Tag Archives: Milestones

Adventures in Potty Training (alternate title: Dinner and a Show)

Nana is visiting, and offered to treat us to dinner at the local Hibachi restaurant, much to our delight…

I forgot to make a reservation, so we had to wait a bit.  No problem.  The older kids admired the fish in the tank, and I bounced H, as Nana sent a text message to my husband who is away on a work trip.

The peace was broken when I heard T announce, “I have to go potty!” and turned around to see his pants – and underpants – around his ankles in the crowded waiting area.  That’s right.  Full frontal for the captive audience.

Dinner and a show! (of sorts).

I raced to hand H off to Nana, who said “I’d love to hold him.  Give me one minute to get my phone back in my purse” to which I responded “YOU HAVE TO TAKE HIM NOW!  LOOK AT T!!!”  to which Nana responded “Oh!  OH!  OH MY GOODNESS!!!  T!” to which T responded, “I HAVE TO GO POTTY RIGHT NOW!”  to which I responded by handing off H, picking up T and sprinting to the bathroom while holding T like a weapon naked from the waist down, to which the crowd responded by parting like the Red Sea, to which the host responded by offering to seat our family immediately (an act I discovered when E came to get us in the bathroom).

As a side note: E was shocked to see me helping T stand on the seat and peeing in the potty that way.  (I’m new to this with boys; is that an accepted method in public restrooms with little boys?, because I am open to alternate suggestions…he’s not wide enough to sit on – or tall enough to stand on the floor and use an – adult potty, and although I am queen of carrying the porta potty everywhere we go, there are times when we’re not going to have it…)

Anyway, as if all of that weren’t enough, the chef at our table did the flaming volcano thing that they do with the onion, then brought out a little statue that looked like a boy peeing to douse the flames, which prompted everyone at the table to laugh except for T who was decidedly unimpressed and said, “I do that now too, but I pee in the potty” which I can only assume means that given the choice between peeing (a) into a potty, (b) into a restaurant area crowded with people and (c) into a flaming volcano, T finds only options a & b acceptable.

How’s that for an exciting Saturday night?

(And thank you for dinner, Nana!  And to everyone else, you are welcome for the show : )

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You’d think I’d be better at this by now…

More catching up from 2012…

In the last post I emphasized how excited we all were to meet baby H.  The kids were naturally excited, and we encouraged that, telling them all what great siblings they would be, how much the new baby would love them, showing them the ultrasound pictures, reading books about new babies, moving all the car seats around early (so no one felt displaced or relocated right after the baby was born), etc.  We heightened the excitement by telling them we thought the new baby might even bring them a present and by letting them place a hand on mom’s tummy to feel their new sibling give them a high five.

We thought we had done a pretty good job preparing them, until they all came in to meet baby H just hours after he was born.  The girls (ages 6 & 4) were thrilled to meet him and thrilled with their gifts – little wooden dolls they could cover in paint and glitter.  Both greeted their new brother then immediately started doing their designs on the couch of our room.

T (age 2) was also thrilled to meet his little brother and ecstatic over his present – a train named “Diesel 10”.  In fact, he was so excited about the gift that he actually wanted to call his new brother “Diesel” (which I thought was an awesome moniker, by the way…and the nurses told us since H was at least 2 lbs bigger than everyone else in the nursery, he would have been totally able to carry the name…)

Well, it was all going swimmingly until two year old T paused from his train play, walked back over to me to take another look at the new brother I was holding, and said,

“He’s so cute!  But where is his mom???”

Oops.

Cue the damage control monologue from me:

“Oh!  T!  Sweetie!  You know how I’m your mom and E’s mom and S’ mom at the same time?  Well, I’m his mom too!  I’m going to be everybody’s mom.  And, as your mom, I’m telling you that I love you so much! And now he loves you too!  Isn’t that good?!”

“Oh!” T says, totally taking that in stride (to my great relief).  And then he follows up with this…

“Guess what?! I brought the new baby a present!  It’s a choo choo…”

To which I respond, “T, that is SO NICE of you!  I see it!  It’s one of your choo choo’s!  And you’re going to share it with our new baby?! That is SO NICE!  He just loves it; will you show him how to play with it?  He’ll learn so much from you!”

To which T responds, “Yes!  I will!  And I really want him to have it! (and this next part said with such wonderful intent and complete pride in his generosity as a big brother… ) “You know, when he leaves the hospital, he can even take this train back to HIS house with him!!!”

Oops, again.

I guess somehow, in all the baby prep and high fiving and “you’ll be a great big brother!”, we neglected to state in a very pointed and specific way that the new baby would be coming back to our house and living with us.

