NWI Parent

Join newly married Julia, former single mom, as she and her daughter transition into the nuclear-family life.

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The Birthday Party

January 11th, 2010 - By Julia Huisman

This past weekend, we celebrated Isabella’s 7th birthday with her first-ever, tried-and-true birthday party. And a party it was.

Some parents are shocked that I managed to wait 7 years before hosting a birthday party. We’ve always celebrated with family but never with Isabella’s friends. She never really cared until now, to be honest. But this year, she was dying to have one. And of course she wanted to have it at one of those overpriced warehouses filled with inflatable “jumpy things.” I’ve accompanied Isabella to several parties of the jumpy variety, and she had a blast at all of them, but I wasn’t about to pay $300 just to spend an hour cringing at every head-on collision. I wanted her to have a party the old-school way, the way I remembered parties from my childhood… inside the home, giggling with girlfriends, dancing to whatever boy band is popular. You know, real character-building stuff.

So Isabella invited 14 girls. (No boys allowed!) Of the 14, 8 of them RSVP’d, but 11 showed up. Some of the parents stayed and I had a friend helping me. So that means, including me and Isabella, we had 19 people stuffed into my tiny apartment. Good times.

Here were the highlights of the night:

1. The screaming. Oh, the screaming. It started the moment the party began and continued all night, and then rang in my ears for the following 24 hours. The girls would all be hanging out in the living room and then one of them would shout, “Let’s go to Isabella’s room!” And instead of replying with, “Hey, yeah, let’s do that,” all 11 girls would simultaneously scream at the top of their lungs and then run into her room. About five minutes later, I’d hear screaming again, so I knew that they’d decided to do something new.

2. The hamster. I never thought I’d feel sorry for stupid Honey the Hamster, but that night I did. He had never been handled more in his life. The girls were literally fighting over him. I had to break up a few fights before punches were thrown. If they weren’t holding him, they were surrounding his cage—shaking it or taking it apart.  At one point I think I actually saw Honey in the air, being tossed from one girl to the next. How he survived that night I’ll never know. (But ever since then, he’s made multiple attempts to escape his cage. Is it because the girls gave him a taste of freedom, or is he trying to escape this crazy place before he’s manhandled again? Hmmm…)

3. The food. Isabella really wanted tacos, despite my futile attempts to convince her to order pizza. (”Everyone gets pizza for their party, Mom. I want something different.” Well, la-dee-da.) I had enough ingredients for 20 tacos, crossing my fingers that 20 would even be enough. But as I stood at the crock pot to serve the taco meat, I had only a couple of customers. The rest of the girls wanted shells filled with just cheese and sour cream (my apologies to their parents), or they’d skip over the taco part altogether and opt for grapes and carrots alone. No one told me that kids don’t eat at birthday parties. It was cute, however, when one of them would come up to me and say something like, “Um, um, Isabella’s mom? Um, can-can-can I, um, can I, um, have some more grapes?” I was called Isabella’s Mom all night.

4. The boy. More specifically, Justin Bieber. Have you heard of this guy? He’s 15 years old, kind of pudgy, and he sings like a girl. (In fact, the first few times I heard him on the radio I thought he was a girl.) But the grade-schoolers LOVE HIM. Isabella has his CD, and as soon as she pressed play at the party—you guessed it—screaming. Nonstop.

By the time the party ended (just two hours after it began), my kitchen was a disaster, the living room was covered with wrapping paper, and every single floor in the house was littered with Honey the Hamster’s cage bedding and poop pellets. My head hurt, I was dreading the impending doom that is Cleanup, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

But I had one happy 7-year-old girl. And that made it all worthwhile.

BellaBday

Filed under: parent.

The End of an Era

January 4th, 2010 - By Julia Huisman

The day has finally come. The day that I’d always dreamed about but never thought I’d see. The day that will make my life much, much easier from now on.

Isabella’s dad is moving to Chicago. And that means no more five-hour trips to Michigan every other weekend. Yep, The Drive has come to an end.

I made the last drive through Michigan this past Saturday, to pick up Isabella at the same gas station where I’ve picked her up and dropped her off for the past six years. (I’m kind of going to miss that gas station! Kind of.)

