Posted in family life

when a little boy turns three…

He knows birthdays involve cake, so he comes to you in tears with his sad tiny voice telling you he’s hungry, and when you ask him what he’s hungry for he answers, “cake!”

(You may have stayed up until 11:30 the night before baking said cake and want to cut into it just as much as he does! But these things must wait for the proper moment!)

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Six layer cakes require a ludicrous amount of buttercream frosting – as in, I used a whole pound of butter…

He may be so excited about being the center of the family circle, with everyone singing happy birthday to him, that he literally cannot contain his joy, and bounces up and down laughing the entire time.

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He may love rainbows so much that when the cake is cut and he sees for the first time the colorful layers within he may just squeal with delight!

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A rainbow cake is really the only appropriate choice for a child who has stayed up late with me pondering on the wavelength of different colors of light, how some colors can mix together to create others, and how white light can split apart into all the colors

He may be such a generous and inclusive little soul that he lets not only his beloved older brother but even the pushy and interfering (from his perspective) baby sister help unwrap his birthday presents.

And he may be so happy with his gifts that he spends the rest of the afternoon contentedly playing with them, with the family that he loves.

Happy birthday to a boy who is curious, intelligent, and observant like a scientist; who finds pleasure in order, symmetry, and patterns; who adapts his desires and whims to accommodate his siblings with a grace and maturity far beyond his years; who can be rough and wild with Rondel but gentle and protective with Aubade; who grows more independent every day and always loves to help and learn; and who still loves to snuggle with his mommy for any reason and no reason at all. It is such a joy to watch him grow – to see his understanding (emotional and intellectual) deepen and the lines of his personality and character emerge.

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Posted in book lists, family life, musings

Charlotte’s Web

Fern loved Wilbur more than anything… Wilbur loved his milk, and he was never happier than when Fern was warming up a bottle for him. He would stand and gaze up at her with adoring eyes.

For the first few days of his life, Wilbur was allowed to live in a box near the stove in the pitch. Then, when Mrs. Arable complained, he was moved to a bigger box in the woodshed. At two weeks of age, he was moved outdoors. It was apple-blossom time, and the days were getting warmer. Mr. Arable fixed a small yard specially for Wilbur under an apple tree, and gave him a large wooden box full of straw, with a doorway cut in it so he could walk in and out as he pleased.

“Won’t he be cold at night?” asked Fern.

“No,” said her father. “You watch and see what he does.”

Carrying a bottle of milk, Fern sat down under the apple tree inside the yard. Wilbur ran to her and she held the bottle for him while he sucked. When he had finished the last drop, he grunted and walked sleepily into the box. Fern peered through the door. Wilbur was poking the straw with his snout. In a short time he had dug a tunnel in the straw. He crawled into the tunnel and disappeared from sight, completely covered with straw.

Rondel and I have begun reading Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, together, our first attempt at a legitimate chapter book. We’re proceeding slowly, at about one chapter a day, but already the story has captured his imagination.

He has commandeered Aubade’s pack and play to be his own little pig pen, where he can be alone and covered up with a blanket like Wilbur covers himself up with straw, but where his adoring and beloved friends (Fern in the book; Limerick and Aubade in reality; a mommy and baby bear in Limerick’s pretending) can sit and watch him through the mesh on the sides. Like Wilbur, he announces that he loves the bears “so much” because they love him and come visit him in his pig pen.

He was captivated by the tender and beautiful illustrations, courtesy of the one and only Garth Williams, of Fern holding Wilbur and feeding him from a bottle, and of Fern pushing Wilbur in a baby stroller with her doll. Wilbur’s special place in Fern’s heart, and the great love she gives to him and inspires from him in return, seem to make up his major impression of the book so far.

And for two consecutive nights now he has asked for me to move the pack and play into his bedroom so that he can sleep in there instead of in his bed, because, as he says “you are a little pig and this is your pig pen!” He can’t even stretch out all the way in there, which should serve as some indication of how absorbed he is by Wilbur’s world.

