sharing a feeling

Last week I was subbing in a preschool classroom. Annika was one of the five kids at my table for small group work. Though the other kids had scattered to various play areas after finishing their worksheet, she lingered at the table. “Today after school, I have to say with Nana, but I want to be with my mom,” she said.

“Is your mom working?” I asked.

“Yeah, and she comes back after dark,” Annika said. “She spends a lot of time with her boyfriend. I don’t get to be with her that much.”

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Sad,” she responded.

“Maybe you should tell your mom that,” I suggested.

“I already did,” she said.

“And what did your mom say?”

“She said, ‘Oh, I do spend time with you,'” Annika told me.”But I want to be with her more.”

We sat together for a few moments, that sweet five-year-old and I, each thinking our own thoughts, sharing a similar feeling. I wished I could make it better for Annika. I wish Annkia’s mom realized that her little girl isn’t going to be little for long, in the grand scheme of things, and that she should savor every moment.

The only thing I could offer this little girl was a listening ear – and perhaps a story. “Do you want to read a book?” I asked.

She brightened. “Go get one you like from the bookshelf,” I told her. She came back with the colorful I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More and we let the silly, sing-songy story distract us for a bit.

 

 

 

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a culture of boredom

During the discussion of Sounder in my son’s book club last week I asked about “night loneliness.” The book tells us it’s part fear, but I wanted to know what else these third graders thought might be involved.

No one had much to add so I made a case for why it might include boredom. As an aside, I added that my husband comes from a culture where the term “bored” simply does not exist.

“Oh, he’s lucky,” one girl exclaimed. “Then he never gets bored.”

I suppressed a laugh and refrained from telling her that her parents were equally lucky because they were from the same culture. And we didn’t have time to get into a discussion of whether something can exist even if there’s no word for it. But according to my sources, people in Somalia rarely if ever find themselves in a situation in which they’d be tempted to declare they’re bored. As city dwellers, at least.

My husband explained that there are always people around, and in an oral society such as theirs, they are skilled at filling the time with narration, discussion and debate. Creating their own diversion is second nature to them, it seems. Kids never have a shortage of playmates, and they know how to create their own toys and games. Even they don’t get bored.

I recall one Somali-American mother telling me about how easily her children toss around the phrase, “I’m bored.” In her mind it is a sign of assimilation. Just for the record, my husband now gets bored too. At least that’s the reason he’s given at times for singing aloud to himself and for making tea.

our summer bucket list

This morning we stopped by our community garden spot to pick snap peas before heading to the library. Just-from-the-garden fresh and crisp, those snap peas disappeared in no time. “As sweet as candy,” my older son declared.

At the library, the boys each got to choose a book to keep for completing ten of the reading program activities. Then they participated in a dinosaur scavenger hunt. We checked out a week’s worth of reading material and arrived back home just in time for lunch. There’s much to savor in the simple summer routine that we’ve settled into, and Friday library visits are one of our anchor activities. (During the past three school years, it was just me and the preschooler.)

Summers also afford the chance to do things we may not get around to during the school year. I recently read an article in Minnesota Parent advocating for a realistic summer bucket list. I quite agree that an attainable list of meaningful family experiences and activities is better than an over-the-top list that goes undone. So I’ve written down some of the things that have been and I’d like to see continue to be a part of our summers:

attend VBS

make popicles

complete the library summer reading program

take swimming lessons

memorize a psalm

grow our own tomatoes

go camping

check out a new swimming spot

read one of the Chronicles of Narnia

participate in a Lego Mini Build

send the boys to Camp Clair

bake zucchini bread (because there is nearly always someone who wants to pass along one of those “too-big-to eat” monsters and we can only eat so many zucchini fritters)

We’ve already completed – or have in progress – about half of these. My plan is to hang on to this list for inspiration as we move in to the second half of the summer.

What’s on your summer to-do list?

 

of child’s play – and life

Last week our preschooler had a friend over to play. They started out by pouring out the contents of the toy box and picking through it for the most interesting things. Those items in the toy box are rarely touched these days, but when looking at them through a new set of eyes, my son did end up thinking a few of them were worth his attention again, at least for part of an afternoon. But it wasn’t too long until they pulled the marble ramp from the closet, followed by the wooden train set. They played with each for a good ten minutes before casting about for something else. Then my son started creating something out of K’nex while the other boy became engrossed in the workings of a submarine. Soon it was time for each to revisit their favorites among the toys scattered around the living room and one bedroom. I heard marbles going down the ramp again…

When the play date was over, we had a lot of things to pick up and put away, but I had good help. And I have few complaints of this kind of play: two boys enjoying each other’s company as they mostly do their own thing, but everyone once in while cooperate to make things go better – or have a brief conversation.

