Our church has recently changed some of the ways we structure our third hour meetings. Now the first meeting is spent in counsel- discussing a topic of particular meaning to the group or congregation. Last week we discussed how we can strengthen and show love to the children and youth in our ward. Reflecting on the topic I became suddenly aware of the multiplicity of people who have loved, supported, taught, nurtured, and encouraged my kids. Just that week Anders’ teacher had sent him a package in the mail with a coloring page they’d completed in class, and a small toy, and thoughtful note saying they’d missed him. Scotland’s teacher sent me a text that afternoon sharing the fun discussion they’d had in class and a picture of Scotland wearing “bug eye” glasses- in connection with their discussion that God sees all. Last Friday I went to pick up the kids from my friends house after teaching to find Chiara standing on a chair stirring eggs, as my friend made omelets. The boys ran up happy and rosy checked from their play with her daughters. I considered the people who have volunteered to sit with my boys when I need to step out with Chiara. The people who take time to talk to Scotland and Anders in the hall. I considered our bishop who knows their names and makes them feel so special. I thought about Tony who always gives them knuckle bumps and is so happy to see them. I considered Rebeccah who walked Anders to nursery for many months, while I was nursing and caring for Chiara. I thought of friends who have watched my kids, taught them preschool, and created happy welcoming places to play. Looking around the room that morning, I could name a sweet exchange with nearly everyone in the room. And it dawned on me- that’s what five years in a community will do. A sadness at leaving washed over me, a sweet sadness, a grateful sadness.
Two weeks ago I flew to San Francisco. I spent a couple days there before flying back to Tucson to pick up the kids from my in-laws and fly home. It was an eye opening trip. Thursday due to flight delays I was in airports for seven hours. I read an entire chapter book- in one day. That hasn’t happened since before Scotland was born. Friday, Tom was at his neurology conference all day, so I had the day solo to explore the city. I woke up when I woke up, did some yoga, had a cup of tea while I ready my scriptures, and got ready. I bought a MUNI pass- jumped on the subway and headed out. I walked along the high-end market stalls in the Ferry Building, lingering to savor the samples of $12 bars of chocolate- without having to wipe faces, and hands, and clothes. I stalled to take in the diversity of mushrooms- no one complained. I took pictures without being pulled off balance. I didn’t buy breakfast- I didn’t want to waste time, and no one was begging me to. I explored the Embercado area, then took a street car north so I could climb the Filbert steps. I got off a stop early, and jogged the rest of the way, because I could. A goofy smile was smeared across my face. I couldn’t help it. I was in San Francisco, the sun was shining, the air brisk, fresh! I had an entire day to myself. I felt both stressed and exhilarated. How to make the most of it?! I climbed the steps, stopping from time to time to turn around and take in the view of the bay. I side tracked and walked down skinny alleyways between houses, admiring the enormous succulents, and new-to me plants. I imagined life in those homes- etched into a cliff, overlooking the bay. I had pleasant flashbacks to a trip to Cinque Terre, with it’s similar cliff dwellings, and steep narrow streets. I climbed all the way to the top arms swinging, mouth smiling, mind free. Wait, arms swinging, such a strange sensation. It was at this point in the day, an hour in, that I realized how strange it was to have NO one else to consider that day. My whims would guide the day. No time would be wasted discussing the merits of this or that decision, no energy spent trying to choose based on the others’ perceived desires. I would just go, do, enjoy. At that point I let go of any stress or pressure and decided to just take it all in. I took the elevator up Coit tower. I leaned out the windows (far enough that the attendant had to warn me!) feeling the fresh ocean breeze, and taking in the gorgeous 360 of San Francisco. Such a gorgeous city. The details of the day are less interesting than the feeling I had- such freedom, such abandon. I took busses the wrong direction, and walked too long in ordinary neighborhoods. I didn’t do things in the best order, and I ate nothing but granola bars until 5:00pm. But there was no one but me to worry about, no one complained, demanded, begged. The change was shocking. And yet I wasn’t gleeful about the absence of my children- in reality I melted every time I saw a child, and teared up a bit when a 2 year old darling with blonde curls danced around in Coit Tower. I wished Tom was there to share the view, and found myself focusing on things the boys would find interesting- double decker bridges, the variety of public transit options, decorative dragons. But I was also surprised by how often I felt freed by the opportunity to actually pursue something that interested me- to linger in the garden, to examine the succulents, to read the plaque, without consequence.
