August 2013

Pull Up a Chair

August 30, 2013

Family Pic By LL Bean Flagship Store

Hello from beautiful Maine! Here we are in front of the famous L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, just down the road from where we are staying.

Our first family vacation has been going splendidly — if you don’t count some occasional crankiness, general tiredness, dealing with a family member’s car that broke down, and the fact that the girls and I seem to be fighting colds. I guess there’s no escaping such things, no matter where you are!

Our plane ride here last weekend went smoothly: H squeezed my hand on the way up and down — I’m not sure if it was for her sake or mine — and S embraced it all with gusto, as she tends to do with most new experiences. They both immediately felt at home with my family — so much so that B and I left them for a couple of hours on our first day here, and they were totally fine. Always helpful to have new toys around for distraction, but still, these two are always pleasantly surprising us.

We kept our agenda simple this week: One major excursion a day has been about our speed. We’ve explored a couple of nearby towns, toured the lovely city of Portland (where we chowed down on some lobster rolls), befriended the co-owner of a popular donut shop and were sent home with a giant box of their famous concoctions (one reason for our colds, no doubt), waded into the Atlantic and hunted for seashells along the beach (first beach experience for the girls), visited a couple of nearby playgrounds, and spent lots of time with family. Sadly, we haven’t done much hiking; the Lyme-disease-carrying ticks around here have made us a little paranoid.

Girls Eating Donuts

I’m impressed with how many small groceries and restaurants here carry local and organic produce and meats, homemade baked goods, and vegan options. I even spotted raw yogurt and milk; even though it’s apparently illegal here, that doesn’t seem to stop anyone from selling or buying it. The people have been friendly, the towns picturesque, the landscape green, and there are way too many gorgeous properties to covet.

I managed to remain completely sober on the flight here, though I can’t promise the same on the way home tomorrow afternoon. Having seen some gorgeous blackberries around here, this blackberry gin fizz seems like a perfect drink to celebrate a successful family vacation and the last week of August.

My highs and lows this week are pretty much summed up above, so I’ll just skip to the bonus question. With all the back-to-school posts I’ve been seeing lately, I’m curious: What were your feelings on the first day back to school as a kid? Love it or hate it? How is it with your kids?

I haven’t yet experienced the latter, though there is one particular “first day of school” memory that stuck with me: When we first moved to Nova Scotia and I started second grade, an older boy started chasing me around and just wouldn’t leave me alone; a kind girl finally came to my rescue and put me on a swing for the entire lunch hour to keep him away from me. I was grateful but pretty nauseated from all the swinging… It’s a wonder I went back the next day!

Your turn! How was your week? Thoughts on back-to-school time? Share them in the comments! Hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday, when I’ll announce the pie box giveaway winner. Be sure to enter if you haven’t already!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

After sulking just a bit longer about my sister’s poor bug-infested garden, I got over it and reminded myself that there’s a produce stand not five minutes from my house where I could buy other people’s perfectly delicious produce with nary a bug in sight. Sold.

So, last weekend, I decided to scoop up some peaches while they were still good for the picking — and since the weather around here has been positively September-y lately, I decided to do a little summer fruit/fall dessert mash-up in the form of a bourbon, ginger, and cardamom peach crisp.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

I started with Cooks Illustrated‘s basic fruit crisp recipe and made a few tweaks: a little freshly grated ginger and cardamom (my favorite fall-time spice), a couple jiggers of bourbon, and some quick-cooking tapioca to thicken it all up nicely. (If you’ve ever struggled getting fruit pies to thicken with cornstarch, trust me: Tapioca is the answer.)

As I was loading up my pie dish, I had another stroke of genius and decided to make a couple of individual crisps in small canning jars at the same time. I got the idea from Megan of NotMartha (who has a recipe for the most adorable pies in jars ever), and it turned out to be a winner: a tiny portable dessert that you can throw in a bag and take on a picnic, pass around at a party, whatever.

