What our Children Can Learn from Football Stars

I’ve always known I wasn’t cut out to play football. But now that the World Cup is coming to an end, I have also found out that I’m not made to watch football either.  I take it too emotionally apparently. A game score can virtually affect my day, and even if the team I cheered for wins, my feelings get all mixed up when the cameras show the shattered dreams of those who have lost. It’s just too nerve-racking.

But it’s also quite mesmerizing watching the very superstars pushing their limits, no matter how many trophies on their account. Their perseverance is as inspiring as their talent. They know that the physical fitness can help them to win a game,  but it is the mental stamina that can help them to win a tournament. Only those who are able to find a new strength in losing and don’t get carried away by winning can make history. 

Now, how does it all translate to parenting? Simple. Whether my boys will be football players or not, I hope they will know that talent is not all that leads to success. What also matters is focus, hard work and humbleness. And a pinch of good luck of course, if you want a complete recipe.

 

 

Great People I admire of whom I want my children to know: My Grandmother

As we were coming home from our vacation, my older son was all in tears. He was already missing his cousins. He wanted to see them everyday. I tried to console my little guy saying that I knew how he felt because I would also love to see some people everyday. I thought it should work, but instead my son demanded details. “Like who?” he asked sobbing. “Who would you like to see everyday?”

Who would I like to see everyday, indeed? For a loner and introvert like me there is no apparent answer to this question. I love to have my family around on a daily basis but apart from my three boys, I’m pretty selective. However, there is one more person that I definitely miss. It’s my grandmother, Stefania.

She played a very active role in my childhood and beyond.  In her very simple and quiet ways, she was always there for me, believing in me and  supporting my choices, even the unreasonable ones. It’s not that she was approving of them. She was just patiently waiting until I would find my way. Her support was the greatest motivator to live right. But for what I admire her the most is who she was.  Her childhood was mostly taken away by the war, after which she spent her life working hard.,  She raised four children and fostered two grandchildren. Life didn’t pamper her. You could see her pain in her eyes,  yet, she has never complained about anything. She has never been bitter or disgruntled. Actually, she’s been the most selfless, giving and generous person I’ve met. I remember once we were chatting about winning  a lottery and what we would do with all the money. She wanted to give it to her poor neighbors with little children. She didn’t have the money to give, but she often brought them fresh fruit and vegetables from her garden.

My grandma is 84 now. While many old wounds have healed, her life is far from bliss. A few years ago she lost her speaking skills after a stroke.  I don’t even know if she understands me when I talk to her on the phone, but I do know we communicate regardless.  My biggest regret though is that now that I have so many questions to her, a woman to woman,  all she can do is to respond to me with her weary look and a distant smile. I will never know more.

Great People I admire of whom I want my children to know: Iker Casillas

Obviously, I’d love to be a hero in my children’s eyes. Even better, a super-hero. I’d like them to see me as an embodiment of virtues.  But I know that sooner or later they will see me through. Next to my strengths, they will discover my weaknesses and they will have nothing else left but love their mom with all her flaws. But they will still look for their heroes elsewhere and I will support that. I want my children to learn from other people, to admire the great minds and be inspired by success.  And if they happen to need any guidance in their hero hunt, I will have a little list of great personas ready for them. From my accepting grandmother to modest Jamie Oliver,  I wish my kids could find their talents, strengths and humbleness inspirational.

Considering the heat of the World Cup, it is only natural to start the list off with a footballer, whose charisma brought me under his spell, even though I’m a very casual football enthusiast. I’m talking of course about Iker Casillas. Regardless of what happened in Brazil a few weeks ago, I can’t stop admiring living football legend.

The first time I heard of Iker Casillas was during the 2008 Euro Cup. He caught my eye as he reminded me of my brother. The more I was watching him, though, the less I was thinking about his seemingly familiar features and the more I was getting intrigued by his outstanding qualities. I couldn’t believe that with all the attention he’s been getting and a long list of honors and achievements, he has somehow managed to remain genuine, hardworking and so utterly humble. There seems to be nothing arrogant about him. He intimidates, but only with his massive talent. He strikes, but with focus and composure. Over the years, this outstanding goal keeper has so consistently proven his greatness that even the unfortunate tournament in Rio can’t take the glory away from him. What happens in Rio stays in Rio and Iker Casillas should stay in Real Madrid and La Roja. If he chooses so. We deserve to see more of this most inspiring goalkeeper. I hope we will.

