The Perfect Day

I always seem to know when I’m having a bad day.  Because it deviates from my perfect day.  So what is my perfect day?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve never written it down before, but I do know that other people seem to have them as their “normal days,” with the “tough days” occurring at the frequency of “some,” as in “some days are like that.”  Well, my “less than perfect” days are the standard, if I’m honest here.  So, to have a frame of reference, I think it would be good if I actually wrote down what this mythical perfect day actually looks like.

7 AM: Wake naturally from the sense that it is morning and I own this day. Next to me is my husband, who is holding the baby/toddler who wandered in last night and wanted him, not me. I get dressed, make the bed, and have coffee brewing. I eat a bagel before going back upstairs to brush my teeth. Check facebook and email and only encouragement is waiting for me there.
8 AM: Children wander downstairs already dressed. They sit at the table and respectfully ask for cereal and juice and say “how’d you sleep mom? I dreamed I was a tiger!” Husband leaves for work and has lunch in hand that I thoughtfully individually proportioned for him while putting away dinner last night.
8:45 AM: Children have placed own bowls in sink and dog has not finished anyone’s cereal from off the dining room carpet. Everyone has used the potty without me telling them to.
9 Am: Children sit around table for morning routine (we read the Message Bible for like a minute and a half–the word devotional is ridiculous) and children seem to listen and don’t need scolding to sit still. Baby plays independently and doesn’t climb up sister’s and brother’s backs in his pursuit to ascend the table.
10 AM: We have gotten through two homeschool lessons with each child working with minimal assistance outside of instruction. All pieces of whatever I slaved over laminating are back in their bag. No one has a crayola mustache.
10:30 AM: We have snacks and the children actually go outside when I tell them to. I somehow discover the inner desire to wash the windows and vacuum our barely messy living room that only requires two minutes to pick up toys (which I will sigh messily over, thinking how wonderful I am for allowing the children to be children). I don’t need to bring out the carpet cleaner to suck up orange juice that isn’t allowed in the living room anyways. I don’t have to extract tape from every soft and hard surface a 4-foot reach from the ground.
11 AM: After the children don’t bring anything living or sand-based back from their outdoor adventures, we all go down to the basement and clean up together. I get a brilliant idea for lunch, and they continue cleaning and start an impromptu play while I go and fix a lunch that doesn’t involve a packet of cheese powder.
Noon: Children eat meals without crying. Hoss and Lumpy go down for nap at same time.
1 PM: Cal and JR and I bring out the microscope and investigate small creatures and household dust.
1:30 PM: We all sit down in the clean house and I fold a load of laundry while they watch and educational program. I finish folding and lay down next to them for a 30 minute power nap.
2:30 PM: Littles wake up and we all go play outside. Hoss doesn’t attempt to eat anything made of earth.
6:30 PM: Dinner is ready and made and I’m not exhausted.
7:30 PM: We play a family game. No one walks away crying.
8 PM: Bedtime routine.
8:30 PM: Kids in bed.
9 PM: Kids asleep. Pops does dishes while I write pithy blog post that receives 400 hits and adulation.
10 PM: We feel no guilt from avoiding doing something today.
11 PM: We head to bed and read for half an hour, until Hoss has his nightly wake-up, from which he will let me set him back down in his crib in peaceful rest.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Actually, it’s kind of boring. It’s not even that funny what the children aren’t doing. My perfect day is kind of…pathetic.

I don’t know what that means, but I have to say I still want it. Even when I’m typing here at 9:25 AM while the kids are still watching TV in their jammies, unfed, un-diapered, and I think I have a tinkle bed to change upstairs. Maybe we still have a chance at our perfect day, but I doubt it. Is it my fault? Probably? But, are we all going to be here, a day older and crayola-covered by the time it’s night again? God-willing. Most days we just get through it. But even when the perfect days are few and far between, we seem to fake it with moments of perfection.

Cal writing a book for her brother while I’m rocking the miserable baby Hoss to sleep for 45 minutes.
Lumpy laying herself down for a nap when she feels tired.
JR getting himself dressed and throwing his tape leftovers in the trash instead of in the couch cushions.
Hoss bopping to a song playing on Pandora while I try to come up with something for dinner at 6:25 PM.