Quite an oversight.

And while normally, there might have environmental cues for T (such as a crib for the new baby to sleep in our house…), the reality at was that we began a massive renovation just a few days after H was born (a month-long 3 room construction project).  In other words, while our hearts were completely ready for H, his room didn’t get built until many weeks after he was born!  Our environmental cues were all chaos, blueprints and contractors, with no sign of a crib!

Fortunately, T was ecstatic to hear that we got to keep the new baby at our house.  (Beyond ecstatic…jubilant!)

Whew.

Still, I am astounded that with all our baby prep, we never managed to convey specifically to T that I would be the new baby’s mother, and that the new baby would be coming to live in our house.

Don’t know how I missed that 2012 Mother of the Year title…

: )

Thank God for my wonderful, loving, open-armed (albeit unprepared-despite-my-best-efforts) kids.

DSC_0876

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

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 : )

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!

Unique experiences; equal love (Alternate title: seriously, why do the roses hate me?)

Our church hosts a Daddy-daughter Valentine’s Day dance for girls ages 5 and up.  That meant that this year, E (age 5) was able to attend with her dad.  So fun…

Unless you’re S, who (turning 4 less than a week after the dance) was both too young to attend and too little to grasp the concept of “be happy for your sister; your time will come”.

So with a goal of “let’s create a special event for both girls and encourage them to celebrate each other’s good fortune” – my husband and I came up with the following plan:

(1)  Thursday night: Dad would take S to a Valentine’s event at a local kids’ museum.

(2)  Friday night: Dad would take E to the church Valentine’s dance

Two great events, positioned back-to-back… a perfect way to celebrate each girl in a way that would be unique and fun.

To perfect the plan, we used info from friends who had attended the events in previous years to make the nights match as much as we could in terms of tangible experience. For example, since E was getting a rose from the church on her date night, I took S to a flower shop and let her pick out any one flower she wanted for her date with dad.  As it turns out, the woman who ran the flower shop so appreciated what we were trying to do that she gave S a whole little bunch of lavender flowers for her special date.  And the man at the ice cream store next door caught wind of it and gave everyone with us a free miniature cone.

Have I set the stage completely enough?  Is everyone ready for the disaster to unfold?

On Thursday night, S – who loves her dates with dad more than anything in the world – cried at the ice cream shop because she wanted mom to come on the date too.

Mom explained that she could come too, but that she couldn’t leave E & T, so it would be a whole family event.  That was fine with S.  In fact, she was thrilled.

I was suspicious, because I know S is smart.  She is usually about 10 steps ahead of me in the emotional game.  But I am learning, so on this occasion, I recognized what was coming, and made sure to carefully explain that while it was fine for the whole family to go to the museum if that was what S really wanted, that would not mean the whole family was going to the church dance the next night.  The invitation had only been for kids 5 and older; it was not up to us.

S said she understood.

The whole family had a wonderful time at the museum (although mom had only packed dinner for S since everyone else was supposed to be traveling home, which meant we all had museum-served yogurt-covered pretzels for dinner.  Oh well.)

The next night was dad’s date with E.

As anticipated, the wonderful S (who is really still so very little…) cried when dad left for the dance with E and reminded all of us that she had included everyone on her special evening.  Mom decided to cushion the blow by offering dinner in a bowl with popcorn and a movie.  (And may I say, “whatever” with regards to the rapid decline in my mealtime offerings that week.  I decided in that moment that the whole concept of good nutritional choices on any days near a holiday – including Valentine’s Day –  is overrated and bunk.)

While at the dance Friday, E sweetly (unprompted by any adults) put the director of the event on the spot by asking if she could take home an extra rose for her sister.

(I hope the sensitivity and niceness of my children is coming through here…S making every effort to be all-inclusive; E doing everything in her 5 year old power to include S in the fun.)

The director of the event (who is God’s gift to children and families, in my honest opinion…I just love her…) commended E on her thoughtful nature and selected the two most beautiful roses – and I mean absolutely equally gorgeous – one for E to keep and one to surprise S with at home.

But here’s what those equally gorgeous roses looked like after a few days.

Can you tell from the image that one rose is blooming beautifully and one is totally dark and shriveled?  Fortunately, neither girl is focused on which rose is whose.  (Thank goodness I put all the flowers in the same vase without even thinking.)

But seriously, what are the chances?

We did everything we could – not to treat the girls the same… but to make them both feel as loved as possible in unique ways.

