Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Blog is Now on WordPress

Hi there,

If you like reading this blog, thanks! And if you'd like to read more, it's now only on WordPress:

If you want to followme/followyou, subscribe to my blog over on WordPress and leave a comment on an article that you've done so, with a link to your blog.

I'm going to maintain this blog over here to continue with Google Friend Connect, and can follow you through it.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stand Back. I'm Cleaning.

From the top of the stairs, I heard my husband fiddling with the coat closet by the front door. "Honey," I called, "what are you doing?"

"I'm cleaning," he said.

And I felt something a lot of mothers feel when their spouses begin to put things away. Sheer panic.

What the heck was this woolly mammoth he'd just tossed into my neat little line of ducks? I peeked down the stairs and saw him with three pairs of my shoes tucked under his arm.

I walked down and past him, trying not to look like I'd "caught" him cleaning. He gave me a wide grin because he knew what I was thinking: those shoes don't go in there. And I knew what he was thinking: they do now.

Then my son said, "Look, Mommy! I made a train." He'd taken every book off the shelf, every dinosaur, every car and covered the living room floor in a snake-like pattern. My daughter, meanwhile, had gathered all the blankets and throw pillows from the living room, and piled them on her rocking horse in the den. "A tent, Mommy!" she said.

As I watched the contents of my house shift with the tsunami-like energy of my family, I saw something that stopped the panic and made me realize, this is fun.

I didn't want my husband to put my shoes somewhere I'd never find them. And I knew I'd be putting my son's books away later so they wouldn't get trampled. And when my daughter asked for a blanket I'd have to remember where she'd left them.

But what I saw that drew me into the tsunami instead of against it, were the faces of my family. Smiling. Having fun. Playing games.

Children have so many rules they need to follow that it's especially important to give them control over their environment whenever you can. It's how they build confidence, express themselves and play happy.

And as for husbands putting shoes away? Come on. Does it get any better?

©, 2011-2012

Hit it Until it Breaks

A friend of mine with two young sons clued me in to a unique mentality for boys. When they play, their only thought is, "How hard can I hit it until it breaks?"

When you think about it, that drive to test things out and explore or exceed limits is at the core of brain development.

Have you heard the term "sensorimotor?" It's a style of learning gaining in popularity as more teachers and parents recognize that book learning actually isn't natural.

Learning through paper and pen and words on a page is not part of the basic nature of human beings. The pyramids, the Venus de Milo and Chubby Checker's "The Twist" (the #1 Billboard song of all time) were created by hitting things until they broke. Trying things out. Exceeding limits. Moving monolithic stones, molding marble and combining rhythm, energy and a piano... these are all examples of sensorimotor skills.

Granted, none of those would have been possible had their creators not done their share of book learning. In fact, math featured prominently in each of those creations. Arithmetic for the pyramids, scale and geometry for the Venus de Milo, and musical composition for The Twist.

When it comes to little boys, most have an intuitive "break it" mentality. Book learning tends to be more difficult for boys than for girls. The Department for Children, Schools and Families in Britain released a pamphlet quoted here that says, "The qualities and skills that are most valued by schools, the ability to communicate orally and represent ideas on paper, are often the very aspects of learning that boys find most difficult."

My son's Goodnight Gorilla book looks like the gorilla escaped one night and ate it. But really, it was just my little boy exercising how to exceed the limits.
And if he breaks enough things, maybe he can do something like this with the pieces.

©, 2011-2012

But *I'm* Being Good

I took this picture a few days before Christmas. Pure sweetness. Brother and sister helping each other to decorate the tree.

What I don't have a picture of is the following evening. As I made dinner out in the kitchen, I heard squeals of delight. And because I'm a mother, I knew these weren't the "Here, darling sister, would you like to place this shiny ornament on the tree?" No. I know these particular squeals well. They send the hairs on the back of my neck on end.

These were the "I can't believe we're doing this!" squeals. And as I walked into the living room, I saw dozens of shiny ornaments in tiny pieces stuck into the carpet, their tops broken off like some sort of ritualistic beheading, and my children squealing away.

I checked for blood and cleaned up the mess. My kids spent the rest of the night trying to earn points. And like everything else, it became a competition.

