Posted in family life

playing in compost

More than a year and a half after moving in, we’re finally nearing the end of the backyard project: we’re putting in the lawn!

Most lawns out here are bermuda grass in the summer, overseeded with rye in the winter, which makes for a nice grass lawn but takes a lot of effort (and water) to maintain. So since we had a blank slate to work with, I wanted to try something different, and I’ve been researching the question for the past year or so. Most lawn alternatives aren’t quite hardy enough for the summers here, but I ended up choosing a miniature clover variety, interspersed with Herniaria glabra and Roman chamomile (and wildflowers for fun, in hopes of butterflies).

The exciting part for the kids, of course, was spreading compost out over the native soil (which seems like clay to me, though it once supported cotton fields). When you’re little, rolling around is soft dirt is pretty awesome, especially when the air is cool and the soil is warm enough to steam up into the air.

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And of course there’s jumping into the piles before they get raked down.

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Not to mention running all over it, soft underfoot, warm against the chill of the morning, cold air rushing in your face and lungs:

Or digging in it, rolling around in it, burrowing into it, and just generally becoming covered in it!

You could even help spread it out, if you were feeling so inclined.

It was definitely an adventure getting them all cleaned up afterwards, but the happiness of getting dirty was more than worth it. They lasted almost two hours before wanting to come in and eat breakfast, and went out again later in the morning! Now, while we’re waiting for the seeds to germinate, they are pretending it’s all lava and creeping around the completed edges of the yard instead 🙂 And I’m just waiting to see if all the effort pays off and green can come out of all that brown.

 

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – solo parenting, friends, and broken AC in the summer

It’s been a different sort of week over here! For the Seven Quick Takes link-up with Kelly, here are some of the highlights:

  1. Limerick has been so tired, every day. We went to the zoo on Monday at his request, and he was so tired that he asked to go home every 30 minutes. He napped on Sunday and Monday (which he never does), and has been so tired in the evenings that he struggles to get through swim lessons despite loving and enjoying them. I don’t know if he just isn’t sleeping well at night, or if he has some sort of vitamin/mineral deficiency (thinking about iron specifically). He also hasn’t been eating much, but that isn’t a new thing; compared to the other two he has never been a big eater. His four-year well check is in just two months so for now my plan is to try to get him in bed earlier and facilitate naps when possible.
  2. Paul went up to Prescott for his first business-related trip this week! He even got to deliver a short presentation at the conference! Aubade is definitely missing him though, and while it sometimes seems like the boys don’t care whether he is here or not, Rondel has told me several times that he wishes Daddy were back. There’s something special about getting to share everything with him at the end of the day when he comes from work.
  3. Corollary to take 3, I’ve been doing bedtime for all three kids instead of splitting the responsibility with Paul; the first night Aubade got to fall asleep on her own while I put the boys down, and the second night the boys got to fall asleep on their own while I put Aubade down. I can’t recall any previous night where I have left their bedroom and they have fallen asleep without tears or trying to follow me out, but this time they were out in less than fifteen minutes without any complaints. It was amazing (and so needed, as Aubade was having a really hard time).
  4. We had a playdate with a new family I met online through an unschooling group! It was really neat to watch Rondel running around with a kid around his same age, both of them being monsters and hand-flapping and trying to climb crazy rope ladders and getting scared and not really talking to each other but definitely playing together. A couple weeks ago a younger girl we know from church made a comment about Rondel chewing on his shirt (it’s one of his stims, and a pretty innocuous one honestly) and that being kind of weird or gross; this new friend didn’t see a problem with it at all (and in fact I noticed her experiment with chewing on the collar of her shirt as well). So that was also really encouraging to me, as I’m trying to find friends among whom Rondel can fit in while being himself.
  5. Random thought of the week – why do so many people make such a big deal out of autistic kids lining up their toys? I mean, is it really so strange? I think some behaviorists see it as “abnormal” play, or play reflecting a lack of imagination, but I don’t know how accurate that is. I know when Rondel lines up his toys, it is usually because they are on some sort of migration. I also know that my mom used to line up toy cars and drive them on parade as a child, and that my daughter likes to line her toys to display them – and they are both neurotypical. There is just something so nice about a line, especially as opposed to a pile…
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    image is of a blond toddler sitting on a curb against a wall, head turned towards a line of toy Triceratops also on the curb. She was very particular about only selecting the Triceratops from the dinosaur box…