Maybe the moments are all we can hope for. But I’ll always compare the bad days to the perfect ones that never seem to happen.

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Heavy Work

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Today was our third day at Vacation Bible School in our church.  With my three big kids and two “nieces of the heart” attending, I figured I better strap Hoss on my back and participate.  I have been stationed with the three-year olds as self-appointed potty master, spontaneous game provider, and conversation starter.  I love it.

The best thing about it is a little boy in the group who just reminds me so much of JR at 3.  He needs to wander sometimes, has to touch things–ok, everything– and interrupts with brilliant ideas.  For fun, let’s call him Matt.  Matt is simply not designed for the contained movement /quiet listening activities that an indoor class requires.  He can do it, sure, but only for short periods of time.

I seriously love him.

The other kids (even bouncy Lumpy) are content to sit and listen to a story while Matt’s feet are tapping out heavy metal drumbeats on the floor in front of him.  What on earth are we supposed to do with a child like Matt?  Like my JR?

Heavy work.

Little story for you.  Sometimes a woman in labor is interrupted by getting in a car, an unsettling nurse or doctor, or having an anxious relative in the room.  If this woman’s body secretes an adrenaline rush, it can take 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or a whopping dose of Pitocin, no comment) to overcome its effects.  Vigourous activity refocuses the body.

Antsy kids are very similar.

You can start disciplining them (“Sit still, Matt”), physically redirecting them (“Hold my hand now, Matt”), or punish them (“You’re going to have to leave the room if you can’t participate, Matt”).  But, you’ll fail.  The thing that reverses the antsy-ness in these kids is heavy work.  All of my kids need this some days.

I didn’t always call it “heavy work.”  I learned the term in this incredible adoption book, which should really be re-packaged as a plain old parenting book, The Connected Child.

I watched the practice of it through two amazing adoptive parents who committed fully to helping their son overcome his destructive behaviors.  It works like this: instead of making our expectations more clear to a bouncing, distracted child, my husband and I try to put their muscles to work.  Here’s how we do it.

1)  We set the task.  Note, no correction, I go to kid, and make the offer, no preamble.  A distracted child has a very hard time knowing what will bring him back down to earth.  This can be:
-“I really need someone to move 12 logs from the woodpile next to the shed.”
-“Can you please pull this laundry basket filled with all the books on the floor upstairs to your bedroom?”
-“Can you take all of the cans and put them in this box for me?”  

It has to be weird enough that the kiddo is intrigued.  Also, it can’t just be just a running activity or a large body-movement activity.  Those activities seem to ramp my kids up and encourage more distraction, with the calm alertness following maybe 30 minutes later.  It needs to have some resistance to make it count.  By setting the task for him we are also ferreting out true “energy overload” from disobedience. (The disobeying kid will refuse in a nasty way…well, my kids will anyway.)

2) Let go of any expectation that kiddo will return to a chilled-out state immediately.  Let him do heavy work until the group starts a new task.

3) Don’t make a big deal of it.  Thank him, and move on. Defend him if other kids ask what that was all about: “JR was just helping me with something.”

Today we were two hours in, and fresh from the creative (light) play room, where there was no splashing allowed at the water table and you could use playdough while sitting only. This meant music time was doomed from the start for Matt.  The problem came on suddenly, and I intended to step back, as one of the counselors was his regular babysitter. But I intervened when he was cornered, and about to be begged to sit and listen.  

I approached them and asked Matt to push the chairs across the carpet for me, which he could accomplish soundlessly and out of the line of sight of the other kids.  Without hesitation, he complied.  He moved heavy wooden chairs one side to the other five times while I stood back and “ignored” him.  The teacher, however, noticed, and came up to correct Matt, leaning on the chair he was about to start moving to get him to stop.  I don’t fault her at all.

The traditional model of good teaching means full compliance from every student, to ensure the knowledge is transferred and none of the other children are distracted.  But Matt is three years old.  He has ages to put in place the ability to override his body’s need to move in a way that is deliberate and calorie-burning and with great purpose.  But, he also has a good three years to be corrected, disciplined and pushed before he is ready into this desired outcome.

