Rise and Shine

I was never a morning person. My mom had this nickname for me in Korean that pretty much means “sleeping pig”. Pretty accurate. But if anything gets you used to a 5:45ish wake-up time, it’s motherhood. It takes me a few minutes to get my bearings, but slamming kitchen drawers and muttering under my breath usually does the trick.

Kids, of course, are all morning people. It’s the most well-rested they’ll be all day, the calm before the overstimulation storm. The way my three rouse with nary a yawn or croaky voice always impresses me. Sometimes I stare at them and squint a little, wondering if they’re really mine. Sleeping pigs they are not.

Today my third grader is home sick, so he’s not his usual rise-and-shiny self. I made a fun little breakfast plate to brighten his morning and made myself a little incentive to like mornings more.

PicMonkey Collage

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Collaboration

Over the weekend I came across this story featuring an artist mother who lets her four-year-old finish her sketches. On purpose. Not at first, I think, but as any parent knows, the shortest family members are the ones who really wear the pants.

{image via huffingtonpost}

The pictures are a little jarring and crazy at first, but pleasantly familiar to anyone with pencil-wielding kids. Once you soak in the gestalt of the whole thing, these mashups are strangely beautiful, as if this was how it was always meant to be.

So many lessons in this, and so well articulated by the mom:

  • Try not to be so rigid. Yes, some things (like my new sketchbook) are sacred, but if you let go of those chains, new and wonderful things can happen. Those things you hold so dear cannot change and grow and expand unless you loosen your grip on them a little.
  • In sharing my artwork and allowing my daughter to be an equal in our collaborations, I helped solidify her confidence, which is way more precious than any doodle I could have done. In her mind, her contributions were as valid as mine (and in truth, they really were).
  • Most importantly, I learned that if you have a preconceived notion of how something should be, YOU WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED. Instead, just go with it, just ACCEPT it, because usually, something even more wonderful will come out of it.

So much of what I think it means to be a good parent comes down to how well I think I can control my children. Whether or not they follow the family rules. Whether a meltdown does or does not occur in the cereal aisle. Whether they’re nice to grown-ups or mean to each other. Whether or not they obey like good little trained beings.

I needed this reminder that so much of this raising-kids thing is collaborative; that they teach me as much, if not more, than I teach them. That, even if it’s in the form of a temper tantrum, their contributions are valid. Because they are valid. How many times have I invalidated them in the name of listening to mommy? They are as important, as loved, as complex, as necessary. And what may seem like a mess at first is really beauty in the making.

Take a look at the whole gallery if you have time. Incredibly endearing.

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Bento Updates

Like I shared in this post, I started making bentos to give my picky eater incentive to eat a decent lunch during school. I’m a fantastic starter, but a not-so-great finisher, so I’m probably the one who’s most surprised that I’ve kept it up this long.

I started out following a few blogs, but I find the most inspiration on instagram for the instant ogling gratification. I especially like the instagrammers who don’t have SLRs and post grainy, off-centered iPhone pics instead. It just feels more intimate and real-life. I can practically hear their 6-year-olds yelling that they can’t find their homework or need matching socks.

These lunchbox masters are worth the follow:
weelicious
becoming a bentoholic
bento for kids
lunchbox dad
bento nation
beans bags
creative fun food
antsbento
happy bento

Now that I’m mildly obsessed, I’ve picked up a few pearls of wisdom along the way:

1. Pack it in. One morning, after I snapped a picture of a just-packed lunch, my kindergartener announced, “Mommy, sometimes the food bounces around.” Whoops. While aesthetics are nice, practicality is better. I go for smaller containers packed tightly, or containers with sections that get their own “seal”.

2. Work with your budget. Some of the tools and containers out there are adorable. A $5 set of picks here and a $10 set of silicone cups there, though, and it adds up. While I love the look of a lot of these products,  I stick to the food itself. If you have the money to spend, though, go crazy.

3. Stealing is totally ok. As in, stealing ideas. So much of social media is about inspiration anyway, and kudos to you if you can translate that into real life vs. pinning it on your “GOTTA DO THIS” Pinterest board and walking away. Giving credit where credit is due, though, is basic good manners.

4. People will judge you. A couple well-placed sandwiches is fine. But once you whip out divided containers or take a cookie cutter to a cheese slice, you become one of “those” moms. Your legitimate, rational reasons for doing it in the first place fall on deaf ears. To keep at least a few mom friends, it’s best to post a lot of pictures of your messy home.

