Happy(?) Mother’s Day

I’ve never been a daughter and a mother on the same Mother’s Day. Well, that’s not exactly right. I am still my father’s daughter on Mother’s Day, but my mom passed away before I became a mom. The first Mother’s Day without my mom was bad. Really bad. I missed her like crazy. I had been trying for some time to become a mom myself without success. I was lost — a train wreck. I went to the cemetery where she was buried to visit her grave. I asked my mom for help becoming a mother myself. I literally said, “I don’t know how much pull you have up there yet, but if there’s anything you can do to help, I really want to be a mom.” Three-and-a-half weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. My daughter (who has my mom’s blue eyes even though her father and I have brown eyes) was born the following February.

Awwwww. That’s a sweet story, right? Beautiful happy baby, beautiful happy ending, beautiful happy first Mother’s Day, right? Wrong! My first Mother’s Day as a mom was bad. Really bad. I was still a train wreck. But — you know — I had a new baby. I wasn’t sleeping as much as I was used to. My body was getting back to normal, but I was still adjusting to nursing and my C-section scar. It’s understandable that I would be emotional. And of course, I still missed my mom. It was hard to celebrate that day without her, even as I held that gorgeous gift she had managed to send me. It would get better. I would get better at living through those days that screamed for her.

Over the next decade or so, my family and I tried all kinds of things to celebrate Mother’s Day in a way that would work, in a way that would be better. I wanted to honor my mom but also celebrate having the role I’d wanted my whole life: my favorite job of being a mom. We tried doing Mother’s Day the way my mom did it: making dinner for all the other moms in my life including my mother-in-law and our grandmothers. But honestly, that was too hard because it was what she had done. We tried to be out of town, going places that she liked to go, for Mother’s Day. Don’t get me started about keys locked in cars, hot water running out in a cabin we stayed in, or restaurants that closed down without our knowing it (they were the last time we passed through!). Nope, that wasn’t the fix either. Once each trip fell apart, I did too. Even though my amazing husband and kids did everything they could to make the day special.

So here’s what I’ve figured out, 22 years later. I can’t make it right. There is nothing I can do, nowhere I can go, no plans that I can make that will compensate for the fact that I am motherless on Mother’s Day. So I don’t. At some point on that day every year, I’m going to fall apart. I’m going to be a train wreck. I know it. My family knows it. That’s OK. It’s a testament to the amazing woman who gave me life and raised me to be the (hopefully at least half as amazing as she was) mother that I am. I spend my day with the people who made me a mom and I miss the woman who should be there to see it.

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program staff

Ways to say “I love you” to your child this Valentine’s Day

hand coloring a heart

We often speak these three little words — I love you — to our children. Recently I thought about how I showed my children how much I loved them on Valentine’s Day. Children may forget how often they hear those three little words, but I can attest to the fact that they will remember many of the things you do and carry that with them into their adult lives.

How do I know? Last week I ran into my grown daughter’s childhood best friend. She asked if she could come over this year and have my husband make his famous heart-shaped pancakes. “Or,” she asked, “Can I come over for your red dinner?” This reminded me of how important these fun things can impact our children as they mature.

Celebrate with food

  • Make heart-shaped pancakes or waffles for breakfast. Better yet, how about making them for dinner with lots of whipped cream and strawberries?
  • Write a note to your child and put it into his lunch bag or backpack, so he is surprised to find a note from you. You can event do this each day for the entire month.
  • Decorate their lunch boxes in hearts and stickers. The kids will feel extra special when they take it out of their backpacks at school.
  • Cut their sandwiches into hearts.
  • Make a dinner with all red foods. Our tradition was spaghetti, red JELL-O, I added a little food coloring to muffins and to top it off, strawberry milk. (Note: We did the same idea in March for St. Patrick’s Day.)
  • Make your children’s favorite dinner or order heart-shaped Valentine pizzas. Many neighborhood pizza shops make them for Valentine’s Day.
  • Invite a child’s friend over for dinner that night.
  • Bake a heart-shaped treat together. It could be a cake that you frost in red or pink, with lots of red jimmies or heart-shaped candies on top. Maybe you make heart-shaped cookies or Rice Krispie treats together.
  • Make fruit kabobs with different red fruits.
  • Make strawberry sundaes together and top them off with strawberries and raspberries.
  • Treat your child to lunch or dinner at her favorite restaurant.
  • Have an indoor picnic together in the family or living room.
  • Have hot cocoa with marshmallows together.

Celebrate with art

  • Using window paint, decorate your child’s window with hearts and messages. It washes off easily. You could even create a window mural together.
  • Make hearts out of construction paper and decorate your house.
  • Write a special poem about your child that expresses your loving thoughts and feelings.
  • Sing and dance to your child’s favorite songs.
  • Paint a picture together.
  • Make a photo collage of your child or family over time.
  • Write a chalk message for your kids to see on the driveway or sidewalk when they leave the house.
  • Make special Valentine’s cards or pictures together and send them out.

