Thursday, September 20, 2007

Slow and Steady

You know when you go to the park and you see a mother laughing hysterically as she swings on the swing next to her toddler? Or when you go to McD’s and see a perfectly content mother playing with the Mini My Little Pony Happy Meal toy? Or when you drive by an ice cream parlor and spot a mother and her children enjoying multicolor ice cream cones, ice cream dripping from everyone’s chins and even some fingers?


I am not these women. I am the woman standing in the ice cream line insisting to my children that today is Root Beer Float Day; and in honor of that, we will be getting root beer floats with lids but they may choose their straws. I am the woman sitting at the table in the fast food play area, begging my children not to linger over their dollar menu nuggets but to go slide down the slide. I am the woman sitting with my eyes closed on the park bench next to a stroller, trying to catch a few seconds of sleep before the next catastrophe.


I am not a fun mom. Ethan is the fun parent. I am the one with the diapers, the hairbrush, and the sippy cups. You come to me if you need something wiped or buttoned. If you need a good laugh, you go to Papa. My idea of fun is getting to nap in a freshly vacuumed room.


But I have recently reinstituted something that does up my fun factor. This book is a terrific resource for those of us scrambling to come up with something to do that 1) doesn’t cost much of anything, 2) doesn’t require much work on our part, and 3) the kids actually enjoy. Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready: The How-To Book That Grows with Your Child by June R. Oberlander is a terrific book. From birth to age 5, it gives a weekly activity to do with your child. I have found the activities to be age-appropriate and cheap cheap cheap (I have never had to buy anything to do any of the activities, and the book estimates that the activities cost a penny a day). I first borrowed mine from the library, and then a good friend (Thanks, Mary!) gave me her copy. My friend Jamie recommends it to adoptive parents who want a guide for helping to develop age-appropriate skills.


But I love it for the way the kids love it. Preparation is at a minimum and enjoyment is at a maximum. For example, one of the activities was to demonstrate how to put a rubber band on and off a door handle. When they were 18 months old, my twins spent 45 MINUTES doing that. 45 MINUTES!!! And no broom, Formula 401, and paper towels were needed when they finished!


To give you a better picture, here’s what we’re working on this week (I am paraphrasing the activities):


Eden (Week 30):


Paper Noise: Take a bunch of pieces of paper. Holding one near the baby, crumple it and make as much noise with it as you can. Crumple another one close to her ear. Give her a piece and let her try (you can crumple another one at the same time so she gets the idea). Do until bored.


If the baby’s still happy, take a clean trashcan and show the baby how to put the crumpled pieces into the trashcan. Make it a game by you doing one and baby doing one. Praise any time she actually tries to get it in.


Another time, take a large toy, show to baby, and put it in a box with the crumpled pieces of paper. Close the box and have the baby open it and find the toy.


This activity develops small hand muscles, enhances listening, encourages the baby to copy or attempt a task independently, and develops an awareness of the concept “inside.”


As a side note, she had already mastered this crumpling technique on, ahem, church bulletins, but I figure it’s good practice anyway. Should she run out of bulletins or something.


Abraham and Miriam (Age 2-Week 15):


Put It in a Line: Take a yard of tape or string, etc. Lay it in a line on the floor. Have a few small items (block, key, clothespin, spoon, cup, etc.) in a can or jar or paper bag.


Start on the left. Place one item on line. Sweeping your hand from left to right, show that you are going to put the next item to the right of the first. Continue, always placing next item to the right of last. Have child do it. Repeat often, varying the items.


This activity develops an awareness of “left” and “right” progression, enhancement of the sense of touch in handling the objects in the bag, eye-hand coordination, skill in following directions and completing a task, further awareness of the concept “empty” and “on,” and awareness of “one” object to place at a time.


Lily (Age 3-Week 44)


Yes or No: The book gives 24 statements, to which the child is to answer “yes” or “no.” You can add your own. Some examples are, “Pages are in a book,” “Sugar is sour,” “Mother washes clothes in the dishwasher,” “A camera takes medicine,” and “Clouds are white.” While I would assume this would be boring, Lily thinks it’s a blast and cracks up hysterically at the ones like, “I can pour juice in a fork.” But then, having heard her jokes, she probably thinks each “no” statement is a great one-liner.


