Everyday Life, Parenting

Let Her Make Cake

I am really bad at making cakes.

When Ella was  turning two, I made the mistake of asking her what kind of birthday cake she wanted. “Orange and purple,” she replied. Well, those colors are pretty unpopular in our Gamecock loving, Clemson Tiger hating family. But I tried to leave the college sports rivalries aside, and envisioned this purple round layer cake with a white icing flower on top and an orange center. Kind of cheating, but there was orange in it! I failed to remember one important thing that you may recall…oh yeah, I’m not so good at making cakes. About three hours before party time, that cute daisy cake had fallen apart in three pieces on its serving plate. It was not salvageable (believe me, I tried. In hindsight, I wish I’d taken a picture for this awesomely comforting website). On to cake number two of the day! There was no time for cuteness. This rectangle sheet cake with chocolate icing with badly written purple and orange letters would have to do.

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Told ya. I’m bad at cakes.

That was not the first or last time I made two cakes for one birthday party. In fact, I now always keep a backup box of cake mix on hand. So it seemed like a cruel joke when about a year and a half later, Ella developed a fascination with cake decorating video tutorials. Thanks to Youtube’s suggested videos on the side of a Sleeping Beauty sing-along-song, we ended  up watching princess cake tutorials just for the fun of it. The ghost of bad cakes past was out to get me. “Mommy, can I watch some cake videos?” became a daily request. You know when your child watches cake decorating tutorials in her spare time, she is not going to be too thrilled by by a repeat of the cake above. I respect her innate desire for beauty in culinary art (and I kind of love the kid), so together we concocted this for her fourth birthday.

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Despite appearances, those turrets did manage to keep from sliding off into oblivion until after the candles were blown out.  Whew.

Then I found salvation in cupcakesIMG_1952(but no improvement in photography).

A month ago I would have said, “Looks like Ella’s cake decorating phase is over.” And I would have only been a tiny bit sentimental about it.

But a few weeks ago, it was Isaac’s fourth birthday. I had planned to make him something pretty classic and simple. I mean, you can’t get much simpler than this Robin Hood cake I served at his last birthday party:

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Face palm.

(Hey, there aren’t too many ideas floating around on Pinterest for Robin Hood cakes, okay?)

Cupcakes. Cupcakes are good for fourth birthdays.

But the plan was changed by something seemingly unrelated. My relationship with Ella was struggling. In the past few months, I had noted a resentfulness in her attitude towards me. I saw her happy face change to a frown when I started speaking to her. She didn’t seek me out to play or read or do much of anything. There had been too many times in the last year that I had said “no.” In my floundering and fragile mothering philosophy, it’s important for me to say, “go find something to do” a healthy amount of the time. At age six, I want my children to play well, to imagine big, to read some books on their own, and blossom into independent people. But I also want to still be friends. It’s hard to balance out being in authority and being friends, and I was doing a poor job of it.The day before Isaac’s birthday party, the tension was pretty high and it was killing me. So I did something crazy. I opened up my laptop and said, “Hey Ella, let’s find a good cake to make for Isaac’s birthday.” She oohed and aahed over car cakes, airplane cakes, even a dragon cake. (Help.)

But thanks to the mostly doable videos from Howdini and Liv Hansen, we settled on a modified rocket cake. Modified, because we can’t just do anything easy, can we? It had to be a fighter jet, didn’t it? (just roll with it).

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Two trips to the store and 24 hours later, the cake was done. It was far from perfect, but it was so much more to me than flour and icing. It was hours of planning together and shopping together. It was thinking about what her brother would like most. It was a six-year-old who is dearly loved spinning cake fantasies into something real on a platter in our kitchen and laughing and smiling with her mother. It was her brother’s face that said, “wow” when it was done and how loved he felt. And it was a start to this mom remembering to say “yes” to things that build relationships and feed souls.

It didn’t have to be a cake, but it had to be something to show Ella that I wanted to spend time with her and to build her up.

(And let’s be honest, it was also a hope that when Ella’s ten, she’ll be the master cake maker around here and I’ll get to hang up the cake making apron. Life skills, right? Can I count this as a school day? Just kidding. )

This summer has been a quiet time for this old blog, but it’s been full of cake making and soul filling here on the other side of the screen. I miss the writing, but summer is such a perfect time to replenish our children as we let them delight in their passions and whims. Isaac builds airplanes and cars and creates worlds for them. Ella asks to turn the hall into an art gallery and is eagerly awaiting the day when we will paint her playhouse. Last week she made a closet for her doll’s clothes out of a cardboard box and an old golf club. It’s this stuff of making and playing that tells me it’s going to be a great summer, not the vacations or trips to the water parks and the zoo.

And when things start to get a little strained or boring? We’ll make a cake.

