# Numbers and concepts

Originally posted January 2009

My son is a handful. Anyone who knows him knows that. He’s a brilliant and jubilant little man and while I am simultaneously concerned for his future (will juvenile detention be involved?) I am also pretty sure he’s going to go very far and succeed at whatever he does. That is if he makes it to 6! He has energy to burn but he is also in need of constant mind and body stimulation. If it’s not running and yelling he must be working at building something intricate or working out a puzzle or learning phonics.

I’ve tried to teach him some simple math concepts without cracking open the math curriculum I bought in the fall. Something tells me he isnt’ ready for the curriculum. He’s only just five and doesn’t have the patience to sit through more than a few lessons of one topic. I am like any mother though and I have concerns that he is behind or wonder if he’s learning enough. I’m pretty convinced that he isn’t being challenged enough for his intelligence level. There are a lot of things I just don’t know how to do with him to get him stimulated. He loves to build and invent so I’ll try to give him a bunch of random bits and bobs lying around the house and ask him to make something out of them. Some days he’s into that, some days he whines about everything.

He is also unusually talented at figuring out mazes. I bought him a book of mazes for an older age level and he worked out the entire book in a day. Well, there goes a few weeks worth of ‘something to do’. Then a friend downloaded some adult mazes and he worked out most of them as well. Some were too tough for him but I was shocked at how fast he could just look at them and work it out. He’s not counting spilled out toothpicks on the ground by just taking a glance at them, for those of you who are wondering. “82,82, 82. There’s 246 in the box! That’s nice, Raymond”

I was able to get him interested in working on counting by giving him some dot to dot work sheets. I realized they are more of a challenge to him and much more interesting than counting the days on the calendar or staring at numbers and counting them. Even counting beans puts him to sleep.

This home schooling thing is really challenging for me because his learning style is so very different from mine and I’m usually frustrated by how much work you have to put into doing this with your kids. I’m going to be honest and say that it isn’t always fun for me like it seems to be for some mothers. I am naturally a teacher but get me in front of university age students and I’ll come alive. Put me in with little children and I lock up. I’ve always been that way. That’s why I was a preschool teacher’s assistant and NOT the head teacher.

We’re working things out and some days I do absolutely nothing with them. Not because we are doing other things like going outside or baking together, but because I just can’t force myself to do it. I get very emotionally exhausted and just give up for the day. I have fears that I’m not going to be able to go the distance with schooling my kids; fail! I told myself ‘one year at a time’ and that’s where I’m at right now. He’s not even ‘school age’ technically so I should not worry too much about it (that’s what friends keep telling me anyway). But I’m a perfectionist and I think way too much so this is not easy to let go and relax with. I can also see that I need to work with my son very intentionally on a daily basis because of his need to be stimulated. I’m tired and cranky right now and I’m hoping that these small victories will bring life into what I’m attempting to do in my home.

# More busy days

As of a week ago Matt and I decided to finish the rest of the work on our little ‘fixer upper’ that we will be selling before moving back to Washington. It’s been a busy week as of Saturday and I’ve been painting, cleaning, packing, gardening, detailing, mudding and sanding non stop. Literally. Well, except to eat and sleep. This is quite the adventure for our family and as of today I can feel I’m starting to wear a bit thin. I’m pretty tired and with the size of my belly I’m also a bit sore in the back. We are trying to throw our house on the market by April 1 so please keep us in your prayers so that we would get a quick buyer for the price we want and deserve (I realize ‘deserve’ is a relative term but we have honestly put hundreds of hours worth into this old house and she has the beauty marks to prove it).

I will likely be a bit busy until April 1 and maybe even unable to post here but I really miss writing at the moment. My head wants to say a lot these days but the time is just not there. This project is a priority and we figure after seven more days it will slow down a lot. Thank you all for being such faithful readers. I love your personal comments and great insights as I write about my life with two children. I actually started to write more thoughts on nurturing our children, as suggested by my husband, and we will see what becomes of it. He is reading a book called Unconditional Parenting and I’m seeing a huge difference in his involvement and levels of  patience towards the children. He’s quite the catch!

