Monthly Archives: May 2014

Bad Track Records, Those People and Their Advice

Alex, in bed next to me, tapped me on the arm. “I just can’t sleep.” I said. I had a weird dream, the type of dream that gets my brain revved up to a million miles a minute about random things. Not a bad dream. But a dream that wakes me up. Usually for the day.

He points behind his back. I grab my cell phone to use as a light, and I look to where he’s pointing. She’s curled up against him, sound asleep.

She stirred awake, tried to go back to sleep, and started to crawl over him to get to me. She does that still, sometimes. About once every week or two. She’ll climb over him and tap me on the shoulder and I’ll roll onto my back and she’ll curl into the curve of my body and fall back asleep.

Last night, as she started to climb over him, Alex whispered to her that she could just go back to sleep. So she laid her head down on his pillow and did just that. She went back to sleep.

This child. This two year old child. Messy pigtailed little creature in outer-space pajama pants and a purple t-shirt. She used to be that baby that could never be put down for naps. She used to be that baby that woke every hour, every 90 minutes. That threw baby parties in the middle of the night and that had to be held and bounced and nursed endlessly.

She still co-sleeps. Still nurses on demand. We’re taking things at her pace, and her pace still says that she feels most secure in the room with us.

Some people say “SHE WILL SLEEP WITH YOU UNTIL SHE’S IN COLLEGE!” and that we have to get her out of our room right now.

Those were the people that said she would never learn to self soothe if I didn’t leave her to cry.

Those were the people that said she would never walk if I didn’t put her down.

Those were the people that said she’d never crawl if I didn’t leave her on her belly even if it made her unhappy.

Those were the people that said I would never be able to leave her if I didn’t start when she was small.

Those people haven’t made too many accurate predictions, now, have they?

I didn’t listen to them then, I won’t listen to them now.

She’s the one who has my ear, this child. She’s the one who takes each new opportunity for independence as she is able and comfortable.

He let her sleep there for a few minutes until she was deeply asleep again, then moved her back to the sidecarred crib where she spends the night.

And me? I woke up for the day. My body just wasn’t sleepy anymore.

A Mother’s Day Gift

Today I will be taken for granted.

Today my two year old daughter will want to nurse and ram her finger up my nose.

Today my three year old son will want to climb all over me, not minding where his elbows, head or knees go, to nestle vigorously into the comfort of being near.

Today my seven year old will try to give me some gift that is deeply meaningful to him, and will try to do nice things that will probably make messes that he’ll leave for me to clean. Then he will ask me for something that I need to do /right this minute/ and not a second later. Probably while my two year old is nursing with her finger up my nose and my three year old has has just given me a swift elbow to the side of my face in his efforts to snuggle.

Today I will laugh and smile. For laughter and smiling are my gifts to myself.

Some days I struggle with this feeling of being taken for granted. Of wanting to be appreciated. Of wanting everyone in my life to somehow recognize how much I do. Some days I want to have a team of helpers to help me wrangle the day to day of life, to sit with me while I sit with them through tantrums. I tend to spend at least part of every day wanting something… Anything… to be easier.

I have shortcomings. Every human does. Motherhood brings all those shortcomings to the forefront. The time management skills, the patience stuff, the cleaning skills, the ability to tolerate various bodily fluids, the ability to avoid negotiating pointlessly with a creature that believes you have the mystical power to cause a dump truck of a specific color to drive onto the street in front of your home on demand. And the ability to cope lovingly with the sads that result from your failure.

I remember when I had a hard enough time making time to put away the laundry that I did for myself. I remember having no children and still trying to figure out how to have energy for chores after a day full of optional things that I had chosen to do. If I had all of the skills that I had now, without the children.. OH how efficient I would be and how much stuff I would get done. (After I slept for a few weeks straight through.)

So. Mothers day. I will be taken for granted. Of course I will be. I took my mother for granted when I was small, as well. I still do. She’s my safe place in the world. The woman that I know without doubt that I can turn to. She loves me unconditionally and without reserve and will always welcome me into her arms no matter what else is happening in life, no matter how tired she is.

Is knowing that… Is feeling that.. Is that really “taking something for granted”?

She is strength, even though my body has grown stronger than hers as I have become an adult. She is comfort, even as I pour comfort into my own children.

Of course my children take me for granted. There is a quote that says it perfectly. “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” – William Makepeace Thackeray

Today I will be taken for granted. That’s my mother’s day gift from these children of mine. I couldn’t ask for a better one. And as for my gift to myself? I’ll give myself forgiveness and grace today.

