Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Permissions

I don't know about you, but we're five days into December and I already feel like Christmas is a bust. I had all these great plans. Celebrate St. Nicholas Day, learn about Hannukah, make home made gifts, lots of service projects and cookies and caroling. All those things that Christmas is supposed to have, right?

Well, life happened. We came home from Thanksgiving with terrible head colds/sinus infections. Rob puked for two days straight, we spent eight hours in two different ER's, the closing date on our house got pushed back to the 20th, we haven't packed a single box, my baby is in the "Christmas trees are toys" stage, etc, etc.

Sound familiar? Last year it was a new baby and a tonsillectomy. For you it may be financial strain, a family crisis, whatever it is you still want Christmas to be that wonderful magical season, but how are you going to pull that off? And more importantly, how will you avoid that feel of guilt or shame for not doing/being/baking enough?

Well, I'll tell you. No, no, I'll give you permission.

I give you permissions to take care of gift purchases online. Forget shopping local. Amazon is your friend.

I give you permission to buy one or two presents for your kids. I also give you permission to buy low-quality, non-eco-friendly, will probably break next week presents.

I give you permission to write a thank you note to someone and call it your Christmas service/Charity.

I give you permission to sing Christmas songs wherever you are and call it caroling.

I give you permission to NOT DO neighbor gifts.

I give you permission to NOT GO to that party.

I give you permission snuggle on the couch and watch Christmas movies all day without worrying about screen time.

I give you permission to bake cookies with the kids. Using premade, store bought dough.

I give you permission to have pleasant family meals, courtesy of the freezer section.

I give you permission to make your house feel Christmasy...with a cheap, vinyl tablecloth, a fake tree, and a few strands of lights. No ornament making, no stomping around the wilderness and cutting your own tree, no clearing off every shelf of your house to make room for the myriads of Christmas decorations. Put on a Pandora station. It's beginning to look a lot Christmas in here.

Just remember. You don't HAVE TO go. You don't HAVE TO buy. You don't HAVE TO make. You don't HAVE TO do anything that will make you feel more stressed, more strung out, more cranky, frustrated, anxious.

And most importantly, you don't have to feel guilty about it, either.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Adding reverence to your day

Reverence isn't exactly at the top of the list of things we feel like we can bring to our young children. Usually, between all the fighting, whining, spilling, crying, boo-boos, falls, and everything, reverence is the farthest thing from our minds.

But it doesn't mean we don't crave it. And as I've learned recently, those loud, energetic munchkins appreciate it too. In small doses of course. I've made a few changes to our rhythm lately to increase opportunities for reverence and have been amazed at the results.

1. Wake up early. I'm not a morning person. I'd much rather stay up late, so this has been a sacrifice for me. But having my own, personal time of reverence in the morning makes me much more able to bring that calm spirit to my children during the day. You can not give water from a dry well.

2. Light a candle. I know some families who light a candle for morning circle. Others at mealtime. We just began last week lighting one at bedtime. We sing a short song, light the candle and then I sit outside the bedrooms to watch as the kids listen to an audio story and blow the candle out when they're ready.

I can't even begin to tell you how my children have taken to this new tradition. The very first night I lit the candle, Jane stood in front of it and sang improvised songs. Without me telling her the candle was of any spiritual significance (I just thought it would be calming) she just started pouring out her heart in beautiful songs of faith.

The candle is a tradition that won't be going away soon.

3. Mark routine moments of your day with a song or verse. We already sing working songs when we do morning chores, and circle songs. Now we have a night time songs. These are fabulous for transitions and they really work to calm my kids. But I decided to add a new song to a special time today. When Max joins me in the early morning and we watch the sunrise together. We've been doing this for a couple weeks now. Usually I just comment on the colors or thank Max for waking up the sun. But today I held him on my lap and sang, "Here Comes the Sun," just as those rays of light really came into view.

Not necessarily a song you might pair with the idea of reverence. And really, just a small thing. I didn't even know if Max cared that much that I tried to add that special moment with him. But tonight as he said his prayers he thanked Heavenly Father for "the wonderful sunrise."

Mamas. Life can get hectic and busy. But reverence, I'm learning, is found in the moments. With only a few small tweaks here and there, I hope
you can find some places for it in your life as well.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What We've Been Up To: Homeschool Edition

Oh my. We have been busy. Between getting into Pitch Wars and finishing final edits on my novel. And teaching a dissection class (did I mention being a chemist? EEK!) and looking for a house, and school and life in general. We've just been busy.

But for the most part, life at home keeps it's same, slow feel. Which I love.

I thought I'd just share what our days look like and give a brief view of our schooling. It's changed over the last month or so, since realizing I'd strayed from my own philosophy and vision to try and fit a more traditional structure.

