on Epiphany

At breakfast time on Monday January 6th our thermometer read about -22 degrees F. But with windchill factored in I guess it may have felt something like -30. One source said it was colder here in Minnesota that day than it was in Antarctica. It was too cold to go to school, our governor had declared.

So my boys and I didn’t go anywhere. There are plenty of days that we stay home – in fact we’d just recently finished 12 days of winter break, and a good majority of those days we spent at home. But there was something about knowing that it would be just the three of us together all day long that made me feel a little bit stuck. Part of it was that my husband wouldn’t be home until well past the boys’ bed time so I’d get no back up. Plus I had this project that I needed to work on and there would be too many interruptions to get much done.

It was a good day to practice living in the moment, of putting all my energy and attention into doing whatever my hand finds to do. That phrase came to mind and I had to look it up – it’s in I Samuel 10:7.

So, my boys and I washed the dishes, put away the Christmas tree, scrubbed the toilets, picked up the toys, made a tent out of blankets and chairs, and read some books. All before lunch.

Then we had about an hour and a half of quiet time before the boys were back to speaking at high volume, jumping around and squabbling. We read some more books, and then I got a little help with the dinner preparations. We ended the day by putting on some Go Fish music and having a dance party.

So, I’m not much into New Year’s resolutions. And although I considered choosing a word for the year, I couldn’t think of one that captures all my hopes and intentions for the coming year. But this day got me thinking. It was no coincidence that it was Epiphany. I decided that verse in the first book of Samuel will be my verse for this year, “do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. (I Samuel 10:7)”

It reminds me to stop procrastinating.

It reminds me to be content.

It reminds me that I’m not alone.

How are you looking at the year ahead?

when it’s better not to do the easier thing

“It’s more comfortable to stay home,” my five-year-old complained as we were getting in the car. To some extent I had to agree. We had a two-hour drive ahead of us, which IS rather long for preschoolers. And when it’s long for them, it’s long for me.

“But people are important, and sometimes we don’t do what’s easier or more comfortable,” I explained. And it’s a parent’s job to live this out, not to just say it. So we buckled in and were on our way to visit my dad and brother. “Are we going to Grandpa’s house?” my little one asked, checking to make sure nothing had changed. He asked the question again when we stopped for a potty break and then when we were about 30 minutes from the farm. “Yes, we’re going to Grandpa’s house,” I confirmed each time.

Amos, the farm dog, greeted the boys as we got out of the car. Inside the house, they went immediately for the toy box. But once the initial novelty of the toys wore off, they looked at the calves, the milk truck and the skid steer from the house window. (It was too chilly and muddy to spend much time outdoors.) Dairy farmers never have a day off, but both my dad and brother were able to carve out some time to get down on the floor to play with the boys, the trucks and the building blocks.

When it was time for them to start the evening chores, we climbed back into the car. Thankfully, the ride home always seems just a bit shorter.

“Did you have a good trip to the farm?” I asked my younger son as I put him in his crib last evening.

“I like Uncle Wayne,” he replied.

“Did you have a good day at the farm?” I asked my older son.

“Yeah, I didn’t know I was going to have such a good day,” he said.

the science of character

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I picked up How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough because I thought it was a book about parenting. And though it does provide some useful information for parents, it also has a lot to say about formal education in our country. Some of the information in the book applies equally well to parents and teachers – and policy makers, for that matter.

The author points out that people tend to associate childhood success with intelligence, as measured on standardized tests, but he argues that what matters more are character traits such as grit, self-control, zest, conscientiousness, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. Current research suggests these character traits are rooted in brain chemistry and are molded by the environment in which a child grows.

One segment of the book describes the ways that some parents do (and do not) prepare their children to face the world on their own. The author discusses the challenges for children growing up in poverty but also for those growing up in affluence, with its “potentially detrimental effect on students’ character development.” Parents are cautioned to avoid inadvertently shielding their children from experiences that can lead to character growth.

It all sounds so good in theory. But then we get to real life, and my first instinct is to want to protect my boys. Like today when my five-year-old reported that last evening in choir Ben and Paige directed some unkind (and rather adult-sounding) words toward him. This wasn’t a first offense, either. It suddenly took some effort to avoid getting upset, recognize this as a potentially character-building experience  and process it with my son with that aim in mind.

That love your enemies stuff? It’s hard at any age.

on (not so valiantly) surviving an escalated toddler tantrum

“I’m not going to sleep,” my two-year-old shouted as I was trying to get him settled for a nap. He hadn’t slept yesterday afternoon and I knew he needed sleep this afternoon. So I laid him on his back and attempted to put a diaper on him (which he now needs only for sleeping). He twisted himself every which way and thrashed about while I tried to hold him down and get the diaper on.

I would love to say that I remained calm during his fit, but that would be a lie. I tried insisting he let me put his diaper on. I tried distracting him. I tried speaking sternly. I tried reasoning with him. I tried raising my voice. I tried discipline. I tried putting on a diaper with one hand while holding him down with the other. I tried leaving the room for a few minutes. Nothing would stop the screaming, thrashing, or crocodile tears. I was ready to have a fit of my own.

Finally I did as best I could to get a diaper on my son, pulled on his jammy bottoms, set him in the crib and closed his bedroom door as I walked out. All the while I was trying to figure out how that sweet 4 1/2 pound darling we brought home from the hospital had transformed into such a monster. Yes, this child who shares some of my DNA.

The screaming didn’t stop for a long time. I was afraid to peek my head in his room to see what he was doing because I knew he’d hear me. So I sat down at the computer to do some work, hoping he’d keep his diaper on.

An hour and a half later he was still awake. He made the occasional noise to confirm this. Then he called out like he needed something, so I went to his room to investigate. His diaper had been tossed on the floor. The other clothing from the lower half of his body was strewn around the crib.

He needed to pee. I took him out of the crib for that. When he was done he returned to his room and handed me the diaper. He was finally ready to sleep. (And he woke up in a much better mood.)

As I was writing this, I had a look at what child development experts have to say about toddler tantrums. Nothing I hadn’t heard before. One point was, “Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.”

That’s just what I was trying to do.