Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lessons Learned

By Kelly

To parent successfully, one must be both teacher and student.

Here is what I’ve learned from my children this past week. Note: This is an abridged version.

Dialing 911 even in the middle of sequence still calls 911.

Guess which 16-month-old doesn’t get to play with the phone anymore?

Personal aside to the weary but kind 911 operator who called me back two separate times to make sure I was really OK: Bless you. And yes, I'd tell you if something was wrong.

I have boogers hidden all over my house.

This lesson comes courtesy of my seven-year-old daughter, who recently picked up (ahem) the habit of picking her nose. When I asked her how she might cope with a successful digging expedition, she replied with startling nonchalance, “Oh, if I get boogers, I just hide them somewhere you can’t find them. I’ve got boogers hidden all over the house.”

Good to know.

Blueberries make a great snack for toddlers.

I never tried them out on my older two kids, thinking their little palates wouldn’t approve. But Teyla eats them like they are candy.

Blueberries make for some dark diapers.

Black as the blackest midnight on a stormy night.

It’s possible to be full of dinner yet still have room for dessert.

This is a lesson I should have learned when I was a child, seeing as I used it on my parents all the time. I clearly remember picturing my stomach as a large bag with pockets lining the inside; each pocket was labeled with the food it was designed to contain. Thus, I could be full of chicken but not full of ice cream.

Apparently, I passed on that freaky stomach to my children.

I am more refreshed after my children nap than after I nap.

My 16-month-old took a three-hour nap today. I cleaned my whole house, started the laundry, watered the plants and sewed up a hole in one of Natalie’s stuffed horses. Apparently, the Nap Fairy also carries some mini-Martha Stewart dust in her pouch.

Whole milk + sippy cup + day at the beach = sippy cup in the garbage.

Memorial Day indeed. The smell alone will ensure it stays with me forever.

Luke Skywalker has a brother.

My five-year-old son insists this is true. Also? Indiana Jones is his father.

Harrison Ford gets around, apparently.

What did you learn this week?

You can find more life lessons about boogers and the familal lines of Lego minifigures at Kelly's personal blog, Love Well.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Year-End Project

By Kelly

The state of Minnesota apparently took an Instant Summer pill today. It’s so beautiful outside, it hurts. (Or maybe that’s just the 97-degree sunshine hitting my arms.) The kids in our neighborhood are riding bikes, shouting greetings, begging for another popsicle. According to one little girl, her whole body is boiling! As if we live on the sun or in Houston or something.

But my daughter, my seven-year-old who loves to draw with sidewalk chalk and pet the dogs and ride her bike to the pond on the corner, isn’t outside. Rather, she’s restricted to the kitchen table this fine afternoon, working on a year-end project assigned by her second grade teacher.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me say up front: I revere teachers. I taught high school for a year and a half – a media class, which isn’t even a real subject – and every morning, I woke up and prayed for the flu. It was that miserable. Teaching is a calling, a gift, a ministry. I’m in awe that there are people who love this job and love my kids and pass on knowledge with creativity and wit and patience.

But the homework. Oy. The homework. And in the spring, no less.

This is new territory for me, since Natalie is my oldest. I’m still a guppy in the school of school. But I’ve heard the grumbling about homework for years. What does it really accomplish? Isn’t it just busy work? Wouldn’t it be better for kids to have that time for their family? What happens when projects are assigned that are clearly beyond the ability of the child to handle?

And then, the biggest irritant of all – the year-end project. Seems teachers just can’t resist assigning one last, comprehensive project a mere feet before the student cross the finish line – and that project is almost always something that involves the whole family.

It’s like those college professors who pile on the paperwork near the end of the semester, right before finals, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they aren’t the only professor in the world.

Doubling the pain for us in the Upper Midwest is that, by the middle of May, it’s finally nice enough for the kids to play outside. I don’t mind gigantic projects in January, when there is nothing else to do but watch the snow fall and the thermometer break. But when it’s 85 and sunny and the lilacs are blooming and the gardens are being planted? Homework seems downright malicious.

But what can a guppy parent do? Nothing, I think.

So tonight, we’ll eat ice cream indoors, while we fill her covered wagon with things a typical pioneer family might have taken on their trip out west. (I’m not sure the Ingalls’ horses were as glittery or as purple as the Polly Pocket horse pulling our wagon. Clearly, our wagon is headed for Vegas.) (Come to think of it, Natalie did add a small deck of cards a few minutes ago. Double-down, Pa. Double-down.)

Then we’ll pack it carefully for the trip to school tomorrow and turn it in with a flourish.

Because nothing says Instant Summer like no homework for three months. Hallelujah and amen.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well -- once she's done with her homework, of course.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Do Over

By Kelly

The morning has not gone well.

I had hoped to get up early and write, something I rarely do, but hold as an option of last resort when my brain is too mushy to be creative after the kids go to bed. (And last night, my brain was mushy by 9:00 PM; I almost fell asleep reading “Amelia Bedelia.” Do you have any idea how hard it is to say Amelia Bedelia when your jaw is going slack? Try it. Amelia Bedelia. Amelia Bedelia. Amelia Bedelia. That’s almost impossible for me to say on the best of days.)

So. I set my alarm for 6:00 AM and hoped for a few blessed moments alone. To think. To maybe drink some coffee in peace. To hear the quiet.

