Loose Parts

I always thought I was being a lazy mom when I let my kids play with our household trash.

Paper towel rolls, tissue paper from packages, empty milk jugs -- before items end up in the garbage can, they often end up in the playroom.

It turns out I am not lazy. I am on the cutting edge of parenting.

“Loose parts” is a term I just learned from my children’s childcare facility. Teachers were requesting items for loose parts play and the wish list looked like an inventory of the junk drawer in my kitchen.
String or twine, plastic bottle caps, fabric scraps, buttons and feathers. The list included many more items, including rocks, twigs, leaves and acorns.

Essentially, any kind of materials that can be combined, repurposed, put together or taken apart are candidates for loose parts play.

There are no directions or instruction manual for loose parts play. The possibilities are only limited by the child’s imagination.

After a year of a structured school curriculum, I was ecstatic to learn that my 7-year-would be experiencing this method of play during her summer camp. The word “loose” is exactly what our kids need: more free, easy-going, open-ended time.

I know my kid needs a break from rigidity and step-by-step instructions by the time May rolls around.

It may look strange to give my daughter a bucket full of random household and nature items, but what I’m really giving her is freedom. Freedom to decide what those items will be used for and what direction she wants her play to go.

Any parent who has experienced Christmas morning with young children knows- the box is often more interesting to the child than the toy it contained. So instead of something from the store, fill a box with some loose parts from the backyard or the recycling bin and watch what happens.

This picture of CeCe playing with a paper towel tube is 7 years old, but it gets my point across.  


Family Photo Win

You may recall from a previous post that our 2017 family photos did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. It was kind of a hot mess.

But because my kids are growing so fast, and because moms never seem to end up in candid photos, I am committed to taking these professional pictures annually. So we set a date, a location, and asked our kids to keep it together for at least a few minutes.

This year, I had plenty to be excited about:

  • Gorgeous weather and beautiful backdrop. The Arboretum in Lexington is a treasure and we love to explore the gardens there.
  • Matching outfits. Oh yes, the girls all had matching dresses and the boys synced up their clothing too. The best part was when we finished the photos and walked around the Arboretum, people thought we were just narcissists who dressed our children to be carbon copies of us.
  • Purple hair. CeCe was rewarded with "fun hair" for the summer and opted for purple streaks. I obviously joined her because moms can have fun too!
  • Cooperative children. With the exceptions of some glowering from Gwen, my kids kept their smiles shining for almost an hour of picture-taking.

CeCe had a complete 180-attitude change from last year. Instead of hiding under a tree and sobbing, she came ready for her close-up. She swiped my red lipstick on, packed a purse with snacks and toys for her siblings and struck poses when asked.

The changes in my kids in just 12 short months is overwhelming to me. Day by day, each one is a little taller, a little stronger, knows a few more words, and has a few more (or less) teeth.

Here are some of my favorites:

Who Needs Google When You Have a Dad?

My 7-year-old can drive us crazy asking questions.
“How does an airplane stay in the sky?”
“How big can a shark grow?”
“How long would it take to walk to France?” 
But I recently realized that I don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to asking parents too many questions. My text message history with my dad looks something like this:
"Hi Dad. How should I cook scallops?”
“Just wondering, how often do I really need an oil change?”
“Hey Daddy, will you please review my taxes and make sure I did this right?”
I’m 30 years old but whenever I have a problem or a question about life skills, my first instinct is still to ask my dad. I’m aware that I could Google most everything I need to know. YouTube tutorial videos exist for just about anything you can think of. 
But I will never trust Google more than I do my dad.
A few weeks ago I was hashing out a problem with a home repair and I whined to my father, “Just tell me what to do!”
He laughed and said, “I’ll never tell you what to do. But I can tell you what I would do.”
That is why I keep going back to him. He doesn’t butt in with advice but gives it freely when I ask for it. My parents crafted the perfect blend of being supportive without being pushy. Because of that, they will always be my first call when a problem pops up. 
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. Thank you for always answering my questions.


Keeping Playdates Simple

It’s a special thing when kids and parents can enjoy a playdate equally. It requires a special blend of similar discipline styles, an open-minded attitude, scheduling coordination – and that’s just on the parent side.