These days I wake up early. Between 6 and 6:20 most days. It's rough, but it's worth it to get my day started right. I read scriptures, pray, check e-mail, read lesson plans.

And then Max joins me. He has to wake up the sun, you know.

Then it's breakfast, a walk, and morning work. Play outside, and at 10 we do circle time.

Circle time consists of seasonal songs and verses, a possible extra song or verse on a topic of my choosing, calendar time, and sign language time. All in all, less than ten minutes.

Then it's snack time and I tell the story for the week. After that we do our activity for the day.

Monday: paint
Tuesday: games
Wednesday: bake
Thursday: n/a
Friday: beeswax modeling

Twice a week I throw in a drawing lesson and a math lesson. Then we play until lunch. Read stories, and have quiet time. Quiet time is occasionally a movie. But it's usually handwork while listening to audio stories. (Jane is working on her alphabet quilt squares and Max is sanding wood blocks. He'll make his quilt next year.)  Sometimes ABCmouse comes next. Then play until dinner. Clean up. Bath. And bed by 7.

Before going to sleep, the kids get to listen to another audio story. These have been a huge hit! The kids love the stories, and because all stories boost literacy, not just the kind with a book in front of you, especially for children this age, it basically adds an additional 40 minutes of reading time to our day. As the children age we'll transition to audio books.

Thursdays are our busy days. I teach my dissection class and Jane goes to a leadership class and a science class. Friday is PE. Jane and Max play sports for an hour and then at the park with other homeschool families. Every other week is legos in the evening.

Here's the materials we use.

Curriculum for circle time and weekly story and recipes/activities: Waldorf Essentials.
Audio stories: Sparkle Stories.
Drawing Lessons: Draw. Write. Now.
Math: Right Start Math (manipulatives and hands on abacus math)

Life is good!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

For the Pain

In the last year I've witnessed more pain and heartache than the 26 years before it combined. At least, I've become much more aware of it. Much more a witness to other people's pain, including the grief in my own immediate family.

I've watched dear friends and family lose precious babies.
I've experienced sudden loss and watched my husband and his family work through their grief.
I've witnessed loneliness, sickness, mental illness, troubled children, loss of faith.

It seems like too much. Too much hurt and loss. Too much betrayal.

Last year I found myself silently berating God. "How could YOU do this? How could YOU take away this sweet child? How could YOU allow them to suffer like this?"

And then, dear friends, a voice whispered in my heart. Not my own voice, it was almost as if I could hear it. It felt so real and so outside of myself.

Maybe you're looking at it wrong.

And that's when I changed.

Don't misunderstand me. Pain still hurts. It still feels unbearable. My heart still is weighed down by the heartache of my loved ones, and those that I don't even know personally. There still are and will be tears, a feeling of emptiness, a hurt that never fully goes away.

But for me, it's not for nothing anymore. I've realized more clearly in the last year that pain and loss is universal to the human experience. Nobody gets out of this life without it. Some people seem to get more than their fair share. Others put up a picture of perfection. But it's there. Underneath it all, we will all experience loneliness, betrayal, loss, a broken heart. We will all have to say goodbye before we're ready.

And it's awful. But it connects us. I've never experienced more love than after my father-in-law passed away in May. The loss brought us all together. Our hearts were broken, but they were knit together in common grief. And when those around us hurt, don't we all instinctively reach out? Try to lift that burden? Even if all we can do is say, "I'm so sorry."

This pain can tear us apart, but it can also bring us closer together. Shared heartache, collective mourning, united healing.

Back in Omaha I visited with a frail, old woman who told me of a book she read in which a person had a near-death experience/vision. In this vision, the person was shown a homeless drunk passed out in the street and was asked, "What do you see?"

She replied, "I see a homeless drunk."

The angel told her that this person agreed to come to earth and go through this so that the people around him would have the opportunity to serve and learn compassion.

A much younger me thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard.

And now...I don't know. Without suffering, how would we learn compassion? How would we know the thrill of love without the pain of loss?

I have not lost a child, but I mourn with my loved ones who have. I cry today for two beautiful baby girls gone much too soon. But through the tears, I feel my heart opening. A string, a connection to their mothers is welded. I can not take away the pain. But I can remember with them. I can hold my own children closer today and love them too much. I can let my love and grief overflow in good deeds for others.

It doesn't make it better, but at least it doesn't seem in vain.

So to my friends and family who are grieving, you all know who you are, I see you. I remember. I love you. I hurt with you. And though I wish it hadn't happened, I am trying to allow it to change me and improve me. Unite us and bind us.

We are all fellow travelers along this road.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Written By Mom

    Today I opened my mailbox and found two contributor copies of next month's Highlight's Magazine for Children. The article I put so much time and work into two years ago is finally in print. I brought it inside and told the kids what it was. Jane wanted me to read it to her. So I did. Then, of course, I took some pictures to commemorate the occasion and put them up on facebook. It's not real until then, right?

