A mother’s self-worth

Over the summer, something wonderful happened. My freelance writing business got really busy.

I’ve been on my own for more than two years now, and business has been steady, thankfully. However, this summer, one of my clients started ramping up, which trickled down to me. Also, thankfully.

With this newfound busy-ness, an old monster has reared its ugly head: the plight of a working mother.

Before I went freelance, I was a full-time career person, putting in my 40 hours per week until my twins were about 2 years old. Then, I peeled back my schedule to four days per week. Now, who knows how many hours a week I work—writing, interviewing, designing, pitching, laundry, cleaning, keeping the kids alive, etc. Honestly, I have no idea how I did it all when I worked outside my house.

I’m starting to feel the stress of maintaining “The Balance.” Along with that stress I feel a bitterness, too, that wasn’t there before.

An example, a client called me on a Tuesday to ask if I could go to a business lunch on Thursday that same week. Mentally, I went through the calendars of every sitter I have on call. Then I catalogued all the professional clothing I own—is any of it clean? Finally, I checked my calendar. Nope. I promised the kids I’d take them to the zoo, which worked out because none of my sitters was available anyway.

I’m trying hard to be taken seriously as a writer and a leader so having to pull the parent card makes me feel like my polished veneer is getting sticky fingerprints.

I love my kids with every ounce of my being; I hope that goes without saying. But I need an identity outside of motherhood. I need to feel value beyond my ability to pack lunches. I am more than my capacity for singing cartoon theme songs and expertly cutting up food.

I need to feel that I am a person who happens to be a mother, a writer, a friend, a wife. I am all of these things. Somedays, I’m more a writer than a mother, others I’m a mother and wife. Lately, I’m a runner, too.

Getting to this point was very liberating. First, I had to bypass my mom guilt and tell it to shut up. Just because I want to pursue a hobby, interest, career or anything else, doesn’t mean I’m a less dedicated mom. In fact, I’ve started telling my kids when they ask where I’m going, that I’m doing this for me, that it’s important for me to be fulfilled. While they are my world, they aren’t the only things in it—and that’s ok.

I hope one day they can look at my parenting and think that I did a pretty good job, for them and for me. Hopefully, they’ll remember the days they were sick and home from school when I worked in their fort with them. Maybe they’ll piece together that my freelancing made it possible to have those extras such as a Disney trip. The cherry on top would be their pride in me making it on my own.

I’m going to keep my fingers crossed.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins, and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

My new adventure starts now

person jumping over large gap

I turned 40 last year. I don’t know what clicked in my brain then, but something is giving me acne and the desire for more.

“More” is tough to explain because I’m not talking about material things. I want to enrich my life. It’s time to make changes.

The first thing I did was take two weeks off work. I needed to find out if this was feasible from a mental health standpoint — my mental health. Could I be a stay-at-home mom? Could I have all my focus on my kids and home? It’s a noble calling, but I never thought of it as mine.

But you know what? I liked it.

I liked having one less thing to stress about. I liked that my head was in the game, not half in, half out. I liked being able to keep the house in some semblance of order, not just spic-and-span on Sundays post binge-clean.

Stay-at-home moms are thinking, “Honey, two weeks won’t cut it.” I believe you. I do. But it was a good litmus test for me. I enjoyed my time and didn’t want to go back to my desk job. (Not that I don’t love you guys, I do.) I just didn’t feel fulfilled with it anymore. So, I did something completely out of character: I resigned.

I’m not going to kid myself and say the SAHM role is for me. I don’t think it is. So, in addition to my “enhanced mom” title, I’m going to write more and see what I can make of myself. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking the “safe” way is the only way. They need to know that “smart jumps” are sometimes the only way to test your own limits and not doing something just because it’s new or scares you isn’t the right reason. It’s a lesson in calculated risks. And that’s a lesson worth learning.

When I became a mom five years ago, I would daydream about what I could do to make my kids proud of me. I hope this is the ticket.

– Rebecca Calappi is a publications coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples.

Can my child stay home alone all summer?

Close up of girl sitting on couch

Schools are about to break for the summer and you may be questioning whether or not your child is ready to spend all summer home alone. In Michigan, there is not a set age in which legally a child is able to stay home without adult supervision. Using some of the State of Michigan’s legal handbooks, it seems that it is generally acceptable to leave your child without adult supervision once the child is age 12.

