Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A few notes about reading with small kids

Thomas was about 3 when I asked one of my co-workers how he was going to learn how to read. How would I get him there?  She had met Thomas and knew what I meant. Curious boy. Lots of questions. She said, "Read and read and read to him. Then read more and then some more. And he will learn how to read."

When no one is looking, I will type hopelessly personal questions into Google as if he is a magic 8 ball of succinct answers. I'm always disappointed when Paul's father's day present doesn't pop up and instead I've got 10,871 articles that are "helpful".  When my co-worker (brilliant co-worker, btw), suggested I should just read to Thomas a ton, I was a little disappointed.  Where's my easy, no-fail 17 step system to teach him to read?

But she was absolutely, absolutely right. Bathe in reading. Delight in reading. Max out the library card. Bring a laundry basket to the library to fill. Tell the kids to stop playing in the laundry basket because "no, kids. not for playing. we are putting books in this thing because I was told reading so much that I never get to the laundry does magical things to children's brains."

But as far as going beyond the laundry basket [and bins and shelves and waves of books], here are the things we have learned and tried to practice along the way.

1. There are bad books. Kick them out. A "bad book" is one you keep hiding because if your sweetie pie asks you to read it again you may just melt into the couch from boredom. A "bad book" is one that your husband comes to you about and says, "hey, I read that book about Valentine's Day to Thomas. Have you read that thing? It is the dumbest thing I have ever read. No, really. It is really, really terrible."  A "bad book" is one that requires you to not only read but also manipulate things in the book like some sort of freakin mechanic, still thinks Pluto is the real deal, or that makes too many potty jokes because it knows its audience is boys and boys like potty jokes (which they do so very, very, very, very, very, very much but c'mon!).  

2. When you are annoyed that your child wants to learn how to read, teach him to read. This way he has the independence to read and you can listen to him read every sign, billboard, and building name on the street from the back seat of the car, and he can say "woah. slow down, mom. I needed to read that!" and be very confused by acronyms. This is not dissimilar from being excited that you have [insert smug look] taught little Junior to go to the potty and switched over immediately to living in fear for years that he will have accidents in public and destroy your life. 

3. Never bribe your kids. But also bribe them with books. I read an excellent book about how incentives and rewards deeply damage children. No joke!  But to get through the reading instruction book, I gave Thomas a "surprise" every ten lessons and when I say a surprise I mean a book. Hey. Don't judge. Okay, judge. It's not because he wasn't motivated. It's because I needed him to be a little more motivated. Momma's got some laundry to not fold. 

4. Stop pretending you are too cool for children's books.  Thomas might be a little concerned about who his mom really is, or if she ever really was smart enough to hold a real job like his dad and mom keep insisting. And this is because last year I learned so many things from picture books.  "Wow. I didn't know that." comes off my tongue pretty easily. Last year I learned about planets, cultures, countries, castles, pirates, all sorts of famous people and that eels can climb up waterfalls. I'm still thinking about those eels. 

5. Read your own even better stuff near the kid. Then engage in a fun game of intellectual roulette where you subtly entice your blossoming reader (quiet laughs or "hmm"s help) to ask you what you are reading. Respond back, "oh this thing? You wouldn't be interested. It's an adult book." to which they will insist they are interested. I've read all sorts of things aloud to Thomas that were near to totally inappropriate, but it was worth the game of seeing if he could understand any of it.  Which maybe is not a page right out of Parenting Like You Mean It, but I like to spice things up.  Thomas still talks about Rhett coming to rescue the ladies and the Yankees burning down Atlanta. That's a win in my book, Parenting for Fun!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The goodness of going beyond 1 kid

I, vacillating between both great pride and great disappointment, thought pretty much everything that my firstborn was and acted and did was about me. Oh sure, I wouldn't have said it aloud. It was more of a feeling I had. It was because of MY dedication, MY sleep training, MY influence, MY effort, MY personality. And some things are about me. But the longer I'm a mom, the more I've discovered that these little people arrive all their own and we are witness to a great many things that have nothing to with us. Do we help shape them? Oh yeah. Do we help with perimeters and discipline? Sure. But there are these amazing moments that just kind've blow the lid off the pot. Here's one that just is about as true and honest as they come.

