Tuesday, December 21, 2010

That Kid's Mom

Quirky. Gifted. Highly Gifted. Twice Exceptional. A Handful. Hyper.  Distractible. Bright. High Energy. Intense. Funny. Sensory Integration Disorder. Sensory Processing Disorder. Highly Sensitive. Fine Motor Delay.

Some combination of the above labels would likely be used by the public education system in order to classify and process my oldest son. He's kind of hard to pin down, but you know him when you see him. Most classes have a kid like him. He's the one that can't sit still. He's the one pretending his markers are rockets and creating an elaborate story with sound effects while the rest of the class is drawing shapes like they're supposed to. He's the one that won't paint because 1) he can't do the representational drawings at the level of his classmates and he doesn't want to fail and 2) he doesn't want to get his hands dirty.

And he's the kid that eats his shirt during the holiday concert.

Though we homeschool, we send Henry to a one-day-a-week homeschool enrichment program so that he gets to participate in things like choir and school concerts.

Last week we packed up the family, including one week old baby Thomas, and headed over to see Henry's choir debut. His music teacher had emailed me a few days earlier to let me know that Henry hadn't seemed to want to participate in the concert during the dress rehearsal. Henry and I had been talking about it. He seemed excited, and so I continued to talk it up as something that was going to be great.

When I arrived at the school with his white concert shirt, he, predictably, refused to wear it. That was fine with everyone. He could wear his favorite "blue stripey" shirt - the one shirt he'll wear even if we're at home. (Generally, at home he wears jammies.) We all just wanted him to perform.

Henry insisted that I sit with him and his class while he waited for his turn on stage. I sat holding his hand. We talked about the butterflies in his tummy. We talked about how the big kids were nervous too. We talked about how much fun the party would be after he performed. We talked about how awesome he was going to feel after he did something hard.

He told me he was going to "screw up all the courage" he could and go up there on stage. And he did. Because he was one of the smaller kids, and because he insisted on standing with his best friends (naturally), he ended up front and center on the stage. A blue-shirted kid in a sea of white shirts.

The concert began with his little friend waving a prop in his face. He konked her on the head. Then, during most of the first song, he stared blankly into space. But then he came to life - singing his little heart out and toying with his blue stripey shirt. Then he was chewing on his blue stripey shirt.

And then, somehow, he managed to work the stretched out, saliva soaked collar of that blue stripey shirt down over both shoulders. For a few suspenseful seconds I sat laughing but terrified of what would come next. His music teacher turned to me with a big smile and big "oh my God!" eyes. I just sat laughing.

I sat there thinking, "That's my son. I'm 'that kid's' mom." It made me smile. It made me feel tremendously blessed. It came to me that God has given me this particular child to raise. It was no accident. I am meant to be his mom. He is meant to be my kid. We are meant to learn from each other things that we could not learn from anyone else.

As I sat pondering what, precisely, I was supposed to be learning from this particular incident, Henry's shirt returned to it's proper location and the kids began singing that ridiculous "skidamarink a dink a dink" song. When they got to the "IIIIIII Loooooove You!" line, my little boy turned his entire body to where I was sitting, looked me right in the eye, and pointed right at me. If you are a mother, or you know me at all, I don't have to tell you that I cried. At that moment, I was the proudest, happiest momma on the planet. Yes sir, that's my baby! He eats his shirt, he undresses during concerts, and he. loves. me.

I was so proud of him for screwing up his courage and doing something so hard. I was so proud of me for finding the humor in the shirt-eating strip-tease, rather than being embarrassed by it. I was proud of my husband for also rolling with it rather than cringing at a public reminder of his own childhood awkwardness. And I was so happy to know that my son loves me. That he loved me in that moment because I was there to support him through something hard. Loved me because I helped him do something he was proud of doing.

And he was quite proud of himself. He talked about how much he loved singing and how he's going to do lots of concerts. He asked his dad to be in a choir with him so they could do concerts together.

It was a great day for our family. One that drove home the rewards of doing something hard and of loving each other unconditionally. It's not always easy being "that kid's" mom, but the joy that comes in the good moments is worth all the struggle.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Placenta Encapsulation - Turning your placenta into medicine

If you met me at the park I'd seem normal enough. I'd probably be dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and some kick-ass Dansko boots I paid too much for - as opposed to, say, a broomstick skirt and Birkenstocks. I'm no fashion plate, but I wear makeup. I shave my legs and my armpits. You probably wouldn't immediately suspect that, in the secret recesses of my little house in the city, I write blog posts about the magic and miracles of placenta medicine.

At some point, I turned into a closet hippie. I'm sitting here in my little post partum nest, high on the hormones from my placenta, having just rubbed my breast milk on my baby's bottom to soothe his little diaper rash. This is the same breast milk I expressed to give to my five year old in hopes it will speed his recovery from his cold. And as I sit here I can't help but be overwhelmed by the amazing power of a mother's body to heal and nourish and protect her children and herself.

But I still look normal.

I'm not sure when or where I first heard the idea of placenta medicine, but at some point after the birth of my second child I was introduced to the idea that consuming the placenta either as food, or in the form of medicine, could replenish nutrients and hormones lost during the birth process.

The Fruit of the Womb web site has this to say about placenta encapsulation:
Over 80% of mothers suffer from the “baby blues” starting in the first weeks after giving birth. Studies show that the placenta is extremely nutrient rich, high in iron, protein, vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6 and of course, your own natural hormones. Your placenta is perfectly made for you, by you. Experts agree that the placenta retains hormones, and thus reintroducing them to your system may ease hormonal fluctuations.

Placenta pills are believed to:
- diminish “baby blues"
- increase breast milk production
- help the uterus to contract down and therefore lessens postpartum bleeding
- ease fatigue
- contain your own natural hormones
- balance your system
- replenish nutrients lost during childbirth
- increase energy levels
- ease your postpartum transition
Although current formal research on human placentophagy does not exist, what we do know is that women who take placenta capsules report fewer emotional issues, have more energy and tend to enjoy a faster, more pleasant postpartum recovery.
After two bouts of post partum depression, I was willing to try anything to prevent a third round. I want to enjoy my baby's infancy, not spend it in a cloud of anxiety and tears. I figured I don't have anything to lose. There are no side effects to consuming your placenta, and the more I read about it the more it seems like something everyone should do. I'm ready to scream from the roof tops "don't throw out your placenta! Don't feed it to a tree! Take it back into you and let it nourish and heal you! You are worth it!"

I called the ladies at Fruit of the Womb and within hours they had picked up the placenta from my mom's house. They returned it to me 24 hours later with a beautiful print of my placenta, a lovely umbilical cord keepsake, and about 100 placenta pills. The directions are to take 1-3 capsules, 1-3 times a day. "Listen to your body," the label says, "you'll know what you need."

