Are you taking time off during the holidays this year?  If so, how are you planning to relax? Really relax where you aren’t on a schedule, aren’t in charge of something or someone and are able to not have a care in the world about what happened next or when? For me, it’s been seven years since I took a vacation like this, before I had my children.

Vacation is defined as:

  1. A respite or a time of respite from something: intermission
  2. A scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended <a period of exemption from work granted to an employee>
  3. A period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation <had a restful vacation at the beach>
  4. An act or an instance of vacating

I grew up in a family where vacation meant taking a road trip. Our vacations were educational with a lot of adventure and exploration. We would drive from point A to point B, sometimes going eight + hours at a time, sightseeing the next day or two, then get back in the car and drive to the next endpoint and repeat. I learned a lot of these vacations about our country gaining an appreciation for its history, the geography and false advertising. My sisters and I once convinced our parents that we had to stay at a themed hotel that was advertised for hundreds of miles away only to be disappointed when the hotel didn’t quite live up to what we thought it would be – darn billboards!

What I didn’t learn on these vacations was how to relax. I cannot recall a single vacation where we were just laid by the pool or the beach. I cannot recall a single vacation that wasn’t meticulously mapped out or timed. I cannot recall ever feeling bored on vacation.  Basically I don’t have a lot of practice relaxing.

My parents were teachers taking every opportunity to teach us at home and on the road. I really appreciate what they did for my sisters and I, and want to make sure I make the most of every opportunity I have to teach my children through experience too. I also realize that I want to teach my children how to relax and re-energize. I want my boys to know the difference between going to a new place and relaxing (e.g., just because you do one, doesn’t mean you are necessarily doing the other). But first, I have to learn to really relax when I take a vacation myself.

I blogged earlier this year about “Where Did My Vacation Go?” and committed to not repeat that again this year. I’m taking time away from all work, including blogging, through the end of the year. I currently don’t have any to-do list I need to complete while I’m on break. Hallelujah! I want to see what that looks and feels like, and see if I can really relax and re-charge.  I need the experience. I owe it to myself, and more importantly to my kids if I plan to teach them how to do it.

If you have vacation coming up, how do you plan to relax and recharge?

I wish each of you the happiest of holidays and look forward to picking up our conversation in the New Year.

Hope through great sadness

I had my weekly blog written several days ago and was prepared to post it this morning prior to the tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday morning. It’s hard to know what to say when something like this happens. For a large majority of us the world stopped for a while on Friday. A wave of grief came over us for the children and their families involved in the tragic events. It is impossible to comprehend and will never ever make sense what would drive someone to do this.

The holiday season is a time of hope. Hope for seeing the best in each other, and hope for what’s possible. My hope was suspended momentarily on Friday. It’s starting to return, as I see communities coming together, reaching out to each other; to discuss what happened; share our sadness and anger; and discuss possible solutions to avoid something the like happening in the future.

I hope one day violence isn’t the solution for resolving an issue. I’d prefer a world without guns, but in the absence of that hope we will finally figure out how to allow people to bear arms without endangering law-abiding citizens. I hope we will figure out as a nation how to work together as one and solve our problems together.  I hope we will learn how to take better care of each other physically, mentally and emotionally.

I still feel great sadness over the situation in Sandy Hook and probably will for some time to come. But the holiday season is about hope, and I grateful to be feeling a glimmer of it again.

Gingerbread Dream House

Every year I am amazed at the creativity and great lengths people go to for the holidays. Homes and yards I didn’t pay much mind to before, are now filled with lights and decorations and have my full attention. I love how it brings the streets to life giving off that warm feeling you normally only experience inside someone’s home.

While we decorate our home for the holidays, we don’t hold a candle to some of our neighbors (note: we truly appreciate our neighbors decorations, it gives us a great reason to look out our front windows).  Since meeting my husband the art of making, or more accurately decorating, gingerbread houses has become a tradition for our family.  This was a tradition in his family and we incorporated it into ours.

Decorating a gingerbread house is all about how you envision it in its final state. It’s about making (baking), constructing and adding the final touches. It’s about sugar, lots of sugar; colors, the more the better; and details, a great house has a lot of fine detail like a cat in the window or a wreath on the door.

It’s fun to work on a gingerbread house. There is no judgment or expected perfection. It’s about trial and error, being together as a family and building something together.

I’ve thought about what a real dream home might look like for my family in the future. And while I may fantasize about increased square footage, and the number of bedrooms or baths it may have, I’m reminded I need look no further than my family’s gingerbread house, it’s more like our home than I realized. Each year it never changes in size but does in appearance, and most importantly it always brings us together as a family.  I think it’s the perfect dream house.

What holiday traditions do you have that brings your family together?

Do you know a Dr. No?

Our youngest son is very advanced. Now, I know you might be thinking all parents think their child is gifted, but I can back up my claim!  Our son really took to the word “no” when he was first learning to talk. He fully embraced the word quickly and has gotten very good at using it. If there was a college degree in the word “no” I believe our son would have his PhD in it already. As frustrating as it can be, I have to smile when thinking about just how good he is at using it.

I say this all, of course, because most parents have experienced their child telling them “no.” There are various methods we might implore to coax our child into complying with our request. We are clear on what we are asking of them, lay out consequences for inaction, and may even throw in bribery (how about a sticker?) to sweeten the pot, and still get “no” for a response.

Taking away favorite toys didn’t work.

Taking away a sticker, or the opportunity to earn one, didn’t work.

Making him go to his room didn’t work.

Talking to him about why I needed his help didn’t work though I believe it helped him better understand why I was asking him to do what he was doing and why I was frustrated.

Finally, at my wits end, I enlisted the help of his pre-school teacher. She reminded me that there are probably a few things going on. First, he wants to be acknowledged for what he is feeling. Second, he wants an opportunity to have his say. That made a lot of sense to me. I think we all want to be heard and all want the opportunity to express how we feel or how we want to respond to a situation. When either is taken away from us that can be really aggravating—maybe just enough to make you want to say “no” every time you feel this is happening to you.

When I ask my kids to do something, particularly something they don’t want to do, I remind them that there are only three reasons why I’m asking them to do it. I am trying to teach them something. I am trying to keep them safe. Or I need their help.  Helping my boys make the connection with what I’m asking them to do really seems to help.

With the case of my youngest, I’ve employed a few new techniques. I work to acknowledge what he is experiencing and feeling. I express more empathy for how he is feeling when he is upset with what I’m asking him to do—to leave playtime early or not  accommodating his desire to go to the store for a treat. I am continually trying to reach my son to help us get to a place where “no” isn’t his go-to response, but saved for situations that really warrant it.

We’ll get there one day I just know it!