Trying It On For Size

Every week my youngest has preschool. It's only for a couple of hours and occurs three days a week. Every time I pick her up from school, you would think that she had been a tour around the world that latest months because of how much she tells me about her day. I hear about the "job" that she had that day (and apparently "line leader" is the most coveted responsibility whereas "napkin passer" isn't as glamorous), the friends that she played with, the letter she learned, the stories her teacher told and the craft she experimented with. For less than three hours, she sure does a lot.

Anyway, these little chats that we have are more than just post-preschool babble with a five year old. They offer me a glimpse into what she find important and interesting. They tell me what gets her blood pumping and that she loves to learn new things. They show me her inner world at a level that I wouldn't get otherwise. Because I'm listening.

Last week, she said something really interesting. I picked her up on Wednesday and on the way home she announced, "I think I'm going to be a little shy on Friday."

This really threw me because Emma is not a shy child. She introduces herself to new children and offers to be their friend right away. As we drive to the library she wonders out loud what new friends she will make when we get there. That's just the way she is. I wonder if I was that way and I became an introvert over time, but I don't remember those days and I'll have to let my mom fill in that blank.

Anyway, her announcement was unusual. I try to be very careful about how I position and phrase things as I've gotten burned by my kids not understanding sarcasm or rhetorical questions. So I paused for a second and then said, "Well, there's nothing wrong with being shy. But I wonder why you think you're going to be shy because you're usually not."

She sat in her car seat thoughtfully and replied, "I just think I'm going to be nervous."

The rest of the drive home was pretty uneventful, all four and a half minutes of it but my brain stayed stuck on this idea that she had posed to me. This idea that a personality is something you can try out for a day or two or that a certain situation requires a different state of being than one would normally find themselves in.

Obviously we all do that. I act one way with my best friend and another with my neighbor that I'm still getting to know. I act one way in casual social settings and another in professional environments. Most of us have this chameleon ability, to blend in and out of certain circles and relationships, to change ourselves even temporarily to "behave" when the stakes are high and "cut loose" when we can just be ourselves.

But this, of course, got me thinking even further. Who am I really? Which of these variations of "me" is truly ME? I began to run my mind in circles to identify what attributes truly defined me and which ones were something that I would just put on and take off as the situation demanded it.

I came up with an answer that works for me at the moment: the real me is the one that exhausts me the least.

Keeping up a facade is exhausting. Juggling the appearance balls is ridiculously overwhelming and can wear me down faster than any exercise I've ever tried in my life. But just being me? That's almost effortless. I don't have to watch what I say, walk on egg shells, or second guess every decision because what I'm doing feels right and goes fairly smoothly. The older I get and the more I pay attention to these things the easier it is for me to identify when I'm being authentic. I am more introverted than extroverted so any kind of interaction with people can wear me out, but it's not as bad when I'm just being myself.

As I write this, I'm now thinking that maybe this has been why I've been so tired lately. We got a new puppy, so yes, that's probably also contributing to the issue, but it still feels more tiring than usual. Am I really being myself? Am I really being authentic? If not, what areas of my life can I infuse with more "me" to bring myself back to center? Definitely something to think about.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my youngest did not act shy last Friday at school. She actually forgot her plan and was just herself that day. And she had a very good day.

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The Joy of Disconnection: Three Lessons From a Laptop-Free Vacation

I can't believe the kids are back in school. It seems like they just started summer break, but this morning I hugged the four of them goodbye and watched them walk or ride the bus to school. The time goes so fast. It might sound cliché but it's 1000% true (otherwise, it wouldn't be a cliché, right?) that you blink and your kids have grown up. It made me stop to catch my breath. isaac sandWe took a family vacation last week which was awesome. We didn't do anything crazy or super fancy, but we were together, which of course is what matters most. And it marked the first time that all seven of us (me, the fiancé, and all five kids) went on a family vacation. So, yes, it was a big deal. We had a lot of beach time, family dinners at the table, go karts and bowling... we just spent time together and the future Mr. and I just soaked it all in.

My usual routine when traveling or going on vacation is to pack the electronics, a notebook or two and of course the laptop so I can be reached if anyone needs me. I generally peek into email a couple times to make sure there are no fires happening and no one is dying to get a hold of me. Historically, I tend to work while on vacation which can be great for productivity, but not so great for that whole "recharging" thing.

But this past week was different. I was still connected in that I had my phone with me everywhere (hey, I had to get pictures, ok?) and I checked in on Facebook and Twitter every once in a while. But, do you want to hear something C-R-A-Z-Y?

