Monthly Archives: June 2012

cute, creative & confined to the house…all while preparing her to take on the world!

I could write pages about E’s style.  Suffice it to say that since she was a tiny girl, fashion has inspired her creativity.  From

– fingernails painted 10 different colors to

hours in her room drawing new designs for her dolls to

asking mama to help her make those designs come alive in fabric (I wish I had any skill at all in this area…)

E simply sees things in fabric and thread that I would never see without her.

As a result, she has the uncanny ability to surprise me with what she’s wearing, even though I am very familiar with every stitch in her wardrobe.

Take her green skirt, for example.  It is a simple skirt, designed for a 5 year old girl in that it has shorts sewn in underneath.  Perfect for sitting on the Kindergarten mat.

Well, recently E came down from her room with the skirt worn in a way I had never anticipated.  She put on the skirt, and while the shorts remained covering her lower body, pulled the skirt overlay up and inside out to create a strapless shirt.

It was creative, cute, and (since my 5 year old will not be wearing strapless outfits), confined to the house.  I didn’t make a picture, but it’s basically a green version of this (except that the armless mannequin could never wear it since E had to hold the top up with her hands, as there is no elastic on what was intended to be the bottom of a skirt…I did help her pin it so it would stay during her fun “dress-up” hour).

You can imagine if the top were folded down at the waist, this would be a skirt with shorts underneath. E just transformed it the other way, making it look just like this outfit, without ever having seen anyone wear this before. Is this how Ralph Lauren got his start?  Or am I raising Lady Gaga?

This wardrobe alteration was not an isolated incident…

The next week, E surprised me by announcing she was dressed for choir practice while wearing a midriff-bearing, one shouldered shirt.  Since she owns no such items, I looked closer and discovered that her “shirt” was actually a pair of blue shorts worn upside down.  She had put her head through one of the leg holes and her right arm through the other to create this look.

Can you tell that the shirt is actually a pair of shorts worn upside down?  When she moves her arms and it becomes a full midriff-bearing, one shoulder ensemble, which is why I posted a photo that happened to catch her while her face was covered.  No need to show her fully on display in this outfit.

Anyone who knows me knows that I think some of the best and most important childhood moments when kids are given license to create.  And E absolutely has license to create in our house. And room what I’ve seen so far, art & fashion are absolutely her creative specialties.  Her mind just looks at fabric and sees things I don’t see, and I think it’s fantastic.  I want to encourage it, not stifle it.

At the same time, E and I had to have two conversations before we headed out to choir practice that day…

(1) modesty… I am confronting this issue earlier than I thought I would have to and am admittedly unprepared.  Any pointers on discussing modestly with a 5 year old are greatly appreciated!  In the meantime, I will say that before she went out of the house, she was required to (a) put another pair of shorts under her skirt and (b) add a tank-top underneath the upside-down shorts to cover her belly and the exposed shoulder .  Which meant she left the house looking like this:

I also had to talk to E about…

(2) Being who you are:  I was up-front about E that (a) I loved her mind and vision and creativity, (b) seeing and doing things differently is celebrated in our house, as long as you are being true to who you are and expressing/not contradicting important values (like modesty), and (c) once you leave our house, you may get teased for seeing and doing things differently.  She should be ready for that, but not let it scare her away from something that she wanted.  (The world needs people who see some things differently, and it makes things a lot more fun too!)

But reigning it back in to the issue at hand, I basically told E that someone could recognize that she was wearing shorts upside-down as a shirt and tease her about it, and asked her if she would be ok when that happened.  She said she would, so we practiced her response in case that happened:

“I like the way it looks!  But I don’t like to be teased, so stop.”

And off she went to choir…

As it turns out, no one said anything to her.  And I am proud that she had a vision, was comfortable doing things differently, and learned a little bit about how to brace herself.  I will be the first investor in her design company, if her interest continues.  (I will also be the first to send her back upstairs if something is not modest, with suggestions about how to make it work while still being fun, accompanied by clear instructions to put some more clothes on.)

