Invest in experiences that don’t break the bank

Studies show that kids prefer time spent over toys given.  But why don’t we believe this? It may be because toys and technology occupy so much of kids’ attention these days.  And yes, while they serve their purposes, imaginative play is so much more beneficial.  My son sleeps so much more soundly after playing hard outside vs. inside.  Early on, my husband and I decided to invest in the experiences.  Still, even those experiences can be costly, and I’m not just talking about vacations. Here are some local activities we do on a weekly/monthly basis where we’ve cut corners and costs in Norfolk Virginia.

  • The Botanical Gardens is our only yearly membership.  Equipped with a children’s splash pad, sand pit, play houses and more, the $95 yearly membership pays for itself in a few visits.  It’s cheaper than the YMCA monthly membership for their water parks and other water parks around.
  • Speaking of swimming, check your local community pool.  We signed up for 8 Parent/Child swim lessons for $25, significantly cheaper than the Y.
  • The Children’s Museum is both educational and interactive.  Normal cost is $11/adult/visit, but they had $5 specials on Wednesdays, so I did that twice this summer. Children under two are free.  It seems children under two everywhere are free, so take advantage of that!
  • Our Zoo visits have been because of the generosity of friends who have memberships that can get us in free.  Because we don’t go that often, this is the best course of action.
  • Aquariums nationally all seem to be pretty pricey with a hefty $25/adult/visit and $20/child/visit fee, however look again for special deals.  In January I got an $11 rate just by doing a little research.  Always do your research!  And since the aquarium is a special visit, this once a year fee fits just right.
  • The Library offers a really wonderful children’s programming that is absolutely free.  I’ve been taking my son there since he was only months old. Programming includes singing, stories, crafts, and free play.  There’s also an indoor inflatable rec area and pretend kitchen.
  • My child is too young for camps yet, but even some camps are offered free of charge, ranging from sports camps to Vacation Bible Schools.
  • Your local parks and recreation always offer playgrounds, picnics, biking, hiking, beaching, etc. Get them outside!  Get them moving!  Get them exhausted.
  • Most malls offer an indoor children’s play area for rainy days or timeouts from shopping. Movie theaters offer cheap matinees and $1 deals.
  • Not to mention, there are so many free festivals and events with free children’s activities like bounce houses, face painting, crafts, games, etc.  Paying for fun is no fun at all, so unless it’s worth the admission price, look elsewhere!

Parental pressure to “force fun”

Every parent wants their child(ren) to be great at something, whether academics, athletics, the arts, etc. We want them to not just be good at something, but to EXCEL at it, to have a natural talent for it.  We don’t always care what that thing is, but sometimes our own natural talents are what we project on our child. If we were good at basketball we can assume our child will be too, until he shows zero interest in shooting hoops.  Our children can share so many of our characteristics, but they are their own person. I’m only 2 years into parenting, but I’ve already been learning this lesson of not forcing my son to try things too soon, things I think automatically he should enjoy doing. For me, the big activity that I’ve longed to do with my son since he was born was arts and crafts. Before he could hold a crayon I wanted him to color.  Before he could sit up I wanted him to craft with me.  I viewed it as not only an educational activity but also as a good bonding time with him, as I’m somewhat artsy myself.  But trying to force his interest in arts and crafts was useless.  His attention span was zero.  Once I accepted this and eased up trying to get him to color, the interest came all on his own one day.  Now he enjoys coloring for more than 5 seconds and can scribble artwork for family.  Same thing with play doh and stickers and all kinds of fun that’s to come down the road.  He’s come into his own all on his own craft-wise, with little pressure from his mom, which is a parent’s job…to present opportunities for growth and learning and then step back and wait for them to take initiative and interact, with positive influence and reinforcement, but not pressure. There is such a thing as parent pressure, just like peer pressure, where we desperately try to force fun and our kids just want their independence and free will.  Hopefully I can remember this lesson for the rest of his life 🙂

  • When have you put “parent pressure” on your kid to “force fun?”  When have you let them be and watched their independence rise up?

A 13 year old in-flight babysitter sent from heaven above.

