Monday, January 30, 2012

What a 1 year old Knows . . .

When a child of the tender age of 1 toddles around, they seem so beautiful and innocent.  And they are.  But they are not as ignorant as we may often believe.  While they may not understand specific words or commands, a child of one year is definitely knowledgeable of certain things that make you tense or frustrated.  For example, while you make numerous attempts to block off the stairs, they continually attempt to circumvent your feeble measures.  Whether it is climbing through the crack in your defenses or physically pulling the barricade down, a determined baby is a strong force with which to reckon.  (This was my experience today.)

I have discovered that a one-year-old baby also demands what they want, and when they are successfully circumvented, they can pitch quite a fit.  Telling a determined baby that they cannot climb the stairs can invoke a spectacular burst of tears.  This is, however, the way they learn.  Whether it is digging in the "no no" cupboards or rifling through the open trash can, toddling babies love to watch you scold them time and again.  They fuss when you remove them, but they race back to the forbidden object with great glee.  Oftentimes they glance over their shoulder at you, giving you a look very knowledgeable of your opinion of their actions.

Through perseverance and a few tricks of the trade, you can teach your growing child the valuable lessons of "No" and "Stop" which they will use throughout their lives.  If your stairs are not gateable with a standard baby gate, try placing a different barrier in front.  Or if your stairs (like mine) have spindles instead of walls, slide the gate through the spindles on the lowest step.  For off-limits cupboards, there are numerous gadgets to be found at stores.  Or you can just slip a tight rubber band around the handles.  You can also try and keep the lower cupboards full of unbreakable dishes or dish rags.  As for the trash can, find a cover.  Or keep it out of reach.  Good luck!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why I Keep Hoping

I admit that there are moments, numerous ones, where I'd like to throw in the towel and swear off children forever.  Those times when my patience is fraying wildly and my frustration with little kids is peaking.  Some people may say that these moments are because I'm dealing with other people's kids, not my own.  Others will simply state that these feelings are part of motherhood, and that I should get used to it if I plan to have my own family.  Thankfully, I witness the little instances of true familial love, and my vision clears once more.  The smile on a child's face as they run towards their mother.  The happy laughter of siblings playing together.  The trust in a baby's face as they look up towards their father.  I could go on, but I won't.  Needless to say, it is these glimpses of familial bliss that remind me why I feel called to the married life and motherhood.  So I wait, learn and pray.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Child's Idea of "Fair"

"Why does Tommy get a cookie?  I want a cookie!"  This is a common approach of demand for children. One or other of their siblings or friends got something.  Rather than simply asking for the same thing, kids tend to justify their demands by pulling the "fairness" card, i.e. if Tommy gets a cookie, then I should get one too.  This phrase of request can lead to numerous problems: a) endless nagging from the "deprived" child until you can't take it anymore; b) instant gratification instead of patience; c) a lack in polite behavior; d) a frustrated parent struggling to explain why Tommy got a cookie and Anita didn't; e) a series of coaxing efforts to stop Anita's ensuing tantrum when told she cannot have a cookie just because Tommy has one.

Before examining each of these detrimental effects, let's look at the potential reasoning behind the child's phraseology in the first place.  As children, kids tend to have a purer sense of black and white justice or fairness.  If Tommy gets a cookie, so should Anita.  When this doesn't happen, Anita feels cheated of what she believes is rightfully hers.  Of course, there may be intertwined with the justice a simple want for whatever is at stake, such as the cookie.  Most kids seem to think that combining their request/demand with a "Tommy has one" phrase will get them what they want.  Such should not be the case.

A.  Endless Nagging.  When a child hears "No," they tend to question "Why?" oftentimes repeatedly especially if they are rather young.  (Of course, if you've taught your children that "no means no," you shouldn't have this particular problem.)  Children who question your reasoning tend to do so with whining, complaining and constantly dragging in the "but Tommy has one" in that annoying voice all kids seem to have.  Do not give in to their relentless stream of questioning as this will simply lead to more and more frequent questioning.  If they doubt your authority in the matter, proceed to the established method of discipline in your family.  Just because they ask more than once does not mean the answer will change.

B.  Instant vs. Patience.  If you simply bow to your child's demands instead of making them wait, they may develop a character of instant gratification.  By teaching your children to wait patiently rather than receiving upon demand, you help train their character.  This also leads into Point C: Polite Behavior.

C.  Polite Behavior.  By showing your children how to simply ask for what they want rather than trying to justify it, you teach them a very important lesson.  Ask and you shall receive.  They don't need to bring into the picture that Tommy has a cookie.  They simply need to ask for a cookie.  If they do so without complaining or demanding, they will generally receive what they ask for.

