Everyday Life, Parenting

A Good Day to Play

There’s a photo I keep propped up on my dresser. I’m not sure why I haven’t put it in a frame in the last eight months it’s been there, but something about the spontaneous, unplanned, unframed nature of the moment this photo contains is one of the biggest reasons it has a place in my every day life.

photo It’s a picture of me playing with my oldest, Ella, when she’s around 20 months old.  This is an ordinary moment, a thing I did and still do a lot on a daily basis. Yet it’s one of my most cherished pictures ever. (Please note the original artwork taped to my wall. I used to worry about hanging art on my walls, but God knew that wasn’t my forte; hence, he gave me Ella. I have countless pictures of princesses and fairies and unrecognizable doodles taped up like an endless border in my house, right at a kid’s eye level. Maybe it looks weird, but it’s not going anywhere. Okay, I’ll probably take it down by the time she’s ten, because “let them grow up” and all that conventional wisdom will demand it.)

 

I guess you could classify me as a “playing mom.” I like to play with my kids. Or at least, I like it once I get it down to it. You know paintwithISaachow it goes: you have a million to-dos and and you’re exhausted with a headache and you just want to finish your coffee before it’s ice cold, but your three-year-old finishes up her breakfast, looks at you, and says, “Is it a good play day?” What that means in my house is “Are you too busy for me today?” Because let’s face it, our children have no concept that almost every single thing we do is for them. They don’t know that all that laundry and cooking, hours at a job, hours at a desk, all of that is pretty much for them. Also, they don’t understand that mommy is happier when she has a sense of accomplishment in her days. What they understand is tiny princesses with annoying rubber dresses that come to life if you play along with them. They comprehend monster trucks that drive over bumps in the carpet like they’re Himalayan mountain ranges. They think forts in the living room are the pinnacle of life. It’s not hard, but then again, it is, this speaking their love language. It takes putting my mind in a different state, suspending the idea that getting something done is important, and pretending our dolls and teddy bears are feasting on gooseberry pie and cherry cider for no reason I can understand (what the…what do gooseberries even look like? Are they edible?). The trick is to let them take the reins and tell me what they think would be fun, and truly believe that nothing is ridiculous. Unless they start laughing, then it’s allowed to be ridiculous…

coloringAnd the thing is, I love it. At the end of a play day, I am absolutely more satisfied than I can explain. My small children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I love them. I have dirty dish piles, dust that hasn’t moved in weeks, piles of clutter in the corners that I keep meaning to tackle, and I have joy despite all of that. I know it will be there tomorrow, but by tomorrow, my kids will not feel like they have to whine their way into my to-do list. Tomorrow, when I say, “I’ll come be a dragon after I finish these dishes,” they’ll believe me, because I proved it today. I proved I love them in their language, and it’s not so much of an uphill battle to maintain that faith if I am consistent in the time I spend with them.

A couple of years ago, a mom I deeply respect and love told me that she doesn’t remember ever playing with her children. That admission saddened me so much. This is a stay-at-home mom who spent countless hours homeschooling her children and “plays” with her teenage kids all the time now. But she doesn’t remember playing with them when they were small. Her kids remember it, though. They tell me how she played with them. I want my kids to remember that I played with them, and I want to spend so many hours playing with them that I cannot help but remember it, too. Because those are some of the happiest hours of my life.

So my photo of a good day to play stays propped up in my bedroom, and I look at it every morning as I get dressed. I look at it and remember that every day is a good day to play.

tea

 

Reading, Reviews

Antelopes. Antelopes Are Good.

Here’s a recommendation for you married ladies who need a fun read this weekend. I actually kind of wish I had saved this book for a beach read, because it would have been perfect.

antelope-book-coverThere’s still not a whole lot going on on the reading front here, but I did pick up and finish in two days The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle this week. Shankle writes the Big Mama blog and has been cracking me up for four years. I’ll admit, I sometimes feel uneasy with the consumerism aspects of Shankle’s blog and book writing, the amount of fast food she talks about and the cute clothes she features each week on her blog. But I’m convinced that I’m just not being honest with myself about (a) the amount of fast food eat (Moe’s and Chickfila count as fast food, don’t they?); (b) the fact that I am not a fashion lover or food lover and, therefore, simply do not get revelries on food, especially ones involving Oreos or cheez-whiz;  or (c) the outreach and generosity Shankle and her family involve themselves in that I don’t. There’s way more to Melanie Shankle’s story than meets the eye and there is not an iota of self-righteousness in her work. Basically, Shankle’s writing won’t put you into a mood of deep contemplation, but it will make you laugh and appreciate the beauty in life. And the joy that is nacho cheese.

Shankle’s first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, is also stellar and is featured on the blog here.

