Monthly Archives: August 2011

Why Stay Positive in a World of Cynics?

It is hard to stay positive in today’s world.  Children are dying in famines in Africa, and are starving in American cities.  Loved ones are lost in terrorist attacks and wars and to cancer and car crashes.  Women live in unspeakable circumstances as their freedoms are controlled in societies throughout the world.  Homes and lives are lost in hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes.  Every day struggles to obtain and keep a decent paying job are often daunting and overwhelming.  Relationships fall apart and break hearts. Death and loss confront us on a daily basis, and even more so, now that there is a plethora of media formats to connect us to previously local tragedies. People everywhere are hurting.  Suffering is everywhere.

So, in the face of all of these nightmares, it can seem naïve or even insensitive to carry around a positive attitude.  Certainly, at the very least, being a cynic can make a person popular in many circles, where self-deprecating or critical or complaining humor can feel more “relatable” and “genuine” than a perky smile or a “I’m doing great today!” communication.

But for those folks who want to crush the positivity out of a smiling soul simply to relieve the pain in their own, I have to say, it isn’t going to make their lives better.  The resentment directed towards a positive person could best be taken as a clue to look inward, to address the source of pain inside, rather than attack good energy where it exists in this world.  It is so much easier to envy, to criticize, to mock, to try to bring that person into our circle of suffering, but the truth is, the positive people living the seemingly perfect lives are not the problem.

Life amidst the stones in the road

There seems to be a prevailing zeitgeist that being positive is not being real.  That could not be further from the truth.  Being artificial turns people off, but true positivity is a balancing act that should be commended, not degraded. Being positive requires emotional courage and strength.  Being positive requires being secure in oneself, because being positive is often an unpopular choice in a world where many people are looking to find a mirror for their own pain.  Being positive requires looking at the suffering, seeing it, changing what you can in the situation, seeking support when needed, and keeping a forward momentum while appreciating and choosing to focus on the good in life.  Life is not all bleak.  There are brilliant moments of love, tenderness, beauty, comfort, coziness, self-sacrifice, and compassion hidden in the rubble.  The positive people among us just know how to focus on those things when the walls come down.  They know how to appreciate the simple things, like a cozy blanket, or a sunny day and make them significant.  They know how to smile or offer words of comfort to a struggling stranger.  They know how to try when trying is the last thing they might want to do inside.  They are warriors with their inner ghouls and make deliberate, challenging choices to be hopeful, pleasant, and kind. They are joy givers and light bringers.  They can sometimes be the people we disdain, but maybe that’s because we wish that we were able to be the people they are:  defenders of joy, innocence, and goodness in the world.

Author’s disclaimer:  I’m not sure that I identify as a positive person.  I have my moments, and I have my struggles.  Depends on who you ask, I guess!  But I know other positive people when I see them (I am thankful to call several of these folks my friends) and while I may have had my moments siding with the cynics, with each year of my life, I develop deeper admiration for the positive people.  This post is for you!

Also, if  you would like to help those families who are suffering in Somalia, please click on the link in the first paragraph of this post to learn how you can assist the relief effort.

Linking up with Shell at Things I Can’t Say for

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September Days…of the Week: Bulletin Board Activity

Materials:

Bulletin board

Background paper and border (I used construction paper and craft scissors to create the scalloped edges on my border)

Construction paper (brown, green, red, and additional colors)

Scissors ( I used craft scissors to create the scalloped edges on my border, as well as regular scissors for cutting)

Marker

Stapler

Ruler

Objectives: 

Colors, seasonal concepts, understanding of time/days of the week

Age:  I’m doing this with my 22 month old; however this activity is likely more appropriate for the preschool-kindergarten age child

Instructions:  (Please note that the actual craft idea is meant for completion by an adult or an older child.)

Choose a background color from the construction paper (not red, green or brown) and cover the entire board (if you’ve a small board…if you have a large board for classroom use, you can use whatever background cover you have already selected) by affixing the papers with staples.  Using a ruler and marker to evenly measure the width of the borders, take the craft scissors and cut sufficient strips to surround the edge of the bulletin board.  I selected a yellow background with an orange border for an autumnal effect.  When positioning the borders, you will likely overlap at the corners, and depending on the size of your board, along the shorter edges.  Use staples to affix. (Please note that staples pose a choking hazard to small children and use caution accordingly).