D.  Frustrated.  No parent likes putting up with a whining child.  Trying to come up with an explanation for why Tommy has a cookie and Anita does not can be exasperating.  The best answer is 3-fold:  a) The fact that Tommy has a cookie has nothing to do with whether Anita can have a cookie; b) complaints will not result in receiving the desired object; c) when a parent says no, the answer is no.

E.  Coaxing.  Some parents will resort to bribing the complaining child with promises of other treats.  This is not the correct approach.  Rather, life isn't fair.  At least not in the moment.  Children can have things special from their siblings.  Just because Tommy got a cookie does not mean Anita will get one.  

Ultimately, try to teach your kids two things.  First, that whether or not someone else has the cookie, it will not help them get a cookie themselves.  They just need to ask.  Second, (and this is in many ways more important), teach your kids to be happy for someone else's good fortune.  If Tommy has a cookie, rather than Anita demanding a cookie herself, she could be happy that Tommy has a treat.  Good luck instructing your kids with these characteristics.  It takes time and effort, but the final effect is worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Thrill of the New Experience

The children have occupied their happier moments this week playing in the rental van.  This vehicle is quite a feat of modern technology (although I suppose it's rather "lame" as far as technological advances go.)  The side doors and trunk open automatically with buttons inside, outside, and on the key (which is rather strange looking.)  I don't really understand the fascination with opening and closing these doors, although I must say the car does have that awesome "new car" smell.  :)  

Where am I going with this excerpt?  I'd simply like to muse for a few sentences on the curiosity of a young mind, and how even this curiosity differs between girls and boys.  While the little girls enjoy playing in the car, the little boy is forever excited by it.  He constantly takes the keys and opens and closes the doors, watching from the window with fascination as the touch of a button performs such a large task outside.  It is his new toy, and he wants to know how it works.  So he observes again and again, constantly wondering at the newfangled mechanical operations.  

This single example provides yet another insight in to the workings of a young boy's mind.  They want to know why and how something does what it does.  For this knowledge, they ask questions and constantly test out the new equipment.  (Of course, the fact that it is fun and a unique opportunity helps out considerably.)  Thankfully, he hasn't tried to take any of the vehicle apart in order to figure out how it really works.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Manic Meltdown Mayhem

Have you ever had one of "those" days?  The days where nothing seems to go right?  When all of your children proceed to have major meltdowns and tantrums over the tiniest things?  You try to keep a calm, parental, authoritative demeanor, but inside you're pulling out your hair and wondering exasperatedly why all of your children have decided to break down at once.  Ring a bell with anyone?  That was the day today at my job.  The kids took it in turns to break down over the broken table that they didn't break, the checking of math problems, the stealing of a toothbrush, or the "mean" behavior of a sibling or two.  Needless to say, this day was not one of the sunshine and butterflies days.  Rather, it sets a fine example of some of the "worst" days of being a stay-at-home mother.  Let me explain.

This day, while stressful, provided numerous learning experiences for both parent and child.  The parent can observe the meltdown, discern the cause, and decide whether it is legitimate or not.  In some cases, such as the broken table, it is legitimate.  The child was blamed but innocent.  This does not make the meltdown proper behavior, but it does warrant a valid reason as to why the 7 year old boy is extremely upset.  Nobody likes to be blamed for something they didn't do.  On the other hand, the case of the checking math problems is totally inexcusable.  When the teacher (or parent) instructs the child to do something, there should be no tantrum meltdown.  If the child does not understand, they can ask for help and explanation (but should not interrupt until the parent is done instructing.)  After that, they need to practice the problems and checking on their own.  It is practice for making sure you write down the right answer and do the math correctly.  In such a case, the meltdown should be disciplined because it is unwarranted behavior.  

The third set of meltdowns occurred between the twins (who are 1 years old).  Twin #1 had a toothbrush. Twin #2 wanted the toothbrush and proceeded to grab it.  Twin #1 began bawling hysterically.  When Twin #2 could not get the toothbrush, he began screaming as well.  In this case, since you're working with infants, you can only attempt to mollify both of them.  I ended up finding another toothbrush for Twin #1 so that both babies were happy, and the next few minutes were peaceful.

Our fourth major meltdown of the day came when the 5-year-old felt injustice from the shove of her older brother.  Apparently, though, he had shoved her because she was breaking the rules in a game they were playing.  A game she had picked, I might add.  While her brother's behavior is inexcusable, she did not need to spend the next twenty minutes overflowing with tears over it.  Thus, she was sent upstairs until she could compose herself.  Personally, I would have sent her to bed.  When a child of that age throws such a fit, she or he is generally over-tired or excessively sugar-intoxicated.  In either case, sending them to bed accomplishes three things: 1.  It gets them out of your hair and away from everyone else.  2.  It puts them in a room alone where they can quiet down.  3.  More often than not, they will fall asleep and wake up much more refreshed.

