A Little Girl And A Big School Bus – Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up

A Little Girl And A Big Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

Two weeks ago our four year old sunshine girl climbed the stairs of a school bus for the first time. Unexpected mom-emotions threatened to overtake me as my mind raced with thoughts of all she would experience – good and bad – while away from me.

She’s growing up.

She rocked 3’s preschool and has been away from me for countless bible studies, Sunday school, and more. But as I watched her climb onto that big school bus wearing that giant-flamingo backpack, she looked so small.

Isn’t that my baby up there? 

Parenting is full of these emotion-fueled moments – when we realize our children are growing up and stepping a little further into the world. These moments remind us that we cannot control our kids or their experiences.

She didn’t hesitate as she turned back, grinning with sparkling eyes as she waved goodbye.

She didn’t hesitate. So why was I?

I stood, choked up and snapping pictures. I waved furiously with a smile plastered to my face as the bus drove away.

The bus rounded the corner. The only evidence it had been there at all was the plume of exhaust and my husband, mom and I gazing at an empty street.

Sunshine girl was on her way to school with a bus load of new friends. Without me. 

Year by year, our children will spend more time at school and activities, with people other than us. They gather life-skills and knowledge and are slowly equipped to become independent, functioning adults.

Independent. Of us. 

And what of us, their parents? Once their ‘whole world’ and providers of everything they need – we’re gradually needed less and less as our role continually changes.

We proudly cheer them on, celebrating new freedoms and opportunities while acknowledging that there is less we can protect them from. We’re grateful they don’t grow up overnight, even if looking back, it feels like it did.

And this is all right and good. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. 

Or unemotional.

Our emotions are real and powerful. And sometimes emotions creep up out of nowhere and threaten to knock us off our feet.

We need to adapt and learn to not only accept but embrace these moments and the emotions they stir up.

Stop Comparing

Your emotions are yours. They don’t belong to your neighbor, friend, or that mom over there that you don’t even know.

Stop comparing. Every parent feels emotions and processes them differentlyWhat you feel as your child climbs onto the school bus is ok.

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

You don’t have to apologize for crying, even if you’re the only mom ugly-crying on the curb as the bus drives away.

Quit worrying about what everyone else is doing and give yourself permission to feel it all.

So now we admit we have these emotions and we’re not worried about what everyone else is doing. Now what?

Own It

We love our children. So it makes sense that our emotions can be fierce. Letting go and watching our children step out into the world is hard. And excitingAnd scary.

Stifling emotions never really works. They just bubble out later in another way or at someone else, with increased intensity.

Feel something? Own it.

So what if you’re an ugly-crying mess at the bus stop? So what if you’re the only dry-eyed mom in the crowd? So what if summer was so long and tiring that a part of you feels like celebrating and maybe a twinge guilty about that (or maybe you feel no guilt)?  So what if you’re suddenly crying in Target 3 hours later because you just miss them?

What if your kids see you? While we do need to have wisdom and discernment about how and what we share with our children, it is ok for them to see you express what you feel.

In these milestone moments, watching you feel and process emotions in a healthy way gives your children permission to feel and process their own. 

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

 

Process It

Do your emotions surprise you? Days before school started, I expected to cry at the bus stop. Then, that morning as we stood waiting for the bus I felt only excitement. I was happy and exited – not sad at all!

Then she took those first steps up and WHAM!

When emotions surprise me, the best way to work through them is to process them. Feel them. Think through them. Talk about them.

This does require time and energy but is too important to pass up.

Go to God – Night or day, God is always available. Our loving Father loves to comfort His children. No matter the emotion, He already knows. When it comes to emotions I feel as a parent, it is such a comfort to know that God created our children and loves them even more than than I can. He listens and provides peace and comfort beyond our understanding. Try it! Pray through emotions and spend some time reading His word. He won’t leave you hanging.

Talk to a Friend – One of the reasons we need community is to process real-life with people who are willing to be authentic. We need to know we’re not alone and to be encouraged by other parents. Be honest. Cry if you feel like it. Speaking how we feel out loud is powerful.

Write – When home with kids all day, I can’t always process emotions out-loud with another adult. Journaling or blogging about what I’m feeling helps me find clarity and understand what I am feeling and WHY.

Celebrate 

One way to take the edge off of our emotions of sadness, longing or fear is to celebrate milestones – even if just official days like the first/last day of school and birthdays.

That said, we don’t need to celebrate everything. Celebrate events that are significant to your family and priorities. Celebrating puts the joy back into even the most bittersweet milestone.

