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About A Day

About A Day

Because it’s therapeutic just to journal about the day.

Because in the thinking back, we can let go and find the beauty in our mundane.

Because, in an effort to find significance where I am right now. It’s that place where kids are small and messes are big and none of us know what we’re doing.

This morning, I woke up to a seven-year-old who had to go the bathroom and was eager to read The Boxcar Children. He said good morning to my sleeping eyes and then he went to my closet to read alone. It’s a big closet, with the light and space for this boy to spread out.  One corner even holds a pile of his books. I wonder just how many books he has in there, but I have never taken the time to count them. Instead, I often remind my boy that it’s not his closet. I ask him to stack his books neatly. I ask him if he really needs that many books in my closet. He always tells me that he does. I don’t believe him, but then I look at my nightstand which holds at least twenty books. I read them all.

This morning, I stayed in bed with Susan (almost three weeks old now). We snuggled. I went back to sleep until the next child awoke. Then I left Susan to dream, and I showered.

The morning was more hectic than I would have liked. The mornings almost always are. This morning, Susan woke up and and wouldn’t be put down. We were all starving by the time she did. As soon as my hands were free I made oatmeal. I cooked it with maple syrup while my middle two children stood close, blowing holes into the steam that rose above it. I scooped the oatmeal into four bowls and listened to everyone’s requests for toppings. Milk. Honey. Brown sugar. My oldest cried. He didn’t want honey but because I was feeling rushed I had accidentally put it into everyone’s bowls. Screaming rose like the oatmeal’s steam had earlier, but the screaming could not be blown away. The child said he didn’t like honey but I know that’s not true and I told him so. We argued, though I knew that was dumb and futile. I am an adult and these are children, but I often forget about our age gap.

Susan woke up. Eventually, everyone was fed and we were trying to get everyone ready for a play date at the Splash Pad. I was annoyed.

“Seek first the kingdom of God” kept playing in my heart, but my annoyance won anyway. I gave my kids opportunities to listen but they kept failing my expectations. I made sandwiches while Susan lay in a basket of clean laundry and screamed. Her siblings stood nearby trying to calm her with sweet songs and well-meaning kisses. We were an hour late to our play date but we had fun while we were there.

Water shot up from the ground and my kids knew exactly what to do with it. They explored. They played. They laughed and climbed and made memories with their friends. I chatted with my friends–the other moms–making my own memories.

Where are my eyes throughout these days? Am I looking at crumbs or at the tiny hands who made them?

After dinner, after bedtime, I washed dishes and wiped the counters and now I am sitting at the table writing out the day, looking for the meaning, knowing that meaning only sometimes comes how we think it will.

Haiku the Day Away was never about advice or how-to anything. Haiku are small image-driven poems with big punches. Though they seem to be about the images, haiku hold unseen treasures. They show what is in front of us but they are about something deeper. They are like metaphorical x-rays, begging us to look beyond. Again and again, they ask us to seek and keep seeking and they almost always, in the end, reveal more within those things which we have allowed to become mundane. In a haiku, the mundane can actually hold so much beauty.

Consider the Lilies

Consider the Lilies

“What about Susan Joan?” he suggested.

My face crumpled. “I don’t love either of those names.”

“Susan means graceful lily,” he said. “Joan means God is gracious.”

The names have further significance. Both of them are aunts that have played vital roles in my husband’s life, people who continuously shower others with bursting love and creativity. They brighten everything around them.

Still, to me, the name sounded harsh. Susan Joan. Not like the beautiful names that sat on my own list: Lillian, Caroline, Elise, Jane. Lily was once a joke, but it had slipped to the top of my list. Lily is a beautiful, fragrant flower symbolizing innocence, purity, and beauty. Consider the lilies of the field, I thought, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. The image of the lily, along with its aroma, can change the atmosphere of an entire room by just sitting in it. Naming this girl Lilian would give her a more adult option later in life.

Female names have always been difficult for my husband and me. Our first daughter, who is currently three years old, is named Grace, and that was the first female name that my husband and I had ever agreed on. He just doesn’t like girl names, but Grace was an important word for us after giving life to our first two children: two rambunctious boys.

Before we knew this child’s gender, my oldest son told us that she would definitely be a girl. “That would make us balanced,” he said. I chuckled because this boy always chooses symmetry. Still, he was right, and when we went for our anatomy scan the technician told us that, though a baby’s measurements usually waver and the due date is an average, all of this daughter’s measurements pointed to the same date. “This is one symmetrical little girl,” the technician said.

