The Benhase Home

A glimpse inside our wonderfully chaotic life

Tick Tock: On Worlds Ending and Choosing Love

One of the most vivid memories I have of the time surrounding my mom’s death is from the night before she passed. We (dad, brother & SIL, Ryan and I) were all gathered around her bed in the ICU with the doctor. He was explaining to her that she was very sick and realistically, wouldn’t have much time left. She couldn’t talk because of the CPAP machine covering her face, so she was using a notebook and pen to communicate with us and the doctor. She wasn’t afraid of where she was going, she wrote. Only afraid of getting there.

I remember staring at those words on the yellow notepad, in her beautiful handwriting that I had always envied. “This can’t be real,” I thought to myself. How could this be happening? My strong, beautiful, confident mother lay there, helpless and so very sick. If there ever was a moment in my life that epitomized the term “surreal,” that was it.

What stands out most in my memory is the sound of the clock. Its infuriating tick tock filled the silent room, a cruel reminder that time marches on. Time waits for no one. Here I was, with my very world crashing down around me. And somehow that clock continued on. How could people carry on with their lives when mine felt as though it was ending? When my mom’s was ending?

I was angry with the doctors who couldn’t save her, angry with God for allowing her to die, angry with her for leaving me. But most of all, I was angry with all the other people who carried on as if nothing had happened, as if nothing had changed. Because everything had changed. Even in that moment, I knew nothing would ever be the same.

I wish I had some positive, upbeat way to conclude this story. But the truth is that I don’t. The truth is that there’s always someone whose world is crashing down around them today, right this very moment. There will always be people whose hearts are breaking. People who will look back on today as the day when everything changed.

So choose kindness. Choose compassion. Choose empathy. Choose love.

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Mother’s Day for the Motherless

Recently this article “A Letter to the Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day” showed up in my Facebook feed, and I must confess, I couldn’t pass up on the chance to read it. Nor could I make it to the end without those familiar tears burning in my eyes and that painful lump in my throat.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to detest Mother’s Day. Yes, I am a mother. I treasure that role and love my children more fiercely than anything. But the weeks leading up to this holiday only make me even more acutely aware that my own mother is gone (if that’s even possible). That I’ll never see her again. Ads telling us what to buy our moms to make them happy only serve to remind me that no amount of money could give me what I really want: time with her. To hear her voice. To feel her arms around me. To share a cup of coffee.

While the aforementioned letter is poignant and sweet, the pragmatist in me can’t help but feel frustration over its sentiment. I wish I could believe that my mother is watching over me. Or that someday I’ll be reunited with her. But I can’t. I won’t be. She isn’t. She’s just…gone.

There’s nothing anyone could say to alleviate this pain. Words won’t heal these wounds. Neither will time. They’re just apart of me. And if you’ve lost your mother, whether through death or estrangement or simply a painful, broken relationship, they’re apart of you, too. And all I can say is this: you are not alone. You are not alone in your anger or your tears or your heartache.

It’s okay to hate Mother’s Day. It’s okay to escape for the day and ignore all the flowers and brunching and jewelry-giving. It’s okay to cry, to weep over your mother’s grave and wish with everything in you that she was here. It’s okay to be angry that she isn’t with you anymore.

Yes, life moves on. You will once again find joy and beauty in your days. But that doesn’t change the fact that part of you died when she did. You’ll never “get over it,” never be the same. And that’s okay. Remember, “you will feel better than this. Maybe not yet. But you will. You just keep living, until you’re alive again.”

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Encouraging Independence in the Kitchen

I always thought I’d be the type of parent to constantly have a little “helper” at my side in the kitchen, teaching him (or her) the ins and outs of cooking. And truthfully there have been countless times one of my littles has scooted a chair over to the counter to help whip up a batch of muffins or a loaf of bread. But besides that and being required to clear their dishes off the table after meals, there hasn’t been much else in the way of “helping” (and consequently, learning) in the kitchen.

Not long ago, I mentioned a book I recently read, Free-Range Kids, and how it was very inspiring to me. One of the many things I decided after reading this book was that I needed to foster more independence in my children in the kitchen, among other places. While I don’t usually mind fixing them food (doing the dishes is another matter!), I want them to be able to fix themselves a snack or meal, too. I don’t want to end up with an older child who doesn’t know how to scramble an egg, hold a knife properly, peel a carrot or flip pancakes. I also realized that while I usually provide them with healthy foods at mealtimes, I need to equip them to make those healthy choices for themselves. You know, the whole “teach a man to fish” adage.

