Crawling Guiltily Along

July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Garden | Living On Purpose - (Comments Off on Crawling Guiltily Along)

I discovered the above poem at the tender age of seven, when I decided to plagiarize it and claim it for my own in a second-grade writing assignment. The teacher did not recognize the poem and gave me a “very creative” stamp on the paper. And guess what? I’ve felt guilty about it all these years. So here’s your shout-out, Monica Shannon. I’m sorry I stole your poem in second grade.  I still think of it whenever I see a caterpillar. And, sorry, second grade teacher (I think her name was Mrs. Ryan), for passing off this work as my own. Also, I probably shouldn’t have waited 40 years to make amends. Sorry. Sorry!

Speaking of guilt, I have a number of friends who are into raising monarch butterflies. They are considered endangered, you know. My friends wouldn’t have left this fellow on the milkweed to be eaten by a hungry bird. Oh no, they would have taken him inside to nurture him safely to butterfly adulthood. But I didn’t do that. I don’t really know the fate of this fat friend. I do know that he enjoyed his meal of milkweed leaves. He mowed them down with gusto, just like anyone who has read The Very Hungry Caterpillar would expect. I hope he moved on to a safe branch somewhere to begin his transformation into a stately monarch. But I feel guilty for not knowing.

I feel guilty for a lot of things. I feel guilty for not writing. I feel guilty for not cleaning my house. I feel guilty for not pulling weeds. I feel guilty that my office looks like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders. I feel guilty for not hugging my children enough. Or am I hugging them too much? I feel guilty that they spend too much time staring at a screen. I feel guilty for nagging them about their screen time. Most of the time I’m not even sure what I’m doing right or wrong, but guilt is a constant. And let’s not even get started on world hunger, social justice and the environment. If it has a hashtag, I probably feel guilty about it.

A very good friend once told me: “Guilt is a useless emotion.” She was mostly right, and I admired her ability to give guilt the cold shoulder. Guilt is paralyzing, stultifying, crazymaking. It tells you bad things about yourself. It’s a sign of thinking too much. Perhaps it’s also a catalyst for action, though. Doesn’t it spur us to do better? Or keep us from doing wrong in the first place? I have a sense that the antidote to guilt is action, and the cure is grace, but still I get mired in the guilt-mud on a regular basis.

Are you living a guilt-free life? What do you do about mommy guilt? Daddy guilt? Eco guilt? Other kinds of guilt? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

And by the way, I feel guilty for all the guilt I’ve laid on my kids over the years. But at least I feel better about the caterpillar poem now. That’s a start.

Get Your Kids Into Giving This Holiday Season

November 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Giving | Traditions - (Comments Off on Get Your Kids Into Giving This Holiday Season)
These kids packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child!

Giving makes you happier! These kids packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.

The holiday season is upon us. What does that mean to your kids? Is it time for them to gather with family? Celebrate their faith? Give to those less fortunate?

Or, is it time to sit down with a stack of catalogs and create a multi-page, color-coded and tabbed index of everything in the world they want from Santa?

If it’s the latter, don’t feel bad. Many of us think our families could do better in the “spirit of the season” department. It seems that as soon as Halloween ends, an onslaught of toy commercials hypnotizes our kids and turns them into “gimme monsters.” It’s not cute, and it’s not what we want for our families. But do not fear: There are many ways to put a giving spirit back in kids’ hearts during holiday time.

Reasons to Give

Why might families want to increase their focus on giving during the holiday season? Perhaps your faith calls you to be generous. Or, maybe you’re just tired of your kids asking for things when they clearly have enough toys, electronics and sports equipment to fill a warehouse. These reasons are motivation enough, but here are a few more:

The need is so great. In case you missed it, this has been a rough year around the world. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Sudan have upped the demand for humanitarian aid significantly. As a result, global humanitarian organizations are stretched to their limits. Yet, a poll of 2,000 Americans conducted by World Vision shows that most (80%) have no plans to increase their holiday charitable giving this year. I’m not sure why that is—lack of awareness, inability to afford giving, or simply thinking someone else will do it—but we can do better, folks.