    I got lots of great responses, congratulations, I'm so proud of you, that's so cool. And my favorite from my grandma, "I am so proud to be the grandmother of a published author."

    Published Author. Those words feel really good. They sound really good. You know what? They sound impressive. Published Author. Say it with a british accent. It's even better.

   But you know what? After a few minutes of celebration, I fed my children lunch. And at the table, Jane and Max were full of questions about suns, stars, and planets. So we retreated to the computer to look at pictures of Outer Space. We talked about the Milky Way. And which stars are bigger than our sun? Can we see them at night time? When will our sun run out? Will it get big and red? Why on earth did they name a star Betelgeuse? What's a black hole? Could one suck up our sun? How do stars die? Do they kill each other?

   And in that moment, I did something even more important than getting published. I was a mother. I was a teacher. I loved someone with every fiber of my being and held them close and shared with them a passion. I took a question and replaced it with wonder and awe and understanding. I helped little human beings grow just a little closer to being adults with reverence and knowledge.

  The truth is, a lot of people will see my name by that article. Very few people will know about what I did after writing it, before writing it, inbetween revisions, on the way to the post office to mail it, during the long months of waiting.

   I was a mother. I am a mother.

   Today I felt successful. And it felt good. It always feels good to put your heart into something and have someone tell you it is good. Heck, to pay you for it!

   The world puts little real stock in motherhood and what I do day in and day out. But I want you to know that I know it's important. It's most important. I love what I do. I chose it over many other good options. I was "successful" before today because I have invested in the people around me, friends and family. I put my heart out there every day. I strive to make my home an emotional safe haven. I love my children, and worry about them, and care for them, and teach them. I work and improve and evaluate and try again. I forgive and offer grace to myself and to others.

    And that alone makes me successful.

   I don't need a tag line for that.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Verses for chores and transitions

I've been having a bit of a hard time getting Max to follow instruction the last week. However, I dove back in to some of the Waldorf parenting and education stuff that I love so much and refreshed my memory on some good techniques. One of these is easing transition times through song. A lot of what I saw as failing to follow instructions was partially just not wanting to transition from playing to whatever else. But in the last two days when I've begun transitions with singing, things have been so much smoother. Max stops what he's doing and comes out smiling and knows what is coming. Sometimes he still takes a bit of prodding, but it is much more peaceful than before. The singing probably helps me be more patient as well.

I think the other secret to this change in our household dynamics is that I've made sure to do everything with him. Instead of just telling him to clean up the toys, I sing the verse and begin to do it and have him help me. This is much better than telling him and telling him and then finally shouting "PICK UP YOUR TOYS!" He's still only four after all. This also applies to transitioning to outside playtime. The kids are much easier to get out the door when I'm heading that way too. I've been reminded how important modeling is with young children, and let's be honest, it's hard to get angry at someone singing and smiling and inviting you to join them.

So here are some verses I've made up and started using for different parts of our day. You can make up your own tune. I have mine that I use (although some I'm still toying with). If you're really stuck on tunes, let me know, and I'll post a video.

For making beds
(I've found that somewhere around 4-5 children are able to start making their bed themselves. It isn't super pretty, but it's made. Until that age, make it with them. Right now I'm able to make my bed and Jane and Max each make their bed.)

To keep a tidy house,
We all must make our beds.
So smooth the covers out.
Tonight we'll rest our heads

For putting laundry in the hamper

Toss in the shirts.
Toss in the skirts.
Toss in the dirty pants.
Get them off the floor
So we can wash
And wear once more.

For setting the table
(You get the kids knowing this one well enough and you can sing Do you smell the food? and they'll reply Mmm, it smells so good! It's like instant  compliments whenever you want!)

Do you smell the food?
Mmm, it smells so good!
Let's get the table set,
and we'll be eating yet!

To Go Outside
This one can be easily revised to reflect the weather. Don't be afraid to do so. (Or to go outside in all kinds of weather!)

The sun is shining,
Grass is green,
So come outside with me.

Bathtime To the tune of "Let's Go Fly a Kite"

Let's go take a bath,
Oh how we'll splish and splash
Let's go take a bath,
And then start snoring.
Up where the water's clear,
We know that bedtime's here.
Oh, let's go take a bath!

Post-Bath baby Song 
Okay, I don't know how well this will work for anyone else. You can try it with your baby's name. My baby is so wiggly now that singing a song and playing games are the only way to keep him still enough for diaper and dressing.

Oh my baby, Tommy-tum,
Let's put a diaper on your bum,
Then we'll give you pj's too,
And say goodnight to you!