We are getting closer and closer to our Great Day of Gratitude on May 5th! Now that the gratitude train is going, what a great opportunity to explore being grateful with our kids in other areas of our lives. Here are a few things we are trying on at the moment to learn more at our house.
The Gratitude Growl and Howl What is the one thing you are going a little crazy for these days? It's easy to be thankful for the things that make us really happy or even just stuff we enjoy. Go around the circle and give a growl, a howl and then state what you are grateful for. Being silly as a parent sometimes unlocks the joy inside and invites kids to share (or laugh at you). We are grateful growling for wildflowers, berries, Pokemon cards, the computer and puppy dogs at our house.
The Manners Police Start young, before kids can even talk with please and thank you. Introducing the practice and gentle reminders send us back to the value we want to honor and instill. This helps us learn to be intentional in our thanks.
The Gratitude Tree Head out for a nature walk to search for a medium size branch with lots of tiny branches. Buy a simple clay or ceramic pot you can decorate or paint together. Use plaster of Paris or marbles/rocks to hold your "tree" in place. Every season decorate your tree with the things you are currently grateful for written on tiny paper leaves. In the winter, you can hang ornaments or colored balls with the words written on instead. Just like the seasons, life is cyclical, the leaves are bursting and other times the tree is bare. This is a good activity to mix creativity and revive the focus every now and then.
Quiet Thanks Doing acts that express gratitude anonymously can help kids discover that we can express our gratitude without the need for a return. Leaving flowers on doorsteps or writing a notes and hiding them for those we are thankful for to find can be really fun and kind of sneaky. Some children might prefer this way of being grateful.
Leaving Space for Need Usually when we have a hard time being grateful it is because we are in need of something ourselves. Kids (and parents) might need the space to express needs and invite help or empathy which in turn produces a new and different kind of gratitude.
What ways do you celebrate gratitude at your house? What has or hasn't worked for your family? Do share in the comments.
I have gratitude anxiety as a parent of elementary school aged kids. Every single day of the school year, my children fly out the door, walk three doors down, one hops on the bus and the other walks into school. For the duration of their absence, I worry about a lot of things--like how I will finish this or that deadline or if this or that project will come together--but one thing I don't have to worry about is how my children are doing. Both of their schools are full of the kind of young (and seasoned) professionals who are there, not because of the money (what teacher is in it for the money?) but because they love kids, they are passionate about learning and they love their jobs.
My kids--even with all the normal ups and downs of school life--are in good shape as a result, and they're receiving something from these men and women that I could never give them on my own as I juggle my work and other grownup demands. How can my thank you really communicate that? How can I explain how incredibly glad I am that these people give and care for my kids day after day after day?
One year when my budget dictated there would be no Starbucks or Target cards, I decided to write letters instead. And not the kind of personal note you might expect from a mom to a kindergarten teacher. I wrote professional letters of recommendation and appreciation for each teacher's professional file and I sent copies all the way up the administrative food chain.
It was the most enthusiastically received gift I had ever given a teacher--something that could last forever--or as long as the teacher hoped for a raise or a promotion or any other kind of recognition for a job well done. And it was a powerful tool for those teachers in areas where budget cuts meant one less specialist would be needed in the year to come.
This kind of letter wasn't hard to write, though it took a little time out for reflection. Here are the basic elements:
A professional tone. Pretend you're writing for a colleague looking to secure a new position or a peer entering a rigorous review process. No flowery words are necessary. Just the facts.
Concrete examples based on need. Be clear about what kind of specific help your child needed during this year and how the teacher provided that assistance. For example, if you have a child who struggles academically, you can note how the teacher consistently kept your child seated in the front of the class and kept you apprised of daily progress. This is a simple thing, but in a typewritten letter it communicates strongly.
Details that reflect dedication or commitment. These are the above and beyond items. Be a good detective of your teacher's unique contributions. Every teacher has their area of strength--that little way they go the extra mile out of their own dedication to excellence. Be sure to include this element in your letter. For example, one year one of my kids had a first year teacher who was inexperienced in the classroom, but she had a remarkable gift for tracking and encouraging individual academic growth. This is something the principal needed to know.