"She knocked over her cup! That's bad. But I'm being good, Mommy."

"He hit my teddy bear! That's not nice. But I'm being nice, Mommy."

This is how children work. They make sense of the world by testing limits. By testing boundaries, and by testing if Mommy really doesn't want ornament shards for Christmas.

Competition, big or small, is important to kids. It gives them a chance to work out just what they're capable of. A chance to develop their potential. So throw in some healthy games for your kids. Where being the "good" one doesn't matter, but having a good spirit does.

©, 2011-2012

Free Play is Free Will

"In 1903, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson were in their early 20s when they produced the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle in a backyard shed" (source: the History Channel's American Pickers).

If you stop for a moment to imagine the first Harley-Davidson shop, images of leaking oil cans, metal wrenches strewn on a dirt floor and sunbeams playing into a room full of dust come to mind. Creation, inspiration and perspiration. Free will.

Though not a motorcycle factory, here's a picture of my coffee table:

(Yes, there is a coffee table under there.) My son made this during a morning of free play. I don't know what this creation is all about, but I do know it's a pure expression of his free will.

He made the choices, and if his towers toppled over, he dealt with the consequences. I believe that if I took this free play time away from him, his stress level would skyrocket. And he'd have a tantrum. "The two most frequent indicators that children are stressed are change in behaviors and regression of behaviors" (source: NCCES).

There is talk about taking recess away from kindergarteners. Kindergarteners! When you don't give kids a chance to play, they freak out. And they lose the chance to experience free will.

Sometimes we get so concerned with cleaning up after our kids that we miss what they've created. We need to make sure our children have chances and opportunities to get to a point where they are comfortable enough exploring that they may just invent something. After all, if Harley's mother had said, "Stop fooling around in that shed," we'd be missing an entire part of our culture. And Harley would have missed the chance to feel the power of play.

©, 2011-2012

I Can't Even Hear My Stomach Burning

I'm just a regular person. I'm not a chef. I've said this to my husband many times over the decade of our marriage, to excuse things I've laid on our dinner table. Things we've actually had to name. "Chicken, the other black meat," "Cheese wads" and my favorite, "Dill Surprise."

This is what I cooked up for my family of four to enjoy earlier this week. I got a potato side dish recipe from Joy of Cooking, but either they didn't test it out right, or perhaps something went wrong on my end.
When I put this on the table, my son took a bite and happily exclaimed, "I can't even hear my stomach burning!"

I chose to take that as a compliment. I mean, come on. How many hats do us mothers need to wear? Mother, confidant, doctor/nurse, laundress, repair-woman, chauffeur, re-attacher of limbs (hopefully for toys only), the list goes on. And truly, "chef" doesn't fit into our mix. We have so many things to do, places to go, doctors to visit, behinds to wipe that there simply isn't enough time in the day to put a Donna Reed dinner on the table every night.

Yet, like so many of you hat-wielding moms, I try.

Because not trying is rather terrifying. Here is what my town's public schools (obviously not part of the Food Revolution) are offering their youngest, the elementary school children, for their school lunches this week: Mon: egg patty with bacon. Tue: chicken nuggets. Wed: bagel and cream cheese. Thu: spaghetti taco and crabby patty. Fri: stuffed crust pizza.

First of all, what the heck is a spaghetti taco?

And second, this is pitiful! My dad brown-bagged our lunches for as long as I can remember. Through high school even. And I plan to do the same for my children. No matter how heavy my head gets with all those hats. Maybe I can blame those hats for future versions of Dill Surprise. Or maybe I can be proud to wear them. Knowing that really, all my kids care about, is that I tried to do something nice for them.

Oh, and if you can cook, check this out. Guaranteed not to burn your kid's stomach.

©, 2011-2012

A House Full of Spaz

I have a neat trick to entertain your kids. Are you ready? The easiest game ever. Stick a piece of blue painter's tape on the floor.

That's it! The possibilities are endless. It works every time. And it's practically free.

I was testing out a new game I'd come up with for my Play 101 series, and as soon as I got this one piece of tape on the floor my kids went crazy. It was a start line. It was a finish line. It was where the elephants and cars had to go. Granted, they know the blue tape usually means a game is about to start, but how could any kid resist the urge to play with this line?

