Monthly Archives: July 2018

Fill-in-the-Blank Love

Mother HeartFather’s Day was approaching, so I printed out a set of “coupon cards” my kids could give their father. They included promises like:

  • “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.


The Bits and Pieces

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

Five Ways to Keep Your Child Learning This Summer

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.


Closing Thoughts

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.


Sources/Additional Reading:
Photo: “Cake Heaven” – Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

An Outside Glimpse

Little Boy in a BoxMy four-year-old son had been going through a whiny phase. I found it difficult to hear his words clearly, and frequently told him (probably less-than-patiently) that I could not understand a word he was saying unless he spoke more clearly. Without the high-pitch accompaniment of whines. After my reactions, he usually just stopped trying to say whatever he had been saying. So I would feel bad for shutting him down, and he probably felt worse for not being able to express whatever he wanted to say.

My mom was driving, and I sat in the passenger seat. The three kids all sat in the back seat. My son was talking aloud to himself, which he rarely does. He was going on and on in a very impassioned manner so I tuned in to hear what he might be saying.

“No one understands me!” He was exclaiming to himself, building up a whole case in his little sing-song voice. I tried to reassure him that as long as he spoke clearly, he would be understood. I left it at that, although his self-talk continued.

That weekend, my sister came for a visit with her teenage son. I entered the living room that evening and heard my son telling a story to his aunt and cousin. They were sitting captivated as he narrated the entire tale of how we traveled from India (a couple of months before), including details on the airplane ride, the things he saw, ate, experienced.

After he completed his tale, I told him it was time to get ready for bed. He turned to go, but then added a final line to his narrative: “I need to go now and that’s about all the information I have.”

My sister was laughing so hard she could barely breathe. My nephew commented, “He knows words I didn’t learn until sixth grade!”

The next day, my four-year-old told his plane traveling story to someone else, who also looked extremely impressed. He added a few details, cut out some other parts and had to double back when he forgot something, beginning the story once more from that point on. He breathlessly reached the end of the story with, “And that’s the end of my story of how we came from Bangalore to America.”

Another successful tale. Another impressed listener. My son was happy once more. And I stood in wonder at that outside glimpse. Seeing my child through someone else’s eyes. His amazing vocabulary. His gift of storytelling.

Often, without even realizing it, we put our children in a box, labeled neatly with our perceptions and our assumptions. My son: the whiny one. My son: the strong-willed one. My daughter: the complainer. The boss. The sensitive one. The spoiled one.

Sometimes we put ourselves in those boxes too. But when we’re in boxes and they’re in boxes, we can’t easily reach out and connect. Maybe it takes an outside glimpse. Maybe it takes an intentional stepping out from those labeled boxes. Perhaps a recognition of who they are and who we are beyond those labels. To help us see just how special and unique each one of us truly are.