Giving makes you happier. It’s a scientific fact! This study shows that giving actually increases happiness in kids.  Why not capitalize on kids’ natural altruistic tendencies and bring some feel-good to your family? You’ll find that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

It’s a tax deduction. As the end of the year approaches, it’s nice to know you can significantly lower your tax bill just by giving money (or goods) to a qualified charitable organization. Just make sure you know the rules and document your giving.

How to Get Started

Now that we’ve covered the whys, let’s get into the hows: How do you make giving a priority this holiday season? (more…)

“I don’t really know what my mom does all day, but she used to be a writer.”

Trophy Mom mug available on Etsy. It might be the only recognition you get!

Trophy Mom mug available on Etsy. It might be the only recognition you get!

That’s what my son wrote as part of a “getting to know you” writing assignment in school last year. I don’t know what was more upsetting about reading that sentence: Discovering my “former writer” status, or absorbing the implication that I don’t presently have much of a life.

I have to admit, it stung. I was tempted to hand my kid a list of all the “mom chores” I do every day, or point out the writing projects (both paid and volunteer) I have done in the past year. I did neither.

I did think a lot about recognition, and why it hurt me so much to feel unrecognized. Clearly, I had not earned “mom of the year” status in my son’s eyes, despite all my momming around, since he couldn’t even figure out what I did all day. And my writing exploits were, apparently, far from impressive. At least, they didn’t make much of an impression on him. That one sentence in my son’s essay stirred up a hornet’s nest of doubts about whether I was performing well at either of my “jobs.”  Of course, those doubts had been buzzing in my brain for a while. Being a mother can be a thankless job. The benefits are fantastic, but the pay sucks, and there are no trophies. In my work as a freelance writer, I seldom get any public recognition. All the “glory” goes to my clients, which is the way it’s supposed to be. I do get a paycheck at the end of the project, most of the time.

So, I’m stuck with a recognition deficit. Only time will tell if my kids ever recognize what I did all day, and truly, I don’t really care. It’s not their job to fill me up. But it is nice to have a community of other parents to say “hey, I see you, and you’re doing a good job,” and then say it right back to them. If you’ve ever felt the same way, I’d love to hear from you.

Make Time for a Thankfulness Tradition

November 1st, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Living On Purpose | Traditions - (Comments Off on Make Time for a Thankfulness Tradition)

20131101-140130.jpgThis time of year, the calendar seems to pick up speed for busy families. Halloween is over; before you know it, “THE HOLIDAYS” and all their craziness will be upon us. Retailers and advertisers are already pushing their holiday must-haves in the stores and in the media. Before the kid start making their holiday wish lists, let’s help them remember what gratitude is all about! Thanksgiving is the next major holiday on the American calendar, and November 1 is a good time to consciously slow things down and be thankful.

In our family, we’ve had a “Thankful Tree” tradition for at least 10 years now. Super-simple to make, it gives us a focal point for dinner-table discussions about gratitude during the month of November. It’s an easy way to help kids develop the ability to show gratitude, an important skill that can lead to a happier life.

How to make a Thankful Tree

1. Find a flower pot or other container for your Thankful Tree (we used one from a flower arrangement we received).
(more…)

Chew on This: Local Food is a Win-Win

September 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Food | Living On Purpose - (Comments Off on Chew on This: Local Food is a Win-Win)

Some of the laying hens at Nature’s Choice Farm.

This past weekend, my hometown held its first-ever, local-food Harvest Festival. All the food and drink was grown, raised or created within about 250 miles of our town, with most of it from within a 30-mile radius. Guess what? The festival sold out of food within the first 90 minutes. Local food is hot.

In restaurants and in home kitchens, more and more people are turning toward locally produced food because it is fresher, has less impact on the environment and is good for local economies. It seems that many people, given the choice, would rather spend their dollars locally and help small farmers in their communities. Eating local—and involving kids in the process—is also a great way to connect kids with their food and promote healthy eating.