In short, I recommend making this at once.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

For the topping:

  • 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground, if you have it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 3/4 cups pecans or whole almonds, chopped coarse (if you’re mixing the topping by hand, chop them fine)

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

In the bowl of your food processor, combine flour, sugars, spices, and salt and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks a bit like coarse cornmeal. Add the nuts and pulse a few more times, until it looks like crumbly sand. (Don’t overpulse, or you’ll end up with cookie dough.) Refrigerate the topping while you work on the filling, at least 15 minutes.

For the filling:

  • 3 pounds peaches (about six medium), peeled, pitted, and cut into half-inch wedges (you can leave the peels on if you’re a rebel like that)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

Preheat oven to 375 and move your oven rack to the lower-middle position. Gently toss all ingredients in a medium bowl until well-combined. Pour fruit mixture into an 8×8 baking dish or a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. (Mine wasn’t deep-dish, and it just barely held the contents, particularly once the juices started flowing; definitely go bigger here.)

Sprinkle the chilled topping over the fruit and bake for 40 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 and bake another five minutes or so, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden-brown and looks too delicious not to eat immediately. Serve warm or at room temperature — with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if you have it.

Bourbon, Ginger, and Cardamom Peach Crisp

If you make these in canning jars, the process is the same: I put my jars in the oven right along with the pie plate and cooked them for the same amount of time, and they did fine. My filling was probably a little juicier than it should have been for this particular application, though: Filling it up to the lowest ridge on the lid, it still threatened to bubble over in the oven, and then it collapsed some when I pulled them out. Next time, I would try making it in larger jars (wide-mouth 8-ounce jars instead of the 4-ounce jelly jars) — though really, it still tasted delicious.

Oh, and consider this your safety disclaimer: Canning jars aren’t officially approved for this cooking method, though I didn’t have any problem at these temps. Also, baking in jars and putting a lid on it, while adorable, isn’t actually doing anything to preserve your desserts, so make sure to store them like you would the regular crisp and get your guests to eat them up right away (not like there should be much trouble on that front).

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Internet Menagerie

August 28, 2013

Leaves

Time for a trip around the web! Here are some of the interesting, lovely, fun, and thought-provoking things I’ve spotted over the past month. Please add your own finds in the comments!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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by Theresa Hudson

Etsy Bowls

I like to play in the land of Etsy. On any given day with a good rainstorm brewing outside, I’ll set the timer on my stove for 45 minutes, sit down at my Mac, and jump into the virtual flea market of collectors, painters, and crafters, wading through many of the goodies I might find on a trip to an annual county-wide tag sale. Only this community is big — really big.

Etsy is Brooklyn’s e-commerce powerhouse: Only 8 years old, it posted merchandise sales last year of $895 million. The site hosts 22 million sellers in more than 200 countries. It’s a virtual marketplace for crafters, artists, and collectors to sell handmade creations, vintage goods, and crafting supplies. Though jewelry remains its biggest seller, furniture is its fastest growing category.

I stumbled upon Etsy about three years ago when I was thinking about remodeling my bathrooms. (I ended up at another great website, Houzz.com, for my bathrooms…but that’s another post.) Once I’d seen Etsy, there was no going back. I was amazed by the variety. Just like a flea market, you can find plenty of junk — but it’s just as easy to find beauty and craftsmanship.

Part of Etsy’s success is how easy it is to navigate; you only need basic computer skills to find your way around. The categories are generic: Art, Home and Living, Jewelry, Vintage, Weddings, Trending Items, etc. You can handpick items that you see along the way and save them, as well as “like” certain shops and products, which Etsy catalogues for your next visit.

Etsy Pyrex

So far, the folks at Etsy have managed to keep the homespun feel that so many of us enjoy when we roam through local thrift shops. The website doesn’t nudge me or bug me while I’m looking at things, and there’s no sense of “hurry up and move on.”

One of my favorite Etsy shops is Khalima Lights. Khalima is a husband-and-wife team who are classically trained coppersmiths making original light fixtures for the home. I want to rip out all the lighting in my house and have them redo it… Probably not going to happen, but I do want one of their lighting fixtures.

