16 June 2017
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I think my parents were and are really good at parenting. I haven’t figured out all of their secrets (yet), but one key seems to be consistency.
My Dad, in particular, had a number of phrases that were on repeat throughout my first 18 years — if I’ve heard them once, truly, I’ve heard them a thousand times. They have shaped the kind of person I am, and will undoubtedly be issuing from my lips a thousand times in the next 18 years as John and I do our best to raise our children. I wanted to share a few of them with you today, in honor of Father’s Day.
Kate and Kim, repeat along with me…
If you’re going to give, give graciously. Let’s start with a particularly hard one to learn :) This meant that it wasn’t enough to simply shove a coloring book across the table at my sister if I begrudgingly agreed to relinquish it; no, I was supposed to politely place it in her hands, ideally with a smile. No bare minimum shortcuts at the Ayer household, much to our dismay while growing up. My Dad taught (and still teaches) me so much about going the extra mile AND doing it with your heart in the right place.
You might not have meant to, but you didn’t try hard enough not to. Again with the heart focus. This phrase would be employed when I’d, perhaps, knock my sister over as I ran past her, then whine, “but I didn’t meeeeeean to” when told to apologize. Again, we weren’t allowed to take the easy out.
Life isn’t fair and You can’t always get what you want. (The latter, usually sung to the tune of the Rolling Stones.) I was under no illusions growing up that everything was always going to go my way. Somehow, my parents were able to balance this blunt reality with a sense of possibility and hope, but I’m thankful I never had the opportunity to be crushed by the realization that the world wasn’t going to bend to my will, because I was reminded of it early and often.
Photo by Tanja Lippert
Steps are our friends. Way before FitBits and Apple Watches became commonplace, my Dad cheerfully expounded on the benefits of getting our bodies moving. He can often be found standing instead of sitting while reading, he’ll never miss a chance to accompany someone on a walk, and it was no surprise to any of us when he rigged himself a standing desk at work. With the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle becoming more and more clear, my Dad was definitely ahead of his time on this one.
Pleases and thank yous aren’t rationed. Simple enough. This was an extremely common catchall reminder that it’s hard to overdo it on politeness and kindness.
Don’t be overly fastidious. As the father of three girls, this was my Dad’s main offensive against raising a gaggle of “girly girls.” We were taught to be unafraid of mud, comfortable with sweat, capable of taking out the trash, and unlikely to leap to the top of a chair when a bug was spotted in the room.
Photo by Nancy Ray
Two wrongs don’t make a right. I bet this is a familiar one to many of you! My Dad always encouraged us to take the high road, to hold to our standards even when others weren’t holding to theirs. This was the basis of integrity in our family.
That’s the price you pay for an active childhood. This was my Dad’s favorite phrase when we came in sniffling from skinned knees. While we crawled up in his lap to be comforted, he was gently reminding us that a few bumps and bruises were a small price to pay for the glory of a childhood spent wild and free in the great outdoors.
Everything in moderation. Longtime readers will know that this is a life maxim of my Dad’s that I have latched onto hook, line, and sinker (mentioned here and here, for starters). In eating habits, in paying off debt, in establishing traditions — pretty much in everything besides my faith — I think it’s healthier, more sustainable, and more enjoyable to stick to a middle road than lurch to an extreme.
There’s nothing like a good Dad, and I’m so glad I have mine. I love you, Dad!!
Friends, I would LOVE to hear: what common phrases did your parents repeat throughout your childhood that have stuck with you?
5 June 2017
My dear friend Kristin (she of the recent baby shower) recently asked for my thoughts on our five must-have baby registry items, as well as five items we wish we hadn’t registered for. I’ve written several posts about our baby favorites (six weeks, five months, eight months, one year, fifteen months), but it was a fun challenge to narrow things down to the absolute essentials! Since Kristin is having twins, I’m sure it feels like extra pressure to choose the right things (times two!), so I was happy to offer a few opinions. Here they are, and I’d love to hear what you think, too!
Five must-have baby registry items:
1. An Ergo. From her fifth day of life to about a year old, June rode in our Ergo 360 several times a week, if not every day. It was our baby wearing apparatus of choice by far – comfortable for both John and I to wear and satisfactory to June. She even rode in it at several photo shoots!
2. A Rock and Play. The Rock and Play has been called baby crack, and I don’t disagree. June slept in this for almost all naps and overnight from birth to about five months, and I credit it with forming solid sleep skills from the start. I was worried that the slight incline and vibration would spoil her for crib sleeping, but when it was time to transition, she did so with nary a peep.
3. Water Wipes. My sisters-in-law recommended these super gentle wipes as being perfect for the first few weeks, but we’ve been using them for 17+ months and are still going strong! I love that they are literally just water and some fruit extracts, and they never pill or tear.
4. Swaddle Me swaddles. After we stopped swaddling June in the hospital blankets, we moved on to the Swaddle Me. I’m not convinced it’s the best option out there, but it’s the best one we found and I’d definitely recommend them! We did have to buy a new one each month because the velcro wore out and she was able to bust free, but they’re priced reasonably enough and work well enough that we were willing to do it.
5. The Ikea high chair. To me, this high chair is pretty much the apex of form, function, and price. It is sleek, not overwhelming in a space, super easy to clean, and $20 (!!!!!). Winner on all fronts. There are lots of cute stores on Etsy (like this one) that sell cushion covers and tray place mats if you want to jazz it up a little, too.
Honorable mentions: Our stroller (we LOVE it, but I think strollers really need to fit your lifestyle and so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend ours to everyone), the Lotus travel crib and bassinet conversion kit (again, LOVE it, but maybe only worth the investment if you travel a lot!), and these cloths (love them, but, well, they’re just cloths :))
Five items we wish we hadn’t registered for:
1. Cold weather gear. We registered for (and received) a fleece bundler, several hats, several mittens, and a fleece car seat cover. We live in North Carolina, for goodness sake! While we did use the hats and mittens, we never needed the bundler or car seat cover even though June was born in the winter. I think they were purchased because they were so darn cute, but I kind of wish I’d prioritized registering for items that we would have used more often.
2. Wubba nub. June never seemed to need a pacifier, so the cute Wubba Nub we registered for and received is still in its packaging. I know tons of folks love these guys, but we clearly could have waited to see if it was necessary instead of registering for one.
3. A kind-of-ugly activity gym. We got this one, which is fine and June liked it, but there are much prettier ones out there! If I had a do-over, I’d definitely go for this Land of Nod one.
4. Velvet hangers. We fold almost all of June’s clothes, so we very rarely use hangers — and when we do, I prefer plastic or wooden, because everything gets stuck on the velvet ones (which I know is the point, but turns out it’s annoying in practice!). Lesson learned: try to decide how you’ll set up the nursery before you register.
5. Diaper pail. When we didn’t receive the pail we’d registered for, we decided to forgo one altogether. All diapers go in our kitchen step trash can, which has worked perfectly for us!
Kristin and I would love to hear your baby must-haves, if you’re a mama!
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12 May 2017
Of all the things I am grateful for, at the very tip-top of the list is being born to Beth and Rob Ayer.
Like us all, I’m sure there are things in their lives they wish they’d done better, but one thing they don’t have to worry about? How they raised three daughters. In honor of Mother’s Day, I present to you one more Marvelous Mama interview: this time with my own mom. Enjoy, then go tell your mama or favorite mama stand-in how much you love her!
Name: Beth Ayer
With whom do you live? I live with my husband of almost 36 years, Rob. (I am also Em for Marvelous’s proud Mama.) Living with my husband is a bit of a recent change, though; from 2011 to 2015 we had a “long distance marriage.” After retiring from the Coast Guard he lived and worked in Virginia and then Maryland while hoping for a job back in Connecticut where we have lived for 30+ years. It was not ideal, but we liked to say that we were paying dues as a military couple that we hadn’t earlier in life. (Since Rob was on the permanent teaching staff at the Coast Guard Academy, we didn’t move frequently like most military families.) We would have much rather lived apart at this point in our lives than when the girls were younger, but we are glad to be together again.
Occupation: I’ve had several occupations during the course of my career-life. I worked with children with learning disabilities right out of college. After marrying Rob and moving to CT (for the first time) to follow his Coast Guard career I worked as a bank teller. We moved to Boston for grad school for Rob and I found a job as a bank teller there. A year into that job we had our first daughter and I began my favorite job, as a Mom to Kate and then her two sisters, Emily and Kimberly. We moved back to CT when Rob finished grad school and he began to teach at the USCGA. A few years into being a mom to our two girls I was approached to be a teacher at the nursery school Kate was attending. I had just found out that I was pregnant with our third daughter, so I turned down that offer. When I was approached again two years later, I considered it more carefully: our youngest was two, the school was right across the playground from the elementary school that our girls would attend, and it was a job that I would love to have. I took the job, part time at the beginning, easing into full time over the years and eventually becoming the director of the school. I retired from the school a few years ago after 16 years as director.
What does a day in the life look like for you? It all depends. Since I’m retired, on a typical day I get up when I get up, which is very nice after having an alarm for many years! I try to take a walk first thing, then come home and get ready for the day. There’s usually some sort of errand to be done next — I find that now that it’s just Dad and I I’m almost like the French, going to the market every day. I volunteer at our town’s food pantry and clothing exchange and have responsibilities at our church. I usually do some sort of yard work and reading, and sometimes get together with a friend for lunch. I also substitute teach at a local preschool a few days a month. And often (happily!), I’m traveling to be with my children and grandchildren, who are spread out over several states.
Words you live by: I try to live by the Golden Rule, but it is a struggle some days. I also have a few Bible verses that I’m working on living by: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) and “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). And lastly, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” – a wonderful reminder to be grateful every day.
Tell us a few things on your bucket list. Cheering at the Kentucky Derby. Visiting the Grand Canyon and some of the other beautiful National Parks in the Southwest. Seeing Alaska. A river cruise through Europe. Visiting Scotland and seeing some ancestral places. Seeing more baseball parks.
What do you watch on TV? I love the Bachelor (Em and I have that in common!), Scandal, NCIS, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Favorite books to read with your kids: Probably the Robert McCloskey books, because there were so many familiar places and themes in them.
What was one of the best things you did for preparing to have kids? We didn’t do much! That sounds terrible! We went to a Lamaze class, I think. I did not read Dr. Spock. I had babysat and had a much younger brother, so I had some experience. I think I felt like things were going to unfold no matter what, and I figured I’d learn as I went, that it was just going to come to me. And it did! I didn’t go back to work right away, so it wasn’t as important to get things on a schedule immediately – if we didn’t get any sleep one night, I could just sleep when the baby slept the next day.
What is something you were not at all prepared for? When I was pregnant with you, I was worried how I would possibly have room to love another baby. It felt like my heart was full, but then it expands! The love I had for Kate felt all-encompassing, but your heart just grows with each child.
Photos by Meredith Perdue from Kate’s wedding
What is your parenting philosophy? We kind of winged it in regards to our philosophy of parenting. We wanted to raise kind, responsible children, so our philosophy flowed from that. When we moved to Connecticut, I was lucky enough to have a circle of other Coast Guard wives whose children were all about the same age. We (mostly) were far from family and relied on each other for questions, watched each other’s kids, and got together for play dates.
Best tip for a new parent? Be present – it really does go faster than you think! You know your child best; do what you feel is right for her. Someone gave you some advice at your shower, Em, that I thought was spot on: they are the longest days and the shortest years. So very true!
Photo by Tanja Lippert from our wedding
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. I loved going to get our Christmas tree. Where we went depended on the year – we went to a city lot in Boston the first two years (and got a little tree for the top of our grand piano), then we went to Dad’s farm, then to a local family farm with lots of other Coast Guard families and had dinner afterward. As you guys got older we went to Maple Lane and I think you all loved it, too – we were instructed to wait until you were home from college in later years to get the tree! I loved our vacations in Maine, and going to Lake Winnepesaukee with our family friends – sometimes that felt like a little more of a vacation than Maine, since there weren’t the family dynamics! I loved our evening street walks when you guys were little – our crowd would grow as we roller skated, biked, and stopped to talk to neighbors, then people would peel off one by one as we made our way back up the street.
What is one thing you were not prepared for as a parent? The 24/7 nature. Obviously I knew that, but I don’t think you can understand it until you experience it. As a babysitter, you have them for a short while and then are relived of duty. You are never relieved of duty when they are YOUR children, no matter how old they are. You always worry about them (see “words to live by”…), even when they are grown-ups themselves :)
What is or has been your favorite part about having children? I really loved being a spectator at all of your events. I felt like that was part of my job as a mom, but I loved it. I loved watching you grow up, gain skills, and gain confidence in whatever it was you were doing – dance, athletics, drama, singing. It was fascinating to watch you guys grow up. I also love how our relationships have evolved – from me being a protector, watcher, and caregiver to consultant, friend, mentor – and now you’re often my mentors!
What do you miss most about having kids in your home? I just miss you guys — having you near, the daily interactions that make up life together – oh boy, I’m going to cry. It’s nice to have it be just Dad and I again, but I would not necessarily have a hard time if any of you ever had to move home, ha! I am grateful for how technology connects us – a quick text, phone call, Instagram post, or email. Though they weren’t in person, I had an interaction with each of you today, like most days.
Photo by Nancy Ray from my baby shower
What has been the best part about watching your own children become parents? How good you are at it. No, really! I’m not surprised, I expected you to be good at it, but I don’t think either you or Kate had a lot of experience babysitting, so I just didn’t have an opportunity to see you in that role before June arrived. But watching you with her at six weeks old and seeing how focused, attentive, and not distracted you were was the best. There’s so much more to distract your generation, and I’m glad you are not doing that. My Mom said this about me and I didn’t always feel like it, and I’m going to say the same thing about you, even though you might not feel like it: you are so patient as a parent. You don’t show it if you’re frustrated. She is the priority.
Photo by Nancy Ray from our family session
What is the best part of being a grandparent? When you’re the parent there’s so much other stuff going on – work, house, obligations. When you’re a grandparent (especially if you’re retired), there’s none of the same pressure. Whenever you get to be together, you can be all there. You know how precious it is because you’ve done it before. You get a second chance to be a part of a childhood, and this time with a different perspective.
See? She’s the best. Thank you so much, Mom! I love you!!
P.S. Seven things I love about my Mom.
10 April 2017
June is a girl on the move these days, practically running everywhere she goes. This is such a fun age, and we have been delighting in our sweet, funny girl! These are a few of the items helping us keep up with her at fifteen months!
— June is actually very good at eating off a plate, so we don’t use these too often, but for places that don’t have plates (like Chick-fil-a!), these stick-on table toppers are helpful.
— June outgrew her sunhat from last year, so we replaced it with this one. The chambray goes with almost everything!
— I don’t frequent Kohl’s too often, but when I ran in recently to make a return I was wowed by the Carters spring girl collection! SO much cuteness, including the above leggings (which June has), this sweatshirt set, this buffalo check romper, this outfit (reminds me of John Robshaw or Roberta Roller Rabbit!), this anorak (we might buy this for the fall – so cute!), and this swimsuit.
— I might be the only blogger alive who doesn’t love Honest products, but aside from their diapers, I just haven’t found them that effective for our family. We started using the Burt’s Bees original lotion a few weeks ago, and love it so much more!
— Target’s Cat & Jack hair bows are our favorite right now. They’re adorable, and also only $2 each, which is great because despite my best efforts we lose them left and right.
— June still prefers to explore outside over playing with almost any toy, but she does love her band in a box (maracas!).
— I am a little unsure as to whether I want to list June’s convertible car seat as a favorite, because I have some mixed feelings about it. I didn’t do a ton of research before we bought it, because we got a large gift card to Nordstrom at the same time we were shopping for a new seat, and I liked the look of this one and it had great safety ratings. We do like it, and June does seem to think it’s maxi cozy, but the straps are hard to tighten (which may, I freely admit, be user error).
— We use the Cloud Baby Monitor app on our phones and laptops as our monitor when we’re traveling. It has unlimited range and works great!
— I’m using this slide as a stand-in for playgrounds in general, which June loves in all shapes and sizes – especially slides, stairs, and swings!
Past family favorites:
The first six weeks
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