Tag Archives: children

Adjusting Expectations

When my children were younger and I was younger, I felt disappointed often. You see, I had these crazy, ideal expectations. And, of course, they were rarely met. And by rarely I mean never.

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I would plan a a family day of going to the zoo. Inside my head, I would imagine my six offspring in adorable outfits, looking like Children’s Place child models even though the only Children’s Place clothes we had were hand-me-downs that had been worn already by three children. These children of my imagination would hold hands and smile and stay to the right of the walkways throughout the zoo. They would ooh and aah over the mind-blowing information on those little signs by each animal. When it was time to walk to the next animal, they would all walk together to the next enclosure. In my imagination, no child ever tried to climb onto fences that clearly had large No Climbing signs on them. No child whined, But I don’t wanna waaaalk that waaay. It’s too looonnnnggggg. Birds are stuuuupid anywaaaayyyy. My expectations never included one child calling another monkey poo or one child running half a mile ahead while another lagged half a mile behind. My expectations never included children complaining about the granola bars and water bottles I had packed and throwing themselves on the ground in a sorta-kinda-hunger-strike demand of ice cream from the zoo snack bar. Which is all quite odd since I actually live with my children every day of the year and know how children can be. I guess I just somehow thought that for Family Day, they would all change personalities and develop absolute self-control.

So I would feel grouchy and disappointed. And then I would start acting all grouchy and disappointed and not at all like the idealized version of myself I imagined I would be. Of course, then I would get annoyed with myself because really, what kind of mother whisper-screams through gritted teeth at her kid for acting like a tired and grouchy child when he is actually a tired and grouchy child? 

Every holiday and family day and special anything would result in disappointment and frustration. For me. Later, though, my children would speak of these days and remember only the good parts. Somehow, they’d forget about the brother who sat down and screamed and cried and refused to take another step because there was a pebble in his shoe and the world was sure to end any second. This sort of Children’s Brain Feature is the exact same one that compelled my son to once say, “Momma, I loved the way we used to all have church at home on a Sunday morning. Daddy would play the guitar and we would sing songs and talk about what we were learning about Jesus. I loved that! We used to do that all the time!” And really, we had done that exactly ONE time. ONCE. Ever. This Children’s Brain Feature is surely one of the most beautiful expressions of grace God has given to parents. We get like ten times the credit for doing something once. Grace upon grace.

Anyway, as time has gone by, I have gradually shifted my expectations to be a little more realistic. As I look ahead to special days or family outings, I expect that my children will act exactly like they act every other day of the year. I expect that we will have moments when all eight of us are feeling kind and happy and having fun, but that these moments will happen on a backdrop of the rest of the day, in which one or more of us will be hungry or tired or have a headache or feel irritable. And then I choose to feel incredible gratitude for the sweet moments and file those in my mental scrapbook and try to block out the rest.

This weekend has been an opportunity for me to practice this different-expecatations sort of approach to parenting and life. We don’t want to call it lowered expectations, so we’ll go with different expectations or, perhaps, more realistic expectations.

On Friday, we loaded up the family in the big, red van to drive to Lauren’s away soccer game. From there, we would all go two-and-a-half hours away to North Carolina for Caleb’s first dive meet. We’d check into our budget hotel and get some sleep, then we’d spend the entire day Saturday at the aquatic center for the dive meet. In the past, I would have imagined a fun van ride singing along to songs and reading aloud to the children followed by a cozy night in the hotel and a day of everyone excitedly cheering on Caleb in his first ever diving competition. But I’m older and wiser now. This time, my expectations more closely matched reality.

Caleb woke up Friday morning with strep throat, so he stayed home from school and went to the doctor to get started on an antibiotic. Rachel came home from school with strep symptoms, so I scrounged around in a drawer and found half a bottle of an antibiotic from last fall and started her on that. Yes, I am aware of all that is amazing about my parenting from that last sentence, but I hope you don’t feel too jealous or intimidated. So – for those of you keeping score at home – we started the trip with two sick, feverish children and a boy with a badly-broken arm still in a soft cast, on a Friday evening after a very long week. So it was no surprise that everyone was tired and a little grumpy and eager to plug into headphones and tune out everyone else on the ride down Friday night. It was not a sing-along, read-along, play the license plate game sort of van ride. But there were only a handful of he told me to shut up or she needs to mind her own business or no, I’m not an idiot; you are! kind of moments. So I chose to call the ride down a success, a good memory in my mental scrapbook.

At the hotel, three children slept in the room with Grandpapa and Grandmama and three slept in the room with my husband and me. Shockingly, there was only about one minute of arguing about who would sleep where before we came to a plan everyone could be happy with. Again, we’re going with success and happy memory here.