Photo from Fruit of the Womb

I opened the pretty little jar and was, admittedly, a bit put off by the smell. My husband claims he can't smell it, but, honestly it makes me gag. No matter. I quickly popped three pills in my mouth. I figured, with my history, 3 pills, 3 times a day would be the right dose. Within about half an hour, I felt a little. . . stoned. It was nuts. I wasn't expecting to feel anything - except maybe not depressed. But I felt really calm and peaceful and a little. . . zoned out. And my lips felt a little . . . funny. Now, I just gave birth so it's been awhile since I've consumed more than a few sips of alcohol at a time, but after some reflection I realized I felt like I'd just had a big glass of wine. Huh. Maybe the maximum dose is overkill. My plan now is to take one in the morning, two in the afternoon and three when I'm ready for bed.

We'll see how things go. I'm optimistic. Which for me, post partum, is a rare thing indeed.

If you want to learn more about placenta medicine, visit the Fruit of the Womb web site and blog. You may not be as motivated as I was to read the whole blog, but it's fascinating and worth the time. And if you're interested in placenta encapsulation and you're not in the Denver Metro area, the ladies at Fruit of the Womb have put together a great directory of service providers throughout the country.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Baby's Here!

So little Thomas has made his arrival and I have tons and tons and tons I want to write about. All in good time. I keep thinking about how things are different the third time around. And how much easier it all is in so many ways.

My brother is getting ready to have his first baby, and I keep thinking of things I want to share with him to help make his first time easier than mine was. Of course, I don't want to sound like the obnoxious know-it-all mom. I know I still have a ton to learn. But there are things I know now that I didn't know the first time that are making things a bit easier and more fun.

Tonight, I just wanted to share one little tidbit that makes having a newborn more interesting.

Did you know that babies can control their tongues from birth? And that they will try to imitate you if you stick your tongue out at them? Give it a try. When your baby  is in a state of "quiet alertness" - that means he's awake and wide-eyed and still - look him in the eye, and slowly slowly stick your tongue out at him. And then wait. See what happens. Chances are you'll see his little tongue poke out of his mouth. You just had your first two-way conversation with your baby!

My mama always told us that sticking your tongue out at someone means "I love you." In this case, she was right!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still Pregnant

Yup. Thought yesterday was going to be the day. Cooked some more. Cleaned some more. Payed the bills. Had contractions all day. Marveled at my perfect children. (Seriously, the 5 year old played happily with his action figures by himself while his sister took a 3 hour nap. When does that ever happen?) Woke up this morning still pregnant. Oh well.

The readings at Mass last Sunday seemed particularly appropriate to this period of waiting. Of course, it was the first Sunday of Advent, and Advent is, after all, all about waiting. Specifically, even, about waiting for a baby to arrive. This passage from Matthew really spoke to me:
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
The anticipation, the excitement, the need to be prepared. My mother keeps telling me I need to rest, but I'm not tired. I feel almost manic. I figure no matter how much rest I get now, I'm still going to be exhausted once the baby is born. And I want to be able to rest and snuggle with him as much as possible when he gets here. And I'm getting plenty of sleep at night, so I'm not running myself ragged.

But I am tackling chores that I know won't get done for many more months. Not because I feel like I have to, but because I want to. Like scrubbing out my kitchen trash can. I couldn't tell you the last time I did that. It's not something that I sit around thinking I need to do. But I saw it needed to be done, and I had the time, energy and inclination to do it, so I did.

I really am excited to meet this little guy. The two children I have met are so different from each other and so wonderful in their unique ways. I can't wait to get to know this little one too. I can't wait to see how he fits into the family and how his siblings respond to him. I can't wait to smell him, and snuggle him, and nurse him, and hold him while he sleeps. I can't wait to sit with him by the fire while we celebrate Christmas in those magical newborn days. I can't wait to be surrounded by the wonder of a tiny new life at a time when the whole world is celebrating the birth of Our Savior. Perhaps I'll be blessed with some sense of the awe Mary must have felt on that first Christmas.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Guess it's been awhile since I've blogged. As this post title would indicate, I've been quite busy nesting.

I actually feel like I've been nesting this entire pregnancy. I've rearranged and organized the entire house. I've put little systems in place that make it possible for me to get my housework done - at least to my satisfaction. I've created routines for myself and the kids that make our days run more smoothly. I'm filling the freezer with food so I won't have to cook or worry about what people are going to eat while I'm snuggling a newborn. I've gotten most of my Christmas planning and shopping done. And I am feeling really good about the home we've created to bring this little baby into.

I know I wasn't nearly this prepared to bring home my other two babes. With Helen, I had grand plans to cook ahead, but I never got around to it. I think I somehow expected life to be easier after my second was born - like I knew what I was doing. I didn't. I was a mess.

This time, I'm trying to be more realistic. And more prepared. Which is easier, because this time, I have a little bit better idea of what needs to be done. And I have more realistic standards. I now that my older children will need to eat and that I will need to be prepared to feed them. I also know that it is perfectly okay for them to live for awhile on a diet made up solely of PBJ, canned fruit, apples, mac & cheese, cheese sticks and gold fish crackers. They'll be thrilled, it'll be easy for me, and we can worry about variety and nutrition when I'm no longer nursing a newborn around the clock.

On the other hand, I know that my hubby and I are not usually content with such monotonous fare. Especially me. Especially when I'm nursing a newborn around the clock. I must eat. I must eat copious amounts of food. I must eat meat at every meal. And so I have a freezer full of food that I like and that can be quickly nuked to feed a starving new mama.

My vision for this time is a bit different too. I'm learning to live with a bit of mess. I no longer harbor delusions that I'll be able to get through baby's first year with a shiny sink. I've built into my daily routines times that are just for sitting with my kids. I no longer rely quite as much on television to babysit my kids, and at the same time, I have no guilt about using it when I need it.

All of these are practical, pragmatic changes I've made that I hope will help me get through the addition of this new bundle of joy without a third bout with post partum depression. I know I still have some personal demons to face. I need to trust in myself as a mother. I need to trust that I can parent my older children and my newborn in a way that won't mess them up for life - even if that doesn't look like what Dr. Sears or Alfie Kohn or the wonderful, gentle mothers in my mother's group would consider ideal. I need to know that children are resilient and what they most need from me is my sanity. I need to know, deep in my soul and not just intellectually, that life is not perfect, that I am not perfect, that my imperfection is not the end of the world and that we will all survive it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pumpkin Potato Soup

I needed to use up the leftover pumpkin puree from the oatmeal pumpkin cookies I made the other day. Since it's been raining all day, I thought it would be nice to have some soup. And since I somehow ended up with two enormous bags of potatoes (I'm pretty sure the bagger put someone else's potatoes in my cart), I figured it'd be nice to combine the potatoes and pumpkin into the soup.

I thought the result was delicious enough to share. And surprisingly filling. I served it with whole wheat parmesean biscuits and it was a simple and delicious meal!