(As a side note, I would like to say that I uber-impressed with my mother-in-law, who witnessed about 75% of this exchange with E, let me handle the whole thing, and just smiled and said at one point, “You are both just wonderful!”  I got extra lucky that she came as part of a family package with my amazing husband!  More on their visit in an upcoming post…)

I also got lucky that we happened to be ready for choir early that day, which left enough time for a conversation.  Because a few days later, she came downstairs a few minutes before she had to leave for school wearing this dress.

random, fuzzy photo of E that I snapped as she was putting on an “art show” on the kitchen table…but she happened to be wearing the dress I’m referring to…a dress we both love, by the way…

No problem, right?

Oh wait, I forgot to mention that she was intentionally wearing it backwards.  Which means this part…

became a midriff-bearing bikini in the front.  With no time for a real conversation or the addition of a tank-top, I simply had to ask her to turn it around and let her know we would talk again later about how to make her clothes both modest and fun.

Egads.

The next person who suggests we just make departures simpler by having the kids pick out their clothes the night before is going to get an earful.  I can look at what E is planning on wearing (sweet green skirt, cute blue shorts, pretty pink sundress…), but honestly, I’m not creative enough to imagine exactly how she’s going to put the things on!  I mean, this is the height of looking “different on the rack” than they do when the child actually wears them!

As another side note, I racked my brain to think of where E might have gotten any inspiration for the outfits…especially since with all the end-of-school commitments, we haven’t even really hit swimsuit season yet.  The only think I can think of is Princess Jasmine, which got me wondering why Disney, with all their creative thinkers, couldn’t come up with an outfit slightly less revealing than this for the princess so many little girls are obsessed with:

Love ya, Disney.  But I think you can do better by my 5 year old – who is certainly in your target age demographic and desperately wanted to be Princess Jasmine last Halloween.  (Which begs the question: why did I not see this coming?  E was a more modest version of the Princess Jasmine for that holiday.)

Anyway, a reminder to readers that I’d love tips on how you explain the importance of modesty to a five year old, and how you decide what is appropriate and what isn’t…

And a quick note to E…

E,

I Love your style.  I Love your brain.  I Love your spunk.  I love you.

Be who you are always!

(While modestly covering your five year old midriff.)

Love,

Mom

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Why? Which character did you think I would be?

So my brain has been operating on a delay recently…

I could offer a litany of excuses: long-term sleep deprivation, pregnancy brain (I hear recent studies show it’s a real thing, you know…), an overwhelming end-of-school calendar, low iron-levels (which mean fatigue and slower cognitive function, apparently), or simply the one billion distractions that hit every day and cause me to lose focus on whatever task was supposed to be at hand…

What was I talking about again?

Oh, right…My brain…

Anyway, I asked my husband last week if he had noticed that my mental capacities seemed to be failing more often during these frenzied last few weeks of school.  He wisely responded, “That is a trick question that I refuse to answer.”

But kids will always tell you the truth, even when you don’t ask them.

Perhaps that’s why last week, after S had to remind me THREE times that I had been walking across the kitchen to get her drink out of the fridge

(seriously, three of those “What was I doing in the kitchen again?” moments within a span of ten minutes…)

Anyway, after she had to remind me three times that I had been walking across the kitchen to get her drink out of the fridge, I finally said, “I’m so sorry, S!  I think there’s something wrong with my brain today!”

To which she responded, “I know!  You’re like Dory from Finding Nemo!”

She then launched into the song from the Finding Nemo musical.  Dory sings,

I guess I should explain…
I got this problem with my brain…
Things get really scrambled in my head…
I have no short term memory…
I forget things almost instantly…
I’m not even sure what I just said…

La La La La La La La…

Can you imagine?!  With all our expertise in every princess and heroine to ever grace the pages of a storybook, I am most closely associated with the forgetful fish.

