Browsed by
Tag: Raising children

WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY WANT OUR KIDS TO LEARN IN HOME SCHOOL?

WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY WANT OUR KIDS TO LEARN IN HOME SCHOOL?

Lately, the reality of home school has set in for me.

And before we go any further, let me remind you that my oldest child is only just now in kindergarten.

We are using Saxon Math along with Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool (Getting Ready and Math 1). We are taking a relaxed approach because we have two younger children in the mix and, while my kindergartner could probably do math and reading all day long, I can’t keep the younger two engaged for it. We do what we can, and we take every opportunity. Like, “We have 10 gummies and 3 children. How many gummies does each child get?” Then we divide them up equally. “How many are leftover?” Then we might have a little lesson on fractions. Handwriting is often enforced when we make birthday cards. Vocabulary is learned every day. We might not have formal lessons on it, but we talk about words and what they mean as we use them. For us, this just works better.

I feel the pull toward more formal teaching, but our life just does not work that way right now.

But I also have these aches: Can’t we just sit close in pajamas, arms linked, bellies still hungry, still fasting from the night. Empty, but waiting expectantly for something delicious. Something hot. Can’t we just read books without fights about who gets to turn the page? Can’t we just listen?

I can teach addition and vocabulary, but we didn’t decide to home school because we wanted to be in charge of math lessons.

And this brings me to the crux of this post: What do we (my husband and I) actually want our kids to learn in “school”?

Here’s a list I came up with, and I’m sure we’ll add to it through the years:

  • to find joy
  • to live thankful
  • to marvel at God’s creation
  • to listen to opposition while remaining steady (not erupting) in truth
  • to say no to fear
  • to cast out thieves
  • to hear the voice of God
  • to love all people
  • to stand up for the weak
  • to respect authority
  • to make sound decisions
  • to value family
  • to build

These things are much harder to teach, and much harder to test. It takes time. It takes training. The answers to the questions tied up in these teachings are not so straightforward. There is no teacher’s manual, and while we teach these lessons, we are also learning them.

But we continue. And every once in a while we see that our children are learning.

Like when that song “Break every chain” comes on the radio and my kids stop everything to participate. “There is power in the name of Jesus,” they sing, “to BREAK every chain. BREAK every chain. BREAK every chain.”

Of course my destructive children love the word break more than any other here.

It’s the verb. The action. The thing that moves the sentence and gives force. (That’s a grammar lesson, guys!)

My children LOVE this song. And I know they’re not the only kids who do. Kids everywhere seem to cling to it.

To be honest, I don’t like when my kids break things. Be it glasses or toys or remotes, or the button on a pillow my diseased grandma made. But the power to break has a place. There are many things in our city, in our world, that need not remain. I know my kids are looking for these things because the library we live near is a historic school and at one flight of stairs, a chain hangs. I have no idea what it’s for, but it is probably a piece of the historic charm. My 3 year-old grabbed it one day and pulled. “BREAK every chain,” he said.

Luckily, the actual chain didn’t break, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that library came across some extra freedom that day.

Sometimes we have to start where it’s easy, where it’s natural or literal, before we can get down deep into uncovering the actual lesson.

ON TRAINS AND TRAINING AND THE “I WANT!” MONSTER

ON TRAINS AND TRAINING AND THE “I WANT!” MONSTER

I had a friend in college who used to say that she wanted to be an elementary school teacher because she loved kids. Then she would clarify that she actually only loved kids who sat and listened. She loved nice kids, the kinds of kids who practiced the art of the inside voice, kids who only used their hands for hugging and giving. Kids who would never hit or pinch or pull hair and didn’t tap your shoulder every five minutes asking for lunch. Kids that never said mean things like “Shut up you stupid head.” Kids who would never talk about butts or junks at the dinner table, not even on a triple dog dare.

In other words, she wanted the yoga body without doing the downward dog. She wanted a garden of roses without getting down in the dirt. All the benefits of well-behaved children without the work of training them.

My friend knew this was unlikely, albeit impossible. But I suppose one can dream.

The reality is, children rarely act how my friend dreamed. Children have to be taught (and they will be taught something no matter what!) Children have to be trained to be functioning adults.

