Archive for May 2012

The Importance of “Doing Nothing”

May 30, 2012

When my parents were visiting in April, one evening Katie (almost 4 at the time) told her daddy,  “Memaw and Papaw are more fun than you and Mommy.”  As my husband started relating this story, I didn’t think too much of it at first; she had said the same thing about them being more fun than her Granny.  Her reason was that there are two of them and only one Granny (even though Granny spoils her just as rotten).

But when my husband asked her why she thought her grandparents were more fun than her parents, Katie replied, “Because they read books with me.”  Well, that hit both my husband and me to the quick.  That night he took the time to read her a book before bed, and the next day I started making plans to pick up more books from the library and integrate more reading time with her.

I have been aware for some time that Katie has kind of been slipping through the attention cracks.  It’s not that she is completely ignored.  (None of my children would ever allow that to happen.)  But she just doesn’t get quite as much one on one time as the older two or “the baby” do.  Bailey and Piper have school time five days a week that requires my time and attention.  At the very least, Sabrina and I snuggle in the bed for nap time almost every afternoon and there is still room for her to sit on my shrinking lap.

Katie and I do have lots of quality conversations as we are driving down the road or just before bedtime, but it seems to be at times when I often have no other choice but to engage with her.  I think for some of us who are with our kids almost all of the time, we falsely console ourselves into thinking that all that quantity time is enough, especially when we feel over-whelmed by all of our other duties.  From time to time, though, I get forcibly reminded about the importance of quality time to the parent-child relationship.

Quality time isn’t just the big gestures like trips to the zoo or the waterpark.  It doesn’t even necessarily have to mean one-on-one time alone with a parent (although that is important, too).  More often it is in the little things that can seem like “doing nothing”:  sitting on the couch during an episode of Dora the Explorer, reading a picture book for the 500th time, or even just snuggling in the bed in the middle of the day.  For kids quality time can be as simple as having mom and/or dad physically present next to them and mentally available for questions, conversations, and requests.

I can always think of millions of things I could be or would rather be doing than “just sitting on the couch”.  For instance, the list of chores that need to be done inside and outside of the house is never ending.  And if I am taking a break from chores, I would much rather be surfing the internet, watching my own television shows, or reading books that interest me.  I think it’s hard for me personally to choose to do something that seems like it would neither be productive nor personally enjoyable and at times just absolutely boring (like watching preschool shows).

I really need to make it a habit each day, even if it is only 15-30 minutes, to go sit on the couch next to a kid watching television or to read her a book, especially when she asks.  And maybe on those days when I’m a little worn out (but it is too late for a nap), I could take my book to the couch or upstairs to read on my bed, purposefully knowing that some (if not all) of the kids will be drawn to follow me like moths to a flame for snuggles and talking.

When I look back on my own childhood and teenage years, the times when I felt most at peace and attached to my own mother were when we would just be lying on her bed, snuggling while she read her book.  I want to give those same feelings and memories to my own children.  I don’t want them to remember that mom didn’t have time to really be with them, because she was too busy playing her 10th game of computer Mahjong in a row or checking her Facebook for the 20th time that day (or how exasperated she acted when they interrupted these oh so important activities).

So, in the long list of things that I feel like I should be doing, could be doing, or want to be doing, I need to remember the importance of “doing nothing”.  Because “doing nothing” to me may mean everything to my kids.

7 Quick Takes (v. 63)

May 26, 2012

1.  I’m squeezing these in on Saturday again, because I just had a very busy Friday.  I spent most of the morning and early afternoon giving my kitchen a good cleaning.  Counters, appliances, and walls all needed a basic wipe down.  The floor was in desperate need of mopping.  It was to the point that instead of our feet making the floor dirty the floor was making our feet dirty!  I don’t know how it got that bad.  I am sure I mopped it at least a month or two ago.  😉

2.  I had some really good help from my second daughter Piper (6).  She was the early bird that got me up and moving yesterday morning.  But she volunteered to wipe down the kitchen table and chairs for me.  With a little help from Sabrina (almost 2), she scrubbed crayon off the sliding doors to our back deck.  And then she took a scrub brush and soapy water to an area of the kitchen floor that mopping just wouldn’t thoroughly get.