     

  6. Both boys mastered the “l” sound and the “tw” sound this week! When they are counting, eleven and twelve come out far clearer than before. I am so proud of the effort they’ve put into it, and they are so pleased with their newfound ability 🙂 Rondel still has moments where he doesn’t want to try to say sounds the correct way, because it’s hard and he thinks he can’t do it, but he tries often enough that he’s improving. Limerick tries no matter what, and he’s improving in leaps and bounds. Hopefully soon they’ll have their pronouns completely straightened out as well – it really confuses strangers and other children when they use “you” to refer to themselves.
  7. We had one random day of rainy cool weather this week – the high was in the mid-80s instead of around 100 where it has been hovering – and very conveniently our AC decided to break that evening after everything was cooled down already. It was rather dramatic: I was out back playing with the boys after sunset, when we heard a loud pop and saw sparks on the roof. I tried to turn on the AC to test it (and to bring the temperature down from 83 to 80 for bed), and nothing happened. It turns out a poor-quality wire had been rubbing on a piece of metal long enough that the insulation wore away and the humidity in the air enabled an arc to form between the two, shorting the wire and blowing a fuse. Fortunately, since the highs are going back up to 100, it was a quick and easy fix and we had AC by the time the external temperatures reached 90. But, as the AC repairman warned us, it is an old unit that has had some shoddy repair work done in the past, so we’ll most likely need to replace it in the next 2-3 years. Ah home ownership 🙂

I hope you all had a great week, whether it fell into the swing of your normal routines or stretched them a bit out of shape! And I hope that you are finding friends – or keeping friends – who love you and accept you just the way you are. Those types of friends can be hard to find, and they really are as precious as silver and gold.

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – reclaiming joy

I noticed this week that my children never want to go to bed, because they are just having so much fun and don’t want the day to end, and they wake up each morning full of excitement about the day ahead.

My husband and I, on the other hand, have entered that exhausted parent state where we spend all day waiting for night to come so we can have some quiet space and rest. It makes sense that we end up there, but constantly looking forward to the evening has a tendency to rob the day of its joy.

How can I reclaim some of that joy I had as a child about the new day ahead of me, full of potential for discovery and adventure, for beauty and love?

I’m not entirely sure, but today’s seven quick takes are going to be some ideas I want to implement in my own life this upcoming week. Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the {sqt} link-up!

  1. Reframe the moment: when something is irritating or inconveniencing me, is there a way to look at the situation through different eyes? For example, when one of my children is whining and flopping around about something, I tend to be instantly triggered into frustration. I want to yell at them to pick themselves up and show some independence! At the very least I want to ignore them until they stop whining. But though that is my automatic response, a change in perspective can help me build a more compassionate and helpful response. If I can hear the whining and think, “here is an opportunity for me to love and serve this child like God loves and serves me,” then I can help them with their needs and wants with more gentleness and joy (although I will still ask them to try using a different tone of voice!)
  2. Pause: this goes along with the first point, since a pause can be a good time to try to reframe a situation. But it is good and useful all on its own, also. Instead of coasting through my day on autopilot, pausing for all sorts of reasons can help me see the beauty and feel the joy of everyday life. I can pause to watch with pride as my children take turns with their favorite water bottle; I can pause and count to ten when I hear angry voices coming from the play room to prepare my heart before they come running out to me; I can pause; I can pause when the baby has made yet another awful mess and make the cleanup something we can do together rather than something to make her feel ashamed about. I can pause to breathe out a prayer and breathe in grace when life is overwhelming.
  3. Put the phone away: except for when I’m reading a good book or listening to a good podcast (things I can mostly only do when I’m alone anyways), phone time tends to be an escape from reality and as such hinders any attempt to find joy in my current reality. It distracts me from the good and happy moments of the day especially, since those are the times when the kids are least demanding of my attention – and so it blinds me to the everyday beauty of their growing relationships and maturing character.
  4. Have a plan: if I know at the start of the day something fun that we’re going to do later, the anticipation and enjoyment of that event can easily spread throughout the rest of the day. And if we don’t follow through with the plan because we’re having too much fun doing other things, that is also a source of joy 🙂 It also eliminates some of the tension of looking forward through 12 empty hours not knowing what to expect and thus how to mentally prepare, and it breaks up the cabin fever the kids sometimes get when we’ve been in the house hiding from the heat all day. This could be some sort of outing (like the park or the library or even the grocery store), but it could also just be an activity or craft that we don’t do as often because it requires more set-up (like water balloons or finger-painting).
  5. Go to bed on time: because if I’m tired, it’s going to be a lot harder to feel happy. It’s going to be a lot harder to make the mental effort to reframe each moment. It’s going to be a lot harder to pause instead of reacting emotionally. And it’s going to be a lot harder to be present and engaged instead of sinking away into the virtual reality of my phone.
  6. Play with the kids: play is where they are finding their happiness, joy, and intellectual fulfillment right now, at this age. And they still want me to play with them a lot of the time! Essentially, they are inviting me into their happiness. All too often, being a boring (and tired) adult, I turn them down and find other “more important” tasks I need to do. But if I could let myself go – relax my body, forget the to-do list, ignore the “should’s”, suspend my disbelief – and play with them, even for a little while, I could in those moments have the presence and the joy that they have, and connect with them through it.
  7. Sing!: and dance! Move my body, stretch out of my comfortable shell, and make music! Music is so good for all emotional states – it expresses sorrow and anger, passion and despair, joy and silliness, peace and contentment, and in the expression elicits and draws out those same feelings in us, helping us experience them more deeply and process them more fully. So going back to point 4, I’m planning on having a dance party to silly kids’ songs at least one day this week, and I’m not going to care if my kids think I’m crazy!

