In mid-October, one of my sisters gave us all thankful books, small handmade books in which we were to record things for which we are grateful. The goal was to write or draw in the book each day of November. We started on the first day of the month, noting that we were thankful for family, life, God’s creation and work.
Nearly every day our three-year-old said he was thankful for his daddy. As the month progressed, our list came to include mommy, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, good health, wrestling time with daddy, our son’s school, days of rest, the library, bed time, colors, the five senses, gym class, Legos, the stars and the moon, baths, fresh bread, the Ethiopian restaurant, our community garden plot and chopsticks.
There were a few days in the month when we misplaced our book, but we’d catch up again once it was found. We were instructed to bring our books to our Thanksgiving celebration, and after dinner we had the chance to share some of what we’d written.
With this project, my sister gave us a good reminder: the best way to teach our kids to be thankful is by being thankful. And since gratitude has both physical and mental health benefits, we’re also doing ourselves a favor by expressing gratitude.
Our kindergartener came home with a teeny tiny container of Play Dough last Thursday. One of those containers that does not hold enough for two kids to share. Our three-year-old whined and pleaded for Play Dough. He didn’t take “We don’t have any” for an answer. But we didn’t have any.
Not a convenient thing to discover at meltdown-o-clock (a term borrowed from Deb at Smitten Kitchen). So I got the wild rice simmering and pulled out a recipe for play clay that I’d tucked away years earlier – when I thought it might be a good thing to keep in a teacher’s or aunt’s bag of tricks. I scanned the list of ingredients and found that we had everything on hand in sufficient quantities to solve the Play Dough crisis. It helped that we only needed three things, one of them being water.
So I whipped some up play clay between chopping vegetables. Moms are multi-taskers. Moms are problem solvers. This is what we do. The play clay was done in under 15 minutes, but then we had to let it cool. Still, it was ready to use before dinner. And it bought 15 minutes of peace right then, plus more in the following days. A good investment.
Here’s what I did:
In a saucepan, mix together a one-pound box of baking soda and one cup of corn starch. Add 1 1/4 cups of water, along with a few drops of food coloring if you like. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until it’s the consistency of firm mashed potatoes. It may seem rather soft, but it thickens up more as it cools. Form the dough into a ball, place it on a plate and cover it with a damp cloth as it cools.
Once it was cool enough for kids to handle, I pulled out cutting boards, the rolling pin, cookie cutters and a small spatula. The real Play Dough was traded in for a larger quantity of the homemade substitute. My two boys got busy creating. It was quiet.
We’ve used the dough every day since I’ve made it. It keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge. If your kids use it for an hour, their hands and their ‘tools’ will be coated with a thin layer of the stuff, but it washes off easily.
“Mommy wants me to sleep, but I don’t,” my three-year-old told his daddy over the phone. It was nap time but he would much rather work on his construction site (which has been taking up major real estate on our kitchen floor lately).
“He’s complaining about you,” my husband said when it was my turn to talk on the phone. We laughed about how when you’re young, you have to take a nap and you sort of resent it, and it doesn’t make sense when adults say, “I wish I could take a nap.” Or, “When you’re my age, you’ll be wishing you could taking a nap.”
So I tucked my boy in, sparing him such comments. Even though I’d been up past midnight to meet a deadline and really could have used a nap.
For my son’s birthday, he decided he wanted to share a story with his classmates. We purchased a copy of Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears for his classroom. By email I asked Mrs. Barnick if I could bring the book to school and read it to the class. Her response included several exclamation marks.
So that is how my three-year-old and I ended up in my son’s kindergarten class last Wednesday. My son was happy to see us. So was the boy we see every morning at the bus stop.
Mrs. Barnick introduced the younger one as “little brother,” but he corrected her: “I’m big!” He sat among the kindergarteners and got a taste of what it’s like to be in school. I was invited to sit in the rocking chair, a privilege that’s typically reserved for the teacher, my son informed me.
As I read, several children commented on the pictures and the story line. They helped make the animal noises. They laughed in the right places.
After the book, we stuck around to hear the kindergarteners sing two songs with actions. My three-year-old left disappointed. “We didn’t have cake.” I explained that the school didn’t allow food for birthdays. Then he protested because his older brother was not coming home with us. But the school day isn’t done, I told him.
I left on a more positive note. Back in the day, when I worked at our state’s Department of Education, we heard a fair amount about parent involvement. All the NCLB-inspired talk about parental involvement plans seemed like a really top-down approach. Now, as I’m trying to figure out how to be involved at school, the topic has shifted from the theoretical to the concrete. Where can I be of help? The PTO seems a little bit like a clique, and I suspect I’m not cool enough to fit in there. But in my son’s classroom I’m welcome. That’s a really good foundation for parental involvement.
Last week a friend who was reading my blog used the word “intentional” to describe my parenting. It’s a term I’d gladly embrace, but to do so feels hypocritical.
Language learning is one area in which we’ve mostly failed our boys. And for all I know about the value of raising a bilingual child, I’ve got no excuse. Sure, our boys know a few words in their daddy’s first language, but they’re hard pressed to utter a full sentence, much less carry on a conversation.
How brazen of me to write about the value of learning a second language. Of course, it’s not too late to step up our efforts.
Over lunch today my three-year-old son was telling a story that was half fabrication. “You need to tell the truth, not make stuff up,” I told him.
“I made up Cinnamon Man,” he said. Okay, so he’s not developmentally ready to have this conversation. Or should I say it isn’t so easy to explain to a young child the difference between storytelling and making up something that is intended to mislead?
Besides, the distinction between fact and fiction is sort of fuzzy at this age, as we were all reminded again this evening.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” my husband asked our younger son.
“A lion!” our three-year-old responded with all sincerity. His big brother said he wants to be the president. No small ambitions around here.
Then our kindergartener pulled out a certificate he brought home today from our school district’s Office of College and Career Readiness. “Graduating class of 2026” it says, encouraging the children to think of themselves as “college and career bound.”
Career ready? We’re still working on it.
Last week one of my son’s classmates informed him that girls like princesses because they are gentle, while boys like superheroes because they are tough. And gentle is better than tough, therefore princesses are better than superheroes.
My son has concluded that this girl is “only interested in girl topics.” She never even wants to talk about “true topics” (nonfiction) such as animals.
Contrast this with the girl on the playground who asked him if he wanted to play ninjas. Today he played ninjas and then “bugs” with two girls who “like boy topics – they never talk about girl things.”
I took the opportunity to explain that girls could be interested in a wide variety of things – as could boys – and reminded him that back in the day, I used to prefer playing with tractors rather than dolls. However, I think the terms “boy topics” and “girl topics” may be around for a while. Perhaps I’ll ask him what he thinks the woman on the construction crew on our street would consider “girl topics.” She’s the one we’ve been watching operate the front end loader for the past few weeks.