MSI Mom Blog Archive


Engaging Imagination in the Digital Age
By Katie Niekerk

I don’t know about you, but these days, I find it problematically easy to assume that things I think are fun, my 7-year-old son would consider downright torture. You know, “old-fashioned” diversions that I loved as a kid—activities that in 2017 sound pretty lame. I’m talking riding bikes aimlessly around the neighborhood, playing kickball, lying on the grass to find shapes in the clouds. Things that require no internet connection, no status updates. Just imagination and a willingness to favor fun over daily life for a while.

My little guy isn’t glued to our iPad or TV or whatever else, but you know how it is—at times, those things are his BFFs. So, imagine my surprise when for the past two weeks, he’s come home from summer camp every day asking to ride bikes…or play kickball…or look for shapes in clouds. These are things I introduced to him with a fleeting hope they’d stick, and to my delight, they have.

The first few times he asked, I figured it was a fluke. But when it kept happening, I was like, “OK. Time to search the archives to keep this kid engaged in something other than a screen.” And, wonderfully, what’s followed has been evenings of puzzles, board games, pick-up sticks and planting flowers.

The experience has reminded me that kids are kids. Kids with technology and video games and smartphones are still kids. Their minds relish creative freedom, and though it’s a big responsibility as parents to feed that, it’s also a privilege—and it’s fun.

Summer is a beautiful season to challenge your little ones with things you might think are outdated or extinct. Take it from me, they’re not. Children crave permission to explore the world in ways that ignite their imaginations and trigger their senses. All they need is you by their side.

Summertime #goals: Embrace every moment
By Katie Niekerk

June is one of my favorite months, and this likely stems from childhood. Those last few weeks of school are glorious—the homework is waning; the weather is perfect and the endless stretch of summer is finally within grasp.

I’m reminded of all this as I drop my 7-year-old off each morning for his last days of first grade. The current buzz phrase among parents at drop-off is some variation of, “Can you believe how time flies?” Cliché, yes, but it really does seem like the first day of school was merely weeks ago.

It makes me realize—or remember, rather—that every day we spend with our kids is to be cherished. Sometimes I look at my son and this ache of wistfulness washes over me. He’s still little, now, and he still needs me. I’m his personal chef, chauffeur, social planner and checkbook. I’m who he wants when he has a bad dream, needs a Band-Aid or has a rough day with a friend.

This won’t be true forever. As he grows, he’ll continue to find other sources of comfort, entertainment and friendship. And that’s a beautiful thing—I’ll know we’ve done a good job as parents when he’s an independent being who can think for himself. But, still, I’ll miss these days with all my heart.

As we finalize plans for summer camp and make our first visits to the pool, I’m making it a goal to be present and savor the next few months. That’s a challenge at times, with places to be and logistics to figure out and tired, hungry children who’ve spent too much time in the sun. But someday I’ll miss those moments, too. I’ll miss his 7-year-old attitude, how cranky he gets when he needs a blood sugar spike. All of it—the good moments and bad—make up the greater whole.

The days are long, but the years are short. Enjoy every moment you’re blessed with.

