Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Can I Make an Announcement?

My husband called me after dropping our oldest son off at Camp Invention. "I feel like my baby bird just left the nest," he confided.

"How did he do? Were the other kids nice to him?" I asked a little too quickly.
"He was great. They were great. A kid asked him to play right away and they had all kinds of things to do that are perfect for him. Creative stuff. He's going to fit right in."
"But it was still hard to let him go, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. Yeah, it was."
I imagine the feeling was very similar to parents dropping their kids off for the first day of Kindergarten. We knew it would be a wonderful experience. (Kids can take electronic items apart and create new inventions with the parts...This is a dream come true for him.) And yet, it's hard to let go.
As I watched him brush his teeth on Sunday night in his plaid Hugh Hefner pajamas, I prayed that the kids would welcome him, that the intructors would see all the incredible things that we see in him. I prayed that he would be enriched by the experience and begin building foundations for new friendships. I prayed simply that every one would be nice to him.

When it came time to pick him up, my younger two and I raced out of the car. We were so excited to see him. "Where is Lukey? Where is my brother?" my three year old said over and over as kids spilled out of the classrooms. "He's coming, bud. He's coming," I said even though I felt the same anxiousness. And then he appeared.

My three year old wrapped him in a giant hug. "I love you, Luke! I really love you!"
"Thanks, Drew."

One of the adults called to me over sea of children's heads. "Oh, are you Luke's mom?" 
I made my way over to her and said that I was. "He is so amazing. So bright! He asked me if he could make an announcement while they were working on the inventions. He stood up and said, 'I just want everyone to know that even if your inventions aren't perfect or exactly as you imagined, you should be really proud of yourselves. Every one did a great job.' It was the sweetest thing! All the kids had a better attitude after that speech, let me tell you!"

Amazing, bright and inspirational. It was more than I could've hoped for.
"Thank you so much for telling me," I told her. "Luke, that was such an incredibly cool thing to do."
I called my husband and my parents to tell them the story. "What a leader. What a neat kid," they all said.

He is an amazing, bright, inspirational leader, and a neat kid. If those aren't words from God, I don't know what He sounds like. Luke's name means light and it seemed so appropriate as I listened to the words he shared with his fellow inventors. He was a shining light.

There are times when we want to wrap our children in protection. We want to fight a fight for them or lay a smooth path for them to walk.  We can't always do that, but God can. We can ask God for the things we know they need. We can trust that He will be with our children even when we can't. He will not let us down.
Is there anything that you are trying to protect your child from today? Tell God all that you fear and all that you hope for and He will do the things you simply cannot do.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Allowing Creativity

I bought my sons some post-it notes shaped like each of their first initials at Walgreens for 99 cents. I envisioned them writing notes to each other or drawing pictures and sticking them to the fridge. I did not expect them to become entirely new objects due to the boys' inventive imagination.

"Don't touch the BOMBS!" my oldest shouted. I looked up from the dishes to see the notes stuck all over the toddler slide that somehow had made its way into our living room. My three year old was perched at the top with a giant smile on his face. 
"Will I blow up if it hit them?!" he asked excitedly.
"Yeah! You'll go BOOM!" my oldest replied.
My three year old fell into a fit of giggles at the prospect of being blown to smithereens and made his way down the slide. He detonated several post-it note bombs my throwing them in the air and making all the right sound effects.
"Now it's my turn to get blown up!!" my oldest yelled as he ran toward the slide ladder.

This game morphed into a new one - An obstacle course that they had to get through without detonating the bombs. They crumpled up post-it after post-it and sprinkled them all over the house. The same house I had just straightened up 20 minutes beforehand. I started to regret my decision to give them so much leeway.  My husband was coming home in a few minutes and I try to pretend like we keep the house clean all day (although I'm pretty sure he's on to me due to the fact that it's never actually clean when he gets home...) I asked the boys to start picking up the post-its.

"I have an idea! Let's use the slide like a shoot and then we can pour them down into a container. Dump 'em all on the slide, Drew!" 
They scrambled around the house and invented a smart system of getting all the notes into a Ziploc so that they could play the game again later.

