Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Full-Time Mom

By Kelly

As we were driving home from the final soccer game of the season yesterday morning, I looked in the rearview mirror and asked the kids, “So are you having a fun summer so far?”

“So far!” wailed Natalie, eight years and one day old. “Summer is over!”

“No it’s not,” I retorted. “Let me look at the calendar once we stop. School starts late this year, because Labor Day is late.”

I pulled out my new Blackberry at the next light (motto: More Horsepower in a Phone That I’ll Ever Need) and consulted my calendar app.

“There are three, four, five, six weeks of summer vacation left, Natalie! And we’ve only had four, six, seven so far. That means summer is just a little more than halfway over.”

“Oh,” she sighed, relief tingeing her voice. “That’s good.”

We pulled into the driveway. I pushed the automatic buttons to open all the doors on the minivan, unbuckled the baby from her car seat and started to unload the soccer gear from the field and the milk and bananas from the grocery store.

Natalie straddled her bike and said, “I guess six weeks is better than Dad. He only gets two weeks of summer each year.”

Connor, backing his own bike out of the garage, chimed in, “And Saturdays and Sundays.”

“True,” I said with a smile. “He does get weekends off. But everyone gets weekends. Except for people who work unusual shifts. Like Papa, since he was a pastor, always worked on Sundays. So he took Fridays off instead.”

I grabbed the sidewalk chalk out of Teyla’s mouth and turned to see Natalie wearing a quizzical expression.

“But Mom,” she said, “if you’re the cook, the driver, the ultimate survivor, the doctor, the cooker, your man thinks you’re a looker, you work all day and you never get paid, when do you get time off? Moms never get vacation. Or even Saturdays and Sundays.”

True, Natalie. True. We do it for the love of the job.

Besides, as Go Fish says, nobody could afford us anyway.

Kelly is a full-time mom to three kids and a part-time blogger at Love Well.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Breakfast Surprise

By Kelly

Wednesday morning, if all goes as planned, my husband and I will pounce on the kids as soon as they wake up and whisk them away to a surprise breakfast at a real, live restaurant. Even as you are reading this, I will be sitting at a sticky table with three animated children who will be quivering with excitement over the unanticipated turn of their morning. (Pray for me.)

It might be the first surprise stunt we’ve ever pulled on them. Typically, when we have something fun in the future, I’m too excited to keep the good news to myself. Tiny comments slip out during everyday conversation until the kids know something is up.

But a breakfast in pajamas, as soon as they stumble out of bed? They know nothing. They suspect nothing. And I think the amazement will make their day.

The idea for the breakfast surprise started with our love of the children’s book "Every Friday," written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. (He’s also the creator of "Oswald," if you’re an old-school Noggin fan.) It’s the story of a father and son and their weekly ritual of walking to the local diner for breakfast every Friday. As they walk, they watch the neighborhood come to life and share simple joys. The journey culminates with pancakes and conversation a promise that another breakfast is waiting the very next week.

Connor, my five-year-old, half-believes the story is about him. It casts that kind of spell.

And of course, the story is about much more than a walk and a meal.

But, then again, so is our surprise breakfast this morning.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You Think That's Funny?

By Kelly

My daughter started giggling before she started speaking.

“Mom, remember in that movie about the dogs and the cat trying to get home ["Homeward Bound" for  the uninitiated] when the cat said, ‘Oh, you missed me butt-face.’ That was so funny, wasn’t it?”

Um. Yeah. I guess there’s a certain je ne sais quoi humor there.

Thankfully, I was spared an out-loud reply, since Connor, my five-year-old, launched into  his own catalog of favorite lines and quips. It ended, as it always does, with a recitation of knock-knock jokes.

And I use the term joke loosely.

“Mom, knock-knock”

“Who’s there?”

”Red truck.”

“Red truck who?”

”Red truck because Indiana Jones fell off his motorcycle.”

Um. Yeah.

Studies have shown that humor is an important milestone in childhood development. Babies start to smile when they are only a few weeks old, and most are laughing at games like peek-a-boo or strawberries-on-the-tummy by the time they turn one.

By the time a child is old enough for kindergarten, he or she will laugh at physical comedy (which is the only explanation for “Tom & Jerry”) and loud burps at the dinner table. They will think it’s funny if a parent tries to put a sock on their ear or sing a song in a funny voice, both of which are out of ordinary for a world they now recognize has some order.

When they enter grade-school, kids make another developmental leap into logical and language humor. Enter the knock-knock joke.

Problem is, as most of us discover, the truly funny material is gone in about 90 seconds. Which leaves us with the dregs of the nonsensical jokes that make us wince and groan and eventually want to throw a few rotten tomatoes at the off-spring of our hearts.

Obviously, the best rule when dealing with kids and their jokes is to laugh first, think later. Just as we don’t expect a seven-year-old to enjoy an evening of Shakespeare, we don’t expect a five-year-old to have the wit of G.K. Chesterton.

Still, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says we can’t help them along with a few well-placed jokes that contain, you know, actual humor.

So let’s do each other a favor today, and share your best knock-knock joke in the comments. It doesn’t have to be stellar. Just guaranteed to make a grade-schooler laugh.

I’ll start.


“Who’s there?”


“Irish who?”

“Irish you would stop telling knock-knock jokes and go wash your hands for dinner.”