Susan Joan. With only a few weeks of pregnancy left, I joked that we could nickname her “Aunt.” For years, she and many others would probably think we were saying “ant” and referring to the insect that crawls quickly on the floor searching for sugar. We laughed together. My husband said he didn’t love the name Susan Joan either.

The option lingered.

Lilian still rang truest in my mind. Even Lilian Joan, a name I thought beautiful and wonderful and worthy of our little baby, honoring the aunt named Joan that plays such a role in my husband’s family. We’d call her Lily for short, and the rhyme of her full name, “Lily Dutilly,” would bring joy to our world.

Now, we are days away from her projected due date and she sits upside down in my belly, nameless, and the name Susan is beginning to grow on me. I don’t believe that everyone must name their child according to the meaning it holds, but for my family, this is an important part of the process.

What if her name were Susan? Susan Joan Dutilly.  Susan means graceful lily, I thought. It fits well next to our first daughter—Grace and Susan—and still the symbol of the lily would remain present in her name. Innocence, purity, beauty. Consider the lilies of the field… they toil not, neither do they spin.

In this famous line, lilies are portrayed as balanced flowers. They toil not, neither do they spin. Lilies are graceful beings who stand in the field, beautiful and balanced, bright and open. It’s a graceful image for a family, for a mother who wakes and cooks and cleans and tries to finish her coffee before it goes cold.

I try to see my children, to hug them often and give them what they need most. Yet I am often torn between allowing space for all of us to be individuals and for removing the space by making close snuggles. Perhaps this motherhood thing is all about finding a balance, knowing that it may never be created but is simply found somewhere within these chaotic days. That in the end, the moments matter but they also don’t. While sometimes I am tipped too far on the discipline side and other days I am lax, in the end a mother balances out and can let go of the moments she thinks she’s failed.

Now, I think, Can I learn to paint a lily? I want to paint lilies all over this girl’s room. I want her to know that this is who we believe her to be. Though she will surely surprise us, as our daughter Grace has, with tantrums and disobedience, and pure human ugliness, can she know that she is first and always a daughter who brought balance to her family? Though she will be a baby and then a toddler, she will not toil in her growing. Though she will grow to be a woman, perhaps a wife and a mother herself, and though life may take its toll as it does on all humans, right now the crossroad lies in her name because her name is her first entrance. My motherly hope is simply this, that the daughter of innocence whom she is right now would remain steadfast as she goes forth: Susan.

 

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

This blog was drafted in the Houston Airport, the day after the last of my childhood friends got married. I was sitting there, waiting for my flight, and I just started writing.

Who knows why we write. Who knows why certain events stand out to us, why we get stuck on thoughts, but in that airport I was stuck on these relationships. In the sidebar of this very blog I have quoted Flannery O’Conner. “I write to discover what I know.” This is that kind of blog post, where I may come to no conclusion.

Still, when I think about lifelong friendships I immediately think of my husband, who was homeschooled. All of his lifelong friends share his blood. Though he is supportive, he does not understand my desire to keep old friends. Perhaps this blog is a quest to try again to explain. As I write that line–my desire to keep old friends–I realize that it’s not me keeping these friendships at all. They just are. After 27 years, these relationships keep themselves.

6.26.2017

This weekend, one of my very best childhood friends was married. Now she’s on her honeymoon and I’m sitting in an airport restaurant. I am filled with tacos and nostalgia.

Years of water tell the beginning of our friendship: a river, an ocean, an inlet, a swimming pool. Together they tell stories of smiles and survival.

We lived through elementary school and puberty, high school and graduation. There are five of us girls who are still close, who spent the weekend together as adults, who just want to know that even though the memories are beautiful, the future of our friendship is available too.

Available. Uncertain, unwritten, that the future holds promise and the current holds air, holds breath, holds that which is necessary for the continuation of life.

I am wrought with a heartache that misses all the moments, a sentimentality that wants my eyes to sob.

My eyes have released enough: at a wedding so beautiful and perfect, at a garden so lush, when two families were united by two loves grown together. An unrehearsed prayer in a doorway, words were spoken of something invisible, something represented by all the caught glances and all the clanging, cheerful glasses. Dancing proved joy, but dancing also made it.

