I saw it, briefly, but I saw it over and over again. The big, overly-happy smile of a young mom at story time, and just above it a flicker of self-doubt in her eyes. A tiny tremble of “what on earth am I doing here?” that perhaps she hoped the other moms didn’t catch.
Have you ever been in a group of people and wondered just how many things are actually going on under the surface? Today I looked around at all the young moms at the library’s Tales for Two-year-olds and wondered: how many were bored to tears with Twinkle Twinkle and Old Macdonald for the 8-gazillionth time? How many beautiful hearts were doing battle with their culture-rattled brain—demanding to know how this could possibly make sense when the bills are piling up and the “check engine” light just came on and here they are Ringing Around the Rosy instead of sitting back in their cubicle? How many came only because they want to get out of the house or because they wanted to be able to say they did something worthy of getting dressed that day, or because 'they'—the experts in the books and on the blogs-- say storytime is good for kids’ social skills…and stuff. Whatever all that other stuff is.
Full disclosure: I've been all of those moms! Every. Single. One. When my first was a new toddler, I was already pregnant with her sister and could barely muster the strength to shower and drive the three miles to story time, let alone grin big and make twinkle-diamonds with my hands. The most exhausting thing was the voice in my head telling me what I was doing was a waste of my time. A woman I know later expressed it better—“Couldn’t I just pay someone to do all this mindless playing I spend all day doing?”
Outsource the mindlessness. It makes so much sense, doesn’t it?
But Mama, I am here to tell you… what you are doing is the opposite of mindless. It is something that, whether you intend it to, or not, will reap benefits for years and even decades to come.
As a mother who also has older ones now, I see every day so much benefit from the songs and stories and time together. Those words have set the foundation for language skills that have produced articulate kids who love to read and write on their own. The rhythm and music has lead to an interest in math games and logic and debate (not to mention my joy in hearing them sing, whether they are two or ten!). And, the most important, in my book: happy memories that lead to secure connections and emotional health, that mean when their world is shattered and they are devastated, they know they have a safe place.
Please hear me: what you do matters! This is not inconsequential work and it's not mindlessness! Our culture doesn’t celebrate the little moments that you will observe in the next few years—but I urge you to. Please realize that when a toddler knows what is coming in a song because they have sung it 15 times, they feel secure—accomplished! And that beaming smile says “I learned that and now I want to learn MORE!” When they practice jumping like popcorn, their brains and bodies start to work together and later those little popcorn legs will be able to jump way higher than you on the basketball court. And when you hold them in your lap and tell them to quietly listen to Five Little Monkeys, they register that soft, safe space, and know you are their home.
Mama, how you are spending your time with your children is worthy, so worthy. Whether it is at the library or not, time spent with them is the long, slow, brick-making and -laying process of setting the foundation for their life. Like a city skyscraper, these things below won’t be visible when they are older. But if we build that base with them now, they will be set securely to rise high above it. Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Keep that vision of your child in mind—one day they will be grown, and you are setting their foundation now that they may grow fully, later.
Today I urge you to fight back against the voices that tell you what you are doing with your babies doesn’t matter, whether they are in your own head or coming out of someone else’s mouth. Fight back and say, “This child is worthy of this, and so am I.” Fight back, and then rest, knowing that you and what you are doing, is good, and wise, and right.
I see you and I appreciate you.
Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Seven Ways to Reclaim the Holidays
Every year, I make the same pledge: to simplify the holidays and make them easier. I want holidays that are warm and glowy, like the lights strung everywhere I go. I don't want to be stressed out, running here and there, yelling at the kids, and spending so much that I'm in a payoff hangover until February.
And every year, it seems, I still fail in some if not all these areas. But every year I fail a little less miserably.
My mother, a psychologist, has always reminded me that even good change is stressful, which means that though the things we add into our schedule during the last part of the year may be fun, they can also cause us to be more harried.That may be why everyone I talk to seems to find this time of year stressful. But y'all... it should not be that way. It just shouldn't. Thankfully, we can take it back, one mindful choice at a time. Here are some ideas I have either tried or want to try in order to make it less so.
1. Spend less money.
This one just seems so obvious, and it's a big one, but it's hard to stick to. But really, if I just set a budget, and stick to it, it simplifies so many things. Doesn't make it easier--just simpler. And it's really important to have a budget for just about everything right now. Gifts, groceries, clothes--it all gets tempting in December.