I cannot tell you how ecstatic I am that I don’t have to drive that far on a regular basis anymore. It was a major time-sucker, not to mention a nail-biter when the weather’s bad—which is pretty much all the time. (I’ll never forget when Isabella and I stayed in a hotel room because the snow-covered I-94 was closed.) The Drive had a detrimental effect on my posture, waistline, car, and stress level. I witnessed hundreds of accidents (or accident aftermaths) and have barely evaded several accidents myself. I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel a few times, and got caught in construction thousands of times. Isabella’s dad and I have exchanged many phone calls to reschedule the dropoff/pickup, or to tell the other that we’re going to be late. (I was usually the late one.) I’ve spent more time than anyone should have to spend calculating time changes and mileage, start times and arrival times. Ugh.

However, I’ll admit that there are certain things I’ll miss about The Drive… I’ll miss the beautiful colors of Michigan in the fall, and the gorgeous blooming of the apple orchards in the spring. I’ll miss having so many hours of quality time with Isabella in the car. I’ll miss being able to listen to my favorite music for hours on end. I’ll miss having that time to make long phone calls, or to just think or pray. I’ll miss the melancholy-yet-somewhat-relieved feeling in my gut after dropping Isabella off, and the relieved-yet-somewhat-melancholy feeling in my gut after picking her up.

And I know that her dad moving to Chicago isn’t always going to be ideal either. It will present a whole new set of challenges that I’ve never had to deal with. But I’m willing to embrace those challenges, just as I was willing to embrace that horrific biweekly drive through Michigan. Because I love my daughter very much and I want her to know her father as much as possible. I want her to know how much both of her parents love her, and that a long and aggravating car ride is a walk in the park if it means making her life better.

And because of that, I would spend the next 10 years driving to Michigan if I had to. But for now, I’m going to enjoy the fact that The Drive is now a significant, memorable, bittersweet part of our past. At last.

Filed under: parent.

Whew.

December 28th, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

Christmas is over. Which means, until next December, I no longer have to answer a barrage of questions about Santa Claus.

Holy moly, is Isabella inquisitive about Santa. In the week before Christmas, she probably asked me 500 questions about him, and a good portion of those questions pondered the truth of Santa’s existence. She’s only six years old and she’s already starting to wonder whether or not Santa’s real?! Yes, she is, because there are a couple of fun-spoilers in her 1st grade class who have already discovered the truth and are blabbing about it to all of their previously unsuspecting classmates. Not cool.

To remedy this problem, I tried many different tactics to keep her believing in the man in red:

1) Played the film Elf. A lot. In that movie—one of the greatest Christmas flicks of all time, IMO—Santa Claus is a cool, worldly, slightly burned-out man who acknowledges that many people no longer believe in him. In an effort to spread Christmas cheer (by singing loud for all to hear), Buddy the Elf and friends change the minds of many skeptics, whose converted belief in Santa makes his sleigh fly. If a six-year-old doesn’t believe in Santa after watching Elf, then she must not have a soul.

2) Reacted strongly. Whenever Isabella said, “Mommy, so-and-so doesn’t believe in Santa,” I would respond with an over-the-top, “They DON’T?!? Why NOT??” As if she had just said, “Mommy, so-and-so doesn’t wear clothes.” My outraged reaction seemed to not only satisfy her, but relieve her as well. Like, okay, if Mommy thinks it’s weird too, then I’m not crazy after all.

3) Did NOT let her look at that Norad Santa tracker thing. I know this seems counterintuitive; tracking Santa online seems like a great way to prove that he’s real. But two years ago, when Isabella and I went to look at the tracker, he had already passed our house! Isabella was too young to catch that, thank goodness, but I wasn’t about to make that same mistake this year.

4) Went all out with the cookies-and-milk ritual. (I’m sure most parents do this.) On the last week of school before Christmas break, Isabella had written Santa a letter and he wrote back (which certainly helped my efforts!). I think Santa’s letter was actually written by a fifth grader in her school because the handwriting was scrawly, and loaded with misspelled words. But Isabella didn’t notice, so, score! In his letter, “Santa” told her that his reindeer eat oatmeal. So, on Christmas Eve, we made oatmeal for the reindeer and set a bowl of it alongside the cookies for Santa. I made quite a mess with both the oatmeal and cookies, so that she’d know they ate the treats right there by the tree. Then, I had my boyfriend write a letter from Santa thanking Isabella for the treats. His handwriting was completely different than that of the author of the other letter (above), but thankfully Isabella didn’t put two and two together.

Maintaining my daughter’s belief in Santa was a lot of work, and I was constantly on my toes, but it was so worth it. The joy in Isabella’s eyes on Christmas morning—which remained even when she discovered that Santa did not bring her a puppy—was so pure it was enviable.