Here are some of the steps I’ve taken lately toward this end:

Move the kids’ dishes to a spot where they can reach them. Right now this means the bottom shelf of the pantry. I’d like to do some rearranging and perhaps move them to a cabinet, but for now, this is working well. They can grab a cup to get water for themselves or more easily help set the table for dinner or just grab plates at lunch time. Bonus: now there are more dishes they can help unload from the dishwasher and put away!

Move the kids’ snacks and breakfast foods to a spot where they can reach them. This is both to help them be more independent and, ideally, teach them about making healthy choices. We’ll see how that part goes…

Require Jericho to make his own breakfast (and sometimes lunch). Now it isn’t really a struggle to get him to make his own breakfast. He quite enjoys it. Before rearranging everything, he would occasionally make his breakfast for himself but only after I got out all the appropriate items. Now he gets everything out himself, prepares it (he usually eats granola with milk so it’s fairly simple to assemble), and puts everything away with little to no assistance. I’ve also put him in charge of making his and Anna’s lunches a few times and that has gone fairly well, too. He’s mastering the art of making a PB&J!

Say “yes” more often. Admittedly, this is the hardest part for me, yet the most impactful. All the other changes are great, but if I always tell them no when they ask to help? We won’t get very far. Let’s face it: it’s harder to cook with two “helpers.” It’s quicker and easier and much less messy if I just do it myself. But I guess no one ever said teaching the man to fish would be without its frustrations. So I’m trying to say yes when they ask to help. Anna, in particular, has been very eager to help in the kitchen lately. Every time I even look like I’m going to start fixing something, she has a chair pulled up to the counter asking, “Can I help?” And now she knows how to grind pepper, how to grate cheese, how to take a bite out of the butter when mama’s not looking (seriously, that child loves plain butter), and we’re even working on peeling those carrots. Jericho’s egg-cracking skills have greatly improved, he’s a pro at rinsing fruits and veggies in the sink, and he can wield a butter knife with the best of them. It’s amazing to see how much they’ve learned after just a month or so.

I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made, and I hope to keep a good thing going! One thing I would like to start doing is requiring more from them (especially Jericho) in terms of doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. I think he’s ready and able to start shouldering more responsibility in this area. Of course, he probably won’t enjoy this aspect as much as making his own breakfast. But…oh well. Life isn’t always fun, is it? Sometimes you gotta stop playing and wash the dishes.

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Indoor Fun on a Snowy Day

News Flash: it snowed! Yes, the roads are a mess. And yes, not being able to get out and about is annoying. But I refuse to complain about the wintry wonderland. We’ve hardly had any snow this winter, a fact I’ve lamented over multiple times. So now it’s here! And I have decided to just enjoy it.

That being said, a mom and two little kids can only be cooped up inside together for so long before everyone starts to get a little stir crazy. And, let’s face it, sick of each other.

In my quest to keep screen time at a minimum, I’ve had to come up with other fun activities to fill the days.

The first day, we went outside and played in the snow. But when the wind chill is below zero, that just isn’t an option, in my mind. Plus bundling toddlers up to go out in the snow is an extreme. Exercise. In. Patience.

The usual suspects are always a good idea: reading books, doing puzzles, playing board games (Sequence Jr is a favorite of ours right now), coloring, painting.

We’ve also brought the snow inside. I filled a Rubbermaid type tote for each of the kids and let them go at it with cups and spoons. There was quite a bit of water on the floor when all was said and done, but it was easy to clean up. The biggest thing was keeping a snowball fight from breaking out!

IMG_6247The other fun thing we did that they absolutely loved was “swimming” in the big tub. The bathtub in our master bath is huge. So the kids and I (yes, I went swimming, too) put our suits on and played in the water. They keep asking me when we can swim again, so I’d say that was a hit! Bonus: we just called it their baths for the day.

And what would a snow day be without a movie, popcorn and hot chocolate? On day four of being stuck at home, I finally broke down and we watched Toy Story 3.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the warmer spring days ahead, but I’m also really glad we got so much snow. It’s beautiful and, like many things that us grownups often see as a nuisance, it inspires such an innocent awe in children that I love. As parents, we often think of ourselves as our children’s teachers (as we should), but we should also recognize our children’s ability to teach us about appreciating the beauty in the world.

 

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Updates from the Benhase Home

IMG_6160Like it has been for most everyone, life has been busy lately. I always think to myself, “after this, things will calm down.” But they never seem to do that. I wonder when I’ll learn?