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Dear Third Child

Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books, Parenting

The Girl Who Would Not Brush Her Hair: Friday Favorites, Ed. 10

Oh, I’ve been looking for this book for a long time. Since the beginning of time, or at least the beginning of hair brushes, mother’s have fought the battle of hair brushing with their small daughters. I sympathize with both parties. It’s amazing how one run through with a brush can get rid of one tangle and create ten more. But it’s also amazing how sensitive a little kid’s head can be. Sometimes I have flashbacks of the tough mother love described in Snow Flower and The Secret Fan when I’m telling Ella she needs toughen up about the whole hair brushing thing.  I salute mothers who cut their daughters’ hair short. Regrettably, something indefinable holds me back from giving my five-year-old’s long, honey-colored locks the chop, but it probably goes back to how Disney princesses have ruined my generation’s beliefs about beauty. But that’s not what this post is about! It’s about the book I’ve finally found to end all our hair brushing woes!

The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her HairThe Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair by Kate Bernheimer is an imaginative account of what would really happen to a little girl who decided to not brush hair. It involves a horde of mice taking up residence on top of her head. If you’re thinking “Great, that’s not realistic enough to be useful in my battle for hair brushing,” you’re probably right…but the pictures are the convincing part of the book! The girl is happy and bright at the beginning of the book, but as her hair gets messier and so does she, she looks tireder and sadder. At the end of the book, (picture book spoiler alert!), when the girl decides to evict the mice and brush her hair after a nice, hot bath, she looks refreshed and pleased with life. Her braided pony tails become the envy of her disheveled classmates, and the mice probably went off to live in the room of The Girl Who Would Not Clean Off Her Bed. That girl was my sister twenty years ago, and I distinctly remember my mom telling her a mouse could be living at the end of her bed and she would never know it.  Oh, I can see a whole series coming out of this. The Boy Who Would Not Wash His Face, The Girl Who Would Not Change Her Dress…endless possibilities.

But the proof is in the pudding. The day after reading this book, my daughter asked for braided pigtails. Success! Mothers of daughters, dash out and get a copy of this book right now.

More of our favorite children’s books of the week can be found here. Happy Friday!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Stomach Bugs, Small Children, and How To Deal

Works for Me Wednesday :: Giving Up on PerfectThis isn’t a typical Mia The Reader post, but unfortunately, how to handle those pesky stomach bugs in small children is what’s on my brain these days. This post will be part of the Works for Me Wednesday link up over at Giving Up On Perfect. If you’re not in this phase of life, maybe skip this post and come back next time? Or stick around, you might learn something new. But don’t say I didn’t warn you…

I remember so clearly the first time one of my kids came down with the dreaded stomach bug. She was 18 months old and woke up crying in the night an hour after I put her down for the night. I had no idea what was wrong with her. I sat down in the rocking chair to rock her back to sleep, but you can guess how that worked out. A few rocks later, we were both a mess. In that moment, even as you’re grossed out that you’re covered in your kid’s vomit, it’s hurts your heart to see the panic in your child’s eyes when he or she first experiences this dismal fact of life: everyone upchucks once in a while. Most kids first learn experience this around 12-18 months. It’s no fun to be the sick kid, but it’s also no fun to be the sick kid’s parents. It’s even worse for everyone involved when the parent of the sick kid does everything wrong. Yes, that was me the first time I was the mom of a vomiting child.  Three kids and nearly six years later, I’ve learned a good bit about how to deal with the abominable stomach bug in toddlers and preschoolers. When your child starts clutching at his middle and groaning, grab these three things: mixing bowls, beach towels, and wet wash cloths. 

Step One: Grab a mixing bowl. One of the worst things about taking care of a toddler when he has a stomach bug is his complete inability to get himself to a safe place to throw up. Newsflash: he’s not going to run to the bathroom. It also doesn’t work to ask your small ones to use a bucket when they feel the urge to throw up. Little kids cannot handle a bucket for throwing up in. They need something lightweight that can sit right next to them on the bed or couch to quickly grab. They also need something that’s not too tall for them to bend over from a sitting position.  You need something that you can completely sanitize in the dishwasher when this is all over. Mixing bowls are your best friends.

Step Two: Get out your beach towels. Beach towels will save your sanity when your house is struck with a middle-of-the-night throw up fest.  I don’t know about you, but there is a very limited sheet selection at our house. Once I remove the initial destroyed beach-towelsbedding, I put down a beach towel instead of a sheet on my child’s mattress. Wrapping a bath towel around the pillow is also a good idea. Then I can save the clean set of sheets for when poor little guy or girl’s stomach settles down and she’s ready to get some sleep. I’d still recommend getting those yucky sheets washed right away, but at least this way if you are (miraculously) able to get some sleep, you don’t have to worry about switching clothes from washer to dryer until morning.

Step Three: Keep a cool, wet washcloth handy at all times.  You know that point after your child has gotten out what needs to be gotten out and the heaving commences? (This is so fun to read about, I know. But I warned you!). To stop the heaving, wipe the back of your child’s neck with a cool washcloth. It’s also nice to have around to wipe the whole face down before lying back down in bed.

Those are three things I’ve learned to do when faced with stomach upset in our family. But don’t forget, I did everything wrong the first time. So as a bonus (woohoo!), here the six things I’ve learned not to do when one of my small children has a stomach bug:

1. Don’t give them a bath right away. I get it. Your child smells horrible, looks horrible, is outwardly quite horrible. My immediate reaction after my daughter’s first throwing up ever was to stick her in the bathtub and clean her up. But it’s always best to wait (if you can) until you’re sure the throwing up is done. You can cross your fingers and hope it’s a “one and done” deal, but it’s probably not. (Sorry). Your child is only going to get messier because most toddlers don’t understand the whole “throw up in the bucket” idea. Also, they are probably experiencing a mix of nausea and chills that makes taking a bath an unpleasant experience for them. Clean them up quickly with a wet cloth or wipe and let them lie back down and get whatever rest they can before they’re at it again.

