Jack and Josiah (above) along with Jorge (my husband) comprise the Blue Guy team
Between years of teaching and parenting, I have played A LOT of kitty-cat and puppy dog in my life. Being on all fours, pretending to eat from a bowl, meowing and barking, it is a game almost all small children love.
Maybe it is an adult coming low to the ground, the physicality of pretending to be something beloved, or just acting silly; it introduced me to play from a child's perspective. The games evolved over time as my boys grew. They would climb on my puppy back and somehow tickling ensued. I found I really enjoyed physical games with my kids. Running, chasing, hiding, jumping, climbing, I felt alive in all the best ways. Kids really love it when you play with them; I learned this from this very smart guy.
We had incredibly gentle boys so my concerned husband started to introduce a playful form of wrestling. The boys loved this "Blue Guy" game and it soon became a nightly routine. (Don't ask me where the name came from, I have no idea)
Jorge would cackle and yell as the boys tagged team together against him. It wasn't long before they could give him a real run for his money. The intensity and frequency ebbed and flowed through the years but Blue Guy was a staple for connection in our house.
When we found out Jorge would need a pretty involved knee surgery I wondered what would happen to their beloved game. It was out of this crisis that Mama Slam was born. If he could wrestle with them, why couldn't I? I was just a fill in, a substitute for the master of Blue Guy but I was pretty sure I could hang.
So Jorge had his surgery and I was determined to become the Mama Slam champion. We even had tournaments. The prize was a night out to dinner, at a place of the winner's choosing. They were gunning for pizza; I had a salad and soup joint in mind. It was the best 2 out of 3, I almost won.
Jorge's recovery took longer than we expected and Mama Slam replaced Blue Guy. Everyone plays now, gender has gone out the window as Lucy can very much hold her own. I've been banned for several months due to protecting our future girl team. Our baby girl to be born any day now will complete the trio that will be pure girl power versus a very experienced boy team. I really miss Mama Slam, more than I expected, but I'm sure the comeback will be fierce and fun.
Tell us your favorite physical games to play with your kids in the comments. If the whole idea makes you tired just tell us the ones you watch your kids play from the bench at the park, it still counts.
Here is some more great info on raising active boys.
Complete with correct terminology like "crunching."
Maybe my job isn't so much to protect him as to offer him company in the dark.
Maybe my role isn't to make things easier but to be a kind shoulder to lean on when he's finding his way.
Maybe the part I play is more celebrator than mastermind of solutions.
Could it be that those tears aren't a sign of weakness as much as a show of a mind connected all the way down to his heart strings?
Could it be that deep down he has what it takes to find a way through?
This week Carter shocked us all by deciding he liked his new teacher after all. All on his own he discovered a point of shared interest, and all week long I watched these two pair up to find their own connecting points. By Friday, they had a knowing look pass between them, the way old friends smile at each other over an inside joke. Who would have guessed they had so many similar interests? Who would have guessed that common ground would have come so easily?
There's so many ways to explain this kind of thing to yourself as a mother. You could doubt your initial instincts that the teacher was not an ideal match. You could second guess your kid's reaction next time around. Either approach would work I suppose. But there's a third way, too, and that is for me to see Carter as incredibly resourceful and determined. He latched on the first thing to come up that was positive for him, and his teacher was sharp enough to see that he needed to connect with her--maybe even more so because she has the reputation for being a little bit bristly and not overly warm and fuzzy.
No matter what the real reason, I'm feeling happy for Carter, and a little bit in awe of how he overcame his tears and found a way to make it work. He was trying every bit as hard as his teacher to make a good connection. That's a specific kind of approach to problems that will serve him his whole life through, and I was delighted to watch it in action for the very first time.
Do you find it hard to watch your kids struggle like this? When do you decide to intervene? When do you let them work it out on their own? I'd love to hear your perspective in the comments below.
my husband Jorge and son Josiah at age 2
It was our little Sunday ritual. Every week we would visit the Fritanga Managua in Miami for our favorite meal. The place was always packed, music playing, Nicaraguan families gathered around small tables with plastic forks and vinyl tablecloths.
Carne asada, gallo pinto, queso, ensalada and maduros. My belly grew each week both from the yummy food and the baby inside. The girls behind the counter smiled and winked at my handsome Latino husband as I fumbled my way through my order in Spanish. I was the gringa, the American girl whose love of food could cross any cultural and language barriers. There was something that always felt so familiar and close about that little place. The culture embraced a deep sense of family that drew me in. It was as if the baby I was growing belonged to everyone at the fritanga.
