Below Average Soccer Mom

Each stage of parenting comes with its own challenges. As I slowly transition from little kids to mid-sized kids, my job as mom involves more and more administrative challenges, and, thankfully, fewer and fewer bodily functions (non-self) that I need to take part in. While I’m happy to leave much of the little kid mess behind me, I have not yet mastered my new role.

This fall Luke has been part of our town’s travel soccer team. I was warned. This was going to be a Big Commitment. I figured people meant for him. Like, he was going to have to commit to his team, to hard work, to being part of something bigger than himself, to representing our town in a positive way, and all the other wholesome crap that comes with sports. Turns out, if anyone deserves a participation trophy, it’s Sally and me. Our lives have been turned upside down as we spend so much of our time hurrying up only to wait for hours in the cold.

The team practices twice weekly from 5:30 until it’s finally too damn dark. My kids get off the school bus around 4:00. This gives us 1.5 hours to decompress, have a snack, do homework, eat dinner, change for soccer, and get to practice.

Snack and dinner within 90 minutes? Nope. Dinner afterwards? For my early-to-bed kids, that’s a no go. So my solution was to serve dinner instead of an after school snack. The kids walk in the door and instead of cheese and crackers, I dish up chicken and potatoes; in lieu of apples and peanut butter, I serve spaghetti bolognese.

Would you want to eat that at 4:00 in the afternoon? Neither do they. I tried pushing it off until closer to 5:00, but they get home desperately hungry and there’s no way they can face their homework in that state. (Think: Gremlins)

Weeks and weeks of failed attempts to feed my kids passed until this week when I finally nailed it. I successfully fed my kids dinner at 4:00! They ate second helpings and went into the evening happy and with full bellies. I felt at once triumphant and completely mortified. What magical dinner overcame the awkward timing? Fish sticks, corn, and ramen noodles. Are there foods lower on the nutritional totem pole? I’ve come a long way since my homemade baby food days. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Pinterest, please avert your eyes.

So I haven’t quite mastered the job of soccer mom yet. I can’t figure out how to manage dinner and practice on the same night, and I only have one of my kids in a sport. How parents juggle multiple kids in multiple sports and lessons is far beyond my imagination and skill set.

Thankfully, the season is nearly over. The hours spent on the sidelines between the weeknight practices and the two games each weekend have grown unpleasantly cold. While I’m clearly not yet at a varsity level, I have learned a few things:

  • When the coaches stress the commitment that the team entails, they are talking to you, the parent;
  • No matter how much your child loves the sport, the act of putting on cleats is torture and it is YOUR FAULT;
  • Kids don’t want to eat a complete dinner in lieu of a snack;
  • Sometimes, ramen noodles are OK;*
  • The kid on the sidelines patiently waiting through all the boring practices and games is the kid that deserves a (non)participation trophy.

As autumn presses on and each frosty morning foretells the pending winter confinement, I’m looking forward to life slowing down a bit. Soon we’ll have seemingly endless afternoons in which to fit snacks and dinners. I can have conversations with my kids other than me harassing them to get ready faster. I’ll forget how crazed I felt this fall, and will happily sign Luke up for soccer again next year, and will likely believe that I can also handle a sport for Sally. But this time, I’ll bring out the ramen from the start.

*This might be a new mantra of mine.

Soccer Mom

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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