- “Good for One Hug”
- “Good for helping around the yard with dad”
- “Good for helping dad take the trash out.”
One coupon, however, consisted of blank lines. Choose your own gift. One of my kids wrote, “Take out the laundry.” One filled in, “Cook dinner when you are feeling tired or not.”
But one of my kids asked, “Mommy, is it okay if I leave the lines blank, without filling anything in?” I didn’t understand what he meant and asked him to clarify. “I mean, can Daddy put what he wants in the blanks?”
“That’s a great idea,” I told him. So that’s what he did.
And I wondered, Is that ever what my love looks like? For my children? For my husband? For my friends? For God?
Fill-in-the-blank love. Not, “On my terms, when I have time … and it’s got to be my idea.” But love that allows the other person to fill in the blanks. Reading a story to my son when I’d rather read something I’m more interested in (not involving vehicles). Biking with my daughter when it’s a little too hot outside for my comfort. Visiting a friend when I feel like a hermit and would prefer to stay home. Watching a Saturday-night movie with my husband when I’ve reached the second-to-the-last chapter of a thrilling page-turner.
Fill-in-the-blank love. That trusts the unspoken power of giving to create and build and maintain a relationship. Any relationship. I read somewhere recently that love is an outcropping of faith. In other words, love is the fruit of faith. Plant faith. Plant trust. Reap love.
It takes trust to give a loved one fill-in-the-blank power over you.
But maybe that’s what love really is. Hazarding the unknown and plodding through the mundane, together.
Meaning in the Little Things
It’s the bits and pieces put together year after year that count. Sometimes we don’t see meaning in the little things and we are not conscious of how it all works together to create a powerful image.
The little things we do at home … putting wildflowers in a vase … an old photograph tucked into a frame, a lullaby each evening by the bedside … are the putty that holds the mosaic together.
– Ingrid Trobisch
Photo Credit: © John-Francis Bourke/zefa/Corbis
So, it’s summertime. If your children are anything like mine, they had it up to the tops of their brains with learning over the school year. But if you are anything like me, you want to make the most of your summer and help your child learn throughout the season. You want to see them excel, and that means helping them make the most of their time even on those long summer days. Of course, you’ll let your kids sleep in and have days off. You’ll enjoy seeing them sitting on the couch and reading for hours or pulling out a plethora of Legos and building something from the tile floor up. Because that’s all part of learning too.
But are there more ways you can keep your child learning this summer without making them think they’re having “school” time?
Here are 5 ways to keep your child learning this summer
1. Teach them a board game.
This will likely depend on your child’s age, but one good choice for children is. Who knows, your child may grow into the next grand master. If not, there are still numerous things they can learn through the game of chess. Some chess proponents suggest teaching your child the game even before they start school, as it teaches them a variety of skills. “Chess teaches children many fundamentals, like problem solving, focus, patience and follow through,” advocate Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick. These writers also mention that studies show chess helps children improve in not only problem solving and patience but also actual scholastic skills. Test scores in math, reading, and science see an increase. Who knew?
Of course, you could choose board games other than chess. Games that help teach your child various educational skills include Boggle, Scrabble, and Scattergories – for English, or Battleship and Monopoly– for strategy.
2. Invite them into the kitchen.
Whether you have a boy or girl, kitchen skills are vital to learn. I’m thankful that someone(s) along the way taught my husband to cook, because he is more adept in the kitchen than I am. I usually make our day-to-day meals, but whenever we have guests over, he’s the one who will whip up a fabulous dish of Indian butter chicken or tandoori on the grill.
Getting your kids to help in the kitchen can teach them valuable lifelong skills. Not only will they be able to make themselves something other than Raman or French toast when they go away to university, but cooking in the kitchen can help them improve in math and more. For instance, if you double a cookie recipe, let your child do the math and figure out exactly how much flour you need if the original recipe calls for one-and-a-quarter cups. Or let him decide what to do if you want to cut the recipe in half and it calls for one egg? Do you put in half an egg? Such problem solving can help your child as they go through not just the kitchen, but life is well.
Of course, the fun part is at the end they have a great meal to share with the family or a batch of cookies to enjoy and perhaps give to a neighbor or an elderly friend.
3. Visit the library.
Libraries have books. Enough said.
But really, libraries have so much more. Often during the summer, a city library will provide activities that encourage learning. In the Fresno County, our library system offers a variety of summer activities, including a man who visits libraries with boxes and cages full of various of reptiles; he teaches children about reptiles and even lets them hold or pet some of them. There are also craft activities offered, many of which are divided between children and teens. So, there’s something for everyone.
