Category Archives: Parenting

Talking to a Child Who Does Not Want to Talk to You

Several years ago I was in a quaint, small-town bookstore. As I chatted with the sixties-something bookstore owner she noticed my three daughters. “Are those girls yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly.

“Hmmm . . . ” she said, stroking her chin. “Come with me.” She beckoned me to an obscure corner of her store, and, glancing furtively at my girls, she leaned in close to my ear.  “Let me give you some advice,” she said in a low voice. “Someday, when your girls get older they will want nothing to do with you. They will not even want to talk to you.”

“No,” I reassured her, “Not my gir–”

“Listen closely,” she interrupted, “and I will tell you what to do when that happens.”

Then she whispered to me her secret. It was truly brilliant. I tucked her advice away in my mind so that I would be able to use it someday “when my daughters want nothing to do with me” (which of course will never happen). I will share her secret with you.

But first I am going to tell you another story.

I was that child once.

I was that child that didn’t want to have anything to do with her parents. My rebellion hit when I was in my second year of college; the year I fell in love with Trouble.

My parents were frightened for me. My brothers were disappointed in me. My sisters prayed for me. Everyone did all they could to persuade me and admonish me and warn me that I was dating Bagley Family Enemy #1, but I wouldn’t listen. Why? Because when you are 19, very few things matter more than a 6’4″ green-eyed boy who also happens to be an excellent kisser.

Around the time all of this was happening I went to Wal-Mart with my dad. Just before we checked out he grabbed a stuffed bear from the shelf.

“Why are you buying that?” I asked him.

My dad shrugged mysteriously. “Just in the mood.”

In the mood to buy stuffed animals? I thought. Dad, you are weird.  I eyed him suspiciously as he paid for his purchases and we left the store, the bear tucked under his arm.

“So . . . are you going to name him?” I asked as we walked to his truck, wondering what my mom was going to think that night when my dad cuddled up with his bear.

“Who?” he said.

“The bear,” I said. “What are you going to name him?”

“Oh, yes.” Thoughtful pause. “Him.”

Him?”

“Yes. His name is Him.”

On that bewildering note my dad put the bear down in the backseat, drove me to my apartment and dropped me off.

A few weeks went by. Awesome weeks. Trouble and I went on long drives, we ate out a lot, we laughed a lot, we kissed . . . a lot.  All the while I knew I was creating quite a panic on the home front.  And as I desired to be with Trouble more and more, I visited home less and less. After all, why would I want to go home only to get reprimanded? Trouble made me happy. Trouble was all that mattered.  Me + Trouble = True Love.

Then, early one morning, I opened the apartment door to leave for my campus job. There on the doorstep sat a vaguely familiar stuffed animal.

It was Him.

Under his paw there was an envelope with my name on it.

I brought the bear inside the apartment, sat down and opened the letter. “Dear Chelsea,” it read. “This is a letter to Him. Since Him cannot read, I was hoping you could read it out loud to Him.”

Okay . . . I thought. My dad truly is the King of Weirdness. But, I sighed, if he took the time to bring this bear to my apartment in the middle of the night I decided to at lease humor him. I read the note (out loud, as directed) to the bear. It wasn’t anything ground breaking. Just a letter about life and working through tough decisions.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what he was trying to do. A few days later there was another letter on the doorstep addressed to Him, presumably for me to read out loud.  Then letters started coming in the mail, too. It was happening so often that my roommates were getting thrills every time a “Him letter” showed up. And even though I stopped reading them out loud (too many ears in those apartments!) I secretly began to look forward to the letters because a.) my dad was a funny man who did unpredictable things, and  b.) I wasn’t as happy with Trouble as I wished I was.  Trouble was a good kisser . . . and that was about it.

My dad wrote to Him about everything: decision making, being wise, having an eternal perspective, and even techniques on how to get to sleep.  He drew diagrams and pictures so Him (who had a small brain) could understand.

I did finally break up with Trouble. And then we got back together. Then we broke up again.  Finally Trouble went on a mission, but it wasn’t until he came home two years later that I finally pounded the last nail in the coffin of our love. Believe me, Trouble is hard to shake off.

The letters to Him weren’t what saved me from getting into serious problems with this young man. But the letters to Him kept me connected with my dad in a unique and vital way. The fact that my dad took the time to make his messages creative told me that he loved me but did not want to offend me. And because his method was so strangely endearing I didn’t have the heart to get defensive about the advice I was getting. Each letter was a gentle reminder that I was loved and I was being prayed for, and most of all, that I was being trusted to make the right choice on my own.
IMG_6203

 

Now, back to the bookstore owner who had me cornered in her store.

This is what she told me:

You will need a bag of mini marshmallows, some tooth picks and a little candle. Late at night (when people are most willing to share their deepest dreams and fears) invite one of your girls to the kitchen table. (You must only do this with one child at a time.) Light the candle. Turn off the lights. Stick the little marshmallows on the toothpicks. Roast your marshmallows. Because the candle is so small you will have to sit very close to each other. Because you are doing something edible she will not leave. And because you are doing something unpredictable she will know that you care. Then let her talk, and you listen.

image

I’ve already done this with two of my kids, with magical results. (I am starting this method early, as a preventative measure.)

It is our job as parents to remind, correct, discipline and warn. But it is worth remembering that kids may not always listen to words, but they always listen to love.

IMG_6255

“If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands, and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may possibly be led to if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.”   –Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

30 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Uncategorized

Shovel Your Way To Washington, D.C.