This year I am considering doing the envelope thing, especially when it comes to restaurant outings and grocery shopping. This is where I tend to overspend, because everything right now should feel special, right? Well, no. Not EVERY outing has to be EXTRA SPECIAL between now and January 1. If I'm honest, it is the time I will spend with people that will matter far more than the spread I put on the table. We are Americans. The vast majority of us eat pretty well, or at least pretty generously, at all three meals every. single. day. So why the pressure over the Christmas dinner? With a little planning and resourcefulness, I feel confident I can still make a beautiful holiday meal that everyone will enjoy--and not have to spend like it's only meal I'll eat this year. Now, I just have to figure out what the right combination of deliciousness and conscious spending is. When I've got it, I'll let you know.
I also intend to spend less money on Christmas attractions and decorations. Sure, I could spend $80 to take the kids to the lights at the local Gardens. Or I can spend $6 in gas and homemade hot chocolate and take them around to see the lights that ordinary, festive folks have put up on their homes. I don't have anything against the big light displays, and we've certainly enjoyed them very much in the past, when we were sweetly gifted with tickets from a friend. But when I consider paying to revisit them, I see an opportunity instead to simplify. Frankly, if our family is together, we are all pretty happy, regardless of what we've spent. As for decorations, I plan to make my house feel festive by playing music and having things that smell good around--something delicious on the stove or one of those four-dollar cinnamon brooms from the grocery store will do. So simple and doesn't require all new tree decor or dish sets from Target. And then I'll have the time and energy to sit back and enjoy everything else.
I'm not planning to host any parties this year, but if I were, I'd potluck it all the way. Thankfully lots of people I know are comfortable with potluck parties--where everyone pitches in and nobody is stuck footing the entire bill for the thing. If you're planning to hostess an event, this will take a lot of stress off of you. Even Evite knows that pitching in is cool--I got one last month with a new(-ish?) option to ask people to bring items to round out the menu.
2. Fewer 'Thing' gifts for the grownups.
So, I just spent a solid week decluttering my home. My hunch is, most of you could do the same. I can tell you that after you do, you will think "I never want to bring another Thing into my home again." We need so few Things. So many of us buy the Things we do need or are of the means that when a good mid-year deal comes along, we pick it up then. I'm over it. I would honestly rather have a good cup of coffee with my husband or my friend than any Thing you can get on Amazon. My hunch is, most of the people you know feel the same way. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
a. A pound of good coffee, some K-cups or some nice tea.
b. A race or athletic event registration.
c. A gift card to a new (or old favorite) local restaurant.
d. Pitching in with other family or friends for one big-ticket, long-lasting gift. Case in point: Thanks to my husband, my mom and my sister, plus a great deal at a factory outlet, I'm getting a much-nicer-than-I'd-normally-buy purse that should last for years, if not decades.
Also, consider drawing names if your family is big and setting a limit on the cost.This is especially helpful as your family grows with marriages and children.
(A note, I know some of these ideas will not sit well in some families, so just remember that you don't have to convert everyone to the Simplicity Train all at once. Little changes this year will make a big difference, and set a precedent for years to come.)
3. Mindful gifts for the kids.
Our kids are overrun with toys, and certainly don't play with everything they do have. Don't give in to the commercials, the circulars, the idea that now is the only time you will have to get these great deals, or that you need the Things that are on sale anyway. If you don't need it, or if it will cause you too much stress later--it ain't a good deal. I think it's also important to remember that Christmas is not the only time of year you get to make memories and do things for your kids and for other people. You are also not going to resolve your own issues from childhood by overdoing Christmas for your kids. I'm not sure they could articulate it, but I'm pretty sure most any kid would rather have 12 months of good times with happy parents than 11 months of mediocre times and one month of Things and Stressed Out Parents.
Here's how we are handling the children. This year, my kids are getting one gift from us--a doll desk for each of them that my thrifty friend Tina found at an estate sale last summer. We will probably stuff their stockings with clementines and gum and maybe drawing paper and Scotch tape (I know, I know. Who can explain kids? But we gave them tape last year and they loved it. It got USED and that made it a gift worth re-visiting). Now, lest you think I'm a complete curmudgeon and that my poor kids will be chewing Trident and scotch-taping fruit peels together while everyone else rides their new Huffy around, please know that part of this decision comes from the fact that they have generous grandparents and aunts and uncles who give them thoughtful gifts, too.