Brighten up the daily activities

  • Volunteer at their school Valentine’s Day party.
  • Bring your child’s favorite pet or stuffed animal with you in the car when you pick him up from school.
  • Read your favorite childhood book together.
  • Visit the library and check out books on love or kindness.
  • Write a message to your child and put it into a bottle. Leave it for her to find when she takes a bath.
  • Have a warm towel ready for them when they get out of the bath.
  • Give lots of hugs, kisses and snuggles. Kids never get enough of them.
  • Vow to tell your children how much you love them every day, for the next 365 days.

Playtime fun

  • Spend the day together doing your child’s favorite activity.
  • Learn how to say “I Love You” in a different language and teach it to your children.
  • Give lots of Eskimo kisses.
  • Play your children’s favorite game with them.
  • Play outdoors together.
  • Take your daughter to the salon and get a manicure together.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt around your home with the prize being a book or activity together.
  • Watch your child’s favorite movie or television show together. You can make pink popcorn to enjoy during the movie, too.

Other ideas

  • Send a Valentine card to your child in the mail. Children love to receive mail.
  • Take a family picture and put it in a heart-shaped frame for your kids to put in their bedrooms or special place in the house.
  • Send a voice message to them via phone or leave a message on the answering machine for them to hear.
  • Help someone in need. You and your child will feel satisfied with your act of kindness and it will be remembered.
  • Make a donation or begin a college fund for your child.
  • Buy your child a special treat or toy and have your child wake up to it.
  • Take a trip to the toy department together and let your children pick out something special.

From past blog posts, you may know how truly passionate I am about reading to and with your child every day. I couldn’t let Valentine’s Day go unnoticed, so here is a list of books on love and kindness that you may want to read.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Coping with Christmas after loss

sad child wearing Santa hat looking out window at rain

The tree is decorated, stockings hung, twinkling lights and vibrant colors are everywhere. Your calendar is full of holiday parties, the to-do list is long, and the music of the season speaks of joy to the world and how it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yet all that fills your mind is the void of someone you loved and lost. In the past two years, the Parenting Program team of staff, students and volunteers have experienced some significant, sudden and tragic losses. The Christmas season after loss can bring a tremendous amount of grief, during a time when the general expectation is that everyone is feeling holly jolly and full of the holiday spirit. Everyone copes differently; for some people, surrounding themselves with family and their traditions is a comfort, for others it magnifies the loss.

Here are some tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Some you may love, others not so much. My hope is that you may find something here that makes this difficult season a tiny bit more tolerable, and that there are moments of joy even amid missing those who are gone.

“Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

  • Acknowledge that the holidays will be tough and verbalize this to friends and family.
  • Consider what traditions you would like to keep, and what traditions you may want to change, even if just temporarily.
  • Create a new tradition to honor the memory of your loved one.
  • Purchase a candle and when you turn on the lights of your Christmas tree, light the candle in memory of the person you lost.
  • Think about the location of your holiday celebration. Make a conscious decision whether you want to keep it the same or make a change.
  • Keep in mind that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are.
  • Put out a memory box with small slips of paper and pens so people can write a treasured memory. Take some time to read the memories aloud, or invite guests to read them individually.
  • Prepare one of your loved one’s special recipes, or something that was a favorite of theirs.
  • Be honest about how you are feeling, and what you do and do not want to do when it comes to holiday gatherings and celebrations.
  • Participate in a service project or activity in honor of your loved one.
  • Make an appointment with a counselor or therapist. Maybe this has been something you have putting off, but with the holidays bringing grief even closer to the surface, it may be a perfect time.
  • Consider choosing a few of your loved one’s belongings and gifting them to someone else who is grieving the loss.
  • Visit your loved one’s final resting place and leave a wreath or poinsettia.
  • Ask for and accept help, whether it is assistance cooking a holiday meal, shopping or emotional support.
  • Give yourself a gift. Treat yourself to something you have had your eye on.
  • Focus on gratitude. Even if it is something tiny, make a point to write down one thing you are grateful for each day.
  • If you have children who are grieving along with you, be sure to talk to them about what they may be feeling and consider doing a memorial grief activity or craft together.
  • Say no. If a certain event or gathering just seems too much, give yourself permission to skip it.
  • Don’t feel guilty for the moments of happiness and joy you may feel throughout the season; it doesn’t mean you don’t love or miss the person who is not with you this holiday season.

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director

Create a holiday book together

boys with gingerbread houses

It’s hard to believe that once again the holidays are sneaking up on us and will be knocking at our doors before we know it. Last year I posted a book list for children of different ages from newborn through 18 months. If you’re looking for children’s books to give as gifts, please take a look at that article.