Oh well.  At least Dory is known for being positive through it all.  I’ll just try to focus on that part of it, and do a better job of emulating her cheery outlook.  How does her other song go, again?  That’s right…

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.  Everything will be ok…

I won’t eat it, and you can’t make me. (alternate title: photo of the week)

I call this photo: “I won’t eat it, and you can’t make me.”

Yes, he has THREE pacifiers in his mouth.

This was a failed attempt at going sans high chair.  He took one look at his plate, hopped up to get his pacifiers, then staged this little sit in. Of course, it was so cute that I couldn’t be too upset.  (His mama is a softie, after all!)

Two additional notes:

(1) We are back in the high chair now.  No more hopping up to get pacifiers at dinner.

and

(2) This is with ham, mashed potatoes, and bananas in front of him…all things he will supposedly tolerate.  You should have seen what happened when I added a green vegetable to his plate!

Love you, T.  Even when you spew half chewed peas onto my dinner : )

Some-kind-of-unidentifiable-soup for the soul

Another post I wrote a few weeks ago and never published…

I mentioned recently that S has a new fascination with cooking.  It manifests itself in a variety of ways.  Here she is helping me puree food for T.

In this photo, she’s peeling the leaves off cauliflower.

I do the primary cutting (i.e. I slice the squash and zucchini into medallions), and she uses her plastic knife to cut the medallions in half before I steam them.  She also uses a plastic knife to cut cooked carrots.  No, her cutting is not necessary to the process of making pureed food.  But it is absolutely necessary to the more important processes of (1) encouraging her current area of interest –  cooking, (2) contributing to the family in a way that makes her feel proud – you should see her showing T all the food she’s helped make for him, and (3) creating what I consider to be “quality time” in the kitchen…chatting while we both chop vegetables.  I’d love to still have her – or any of the kids – asking to work in there with me in 10 years.

My girl is mighty proud in this picture, and I am proud of her. These are some of our most fun days together. She likes pushing the buttons on the blender too.

As a side note, T is almost 2 and I should have him eating regular veggies now, instead of pureed.  We do encourage that.  He gets offered regular veggies at every meal.  But he doesn’t eat many, and he will take his morning oatmeal with all those veggies you see on the counter blended in.  I mean the kid goes through a bag of brussel sprouts, a head of cauliflower, a bunch of broccoli, etc. every month. Honestly, I wish I could get myself or the rest of the family to eat that much good stuff!  Still, I know we need to get him to eat a real green bean at some point (or even a pea or corn niblet, for goodness sake…) Any advice is greatly appreciated…

S also helps me make bread (which her dad loves…she is so proud to tell him on the days we make it).  And on days when there is no cooking to help with, she often asks if she can make us soup and salad for dinner.  She picks “salad” (grass!) out of the yard, washes and spins it in the salad spinner, and puts it aside as dad’s “late night” snack (i.e. he tosses the grass back out into the yard after everyone is asleep, and then of course wakes up raving about how yummy everything was…did I marry the right guy or what?!).

The soup she makes is basically water and anything else I have lying around the kitchen that she can get creative with (I let her put water into a big tupperware, and she adds a few scoops of flour, tears the heel of our bread into the bowl, adds a random fruit or veggie that has gotten over-ripe, puts in the unused parts of foods we’ve had that day (i.e. the green tops of strawberries) and dumps any breakfast leftovers in (whatever eggs E left on her plate and whatever cheerios T didn’t eat).

Check out the disgusting (but creative!) finished product, (which dad chucks into the yard discretely, along with the salad, after all the kids have gone to bed).

Oh wait… the soup is not the finished product…  this smile is what we’ve really been working on all morning…  check out my girl, so happy with her soup…

E loves the kitchen too, and is extremely eager to participate in the veggie chopping, etc.  (i.e. she is absolutely part of the fun!)  But S is currently the one who – when given free choice, anything you want with mom time – will ask to plant a garden, chop veggies, make soup, and pick salad.  (It actually started in our “school” time, where she would ignore every other activity in favor of the bowl of measuring items that she was allowed to take to the bathroom sink…she would play for half-an-hour with a few measuring cups, some funnels, an eyedropper, a set of measuring spoons and a baster.)

