Gifts that Give Back

I know, I know. We haven’t even eaten the turkey yet. Santa has not yet come in the Macy’s Day parade, which we all know is the official start of the Christmas season. However, I wanted to stop in before all of the craziness of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. Have I forgotten any other days that are created for spending money and buying things?

I have always loved buying gifts for people. As I’ve learned more about fair trade and working conditions around the world, I’ve realized that where I spend my money can actually have a big impact. I have started to make a conscious effort to buy gifts that are unique and special, and that also do good around the world. Here are a few of my favorite places to shop! Hope these make completing your Christmas lists a little easier!

 

Preemptive Love Coalition  

The Preemptive Love Coalition works in Iraq, Syria, and the United States, to “unmake violence and create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” They provide relief for refugees on the frontlines of conflict including food, water, and medical care. Then, they go into refugee camps and provide jobs through small business grants and coaching, to empower these families for a better future.

You can purchase items made by refugee women in Iraq and Syria. They get paid for their work and can provide food for their family, and you get a beautiful gift for a loved one! I gave my grandma this soap and washcloth set last year.

 

And I’m eyeing these blue mosaic candles for someone on my list this year.

 

Prodigal Pottery

Prodigal Pottery is a ministry of King’s Home, an organization with over twenty group homes across the state of Alabama. These homes provide housing and restoration to women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse, homelessness, or other difficult circumstances. Prodigal Pottery employs these women and teaches them job skills, but more importantly, gives them a sense of worth and a place to heal.

I bought my sister-in-law a mug similar to this beautiful one for her birthday this year and she loved it.

How sweet are these little ring dishes for only $10?

I love that you can customize most of these pieces by choosing the color of the paint, and the glaze on the top! Check out their shop for a wide assortment of Christmas ornaments, plates and platters, mugs and more.

COUPON CODE: FAIRTRADE for 10% off any website purchase

 

Noonday Collection

Noonday Collection partners with Artisan Businesses in vulnerable communities around the world. They help develop these businesses through fair trade, and create dignified jobs for those who need them. They also support families pursuing adoption through “Adoption Trunk Shows,” in which 10% of the profits are donated to the adopting family.

I love their wide variety of jewelry and accessories. I’ve purchased necklaces and earrings as gifts from Noonday before, and when they came, wished I could keep them for myself! I am loving this Sea Change necklace.

And I think these braided tear drop earrings would go with everything!

 

If you can’t make a decision, grab a few gift certificates so your people can shop for themselves!

 

Mercy House Global

Mercy House exists to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name. They empower women and teenage mothers around the world through partnerships and sustainable fair trade product development. Mercy House also entirely funds Rehema House — an organization with two maternity homes in Kenya. They rescue pregnant teen girls and teach them life skills to create a better future for them and their children.

I love the mission of Mercy House and have been keeping up with their work for a few years now. I purchase from their store whenever I can. I love their jewelry, but I also love that they offer a wide variety of products including home decor, seasonal, gift boxes for teachers, new mommas, and more.

Check out their guys’ fair trade options (men’s stuff is always harder to find!)

There are sweet options for kiddos, too.

Still not finding the perfect thing? Purchase a membership to an earring or bracelet of the month club, or a gift certificate!

COUPON CODE: FTF15 for 15% off the winter collection (valid until November 26)

 

More Great Gift Guides

If you haven’t found the perfect gift yet check out these two extra resources:

  • Mercy House’s Fair Trade Gift Guide with 26 companies to shop at and a coupon code for each one. 
  • Jamie Ivey’s gift guide on the Happy Hour podcast, also with coupon codes! 

 

Merry Christmas shopping, friends!

 

What I Learned Playing “Hooky”

Last weekend, I looked at my calendar for the coming week and saw something that is very rare. A weekday off! The girls could go to school, or I could choose to keep them home. I weighed my options carefully. Eight hours of a quiet house to myself? It sounded blissful. Oh the Netflix I could binge on! Oh the food I could eat without having to share! As tempting as that sounded (and still does), I realized that what we really needed was a day off together with nowhere to be and nothing to do. So, we played hooky.

Charlee, of course, was beside herself when I told her we were going to have a special “Girls’ Day!” (Pro Tip: Do not call a day off from school a ‘vacation day’ unless you want to begin said day off arguing with a four year old about why you are not going to Disney World.) Once we got past the technicalities, our day was off to a great start.

