Category Archives: milestones

Year in Review via a belated Christmas letter

So I am clearly a little behind on blogging!  We’ve been busy with good things!  The summary is in our belated Christmas letter, which is included below.  (And yes, I acknowledge that it’s probably in bad form to post a Christmas letter during Lent…but we did manage to get our Christmas tree down by early February, and taking down the last of the Christmas decorations is on my “to do” list for this week.  In other words, I’m behind on everything!)  Here’s the letter.  I’ve missed blogging and interacting via comments.  I’ll try to post more when I can!  In the meantime, this is a sort-of update : )

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Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!  We hope you had a great 2012!  Here are a few notes from our year, starting with the introduction of…

H.D. Smith!  Born on October 24, H has charmed the entire family with his sweet nature, soft hair, kissable cheeks, and precious newborn snuggles.  In addition to capturing our hearts, he has impressed us with his ability to make an entrance (six days late!), establish a presence (over 9 lbs!) and sleep anywhere (except, of course, in his own bed…)  The joy felt by his parents is matched only by the enthusiasm expressed by his siblings who want to hold him at home, accessorize him before every outing, and introduce him during show-and-tell at school.

When not entertaining (or being entertained by!) his new brother, T (age 2) has been busy with his sisters, preschool, playgroup and an ever-increasing obsession with trains.  A highlight of his year was a whole-family trip to “Tweetsie”, a train-themed amusement park where locomotives provided both a wonderful weekend and a new lens on the world.  Since that trip, T has become a “conductor”, his dad’s legs are a “tunnel”, the garage is a “shed”, and that pile of goose poop he collected while mom wasn’t looking?  Well, obviously “it’s coal for my trains!”  We do love that imagination! We also love T’s happy nature, boyish energy and tender heart.

Speaking of heart, S (age 4) is heartily impassioned about everything that grabs her attention.  This year that has included the local pond (fishing & tadpoles), our kitchen (chopping veggies with her pink plastic knife), and our backyard (her own garden, which – during 40+ hours of labor – produced countless smiles & exactly one edible item: a carrot the whole family shared).  We love her eclectic nature (pairing sparkly shoes with soccer shin guards, her gymnastics leotard & a tackle box), her generous spirit (asking mom to take four crayons she “doesn’t really need” to Goodwill) and her unique perspective (e.g.  “Can everyone name one type of ball?” elicits “basketball” from most of the audience, while S yells “EYEBALL!” at the unsuspecting crowd…)  In addition to appreciating the way she informs (and entertains!) the masses, we love the way S embodies both a will of steel and a soft, beautiful heart.

E (age 6) embraces her role as the biggest kid of the bunch, playing with and helping her siblings, while also finding time to explore the world on her own.  Currently, she finds inspiration in anything that challenges her as a designer.  Basically, that means that when she is not putting together an outfit, finding a new way to display her dolls, or decorating a box to house (yet another!) collection, she is working out a master plan to get the whole family involved in a skit, song or game.  Her energy is endless, contagious, and can overcome any obstacle.  (Beach buckets not unpacked yet?  No worries!  E will sprint from the car to the surf, remove all footwear, and collect shells in her sock!)  Bedtime remains her great nemesis, as we find her rearranging her room into the late hours and have to insist that she turn off both her creative instincts and her bedroom light.  This year, she has enjoyed favorite activities (gymnastics & soccer), new skills (swimming & biking), and loves to lose herself in a story.  Our favorite reader review so far?  E declaring that her book – about a magic tree house that transports kids through time to ride on winged lions & rescue a wizard – “must be fiction because in real life, kids aren’t allowed to stay up all night…”  Gotta love it!  We also love the exuberant, joyful way E embraces life.

As for the parents…K continues to love her role as a homemaker, has given up on ever getting a full-night’s sleep, and sees her main job as making sure everyone gets the cuddles, confirmations, challenges, corrections, celebrations, and comforts they need.  (Chauffeuring should probably be listed in there too!) T also assumes these roles, while enjoying his job and working with our contractor to plan two new bedrooms & a mudroom for our house.  In their spare time (& during 3am feedings) T & K ponder deep life questions posed by the children (such as “Do germs go to heaven after the soap kills them?”) and reflect on favorite memories from this year, which included trips to both Alabama (where the kids played cards with their Great Grandma & went on boat rides with Nana) & New York (where Grammy’s cooking was complemented by candy Grandpa helped collect at the July 4th parade).