For my own mother? For her, I have this:

I didn’t realize when I was small that you were just human. I’m only now realizing this. I see all of the stressful things that you survived, and all of the things that you managed to give us when we were small. I understand the tiredness that I used to cajole you about, and how much you did and how hard you tried. I didn’t take you for granted, I thought you were a god with the ability to just make everything happen. Not everyone gets to experience this when they are small. We did. It takes an amazing person to pull off that feat. To try as hard as you tried, to be as awesome as you are. To ride a bicycle with your teenage daughter for a million miles, and to pat a caterpillar that you’d love to throw while running away screaming. To encourage your son’s love of construction vehicles when you might have had a book that you really really wanted to read. You were a god, and we were small ungrateful savages that weren’t too good at keeping up with our thankfulness. We’re still terrible at it, because you give us the grace of knowing how busy our lives can be, and knowing that we fit all our gratitude in when we can, rather than in our specific allotted time.

We love you.

(*I still want an insta-sock-pairing-machine with a wireless other-sock-in-the-pair-locator. Oh how I loathe socks.)

When You Were Tiny

Dear Daughter,

Did you know that when you were tiny I’d hold you while you napped? I’d wrap a strip of white fabric around my body and I’d tuck you in to the place where the pieces overlapped, pulling them out over your body to hold you snug and near. Your head right under my chin for kissing. Your hair used to tickle my nose as I’d nod my head down and breathe you in between the chores and the chasing of your brothers. Between the dishes and the laundry. All while you slept.

A little face bordered by dark curls, and huge blue eyes, a rounded little button nose and chubby cheeks that pushed out your little lips in a pout as you went from wide awake to fast asleep. A tiny body that looked odd and out of place when I put you down and you flailed on a flat surface, unable to move yourself. But held near you bobbed your head around and held it up and had little reason to think of the smallness of your size.

You grew. You popped those little arms out of the top of the wrap and leaned around to reach and to grab. I sat you down on the floor and you played with toys until you wanted to come back up into my arms.

You grew. You leaned back and laughed as I kissed your chin and your face. I put you down and you took off like a little scurry-mammal skittering across the floor on your knees, rocking back onto your haunches to look to where you left me.

You grew. You pulled your legs up and kicked. I pulled you out and put you down, feet first. You stood. You ran. You learned to jump and to climb.

You grew. You fussed when you were tired, pulling away from me. So I put you down in our bed and your head would find the pillow. You’d fuss and reach for me and we’d nurse you to sleep. I found myself able to get up and to walk around. To move. To do all the things that I used to have to carry you through.

You grew. You pushed me away when you were done nursing, you crawled around the bed, finally you crawled back to me to nurse again. And in all your restlessness and endless motion, you nursed yourself to sleep.

You grew. You crawled away when you were done nursing, and you found your place. You rested your head, and you slept.

The rains of spring come crashing down and flood the fields. Children splash in puddles.

The summer sun dries up that rain and bakes the dirt with heat. Children play at the beach and swim in the pool.

Fall turns the leaves of summer to brilliant shades of red and yellow. Leaves fall from trees, doing cartwheels in the air. Piles are raked up and children play in all the colors.

Winter comes, snow and cold. Children build snowmen and ride down hills in sleds.

To everything there is a season. I will not rail at the rain that falls in the spring. I will not curse the summer heat. I will not hate the fall for the leaves I rake. And I will not begrudge the winter all of its snow and cold.

And you, little one. Once you were small and I embraced this season of our lives. For just as the seasons of the Earth come to pass, so do the seasons that we spend together.

Now you are two. Seasons have passed, both outside and in.

You grew. You changed.

No tears. No crying. No training. No pressure to speed ahead. You grew.

As I write this, little one, the lights are dim. I rock in the rocking chair, and you lay in bed. You’ve tucked your mouse and your doll into bed, and you’ve tucked yourself in too. You whisper to them while you wait for them to sleep, as I often whisper to you. Soon you will call me over to snuggle with you. Or maybe tonight will be the night that you just put yourself to sleep. Or maybe I’ll just come over and snuggle you before you ask, because I love our bedtime snuggles. I’m not pushing you tonight, I’m giving you the space you seem to want and need.

No rush, little one. You’ve grown. You’ve changed, you’ll grow and change from here as well.