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

Celebrate with a meal, a sporting event or activity, a gift, a handwritten card, or an intentional conversation. Celebrate to remind your children that you’re cheering them on and proud of them.

Be Present

Finally, no matter how emotional you feel, at some point, you need to step out of your own head and step into the time and place you’re in.

I spent a couple hours dwelling in my own swimming emotions and thoughts before doing anything productive with them. Once I began to process them, I was able to step back into the day and be ready and excited to hear all about that first day of school. If I’d kept it all in, I’m not sure I would have been any good to anybody – just a puddle of tears and self-pity.

Be present with those right in front of you. Don’t let your emotions put you in a funk that steals quality time from you and your family.

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

 

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com Embracing Moments

 

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Graham Cracker ‘Gingerbread’ Houses – A Simple, Nut-Free Solution

Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses A Simple Nut Free Solution | thisgratefulmama.com

Many of you know by now that baking is not my strong suit. Not only have I never baked gingerbread, I have had little success making frosting (of any kind) – seriously, there are friends who will attest to my comically disastrous frosting attempts.

The idea of ME successfully making a gingerbread house from scratch is unlikely. Making one that will withstand decorating by children…is, well, laughable. And completely unrealistic without multiple attempts. Frankly, I’m just not committed to mastering this.

So, I went looking for a nut-free gingerbread house kit. Although I’ve heard they exist, I was unable to find one. I was stuck. Inept and lacking motivation to make one of my own, and unable to find a safe option for our family. I even considered skipping baking by forking over the big bucks to buy a LEGO Gingerbread House.

Then, something remarkable happened. We received an invitation to join our son at preschool to decorate a gingerbread house. I was curious how these teachers, who carefully ensure their classroom is nut-free, would pull this off. Is one of them a master baker? Did they find those coveted ‘safe’ kits? And how on earth could they successfully assemble a gingerbread house for each child and have it be cost-effective?

A month in advance, parents were invited to donate supplies. But instead of a donation free-for-all, the school provided a list of specific products. Not only did they specify the type of candy or treat, they included brand name, nut-free wording that should be found on the label, and where to buy it. This ensured parents bought ‘safe’ products, and that they didn’t have to run all over town trying to find a specific brand. They knew exactly where to go. No hassle.

Because ALL supplies were safe, they were able to provide a mixed bag of candy for each child.

The ‘gingerbread’ houses were simply and inexpensively made using hot glue guns and graham crackers.

Genius.

To accommodate families with younger siblings, they made extra houses. Imagine my daughter’s (and my) surprise when they presented HER with a house, frosting and decorations. The crackers were glued together, and to the plate. They were stable enough for a 2-year-old to manhandle.

You guys, I was SO blessed! This preschool cares for each child AND family.

For many, a food-related activity might bring anxiety to an allergy parent. Or at least a heightened awareness requiring plenty of preparation. But because of careful planning, research and scrutiny of staff, every single food item was safe for nut allergies. Their attention to detail and safety has blessed our family time and time again since September.

How can I express gratitude for this type of care and concern for allergic children and families?

For those of you with no food allergies in your family, this may seem like no big deal. But to us, it means the health and safety of our child. It is immeasurable. It means we didn’t have to call ahead to pre-approve snacks or read labels. It means we didn’t have to go and search for the nut-free versions of similar candy, at who knows how many stores, to provide for our son. We were able to just show up and decorate without a concern.

It was wonderfully care-free.

As a result, two children were delighted and their mother left feeling waves of emotion – joyful, grateful, blessed, cared for.

And to the kind parent who carried our gingerbread houses to the car so I could pick up our daughter when she fell down…Thank you.

Tis the season.

25 DO’s and DON’Ts for Travel With Small Children

25 DO's And DON'Ts For Travel With Small Children | thisgratefulmama.com

Through trial and error, we’ve learned some lessons about flying and traveling with small children.

Last year I shared a travel experience which included a public temper tantrum. Thankfully, not all trips include meltdowns. Travel is getting easier because the kids are older and because we’ve learned some lessons.

In October we went to Maine for our nephew’s wedding. We took a direct flight to Boston, then rented a car. We drove to Maine, taking in the beautiful New England fall colors.

We reached a new milestone – no tears, on either flight! Sure, there were moments requiring patience and each of us had cranky moments, especially with emergency bathroom trips. But overall, even travel days were characterized by joy.

I call that success.

While not every trip will go this smoothly, there are some things we can do to promote a positive outcome.