When a child’s imagination is so easily caught by a simple, gentle, well-told story, there is no need to be so anxious (as I often am, and as parents in general often are) about that child’s education and ability to learn. His mind is open and eager to learn, explore, create, and imagine – and new worlds, new information, and new friends to explain the world through their lives and adventures are only as far away as the pages of a good book.

Posted in family life

Vertuccio Farms Fall Festival

Our little family’s affection for pumpkins started early, with our pregnancy announcement for Rondel:178610_10151079181450496_178895070_o

However, it took us a year or so to find our favorite place to take the kids each fall! After this year, though, I will say that Vertuccio Farms is our official pumpkin patch of choice. We typically take advantage of their Toddler Tuesday offer and get in for half-price and the guarantee of avoiding school groups and field trips 🙂

The biggest draw is probably the giant air-powered jump cushion, thankfully (but somewhat inadequately) shaded, on which endless jumping and flopping and bouncing can take place. Even Aubade, already almost ready for her morning nap, got up on her knees and bounced up and down with a grin of pure delight on her face! Rondel loves it but has a tendency to get too aggressive and over-excited (this year, that looked like pretending to a be a scary cheetah and trying to tackle people – mostly Limerick, growl at people – all kids smaller than himself, and eat them – also mostly Limerick), which is our cue to move on.

We milked a model cow, slid down massive tunnel slides made from pipe segments, clambered over a spiderweb made of ropes, collected rocks, ate snacks, and chose pumpkins to bring home to carve. We also lost Limerick for a while but discovered him twenty feet up in the air ascending to the tallest tunnel slide, so all’s well that ends well – and I also learned that apparently orange isn’t a good color to choose if you want your child to stand out at a fall festival as half the kids there were wearing orange in some form or fashion.

In addition, this year there was a new activity: a hand-pumping station where kids could push plastic ducks down half-pipes from one horse trough to another by pumping up water. Both boys were fascinated by it, and I had to tear them away so we could make it home in time for me to get to work.

In fact, there were so many things to do that we came back a second time to do more, and to hit up our old favorites a second time!

All three kids were having blast climbing up the tire tower until I told them I wanted them to keep their shoes on unless we were on the air cushion (I’d found a piece of broken glass), and even let me get a rare picture of all of them simultaneously.

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My three crazy hooligans!

We got to see piglets running around trying to persuade the adult pigs to play with them, and I even found spare change in my purse to buy some goat food. Rondel let the goats eat out of his hand. I was so amazed. He stood perfectly still and held the food out for them without flinching as they licked it gently off his fingers (and it’s a different sort of sensation – I had expected much more of a reaction from him). I think that was his highlight from our second trip; I know it was mine, and I wish I had been able to get a picture of it.

I was able to get pictures of the boys doing the giant tube roll, though! It’s somewhat self-explanatory (although what isn’t obvious at first glance is that those tubes are heavy. I had to push the boys from the outside and it was hard work!)

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Despite the heat and the crowds (much better on the 31st than on the 24th, by the way), we had a great experience at Vertuccio and will definitely plan on going back next year. Just remember to bring lots of water, and be ready to get tired and dirty! In a place where the cultural trappings of fall are mostly absent from our natural environment, this makes for an awesome way to mark the change of seasons before the holidays begin.

 

Posted in family life

a small rant on stereotyping of baby dolls

I don’t really understand gender stereotyping of toys.

Other people have expressed the general concerns with the practice better than I can here, however, so I will skip straight to my particular and most pointed dispute with it: baby dolls are marketed purely for girls, when both boys and girls are highly likely to be parents some day and have babies of their own. If any real-life imitative play skill is going to be useful in adulthood, surely taking care of one’s own toy baby is! It’s even worse than isolating toy kitchens to the “girl” aisles and construction benches to the “boy” aisles, because it represents an even more fundamental part of life and of being human.

With that said, I don’t actually have baby dolls for any of my kids. They’ve so far always had real babies to play with by the time they were old enough to be interested in dolls, and stuffed animals can be a decent substitute in a pinch. But Rondel’s classroom at church has a baby doll, and it has been his sole focus during free play for the past month at least – he rocks the baby, feeds the baby, puts the baby to sleep, and dances with the baby during music. It makes a lot of sense to me, since play is a child’s way of understanding their world, and we have a baby at home! I just don’t see why it isn’t an accepted and even assumed part of every little boy’s life, as it is for little girls.