Cut a piece of brown construction paper on the short side, trimming about ¼ of the paper away on the top.  Round the bottom edges of the remaining ¾ page to create a barrel look on the bottom.  Line up a second piece of brown paper on the back of the “barrel” shape and trim the bottom edge to match the barrel; leave the top portion of the second paper higher than the “barrel” shaped paper.  You will stack the barrel in front of the second brown paper when affixing to the board to create a pocket for your apples.  I used a glue stick to fuse the paper together prior to stapling the barrel pocket to the board.  Using the marker, I drew vertical curved lines to create the look of a barrel, and also created a “rim” shape at the top of the barrel where I wrote:  “An apple a day…September Days.”  If you are really finicky and prefer a clean look to a handmade look, you can type the text on your computer, print and cut and paste onto your barrel.

Using craft scissors, cut out a green pocket from green construction paper (an alternate idea is to cut out a green tree top and also a brown trunk; you can affix the green tree top to the board, leaving the top unattached to create a pocket).  I did not have a sufficiently sized board to create the tree.  Affix the green pocket to the board with staples, leaving the top open to create the pocket.

Draw and cut out 7 (or additional apples, if you want to use them for further decoration on your board).  If you can’t draw an apple, Google an image, print and trace.  Using the marker, on each apple, print a day of the week.  I drew two smaller apples to represent Saturday and Sunday as I want to help my daughter start to countdown the days until Daddy is home for the weekend! Place these apples in the green tree pocket.  I wrote “Pick an Apple” on the green pocket and decorated it with a fall leave stamp I happened to have.

I also created a header:  “September,” as well as an apple that says “Fall” to provide more seasonal information to my little one.

Activity:

Each day, as part of your daily routine, have your child select the appropriate day apple (I stack them in order, but for older kids, you can have them try to read the words to pick) from the “tree” and place it in the “barrel”.  This way, they countdown the day of the week!  Also, they learn about apple picking as a fall harvest practice.  Talk about the season: Fall or Autumn and things that happen in Autumn:  harvest, apple picking, back to school for big kids.  Name the month and start to talk in simple terms about how a month is 28-31 days and we have 12 months in a year.  For older kids, you can provide a more detailed explanation.  My daughter V, loves to pick her daily apple and even has been caught in climbing attempts to reach the bulletin board (we have ours hung higher on the wall to prevent her from reaching staples as she is still very small).  So consider your child and potential safety hazards when hanging your board!  Stay tuned for monthly update ideas for your seasonal bulletin board!


A New “Perfect”

I can picture an ideal in my mind for nearly everything I attempt.  As an example, If I’m scrubbing the floor, the ideal would be that every hair and crumb is removed, all scuff and dirt marks eradicated, and if I really am honest about it, that the stove and refrigerator were moved so that I could get at the hidden surfaces.  I would use a non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaner, and also vacuum the baseboards along the floorboards so that the dust would not flit onto the floor.  And the streak-free shine would last for more than an hour. Or a day.

This is the ideal.  These days, my floors see a vacuum once or twice a day (depending on the day and degree of mess) and perhaps a quick Swiffer.  They still are perpetually crumb-filled and smudged.  I have a toddler to love now; mess is the “new perfect.”  I wouldn’t trade my messy floors for my shinier pre-kid days, no way!

Perfectly beautiful...

I can picture an ideal for my relationships, my marriage, my role as a mother, for my writing, and when I was working, for my work life and career trajectory.  I can always see something that could be shined up a little to be made “even better,” and while this skill often endears me to employers as I have tidied and streamlined work systems in the past, being a fixer and idealist can often leave me with a feeling of dissatisfaction when the “perfect” cannot be achieved and with a feeling of dissonance when my skills or time do not permit me to achieve my vision.  It can also leave loved ones feeling like they can never measure up to my high standards, creating distance instead of connection.  Learning to check my ideals against my priorities (love, happiness, sharing, positive experiences, connection) allows me to keep a better sense of what is important, and what details should be relegated the dream world where all good but unattainable ideals go after they are rejected for a more sensible balance.

If you ask my mother, I’ve always been this way.  Apparently, when I was very young, I would meltdown frequently during family holidays or outings when the reality fell short of my expectations.  If you ask my beloved and ever-sensible husband, I still have high expectations.  Of him, of my daughter, and most of all, of myself.  These expectations can leave me feeling like a pressure cooker, with all this something going on inside, with no where for it to go.  Until I seize control of myself, and take the lid off, and let a little (or a lot) of the expectations go.