I came up to our teacher a half-second later, and briefly explained he was doing the work for me.  It really wasn’t fair of me to spring such a radical idea on her, directly in her line of sight, while she was in charge of the whole class.  She did smile indulgently at me, and continued the class, like it was part of the plan. Wonderful woman.  But, I thought it was worth the risk of insulting her, because Matt was so, so good at it.  When he initially refused to sit down, he wasn’t asking for unstructured, special exemption, breaking the rules time.  He was asking for something he could do with his body that would let some of the anxiety he was feeling burn itself out.  

At craft time, 10 minutes later, he sat down, was engaged in the craft, and was just part of the class.

And I felt really good.  Actually, egotistical parent that I am, I came here to brag about it.  But, mostly, to give you, and your kid, another tool. Our children were designed to learn with physical movement and play at this age.  We are transferring so much knowledge into them at such a young age, desk time is considered more and more valuable.  Maybe these ideas will let our classroom-bound little ones have access to heavy blocks instead of light-weight cardboard ones.  Or carry weights in relay races instead of light batons.  Or have full-weight balls to hurl at a target instead of lightweight foam balls to gently toss. Are we truly trying to teach our children that they must always be gentle? I’m not.

Heavy work can be lifeline for children who have not yet mastered homeschool or traditional classroom expectations of impulse control, contained play, fine-motor skills, and good listening.  I hope that someday when they are able to do these things, they will not be defined by the discipline and stigma of who they were as preschoolers.

Making the Coconut Tree

I have benefited endlessly from other bloggers’ how-tos with detailed picture outlines.  I have to admit, I know it’s a monkey-load more work than I originally thought.  But, it’s worth it, to share with you a fun, straightforward way to accomplish a task (like watermarking your photos).

Here, for your general amusement and non-crafty instruction is how I made the Chicka Chicka Boom-Boom coconut tree.  I cut out and laminated the letters myself.  This was a gigantic waste of time, as any dollar store worth its salt carries die cut letters for next to nothing.  Take advantage.

Note: If you can cut snowflakes and draw triangles, bumpy, and curved lines, you have all the skills you need to make this.  Laminating makes everything better, but not strictly necessary.

Step 1: Make the trunk.

Draw 2 roughly parallel sets of bumpy lines on a brown piece of construction paper. Repeat 4 times, lining up the last paper with the new paper to get the width right. Make last paper a little closer together with a slight bend to the left (see finished picture).

Connect your bumps with a slightly curving line. (I am left handed, so this picture is actually me drawing from left to right.)

Look with dismay at the giant poop you just made. Repair by drawing these little triangle things all over. Breathe sigh of relief.

Laminate and stick on wall. The evilness: A piece of construction paper is not standard size, so you’ll have to chop it in places and use 5 laminating sheets to do 4 pieces. Shake fist and curse the makers of construction paper for this oversight.

Then, make the palm fronds:

Tape together two pieces of construction paper at the short ends.

Fold in half long way.

Fold in half again, the short way to make a long rectangle with the fold on the top.

Begin cutting within 1/2 in. of the top, through all 4 layers. Make a fringe. (I took this picture before I realized cutting the shape of the big leaf can wait to the end. I’ll show you why.)

Shake this thing until it does a little luau dance for you. ooo…pretty…

Open the last fold you made and watch your joy multiply by 2.

Cut into the shape of a row boat, leaving the back end square. Save million cut up pieces.

Don’t wait. The kids are totally going to get into that pile of clippings. Make a delightful grass base to your tree by arranging (dumping) all the clippings on a laminating sheet. Any excuse to laminate, right?

Cut up the laminated sheet into 3 wavy pieces. Tuck partially into baseboard and tape onto wall.

Open up. Yes, you are awesome.

Let the hot little hands waiting patiently do what they do best: Wrinkle things up.

Draw 3 or 4 lines down the center as the stem.

Let very artistic child put palm fronds up. Make small ones from one piece of paper for accent.

Admire your parenting genius.

Contribution to the homeschool world today: Complete.
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The auction has begun! And, we’re selling a coconut tree, as shown above. Auction to Bring Thadius Home, being held via Facebook from 8/15/12 until 8/31/12. Or, donate $25 to our son’s tax-deductible adoption fund, and I’ll ship one to you. Forward me the email of your receipt to biglittledays at gmail dot com and I’ll have it out to you ASAP.