Another one of my stops is Matthew Holdren’s furniture shop. I’d drive a borrowed truck all the way to New Orleans to nab one or two of his barge wood and pine beauties. I’m so happy to see master furniture craftsmen like Matt come to the forefront due to the recent interest in using reclaimed wood for home furnishings.

Jodi Queenan is another favorite. I’m an adoptive mom, and Jodi’s whimsical paintings depicting adopted children with their families makes my heart sing. Her prices are affordable, and she does personal commissions upon request. Original art changes a room like nothing else; it’s alive and adds warmth, humanity, and charm.

Etsy Cuff Links and Ties

I’ve found some of my best gifts on Etsy from the quiet of my own home. My love of vintage Pyrex has found its way into my Etsy cart more than once. I found vintage tie pins from the 1930’s and 40’s for my husband, along with beautiful silk ties from the same period, for a modest price. My son went through a very thorough and lengthy Godzilla phase, and I found Godzilla action figures and t-shirts that would make any hardcore comic book fan swoon.

I love that Etsy makes it easy for an artist to set up a shop. For 20 cents, you can post any item for four months; if it sells, Etsy gets a 3% commission on the sale. That’s about it. There are protections in place for both buyer and seller, and everyone leaves the party in a good mood. That’s my kind of site.

Are you an Etsy fan? I’d love to hear your favorite shops and finds!

Images: Theresa Hudson. When she’s not hanging out in the land of Etsy, Theresa Hudson lives with her husband, son, and canine children in northern Virginia.

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Pie Slice Party Favors Stephmodo

While I’m on vacation in Maine this week, I thought I’d send a little love your way…

Are you familiar with Stephmodo? Published by the talented Stephanie Brubaker, it’s a lifestyle blog full of lovely things. I think I first encountered Stephanie’s site when I heard about her family’s renovation of a 400-year-old stone cottage in the south of France. Sigh. Lucky for us, Stephanie not only writes about beautiful things, she creates them and sells them through her Etsy shop.

In honor of the pie-related posts we’ve run this summer on SlowMama — and the pie season that awaits us this fall, of course — I thought these adorable pie slice party-favor boxes would be a perfect giveaway.

Pie Box Wedding Favors by stephmodo

Wouldn’t it be fun to send party guests away with these?

In addition to slices of seasonal pies, I love the idea of using them for homemade cheesecake, birthday cake, and wedding cake. And there are so many ways to decorate the boxes — with colorful ribbons, baker’s twine, flowers, tags, or stenciling a design or initials on the top.

Cake Slice Favors Petit Moulin by stephmodo

The lucky winner will receive a set of 24 lidded pie boxes with wooden forks. (Sorry, you’ll have to fill them with your own delectable dessert!) Here’s how this giveaway works: Leave a comment below telling me what you’d love to fill these boxes with. For up to three extra entries, leave an additional comment each letting me know if you:

The winner will be drawn and announced on Monday, September 2. (Sorry, this prize can only be shipped within the U.S. If you live outside the country, feel free to enter and have it shipped to a friend or family member in the States as a gift — or have them ship it to you!)

And with that, I’m off to find myself some local blueberry pie… Good luck, friends!

Images used with permission, courtesy of Stephanie Brubaker/Stephmodo

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Pull Up a Chair

August 23, 2013

S Waving From Carousel

So much to do today! Early tomorrow morning we head to the airport to catch a flight for Portland, Maine — our first vacation as a family of four. I’m excited, but a little nervous: It will be the first time the girls have been away from home overnight, and we’re not sure how they’ll do for a whole week. Will the plane ride remind them of their long journey from Ethiopia? Will they regress because they feel anxious in a new environment? Will we all sleep well and enjoy ourselves, or wish we had stayed home? And the big question: When I down a double vodka before takeoff, will I still be considered a responsible mother?