Over the summer, my daughter and I paid a visit to Nature’s Choice Farm in Grant Park, Illinois, about an hour from downtown Chicago. We’ve been buying our meat and eggs from Nature’s Choice Farm for about a year now. The pasture-raised (grass-fed) beef, pork, chicken and turkey is not only delicious, and healthful, it is locally and sustainably raised on a small farm within a short drive from our home. The meat is also processed within the state of Illinois. We normally pick up our meat and eggs at the farmer’s market or at a local delivery site, and we’ve had the chance to meet the farmers, Eric and Samantha Sexton, on many occasions. But visiting the farm in person gave us an even greater appreciation for the work they do and the quality of the food they produce.

Our beef comes from this small herd of grass-fed cattle raised about an hour from downtown Chicago.

On our farm visit, we rode behind the tractor for a tour, indulged in a pig roast, and gathered our own eggs from the hen house. For city and suburban kids, who may have never seen an egg outside of a grocery store, the chance to pick up an egg still warm from the chicken’s (ahem) bottom was truly an “a-ha” moment! For me, it was gratifying to see the pigs, cattle and chickens out in the open, free to roam and graze, in a peaceful, pastoral setting. The contrast to large “factory farms” was pleasantly apparent. Yes, this is a small operation. Even with a dedicated customer base, Nature’s Choice raises a herd of fewer than 40 cattle in any given season. (more…)

School’s back in session and fall soccer season is in full swing. Are you feeling it? This is the first time in six years I won’t be on the soccer sidelines, and I’m going to miss it! Youth travel soccer was a great experience for my son and my family made some great friends through our local soccer club. However, youth travel soccer was also my first exposure to “sports parents”—the good, the bad, and the ugly. So when the makers of Bad Parents, an independent comic film about soccer parents gone bad, asked me to take a look at their movie, I said, “Sure!”  As you can probably tell from the trailer below, Bad Parents is not a movie for the whole family. The film, which is not rated (edited to add: If I had to guess, I’d give it a PG-13, possibly R, for language and sexual humor), is a dark comedy about what happens when a suburban soccer club decides to go to an “A team/B team” philosophy for the upcoming season. It basically skewers the suburban, youth-sports-centric culture, especially the bad behavior of the parents. It’s told from the point of view of Kathy, a soccer mom played by none other than Janeane Garafalo (I’m a fan! Anything starring Garafolo, I’m giving a chance.).

So, the film is pretty funny. My husband and I not only had a few laughs but also a few moments of validation, having lived through almost the exact same scenario when my kid’s soccer club decided to split into “A” and “B” teams. I loved how writer/director Caytha Jentis, who wrote from her own experiences as a soccer mom, totally captured little moments that I also experienced as a soccer mom: How the parents all set their watches to keep time when the game starts, or the embarrassing “Mom cheers” on the sidelines (in our case, the team moms shook a can full of of coins when the kids scored). Speaking of cheerleaders, Cheri Oteri is also hilarious in the film and gives a subtle nod to her Saturday Night Live “Spartan Cheerleader” character. The cast is actually chock full of great comedic/character actors including Christopher Titus, Kristen Johnson, Michael Boatman, and Reiko Aylesworth.

The parents’ bad behavior is over-the-top in the film, but also included stuff I’ve seen in real life, and not just in soccer. Parents offering their kids material rewards if they score a goal? Check. Parents bad-mouthing the other children on the team? Check. Parents offering sexual favors to the trainer in order to get their kid preferential treatment? Oh thank goodness, I’ve never seen that in real life! As silly as this film can be, it does make you think, and examine your own behavior just a little bit. More importantly, it might make you wonder why youth sports brings out the worst in some parents, and what we can do about it. I mean, nobody wants to be “that parent.” Right?

To wrap up, the Bad Parents film is a quirky, funny, independent comedy and it’s worth a look if you’re looking for some laughs as a sports parent. Download it on iTunes or Amazon, or visit the film’s website here to learn more.