Anyone who has flown with a lap child (child under 2 years old) can attest to how incredibly difficult it is to truly keep said child on your lap during a flight, especially a flight across country with a layover.  I was fully prepared and armed with enough snacks, toy cars, coloring, stickers, and cartoons, which all lasted an hour tops till I ran out of tricks and entertainment.  Flying in general makes most grown adults agitated, and an almost two year old with boundless energy was no exception.  We hadn’t purchased a seat for our son, but lucked out on an early morning flight each way.  That did make a huge difference, but even with an extra seat our son wanted to wiggle and stand in the aisles, and it was a constant struggle to whisk him out of the aisle when the beverage carts rolled by and the line for the bathroom was nonstop. I took him to the claustrophobic bathroom just for something to do, and walked him up and down the aisle, but we felt trapped and confined, weary and restless. There were many sympathetic smiles from fellow passengers, and remarks as to how well he was doing, but on the last leg of our journey we were on our last leg of exhaustion over sheer boredom and confinement.  Into this came the sweetest God-send of a 13 year old girl named Abbey, traveling with her younger brother alone to visit her grandmother in Virginia.  My son immediately took a liking to her, and she in return.  It started when Southwest’s open seating sat us right across from each other.  This flight had no extra seat so I was going to have to wrestle with him on my lap.  Abbey drew and colored a pink llama and gave it to my son, and he was sold.  She offered to color with him, which led to him on her lap, which led to her feeding him snacks, helping him with stickers, showing him pictures of animals on her phone, bouncing him, and becoming the best in-flight babysitter we’ve ever had for the next 2 hours.  My son didn’t want me again, and I got a much needed reprieve.  I was so beyond grateful and chatted with this 13 year old girl who loved kids and wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.  If she lived in Virginia I would have snatched her up as a babysitter, but she was exactly what we needed for this final flight home.  I marveled at how God supplied her at an altitude we needed most, and how gracious He showed Himself through that little girl. The next time you fly or travel publicly, please be gracious and compassionate to those littlest travelers.  A smile, a joke, a compliment, and even an in-flight babysitter goes a long way especially high in the sky.

  • How can you show compassion, kindness, graciousness to families with young children when traveling?  In my experience it was total strangers offering me snacks, taking my son on their laps to look out the window of the plane, playing peekaboo with him between the seats, and a flight attendant offering to take my dirty diaper out of my hands in flight.
  • When have you (including me!) become irritated or dreaded seeing babies/toddlers when traveling, and when did that turn into a happy experience?

Feeling two feelings at once

Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood always does catchy teachable jingles, and one was about feeling two feelings at the same time, which got me thinking, I feel two feelings a LOT, and oftentimes they are in direct opposition to one another.  

I feel impatient for my son to grow up to start school so I can be free, yet feel sad whenever I see a school bus or think about him leaving.

I feel lonely and crave genuine friendship and connection, yet feel shy and intimidated in social settings (MOPS, the playground, the library, etc).

I feel like God chose me to be a mom, yet feel insecure and lost in raising a kid.

I feel that motherhood is a noble and worthy profession, yet feel discontent and under-valued to stay home.

I feel like I need to get out of the house and go and do things, yet feel less satisfied and fulfilled when I’m always on the go.

I feel like I’m a pretty organized planner, yet feel the unexpected, spontaneous surprises are more fun.

I feel like I keep the house clean and in order, yet feel like my house is too small and a mess.

I feel like I’m constantly picking up toys and books, yet feel like what’s the use when they get dumped out one second later.

I feel like I need me time (blogging, running, reading) yet feel guilty when I get it.

I feel like I cook all the time and never get takeout or go out, then feel enormously lucky when my husband helps cook on the weekends for me (yay grilling!).

I feel like I am so blessed, and yet I lose that perspective every day.

What conflicting feelings do you feel, and how do you cope?


When is enough, enough?

Am I the only mom out there who constantly wonders if I’m doing enough for my child? Doing involves not just making sure their basic needs are met (clothed, fed, clean) but that they’re thriving, developing mentally and emotionally into a young, respectable person.  Who measures this?  During the infant and toddler years there are milestones to achieve, in school there are standards to be met, but don’t we as parents place the bulk of responsibility for our child’s development on ourselves?  I’m constantly wondering if my almost two year old is stimulated enough, challenged enough, playing enough, being outside enough, being educated enough, being socialized enough, being well-rounded enough.  I take him to the library, to the gardens, to the playground, to the splash pad, to the zoo, to the children’s museum, to the beach, to play-dates, to here, there and everywhere, and still I wonder if it’s enough.  I make sure he gets a minimum of an hour and a half outside every day, and maximum of an hour of TV watching every day, and yet I wonder if he’s damaged already by too much TV or not enough outside play.  How does one measure this? Sometimes I think we’re on the go so much and we need to stay home, but there’s only so much indoor play, crafts, dishes and laundry and meal prep this mama can take. I get ancy to get out of the house and go do something, anything sometimes, but to the detriment of my child?  Is it healthy to be always on the go?  There are two extremes: always going and not going enough.  Again, what’s enough?  Who’s to say?  The parents? Doctors? Teachers? As a first-time mom of an only child, it’s very easy to pop him in the carseat now and go, but I know that all changes with two.  Having a routine is almost a necessity for stay-at-home moms to avoid going crazy (at least for me) but in the summertime that all changes as well.  Today we went to a splash pad in the morning, a highly interactive children’s museum in the afternoon, and a paddle boat ride after dinner out.  My son was over-stimulated and so tired he even sat still in his highchair in a restaurant! (a rarity).  I could get carried away by so many programs and activities but I realized that it was a rare treat to do so much in one day.  I think of the parents who have enrolled their child in every sporting event and extracurricular, and I think how wise doing “one thing” is.  Your child doesn’t need to be constantly entertained, on the go, stimulated and socialized.  He/She needs his/her mother. The quality time of playing in the sandbox, kicking or throwing the ball, going for a walk, reading the 20th book, is invaluable for me and for my son.  Those are the moments that will last.