Even if your library does not offer these types of summer activities, taking your child to the library provides them the chance to pick out books that cater to their interests. In my case, one of my children love middle-grade novels and will inhale half a dozen books in one day if given the chance. One of my children loves science and books about vehicles (and pretty much any book that includes pictures provides interesting information). Another of my children enjoys building things and loves books about how things work, including Legos and how cartoons are made. We always take a large, strong bag into the library with us because we rarely leave with fewer than twenty books.
4. Encourage their unique interests.
Does your child love to draw? Or music? Or writing? Perhaps during the school year, amidst homework and assignments and extracurricular activities, your child doesn’t get a chance to really do much that fuels their passion. So, let that fuel and passion run wild during the summer! If they like to draw, make sure they have access to art books and sketch pads and sharp pencils and colored pencils. Perhaps you can pick up some books from the library on how to draw or find a couple interesting how-to-draw videos online.
The same goes for the interest of writing. These days you can find books for children on those topics, or look up little educational how-to’s on YouTube. Maybe you can schedule an afternoon or two each week where you are make time for these unique skills. Your whole family can practice together, or it can be a one-on-one activity with you and the child who has that interest.
5. Let them help plan a trip.
This could be a day trip or an overnight camping excursion, or even a longer trip, but let your child be involved in every aspect of planning it. Let them make a list of the foods you need to take, and even join you in shopping for that trip. Let them brainstorm with you what practical things you need to pack, depending on the weather and what amenities are available where you’ll be going.
A camping trip in a tent, or a cabin in the woods is a great opportunity for your child to think about what is really needed to survive a few days “out in the wild.” How much food does your family need? What about activities to keep you busy? Don’t forget the sunscreen and hats if you’re going to be in a place where there’s a lot of sunshine. Preparing for a trip is great fun in itself, but having them help you prepare for every aspect of it also teaches them valuable life skills.
The possibilities really are endless as far as ways you can help your child continue to learn even during the summer vacation. All you need is an attitude of loving to learn yourself, as well as loving to teach. You don’t need to have all the skills you are trying to encourage in your child. My son is far beyond me in art (as I’m still in the stick-figure-drawing stage), but that doesn’t mean I can’t encourage him to one day become an illustrator or graphic designer. Or wherever his passion may lead him.
Provide opportunities for your children to learn this summer, and you never know where it may lead them in the future.
Photo: “Cake Heaven” – Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
In the summer, as my birthday approaches, I often begin to take special notice of my figure. Or my lack of it. The belly that used to be flat … a long time ago. The backside and thighs that seem to collect far more fat cells than any other part of my body.
If I could choose where I want those extra pounds distributed, I would have the perfect hourglass figure. But I can’t. So I don’t.
During the school year, with classes and teaching, it’s a challenge to focus on my diet. So in the month leading up to my last birthday, I decided to cut out junk food. It’s not that I eat inordinate servings of chips and donuts on a daily basis or anything. I simply hoped to re-calibrate my appetite. Losing a pound or two, or ten, wouldn’t be unappreciated.
Okay, so I wanted to get down to 150 pounds. A nice, even number. My pre-mommy weight, which I dropped down to within six months after each pregnancy, was below 140. My last pregnancy had been nearly eight years ago, and I was hovering dangerously close to 160 pounds (read: 159.8).
I wrote my weight in a blue dry-erase marker on my bathroom mirror, along with the date: July 18. A month to lose ten pounds.
For the first two weeks, I avoided chips and sweet drinks, processed foods and starchy meals. I drank homemade smoothies for breakfast / lunch. (Okay, so I also drank chai every morning, but homemade chai, with ginger … that’s good for you, right?) I tried to embrace that hungry feeling in the evenings, when I usually succumb to cravings of salty or sweet foods.
At the end of July, I took my weight and marked it on the bathroom mirror: 154.6 pounds. Halfway there.
A day or two later, something else appeared on my mirror. Lyrics to a few different songs:
He loves you more than the sun and the stars that he taught how to shine.
He lives in you.
Lyrics covered the mirror, except for a space in the center where a huge smiley-face was. And of course the top right corner where I had marked my weight: my slow progress toward a better figure.
A better me.
One of my greatest prayers for my children, especially my daughter, is that she will see herself as a beautiful creation of God. Flawless. A beautiful young woman made in His image and created for a unique purpose. I know how much the world and our own minds fights against this concept.
But sometimes, instead of encouraging that attitude, I focus on the opposite. Making myself better. Focusing on the externals. Sometimes, instead of teaching my kids, I need them to teach me. And that is what my daughter did with the song lyrics she wrote on my mirror.
I didn’t reach my weight-loss goal by my birthday. In fact, I gained back a couple of the pounds I thought I had said goodbye to. I look in the mirror, and I don’t see flawless. But if I focus on the words my daughter wrote, my perspective changes. Because I’m no longer looking at me. I’m looking at words that convey a different message. I’m looking at a truth I hope my children will always embrace. A truth they will use to bless others throughout their lives:
He loves you.
