Category: Parent

Pom-poms and cardboard- expensive toys are overrated

My kids are totally obsessed with fuzzy pom-poms. You may have gathered that from my Easter post. They love to make crafts with them, count them, sort them, and now we are making games out of them. My kids do not like going outside in the winter- which I do not fuss about! So, we need to get creative with how we spend our time inside.

I should also admit that my twins are very competitive with one another. They make everything a competition to try to be the first to win a non-existent trophy. No joke. If one reaches the sink first, she will run back to her sister to snatch the invisible trophy from above her head. Then she chant’s, “I won the trophy and youuuu didn’t!” Not as charming when experienced first hand.

It isn’t any wonder that the girls really LOVE this game! They rush to see who can empty the pom pom bowl the fastest. You can make this game at home by grabbing whatever you have on hand!!

 

Easy materials you may already have at home.
Easy materials you may already have at home.
  • Fuzzy pom-poms (we through in some rubber spiky balls for fun)
  • A pair of tongs
  • 2 empty paper towel tubes
  • 2 empty baskets
  • Tape

 

Tape to the fridge, a door, or a wall.
Tape to the fridge, a door, or a wall.

Tape your empty tubes to the fridge, a door, or a wall. I taped ours to the fridge to keep the kids occupied while I make dinner. It was hard at first to not to play this game too. I’m kind of a winner and I like to compete. (Oh my little apples, I’m so sorry).

 

Simply use tongs to drop the pom-poms through the tube.
Simply use tongs to drop the pom-poms through the tube.

To play, simply use the tongs (or even tweezers) to drop the pom-poms through the tube and into the basket! The first one to fill their basket wins the game! (And gets to snatch the invisible trophy hanging above their siblings head).

This is great for developing fine motor skills. It also encourages color matching/sorting, sorting by size and counting. You’re child doesn’t have to be ready for any of those things to play this game. This is great for even the 18M + crowd. As long as you are playing with them to be sure they do not eat the pom-poms, or the tweezers, or lick the fridge. Well, that might not be so harmful.

Click the links below for more fun ways to play with pom-poms:

 

Pom-pom transfer game – great for fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and just plain fun!

Pom-pom turn taking game – teach kids the art of patience while they wait to take their turn! Just like Kerplunk!

Pom-pom baby play– For the moms with toddlers (age 1+)

Pom-poms– 10 ways to have fun!

Pom-pom catapult– because this is fun at any age!

 

Why bother buying expensive toys when kids really will play with cardboard and tweezers?

 

 

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Kids just wanna have fun!

If you were a child in the 1980’s your birthday party might look something like this: friends, cake, ice cream and the backyard. Or, if you were really lucky, you got a party at McDonald’s.

mcdonald's party

If you are a child in the 2000’s your birthday party might look something like this: A high society ball.

We do birthdays a little different. Instead of spending several hundred dollars on a single party, we take our kids on a family vacation. Instead of entertaining them with a 4-hour party we spend the week visiting museums, aquariums, swimming, hiking and making lifelong memories. But my kids do have a specific formula for a birthday: play time, cake, presents and goody bags. In that order.

This year we did not go away because we are saving for a bigger trip next year. But, to satisfy my kids’ birthday requirements, I had a cozy play-date with cupcakes with an under the sea theme. We had a total of 10 kids and 8 adults the day of our party (down from 15 kids and 12 adults). Sadly, six kids cancelled due to ear infections and colds. A common hazard for winter parties: sick kids and snow days.

Our total budget for the party including food, cake, new birthday outfits and presents was just around $170. Here’s what it looked like:

Twin tanks with subtle embellishments.
Twin tanks with subtle embellishments.

I made these adorable shirts by simply ironing on little octopus embellishments to a tank top we already own. Paired with a 5-layer tutu and leggings, we have a complete ensemble for $15.00 each kid. Total for outfits = $30.00

After a little search on Pintrest I found I can make seaweed out of crepe paper. What? It was really easy! Just tape and twist two different colors of crepe paper together- done! I used less than 2 rolls for all our decorating. I used colorful paper plates as coral, and cut out fish shapes from glittery scrapbook paper.