Train: To guide the growth of. To guide the mental, moral, etc. development of; bring up; rear. To instruct so as to make proficient or qualified. To prepare or make fit.

ttt

 

Perhaps my friend was somewhat justified. It is not necessarily the teacher’s job to guide a child’s life. At least not solely. Teachers are mostly supposed to teach. Though I believe with all my heart that teachers can be highly influential people, really, kids need parents.

Wait just a minute…

I’m a parent.

So you’re telling me that I have to train my kids? That they’re not going to sit quietly and only use their hands for nice things unless I train them to do so? You’re telling me that I have to train my kids? What does that mean? I didn’t sign up for this. I just wanted to go to story time, to snuggle and play dolls.

Yeah. I know. And I don’t have the answers for how to do this. I am figuring all that out for myself. But I do know it’s important. I know that a parent who does not discipline is a parent who does a disservice to their children and to society. I know that, even if I told you how to discipline your kids, it probably wouldn’t make a difference unless you spent time with your kids, observing who they are and what their specific issues are, figuring out exactly what kind of training works for them.

One thing that we are dealing with at my household is the “I WANT” monster. He comes out almost every time we do anything. For example, yesterday when my kids got up from their naps, I offered a slice of apple dipped in caramel sauce and crushed up nilla wafers. I said, “Come over here! I want to show you what I made while you were napping.” And I took a slice of apple and dipped it in sugary goodness and handed one to my 3 year-old, who ate it with gladness. Then I did the same for my 5 year-old, who immediately screamed and cried “I wanted to do it myself!” Which spurred lots of nasty reactions and eventually brought me to explain to him that when someone gives you a gift, you say thank you and you take it. You don’t cry because of how the gift was given. You simply, and graciously, say thank you.

Hold on. My kids are each a gift, so does this little lesson apply to me to?

Maybe. Just maybe it does.

Though my children (and yours) were given wrapped in nausea and discomfort, then with sharp pains, with goo and crying and squirming about, they were a gift. Though they were, and are, much more needy than generous, they are a gift. So I shouldn’t whine about the requirement of training them. Maybe the training is even a gift.

Do you think so?

Can we choose to call our children blessings, even when they are screaming at the good things given them? Even though every single day they hurt us and their siblings and they break everything their hands touch?

The same friend I mentioned in the beginning of this post would initiate a game called “I want.” It went like this: while driving, or while lounging around in our dorm rooms, she would say, “You know what I want? A doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts,” and we’d sit around just like that for a few minutes coming up with increasingly improbable wishes.

I should probably tell you that, at that time, the closest Dunkin’ Donuts was 30 minutes from campus. It was not an impossible desire, but it was not easy to meet.

Truly, the “I WANT!” monster is a monster of destruction. A monster who is never satisfied, never thankful. This monster breeds the opposite of joy. That’s mysery, discouragement.

Lately, when the “I WANT!” monster grabs my 5 year-old by the teeth, I try to stop and look at his face. I try to remember to think about what is happening in his heart (though, truthfully, at least once a day I just erupt and send him to his room because I get tired of training kids). I try to ask, “Do we always do what you want, or do we operate by what is good for the family?” This usually gives him a chance to think about what he’s asking. Sometimes, even if his request is reasonable, it’s just not doable because there are five people in our family and we have to think about the good of the whole, not just what the individuals want.

I guess the conclusion of all this is that we are to train our children, not to throw them off the train, no matter how slow the one-locomotive, two-locomotive, three-locomotives are moving.

And I know from personal experience that these trains can be painfully slow. But they’re never stopped. Not completely. And I’m one of them, too.

FROM LONELINESS TO FULLNESS: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

FROM LONELINESS TO FULLNESS: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Last week, I was on vacation with my family. We were visiting family and lifelong friends, staying near the beach, and celebrating an anniversary. It was a refreshing and beautiful time. But while we were out of town, we missed some events that happened at home. Events that all my very best friends are still talking about.

I know we can’t be everywhere all the time. Sometimes we miss out on things because of prior commitments. Yet, since I’ve been home I’ve been hit with the weight of everything I missed here.

Though our vacation was purposeful and plentiful, I feel separated, weary, incomplete.