We had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and lounged in our PJs while we watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I let Charlee direct most of the agenda. We played at the mall playground, rolled around in the fake snow at the Santa spot, and got smoothies. We got the race-car cart at Publix, and Charlee got to choose her own lunch — a lunchable with oreos, obviously. Pre-schooler heaven. Then, Evie went down for a nap and Charlee and I watched Christmas movies in bed.

You guys. Charlee was like a different child. The last few weeks (months?) have been trying. Lots of arguing. Talking back. Fighting with her sister. Deliberately not listening. It felt like 80% of what I said to her was a reprimand. But on Monday? We laughed, we played, she listened quickly, and I genuinely enjoyed all of our time together. I saw how she belly-laughed at Donald Duck’s mishaps, how she made sure Evelyn was safe at the playground, how she looked to me for approval, and how she smiled so much wider when she saw me smiling at her.

Here’s the hard thing I’m realizing. It wasn’t Charlee that was different. She didn’t miraculously change into an obedient, compliant child over night. But you know what was different? Me. I made a decision that morning to spend the day making her feel happy, valued, and loved.

Why don’t I just do that every day? Isn’t that how I always want her to feel? Of course, but life gets in the way. I get caught up in the tasks I need to complete, the e-mails I need to answer, the dishes I need to do, the meeting I need to get to in time, the meals I need to plan, and more often than I’d like to admit, my kids can get pushed to the back burner.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I need to take them out of school and spend every day letting them direct what we do. Obviously that’s not how life works. Whether you’re a stay at home mom or a working mom, we all have stuff that actually does need to get done if we want to live in a functioning household. But, there are a few things that I learned from playing ‘hooky,’ that I’m going to try and start implementing on a daily basis.

Say yes more than no. I decided on Monday morning that I was going to try and say ‘yes’ to as many requests as possible. Does anyone else feel like you just say ‘no’ all the time? For me I think it’s become a reflex. I say no, sometimes before I even think about the question.

Charlee: Can I feed the dogs?    Me: No, I’ll do it. (Why did I just say no? I would love for her to start feeding the dogs!)

I’m not suggesting that we say yes to everything, or give our kids everything they ask for. But, I’m going to start actually listening to the question, and I’ll say yes if it’s reasonable. There are enough people in this world who are going to tell our kids no. I want to be on the yes team! (In case you were wondering, this explains why Charlee has four different colors of nail polish on her finger nails and toe nails. Because what is it hurting if she has four colors instead of one?)

Fully engage. We live in a world where multitasking is a necessity. As moms, we are never doing less than three things at any one time. But when I decided to slow down and spend the day focusing on my kids, I realized how often I am half-listening and “uh-huh”-ing instead of fully engaging. I even realized how infrequently I actually look Charlee in the eyes while she’s talking. Generally, she’s narrating some elaborate story and following me around the house while I get stuff done. How am I showing her that what she has to say is valuable? I want to slow down, sit down, and listen to her. Most of the time, anyway. She’s pretty talkative. I would never get anything done if I fully listened all the time. Just sayin’.

Be aware of my own emotions. I know it was not any coincidence that Charlee was pleasant and happier on the day that I focused on being positive with her. She generally reflects my emotions back at me. So when I get snippy to her, and she gets snippy back, we enter a cycle that neither of us enjoys. The thing is, I’m an adult (at least that’s what I’ve been told) and she is four. I need to be aware of how I am feeling, so that I can teach her how to manage her emotions in a healthy way, and not add my emotions to hers. One of my favorite thoughts about this is from parenting expert and author L.R. Knost, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join the chaos.”

 

We’re back to real life now. Playing hooky is not for every day, but these little lessons are helping our everydays be a little more enjoyable. And when you have a rough day? A rough week? Nothing a little day off hooky can’t fix.

Six Things to Start Saying in your Family

Language is a huge part of our world and of our daily experience. We encounter words all day long: in early morning talk shows, podcasts, books, newspapers, social media, conversations around the dinner table, and especially in 4 year old girls who don’t take breaths in between sentences or talk about topics that are linked together in any logical way. But I digress.

Words are powerful. As parents, we have often heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our examples matter greatly to our kids, absolutely, but that doesn’t mean we can discount the impact of our words. Especially when we are intentional about them. I love this reminder from author Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

Here are six phrases that we strive to use intentionally in our family.