As we were falling asleep, Silas – the one with the arm in a cast – began this moany cry about how his arm was itching and he couldn’t stand it and it was horrible, just awful, absolutely awful, and really, really itching and he couldn’t scratch it and we didn’t understand how awful it was and aaaaaaaaahhhhhh. And for the first 30 seconds, I felt deep motherly compassion for him. But after my initial, “I know, sweetie. I’m so sorry it’s uncomfortable.” response, he did not stop the moany cry and calm down, like he obviously should have because of my awesomely sweet 30 seconds of mothering. We had already given him Tylenol for pain and melatonin to help him sleep, which was a huge ordeal because, for some inexplicable reason, he didn’t want to swallow those things, so there were kind encouragements, followed by desperate pleas, followed by threats. And so that had already all happened before the moany cry had begun, which meant we could not give him the very last dose of Tylenol with codeine (which we were saving for Saturday anyway). After my 30 seconds of sweet Carol Brady mothering, I quickly transitioned to Rosanne mothering mode. “Yes, we get it. You itch. For the LOVE! Can you please learn to cry in a quiet way? I cry and tears come, but I don’t wail and moan. It’s possible to cry without wailing and moaning. Try it. Stop wailing right now. You are waking your brother, and he needs to sleep because he has to compete tomorrow. Stop it. Moaning and wailing is not making you feel better; it’s just making everyone else feel worse. Stop it. Stopitrightnow.” Finally, I had a blessed epiphany! The bottle of Benadryl was in the suitcase. Benadryl is designed for itching! Also for making children sleep. But, in this case, he was actually itching and so I had a very good, solid reason to give it to him. So we gave him the Benadryl and he slept. And this child-wailing and mother-snapping did not ruin the weekend -or even the night- because I had totally expected something like that to happen. Success!

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Though I was tempted to want all the children to be interested in diving and watch expectantly for each of Caleb’s dives and ooh and aah and cheer, I knew that just having them present in the stands was enough. Good enough is good enough – my parenting mantra you may steal as your own.

I expected Silas to tell me he was bored 50 times, but he only told me about 20 times. Success! I expected Jackson and Griffin to crawl under bleachers and run around and bang on the seats and annoy everyone around us. And they only did that a little of the time instead of all the time. Success! The girls read books, and when we said, “Caleb’s up!” they turned their eyes toward the boards, watched him, clapped a couple times, then returned to their reading. Success! Silas napped for a while on the bleachers. While he was napping, he could not tell me he was bored or itching or hurting or anything. Success! When Lauren told me her throat hurt for the fifteenth time and I had already told her to take a drink of something and that I couldn’t do a thing about it, I just smiled and said, “Yes, got it! Your throat hurts. Now you don’t have to tell me any more. Until further notice, I’ll know your throat hurts. So only tell me if it stops hurting. OK? Ok.” And I didn’t feel irritated or annoyed or disappointed.

And since this was Caleb’s first meet, we had no clue what to expect for him. We were just happy to be there and hoping it would be a learning experience. When he came in seventh out of eight divers in one event, there was no disappointment. Only pride that he hadn’t done any belly flops or back flops or total fails. And when he won first place in another event – mostly because he was the only kid in that division, but whatever, First Place, baby! – we clapped and cheered and congratulated him and told him how proud we were. Success!

In the midst of all of this, there were moments of kindness and happiness and fun. I’m filing those in my mental scrapbook. Remember when we used to always go to North Carolina and stay in that cozy hotel and Caleb won first place in diving and we had that fun picnic in the parking lot and we had so much fun? We loved that! 

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How do you do it?!

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For a whole lot of years now a common reaction I get from people is “How do you do it?” When people find out that I have six children, they exclaim, “How do you do it?” When people find out that my husband travels often for his job, they shake their heads and ask, “How do you do it?” When discussing kids’ activities and trying to keep up with multiple sports and band and choir and all that stuff, other moms will sigh, “I don’t know how you do it all.” And usually I’ll say something about how everyone is wearing his last clean pair of underwear or how the floors haven’t been mopped in too many weeks to count or how I have to sometimes ask for help. Inside, I always cringe because I know that pretty much all the time I feel like I’m Lucy and Ethel in the candy shop and the conveyor belt just won’t slow down and I’m shoving candy in my mouth and shirt as fast as I can.

The thing is — I’ve gotten used to feeling that way. Barely contained chaos is the status quo around here. We eased into the noise and laundry piles and busy schedule one kid at a time. And now it’s our Normal.

This week, I’ve been spending every day with Silas while everyone else is in school. Last weekend he slid down the basement stairs in a cardboard box, the end of the box caught on a step, and he tumbled out and over and broke the heck out of his arm. A little lesson in inertia. After emergency surgery, he spent a couple nights in the hospital. Now that we’ve been home, I won’t let him go to school until he gets his hard cast on. So he and I have spent the past couple days hanging out at home together. And Oh.My.Goodness! That hard cast cannot happen quickly enough! Now it is my turn to say to all the parents of only one child, “How do you do it?!?”

For the love! I have things I need to do, but he wants me to play board games on the iPad with him and he wants me to play cards with him. And after we do those things, he wants to do them over again. He wants to sit right in the room with me, staring at me while I try to write or edit or whatever it is I need to be doing. And I love him more than life itself, but really! This morning I got a phone call, so I walked into the living room to talk. Of course, he followed me. And then he kept whispering, “What? . . . Who are you talking to? . . . What about going to the doctor? . . .” I tried waving him away, like a pesky fly that is trying to land on your lunch. But he would not stop. Finally, I whispered, “Stop it! I’m talking on the phone.” You know what he said? “Well, that’s rude to talk in front of me. You should go to another room!” What?! Kid, I was in another room and you followed me. Stop following me! 

This morning he kept telling me he was bored. I may have said something sweet and motherly like “If you tell me you’re bored one more time, I’m going to break your other arm.” Because that is the sort of gentle nurturer I am. Fifteen seconds later, Silas sat down in a chair and said, “I’m not exactly saying I’m bored, but I am saying I am not entertained.”

