Monday, May 20, 2013

Top Ten Birthday Party Tips

This weekend we celebrated Lily's fourth birthday. And we did it with a bang. Because I really really love birthday parties. I love planning for them. I love shopping for them. I love creating them. The whole process makes me incredibly happy.

Oh. And something about making Lily happy too. 

I wrote about my love of birthday parties as I prepared for my very first party as a Mom. (You can read that post here.) My obsession has only grown, and I'm starting to be known for my skills among our Mommy circle.

So here it is- Mindy's Top Ten ways to throw a successful birthday party.

1.Pick a theme and go with it.
This is pretty easy these days. A trip to Party City makes this easy. You can find party supplies for nearly every theme you can think of. (except cats, as I discovered this year...) And I think most moms have this party down pretty well.

But here's the tricky part....

2. Put the kids in the world of the theme.
Here's where my theatre background comes in handy. Rather than buying tons of party supplies with the character's pictures plastered all over, think of what your main character would have in her world. For example, cats don't eat off of plates with pictures of cats on them. But they do eat out of bowls. So I bought little plastic bowls and letter stickers. I had the children tell the adults how to spell their names (see tip #9), filled the bowls with goldfish crackers, and encouraged the kids to put their faces right in. I had them sing "Happy Birthday" as cats, and provided ears and tails. Think of how the kids can spend the time as the theme, rather than just looking at the theme.

3. Spend as little money as possible.
For our family this is just a necessity. If I want to throw a great party, I have to do it on a budget. But my need to be thrifty gets my creative brain going. And that gets me thinking like a kid. Rather than buying 20 sets of cat ears at $3.50 a piece, I bought 4 6-packs of headbands for $3 each and made the ears from pipe cleaners we already had. Rather than rent out an expensive party place, we have our parties at the park. (Granted, this is possible because Lily's birthday is in May. But there are indoor options as well. The library, for example.) I make the cupcakes myself every year. They usually come out crazy looking. And nobody cares. You do not need to spend a lot of money to make a kid happy.

4. Think of what the kids will do.
I've been to a few parties where so much care was taken with decorations and food, but little thought was given to what the kids will actually do. Make sure you have some activities and a timeline in mind. If it's at a place like the park, or a party facility, you're golden. But if it's just at your house, chances are they will find something to do. And after a while, with that many kids and that much sugar, you may not like the choices they make.

5. Don't have stuff for the sake of stuff.
Two different kids asked me on Saturday where the goody bags were. "There aren't any, but you may have your ears and tail and cat bowl" I answered. This is my own personal preference of course, and I may get nasty comments about how necessary they are. But in a world of excess, I  have trouble participating in all the plastic stuff nonsense. The kids at Lily's birthday parties never go home empty-handed. But I think about what role the stuff I'm sending home might play in their lives.

6. Remember the grown-ups.
We attended a birthday party a few months ago that served wine and ended up with an after party that went until close to 10 PM. This is my kind of birthday party. Serving alcohol isn't necessary. (Although we usually do. A carefully-labeled punch for grown-ups only. It's not strong. It just lets the adults know we were thinking of them.) But keep in mind the adults want to enjoy themselves, too. Preschool parents, in particular, are getting to know each other, and forming relationships that will last the next fifteen years. Give them an environment where they can chat without constantly chasing after their kids. Because often, this is how they spend their whole weekend.

7. Follow the kids' lead.
I always have specific activities in mind. But my schedule is loose. I watch the kids to see what they want to do. This weekend, for example, I was going to have the kids run an obstacle course as cats. But you know what's really not necessary? Showing kids how to play on a playground. I also hadn't planned on having Lily open her presents while everyone was there. But several of the little girls really wanted her to. So we did. And they sat and watched politely and oo'ed and ah'ed over each gift. Have a plan. Then be willing to abandon it. (see rule #10)

8. Play.
Again I fall back on my theatre and education backgrounds for this one. But the kids want to see grown ups be silly. Be ready to play with them. Demonstrate how a cat might sing "Happy Birthday." Show them how to eat from the bowl without using your hands. Wear ears and a tail yourself. Get involved.

9. Find the teachable moments.
While kids don't want to sit and have a class during their birthday party, they are always learning. Think ahead of time about some things your child is working on right now. See if you can incorporate some of those things into the party. Have them help you count. Have them spell their own names on a nametag. (examples, of course, for my 4-year-old. But kids of every age are working on skills.) But more importantly, work on social skills with them. Be sure your child greets every guest and says good bye to each person who is leaving. Teach her to say thank you and to be a gracious host.