Usually when we have a snow day it is really exciting and there is cheering, cartwheels and confetti throwing. But when you have snow day after snow day after snow day . . .

By the eighth snow day my kids’ brains were beginning to atrophy. They were counting bricks in the dining room (there aren’t any) and chasing each other with kitchen utensils, while I was curled up in a little ball in my closet nibbling frantically on chocolate.

We had planned a trip to DC planned this weekend, but because of the snow we didn’t think we’d even be able to get our mini van out of our cul-de-sac. You see, we live at the bottom of a hill where even snowplows dare not go (at least for the fist two days after a storm . . . sometimes more) and we were stuck. Scott would still be going to DC (because he was going for business) in his 4×4 truck, but we would be stuck at home.

Stuck. At. Home.

To humor us Scott tried four times to get the van up the hill to prove that it was hopeless. “There is just too much ice on the road,” he said.

But Sophie was determined. She rounded up her sisters and they all took shovels to the top of the hill. And for the better part of an hour they cleared two tire tracks in the snow.

IMG_4825

 

Five hours later we arrived in Washington, D.C.

IMG_4844IMG_4882

We saw the White House. (Free)

IMG_4831

The Museum of Natural Science. (Free)

IMG_4840

IMG_4834 IMG_4837

The Library of Congress (Free)

IMG_4853

We surreptitiously ended up at Ford’s Theater. Not part of the original plan, but a great bonus. (Also free) IMG_4873IMG_4868

The International Spy Museum (A great hit, but not free.)

IMG_4879

And The Red Velvet Cupcakery (Not free but worth it.)

IMG_4888 IMG_4889

To end our whirlwind 2-day trip we stopped off at the temple.

We saw the model:

IMG_4892

And the real thing:

IMG_4894

“Did you learn as much as you would have if you had gone to school for those two weeks?” I asked the kids as we drove home.

“More!” They said.

All because a girl and her sisters were willing to shovel.

IMG_4826

Thanks, Sophie!

3 Comments

Filed under Family Fun, Parenting

Teaching Children to Be Believers

The first thing you might notice about a Mormon sacrament meeting is the noise.

In almost every Mormon congregation (besides college wards and nursing home wards) there will be a moderate-to-loud roar of children. Children crying, children asking, children chewing, children humming, children making car noises, or if you were near my pew today, children burping.

But now imagine you are a four-year-old boy.

IMG_5533

You have to sit still for an hour and ten minutes.  You are scrunched between three sisters, a mom and a baby while you listen to people give sermons using words which you don’t understand.  You are told you are not to make noise unless you are singing hymns from a hymnbook that you can’t yet read. And when you feel the urge to kick or run or jump or yell your mother hands you crayons and expects you to draw. For my 4-year-old who can’t even stand to wear shoes on his feet, I would have better luck making him eat the crayons than use them.

There are strategies I’ve used over the years. I’ve brought food, bottles, blankets, books, notebooks, markers, pens, magnets, toy cars, silly putty, flannel toys and truckfulls of Cheerios. I’ve drawn things for him, read things to him, explained things to him, colored pictures of him, spelled words for him, folded origami for him, created pipe cleaner animals for him.

But there comes a time when the child can no longer stand the monotony of the meeting, and no pipe cleaner animal or origami creation or cheerio will suffice. If he does not get to beat his chest and howl or toss his shoe three pews back he will explode. And since you are not allowed to howl or throw your shoes at church, that is exactly what he does.

When this happens he must be taken out.

They say the most effective way to correct an unruly child at church is to take him to an empty classroom where there are no treats, no snacks, no toys to play with and they can sit there and calm down. The theory here is that he will see that it is more “fun” to come back to the pew than be in a toyless, sugarless room.

Once I took my misbehaving 4-year-old into a deserted room to let his temper tantrum run its course. He yelled and screamed and pounded the wall. I told him we would stay in there until he calmed down. My plan backfired on me, though, when a man who was teaching a class on the other side of the wall my son was pounding on opened the door and  asked if everything was alright. We had to leave, of course and go some place else.  But the other classrooms were full and it was raining icicles outside. So we went back to the pew. Child 10 points, Mom 0.

Another time I took him to a deserted room and turned off the lights, hoping that a toyless, sugarless, lightless room would do the trick. I didn’t leave him in there alone, of course. I stood next to the door, frightening the next three adults who unsuspectingly opened the door to see my face staring at them from the darkness.

And then there was the time that he was being good. I remember it very clearly: he was sitting with his hands folded, swinging his feet and making soft buzzing sounds with his lips. Ahhhh . . . I thought . . . this is great. This is nice. He is calm and quiet. And just as I was basking in those thoughts the woman in front of me turns around and asks, “Do you want me to take your son out?”

After which I promptly burst into tears and had to walk around the parking lot by myself for 15 minutes.

Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves and our children through this mutual torture session? Why? Is anybody getting anything out of this? Is it worth it?!

Yes, yes, yes!!!!

We Mormons are pretty over the top when it comes to teaching our kids about religion. We bring them to three hours of meetings on Sunday. We give them another devotional on Monday night. We read scriptures as a family every day. Teenage boys pass the sacrament and hold the priesthood. Teenage girls can preach from the pulpit. Children of every age take the sacrament (our communion).  Youth give lessons, participate in leadership meetings and sing in choir (the choir pianist just got his driver’s license last year!). At 6:00 am every weekday morning they take seminary classes where they memorize scriptures from the New Testament, Old Testament and Book of Mormon. They are expected to dress modestly, act modestly, they have a pamphlet of standards they carry around with them. They don’t have sex. Once a month they fast. They go on missions.