If you ran into me in public out for groceries or a bored stroll through Target, I would stop my crew (depending on store, with 1 or 2 carts) and the following would happen. I would get in a brief amount of chit chat with you and then Thomas would ask to speak. 

He may say "excuse me" or "who are you" or "I don't know you" or be rude and jump straightaway at one of a dozen questions he plans to ask you.  He is like one of those toys you wind up and they vibrate forward just because they can... only he is permanently programmed for such, no extra winding necessary. He will ask you all sorts of things if you don't run off right away. About your day. How you know his momma. What you dreamt about last night because he dreamt about a tornado sucking up his ninja turtles. If you like pb&js as much as he does.

The entire time this is taking place the twins will sit eerily still. They will calmly stare at you, sweetly boring into something they know nothing about, you, and would maybe, probably, like to keep it that way. They will sit so still it is as if they are playing a game of hide and go seek and their hiding spot happens to be in a shopping cart under massive fluorescent lighting. They won't talk to you. Not likely. What is likely is that they will listen to everything you say.  And stare. And sit like baby ninjas.

I don't blame them. What's the point? Thomas does 90% of the talking around here. Good for him. I think the only time he stops talking is when he is eating. A couple nights ago at the dinner table I asked the kids if they wanted to talk about what made their day great. Like an old soul, Thomas raised his hand just a bit and with expertly squinty eyes as if after deep contemplation said, "let's just be quiet and not talk and enjoy our dinner."  Alright then. So there. He does stop talking sometimes.

Speaking of the dinner table, there's another budding development of contrasts between the kids.  Alistair and Emerick have taken it upon themselves to tell Thomas and I (and Paul when he's here) to pray before we eat.  As soon as I sit down, Alistair (very adamant about this) gets my attention in his nonsense blibber blabber and pressing his palms together so I will start the blessing. As we say grace, Alsitair and Emerick beam that we've remembered and when they go to make their disjointed and adorable sign of the cross, I look across the table to Thomas and rummage through my guilty mom files for a memory of Thomas EVER trying to make the sign of the cross, but he's busy being quiet so I don't bother to ask.

On this blog, I'll talk big about not judging each other. About supporting each other. About really believing in other women.  But I'll just say it. I only say that because I was hella judgmental as a new mom (which is so deeply ironic because I had absolutely 0 grounds to be such...like below 0).

Why doesn't that mom just let her kid cry it out? That little girl is just upset to be left at day care because she can sense her mom's anxiety.  Oh, and this one makes me cringe... If she would have just tried a little harder, she could have made nursing work. 

These are not pithy examples. These were real. These are real judgments I really felt. And now, oh now. Ha!

I've had both a child who could sleep through a tornado passing over his body and a child who wakes for sips of water as if his delicate system will just die if he doesn't have a touch of water before drifting off to sleep again.

I've had both children who are as happy as can be to be left in the care of someone else and playing with toys that are different than the ones we have at home and one (Emerick at the moment) who wants nothing more to be safely in the arms of his momma. Much tears. MUCH tears.

I've had a nursing experience that was calm and beautiful (except when he would hit me on the chest) and one that was difficult, overstimulating and altogether an experience that still makes me want to put a bumper sticker on my car that says, "I CAN DO HARD THINGS!"

I've. Been. Humbled.

My kids humble me right out the gate with those darn c-sections.  No warrior, hear me cry, see me push, watch me bloom kind of birthing experiences for me. And I've been on the receiving end of that judgment. Hashtag truth.