High praise and requests. A strong letter asks the teacher's superiors to do everything in their power to provide ongoing training and growth opportunities for the teacher's career and development. Every teacher appreciates someone advocating for their career growth, and every teacher can benefit from this kind of door opening.
You might be wondering if you can pull this off with some teachers and not with others. I decided to give it a go with all my kids teachers and was surprised to discover there was something really good to say about everyone.
Will you join us as we get ready to show our gratitude in a remarkable way? All the information is right here.
I don't want to stepping on any of Vicky's toes over there at Craft Apparent but I did have this awesome thing I whipped up that I wanted to share.
We decided to take a road trip today. As in, we decided last night that I would take the boys on a road trip today. Fresh with antibiotics for sinus infections and ruptured ear drums, what better time to set out on the road than when everyone is on the mend?
The last time we road-tripped, I noticed one thing. Anyone who did not have a pillow that he liked was more likely to wake up repeatedly as his head fell forward onto his chest. No matter how many times I would prop up a pillow, heads would roll off. It was then that I decided to make travel pillows. Someone actually recommended I buy those ones that are shaped like a frog trying to strangle you but at $15.99 a pop, I was pretty sure I could do better.
First off I found fleece that was 60% off at the fabric store. I bought a half yard. Hello, $2.75. I bought a bag of Fluff for $1.99 and I knew I had plenty of thread at home. I went home and made an elaborate pattern. Okay, really I just eyeballed it.
People. You are only limited in this project by your own level of anal retentativeness.
I cut the pieces out (I didn't even pin them, oops) and then I sewed around the edges.
I left a hole at the bottom to add the stuffing. Once that was done, I threw it back on the sewing machine and sewed it close. You good people would close it with a needle and thread. I'll bet though that you wouldn't be done in 20 minutes with 3 of these cute little travel pillows.
Here's to better sleeping...
Really, he likes it. I don't feel bad in the least.
The Supersisters Great Day of Gratitude planning is in full swing at our house. The kids and I wondered if it would be fun to make our expressions of gratitude and kindness for our teachers and caregivers delightfully sneaky.
Here are a few ideas we came up with for May 5, 2010 to tell our teachers we see all they do and honor their contribution in our lives:
Pass a note. Write a note or draw a picture telling your teacher how much he or she means to you and then fold it into an awesome shape like a heart. Here are the instructions. Some time during class or before/after school, quietly drop it on his/her desk or leave it on top of your own when you leave school to be found. You can sign or name or make it anonymous, either way it will make your teacher smile.
Post-it Play! Grab a pad of post-its and a bunch of friends to do a group expression of big thanks! Have each student write a little note of thanks and post-it on their on individual worksheet. When you pass your papers to turn in, you instantly have 20, 24, or even 30 messages of love for your teacher to go through as he/she grades your papers.
Grab an accomplice. Ask another teacher to help you pull a kindness mission off. Make a plan with the teacher in the next door classroom to leave a potted plant (the perfect eco-craft is right here), a bouquet of flowers, chocolates, basket of goodies with a note for your teacher in his/her classroom after hours. Maybe you'll even get to meet a teacher you'll have in the future and make a new friendship.
Make a wish. Wishing is fun and can even be more fun when we extend or imagine our wishes for others. Make a small book, kind of like these. Fill them with your wishes for your teacher. Do you hope she has more flowers in her life, or a fruity drink on a beach vacation, more time with his/her family? This is really fun to ask kids and hear their wishes and blessings.
Widen the circle. After you cover your teachers, why not thank a few other folks who do their jobs to help you be able to learn? Janitors, the lunch lady/man, school secretary, the librarian could all use a note of thanks for all they do to help our schools and kids. Their jobs often go unseen yet they play an important role in our children's growth.
What creative ideas do you have for our collective Great Day of Gratitude? Tell us in the comments or better yet write your own blog post and leave us the link here. Help us spread the word to make this gratitude reach far and wide for every teacher.