Tom texted around 5:15- “Where are you!?” My day alone had come to an end. An exciting dinner date awaited. I jumped on the side of a cable car, holding on to the bar, and resisting the urge to lean out and start singing. An older man, asked me curiously, “Do you feel comfortable there?” “Oh. I feel great!”
A few months ago I was enjoying a dinner of pho’ with my sister and Mom in Ballard, when I suddenly realized that there were four small children in the restaurant. It was a small place, and the fact that I was just noticing them surprised me. Why hadn’t I noticed them earlier? Because they were so quiet. They weren’t running around the restaurant, weren’t sliding under the table, and weren’t even talking loudly. Reflecting on this later I wondered, why are my children so loud? And why are they seemingly unable to conduct themselves in a restaurant or store in a polite, calm, quiet manner? Now to be fair, people have often commented on how well behaved my children are. But after a very raucous and frustrating 10 minute visit to Old Navy this afternoon, I’m wondering again: What do I need to do to teach my children to be calm and quiet in certain situations?
Do we need to do practice drills in stores- where the sole intention of the visit is to learn proper grocery store/ clothing store etiquette? I left Old Navy today SO frustrated. From the minute we walked in they were hiding under clothes racks, racing down aisles, fighting, crying you name it. Unfortunately, this isn’t a singular occurrence. We’ve had enough of these displays that I next to never go shopping with them. I’d rather do my grocery shopping at midnight than deal with the chaos that ensues when I take them. Which perhaps, is precisely the problem. Do they need more practice? As I’ve queried this over the months, I’ve come to realize that I see very few children in the grocery stores here in Seattle. And when I do see kids, I don’t remember seeing any running around as mine do. Maybe the problem is not as great as I think it is. Is my fixation just amplifying it? Maybe others’ have husbands/ or family/ or nannies they leave their kids home with. Or maybe, my children are just ill-bred! I’m beginning to wonder.
I’ll admit to lowering myself to the Santa Claus threat this afternoon. It had been a day of teasing, fighting, disobedience, screaming, whining. You know the days. Looking back they were quite calm and respectful in Joann Fabrics- granted we were looking at kids toys- so that was captivating. But at Old Navy, not so much. When we got in the car I let off a rant: “I am very frustrated! Your guys’ behavior in there was deplorable. You know, Santa Claus is watching. If. . . then. . . Threat. threat. threat.” I’m not proud of my response. Hence, this post. I’m really seeking strategies. Judging by the behavior of those calm, quiet children in the Vietnamese restaurant, it is possible for children to behave in public settings for extended periods of time. What do I need to do differently? What is the natural consequence for wrecking havoc while shopping?
All advice welcomed!
Last night was our ward’s harvest festival. It’s one of my favorite ward functions because of the sense of community that arises. Costumes lighten the mood, and create easy conversation. The activities are simple but joyful, and it lends it self to much activity and sociality. I’m listening to the book Hannah Coulter. I was touched by the section where she talks about how they would use their free time in the evenings. There was no TV and many didn’t have radios. So they would sit out on their front porches and talk, sometimes it would be so quite you could hear a family talking from their front porch a mile down the road, and sometimes they would even talk back and forth from front porch to front porch. I know this sort of neighborliness still exists in some communities, but I have experienced little of it in the neighborhoods I’ve lived in. Sure I chat with my neighbors from time to time, I consider them friends. But I haven’t done enough to foster a real connection between us.
The harvest festival was followed up my a fifth Sunday combined third hour meeting, and then a potluck, and by chance our friends’ daughter’s baptism. While at first I grumped about the amount of time we’d have to spend at the church. In the end, I found it a complete delight. Its a beautiful thing to be part of such a dynamic community.
