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Posts Tagged ‘family’

Mother’s Day Comes Early

My alarm clock did not go off this morning. That is to say, I don’t set my alarm any more because Josh bounds into my bedroom like Tigger at a predictable hour every morning and monologues until I drag myself out of bed. He also continues talking for about the next hour without coming up for air (I’ve got to find out how he does that!), so there’s little danger of my falling back asleep.

So this morning I snoozed him (told him to come back in 5 minutes), and an hour and a half later I woke up, shocked at what time it was. While I was making my coffee, Josh came downstairs. “What happened to 5 minutes?” I asked. “I got distracted playing withBethany,” he answered. “And I wanted to let you sleep.”

A compassionate alarm clock.

So I made the kids pancakes and sat down at my computer with my coffee. Josh offers, “So I guess we should start homeschool, huh?” “Yeah, I suppose so…” I said. I glanced over, and Josh and Bethany had highly suspicious grins on their faces.

“We’re not going to do homeschool today,” saidBethany. Uh oh…homeschool strike. I wonder what their terms are. This was obviously premeditated, and they have a plan.

But no…turns out they had already done all of their work except for what I had to read to them out loud! A whoop and a holler from me, hugs all around, and I feel like it’s Christmas. I really love doing school with them, but what a nice surprise when I thought we’d be working into the afternoon because of my late start!

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I’m not saying that the tooth fairy is a ditz. Ok, I kind of am. I hope it’s not libel or anything, but I feel like someone out there needs to tell the truth. And the truth is, the Tooth Fairy is an unreliable character.

More than once she has left my kids hanging when they have awoken early, the hope in their little eyes gleaming, begging not to be disappointed. I have had to cover for her, as I now realize my parents also had to cover for her. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

When that plaintive, heartbroken cry rings out, “Mom, the tooth fairy forgot to come,” a parent has little choice but to say, “Maybe you just missed it. Here, let me look.” Which is why sleight of hand is taught in parent prep courses right along with Lamaze breathing. Our whole society is enabling the tooth fairy’s untrustworthy behavior.

The reason this is coming up now, on the eve of Easter, is that the Easter Bunny would never be able to get by with the kind of stuff the tooth fairy pulls. I mean, we parents can deal with her slip-ups; we always have quarters around. But it’s not like we hide extra jelly beans in the sock drawer just in case Peter Cottonball is hungover and doesn’t make it.

The fact of the matter is, though, that Peter never does miss an Easter. I suspect he’s an accountant for the rest of the year. All he does is slip on some wire-rimmed glasses, and the chaps at work never notice his tail.

To come to the point, I propose that we fire the tooth chick and let Peter C. take over for her. He can quit his job at the IRS, put his money skills to good work—possibly diverting tax funds for the purpose (think socialized dental plan)—and have the opportunity to follow his passion for making kids happy all year around, and not just at Easter.

Leave comments if you’re on board.

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Six-year-old soccer is comic relief for the huddled masses of chilly suburban parents who congregate on the sidelines. The game consists mainly of a herd of little guys and gals collectively stampeding after the ball, with various members occasionally stopping to graze, socialize, or demonstrate karate moves. The coaches, who I’m convinced would do better on horseback, encircle the group, lassoing the wayward young ones who take off toward the wrong goal, and shouting reminders that the kids do have positions, the most important position being on the field. They also have to use their timeouts to convince a few of the kids that they can’t be quarterback, because there isn’t one in soccer.

I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Josh’s team burst into a game of freeze tag in the middle of a game. Sometimes I think certain members of the team forget they are in the middle of a game (this applies to Josh in particular).

Strategy is sophisticated at this age, consisting of stealth tactics and spying on the other team. They aren’t supposed to bring special equipment for this, but….well, there is no body cavity search. It’s very hard to distinguish strategy sessions from distractions. There is a lot of social networking that goes on while the ball is…well, anywhere.

I was particularly amused by one little huddle of kids that were supposed to be playing defense. They were deep in conversation, and I wondered what they would do if the ball came their way. As it turns out, their conversation was actually game-related. After the game Josh told me their strategy session. The basic plan: kick it in the goal 

The real secret to their strategy lay in sending one of their defense players downfield with the ball to try to score. Losing one of the defenders was not a huge loss, because a) the strategy did result in a goal, and b) even if the ball had come to their end, their defense strategy consisted mainly of jumping up and down while the other team scored against them. 

All-in-all, a very enjoyable experience. Would have been more so if the temperature had been above 40. But there are worse ways to spend a Saturday.

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I caught myself red-handed earlier this week. It was somewhere between the excessive consumption of ginger cookies and the laundry. I actually caught myself hoping that Christmas would be “perfect.”

Catching myself shooting for perfection is a wake-up call for me these days, so I set my expectations on to mull with the cider.  The word that eventually bubbled up was “character”; I want a Christmas with character.

In Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, she says about characters in our writing, “Now, a person’s faults are largely what make him or her likeable.” (p.50)  I think that is true not just for people, but for homes and events and relationships. Of course, we spoil our appreciation of all that lovable imperfection when we demand flawlessness.

At first, thinking about a Christmas with “character” started me down another road of unrealistic expectations. Does creating character require, for example, bungee jumping in Santa suits? How creative do I need to be to make Christmas character-filled?

At that point, another take on “character” came to me. Each Christmas has its own character. I do have a role in shaping that, but I am not the supreme being that makes Christmas what I want it to be. In fact, I enjoy Christmas most when I step back and allow it to take on the shape that it wants, the character that comes alive in part from what each family member and friend brings to it, and in part from what is beyond the control of any of us. But in the end, as a child is more than just parts of dad and parts of mom, a special time like Christmas seems to have an individual breath and life that is more than just what we put into it. And just like with a child, trying to control Christmas doesn’t go so well; it causes me to miss out on watching and enjoying what it is becoming in its own right.

So I’m remembering the characters of past Christmases. The year that Christmas was during Ramadan, and we were trying to juggle being part of Bahraini culture with celebrating our own traditions. The year that someone put curry in the turkey gravy. The year that I freaked out in the grocery store on Christmas Eve because there were shiny Christmas decorations dangling over the ladies covered in black, and the speakers were literally blasting out “Feliz Navidad,” while the guys behind the meat counter sported red Santa hats. The year a whole gang of us had a sleepover at a friend’s house on Christmas Eve and opened our stockings together the next morning. Every year, singing “Silent Night” holding lit candles with a room full of Christians and Muslims who loved us and wanted to share our holiday with us.

This year, Christmas’s character is both happy and sad for us, and I appreciate both. I am grateful for the sadness because I have special friends and beautiful memories in Bahrain to miss. And I am savoring the incredible sweetness of being with family in America for Christmas. Feeling one allows me to feel the other more fully, and vice versa. And I am trying to sit back and enjoy experiencing this Christmas for what it is.

I’d love for you to share about the character of your Christmas in the comments.

Happy Holidays to all of you!

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I have taken a long hiatus from writing during our move and transition from Bahrain to America. When I am overwhelmed, I like to make my world very small; I seem not to be able to focus on relationships other than my immediate family or places other than right where I am. That has always been the case for me in times of transition, even just visiting the US for a holiday, and it is even more true for me during such a big life change. I do want to assure my friends– both those back in Bahrain and those waiting for me to show my face in public in America–that my heart is with you even though my focus has been small. You are not forgotten, and I’m not avoiding you 🙂

I have not felt like I have had anything to write here. I know that is strange, since there has been so much going on. Sometimes there is a fine line between having no thoughts and having so many spinning thoughts that it feels like none. I will try, in the next few weeks, to grab a hold of a few of those spinning thoughts to be able to tell you about moving to America.

I will say that the kids are doing very well with the transition. There is little sign of the sadness that was present in anticipation of moving. Bethany has friends in our neighborhood. We really like our home, though we may remain 30% packed for an undefined period of time 🙂 I still have packing paper on our upstairs windows.

We started homeschool nearly three weeks ago. I’m sure I’m having more fun than the kids, but I think they are liking it as well. We started a new math program called Living Math, which I love. It is also wonderful to be starting a year on American History while living in such a historic area. Though there has been (and still is) a steep learning curve to moving to a new country, we are happy to be here and feel like we are in the right place for now. More to come soon.

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As you know, I began homeschooling Bethany full-time this past year, and I will be teaching both kids this coming year, with Bethany in 4th grade and Josh in 1st. I am loving it way more than I ever anticipated and am on a quest to make our experience better and better. Math is the topic I am diving into deeper these days.

My very bright little girl developed something of a mental block toward math when we switched to homeschooling, thereby changing the language in which she studied math.  She was learning math in Arabic at school, and she enjoyed it and was good at it. Now she tells me, “Arabic math is easier. This is too hard.” This year, as the two of us have been enjoying homeschool tremendously, math has remained an emotional subject day after day, and though I think I’ve been really patient with her through the process, I have really wanted to find a way to help her feel better about doing math.  I have tried different approaches and techniques for encouraging her within the curriculum we are using (Singapore Math, which I really like), but I have decided that it is time to expand my repertoire and gather new ideas.

My first research topic has been games that develop math skills. I bought a magnetic Sudoku travel board, but I made the mistake of turning her loose to do it on her own too soon, and she got frustrated. I think if I play it with her for a while, thinking out loud about the process, she might start to enjoy it.  I am determined to play a game with her every school day, and a lot during the summer too. Today we played a game called Sprouts, which I found on the internet.  Other games we have enjoyed are Checkers, Rummy, Blokus, and Uno.