10. Let it go.
At the end of the day, it's a two-hour party. It should be a lot of fun, and yes, people will appreciate your work. But it's kids and sugar and activity and presents and really, it's pretty hard to mess that up. My Lion King cupcakes were pretty crazy-looking. And for the second year in a row the cupcakes didn't really make the trip very well. But they were still tasty. I had some things planned that got skipped because it started to rain. So we moved to the gazebo, the parents kept drinking sangria and chatting, and the kids got excited about presents. No big deal. Let it go.

It occurs to me now that I have never written about the birthday parties of the past. And this is already a pretty long post. So I'm going to make three separate posts- one for each party- and come back and link them. If you're someone who reads these the moment I post them- thank you! And know that I'll edit this whole paragraph once the individual party posts are ready. So check back in a bit :)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Baby Weight: It's Not Just for Biological Mothers Anymore

I know. You're rolling your eyes at me. You know me personally and you know I'm teeny tiny and you're shaking your head because seriously? What could I possibly know about weight gain.

Laugh all you want. But my pants don't fit.

I've always assumed that since I was never pregnant, I escaped one of the more notoriously frustrating parts of motherhood. Baby weight. But here's the part they don't tell you. The weight isn't from the pregnancy.

I mean, it is. It probably is. And I don't mean to take the unique experience of pregnancy weight away from the breeders. Growing a person inside of you is, of course, a factor. But there are other factors I hadn't counted on. Age. Clocks. Kupcakes.


(OK spelling friends. I had to misspell cupcake. But I've been sitting here looking up words to make this work, and I couldn't find any. And Acc looks like an abbreviation for account. Which is not what we're going for here. Plus it's cute. Time to move on.)

I had always heard that metabolism slows with age. But I never thought it would happen to me. I've been able to eat whatever I wanted my entire life. Well, up until the past two years or so. Now, as I approach a "zero birthday" (it's not the next one, but it's the one after that...) I notice some pretty big changes. All of them at my waist.  I just have to face it. I'm getting older. Ack.

They just keep ticking, don't they? My responsibilities as a Mom are pretty overwhelming sometimes. And that's without the responsibilities of being a teacher and writer and musician and person. Sometimes I forget to eat. And then I'm starving. And then my choices are processed crap. (Although I did just find an amazing juice bar here in Greenwich. I thought I had found the answer. And if it's just me and I just need a smoothie it's perfect. But last Saturday I stopped to get a few snacks for Lily and I for the road. And it was $40. Seriously?)  I would love to make grocery shopping and meal planning a priority. Then I would always have healthy snacks on hand, and we would never have pizza for dinner. But I just don't have time. Ack.

(That K is still really bothering some of you. Now I think it's funny.) Lily has an extremely active social life. And you know what they serve at kids parties? Cupcakes. And candy. And cookies. And they look so good. So I'll just have one. Because I can eat whatever I want without gaining weight, right? Ack.

Now a few of my fitness friends are ready to have heart attacks (but they won't. Because they are so healthy.) over this. Find the time! Work out! Make meal planning a priority! Don't let your kid eat that processed crap anyway! These friends of mine, by the way, do not have children. But I hear you, healthy friends. Spring is the busy season in the music education business. And all three of our family birthdays fall within a month. Plus Mother's Day and Father's Day. When June is here, I pledge to make some healthy lifestyle choices. Maybe I'll blog about it. K? (As in kupcake.)

Yes, my metabolism is slowing down because I am getting older. Yes, my schedule is out of control and I need to make health a priority. And yes, I could say No Thank You to the cupcakes. But there is one other factor to consider here.

I might have been too small before I was a Mom.

Now you're really pissed at me. But honestly. My depression was at it's worst. And it's not like I was making healthy choices before. I very well may have been underweight.

So my pants are too small. Which makes me have a muffin top. This is unacceptable. And I need to make better food choices regardless. But you know what? I also might just need to buy bigger pants.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And now, a word from our sponsor.

It's birthday week. That means party planning and shopping and cupcaking and cleaning. Multiple parties. Lots of presents.

It also means pictures. Which means haircuts. More on all of that in the days to come.

It's also the week of my concert at the school where I teach the choir. We only rehearse once a week, aside from the extra rehearsal time I'm given the day or two before. (And I'm extremely grateful for this time. Most schools strongly resist that sort of thing.) So I'm rehearsing and shopping and singing and coffeeing. For two days straight. At a secondary private school for students who have special needs.