Our dining room under the sea.

Next I hung a fishnet that I found for only $3.00 at the local party store. I added seashells, pictures of my kids and little fish embellishments I found at the dollar store.

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Scrap book embellishments are a perfect addition to our fishnet.
Jelly fish/sea creatures.
Jelly fish/sea creatures.

I took a little help from the party store and purchased pre-made tissue paper pom-poms. (I have attempted to make on my own and they do not look the same). I used crepe paper to look like tentacles. I hung these throughout the play room to look like sea creatures under the sea.

Total for decorations = $23.00

For activities we had a pinata (at my daughters’ request), an under the sea mystery box filled with shells we collected at our last beach outing, and the toys in our play room (totally free by the way).

I left the goody bags empty so the kids could fill them with the loot from the treasure chest. Instead of filling up the box with bags and candy, we chose fake jeweled rings, compass rings, under the sea creatures, necklaces and (chocolate) gold coins. It’s more like pirate booty and less sugar for the kids.

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Pirate booty.

Making our loot bags was super easy thanks to Michael’s. I simply picked up a pack of plain white paper bags for $5.00 and attached some beach themed scrap book stickers. These adorable 3-D sea shell stickers were on clearance. I tied a pretty ocean blue ribbon on the top and done!

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Materials for DIY goody bags.

 

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Our finished goody bags.

 

The mystery box contained sea shells and beach rocks we collected during our visit to the beach. We added  “sea urchins” (little spiky rubber balls) and a few plastic sea creatures. Believe it or not, we already had those items on hand. The only cost for this is the wrapping paper ($1.00 at Target).

Under the sea mystery box.
Under the sea mystery box.

I even made a space for an under the sea photo op!

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Under the Sea photo booth.

Total for activities = $45

I went really simple with the food: cheese cubes and grapes on skewers to look like coral, fish shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, homemade shells and cheese, fish and chips (Goldfish crackers and potato chips) seaweed salad and sausage and peppers (I couldn’t find a clever name for that).  Drinks for kids were juice boxes and for parents beer, wine and seltzer. Easy! Total food & beverages = $60.00

Our total for gifts = $10.00. I know you’re thinking, “What kind of cheapskate parents spend only $10 on birthday presents?” We bought only a handful of small gifts for the kids to open at the party. Their big gift from mommy and daddy was a ride on the polar express. (Purchased months in advance- not part of the party budget).

Since the girls’ birthday falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas we often ask guests to bring a canned good for us to take to the food pantry. This year we collected gently-used coats and warm winter clothes for children in our local foster homes. I was completely taken aback by everyone’s generosity! I hope this is one birthday tradition my kids will continue throughout life- giving back on their birthday.

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Collecting donations at a birthday party is a super easy way to give back!

 

 

After the party dust settled, the girls and I recycled some of the party decorations into thank you cards for our guests. I gave the kids some dot paints and paper, then we embellished them with the little decorations from our fish net.

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Hand crafted and personalized thank you notes.

 

The party was relaxed, the kids had fun and the moms even got a chance to sit down with a glass of wine and finish a few sentences. We didn’t break the bank for the kids to celebrate and get together with friends. I’d say that’s a formula for a successful party!

 

 

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I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

Simmer down now, this is a family show!

I don’t know about you but I am filled with a great determination to get organized this year! (Maybe it is just coincidence that about 1.2 million other people have this same urge?). Now that my twins are 4 I feel like I am finally coming out of survival mode. I’ve taken a look around the house and wow is it a mess! Well, not that anyone would actually see it as a mess because like everyone else I keep it all hidden in the closets! *wink*

I was hesitant to write about the dirty little secrets I keep behind closed doors. I mean who really cares about MY messes right? Well, we’re all friends here so I think it’s OK to let you take a peek. It will be like the Whatever philosophy expressed in pictures. Alright, only two pictures. I know we’re friends, but let’s not over share.

I was ridiculously overjoyed when I found these little beauties at Sam’s Club:

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The best way to my heart is through organization supplies.