I didn't even crack my laptop. Not once. The entire week.

I would assume that this would have caused some twitching and convulsing and other withdrawal symptoms to appear. But it didn't. In fact, I didn't even realize that I hadn't opened my laptop until the day before we were set to leave and head home. That's incredible and if you know me even a little, you know just how incredible that is.

So looking back, I can see that were a couple of things that I learned during this no laptop vacation:

  1. I enjoyed the silence. This is big for me. It is not easy for me to just sit and be. This is easily the thing I have been working the most on in my own personal development for the past couple of years. But I loved the lack of sounds, alerts and electronic white noise that is such a constant in my every day life. I just soaked in the silence. And I've been craving it big time ever since we got back.
  2. I am getting better at being present. Meditation and mindfulness have been such a godsend for me. With both of these tools at my disposal, I'm building a better life through self-awareness, brick by ever loving brick. And the more I practice them, the stronger they get. I am nowhere near being a zen master (and honestly, I have no aspirations of becoming one; I just want a better handle on my own personal sanity) but I can feel the progress in my every day life.
  3. I'm noticing the distractions more. I'm not saying that I'm getting distracted more often, just that I'm noticing more when it happens. How often do you pop onto your phone to do something like check the time, but then you start to clear out those annoying red alerts (disclosure: I'm a bit OCD in the way I try and tackle them all and get rid of them), then end up spending about 30 minutes on your phone and you don't even realize it? It's just such a part of life now that it's a major habit for a lot of people. This past week, I could tell when my phone was getting in the way. In fact there was one point where I actually began to laugh because I realized that I was surfing through Instagram rather than enjoying the beach right in front of me. Needless to say, I put the phone away and let the kids bury me in the sand (a total first, by the way).

I'm sure I can glean several more lessons from last week's unintentional experiment, but these three are really sticking with me. And while I'm not advocating a full digital detox (although I would love to hear from you all that have done it and what your experience was like), taking those brief sabbaticals to refocus on life happening in front of you can be very eye opening. I love the line from John Mayer's song "3x5" that says

"Didn't have a camera by my side this time / Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes."

Every week I try to have one offline day where I don't hit the laptop and the only time I go on the iPad is to read on the Kindle. What about you? Will you take some time this week to disconnect for a while and learn something about yourself? What will you do? Share it with us below.

Those Little Things Get Me. And They Get Me Good.

For the past 2 and 1/2 school years, every time I've driven my kids to school we take the same route. It's just easier that way. And wrangling three (sometimes four when we carpool) kids out the door and getting them to school is a feat in and of itself so there's no need to complicate things, right? stop signAnyway, we take the same route and drive roughly 6 blocks to get to the school. And about two blocks from the building is a crossing guard. I don't have a clue what his name is, I only know him by sight. 

And what a sight he is.

He is always happy. Always. Even when he's standing there in his bright yellow poncho, getting drenched or knee-deep in snow, he's smiling. He waves at every single car and pedestrian and is always pleasant. I can't recall a single day that he wasn't there.

At New Year's he wears a Happy New Year hat (or crown on top of his ball cap) and on St. Patrick's Day he has a green hat and a shamrock necklace. For Christmas... you guessed it. He wears a Santa hat.

But that isn't the best part. The best part is his Friday Happy Dance. And it happens every Friday.

We drive up and we see him off to the right and the kids immediately get excited (even the 2 year old who doesn't really have a clue what's going on). As soon as we're close, he begins the Friday Happy Dance. He pumps his arms and throws his head back and says "It's Friday!" He doesn't scream it, he just kind of cheers. But the kids love it and he does it for everyone who passes either on foot or in a car. 

As we're driving down the street, they start saying "Mom, it's Friday! We'll see the Friday dance!" 

And I just smile because it's such a sweet little thing that gets me every week. And it gets me good. 

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Forgetting the Unnecessary "Shoulds"

Last night was one of those nights. I sat on the couch, my older children playing together on the floor and the baby in her bouncy seat next to me. The stress of the day hadn't melted off my shoulders yet and I kept replaying events in my head, filing away some thoughts as I went. All the kids were content and no one was demanding my attention. Instinctively, my head then turned to my never-ending to-do list. The unfinished tasks of the day loomed large and my immediate reaction was to run through my "shoulds."

I should be doing laundry. The piles in the basement and the bedrooms are getting out of control.

I should empty the dishwasher and hand wash the bottles.

