Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Daddy's Girl

"My arm is going to fall off," my husband said as he carried our daughter around like a football.  He had tried everything to put her down to no avail.  Our little six month old is not quite talking but she voices her discontent by saying, "uh uh" as in, "no way - uh uh - don't even try it."  Play mats, exersaucers, blankets with toys and swings had all been rejected.  I even tried to hold her the same way that he had but the "uh uh's" only increased in intensity.  And each time I would get her within grabbing distance of her daddy, she would lunge toward him with a big gummy smile.

"She adores you," I told my husband as I tried again to take her from his arms.  He rolled his eyes and smiled inwardly.  He was eating it up.  "The boys were not like this, were they?" I asked him.  
"No!" he said.  "Luke only wanted you and Drew was my buddy but nothing like this."
As he talked, her face lit up with smiles and coos.  I started to walk away with her and her little hand reached out to stroke his back.  "I think someone loves you as much as I do," I told him.

She is truly her Daddy's girl and I can't even begin to tell you how it delights me.  I can't think of a better man to model how a man should love a woman.  I can't think of a better man to show her how much love she deserves.  Those are things she can only learn from him.  And if it gives me a break from carrying her around?  Bonus.

Have you noticed a difference in how your daughters are with their dad?  What could you, as a dad, teach your daughter that her mother never could?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Volcano Cookies

My preschooler has suddenly shown a great interest in volcanoes.  He is fascinated with the idea of molten rock hiding underneath a mountain then suddenly bursting out and flowing down the side.  He wants to know how the rock melts, why it melts and what happens when it dries.  He has an endless appetite for pictures and videos of volcanoes.  I've gotten some great books at the library and we have explored YouTube videos that show everything from explosions to the slow flow of fissure volcanoes.  And thanks to our babysitter, we had another way to learn about volcanic rock.

"Drew asked a lot of questions about volcanoes today," she said to me when I got home.  "I have a recipe for rock cookies if you'd like it.  It's really cool - You make a syrup then add in chocolate and see how it bubbles up like lava then cool it in the fridge.  You can explain the whole process of an eruption and lava flow as you cook!" she explained.  Genius.

We made them this morning and he, excuse the pun, ate it up.  The syrup mixture bubbled up to the edge of the pot and he could barely keep his excitement at bay.  "MAMA!  It bubbles like LAVA!  It going to blow up?" he asked hopefully.
"We won't let it blow up, love, but maybe if we put the top on it would create pressure and push the lid up.  Should we see if that works?"  I asked.  We tried it and the boiling rate increased and rattled the lid a bit.
"Ohhhh, I get it," he said thoughtfully.

We stirred in the chocolate, marshmallows and nuts and talked about all the debris that the lava flow brings with it.  I showed them how the marshmallows and chocolate melted into our syrup and we talked about how all different types of rocks end up melding together.  We poured the final mixture into the pan and cooled it down in the refrigerator.

A few hours later, we cut into our cookies.  "They are hard like rock!" my three year old exclaimed.  Both of my sons were thrilled with the whole experience.

It can be easy for me to get in a rut of worksheets and comprehension questions but that isn't always the learning the sticks.  My son wanted so badly to understand how it's possible for a rock (a rock!) to melt and because of this simple activity, he got it.  Whether you are homeschooling or gearing up for a new school year, I encourage you to listen to the things that excite them.  Put aside your plans and spend some time on the subject they feel passionate about.

Interested in making the volcano cookies?  Here is the recipe:

1 Can Evaporated Mild (6 oz)
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Chopped Nuts
1 1/4 Cups Tiny Marshmallows
1 1/2 Cups Chocolate Chips
1 Teaspoon Vanilla

1.  Grease an 8x8 pan
2.  Combine evaporated milk with sugar and salt ina  saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring for 5-9 minutes.
3.  Remove from heat.  Add remaining ingredients and stir gently.
4.  Pour into prepared pan.  Refrigerate.
5.  Cut into squares and enjoy!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Rain Helps You Grow

Life has been a little tougher than usual lately; I think that some seasons of life are just that way.  The last six months have thrown us our fair share of hoops to jump through and we're doing our best to keep our faith strong and trust the path we are on.  And yet, each time I hear something new that I must deal with, I fold into myself for a little while.  Yesterday was one of those days.

I was looking at Facebook and my sister's mother-in-law had posted a picture of my nephews in front of their moving van in Denver, CO.  It's a moving van that left our town in Florida only a week ago and when I saw it, my heart lurched.  My sister, my brother-in-law and my nephews are really and truly gone.  I've spent plenty of time rationalizing (We can still visit!  They are doing the right thing for their family!  We can FaceTime all the time!  etc.) but sometimes you just have to acknowledge that something hurts.  