3.  After I took a quick shower, we loaded up the family and went to Texas Roadhouse for dinner.  I was squished in the booth between Sabrina and Katie (4).  While Katie, as usual, wouldn’t eat a single thing on the menu (just a pack of peanut butter crackers from my bag), Sabrina kept stealing food off my plate every five seconds:  half of a roll with cinnamon butter, cheese fries, all of the cooked baby carrots from my side of mixed vegetables, some of the broccoli, and even some green beans (which she normally doesn’t like).  I offered her some steak, which she also likes, but at that point she was either full or just ready to color for awhile.

4.  Last night I was struck by just how big my oldest girl, Bailey (9 1/2) is getting.  She gracefully ordered her own meal from the adult menu.  Then when we went to the mall after dinner I watched her politely approach an employee at Claire’s to ask a question and thank her for the information she received.  When I was nine, I probably was still having my mom ask questions for me.  I was very proud of her.

5.  I just started reading Parenting with Grace by Gregory and Lisa Popcak.  I’m only a few chapters in, but I’ve been really impressed so far on how they address why Catholic parenting approaches might be different than what you find in other parenting books.  I’ve already received a lot of food for thought.  But I think when it comes to their suggestion to find each child’s “love learning style”, I can’t help thinking that they would have been better off referring to people to The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, which is so much more in-depth.

6.  I must admit that one reason the house has been such a mess is that I had been kind of lazy the most of the week.  With no homeschooling our routines were all off, and I wasted a lot of time playing on the internet.  It doesn’t help that my mother-in-law has been out of town this week.  It’s not just because she helps me with some of the house upkeep but because she also inspires me to work a little harder around the house out of consideration for her.  Hopefully, I can keep the house straightened up enough, so that she doesn’t regret coming home on Tuesday.

7.  I did finally get around to having my ultrasound this week.  I don’t think the specialist to whom my midwives refer all patients for Level 2 ultrasounds was really happy about me having waited until 29 weeks.  But we learned that #5 is yet another girl!!  My husband just keeps saying, “Five girls” with an incredulous look on his face.  LOL

Happy Birthday to…..

May 23, 2012

ME!!!!  Today I turn the big 3-5!!  And I think I now qualify as a “geriatric pregnancy”.  LOL

I couldn’t go out today to celebrate due to an unavoidable appointment.  I know that for a lot of people spending time with their family is how they celebrate, but since I am with my family all the time, it’s more of a treat for me to go out by myself—for fun, not grocery shopping.  So, on Saturday I went out for about five or six hours all by my lonesome.

First I went to the library to pick up some books they were holding for me.  And then I went to see a movie all by myself.  I could have waited to watch the Hunger Games in a year or two on DVD or Netflix, but I decided that I wanted to enjoy sitting in the nice, cool air conditioning for two hours with out other people talking to me or expecting anything from me.  I didn’t have to make a compromise on what to see.  I didn’t buy a single over-priced item from the concession stand.  And I didn’t have to take anyone to the bathroom (except myself afterwards).

Next I went to Pepe’s for a nice meal.  I chowed down on their delicious salsa (my favorite), ordered a non-alcoholic pina colada, devoured two chicken enchiladas suiza, and treated myself to some friend ice cream.  I didn’t have to listen to people complain about how they don’t like Pepe’s, try to figure out meals that fit into each munchkins’ unique dietary habits, cut up anyone else’s food before I could eat my own, or argue about how we can’t afford to get everyone their own dessert.  I just read one of my library books quietly while I stuffed my face.

After my belly was full, I went to the nearest Best Buy and bought myself a birthday present:  the Acer 7″ Iconia A100 Tablet.  I had been coveting it for about a month.  I really love my laptop, and I will still probably use it as my primary electronic device.  But I spend a lot of time sitting around the parks district buildings while my kids are in activities.  I thought it would be nice to have something a little less bulky than my laptop to take with me.  (Not to mention how sweet it will be to access Netflix when I’m in the hospital with #5 instead of being stuck with the meager television options during a 3 a.m. nursing session).  I chose the 7″ over the 10″ because it was cheaper and more likely to fit in the one purse that I use when I’m not carrying a diaper bag or stuffing everything in my coat pockets.  (Actually, it might even fit in my coat pocket…)

On a day to day basis, I thought the tablet might free me up to be more available on the couch.  A lot of the times the kids don’t care if I’m reading or even sleeping on the couch while they watch television or look through their own books; they just like having me there to snuggle with.  And when the new baby comes I know that I will be spending a lot of time on the couch, and this will give me something to do besides watch 500 episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba, Power Puff Girls, or Big Time Rush.