2. Don’t turn on the TV. A movie or TV show is another thing your child may beg for in between bouts of nausea. But the eye movement required to watch TV could very well end up increasing the nausea instead of distracting from it. We are big fans of recorded books and stories during the stomach bug episodes.

3. Don’t leave your child’s side. I don’t even try to get back in my own bed at night if my kids are throwing up. In my opinion, it’s far better for me to lay on the floor next to their beds and be able to shove a mixing bowl in their faces as soon as they need one than to run from my room when I hear them gagging only to get there when everything within five feet is completely obliterated. I’ll take the crick in the neck over the laundry/carpet/sorry-about-your-favorite-doll any day. If it’s a daytime illness (which it hardly ever is for us!), I just forget about productivity that day and keep as close as possible to the sicky.

4. Do not give your child water right away. Yes, you’re worried about dehydration. But worry about that later. These stomach bugs want everything out of your kid’s stomach, and they want it to stay out for a while. Don’t ask me why, but that’s the way it is. I am aware that medical websites say you should give children who are vomiting small amounts of liquid to drink. So that’s my official advice: do what doctors tell you to do. But my experiential, mom advice is  this: don’t give them anything while they’re throwing up. I’d love to know what other mom’s experiences are with that. In my experience, I have to let my kids throw up until there’s nothing left, and usually let them take a good nap before we start rehydrating. This is based on a normal stomach bug, though, not one that lasts more than a few hours. I’ve never seen my children get to the point of dehydration during a stomach bug when those scary symptoms you’re told to watch out for appear. Like I said, my unofficial, experiential advice is to let them get it all out and rest a bit before plying them with Gatorade or other electrolyte replacement drinks. But that leads me to this:

5. Don’t assume kids are all alike: take notes on how your children recover. If you’re like me, you’ll probably read a bunch of websites about how to help your child recover. Sadly, the advice you read might be all wrong for you. A few weeks ago, my 3-year-old son threw up every ten minutes for five hours overnight, then woke up, downed a piece of toast, and went about his normal, super hero action packed day. My 5-year-old daughter had a less intense version of that stomach bug that same night, and she ate nothing but Saltines for the next 24 hours and lazed around the house all day. Apparently, her physical and mental recovery after a stomach bug hits her is a bit more delicate than my son’s. Even after my daughter is asking for Gatorade and hasn’t thrown up in an hour or two, there’s a good chance it’s coming back up. I go ahead and give her fluids as soon as she starts asking for them, but I keep the mixing bowl nearby. This is the kid who after her first stomach bug as a toddler threw up ever day as if by habit for the next week-and-a-half at dinner. Fun times. But I now I know this…

6. Don’t give a toddler whatever food he wants after a stomach bug. Listen. She’s barely two years old. She’s asking for ice cream. You want to give it to her, but DO NOT DO IT! A week-and-a-half, my friends. That’s how long it took me to realize the first time I parented through a stomach bug that I should be giving nothing to my sick daughter other than the good old BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. But mine is more the BRACT diet because I dole out a lot of crackers in recovery times. After I backed off on a regular diet and gave her only BRACT, she recovered completely in two days. As I mentioned in the previous “Don’t,” every child recovers differently and older children can handle returning to a regular diet sooner than children two and under. If they’re under two, I strongly suggest you go extremely slow with introducing any dairy or protein right away. Not even pancakes! (yes,that’s experience speaking). Stick to BRACT for 24-48 hours and hopefully you’ll avoid the week-and-a-half of misery this first-time-mom experienced.

So there you go, information straight from the trenches on how to deal when stomach bugs and small children collide. Here’s hoping my mistakes will keep your sane in your own hour of need. On a bookish note, our favorite sick day book is this one.

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Everyday Life, Parenting

Wear The Beads

Lately, I’ve been struggling with what to tell people when they ask “So, what have you been up to?” It seems to me I should be able to sweep my arm in the direction of my three young children with a flourish and say, “Exhibit A.” I don’t want to be a one dimensional person, but really, I don’t have any other answer right now. When real life happens, it doesn’t always translate so well into a short and sweet small talk answer. Maybe when there has been a major life event, there is a good answer. But when there has been no big one thing? What does a mom of little kids say? We haven’t gone to Tahiti. We haven’t moved. We haven’t had a disaster of any sort. There have just been days one after the other like beads on a string. And I’m not talking pearls. No, no. These have not been pearly, luminescent days, though they all have their gorgeous, unforgettable moments. These days have been the clear plastic bead on a piece of yarn kind. The kind full of dishes, play dates, grocery shopping, cracker crumbs, breakfasts/lunches/dinners, sick children, sick self, and so much coffee.

Nothing special has happened in the last few months. Until I remember this: every moment.