You can also include your pictures of teacher love projects on our PBS Supersister Flickr Pool here.
Now go get your gratitude on!
Fighting between siblings is hard on any family. I have my own list of strategies for dealing with those conflicts, but sometimes I find it helps to respond first to the case building with a healthy distraction or a story instead. By telling my kids stories about happier times or potential good days ahead, I'm building into them a sense that the disagreements of today don't have to go on with them into forever. Here are four ways you can tell a story that might help your kids see their future together in a new light.
Tell a make believe story about getting along in the future. Sometimes when my kids are in despair after days and days of disagreements, I tell them a story about all the fun things they'll be able to do together when they are older. I supply the conversation, the dialogue, the voices--anything and everything needed to paint a picture of a sister and brother who get along and have great adventures together. My children are intoxicated by the idea that someday they could have that much freedom or solidarity, and they listen spellbound as I describe their someday journey into peaceful co-existence. These stories not only entertain, they plant a little seed of hope that their future together can be happy and bright.
Tell stories where birth order plays a role. If you are the little sister and have a little sister at your house who is having a hard time, it's okay to commiserate. You can tell a story to let your daughter know you know how it is to be the littlest. These stories communicate empathy and build the bond; for these very reasons, I'd reserve this kind of story-telling for key moments when just one child is present. Conversely, if you're the oldest, let your oldest in on the secret that you understand that it's not always easy going first at everything.
Tell a story about getting in trouble. My kids love to hear stories about how we got in trouble when we were kids. I add drama (and details) and they supply the laughs. Understanding that I was once a kid who got in trouble, helps them know that I may just understand more than they thought about how hard it is to be a kid. Adding any available sibling drama from the family lore, and they are riveted.
Tell a story about someone you know with a happy ending. If your own stories will read more like horror tales than happily ever after, consider telling the story of anyone you know who had an adventure with their sibling in childhood or beyond. Kids need to know that it's possible to have positive and happy interaction with a sibling even if this particular moment isn't the most blissful ever.
What positive things did your parents do to reduce sibling stress at your house?
Everywhere you go, the story is the same. Funding for this program or that program at school has been cut, because the money just isn't there. In the old days, funding cuts meant the disappearance of programs that taught our kids a foreign language or how to play the tuba or the thrill of check mate.
Funding cuts today mean that thousands of teachers will not have a job in the fall. Thousands of teachers will have to find another job to pay the bills.
We cannot make the funding for teachers miraculously appear, but we can certainly do our part to show our teachers that they matter to our community, that they matter to us, and that they matter to our children.
The Supersisters have decided to host a Supersisters Great Day of Gratitude. On May 5, 2010, Supersisters everywhere will join together to show their children's teachers that we are so thankful for the investment they have made in our families and in our communities. What can you do?
We are only limited by our imaginations. Moms in Alabama will spend the morning in the resource room of their elementary school. They'll run copies or cut out construction paper animals that the second grade teacher needs to have but just doesn't have the time or help to get it done.
Moms in Ohio will stand in the preschool pick up line, so that the teachers can have a day off from this dreaded duty. Moms in Virginia will bring armfuls of fresh flowers to decorate the teacher's lounge and baskets of fresh muffins for a wonderful morning snack.
Children everywhere will cut out homemade cards and write their words of thanks to the teachers who took the time to value their accomplishments and to cheer them on to even the smallest victory.
We would love for you to be a part of the Supersisters Great Day of Gratitude on May 5. So make a plan, grab a badge and tell us in the comments what great ideas you have for showing our teachers how much they mean to us. With your help we can make this a truly Great Day of Gratitude!!
Badge: just cut and paste the following!
<a href="http://www.pbs.org/parents/supersisters/archives/2010/04/pbs-supersisters-great-day-of.html"><img src="http://pbs.org/parents/supersisters/badges/supersisters_badge_greatdayofgratitude.jpg" border="0" alt="The Great Day of Gratitude is May 5, 2010" /></a>
"I miss Marmie mom!" Lucy (age 4) said one day while driving home from picking up the boys from school.