Like many of you, my husband and I took pictures of the special times together with our children during the holidays. We took pictures of selecting our tree and decorating it, baking cookies, visiting Santa at the mall, and the list goes on and on, culminating with the arduous task of taking down our tree. We did little with those pictures until the following Christmas, when we would look back at them and reflect on the special times we had together and the people in our lives that made our holiday so special.

Then one year I decided to capture all of our special times together and make our own book. Each time we did something for the holidays with our children, I captured those special moments with a photograph. Throughout the holiday season, we collected several dozen pictures. When the holidays were over, we looked through our pictures and chose our favorites, then put text with the pictures. I used my kids’ words and ideas. We even added a page with our puppy’s paw print.

That book became our coffee table book that year and the children looked at every day. It also seemed to be the book that houseguests gravitated to; they commented on it and asked questions. It was truly our family’s favorite holiday book. It was the last decoration put into the holiday bins, so it was the first item pulled out each year.

In January after the holidays are over, we often find time to do things that we weren’t able to do in December. Preparing for Christmas and Hanukkah is time consuming, so January is the perfect time to reflect, look at photos and make a special book together.

So this holiday season, capture those memories and enjoy them for years to come. There are several companies and apps that can help you accomplish this, including Shutterfly and Snapfish. Your book can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like it to be.

Head over to Tom’s Guide for several ideas and updates on how to do this. The site also ranks the various photo book services. One service in particular, Mixbook, offers a step-by-step direction guide to first time book makers. However, look at the reviews on the website to find the place that works for you. Tom’s Guide also ranks the companies that are available for you to create a book that your children will love.

Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

My favorite day in November

Christmas decorations in mall

For most people, Thanksgiving is about family, food and tradition. That’s true for my family too, to some extent. But for us that’s even more the case for the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday is the day that I celebrate my mom and pass on some of things that were important to her to my kids. We embrace her traditions, and we have started some of our own.

Mom passed away almost 22 years ago. We lost her 14 months before my oldest child was born, so my kids never got to meet her. They do know her though as I’ve made sure that she is still a part of their lives.

One day when we especially do this is Black Friday. My Mom loved shopping. She was a master of it. In some ways it was her faith – so much so that when Somerset North opened, she called it “the cathedral.” Where shoppers go to worship. Clearly then Black Friday was a favorite day of hers.

Understand that this was before Black Friday leaked into Thanksgiving (she would not have approved). My mom would get up at the crack of dawn (she usually did that anyway) to be there when the stores opened to take advantage of all the great deals. She taught me to appreciate the value of a good sale, and it was something we did together. The year we lost her, she was too sick to shop on Black Friday, but she made a list and sent me off with my best friend to practice what she had preached. From that Black Friday forward, I’ve continued to shop with my best friend and we started taking my daughter when she was old enough. That kid is now 20 and she is her grandmother’s girl – a shopping superstar practicing her faith on the biggest shopping day of the year.

When we finish shopping, it’s time for breakfast. Yes, I said breakfast. Mom used to say that you had to get done early before the “amateurs” came out. That is when we indulge in a tradition all our own:  Cinnabon. Some years my husband would wake our kids up and bring them to meet me at the mall, but now we pick up a pack of the calorie-laden treats and bring them home to our non-shoppers. Those of us who have been raking in the deals since dawn need a boost, and the others will need their energy for what comes next: decorating!

Another of my mother’s favorite things in the world was Christmas. I think that may be because of the child-like wonder with which Mom always viewed the world. With a sparkle in her eye, even in her 50s, she delighted in the joy the world had to offer. But never so much as at Christmas.

The official start of the Christmas season at my house is Black Friday. Christmas music isn’t allowed on the radio before that day, but starting that Friday we embrace the joyous Noel. We put up seven (yes, seven) Christmas trees, yards of garland, thousands of twinkling lights, and some of my other favorite decorations. My mom’s “Christmas in the City” collection goes on the mantle. We talk about how her favorite pieces were the cathedral and Hollydale’s Department Store. Then there’s my crèche – the one my Mom and Dad got (the very last one!) for me on the day after Christmas, 27 years ago for half-off because I fell in love with its peaceful simplicity. And the only ornament I place on our living room tree: the little green and white angel who represents my mom watching over my family.

After all that hard work, we need some sustenance. And that brings me to my final favorite of my mom’s for the day: good food. Mom was an amazing cook. Every day was a feast and holidays were even more glorious. But she never really ate much at Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t understand that until I took over the family meal when I got married. After spending all day making all that food – I guess neither of us really wanted to eat it. That wore off by the next day, however. Is there anything better than Thanksgiving leftovers?! Our special tradition for the day after Thanksgiving is my Mom’s creation: Mush-Mush. Yes, I know how it sounds, but trust me, it’s delicious. Mom would take the leftover mashed potatoes and leftover broccoli and mash it together in a frying pan with a ton of butter. Frying it up until it was golden brown; it was and still is my favorite thing to eat from the Thanksgiving feast. Now my husband is the one who makes Mush-Mush as he honors the woman who never used the term “in-law” when she called him her son.

