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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Gratitude - take 2

I like to take November to really focus on all that I am truly grateful for. It’s too easy to over-look the little things. I am actually adding to this post from four years ago. I realized that the funny thing is, your circumstances can change greatly, and your location can change, and your surroundings can change, but the things that are most important to be grateful for? That’s pretty constant.

We’re lucky. So many other families in Dakar suffer from regional-travel-responsibility-itis, which is basically that one (or both!) of the parents in the family have regional responsibilities outside of Dakar, and they are gone. A lot. And that means that parenting is either accomplished by a geographically-single parent or a nanny. In our case, our three get to have mom and dad around most of the time. Hubby is heading out for a 2-day stretch next week and while I am not worried, I did have a two-second twinge of ‘oy! On my own?’

So, I think back on the lessons I learned when hubby was gone for a year, when I didn’t have just a two-day stint, but rather 3 months at a time that I had solo control of all parenting duties. I reflected on the lessons I learned then, and how they still apply now. Not just to me, though, but perhaps, to every parent.

Things to remember then and 4 years later

I am learning that I can depend on other people besides my husband. I am so so so bad at asking for help. I am so bad at leaning. The only person I rely on is my husband, and if he’s not here, I would rather feel overwhelmed and do it all myself than ask for help. Or at least that’s how I was. I am getting a hair better about this.

Yeah, still not very good at this. In fact, one might use the rating of ‘poor’ to describe my abilities to ask for help. But. I do realize the need, and see how much more my kids are capable of. Independence is a good thing, to a point. Having a reliable support system in place is so much better than going at it solo.

I am learning that my kids are not just good kids, but they are also very capable and they can do things for themselves. They can help me (even if it takes them longer to do it). And, most importantly, I can do something else that I might enjoy while they are helping me. Case in point: my eldest will handle bathtime if they are in the shower. He does the soaping and supervising the rinsing. He’s fully in charge. I can deal with other things while he’s doing it (provided I don’t leave the vicinity of the bathroom. Lesson learned the hard way: I leave and the bathroom gets VERY wet.)

I can admit that I give the boys more responsibilities. I can also own up to the fact that while it drives me BANANAS that the end result is sub-par to what it would be if I did it myself, I have managed to restrain myself from redoing it. Most of the time. And yes, the bathroom still gets soaked, but thankfully, we now live in a house made of concrete blocks and the floor isn’t going to rot away. I love that when I get out the baking stuff, I have at least 2 kids hopping up to come and join the kitchen fun. I love that I can list of 5 things I want them to do, and they get (mostly) done. I love that my kids are motivated kids, and ‘What can I do to help?’ is not just uttered when they want something but fairly regularly because they truly do want to assist.

I am learning that focusing on the good things that go a long long way. When I give compliments instead of critiques, the boys respond with more of the same. This is a parent coaching technique that I love love love.

Oh yeah, so so so true. No matter the age, kids - and big people! - respond to compliments. Kids - and big people! - love positive feedback. Give more of it, and they will give you more and more good behavior. Don’t get me wrong, they can still be little pills; but they thrive on hearing what they did good, and will do more of it to hear more of it.

I am learning that I am more patient than my husband thinks I am. It’s funny, no matter how well you know someone, once you get a label in your head, it sticks. My husband thinks I am impatient. I am, often. But I am more patient than he gives me credit for. Parenting is nothing if not an exercise in patience.

Still true. Both about my patience, my tolerance for noise and general boy-ness, and the fact the parenting is definitely an exercise in patience. You know what, though? When you have kids, your time is not your own any longer. Your time is now allotted to any number of little people and their various needs, and your needs can and will go by the ways-side. This is why it is so very important to mark what You time you need first, and in ink. You time is just as important as the time you give to others.

I am learning that I am a good mom. I have my moments of insanity; don’t we all? But I love my kids, and they love me and we make a strong unit. When hubby is home, it’s a strong unit, too, but in a different way.

Family is important. Family is, perhaps, most important. Friends are important, too, but remember that once you have kids, you give a piece of your heart to them, and then you strive with everything you have to teach them and take care of them, and help them to grow and develop into the most amazing little people possible. And to do that, you have to be a good mom. Or a good dad.

I am learning that family is important. I say this not because you don’t all know this already, but because as our family is splintered just now, it is important and necessary for me to reiterate this fact to my kids regularly. Their dad loves them and misses them greatly – me too – but this is the way our family is right now. I think the boys sometimes question why my hubby had to go so far away and for so long, and understandably are confused. I make an effort to remind them in different ways that we are a unit, and always will be regardless of the situation, and it helps them to deal with how things are.

Situations are not always ideal. Sometimes, we have to do things that are not ideal. And if your family unit is strong and vibrant, you will all be just fine. And from the difficult situation, you will learn things and develop skills and, indeed, end up stronger. Yeah, kind of Pollyanna-ish, but that’s how muscles grow, too, right? By challenging them, they get stronger; as are families.

I am learning that quality time is more important than clean dishes. The dishes aren’t going anywhere. Snuggling on the couch with Skippy John Jones or the Berenstein Bears is more important than the timing of the cleanliness of the kitchen. Housework needs to be finished, but not at the expense of spending time with the kids. Since I am the only constant they have right now, it’s important that I prioritize my time with the kids.

Tasks will always come up. There will always be an email to answer. There will inevitably be some THING that needs attention. But. So do your kids. Focus on what is important. Emails, IMs and tasks? They can wait until after bedtime.

I am learning that cooking is over-rated. Those rotisserie chickens at the grocery store are a godsend. One can do a lot with an already-cooked bird. I prefer to cook my own beans, but that too, can be done without my immediate presence. Gourmet meals or those with a lot of work-intensive parts are not going to be happening this year. 15 to 20 minutes is about all the time I have to devote to the meal, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to rely on sodium- and preservative-laden ready meals. We don’t eat out a lot, but do love our regular installments of take-away Chipotle and El Pollo Rico. The kids are getting their veggies (they love a good batch of roasted kale or cauliflower), love their fruits and think ketchup is only available in restaurants. I can get the meal on the table fast, but that doesn’t mean I’m ignoring my nutritional training.

My kids love Brussels sprouts. They eat carrots as snacks, and love hummus. My focus on keeping REAL foods in their diet has helped them to embrace a varied and well-developed palate for food. They are willing to try new foods, love a good grain, and understand the importance of incorporating fruit and veg in every meal. You want your kids to do the same? Be a good example. Sure, my kids will eat as many pringles as you put in front of them, but they will also polish off plums, celery and the aforementioned Brussels sprouts. Give them the option of developing their own food preferences; let them try the amazing plethora of fruit and veg and other healthful options. Color their plate with varieties. They and their bodies will thank you for it.

I am learning that me time is more important than ever. The minute the kids wake up, I am at their beck and call. In order to meet their many demands, I need to be getting my me time in; otherwise, I am just not at my best. I need to have my regular exercise, time spent without jabbering little jaws, and peace and quiet. That and a weekly Times puzzle, and I’m mostly good to go.

Me time. Very very important. On my calendar in ink. Do it for you. The more often you do, the more you will have available for them. Not just in energy but in effort and motivation, as well. The airlines know what they are talking about: without putting on your air mask first, you cannot help another.

I am grateful for where I am right now. Here is a pretty amazing place to be. I look forward to where I – and my kids, and my family – will be in another 4 years.

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