  • Are you tempted to constantly be going, doing, rushing onto the next activity for your kids, and if so, why?
  • How do you make quality time with them a focus?

Truly a partner

When people talk of marriage, the word partnership oftentimes comes up.  Before I was married, partnership wasn’t a prevalent label I’d have given to marriage.  Soul mate, romantic lover, best friend, these were my labels.  Yet after I married I realized how much of a partner my spouse really is.  “A person who takes part in an undertaking with another with shared risks and profits.”  Marriage is a life undertaking where there are shared risks and profits.  Risks of being vulnerable, of sinning against that person, of instability and life events beyond your control. Profits of shared dreams and goals, of living with someone who knows your faults and weaknesses and still accepts you, of shared adventure and laughter and love.  The profits far outweigh the risks, I would hope.  But marriage is hard, if you haven’t heard already.  It’s day in and day out choosing to love someone who isn’t always worthy.  It’s learning how to communicate, forgive, bear with, grow with, dwell with, and love despite. Partners are fellow workers and teammates that can share the load and lean on the stronger one at times. This has become so very apparent when I get sick.  Now that I have a toddler to take care of who’s constantly on the go, I’m not just responsible for myself anymore.  So when a bad case of stomach bug hit me (after hitting my son), it was my husband who saved the day, stepped in, and became my partner.  He took over all household chores and duties, kept my son fed and clean and entertained while I weakly recovered in bed.  I was especially grateful when he grocery shopped, cooked, and took my son out of the house for some peace and quiet.  It was like having a nanny and housekeeper all wrapped in one.  Except he isn’t just a nanny and housekeeper, he’s my husband.  Sometimes I feel like I treat him so, and as I was thanking him for his help, he simply said, “of course I take care of him, he’s my son.”  I realized he had just as much equal responsibility for caring for our son as I did, even when he didn’t always do the traditional mom roles.

  • When have you treated your spouse like a housekeeper, or nanny, or chauffeur, instead of as a life partner?
  • When have you last thanked your spouse for their help around the house or with the kids?

Our best versions of ourselves online…is it real?

I have always loved and longed for professional family photo shoots, where the picture quality is so amazing that it makes your family look effortlessly and beautifully happy and in harmony with one another…picture perfect.  I love professional photos because they erase the flaws of physical imperfections and emphasize the beauty of human relationship…the product of a literal thousand takes.  So when my amateur photographer friend wanted to use my family as guinea pigs to test out her fancy expensive camera, of course I was more than willing to comply!  We chose a beautiful setting, a botanical garden, at a golden dusk time of day, wearing our finest clothes and smiles.  And after taking literally over a thousand shots, my friend’s natural eye caught some very eye-catching, picture perfect portraits.  The takes were so frequent that each shot was like a moving picture.  There was that one in a million shot where all three of us (my 20 month old included) were open-mouthed smiling and all looking directly at the camera.  As I uploaded the best of the best shots to my social media, I was convicted that I was showing my best, and my family’s best, to my online friends.  But was that picture perfect photo a true reflection of my family?  Certainly it captured the joy and beauty and love of the moment, but there are also moments of pain, and trouble, and weariness, and frustration…many more moments that are a part of life, of everyday living and struggle, that aren’t shown.

  • Why do we post our best images online for all the world to see?  Are we painting a false perception of ourselves?

I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong about posting beautiful photos online for our far away friends and family to see.  Social media enables long-distance friends to “see” the growth of our family, for which I am thankful.  But I also think more “real life” photos should show the “real us.”  Real photos that aren’t airbrushed or mega-pixel-ed, real photos “in the moment.” I confess I get rather annoyed by friend’s incessant posts of themselves eating or entertaining, or of their kid’s every moves, but the photos that capture every day living is more compelling than any professional staged session ever can be.  My goal in posting should not be to gather glory for myself, or my family, but true glory is glorifying God in me.  Glory (synonyms: renown, fame, prestige, honor, acclaim, praise) that is asked for is not real.  I fear that the motive behind posting such amazing photos online is to garner more likes and comments and adoration instead of displaying Christ in me.

  • Is your motivation in posting photos to bring glory to yourself, your family, or to Christ in you?