 

Yes, that IS twelve clear-plastic, empty shoe boxes for just $9.94! (I admit I have a strange addiction to storage totes and office supplies). But, where to use them? Hmmm…

How about that crazy bathroom closet I CAN NOT keep tidy?! Here we go! My bathroom closet stores all our extra supplies, the kids bath stuff, my hubby’s stuff and just a bunch of stuff. It looks like this:

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Whatever pic #1- open door and drop stuff where ever. Just don’t look back.

 

Every morning I go rummaging around for my deodorant at the bottom of one of these cute baskets I employ to keep me organized. It’s always the wrong basket and I always drop something. No more!

 

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Whatever pic #2- this is what works for me!

 

Let there be boxes!!! Glorious see through boxes!! (I won’t tell you how many boxes are just for my products alone). Now when I do my hair I can pull out just the supplies I need without having to rummage around and carry them in my arms. I can have all my make up next to me at once instead of pulling out three different bags. Now to find pretty labels.

 ~ ~ FAMILY SHOW PORTION ~ ~ 

I did say this is a family show, so here is how I plan to bring the kiddos in on helping me keep things tidy.

Neither of my girls will stick to a chore chart. I think the longest one has lasted is three days. BUT! They are amazing helpers. Most often I cannot finish a task alone because one of my littles will ask to help. Sometimes I just want to finish MY OWN task (like tearing apart a closet). That’s where these helping hands come in!

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I have a love/hate relationship with stickers (as in I hate peeling them off the floor). I was happy when the girls let the sticker charts go. NOTE: If you notice a chair or rug that seems out of place in our  house, it is probably there to cover a stubborn sticker that refused to be removed. (Cue my new strange addition: Goo Gone).

Here’s how Helping Hands work:

Trace your child’s hand on a colorful piece of paper. Allow your child to decorate with (cringe) stickers, or jewels, or just color with a crayon.

Allow child to trace their own hands and decorate!
Allow child to trace their own hands and decorate!

Write a chore or helpful task on a Popsicle/craft stick.

Write out chores or helpful tasks.
Write out chores or helpful tasks.

Glue the decorated hands to the sticks and allow to dry.

Kids can pull out a helpful hand when needed.
Kids can pull out a helpful hand when needed.

Display upright in a pretty vase or jar, or you can stack them in a … clear plastic storage box? [har har]

When my kids want to help, but I need space to do what I need to get done, I ask them, “you know what would really be helpful? Can you pull out a helping hand?” Maybe my kids are weird (Hello apple? Meet tree.), but they really love a good task!

 

Now, it’s your turn to share a pic of that secret cluttered mess!

 

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DIY Shower Soothers Using 3 Ingredients

This weeks post is going to be short and sweet. My little girl picked up a terrible cold virus. It comes with a wicked cough and major sinus congestion. She woke me up at 3:00 a.m. standing by my bed shouting, “mom!! I can’t smell!!” Poor kid.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many medicines a 4 year old can take for a cold. So, I have to find ways to help ease her symptoms without giving her a ton of medicine.

Years ago my sister in law gave me these really wonderful shower soothers scented with lavender. The running water in the shower melts the disc and releases the scent. I wonder if I can make some with the soothing vapors of vapor rub? Turns out, I can!

After some Googling and searching the Intereweb I find a recipe for DIY vapor shower discs using only 3 ingredients- water, baking soda and vapor rub (any brand). Luckily, I already have all of these things on hand! No need to drag a sick kid through the store! Awesome!

Here are the Ingredients:

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All the items you need for this project.

 

Here’s the DIY:

Add 1 cup of boiling water to glass mixing bowl, or measuring cup.

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Begin by boiling 1 cup of water.

Add a generous scoop of vapor rub to boiling water and mix until melted. (I used 2 Tablespoons).

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For stronger vapor release simply add more vapor rub to boiling water.

Add water 1 Tablespoon at a time to 1 cup of baking soda and blend until consistency reaches a smooth paste. (Should not be watery).

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Consistency should be pasty, but not watery.