The fifth (and final) meltdown of the day (at least to my knowledge) involved a friend coming to play.  Both the 3-year-old and 5-year-old wanted to play with the visitor, but neither girl wanted to share their friend.  Thus ensued much screaming and crying and complaining from each girl as they tried to defend their side and claim to the visiting girl.  In such a case, it is more difficult to discern the proper method of approach.  I would have separated all the girls.  The visitor would have to play by herself until the sisters could play together.  I understand the need for siblings to have time alone to play with their friends, but there should also be much camaraderie and sharing between all of them.  No one likes to feel left out.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who's In Charge?

Anyone who has ever babysat before remembers being a little apprehensive on the first night.  You're unsure as to how well you can handle the children.  Will they respect your authority?  Will they set the house on fire?  Will they bicker all night?  Or will they be pleasant?  Will they help clean up and go to bed when they're told?  And if you don't get it right the first night, any subsequent evenings will just get worse.  So how do you make sure the evening goes as smoothly as possible for everyone concerned?  Here are a few tips that I find helpful.

1.  Ask the parents.  Before the parents leave for their night out, ask them to thoroughly explain the night time routine.  When and what do the children eat?  What are their evening chores (if any)?  What is the bedtime routine?  This last question requires a detailed answer including, but not limited to, where the bedrooms are; who sleeps where; what time do they go to bed; what is the bedtime routine; do the lights stay on or go off; do the doors stay open or shut?  If you know the answers to all these questions, bedtime should go smoother.  You won't have the wool pulled over your eyes by mischievous children who try to change the established routine due to your ignorance.  And you'll feel more confident about the whole evening if you have an established plan.

Be patient.  It pays off in the end.
2.  Discipline.  If you get a chance (and actually remember), ask the parents what the established method of discipline is and/or what you are allowed to do if a child misbehaves.  On the first night with a new sitter, many children will test the sitter by acting up excessively.  They want to see if you will submit to their shenanigans or stop the misbehavior at once.  It is up to you to remind the children who is in charge.  For example, a child should not tie you up or insist that you do what he/she says because they are in charge.  Rather, this child should be disciplined accordingly so that they understand you will not tolerate disrespectful behavior.  

3.  Play with the kids.  Too many sitters plop the kids in front of the TV and think that's all there is to it.  Not even close.  Babysitting is an important job.  Parents are entrusting their children to your care.  It is your job to take care of and entertain their children without burning down the house.  This means playing games and making sure that the kids are pleasant with each other.  

I'm sure there are many more tricks of the trade.  If you care to share, please fell free.

One last trick for all you current sitters:  I always find it nice to come home to a clean house, especially after a long night out.  You will earn the parents' undying favor if you take the time to clean up the kitchen after dinner and tidy the living room after the kids are in bed.  

To all the parents:  It is very helpful when you have the night time routine written down along with the kids names and ages.  That way if your sitter forgets a name they just learned, they can check the list.  Also, this way they have the bedtime set-up in hand to review after you leave.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

We've all heard that phrase before, most likely voiced by our parents when we obstinately refused our bath or to tidy up our room.  As children we scoff and wonder how parents could make such an irrational statement.  As we grow older, however, we begin to realize how the statement actually has a double meaning for our lives.  The cleanliness spoken of refers to both outward and inward cleanliness.  Just as our physical appearance needs to remain orderly and clean, so too does our inner being.  If we appear upright and just on the outside, but fail to mirror that appearance within our souls, we become hypocrites. By keeping both our souls and bodies clean and pure, we hopefully create a fit temple for the Holy Spirit.  

To make something clean is to, quite simply, make something free from dirt, marks or stains.  This process applies to the soul as well when we try to keep it pure and innocent, uncontaminated by the sin surrounding us.  The purer we become, the closer to our Heavenly Father we approach.  As our persons mirror His purity and truth, we draw nearer to Godliness (or as close as unworthy humans can be.)  

So the next time your child complains about having to take a bath or tidy their room, remember this phrase.  Use it as a tool for explanation.  Explain to your children how keeping things neat and orderly shows respect for the gifts God has given us.  That keeping our bodies clean and well-kept shows deep respect for the greatest gift God gave us.  And finally, that as we strive to keep the world around us and our outward selves clean, we must also move towards a cleaner and purer soul.  This will eventually lead to a perfect union with God.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lost Arts of the Home

I am constantly discovering how little children today know of simple things that I thought were part of daily life.  These are the little acts that form a homemaker.  Whether it is sewing or knitting, cooking or cleaning, many people in today's society are at a loss when faced with doing such things themselves (more so with the sewing and the like.)  Too few children are taught the art of a needle and thread, and this teaching is so sorely neglected that when a person can sew, they are viewed as a miracle worker.  