When I was pregnant, anticipating my daughter’s arrival, I washed and folded her baby washcloths and organized them in the hall closet by type of fabric and pattern.  I lined up the edges perfectly.  I loved opening that closet and seeing everything neat, tidy, perfect, and waiting.  These days, I fold them, barely, and stuff them into a caddy which hangs on the back of the bathroom door. And I could care less (mostly), because just getting the laundry clean is the “new perfect.”

A rare “pristine outfit” moment as V plays tea party.

Before I became a mother, I had visions of creating themed days, where I would create projects and activities based on a theme (like a classroom) to interest my little tyke.  These days, I feel happy when enjoying a giggle with my daughter as I read her books while she sits on the toilet for a half hour, or when she takes her graham cracker bunnies and mixes them in her play kitchen for a special bunny drink.  I love the play she directs; it is imaginative and often funny, and when I plan one of our fun projects and activities, it is with a combination of both fun and learning in mind, rather than an idealized theme.

Her own style…watch out divas, here comes V!

When I see a mother who has a child outfitted in clean, crisp, elegant play clothing, I think, “Wow, how does she do that?  I wish I could.”  Then I smile to see my daughter in a mismatched outfit of her own selection, or a size too big purple dress, red shoes, sporting a Dora Band-aid across her chest (these days, she has to wear one on all her clothes, including her pajamas), with a food smudge on her cheek.  Because watching her learn to make her own choices and create her own style is the “new perfect.” Because mess comes along with satisfying play, and a happy, healthy, thriving, and even messy toddler is the “new perfect.”

In short, my ideals are ever-changing.  When I have some expectation in my head, I am learning to stop myself and say, what is the ultimate goal of this task or experience?  I know that if I don’t check myself, I have a tendency to set myself up for failure and disappointment.  These days, when I let go of the ideal, I am often surprised by an increased sense of peace, balance, and well-being.  Because perfect isn’t always the ideal.  Sometimes, imperfect is the real perfect after all.


Playing with her food and other language learning fun…

V goofing around with her Alphatots!

What kid doesn’t love French fries?  I know my daughter does; her fave meal is “chick and friesss.”  So when I found Ian’s Alphatots fries in the local market the other day, I grabbed a pack from the frozen section.  Gluten free, egg free, milk-free, they are great for kids with allergy or dietary issues. V helped put them on the baking sheet to bake and when ready, we sat down at the table to enjoy.  She pulled each letter out of the Pyrex container, saying the ones she knows (I, O, G, M) and guessing at others until I gave her the correct answer.  This is a fun and tasty way to practice our letters.  Alphabet pasta is another fun option; unfortunately, our box is still sitting in our cupboard waiting to join my next soup, as V opted not to eat the tiny, tiny letters.

I am not an advocate of flashcards; they seem too pushy for children less than 2 (or even older).  We have a few packs of flashcards with Space and Dinosaur pictures and themes that V likes to sort through and ask questions about.  This method feels fine to me, because it is self-initiated and unpressured.  We do have one pack of alphabet flashcards graciously given to us by one of V’s grandparents.  I will offer V the opportunity to play and explore them, but do not think it is developmentally appropriate to perform drilling exercises with toddler age kiddos.  On the other hand, textured letters, which toddlers can trace with their fingers, offer them an opportunity to have a sensory experience while learning the beginning strokes of writing.  We have not created textured cards yet, as I feel V is still a little young, but we will eventually do this craft project.  You can use index cards, Elmer’s Glue and sand or glitter to create a textured card, or you can use fabric (this is more labor intensive and adult-driven).  Felt ABC’s on a felt board are also a fun free-play experience for young children; make sure they are large enough to avoid a choking hazard.  For older children, ABC sewing cards where they can thread yarn through letter shapes is another fun project.  You can cut these out of cardboard, punch evenly spaced holes with a punch and purchase some shoelaces for easy and inexpensive lacing.  You can even have your child help you paint the cards as an art project!