When I chose the colors for my college quilt they were yellow, coral, orange and green. It was a summer all year long sort of quilt. An unapologetically happy quilt. When I bought a coverlet to cover our bed after we moved into our first home. I chose white.
When Tom and I chose our plates for our wedding registry I chose bright red. Not knowing if we’d get them I also bought some thick earthenware plates in watermelon green. Soon enough the red were put in the camping bin- as they clashed with our new kitchen with his calming green cabinets and pale yellow walls. The green plates eventually got donated when the boys started unloading the dishwasher and stacks of them were too heavy. And to be honest, once I started following food blogs, I could never get over how unappealing many meals looked on them. Now my plates are white. Except for two “fun” plates that I purchased as decor for our Shaker Heights kitchen. They are bright green and blue with a fun geometric pattern, the boys always choose them.
When I was in college people assumed I was from California because I dressed in such vivid colors. Now my closet is full of black, gray, and muted greens and blues.
I was so delighted when my grandmother gave me flatware for a wedding gift. With a serving for 12, all of my forks and spoons could be the same! Something I never saw in my childhood home with all it’s mismatch flatware. How I loved Thanksgiving when we would use the fine silverware and everyone’s forks would match! Now, my boys fight over the one “special” fork in our drawer- the ornate one. And they thrill to be at Grandma’s house with it’s many options.
A few months ago while studying Japan. We took the kids to Goodwill and let them each choose a tea cup. Their own tea cup. It was a strangely defining moment for me. Scotter chose a fancy French matching tea cup and plate lined with a thick line of gold. Anders chose a dark brown clay cup with a thick plain cream plate. Tom choose a Japanese cup with no handle but ornate Japanese art in gold plate and rust orange, I chose a delicate German cup with a wildflower nosegay painted both inside and outside the cup. To accompany I chose an English plate with mauve flowers circling the perimeter and a pastoral scene depicted in the middle. The boys chose a teal espresso cup with matching plate for Chiara. These plates and cups clutter our drawer. They don’t all stack, they definitely don’t match. But we all love them. I get a strange thrill whenever I drink tea from my dainty cup. I can’t describe the feeling, but it’s as if I am opening the door to a different self, a more feminine, gentle self- one that I have squelched my whole life. ( I’ve been an “I don’t like pink!” type of girl as long as I remember.)
Now as a homeschooling family, I’m always seeking ways to make our school-room/main living spaces more enlightening and inspiring. In so doing, I’ve realized that the style I’ve so carefully created over the past decade is lacking. My home’s pallet is calming, but it is not invigorating. My minimalist style is clean, but not creative. Slowly as I become more and more in-tune with my children, my inner child creeps up and I feel a longing for that brightly colored quilt, eclectic artsy dishes, and bright energetic artwork. I’m craving color.
With a move on the horizon, I’ve found myself considering what sort of space I want to create next. I feel a sort of dissonance when I try to force my children to inhabit and abide in a purely adult space. But as I’ve allowed them to breath life into our home- to decorate it and add their own touches. I’ve felt my own breath quickening. While I was so keen to adapt the “adult” aesthetic a decade ago, now I feel a desire to let out my inner child. While I will, no doubt, always hold on to my love of simplicity, peace, and order; I hope to give wings to my love of art, color, and movement!
- Scotland was on near angelic behavior today. He made his bed in addition to picking it up. He offered to read the bedtime stories so I could rest my voice. He jumped in and negotiated with a tantruming Anders in a calm understanding way that deescalated him, and led to a more peaceful departure to the library. I praised him again and again. (Which he adores.) Finally, after dinner, he asked: “Do you know why I’ve been acting this way all day? Well, one reason is because I want to get those presents for Christmas (He has a ripped-out page from a LEGO magazine taped to his wall. An arrow points to two different LEGO sets, with the words ‘I wont these!’), but mostly it’s because it’s the right thing to do!”
- Building block towers with Chiara and hearing her say “cash” when they toppled over.
- Getting to talk to my sister Sabina. Being nine years older, I’ve always idolized her. And even now, though in some ways we’re more peers. I feel like a giddy fan when she calls.
