Monday, December 28, 2015

Embracing Winter Break With Your Kids (Recipes Included!)

A typical start to my day:

"MAMA!" *crying/screaming/thumping/something crashes/more crying* "MAMA SHE WON'T GET UP!!"

"What? I am up!" *more thudding as oldest child proceeds to get up*

"NO! NO YOU DIDN'T!" *3-year-old whiny voice*

"I didn't do anything!" *9-year-old whiny voice*

"What in the H is going on? Why are you two fighting?" * 31-year-old whiny voice*


Mind you, this is between 6 and 7 in the morning, while the sky is still dark and I'm stumbling around with crusty eyes, looking for something to put on so I don't die of pre-heat frostbite. It is far from the pleasant stretch, yawn, and slow beginnings of my youthful yesteryears. It is insanity, a scramble of getting booties on potties, sheets in the laundry, cereal into mouths, and of course, managing two children who want nothing more than to fight to the death.

So while I look forward to holidays and school breaks with visions of crafts, outings, and baking dancing in my head, I realize my only true break in the morning chaos is when my big girl gets on the bus to school and my little one is left to her own devices. Without that bus, I am toast. My ability to remain calm under pressure - diminished. My lofty visions of bonding time with my children - dashed. My eardrums - exploded. And for those reasons, winter break causes a weird sort of pressure to rise in my stomach....a combination of excitement and dread at what could be.....both exhilarating and terrifying.

So I've made a few adjustments this year.

#1: Relaxed Fun Time

I have a real hard time just sitting down and doing nothing with my kids. I feel the Pinterest pressure to do crafts all day while explaining the history of the lima bean and planning an all-day trip to a museum. Sometimes this pressure is awesome because it motivates me to do real fun stuff with my kids and plan some awesome outings. But sometimes this pressure stresses me to the point of exhaustion and feeling like a failure before I've even gotten out of bed.

Enter the solution: relaxed fun time

Relaxed fun time is simply going with the flow of the day without planning anything at all. If you're tired, you stay in and nap when the kids nap. If you wake up energized or stir-crazy, you head out and take a day trip somewhere. If you feel like staying in your PJ's all day, you stay (home) in your PJs all day.

So you don't go to a museum. So what? Make a fort. Pull out every toy you have in your house. Dig out a stack of old encyclopedias or if you're like me, old college textbooks with anatomy and nutrition info all up in them. Peer over color diagrams of the human brain or the cell structure of a plant leaf. Talk to your kids about the cool things you did in AP biology.

Don't feel like making forts, playing with toys, or looking at books? POP ON A MOVIE. I mean it, mamas and daddies. It is OK to watch movies with your kids. I always feel guilty about this one because I feel like it's so passive, so unhealthy, to just stare at a screen together and not speak or interact but you know what? Some of my greatest childhood memories are of me, my mom, and my sister sharing a bowl of popcorn on the couch while watching the Muppet Christmas Carol or Babe or The Halloween Tree. If you feel like snuggling your babies in front of the TV, do it, because sooner or later they will be grown and gone and you'll have thousands of hours to be alone and productive in all the ways you yearn to be productive today. This is a fact.

And let your kids guide you, too. For example, sometimes our kids have potty training regression and sometimes that makes moms die a little inside and then sometimes that kid needs to stay near a potty all day for the rest of her cancel the playdates without guilt and tend to your baby. That is your job.....tending to your babies, not making other grown-ups happy.

Try asking your kids what they want to do - sometimes they come up with some really innocent, do-able activities. I asked my big girl what she wanted to do for her last week of winter break and she said she really wanted to color in our new coloring books together. How easy is that? I whipped up some homemade hot chocolate, popped on a fake fire (#thanksNetflix) and we had a coloring party.