5. By that same token, bento bloggers are a sensitive bunch. Much like the apples upon which we craft checkerboard patterns, we have thin skin. Any hint of sarcasm about our creations leaves us reeling. But not to worry; it becomes fodder for the next day’s panda-shaped pancakes.

A few of our most recent lunches. (For the rest, follow me on Instagram.) I don’t blog exclusively about bentos so pardon the quality of these photos. I’d do a better job with them, but, well, I’m too busy trying to find matching socks.

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How About NYC: Traveling with a Toddler

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A couple weekends ago, I traveled to New York to visit my dear sister. It was my first time flying in years, let alone with a toddler, so suffice it to say that I was a little nervous. I envisioned Cadence throwing a monster tantrum on the tarmac resulting in us getting kicked off the plane, head-shaking flight attendants and pilots staring us down from the cockpit. Maybe a few crumpled paper cups thrown at us for good measure. I even toyed with the idea of making these to pass out to people. But then I realized it would be extra work in my life.

So after a lot of mulling, I put together a loose plan of attack (defense?) that consisted of the following:

1. lots and lots of screen time. I downloaded Blue’s Clues and Max and Ruby episodes onto the Chromebook like nobody’s business.

2. lots and lots of bribes. Fruit snacks. Lollipops. Gum. Everything forbidden on land became fair game in high altitude.

3. packing light. Of course, it helped that I was staying with my sister with access to a washer and dryer and the ability to borrow clothes, but for a four-day trip I packed something like 1.5 extra outfits for myself and Cadence.

4. babywearing. It had been a while since I’d worn Cadence in a sling, but I borrowed an Ergo knowing that Screaming Bloody Murder in the Stroller at the Most Inconvenient Times is one of her favorite games. There’s no sense in pulling a carry-on, hauling a diaper bag, wrestling a toddler AND pushing a stroller one-handed. Although if you’ve mastered it, please teach me.

5. early check-in, boarding, and e-boarding. While some suggest boarding late to let your kids get extra wiggles out, I found it easier to board early. It’s an extra 10 minutes, so it’s not even that long, and you’re guaranteed space in the overhead cabin to stow away your (light!) luggage. Printing your boarding pass is not exactly mom-friendly, I find. All those coupons you print and stash in your diaper bag that mysteriously disappear at the checkout line? Exactly. Plus, if you have any spare room in your bag, you should be stuffing it with lollipops and gum.

6. look into car services with carseats. My sister did the heavy lifting here, researching the guidelines and rates. Carseats in taxis are not mandatory in New York, but I wanted one for safety’s sake. She found Legends Limousine, which charges $10 for the carseat.

All around, things went smoothly. A couple things I didn’t know that are helpful to know:

1. security. Kids under 12 get to keep their shoes on. You can go through security while babywearing, but will get your hands swabbed.

1a. Kirkland baby wipes are an apparent security risk. For some reason they looked suspicious on the scanner. Both going there and coming back.

2. eat. We ate a late breakfast and picked up a muffin before boarding, but I didn’t think to pack a proper lunch. Cadence was fine (her forbidden fruits) but needless to say, I was starving when we landed.

3. airline reading material is more fascinating than cartoons. Maybe it was the newness of her surroundings, but Cadence wanted nothing to do with the carefully curated videos. She leafed through the Christina Applegate-cover magazine and pamphlets instead.

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4. kids (at least mine) don’t nap well.¬† I figured that waking up extra early in the morning, plus the movement of the plane, would lull her to sleep. It did, but only for about five minutes.

5. people are more tolerant of babies than you’d think. The guy next to me clearly wanted out of this arrangement. But there was a tween-brother-and-sister-duo right behind us who squabbled over everything. As in, why’d you get pretzels, I’m getting pretzels, you should get cookies, I don’t want cookies, quit touching me type of thing. He didn’t say it, but he didn’t have to: toddlers > tweens.

When we landed, I called the car service, which was already there waiting for me at the gate. The carseat (a reversible Evenflo) was installed correctly and securely, and the driver was friendly. Highly recommend.

Out and About

We spent most of our time in Battery Park, which is New York for “family paradise.” It’s CLEAN, right off the river with a view of Lady Liberty, and boasts public parks, massive playgrounds, and a shiny new library. The area being so close to the financial district and Tribeca reminded me a lot of Lincoln Park or West Loop, minus the yoga pants and SUVs. Bugaboos and Mini Kicks rule the sidewalk, and the outfits! Every kid looked like Quinoa’s BFF. I almost felt bad dressing Cadence in a $10 Circo outfit, but then remembered how much I saved with Cartwheel and felt much better.

