Monday, May 25, 2009

Thoughts from the trenches...

My dear friend, Tara, came to visit us this past weekend from AZ. That sounds like a pretty normal thing until you realize that this brave woman drove 6 hours each way with a 2 year old and a 7 month old by herself. Now that is a good friend! Her husband was out of town, as was mine, so together we spent the weekend corraling our collective 4 kids, who are all age two and under. It was absolute chaos for sure, but we had so much fun, too. We took them to the beach, Kidspace, a couple of parks, and out for ice cream (twice! Hey, when the cats are away, the mice will play!) It was so great to see them and to be able to celebrate and commiserate with Tara about the challenges with our current stage in life. We are definitely in the trenches of motherhood, folks. As I was reflecting on this, I thought I would share a few of my current realizations:

1. There is a point of no return with sour milk in sippy cups. Once they have been sitting for over 24 hours, you may as well wait until 48 hours when they milk actually solidifies and then slides out the cup easily. No need to battle that nasty in between stage.

2. Toddlers have an innate sense for great fashion. We are in the stage where B must dress herself. And she comes up with some pretty cutting edge fashions. See her at our recent Trader Joe's trip. Luckily, this is LA and anything goes.

3. Never say never. As a parent I do plenty of things I never thought I would. Like take my child into a store in just a diaper and a shirt because I forgot to bring a change of pants, or pretend that I am leaving without my child so they will actually listen and come with me. I also never thought I would leave the house looking like I do sometimes. I easily wore more make-up during a couple of months in 7th grade than I have in the last couple of years.

4. Along the lines with never say never, it is amazing all of the surprises around the corner in toddlerhood. For example, when I turned around and saw B's hands covered with raw egg while we were at the grocery store or when Tara had to pull play dough our of her daughter's nose. All in a day's work.

5. I have a newfound appreciation for simple things like ice cream (okay, I guess I always appreciated that), rolling down hills, laying in warm sand, and really high swings to name a few. The belly laughs that these things bring out in B and T give me so very much joy!

6. I am developing a higher tolerance for hearing everything in the from of a yell. T is what we describe as a very "happy loud." He can't really seem to help it. He also gets "mad loud," too. His sister is more quiet typically, but she can throw a loud tantrum with the best of them.

7. The best parenting tip I have gotten for toddlers is to give them closed choices. Do you want this shirt or that one? Do you want me to put in a bow or a clip? Don't get me wrong, this only works so often, but this can squelch some of our battles. The others are unavoidable for an average mom like me, I have decided.

8. I have no idea how single moms do it. In the 7 days that J has been gone, I have thought I was going to lose my mind many times, like when T keeps stealing toys from B, or when they won't stop fighting, or or when they climb away from me in the car instead of getting out quickly while I wrestle the other sibling. The days of toddlerhood can be quite long. Especially when your shift never ends.

9. It is really funny to see yourself in your kids. B always needs an agenda (just like me) and will always ask, "What are we going to do today, mom? What are we going to do next? Then what?" She even told me the other day that, "my baby talks constantly!" Similarly, her doll is picking up her habits. :) T has started saying, "That was so fun!" When we leave anywhere, which I realized I always do. I also get to hear them discipline their dolls,"You need to hold hands when we're by cars!!" So, they must internalizing something!

10. I never knew that I could love and adore anyone as much as I do these two kids. I just kept thinking it as I sat across the table from them at Chipotle last night while we ate our dinner, and talked about our day (this was before T insisted on taking the lid off of his cup and spilling it and B ripped her tortilla into 800 pieces). They are the sweetest little people in the world, and now they aren't just my kids but are also my amazing little companions. How can I thank God for blessing me with them?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Growing a Strong Daughter

"One of the best gifts we can give our daughters is a strong sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, first to God, then also to others." p.12

Since I read Raising Cain all about raising boys I thought it was only appropriate that I read a book about raising daughters. The one I ended up reading, Growing Strong Daughters, was great! It wasn't revolutionary for me as the boy one was, thought it was excellent. This was because of two main reasons: 1. I am a daughter myself, so I already understand B a bit better than T. 2. My parents did a great job of seeking to raise me in the ways this author describes. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to anyone with a daughter who is hoping to raise her in a manner so that she knows she is a valuable co-steward of creation and beloved daughter of God.

