Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thanksgiving Fun

My favorite Thanksgiving craft. My only Thanksgiving craft. One of my favorite pictures of that rascal John.

  • 16 chocolate covered cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers)
  • 1 tube orange frosting with piping tips
  • 16 small peanut butter cups
  1. Place cookies on work surface. Place a dollop of icing in center of each to hold peanut butter cups in place.
  2. Place peanut butter cups upside down on frosting. Press gently.
  3. Using a round piping tip, draw the hat band and buckle. Let frosting set before storing.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

When A Proud Luddite Meets Maria Montessori


Luddite: A member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16); a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.

I am a self-confessed Luddite -- a dumb phone carrying, number two pencil wielding, video game eschewing, Kindle scoffing anachronism.

That's me.

A Luddite.

And happy to be so.

Except for the dumb phone. Which failed me time and again and frog-marched me -- reluctant and dragging my feet -- into the world of Smart Phones.

A friend told me a week or two ago about a younger child of hers who is struggling in school in much the same way that one of mine struggled in school. Like every good mother, she took a deep breath, dabbed her eyes, and logged on to Amazon hoping that a solution for all that ails would arrive on her doorsteps in two days, free shipping.

Been there, surfed that, placed the order.

She mentioned getting a few educational Leap Frog apps.

Now, you can't say this to a Luddite. Or to a Montessorian. Or to an English teacher.

It's nails on a chalkboard -- not to be confused with a dry erase marker on a smart-board -- to people who seize a low tech solution at every turn.

Let me digress for a moment. The further I get into this parenting gig, the less willing I am to put myself out there on any issue. I posted my little bit about children who struggle to read. No sooner had I hit "publish" then I began to think: What in the world are you doing proffering an opinion on this subject? What makes you an expert? Why would anyone care what you think? Like Sergeant Schultz, my mantra is, "I know nothing . . . nothing!"

With that disclaimer in mind, I offer this thought: What middle class American kid needs more screen time?

Kids -- mine, yours, nearly everyone's -- need less screen time.

Let's pull the plug, let's toss the batteries, and let's pull out the stuff. Stuff. Yes, stuff. Real stuff. Pick it up, touch it, chew on it, run your fingers over it, stuff.

Maria Montessori -- she must have been a fellow Luddite -- believed in stuff. Real stuff. High quality stuff. Glass. Wood. Metal. She observed that children learn best through doing, not seeing or hearing or doing it through virtual reality. I had a child so adept at on-line baseball game, I once quipped to my husband, "I think he thinks he can play the real game." Seriously. I understood how the line between reality and virtual reality became blurred.

One of Montessori's approaches to learning the alphabet was to use letters made of sandpaper. Run your fingers over them, get the feel of it, real letters.

Even a Luddite like me concedes that some high tech toys are useful. When John began U.S. geography, I bought the puzzle, but I also let him have fun with an on-line game that kept score and had timers and other bells and whistles that added a little motivation. The Internet abounds with free typing tutors that make old school methods look pretty lame. High tech serves a useful purpose.

But then there's this:

Image result for potty chair with ipad holder

I've been talking to my ninth grade English students about persuasive writing. And I tell them to avoid over-emotional language. School uniforms, summer school work, cursive handwriting -- all these may be, in your estimation, bad ideas, but they are not evil. Genocide, I tell them, is evil; school uniforms and cursive are not. The person who promotes penmanship is not Hitler, and the teachers who enforce the uniform policy are not the Gestapo.

That being said, the orange plastic contraption above is nothing short of an atrocity.

Turn off the screens and pull out the stuff.

Fellow Luddites, can I hear an amen?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

To My Boy Who Is Now a Man

I would wander weary miles
Would welcome ridicule, my child
To simply see the sunrise of your smile
To see the light behind your eyes,
The happy thought that makes you fly
Yes, I would wander weary miles
To simply see the sunrise of your smile.

Monday, November 16, 2015

When Your Child Struggles to Read

A friend and I were talking about school struggles the other day. Gosh, I have so many thoughts on all this. But time is short, so I'll re-post this oldie with three caveats:

1. Check your child's sight and hearing because all the techniques the Internet has to offer will be for naught if these problems are not addressed.
2. A simple technique you do consistently day after day after day trumps a brilliant plan you pull off sporadically.
3. Don't panic. You will start to panic. Talk yourself down. My boy who struggled big time spent something like six hours reading this weekend. 

From the archives:

John got off to a rough start in kindergarten.

This didn't come as a complete surprise. He's young, he's John, and kindergarten is much harder today than forty years ago.

I taught Tim and Kolbe to read. I bought Teach Your Child To Read and away we went. Thirty lessons into the book, both boys were reading. No sweat.

I didn't try this with John. At three both John's mother and his pre-school teacher wondered if he were color blind. Everything -- from stop signs to bananas -- was "greent". Color-blindness runs in my family, so I wasn't unduly alarmed.