- The boys’ delight in returning, choosing, checking out, and carrying their own library books.
“When we reach a point of consecration, our afflictions will be swallowed up in the joy of Christ. It does not mean we won’t have afflictions, but they will be put in a perspective that permits us to deal with them. With our steady pursuit of joy and with each increasing measure of righteousness we will experience one more drop of delight- one drop after another- until, in the words of a prophet, our hearts are brim with joy. At last the soul’s cup finally runs over!”
-Neal A Maxwell
I read this quote the other day and it really struck me. The night before Tom and I had had one of those good long revealing chats. Where he shed some new and needed light on a few things. One of the things I came away with was that I need to find more “highs” so that when mothering trials make me dip down, I don’t go as low. Reading this quote the next morning, I felt struck that a simple way that I could increase my levels of joy would be by noting the “drops of delight” in my days. I struggle with contention, and the ever present bickering between my boys. Sometimes it feels that it’s all my days are full of. And yet at the end of the day, if I look back for all the drops of delight, I realize that those moments of contention were a small percentage of the day. It’s just that I allow them to loom large in my mind.
- Scotland leaving an envelop with cut out hearts, two pieces of candy, and a “jewel” in an envelop near my bed.
- Kara watching the boys so I could attend a new yoga class at the Y. The sun was streaming in. The teacher was warm and welcoming. My body was strong and flexible.
- When I picked up Chiara from the YMCA kids zone, I asked “How’d it go Chiara? Did you have a fun time with your friends?” She looked at me sadly and said, “Andy. Scots.”
- Andy was sick. but he faced it like a gentleman. He quietly thanking me every time I cleaned out his bowl, or brought him a paper towel to wipe his mouth.
- The delight in Andy and Chiara’s eyes when I welcomed them up to sit in the drivers and passengers seats while we waited in the van during Scotland’s musical theater class.
- Playing “Go to the Dump” and “War” with Anders. His face lighting up and his jolly laugh as we chanted, “1-2-3 War!”
- The way Scotter leans his head on my shoulder when we read together. We’re reading “The Wizard of Oz” together right now. He reads a page, I read a page. We do it when the littles are asleep. It’s our time. A special time.
- Chiara’s vocabulary is expanding rapidly. Today, there was a skirmish downstairs and Anders started crying. Chiara looked at me and said “Ahee Andy!” (I hear Andy.) Then she frowned, tilted her head and said “Owee!” (Anders got hurt.)
- The way Chiara followed me into the room where Scotland was crying, and rubbed his back in sync with me. Her face motherly and caring.
- Watching Scotland hold Chiara’s hand, and slowly guide her around the school behind me.
- Being together as a family carving pumpkins, laughing about the “guts.” And sharing ideas of what to carve.
I keep having these moments when I watch Chiara do something only a “big girl” could do- like climb up a step stool to wash her hands, or give another baby a Paci, or make jokes that crack her brothers up, and it hits me, my baby isn’t a baby anymore! So, an update. So I can remember.
The largest change has been her desire to communicate. She is signing with her hands, speaking more words, and more than anything making constant facial expressions! This is a girl with a flare for the dramatic. She’ll often scowl, just for effect, and then smile and through her head back with glee afterwards. She likes to look out of the sides of her eyes, or lower her eyes and look up through her lids. She has gained great common of both her eyes and lips, and is often impressing us with her new use of them!
She’s discovered and embraced the power of the step stool. She now likes to join me when I’m baking in the kitchen, likes to get up to the sink to wash her hands, or just climb up to explore what’s on the counters. (Sigh!)
Chiara continues to LOVE books. She will often bring one over to me, then gesture for us to move to the couch- my designated reading spot. I She loves to curl up with me and point to all the animals, birds, and flowers. She’ll sign all the words she knows and squeal loudly and point any time she sees something of interest. One day she picked out a large pile of books, and it was so hilarious watching her try various methods of getting her six or seven books from the bookshelf to my lap. She tried stacking them, but she didn’t have enough balance, she tried holding them horizontally but they kept slipping out. She eventually gripped three in one and and three in the other and worked her way over, dropping and picking up as needed.