Enjoy your Spring days. I’ll be back soon.

# Rite of passage for girls (the battle of the body)

Photo By Leanne Surfleet

The other night I watched America the Beautiful by Darryl Roberts and it tells the story of a common concern these days,  females and body image. One of the girls they track over about 5 years is a young model who is on her way to becoming the world’s youngest supermodel at the ripe age of 12. Of course she fits into size 2 at 6 feet tall! Of course she has a tight body with flawless skin! She’s 12!!!! The irony is that her mother is the one pushing her out there to get noticed at a young age, allowing her to party with the big girls. Everyone is worried about what all of this exposure will do to her self image and by the end of the movie, sure enough… well you should just watch it.

At one point in the movie Eve Ensler recalls a trip to Africa where a woman is explaining how she sees her own body, in contrast to how the average Western woman views her body and it is profound. “My body? I love my body. My arms are so strong because they carry children and my legs are strong and can hold a man and crush him. My skin is dark and lovely. What do you mean you don’t love your own body?” It spoke a lot to me about the stories our own bodies tell. It makes me sad at the same time that they aren’t a treasure of stories and memories but are usually a source of pain and resentment for many women and young girls.

My daughter is still so young and innocent so I havne’t thought much about her teenage years or her adult life and the abundant badgering she will receive in the form of advertising, telling her that her looks might be ok but could really use some enhancing. I consider myself pretty well adjusted in my body’s self evaluation but I certainly have moments of weakness and I can easily begin to compare or see my body as my enemy while it ages and my tush moves south, hoping to one day join forces with my mid thigh.

I’ve often treasured the lines on my face. In my opinion they seem  a bit classy and refined, symbolizing that I don’t have that round little girl face anymore, I look like a woman. I must admit that pregnancy has brought a shock to the system in terms of how I see my body. Things change so fast and furiously that it’s actually a rather difficult adjustment for most women (it was also for me) even though I loved how I looked once I actually looked pregnant and not just bloated.  In the first few months it just looked like I hit buffet table a time too many. When having a baby should be a time to glow and radiate as you feel a life move inside your skin and embrace another rite of passage into womanhood (bearing children) it’s often a time of complaining about growing breasts, a back side that looks like another person is following close behind you and thighs that wobble and could possibly crack walnuts (or crush a small child). God forbid if a woman should get stretch marks (a self induced symbol of ‘shame’ for a woman who wants to keep the resplendence of her childhood skin)!
Here in the West, we loathe our bodies more than almost any other culture. That is actually an interesting study in sociology. Often it’s attributed to media involvement and how influential it is on a culture. Obviously our media influence is of epic proportions in the US.
One study on the media’s influence in this documentary was in the islands of Fiji. During the 80’s TV was brought into the cultural mainstream and the older generation was concerned about the influence the media would have on the traditions of how they viewed family, wealth, quality of life, their own cultural practices and, of course, their cultural perception of beauty, specifically the body.
Fijians are larger islanders who also tend to live a rather long time on a high fat, low chemical diet complete with sun and salty ocean water to boot. When I traveled to Fiji in 1994 our entire team of caucasians were told to eat more every time we sat down to feast with anyone. “You’re too skinny. Eat plenty! How do you expect a man to find you sexy? You’re too skinny!” followed by a lot of effervescent laughter (they are beautiful, joyous people). Once the TV took over the islands they noticed the rate of parental disrespect and self loathing of the body in the form of eating disorders jumped about 20% in just 5-10 years. These are islands with very few white inhabitants so the influence was not coming from the interior. So much of our worldview is shaped by what we buy into. To my shame I have bought into the lie at times when I should have seen over the dusty horizon to a richer and higher place.
My question is, how will I raise my daughter, and son, to see beyond the haze of a superficial culture which praises youth in a variety of forms (young executives who just graduated from party-ville and are now running our institutions, supermodels at the age of 14, over the hill actresses by the age of 40 who can only land acting gigs as hags, alcoholic mothers or grandmothers, and the decadence of young skin that is plastered over billboards and magazines all over the US!)? How will I teach my children this is all a dream, not reality? This is a strange and unreasonable world that has been created, much like the Matrix, and real women and men aren’t like this! Granted there is merit to being the best, radiant self that you can be and it’s ok to go to the grocery store in an aesthetically pleasing outfit rather than jammies, slippers and rollers in your hair. You can look nice and take care of yourself without feeling shameful or superficial. In fact, do take care of yourself. Love your body enough to care for it!

