Tag Archives: kids

Handmade Family Rules

This project has been in the works for some time now, so hanging it on our wall tonight was a really big deal! I read awhile ago on one of those parenting blogs that kids respond better to direction when they are not overwhelmed. I don’t blame them – all day every day they hear, “Don’t touch the candle!” “No yelling in the car.” “No somersaults on the bed!” …the list goes on. Nate and I sat down and came up with nine. Just nine that we thought encapsulated our children’s most regularly-needed instructions. We kept them short and sweet because this mama had a creative plan in mind…

Here are our Family Rules in all of their idiosyncratic glory:

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I love it. It makes me happy, and it’s the obvious centerpiece of our family room, which worked itself out perfectly!

Want to make your own? Here’s how I did it (Please know upfront that I fear most, if not all, things on Pinterest because I know I’m just not that crafty, so if I can do this, you can do this):

1) Find a frame with multiple openings. I got mine at Marshalls about six years ago (and yes, the stock photos of rocks and waterfalls were placeholders until today…so pathetic). I found these guys on Etsy and think their work is whimsical and fun for this project specifically.

2) Create rules in Word and save them in a fun, bold and clear font. I sent my files to Office Max Impress and asked them to print them on transparencies.

3) Get out the paper and let your kids be creative. We used fingerpaints and sponges and made shapes in various colors.

4) Then it’s just a matter of layering the painted paper under the transparency in each photo opening. I taped everything in place, so the back of the mat looks like a gift wrapped by a 2-year old.

5) Hang on the wall and admire!

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A Case of the Momdays

Today I had a semi-serious case of the Momdays. So, I’m creating this entry as a mini-mama-mantra to reflect on in days ahead when I feel a relapse coming on. Don’t be scared, dear reader. I won’t hurt you.


No mother is perfect. No mother is flawless. I’ve never known a mother who has never yelled, lost her patience, or wanted to hand her children off to the nearest circus that passes through town. And, it’s true – I too am a mother. And today I yelled. I lost my patience. And, at the wrong moment, had there been a Barnum and Bailey recruiter in Minneapolis? Well, yeah, I may have traded my two brown-eyed beauties for a bicycling grizzly bear.

I took my kids to the zoo. It was an impromptu stop after dropping off Nate’s laptop that he had accidentally left at home. In my short time packing up this morning, I slapped together two PB&Js, packed them each their own favorite-flavored juice box, and, upon arrival, was already pushing one in the stroller while the other rode on my shoulders so they could both view the clumsy baby giraffe from different angles. I am not one to half-ass motherhood, and it’s something on which I (humbly or not-so-humbly) pride myself. Every day should be filled with joy, lessons, memories, long talks, kisses, more lessons, and plenty of “I love yous.” The zoo was a success. Naps on the car ride home were a success. Even transferring them from the car to their beds was indeed a success.

During nap time, I tried to do some work, wash some dishes, fold some laundry, and concoct some sort of Italian dinner. I balanced some of my bank accounts, paid my bills, looked in to a new weight loss app, and focused on a few other personal vendettas I’ve been trying to fight day in and day out. I played with the dog, replanted a flower pot, uploaded some photos to Shutterfly and actually watched 5 minutes of Bethany Frankel’s new talk show. Then the kids woke up.

During those 90 minutes of glorious, silent slumber, my “give-’em-everything-I’ve-got” fuse grew short. I’m embarrassed to even admit that, but then again, I know I’m not alone. Er, I hope I’m not alone.

I caught myself snapping at Coen for putting the hose too close to the sidewalk chalk. I reprimanded Mabel for throwing her popsicle into the hostas. I smacked Chloe’s nose when she barked at a skateboarder. I was finished. I felt unappreciated. And I know that’s ridiculous. I’m a MOTHER. That is precisely what we sign up for the second that kid makes its grand entrance into the world. My kids are FOUR and ONE, for Peter’s sake!! And, for four and one, they have damn good manners. We are having lots of talks about gratitude and it’s nice to instill these lessons in their minds before they are too old to have it make a difference. Coen knows when I ask him, “How many people is mommy?” that the answer is, “One. So I can only do one thing at a time.” But, today, I expected too much.

