Smells Like the Old Country

Have you ever traveled home from Europe with a carry-on full of pungent, homemade cheese? No?

Ever flown cross country with a Tupperware full of homemade fish salad nestled between your thighs? Never?

Are you willing to find out what you’ve been missing? If so, you too can be part of my family’s unofficial culinary exchange program.

I come from a large Italian family. My father was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in his early twenties. Several family members still live in the same port city in Italy’s Puglia region where he grew up.

Whenever a family member, distant relative or willing friend travels to Europe, he or she is asked to bring an extra suitcase full of items our relatives in Italy covet but don’t have easy access to. Our team of volunteer couriers has shuttled items ranging from aluminum foil to Ziploc bags and everything in between.

On the trip home things get really interesting. Those same suitcases are often returned full of our Italian relatives’ homemade culinary gifts, including such savory delicacies as dried salumi, blanched white almonds, grape must and aged ricotta cheese.

My family also dabbles in domestic food transactions. For years, every time I visited my sister on the East Coast I lugged a suitcase full of my mom’s delicious baked goods. Tins brimming with calzones, taralli, focaccia, biscotti – I’ve traveled with it all.

But I drew the line at schlepping fish salad after watching my mom navigate a flight carrying a large Tupperware of her delicious seafood stew. Without breaking a sweat or spilling a drop, my petite, plucky mother caught that container as it tumbled out of the overhead compartment and carried it between her legs the rest of the flight. My mom and her fish salad are the reasons flight attendants now remind passengers to use caution when removing items from overhead bins.

The latest Italian delicacy to traverse the globe is a ten pound package of homemade Italian cheese sent with love to my dad from his sister in Italy. After changing hands several times en route to Chicago, the aroma-challenged package now occupies my refrigerator awaiting its final destination.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

These culinary reminders of home fill my dad with joyful nostalgia and fill me with unease. I won’t eat anything that’s been out of a refrigerator for more than 37 seconds. My 83-year-old father prefers dairy products that have endured unrefrigerated transatlantic travel.

While many of you will no doubt see this food exchange as a charming, loving tradition, I’m beginning to wonder. Perhaps there is a good reason some of these food items are not readily available in the United States? Where are those pesky U.S. Customs officials when you need them?

Thankfully, our family’s gene pool has evolved to include iron-clad stomachs impervious to the foodborne illnesses known to level mere mortals. And, just in case, I’ve become an expert at dialing 9-1-1.

Joy & Parenting Tips – Part II

Rhys is a tenured Professor of Joy!

As promised in yesterday’s post, Joy & Parenting – Part I, I’m back with more highlights from the Great Parenting Show interview I heard recently featuring The Joyful Mother, Sigrid Kjeldsen. I really enjoyed Sigrid’s clarity, insights and loving suggestions. Here’s more of my take on the interview highlights. Coming soon:  Joy & Parenting – Part III:  Joy-Busting (Top Ways I Sabotage Joy).

Surrender to the Moment

The Joyful Mother talked about joy coming from “surrendering to the moment, any moment, and accepting it. As is.” This requires awareness. And breathing. I’m happy to report I have had some recent success with both.

The other night I set a boundary with Ava around my availability for our nightly reading time (a long-standing bedtime ritual). Ava pushed the boundary. Then ignored it completely. Shit, I thought, I’m going to have to keep this boundary and Ava’s not gonna be happy.

Truthfully, much of me wanted to ignore my boundary, keep the peace and keep a lid on any emotions she might have  about missing our treasured reading time. And yet, it’s better for both of us when I follow through (and when I take care of myself). I took a deep breath and went into her room to kiss her goodnight. At first she was incredulous that I wasn’t going to read to her. And then she was angry. Wish-we-didn’t-have-neighbors angry. She cycled through a number of emotions, some we as a species have yet to name.

Here’s the victory … I reminded myself all I had to do was lovingly detach, stay present and not try to fix her feelings. Being present meant I had to breathe, not something I practice regularly. I breathed. Deeply. Soon, Ava began breathing again. There we were breathing together, in the moment. Crazy, right?

