Today I went to a birthday party for Ethan's best friend Harrison. It was a soccer party at a sports complex complete with a sixteen-year-old referee named Marshall and red punch and pizza. I dragged my husband along and he stood in the middle of the indoor field with Ethan while Ethan cried about trying to kick the ball but missing. It was awesome.
I got lucky. 20-month-old Nathan was invited to come but the rules of the complex said he couldn't play. There were lots of halls to run down so it wasn't like he would be forced to watch while strapped into a stroller or something. Luckily Marshall didn't seem overly concerned about either his job security or legal ramifications because he let the baby play on the field. Me? I sat on the sidelines on the ground with the rest of the parents and gossiped about absolutely nothing interesting. In the party department, I was lucky.
Just a few days ago my friend Devan was telling me she had to take her daughter to a birthday party. Her daughter is four, so I guess that technically she is supposed to stay with her during the party. But siblings aren't necessarily invited and her husband will be working. Actually, Devan hadn't even contemplated if the two-year-old was invited to the party too. Devan said that if the younger one couldn't stay, she would just leave with her.
I could tell that Devan was new to this whole thing. Clearly she hadn't heard the stories of a birthday boy's mother chasing another mother out to the car to tell her she couldn't leave her four-year-old but could she keep the two-year-old in the dining room away from the party? Or the mom who walked into the party with her baby only to find that all the other parents had hired babysitters for their extraneous children.
At Harrison's party, it was clear that siblings were invited. In Devan's case, it's not very clear. No one wants to be the person going against whatever is intended, but it seems like the lines have gotten fuzzy and there is no rulebook. Parties these days can cost a lot of money and sometimes a parent doesn't want to foot the bill for every family of four. And if you fall into that trap of inviting the whole preschool class of fourteen, now you are talking a very big party. But your child is only four. And isn't it just a party? What's your party policy at your house? Or even better, what's your party horror story?
Here's this week's roundup of everything fun and good online and beyond. Feel free to add your own favorite parenting post or personal resource in the comments below.
Determined to get holiday cards out this year in record time and save a little bit of money in the process? Combine your favorite family pics with a little desktop magic to create lovely do-it-yourself greeting cards with these handy tips from our friends at Shutter Sisters.
One of our favorite finds this week was Amy Joyner of Knit Simply Knit. Amy is an fiber artist, living in an old farm house in rural Virginia. Eavesdrop at her table and prepare to be positively enchanted by the insight and kindness being served up daily.
This popular TED talk is just the medicine for those of you out there who've earned the reputation of being the parent who could land your child in the emergency room. Geek Dad has great commentary on doing dangerous things with your kids.
The air is crisp over here in Silver Spring, Maryland and I'm thinking that pumpkin picking might be in order. Check out these PBS approved activities to make this year's pumpkin a learning experience. For you political junkies out there, skip the math and help your kids carve out the image of your favorite political candidate.
photo above: taken at our school's international night this past week
So I'm only three weeks into this life with four kids but here's what I've learned so far:
1. Four means chaos. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just kind of crazy. All of the sudden Jorge and I looked at each other and I said, "Wow, there are A LOT of people now." He laughed and replied, "And they all need something."
Everyone talks, laughs, cries and yells at the same time. There is more of everything, joy too.
2. Going anywhere requires a strategy. This laid back mama is going to have to plan ahead. Gone are the days of throwing a sandwich in a bag and running out the door.
Is it pathetic that I was proud I actually got them to school on Tuesday? No, not made it to school on time, actually arrived there at all. I had to declare Monday a mental health day as 3 out of the 4 children were crying while we were already 10 minutes late. The adjustment had caught up to everyone so we needed a day to be together without the time monster breathing down our necks.
3. The baby will be mauled. It's like Lyra has her own personal paparrazi and it is enough to make anyone crazy. Everyone wants to touch, hold, pet (as Lucy calls it) her ALL the time. The baby is currently like a cat and only prefers me. I must admit she tolerates the enthusiasm and love pretty well.