I wondered about my father-in-law coming to this country with his little boy, my husband. He was an educated man who lost everything when the Sandinista's invaded his country forcing him to flee for his life with his family. Like so many others, he came with empty hands but full of a willingness to work hard and begin a new life.
He had a paper route, pumped gas, and was a janitor at night just to support those he loved and under his care. When things were hard, the same man with a boy's hand in his own visited the neighborhood fritanga for warm smiles and the familiarity of cultural family home.
The girls behind the counter noticed the first Sunday I missed. Jorge told them he was instructed to get my most favorite meal after I had birthed our son Josiah. They congratulated him and sent extra pieces of tres leches cake home to celebrate our fritanga baby.
Every time we visit Miami, we head straight for the fritanga. We live too far away today so in honor of Hispanic Heritage month (September 15-October 15), we will be making our own maduros and playing some fun Spanish games,activities and hopefully finding some new books.
You can also check out what celebrations are planned in your area here.
For our Latino friends: Here is a link to PBS Parents in Spanish.
It started early on Friday.
Ethan: Mom.mom.mom.mom.mom. I think we should make applesauce. Did you see on Sid the Science Kid that they made apple sauce? They took the apples and they melted them and then they mashed them and made apple sauce. We should make apple sauce.
Kristen: Cooked. Not melted.
Ethan: MELTED, Mom. They MELTED the apples.
I know. Pick your battles with a three-year-old already. Melted, cooked. Semantics.
We got up on Saturday and Ethan started in with the applesauce recipe.
Ethan: Dad.dad.dad.dad.dad. We should make applesauce. On Sid they made applesauce but they didn't melt them the first time and it didn't work so then they melted the apples and then the smashed them and made applesauce.
An hour later we were on our way to go apple picking. Nothing says good times like handing a three-year-old a 10-foot apple picker.
He woke up the next day and asked to go apple picking again. I would like to thank the people at Sid for keeping it season-appropriate. You just can't make applesauce any time of the year other than September or October. It just isn't right. Applesauce post coming on Thursday. If television is going to be so compelling, I wonder if there is any way they can do an episode on financial investing or even making your own bed.
Andrea Jenkins from Hula Seventy has a very touching post on marriage, family and what real love looks like. If you've been feeling like you are the only one with dirty hair and a wonderfully messy life, prepare to be delighted.
Shutter Sisters maven Tracey Clark inaugurates A Little Perspective--a Flickr pool featuring the shots only your kids can capture. Read her good advice here, and find out what how your kids see the world when you pass the camera.
Ali Edwards has an artful post on quieting children's fears. As the mom of a child who was often very anxious during her first years of school, I can also recommend Six Wonderful Ways to Help Kids Who Worry--a collection of tips from our own family's experience. Here's excellent input on accepting kids' feelings if this is one of your parenting sticky points.
Still working on your back-to-school bedtime strategy? Here's some excellent advice to get you back on track fast.
Sending lots of love to you supersisters (and superdads!) as you enjoy this fall weekend. Feel free to add your favorite parenting posts from your own blog or others in the comments below.
Blessings: part 2
After our last family togetherness activity to prepare for the arrival of our baby, we chose something a little different this time around.
My friend Melissa gave me this great idea after reading a book on how other cultures prepare and celebrate birth. The idea was to hang flags with hopes, wishes and blessings for a new baby. It is thought that these blessings would be the first thing a baby sees after he or she is born. I can hardly think of a better way to be introduced to your new family and the world.
I let the kids pick the color of paper and asked them to write or draw one thing they wanted or hoped for our new baby. Here's what they came up with:
Josiah: I hope you like what you see.
Jack: I wish you have the power to be strong.
Lucy: I wish this picture for you.
Me: I wish you feel happy and loved.
Jorge: I hope you feel loved in the deep way everyone else does in our family.
This little activity helped us think of our baby as a real person who we already love and have yet to meet. By offering our wishes and blessings, we can start to imagine her here.
If the idea of having the baby isn't producing much excitement at your house, you can turn the exchange on it's side and ask the kids-
What do you wish for yourself when our baby comes?
Everyone in the family can participate, it might expose some needs you haven't discovered yet.
Even with all the family prep, everyone will still find their own way and in their own time. Somehow we all come back to each other in the end. I'm learning it's what family is all about.
Here are a few more ideas for inviting kids to prepare for baby:
1. Cook together- Invite the kids into the kitchen to make some frozen meals for postpartum nights when cooking sounds like a hopeless task. Let the kids pick the desserts to have with each planned meal.
2. Get a code word- Decide on a code word that kids can use when they are feeling left out or need some extra attention. Talk about the demands of a tiny baby and how you will navigate everyone's needs. Ask kids for input on problem solving in different scenarios.