But ‘twas not to be. The baby got up at 5:30, irritable and scowling, obviously not even sure she wanted to be  awake yet. (“You and me both, kid,” I sighed to myself.) I spent the next hour trying to get her back to sleep. But she never settled. At 6:30, I gave up. I carried the cranky baby downstairs, the better not to wake her older siblings, and turned on the TV. Maybe “Blue’s Clues” could buy me a few minutes of peace.

But ‘twas not to be. The older kids, who are tuned in to such things, heard the quiet blip of the TV turning on and quickly joined me on the couch, rubbing their eyes and pleading for an early morning showing of “Special Agent Oso,” their new favorite show. Too tired and annoyed to stick with the household rule of “no TV on school mornings,” I flipped the channel and decided to take a shower before writing. Surely, in the shower, I could find a few moments alone to think and create and generally pull myself out of the Forest of Frustration.

But ‘twas not to be. No sooner had I gotten into the shower than the baby started playing Peek-A-Boo with the curtain. Then, sensing a weakness, she ransacked the cabinets, spilling all the Q-Tips on the floor and shredding the toilet paper, which I had neglected to remove from the holder before I got into the shower.

And on it went. The kids started fighting as soon as the TV went off. “He hit me! He kicked me and hit me and spit at me and he doesn’t even care!” I couldn’t decide what to wear. The dog sat in her kennel and looked at me with weary eyes, wondering if I was every going to get around to taking her for a walk. The baby picked up a bag of small balloons from the game Balloon Lagoon, spilled them on the kitchen floor and proceeded to throw handfuls of them down the air vent. (Better than eating Polly Pocket’s shoes, though. I think.) Connor refused to brush his teeth unless I helped him. Natalie pouted because I wouldn’t hear her case for “why brothers should get a spanking every time they hit me.” And because my husband, the barista in our family, is out of town, I had no coffee.

I was snarky and exasperated. Like the weather outside my window, I felt gray and hazy and heavy with irritation.

We drove to school – after I ran up three flights of stairs to get a pair of socks for the baby since I couldn’t find her second sandal. The older kids, feeling the tension, ate pretzels (also known as “breakfast” on mornings like today) and tried to make small talk during the drive.

More than anything, I wanted a do over.

Outside Natalie’s classroom, I knelt down and gave her a big hug and said, “You know I’m not mad at you, right?”

She smiled in a knowing sort of way. “I know.”

“And you know I love you, right? More than anything in the world.”

“I know.”

I put on the baby’s socks and shoes, and we continued down the school hallways to take Connor to his preschool class. I was deep in my thoughts, brooding really, when a parent going the other way said, “Wow, someone’s sure happy this morning.”

Ummmm. Excuse me? Happy?!?

Then I realized she was pointing to the baby. The baby, who had woken up grumpy and whiny, was now toddling the hallways, swinging her arms in front of her in a lighthearted fashion. Her eyes were twinkling and inquisitive. Every few feet, she would stop to gaze at the colorful pictures on the wall, remnants of the recent school art show. And at each stop, she would loudly sigh, “Ooooooo!” with a musical, deep voice, then shriek loudly, swing her arms some more and move on to the next attraction.

Yes. Happy. That’s what she was. She was happy. She was in the moment, not weighed down by a morning gone awry. She was awash in the joy of discovery, eager to see what might be around the next corner.


And in that instant, she did magic.

She gave me a perfect do over.

This post is dedicated to the box of Dora the Explorer Band-Aids that were destroyed while I wrote it. Because even happy babies need entertaining.

Kelly also writes at her personal blog, Love Well. That is, if she has enough Band-Aids.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Shower

By Kelly

It’s dusk.

I sit in the rocking chair and read a book to the freshly bathed baby, who smells like the breath of heaven. On the other side of the wall, the shower runs. I can hear the rush of water, the splattering noise it makes on the curtain liner. But louder than either of those sounds is the contented off-key humming of my older  daughter, seven-year-old Natalie.

It was just last week that she stunned my husband and me by announcing, “I think I’d like to take a shower tonight.” Surprised, we agreed she could try.

Up to this point, we, the parents, have been in charge of the nightly anti-germ ritual for all three of our children, and it has always taken the form of a bath. In fact, we sometimes used the shower as a threat when faced with bath time belligerence.

“Fine, if you don’t want a bath tonight, would you rather take a shower?”

“NOOOO! No showers!” the children would wail in return. Because, after all, what kid wants to stand alone in a semi-dark space and fight to keep shampoo from running into their eyes?

But Natalie’s determined yet nonchalant request last week didn’t betray fear. In fact, her voice was excited.

She was ready to move on.

The first night, my husband stood near the shower and told her what to do. “You need to lean your head way back to get out all the shampoo. … Just shut your eyes. … You’re going great!”

By the second night, she was mostly alone, with just a few check-in sessions from one of us.

By the third night, she was showering like a pro, completely unassisted. She took to singing in the stall, humming and dancing and spinning under the falling water.

She’s so proud of herself.

Even now, I can hear her new self-confidence in the lilting notes, the gentle harmony of water and delight.

Then, suddenly, the shower turns off. The curtain screeches like fingernails on a chalkboard as its pulled aside.

And I hear the water, just like the years, drain away faster than I can comprehend.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well.