Do we let them know we see and delight in them as they are, for who they are? Or do we hustle past their actual selves in favor of a generic family photo op? God gave us specific children for a reason. One of our primary jobs as parents is to identify and encourage what is good in them – not what we wish they were like, but what is good in them right now. Our job is to find something delightful in them.
The great revelation: Whoever we are, whatever we’ve got, it’s still not enough. Whatever preparation we’ve done, it’s not enough. However attentive we are, it’s not enough. There is great peace in letting that knowledge sink into your heart: We’re not enough, and never can be — no, not even if we’re a shoeless Nigerian toiling through the Mangrove to get to Mass.
But Christ is all.
Image: “Church Pew with Worshipers” by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s the fourth annual Fisher family Christmas gift recommendation list! These are all products our family owns and has enjoyed. You can find my 2014 list here, my 2015 list here, and my 2016 list here.
Many, but not all of these are from Amazon. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
And now for the presents:
Good little machine for the price, and has held up well.
Great starter electric guitar. It’s . . . so loud.
This, my daughter notes, is the same one Curt Cobain had. Ha cha cha!
Good for clearing brush, gathering kindling, or just choppa-choppa-choppa. Hey, they have ten fingers, plenty to spare.
A nice set for sketching, drawing comics, etc. Good, rich colors.
These are on the small side, so they are not for heavy duty jobs, but they are real screw drivers, and solid.
As advertised. Cute! Runs a tiny bit small, so not for kids with tons of hair or giant heads.
So many gorgeous designs. Flora in resin, bracelets, pendants, and more. We have a lovely flat pendant with yellow flowers.
This . . . is a little hard to explain. The stem is a touch-sensitive electronic music-maker, so if you press or slide your finger along it, you can make different tones. Then, with your other hand, you squeeze the flexible sides of the mouth to open or close it, to change the volume, to make the sound staccato or give it vibrato, etc. It. Is. Hilarious. It looks like the little guy is singing. It’s the cheesiest imaginable synthesizer sound.
Warm and snug. And who might you be?
The library editions are compilations of the comic books bound in heavy, oversized hardcover. My son rather heatedly explains: “Hellboy is Catholic. He fights monsters. He helps save babies. He gets help from priests a lot. It’s mythology based. The art is pretty gory, appropriate for age 13 and up.” And that is a direct quote.
We don’t have this particular piece ($45), but we have several necklaces, bracelets, and a rosary from Kyra Matsui’s studio, and they are all fantastic. Beautiful, original, strong, and striking. Chainmail and vintage watch parts.
COUPON! Get 30% off storewide with coupon code: NARKNON Good until Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017.
We have two of these (one for a college kid, one for a reporter). A good option for all-purpose computering, fine for movies and streaming. We used to buy refurbished, but now we get cheaper new machines so we can get the warranty. You have to get used to storing everything on Google Drive or saving it on a disk, rather than on your machine. A solid choice that doesn’t cost a million dollars.
Amazingly sturdy at a great price. Nice and roomy and attractive, and the strap is comfortable. It’s bigger than it looks in the picture, believe it or not.
A good introduction to Terry Pratchett and Discworld. Sergeant Vimes is the best. This one has a lot of dragons in it.
Good and heavy, smooth and easy to use. Comes with decent case, strap, cloth, and lens caps. Birds! The moon! Neighbors!
Lots of strategy and cooperative play, or you all die. My teenagers play it with the younger kids (age 7 and up). Suspenseful and lots of pressure.
Son skates around town after school every day. These took some breaking in, but now he loves them, and says they are comfortable and easy to maneuver.
Help a dead murder victim remember details about his grisly demise, using clues from arty and deliberately confusing “vision cards.” Lavish and complex cooperative game. Comes with an app to play spooky music to add to the atmosphere. (Full review here.)
Aw, wookit the widdle blood coming out of her nose. I don’t really understand Funko Pops.
22. Panda surprise mug
Helloooo! (There are also cats, monkeys, ducks, Santas, etc.)
