Funny Little One Year Olds

A few weeks ago, my one-year-old son spent more time than usual with other children his own age. Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, most of Mateo’s days are spent (relatively peacefully) with his parents and his three older sisters. On this particular week, however, he spent much more (and much less peaceful) time with other one year olds.

On most Mondays throughout this past school year, Nadia (5yo) has gone to the atrium, her Montessori-based religion class called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. While the children aged three to six are in the atrium, the parents and their other children hang out in the waiting room. Among the kids in the waiting room are three one-year-olds. Most of this year, a certain percentage of the parents’ time has been spent refereeing the one-year-olds’ fights with each other. One of them will rip another’s toy out of his or her hands and scream “Mine!” Then the other will cry. Or perhaps they will both hold a strong grip on the coveted toy, seemingly prepared to engage in a fight to the death over said toy, and so we parents intervene with a (probably pointless) exhortation that they need to share (but, you know, they’re one. So I’m not sure how great they’ll be at that for at least the next year or so). That is, more or less, how I spend my Monday afternoons.

I noticed however, that when it comes to the babies in the waiting room, Mateo is very gentle with them. I’ve found him gently rocking a baby in her infant carrier. He’ll crouch low and observe them, and, understanding in some way that they are younger, he’ll try to bring them toys to play with. The children that are older than Mateo, will typically defer to him, recognizing that he is “just a baby.” It’s with those his same age with which he duels constantly.

1yo opinion: Hanging out with sister in the car-cart that moves down aisles = meh

 

1yo opinion: Hanging out on a stationary lawn mower = LOTS OF FUN (and moving too far from lawn mowers = tragedy)

On this particular week, in addition to Monday’s atrium visit, I babysat a friend’s one-year-old son, William, for a morning. Mateo seemed to be okay with William for the most part, that is, until William would touch any of Mateo’s toys. Not simply sitting quietly in our home, but actually trying to explore it and play with the toys in it seemed to go against one-year-old etiquette and Mateo was obviously highly offended. He would run over, shout “Mine!” and try to rip the toy from William’s hands. As on Mondays, I played referee and would mumble the obligatory mandate on sharing.

The following day, on Friday, I made the trek to catch up with a friend who lives an hour away. It was great to catch up with her. She, however, also has a one year old. Like Mateo was the previous day, one-year-old Mariana was fine with Mateo being in her house as long as he didn’t try to play with any of the toys in it. Once he did, the “Mine” fight would ensue, with the parents refereeing. At one point in the afternoon, Mariana was happily sitting on her mother’s lap in the dining room with the rest of us while Mateo was playing quietly in the next room over. Mateo, holding a toy, came into the dining room and shouted an authoritative “HEY!” We all looked over at him, including Mariana. Mateo looked at Mariana right in the eye and said, with particular emphasis, “Mine.” That, of course, ended Mariana’s contentment and with cries and screams she tried to scramble off her mother’s lap to recover the toy that rightfully belonged to her.

All this has me wondering though, who decided that children should spend their childhoods with other kids their exact same age? I think I prefer more natural communities for myself and my children. In other places on the globe, children spend time with kids that are younger, kids that are older, adults, the elderly, the typical, and those with disabilities. In such settings they learn how to defer to those weaker or younger, be proud of their own abilities but still be inspired by those who can do more than they can.

At some point though, he’ll need to learn how to get along with kids his own age too. Until that happens, I guess I’ll keep playing referee and mumbling the obligatory statements on sharing.

 

 

 

 

 

Experimenting on the Five Year Old

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We love games in our house and so much painless learning happens while playing them. So I recently purchased Games for Math by Peggy Kaye. I figured it’d be a fun way to learn some math concepts while spending some fun, quality time with my five year old. I didn’t expect, however, that it would lead to my 11 year old and I colluding together to experiment on five-year-old Nadia. Yep, I’m a great homeschooling parent. Math games, psychological experimentation, and a child development lesson all rolled into one engaging, fun-filled morning.