It's also the week of the Art Auction at Lily's school.

As well as a special project I'm doing with my piano students.

And a few lessons in the city.

I'm tired.

I have lots to say about all of the above. And it will be said. All in neat little posts with neat little topics and neat little titles. But not today. Maybe tomorrow. The day after seems more likely.

In the meantime, I'm hoping you'll check out my indigogo campaign. It explains what I have in mind for the future of Thoroughly Modern Mommy. I could really use your help. Check it out. Spread the word. Let's take this thing to the next level.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Soccer Mom

I love Soccer Saturdays.

It's partially the poetic fulfillment of my true Mommy Self that I enjoy. I love getting the family ready on Saturday mornings. Loading up the car. Getting coffee. Standing on the sidelines with the other parents. I am now an actual Soccer Mom. With real soccer games and a cute little uniform and everything. (The uniform is for Lily, not for me. But if you think I haven't considered making myself a tshirt too, you don't know me very well.)I've been waiting for this for a long time. And I plan to enjoy every single second.

But Soccer Saturdays are about more than my rite of passage as a Mommy. They're just good entertainment. If you had a bad week, I highly recommend starting your weekend by watching preschoolers play soccer. It is impossible to leave in a bad mood. A typical "game" goes something like this.

9:00 The players arrive- most of them in the arms of Mom or Dad- in maroon jerseys. Soccer balls of every color dot the field like confetti.

9:05 Practice begins. This involves drills like "think of the ball as a puppy on a leash," and "don't touch the ball with your hands." They also practice defensive tactics  like "try to get the ball away from people wearing a different color" and "stand in front of the goal if they try to kick the ball towards it."

9:15 The "game" begins. One or two kids on each team who know how to play chase after the ball that has been selected as the game ball. Whoever owns this ball cries because it's HIS. Coaches shout advice like "no, the other way!" and "come back to the field, we need you!" Occasionally the whistle blows, followed by reminders like "don't touch the ball with your hands!" Every few minutes the entire game drifts over to the neighboring field. Sometimes someone scores a goal. Sometimes it's in the CORRECT goal. Parents cheer. The kid who kicked the ball jumps up and down.

9:30 Halftime. Players get water from parents. Some sit down, never to return to the game. Others get encouragement and reminders like "don't touch the ball with your hands" and "your goal is THAT one."

9:35 The second half begins. Parent conversations get more involved and drift further from the topic of soccer. Every dandelion on the field is picked and delivered to mothers. (Who have to hold the dandelion and keep it safe because it's special.) Two little girls who have been holding hands and wandering around the field together the whole game decide to rest in the goal where they can play tea party in peace. More goals are scored. More whistles remind players not to touch the ball with their hands.

9:45 The game ends. No one has any idea who won. (Except for the one kid who has been keeping track. "It's five to two!" he yells. "I scored four of our goals!" Everyone wants to believe him, but knows that three-year-old counting skills are not always reliable.) Parents encourage the kiddos with "Maybe next week you'll get out there and help your team play."

And the next Saturday, it starts all over again. It's hysterical and adorable and amazing. And while die-hard soccer fans may be bothered by the lack of skills and understanding of the rules, parents can see what's really going on. These kiddos are learning to play. They're learning the rules. They're getting exercise. They're taking turns and sharing. They're developing a community. They're getting a little better every week. They're being encouraged by their own parents and the parents of their teammates.

And THAT is what I love about Soccer Saturdays.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Open Letter Concerning Mother’s Day, from Those Who Wish We Were Celebrating

When I started writing more seriously six years ago, it was with a specific mission in mind: to tell the story of infertility. What it feels like. What it can do to you. How it affects you every single day. A few things have changed since then. First, I have expanded my topics to include parenthood, mental health issues, adoption, and whatever strikes me on a particular day. Second, I no long categorize myself as a person dealing with infertility. While I never got pregnant, I am a mother now. I am not actively trying to get pregnant, nor am I involved in the adoption process. My journey came to a happy end when our daughter came home.
But I hope the community of women who long to become mothers will still allow me to speak on their behalf. Not only do I remember vividly that longing, I still get pains in my heart when I see pictures of sonograms, or mothers holding newborns immediately after labor. Or when I see children who look exactly like their parents. This is my right to feel that loss, and I will defend that right. If you are interested in arguing with me, please find a different blog to read.