The holiday season was fun but packed to the gills with family gatherings, fun outings and just lots of preparations to be made. The kids enjoyed Christmas, and I enjoyed seeing them enjoy it. Jericho, especially, was so fun to watch. He’s at that perfect age where the holidays are completely magical. I think it’s true what people say: Christmas is somehow even more wonderful as a parent than it was as a kid.

Then after the Christmas/New Year’s rush, both kids seemed to swap viruses for a couple weeks on end. The motivation I felt at the start of the year was zapped at that point. Caring for sick kids is both physically and mentally draining! Thankfully they are both healthy now.

However, as soon as they were both feeling back to 100%, I started to have issues with my foot. It had never fully healed since the accident, but after a couple especially busy weeks and doing a bit too much, it started to cause me more and more pain. I’m not sure if I re-injured it, or what. But either way, it has been very frustrating to lose some of the mobility I’d regained in the months following the car crash. I have an appointment with a podiatrist in the beginning of March and am hoping that she’ll be able to help my foot get back on the right track to healing. I will be very upset if warm weather starts to return and I’m still stuck inside on the couch with a bum foot!

IMG_6154We’re still plugging along, though, finding ways to get out and about that don’t necessitate too much walking. But I have all sorts of plans percolating for when my foot is stronger, including biweekly hiking days and many more walking adventures around OTR, not to mention the zoo and museum center.

I’ve also been making a more concerted effort to read consistently. I was doing really well for most of last year, but once October hit and all the craziness began (first camping out, then a birthday, followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years), reading became less of a priority. But I have been doing much better the past month or two. I’ve finished A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins (entertaining but not one I would highly recommend), Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy (I am working on a review of this one; I absolutely loved it) and am currently reading Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand. I’m also in the middle of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard. Those should all keep me occupied for quite some time!

I do hope to start posting more regularly here, but realistically, it’s hard to commit to anything. There is an ebb and flow to life that I’m learning to work with instead of against. And part of that requires the ability to let go of the things that are not a priority for a time. Blogging happens to be one of those things.

So until next time…

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Eight Things I Love About My Kids Right Now

It’s easy to write about the trying days. And as hard as this mama gig can be at times, it can also be filled with so much sweetness. Here are eight things I am loving about my kids right now:

1. Anna singing (or rather, attempting to sing) “Let It Go” at the top of her lungs during “nap” time. I’m not a huge Frozen fan. But still. Cutest thing ever.

2. Jericho’s pictures. He is becoming quite the little artist! Even to the point where you can tell what his drawings are before he explains them. As someone with zero artistic ability, I just love this.

3. Their excitement about Christmas. Especially Jericho’s. The look on his face when we went to the Festival of Lights at the zoo was absolutely priceless. Pure joy.

4. All the Christmas cards Jericho makes. They’re always his idea, and he asks me to write the words for him (except the simple ones, which he does himself). He comes up with the funniest things to put in cards. Some of you reading this may be lucky enough to receive one this year ;-)

IMG_59255. Anna’s independent, I-can-do-it-myself attitude. I love how determined and adept at problem-solving she is. Pictured is one of her recent endeavors. She decided she wanted a clementine. So she pulled a chair up to the counter, got one out of the bag, peeled it and proceeded to chow down.

6. The outfits the kids pick out for themselves. They both choose their own clothes most days. The combinations they come up with are amazing. And oh so silly.

7. Anna’s obsession with pigtails. After months and months of trying to get her to keep her hair in a ponytail, she’s finally decided that pigtails are acceptable. And I’m going to milk that one for all it’s worth.

8. The sight of them sleeping. People have said it so many times it’s practically cliche. But it’s so true. The sight of a sleeping child is enough to make up for even the worst of days. It’s probably nature’s way of ensuring that our species survives. I don’t always check on them once they’re asleep (for fear of waking them…) but when I do, it’s oh so sweet.

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Reflections at a Day’s End

IMG_5857I sit here typing in a quiet house where things appear peaceful and sweet. A warm candle is burning. Christmas lights are glowing. A delicious dinner is sitting in my belly. Upstairs, children are sleeping soundly. The living room is even tidy.

You probably wouldn’t be able to guess that it was a rough evening here in the Benhase home, based on this idyllic scene. Yet it was. An impatient mama. Kids who refused to listen. Bath times that we merely survived rather than enjoyed. Bedtime stories taken away as an unfortunate consequence of the aforementioned non-listening (for both children, nonetheless).