A co-worker told me this morning that his daughter just found out the truth at 10 years old. Which means I could have four more years of this. Oh boy. I’m just glad that I made it through this year. I hope all of you fellow parents can say the same.

Filed under: parent.

A little praise goes a long way…

December 4th, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

Yesterday after school, I told Isabella to do her homework right away, because we had a commitment later in the evening. She went straight to the kitchen, grabbed her bookbag, and got to work.

For some reason, I didn’t notice until yesterday how good Isabella is about doing her homework. Whenever I tell her to get started, she never puts up a fight. She stays focused until she finishes, and she rarely needs my help. The homework process is just so easy with her. (Oh, how I wish bedtime were the same!)

So last night I told her as much, thanking her for being a good girl about her homework. And when I did, a huge smile spread across her little face. She then went right back to work, and I could see in her upright posture and in her focused, furrowed brow, a sense of pride. It wasn’t until I complimented her that she realized she’s good at something, and that she was determined to stay good at it.

At that moment, it dawned on me that I rarely give Isabella positive affirmation. I have all kinds of negative affirmations for her! When she misbehaves, I let her know it. But when she behaves well, or when she demonstrates an outstanding skill, I don’t really say anything. At those times, I’m just internally grateful that she’s not misbehaving. It doesn’t occur to me that I should verbally praise her for a job well done.

And it’s so important to give that praise, because otherwise the misbehavior she exhibits will only be magnified. Children just want our attention. And if the only attention they’re getting from us is negative, then they’ll keep doing that bad behavior in order to keep getting our attention. But if we shift the attention from negative to positive, then the behavior that results will be more positive than negative.

I’m starting to sound like an electricity textbook.

Anyway, the point is… last night’s breakthrough gave me hope. I am now keeping my eyes wide open for the good things Isabella does. I won’t smother her with compliments, and I’ll still scold her when she misbehaves. But I’m going to praise her when she deserves to be praised, thereby building her self esteem and provoking positive behavior.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Filed under: parent.

Wake-up Call

November 9th, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

Yesterday morning, I awoke to breakfast in bed… served by my sweet, loving six-year-old daughter.

She had tried to wake me up earlier but I wasn’t havin’ it. I mumbled something about how I would get up in a few minutes and make breakfast. Isabella disappeared, and I returned to dreamland. The next time I woke, Isabella was entering the room carrying a “tray” (my cutting board) topped with a bowl of cereal, two slices of toast, a bowl of kiwi slices and a glass of apple juice.

After I gave Isabella about a million kisses, she sat on the bed with me, relishing in the fact that she’d just made her mommy very happy.

What floored me about the whole thing was that she thought of it all on her own. She identified which foods she was capable of making, which of these foods I would like, and then she prepared what ended up being a very balanced meal! I’m also impressed that she thought to use all of our best dishware (none of that plastic kids’ stuff!), and she was resourceful enough to improvise… using the cutting board as a means of getting the food to me.

And, most importantly, she knew that such a surprise would delight the heck out of me.

I was humbled by my daughter’s selflessness. She easily could have sat on the couch and watched TV until I woke up. Or bugged me incessantly until I woke up (which is what she usually does on sleepy weekend mornings).

But on this day, for some reason, she put on her servant’s heart and subsequently made my day.

Filed under: parent.

Beauty Unmasked

October 23rd, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

The following video has been going around on Facebook. It’s a real eye-opener about the ugly reality of the beauty industry, and a reminder that not every beautiful face you see in magazines is the real deal.

Take a look at the video:

I know my daughter is only six years old, but I’m already worried about the things she might do as a tween/teen to make herself look beautiful. I’m nervous about the extremes she might take to get a guy’s attention. I’m concerned that she’ll have low self-esteem and that she’ll never feel pretty ‘enough.’

The video above is encouraging because it shows that any ‘ordinary’ woman can be made beautiful, whether via makeup, hair extensions or Photoshop. Young women should not feel like they will never measure up to the high standard of beauty that our culture has held, because it turns out that—underneath all that makeup—most models are just like the rest of us.

But while this video is a great tool, it is OUR responsibility as parents to give our daughters all of the love, support and encouragement we can give them, so that they never have to feel validated by their looks alone. We mothers and fathers need to be vocal about our appreciation for our daughters, even (nay, especially) during their early childhood years. We need to tell them over and over again how smart and talented and funny they are… THEN we tell them how pretty they are. Only when a young woman receives this kind of affirmation will she learn that good looks are not the end-all be-all, but simply a nice little bonus.

