Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dollar Bin Compassion

By Kelly

Normally, I love the dollar bins at Target.

They are right up front, filled with all sorts of cheap trinkets and chic treasures. They are glossy and bright and alluring and everything is a dollar. (Except for the items that are $2.50. Sneaky Target executives, I’m on to you.)

I try to walk by the bins without looking, without allowing my eyes to be dazzled by their glitzy wares. But one dollar for a complete set of markers? One dollar for brand new kitchen towels? One dollar for funky seasonal socks?

Who can resist that?

But this summer, I almost lost my dollar bin affinity, thanks to my children.

In mid-June, on my first Target excursion with all three kids in tow, I thought it might be fun to let the older two pick out a small toy from the dollar bins as soon as we got in the store. I hoped it would inspire joyful obedience the rest of the trip and cheerful gratitude the rest of the day.

I was wrong. (Rookie mistake.)

Instead, that kind gesture led Connor and Natalie to expect a bauble every time we set foot in Target the rest of the summer.

“Buuuuuttttt Mommmmmm,” they would whine, “I really, really want something. What about this skull piggy bank? Or this remote controlled Curious George gum machine? I’ve always wanted one. Please? Just one? Pleeeeeease?”

I gritted my teeth and denied (and denied and denied) their requests. Inwardly, I fumed at their lack of gratitude and their disdain for the many blessings they already have.

How do parents constructively and meaningfully instill a sense of gratitude in their children, especially American children who are so very blessed?

That question was one of the primary reasons why my husband and I chose to sponsor two children in third-world countries - one through Compassion International and one through World Vision. (Those of you who know my husband's past know the other reason why child sponsorship means so much to us.)

Karla, the little girl we sponsor through Compassion, is seven, the same age as Natalie. She lives in El Salvador with her mother and does chores around the house. She goes to school and works hard at reading and writing.

Maynor, the boy we sponsor through World Vision, is four, the same age as Connor. (The exact same age, actually. They share the same birthday.) He lives in Nicaragua with his parents and plays trucks and helps with the harvest as much as he's able.

To my children, Karla and Maynor represent a life they can’t imagine – a life without piles of toys, without an abundance of food, without a closet full of clothes. And they are real. Their pictures hang on our fridge. We get letters from them, covered with drawings and hand prints. Our kids write back. They learn that there are millions of children around the world, just like Karla and Maynor, who live in poverty. Children who don’t have a Target down the street, much less the money to buy a new toy every week.

We try to remember to pray for Karla and Maynor everyday. We pray that God would bless them and their families, that they would feel God’s love, that He would woo their hearts, that they would grow up healthy and strong. The $30+ a month that we send Compassion and World Vision helps realize some of those requests.

At the same time, we also pray for us, that as our family sponsors Karla and Maynor, we would truly learn the meaning of gratitude and compassion. We have so much.

So very much.

And unlike the cheap trinkets at Target, Karla's and Maynor’s worth is priceless.

If you’d like to learn more about sponsoring a child through Compassion, click here.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Almost Lake Wobegon

By Kelly

It was rainy and cool in Minneapolis this past weekend, harbinger of an autumn that’s coming on much too fast. Fighting the doldrums and Early Onset Cabin Fever, my husband and I gathered our three kids Sunday afternoon and headed to the Minnesota Children’s Museum.

We hadn’t visited since spring. Summer is glorious in Minnesota, but short. Why waste a sunny day playing indoors? We have winter for that.

But if we must have winter and dreary weekend days, I’m glad we have a place like the Children’s Museum. It’s colorful and creative, imaginative and engaging. Our kids are partial to scrambling through the huge anthill in the Earth Works room and playing supermarket clerk and mailman in the kid-sized neighborhood of the Our World gallery. Teyla, at eight months, loves crawling around the padded Habitot room, which is full of textures, sights and sounds designed for babies.

It’s just one of the reasons I’m happy to be raising my family in the Twin Cities. And according to the results of the 2008 America’s Favorite Cities survey, even outsiders view my hometown as a good place to settle down. Minneapolis-St. Paul ranked second (out of 25 major U.S. cities) in the areas of cleanliness, intelligent residents and safety. We came in third for having friendly people and being an affordable place to shop and live. And we were in the top five for public parks and access to the outdoors, farmers and specialty food markets and ease of getting around town.

We didn’t do so well in the thriving nightlife area, ranking low for quality of singles bars and nightclubs. Nor did we score high on weather. (Only Chicago came in lower than us.) But that’s OK. When it comes to raising my kids, I’d rather have intelligent neighbors and great public parks than Las Vegas’ party scene or San Diego’s picture-perfect climate. (I will not remember saying this come January.)

The Twin Cities tend to be in the top ten of every “Best Place to Raise a Family” list out there. Chalk it up to great schools, low cost of living, tons of pediatricians, almost non-existent pollution and low crime.

Here are a few other reasons why I love living here:

Change of seasons. There’s something magical about watching the ebb and flow of nature through the eyes of a child. Natalie loves the snow. (Despite her father’s mantra that “winter is evil, winter is evil.”) Connor looks forward to our annual trip to the apple orchard. The seasons give our lives structure and variety and expectation.

Active lifestyle. Minnesotans are a resoundingly fit bunch. Even on the coldest winter days, you’ll see people jogging and ice skating and cross-country skiing and sometimes even biking to work. (Although I personally believe winter bikers are certifiable. As are people who ice fish.) During warmer months the trails and parks and lakes and fields can get downright crowded. The assumption is to get out and get moving, never mind the weather. Gotta love that attitude.