These come in hundreds and hundreds of amazing, unexpected, sometimes inexplicable patterns. The material is clingy but not thin, and has a bit of a sheen and stretch, like a bathing suit. Gathers fall nicely, and flares way out when you spin. On the short side, as you can see.
Sighhh. She loved it.
For that one kid.
Now we’ll move on to some gifts for kids in middle school. These are not hard and fast lines, as you will see.
Every single person in my household loves these pillows. (NOTE: The link above is just the pillowcase! You have to buy the pillow insert separately.) We have a blue-green-purple/black one and a few silver/gold ones, but there are many color combos. Draw with your finger to flip the sequins over, and reveal another color. Endlessly fascinating and soothing to play with, and they have held up remarkably well. Remarkably!
The much-anticipated sequel to Hatke’s graphic novel Mighty Jack, which follows a boy who has to spend his summer helping his single mom care for his sister, who has autism, and who doesn’t speak — until she does. Good stuff, with an exciting twist at the end for fans of Hatke’s other work.
This is the set that got my son started on stop-motion animation. It comes with a little stage, backgrounds, many props, a little stand for your camera, and an app to animate the photos and share.
One of the many Godzillas my son uses for his stop motion videos. Nicely detailed and sturdy.
It’s possible my son is the only one in the world who wants these, but he sure does like them. I can’t explain it more than that.
Bring your Legos with you! Put your Legos on your head! What a time to be alive!
We got this with great reluctance, thinking it would be flimsy for the price, and that the kids would get tired of it soon. Nope! They use it a lot and have a lot of fun. It’s great for parties, and fun for the little kids to play with their big brothers. Kinda loud, but it’s air hockey. They just stand it up on its end to keep it out of the way.
Please tell me my kids aren’t the last ones in the world who like Pokemon. Good fit. Rather charming.
Works as a standalone for kids who are not yet familiar with Squirrel Girl.
For the kid who can’t stop doodling. Also great for car rides. Write with the stylus on the black screen, press the button to erase. That’s it. Surprisingly durable for the price. We have a couple of these in different colors.
And gifts for younger kids and toddlers:
Toddlers really can control this simple RC croc. It does play manically cheerful music, flash lights, and chomp its mouth while it runs, but darn it, this thing does not break. It’s been in constant use for a year and is still going strong. Lots of fun to watch the little guys use it and baffle the cat with it. Good battery life, too.
Sweet and sturdy. Good for the kid who likes to make sure the baby is always where he belongs. Stands up by itself.
Exciting, frustrating, some teamwork required, but lots of competition. Very entertaining to watch. Kids have to decide if they should push themselves a little further to do more and more challenging, silly tasks.
Great price for this much paint.
Runs a little small. I like the star pants. Makes a kid feel super without sliding into “sexy tot” territory.
So much geeky fun here, some of it Catholic, much of it for adults or older kids. We have several of Elisa’s lovingly handmade products and we adore them.
Our beloved kindergarten teacher introduced us to these lovely colored pencils. I balked at the price at first, but they are quite good. Vivid colors, nice and smooth, and easy to grip, even for lefties, and the tips don’t snap off.
Cute and goofy, and very warm. Holds up great. My daughter wears this nine months out of the year.
Bright plastic tubes you whack to make different booming tones. You can arrange them in different orders on the mat and hit them with sticks, hit them with each other, or use them to hit other things. Music and hitting things! Sounds like a happy childhood. Longest tube is about two feet. These have been stepped on and mangled without any ill effects.
Possibly the greatest poem ever written. I’m always happy to read this one. This is a sturdy board book. Here’s to you, Mrs. Ida Perles!
A fresh and exhilarating style that incorporates the words of the text into the illustrations. Quite powerful.
We looked at many, many shopping carts, and settled on this one because it has a little seat for your little friend to ride along. Irresistible. This gets constant use. The bigger kids have managed to take it apart, and then put it back together again, with no ill effects.
