Friday, November 20, 2015

That time I paid off my student loans

I have 2 degrees.

It took a lot to get them.

To be specific, it took three different student loans totalling close to $30,000.

10 years later, this:
I might just frame this beautiful letter.
Could there be any words sweeter than "Paid in Full"?!?

They're paid. The last of my student loans are paid. Glory be.

I wish I had a good story about how I paid them off in less than a year through massive suffering - but I don't.

Here's my secret instead: I paid them off in 10 years with hard work, stick-to-it-ness, and pride. I never missed a payment and I never thought about trying to get out of paying them. I just steadily paid off $30,000 of student loans.

I am strongly in the camp of "school is essential to life". I will never regret the work that went into my degrees. They helped shape who I am, how I view the world, how I choose to live my adult life, how I choose to conduct and evolve my career.

If anyone ever asks "Was it really worth $30,000 to have two pieces of paper?" I say (without the slightest hesitation) "YES!"

There are so many lessons that university taught me. Lessons about prioritizing and working hard, making monetary sacrifices (yes, I lived off of 89 cent ramen noodles for months on end!), balancing a life with responsibilities - the lessons I learned were boundless.

And it's not just the life lessons that were worth those expensive degrees.

I learned how to fend for myself, that I'm a pushover and I have to stand up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts are valid (and even good sometimes), and that the work you put into anything directly reflects what you get back from it. I also learned how to eat healthily at a cafeteria (after gaining the Freshman 15+) and when to scrimp on beauty supplies (drug store makeup can be great even if it's cheap!!!) and when to not cut corners (waxing your own eyebrows=bad, bad, bad idea!!!).

Maybe I would have learned those lessons without school. Maybe I wouldn't have. Who knows? But I'm glad I spent the money to get my degrees.

You know what I'm even more glad about?

THEY ARE FINALLY PAID OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Moments of warm sunshine

Today I watched my oldest son attempt to pitch a baseball.

The sun shone brightly, warm on my face.

The breeze was light and warm.

Quiet cheers and yells of delight emanated from the nearby park.

I felt still and calm and totally right in the moment.

It was quite a difference from the news that was filling my news feeds the night before.

My kids aren't quite old enough to grasp what is going on in the world right now, nor do I want them to.  I really just want to bottle up their innocence and hold onto their naive worldview for as long as I can.  I don't really want them to grow up much past where they are right now...

As selfish as it is, I want to just stay in these moments.

Warm November days, baseball in the sunshine, squeals of joy at the park.

Safety and security.

Blissful innocence.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Should My Kid Play Sports?

I am the mom of two boys.

I'm not afraid to admit that the thought of raising boys made/makes me fearful.

When they were little I was mostly afraid of caring for a child that wasn't the same gender as I. Would I know where to clean? Would I be useful when they needed help going to the bathroom? 

Short answer: I was very useful and I totally figured out the whole "caring for a boy" thing.

But now they're a bit older and I worry about things like: How will I relate to two boys who have such different interests than I do?

Despite my efforts to get them into drama and dancing (my personal interests), they have gravitated toward things that I just don't understand.

I don't play sports and I don't like monster trucks. I can't name anyone from Star Wars and I don't know the difference between an Avenger and a member of the Justice League.

Pokemon cards? Forget it!

I squealed this afternoon when they were picking up juicy, fat worms who had emerged during a rainfall and I will never understand this bizarre rock collection they are obsessed with creating.

So, ya, being a mom of my specific boys with their specific interests is a little different for me.

But let's go back to sports for a second. 

As someone who has never played sports (not for lack of effort, I assure you, but more for serious lack of ability), pre-kids Sarah often wondered how important it really was for my kids to play sports. 

Let's face it, sports are not an inexpensive hobby. Registration alone costs a lot, then there is the equipment and time investment. Multiply the cost, time and frustration (how can I be at two practices at the same time!?!?!) by two kids and you might be living my life. 

Truthfully, I didn't look forward to my kids participating in sports, but they do (by their own choosing) and the more they participate the more I am happy that they do. Sports have made a huge impact on my boys- I have seen them develop physical, emotional, and mental skills sets that I'm not certain they would have developed without sports in their life. Here are just a few ways that sports have made a difference:

1. They're more confident.
Although I wouldn't say either of my children suffer from lack of confidence, the ability to participate in and (on occasion) master an athletic skill has given them the confidence to tackle new challenges head-on. They feel like they can do it, even it if it's not easy at first. They have also gained body confidence as they learn what their body is capable of and they begin to push it to work harder and faster. Confidence alone makes sports worth it to me.

2. They learn to listen and respect.
Whether participating in a team or individual sport, both of my boys have learned to listen to their coach. This is huge. They not only listen to their coach but they listen with reverence; they WANT to hear what he has to say and they WANT to follow his instructions. I have seen that carry over into their school life more often than not. (I'll let you know when it spills over into their home life, ok?)

3. They learn to lose.
I am a sore loser. I hate to lose. Maybe it's because I never played sports (probably not, but you never know), but I will dwell on loses for years. I don't want that for my kids- I want them to learn to lose with grace and learn to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and focus on the next day/game. That's what participating in sports is teaching them. Mind you, they will still cry when they lose at UNO or don't get to chose which movie we watch, but I can see that they are beginning to grasp the concept of not always being the first or the winner.

