Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Flour on the Counters

They crowd around me, under my feet and in the way every time I turn around.

The questions begin...

Can I help?

I want to cook!

Can I stir?

I want to break the eggs!

Can I have a bite?

By two years old they know what the sound of the oven beeping means and they know where the oven mitts are (not that I actually let them get hot things from the oven at two years old).  

They like to push down the lever on the toaster and pour the milk into the bowl and the bigger ones stand at the stove and make sure things don't burn.

The baby is under foot pulling pots and pans out of the cabinets and the toddler is sitting on the counter with a wooden spoon just waiting for his turn to do something, anything.

There's flour spilled somewhere and I keep checking to make sure all the pan handles are turned in toward the back of the stove so little hands (or big hips) don't bump them.

There are days when I really just want everyone out of the kitchen so I can do what needs to be done and get it over with.  I actually love to cook but sometimes in the chaos of timers and boiling water and someone eating chocolate chips out of the bag, I long for a quiet kitchen all to myself.

But oh, these little people.  They're underfoot and inconvenient and everything takes longer and is messier with them there to help.  But they WANT to help.  They want to be there, in the kitchen, because that is where I am and they like to be close to me.  

The babies banging on pots and pans grow into the toddlers who stir the batter.

The toddlers who stir the batter grow into the children who flip the grilled cheese sandwiches and stir the soup.

The children who flip the sandwiches and stir the soup grow into the teenagers you can call when errands take longer than planned and ask to make lunch for the whole brood.

And someday...the teenagers who can whip up muffins or mac and cheese without a second thought turn into the mommies and daddies who will provide for their own little ones.

So, in the midst of the noise and the mess and the children learning to wait their turn to stir or pour or oh-goody-I-get-to-bang-the-eggs, I will try my best.  I will hand out samples and let them lick the beaters.  I will help them clean up their spills with patience, I will guide them as they measure out the flour, the sugar, the milk.  I will teach them to put things away as they use them and wash their dishes as soon as they're finished.  I will show them the proper way to use a knife.  I will stand watch as they use the stove and make sure they remember to read the directions.  I will give them just the right amount of independence, slowly and surely, until they don't need my help at all anymore.

Lord, help me on the days that I want to hurry them along or push them all out so I can just get it done.  Because motherhood is not about just getting things done, it's about slowing down and enjoying, about teaching and guiding, and in this simple, every day task of providing food, we are together, learning, talking, laughing.

 Some day my kitchen will be clean, quiet...and empty.  Some day they'll all be gone, moved on to their own homes with their own new families to take care of.  And the counters will be free of flour and sticky fingers, but also free of laughter and sweet chocolatey faces to kiss.

So for today, for now, in this moment, I'll enjoy it all together, the messes and the noise and the "help" that really means more work for me.  Because in the end it's worth it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What I Believe About Children

I've been a mom for fifteen plus years now.  A stay at home mom for nearly eleven.  A homeschooling mom for a little over nine.  Before I came home to stay with my own children I taught other people's young children in an early childhood center.

I don't claim to know it all when it comes to kids, but there are things I know without a doubt, believe in so strongly it gives me goosebumps, and will defend until the day I die.  Here are some of those things.

I believe....

...that babies should be picked up when they cry, that Cry It Out is an abomination on the face of good parenting, that a tiny helpless little person needs more than anything to know that whenever he or she needs something -whether it be food, drink, clean diaper, warm blanket, new toy, friendly face, or warm arms to hold them - his need will be taken care of.  And yes, the desire to be held close and made to feel safe is a very real NEED.

...that babies and very young children belong at home with their mommies.  That no daycare or early childhood center in the world can possibly equal the love, attention, and teaching that can happen at home with mama.  That even being left with grandma or Aunt Sue every weekend has it's effects.  Very young children need that special bond with one primary caregiver and ideally it should be their mama.  Now...I know that we don't live in an ideal world and sometimes situations demand that children go into a daycare program.  I know it has to happen sometimes.  I know many women struggle with this, having to leave their littles and wanting nothing more than to be home with them instead of going to work.  It happens, and your child isn't doomed because of it.  It can work, but just because it "can work" doesn't mean it's best.  Best is home with mama.  I am very thankful to have been able to be home with three of my kids from birth on.  I regret the time I lost with my oldest two while I was working.  Little ones and mamas belong together.

...that young children should be given boundaries to keep them safe but otherwise allowed to roam and explore.  Let them open things, look into things, take things out and put them back in.  The world is new to them and when you tell them NO about everything you stifle their curiosity and their hunger for learning.

...that kids of all ages need to be outside as much as possible.  That fresh air and dirt are good for body, mind, and soul.  That little ones should be allowed to dig in the dirt, play in the mud, throw rocks, break sticks, splash in puddles.  Let them get good and dirty and love every minute of it.

...that children should be allowed to do real things.  Let them help with cleaning, cooking, making things, building.  Encourage their interest when they're young and watch what happens.  Just because they're small doesn't mean they aren't capable.

...that children should be brought up with traditions, meaningful and rich, family traditions, holiday traditions, special little moments that bring continuity to the long years of their lives and that root them firmly in the love of their family.  Special meals, special outings, special customs of decorating the tree or visiting the pumpkin patch or going out for ice cream on the first day of summer.

...that children should be surrounded by people who treat them kindly even when they don't act so kindly themselves.  A child acting out is generally a child with a need.  I am NOT against spanking, but it has a very narrow time and place in which it is truly the best option.  Most times there are far better ways to deal with a child's disobedience or bad attitude (and they work).

