Friday, June 27, 2014

Choosing kindness

For Christmas I received a wonderful gift:  the book Wonder by RJ Palacios.  Today I'm going to write about it as well as the follow-up chapter, Julian.  If you haven't read Wonder, here's the spoiler alert:  I will be writing about the whole story.  It's a marvelous read.  I would suggest you go read it and then check back in.  When I write about "Julian" I'll give a spoiler alert for the same reason.

Here we go.  I read Wonder very slowly.  I read little chunks while I sat in my car in the dismissal line at the elementary school.  My youngest son, age 4, sat in the car with me and would ask me about the book I was reading.  It intruiged him because I would cry as I read. 

The protagonist, Auggie, has a facial malformity.  I've never known anyone with the kind of issues Auggie faced, but I have a very sympathetic heart.  It was hard to read about the kinds of challenges Auggie faced as he started school for the first time as a 5th grader.  Kids are mean.  Heck, this world is mean.  Watching the meanness unfold was hard.

As the book goes on, we see different characters.  Some help Auggie and others make his road tougher.  I've always been one to fight for the underdog.  I wanted to jump into the pages of the book and be Auggie's champion.  I loved watching how his parents loved and guided him.  I aspire to be the kind of mom who has the courage to let her children go out into the world and make their way while being a safe place for them to come back home to.

There are books that are nice to read and there are books that make your human experience richer.  Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables, Redeeming Love and a quirky book called Flies in the Butter make my short list of those books.

Choosing kindness.  The central theme to take away from Wonder is to always choose kindness.  What a beautiful concept.

Julian is the bully of the story.  He made me mad.  I have very little tolerance for bullies.  While I lived in Spain I was working on my Master's degree.  I did a kind of informal student teaching in a small village about an hour outside of Madrid.  While there I saw a form of racism I hadn't previously known about.  At that time, immigration from central and South American countries to Spain was a big problem.  The Spaniards didn't like these newcomers.  A teacher I worked with made no secret of her feelings. 

It was a 2nd grade class and this teacher would tell the children not to hold hands with the child from South America, we'll call her Maria.  I don't even remember the game now, but it had to do with holding hands and walking around in a circle.  I couldn't tolerate this meanness.  I took one of Maria's hands in mine and put myself into the circle with the kids.  The teacher was surprised but Maria was overjoyed.  That moment helped shape my empathy for children on the outside.  As a teacher, I worked hard to not let my biases hold children at bay.  I know I'm not perfect, but I did my best to love all children.


After reading Wonder I read the author's pages.  She answered questions.  One was one I had thought of:  why didn't Julian get a turn telling the story?  Her answer was that bullies don't get a voice.  I liked that.  I was surprised when my husband told me he saw an ad for an ebook for Julian's chapter.  When he told me I said he was mistaken--RJ Palacios said she wouldn't give Julian a chapter.  He showed me he was right.  I was mad, but my interest was piqued enough to read it.  I'm so glad I did.

I believe in the core of my being that all people are able to change.  My favorite part of teaching was being on the ground floor as the little people in my care grew into their potential through learning to read, think critically and make choices that made them positive members of our classroom family.

I had thrown in the towel on Julian.  He was a bully.  The kind of kid I pray my boys will never have to deal with.  I had some Julians around while I was growing up.  I remember being put in a trash can when I was a 9th grader by a football player.  Not my favorite memory, but I count myself lucky that I was never a target of mean girls.

Zacchaeus comes to my mind.  He wasn't a cool kid.  He was very unpopular, but Jesus made time for him.  Jesus came for the sick, not the well.  Julian is easy to dislike, but Jesus would make time for him, too.

As I read "Julian," I was afraid we were just going to see that Julian was a victim of a mean mom or something akin to that.  I was thrilled to see how Palacios brought a beautiful sense of closure through Julian's grandmere.  Her experience of experiencing such kindness through a child she had been unkind to really touched me.  Her understanding that true beauty comes from within was such a powerful message.  Seeing Julian feel repentence about his ugliness towards Auggie was very satisfying.  It restored my hope in humanity.

My boys want me to read them Wonder and I've told them that they're a little too young to really get it now.  In May, the school had a bullying program that the children watched.  Child #1 came home and tried out all the bullying techniques he saw on child #3.  Lovely.  Thanks for the how-to, school.  We've talked through it and he gets that bullying is wrong, but I don't want to give him more to try out.  I look forward to reading this book to them and discussing the themes of the book.  Even at their tender ages, they know what bullying is and they know it's bad news.  It's my prayer that they can be strong when a bully comes along and help others be strong as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Snack bar lessons

Last week the boys and I joined my parents for a trip to the beach.  Wonderful.  Maybe I'll write about it another day, but today I'm focusing on an interesting moment from this week.