The art of sewing is a very simple one to learn, so simple that you can learn and then teach your children. I highly recommend instructing all of your children, girls and boys, in the proper usage of a needle and thread because at some point they will have a snag in their socks or a rip in their jeans.  If they know how to sew, they can easily remedy the disrepair.  Go through the basic steps of threading a needle (not as easy as it may seem), basic stitches (mainly the running stitch), and the numerous uses for sewing.

If your children are interested, further their knowledge-base by introducing them to the sewing machine.  My sisters and I have spent many long hours stitching away at doll clothes, blankets, or fancy dresses for ourselves.  The ability to create a wearable work of art from a pile of fabric and a pattern is a wonderful but sadly neglected skill.  If you know how to sew but haven't for a long while, try it again.  Pass it on to your children.  If you don't know how to sew, make sure to take it slow.  Don't start off your lessons trying to concoct a velvet cloak or a three-piece suit.  Such valiant efforts will come in time, but if you begin with such grand plans, you will most likely become extremely discouraged.

A final note: Your seam ripper is your friend.  It is no fun to rip out stitches and re-do them, but you will thank yourself in the long run when the finished project looks 10 times better.  Don't be afraid to start over and backtrack.  Take it slow, and make sure you read the directions very carefully.  Also, most patterns require a bit of common sense (or not so common, depending on the pattern.)  Read the instructions and try until you figure out what works.  Most things don't sound like they should work when they are explained out loud, but once you follow the directions, everything tends to work itself out beautifully.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monkey See . . .

A child's mind is extremely impressionable from the earliest stages of life.  From day one, your little one is taking in knowledge and processing it, or at least attempting to do so.  As they begin to toddle about, they mimic their surroundings.  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also an excellent means of learning something new.  After observing the habits and actions of their parents or older siblings, a small baby about one year old may be seen walking about the house holding a puzzle piece to her ear and talking like she's on her own cellphone.  Or perhaps the same child enjoys watching you play Peek-A-Boo, and so she mimics your actions by covering her own face with a blanket and then pulling it down swiftly, resulting in giggles and beaming smiles.  (Yes, I observed both of these examples this week.  It was adorable!)

These innocent imitations, however, brought to mind how carefully we must guard our behavior around children of any age.  Just because they may not understand what is going on does not mean that they will not imitate what they see or hear.  We have to watch our language and our actions, as well as what we listen to on the radio and watch on the television (whether it is actually TV or movies.)  The first years of any child's life are among the most formative for their future character.  We should do all we can to preserve their innocence and childlike joy.  

This can be difficult in our modern world, especially if we ourselves have become immune or disregarding towards the evils of the world around us.  Often it is not until our children shock us by their behavior that we realize how much we are teaching them, even when we are unaware ourselves.  There's a country song by Rodney Atkins titled Watching You about a father and his son who copies everything his father does, whether it is swearing or praying by his bed.  The chorus goes:

He said, "I've been watching you, dad ain't that cool?

I'm your buckaroo, I want to be like you
And eat all my food, and grow as tall as you are?

"We got cowboy boots and camo pants
Yeah, we're just alike, hey, ain't we dad
I want to do everything you do
So I've been watching you"

These lyrics portray the true depth of belief in one's parents or other beloved figures.  This belief is one that everything they do is worthy of repetition.  A young boy learns how to be a man by watching his father just as a young girl learns how to be a woman by mimicking her mother.  Because of this fact, it is up to us to set as good an example as possible for the impressionable youth who will create the families of tomorrow.  We shouldn't allow our legacy to be one of degenerate children who don't know the truth or the unchanging code of right and wrong.  Every single thing you do is observed (even if you are alone), so let us form our lives into those of a true Christian.  If you can achieve that, you will be blessed by giving your children a fine example to model their own lives upon.

Monday, January 16, 2012

One Fish, Two Fish

Eventually I would like to write down a list of excellent books that all children should read at some point in time.  In the meantime, however, I shall spend a few moments praising a well-beloved author whose books bring so much into a child's experience and imagination.  These books are none other than the 46 creative tales from Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.  His most widely known stories include The Cat in the Hat; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; Horton Hears A Who; Oh the Places You'll Go!; and, of course, How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  These wonderful works of poetic genius are stories that all people can enjoy, whether they are truly children or children at heart.  