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Though they can seem like just a bunch of mundane minutes, these clear bead days are precious, too, and who decides that pearls made by some ugly oysters on a  dark ocean floor are more lovely than the gift a five-year-old considers a work of art? The clear beads are everywhere in my house right now, under dressers and in corners, clogging up the filter in the vacuum cleaner. They’re like the in-your-face, never ending responsibilities of mothering littles that can completely overwhelm me. But the curve of soft, round cheeks? The plump little toes in their first pair of sandals? The freckles appearing out of nowhere under sea blue eyes? Those facets of my right-now life can overwhelm me in a whole ‘nother way if I just see them with the right pair of eyes on.

I could choose to wear the necklace made up of those clear beads all tinted green, purple, pink, and blue and in no particular pattern or order, and know there is love in these days hidden all over the place and also bowling me over every morning as I roll out of my (absolutely wonderful) bed. Really, literally, bowling me over (Hello, 3-year-old son).  I won’t ever have a day when I feel like everything about motherhood is perfect. Peachy. Pearly. Almost every good thing is disguised in something sort of annoying when you’re in the thick of things. A hug when you’re tired of being touched. Really beautiful singing about Jesus when the baby is asleep. These things are beautiful and an exquisite gift and are driving me crazy all at the same time.  But if I don’t want to go crazy? There’s really only one good choice to make when I’m overwhelmed by all these clear beads rolling around my house and I need an answer for where all the minutes are going.

Wear them.

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Wear the beads.

Everyday Life, Parenting

The Bird Feeder

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My Bird Feeder
I have a bird feeder in my backyard.

Big deal. Everyone has a bird feeder.

Well, actually, it is kind of a big deal. I used to kind of scoff at bird watching. Yep, I am pretty much a terrible person. But I’m growing up. (It turns out, growing up just means you buy your own groceries, you decide for yourself when the speed limit is too fast on a certain road, and you scoff less).  However, I didn’t realize I was such a scoffer when it came to bird watching until early January of last year, when one day I found myself staring through my kitchen window at the frantic birds scrounging around in the soggy, bleak backyard. My hands deep in the hot, sudsy water, rubbing grime off dishes that had sat in the sink too long, I watched the birds’ fretful hopping and pecking and was deeply thankful I had a grocery store right down the road. Then I realized, “Wait, why am I identifying with those birds? I’m bird watching! I’m like those people I’ve always laughed at.” And that’s when the self realization dawned: “<Gasp> Why do I laugh at bird watchers??!!” There it was, another bit of snobbery realized in my life.

A few days later, it snowed. My house was the warmest, coziest place it has ever been, but I found my eyes wandering out to those same little birds that I had watched a few days before. It turns out they were chickadees. I was watching them, and I was actually worrying about them. Where are they going to find any food? Why don’t I have a bird feeder? What kind of horrible human being am I? Wait, why am I worrying about this?

But those birds…they had a hold on my mind all of a sudden.

Then it didn’t seem so much like I just coincidentally started noticing birds. It was like it was all part of a plan.  I attended the IF: Gathering at a friend’s home a month later in early February 2014 and listened to Shelley Giglio talk about birds. Why birds? What in the world? Well, birds are often used in the Bible to show men and women how God cares for his creation and how much more he cares for us. Shelley Giglio’s talk focused on verses from Psalms that have two bird references:

“1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.” Psalm 83:1-4 (NIV)

Giglio went on to explain that a swallow is a very plain bird, brown and ordinary. The swallow in these verses was going about her natural work, being a mother, but the thing that stood out is that she was mothering in the presence of God. It was such a beautiful reminder to me that I don’t have to wait to seek God until all is quiet and still, I can bring my young and be with God in all things. I can dwell in my daily life, and the work of motherhood- the building the nest and having the young – can intersect with the sacred God who loves me as I am, ordinary and plain.

A year later, I still don’t exactly watch birds. I asked for a bird feeder for Christmas and it’s outside my kitchen window.  The chickadees come and go on the frozen winter mornings, and it makes me happy to see them and give them a few seeds, but I’m still not fascinated by the actual creatures that I’m feeding out there. What I love is that anytime I see that bird feeder, I remember all I have learned in the past year. I know the work I do is sometimes mundane and not at all profound – it has all been done before. Yet, it is sacred. I’m in the presence of God in this nest of mine, and my children are, too.  I’m reminded to scoff less, to appreciate the way I am cared for by my creator, to delight in the work of my hands. It’s amazing what one bird feeder can do. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be carrying around a copy of National Audubon Society Field Guide for North American birds. At this point, I wouldn’t put it past me.  All kinds of things can happen when you’re growing up.

Everyday Life, Parenting

This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You: Disciplining Myself Before My Kids

It was a hot, hot August day when I figuratively picked up my favorite piece of parenting advice and flung it out the window. If I had known how much damage I would do before the day was done, I might have thrown something more tangible out of the window, like say, a Tickle Me Elmo. Because why not? What’s one more broken thing?

