Sunday, November 24, 2013

You Must Laugh All Day

My mother-in-law said something the other day that I've never really given much thought before. As we were sitting in a restaurant on Veteran's Day to honor my husband's time served, the boys were being a bit rambunctious. I was tired from the long day of refereeing their squabbles, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, running errands and entertaining them. Sometimes it's hard to step back and see the larger picture. But my mother-in-law snapped me back into the present moment that day when--laughing at the boys' thousandth display of nerve-testing, eye-rolling, goofy behavior--she said that I must laugh all day long.

For the record, I do not laugh all day long. I sigh a lot. I take a lot of deep breaths. I lose my cool more times than I care to ever admit. I distract and deter and intercept. But I don't always soak in the wonder that is little kids, see life through their eyes, enjoy playing the whole live-long day. I'm too busy. I'm too old. I'm too tired. I'm too..... The list goes on.

But I do try to be in the moment, to see them for the little people they're becoming. In that spirit, I wanted to share some random conversations I jotted down over the last few months. I wish I was better at recording these little nuggets, because I'm always amused at the things that come out of my children's mouths.

Out of the Mouth of Spencer, Edition 3.

The set-up: One morning we were discussing the countdown to Spencer's family birthday dinner at McDonald's.

Spencer: I get my Planes present.

Me: Yeah. You weren't supposed to see that, you know?

Spencer: (thinks about it) My eyes just moved.

Me: Huh?

Spencer: I mean, my head moved and then my eyes turned.

Me: Oh, that's how you saw the present?

Spencer: Yeah!

Me: So it wasn't your fault?

Spencer: No! It was the head's fault!

The set-up: One night we were in the bathroom while Spencer peed before bed, reflecting on the day. Warning: We're very open about our genitals.

Me: That Ashton sure loves to play with his penis.

Spencer: Me, too (and proceeds to fondle himself). Oh, hi, penis. How are you?

Me: You're silly.

Spencer: You like to play with your penis, too?

Me: Do I have a penis?

Spencer: Oh! Do you like to play with your 'gina?

The set-up: Walking through the parking lot to the Salvation Army.

Spencer: Why does the Salvation Army have toys?

Me: I don't know.

Spencer: So we don't bother you?

Me: (laughing) Yep, that's probably why, Spencer.*

*they play with the toys while I shop.

The set-up: Having a picnic lunch on the little kid's table downstairs in the play room.

Me: Am I too big for this table?

Spencer: No.

(Thinks about it.)

Spencer: But daddy is.

Me: Daddy is?

Spencer: Yeah, because he's almost a giant.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear Spencer,

You were once a tiny baby, who cried and cried. I had to do the funniest rocking dance on a repetitive loop to shush your overstimulated brain and allow the calm to overtake you. Even at your fussiest, your baby days seem so much less complicated.

Tonight I learned you have big boy problems in the big scary real world, and oh how I wish I could wrap you up in my arms and do the funny rocking dance to shush the problems away. But this is just the beginning, Buddy. It's a big, mean world out there. I wish you didn't have to know this fact, but it's true.

Tonight I listened to you talk to me in your little boy voice about how your friends at school won't let you play with them. I doled out advice calmly and assertively, trying to reassure you that this thing is really no big deal. But the truth is, Cub, it breaks my heart. I wish we lived in a world where everyone played nice.

Tonight, as you laid under the quilt I made you in your little boy bed, I heard you talk about how the kids at school are labeling things and chastising you for not conforming to those labels. I tried to erase their words from your memory, telling you that toys are neither boy or girl. I've created a world for you here in our family where gender lines are blurred. I'm sorry if that doesn't translate into the real world, Buddy, but oh how I wish it did.

Tonight I heard in your own words how it breaks your heart that a friend that you adore so much just pushes you away. I shared with you my own experiences where friends broke my heart, and I tried to offer up the best advice I could, when really I wanted to weep. I wish all kids were created equal, sweet, sweet boy of mine.