Within the “Improper Supervision” section of the State of Michigan Child Protection Handbook: “According to the Child Protection Law, there is no legal age that a child can be left home alone. It is determined on a case-by-case basis, but as a rule of thumb, a child 10 years old and younger is not responsible enough to be left home alone. A child over the age of 10 and under the age of 12 will be evaluated, but the case may not always be assigned for a CPS investigation.” Additionally, The Michigan Child Support Handbook states, “The court may include an amount covering work-related child care expenses when the child is less than 12 years old.”

Despite the recommended age, it is even more important to determine your child’s maturity. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a few tips to help determine if your child is responsible enough to stay home and also some suggestions on what type of rules to set.

Some key questions you may want to consider are:

  • Does my child have any reservations about staying home alone?
  • In the event of an emergency, such as a fire or medical event, can your child respond appropriately?
  • Are you in a safe neighborhood?
  • Do you have neighbors who will watch out for suspicious activity? Would they be able to check in on your children if you aren’t able to reach them?
  • Does your child know when it is safe to answer the door?
  • If there are younger children in the home, do you trust them in the care of their older siblings all day?
  • Have you discussed internet and social media safety?
  • Do any children in the home have serious medical conditions, such as life-threatening allergies, diabetes or seizures?
  • Are you available via phone at all times?

If you’re still unsure you if or your child is ready, consider a few trial runs. Let them stay alone for a few hours at a time. Once you get home, talk about their day, particularly any problems they encountered and how they handled them. I am a big fan of the “drop in”; if you can, leave work early see and how they are faring when they don’t expect you back for hours. If you still don’t feel comfortable leaving your teen or tween home alone all summer, look into summer camps that may be of interest to them. You can also ask available aunts, uncles or grandparents to visit, or see if your child can hang out with friends who have parents home during the day.

– Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health

Just do your best. That’s what your kids will remember.

Mom and daughter sitting on playground equipment

Cropped image. Donnie Ray Jones, Flickr. CC license.

A few days ago I was semi-frantically running around my house in an attempt to return it to something that resembled order. As I eyed the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I heard a tiny voice behind me say, “Mommy, you sit next by me.”

I turned around to see my 2-year-old emphatically patting the small spot next to her on the coffee table that she isn’t supposed to climb up on at all. Her dark curls were bouncing and her legs were swinging. “Please, Mommy, you want play with me?” I sighed.

The truth is that I did want to play with her. I had worked much of the day and hadn’t seen her. However, I also needed the dishes done, dinner made, the laundry folded and the dogs walked. And while I was at it, I should sweep the floor, organize paperwork, and go through my daughter’s clothes to see what I needed to get her for summer. The recycling needed to be taken out and I forgot to make her doctor’s appointment yesterday. And why in the world couldn’t I keep everything straight?

I often find myself questioning silly things like this as a mother. Am I making the right choices and decisions? Am I a good mother? Sometimes I feel like other moms have an answer book that is just perpetually out of my reach.

On Valentine’s Day, I went to the store and dutifully picked out a box of non-candy, paper valentines for my daughter to take to school. I wrote her name on all of them and was feeling pretty good about myself for getting things done in time. That is, until I saw the Facebook pictures start popping up. Friend after friend proudly showing off Pinterest-worthy creations. Robots crafted out of candy boxes, hand-created valentines with adorable sayings — all personalized to perfection. I had no idea that this was even a “thing”. I am not crafty.

I spent the rest of the evening convincing myself that my daughter would be the only one without these spectacular treats and think that I love her less. I imagined this as the turning point in her life where it would all start to go downhill to a life of crime and it would be all my fault. (Yes, I have an active imagination.) The truth is, there were a few of the crafty valentines, but the majority were just like mine.

I look up to my own mother as someone who I want to emulate. In my memories, she was kind and loving, patient and fun. When I brought this up to her recently, she didn’t have the same memories. She recalled times she lost her temper and rushed us. She said she wished she could’ve been more patient, like me. She is still questioning these imaginary faults when I think she was the greatest mom in the world.

In the end, I sat next to my daughter and we played for 15 minutes. Then I got up and did the dishes. But it would have been OK for me to just do the dishes, or to just play with her and forget the dishes altogether. These small and day-to-day choices are not the things she will remember. She will know she was loved and cared for just as I was.

So this Mother’s Day I plan to enjoy myself. No judging. Just fun with my kid. I hope that all moms will do the same. Even if you are one of those awesome crafty ones.

Happy Mother’s Day!

– Sara Kuhn is a Parenting Program participant and volunteer.

Dead squirrel

Close up of woman covering her face with her hands

There are many things I’ve said as a parent that I never in a million years thought would come out of my mouth: “Don’t lick the walls,” “Why aren’t you wearing underwear?” and the inevitable follow-up “Where are your pants?”