I reflect upon our day and can’t help but ask myself, “Where did I go wrong?” The first half of our day was actually quite lovely. The kids, especially Jericho, woke up in delightful moods. We crafted and colored and made “Morning High Five” charts for each child. They played upstairs (mostly) contentedly while I busied myself in the kitchen, making hummus, washing dishes and prepping dinner. They ate well at lunch time and were thrilled when I let them drink their smoothies out of “fancy” cocktail glasses. Nothing was even broken. And to top it all off, we had friends come play for a bit, always a highlight for little ones and mama alike.

Then our friends left. And things went downhill from there. So many big emotions and tears. Tired children who wouldn’t give in to sleep. Huge messes that were made. The headache.

The one bright spot was that I actually managed to keep my wits about me and not lose my temper, even though I wanted to at times. Oh, how I wanted to!

Eventually I decided that it was time to bring in the big guns: television. We are not TV-free in our house, by any means. But we do try to limit the kids’ TV consumption fairly drastically (they don’t watch TV every day; maybe every other day but often not even that much). Not only is television a fairly mindless way to occupy young, growing minds, but it is also taking away time that they could be spending learning and creating and doing. *end tangent*

But sometimes… Sometimes the bad of television is outweighed by the bad of having a mama at the end of her rope. So they watched TV. While I sat nearby and zoned out on my phone. They ate dinner in front of the TV. Then I bathed them. And they went to bed.

I can’t say that days like this make me feel like a failure as a mother. The fact that the first half of our day went so well is encouraging, as is the fact that I handled all most of the emotions well (believe me, I am not always so patient and held together. believe me). But days like this are humbling. Just when I start to feel like I have this mothering gig figured out, they remind me that I really know very little. As much as I can plan and prepare, they are individuals who have their own personalities and minds that are entirely out of my control.

We are three completely unique, thrown-together-by-luck human beings who are all trying to figure this thing called life out at the same time. Stepping on each others’ toes along the way. It’s hard to be a mama. It’s hard to be a toddler. It’s hard to be a preschooler. Sometimes we’ve got the hang of it. Sometimes we thrive. And sometimes? All we can do is survive.

Today, there was both: thriving and surviving. And tomorrow? Well, only time will tell what tomorrow will bring. But for all the uncertainty, I do know one thing: tomorrow I will still love them. More than anything in the entire universe. And that, my friends, will be true until my dying day.

So bring it on, tomorrow. I’m ready for you. Or at least I will be after I get some sleep.

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Why We Don’t Do “Elf on the Shelf”

IMG_5756

The Christmas sampler my mom made for us

Ah, the joys of the Christmas season: bright lights, decorated trees, iced cookies, sleigh bells…and a creepy elf that keeps watch over your every move and reports back to Santa each night. I love the holiday season and so many of the traditions that come along with it. And I believe that traditions (not just holiday traditions) are a very important part of childhood. Not only can they be a great deal of fun and provide much anticipation from year to year, but they serve to create a family’s culture and help children to feel secure in their places within the family.

With that being said, I think it’s important to be thoughtful about the traditions we establish for our own family. This isn’t to say that every little thing we do has some hidden or grand meaning. Some things we do just because they’re fun and inspire that awe that children have around Christmastime (going to the Festival of Lights, for example). But we still try to analyze these decisions and make sure we establish traditions that fit within our ideals.

Which is where Elf on the Shelf comes in (or rather, doesn’t). Honestly, I can think of a whole myriad of reasons to skip out on this increasingly popular tradition. Here are just a few:

– Let’s face it, the little guy is creepy looking.

– Who wants to have one. more. thing. to do every single day of the Christmas season? No, thanks. I have enough going on without trying to think of a new, creative spot to plant that elf every night. I realize some people think that’s part of the fun of it, but not me. I would just see it as another obligation I felt halfhearted (at best) about.

– It encourages children that doing naughty things is okay as long as someone (mom, the Elf, whoever) doesn’t see you. “Just don’t get caught.”

– And the biggest one: Elf on the Shelf does not line up with the values we hope to instill in our children. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, which, I’ll admit, I have a penchant for doing. But I do not want my children to do what’s right because otherwise someone might see them and then they’ll get in trouble. And worse, because then they won’t get presents. I want my children to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do.

Now I am aware that very young children will not see that distinction. They don’t have the introspective ability to decipher between doing right for the sake of right, and doing it because you expect a reward for doing so. With children, you have to teach the “how” before you can teach they “why.” You have to teach them that they can’t hit babies before they’re able to understand why they can’t hit babies. And, yes, sometimes we reward good behavior (verbal praise, for example). And sometimes we take measures to correct “bad” behavior (timeouts, removing privileges, etc). But that’s different than threatening your children that Santa won’t bring presents if the Elf sees your misdeeds and reports them to that jolly old fellow in the North Pole.