My sons noticed that I was off and asked me what was wrong.  "I'm just feeling sad about Aunt Tessie being away," I explained.  "I'll be okay, don't worry!" They looked at me closely as if they were trying to figure out if I was telling them the truth.
"What is your favorite thing to draw?" my oldest asked.  He has been drawing trains for hours every day and I assumed he was changing the subject.
"Umm...I like to draw flowers usually.  Flowers and sunshine.  Makes me happy," I told him.
"Okay!" he said as he dashed up the stairs to grab some crayons.  I figured that he was done with the conversation and moved on to kitchen clean-up.

Within a few minutes, I felt his little hand tapping my hip.  "Mommy, look at my drawing," he said.  I looked down and saw a blue flower with grass and rain dripping on the flower.  It had "Mom" written along the bottom.
"Honey, this is really beautiful.  Thank you so much for drawing something that makes me happy," I said to him.
"I just wanted to remind you that it has to rain for pretty things to grow," he said.

My little philosopher warmed my heart through and through.  It certainly does have to rain for things to grow.  We can't expect sunshine in our lives all the time.  It's the rough times that end up shaping us and helping us to become all that we are.  I'm so appreciative of my son for reminding me.

What challenges in your life have helped to shape you?  If you are in the middle of one now, have some faith.  There is a purpose.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Painting the Planets

I was at a meeting for our homeschool co-op and I heard about a women who is a performance artist. At first, I thought they were referring to a dancer or a singer but it turned out to be much cooler than that.  There is a woman that attends events and as she listens to the speaker, she paints.  She is inspired by the words she hears and by the end of the event, there is a gorgeous work of art ready to be auctioned or sold.  I wondered if this same idea would work with my busy little boys.

We have been reading about the solar system over the last few weeks and I expected them to be very engaged.  No luck.  I have done crafts, shown them movies, made them be the planets orbiting the sun...anything I could think of to make the mystical aspects of space come to life.  Still, they seemed bored.  "Oh, we're still doing the planets?" my five year old would ask as I brought out our science book.  I thought that maybe we this performance art idea would help us zap some life into the topic.

"How about we paint as I read about the planets?" I suggested to them.  "Listen to the words and then create your own pictures to represent what you are hearing," I said.  At the sound of the word "paint" they lit up like Christmas trees.  They ran around grabbing paper and paints and I set-up an old sheet on the garage floor.  I started reading and something amazing happened.  They really listened.

I read about volcanoes that spew gas and lava on one of Jupiter's moons and my preschooler said, "I need red paint!"  He scooped some up and made broad sweeping strokes that looked like a volcanic eruption.  I read about the size of Venus and Jupiter compared to the Earth and my oldest painted a massive yellow circle with rings around it for Jupiter and a tiny little blue dot for Earth.  They were engaged the entire time.  And even better than that - They remembered what we had learned.

"Drew, did you know that gas planets are much bigger than dirt planets?" my oldest asked his brother as I walked out of their room at bedtime.  "Yeah!  I remember that!  They are really really big!" my two year old answered.  

You just never know what is going to make a child excited about learning something.  As parents and as teachers, we just have to keep trying.  My goal is not for them to know everything about the planets or anything else.  My goal is to have them want to learn; I want them to feel alive every time they find out something new about the world or the universe or the people around them.  If they have that, they will be able to lead a very a rich life.

As we get our children ready to go back to school, how can we help them become engaged with the topics they are exploring?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Do the Best You Can

Raising kids is overwhelming.  Period.  No matter how much you love them or the process of raising them, there are moments where you just wish you could disappear for a moment and compose yourself.  One of my friends has four children and I told her how much I admired her cool, collected style of parenting.  She replied, "Oh, I'm just faking it.  Aren't you?"  Yes.  Yes I am.  Aren't you?

I find myself saying to my kids as all three of them need something at the same time, "Please be patient.  I'm doing the best I can."  Apparently they have been listening.

My oldest was at my mom's for the morning and my baby girl was sleeping so I thought it was a great time for my two year old to paint.  He always wants to paint but the logistics get a little nuts.  The set-up isn't a big deal but the clean up can be quite a project.  Sometimes we end up in the bathtub after a particularly creative expression on his part.  I love this about preschoolers but it can be tough to nurse a baby and give a bath so I try to plan accordingly.  This was the perfect time.

Just as I tied his little apron strings and laid out his paintbrushes, my baby woke up.  I grabbed her out of her crib and came back into the playroom/preschool art studio as quickly as I could.  In those few moments, he had decided to discard the brushes and go with finger painting instead.  "Mama, look!!" he said.  "I have paint all over my fingers!"  
"Looks great, bud!  Just keep the paint on the paper, okay?" I asked him.
"Okay!" he said as he went back to mixing and swirling his colors on the page.  So far so good. Then the doorbell rang just as my baby started to nurse.  

I interrupted her to get the door and gave her a quick apology.  I turned to my preschooler as I headed for the stairs and said, "Drew, stay here while I get the door.  Your painting looks great!"  I met the exterminator at the door and said, "Hi!" a bit too brightly.  "I have a little one upstairs so come on up!" He looked at me blankly but I just smiled and ran back upstairs.  
"Uh, Ma'am," he said.  "Where are the stairs?"  Guess I forgot that part.