<3 Mama

10 Ways to Teach Independent Play

One of the things I’m often asked about is how do I teach independent play. My kids play very well by themselves and with each other and I am able to do a lot of things.

Here are ten of the ways that I encourage independent play:

1- The more rules an environment has the more help a child will need. A child in a room full of “don’t touch, don’t climb, that’s dangerous, don’t jump, here play with just this toy”.. Will need a lot of parental involvement and guidance. A child in a room where they can jump, climb, play, make messes, and use toys and other things in ways that those things may or may not have been intended for? Will need much less parental involvement.

2- When there is a RIGHT way to play you will have to be a participant. If your child wants to push around a rubber dish washing glove in the doll stroller while carrying a spatula in a reusable grocery bag on her back and you keep showing her that the toy stroller is for dolls and that she has a backpack that you bought her? She will need your help to “play the right way”. If you let her play HER way and push that rubber glove around and smile and say “backpack!” in the same enthusiastic tone of voice that she is using? She will push that rubber glove around in circles around the house for an hour while you wash the dishes. A child wants to use an old siphon for the fish tank to transfer water from the wheelbarrow that got caught in the rain to the ground? He wants to use a barbie doll as a jousting sword to slay dragons? Let them. They are going to be much more engaged in the games that have captured their imagination then they are going to be in your modified adult versions.

3- There are multiple ways to “keep a child safe”. You can teach them not to climb on things that they want to climb on. You can help them climb on those things safely. And you can spot them while they climb and catch them after they have fallen so that they don’t fall quite so hard or fast. I choose the last way. I let my kids fall and break their fall so that they don’t get hurt. But they still feel themselves go off balance, they still feel themselves slip. They still sometimes get bumped and they still sometimes cry. They learn that if they stand on chairs they will lose their balance and they will fall. So they learn how to stand on chairs without losing their balance. They learn that if they stand up in the bathtub they might slip, so they learn to walk carefully in the bathtub. I never let a young child be in the bath alone and I never let a young child climb on the swingset alone. But if my fifteen month old is bouncing around on her butt and slips under the water? I show her that her lack of caution scares me, and I pull her back up and give her hugs and remind her how to be careful. Kids learn from mistakes. They learn to keep themselves safe when they are allowed to make the little mistakes when they are little. They also learn that when they are doing anything that requires caution that they want me there to spot them until they are sure that they can do it safely on their own. I’m a spotter, not a stopper.

4- Ask if they need help, but don’t help them unless they indicate that they do. If your child is getting frustrated watch and see if they continue trying. If they are getting too frustrated ask them if they need help. If they don’t agree to help then let them keep trying even if they’re getting frustrated. I stay present and focused on them when this happens and then drift back to my own stuff when they have gotten past their frustration. If a child is getting too frustrated that they simply can’t cope then you can help them step away to practice calming down. By “too frustrated” I mean that they’ve devolved into a tantrum or are trying to break something.

5- Give choices. “Do you want to help mommy or do you want to..” If your child wants to help or be with you while you do something, let them. Often my kids will start out wanting to “help” me make dinner and they will decide 15 minutes into it that they want to play instead. Forced independent play doesn’t generally make a child seek out independent play. If my child is not feeling up to being independent but I have to cook dinner? That’s fine that they don’t want to play but they have to help or keep me company and they have to follow the kitchen rules.

6- Toys that do imagination for your child? Boring. Try to have more toys that can have multiple purposes or that can be mis-used. Have a lot of not-toys that your kids can play with. One of my kids’ favorite toys is an old Intex pool filter that was put in the “to bring to the town dump” pile as it burned out and was replaced last summer. It’s a canister with two long hoses. I removed the power cord and they pour water into the hoses and experiment with gravity and other things. It occupies them far longer than a tablet or a talking toy.  They saw it in the discard pile and claimed it as theirs. Other popular toys are a cut up log that can be a stepping stone balance beam jumping thing, a table with chairs, a thing to tip over to find the bugs, weights to hold down tents, things to practice rolling down the slant of our backyard, pieces of cut lumber from Home Depot in different sizes and shapes, a giant pile of topsoil that was slatted for use in the garden but that became a source of endless play.

7- “Bad” behaviors don’t need to be discouraged so much as they need to have limits. If your child throws rocks it doesn’t mean that they’re going to throw rocks at people or houses. I teach my children to look before they throw and to make sure that they’re not throwing at a person, place, pet, or plant. They learn “look before you throw” instead of “don’t throw”. All the benefits of getting to throw, but none of the things that people want to avoid.

