By the time you read this, I'll be on my way to visit dear friends in the northeast province of Umutara in Rwanda. One of the things I'm looking forward to most about this trip is the chance to be with little children in the village--these two little girls in particular who lost their parents to AIDS when they were still preschoolers.
It would be easy to focus on this as yet another really sad story, but the truth is there is still so much hope and acceptance and love around the world--even in the face of loss and profound disappointment--with these two sweet girls especially. I want my children to see the silver lining, so here's what I'll tell them about the children I meet.
Kids all over the world have the same developmental tasks as you do. Everyone laughs because I actually do use phrases like "developmental tasks" with my kids, but I think it's important for them to recognize what their brains and bodies are trying to do at each particular age and stage. To help them understand that all kids have these same interests and challenges--no matter where they live--makes the world a little bit smaller a place.
Kids all over the world know how to do amazing things. While my kids might be mortified to talk to the shopkeeper or do certain things by themselves, kids in Africa, for instance, have tons of experience in navigating public transit, managing their own time and taking care of the needs of themselves and others. Instead of painting a picture of need, I want my kids to know they have plenty to learn from kids around the world who are full of spunk and can-do energy.
Kids all over the world need each other. No matter where you live as a child in today's world, your future will be shared not only by the people on your street, but by those who live a continent away. Our environment, our economies, our education structures will continue to be more interconnected as technology brings us closer together and makes us each more beholden to the others as our choices increasingly affect one another.
What do you want your kids to know about the world? What favorite books or movies or stories help you share your particular worldview.
Ethan started early in the day.
E: Can we camp tonight?
He asked no less than 30 times. Derek finally gave in and put up the tent. No one paid attention to the weather forecast. A little rain never hurt anyone, right?
They asked if I wanted to join them. My kind of camping is either at someplace fabulously famous or historical or camping at a five-star hotel with a 42-inch television and a jacuzzi bathtub. I know it's wrong but it is the way it is.
They raced out to the tent with a couple of couch pillows, a couple of sleeping bags and a flashlight. Ten minutes later Ethan came in the house and got a plastic bag. I should have asked questions but I figured his father had it under control. Another ten minutes went by and he came back in to show me his bounty.
There were three lightning bugs in the bag. The sealed bag. He began to tell me how he was going to keep the lightning bugs until tomorrow. I flashed back to that time when I was five and I decided to keep two hundred lightning bugs in a bug lantern overnight. Imagine my surprise when I found 200 lightning bug corpses in my bug lantern the next morning. I think the incident made me who I am today and who really needs to go to therapy over dead lightning bugs?
K: Buddy, if you don't set them free, they will miss their dads.
With that he set them free. Unfortunately he set them free in the tent and Derek killed one by accident when he mistakenly thought it was a mosquito but I did save the life of two of them. And hopefully shaved off five or six hours of therapy when Ethan is older.
By the time you read this, I'll be on a plane on my way to Rwanda to set some things in order for an upcoming project. Of all the questions people ask me about international travel, here's the one I get the most: What do you do about your kids?
Here are a few things I've learned about how to take care of your kids when you know you need to be away for an extended period:
Only leave them with their favorite caregivers. Now is not the time to stretch them or ask them to do hang in there with someone who they aren't so sure about. Your tried and true favorite babysitters or family friends will be your best bet now.
Try to center all childcare arrangements within your home. For my kids anyway, I find that things go much more smoothly when I'm not sending them here and there or piece mealing their childcare arrangements. Plan to preserve home base and let caregivers come to you as often as possible.
Build in rituals for hellos and goodbyes. I make a conscious effort to spend quality one-on-one time with each of my kids at least once before I go and once when I return. Carter especially looks forward to these connecting times and it gives us a chance to talk deeply (or just have fun) before I go.
Stock up on faves and raves. I don't always have the budget to do this, but when I do, I try to make sure my kids' comfort foods are on hand and that they have easy access to good decent snacks to serve themselves. Kids whether they show you or not are concerned with their basic survival, so this is an important security measure that can go a long way.
Plan something fun to look forward to for the end of your stay. Everyone will start to get a little antsy and be ready for you to come home. You'll make those hard days easier by making plans for the kids to see favorite friends (or cousins) in the days right before you arrive.
Check in about what worked and what didn't while you were gone. By giving your kids permission to be honest, you'll get the inside scoop on what really happens and what you can do to make it work better next time. Give them all your empathy for the parts that didn't work; it's never easy when mom is away and it's only fair to acknowledge that.
What about you? Have you ever left your kids to go far away? What little things helped ease your journey?
She begged me for these hair elastics in the store. I gave in wondering how they were ever going to work with little fine hair. Somehow, out of sheer will, we got every last one worked into her hair for the last 4 days straight. She called them her "pretties".
Hair has been on her mind a lot lately. She asked Josiah to hand her the travel art box scissors while we were driving the other day. All I heard was, "No Lucy, you can't cut your hair." One lecture explaining the joy of the salon later, I thought we had nipped that playing hairstylist thing in the bud. A few days later while coming home from picking cherries she asked the boys for some paper and scissors. I didn't think too much about it since the paper was involved and she was in deep love with the "pretties".
Yep, you got it, beside a chunk of hair missing on the top, she managed to actually layer the sides nicely. Hair was everywhere, all over the car. The three year old hairstylist couldn't resist. I would show you but she won't let me take her picture yet.
Tell me, I know you have to have a kid hair cutting story or a bad haircut story yourself. Lucy will listen, its all part of the job.