Here are some other ideas for more meaningful gifts:
a. Memberships to the local zoo, aquarium, museum. Then you have something to do--together-- all year long.
b. A gift card to the local bounce-house or trampoline place, restaurant they love, or doughnut shop, that the child can decide when to use. Then you make a memory--and don't add to the stuff. And giving THEM the power to decide when to do something--that is sheer glee to a child.
c. A classic read-aloud book. My English teacher sister-in-law recently told me about a study that children NEED to be read aloud to until they are 12. And what holiday wouldn't end up better with family time centered around a great book? (And yes, just one. Not this 'Book a Night for 24 Nights business.' Too. Much. Stuff. If you want your kids to love to read--take them to the library!)
d. Popcorn-and-movie gifts. A favorite movie on DVD and a popcorn bucket with the promise of family time to come. Preferably in your jammies--(but jammies need not be part of the gift! You probably do not need new jammies. Especially Santa jammies that you won't want to wear in a week.)
4. Limit the parties. Oh, I have the worst time with this. I do love the parties, and my kids feel the same. But I find my limit, per week, is probably about one weekday event and one weekend event before the stress starts to outweigh the fun. I have not done a good job so far of limiting this for this year, but knowing that I am already overcommitted for some weeks, I will simply have to manage my schedule for those weeks better in other areas. Thankfully none of the parties I'm attending are forced-gift parties, so that makes it simpler and less costly. I am intent on not spending any money on new holiday clothes for these parties; we will use what we already have to make our current wardrobe a little fancier (I may let my children borrow some of my costume jewelry, for example), and be done.
5. Take care of yourself.
It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?--you get busy, you eat garbage either while you're running around or at The Parties, plus you don't exercise, and you definitely don't get enough sleep. Then you're still busy, but now you're cranky and don't feel well enough to take care of yourself. I got in this cycle just before Thanksgiving and I'm determined to fight my way out before it become a six-week long Experiment in Misery. It will take a lot of self-control, to continue to cook healthy food, hit the gym, and limit the holiday sweets. But self-control is better than self-loathing, in my book (and way better than being laid up in bed).
6. Give of your time, to someone you know.
This is probably an extremely unpopular opinion, but I'm not a big fan of outsourcing my good deeds. And by that, I mean that I think my greatest opportunity to affect real change in people's lives is by ministering to the Real People that I know. Then I'm there to follow up and make sure they also get help after the Christmas tree has been taken down and the wrapping goes in the trash. I'm not saying that an Angel Tree gift or something similar is a bad thing to do, but it is absolutely not a substitute for getting involved in the life of a person that you can continue to follow up on. Maybe it's a kid in your congregation or school whose parents are having a rough time who would love an afternoon with you. Maybe it's a widow in your congregation who doesn't see her grandchildren enough who would delight to bake some cookies with your kids. Perhaps it's a college-aged student who can't go home for the holidays because they have to work who would appreciate a home-cooked meal. The real gift to them will be the follow-up you do throughout the rest of the year and their lives. It is more of an emotional investment to do this, but it's also a bigger payoff for them, and for you, and it truly is a gift that keeps on giving--for years.
Of any gift I could give my children, I am shamefully, 100% certain that a day completely unplugged from technology would be the best gift of all. I know my husband would appreciate it, and I would love the same from him. My mom has said repeatedly "Y'all sure were a lot more fun before you got iPhones." But best of all, it would be a gift to myself--a day away from information overload, marketing schemes, and envy-producing humble brags from the masses. And the clear way I think after even a couple of hours without my phone--it's great. I'm not ready to give it up every day, but I'd like to try for some larger chunks of time this holiday season.
Listen, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with many of the traditions out there. The things you may choose to spend money on that may simply be different from what I choose to spend mine on. What I'm saying is--be mindful about how the holidays can affect us. We need to stop feeling like we have to do it all and buy it all, all in the span of 25 or so days. Take back your time and use it in the way that truly benefits those you love, by giving you time and space to breathe and enjoy your loved ones.
I'll leave you with this: The most treasured holiday memories of my youth are a blurred mixture of warmth, and food, and the presence of my family at my grandmother's house. I cannot tell you a thing I got, or what clothing I was wearing, or how much money any of us spent in those years. But I remember my Nanny's voice, and my Grandaddy's popcorn, and the most clear part of the memories is that no one was in a hurry to be anywhere else. I think of my Dad poring over a new book by the tree, and I hear my mother's big laugh, and that is where I want to be. May we all make memories like that--memories that are worth revisiting, this season and always.