Me, my Mac, a crepe and a latte.

Me, my Mac, a crepe and a latte.

I wanted to finish the dishes. I wanted to finish ANYthing I had started. I wanted to shop online. I wanted to mow the lawn. I wanted more time. And that was the issue… I got a glimpse into a little me-time, and it was taken away abruptly (as it is every day so don’t ask me why today felt so different). We, as parents, take on too much. And that’s fine, as long as it’s accompanied by a breather here or there. Seconds after I snapped a “STOP! Just everyone stop talking!” and started crying in the kitchen (good LORD, woman, pull yourself together), I texted Nate and told him I needed some time alone tonight. He agreed and after we ate the dinner I sort of whipped together, I grabbed my laptop and walked away.

After two hours of catching up on work emails at a local (what I thought was a coffee shop, but wound up being a) kosher deli, I had kicked some project booty, eaten the world’s greatest peanut butter crepe, and gotten my head back on (as straight as it’s ever been). I shot Nate a text apologizing for being a hot mess, and he reminded me that I had a great day with a bad hour. Always wise, that man.

Walking in the door at 8:30, I was greeted with smiles and loud “MOMMY!” chants. Even Mabel the Anti-Cuddler wanted a hug. I scratched my dog’s belly and thanked Nate for, well, everything and settled in to watch The Great Pumpkin before bedtime. Of course, I finished those dumb dishes first.

Momdays will come and go. Some weeks, Momdays will occur more than once. There may be stretches of time when EVERY day is a Momday. Just remember that you’re doing your best, no one is perfect, and even those impossibly hard moments too shall pass.

Then, if time permits, take an evening retreat to the nearest wine bar to enjoy a flight of expensive reds. Alone.

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An Ode to the Folks

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I was reading a website the other day, and the writer included one of those quote graphics that read: “Sometimes when I open my mouth my mother comes out.” I giggled. I shrugged. I turned to see my son emptying markers on to the kitchen floor (approximately 7 inches from the pile of magnets he had just removed from the fridge and the treasure bounty he had dragged out to play pirates, which by the way, was as quickly disregarded as it was thought up), and I said, “No! You will clean up one mess before you make another.” I turned back to the article and, as ah-ha moments often lead you to, I gasped!

Let me start out by saying that my parents freaking rock. I’m talkin’, “who’s-the-first-person-I-call-when-I-am-feeling-my-lowest, please-be-in-my-wedding-party, can-I-borrow-those-stylish-shoes-mom” ROCK! I can’t remember a time that I was so embarrassed by them that I hid my face, or was so mad at them that I threatened to run away. I was always excited for sleepovers with my friends because my house was fun and my parents were a giant part of what made it that way. We had rules and guidelines just like every other family. We had to pray before meals, we couldn’t sing (or whistle or do a little ditty of any kind) at the dinner table, there was no whispering in front of others, you couldn’t roll your eyes or glare or even cross your arms in front of my dad, homework was first priority, cable was canceled in the summertime, and laundry was always to be folded before Saved by the Bell was turned on. I remember riding Hot Wheels in our driveway, going on camping trips and long bike adventures where my brother and I would laugh because my sister had to sit in the yellow plastic seat positioned like six inches from my dad’s butt and that makes a 6-year-old chuckle a bit. We would “climb” Mt. Tom, which now looks like a small sledding hill with trees, and play hide-and-seek in the cemetery by our house (OK, that last one sounds weird). I cherished family vacations and Christmas mornings and ice cream stops for $.50 scoops at Nelsons after 9:30 church. Being a Machler kid was great, for the most part.