During this season, our entire family is reflecting on the joys of the past 12 months, the birth of a Savior, and the friendships that enhance our lives immeasurably.  Thank you for honoring us with those friendships, and accept these warm holiday (and happy new year!) wishes from our family to yours!

Love,

T, K, E, S, T & newborn H!

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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

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?

Love your brain. Love you. Be who you are always.

*I may delete this post someday if I decide it’s too personal or realize that it would bother any of my children.  If you think it falls into either of those categories, I am open to recommendations on deleting it…feel free to weigh in!*

So if you’ve read the last couple of blog posts, you know that I’m thinking a lot about the kids these days.  That trend continues with this post, which contains two stories and some reflections about S, particularly with regards to the awesome way she engages in, and expresses, her learning.

There is a refrain in these stories.  It is…

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

And the stories are as follows…

 

 

Story 1: S (who turned four in February) learned to write her name this year.   It is so cute, with its crooked, all-capital, all-over-the-page letters that I asked her to write it on a blank sheet of paper for me, so I could file that paper in her box of “special things from childhood”.

We sat down at the kitchen table together, side-by-side.  I gave her a sheet of paper, she chose her marker, and then – to my surprise – she started to make all sorts of non-sensical marks.

Now, I have seen S write her name many, many times.  She knows how to do it.  But these were just scribbles.

I didn’t say anything – just waited to see how many marks she was going to make and what she would say when she was done.

She finished, and put the cap on the marker.

I looked at the page full of scribbles, and S looked at me.

Then she looked back at the paper, rotated it 180 degrees, and there, in those precious crooked, all-capital, all-over-the-page letters was her name.  She had written it in reverse and upside down, so that (with the exception of one backwards letter), it was a three-year-old’s version of perfect when she turned the page around.

I almost fell out of my chair.

I swear, if I were reading this, I would think the author was lying or exaggerating, but honest-to-goodness that is exactly how it happened.  The follow-up is that I later sat down with my own pen and paper and tried to do it, and it is not easy.

Furthermore – just because I think it’s interesting, I will mention that I have paid attention since, when she doesn’t realize I’m watching, and never seen her write her name this way again…it was something about me asking her to do it and sitting right next to her, I guess???

The refrain…get ready for it…

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

 

 

Story 2:  One day while I was busy cleaning up the house, I noticed that the pieces of one our puzzles had been scattered across the playroom table, and I asked S to help by doing the puzzle.  She collected all the pieces she could find (2 were missing at the time), sat down to work, and after a minute or so, said, “I did the puzzle, mama!  Come look!”

I went over with the intention of quickly viewing, collecting and putting away the puzzle, but had to stop when I saw the ultimate results of her efforts.  This is what I saw:

Not a single puzzle piece was in the “right” place.

Now I know S can do this puzzle, so I was curious.  I sat down next to her and asked her to tell me about her work.  She said, “I decided that this puzzle would be more fun if I made a rule about how I could do it.  My rule was that all the pieces had to go with their right color, but none of them were allowed to go with their right shape.”  And now it’s done.

The refrain again…get ready for it…

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

Later, I gave her a much harder puzzle to do.  Here’s what the puzzle typically looks like:

And here’s what it looked like after S was finished with it:

That’s right, every piece fitted together…upside down.

Clearly, it was too easy – or not interesting enough? – to do with the picture side up.

Can I sing the refrain one more time?

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

 

 

A mama’s reflection:

I have said many times (including in this blog) that I love the way S sees and engages the world.   I actually say this more often than I might otherwise because (1) it is simply beyond awesome, in my opinion, and (2) as she gets older, I worry that she is going to encounter lots of people – especially in school – who don’t appreciate her more unique perspective, so she needs to hear it from her mama in every way and as many times as I can say it.

She has not encountered any naysaying yet.  From what I’ve seen, Pre-K and Kindergarten programs seem to take pride in allowing children to be creative (shout out to E & S’ teachers here!).  In the young years, schools are great about introducing an idea, then letting the kids run with it in any direction they choose.  However, looking down the road, I have to admit that I am worried about finding the right school for S after Kindergarten is over.  Maybe I worry needlessly, but from what I do know, encouraging unique, creative, explorations & expressions is not the top priority in a lot of grade 1-12 environments.