I shamelessly stole this image from www.thinandhealthy.com.
I didn't get around to taking a picture of my own soup.

Pumpkin Potato Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion chopped
2 large cloves of garlic
2 cups or so chicken broth (I used homemade, if you're using a can, just use one can)
2 cups pumpkin puree (again, if you're using a can, just use one can)
2 medium sized potatoes
1/2 cup of milk
10-12 fresh sage leaves (or use dry, but I don't know how much)
1 tsp salt (or to taste. I like salt.)
Pepper to taste - my kids flat out reject anything peppered, so I just added it at the table.

Heat the olive oil in your pot. Add butter, onion and garlic and sautee until onions are soft and butter starts to brown. Meanwhile, nuke your potatoes for about 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and pumpkin and stir. Scoop the flesh out of the potatoes and toss in the pot. Add the sage leaves and salt and let everything simmer for a bit. 15-20 minutes is good.

Scoop out the sage leaves and put the soup in the blender. Blend until smooth. Return soup to pot and stir in the milk. Serve.

Generally I don't think of blended soup and biscuits as a meal, but I think there was enough fat and protein in the biscuits and enough fat and fiber in the soup to fill me up. Or maybe it's just because I ate a gallon of the soup!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Five in a Row: Very Last First Time

Last week we "rowed" Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews and Ian Wallace. This is a really beautiful book about an Inuit girl, Eva, who walks under the ice at low tide to collect mussels. This is a rite of passage for Eva who will be making this journey alone for the first time - her very last first time. It's a very suspenseful story. Eva gets lost under the ice and her candle goes out as she can hear the tide coming in. There is just enough suspense to take a child to the edge of what they can handle without going too far.

The illustrations in this book are incredible - full of interesting details that provide a ton of information about Inuit culture. We learned a lot through this book and had a really great week.

Language Arts
Henry decided, on his own, to right a sea themed version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? It was entitled Blue Crab, Blue Crab, What Do You See? Henry isn't one for drawing, but I was proud that he did color the pictures he chose from the internet. He was pretty proud of himself too.

Helen was also pretty proud of her crab picture.

Social Studies/Geography/Art
We attempted to build an igloo out of ice cubes on a sheet of ice, but we couldn't get the ice to stick together. The interwebs assured me that I could sprinkle salt on the ice to temporarily melt them enough to stick together, but the interwebs lied.

So the project morphed into chipping an ice hole and coloring the ice with Crayola markers in blues and purples. Our art topic from the book was warm versus cool colors, and so we used blues and purples to emphasize the coldness of the ice and to make it look like the illustrations in the book. The kids also added some of their plastic sea creatures to the scene. And note Henry's "annuraaq."

Math and Science
I sent Henry out to collect "mussels" from the yard to use in a demonstration of the tides. We got side tracked with counting and grouping the rocks.

Then we moved onto a demonstration of how when the tides go out, tide pools and dry land are left. He used a Star Wars figure to collect mussels on the bottom of the sea.


We made a trip to the grocery store and purchased some mussels which Ryan ate for dinner. But first we dissected them. Henry used a butter knife (aka lever - we've been studying simple machines) to pry one open. And we looked up a few diagrams and videos online to figure out what we were looking at.


I went looking online for some traditional Inuit music to play with dinner last night. I didn't come across any Inuit folk streaming radio, but I did discover that "throat singing" is a traditional form of Inuit music. There's a passage in the book where Eva hums  "far back in her throat to make the echoes rumble." If we hadn't been studying this book so deeply I never would have known that this was a reference to traditional Inuit music! Helen really enjoyed watching throat singers on YouTube. Here's a brief demonstration:

Perfect Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

I'm always looking for snacks that my kids will eat that I feel good about them eating. These fit the bill. (I should mention that I don't worry about fat intake, so if you do, these may not be what you're looking for!) They're 100% whole grain, low in sugar, high in vitamin A, and really, really tasty. These are soft cookies, not crunchy. I recommend doubling the batch.

I have no idea where I found the original recipe and I've doctored the heck out of it. So here's my latest, yummiest version.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Cookies

We used a pumpkin we grew in our garden!
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 cup of chocolate chips or raisins or nuts

Preheat oven to 350.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, oats, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and salt.

Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add egg and mix. Add vanilla and mix. Add pumpkin and mix. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and combine. Stir in chips/raisins/nuts if using.

Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto ungreased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

I ran a nutrition analysis based on a batch of 48 cookies with 2 cookies per serving and here's what I came up with. Oh, and I made these without any of the optional mix-ins because my picky picky kid can't handle the texture. I would love to add walnuts to up the protein. Instead, I serve them with nuts and milk.

Caliories 134; Calories from Fat 59 (I told you, I'm not afaid of fat!); Total Fat 7g; Saturated Fat 4g; Trans Fat 0g; Total Carbs 16g; Dietary Fiber 2g/7%; Sugars 6g; Protein 3g; Vitamin A 14%; Vitamin C 1%; Calcium 2%; Iron 5%

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Flash Back: Stomping Turtles

Yesterday I posted on Facebook that I had driven past a guy selling baby turtles out of the back of a truck. A couple of old friends warned me to keep my son away from the turtles. The story that prompted this admonition is now 4 years old. But it's pretty funny and I thought I'd share it here for those who didn't know Henry and I then.

When Henry was just a week past his 1st birthday, and had been walking for just a few days, I took him to the zoo. We went into the children's petting zoo where they had a very large turtle wandering around. Henry was fascinated by this turtle. He kept following it around while I spotted him to keep him steady on his new land legs. Except at one point, he lunged forward and stepped on a, ahem, rather delicate part of the turtle. The next day I was still so upset by the incident I posted about it on my parenting forum.

Kind of sill maybe, but bugging me 
Yesterday at the zoo, I think Henry stepped on a turtle's peni$. The turtle had extended it for whatever reason and as it started to walk away it became visible. Henry took a step toward it and stepped on it. The thing that's troubling me is that the peni$ looked a lot different after Henry stepped on it.
I feel really, really horrible about this. The petting zoo attendant saw it happen and didn't say anything. I was really close and trying to keep Henry from hurting the animals.
Anyway, there's nothing I can do about it, but I feel sick about it.
Not sure what I want to hear, I guess this is just a confession. =P
I was genuinely concerned about this poor turtle and my conscience was really troubling me.  The initial responses to my confession took me off guard.
-- LOL! Don't know what to say??? ETA Can you call the zoo and ask about it, to help you feel better and see if anything really happened?
-- Is it bad that I'm laughing so hard I can hardly type?
And so I responded.

