{Giveaway}: The Big Picture

{Giveaway}: The Big Picture

I don't want perfect or curated photos anymore. I want to look at these photos and remember who we were in that moment. I want to see what someone else saw when we tumbled and stumbled in front of their camera, like our family always does. I want to feel love and pride for the many ways we came through another year of struggles and triumphs together.  

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Like A Fish: A Review of Goldfish Swim School

 When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

If I was to describe our youngest child in a sentence, I'd probably say something like she does life her way. And by that I mean she knows herself, what she likes, and how she wants to get things done

It serves her very well in her day-to-day, and we couldn't be more proud of her confidence, but sometimes she needs a nudge to help her see things from a different perspective. How we deliver that nudge determines how well it will be received. And trust me when I tell you she has given us plenty of opportunities to practise our delivery.

In the past year or so, I've spoken a lot about being in the sweet spot of parenthood with our four kids. They're all school-aged now. They can eat, dress, and participate in extracurricular activities independently. We've finally retired the bulky baby gear like diaper bags and strollers, which means vacations actually feel like vacations — except when it comes to being in the water.

Our little dynamo decided at some point in her early years that swimming — without clinging to a parent the entire time — wasn't going to happen. So my husband and I always end up at the bargaining table with the winner staying dry and the other getting into a bathing suit for the hotel pool. We've tried swimming lessons and made very slow progress — as soon as there's any mention of going underwater or jumping in, she holds her ground (literally). 

We are in the planning stages of our annual summer road trip, and this year's journey will take us oceanside. All kidding aside, water safety and swimming skills are extremely important to us. We want all of our children to feel confident around the water. So when the opportunity came to try a new swimming program, we crossed our fingers and went for it.

Goldfish Swim School has just opened its first Canadian location in our town. The program has been successfully running in the U.S. for several years, and they've established very family-friendly systems and a program that has thought of everything. I booked an appointment to go and see the facility without her, and as soon as I walked in I knew she'd be easy to convince. It's designed with kids in mind and so well-suited to the age they teach (infants to 12 years old). 

When we arrived for her first lesson, I watched her face light up with excitement. She could see that the space was built for kids her size and she immediately felt comfortable. When I say they've thought of everything, I'm not exaggerating. Instead of being in a chaotic, open concept change room, each family can use a gender-neutral room with plenty of space and hooks to keep things off the floor. The temperature is perfect and keeps the shivering at bay. Cold and swimming lessons do nothing to convince a kid that it's going to be fun

 The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

After getting though one day of lessons, she wanted to head into the change room to get herself ready independently. Like I said, she likes to do things her way. There are plenty of large cubicles in the main area to keep things dry and safe until the end of the lesson. 

The head lifeguard comes out and calls the students in for their lesson, by leading them through the open concept shower area. Swimmers take a shower before entering the pool, and parents can observe from the other side of the glass (where it's warm and dry!). 

 She felt so grown up doing this on her own

She felt so grown up doing this on her own

Then it's time for parents to head to the observation area and make themselves comfortable (did I mention that you're still completely dry?). There are snacks and coffee/tea/hot chocolate available for parents, and free wifi too!

 Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

The pool itself is heated to a balmy 90 degrees and is one consistent depth of 4ft, which helps to keep the nerves calm (for her and me). She was immediately comfortable because she knew she wasn't going to be swimming in the deep end. And the side-to-side lanes are much less intimidating than being in a more open space. Each lesson (after your child's appropriate level has been determined) follows a step-by-step program with specific swim requirements. And parents are invited on deck for the last few minutes to hear about those skills and observe their child demonstrating something (s)he's been working on. 

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In addition to your child's swim instructor, there is also a qualified lifeguard on deck for every four kids, which provides a safe level of supervision for everyone in the pool. It also meant extra high fives and words of praise for my kid and she just loved hearing that she was doing well. She absolutely thrived in the lessons and counted down the minutes until the next one. 

 It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

What I noticed more than anything else was how the set-up of the program at Goldfish Swim School really encourages and fosters independence. I think she easily made progress in the program, because she felt like she was in charge. It suits her personality, but would also work well for kids who need some extra support.

 Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

We started out at the school in one of the Jump Start Clinics, which allowed us to come every day for a week and really get comfortable. It was perfect for figuring out whether this program would work for us longterm. The program is set up as a month-to-month payment and it's a perpetual lessons model that let's you choose a schedule that works for your family (including easy to schedule make up lessons). 

We are officially counting down to the start of our summer vacation now and it feels like we'll be at a new level of independence this year. We feel confident that with continued lessons, we'll have taken measures to make sure our kids are safe and happy in the water. And knowing that makes our time at Goldfish Swim School time well spent. 

 Showing off one of her new skills

Showing off one of her new skills

Because I'm a local parent and blogger, the wonderful staff at the Goldfish Swim School generously invited my daughter to enjoy a week in their Jump Start Clinic in exchange for my honest review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post and my opinions are genuine. 

For a review by my dear friend about their experience with her extraordinary kiddo, click here (there's an adorable video that you'll want to see!)

Back To Basics: Bento Lunches

bento-lunch

If you've been in this space before, this post is not surprising. 

What is surprising, is that I waited a whole week before bringing up the word that sends waves of despair through our standing-in-the-kitchen-gulping-caffeine selves: 

LUNCH.