I should pack the kids' lunches for morning.

I should be drafting up notes for a project plan. We have a huge initiative coming up at work and I'll be managing the implementation.

I should be jotting down ideas for that new creative project I want to start.

I should... I should... I should...

You know what I'm talking about, right?

Well last night, I didn't do any of the shoulds. I sat on the floor and I played with the kids. I snuggled the baby and let the peace of her breathing wash over me. I let the laundry and dishes sit, knowing the other tasks could wait until morning.

I didn't need to "do" anything. I just needed to be.

I needed to be Mom. I needed to be Angela.

So I did. And it was wonderful.

Our Overnight Adventure at Cleveland Zoo

A little less than two months ago, I got an email from the Cleveland Zoo about some educational and family programs they had coming up. With everything that has happened this summer, I decided that the kids and I really needed something to look forward to and make the summer a positive one. So I signed us up for the Rising Waters Safari Overnight Adventure. I swear this has to be one of Cleveland's best kept secrets because I've told so many people about it and the common response I got was "I didn't know they did that!" And let me tell you, it was awesome. The packing list was simple: sleeping bag, pillow, clothes and toiletries. They also recommended rain gear, just in case. We brought bug spray and wipes and some basic things, but everything fit in our backpacks so it wasn't incredibly cumbersome to bring it along.

When we arrived, we went straight to our tents which were huge... big enough for four bunk beds to fit inside (and this 29 week pregnant woman appreciated the fact that I wasn't sleeping on the floor). We unpacked our gear then met outside to learn some facts about Africa and a few words in Swahili. The kids loved it from the start. They were engaged and answered questions right away. I was thrilled to see their comfort levels so high.

Our first event involved meeting some animal friends: a barn owl, a snake and a hedgehog. The presenters were excellent and they kept the kids interested with stories about the animals and their habits. To top it off, the kids got to pet the snake and the hedgehog which made them feel extra special.


We got a private viewing of the elephants and the new elephant crossing venue (which is really an awesome facility if you get a chance to see it). They had a scavenger hunt booklet that gave the kids extra educational opportunities to explore their knowledge of animals and we never felt rushed to move to the next thing. We got to do a craft (the kids made bags to carry their water bottles) and roast marshmallows for s'mores around a big campfire. I was impressed at how well the event was organized and how smoothly the whole thing ran.

The last event of the day was the part that I was most excited about: we took a night hike with Night Vision Binoculars (the geek in me couldn't wait to try them out even though I was already exhausted). The zoo was so peaceful at night and checking out the animals in the eerie green light did give us an "explorer" kind of feel to the whole thing.

Off to bed we went and I don't think the kids lasted five minutes before they were out for the night. Snuggled in their sleeping bags on the top bunks, I never heard a peep once we turned out the light in the tent.

The next morning we had a basic breakfast (cereal, granola bars, fruit cups) and God bless them, they had coffee. I knew we had some more events that morning, but I had no idea what they were, so I was just as anxious to know what was next as the kids were. First we went to the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine which my daughter LOVED since she wants to be a veterinarian (and has stuck to it for at least three years now). We got to see what an animal hospital looks like and also find out what kind of supplies the zookeepers need on a daily basis to take care of the animals.

Next stop: The Rhino House! We got to meet the zookeeper who takes care of the rhinos, including the new baby (who still weighs over 1,000 pounds). Again, the presentation was really educational and the kids got a lot out of her talk.


And then, the unexpected happened... they let us pet the male Rhino! Let me tell you, even the adults were pretty excited about that. My son wasn't up for it, but my daughter stepped up and pet him like a pro!

After the program was over, we were able to wander around the zoo although we only made it about an hour before we were all ready to go home. The overnight was a huge success and I'm so glad we were able to do it. My daughter is already talking about attending the one in the winter and I'm sure it will be just as fun as this one. Great thanks go to the staff members who made it a true adventure to remember.

Mouth of Babes Monday

One day I had laid my son down for an afternoon nap. I was in my home office trying to get some blogging and writing down when my five year old came in. I could hear my son kind of fussing in his room, but I was doing my best to ignore it for a bit so I could be productive.

My daughter said to me, "Mommy, Isaac wants his green dinosaur."

I replied, "Ok," not really fully hearing her as I was engrossed in my writing.

That's when she said, "Well, I've decided to give it to him."

Ok, great. Glad we could chat about your "decision."