Why spring cleaning is a beautiful thing
By Katie Niekerk
I know the phrase “spring cleaning” isn’t the most exciting set of words ever uttered, but keep reading (please?). The time to declutter is upon us. Temperatures are warming, the spring solstice is in full swing, and we’ve had our last snow. Yes, I’m knocking on wood right now.
As cliché as it might sound, spring cleaning is a chance to start fresh, to throw open the windows and get rid of all that stuff you don’t need. It’s an annual opportunity to lighten your load (not to mention donate those clothes you never wear and bestow new-to-them toys upon the neighbor’s kids).
For me, spring cleaning conjures up images of my basement. Basements are horror movies in our collective human subconscious, but mine is particularly bad. The sump pump is broken and apparently can’t be fixed, so every time it rains, I expect an inch of water on the floor. I’ve learned not to keep anything I care about on the ground, but this leaves a mess of disposable things that get soaked, from drugstore Halloween decorations and waxy faux wreaths to cardboard boxes with nothing in them (why, Katie, why?).
Starting in April, I’ll be tackling this disaster. I’ll single-handedly keep Target in business for a weekend with how many clear plastic storage bins I’ll buy. And I’ll go through everything in the basement, piece by piece, determining what I actually want and what’s down there because I didn’t know what else to do with it.
The thing is, my basement is otherwise a basically unlivable space. The laundry machines are down there, along with a Christmas gift drum kit that my 7-year-old son played for exactly two days (Dec. 25 and 26). The space unfinished and pretty depressing—it’s certainly not like I’ll scrub it sparkling so I can host dinner parties there every night.
But I’ll clean it anyway, because the psychological benefit is worth it. Every time I do laundry, I won’t feel the need to cringe. Every time it rains, I won’t roll my eyes in frustration. And maybe, just maybe, every time I bring something new downstairs, I’ll check myself first.

Feeling the love on Valentine’s Day and beyond
By Katie Niekerk
March is my birthday month. Which, mind you, is quite different than saying, “My birthday is in March.” My birthday is March 9, but I unabashedly reserve the right to celebrate, well, myself for the duration of the third month of the year, every year.
This might seem strange, especially considering I’m turning 35—which is still relatively young, at least in my view, but some would say it’s old enough to begin shying away from acknowledging my birthday at all. Which I vehemently pooh-pooh.

Here’s how I figure: as busy mothers, wives, girlfriends, friends, employees and a million other things, it’s absolutely beyond 100 percent perfectly acceptable to pat ourselves on the back for being alive and doing a good job of it.

There are days I climb into bed and feel a brief sense of awe at everything that took place that day. The morning dash to get my 7-year-old son off to school, lunch packed, backpack zipped, shoes on. The 9-to-5 workday, which pretty much always sees its own set of challenges, successes and somewhere in-betweens. The evening routine of dinner, soccer practice, homework, playtime and bed. Then whatever time I can squeeze in for fun stuff, like a book or a movie, or boring stuff, like cleaning or paying bills. I mean, sheesh! The days are these little tornados that come and go and eventually, comprise the passage of time.

There’s Mother’s Day to feel appreciated, it’s true. But heck, nearly half of the female population falls under that category. So yeah, when the annual opportunity comes up to celebrate me and only me, I’m gonna go right ahead and take it.

And you should, too. Book a spa day by yourself or with friends. Force your significant other, I mean politely request, a night out together or dinner at your favorite restaurant. Get your nails done, and when they start to chip and look crappy, get them done again. Immediately. Keep a promise to yourself to get up early to work out certain days of the week.

Whatever it is that makes you happy, do those things during your birthday month. Because ladies, you rock.

Feeling the love on Valentine’s Day and beyond
By Katie Niekerk

When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays. (That has changed in the intervening decades.) Receiving cards from classmates, making my own by hand, all the warm and fuzzies on the day itself—what wasn’t to love about a day for love?

Though it might no longer make my “favorite holiday” list, St. Valentine still affords me the opportunity to relive the day through my 7-year-old son. This weekend, he asked, “Mom, are we making valentines for my class again this year?” I said that I’d like to, if he’s up for it. He agreed. “Everyone gives everyone a valentine at school,” he said.

In the current cultural climate, I couldn’t help but consider the wonderful simplicity of that. Everyone gives everyone a valentine. Everyone feels deserving of love.

Of course, it’s one thing to communicate someone else’s worth during a 24-hour period dedicated to being nice. The real question is, how does that extend beyond? Beyond Valentine’s Day, beyond National Random Acts of Kindness Day (which, by the way, falls on Feb. 17)?  

While pondering this, I decided to create an advent calendar of sorts for Valentine’s Day. But instead of simply counting down, each day will bring an act of love for someone else. Paying for a Starbucks order for someone behind me in line. Baking cookies to put out in the kitchen at work. Actually delivering the compliments I usually keep to myself.