"We can call her, do you want to call?" I said.
"No, I wanna send her a message (i.e. text)." she replied.
As soon as we got home, the dictating began. "I like you Marmie, you like me and we are friends. Do you like flowers? because I like flowers." and the half hour of texting back and forth began.
"Mom, I made this picture for Marmie of us with the daffodils, take a picture on your phone and send it to Marmie, okay?" and my mom promptly sent one back. Even now, if Lucy is having a meltdown moment she sometimes asks me to use the cell phone so she can call my mom, instantly involving her in the everyday she might miss. I'm happy to have someone else calm her down in the car when I can't reach or talk to either of them.
It seems technology still plays a huge role when we finally do get to visit together. Lucy spent hours recording herself singing songs which only a grandmother could love. The kids took turns playing with different apps while we waited in restaurants and my mom took endless pictures with her phone to send to my dad who couldn't come.
The letter writing to your grandparents days are gone but I must say while I miss it, my kids probably won't. The new alternatives are just so much quicker and easier. With his own e-mail account, my ten year old can keep in contact in a much more effective and enjoyable way. He can even send his grandparents links from his Flickr accout to his latest lego creations. While this requires us to keep a close eye for his online safety, it's well worth it.
With a little help, even the youngest kids can join in. Skype allows that face to face connection so grandparents can see kids grow or just help you tell them what to do. My mom was helping my nephew Ethan clean his room just a few weeks ago. How great is that? Now there is another person to watch the "trick" 57,000 times or even read a book.
Let's face it, if our mothers are on Facebook, they aren't falling behind in our tech loving world. It's all just an added bonus to new levels for our kids.
Do your kids use technology to connect with far away loved ones? If so, which forms are their favorites? Are your parents open to new technology or are they intimidated? Tell us in the comments.
Blogger Supa Dupa Fresh had an opportunity to preview Sesame Street's special which premieres tonight at 8:00 p.m. In addition to her fabulous review of the special at her blog, Fresh Widow, Supa agreed to talk to us a little more about how she and her daughter dealt with the grief of losing her husband to terminal cancer in 2006.
Your blog recounts stories of your journey as a young widow and mother. It is, dare I say, irreverent at times. You actually printed up widow cards which you described as "not as useful as a 'get out of jail free' card, more powerful than a hall pass." By virtue of being a mother, we are all open to everyone's opinions and judgment. I can only imagine how magnified that is when you are overwhelmed with grief. Did you find acceptance or judgment in how your grief was perceived by others?
You say irreverent -- thank you! -- but I think, even stronger, contempt is a really common response for folks who are widowed because our experience seems, to most people, just inconceivable. Of course, I got rude looks from others when my kid was having a fit in the checkout line... so I'd just say, "Her father just died," and boy did that change the mood in the room. It doesn't occur to anyone that you could be widowed with a 2-year-old, that there could be an explanation for my inability to cope with a grocery store. I liked being able to force compassion in public in this way. So the widow card is both a handy excuse (when I was doing badly, I needed every excuse I could get) AND a tool to turn people's minds around.
In general, people who've lived through a major loss reserve an even higher level of contempt for those who judge how we grieve, but that's a whole nother topic. Let's just say that if you think there's a right way to grieve -- or a schedule -- you haven't been there. Consider yourself lucky and keep your thoughts to yourself if you want to retain your friendship.
On the other hand, I can be just as catty as anyone if I don't approve of what another Mom is doing. I suppose I'm less likely because I've practiced all the laziest techniques and cut all the corners already -- so there are fewer parenting shortcuts left for me to criticize...
In a way it's a relief to not make some tiny detail into a source of stress, like, silicone or rubber pacifier, or OMG, none at all? Even in the depths of my grief and disability, I knew that caring about little junk like that was out of my life forever. It's been four years and I'm remarried, and glad to say I spend a lot less time on keeping a clean house or selecting consumer goods than I ever did before.