1) Everyone makes mistakes.

This one’s a no-brainer, for adults. Obviously we all make mistakes. To kids, however, mistakes can be a huge deal and can trigger frustration, anger, and embarrassment. Right now most of the mistakes in my house require paper towels and some sort of cleaning solution. However, there will come a day where the mistakes are bigger than crayons on the wall and milk splattered on the floor. When those ‘big’ mistakes happen, I want this phrase to be ingrained in our family’s DNA so that my kids know they always have a safe place to make, and share, their mistakes.

We also make a point to name our own mistakes, so that our kids learn that we are not perfect (duh) and don’t need to try to be, either. Proof that using this phrase is becoming a part of our family’s narrative? When my mom was visiting last weekend, she spilled barbecue sauce on the floor. She started to apologize and Charlee immediately said, “It’s okay, Grandma! Everyone makes mistakes!”

2) I’m sorry because…

This one goes in all directions in our family: grown-ups to grown-ups, kids to grown-ups, grown-ups to kids, kids to kids…you get the idea. There is no question of if we are going to do something that requires an apology; it’s simply when and how often. (See above!) And when those things happen, we apologize. We all expect our kids to say sorry to us, and to each other. How are they going to learn to do that if they don’t see it modeled first?

We also make a point to say more than the cursory “I’m sorry” which can be said so easily (and often without sincere emotion). When Charlee apologizes to Evelyn, or to us, we have her say, “I’m sorry because I didn’t use nice words” so that she actually links her action with the apology, and we do the same for her.

3) I love watching you __________________.

I read an article suggesting parents use this phrase with their kids a few years ago, and I have found it very valuable. We can inadvertently put a lot of pressure on our kids to perform in a certain way, simply with the language we use. For example, if your child plays soccer and they score a goal, you naturally want to focus on their great accomplishment. “That was an amazing kick! You scored a goal for your team! I’m so proud of you!” While this is absolutely positive and will make your child feel good in the moment, it can also convey the message that you are happy because of what the child did.

Using the phrase “I love watching you ______” takes the pressure off of the kids. A simple “I love watching you play soccer!” makes your child feel affirmed whether they kicked the game-winning goal, or spent the game picking dandelions in the field. We say this to Charlee and Evelyn often. “I love watching you sing/dance/dress-up/draw/ride your bike!” tells them that we enjoy seeing them do what they enjoy, whether or not they are “good” at it. (::cough:: singing ::cough::)

4) You worked really hard.

I love using this phrase because it praises effort instead of a fixed attribute such as intelligence. For example, when Charlee completes a task such as a difficult puzzle, I would say “Wow! You worked so hard on that puzzle, and kept going even when it was tricky!” instead of saying, “Wow! You’re so smart!” (Of course, I only say this if she actually was trying hard, so that it’s not empty praise.)

When we focus on effort, kids realize that they can affect their outcomes by how hard they try, and the strategies they use. If intelligence is praised, they just think they are smart; which means if they fail, they believe they are not smart. There is a lot of research and buzz around this concept of “growth mindset” right now, and it’s being implemented in many schools. Here’s some more info about how parents can help their kids develop a growth mindset.

5) I love you when ________ …..and God loves you MOST!

Whenever we are having a discipline conversation, this is the phrase we start with. (Try to start with. Discipline is always a work in progress.) More than anything else, I want my girls to always know that they are loved, regardless of their actions. This does not mean that I always love the way they act, or that they will not have consequences. In fact, giving consequences is actually a really important way that we love our kids, but that’s another post.

So if, hypothetically, Charlee were to be sent to her room after not sharing with her sister (purely hypothetical), our conversation would start like this. “Charlee, I love you when I’m frustrated. I love you when you’re upset. I love you when you don’t share. I love you even when you’re not being kind to your sister.” We’ve done this enough times in our house that at this point she usually chimes in. “And God loves me most!” Then we discuss the issue and the consequences.

6) In this family we ________

Okay, this one is not just a shameless plug for the name of this blog, we actually use this phrase often! Having a strong family identity helps kids to be confident in who they are and lets them discover their own place in the world, from the safety and security of their families. This is the base level of beginning to develop a family identity, as we name for our kids what we do, or do not do, in our families.