We have some fun things planned — beach trips, hiking, exploring Portland — but the best part will be spending time with family. We’ll be seeing my dad and my sister Erica, and later in the week my mother will be driving down from Nova Scotia with one of my aunts and my sister Lucy. It’s the first time all of them will meet S and H. The girls still withdraw quite a bit around new people and situations, but thankfully, my family will be cool with however it goes.

Every adoptive parent wonders about this stuff when they make that first trip, but there’s no way of knowing how it will go without just doing it and dealing with things as they come. So off we go!

Since I’m already starting to fight that all-too-familiar anxiety about flying the friendly skies, I’m up for this yellow tomato Bloody Mary I spotted at 101 Cookbooks. Perfect for a morning flight tomorrow! 

Here’s my high and low this week:

Low: Making yet another trip to the Apple store. And also finding out that our favorite news channel, Al Jazeera English — which I recently recommended here at SlowMama — just launched on cable as Al Jazeera America. Great news for anyone with cable TV; bad news for anyone like me who got rid of her television and streams her news online. High-quality international news is important to me, so hopefully AJA will figure out how to allow non-cable consumers to get their news online.

High: Finally getting my computer woes sorted out. Sheesh, when technology breaks down, it really makes me aware of how I depend on it!

Bonus question: What is your preferred way to travel — plane, train, automobile, boat, etc.? It’s definitely trains for me; I love them. I can stretch and walk around, read, sleep, write — and best of all, they stay on the ground and aren’t hampered by poor weather. I guess it’s too bad I don’t live in Europe or Asia.

How was your week? Do share! By the way, I’ve got a full lineup planned here at SlowMama next week while I’m gone, including a fun giveaway and a guest blogger stopping by, so don’t be a stranger!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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When Stink Bugs Attack

August 22, 2013

by Margaret Cabaniss

When Stink Bugs Attack

This time last year, I was blogging about the hundred-plus pounds of tomatoes we harvested from my sister Amy’s garden and turned into tomato sauce. It was an epic haul, and we were expecting no less from this season’s crop.

Instead, we’ve been lucky to harvest maybe ten pounds of tomatoes this summer, and it’s all because of one little pest: the stink bug.

If you haven’t yet run into the brown marmorated stink bug in your backyard, consider yourself lucky — but don’t worry, they’re probably headed your way soon enough. They first hitched a ride from Asia to America sometime in the late ’90s, but in the last 15 years, they’ve spread to the point where they can now be found in 41 states.

And for those of us lucky enough to live in the mid-Atlantic, they’re particularly bad around here: They destroy crops, have no natural predators here in the States, multiply like gangbusters, and emit the foulest stench when you try to catch or kill them. (Seriously, it’s bad — sort of like a cross between cilantro and skunk.) The scale of some stink bug infestations can sound like something out of a bad horror flick — but it is really (really) real.

And, of course, they ruined all our lovely tomatoes — and the sweet corn, and the second crop of raspberries, and the peppers… So you can understand where I’m coming from when I say they need to die in a fire.

When Stink Bugs Attack

All of these pictures are from my sister’s garden right now — and they’re not even the worst of what we’ve seen out there. (If anyone was feeling any garden envy before, I bet you’re cured now!) Amy’s husband, Joe, has tried everything to keep them at bay, but it’s a constant uphill battle. Because the bugs are still relatively new in the U.S., scientists have yet to develop a really successful way to combat them: You can suffocate them with soapy water, but that requires drowning every bug one. by. one. — not the easiest thing, when thousands can live in a backyard garden — or you can use a heavy-duty, broad-spectrum insecticide that will simultaneously kill every good bug that might be living there, too. Not terrific options.

Meanwhile, the buggers continue to happily swarm over everything in the garden, most likely laughing at our pathetic attempts to defeat them while they lazily munch on the last good pepper in the whole garden. They are basically jerks.