While these feelings stomp on my heart and make me simultaneously wish that I was still away and that I had never left home, what I’m remembering is that these are only feelings. I admit that feelings have purpose, but I don’t believe we are to live in our feelings. Feelings allow us to have empathy for others, but too often we call our feelings fact and use them as an excuse for selfishness.

Feelings are not facts, and my particular feelings are brought on by lies.

These feelings are trash.

But how do we rid ourselves of trash-lies when they have gripped us and plagued us and seemingly made their homes on top of our chest, so that every time we breathe we only get enough air to sustain our life?

It is not good enough to just sustain life.

I recently heard a woman speak whose life has been transformed by a stroke. She is learning to live a new kind of life and is joyfully doing so, but one thing she said is, “Well, I’m alive.” Those words struck me deep because I say them too, but I say them differently. As in, “Well, life sucks right now, but at least I’m alive.”

Truth is that, though life can be wonderful, it also often brings troubles. As in, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome this world!” (from John 16, msg). Since God gives good things and only moves in His purpose, we have to know that life is good. God overcame the world of darkness so that we can walk in His light.

Yet I still feel terrible when my children are disobedient. I still feel lonely when I watch others have grand excursions and I’m stuck in my apartment with three children who just won’t quit. I still feel the pangs of heartache when I am not included, for whatever reason. I still reel when I take a step back and realize that I have acted in rash.

My life has been transformed by children, similar to how that other woman’s life has been transformed by a stroke. Children are blessings, but they are mysteries, too. They are problems. They are troubles, at least for me. I know there are some moms out there who always know what to do, but I can barely figure out breakfast, let alone how to home school and discipline in love.

Then, there’s Jesus, just hanging around my apartment, sitting at the table and watching my family wander around in this world of troubles. And he’s saying “Take heart! I’ve overcome this.”

Very gently, He’s reminding us that He is the gate to fullness:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~John 10:7-10

you-are-simply-the

I have heard the voices that say I’m not good enough. Have you? Have you heard the voices that say you’ve missed it, that your dreams are silly and unreachable?

Jesus says these are the voices of thieves and robbers. This is trash trying to clog up our lives of fullness. Throw it away. Right now. Because what else should we do with trash but throw it in the dumpster so it can rot away?

God doesn’t speak in lies. He doesn’t speak in heartache. God speaks in love. He speaks in mercy. He wipes every tear.

No matter where we are or who we’re with (or not with), can we recognize the lies that seek to destroy, before they actually do? Can we see the gate to fullness, and enter it, instead of standing outside and just watching everyone else have fun?

 

 

WHY I STAY AT HOME WITH MY KIDS

WHY I STAY AT HOME WITH MY KIDS

Let me begin by saying something that may be obvious. I am a stay-at-home mom, and I know there are millions of us out there. I also know that there are millions of working moms, and I’m not saying that anyone is right or wrong. There is a reason I didn’t title this, “Why You Should Stay at Home with Your Kids”. That is a personal decision, a personal journey, and you should probably seek that for yourself. For better or for worse, this is my stay-at-home story:

People often say to me, “It’s so great that you can stay at home,” or “I wish I could stay at home.” Though I don’t usually ask for clarification, it seems that the implication here is that my husband makes enough money, so I don’t have to work.

That is completely inaccurate. My husband and I made the decision that I would stay at home, and that is why I stay at home. It’s not because my husband makes enough money. In fact, he doesn’t. Simply, we believe that I am supposed to stay at home, so I do.

It may have been easier for us to make this decision for two reasons: 1.) I have never had a full-time job, so the cost of childcare would have almost equaled the paycheck I was making when I was pregnant with our first child. 2.) I am passionate about writing stories, and that kind of job just doesn’t exist in the 9-5 world.

Today, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for almost 6 years. I did go back to work for a brief time, and I do a little freelance writing every now and then, but I don’t have to do any of that. My main job is Mom.

And do you know what that means? It means that from 9-5, I do the work of guiding big emotions and exploring big imaginations. I wipe small butts and I try to keep small hands from getting into the trash can, the toilet water, or the raw meat thawing in the kitchen sink. I give a lot of hugs, but I also get kicked in the shin a lot. I get to sit with my kids and snuggle, reading books in the morning, but I also get to deal with cranky morning kids who don’t want to let up on their selfish desires.