The author, Lisa Graham Mc Minn, discusses the tension women live in between being limited as to what is expected of them as participants in society while still exploring the broadened opportunties that are available. The author herself has a pretty rounded perspective by having stayed at home raising her three daughters and then going back to graduate school ultimately to become a sociology professor. She strongly believes that women also bear the image of God and, "As image-bearers of God we claim with confidence the lofty goal that our daughters will be wholly directed to God, committed to serving and loving others, and active participants [co-stewards] in caring for creation." She purports that we can encourage this in many ways which she describes as "messy" rather than an easy to follow plan. Some of her focuses are on promoting confidence in our daughters by validating their voice and ability to think and share ideas, encouraging risk-taking and decision making (within reason), and helping them to become competent in their areas of giftedness. It also encourages us to make sure we are providing positive role-models and discouraging negative stereotypes of women.

McMinn also uses a distrubing quote by Joel Schumacher, a movie director who has worked with Julia Roberts, Demi Moore, and Sandra Bullock, "I have never worked with a beautiful young woman who thought she was beautiful or thin enough." What a terrible state of affairs. This section was especially convicting to me as J and I often discuss our disappointment with our weights and phsyiques thereby perpetuating and encouraging just the exact thing we don't want B to focus on or feel pressured by. She will face it in the world, but she should not have to hear it at home as well. Instead we are trying to focus on being active and all of the amazing things our bodies can do. Unfortunately avoiding being critical is much easier said than done, especially in regard to ourselves.

Spending time together is critical, as is listening well and encouraging all of our daughters' emotions while guiding the way in which they express them. Having dialogues is one of the best ways to concretely meet these goals. "Our goal was to balance respect for authority, and for the faith and values we held as parents with respect for our young adult daughters who were striving to figure out how to become responsible, thoughtful, world citizens" p. 106. This is a bittersweet goal as it gives up total control of your child for guidance, but creates autonomy that is needed to function as an adult. McMinn left me with a great comforting thought however in the overwhelming sea of parenting by saying, " in the knowledge that your daughter belongs primarily to God, not you. God loves her more than you do, has her best interests in mind, and is an expert at restoring, redeeming, and pursuing" p. 166. Amen!

The author ends the book by discussing how much more clearly we can see God's perfect love on such a deeper level as we experience such incredible love for our children. We have such a great responsibility in that "...what a mother believes about her daughter can come to be internalized by her daughter as true" p. 197. In one of her last anecdotes the author is asked by a friend if being a mother to girls was what she expected. She answers like this:

"'Mostly. We don't bake as many cookies, stroll thorugh the park, and pass the time in the rocking chair as much as I thought we would, and we have more messes, noise and frustrations. But mostly mothering is what I thought it would be.'
'Do you like it as much as you thought you would?' she asked.
'Sometimes I don't like it much at all, ' I replied, 'but mostly I like it more than I thought possible.' p. 195"

Well said!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Einstein Never Used Flashcards

"What supports the growth of children's intelligence is recognition of the value of their childish ways of enjoying the world and helping them to play ball, enjoy a story, learn a song, build a sand castle" p. 135.

I randomly stumbled across the book, Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why they need to Play More and Memorize Less, by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff Ph.D., Kathy Hirsh-Pasek Ph.D., and Diane Eyer Ph.D., and it has turned out to be a paradigm shifter! I started reading it a little skeptically. Their main premise is the fact that play = learning and that children actually better develop skills they need to succeed in life through play rather than explicit instruction.

As a teacher in the No Child Left Behind Era, I know the standards that children are expected to learn and how much there is to master in so little time. Therefore, I was used to focusing on structured and sequential learning tasks. However, my experience is with elementary age kids, where most students are at a developmental level to be able to soak up knowledge in that fashion. This book focused on early childhood from birth to 6 years old. And, after reading the research and explanations of these developmental psychologists, I am on board. The limited training I have in early childhood education completely aligns with what I have read here. And, I am thrilled to be able to have some encouragement for what seems most natural as a parent.

Here are some of the key points:
- You are not the shaper of your child's IQ. Through play and natural adult interaction preschool kids develop all of the skills they need to be able to succeed in school and later in life. There is no need for flashcards or gimmicky educational toys or drilling our children. Learning in context and actually trusting the child's natural desire to learn and explore in pre-elementary years will create more avid problem solvers and more creative thinkers. Pushing them will cause anxiety.