Baby Violet had just turned three weeks old. It was the first week of August and my three children and I had been staying home a lot. We were going stir crazy. Our MOPS group was having a play date at a local splash pad that my kids love. I knew it would be a huge challenge to care for my newborn while trying to wrangle my boisterous 3-year-old boy and his side-kick sister into following the splash pad rules (“No running! Stop running!” Don’t they know little boys don’t even know how to walk? That they are born with one speed and that speed is “running?”). But I was prepared to do the crazy thing and try. I even announced to the kids we were going. Now there was really on turning back.

Or was there? The towels were packed, the sunscreen applied, the swimsuits on, but the kids were just plain misbehaving that morning. Nothing I said seemed to get into their ears. “Don’t tip your chair back.” “Please go brush your teeth.” “Stop hitting your sister!” Honestly, my children are usually people I enjoy being around, but I guess we were in the “acting out” phase of having a new baby in the family. As the minutes passed by and the time to leave for the splash pad got closer, the utter disregard for my authority grew. I tried pleading. I tried cheerleader-ish encouraging instructions. “Let’s get those shoes on quick, how quick can you do it!! Go, team, go!” I tried The Look. I tried yelling (tsk, tsk, I know).  I knew what I should do, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to say, “You know what? We can’t go out when you are behaving like this. We are staying home.” Because I really, really didn’t want to stay home.

But we did. After I finally made the decision, I managed to say it pretty calmly: “I’m sorry, I wanted to take you to the splash pad, but you are not listening to me. We have to stay home today.” There were some tears, but I think I was sadder than they were. I had broken my favorite parenting rule: “When you punish your kids, do not punish yourself along with them.” I first heard this advice when my oldest was still an infant. I thought it sounded so good, I told myself, “Oh yeah, I’m making that rule my own!” I mean, what parent needs worse punishment than being The Punisher?

Apparently, this parent.

At that moment, it became very clear that I had to let that parenting rule go. Because if I’m honest, I need just as much discipline as my children. In fact, I’m starting to realize the cruel truth of parenting is that if I want any of this discipline I’m doling out to work, I have to be the most self-disciplined of all.

Sigh. It was a sad moment of realization, but it felt right. Like when you decide to take back that shirt you bought but didn’t need when you were at Target last week.

The kids straightened up their attitudes a few minutes after I delivered the crushing (to me) blow of staying home. A bit later, I told them I would turn the sprinkler on in the backyard for them. Maybe we can redeem this day after all, I thought. That didn’t happen the way I thought it would, though. As I went out to turn on the sprinkler, I pulled on the hose a bit too hard…hard enough to pull the spigot out of the foundation of our house. I stood there for a minute, listening to the water gushing out of the broken pipe under our house, just feeling like life was really unfair. This is what I get for doing the right thing and staying home? Then I snapped out of it and did what every good homeowner does when they have a leak, which is, of course, turn off the water supply. But I couldn’t turn the knob on the valve for the life of me. Maybe it was really stuck, maybe I was too weak only three weeks postpartum, but at life seemed pretty unfair.

My husband was out of town. My in-laws were at the beach. I couldn’t reach my dad. All the while, the water flowed out of the pipe under my house. If I hadn’t been so tired, I might have turned on my own waterworks. I felt so abandoned by everyone and cheated by my good intentions of doing the right thing.

$300 later, the pipe was fixed, the kids were fed, the Little Einsteins were on, and we were all doing okay. I sat feeding my baby, trying to make sense of all the thoughts in my head (this is a big process when you’re sleep deprived). I was positive I had been the one learning the most about discipline that day. I learned in a very real way that parents have to do the right things, even when it’s hard, and that the right things aren’t always fun. They can even involve broken pipes if you’re not careful. The reward isn’t immediate and the hard things can just get harder before you see any of the good that follows. I’m still figuring this all out, but I have this feeling that pursuing discipline in myself first will be a real game changer in my home. Without my own self-correction, teachability, and humility, I don’t think the discipline I give to my children will have good lasting effects.  My theory is any “discipline” I give my children will just be punishment, not training, if I’m not growing and learning right along with them.

It’s been six months since I threw my favorite parenting rule out the window. The practical side of this theory is starting to make sense in real life now. I recognize that when the kids are throwing a fit over turning of the TV after just one show, it’s a result of my own lack of discipline. Have I fallen into the habit of letting them watch more like an hour of TV? Yes. My own lack of discipline in my practices has brought us to this point of rebellion and tears and tantrums. It’s still not an appropriate response from my children, that is undeniable. And they will get some sort of consequence, probably along the lines of no TV tomorrow, which means no down time for me tomorrow. But at this point I know if I had drawn the line and stayed on the right side of it, we all would know that the line was not to be crossed. Now my children think there’s a totally different line then the one I meant to set and they feel I’m doing them an injustice. I know I am the one in this situation that the discipline starts with.

So I’m replacing my old favorite parenting rule with a new one: “Discipline in my family starts with me.”  I’m praying we’ll all be better for it.

I’m just hoping it doesn’t involve any more broken pipes…

Everyday Life, Parenting

To The Mom Whose Toddler Is Always Sick

It starts in October, November if you’re lucky, and it doesn’t stop until April.

If you have a little person in your house, you know about the common colds that come and go and come and stay during the winter months of your small child’s life.

The snot. How it flows.