We use this in many different contexts. In this family, we use kind words. In this family, we help each other. In this family, we don’t say “_____.” This is the first way that we, as Christian parents, start to teach our kids that our families are going to be different from others they observe or interact with, without pronouncing judgement. As a bonus, it’s also a great way to remind a kiddo of appropriate behavior, without engaging in the power struggle of a direct command. Try “In our family, we sit in our chairs at the dinner table,” instead of, “You need to sit down in your chair!”

What else do you say in your family?

Allowed to Grieve

Just a few days ago, on October 15, people across the nation lit candles in remembrance of babies that were lost too soon. There was a candle flickering at our house, too. I haven’t shared this part of our lives with many people, but I have since learned the great power there is in sharing our journeys with each other.

In February 2015, we found out that we were expecting and we were so excited! Charlee and the new baby would be almost exactly three years apart. I had just officially been offered my current position as Children’s Ministry Director at Community of Hope, and the baby would be due before our crazy month of December (Charlee’s birthday, our anniversary, AND Christmas). I felt like God was showing off and had handed me the perfect little package of answered prayer requests.

Then, a miscarriage in the first trimester. We hadn’t even told people that we were pregnant, so it felt even weirder to share that we were no longer. And yet, how could our lives continue as they were when we had just lost a child?

The ob/gyn dismissed it: “Well, it’s not like you were trying for too long. You’ll be fine in a few months.” The statistics that were meant to comfort (15-25% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage) only made me feel like I shouldn’t be upset. It happens to lots of people. You’re fine! I already had a healthy daughter. I had only known I was pregnant for a short time anyway.

I felt like I wasn’t entitled to grieve.

Here’s what God taught me through friends who showed up on my doorstep and cried with me, through family who showed up with bags of groceries and tight hugs, through scripture that does not contain empty promises, and through prayer that didn’t change my circumstances, but changed me.

I am allowed to grieve.

I grieve because that life growing inside of me was made by God and known by our family.

I grieve because we bought a sweet, soft blanket that will never be wrapped around the child we lost.

I grieve because we will never know who that baby may have grown up to be.

I grieve because our family will never be whole this side of heaven.

I am allowed to grieve, and you are too.

If you have been affected by miscarriage, or have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, I grieve with you. But here’s the good news. God meets us in our grief. He is not scared by sadness, or anger. He never tells us that something is not worth grieving over and He never says, “Get over it.” Instead, he comes near to us. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NIV). Jesus weeps with us, and then wipes away our tears. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3, NIV)

There’s no neat, tidy ending to this story. We have since been blessed with our sweet Evelyn, but grief never truly goes away. I do know that my God is in the business of redeeming broken things, and He is continuing that work in my life daily. And so I continue to cling to this truth from one of my spiritual mentors and favorite authors, Elisabeth Elliot. “Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends in ashes.”

Your story won’t end in ashes either. God is at work.

 

A few extra things:

No Longer Slaves by Bethel Music – I had this song on repeat during this time

Bottle of Tears – A company I’ve just discovered that offers meaningful gifts to tell a friend you’re grieving with them

Chats with Charlee

Because sometimes parenting is equal parts frustration and hilarity….

 

Convo #1

Charlee (counting to 20 in the car): ….10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20!

Me: Oops! Don’t forget 16!

Charlee: I don’t count with 16, Mommy.

 

Convo #2

In the morning before school, I’m filling up Charlee’s white water bottle.

Charlee: I don’t want that water bottle! I want the green one!!

10 minutes later

Charlee: Why is the green water bottle in my lunch box?

 

Convo #3

Charlee: Mommy, kite starts with C! K-K-kite!

Me: You’re right, it sounds just like a C!

Charlee: It is a C! That’s how you spell kite!

Me: It’s actually a K, but it sounds just the same.

Charlee: No, Mommy, I already told you, it’s a C.

::leaves the room::

 

Convo #4

Charlee: Evelyn is not allowed to come to my birthday party because she is not being nice.

Me: Well, Evie is your sister, so she will be coming to your party.

Charlee: Fine. She can come. But she CANNOT have a goody bag.

 

Convo #5

Charlee (sitting on the floor with Evie looking at books, looks up at me and shakes her head): They just grow up so fast, don’t they?

