The right punishment is so hard to figure out

My current reference reading

There are some scenarios parenting books just can’t help you with.  Honestly, most of them seem pretty worthless when you’re in the thick of things.

Sure, I have read about how to discipline, and how to handle strong-willed children.  But I confess that a lot of the time, I am unsure how to handle my kids.  Zach is still in his screaming and tantrum phase, and Eliza hasn’t outgrown hers (while she continues to question everything you say), so we’re in an interesting vortex of pain and chaos.

In the moment, I often find myself acting calmly (trying very hard not to scream and yell like them), but the discipline that comes out still somehow leaves a bad parenting stench.  It’s like I don’t have enough time to think through what the consequences I’m doling out will actually mean for all of us.

This morning, I was upstairs when Eliza and Zach broke out fighting downstairs over what turned out to be my phone – something they didn’t have permission to be playing with in the first place.  After calling Eliza to me four times and her not responding by coming, but rather with, “Mommy, will you put on another TV show?”, I trudged downstairs, picked up Eliza, and as I walked her up the stairs, told her she would be going to her room for breakfast so she and Zach couldn’t fight over things.  She proceeded to throw a complete temper tantrum about wanting to eat at the table.  I didn’t budge, because I’m afraid of being a sucker who can be talked out of following through by a 3-year-old.  Of course, as Zach was fighting too, I thought it only fair to have him eat his breakfast in his room by himself as well.

The good news is that this is not going where you might think.  I DID have the sense to make something that wasn’t super messy.   (Thank God I put thought into what I served them, if nothing else!)  But as I listened to them scream and holler as I separated them to – what was my end game?  Oh yes, stop the screaming – I realized my plan hadn’t worked.  And there were crumbs all over Eliza’s bed to clean up.

In the end, Eliza and I talked about everything that went wrong, but still it didn’t feel like a victory.  In hindsight, I could have just taken the phone away from them and let that be punishment enough for fighting over it.  Sometimes I just need to remember to give myself time – maybe a count to ten moment when I put them in their rooms so they’re safe – while I come up with an appropriate reaction.  When I act swiftly and carry a big stick, I don’t necessarily get the hoped for outcome.  It’s just sometimes the big stick feels so right and justified in the moment.  Am I a bad parent, or am I being too hard on myself?

I could just bang them over their heads with one of the several parenting books on the shelf …

Is your heart grateful for the gunk?

A cute scream ... most of them aren't

The past week has been bad for me.  I actually haven’t written because as honest as I am, I’m embarrassed at some of the things that have happened.  We all have an upper respiratory illness bubbling up, and I am in physical pain from training for a race that I might not be able to complete because of runner’s knee.  My patience is running very, very thin for things like Zach’s screaming and Eliza’s incessant jabbering.

Yesterday in the car, Zach screamed for I believe the 6th time at the top of his lungs, and I turned around and screamed, “STOP SCREAMING!!!” (the hypocrisy was palpable) as I smacked his foot (the only thing within reach).  Eliza stared at me, surprised and a bit frightened.  Last night after dinner, I was D-O-N-E, and I asked Eliza to clean up her Boggle game.  She asked “Why?”  I said very firmly, “Eliza, the next thing you’re going to do is clean up that game, and if you say anything else before it’s cleaned up, you will get a spanking.”  She immediately said, “But mommy … ” and I took her away and spanked her, which made her cry.  (Definitely the best way to get in a control battle with a strong-willed child is to do what I did.)  Last week, I tried to get a babysitter so I could go to the orthopedist and get X-Rays of my knee, and a few people let me down for help.  I called Greg in tears, begging him to work from home so I could have some “sick leave.”  I said, “I just need to go back to work.  If I were at work right now, the kids would be in daycare and I would just use sick leave to go to the doctor.  I don’t get sick days.  Whaaaaaa!!!”  (Poor Greg.)

When I confess these moments to other moms, they all communicate that they’ve been there.  (And if you’ve never done anything like this, you must not have any children older than about 9-months.)  I have been feeling more and more like I would like to work part-time, partially to use my brain in a different way, but also to force myself to realize how awesome the time I get with my kids is, and to better maximize it with precious time instead of wasted time, or even worse, time I’d like to erase and re-do.

I recently read a quote in the book “girls!” (which in my opinion, is worth the read if you have any daughters ages 4-12) that struck me.  The authors say, “Whether you are a dedicated career woman or a stay-homie, your role is secondary to the attitudes you communicate about your role.”