4. People stare. Now we are far from the people with the 17 children but everywhere we go I feel people looking at us. It makes me laugh and wonder what they are thinking. Adoration, horror, confusion? People with large families please weigh in. Does this happen to you? or am I paranoid?
I have a feeling this is just the beginning of lots of big family lessons learned. If you have a larger family, please share your stories of tips, triumphs and trials in the comments. I'd love to read them.
It has come to my attention recently that perhaps I allow my children to engage in endeavors that may be construed to some as "slightly" or even "egregiously dangerous." I know that boys will be boys but my father-in-law did bring to my attention that the dimple on my son's cheek was most likely caused by his jump from the top of the futon onto the floor by way of the edge of the speaker.
I maintain that he was born with that dimple but that it got lost somewhere along the way and has recently decided to turn up again. OK, maybe not. I mean, he did have that bruise on his cheek for two whole weeks and when it went away, there was still that mark on his face. What can I say? I tell them not to jump from the furniture but every once in a while someone initiates some game while I have to get all crazy and take a bathroom break. I can honestly say that before kids, I never realized how much could go on in two minutes. These kids can toss a room, release huge bottles of paint back into the wild, cut expensive throw rugs in half with craft scissors or color in Sharpie on the computer monitor. You think I would learn and just stop going to the bathroom when I am left unattended in my home with my children.
Then there was that time when we had to take The Boy to the hospital for stitches on his face. I feared for his fear and pain but the thought never crossed my mind that he would be "scarred for life." Hmm.
I have to ask. Would I act differently if I had girls? All of you out there, let me have it.
Every family needs another family to show up at just the right time for all the right reasons. Sometimes you need an extra little sister, so your youngest gets a chance to be the older, helpful one. Sometimes you need someone who's just a little bit wiser than you are to remind you you know exactly what to do.
Moira and L. are dear friends like that to each one of us in the Lemen household. A chance meeting years ago has lead to the kindest and most nurturing of bonds and everyday we are so thankful that our paths crossed so long ago. L. can hang out with Carter in ways that mystify and amaze me--their connection is so true. Moirita wouldn't be the sweet, wild girl she is today without Dave, her favorite "tio." And L. is my rock of Gibraltar when I hit my parenting or personal lows. She knows exactly how to get me through.
These bonds came to us slowly, over time, over many meals, more messes, a few tears and much fun. The bigger our sense of "we" the more space we were able to make for our families to include one another in ways that make all of our lives richer.
Is there someone who is inside your family's definition of "we"? Tell us who your near and dear ones are in the comments below.
I told a story of cleaning gone wrong on Friday but I'm back to share a few tips I've learned along the way to avoid total parenting disaster when it comes to collective clean up.
Hope they help the messies at your house.
1. Decide what kind of players (i.e. mess makers) you have. My kids tend to take one kind of toy out at a time and play with it on a grand level. If it's tinker toys, there are exactly one million pieces and projects everywhere BUT they are all the same thing.
When Madeleine and Carter come over, all toys are fair game. Everything is integrated into the play. There are ropes tied to tinker toys, dolls sitting on tinker toy built swings, forts, stuffed animals with tinker toys coming out of their ears...etc. This is a different cleaning animal all together.
My nephew Ethan is completely uninterested with the tinker toys but has very happily dumped the toys so he can turn the box that held them into a car. Or maybe a sled to use down the stairs? Pure physical genius I tell ya.
All of these players might require different clean up habits.
1. We can tell Josiah and Jack they have to clean up the first mess before they take the next toy out.
2. I try to suggest a clean up sooner (after I know they have exhausted the resources) with Madeleine and Carter so we aren't overwhelmed by a bigger mess tomorrow.
3. Ethan needs different resources all together. Plenty of "non-toys" available might curb the dumping or just go with it and pick up throughout the day. Dumping is a big developmental task requirement for some kids and calls us to parental surrender at times.