 

Enough

Before this whole parenting thing became a reality, I was pretty sure that I was going to be awesome at being a mom. After all, I had the credentials for it. Babysitting was my main gig throughout all of middle school and high school. Almost every volunteer position and summer job I ever had was wrangling kids. I received two degrees in elementary education and worked at a daycare while doing so. I taught for 6 years: 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 5th grade. I even spent time training with a behavioral psychologist on handling challenging behaviors at one of my schools. Raising one or two kids? My own kids? How hard could it be?

Fast forward. (And stop laughing).

Yesterday morning, a child-who-shall-not-be-named lost her ever-loving mind. It all started in the car with a forgotten lunchbox that mommy wouldn’t go back home for. It evolved quickly into chair kicking, screaming “But I WANT it!” repeatedly, and taking shoes off so they could be thrown as projectile missiles. We got to school and we sat in the parking lot and battled it out. For t.w.e.n.t.y. minutes.

One would think, that because I have had so much “experience” and “training,” that I could handle a simple temper tantrum. That I would not, in a moment of insanity, imitate the child-who-shall-not-be-named’s whiny/screaming voice back at them. That I would not threaten to take away every toy she has in her room. That I would not be crying in the front of the car while my kid is raging in the back because NOTHING I SAY OR DO IS MAKING IT ANY BETTER AND I FEEL LIKE A TERRIBLE MOM.

So then I did what any reasonable mom would do…called dad. At first, he couldn’t even hear me on the phone because of the volume level of screaming. I put him on speaker and he told the child-who-shall-not-be-named to take deep breaths. He calmly told her that he loved her no matter what, and miraculously, she snapped out of it. (Note: although this is completely illogical and immature, this made me even more mad that she listened to her dad AND NOT TO ME).

Finally, I dropped the girls off at their classrooms, ran back to the car through the now-pouring-down-rain, and laid my head on the steering wheel. As I drove, I beat myself up about what I had said and how I had handled the morning. The rain and general gloominess of the day was not doing anything to improve my mood (although it was great weather for my giant pity party).

We’ve been having these sorts of outbursts every few days and I am worn out. I keep asking: am I not patient enough? not grace-giving enough? not consistent enough? not, not, not, not enough?

As these questions spun through my mind, I turned the corner and saw a huge, bright, completely perfect rainbow spanning across the sky. And in that moment, I heard God answer my question very clearly.

No. You are not enough.

Wait. What? I’m pretty sure that’s not what the inside of the hallmark card says.

You are not enough. But I am.

Truthfully, I was kind of hoping for more of a pep talk.

You are not enough. But I am.

I mulled those two phrases over all day long. The more I thought about them, the more I realized that they were exactly what I needed to hear.

I am not enough. I do not have all the answers, strategies, practices, or ideas. I am not forgiving enough, graceful enough, patient enough, or creative enough. I mess up. Daily. I am not a perfect wife, mother, daughter, or friend. I cannot read enough blogs, articles, books, and studies to figure this all out on my own.

I am not enough. But He is.

This truth is so freeing! I serve a God who does not expect me to be enough. Instead, he promises to use my weaknesses. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I am not enough, but I do not need to be, because I place my trust in the one who is. And the better news? He loves my kids even more than I do. I don’t need to keep striving and stressing about doing everything the right way all the time. 

Yesterday afternoon, after my ginormous mom fail of a morning, I picked up my child-who-shall-not-be-named from school and took her to get some frozen yogurt. I asked her to forgive me for not acting nicely. She apologized for “yelling so loud” and we talked about how everyone makes mistakes sometimes. We ate our pumpkin and chocolate yogurt and discussed important pre-school gossip like who is going to be what for Halloween.

Parenting is a bumpy ride and I know there will be many, many, many more of these moments to come. They look like temper tantrums now, but as my littles grow into mediums and bigs, the obstacles will grow, too. I’m praying now that this lesson stays close to my heart. Because when I embrace the truth that I am not enough? Then I lean wholly on a God who is.

 

Beauty In the Weeds

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted here. Honestly? It’s been a rough month. Since school started 5 weeks ago, at least one child has been home sick one or more days each week. First, there was the stomach bug (on the third day of school), then, both girls had eye and ear infections, and the next week they both had RSV and one also had strep. We were at the pediatrician’s office seven times in two weeks. Oh and did I mention that my hubby was also out of town for work one of those weeks? Then that brings us to Hurricane Irma. So, yeah, it’s been a month.