So, today I thought about this.  I didn’t bad-mouth my role, or mutter under my breath about my unhappiness with my kids’ behaviors.  I kept my cool in the tough moments.  I thanked God for their extra hugs and kisses and cuddles because they aren’t feeling well.  And I thanked Him for the gunk (in their lungs and in our lives).  And mostly, I thanked Him that I get to stay home, sick days or not.

I suffer from “Just for a minute” disease

The clock is ticking ...

Before naps and bedtime, Eliza asks me to cuddle her.  Sometimes I outright say, “No” because she really just needs to go to sleep.  But when I do agree, despite really enjoying these precious times, I find myself so often saying, “Okay, but just for a minute and then I have to go (fill in the blank).”

I’ve realized I use this phrase a lot.  Eliza will ask to read books, and I’ll say, “Okay, Eliza, but just for a minute.  I have to get the laundry.”  Zach will walk up to me with a toy, and I’ll say, “Okay, Zach, but just for a minute.  I have to cook dinner.”  And on and on it goes, with playing, or dressing up, or going outside, or singing.  (And of course, there’s “Just for a minute’s” evil cousin, “In a minute” if I’m already busy when asked to do something.)

I know I am at home to pour myself out to these kids.  It’s the main reason I’m here and not in an office for this season.  So why, if I want to give them all that I am, do I find myself short-changing these moments in exchange for dish-washing and floor-mopping?

Are these “just a minute” times enough?  A minute hardly allows my kids to build memories they will reminisce about, saying, “Remember when mom used to get all the couch cushions and we’d build a fort together?”

I know I use “Just for a minute” as a tool to warn them that whatever we’re doing has a cut-off point. Because they don’t really understand how long a minute is yet, what I’m often doing is communicating that our activity will end even if they don’t want it to, and there’s something else we must do.  But I don’t just use it for that.  I use it as an excuse so I can get to unimportant things and my to-do list.

Trying to find the time to do everything that must get done as well as what I consider a priority is tough.  I mean, the messes do have to get cleaned.  But I sit here wondering if these children are capable of understanding why household chores sometimes come first.  If I’m honest, I’m not sure they can make sense of it.  I’m afraid that perhaps the message I’m sending to them is, “I’ll do this for you, but it’s conditional because what I really want to do is what’s important is me.”

Last weekend we ended up at a playground next to some basketball courts.  There were a handful of seemingly unattended kids, ranging from ages 3-8, playing on the playground.  We finally figured out that they belonged to some of the men who were shooting hoops.  As I watched, there was one dad who was obviously inconvenienced by his 3-year-old boy who wanted a drink.  He was begging his dad for some Gatorade, but the dad decided to berate him, saying in a sarcastic tone, “You didn’t share your toys so I’m not going to share my Gatorade with you.  How do you like that?”  He then put the boy in a time out for escalating the situation because he continued to cry, “But I’m thirsty.”  And the boy asked, “but daddy, where’s my drink?”  And the dad said, “I don’t know where your drink is, go find it yourself.”  It was clear this guy wanted to play ball and everyone was waiting on him to recommence the game.  When the game ended, the dad immediately left with his 3 kids.  He didn’t stick around to play with them on the playground.  It was such a sad display for us.  But I can’t sit here and say that I’m not guilty of similar behavior sometimes.  (Though I would never leave my 3-year-old to be supervised 100 feet away by other children while I played basketball in a public park.)

It’s tough to balance all of life’s demands within the confines of time.  It seems there are three types of time in my days.  There is wasted time, and then there is time that must be spent on certain tasks (like chores, getting the kids to activities, and cooking) and then there’s precious time.  And I realize that I’d like to fit in more precious time.  In fact, it’s taken me a long time to finish typing this post.  Two days ago I had picked it up and started writing again, and Eliza approached me after waking up from her nap and asked, “Hey mommy, do you want to make cupcakes now?”  And I said, “Yes, Eliza, I would love to do that right now.”  It was a lot of fun, and the perfect moment, because Zach was still sleeping and we got to spend some quality mommy-daughter time.

I’m so glad I set down this laptop because now I’m finishing it at a time when my kids are otherwise occupied and not wishing for my attention.  Often, the things I want to do can be fit in at a later time.  I want to cut back on saying, “In a minute” and “Just for a minute.”  Here’s to replacing them with “For you, dear, I have all the time in the world.”