So I find myself now in what feels like an ideal position to be a spokesperson. I remember the pain. I still feel it occasionally. But I am- for the most part- healed from it. At the same time, I have joined that elusive Mommy Club. So I speak the language. I understand their needs too.

With that in mind, I address today the latter group. Those who will be celebrating Mother’s Day as Mothers this Sunday. We have some things we want you- and those celebrating you- to understand.

An Open Letter Concerning Mother’s Day, from Those Who Wish We Were Celebrating-
Mother’s Day is the hardest day of the year for us. It feels like the whole world is celebrating the one thing that is missing in our lives. The one thing we would do anything to have. And the one thing that is entirely out of control. Even so, we do not wish to take away from your celebration. We want you to be honored on Sunday. We want you to be recognized and pampered, and to feel loved. If we do or say anything in the days leading up to your big day that you find hurtful, please consider our acts with grace and patience. We are simply in a lot of pain, and dealing the best that we can.

There are a few things you can do to make the day a little less difficult for us. First, if we choose to stay home, please honor that. Many of us choose this day as a holiday to mourn the loss that we feel. But if we are out- at church, or at special events, or even just dinner or shopping- know that this took courage. We know that you want to support us. But there honestly isn’t a single thing you can say that makes this day hurt less. We understand that things like “Your time will come,” or “It’s in God’s timing,” or “Try to celebrate the other mothers in your life,” feel helpful. But the truth is, they only feel good to you. It is best for us- truly- if you do not bring up Mother’s Day to us at all. We know what day it is. We know that you are thinking of us. We do not need to talk about it. Not today.

One more thought. You do not necessarily know who we are. We may be the career woman who seems to have it all after “choosing” career over family. (…who would give up her career in a heartbeat if she could manage to get pregnant.) We may be the young couple who has secretly been trying to conceive for years. We may have experienced multiple pregnancy losses without sharing the information. We may be in the adoption process but for whatever reason a match has not come through. Please error on the side of caution. If you do not know where we are on our family journey, please do not mention it today.

We know this sounds like a lot. And we do not want you to feel like you’re walking on egg shells on your special day. We also know it sounds more dramatic than could possibly be necessary. We do not ask you to understand. We only ask you to trust. Please be gentle with us today. We are hurting.

Happy Mother’s Day. We hope to celebrate with you next year.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mother's Day for the Childless

If you are a Mom, this post is not for you. You may read it if you like. In fact, some of your friends who are struggling with being childless may appreciate it. But I will not attempt in this post to explain to you how those women are feeling or how you can help them. Please return for that post tomorrow.

Today I speak directly to those who are childless- and not by choice. This is a tough week for you. And I give you permission to be grouchy.

But before we discuss this permission further, I have a disclosure and a qualification.

Disclosure: I am no longer childless. I have a beautiful little girl who celebrates her fourth birthday next week. She happens to have been created by people other than my husband and I. And she has skin very different from ours. But she is ours. I am a Mom now. So if you choose not to read what I have to say, I get that. But I will always identify with women who want children and do not have them.

Qualification: I am not giving you permission to be mean and nasty. There is a difference between how you feel and how you behave. You have permission to feel lousy. You do not have permission to try to make others feel lousy.

So. Let's discuss.

This week. Man, this week, right? I'm watching The Today Show and every-other segment is about mothers. I remember how this week felt a few years ago. It's awful. It's everywhere you look. And the thing is, it's going to be awful. Because your situation is awful. And I'm so sorry you're going through it. But unfortunately there isn't really a way for this week not to suck. The best you can do is take care of yourself. That includes permission to be grouchy.

Of course you are going to feel badly this week. Of course it is going to hurt. So schedule some fun for yourself. Go to lunch with girlfriends. (girlfriends who don't have kids or know enough not to talk about them.) Go shopping. Have a chic flick marathon and cry fest. And on Sunday, if you're able to make it your own person holiday, do it.

For some people, this is impossible. You have family responsibilities, and I get that. Ideally, your family would understand and excuse you from Mother's Day festivities. But if that's not the case, see if you can make an appearance and then get the heck out of there.

If you're one of the lucky ones who isn't expected to be anywhere, for goodness' sake stay home. Make your favorite foods. Watch your favorite movies. (Not on TV. That will be a Mom-fest.) Spend time with your husband. And cry if you need to.

This week as Mother's Day approaches, set yourself up to be healthy. Stay away from the internet and TV. Know that it will hurt. Try to focus on the positive, but give yourself permission to grieve.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Grace Under Pressure

... OR How to Survive Contest Weekend Without Losing Your Friends Or Your Marbles.