I know it sounds funny, but if you'd seen that poor turtle's peni$. . . 
What if they tell me the turtle is irreperably damaged and in terrible pain? How do you know if a turtle is in pain? I mean, he didn't scream or anything when Henry stepped on him. . .
Maybe it would make me feel better to call.
But, oh my, do you think person answering the phone would think I was just a complete freak?
"Um, hi, yeah, I was there yesterday, and my toddler stepped on the petting zoo turtle's peni$. And the peni$ looked, ummmm, different after he stepped on it. And I, uh, googled "turtle genitalia" to get pictures of what a turtle peni$ should look like, and, uh, it did not look like that after my son stepped on it. So, um, I was wondering if the turtle is okay."
This, apparently, did not help my fellow forum goers stop laughing.
-- Stop! I think it's the mental image of a turtle walking around with his peni$ sticking out...
-- You just gave me my morning laugh! If it's bugging you, call. It's nice that you care so much:) 
-- LOL OMG I am laughing so hard. If the zoo attendant saw it occur and wasn't concerned then I would just let the zoo deal with the turtles peni$. I think they WOULD laugh at you if you called with your concerns about the turtle.LOL
-- I am finally home from work and can let myself ROFLOL. I have tears in my eyes. I do feel a little guilty for laughing at your predicament. And now a picture ! I just couldn't figure out in my mind how this happened. This is definately a memorable board moment. I am sure he has received treatment and good care from his vets.  
There were some who tried to console me through their laughter. 
-- Turtles (that I have been around) are capable of making sounds. I would expect if Henry had hurt his parts that you would have heard something. 
-- I don't think they would think you were a freak. They would think you were a caring person.
-- Zoos are very quick to give animals the veterinary care they need. If the turtle is injured, it's being cared for. And obviously Henry isn't aware of what he did, so even if you found out that he HAD hurt the animal, what good would that do? Would it make you feel better?
--I just can't help myself Jessica...ROFLOL
I do hope the turtle wasn't harmed, but if it's that easy for a toddler to inadvertently injure a turtle's pen*s, then the zoo should know better than to put them in the petting zoo!!

-- I'm really sorry. I know you feel bad, and I think your concern is very sweet. But you are responsible for a near miss with my bladder :)  

And then my personal favorite:
-- Are you sure the turtle just didn't have a bowel movement?
Um, yeah. I was very, very sure. I know what squished poo looks like.

And then, of course, there was the person with intimate knowledge of turtles who made the statement which caused the thread to take a fateful turn.
Turtles do not have penises. Both the male and female have a cloaca (opening in the tail); the male's is shaped differently and during ejaculation something does protrude a bit, but it's not something he'd be walking around with hanging out. 
Now, this woman is typically very knowledgeable on such topics. But I had to beg to differ with her on this one. I didn't want to have to go there, but I had to defend myself.

I beg to differ. I sent this to Kate via email, but here it is for anyone who may be interested.
[unfortunately the link is no longer active]
Scroll down to the pic of the turtle in his water dish. May not be a peni$ per se (sure doesn't look like one I"ve ever seen) but this is what I saw and what Henry stepped on. And he was definitely walking around with it hanging out.
Now, the bulbous things hanging out of the turtle in that one pic - that's what Henry stepped on. And they were flat and weird looking after he stepped on them. . .
ETA: I can't belive I am now responsible for bringing turtle p * r n to the board. -- hangs head in shame -- 
Our resident turtle expert graciously conceded the point. 
-- Yikes! My aquatic turtle is, alas, not well-endowed . . . LOL.
You want to see a picture too, don't you? I know you do. If you don't, scroll quickly because here it comes.

Yes, the reactions on the board were similar to yours.
-- I would have completely mistaken that thingie for a tail, if it were me!
-- that is absolutely unbelievable! The things that I never knew about turtles...
-- From that picture, things look very... loose inside. If that makes sense? I would guess that maybe things just... shifted and made it look different.
And the woman who suggested it was poo apologized for thinking I was that dense
-- My goodness, that definitely doesn't look like poo. --snort-- I'm not laughing at you, honest, I was just wondering.
And then someone did what we like to do in our culture. She blamed the victim.
-- Weird. That picture clarifies what happened, but I still believe that if the turtle is injured, keepers will notice and call in the zoo vets. At least when I volunteered at a zoo, that's how it worked. They are _very_ strict about the health of animals.

You know, he shouldn't be walking around with it hanging out, should he?* It almost makes me wonder if there was something wrong with the turtle to begin with.
* By "shouldn't" I mean in a physiological/behavioral sense, not a moral sense, of course. We all know that walking around with a penis hanging out violates modesty norms in North American human culture. The question is, what about turtle culture?

At this point the entire thread was a huge joke with ROFLOLing, --snort--ing, etc. My nickname on the board became "Mother of the Turtle Penis Stomper," and to this day, four years later, people still bring it up.

For those readers who are still concerned about the turtle, as far as I know he's fine. At the time, I decided just to trust in the excellent care I know the zoo staff provides for all of its animals. (Translation, I was a big chicken and decided not to call.) But I did return to the zoo about a week after the accident. The turtle was still in the petting zoo and apparently fine. At least I didn't notice any bandages or anything.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Traumatize a 2-Year-Old: Our Trip to the Post Office

Periodically Helen and I get to have a "girl's day" while Ryan takes Henry fishing. Girl's day typically involves running errands, which may not seem as exciting as going fishing with daddy, but Helen seems to enjoy it. She likes to help me carry things and pay for things, and, I suppose it's just nice to have mommy's undivided attention.

I enjoy running errands with just one child, of course, because it is so much easier to get one child in and out (and in and out) of a car seat than to wrangle two children. At least theoretically. See, Helen has her own babies. Lots of them. We have a two baby limit for car trips and so her entourage varies from trip to trip. Today we took Bear and Seeping Baby. And since there were two empty car seats in the car (yes, I've already installed the baby's car seat), Bear and Seeping Baby each had to be strapped in to a car seat. And unstrapped when we arrived at the library. And restrapped ("Do the yeg straps too!!!!!") when we left the library. And unstrapped and restrapped and, well, you get the picture. I had plenty of time, and so I indulged her. I'm sure anyone watching me was either amused or bewildered by my behavior. I'm equally sure at least one childless twenty-something thought I was a complete lunatic.

Helen often "wears" her babies while we're out.
Here she is quite literally wearing Baby Joona, one of her favorite babies.

When we arrived at the post office I convinced her to leave the babies in the car because it would just be a quick stop. I struggled with this because, of course, I don't want to teach my daughter that it's okay to leave babies unattended in cars. I decided not to over think it.

To satisfy her need to be a big girl I handed her a small package containing a little dress I'm sending to a friend's baby girl. I told her that we were at the Post Office and that we would be sending the dress to Baby Emmie.

When we walked inside Helen asked, "What this place, mama?" I again explained this was the Post Office where we would send the dress to Baby Emmie. She said, "I no see Emmie." I realized that this whole concept of sending packages through the mail was completely foreign to her. So I explained, as simply as I could, that the Post Office is where the mailman works and that we would give the package to the man at the counter and that he would give it to the mailman who would put it on a truck and drive it to Baby Emmie's house. She seemed skeptical but became distracted by the display of cards and stamps.

