A roller coaster ride that never stops.

Archive for the category “family fun”

Special Time

I am taking the second level of a parenting class that runs once a week for 10 weeks. I first took classes there a couple years ago, and have been itching to get back and remind myself about the philosophy and techniques this “school” uses, based on Adlerian psychology. We parents are given a wealth of tools to use to encourage our children and build positive relationships with them at the same time that we are teaching them responsibility, resilience, and compassion. One concept that has had nearly miraculous results here is “Special Time,” which involves spending 15 to 20 minutes with one child at a time, with no distractions, doing exactly what the child wants you to do together. It gives him or her some power for those few minutes, and since feeling robbed of power is one of the big precipitators of misbehavior, this is an attempt to head that whole dynamic off at the pass. In general, on a less formal level, I try to keep in mind the importance of building as many positive interactions with everyone as possible, to offset and hopefully outweigh the negative ones. I do lots of baking, crafting, and family trips to that end. But the minutes spent in Special Time are truly transformative.

Yesterday, I started with Lily, as she is my “Problem Child of the Month,” which is probably not a great thing to have labeled her in my mind. She had so many things she wanted to squeeze into our minutes together, but we focused on two: a lively game of Red Rover played with stuffed animals (a family favorite) and “craft time.” She came up with the brilliant idea of having me print a picture of an elephant with an upraised trunk so that she could glue a bunch of hearts on as though they were blowing out of his trunk. I cut the hearts while she glued, and then created a quick frame. She finished up while I moved on to my next Special Time child, but within a very few minutes, she had finished this amazing piece:


I can’t get over the genius of the title “Elephant in Love.”

Emma decided to mimic Lily’s activity, which is a common occurrence, but she had her own twist on it. She wanted to make a book about our family. We always have a huge stack of drawing paper at the ready, so we quickly stapled some together and got started. She asked me to write some letters on the cover, and was absolutely blown away by my (pretty standard) ability to do block lettering. In fact, our whole time together was spent in complimenting each other on our amazing skills. And we were utterly sincere. She truly couldn’t believe how cool the designs were that I made within the letters, and I couldn’t believe what she did with that idea on her own letters. She thought my colorful fireworks were awesome, and we both congratulated each other on our general creativity. It was one big Mutual Admiration Society meeting. All we were able to work on was the cover, but it’s a beauty:


Last was Jane, the biggest attention hog of all, and she and I finally got to sit down with the sewing kit she got for Christmas to work on putting together a stuffed elephant. (The day appears to have had an elephant theme.) I have almost daily said, for a month now, “I can’t do that right now” to her about that elephant, and it was a relief to both of us for me to be able to sit down and get out all the parts and get it all organized at last. Now she has everything in one place and just asks for threading help as she powers through in her free moments. Our actual Special Time, though, was my favorite time of all, because the one thing I stink at doing is sitting down anywhere for 15 minutes, and it felt good to sink myself into a creative project and work with my hands. I am a sewer and handcrafter from way back, so this was an especially nice treat for me! My favorite moment was when Jane discovered a thimble and said, “Wow! This is a DELUXE sewing kit!” So easily impressed — which is a good thing.


The power of those three Special Times has reverberated through the next 24 hours. It has been far from a bed of roses, though: the minute right after Lily’s ended, she said, “I hate you,” and I admit to being a little peeved that Old Lily was back so quickly. But we have all reflected many times on how fun the projects were, how nice the conversations were, and how we can’t wait to do it again. It is hard to sustain Special Time, and it is hard to ever achieve that perfect one-on-one state with one of me and four of them running loose, but they don’t let me forget about it, and I’m grateful. It is the most valuable tool in my toolbox.