The weekend was filled with love in so many forms. A father gave away his last daughter, spoke blessings over a room. A story about sailing on our water. Sailing is natural freedom, glamorous adventure. I wasn’t mentioned, but I know that context. I’ve been on that boat too.

The bride’s dad honored his wife, credited her with the friendship that remains in their family, said that his wife taught his daughters how to be friends. Truth told of that Mama: she taught us how to be friends, too.

Oh, we lived in her minivan and by her quiet grace. Driven around town for years until we could drive ourselves. Then, we were reckless but covered. Now, we are all married, all have families and homes of our own. Differences run but the similarities we share are enough. Memories so strong.

But why are we still friends? My husband wonders this, and I do too. It appears that most people lose their childhood friends when they go to college. Why are we so lucky to have remained attached? Are we all suckers for stories? Are we all stuck together with humor and tragedy? Our childhood has all of that coming-of-age drama. All childhoods do, so what holds ours together?

Everyone close to us was funneled through our youth group. Yes, we talked about God but we also had cigarette breaks. We drank underage and we all dated and cried and stayed out too late, disregarded the rules. But we passed our classes and got out of high school and now we’re all married with functioning lives of our own.

Some thread remained tight between us and we still celebrate together. We still cry together. We still… still is a word made from glue that dries or is drying. Still is a word for the moments that seem unmoving like trees rooted in forest soil. Yet even trees can sway in the wind. Is the tree used up by metaphor? Maybe, but trees still grow and keep growing.

Where is the root of this friendship? Was it born as we sat on dark, deserted beaches, and in Sunday morning church chairs? Or as we sipped hot drinks at a coffee shop with music and scones, in a youth group that ended but never really departed?

Too much remains of these relationships to break them. Our differences never blurred, but we remain like splotches in a Jackson Pollock. All unique. All striking. Some may say, but what does it mean? Like everything, it means the world, and it means nothing, and we are left with questions that words can’t define. That’s art and that’s friendship.

Now, I am a mom and, no matter how I look back with chuckles and squints, I don’t want my kids to relive my childhood. I don’t want them to do everything I did or see everything I saw. I do want them to know purpose at a young age, but does that stifle their own growing?

I know– kids grow up no matter what parents do, and parents screw up no matter how hard we try. And here I sit right in the middle of the growing up and the trying, in these glorious moments where my kids are climbing trees and skinning their elbows and I am writing exploratory blog posts and bad poetry because that’s what I can finish in an afternoon. Because, though I treasure the friends who have known me forever, not everything should be lifelong. Sometimes I yearn to see the ending, the completion, the finishing of something, if even just a first draft of a poem about washing dishes (always more satisfying than the act of washing dishes itself).

I don’t want my kids to relive my life, but I do want them to know adventure and security, reason and frivolity, beaches and hot coffee. To know that we are always discovering and that lifelong friendships exist, but more than that, life exists and so do long friendships, and no one knows all the answers. Not even me.

 

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

 

When he fell from his chair, blood poured. Apparently, his nose met the table as he fell.

It was just a bloody nose, but still shocking. Rest and paper towels stopped it, but a couple days later it bled again. And again. And again. It bled because my son is young and sometimes his finger finds its way into the nostril. It bled again because my son is playful and can’t keep himself from bouncing. It bled again because weapons, no matter how fake, can still do damage.

The week after his first bleeding, he came to me from behind and said, “Mom, my nose is bleeding.” When I looked, there was no blood. My son laughed. “It was a trick, mom,” he said.

This was not my son’s first trick played. He thinks they are funny, and I know he’s not alone. Lots of people love tricks. I’m just not one of them. It always seems that when a trick is played, it is played at the expense of someone else. When my son plays tricks, I know he’s not trying to be malicious, yet there is a hint of malice. I want my son to know the effect of tricks, so I told him the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” I told him that when he tells untruths, he is telling me that he can’t be trusted. What if he kept playing that trick, then one day his nose actually bled again? Then, I might not come to his aid because I thought he was playing a trick.

Like so many parenting situations, I don’t know if this was the right solution. I also don’t actually know what my son’s intention was. He said he thought it would be funny to play this trick, but I’m not sure if dishonesty should mix with humor. In our house, we tell jokes all the time. We laugh (most days anyway). We play games and celebrate fun, but we don’t celebrate dishonesty.

Now, a memory of Pinocchio.