A line means something. It's a marker. A boundary. A goal.

And when you present it to a young inquisitive mind, all sorts of games will emerge. Like the one my son suggested, "Let's crash into the wall! With our heads!"

They were so excited by this line, that by the time we'd tested out my new game they were in full-spirit spaz mode. Hence, the house full of spaz. My daughter was running around with her mouth in a wide open grin and my son was directing her like a traffic cop back and forth across the line.

They say kids will play with a paper bag and they're right. They'll play with anything if you just give them a chance to exercise their imagination. Open the doors and let the spaz into your house. It's fun, it's free play, and you really get to see your kids' minds at work. There's no better way to learn about your children than to simply watch them play.

©, 2011-2012

Once They Crack Their Heads Open, I'll Call You Back

I actually said those words to my friend the other day when we were talking on the phone.

My kids were enjoying free play, an open-ended concept some parents totally get. But it's also a concept a lot of parents struggle with.

Free play is when you give your child a chance to enjoy time all on their own. No classes, no teachers, no book-learning, just good old-fashioned play. But here's where some parents shy away: it can be messy. Or, your child may get hurt.

God forbid.

Children need time to run, dance, create adventures, and yes, even crack their heads open. It's what makes them children. The innate learners and explorers of our world.

Ahh... summertime. I just had to use this shot as it brings me comfort during these relentless winter months. And it shows my daughter enjoying free play on one of our hikes.

What is she doing that will improve her math scores once she starts school? Is she reading flash card letters and numbers as she picks dandelions and tucks them behind her ear? What about her ability to draw circles and squares? To some parents, free play like this simply doesn't make sense in their child's "development." To me, it's the best gift you could ever hope to give your greatest blessings, your children.

My children enjoy free play, and because of that, have no trouble figuring out what to do with themselves when I'm in another room. (Except if I pick up the phone. That's the one thing that calls out to them like a siren offering chocolate cake.) So I knew that when I told my friend I'd have to call her back they were about to start up a game of "Let's hold hands and wrap scarves around ourselves and spin as fast as we can."

And this is where parents get scared away. If the free play gets too rough, or involves play-doh or paint, or moving the sofa cushions to make a fort. All I have to say is:

Get over it!

But don't use free play as a placeholder. I get that it's hard in the winter when we're stuffing our kids in their snowsuits into 5-point safety harness car seats and wiping runny noses. We don't have much energy left to clean up the after-effects of free play.

But then, why else did we have children? They'll be grown soon and their little toys won't be around anymore. Don't miss this chance to let... them... play.

And if you're in that group of parents who simply don't understand how to free play (see, now it's a verb), your children can teach you.

The easiest way is to start with a game. Then sit back, and let your children take the lead.

You can be ready off to the side with an icepack.

©, 2011-2012

The Definition of Insanity

My husband had a t-shirt once that read, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and hoping for a different result." I think of this bright orange shirt often. Usually when I'm disciplining my children.

Because I tell them over and over not to do something, but then they do it. And yes, this does make me feel insane. Like trying to put a square puzzle piece into the circle opening.

Try all you want, it just doesn't fit. I came across this blog post the other day that made me laugh. It's true. When we tell something to our children, they don't seem to hear it. So we either repeat ourselves (insane) or talk louder.

But underneath it all, repetition is the key to learning. The way to remember new things is to grow a pathway between the neurons associated with that thing in your brain. You need to reinforce the pathway over and over or it won't be as strong.

Like when I ask  my husband to bring home bread when he's on his way out the door. I'll tell him as he's putting on his jacket, and again as he's getting his keys, and then as I kiss him good-bye I'll say, "Have a nice day bread." Just sort of toss it in there one last time.

There are a lot of things parents simply have to say over and over. "Don't hit your sister on the head." "Don't put toy cars in the fridge." "Don't run with your eyes closed."

When you think of all the limits parents have a duty to impose on their children, it's no wonder children need a chance to release, relax... and play.

©, 2011-2012

Monkeying Around

What kid doesn't want to grow up and walk in his father's shoes? Well, maybe most once they're teenagers. But for the early years, most children want nothing more than to be just like their parents.