There are all sorts of ways for kids to get in on the kindness, too. Have your little ones make cards for family members or friends to send in the mail for an unexpected pick-me-up. Leave small, anonymous gifts on neighbors’ doorsteps, from a little basket of candy to a gift card for a restaurant you know they like.

I know it’s cliché, but it’s so important now: a little kindness goes a long way. Take February as a chance to mine the power of love—for yourself, those close to you and strangers alike.

The value of tradition beyond the holidays
By Katie Niekerk
As a relatively recent transplant (from California, no less), winter in the Midwest has been an adjustment. Not all bad, mind you—December’s a sleigh ride through glittering lights, holiday cheer and snow! There’s snow!

January is when the blues kick in. The holidays are over, the air is cold and my 7-year-old son grows cranky from less time outside. This is the month I proclaim, “Something must be done!” What that something is varies from year to year, but this month, I’m thinking about the value of tradition. Events and experiences that bring friends and family together for the simple purpose of appreciating time together.

The holidays, of course, are ripe with ritual, from cookie decorating to seasonal movie marathons. But it seems after New Year’s Day, tradition goes out the window and it’s back to the slog of routine. And why? Because the passage of time mandates we abandon fun things?

This month, as the fervor of the holidays fades and it’s back to business as usual, let’s keep tradition in the mix. It doesn’t have to be some elaborate thing that requires major planning, advance notice and money. I’m talking just a little something special to look forward to. Saturday lunch at a kid-friendly restaurant with a group of friends and their little ones. Cooking dinner as a family on Thursdays.

And not all traditions have to center on food. How about family board game night every Tuesday? A simple at-home science experiment every Friday? Or, choose a day of the week to get outside and head to the Maggie Daley Park ice ribbon. Whatever it is, traditions help establish family culture. They tell a story about what’s important to you, and they give kids a sense of routine outside the daily go-to-school grind.

As 2017 kicks off, let’s keep celebrating tradition. The holidays might be over, but family rituals are timeless.

The goal of going outside every single day
By Kelly Q. Anderson

Ask any Midwesterner and they will rave about our summer. But our winter is pretty great. For one, kids are bundled up like puffy marshmallows, with down coats, snow pants and pom-pom hats. But aside from the adorable aesthetic, winter allows for us to do so much in nature with so very little.

Snow gives us a chance to be our own architect whether that be with igloos, snowmen, snowballs or mini-mountains. A sled gives us a vehicle for learning about speed, slope and that happy feeling of WHOOSH! when a hill is conquered. Trees, rid of their leaves, will often hold snow on their branches and create a beautiful winter landscape. And how about the magic of sidewalk salt? A few sprinkles here and there and the blessing of science helps us to stay slip-free.

But I won’t try to sell you on winter; more so the idea of exploring the season. For us Midwesterners, when the temps go down we often stay inside, bundling up in blankets and shutting out the world. But it’s time to reconsider since staying indoors takes away all the fun stimulation of outside: the cool wind blowing by, the shine of ice, the crunch of stepping through snow, the wonder of seeing the flakes fall from the sky. This world is fresh, unexpected and exciting for a child.

So I’m sticking with a challenge that has served me well: I’m heading outdoors with my kids every day this winter. No excuses. No harrumphs. No matter how long it takes bundle up little hands with mittens. No matter how cold it is (OK that’s a lie. Below zero is the cut off).

We are not just one season of fun. We are many. We just need to be willing to explore. Let’s open up that door.

The big deal with being busy
By Kelly Q. Anderson

I’ve been dropping the b-word lately. No, not that one. The other b-word: busy.

Sound familiar? This is the buzziest word in a parent’s vocabulary because heaven forbid someone should say “Things are good. I have so much glorious time on my hands.”

Daily life is chaotic: homes, careers, kids, pets, hobbies, holidays, etc. (this list could go on infinitely). Being busy is a scapegoat. We want to justify the fact that we haven’t seen our friends in ages or vacuumed our homes in a week. We want an excuse for not exceeding expectations. We want to look productive. So, we say the b-word.