We live in a sporty area.  My husband and I don't dislike sports, but neither of us played in high school so it's just not part of us.  Aaron chose band and other things instead of sports while I tried out for sports and just wasn't good enough to make it.  I'm good with that--I'm short and not very fast.  I also fouled a lot when I played basketball.  Being not very athletic while still competitive just makes for a bad combination.  So, I found my niche at church as well as being on the competitive acting team, in the musicals and choir.  Life was rich and full while just cheering the sports teams on from the side lines.

Enter motherhood.  So far, I don't think we have an all-star quarterback on our hands.  One of them really isn't very interested in sports.  The other I could see liking individual sports like cross country, golf or tennis.  Doesn't have the build for football.  The other little guy, we'll just see.

So this week they're all giving sports camps a try.  The one most interested in sports is doing basketball camp.  It's 3 hours long and a good taste of what the sport is--drills, fundamentals and games.  He's having fun.  The other 2 boys are doing tennis camp which is much shorter in duration and it's their first experience with the sport.  They watch me play against the garage door and sometimes try to join me, but this camp is specifically designed to introduce them to the game.  Super fun.

At basketball camp, parents can send money with kids for the concession stand.  Aaron and I discussed it--$8 for 4 days sounded very generous when I would have chosen to send a water bottle and keep that $8 for drinks at Sonic one afternoon instead.  We told #2 to buy only 1 drink and 1 snack a day.  Today was the end of Day 2 and from the basketball court during a game, he yells to me in the stands, "Mom!  I need more money!"  Hmmm.

He spent $8 in 2 days.  I'm just glad they didn't let him buy on credit.  There were 2 snack breaks a day in which he felt he had to buy a snack (candy bar) and drink (Sprite or Gatorade) at each, even though he hadn't drunk the drink from before.

Tennis camp offered no such opportunities for spending money and somehow the fact that I provided snacks was completely forgotten when #1&3 saw #2's haul.  Tears.  Yelling.  Yes, even fists in the minivan.  I pulled #3 off #2 and got him settled enough so that I could get him seatbelted in.  We went home.  I cooled off.  At lunch I told them that we would be heading to Target where I would get Gatorade for the rest of the days of camp and #1&3 could choose a candy bar.  Not #2--he had already had his.  I would also buy a snack for all 3 of them to have during their camps since #2 had run out of money.  This made them all happy.

Geez.  I didn't realize I would be teaching an economics lesson about scarcity when I woke up this morning.  After lunch, I had a quick chat with #2 about money.  I told him that he had spent his $8 and he wouldn't have more for the 2 remaining days of camp.  He would take his snack and Gatorade but would not be purchasing more.  I braced myself for tears that didn't come.  He felt badly that he hadn't obeyed what I had told him.  I assured him that I still love him and this is a good opportunity to learn about discipline. 

Discipline is hard.  For me, too. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer bucket list

I'm funny.  I'm a planner in a world that makes planners feel guilty.  My husband is a let-life-happen kind of guy.  It works for him.  The truth is that if I just let my boys "be," they will happily tear stuff up, fight with each other and think this is normal.  I'm their mom--it's my job to civilize them and not allow them to enter polite society thinking this is OK.

I would happily plan every moment of every day to bore the evil out of them, but I know that a balance is important.  If I structure every moment for them, they won't learn to entertain themselves--constructively.  They would also rebel and it could get ugly.  Quickly.

Henceforth, the summer bucket list.  I follow Kathi Lipp's blog and I got a 100 things for my summer bucket list from her.  I went through and highlighted items that will work for my family this summer.  After that, I got out my sunshine notes that I bought for this purpose back in April.  While the boys had a snack, they listed many ideas for our family bucket list.  Only 2 didn't make the notes:  go to Disney Land (not in the budget this summer but I told #1 I would discuss it with Dad and maybe another summer) and run around naked.  I told #2 that just wasn't a great one for the list.  Sorry.

After they told me all their ideas, I wrote dollar signs showing if it cost a little, lot or a whole lot.  I then drew a car if we had to go somewhere or a house if we could do it at home.  I then hung them up on our hutch.  The ones on the sides happen at grandparents' houses, the bottom row is stuff for home and the second row is stuff around town.