Dr. Seuss' works have inspired many musical and cinematic productions, including a stage musical entitled  Seussical and a movie opening in March 2012 titled Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.  Because of the ingenuity and imagination found within Seuss' works, their simplistic style creates a bounteous selection for children of all ages.  While none of his stories deal directly with moral statements, there are lessons to be learned from each one.  These lessons vary from vanity is bad (as in the case of Gertrude McFuzz) or simply treating one another as equals regardless of outward appearances (as in The Sneetches.)  

When I was growing up, we had a VHS (old-school, I know) with a few Dr. Seuss stories in cartoon on it.  I always loved watching them.  The tales were entertaining and colorful, and as I look back on it, I can see the lessons I learned about fairness and how being stubborn doesn't always win.  I recently read Oh the Places You'll Go and was reminded of how the immortal words of that story apply to anyone embarking upon a new journey, whether it is a new job or college or simply an unexpected turn of events.  

Furthermore, the simple vocabulary that Seuss employs makes his books ideal for children as they begin to read.  The exciting and wacky stories will make learning to read more enjoyable.  You could even start with Dr. Seuss' ABC's going from A to the Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz.  I highly recommend having at least a few of his books (if not the entire collection) within your library.  You'll enjoy reading them again and again as the imagination of your children takes off in wonderful ways from the fantastic influences of the world of Dr. Seuss.  For a complete list of the classic Dr. Seuss stories, click here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where Do Babies Come From?

Every parent is faced with this question from their inquisitive and curious children at one point or another, and I'm sure it tends to pose an awkward situation unless you are already prepared for such an occasion.  What story do you tell your little one?  What explanation will suffice to quench the thirst for knowledge?  Will they understand what you mumble with a red face?  Or will they cease to believe you are the all-knowing parent?  We all know the famous "birds and the bees" story, or at least the saying.  Or perchance you choose the fable of the stork.  There's always the "Mommy swallowed a seed" approach.  And then there's the "When two people fall in love . . ."  Here's a few thoughts and insights into all of these potential paths as well as my personal explanation for where the babies come from (for little children.)

The Birds and the Bees:  I've heard this saying innumerable times, but I never really knew the meaning behind it all.  So I did a bit of research, and this is what I discovered.  This English-language idiomatic expression is used to explain the mechanics of how babies are made by referencing nature, i.e. bees depositing pollen and birds laying eggs.  It's origins are vague, and the whole concept seems to me rather confusing for a young child to understand.  But if it makes you feel better, by all means tell them this story.  

The Stork.  According to northern European legend, the stork is responsible for bringing a baby to new parents.  An ancient legend, popularized by Hans Christian Andersen, tells that storks found the babies out in the wilderness and carried them to houses in a basket or held in their beaks.  The folklore has spread from Germany and other European countries all the way to the Philippines and South America.  In addition, Slavic mythology believes that storks carry unborn souls to Earth, which belief persists in the modern folk culture in the simplified children's tale of storks bringing children into the world.  Regardless of where the myth originated, it's a pleasant story for children.  One must be very careful, however, when explaining it because other questions will inevitably arise: Who brings the stork's babies?  Why do you get so fat?  Why don't I ever see the stork?

The watermelon seed.  Yet another simple way of explaining away children's questions is the classic "Mommy swallowed a seed (watermelon; pumpkin; cherry.  Take your pick.)"  As your children get older, you can get into the whole truth of the matter regarding the sperm and the egg becoming the fruit of your loins.  

Two people fall in love . . .   This explanation is true, but it can be very confusing for young children.  They may take the statement a bit too far.  For example, two friends love each other; therefore, they are going to have a baby.  Or if you simply say, "When you love someone, and they love you back, that's when there's a baby," you may end up having to explain that your beloved pet dog or cat and your child will not be having babies.

It's a gift from God.  This is my favorite explanation.  Children are a blessing from God.  When two people fall in love and get married, they become one person in Christ.  (A hard concept for kids, but it's a hard concept for anyone.)  They take their love and their unity and, with God's divine assistance, they create a baby.  This baby has to grow inside Mommy for about 9 months because it is too weak to survive in the world on its own before then.  

When you're having a baby, and you have little children, it's always a nice idea (I think) to involve them in the process as much as possible.  When your tiny child begins to kick, make sure your other children get to feel the life inside of you.  Encourage them to talk to their baby brother or sister.  Help them think of ways they can help out around the house and take care of their new sibling when he/she is born.