Your turn.

Kelly makes jokes all the time at her personal blog, Love Well.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Family Camp 101

By Kelly

“Mom, I’m done eating. Can I go play now?”

I scanned the plate across the table and the excited seven-year-old next to it.

“Sure honey,” I acquiesced. “Have fun.”

And with that, my daughter was out the door, on her way to fish. Or maybe swim. Or possibly make some sand art. Or play on the playground.

I wasn’t sure. And honestly, it wasn’t that important. I knew I’d find her later.

For now, I was content to sit and drink my coffee, stare into space and think deep thoughts. (Or finish my salad, clean up the fruit left on my kids’ plates and try to keep Teyla from eating the stray croutons under the buffet line. Take your pick.)

Such is life at family camp.

If you haven’t been to family camp – or intergenerational camp, if you’re feeling pretentious – don’t be fooled by the moniker. It most definitely isn’t camping. It’s more of a vacation designed to promote relaxation and family togetherness. And it’s a trend taking off.

According to the American Camping Association, the number of family camps has grown by a whopping 215% over the last 15 years. In comparison, the number of traditional, kid-centric overnight camps has stayed the same.

The reasons? They are as plentiful as fireflies on a summer’s night.

Affordability – It’s the Economy Stupid

Probably the number one reason families consider family camp is its affordability, especially when compared to a traditional vacation. My family just got home from family camp, and for our family of five, it cost a little more than $1,000 for an all-inclusive week of fun. That fee included our hotel-like room, our linens, two mid-week “cleanings” (to get rid of the sand on the floor and trade out towels), 15 fabulous meals and activities galore on a crystal-clear Minnesota lake.

Luxury family camps can run into the $4,000 range, but most middle-of-the-road camps can be customized to fit your budget. Need to save money? Choose a no-frills cabin with a bathroom within walking distance. Want more privacy? Stay in a lodge, where you’ll sleep on a real bed in the comfort of air conditioning. Either way, chances are good you’ll spend less for five nights at camp than you would for five nights at a hotel.

Togetherness – Focus on YOUR Family

This is your chance to leave the laptop, the iPod, the Blackberry at home and try social networking IRL.

Teach your kids to fish. (Or let your kids teach you.) Play foosball. Take out a canoe. Jump off the end of the dock. Build a sand castle. Attempt a ropes course. Sing some silly songs. Eat a s’more or three. Say “yes” when your kids ask you to push them on the swing or play UNO or read them a book.

It’s all about being together without the distractions of modern life. Don’t worry about making the distinction between quality and quantity. At family camp, you can have both.

Freedom – Kids Rule

Last year was our first family camp experience, and it blew my mind that I could release my children from lunch to go do whatever they wished without me having to worry about them. (Try doing that at Olive Garden. Something tells me they don’t mean it literally when they say, “When you’re here, you’re family.”)

Obviously, this depends on the age of your children – as I learned firsthand last week when I spent the majority of my time chasing my toddler off the fishing dock. But if your kids are at least five years of age, camp offers a taste of autonomy. Typically, the camp grounds aren’t big enough for them to get lost. Fun things to do are around every corner. And there is a plethora of adults watching them. Which segues nicely with the next point….

Counselors and Staff – Your New Best Friends

Most family camps come staffed with wonderful, wacky counselors who are there to help you and your kids have a great time. They do everything from lead the weekly variety show to lifeguard the waterfront to teach arts and crafts. Your kids will adore them, and you’ll love having an extra set of eyes and hands to get through the week. If you’re lucky, you might also end up at a family camp that schedules child-care hours, so the parents can be free to indulge in a nap, a ropes course or a water-ski challenge without having to worry about their little ones.

Choices – To Schedule or Not

Depending on your personality, you might want a week free of schedules and agendas. Or you might want something more planned. Family camp accommodates both ideals.

Our camp puts together a calendar for each day – 8:20 Flag Raising, 9:30 Chapel, 1:00 Water Olympics, 4:00 Canteen Opens – but guests are free to participate as much or as little as they want. There’s no pressure to put in your time just because you are there. After all, it’s your vacation. Make it fit you.

Returning Guests – The Real Reason It’s Called Family Camp

Sound ideal? It can be. That’s why many camps find that the same families return year after year. Spend a week eating, laughing and playing with strangers, and you might find yourself with some new friends.

Or you might bring your own friends. We first heard about family camp from some friends who were recruiting other families to attend with them. A big part of family camp for us is the lure of seeing those same faces each summer.

Some even use family camp as a mini family reunion. At our camp, there is an extended family who’s been coming to family camp for 30+ years. It’s a great time for grandparents to see their grandkids, cousins to reconnect with cousins and adult siblings to renew the rivalry (kidding) at a place where you can dictate the level of togetherness and personal space.

To be fair, family camp has a few cons to balance the pros. It can be difficult for a family with very young children to navigate the free time without the comforts (read: restraints) of home. Some parents might not be comfortable with their kids having that much freedom. And a few might be startled by the level of craziness camp seems to inspire.

But in the end, the fun of camp seems to knead the knots out of even the most stress-out family. And that’s the whole point of vacation, isn’t it?

You can see pictures from Kelly's week of family camp at her personal blog, Love Well. Please note that sand lip gloss isn't offered at all camps.