And for those who are curious, no…NONE of this has made her more interested in eating anything.  She is just as picky as ever.  In fact, although she is very interested in making dinner for everyone else, her absolute favorite treat – the one thing she asks for repeatedly – is to eat out, even though we do that maybe one time (Chick-Fil-A kids night!) during a regular month.  My goodness, she was on cloud 9 when Nana visited last week and took her out on several lunch dates and treated us to some fun dinners.  (And she comes by it honest…I was on cloud 9 too…thanks, Nana!)

(update: since I wrote this Grammy and Grandpa have also visited and treated all of us to some fun meals…so thank you too, Grammy and Grandpa!  More on that visit soon!)

This post has gotten longer than I expected, but there you have one additional thing we were doing last month…making lots and lots of inedible salad and soup!

Maybe *I* am the Redneck Woman…(I do love the song!)

Yesterday, S found two single dollar bills and an unopened condom on the ground near our mailbox.

A deal gone bad? (rejected because of the low bid??)

I don’t know, but certainly an awkward pause from me as my 4 year old shared her discovery…

Also, a lot of handwashing after I realized she had picked up both bills…

Fortunately, we were all distracted from the discovery by three things:

(1) the letter in the mailbox to S from a friend at preschool (a teacher-initiated project…how fantastic is that!)

(2) the neighbor’s yardman, wielding a weed-whacker and wearing his headphones, all while belting “I’m a Redneck Woman” at the top of his lungs (sing it, buddy!)

and

(3) the bird that flew into the house during our quick trip to the mailbox, began panicking in the kitchen, and had to be shooed out after I opened all the kitchen windows and removed every screen (the bird has since abandoned the beginnings of the nest he was building on our front porch, which is truly disappointing…)

Did I mention that all of this happened before 8am in the morning?

Sometimes I really wish I drank coffee…

A peek inside my brain (alternate title: Did we choose the right school for E?)

So I’ve been awol again…

I’ll spare you the excuses, and just say that I’ve written a few posts over the course of the last few weeks, but have been too tired to actually look at them with a clear eye and hit publish.  Over the next few days, I’m going to pull the trigger and publish them and hope they’re ok!  Here it goes…

Post 1: written a few weeks back…

So I warned you recently that I was in a kid-centric thinking & writing space.  I mentioned that was partly because our kids are all changing so rapidly right now.  The additional reality is that along with those changes come decisions that my husband and I have to make about rules, environments, activities, etc.  We are doing our best, but it’s nerve-wracking.  And it is particularly nerve-wracking the first time we go through each process, because there is so much information to gather and new types of thinking to do.  And the first time we go through most things is with our eldest child, E.

I know I just wrote a post about S and schooling, but lest you think it was easier with E…here’s a peek inside my brain…

Oh, E.  How we love you.

For those who haven’t caught a glimpse of her recently, E went through a “bride” phase (may be moving out of it now?), and for several weeks only wanted to wear this.

And not just around the house, but to school, church and around town too.  We did insist she take the veil off for school : ).  And wear a pair of shorts under the white “slip”.  And after the “train” got stuck in a scooter, we had to limit that element also.

(Can’t you just picture her, like a miniature Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, wheeling around on a scooter in this outfit?!)

Even when not in the midst of her brief bridal-wear everywhere weeks, E is my consummate girly girl.  She has always loved dresses and sparkly shoes, but this has been taken to a fever pitch recently because she has chosen her wonderful Kindergarten teacher as a role model.  While most of her classmates wear shorts and T-shirts, E chooses the dresses, flat shoes and cardigans that make her look like a little teacher.  She even insists on carrying her fancy little white purse with her in her backpack.  Nana fed her fancy fever recently by purchasing the shoes pictured below, which E wears every single moment I will let her (and I let her all the time, only insisting that she take them off on gym days at school, when all the kids are required to wear tennis shoes, or when we are going to be running and climbing at a park).