Here are a few great math sites I have found:

http://letsplaymath.net/

http://wildaboutmath.com/

www.livingmath.net

After game ideas, my second research topic is methodology. I am really intrigued by ways of teaching math that help the student explore the processes of math along with the memorization aspect of math. I will be looking into ways to structure our math times in these ways, also adding in historical context through stories. I think that will help make the concepts more personal and accessible. Living math, mentioned above, has some fascinating ideas and reading lists for doing this.

A couple of months ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (and highly recommend it!).  One key piece of info that I picked up from the book was that high frustration tolerance and perseverence with details (and even tedium) is absolutely necessary for success in math. Now, I don’t have a high frustration tolerance (for puzzles and games, etc.). I like to succeed right away, and I think Bethany takes after me. I do think this kind of perseverance is a quality that can be learned and practiced, though. Learning how to help a child stretch her ability to tolerate frustration is another topic on my research agenda, and I would welcome any of your thoughts, too.

Finally, as I delve into this topic, I realize how little I have really taken note of my kids’ learning styles as I have taught them. I look forward to learning how better to observe and work with their unique preferences for learning.

So, this is my current obsession in the homeschool adventure. I’d love to hear your experiences along these lines. I’ll post updates as I learn more.

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Bring It On!

Our move to America is in the works. Our household goods have been loaded onto a container which will travel around for a couple of months before arriving in Virginia. We are rattling around in a quite empty house, soon to become even more empty as we sell off the furniture and appliances that we did not pack and send. So, my attention has been occupied by other things besides blogging, even though there is plenty to write. (Including telling the rest about our trip to Jordan; I didn’t even get to the good parts yet!)

However, right now I do not want to write about our travels or about moving. What is on my mind now is a conversation that I had recently with a new friend and amazing lady.  She had recently watched an adult friend go through a really gut-wrenching experience in which her parents reacted very badly to her. Her parents’ inability to accept her as she was in this crisis pushed her nearly to the brink of suicide. As my friend watched her go through this, she came home and said to her kids, “If [what my friend went through] ever becomes a part of your life, I just want you to know that I will be right there with you through it all.” Aside, she said to us, “You know, it would be hard, but bring it on!”   

I hope you can catch the gist of this conversation, even though I have left out the details. I mean,think about all the ways that watching your kids can break your heart–there’s illness, suffering, failure, personal crisis, detours from wisdom, choosing things that are different from what is closest to your heart; there’s watching your kids get hurt, and watching them hurt others. Seeing our children in pain is probably a universal greatest fear of parents. We wish we could stop it, protect them, keep their lives safe and happy, or at least whisk them out of sadness and suffering quickly.

Now, I am not a big fan of suffering myself, but I also do not want someone else “saving me” from everything that is uncomfortable, mostly because that full range of events that happen in my life, including the freedom to make wise and -ahem- less than wise choices is part of what makes me human. Even the stuff that I’ve been really mad at God for allowing–that stuff has been setting my soul free and helping me to really inhabit this life that I’m living.  And being human and really living is amazing, even when it really, really sucks (or at least after it really sucks…maybe a long time after).  Still, I face upcoming challenges with…reluctance.

Maybe resistance is a better word.

Kicking and screaming.

I face my children’s suffering with that same fight in me. I don’t want them to be hurt. Let’s just set aside all that virtuous stuff I just said about how wonderful it is to be human; there is no way in h*** I want my kids going through what I went through as a teenager or what I’ve been through the last few years (just to name 2).

So, what my friend said really struck me. I know she has all the same mama bear instincts that I have, but she was not meeting her children’s challenges with that default desire to protect them from the experience of humanity, and she was not even regarding their pain with resignation. She said, “Bring it on!”  She was preparing herself to fully embrace whatever came into their lives, either by their own choosing or from other sources. I sensed that children whose parents say, “bring it on” to their kids’ human experience are children who can meet their own life with a bit more fearlessness and courage because their life, their self, their experiences, their choices, and their suffering will be embraced.

I hope to become more and more that kind of mom. I keep catching myself planning how to save my kids from pain. Then, sometimes very deep into that train of thought, I remember my friend saying, “It would be hard, but bring it on!”  Then I take a deep breath and remember that I really, really want my kids to have a mom who opens her arms wide to their humanity.

The other side of this coin is that I am also practicing this “bring it on” philosophy on myself. My humanity, in all its glorious fullness and messiness, is not easy for me to welcome and embrace, but I think I need to learn to do just that if I’m going to give that gift to others, especially those closest to me.

So, to the excitement and newness and worries and fears I have about all of our upcoming transitions, bring it on! To my kids and my husband and myself being real people with real capacity for joy and pain, bring it on!

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