She is moving out of her anti-social stage. She will now wave and say “Hi” or wave goodbye. And will smile and flirt with people around us. She tends to be warmer with men then women.
These days, Chiara is about as likely as her brothers to be running around the house wielding a sword, protected with a shield and helmet. Her brothers LOVE when she joins in their play and will pretend to run from her, or gently duel with her.
One of the most joyous progressions has been her comfort with her brothers. Scotland has been more playful and gentle with her of late, and she has taken to her quieter pattern. Several times the past two weeks I’ve been able to say, “Scotland will you take Chiara and play with her for a few minutes while I finish this project?” (I’ve been painting our front door, a tricky one to have a toddler assist with.) He happily agreed and invited her down to play our out to ride bikes, including her in his play, and comforting her when she needed. It’s been so sweet to see, and SUCH a help. She’ll give the boys hugs at night, and sometimes just go up to them to cuddle of her own fruition.
Words she’s saying are: Momm-ee, Daddy, Shooz (shoes), “Shoes on!”, Ahwahnsum “I want some!” She’s also used that as a question- offering me food and saying “Ahwahnsum?!” Zeezuz (Jesus), dog, uh oh!, wow, Owee! (She will often yell this at the boys or another child as an accusation of hurting her. “Owee!!” I swear she’s said “Stop!” before. Peez (please), Cheez (cheese, yeah, No (in varying volumes!). Now if she squawks and complains, I can say “Chiara will you please use your words?” And she’ll sign something instead. Usually between signing and using yes no questions I can figure out what she needs. But thanks to her increasing communication her tantrums have decreased substantially. She signs: Drink, water, eat/hungry, kitty, dog, rabbit, up/pick me up/I want out, Hold me, bird, diaper change, and then she does a lot of pointing to indicate her wants.
Chiara Loves shoes. She will often request to change hers a few times a day. She also requests that her hair be done, and if she had her way she would wear #allthebows. The above picture was from a sweet afternoon when Scotland helped get her up from her nap. He thought it would be fun to “dress” her (though she was dressed), So he opened up her drawer and let her pick, she picked this skirt. He then led her to her closet and apparently she picked out these shoes, and these hair accessories. He happily obliged.
She’ll now join the boys for their racing games up and down the hall. They also play chase. I’ve been so impressed by the boys willingness to be slow and gentle or change their game to include Chiara.
Scotland will often ask Chiara if she wants to dance while he plays the piano. She’ll come over to the rug and twirl and run and stop or back bend over the couch as he jams. And he’ll cheer “Go Chiara!”
I let Chiara pick out her own books at the library a few weeks ago. I was surprised that she understood the privilege! She was thrilled with “her” books, and wanted to read them everyday. (The boys had each helped her pick one, and they were equally proud of their thoughtful selections. One was a book on baby bunnies, the other on baby animals.)
She loves bugs, and her instinct is always to hold them. One day while I was nature journaling she was watching a patch of ants with her cousin Tells. The two of them would place their little pointer fingers to the pavement until an ant walked up, and then they’d squeal with delight as it crawled all over their hand.
She loves slides.
One of the things I have most appreciated about our move to homeschooling is how it has helped me maximize on opportunities for learning. Pioneer Day seemed like one of those opportunities. I have always loved family history, I have fond memories of Sunday afternoons spent with my Dad in his downstairs office, bent over his huge 3’x3′ family group sheet. I remember the first time I saw the name Kjersten printed in his neat script and exclaimed- “Hey! That’s like my name!” I’ve felt an important link to my Danish and Swedish ancestral lines ever since. And I’ve wanted to share that passion with my boys, but have often failed to interest them.