Well, now that would be the problem. I don’t entertain. I am not an entertainer.  I mean, I do occasionally stand in front of a crowd and tell stories and feel ridiculously proud of myself when people actually laugh at the things I think are funny. And I once did this absolutely incredible interpretive dance of Bette Midler’s The Rose while wearing a black trash bag. So I suppose I am sort of an entertainer. But I do not entertain my children. They entertain each other. It’s one of the benefits of having half a dozen of them. So I suppose I should add that to my list of answers to “How do you do it?” They entertain each other, which actually makes things easier. 

I sat at the table with him this morning in silence. I couldn’t exactly ask how his day was yesterday. I had been with him practically every second of it. I slept in the same room with him, so I knew how he’d slept. We’d already discussed his weird dream that he couldn’t remember any of. It was a pretty short conversation. Normally, all the children are loudly talking over each other. Many times our dinner table has a higher decibel level than a jackhammer. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating — there’s an app for measuring that. But with just the two of us, all the pressure to maintain conversation has been on Silas and me. Only us. Because everyone else is gone all day. And though I enjoy the peace and quiet of my near-empty house during the day, he obviously has been less than impressed with the idea of sitting in silence. 

Seriously – after the past couple days of so much togetherness – I am wondering how in the world you people with only one child manage! It’s exhausting! I have decided I am far too lazy to have only one child. That must be why God gave me six. How do I do it? I manage the chaos and herd the cats in the right general direction, but they entertain each other. They do the hard part! Right now, Rachel is playing cards with Silas so I can lean back in my recliner and write this. Later, Jackson will play checkers with him on the iPad. Caleb already played cards with him and put on Scooby Doo for them to watch together. 

How do I do it with six? I cannot imagine how I would manage without them all entertaining each other. And after this week, I’m fairly certain Silas would agree! I mean, he wouldn’t exactly say he has been bored with me. Actually, yes, he would say that. He would say that approximately 237 times in a 2-hour period.

Leaving Space For Mistakes And Growth

Growing up is hard. Sometimes, I forget that a little bit, and I don’t give my children quite enough grace as they figure things out and learn lessons. Other times, though, the giant invisible hand of God’s Own Spirit reaches out and clamps over my mouth, whispering into my ear, “Shhhhh. Only say kind, gentle, helpful things right now. This kid’s still learning.”

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This is my Jackson. He’s in fourth grade. Y’all, fourth grade is hard! H.A.R.D. Hard. I think it is the hardest grade of all. There is so much schoolwork to learn. So many state Standards of Learning tests. So many details and maps and people in Virginia history. (Virginia has a LOT of history! Like Virginia is such an overachiever and show-off in the history books! Really, Virginia, you need to have such important roles in Native American history, the European settlement of this land, the Revolutionary War, AND the Civil War? Give another state a chance already!) And math takes a giant leap between third and fourth grade. I don’t know; it just seems like schoolwork is injected with steroids or something at the beginning of fourth grade. And then some pre-puberty hormones kick in. Which doesn’t at all seem fair! Just as school gets extra hard, their emotions start getting all wonky and they develop an actual need for deodorant. But that’s fourth grade. H.A.R.D. Hard.

This year, Jackson has been learning so much. All the math and social studies and science and writing things. All those hard things. And also a bunch of the other hard things – how to be a good friend, how to work hard and not give up, how to be responsible, how to be funny but appropriate, how to be funny without hurting other people, how to not get caught up with the crowd in bullying or being mean. So many big lessons.

Yesterday, we had a conference with his teacher. The usual mid-semester conference to check in and take the temperature and check the pulse of this child and this school year. Jackson showed me some of his work and told me what he’s most proud of and what he wants to work on and how he feels about the grades he’s earning and the work he’s doing. Last week, we had a conversation at home about how just one “zero” can affect a grade, pulling an average down an entire letter grade. We had talked about the benefits of learning this lesson in elementary school and the importance of trying. Yesterday, as Jackson and I looked at some of his work, we talked about different kinds of “C” work. If we work really hard and do our very best and earn a “C,” then that is a “C” to be proud of! But if we don’t do half the work and make a “C,” then that is a “C” to feel disappointed about. Showing up and trying is important.

So Jackson was telling me that he is really proud that since he realized last week how much a “zero” hurts a grade and is a bad choice, he has made better choices and has worked harder at completing work. He said, “I’m really proud that I learned a lesson and that I’m changing. I’m doing better.”

When his teacher joined our conversation, she affirmed that, yes, she does see a difference already. Then, smack in the middle of a really hectic, busy, exhausting week, this teacher said something that breathed air and life back into this momma’s sails. I’m pretty sure a bright spotlight shone down from heaven and a choir of angels began singing quiet background music as she spoke. This sweet, sweet teacher said,

“Jackson, one thing I love about you is that you learn from your mistakes. This year, you have made some mistakes and bad choices, but you always learn from them. You listen to us and then you make better choices. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone does that. Not every adult does that! But you do! You are good at learning from your mistakes. And I’m really proud of you.”

And she gave him a high five. And he grew an inch and a half on the spot and his face lit up with a huge smile. And I just wanted to scoop this little teacher up in a hug and squeeze her and blubber-cry all over her. Because yes! This! This teacher sees my kid! She sees beyond his mistakes and she is gentle with him and she gets that he is still learning. She gives him an opportunity to learn from his mistakes because of her grace and kindness. And so he does.

Fourth grade is hard. H.A.R.D. Hard. But it is a little bit less hard when you have a teacher who leaves space for mistakes and growth. When you have a teacher who says kind, gentle, helpful things because she knows her students are still learning.