When I was 5 or 6, my cousin recorded herself reading the entirety of Pinocchio and sent me the tapes as a gift. I listened to them, and perhaps that is where the magic of the story begins for me. I watched videos of Pinocchio: the Disney version and a live-action version I liked to check out from the library. I am no Pinocchio expert, and today I recall only the basic story line, but another memory is this: as a teenager vacationing in Italy, I wanted the book. (While in Florence, read Pinocchio? Exactly.) When my grandmother found out that I wanted and purchased the book, she scowled. “He’s a liar,” she said.

Oh, my sweet, sweet grandmother who so rarely showed her opinion. She said that Pinocchio was a liar and she didn’t like him.

A liar. One who doesn’t tell the truth. A liar cannot be trusted. And what is the motive for lying? Is it fear? Shame? A distrust of self? I have told lies. Is it safe to say that every person has? For Pinocchio, dishonesty was always revealed. It never benefited him. In fact, lying always brought more shame than the act that prompted the lie, and yet he still told lies. Even though our human lies don’t always bring such social humiliation, doesn’t shame always follow? It’s a voice that says, Why would you lie? You are a liar. And, like Pinocchio, we continue.

After some research, I have discovered that in the original version of Pinocchio, author Carlo Collodi killed off the marionette (source: slate.com). He apparently wanted to hone in on the consequence of doing bad things instead of the always possibility of rebirth.

Grace. Always grace. That’s why Disney’s version is so lovable. Because, though Pinocchio has told lies in every one of his versions, Disney offers him the chance to separate the “Pinocchio, the Liar” from “Pinocchio, Who Struggles with Lying but Desires Life and Will Have a Chance to Live”.

Pinocchio begins as a piece of wood, a special block with lots of potential. Our kids are so much more than a block of wood, but I admit that at times it seems I cannot see the difference. I’m sure I often come across the same way.

Pinocchio was a liar and Collodi killed him for it (note: this was before the publishers told him to bring Pinocchio back to life). Disney gave Pinocchio a dream and then fulfilled it.

Disney makes Pinocchio sing: “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown. I had strings but now I’m free. There are no strings on me.”

So, if my son plays tricks but in my eyes they look like lies, do I let him continue to play his games, hoping that he will grow out of it? Or do I point out the dishonesty in tricks and offer the hope of rebirth now? Or am I thinking about this too much and should just let a boy be a boy and have his fun?

After all this, rebirth stands out the most. When Walt Disney Studios allowed Pinocchio to become a real boy, they did not take away the lies, but they did take away the shame. They didn’t say he was perfect, but they allowed him to be human and have understanding. Though Pinocchio never had strings, he did have something holding him back, and in the end he was still allowed to live a life of hope.

 

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 deceased 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.

7 Ways to Help Your Kids Love Books

7 Ways to Help Your Kids Love Books

First of all, a while ago I wrote this post called Why You Will Not Find Tutorials Here, and I stand by it. Yet I also think I have some insight on helping kids love books. It’s so easy today to let kids do anything but read books, but I hope you will shower your children with books so that they will learn to love reading!

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I thought about doing a bunch of research so I could give you statistics about kids who read a lot, but I don’t think that’s necessary. (Read these Benefits of Reading if you want to know more about that.) You know it’s important to read. And “a lot” is such a generic term. Who cares if someone else reads more than your kid? Lots of people read lots more than I do because I’m a pretty slow reader. But I love books, and I want my kids to grow up loving books too. So far, they do.

Do you want to help your kids love books too? Here, I’ll share some things that could help you. Of course, every child is different, but perhaps some of these will be helpful, or at least interesting.

Don’t Go for a Marathon

While I’m pretty sure my 5-year old could listen to me read an entire book in one day, my 3-year old and my 1-year old would not allow it. Believe me, it’s tempting sometimes to lock my other children in the bedroom while my 5-year old and I cruise through stacks of books.

But that’s not necessary. Small spurts of reading are very empowering.

Teaching Quiet Time

We all know that most kids are loud. And if they’re not loud, they probably love to make some kind of noise and move around. But it’s okay to have 15 minutes of focused reading time. I’m still working on this with my kids, but I believe it will one day be an easy reality! I think so much of parenting is just continuing. I haven’t yet seen the results that I want, but I think that’s because I have an 18 month-old, and a very active, very kinesthetic 3 year-old. But I will keep going because this is important to me and I believe it will benefit my children too.

