Yeah, she's mine.

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Thank you for all the thoughtful responses on the last post. It prompted such a great discussion, and it was so interesting to read all the comments/e-mails regarding dealing with these same kind of issues with your own kids. And yes--little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. Some of you are dealing with really good kids (who have really good parents!), and you're facing other problems with your kids--stolen happy meal toys times twenty: riding in cars with friends who've been drinking, smoking pot at a party. They are real problems, and there isn't a foolproof guidebook for how to handle them. Your insights were enlightening and, as always, I am grateful for an online community that embraces opportunities to share not only the great moments, but the challenging ones too. There is something about relating to others that is both comforting and fueling, especially when it comes to the daunting role of raising kids.

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With that said, more than one person commented that the item of choice they stole when they were young was puffy stickers of all things. Which only confirms what I thought to be true: puffy stickers are so badass.

After perusing the comments, I remembered something. My own "stealing" encounter when I was young. Ironically, it was Sunshine Bible Book Store in Flint, Michigan. I was tagging alongside my mom who was searching for sheet music--something new to sing in church, and while she practiced some great rendition of Sandi Patty's latest, I combed through aisles of flannelgraph and Love is Patient plaques. And then I saw it--this super cool light blue eraser in the shape of a chunky pencil. I put it in my pocket. Yes, in a Bible book store. I put the eraser in my pocket, knowing I'd "forget" about it later. And I did. Until, a few hours later, standing in my Aunt Karen's driveway, I reached into my pocket and found it. I pulled out the world's coolest eraser--the one that I stole before the eyes of God in a Bible Book store--and looked at it. You know what it said? It was freaking engraved with the words "Jesus loves you." Swear. I felt so guilty, my cheeks turned red, I chucked it in the bushes, and I memorized three new Bible verses for Sunday School that week--and not just for the Jolly Rancher prizes either. That was the end of my stealing days.



Our Weekend:

It's almost summer and while the snowbirds fly back home, leaving our town with quieter streets and vacant tables at the best restaurants, I am looking forward to more sunsets, impromptu barbecues, sparklers, bonfires, s'mores, lemonade and catching up with friends.

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Good Food
We're making a conscious effort to put more into our dinners. More time, more thought, more enjoyment. Sunday night, it started with homemade sangria and followed with dog-earring recipes, running to the grocery store and returning home to a candle-lit kitchen. I sipped my glass in intervals--between shifting from the flour covered counter to the vegetable strewn island, silencing timers, stirring, chopping, tasting. It was fabulous. There will be more of this.

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Eve to June
Pre-summer rituals are warming up.

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Yes, summer seems to perpetually dwell here, but I can't help but need some psychological shift to feel the nostalgic link to everything I loved about my childhood summers. More bare feet and brown shoulders, more popsicles, more coconutty scents of sunscreen. And while the grass may not always be greener on the other side, it certainly is softer. We try to ignore the fact that our grass is not soft but bristly, and focus rather on our stately palms and jaw-dropping sunsets.

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Lainey loves on Nella now like we pay her for every kiss.

Recital
Ballet started as an outlet for Lainey to feel special--something just for her. It's turned into such a confidence-building, poise-developing experience for her. We've met new friends, learned how to curtsey, overcome performance anxiety and discovered a new repertoire of updos for fine cornsilk hair that barely stays gripped in a ponytail holder.

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She was a fluttering little bird for her second recital.

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This time, she was not shy. She didn't search the crowd to find us before unleashing her confidence or wander her attention to her friends, analyzing their toe taps and twirls. She looked only to her teacher, following directions, copying her every move.

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She had posture and poise and only glanced away from the teacher once--not to find her daddy this time, but to smile at her mom. That's me.

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The dam to the tears broke as soon as the first little group of girls walked out and started twirling, and Lainey wasn't even in that group. The woman standing next to me was crying too, so I didn't feel so bad. While there are trillions of everyday moments to swoon over your kids, there's something about watching performances that spins a different perspective on the privilege of raising children.

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You're just overwhelmingly proud. When they score a goal, make a basket, land a jump, receive a medal, nail the perfect pliẻ, and then bow, curtsey and look to make sure you're watching? That's my kid, everyone. That's my kid.

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Sunset
We concluded our holiday weekend with friends on the beach last night.

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Venturing a little farther south for a more picturesque beach, we arrived at Lowdermilk Park at low tide. Holy Vivid Sky, did it deliver.