How NOT to be “That Parent”

And perhaps now I’ve got you wondering: Is your child’s sports success a little too important to you? Concerned you might be “that parent?” Not to worry. There are many resources that can help you develop appropriate behavior for sports parenting. Here are just a few:

Empowering Conversations with Your Child:  Tips for talking to your kid about sports from the Positive Coaching Alliance, including this: “Remind yourself that the youth sports experience belongs to your child, not to you.”

Janis Meredith: A wealth of knowledge from an experienced sports mom.

Sports Dad Hub: Blog with lots of tips and “mindset reminders” for “fueling your child’s passion for sports without burning him out.”

SportsParent Central twitter list I’ve started a twitter list of people I believe are posting great content to help sports parents make knowledgable decisions and help their children enjoy the youth sports experience. You can find it here. Feel free to suggest some additions.

Have you seen bad behavior on the sidelines in youth sports? Are you “That Parent” or do you know one? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment!

Disclosure: I was not compensated, nor did I receive any goods, in exchange for this post. Opinions are mine, all mine.

Kids’ Summer Chores: What Works!

July 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Good Ideas - (Comments Off on Kids’ Summer Chores: What Works!)

Well, it’s mid-July, and for many of us that means four to six more weeks of kids home from school.  By now you know whether your summer routine is “working” or not. You’re either blissfully enjoying the rewards of the season with your offspring, or grimly counting down the days until school starts. Or probably, like me, you’re somewhere in between.Untitled

I think most parents want their kids to have a great summer. And by “great,” we don’t mean “sitting in the house playing video games and watching the Disney Channel 24/7.” No, we envision some sort of ideal, fulfilling summer involving bicycles, lemonade stands, tennis, beaches, roasted marshmallows and sidewalk chalk. Well, the problem with this vision is that it doesn’t just become reality all by itself.  You, the parent, need to help it along a little, while still going to work (inside or outside the home), folding laundry and getting meals on the table. Enter the summer routine (sometimes known as a chore chart). Nobody likes to be a taskmaster, but we all can benefit from a little structure. Or as I like to say, “Get your chores done so you can have fun!”

Since my kids were little, I’ve had some sort of summer routine for them to follow. Our summer routine has evolved as the kids got older and I discovered what worked and didn’t. I’ve generally used chore charts throughout the year as well, with limited success. Kids hate chores, right? Not (so much) anymore! This summer seems to be the best ever for us, and I wanted to share what’s working. I’d really love to hear what’s working for you, too!

What’s On the Chart?

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 1.37.59 PMAlthough I already had an existing summer routine chart that I simply tweaked to reflect some new ideas, those tweaks made all the difference! I credit the Power of Moms “Summer Camp Kit” with the inspiration for this year’s summer routine. Their idea of having “must-do” activity categories was a breakthrough for me!  Definitely check it out, purchase their kit, and save yourself a lot of work. Here are my kids’ must-do activities for each day: Bible time, 5-10 minutes; wash, brush teeth, and get dressed; feed the dog (either a.m. or p.m.); dispose of clean and dirty laundry in their rooms; pick up their stuff around the house, tidy their rooms (twice a week), contribute to the household (see “choice” below); do a mealtime chore; play with the dog 30 minutes (alternating days); be active outside for 30 minutes; practice something (see “choice” below); and read 30 minutes.  The rest of the day is free to hang with friends, go to the pool, whatever.

What’s Working This Year

Unlike previous years’ charts, this year’s chart is actually getting used, without much complaint. Here’s what I think is working:

Screen Limits The first summer rule we ever had was “No TV Before 3” (meaning 3:00 p.m.).  I figured that was a good way to get the kids involved with something else before the TV monster took over. Many days, once they got started with something fun, they never even wanted to turn on the TV. Now, we still have the 3:00 rule, but we have to say “no screens” to encompass iPods, computers, etc. If screens are involved in a kids’ project, as they so often are these days, then we make an exception to the rule. However, charts must be done before screens can be used.