Our aim in raising kind, thoughtful children is to have them not only do what’s right, but also to know what’s right. And how will they be able to decide for themselves what’s right, when the only reason we’ve ever given them to obey is an appeal to authority (whether it’s ours as parents, or Santa’s)? Yes, we need to make sure they understand the basics of treating people well. But we also need to teach them how to decide what is right and good, and what’s not, for themselves.

And we have decided that, for our family, Elf on the Shelf, doesn’t fit into that picture.

* Disclaimer: notice that I did not entitle this “Why We Don’t ‘Elf on the Shelf’ and Why You Shouldn’t Either.” This is what we’ve decided for our family. You and your family are different. Be thoughtful about it and make the decision you feel works best for you. It isn’t life and death. It’s Christmas. 

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The Beauty of Friendship

Finding a sense of community among a group of friends is an interesting–and beautiful–thing. Your family is something you’re born into. You don’t have a choice in the matter. It just happens the way it happens and you’re stuck with your family, no matter what. Not that it cheapens the love and affection you share, but you almost have to love your family because, well, they’re your family. Many of us are lucky enough to have fantastic families so loving them doesn’t feel like an obligation. It’s something that comes naturally.

friendsatthezooBut a group of friends? You don’t have to love them. There is no obligation. No commitment. Nothing to keep you (or them) from hitting the road when they don’t meet your expectations or when they hurt you. So to find yourself with true friends, the kind who have seen you at your worst, who allow you to see them at their worst, who step in to help during a crisis without a second thought, who walk you through life’s ups and downs…those kinds of friends? They are one of the greatest treasures in life.

A year and a half ago, I was in a very very lonely and low place in my life. I had few friends and felt hopelessly alone. I was so desperate for friends that I even started attempting to befriend random moms at parks and the museum. Now if you know me well, you know how incredibly out of character that is for me. That is how lonely I was.

I had searched around online for a moms group in my general vicinity and one day, came across a group that was organized through Meetup. Like introducing myself to strangers at the park, joining a group like this, where I know absolutely no one, is way (way way) out of my comfort zone. But I did it. Because I knew that I needed friends and honestly, I had nowhere else to turn.

It took me a couple weeks to work up the courage to attend a play date, but eventually I did. I met some other moms and their children at the zoo. Yes, it was awkward, and I had to force my introverted self to be talkative (I was there to make friends, after all). But I am so very glad that I stepped out, joined the group and went to the zoo. This group of my moms has changed my life.

What started as a source of the occasional playdate has blossomed into a group of some of my very dearest friends. These are the people who brought us food and watched my children after our car accident. They’re the people I call when I find myself at my wits end in a showdown with Miss Stubborn. We joke about being at our kids’ weddings. We can be just as comfortable together at the zoo as we can out on the town, getting drinks. They know my shit (pardon the French). And I know theirs.

And that is the beautiful thing about friends. They’ve seen you at your worst. And they still love you. Even though they don’t have to.

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Kindergarten, Here We Come!

*unrelated picture alert* ...just a cool raccoon...

*unrelated picture alert*
…just a cool raccoon…

Okay, so kindergarten is still about nine months away for Jericho. But we are so relieved that he has been accepted into the school we’ve had our sights on for well over a year now! It is a huge relief to know that he (and his sister, when the time comes) will spend the first seven years of his formal education in such a wonderful learning environment.

The Cincinnati Public School System has its flaws, as do all school districts, I’m sure, but it also has a number of amazing schools that we’re lucky to have at our disposal. One of those is Fairview-Clifton German Language School, a magnet school in Clifton that teaches German (as if you couldn’t figure that out based off its name). While the school is fantastic, it is extremely popular which, unfortunately, makes it somewhat difficult to get your children into it.

For today, I’ll stay off my soapbox and spare you the lecture on why we are very frustrated and even outraged at the entrance system for this school (and the other magnet schools in the CPS district). Today I am simply here to say, with great joy, that Jericho got in, as will Anna in a couple years (siblings get first priority when it comes to kindergarten registration).

We are very excited to be apart of the community at this school and hope that the environment, and early exposure to a foreign language, will serve to encourage and increase our children’s love of learning and thirst for knowledge. One of our very biggest goals as parents is to raise Jericho and Anna to be curious, inquisitive adults who ask questions and are always eager to learn more about themselves and the world around them. Here’s to hoping that Fairview is a step in that direction!

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