Teacher Appreciation

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week at my sons’ school. Recently, I asked some teacher-friends what parents can do to encourage them and make them feel appreciated. So, parents, here are 5 ways you can make your child’s teacher feel loved and appreciated ~~

IMG_5218 Silas and his beloved third-grade teacher. She made the transition to public school a non-issue for him. He stops by her room to give her hugs every day.

1. Donate classroom supplies. Often, teachers purchase classroom supplies with their own money. You can help alleviate this extra financial concern by donating things like Clorox wipes, tissues, pencils, baggies, glue sticks. Donating needed items reinforces the idea that you and the teacher are partners, working together to educate the children.

2. Volunteer. Whether your schedule allows you to volunteer for one field trip or field day or whether you have time to come in once a month or once a week, volunteer. Offer to make copies or help with school picture day or read with a struggling student. Come during your lunch hour and eat with your child for 20 minutes and help in the classroom for 20 minutes. Again — when you volunteer, your actions tell the teacher that you’re partners. And when you spend 20 minutes making copies, that is 20 minutes earlier your child’s teacher can go home or one lunch period he can sit and eat lunch or 20 minutes she can spend working on the mounds of paperwork she has to submit to the office.

3. Coordinate teacher luncheons. Something magical happens when a teacher walks into the teacher’s lounge and finds tables full of food thoughtfully provided by parents. I’ve seen it. That food is a tangible expression of love and thankfulness. And when the tables are overflowing with food, the teachers are overwhelmed in the best way. They feel loved.

4. Send letters or email messages of commendation to the principal or superintendent. When your child’s teacher makes a remarkable impact on your child, share the good news. Teaching can be a very lonely, thankless job, and teachers can feel like their entire job performance is distilled down to median test scores. I don’t know any teachers who chose education so that they could train students to fall within the right sections of test results bar graphs. Teachers want to connect with children and make a difference in their lives. When they succeed in this goal, tell their bosses. Everyone enjoys being acknowledged for doing his job well.

5. Give gifts and write notes. Whether it’s a gift card to a teacher supply store, a mug of her favorite coffee, a gift card to his favorite restaurant or a couple homemade cookies, teachers enjoy little tokens of appreciation. And the teachers I know especially appreciate thank-you notes or stories of how you see that teacher influencing your child. Sometimes, teachers hear from the unhappy parents far more than they hear from the grateful parents. So a little bit of encouragement can go a long way in reminding teachers that they are making differences in the lives of their students.

Even if it’s not Teacher Appreciation Week at your child’s school, purpose to show your child’s teacher some love this week.

Putting Children In Boxes

jackinbox Can we all agree that this is the only kind of box we should put our kids in?

Yesterday, I told you Caleb’s story.  Today, let’s talk about putting children in boxes. I’m talking about this tendency some of us have to expect cookie cutter children, as if schools and homes are an assembly line cranking out children who all learn the same and test the same and perform the same, children who are “well-rounded” and look great on traditional college applications.

The problem with that — well, gosh, there are too many problems with that. That entire notion is a problem! The beauty of it all is that we are each so distinctive! I am constantly amazed at the uniqueness of each of my six children. All raised by the same parents with the same guidelines and influences, yet each so individual and different. If you have more than one child, or if you come from a family with more than one child, you’ve seen it too.

We are fortunate. The teachers my children have had in public school have taught to various learning styles and seem to appreciate each child’s distinctiveness. But I know that kids still feel pressure to get the right scores and make the right grades and fit into the mold. And sometimes parents feel the pressure too, so parents try to push the children to make all A’s or fall on the right side of the bell curve. I know better. At my core, I value individuality and recognize different types of intelligences. I appreciate that our world needs all sorts of people with all sorts of skills and passions and personalities. And still, sometimes I get sucked in to the idea that all my children should be making the Honor Roll and scoring well on the state’s standardized test. I have lapses into Freaked-Out-Land in which I become a crazy momma who frantically obsesses about whether my high school children are in enough clubs and making the right grades and building the right resume to get into college.

For the LOVE! Can we just all stop already? Can we agree that not every kid can score in the top tenth percentile because – HELLOOOO! –  then that wouldn’t be the top tenth percentile any more? Can we agree that the kids who are really smart at taking tests and writing papers might not be so smart at fixing a dishwasher or playing guitar or creating delicious cupcakes? And all of those things are important in this life. And the cupcake part might even be the most important. Amen? Can we agree that not everyone’s child will get into an Ivy League school, and that’s OK? And can we agree that the kids who do get into an Ivy League school don’t have any more value than the kids who go to community college?

And, you know what, adults? That means we’re going to have to stop saying in hallowed, hushed, adoring tones, “Johnny got into Harvard.” And it means we’re going to have to stop with all the extra rationalizing and apologizing when a kid goes to community college, “Well, Bobby is going to Neighborhood Community College for a year or two. He’s really smart; he just didn’t apply himself the first two years of high school. I don’t think he realized that all his grades actually counted. But he made the honor roll his last two years, and he’s going to get into a top college after a year of Neighborhood Community College.” No, stop it. Harvard Johnny is no more worthy of a parent’s pride and adoration than Community College Bobby. 

And then, after all of the grown-ups agree on this, can we all tell our children these truths? And can we keep telling them and keep telling them until they believe it? Until they know in the center of their very being that whatever sort of ways they are smart –and they ARE! – those ways are just as important and valuable and beautiful as the ways other people are smart. 