Sometimes it seems like too much for one person, especially when I have dreams of my own, on top of my own emotions, my own imagination, and my own physical body to keep clean and well.

It’s time like these (and, honestly, these are most of the times) when I wonder why. Why do I stay at home with my kids? Why don’t I go to work? Why don’t I just hire a babysitter or a nanny and take an office somewhere so I can write all day long and grocery shop in peace? Well, first of all, it’s not just me. I’m married, so it’s WE. And WE have 3 children.

Today, I’m listing my reasons. Here they are:

1.) So I can hear everything. This is not about being in charge, but being near. I can hear when my children are having a hard time. I can hear what makes them happy. I can sit with my 3 year-old while he goes to the bathroom and spits out the deepest thoughts of his entire running, jumping, loud-noise making day. I can hug my daughter before nap time. I can enforce the rules of our home without confusing my kids with the rules of daycare. I can know what rules are important for them and what rules really aren’t.

2.) Because I believe that my kids will be better off if they are with me or my husband the majority of the time. Personally, I just couldn’t imagine our kids being in someone else’s care for 8 hours of every weekday. That’s about half of their waking moments.

3.) Mostly, though, when I’m having a rough day and I don’t want to be home anymore, I have landed on this: I want my kids to see what a well-rounded person is. My husband and I are the only people my children know. I know that sounds extreme, and you’re probably thinking, Don’t you ever let your kids out of the house? Yes, we do. We let them socialize all the time- at the playground, at church, at a weekly mom’s group I go to. They are around others quite often, but those people can’t show my kids what it’s like to be human. Only my husband and I can do that. If my kids were in day care, they would be in the care of a professional for most of every day. While I’m sure that most day cares take fine care of children, I believe the best care is that of a parent. When my children have tantrums, when they do something wrong, I can talk to them every time. I can talk to them in a way that they can understand. Or I can talk to them until they understand. When my children need food, I can teach them to make it themselves. I can teach my children through example that people are not perfect  because I am not perfect. I throw my own tantrums sometimes, and because I’m home, my kids can see my process. I know that sometimes we just have to forgive each other and move on with life. I can help them understand that it’s okay to be sad and angry and to feel like the world is trampling on them. And I can help them understand what to do with those kinds of feelings. Right now my kids are 5, 3, and 1, so we are in a season of continuing, of repetition. On the days when I’m tired of the same old-same old, I choose to believe that everything will make sense eventually.

A few months ago, my pastor said something like, “We are not suppose to manage our money. We are supposed to steward it,” and without going into a lot of financial stuff right now, I want to turn the table a little bit. When he said that, I instantly thought of my job as a mom. At the time I had been saying to myself, “I don’t know how to manage my kids.”

But we’re not supposed to manage our kids. We’re supposed to steward them. And that starts a whole other journey because I don’t know how to do that either. But I know there’s a lot more grace, a lot more freedom, a lot more reason to stay at home and figure this thing out together than to leave them in the care of someone else.

So maybe I should add this one: I don’t know what I’m doing, so I probably shouldn’t send my kids off into the world just yet.

Again, this is a piece of my stay-at-home story. I’m sure your story looks a little different.

Do you stay at home with your kids? Why or why not? Do you want to stay at home with your kid, but feel like you can’t?

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

First, you must know that Twizzlers do not show up on our table very often.

IMG_7746
The idea for Twizz-Literacy started with this marked down bag of Patriotic Twizzlers.

I have never been the kind of person who buys candy or desserts of any kind. Except when I’m pregnant… then I’ve been known to purchase 5 cartons of ice cream at once to fulfill a lingering craving. (It seems that taking advantage of a “Buy 2 Get 3 Free” sale saves some money by preventing me from going to the ice cream shop twice a week.)

I’ve also been known, when pregnant, to eat half the Now and Later’s before arriving to the Halloween party.

But I am not pregnant right right now, so sweets are not in abundant supply around here. But my kids love candy, and every once in a while I give in to their cute little faces.

You know, candy was just made for kids. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, and it’s colored to look festive and bright and wonderful, even though it’s really kind of evil.