Posted in book lists, family life, musings, Uncategorized

celebrating St. Francis

I feel like the holidays come fast and furious once fall arrives! They are such a fun way to introduce or remind myself and my kids of the great men and women of God, and to help direct our own hearts back to Him as well.

St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day falls on October 4, less than a week after Michaelmas, providing a beautiful foil to the Michaelmas stories and themes of dragons, knights, and (spiritual or otherwise) battle. For of course, St. Francis is one of the gentlest saints in the liturgy: a man who gave up wealth and power; who befriended the outcast, the poor, and the sick; who rejoiced in the beauty of nature and loved animals as well as people with tenderness and understanding. While Michael illustrates the bravery and glory of fighting against evil, Francis illustrates the courage and beauty of seeking redemption and reconciliation.

(Of course, due to sickness and poor planning on my part, we didn’t actually celebrate until the 11th… better late than never I suppose!)

To introduce the boys to St. Francis, I checked out two books that seemed to have good reviews and were actually available at our local library. First:

St. Francis and the Wolfby Richard Egielski

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This is a legend, retold in a way that is satisfyingly scary for a younger audience, without being over the top, and while retaining an emphasis on Francis’s message of peace and love. It shows how the obvious solution to something scary, dangerous, or disliked – trying to get rid of it or destroy it – isn’t always as effective as trying to communicate and make peace. And really it is just a well-told, fun story. Rondel has asked for this book many times since we borrowed it, and enjoys acting out the various characters as well!

Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Katherine Patterson

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This book is an illustrated retelling of St. Francis’s canticle of the creatures in words that are accessible for small children, yet still retain the beauty and majesty of the original. The illustrations are exquisite as well, with every page showing how the aspect of creation in question (sun, moon, fire, wind, and so on) touches and blesses our world, as the words describe how those things reflect and honor their Creator. I was concerned that this book would be too advanced for the boys, but they have asked for it several times and are always held captivated by the beauty of its poetry and art. It makes a good counterpart to the more “fun” story above, also!

In addition to the books, we tried to make a sun-and-moon window hanger, but ran out of steam partway through due to the aforementioned illnesses; if we had more energy, I would have also had us make a bird feeder so that we could practice kindness to the animals around us as well (there aren’t many other animals besides birds in the middle of a city, since we don’t have pets…). While we don’t have the cold weather that makes feeders a perfect gift for the birds in October in other parts of the world, there are many native birds that benefit from feeders targeted at their unique needs and adaptations. Ah well, maybe next year 🙂

In the meantime, my goal is to emulate St. Francis’s compassion and gentleness, beginning in my home with my family but hopefully spreading outward to the other people with whom my life intersects! I also hope that, like him, I would have the courage to do what is right regardless of how strange it looks to the people around me. He somehow managed to care deeply for people without being a people-pleaser – a combination which strikes me as both a worthy and a difficult goal.

Posted in family life, musings

holding Limerick through a meltdown

Tonight Limerick had a meltdown. He doesn’t have them as often as Rondel, but when he’s tired his big emotions can overwhelm him, and little things will push him over the edge. It’s par for the course when one is almost three years old!

When the meltdowns occur, there are two ways I can respond. First, I can try to reason with him in an attempt to make him feel better and stop crying. I have to admit that this is my default reaction, especially if other kids are awake, because I tend to be a logical problem-solver rather than a savvy emotional guru. However, it almost never accomplishes anything, especially with Limerick. He isn’t the most reasonable person at the best of times, and when he’s tired the sheer strength of his emotions renders his logical mind inaccessible.