2. Play that Funky Music. I have recently come to the conclusion for myself that music is the only thing that makes having to clean tolerable in the first place. Loud music. Party music. Something that would other wise invite you to "shake what yo'mama gave ya."
After years of teaching preschool where everything has a song it's amazing that I could forget the same trick might work for my kids.
Let your kids choose the music of choice. It's Queen for Josiah and African music by Putamayo for Jack. Set the environment for at least a little fun sending the message that work doesn't always have to be filled with drudgery. Take short dance breaks if needed.
3. Don't underestimate the power of little kids. Even very young children can participate with the right amount of direction. This always means things take twice as long but it's worth it in the long run. Even toddlers can throw napkins in trash cans and carry plastic plates to the sink. Ethan (a la Montessori) could pour his drinks at the age of two and still clean up the mess he made after.
4.Get in the trenches. Working sided by side teaches kids what to do and how to clean.
I still resist helping my kids and sometimes I pull rank making them muddle through but it still goes much faster (and more cheerfully) when I help.
5. Life is messy. At the end of the day, messes are good. You won't be on your death bed wishing the counter had been free of clutter more often. It's good for parents and kids to have the freedom to discover what happens when we use all of one thing, paint the picture in our minds no matter how big, or enter the most creative parts of ourselves what ever that looks like or how messy it becomes.
Happy mess making and happy cleaning!
Wow, Kristen. You are a fun mom, taking your kids to all of these fall festivals.
Nah, I have been working the fall festivals. My family drops me (along with around twelve crates of tees) off on a local main street somewhere at 7:00 a.m. and then they come back for me at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. What goes on between those hours between my three men is only relayed to me in unintended code spoken by three-year-old's, 20-month-old's and probably intentional codes by fathers who know better.
I was virtually dead on my feet yesterday when they showed up early to check out the festival before it was time to help me pack up. I was on day FOURTEEN of my sinus infection and feeling not so great (and I have yet to meet that new SUPERSISTER niece of mine). I had started out my day throwing up and I was ready to go home and put my feet up.
It turns out my children's day involved splitting wood and axes and I don't know what else. I know better than to ask. Either way, it didn't matter by the time they showed up because it appeared that their last 20 minutes had been busy. The boys were dragging along all manner of swag found at fall festivals. Ice scrapers emblazoned with real estate agent's info, wooden rulers from painting companies, balloon animals, some snappy balloon thing that is really a weapon and the biggest bag of kettle corn you have ever seen. Apparently the trek from the truck was a long one.
My husband was clearly trying to get on my good side to show up with that bag of popcorn. To say I love kettle corn would be a slight understatement. It only took a few minutes for the boys to find the twist tie at the top of the bag. Minutes later they had fistfuls of popcorn and they were shoving it into their little mouths as fast as possible. The twist tie mysteriously disappeared and then Ethan was swinging the bag over his head. His brother started running around him, trying to grab the bag. I did what every good mother does.
I yelled at them to stop. They ignored me. And then the top of the bag started to open a little. Popcorn started flying out of the top of the bag. This was awesome for The Baby because he was trying to get popcorn. He bent down and started eating the popcorn off the sidewalk. I hesitated for a second. Five second rule? Ten second rule? He seemed happy. I like it when he is happy.
Except I didn't realize that the popcorn had landed in a large pile of cigarette butts outside of this office door. I had to drag him away screaming. His older brother started to dutifully pick up the popcorn and put it back in the bag. We don't litter. Now I'm trying to keep The Baby from eating cigarette butts and keep The Boy from putting grossified popcorn and butts back in the bag.
No popcorn for me yesterday. What are you gonna do? A mom has to have her limits, right?
This week the blogosphere is chock-full of stories to remind you you're far from alone in this journey we call parenthood. Check out these articles and posts from the best and brightest this week on the web. (Photo above: Celebrating a special birthday with Madeleine and Carter)
Writer and poet Kyran Pittman writes about helping her son work through his apprehension about being sent out of class for gifted and talented. This tender and honest account offers a way through for any parent looking to help a child embrace talent or otherness of all kinds.