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An isolated storm far out in the gulf delivered an entertaining show--right under the massive cloud that hid the sun but generously spilled over what it couldn't contain.

The tide pulled back appropriately for a shallow playground of reflective wet sand the width of a football field, and Lainey and her friend Aleena ran and splashed like the boys in the opening scene of Chariots of Fire, minus the manly grimaces and determined strides, and with way cuter bathing suits.

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Nella was purely content, happy to have her own natural wading pool where she could shimmy along, slosh puddles, eat sand and increase the weight of her diaper tenfold.

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I, of course, was repeating the High-on-Life Creed which I haven't quite perfected but includes some grateful words about this moment and mental notes to grasp it all--the sounds, the sights, the smells, the way my kids are so actively embracing their surroundings. Once I have the hand clap and corresponding cartwheels to support the Creed, I'll apply for registered trademark.

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I love that our beaches are different every time we visit. The tides, currents, winds, seasons--it changes the landscape, the shells, the sealife. My dad says our beaches are like TJMaxx. You never know what you're going to find, but most times, it's good.

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A beach encore to the ballet recital

As the sun settled to sleep for the night and southern clouds flickered with lightning, we celebrated the remainder of the holiday with candles and sparklers.

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When I moved here, I promised myself I would never become desensitized to the wonder of where we live. I would never take our short jaunt to the gulf for granted or fall victim to the laziness that has so many natives pausing to remember their last visit to see a sunset or feel the sand. I'm happy to say I've lived my promise.

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But there are others I've neglected. Things I've wanted to learn, hobbies I've planned to take up, habits I've hoped to tackle. Today is June 1--a new month, a new season--and I'm yearning to embrace a new challenge. I'd love for you to join me in tackling something that's been on your mind. An empty wall you've been meaning to decorate, a project you've been hoping to finish, the last five pounds you've promised yourself to lose. I've picked up running and dropped it many times, and I'm vowing for the month of June to lace up my running shoes every single day. Not necessarily an exhausting breathless run every time, but at least a short jog around a couple blocks to feel the endorphins, to accept the challenge, to prove to myself I can consistently face a task. I will run every day of June, and I'm excited to have a few new running friends joining me. We're making it interesting, keeping it fun. What will you do this month? What will you tackle and how will you do it? Please share in your comments, and later this month, there will be an opportunity for you to share some photos and stories of your successes on this blog.

Amy Poehler recently gave the commencement speech to Harvard's Class of 2011, and while very funny, it held some poignant truths:

"Be open to collaboration. Other people and other people's ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own. ...take your risks now. As you get older, you become more fearful and less flexible..."


Running every day, finally slapping paint on those bedroom walls, losing those five pounds, making it through a few nights of primitive camping, setting up the guitar lessons--they are all small challenges in the grand scheme of things. But tackling small challenges leads to overcoming larger ones, and sharing the conquest with others makes it more attainable, and definitely more fun.

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If you conquer, I'll teach you the High-on-Life Creed. And the hand clap.

It's a new month. Do something fabulous.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cue Cards

Yesterday, as I guided Lainey back toward our car after her friend's birthday party, I noticed she was suspiciously clutching a small bulge hidden between her dress and her denim vest. She obviously didn't want me to see it and, at the onset of my curiosity, she worked harder to conceal it.

Go easy, I thought. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Be cool. She'll come clean. "Lainey, Babe, Sweetie Pie--what's that in your vest?" I cheerfully asked, setting the scene for a heartfelt confession.

"It's nuffing," she replied, pulling away and tucking it deeper in her grip.

"Does it belong to you? Because we're getting in our car and going home, and if it's Presley's toy it needs to stay at Presley's house. She'd be so sad if she went to play with one of her toys and it was gone."

Lainey pulled a cheap happy meal toy from her vest--one I'd definitely never seen before, flashed me a testy look and dug herself a deeper hole. "It's not Presley's. It's mine."

Dammit. She lied. My kid just Winona Ryder'ed a happy meal toy, and now she's lying about it. And I'm going to have to whip out one of those award-winning parenting speeches that's going to seer a lesson deep into her conscience as if this single happy meal toy is the deciding factor on whether or not she has a lifetime of orange jumpsuits and prison Spam sandwiches in her future.