25 DOs and DON’Ts for Travel With Small Children

  1. DO Consider Alternate Routes – If you cannot find a direct flight, consider driving a leg. For us, a layover and second flight is just too much. Meltdowns ensue. Flying to Boston and driving 2 hours means more room to sit and sleep without being right on top of each other. And it saved some money on plane tickets.
  2. DON’T Expect A Nap– Travel is tiring. Travel is also exciting. Traveling over nap time does NOT guarantee a nap. Be grateful if a nap happens, but don’t get your undies in a bunch if it doesn’t.
  3. DO Have a Backup Plan – What soothes your child best? What can be used as a bargaining chip? Maybe a tablet, DVD Player, sucker, snack, toy, or book. I recommend at least one secret last-resort solution.
  4. DON’T Over Pack – ‘Being prepared’ is a good idea. But over-packing means carrying children along with heavy carry-on bags and luggage. Nobody wants to be a pack mule. Pack wisely with small and light weight items.
  5. DO Use Curb-Side Check In – See #4. Do not lug car seats through the airport.
  6. DON’T Waste Car Seat Bag Space – Checking car Seat bags is free. Take advantage! Fill empty space with lightweight bulky items like diapers and blankets.
  7. DO Get TSA Pre-Check – If someone traveling with you has TSA Pre-Check, have them book all tickets. Then everyone enjoys this coveted perk.
  8. DON’T Fear TSA – In our experience, security personnel have taken time to welcome kids and help us. Greet security with a smile and thank them. You want and need their help.
  9. DO Explain What Comes Next – Help transitions and ease fears by explaining what to expect (security, checking bags, boarding, sitting on the runway). Focus on how each step brings them closer to the ‘fun’ of taking off and arriving at your destination.
  10. DON’T Forget Compromise – A full travel day will not go as planned. When kids get squirrley, happily make an unplanned stop, take an impromptu walk, switch seats, buy a snack, or improvise.
  11. DO Plan For Emergencies – An extra change of clothes, diapers, pull-ups and wipes are necessary. Hand sanitizer, band aids and tissues cover most unexpected events. Carry on necessary medications (we need an inhaler, Benedryl & Epi-Pen).
  12. DON’T Worry About Others – Do your best to keep children reasonably quiet and from kicking seats. But worrying about others adds stress and won’t help anyone have a good flight. Focus on the kids and thank others for their patience if necessary afterwards.
  13. DO Bring No-Spill Cups – Don’t risk airline cups. A wet kid (or parent) just isn’t worth it. A no-spill squirt bottle or sippy cup will be a life saver on the flight and in the car. Bring empty and fill after security.
  14. DON’T Forget Snacks – A hungry child or parent is not at their best. Avoid being one big hangry family by packing healthy snacks. For a food allergy family, this is necessity – it can be difficult to find a safe snack. Never, ever travel without snacks. We pack carrots, celery, cheese sticks, apples, goldfish, pumpkin seeds, and freeze-dried corn or soybeans.
  15. DO Board Early – With little ones, getting situated with your carry-on is nearby is worth sitting on the plane for a little bit.
  16. DON’T Overestimate Your Child’s Bladder – Limit beverages and take extra bathroom trips.  Go while the seat belt sign is off – there is no guarantee it will stay off.
  17. DO Put Kids First – Duh. A travel day with kids is not about you. It just isn’t. Read until hoarse, hold your sleeping child with numb arms, listen to that song over and over. If they’re happy, go with it. If they have a good trip, so will you.
  18. DON’T Reject the Pacifier – Our daughter is 2, and isn’t allowed to have a pacifier during the day…but on a plane? Why, have it the whole flight! It soothed her ears, kept her quiet, and helped her nap. Not into pacifiers? Bring a favorite comfort item.
  19. DO Use the Play Area – Use hand sanitizer and set kids loose in the play area. They can climb, play and run while you sip coffee.
  20. DON’T Forget The Camera – Pictures of kids squealing with giddy delight as we ‘Blasted Off” are priceless. Digital photos are a great tool for distraction.
  21. DO Pray – Enlist others to pray for transitions, patience, health and for your actions, attitudes and words to honor God.
  22. DON’T Show Fear – Turbulence? FUN! They recognize our concern and magnify it. Keep it positive, no matter how bumpy.
  23. DO Laugh – there is no place for frustration about how things have gone or are going. LET IT GO and laugh it off.
  24. DON’T Forget A Noise Machine – Whether staying in a hotel or with family, there will be strange noises. Minimize the effect and promote sleep by packing their noise machine. We packed this one – compact and loud, with a night-light.
  25. DO Celebrate Small Victories – No tears on a flight? Make a big deal of good behavior. Great listening? Celebrate it. Child use the airplane bathroom? Congratulate them. Giving credit for small victories helps them feel accomplished.