Parenting lesson #29: You will catch yourself in a “Do as I say, not as I do” moment

Quiet and alone.  That’s what I want to be.  It’s just another way that parenthood has changed me.  Four years ago, I scored 100% extroverted on the Myers-Briggs test.  Now I get energized by peace and quiet.  I want to pee alone and I can’t even do that.  This morning, by the time I was shoving food into my mouth, I wanted nothing more than to eat alone.  (It was “one of those mornings.”)  But alas, alone is not my reality.

This morning, Zach finished his blueberries quickly, and began to whine and point at Eliza’s.  Because he still only says about ten words, and blueberries is not one of them, whining and pointing is his main way of communicating exactly what he wants.  She understood immediately, and in a high-pitched voice, said, “Oh, Zach, you want some blueberries?  Okay, here you can have two.”  And she handed them over.  It was a melt-my-heart moment.  She was so loving, so giving, so cute in that instant!  I welled with pride, thinking to myself, “All my work is paying off.  She is turning into someone who wants to give and share.”  I patted myself on the back.

Not 10 minutes later, I was barking at her to occupy herself so I could finally eat something because I was hungry.  I poured myself a meager bowl of Raisin Bran, emptying the bag’s contents and realizing it wasn’t quite the amount I had hoped for.  I added my milk, plopped on the living room couch, and instantly had a visitor.  Eliza jumped beside me, opened her mouth to indicate she wanted some, and said, “Mommy, can I have some?”  And I said, with an attitude, “Eliza, you had your breakfast.  I didn’t get eggs and fruit like you did, I have this cereal.  This is mine.  I’m not going to give you any.”

Whoops.  Instantly my heart sank as I realized how selfish I was being.  I, the one who wants so much to teach my children to put others first and to share what they have, was refusing a bite of bran cereal (BRAN CEREAL!) to my 3-year-old.  And just 10 minutes after I watched her share her coveted blueberries.

I was so embarrassed.  I changed my attitude and said, “You know what?  I’ll share with you.  I’d love to share,” or something like that.  I probably gave her 4 bites of my 15 bites of cereal.  And she said, “We always share our food, right mommy?”  And I said, “Right.”

Getting married really shows you how ugly you can be, but having children magnifies it ten-fold.  When you watch your toddlers pointing their fingers at their friends while yelling at them to do this or that, you realize they learned it from … somewhere.  (Yes, YOU.)  It is humbling and revealing and amazing.  And yes, now that I’m having a quiet and alone moment because both kids are napping, I can see clearly enough to realize this is a good thing.  I know I’ll be ready for the wild and crazy, extroverted afternoon.  It beckons now – Zach just woke up!

Parenting lesson # 23: Your kids learn to talk by repeating what you say.

Teaching your kids to talk is a double-edged sword.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve already been embarrassed by what Eliza has said, mostly because it’s so obvious she’s repeating something she learned from me.  Something bad.  And it only seems to be getting worse.

Luckily for me, there haven’t been any recent instances of her saying “dammit!” like she learned about a year ago.  I taught myself not to say that word.  No, now she is much more into poop.

We’re trying to train her that “poop” talk is not funny, but somehow, especially with her friends, it is the funniest word she knows.  They will sit and giggle and just say it over and over and over.  It doesn’t help that yesterday, she was playing and just kept saying, “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap” when she couldn’t get things to go her way.  I instantly knew she must have heard me say that (apparently it is my replacement for “dammit”).  It was such an ironic moment because I keep trying to tell her not to use potty talk, but I do it obviously often enough for her to pick up the word and its proper usage (though I don’t think she knows that crap is a worse form of the word poop.  Yet.)

It’s the classic lesson of “do as I say, not as I do.”  It’s often funny to hear your kids repeat the not-so-great things you say, but it’s also scary.  It’s like every sentence you speak goes on the record and could be repeated at any moment (most likely when it would be the most mortifying).  So, now I can add “crap” to my list of no-no words.  I’m quickly running out of options.  Maybe I’ll start saying “drat” or make up a word, like, “snaggle!”  I need to come up with something before I fall on my proverbial “double-edged” sword.

Being supermom in a superwoman world: how to do it all


There’s no such thing.

If only I could remember that on a day-in, day-out basis.

Did you ever notice that Mrs. Brady had Alice?  That Mary Poppins is a nanny (and the children have a mom who does … I’m not sure what)?  Why is it that we take on staying-at-home with our kids like there’s a corporate measure of success for it and we have to beat everyone else?  Why does it seem so embarrassing, so indefensible, to need help sometimes?  Where does this onus to do it like we’re going to get a bonus from society at the end of each fiscal year come from?  Who’s judging you?  Who are you allowing to influence how you feel about yourself as a mom?