Last night I spent some time on the phone with a woman I haven't spoken to in years, but who reached out to me to ask me some questions about homeschooling. I've heard her story before:
"I think this is right, but I'm overwhelmed."
"I have parts of it figured out but I'm worried about academics/socialization/support."
"I need to choose curriculum and there are so many options!"
I wanted to take a few minutes and tell you some of what I told her, and what I tell anyone who is considering homeschooling.
1. If you are thinking of doing it, you probably can.
The fact that you are interested in it, that you are researching it, that you are reaching out to others who do it indicates that your desire is strong. And if you desire to do it, you will find a way. So many parents are intimidated by teaching because they are not teachers by trade. But the beauty of homeschooling is that you don't have to be. You are dealing with very small student-teacher ratios, and so many curriculums walk you through step-by-step on the things you may not know. Plus, you have the irreplaceable bonus of being their constant guide, and the lessons they'll learn from you being there, loving them, helping them when they stumble--as only a parent can--are valuable beyond words. The teaching skills will come as you grow into the process. I will add that you will want to search out a mentor. They can be your cheerleader and practical support, and are especially valuable if not everyone in your current circle is down with homeschooling. Lean on them; they will be a great help to you (and soon enough, believe it or not, you may find yourself mentoring someone else!).
2. Commit to a year.
JUST ONE YEAR. Want to know a secret? When I think of homeschooling a kid who is a senior in high school, prepping for college and SATs and doing extracurriculars and DRIVING and about to leave home and be on their own and without me and reading Beowulf and using those big fancy calculators for calculus or whatever it is...I GET INTIMIDATED TOO! But then I remember: I'm not homeschooling a senior in high school! I'm homeschooling a kindergartener and a 2nd grader. I don't have to think about those things right now. I can deal with those when we get there. Right now I just need to think about things like memorizing the Beautitudes and segmenting spelling words and doing the Doubles Plus Ones. We will get those things down and then we will move on to the next step. And all those steps will, Lord willing, lead us to Beowulf and the Big Calculator, when it is time to deal with Beowulf and the Big Calculator. And driving. Oy.
3. Go to a Convention.
Know who goes to conventions? People who have been right where you are, and are willing to help you through it. You will be encouraged by their stories. Know who else goes to conventions? Curriculum vendors. That means you get to see and touch the curriculum, and ask questions. I will caution you to not stress out over making it to every single session or learning everything you need to know in one day or weekend, or even buying all your curriculum then. It can be information overload, so measure your time and spend a lot of it on the expo floor, asking questions. (Just remember that while vendors' answers can be helpful they are trying to sell you things that you may not need, at least not yet. I recommend making a budget before you go. They'll always be happy to take more of your money later, right?).
4. Re-think True Socialization.
If you've mentioned that you are considering homeschooling to more than 1.2 people, you've probably gotten that worried look and The Question: "But what will you do about socialization?" I could say a lot about this, but here are just a couple of things to consider: If kids in institutional schools are so well-socialized, why are there local, state, and national initiatives designed to stop the massive problem of bullying? And, even if a child manages to escape the bully's taunts, is it really socialization if the only people they are interacting with are their same age? When you homeschool, you have the ability to influence their concepts of respect, politeness, and hospitality. You can (and must) teach them those things in the home, then model and oversee them in practice. You are the one at the grocery store who teaches them to watch out for others in the aisles, to help the person who dropped a can of beans, and to look the cashier in the eye and say "Thank you" when complimented. You can have an elderly woman, a woman with younger children, or a friend their own age into your home at any time of day, and teach your child how to make someone feel welcome, warmed and loved. You can visit others, serving them and teaching them to respect other peoples' rule and possessions. You can make corrections in real time, help them navigate interpersonal problems with other kids and deal swiftly and intensely with real issues concerning how they treat others. And if they still need to learn things like how to stand in line, take turns and wait for you to stop talking, take them to the post office and the children's museum and on play dates where you'll be talking to other adults--those are prime opportunities to teach all those things. THAT is practical socialization that will serve them well all their life, and far more skills than what they would learn from 8 to 3 in the school room.