Who does this anymore?

I’ve heard some people say we brainwash our kids into believing the doctrines of our church. But that is not brainwashing. I’ll tell you what brainwashing is, but we have to switch into a darker gear.

The Dark Side of Teaching Children

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic State.  In it they interviewed children that escaped Islamic State military training camps where children as young as 8 regularly witness beheadings. Where children are gathered, school-field trip style, and given candy as they watch executions. There are many more graphic details that I can’t go into on this blog because my children read it. But suffice it to say that Islamic State knows how to do a few things really well. And one of them is to raise a generation of devout believers.

In his book Acts of Faith Eboo Patel wrote:

“Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”

Are we Christians doing our part provide today’s youth with “a clear identity to make a powerful impact”? Americans in particular have set aside many rituals that once gave children purpose and destiny: prayer, baptism, repentance, chastity. So how do we expect children to make good decisions when they have no moral foundation? Many parents seem to have no problem releasing their children into an immoral world without giving them a spiritual direction. Instead we arm our kids with phones so that they can get answers to their problems from Google instead of God.

I even have Mormon friends who do not want to “indoctrinate” their own children with Mormon beliefs so that they can be “open-minded” and make decisions for themselves.   This is crazy!  Children come to earth with minds like open buckets. If parents do not fill that bucket someone else will.

But how do you know what you are filling their bucket with Truth?

I don’t know if I’m filling my kids with Truth or not, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is the Truest thing I have found, since it has already brought a lot of happiness to my own life. My aim is to give them the hope that there is so much more to this sad, earth; that there is a greater Plan, a greater Designer and greater Hope, and that death is not the end, but just graduation. I am teaching them that no matter what horrible mistake they make they have a Savior who has died for them and will forgive them if they repent.  I teach them to not forget they are children of God, and not to forget that everyone else is, too. I can’t prove to them that God exists, but no one can prove that He doesn’t.

“We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” We unapologetically flood our children with this knowledge.

We can’t be ambivalent about our children’s spiritual education when there are people on the other side of the world teaching their children there is value and honor in intimidation and killing. We must match their increasing darkness with our increasing light.

Children need a moral education that goes beyond teaching them to recycle, wash their hands, play by the rules, and don’t do things that will get them in jail. They need to have a spiritual identity. And with that spiritual identity will come an inner voice that will guide them to make choices consistent with their beliefs.

Humans are born hungry to believe in something. If we neglect our children spiritually they will find other places to fill that void. Science can prove a lot, but one thing that science will never be able to tell is us what happens to us after we die. Only faith can claim that prize. And why not choose a faith that in the process will make you into the best possible person you can be?

Last Sunday I watched my son, now 5,  get ready for church without prodding and without complaint. He sat in the pew reverently and thoughtfully, cradling scriptures he brought himself. This lasted for a record 20 minutes before he finally stood on the pew and tried to swipe the scriptures from the girl in front of him. Hopefully this trend can keep improving, and by the time he is a young adult he will have the power and knowledge to make an impact on the world because he will have a gained personal testimony. He will choose light instead of darkness, he will choose to spread the Good News instead of spreading hatred, and he will choose to ignite hope instead of instilling fear . . . or worse, indifference.

9 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Strange Mormon Customs

The Thief of Happiness

Last week we took our kids bowling.  We rented two lanes, side by side. Scott and I were on one lane, and four kids were on the other, with the fifth child orbiting.

Scott typed in everyone’s name on the computer and each child oo-ed and aah-ed as they saw their name appear in the neon screens above us. How exciting! Bowling is so fun! We chose our balls and began our game.

Everything started out just fine. We had some unconventional positions, some sliding, some ball-bouncing, a few spares, a couple strikes. The scores started to add up.

Well, some of them did.

It soon became apparent to one of my children (who will from this point on will be referred to as the Star of the Story) that she was not improving. In fact, her siblings were surpassing her. Including her younger siblings.

By the time we were on the ninth frame, the Star of the Story was not having fun at all. And each time she bowled she became more and more emotionally discombobulated. Then came the second-to-lowest moment: In an effort to improve her score she threw (and I mean threw) her ball so hard that it catapulted out of her lane, over the gutter and into ours, knocking down the pins in the middle of my turn. She was devastated and embarrassed.

We managed to cheer her up a bit, at least so that she would not give up. On her final turn she picked up her ball with renewed determination. She stepped forward, aimed, and with all her might flung the ball across the polished hardwoods where it bounced, bounced, bounced and landed in the next lane. Again.

What happened next?

The Star of the Story was in tears, two others crying for completely unrelated reasons, one was indifferent, and one was supremely happy because she had broken 100, beating everyone including me and, dare I say, Scott.

Mercifully, though, the game was over, and we got outta there.

Comparison is the thief of happiness, a wise woman once told me. Had there not been a screen up there telling us everyone’s score, the Star of the Story would have had a great time. Her attitude would have radiated to everyone else and by the end everyone would have been laughing. Without the numbers I believe she would have found it hilariously funny that her ball went rogue. In fact, the others probably would have tried to get theirs to do the same thing.

It took a full hour and a trip to Chick-Fil-A before the Star of the Story could finally see the humor in what had happened. We all agreed that next time we go bowling she would most likely be the first one to beat her previous score, where as Little Miss 106 may have more of a challenge.

There are a lot of numbers out there that we measure ourselves by, which is, when you think about it, pretty silly.