The things I list below are, in my opinion, important for all students.  But there are some who will struggle more than others when asked to limit themselves to “acceptable” learning styles and expressions.  And I think S may be in this category both because (1) her style is relatively unique and (2) she is not one to cow-tow to any systems “just because”.  As her mom, I can help her figure out when to “play the game” and when to challenge the system (and how to evaluate the consequences of both courses of action), and I can give her advice on how to be who she is while code switching to get the most out of what traditional education has to offer.  But honestly, what she really needs is the right learning environment for her.

Ideally, S needs teachers all the way through that are going to challenge her with a question or idea and then let her try her own way of doing things without interruption.

It will be especially important for S to have a teacher that will encourage her to explore her own ideas and processes instead of “correcting” her when they see her headed down a path that seems to make absolutely no sense.

I am desperate to find teachers for her that are like those we have encountered in our pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms…teachers that will NOT try to make her thinking and expression fit into a standard path, but will instead celebrate her very unique way of seeing and engaging the world…

If they stifle her, or make her feel self-conscious or defensive or (I shudder to write it) – make her feel wrong – about approaching things differently, the world is going to miss out on the true essence of S.

(Moreover, my girl is impassioned, so she’s probably going to tell them what she thinks about their methods, and then get punished for it, unless she’s in a pretty special setting.  I mean, if a teacher had asked her to write her name, stopped her as soon as she saw the unrecognizable marks, told her she had misunderstood the instructions, removed her paper and given her blank sheet with instructions to try again, I can tell you that the S I know would absolutely refuse to do it, thinking, “I was writing my name, and you insulted and stopped me.  There’s no way I’m going to start writing it again”.  What no one will realize is that behind all that fire, she’s hiding a bruised spirit and hurt feelings.  And then her dad and I are going to be in the principal’s office trying to sort it all out.)

Maybe Calvin’s parents could give us some tips…  (And by the way, I believe that all students are “utterly and exquisite crystals”… and lots of teachers are too : )

Any suggestions on where to find a post-Kindergarten classroom that can manage all that?  I mean, I am a former teacher, and I know the challenge.  And I have lots of teacher friends who meet and exceed this challenge.  They are fantastic (you know who you are folks…and I love you for it!)  But it’s a lot to ask of a teacher to give a creative child leeway to explore alternate means of completing assignments, when that teacher has 18+ young children to prepare for a mandatory standardized test (i.e. I am not sure what is even fair to ask teachers to do, given all their responsibilities…)

(Along this note, as a former teacher giving a shout out to all teachers, I can tell you that every child has a unique perspective and that “the system” makes it very difficult for teachers to engage them all as individuals.  We need to do better as a society at addressing this.  In the meantime, I’m thinking about my now 4 year old daughter.  In terms of the “formal” schooling she’ll face in a few years, what’s the best place for S?)

 

 

SIDE NOTE:  My current solution is to beg my friend L (a former teacher and principal) to move her family here from Colorado and open a school and enroll all my children in it.  I will make her job relatively easier by introducing her to several teachers in this area, and insisting all my other amazing teacher friends move here and work in the school too.   A little background:  When L and I were studying education together, a guest speaker came into our classroom to teach us some math skills.  He wrote some problem on the board that I don’t remember exactly, but it was something like,

“Find 4 odd numbers that, when added together, equal the number 63.”

Well, he gave us a few minutes, saw everyone looking quizzical, and then provided the answer, which was that since 4 odd numbers will always equal an even number, it couldn’t be done.

Everyone looked relieved except my friend L who raised her hand and told him that it could be done, and she would be happy to reveal the method.  In response, the speaker launched into a re-explanation intended to convince her that you can’t get 63 by adding 4 numbers that are odd.

She responded by asking if she could write her answer on the board.

When she wrote the following:

the guest speaker almost looked relieved.  He predictably told her that her answer wrong, because 60 was not an odd number.

L, who still had the dry erase marker in her hand, simply continued writing until her answer looked like this:

Then she told the guest speaker that he simply needed to expand his definition of odd.

(How’s that for awesome? I approached L after class and basically told her she should decide whether she wanted me to be her friend or her stalker…)

I’d be ok with her teaching S!

A Bedtime Story

So the kids are always on my mind, but they’ve consumed my thoughts even more than usual recently because they are all changing so quickly…  The next few posts may be very “my-kid-centric”.  You’ve been warned!

