growing up right in front of our eyes

Lots of people have been commenting on how tall our kids are getting, but they are growing in other ways too. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that happen in an average day of parenting that remind us of this. For example, on the day our older son returned from camp he started calling me “mom.” Before that it had always been “mommy.”

And sometimes their attempts to sound grown up leave us stifling a laugh. “You look handsome,” I told my younger boy as I helped him button up his shirt on Sunday.

“Handsome is not cool; it’s wimpy,” he informed me.

I start wondering whether I’ll have to change my tactics because my tried-and-true strategy for making owies feel better does not work either. Our soon-to-be first grader slammed his finger earlier this week when he was fiddling with a shopping cart. He let out a loud howl and so I attempted to distract him by saying “Let me kiss it.”

After I did he said, “That didn’t help at all.”

Then there’s the endless, “Let me help” or “I can do it.” They’re feeling the need to assert more independence. They want to be helpful. I get it. But I’m usually just thinking about being efficient, a word that even my three-year-old knows and uses. And it does take a lot more time to let a child stuff the money in the machine when we’re in the self-check out line at the grocery store. Or to buckle himself into his car seat, knead the bread, open the door with the key, wash the produce, or roll out tortillas. I’m left to supervise. Sometimes to redo it after they are “done.”

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I guess I’m often so busy rushing to the next thing that I forget to pay attention to what is right in front of me. So yesterday when we were making homemade tortillas for dinner I ignored the clock and shifted my attention to the cute three-year-old hands holding the rolling pin. They have probably nearly tripled in size since we first became acquainted. The rolling pin seems a bit unwieldy in those hands, but they’re determined to make it work. So I hover – and offer to sprinkle flour as needed. The boy takes delight in using his hands to help make dinner. And I take delight in his delight.


away at camp

Right now my older son is away at Camp Clair, the annual summer event my sister holds at her home for all her school-aged nieces and nephews.

“We’re going to miss you when you’re at camp,” I told our older son the day before he left.

“You’re going to miss me more than I’m going to miss you,” he said.

But by bed time he asked, “Is three days and three nights a long time?” This is how long Camp Clair will be this year.

“Not such a long time,” I said. “And you’ll be with your cousins.”

“I’m going to miss you. Are you going to miss me?” he asked yesterday on our drive up there.

“Yes, we’ll miss you, but Aunt Clair will take good care of you and you’ll have a good time.”

Now the house seems a little too quiet. Our younger son knew it would be. On the drive back home, he suggested we go somewhere else. There was no giggling at the dinner table. No one to compete with him for wrestle time with daddy. No one to ride around the parking lot with after dinner. He has asked several times about his big brother. For him, three days and three nights is a long time.

planning for an unstructured summer

We’re deep into summer vacation, my first with a school aged child. And I understand why moms don’t necessarily think of this time off from school as a vacation. Some moms cope by filling their child’s schedule up to the brim and driving them from one activity to another. But I’m of the view that kids need ample time for unstructured play. By unstructured I mean it isn’t led by grown-ups and it doesn’t involve screens or digital devices.

Kids need enough unscheduled time to get bored — so they can figure out how to pass the time themselves. If you have more than one child, this also tends to multiply the opportunities for conflict, another thing that kids need to learn how to deal with themselves. The earlier they learn these lessons, the better. The trick is to maintain our sanity during their learning process. Here are my tips for managing a relatively unstructured summer:

1. Sign up for a summer reading program. It’ll help keep you and your kids on track with summer reading goals. Spend some time each day reading to your kiddos, but change it up by having your kids read to you. Check out some read-along book and CDs from the library. Your kids can to listen to them over and over while you get other things done.

2. Assign chores when the bickering escalates. I often send the older one to his room to fix his bed when he needs some time to cool down. Other tasks to divert their attention include setting the table, sorting socks, or washing the dishes. Today I put them to work in the kitchen. They cleared their clutter off the floor, I swept, and then the older one washed the floor.