Drew finished his masterpieces as the exterminator worked and I was able to clean him up without a bath.  And then things got nuts.  

As we washed his hands and arms and face, the exterminator said, "Ma'am, you're all set.  I just need a check and a signature."  Then my youngest announced, "I have to go peepee Mama." My baby started to complain about laying on the bathroom rug and then, of course, the doorbell rang again.  It was my mom with my oldest and the door was locked.  I must have looked shell shocked because my two year old put his little arm around me and looked into my eyes as he said, "Mama.  It okay.  Just do the best you can."

And I think that's really all we can expect of ourselves.  We can't do everything at the same time.  We have to triage and decide what is most important at that moment.  We have to stop and make a mental list and work the list until the door is answered, the preschooler has peed and the baby is nursed.  But mostly we just have to do the best we can.  Thanks my little one, I'll give myself a little more grace the next time life throws everything at me at once.  Will you?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's My Job

"Mommy, could you please leave the car on until this song is over?" my oldest asked as we pulled into the garage.  I strained to hear him over my baby girl's screaming.  
"No, honey.  Rosie is miserable.  I need to get her out of her car seat," I told him.  "Here's the good news," I said as I unbuckled my seatbelt.  "That same song will be on the next time we turn on the car."
"No it won't!" he bemoaned.  "It's never on the same song when we get back in the car!"

I was just tired and stressed enough to want to engage him in this conversation.  My mind started the argument.  "Actually, you are wrong," I thought, "CD's were invented in my lifetime - I have had hundreds of them!  I have listened to CD's for twenty years!  They always turn back on exactly were you left off in the car!"  This, of course, would get me nowhere with a five year old intent on getting his own way.  I decided the go with a less argumentative approach.  "Oh," I said.

I unbuckled my red faced baby girl and lifted her out of the car seat.  I started mentally strategizing how to get these crabby kids to bed the fastest way without any other meltdowns but my son had not yet moved on.

"I never get to do what I want to do," he said angrily.
I opened my mouth to respond but my two year old beat me to it.  "Don't talk to Mama that way," he said firmly.
"Thank you, love, but I can handle this," I assured him.
"No, Mama.  It my job to protect you," he said.

Time stopped for a moment as I took that in.  My little two year old was ready and willing to protect me.  He had actually listened to us when we told him how important it is to protect the ones they love.  It was incredibly touching to hear those words come out of his little mouth.  I did feel protected.  Protected and loved.  (This really helped me go easy on him when he threw 100 colored pencils all over the playroom about 5 minutes later.  Hey, nobody's perfect right?)

We have to remember how important it is to keep talking to them about values, even when we think they aren't listening.  They want to please us.  They want to do the right thing.  But they will only know what is right if we tell them.  

What values are important to you to pass on?  How can you bring them up in day to day conversations?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Change of Plans

If you come to our house and look at our pictures, you probably would not even know we have a daughter.  Sure, we have the occasional 4x6 frame but it's nothing compared to the 11x14 prints of our sons that line our staircase.  At least this is how we have justified another round of family pictures.  And because our daughter is so cute.  And so fat.  And so happy.  We simply must have pictures taken of her.  So I booked a round a family pictures.

I spent an hour scouring our closets and picked out the perfect coordinating (but not too matchy!) outfits.  I packed a picnic lunch so that we could have lunch at the botanical garden after the photo shoot.  I was ready.  We loaded into the car and I sent a quick text to the photographer.  Here was the response:

We were already 30 minutes from home and I didn't want to just turn around and go back.  "Guys - It looks like we aren't getting pictures done today.  Let's go to the park," I suggested.  
"Let's go to the Children's Garden!" my oldest said.
"We can't do that today, bud, but there's a park on the bay front that is really fun.  I promise," I explained.
"I don't want to go there," he complained.
"Well, that's where we are going.  Let's make the best of it," I told him.

I unpacked my little crew and we headed toward the park.  From a distance, I saw caution tape waving in the wind.  As we go closer, we found a sign that read, "Playground Closed for Renovations."  Great.  "Well, the playground is being fixed but we can still play along the bay and run around on the trails," I told them.
"Okay!!" my two year old yelled as he ran over to a big hill.

"We should have gone to the Children's Garden," my oldest said under his breath.  
I was done with the attitude so I bent to eye level.  "Look - You have a choice to make.  You can either decide to have a good attitude and have fun or have a bad attitude and be miserable.  Drew and I have decided to have fun.  What's your decision?" I asked.
He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious.  "I think I'll have fun," he said.  He ran off to chase his brother down the hill and I took a deep sigh of relief.

And you know what?  It was the best day we have had in a long time.  The boys walked along the rocks on the bay, climbed trees, rolled down hills and had races on the walking trails.  We had a picnic while we watched the boats bobbing in the water and my baby giggled at the antics of her brothers.  Sometimes the unplanned days are the best if you can decide to have the right attitude.

How do you help your kids turn their attitudes around?  How do you respond to unexpected changes of plan?
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