In my mind, when we do something I'll put a little sticker on it.  I resisted the temptation to put up more ideas from Kathi's list or other sites I've found.  I decided to store those just for me so that when I plan the week or have one of those Yikes!  How much time do I have to fill before my husband gets home? moments I can puruse the list and find just the thing.

I'm still going to have a rough schedule through the summer--play outside while it's nice, have a time when I read from a chapter book (hooray, Hank the Cowdog!) while the boys do some kind of table time activity and room time/DEAR time will be strictly enforced.  I'll also have to feed them breakfast and lunch and I'll happily let them watch a show while I prepare dinner.  Geez, with all this food business it's a wonder any of us every leave the kitchen. 

Before school days, I had a routine that was similar to this and it worked well.  After room time, I let them play together for a while with their chosen room time activities.  When I decide that time is up, they have to pick up their rooms and then they get to watch a video.  During that time, I fold laundry or iron while I watch one of my shows.  Alone.  It's nice.

Teacher gifts

I love saying thanks.  It's just good.  When I used to teach, my favorite gifts included:  a red rose (fake flower) that still is in my pencil tray at home, some Santa salt and pepper shakers (only brought out at Christmas) and on a field trip one day, a sandwich.  E's mom sent him a sandwich and made me one as well.  I thought it was the sweetest gesture ever.  Still do.

The end of school is here and I decided to make the teachers a spice rub for meat.  I use spice rubs a lot and thought regardless of dietary choices, none of these ladies are vegetarians as far as I know, so this should work well.  I asked which teachers should get one and I was told their class teachers, their helper teachers, the PE and music teacher.  Sounds good to me.  This morning the boys helped me pass them out.  Neat moment. 

I actually got choked up when we gave the jar to the PE teacher because she was genuinely surprised and touched that we thought of her.  I kept my tears at bay (go me!) and had one of those neat moments when we got home.  I called my mom and thanked her for teaching me to say thanks.  I'm passing it on to my sons and it really is a neat thing.

I even got to use my label maker for this project!  Happy days!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Clothes shopping

I used to love clothes shopping.  I had a fave store, Petite Sophisticate, and shopping there was truly enjoyable.  I guess I didn't shop there enough because they're now out of business.  Boo.

I'm not going to go down the body image road today, but suffice it to say that I'm a petite frame.  I'm one of those odd women that after kids I'm smaller than before.  Not by much, but enough to make me miss Laura 1.0 pre-kids.  Oh well.  I'm at peace with it, even though the muffin top over the jeans really is annoying.

I would like a new pair of shorts.  Not world peace, not my non-muffin top tummy back (even though that would be really great), just shorts that fit.  I've come to accept the fact that Wal-Mart really isn't the answer to my clothing woes.  It's easy to throw something in the cart as I walk by, but that's almost always a mistake.  Today I was so close to throwing a pair of shorts in the cart.  I really wanted to, but I fought the urge and decided to learn from past experience and left them on the rack.

I called my sweet husband and asked if I could go to Kohl's alone this weekend and get a pair of shorts.  He gladly agreed to watch boys so I can shop.  So wonderful.

I've come to accept that I have a champagne size and a pork rind budget just doesn't quite work.  (I read that phrase in Kissing Adrien by Siri L. Mitchell.  Fantastic book).  I'm proud that the first step is saying no to me at Wal-Mart.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Last MDO for a while

It's ironic.  When I started having mom's day out for the twins, I had a hard time with it.  I felt guilty for having time for myself.  Then I got pregnant with #3 and needed to time to rest and go to dr appointments alone.  Then I had #3 and when the day came for him to join the twins at mom's day out I was just happy to breathe alone for that time.

And now, it's #3's last day for MDO.  Allow me to brag what I'm doing on this monumental day:  lots of things I love.  Am I cleaning out the garage.  Nope.  Am I mending clothes?  No.  Am I canning fruit?  No.  Am I writing the great American novel.  No way.  Maybe tomorrow on that one.

Instead, I tried out a new coffee and used books shop.  Loved every minute in there and scored some great reads for summertime.  I can home and enjoyed my quiet home.  Talked to mom at length and didn't get interrupted.  Wrote on the family blog.  Even wrote on my Spanish blog which I rarely do.  To write on it, I have to be inspired by something non-momish.  Those moments are tough to come by but today I composed something lovely about how I want to resist change and bury my head in the sand but that God is showing me He didn't create me to be an ostrich.  I played favorite songs on the piano and sang.  Loudly.  In a bit I'll meet up with a friend at a lovely girlie lunch spot.  I'll do a bit of shopping at the Dollar Tree (I seriously do love that place) until it's time to pick up small fry.