And you know it’s not really about the snot. I can tell, because you’re not grossed out one iota by the word “snot.” No, what it’s really about is your child’s inability to breathe at night, the lack of sleep your whole family experiences, the resulting ear infections, maybe bronchitis, or worse. It’s about how many events or days of work you’ve missed, how much time and money you’ve spent at The Minute Clinic, or maybe just how guilty you feel that your beloved small one is under the weather again.

Believe me, I’ve been there. The effects of the common cold in children under two or three are far reaching –no one sleeps, everyone is exposed to the germs because what little child knows how to contain their own germs?, and the total inability to effectively blow his or her nose is just really discouraging. Not to mention the effects on your furniture…but let’s not go there. And I am the last person who would make light of 3:00 a.m. worry fests. I’ve gotten up at odd hours of the night just to make sure my baby was still breathing about a million times now. Sometimes I go in and listen to my three-year-old and five-year-old breathe, even though SKDS (Sudden Kid Death Syndrome) is not a thing. It’s just the way moms are. We like to know our children are okay. And seeing them sick is hard.

But, there is hope, dear mother of a constantly sick toddler. Here are two things for you to remember today as you cuddle that snotty tot and read Goodnight Gorilla five more times today.

#1 It’s not your fault.

Repeat after me: “It’s not my fault.” And I’m serious. I’m not trying to pad your inner psyche with down feathers and soften reality. Your little children are being exposed to a world of germs for the first time ever. They are getting sick because their bodies haven’t built up immunity to certain common germs. I’m not a doctor, but it stands to reason that sometimes you have to get sick first to build up immunity. It stinks, but it’s the way it goes. And maybe there are some ways to boost their immunity a bit, but whether you’re using crazy awesome vitamins or hitting the essential oils harder, those little children are probably still going to get their fair share of viruses. Sure, it’s possible that day care or preschool is causing your child to be more exposed to germs than is really good for him or her. I would encourage you to consider your options there, but the main thing I’m trying to communicate here is all children get sick at this age, and they get sick way more often than we as moms think they should. It’s pretty natural in this messed up world of sicknesses. End your guilt trip and come home to this reality: you’re a good mom, even if your child gets sick.

#2 It will get better.

A recent sick day at our house

A few years ago, I had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. We didn’t go anywhere but church, ballet class, and the occasional play date, but somehow we were still sick off-and-on for a large part of the winter. Now I have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a baby. And you know what? The 5-year-old is hardly ever sick. The 3-year-old is sometimes sick. But it is so different than when there was a toddler in the mix. Toddlers just pick up everything! They still put stuff in their mouths more often than is appropriate or necessary. And the affectionate ones, while particularly heartwarming, sure do give a lot more hugs and kisses than is absolutely necessary! But when those toddlers become preschoolers, it actually does get better. They don’t get sick with every single thing they come in contact with, and when they do get sick, they can do amazing things like blow their noses, take cold medicine, sleep on a pillow…the list could go on and on. In a few years, sicknesses will still come and go in your household, but it won’t put a hex on the whole family’s ability to function as normal human beings like it does when you have a sick toddler.

So now that you know It’s Not Your Fault and It Will Get Better, here’s the important thing. It’s temping to just shut it down and not go anywhere. Amazon groceries, anyone? Maybe that’s a good option for certain situations. But for the vast majority of us parents, keeping our children from life to protect them from sickness has much worse consequences than the sicknesses themselves. For one thing, you’ll all go stir crazy. I’m an introvert to the core, and I still go crazy after a while of not interacting with other adults. For another thing, holing up in your home may be a good idea for short periods of time, but I’ve found it really squashes our ability to care for our friends. You know, to say, “yes, we are totally up for a play date today” or “sure, I can watch your child for a couple of hours.” I would much rather my children learn to care for people than stay completely healthy all the time. It’s hard to swallow my desire to control as much as I can about my children’s wellness, but building long lasting character in our families is way more important than preventing fleeting illnesses (I know, I know, they sure don’t feel fleeting sometimes, but back to Point #2…).

And you know now that I’ve written this down my whole family will be down with the flu tomorrow. It’s pretty much a done deal. So I’ll say to myself, “I am still a good mom and sickness is inevitable. This will get better.  And friendships still matter.” Even in January/February/March.

This post is featured on the blog carnival “Works For Me Wednesday” over at Giving Up On Perfect.  It’s a great place to get some ideas or perspective on life. 

Works for Me Wednesday :: Giving Up on Perfect

Everyday Life, Parenting

Happier In Winter Project

Hello, fellow winter haters. What, you don’t hate winter? I wish I were more like you! I’m getting a tiny bit better at seeing the beauty in it. The stark lines of tall trees against a pale blue sky, the dramatic sunsets, the frosty white grass…I’m not immune to these gifts of the season. But I still could do without winter for many, many years.

Three years ago, my winter hatred was running at an all time high. We had just downsized into our current house, I had a baby and a two-year-old, and I felt like I just couldn’t handle the cold weather season. For better or worse, the weather always affects my outlook on life. At the time, the book on my nightstand was Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. Inspired by her attitude and her title, I invented a Happier in Winter Project. I wrote out a list of things I could do to make winter bearable, and maybe, maybe even enjoyable, and I pinned it to my wall calendar in the kitchen. That winter of 2012-2013 turned out to be blessedly mild, but this winter doesn’t seem to be following suit. So I’m pulling out my Happier in Winter list and sharing it today. Add your ideas and help us all endure!