That’s part of the job, and frankly, it’s the part I don’t mind too much. Until recently.

My son and I were walking through a park together one sunny weekend. We were at a birthday party. My husband and daughter were under the pavilion nearby with the rest of the partygoers and The Good Sir (that’s what I call my kid) and I were on our way back to rejoin.

Because it was so early in the season, the grass still had not been mowed for the first time this year and fall leaves still littered the ground. But I still saw it and I was hoping to every deity I could think of that The Good Sir wouldn’t.

But he did.

The furry tail of a long-dead squirrel was too much temptation for him, so he bent down and picked the thing up.

At this point, life went into slow motion. He’s being perfectly adorable and curious. I’m covered in the heebie-jeebies. “Put it down and don’t touch anything! Keep your hands away from your face!”

I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Should I have said, “We don’t touch dead animals”?

All I could picture were the germs and diseases that squirrel could possibly be carrying. I know it was ridiculous, being as there wasn’t much left of the squirrel, but my skin was crawling nonetheless.

Yelling to my husband to have hand sanitizer (or “hanitizer” as the kids say) ready, he looks at me holding The Good Sir’s non-squirrel-cootied hand while the other hand was sticking out away from his body and says, “Why?”

“Because he picked up a dead squirrel by the tail.”

I can’t even describe the look of shock, disgust and finally humor that crossed his face.

“If you only had a nickel, right?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says, laughing, as he lathers the sanitizer on The Good Sir.

You know what? I’d rather ask about the current location of underwear than have to talk about that again.

– Rebecca Calappi is a Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples.

Heidi’s Hints: Back-to-School Lunch Ideas Made Easy

Is everyone gearing up for back to school? I know we are! Grayson just picked out his “most favorite dinosaur backpack ever” with matching lunchbox, and it got me thinking … I need some lunch ideas. I already meal plan for dinners so I don’t need to worry about what’s for dinner, but I need to have some good “go to” lunches ready or else I’m going to have “What’s for lunch?” stress on my hands!

Grayson goes to an extended day preschool program and eats lunch at school. Since he’s a picky eater, it can be quite a challenge to find lunch ideas that he’ll actually eat, that are nutritionally balanced, and easy to pack. He pretty much refuses to even look at a sandwich unless it’s a PB&J.

I’m sure many of you run into this same challenge. If you have older children who have the option of packing or buying a lunch, the challenge to get them to eat a nutritionally balanced meal can be even greater.

To help us all out, I put together some delicious, quick and easy lunch ideas. I’m also sharing some of my favorite lunchbox “tools” to make packing a healthy lunch easy. Spoiler alert: this is not a post on bento box lunches; I wish I had time to make a sunshine out of cheese slices but most days that’s just not in the cards. One thing that I try to stick to is preparing Gray’s lunch the night before. I’ve found that it relieves so much stress in the morning when I already have a million things to do just to get us out the door on time!

Photo of filled lunch containers

The Rubbermaid Lunch Blox are so great for packing lunches. You can configure them in different ways to fit into the lunch box and they come with their own ice pack that fits between the containers.

Option 1: Make your own “lunchable”

There’s a reason why these pre-packaged meals are so popular: they’re easy and kids love them! However, they are heavily processed and filled with preservatives, added sugar and sodium. Solution: Make your own! They’re quick, easy to prepare, and you control the quality of the ingredients. I like to use some of the following items:

  • Nitrate free, organic lunchmeat. Applegate Farms has many delicious options (e.g., turkey, ham, salami, etc.) and although a little pricier than their non-organic counterpart, I’m usually able to get three or five lunches out of one pack of lunchmeat, making it around $1/meal for the lunchmeat.
  • Organic string cheese or cheese sticks. Costco carries this for a great price! Sometimes I sub the cheese out for a Kefir squeeze pack. Lifeway Probugs are our favorite. The kids love the flavors! I love that they are a great probiotic source, and they are lower in sugar than most of their yogurt counterparts.
  • Crackers or some other carb. Popcorn is one of Grayson’s favorites.
  • One fruit and one vegetable. Grapes and blueberries are a favorite around here along with bell pepper slices and carrots. Sometimes I add a little ranch dressing for dipping because we love ranch!
  • And because dessert is important, I pack a “healthy” version of one of their favorites. My kids really like Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks because, well, they are fruit snacks. I really like them because they don’t contain any artificial flavoring or dyes.
Healthy food in lunch containers

Here’s a sample lunch for Gray.