But then John learned his colors. And color-blind people, see, they don't learn their colors with time or effort or anything. Ever. So something else was behind this.

A number of other factors (some being my time and John's temperament) led me to back off and not push.

He started kindergarten, and I started getting concerned phone calls.

To my credit and as clear evidence that I have Come a Long Way, Baby! in the areas of faith, hope, and love, I did not panic. I cried after one phone call. I prayed. Mostly I spent a lot of time thinking through all my Montessori training and perusing Amazon for items that might be helpful.

Ten weeks and a whole lot of money later, here's what we're doing:

1. Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons

Excellent book. Simple and clear instructions.

2. Mommy, Teach Me to Read

This book arrived in my home on a Friday, and just three days later the author, Barbara Curtis, died unexpectedly. Her life's work lives on in books that celebrate children and help families enjoy learning together.

3. Lacing Cards

 As you can see, Ainsley's mastered this skill.

4. Stringing Beads

Great for fine motor skills and patterning.

5. Japanese Water Painting

A huge hit for kids of all ages. Adults love it, too. Buy one and put it in a public area like a kitchen island or the break room in the office. Everyone will enjoy it. And no clean up required!

6. The Bob Books

Ainsley calls these "the blah blah books." Easy, easy first readers designed to build confidence through success. Kolbe HATED these; John loves them.

7. Matching Games

A great memory building game. Lewis Carroll fans will recognize the Cheshire Cat. John calls it The Pressure Cat which cracks me up to no end.

8. Perfection

Fine motor skills and the added fun of the whole board exploding when time runs out.

School has been difficult for John. Is this a problem or an opportunity?

In the long run, this may indeed prove to be a problem. For right now, though, it has given me an opportunity to spend lots more time with John and Ainsley than I would have otherwise. That admission -- that John had to encounter academic problems for me to sit down and string beads with him -- could be a topic for another post (or maybe a book!). Life is fast-paced. Rather than feeling guilty, I'm choosing to be inspired.

Barbara Curtis wrote this:

Look closely at children's activities and you will see a sense of purposefulness, working toward understanding and mastering their small worlds . . .

God gives the child this drive to explore and learn. You see it clearly in the toddler years: learning is what we are made for. It is our drive to learn that causes us to seek to know more about God and the world he created for us. Watch any preschooler learning to peel carrots, write his name, or count his pennies -- you will see a child completely engrossed, a child who isn't learning because he has to, but because he wants to, a child who loves to learn.

Today I'm grateful for a new opportunity to enter into John's small world.

P.S. All these items are available on Amazon. I'm now their favorite customer.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What a Mess!

My Mother-in- Law has asked again and again for more pictures of the new house . . . and I fully intend to take them and forward them.

Just as soon as the trim goes up in the laundry room.

And the wainscoting is finished in Ainsley's room.

And I hang a picture and a crucifix in the boys' room.

And finish painting the shutters in the kitchen.




And I'm probably sounding like the house is a catastrophe. For the record, it is not. Let me also point out that I love our house, unfinished projects and all.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Foss recently put together a slide show of household messes. Now that I can do with nary a drop cloth or table-saw.

And my favorite:

Mostly I remember this because it was at the height of the Swine Flu, Strep Throat, Pneumonia bout that seemed like it would neva end.

For the past two months, we've had an elderly friend living with us while she awaited the completion of her permanent home. Evelyn moved early this week, and the house seems a bit empty without her. After the move, a mutual friend of ours texted me and said something like: Thanks so much for having Ev. I often feel I can't have people over if everything isn't perfect. You've been a good example to me. Thank you!

We offered hospitality. We did not offer perfection.

Though I've never reached perfection in terms of the house, when I had one and two children, it seems -- if only in hindsight -- that I came close. Let's just say I maintained a much higher standard than I routinely manage to pull off these days. The reasons are many and varied and involve the usual suspects: time and space and money and energy and personalities and training and lack thereof.

I have many thoughts on hospitality and order and the ancillary topics in between. Right now I'm just amazed I actually wrote something besides a pop quiz on subordinate clauses! I miss writing, and I miss interacting with my internet friends.

To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, I will be back!

And all these pictures sure make me miss my babies, sticky syrup and all.Except for Ainsley in the Vaseline. I really don't miss that.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Ainsley in a huff: That's it! I'm running away! Can I do that?

John, yelling to his friend: Hey, Paul. Don't forget to cover the trip wire with branches.

Sorting through the ever-growing pile of unmatched socks and finding buried within a baby doll and a plastic hand grenade.

Ainsley's teeny, tiny mary janes.

Kolbe's impossibly deep voice.

The way Tim still calls me Mama either late at night or if he's in need of cash.

Kolbe, imitating Kermit the Frog imitating Beyonce: For all the single tadpoles . . . For all the single tadpoles . . .