Throw this word into conversation during the months of September-October-November-December-January-February-March-April-May-June and hair-pulling, dramatic sighing, and foot stomping is the norm (and I'm talking about the adults, not the kids). 

I GET IT, YOU GUYS

I've been making lunches for a full decade now. I have kids that are temperature-sensitive. I have kids that are texture-sensitive. I have kids that are mixing-of-foods-sensitive. I have kids who can't stop looking around the room and talking-sensitive. I've faced all of it.

And OH BOY, have I ever become an expert in predicting hangry levels by the weight of a lunch box at the end of a school day. 

It wasn't until I switched to the bento style lunch box that I started to make progress in solving all of the above problems for all of my kids. With the flip-open-top and individual containers, all the food is on display, it's easily accessible, it's separate (!).

This lunch box is often accused of being a display case for showing off. But that's not how I see it at all. For me, it's like packing a mini-buffet or picnic of sorts. And most kids in their early years, prefer to eat this way anyway — nibbling and snacking throughout the day.

Just think about how much attention they need to invest in getting through a school day. Having to pick up individual containers, peel open lids, decide whether they feel like eating what's inside at that particular moment, only adds more "thinking" to a time of day that's meant for recharging and re-fuelling and, yes, socializing.

In short, this lunch box was a game-changer for us. And since I've started blogging and instragramming about it, it's become a game-changer for other families, too. 

Here's a recent post I wrote offering some of the tips I've picked up over my five years of using this system. I promise, there's nothing I'm putting into those lunch boxes that's worthy of a museum. It's just food. I do my best to keep it healthy and the four containers help me (and my older kids, who like to help) remember to follow a system of: veggie, fruit, protein, snack when packing it. 

How To Bento Like A Boss

To see older posts, I've written about bentos, click here and here.

I share photos on Instagram and other helpful pages on Pinterest. I also love the book The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

If you've ever thought of making a change, let me help you get started. I've once again partnered with my favourite online store Fenigo to give one lucky reader an amazing bento start up prize. 

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Leave me a comment below letting me know how the lunch-making is going at your house, and you'll be entered to win. Canadian residents only. Contest will be open until Friday, September, 17th. 

Mom Guilt, Be Gone!

mom-guilt

I didn't really believe it was going to happen until I was waving in the driveway while the kids were pulling away with JB at the wheel. And then it took me a few minutes longer to command my body to turn around and go back into the house, instead of chasing the minivan down the road and asking to jump inside. 

For the past couple of days, I've been in seclusion. JB tells me whenever I have a very rare snippet of quiet time, I give it away to others and other things. And he thinks I should make it more of a priority to give some of that quiet time to myself. He makes sense, but I have a hard time following through on his advice. I've come to understand that I'm a person who feels like I'm doing a good job when I'm doing too much. Until I start to make mistakes or get overwhelmed and then end up feeling like I'm not doing such a good job, after all. I'm not without gratitude for my many fortunes, but sometimes I let it get too noisy to be able to appreciate them.

He packed up the kids and took them to his family three hours away for the long weekend. He told me not to do anything for anyone but myself. I think he's hopeful I'll tackle some of the projects that have been staring us down for the past several months (office renovation and messy basement and overstuffed freezer), but he won't be upset if I don't. And he definitely won't say anything when he gets back and sees everything that didn't get done — at least not in a way that's meant to make me feel bad (even though I'll probably let it make me feel bad).

Like anyone else with a hectic life and young children, the house gets cluttered and messy. And we do a pretty good job of stepping around it, until we try to tackle a home reno project or 10 months worth of schoolwork arrives on our dining room table at once. Then I find myself standing helplessly in front of all of it wondering how I can make it disappear. And, admittedly, I feel resentment because I let myself think a failure to do so is a failure on my part.

Last week, I wrote a piece for Today's Parent on being the scheduler-in-chief for our family, not necessarily because I always want to, but because I feel obligated to. I really wish I was better at letting myself off the hook. And I want to be a good role model for my kids. I want them to jump into parenthood with their whole beings, because there is so much joy to be found in doing that, but I don't want them to feel it has to come at the cost of their own well-being or success (as so well said by my friend, Ali). 

I know I'm at the start of a busy summer and JB's gesture of easing me into it is very appreciated. So are the texts and messages from my fellow parents telling me to ignore the chores and sleep in late. Yes, there is a lot that needs to get done around this house, but there's a lot I need to do for myself, too. 

I've read two newspapers on the same day they arrived, fed myself hot breakfasts with bottomless coffee, taken several long walks, listened to and bought records, repotted all the houseplants, sewed up some tattered stuffed animals, helped my parents with the Bluetooth in their car, cleaned the garage, returned a pile of merchandise that was too small or not the right colour, vacuumed, Netflixed, slept, and let go of the guilt. 

I hope I'll get to the towering clutter in our dining room before the kids pull into the driveway tonight. But if I don't, it's okay. I have dinner plans with my parents tonight and that's more important. And clutter isn't so bad anyway. Sparsely decorated, clutter-free homes will always tug at my conscience and nudge the guilt button, but my life isn't sparse — it doesn't make sense that my home would be.

This quiet, me-centred weekend is exactly what I needed to face down the mayhem of summer that begins tomorrow. And it was exactly what I needed to remind myself I don't have to do it all, that no one expects me to, and that a messy and cluttered home is the picture of everything I've ever wanted. 

And, JB? 

You get to sleep in tomorrow.