I’ll start with E (the oldest at age 5).

Monday night, I put her to bed at 7:15 and gave her 5 new library books to snuggle up with.  At 7:45, I saw her sitting at her desk writing.  She noticed me watching her from the doorway and excitedly told me that one of the books we had checked out was now her favorite book ever.  She was going to write down every single word so she could always have those words with her.

Can I Play Too? An Elephant and Piggy Book by Mo Willems.  This whole series is awesome, by the way.

In that moment, E’s excitement was incredibly contagious.  I mean, she was bubbling over with enthusiasm and pride.  I remember thinking that her eyes were all sparkly, and her cheeks were all rosy, and she was all inspired because she had just finished the very first book she had ever simply picked up and read by herself.  We check out books that she reads to me – or to her dad – all the time.  But this time, she had gone through the pile, selected a book and read it in her room alone.  I could just envision her, up there, curled up in her bed reading, almost giddy about the fact that she was reading all by herself.  Of course it’s her new favorite book for that reason alone!

Anyway, I was so distracted by her excitement, and my excitement for her, that I gave her another kiss goodnight and went downstairs without thinking about any other parts of the conversation too much.  And after a few minutes, her room became so quiet that I assumed she had fallen asleep.

Until she appeared downstairs an hour and a half later – at 9:15 (way past bedtime!) – holding this:

That’s three regular sized pieces of paper taped together by E, currently displayed in all their glory on one of the main doors in the house.

Yes.  That’s right.  She wrote down every single word in the book, just like she told me she was going to right before I got distracted by all her contagious, wonderful, happy. She had worked for almost 2 hours to do it.  (I mean, really, imagine yourself loving a library book so much that you finished the last page, and simply had to express your appreciation by turning back to page one and eagerly copying down the entire book from the first word to the last…)

I was simultaneously, impressed, proud, shocked and so happy for my girl who was literally bouncing up and down with excitement over her accomplishment.  She said (during literal jumps and bounds and amid great pointing at her papers),

“Look!  Every word!  I wrote them all!  And some of the letters in the book were fancy (i.e. in italics).  I didn’t copy all the curly parts of those letters, but I did some and I wrote every letter!  And they made some letters capital that I knew my teacher said should be lowercase, so I made them lowercase in my book.  Don’t you just love it?!”

Well, yes I do E.  I think it’s awesome, quite honestly.  And the post-it at the top of the photo is from your dad, who happened to be working late the night you wrote this, and wanted you to see his celebration of it first thing in the morning.  (And, by the way, your Aunt A will love that you edited the writing in the published edition of the book!)

(Also, another by-the-way… amid all the enthusiasm, can someone tell me if I should be feeling a little mommy guilt over the fact that it never even occurred to E to ask me if she could get a copy of the book that she loved so much?  Obviously, I am proud of the work ethic, and clearly we haven’t spoiled her, but have we erred a little too far on that side of things?   And if we get the book for her now, will she be thrilled?   Or will she think we don’t appreciate her hand-printed version – complete with illustration!)

Or maybe I’m overthinking all of it.  Which would be exactly like me…

Regardless, to snap myself out of the worry, I will end by saying that while I was typing this blog post, E came downstairs and told me she wasn’t sleepy.  She should have been snoozing over an hour ago; everyone else in the house is asleep.  So I decided to surprise her greatly by asking her not to go back to bed, but to instead go get me her beloved Little House on the Prairie book (which S is growing into, and T just does not yet have the patience for, which makes it hard to read during the day).  We read a dozen pages, and when we finished, I spent a few minutes curling her hair (something she has been begging me to do, and I attempted for the first time ever tonight…using socks…anyone ever tried that method?).  Anyway, an important, enjoyable, and very fun memory with E that I wanted to record here…

And proof that maybe I’m spoiling her in other ways : )

Love you, E!

And love your book…

A Fun Announcement!

We’re expecting a baby in October!

We already love this little guy or gal!  So far, all we know is that baby likes cherry koolaid (seriously, I can’t get enough of it), and that the family loves baby.

We told the kids one night earlier this week, and they were screaming with excitement.  The next day, E left this note for us on the counter…

It reads (letter for letter): "Dear Dad and Mom. I am so Gld that you Hav an now baby In your tny. Love, E" Which translates: "Dear Dad and Mom. I am so glad that you have a new baby in your tummy. Love, E" How awesome is that?!