Choice Choice! What a concept! Let your child choose how he or she contributes to the household. This works so well, I can’t even believe it. Our charts say, “Contribute to the household.” On the back, this is explained: “Do a substantial and needed chore such as: take out the garbage, fold a load of laundry, sweep the kitchen floor, (the list goes on).” The only requirement is that it must be a needed chore. In other words, if the garbage doesn’t need to be taken out, you can’t use that as your contribution for the day. Mealtime chores are similar, just related to mealtime (empty dishwasher, wipe down table, etc.). For “practice something,” kids just need to work at and get better at something, whether it’s juggling, piano, algebra, dance, Spanish, or baseball. With choices, kids can’t get tired of doing the same thing every day or claim to hate a particular activity. After all, it’s their choice!

Earning Potential First of all, I am a firm believer that rewards don’t work. I’d much rather have my kids be intrinsically motivated to do things. However, earning some spending cash is a pretty good motivator! Earning money is a real-world skill and that’s part of the point of doing these summer chores. In summers past, I had an all-or-nothing philosophy. Kids had to complete their entire chart to earn their weekly allowance. Well, that was a dismal failure. I guess the concept of having to check every box was overwhelming. And, life does sometimes get in the way. So this year, we are going with a pay-per-square approach. Each square they check off is worth 15 cents. That doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up to around $10 a week if everything is completed, plus a bonus for a completed chart. It’s working: My kids are actually volunteering to do chores, and that is music to my ears.

What About the Fun Part?

I highly recommend putting some structure to the fun part of your summer, too. There are many lists on the internet of fun summer activities. I have captured several of them on my Pinterest page. I’d love to hear all of your suggestions, comments, and feedback. Please leave a comment!

 

Tradition: The February Kindness Tree

January 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Good Ideas | Living On Purpose | Traditions - (Comments Off on Tradition: The February Kindness Tree)

This kindness tree from 2007 uses a posterboard and construction paper. Looks like we didn’t get very many hearts on the tree this year, but hey, at least we tried!

Cleaning out my office the other day, I came across these old “kindness trees” I made with the kids when they were very small. It was our February family tradition to go beyond the hearts and candy of Valentine’s Day and instill the love of doing good in our kids. For some reason, we stopped doing it in recent years. But, I’ve decided to resurrect the kindness tree this year. It’s been almost a decade since the first kindness tree, and we’re much busier now with school, sports and activities. It will be interesting to see if we can take time out of our busy days to intentionally do something kind, or if we can notice some naturally occurring opportunities for kindness in our days.

How to do it

The concept is very simple. It is similar to creating a “Thankful tree” at Thanksgiving time (another tradition we really enjoy), but this time, we bring the family’s focus to kindness.

1. Make a tree of cardboard, paper, or real branches. Our first year, we used some scrap cardboard for the background and construction paper for the tree. This year, I’m upgrading a bit with a metal photo-holder tree from Pier One. (more…)

He’s going to want a few videogames to go with it.* You’ll provide some educational and/or fun games revolving around sports, Mario or music . But eventually, your kid will tire of those games and want some new ones. He will ask to go to GameStop to trade in the old games. You’ll go to GameStop and browse the shelves, steering your kid away from the machine-guns-and-death section.

While you’re there, the helpful young person behind the counter will offer you the GameStop rewards card, which entitles you to discounts! You’ll gladly join the rewards program to save a few bucks.

A month or so later, the Game Informer magazine will show up at your house. It will look like this:

You’ll  flip through the pages, more than half of  which contain images of weapons, gore, death or violence. (Really, I counted. In the latest issue, approximately 59% of the pages have such images. Which means every time you turn the page, you can enjoy some pretty scary stuff that apparently passes for mainstream entertainment.) Then, you’ll pitch it into the recycling bin. Or, you’ll call GameStop and ask them to stop sending the print magazine, which they will cheerfully do, although the digital edition will still show up in your email.

Then, your child will come home from school and tell you that “everyone” but him  is getting the latest Call of Duty game. Some of your child’s friends’ parents will actually stand in line at Wal-mart to buy the M-rated  game for their 9-year-old the day it comes out.