- Focusing less on the mechanics of reading (letter identification, word memorization, etc.) and more on the pure enjoyment of and broadness of exposure to books will better prepare students to learn to read in first grade. Read to them as much as possible...and make it fun!

- We need to ensure that our children have plenty of unscheduled free play time (no need to hurry them on to be busy adults in this class and that!) Young children are best able to cultivate creativity, problem solving, generating new ideas, attention span, reading readiness, thinking symbolically, and social and emotional development during imaginative, free, and make-believe play. This is perfect because they love to do this!

- Emotional Intelligence is potentially more important than IQ. When children are emotionally intelligent they are persistent, have self-control, are self-motivators, can read their own and others' emotions, and can empathize. Through playing make-believe alone or with adults or peers, children learn vital skills to help them be ready to learn in elementary school and beyond. We can encourage empathy and ability to deal with their own emotions by helping them to recognize their feelings, deal with them positively, and to recognize others' emotions. It is great to have lots of dialogue about any and everything in daily life (especially things they are curious about and emotions), thus fostering linguistic and emotional development.

- Praise effort and process, not achievement and product. This will create risk-takers rather than kids who fear failure.

In this past week, I have so enjoyed watching my kids come up with their own imaginative and free play games! I appreciate it so much more after reading this book. Under the kitchen table is now permanently their house, and the coffee table makes a great counter for their "Kelly's Hardware Store." In fact, we went to the aquarium on Wednesday with some fun friends and had an amazing time. The kids loved exploring there and in the grassy area by the harbor after. Once we got home, the kids laid on the coffee table on their bellies to pretend they were observing dolphins in a touch tank!

The next day they had play time at our friends' house and we took advantage of the beginning of summer by making our own ice cream by shaking milk, sugar, and vanilla in plastic bags surrounds by ice and rock salt. (I can give you the recipe if you would like it!) It actually tasted pretty good, but I must say that my hands were frozen after it, because I was left to do most of the shaking!

The following day, daddy took the day off and we used our gift cards to Build-a-Bear (Thanks, Nana and Papa!) B excitedly made a Hello Kitty who got dressed in a flowered dress and sparkly pink flip flops. T rebelled against accessories for his Zebra, who he loves and snuggles quite a lot. He calls it "Bebra," though when we asked him, he said his name was "2." Very cutting edge. These two animals have already been the focal point of much fun play and many pretend grocery shopping trips. b is very busy organizing every activity for them all. Can't wait to see what they think of next!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Highs and Lows

Ahhh, the ups and downs of motherhood! J was out of town for work from Thursday at 8 a.m. until Saturday at midnight. You might wonder why I note the times...because with two toddlers, every minute (and especially every bedtime) on your own counts. I was pretty proud of myself for the first couple of days...and only for the first couple of days...

Thursday: It was T's birthday and we enjoyed the park with friends, some ice cream from good old McDonald's, and then had some friends over for the afternoon. We skipped naps and the kids were in bed by 8! Glorious! I watched the Office and 30 Rock leisurely by myself.

Friday: We spent the day out at The Grove LA with a friend, ate lunch out, and got T a free birthday Sundae (you've got to milk these things - you'll see a theme here). Minimal naps and kids in bed by 9. Too late for my taste, but not the worst thing ever. I went to bed right after them.

Saturday: Fire House day! The kids had the best time chasing this mini Freddie the firetruck around, climbing on the trucks, eating their first snow cones, getting hats and balloons from a giant Dalmation, watching demonstrations, and enjoying free chips and drinks. They were so happy and we had a blast! We followed it up by redeeming T's free Rubio's meal coupon and then we headed out for our nap drive. Things were pretty good.

Then, we got the call about daddy's delayed flight. And it all went downhill. You wouldn't think seeing him 3 hours later would be that big of a deal. But you would be wrong. The kids didn't realize it. It was me. See, I had geared myself up for "single-mom" status for only a specified amount of time. And that time was up.

The real problem was, I had let the kids nap assuming that I would have daddy be able to help me get them to their beds. Bedtime with two kids of the same age is difficult. They each have a little soothing routine (B with me and T with J) and without that they do not fall asleep easily. Neither one will go to sleep knowing the other one is still awake. It has to be simultaneous. So, all you can do when you are alone is put on Curious George the Movie for the third time and wait until they fall asleep watching. This is significantly later. In the case of Saturday, it wasn't until after 10 p.m.!!!! I was not a happy mom. I was an extremely grumpy mom. I thought I was going to lose it. I just kept grumbling to myself about how I was going to be ringing in Mother's Day with two toddlers who are still awake. Whine. Whine. Whine.