Don’t know how clearly the shoes will come across, but they are pink sparkly Hello Kitty slip-ons, positioned here under a heart shaped jump rope.

I am sure there are some adults at school who wonder why I would “make” my young daughter dress all fancy, but anyone who knows me or E knows that this is all her, and I am simply encouraging her to be who she is (as I wear my shorts, T-shirts and flip flops!)

But that’s all just context.  The heart of this post is that watching E be who she is this year, and watching her seek out role models among her teachers at school, has given me an opportunity to reflect on the big decision we made last year about where she would receive her formal education.

We considered every option, and honestly although we love her school, I still think about it a lot.  Part of this is simply because I’m a parent.  For those of us fortunate on multiple levels (i.e. live in a country where there are schools open to everyone, have the resources to actually have any degree of choice in where our kids go to school, etc.) there’s just a lot to think about.  My issues are exacerbated because I am a former teacher, who did additional schooling to become credentialed in the area of teaching teachers and supervising them in their classrooms.  Add to this my passion for public schools, my professional focus on under-resourced schools and intense concern about equity in education, my belief that – despite all this investment in public schools – the reality is that my most important job as a parent is to tend souls (i.e. love the religious schools that reinforce what we’re trying to do at home!), my appreciation of the Montessori system, and my willingness to homeschool if we decided to got that route…and honestly, what you have is a big mentally muddled mess.

In the midst of “school shopping”, I was greatly comforted by one school’s guidance counselor who listened patiently to all my thoughts, then smiled and said, “You should just relax.  Because I can tell by listening to you that you really care about your children and are willing to work to make sure they’re ok.  Wherever you put them, if they keep coming home to that kind of mama, they’re going to be fine.”

I really appreciated that (you have no idea how much!), but the reality was, we still had to make a decision about school.  Ultimately, we moved into a neighborhood whose public school was known for its nurturing staff and fantastic learning environment.  We have loved the neighborhood, and E has loved the school.  I do have concerns about the high schools here (they have a fantastic reputation, but in my opinion are so “good” that it leads to a competitive environment that can suck a kid right out of a balanced life and into a nasty vortex of stress), but we made the best decision we could for the next 8 years of schooling for E, and will deal with high school when we get there.

Still, my most important job is to tend souls.  So I wonder sometimes why we don’t have her in a religious school that lists that as their primary mission as well?  This concern has been exacerbated this year because I have seen first hand how E has chosen role models, friends and advisors in the community we placed her in.  We LOVE her choices.  Her school, and the world at large, is full of wonderful people.  But should we have placed her in a community where essentially everyone subscribed to our value system in order to hedge our bets that her choice of role model or friend would share our values on a fundamental level?  On the flip side, in doing that would we risk exposing her to individuals that might take it all too far – into the realm of homogeny, disrespect of others, lack of appreciation for diversity, or presenting what I would consider to be a warped version of our religious values?  Probably not, if we chose the community carefully and were diligent.  I guess the reality is that wherever she’s in school, we will have to keep the lines of communication open and talk to her about what we believe, how to maintain personal integrity while showing respect for those who believe differently, and listen to and respectfully guide her as she comes into her own way of thinking.