8- Independent play doesn’t start off looking like “Okay I’m going to put you down now while you play nicely with your toys for two hours.” It starts off with you trying to put a small child down for five minutes and the answer is loud shrieks of upset that occur immediately. You pick the child up and that’s the independent playtime for the day. Try again tomorrow. Eventually they let you put them down for a minute to play with them. Eventually they let you put them down for a minute and they play with a toy by themselves. Eventually they run away from you and you chase after them because YOU WANT TO PLAY because you’re bored. But they have stuff to do. Like making mud pies in their mud kitchen. But if you ask nicely they might let you eat them.

9- Independent play comes from building a rich imagination. Ask your child questions while you play with them. Pause. Involve them. Encourage them to lead. “And Mr. Mouse walked into the VERY BIG HOUSE and… What happened next? Oo? A DRAGON? AWESOME! And then what happened?” If you imagine everything for them or correct the accuracy of their imaginings then they will want you to imagine for them. And then you will have to imagine for them. Every. Single. Time.

10- Some kids play independently better than others. My oldest is not keen on independent play and often chooses to help instead. He is social and craves interaction. As he got older he became an excellent helper. His desire for involvement makes him incredibly social, helpful, and an engaged and receptive learner. Not being willing or able to play independently as a younger child is not as big of an issue as the child becomes older. He’s an avid reader and pack leader of his younger siblings. Some kids are social. Some kids are independent. Some kids are both. Some kids need help with one or the other. And that’s okay.

A More Mindful May – Spread thin.

Causes have a tendency to talk about what you CAN DO within their cause, and why you should never put that cause on a shelf temporarily, even if it’s taking up so much room in your life that you are overwhelmed.

If you’re not saving the shelter dogs and cats..
If you’re not saving the whales.
If you’re not plastic-free, cruelty-free, GMO-free, local-eating.
If you’re not advocating against rape.
If you’re not advocating against racism
If you’re not advocating for abused and neglected children.
If you’re not advocating for breastfeeding and natural child birth and baby wearing and car seat use.
If you’re not involved in politics.
If you’re not advocating for small farms and local-grown, and if you don’t have a backyard garden with backyard chickens.
If you’re not trying to save the bees, worried about the disappearance of oranges and bananas.
If you’re not passionate about vaccines – either passionately for or against them..
If you’re not supporting a child’s right to a public education while supporting the right of parents to homeschool..

You have abandoned human decency.

That’s not even getting into clean water causes and vaccines for other countries causes. Adoption of foreign children. Making adoption more humane. That’s not venturing into gun-rights or anti-gun passions. That’s not touching on even a fraction of the things that people feel passionate about.

No one person is meant to carry the weight of all of the things that are important in this world. We cannot. The most effective advocates are those that singlemindedly devote their attention to a cause. This, by its very nature, cuts out all of the other valuable causes that exist.

Today I’m clearing my head of the guilt that comes from not being involved in some causes that were once of utmost importance to me.

I cannot devote energy to all things without everything suffering. I will choose the causes where I feel I am able to make the most impact.

A More Mindful May – An Intentional Approach to Media

Today I am re-evaluating my media choices. When I use media am I doing something specific? Am I picking up my cell phone or turning on my computer with a specific intention that I follow through with? Or am I spending time? Am I turning on the TV to watch something specific or to share something specific with my children, or am I looking for something to spend time? What things can I spend time with that are not related to media?

I will not limit my use of media today, but I will only use it intentionally. I will do exactly what I intended to do, no more and no less. And then I will be done with it for that moment. I will not “just check” another thing, or “see what is happening”. I will spend quality time with the media devices in my life, and I will put them down and walk away when my intentional activity has been completed.

A More Mindful May- Finding My Center

Get a piece of paper. Draw a heart in the middle. Write the things that mean the most to you. I wrote “family”, “friends”, “pets” “God” and “garden”

On the outside write all of the other things that fill your life up. Cleaning, playdates, house repairs, future plans, travel, blogs, photography.. Anything that is important but that doesn’t fall into your core.

Write everything down. Anything you can think of. The things that you feel are more important can go closer in near your heart, and the lesser important things that can wait can drift off to the edges.

Think about how you are living your life right now at the moment Are you living your life straggling along on the outer edges of the paper trying to get back to your core? Or are you taking care of the things that are on the inside, close to your heart, and then reaching out full of energy for the other things in your life?