Anyhow, Patriotic Twizzlers were $0.60 a couple weeks ago at Food Lion so I snagged them, thinking that we could do a little literacy activity with them.

I had recently purchased two of these sheet protectors from Dollar Tree:

IMG_7765

I thought they would go perfectly with the Twizzlers. I thought my kids could peel the Twizzlers apart, cut them up and use them to make letters. Originally I thought I would print off 26 letter sheets. I thought I’d make my kids say each letter, then what sound it makes. Maybe a word that begins with that letter, too.

When it came time, though, I hadn’t printed off letter sheets and we all just needed a fun activity, so I just left the original papers in for inspiration and let them make the letters they wanted. Because right now the goal is just to make learning fun!

It definitely worked. My kids loved this activity! I sat with them to ensure that they actually made letters and didn’t just stuff their faces with sugar. I let them get creative, too! I’m a big fan of creativity. I love when my kids figure things out on their own. I did have to peel the Twizzlers apart because they were too sticky for my kids to do on their own. Maybe that’s because they’re from 4th of July, or maybe that’s how all Twizzlers are. I don’t know. I don’t usually try to peel Twizzlers.

Now, the thing you’ve all been waiting for:

IMG_7763
My kids made brains.
IMG_7750
And more brains.
Snakes!
Then they made rattlesnakes.

Oh yeah! We made letters too:

Carpe

A few days later, we made lemonade and we colored watermelons onto paper plates and gave them away as “Happy Summertime” gifts, one for the girl who manages the office at our apartment complex and one to the most wonderful maintenance man anyone could ask for (these people receive gifts from us a lot because we love them and it’s super easy to just walk over and brighten their day. Maybe you have a neighbor or a co-worker that you could start showering with gifts?) This was a hurried activity so I don’t have pictures of the finished summertime gift bags. But here are the watermelon cards the boys made for their dad. You probably know what lemonade looks like, so just use your mind to add it into this picture.

Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?
Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?

These are not quite as elaborate as the ones we made for the people who manage our home, but maybe you get the idea. I circled the inside and told my kids to color it pink. My 3 year old decided the inside of his watermelons were going to be multi-colored. Originally I thought we would cut these in half, but then we decided to just fold them like cards. We pasted pieces of green tissue paper around the edge for some texture and to add interest, and we added seeds and a little note.

When we were packing the gift bags, my oldest son suggested we include some Patriotic Twizzlers and I was fully on board. Guys, he wanted to give away his candy!

Now go, and spread forth your own generous, creative, genius children!

The Destruction of Womanhood: On Titles and False Justification

The Destruction of Womanhood: On Titles and False Justification

I have two boys and one baby girl. She’s not actually a baby, but she is the youngest and we still call her baby.

She is actually a feisty 18 months. A toddler. A young woman, if you will. A sister who is always looking for a place among the boys, a place where she can build and play catch, where she can run around with one hand raised, ready to destroy anything that gets in her pretty little way.

She loves necklaces and baby dolls too. She loves purses and shopping carts, baskets and hats (and so do her brothers!) But she’ll plop right down in the middle of any male bonding that goes on near her. If the boys shut their door before she enters, she will scream and bang with her fists until help arrives. She can’t open her own doors.

I, on the other hand, can open doors, but I have lots of difficulties with the boyhood that runs here. Video games, sword fighting, jumping and running, punching anything in sight, throwing, kicking, and yelling, are not in my blood.

I prefer a quieter home, one where we sit at a table and color. I would even take an hour of cutting and pasting. I have one boy who loves to cut and paste and color, but he gets caught up in his older brother’s pursuit of more intellectual things. Theirs is a battle of physical vs. visual, mathematics vs. art. Both boys play both parts well, but hardly ever at the same time. When convinced, they will sit and do almost anything, but this takes some serious convincing. Their sister loves art supplies. She loves to taste markers, dissolve cardboard on her tongue, and shake crayon boxes until every color explodes on the floor. This is why I always think twice about getting the art supplies out.