So, today on my actual birthday I’m pretty much cruising through like it was any other day:  working on laundry, cleaning up messes, and getting things done.  But now that I’ve had my day out alone, I think I might also take some extra time today just to celebrate by snuggling on the couch with my girls and soaking up these moments with them while I can.  When you wake up one morning and you’re suddenly 35, you really realize how quickly the time slips away.

7 Quick Takes (v. 62): Things that Give Me Hope

May 18, 2012

1.  Today we finished our spring homeschooling semester.  Woohoo!!  It’s not that I don’t still really enjoy teaching my kids at home, but even when you really enjoy something you need a short break from it so that you can continue to fully appreciate it.  It gives me hope that we’ll come back mentally refreshed in a few weeks for our light summer session.

2.  Yesterday we went to our local outdoor mall for a family trip to the pretzel shop.  Once we finished our snacks the kids asked to play in the splash pad area, which hadn’t been turned on yet.  It was heart-warming to watch the older three girls taking turns watching over their youngest sister as she climbed up on the different apparatus and gently helping her down when she seemed to get a little nervous.  It gave me hope that they all might get along someday despite the incessant fussing and fighting that seems to happen at home.

3.  The three older girls have been taking swim classes two days each week for the past five weeks.  It has been as emotional roller coaster after each class as at least one kid will be excited to go back while another whines about going back, and then the kids decide to switch roles after the next class.  Now they are in the middle of the second session with two weeks left to go, and Bailey is actually swimming and Piper has stopped being scared of putting her head under the water.  It gives me hope that maybe I did the right thing by forcing all of us to persevere through this emotional and busy experience.

4.  On Tuesday I will be going for my ultrasound at 29 weeks gestation.  Even though I know that it probably isn’t medically necessary, I LOVE seeing that heartbeat and all of those little bones on the screen.  It renews my hopes and dreams for this little person that has been jabbing all over the inside of my abdomen in recent weeks.

5.  This week I was involved in a Facebook “discussion” with a former co-worker.  While I certainly didn’t expect him to agree with my position on the issue, it really bugged me the way he tended to stereotype those who disagreed with him, as well as the blatant errors in his “facts”.  Finally, while we agreed to disagree on certain things, he did finally affirm that I had provided ample references to prove that some of his “facts” were distorted.  It gave me hope that there are people out there able to assess information that disagrees with their assumptions and actually admit that they were wrong.

6.  Just as I was gracefully backing out of the “discussion”, my acquaintance went on to make one more erroneous and irrational statement.  I restrained the temptation to educate him yet again.  It gives me hope that maybe I have developed enough maturity to walk away and just accept an imperfect victory as a victory none-the-less.

7.  Back in January I put together a two-page “To Do” list for the next six months.  This list didn’t include the usual workload of homeschooling and making sure every one has clean underwear, but it involved special projects from making appointments to refurnishing the big girls’ room to giving all the baby books a much-needed update.  So far I’ve completed 35 of the original 43 on the list.  It gives me hope that maybe I’m not quite as lazy as I worry that I am.

Hunger Games Trilogy

May 16, 2012

******SPOILER ALERT*******

IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY YET, YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ THIS POST!!! ******************************

Last month I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Overall, I thought the series was a pretty good science fiction read.  I think my favorite character was Haymitch, the alcoholic former Hunger Games champion.  Yes, he was kind of an ass at times, but he was also one of the funniest and funnest characters in the books.

As I was reading, though, I couldn’t help being reminded of that other very popular series of young adult fiction:  Twilight.  There are no werewolves or vampires or other supernatural creatures, but Katniss kind of reminded me of Bella.  While neither one is a mean girl, neither one is particularly that likable either.  They are both kind of cold, distant, and condescending towards others, in thought if not in deed.