At 2, she would have understood the basics, that Jesse's father died too, and that people were talking in a friendly way about it. Like now, I would have hugged her and listened closely to her questions. But two year olds don't understand permanence, and no matter how well it's stated or presented to them, the idea simply can't sink in. The validation of seeing another kid who's lost a parent (even if they are a Muppet) would have been good for her, and she would have caught other bits, the concrete parts, like the memory box with the light-up bow tie in it. She'd see all these different families sharing stories and pictures of the loved one.
Kids' grief is interesting, we all know how kids watch a show over and over again: sure, Cinderella has a cute dress, but part of it is that as your child grows, she learns something new each time. My daughter and I would likely have watched this show over and over again (as we watched everything), and as she entered the stages where is learning rapidly, at about 3 and a half, she'd have started to ask different questions. As she began to understand what it means to not come back, she'd start to "get" some of the other conversations in the show.
I think our experience would have been almost the way it was, only with this show as another, very focused topic. But I am unusual in that I sought out and received expert advice and reassurance about my grieving child. I knew what her limits were and learned to listen to her really well. (I blog about this a lot. She taught me many things about loss!)
Most widowed parents don't get this information and reassurance, either from school, peers, family, or church so this show is really, really valuable. People are really, really scared of talking to kids about death. Adults magnify everything. Children observe, and are 100% honest. Your goal in talking to them is to keep them that way and not project your own needs! The book, "How to talk so kids will listen, and how to listen so kids will talk," based on the work of Dr. Haim Ginott, is probably the best guide to low-pressure, child-led communication and I encourage all parents -- and all people involved in stressful communication -- to read it and keep it close.
Many communities have terrific resources for grieving kids, but people don't know how unique kids' needs are -- or even that they need special support, especially if they appear to be developing normally. But kids really do need more information about these programs such as grief camps, in-school programs, and counseling. I encourage folks to reach out to counselors, school system experts, non-profits and community organizations to find appropriate help for their kids. It's never too late: kids benefit even ten years later and a lot of programs are even free.
One in twenty kids will lose a parent by age 15 -- families like yours will come out of the woodwork if you look, and you'll feel less alone. A recent study showed that the effects of parental loss affect children through adulthood, but it's never too late to talk and listen.
These conversations are really vital and I think people will be surprised, once they start to talk, at how easy and fun it can be to share this stuff with a child. It's not all heavy and dark. It's just real.
Is there a "right" time for children to see this special? (right after a loss, years after a loss, somewhere in between?)
For kids, this show is appropriate at any time. It's important to remember it's just a first step, but you can learn a lot about what your kids need from listening to them. It's also good viewing for other family and community members, and families of your child. Most people think widowed people are cocooned by our families and close friends and "don't want to bother (them)." But actually, we often have big differences with those people, who may also be grieving and are often judgmental. In our contempt, we break a lot of ties, or they get broken for us. An "end" is a very large turning point and changes everything. Emotions run high. A surviving parent is doing double duty WHILE severely impaired AND tackling paperwork that you wouldn't believe. Many families face bankruptcy after a loss. It is BIG STUFF and there's no time for the niceties of thank you notes or the norms of polite society, sometimes. And we know our kids come first.
Because of these massive disruptions, a neighbor, a cousin, a classmate you weren't very close to may turn out to be your family's superhero or your new best friend. That's why I *encourage* everyone to learn more about grief and get more comfortable with grieving people. It isn't contagious!
If you could give one piece of unsolicited advice to another widow or widower about helping their children deal with the loss of a parent, knowing now what you didn't know then, what would it be?
Meet some peers -- online or in person -- they will help you realize you're not alone, you're not crazy, and serve as evidence that others have survived.
According to Supa, "loss is something you get through -- not over. "Closure" is so Hollywood. Some of us may turn lucky enough to use what we've been through as a springboard for revelation, renewal, or reinvention." Thanks so much for sharing just a small part of your journey. We are glad you are a Supersister!
For more resources on families dealing with grief, PBS Parents provides a place for you to share your story, tips on how to open the dialogue with your children and caring cards to use as a family to find strength together.