All that being said, there are times that I fight with Nate and look down at my kids, not-so-fondly recalling my parents’ “serious talks” from the bottom step in our basement. I watch Mabel hit her older brother and scold him instead out of sheer “you’re older and should know better” mentality, but remember being in that position with my younger sister quite often. I see a lot of them in my own parenting, in my own marriage, in my own decision-making, soul-searching and dream-chasing. I hear their voices in my head when I am challenged with a crossroads (even though they are sometimes atop opposite shoulders). My mom’s mantra is recited internally every time I am insulted, offended or disgruntled by someone’s objectionable opinion (it’s “Consider the source” if anyone else wants to write that down). And I take all of these lessons, mantras, statements, quotes, actions, memories and feelings, mix them up in a bowl, and create my own sense of self.

My kids need to be excused before they leave a family dinner. I always kiss my husband goodbye. My house needs to be spotless before leaving for vacation because – as mom used to say – no one wants to come home to a dirty house. “Because I said so” is my canned response for annoyingly complicated “why” questions such as, “Why can’t the bath toys swim in the potty, mommy?” I create made-up games with my children, use voices when telling stories, and am trying ever-so-patiently to get them to enjoy puzzles. I dress Mabel in clothes I would wear, which are clothes my mother would wear. I drink wine with my husband after rough days at the office and plan future family vacations based on a financial budget wherein I think we can afford being escorted through Disneyworld by Mickey Mouse himself and Nate reels me back in to maybe just standing in line and getting his autograph like other normal middle-income American families. I take my kids out to dinner and buy them an occasional gift from the mall because “you can’t take it with you when you go” – a quote from my father referencing money, death, and (probably hinting at) the lack of expectancies in their will. And, truth be told, I would have it no other way.

I’m a firm believer in “nurture” vs. “nature.” I know I am naturally dramatic and oversensitive and impatient, but I was nurtured to learn how to cope and deal with these traits (good and bad) and to use them throughout life – whatever that type of life might be. I had children, so I use those mechanisms to try and raise them right with good morals and confidence. I want to nurture them as I was nurtured, maybe teaching them to use a touch of humor to brush off negativity or discomfort. How I turned out may not work for everybody, but it’s what I know and I am so thankful for the memories, confidence, work-ethic, and standards that I now have as an adult.

I’m not sure if that quote graphic on that website I was reading was meant to be insulting or not, but whenever someone tells me I’m being “just like my mom” I smile and say, “Thank you.” I hope that – once you get past the gasp and the “ah-ha” moment – you too can see the comparative as a compliment…at least a little bit.

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They Fear the Rabbit

As I sit here pathetically staring down a bag of Reeses Pieces, silently debating whether or not to break into the Easter candy meant for my kids’ baskets tomorrow morning, I start giggling to myself, reflecting on the afternoon I had today. We did it again. We got excited! We stood in line. Our turn came. We freaked out. We left.

Same thing, different holiday.

I know there are a number of you out there who pride yourselves on the beautiful Easter and Christmas dresses that your children don every year. You’re the same people who have a lineup of annual 8x10s displaying your smiling angels next to our holiday mascots adorning your entryway. Your kids enjoy rabbits and bearded men who bring them gifts and candy, and why shouldn’t they? It’s tradition. It’s cute. And they’re kids. That’s what they’re for…to remind us all to believe in a little magic and negate the “reality” of a rabbit hopping solo around the world delivering baskets full of cocoa product or a jolly fellow with a flying sleigh who lives in the coldest part of the world with his plump wife, magical reindeer, and evidently no child labor laws.  It’s what’s supposed to be. It’s adorable. And it is not in the cards for my children. They hate them. They fear them. And they’re completely satisfied hearing OF them rather than sitting BY them.

Seriously, this must be what my kids see...

Seriously, this must be what my kids see…

It’s one of those things where I kind of secretly wish I had that lineup of photos, or maybe even one with them crying while Santa holds them with a look of anguish and dispair. I would even take one of those! But since day one, I haven’t been able to put my child through it when I knew they just really didn’t want to do it. I’ll get them close, and as soon as the hesitation sets in, I say, “OK, forget it. No big deal. Wave goodbye now.” I smile, and it’s fine, but deep down, MAN it woud be cute to get one adorable picture of my babies together with the  Northtown Mall bunny, who sports Harry Potter glasses and the cutest pastel blue corduroy vest I’ve ever seen on a rodent.