3. Create a system by which your child can earn computer time. In early May, when I grew weary of the repeated request to play games on the PBS Kids website, I came up with a list of tasks my son can do to earn stars. Once he has six stars he can redeem them for 15 minutes of computer time. (Chores assigned for disciplinary purposes don’t earn him any stars, however.)  So far, he’s been averaging computer time less than once a week. He knows what he can do if he’d like more, but at this point, he prefers to do other things rather than do household tasks to earn stars.

4. Go outside. It’s the best place to burn off some of that boundless energy. We’ve been gardening, climbing trees, kicking the soccer ball, riding bikes, and just running round.  My boys still need supervision when they’re outdoors, and so I try to delegate this responsibility to their daddy at least half the time.

5. Institute quiet time. With very rare exception, every afternoon from about 1:30 to 3:00 is quiet time around here. We plan our days around it; I need the time to get my writing work done. The 3-year-old usually takes a nap, but even if he doesn’t, he’s in his room. My kindergartner sort of forgot how this works while he was in school, so there’s been a bit of relearning needed whenever he wanders out of his room, but he’s getting the hang of it again. Kids need some time to themselves – and so do moms.

entertainment from a bar of soap

2014-05-21 15.35.26Last week we put a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave and watched it puff up like a cloud. We set it for two minutes, but it didn’t take that long. After allowing the soap to cool, you can crumble it and turn it into ghost mud, which is on our agenda for this week.


what I learned

Today I’m blogging at Djibouti Jones about the challenges of forming a diverse team.

This past September our oldest son started kindergarten at a public school in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. At the first meeting of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) I learned that the school now has fewer than half Caucasian children in its student body. The PTO, however, does not reflect the diversity of the school’s students. There were a few parents of color at the first few meetings of the year, but the only people who consistently show up are white moms.

Read the rest of the post at Djibouti Jones.

at a loss for words

“Good grief. What does ‘good grief’ mean, mommy?” my three-year-old asked.

“It’s what you say when you don’t know what to say,” I told him.

“Oh. I know what to say. I don’t need to say that,” he said.

Some day you just might be a a loss for words, my son. It might be when your three-year-old screams all the way home from the grocery store because he doesn’t know where the snap on his sweatshirt went. You might try explaining that the snap is actually on another sweatshirt, but it will be futile. Chalk it up as a lesson learned: don’t try to accomplish just one more thing when it’s lunch time for your preschooler. Just get him fed on time.

You might also find yourself unsure of what to say when your six-year-old turns his sourest attitude toward his great aunt who came to see his art on display at the Coffee Grounds coffee shop. Even though you ask him to apologize and he does, you may still find yourself puzzling over what the root of the issue really is. It’ll be enough to make you decide not to drag him to see the same piece at the Saint Paul Art Crawl even though it’s kind of a big deal to be counted among the artists in town.

Now you’re four months shy of four years of age, and you are fairly articulate. Enjoy it. It might not last into parenthood.

how to make mini greenhouses for seedlings

It’s April and in good Minnesota fashion, three out of five days this week are expected to involve snow. But, according to the good people at Gardening Matters, this does not have to interfere with spring planting. With six weeks till frost free weather (God willing), it’s time to get seedlings started. We’re trying a method from

We made our own mini greenhouses using empty milk jugs. It’s a simple and fun process. My kids and I think you should try it.

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Using a utility knife, cut a horizontal line about four inches from the bottom of each jug. Just cut around three sides of the jug. Leave the fourth side uncut so it can function like a hinge.

By the third one, ours were looking pretty neat:

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Then cut at least four slits in the bottom to allow water to drain out. Add soil to the container, leaving about an inch of room at the top.

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Sprinkle the soil generously with water. Sow seeds, spacing them as recommended on the package. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Flip the top of the jug back into place. Tape the container closed with clear tape. Label each so you remember what is growing where. Leave the lids off. Place the jugs on the east, west or south side of your house.

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And here’s the reassuring part for those of us in northern climates: allow snow to pile on top. As it melts, it will add moisture to the soil. If the containers do not have snow on top and there’s no condensation, then water the seedlings to keep them growing.

So far we’ve planted broccoli, celery and cumin. Once we get another empty milk jug, we’re going to plant some spinach too.