Homemade hot chocolate recipe:
Equal parts baking cocoa and organic cane sugar (I used 1 cup of each)
A tablespoon or so of arrowroot powder (cornstarch would work well too)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
Mix it all together, store in a mason jar
Add 1-2 tablespoons per 1 cup of hot whole milk
Drink it down and feel the happy!

Now all this fun time is great, but if you're like me, getting stuff done helps balance winter break anxiety. There's gotta be a way to mix fun with function so your reach that optimal anxiety-free level. And I came up with one.

#2: Cooperative Cleaning
Kids are messy, abusive little craps with nothing better to do than to ruin your clean carpet and dried-crust-free-surfaces. Trying to keep up with them, I've realized, is pointless. Real dumb. Like washing a car in the rain.

So instead of sticking with my regular cleaning schedule, during break this year I am "flowing" with it. I am doing laundry when we're down to our last few pairs of socks. I'm vacuuming before company comes over and that's basically it. Same with the dusting. I'm kinda letting it all slide.

And I've also implemented one important element of winter break behavior - an all-hands-on-deck approach to cleaning up. If we're going to drink hot chocolate and color, we need to clean up our play cooking area. If we want to veg out and watch movies, we need to make our beds and fold laundry. If we are interested in leaving for the day, we need to tidy up so we have a clean house to come home to.

And guess kids DO it. My 9-year old is a master cleaner. She can clean the entire bathroom, she washes dishes every night, she can do laundry from start to finish, she can dust the whole house, and she knows how to run a vacuum. My 3-year old wants to be a master cleaner, but she's just not that powerful yet. She is awesome at putting things away, picking up little pieces of debris the vacuum left behind, matching socks, and carrying things for me to put away.

Kids are hands, and more hands means getting things done, faster. If you make cleaning a non-negotiable item...if you tell your kids cleaning is what needs to get done to enjoy the fun parts of the day, they will do it. They might grumble, they might not do it well at first, but it helps mom, it gets the crap done quicker, it teaches life skills, and it gives the kids a sense of pride in their abilities. One last tip - my trick for coercing a well-done job? I make my kid do the chore until it's up to standard. This rule makes my 9-year old real motivated to do the job well the first time!!

#3: Cook it Out

No, I'm not kidding. Look, I get it. Some people just aren't into cooking. I myself was a Carrie Bradshaw up until a few years ago. Now, though, I am quite thrilled to find new recipes, especially if they are easy and only contain a few ingredients. Because I promise, once you try, cooking can be one of the greatest sources of pride and accomplishment in your life. Plus, cooking = food. Who doesn't love food?

And lemmie tell ya. Kids LOVE to cook almost as much as they love playing in dirt, splashing in the tub, or jumping on your pristine bedspread. Flour and sugar and then yummy stuff to eat once it's all done cooking? For a kid, what's not to love?

Some of my favorite kid-recipes include:

Mashed Potatoes
2-3 russet potatoes
5-6 lil' red potatoes
milk, butter, salt, and pepper to taste
Roughly peel your taters (leaving some skin on is OK!)
Chunk into quarters and put into a pot
Cover in water, then boil until the taters are soft (your fork should go through like buttah)
Drain water, add milk and butter (I typically add about 1/2 cup whole milk and 4 tablespoons of butter, but it depends on the consistency I'm going for)
Add your seasonings (I use salt, pepper, and sometimes seasoned salt, but you do you!)
Mash it all up and then EAT! Also does great when reheated. 
Let the kids: Pick up the peels, add the milk and butter, and smash everything together!

Granola Cereal
Super easy version: buy bagged organic granola from the store
Little more ingredients version: get some oats, almonds, butter, syrup, and brown sugar, mix it all up, bake it in the oven at 250 degrees, turn it over and mix it up, and wah-lah, homemade granola
Any nuts your kids love (hell-ooo cashews!)
Dried cranberries, raisins, apricots, whatever you like
Mix it all up and store in a mason jar
Let the kids: Do everything except the oven stuff!