These were my thoughts today as I spoke with the super kind *bunny attendant (*probably not her real title). She asked me if I had filled out my photo purchase form yet while we were still in line. I told her I probably didn’t need a pen, and that she could trust me on this one. She tried to coax Coen to the front of the line with a snowglobe and I showed him the cool Easter coloring books the bunny was giving to kids who smiled nicely, to no avail. She tried asking Coen if he liked the Packers (thanks to his super-Eastery-sweatpants he selected for himself this morning) and he responded, but she said she couldn’t hear him and he’d have to come closer. He responded louder and she said she still couldn’t hear him and he’d have to come closer. This went on until I was almost embarrassed by my child’s volume so I told her, “He’s 3 1/2, but he’s no dummy. You’re probably not going to win this one.” Strike One. Finally it was our turn. I carried Mabel up to him and those tears started immediately. Wailing, horrible “I’m-going-to-get-kidnapped” tears. Strike Two. As I was nearing my end, I calmly asked Coen if he wanted to tell the Easter bunny what candy he likes or if he wanted to give him a high five. He actually had tears welling in his eyes as he slinked silently towards the exit, butt against the white picket fence, literally as far as he could get from that furry white lap within the perimeters to which he was currently bound. Poor kid. I took that as Strike Three and told the lady to just forget it.

I wasn’t frustrated. I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t surprised. I was mostly amused (and only minorly envious of the crazy lady behind me who basically had her kid in his satin baptism outfit sitting in a wooden Easter basket holding a stuffed lamb smiling reverently at the camera lady).

As I sit here tonight (ok, I opened the Reeses Pieces) cutting out rabbit footprints from construction paper and writing clues in my best bunny penmanship that will lead them to their shamefully overloaded Easter baskets, I know we have our own traditions. No two kids are the same and there’s not a darn thing we can do about it. I’ve been blessed with two rascals who despise holiday icons, and I’m going to have to make myself ok with that. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it technically saves me money.

And who knows? Maybe someday we’ll get there and I will get that picture I’ve always dreamed of. But for now, I’ll have to take pride in my kid shouting, “I want Skittles!” from the top of his lungs at a minimum of 50 yards from the Easter Bunny. I am absolutely positive the bunny didn’t hear him, but I can rest assured that he’s definitely going to find Skittles in his basket tomorrow. Ahhhhhh…magic. 

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The Dandelion Debacle

The other day, Coen and I were playing outside before heading to the store. We were chasing each other around the yard when he looked down, paused and forcefully plucked a dandelion from the ground. He sprinted towards me yelling, “Mommy, Mommy!” As he got closer, he handed me the yellow weed and said, “I got you a yellow flower. Smell it.” I did, and it smelled like dirt and RoundUp. But, my reaction said it smelled like rainbows and unicorns. “Oh, Coen! This is the prettiest flower mommy has ever gotten. I love it so much, I promise to keep it forever and ever and ever.” What I really meant was, “That was one of the sweetest gestures my child has ever shown me and I want that moment to be engrained in my mind forever and ever and ever.”  But, that’s not what came out. And, that’s not what he heard. And that is all that matters.

I took my dandelion with me in to the car after pulling Coen up to his car seat and buckling him in. On the way to the store, I lodged the dandelion in the air conditioner vent below the radio and told him that’s where I plan on keeping it so I can look at it and think of him all the time. He smiled proudly and went back to loudly pointing out building colors outside his window. He didn’t mention it again for the rest of the night.

