Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Life's Joy Comes In Moments

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I've been thinking about a day we had last July, a year ago this very week in fact and a life lesson I learned that day that has forever changed how I appreciate my life. Our custody situation has been very stressful due to dealing with some pretty serious factors with the coparent and a court system that refused to stand up for our little one. Her Dad and I have aged considerably in every way over the past few years due to the massive stress that we have been dealing with and the stresses that our custody ordeal has put on ever other facet of our lives, especially financial.

Last July was a particularly stressful period and we were having to do a great deal of preparation for court. Daddy was working 15 hour overnight shifts, with only a few hours to sleep and eat before he had to return to work - 7 days a week for three weeks. He was able to get one day off of work so that we could focus our efforts on the court case. We decided that we would make a quick family trip to the beach to get some fresh air and try to decompress a little. We gave ourselves a two hour deadline and then it was back to work. We had an amazing time and it was the most fun time we'd had in a long time. It felt so good to walk up and down the beach, to play in the sand and it was such a joy to see our little one enjoying herself so much with us.

When that two hours were up, we both felt impressed that it was in our family's best interests to stay and make a day of it - despite that fact that it seems to be a disastrous decision for the court case preparations. But we went with our instincts and stay and truly unwound and felt such a wave of peace come over us. Despite being in one of the worst periods of our lives, we were experiencing joy, calm, peace, AND happiness!

I learned that day that our greatest joys and happiness can any day and every day, even when it seems the world is crashing down around us. I learned that there are moments to love and cherish - to have astounded gratitude for - every day. Now I look for those moments in the every day and I treasure them and thank God for them. These moments are the great gifts of my life - my joy, my treasures more valuable than any other gift. Even in the worst of days, we can experience joy and see blessings come to us.

In the end we were able to be prepared for court and we came to realize that our preparations were not necessary for that day. This is also a reminder to me to follow my instincts and try to reduce pressure we put on ourselves unnecessarily. Great lessons all around and great memories from that day at the beach.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making The Best of Weekly Goodbyes

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We had a tough goodbye this past week. Splitting time between two households for a young child must be incredibly difficult. Because I had a mother and father married and living in the same house growing up, I will never truly know what that feels like. But I do know what it feels like to have a much loved stepchild come and go from our house every week.

Life at her other home is incredibly unstable and difficult on her and it breaks my heart every week to have to deliver her back to that place. Rest assured that we have over many years done everything we can to ensure her safety and well-being and continue to do that. But we have to follow court procedure, etc. I am sure I am not the only stepmom frustrated with that reality.

In our home we all get sad the day we know she is leaving. We had to find a way to combat that for all our sakes. It all starts by everyone getting sad and on edge and at times disintegrate from there. So we all decided that for all our sakes we should decide not to spend one minute of our time together unhappy and sulking. We should love every moment and make the most of it. We were only hurting ourselves if we let something we couldn't change bring unhappiness to us, especially on our last day of the week together.

Do we still get sad, absolutely, but do we join together and chase those blues out the door and remind each other that we are going to love every moment we have together? YES! Because we all understand that sadness, we can help each other overcome it quickly with gentle reminders and lots of hugs. It's amazing that we all take turns being the one to remind each other to be happy and love our time together. We try to find something to keep us busy so we don't think too much about that drop-off that is coming up. It makes the long drive to drop-off much easier when we have all dealt with our emotions before we leave home.

Last week the sadness began to creep in and the "I'm really, really, really going to miss you" lines started being spoken. Hugs were getting a little more desperate and smiles were turning upside down. But we had a little meeting of the hearts, sitting on the kitchen counter and reminded ourselves that we don't want to be sad when we're together, we want to make the best of every moment we have. And it worked. It always does and thank goodness we found this little strategy together and it works so well for our family. It's good to know we'll all be there for each other to pick up sagging spirits and love our time together. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Frustrating Teaching Experiences With Kids Pay Off Later

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Two events from the past are fresh in my memory this week. First is the months we spent with dinner time virtually ruined as we struggled with our little one to get her to eat the healthy food on her plate. It became a long, miserable experience to sit down for dinners and deal with a three year old who refused to eat. My stomach would hurt at the end of every meal.

We did not push, but just encouraged her to take 2-5 bites of anything on her plate. She would try to distract us, avoid sitting down, or just ignore us. She would suddenly start rubbing her eyes and complaining of being VERY tired and wanting to go to bed or that she had to go to the bathroom. Once she realized that we would be consistent with our expectations at mealtime, everything changed. Now she is a great eater and will eat almost anything.

She's learned to try two bites of anything new because she realizes now that the first bite of something new is never very likable, but a second try can be good. She will eat mountains of fresh spinach and will try any fruit or vegetable. Every time I am around children who won't eat anything good for them, I thank my stars for an "easy food kid."

The other thing that has very much on my mind lately is when she was two or three and would beg me to let her help to housework. I decided I should try to involve her as much as possible at that age. My hope was that as she got older she would to accustomed to the expectation that she participate in caring for our family and home and that she would have a positive feeling about working in the home because of good experiences she had had with us. This decision meant that often things took much longer than necessary while I threw my speedy flow out the window and allowed her to take part. That often became tedious, especially when we were tired. It also required a lot of patience because sometimes she created way more work than she accomplished.

This week I have been deep cleaning the house and she has been a phenomenal help. She still begs to let her wash the pots and pans. She loves to race against me to finish emptying sections of the dishwasher. And she is still quite young. But she's confident in her place in the home and family. She's been doing small chores around the house for three years now. And she's also not intimidated or annoyed to learn new chores and take on more responsibility. Yes, there are times when she would rather play than work, but it doesn't take much to get her to help out.