This is actually not as big of a fear for me as I am embellishing in my writing. I have a plan, see! A lot of experts say that we should limit our children’s exposure to media,  advertising images and the amount of garbage that they see and hear while growing up. Mothers (and fathers) are not to defame or devalue their own bodies and talents especially in front of their children for obvious reasons. I know too many mothers who, even at this age (mid thirties) verbally deject their bodies in front of their children. Many girls remember their mothers as being on a perpetual diet. “Mom just needs to go on a diet, sweetie. Why? Well, her thighs are too big.” Or worse, telling a teenage daughter that her butt is getting too big and “you don’t want her to end up like your fat mamma, do you?”. Easy ladies! To our children we are perfect and flawless. We are also their introduction into how they should view themselves (and for our sons it’s how they will view other women).

I want my plan to go further than just avoiding the problem. I believe that what we expose our kids to really does have a lasting effect but I think there is something missing as we simply try to cut out media and it’s negative influence. My goal is to not only cut the exposure out but to add other elements. I’m  not so concerned with what is out there as I am with what is missing. Where is the exposure to real beauty, art, poetry and nature? I think if we expose our children to the good life in it’s lovely and awesome forms they are less likely to feel the void and run towards what is available only on the surface.

Rather than follow the Pied Piper into the sea of bodily insecurities why not raise smart, confident and strong men and women who know how to live within the story? Who write the music or the books that everyone wants to read or who create the art that we want to see; who imagine and create a world with better working gadgets and inventions and who love, help and serve others? We can expose them to the good life without being so afraid of them falling prey to the deadly abyss of bodily insecurities, greed and immorality. Too many youth groups out there are primarily focused on keeping our kids from sleeping together when they should also be telling the stories of young men and women who succeed and draw deep from life. It will give them something to reach for. Another great quote: “If you want to teach people how to build better boats, don’t run them through an exhaustive course on boat making. Tell them stories of  far away places”. -unknown author

We never get rid of wrong thinking by trying to pretend the Matrix doesn’t exist. Put another way, we can’t rise above if we’re still focused on the problem, we have to replace the problem with something better and higher, more magnificent. Instead of keeping our kids from bad media why don’t we just expose them to real art and poetry? Read to them from the time they are young. Take them outside to play instead of letting them watch crap with tons of commercials. Let them get bored and learn to create, draw or escape into their imaginations instead of feeding the boredom on a minute by minute basis. Expose them to more amazing possibilities rather than protecting them from the ‘polluted world’.

I realize I may be stepping on toes and touching on parenting practices but these are challenges I am laying down for myself as I raise my little people. I also know this issue is a bit more complex but I’m  trying to live counter culture and often our culture’s way of dealing with problems and statistics is to cut out the cause of the problem rather than reaching for something lovely outside of the realm of possibilities. Personally I think this is how God deals with us. God brings more beauty and richness in front of us, shows us the mansion so we will get outside of the shack, and this lets us see what we’ve been missing rather than focusing on wrong thinking or wrong behavior. CS Lewis says, “We’re busy playing with mud pies because we don’t know that a holiday at sea awaits us. We’re far too easily satisfied” (a paraphrase of his quote). Focusing on my junk never gets rid of it anyway, it usually keeps me chained to it. Ironic, eh?

So this is my plan for my kids: I think I’m going to chose to believe there is still a lot of real beauty out there and I’m going to try and expose my kids to it rather than living in fear of what they might be seeing. We’ll still leave the TV unplugged in the basement mainly because we can’t find much to watch that is decent anyway but we’ll show them the DVD of Star Wars because it’s awesome and creative and they need to know that people are capable of creating amazing things when they have the space and courage to create. That’s just one example. Here’s to raising amazing children!

# Spring is coming!

Originally posted March 2009 in my 30 Days Of Thankfulness project. Since I was digging up my garden yesterday I thought this was an appropriate post. If you want to start a garden but feel overwhelmed with all that there is to know, just take baby steps. I knew almost nothing when I started and I’m STILL learning a lot. Just try a few plants (tomatoes and basil maybe) in a sunny spot. Don’t put tomato plants out until June or so, FYI. You may get hooked. Happy Gardening!
cutting a pumpkin for Oliver

There are days when I think of all the work we have done or still need to do on this house and I am totally overwhelmed. We got our home as a ‘fixer upper’, to put it mildly. We have fixed and fixed and fixed, yet there is still more work to be done. However, we have transformed our little money pit into something quite lovely. I’m in agreement with those people who buy houses and slowly begin to make them beautiful. There is something very holy in creating aesthetic beauty and I believe in making beauty out of ashes. I just didn’t know the ashes would be over three years high.

The first year we moved here it was all about working on the inside of the house. Then by the summer time I was so pregnant with Chloe that I couldn’t even think of the outside of the house. I sure did notice it though. We had weeds growing in our back garden that were taller than Matt who is 6’2″. So we just hacked away at the weeds and covered them with a plastic tarp. “That’ll do ‘er for now!’

Then the following year I ached for a garden after visiting Tacoma and seeing a lovely little back garden that a friend had worked years to beautify. He grew every kind of veggie, mixed hot compost (an art all in itself) and about four types of berries, plus flowers galore . I was locked in when I saw how sweet and restful it was. There is a freedom that comes from growing your own food. It’s liberating to go in the yard and pick your dinner.

When I came back to Madison I was on a gardening mission. I grew a lot, and learned a lot, that first year as I pulled up the yard all by my lonesome and planted away. I planted squash and pumpkin (only inches apart- I didn’t know!), tomatoes, spinach, chives, lavender, cosmos, sage, rosemary, basil….blah blah blah. It was crazy how things grew. The compost was the kicker. It mutated my food and flowers so that they grew to epic sizes. People would say, “I’ve never seen cosmos get that big” The stalks were about 3″ in cir.

Every year I plant more and dig up more of the ground. I am taking back our garden, even though a neighbor’s menacing trumpet vine threats my veggies very existence. But that is another post all together…. And every year I learn more about gardening. The other day I was working out back getting discouraged by the number of trees the previous owner allowed to grow out of control when a woman walked by and said that were had quite the make over going on, to which I sighed and told her she should have seen it when we first got the house. She mentioned she has passed our house on foot for years now and has seen the progress and that it looked so great. She was also a professional gardener and told me how to deal with those !@#\$ trees.

Today I was digging more ground in prep for the spring planting and was so thankful that I have this plot. I love gardening and growing things. It’s something tangible for me to see and touch (and eat) and gain gratification from knowing that I made this, or made it grow. It’s the activator in me that wants results and not many things in my life give me fast results. Raising children shows you slow results just as investing in people’s lives shows slow results. But I get satisfaction and rest from my garden when I can sit next to it in the summer time, watching bees pollinate my goodies and slowly seeing little buds develop into treats for our dinner table.

What are you thankful for?

Showing Chloe our worms
Tulip Garden
Last summer’s sunflowers
Green, green, green!

# Spring is coming!

Originally posted April 2009 during my 30 days of thankfulness project. It was fitting for today.

Here in the Midwest we have about five months out of the year where you actually want to be outside. Our family goes out, even in the frigid temps, but come January there isn’t always this rush towards the door  when it’s around 17 deg F. The summer is grand but come mid July the mosquitoes arrive and you, once again, don’t always want to go out. Spring and Fall are gone once you blink so you have to be fast if you want to enjoy them.

Winters are always long and the first warmish day brings college girls out of their dorms in mini-skirts and Ugg boots, donning their already tanned skin; warm weather is a big deal around here and something to take advantage of.  Then by April you are dealing with a snowy day here and there once again. I’ve always been pretty outdoorsy coming from WA and where I grew up we were always camping and hitting the freezing cold beach water. So being land locked and having to stay inside for so long during the winter brings cabin fever to our entire family.

I’ve continued  taking the kids out on walks since mid February even though it’s still icy outside. We just have to get out.  My kids come back inside with super red cheeks and pre-frostbitten fingers. At least we’re getting fresh air. Today was glorious though it was still only 55 deg F. As we walked through the ‘forest’ the kids played with a worm, rolled a huge log, chased a duck, threw rocks and played with sticks. They had a blast and I just enjoyed being out with them and the sun on my face.

Earlier this morning Matt took the kids for breakfast at a friend’s house and I was able to take a walk by myself for an hour! It was delightful! The air was cold and fresh (good for my morning migraine); I could see my breath in the morning light. I love the sun….love it, love it, love it! I’m thankful for a few moments to enjoy it’s fleeting warmth. It makes my garden grow, brings me happiness and helps me absorb that much needed vitamin D.

I may not have the coast or the warmth of my days living in Hawaii but it’s a real gift to soak in the sunshine and to keep taking walks in the brisk Midwest spring air. Enjoy your day!

# Nurture

At the moment I’m reading a lot of books on different philosophies of schooling for kids and how to deal with challenging children. I’ve read so much over the past few years and it’s been eye opening for me in raising my kids. I was a nanny for a few years and also worked as a preschool teacher’s assistant but nothing prepares you to be with kids 24/7. You just don’t get to go home at the end of the day, take a bath and forget about crazy children that are now crazy with their own parents. You also don’t get sick days or vacation time.

My son has given me a run for my money in ways that I couldn’t even imagine. He’s all boy and I grew up with no males around whatsoever. Even the girls I played with growing up were all girls from single parent homes. Dads were just no where to be found, not even on weekends. I have to always remind myself that a lot of my son’s wild antics are a result of testosterone flowing through his body and there are seasons of life where the surge is upped 10 fold. He’s been in a surge of testosterone for about the past three years. He’s an amazing child and I was just saying, last night, that I’m fascinated by him and how mature he can be at times. What makes him so hyper is also what makes him so smart. He’s a very curious child and he loves to figure out how things work and move; he touches and manipulates anything he can get his hands on. He has to touch to understand and I’ve always encouraged touching but when we’re at someone’s house with white carpeting, white walls and glass coffee tables I know where entering a world of pain. Oh, I don’t even go to places like that anymore. It’s not worth it.

I’ve read and reread books to help me know and understand my son and some have helped in my understanding of who he is and why he acts the way he does. What I’ve found though is that there is a lot of material out there that will really stress the importance of shaping your child’s character at a very early age. I’m not at all opposed to that but I’m not certain that our kids are reduced to hollow vessels that need molding and shaping. They are humans made unique and totally different than anyone else and they just happen to have immaturities and no filters for danger (or filters for saying things that embarrass their parents). So we have to teach them but is it really our job to “shape” them? It’s been off-putting to me to find so much material that stresses the need to discipline and train when there is a lot more to children than this. I agree that this is one aspect of parenting but I’m not certain teaching good/right behavior is the main objective to parenting. Let me explain:

I’m not opposed to discipline (Lord knows my kids are in need of finding the train tracks to guide them) but this is not all the toddler years are suppose to be about. It is also a time when they are sponges that WANT to learn, touch, feel, play, scream, discover. They are hungry and we as parents have this amazing opportunity and short window of time where they are living free from deep seated insecurities and fears (the teenage years are reserved for that) to help them develop a love for living, a desire to learn, a need to delight in relationships and the ability to see the whole of life that will carry well into the rest of their time living. It’s not just about shaping their character. That is only a small portion of what these years are for them. Also, it’s really exhausting to deal everyday with discipline issues and power struggles rather than enjoying time with our kids. The power struggles will automatically happen but the joy won’t just happen. We have to see it and choose to experience it. I’ve had to rethink a lot about how I see my son in order to delight in him.

There is a famous writer on family topics (whom I won’t mention) and his take on raising children is that our little ones are unaware and selfish and we need to train them and discipline them to become giving and loving adults. A lot of his books are written with the theme of strong discipline. For me it’s not really a question of whether or not people choose spanking or time out as a form of punishment, it’s about how we see our children in every day life; seeing them as amazingly curious learners with immaturities or seeing them as vessels that are born totally selfish whom we have to train to be good?

I believe it’s just easier for children to choose selfishness in most situations and it takes repetion for them to choose to be giving and to share,  but compassion is rooted deep within my children and it always has been. They have done silly things like hit babies on the head with a plastic toy  but often it was just to see what would happen and the head was the closest and biggest thing they were looking at. You should have seen my son’s face when he was a baby and I gasped because he bonked another child on the head. It was like a deer in the lights, “What? What did I do?” Ok, then there have been other times when he’s hit to be rude but it’s rare and we always deal with the situation when it comes up. But I find that he is a very caring and compassionate child who loves to play with other kids. There are things he needs to learn but for the most part he knows how to share (he doesn’t always do it but he does know) and how to play well with other children. He also really loves pets and nature. He doesn’t just go out and destroy everything he sees or hit every kid he comes into contact with. Most children don’t. Most children love life and learning and they need the space to be themselves while being guided through their immaturities.

I didn’t even have to teach my kids how to be compassionate, they just are. They are loving little humans who happen to have moments of selfishness (sometimes seasons of selfishness and anger) and when they do we deal with it. But mainly I’m amazed by how much they love life and want to be involved with each and every day that they are awake. My son doesn’t touch things because he’s selfish and I don’t need to deal with his curiosities as though they are a flaw in his character. In fact I have to be very careful that I don’t squash his desire to learn just because it’s frustrating for me to have him getting into things all the time.

It’s easy, as a parent, to place our expectations on our kids like a heavy lead blanket. Our kids will take our expectations upon themselves because they love the hell out of their mamma and pappa. They’ll try to be just what we want them to be because they love and need our approval and acceptance, it’s like food for them. “Easy Tiger”, is what I have to keep telling myself. “You are not dealing with naughty, selfish kids that need to find the light. You’re dealing with children who have the light already but sometimes do selfish and immature things. Make sure you keep it burning bright within them. Show them how to always love the light and keep it lit as long as they are breathing”. That’s what I have to remember.

It’s actually easier for a parent to resort to just training our children in the ways of discipline and self control than it is to teach them how to remain who they are with their own God-given DNA while learning how to use their gifts wisely. That’s the hard part. Anyone can teach a child to share or a dog to fetch. It takes a lot of deep love and mind numbing patience to nurture little people as they grow into big people. But we can do it because the grace is available to us. Amen! So be it!

Here’s to enjoying our children!

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# Busy days

This has been a very busy week for us and I hope to be able to write more soon. I have many thoughts swimming in my head as I’ve been reading some great books and having crazy discussions with people. More to come…..