This activity develops listening skills, thinking skills, skill in making a decision, language enrichment, association skills, and confidence.


Ben (Age 5 and I don’t know how many weeks ‘cuz he’s too old for the book):


While he has “outgrown” the book, sometimes I go back and do some of the older activities that we missed (like clothespin toss, jumping distances, pattern repetition). But this week his “activity” is learning how to load and run the washing machine. I usually use the 4-stage teaching approach (You watch me do it, you do it with me, I watch you do it, you do it alone), and he’s on the third stage of this one. We’re almost all the way to washing machine independence – WOO-HOO!


This activity develops an incredible sense of accomplishment and freedom…in the mother!


OK. So it’s not going to win me the “Entertainer of the Year” Award. But it is a step up from “Let’s Play Tidy Up the Nursery.”


And the last time I tried to swing next to my toddlers, I about threw up.



Monday, September 17, 2007

It's a Girl Thing

Lily (3), after watching me point to my head while talking to Ben about using the brain:


"What's a brain? Is that like a hair clip?"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Survivor Skills

I've never been a fan of the "Survivor" shows. What kind of person has to AUDITION to be lied to and about, run marathons with only one shoe, eat unidentifiable things that look like they're still moving, and sleep crammed in a tent with four other people? You mean they get paid to enjoy what the rest of us take for granted?


But I digress...


Angela asked me how I survive things if I am an avid schedule-hater. First of all, I think it’s important to define “survive”: if I know where all my kids are and have enough silverware left for a meal, I consider myself a successful survivor. Still, I do have a few things I do to help maintain “order”:


  1. Lower my expectations. This is probably the single most important tip I can give. When someone gushes at the checkout line, “Wow, you have your hands full. I just don’t know how you do it all,” I just rest in the fact that they just don’t know I don’t do it all. Or even most of it. My ceiling fans do not get dusted on a regular basis. The freezer would probably die of shock (literally?) if I ever defrosted it. And yes, I have reached under my kids’ bunk bed and grabbed a stuffed animal that was not exactly…stuffed. But because I take the extra 15 minutes to put frilly bows in my girls’ hair, countless numbers of people get to have an extra 15 minutes of daydreaming of bygone days when mothers cared for their obedient children and waxed their spotless floors. I have learned the art of window-dressing, only the mannequins are my children and I pray you don’t step inside the store without giving me at least 4 days’ notice.


If you don’t want to “lower” your expectations, then just change them. I no longer expect my children to maintain eye contact with every adult who tries to engage them in conversation. I no longer expect my children to remember what bucket the miniature dinosaurs (all seven hundred thirty-nine of them) came out of or whether those dinosaurs are theirs to play with in the first place. I no longer expect my children to publicly recite the first thirty answers to the Kids’ Catechism (or “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” for that matter). I expect my children to grow to know that God is their God and they are His. I expect them to cheerfully glorify and enjoy Him forever. I expect them to love, protect, and strengthen one another.


I no longer expect my kitchen floor to be unchunky, my hallway free of paper airplanes and stray bedding, or my yard cared for. I do expect that when you knock, unannounced, the kids will throw some decent clothing on and we will smile when we open the door. I expect you to feel welcomed and wanted. I expect our conversation to move beyond pleasantries to the not-always-so-pleasant to the ultimate pleasure found in living within God’s will.


  1. Follow a routine. Yes, this may just be a case of semantics: I hate schedules but can stand routines. The difference? Schedules have times written in. This is a significant difference to me. With a schedule, I am NEVER on track. But with a routine, I am always doing the next thing. And I can easily tweak and rearrange when priorities differ. I basically have set times for meals, naps, and bedtime (the important things, eating and sleeping). These are my checkpoints throughout the day. I have a list of things to accomplish before each of these checkpoints.


And not only do I follow a routine in the grand scheme of the day, I also follow routine in little things. I wash my dishes the same way each time. I clean rooms the same way each time. This way, I can just go on “autopilot” and busy my mind with more interesting things than whatever chore is at hand.


