We Are Who We Are…Until We’re Not

How many times in your life have you heard, ‘Well, we are who we are’? This phrase is meant to excuse behaviors, rudeness, inabilities to try to change. It has become a go-to for so many of my friends or family members and often times, myself.

We are weeks away from a special time in Judaism – The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. I do not typically write about my religious perspective, my inner inklings on my personal relationship with G-d or my doubts and fears about life in general. In fact, the past few years were spent very angry, frustrated and tired of trying to form that relationship that did not come so naturally to me.

I ‘did my time’ in synagogue or at home praying. Words in a book coming from lips naturally as they have so many times before. Easily losing my train of thought, wandering to meals I had to serve to company or children I had to care for soon. I just was in a sort of rote haze that couldn’t be lifted. I felt as though my spiritual life had been reduced to a series of menus, coordinated shopping trips for perfect shoes and outfits with little time or inclination for feelings. Lists that needed to be prepped and adhered to – checked off one-by-one became my norm for the holidays. But, this year things feel differently.

I just moved to a new home only a few blocks away from my old one – and I sort of feel a rebirth. “Change your place, change your luck”. This saying, rich in Jewish roots, holds the ideology for my current place down to a ‘T’.

Sometimes life is stale. Sometimes we are stuck in a rut – even spiritually. I had been asleep at the wheel, letting my children, my community and my family guide me. Packing up my life, taking stock of what needed to be kept and what needed to be tossed, was an entirely cathartic and spiritual experience for me. Realizing the tremendous gift of the ability to move into a more spacious home for my family. Allowing myself to see the multitude of ‘stuff’ we collected over the years that needed to be purged from our lives – keeping only what was important. Able to take in years of memories, pictures, albums full of love and joy, sadness and loss – truly, it has been an experience.

Then, learning to fall in love with my new surroundings as I fumble in the night to remember where light switches are located. Finding a new rhythm in my spaces. Experiencing new emotional connections with my family in this shared weird experience of moving to a new home. I find that this year, finally, I am tuning back in to my spirituality.

A few weeks ago we had our Mezuzahs checked. They were down from our old doorways and over ten years old, so we figured it was a good time to start fresh and new. Surely, I was convinced that some would need to be replaced. Oddly enough, every one but the front door Mezuzah that already existed on the new home, was found to be Kosher and in-tact. Once we replaced that one and hung up our old Mezuzahs with the blessing – I felt that finally the time had come to reconnect.

I have felt nothing short of gratitude since the day we moved. For the new neighbors who have welcomed us to the block, old friends who have helped us transition only the short move away, for the ability to do what was necessary for our family’s growth after 2 years looking. So, now full of gratitude (the true antithesis of anger) I am ready to accept some spiritual responsibility for myself. It is time to let go of any old-resentments or guilt and time to move towards a renewed relationship on my own terms for the coming year. I used to make a list of my goals for the year, feel immediate guilt at not attaining them and then frustration that my quick spiritual high became a rapid, disappointing low. So, no goals, no expectations, no disappointments. Just openness, acceptance and lots of efforts to take in whatever is supposed to come next.

Wishing all of my friends, family and new readers (thank you!) a Happy, Healthy and Healing New Year.

Learning From Your Children

In sending off my son to his year abroad and with his 18th birthday coming this week, my mind has been swirling with many thoughts and memories. In all this nostalgia I have come to a realization – our children teach us nearly as much, if not more than we teach them.

I have had many conversations over the years with one of my best friends about our two oldest. As I’m 2 years ahead of her in parenting, I have discovered that much of parenting children is figuring out their ‘story’. They don’t come with a chapter list or a prologue or any much direction at all. It is often up to us to wait and see how they act, how they interact, how they grow. You have an image in your mind how you’d love them to turn out and then, surprise! They make different choices, don’t like what you expect them to and of course, they reserve the right to even change those things you thought you’d figured out.

My confident oldest has taught me tremendous patience and understanding. Living life with a non-conforming attitude he has always been his own person. So wickedly smart, he often has proven my wrong on more than one occasion. A practical, minimalist personality – my oldest has tenacity and dedication to living life to its fullest without hesitation or anxiety.