These are young children. They have great imaginations. They have great desires to try to do things they can’t possibly accomplish on their own. My 3-year old has recently started proclaiming, “I’m a creative thinker.” I’m not sure why he says this. I know we have commented on his creative inclinations, but I can’t recall ever telling him that he is a creative thinker. Still, he knows it and he speaks it.

Sometimes, when I am overcome with the desire for quiet, quick obedience, without the creative thought attached, I want to shout, “I am your mother! Do what I say!” On a few occasions, I have let those words slip, angry eyes bulging, I’m sure.

“What you say flows from what is in your heart.” ~Luke 6:45

Then, what is in my heart?

These are not usually words of love. They are selfish words.

I think I deserve to be obeyed. I think I deserve respect. I do, but it’s not my job to demand it.

The title of Mother was given the day I bore life in my belly, but it’s my job to live up to it, to show my children that a mother is kind and strong, creative and a good listener, a seeker of beauty, a teacher with patience, a learner always expecting, no matter what goes on around.

Before I was a mother, I was a daughter and a woman. These parts of me still exist but often feel crushed, like the sidewalk chalk that my 5-year old prefers to bang on the ground instead of draw with. Sidewalk chalk is meant for creation. It’s a tool, a toy, used for drawing. But my math and science boy wants to see what happens when you crush it. I know he’s just curious, in the same way that he’s curious about what happens to the light inside the refrigerator when the door closes.

This kind of exploratory habit is not in my nature, but I suppose it once was. Most children are curious beings, like the monkey George. Now that I know the answers (or I think I know the answers), wonder has become a nuisance. Now, I don’t want to stop to explore. I want to take the answers I know and I want to create something.

My children are young and don’t know the answers yet, so maybe it’s not that they are trying to destroy my womanhood, but to bring life back to the very core of me.

Perhaps every child brings the gift of relearning, of experiencing once again what it is about life that makes us who we are.

Perhaps every child brings the gift of relearning, of experiencing once again what it is about life that makes us who we are. (1)Since we are only discovered in the context of others, maybe my womanhood can only be truly discovered in a life of battles. Through the searching for band aids. Through the peeling back of packaging and the rubbing on of healing salve. Through the sticking together.

It’s not just the cuddles and the kisses, but the tantrums and the scraped knees that bring us life.

So, let me ask a question. When my kids smash their chalk or throw their Legos, what am I doing? How am I using my position of mom to give meaning to the same word’s title? Am I letting my own answered questions dictate the answers for my children? Or am I allowing them discovery, and at the same time allowing myself to continue learning what the word Mother means?

Words always have two meanings: the denotation (the literal definition), and the connotation (the positive and negative associations that words are given through cultural and personal experiences).

How am I forming my children’s connotation of the word mom? Is a mom someone who yells, someone who causes her own destruction, and therefore the destruction of her children and her home? Or is a mom someone who sees beyond herself and uses her words to speak life, her creative abilities to change the atmosphere of her home and generate goodness and love in the hands and voices of her noisy, fearless children?

How are you using your position of Mom (or whatever your title may be) to bring life to your home?

Things Kids Can do in the Kitchen

Things Kids Can do in the Kitchen

It’s hard to cook dinner. The kids are running, I’m frazzled from being the only adult with 3 kids, and my morning coffee mug needs a refresher.

Over here, 3:30 is generally when it starts. This is a difficult time for me. It’s after nap time. I want to spend time with my kids, and they are anxious to spend time with me, but I can’t usually watch them dropkick the soccer ball or help them sort out their puzzle pieces or even hold a real conversation while I cook.

Part of it, I think, is that I am not a cook by nature. I just don’t love it, so when I cook, I’m full-on working. I’m thinking hard. I can’t just ease into creating a meal. When I try to do that, I usually end up forgetting to cook the potatoes or not setting a timer, and the pizza burns or the pork chops have turned to leather.

If I don’t have a plan for our meal, it’s an even harder. And since I’m just not the planning type, I usually don’t have one.

I must say that my husband is super helpful and usually willing to cook if I need him to. He actually loves to cook and is really good at it, almost always creating something memorable and mouth-watering. But he isn’t home until 4:30, and by then we usually need to have started dinner. So I try to cook most nights.