The second response, which I’ve learned from parenting experts and cannot take credit for, but which I’ve found through experience to be far more effective, is to simply be present and available. With Rondel that typically looks like pulling him to me and hugging him until he calms down, because physical touch is one of his main ways of communicating love, but (as I’m discovering) with Limerick I usually need to sit a few feet away from him – say, on the floor beside his bed if he is in bed – and let him know that I’m there for him and that he can come sit with me if he wants. Slowly, as the emotional storm passes, he’ll scoot closer and closer until at last he is ensconced on my lap, rocking in my arms, restoring peace in his heart.

It’s becoming more instinctual to respond the second way, instead of remembering it only after I’ve reached the point of frustration and anger myself (I think the Zoloft helps me take that moment to stop and remember who I want to be as a parent, for which I am quite grateful!), and it is so rewarding.

Few things in parenting feel worse than going to bed having yelled at your exhausted and irrational toddler for acting out his exhaustion and developmental state, knowing that you’ve fallen so far short of your parenting ideals that it’s as if you ended up in a pigsty when you had intended to aim for the stars. But few things feel better than holding that toddler in your arms as he sniffles and hiccups away his final tears, gazing up at you as if you were their only solid ground in the middle of a buffeting ocean. No one enjoys a meltdown, but through it one can build deeper trust and connection than play and happy moments can provide on their own.

Posted in family life

Michaelmas 2017

This year, for the first time, our family celebrated Michaelmas – a traditional holiday in both the Catholic church and the Waldorf educational philosophy, honoring the angels (the name comes from the angel Michael) and emboldening us to fight against evil in our world and our own hearts.

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Michael is often portrayed in religious art as slaying a dragon (representative of Satan), as he is considered to have led the armies of angels against the devil, casting them out of heaven. Going strictly from Biblical texts, there is also Gabriel’s message to Daniel, in which he says that he has been delayed because he was fighting against the demonic powers in Persia and had to have help from Michael to get past that barricade to Daniel. In either case, from the little that is said about the angel Michael it appears that he is a mighty spiritual warrior, and one whose strength comes from God and is without arrogance or pride (the very name Michael means “who is like God?” – signifying rhetorically that no matter how great of a warrior and leader he is, even then he is not like God, not on the same level as God. Michael stands for exactly the opposite of the devil’s error of pride in believing he could actually be like God, an equal in power and worth.)

So for Michaelmas, the celebratory ideas tend to center around this theme of fighting dragons: in a more literal sense for the younger set, and in a more metaphorical sense as well for more application 😉 We didn’t do much; I was going to plan a whole party and invite other families, but I couldn’t get past my social anxiety in time, so it was just us. Fortunately, however, I was able to make a dragon costume for my brother and some quick “swords” for the boys, so they could fight away a dragon in honor of the day (just like Michael! With the power of God! I’m not sure that those connections were made though…)

IMG_7706I made the mask using a template I bought from Wintercroft on Etsy, from card stock, and threw together the cape at the last minute from a curtain left behind by the previous owners of our previous house (I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to fabric… but see, you never know when it might be useful!)

The swords were made from pool noodles, cut in thirds; the hilts were felt circles with an X cut in the center for the noodle to slide through.

Rondel jumped into the fray instantly, laughing from the excitement of battle, ferociously attacking the dragon as it roared and advanced and battered him with its scaly wings and fiery breath:

Limerick stood back and observed for a while, but when the dragon disarmed Rondel he began to fight wholeheartedly, keeping the dragon at bay until Rondel came back with a new sword and they could “kill” the dragon together.

(Aubade stayed out of the fray with Grandma… the poor baby was terrified of the dragon mask and screamed out the alarm even when Rondel was bouncing around with it on later.)

As I’ve personally been thinking about the holiday, I’ve been trying to identify the dragons I end up fighting most often. They might not breathe fire and hoard treasure, but they do wreak havoc and destruction on the things that matter most: home, family, and community. The dragons of anxiety and depression try to isolate me from other people and from God with insidious lies; the dragons of impatience and ill-temper try to destroy the relational bridges between me and the people around me. But if I see these things as dragons, it clarifies them in my mind; it gives me something defined to fight against, and a powerful mythic story to illustrate the fight. Like Michael I can throw down my enemy, not because I am so great and mighty, but because there is no one like my God.