Yet despite this, or because of it, all of the guys are in love with Katniss and Bella.  I think that Gale and Peeta from the Hunger Games were both better men than Jacob and Edward (or “Mr. Immature” and “Mr. Whiny Wishy-Washy” as I think of them).  Gale is doing everything that he can to feed his family and be the man of the house since his father’s death, while Peeta is just an all-around nice guy despite his verbally and physically abusive mother.

But I’m not sure that either one was a really good match for Katniss.  I mean Gale obviously really understood Katniss, but he did have that darkness about him.  They would have been a really depressing together.  Peeta fell in love with her “when he heard her sing” as a six-year-old…his feelings seemed more to be for some girl he imagined than who Katniss really was.  And you couldn’t help thinking that he was trying to make up for the fact that his father “lost the girl” (Katniss’s mother) and ended up with a shrew for a wife instead.  I also think that deep down Katniss knows that she is really just not that into either one of them, but she fills pressured to choose one of them when she would have been better off just putting both of them in the “friend zone” permanently rather than waiting for one of them to be killed or bow out gracefully.  (But then where would the romantic tension be in the plot?)

Thematically I thought the books were interesting in their portrayal of governmental tyranny in it’s various forms from the obvious Capitol to the more subtle leaders of District 13.  Then you have the class warfare between the slaves in the districts and the hedonists living in the Capitol.  But I don’t think the Hunger Games had the resonance of a book like Brave New World or 1984.  And I don’t think that it has the layers of symbolism, meaning, and foreshadowing of series such as Narnia or Harry Potter no matter how creative Collins was with character naming.

As for the ending of the trilogy….boy, was that depressing.  I suppose that Primrose had to die, since Katniss’s love for her is what sparked the entire storyline.  It was necessary to completely expose the full duplicitous of President Coin, so that Katniss could see that she was just replacing one tyrant with another.

I did like how Gale realized that Katniss would never choose him as long as it was possible that technology he had developed had been used to kill Prim.  But I never fully bought into Gale working in the technological warfare department of District 13 in the first place.  He was a hunter and a coal miner with absolutely no technological training at all, yet he was immediately working side by side with the most technologically brilliant mind in the story.

There were some other things that just didn’t ring true, either.  For one thing, Peeta had been completely brainwashed until he was a total nutcase.  There is no way that he could have been fixed in the few months between when Prim died and Katniss was sentenced to live back at District 12.  He would have probably needed extreme physiological and psychological help for years to come to deal with his own issues, but within a matter of months he’s the same old Peeta, in love with Katniss and waiting for her to choose him.

And then there is Katniss’s relationship with her mom.  The whole first book she is pissed at her mom for mentally checking out after the death of her father.  Katniss doesn’t trust her at all.  In the second book, she grudgingly tries to be respectful of her mother and rebuild trust in her mother to be her parent.  Then Prim dies.  Katniss has a mental breakdown and is then sentenced to live at District 12, even though she is still barely functional.  But her mother does not come to take care of her.  Her mother is off playing nurse in some other district, because Mrs. Everdeen just can’t face the memories of Prim in District 12.  Never mind that she has another daughter alive there who needs her.  Yet, Katniss just calls her mother on the phone and they have a weep over Primrose.  Katniss doesn’t seem that broken up that her mother has abandoned her completely for a second time.

My final assessment:  Hunger Games is an interesting and entertaining science fiction story.  But I don’t think that once all of the movie versions have their run that the books will hold up for years to come in the annals of classic young adult fiction.  Maybe I’m missing something, though.

Kolbe Elementary Literature Curriculum

May 12, 2012

I mentioned in this post about how I will be using the Kolbe Elementary Literature Program with Bailey as she starts fourth grade next year.  I also mentioned that it pretty much deserved a post of its own.  So, here is that post!

For years, I have been a collector of book lists.  I have Excel spreadsheets and Word documents full of them for every age group.  I’ve read a variety of those books with various reading recommendations for kids.  I love books.  I read a lot of books.  I like history, theology, social sciences, pop culture, science fiction, popular fiction, and juvenile fiction.  My kids on the other hand…not so much.  I won’t get in to all of the sordid details, but my two older girls just have very little interest in reading or being read to 95% of the time.  So, all of my book lists pretty much go unused.  (sniff, sniff)

When my friend Kelly mentioned that she was using the Kolbe Literature Curriculum with her daughter, I decided to check it out.  I liked that it used real books instead of a text book.  I liked that it had a variety of classic children’s fiction as well as some saint biographies.  It was specifically put together for fourth through sixth graders, and the sample syllabus listed the Accelerated Reading Level for each book.  (The AR Level 5.9 equals the expected reading level for a student in the ninth month of fifth grade.)  And they were very clear that they did not expect a child to read every single book within the three years of the program.  The program has a lot of flexibility within a structure.