Just as The Joyful Mother herself suggested during the interview, the change in my energy appeared to impact Ava’s energy. My goal in the moment was not to cut short my daughter’s anger (yeah, right!) and it wasn’t. But my experience was different. I didn’t take on her anger or try to shut her down. I just was. I asked if she wanted a hug. Not a chance. Not from me. Maybe from dad. More breathing. Progress!

To say this interaction left me joy-filled is a stretch. But I did feel more peaceful and connected to myself and my daughter. And that is joyous!

Model Forgiveness

I am often hard on myself and in turn, tend to be hard on other people, specifically my loved ones (a lucky bunch). I  rarely communicate my self-annoyance verbally to my daughters, but they certainly pick up on it. I don’t like making mistakes and I have to make a conscious effort to let go and forgive myself when I do.

The highlight of The Joyful Mother’s interview for me was when she suggested we model self-forgiveness for our children. While I’ve heard this concept before and am aware that not much joy can enter my heart when I’m berating myself for some mistake or another, I was in just the right place to really “hear” this idea from Sigrid.

And I got a chance to test drive The Joyful Mother’s advice last night:  I was anxiously finishing yesterday’s post so I could spend time with the girls during their bedtime routines. After I hit, “publish,” on the post, I started reading to Ava. We were just getting cozy with Harry Potter when I jumped up, yelled “shit” and ran to my computer, chastising myself out loud along the way. “I’m such an idiot. I spelled Sigrid’s name wrong in that post! OMG! I called her Ingrid! Shit!” I chose to urgently try to fix the mistake as my computer chose to crash. Trust me:  not an ounce of me could see the humor in this gaffe (actually I just realized it’s kind of funny as I wrote this). I was mortified (I’m dramatic that way).

Many, many minutes later, after I fixed the mistake and started breathing again, Ava and I resumed our nightly cuddle session. Sigrid’s words popped in my head and out of my mouth:  “Ava, I was really angry with myself earlier for making a mistake. I’m ready to forgive myself now.” Ava smiled and replied, “I’m happy for you, Mom. I’m also happy you’re my mom.” Genius!

And, Finally, Celebrate! 

What better way to welcome joy into my life than to focus on all the things I’m doing wrong as a parent. No? But how else will I fix all the mistakes I make as a mom? How will I ensure I don’t ruin my kids for life (if I haven’t already)? Apparently, according to The Joyful Mother, there’s a better way. She suggests we ask ourselves at the end of the day:  “What did I do well today?” and/or even better “What was I awesome at today?” Yes!

My good friend, Jackie, and I have tried on and off for years to help each other celebrate our victories. We go through phases where we call and leave each other messages touting what we did well that day. It’s lovely. And powerful. And harder to commit to than calling her and telling her what I f***ed-up over the past 24.

The only tweak I’d make to The Joyful Mother’s powerful suggestion is to share your list of awesomeness with a good friend or two, live or taped. It helps my joy sink in a little deeper when I share it with other people.

Jacqueline Green (the Great Parenting Show’s host) suggested we ask our kids the same question. Great idea! That’s an addition to our family’s already long bedtime routine that I’m willing to try. I can’t wait to find out what the girls have to say.

Girls … bedtime!

I’d love to hear your (and your kids’) responses to the question “What was I awesome at today?” in the comment section below. I’ll pass them on to the Great Parenting Show and The Joyful Mother!

Joy & Parenting: Part I

I can learn a lot from this joy teacher!

For the past several weeks, I’ve been enjoying listening to the Great Parenting Show. If you’re not familiar, the Great Parenting Show is a bi-weekly webcast of interviews with a variety of renowned parenting experts. The host, Jacqueline Green, is an educator specializing in perfectionism and parenting. (Given how long it took me to edit this post to my satisfaction, I could teach a course or two in perfectionism. Just sayin’).

I listened to a replay of an interview with Sigrid Kjeldsen, owner of The Joyful Mother and Stress Coach for the modern mom. While I’d heard of The Joyful Mother, I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Kjeldsen or her philosophy before the interview.