Returning to the "birds and the bees" topic, your child needs to have "the talk" at some point.  You, as parents, are the ones best qualified to decide when and where that talk needs to happen.  Whenever you decide, make sure that you present the marital act as the beautiful and sacred gift that it truly is.  It is nothing to be ashamed of or hushed up.  Rather, it should be glorified and celebrated as God's gift to man for procreation and the continuation of the human race.  So, when you sit down to have the talk, if you're not embarrassed, your kids may be less embarrassed and shocked.  Work through it together, giving them "need to know" information.  But be ready to provide more in-depth answers should they (at a proper age) need more of a definition or explanation.  In the meantime, for all your little ones, prepare your little speech ahead of time so that when your tiny tot opens his or her mouth with that question, you won't turn beet red or begin mumbling.  You'll know exactly what to say.  And if you have any experiences or suggestions, please feel free to post them!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Road Trips

As I pondered what my post should be about, my thoughts kept straying to impending trips I am planning.  Such thoughts, when connected with children, brought back memories of the innumerable road trips my family made all together.  Whether it was a few hours to visit the grandparents or 22+ hours straight to visit Florida, my family has spent a lot of time together in the car.  If you have small children, you will know the chaos of containing young kids for an extended period of time.  You've doubtless racked your brain for new ideas of keeping them entertained and off your nerves.  Here are a few suggestions to turn your hectic headache of a trip into a somewhat peaceful and even enjoyable trip.

1.  Word games.  Have your kids keep their eyes on the license plates and billboards passing by as they try to spell words or say the alphabet using letters that they see.  Play I Spy or try to find license plates from all 50 states.  Go around in a circle (or back and forth up the rows of seats) and call out a list of words in alphabetical order:  aardvark; bear; cat; donkey; elephant.  You get the picture.

2.  Travel games are amazing.  We had a Travel Yahtzee that was a blast in the car.  

3.  Coloring books or pads of paper.  Bring small baggies or cups of crayons, pencils, markers, etc. for each child.  If they have a cup holder, they can put the coloring utensils in there.  This prevents scattering.  And larger books can be used as improv. tables.

4.  Books on Tape (or CD).  Plug in a few good stories to keep the kids happily quiet and your nerves a bit softer.  Check with your local library for a selection of children's tales.  Or even try and download a few onto your handy-dandy iPod or MP3 player.

5.  In this modern world, it is more and more easy to entertain children by plugging them in to a movie or tv show.  I don't disapprove of this method (although I don't recommend using it the entire trip.)  Whether you have a tv in your car or a portable DVD player, using a movie as a means of securing a few hours of relaxation time in peace and quiet can be very rewarding.  It also works as a threat, i.e. if y'all don't settle down, there will be no movie.

I'd love to hear your childhood stories or your family tales and tricks for whiling away the long hours in the car.  Or on a plane.  Or a train.  Or a boat.  (Are there any more modes of mass transportation?)  Big or small, I'm sure any helpful suggestions would be welcome.  Good luck to all of you planning your next family vacation to sunny Spain (or maybe just Florida).  A bit of forethought and preparation saves a lot of whining and groaning later.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"You're the cleaner."

Having a nanny can pose potential problems with the proper raising of children.  Nothing too serious or irreparable, but still it should be nipped in the bud.  My example from today for this statement is the following situation:  A child (age 7) was being sloppy while sharpening a pencil and spilled the shavings all over the floor.  He was informed to pick up the mess, but he promptly replied to me: "You're the cleaner."  (I do a majority of the house cleaning.)  Such smart aleck behavior was not tolerated, and he was required to clean up his own mess.  But his comment started a train of thought upon which I questioned the benefit of hiring someone who will clean up after all of your small children.  At what age should children be required to clean up after themselves?  Is the comfort of a clean home worth the loss in lessons learned by your children?  

Some people claim that you cannot start too young with teaching children to pick up their toys.  Others support a freedom from responsibility, i.e. the kids can simply play and then leave the toys out.  I tend to lean more towards the former position.  As soon as your children can walk (or even crawl), you can begin showing them how to put their toys away.  As they get older, instructing them in how to hang up their own coat, put away their own shoes, and clean up when they're done playing is useful to both of you.  While you must succumb to a bit of disorganization when raising children, you needn't allow your home become a pigsty because you can't physically clean everything up or do not have sufficient means for hiring a cleaner.  You may wonder how it is possible to keep your house clean.  I know it's like trying to keep the kitchen free of dirty dishes, but it is possible.

Step One:  De-clutter.  A large majority of chaos and toy upheaval occurs because there is simply too much stuff.  Throw away broken toys.  Give away or donate gently used toys.  Thin out your baby doll collection by getting rid of every fourth one.  Have your children decide which toys are most important to them.  Give them a specified amount (either for keeping or discarding), and stick to it as closely as possible.  Once you've thinned out your toy closet, you will find organizing and keeping it organized much easier.