When it was our turn to hand over our packages, I gave the clerk my other two packages and told Helen to turn over the dress. She clutched it tightly and glared at me. I assured her that the nice man would make sure the dress gets to Baby Emmie. She clung tighter and glared at him. He offered her a Beauty and the Beast post card in exchange for the package. (Little did he know that as the second child with a big brother he might have had better luck with a dinosaur post card or something.) She curtly said, "no," and turned her back on him.

At this point I realized that our cajoling was going to be fruitless, and  that we were going to have to do this "the hard way." I pried the package from her tiny fingers and handed it over. She sobbed pathetically while the man weighed and marked the package, and I paid the shipping while trying to console her. I assured her that Emmie would get the dress and promised that her mommy will take a picture of her and the dress when it gets there. I whisked her out to the car and distracted her with caring for Bear and Seeping Baby.

Who knew that learning about the U.S. Postal Service would be so traumatic?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Comfort Nursing

Elizabeth Pantley shared the following quote today on her Facebook page.

 "No one could give her such soothing and sensible consolation as this little three-month-old creature when he lay at her breast and she felt the movement of his lips and the snuffling of his tiny nose.” ~Leo Tolstoy
It resonated with me because it took me back to a time when holding and nursing my little one was the greatest comfort I could find in a devastatingly difficult time.

My little Helen was 10 months old when my 16 year old brother died by suicide. Needless to say this turned my entire world upside down. And through that first, most difficult week between Jared's death and his funeral, I was so blessed to have the constant warmth and snuggles of such a sweet little girl. I clung to her and nursed her through those first hours as we met with the detectives. I held her close that night as I cried rather than slept and she nursed sweetly through the night. I wore her close in the sling, my back aching, through the viewing. Her presence provided comfort not only for me, but for many others. But for me, she was my life line.

Her constant presence and constant need for my milk, far from being a burden in that difficult time, gave me a reason to get through it. When all of the activity died down and everyone went home, and I left my parents home to return to "normal life," it was my children that helped me get out of bed each day. Both of my children needed me, but for my little Helen I was irreplaceable. No one else could give her the milk she wanted and needed. And it was such an easy need to fill. I just had to sit or lay down and snuggle a bundle of joy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More of The Glorious Flight

As promised, here are some of Henry's pictures from his experiments with perspective:

From the ground, looking up.


Extreme close up

Self Portrait

He also decided to get creative all on his own today with flight based arts and crafts. For those of you who happen to know him, you know that this is extremely out of character. We created an art gallery to show daddy when he got home.

Here's a self portrait of him watching an orange glider and a purple helicopter fly through the sky. He signed his name in blue.

This one is of a spaceship blasting around the earth.

I love this three dimensional airplane he created with scissors glue and tape. Completely on his own. The piece on the bottom keeps the airplane flying straight.

Finally, this picture has nothing to do with The Glorious Flight or flying, but it sparked a funny story.

I was pointing out to him how the colors and subject matter of his family portrait are similar to those of Michelangelo's Holy Family (which was hanging in the hallway nearby). See the similarities? (Play along with me here. . .)

I went on to tell him that Michelangelo is a famous painter who has made many beautiful paintings and is one of my personal favorite artists. Henry responded with, "I think I may be an even better painter than he is!"

Nothing wrong with that boy's self esteem.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


We have officially started our Five in a Row (FIAR) curriculum this week with the book The Glorious Flight by Alice and Martin Provensen.

For those unfamiliar with FIAR, it is a storybook/unit based curriculum designed for use with 4 to 8 year olds. You read each book every day for five days and each day do a subject related lesson. For example, on Mondays you might do social studies, Tuesdays art, etc. The suggested lessons are simple and sweet, and the potential for expanding the curriculum is limitless.

So as I said, we started with The Glorious Flight. This is the story of Louis Bleriot, an early French aviator who designed, built, and flew his own planes.  After 8 years, 11 planes, and many mishaps, Bleriot became the first pilot to cross the English Channel from France to England in a glorious (and dangerous!) 37 minute flight.

The first time we read this story, neither Henry nor I were terribly thrilled by it. I thought it would be like pulling teeth to get him to sit through it even one more time. Today we read it for the third time, and something amazing has happened. We've been able to see and appreciate the richness of the story, language, and art of the book. Now, those who have been "rowing" for awhile will silently chuckle I'm sure. For that is the point of FIAR - delving deeply into one book to truly mine its riches.

We have come to love the unflappable Papa Bleriot and his family, and we have found much to treasure in this beautiful book.

Here are some of the things we've done and learned with this book. I'll try to break it out by subject.

Math and Science
We've spent a lot of time flying different kinds of paper airplanes, discussing which ones go the furthest and why. We've seen what shapes make better flyers, which glide best, which go the fastest, etc. These experiments led to a discussion of angles as I instructed Henry to launch a plane at a 45 degree angle and he asked what an angle is. So we got out paper and pencil, learned what an angle is, how a triangle has three angles, a square has four, etc. We learned about right angles, 180 degree angles, and 45 degree angles. Not too bad for not having a math curriculum!

We will supplement the science with The Way Things Work video on flight. As soon as I can get it from the library.

History and Social Studies
In addition to Louis Bleriot, we've learned about the Wright Brothers, Ruth Law, and Lt. Gail Halvorsen a.k.a. the Chocolate Pilot. We still have books to read about Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and some other early pilots.

Through these books we've learned some geography. Henry now knows where France and England are on the map and that they are separated by the English Channel.  He's learned that people in France speak French. He knows where to find Chicago and New York City on the map and that Chicago and NYC are cities in the states of Illinois and New York.

We've learned lessons of perseverance and the importance of making reparations. We've learned how much can be learned from making mistakes.

One of the most "schooly" things I do with Henry is our "word of the day." This is simply a word, chosen from the book and usually a verb, that I write on our chalk board. The first time I did this I was amazed at how much he learned from this simple lesson. I never say a word about it. I wait for him to notice it. He'll either sound it out or ask me to read it for him. Then he'll point out what he notices about it. This week we've discussed the "silent e" that makes the "i" say it's name in the word glide. We reviewed the rule "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking" with sail. And we learned that "y" is sometimes a vowel with the word fly.

We learned about onomatopia and will review the concept with tomorrow's word of the day, CRASH!

My favorite language activity involved using the Lord Alfred Tennyson Poem, The Eagle. Henry loves it and I hope we'll both have it memorized by the end of the week. Here's the excerpt.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands; 
Close to the sun in lonely lands, 
Ringed with the azure world, he stands. 

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; 
He watches from his mountain walls, 
And like a thunderbolt he falls. 

I looked for a good read aloud poem at the Institute for Excellence in Writing. I was simply looking for something that somehow related to flight in some way. I chose this poem before I had even read The Glorious Flight. So I was thrilled when I came across this passage in the book describing the first flight of Bleriot II:

"Like a great swan, the beautiful glider rises into the air . . .  . . . and shoots down into the river with a splash that frightens the fishes." 
We discussed how the images were similar and different and compared the language used by each author.