If the Star of the Story can learn how to lose and start again using her Own Best as her gauge, then she will find much happiness in her life, since joy is not found in conquering others as much as it is in conquering yourself.

In the end, she is the star to no one’s story but her own.

 

 

Photo credit: Badger Explosion, April 18, 1943, Nevada test sight by Federal Government of the United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5 Comments

Filed under Parenting

The Only Six Toys You Will Ever Need

Toymakers are the world’s greatest fibbers.

All you have to do is go into the toy aisle, find a box that says “Hours of Endless Fun!” take it home, give it to your child and then start the timer.

It won’t be long before the toy breaks, runs out of battery power, or the child gets bored with it. In my eleven-year history of toy buying I have spent a lot of money on these kinds of toys.

Toy companies should understand that I only have four simple desires when it comes to toys:

1. It needs to be creative.

2. It needs to last. In other words, my kids need to be able to throw it, drop it, flush it, smash it, draw on it or leave it outside and still be able to play with it.

3. It needs to help them be self-sufficient, in other words, no mom required. Toys are for kids, not for moms. Moms do enough wonderful things with their kids all the time, so kids need toys that don’t need moms.

4. It needs to be able to grow with the child. You know a toy is a keeper when the child doesn’t toss it aside when they’ve grown older, but instead finds more sophisticated ways to play with it.

Here are the best toys in our house. They might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think “toy,” but these take the prize for being worthy of the label “Hours of Endless Fun!”

Numero Uno: Paper

IMG_6044

I’m afraid to say my children alone have probably contributed to the destruction of several forests. (But we recycle!) We go through reams of paper, using it from everything from drawing to writing to crafts to paper airplanes to origami.

Seven years ago someone told me that newspaper printers sometimes give away “end rolls.” I went to a newspaper printer who gave me THREE of these wonderful rolls, for FREE!

IMG_6124

photo by Danny Dyreng

This alone has been one of the best “toys” in our house. We use it for wrapping paper, car cities, big paper projects, banners, etc. We are now down to one roll, but I believe there is still enough to get Levi through childhood.

IMG_6115

2. Tape

IMG_6159

 

Duct tape: Good for making wallets, hair bows, fixing broken toys (the ones that require Hours of Endless Repairs), doll casts and neighborhood boat races. 

IMG_6108

IMG_6110

Painters tape: Good for hanging up pictures, creating barriers, bounderies, and indoor hopscotch games.

IMG_6100

Scotch tape: Good for everything else.

3. Cars!IMG_6051

Oh, how I love cars! I cannot say enough good things about cars. A car fits perfectly in the palm of the hand. Comes in any color, any style. Can be quiet or loud, depending on the driver’s mood. Can play with friends or alone. Can play outside or inside in water, mud or sand. Can fit in a purse, leaves no mess, and is virtually indestructable.

IMG_6058

I’m not reallly sure what boys played with before cars.

 

4. Dolls

Dolls will never go out of style.

IMG_6183

Girls love them at any age. IMG_3810

And dolls don’t have to cost $100.00 to be an excellent confidant and friend. Naomi still won’t part with Olivia.IMG_6182

Olivia is a $19.00 American Girl copy-cat with ratty hair and a lazy eye, and Naomi will not give her away. IMG_6193

Believe me, I’ve tried.

IMG_6198

“Olivia will never go to the thrift store. Ever.”

 

5. Balls

Now, balls are a little bit of a mystery to me, since I have never really understood their appeal. Watching a boy with a ball is like watching a cat with a semi-dead mouse. They go a little berserk. This toy does break my “no mom required” requirement but ultimately he won’t need me anymore, in fact, he will be glad when he finally gets a real pitcher.IMG_6064

 

6. Books

This is what my kids revert to at the end of the day. It is their happy place, and mine.

IMG_6102

Hours, ladies and gentlemen of the toy-making industry, hours and hours of endless fun . . .

IMG_6085

 

. . . and quiet.

There are other “toys” that didn’t make this list like sand, water, sidewalk chalk, sticks and string, but you get the point. There are a lot of great toys out there. A couple of them come from the toy store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Family Fun, Parenting

What is a “Strong Woman”?

I have three daughters, and like every mother, I would like to raise them to be “strong women.”

IMG_4326

But what does that mean?

I’m sure everyone has their own idea of what a “strong woman” is. But this phrase gets thrown around so much that I want to define it in my own terms for my daughters so they know the meaning that I give it, lest they think that being a “strong woman” means they should aspire to be Katy Perry.

IMG_5026

Often we hear the term “strong woman” describing women who are in charge. A woman who shakes things up. A woman who can win arguments and lead and wave flags around and protest against conformity, authority, superiority, and all the other -orities. A woman who personifies the bumper sticker: Well-behaved women seldom make history. 

IMG_3251

When I first saw that slogan I thought it was kind of clever. But the more I thought about it the more I decided that its message is not quite accurate.

Take my mother, for instance. My mother grew up in a poor family with a father who never believed she could go to college. She proved him wrong. She went to college. She became a scientist and studied at Harvard. She published papers, won awards and became world famous. Later on she won the Nobel Prize. Haven’t you ever heard of Dr. Patricia Q. Bagley?

No you haven’t. Because after my mom graduated from college she stayed home to raise seven children.

IMG_4704

She never ran for anything, she never made any money, she never had a job outside the home. But she was an exceptionally good mom. And she sacrificed a lot to put us at the center of her world.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the female presidents and doctors and CEOs and lawyers are not strong women. These women are amazing. They are what I call Obviously Strong Women.

