More Than Selling Cookies – Girl Scouts Teaches Life Lessons

Our kids weren’t big joiners in the States.

I admit, they didn’t seem passionate about any one thing to push us into signing them up for a long-term commitment. We enjoyed having our nights and weekends free to have our own adventures.

When our former neighbors joined Girl Scouts, that piqued our girls interest. With our imminent move, we promised to explore troops when got settled. Since we joined a few months ago, it has helped us talk with our girls on some pretty serious topics.

Safety at home and with strangers

Throughout the daycare years, we talked about strangers and personal safety. We performed fire safety drills and talked about when to call 9-1-1.

The Girl Scout assignment for earning the safety badge pumped it up a bit.

Our girls provided diagrams of escape routes on each level of the house. They memorized phone numbers (eek, do any of us do that anymore?), checked maps for the nearest police station and pointed out exit areas in multiple stores or buildings while we were out in town.

Troop leaders encouraged discussions about the different ways people could try to lure kids away from their parents, even using other kids to gain trust. We talked about fighting back and finding safety with trusted adults should they ever find themselves in that situation.

Matt likes nothing more than being prepared, so this badge was important for him to ensure the girls were able to talk through any questions and develop action plans in emergencies.

Community service and Empathy

Our church in Maryland provided so many opportunities to serve our community that when it came time to join the efforts of the Girl Scouts, we didn’t need much convincing to participate.

They always liked being a part of community service. The main difference is they are serving with their peers. The girls learn how much their efforts, even though they’re children, can impact their community.

A recent service project included grounds clean-up at the Kinderfeld American Cemetery in Frankfurt. Until 1981, Americans who suffered the loss of a child under the age of two, and could not afford to send the remains to the States for burial, were allowed to bury their children at the site.

This cemetery includes the names of 448 children, some include the names of stillborn babies, and 176 gravestones. Each year different groups – from the Scouts to military members – make time to care for the grounds and put out bird feeders.

Upon returning from the chilly day, we talked about the loss of children and why some babies don’t get to meet their families. We had age-appropriate conversations about the pain families must feel leaving Germany with their babies buried here. And how much those families appreciate the efforts made to keep the grounds beautiful.

Car Accident Kills Girl Scouts

Brownie troop leaders sent messages to parents that they planned to have the girls sign sympathy cards for a troop in Wisconsin. The troop suffered the loss of three children and a parent volunteer after they were struck by driver during roadside clean-up project.

Broaching the subject seemed complex at first. However, kids are very perceptive and empathetic. We had a long conversation that covered:

  • the importance of being aware of their surroundings at all times
  • the dangers of drugs and other substance abuse
  • the effects substance abuse can have on the user and those they unintentionally harm
  • the unfairness and sorrow of everyone impacted by the accident

It’s scary to talk about such topics with kids who haven’t even hit double digits in their ages. But as parents, it’s our responsibility to be their sounding board when various questions arise, even with uncomfortable topics.

Girl Scouts have offered ways to help our kids understand complex topics as well as providing an atmosphere for them to be themselves.

Fun is crucial

It’s not all seriousness and work. Numerous opportunities for fun and friendship also encourage our girls to attend functions and meetings.

They look forward to seeing their friends and learning more about their roles in helping others.

Hands-on opportunities to engage their brains with activities and STEM-based projects are favorites with our girls.

They are at the perfect age for absorbing these skills and lessons so they can use them in their brilliant futures. Girl Scouts offers ways for parents maintain good communication with their kids about serious topics. As they grow, those opportunities may not be as plentiful.

Parenting, and Blogging, is Hard

Twenty four hours isn’t enough time for all I need to get done.

Throw in a spouse, kids and trying to start my own freelance writing business and I realize no amount of time is enough to get the laundry list of tasks completed. Ugh always comes back laundry!

As my own blog develops, I’ve explored hundreds of parenting blogs and sites. Each highlights different areas of childcare, health, wellness, recipes and basically surviving parenthood.

There are only so many things that can be said about parenting, however, each writer says it in their own way based on their experience. That’s why we keep coming back for more. There is something in their storytelling, their writing style and shared experience that resonates with readers.

Here are a few of my favorites that I encourage you to check out – after you read mine of course.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart or humorless

The phrase, Really, Are You Serious, comes up on our house at least once a day. Sometimes it’s from the kids and sometimes us. No matter who says it or who it’s directed toward, it’s usually said because there is no way it could be true. It usually includes a groan and eye roll…you know the drill.