He lives in you.
He made you flawless.
Sunday evening, one week into my 19-unit semester. Four months of classes and assignments, abstracts and annotations, essays and reflections loomed ahead. I wanted to get in bed on time … so I wanted the kids to get in bed on time. I approached the boys’ room to pray with them for the night.
I stopped in the doorway, temporarily blinded by the state of their room.
Books, papers, and writing instruments covered the desk. Trio block creations scattered the floor and Lego creations stood on top of the dresser and every other horizontal surface. During the weeks leading up to the kids’ school and my classes starting again, I had spent more than a couple of hours organizing, cleaning up, and cleaning out that room with the boys … then telling them in no uncertain terms that their room needed to stay clean because the weeks ahead would be too busy to spend much time deep cleaning.
“Boys, this room is a mess,” I stated. They looked at me as though I was speaking another language. “How much time did we spend cleaning this room?” They were silent. “You’re not watching any videos until the room is clean.”
As I tried to go to sleep that night, I thought back on my motherly feathers being so ruffled by the state of their room. And I thought about that. The Trio buildings. The art work and projects. The Lego towers. I realized it was all creative play. Building. Drawing. Even reading. All good things. Creative expressions.
No wonder I felt like I was speaking a different language. In a way, that’s just what I was doing. I said “mess” because I saw a mess. They drew blanks because they saw their creations and ongoing projects. We looked at the same room and came up with very different conclusions because of our very different perspectives.
And then I thought about later. Five years from now. Or ten. I thought about their room, and how I might wish to see my kids’ latest drawing or project or poem or construction. But my kids will no longer be kids. They will have moved on to bigger and grander things.
Their room might be clean then. But the loss would be mine.
How many times do I, as a parent, look in from the outside, or from above, and fail to see the world from my children’s perspective? Through their eyes? Whether it be their room or their homework, an argument between siblings, or an emotional situation they’ re going through.
The next morning, before I even got up, the boys had cleaned their room. (And I thought my words had gone selectively unheard.) I missed the chance to get on their level and ask them what they were working on. Or join them in their creative play. Again, the loss was mine, even though the room was tidy.
No, it’s not my job to clean up after my children. And yes, they do need to develop a sense of responsibility. But perspective makes such a difference. Perspective on messes. On time. On teaching and learning. As a parent, I am slowly coming to learn that I have more to learn than I ever did. And even that is a matter of perspective. Seeing the learning as a joy, as something to be gained from every person and every situation.
Even from a “messy” room.
My four-year-old son likes Winnie the Pooh. Actually, it’s a bit beyond like. If a day goes by without him watching a Winnie the Pooh episode or reading a Pooh story, he’s more cranky than I am on the days I skip my chai.
But who doesn’t love Pooh? Who couldn’t love pretty much all the characters, in their own way?
The other day, Allen was watching the original Pooh movie… you know, the one we all probably watched when we were kids.
It came to the part about Eeyore’s birthday, where he is not surprised that no one knew it was his birthday. He’s just sitting there, gloomy as ever. Pooh and Piglet decide they should get a gift for him and rush off to their respective houses to find something.
Pooh finds a pot of honey (what else?) and begins the walk to Eeyore’s houseless hill. On the way, he gets a rumbly in his tumbly and decides he better sample the honey, “to make sure it’s okay”. Before he knows it, the honey is gone and he’s left with an empty—and rather sticky—pot. He heads to Owl’s tree house and Owl scribbles a birthday message on the pot, so that Pooh can present Eeyore with “a useful pot” for his birthday.
Meanwhile, Piglet finds the perfect gift, a red balloon that was three times his size. As he heads off to find Eeyore, the inevitable happens: the balloon pops.
Piglet arrives first with his “gift”, stammering his way through the story of what happened as he presents the broken and deflated red balloon. Just then, Pooh shows up with his gift.
“It’s a useful pot, and it’s for keeping things in,” he cheerily states to Eeyore.
“Like a balloon?” Eeyore asks.
“Oh, no. A balloon is too big to…” Pooh stops short when he sees Eeyore put the little red object into the pot and then pull it back out.
“Red, my favorite color…” Eeyore says…happily?
Parenting is like that sometimes. We have great ideas and concepts, hopes and the way we expect things to turn out. They never do turn out that way, though, do they? Sometimes we have to improvise, or come up with a whole new plan.
Then we have our kids, who don’t seem to mind; or if they do, they roll with the punches pretty well. Like Eeyore—well, at least in that scene—our kids are happy with what we have to offer. They are forgiving of the mistakes we make. Actually, they don’t even seem to notice.