When stuff like this happens, my first reaction is to turn inward and close myself off from the world. I didn’t want to write here because I had nothing positive or inspirational to say. I was snappy with my kids, frustrated with taking days off of work, tired of a messy house, sick of figuring out what was for dinner, and wanted to put everything on hold until our lives were “normal” again. I wanted to be out of the weeds, then I could get back to my regularly programmed life.

Now, I’ve only been a parent for 4 years (4 and a half! as Charlee reminds me), and I know that raising a child is a long, often difficult journey. There are parts of the path that are delightful and easy to walk on. My kid came out of her room dressed for school this morning and I didn’t even have to ask her! My other kid can’t talk back yet! It’s lovely! However, I would venture to say that most portions of the path are covered with varying degrees of thorny weeds.

The telltale sign that you’re in the weeds is when you start using statements like this, “If this would just ____________, then I could ___________” or “Once  ________, then life will be good.” For new parents, at first it’s sleep. Right? If my baby would just sleep through the night, then I could plan meals // go to work // not drink inordinate amounts of caffeine // function like a normal human being. We trudge through lack of sleep, breast feeding, bottle feeding, diapers, reflux, tantrums, potty training, sleep training, etc. Then it’s school, making friends, bullying, attitudes, technology issues, self-esteem, and it goes on and on. Weeds look different at every stage of parenting, and are different with every child. (Some kids are even ‘weedier’ than others).

There are patches of weeds in life that are sunk so deep, you can barely see above them to keep your eyes on the path. I don’t know what it is for you right now. It might be cancer, addiction, a broken relationship, infertility, grief, or something else. But if it feels like you are stuck in the middle and can’t see a way out, know Jesus is there with you. We are not promised an easy life. In John 16:33 He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

For most of us, when we are in the weeds, we just want to get through to the other side. Push through. We might get some scratches and it’s not going to be pleasant, but we just want to make it to the next part of the path. But here’s what God’s been teaching me during this time. There are valuable lessons to be learned in the weeds.

This is where I learn that sometimes it’s okay to eat pancakes for dinner three nights in a row.

This is where I learn to apologize to my kids and to my husband when I am acting like a crazy person.

This is where I learn that this too, shall pass.

This is where I learn to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, but of humility.

This is where I learn that I have to make time for me and Jesus, even if that means breaking my own “no TV for kids in the daytime” rule.

This is where I learn, and relearn, and relearn, that I can not do it on my own. I need my God, my husband, my friends, my circle.

And this is what God has really been impressing on my heart. If I slow down and quit rushing to fix it and get out of the weeds, there is beauty. There are moments that happen when things are broken, that are beautiful. If I duck my head and close my eyes every time we get into the weeds, I am going to miss a lot of important moments.

When Evie was so sick a few weeks ago, I just wanted Charlee to leave her alone, and honestly, to leave me alone. Go play with your dolls, stop touching her, go draw or color, stop messing with her, I can’t play with you, I’m busy with Evie, let me help her get better so we can be done with this. Then I came out into the family room one day and Evie was laying on a pillow on the floor. Charlee had given Evelyn her lovey (Charlee’s most prized possession in the entire world — a pink bunny), and covered her up with her binka (her second most prized possession–a polka dot blanket). She was sitting beside her, rubbing her head and her back and singing softly to her.

I know that moments like this happen all of the time in the weeds, even in the deepest, thickest patches. So I’m going to try to stop always pushing through, and looking anxiously for the end, for the clear path. Instead, I’m working on lifting my head and opening my eyes.

I’m working on seeing the beauty in the weeds.

Building Kindness

Question to Ask Your Child This School Year

School starts this week here in Palm Beach County and with that comes the inevitable after-school question: “How was school today?” If your kids are like most kids, you receive a less than detailed answer. A grunt, “Fine,” “Good,” “Okay,” or, my personal favorite, “I don’t know.” You follow up with, “What did you do today?” and the answer is always (say it with me) “NOTHING.”

So I’d like to propose a new question. This one won’t fill you in on all of the details of your child’s day, but, personally, I think it both teaches and yields more important information.

Ready? Here it is: Who were you kind to today?

This question first entered our household a few months ago when Charlee came home complaining about a new kid in her class. Apparently Matthew (name changed to protect the innocent) cried when his mommy left, didn’t know how to play with the blocks correctly, and followed her around on the playground. As I listened to her gripe about the woes of pre-school, the faces of past students from my classroom teaching years started to float through my mind.