But can a woman be strong if she would rather study dance instead of engineering?

Can a woman be a strong with no degree at all?

What about the NSOSW?

(the Not So Obviously Strong Women)

IMG_4645
Let’s have some fun. Let’s go back to the bumper sticker and dissect it.

The first part: Being well-behaved. That word is purposely condescending, suggesting that women who are well-behaved are much like a good dog.

But being “well-behaved” also means that you have self-control. It means you know when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut. It means you are considerate of the feelings of others. It means you are wise. Being well-behaved is something I’ve tried my whole life to be, and it is not easy!

IMG_5303

It would be much easier to yell when I feel like yelling. It would be easier to tell someone EXACTLY WHAT I THINK OF THEM than breathe, breathe, breathe . . . and forgive. It would be easier to FREAK OUT whenever I encounter something that makes me afraid, than to study it, understand it and see it for what it really is.

SONY DSC

Second part: Is “making history” really what a woman of true strength is aspiring for? Many Obviously Strong Women definitely gain fame in the process, but in my definition, Obviously Strong Women who become famous for being strong were not searching for fame at the beginning of their journey. They were trying to correct something, establish something, change something or stand for something. “Fame” was something other people created while these women had their shoulders to the wheel and their feet in the mud.


IMG_4585

Being a “strong woman” in the context of the Mormon church

Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have always been given a lot of responsibility. We have callings, we lead, we teach, we administrate and we preach from the pulpit, in addition to the responsibility of caring for our children. Many women serve full-time missions. But women are not given the priesthood.  This bothers some women, but it has never bothered me and I’ll explain why.

When Scott and I were first married we went to an intramural basketball game early one Saturday morning, and one of the players, a friend of ours named Richard, was dribbling the ball across the court when something odd started happening. He slowed, he staggered, and then he crumpled to the ground. By the time we approached him to see what was the matter he was unconscious. Three seconds later he was not breathing. A couple of guys went to call an ambulance. I knelt down next to him and sealed my mouth on his and breathed into his lungs. It was easier than I thought it would be. But then he lost his pulse. I started doing chest compressions while another girl took over with the breaths.

(I’m not fibbing this time, by the way.)

The guys who were playing basketball a moment before watched. Soon some of them knelt down at Richard’s head and gave him a priesthood blessing. The paramedics arrived and took Richard away. He was in a coma for three days.

But he lived.

I’ve often thought of this experience in the years since. Did he live because he got CPR? Or did he live because the boys gave him a blessing? I have no idea, but I’m glad he got both. We were ALL using our own specialized talents to do everything in our power to keep our friend alive. We can’t all run around giving people priesthood blessings and calling for ambulances. Someone has to keep the blood pumping through the heart.

IMG_0727

Strong women support men, just as strong men support women. But is it possible for a strong man and a strong woman to coexist together? Or does one have to be pushed aside so the other can be “the leader”?  I believe they can. Especially when they value each other’s different and essential roles. Having different roles forces us to depend on each other. The perfect match for a strong woman is not a weak man, and a strong man does not have to settle for a weak woman. We marry our equal, but not our identical.

When I was 7 or 8 years old I remember standing at the top of my driveway and seeing something strange coming up the long dirt road. Two people were walking up the road, a taller one and a shorter one. The taller one was struggling, leaning against the shorter. I remember feeling alarmed when I realized it was my parents. My parents never walked so close to each other like that, and especially not in public. Then it dawned on me. My father had had a seizure. I knew that my dad sometimes had seizures, and even though I had never witnessed one myself, I knew that he must have had one at the filling station where he worked, and that my mom was helping him back to the house. I will never forget that intimate moment as my strong, capable, indestructible father leaned completely on the slender shoulders of my mother. It has since become a powerful and very symbolic reminder to me that taking a supporting role is not a sign of weakness.

Ultimately I believe a strong woman is someone who has not conquered the world or conquered other people but has conquered herself. She has recognized in herself a flaw, whether it be anger, self-pity, doubt, intolerance, impatience, or selfishness and she worked hard to overcome that weakness. Or perhaps she is still working on it. Every. Single. Day.

And, ironically, could that not also be the definition of a strong man?

Not all of us have the capacity, the ability or opportunity to become wives, mothers, engineers, doctors, gold medalists or presidents of the United States. And whether or not we are “strong” should not be measured by how much money we make or how many children we bear. For we all have the ability to be kind, selfless, honest, loving, forgiving.  We all can be on a constant quest for refinement and excellence. And that, my dear daughters, is my definition of strong.

SONY DSC

10 Comments

Filed under Parenting

I Just Wanted You To Know

Today I woke up to the sound of a trumpet, a violin, a clarinet and a piano playing a version of Happy Birthday that also could have doubled as a Halloween movie theme song. It was all to celebrate my freshly-turned-five-year-old boy.

IMG_5429

There was a from-scratch breakfast to make, presents to open, a diaper to change, a puppy to let out in to the backyard, a cat to feed. Daddy is 2000 miles away, bringing home the bacon. But even though he’s gone we still read our scriptures and say our morning prayer (offered by Dan whom I promised could say all the prayers today because it is his birthday). We have our normal scoldings (“You are not done practicing the piano yet, young lady!”) and as usual it takes us fifteen minutes to get from the door to the car since the cat always finds a way to slink into the house and someone always forgets a lunch or a coat or an instrument. Once we are in the car everyone fights like tigers about who is getting in the back seat, even though we made a van seating chart called “The Great Van of Happiness” which doesn’t seem to be working.