I decided to purchase the student book which has three to five end-of-chapter questions for every book in the program, and the teacher book with answers to the end-of-chapter questions.  It ended up being $55 including delivery charges.  However, I did not shell out the $150 for the Elementary Literature Course Plans.  The course plans offer a week by week and day by day plan for each book, writing assignments specific to each book, and a format for book reports.  If you are actually registered with the Kolbe program, the cost for the course plans and text books is included in your yearly tuition.

Once I received the student and teacher books, I had to figure out how we were going to use them.  I had already decided that we would start with The Boxcar Children.  This is one of the few books that Bailey actually likes.  She owns her own copy and has read it multiple times.  Plus, it has the easiest AR Level in the program and Kolbe course plans finish the book in four weeks (making it one of the shortest).  I figured that this would be a good place to put our toes in the water.

Bailey asked why we were starting there since she had already read it.  But I explained that we would be looking at the book more in-depth than she may have on her own.  I decided that after each chapter I would expect her to do the questions from the student book.  In addition, I put together a worksheet on Excel for her to list things such as the title, author, original publication year, first and last sentences of the books, and notes about the setting and characters.  This would also be updated after every chapter.

Once a week, I plan to assign a writing prompt from 100 Awesome Writing Prompts to Use with Any Book.  And then after the end of each book, I’ll expect her to write a short book report (maybe about three to five paragraphs) with introductory information about the setting and characters, a summary of the plot (without giving away the ending), and her personal review of the book.  She’ll turn in a rough draft, followed by a corrected final draft, and then she’ll give a short presentation on the information in her report to either her father or her granny.  We’ll keep all of her notes, chapter questions, writing assignments, and reports for each book in a designated Literature binder.

So, that’s “the plan”.  I am totally prepared that “the plan” might have to be tweaked once we actually start doing the program.  And once we move through to fifth and sixth grade, I will probably require a little more independent note-taking and advanced writing assignments and reports.

4 Years of a Surprise

May 9, 2012

Four years ago today, a most wonderful surprise was born into the world.  From the moment of her conception, she started teaching me lessons.  The first one was humility before the will and power of God and wariness in trying to play God too much myself.  You see this baby girl was an unplanned pregnancy (cue the ominous music).

Next she taught me that doctors sometimes make things sound worse than they really are to protect their own asses, and that the Culture of Death is so prominent that one minute you might be looking at your baby’s beautiful bones on an ultrasound monitor and the very next minute you could have someone telling you “if you would want to abort you better make a decision soon”.  You see, my unborn baby girl had a couple of markers that could have indicated either Downs Syndrome or the usually fatal Trisomy-18.  They couldn’t say for sure that she had either one without an amniocentesis (which can cause premature labor/abortion and also come back with false positives).  In reality she had neither.  All of her markers resolved themselves within 10 weeks, and she was born perfectly healthy.

For the past year she has been teaching me a lot of lessons in patience, as she has inflicted us all with the Terrible Threes.  She has reminded me once again that each child, even those coming from the same genetic pool, is unique.  But she has also reminded me about the wonder of discovering how the world works.

So, let me tell you a little bit about Katelyn Ryan.

  1. She will emphatically tell you that her name is just “Katie”.
  2. She thinks her oldest sister, Bailey, is crazy.
  3. She idolizes her older sister, Piper.
  4. She loves her younger sister, Sabrina.
  5. She thinks her daddy is the strongest and her most favorite guy in the world.
  6. She is the first one who got to feel her newest brother or sister move in Mommy’s belly.
  7. She loves “magic” chocolate milk (aka Tru Moo).
  8. She sleeps with Cookie Monster every night.
  9. This past year she learned how to use the potty, write her name, and work the mouse on the computer among many, many other things.
  10. She loves to snuggle and read books and give kisses and hugs.
  11. And today Katie is 4 Years Old!!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KATIE!!