"Lainey, I'm pretty sure you didn't come to the party with that toy. I'd be so sad if you're telling me it's your toy when it's really Presley's. And I know how sad you'd be if someone took a toy of yours without asking. Like what if someone took your bike and you didn't have anything to ride on in the driveway anymore? Do you think we could take that toy back to Presley's house?"

My girl looked down shamefully, so all I could see was her sweet blond hair pulled back into a thin ponytail. Without offering words or looking up, she held the toy out and waited for me to take it, and we walked hand-in-hand back toward the house while I frantically contemplated on what a good mom would say next.

"How 'bout we just leave the toy on the table here?" I asked her, setting the plastic happy meal toy next to a pile of lemonade cups on the table in the middle of the driveway. No one saw her take it, no one saw her return it, but it was done.

On the way home, she talked about how much Presley was going to love the salon kit we got her and how maybe Presley would clip the pink hair extension clips in her little sister's hair. I smiled and nodded but inwardly analyzed how I'd just handled the stealing situation. Should I have done more? Should I have made her confess to Presley or created a bigger scene so she'd never forget? It was a big deal to me--I never expected my kid would purposefully steal something and think to hide it from me--at least not when she's only four, and I thought of all the things I could have said--the perfect scripts the parenting books suggest you robotically rattle off in situations like this. Where were cue cards when I needed them, and if my response to big lesson opportunities like this were off, is my kid going to be the naugty one? The hitter, the thief, the target for parents' pointing fingers with a "Watch out for that one"?

Obviously, I have a tendency to over analyze, especially when it comes to sculpting my girls' character. It's so important to me to raise kind and conscientious children, ones who think about others and make efforts to improve the world around them, and so much of their ability to do this comes from skills and lessons we will teach them. Pressure, to say the least.

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Sometimes, we will mess up. We'll flub up responses, reacting too harshly or not harsh enough. We'll yell when we should have hugged, lose our cool when we should have sighed and smiled, or retreat behind a shower curtain with a glass of wine praying the kids won't find us when we should have faced our problems.

I don't always know the perfect thing to say to my kids when they ask me questions or need a good lesson. Sometimes, off the cuff responses for me sound more like off kilter. Like I once told Lainey she had to sit in a carseat because, otherwise her body would "fling in the air and hit a window" if we got in an accident. Great mom, I know. I regret that one. But I believe our kids will know what's good and will find their own way to adopting good and kind and conscientious as inherent attributes even if we don't have the perfect lectures to back it. They will know far more by how we model behaviors than by how we verbally advise them. Besides, I'm not really a scripted kind of girl. If the books said say it this way, I'd revel in the challenge of finding a that way that was different but good. As Jill Churchill said, "there's no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one."

We talked last night again about what happened--why it was important that we didn't take something that didn't belong to us and how it makes people feel when we do things that are unkind. I asked Lainey to look at me when I spoke, because "I need to see your Oreo eyes so I know you understand Mama." She looked at me and smiled, opening her eyes so big, her face turned into a silly expression. We both laughed and I watched as she fell back into her pillow and wrapped her arm around Nella, squeezing her tightly and nuzzling her blond head gently into her sister's.

There will be more lessons, more conversations about making good decisions. Today it's happy meal toys; tomorrow it's studying for tests, dealing with mean girls, respecting curfews. While I may never instruct my child in a way that merits applause or goes down in history as the perfect cue card way, I do it as thoughtfully as possible, cutting myself some slack that I'm doing the best job I can.

And every day, there are constant reminders that we're doing just fine.

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Congratulations to the Mamalode subscription winner, Comment #472, Sandra: I love your take on balance. I've been one of those "waiting for the other shoe to drop" people, living with too much fear of the unknown impending doom. Thinking of it from a different perspective will help me enjoy the good and balance the...less-good.

Sandra, please send your contact info to kellehamptonblog@comcast.net, and you'll soon be running to your mailbox for a nice treat.

You can still get your subscription HERE. Nella's cover and "The Secret Reserves" article is in the ENOUGH issue (you can choose your first issue).

We are enjoying the rest of our holiday weekend and looking forward to cheering our girl on at her ballet recital this afternoon. I can't decide between bestowing her with a bouquet of flowers at her performance or perhaps something she'd like a little better...a new happy meal toy.

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The cutest, most versatile kid duds: Tea Collection Painters Overalls

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Have a great holiday!

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