I am coming to realize the deeper into parenthood I get (and I’m really only ankle-deep) that there’s no way to do it all.  You have to pick and choose what’s important to your family and stick to those priorities.  Sure, there might be some obvious “no, don’t do thats,” but generally speaking, I would argue that there’s no wrong way to be a mom.  Some moms are super organized.  Some keep a messy home.  Some work very hard to make sure their kids are mentally stimulated, others care more about getting outside and getting dirty.  Some want to have something on the schedule every day to keep things interesting.  Others are happy to be in their homes for days on end.  Some are afraid of germs, others invite them in.  (“Sure, Johnny, suck your dirt-covered thumb that your sick friend Caroline just sneezed on.”)  Some think TV and sugar are evil, and others are okay if their kids get doses here and there (or all the time, which I think most doctors would say is a “no, don’t do that.”)

The point is I am always discovering what kind of mother I am.  I evolve and learn from other moms, and some of my friends have been such great influences on helping me let things go, which I need to do.  But when I get into the comparison game, I have to realize I’m not in an office building anymore.  In the workplace, you can measure yourself against others by completing projects, going the extra mile, and being recognized for those accomplishments.  Parenthood is not like that; it is unending and constantly changing.  You can’t check it off your “to-do” list.  So forget about finding a way to do it all.  You cannot possibly do everything your doctor, husband, family and friends tell you that you should fit into your day.  When I cut myself slack for not being perfect, that’s when I think I am at my best.

If you stick to what you know to be true and use trial and error, my guess is you’ll find that your kids will think you’re superwoman.  And really, isn’t that all that matters?

Parenting lesson #12: Having kids makes it harder to judge others

I am less judgmental than I used to be.  I realize that’s a self-defeating statement, but stick with me here.

I’m pretty good at judging people.  I know I shouldn’t do it, but I size people up pretty quickly and decide a lot about them with very little factual information.  I know that, while I’ll probably always struggle with this, becoming a parent has made me mull over my assumptions and contemplate that they could be (no, I don’t want to admit it) wrong.

A really good friend who’s an amazing, award-winning teacher recently went to Disney World.  Disney is one of those places where bad parenting really shines through.  (I’m picturing little Johnny beating his sister, Janie, while threatening to run away if he doesn’t ride Space Mountain RIGHT NOW.)  It’s hard not to look everywhere and wonder why God didn’t make it harder to get pregnant, or why there’s not some test you have to take to get permission from the government to procreate.  But that’s another topic entirely …

I asked my friend what she saw that was so disturbing, and she said she noticed families eating together but not communicating at all.  She saw kids playing with their iPods, iPads and iAnythings while the parents seemed happy to ignore them.  At first it made me sad to imagine the scene, too.  I thought, “Gosh, families just aren’t families anymore.  Those parents will probably wonder why their kids won’t talk to them when they’re teenagers.”

Then came the thought that perhaps, just maybe, that could be me someday.  It’s possible  (especially at Disney World), when I will be exhaustively park-hopping, accommodating at least four people’s preferences while keeping on a schedule to fit as many rides in as possible, that when we sit down as a family for a meal, no one will have anything to say.  We might just sit in silence, all hoping for a break from each other and from the hustle and bustle of the park.  Or maybe the kid in the family my friend saw was autistic.  I came to realize that someday, if my good friend didn’t know me, she could have seen ME at the park with MY family doing the same thing, and tell her friends how sad my family is.

Before I became a parent (and this is no dis on people without kids), I definitely watched and condemned other parents’ actions a whole lot more than I do now.  I find myself trying to give people the benefit of the doubt a little more, thinking through the various scenarios where I might do the same thing I can’t believe I’m witnessing (like if I’m tired, or if there might be days when I give in to the same type of battle because it’s not worth having the 22nd fight of the day).

So, if you ever see me at Disney World, or anywhere for that matter, and we’re doing something you wouldn’t do, please step back and assume I have thought through what I’m doing and I have a reason.

Unless you see one of my kids beating the other up while making demands and holding our emotions hostage.  If that happens, please intervene.  You have my permission to judge.

Top 10 reasons to love staying at home with your kids

I suffer from a constant, nagging internal struggle about wanting to work.  I’ve talked with and listened to so many moms who try to put into words their very same torment over this issue.  Because the grass is always greener on the other side, I find myself wishing often that I could have a sick day, or that my kids were messing up a daycare center instead of my house, or that I could pee in peace in a bathroom stall at work.  But today, I want to focus on the many blessings of being present, in the here and now, with my children.  Here are just the tip of the iceberg reasons to enjoy this precious time with them:

10. Your children need your presence more than they need your presents. I once read this on a church bulletin board as I drove by, and it stuck.  We live in a society that tells us if we buy our kids the best sneakers or video games or get them into the best private schools, we love them more than parents who don’t provide these things.  It’s bologna.