"When Families Grieve" premieres on PBS tonight, Wednesday April 14, at 8 p.m. EST and runs for one hour. Check your local listings. It's appropriate for all ages, even grown-ups.
My neighbor would have been mortified to see all the bare feet in my back yard yesterday. The woman is afraid of nothing other than copperheads. We have a LOT of copperhead snakes in our neighborhood. People tell stories of year-long recoveries from snake bites the way those people who get Lyme disease talk about recovery.
You go to the local zoo and there is the CAUTION: POISONOUS sign overhead. Ethan says, "Enough with the poisonous copperheads already. We KNOW they are poisonous." Nathan pipes up with "I KNOW they are red. Stop telling me that."
The neighbor graciously reminds us that the huge pile of sticks over there? Great place for baby copperheads to hide out. She's right. And she's not even trying to tell me in a way that know-it-all-ish. She just doesn't want to have to do babysitting duty for the ER visit that is related to a snake bite in lieu of the usual stitches run. She's not exaggerating either. Last year I killed two copperheads on the front walk. Nate called out to warn me about the one but then he lost it because he saw a daddy long legger.
He was freaking out. Losing it.
K: Nate, what's wrong? Are you okay?
Nathan: MOM!!! I was telling yout there is a copperhead but then I saw a 'PIDER. A 'PIDER!!!!
K: Nathan, please move away from that snake.
Nathan: I CAN'T (wailing and pointing to the harmless spider between him and the door).
I snatched him up and put him in the house. There was no use trying to reason with the child about a poisonous snake at his feet when clearly the harmless spider had emotionally crippled him. I went back outside and beheaded the snake with a shovel (which is as fun as it sounds). Nate jumped over the spider and came to stand beside the writhing body of the now headless snake.
Nathan: MOM!!! You have to kill the spider.
I didn't. I have a LOT of atoning to do in my lifetime for the amount of legs I have pulled off of spiders in my childhood so I'm just going to leave well enough alone. We have snakes to cause concern. They are far more interesting.
I know that other than cleaning out my entire back yard of all yard debris, the next best way to stay safe is for everyone to wear shoes. But the wearing of shoes is a losing battle in my house. I started to chew everyone out today about safety since 4 out of 5 family members had shoes strewn across the lawn rather than on their feet when someone brought it to my attention that I wasn't wearing shoes. It's kind of awkward to be the parent who tries to pitch the "parents are allowed to do things kids aren't allowed to do" when really you are just a big fat hypocrite.
My children don't buy the hypocrisy. It was worth a try though.
You would think from this picture that I could also take a little time to be worried about the wooden stakes, the leftover piece of sharp gutter cover, the potting soil around his mouth or even the plastic cup that is most likely a #3. But I don't want to get ahead of myself...
Whenever I see an expecting mother with a small boy by her side, I always want to tell her a secret even if she is a complete stranger. Don't worry, I usually don't but I wish I could. I suspect there is probably a twinge of longing for a girl because we always are intrigued by what we do not know or have, but secretly I hope she will get to experience the joy of watching brothers grow together.
It's when you are in it together when your mother decides it would be awesome if you were Shaggy and Scooby for Halloween. Even though you both like the show, it isn't exactly what either of you had in mind.
There is also great joy when she finally buys the store bought Bionicle costume you both have been begging for. They still try to squeeze themselves into these costumes.
There are hours of legos, tinker toys, art projects and constructing of all kinds together. All roads lead to robots, especially the dream that together they might be able to build one that would clean the room they share, or just add a friend to the mix.
This partnership can welcome someone new into the mix because there is nothing like a brother. A sister has her own place in the family love. They seem to find their own peace in the midst of big family chaos.
Now with shaggy hair and long arms like their papa, I wonder how their friendship will change and grow. Everyday we get closer to the developmental place where independence must be tried on in new ways. The time when you stretch and learn how to be on your own, sometimes even with out those closest to you. I always hope they find their way back to each other, to the soft place of landing that is the brothers.
Check out this great article for nuturing positive sibling relationships.