I told my mom about their creativity. "I couldn't believe how many ideas they had with 99 cent post it notes. So creative."
"That's because they are allowed to be creative," she said, "even when it's messy."

It wasn't easy to let them be creative. I would be lying if I said it didn't give me some anxiety to watch them spread one hundred post-it notes all over my house. And yet, my mom's comment gave me a new perspective. She wasn't focused on the short term mess. She was focused on the end result of giving children the opportunity to be creative. If they are allowed to get messy, they may become great problem solvers and out of the box thinkers. They won't be afraid to try new things because they will always be able to come up with an alternative if the first plan doesn't work. We have the opportunity to raise the next generation of great minds. Let's give them to chance to develop it, even if it's messy.

What creative pursuits give you anxiety because of the mess? Let them go a bit further today and see what happens. Focus on the beauty of their mind rather than the ugliness of the mess.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Heavy Heart

Our daughter is very in tuned with our emotions. She will look into my eyes and evaluate whether or not I am stressed or happy or even present in the moment. She interacts less when I am stressed or disconnected, content to play on her own until my mind and focus return to her. But with her daddy, things are a bit different.
My husband and I were talking the other day about all the things he had on his plate. I listened, we problem solved and eventually we came up with a prayer that embodied all the things that he needed God to help him resolve. We said the prayer but when I opened my eyes, he still looked as heavy hearted as he had at the beginning of the conversation.
Our daughter had been playing on the window seat beside him as he talked, quietly coloring in my journal. When the prayer finished she stood up and said, "Dada! Up!" He picked her up and she layed her little head on his shoulder and hugged him. No, she held him. She rubbed his back and held him for a solid three minutes then picked her head up to check on him. He smiled an authentic smile. "Thanks, baby girl. Thank you so much. I needed that."She gave him one more squeeze then climbed down to find her brothers, satisfied that she had done her best to help her daddy.
I wiped the tear that had been threatening to fall during the whole interaction and looked at my husband. His shoulders had relaxed and the light was back in his eyes. She had truly restored him."She knew what I needed," he said to no one in particular."She did. And I think God did, too," I answered.
God answers our prayers in the most unexpected ways but he always answers them. He uses the arms of our children to hug us when nothing else will quiet our hearts. He drops a penny from Heaven to remind you of His love. He gives you kindness from a stranger just when you doubt the goodness of mankind. He is always there, listening and loving you.
What is heavy on your heart today? Spend a moment to tell God about it. Tell Him what you need. He is there, listening and loving you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Don't Talk About Me

My three year old will turn four at the end of August and naps are hit or miss. He skips about one a week, sometimes two, and he becomes a different child when he's sleep deprived. He has always been a thinker but he really retreats when he's tired. He literally drifts as if his body has become a sheet in the wind and he fails to follow any direction you give him. This is particularly difficult when we go out in public.

We went to a family fun day at a local art center this weekend. It was a fantastic event with free art projects in every room and free hot dogs and snowcones for everyone. My three year old made a paper plate guitar, grabbed a snow cone then mentally checked out. He wandered out of my sight so many times that I had to make sure he was holding onto my shirt so that I wouldn't lose track of him. My husband and I took turns with him so that the other could interact with the other two kids. After an hour, we were done.

We buckled the kids in the car and watched as my three year old's eyelids fell heavily. My husband and I buckled our own seat belts and took a deep breath. "Man, Drew was all over the place! I can't stand to take him places when he's like that!" my husband said quietly.
"I know - He's just exhausted. We probably need to stay home when he's this tired."

We heard a small sob escape out of my son's mouth. "Don't talk about me like I'm not even here!" he said as a full out cry erupted.
My husband and I looked at each other, alarmed. We had not meant for him to hear it. We had not meant for it to hurt him.