Then, upswing the next day! That morning J and I alternated sleeping in. We took the kids to the beach in Malibu (the beach is my favorite place in the world!), ate Chipotle for lunch, and chased that with some frozen yogurt from a delicious new little shop. And best of all, I got to play with my great husband and amazing kids. So, I guess all's well that ends well. J travels again all too soon and for a lot longer. Oh Boy!
Here's to the ride!

B loved the ladybugs she and daddy found in the sand. She was all about picking them up. Unfortunately, some met untimely deaths because of her enthusiasm :)

:) Author's Note: After I wrote this I remembered my last Mother's day with a 12 month old and a 15 month old, neither of whom slept through the night and in fact still took bottles in the middle of it. Add to that the fact that I spent the day in urgent care with a horrendous sore throat finding out that I had mono and it would take 4-6 weeks and a lot of bedrest while caring for two toddlers to feel better. How's that for some much needed perspective for myself. A 10:30 bedtime doesn't sound so bad after all. :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Choosing Joy...

I was convicted by this passage in The Return of The Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen (an amazing author - loved the book, The Only Necessary Thing!) In J's line of work, we are often confronted with the injustices, painfulness, and difficult things of this world. While seeking to do something about these things to restore the world to the way God intended for it to be, we must also choose joy, which can be ever so difficult at times and so natural at others.

"People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and a bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other's wounds, forgive each other's offenses, share their posessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God's glory.
Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between cynicism and joy. Every thought I have can be cynical or joyful. Every word I speak can be cynical or joyful. Every action can be cynical or jpyful. Increasingly I am aware of all these possible choices and increasingly I discover that every choice for joy in turn reveals more joy and offers morereason to make life a true celebration in the house of the Father" p.118.

Children are so good at finding joy in quite simple things. These pictures show mine finding joy in running through sprinklers, impromptu ring-around-the-rosey, buckets of water, and the dearest of friends.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Birthday Blessings

I had such a nice birthday last week with sweet and generous gifts from family and thoughtful birthday wishes from friends. On my actual birthday, I spent the day with the kids as usual. They just started playing pretend situations (I am so happy, I love doing this with them! They like playing store and Zoo - we set up their stuffed animals around the house and take their baby dolls around to see them.) So that day, we spent some time playing "Kelly's Hardware Store" from Handy Manny, the disney show. T organized tools, I bought them, and B scanned them and put them in bags.

Then J came home from work a bit early (an excellent gift), and we went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner. The chicken and veggies were delicious, but the real reason we went there was for the "Chocolate Thunder from Down Under." This is an amazing (and coincidentally gluten-free) brownie topped with Blue Bell Ice Cream (my fav from childhood trips to my grandparents' in TX), hot fudge, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings. THE BEST! J told the waiter it was my birthday so he brought out a complimentary hot fudge sundae. This was really nice - but I came here for the brownie sundae. So, we shamelessly still ordered the giant dessert. But don't worry the kids ate a lot, too (right, kids?!) In fact B kept saying, "Happy Birthday, Mom! This is a great place for a happy birthday!" as she downed her ice cream. She has a big sweet tooth...weird!?

While B enjoyed her ice cream, T focused on making the disaster of the century on the floor. I mean he can make some pretty big messes, but this one was all world. You can see it pictured below. We tried to clean up a bit of it, but then gave up and gave a nice tip.

The evening was so sweet, and it made me think of last year's birthday when we also went to Outback (can you tell I like the Sundae?) but that time we were in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for an orphans and vulnerable children conference. Then, I had two babies still sitting in high chairs next to me (one who I had only known two months!). It is hard to believe that was a year ago! I am happy to say it was a good year where we all learned and grew a lot individually and together. I am also happy to say we are past some challenges and on to some other ones. The kids sleep better, but they are even more active. They play independently, but test us more. Nevertheless, this trip home from Outback was only a 5 minute drive home with two 2-year olds rather than a 5 hour flight home with two 1-year olds. Much better!

The next night I even got to enjoy some spectacular fondue with a few friends (kid-free! Can you imagine what T would do with steaming cheese?) So all in all, turning 27 was very nice! I do need to get hair dye for the grays I have found...ugh....