 

Children's Books, Everyday Life, Parenting

For The Love of Valentine’s Day: A Redefining

I am probably not qualified to be writing about Valentine’s Day. You see, I’m one of those people who has nothing but good memories of this holiday. Yes, you can hate me right now if you really want to. When I was a kid, my parents gave me sweet gifts, my dad treated his wife and three daughters like princesses with flowers or chocolates and even perfume one year, and my friends and I delighted in filling in those boxed, pre-made Valentine’s for each other. (Funnily enough, my husband gave me a Valentine’s Day card when I was about 7 because we were at the same church Valentine’s Day function for kids. I still have it, though I have no idea why I kept it since I really had no feelings for him until ten years later. It has a skunk on it, but I ignore that part.)Then I spent a few early teenage years taking the knowledge that I have a Lover of My Soul very seriously (shout out to Amy Grant), and then I started dating the romantic guy I ended up marrying at age 20. So you are allowed to think I have no room to encourage you on Valentine’s Day.

But let me write this as a parent or simply a caring individual (sort of?) instead of a person in love. Because Valentine’s Day is not going anywhere. It’s going to come around every year, and every year your Facebook and Twitter news feeds are going to blow up with “I hate this day” posts sprinkled with “I love everyone in the world and especially the hottest guy in the universe who happens to be my awesome amazing boyfriend/husband!” posts. Every year the stores are going to fill up with red and pink paraphernalia. Every year you’re going to have to decide what to do with this day. So why perpetuate the love-hate relationship with the Day of Love? Redefine it.

Grab your kids, your friends, or just your favorite play-list and do one of these out of the ordinary actions to display love that goes beyond the romantic version:

1. Load up on baking supplies and bake, bake, bake. Then deliver your goods to whomever comes to mind first: neighbors, parents, your friend who hates Valentine’s Day, the widow who used to live next to your grandmother, whomever. Pick a person, any person. Well, if you’re a single lady, maybe don’t pick the guy you’ve been hoping will ask you out. I’m far from an expert on the dating scene, but I’m pretty sure that’s a no-no.

2. Grab everything that looks like fun in the $1 section of Target or Michael’s and let your kids go wild with making Valentine’s cards. Let them pick their recipients and follow through with that whole actually sticking a stamp on it and mailing it. Even if it’s late, it will be worth it! Seriously, it’s okay if they pick out a box of pre-made Valentine’s featuring Disney princesses or Sponge Bob. Any little token will mean a lot to someone that isn’t expecting a Valentine from your children. Teachers, store clerks, librarians, aunts and uncles, friends, whoever your kids think of. If anything is true about kids, they’re better at sweet thoughts than grown ups, so give them free reign here. Let them choose who they will bless with their Valentine’s Day creativity.

3. Make sure the people you live with feel the loved. Breakfast is my favorite time of day to do a special meal (thanks to Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin for that idea). Get out the red paper doilies, find some kind of make ahead recipe or buy a little something from the bakery the day before, or just put red food coloring in their milk. Whatever. I’m planning on making this recipe for my fam’s breakfast tomorrow, but I know I’m being a little selfish here since I’m the one who is in love with homemade cinnamon rolls. Still, I don’t think they’ll complain.

4. Plant a tree. Be a hippie. Love the Earth. Build or buy a bird feeder and hang it up. And then please, for the love, tell me all your secrets on keeping squirrels out of it.

5. Deliver those clothes you’ve been meaning to donate to the homeless shelter. Or go out and buy something to donate for the homeless shelter. February is a rough month to be homeless. I love giving kids the chance to pick out some things they don’t need, too, to give to needy families.

6. Visit a nursing home. I’ll be honest, this one unnerves me. My social anxiety does not end with a certain age group. But I know some people who really love taking their kids to visit the elderly and I think it’s worth doing. If you aren’t sure you can handle a nursing home, how about just visiting anyone you think could need cheering up? It sure beats movies and a carton of ice cream.

7. Adopt a dog/cat/hamster. I am not an animal lover, but if you are, I’m guessing animals appreciate a home whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not.

Love You Forever8. Gather your small children and read one of those books like Love you Forever that are pretty much impossible to get through without choking up. Pick your favorite children’s book about love (Guess How Much I Love You, You Are Special, your favorite Bible story about love, or any number of others) and share your love through books.

9. Sing loudly for all to hear. Kidding. Unless of course, you’re a great singer who’s holding a concert on Valentine’s Day.

10. Don’t forget your significant other if you have one. I’ve noticed that even couples who scoff at the holiday want this day to be at least a little different from other days, deep down inside. Pick up a pizza so your wife doesn’t have to cook, clean off your husband’s night stand, shave your legs or face, I don’t know. I’m sure you can think of something that doesn’t involve the schmaltzy stuff you’ve sworn off.

Really, there are so many different forms of love in this world, can we not see past the Hallmark junk and shed some light wherever we are on a day that could be pretty awesome with a little bit of effort? I’d like to think so. I definitely won’t be doing all of these suggestions (especially not numbers 7 or 8!), but just picking one is enough to forge a new definition for Valentine’s Day.  I am fairly certain you can think of a dozen other (better) ideas to make Valentine’s Day about caring for others instead of about wishing for love ourselves. If you do, I’d love to hear what you and your family or friends come up with.

Parenting, Reading

Some Things and Some Stuff

My brain is all over the place right now, so here’s a list of bookish and mostly non-bookish thoughts.