My next in line, beautiful and sweet has taught me that you should never underestimate your child. She had always been a shyer, quieter little girl. She barely said a word until 3. She did not speak much at school to the point where I had her teachers log when she did actually speak. I have a notebook filled with one-word answers and short questions to prove to myself there was nothing wrong. I had expected that when it came time to speak at her Bat Mitzvah she would shy away from the opportunity. Surprisingly, she stepped up to the plate. She prepared a beautiful speech delivered with such poise and confidence both my husband and I were blown away.

Our middle daughter, the one with the dimples that could make any heart melt, has taught me empathy. In the third grade her teacher called me with a lump in her throat as she read a beautiful letter my daughter had written in class. The assignment was to share what one would do with a million dollars. My daughter wrote that she would give it to a little boy in the first grade that she barely knew. She wanted to give it to him because he has autism and she wanted him to buy new toys and things that would make him happy. She notices when others are sad and feels deeply.

Our baby. Our precious icing on the cake, has taught me that no matter what the ‘norms’ are you can and should buck them. A raven haired and green eyed beauty that has a passion for Tonka trucks, race cars and Ken dolls seems to be the life of the party with the boys in Kindergarten. While I spent much of preschool a nervous wreck that she wasn’t wearing sparkles and pink like the other little girls, I have come to love her will to do what she loves – regardless of what a ‘pink toy aisle’ represents for the girls.

These are just the very tip of the iceberg, of course. Parenting is a constant teaching tool that doesn’t end when they leave the nest. I am now learning how to let go, give space, step in as needed and love from afar. I am excited to see how parenting will continue to grow and change and affect our lives. In the meantime, I’m just sitting back and enjoying the textbook lesson by lesson.

 

My 2 Cents, for what it’s worth…

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Our world right now is one that is filled with chaos. Hatred, Fear, Impassioned Free Speech all at the forefront in a world I never thought I would experience. I am a ‘Jewish American Princess’, spoiled having experienced no anti-Semitism whatsoever in my life but, for the one time in NY’s Time Square when a ‘Jew for Jesus’ yelled at me for being a “rebel without a cause”. If you knew me, you’d laugh too. Rebel, I am not.

But, here we are in 2014, knee deep in fear and loathing. My world, once a safe little haven of suburbia now consists of armed guards at our Synagogue on Sabbath. My world, once a Facebook feed of parenting jokes and pictures is now filled with a myriad of impassioned, angry friends. We are all praying for the same thing, sharing in the same goal and wondering why the world-at-large doesn’t seem to get it.

Israel, our homeland, one in which I have only been privileged to spend a mere ten days of my life, is under attack. Not just physically, which is horrid enough, but the tiny, scratched, twisted lenses that celebrities, media, and even our own President sees this situation is nothing short of shocking.

For the first time in my life, I don’t feel safe in my bubble.

I went to LA on a family vacation. My husband wearing his Kippah, and I went to a Fed-ex type store in the Jewish are of Pico Blvd. We both walked in together and were asking to fax a paper. We were met by a Middle Eastern man with a heavy accent. He stared at my husband, while talking to me. I simply asked him to fax a paper we needed immediately faxed for a business transaction. This was the only place locally to do it that we could find.

He took the paper from me and didn’t seem to take his eyes off my husband. I asked my husband to go to the kosher store next door, knowing this would take some time and I could finish up. When he left, the man immediately went to the back of the store. I was a little nervous as I waited at the counter. I thought about leaving but, knew that he had my one and only copy of this paper to fax. I waited a few minutes and a different man – an American, came out and did my fax. The other man did not return.

I have no idea if this was because he didn’t want to help us, or my paranoia kicking in. But, I have never once felt like that before around anyone. I live in city filled with a huge melting pot of backgrounds and not once do I feel fear. But, here we are in a time where terrorists are killing ours (and their) children (18 year old soldiers are children) fighting for their right to peace, where anti-Semites are putting leaflets on cars in my area, where swastikas are being grafittied on Shuls in Miami. Where a trip to Europe, that once sounded romantic and luxurious, now seems like a bad idea. Well, it’s just unbelievable and scary.

So, this week, I stepped back. I got angry. It is an unfair response to feel fear. We said Never Again and we meant it. We are strong Jewish people, but without belief and trust (in Hebrew the word is Emunah) in G-d we are nothing. So, I choose to believe. Believe that there is method to this madness. Believe that this war will be over quickly and more quietly. That my son will be able to travel to Israel and live there for his year, in peace. That our family and soldiers in Israel will be safe from harm, in the interim. That G-d will watch over all of us and we can restore the bubble of safety, once again.