Listen to any older child addressing his or her younger siblings. "Hey, how many times do I have to tell you?" or, "Go ahead. Just ask me about my day." Phrases come out of their tiny mouths that sound just like grown-ups. Because children repeat what they hear. It's how they learn. And they repeat what they see, by acting it out.

In today's child-rearing lingo, this is called Pretend Play. And it's almost an involuntary reaction, like breathing, in children. It gets them ready to join in with the rest of the world, and make sense of things they don't understand.

In the 1967 movie The Jungle Book, the king of the monkeys, King Louie sings an entire song about wanting to "Be Like You." Says he's tired of monkeying around. He wants to walk, talk and make fire like the young man-cub he meets, Mowgli. Young children have this same desire. To hop around on things and test them out. To imitate those they look up to. And to have fun. That's why it's called pretend play.

So the next time your children are bouncing off the walls, as they say, maybe they're just getting ready for this.

If that's too extreme, then take heart in the fact your children really do "wanna be like you." You can help them get there by joining in on their pretend play. Or just help them get to wherever it is they need to go today. Grandma's, the moon, or the place Where the Wild Things Are. Monkeying around might leave a dent or two in your walls, but it will open up your child's heart.

©, 2011-2012

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Load of Crap

A load of crap. In other words... laundry day. When moms wash everything from poop-to-nuts.

In our house we have three potties in the same bathroom. One for my son, one for my daughter, and one for her teddy bear.

And even with all these receptacles for human waste, a couple of times a week I end up with something I don't want to see or smell all over my children's clothes. And I need to throw a load of laundry in the wash. Hence, the "load of crap."

Parents of young children have to deal with any number of things that would cause an employee at some other company to file a lawsuit. Can you imagine walking into your boss' office and telling him or her, "I'm quitting because Joe pooped on me. And Susan peed all over her desk, even after I asked her not to. And I seem to be the only one around here who cares enough to clean this up!"

It's hard. Parenting is hard, messy work. When my son was potty training, he kept forgetting to go in to the bathroom when he had to poop. One time I rushed him in there, took down his pull-ups, and heard something drop on the floor. "Please be a toy car," I prayed. But I looked down and saw the big brown blob of poop on the carpet. Some sort of primitive mother-instinct took over, and I decided to make this a game.

I picked up the poop with my bare hand, showed it to my son and said, "See? This is a poopy." I dropped it into the potty and said, "Can you make a friend for him in the potty?"

Though I couldn't believe what I was doing at the time, it worked. My son was so excited to make a poopy friend he sat down and went #2 right on the potty. And has done so ever since.

Just goes to show a little fun and games can go a long way to surviving the poops-to-nuts challenges of parenthood.

©, 2011-2012

Fit to Burst

It's a well-known joke that women need to speak a certain amount of words per day to be happy. Somewhere between twice and ten times as much as men. One interpretation of the joke claims women speak more because they have to repeat everything.

Either way, when women, men, or even children aren't given an opportunity to do or say the thing they need most, they become fit to burst. Like my roof.

This is a picture of a ceiling beam my husband had just refinished. A recent snow storm caused a build-up of ice on our roof, which crept up under the shingles and our roof became fit to burst. Water poured in through the ceiling. "Mommy! There's a waterfall!" my son said.

When you think about it, people aren't much different than roofs. We all have a certain stress tolerance level which, once reached, can cause us to burst at the slightest offense.

Take a young child throwing a tantrum. A friend of mine quoted a play therapist who said, "A tantrum happens when a child can no longer deal with their environment."

There are many ways to deal with tantrums. Removing the child from the stressful environment, ignoring the child, or giving them something fun to do in hopes of preventing the outburst. No one wants their child to have a temper tantrum, but of course, most children will at some point in their young lives.

What can be done to keep your child from becoming fit to burst?

Perhaps the easiest answer is to allot more time in their day for the things that matter most to him or her. The chance to "say all their words," or color, or simply, play.

©, 2011-2012


I recently learned of the term "placeholder" in web design. Basically it's something you put on your page to mark the spot where something else will go. Something you'll go back and put in later.

Which is the same thing parents do when they promise their children they will spend time together, and then don't deliver.