And this morning, S drew this picture (our camera started acting funny this afternoon, so I had to use my phone for this photo…)  She told me it was a picture of our house, with a new room in it for the new baby.

Can you see the dark roof, with the house underneath, subdivided into rooms and filled with the circle faces of a happy family? Again, fantastic! I'll get a better picture of it when we figure out what's going on with the camera...

And if you ask T what’s in mommy’s tummy, he will yell at the top of his 1 year old lungs: “a BABY!”

So there you have it, little guy or gal.  Your siblings have thought of – and are celebrating – everything.  Hope you’re feeling loved and cared for already, because you are loved and cared for already – with cherry koolaid on top : )

Happy Birthday, S!

Happy Birthday S!

S turned 4 this week!  She woke up on her special day, and immediately announced, “I think my legs are longer!” I have to admit, she did look bigger to me. She is acting bigger too, all of a sudden – more grown up.  (That’s all good, of course, as long as she doesn’t grow up too fast :  )  We love you, S.  You have been our sweet S since you were born on Valentine’s Day 4 years ago, and you always will be.

Here are a few images from the celebrations this week!

The cake (actually a collection of cupcakes): a “pink pony”

(I did my absolute best, but will admit that it looks a little like what you might get if you crossed a pig with a horse!)

The special birthday activity (You are currently a little horse obsessed, so there was a bit of a birthday theme this week!)

The night of the birthday. (S wanted a Chuck-E-Cheese family celebration, so here Dad & S are playing games there on the birthday/Valentine’s Day.  There is quite a cast of characters that spends their Valentine’s night at Chuck-E-Cheese, by the way… and our whole crew was happily right in the middle of them all!  Rock on Chuck-E…)

And of course, a few special surprises including a chance for S to pick her own fun activity (thank you Grammy and Grandpa…S loves the opportunity to choose an adventure!), her own fishing gear (thank you Nana…S insisted on “fishing” the day after her birthday…thank goodness for a warm day in February…we’ve already caught a minnow in the net!),

testing out the fishing net at Chuck-E-Cheese, before using it to catch a minnow the next day

and finally – a “make-up” kit from my husband and I that lets you draw make up on “paper faces”, which has been a huge hit with S, E, and mom.

(The reason mom likes this present is that this - and similar looks - end up on paper instead of on S' face. Seriously, am I the only one that thinks this look is a tiny bit scary?!)

Our precious S soaked up every minute of all the festivities, activities and treats.  My girl does love a celebration!

We love you, S!  You have been a sweetheart from the beginning and forever will be.  Having your birthday on Valentine’s Day just makes it that much more official.  Happy, happy birthday!

Love, Mom

Pace, Patience, & Positive Interactions

* There are lots of disclaimers at the bottom of this post.  Please read them.  To quickly summarize them here, this post is about the struggle to figure out what works for us, not a commentary about anyone else (though I do fill a kinship with those battling the same issue, whether from a similar perspective – e.g. a stay-at-home-mom, etc, etc, –  or from a completely different space!)

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Children have little or no say in the way we set up their lives for them, and in the pace we set for them, and in the way these things effect how we react to them.                         – Sarah at Clover Lane

I read this quote for the first time several months ago, and I truly have not been able to stop thinking about it.

I have thought about it in the busy moments, when I am herding kids into the car because we’re running late and I am shorter or sharper or less patient than I want to be because we need to go.

I have thought about it in my alone moments, and in moments of conversation with my husband, as we have made decisions about what activities to sign the kids up for (and what volunteer activities I should or shouldn’t sign myself up for), and as we have considered (a) what those activities means for our pace of life and (b) what that pace does to me, my kids and the interactions we have with each other.

I have thought about it a lot.

I decided that I would alter our pace, in hopes that it would improve my reactions to/interactions with the kids.  At the right pace, I believed (and still believe) I would be more patient, more available, and a better mom.

At first, these thoughts inspired me to minimize, minimize, minimize our regularly scheduled activities outside the house.