If we give in to that fear and lay in wait for  something bad to happen, then we are giving the terrorists and anti-Semites what the want.  Instead keep rallying, keep speaking out, keeping righting the wrong information. That’s my 2 cents…

Summer Fun in & around Chicago A to Z

I’m SO bored! No Mom ever wants to hear those words. Especially not in the summer.

Chicago after 14 years seemed like a big ole been there, done that. That’s when I started scouring online to find activities that appease the crowd. Faced with a full day and literally no clue where to begin, I remind you we live in a pretty great city.

Imagine…

A list so massive and so comprehensive you only need to bookmark it once and go through it!

Well, your wish is my command.

I happen to have amazing Mom Friends who actually do awesome activities with their kids. Whether you have a week to kill or all summer long to fill, we’ve got you covered.

Here is your go-to collection of summer fun in and around Chicago, tried and true by moms trying to keep em busy. We have gathered all these places together, links included, with an asterisk for the older set as those are often harder to please. A special thank you to Orah and Neeli for their amazing lists, advice and ideas. You guys are Super Moms with a  Capital “S”.

Please follow our adventures this summer break on #CampKutliroff on Facebook or feel free to visit our crafty page on Pinterest for inspired ideas for tweens and teens. Please also email me or message below to add to our list! Hoping to add reviews from our own parent-testers. So if you have anything to say about these off-the-beaten-path trips please message me and your review can be featured on the official Stretching My Limits Facebook Page!

May we all soak in the sun before school is on the horizon again!

*Adler Planetarium

*Air & Water Show

*Apollo Theatre/Emerald City Theatre

*Aqua Parks

*Architecture River Cruise

Art Institute – Stop in the gift shop first. Grab a postcard and find your art!

Atcher Island

Aurora Regional Fire Museum

*Beaches in and around Chicago

*Big Surf Wave Pool

Boat Tours – Wacky Pirate Cruise

*Bookstall at Chestnut Court – They often have children’s authors or events

*Botanic Gardens – Bring a picnic! Make it a scavenger hunt!

*Brunswick Bowling

*Bowling at Pinstripes

*Brookfield Zoo

*Bughouse Studio

Burpee Museum of Natural History

Busse Woods Forest Preserve

*Canon Tour in Cook County

Cantigny Park

Charles Dawes House Tour

Charnley Persky House Museum

*Chicago Bandits Game

Chicago Children Museum @ Navy Pier

Chicago Federal Reserve Money Museum & Tour

Chicago Fire Soccer

Chicago History Musem

*Chicago River Canoe & Kayak Rental

*Chicago’s Sightseeing Tour Hop on/ Hop off

Chicago Kohl Children’s Museum of Glenview

*Civil War Museum

Clarke/Glessner House Museum

Color Me Mine

Cosley Zoo

*County Line Orchard – Apple Picking

Cubs

*Dave and Busters

*Dave’s Rock Shop

*Didier Farm

Dinosaur Discovery Museum

Discovery Center Museum

*Drive in Movie in Kenosha at Keno Drive-In 

Dupage Children’s Museum

*Eli’s Cheesecake Factory Tour

Elk grove park district pavilion community center

Elmhurst Historical Museum - Currently have a baseball exhibit

Emerald City Theatre

Emily Oaks Nature Center

*Enchanted Castle

Exploratorium

Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks, Indiana

*Fairs & Festivals in Chicago

Field Museum

Fishing and Fun at Northerly Island

*FREE Movies

*Frontier Day’s festival in Arlington Heights JULY ONLY!

*Fun Zones 

Garfield Park Conservatory

*Gilson Beach, Wilmette

*Glazed Expressions Pottery

Go Bananas

Goebbert’s Farm

*Haunted Trails

*Hidden Creek Aqua Park

*Hoosier Bat Company Tour ages 8 and up.