And I hope that, like Casillas, my children will choose hard work and humbleness as a way to reach their dreams.

 

 

Meet Choco Chanelle

“Mommy, why don’t you sing a song like that?” my son asked the other day as we were driving and “Fancy” was playing on the radio. What was he trying to say? I do sing to him and he often points out that he doesn’t like it. I asked for clarification. In his mind, I should come up with a hit song in order to make lots of money. For toys. I commended my son for his entrepreneurial and out-of-the-box thinking, but I had to disappoint him. My career in music is quite unlikely. However, I asked him to wish me luck in writing. Perhaps my new book, “Choco Chanelle”, has a chance to become a bestseller?

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Choco Chanelle, a famous cake designer from Ganache. Her desserts are not only tasty, but also tastefully clad: elegant chiffon cakes wear silky gowns and cupcakes sport feathered hats. The people of Ganache love the sweet fashionistas as much as Choco’s scrumptious story about how she had blended haute couture into her cake mix.

A sweet story for anyone into cakes, fashion or both. This whimsical tale is deliciously illustrated with mouth-watering watercolors by a San Francisco artist, Nathalie Fabri.  A reading treat that will satisfy your little reader’s sugary cravings the way a real cupcake would, minus the sugar.

Available on Amazon. Check it out and let me know how you liked it!

 

(Un)Happy Meals?

No, no, I haven’t given up on this blog. I’ve just given in to the power of my allergies, colds, busy agenda and a few minor projects that inhaled all my writing time and energy in the recent weeks. May was surprisingly a very busy month for me.

But now I’m back with a few thoughts on the topic that has been making me boil over for a while. I was procrastinating with writing about it but  Michelle Obama’s recent setback in Congress reminded me that the issue can’t wait. I’m talking of course about the public school lunch menu.

I fully agree with the First Lady. We can’t play politics with our children’s health. Child’s obesity and bad eating habits are not just theories. These are scary facts. There is no place for lobbying, marketing campaigns and cost cutting in the school cafeteria. It’s about nutritious lunches for growing children and developing brains.

But unfortunately, not only. Surprise, surprise, children have taste buds! Next to being nutritious, the food must taste good as well!

When I first saw how the hot lunch works at my son’s school, I couldn’t believe  my eyes.  To begin with, there is no canteen on the school premises. The food comes pre-packed. Children pick up their lunch-boxes in a big meeting room and eat their meals anywhere on the campus.  Just to give you an idea, the lunch looks like an airplane meal. Economy class that is. It comes on a paper tray/plate and consists of a handful of deflated,  lettuce/veggie mix, packaged dressing, a little box of milk and the main meal, which is a foil-sealed, hot mystery: pasta, pizza, and even corn dogs, to name just a few. How healthy is that? What did they serve before the new guidelines?

Honestly. Really? Could the school lunch look less appealing?  How can a child take to eating healthy fare if the healthy part of the meal is so tasteless? Do you really think a seven-year old is going to eat raw broccoli and enjoy it? I’m not saying  let’s go back to the old junk version of lunch. What I’m saying is that the whole attempt to make the school canteen food healthier has turned out a little undercooked.  Is changing whole milk into low-fat better for children’s brains? Ask any dietician. Is replacing sugary soda with artificially sweetened one helping children focus better? Ask any ADHD counselor and offer your child water. Does pizza sauce qualify as a serving of veggies? Ask anyone from out of the country. How about a refreshing tomato & cucumber salad with greek yoghurt? Roasted carrots with a bit of butter anyone? Yes, butter. Not butter flavor. Baked sweet potato wedges? Italian wedding soup with spinach and meatballs? Any soup perhaps???????  Tasty and nutritious options are endless and it only requires a bit of common sense, creativity and real food to come up a nutritious menu that tastes good.

To conclude, I think the First Lady should stick to her guns. She is definitely on the right side of the debate. But I wouldn’t waste my time arguing with lobbyists and ignorants. I would hire a few good chefs to create healthy and delicious menu that no child will be able to resist. It’s certainly not a mission impossible.