We filled the weekend with food and soy lattes I still think about two weeks later, and general all-around kid-friendly romping. Cadence loved it. So much so that when the car picked us up and we were strapped in, she pointed to the window and whispered, “More.”

Which, undoubtedly, there will be in the future. But by then, I was ready to return to sweet home Chicago and reunite with three boys that I’d missed terribly.

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Battery Park//Laughing Man//MoMA store//Russ and Daughters//Smile Cafe in Shinola//Lupa//milk bar//Locanda Verde//catching wanderlust

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Tooth fairy

There are a few cardinal rules in parenting that you won’t find in any book. That’s because they are so obvious that to say them out loud would be an affront to the entire parenting community, a blow to our ego and offense to our intelligence.

So, I broke one of them the other day. It goes like this: When your child puts his tooth/teeth under his pillow, exchange it for money when he falls asleep. Except I accidentally fell asleep not too long after he did. And woke up to the sound of his heart breaking  at 6am. If you ever wondered what that sounds like, it sounds like this:

“The tooth fairy didn’t COME! SHE DIDN’T COME!!!! How awful. How rude. HOW ABSURD. I HATE THE TOOTH FAIRY. I HATE HER. I want to PUT FIRE ON HER AND THROW HER AWAY. (Please don’t report him to some agency. Or me.) She doesn’t even care about me. Forget it. I’m not gonna give any teeth to her anymore. She’s the S word and the B word and SHE’S NOT EVEN REEAAL!!!!!”

Just to clarify, he thinks the S word = stupid and the B word = bad. Which, I guess with that kind of vitriol, is just as bad as the grown-up S word and B word. So as you can probably guess, no amount of guilt-ridden solace could comfort him. I seriously considered for a brief moment exposing the entire lie, but, admittedly, did not want his anger turned on me like some ravenous mountain cat. So instead, I pulled out a positive parenting trick: don’t rush to solve the problem, but rather empathize. And empathize I did, using a lot of reflective phrases such as “I see”, “you sound upset”, and “That must have been disappointing” to allow him to release his emotions and sort through his feelings to the point of calm.

It totally worked. I don’t remember how it ended, but it was probably with us laughing at the mental image of the tooth fairy in a garbage can. The great thing about kids is this: that they are so forgiving, and that in the end, all they really want is some money.

So the next night, armed with a few crisp dollars, I redeemed myself. The logistics of him having tossed his teeth somewhere else is beside the point. All that mattered in the morning is that my five-year-old found cold hard cash peeking out from under his pillow, no one got set on fire and disposed of, and all was right with the world again.

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rituals

We have this routine.

Every morning, I wake up later than I mean to. Then, I stumble into the kitchen, where the boys are happily doodling. Within a few minutes I become a flurry of cereal pouring, last-night dishwashing, and last-minute bento packing. If I’m lucky, Cadence is still snoring away. If I’m not, she’s clinging onto my legs while I pour/dishwash/bento-pack. I forget all the parenting advice I read online the night prior and bark orders to get the boys ready for school. Hubbie’s helping out too of course, and Cadence has figured out that digging her fingernails into my legs gets my attention.

By now the boys are yelling that they can’t find matching socks and I either realize that 1) I forgot to rinse out and refill their water bottles or 2) I forgot to sign something. So now everyone’s yelling: brush your teeth, put away your lunchbox, get your water bottle, put the form in your folder, where’s my socks, we’re running late, do I need a jacket today, can I eat skittles because cereal wasn’t enough, maaaaaaaa! (+ fingernail dig).

Without fail. Every morning. Like I said: routine.

By the time I narrowly make it on time to school drop-off, I’m ready to crawl back into bed. Instead, though, I pull out the stroller and the little miss and I take a walk to the park.

And then we do this for about 30 minutes straight. At least.

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It’s a moment of calm for both of us, a silent, steady and predictable pace to soothe the chaos of the past hour. She doesn’t need my attention anymore, just my help pushing while her senses soak in her surroundings. I can’t think of a better ritual to realign for the rest of the day.

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screen time

I never thought I’d do this, but I’ve been making it a habit lately to leave Cadence alone for some time with a man I’ve never met. Apparently his name’s Steve and he has a magical pet dog who talks and sings. Sometimes other things come alive and start talking too, like side tables and salt and pepper shakers. I’ve been desperate to get my work done though, and dishes don’t wash themselves. So despite his penchant for anthropomorphizing common household objects, Steve seems friendly enough. He was definitely a better candidate than some others, like:

A hopped up, rhyming couplet-obsessed child abductor:

An orphaned brother-and-sister duo:

A band of compulsive runaways:

And a dirty animal who belongs in the wild:

I think I’ll stick with Steve. For now.