5. Do Bible first.
As you get into the practicalities of homeschooling, there will be days when Life will interfere with School and you will have to make choices on what academics you will accomplish that day. I say, always do Bible, no matter what. It teaches your children that yes, knowing God and serving Him truly is the most important thing, every day. Also, it will help keep all of you rooted in scripture for whatever else the day throws at you. Pray with them. Read from the Bible or their Bible lesson book (I'm a big fan of Egermeier's), sing a hymn (or lots of hymns, especially if you are in the car!). Work on memorizing verses. Talk about God's will for their lives as you start and go through your day. Eventually, the math curriculum will get done. They will learn to read one day. But the time to impress on their young hearts what will truly matter at the end of their life is short. Use it.
Obviously I am thrilled with the homeschool life, and will always encourage people who are interested in doing it. These are the things that helped me when I was starting out, and I hope you find them helpful as well! May God bless you on your homeschool journey.
For more good stuff, you can check out my Homeschool Encouragement Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/lbwolfgangmast/encouragement-for-the-amazing-homeschool-life/
A Challenge from a Grieving Father
This blog has been long-neglected. Not for any lack of thought on my part, but because much of my thinking has been going on in the background while things that required doing demanded my time more urgently. I am pleased to have the desire and the time to be back at a keyboard and writing this morning.
Lord, may I be single-minded, sincere, and constant in my love and service for you. May I teach your way diligently to my children, and may we all never stray from it.
Stings, Scrapes, and Self-Control
A couple of weeks ago, I took the girls to have lunch with their daddy at work. It was a beautiful day so we went to the picnic tables that his company has outside, and we lunched there. The girls were having honey roasted peanut butter and apples as part of their lunch and pretty soon we were joined by a couple of yellow jackets who wanted to have it, too. I’m terrified of bees but was trying to stay calm so the kids would also keep calm.
Shortly after we had re-assured them, again, that there was nothing to worry about, one of them landed on my husband’s hand and as he tried to shoo it away, he crushed it between his fingers and it stung him. We all saw it happen, and saw his reaction: the grimace of pain, a grunt that sounded something like “oh-oof,” and the wringing of his hand, followed by more grimacing.
And that was it. No histrionics. No yelling. No jumping out of his seat. No so-many-other-ways someone could react to a painful yellow jacket sting. I’ve known this man for nearly half my life and I know how he is, and even I was impressed.
“Girls,” I said. “You have an amazing daddy.”
“Why?” one of them asked.
“He just has incredible self-control. Most people who get stung by bees wouldn’t just sit there and be as quiet as he just was. It’s very painful! And he just really controlled himself even though he hurt a lot.”
Okay, I may have said more than that. I may have demonstrated what some of the histrionics that that their dad forewent would have looked like. But I really wanted to drive home the point that you don’t have to freak out every time something hurts you.
Fast forward to Saturday, and we were hiking. We all enjoy being in the woods so much, but don’t do it often enough. It was a beautiful day, we hiked a 3.5 mile round-trip route. But it was late in the day when we started, and headed back to the car, the girls were tired. I was tired too, and I could tell my motor skills were just off enough that I needed to concentrate on my footing. We warned the girls (who have a penchant for both walking backwards and swiveling their heads all the way around to talk to us) that they needed to keep their eyes on the trail and pay attention.
On one of our little rest breaks by the side of the trail, our eldest was hanging onto the side of a tree when she had a slight misstep and scraped the inside of her arm against the bark. I saw it happen and grabbed her quickly and she pressed into me. I could feel her breathe hard, tense, silently grimace, tense again, breathe hard and hug me tight.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, let me see it,” I said, fully expecting tears and some sort of hike-denouncement coming on. But she said nothing of the sort. She said it hurt, and I know it did, especially because it was at such a place that it would have rubbed against her shirt for the rest of the hike. But she quietly gathered herself and continued on the hike without a word of complaint.
Later in the hike, very near to the end, both girls were goofing off with their dad, running and holding hands, when I saw our six-year-old go down in a complete face plant. She laid on the ground for probably a full 20 seconds as I ran to her. She was starting to get up as I arrived by her side, and I could see the full extent of the damage. Scrapes, on both knees, dirty abrasions on her palms. Dirt all over her shirt and shorts, a flushed face, and her little blond ponytail in disarray. We didn’t discover till later a pretty nasty scrape on her right hip. Her little eyes were watery but instead of letting the tears fall, she insisted, “I’m okay! I’m okay!”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “It’s okay to not be okay.”
