Posted in musings

to the “difficult” kids

From eighth grade through college I volunteered every Wednesday night with the Awana program at my church, with the K-2nd grade kids. I loved it for so many reasons 🙂 But what I came to realize through that experience, as well as through the summers I spent as a camp counselor, is that my favorite children were almost always the difficult ones, the trouble-makers, the strong-willed and stubborn kids, the insecure and struggling kids acting out without even knowing why. They seemed to live in turbulent waters, when most of their peers were coasting by around them; the behaviors that should have been perceived as a plea for attention, connection, and love all too often simply served to push other people away from them. And I loved these kids, and sought to connect with them, and trained my defensive instincts in their behalf.

Then I became a mother, and one of these kids was my own child.

And I realized that no matter how much I had cared about those other kids, and gone through hard things with them and for them, I had never come close to loving them like I love my son. I had stood up for them against the negative perceptions their behaviors had led to – but I had never felt that primal physical rage in their defense that I feel when someone makes even the slightest off-hand comment disparaging my child. I wish I had loved them better. I wish I had been a fiercer advocate for them; I wish my heart had been more easily broken for them, my life more freely poured out for them. Because I know now, and I knew then, so I had no excuse, that most adults will see the negative behavior and never look past it to the child who may be scared, overwhelmed, overstimulated, uncomfortable, and just simply in need of love and guidance.

When does your heart bleed, as a mother of a needy child, a socially awkward child, a child who doesn’t fit in without that extra love and care?

– when you watch your son “playing” with a group of peers, and they’re all busily climbing and digging and talking and investigating the world, and he’s sitting on the side just holding a toy and watching them, trying to figure out what’s going on, like they all know this social script that he’s never heard of

– when you come to pick your child up from Sunday School and he’s trying to break into a circle of kids building, to be part of the group, and one of them says, “oh good, he’s going home!” when she sees him running to you

– when you glance at the activity/story pages coming home with your son and the only personalized comment is that he played with his tongue.

In the moment I read that comment I knew only two things:

  1. Since when does an adult who claims to love and represent Christ think it is ok to fixate on a “weird” behavior that a child has to the exclusion of all that child is as a person created in the image of God? Also, did they think they were enlightening me or something? Believe me, random childcare helper, I know my son better than you do. I know that he licks his hands when he’s overstimulated by the noise and chaos of a group of kids, when he’s trying to figure out social cues, when he’s excited by everything going on around him or worn out from processing a hundred different things at once. You don’t need to fill me in on that piece of information.
  2. One callous and ignorant comment is not sufficient justification to leave a church, no matter how strongly I wanted to in the visceral rage of my first reaction.

I just want the world to know that the kids who seem different or difficult are beautiful, funny, intelligent, sweet, unique individuals – just like the ones who fit in, make friends easily, listen well, and charm you with their good behavior. You just need to see them for who they are, to see the person who needs and struggles and wants to be loved, instead of stopping at the outward web of odd or negative behaviors.

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Posted in family life

water balloons in october…

So after our beautiful 2-3 weeks of cool relatively autumnal weather, summer decided to visit again and we’ve had highs in the 90s for a week or so straight. Sigh.

The boys have enjoyed pulling out the water play again for one last hurrah, though, and we took advantage of the chance to use up the last of our water balloons before the dry winter could render them useless.

You can tell from the long sleeves that it had been cooler in the early morning, at least 🙂

Both boys’ main objective seemed to be popping the water balloons as quickly as possible, so they mostly just threw them into the rocks as the most reliable way to get the pop to happen – they didn’t always throw hard enough to get them to pop on the concrete. Limerick also enjoyed stomping on them as an effective way of making them pop, and Rondel humored me enough to play catch a few times and throw the balloons at me instead of the rocks.

Limerick also kept calling them bubbles, for some reason (maybe because bubbles also pop?), which Rondel found absolutely hilarious 🙂

It may not be much of a fall here in the desert, but we’re finding fun things to do with what we have, and enjoying our colored leaves and pumpkin vicariously through our picture books. Maybe next year we’ll make it up north to see the changing colors in person!

Posted in family life

a little stegosaurus!

There’s a little stegosaurus running loose around here!

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(His tail still needs another row of plates but he can’t wait!)

He looks pretty friendly to me, and he’s definitely excited to see the moon still up in the morning sky.

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I mean, have you ever seen such a smily dinosaur?

I wouldn’t want to get spiked by that tail, though! Even friendly little stegosauruses can be fierce when they need to be.

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Someone remembered that stegosauruses walk on four legs!
Posted in art, family life

fizzy apple painting

Our last apple project for the season was fizzy painting on apple templates. The basic idea is to paint the shapes with baking soda paint and then paint over them again with colored vinegar, to create the chemical reaction and “fizzes” on the paper. We used yellow baking soda paste (just baking soda and water, mixed to a spreadable consistency) and red and blue vinegar, so that in addition to the chemical reaction the boys could see the principles of color mixing. Finally, the website I’d found the idea on suggested that the shapes could be cut out and used for fall decorations after the fact (and their apples did look quite nice!), either on a garland or as sun catchers in a window. So there were a lot of different facets to this project.