So, today, we dedicated the whole day to Pioneering. The goal was to spend all day outside, which we largely achieved, excepting for nap time. We “hunted” ‘fished” (Wow! were the boys thrilled that their mother was allowing them to go around shooting things! Even helping them aim their bow and arrows at “rabbits.”) We washed laundry by hand and hung it to dry. (I hope I’ll never forget Anders’ enthusiasm when he checked the clothes line in the afternoon and found his shorts dry!) We ate a meager lunch of “What we could forage along the trail (as well as from our fridge), carrots, celery, and peppers with bread and butter and a small cup of pistachios. It was an odd, simple meal, but the boys didn’t complain, they loved getting to peel the carrots and cut them themselves, and loved eating plateless, on a picnic blanket- tearing off hunks of bread and smothering it liberally with butter- despite my reminder “Anders, I know you’re excited because we haven’t had butter in such a long time, but if we eat all the butter today we won’t have any tomorrow! This was a lucky trade we made to get this butter in the first place!” Scotland in particular got into the acting. He solemnly proclaimed “We’re just grateful to have something to eat.” He kept saying things like “At that time boys my age shot guns,” or “rode horses” etc. We fetched all our water from the “stream”- hose, and gathered buckets of water for washing from the “lake”- plastic swimming pool. After lunch we headed out for the nearest trading post- Safeway to see if we could trade some goods for some cream, milk and eggs. At first Scotland recoiled- “But that’s so far, and that’s a very steep hill.” I took him by the shoulders and with the same serious “pioneer” voice I had been using all morning I said, “Scotland, you are my oldest son. I need your help. We must go to this trading post to get cream for butter.” He went off to get ready and returned with resolve, shortly later telling Anders, “Pioneers don’t complain!” We made our trek to Safeway and back with much joviality and interest. (I love walking or biking places we usually drive because we all notice new things, and it makes our neighborhood seem all the more interesting.) After nap time, the boys made their own whipped cream- by shaking cream in pint jars. (Chia even got in on the action in a baby food jar!) Then while they busied themselves with various imaginative scenarios- mostly centered around displaying physical prowess. I cooked dinner- mashed potatoes and steak (cooked outside on the grill.) We ate our third meal outside, and finished it off with vanilla cream scones topped with whipped cream and fresh blueberries- plated and served by Scotland. We then spent the evening as the pioneers would have enjoying music (Tom’s guitar), dancing, and playing outside. It was a lovely, and something we ought to repeat more often. The boys are now sleeping soundly in the tent, as I reminisce on a most successful day.
A few lessons that stand out are the realization that my boys thrive on more physical learning- washing clothes while telling stores of my ancestors, walking to the store as we talked about trade posts and how people traded goods. They were also so thrilled to be given more responsibility. Scotland prepared much of lunch. When I suggested that he prepare the dessert- he was delighted and performed his task beautifully. Too often I stifle their development and joy by not sharing the load of household responsibilities.
Once again, I was reminded of the deep learning that goes along with reenactment. It’s the part of unit studies that I think is so powerful. Anders immediately made the connection between our Japanese unit study and our current study of pioneers. I haven’t seen a more effective way to spark interest and self directed learning than by completely flooding the environment with one subject.
I’m often overwhelmed by these sorts of studies. They seem like they’ll take too much work. But beyond a bit of brainstorming, and to be fair a bunch of reading up on my pioneer ancestor’s stories last night, I did little prep for this unit. It wasn’t visually beautiful the way some of the homeschool feeds are on Instagram, I used what I had around, and added things as we went along. But, if anything, that added to the effectiveness because the kids felt like they could contribute as well- It was Anders ideas to go hunting, and Scotland wanted to forage for berries. They liked helping to define the rules for “Pioneer Day,” and delighted in the otherness of the day. It was one day out of our norm- and yes I dedicated the entire day to the cause, but I’m so glad I did, because I can tell by the warmth in my heart that this is a day that will long linger in our memories.
I finally got my act together and coordinated family pictures. They are our first official family pictures ever. (Oops!) Tom went to my family’s reunion for the first time in five years, and knowing my photographer brother, Devin would be thereI was determined to make it happen. (Last time Devin was in town I planned to do some, and Tom was only home on evening early enough to have light, and it poured that day! Needless to say our attempts at setting up a studio in the garage were unsuccessful.) I was so thrilled with the results! Thanks Devin for taking time out of your vacation to shoot these for us! (The pictures from the previous post with these outfits were part of this shoot.)