My children wanted to play a game we saw on PBS Kids. You take a bunch of small plastic toys, put them in bowls of water, put the bowls in the freezer and then check on them throughout the day to see how the water is changing into ice. It's a great game, and we all had fun when we played it yesterday. This morning my son popped out of bed and grabbed two of his toys to put in the bowls and play the game again. He was so excited.

So we set it up, just like yesterday, one for my daughter too, just like yesterday, I watched their smiles, just like yesterday, poked holes in the forming ice, just like yesterday... and then the day got away from me.

12pm: Can we check on the ice?
(After lunch, I say.)
1pm: Can we check on the ice?
(It's not ready yet.)
2pm: Can we check on the ice?
(I need to do laundry.)

Each time I replied to their request, I put in a placeholder in my mind. I will go back and do this with the kids when I'm done with, whatever. And sure enough, they went to bed tonight with the toys unchecked in the freezer.

Placeholders are harbingers of guilt. Because parents seldom go back and fill in what their kids really want. A little time together doing something fun. The best gift of all.

©, 2011-2012

Face to Face With a Dead Fish

Children and adults do not play the same.

Picture this. It's early Summer. A bright beautiful blue-sky day at the beach. The first beach day all year. You lay out your towel, spray on some sunscreen and maybe wade out into the water. Join up with a volleyball game. Collect shells.

By any and all definitions a day of play. Except for a child.

Children do not "lay out their towels," and when it's time for sunblock most of it ends up in their eyes. For a child, an opportunity for playtime at the beach means Mom's about to go face to face with a dead fish.

That morning when I told my children about all the fun we were going to have at the beach, I know I did not say, "We're going to steal a play shovel from a stranger without asking, run down near the sharp rocks and scoop up dead fish."

Being aware of what a child wants and needs for play isn't easy. Most of the time it's not even intuitive. I'm pretty smart, I read lots of great books on parenting, but I never would have expected a dead fish would be such an irresistible draw to my then three-year-old son. In fact if I saw it first, I would have kicked some sand over it before the kids asked why it was sleeping.

That's why play time is just as important to parents and caregivers as it is to the child. It's a time when the child teaches the parent what life is all about. How he or she sees the world. Don't be too quick to wipe it off.

©, 2011-2012

The Sharper the Mind

Captain Kirk said to Spock, "The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play" (Shore Leave, Stardate 3025.8). Children's minds are active, intuitive and above all, complex. Within a few years, a child will absorb a spoken language, integrate into society through school and activities and recognize how to get his or her needs met. All while adapting to a constantly changing body.

With such a complex mind, it's no wonder children have an unyielding need for play. While most parents have an unyielding need for this.

My kids made this "Snow-Mom" the other day (she must be a mom, with all those arms). And I felt a strange kinship with this pile of slush.

If you ever watch a mom at work, or a teacher of young children, or anyone who deals primarily with people under four feet tall you will see those tiny people coming at her with a barrage of questions, demands, complaints, or something sticky.

Though I do have a name, as a mother of two I also respond to, "Mommy! Now! Want it! and No Fair!"
Those words and more come barreling at me the instant I open my laptop or push the Talk button on my phone. Two tiny people running full-tilt across a landmine of toys with something broken in their hands or something wet on their pants, fully alert to the removal of mom's undivided attention, fully prepared to claim the other one was about to jump from the roof or put toys in the oven or sneeze on each other.

How do I deal with such complex minds? Minds that so soon after they learn to talk learn the concept of "he hit me first?"


©, 2011-2012

Directly Into the Sun

Raising two children under two years old is like looking directly into the sun. It hurts, people tell you not to, and if you do it too long, you'll black out.

Two under two means I had to mark their diapers so I'd know whose I was grabbing in a frenzied plunge into the diaper bag. Two under two means I spent a solid three years pregnant, nursing and trying to stop leaking. From anywhere. Two under two means my children had to learn the word "turn."

Turns? Children don't take turns. They just... hover.

My children are now four and two-and-a-half. We've spent the last four years paying our dues to the time-out corner, cutting teeth, and "missing" the potty. But there have been moments, glorious moments when everything aligns like a solar eclipse. Peals of laughter fill our house. And it's safe to look directly into the sun.

The secret? Games.

(Stay tuned for a fabulous link about Games!)

©, 2011-2012