Uhhm, check the price on this one. The price currently listed is insane, but it seems to fluctuate. The game itself is nice for MLP fans and gets lots of play. Pony game pieces are heavy and well made, not flimsy.
Bright and pleasant. Magnets have stayed on, animals have not peeled off, despite occasionally getting wet.
We keep buying these. Found some lovely bright ones this time. The material is strong, but thin enough that you don’t have to take it off to strap your little butterfly into its car seat.
A slightly odd present, but I knew my five-year-old would love it. These are just transparent colored paddles to play with, mix together, and look through. Despite they way they are arranged in the photo, they are not attached together. I strung six of them on a chain and put the rest away so I could replace them as needed. Kids love peering through them and seeing Purpleworld or Everythingisgreenville. It’s just cool! Good for car trips. There are also slightly raised different patterns on each.
I previewed tons of ballet videos, and this one is by far the best. It teaches the girls actual ballet positions, but is simple and easy to follow and has pleasant piano music. The teacher is cheerful and seems to enjoy children. It’s not manic or cutesy and has no unsettling mascots or animated characters (“Tinkerbell” appears to be some generic name; there’s no Disney fairy involved). Kids can use a chair back as a barre.
For the child who, for reasons of her own, is slowly building a collection of strange, oversized cat shirts. This is actually a men’s size, but that’s just not right, so I’m putting it in the kid present section.
Whew, that’s all for this year! Hope you find something good.
Hey, parents, how did Mass go yesterday?
Let me guess: Everyone was exhausted and cranky, the kids were still sticky and vibrating with last night’s sugar, several faces showed traces of whiskers and fake blood, and all in all, you kept thinking how nice it would be to venerate the saints any other day at all but this one.
The only thing that could make it harder? If another parishioner went out of his way to make it harder. Yes, it happens! If it’s never happened to you, you’re lucky.
Yesterday, a mom asked me how to get yourself to go back to Mass after it happens once too often. It wasn’t just a passing glare, sigh, or stink-eye from a crabby fellow Catholic, she explained, but the person actually hissed in her ear that her children do not belong at Mass. That she is doing a bad job as a mother. Incredibly, the complainer sought her out after Mass to double down and say it again: Your children don’t belong here. Do not bring them here.
Let’s be clear: This is a message straight from Hell. The Mass is humanity’s main source of grace and life, and if no one goes, then no one will have grace or life. Telling parents their kids don’t belong at Mass is like trampling down every seedling you find, then clucking your tongue over the poor harvest.
So, yes, children belong. Yes, even if there is a cry room and a nursery and a separate kiddie liturgy available.
You as parents may believe this with at least part of your heart. But what do you do about the people who don’t believe it? What if the prospect of setting yourself up for another public flogging next Sunday just feels crushingly impossible? You know how much you need Christ, but you also know you’re going to spend the entire hour feeling tense, angry, guilty, and defensive; and it’s not as if the kids are begging to be there, either. You know you need what Christ has to offer, and you know grace isn’t a matter of how you feel. But even knowing all of this, sometimes it just seems pointless, utterly pointless, to go. What to do?
Sometime before Sunday, talk to the priest. This may or may not work. Some priests over-value silence, and some underestimate how hard it is to keep kids quiet. Priests are human, and no human responds well to all situations.
But many priests will be horrified to hear that families are being discouraged from coming to Mass. When the pastor insists from the pulpit that true pro-lifers want, need, and love children in the pews, and insists that we act that way, it changes the culture of the parish. So ask your priest if he will say something, or put a note in the bulletin, or distribute some of these encouraging cards. Have more than one conversation, if need be. Yes, the priest is busy, but your complaint is not trivial.
Make a simple strategy ahead of time. Not necessarily a plan for how to manage your kids (although that’s important too; although some mornings, not arriving naked is triumph enough), but a plan for how to respond if someone does harass you. When I’m already frazzled by a rambunctious toddler, I’m not going to be able to improvise a sensible response to an equally unreasonable adult (hereafter referred to as “The Hisser”). It’s invaluable to have an all-purpose tool at the ready.