My pretty yellow flower

Two days later, I got in my car to drive to work and noticed my “pretty flower” looked like a yellow raisin. Definitely worthy of a garbage can. So that’s where it went – in to the garbage can. The next morning was trash day and off it went, to the city dump. An hour later, I packed the kids in the car to run some errands. I turned around to see Coen’s face drop in disappointment and, with a furrowed brow and wrinkled nose, he screamed, “Mommy, the flower! It’s GONE!” It was as if someone had decapitated Elmo right in front of his face. Something that meant so much to mommy three days earlier was now missing and that was not OK in the eyes of a two-year-old. He heard me say “I promise” and “forever and ever and ever” and those words really mean something to an innocent toddler. I threw that promise in the trash, sent it to the city dump, and didn’t think twice about it because, in my eyes, a dandelion is a dandelion and the neighborhood is far too full of them anyway.

When you become a parent, every sentence needs to be much more carefully crafted than they were sans child. Words need to be chosen with a (much) stronger filter for fear of repetition. What used to come out as “Christina Aguilera dresses like a homeless crack-whore” now needs to be expressed more delicately. “Christina Aguilera sure has an interesting taste in skin-tight, low-cut sequin bikini tops.” Then, to kill two birds with one stone, you can tack on your own “I hope” intro to subtly let your kids know your take on the situation. “I sure hope my daughter never buys clothes like that.” (I say it two inches from Mabel’s face in hopes that, even though she’s only three months old, she might pick up on my lecture.)

Every parent experiences that moment when you realize your kid is much more perceptible than you give them credit for. In my case, it could’ve been when I asked my pregnant nanny if she wanted to use my extra box of breast pads and Coen looked up from his morning toast and said, “You want a prest bads, Danielle?” It could’ve been when Aunt Julie (my role model sister) pretended to throw horse poop at Coen and he randomly shouted, “Mommy, there’s horse poop on your face!” in the grocery store. Or, it could’ve been when I scolded Coen for saying the word “stupid” and two minutes later, I told Nate something he said was “stupid” and…well, you can tell how this story of Mommy the Hypocrite is going to end.

The point of this story is that every parent does it, but the truly great ones feel guilty when it happens. Raising children is one of the world’s most accurate self-reflectors. We can all do our best to avoid cursing unnecessarily at crappy rush-hour drivers, tapping our dog on the butt when she barks during nap time, and complaining obsessively about your job on those truly horrible work days. A kid picks up on everything, including your behavior, your attitude, your temperament, and your phrases. Take the good ones as mini success stories, like when they drop an unsolicited “I love you” or add “please” to the end of “I want a cookie.” So, choose wisely. And always remember that accepting something as a lie is not an option at their age. If you say it, you mean it. A promise is a promise. Take it from me and my yellow weed…er, flower.


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(Please Don’t) Throw Mama from the Train

Mother: A unique specimen of female origin who births, protects, nourishes, guides, and worries for her young until her death (and probably thereafter).

This is not Webster’s definition of the word, I understand that. But, on this fine and beautiful holiday – a holiday that holds a special place in my heart – this is what a mother is. A protector. A worrier. A leader. A woman deserving of her own day…a warm and fuzzy day called MOTHERS Day. So, let me start out by wishing all the moms I know out there a VERY merry and relaxing, clean and inviting, breakfast-in-bed kind of Mother’s Day. You all know who you are, so do me a favor and pat yourselves on the back and know that I love your children (yes, ALL of them) and think you’re doing a phenomenal job in raising them. Lift a glass full of vino (the real kind – not grape juice, cheaters!) and be proud on this day. You’re surviving. You’re incredible. You’re someone’s superhero.

Speaking of superheroes, I’m going to touch on a subject that I’ve been avoiding in my writing for quite some time because I THINK I may have gotten past it. Maybe. My son is a toddler. He goes through phases. Spurts of likes and dislikes. One day he can’t eat his carrots fast enough and the next he finds more joy sticking them up his nostrils. One minute he is laughing hysterically at my rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider, and seconds later it’s like a scene from Arachnophobia. I’m not asking you to explain toddlers to me. I know how they operate. That doesn’t make it less frustrating. But, every day Coen has the same superhero – his daddy. Nate is my best friend and as close a replicate of my own father as I could’ve married, so it’s no wonder I love him so much. He is sensitive and charming, funny and intelligent, and really freaking youthful. Which is EXACTLY why Coen is madly, truly, deeply in love with the guy! It makes perfect sense. And I can’t say I blame him.