The weather has been a little crazy lately. We have had so much rain that when I hear Mr. Steve, one of my all-time-favorite people in the whole world, singing the Rain song, I contemplate throwing something at the television.
The kids have been cooped up inside too much. I know that we have reached this point when I walk into the living room and find the two of them on top of the armoire. The scary thing is that the box that was on top before was on the ground and I never heard it hit the ground. It's really heavy. I'm fairly certain they couldn't lower it to the ground themselves. I wish I had one of those motion sensors that would go off when the kids go higher than 3 feet in any given room.
This time I was feeding the baby in the family room and they were playing with cars on a track in the living room. In the old days (read three months ago), I always knew someone was getting into trouble by the silence. Now I have to pay attention because the safety in their talking is no longer effective.
They were having this long conversation about playing mom and dad and who was going to be forced to be "MOM" while the other person got the awesome role of dad. They were having the conversation as they were climbing. I happened to walk by as they were deep in discussion above my eye level. When they realized they were busted, the both began apologizing profusely. I just wanted them to get down and not get back up. I guess we'll have to add the living room furniture to the pile of chairs we recently moved to the basement. It's only a matter of time before they are giving each other a leg up.
Sun, please stay out so we can play in the much safer yard filled with ticks and mosquitoes.
We had our tent exactly ten years before it ever made its way out of the box onto a real campground. The first time we camped, Carter spent the entire time looking like this:
While the rest of us responded like this while he complained and cried ALL DAY long:
It was no fun, let me tell you.
Two years later, I'm happy to report, we recently had a very positive camping experience that I'd love to share, but before I do, I'd love to know how camping works with your family. Did you grow up in a camping family? Do all your kids like to camp, or do you, like me, have a wild card on your hands who's been known to fall apart when encountering anything new and potentially overwhelming?
Jack has been asking to pick cherries for over a year now. Cherries were perfect for him because it was a combination of his love of tree climbing and fruit. Picking is the one activity that proves to be lovely over and over again for our family.
Favorite quotes of the day:
Lucy- "This is love..." (comment about the mountains)
Jack- "You know, I'm thinking we should probably grow our own cherry tree because it would be better for the earth. Then we wouldn't have to come ALL the way out here and use our gas. Gas is bad for the earth you know...so don't spit out those seeds okay? we need them!"
What's happening over there? What are you guys doing this summer?
Ethan wanted to get his father something specific for Father's Day, but I don't remember what it was. The only part I remember is that it cost money. I shut him down.
You can see by that haircut that we are doing a little cutting back here at Chateau Cookie. I always swore that the last luxury I would give up would be $14 haircuts for the kids. Either we have reached that point or maybe that chocolate was more luxurious than a head of hair that does not look like it had a plastic cereal bowl slapped on the head and cut around.
I cut the hair today. Having watched the barber on more than one occasion cut a divot out of the head of a child who suddenly decided he really wanted to know what Oprah's Book of the Month was this month, I was afraid. But this is what Father wanted on Happy Father's Day so this is what I did.
Of course I started with Ethan because I thought he would be better behaved. Unfortunately he has that hair. I don't even know what that statement means but I have heard it often. This doesn't make any sense because if you cut 30 heads of hair 5 days a week, is there really a head with that hair? It looks frightening but at least it is out of his eyes.
Then I cut Nathan's hair. There is something heady (pun intended) about wielding clippers. His head looks relatively tolerable to live with but his bangs look like Lombard Street in San Francisco. He was so busy trying to shove the cut hair down the drain of the sink I had him perched on that I just gave up trying to get them straight. You know how it goes with bangs. You keep trying to fix them and then you end up looking like that girl from Northern Exposure. Sometimes it's better to just walk away from something and revisit it later. It's not like I just ruined his prom picture or anything.
The boys then spent the rest of the day chasing their father around the backyard as he did things with cement. There were multiple changes of clothing and eventually ice cream at our favorite spot since it was free-ice-cream-for-dad-day. Other than ruining all photos of my children for the next 6 weeks, I'd say it was a good day.
How was yours?
Whose working harder? Who has it worse? Who is the "real mother" in the bunch? These are the questions stalking the blogosphere this last week as mothers hash it out over who has it harder in life--the work-at-home mom or the work-outside-the-home mom?
This supersister is pretty sure that the grass is always greener no matter which side of the fence you're on, and there's no perspective more skewed than the one you have when you're knee deep in the trials and tribulations of your own particular stressed out existence.
Here's a thought: What could happen if we could offer kindness and empathy to the other mother by letting her know we recognize the hard parts of the particular choice she has made? What kind of encouragement and connection would be possible then? What if we focused on the positive aspect of our own choices and asked for help when we struggle to accept the inevitable limitations inherent in each and every path? What would happen to the mommy wars then?
I think the primary issue is our own insecurities about the choices we make. We each and everyone of us have moments when we wonder if we're doing it right, if we made a fatal error, if our kids will hate us for not being there enough or for being present and constantly distracted. Instead of dividing ourselves up into who works where, how about acknowledging our common ground. We all work. And it's hard. And because of that, we need each other so, so much.
Don't you think?
Highs and Lows are a long standing tradition at our house. At the dinner table or right before bed we go around and everyone says what the best and worst part of their day was. Sometimes I'm surprised by their answers as to what they really loved or what was hard. It is a great little tool to get inside their heads for just a bit.
At our house it goes something like this:
Josiah's highs are usually connecting times.
Jack can hardly ever come up with a low.
Lucy just keeps listing everything she did. All day long.
Someone decides for Lyra.
We guess for Papa if he isn't there.
So tell me Superfriends, what are your highs and lows for the week? Do tell in the comment section.