My final attempt at conveying a positive message to the girls is posting this story so that if someday, they ever feel like someone is being favored, they can see how – from the very beginning (I mean they are too young to even remember these events!) – we were working very hard to celebrate them individually, in different ways but with equal vigor!

Even when the roses fail us, we will never give up on that effort!

(I may give up on the roses, though.  Can I ask again… what are the chances of that after everything that was done?!)

Oh well.

Love you, S.  Love you, E.  (Both of you, so much.)

(And T, so you will know you are equally loved and were not forgotten in this post, I will reveal that you enjoyed the yogurt-covered pretzels and popcorn more than anyone, and were the only member of the family who rolled through the whole week wondering what on earth all the fuss was about.  Ah, the joys of being one!)

Would this be considered “overthinking the question”?

E: “Mom, can I get earrings?  Not the sticker kind, but the real kind – the ones that stay in your ears?”

[Mom’s internal response (i.e. not out loud): What?!  You’re only FIVE!  Why do you want to grow up so fast?  You’re already growing up too fast as it is!  I didn’t get earrings until I was TWELVE.  Wait. Why am I thinking about me?  I was the last one in my class to get earrings.  There’s nothing wrong with earrings.  I mean, lots of people get earrings for their babies.  They probably think of earrings the way I think of nail polish, something that’s pretty and sparkly and fun to do with their kids.  You love nail polish!  I don’t wear it, but you picked it out on a stranger in the mall when you were barely walking by pointing at her red toenails, looking at me with wide-eyes and saying simply, “Mama! Ooooohhh…That!”  I’ve pedicured your tiny toes every time you’ve asked since then.  We love those pedicures.  Such good girl fun for us.  We could love earrings.  Why should I really care if you want earrings anyway?  So what?!  We could make a mommy-daughter thing of it.  Wait, what am I saying?  No, we can’t.  I have to make some of the fun things grown up pre-teen things, so that you can look forward to doing those things when you’re twelve, and can feel sort of grown up when you do them.  Otherwise, you’re going to want to do or wear other things to make yourself feel grown-up when you’re twelve, and – well, that just isn’t a good idea.  I need to make earrings a fun target, so you don’t start focusing on something else when you’re – heaven help me – a pre-teen.  I taught eighth grade!  I know what’s happening!  Not that I judge anyone who does earrings earlier, mind you.  I really don’t!  I know you have lots of friends that have them.  But their parents are probably more creative, and can come up with other fun things for them to look forward to as a pre-teen.  Maybe I should talk to those parents and get some ideas…but in the meantime, I mean what am I saying here…I’m saying no!  NO, NO EARRINGS!  You’re supposed to still look like a newborn, with your big hazel eyes and your curly dark hair and your wrinkly pink skin.  I cried when they pricked your toe to get a blood sample for a routine newborn screening, and now I’m supposed to watch them hold an earring-gun to your head?  Did I mention that you are only FIVE?  We have to start homeschooling.  What are you being exposed to?  Why on earth would you even ask a question like that? ]

Mom’s external response (i.e. the one E heard):  “Um, earrings?”

E: “Yeah, well, someone at school got them, and I liked them.  But then someone else said when you get them, it hurts.  You know, if it hurts at all, I really don’t want them . . .  I don’t have to get them, do I mom?!

Mom: No, E.  You don’t have to get them.

And that was the whole conversation.  Believe it or not – including “um”, I spoke only 10 words. 

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!

Memories of – and prayers for – “Dee” (and others) on All Souls Day

(note added after post was written:  I feel like I’ve been on a string of more serious posts here…I promise my next post will be more light hearted (!), but today I am thinking about “Dee”.)

I confess that I know very little about some religious holidays, such as “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”.  I want the kids to know about these special religious days, which means I need to know something (anything!)

From what I know about All Souls Day (Nov. 2), it seems like an appropriate day to flip through some old family photo albums, tell each of my kids one thing my dad (“Dee”, who passed away 2.5 years ago) would have loved about each of them, and then together say a special prayer for my dad?

I think I am going to tell E today that my dad would have loved watching her run across the field behind our house. 

Relevant memory:  I was required by coaches throughout middle school, high school and college to run as part of my training for basketball, and my dad was my eternal encourager: holding the stopwatch when I had to do intervals, measuring distances in the car when I had to run in new locales (like while on family vacations), and insisting that he should follow me in the car when I waited until too late (i.e. until after dark) to do my runs.

E loves to have people count how many seconds it takes her to run across the field.  It is impossible to emphasize how much my dad would have loved sitting in a chair on our back porch and doing that for her.  Feeling the joy of being her grandfather; and (in the years that were harder for him to be mobile), being able to sit for hours and bring such joy to this out of breath, ever-running child.