When report cards come home and students are in the middle of standardized tests and the valedictorian is announced, can we promise each other that we’ll pause and take a deep breath  and remember that these things do not define our children? And they certainly don’t define us as parents. Can we promise not to elevate these sorts of things to a higher place than they deserve? Even if our children make straight A’s and ace the tests and have the highest gpa. We can be proud of their hard work and the character that work has formed in them and grateful for the gifts and talents they’ve been given, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that their grades and scores and accolades make them better than in the ways that are truly important in life. And let’s be realistic, those things don’t really even make them smarter than. Because there are so many ways to be smart.

Please know that I am saying this not only as the mom of children whose intelligences are not best measured by big tests and report card grades, but also as the mom of children for whom schools are made. I am not in one camp or the other, friends. I am not trying to devalue anyone’s children and their gifts. I am just asking us all to keep perspective.

If your child fits in the box that is school, that’s OK. Praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts. And if your child does not fit into the box that is school, that’s OK too. Help those children find their talents and gifts, help them figure out what types of intelligence they have. Then praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts too. And let’s celebrate all the children’s distinctiveness and help them be thankful that we’re not all the same. Because how boring would that be?

Giving Our Children Time To BECOME

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This boy will soon celebrate 13 years of being alive. And we will celebrate because when he was a toddler and a preschooler, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep him alive for 13 years.

He was such a curious boy, always climbing and investigating and touching and tasting and experimenting. And I was a little distracted some of the time, what with carrying and birthing and nurturing and keeping alive his little brothers – 3 of them before he was 4 1/2. For a few years, that Curiosity killed the cat saying played on repeat in my brain, a taunting refrain. Especially when Caleb got really quiet. Because with kids, quiet equals trouble.

As a toddler, he figured out how to climb out of cribs and unfasten himself from car seats or high chairs. He could open that child-proof door handle thingy faster than I could! As a preschooler, he enjoyed sneaking into the kitchen and mixing together different foods to see what happened. Cracking eggs seemed to be his favorite. Experimenting with tubes of food coloring ran a close second. He devised elaborate string or yarn booby traps all over the house. And he became obsessed with creating a Duplo block boat that would float, so he was often overflowing the bathroom sink during his trial and error sessions. I suspect Caleb sneaked out of his bed and watched segments of Will It Float on David Letterman because he was often tossing items into the sink or bathtub or toilet to check their floatability — paperback novels, toy cars, toothbrushes, hairbrushes.

Clearly this genius child had the mind of an engineer or scientist! At least, that’s how I consoled myself when his shenanigans threatened his life and my sanity — when he drank some medicine or stuck his finger in an outlet or climbed onto the top of the fridge or climbed onto the top of his crib and free-fell off (again and again and again).

When it came time to learn his ABCs, Caleb the genius wasn’t all that interested. His big sisters and I sang the ABC song to him. We did alphabet puzzles and games and coloring sheets. We watched videos. I pointed out letters and sounds in signs and books. Caleb could not have cared less about learning his letters. Nobody in the history of the world has cared about anything less than Caleb cared about the alphabet. He had some powdered drink mix to snort and a bookshelf to scale. Letters schmetters. Whatev.

Perhaps he will be motivated to learn at least the letters in his name. Every kid loves his own name. I was a teacher. I would teach this kid to write his name. In big block letters, I wrote C A L E B then I wrote it again over and over in dotted-line letters for him to trace. He half-heartedly traced a letter or two before covering the page in elaborate drawings. He would draw detailed pictures of a house with an underground tunnel connecting it to a neighboring house or of fire-breathing dragons chasing a blue-jean-wearing boy. When he would bring the pictures to show me, he would tell me these incredible stories depicted by his illustrations. But absolutely none of his pictures had an artist’s signature in the bottom corner because this boy had zero interest in learning to write his own name. No matter how many times I wrote his name in dotted-lined letters.

Then one day months later, he ran into the room where I was drying my hair. He tossed a Sunday School paper in front of me. In every bit of white space on that paper was scrawled C A L E B. “Who wrote this?” I shut off the hair dryer. “I did, Momma!” He beamed. “How did you know? Who helped you?” “Uhhh, you did. Lots of weeks ago. You showed me.” Duh. Of course I had. But he hadn’t practiced. He barely seemed to pay attention. But there it was in front of me – C A L E B. C A L E B. C A L E B.  All over the page. Every letter perfectly formed in little boy manuscript.

He learned his ABCs the same way. All that time of not caring, then one day – BAM! he knew them all. Counting to 20, days of the week, months of the year, short vowels, long vowels — Caleb learned all of it in the same maddening way. Weeks and months of disinterest and none of it sinking in, then BOOM! perfect mastery.

I homeschooled him in kindergarten and the first half of first grade. Because I knew his style, I didn’t push him to master reading and gain fluency. I figured I’d just consistently and repetitively teach him and read with him, then when it clicked he could move straight from those teensy Bob Books to Robinson Crusoe or something. And that plan may have worked if we hadn’t enrolled him in a small Christian school.