My 7-year-old has known her best friend, Evie, since they were toddlers. Her mom, Kellie, and I quickly became best friends as well, and our playdates were as much for the adults as they were for the kids.
While Pinterest has convinced me that some moms plan special activities and snacks for playdates, we took a much different approach. Our playdate blueprint:
1) Give children access to toys, crayons, etc.
2) Provide healthy snack upon request.
The end.
Kellie and I would stay within viewing distance but followed a policy of non-intervention. The girls were free to play as they wanted. We jumped in only if tears or shouting broke out.
Our explanation to the kids was simple: If you’re not able to get along and work out your problems, we’ll just call it a day.
We quickly learned that leaving the girls to their own devices helped them develop their own problem-solving skills. Both girls wanted the playdates to continue, so they figured out their own solutions.
Disputes still occurred. But when both girls wanted the same game piece in “Candy Land,” they knew they had to resolve the issue or try another activity.
Being comfortable with parallel play is another result of our policy. CeCe may want to play Barbies, but Evie wants to do an art project. So they play side-by-side and don’t try to force the other to join in.
Playdates can be a lifeline for parents – opportunities to be social without kids are few and far between for many of us. Playdates also build our children’s social skills, if we let them.
To find lasting friendships for the whole family is an added bonus.
Cheers to best friends.


Breaking My Own Rules

Teaching responsibility is a big theme in our house right now. We have chore charts and try to find "learning moments" in our daily lives, but this morning I broke my own rules.

My 7-year-old is learning how to be responsible for herself. She gets dressed on her own, has to remember her red folder every day, when her library books are due, etc; She also knows if she doesn't give me enough notice for certain class projects or special school events, I might not be able to accommodate what she needs.

At 6:30 this morning she informs me it is Character Day at school, and she needs to be Harley Quinn since she and her friends are going as DC Superhero Girls.

Do I love this idea? Yes. I absolutely love this idea. Do we have a Harley Quinn costume lying around? No. We absolutely do not.

Do I have the general items needed to cobble together a Harley Quinn outfit? Again, no. We do not.

Normally I would tell CeCe this is a "learning moment." She needed to tell me ahead of time that she would need a costume. She needed to make a list of what she wanted to wear and request it a few days in advance. But then I had two thoughts:

1) I freaking love superheroes and was so excited she shares that interest.

2) She is 7 years old, and she is a human.

She also has been the most helpful kid lately. I was up at 6:30, but she and her brother had been awake since 5:30. Instead of waking me up, she took him downstairs and turned on cartoons. That is the kind of responsibility I want to reward.

So I was at Walmart by 6:40 in the morning buying red tights and cans of spray-in hair dye. I sent her off to school with a reminder that A) This was an exception to the rule that special events require notice and B) She is the coolest kid I know.


To "Make" Your Child Do Something

Winter time is a daily battle with my kids to dress appropriately. Bundling up with hats and gloves is met with extreme resistance.

Every season I have to brace myself for the comments from family, friends and even strangers stating “well, you just have to make them wear it.”

What do they mean, to make a kid do something? I immediately have a vision of wrestling my kids to ground and forcing their arms into coats and duct taping their hats to their heads.

I can’t make my kids do something.

I have strict boundaries when it comes to many issues. I won’t budge on car seat safety, physical violence, and baths must occur twice a week at minimum.

But when it comes to winter wear, eating vegetables, or bedtimes, I won’t be pushing too hard.

I can encourage my kids to do something. I can bribe them. I can firmly command them. But in the end, I will not physically force my kids to submit to something. My kids know I am the boss, but I also have learned to pick my battles.

My father used to say “This is not the hill I want to die on.” I utter those words to keep things in perspective.

Do I really want to fuss and fight over a winter hat? No, because my kid will learn by the end of the day that her ears get cold with no hat. And tomorrow she will make a different choice.

That’s a lesson that never would have been learned had I just made her wear the hat.

Sleep is for the Weak

One of the first questions people will ask about your new baby is “how does she sleep?”

It’s like parents are in a race to get their child to sleep for eight-hour stretches as soon as possible. If it is a race, I have lost. I haven’t even crossed the finish line.
Since 2010 when I was pregnant with the first of my three children, I haven’t slept through the night. And I doubt I will for another decade.
My kids fight sleep like it is painful for them to lie down and close their eyes.
First, we have our 7-year-old. At bedtime, she is a master staller.
The lights will be out, the lullaby music playing softly, and she will be regaling you with a recap of her day with so much enthusiasm you feel too guilty to cut her off.
Next is the 2-year-old. His bedtime routine is a rotating list of quirks. Some nights he won’t go to sleep without a basketball in his crib. Other nights it’s an assortment of toy cars.
Sometimes he insists on wearing shoes to bed. He’s prone to wake up throughout the night and cry out for these items if we dare to remove them once he is finally asleep.
Last is the 7-month-old. I had no expectations of her sleeping through the night, but she tricked us all in the beginning.
At 4 months old, she was sleeping for six hours at a time so we put her in her own bedroom. It seemed too good to be true. And it was.
Sleep regression hit us like a freight train. We are back to waking up every three hours at night.
I almost wish we didn’t have a taste of that six-hour sleep stretch, because now I know what I’m missing.
I’m not alone in my sleep deprivation. There is an entire tribe of us moms out there with dark circles under our eyes and extra large coffees in our hands.

Our kids somehow function on barely any sleep, so we learn to as well.