If you're worried your son isn't embracing school the way you'd like, consider this helpful look at the academic landscape. Your boy will have a much easier time meeting the challenges when you understand the environment he's navigating.
Mother and labor rights activist Meg Casey writes about being real in fragile times--whether your worries are the financial markets or finding a place to rest your weary head. The friendship of her son Max and his grownup friend Jeff provide just the comfort in this gentle story.
Don't miss these five essential facts every mother should know when it comes to diagnosing behavior problems. And what if it's not a behavior problem at all? What if you're just dealing with a little person who is blissfully just a child? Elaine Gingery offers this tribute to the beauty and imperfections of being five.
Blogging sensation Heather Armstrong writes about learning how to be generous without judgment from the example of her best friend and brother Ranger. I love the way this story is a good conversation starter for parents wondering where to draw the line in chance encounters with people in need on the street.
Do you have a post you'd love to see highlighted this week from the web? Add your favorites in the comments below.
The scene goes something like this. Little boys disappear for hours on end working on Lego cities and art projects, a little girl wanders the house in various outfits with clean clothes from her drawer and I talk on the phone.
This goes on for a couple days, the rooms get more and more trashed. There are late summer nights and no one even thinks about cleaning at the end of the day. We climb into bed and start a new day with a play date pretending there isn't a tornado of mess at home.
Then comes Thursday, and Friday is video game day. It's the weekend when there is potential for family fun. Something MUST be done today; it's the only day of leverage I have so I start early.
"Guys, you HAVE to clean your room today! Tomorrow is a big day, it's Friday!" I say.
They know and Josiah disappears quickly to begin making a dent. Jack starts negotiating when his first break will be and Lucy has now dumped the entire contents of her shoe box on the floor.
We go back and forth most of the day. Josiah gets distracted by a cool Lego piece he found and starts a new project. Jack has been strategically slacking all day and Lucy is now walking around in Princess heels.
I crack the hardest on Jack throughout the morning because he is the most committed to avoiding the job.
"JACK! I don't want to you to come back to me until ALL the Legos are off of the floor! Go!" I yell.
"Okay mom." He slumps over and slinks back upstairs. We go back and forth until around 4pm when Josiah comes downstairs and asks if I'll come see the progress.
Jack meets me in the stairwell.
J- "Mom, you're takin' it too hard on me."
Me-"What are you talking about?" I ask in disbelief.
J- "You're takin' it too hard on me about the room."
I know he's right, especially from his delivery and the way this child has a history of being a sage. There is no hint of attitude or judgment in his voice, he's just letting me know.
Me- sigh. "I'm sorry. You're right. I don't want to be hard on you. (we hug) I'm frustrated though because it feels like you don't want to do the job and are being a little lazy. I think I'm not doing my job to help show you what to do and you are not doing your job to work hard right? "
Me- "Okay, what if I help you guys finish and you work really hard, we'll knock it out."
J- "Okay mom!"
We are painfully polite and helpful to each other until the room is done. Josiah's happy with the reinforcements and Lucy is now wandering the house in a crown and princess heels.
The room seems like the smaller victory of the day while connection and communication win out again. Isn't it amazing how parenting always forces us to the place that really matters in the end?
Please share your ideas for unlocking clean room superpowers in the comments. I've got my own list going so look for the next part of this post on Tuesday.
It's my favorite time of year. The air is getting crisp(er), the leaves are starting to change and the humidity seems to finally be gone. Having spent the better number of my years in a climate void of autumn, I find myself going a little overboard. Maybe everyone in the family isn't interested in taking that 3 hour drive to see the fall foliage, but no one will be complaining when we finally get there. Here are some other ideas for fall fun.
So what do you do to get into the autumn feeling?