Actual Fun vs. Parental Fun

There are two distinct funs once you become a parent: actual fun and parental fun. Actual fun is the life I had before kids. It’s travel, adventure, bike rides, hikes, sunsets, big waves, a great meal, a great movie, a great book. Actual fun is conversations that wander and take unexpected turns with people who can make me laugh until I cry. Is it possible that my children are becoming those people? Am I trading in parental fun (baby giggles from the baby swings) for actual fun (squeals from beside me on a roller coaster)? Is it possible that I can once again be the person I was before people wiped their noses on my shirt?

More and more often lately I notice myself having actual fun. Sure, I enjoyed watching my toddlers toddle; no sound is as sweet as baby giggles; and I’ll always miss dimpled knuckles, wet baby kisses, and those hilarious early mispronunciations. I loved a lot about those days, but there was little actual fun. Those days were mostly work, flecked with moments of sometimes transcendent bliss, usually interrupted by disgusting bodily emissions. But not actual fun. 

At eight and nearly six, my kids are (sometimes) actually fun to be around. They’re engaging, happy, and keen to try new things. They might still have a hundred annoying conversations to every interesting one, but at least it’s not a thousand. They’re big enough for so many things, but at the same time, they’re little enough to still think I’m awesome. I sufficiently remember my childhood to know that this stage must be fleeting.

After all those years of doing things I hated, (I’m looking at you, Music Together,) for the sake of my children’s happiness and to ward off the tedium of spending all day with illiterate, inarticulate, incontinent, uncivilized companions, I can’t believe my luck when I get to simultaneously experience actual fun and parental fun.

Actual Fun

Suddenly, we can do things together like go for bike rides in the woods, one of my favorite actual fun activities. I get the actual fun of riding through sun-dappled trails, breeze on my face, and the bonus parental fun of sharing something I love with these little people I love, of watching them steel their nerves to try something new, of seeing their tongue-in-teeth effort and concentration, of those bright-eyed smiles and unbridled whoops when they make it. It is so much ACTUAL fun!

While my shirt might still suffer other people’s snot on occasion, I find myself feeling more like myself lately because I’m doing the things I used to do. Instead of activities that I hate and they like, we can watch movies we all enjoy, read books we all enjoy, and play games we all enjoy. So long, Go Fish! Luke can play Rummy 500 and Sally plays a mean game of chess.

Gone are the baby days, the toddler days, the cry-over-the-wrong-color-cup days. Ahead are the tween days, the teen days, the ugh-my-mom-is-so-embarrassing days. We seem to be in a sweet spot. How long do I have here?

They Can’t Live on Watermelon and Corn Alone

I love summer foods. The variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables can keep me fed and happy all summer. My kids, however, don’t appreciate the bounty quite as much. Summer squash, eggplant, asparagus, bell peppers, and tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes do nothing for them. How many times can I feed them watermelon and corn on the cob? (Answer: infinity) Sure, they’d eat fresh berries all day every day, but I’m not made of money so they can’t.

I need to get healthy fruits and veggies into them because a diet made strictly of hot dogs, watermelon, corn on the cob, and ice cream is only good for so long. With our summer schedules, I’m often not home thinking about dinner until ten minutes after my kids tell me they are starving for dinner, so perfectly square meals are out. With this in mind, I try to get their veggies in early in the day.

I have a two-pronged approach:

1) I grow a small, selective vegetable garden. Generally, I only grow things that my kids enjoy eating straight out of the garden. Namely: snap peas, string beans, and carrots. I’ll ask my kids to check to see if we have enough beans to collect for dinner. They then stand in the garden and eat all the beans, and report back that we don’t. “Oh, really? That’s too bad. Do we have any peas?” A few minutes later, “Crunch, crunch, crunch. Nope!” Done. Kids have consumed their veggies and I don’t have to worry about it again.

2) Smoothies! In one fell swoop I can fill them up with healthy fruits and vegetables and then not think twice about the fact that we’re having breakfast for dinner again. Smoothies are extremely forgiving- they don’t require any measuring, particular kitchen prowess, or exactitude- and my kids love them.

6 Tips for Better Smoothies

1. A good blender is key! 

  • I love my Ninja blender. Before it came into my life, I didn’t know one could love a blender. I’ve had joe-schmo blenders before, but this thing is different, better, and worth every penny. I can put such a giant handful of spinach into this blender and know that it will be blended into undetectable smithereens within any smoothie. Trust me, this blender is ah-mazing.

2. Spinach!

  • I usually keep a large container of fresh baby spinach in my fridge so it’s easy to grab a handful to throw into every smoothie. Just in case, I keep bags of chopped spinach in the freezer which also can be easily (and stealthily) added to smoothies. You can also portion out and freeze fresh spinach if you happen to have a ton of it.

3. Frozen fruit

  • You can buy large bags of frozen mixed berries in the supermarket. I avoid the bags that contain strawberries because they are often huge and don’t have much flavor, whereas the raspberry, blackberry, blueberry combos provide a powerful punch of nutrition and flavor. Try frozen peaches or mangoes too! Did you go fruit picking and come home with 12 lbs of blueberries? Freeze them!