One of the lessons suggested in FIAR is a discussion on perspective. We talked about how some of the pictures are drawn looking up into the sky and others are drawn looking from the sky down on the village and people. I then gave Henry a camera and let him take some pictures from different perspectives. I'll get those up ASAP. Henry's favorite perspective was the "extreme close up!"

We haven't gotten to this lesson this week (though the discussion reparations would certainly fall here too). I looked up the patron saint of pilots and discovered St. Joseph of Cupertino, a.k.a. the Flying Friar.  We have The Reluctant Saint coming from Netflix so we can learn more about this fascinating man of God during family movie night. I'm hoping the story will be compelling enough that Henry will ignore the fact that it's in black and white. Otherwise, Ryan and I will watch it together and share the story with the kids afterward.

Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much this curriculum has had to offer us - especially since it wasn't a book I was really looking forward to! Next week we'll "row" How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. I'm expecting that one to be even more fun!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One of my favorite children's illustrators

We've been reading a lot of books around here lately, and Helen has discovered a love for Nadine Bernard Westcott.

I first discovered Westcott when Henry was about Helens' age. I checked out Hello, Snow! from the library and absolutely fell in love with the joyful rhyme by Hope Vestergaard. With passages like "Hello, sock./ Good bye, toe./ Hold on, piggies --/ In you go!" this book captures the thrill of a young child playing in the snow. And Westcott's playful illustrations add immeasurably to the fun.

Westcott has also done her own series of books, Sing Along Stories, in which she takes a classic children's rhyme (Mary Had a Little Lamb, Yankee Doodle, Miss Mary Mack, etc.), expands it and illustrates it. Her illustrations are so full of life and movement and provide for endless conversations and enjoyment with young children.  My current favorite, and Helen's, is Skip to My Lou. In Westcott's take on the traditional tale, not only are the flies in the sugar bowl, but the cats have made a mess of the buttermilk, and the cows are in the kitchen making pancakes which the pigs are eating in the parlor. The entire farm is in chaos until the farmer and his wife are due to return in 15 minutes! 

Westcott is a genius and I thank her for the treasure she's given me to share with my children.

(Oh, and as a bonus, the simple text set to music is a great way to develop early reading skills!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall is in the Air!!!

Fall is absolutely, hands down, my favorite time of year. The infernal heat of summer transferring its intensity to the blazing leaves of the trees. Harvest festivals,  apple cider, farm field trips, pumpkin carving, cool mountain hikes, Halloween, Thanksgiving.  
One of my favorite fall events is the perfect trifecta that is All Hallowed's Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. My son thinks there's nothing better than a holiday that allows him to hack into pumpkins, dress up in a scary costume, and stay up late to wander the neighborhoods collecting an enormous bag of candy
After all of that excitement, our family spends the next day in the cozier activity of baking bread. Pan de Muerto to be exact.  There's just something about baking bread. And baking bread in the shape of a skull is, apparently, kid nirvana. For me, I've found bread baking to be the perfect way to commemorate a holy day which, in our culture at least, is not widely celebrated. It's an all day activity, and each time we go back to the dough, my mind is brought back to the importance of the day.  It’s become one of my favorite fall traditions.  

Pan de Muerto 2009

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Finding Our Way

So tomorrow ends our first official week of homeschooling. While nothing has really changed, this has been a big emotional shift for me, and a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I've learned some important lessons about my son and about myself and about what is best for our family.
First, I've learned that boxed curriculum is not best for our family. Not even one component of a boxed curriculum such as the "Sing, Spell, Read and Write" program. It's just not a good fit for H1. We'll use parts of it - the music and maybe some of the games. But I don't think we're going to go through the lessons. It just doesn't feel "authentic," and he's learning so much from life, that I'm going to let it go.

What this week has really been is a lesson in trusting myself. It's so easy to get caught up in the hype and feel like I'm supposed to do this or that - have a curriculum, teach him phonics, have a strict school time every day, etc., etc. I have to keep reminding myself why we've chosen to homeschool and what I know about how kids learn. I believe in embedded learning opportunities and teachable moments. I believe in the world as a classroom. I believe it is okay if a kid isn't reading at age 5.

I also believe my kid is incredibly bright and I need to let go of the need to prove it by having him be able to read. Not all bright kids are early readers. In fact, many of them read much later than their peers. And so what? H1's intelligence is not about me. My job is to be the best teacher I can for him.

But I am not really an unschooler at heart, either. I personally need some structure and accountability or I will basically ignore my kids all day unless they're giving me no other choice. And that doesn't feel good either. I want to enjoy my children. I want to live life with them. That's one of the major reasons we want to homeschool. So I need something. Something to guide our interactions together.

I was talking with a fellow homeschooling mom today and she mentioned she was doing Five in a Row. This is a story book based curriculum. You read the same story for five days in a row and each day it provides an activity from a different subject area. I've looked into the curriculum before and it seems lovely. It feels warm. It feels real. It feels low pressure. I had dismissed it as too simple, but really, isn't there beauty in simplicity? It feels better to have a spring board into other activities and interests than to feel locked into a boring curriculum that is frustrating and really just a way to pass the time.

It's hard for me to explain, because it's mostly just a feeling I have, but when I imagine days spent learning with my children, the images that make me smile are curling up on the couch with a book, or reading in the grass outside, or wandering through the wilderness together marveling at nature. Going through workbooks, playing phonics games, sitting at a table doing drill of any kind just doesn't evoke warm fuzzies from me. I know it does for some people. I know some people are really turned on by a fresh workbook. And honestly, if I was teaching a different kid, I might be too. But I know that I cannot homeschool if every day is going to be a fight. If learning is going to be a fight, I'd rather my kid go fight with someone else and save the warm fuzzies for me.

So, at least for now, while they're still so young, I'm scrapping the formal lessons in favor of some fun and trusting that the learning will continue to come as it has. I will keep listening for God's whisperings in my heart as I raise the children he has entrusted to my care, and I will try to remember to ask for the graces of matrimony that are promised to us as we raise these children.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to Home School

Well, not back exactly. Depending on how you look at it, we're either just beginning or we're just continuing on the same path we've been on. But a few things have changed.

This week, all across America, H1's age mates are heading off to kindergarten. So, I guess we've "officially" begun our homeschool journey. I've created a daily and weekly schedule for the family. It includes some "kid school" time among many of the activities we already participate in.

Our daily routine includes a trip to a local park. Today the park was full of other kindergarteners burning off steam after their first day of school. Which is how I came to have what I am sure is only the beginning of a long line of annoying conversations. It went like this:

Nice dad in the park: So how old is your son?
Me: He's 5.
NDIP: So he's in kindergarten?
Me: Yep
NDIP: So is my daughter. She goes to [local highly rated elementary school]. Where does your son go?
Me: We homeschool.
NDIP: Oh. Do you do that on your own or as part of a group?