*Illinois Holocaust Museum

Illinois Railway museum in Union, IL

Independence Grove

Jane Addams Hull House Museum

Janesville, WI Newspaper Tour

JCC Garoon Science Garden

*Jelly Belly Center Warehouse Tour

John Deere Tour

John Hancock Observatory

Jump Zone

Kenosha Public Museum

Kiddie Kingdom

Kids Bowl Free

Konow’s Corn Maze

Lake County Discovery Museum

Lamb’s Farm

Legoland Discovery-Schaumburg

Libertyille Sports

Lincoln park conservatory and trains

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Square lanes

Little Bear Garden, Glenview

*Long Grove Confectionary Tour

*Marriot Lincolnshire Theater

Michaels Store Craft Events & Weekly Camps

*Millenium Park

Milwaukee Public Museum

*Mini Golf indoors, Glow in the dark at Hawthorne Mall, Vernon Hills

Morton Arboretum-Lisle

*Movies in the Park, Skokie

*Movies in the Park, Chicago

Mr. Singer’s Performances

*Museum of Science & Industry

*Mystic Waters

Naper Settlement, Naperville

Naperville River Walk

*Navy Pier

Nickel City

North Park Village Nature Center

North Point Lighthouse

*Oakton Water Playground

Old Town School of Folk Music – Kids Concerts & Classes

*Paper Source – Create a Summer Scrapbook!

Peggy Nothebart Nature Museum

*Peoples Choice Family Fun Center

Pirate’s Cove

Planet Esme

*Ravinia Family Concerts

Richardson Farm

River Trail Nature Center

Robert R. McCormick Museum, First Division Museum

Robot City Workshop

Roller Skating

Roosevelt Collection park & shopping outdoor seating area just south of the loop

Schaumburg Airport Tours

Sci-Tech Aurora

*Second City Improv

*Segway Tours

*Shakespeare Theater

*Shedd Aquarium

*Six Flaggs

*Skokie Lagoons

Sky Deck at Willis Tower

Splash County

*Splash Landings

*Sprecher Root Beer Tour (pm only)

*Strawberry Picking – Thompson Farms

*Strawberry Picking – Stade Farms

*Starved Rock

*Subaru of Indiana Auto Tours (10 and older)

Sunset Park

Surgical Museum

The Grove

*The Glen - Sprinkler Park, Shopping, Fun

*Tipsy Paint, Glenview

Treehouse Indoor Playground

*Vertical Endeavors

Volo Auto Museum

Visit a Farmer’s Market – Let the kids make dinner with their finds!

Wagner Farm

*Waterworks Schaumburg

*Wendella Boat Rides

Wheeling Aquatic Center

*White Sox Games

Wiggleworms in Millenium Park

Wild West Town

Wonder Works in Oak Park

*Xtreme Trampolines

 

*Denotes Teen/Tween Friendly :)

Incoming Senior Parents, Take Note

Incoming Senior Parents,

You and your child are about to enter an education far beyond your wildest dreams. One that you have been both terrified of and excited to enter for about 17 years. Junior year was a stressful one for you and your young adult, so sit back and enjoy a moment of gratefulness – you both survived standardized tests, overloaded schedules and the beginning of What Do You Want To Do Next Year questions.

I want to share my experience as we are entering graduation and I already feel your nervous energy in the air. I was just you a few short months ago – so let me school you while it’s still fresh in my mind and my heart. And, while my tissues are still wadded up in my purse.

You are going to get a lot of input from various different places. School guidance counselors, parents who have been there, done that, friends of your incoming senior and lots and lots of online reading. You will vacillate between fear and excitement for what’s to come both emotionally and financially.

So buckle up, check your wallet and enjoy the ride.

The Common App

For most parents, like me, when you applied to college you simply wrote your info on a piece of paper, gathered some forms from your high school, sent in a transcript and a check and called it a day. Only ‘fancy schools’ required essays and interviews. Then, you waited for your fat envelope or your skinny. Stressful as it was, it is nothing compared to the job your child is about to get.

The Common App while seemingly an easier and more uniform central application for most colleges and universities, it can be very overwhelming.

A few facts:

  • Common App does not open officially for your incoming senior until August. That means you have the summer to begin the college exploration with your student so she can narrow down the options by application time. Your counselor may tell you or your student to ‘play around with it’ which you are welcome to do – but, any info you put in gets deleted in August, so just remember that.
  • Essays are the bulk of the work for your student after general info and you may not even know the topics ahead of time. Lucky enough for you, the Common App provides these prompts ahead of time so you can help your student get some of those nasty essays out of the way.
  • Common App is not available for every school. Make sure you help your child check that the schools he is interested in applying to are on the Common App. If they are not, you can help to identify what paperwork will be necessary from that school’s individual site.

Summer Coaching

It’s hard to remember, but this process isn’t yours. You will say you know this, you will acknowledge its truth and then want to sit down and write an essay, fill out some paperwork, make some calls and do some research. Please, take it from a parent who was just there – this has to be his project. Your job is to take on role of Coach. (Unless you are totally clueless, you may wish to look into hiring an actual coach but, I think you can handle it!!)