I didn’t even get to the first math game, however, because as I was perusing the introduction, something caught my eye. The author was explaining the strange view that young children have of certain mathematical concepts. She told about Julie, a girl of five or six years of age. When having two identical rows of pennies before her, Julie was asked which row held more pennies, or if they were the same. Julie said they were the same. Indeed, she was right. Each row held five pennies. When the author “stretched” out one of the rows of pennies so that there was more space between each penny, (but without adding any additional pennies to the row) Julie decided that the stretched out row held more pennies. Even when she counted and each row still held five pennies, it didn’t matter. The stretched out row had more pennies. As I read, my eyes got wider as I thought of all the fun we could have doing this same experiment on our own five year old.

I quickly and quietly summoned 11-year-old Felicia. “Read this,” I said to her, sliding the book across the table to her as if I were some sort of spy giving an agent their secret assignment. She read the section and looked up at me. No words were exchanged but she knew her mission. She quickly went upstairs to get some pennies out of her piggy bank and placed them in two rows.

“Nadia!” We yelled into the living room. “Want to play a counting game?” Felicia asked her, “Which row has more pennies; or are they the same?” Nadia looked, “They’re the same.” Felicia stretched one row out. “Are they still the same?” Sure enough, Nadia thought the stretched out row had more. Even though we had her count each row, the one row still had more pennies in her mind.

We moved on to the next experiment involving two parallel strips of paper. “Which one is longer, or are they the same?” we asked. Nadia said that they were the same. Felicia moved one strip over a little. Nadia thought the one that had moved was longer. Felicia and I were fascinated.

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Nadia also thinks warm weather means you wear a swimming suit. So here she is playing in the snow in a swimsuit, because that’s how we roll in Wisconsin.

The book explains that psychologists have a name for Julie’s and Nadia’s stage of mathematical thinking. They call it pre-operational and sometime between the ages of five and seven, children naturally and effortlessly move into the next stage of concrete operations. So I didn’t try to correct Nadia. I simply observed her normal (and funny) stage of development. I figure some time in the next couple of years, she’ll grow out of it on her own. In the meantime, it sure provided Felicia and me a morning’s entertainment.

Book Review: One Beautiful Dream

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I know One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler, and published by Zondervan, has been getting a lot of attention and is on the best seller lists, but in case there is someone among my two blog readers who hasn’t heard about it, nor read it, here’s my shining endorsement. Yes, as James Breakwell, the man otherwise known as @XplodingUnicorn, noted, the entire first chapter is dedicated to Jennifer negotiating with her mother-in-law not to bring a live possum into her house, and I’d like to add that it just keeps getting better from there. I found One Beautiful Dream hilarious, refreshing, and inspirational.

I have always found Jennifer’s writing to be very funny and this book is no different. Years ago I used to read Jennifer’s blog in bed when I couldn’t sleep. I used to laugh so hard that I would keep waking my husband up and he disallowed me from reading her work in bed. I won’t go into all the details of my marital woes here, but let’s just say when I ordered the ebook one night before bed, I had a hard time putting it down and I may or may not have angered my husband by my repeated bursts of laughter necessitating an apology gift of a strategically placed bag of Andes mints under his pillow.

Family strife aside, I found this memoir refreshing. In a world full of mommy wars, this book gives you nothing but joyful, tear-inducing mommy solidarity. One Beautiful Dream chronicles the time in Jennifer’s life when she had six kids in eight years and wrote her first book. If that fact alone makes you want to feel like a failure at having not gotten that book deal (or whatever your particular crazy dream is) even though you have fewer kids and they’re spaced farther apart, you have no need to worry. It’s impossible to feel like you’re failing at motherhood when you read about Jen’s chronicles of having a play-date at her house with a new friend, only to have the children discover her husband’s college-era beer bong; or about the uptight babysitter who stormed off the job being so scandalized by Jennifer’s house (the state of it, the size of it, how it was run, or all of the above). As is typical for her, Jennifer is real. She is not one to sugar coat anything and if looking at all your friends insta-worthy pictures of their lives has you feeling down, this book will lift you up.