“I’m okay. I’m okay. “ I brushed her off and we told her that the visitor center was just ahead and we’d get her cleaned up there. With very little fanfare she grabbed her sister’s hand again and they started back down the trail, though this time, they were walking.
They were close enough to us for my husband to overhear our oldest lean over to her sister and say proudly, “Hey! You were using SELF-CONTROL!” And she was. They both had been.
In both instances, they acted very much like they had seen their father act a few days earlier. Both of them had every reason, as children who were hurt, to dissolve into tears. But both made the choice to control their emotions and continue on their adventure.
I was reminded of two things that day.
1. Our children are watching and listening, closely. Yeah, yeah I know I talk about this alot, but this fact continues to be a wonderment to me, as well as a lesson in humility. I pray every day when we start school that their little hearts will be open to the lessons of the day, and they are learning. They may need help in understanding what they are seeing, but that’s one of the great joys of parenting: helping them process lessons. The humility part comes in accepting that in the role of parent, I am a--if not the-- primary role model for their behavior--good or bad. Likewise, with the spiritually less-mature-- they are watching us, too. And if those two sobering realities don't call for self-control, I don't know what does..
2. We all have a choice, in every situation, in how we react. If my six-year-old can hold back the tears while blood is seeping down her knee toward her socks, how much more practiced should I be as an adult? In a situation where my feelings are hurt by a hostile word, I can choose to react with words of kindness, or to react in meekness, sometimes saying nothing at all. When my anxieties threaten to spiral out of control I have the choice to make myself step back and look at the situation as it really is, and let my faith in God’s control comfort me. And on and on. Self-control in situations of pain allows me to continue to have joy on my journey by not focusing on the scrapes I’ve received along the way.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
The Shirley Temple Birthday Party
Last weekend we celebrated my daughter’s sixth birthday. As it is with every passing birthday, it is so hard to believe it’s been so long since she was just a chunk of a baby, laid up in my arms.
Nevertheless, the time came for us to celebrate her again, and this year she chose a Shirley Temple theme for her party. She has been exposed to Shirley Temple through my dear friend Judi, who dotes on my kids like they were her own grandchildren and has occasionally kept them up very late watching Shirley sing and dance. When we first started talking about doing the party, I took to Pinterest where I found… very little. But over time the party took shape and so following is what we ended up with.
I do want to say that the reason I’m sharing this is not so I can be all “Heyyyyy look how crafty I am.” Here's why I wanted to put it out there:
1. Lots of us wonder how to keep little girls sweet in a world that wants to sexualize them too early. I latched onto this theme because it is sweet and innocent and I think that not only do mindful parents want that, but our children do too! When I went to look for ideas they weren't there, so I'm sharing some for someone else who might want them.
2. I also have struggled with the increasing price and over-the-top-iness of children’s birthday parties. But every time I again commit to having a party at our home and limiting the budget somewhat, I end up quite pleased with what I can come up with, with a little internet research time and some work. I want to encourage anyone interested to give that a try instead of just feeling like you have to keep up with everyone else.
My family’s go-to cake is the Hershey’s Especially Dark Chocolate Cake. You can find the recipe here or on the back of the box of Special Dark Cocoa. I cannot recommend this cake enough—it is AMAZING and very easy to make. I have done more extensive cake decorating in the past but for this, I just made some white chocolate shaving ‘curls’ for the cake. Cost: Under $9 for cake, white chocolate, and candles.
THE TABLE AND FAVORS:
I decorated the table with some leftover tulle and ribbons I had, and then all the candy from the song The Good Ship Lollipop:
On the good ship lollipop.
Its a sweet trip to a candy shop
Where bon-bons play
On the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay.
Lemonade stands everywhere.
Crackerjack bands fill the air.
And there you are
Happy landing on a chocolate bar.
See the sugar bowl do the tootsie roll
With the big bad devils food cake.
If you eat too much ooh ooh
You'll awake with a tummy ache.