Krystyn’s blogs and content combines sarcasm and Pintrest for a variety of useful tips, informative product discussions and funny stories.

She tackles everything from buying life insurance to creating Maleficent donuts. Yeah, it’s all part of parenting!

Raise Kids with Strong, and Kind, Character

Every parent’s goal is to release our kids into the world with kind hearts and a strong sense of self worth.

Moments a Day offers a path for parents and children to be their best.

Author, home educator and parent, Chelsea Lee Smith, provides inspirational ideas for parenting, interactive workshops and journals to help children learn kindness and other tools that encourage personal growth.

The blog, and other resources available on her site, help the whole family focus on gratitude, manners, patience and mindfulness.

Dads Are Amazing

Dads get a bad rap. Numerous television shows portray them as clueless and confused idiots who don’t know anything about caring for kids.

I’ve heard women complain about and compare spouses for their effort or lack of effort in the home and parenting. I’m grateful that my husband has always embraced his role as a dad and pretty much rocks at it.

Dads matter and their influence on our kids makes an impact.

Fatherly showcases the role of fatherhood and provides an outlet for dads to find kinship in shared experiences as well as oops moments. The site features targeted segments based on child ages as well as areas of interest including money, technology, play and health.

She works hard for the money

Another momma blogger shares her chaos, yet love-filled, life.

Reality Mom Blog topics range from teaching kids the value of money to tips on getting your kids to actually eat what you made for dinner. Is that even possible?

Author Jen Lynn, shares my thought that motherhood is important, challenging and enjoyable no matter if you stay at home, work from home or work outside the home. Motherhood shouldn’t pit us against each other but bring us together to share experiences and learn from each other.

Am I doing this right?

From the moment you pee on the stick, you begin to second guess every decision you make.

What to eat in the first trimester? What’s the best stroller? Do I really a wipe warmer? What is that rash? What should I expect after giving birth?

The Pregnant Chicken offers various ways to get the answers you’re looking for. The section Asshattery alone is worth exploring. I wish I had some of the pregnancy comment comebacks when I was expecting.

From a glossary of pregnancy terms to articles about loss, motherhood and gift registries, there isn’t anything this group isn’t talking about.

Unlimited possibilities

Don’t stop with these suggestions. Find a blogger or site that helps you be the best parent you can be. Whether you need a laugh or create a grocery budget, there are so many parents out there offering their tips, tricks, triumphs and failures.

Have additional bloggers your love? Share what you love ~ we can’t survive parenthood alone.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things To Do With My Kids This Summer – Before I Hide in the Laundry Room with Wine

We’re six days into summer break and I’ve already contemplated opening a bottle of wine at 9 a.m. more than once.

For the first time since the kids were born, they are not in daycare or summer camp. Oh, I had grand plans of workbooks, learning games and quiet play time while I would write and do some prospecting. Those plans got tossed within the first two hours of day one.

Keeping these active girls occupied and not in front of electronics is infinitely harder than I thought. Before I cracked open a local ale or popped the cork on a bottle of Riesling mid-morning, I decided to make a top five list of alternatives based on recommendations and internet searches for the area.

These are in no particular order, just lifelines when I’m at the end of my rope throughout the summer. NOTE – Some of these links may appear in German.