What about you? How do you find joy when life is monotonous or stressful?

Posted in family life

Vertuccio Farms Fall Festival

Our little family’s affection for pumpkins started early, with our pregnancy announcement for Rondel:178610_10151079181450496_178895070_o

However, it took us a year or so to find our favorite place to take the kids each fall! After this year, though, I will say that Vertuccio Farms is our official pumpkin patch of choice. We typically take advantage of their Toddler Tuesday offer and get in for half-price and the guarantee of avoiding school groups and field trips 🙂

The biggest draw is probably the giant air-powered jump cushion, thankfully (but somewhat inadequately) shaded, on which endless jumping and flopping and bouncing can take place. Even Aubade, already almost ready for her morning nap, got up on her knees and bounced up and down with a grin of pure delight on her face! Rondel loves it but has a tendency to get too aggressive and over-excited (this year, that looked like pretending to a be a scary cheetah and trying to tackle people – mostly Limerick, growl at people – all kids smaller than himself, and eat them – also mostly Limerick), which is our cue to move on.

We milked a model cow, slid down massive tunnel slides made from pipe segments, clambered over a spiderweb made of ropes, collected rocks, ate snacks, and chose pumpkins to bring home to carve. We also lost Limerick for a while but discovered him twenty feet up in the air ascending to the tallest tunnel slide, so all’s well that ends well – and I also learned that apparently orange isn’t a good color to choose if you want your child to stand out at a fall festival as half the kids there were wearing orange in some form or fashion.

In addition, this year there was a new activity: a hand-pumping station where kids could push plastic ducks down half-pipes from one horse trough to another by pumping up water. Both boys were fascinated by it, and I had to tear them away so we could make it home in time for me to get to work.

In fact, there were so many things to do that we came back a second time to do more, and to hit up our old favorites a second time!

All three kids were having blast climbing up the tire tower until I told them I wanted them to keep their shoes on unless we were on the air cushion (I’d found a piece of broken glass), and even let me get a rare picture of all of them simultaneously.

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My three crazy hooligans!

We got to see piglets running around trying to persuade the adult pigs to play with them, and I even found spare change in my purse to buy some goat food. Rondel let the goats eat out of his hand. I was so amazed. He stood perfectly still and held the food out for them without flinching as they licked it gently off his fingers (and it’s a different sort of sensation – I had expected much more of a reaction from him). I think that was his highlight from our second trip; I know it was mine, and I wish I had been able to get a picture of it.

I was able to get pictures of the boys doing the giant tube roll, though! It’s somewhat self-explanatory (although what isn’t obvious at first glance is that those tubes are heavy. I had to push the boys from the outside and it was hard work!)

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Despite the heat and the crowds (much better on the 31st than on the 24th, by the way), we had a great experience at Vertuccio and will definitely plan on going back next year. Just remember to bring lots of water, and be ready to get tired and dirty! In a place where the cultural trappings of fall are mostly absent from our natural environment, this makes for an awesome way to mark the change of seasons before the holidays begin.