At this point I explain the once a week homeschool enrichment program that H1 attends.

NDIP: Oh. We thought about homeschooling, but we wanted her to be around kids her own age.
Me, inwardly rolling my eyes: Well, that's one of the nice things about this program.

Now, I could have said any number of things: "Really? Why?" or "Hmmm. We don't really want our son to have friends." or "I plan to intentionally keep my kid from all kids his age. In fact, crap! We should leave the park right now as this place is crawling with kindergardeners."

Now, I don't believe this man had any malicious intent or realized that what he said could have been offensive. Now that I've had time to process it, I think the main problem here is that the topic of homeschooling is a small talk killer. Though homeschooling is becoming more and more common, it still one of those things that people don't quite know how to respond to. But really, at least in the context of meeting a stranger in the park, it's not that big a deal. It's just what we do. And it's not a commentary on your family and the choices you've made. I don't care. Really. I fully believe that each family has the right and the capability to make good decisions for itself. You don't have to defend your choices to me.

Also, schooling is so prevalaent and so mainstream that, when it comes to school-age kids, we don't know what else to talk about. So maybe I need to come up with a way to quickly redirect the conversation to a non-school, "how's-the-weather" sort of topic. Maybe, "do you live in the neighborhood? Isn't it great to be so near such a beautiful park?"

As for the rest of our day, I think it went pretty well. School around here is pretty loose. I've only scheduled in 2 or 3 short lessons a day. We have dedicated time for Reading, Math and Spanish. Everything else is well covered by our daily living. For example, while we have no "science time," in the past week we've learned how to identify a swallow, discovered volcanic rock in our back yard, learned all about how sound waves travel through the air and into our ear where they vibrate the ear drum and the cochlea turns them into electrical impulses which the brain interprets as sound. And more. Really, when it comes to science, I'm learning more from him than I'm teaching him!

Our very first intro to kid school was today's phonics lesson. He resisted, but once we got started he enjoyed it and it was quick and painless. He then insisted on listening to the phonics song over and over and over and over again. After kid school we headed out to the museum of nature and science. While H2 napped we did a Spanish lesson. Again, he resisted, but didn't want to stop once we started. He seems to be wary of anything that may have expectations of him attached to it. So, for now, kid school is optional to him. I'm going to do the lesson no matter what, and he can choose whether to participate. So far that strategy has worked well with him.

Tomorrow he'll go to his first full-day of his enrichment program. I'll admit I'm nervous. Orientation was less than wonderful for us. Hopefully he'll hang in there a bit better tomorrow. We shall see.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Great Science Series for Kids

H1 is very interested in science these days. Some of his favorite topics include human anatomy, sea life, and, oddly enough, sound. We've discovered a couple of really great series of kids' science videos, and I thought I'd share them here.

Popular Mechanics for Kids
This series really makes science fun and exciting. There's a lot of gross out science and amazing animal features. We've learned all about aquariums, sewers and water reclamation, garbage and landfills, killer animals . . . all kinds of exciting stuff! This is one that I enjoy watching with the kids because I learn something too. It even holds the attention of my 2-year-old.

The Way Things Work
This series is based on the classic book by David Macaulay and focuses primarily on physics. Islanders and mammoths on the mythical "Mammoth Island" seek to solve everyday problems and teach the principles of physics along the way. H1 will watch these 2-3 times in a row. I couldn't find the videos on Amazon, but we've been getting them from the library. They're short - about 13 minutes - and they cover topics such as light, sound, electricity, heat, pressure, etc. Designed to be used in 3-6 grade classrooms, each DVD comes with a teacher's guide that provides a summary, a glossary, pre-viewing discussion questions, follow-up questions and activities, suggested internet resources and suggested print resources. Grab one of these and you can have a complete physics unit. Very cool.

We've checked out lots of videos form the library, but these have been the favorites so far. I'm sure there many other great resources out ht

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whatever is pure . . .

We've recently had some run-ins with superheroes at our house. It seemed harmless enough at first, but it has started to cause problems with behavior. Spiderman recently swung from his web (i.e. the shower curtain) and ended up in the ER with 4 staples in his head. That was clearly a problem, but the greater problem, really, has been the physical aggression and the level of disrespect and the mood swings that seem to have escalated since we've invited these wonder men into our home. But it was the ER visit that made me start really thinking about it.

Yesterday, at H1's request, we got a copy of some Batman cartoons from the library. I watched one with him, and truly it was horrible. Very dark, very violent. But H1 loves the excitement. I spent a lot of time yesterday pondering the role of this sort of entertainment in the life our family. I asked God to speak to me about it. It came to me that this is just the beginning of our job as parents in determining what forms of entertainment are appropriate for our children, and we have to learn how to discern what is good and right for our family. Would we let our son surf porn online just because "everyone's doing it?"

Still, taking something a child loves away from him is never easy as a parent. At least it's not for me. I dread conflict. I dread tantrums. It's a weakness of mine as a parent and an area I know God is asking me to grow in.

As nap time approached today (when H1 watches TV while H2 naps), I was dreading the meltdown that would come when I informed H1 that there would be no Batman today. I thought. I prayed. I fretted. Then I remembered the following passage:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
I decided to read it to H1. I asked God to guide me. I prayed to H1's guardian angel. When he asked me to put on Batman, I asked him to first sit on the couch with me and read something from the Bible. I told them that they were words written by Paul, who used to be Saul. (Saul's conversion story made a huge impact on him and he's always remembered it.)

I read it to him and then I summarized it again for him, telling him that God wants us to spend our time with things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and excellent. I told him that I'd been thinking about the TV shows we've been watching and I don't think that Batman fits into this category. I waited for the protest. He was quiet for a moment and then he said, "It's not true, but it is honorable." I said, "Well, beating people up isn't honorable and Batman does a lot of beating people up." He was quiet again for a second and then he picked up a copy of Popular Mechanics for Kids and said, "How about we watch this instead?"

I wanted to weep! I told him I was very proud of him for choosing a more suitable program and he is now happily watching something I feel very good about.

I never cease to be amazed by these miracles. I wish I could remember that when we seek to do the Lord's will and ask for His help, He will make the seemingly impossible not only possible, but easy.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thoughts on Community Service

Random, unorganized, half-formed thoughts on community service.

I was recently exposed to an educational philosophy that has me very excited about my decision to homeschool (more on that later). One of the key tenets of this philosophy is that the primary curriculum of a child's early years (birth to about age 8) is simply (ha!) learning good from bad, right from wrong, and true from false. These are the impressionable years where you have the opportunity to fully indoctrinate your child into your family's values. 

Of course, this has me thinking about our family's values. I am, once again, renewing my efforts at (weekly) daily Mass attendance. I believe that I have found a nice, nearby Mass at a time that almost works for my family (it's the 8:15 am Mass at St. James for those who may be interested).

