Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas in July

Although the crazy of Christmas is upon us, I am trying to slow down and reflect on the amazing year that my family had. We moved into a wonderful new home with more room to grow, my son started kindergarten, and we welcomed our daughter into this world.

It was a mild summer day when our little girl was born. I was so overwhelmed with the move (pregnant full-term) that I hardly had time to think about how much she would change our lives. But bringing her home felt natural and easy.

We loved our sweet little girl the minute we found out I was expecting. For years I had hoped to have a sibling for our son, a little partner in crime, someone he could share his childhood with. Watching our son fall for her, protect her, make her laugh, and comfort her has been nothing short of watching a miracle unfold. That brotherly love is something special. Despite him asking to launch her from the bouncy seat, more often he wants to hold her, smoother her with kisses, and give tickles to make her giggle.

Now that there are two little cubs, my life is full in the most wonderful (though hectic) ways. As much as I enjoy carols, mint cocoa and twinkle lights, the most precious gifts of the season are the ones that I call my husband and children. For us, Christmas definitely came in July.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

risky play outside

This summer marks many milestones for my little guy. At the ripe age of 4.5, he's had many independent firsts. I am constantly amazed at all he can do at such a young age.

One of those firsts centers around the dogwood tree. He learned how to climb to the lowest (safest) part of the tree last spring at age three. Now he shimmies up to the tallest branch with ease, just before the point of where it starts to bow. He clings to the branch like a bear cub. It's a thrill for him to take risks, test his own ability, and feel the pride that comes with accomplishing something difficult.

Am I crazy for letting my four-year-old climb ten feet up in a tree? Maybe. But what would he learn by my barking at him to get down? That he shouldn't trust his own abilities? That he shouldn't try to do difficult things? That adults know better than him what his body is capable of?

I don't want to send a message that risk-taking is bad. In fact, calculated risks are the stuff of life. Knowing when to take them separates leaders from the rest of the pack. Shouldn't we encourage this attribute in kids?

Every parent (and educator) seems to have their own stance on risk-taking in play. As adults, we know it's our job to keep kids safe. But it's tough to draw the line between ensuring safety and being consumed with safety to the point of detriment. It's my assertion that we stunt our children's growth when we rob them of opportunities that risky play offers.

*I should also note that there can be harmful effects to "safe" play" when parents feel more in control. Children are prone to staying in a containerized setting (I.E. indoors) which results in less physical activity, fewer opportunities to connect within the community, and more screen time.

It's no secret that American parents are notorious for being over-protective. (Think rubber mulch.) Compared to European societies, it's not just that we are over-protective when it comes to risk in child's play. The undercurrent of this American mindset is that adults control kids, and must be in control in order for children to be safe. Thereby with good intentions, we have stripped a child's ability to trust himself first. Children then, must be carefully constantly trained and reminded that safety comes first. This happens in homes and in school settings, sending a message to children that they must rely on others to determine what they are capable of.

As the director of a preschool, I fully understand the challenges of keeping children safe. But I also understand that it is crucial for children to take risks, become confident in their abilities and feel the satisfaction of working hard to overcome a challenge. None of this is to say that children should be put in harms way or encouraged to do dangerous things! But we should carefully weigh the benefits of risky play before squashing it.

What's your threshold for risky play? Here are some examples of risky play that can have tremendous benefits:

-getting hands dirty/getting clothes dirty with mud
-walking barefoot
-tree climbing
-holding insects and spiders
-picking up a dead bird
-using a real hand tools like a hammer or saw
-putting hands in stream and trying to catch things
-picking and eating berries from trees (mulberries, wine berries, blackberries, etc.)
-playing in the rain
-examining animal scat (poo)
-making a fire

All of these comes with risk and reward. Let's face it - most of these just require a dose of patience, humor and a good long bath. As for my son, I want him to drink in the satisfaction of working hard to achieve a goal, In this case, it involves me holding my breath under a leafy tree.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Mother Nature seems to know just what we need. Work never slows and neither does my son growing up! Needless to so I am so grateful for the reprieve that snow can bring. Thanks to all the closures, E and I made our gingerbread house with a friend from the neighborhood and decorated our gingerbread cookies. There are sled tracks all over our yard and a little "snowkid", complete with carrot nose. More snow is falling as I write, so more adventures still await.