Option 2: The “Not Peanut Butter” & Jelly

PB&J is actually a very healthy lunchtime option if you use natural peanut butter, an all-fruit spread, and minimally processed bread. However with so many schools being nut-free, the old lunchtime staple of PB&J is no longer an option. Fear not! There are many great peanut butter substitutes out there. If your only restriction is peanuts, then other nut butters such as almond or cashew butter are great alternatives. If your school is completely nut-free, then Sunbutter (made with sunflower seeds) is a great option. Once again, look for these in a natural form without added sugars and salt. They’re easy to recognize if you look at the ingredient list because the only thing you need to see in the ingredients is the actual product itself (i.e., almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds) and nothing else.

For some reason, Grayson is much more likely to eat his sandwich when I cut it out with a cookie cutter. I’m not much into the”crafty lunch thing”, but I do get a little creative sometimes.

Option 3: Leftovers

My favorite! I love packing leftovers for several reasons:

  • They’re easy; you already made the meal! When storing leftovers after dinner, just put them directly into lunch containers. Voilà, lunch is ready!
  • You can offer a lot of different variety by using your leftovers. You can serve them in the same preparation as last night’s dinner or spice them up. Just change/add a few ingredients and you have a completely different meal. For example, chicken from dinner can become a chicken roll up sandwich the next day.
  • Leftovers for lunch reduce food waste. I always saved our leftovers, but we rarely ate them either because we didn’t feel like eating the same thing for dinner twice or there wasn’t enough left over for a full meal for all of us. At the end of the week, I was throwing away a lot of small amounts of leftovers. That was until I realized that these smaller portions are really the perfect lunch-sized portions. If your kids don’t have access to a microwave at school, purchase a small lunch-sized thermos to keep meals hot. These are my favorite for the kiddos.

I hope this helps give you some quick and easy lunch ideas that you can feel great about serving, and your kids will love eating!

Meal Planning Advice? Questions? Recipes? Resources? Feel free to email me at wilsonswildtree@hotmail.com.

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy

Ahhh … My First Trip Away From the Twins

Interior photo of Montreal's Notre Dame Cathedral

I put my photography hobby to good use inside the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. The photo is unedited, so those are the true colors.

It finally happened. After 2.5 years, I left my kids to go on a short trip with my husband. It was divine! Glorious! Relaxing!

And I felt guilty.

Up until May, I had never spent even one night away from my twins. Not one. But the time had come for mom and dad to get away and recharge our batteries. We aren’t spring chickens anymore, you know.

In April, my husband told me about a work trip he was scheduling in Montreal. It would be from Monday night until Thursday night. Three whole nights of uninterrupted sleep. Two whole days of grown-up meals and restaurant visits that didn’t end in one of us cleaning the floor. I was excited.

And I felt guilty.

I planned my alone time (wah-hoo!) carefully. I wanted to do some window shopping and practice my photography hobby that has been sorely neglected. I wanted to take long, hot showers just because I could. And most of all, I wanted to just kick back without a schedule, without structure and just be.

Without feeling guilty.

When the day came for us to leave, I spent the last hour snuggled on the couch uncharacteristically letting the kids watch back-to-back episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, just so I could hold them. At T-minus 30 minutes to departure, I was starting to blink back tears. What were they going to learn while I was gone? What if they missed me too much? My daughter is very attached to me. What if she doesn’t do well?

And then I felt really guilty.

When the time came to leave the kids in the hands of our wonderful nanny, I kissed and hugged them until they got annoyed with me and I cried all the way to the car. They, however, were in their own little world, which was great. No tears from them. I decided I had to get it together. I didn’t want the TSA thinking my husband was putting me on a plane against my will. So I put on some music that didn’t involve wheels on the bus or weasels popping, sat back, and enjoyed the ride.

And tried not to feel guilty.

Once we were there, I remembered how much I love traveling and enjoyed myself thoroughly. We had a fantastic dinner at a posh restaurant, saw the sights at night and during the day and, you guys, I even took a nap and relaxed in a hot tub! I was like a kid in a candy store.

And I tried not to feel guilty for not feeling guilty.

The kids did great while we were gone. Our fabulous nanny stayed with them and they did art projects, went to the park, and even met nanny’s dog. Our son really didn’t care where we were. As long as he had food, his bed and his trucks, all was well. Our daughter had a little rougher go of it. The first night, she had a tough time going to sleep, but after that she was fine. She asked about us a lot, but was satisfied with knowing that we would come back. All in all, it was good for us as adults to have some time together. We are better parents for it.

And I finally don’t feel guilty.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples