"Hey, Mad--" I call to my sweet girl in a stage whisper--her wild hair a tangle of golden strands on the pillowcase, her growing limbs curled around a pile of blankets. "What do you think about taking chalk and leaving positive messages for the kids to find on their first day of school?"
It takes no time at all for her eyes to pop open and a warm happiness to fill her face. She's still a little bit high off her last kindness adventure with our sister Patience, so her enthusiasm is close to the surface. "Let's do it," she says, sitting up and reaching for her clothes set out carefully beside the bed. "I'll go find the chalk."
The kids eat breakfast while I call my friend Anne who lives down the street to see if she and her son Andrew want in on the guerrilla goodness. "Sounds great!" she says. "We'll be there in five."
The kids are excited now, and I am, too. Isn't it funny how something as simple as offering up a hopeful surprise can make an otherwise stressful morning feel so completely great? Isn't it amazing how doing something for someone else makes so many of your own worries melt?
We meet Anne and Andrew across the street and each chalk out our own individual words of encouragement. Everyone gets to write whatever she or he wants, but the kids' messages are by far the best.
We hide our chalk just in time for the first wave of neighborhood kids come marching up the street. Nothing but delight on those sweet faces--and then their excitement to discover yet another message waiting a few more feet away.
Carter in particular enjoyed taking his covert status as mystery sidewalk chalker very seriously.
What do you think? Feel like sending out some love to your neighborhood this week? Invite your kids to be agents of happiness and hope on the sidewalks nearest you, then upload your pictures to the PBS Parents Supersisters Flickr Pool. Be sure to leave links to your pictures and stories in the comments below.
With the school year really taking off this week, we can't think of a better way to start the year off right.
reclaiming a chai latte and strawberry coffee cake
Summer is over. Did you read that, summer is OVER! When something is over, it's the perfect time for a new beginning. How about kissing the summer mother goodbye and saying hello to the woman of fall. Whether you are shipping kids off to school next week or are a home educator, it's always a good idea for every woman to take stock of little bits lost and invite some new parts in.
Here are a few ideas to get you headed in the right direction and frame of mind:
1. Take a very long bath. Drop those kids off at school in your pajamas (Jen has actually done this) and come back home for a good long soak. Light candles in the middle of the day and stay submerged until your toes look like raisins. Good ideas swirl and start while staring at bubbles. If you still have little ones around, make a trade with a friend or invite them in. A bad bath is still better than laundry and dishes.
Working moms can make an attempt at retreat during dinner. Everyone's faces are busy making it the perfect time to sneak away.
2. Catch a Matinee. Pick a movie that isn't G-rated and go to the noon showing. I promise you sitting in the dark by yourself with a box of raisinets is a good idea. This short get-a-way will feel luxurious and still give you time to make it to the carpool line by 2:30pm.
3. Buy yourself flowers and ridiculously expensive chocolate or coffee/tea. Find the freshest of your favorite flower to splurge on. Forget showcasing them in your foyer or dining room table, make tiny arrangements and put them places you really live. Next to your kitchen sink, your bedside table, the bathroom, even over the washer and dryer.
Same goes for chocolate, buy anything over 70% cacao and hide them all over the house. Underwear and kitchen utensil drawers, bathroom vanities and inside of old coat pockets.
You'll find them when you need it most, reminding you to care for yourself when you forget a month down the road.
4. Make a list. After you have done a proper amount of self-care make a list of three things you want to do before the end of the year. None of these things can have anything to do with children. What have you wanted to try but never made time for? What calls to you but feels frivolous? Is there something you used to do but lost along the way?
Is your brain longing for more intellectual stimulation, are you an artist trapped in a minivan, when was the last time you rode a horse?
Find pretty paper, write the needs down and put this most important list smack in the middle of refrigerator next to the kid art and above the honey-do pad.
5. Call a Supersister. Call your best and most encouraging Supersister and read your list.
Ask her to hold you to your new manifesto of feminine bliss and invite her to join you with her own. Meet at least one time in the next 90 days at your favorite restaurant for dinner and to discuss your progress. Even if it totally flops, the time together is worth it for you and her.
Tell us Supersisters...What are your secrets for reclaiming the best parts of you? Leave your ideas in the comments, we all need them.
See that happy, lighthearted girl? She's got nothing on her dear mother who has been using the last three days to lie on the couch and silently cheer. Listen--a silent house! Look--six uninterrupted work hours in the studio! Imagine--no competition for the last remaining bag of chocolate chips!
To say I have been enjoying the bliss of work life without my kids at home is to put it mildly. The only thing that would be better is if I actually had a television with TIVO so I could watch the convention at my own speed--which would involve occasional naps and lots of ice cream.
Still, I'm enjoying picking my kids up everyday and hearing how the new school year is unfolding. Here are three scandalous questions that are sure to get your little Walter Cronkite chatting away in no time:
Who got in trouble today? It sounds wrong, I know, but trust me, there is no better way to unlock the flood gates than to ask this one very simple question. What's so helpful about opening up this conversation is your kids get a chance to reveal their thoughts on adult authority, fairness and strategies for better behavior. With their candid insight about other kids' in-big-trouble woes, you'll get the inside scoop on how it feels to cross the lines and what your kids think adults should do about it.
What did they serve for lunch today? Whether your kids bring lunch from home or order at the cafeteria, your children will be happy to dish on the latest disaster or diner's delight from the school lunch menu. Lunchtime conversation is always a colorful insider look at life in the kid lane. And let's face it--wasn't lunch one of your daily highlights when you were in fourth grade?
What happened on the bus today? By far, there's no drama like the drama that occurs on the big yellow school bus. With a little luck, this will be just the in you need to discuss kid power, peer pressure and everything else that impacts your kids the most. Find out who's who in the politics of kid world and how your kids perceive their own place in the inevitable pecking order. You'll be surprised at how many strong feelings the bus can bring up and how your listening ear can ease the journey.
What questions do you like to ask when you see your kids at the close of a busy day? Feel free to add your own tips to unlock their inner chatty-cathy in the comments below.
Everyone is excited about school starting. My friend Angie is so excited about school starting that she isn't sure she can make it until next week. She loves her four boys but I think summer may have been a little too long for everyone involved.
Me? I realize that summer lasts forever. This year both The Boy AND The Baby will be going to preschool. One of my new friends was kinda shocked that The Baby was going to preschool.
Devan: He's 18 months?
Kristen: Is that a question? Yes, he is 18-months-old. And he is going to preschool. I found the only preschool within 50 miles that will take an 18-month-old.
Devan: He's so little.
Kristen: Eh. His brother went to preschool for the first time when he was 18-months-old. He'll be fine. It's like paying for playdates except you don't have to reciprocate and you don't have to watch either your child or anyone else's child. You don't have to pretend to like anyone. You don't have to keep your kid from biting someone in the jugular. That's Miss JoAnne's job. It's win-win, across the board.
But preschool doesn't start for another 2 weeks. That's because you pay by the month. If it started next week, you would get 4 actual weeks of school for the price of 4 weeks. Instead we'll be easing the kids in, just an hour here, an hour there, until they feel comfortable. Safe. Secure. The problem with that is by the end of summer, isn't mom so near losing her mind that perhaps the safest and securest place for Junior to be is in the loving hands of a teacher? I'm just saying.
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I am the only one who has these fantasies of being a stay-at-home mom with kids in full-time daycare. How horrible is that? I know. I KNOW. I just think that maybe those countries with the year-round school aren't so far off. Or maybe that's just me...
Yes, that's my sister, the one whose ear is being loved to death by that dear little boy named Ethan. Some kids have blankies, other kids prefer thumbs--but Ethan, give him his mother's ear and he's good to go.
These are the little things we do as mothers, right? I spent months holding hands with Madeleine from the front seat to the back of the car whenever she started to meltdown as a very busy toddler. Did it drive me a little bit crazy? Yes. Did I make her stop? No. As mothers we understand that these tiny little habits are mostly about our kids needing to find a way to feel connected to us--especially during those early years when they are taking their first steps of independence. There's so much to try and see and do and then there's that moment when you've had just enough. Pass me my mother's ear. And fast.
This morning a thousand little former ear-holders will traipse off to kindergarten, ready as can be, while their mothers stand back in disbelief. Whoever thought she'd be able to function without her blankie? Whoever imagined he could make it through half a day without me right there by his side? All those dear mothers will deem it a miracle, but you and I know the truth: it's the little things we do for love that help our kids understand how much our presence lingers--long after the binkie and blankets fall by the wayside, forgotten at last.
I've heard that when you have a child it's like a part of your heart is now roaming around the earth outside of your body. I have never felt those words more heavily than the day I sent my son Josiah to kindergarten.
Preschool seemed safe, like an extension of home. There were lots of mothers with babies on their hips lingering around and muslin tote bags hanging on hooks, nothing felt very official.
When did kindergarten become so serious? Full length school days, supply lists, homework and backpacks that look like luggage. I felt like I was releasing my boy to the big wide world. While I was excited for all the two had for each other, I felt the gravity of this new and necessary stage of sharing him.