Bonbons, peppermints, lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, chocolate bars…basically everything but the lemonade. The girls each got a bag and filled it with the candy to take home. This was the biggest expense of the party but, oh well. Cost (including bags): $15
…and the reason we didn’t do lemonade was because I wanted to make the Shirley Temple floats I’d found on Pinterest. Ginger Ale, Vanilla Ice Cream, Maraschino Cherries and their juice. I put them in the crystal we got when we got married so it felt very fancy. I wasn’t sure how the little girls would like them (I myself don’t like cherry-flavored things) but they slurped them down. Cost: $7 for ice cream, ginger ale, maraschino cherries
I had toyed with rag-curling their hair for the party but that just seemed like too much work, so I decided to make them “wigs” using headbands and curling ribbon. I got the cheapest headbands they had at Target and a big roll of gold curling ribbon. I then spent quite some time cutting the ribbon, tying it on the headbands, and curling it. I stupidly thought this might be a project my kids were old enough to help me with if they used kiddie scissors but right off the bat there were tears and a cut, so, um, no.
This was by far the most time-consuming part of the party. Thankfully it is pretty mindless and everything else was easy. I ended up using about 60 pieces of curling ribbon on each headband. Each piece was about 12-15 inches long; I didn’t do hardcore measuring on it because that seems like work, but it also ended up that the pieces weren't completely uniform--a good thing in my opinion. But anything shorter than 12-15 inches and you’ll end up with tiny bits of curl. Cost: $6.50 for headbands and curling ribbon.
THE TAP SHOES:
Right when the girls got to the house I showed them a bunch of YouTube videos of Shirley Temple singing and tap-dancing. I then showed them how to do the simplest of simple tap steps (which I had looked up on YouTube the night before. Mama don’t tap dance.)
Then we made temporary tap shoes. I found a DIY guide to making tap shoes, but it called for using metal washers, which will certainly destroy hardwoods. So I went to Michael’s and got a bag of big plastic buttons and some cheap yarn. Then at the party I enlisted some (very patient)parents to help thread the yarn through the buttons and we tied a button to the front and the back of the bottom of the girls’ shoes. Then they ran around the house making noise until inevitably the buttons slipped off and we had to re-tie them. It was cheap, and fun, and they got a feel for the joy you get when your shoes go tappity-tap. Mission accomplished. Cost: $6 for buttons + yarn
Then we ate the cake and opened presents and the party was done. My daughter felt celebrated and her friends enjoyed themselves. I don’t know that anyone will be wearing their Shirley Temple curls around town, but maybe that’s a good thing. ;)
Little Pitchers, Big Ears
You know those moments, when your child says or does something that, in that beautiful childlike way brings things into focus? Yep, had one of those yesterday. I told the girls we were having some neighbors over for dinner and my oldest said to me, “Oh good, Mommy! I knew that was going to happen but I didn’t know when.”
“How did you know?” I asked, just because I knew I had unintentionally neglected to tell them until that day.
“I heard you tell Mrs. Jennifer about it in the car the other day,” she said. And then, the articulation of her heart:
“I like to listen to grown-ups talk, Mommy. I do it all the time so I can know what’s going on. I don’t know why. I just like to listen to the grown-ups.”
Now, I try to be mindful of what I say in front of the kids. I don’t want them hearing me be negative, anxious, or grumbly. I do want them to hear me say kind things, praise others and work out problems. So certainly, this was a reminder that I need to continue on that track.
But it also brought to mind a phrase I first encountered as a child myself, reading The Little House on the Prairie series. Ma Ingalls would say, "Little pitchers have big ears." My child is listening to us. She wants to listen to us. And she does it with purpose: to learn.
And then I wondered… Am I listening to the grownups? Do I hear what Christians who are older, wiser, more experienced are saying, both to me and to each other? Do I want to learn?—because here seems to be an easy way to.
If I am listening to the grownups, what can I learn? A lot of them will tell me directly what I need to hear—thank God for those who take on the role of public and private teacher! But I have to be willing to show up, and to listen, and then to apply.
Still others will talk to me about their experiences; share their experiences. There is so much to learn there, if I listen. A lot of times the struggle there is in making the time to listen to them. If I am too busy rush-rush-rushing around, I don’t have time to take in what they have to say. That’s a struggle while wife-ing and parenting, but probably a struggle I need to fight. Those who have been-there, done-that have, quite simply, been there and done that and almost always have a few tips and tricks that will save me pain and heartache in the long run.
And then there are times I get the opportunity to listen to "the grown-ups" talk to each other. To hear their regrets, to hear the ways they care for each other, to “listen” to what their interactions with each other have to teach me about their hearts, and to mimic the good things they do. There is learning in the listening.