The final element of this all is showing lots of appreciation. It's important to us for her to know she is a loved, valuable and very appreciated member of our family. We give a lot of earned praise and lots of love and affection.

These little decisions and things we were consistent on have paid off in a huge way. Now we can look back on those frustrating days and smile with thanks that we made it through and we are reaping the rewards every day. Looking forward to her teenage years, we hope that the time we've invested now will help us get through those days too. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Good Cry

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Yesterday I had a good chat with Papa Lion, my man, about his daughter and all the excruciatingly painful things we have gone through to protect her and fight for her well-being and safety. At times it has seemed a hopeless effort, one in which our lives seemed destined to be crushed and destroyed by lies and false accusations. We have long feared for our financial sovereignty as the court and legal costs continued to mount into astronomical amounts for a situation that should have been an open and shut case. 

There were times when she was kept from us for days, weeks and even months. We know she has been manipulated and even physically hurt. And we continued to fight. We take every step possible, contact every agency possible, report every issue possible. And we still continue to fight to this day, knowing that family court is nothing if not unpredictable and reckless in its whims and decision making processes. This is a dangerous game we live in and it is not for the faint of heart. I know we are not the only family in this boat. There are thousands if not millions of others who share our terrifying story.

Last night as we knelt down to pray, I just sobbed. I sobbed for her and all her suffering, I sobbed for her Dad and all the stress, fear and frustration this has brought up on him. I cried for all of us as we have fought the good fight, often with little hope of success. But I think what I can truly attribute those tears to is the knowing deep in my heart, that for this little angel and all she has brought to my life, her Dad's life and our families lives, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Every terrifying moment has been worth it to see the shine in her face and feel the warmth of her hugs and her joy and enthusiasm when she is in our home. While I cannot control the lack of adult supervision and exposure to unsavory things she experiences in one part of her life, her Dad and I can give her the world, a world of hope, faith, happiness and peace in our home.  And that effort is worth all we have in us. We already reap the rewards in every moment we are privileged to spend with her.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Banish Boredom With 10 Fun Things To Do

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It's summer in the northern hemisphere and it's proving to be a hot one. And for parents with school age kids it's a short break in the long school year routine and the chance to make meaningful and lasting memories with them. It's amazing how excited they get when you tell them you have "something special planned." Some of my best memories of my childhood are the times my parents surprised us with a fun day trip. If you're running short on fresh ideas, here are a few to inspire you.

1. Go to a local botanical garden.
2. Go to the Zoo.
3. Escape the heat by visiting all your local museums.
4. Visit local historical sites.
5. Check out all your local parks.
6. Make plans with a group of moms & kids once a week for the summer.
7. Attend summer kids movie programs in your city.
8. Plan and execute a service project every week.
9. Plant and tend a small garden.
10. Take part in summer art programs & local kids camps

What are you doing with your kids that excites you this summer? Please share. We all need fresh ideas and I love all the originality and creativity out there.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Listening To My Voice Around The House

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I saw a couple the other day and heard the wife speaking to her husband in a very demeaning and disrespectful tone over something that he innocently asked. Her tone made me feel terrible and it saddened me to imagine what that feels like to a husband or child. I can only imagine how many divorces have been greatly influenced by the inability to speak kindly to each other. It gave me pause to think about how my voice sounds with my loved ones.

Yesterday I heard Joel Osteen say that the greatest gift a wife can give her husband is to honor him, to treat him with respect. It's amazing how it's often hardest to show love and respect to those closest to us. It's easy to get into bad habits in our homes, to allow negative tones, impatience and tiredness deeply affect the way we talk to our family members.

How does my voice sound? Do I sound like someone I would want to meet on the street, work with in an office or have for a spouse or parent? Do I sound critical, fretful and worried about every step every one takes? Or do I sound courageous,  loving and supportive? I will admit there have been times when I have heard my own voice sound much more ornery, critical and unkind than I would ever hope to sound. I have quickly apologized and made renewed commitments to do better. I'm recommitting to check in with myself regularly to see what it is that my family is seeing and hearing from me.

I set the tone by how I speak in my home and family. We women also have a big influence on how we allow others to speak in our homes too. Think what good spouses those kids will be down the line if they learn to speak with honor and respect to their family members in our homes. It's a good practice to get in to and definitely makes for a happier home every day. I hope that the sounds of our home will be remembered as sweet, loving and kindly music.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Enjoy Great Summer Days With Family

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It's summertime in the northern hemisphere and a big holiday season in the U.S. The past four days have been sun up to sun down fun with different groups of friends, lots of big family-friendly events, packing, house cleaning, travel and more big fun events with family and friends.

I will confess that I am a little tired and have several times questioned my sanity regarding participating in so many fun events in such a short period of time. I think of my fellow parents out there who are scrambling to take kids on cross country trips, to amusement parks, big community events and so much more this summer. I'm sending you my encouragement and any energy I have to spare.

Thinking back on my own childhood, those are the times I have the best memories of: the trips to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, NorCal and SoCal, camping trips, visits to cousins and more. I have no doubt my parents were usually exhausted before we even got out of the driveway. And I am sure it was a little tedious for them frequently. It's very possible that there were times when they just didn't know how they would afford to take us to fun places.

The value of my childhood experiences and memories make all the efforts I've made this past week feel more than worth it -- and make me feel very grateful for my parents, knowing now what it took to get us on those trips. So to all you parents out there, I promise you you'll catch up on your rest, you'll forget how tired, sore, frustrated, impatient and regretful you might have felt. You will have great moments with your kids and make memories to last a life time.

You can do it! It will mean the world to your kids. Life passes by too quickly and soon they'll hopefully be doing the same for their kids and you'll be able to look on and smile, knowing what they went through to get there. Go get 'em Stepmommas! You can do it. Make their lives amazing. They'll never forget you for it.