Kids can make you feel…

Kids can make you feel proud, like when you freak out about running late while searching for your nowhere-to-be-found car keys and your five-year-old tries to calm you with  “Mommy, it’s not your worst day.” Kids can make your heart melt, like when your toddler greets his older brother with a good-morning hug or when the older guy finds his comfort zone next to his baby brother, not next to his friends at a birthday party.  Kids can make your adrenaline level go through the roof, like when seeing your rookie biker go down the hill at the speed of light. Kids can make your eyes roll, when your usually observant son can’t find a matching sock that he is just staring at. Kids can make you bite your tongue, when your friends comment  on your son’s name choice as a more suitable for Thor than a baby and you wonder if you should mention a potential a correlation between their son’s sorrowful name and him crying a lot?

But what I’ve been discovering lately is that kids can also make you feel quite humble. Like when you want to hide behind a menu card at a restaurant and anonymously take care of other people’s bills as a compensation for a zoo dinner experience. Or like when you have to pay 150 dollars for a shop window decoration that your boys decided to smash.  Or like when you have to apologize to the mother of a little baby that your unpredictable toddler decided to tackle for fun.

Parenthood is not only smiles and bliss. It’s a lot of tears and racing heartbeat. But you know what? I embrace it all and fully recommend it.

The Park Scene

Just as a day at a theme park proved inspirational (refer to my previous post), frequenting the  playground often leaves me with various reflections on parenting. After all, if you want to see practical parenting, there is no place like park. I find it amazing how kids from various backgrounds, often speaking different languages, play together in one sandbox. But it does not mean there are no issues. There are. There is always someone crying, someone falling, someone throwing sand on other kids’ heads. It can  even be quite entertaining at times. Like a reality show. Yet, many of the less funny incidents could easily be prevented, if the big and little park goers alike followed several simple rules. In the effort of enhancing a park experience for everyone, without depriving our children of valuable life lessons, I compiled a little list of suggestions.

Park Do’s and Don’ts:

1. Bring only the toys that you want to share with other children. Whether it is a bike or a shovel, it is obvious that other children might want to touch it. If you’re not up for it, leave the untouchable treasure at home. One boy chose not to and it became awkward.

One time, as I my toddler was playing at a playground,  he saw a bike with balloons attached to it. Of course he rushed to see the cool vehicle. I somehow noticed that the bike owner wasn’t very sharing-friendly and tried to keep my boy away from the balloons. At some point the biker came to me saying “I don’t want the baby to touch my bike!” Fair enough. Normally I wouldn’t argue. Only that this time, the boy was complaining about my son touching his bicycle while holding my son’s sand toys in his hands. I couldn’t help pointing it out. Seeing his embarrassed face was priceless. 

2. Encourage sharing. Do not force children to share.  Teach them taking turns, trading and playing together. Even my toddler waits in line to the slide patiently if you mention that it’s not his turn yet. Sharing is a good thing and it doesn’t take long for a child to notice positive aspects of being generous. Keep promoting it. Before you know it, they will be doing it without your help. Forcing children to share leaves them disgruntled, confused and feeling inferior and insecure.

3. Teach your child to be accountable for their actions. Do not apologize for your child’s bad behavior, unless they can’t talk yet. Although, even a non-talking toddler can give a hug as a sign of apology.  Do not tolerate a “whatever” attitude. A mean “sorry” is meaningless. Only a sincere “I’m sorry”, followed by a positive action should do.

4. Give children room. Do not watch their every step, do not listen to every sentence they say (and do not question it, correct it or comment on it). Do not intervene in every little conflict. Kids need to learn to sort things out by themselves. It’s a valuable life skill. Your monitoring  cripples them for life and makes you their spokesman for life.

5. Don’t pull out the ‘sensitive kid’ card

The other time at a park, my five-year-old was building a fort. Suddenly, I a little boy next to the fort started crying. I asked the boy’s mom if my son had hurt her child. “Oh, no,” she said. “Your son just didn’t want him to get inside the fort. He is crying because he is very sensitive.” I made sure my son apologized and opened the fort to other children, but I couldn’t believe the mom’s ‘sensitive’  answer to the whole thing. Calling your child sensitive is not going to help him learn how to resolve issues with other kids, is it? 

Another story, from  a water park.