Suggested stock phrases: “Thanks, we’re doing the best we can!” or “We’re having a rough time. Let’s pray for each other” or “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog.” Well, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea. Smile blandly, stare just over The Hisser’s left ear, and repeat, repeat, repeat. It doesn’t even have to make sense. Just having a ready response and sticking to it helps you regain control.
Third, enlist help. This is a tall order, I know. If you had an army of helpers surrounding you, you wouldn’t be struggling to begin with. But often, we see our pews as little isolation chambers, everyone turning up with their own personal issues; but the Mass is supposed to be a communal experience that extends beyond the sign of peace. So look around and see if you can spot a sympathetic person to act as a buffer between you and The Hisser. People pick on parents because they can. If they discover those parents have bodyguards, they will be less bold.
Find a spot close to another family or a friendly elderly couple. Gather up your courage and whisper, “Hey, listen, could you help me out? I’m trying to teach my kids to behave, but sometimes they get away from me, and it would be so great to feel like not everyone’s mad at me! If anyone gives us a hard time, could I ask you to stick up for me?” It’s weird, I know. But it’s hard to imagine someone turning you down, and many people (especially those who wish they had kids of their own) might be honored.
Prepare spiritually. This one is indispensable. We rightly think of the Mass as a meal where we are nourished (although that nourishment may not be a lovely, cozy experience every time), but it is also where we go to offer ourselves to the Father along with Christ. The Eucharist may be an unbloody sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean we won’t come away feeling bruised.
Sometimes Good Friday feels more present than Easter Sunday — even at Mass. Remember that Christ, too, was mocked. Christ, too, was castigated. Christ was told that He didn’t understand how to worship properly, that He was dishonoring God’s house, that He didn’t belong there. He knew it wasn’t true, but don’t you think it hurt Him anyway?
As you enter the Church, offer what is to come up to the Father. It is real suffering, and a worthy sacrifice to dedicate.
Remember you won’t live in Babyland forever. I cannot say it often enough: This stage passes. You may feel like you’re going to spend the rest of your life getting dressed up once a week to be screamed at in a drafty lobby for an hour, but it will pass. Kids grow up. They turn a corner. Even if you have baby after baby, the older kids can help with the younger kids, and they can set a wonderful example for their siblings, too. Babyland is intense, but it is not a life sentence.
You may have to find another parish. I believe in blooming where you’re planted, and I believe in improving the soil when you can. But some churches simply don’t want kids. So shake the dust from your sandals and let them have their wish — not vindictively, but because you and your kids don’t deserve to feel like pariahs simply for existing.
Once you’ve found a friendlier home, let the old pastor know why you’ve left, in as civil terms as you can manage. If enough people do this, he’ll notice the trend and maybe turn things around before it’s too late.
Just don’t leave the Catholic Church altogether! If you have left for a time, do come back. No welcome is warm enough to substitute for the sacraments.
Today in Operation Just For Nice, my on-again-off-again project that attempts to make at least one little bit of one little day in at least our little house a little bit better instead of worse, we have been putting on dance music in the evenings.
Not dance music like club music, but music that the five-year-old and the two-year-old want to dance to, which I am happy to have them hear. We usually start evening chores at 7 p.m, but the little guys don’t have regular jobs yet, so they dance in the living room while the bigger kids work around them. Or sometimes I just put music on, and that’s pleasant, too.
One of the great disappointments of the last few decades is that I’ve never managed to get more than one or two of my kids listening to classical music. I wanted them to be able to say “Ah, Chopin!” or “Whoa, Mahler” while listening to the radio, and I wanted them to be able to identify whether they were hearing baroque, classical, romantic, or modern music. I wanted them to hum themes from Die schöne Müllerin while washing the dishes. This was how I grew up, and it may not have made me a better person, but I’m sure glad to have all that music in my head.