  1. Work quickly. When it’s time to get stuff done, be fast. The dishes will not get that much cleaner if you languish over the job. And even if they do, you will be dirtying them again in another few hours, anyway. Figure out what’s important and spend time on those things. For me, important things include reading to the kids, having Lily do my hair, letting Ben read to me, tickling Abraham and Miriam, and letting Edee crawl all over me. These are unrecoverable treasures. They will not last forever. Dishes, laundry, kitchen floor dirt, and meal prep do last forever. I will be dealing with these in their present state until I am no longer in my present state (breathing), so I’d rather deal with them quickly now and not spend forever. A little imagination helps: sometimes (shhh) I pretend I’m a paid Starbucks worker and rush like crazy to get the kitchen clean.


  1. Lighten the workload. When things start taking over my workday, I reevaluate. Meals used to take me forever. Now I plan ahead and pre-cook, chop, etc. anything that will monopolize my day. Beans, chicken, and seasoned ground beef all get pre-cooked and frozen in mass quantities when I have a “light” day. I make six loaves of bread and freeze three of them before the second rising. The crockpot and pressure cooker have been resurrected. If I can make myself get out of bed a little earlier than the kids do (no small feat for me), I can race madly around the house doing those things that seem to take five times longer with children.


  1. Music, music, music. Fast, crazy stuff for cleaning…‘80’s rock, Kermit Unpigged, Rachmaninoff, any of the Putumayo CD’s, old country music about the Harper Valley PTA. Slow, calm music for just before Papa gets home…classical guitar, Michael Card, James Taylor, Johnny Cash, old country music about goin’ down to the river to pray. This is not to create an ambiance of peace and tranquility for him but to calm me from my frenzied state so that I don’t run for the van as soon as he cracks the front door open.


  1. Declutter and simplify. Yes, this old standby. In a moment of theological strength, I emailed my husband last week with a summary of the day’s woes and messes, the last line being something like “I haaaaaatttttttteeeeee kkkkkkiiiiiiiidddddddsssssss!!!!” His quick and (I felt overly) dramatic response was to say that we would limit the children to one toy and one stuffed animal each. All the rest would be put away for a few weeks, when we would let them trade for a different toy and stuffed animal. “Great!” I emailed back. But when he got home and pulled out the trash bags to start stuffing, the kids were eager beavers and I was dragging my feet. “Here, Papa!” they’d chirp as they handed him yet another toy. “Oh, Ethan. They LOVE that!” I’d argue. He threatened to ban me from the whole picking up process (!!!!!!).


And here it is, a full week later. They have kept things much neater and have played nicely with each other. They have enjoyed the extra space and have not once complained about a lack of toys.


So those are some things we do. Sometimes they are more effective than others. I think over all the most helpful thing is to have a husband who can make me laugh hysterically at my own dashed hopes of winning the June Cleaver award.


“Oh, Ward, for heaven’s sake, sit yourself down after your hard day of work. Just move that pile of wet diapers that are on those papers…oh, are those your sermon notes? Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. Under all of that I’m sure there’s a chair somewhere. BEAVER! WALLY! AND YOU OTHER THREE! STOP BICKERING AND GIVE YOUR FATHER A KISS! Wait! Go wash your faces first. Where did you get markers? IS THAT MY LIPSTICK?”


It works! Oh, come on, feed my fantasy. June Cleaver meets Brady Bunch meets Waltons meets Apple Dumpling Gang meets Little Rascals meets Tom Sawyer.


Now if only I could find the remote…


Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Surefire way to make the trip home from Family Camp even longer: travel 25 miles past your exit off of Interstate 81 before your navigating wife says, “Do you remember any of this? Do you think I might have missed it? There’s no way I could have missed it! I’ve been looking!”


Surefire way to make that extra hour feel like three: when your wife is singing, “Have you ever seen a housefly, a housefly, a housefly?” to demonstrate puns to the kids, add verses like, “Have you ever seen a doghouse, a doghouse, a doghouse?” and then laugh haughtily while fending off the glares of said wife.


Surefire way to make sure your wife answers with an unelaborating “Fine,” next time you ask how school went, listen to the kids tell you that living things grow and change, and say, “Oh, so diapers must be living. They grow and get changed.”


Sure. Aim. Fire.

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