3. Make something sacred- Pick an activity you can do together that kids can count on no matter what. If reading before bed is your thing, pick a new book and commit to being there for that one activity.
Try to stick to a regular time if possible but make a prior "escape" plan with your child if baby crisis trumps the moment. Let your child decide when your alternative plan should take place.
Now can someone remind me of these ideas in 3 weeks when I'm pulling my hair out with an infant and 3 kids?
I just got back from a business trip. I went all by my lonesome self and I left my husband and the boys at home. I'll admit it was a little easier this time around because I have the plane debacle from vacation fresh in my mind. Three hours of a screaming toddler.
I have gone away and left everyone at home before but this was the first time Daddy couldn't take time off to watch the kids during the week. This time my husband was playing catch-up after our two week vacation and had stacks of meetings when it came time for me to go to my trade show across the country. After all those meetings he had to teach a class. That would be a thirteen-hour day with the babysitter. The kids are just fine but let's be honest. They LOVE their dad.
My mom came to help him. I'll admit, I was worried the kids would drive her crazy or that they would light the house on fire if she went to the bathroom.
I was wrong. The kids were so excited, they began blowing off my calls not long after I left. Their cousins came to visit. There were wagon rides and wagon-related injuries and a good time was being had by all. I called to chat. Apparently when someone handed the phone to The Baby, he threw the phone on the floor. When my husband picked the phone back up and began to speak with me, the kids heckled him to get off the phone. Someone asked the Boy if he wanted to talk to me. He gave a resounding "NO" well within my hearing. I just laughed.
Late nights, video games, popsicles for breakfast. It was anarchy. But that's the way it is supposed to be with the grandparents, right?
"I don't know, Mom," she tells me late at night, sweet tears falling on her cheeks as we lie together in bed before she falls asleep. "I don't want to have to be a nobody and I don't want to have to be a somebody to have a good life. I just want to be an ordinary girl."
An ordinary girl.
I wonder what it means while she lets me hold her close. She is so bright, so articulate, so wise, so funny. I know I'm her mother, but really--is there any way on earth she could ever be mistaken for someone ordinary? Could that even be possible?
I think I know what she's saying. Too many distinctions between you and the girl next door, and it's hard to feel close to the people around you. Ask any child who merits extra attention in any direction--being special garners with it a certain kind of loneliness and more than a little careful handling. Nobody needs that. Especially when you are ten and above all things in need of belonging--mostly with the grownups who you wish to see you exactly as you are. Nothing more, nothing less.
It's easy to worry about Madeleine--especially at this age. I want her to succeed, to achieve, to find her way in the world with a kind of blissful happiness. But tonight I heard her ask for something more--permission to grow and be at her own pace in her own way, no special effort attached to being anything else but herself. An ordinary girl.
What could be more special than that?
Have something to say about your own ordinary girl? Comments are all yours in the space below.
Books: part one
Things have been rumbling in our house lately. New jobs, a new school year, a new baby coming. All the new gives way to lots of joy but also requires navigating roles, identifying feelings and finding a flow.
I find more children have climbed in bed with us when I wake up, a new level of tantrums erupt and everyone seems just the tiniest bit out of sorts. It always takes me a few days to figure out change is the culprit.
When this happens I know from experience that family love is in order. So after we realize that our children are not monsters, we return to the basics of holding, listening and creating an experience to bring us together.
New baby is the the biggest change headed our direction so we decided to take it on with a book.
Did you know that according to Josiah, Jack and Lucy I'm going to have a one hour labor while I hula dance and roar like a lion?
These great predictions originated from conversations started by this little treasure:
Mama When is the Baby Gonna Hatch? by Cary York
It's a natural childbirth preparation book for families by Richmond artist Cary York.
The voice of this book is so honoring to kids and their journey to becoming siblings.
My favorite part was the kid's answers to the interactive questions in the book.
The mix of medical terminology with an invitation for kid input was just what we needed to open up lots of questions and talk about all that is coming.
A little information and a plan can go a long way to help everyone feel more settled during a big change.
Josiah and I reminisced about Lucy's birth while Jack was all about the predictions and information gathering. Lucy was happy to color and make "animal" mama labor noises.
After they decided they would play Legos and plan a birthday party for our new baby girl while I am in labor, we made a plan to do our next family activity in a few days.
This gives a chance to check back in together again as we find our way to becoming a family of six.
I'll be working on my hula dance in the mean time.
If you want to check out Cary's book and her amazing art, you can find her work here.
Check out part 2: Baby blessings on Friday!
Supersister Suggestion of the Day: What did you do to help your kids get ready for a new sibling?