Because of our Christmas tree toppling yesterday (don't ask), we even got to decorate the tree twice! Hurray for the snow!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

giving thanks and sending love

You could say that moving from the adorable baby and toddler phases into the preschool years has been full of surprises. It was hard to imagine there would ever be a time when E would spontaneously say "thanks, mom!" or "I love you, mama". As his identity and independence grows stronger, he is becoming more aware of others. He's starting to understand how his actions affect other people and, in turn, how other people feel. Although there is plenty to learn about give-and-take with family and peers, I am amazed to see how he makes sense of things in his own four-year-old context.

Lately we've been having some interesting, unprompted dialogue. For example, if I say "brr! It's cold outside! Good thing we brought your mittens," he'll respond with "some kids don't have any mittens and that's sad."

Or if his daddy tucks him in and says "look at all those blankets! You look so nice and warm," E may say "and some kids don't have any blankets and that's sad."

You get the idea. He's becoming more aware of himself and the things that are basic needs and comforts to him. He drives his point home with food, toys, and even kitties. He's even chimed in that "some children don't have a mommy and daddy, and that's so sad. Isn't it, mom?"

We try to take advantage of these moments by helping him feel grateful about how fortunate we are for our family, a warm place to sleep, books to read, nourishing food, and toys to play with. But I want him to know that every family is different. To him it would be sad not to have his mommy or daddy because we've always been here. But as long as there is an adult to love and care for a child, families can look different, but still be full of love. It doesn't have to be "so sad".

Of course, understanding how family structures are different is not the same as trying to understand why some people don't have the basic things they need in order to live (food, clothes, and a safe, warm place to live). I think the idea of needing to be loved by his family is closely linked in his mind to other basic needs. Makes complete sense to my adult mind, but it's fascinating to watch him develop his own sense of this.

Given all this talk about how some children don't have all the things they need, I am feeling like this time is ripe for helping him understand why we give to others. (Up until this point, I wondered how much I've said or done has really sunk in.) Usually I go through his toys and clothes and give away things he doesn't need anymore. But now more than ever, I want to encourage him to help others by choosing the things he can part with. Although he is small, he can make a difference!

In Christine Carter's book Raising Happiness, a book that I absolutely love, she discusses the habits of happy people, statistically speaking. She describes being altruistic and a person's volunteerism as strong predictors of long-term happiness. She urges us all to foster opportunities for altruism and giving so our children learn to empathize with and help others. With the fast paced lives that we lead, this is way easier said than done. But I'm going to keep trying!

And actually, it appears that E is taking the lead anyhow.

We have our own little grateful routine and I wonder if it is part of where his concern for others has come from lately? Each night we send love. We think about who "needs to feel our love" and who could use a little extra. We talk about how we can always close our eyes and "feel the love coming back" from each other, especially when we are apart. I hope that this reflection about other people at night is helping him feel more grateful. It's important for children (and adults...) to stop focusing on themselves, their own problems, frustrations, and wants. E is such an amazing kid and a wonderful reminder to me that I also need to focus on others - and keep encouraging him to do the same.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Proud Mama

Proud on so many fronts, but today I am beaming. My little guy attended his first day at The Nature Preschool! Considering other tough transitions he's had away from me, I was relieved that he said good-bye without tears. Don't get me wrong, he was clenching my pinky finger and pulling away from the door as we approach the Nature Center. But as other families piled in, he reconsidered and followed suit.

We placed his belongings in his "oak tree class" cubby and donned his beautiful little tree cookie name tag. We looked at all the interesting activities in the classroom, everything from homemade play dough to wooden cars and blocks, to the chalkboard wall. The book nook was inviting, full of familiar books like "Nuts to You" by Lois Elhert. Children were busy at "work" all over the room.

And I knew, intimately, what the rest of the day would hold.

When I told him it was time for me to say good-bye with another hug and smooch, the teacher was there to help redirect him. Not because it's wrong for him to be cautious about this new setting or miss the comfort of mom - both are completely normal. But helping him go to school, on his own, helps him unlock what he is capable of when I'm not there. If mom or dad is always around, then how can a child learn who they are apart from the family unit?