It’s almost Black Friday now. As I type this, I’m smiling and my eyes are a little shiny with unshed tears. I love that I have a day that has such strong happy memories of my beautiful Mom. Ones that I can share with the grandchildren she would have spoiled rotten, but who still feel her love. I hope that your holidays are filled with beautiful memories, and traditions – new and old!

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program staff

Halloween safety

kids in costume holding "Halloween" sign

As much as I loved Halloween as a child, experiencing it as a mother is even more fun. While it’s easy to get caught up in the preparation for school parties, finding or making the perfect costumes, and stocking the candy bowl, taking a few moments to focus on Halloween safety can make the night even more enjoyable. Below are a few safety tips to help you and your family enjoy a safe and happy Halloween.

Getting ready

  • Costumes should fit well to prevent tripping.
  • Choose hats or face paint instead of masks that could obstruct vision.
  • Make sure accessories aren’t dangerous. Swords or sticks associated with a costume should be flexible and wigs should be flame resistant.
  • Never use “one size fits all” contact lenses.
  • Have each person wear or carry a flashlight. Consider adding light-reflective tape to treat bags and costumes.

Going out

  • Accompany kids under age 12. With older kids, agree on a preplanned route and time to be home. Remind kids how to call 911 or for help if needed.
  • Only visit well-lit homes and never enter a home or car for a treat.
  • Be mindful of potential fire sources such as candles in lit jack-o-lanterns.
  • Discuss pedestrian safety with kids before going out.
    • Always walk on sidewalks and use cross-walks to cross streets.
    • If walking on a street without a sidewalk, keep to the far side of the road and walk facing traffic.
    • Put mobile devices away while walking.
    • Be cognizant of cars backing out of driveways. Teach kids to listen and look for back-up lights.

Coming home

  • Inspect all candy once home. Remove all homemade treats and those that may be spoiled or not fully sealed.
  • Some candies may not be appropriate for young children so adjust based on age.
  • Check ingredients for potential allergens if a child has a food allergy.

Take the time to make Halloween safety a part of your family’s tradition. With good preparation and a focus on safety, you can ensure that the night is full of only treats for your little ones!

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

Building Halloween excitement before the big day

house decorated for Halloween

With so many things to love about fall, it is definitely my favorite season. Football, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, apple orchards, cider, donuts, sweaters, boots, and of course … Halloween. Halloween is such a fun and exciting holiday, especially for kids. As soon as the calendar flips to October at our house, the spooky Halloween buzz begins. While I wouldn’t say we go Halloween “crazy,” over the years I’ve enjoyed doing simple little things here and there to make the month fun, and to build the excitement and anticipation of the day.

Halloween décor

Adding indoor and outdoor decorations always makes things seem more festive. You don’t have to go “all out” all at once. I’ve collected things over the years, often on clearance after the holiday. We always add one new decoration each year, and the kids love getting them out and helping me decide where things should go.

jack-o-lantern clementinesFun food

Pinterest is full of silly Halloween snack and food ideas. I usually keep it simple and the kids still love it. I always try to pick up a box of Halloween cereal to surprise them with, and you can make an adorable pumpkin for the lunchbox with just a clementine and a Sharpie.

Visit a Halloween supply store

Whether you already have the costumes set or not, visiting a Halloween store is lots of fun. There’s so much to look at, masks to try on, and even some spooky animatronics that might make you jump. Keep toddlers close by as many of these are motion activated. Older kids may enjoy this activity more than the little ones.

Local free events

Many cities host trick-or-treating at the local businesses before Halloween, and many schools have trunk-or treat events where you decorate your car and kids go car-to-car collecting treats. It’s nice to get some additional opportunities to wear those costumes!

Enjoy Halloween books and movies

Now is a perfect time to dim the lights, pop some popcorn and watch a Halloween movie or read your favorite spooky books together. Lighting some candles or giving the kids small flashlights, always helps to set the scene and make it even more special. There are many age-appropriate choices; here are a few of our family favorites:

Send out Halloween greeting cards

Receiving unexpected fun mail is the best! There are so many adorable Halloween cards in the stores or you can make your own. Pick a few friends and family and send them a Halloween greeting. I promise they will be surprised! People often expect a birthday card, but when was the last time you got a Halloween card? We have a family friend that sends one to my kids every year and they always look forward to it. You can also throw in some spooky stickers to make it even more exciting.

Happy Halloween!

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director. She is also mom to Cassie and Connor, and coordinator of Halloween shenanigans at the House of Ryan.