Yesterday, I discovered— to my utter dismay— that my three kids and I had no milk for our morning cereal. Vowing to make a trip to the grocery store later in the day, I bundled my brood in jackets, mittens and scarves; and headed for our cherry-red minivan promising a spontaneous trip to the Golden Arches. During the frenetic bolt to the garage, my 1 year old had a blow out. I corralled the others, un-bundled the toddler, changed her diaper and we all re-sprinted to the car. By the time everyone was buckled in, I had broken a marathon-wet sweat.

After yelling our breakfast order into the drive-thru microphone and paying, I placed the huge, sweet, warm, carbohydrate-filled bag of booty on the passenger seat. Precious cargo. At home, the children saddled up to their chairs and I dug into the bag producing a trio of piping hot hotcakes, butter and syrup. My stomach growling, mouth salivating, I searched to the very bottom of the bag for my meal. Missing! It was MIA! What a metaphor for motherhood! Everyone’s meal is here except mine!

I surveyed the kitchen clock wondering if we could make a return trip for my McMuffin and still make the 8:37am bus. No luck, I’d have to grab it between the bus stop and preschool drop-off. Forget it, I thought, and decided to skip the indulgence completely. Besides, I could take this ‘opportunity’ to kick-start my diet with a bowl of high fiber cereal. I poured a heaping mound of dry, brown, seed-filled flakes; then went to the fridge, where I shockingly remembered our absence of milk: the catalyst for the morning’s fiasco.

The kids finished their delectable plunder. We donned coats, scarves and mittens again, loaded the car again and drove through again. At the pick-up window, my son, Ayden, said, “Cool, Mom, we got to get into the car twice today, get dressed twice today, and go to McDonald’s twice, too! It’s been a GREAT day already!”

I couldn’t agree with Ayden at that moment. But, as I removed my scarf and fanned myself with the fast food bag, I looked at him in the rear-view mirror. I gave a slight nod and willed my eyes to smile at him.

It seems I’ve experienced days like this too often in the thick of mothering. I’m rushing, worrying, planning, recovering, while my children are savoring the wonder and wildness of life. They’re bringing spirit and spunk, a wonderful attitude to our everyday experiences.

Inspired by their organic ways of celebrating each moment, I came up with the following ABCs of Wonderful Parenting to remind myself and other frenzied parents to let our children lead the way to a life filled with joy:

Avoid rushing. Slow down enough to notice rainbows, throw helicopter seeds into the wind, and smell spring’s lilacs. Heck, go through the drive-thru twice, just for the fun of it.

Be honest about your faults. The other day, I went ballistic on my eldest son, Ben, because he left his bike in the front yard for the third night in a row. Mid-scream, I realized that my unharnessed anger wasn’t getting us anywhere. So, we sat down on the front porch where I apologized for losing it. Then, I told Ben about my devastation when, as a teen, my brand-new ten speed was stolen!

Clear out the clutter. Getting rid of old, broken, outgrown toys often reveals play-inducing treasures once hidden beneath the pile of junk.

Dine at kid-friendly spots. There’s nothing like colorful paper menus and balloons with your meal!

Eliminate unnecessary ‘shoulds’ like: we ‘should’ eat in the dining room, we ‘should’ always clean the house before guests arrive. Instead, have a pizza picnic in the family room and let friends crunch on Cheerios left over on the floor from breakfast.

Feel your feelings. Kids have a way of doing this automatically. Have you ever seen a child who has accidentally let go of the string to her helium balloon? Allow yourself to drink from the well of sadness. Also, laugh unabashedly when ridiculous things happen throughout the day.

Gather with friends often. There’s nothing like a playdate to evoke fun and the feeling of family.

Howl at the moon!

Instill periods of quiet time during each day.

Jump for joy. Even as I write, my boys are actually jumping on the neighbor’s trampoline. When I put down my pen, I think I’ll join them.

Kitchen wish. Purchase a kids’ cookbook and let your children choose meals, snacks and desserts for one week. My boys and I did this over spring break and ended up eating fish-shaped crab cakes, banana boat sundaes and spaghetti rings. Yum!

Love freely. Be sure to get and give lots of hugs and kisses every day. We all need them!

Make memories (and keep them organized in a scrapbook or a memory box).

Nest. Make sure you and your kids have comfy places to play, read, chat and rest. You can never have enough pillows and bean bags.

Observe your kids. Really look at them. Even stare in order to see them better. Memorize their facial expressions, the ways their noses slope or their hair bleaches out in the sun. Write down things they say like, ‘Mom, could you zip-me-down, please?’ And, ‘Do dogs smile?’ Treasure what you notice. Ponder these things in your heart.

Play outside. There’s nothing like catching fireflies in mason jars, finding rock dwelling Rollie Pollies or counting a lady bug’s spots. Nature always has a way of espousing wonder— just like kids!

Quit looking for ‘No’’ and start seeing the ‘Yes.’ You’ll be amazed how this little rule can change your day.

Read classic children’s literature, poetry and picture books aloud with your kids. Have them read or tell their favorite stories to you, too!

Sign up for a park district class with one or more of your kids. My 16 month old and I are taking infant aquatics this summer: good for touch time and exercise!

Take time for traditions. Realize that they’re like hooks holding memories which mark lives together as special. They line up year after year, and from them, hang truths about thankful thanksgivings, new beginnings during spring and feeling special on your birthday.

Unleash the child in yourself!

Visit your local dollar store. During a dull day, there’s nothing like a new, though temporary, toy to open windows for imaginative play.

Wear Halloween costumes year ‘round. The other day we had omelets and pancakes with Spiderman, The Lone Ranger and Tinkerbell. Last week, I even visited the DMV with a Ninja, a firefighter and Pocahontas.

X–out negative attitudes. Follow the ‘I think I can’ spirit of juveniles and you’ll be climbing mountains, going on bear hunts and discovering hidden passageways into uncharted territories.

Yuck it up! Are your kids always begging you to jump in puddles, dig in the dirt? Reserve especially mucky days to don boots and splash away. Follow the festivities with a bubble bath.

Z— Ask your kids for help with ‘Z.’ Maybe they’ll do better than the zebra, zoo and zither, my kids offered.

Whether we like it or not, our little ones bring out the best or worst in us as parents. For days full of spirit and spunk, whimsy and wonder, parents— like me— would do well to follow the ABCs of Wonderful Parenting. At worst, we’ll be going through the drive-thru twice. At best, we’ll increase our laughter quotient, get a few more hugs and fill up our bug jars.

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