I thought of a sweet first grade girl I had a few years ago. That year I had a student in my class who was prone to massive meltdowns. They could start suddenly, about something as small as his shoe coming untied. This little girl, without fail, would always go to his side and stand by him to comfort him until he felt better. Often, she was the only one who could calm him down.

I thought of a second-grade boy I taught in Colorado. Whenever we took the kids out to recess, he would deliberately round up the kids who were on the “fringes” of things and invite them to join in his game. He never once turned a child down, and sought to make sure everyone was included.

I also thought of kids who did the opposite. Kids who went out of their way to single others out in a mean way, or created drama and gossip, even as early as first grade. Kids who saw another child sitting by themselves, and turned to walk the other way. Kids who rolled their eyes when they were assigned a certain partner that they didn’t like.

As Charlee finished dramatically telling me how Matthew couldn’t even open his snack by himself, I realized that I had in front of me a perfect, teachable moment. Social skills, like kindness, have to be taught and modeled. Kids learn how to behave towards others, and what types of behaviors we value in our families, by what we talk about and how we act.

When I picture Charlee 5, 10, 15 years in the future, I want, and I pray, that she will be the child, the teenager, the adult who goes out of her way to be kind to the person who is on the outskirts. So, I asked her to think about how the little boy might have felt. I asked how she would feel if she was in a new room and didn’t know the rules. Then, I asked her what she could do tomorrow to make him feel better.

The next day I told Charlee that when I picked her up, I was going to ask her about how she was kind to the new little boy. I wasn’t sure if this challenge would actually yield any results, but I figured it was as good a way as any to start the kindness conversation. When I arrived at the classroom door that afternoon, Charlee came running to me and told me excitedly, “I shared a puzzle with Matthew, Mommy! I made him happy!”

From that day on, I have tried to ask Charlee every day about who she was kind to at school. I want her to know, as she continues through pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school, that who you are means more in our family than what you achieve.  When we attend parent-teacher conferences in the future, I want to know about what type of classmate and friend my girls are, before I hear about their academic milestones. With all of the bullying, hatred, and divisiveness in our world today, I want to do my part to raise kids who will cross lines and go out of their way to love other people.

Of course I want my kids to be successful in other ways, but my ultimate goal as a parent is for my kids to follow Jesus, and to be like Him to others. Jesus’s command in Matthew, says it pretty clearly, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12 NIV). The golden rule is a great one to start with. Now, believe me when I say that this is definitely not the end-all, be-all to teaching about kindness. Our jobs as parents are never done, and every new class, new sport, new situation, will bring more challenges and more teachable moments. However, this one little question is an easy way to elevate the value of kindness to others, and to make it a daily topic of conversation.

Charlee started a new class this week. On the first day, I reminded her that I was going to ask her who she was kind to when I picked her up. After a few minutes of typical 4-year-old arguing, (“No one is sad in my class because they are all big kids!”), I stopped pushing it. That afternoon, I asked anyway, just to see what she would say. Immediately, her face lit up and she told me about a little girl who “is a new friend and is wearing long sleeves but I don’t know her name.” Charlee continued with her explanation, “She was sitting on the rug and she is a new friend and I didn’t know her so I said hi! And she smiled!”

I know it’s just a little thing, but it warms my mama heart to think of that little girl sitting by herself, and Charlee approaching her to make her feel welcome.

Next up on the list: the value of learning your friends’ names…

 

p.s. Here’s a parent resource I love about teaching kindness to your kids, and some verses about kindness that you could work on memorizing with your kids!

Celebrating “Lasts”

I’ve been thinking lately about all of the ways that we mark milestones in our kids’ lives. We celebrate their first smile, food, tooth, and word. We take tons of pictures when they first sit up, and try to catch that moment on video when they take that first wobbly step. We might complete baby books each month, or fill school year scrapbooks with “first day” pictures. (Or at least we’ve done it all for the first child. Right? Let’s be real. Sorry Evelyn!)

It’s August, so that means that Pinterest is chock full of “first day of school” ideas right now. Celebrating the firsts is important, and can be a great way to start family traditions, but that’s not what this post is about. Because coupled with every first, usually comes a last. We anticipate and mark and measure every first as our kids grow up, but we often miss the lasts.