I know just as true as the sun that there are women who think if I would have just read a little more, asked a few more questions, waited a little longer, gone to a few more classes, tried a little harder, cared a little more, challenged a little more, interviewed a different doctor, had a better plan, and prayed a little harder THEN I would have done it the right way. I know this because I've seen it written across their forehead as plain as day, like that involuntary underwear exercise we're encouraged to use when speaking in public...only in this case we can see that our momma friend is thinking their naked thoughts right on their face and you want to look away but you can't and you can't believe you can see them but you can and you wonder if she realizes she's naked.

It's one thing to say we aren't judgmental. It's another thing to truly bridge the gap between what we know to what is unfamiliar.

For me, having 3 kids has pretty much built that bridge.  Some of you don't need 3 kids to make that happen. Good for you. You rock. I would hope we all don't have to have multiple kids to grow in understanding of each other. No, yeah, that's not right. There's lots of ways to do that.  But since I'm more or less huddled up with these kids of mine day in and day out (whom are vacuuming as a team, without supervision, the spices that the twins dumped out while I finish this post), I'm glad that I'm growing closer to others in the process even when I'm isolated.

And just to make it clear what that means. It means me watching my kids grow into their own and realizing every day just how dumb it was that I took so much credit and claim for how they've come about.

Because I will tell you right now there is no voodoo parenting trick I'm aware of that can get a set of twins to play invisible or a kid to talk until the skin falls right off your body. And I'm so glad I've finally got that cleared up in my mind.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Encouragement for the “New Mom"

My firstborn, Thomas, turned five this winter and gave me pause to reflect on my first five years of motherhood. My gut reaction was to feel awful about all I’ve messed up. That sounds terrible, but it’s the truth.  Learning the ropes of the mommy vocation has been uncomfortable for me, even gut wrenching at times.  It’s been humiliating (the fit in Wal-mart) and humbling (calling my mom or texting a friend with “help. please tell me what to do”) in between all the joy I’ve felt in seeing these three unique and beautiful little souls sprout up before my very eyes.

If there is one good reason I blog, it’s because I want to encourage moms. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how many tantrums, teething all-nighters, or vomit-catching blankets I’ve handled, I will always need encouragement just as much as the mom who is holding her brand new baby this day.  

So if I share these encouragement tidbits with you, know that it’s not because I’ve mastered them & want to pass them on along with the excess baby onesies. It’s because these are the good gold nuggets of hope I cling to on those dirty, dig deep days that bring me to my knees in prayer to Jesus as I’m pushing poopy crib sheets into the washer. 

1. Plant the seeds

Moms (and dads!) are seed planters. We plant and plant and plant and plant these little invisible seeds every day. We sit with doe-eyed junior and read the board book and say silly things like “turtle starts with ’t’…can you say ’t’?” Sometimes we think to ourselves, “is any of this getting through to you?” And sometimes we say “do you understand a damn thing I’m saying to you?” No we don’t. We don’t cuss in front of our kids. 

But when you’ve reminded Suzie to say “please” and “thank you” no less than 1,337,878,976,962 times and she has yet to remember on her own, you just start to wonder if any of your efforts are sticking. They are. But some of those seeds sit in the ground for a long time (we’re talking grow a Duck Dynasty beard time-frame) before they poke back up out of the ground again. Keep planting the seeds. Most of them will grow something, eventually.

Sometimes the seeds are things for us, not them. I was so deeply selfish with my first that I was annoyed that I had to sometimes hold him when I ate. How dare this kid come between me and my food?! I’ve planted a lot of seeds since then. Now I’m much less selfish and just get annoyed when the kids realize I’m eating the rest of breakfast in my bedroom with the door closed, locked, bolted, and barred shut by a dresser. 