9. You can’t have quality time without quantity time.  Quality time can’t be forced to fit into scheduled time slots.  I’ve found that when I schedule special events, they often don’t live up to expectations.  The mundane tasks of everyday life give me those moments when Eliza looks over at me while I’m cooking and says, “I love you mommy.  Thanks for making me dinner.”

8. I might not get sick days, but I get play days. It is unusually warm for a winter day.  And I have the freedom to take my kids outside and enjoy the sunshine.  If I weren’t my own boss, I couldn’t do that.

7. Kids are sponges and they soak up everything – especially dirt and grime. I don’t have to wonder what my kids are learning about life from someone else.  The worldview they are getting is the one Greg and I want to teach them.  Sure, so I have a 2 1/2-year-old who says “freaking” and “what the heck?” and even “DAMMIT.”  It could be so much worse.

6. You get to experience the wonder of learning everything for the first time. Let’s face it – our earliest memories are probably from about age three.  It’s amazing to watch infants and toddlers learn day-by-day how the world works – how toilet paper rolls off if you spin it, how dirt tastes, how water splashes, how to give a good raspberry, how to sing a song and how to annoy the dog.

5. We only have to consider one person’s work schedule when planning vacations and trips. Every time I think about getting a part-time job, I cringe at the thought of not being able to get off work when I want to get off work.

4. My kids really get to know me. For better or worse, my children see all the sides of me.  Sometimes, I fly off the handle, like I did briefly this morning when I got Zach dressed and he subsequently spilled the dog water bowl all over the floor and himself, and then did the same thing with my water-glass about two minutes later.  When I mess up, I get the opportunity to model apologizing, taking responsibility for my mistakes, and accepting forgiveness from them.  If I were working, there wouldn’t be enough time to reveal my true self to my kids.

3. I can better serve my husband. When I went back to work after having Eliza, things like laundry, dry cleaning and dishes didn’t get done and we ate a lot of takeout.  I was getting by with the bare minimum.  I didn’t have enough hours in the day to do anything really well, and for a type-A person, that’s a very hard place to be.

2. Nap time. I am anal about this and I have always coordinated their naps so the two of them sleep at the same time in the afternoon.  If I need to take a snooze, I can.  There’s no way you can do that at work.

1. Not even Mother Teresa could love your kids like you do.  No other boo boo kisser, monster deterrer, bug squasher, book reader or nose and fanny wiper could substitute for you.  Period.

The saucy solution to a spicy attitude

the nectar of the discipline gods

We can add lying and back-talking to Eliza’s repertoire of not-so-great qualities.  When we were busy packing up our car in Florida, my dad came up to me, saying, “Why on earth would you give Eliza gum?”  And I replied, “What?  I didn’t.  I never have.”  And he said, “Well that’s interesting, because she’s chewing it and when I asked her where she got it, she said you gave it to her.”  Hmph.

The back-talking has also begun.  She uses phrases I say to her against me.  For example, if she is talking incessantly and asking the same question over and over again (see previous post about the phrase “because I said so”), sometimes I will say to her calmly, “Eliza, I’m not going to talk about this anymore right now,” or “I’m not going to talk to you right now.”  So she has turned this around like in the following scenario:

Me: “Eliza, we need to leave.  Can you please put on your coat, or do you want me to help you with it?”

Eliza: “No, we ah not weaving right now.  Mommy, I’m not going to TALK TO YOU RIGHT NOW.  YOU’LL NEVER GET (incomprehensible mumbling)!!!”

I know she is just doing what normal, strong-willed two-year-olds do (right?  Please agree with me.)  I am not interested in spanking her except in very specific cases, and I also want her to be able to express herself.  However, when she is clearly talking back because I am asking her to do something she doesn’t want to do, and it’s something that is non-negotiable (like wearing a coat in freezing weather when you already have a cold), I need to have a disciplinary option.

Say “hello” to vinegar.  A friend told me her friend with seven children uses it.  A few days ago when Eliza was using her tongue against me, I went and got the vinegar and put a drop in her mouth.  She didn’t cry, she just stood there, stunned, twirling the flavor around in her mouth with a stone-faced glare.  I then talked to her about why I did it, what she did wrong, told her I loved her and gave her a hug and a kiss.