The first week went well and Josiah seemed to be adjusting nicely until we had an unexpected school switch. His new teacher was not exactly the most sensitive soul on the planet and the third morning of the new class proved to be a breakdown sort of day.
I stood at the door way to say goodbye and Josiah burst into tears.
"Why is he crying?" the new teacher said in an annoyed tone.
Peace, gentleness, kindness, these are deep values I hold to. Rage and violence actually seemed like an option in that moment is all I'll say.
"Because this is a big change Mrs. X and it's okay to cry when you feel overwhelmed and unsure in a new situation. Can you give us just a minute? Thanks." I replied while daggers flew from my eyes.
Josiah buried his face into his hands while long sobs flowed out of him. My heart was in about a million pieces. Jack put his hand on Josiah's back and a baby Lucy on my hip held his head. We all hugged for just a minute while I tried to figure out what to do.
"I can't do it Mom, I can't go in there..." he cried.
"I know, I know this is REALLY hard. Can you look at me?"
I was racking my brain while trying not to completely fall apart myself. I knew intuitively if I took him home it would make it worse but I also new I had about 3 seconds to turn this situation around. He needed some thing real and very big, he needed the strength of my heart.
I desperately felt in all my pockets hoping I had something tangible to give him; I had nothing except my keys. I quickly unscrewed a tiny old key off my chain while wondering if he'd even buy my meager attempt at helping him cope.
"Buddy, do you see this key? This key is very special because it holds all my strength and love. I want you to take this key and put it in your hand. This is so hard but I know you can do it. When you feel scared, sad or unsure reach in your pocket and feel the key because it means my love and heart are with you okay?"
"Do you feel it? I'm giving it to you right now, in this very moment."
His tear stained eyes looked up and nodded. He knew he had to go.
We hugged and I whispered one last "I love you and I'm with you" in his ear and he walked into the room. I barely made it to the car until I burst into tears and cried the entire way home. I picked him up later that day fully expecting round two of emotional parenting hell but he was surprisingly okay. I was so relieved to find out he still had my made up treasure and hadn't lost it.
"I think that key helped me mom, I just kept feeling it in my pocket. Thanks."
He took the little key everyday for the next week until he decided he didn't need it anymore.
What he doesn't know is that even without a key, he will carry my heart forever.
Jack is next and this time I'm prepared, I cut this little heart out today.
Calling all Supersisters: Tell us in the comments your first day of school traditions and rituals that help with the transition of new teachers and a new school year? a special breakfast, a secret wink, a note in a lunch box, etc... Or even better, what did you do in moments of crisis like Josiah's or Carter's? Don't hold out on us!
The PBS Parent masters have some great advice here about how to help the start be smooth for everyone. You can also check out this on how to build a good relationship with the other person spending so much time with your child.
Yes, that's me in yesterday's clothes, traipsing down the street with five children ages almost three to ten. No, they don't all belong to me, but if fate or tragedy ever deemed my sister's children mine, I would take them as my own in a heartbeat. We are on our way to Carter's open house to find out who his first grade teacher will be for the coming school year. I'm not worried, since we put in our request for the kindest dearest soul late last year. If there's any child on earth who genuinely needs a gentle touch to succeed and flourish, it's Carter.
We arrive--the whole lot of us--and quickly make our way to the bulletin board. Ms. V?! Madeleine whispers to me, practically gasping from shock. She's the worst teacher ever! I wouldn't put it quite that way, but I know what she means. Ms. V. has a reputation for having a bit of an edge. And worst of all, she's known among the kids as a yeller. Carter--who above all things cannot bear yelling--immediately, instinctively bursts into tears. My little tribe starts to panic. It goes without saying; this teacher was not on our list.
Carter cries through the classroom tour and all the way home. He puts his head in his hands and tries to make himself disappear along the wall of the house. This is especially tragic since Carter is the easiest going child on earth. His only request is that you not raise your voice. Really. He can endure anything besides that. He is so rarely out-of-sorts, that it's almost impossible to bring him back from the edge when something like this hits him hard. He almost always insists on being left alone.
Carter continues to cry outside while the cadre of cousins holds court inside. I want to stay and sit in silence with Carter, but Madeleine advises against it. "Mom, really, when you do that it makes everything worse. I really think we should just let him be by himself for a minute." I find this hard to believe, and decide to get a second expert kid opinion.
"What do you think?" I ask Josiah, Carter's dearest soul brother and best, best friend.
"I have no idea," he says, feeling as crummy as I do.
"I think I know, Jen," Jack offers. "I think Carter is missing his old teacher." This sage wisdom resonates with everyone. Old and young alike let out a collective sigh. Oh the sorrows of missing a favorite familiar teacher, especially so near the first day of everything new!
It takes us this long to realize we are missing Lucy who at almost three years old is clearly on her own program, having no regard for Carter's silly needs for privacy at such a dire time as this. When we find her, she is standing outside beside the sobbing Carter--petting him like her favorite stuffed puppy dog, saying, "Don't cry, Carter. Don't cry. It's okay, it's okay."
Carter remains an island of annoyance and tears, but I can tell he feels a little bit better. In no time, Carter comes back inside--the storm passed for now. I assure him that together we'll find a way to work this out, but he hardly needs me to tell him what Lucy already made plain: that sometimes the only way through is to let someone small and safe inside--the kind of dear soul who can't imagine having rules when it comes to love, no matter how loud you cry or how much you're convinced you have to go it alone.
What are your tried and true bits of wisdom for helping kids make a tricky transition to a less-than-ideal teacher? This super-sister would really love to know.
Wow, the Olympics have been amazing, haven't they? I think I have watched hours and hours of it. From one day to the next, it seemed like there was another amazing story about someone who fought against all odds to make it to the greatest athletic competition in the entire world.
As we are nearing the close, I'll admit we got a little crazy with the whole Olympics thing. Before we knew it, we found ourselves wondering about which Sesame Street character would win if Sesame Street had Olympics. What do you think?
I'm not a complainer but please don't tell my husband because he might laugh and slightly disagree. Okay, so I occasionally unload on him as he is my safest person on the planet but I'd like to believe I'm not a whiner in the grand scheme.
This makes it hard when my kids, well, are kids. I have this unspoken expectation for them to be the same or I would prefer they be more agreeable.
When my daughter Lucy turned two I noticed a new response when I told her "No" for anything. She dissolved into all out total drama. Crying was the usual but then she added wailing, throwing her body on the bed sobbing, and she had an extremely high need to tell someone else about my transgressions.
"Papa, mama just doesn't understand, she doesn't understand."
This tiny girl with big brown eyes would tell anyone who would listen what happened, her brothers, her dad, aunts, cousins and friends. She just needed to tell someone and then it was fine. I have to be honest, in the beginning I felt mildly persecuted. I know it's silly to have such a reaction from a two year old's tantrum but maybe it was my inner child wishing I could do the same.
After getting over the complete injustice of my toddler's behavior, I kind of surrendered to it. I still said no but completely gave her space to complain (without my inner seething) to anyone about me.
Just the other day I refused to let her have a popsicle for breakfast. What a tragedy, I know. She ran sobbing to my husband who hugged her, validated her disappointment and closed the conversation with a few gentle words to back me up.
The drama was over very quickly and the surprise of all surprises, she made a speedy return with a hug for ME.
"I feel better mama." Lucy said.
"I'm glad Luce." I returned.
It isn't just Lucy. Jack slumps his body and mopes around when I have to tell him for the 57,000th time that it is not a video game day. Josiah gives us flashes of pre-adolescence when he turns into a moody Max every third week.
Instead of wishing for attitude changes and doing one too many happiness checks in my mind, I am joining my family members in being both human and an individual. I'm going on a hunch there is space and enough love for it all.
So if you are like me, go ahead and complain to and with your kids, everyone will feel better.
Not so long ago, I wrote this rambling blog post at my personal blog about how Ethan gets up nearly every single night and climbs into bed with us. His brother? Not my baby Nathan. He is a dream. At a year and a half, he will come up to me at about 7:30 and say "nigh, nigh, mommy?" I give him some milk and he lays down without even a peep.
Until last week. This is one of my most favorite things about parenting. The second you brag about your child, your child turns your whole world upside down. Just the other day I heard Nathan crying from his crib after his nap. I was slow to respond but Ethan was like fire. I heard him rush down the stairs. I then heard him ask how Nate's nap was. Then I heard him give detailed instructions how to climb out of his crib.
Which Nathan did.
For the next few days, he climbed out of his crib about a hundred times. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I wasn't worried that he would hurt himself because he sleeps in a Pack-n-Play. It isn't a big drop to the carpet below his crib. I was losing my mind because now I have absolutely no control over EITHER of my children when it comes to bed.
My mother tried to talk me down off the ledge. "Just keep putting them back," she said. My husband began looking up all those tent things you put over cribs to keep the kids from crawling out. Since his brother climbed out of his crib when he turned one, we know all about putting a baby into a big bed. But two of them?
The Baby (as we like to call him) seemed terribly pleased with himself and his new found skill. And then. As quickly as it started, it seemed to stop. He waited until I sprang him from his crib after his nap today. It's like I had been granted a reprieve. I imagine it's only a matter of time. What's a mom to do?