But for all the times I look at my schedule and harrumph about what’s going on, I find myself also growing interested in a new movement: the un-busy life. This is a life where one recognizes when too much is simply, well, too much. This is a life where sometimes plans are declined and relaxation is preferred. This is a life that is unapologetic and refreshingly forthright.

We are not ingrained to live this way. Busy is a sign of productivity, right? It’s just the way we function: grab coffee to go, eat lunch while working at our desks, workout while listening to music, or scroll through our phones while the kids play at a park.

If we busy ourselves with a mountain of plans, that somehow translates to success. Or does it? I’ve often had to remind myself that with parenthood, you can’t pull water from an empty well. Not only that, but I don’t ever want my kids to think that an empty well is healthy or something to strive for. An empty well is depleted, basically useless.

Let go and let bicycle
By Kelly Q. Anderson

When we entered the bicycle shop I think I may have levitated a bit. Picture it: a local store in a lovely town (I swear birds were chirping) with friendly service and aw-shucks smiles. An excited child sets eyes on the rows of candy-colored bikes and a joyous grin erupts. Cue the wonder!

I don’t think my brain was working properly in the straight-out-of-a-movie bike shop. Though I cheered alongside my son as he tested bikes around the store, something odd transpired when we came home and hit the streets for a ride. I felt light-headed and a bit dizzy. Panic gripped me yet I couldn’t quite say the words aloud: Holy crap, what have we got ourselves into?

The quickness of the moment was jarring. In my very own driveway I had a memory flash of every device and contraption used to tote my son around: baby carrier, car seat, ultra-fancy stroller, ultra-banged up umbrella stroller, wagon with a janky wheel, little push car with a long handle, etc.

Somehow I always had him within reach. I always had the ability to steer my child in the right direction. Yet here I stood with a boy on a bike who was ready for the world without me. He would be making decisions about crossing streets or racing down hills. He would choose his speed, his trip and his destination.

And though I could watch or ride along on my own bike, this was how it was going to be from now on. In that whimsical bike shop I never imagined an emotional hit like this. In gaining a bicycle I somehow lost my grip on my son’s childhood. Before I can eek out a dramatic sob or beg him to return to the driveway, he pedals off down the street, his voice shrieks as he yells “It feels like I’m flying!”

As my son bikes away, free and independent to the world, I realize I have to let go. But instead of sadness, I exhale and embrace the moment. For I have ridden a bike too, and I know the joy of sampling that first taste of freedom. It does, in fact, feel like flying.

A first moment marked by song
By Kelly Q. Anderson

I’ve just returned from a destination wedding and I’m still starry-eyed. A young couple was married at a cherished north woods camp the bride attended as a child. The vibe of the wedding was rustic, candlelit elegance with nature serving as a glorious backdrop.

The couple joined together for their first dance and a beautiful song filled the room with wistful love (I later looked up the catchy ditty: Old Crow Medicine Show’s ‘Ain’t it enough’). There was poignancy in have a first moment marked by song. How often was such a thing occurring in other elements of life?

Fresh off the Olympics, our country joyously celebrated 121 medals and listened to our national anthem play a grand total of 46 times (the most gold medals of any country competing). A moment of victory marked by song.

Last month a few family birthday parties peppered our calendars and as children clapped around a cake that familiar ‘Happy Birthday’ tune filled the air. A moment of time passing marked by song.

My 4 1/2 year-old is really into viewing photos of himself as a baby, often relishing stories I tell about the ‘little boy’ he used to be. I explained that he used to call pumpkins ‘bup-bups’ and wave hello and goodbye to trees. But then I also tell him that no song ever made him happier than Pharrell Williams’ massive hit ‘Happy.’ It’s impossible for me to hear it without seeing a toddling little boy shrieking with glee and dancing in circles. A moment of childhood marked by song.

There will be so many more of these moments. They will nurture us through tragic news, they will inspire us to rise to our feet, and as our memories grow foggy we can always turn on the radio and find those moments once again.