Any Cookie Recipe, Ever
Cookies are the easiest things ever for kids to help with. Check out my blogging buddy Kristen's post on letting the kids make a mess with cookies - it's awesome! 

Bonus points for having the kids help with dishes afterwards. They've got hands - make them use 'em!

#4: Love on Yourself

You know what I did the other day during break? I took a freaking bath. That's right. I drew myself a giant bath. I had the oldest make some lunch, and while my kids ate, I sat in the bathtub. Now granted, the door was open and my youngest kept poppin in every now and then to laugh at my "naked booty" (true story), and at one point I needed to get out and reach over to wipe her butt after a particularly stinky poo, but I took a bath. In the middle of the day. With both my kids home.

And you know what? Nothing burned down. Nobody broke in and tried to kill us. No one fell down the stairs. Nothing terrible happened aside from the poop stink and frankly, that's a small price to pay for sitting in a bathtub in the middle of the day. 

I also make a point of doing yoga 5 days a week whether my kids want me to or not. I will set them up with something to do (two separate things so they don't interact/argue when I'm in the middle of my down dog), and I take to my mat. My chi may need to adapt from constant princess song-singing and my session might need to pause for a couple potty-helping breaks, but I get yoga done with two kids in the house. Far from perfect, but perfectly do-able. 

You gotta take care of yourselves if you wanna take care of others.

#5: Call Grandma

When all else fails, rally the power of Grandma. My mom took my kids overnight a few weekends ago, and while it wasn't in the middle of winter break, it was during one of my busiest months of the year and I needed the break like the desert needs rain. My kids were loved on and hugged and entertained and cherished and I didn't need to do a thing. 

Same with my in-laws. They come and watch my kiddos whenever I need them to and are constantly initiating playdates at their house so I can be a real grown-up for a little while. It's magical and incredible and I am so blessed.

Family not in the picture? How about a family friend? A trusted neighbor? A favorite babysitter? You have the option of taking a break from break. It doesn't make you a crappy parent. It doesn't make you a failure. It doesn't mean you can't take care of your own kids. It means your kids get to have fun with someone else for a bit. Take a couple hours one day to let your kids live it up with someone you know and trust....and then take that time to execute #4. **Note: This does not mean asking stay-at-home moms to watch your kids for you if those moms are not into watching kids. I have some friends who love kids and don't mind the extra children, but I am one of those moms who doesn't enjoy watching other people's kids and wants this well-earned time at home to myself. Those who WANT to watch/be with your kids are the ones you should be calling - they will make it the most fun!

This week will fly by like the last one did, I'm sure, and then school will start again and I'll be riding the long, tired wave 'till we reach warm weather again. My mornings aren't likely to calm down anytime soon, but with a little perspective and flexibility, here's hoping the daytime can make up for the chaos of morning. 

How about you, dear readers? Those with kids, how do you handle winter breaks? Those without kids, will you please tell me about your holiday life so I may live vicariously through your joy and peace? :) I hope you each had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a very happy New Year. Thank you so, so much for reading!



  1. Entertaining and educating and preparing littles for real life is a BIG part of my life--I love the crafts and the reading time and writing and trying to convince them of the marvelous principle of mathematical addition...but breaking that up with more 'relaxing' activities is really nice, too. Living in this apartment complex is really fun, because without using a car I can take them to the playroom or the reading room and I can just chill and read while they have fun. I can also take them to the swimming pool or playground though that is not terribly relaxing because of the higher 'danger' factor. I let those 4 year olds in on any cooking chores or housework that they're able to do. And I'm not at all opposed to throwing in a movie either--usually by the time we put on a DVD by the end of the day, both adults and kids have had enough activity and are ready to chill out.

    1. Thank you Rachel! I completely agree - haha the marvelous principle of mathematical addition - you are a riot. I love that you diversify your charges' days!! That is exactly the vibe I am trying to go for during school breaks - sounds like I need to take a lesson from your page! Literally! :)