Filed under: parent.

Reckless Abandon

October 16th, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

Isabella’s friend Allison came over after school the other day. At one point I caught the two girls playing in my room. I told them that my room was off limits. I said, with a smile, “If you’re going to make a mess, you’ll have to do so in YOUR room, not mine.”

I should have known better. I should have recognized that, after I made the above statement, the glint I saw in Isabella’s eyes was a mischievous one. I should have known what was going on when she and Allison raced out of my room and into her own. And shut the door.

But, no. Instead, I naively returned to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I regret that now.

Because when I entered Isabella’s room, not five minutes later, I entered a disaster zone.

Not a single inch of carpet remained to be seen. The floor was covered with toys, papers, books, crayons, you name it. I looked at Isabella’s toy drawers and realized what had happened… she and Allison had removed each drawer, dumped its contents on the floor and then spread the contents all over the place. The two girls were dancing atop the mess, singing and giggling in complete, utter delight.

I broke up that party real quick. “What did you DO?!?” I asked, fuming.

Isabella stopped dancing and looked up at me. “You said we could make a mess in my room.”

Dangit, I had said that. I mean, that wasn’t what I meant but technically, that’s what I’d said.

My anger instantly faded and I laughed a little before telling the girls to clean up the mess. Thankfully, they got right to work, and the room was spotless within a half hour.

What struck me about this incident is the absolute glee the girls felt—evidenced by the light in their eyes and the joy in their step—at being able to make a mess. A real, hard-core, messy mess. And a mess that they were permitted to make! (Or so they thought.)

Why do kids like making messes, and adults hate it? When does that switch take place? Why do we grown-ups labor so intently to keep our homes neat and tidy, our lives without conflict, our appearance trim and put-together?

Of course, it’s not good to live in chaos. We do need to keep our lives and our homes in order. But seeing the jubilation in my daughter’s eyes at just having gone all-out to make a mess (which, in the grand scheme of things was not that big of a deal) made me jealous for those spontaneous, carefree moments in life when you don’t have to worry about playing by the rules.

I don’t remember the last time I had a moment like that. Now that I’m aware, though, I’ll definitely be on the lookout…

Filed under: parent.

If only I didn’t have to sleep…

September 18th, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

I can’t keep up.

I consider myself a fairly balanced person. When it comes to scheduling my life, I’m good about balancing work, exercise, family time, my social life and my spiritual life. I devote a little bit of time to each. But sometimes (lately, often) even doing what I consider “a little” of everything can completely overwhelm me. Because usually, I end up sacrificing my household. Dishes remain unwashed, the carpet unvacuumed, checkbook unbalanced…

I was raised in a house that was virtually spotless at all times, so to have an environment that is the exact opposite of spotless is tough for me to swallow.

I’m spending quality time with my daughter, my family and friends, so that’s good. And some people would say that’s enough. But it’s simply not enough for me. And lately, I can’t truly enjoy my quality time with loved ones when, in the back of my mind, I’m so ashamed of the state of my household. I feel I’m being irresponsible. But what am I supposed to do: stay home and clean all the livelong day?

I know I’m not unique in this problem. It’s the age-old conflict among twenty-first-century Americans. We are urged to be both selfless and selfish at the same time. Bookstores are loaded with self-help books preaching that we need to spend more time on ourselves, while the parenting magazines on the next shelf over are filled with colorful pages about all of the crafts and activities we should be doing with our kids.

It’s as if our culture is in denial that we have only about 16 hours a day to get things done. According to the messages we’ve been given—primarily via talk shows and health magazines—our daily lives are supposed to consist of the following: Go to work, play with our kids, make slow-cooked meals (which we have to chew slowly so we don’t gain weight), spend quality time with our spouse, exercise, get eight to nine hours of sleep, pay our bills on time, clean our house, go on Facebook, hang out with our girlfriends, take our dog for a walk… it’s too much. How can anyone possibly expect us to do all of these things in one day?

I don’t know what the answer is, nor what the order of importance should be. All I know is, I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of responsibilities left untouched. And it’s getting hard to breathe.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? And is anyone else confused by our society’s mixed messages?

Filed under: parent.