Kids were having fun in the pool. Suddenly one boy swam outside the marked area and a lifeguard yelled at him to go back. The kid started crying. Reportedly his feelings were hurt and he needed an apology to calm down. 

I also know of a sensitive boy has recently yelled angrily at a child to move away from his way down the slide, and when splashed with water by a bunch of scooters riding through puddles, he wanted to “punch them in the faces”.

Sensitivity is great. But here is the news. All children are sensitive. We all are sensitive. But sensitivity can’t be used as an excuse to avoid accountability.

Do remember about children’s sensitive skin, though, and protect it with lots of sunscreen! Something I often forget. Shame on me.

5. And last but not least, let’s try to keep our phones in our purses or pockets. You might think that you’re just making a quick call, a fast check, sending one text. It’s always something important. The truth is it can wait. Often times it’s not that important. And being focused and less distracted when in park with our children is. More important, and more fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids Are What They Wear. Are They?

Spring is in the air and so are the spring breaks across the schools. Hope you have had, you’re having or you will have a good one! I’ve been fully enjoying a week without early drop offs, cooking and cleaning. Traveling with little kids is not always relaxing, but it’s a great way to get away from the daily routine. Plus, all the things you can discover when traveling (like Balboa Park in San Diego) and all the things you will do, even though you have always said you wouldn’t! In my case, it was visiting yet another theme park. How was I supposed to know that Sea World is not an aquarium. Go figure! But in the end it turned out fine. The kids were amused by rides and watching dolphins, and I had a wild time watching people. All those inventive hairdos, bold tattoos, party make-up, wacky outfits, snazzy accessories that one gets to see there! It makes you dizzy without taking a ride. I’m not judgmental, but one thing made me really mad. It was a little boy’s T-shirt that read: “My Mom Says I’m Bad Influence”. I know, it was supposed to be humorous, but somehow it did make me want to laugh. Instead I wanted to find whoever dressed that boy, perhaps the “funny” mother, and shake them. “Is that how you see your child?! Is that how you want others to see your child?!”

The unfortunate T-shirt made me reflect upon the clothes we put on our children. Parents are the first stylists, after all. Stylists that oftentimes are bad influence on children’s sense of fashion and beyond, to play on the T-shirt wording. What statements do we make on behalf of our little ones?  Some people say we are what we wear. What do we make out of our children?

I decided to examine my sons’ dressers. My toddler’s drawers were pretty straightforward. A bunch of T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, a few pairs of dressier outfits, barely used,  shorts, non-slippery socks. Comfort is definitely the common theme here.  Very different from my older son’s wardrobe when he was a baby and I wanted him to look nice, neat or sharp in his just-like-daddy’s dress shirts, buttoned cords, and graphic shirts announcing things like “Mommy’s All Star” or “Daddy’s Big Helper”. Somehow, this time around, such ‘opinionated’ clothes don’t appeal to me.  The cute ones are just too silly and the supposedly funny ones are a bad joke. Besides, it’s unfair to a child to be dressed according to their parents’ sense of humor, isn’t it? What’s more, I don’t want the labels like “Tough Guy” or “Here Comes Trouble” to stick to my son, even though he is strong and busy indeed.  If  I do dress him in graphics, I want the pictures to be about my toddler’s interests, not mine. But I must admit. I can’t escape imposing certain things, like the color choices. Naturally, since I buy his clothes I choose what strikes me. I can proudly say that his drawers are not blue thru and thru. But on the other hand, you want find there anything pink or purple, either.  Am I already teaching my son that these are not boyish colors?

Looking at my older son’s color range, I haven’t been much of an influence. I strongly promoted green when he was a baby, but now red, black and blue are his favorites. Black, because of ninjas, red because it’s snazzy and blue because he likes it. Just as he does comfortable sweatpants and sweatshirts for his daily attire. You might think he is just an easygoing boy who doesn’t care about what he puts on as long as it’s comfy. Think twice. Shirts can’t be too long and too wide. He says they make him look chubby. (Body image awareness at the age of 5?) Besides, comfy doesn’t mean sporty and he only likes sporty. From Nike to Puma, he wants his clothes and shoes to be ‘fast’. And cool. Star Wars on his socks, Skylanders on his underwear, sharks on his T-shirts. He almost wanted a shirt from Gap, but then he saw a tiny bear symbol… No more baby clothes for my big boy, with a clear say on fashion.