~Happier in Winter ~

  1. Plant lots of pansies, or indoor houseplants.  I always, always kill houseplants. But pansies are pretty hardy outdoor flowers where I live.
  2. Remember: exercise is the best way to stay warm. And exercise always comes with nice perks, like a little less winter weight gain. One can dream, right?
  3. Hold lots of household dance parties. Also counts for #2.
  4. Take your vitamins! 
  5. Play some instruments . I will hand out the recorder and harmonica and have a marching band around the house with the kids, or have them play their instruments while I play the piano. I’m not going to lie–I don’t do this often. There’s a good chance the “fun” ends in a headache for mom. =)
  6. Make paper snowflakes. Two years ago we glued them on one of our windows. Looking back, it was like we warded off snow with them. Not a flake fell on our house that season! I’m planning on making these with Ella soon.
  7. Pick a room to paint a nice, light color. This year, I’ll probably do our bathroom. It’s currently a garish yellow, and it’s the last room that needs painting in the house.
  8. If you’re a parent with small children, designate a child-free time to make busy bags for your children. 
  9. Graham crackers and frosting
    Photo: mommytools.blogspot.com

    Have indoor picnics and tea parties. Get out some cheerful dishes and turn graham crackers into fine, teatime delicacies with some leftover frosting or cinnamon and sugar.

  10. Plan library days and museum days.
  11. Pin a whole bunch of soup recipes and then actually make one or two of them.
  12. Rearrange a room. Sometimes a different perspective is all it takes to lift a mood.
  13. Drink more smoothies.
  14. Drink more water. 
  15. Drink more wine. Just kidding. 
  16. Bake some healthy (and not so healthy) snacks and don’t worry about the mess.
  17. Splurge on a lunchtime restaurant with an indoor playground once in a while.
  18. Load shelves and e-readers with cheerful books. The definition of “cheerful” books varies from reader to reader. Winter is the best time for whatever type of book you consider a comfort read for you.
  19. My jolly winter guy (2012)

    Put hats, scarves, and gloves in an easily accessible place so it’s easy to bundle up and enjoy what sunshine there is.

  20. Read wintry poetry and find some favorite winter quotes. Here’s one that puts things into perspective for me: “The wind was blowing, but not too hard, and everyone was so happy and gay for it was only twenty degrees below zero and the sun shone.” -Laura Ingalls Wilder. Only!?! Robert Frost is also a good winter poet (for real, no pun on the name intended).
  21. Be crafty. Sew something, paint something, knit something…whatever kind of creativity floats your boat.
  22. And finally….sometimes you just have to make it a movie day. 

We’re looking at a cold week here in the southeast, so I’ll be hitting the “Happier in Winter” list pretty heavily in the next few days. Share your ideas to help us all out!

Parenting, Reviews

For The Children’s Sake

I saw For The Children’s Sake often around my house as I grew up. I remember it clearly Cover art (Penguin Classics Edition/1989; The Illustrated Children's Library Edition/2002): <i>Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy</i> by Jessie Willcox Smith.because the cover illustration is by Jessie Wilcox Smith, who has been my favorite illustrator since I read her version of Little Women. The cover was the only part of the book that interested me until just a couple of months ago, when my mom held it up and asked, “Do you want this book?”

“Is it good?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Okay, I’ll take it.”

Well. To say that “it is good” is an egregious understatement. It is very good. In fact, it is the best book I’ve read on educating children so far. It has already become instrumental in forming my home educating philosophy. And it’s really not only for parents who solely homeschool, but for anyone who has children or works with children.

For the Children's SakeIn For The Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Maculay (daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer) gives a basic of overview of Charlotte Mason’s thinking on what children need. She has ideas that go far beyond the three R’s. Here’s my favorite: Children are actually little people.

Some of you are going, “…and?” Yes, this seems like it should be very obvious, but it seems like children are so often treated like their intellectual skills are nonexistent.  I recently had a conversation with a someone whose granddaughter’s teacher told her that her granddaughter is so smart. She told this grandmother, “I couldn’t believe I was actually having a conversation with a six-year-old!” I’m sure most of you already are well aware of how conversational six-year-olds are.

Another one of my favorite Charlotte Mason points is that children do not desire or need “twaddle.” What is “twaddle?” You know those books that say things like, “I see Spot. Spot is brown. Spot has a tail”…those books? Well, those may serve some purposes, but mostly they are twaddle. Maculay points out that Mason is right when she says children need “living books,” books that will capture their imaginations and live on in their minds after the story is over. These are the kinds of books that will instill a love of learning and literature in children.