 

Pour mixture into lined muffin tin. *Liners keep the strong odor of the eucalyptus from “sticking” to your pan.*

Pour into muffin liners 3/4 to the top.
Pour into muffin liners 3/4 to the top.

Allow to sit over night at room temperature to dry out and harden.

Use muffin liners when using petroleum based vapor rub.
Use muffin liners when using petroleum based vapor rub.

Gently remove each disc from pan and remove liner. Store in an air tight container (mason jars work great). Keep in the bathroom on a shelf and toss into shower when ready.

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Store discs in air tight container. Any glass, or plastic jar will do.

 

These work beautifully and double as a shower timer! As soon as it melts it is time for sissy to take her shower.

I wish I could stick around to share more. But, my mommy senses are tingling… they’re telling me there is a nose that needs to be wiped and juice to be fetched.

If you’re looking for more to read check out my fabulous giveaway post from last week. See how you can win a $25.00 Toys R Us gift card!

 

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Thanksgiving is here!!

Wishing all my readers a very healthy and happy Thanksgiving! Safe travels and may your stuffing be perfect!

The girls have the entire Thanksgiving week off from school. We have been busy decorating, baking and making the house a giant mess. I am actually thankful for the toys scattered about the house. It means  I have two amazingly creative kids who get lost in their imaginations. It’s not fun cleaning it all up again, but one day those little messes won’t be there to organize. Before I know it both my kids will be off to college and ready to start life on their own. Every now and then it hits me that having twins means they both leave at the same time. Such a scary thought. Until then I’ll try to remain thankful for the messes, the chaos and the perfectly imperfect days we share.

Here’s a round up of our week:

We started off by making a Thankful Tree. I used brown craft paper for our tree, but you can easily use a brown paper grocery bag. I traced and cut out leaves to write our thankful things on. Then we it all taped to the wall. The girls decided to pick out pictures of things they are thankful for. We pulled out some family pics I had taken through out the year, but you can easily use pictures cut from a magazine. Both of the girls kept calling it the Giving Tree. That would be a great story to read along with this project if you have it! If not you can get animated versions on Youtube. I found a copy of the original 1973 movie version narrated by Shell Silverstein!

Our thankful tree!
Our thankful tree!

I rolled out brown craft paper the entire length of the table so the girls could create their own pictures. We traced our hands to look like turkeys. The girls enjoyed making mama turkeys and baby turkeys. Again, you can easily recycle brown grocery bags for this project. Let the kids get creative!

DIY turkey table runner
DIY turkey table runner

I made these counting turkeys a few weeks ago which the girls really enjoy using. I just used materials we have on hand. Yes, I always have clothes pins and googly eyes on hand! Find instructions HERE.

Clothespins are great for working developing fine motor skills.
Clothespins are great for working developing fine motor skills.

Thanksgiving Eve packets!! I set these activities out the night before to surprise the girls with in the morning. This will keep us busy for a while! If you are following The Whatever Mom on Facebook you already know where to find these turkey printables!

Our turkey table
Our turkey table

We had our first winter storm yesterday. The snowy morning really put me in the mood for some good, warm comfort food. I made us some coconut, carrot french toast. It is inspired by the french toast I am in love with at one of my favorite restaurants (Love Bites). Not as good as theirs, but still a good way for me to sneak in some veggies and protein!

Coconut, carrot french toast.
Coconut, carrot french toast.

 

4 slices of favorite bread

2 eggs

1 small carrot (finely grated)

3 Tablespoons coconut flakes

1/3 cup milk (any kind)

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla

1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon

2 Tablespoons butter

Melt butter in skillet on medium heat. Whisk the eggs and milk together. Then add in rest of ingredients and whisk until combined. Dip bread into mixture and be sure to cover both sides. Place in heated pan. Cook both sides until golden brown.

We didn’t have maple syrup so I sprinkled with powdered sugar. A snow breakfast for a snowy day!

 

Whatever you do today enjoy your time with family and friends. If you plan to celebrate the day alone, I hope you still have plenty to be thankful for!

 

Thank you for reading and sharing!!

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Weekly Round Up!

