Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween from a ninja, a couple of commandos and Elmo packing heat. Because of his recent potty training adventures, Elmo was a little confused when we explained trick-or-treating to him.

Me: You knock on the door and say "Trick or treat!" and they give you candy.
Rand: "I go poo-poo they house?"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Matt Damon and inertia...

We did an awesome science experiment today.  Fill a glass with water, place a pie tin on top with an egg balanced on an empty toilet paper roll like this.

Be sure to center the toilet paper roll over the glass.  Now in a smooth, horizontal motion, knock the pie tin away.  This should happen.

This might happen.

Just try again.

Now, where does Matt Damon come in?  He's actually the key to a successful egg drop.  Have you seen We Bought a Zoo?  Remember this awesome line,
Matt Damon:  "You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.  Literally, 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it."
As applied to this experiment, you need half a second of insane courage.  You have to go all in on this.  If you just sort of tap the pie tin, you might as well just throw the egg on the ground.  True, you could look like a fool and splatter an egg all over your patio, OR you could successfully smack an egg into a glass of water without breaking it, and that, my friend, is something great.  (You can deduce from my exuberance in the video how I expected round 1 to come out.)

While thrilled that they all made the egg drop, the boys were a little disappointed that this experiment wasn't the eggy mess they expected, so with the exception of Rand, after each child successfully explained why the experiment works, he got to smash an egg into a tupperware.

Rand, of course, just grabbed an egg and smashed it when the mood seized him, but he earned his smashed egg.  He actually got the egg drop on the first try as I was mentally calculating how many eggs were to be sacrificed to his toddler dignity.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Chris is at the Aggie game today, so with pretty fierce commitment to not taking four boys to the grocery store, this is what HEB looked like this morning when I left.

Now it's 10:30. The groceries are stowed, the laundry is running, and my house is clean... ish. I'm pretending it's a pre-2003 Saturday for 30 minutes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 15, 2012

Manna vs. management

I was talking homeschool with some women new to the beautiful chaos that is spending all day with your children along with a somewhat nebulous list of tasks on which their entire future depends.  One of the things we talked about was how to do school with a toddler.  I told them some things that work well for us like
  1. Stack blocks, line up Matchbox cars or roll a ball with Rand while doing lessons with the older guys. It's not possible with every subject but it works well for some.
  2. Have the big boys take individual breaks to play with Rand.  David puts him in the bike trailer and rides around the block.  They read to him, push him on the swing, build towers for him to destroy, serve as fellow restaurateurs, ...
  3. Take advantage of the time when the boys are doing independent work to play with Rand.  Sometimes just spending five minutes with him recharges his little batteries.
  4. Play-Doh.  It's messy but keeps him occupied for 20 minutes.
  5. Include him in the schoolwork when it's possible and he's interested.  He scribbles in coloring books, cuts paper, plays with math manipulatives, scribbles on small dry erase boards and sharpens pencils (don't judge).
  6. Bring a favorite outside toy in the house.  I let him (and no one else) drive his little red car in the house.  In the interest of honesty, though, this happened as a result when an older kid broke my rule.  When guests ask what happened, I say, "Traffic accident."
  7. Let him fingerpaint with yogurt on a cookie sheet.
  8. I hold him while I teach when he's in a snuggly mood.
  9. We do schoolwork out on the patio sometimes, so Rand can dig in the dirt, pour water into cups, look for lizards, ...
  10. Do school in the bathroom while he plays in the bathtub.
  11. Keep toys in the schoolroom.  Someone more organized than me would rotate these regularly.
  12. Let Rand and Bryan help make lunch as they are the most neglected during school time.
  13. I have a Dora/Dinosaur Train silver bullet.  I save it for when a) the other boys are not available to play with Rand, b) it's the end of our school time and he's done with toddler-puttering for the day, and, most importantly, c) I've exhausted my daily supply of energy for being a good toddler mama and must focus on ONE thing.  Normally I'm rabidly opposed to TV during the week, but as a friend recently said, "Praise Jesus for TV."  Seriously there are some times (like when the alternative is me screaming at everyone) when TV is just awesome.
So, that's my homeschooling with a toddler list.  I've read similar ones.  They're helpful, but when I read them I put all this pressure on myself to come up with a plan to keep Rand occupied and stimulated all day.  Something like 8:00 - 8:20 Play Doh, 8:30 - 8:40 Read to Rand, ...  The thought of trying to maintain a schedule like that while also making sure the big boys get through all their work makes me want to send them all to boarding school.  Seriously, just writing the sentence raised my blood pressure.