I wonder what has determined my older son’s sense of fashion. Have we steered him in this direction? How much do sports have to do with it? How much is peer pressure? The other day he wanted me to buy him laced sneakers for his best friend wore them. I tried to convince him that Velcro would make his life easier for now, but in his mind, laced shoes mean big-boy shoes, which is like a promotion. What style of clothes will my toddler commit to in a few years? Will he want to copy his brother? He already loves to wear his socks.

I never thought that as a mom of two boys I would be writing first-hand comments on fashion. But the truth is that fashion is a part of our lives and there is surely nothing wrong with a well dressed boy or girl. (One day they will be a well dressed man and woman.)  Neither is there something bad about having fun with fashion. It’s a personal choice. As a parent though, I think we have to be careful  about making fashion statements for our children. We should rather help them discover their own sense of fashion that suits their personality, lifestyle and doesn’t turn them into brand slaves, who think that ‘cool’ clothes turn them into cool kids. I think that clean and matching socks are of more importance.

There are certain grey zones for me, though. Not sure what to think about a cape clad boy on the first day of school for example. He is having fun as a Superman, but where are his Super Parents with their lessons on different dress codes?

Is My 5-Year-Old Burnt Out? Lessons Learned

Lessons Nr 1

A few days later, a new belt later…  It seems that my young TKD master has revived.  Perhaps  the decision of quitting was just a result of a bad day, perhaps the new belt had extra-motivational powers? Whatever it was the break is called off.

But I’m glad I agreed on quitting the sport to support his decision. And I’m happy that I gave him a chance to rethink things and get back to the routine when he was ready.

 

Lesson Nr 2

After my son had been ready to give up all of his after-school activities, as well as school itself, I  gave the whole thing more thought. Was my son really burnt out? Was he given too much to handle? Am I not motivating him right? Would he rather do something else?  Then I realized that the problem was not the schedule or activities as such. He likes Spanish and loves martial arts. The problem was my approach. I was constantly trying to optimize his schedule,  change days, add hours, move hours, take away hours… And what’s worse, I was consulting my son on the issue. I thought I was including him in the process, but in fact I made him co-responsible for planning his days. Was that not too much to handle!  In other words, when I showed him that he could make changes to his daily agenda, he took the opportunity.

Now, when he tries to convince me he is too tired for his classes,  I don’t engage in a discussion. I just remind him that he has made a commitment and suggest an earlier bedtime. Works wonders.

But of course, I am not going to fill his days to the brim. Making time for biking with friends and doing nothing is just as important.  There is only as much as a little guy can handle.

 

Smart or a “Smart Mouth”?

The other day, as my son was idling away on the couch, my husband asked him to help emptying dishwasher, which is our son’s chore. A longer while later, he finally got off the sofa with an announcement. “This is the last time I am doing it!” My husband decided to reason with our young rebel, saying that such threats don’t make much sense. “What if mom never again made your favorite French toast for breakfast?” But our son was not really done with his verbal ping-pong. “Think about all this bread that we would waste!” He pointed out.

Another time, as my son was looking for a TV remote, he tried to engage me in the search. I had better things to do so I told him that I never knew where the remote was and he should keep looking for it himself. He chose to motivate me instead. “Mom, just believe in yourself and then you’ll find it.”  (And I thought he never listened to my pep-talks!)

I think it goes without saying. My son is a back-talker. A witty one, but still a back-talker. Now, what do I do? I don’t want him to argue with teachers at school when things don’t go according to his plan. I guess talking back is better than throwing fits, but is it really? Tantrums seem more likely to lessen with age, whereas sassy talking can only get more sophisticated or arrogant with time. What clever retort is he going to come up with in a few years to avoid setting out trash?

Anyways, just wondering what your thoughts are on the topic. Smart or a “smart mouth”?How do you handle your child’s verbal attempts to get their way?  I’m still quite inconsistent. It’s easy to tell a child off for mockery or bad language, but it’s hard to keep a straight face when they just crack you up with their hilarious responses. I do try, though. After all funny or not, back-talking is bad-talking. Or is it not? And here we go again…

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