Ultimately, I'm ecstatic to watch E's independence blossom with or without me around.

I founded The Nature Preschool (along with instrumental others) when E was only a twinkle in his daddy's eyes. Now in our fifth year as a licensed program, hundreds of other children are benefiting from our nature-based approach to child-centered learning. Indeed, I am very proud to share this with my sweet son today.

E dressed himself - with two t-shirts and backwards shorts.

After fixing his wardrobe malfunction, off we went. He was skeptical...

This is the entrance to his classroom at The Nature Preschool at Irvine.

I'm so proud of my little guy!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

on the tree tops

It didn't take long to go from lullabies to mud pies for my little boy. The most glaring example of just how "big" my baby has become is when he learned to climb his first tree. He literally went from not being able to climb it one day, to figuring out the very next. The huge smile of accomplishment was all over his face.

When I was a little girl our childhood home had a huge maple tree in the front yard. There was one strong, long, low branch perfect for me to shimmy up the trunk, cling and scoot out on the long branch, and then grab on with the back of my knees and hang. It was my thing to hang upsidedown like that all the time. Being in my tree felt liberating. Up there I was untouchable and surrounded by a lush, leafy world, a quiet place of peaceful observing.

Watching my own son have that experience fills me with pride and hope. Yes, I'm proud that E was determined enough to figure this out at the tender age of 3.5, but I'm also hopeful. I'm hopeful that he will find joy and solace in a tree of his own.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hashem, Hannah and Flannery

Our Sunday started with a trip to Cromwell Valley Park to join the Baltimore Folk Music Society's Spring Faire. With mild 65 degree weather, it was the perfect (and cheap!) outing for me, my son and his Great Grandmother. Fiddles were going, May pole ribbons were streaming and the atmosphere was full of joy. We tried our hands at juggling and joined a madrigal song circle, too. The event was such a nice speed. E did somersaults on the lawn and we had a pleasant time.

E and his Great Grammy at the May pole.
The food left something to be desired, though the handmade crepes looked good. We needed a place to sit and rest...and somehow the lawn for great grammy didn't seem appropriate. So we headed to the Bel Loch Diner for lunch.

Entering the diner is like entering a time machine. The exterior has a funky art deco appearance. The turquoise blue seats atop the chrome bar stools lend a hip 60's retro vibe. The food is what you might expect, quick and tasty even for a vegetarian like me. The egg salad and sweet potato fries were delish!
Picture from the SouthernLiving website when the diner was featured in "Secrets of the South's Best Diners". 
What I really love about this place is the history. Great gram told me that she remembered this diner from when she and her late husband were married (it opened in 1964). I love that this old fashioned diner has been a staple in our community for over five decades.

Yeah, yeah it's charming, by now you get it. But here's where it's really like a time machine: I noticed a young guy bussing tables and I couldn't help but think that it was a boy that I taught some years before. I taught art in a local public middle school for four years and during that time I worked with over 1200 students. Needless to say I still run into them everywhere I go.

So great grammy decided to ask a waitress to grab the boy (embarrassing) so that I could find out if I was right - sure enough it was Hashem, a respectful young man that I always liked. But what happened next was just strange. Another girl came from out of the kitchen and said, "do you remember me? I'm Hannah, you were my art teacher in 6th grade." Of course! She was in my Gifted and Talented art class. She was still a meek, pretty girl with frizzy blond hair and once she said her name I knew exactly who she was.

And then a THIRD girl came from around the corner and said "do you remember me?" I thought for sure someone was pulling my leg but she said "My name is Flannery and..." and I immediately blurted out her last name. I remembered her, too! She was a studious, sweet girl now an outgoing waitress.

What were the chances that three of the diner employees were all my students almost ten years ago?

The time warp caught me completely off guard and in mommy mode. But it's brought back fond memories of my days in the classroom, teaching up to 36 students per class. Despite how hard those years were (working full-time at the school and part-time at the nature center), I stayed optimistic and tried to savor all the good times with the kids. I will always be grateful for those experiences and excited to run into more of my students as the years march on.

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!
Our little guy at 15 months, February 2011.