2.  You are not alone 

Let’s talk Satan’s lies. Here’s what Satan absolutely loves, loves, loves. He loves for you to think that you are alone. He wants you to bury your head in the sand and think that you are the only mom ever who: hasn’t read a single parenting book, can’t seem to get dinner on the table without it coming out of a box or a bag, hates reading to her kids, is depressed, is anxious, is depressed and anxious, has no idea what she’s doing, let her kid cry it out, let herself cry it out, nursed too long, nursed too little, yelled today, yelled while she was nursing today, and who wasn’t ready for baby to come home…like, at all. 

I promise you that whatever you are facing today with your sweet pea (who might be acting more like rotten cabbage meets poltergeist), you are absolutely, positively not alone. The second you remember this is the second you are on your way to moving on to a better place (where you aren’t hiding out in the bathroom with your cell phone). Reach out to your village. Phone a friend isn’t just a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire assist. It’s a freebie available to all of us playing Who Wants to Be a Mom Who Doesn’t Run Away to Florida Sans Family. Actually, that sounds fabulous! Well, you understand what I mean. But really, any takers on a trip to the Keys with me?? All to say, you are not alone. Remember this. It’s 100% true. 

3. Celebrate the good. Deal with the bad. And move on. 

Oh boy, is parenting a messy business or what?! Right when you have figured out how to get your 1 year old to take a nap mid-day and you dang near feel like a magician for that epic accomplishment, your 3 year old discovers her divine ability to say no and stomp away from you. In public. With parenting, you don’t get fully caught up to speed or that sense of relief from being finished with something.  

When I have this awful feeling that I’m in the wrong head space as a mom, I remember this motto: “celebrate the good, deal with the bad, and move on.” It’s something that my sis-in-law, Moira, said one time and it has stuck with me ever since. Specifically, I think about the balance with the three parts of this. Sometimes I’m doing too much celebrating (sending my mom 1000 photos of the kids and fun things Thomas said). Sometimes I’m focusing way too much on the bad. (Dark place, my friends. Much crying and even more chocolate).  And sometimes I’m just stuck and need to move on with things regardless of if the space we’ve been hanging out in as a family has been really great or really awful.  

4.  By feast (not by force)

Thomas didn’t sing his ABC’s correctly until he was already learning how to read, just this past year. He couldn’t count to 10 (consistently) until he was 4, but just a year later he’s doing addition and subtraction problems for fun.  He’s five now and drew a robot a couple weeks ago out of a how-to drawing book for kids much older than him, but he didn’t start drawing (or having any interest whatsoever) anything other than a few scribbles the first 4 years of his life. And let me just say, that the drawing one might have been the most difficult one for me.  I can’t even fully describe just how absolutely uninterested he was in anything artistic.

I found the robot!

These somewhat backward breakthroughs makes it sound like I taught him these things while I’ve been at home with him, but that just isn’t the case. Certain things clicked with him in a much different order than what’s deemed “normal”. What a dumb word “normal” is.  It’s good for your kids to have a little weird in them.  That’s often our cue to what makes them so special. 

Sometimes, we are discouraged because we want our kids to either be ________________ or we want them to do x, y, and z.  The problem, wonderful problem, with that is that they are so extraordinarily unique.  We can’t force them into these molds that we had pictured in those days after seeing the plus sign on the pregnancy test. Your kid done broke that mold. That mold is shattered, flushed, and long gone, girlfriend. 

We should be gentle with ourselves and with our children in what they are learning and what they find interesting.  Dare I say it. Relax! I think it is great to invite them in to read and to see nature and to watch basketball games and to do the million wonderful things that we would want for them. But we also should watch and wait some too.  They often go at their own pace. They often fly when we are least expecting it. And we shouldn’t get discouraged when it’s not as we had thought it would be. We can add to the feast. They’ll eat. And you’ll have the communion of sharing the table together. But please, please don’t despair as I did when your 4 year old stands up with all the other kids at day care and is the only one who can not for the life of him (or those hives breaking out) remember how in the hell to get from 1 to 10.  

Much love from your fellow "new mom"!