But I’m not a chef and I don’t really care what our dinner tastes like. I love to bake, and my husband has come home more than once to a counter filled with muffins, breads, and homemade soft pretzels, but no dinner. Maybe even homemade ketchup and a bag of frozen french fries heated on a cookie sheet. Maybe two entire batches of sourdough pancakes, lined on a pan ready to be stuck in the freezer, or steel cut oats soaking, for the week’s breakfasts. But no dinner. He has also more than once come home to a counter filled with cheese and crackers and a fruits and veggie platter. Luckily, we can usually snack on that stuff until my husband has some time to create a masterpiece in front of our very eyes.

I do love to get my kids helping in the kitchen, though. Once 3:30 rolls around, and I need to start cooking, I usually try to occupy them somehow. I’m not opposed to enlisting the help of the television, and I often do, but when I can include my children in kitchen prep, I try to, if even just for a few minutes before I send them on a scavenger hunt for the remotes.

Really, my kids LOVE to help in the kitchen. And it’s so good for them! We value real, homemade food and though we are not perfect eaters and we don’t always eat organically, we try to cook our own meals.

I’ve created a list of things that I’ve realized my kids can do in the kitchen. They always surprise me, you know? It’s like they’re growing every day or something, gaining new understandings every moment.

IMG_20160613_100059511
This is my kids at a Mud Cafe… the things they’re making are not edible (well I guess you could eat mud in a pinch), but this is totally training them to love the kitchen!

Of course, depending on your kids’ ages, they may need varying levels of supervision while doing some of these things. My 5 year old can do most of these unsupervised, but my 3 year old needs a lot of supervision while doing them. They still both LOVE to help in the kitchen, though.

A 5-year-old grates cheese.
A 5-year-old grates cheese.
A 1-year old spreads hummus on the table.
A 1-year old spreads hummus on the table.

I know it can be frustrating, but I dare say that, especially if you have a picky eater, their horizons will broaden each time they are allowed the freedom to help in the kitchen.

Kids who help in the kitchen have a better relationship with food. I made that up, but it’s probably true. Most of my kids get so excited when they experience new foods.

I am especially surprised when my 3-year old (my super kinesthetic boy) wants to taste things as we cook. He ALWAYS sticks his fingers where they don’t belong. Sometimes, like when we’re making scrambled eggs, or when we have pork chops in our shopping cart, this is not good. (Who wraps pork chops in such an easily punctured material as saran wrap? I want to see pork chops sealed in welded sheets of steel.)

Other times, his curiosity serves him well. Like when we’re pulling kale leaves off their stalks and he decides to just chomp down on the chewy raw powerhouse veggie like its a Snickers bar, proclaiming, “I LIKE KALE!” or when he dips his finger into a bag of flax meal, and proceeds to sing, “I love flax MEAL!” I count these moments as victories won after a years-long battle where the kid is all up in my business.

Okay. Here’s my list. Kids can:

  • Grate cheese
  • Peel carrots
  • Sweep (Get one of these types of things. But get yours from Dollar Tree. My kids think it’s so funny to be able to sweep up messes with their “set” and I’m not sure why they call it that, but it doesn’t really mater to me as long as they are sweeping.)
  • Fill our Britta water box
  • Push the button to grind coffee beans
  • Start the coffee pot brewing
  • Clear the table (they can at least clear their own plates and silverware)
  • Load the silverware into the dishwasher
  • Pour detergent into the dishwasher
  • Start the dishwasher
  • Put the silverware away
  • Stir, whisk, tap, pinch the flour, salt, baking soda, etc.
  • Pour 1/3 cup of pancake batter into a hot pan, supervised of course!
  • Flip pancakes
  • Put the toppings on a pizza dough
  • Rinse soapy dishes
  • Crack eggs open (My kids don’t usually help with this because it freaks me out, but they have cracked a few eggs for me, and I should probably just let them do it more often. My kinesthetic 3-year old really loves cracking eggs and today when his siblings were sleeping and I was making pancakes, he did a great job! And I even postponed my freak-out “WASH YOUR HANDS!” moment until after he had gotten a good 30 seconds rubbing his fingers in the slime and picking out the shells.)
  • Make taco seasoning
  • Make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Cut the tops off strawberries (using a butter knife)
  • Open canned foods
  • Stir almost anything!