Somewhere along the way, play tends to get more complicated so that by the time you’re eight you’re much more likely to be absorbed in someone else’s script. Earlier this year and at the end of last, our second grader was consumed by Star Wars. (No coincidence that it started shortly before the release of the latest Star Wars movie.) There was – and still is – a lot of Stars Wars going on at the school playground, if my son’s stories are any indication. The boys who have seen the movies or have some other good source of Star Wars information are the ones who get to tell everyone else how to play. They teach the others the names of the good guys and bad guys, explain who does what, when and how … In such games, my son is a follower. He hasn’t seen the movie – and most probably won’t for several years since it is rated PG-13.

Maybe that’s not quite as big of a deal now as it was three weeks ago, though. Because that’s about when our second grader came home with four Pokémon cards that Eli had given him at school. Since then there has been no rest about adding to his “collection.” More specifically, he believes we need to go out and buy some more cards. Right. Now. (I’ve put him off till the end of February at least. I hope they’re on to a new topic by then.) It’s the same scenario about following someone else’s script. The kids with the most knowledge about the Pokémon trading card game are the ones who dispense information about this fictional world, including details such as who is a “fire type” – and what that even means.

Every day I am reminded what a heavy dose of pop culture comes with public education. I’m left with a lot of questions about how we as parents help our son navigate that, especially as the pop culture values seem to grow more and more divergent from our own.

two types of vacations

In June we took a family vacation. I recall one mom who used the term “taking the show on the road” for such trips because although they do offer one kind of rest – a break from doing the same things in the same way – it is not necessarily a break from such tasks as planning meals, cooking, washing dishes, and all that. In fact, there’s a fairly intensive pre-trip planning that’s required unless you’re willing to shell out a bunch of extra cash for things you forgot. As we packed everything we’d need for several days of both camping in the woods and camping in a friend’s empty apartment, I couldn’t help but think that it would be much easier to just stay home. A little change of scenery is good for us, though. And we’re making memories.

As it turned out, this year there were plenty of memories to be made. It started with a car breakdown just as we were turning into our camp site at Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin. We couldn’t get a tow truck to come get our car until the next day. Then they needed a full day to repair the power steering line. So we ended up staying an extra day at our campsite. The good thing: it was a lovely place to be stranded. Our boys enjoyed sleeping in a tent, roasting marshmallows, observing slugs up close and taking in plenty of the simple delights of being outdoors all day long. But on our second night, just as it was time to retire for the evening, it started pouring. For two hours straight. We had a river running between our tent and the ground cover. You know how when you’re camping you reassure yourselves by saying that if it gets too bad you can always hop in your vehicle? Well, there was no car at our camp site just then; it was still in the repair shop. The boys’ sleeping bags absorbed a good deal of water. The next morning my son said, “It felt like I peed my pants, but I didn’t.” My husband threatened to never go camping again. Thankfully we got our car back so we could pack up our wet gear and move on to phase II of our adventure, which involved sleeping with a roof over our heads and the use of an electric range for cooking. Such luxuries. We got more sleep there, explored the Madison zoo, swam in a pool and splashed around at a splash deck. That was our June vacation.

In July we had a vacation of an entirely different kind, the kind in which parents who are used to having their children around all time time are suddenly at a loss for what to do without them. One very thoughtful sister of mine offered to take care of the kiddos for two nights of camping at their Grandpa’s farm. My husband and I couldn’t believe how quiet the house seemed. We went downtown, slept in until 7 a.m. (the latest I’d slept in months), and visited a different church on Sunday, just because. I realized that after a few hours of stillness, I’m ready to hear our boys’ laughter and commotion. I’m ready to have one boy or the other come to find me with a question when I’m cooking or writing. I’m ready to have someone ask me to read a book. I’m not ready for a week with no children around.

Now I know.

popcorn and poetry

“I don’t like poetry; I like non-fiction,” our first-grader said as I scanned titles in the poetry section of the library. “I like animals.” I took it as a challenge. It’s national poetry month after all. The first book I grabbed was a book of animal poetry that looked like it held promise: animal poetry Some of the poems in this book qualify as nonfiction, though not all of them. But the pictures alone earned the book high marks with my two young book critics. Then I found a book of nature poems by an author we know and like, Jane Yolen: count rhyme The poems are fun, and it too has outstanding pictures. It was a quick read with some memorable poems, as was a similar title by the same author:   color rhymeWe’re likely to check both of them out again. Another winner was an anthology edited by Mary Ann Hoberman: forget me notsThis book has a lot of classics in it as well as contemporary poems, organized by topic. Some made us laugh out loud. I also appreciate the tips on memorizing poems, a skill too few people value these days. The book would make a great gift for the child in your life.

So last week when I suggested we read poetry, we had options. “Popcorn and poetry!” Our younger boy welcomed the idea but insisted that popcorn was a part of the package. We had my sister to thank for this, but I don’t mind a bit. There aren’t many things I enjoy more than sharing a book with my boys before bedtime.

We persuaded their daddy to join us. “Which do you like better – popcorn or poetry?” he asked.

“Both!” my four-year-old said.

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.

 

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.

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 wintersown.org.

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.