In our house, we do A LOT of reading.  We started reading to V, while she was in utero.  The book of choice was “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” a book that we hoped would appeal to both my husband and my literary preferences.  It amused for a short time, but the writing was so poor, that we eventually gave it up!  These days, the reading selection is a little more child-centered, but still a huge part of our daily routine.  We read before bedtime, during potty training efforts, and on breaks through the day.  V has sat through 120+ pages of Dora the Explorer stories at one sitting, and has started to say words from some of her favorite stories on her own.  While she may not be “reading” yet, she is certainly memorizing and getting clues about the words from contexts.  She mimics the exact tone I use to read the same words in some of her favorite Duck and Goose stories by Tad Hills.  Miss Spider’s ABCs is another great kids’ book for letter learning; the colorful illustrations are captivating as well.  There are many strictly “ABC” books, but I find that V learns whole words as well from her reading experiences.

Alphabet refrigerator letters are a great way for kids to get their fingers around the shape of the letter and also get additional exposure to letters.  V likes me to put the letters in order and point to each one while we sing our ABC’s.  She also likes to sort the letters by color, and can be found carting around all the “pourple” ones in a little Easter basket she plays with.  So these can be a great tool for learning colors as well!  Sometimes we spell words together like “Mama, Dada, V’s name, Dog, Bunny, Go”.

My husband invented a fun action-based game where he uses heart signs attached to popsicle sticks to instruct her to follow certain actions:  hugs, dance, jump, stop, go, freeze, time-in.  Only a few of these signs have any additional symbols, and V can read each of the signs presented to her.  The actions associated with the words have made them fun, and she is getting reading exposure as well.

V also plays an adapted version of Eric Carle’s “The ABC Game.”  We show her a card and have her move her token to the matching letter.  She loves matching games, and LOVES playing “gamies” with Mom and Dad, so she really enjoys this.  We don’t attempt to play this game by the rules at this point, nor do we expect her to finish our version of play.  We do it as long as it remains fun, then we move on.

I know all the research shows that TV for small children is a no-no, and especially for children under 2.  But I have found that for many of us moms or dads, we need a half-hour a day to prepare a meal, take care of personal grooming, make an important phone call, or just to function.  So while I try to limit V’s TV watching, she does not live a TV free existence.  However, we do not have cable, and I think it is really important to choose V’s viewing options carefully.  WordWorld is one of the best shows I have seen for young children.  All of the characters and much of the scenery are made up of words.  The “Let’s Build A Word” song gets V moving and she also repeats some letters after them.  I caught her in the act of spelling a word while watching WordWorld one day, and I tell you, it assuaged a tiny, tiny bit of the mama guilt I feel over the TV viewing!  So if you let your child watch TV, WordWorld is a great educational option.

Each week, my husband and I pick one letter of the week to focus on.  We have a chalkboard in V’s playroom where we write all of the words we can think of beginning with the chosen letter.  We read them out loud to V when we think of it; I read that children learn words best when they hear the words from more than one person, so having a verbal household where she is exposed to lots of different words, both simple and complex, will hopefully set her up for long-term language learning.  We do this as a fun exercise for us, and maybe she’ll pick up a word or two along the way.  She does remember the letters we select for the week, and will occasionally point to the board and tell us the letter.  So she’s getting something out of it.

V likes to point out letters on t-shirts that M and I wear and sometimes she gets them right!  I think providing children many opportunities to be exposed to letters and words in a fun and nonthreatening or unpressured way is the optimum environment for language learning!  My psychology background is not in literacy, however, so you may want to do some research on your own to get additional perspectives.  From the outcomes I’m seeing with V so far, our approach to language learning seems effective; she recognizes some letters, can identify some words, and is speaking in two-three word sentences.  She is 21 months old, so I’m feeling pretty good about her learning.

I am interested to hear your thoughts and ideas about teaching letters and words to toddlers; please share any projects, games or crafts you use in your house!

Author’s Note:  Pamela is not receiving any compensation for the products discussed in the above post!  Wouldn’t that be nice!


“You, you’re driving me CRAZY…even though I’m CRAZY for you!”

I remember watching “Lamb Chop’s Play Along”with Shari Lewis as a kid; I think it was mainly when one of my little sisters had it on the TV.  There was one song she would sing that I thought was hilarious at the time, because it was often how I felt about said sisters:  “You, you’re driving me crazy…even though I’m crazy for you!”  was the main chorus line.

Years later, this song takes on new meaning as it epitomizes how I sometimes feel as I navigate toddler hood with my little girl.