When Stink Bugs Attack

I’ve tried to take the long view about all this — it’s a learning experience; there’s always next year; at least stink bugs don’t have stingers! — but it’s tough when all your hard work and lovely plans have been shot to pieces. I mean, we’re still eating the tomato sauce we canned last year; this year, we’ll can…nothing. (Well, no sauce, anyway; at least we got some pickles and jam put up before they really got out of hand.) I can’t image what we’d do if this were our livelihood at stake, as it is for so many farmers in the area — or if we didn’t have the option of simply buying the produce we need at the store. It definitely puts things in perspective.

Anyone else experienced any massive garden setbacks like this? Any stink-bug-killin’ tips to share? Leave them in the comments, and we can all cry into our (stink-bug-infested) beer together.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Come Rain Or Come Shine

As both a new parent and an adoptive parent, I’m always on the look-out for resources to help me be the best mom I can be. So when the new book by Rachel Garlinghouse called Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children caught my attention, I asked Rachel if she’d stop by and tell us more about it.

Rachel is mothering three brown babies, all adopted domestically. She bakes without ceasing, blogs at White Sugar, Brown Sugar, and writes and talks about transracial adoption in her “spare” time. Rachel has appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as well as The Daily Drum national radio show, and her family has been featured in Essence magazine. Her articles have been published by MyBrownBaby.com, Madame Noire, and Adoptive Families. Most impressive to me is that she actually wrote a book with young children underfoot — such an accomplishment!

Rachel Garlinghouse

Zoe Saint-Paul: Many families adopt children from other countries, ethnic backgrounds, and races, but few write books about it. It’s such a big undertaking! What prompted you to write Come Rain or Come Shine?

Rachel Garlinghouse: When my husband and I decided to be open to adopting a child of any race, we wanted to get educated. Unfortunately, there were very few resources available, and most of the books we did find were outdated or too textbook-ish. Furthermore, the Multiethnic Placement Act prevents many agencies from asking adoptive parents a lot of questions (Why are you choosing transracial adoption? Are you ready?) and providing better education. After we adopted three times transracially, I published the book I wish I would have had when we started our adoption journey. The book is conversational and practical, and it’s no textbook.

Your book is subtitled “A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children.” Does your book apply to other transracial families — such as white parents who adopt Hispanic or Asian children? Black parents who adopt white kids? 

The book mainly focuses on white parents and their black children; however, much of the book’s contents apply to adoption in general and any combination of transracial adoption.

What have you found to be the greatest challenge of parenting children who have a different skin color than yours?

It’s obvious to everyone that we are an adoptive family, so we encounter more questions, comments, compliments, and insults than a same-race adoptive family. The biggest challenge for us right now is constantly being asked about the kids, “Are they real siblings?” It’s incredibly insulting to be asked that question, because the asker’s definition of “real” is biological. Therefore, the kids aren’t “real” siblings, Steve and I aren’t the “real” parents, and we aren’t a “real” family. It saddens me that society continues to put a disclaimer on the authenticity of our family.

What are three things you wish others understood about transracial adoption?

1) Love isn’t enough. Transracial adoptees, research shows, need far more than just a great family. Families should get educated before adopting transracially and continue that education for the rest of their lives.

2)  The decision to adopt transracially should be taken seriously. In the book, I provide a list of things to consider before choosing to be open to a transracial adoption. Just because we have a black president, it doesn’t mean we are living in a post-racial world.

3) My family is real. We don’t look anything alike and we don’t share genes, but we are as real as it gets.

Rachel and Zay

Before we picked up our girls in Ethiopia, a friend told me he admired us for adopting black children, because all the white  couples he knew who were interested in adoption would never do that. Why do you think this is the case?

In my experience, white couples are most afraid of two things when it comes to adopting transracially: acceptance of the child by friends, family, and their community, and doing black hair. The hair reasoning comes from a deeper issue: a lack of understanding of black history and culture. The remedy for both of these is education.

Our girls do not identify as “black” and have never heard the term; Ethiopians consider themselves “brown.” How do people who are parenting children from many backgrounds — African-American, Ethiopian, Congolese, Haitian, etc. — help children to develop their identities without putting labels on them that may or may not apply? 