I have been attending Sweet Adelines competitions since I was in the womb.

I know that sounds like a cute hyperbole. But nope. It is indeed a fact. My mother was pregnant with me in Minneapolis. That's right, friends. I was part of a gold-medal-winning performance before I was born. (I never got my medal, btw. Someone ask headquarters about that for me.)

Since then, I have gone to contests, both regional and international, as nearly every kind of participant. I've been in the audience. I've competed in choruses. Small choruses. Great big choruses. Medium-sized choruses. I've competed in a quartet. I've been an outgoing champ. (regional and international.) I've gone as a coach. I've been a quartet hostess. Two weekends ago I went as a member of a quartet whose other three members were competing but I'm CAL so I was designated cheerleader. You get the idea.

Participating in Sweet Adelines was a driving force behind my career choice. After spending my whole life watching my mom coach quartets on our couch, only one choice seemed logical: Music Education. Now, after earning a Bachelors Degree in Music Education and Masters Degrees in Secondary Education and Vocal Performance, I freelance as a music teacher in the Greater New York City Area.

I tell you all of this only to explain that I attend contests with a unique point of view. I've done it my whole life. I have some professional training behind me. And since I am now in a different region as my more famous mom ;) most people have no idea who I am. I slip through contests undetected, able to observe. (Unless I'm in the big fancy recliners at the front of the international audience. That was me in Nashville.)

One of my specialties as a voice teacher is the psychology of singing. All of these aspects combined- my lifetime (literally) of participation, my training, and my psychological approach- help me get through a contest weekend in a zen-like state. And I have to tell ya, it's the most fun way to do it.

So, how do I do it?

Practice. Lots of practice.

But I've outlined some rules below to help you achieve contest zen. I'm not gonna lie to you. They're tough. And they take commitment. But I promise you, if you follow the rules below, you'll leave contest with even more friends and marbles than you had when you arrived.

1. The Five Block Rule
As students at NYU, we were taught the Five Block Rule. Thou Must Not Say Anything Bad About Any Performance Within Five Block of the Theatre.
You just never know who is a producer. Or mom. Or friend. Or Actor no longer in costume. Get five blocks away. At least. THEN discuss.
This is tough at a Sweet Adelines event because, let's face it, you never get one block away from the venue, let alone five. So for Sweet Adelines events, I have adjusted it to be The 24-Hour Rule.
I am serious.
Not even quietly.
Not even in your room.
24 full hours.

I have this rule for a few reasons:

A. You are not as subtle as you think you are.
Friends, I love you. But you are in sequins. And if you and other people wearing the same color sequins immediately put your heads together and whisper the moment a competitor takes the stage, it doesn't matter that we can't hear you. We know what you're saying.

B. It is good for your soul.
You'll just feel better if you spend the weekend being positive. I promise.

C. You'll learn more.

Which leads me to...

2. Look for the Good
It is far more difficult to state what someone is doing correctly. Challenge yourself. Actively LOOK for the good. Make it a game. Can you find three specific things to say about each competitor? You will learn MUCH more about the craft this way. If you can't find three things, ask a director or a judge or a coach. It will change the way you watch contest.

3. Thank You!
There is only one correct response to a compliment. "Thank you!" That's it. Period. If someone compliments your performance, thank them. Listing all of the things you heard that went wrong is essentially telling the compliment-giver that she is incorrect. Is that what you meant to say? Probably not.
This takes practice. I make my students practice in their lessons. Practice complimenting each other at rehearsals. Practice responding with "Thank you."

4. Be the Light
Another tough one. It is human nature to want to criticize. There is going to be a lot of criticism around you. It will be extremely tempting to join in. So have a response prepared. When I'm pushed for criticism, I say "I know it seems silly, but I have a rule for myself. I only say positive things about performances for 24 hours." It's tough to argue with this. And others may even join you!

So let me answer an objection I hear in four-part harmony singing at me from across the world.
"But we want to learn from our experiences!"

To this, I have three responses.

1. See Rules 1C and 2 :)
2. That's why you get those handy DVD's and score sheets. To review things when you are in a better mental and emotional place to do so.
3. Carry a notebook. That's what I do. Then you can write down all of those less-than-nice things without sharing them out loud. (Guard that notebook with your life.)

I know I'm suggesting a lot, and that- as I admitted- it takes LOTS of practice! Maybe I'll post some practice tips as International approaches! But I promise- PROMISE- that you'll leave contest without losing your friends or your marbles.

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