You, on the other hand, will explain that you don’t think violence should be used as entertainment. You’ll ask the opinion of your young, hip, twenty-something relatives who served in the real-life war in Iraq. They will agree with you. You’ll research the effects of videogame violence on young brains and teenage behavior. You’ll read other parents’ reviews of the game. You’ll invoke the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  And then, you will make a very unpopular decision.

Your child’s social life will take a hit as his friends spend more and more hours playing the game. After seeing and hearing the game in their own homes, other parents will complain about the violence, but they will not take the game away.

After a while, the novelty will wear off, the kids will come out of their basements and play baseball again, and life will go on.  You’ll wonder if it really mattered after all, that you took a stand. You’ll wonder if you’re wrong about videogame violence, or if the culture at large is wrong. You’ll wonder if your child will respect your decision, or resent it, when he’s older.

You’ll find out soon enough. Call of Duty Black Ops II comes out November 13. And when you give a child a videogame system, eventually, he’s going to want a first-person-shooter game to go with it.

*apologies to Laura Numeroff 

 

Bite it!

If you asked your kids “where does food come from,” what would they say? Costco? McDonalds? The Grocery Fairy? 

With the busy lifestyle many of us lead, it wouldn’t be far-fetched for kids to grow up thinking that everything they eat comes out of a plastic package. The trouble is, the overwhelming selection of “convenient” food options available to today’s kids can make healthy whole foods seem less appealing. If you share my goal of helping your kids learn to select healthy foods. then you want them to know where “real” foods come from. If they can see, touch, and learn about whole foods and have fun doing it, they just might (someday) choose to put healthier foods in their bodies!

So, nourish your kids and your parent-child relationship with these five tips for helping kids connect to their food:

1. Visit a farmers market. What a perfect time of year to see the bounty of the harvest! Take a walk through your local farmers market and let kids see, smell, touch and taste some real food. Many times you can talk directly to the farmer who grew the food. Find your local farmers market here.

2. Get out in the garden – it’s not too late. If you didn’t plant a garden this summer, it’s actually not too late in many areas to plant cold-weather crops such as kale or spinach and watch your food grow.Visit your local nursery or garden center to find out which plants can still be grown in your area. Many urban areas also have community gardens where you can take a tour or volunteer to do a little gardening work. Check the directory here to see if there’s one in your neighborhood.

3. Trace your grapes. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are some fun tech tools you can use to trace your food back to the farm. Check out the HarvestMark app and website to find out where to get produce you can scan and trace. In addition, RealTimeFarms.com is a “crowd-sourced nationwide food guide” that lets you trace your food back to the farm or, conversely, find healthy food produced and sold locally. Tip: try searching “pumpkins,” then go buy them at the farm! You might be surprised at the local farms you didn’t know existed.

4. Visit a CSA or farm. Over the summer my family visited Critter Barn, a working educational farm in Zeeland, Michigan. The kids got up close and personal with the animals, and our 13-year-old guide gave us a great tour, explaining about egg production, sheep shearing, and many other aspects of farming with animals.  Beyond the fun of being able to walk a goat, brush a bunny, and pet a turkey, it was a realistic and eye-opening look at the responsibility that comes with eating animal products. I highly recommend it!

In addition, many community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms encourage visitors or host volunteer work days. This ia great way to get first-hand understanding of where food comes from.There are even farms that will come to you! Check out the wonderful work of Truck Farm Chicago – a mobile educational unit that brings the growing farm to your kids.

5. Cook with your kids. Even if they won’t eat those vegetables (like one of my kids), take them into the kitchen and show them how to clean, chop and cook those veggies. They might sneak a taste when you’re not looking!  For ideas, check out the kid-friendly and healthy recipes on Letsmove.gov

Deepening your kids’ understanding of food is truly rewarding. Not only are you helping fulfill a basic need for survival, you’re also laying the groundwork for health and growth. Ideally, your kids will learn to make healthier food choices by feeling more connected to their food. Have some fun with food this fall!

I’d love to hear anything you’ve tried to get your kids more involved with cooking and eating healthy. Say hello in the comments!