Anyway, that’s not how it worked out. We don’t get to concerts, and while my kids don’t resist classical music and are even kinda into opera, they never turn it on by themselves. Well, so I turn it on, in the car, and now in the evenings. I haven’t been pushy about naming composers or styles or form (although I recommend the delightful and accessible Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, if you’re looking for that). Instead, I ask the five-year-old what kind of music she wants to dance to, and then I pick something good and readily interesting that fits that description.
(That’s an invaluable parenting secret: Kids are 9,000% more receptive to things when they get to pick.)
If she says she wants ballet music, I feel like they will definitely come across The Nutcracker and probably Swan Lake on their own without help, so here instead is Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”:
Princess-at-a-ball music? You could do worse than “Wiener Blut” by Strauss, or just about anything by Strauss:
She asked for tap dancing music, so I did a search for tap dance music, and she danced along (not bad for her first time!)
but just about anything big band would do. Try Cab Calloway, unless you’re allergic to corn.
She requests fighting music? Here’s Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance:
or you could go with some Hungarian Dances by Brahms. Here’s #5, which has a lot of back-and-forth for two dancers:
Jazzy dancing music, you say? Here’s Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt being delicious with “Minor Swing”:
Maybe someone wants to be a lonely butterfly. Here is a little Chopin for that:
Forgive me, Bach, but I told my children you wrote vampire music:
We’ll get the Well Tempered Clavier later.
The other day she requested Ninja music, and I was at kind of a loss. What can you suggest?
Lori told me:
This isn’t your typical “Porn is bad and you shouldn’t look”-type of course. We address our broken nature and we clearly show God’s plan of life and love. We talk about why they will be attracted to porn, but that it’s just a trap. We hit that concept pretty hard. We want to dissect the lie and showcase the truth.
Lori has a degree in education and several years’ experience teaching, and speaking for Project Freedom, a program promoting chastity geared toward eighth graders and their parents. Eric is the oldest of the eight Doerneman children.
Here is our conversation about The Parenting Dare. My questions are in bold.
Lori, when we met a few years ago a the Catholic Family Conference in Kansas, you were writing a blog called “Prayer and Duct Tape.” Can you explain that title?
Lori: I wanted it to be a Catholic blog but without too pious of a title. We had duct tape all over our house. Also, my bra was held together with duct tape at my wedding! Like prayer, it holds us together.
Eric, you’re pretty open about your own struggles with porn addiction. What happened?
Eric: We were super Catholic, hitting all the spiritual nails on the head, praying the rosary a lot, going to Mass every Sunday. One summer, I served at Mass every day. Mom was killing the spiritual aspect. But she completely missed the physical aspect.
Lori: I thought talking about porn would ruin his innocence, and I wanted to keep him innocent.
Eric: In 5th and 6th grade, I started looking at pictures on internet, masturbating and looking at porn consistently. Mom walked in on me one time, and from, there we always had a bit of a back and forth conversation. I wasn’t always transparent, but through that, we always had a real relationship.
Lori: I want to talk to my kids, intentionally building a relationship so they will trust me.
Eric: I told my friends my mom was helping me through it. Initially, they freaked out, but then they thought it was cool. They could never talk to their parents.
So where did you go from there?
Lori: The most of the year it took to get him out of porn startled me. Once he finally got out, it was through [an understanding of] the science of what was happening in his brain.
Eric: I tried [to stop] throughout high school and college. I knew it was immoral, but I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until college that I said, “I’m actually addicted.” After college, mom kept hounding me. She got me a book [Pornography Addiction: Breaking the Chains] which taught me about the science, and I got a good grasp on what was happening to me.
What made you think not only of helping your kid, but trying to help other kids and other parents?
Lori: I changed my parenting through the course helping Eric. I have five sons, and I know I have a lot to offer to other parents. So I thought, “I want to offer an online course.” Parents need to acknowledge that porn is stealing the hearts of their kids. So we called it “The Parenting Dare.”
Eric surprised the crap out of me by saying, “You’d suck at doing this alone. I want to do this with you.”
Eric: We’re daring you to take your blinders off. It’s a hard course. We’re funny, but it’s not tutti frutti. It’s not Pinterest-y.