There are parts of that minimization that I have loved.  We took a semester off of “extra” activities and focused on only our big three: (1) school, (2) church (including choir), and (3) playgroup.  Beyond that, we would simply enjoy being at home.   During the fall semester, we picked up E at Kindergarten every day at 2:30, had snack in the kitchen at 3, and spent at least a half hour after that just reading stories on the couch.  And it was great. When my kids are grown, I want to feel – and I want them to feel  – like we snuggled, engaged, breathed in and appreciated each other and childhood as much as possible.  I need lots of slow hours with them to (a) enjoy them and (b) avoid regret (soon, they’ll be reading their own stories without me and I want to know I was there when they wanted that quiet time with mama).  Because the reality is that when I move too fast, the days and years seem to go by faster too.  And I don’t want that.

But there are other parts of minimization that were not so great. Because the reality is that if I start to go stir crazy because the pace is too slow or the isolation (from other adults or activities) is too much, I am just as likely to react in a less than ideal way to the kids.

What we needed was not a slow pace, but the right pace for us.

For me, the right pace is the one that allows us to truly savor the slow moments at home. This doesn’t happen if we are always at home.  When we are always at home the days feel long in the wrong way and we all get ansty.

Nor can I savor the slow moments if we are always on the go (or preparing to be on the go, or recovering from being on the go).

I guess, like most things in life, it’s about finding the balance.  In particular, it is about finding the right balance for us, given our personalities and temperaments.  The reality is (and this happens to be true for all of us in my immediate family at this point), we love being home, but we also love being out together.  Sometimes, it’s fun to just go.

As a result, in another attempt to strike the right balance, we are mixing things up this semester.  One afternoon a week, we will have a new activity: gymnastics.

It feels like the right time (for E, who has now settled into the Kindergarten routine and is no longer exhausted at the end of the school day; for S, who is in her last semester of only having school 2 days a week; and for T, who has finally dropped his afternoon nap.)

Still, the desire to minimize, to enjoy more of the slower moments at home with the kids, to do anything that will increase my patience and decrease those “please just do it” moments I have with the children resonates with me.  In an effort to achieve this, we are changing other patterns.

(1)    I am determined to get more sleep.  When I am tired, I am less patient and cannot be the mom I want to be.  It’s really as simple as that.

(2)    I am letting go of my guilt over things I choose not to do – whether it’s an activity for the kids, a volunteer opportunity for me as an adult, or something else all together.  I am consciously making the best choices I can as a person and mother.  In that situation, guilt is not a compass; it accomplishes nothing and saps too much of my energy.

(3)    I am scaling back my volunteering in E’s class to “only” one day a month.  I believe this will still makes E feel special and give me a sense of her school environment (so I offer her informed support at home) without creating an every-other-week logistical challenge for the other kids and me.

(4)    I am going to increase my pace before sunrise so I can greet T with a smile, read him a story, get things done and then slow down and make sure the half-hour before E leaves for school is as peaceful as it can be.  (The reality is, I simply don’t have the energy at night to be one of those mom’s that has everything ready for a peaceful morning, but I do have a new goal of going to bed earlier so that when T wakes up at 5:00 I can snuggle him, look at book together, then watch him eat breakfast & play while I organize & pack E’s school things.  The reality of T’s sleep schedule is that we have 1-2 hours to do this before any other family members are even awake.)

(5)    I am adjusting our schedule.  This means small changes (like waking E up 15 minutes earlier just so there are 15 minutes of the morning when she can do whatever she wants – or nothing at all – with my absolute blessing, before I have to “encourage” her to get ready for school.   I have already started this, and I believe that slow quarter-hour is a fantastic start to her day, and means I have a positive – as opposed to frantic – time with her before she leaves for school with my husband.  And that leaves me feeling happy – instead of guilty – about my “mommying” during our short time together before she starts her school day.)  It also means bigger changes, like our new gymnastics activity.  Finally, it means renewing our commitment to things that are working:  afternoon snuggles and stories (every day, but slightly abbreviated on the one day we’ll have gymnastics), church activities, and playgroup are things we’re absolutely going to keep.

(6)    I am going to *think* with my husband about letting E ride the bus home from school each day.  This is probably an independent blog post, but I am inspired to think about it by the idea that riding the bus might allow her to be greeted at home by a calm mama with energy, snack and stories ready, instead of being greeted in the school pick-up line by a mama who is herding gracious (but understandably aggravated) siblings into, and out of, and back into, and back out of the car.  With our current pick-up schedule,

o   T is fighting to finish his midday nap,

o   S gets less playtime with mom at home during that nap (important 1-on-1 time, that is harder to find with a middle child, I think), and

o   (since T screams if we try to use the pick-up line) I am exhausted from the in-and-out-and-in-and-out-of-the-car-routine before we even get in the front door for our first real chance to interact with E.