I reached into the backseat and grabbed his little hand. "Honey, I am so sorry. You are right. We shouldn't talk about you like you are not here. We were just worried about you being tired."
"I NOT tired!" he said. "That hurt my feelings!"
I squeezed his little hand in an attempt to call him. "I'm sorry, my sweet boy."
He sniffed then squeezed back. "That okay."

It was a wake up call for me. My husband and I made a deal to only say good things about the kids when they are in ear shot. We can talk about good things they did; we can talk about things that made us proud or impressed us. We cannot openly discuss our disappointments or frustrations when they are nearby. I wouldn't do that to an adult. I certainly will not do it to my children.

How can you ensure that your words about your children are always encouraging? How can you make sure to set aside time to problem solve your parenting issues in privacy?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Evaluation

I have been formally homeschooling my oldest son since he was three using Sonlight's curriculum packages. I chose it because it is literature based and my son absolutely loves to read. I also chose it because I was scared out of my mind of messing up.

Sonlight gave me a checklist every day with extra optional activities. I added more activities, just in case. I checked my list three times a day to ensure that I had gotten everything done. For awhile, I forgot to enjoy it because I was so consumed with "getting it done". I noticed my son withdrawing and saying he "didn't want to do school." I knew this was because of my intense approach so I eased up. We did more field trips, more science experiments designed by him, more art, more mornings in the pool. Still, I worried. Was I doing enough? Was I teaching him enough?

Our state requires an annual evaluation by a certified teacher starting at age six. Last week was our first evalutation. My son was nervous even though I told him it was an evaluation of me. "You are able to learn anything I teach you - She just wants to make sure I am helping you to reach your potential," I said over and over again. He didn't buy it. "Will she be upset that I drew trains in my math book?" he asked as he flipped through the pages. "Of course not, bud - She will be impressed with your artistic ability and your math skills." 

I found myself expressing my own fears to my husband. "Will she say he passed even though we didn't completely finish the curriculum?" 
"She will say you've done more than enough. She will be amazed at all you have done," he said kindly.

My son and I worked together on a slideshow of all the fun things we have done together this year. We compiled pictures of family trips, experiments at the kitchen table in their pajamas, visits to the art museum and the aquarium. We grabbed a hundred pictures and could have chosen a hundred more. We were both astounded by all the fun we had had together. "I never want to go to real school, Mommy," he said as he watched the slideshow play to the song, "Happy."

Our evaluator listened patiently as my son showed her his math book and explained how to do a sampling of the problems. She asked him to read a few signs in the Whole Foods cafe where we met. She looked at our book list and lit up when my son told her about the stop animation Lego movies he has been working on. We pulled out the slideshow and I smiled inwardly as I watched all the incredible memories we had made together. "That's what homeschooling is really about," she said gently. "You are doing a great job. More than enough."

I felt my heart lighten and my need to control our days loosen. I felt as if someone had pulled my view way out and showed me the whole picture. We may not always get through our checklist but it doesn't really matter. My children are learning. They are growing. And we are doing it together. We are doing more than enough.

Whether you homeschool or not, I am sure you have a list of "shoulds" each day. What are they? If you watched your year in pictures, which days would matter the most? Make that your focus.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Helping Daddy

Little boys love to fix things. Anything. They love to know how something works and why it works that way. They want to figure out how to make it bigger, stronger or better. This is not my forte. My husband and I were talking about it the other morning and I told him I thought our oldest was bored with or had mastered most of the everyday household tasks. "He wants to learn man stuff," I told my husband. "Do you see how he lights up every time you pick up a screw driver?" One of the kids started crying so we left the conversation dangling in the air, waiting for the next moment of quiet so that it could be finished.

It was Sunday and I had band practice before church. My husband packed the kids in the car to go to Home Depot before church - Our toilet was running endlessly and needed to be fixed. (I still marvel at the ease in which he takes three children all over town. I avoid it at all costs.) He brought them to church then we all came home for lunch and naps. My husband took the opportunity to fix the toilet while they rested.

