Join Me on a Book Chat

Hello, my name is Jessica and I’m addicted to parenting books.

My friend recently recommended the Gopnik book, “The Gardener and the Carpenter” and I am really enjoying it. Basic premise is the false idea that we should be parenting our children to shape them into who we want them to be, rather we should create the environment where they can thrive in their own way.

Anyone want to book chat along the way with me? Message me or comment if you’d like to be a part of the book chat. ❤

A Bookworm Metamorphosis into Motherhood

In an effort to avoid living in the “Land of Later,” I’m going to go ahead and write about what’s on my mind and skip some of the stuff waiting in the queue. I have considered myself to be a bookworm as long as I can remember. My neighborhood friends can attest to seeing me read under the tall oak trees in our yard. It wasn’t that I actually loved reading under trees, but I’m sure I fell in love with a character who did it, and I imagined it would be cool to emulate a literary idol. Oh, the misguided paths to coolness attempted by the world’s young bookworms.

Well, after creating a handful of tiny humans, I have found my time and energy to read is severely lacking. If I try to read before bed, I am thrown quickly into sleep. And after three or more nightly wake-ups for the last five years, early-rising is reserved for half-awake nursing sessions. But I missed books.  And I also missed the conversations that came with having read books. My answer to “Have you read…?” became the same resounding, “No” as when someone asked me if I watched anything on television that was remotely scary. “No; I’m sure Game of Thrones is probably as epic as you say, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that some things in life are just too scary for me.”

Enter, Audible. Recently I’ve picked up listening to audiobooks and it has been the perfect supplement to my desires to read. Now I get to fulfill my brain’s need for text and can listen while folding laundry or driving while the kids nap (because heaven forbid any of my children sleep in their beds while the sun is up). You can sign up here for a free trial and TWO free audiobooks if any of this resonates with your bookworm heart:

These have been my recent favorites:

How to Manage Your Home without Losing Your Mind
By: Dana K White

I totally recommend this book if you feel like a slob and that no system seems to work to keep your house in order. I could relate to this author more than I’d like to admit but loved her plan and have kept my house relatively clean for almost 6. Whole. Days. If six days of a clean house does not impress you, this book is probably not for you.

Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to so Much More
By: Courtney Carver
This book was part memoir and part guidance. As I have been working hard to simplify my life, this was a nice listen that kept my motivation and my focus on the way I want my life to feel and the reasons why less stuff equals less stress.

Unconditional Parenting
By: Alfie Kohn
I plan to listen to this book quarterly or more often if needed. If I could have a parenting religion, it would be this. It isn’t easy and requires tons of energy for me to maintain the patience, empathy, and respect needed to parent this way effectively, but every time I listen or read Kohn’s work I am more convinced of its importance.   

I’m about to start Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes and have The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik next in line. Let me know if you want to chat while reading either of those. What other suggestions do you have that should be on to my list?

Road Trip: Day 2

Apparently it’s easier for me to take crazy adventures than it is to write about them. My pre-parent brain would have been able to knock this post out in no time. There would have been plenty of hurdles along the way: indecision about word choice, a thousand re-reads for typos, adding and deleting until the wee hours of the night. That, however, was a lifetime ago. Now I’m a half-decade into sleep deprivation and my brain is so foggy I’m not sure if the trip was even real. I see that there are pictures, bills, and mementos, so I’m going to go ahead and write about what I remember, publish an imperfect post, and move along to the next blurry adventure.

Day 2:

We started the day with a delicious hotel breakfast. It had the right amount of Immediate-keep-kids-happy-food balanced with the We’ll-need-snacks-again-in-five-minutes-food. Off we went to Storyland.


Riding the Kyle Express Train at Storyland

Storyland: Fresno, CA
Storyland is a storybook themed playground from the 1950s with elements of a theme park. It’s tucked into this little area called Roeding Park with other attractions like Playland and the Chaffee Zoo. It was a weekday, so Playland was closed which wasn’t a big deal except it’s hard for kids to see the potential rides and fun without getting to participate. We paid the $5 for parking and bought tickets for everyone- $6 for me and $4 for each kid (including the one-year-old). Plus, the $2 per person add-on for the train ride and we’re already racking up the bill for a relatively low-key place. We enter the park and press the button on the first talking statue- a caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland- which tells you if you want to hear the other stories through the park you must go back to the ticket booth and get a $5 magic key. We’re already out almost forty bucks so, what the heck, bring on the magic.