  1. Amusement Parks – Does it get better than an amusement park close to home? After one visit, we purchased year-round passes for Taunus Wonderland, a small amusement park geared to kids under age 13.
    It’s only 25 min from the house and there are plenty of rides, parks and activities that will keep our girls busy. Bonus, they sell giant glasses of beer, so I can enjoy a good pilsner while they feed animals at the petting zoo. The real challenge will be getting their ridiculously catchy theme song out of my head.
    Larger theme parks like Europa Park, Playmobile FunPark, Phantasialand, and Legoland Deutschland Resort are just a couple of hours away. At some point during our time here, we’ll travel to Disneyland Paris.
  2. Summer Reading Program – Now, it’s not as exciting as roller coasters, but our kids love to read. Plus, it’s a quiet activity so I’m all about this one.
    “Reading Takes You Everywhere” is a six week session sponsored by the Europe Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation program where kids can participate in reading and ‘exploring, discovering and experiencing people, places and things’.
    Daisy thrives in structured environments and she reads above her grade level so a summer program that keeps her on this successful path is amazing. Ev is learning to read, and our little social butterfly will take the weekly opportunity to meet new friends and create a mini party atmosphere in the hushed halls of the base library.
  3. Outdoor Parks – Germans don’t mess around when they design parks. They feature metal slides, zip lines, merry-go-rounds, rope courses and that’s just in the neighborhood parks. We may never get Daisy to leave Kletterwald, a local climbing park for kids as young as age four. With five courses for kids and a dozen other courses for beginners to experts, it may become a staple year-round activity – once I stop freaking out about plunging to our deaths from the trees.
  4. Science – I’m not sure if our girls love learning or just making things explode. They both love science, chemistry especially. They requested and received numerous science kits at Christmas. With our move, they didn’t get to open them until recently.
    I have baggies of glitter slime, glow in the dark putty, spa oil perfumes, hydroponics and a jar garden going so far. I’ve had to buy extra vinegar, baking soda, gelatin, corn starch and even an aloe plant so the mad scientists can work.
  5. Museums – We’ve participated in local festivals, explored farmer’s markets and dined in neighborhood cafes, but we’ve only scratched the surface of opportunities to dive into local culture.
    Countless museums focus on the history of the area. Additional museums feature hands-on children’s exhibits like the Kinder Museum in Frankfurt or tasty exhibits like the Chocolate Museum in Cologne. Plus, there is always the David Hassellhoff Museum in Berlin which Matt is very insistent we check out – with a cheeseburger in hand.

Time to put a cork in my wine bottle because apparently, there is plenty to do when the kids get stir crazy. Good thing we’ll be here a few years because we surely won’t get to all of these during our first summer.

Cousin Bonding Without Borders

Sometimes I feel like we’re robbing our kids of an important piece of their childhoods.

Sure, all parents at some point question certain decisions they make. Is this what will send them to therapy in a few years? Will this somehow make them have doubts about themselves or hate me or haunt their childhood memories? You know, like moving to Europe and taking them an ocean away from their family and friends.

It’s not like we lived close before heading to Germany. Our families reside in suburban Chicago and we had been in DC area for a decade. But, it was a lot easier (and less expensive) to hop on a two-hour flight or road trip 700 miles than to grab a passport and cross multiple time zones.

Don’t get me wrong, our kids will experience some amazing things living in Europe for the next three to five years. We’ll see historic sites, taste amazing foods, learn a new language and meet fantastic new friends. However, they won’t have the same childhood experiences my husband and I had surrounded by family.

Family is always there – sometimes lurking

Both my parents and grandparents had grown up in our hometown. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone knowing some member of my family or BEING a member of my family. I got into a fender bender once and when we exchanged information, the other driver took one look at my license and told me to say hi to my uncle.

When I went away to college, my amazing friends visited often so I never got homesick. Plus, a few hometown friends and my sister were there. I like to think that her initial feeling of dread and annoyance faded in the three years we shared there.

I hoped my career as the next Barbara Walters would take me to exotic places. I had moved to Chicago, Arizona, back to Illinois, then off to St. Louis, but by age 24, I was back in my hometown where I was virtually related to every third person.

It wasn’t my ideal, but it was somehow comforting.  Sharing laughs and memories with family and friends reminded me how important it is to feel you belong to something bigger – even if some of those memories are reasons none of us will ever be President, well, maybe there’s a chance.

Aren’t you Vic and Wanda’s daughter?

To our girls, Maryland is home. They were blessed with some amazing friends we had there, but they didn’t get to experience small town living. They could go to the store and not run into relatives. They could be out and about and strangers couldn’t take one look at them and confirm who their parents were.

They had instructors and bus drivers who didn’t also teach previous generations of their family. But, they missed out on feeling the embarrassing pride of family cheering for them at preschool graduation, dance recitals, school concerts or taking up two rows at church on Sundays.

Even though they have never lived in the same state, much less same town, the girls are fiercely attached to their family. They love talking to them and about them, especially the cousins. They keep their pictures in their rooms and I sometimes catch our youngest talking to them.

I can relate. My cousins were my first friends, confidants and memory makers. We had inside jokes and late-night whispers at sleepovers. We bonded over toys when we were young and complained about our parents as we got older. I read in a Boston Globe article that cousins are a unique and essential part of childhood – “Not a sibling, not a friend, but a powerful mixture of both — and they’re yours for life.” I agree.