Ainsley: There are five things I love about church. First, praising God. Second, seeing Colette. Third, donuts. Fourth, Faith Formation. Fifth, seeing John's god-sister, Tessa.

Ainsley's sweet young voice mingling with that of our eighty-five-year-old house guest, Evelyn.

Evelyn coming out of her room with a hand grenade she found mixed up with the

The sound of Tim at the piano playing Nocturne late at night.

The feel of  Ainsley's sweet cheeks.

Kolbe learning How To Save a Life in memory of Uncle Keith.

The sight of John's filthy clothes and feet as he returns from a productive afternoon at the fort.

Ainsley's backwards Y.

Piano notes written on John's fingers as he trudges through Pop! Goes the Weasel!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Blanket Training

Dancing on his blanket.
The Internet abounds with stories of Extreme Parenting.  There's the dad blasting his daughter's laptop with a rifle. (Awful, yes, but I'd simply be forced to fist bump the guy if I ever met him. I so understand his take on electronics). There's the Adrian Peterson story which is just too sad for words (and he ain't never getting a fist bump from me).

One of the more bizarre tactics I've encountered is something called Blanket Training. So you have a mobile baby maybe twelve months, eighteen months, and you train the baby to stay on a blanket. The baby, it seems, is highly motivated to stay on the blanket because every time he moves off of it, a loving parent delivers a whack and puts him back on the blanket.

And that's just phase one.

Phase two involves -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- placing the baby on the blanket with a clear command to Stay! and then putting a favorite toy just out of reach. You can probably guess what happens when baby ventures off his blanket to retrieve his favorite train or stuffed animal.

I have two thoughts on the matter:
1. I'm fairly sure these parents are confusing raising children with raising lab rats.
2. Eventually these automatons will reach puberty, and I hope we get an update on how all this worked out in the long run.
While I reject this out of hand, a few recent observations give me pause.

Scenario #1:
We're eating dinner and I've cleared the dining room table but overlooked a paperweight. A nameless child spends the entire meal --- every second -- reaching for the paper weight, fiddling with the paper weight, tossing the paper weight from hand to hand. This goes on and on and on until I'm suddenly thinking that we missed the boat with Blanket Training.

Scenario #2:
We're at Mass and an unidentified child lifts up the hymnal and finds a plastic fork. Let me repeat that: It was a plastic fork. It was not a fifty dollar bill or a live tarantula. It was a plastic fork. I guess it all boils down to an odd juxtaposition. A plastic fork in the cafeteria? Not weird at all. A plastic fork next to the hymnal in church? Weird. Nay, enthralling. Captivating. Mesmerizing. Let's get out the thesaurus and find a few more synonyms for Way More Riveting Than Mass! So long Gospel, so long homily! The questions, oh, the questions! Why is it there? Who left it? What are we going to do with it?

Is there verbal Blanket Training?

Scenario #3:
So I'm at Mass again, this time with two unidentified siblings. Unidentified sibling #1 sneezes and sends a booger flying onto unidentified sibling # 2. Oh, the scandal! Nay, the outrage! I rifle through my purse -- frantically and in vain -- for a tissue and finally scoop up the, ummm, leftovers with a piece of scrap paper. So long Gospel, so long homily! Oh, the questions! Where is the booger? Where did you put it? What are boogers made of? What are we going to do with it? 

Bronze it, I tell you, I'm going to bronze it and hand it to the kid who passes Blanket Training wherein I place a paperweight, a plastic fork, and an actual booger in arm's reach and reward the kid who doesn't touch any of it and who can repeat a single word of a Gospel passage I read during Blanket Training. Most importantly, the winner must refrain from asking a single question.

Sadly, there would be no winners, and I would be stuck with a bronzed booger.

But seriously . . . I sat with a friend today and talked about how parenting is a path to holiness. Self-denial, fortitude, prayer, hope -- parenting demands all this and more. Some days we (I) might not be up to the job, not even a little bit. 

Oh, how I miss this!
But to those parents studying the fine art of Blanket Training -- those planning to have kids but still be free to leisurely shower or read or go get a pedicure -- while their toddler, his curiosity successfully overcome by fear, cowers on a blanket, to them I say this: Parenting isn't easy, and it's not convenient. If you've turned to Blanket Training as some sort of panacea thinking this is the ticket to parenting without interruption, without mess, without unanticipated behavior of any kind, well, you probably should have thought a tad harder about having children in the first place.

Like it not, one day they'll move off the blanket.

A friend of mine told the story of his daughter who passed her driver's test after numerous attempts and then proceeded to run two red lights on the way home from the Department of Motor Vehicles.


While we're still dealing with behaviors outlined in the above scenarios, even I recognize them for the trifles that they are. With a senior in the house, we are also grappling with higher stakes -- college choices, driving, moving out, moving on.

And I force myself on a daily basis to dwell on the fact that God loves my son even more than I do.