I used the term “black” in my book in the hope to not exclude non-African-American adoptees. Like your girls, my girls consider themselves “brown” (and we, their parents, are “pink”). I think, as our children grow up, they will choose the term/label they are most comfortable with, and we (parents, friends, society) should respect whatever they choose.

Open adoptions are very common today (in domestic adoption, at least), and you address this in your book. Why, in your view, should potential adoptive parents welcome it?

When adopting transracially, having an open adoption can provide the child with another connection to his or her racial community. Obviously, having an open adoption offers many other benefits, such as an ongoing relationship with birth family members and information about the birth family’s medical history, family traditions, etc. Open adoption isn’t for everyone, and like any aspect of adoption, it should be researched and considered before a decision is made.

I’m impressed with the amount of resources you list in your book. In your view, what are the must-have children’s books that address adoption and/or being a transracial family?

There are so many fantastic books for children, and thankfully, more and more authors are taking on the subject of adoption and race. Some of my children’s favorites are:

I’d love to hear more about your Adoptive Mamas of the Metro support group: How did it come about? What do you do when you meet?

Adoptive Mamas of the Metro came about in 2009. I was attending a church that had ten adoptive families in it (out of just 300 members!); I was new to adoption and wanted support and education, so I gathered all the adoptive moms together and we started meeting once a month. Now, four years later, our group has seventy local adoptive and prospective-adoptive moms. A few times a year we have a speaker at our meetings, but otherwise, we just get together and talk about our adoption joys and challenges. We are continually adding more moms to our group by word-of-mouth and simply approaching adoptive families whenever we see them in stores, restaurants, parks, etc.

Garlinghouse Children

How have you been personally changed by adoption — particularly transracial adoption?

Transracial adoption has brought me to a place where I now understand what it’s like to be a person of color. Whites, by default of white privilege, tend to be trusted (not doubted) and respected (not dismissed). Whites have opportunities that blacks do not. I go into a lot of detail on this subject in the book.

Most of all, I never doubted that I would love the children who would become mine through adoption, but I don’t think I understood the depth of the love I would have for them, and for their biological parents and siblings.

*****

Thanks, Rachel, for taking the time to tell us about your new book and for your passion for helping adoptive families and prospective adoptive parents.

Come Rain or Come Shine is available on Amazon (in print or e-reader format) or from any major book retailer. You can keep up with Rachel on her blog, White Sugar, Brown Sugar, on Twitter (@whitebrownsugar), or on Facebook.

Images: 1, Zoe Saint-Paul; 2 and 4, Jill Heupel photography; 3, La Jolie Vie Photography

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Extracurricular Activities

August 20, 2013

by Ann Waterman

Extracurricular Activities- Goggles

I’ve been relishing these last few weeks of summer vacation before our schedules ramp up again with the start of school — and, with it, the start of after-school activities. I avoided enrolling my eldest son in any extracurricular activities when he was little (except for swimming lessons, which I consider important for safety reasons). It was only last year when he turned 7 that we started a few other activities in earnest — and even then, I made sure they had limited time commitments. In the end, those activities were enriching without putting a strain on our family schedule, so we’ll continue them this year.

Part of my aversion to extracurriculars comes from my own experience as a small child. I did gymnastics, baton, and a summer camp, but my mom never signed me up for subsequent classes: At that young age, I made it clear (mostly through feigned illness) that I just wanted to be at home and play. Eventually I fell in love with swimming, and when I was 8, my parents signed me up for swim team, where I thrived.

I appreciate that my parents followed my lead and never pushed me until I was ready. Obviously, the right time to introduce extracurricular activities varies depending on the child, but from what I’ve seen of my own kids, they’re happy with lots of unstructured time playing by themselves, with friends, or with their siblings, just like Zoe discussed a few weeks ago.