Water. I wasn’t born a Minnesotan, but I grew up here. Thus, I am a water baby. There are gorgeous, sky-blue lakes around every bend in Minnesota. (Which is also why we have mosquitoes the size of robins. But I digress.) I love swimming and spending lazy summer days at the beach. I'm proud that the sport of water skiing was invented here, that we have a pristine lake wilderness to canoe and yes, that those lakes freeze into hockey rinks each winter.

So now it’s your turn. Brag a little about where you live. What makes your city a great place to raise a family?

And if you can't think of anything? Feel free to move to Minnesota. Your first play date at the Minnesota Children's Museum is on me.

Kelly, who still misses San Diego, despite all evidence to the contrary, can also be found blogging at Love Well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mom, The Fashionista

By Kelly

Yesterday, I spent 90 heavenly minutes in Ann Taylor Loft shopping for new clothes. The older kids were in school, the baby napped in her stroller, my travel mug was filled with steaming Sumatra with hazelnut cream. I may have floated a little as I browsed through the sweater selection. It was glorious.

I’m not a clothes horse by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve been wearing maternity clothes or oversized t-shirts for the better part of two years now. So it was time. Past time, really. I’m ready to have some style again, to wear clothes that make me feel like me.

Of course, this being the year of the ‘80s revival, clothes shopping has been, shall we say, an experience. I started yesterday’s shopping excursion at Target. Pegged jeans? Blouses with bows? Sweater vests? Neon lettering? Been there, done that, gave the t-shirt to Goodwill. Last year, I believe. I'm ready to move on.

Thankfully, I was able to find some outfits at the Loft that are a good blend of practical and hip, without straying into trendy territory. I still need to sort through my purchases -- a combination of jersey shirts and lightweight sweaters and jeans and cargo pants. -- and decide what to keep. (I tend to buy everything I like and then return half of it a week later, after I’ve had time to think. Stores love me.) But overall, I’m looking forward to a fall where I don’t feel frumpy.

Of course, nothing I bought yesterday would be considered high-end fashion. I'm a stay-at-home Mom and a Midwesterner. I love to add some funk into my wardrobe, but I can't stomach the thought of forking over $745 for a shirt just because it bears the Versace name. It just can't be that good.

Can it?

And that reminded me of a fabulous article I read in the August issue of "Good Housekeeping." It was written by blogger Kyran Pittman at Notes to Self who was given the opportunity to test fashion editors claims about must-have items that cost a small fortune.

A quick excerpt:
Classic pumps: $495... Classic diamond studs: $5,000... Classic trench coat: $1,395. I could afford the $24 classic tank top, but it would have to wait until my husband got paid again. I added up the list. Ten grand. More than twice our monthly income.

Remember the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway, playing the ingenue assistant at a high-fashion magazine, smirks over an intense editorial discussion about couture? That's not me. I am not above fashion. I recognize that real artistry goes into the design and manufacture of fine clothing, and that there is a market for it.

But it mystifies me when it is marketed to moms like me. If the editors of these lists were to leave Manhattan and come to Little Rock, AR, to stand behind me in the supermarket line, coupon book in hand, would they tap me on the shoulder and tell me that a $2,000 designer handbag was an "essential"?

I've read the arguments. That bag, those shoes, that dress will last a lifetime if properly cared for. They will never go out of style. They are an investment.

Really? Really?

Go read the whole article for yourself. I promise you won't regret it. And I won't give away the ending, except to say I think Kyran would have loved my shopping trip yesterday.

Clothes are just clothes. But every once in a while, it takes something special on the outside to let the beauty on the inside shine through.

Find Kelly also blogging at Love Well.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bedtime Thoughts

By Kelly

The kids wouldn’t go to sleep tonight. They sat in their beds and read books and played Legos and skittered down the stairs to suggest that they might sleep better if they could just get some scissors out of my office and create a pretend computer out of paper before turning in for the night. The air was full of whispers and giggles and "thunks" that shouldn’t have been.

The baby was no better. At seven months old, she’s like a tiny Dora the Explorer, always on a quest to discover something new. “Carpet. Plant leaves. Dirt in the mouth! Say it with me.” Even though she’d been awake since 2:30 – or more likely, because she’d been awake since 2:30; over-stimulation, anyone? – she wasn’t the least bit interested in sleeping. She squirmed through my attempts to nurse her, she lurched toward the floor where her blocks beckoned. She spit up, for good measure. She made a spectacular dirty diaper, for even better measure.

And I just wanted them all to go to sleep. “Be sweet little children, and give Mommy her hour of alone time before her head falls off.”

Then I remembered this quote from Anna Quindlen about her years as a parent.
The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Ah yes. The next thing. I'm a master at looking ahead, especially on nights like this, when I'm solo-parenting. Dinner, bath, book, bed. I have no energy to soak up the details. I'm just trying to survive.

But that's no way to live.

So the kids finally fell asleep, and I fell onto the couch to record this: a lesson on living in the moment. Because when I read this post in a few years, I won't remember the exhaustion. I won't remember the march through the bedtime routine.

I'll remember the giggles and the smiles and the trusting faces. I'll remember how much I love being a mom.

It's worth it. Even when they won't go to sleep.

Find Kelly also blogging at Love Well.