Do your kids help you in the kitchen? Are they curious kitchen-dwellers? How do they help? Do you think helping has made them good eaters? (I know that some kids are just picky. My oldest is our pickiest kid. He always tells me he doesn’t like what we’re having, but I think as we keep going on with our life, he’ll realize we’re actually not kidding when we tell him there is no other option to the food on the table.)

On a Lightly Floured Surface: Relief on the Journey of Motherhood

On a Lightly Floured Surface: Relief on the Journey of Motherhood

When I was pregnant with my first son, I had a lot of mixed emotions, a lot of jumbled up thoughts. It’s okay though. I’m pretty sure that’s normal. Having a life of one’s own provokes a lot of emotion, so it makes sense that having a second life forming in one’s belly would provoke a lot more thought and emotion, right?

I’m the baby of my family, six and a half years behind my closest sibling, and until my cousin started having babies when I was 12, I was the youngest of my entire, extended family. I was never around babies. Not ever. Most of my friends loved babies. They babysat, they volunteered to work in the nursery at their churches, they even took the “early childhood education” class at our high school (a class which might have been created out of a need to provide childcare for all of the teen moms that we had as classmates). But babies really kind of scared me.

I thought little kids were pretty cute, but to be left alone with one? Terror. My husband and I never really decided to have kids. We just decided to stop preventing it. We had a mutual dislike for all forms of birth control and a recognition that children enrich lives. I still believe they do, but in a way that I never would have imagined. It’s in a repetitive, yet somehow surprising, never-stopping, never sitting down, always go-go-go, kind of way that makes you peer inside your own heart and figure out why the constant jumping around and throwing of tantrums bothers you so much. (The answer, I think has something to do with the fact that I have a bunch of emotions and desires that I have not yet laid aside for the greater good of my children’s lives.)

In our case, removing birth control meant that I was pregnant within just a few months. I was somewhat thrust into motherhood, with few ideas of what it would really be like. I found that, when you’re pregnant, most people will tell you about their pregnancies, yet no one knows what it’s like to be you or to have your children or your spouse.

There is a piece of motherhood that is solitary. I wrote a lot about my thoughts on child-rearing, including a list called “Advice to Future Me” where I said, “My belly is like bread and now it is rising.”

It’s true. Bread-making and pregnancy are similar. In both, there is a growing specimen that forms itself and produces unseen things to make its boundaries expand, to make itself rise. When I was pregnant with my first son, I hadn’t made much bread. I think basic white and multi grain are all that I had tackled. Now, after three children and nine years of marriage, I have made bread with carrots cooked inside, with marjoram and chives. I’ve made baguettes, brioche, hamburger buns, hearty oatmeal bread, bagels, soft pretzels, focaccia, ciabatta, pita, and all kinds of pizza dough. Now I mostly make sourdough bread, from a starter that I created with only flour and water.

Two ingredients. Like my children were created from only my husband and me. But it’s not just ingredients that make. There are directions to follow. There is stirring and kneading to do. There is a feeling to knowing when the bread is right. There is waiting to be done, waiting until just the right moment when the oven is hot and the bread has been shaped, and it has risen again. There is an art to making bread, but there is also a chemistry. In my opinion, you have to have the desire for artistry first.

Today I am making brioche for our Saturday night hamburger dinner. This is actually the first time I’ve made brioche (though I did add it to my repertoire above), and it hit me, the line that almost every bread recipe gives: on a lightly floured surface…. 

IMG_7688

On a surface that has been sprinkled with a little extra of that one main ingredient. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour ensures that the bread does not stick to the surface as you form it. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour eases the transition from rising to proofing, from bowl to pan.

Aren’t you thankful that, even though parenting is hard work, we can lay down our parenting fears and trials, all our insecurities and hardships, on a surface lightly floured with wisdom from ages of mothers and fathers who have gone before us, a surface lightly floured with the knowledge that motherhood has been around for centuries, that babies have lived in dirt piles and grassy fields, without television and the internet, without air conditioning, without frozen meals, without Tulas and Ergos.

As we lay our parenting down on a surface lightly floured, our transitions become easier. While we are discovering our true form, we will remain intact.