The Story Box with the Sometimes Magical Key

About two hours later we had experienced all that Storyland had to offer. The train ride was a five-minute novel experience for the kids, but not unlike any similar ride you would find elsewhere. The “magic” key worked in about 4 of the 15 story boxes around the park. Let’s just say I wouldn’t avoid this park at all costs, but I’d recommend keeping your expectations low.

Fresno Storyland
890 W. Belmont Ave
Fresno, CA 93728
www.storylandfresno.com

We drove the three hours from Fresno to Santa Cruz and checked-in to our next hotel. We still had a couple hours of daylight, so we decided to explore the sites at the nearby state beach.


Natural Bridges State Beach: Santa Cruz

Spotting a Monarch Butterfly Cluster at the Preserve

We paid for parking, stretched our legs, and hiked to the Monarch Grove Natural Preserve where thousands of Monarch Butterflies make their winter home. It was a little tricky as we had been in the car for several hours, but also needed to stay quiet in order to avoid disturbing the butterflies. After checking out a few of the butterfly clusters, we went back across the parking lot and down a path to play at the beach. It was here that I learned my children were not as nervous around the ocean as they were before. Yay for courage; boo for my anxiety. They played in the sand and let a few small waves soak their clothes. Beautiful place where the only stress comes from worrying moms like me.

Natural Bridges State Beach
2531 W Cliff Dr
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=541

How we had any energy left is still a mystery to me, but we kept the party going and went out to find some dinner. Being a very short drive from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, we decided to follow the flashing lights.


Beach Boardwalk: Santa Cruz

Maybe because it was cold and I was tired or maybe because I was solo with four kids, but the Boardwalk was, meh. On a warm summer day with the buzz of a happy crowd it would have felt very different. Cold weekday night alone with kids- well, not ideal. There were the typical carnival games, food, and expenses. We shared a plate of nachos and the kids practiced their begging. They begged for every ride. They begged for every treat. They begged for every game. I couldn’t quite figure out the logistics of accompanying the bigger kids on the rides without abandoning our littlest guy with the teen ride operator. We enjoyed ourselves, but I could see how it could quickly drain our budget. Regardless, the Pacific Ocean makes a beautiful backdrop for life.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
400 Beach Street
Santa Cruz, California 95060
www.beachboardwalk.com
Phone (831) 423-5590   

Having a Good Time Not Making Good Time: Day One

Hike at Hart Park

As a kid I traveled in our family Suburban quite a bit. My parents gave us a variety of travel experiences with the most frequent being a trip from South Carolina to our roots in the Midwest and back again. As one of three kids, we had a lot of fun times and annoyed the bejeezus (Is that a word? It feels right here) out of each other. One relatively consistent theme was the success of a trip was dependent on “making good time.” How long did we think it was going to take was always compared with how quickly we made it. Bladders were trained and speed was valued.

I imagine when I embark on our coast-to-coast adventure those years of training will come in handy, but for this trip I realized it was an addiction I had to break. Traveling alone with four kids under six meant that endurance was a skill not yet developed and if we were going to enjoy ourselves, we needed to lean into the adventure. We had to prioritize the fun over the speed. When did I become so old that fun had to be prioritized? Damn Adulthood! Overall, I think being intentional about being present and having fun made a huge difference in enjoying the ride (pun intended; aren’t they always?).

We plan to make this trip a few more times in the next couple years as I don’t think we have seen even a fraction of what there is to be seen. There are places we’ll see again and others we’ll omit, but here’s a quick break-down of our stops on day one. I’m happy to elaborate on any of this if you are planning to follow in our tire tracks. I realized as I went to share the details, the trip in one long post would be overwhelming; I am entirely too verbose for that. Instead, I hope you enjoy the day-by-day.

Tuesday, January 1: Left at 8AM. On New Year’s Day. Grateful for a low-key NYE celebration, as I can’t imagine the trip with a hangover. We started in San Diego and headed north towards Fresno.

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Feeding the deer at Hart Park

William S. Hart Park: Santa Clarita, CA
We planned to stop at a park in Bakersfield but ended up at William S. Hart Park in Santa Clarita. I’m not sure what attracted me to this impulse stop, but it was a hidden gem. Originally a retirement home for a former silent actor and director, it was gifted to the community and is always free. There is a barnyard with a variety of animals to feed, a large roaming space with American bison, and a short hike up a hill to a museum. I mean, seriously, who gets to start off a road trip with a beautiful short hike and feeding a deer.