I am the mother of a 21 month old daughter, V.  I love my daughter, more than my life.  I can’t imagine what I wouldn’t do for her. I think she is the funniest, most adorable little person and I feel enormously proud of her smarts and her sweet, loving nature.  But there are times, especially since she turned about 15-18 months old, that I feel worn out, impatient, and exasperated by my lovely gal’s totally normal, completely developmental, but utterly exhausting toddler antics.  All you parents of toddlers know what I am talking about:  the tantrums, the clingy days, the whiny moments when our eyes temporarily trick us into thinking our darling child has been replaced by a miniature gremlin in a cuter costume.

My most recent exhausted mommy moment was this past week, when I sat on my daughter’s bedroom floor holding her writhing in my lap (she would not be cuddled nor put down), as she screamed for about 20 minutes because she did not want to change her poopy Pull-Up.  She wanted to go eat.  I did not want to smell poo during our lunch, nor did I want her sensitive bummy to develop a rash.  So, it had to happen.  But V made sure it was on her own terms, as she proceeded to resist the change, and scream and kick and cry.  And, I had the flu.  The achy, can’t barely stand up, dizzy, feel like you’ve been beaten type of flu.  She cried.  I held her, arms limp at my sides or stroking her sweaty, matted hair.  I sang her favorite song until she started yelling, “no, no” through the indistinct shrieks.  Then I cried too.  I waited, increasingly anxious for the sound of my husband’s car pulling into the garage, as he was coming home early to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.  Boy was he in for a treat.  But the minutes ticked by and it became clear I had to face this little monster myself.  So I wiped my face, nursed V until she was sufficiently calm, then finally settled her, still wriggling her poopy butt all over the changing mat, enough to complete her Pull-Up change.

This is an example of the behavior that has been blowing my mind over the past couple of months.  So, I guess I’ve gotten into the habit of letting V know.  Because last week, when she was starting an irritating whining routine as her lunch wasn’t coming fast enough for her liking, I made a goofy exasperated sound….”aaaaah!”  She, turned from the table, giggled, and said “Craze, craze.”  Yep, she was imitating me saying…”You’re driving me crazy!”  I inquired if this was what she was saying to me; she laughed again, and indicated with a nod (like duh, mom!), yes, that was exactly what she meant.

Enter Massive Mommy Guilt.  My child has come to expect that I’m going to tell her she is driving me crazy.  Whoa.

While I want to make sure I have a handle on my emotions as I deal with my daughter’s discipline, and clearly, I need to perhaps re-think the frequency of my expressions of frustration, I wonder…is communicating frustration to your child a bad thing?  If done in a non-intimidating way?  When I say, “You’re Driving Me Crazy!”, it is generally in a sing-song kind of voice that my daughter seems to find amusing.  Yet, she obviously is getting the point that some of her behavior might not be socially appealing or acceptable. Isn’t it my role to teach her that?  Where is the boundary between getting a handle on your emotions while still letting enough of them filter in your tone of voice to drive home the point that certain behavior is frustrating and unacceptable?

I think the reaction of your kid plays a big part in determining this boundary.  Some super-sensitive kids cringe at a hint of negative feedback, while others just roll with it.  I absolutely don’t want my child to feel intimidated.  I don’t think that is an issue for us, though.  V is a pretty secure kid, and I try to be an in-control kind of mom.  My own little gal is a loving, affectionate kiddo, but she is strong-willed and adept at ignoring that which she doesn’t want to listen to.  So we use time-outs when needed, give positive feedback for good behavior, and sometimes, we even raise our voices a little to get her attention.

I know I can at times be impatient, hostile sounding, argumentative, and irritable with those I am close to.  My hope was to keep these traits out of my verbal (we do not choose to use physical discipline with V) discipline with my daughter.  I know sometimes I fail to contain these tendencies, and I have the guilt to prove it.  But I do my best to keep my emotions in check while I am teaching my daughter what behavior is positive and what is unacceptable behavior in our household. What this one moment has illustrated for me is that I may not always be aware of all of the things I do or say that my daughter internalizes.  I hope that throughout her life though, she’ll trust me enough, feel secure enough to laugh at me when I’m exasperated, and let me know that I’ve made my point.  I’m sure someday, I’ll hear the same words lobbied back at me (because I’ve taught her to say them!)  “You’re Driving Me CRAZY, Mom!”

Linking up with Shell at “Things I Can’t Say” for  Pour Your Heart Out Wednesdays.


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