Third Party Therapy

Maybe I just never stumbled upon this quirk in my other children, but I do suspect it is, in fact, unique to Tim. A couple weeks ago, I discovered that I could have him do whatever I wanted if I had Lightning McQueen on his clock talk to him and tell him what HE does. For example: “I always let my mom and dad brush my teeth after I do it so I’m sure I get all the sugar bugs,” says Lightning. “OK!” says Tim, enthusiastically, opening his mouth wide. The fact that I am in the room clearly doing the voicing myself has no impact on believability for him. When we waited for hours the other day for our car to get worked on, he said at one point, “I wish I could talk to our car.” I promptly took the cue and said, “Hi, Timmy!” after which a half-hour long (and loud) Q&A session took place between Car and Tim. Today again, Tim decided he wanted to talk to all the squirrels within earshot in our yard. I obliged. Unfortunately, this conversation persisted on the later drive to Giant and throughout our time in the store. I tried to appear unembarrassed as I squeaked my answers to Tim’s loud, penetrating questions about the food preferences of squirrels, but it was a challenge to even my theatrical sensibilities. Right now I don’t know where this is going, but it would be a fascinating case study for a child psychologist, I am sure.

Trucks Trucks Trucks

Tim had an issue on our long drive today and I had to pull over to address it. In Westminster, there are ever so many truck and tractor and equipment dealerships, and it so happened that the place I pulled in was a truck dealership. Once I got Tim settled again, I asked if he was ready to go home.

Tim: No. I want to live here.

Me: Unfortunately, people can’t live here.

Tim: Then I want to take one home.

Me: Unfortunately, trucks are very expensive.

Tim: Then I want to go get some money from the money store.

I have been wondering lately what little boys did back in the day, before there were trucks to love so passionately. Did they think about other kinds of vehicles that were around in their day? Did they always roll things? What has occupied the minds of little boys throughout the ages? Just can’t help wondering. It seems like the things little girls love have always been around.

Yoga and Roller Skating

Finally met my summer resolution today to start yoga. I guess the resolution should really be “consistently do yoga.” This is all toward the goal of getting my knee as strong as possible before taking up rigorous exercise again in the fall. It cannot be overstated how much better I feel when I am part of my beloved gym community.

I am trying to help both twins learn to roller skate, and that is pretty much impossible, I have to say. Two arms and one aching back aren’t cutting it. Anyway, I am reminding them about mountain pose in yoga, which is centered in the balls of the feet, and I think this is the place where balance happens. So I am glad that they have some yoga vocabulary, at least, but this has inspired me to add “do yoga with kids” to my summer bucket list!


I have encountered advice almost daily about pausing before reacting in exasperating moments with children. There was a point in my life as a parent when my automatic reaction was no longer to be charmed or filled with wonder at the things a child said, but overwhelmed by the sheer volume and quantity of the things coming out of four different little mouths. I could feel myself making the choice to be annoyed, all the time. I slowly shifted toward viewing everyone as getting in the way of my goals, which usually involved getting through four loads of laundry or a bunch of dishes in the sink, or a whole host of other, legitimate tasks. While I could still appreciate them as cute, clever, amusing, and all of that, I wasn’t enjoying them anymore. Luckily, my slow-to-learn mind eventually caught on that this was a losing proposition, as (a) they were never going to stop doing what they do such that I would no longer be bombarded with “input,” (b) I was never going to stop having a long to-do list, and (c) my consistently negative reactions were making everyone miserable.

Luckily, this has been a relatively short-lived part of our lives together, but I do so regret now how I got lost in that wrong mindset. Since I had my little epiphany, I have made a very simple and deliberate decision in (at least 80 percent of) all instances to react with kindness, to listen, to “be with,” and to laugh with my sweet babies. They have noticed the difference. Today we made cookies together, and baking with all four is very easily seen as a project to avoid at all costs, but with the new mindset, it’s just a thing we’re doing together. The goals and expectations are left behind and only the simple pleasure of being together remains. I used to know that, and I’m so happy to have found my way back again.