But most importantly, am I listening to the ultimate grown-up, my Heavenly Father? Do I really want to learn? Because He has said so much to me in his word! I am his beloved child. Just like I want my children to learn what is good and right and true from what I say, so He wants me to learn those things from that He has said.
One of the most infuriating things in my parenting is when one of the kids says “I didn’t hear you,” when the truth is, they weren’t listening to me. I have found that to make sure they are listening, I sometimes need to put my hands on their cheeks, gently turn their face to me and lock eyes with them. I’m pretty sure that in preserving scripture for us, God did the exact same thing for me. It is my job to listen. I need to lock my eyes with him, in devoted study of my Bible.
Today I need to speak less, listen more. Find the grownups. Read what my Father is saying to me. Have big ears and hear it. Apply it.
And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 1 Samuel 3:10
I started this morning with a bit of work in Robin’s study on How to Love Your Children. It’s very good—I recommend it if you have children or hope to be blessed with them. One thing I am inspired by every time I read it is Deuteronomy 6:1-13.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[b] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. “
It is a comfort to me that God has wanted his children to teach their children diligently since the beginning. If he told me to do it—I can do it! (Because he WANTS me to do it.)
[dil-i-juhnt adj. 1. constant in effort to accomplish something; attentive and persistent in doing anything: a diligent student.
Look at that definition. God is giving us work to do here! It is every day work. It is all-through-the-day work. It is a constant effort. It has a goal, to accomplish something; you’ll find that in verse 12 above. I am to be attentive: I have to stop texting, take a break from cleaning, and interact with these children and figure out what they need to hear in order to never forget the Lord. I must be persistent in my teaching of God’s word. And He will help me do it (Phil. 4:13).
Here’s what that looks like right now, for me:
1. Daily Bible study with the kids. We do this as part of our homeschool curriculum, but you can do it whenever you are together with your kids. A book like Egermeier’s has easily digestible lessons with questions to ask at the end. It makes it easy and my kids beg me to read more than one. Working together to do their Bible lessons for class at church is part of this, too. Someone once told me that kids find it embarrassing to be unprepared for class, so that's an added motivation, too.
2. Learning hymns and songs. This is what I remember most from being a child—the songs we sang. The words comfort me and since those songs are rooted in scripture, they remind me of what the Lord has done for me. I want to impart that to my children. It’s one of the reasons I’m working to set their memory work to song. These don't have to be kids songs, by the way. We do a lot of vocabulary work in explaining what some of the more 'stately' hymns mean. It helps me, too.
3. Being in nature. Children always find things to look at when you are in the woods or even just paying attention to the sunrise/sunset or the growing things in your front yard. “Who made that? Isn’t it amazing what God has done?” Is a constant refrain in our house. When they start asking the “Why did God make that?” questions, things get really interesting! (P.S. if you exercise them well in the outdoors they will be calmer and sleep better, too. You might find that you enjoy this benefit as well.)
4. Being around other Christians, of all ages. Teenagers love little kids and can be a great example and friend to your children. Parents with kids older than yours will remember theirs fondly when they look at yours, and will help pinpoint areas in which yours can be encouraged and more disciplined. Older Christians will actively seek to teach your children and to show them affection. These are special relationships that my children treasure. I do, too.
5. Taking them to evening or weekend Bible studies and singings. Mine are really starting to see this as a way of life, and they are learn to sit, behave, and even participate. If you take it seriously, they will learn to take it seriously, too. At almost-6 and almost-8, mine love to sit with different people (often the teenagers I mentioned above), they love to be able to find and even index a song in the hymnal, and they like to pick out a song to request. Added bonus: we are all getting to know new people better.
6. Thankfulness, thankfulness, thankfulness. My kids start their prayers now as their father does: “Our Father in Heaven, thank you for this wonderful day.” If we can see every day as Full of Wonder, because of how God has ordered things, then gratitude for everything about it comes more easily. It helps us set the tone in our house for teaching thankfulness for the things we HAVE been blessed with, instead of complaining about the things we don’t have. It is a lesson that, I myself need help putting in practice every day… especially when I get on Pinterest. Amen?
I’d love to hear how you teach diligently, as we look for ways to know God and make Him known. Especially if you have kids in different age ranges than mine, I want to know what this looks like in your home. Share, please!
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11