The way this plays out for me in real life is like the Israelites wandering in the desert.  God provides daily manna and I have nothing to store for the next day.  Each night I go to bed having only a vague idea how I'm going to do school with a toddler the next day.  In the morning, I pray something along the lines of

God, please help me to love and enjoy Rand and teach the big boys with excellence 
in a way that's fair to Rand,
without yelling at anyone, 
so that I'm not tossing back a couple of glasses of wine at 2:00 in the afternoon.*
And God doesn't zap me when I forget to pray this, but when I start depending on my own resources to live out my days well, I stop being sensitive to Rand's needs, and I forget how short-lived his toddler days are.  I try to just plow through our list as quickly as possible.  My fuse gets shorter and shorter until I realize where I am again and remember that I can't do this without God's daily help.  I simply don't have what it takes to do school, house and toddler well on my own.  Then I go back to praying for help.  I don't really understand how it works, but it does.  On a good day, Rand usually plays independently when we start school.  Eventually, I notice that he's getting bored or decide he's been on his own long enough.  Then I pull something from the list above depending on my mood, his mood and what the other boys are doing.  Once I've reached my toddler limit (usually right before lunch), I let him watch a Dora/Dinosaur Train while we finish up.  Having the discipline to pull from that list instead of just shooing him away or throwing up my hands and yelling at everyone or rushing through our schoolwork and feeling guilty because I know I haven't done things well is simply not in me.  I need help.  I used to pray most often out of guilt and obligation.  Now my prayers are overwhelmingly inspired by desperation

With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.
It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You make your saving help my shield,
    and your right hand sustains me;
    your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet,
    so that my ankles do not give way.
Psalm 18:29, 32-36

These verses can seem melodramatic and silly as applied to daily life, but they're really not.  Ladies, we do a lot of care taking, and it's just hard to do that well - with joy and with gracious hearts.  So whether you have children or not; whether they're in school or at home, you're going to face situations that feel as desperate and intimidating as scaling a wall (personally, I can't even do monkey bars) or single-handedly fighting an army (can I get an "Amen!" from anyone who's dealt with vomiting children recently?).  It is God who arms you with strength and makes your way perfect.  May he sustain you with his right hand this week.

* Unfortunately not hyperbole.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Potty training operating principles...

I started potty training Rand this week.  It's a family adventure.  Everybody gets pretzels when he pees.  Everybody gets Skittles when he poops.  He hands them out with dignified toddler pride.

So when I started with David, two friends gave me advice that formed my potty training philosophy.  You need realistic expectations and hope.

  1.  (From Janice)  Just accept that your house will be covered in pee for awhile.
  2.  (From Melissa, who was starting the potty adventure for the first time at the same time I was.)  I keep telling myself that even the children of crack addicts are potty trained by kindergarten.

Thanks, friends.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Off the grid...

I went away on a women's retreat last weekend.  Chris took the boys to his parents' house.  When he arrived...
Ron (father-in-law):  Where's Summer? 
Chris:  On a retreat with church. 
Ron:  Where? 
Chris:  I have no idea. 
Ron:  No idea!  You need to call or email or text her and find out.* 
Chris:  I promise, she does not want me to contact her. 
Ron:  But what if she didn't make it.  You don't even know for sure if she's there. 
Chris:  Look, this is one of the few times when I know exactly what Summer wants.  Yes, there is a chance that she is dead on the side of the road, and her body is rotting.  In that case, I will be devastated and her parents will never forgive me.  But, it's a really small chance, and I'm not going to contact her.
I rarely enjoy acknowledging that Chris is right.  He was.  Being completely free was exactly what I wanted.

The retreat was wonderful.  When you live with boys, there is something particularly beautiful about a roomful of women singing.  The weekend was an answer to prayer, or more accurately an answer to what I should have been praying for but mostly just felt sad about.**  The first night, as I lay in bed, I started to pray to find friends there and then caught myself and thought, "That's selfish.  I should pray for something less needy and self-involved like experienceing God or being able to help someone else," which really translates to, "I don't want people to think I'm needy and self-involved.  I want them to know I'm super-spiritual and not at all needy."  In that moment, I glimpsed the underlying pride in my reluctance and decided to just let it go and be a spiritual parasite that weekend.***  I prayed for friends.

I met some great women.  There was a lawyer who loves to read.  Neither of us could sleep so we traded book recommendations and talked over mugs of tea while the rain came down and everyone else slept.  I talked discipleship with a tenderhearted and humble (in the real way, not my super-spiritual way) woman who wants to help women get into mentoring relationships.  There were some new homeschool moms who wanted to know how to homeschool with a toddler (I'm afraid there was more self-assurance on my part than was really warranted.  That'll be my next post.  The bright side of making yourself a little ridiculous is that it gives you blog-fodder.)  I also met an absolutely radiant woman who is expecting her first baby.  We talked about balancing work and home and being okay with not putting all, or in my case, any, of yourself into a career even if you had fancy schoolin'.  I talked.  A lot.  I gave my opinion.  A lot.

So, I usually try to be conscious of self-involvement in conversation, says the woman with a blog about her life.****  (I know that may be shocking to those of you who know me irl, but imagine what I'd be like without that effort.)  But last weekend was a time when I really think it was okay to just be needy and talk about myself.  Anything else would have been prideful and dishonest.*****

* I take it as a sign of Ron's deep love for me that he actually proposed texting, as he thinks texting is second only to the iPhone in inanity.

** It's less grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition when you know you did it.  Just FYI.

*** In case you didn't catch it, that was super-humble of me, which implies that I'm super-spiritual.

**** I just want to make sure you didn't miss that super-humility again.

***** And there it is again.

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