Where my sadness sets in a bit (and this isn’t meant to be a pity-party…especially on Mother’s Day) is with this “phase” he’s been going through. First of all, phases don’t last 14 months, so I’m thinking people just call it that to make me feel better. Secondly, I am 99.9% sure I’ve never done anything to make him resent or fear me. But, for some reason, he has preferred his daddy for quite some time now. He’s the go-to for bedtime routines, book reading, bath time, and wagon rides. Sure, Nate pops wheelies with the wagon and makes a mean cup of milk, but I use sweet-ass voices when I read and my bath time bubbles totally make better Santa beards. It’s not a competition, this I know. I’m just proving the point that I do things equally as well, and for some reason, the boy prefers the man. And this might be how it’s gonna be. Maybe for a little while. Maybe for a long while.

Every time I convince myself that I’m over it or I don’t care and refuse to let it bother me, it simply eats away at me until I wind up crying in the bathroom because I sat too close to him on the couch and he screams and cowers into his father’s arms like I’m a 900-pound yeti who eats small dimpled children. Yeah, that’ll yank violently on some heartstrings. And of course, since one cannot share said emotions with a two-year-old, your marriage gets tested because you feel like something must not be written fairly in your parenting handbook to make him have such an obvious and dominant preference.

Mostly, the reason I cry is that I want him to WANT me. I want to be the one who kisses his owies and rocks him to sleep. I guess I just want to know that he needs me on some level. Not just to cut his spaghetti and fold his little sweatpants, but to do those things I defined above – protect him and guide him and beat up any poorly-raised punks that cause him harm.  It’s obvious his daddy would do all those things too, but we’re a team and we’re both here for him til death do us part. So, I try not to let it get me down, and every once in awhile I have moments – super-amazing Mother’s Day moments – that wash away any festering fears of neglect or favoritism.

Tonight Nate took us out for dinner to Tino’s Italian Cafe. We dined on spaghetti and meatballs and buttered noodles – a fine Mother’s Day feast. Now, I’m not sure what started this, but halfway through dinner Coen reached out and grabbed my shirt and pulled me towards him until I was nearly on top of the poor kid. It’s possible he was intimidated by the large and hairy goodfella behind the counter, or maybe he just needed a cloth napkin in the form of an expensive plaid Gap button-down, but my shirt was now greased up from little paws and I felt so very needed. I would pull away to try and take a few bites of my meal, and he would put his hand on my back and pull me back towards him. There was no way I was getting more than 3 inches away from this kid’s buttery head for the remainder of our dinner. And truth be told, I LOVED every MINUTE. He was slimy and he was mine.

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At that moment, he wanted me near him (like, tauntingly-“I’m-not-touching-you,-I’m-not-touching-you” near him, but near him nonetheless). Those moments during that meal erased all recent thoughts I’ve had at bath time, bedtime, story time or wagon time. This kid needs me. He loves me. He does know that I’m here for him. And, no, I couldn’t have taken down the mobster behind the counter should he have gone all “Godfather” on us, but Coen doesn’t know that. In his eyes, his parents are invincible and that is a standard to not be taken lightly. We are his protectors. His leaders. His role models. We are his owie-kissers and his wagon-pullers. We are his parents. And today, on this grand holiday, I was his SUPERMOTHER! I ate it up right along with my spaghetti and will never forget the fun we had.

And in case anyone was wondering, the actual Webster’s definition of the verb “Mothering” is:

Bring up with care and affection; look after kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so.

Looks like Webster knows what he’s talking about. That guy should write a book.

Happy Mother’s Day, ladies! Live it up and enjoy the ride.


This post is fondly dedicated to MY beautiful mother, Dar Machler. Most kind-hearted soul this world has ever seen. Mom, Mother’s Day was made for saints like you. All my love.

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