Read About What Interests Them

I know you probably want to read those beautiful old books from your childhood. “Little Women” or “Nancy Drew” or whatever. But letting your child go to the library with you and choose a book (probably based completely on the cover) can be great fun for them. I have one son who will always fill our bag with Clifford or Berenstain Bears. While there aren’t many books that I oppose, I would always choose the original Curious George over Clifford and Berenstain Bears. I still let my son bring these home because these are books that he will sit with at home and look through, even if he doesn’t read every word. Which brings me to another point…

Let Them Look

It is absolutely, perfectly fine and acceptable for children to look through books before they can read. This will build their interest and make teaching them to read easier. My boys love to check out the “Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary” and they will sit together and look at it for hours. (Sometimes I have to break up a fight, when one boy takes more than half the book for his lap, but they’re usually pretty civil due to their mutual intrigue.)

Give them Access

I think that part of the reason my kids love books is because they have always had access to books. In our old house, we had a half-wall of built-in bookshelves and they were mostly filled with actual books. Not knickknacks or empty vases, not even very many photos. Just books. Books of all ages and styles, all sizes and genres.

From the moment my children could touch things, they were touching books. When my firstborn was as young as 1-year-old, he would sit on the floor quietly and page through a book, looking at the pictures and feeling the paper. My younger two children are total book-destroyers. They have even torn up several of our cardboard books, so I have to watch them a little closer. But all of my children love books and I think that’s because they have always had access to books. Books have always been considered toys to them. Whenever they handed me a book, I would open it and read, even if my child walked away after a few words.

Read What Interests You

I know that a few points ago, I said to read what interests your kids, and I stand by that. But it’s also important for your children to see the books that you love to read. Of course, discretion needs to be made here. If you’re reading racy or inappropriate books, it’s probably best not to share them with your kids.

Earlier this year, I read “Ghana Must Go”. This is in no way a book that my children should be reading. But one day, I was reading it during nap time and my 3 year-old woke up. He came and sat on my lap and asked  me to read it to him. And I did read a few pages, censoring anything that he didn’t need to hear. Luckily, those pages were pretty serene so I didn’t have to sensor much.

Challenge Them

This year I have been inspired by Ellen from Cutting Tiny Bites to read chapter books to my children. So far this year, we have read “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”, “Peter Pan” (adapted), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (adapted), “Stewart Little”, “Gulliver’s Travels” (adapted), and “Space Taxi”. While my 3-year old still wanders around while I read long books like these, that’s okay with me. Often I’ll read while my children finish their breakfast, while they color, while they build blocks. They don’t have to be sitting still, cuddled next to you, in order for you to read. (Though it’s awfully lovely when they do.)

When I’m reading, I find it helpful for my 3 year-old to have something to color. He thinks it’s especially funny if the picture he’s coloring goes with our book. For instance, a pig or a spider when reading “Charlotte’s Web”.

If your child is still at a very sensory-explorer age, that’s okay. You can still read to them and encourage them to read, too!

Do your children love books too? What tips would you give?

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

When it comes to teaching small children, I think the key is finding something you love, something that they love, something that is fun and also full of learning opportunities.

Enter, Scrabble!

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It’s not easy, but Scrabble offers so much for children:

  • word building
  • counting
  • adding
  • the concept of double and triple
  • the respect for rules and taking turns
  • the ability to wait
  • celebrating each other’s victories
  • the art of observation (you have to pay attention to double/triple word/letter)

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

  • Don’t get caught up in high scores.
    • I always want to find the longest word that will give me the highest score, but when playing Scrabble with preschoolers, I have found that a quick word they know is better. My kids won’t sit around for 3 minutes while I fumble with letters.
  • Small words are best
    • Three and four letter words, and words that they know, will help to reinforce spelling and make them feel good about the things they already know. When my 3 year-old spelled the word “ice” he was so excited because he loves ice and he could see how those three letters fit together to make a word. It’s okay, and encouraged, to find and introduce new words (this builds vocabulary!) but that should not be the goal.
  • Use all the pieces
    • What I mean by this is, let them draw on the score sheet. Let them run their fingers through the bag of tiles (really good sensory play!) Let them turn their trays on their sides and try to build towers. This is a game after all, and should be fun for everyone!
  • Think simply and don’t be afraid to bend the rules
    • Scrabble can be really simple or really complicated. Don’t get caught up in the Scrabble dictionary or proper names at this point. Just do what fits your kids, but make sure you spell real words. Making fake words won’t help much because then you could just throw anything down.
  • Use my grandmother’s rule
    • 50 extra points when you learn a new word! This gets kid really excited about building their vocabularies!
  • Let them count the points
    • Even a very small child can count to 10, or 20, especially with your help. Since you’re building small words, they can probably help you count most of the points. They can look at the tiles and identify numbers. If they can’t do it, then you add the points up for them, but count out loud so they can start to understand the concept. I love teaching my 5 year-old to count double digits by lining them up, and he’s really into it and it makes him feel important and smart to add such big numbers. 
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      Today, my 3 year-old quit playing and my 5 year-old won by almost 30 points!
  • Grab a non-messy snack
    • Something like trail mix or dry cheerios, something yummy to keep your kids busy when they have to wait for other people’s turns