IMG_5304

One of Levi’s favorite things to do. Sit at a little table reading a little book.

I take them to school, say I love yous and come home to find the dog piddled in his crate. Then I have breakfast to clean up, a shower to take (“Dan, make sure Levi doesn’t get into the knives, play with plastic bags, drink clorox, open the front door or put anything small in his mouth. I’ll be out in ten minutes”). Once I am clean I spend time with Dan, mounting his new license plate and discussing the other license plates he has on his wall. He asks me what it says on every one. When we get to the Idaho plate I tell him that it says “Famous Potatoes.” He gets a funny look on his face and starts laughing. He doesn’t stop laughing for five full minutes.

IMG_5283

We call Grammie to thank her for the gift she sent. Dan talks her ear off telling her about every second of his day so far. Then it is time for Levi to go down. We play peek-a-boo for a minute so we can leave him happy in his bed. Then Dan goes in front of the t.v. and it is MY TIME.

I write my nanowrimo novel.

It is a ghost story.

Before I know it Levi is awake. It is time for lunch with my boys. After lunch we wrestle. Actually Levi doesn’t wrestle, he just lays on you and rolls around like a walrus. This is pretty much the best part of the day.

IMG_5290

Then it is time to pick up the girls. I pack their piano bags (3 note books and 10 other music books) and dozen chocolate chunk bran refrigerator muffins that I baked during the wrestling match. I get to the threshold of the door and find out I need to change a diaper at the exact moment the cat slithers passed me and Dan is demanding that I bring him a snack for the road.

IMG_5344

The dog is whining in his crate so I take him out again just before we go. Fifteen minutes later we are in the car.

I want to listen to NPR but Danny wants to listen to an extremely annoying CD of scripture songs set to rock and roll music. We listen to that because, after all, it is his birthday. Tomorrow it will be back to NPR.

We pick up the girls at two different schools. This takes an hour, so in between we make a run to the library and check out a few books. Books about cars, of course.

IMG_5439

We pick up the girls. We ask them about their day. They munch on the muffins. Then we drop them off at piano.  (The girls, not the muffins.) We go to a park and play a game called “Don’t Touch Blue” which Danny thinks it is hilarious. We make up more rules to make it even more hilarious. We leave the park smiling.

We go to the grocery store. I let Dan get a book with mazes since it is his birthday and since he is aMAZEing. By the time we are done shopping it is dark outside and Levi is crying. He is ready for bed. We pick up the girls. We come home. The dog piddled in his crate again. Boo hoo.

IMG_5531

Naomi’s hair on her baptism day.

I make dinner. Pizza for me and Dan (a birthday promise) and mac and cheese for everyone else. No surprise there. Grandma calls. Daddy calls. Then it is homework and bed. There are arguments, as always. Naomi is mad at Dan who is mad at Sophie who is mad at the world. There are last minute stomach aches and headaches. Dan gets five extra kisses cause he’s five: one on his nose, one one his forehead two on his cheeks and one on his neck to make him laugh. Will you let me do this when you are sixteen? I ask. Yes, he says. Now it’s my turn to laugh. Syrena gets a reminder about practicing piano in the morning. Tears are wiped. More kisses given. Lights out.

Dog needs my attention. Curse you, dog. Where is your master?

IMG_5372

Against my will I play with the dog and teach it to fetch his toy.

I tidy the house. It is my turn for Joyschool in the morning. It will be another wild day.

I write this post. As I write I can hear the baby in the room above me. He is waking up for some reason. I cross my fingers that he will go back to sleep soon, but I will probably have to go up and change his diaper and give him another bottle.

I still have to take out the dog one last time. Is that rain I hear?

This is my day. No one took a photo of me. No one patted me on the back. No one gave me an A or a medal or handshake or money. I got paid in kisses and hugs, and I got lots–and I mean LOTS–of attention. And all throughout my day I thought about how much I love doing this. I LOVE it. I love being a mom. Motherhood is so hard and it is so not glamorous, but it is the greatest job in the world.

I just wanted you to know that.

3 Comments

Filed under Parenting

The Death of Cursive and Other Catastrophes of Minor Importance

I am entering unchartered waters.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother can help me with this, and my friends are all caught up in the same current.

We are the parents of the first generation of screen-taught children, and something about it makes me feel very uneasy.

All of my kids have Smart Boards in their classrooms. My second grader regularly gets on the computer at school. My sixth graders were given laptops this year to bring home. They use their laptops at school and then they come home and do 90% of their homework on them. For several hours.IMG_5293

They are learning.

I think.

Now, I will be the first to say that technology is amazing. It has enhanced and enriched my life in so many ways.  But at the same time, when I see my kids parked on the couch like this part of me screams inside. I feel this is all too early, and I think we will regret exposing them to so much when they are still so young. I know that schools feel pressure to be technologically savvy and everyone wants to be on the cutting edge of education, but I feel like the cutting edge of education is excellent teachers (which my kids have), and not screens.

While they were taught not give out personal info on their laptops, my 11-year-olds were not given any guidance concerning pornography; what it is, and what they should do if they see it. They were instructed to simply “not view pornographic images” and to “use your laptop in public areas of the house.” The school seems to have confidence that the students will explicitly obey these instructions. I guess none of us have to worry. Whew!

Then I find out that the kids are sometimes asked to gather images to post into their homework. It doesn’t take long for a child to learn that the fastest way to gather images is to search under Images on Google. If the schools think the children will not come across pornography that way, they are in fantasyland. (I looked up “cow” the other day under Images for an art project and stumbled upon a couple of surprises! Yikes!)