Rondel demonstrating various phases of the process, from painting to taste-testing (just a heads-up that while baking soda and vinegar are completely edible, they may not cause the most pleasant reaction in your stomach if you eat too much, as Rondel discovered the hard way):

The baking soda paste was difficult to paint with using our foam brushes – it may work better with standard brushes, but I don’t have any of those yet for the boys. The vinegar went on pretty easily, although we did end up spilling a lot of it when one of the bowls was knocked over!

Both boys noticed that orange and green somehow appeared on the papers despite not being in any of the paint bowls, but they were far more captivated by the fizzing. At some point, they realized that they could make the whole bowl of vinegar paint fizz up by dipping a brush covered in baking soda paint into it, and they were both delighted and fascinated.

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In fact, Rondel went so far as to mix all the paints together at the end, just to make the biggest fizzy reaction possible!

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Limerick was too distracted by his paintbrush to notice. though…

While it wasn’t the longest activity, because we ran out of paint fairly quickly, it was a novel and exciting one; both boys asked me to make more paint when it was done, actually, which was a first for a “crafty” sort of activity. Maybe I just hadn’t made enough, since I had made way too much paint for our last craft, but I think their smiles attest to the success of the project even though the apple paintings themselves ended up in the garbage can:

I think I’ll need to plan another fizzing activity, though! I’ve already found a pumpkin one that holds some promise so we’ll see how that goes 🙂

Posted in family life

Library time!

I think I’ve finally figured out how to make the best use of our local library! We have always enjoyed visiting it, but finding good books to read there or take home with us was always fairly unpredictable and dependent on what other patrons had been leaving out – it’s hard to browse the shelves with two babies/toddlers wanting to get out and play and read RIGHT NOW MOMMY!

So over the past couple months I’ve been doing a lot of preliminary research online, finding 5-10 books at a time that fit a theme of interest to either myself or the boys, placing a hold on them all, and then making a trip to the library when they’re ready for pick up. The library gives me a week to pick them up after they’ve been set aside for me, which helps when some are ready earlier than others for various reasons, and gives me some flexibility with actually getting over there.

At the end of September we found 3 books on apples and apple pies to celebrate fall and complement our apple activities (apple-printing in the archives, apple-pie baking at Grandma’s house, and apple fizzy painting coming soon!), as well as 5 dinosaur books to accommodate Rondel’s recent enthusiasm. All the books lived on our new display shelf and so were pulled out constantly to be read, re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed during their 3-week stay.

(Have I shown you the new shelf yet? It is one of the best simple changes we’ve made to the house:

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It lets me get books off the bookshelf – where the boys can’t see them well or find what they’re looking for easily – into a visible space, and has encouraged significantly more read-aloud time! In fact, I liked it so much that we put a smaller one in the boys’ bedroom for their bedtime books.)

Today we took all of those books back to the library and were able to pick up another batch of books, mostly fall-themed this time, with a few extras that had caught my attention. Rondel especially is going to miss the books we had to return, but I’m hoping the excitement of the new books will help 🙂 This serendipitous timing did require me to be proactive enough to start finding and requesting new books about 5-7 days before the old books were due 🙂 I think a trip to the library just for returns would have left me with two very sad little boys, so I’ll need to continue to stay on top of the library cycle for this to keep working… we’ll see how that goes.

How do you all integrate the library into your family’s reading? Any great ideas you’ve implemented or challenges you’ve faced?

Posted in family life

being cute

Most of our park outings involve a snack; I’m not sure if it’s actually needed, but it’s become a habit and I don’t feel like poking the bear by trying to change it!

Anyway, the boys were being pretty adorable the other day during their snack:

I’m not sure why, but they couldn’t stop laughing about something! It was one of those moments that makes all the hard days worth it, when we are all just enjoying being with each other without anything special going on at all.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

to my sons’ grandmothers

One of the greatest gifts my children have been given is the chance to know both of their grandmothers well and form deep, personal relationships with them. There is something special about the unconditional love and care of a grandma, particularly when coupled with their wisdom, experience, and maturity. When I am concerned about a certain behavior, my mom or my mother-in-law can provide the perspective her own years of child-raising have given her; when my patience has run out or my tank is empty, they can support me with their time and prayers; and when I worry more about my parenting or how people judge our family, they can simply give their love and acceptance to my children.

At family gatherings, I often notice some of our relatives looking askance at Rondel, for his odd physical behaviors (spinning, licking, etc.), or for his intense emotional reactions (especially in the uncomfortable, overstimulating environments that often surround family events), or for his particularity and attention to detail (which he hasn’t yet learned to express gently…). And it hurts me a lot. I want to go into “Mama Bear” mode and totally destroy the people who judge my son poorly, especially when they go beyond glances and start making snide comments. I try not to because that’s not the example I want to set for my children on how to interact with the rudeness and criticism of the world, but that’s my visceral reaction…

And so it means so much to me when my mother-in-law comments on how fascinating Rondel is, how sharp and attentive he is – when she notices his quirks and differences with affection and love instead of judgment. She’s not oblivious to his sensitivities and struggles, but she simply accepts them and loves him not despite them but because of  them, in a way, because they are a part of who he is. I don’t think I can fully express the gratitude I have for her because of that, despite all the differences we have in general about raising children 🙂 And because I’m apparently ridiculously blessed, I know I can count on my mom to have that same attitude and perspective towards my children.

So thank you, wonderful grandmas 🙂 Our little family is so much richer, emotionally and relationally, because of your presence and your love.