In One Beautiful Dream Jennifer makes it clear that she loves her children and loves being a mom, yet, like probably every mother alive, she struggled with the tension between wanting to be involved with and connected to her children, but also wanting to pursue dreams outside of family life. The standard way our culture deals with this tension for those who want to be stay-at-home moms, is for the mom to hit pause on her life, spend a few years at home with her children while they are young, and then for her to “get her life back” once the kids go to school. In Jennifer’s work, she shows, in her usual explosive-laughter-inducing-not-to-be-read-next-to-your-sleeping-spouse kind of way how she came to embrace another view of parenting and life, which is doing both family and dream-pursuing together and integrating them with one another.

I found the book so inspiring, however, because Jennifer goes beyond the usual “how to have it all” message. One Beautiful Dream tells how she came to realize that her dreams of having a large, close family and writing a book weren’t in competition with one another. Jennifer asks, “What if following your God-given passion is not just okay to do during the baby years, but actually something that has the potential to enhance your whole family’s life?” Having felt the tension myself between my love of writing and the demands of family life, I had scarcely written a thing since August when I had quit my last paid writing gig. Reading about Jennifer boldly and counter-culturally not choosing either a large family or pursuing her passions so inspired me, that upon finishing her book (in a mere three days) I immediately sat down to create a writing schedule for myself — one that worked with my family and their needs but still allowed me to do what I love. In fact, her approach on how she was able to integrate the different aspects of her life into one satisfying, connected, and unified whole makes her message truly unique.

Though I think parents will obviously get a lot out of this book, I think even non-parents will appreciate the humor and the message. Let’s face it, everyone has dreams, and sometimes life just seems to get in the way of those. No matter what (or who) life brings your way, I think you will enjoy several laughs while drawing refreshment and inspiration from Jennifer Fulwiler’s One Beautiful Dream.

Thoughts From My Kitchen

When I was a college student immersed in the world of academia, spending hours of my days lost in good books, analyzing literary elements, and writing papers, I had the notion that being a stay-at-home parent was full of drudgery. I mean, I recognized the importance of children being connected to their parents. For the parent sacrificing themselves to stay home with their children, however, it seemed like such a magnanimous task, and I had a sneaking suspicion that only those who lacked a certain degree of intellectual aptitude could find it fulfilling.

I didn’t exactly not want children. But I certainly didn’t want to be the one to be home with them either. Then I became a mother, and the force of the bond and protective care that I had for my child shocked me. It was painful to leave her in someone else’s care so that I could go to work. Then a few years later, when my oldest was three and my second child six months, I became a stay-at-home mom.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I can’t say it wasn’t a struggle. It was — and 11 years later, still is — a phenomenal learning curve. It might have been less of a learning curve if our culture didn’t pretend that almost no one grows up to be a parent, but as it was I had a lot to learn about infant care, health, nutrition, education, food preparation, child development, time management, finance, and infinitely more subjects that I never seemed to think that much about before.

I also struggled to define who I was apart from academics. One day I had plans of going to grad school to get my PhD and the next, I was cleaning, bathing, nursing, cooking, and diapering. Maybe the transition would have been easier if the “suburban housewife” were less maligned, the example of the constantly frazzled, yet perpetually-frustrated-with-boredom woman whose dreams for her life have all gone unfulfilled and so must occupy her time obsessively hovering over her children. But then, when I stopped listening to the voices of society defining who I was, I took the time to discover what I thought about my work.

I found that my work was meaningful.

With the breakdown of family in today’s culture, and all the havoc and brokenness that goes with it, we should be more convicted than ever of the importance of being bonded and connected to children, and children being attached to us. It seems really backwards, in fact, that we even have to argue the case for attachment; it should be intuitive to say that children fare better if they are strongly attached to their parents, but it is not. So books like Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld, PhD. and Gordon Mate, M.D. and countless others on the importance of attachment need to be written since our society is still largely set up to encourage each age group to be separated from the others, including parents and children.

I see the primary work of motherhood as nurturing the relationships that I have with my children, but of course with stay-at-home parenthood, there comes a host of practical and physical needs to attend to in addition to the relational needs.

In a culture that values productivity above all else, finding value in non-quantifiable tasks such as nurturing relationships can be difficult. We can’t point to a love-gauge on our children and say at the end of the day, “Look! I kept her tank full all day and now I am only three points away from having a secure, confident, and independently explorative child!”