Lori: We have made the Gospel too easy. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives.
Tell me a little bit about what your program offers.
Eric: There are five main sections of the course, called “modules,” and each one has videos in it, anywhere from seven to ten minutes long. The first module is background, stuff you need to know about us, and then some concepts covered in the course: the four levels of happiness, the brain and addiction, and your belief system.
Lori: Module Three covers kids age zero to five, to get moms keyed in, and to get them to discuss things openly, like, “That’s your penis!” We get them to establish themselves as an authority.
“The sex talk” is not a talk, it’s a continual conversation. It starts from a young age: how beautiful your body is, how awesome God is that He created this. This makes it easier to have conversations about sex, porn, lust and love.
The best addiction is one that never starts. That means we target parents of young kids. In the last three modules, we discuss the parents as the general contractors of their home. The foundation is the understanding of god, and we describe different parts of the “house.”
The biggest module is the fifth one, for ages eleven to fourteen. As kids mature, we get into bigger concepts. We talk about love versus lust, and about puberty. It helps them be warriors. We talk about understanding the science of porn addiction and help them reject it.
Eric: We give parents the words to say.
Lori: The course is very practical. We address girls sending nudes. I interviewed lots of college girls, and I give them things to say when someone asks for nudes, so they don’t commit social suicide.
People who enroll are entitled to any updates that will come in the future. Technology is always changing, so is this one of the parts you see yourself updating?
Lori: Yes. Module Two is about how to protect electronics in your home and your phones. People will buy, for instance, Covenant Eyes, but they don’t install it. We hold their hands, step by step, click by click.
Why a mother-and-son approach?
Eric: That’s just how it worked out in our family. In a lot of families, the kids spend more time with mom, and mom has a lot more time to mold the kids.
Lori: Women use more words, too. But throughout the course, we say this isn’t just for moms to do. We address parents, and that could be moms or dads.
There are going to be some concepts men will understand in a deeper way because they have testosterone. And some women are so conservative,they can’t even say the word “porn” or “orgasm” or “masturbate.” We hope it will be a family thing, parents going through it together. Husband and wife sitting down together and opening up.
What if the parents themselves have issues? Do you see this helping them as they help their kids?
Lori: One of the beliefs we tear down is, “I can’t help my kids because I have my own issues.” No, that actually makes you more qualified. If you grew up dirt poor, are you never gonna talk about it, or are you gonna teach your kid to grow up to avoid it? Do you want your child to be better off, or not?
I’ve learned how to talk in a different way. How not to shame our kids, to be present for them. It’s almost more of a parenting course: How to authentically connect with your kids so they will open up. We don’t talk about porn all the time. We talk about how to have fun as a family.
Eric: It’s not even about how to talk when you find out they looked at porn; it’s for beforehand. The tone you want to give off is: If you ever look at that, I’m not gonna hate you. If you do that, they’ll never talk to you about it.
Lori: It’s a weird tightrope, because you don’t want them to be worldly, but you want them to talk to you.
What are some other common beliefs you refute?
Lori: That if my child is moral, and believes in Jesus, they will never look at porn.
That girls don’t look at porn.
And the biggest one is: I can’t talk to my child about porn because I want to keep his innocence.
By talking to them, you teach them innocence. They are kind of grossed out when they hear about porn, and that’s kind of good. You catch them before they’re in it. Talking to them gives them this huge protection.
Eric: In the part for the 6-10 year age range, we discuss a study that says if kid sees porn, he’ll go back to see if it’s still there, out of curiosity. So parents can ask them if they saw anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Lori: Priests say the heartache is that there are young kids looking at porn, and their parents don’t even know. We have to shake up the tree a little bit.
You touch briefly on the topic of modest dress for girls, which is such a hot button topic.
Lori: A priest told me, “Don’t go there!” But I saw a woman in the park, and the way she was dressed, she was turning me on! We just raise the question, comment, and say how we handle it. We’re not telling you what to do.