So… after a rough week with the kiddos I took my Whatever philosophy to heart and gave myself the night off. Which meant I didn’t get my Friday Facebook Roundup to you. At least you’ll have fun reading this morning!

Put the kids in front of the cartoons and check out these links!

 

You can never have too much glitter with this Gobble Globe!

I am a sucker for a painted kiddie hand print turkey!

Keep the kiddies busy during Thanksgiving break with these FREE coloring pages!

Can’t wait to make this our new Thanksgiving breakfast tradition!

A great project for older kids- Gratitude Placemats!

Kids will have fun (and develop fine motor skills) with this fun beaded napkin ring project!

This one is super easy! Even toddlers can help make these Thanksgiving Silverware Napkin Rings!

Let the kids join the fun in making this kid friendly Thanksgiving Table Runner!

Color your own Thanksgiving Placemate!

For my vegetarian friends, Thanksgiving Meatless Main Dishes!

Sweet idea for a Thanksgiving play date- Turkey pudding cups!

Adult friendly dessert in a glass- A Frozen Turkey!

Can’t get enough of these FREEBIE coloring pages!

Finally, the best thing I’ve ever made Sweet Potato Casserole!

 

Also, don’t miss my personal blog post this week, 7 Ways Being a Mom Has Made Me a Horrible Friend.

 

Join me on Facebook to get all these great tips every day!

 

Have a great weekend!

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7 Ways being a parent has made me a horrible friend

Ok, I’m not a horrible friend. But, I am definitely not as good a friend as I used to be. Before motherhood I was the girl you’d call at 2 a.m. and sob about your broken heart. I was the first to remember your birthday and get everyone together for cake. I’d join you at the gym any night of the week; and if your car broke down in the ghetto I’d leave work early to come get you. Now, that I have kids I am completely unreliable to be there in a crisis and my friends may get a birthday card a month later. I know people are disappointed by this. What they don’t realize is that it is just as painful to me to not be available.

When my kids were just about 2 years old a friend’s apartment was hit by the flood waters of a hurricane. It pained me to see pictures and status updates on Facebook showing the ruins of her home. I wanted to be able to rush to help and sift through the remains with her. At the time I had two babies in tow and had to put their safety first (as well as their nap time and feeding schedule). I couldn’t afford to pay someone to sit with my kids to drive 3 hours one way to help and then return home. I didn’t have family that could just stay at my house until I could return. Recognizing my limitations, I did my best to send emotional support from where I was in life. But, it wasn’t enough. She stopped returning my phone calls, emails, private messages, etc. I could tell there was a shift and when I called her out and asked what’s up? I got the cold shoulder. A “nothing” response. Eventually, it came out a year later she was angry that my husband and I did nothing to help her. At the time my husband was working two jobs seven days a week. If we were lucky we saw him for 1 hour a day.

So, what happens when we become parents? Why such a change in our friendships? Here are my thoughts:

1. Everyone has different expectations. It took a really long time for me to adjust to the new normal of parenting. The demands of being the sole caretaker to twins commanded my attention first. I had my own expectations of life as a parent and had to learn to change them all in a second while everyone else continued living at the same pace. My friend’s expectations were I’d still be the same and be able to give as much as I had before. Impossible when you become a mom.

2. Mommy Brain. There is scientific evidence this condition exists! How it works is I walk to the fridge completely set on getting a glass of milk and what I walk away with is the empty coffee pot from the counter. I have zero recollection of how I got to the living room with an empty coffee pot or why I was even in the kitchen in the first place. I wake up Monday morning and I think, “So-and-so’s birthday is next week I should send a card.” Then I wake up in October and think, “I did send her a card right?”

3. Routines and Schedules change. Once you are a parent you live and die by the almighty schedule. There is a schedule for diaper changing, for feeding, for naps and for all the activities you would like to accomplish while nap time takes place. You remember to call your friend to congratulate her on her engagement, or new job just as your head hits the pillow at night. You think, I’ll definitely remember to call tomorrow!

4. Limited Funds. This one doesn’t require much explanation. Once you are paying a mortgage payment for diapers, wipes and formula you get it. Some of us have to live and die by the almighty budget.