Okay, I realize parenting is not quite as uncomplicated as an episode of Winnie the Pooh. Situations are not always resolved within 10-20 minutes. But at times like that, I can always put on Winnie the Pooh for my son, and make myself that cup of chai.
[Reposted from May, 2011]
Motherhood carries with it a constant tension. The very state of being a mother seems to create the tension, a sort of inner conflict. It is a conflict I would venture to say fatherhood does not lay claim to. Fathers surely have concerns and conflicts:
- The felt need – by society or culture or their inner voice – to provide for a family.
- The desire to create a safe place for their family
- The hope to manage everything within the walls of that safe place.
But for a mother, the tension is different. For a mother, or at least for me, the tension is pervasive.
Elrena Evans, in her essay, “My Little Comma,” became a mother while on the path to earning a PhD and a tenure-track position. She comments on the first page of the essay, “I am determined not to let my daughter get in the way of my studies.” Already the tension is there. Her daughter, as a baby, is an almost constant pull. Every time the baby needs feeding or calming or carrying. Every time she needs nursing or changing. Day or night, the baby has no consideration of the woman’s schedule.
What if there are other pulls on the mother’s time? So what, the baby’s needs remain. But other pulls, especially if they are work or school, carry deadlines and grades and necessary paychecks. They cannot be easily cast aside. Therein lies the tension.
Elrena Evans first takes a position of determination: studies over baby. “This child is not going to dictate my life.” But over time, she realizes that her mind (or heart) changes. The baby isn’t exactly dictating, but is slowly weaving herself into the mother’s heart and hours and priorities.
“What happens if I simply choose to be a wife and a mother?” This question, this tension, didn’t exist in some eras past. A wife and a mother is simply what women were. There was no thought of career and education; if so, it usually could only be a glance in passing. Times have changed. Expectations have changed. Opportunities have changed. Economies. Cultures. Marriages. Families. They have all changed to where every mother, it seems, must make a decision.
“Simply” a wife and mother? Or wife and mother and …
And a PhD.
Some women, mothers, don’t even have that choice. For them, the idea of staying home as “simply” a wife and mother would be awesome but they do not have that luxury. They are single mothers, or the primary breadwinners, or some other necessity keeps them in the rigors of a job or schooling while balancing the tension, the constant pulls, of motherhood.
For me, with three kids the ages of 13, 11, and nine, the tension plays out differently than it would if my children were younger. They are no longer a constant draw on my time. I don’t have to stop work or studies regularly for nursing or changing. I don’t have to constantly entertain or find something interactive and educational for a toddler-aged child to keep her out of trouble.
But I am still a mom. My kids still need me.
This weekend, I had to make choices. Do I sit with my kids and watch their Friday night movie, or do I get a couple more things done? Do I check my kids’ homework and let them know if they need to fix some of their math problems, or let the teacher take care of it . . . even if it means more homework piling up next week? Do I venture into my boys’ room and work with them to clean it, or brush off the feeling with the reasoning that, “It’ll just be messy again next week”? Do I take a walk with my kids or let them play outside on their own?
During school semesters, especially on the weekends, I face that constant weighing of options. Often with this weighing, I feel a constant burden of “I’m not doing enough with my kids. I’m not spending enough time with them. All they hear from me is ‘do this’ and ‘clean that.'” My first conclusion is, “If only I didn’t have school. If I didn’t have classes to attend and books to read and papers to write and turn in, I could be a good mom. A real mom. I could bake with my kids every weekend. I could teach them to sew and build Legos with them. We could go camping . . . in our backyard or in Yosemite. Our family would be happier.”
But would it, or would there be some other pull on my time and priorities? Would I find myself wasting away hours on Facebook or my blogs so that I wouldn’t really be spending that extra time with my kids anyway? It’s easy to assume life would be one way if a certain factor disappeared, but reality is often far different. If taking classes and working part-time did not exist for me, I just might fill my hours with the tyranny of the urgent. My house may be cleaner, but would I spend more quality hours with my children?
Maybe it is the busyness and the tightness of time that makes our moments together so special. That makes me strive for meaningful experiences together. When I do take the time in spite of deadlines or celebrate with the children after reaching those deadlines.
A constant tension is not necessarily a bad thing. It can create a constant perspective of watching for opportunities to experience life together. A continual mindset of using every moment possible to be a mom. Not perfect. But a mom.
Dear God, Is it true my father won’t get in heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house? – Anita
Did you really mean Do Unto Others As They Do Unto You, because if you did then I’m going to fix my brother. – Darla
God: the bad people laughed at Noah – you make an ark on dry land you fool. But he was smart he stuck with you. That’s what I would do. – Eddie
Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it. – Nan
Dear Lord, How do I know that you hear my prayers? Could you please give me a sign like leaving me a $10 bill under my pillow? – Gloria