"Oh! You fixed the toilet!" I said. "You'll have to tell Luke how you did it. He wanted to know how you were going to fix it." I saw my husbands face fall a bit. 
"I didn't know he wanted to do it with me...I mean, I knew he wanted to understand how but..."
He trailed off, still thinking it through.
"No big deal, love. Just tell him how you did it. That's enough."

But it wasn't enough for him. While I happily sewed a skirt that I hope I will actually wear (unlike my other attempts at sewing clothing but that's a whole other blog) he unfixed the toilet. I walked into our bathroom and heard the toilet running. "The toilet isn't fixed, babe. It's still running!" I told him, thinking his handyman skills weren't quite up to par for this task (sorry babe). But he had other plans.

"Oh! Well then I'd better get Luke to help me fix it. C'mon bud. Can you give me a hand?"
"Sure, Daddy!" my oldest said as he jumped off the couch and straightened his shoulders. 
"I can help too, Daddy!" my three year old said as he chased after them.
My daughter, not to be forgotten, jerked herself out of my arms and ran into the bathroom. All three kids hovered around their daddy in the tiny water closet as he patiently explained how it worked and how to fix it. It was the sweetest thing I've seen in a long time.

We are always given opportunities to teach our children. My husband did not have to unfix that toilet. He did not even have to mention it to the kids. But he chose to take this opportunity to help his kids feel like their help was valued and needed. It was such an incredible gift.

How could you employ your children's "help" today? What are they trying to learn about being an adult that you could show them?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Waiting Job

"This really worked out great, Daddy," my three year old said as we sat down to dinner.  
"What worked out great?" my husband asked.  
"Well," he began, taking his time to think things through. "You set the table and Luke is going to clear it.  I just get to eat.  I think we should do this every single night!"
"You HAVE to do a CHORE!" my oldest blurted out.  "You HAVE to set the table EVERY NIGHT!"
I sat, watching this play out and trying not to giggle. My husband stole a glance at me, smiled with a knowing look and went back into the fray.
"You do have to set the table, Drew.  I just set the table tonight to do something nice for you."
"But I don't like setting the table while everybody else gets to play!" he said as tears began to well up in his eyes.
"Well then, Drew, you just have to pick another chore!  What chore could you pick? What do you like to do?" My oldest tends to rattle off questions and suggestions like an auctioneer.  His mouth simply cannot keep up with his brain. "What about folding clothes? Do you like the laundry? Can you fold clothes, Drew?"
Drew blinked his long eyelashes thoughtfully then sat up a little straighter.  "I have a great idea! Mommy, you can do the soap part of the laundry and the folding part.  I will do the waiting part!" He smiled triumphantly as he sank bank into his chair. We all started belly laughing at this crazy creative kid that will do just about anything to get out of work.

My husband and I talked about it later and laughed again. But it still nagged at us. "Do you think he's going to be lazy?" my husband asked me. "Will he ever have a good work ethic?"
"Yes, but it's going to be a long road for us, I think."
"Maybe he will be this millionaire that has found a way to get everyone else to do the hard work and it will just make Luke so mad!" 
"Maybe you're right but I do think we should really make a huge deal about it when he does help.  He loves recognition."

And so we did. When he "did the dishes" by using half of the soap and creating a veritable swimming pool in the kitchen, I let him know how incredible it was to have a son that is so willing to help. When he brought up my daughter's Motrin when I needed it, I kissed the top of his head and let him know that I didn't know what I would do without him. Amazingly, later that week, he started helping.  He switched the clothes from the washer to the dryer each time I started the task. He offered to help clean up a mess his sister had made and even tried to wipe off the kitchen table for me. It was really cool.

It's so easy to focus on the things they are doing wrong.  It's so easy to worry that their current character flaws will inhibit their success later in life. But if we focus on the negative, won't they? If we are only telling them what they do wrong, how will they know what they are doing right? I once heard a psychologist say that you should underreact when they do something wrong and overreact when they do something right. I would sure prefer to be treated with that much grace. Wouldn't you?

What "character flaws" are you currently worrying about? Challenge yourself to notice them making the right choice and make a big deal about it.  A really big deal.  Let me know what happens...
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