Even now, after we have outgrown our childhood nicknames and months since we last spoke in person, there is a connection among us. For some, it will forever be the time my mom gave me a well-deserved smack across the face for lying about where I was on New Year’s Eve at age 16 – I still gingerly touch my cheek when I think about it! For others, it’s playing on the tire swing in our grandparent’s backyard or living in our bathing suits all summer running across hot asphalt to perform a synchronized swim show for our parents. I could have yelled “Chucky, NO!” at Christmas last year and we’d instantly be eight years old running up our basement stairs.

We may not share the same opinions or secrets anymore, but we know we used to. And we know too much about each other’s childhood secrets to ever forget that closeness or how we’d look forward to the next family gathering.

Family tree branches out

When in Maryland, the girls would pack weeks in advance of our 12-hour drive. They would have plans, movies and special toys for cousin sleepovers. Their excitement was contagious. My heart would melt seeing them together, their giggles like music throughout the house.

There is something about that sibling-like bond that is magical. I feel a little guilty for moving to a place that makes that experience almost impossible for my girls. The year our oldest daughter was born, the grandparents were all given a webcam. We wanted to ensure they could bond, even if we were hundreds of miles a way. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s close.

Ensuring our kids know their family and forge those life-long connections is our responsibility. We may not be able to attend family dinners or holiday BBQs, but we can get on Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, text, email and even…call.  Because no matter where you go, there is no place like home and no replacements for cousins.

  

 

Smart Girls are Taking Over

I’ve come to terms with a hard truth. By the time our girls are 10-years-old, they may very well  outsmart me.

It’s a combination of the ‘new’ way of learning, their insatiable appetite to perform various science experiments, their ability ask questions that I have not choice but to Google and my lack of remembering the majority of what I learned in school. It’s inevitable, these girls will be pass me quickly.

I love that they enjoy learning. Even more so that they love science and building with Legos or their snap circuit kits. I really hope their passion remains when they hit that age where girls often flip a switch and hate everything, including learning.

As pre-teens and early teenagers, girls begin to lose self confidence and interest in the sciences. According to a recent article on CNN.com, researching pinpoint almost the exact time girls back away from science.

Right now, our oldest is especially confident in her abilities and in her love for science. She is a natural analyst and loves to research on her own. She was thrilled to attend a STEM night at her elementary school and eagerly helped her younger sister with the hands-on experiments.

I hope she keeps that attitude as gets to those hard years when many girls start to think intelligence isn’t cool and that boys won’t like girls who are as smart – or smarter – then they are. I hope she continues to encourage her fellow females to do their best and collaborate – not see them as competition or use them as a stepping stone on her own path to success.

We have so many amazing female role models to inspire our girls. History, science, medicine and technology are filled with women who paved the way for our girls. There are more and more movies, television shows and plays features strong female characters who are as beautiful as they are witty and smart. I want all girls to know they can be any combination of traits and they will succeed and even change the world.

In a few years, as they excel in their advanced classes and I struggle to keep up with them, I’ll be the voice of encouragement. I’ll be in awe of what they solve and invent. A small part of me will take pride that somewhere in their genius DNA are my genes, too.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

As a writer, each piece is a labor of love. It has personality. Each work is unique, yet you love each the same. It’s the same with kids. They push to your limits and challenge you to be your best. Nothing prepares you for parenthood, but the adventure is the best thing one can ever create.

There are days I beam with pride as I look at my offspring. Then there are days I remind myself that I actually prayed really hard that I would have these monkeys. Sometimes, those emotional reactions happen minutes apart.

They don’t come with instruction manuals and no two kids are alike. It’s like being thrown into a river with a bunch of random equipment like a bag of snacks, extra Legos, the most favorite lovey of all time that no longer even has a face and some crayons. Somehow you have to make a boat, keep a float and not go over a waterfall.

Then of course, you better have extra snacks because heaven forbid these kids go 20 minutes without a snack. Just make sure it’s not the snack they loved yesterday, because today that same snack is rancid.

My Circus, My Monkeys – Heaven Help Me

For more than 20 years, my career choices always included an element of writing. As a journalist, I learned the importance of fact checking, the art of story telling, the value of sources and how the written word impacts readers.

Years in marketing communications and non-profit organizations helped me recognize how to read an audience so the presented ideas are well received.

All this education and experience provided me with various successful jobs. Starting my favorite job as a parent, none of it helped me, and yet all of it helped me. My daughters are my best creations and a great source of inspiration. They’ve given me the gift seeing life from a different perspective. My daughters provide their own versions of education and experience.