4. Bananas

  • Bananas provide a wonderful texture for smoothies and help make them more filling. Have bananas getting too ripe on your counter? Peel and freeze them. A frozen banana is no challenge to the Ninja blender! I always have a bag of peeled bananas in my freezer, which is handy for when the fruit bowl runs low.

5. Greek yogurt

  • Packed full of protein, greek yogurt is a great addition to smoothies. You can avoid having to add any additional sweeteners to your smoothies if you start with a base of flavored greek yogurt. My kids’ favorite is Honey Vanilla. (I buy the full fat version for my kids because they need the extra energy, but low fat or fat free versions can easily be substituted.)

6. Get Creative!

  • Need a smoothie that will stick to their bones a bit longer? Add a tablespoon of peanut butter.
  • Want to get some healthy fiber and oils into your kiddos? Add some chia or flax seeds.
  • Only have plain yogurt on hand? Add some honey or juice for sweetness.
  • Add ice to thicken up a smoothie, milk to thin it out.
  • Add any fruits you have on hand, fresh or frozen.
  • Make freezer smoothie packs – in individual ziplock bags add your favorite combos: a handful of spinach, a peeled banana (or half), a handful of berries or sliced peaches, etc. Simply add the freezer pack to some yogurt and milk in the blender and voila! Your kids’ daily dose of fruits and veggies in one delicious drink!

Between my garden and my blender, I know my kids are getting enough fruits and veggies every day no matter how unstructured our summer gets. How do you make sure your kids get the nutrients they need, assuming they need more than just watermelon and corn on the cob? Do your kids willingly eat veggies? Do you hide them? Or do you use dietary supplements to make sure their nutritional needs are met?

Vitamins Infographic

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by KnowYourOTCs educational program which has provided me compensation to write about the safe and appropriate use of OTCs. All content, views, and opinions are my own.

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Guilt and Photography

I feel like my life, parenthood especially, is a constant struggle against time. Time is moving too swiftly or too slowly, leaving me either breathless in its wake or frustrated and eager for what comes next. My coping mechanisms, of which I have two- guilt and photography- are inadequate.

When I think of how quickly my kids are growing up my heart squeezes with the early pangs of nostalgia. All too soon my house will be empty of squeals and giggles and the pitter-patter (actually much more like elephant thumps) of little feet. As much as I long for peace and quiet, I know that’s my eventual reward and I don’t want it too soon. I may crave physical space, (must we always be touching?) but I know that I will never again have the heat from their small forms curled affectionately against my body; my hand will be forever bereft of their little hands to hold. I will no longer be the embodiment of safety and comfort.

Stay young, kids. Stay naive and sweet and full of that open bursting joy that comes with childhood. Stay small. Stay here- in my arms, under my roof, driving me crazy- for a while longer.

I’m sorry I’ve been impatient. Yes, I want to hear you sing that song again. Yes, I’ll watch your cartwheels and bike tricks and monkey bar accomplishments.

Another snack? Sure, my darlings.

Yes, I will tuck you in again and read another story. I’m sorry I get annoyed when you come back downstairs. Let’s go up together and savor these moments.

Anything. You can have anything and everything from me.

Guilt and longing. So I take photos. I take hundreds of them trying to freeze time, hold on to this. If I can capture that messy haired, barefooted moment of exalted summertime little-kid-ness, then it will stay with me forever. If I take photos of all of this, then surely my guilt will be assuaged.

Look, life, I’m not impatiently waiting for them to get bigger and put themselves to bed. I’m savoring. SAVORING! So you can slow down a bit. I get it.

But it doesn’t slow down. It can’t. Click.Click. I take more pictures.

At the same time, these very same people who I long to hold onto but who move through my arms inevitably, liquid and beautiful and unattainable as quicksilver, drive me completely crazy. Their noise and movement are constant and relentless against my senses, completely overwhelming. I just want a break.

Just a moment’s peace, please! Please stop asking me for this or that.

Please let me walk away. No, I don’t want to watch.

Please stop fighting.

Do you have to make noise at all times? Can’t you be still for just a moment?

Seriously, you’re hungry again?

Look around you at all we’ve provided for your enrichment and entertainment. You have books and toys and bikes and a big yard with a freaking swing set in it! There are hoses and sprinklers and balls and a stream and woods full of mysteries to explore!

Go! Go away and do the things!

Puddle gazing

Oh, look how adorable! Heads together they study some small puddle. Click.Click. And now, look how they chase each other around the house on their bikes. Click.

Their shouts and laughter follow them as they move through their world at a dizzying pace, everyday growing infinitesimally larger, infinitesimally closer to leaving all of this behind for the trappings of bigger kids, leaving me behind as a relic of their littleness, no longer wanted as desperately as I’m wanted now. Click.Click.Click.Click.

Guilt and longing. So I take photos.