Tonight I saw you as a person aside from me, and I tried my best to separate us; but it's too hard because you're mine and I'll always want to protect you. The other day my heart sank to the floor when I learned a kid had teased you about your stutter. The real kicker is that you laughed and called them your friends. You didn't know, Spencie, that they were being mean--pure evidence that your heart is still pure, and oh how I wish I could keep it that way for always.

Tonight as we sat in your dark bedroom, I realized that you've really just begun your journey, and this is but a little speed bump along the way. Soon enough you'll have issues that can't be resolved with hugs and kisses and proclamations. I don't like this realization much, Bud. I prefer you to be that crying baby, where all I need to do is the funny rocking dance to make the world right again.

But you have me, always. And I love you so.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Alphabet: L

As the weather turns cold and it's harder for us to get outside to burn excess energy, we tend to hibernate a bit. After a few weeks of hibernation, I was going a bit out of my mind. We all were. Moods were crabby and boredom was at its peak. We've exhausted every avenue of indoor activities--legos, coloring, projects, forts, trains, hide 'n seek, races. We even holed up in the garage, still bundled in layers, to play with our beloved outside toys and pretend the four walls around us didn't exist. And although the garage play was successful, we desperately needed out still. So one day we ventured to the rec center for their preschool open gym, something I've known about for years but never took advantage of. After just one morning spent running off that excess energy and playing with someone else's toys, our household felt brand new. Refreshed. Moral of the story: hibernation is for the bears.

Amidst this pre-winter angst, we learned a bit about the letter L. We utilized YouTube again as a valuable resource and we also checked out books from the library. I realized that my oldest son does not carry my same overactive empathy gene. When I was sick with sorrow for the poor zebra being ravaged by the lion, Spencer was amped and wanted more. His daddy is proud that his son carries his same love for hunting.

We made lions for the bedroom doors. I cut little strings of brown fabric for the mane, which was a big hit.

We also learned about llamas since one of our favorite book series is the Llama Llama one by Anna Dewdney. If you've never checked out these books, I'd definitely recommend them. Ashton and I played a color matching game while Spencer was at preschool. The objective was to dress the llamas in matching colored pajamas. Ashton was more concerned with the llamas being cold than actually dressing them in matching jammies. Perhaps he inherited my empathy gene...? Spencer jumped in and played a round of the game after school.

Our final activity was a counting lady bug game. The boys placed the appropriate number of spots on the lady bugs according to the number printed on the bug.

<---Alphabet K --- Alphabet: Review F-K --- Alphabet M--->

Monday, November 11, 2013

Alphabet: Review F-K

Last week we took the opportunity to review the current batch of letters we've learned. Each week we discuss the letter--how to write it, how it sounds, list words that start with the letter, etc--but then the following week we move onto a new letter and then a new one. It's always nice to take a break and revisit the ones we've already learned.

We started our review by making an alphabet collage poster. I sectioned off a big piece of paper with six squares. Each box was designated a letter. First we discussed each letter and I walked Spencer through writing them. F is one long line down, two small lines across. He writes his letters pretty well when he has a lot of guidance like this. If I ask him to trace one I've already written, he usually can do it. But he struggles to write them simply by looking at a letter and copying it.

After we practiced writing the letters, then it came time to make our collage. I printed off pictures pertaining to our weekly lessons and then asked the boys what box the pictures belonged in. J is for Jaguar, K is for Kite. 

Spencer and I played a game of Alphabet Memory, using letters A-K, S (for Spencer), and a few other letters he knows really well (O, X). Ashton started the game with us, but lasted all of 15 seconds before he scooted off my lap and busied himself with some toys. Spencer is really good at Memory. We've been playing a homemade game I made using family pictures years ago; and he has a few other games people have given him as gifts that we play, too. He usually beats me by a landslide since my memory isn't very sharp these days. But he struggles when we play Alphabet Memory. He can't seem to distinguish between the letters for some reason or another. And since I'm awful at Memory anyway, the game lasted an incredibly long time. I did end up winning eventually, but Spencer didn't want a rematch. I'm not sure what his struggle is with learning the alphabet, but we'll keep chugging along, trying to keep it fun until he finally retains the knowledge.