Real and Imagined

Emma has lately come to the horrible and, for her, devastating realization that Narnia is not real. Twin Lily soon joined her in bombarding me with questions: “Are the princesses at Disneyworld real or just people in costumes?” “Are all the Santas we see the real one or just people dressed up as Santa?” “Is Aslan real?” The problem is that I don’t even really know the answer. Narnia is perfectly real in one sense; the characters are real too. As a literature junkie, I’m not sure I even make the distinction anymore. But this was about them and their surprise that a place they love so dearly and which seems so real to them is not somewhere they can ever physically go. In just a few minutes, they seemed to see the whole disappointing truth about storytelling and imagination.

In what seems like unrelated news, they are both obsessed with death, and keep asking if various people are still alive. These questions often take me to the limit of my comfort zone, especially when they start asking about their own deaths. As it happens, I am living in my own imaginary world where none of my children will die, and I don’t want to leave that world anymore than they want to leave Narnia.

I have been trying to interest them in the life of C.S. Lewis and his mental world, so that they can see where Narnia really is, in a sense. They are not interested. He is an ordinary man to them (since they can’t yet appreciate his brilliance), and an ordinary child. He does not himself enter a magical world where he becomes royalty, and so their fascination with him ends. I am hoping that once they are finished accepting that all of these wonderful places and people are real only in a sense, they will re-encounter them just as innocently as I do now. C.S. Lewis covered this point perfectly in his dedication to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:

My Dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather.

Willful Ignorance

In our continuing “We forget everything we learned about animals” series, Lily just asked me, “Mom, how do you make milk?”

“You don’t make milk, dear. It comes from a cow.”

“Ohhhh. Mom, when cows go #1, do they go milk?”

These are the children who squeezed cow teets about two months ago.

The Mighty Hula Hoop

There are few toys as versatile as the hula hoop, yet you don’t hear much about it these days. Since my kids started playing with the ones I just bought on a whim, I have seen them come up with at least 10 things to do with them. Even Tim, who has no ability to do the standard hula dance, has had hours of fun with his bright pink one. It’s always a thrill when the simple toys prove to be the most valuable, isn’t it?

What *Is* Chicken?

I’m making a whole roast chicken tonight, and the twins just watched me rinse it out and get it ready. Apparently, they forget times they have seen me do this before, so first we had to go through “Ewwwwww! What IS that?????” several times. That’s standard. I showed them what the chicken would look like standing up, and told them to imagine him with a head and feathers. We got that established, and then Lily said, “So, is that a pig??”

I paused, and asked, “Are you asking me if a chicken is a pig?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Um, no. A chicken is not a pig.”

I worked along some more, and Lily asked again, “What IS that?” I didn’t answer, as I have an internal rule that I will answer the same question a maximum of three times. So she moved on to, “Is that a WILD chicken? Is it ALIVE?”

And so on. I am just fascinated by the five-year-old mind and its strange workings.


This is my blog, right? So I can go ahead and talk about how my oldest, Jane, took the placement test for the Hopkins program for gifted youth and did indeed qualify. There are lots of opportunities open to her, even here at the second grade level: online classes, family-oriented classes, and some intensive summer classes. The problem is that Jane is not interested in undertaking any of this. I am hoping it’s OK to just go with that for now. My concern has always been that Jane’s talent will wither on the vine if it’s not cultivated, but maybe it’s still early days, and she still needs her hours of free time to run, roller skate, imagine, draw, write, and read at will. Jane’s always been the child for whom I discreetly leave out the tantalizing book for her to “discover,” rather than the one I offer things to. It’s in her nature to want to find things out for herself, and I guess these classes don’t sound like they’re going to give her that chance. Since I am the one who advocates for free-range, open play and no homework till middle school, I guess this will test the limits of my commitment to that principle when it comes to the brain of my own child. I will have to trust in the process that sounds right to me. Maybe Jane is the best judge of what she needs right now, too. So I guess we’ll file this news in the “good-to-know” drawer.

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