4. They have fun.
We have a one sport rule in our house. Each child chooses one athletic endeavour that they can do for a "season" (whatever that entails). This season my oldest is in karate and my youngest is in soccer. They chose the sport, they enjoy it, and we enjoy them enjoying it. When it becomes not fun, it's time to move on. I'm under no illusion that my boys will become athletic superstars (maybe they will but most likely they won't) and I don't want them to suffer for the sake of athletics, but I do want them to enjoy playing and developing their skills. The fun aspect is often overlooked but oh so important.

5. They really bond with their dad.
Their dad is super athletic. He's never pushed them into sports, but I have seen the bonding process develop as their skills and interest in sports develop. Some days, one of the boys and their dad will just leave the house and play catch; they might slip out the back door and practice soccer kicks in the backyard; they laugh about sport things that go way over my head. So, ya, there is a real bond developing from an enjoyment of doing the same things that I might not totally understand but I really, really enjoy seeing.

Sure, there are a million other reasons that sports matter for kids: there's the exercise aspect (not a personal worry of mine, but a consideration nonetheless), the fine motor skills, and so many other things that come along with being part of a team or mastering an athletic skill. But really, in the end it's the life skills they're learning that are making the biggest difference and making me a believer in the importance of sports.

(Also: sports give me a reason to use the Slo-Mo option on my camera! #winning)

Monday, November 2, 2015

The time we found a nail in our Halloween treats

Halloween evening was a great time. We went out with friends, the kids had a blast going door to door, and we have bags and bags of loot to show for it. Just a good night all around.

As a parent don't you just love when your kids have so much junk food that they won't notice if you sneak a piece or two? I sure do. And on Sunday, my husband and I were doing just that. We were fishing around in one of the candy bags when my husband felt something sharp.

Here's what he found:

Sitting right in a bag full of candy. A lollipop with a nail sticking through the wrapper.

My first thought: He was joking. (He wasn't)

My second thought: WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

The nail is huge, it is sharp and it is sticking through candy that was given to my child. My precious child.

I want to believe that this was a mistake or some sort of bizarre accident, but I just can't.

The nail is poked right through the candy wrapper and was lodged there, waiting for my child to pick it up.

So, ya, I don't think it was an accident. I think it was purposeful. And I can't believe it happened to me in my "safe" suburban neighbourhood that people drive to just for trick or treating.

We reported it to the police. We checked the rest of the candy and it was fine. We're satisfied that our kids are safe with the treats that are left over.  I'm thankful it was my husband who found the lollipop with the nail stuck in it...

But I can't shake the sick, sinking feeling that someone deliberately set out to put a big, sharp, rusty nail in a kid's Halloween bag.

Moral of the story: Check, check, check. And then check again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Down With Halloween Loot Bags!

Do you remember getting multiple bags full of (dollar store, likely) Halloween goodies the week leading up to the haunted holiday?

I sure don't.

In fact, other than the actual day of trick or treating (or the occasional school party where we would fill up on as much pop and chips as we could stuff in our faces), I don't recall Halloween even being that big of a deal growing up.

Sure, the occasional home would go overboard in decor or create a spooky haunted house that would pretty much make me pee my pants, but Halloween wasn't seen as an opportunity for parents to go overboard in the classroom.

Times. Have. Changed.

Over this past week - the one leading up to Halloween - both of my boys have come home with multiple Halloween loot bags. Pencils, erasers, stamps and stickers. Colouring books, candy, balloons, and crayons. Whistles (SERIOUSLY HALLOWEEN WHISTLES). Glow sticks. All lovingly packed in jack-o-lantern bags with curled ribbon.

Don't be fooled by that happy face- this jack-o-lantern loot bag is full of dollar store treats and one-upmanship.

Now I am certainly not looking a gift horse in the mouth- I'm happy that people have taken their time and money to create a nice (often non-treat) goodie bag for my kids to enjoy.

But I can't help but wonder- WHY?

I like Halloween just fine. It's fun to get dressed up, put out a few decorations, carve a pumpkin (roast the seeds!), and watch my boys have the time of their life going trick or treating.

However, this new trend - expectation, even - of Halloween loot bags for every kid in your child's class just doesn't fly with me! It's become another parenting one-up show in my decently well-off neighbourhood. Parents are spending time and money just to out-do other parents.

Most of the stuff in these loot bags is disposable and plastic. Most of it (if I'm being truthful) ends up in my trash. And yes, I understand that some parents really enjoy crafting or creating little take-homes for their kid's friends...but I dare say this isn't the case. Most of these loot bags are created to impress other parents.


We don't need pumpkin stamps or witch embossed pencils and, Lord knows, we don't need another whistle in this house!!!! I don't care that your loot bag was bigger than the loot bag that I got the day before or that you used your scrapbooking stamper to maker special pumpkin name tags on your loot bags.

Parents: if you really want to impress me, volunteer to carve or paint pumpkins with the kids at school! Volunteer to bring a special healthy snack for all the kids! Buy some Halloween-themed books for your child's classroom library! Contribute to school culture by volunteering to chaperone the Halloween costume parade! Start a costume swap!

There are so many ways we can enjoy Halloween without turning it into a "my Halloween loot bag was bigger and better and more personalized than yours" competition for parents.

I, for one, won't be sending my kid with any kind of Halloween give-away for his classmates so don't bother looking out for it!

(And truthfully, I won't be feeling even one ounce of guilt about it).