Four days into the second semester of first grade, Caleb’s first four days of traditional school in a classroom setting, a teacher told me Caleb was super sweet and a joy to teach, “but he’s really so far behind the other children in reading. We may want to move him back to kindergarten.” From that moment on, the phrases “you’re behind the others . . . you need to catch up” became the refrain of Caleb’s school day. His self-confidence balloon burst. Deflated and defeated, he began to say, “I can’t read. . . . I’m behind everyone else. . . . I’m just not made for school.” My momma heart ached. And the momma bear in me rose up. My husband and I went to the school to tutor him during reading class, and I practiced sight word lists and phonics with him at home. I countered every “I’m behind everyone else” and “I can’t read.” with “You are becoming a good reader.” Over and over and over, I repeated this truth to him, “You are becoming a good reader.” And I prayed for peace as we waited and worked during the Becoming

By the end of second grade, all of Caleb’s self-confidence was gone, replaced by a vicious anxiety. He cried easily, picked at his skin until it bled, hoarded food, had trouble sleeping and regularly complained that everyone was mean to him and nobody liked him. He often declared he would quit school and travel the world. Using an array of tests and assessments and some hours of observation, an educational psychologist evaluated Caleb and presented us with a 12-page booklet of results and recommendations. As it turned out, I had been right — my little boy was practically a genius, but the chasm between his IQ and his academic achievement in language skills was vast.

Between my ears and my brain something magical happens to break down a word into individual sounds. This helps me spell words, and it helps me read new words. Sound it out. That’s what teachers had told me when I was little, and it’s what Caleb’s teachers and I had been encouraging him to do. Except that magical thing wasn’t happening between Caleb’s ears and his brain. He could break words into syllables, but that’s it. He wasn’t hearing individual sounds within a word. Sound it out meant nothing to him. Nothing except frustration and piled on anxiety. So we had to change the way we were teaching Caleb to read. The Sound it out way would not work.

The school was not willing to accommodate a different learning style. I highlighted a few ideas in the educational psychologist’s booklet of recommendations that could be implemented at school and asked during one of our many conferences if they would consider making those few adjustments. None were implemented. Their solution was that Caleb should repeat second grade, even though he was mastering the math and social studies and science. But teaching him the same material a second time using the same technique that didn’t work with his brain did not seem like a logical solution to me. That would be like repeating the English sentence slowly and more loudly to a person who doesn’t understand a word of English. What’s that Albert Einstein quote? — “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

So we made plans to homeschool Caleb for third grade. I researched various learning styles. I read about learning differences and disabilities. I bought a book written by a man who had overcome his dyslexia to become a professor and author. After reading it cover to cover, I showed Caleb — “Look! Some day, you will be able not only to READ a book like this, you will be able to WRITE a book like this if you want! If this man could do it, so can you!” My teacher-friends shared creative teaching ideas with me. Friends and family members who parent children with learning differences brainstormed ideas with me and pointed me to excellent resources. After reading about and researching strengths-based education, I evaluated Caleb’s strengths and learning styles and developed a plan to teach specifically to his strengths.

I got this vision in my head. I believe God placed it there. I saw Caleb standing in a cap and gown, graduating from college, telling everyone, “All my teachers told me I was behind and couldn’t read. I was ready to quit. But my mom believed in me. She told me I was becoming a good reader. She gave me time to become a good reader in my own way. She believed in me when nobody at school did.” That vision motivated me to become Caleb’s biggest cheerleader. That vision fueled hope within me. We would overcome this little speed bump.

That next school year, Caleb and I worked hard. He did jumping jacks while spelling words and reciting phoneme sounds. We tossed a ball back and forth while breaking words into syllables and sounds. He formed words out of clay, then built pictures of the words with the clay. He formed letters and words with beans or beads. He spelled words out with letter tiles. He hopped across the room while drilling sight word flashcards. Out on the basketball court, we wrote words in sidewalk chalk. He began to read articles and books about things that really interested him — hammerhead sharks, creepy bugs, magic tricks. He discovered the genius that is spell-check and proclaimed it to be his life-long friend! We learned some basic spelling rules, like “every syllable must have a vowel,” then checked every written word against that rule until it became second-nature. Over and over, I told Caleb, “You are becoming a good reader now.” 

And he was becoming a good reader. Each week, we saw more evidence of the Becoming As his strengths were acknowledged and his reading skills blossomed, his anxiety began to shrink. We replaced lying thoughts, “I can’t read. . . . I’m not a good student. . . . Everyone is mean to me. . . . I am not as good as other people.” with truthful thoughts, “I can read. . . . I can do hard things. . . Everyone has challenges. . . . Sometimes people are mean, but sometimes they are kind. . . .” 

Education isn’t a competition. There is time for everyone to learn his own way. That year of homeschooling removed Caleb from the perception of a learning race, where children can be behind other children.

That same year, Caleb and I discovered parkour. Have you seen this? YouTube it. In parkour, people run up ramps and jump over railings and leap from building to building. They run up the sides of buildings and then do backflips. If there is an obstacle on a sidewalk or trail, these guys will jump on it or over it or use it to launch a flip of some sort. Caleb became obsessed with parkour, and every trip to the playground or park involved parkour practice. And -LIGHTBULB! – I realized that education can’t be a race because some people approach it like a marathon, straight ahead, steady paces, arms pumping at their side; but others approach it like parkour, leaping rocks, running up handrails, jumping from one platform to the next. And you just cannot compare marathon running with parkour. It’s apples and oranges, people.

Once we tapped into Caleb’s strengths and rebuilt his confidence, reading began to click with him. He asked for a big book of magic tricks for his birthday in the spring of third grade. The day after his birthday, he was performing magic tricks for us. He had read and understood the step-by-step instructions all on his own. He also asked for a biography of Ronald Reagan. Within a week, we were hearing all sorts of details about President Reagan’s life. Caleb was becoming a great reader.

At the beginning of this school year, Caleb’s middle school English teacher told me Caleb is always reading a book as soon as he finishes his work. “Has he always been an avid reader?” She wondered.