William S. Hart Park
24151 Newhall Avenue
(661) 259-0855
http://hartmuseum.org/

Getting back in the van wasn’t an issue because it was cold, and the promise of heat drew the littles quickly back into their car seats. With bodies tired and the warmth of the van, we happily set off to our next location.

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Clubhouse at Bravo Farms

Bravo Farms: Traver, CA
A few hours down the road, we stopped at Bravo Farms. With its seven-story tree house, feisty llama, see-saw, slide into sandbox, and other fun club houses and animals, it was the break we needed. My animal-loving heart feels compelled to include that there is a feeling that the animals could benefit from some more space and higher quality care. We picked up several mementos that were over-priced but beloved. As a directionally challenged navigator, I hate when anyone says, “You can’t miss it,” but in this case there were a dozen billboards along Hwy 99 encouraging this spot as a must-stop for all weary travelers. They make their own cheese to taste, some wine to sip, and a plethora of homemade or cute knick-knacks to purchase. Keep your expectations low and you’ll enjoy yourself.

Bravo Farms: Traver
36005 Hwy 99
Traver, CA 93763
(559) 897-5762

Leaving the adorable animals and clubhouse behind made the kids a bit more resistant to returning to the van. However, the anticipation of pizza and ice cream at the hotel got them moving. After one final quick 35-minute drive, we were pulling into our home away from home for the night.

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Marriott’s TownePlace Suites: Fresno, CA

They saw us coming. I could see the front desk clerks eyeing us from the window as I unloaded my four amazing and wiggly children from the van onto the sidewalk. I was a little worried about how checking in would go as I’m sure we were not their ideal guests. My fears were quickly assuaged as one opened the door for us and the other handed each of the kids a special farm animal toy and coloring sheet. Their warmth and kindness brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t think it was possible, but it actually got better when five minutes after settling into the room I received a call asking if it would be helpful if they brought and set up a pack-n-play in the room for us. Their warmth, intuition, and generosity concluded our first day of traveling with smiles and comfort.

Fresno TownePlace Suites
7127 N. Fresno Street
Fresno, CA 93720
559.435.4600
towneplacesuites.com

An extra treat at this leg of the travels was getting to meet up with my husband’s aunt and uncle. I could search the thesaurus for all the synonyms for kind and generous and it still wouldn’t touch on how truly amazing these two humans are. They brought us pizza, ice cream, and homemade cookies to enjoy on our first night away from home. Overall, we ended the day with confidence and excitement. So much excitement in fact that sleep was nearly impossible to come by. More on that later…

Eight Tips to Planning a Road Trip with Kids

“You’re brave!” I heard this comment many times before, during, and after our five-day road tripping adventure. I’m pretty sure when people heard that I was traveling solo with a 5-year-old, 2-year-old, 2-year-old, and 1-year-old, “You’re brave” was code for “You’re crazy!” It was said in a variety of ways: sometimes with a tone of astonishment, sometimes admiration, and occasionally a tinge of judgement. I’m still not sure if I’m brave or if I’m crazy, but we made it to the other side and I am looking forward to sharing both our highlights and our low points along the way.

I’m going to break this down into three posts, naturally it will be: the beginning, the middle, and the end. The thoughts seem to divide themselves in this way and will hopefully provide different insights for others planning similar trips of their own. This first post is about what I did to prepare, the second includes all our stops, and the last post shares lessons learned.

There were a lot of reasons I decided to embark on this journey and part of the reason was to dispel the myths I was telling myself about what we were capable of doing. I get out with the kids almost every day, but I always have the feeling that while we may make it to local hikes or attractions, it seemed daunting to go anywhere beyond an hour’s drive home. I have never liked the feeling of external limitations and I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling that burden either. However, I also don’t want to be reckless with our safety. Therein lies the balancing act of life.

I’ve learned even more along the way, but these were the steps of preparation that helped to make the trip successful:

Detailed, color-coded road trip itinerary

#1 Detailed, color-coded itinerary with a flexible mindset. Laminated. I planned out in detail a possible schedule for the entire trip. I didn’t have my heart set on any stop along the way, but I wanted to have a planned path and make decisions to stay on or veer off that path. I also liked having one, color-coded sheet with all the addresses along the way. As a teacher, I’ve always been a sucker for school supplies and that has seeped into my parenting. It was like the cherry on top to use our home laminator to give our guiding plan the protection to weather the trip with us.  You’ll want the pouches too; laminating is its own wonderful addiction.

#2 Insights from Trip Advisor – The reviews and suggestions from Trip Advisor helped to brainstorm and plan to keep the trip interesting and safe. It also helped us find hidden gems we wouldn’t have known about through Google searches alone.