Also, due to our limited finances, I found myself needing to acquire a host of practical skills. I began sewing; I learned to crochet; make my own laundry soap; bake my own bread, and many other domestic skills of which I was previously completely devoid, once again, like motherhood itself. I found them fulfilling and empowering. Hand-making gifts and household necessities made me feel resourceful and capable. Making many things by hand also made me feel like I was doing my part to reject consumerism and live a slower, more intentional lifestyle.

Then to heal my family members’ numerous health issues , I began to spend a lot more time in the kitchen making our food from scratch. My nurse mother-in-law had been reading a book called GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome so she passed it onto me. I won’t go into all the details of the GAPS protocol, but it is becoming more well known how important gut health is in regards to our whole physical and mental well-being. In the book, Dr. Campbell-McBride does a good job of explaining why this is so, and she details how to heal the gut to treat numerous ailments.

By our modern day standards, the diet can seem overwhelming. However, it is largely how our great-grandmothers cooked and every generation before her. I felt so blessed to have this information given to me and it seemed to be the one answer to treat all of my family’s issues at once. So baby-step by baby-step I started making dietary changes. We are still not completely on the diet, but mostly. Even so, one daughter’s eczema is gone, another daughter’s mood has improved a thousand fold. Once so often depressed, today she sees the bright side of things and is verbally grateful for many things daily. I can’t underestimate how grateful I am for this change. Also, the diet is a balancing diet, which means that if a person is overweight they will lose weight, and if a person is underweight, they will gain. It is about eating a nutrient-rich diet that heals the body and gives it what it needs.  I found that after my pregnancies, I would typically go back to my pre-pregnancy weight after about a year. After my third and fourth, however, I didn’t. There was about five pounds that just stayed on. I just figured it was because I’ve had a few kids and I was getting older and that was that. After really upping the number of GAPS foods we were eating a few months ago, however, even those five pounds fell off. So now I seem back to the weight that’s healthy for me.

Food preparation hasn’t turned into my love or anything, but it hasn’t felt like mindless drudgery either. In fact, it seems like yet another experience that, due to life circumstances, I’ve found myself needing to do that that the poor, unfortunate generations of women before me had to spend their lives doing, and I’ve discovered a degree of empowerment, enjoyment, and meaning in those tasks.

Now, none of this is meant to suggest that a woman’s place is solely in the home. It can be, and I strongly believe that if she is there it is not beneath her intellectual capacities or dignity to be there. I strongly believe in the importance and the ability of women bringing our feminine genius to all areas of life, both domestic and public. In fact, even for those who work outside the home, if their job does not enable them to do that thing they are most passionate about, they will still need to find a way to do that thing, whatever it is. Nevertheless, if in your own life you find yourself being drawn to staying home with your children, either by necessity or through some strange and inexplicable force, fear not. It might not be the drudgery it is often made out to be.

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Writing

For the Love of WritingAbout a decade ago I started a blog. I wrote because I felt passionately about certain topics and I wanted to write about them. In a sense, I was a bad blogger. I wrote when I felt like it. I didn’t stick to a schedule. I didn’t make posts short and digestible. I wanted to be able to develop my thoughts. I broke lots of blogging “rules”. Each post published, however, I was eager to share. I was proud of my work.

Then I decided to become a “real blogger”. I stuck to a schedule and gave myself deadlines, which meant I started brainstorming possible topics and would sit down to try to create a post out of them. I blogged for myself and other organizations. Then I started blogging for money. In a way it was awesome getting paid to write. In other ways, however, I missed how blogging was for me in the beginning, when it wasn’t a job but a craft that I loved.

So I let all of it go, and here I am. This is my attempt to get back to my roots, when I wrote for the joy of it. At night, I lie in bed and arrange and rearrange words in my head that are itching to get out. I must warn you that I’m going to be a bad blogger. I won’t publish a tidy post released predictably every Monday and Thursday. I’m going to write when I have something to say. I’m going to write for the love of writing. I promise I’ll take time to refine my posts and I’ll give you the best that I have, and I’d love for you to stick around.