Step Two:  Organize.  "A place for every thing, and every thing in its place."  This phrase is indispensable in a large household (or any household for that matter.)  Create a toy closet with shelves and buckets or boxes for separation of various toys.  Use empty cardboard boxes to create dividers for large shelves.  Label all the boxes or buckets so that your children know what goes where.  Try to keep the toys in one or two central locations.  This will diminish the clutter throughout your home and create an easier method for choosing something to play when your children whine about having nothing to do.

Step Three:  Ground Rules.  As your kids get older, you can set a few rules for playing with their toys.  A favorite one of mine (from my mother) is this:  Whatever you are currently playing with must be put away properly before another toy is taken out.  Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule such as leaving out the Playmobil set or the doll house.  In general, however, it is a good idea to limit the number of toys allowed out at a time.  By doing so, you more firmly establish the "clean up after yourself when you are finished" mantra.  Other rules may include asking permission before getting out certain toys or the loss of toy privileges as punishment.

Step Four:  Be firm.  From the beginning (especially if you are starting this method later on in your children's lives), you must be firm in your decided rules and organization.  The battle may be rough the first few weeks, but it will pay off in the end.  A favorite method of mine for teaching children the value of cleaning up after themselves is this:  If you don't pick it up, I will.  If I have to pick it up, you won't get it back (for however long.)  The toy in question is then removed from the toy closet and put away for an undisclosed period of time.  Your children may or may not respond with improvement to this method.  My mother told me of a story when I wouldn't pick up my toys, so she got out the paper bags and began storing them away.  I actually helped her pack them all away.  Of course, if that happened to you, you'd have less toys on your hands regardless. 

Step Five:  Be patient.  Discovering the best organizational methods for your family may take a large amount of time.  Be open to suggestion and variation from your kids.  Ask the older kids whether they have ideas for the toy situation.  Work together as a family to find the best fit for you all, one that keeps the house clean (and, therefore, your nerves a bit more intact) and also one that allows your children to be kids while teaching them skills for life.

Above all, remember that being able to clean up after themselves is extremely important.  Unless you are fabulously wealthy, chances are they'll have to clean their own home one day.  At that time, the guys will be grateful for clean habits when they try to impress their girlfriend.  The girls will be grateful for a pleasant atmosphere when returning home from a stressful day at work.  All your children will benefit from the "hardship" of responsibility for their toys and personal belongings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Key to New Friendships

There are several keys to friendship which I cannot enter into at this time.  The one I would like to discuss, however, is hospitality.  Hospitality is defined as "the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers."  In ancient times, a kingdom's hospitality towards strangers welcomed friend and foe alike.  Regardless of nationality or political interest, a traveler upon the road was received into the halls with ceremony and civility.  In other cultures there exists a tradition of setting an extra place at table in preparation for any passersby seeking food and shelter.  The guest was treated with the utmost honor and deference.  This generous welcome of strangers hearkens back to Christ's command that we care for the least of these, our brethren.  In practicing true hospitality, we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, etc.  Furthermore, through this practice of hospitality, we can create new acquaintances which may develop into life-long friendships.

I recently began co-teaching a young girls' hospitality group based largely on the Little Women Hospitality Group books.  The lessons range from cleaning to table settings and invitations to hosting a party.  Each lesson draws upon various saints and literary figures as examples for the tasks taught.  Our first lesson was on baking and the hospitality of cooking.  After reading an excerpt from Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, we discussed the proper steps for baking and the numerous uses for cooking skills.  A few examples of cooking hospitality include: taking a meal to a sick friend; hosting a party; helping out with family meals.  The girls learned that once they learn the useful art of cooking, they can practice it through their hospitality.  By putting to use a wonderful skill, they can bring joy into the lives of others around them.  

As we continue through this book, I will share my insights upon the lessons therein.  I highly recommend the book to any and all considering beginning a young girls' group.  The Catholic influences found in the prayers combined with the excellent literary selections creates a beautiful setting for teaching true hospitality to young girls.  It is never too early to begin, although most of the work is probably best begun around 7 or 8 yrs. old.  The arts and practices taught in this book (or through any number of young girls' groups) will be used throughout their entire lives as they embark upon the road of adulthood and form their own families until one day they pass on their knowledge to their own children.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In the Midst of It All . . .

Remember all those grueling hours of scrubbing stained carpets and washing dirty footprints?  Or all those sleepless nights pacing back and forth with a wailing infant or sitting up with a sick child?  And what about all those frustrating arguments about schoolwork or homework?  And the countless times you drove from here to there and everywhere for activities and soccer and ballet?  Did you ever stop to wonder why?  Why did you choose one of the most difficult jobs in the universe?  Why did you become a mom?