What does a Coach do?

  • Coach can provide a timeline that all items need to be complete. You can feel free to research deadlines for individual schools, gather together checklists and itemize things for your student. Then pass that list on to them and back off.
  • Coach can be a sounding board for a myriad of questions, overwhelmed moments and research guides. Many students have ZERO clue what or where to begin in this process. You can be the gas to get things moving but, let them take the driver’s wheel from you.
  • Coach is a gentle reminder (and sometimes a kick in the pants). Summer is both long and short for teens. They have a lot on their plate socially and these lists and essays can be cumbersome. Make sure some headway has been made by August – even if it’s just creating a plan of action.

Word on Visits

College visits are a great way to garner info as to what is wanted or wished for in their college choices. But, they can also be tremendously costly, time consuming and difficult to organize if your student’s list is all over the country. My suggestion – go local.

Every city has a Big College Campus, a small campus, a city school and a private. Take advantage of what you have locally to start your student thinking about likes/dislikes. You may even luck out and have your student love something local and affordable!

My son chose to visit out of town schools only after he was accepted. He felt it was a waste to visit a school he had no option of attending. Now that we are on the ‘other side’ I would say he was 100% correct.

Once accepted, visits are vital if you can afford it. My son was convinced he wanted school A. But, after a visit to school B, he was blown away. Visits are an important part of the process and let your student get excited about their own future. If visits are not possible, many schools even offer Virtual Tours now so you can access the flavor of the school virtually.

Stress Vs Fun

One of the major points to remember is this stress is huge for some, but not for all.

It’s a major life change to choose to go to college, especially if he is leaving home for the first time.  It is imperative to your student’s health, and your own, to keep fun available. When things become overwhelming (and they likely will) it is important to take some time for light-hearted nothingness. Stop the apps and college talk and claim a moratorium on it now and again. Keep home a stress-free zone whenever you can.

If your child is only into fun and not the reality of college –  Make sure that your child is mature enough and filled in enough on what’s to come. College is a big step and very expensive. If you’re the parent of one who isn’t into the hoopla or isn’t ready for the challenge of life on their own yet –  it’s possible a Gap Year may be in order, or a talk about the future.

College isn’t for every teen graduating high school. Know your child and help him navigate what’s best for him, not what’s ‘expected’.

Financially Fit

College is damn expensive. Navigating the whole FAFSA, Financial Aid, Loans Guides and your own savings (if any) is probably one of the hardest and most confusing and overwhelming things I have ever had to deal with. Be open and honest with your student on what you can and can’t afford – while at the same time allowing them to apply within those limitations. 

Many teens have no idea what taking on debt really looks and feels like. College debt is at an all-time high and it is real. Sagging them down now may seem like no big deal in their eyes as they don’t know what 100K or 200K really means.

If that’s the path you are entering show them this (and you watch too!)

Yes, you never know if he’ll get a full ride. But, chances are small that there will be enough financial assistance to make college easy to pay. Allowing your student insight into your finances will open a door to the beginning of some serious money talk that is vital to teaching responsibility, reality and respect. It’s hard as a parent to close doors on ‘dreams’ but, it is also priceless to teach children to accept their financial limitations and live within the family’s means.

Just a note on Social Media

While we are all Facebooking, Tweeting and Pinning – let’s remember so are admissions counselors. Before we started the application process this past year I had my son do a ‘sweep’ of his social media to ensure no inappropriate photos, language or otherwise unacceptable items lurk around for counselors to find. Remember if you can find it on Google – so can they….

Additionally social media is an amazing way to gage school pride, info and reviews. Follow (and suggest your student do it too!) schools your child is interested in on Twitter, check out Facebook pages (lots of schools even have special pages for parents) and websites. College Confidential is just one of dozens of sites devoted to offering insight into schools, financial info and even the Happy Factor of current students.

Relax & Enjoy

If I haven’t stressed it enough – the key to enjoying this process (if you can) is to relax. Remember that this is a chance to impart some valuable lessons on responsibility to your child while still remembering he is still sometimes just your little boy (or girl). Grab moments to be proud of all the efforts, lay off the guilt and love the young adult he is becoming. This is a loooooong and emotional year (lots of tissues) but, it will be worth it all in the end when he gets that fat envelope in the mail (or that email, nowadays!)

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