5. I used to have conversation skills. I didn’t always talk about the different sizes of bottle nipples and the controversy over vaccines (what childless person even cares?). I also could finish a sentence without stopping abruptly to shout over the chaos you hear happening in the background of our phone conversation. I also miss eye contact while talking to people. Having two kids means I need both eyes on them- one for each kid.

6. Leaving the house has never been such a chore. Before having kids I could get a call and be out the door in 30 seconds or less. Now, I have to analyse if it is worth the risk of a 30 minute screaming meltdown over socks to meet you there. See you there in, oh… 6 hours when my husband gets home.

7. My needs have changed. I have never been a needy person until I became a mom. Now I am so tired and exhausted, frustrated and emotional. If you ask me how is everything I’ll either just fake a smile and say good, or completely crumble and unload. Depends on the day. It isn’t fun riding this roller coaster and asking my friends to take care of me. I’ve always been the strong one taking care of them.

I’m sure there are a few more offenses to add to the list. But, this covers the big ones. Oh and by the way potential new friend, if I seem like I’m just not that into you please don’t take offense. I only appear socially awkward the first time we meet (maybe second). I’m trying hard to look like a put together human who can form sentences and keep my kids from melting down in front of you. But, if you can look past all that and keep your expectations of our relationship  low (really low)  I’m happy to get to know you!

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Follow Me Friday

If you aren’t already following me on Facebook here is what you missed this week! Here is my Friday night Facebook Round-up!

Keep the kids occupied, start new traditions, decorate your table and just have a little fun!

 

FREE Thanksgiving day printables ot keep the kids busy! 

Stuffed Turkey Legs. A great way to use left over Halloween candy. Ya know… if ya have any left.

Thanksgiving themed Math Pack. Give your Kindergartener something to do while waiting for dinner.

FREE Thanksgiving Coloring Pages

FREE Printable Thanksgiving Mad Libs. Bring a little fun to your Thanksgiving table.

20 FREE Thanksgiving Printables for kids. Bring fun to the kiddie table.

Turkey Ticket. Things to be thankful for.

Gratitude Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt.

Thanksgiving T-shirt tutorial. If you’re really crafty.

FREE printable turkey place cards. A fun project for you bored 6-year old.

FREE printable left over labels. My house you get empty cool whip containers and empty Chinese containers.

DIY Playdough made with Jello just for fun.

Crazy Cake. Cake made without eggs, milk or butter? CRAZY!

 

Find The Whatever Mom on Facebook and keep up with every post! Have a great weekend friends!

 

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10 Reasons why Aunts have it better than moms

Being an aunt is so awesome. I never feel pressure to dress my nieces and nephews perfectly, or feed them organic stuff. Everything I say seems so wise. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten angry or impatient. When they were little it was so easy picking up my little cherubs to play pretend parent for an afternoon. Then, I’d hand them back and go home to sleep for the next 20 hours brainwashed into thinking THIS is why I should have kids!

Some days I feel my upgrade to Mom is a scam. Sleep deprivation. Bodily functions gone awry. The yelling. The screaming. None of it could be real. Could it? What happened to all the cute baby coos and the fun toddler trips to the pumpkin farm? What happened to those doe eyed little pudgy faced kids following me around telling me they want to be my best friend forever?

Ohhhhhh. Those moments only happen in between the butt wiping, disciplining, no sleeping roller coaster ride called parenting. Can you tell this was a rough week at the casa de Whatever Mom? After doling out my millionth time out and reminding my child for the one hundredth time why we DO NOT open the toilet seat with our mouth, I wondered where did this all go wrong? I miss the days I can just hang with a kid and listen to their laugh vs. breaking up their sibling discord. I miss just getting into the car without a one hour go-round about socks. I miss how easy it is being the aunt. The fun one.

So here are my top 10 reasons why being an aunt is easier than being a mom:

Dear Ryan, Jeremy, Ashley, Lillian and Nathan,

Almost the whole gang out for a hike
Almost the whole gang out for a hike in 2005

10. I was always happy to change the one wet diaper you made in our four hours together, because I didn’t just change the last 3,654 wet diapers you made. I’d even squish your cute little tush and giggle over the “toot” you just made.