What is your ultimate goal?
Lori: It’s our vision to get rid of porn. It won’t happen in the next hundred years, but I want to be able to raise men and women who are porn resistant.
Eric: The things we’re talking about can be overwhelming. We’re going to help you through every step of the process.
We are there to praise and worship God, to be spiritually nourished, and to unite our lives with the life of Christ as He offers Himself up to the Father. We are not there because we bought our ticket and are entitled to a certain experience.
After eighteen straight years with more than one child in the house, I suddenly find myself alone with a toddler. I was worried it would be hard to keep her occupied while I got my work done, but it turns out toddlers are great at entertaining themselves. All you have to do is supply them with the right equipment — and try to turn off the over-anxious housekeeper in your brain.
Here are some tips to help your little one have fun, and to help you relax while she does!
-Let her play in the sink. Turn the chair backward for stability, and put lots of ladles, cups, sieves, and other tools in her reach. Don’t worry about the mess! Water is easy to clean. Put some towels on the floor if it helps you relax.
-Give her a bunch of brightly-colored cloths, preferably silks, that she can sort, fold, and distribute around the house. Yes, laundry will do! Laundry can be cleaned up, Mama, but babies don’t stay babies forever. Relax.
-Give her giant chalk and let her do her thing. Sure, inside. Chalk comes off just about any kind of furniture or paint, so relax. Or it doesn’t. Relax. Just relax. Just. Oh shit those are markers. But maybe they’re washable. Relax.
-Give her a spray bottle and let her “clean” things. Ignore it when she licks up the spray. Yes, ignore those other things she is licking, too. And those other things she is spraying. Maybe put bells on her so she can’t sneak up and spray you in the back of the neck. Or down the back of your pants. Or your compu— oh, well, keyboards can be replaced, Mama! But babies don’t last! Mama!
-Give her a metal can with a slot cut in the lid, and a bunch of coins. Such a satisfying sound as they tumble in! If you’re nervous about her eating coins, give her a milk jug with a hole cut in the side, and a supply of clothespins. Or give her whatever she wants. Give her your wallet. Give her a goldfish. Give her the gold bouillon you’ve been saving for your retirement. Give her live ammo. Just check her diaper later.
-Give her a knife. No, just a butter knife, and some, some, some play doh or celery or whatever to chop. Fine, let her have the real knife. Fine, let her cut you. You have more blood to give, Mama, I know you do.
-Watch Octonauts. Watch it and watch it and watch it.
I believe in predictability, order, and routine. The alarm goes off at 6:20. Breakfast is always ready on time. We’re well-stocked with clean clothes, toothpaste, and deodorant. I keep the kids’ shoes in labelled bins and their backpacks on labelled hooks. I give them a ten-minute and a five-minute warning when it’s time to leave. We’ve been doing this exact routine for three weeks, but we are still late every single day, and my children are often partly naked. And they all act like it’s my fault! What is wrong with them?
Well, it is your fault, you know. Don’t you know how important it is to have reasonable expectations?
For instance, you are expecting your children to act like rational human beings, even though the testimony of every mother throughout the course of human history, from the cave matron shooing her hairy little cavebabies off to twig-gathering school to the LuLaRoe’d, overcaffeinated yummy mummy weeping quietly into her suddenly deserted cul-de-sac, can tell you children are lower than the animals.
Animals, at least, respond predictably to stimuli and will act in service of their own self-preservation. Children, on the other hand, can zero in on the least helpful, most self-destructive course of action like a hungry pig after a truffle. Children crave order and predictability. Children are order and predictability’s worst enemy. You must know this.
Still, you have to get out that door. Your only recourse is train your kids to sing out adorably, “Daddy gets us ready every morrrrrrning!” According to the latest research, a kid who turns up wearing a stained leotard, Scooby Doo slippers, and grits in her hair is cute as long as Daddy got her ready.