Have you ever played Scrabble with your kids? What tips would you give to parents?

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.

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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.)

When the Schedule Looks More Like Skdlee…..

When the Schedule Looks More Like Skdlee…..

Does anyone else just stink at schedules? Rachel from A Mother Far From Home is a genius at them. I think they’re a great idea. I even think they would help my children and me. But when I think about schedules my heart starts to hurt. I get all nervous and my brain stops functioning. I really really hate them. I really am not the manager type. Time just isn’t something I think about a lot, unless I’m trying to figure out how long until bedtime.

I have always tried to follow a very loose schedule: Wake up around 7:00, eat breakfast, play/watch show/do something together, or alone. Eat lunch around 11:30 or whenever we’re hungry. Nap time. Play/watch a show/computer games/cook dinner. Eat dinner. Do something with the family. Or maybe my husband and I sit on the couch while our kids find something to do by themselves. Bedtime at 7:00 or 7:30. That’s not really a good schedule, though.

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I made this with a small cookie sheet (Dollar Tree), hung with Velcro command strips. To make the calendar squares, I printed and cut up a bunch of clip art from the internet, wrote labels on some scrapbook paper, glued them to a cut up cereal box, cut them all back out, taped them with packing tape for a makeshift lamination, and pressed magnets to the back (I bought a roll of magnetic tape and cut it to size. The magnetic tape doesn’t stick well to packing tape, so I had to leave a little open space for that on the back. It did try to curl up, but I just laid a heavy book on them overnight and they’ve been functioning ever since!) I need to replace our “breakfast” magnet, and make some other ones so this can be an actual, complete calendar. But this has been a great starting place for us!

I have this magnetic schedule board so my kids can at least see what is going on in my mind, and if we need to move things around a bit, we do that easily with the magnetic release.

There are a lot of things that I want to make sure we do each day, and in order to make those things happen, I think we need to find a stricter schedule around here.

This is what I’m thinking:

7:00 Wake up
Breakfast
Read the Bible
Read some other books
Work out (kids are welcome to be near, but they must be quiet and not crawling all over me, for safety reasons)
The baby wakes up and eats breakfast while the boys do something at the table (color, play doh, practice reading, have a second breakfast)
Sibling time while I shower and dress
Outside time (our sidewalk is all shaded in the morning, so this is a really good time for us to get some fresh air in the summer!)

*sometimes the above gets all messed up because we go to the playground or the Children’s Museum or the library, or we have to do errands (blah!) I try to tell my children what to expect when they wake up, but sometimes I just decide in the moment that we need to get out or that we need to stay home. It’s fun having a creative mind! It would be more fun it all my kids did too.

11:30 Lunch
Baby takes a nap
Boys do home school stuff with me
Boys in their room for 1 hour of quiet play time, or nap time depending on their tiredness levels
Boys can watch some TV or play computer games
We/I prepare dinner

4:30 My husband gets home!!! Excitement!!!
Dinner
Family time

A couple nights a week, I leave at 6:00 to do some serious writing. Sometimes we do church stuff. Friday is Family Movie Night, where we all get to snuggle up and remember how much we love to be near each other. Saturdays and Sundays bring a sort of “Que Sera Sera” with them.

Okay. I’ve written it all out. Now I need to try to stick to it. That’s the really hard part for me.

What kind of schedule do you follow? Do you divide the day with meals like we do? Do you have a hard time scheduling your day, too? Do you want to figure out a schedule that works for you? Or are you lucky enough to be able to sing “Que Sera Sera” all the days long?