Seeing as I'm not a mom yet, I'm not sure if that's actually a common-place question or not.  I have discovered, however, a few seemingly small but enormously significant reasons for the answer to that question.  After months of stinky diapers and rotten spit-up, one look at your beautiful baby sleeping peacefully is enough to wipe away all the distasteful memories.  After your nerves have been wrecked by constant bickering between your children, a few moments of quiet as they play pleasantly together reminds you of the true goal.  

As you struggle through the day-to-day hectic activity of raising a family, remember to cherish the small moments.  By building up a great store of the beauty of family, you create innumerable means to help you through the next case of throwing up or temper tantrums.  Good luck and God bless you all!

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Bad Case of the Mondays

Nobody likes Monday morning.  Or if you admit that you belong to the 1% of the human race who actually enjoys beginning their work week, everyone around you looks askance as if you were a crazy alien.  But what is it about Monday morning specifically that causes so much reluctance and grief?  Most likely, it is a combination of a full two days off from work (in general) plus an innate human desire to spend time doing fun things rather than heading in to the office.  Not many people would choose work over play; ergo, we spend our weekdays looking for the weekend and the weekend dreading the weekdays.  Unfortunately, this "case of the Mondays" applies to children as well as adults, although not to as great an extent.  Mainly it revolves around a severe desire to avoid school at all costs.  Whether you home school or send off your children each morning, the morning routine seems a bit tougher on Mondays than any other day of the week.  The question is how to deal with this fact.  

There is a saying –– well, there are several sayings –– but this one is: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  I know this doesn't exactly apply to dreading Mondays, but it can be altered to a parallel statement:  "No day can make you dread it without your consent."  This statement can be paired with "Life's what you make it."  Your attitude towards life (and Mondays) is completely under your control.  Regardless of whether you love or hate your job, you can still enter it with a cheerful attitude vs. a despondent one.  "In every cloud there is a silver lining."  In everything you do try to look for the good.  By doing this, you will accomplish much.  Your outlook on life will brighten.  You'll find things often overlooked.  You'll find the good.  You'll avoid hatred towards your job or co-workers.  And you'll become a better person overall.  

This "looking for the good" is all well and good, but you may be wondering just how to do so.  Or whether there are more avenues to pursue towards dispelling the dread of Mondays.  There are quite a few options available to the creative mind.  Here are a few that I recommend:

1.  Make a list of the goods that you receive because of your job (or whatever you are dreading.)  By remembering all of the blessings in your life, you are better able to "suffer" through whatever it is that troubles you.

2.  Remember to smile.  A smile brightens up the room and illuminates everyone's day.  Regardless of how crummy you feel, remember that your attitude affects the people around you.  By smiling through the pain, you can help others around you to discover a happier day.  Besides, smiling is good exercise.  And it will cheer you up if you let it.

3.  Find a happy song that always makes you happy, even when you're really sad.  Listen to it on your drive to work.  Your whole day will be better if you begin it well.

4.  Eat well.  Get enough sleep.  Believe it or not, eating right and sleeping well both affect your day-to-day attitude enormously.  If you stay up all hours and have to get up at the crack of dawn for work, you'll dread the work.  If, however, you use common sense and allot yourself enough hours of sleep, you will feel more refreshed in the morning and ready to take on the day.  Eating right works the same way.  If all you do is stuff yourself with carbs and preservatives, your body will feel sluggish and lazy.  On the other hand, if you eat right, you will find your energy boosted as you begin the days with a lighter step.

5.  Laugh often.  You'd be surprised how a good laugh can dispel the clouds of darkness surrounding Mondays or any other dreaded thing.  Besides, when you laugh in the face of trials, you shock the others around you into curiosity.  Maybe eventually everyone will face problems with positivity and optimism vs. dread and pessimism.  

6.  Above all else, keep up a good attitude.  I know how easily the human person spirals because of a minor insult or setback.  If you understand the potentiality for such spirals ahead of time, you can avoid them or at least spot the warning signs.  By doing so, you can avert the problem before it arises.  It is not always easy (read: almost never) to remain cheerful in the face of adversity (or Mondays), but as you struggle remember three things:  You are not alone (because all of mankind struggles with you.)  You grow stronger each time you conquer the despondency.  You draw closer to your full purpose as you pursue the truly Christian attitude.

I know dreading Mondays is a hard habit to break.  Keep trying.  And as you try, remember to teach your children the same truths.  Look for the silver lining, and you will find a happier home and life.