For the past year or so, Charlee’s bedtime routine has been thus: three books, two songs, a prayer, and a back rub. Every night the songs have been “He’s got the whole world in His hands”, and “Willoughby Wallaby Woo.” If you are not familiar with “Willoughboy Wallaby Woo,” let me explain this fine piece of song composition to you. (By the way, you can blame Raffi for this).

The lyrics are as follows:

Willoughby Wallaby Woo, an elephant sat on you // Willoughby Wallaby Wee, an elephant sat on me, // (now here is where you insert someone’s name, replacing the first consonant of their name with a /W/) Willoughby Wallaby Warlee, an elephant sat on …..Charlee // Willoughby Wallaby Wevie, an elephant sat on… Evie.

You might be thinking, “Aw, what a cute bedtime ritual!” And you would be right. If that’s where the song ended. However, the song continued with all family members, often friends, and, if we were particularly unlucky that night, pets and stuffed animals. I admit that countless nights at bedtime, I attempted to omit or abbreviate the song. I tried immediate family only. I tried “four people because you’re four!” but nothing worked. It was always a long, drawn-out litany of various people being sat upon by the elephant.

As I started thinking about this topic of lasts, I realized that Charlee hasn’t asked for her songs in a few days. I can’t remember which night was the last night that I sang about that dang elephant, but I can bet I was probably frustrated and singing half heartedly, wishing she would just go to sleep on her own. Looking back, if I had known it was the last night, I would have sung with gusto and even thrown in some extra verses for good measure.

I can’t remember the last time I nursed Evelyn, or the last time she fell asleep on me and I’m not sure when the last time was that Charlee said “polka pocket” instead of “polka dot.” There are lots of lasts like this throughout childhood, pre-teendom, and teenage years that we don’t know are happening until after the fact.

However, there are also “anticipated” lasts. There are natural transition times throughout kids’ lives that we know are coming, and that we can prepare for. This isn’t about mourning the lasts that we miss, it’s about celebrating the lasts that we can anticipate.

This year Charlee will be starting VPK, so last Friday was her last “Mommy Day.” (I don’t work on Fridays, so she has always called it that). Since we won’t have this time together weekly anymore, we planned a special trip to the Children’s Museum, swam in Grandma’s pool, and had a pizza and movie night. I’m still going to miss my time with her, but I’m glad that I got to mark our last Mommy Day in a meaningful way.

Do you have lasts coming up in your life or your kids’ lives that you are dreading? Maybe it’s a last day at home before they start Kindergarten. Or the last day you’ll drive them to school before they start driving themselves. Wherever you are in your parenting journey, it’s normal to be nervous or anxious about transitions. It’s also expected that you will mourn the end of a phase as a new one begins. But take a look at that last, and be thankful that you know it’s coming. And find a way to celebrate it.

What’s this all about?

Hey friends,

Welcome to In This Family!

I’m starting this blog because I want to create a space to talk about family. Real families. Real issues. Real successes and real failures. Real honesty, humor, and hopefully a dose of encouragement.

This is decidedly, most definitely not, a parenting advice blog. My girls are 4 and 16 months. If you want advice on how to remove a barbie from the vacuum, that I can give. Advice on how to make a 4 year old cry? Got it. (Hint: tell her she can’t wear the same Princess Sophia underwear three days in a row).

Here’s what I’ve realized: we all have the power in our homes to define our families. To shape them. To decide what is permissible and what is not. To place value on certain things and not others. We have the ability to stand against what culture says our families will be or should be. We are the gatekeepers of our homes and, as Joshua said to the Israelites, we must choose for ourselves whom we will serve. (Joshua 24:15)

The choice itself might not be the difficult part for you.  After telling the Israelites to choose, Joshua declared, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The “declaring” part isn’t so hard. I can declare that my kids must sleep past 7 am, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  (Maybe I should go with 6 next time? Or 5?)  Deciding whom we will serve is the first step. Then, we need to intentionally plan how we will do that in our everyday lives.

This is not me telling you what works. This is me, in the trenches with you, trying to come up for air long enough between the piles of laundry, boxes of mac n cheese, and things that need to be done RIGHT NOW MOMMY!! to parent with the end in mind. If I want my kids to be Christ followers, selfless friends, wise consumers of technology, generous givers, confident individuals, creative problem solvers, and to eventually, maybe eat something other than mac n cheese, that starts here.

In this family.