E, he would have sat and counted for you as long as you wanted, and you would both have been blissfully happy.

I think I am going to tell S today how much my dad would have loved her company, especially in the mornings. 

Relevant memory: I spent almost every morning of my childhood sitting on the floor of my dad’s enormous bathroom while he got ready for work.  That room had it’s own heater in the ceiling, and my dad always set it on high in the mornings, making it (by far) the warmest room in the house.  I would wake up every morning, and immediately walk to his bathroom and sit under the vent.  He had green towels that he kept in there, and he would let me wrap up in them to get really warm, and then he would lay one on top of my head and declare me “his little green mountain”.  My dad was slow in the mornings – rising early and taking hours to get ready.  I rose early and sat there for hours.  He would play this great music, sometimes “oldies”, sometimes “bluegrass”, and sometimes these old spirituals… Anyway, I would stay in my warm little towel cave as long as possible, usually until he had to leave for work (or – once I was old enough – until I had to get ready for school.)

S is exactly that type of kid.  Yesterday morning she was calling for her dad to come hide under the covers with her at 6:15am because the house was too cold and because she loves her daddy.  Tonight, she didn’t want her hair combed after her bath because “I like being here on the floor curled up in these towels.”  At this stage of life, S warms up slowly (literally and figuratively), and once she has warmed (in a cozy space or to a person) she stays put.  I am like that, and I get that from my dad.  He would have loved turning S into his little green mountain.

I think I am going to tell T that my dad would have loved meeting him.

T is the only one of my kids who was never held by my dad, since “Dee” died a little over a year before T’s arrival.  At the same time, T is the kid who most embodies my dad physically, with that dark hair and those blue eyes.  If my dad had seen those features in miniature, I think he would have begun spoiling T rotten right then.  It is a reminder to me that I should give something to T on behalf of my dad: maybe a photo (maybe a small, T-sized copy of the one of Dee in his basketball uniform?)

T, if your “Dee” was still here, in addition to that photo, he would make sure you had a good grasp of

(a) all the family stories (no one could tell them like he could…though there are entire sections of family lore missing because those are the parts that got my dad laughing so hard that no one could understand what he was saying!),

(b) everything related to Alabama athletics (he was a second generation team captain for “the University”…), and

(c) a steady supply of icing.  (Dee ate his cupcakes like you do… all of the frosting, none of the cake.)

He would also have thrilled you by giving you an endless stream of your favorite greeting: your tiny version of the “high five”.

Prayers for you today, Dee.  In my minimal research about All Souls Day, I learned that I need to pray for you – and all souls – more often.

I wish we were in Alabama for the day, so the kids could help us place a few flowers on the grave in honor of you and All Souls Day.

In lieu of that, we are going to draw flowers and say a prayer for “Dee”.  If you are praying for souls today, please include a much-loved and missed “Dee” on your prayer list!

My favorite moments from this Halloween…

(1) Watching E & S teaching T how to ask for candy

(2) Seeing all of them in their costumes

(3) Walking through our neighborhood with my family and seeing all the other families out and about

(4) Being completely “in the moment”… (Halloween is such a reminder that childhood is so precious; my husband and I both reflected on how we would miss trick-or-treating with the kids when they decided they were too big to go with mom and dad…)

(5) Hearing – and remembering – the funny things that kids say… yesterday, when I said good morning to S in her room, I reminded her that it was Halloween.  “I know that!” she said, then walked downstairs, turned around and asked me, “Where are the presents?” . . . Um, she might be confusing her holidays!  But that’s ok, E did too when she was younger, telling us right before a Christmas party that if she went in and said “Trick-or-treat, Jesus!” someone might give her a gift.  Oh how I love my quotable kids!

(6) And to prove we are not completely focused on “gifts” (heaven help us…), I must also reveal that one of my favorite moments was recognizing that our kids loved giving out the candy at our door just as much as they loved getting it while trick-or-treating… (It occurred to us yesterday that Halloween really is a great time to celebrate the “joy of giving”.  We are looking for moments to celebrate generosity, and last night as our kids sat content with their overflowing buckets of just collected candy and eager to have the next costumed character knock at our door asking for a treat from our separate home bowl, we found a moment to do that.  It was as simple as saying how proud we were that they enjoyed giving candy to others as much as they enjoyed getting it for themselves… Christmas is another great times to do this too, I think.  I know lessons about generosity will move to another level as our kids age, but we are starting small here…)

Hope you had a Happy Halloween also!

Oh, these are such precious, precious days…