 

Posted in family life

a small rant on stereotyping of baby dolls

I don’t really understand gender stereotyping of toys.

Other people have expressed the general concerns with the practice better than I can here, however, so I will skip straight to my particular and most pointed dispute with it: baby dolls are marketed purely for girls, when both boys and girls are highly likely to be parents some day and have babies of their own. If any real-life imitative play skill is going to be useful in adulthood, surely taking care of one’s own toy baby is! It’s even worse than isolating toy kitchens to the “girl” aisles and construction benches to the “boy” aisles, because it represents an even more fundamental part of life and of being human.

With that said, I don’t actually have baby dolls for any of my kids. They’ve so far always had real babies to play with by the time they were old enough to be interested in dolls, and stuffed animals can be a decent substitute in a pinch. But Rondel’s classroom at church has a baby doll, and it has been his sole focus during free play for the past month at least – he rocks the baby, feeds the baby, puts the baby to sleep, and dances with the baby during music. It makes a lot of sense to me, since play is a child’s way of understanding their world, and we have a baby at home! I just don’t see why it isn’t an accepted and even assumed part of every little boy’s life, as it is for little girls.

Posted in family life

Aubade at eight months

What do babies do at eight months?

Well, this one is learning about “in” and “out” with her little red bucket and whatever miscellaneous toys she can find:

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She’s playing peek-a-boo on her own, taking the initiative to hide under a box or scarf then pop out eager to catch the smile or laugh on someone else’s face.

She’s noticing silly sounds that don’t match the normal cadence of speech (like the chug-chug of a train) and laughing at them:

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She’s eating every piece of food she can get her hands on and begging for more! We’re doing baby-led weaning so she’s had quite a large variety of foods already, ranging from the standard banana and Cheerios to pesto and spicy cilantro wheat berries.

She’s charging into every splash pad, hose spray, and puddle she can find, with no fear and pure delight!

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She’s solidly outgrown all her 9 month clothes and is starting to move from the 12 month to the 18 month selection (probably has something to do with all that eating!)

She understands and communicates so well; she is her own little person with an opinion about everything, an openness to exploration, and a great sense of humor – more quirky than Rondel’s pure goofiness, as if seeing something funny hiding just under the surface of everyday life:

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She’s bold, tough, independent, smart, joyful, curious, and persistent – I’m only eight months into knowing her and already I can’t imagine life without her!

Posted in family life

to saw or to claw?

Rondel’s imagination and creativity have been accelerating exponentially these days, with the rather amusing side effect of turning him into a small hilarious lawyer with regards to our house rules. Case in point: after watching me saw half an inch off of my closet rod this afternoon, he found his small plastic saw and scoured the house searching for things to pretend to saw. Naturally, one of the things he found was his brother, and he started “sawing” Limerick’s neck with his toy.

Now, I love for the boys to wrestle and play rough with each other – it lets them get their physical energy out and teaches them to modulate their expression of it since being too violent would end the fun with tears and conflict. And I don’t have any problem with them “sword-fighting” with random objects, taking turns being the “good guy” or “friendly monster” and fighting away the “bad guy” or “scary monster.” But I really didn’t feel comfortable with Rondel pretending to saw his brother. In retrospect, I can’t say why for sure! In the moment, however, I asked him to stop and told him he could saw anything he wanted but not people, because real saws would never be used on people.

He acquiesced amicably (he usually does when I have some sort of reason he doesn’t have a comeback for), but about five minutes later I saw the saw come out again in a tussle with his brother.

“Rondel!” I remonstrated. “What did I tell you about using the saw on people?”

“I’m not sawing him!” retorted Rondel. “It’s just that I’m a Therizinosaurus and I’m using the saw to be my pretend claw!”

Well then.

I know this is the moment where I’m supposed to go all spirit-of-the-law… but I just felt proud! First, he was playing pretend, using the props at hand to construct a vivid imaginary world. Second, he was recalling rather esoteric information that we’d discovered while reading together (Therizinosaurus has the longest claws of any known dinosaur) and working it into his play, which is one of the best ways to cement knowledge. And finally, he was cognizant of my request not to pretend to saw people and was actually being quite respectful of it, even while doing essentially the same physical action I had put a stop to before!

And honestly, because it was the thought of sawing people and not the physical act of thumping someone gently with a piece of plastic shaped like a saw that had bothered me in the first place, I didn’t mind what he was doing at all.