At this point, E is in a diverse school filled with wonderful people with all different types of beliefs, and she comes home to a celebration of that as well as a family devotional (we’re working on becoming more consistent with this…) and then out again to a church community that shares our values with her under our supervision.  Still, I struggle.  To make things more complicated, it is important to us that E embrace the Catholic Church as well as her global community and the protestant community in which we are very active.  Catholic School would certainly help with this.  In lieu of enrolling her, I am considering going to speak to the local priest.  (Update: have already made this phone call and am waiting to hear back)  I have heard there are classes for young children on Monday nights that might be a good fit for E?  Maybe we could find some community there?  It is thought-provoking for me, as I grew up exposed to two different Christian denominations: one at school, another at church.  I found it to be a fantastic experience, provoking a lot of independent critical thinking.  I wouldn’t trade that history for the world.  But I know others with similar histories that struggled, and would have appreciated our current position:  a fantastic school, with the directly-addressed-spiritual elements experienced in home and church settings with parents who are supervising more moments in the process than the 7 hour daily school-window allows.  (Honestly, I had one teacher tell me I was going to he#@ because of where my family attended services…that’s another story that worked out ok for me in the end (after a trip to the principal’s office because of my reaction), but could have easily devastated a more sensitive child?  I also had a third grade classmate tell me her father worried about my family’s salvation because of where we attended Sunday services, and revealed they prayed for our souls every night at their family dinner table…again, no problem for me – hey, I hope they’re still praying!  I’ll take all the prayers for salvation I can get! – but potentially problematic for a different child…still, the value of years of daily Biblical exposure and the focus on salvation amid daily distractions of school and life…) Anyway, regardless of the community we place her in, there is certainly more we could be doing at home and in other spiritual communities to enhance the spiritual lives of our children…

Anyway, with all these thoughts in my head, just this week, E drew this picture…

From left to right, it is E, her Kindergarten teacher, and her 3rd grade “reading buddy”.  She drew it because (her words, with pride), “everyone says I am a miniature version of my reading buddy, and she is a miniature version of my teacher.  So I drew a picture of all of us together!  I’m so much like them!

Clearly, at this stage of life, she is actively looking around for older role models: dressing like them, drawing pictures of herself as miniature versions of them, and even adopting their lingo (the expressions she has picked up from her teacher this year at school are adorable, I really must say!)  But when I see E emulating her teacher, it strikes me that we got really lucky.  We never spoke to E about how to choose role models.  There is no dress code at the school, and some of the elementary school teachers wear clothes so short that I wouldn’t let E wear them as a teenager.  This – along with the fact that she will never hear her 7-hour-a-day public school teachers explain things in a way that lends import to a spiritual perspective – makes me want to enroll her in a religious school.  But I know that there will also be individuals, and tones, in religious schools that I would have to steer E away from.  In either place, I will end up having to say, “choose who you emulate wisely…not everyone is going to have a perspective that represents what our family believes”.

The whole process reminds me of what my mom used to say,

“I can’t pick your friends, but I can choose which environment you get to pick them in.”

What a responsibility when it comes to choosing spiritual institutions, communities and schools!  Selecting those environments, and actively talking to E about how she is choosing who to spend time within them, are among our biggest challenges as parents.  Honestly, E is such a sweet kid that she gives everyone so many chances…which I appreciate, but honestly, I want to build a wall around the kid who has already had a chance and used it to be really mean.

Did anyone make it through this long ramble?  My apologies.  But the thoughts in my head just sort of became a brain blurt out onto the page.  And, honestly, it gets more complicated, because (1) if we were to “try” a private religious or Montessori school, we’d have to move out of our current neighborhood in order to afford it, so there’d be no real going back (unbelievable schools come from astronomical property taxes…the equity educator in my struggles with this, but that is another post), as well as accept the task of  teaching our children to be ok with the fact that their vacations, lunches, spring break trips, etc. just aren’t going to look like their classmates (we’ve seen the brochures for the optional trips, and while great, just aren’t realistic…), and (2) I’m just talking about E.  The school system in general just works for her.  But what about my child who is equally brilliant, knows the answer, but will LOVE surprising teachers with an alternate process/way of doing things.  Would an alternate setting be better for that type of child?  And could we logistically manage having siblings in different elementary schools?  I need to think about this next year…

In the meantime, could someone research all this and just tell us if we made the right choice for E’s elementary school?  We’re a year in…everything seems great…still I will always wonder…and my brain hurts already…

Did we put E in the right school?