Honey and Me

September 11th, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

So, Isabella still keeps asking me for a dog and I still keep saying “Someday…” But I was beginning to feel bad that I kept turning down her passionate pleas. This isn’t just a phase. The girl reeeaaallly wants a puppy.

But, baby steps. I decided get her a hamster first, so that she could learn how to take care of a pet—one that isn’t as high-maintenance as a dog.

In the days leading up to the Great Hamster Purchase, Isabella chatted excitedly about all the fun she would have with her hamster and what she would name it (Honey), all while knots in my stomach formed at the thought of a rodent living inside our home.

When we arrived at the pet store, there wasn’t a single honey-colored hamster to be found—only black ones. We picked the cutest one, and Isabella still insisted we call it Honey, even though it looks nothing like the light brown gooey stuff. Just another reminder that, in a child’s mind, things don’t have to make sense. Makes me wonder how often I try to make sense of things that I don’t need to.

I digress.

Honey is a girl, but for some reason, Isabella and I have troubles wrapping our minds around that. We often refer to her as a “he”—or occasionally an “it.” Sometimes I’ll correct Isabella for misidentifying Honey’s gender, and other times she corrects me. There is no rhyme or reason. It’s just been ingrained in my head that all pets should be boys, and Isabella must have inherited that same mindset.

I don’t know what most hamsters are like, but Honey is kind of lazy. We got this bright, colorful, highly entertaining cage for her, but all she does is sleep, really. When she wakes up, it’s to move to a different spot and sleep. She rarely spins in her wheel; instead, she makes a bed inside of it and—you guessed it—sleeps. Somehow, though, in the midst of all of that sleeping, she’s still managed to escape four times. You can tell when this happens because Isabella and I have to turn our house upside down trying to find her.

Maybe a puppy’s not so bad after all.

Oh, and Honey definitely does not smell like honey. Rather, she smells like pee and just that general animal smell. I never thought I’d have a house that smells like animals.

But as much as I detest the thing, Isabella loves her with all of her heart. As soon as she comes home from school, she makes a beeline for Honey’s cage, wakes her up, and carries her around the house. (”Look, Honey, this is a toothbrush. And THIS is a computer…”) When Isabella is sad, she cuddles up with Honey until she feels better. She even brings Honey with her on the long car ride to her dad’s in Michigan.

It’s definitely something when you see the person you love more than anything in the world, the person you are devoted to nurturing, show her own love and nurturing toward another creature. I never knew Isabella was capable of such love—especially for an animal, of all things.

The funny thing is, no matter how much I wish I could go back to having a sweet-smelling, pet-free home, Honey and I have a unique bond, formed because of the person who comes between us. We share in common Isabella’s unconditional love. And for that reason, I suppose I’ll let Honey stay a while.

Filed under: parent.

Culture Shock

July 7th, 2009 - By Julia Huisman

Last year I attended a leadership conference, and one of the sessions was about “office culture.” Basically, the concept is that every workplace has its own unique culture and you should figure out what it is at your workplace so that you can better understand and therefore lead your co-workers.

In the session, the instructor illustrated the concept by telling us the culture of her family. (She referred to the family in which she grew up.) It was fascinating to hear where she came from and it caused me to evaluate my own family’s culture.

I made a list and would like to share that here. (So you know, I grew up with my mom, dad, a brother who’s two years older than me, and a sister 17 months younger than me.)

* We love love LOVE to eat. Food is typically at the center of our minds all day. Seriously.
* We aren’t Catholic, but we tend to be victims of “Catholic Guilt.”
* We do things to the extreme. Especially when it comes to business, religion and love.
* We never argue.
* We like our physical space; we’re not particularly physically affectionate people.
* We’re all up in each other’s bizness. When something happens to one of us (a job interview, a first date, you name it), the rest of us know within hours, sometimes minutes.
* We are motivated by praise and recognition; therefore we are constantly praising and recognizing each other.

Those are just some of the characteristics of my family’s culture. Now that I’m a parent, and Isabella and I are our own little family, I’m curious to see how our culture develops. I’m positive that the cultural elements listed above have made their way into it, of course. But what new items can I add to that list?

And I go back to the purpose of the leadership session, about how understanding your workplace culture can make you a better leader. In the same way, understanding the culture of your family can surely make you a better parent. I think it’s also important for us to know the culture of our friend’s families, and of our spouse’s family, so that we can understand why they do the things they do—things that might seem inconceivable to us but at least are happening for a reason.

What’s your original family’s culture? And how do you use that to better lead your own family now?

Filed under: parent.

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