Extracurricular Activities-Under water

The other reason we’ve limited extracurricular activities is because I’m fiercely protective of family time. For now, I’d rather spend Saturday mornings having brunch with the kids and enjoying my coffee than hanging out at the soccer field. I know extracurriculars will become more important as the kids get older, but for now, while they’re still so young, I feel our time is better spent together rather than rushing them to various practices and games.

We’re also committed to a slow lifestyle. With three young kids, life can be chaotic even with a clear calendar. After making it through the week, my husband and I need the weekend to recover together — not with one of us running one kid to a scheduled activity while the other stays at home to keep on top of nap schedules.

Extracurricular Activities-Swimming

Just to be clear, I’m not anti-extracurricular activities. I think they can be a great way for children to develop valuable skills and hone their talents, but I’m also keenly aware of how they can become all-consuming and keep family members running in different directions. I approach them with caution and try to carefully consider how each activity will affect my children and our entire family.

How do you handle extracurriculars in your family?

Images: Ann Waterman

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Rushing Our Kids

August 19, 2013

H Looking for Flowers

Show me a person who isn’t guilty of rushing her kids and I’ll show you…well, a person who isn’t a parent. Even I — a woman who runs a blog called Slow Mama — finds herself saying to her daughters on a regular basis: “Hurry up, we’re going to be late!” and “If you don’t stop [fill in the blank here], we’re going to be late!” and many versions of the same. The irony is not lost on me that one of my daughters often says, “Mum, I don’t like fast; I like slow.” I’ve even started calling her “slow girl.” (Who knows, maybe she’ll start a blog!)

An article by Rachel Macy Stafford in the Huffington Post titled “They Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up'” got me thinking about how I want to be more intentional about when I rush my daughters. Because while it would be nice to say that I’ll never say “hurry up!” again, there’s storybook land and there’s real life, and I inhabit the latter. It’s not horrible for children to learn that accommodations must be made for appointments and deadlines and other people, and that the universe does not revolve around their need to chase a butterfly down the street or change their shoes for a fourth time. But the truth is, rushing children all the time denies them a huge part of what it means to be a child.

Children live in the moment, not by clocks; they notice details and take time for intangibles; their pace isn’t driven by perfectionism, compulsions, or others’ expectations. This will dissipate with age, but if we rush them into that change prematurely, we don’t just rob them of the specialness of childhood, we make it harder for them to know how to live meaningful lives as adults — because adults who can’t slow down and be in the moment are usually not as happy.

This doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition: Hurrying our kids is usually a reflection of our own failure to accept the way kids are wired and to plan accordingly. It’s entirely possible for me to make it to an appointment on time (or thereabouts) if I remember that I may be able to get out the door in three minutes, but my girls need at least fifteen. If I overestimate the amount of time it takes them, we might actually be somewhere on time — or even (heaven forbid) early. Either way, it takes the rush out of it, and we all remain in good moods.

The other thing I’ve found helpful is to minimize the number of trips we make each day. If I have errands to run, I try to do them all at once when we’re out. Children have a harder time transitioning from one task or mode to another, so the fewer times I have to break my daughters’ concentration to get them out the door again for one more thing, the happier everyone is.

This point about transitions is key. It helps to know what motivates your child to move to a new task and to give warnings in advance that a transition is coming up. You can set a timer to help keep everyone on track; some parents even use written schedules that their children can read and follow. I’ve started telling my girls in the morning about how our day is going to go, then I give them a 20-minute warning before a big change is coming (going out, meal times, etc.), and then every 5-10 minutes after that.

Does it always work ? No; baby dolls will have diapers that suddenly need to be changed, of course. But overall, it has made a difference.

Allowing extra time for a child’s pace means having less time for to-do items on our own task lists. But every day, we have to make decisions as parents about what gets top priority. Daily life with our children is a lot more enjoyable if we’re not stressed and rushed and annoyed with them — and in the end, that’s more important than whether we got 15 things checked off our list instead of 10.

Do you struggle with this? Have you discovered any strategies to help reduce the “hurry ups” with your children?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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