No, but he has always been becoming one. Even when it seemed everyone else was saying otherwise.

Celebrating Accomplishment Without Fueling Unhealthy Competition

Competition. I’ve been thinking a lot about competition lately.

Since my children entered public school, especially public high school, I’ve been reminded how much school can be about competition. In academics and sports and clubs and social order, young people are constantly thrust into competition. Earning the highest gpa, making the team, starting in the game, getting the role, being first-chair, eating at the right table, wearing the right clothes, being asked to the dance, having enough Twitter followers and Instagram likes . . . 

The competition may culminate in high school, but it all starts pretty early. I recently had lunch at school with Griffin, who is in second grade. He and his friends were lifting their pants legs to show each other their name-brand socks. Soon, they were discussing who owns Nike Elite socks and how much they cost (around $14 a pair). Though the teachers go out of their way not to make the reading and math groupings obviously about skill level, the children know. Griffin knows he is in a reading group with the kids who go with the gifted teacher. He knows that some of the children who go to the reading specialist are in another group. Because we’ve talked about this a lot in our home, Griffin knows that someone’s true value isn’t measured by reading groups or report cards or the types of socks a child wears. But he still works hard to earn good marks on his report card and to successfully do the work in his reading and math groups, and he consistently asks for a pair of Nike Elite socks.

Though we do talk often about how life is not a competition and how our worth is not rooted in grades or paychecks or name-brand clothing or the score at the end of the game, I confess that sometimes I get sucked in too. I am really proud of my child when she scores the most goals of the game. I’m pleased when he outruns everyone else on the field. I’m proud when his dive form is better than the kid who usually out-dives him. And sometimes I’m just honestly proud of my child’s accomplishments in a healthy way. But sometimes I fall into a comparison trap and delight in my child’s being better than, smarter than, stronger than, more talented than. And I am so not pleased with this in myself. It’s ugly.

So I am trying to be more aware of this in myself. Instead of saying, “You are a better striker than _____” or “Your handstand dive was better than ____’s tonight,” I want to say, “You are running even faster this season than you did last!” or “Your form on that dive gets better each week!” I want to teach each child by example that the only person she should compare herself to is herself.

I want to encourage my children to set goals and praise them for meeting those goals. I want to encourage them to work hard to improve their own skills and then praise them for improvement. And I really want to stop comparing them to their classmates and teammates.

There will always be competition, and many healthy character-building lessons can come from competition — in the winning and the losing. Someone will be valedictorian. Some team will win the championship. Someone will win the election for class president. Someone will score the most baskets or goals or win the gold medal. But my children will learn those important lessons even when I choose not to focus on comparisons and competing.

The sense of constantly competing, of constantly trying to be better than, can be overwhelming for kids. Our attitudes and words as parents can fuel that or temper it. Unfortunately, in the past, I’ve fueled that too often. From now on, I want to temper it.

At my core, I believe each child has different strengths and talents and passions. I believe the lessons learned and character built from losing the game and not being the best are often the things that make us stronger, more resilient, more compassionate people. I believe that a child’s heart and character are far more important than his abilities and performance.

So I want to make sure those beliefs shape my attitude and spill over through my words. If I speak these truths enough, my children can withstand the competition-fueled world of school knowing their real value isn’t tied to any of that.

 

Always Winter, Never School

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You know how in Narnia it’s always winter and never Christmas? Well, here it is always winter and never school. So yeah, let’s talk about snow days.

I’ve lost track of how many snow days my children have had this year, but I’m pretty sure we’ve had so many that we’re down to about five hot minutes of a summer vacation now. Every day they jump and cheer about another snow day, I mumble, “Happy summer vacation. ‘Cause this is it. Now move while I put on another pair of socks and sip this hot cocoa.” And then I grieve the days we won’t have at the pool, when I can easily justify sitting in a lounge chair, chatting with friends, sipping Diet Dr. Pepper, and soaking in the sunshine by saying I’m doing it “for the children.”

It is exciting when the forecast is for a big snow, and those first flakes start falling. As the snow begins and the ground turns white, it is easy to get caught up in the anticipation and the milk-buying frenzy and the flurry of Facebook posts with rulers stuck in snow.

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But then the children decide to go out and play in it. And they fight over who gets the good snow boots and who put the snowveralls where and why this one has waterproof gloves and that one has cheap knit ones that get wet in less time than it takes an Olympic ice-dancing announcer to use the word “twizzle” after a couple’s routine begins.

Then, they play outside for a fraction of the time it took them to get dressed. (There is an actual mathematical formula — snow play = get dressed • fight over gloves • find more than one pair of socks / 4) And when they come inside, they track in enough snow to build a small snow family and leave a trail of clothing so my house looks like the Goodwill threw up all over the place. Repeat this scenario at least 4 times each day.

When they aren’t playing outside for a half a second or getting dressed or undressed, they are playing Minecraft. And by playing Minecraft I really mean screaming, “He shot me with an arrow for no reason!” or “He stole all my gold!” or “He just killed a sheep! In MY world! He can kill sheep in his own world!” And I hear strange things coming out of my own mouth, like “Stop killing your brother’s sheep!” or “If you don’t stop killing each other, I’m taking all the iPods!” or “Only shoot your brother with an arrow if he WANTS you to!”

