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.


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.


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


*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


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!)

Where Is My Been There, Done That Mom?


One of the best and worst parts of being a young first time mom is the naiveté. Too stupid to realize just how silly you are to worry about every hiccup and diaper change, yet not experienced enough to feel good about the job you’re doing.

I always wished that there were another mom, a just-slightly-older but, not too old to be a fuddy-duddy, Mentor Mom that could share her tips of the trade before they actually happened to me. The Been There,  Done That Mom answering the ever-permeating question of my mothering life, “Is it normal [insert worry here]?”

At 21, I was the first of my friends to have a baby. Over the years, this has allowed me to be their Been There, Done That Mom, but I was not privy to have one.

Was it normal for baby to walk at 15 months? Was it weird if he didn’t like sports? Would he be okay as the youngest in school? After a clueless husband ‘shrug’ to my myriad of freak out questions, I realized that there really was no one for me to ask. So, I turned to my go-to for info, books.

The problem with trusting parenting books is that for every Ferber Method, there is an Attachment Parent and you really have to navigate an ever-contradicting world that you are simultaneously the worst and the best parent out there.

So, I navigated best I could through early toddler years, tween years, awkward adolescence trusting gut instinct, weighing popular opinion against tons of reading material. I hid my veggies in his eggs, like Seinfeld’s wife wrote. When his educational needs weren’t well addressed in school, I brought in Mel Levine’s book to back me up. While my friends were bleary eyed after night 3 of Ferber-izing, I was well-rested having Dr. Sears allow me to snuggle up with my baby in bed.

For every action, a reaction and a PhD-backed author to back me up.

But, as my son hit about 14, I realize that the parenting materials changed drastically. No longer were my books about ideas, self-actualization, promoting confidence – now, they were suddenly about Survival. The titles in these manuals were both laughable and scary:

Surviving the Teen Years

Leave Me Alone, But First Can You Drive Me & Cheryl To the Mall?

Why Do They Act That Way?

The Curse of the Good Girl.

So Sexy, So Soon

Boys Adrift

Of course, the teen years are hard, anyone knows that. But, I had a feeling that if I had a Been There, Done That Mom she would assure me that there has to be more to it than just Surviving and being “cursed”. I didn’t want them to be So Sexy, So Soon! I waited and hoped there would be more to it than a promised horrific nightmare from 14-18.

I spent a doozy of time living in fear of those years. But, I have learned that there is so much more to it than that. I have shared with my own friends, as their ‘Been There, Done That’ that teen years are difficult, yes, but also very happy and often easier years than raising a toddler. Conversations are deeper, more meaningful. Moments to see that what you’ve learned and put into practice is actually working and when it doesn’t work? Well, then moments happen that will challenge you in a way you’ve never been challenged before. Rewarding, fulfilling and yes, very survivable.

So, as I prep for teen #3 on my roster coming up to bat soon for the Teen Team, I realize that even though I never had the luxury of that Been There, Done That ‘fairy godmother’ Mom, I think I’m doing a pretty decent job with my repertoire of author-fairies and my husband and my techniques combined. At this point, I could write my own parenting book (and perhaps, when they all leave the roost I may just have the time to do that!) and could have saved many a Mother from the pit of parenting despair.

Have you become a Been There, Done That Mom or were you provided a mentor from Day One?

The Nest is Getting Quieter…

The nest is changing…

My 3 olders are all away together on a youth group weekend in Indiana. I am home for 3 days (that I would have called glorious, years ago) with just hubbie and my baby (okay, she’s 5 but, still my baby). This seems to be happening more and more weekends lately.

Way back when, I wished for this to happen. Moments of solitude, 7 pm bedtimes again, finally getting through that bedside pile of books, making only one dinner for all. As they say, be careful what you wish for…

The first time we had this sort of long-term quiet was about six years ago. We had put my youngest at the time to bed, while my older two were at play practice until 10 pm during Tech Week. This carried on night after night while my husband and I sat picking at our dinner, staring at one another unsure what to do with the quiet. So, we did what others do when they’re not ready for the quiet and we added #4 to round out the noise and keep us comfy in our still-full nest.

Well, I can guarantee you that adding a new one is not the answer this time around!

While I have wished for this quiet in the ruckus of teen angst, tween meltdowns and tot tantrums – I feel the palpable reality of many weekends like this one. The sound of my husband turning the page in his book, the click of my youngest daughter building her legos, my own breath heavy and repetitive as I read my magazines. Heck, I even hear the refrigerator dropping the ice in the freezer!!

I’m not sure I’m ready for this much quiet….

The hardest time to not have the kids home is Friday Night. All six of us have our routine for family dinner. We have our ‘spot’ at the table. Our argument over no one ever wanting the ‘dreaded end seat’. The kids set and banter together as they place napkins, cups and silverware around the plates. I take pride in watching them work together to set a beautiful table.

We sit and chat together about our week, recalling highs and lows. We laugh, we act silly, we pig out on dessert and then everyone leaves the table to go do their own thing. Often we linger around each other in the living room reading. I’m usually first to expire to bed while the others look at me with disdain for ruining the fun.

It’s a shared experience I look forward to all week. Moments of undivided attention – no cell phones, no television, no friends, comfy pajamas are even welcomed at our Friday Night dinners.

When even one is missing from our tradition the entire meal is shifted. Seats are changed, conversation is different. It’s still special but, it’s just not as awesome as when we are all together.

Our nest is changing. It has been coming for quite some time. It’s not a bad thing, really. I was afraid of it at first. But, now I see I need to savor each moment. Each Friday night. Six seats filled at the table and 6 dirty glasses placed in the sink.

Are there others of us out there? How are you handling the shift?


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