But I can see how the schools’ hands are tied. They are as mystified as parents are when it comes to the appropriate way to explain pornography to kids that young. And that very fact should clue us in. Should we be letting our children use any device if the warning label alone is too dangerous to be explained?

I think it is important for kids to learn with computers, and I think it is vital that they have laptops. I just can’t help wondering if this could all wait a few more years. There are things they need to know first, things they need to experience first, and self-discipline that they need to develop. As adults they will be on computers for the rest of their lives. Their childhood should be kept as pristine and protected as a National Park. I want them to be kids now. I want them to draw, imagine, run, scribble, play outside. Am I using enough italics to get my point across?

Not only that, but the year after my twins learned cursive the school stopped teaching it.  No more cursive. That means my younger children will never be able to read this:

IMG_5301

Pages of my journal. This particular entry is a poem I wrote in college about wishing I had my own washing machine. Boring, you say? Well, that is because the juicy stuff is on the next page. 🙂

My kids will also not be able to read this:

IMG_5302

A letter written by my mother

Cursive is going to be as readable as a foreign language.

Of course, I can’t let this happen to my children, so I will teach them the lost arts of Cursive and other outdated practices like Brainstorming and Coming Up With Original Ideas Not Found On Pinterest and Writing Thank-You Letters By Hand.

But all is not lost. Recently my daughter Naomi came up to me and said, “Mom I have one week left of my personal goal.”

Me: “What is your personal goal?”

Naomi: “To not play computer games for four weeks.”

My mouth dropped open. In my mind I quickly reviewed Naomi’s activities of the last three weeks and sure enough, Naomi had never asked to play on the computer (which I grudgingly allow after all homework and piano practicing is finished). Instead she had drawn stacks and stacks of beautiful pictures. She had read dozens of books. I was so proud of her I almost exploded. A week later, when she finally finished her “personal goal,” I let her play on the computer. She only asked for 20 min and she hasn’t asked since.

If we took all the time we spent on computers and used it to draw, think of what great artists we’d be. If we took that time and practiced an instrument, threw a ball back and forth, read books . . . think of what we could do. Well, there ARE kids out there that doing that. And I believe they will be the creative leaders in the future because they had a creative beginning.

We are riding a wave of technology that leads to Who-knows-where, and in the process we are tossing many treasured things overboard. In my mind I imagine me and my mother-friends being sucked into this swift, uncharted current of technology and shouting out to each other, “What should we do?”

The easy answer is, “Let’s just see where it takes us!”

To me that sounds like some famous last words.

11 Comments

Filed under Parenting

The Holiday No One Knows About

Today is Grandparents Day. Betcha didn’t know that. It is not a day people normally pull out the streamers for, but I think my kids have some pretty fantastic grandparents. Let me show you my brag book.

DSC02159This is Doug. He knows how to have fun. He owns four wheelers, go-carts, ping-pong tables and makes ice-skating rinks in the winter.

 

IMG_5269Here are Patsy and Valerie: leaders, mothers, missionaries, and birthday rememberers. They know just what to say at any given moment and can make any home smell delicious in under 30 minutes.  They make mothering seem simple. And they tell you so, too.

 

IMG_5038This is Terry, our honorary grandfather, keeper of horses,  healer of broken hearts, and family godsend. Tough and tender-hearted and generous to no end.

 

SONY DSCThis is Jerry, fireworks salesman, world traveller, problem solver and celebrated slayer of nightmares.  He has shared a pillow with my daughter for years, even though they have never met.

 

Our kids have always lived over a thousand miles away from their grandparents, but that hasn’t stopped them from creating great relationships together. No one can leave an imprint on a child’s mind the way a grandparent can.  We are grateful for ours.

Leave a comment

Filed under Parenting

Teaching Children To Work

Long ago, back before the button was invented (and I’m not talking about the kind of button that keeps your pants up), eight-year-old children would wake up before the sun and go out to milk cows. Ten-year-old children would make bread from scratch. Twelve-year-old children would saddle their horse and bring home lost sheep.

Now there is very little for an American child to do besides enjoy one leisure activity after another.

But just because we don’t live on farms anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still teach our children how to work. Scott and I encourage our children to work from a very young age. So far all of my daughters can wash dishes by hand, unload the dishwasher, make cookies from scratch, put sheets on their own bed, make simple dinners on the stove, fold and put away all their own laundry and wield a paintbrush.  My four-year-old son can water plants, wash windows, bring groceries in from the car and open the door for me when I am pushing the stroller.

IMG_2089

Ironically with all of this working my house still seems to be mess. But that is because we are a project family.

I was told once that the key to building confidence in children is not with compliments but with accomplishments.  We are not perfect at this, but here are some things we have learned so far:

1. Complaining is Wonderful

SONY DSC

. . . because that means they are doing something hard. We are not afraid of complaining. We tell them we love to hear them complain because that means they are growing. Any time a routine is changed there will be complaining, every time a tradition is changed there will be complaining. But once they get into the new routine (and if we are consistent), that will become the new tradition. Over time, every family develops a unique culture based on their traditions. In our family we are trying to build a culture of work and industry.