Already on two occasions, we’ve been in the car driving and she’s started smack-talking me.  I’ve told her, “If you continue to talk to me like this, I will put vinegar in your mouth when we get home.”  She has stopped both times.

I’ve also heard hot sauce can work, but I figured I’d try vinegar first because it is less likely to go bad if I carry a vial of it around in my purse.  (My friend’s friend also does this to keep her seven children in line when they’re in public.)

When it comes to matters of the tongue, I think you should fight fire with a fire extinguisher.  And the vinegar has, thus far, put out the flames.  I’ll keep you posted on how well it works, and if you try it, let me know how it goes!

De-clutter your kids’ Christmas

If you’re like us, people bought your children way more than they need for Christmas or Hanukkah.  (Okay, maybe you had something to do with it, but I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad.)  I decided I would go to the toy store to get “a few things” and ended up finding all kinds of goodies that were just too cute to leave there.  In my defense, I was able to pawn some of the items off to my brothers (at market value of course) to give to the kids, as they hadn’t shopped yet.  I also got sucked into a bit of the “best toys of 2010” frenzy and I ordered not one, not two, but FOUR Singamajigs.  (What on earth made me think that was a good idea, I’ll never know.)  And of course, Zach turned one on December 17th, so I had a bit of parent’s guilt going on, thinking I needed to make sure his birthday was special and that he received more than his sister did.  (As if a one-year-old would ever know the difference.)

The point is that now we’re in Florida with a minivan that was already full on the trip down, and I have no idea how to get it all home without paying money to ship some of it.  (This is something I am in principle against.)  I had already been thinking that we need to come up with a family tradition related to receiving and giving gifts that fosters gratitude, sharing, and putting others ahead of ourselves.  So here are some ideas to ameliorate the excess and put the focus on others.

1) A no new toys policy – A friend of a friend has four kids and a rule that they buy no new toys for their children.  For birthdays and Christmases, they receive some new gifts from family and friends, but they never buy anything new themselves.  They buy toys at yard sales, consignment stores, and the like.  I LOVE this idea because it probably makes taking the kids shopping anywhere (like Target or even the grocery store) a much easier process.  I was going to adhere to it except I have found myself incapable so far.

2) A three gift policy – My mom told me Kathie Lee Gifford said on the Today Show recently that they give each of their kids only three gifts on Christmas because that’s how many Jesus received.

3) A giveaway policy – We’re toying with the idea of asking the kids after every birthday and Christmas to choose one item they receive and give it away to a child in need.  As they’re a little young right now, we can do this for them this year.  (I think some Singamajigs might need good homes.)

4) Leave some things at grandma’s – Some of our new toys are going to have to stay here.  And that makes sense anyway so that the next time we come, there are already things to play with that will seem new to the kids.

5) Ask for what you need most – Set up 529 college plans or savings accounts for your kids when they are born, and have family members put money into them for each birthday and Christmas in lieu of buying other gifts.  When they receive cash gifts, have them save a percentage in these accounts as well.

6) Periodically purge – After every event in their lives when your children receive new toys and clothes, go through what they currently have and get rid of a set or proportionate number of old items that they can live without.  Then take a special trip to a homeless mission or Salvation Army and have your children personally deliver the toys they are donating.

7) Set a budget – It’s a simple concept, but not easy to adhere to.

8) Stay out of toy stores – This Christmas was only the third time since I’ve had children that I went into a Toys ‘R Us.  Every time I do, I have a list and end up buying things that weren’t on it.  It’s a dangerous place to go.  I’m going to refrain from going and instead use Amazon where I can get free super saver shipping and avoid paying sales tax.

9) Give the gift of time – A former co-worker’s twin daughters were premature and spent a lot of time in our local NICU.  The girls are 10 now, and every Thanksgiving they still bake cookies and take them to the nurses at the hospital to thank them.  I read about another family in the book “Crazy Love” that spends its first hours on Christmas morning making hot chocolate and going downtown to hand it out to homeless people.  I really wanted to do this but the truth is I got lazy about it.  I hope next year I am more motivated; perhaps we can come up with our own idea that is similar but will be “ours.”

If you’re feeling a bit over-indulged like I am, or just that as the New Year approaches you want to “get organized and de-clutter,” let me know if the above suggestions are helpful.  I’m always looking for new and great ideas!  Now I must go and find a way to convince Zach that his new toy cell phone is just as cool as my real one (because he’s screaming about it).