9. I don’t have to keep track of what foods you eat. You want 10 cheese sticks, 4 donuts and a gallon of blue juice. Sure! I won’t be there to watch your mom huddled in the fetal position pulling her hair out and cursing my name while you ride the “blue demon” back to being her precious little baby.

8. You never ruined any of my stuff with markers or crayons. Ever. Thank you!

My niece Ashley today. We had some good times getting girly!
My niece Ashley today. We’ve had some good times being crafty!

7. I never had to wash any of your poop off my hands. Again, thank you!

6. It was the 90’s.  Organic wasn’t even a thing yet.

5. Yes was our favorite word! “Can I have a balloon?” YES! “Can I have two chocolate bars?” YES! “Can you buy me that toy with really loud bells and whistles?” YES!

4. You made me look like mom of the year! People used to think you were my kid since we look so much alike and get along so well (possibly because I never said no). Other parents would ask me for tips on how to get their kids to “behave so well?!” There were even parents who wanted to give me money to treat you to a toy because you were the epitome of angelic existence.

My niece Lilly. Oh we've had some serious laughs!
My niece Lilly. Oh we’ve had some serious laughs!

3. I didn’t need coffee to keep up with you. I was a young, spry woman with boundless energy. I carried 3 of you at a time on my back and could still breath after walking several feet.

Me as a first time aunt at the tender age of 20
Me as a first time aunt at the tender age of 20

2. You never spit food at me. Thankfully, you always directed that toward your dad.

1. Any time you publicly drop an F-bomb it is automatically not my fault. It is totally feasible the kids parents said it first.

My nephew Ryan way too cool for me now.
My nephew Ryan way too cool for me now.

 

Being a parent is dirty, messy hard work. It is a roller coaster ride with crazy twists and turns you can’t see. It’s more than just see you on the weekends and at birthday parties. It’s deeper. It’s sharing the best and the worst of myself. My lovely nieces and nephews only got the best of me. The cleaned up, well rested and patient part of me. My kids see the whole me. The un-showered, emotional chaotic mess of me. They see my passions and watch me live out my dreams. We are on this journey through life together. Every day.

I don’t love my nieces and nephews any more or any less than my own kids. They were my first kids who showed me how much fun life is. They were the ones that let me believe I could do this parenting thing. Some days I miss how easy it was to have someone else do the dirty work of parenting while I enjoy the best parts of childhood.

As much as I miss the ease of being an aunt, I still wouldn’t trade it for the difficult journey of parenthood. I had to share my nieces and nephews, my kids I can call my own.

Me as an aunt at nearly 40
Me as an aunt at nearly 40
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Charity Starts At Home – 7 Ways to Give back with little ones in tow

So Halloween is over and it’s nearly Christmas already. Oh wait. Did we forget about that little holiday in the middle? The one where we are thankful for our families and friends before donning our sweatpants and stuffing our faces with cheesecake. Right, Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love all the colors, the food, the Macy’s Day Parade and the family stuff that goes with it. Growing up the folks at our table may have changed from year to year, and there was even a year we didn’t get to celebrate because we were all too sick; but I always had my brothers, my sister and my mom. It was a time of year when we really felt thankful. We had plenty of food (which didn’t happen for us every day), we didn’t argue (maybe one of the only two days a year we were angels), and we could just relax together. We never took a family vacation growing up so these holidays were our vacations and I think we somehow made the best of them. We watched a lot of movies, ate our favorite foods and shared a lot of laughs.

I grew up incredibly poor. My mom was a single mom to four of us and she worked three jobs. My parents divorced when I was five and we didn’t have much until I was old enough to go to work and help out with school shopping. Even though things were tight my mom always made sure we had enough at the holidays to make up for what we were lacking throughout the year. Sometimes it even meant we were one of the families waiting for a food box from the local church pantry. Growing up like that hurt. It was often hard on all of us. But I think out of everything, we learned to be grateful. At least I know I have.