...that children deserve respect.  They deserve to be allowed to speak, to have their questions answered, their thoughts listened to, their opinions respected.  Older kids and teens deserve to have a huge part in planning things which will involve them and in having their input valued.

...that kids and teens should be allowed their emotions.  It's OK to be mad, or sad, or happy.  It's OK if you are having a down day and don't want to play and just want to be by yourself.  It's OK if something has made you angry and you have to cry to let it all out. It's OK if something that other people think is silly makes you deliriously happy.

...that children deserve an apology. Being an adult does not make you automatically right all the time.  People screw up.  Parents screw up.  Sometimes we do wrong by our children and they deserve parents who are humble enough to admit that and apologize.

...that children deserve a good education and to have a hand in that education.  Homes should be filled with great books and art supplies and good music.  Kids should have trips to museums and gardens and parks and science centers and libraries.  They should have easy access always to new knowledge, thoughts and ideas.

...that the older they get, the less they act like they need parents, which is exactly the opposite of the truth, they need us now more than ever, to help guide them as they seek out their own path in life.  Even if they are moody teenagers (although...I believe children raised in a loving and respectful home will nearly always turn out to be quite pleasant teenagers).

...that young people deserve to see a happy and healthy relationship between their parents.  Parents as a united front in raising children is the best thing that could ever happen.  Parents who support each other and love each other while loving and raising their kids show those kids how to act in their own adult lives someday.

...that every child should be allowed to get dirty, do messy projects, dream big, create, learn, love, cry, speak their mind, and feel safe in their own home and in the knowledge that their parents will always be there for them.

Am I perfect?  Do I always abide by my own beliefs?  Absolutely not.  Sometimes I mess up, in the heat of the moment on an exhausting day when my nerves are shot, yes I do.  I won't even pretend that I don't.  But then I apologize.  Or I resolve to keep on trying to be better.  To love my children with all that is in me and to make sure they know it!  Because that's what they need most.  That's what I believe about children.

18 Years is Not Enough

"He's twelve already.  I've only got, what?  Six years left?  I just keep thinking of all the things I need to teach him before he graduates."

My sister-in-law said this to me just a few days ago as we sat at her house discussing homeschooling.

It's something I've heard many times before.  So much to teach, so much to try to fit in, so many subjects, so many different branches of the subjects.  So much everything....and so little few years....

It comes from the new homeschooler, starting out with a child only five or six, looking down those many long daunting years, and wondering if she'll ever be able to teach them everything they need to know. It comes from the veteran homeschooler, facing teaching a high schooler for the first time, who suddenly realizes just how little time is left and the immensity of learning still to be done.

I've had those moments myself, middle-of-the-night panics because there's so many periods of history we haven't covered yet, or that one branch of science that we just briefly touched on that they might need to know more about someday.  

So much information to cram into their brains before we turn them loose on the world....what's a homechool parent to do?

Well, I've come to a conclusion.  A rather freeing one.  You will NEVER fit it all in.  You can NOT teach your child everything there is to know.  You can NOT make sure they learn every single period of history, learn every single branch of science, master every single math skill, read every single tome of great literature.  It is NOT POSSIBLE.  Eighteen years is not enough time to do all that.  No matter how hard you may try.

And you know what?  That's OK.

Learning is a lifelong process and there is way more information and knowledge in the world than one person can ever learn.

Your child will not be ruined if they don't learn the history of the entire world or master biology, chemistry, AND physics.  Their lives will not be worthless and without meaning if they don't cover every single composer and artist in their studies.

What you can do is teach them the basics.  Make sure they can read, write, express themselves well both orally and in written word.  Make sure they have the basics of math down, enough to function in the world.  Make sure they know how to take care of their bodies and maintain a home and a car (and a relationship).  Expose them to a variety of subjects.  Let them study in depth those things that interest them most.

If it helps, make a list of all the things you think are important to learn, and then prioritize it.  Which branches of science do you think are most important?  Which ones do you think your child will be most interested in?  Give them a brief introduction to all but only study a few in depth.  The same thing with all other subjects. When it comes to history, show them lots of interesting stories and events, make sure they get a good understanding that all events fit together in one giant timeline of history, and then let them really get into the periods and places that fascinate them.  Language Arts and Literature?  Make a list of all the books you really want them to read.  Do some research, find out which books are considered the great classics and choose the ones you want them to read.  Then realize they still might not read them all.  Have YOU read all the great classics?  Probably not!  

Model for them the fact that adults are still learning, too!  Make sure they see YOU learning new things, seeking knowledge.  Encourage them in ANY knowledge pursuits they come up with on their own, even if you don't feel like it's "important", because at least they are pursuing knowledge on their own!

Teach them that learning can be fun and teach them how to learn things on their own.  You won't always be around, but just because you're not there teaching doesn't mean they'll stop learning.

Help them find the path that's right for them and go for it - and don't worry about learning every single little thing.

To inspire and encourage you, here's a few quotes.  You've likely read most of them before, but really think on them right now....

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." 
- William Butler Yeats 

 I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.
- Eartha Kitt

Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves. 
- Abbé Dimnet

What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child. 
- George Bernard Shaw 

The question is not, - how much does the youth know when he has finished his education - but how much does he care and about how many orders of things does he care? 
- Charlotte Mason 

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. 
- James Thurber 


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