I am also, once again, interested in finding some sort of service opportunity to participate in with my children. And this is where I begin sharing my rambling, half-baked, stream-of-consciousness with you.

It occurred to me as I was searching for an opportunity that something as simple as baking cookies for the elderly couple across the street would be a great way to serve with my kids. It also seems the best formalized service available to me with small kids is visiting seniors in nursing homes. I cannot imagine anything I'd less like to do. It seems so awkward. Does anyone who's done this have any insights on how to do it well?  

I'd like to start modeling service to the community for my kids, but . . . This is hard for me to articulate. I don't want to create an "other" mindset. Does that make sense? I want my children to value serving everyone - not just those who are officially "at risk" "in need" or "less fortunate." I want them to serve their father, mother, sister, brother, neighbor, friend. I don't necessarily think that serving at a soup kitchen has instrinsically more value than sharing toys with your sibling. Does that make sense? I think in many ways it's easier to spend an evening feeling good about yourself serving soup to the homeless than it is to be nice to the people in your own home. I'm not saying that volunteering in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or a food bank is a bad thing. Not at all. These are very, very important things to do and opportunities I have considered. I just want to make sure that I don't give my kids the idea that spending time with a senior at a senior home is somehow better than spending time with their own grandparents.

And yet, even as I write that I think, "is it really not?" I mean, their grandparents have lots of friends. The old guy at the nursing home may not have anyone who comes to see him. Their grandparents are healthy and vital, nursing home residents generally can't get out and seek their own adventures.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that "the family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor (2208)."

The Bible tells us that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27)."

We are also told "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8) and "If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need" (1 Timothy 5:16).

So it seems to me that, yes, we are called first and foremost to "take care of our own." But this in no way diminishes our obligation to help our neighbor.

Okay. So again, random, jumbled thoughts! I'm not sure what I'm after here. Just thinking out loud I suppose. I welcome your own thoughts on the topic - even if they're as incoherent as mine!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Little Friends in the Forest

I was captivated by the "Instant Friends Kit" in the June/July issue of Disney's Family Fun magazine.

I was bored this afternoon and wanted to do something outside with the kids. I happened to have a handful of googly eyes on hand, so we made our own! Cute critters, don't you think?

Yay! Our Kindergarten Curriculum is here!

I guess I'm officially a homeschooler. I've always considered myself a homeschooler, but now that my son is officially of kindergarten age, it feels more official. People are going to start noticing he's not in school, even though he "should be."

We are enrolled in a homeschool enrichment program through the local school district. It's a neat program that meets one day a week and offers some of those enrichment activities that can be difficult or inconvenient to offer at home (group games in gym class, big messy art projects, dissection, etc.). It also offers a great community of homeschooling families for friendship and support. I'm really looking forward to it.

One of the really great benefits of the program is access to free curriculum, and I just got our supplies today. If I were to buy everything I just got for free, I'd have to spend over $600. So this is a really great perk. Each family is allowed to check out one product per subject per child/grade.

So what's in our package?

Sing, Spell, Read and Write
This looks like a really fun way to learn to read. It came with a ton of little readers and kids keep track of their progress by moving a little race car around a race track. I think DS will find this motivating. I'm excited about the music CD (he's a very auditory learner) and the games. We got it out and looked at it today and he's excited about it being special time with mommy while little sister naps.

I don't know much about this except that the mom I talked to at the curriculum affair kept going on and on and about how clearly and easily it teaches basic math concepts. She had been using the Saxon program and then switched to Math-U-See and couldn't believe how well everything clicked for her kids after that. I like that it's hands on.

Power Glide Children's Spanish
This teaches Spanish through an action and adventure story. It's a very auditory program and I think DS is going to love it.

Artistic Pursuits
I actually wasn't sure about getting an art curriculum, but since it was free, I figured it didn't hurt to check it out. I liked this one because it comes with prints of famous pieces and teaches art appreciation and isn't just a "how to draw" course. I figured even if DS hates it, I might learn something from it.

I didn't get a social studies or science curriculum because, frankly, what was available was totally lame. We do a lot of science through our homeschool preschool co-op and, when I looked at the available text books, I realized that what we've been doing is at at least a 3rd grade level. So we're good there! As for social studies, I feel like DS is getting plenty of that through just our natural living - particularly what is considered kindergarten-level social studies.

I should mention here that I've been really hesitant about using curriculum at all. I certainly don't think it's necessary. But if we can keep it fun, I think it's a great way to provide some structure to our days and offer activities that DS and I can do together that we (hopefully) will both enjoy. DS seems excited about the idea of learning to read and write and do math. So I'm excited too!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Mass-ive Headache

I have always felt called to attend daily Mass with my children. Not everyday, but at least once a week. I've never done it. Well, I may have taken #1 once or twice before #2 was born, but it's certainly never been part of my routine.

Recently, daily Mass attendance was a topic of conversation on a Catholic homeschooling board I am a part of, and I heard once again that this is something I need to do. "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your heart." I've been working on instituting more discipline into my life, and I have somewhat of a fledgling weekly routine, so I decided Thursday would be my day for taking the kids to Mass. Today is Thursday.

I have to tell you, I was not looking forward to this. My kids are not the sweet little angels that fold their hands neatly in their lap and sit, stand and kneel with the congregation. My 5yo boy likes to alternate giving me kisses and an angelic "aren't I being good?" smile with flopping his body around in the pew pretending he's just been shot. My 2yo girl likes to alternate "singing" loudly from the hymnal with digging through my purse to find my lipstick to smear all over her face while I'm attempting to pray.

They're cute. They're hilarious. So long as it's not your job to keep them "still and quiet" for the duration of Mass.

Now I don't have unreasonable expectations. I don't expect them to actually sit still and be quiet for the entire Mass. I expect to have to remind them of appropriate behavior. But I do expect my 5yo to respond to my reminders without "sassing" me. When I ask him to sit up, I expect him to sit up, not to let his tongue hang out of his mouth and kick the pews.

By the time the final blessing rolled around I was exhausted and discouraged. A kind older woman who had been sitting behind us came and told me I have beautiful children and that she "had to chuckle" because she's been there. She told me I was doing a good job. I appreciated her kindness, but I didn't believe her. I felt like a miserable failure.

We went home and I put the 2yo down for a nap, and, after some quiet time, my son and I had a snack together.

Suddenly he raised his cracker, broke it in half and said, "Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body." He turned to me and handed me half of the cracker. Then he asked, "Can the water be the blood?" Uh, sure. "Take this all of you and drink it. This is my blood." He handed me the cup.

Then he said something I don't quite remember about how Jesus makes him happy.

"How does Jesus make you happy?" I asked.

"He shares. He shares his body and his blood."

Well okay then, I guess it wasn't a complete waste of time taking him to Mass.