(7)    I am going to allow more time to get the kids ready and load them into the car when we actually need to go places.  No more doing dishes until 15 minutes before departure, then prepping everyone in a hurricane of activity.  While the hurricane feels natural to me, because I have been in that pace – cleaning, organizing, etc., -it is a shock to the kids’ system because they have been playing or (keeping it real here) watching TV.  Then I swoop in and take them from peaceful to crazy…no wonder they are resisting when we need to leave.

Whew.  It’s a lot to think about.  The bottom line is that we are coming out of the “minimize everything!” mode that I though would provide the antidote to the chaos that results from me moving, rather than settling in with, my children.  We are doing that in an effort to find a balance that works better for my family and allows us to savor the slow and enjoy the active.  I credit our recent re-emergence to a friend who absolutely liberated me one day (thank you!) by revealing that she tried a more extreme version of minimization, and then said at some point she just realized: “this is not for my kids or for me”.

So my crew is back in its quest for balance, with new anchors in our schedule, and I don’t know how it will feel in two weeks.

What I do know is that reading the quote, and reflecting on it as much as I have, has helped me.  And I know I need to think about it more.

In that spirit, my new year’s resolution for 2012 has been to reflect on two words inspired by that quote.  Those words are “pace” and  “patience”.

On a daily basis, I want to consciously think about our pace, what decisions I’ve made to demand/allow that pace, and how that pace affects my interactions with E, S & T.

I am going to focus specifically on interactions that occur during the daily duties that constitute the majority of our time together.  This is because I am starting to realize that if I set a pace that makes getting dressed, eating, getting into the car, taking a bath, brushing teeth, etc. into acts that leave me impatient with my children on a regular basis, then we have made impatience (and the negative interactions it creates) a big part of each day – and by extension, a big part of childhood.  I don’t want that.  I know it’s not possible to have peace in every moment every day, but I want to think about the difference between (a) a nice family dinner vs. a whole family race to get people fed before it gets any later; (b) a fun bubble bath vs. a rushed routine before bedtime each day; or (c) a regular old loading of the car vs. one with me pushing and insisting and stressing, “get in; we are going to be late!”  The reality is that I do have the power to structure things so that we are choosing the calmer, more childhood-friendly, relationship-enhancing option almost every day.

I want to be patient!

I want have good interactions during the regular routines of childhood!

Otherwise, a lot of our daily joy is removed from these years – these so precious years(!) – with my children. This is especially true since E & S are now getting to the age that the fun activity we’ve raced to, and had all those “less than ideal” interactions to be on time for, is an activity they do independently, not with our family  (i.e. no more parent-and-tot gymnastics for my almost 4 & 5 year old…they’re on their own in the big class, which means I need to feel good about the hours before and after the activity, since those are the actual hours we spend together).

Can I write the quote again?

Children have little or no say in the way we set up their lives for them, and in the pace we set for them, and in the way these things effect how we react to them. – Sarah at Clover Lane

But to a large degree, I (in conjunction with my husband, of course) can control that pace.

It’s an awesome responsibility: one with the power to shape the tone of the days that will constitute the bulk of a childhood.  And hopefully allow us to (a) experience the right pace, (b) present a lot of patience, and (c) enjoy as many snuggles, stories, fun activities and moments to savor as there can possibly be.

Disclaimers/The Fine Print:

(1)    This is a post without judgment.  I mention several things we have done, plan to try, have quit, etc.  The reality is that something we’ve scaled back on might be the most important thing for someone else’s family, or just something they enjoy, and I think that’s great. (Honestly I think so much of it boils down to the personalities and preferences of the parents and kids.)

(2)    I am writing about what I imagine to be a universal parenting struggle from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom, which probably affects the issues I face and the solutions I consider (quick shout out here to those working parents who make my life so much easier by teaching, healing, making the world better and more fun, etc. for my kids, as well as illustrating that once grown, those kids can be anything they want to be.)

(3)    I will acknowledge up front that I am in a luxury position to be thinking about “our preferred pace of life” at all.  Lots of people have obligations, or are in positions, that don’t allow them that luxury.