  1. I have spent the last two weeks picking up various books, reading a few chapters, and returning them to the library without finishing them. It wasn’t so much that they weren’t good books, but my heart and mind haven’t been into it. I’ve been restless. It’s like something has been telling me, “Just stop the reading, and do some thinking.” And then I attended the IF: Gathering . And now I’m like, “I need a book to get a break from all this thinking!” It was inspiring and rattling to listen to the likes of Jen Hatmaker and Shelley Giglio and Ann Voskamp and all kinds of amazing women. I am still trying to process it all and figure out what it means for me. I think everyone who was a part of IF is in a process, and that’s why the IF leaders have created IF: Equip. This is free and open to anyone, whether you attended IF or not. It’s a devotional/journaling/discussion tool. And it’s awesome.

And if you attended or tuned into the IF: Gathering, I’d highly recommend reading Holley Gerth’s book You’re Made For A God-sized Dream as soon as possible. It is so closely related to the content of the speakers from IF.

2. It’s snowing here again. Y’all…it should not snow so much in place where everyone says “y’all.” I drove in the snow for the first time in my life today, because ballet class cannot be missed. And we were out of diapers.

3. My daughter has started ballet again, and I am eating so much mental crow. Ballet used to be the place where it looked like I had it all together. Or at least I felt like it. Now, I look like that harried mom who just wants her kid to “Pay attention and help me out when I’m trying to put on your dance shoes, for crying out loud.” My frustration is not so much the little distracted ballerina’s fault, but also the fault of the little brother pulling on my shoulder, just about knocking me over, saying in his toddler-deep voice, “Mom, mom, mom, what is that? what is that?” The phrase “Just a minute” means nothing to a two-year-old. Absolutely nothing. So, to all the moms whom I ever judged when I heard you speaking irritably to your children, I’m sorry. I totally understand how you feel.

Also, insert a little boy with graham cracker crumbs all over his mouth in the place of Fancy Nancy’s little sister, and this is what we looked like at Target today:

photo (9)4. Raising a little boy is hard. It just is. I sometimes don’t think I’m built for it, and then I realize, yes, I am. I have one, so I am. But it’s definitely a stretching experience. I love him intensely – his boisterous zeal for life, his big soulful and mischievous blue eyes, his 90-miles-per-hour pace, his affectionate and goofy grins – I love all of him. And almost all of him can drive me crazy at the very same time. It’s enough to pull a mommy’s heart to pieces and then put it back together several times a day.

That’s all the randomness I’ll share today. Sometime this week a real blog post will show up here. Unless I’m buried in the ice storm that’s supposedly on the heels of the current snow storm.

This about sums up my winter sentiments:

Happy snowy days!

 

Reading, Reviews

So Long, January

January is a long month. There’s just no denying it. I’m not a fan, but I do appreciate the many opportunities to cozy up with a book, because winter is for reading. Here’s a “quick” overview of what I read in the past month.

The Firebird (The Slains, #2)The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley is my only venture into modern literature in January. It’s another one of those historical novels framed by present day characters and settings. The brief synopsis got me interested:

“Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.

Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.” -goodreads.com

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, this book is for you. The historical setting and characters are very lifelike. I learned a lot about the early 1700s in Europe when Jacobites fought for James Stewart to be on the throne and Russia was coming out of the dark ages. The bits about Peter The Great and how St. Petersburg was built were especially fascinating. The modern characters and settings were so unnecessary, though. I didn’t enjoy the present day main character, Nicola, and her psychokinetic powers, and I especially didn’t appreciate her love interest. The historical main character, Anna, and the cast of historical characters around her were likeable, well-rounded, and much more lifelike. I was especially moved by the little girl Anna and her early history (it made me want to hug my little girl tight). All in all, it was a decent book and pretty clean minus one brief encounter. But frankly, I miss the days when novels didn’t cater to this ADD society and stuck with a plot line for the whole book. I think I’m in the minority on that, though.

Katherine Wentworth (Katherine, #1)That foray into literature from the last year/last 80 years was short lived, and I went right back to my newly discovered D.E. Stevenson to read Mrs. Tim Gets A Job and Katherine Wentworth. For a complete review on D.E. Stevenson the post, Lost in D.E. Stevenson. I just love her writing. I’m finding her main characters can get a little redundant – they are so similar to one another from book to book, minus the Miss Buncle books – but I like them all so that eases the pain of repetition. It’s almost become comforting because I know I’ll find a friend-like protagonist when I read Stevenson. And it turns out she’s a cousin of THE Robert Louis Stevenson. She just gets cooler and cooler.

I finished The Unwired Mom at the beginning of the month. More on that will come in the next few days when I post an update on The 7 Challenge.

Now I’m in middle of The Prayer Box and I just hit that wonderful moment in a reader’s life when every single book I’ve requested from the library in the last three months comes in on the same day. I’m not going to be sleeping much for the next two weeks, I guess. On top of that, the Olympics start this weekend. I loooove the Olympics. Sleep, you will just have to wait.

I hope your winter reading has been expanding your world and feeding your soul. Always feel free to share what you’re reading with me in the comments!