Teaching Kids the Joy of Giving

My daughter's birthday was last week (and thanks for all the notes that everyone sent via comments and Twitter). As much as I love the fact that my daughter is growing older and becoming her own person, I was quite bothered by a lot of the things that I heard her saying. For the most part, everything she said started with "I want," or "Can I have...?"

It seems my daughter has gotten a case of the gimme gimme's. And I'm determined to nip it in the bud.

I am a giver. Before I go on, let me say that I'm not telling you this to brag or to show you how wonderful I am. Sometimes I give too much and it gets me into trouble. But I am constantly on the lookout for ways that I can bless other people. I have been so blessed in life and I have more than I could ever really need and I've been taught from a young age to give to others and to try and not focus on myself all the time. Ever since I've really started this self-improvement journey (which really started about 7 years ago and has been chronicled in this blog for nearly 2 years), those lessons have been coming back to me again and again.

So now I'm taking on the job of passing those lessons on to my daughter. Here is my plan:

  1. Talk about giving, not getting. I have been having chats with all the aunts and uncles, babysitters, friends, and other adults that we regularly see about the upcoming holidays and my daughter. I've asked all of them to not ask her what she's getting for Christmas. I've asked them instead to ask her what she is going to get for her family members, classmates, etc.
  2. Give away some of what you have. This week's organizational project in my house is to go through the kids' overwhelming mountain of toys we call toy boxes and give at least half of them away to local charities, organizations, and Goodwill. The kids will go through the toys with me and they will go with to the donation station. I will admit, my daughter is a bit nervous on this one.
  3. Take Action. There are lots of ways to help others, especially this year with the economy being down and people everywhere struggling. I plan on getting some of my friends and family together to adopt-a-family. This is where you commit to helping a family in need and the local organization that is sponsoring the event delivers toys, food, and clothing to the families. Today, lots of people definitely need the help.
  4. Keep looking for opportunities. There will be countless other ways I can teach this life lesson to my kids as the holidays come upon us. By being on the lookout for these, I'm less likely to miss them when they present themselves.

So now I'm curious. Are you teaching your kids the joy of giving? How? Any lessons from the past you want to share with the rest of us? Tell us your story.

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First Day of Pre-K and Mommy Didn't Cry

Yep, you read that title right. I didn't cry when I dropped her off. Crying while I blogged about it yesterday morning was a different story! But my little girl went off to school and she wants to go back on Friday, so that's a very good sign. My son felt very left out so he insisted he wear his "new" shoes (they weren't new, I just called them new to pacify him), grabbed his backpack and joined in the first day picture fest.

Yup, she's growing up. Her recap of her first day included:

  • We danced
  • We sang the cleanup song
  • She likes her teacher
  • They played on the playground
  • They ate a snack (cheerios and milk)
  • She made new friends but can't remember any of their names.

All in all a success although little brother didn't like it so much. There was definitely some candy shopping at 9:30 am to get him calmed down. But, once he got home and figured out he had complete control of the television, he didn't mind so much. Although he did seem a bit lost without his best friend.

So thanks for all the notes yesterday. You guys are great! I'm sure it will hit me again, but I'm more proud than anything else!

A Big Day Lies Ahead...

This is a very big day for me. My little girl is going to school. I cannot express the range of emotions so far (but I can also guarantee other mothers know EXACTLY what I'm talking about here). It's going to be an interesting day to say the least. Now, granted she's just going to Pre-K and it's only for 2 1/2 hours, 3 days a week. But still... it's the concept of it all. The fact that she is going to "school." That she has a backpack full of school supplies and a pile of new school clothes. That she is talking about what she'll ask her teachers and what she wants to do with her classmates. This is mind-blowing for me!

As a mother, I am thrilled for her. I'm also terrified. We've pretty much only had private babysitters. We tried a daycare once and it was a nightmare. I know it's not indicative of all daycares, just that one, but we decided to stick with private babysitters after that. With all the fears running through my head, I feel like it's MY first day of school, not just hers. I'm worried about things like "what if the other kids are mean to her?" "What if she gets really frustrated like she tends to if she can't figure something out right away?" "Will she like it?" "Will she listen?"

I realize I am not the first mom to have these thoughts and worries. I realize that I need to be a positive role model in this for her and not cry and embarass her - not that she would care, but I still don't want to cry. I'll at least wait until I get back in the car. I also realize that I am not the only mom having these thoughts today. Lots of moms are probably typing the exact same things I am today.

Regardless, it's going to be a big day. For her and for me. Looks like we're both growing up.