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Bento School Lunches

**Hi there. I’ve moved and have been blogging at howaboutcookie.com with lots of new school lunch and food art ideas. See you there!**

I’ve always admired bento bloggers and the lunches they’d whip up for their little eaters. I never thought I’d become one of them, though. I mean, the time it takes to craft panda-shaped patties or Angry Birds out of babybel cheese? No thanks. I’d rather sleep in. Plus, I don’t cook. Some of these bentos I see online are like mini Top Chef dishes. I cook enough to get by, but I’ve really only got 5 good dishes under my belt, and anything beyond dice-sautee-serve and I feel myself getting sleepy.

This year though, I caved. With my 5-year-old starting kindergarten, I knew I’d need to give the guy some incentive to finish–at least mostly–his lunch. He’s a notoriously slow, selective (trying to wean myself from labeling him “picky”) eater. And being in school for seven hours with strange new people would be hard on anyone. I wanted him to have something to look forward to, a piece of home to soothe the homesickness, and a fun way to hopefully change his relationship with food.

So after scouring the internets for ideas, I started putting bentos together for him and for my 3rd grader. After the first few days I realized that there’s no turning back. First, the bar has been raised. Now that the boys think their lunches are cool, I can’t go back to pb&j in a plastic baggie. Second, making these is actually kinda fun. I get to play with their food, and there’s this weirdly immense satisfaction in figuring out how to pack everything so it all fits or choosing complementary colors. There are a lot of things about parenting that I feel a little crazy about, things I probably should have under control but I don’t. Being able to feed the kids and show them my love in this small way feels like a mommy win.

So feel free to follow me on Instagram, where I post daily pics of their lunches.

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And browse some bento blogs for inspiration:

happy little bento
wendolonia
following in my shoes
bent on better lunches
a boy and his lunch
bento zen

bento monsters

Those last two are pretty ridiculous. As in ridiculously jaw-dropping. Those are just pure eye candy. I scroll through their Hello Kitty-shaped pizzas and cheese-and-nori matryoshka dolls and stuff my face with kettle corn as if it were movie night.

A lot of it, I realize, has to do with having the right tools. Products that seem to be the “best” and favored by bloggers:

1. Lunchbots, particularly the ones with built-in dividers, like the Trio.

in action via bentonbetterlunches:

2. Easy Lunchboxes (which look a lot like what I use. I use the cheap ziploc version but plan to upgrade soon):

in action via following in my shoes:


3. Ecolunchbox, particularly the three-in-one tiffin-style set:

in action via happy little bento:

4. Silicone muffin cups. Keeps everything neat and tidy, and the squishability makes them versatile. Target has them right now in their dollar spot, a 2-pack for $1.

5. All kinds of cute accessories, mainly found on the browsing black hole that is allthingsforsale:

So. Are these time-consuming? Yes and no. If I’m smart and cut up a week’s worth of veggies, I feel like an unstoppable one-woman machine. If I don’t plan ahead, I have to start these things at 6am and I want to tear my hair out. We’ll see how long I last, but I’d like to stick with it the entire school year.

Famous last words, right? I still don’t cook so this should get interesting.

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dishwashing meditations

ImageThis is where I spend most of my day. Cleaning off pb&j crumbs. Rinsing out curdled milk from a forgotten sippy cup. Washing and prepping veggies that just get thrown on the floor. Mulling over whether the discipline I had just dished out was fair. Cleaning things just so they can get dirty again. Days like today remind me that parenting can be messy and not very pretty or share-worthy. I need to remember that there is beauty in the mundane, and not just the mundane but also the ugly. That there is beauty in the ugly. That honesty with myself and with others trumps nice and tidy appearances. That the hope of tomorrow and a clean slate can get me through the rest of today.

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Indoors or Outdoors

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It’s not easy being a toddler: Being surrounded by big people all the time, most of them strangers pretending to be your best friend. Bumping into hard corners. Finding something delicious on the floor only to have your mom swat it out of your hand. Getting overwhelmed with an intense desire to want something but having no way to explain what it is.

I think that’s why I love watching her create. It must be so satisfying to grip a crayon and watch lines of color appear where there used to be nothing. To be in control and be left alone. To leave your mark somewhere, and walk away and come back and see that it’s still there. That smile, those pursed lips, that little body leisurely sprawled out. I love it. It’s a good reminder for me to take the time to create and leave my mark somewhere.

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