There are ways you can minimize the complaining, though, like this:

2. A Prepared Mind is A More Agreeable Mind

A child who knows they have to work at a certain time does better than a child who is told, all of the sudden with no warning that they must go out and weed the garden. Even though kids aren’t “busy” the way we define busy, they feel like they are busy and we still need to respect that. We’ve learned that asking them to do a job when they are in the middle of a fun game or book results in a lot of foot dragging and eye rolling. Let their minds get used to the idea first. For instance, on the way home from the grocery store tell them: “When we get home everyone needs to help unload the car.” If you wait to tell them when you’ve parked in the garage and they are walking inside the house you might be too late.

Also, this helps a ton:  IMG_3690

Every Saturday this chalkboard is filled with jobs, and in the summertime, every DAY it is filled with jobs. Sometimes they are assigned to specific people, sometimes kids can sign up for what they want. But this way they are prepared and they know there is an expectation (and sometimes a time limit!) They also know that if they finish their jobs first, mom won’t interrupt them later when they are trying having fun.

3. Meaningful Jobs

IMG_4698

Part of learning to work is realizing that hard work can make great things happen. Find jobs for them where there is a meaningful ending, not just moving rocks from one side of the yard to the other. Teach them the Law of the Harvest. Tackle big jobs a little bit at a time. If it is too easy they won’t feel like they’ve done something important and meaningful. If it is too hard they will get discouraged. Making the jobs an age-appropriate job is important. However, I do think children can do more than we think they can.

IMG_4696

Naomi’s green hair

 

4. Working Together

SONY DSC

My kids complained for YEARS about folding clothes. I would sequester them in a room  with a huge pile of clothes and not let them do anything until they were done. This always resulted in much fighting, and clothes folding became a detestable, unpleasant and excruciatingly long and inefficient task. Then one day I sat on the top of the gigantic pile of laundry and made them all sit in an area, far apart from each other. Then I sorted the clothes by pulling an article of clothing out  of the pile and throwing it at the owner. If I threw them the wrong thing then they could throw it at the real owner. It became quite hilarious to throw training bras at my four-year-old son who then got to throw them at his older sisters. There were clothes flying everywhere, faces were happy and we were done in twenty minutes.

I have learned that I can’t just expect my kids to work if I am lying in my hammock and pointing my finger. I have to show them how to work. In fact, teaching kids to work  means a lot of work for you. Unfortunately there is no way around this. 🙂

5. Learn To Live With This:

IMG_4754

Paint on carpet.

and this:

IMG_4758

Paint on ceiling

 

One friend of mine, whose children are all grown now, told me that children can’t do meaningful work until they are 12. I believe this is true. Kids younger than twelve are still developing their hand/eye coordination, their stamina, and their fine motor skills, and mentally they are still in a magical la-la land where standards of perfection are measured by how much pink paint can be used, not how it is used.  Rarely does their work turn out to be satisfactory. But that is not the point. They are children, not professionals. When the eggs drop on the ground remind yourself that you are not baking cookies, you are raising daughters. When paint gets on the carpet remind yourself that you are not painting a room, you are raising sons. Keep training them, keep the opportunities plentiful and don’t expect perfection. There will come a time when you won’t have to keep re-doing their work. But they won’t get to that point unless they’ve made a lot of mistakes first.

6. Turn Up The Volume

When possible, play their favorite music or book on CD while they are doing the task. We did this while we painted these bookshelves.

IMG_4591

IMG_4583
Danny was too young to paint so he got put in charge as the DJ and he was more than happy to hold the iphone and pick songs for the girls to listen to while they worked. They spent an hour joyfully painting and singing without one argument.

7. Take Photos

Take photos of great accomplishments.

IMG_2024

Telling them “We have to take a photo of this!” tells them they are doing something that your family values.

Also, before-and-after photos can be a very powerful way to show children that even something that seems impossible is possible!

IMG_4688

Before

IMG_4769

After

This blog post is just another method I am using to get my kids to work. I want them to see that I value what they do so much that I want to tell the world. I want them to see that other people will value their hard work as well. And you thought this post was for Facebook. 🙂

8. Help Them See The Real Reward

People bribe their kids all the time. I do it too. Babysit your brother and I’ll give you a cookie. Wash the car and I’ll give you a dollar. Practice the piano every day for the next 10 years and I’ll buy you a ferrari.

IMG_4765

Clean out the grout in my bathroom and you get whatever your heart desires

But you know when your child has learned the value of work when the product of their work becomes the reward. They will see that if they paint their room their reward is that they have a brand new room that they can decorate and feel happy about. I try to make sure my children realize what they’ve accomplished by having them take a moment to sit down and really appreciate what they’ve done. (My dad would literally take a chair and sit down opposite his finished project and gaze at it for hours.) I explain to them that now something exists that didn’t exist before, and that they are not just painters or organizers–they are creators, and that is a divine quality. I remind them what the project was/looked like before their hands touched it, molded it, painted it; that before they came a long this was just a pile of sticks, or a marked up dirty wall or a messy room. This takes a while for children to learn, but I believe that eventually they will learn that hard work can make their dreams come true.

9. Work = Happiness 

When I was 21 years old I came home from college for Christmas break. I had just broken off an engagement and I was sad, depressed and at rock bottom. What did my dad do? He put me to work. I spent many hours that Christmas in his shed, painting little benches for nursery children. I learned for myself that work can be a great medicine. My children don’t understand that yet, but someday, when they hit rock bottom, they will come home, I will hand them a paintbrush, and we still start working together. And then they will understand what I am talking about, and all my hard work will pay off.

IMG_4594

I would love to hear how you help your kids work and what projects they have done. Then I will share it with my kids. We can always use more inspiration. 🙂

7 Comments

Filed under Parenting