Another highlight of the book is the importance of reaching out to the heart and soul of a child. Education is not about just feeding children’s brains knowledge. They need to play. They need to be surrounded by nature as often as possible. And above all, they need to know love and a sense of being well cared for. This isn’t an environment that can only be found in homeschooling environments, but it is a far cry from most public schools. Because the majority of our nation’s children are in public school, it becomes even more important for parents to take their role in their children’s fully rounded education very seriously. I currently have my children at home with me, but I can see how important it may someday be for me to guard their time at home from educational TV, computer games, and whatever else may seem good but cannot replace the real-ness of experiencing the world around them. I also need to be more proactive, even now when my kids are always at home, about looking into their faces and truly listening to their thoughts. We can all get so preoccupied with our own activities. Mason believed children need to know that their value is inherent because they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and are “image bearers,” in body, mind, and soul.

There’s a lot more to this book, but those are the highlights for me on this read-through. It will be a book I’ll return to as my children grow. Charlotte Mason is a pretty popular person these days in home education circles. Maculay published this book about her ideas before Mason came back into vogue. There is a ton of resources for people who want to delve deeper into the Charlotte Mason method (which I’m not entirely sure Charlotte Mason actually invented…it’s more based on her ideas, if I’m not mistaken). Whatever you and your children do in the education realm, the questions Maculay raises and the ideas she presents in For The Children’s Sake are well worth considering.

If you’ve read it, post a comment! I’d love to know what you think. 

Everyday Life, Parenting

Seize the Nanosecond!

It’s 3:45 p.m. I’ve needed a shower for approximately 1.5 days. Finally, Baby and Big Boy (3) are asleep and Little Miss (5) is happily coloring. For a blessed slice of this day, there are no urgent needs or tasks — no mess to wipe up, no crying baby, no squabbles to settle, no tummies to fill, just a tiny piece of silence.

“Seize the day!” I think. Except for it’s more like “Seize the nanosecond!”

Jump in the shower, jump out of the shower while nap time lasts! Grab the chicken to defrost before it’s too late in the day! It’s 6:30 a.m. and the baby is crying, hop out of bed and throw some clothes on before she wakes the big kids! Quick!

It’s craziness all the time, but when a minute of downtime comes my way, this fast and furious mindset doesn’t go away. I don’t breathe a sigh of relief and sit down. Instead, I think “seize the nanosecond!” Figure out what’s for dinner. Put the clothes in the dryer. Answer an email. Get something, anything done.

Why do I run around my house at a frantic and frenzied pace on most days of the week? How are there are one thousand items on my mental to-do list and all of them seem like they need to be done right now? I really don’t know how this happens, because I’m here at home more often than I’m not, and still feeling like it’s a gargantuan effort to get the breakfast dishes washed before dinner time.

It baffles me that Hectic lives right here at home with us. 

It baffles my husband, too. Sometimes when he’s home, he watches me and asks, “Why the big rush?” I don’t know how to explain that I’m running behind on laundry and dishes and dinners and it’s all a great big boa constrictor that’s got me up to my knees and is still swallowing. (Thank Shel Silverstein for that one).

It’s like what we tell that kicker on Saturdays: “You have one job! Make field goals!” Except it’s more like, “You have one job! Take care of everything!”

(Fact: I do not take care of everything around here, because I have the best husband in the universe. We both “take care of everything,” just not often at the same time).

I know where the problem lies. I start the day responding to needs and they keep coming all day long. That’s the nature of life with Littles. So when an opportunity to actually get something tangible accomplished presents itself, I’m all over it like ants on a melted popsicle. I’m grabbing that vacuum cleaner faster than you can say “dirt,” and no crying baby or coloring book is going to stop me, because the rugs are overdue for a cleaning by about three weeks.

“Seize the nanosecond!” is the mantra in my head on any given day.  I think I’m through with it, though. This frenetic way I go about the day is (a) exhausting and (b) basically ineffective. I get to the end of the day and ask myself if I actually got one thing done. If the answer is a surprising “yes,” that “something done” usually doesn’t involve the things I think are most important, like playing with my children or calling a friend. I don’t need a mantra, I need a method. And, much to my chagrin, I know what the method should be. It’s called Get-Up-Before-The-Kids.

Sigh.

When your nights are full of lots of things besides sleep — put the covers back on this kid, take this one to the bathroom, give this one some water so she can stop coughing, feed this one, soothe this one after a nightmare, give this one some Tylenol for ::fill in the blank:: — getting up before you absolutely have to is rough, right?

But spending all day getting swallowed by a boa constrictor is rough, too.

So I’m laying down my “seize the nanosecond!” mantra and setting my alarm instead. The experiment for this week is to get up just a bit earlier than my kids and get just three things done:

1. Shower/dress

2. Read and pray

3. Make a short to-do list

I know I should add a few other things, like exercise or prepare all our  meals for the day or lay out the kids’ clothes, and all that good stuff. But I need this to actually work, so I’m starting off with what I can fit in just twenty minutes. I know from experience that it’s a long road from having a baby to getting back into a morning routine. I’m just setting my feet on the path and hoping for the best.

If the Seize the Nanosecond mindset sounds familiar to you, maybe you would like to join me on my Twenty Minute Morning experiment? Or maybe you’d like to see if it actually works first? Check back next week and I’ll let you know. I doubt I’ll have defeated the boa constrictor for good, but maybe he’ll be only up to my ankles instead of my knees.

One can only hope.