#3 Packing a separate bag for each hotel – The idea of lugging heavy bags while also wrangling the kids was a bit overwhelming. After comparing our agenda to the weather in that city, I packed a bag for each time we would need to check in. Each bag included jammies, outfits, wipes, diapers, socks, and undies. There were 2 smaller bags that came into each hotel. One included the paperwork, laptop, and chargers. The second had toiletries and I tossed in the remainder of that day’s snacks. I also labeled the bags clearly with city and day, so I’d easily know which one to grab.   

#4 Snacks packed for each day – We live off Costco snacks and I knew elements of familiarity would be hard to find on the road. Before the trip I packed a gallon sized plastic bag for each day of the trip. There was basically one of everything for each kid each day: applesauce, veggie straws, fig bars, raisins, Belvita bars (our new family fav), trail mix, and fruit leathers. I also packed a treat item like a Hershey kiss in case we hit any rough patches along the way.

#5 Picking hotels that include breakfast – After spending the duration of my childhood with a parent working at the Marriott, we have a bias to Springhill Suites and Fairfield Inns. The service is consistent and kind, the breakfasts are delicious and predictable, and the rooms are clean and safe. Starting the day with a hearty breakfast and grabbing some food for on-the-go helped to make the trip healthy and cost efficient. I also read the reviews of each hotel prior to booking them to ensure they were in a safe area and would be family friendly.

#6 Rhythm and Routine – It would have been impossible to maintain the same routines we have at home, but I wanted to plan for our days to have a similar rhythm. I tried to plan where we would wake up and adventure, drive during nap times, check-in to the hotel, and then do a second activity. It wasn’t always possible, but planning the trip around that structure was a goal to parallel our day-to-day lives.

#7 A packing checklist that I can revisit for future trips – It may seem silly, but to this professional list maker, a checklist is gold. I can look back at exactly what we packed and what we ended up needing. As we look forward to the next trip, I won’t be starting from scratch. Even though I assume I’ll always remember a tooth brush, it’s nice to take the weight of remembering out of my brain and give it to a checklist.

#8 A Travel Guidebook – I didn’t use a book to plan the travel this time because I couldn’t find one that fit our path, but I am a hold-it-in-my-hands kind of planner. As I look forward to traveling more with the kids, I think this book will be useful in giving the kids some control in the planning. I think their influence in choosing our stops will help to bring excitement, anticipation, and enthusiasm for all.

What else do you do to prepare for your trips with the littlest travelers?

Tonight is the eve of my 2019 Happiness Project and 12 Experiments Project. I’ve been diligent in the planning and I’m excited to start a road trip with the kids in the morning to kick off January’s theme of “Never Been.” Each day we’ll travel somewhere new, even if on some days we have to settle for a new taco shop or bookstore in the neighborhood.

But as I was getting ready this morning I realized there is an even bigger goal that I must accomplish this year. I must stop yelling. As I attempted to work through my to do list, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and easily triggered. The normal conflicts and whining echoed in my brain like daggers. The mess making felt like catastrophic explosions. It was a tough morning for us all.

How can I expect my children to stay in control of their bodies and emotions when 35 years into life I’m still learning? I hate when I hear that sharp tone in my voice that wouldn’t feel good directed at an adult let alone a child. I must do better.

I have lots of intentions set for 2019. 19 tasks to accomplish and 12 experiments of happiness, but the most important goal I have for myself is to find a way to maintain, as Dr. Markham calls it, a Yellibacy in our family. No more making others feel small or sad as a way to influence their behavior.

I hope 2019 will be the year we all choose love.

Finding My Peace in the Chaos of Parenthood

Photo Credit: H. Hart Photography

Oh, the magnificent yet tumultuous journey of parenthood. I have been at this Momming gig for about five years now, and although in my eyes I’m just approaching post-novice status, I realize I have accumulated some essential resources and strategies along the way. More and more messages are filling my inbox with requests for insights into the inner workings of our lives. Basically, how do I keep my sanity with a 5-year-old, 2.5-year-old, 2.5-year-old, and recently turned 1-year-old?

Now as I write this post, I want it to be abundantly clear- I am in the proverbial trenches. I have not reached any sort of utopia where I am no longer triggered by stress or where my children listen to my every word. Ultimately, perfection is not my goal rather it is connection. Do my kids feel like I get where they are coming from? Do I respect them and their needs? Are we working together to build a compassionate family culture?