Will this day change the course of human history?  Probably not but will it recharge my batteries?  Absolutely.  And that, my friends, is a good way to spend my time.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Angry Mother's Day

This post is going to be a bit saucy.  If you absolutely love tomorrow's holiday, I'm so glad for you.  You and Hallmark can go enjoy tomorrow while the rest of us growl about the injustice of it all.

Back when I only had one family--that of my parents--Mother's Day was simple:  make the day all about my mom.  Make her breakfast in bed, give her a card, make her day easy.  I actually saw an episode of Sid the Science Kid that even though they never said the words "Mother's Day" the special mom day was exactly this.

And then I began having my own Mother's Days.  Apparently, Aaron didn't watch that episode of Sid the Science Kid and if he did, he forgot to take notes.

I've come to the conclusion that there are holiday people in the world and then there are what?  I'm supposed to do something on a holiday?  people.  I'm the former and married the latter.

I remember back in pre-marriage counseling talking about expectations.  At that point, we had such rose-colored glasses that we couldn't even fathom that there would be conflict in our marriage.  Ah, the sweetness of youth. 

I spent my first few Mother's Days angry.  I really thought Aaron would drop everything to treat me like a queen.  When he didn't, I would get upset.  This would confuse him and I would get more upset.  Clearly not a great path.  He could have gotten me a card for Angry Mom's Day those years.

On the path of getting better, a few years ago I thought outside the box and asked for Aaron to watch the 3 boys ages 3,3 and 1 at the time while I drove to meet my parents for lunch.  The city was about 45 minutes from our house and even though my mom was disappointed with not seeing her grandsons, it's frustrating for her that she and I rarely get to spend time together doing girl things.  This sounded like a perfect solution.  Except that the restaurant we chose was ridiculously crowded and I really don't care to wait for over an hour for a meal.  Oh well.

Last year Aaron and I got into a tiff over breakfast in bed.  In my mind, all moms get breakfast in bed on Mother's Day.  Nope.  That was just too unrealistic for me to expect.  The irony is that the boys really wanted to do it, so he caved and helped them do it.  I have a snapshot of the breakfast and me in bed receiving it.

Later, after church, we struck Mother's Day gold:  Dairy Queen.  While everyone else in the world was waiting to eat Sunday lunch at Olive Garden, we drove on in to Dairy Queen.  We enjoyed a lovely meal and they had the best dessert ever:  a blizzard with pretzel pieces.  Seriously.  So good. I decided this will be our Mother's Day lunch tradition.  No dishes to wash, no cooking, no line to wait in for a table, no behavior to worry about while we wait for the food and awesome blizzards.  This really is a fantastic idea.  I show make an ad for them and put it at the end of Sid the Science Kid.

This year, I've evolved even further:  I got myself my own gift a month ago.  There was a sale at Shutterfly so I asked mom what she wanted.  A photo book.  I made a lovely book that ironically enough had a collection of pictures from Mother's Days since I've been a mom.  It was really neat to look back on the boys at those times.  As I was making her book which she is going to LOVE, I saw that they have these little collage art pieces that are the perfect size to fit on top of my piano.  I made one of our camping trip.  I really, really love it.  When I look at it I'm reminded of a sweet moment in my mothering journey.  One of the pictures have all 3 of the boys on swings, one with his legs up in the air.  Such a perfect picture of where we are right now.

One of the trickiest parts of marriage is choosing how I'm going to feel about things instead of allowing Aaron's reactions dictate mine.  In an hour we're headed up the road a bit to meet my parents for Mother's Day.  This was my idea.  We'll meet up at 11 the day before Mother's Day and hopefully we can enjoy a meal and not have to wait in a huge line.  After, we're going to go to the city's wonderful park and the boys can play while we chat.

Aaron has work to do on the farm.  I made it clear he can stay here but he feels duty-bound to go with us.  He will be back home to have plenty of time to do more work this afternoon.  This is me, being a grown-up and saying that I'm going to enjoy this day with my family.  I am declaring it won't be Angry Mother's Day, reflecting his mood that he would prefer to be working on the farm.  I get a day, gosh darn it!  There's that anger again.  Maybe next year I'll be a bit further down this journey...