I have also noticed a direct correlation between snow falling and my desire to bake or cook comfort foods. So while the children are creating heaps of extra laundry, I bake coffee cake and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cupcakes and fry up some pancakes and sausage and make a big pot of cheesy potato soup and garlic cheddar biscuits and a pot of chili and a side of black bean dip and a small crockpot of queso. (There is also a mathematical equation that looks something like — snow day = 5 lbs )

Snow also directly affects my ability to be productive. If we have more than an inch of snow, I seem incapable of doing anything more than baking, eating and watching Netflix or the Olympics. Sometimes I combine Netflix and the Oympics, which results in something really bizarre like watching a documentary about Tonya Harding at 1:00 in the morning. Don’t judge. I’m telling you, I am not made for long, hard winters.

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Last week, we got 2 feet of snow. I considered tying a rope around a kid before sending them to the mailbox, like Pa did before going to the barn during their long, hard winters on the prairie.

I am not normally a fan of wishing time away. But seriously, enough winter already. I need it to be spring. I need sunshine and green grass and buds on trees. The novelty and fun of wearing boots has worn off, and I need to be wearing my cute shoes and sandals again. I need the static electricity that makes my hair always look a little Bride of Frankensteinish to calm the heck down. After living in Florida for 4 years, I never dreamed I’d be wishing for a little humidity! But here I am, applying lotion for the 58th time today and wishing for a higher dew point.

If another winter weather advisory exclamation mark shows up in my daily forecast, you can find me in the fetal position in the corner of my bedroom under a pile of snowveralls and cheap knit gloves. You can leave me there until the daffodils bloom.

 

 

Raising Good Kids

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There is this quote that keeps popping up on Facebook. I think it originated on the Momastery blog and was first written by Glennon Melton.

Don’t let yourself be so concerned with raising a good kid that you forget you already have one.

Wow, do I need to remember that! Sometimes I feel such a weight of responsibility of raising these people to be good, kind, caring, responsible, hardworking, grateful citizens. And I forget to notice all that is already pretty fantastic about them. I also forget that I can really only do so much; God is the only One who can truly change hearts and produce righteousness.

So today I vow to notice the good. I will limit correction and pick my battles so as not to exasperate or overwhelm my children. Good grief! If I had someone zeroing in on my faults and correcting them on a daily basis, I would be completely defeated and overwhelmed. Yet I sometimes do that to my children! I obsess about a perceived character flaw or a set of perceived character flaws, and then I feel like I have to point it out and correct it every time it comes up.

I soooo do not have to do that. I mean, yes, I do have a responsibility to correct wrong behavior and -more importantly- to talk about the attitudes or motivations or heart-issues that will make life more difficult or that reveal selfishness and sin. And I have a responsibility to allow my children to experience negative consequences for poor choices. But I do not have to point out every flaw or weakness. I can pray for wisdom about what needs to be addressed. And then I can address it in love, rather than in anger or frustration or annoyance.

Most importantly, I can trust God’s Holy Spirit to do the same thing for my children that He does for me. My momma job description does not include being a little holy spirit for my children. Too often, though, that’s how I act.

Lately, I’ve lost focus of what great kids I already have as I have honed in on their faults. Honestly, that makes for a pretty miserable time for my kiddos. And it is totally counterproductive! Because my true desire is to have authentic, meaningful, grace-filled relationships with my children.

So — deep breath and reboot. Let me tell you about these great kids I have . . . Better yet, I’ll tell them how great they are.

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Chores — 5 Systems That Have Worked For Us

My kids don't remember a time they didn't do chores!

My kids don’t remember a time they didn’t do chores.
This is a chore chart from 2003.

I am a fan of chores! My children have done chores since they could walk. Toddlers carried newly-changed diapers to the trash and helped throw away napkins after dinner. Preschoolers folded washcloths and sorted clean silverware into the right slots in the drawer. As they’ve gotten older, the chores have gotten harder.

My kids, however, aren’t always as in love with chores as I am. So how do I get them to do chores?

Here are 5 chore systems we’ve used over the years –

 

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1. Weekly Zones/Responsibilities – Each child is responsible for one zone or job for an entire week. 

 

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2. Buddy System – Pair an older child with a younger child to do two chores for the week. The younger child learns from the older child. This helps build relationships between the children and encourages the older child to mentor and teach the younger sibling.  It also works if older siblings play sports that take up an entire evening. The buddies can split up the week, so a younger buddy can cover for the older sibling on busy evenings.

 

photo 43. Blitz – We do this when the house has gotten out of control or when company is coming. I make a list of every little chore that needs done, breaking big jobs down to the smallest task. Then the children start doing jobs and signing their names beside each job they do. The child who does the most may win a reward. If the chores vary a great deal in difficulty, we assign point values to each job and reward the child with the most points. It is AMAZING how quickly a house can get clean when every child works quickly to compete to get a prize.

 

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4. One Daily/One Twice A Week — Each child is assigned a simple daily chore and a harder chore to do twice a week.  The children were tired of the old zone system, so we started this chart this month. Daily chores must be finished by 7 p.m., and they have some flexibility about which days they do the twice-a-week chores. They like having some choice about when they do the work.

 

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5. Tag Team – When a job seems completely overwhelming, this is a fun option. We have used this for a giant pile of dirty dishes or a really messy shared bedroom. The children all watch a movie or play a video game, except one child has to wash 5 dishes or pick up 5 toys off the bedroom floor and put them away. Then that child runs in to tag the next kid. That child washes 5 dishes or picks up 5 toys before tagging the next child, and so on. A huge job doesn’t seem so bad if it’s divided into small tasks that can be done quickly. And doing something fun during someone else’s turn makes it even better.

 

Have you found a chore system that works for you? How do you handle chores in your house?