I make a point of serving my kids a balanced breakfast including protein and whole grains every morning. They also bring a full lunch and two snacks, and I keep cheese sticks, almonds, and dried fruit in the car for the ride home. Can you tell me why they are always hungry enough to take actual bites of each other’s arms by the time we pull into the driveway at 3:45?
It just don’t add up
Well, I’ll tell you. On that very special day when a brand new baby first opens his eyes on this big, overwhelming world, a tiny fairy comes to him and whispers a very special secret into his ear:
“You’re not going to eat your lunch,” she tells him.
“Never mind why. Just know that it doesn’t matter what your mother packs. It doesn’t matter if she cooks it herself, and you requested it specifically, and it is monogrammed with a special lunch monogrammer purchased at some expense from Hammacher Schlemmer. None of this matters, for, o my child, you are not going to eat it! Your lunch is just there for the ride. It wants to go to school, and it wants to sit on your desk, and then it wants to go home again, to be thrown away completely intact, even unto the granola bar that was produced on machinery that does not also process tree nuts. It is the way of the world, little one. So shall it ever be.”
Your best bet, mom, is to buy a chicken, a goat, or some other non-discerning animal with a great hunger, so at least someone eats all that food. Then, when it’s nice and plump, you can sell it on Craigslist and buy some booze.
Wow, you sure do complain a lot about school! It just makes me glad that we home school. So many people believe that home school is going to be hard, but in my experience, a full day of school work can be accomplished in mere minutes a day. I have never met a homeschooler who has regretted their choice or who has found their job difficult.*
I may have a public school education, but even I can tell one of two things is going on here. Either (a) You don’t actually home school, but you fully intend to, once you have kids of school age, once you have kids, once you get married to your secret boyfriend, Milo or (b) You do home school, and you do finish in minutes a day, but your kids can’t, like, read. Or add. And the youngest one is nineteen.
I have friends who home school for all sorts of reasons, but not a single damn one who will tell you that it’s always easy. Like every other kind of parenting, including parenting that involves a brick and mortar school, home schooling is sometimes easy and rewarding, sometimes hard and unrewarding, and sometimes easy and unrewarding, and something hard and rewarding. Sometimes it’s some combination of these things within a single hour. So say all my home schooling friends who are not liars.
If you have any choice at all (and not everyone does), you keep on doing it as long as the rewarding part outweighs the hard part. But saying it’s always easy for everyone? That’s just plain . . .
you know what, never mind. I gotta get back to that Craigslist guy about this goat. Baaaaa!
*Actual comment I read on actual Facebook.
Last week, I wrote about my idea to get everyone reading more and better books by doing a reading swap with my kids. It’s a simple plan: They read a book I think they’ll like, and I’ll read a book they think I’ll like.
Here’s what we have so far. (Note: All links are Amazon Associate links, meaning I earn a small percentage of every sale. If you click through and end up buying something else, I still earn! Thank you!)
My 19-year-old daughter has me reading The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett,
and I gave her The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh.
My 18-year-old daughter is still mulling over my assignment, but I’m probably giving her The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth.
My 16-year-old daughter got me started on The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan,
and I’m giving her The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.
My 15-year-old son gave me The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
and I’m giving him A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
My 13-year-old son assigned me Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
and I’m giving him Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
(if you order this book, beware of abridged editions!).
My 11-year-old daughter got me started on The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham,
and I gave her The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (terrible, off-putting cover):
My 10-year-old daughter gave me The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann (here’s hoping the cover is misleading)
My 8-year-old daughter gave me The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
and I’m giving her The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.
My five-year-old is just learning how to read, so she’s not playing, but I did order a copy of The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne for us to read together.
If your family is only familiar with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh, do yourself a tremendous favor and get ahold of the original. The stories are so weird and hilarious, highly entertaining for parents without being condescending for kids.
And we’re off! I’ll probably follow up with a bunch of quick reviews by me and the kids, and then we’ll get a second list going. So far, so good.
Are you interested in doing a book swap with your kids this summer? What books will you give them, and which books are they giving you? Please include their ages and maybe a little bit about why the books are on the list.