Now I am a mom to two beautiful kids who had more in their first year of life than I did in my entire childhood. I don’t want them to go without, but I worry about how to teach them to be truly grateful and appreciate what they have. Most of all I worry about teaching them compassion. Before kids I was frequently volunteered at a soup kitchen or as a board member of a few organizations and raising funds for local families. I did a lot of hands-on walk events that included pitching tents, standing at tables and making a lot of phone calls to local businesses. Once my babies arrived I assumed I would just take them along with me and it would be business as usual. Easy peasy. Nope. No can do. (You’ve read my blog about my kids public tantrums right?).

I spent years lending my marketing background to local organizations to help raise funds and awareness.
Before kids I donated my marketing skills to different organizations.

So, I have learned how to give back in ways my kids can participate in often without having to leave home. I hope by sharing these things with my kids and explaining why we do these things will really help them understand the importance of helping; and ultimately instill compassion for their world.

1. Operation Christmas Cheer is the easiest holiday give back you can possibly spend time on. In less than one minute and for less than $1.00 you can send a Christmas card to a child with cancer/terminal illness to decorate their room with. This began as a simple request from a friend of mine to send one card to a few local kids going through chemotherapy. I sent them each one card. But, then I thought why not ask my friends and family to send some cards too. Suddenly, girl scout troops and entire classrooms were getting involved. Over 65 of my friends and family members enlisted the help of their friends and family to send out cards and gifts to children they have never met. And, just like that my small Facebook charity was born. You could easily make cards for a children’s hospital or even a nursing home near you. Go simple with a handful of cards, or call your friends and family to action and get dozens sent.

Operation Christmas Cheer is an easy way to rally the troops and support kids with terminal illness.
Kids of any age can make a card for children spending their holiday away from home.

2. Operation Christmas Child is a fun family project. Families fill a shoe box with gifts and supplies that are sent all around the world to children in impoverished countries. You can even track where your package lands. Little ones love to help select the toys and gifts that go inside each box.

3. Bonnie Boxes are similar in similar concept to the Operation Christmas Child shoe box program, but volunteers hand out shoe boxes full of gifts and activities to local cancer treatment centers. You can gather up a team to fill and wrap boxes to be delivered. You can create packages to go to adults or children. Perhaps you can open your home to organizing a packing event and the little ones can help!

4. Host a coat drive. Ask friends and neighbors for their gently used coats and winter wear. Your house can serve as a drop-off site until you are ready to deliver to a local agency, school nurses’ office or church. No big event to chair or to plan for. Families receiving a warm coat they thought they couldn’t afford is a huge help.

5. Collect supplies. Birthday parties are a great time to collect extra supplies for the food pantry, the local SPCA or a local family in need. People are already gathering in your home and there’s no shopping involved for you. At my girls’ second birthday we began requesting one canned good per family. My kids help me load the bag, take it to church and place in the collection box. Even if they don’t understand the full impact of giving canned goods, they understand their work is important.

6. Give of your time, talent or treasure. If you can’t write a check but still want to give back, donate a skill like crafting or painting. My mother used to take me with her to the hospital nursing home to paint ceramic pieces for the residents. Sometimes she would paint and I would wander the halls chatting with the elderly and help them play bingo. I learned the most about helping others from my time there. Perhaps you could donate crafts or decorations to a local nursing home or family shelter to help brighten the residents’ holiday.

Lending your talents free of charge is a really easy way to give back!
Lending your talents free of charge makes a great gift to anyone!

7. Host a home party event and ask that a portion of the sales be donated to a charity of your choice. Ask friends in direct sales (think Tupperware, Mary Kay, Barefoot Books, etc.) to set up a table at your home. Invite all your friends and family. You get to do a little shopping surrounded by friends while your little ones get to play.

My friend and I joke about how we can’t wait for the day our kids are old enough to volunteer alongside us. I hope my kids get as much out of giving back as I do. With little ones who are still so reliant on a schedule/routine and sparse childcare, it can be a challenge to volunteer your time outside the home. With a little creativity you can still find a way to give back and impart some valuable lessons to your little ones. It is true that charity starts in the home.

 

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