As is my custom, I was doing five other things while listening to the show. But when The Joyful Mother started talking about “monkey minds,” being present to all our feelings/our childrens’ feelings, surrendering to moments, and celebrating ourselves as mothers, she had my full attention (which is saying a lot cause I typically can’t muster much after a carb-happy lunch).

What an exciting surprise! Her approach to mothering is completely in tune with the way I want to parent my girls. The title of her talk was “Why Joy is Your Most Important Parenting Tool.” Yes! My parenting philosophy is that joy is right in front of me and my kids are my best teachers. This woman speaks my language! How happy is that?

While I, like many parents, aspire to enjoy my children, I’m not always willing and/or able to do so on a daily basis. Taking in and metabolizing joy (especially when it comes in the form of two pint-sized tornados wrecking havoc on my nice, orderly life!) is not my strong suit.

How much joy can I handle? Not as much as I’d like! Therefore, I was excited to hear The Joyful Mother’s suggestions for taking in more joy today. Here’s my take on one of the highlights of the interview. Stop by tomorrow for more!

Release Our “Monkey Minds”

As you may have gathered from reading this blog, I tend to spend an awful lot of time in my head, analyzing my interactions/reactions, making/checking off to-do lists, comparing myself to others, etc.  I’m particularly talented at making up stories about what other people are thinking or feeling. That the stories I make up in my head rarely (okay, never) have a basis in reality does little to dissuade my brain. For example, on any given day, I may tell myself I have no friends. Usually right after having spent time with one or more of them. Or I’ll decide that Mike must be mad at me as evidenced by his forgetting to call/email/text me. (Uhh, who’s angry? Who could have picked up the phone? Exactly. Me.).

Given my obsessive nature (yes, I’m aware of it), it is not an easy feat to quiet my brain. And I try. Truly. Meditation. Prayer. Calls with supportive friends. In my world, it takes a village to raise me, let alone my kids.

While all this chatter keeps me (and my loved ones) entertained, I’m aware that it also keeps me from experiencing life in the moment; keeps me from feeling the unbelievable amount of joy and connection that are right in front of me. I have an amazing life and a wonderful family. Focusing on negativity or other peoples’ reactions keeps me out of the moment and in my head. Keeps joy from reaching my heart.

Imagine my delight hearing Sigrid (may I call you Sigrid?) say that many parents suffer from this insidious busy brain syndrome. (Imagine us all in a room together, geez!). I’m grateful to know I’m not alone and also to know that awareness is part of the solution. The Joyful Mother suggests becoming aware of our “monkey minds” and consciously shifting our focus back to those around us. She advocates looking at our loved ones with a sense of curiousity and wonder. I want my kids to come home right now so I can try this! (Then I’ll want them to go right back to school, but that’s another story.)

So … stop back over the next few days to read more of this series on Joy & Parenting. Part II:  More Tips for Parenting with Joy & Part III:  Joy-Busting (I’m putting together a list of the top ways I sabotage my joy.) Perhaps you’ll relate …

Tent City

After reading this interesting article in the Chicago Tribune about a suburban homework club, I casually asked our babysitter if she could try something new to help Ava better enjoy her homework time. I described the article and suggested she play homework club tutor to both girls. Here’s what I came home to:  completed homework and happy, laughing children clamoring for more time at homework camp! Genius, Hannah! Genius.

I wish I could write an ode to our creative babysitter. Or even knew what an ode is. Maybe some time in a homework tent would help …


Genius On Board

What did my daughter teach me today? From Rhys, age three, I learned the genius of demanding a butler, valet, cook and driver at your disposal 24/7. My self-sufficient daughter, who in pre-school happily washes her hands, hangs up her coat and puts away her toys without issue, prefers to employ a servant to complete these mundane tasks for her at home. Yes, I realized I’ve set up my employee status. Right now, I’m working up the courage to ask my adorable boss for a raise (or at least some extra vacation time)!