I have become a parenting book junkie. With the same vigor that I used to consume young adolescent and picture books as a teacher, I am now grabbing for books to guide and enhance my parenting practice.

I’m sure my beliefs have been shaped by many life experiences along the way, but one of the first guides I had in the early childhood world was my daughter’s preschool teacher Ljiljana who with her co-teacher Caroline built a beautiful child-centered community where a dozen strong-willed, energetic toddlers flourished. The school was built on the cooperative model, and a parent was in the classroom every morning to help. Or in my case, to help and to observe with awe how the children were treated as capable, autonomous, responsive beings. Play was valued, and children were given clear boundaries and expectations. Instead of, “No throwing sand,” it was, “Keep the sand low.” I’m not sure if the word, “No!” was ever uttered by either teacher. Children were asked to, “Use gentle hands” and they were encouraged to determine what felt safe as they navigated their environment and their peers. Ah, it was a breath of fresh air from the demands I heard yelled at children at the neighborhood park! When I asked Ljiljana for her expert advice, she recommended Janet Lansbury’s No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, and there I began my journey to hone my parenting craft.

The advice in No Bad Kids matched the environment I experienced in my daughter’s class, but I wanted to dig deeper. The second Aha! resource came from founder of Becoming Peaceful, Lisa Howe, who recommended the books by Dr. Laura Markham. If you’re dealing with a parenting issue, I encourage you to checkout Dr. Markham’s blog at www.ahaparenting.com. You can search for the problem you’re experiencing and see if her type of response resonates with your heart. For me, it 100% did. Her strategies are designed from research about a child’s development. Remembering that anger is a defense against a perceived threat. That tantrums aren’t a form of defiance. That connecting before correcting is the only way to promote lasting change.

I quickly read Dr. Markham’s Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. And then I read them again. These resources explore what is motivating a kid’s behavior and the language to handle it. She describes the importance of our own emotional regulation and the value of building a special connection with each of our children. Dr. Markham also recently released a workbook format of her book which delves into some of our own history that impacts the way we parent. Disclaimer: it wasn’t emotionally easy to get to the root of why I felt triggered to yell or punish my children. I am still working to be the calm that my kids need when they’re in the middle of a storm. I am sure it would be easier to punish them into compliance, but let’s be honest, there is only so much we can control of our kids and that control will only diminish as they mature.

Now, that brings me to my latest love, Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. This book takes it to the next level. It makes me question nearly everything I do as a parent: Am I using praise to manipulate my children’s behavior? If I send my child to take a break in time-out, am I using love withdrawal as a form of punishment? Am I giving my children the opportunity to make genuine decisions or am I giving them meaningless choices to feel as though I’m releasing control? Oy vey! Doing this job well is not for the faint of heart. I’ve just finished his book and am already feeling the itch to begin it again.

In addition to what I learned in these books, there are several elements of my life that make this journey possible: building a supportive and reflective village of parents who are on the same path, prioritizing self-care whenever possible, striving for minimalism to keep stuff from overwhelming our space, and watching the show Daniel Tiger- seriously, not all screen time is created equal and Mom and Dad Tiger are some rock star peaceful parents.

I hope this helps guide you and I would love your thoughts and recommendations. It is a tremendous task to reflect on the way we are raising our children and an even more arduous one to work on ourselves so that we bring our A-game to our children each day. 

xo,

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Let’s Try “YES!”

 
Kids live most of their waking hours under the watchful eyes of an adult with an agenda. Eat this, not that. Take that off, put this on. Stop doing this, start doing that. Move faster, eat slower. Talk quieter, play quieter. It must feel frustrating and powerless to be so enthralled with life only to be shut down when you follow your curiosity, exert your independence or test your strength.

The next time you realize you are saying “No” just because you can… try saying yes. I’ll try it over here too and we can all report back on how it goes.

Happiness > Success

“Few parents have the courage and independence to care more for their children’s happiness than for their success.” – Alfie Kohn

I’ve been listening to “Unconditional Parenting” over the last week and it has resonated with my heart and my core beliefs about motherhood, children, and people in general. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as Kohn was one of the first authors to deeply impact my teaching pedagogy. His books examine how we can be punished by rewards and the negative effect it has on our children when they believe we like or love them conditionally based on meeting our standards of appropriate behavior.

I’m curious about other people’s opinion. Do you believe punishment is necessary? Did you grow up feeling like your parents’ love was somewhat conditional on meeting certain expectations? If given the choice, would you choose happiness or success for your children?

 

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