(4)    With all that in mind, note that (a) whatever pace you’ve set for your crew, if you’re happy with it, I envy you because we are in the throes of figuring it out,  (b) If you’re not happy with it, I relate to the struggle, (3) I am nervous because I think this post makes me sound like a not-so-great-too-impatient-mama, which is probably why I wrote it and let it sit in my draft box (before revising and hitting publish) for over a week!

September 11

I spent today playing with my husband and kids.

Ten years ago, I had not met my husband, and my kids were years from existing.

Thinking about that makes me realize how blessed I have been to have had the last decade.

Lots of people were denied that decade, and today, my heart is so sad for those whose lives were cut short on 9-11-2001, and for anyone affected by violence on that – or any other – day.

May God grant us all peace – in this world and the next – and may we all make the most of the precious gift of time. 

(Just my quiet prayer, tucked in here amidst all our regular joyful noise.)

S’ first day in the 3’s at preschool! (also our first tornado tea party…)

I love every part of S.

That truth applies to all my children (“love you through and through” too, E & T!), but today, I am mentioning S specifically because it’s her big day.

Today, S had her first day of preschool in the big “three’s” class, and each student was asked to bring a parent along.

As I escorted her to – and through – her assigned hour to “meet the teacher”, I was able to see almost every side of S.

First, at home, the sleepy S…who I actually had to wake to go to preschool (this never happens…the kid was exhausted from our uber-fun weekend).

The smiling S when I reminded her it was her first day of school.

The twirling S when she put on her “Hello Kitty” dress (we do love that dress!) and her Dora shoes.

The startled S! when I accidentally knocked my glass off the kitchen counter (Smash!!! Oops…) on our way out the door.

The talkative S, regaling me with facts about turkey vultures (!) all the way to school in the car (why?  what do your kids talk about?).

The curious and worried S…as we passed an accident on the road (between that and the glass, it was already quite a morning!)

The playful S,  as she greeted a close friend and had a quick pre-preschool playdate in the church nursery.  (Fun for everyone, and part of a first-day-of-school childcare swap that allowed everyone to attend their “first day” sessions without siblings.  Later, another friend’s mom – thank you! – helped me by watching T.  Have I mentioned how blessed and lucky I am to have these friends?)

The eager S, who as the playdate ended and her “first day” session was starting kept saying, “Mom!  I want to go!  When is it my turn?”

The confident S, as she showed me that she could find her own name on her cubby and hang up her backpack.

The shy S, as she lowered her head and reached for my hand when the teacher said hello, and then again when a new friend asked her name.

The engaged S when she remembered this room had a doll house.

The anxious S, when – 30 minutes into our hour – a tornado alarm sounded and we had to go find T and evacuate the school wing in favor of the basement.

The tired S, as she grew weary of standing (really too many people to sit without tripping somebody), then went with me to a different (equally safe) room where there were chairs.

The thrilled S, as daddy surprised her with a visit to preschool (and was surprised to discover that instead of being in class, we were in the midst of a tornado exercise… “this is not a drill” …thank God there was no ultimate cause for worry…)

The disappointed S… as she realized her school hour (most of which was spent in the basement) was over, and that daddy had to get back to work.

The hysterical, inconsolable S, on the car-ride home, as she made her disappointment known to everyone in our car, and to anyone whose eye she could catch through the window.

And the amazing S, who – once home – regrouped, helped me pick up E at school and when asked how we could celebrate such a big day, insisted that school days – especially schooldays with tornadoes, must be celebrated with (what else?) a princess tea party.  Well, by golly, polish the princess china, because we are ready.  And get T his Mickey Mouse plate.

(You’ve got nothing on us Nero.  You may have fiddled while Rome burned, but could you sip tea during a tornado?  I doubt it…)

(OK, the image of us sipping tea during an actual tornado is a slight mischaracterization, but still – for my crew – a tornado exercise in the morning is an all day attention-grabber.  For my girls, this was school/tornado day, and it merited a tea party.  Who’s going to argue?  Not this mama…wait, is that another tornado siren? No, just the tea whistling…)

But, I digress…

My point is that only S (and her inspiration/accomplice E) could find a way to top off a day that began with smashing glass, school firsts and tornado warnings.

We love every part of you, S!  Keep inviting us to your tea parties!

We hope you have a great year at school!