Our last activity was a game of Alphabet Bingo. I threw in some shapes and numbers to keep it interesting for Ashton, too. Well....attempt to keep it interesting, which was an unsuccessful ploy on my part. The paint dabbers proved to be too big a distraction. Even Spencer, who loved the Halloween BINGO, struggled to focus on the game.

<---Alphabet K --- Alphabet L--->

Friday, November 8, 2013

Alphabet: K

A few weeks ago we set out to learn about the letter K. We began by making mama kangaroos for our door alphabets.

Then we learned all about the animals by watching YouTube videos. The mother kangaroos fascinated us the most, and we watched several videos of the babies struggling to get in and out of the pouch. Ashton still talks about how the mommy didn't help the baby get back in her tummy. We also enjoyed watching how the daddies "boxed" each other.

One day I pulled out old Halloween costumes so we could role play about the animals we've learned. Ashton wanted nothing to do with the kangaroo costume, but Spencer stuffed his body in it willingly and then bounced around the house for quite a while. I did finally convince Ashton to put on the giraffe costume, but he wasn't too thrilled with the idea. In the end, they just played however they wanted while suited up as a kangaroo and giraffe. No education purpose came about wearing the costumes.

Our last project was to make a kite. I emphasized it was the kind we hung on the wall, so no one got disappointed when the activity didn't end with the kite flying in the sky. I was a little surprised by how long we sat and painted the paper. Sometimes their attention spans mere minutes, and other times they can spend an infinite amount of time on one thing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween 2013

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. This little song brings me right back to my childhood, walking up and down the streets of my tiny town collecting candy in my orange plastic pumpkin bucket. Now it's Spencer who sings this song on a repetitive loop, practicing for his big Halloween night out. Once the big day comes, he's ready. He sings this song with high energy at the first handful of houses, then cuts out the middle section at the next few houses, until he's simply whispering trick or treat the duration of the cul-de-sac. Ashton leaves the greeting up to his brother, but he screams his thank yous as we leave each house. By the end, we're both carrying a kid and a pumpkin bucket apiece, the boys having met their limit. They each want Daddy to carry them, though, so we end the night with a blurry photo-op of strong Daddy carrying them home.

But Halloween isn't a one-night deal anymore like it was back in my childhood days. Oh no. It's stretched out a good week or so nowadays. The week before Halloween we hit up a party at the library, where we got to trick or treat amongst the shelves of books.

We also participated in our first ever Trunk or Treat in the elementary school parking lot. For those of you who are not familiar with this new way of collecting more candy, it's where you go from one festively decorated vehicle trunk to another to another to another.

The week of Halloween we did some projects at home to celebrate the impending holiday. First we made bat pictures by painting with facial cleansing pads (I was all out of cotton balls, so this was a last minute substitution that actually worked quite nicely since they held together better than cotton balls).

And then we played with homemade pumpkin spice playdoh. I happened to learn a valuable lesson that day. Do not leave your kids unattended while playing with playdoh, and most certainly hide the flour. Otherwise you will undoubtedly return to a very messy situation.

On Halloween day we threw ourselves a party. We made cookies, played some games and then practiced trick or treating in our house. We took turns playing the homeowner and trick or treaters, knocking on bedroom doors and singing the trick or treat song to receive our candy. Out of all the games that day, this improvised activity was probably their favorite.


Pin the Nose on the Pumpkin.

Ring Toss onto Witch Hats.

Halloween BINGO.

Then it was finally time for the main event: trick or treating! But, first, some front step costume pictures, of course. Until next Halloween, enjoy these oh-so-scary pirates. Arrrgh.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Month in Pictures {October}

October has come and gone in a flash; and now it's time to highlight some moments from our month.

I. Family Night at School.

II. New Camper = New Adventures.

III. Time with Family.

IV. Landscape Photography.

V. Mall of America.

   A. Nickelodeon Universe.

   B. Lego Store.

   C. Mirror Maze.

   D. Bubba Gumps

<---September --- November--->