January 15, 2016
Our girls may be only 5 (and 5.5, Miranda would be quick to tell you!), but in our family, they’re the “bigs.” And as they get older, I find myself enjoying them more and more – or perhaps not even more, but in a different way. Their love of Mumford & Sons and Star Wars marked their entry into enjoyment of things that Matt and I also appreciate.
They are able to have increasingly complex conversations and be more and more helpful at home. They are often tasked with entertaining a baby for a few minutes at a time. And we’d even started having regular chores (unloading the dishwasher and sweeping)…until the dishwasher and the broom became 2 of Atticus’s favorite things, making it impossible for them to complete their assigned tasks without his interference!
We are realizing more and more the importance of one-on-one time and have been making an effort to spend bits of time with the girls as individuals.
And as they get older, we’re seeing them express pieces of their individuality and interests.
And yet, it’s so beautiful to see their sibling relationship continue to develop. Leading up to Christmas, they spent a series of nights alternating which sister’s twin bed they’d sleep in, snuggled close together.
They maintain their own distinct roles within their relationship, though! I shared this conversation on Facebook the other day – it would be difficult to capture an exchange that more typified a relationship than this one!
Madeleine CaiQun – “Mom, if me and jie jie want to be flower girls in Uncle Danny and Sharon’s wedding, we’ll have to practice – it’s a big job for 5-year-old girls!!”
Miranda Grace – “I have practiced enough. I even knew how to do it before I practiced. Watch me.”
Only a few months apart in age, they still fall into those typical first-born and second-born roles :)
And as they grow, we are exploring new strategies to parent them. One of our more successful attempts has been a re-introduction of an afternoon rest time. After they gave up naps, I had had them spend an hour or so playing or looking at books in separate rooms each afternoon for some quiet time for them and work time for me, but once Atticus was born and began napping upstairs in the afternoons in one of the rooms we’d used for their rest times, I gave up on that idea. More recently, I’d let them watch tv while he napped, and I was able to accomplish a lot during those times, but I didn’t love the idea of them watching so much television. I do still let them watch a show or two most afternoons, but we have transitioned to using much of Atticus’s nap time for “blanket time.” I spread out a blanket on the living room floor for each child, and they’re each allowed to choose one basket of toys – even the kept-up-high-so-Atticus-can’t-get-them toys! – and play with them independently on their blankets.
They love it! They have quite a bit of free play time each day, most of which they spend together, and I think they like having more of a low pressure, independent play time for a little while during the afternoons. Plus they get to play with some of the toys that have been gathering dust since Atticus became mobile!
It’s always nice when parenting strategies that we try seem to work well :) Another one from which I’ve loved seeing the pay-off is our frequent attempts to give our kids a voice. We’ve invested pretty heavily in trying to communicate to them that we are all on the same team in our family and that we’re interested in their thoughts and feelings. We’ve worked hard at helping our girls identify and share their emotions (in true home-school mom fashion, I even have a feelings chart hanging prominently in our playroom!). And, as a parenting book I read recently suggested, sometimes when our girls are overwhelmed and aren’t able to verbalize their feelings, we’ve asked them if they’d like to draw pictures of how they’re feeling. Miranda has taken that suggestion to heart, and every once in a while she hands me a picture like this to communicate to me about what’s going on with her – I love it!
I’m hoping and praying that as our bigs get bigger we’re able to continue to foster open communication with them! Though we have our challenges, of course, I feel so blessed to be their mom!
January 11, 2016
I’ve been thoughtful, these last few weeks about my identity and about the source of any hope that I have. Honestly, these recent days have been discouraging. Matt and I started winter break talking about everything we’d like to accomplish during these weeks in which he had no teaching obligations and I had no extra baby-watching obligations. At the top of the list for me were getting Atticus’s room more organized, cleaning out my closet, working some extra hours, finishing up thank you notes that I’d meant to write over the summer but never finished for people who helped us after Atticus was born (you know, a mere 13 months ago) , and maybe even reading some fun books or writing some blog posts.
And with about a week of winter break left, I’ve accomplished exactly zero of those things. Matt threw out his back the weekend after Christmas and was in excruciating pain for days afterwards. Just as he was beginning to be able to move around a bit, we were struck with the great plague of 2016 – Miranda woke up at 4:00 am on New Year’s Day with a stomach bug, which ran its course through all 5 of us before departing to the homes of some of our friends (sorry). Due, in part, to those unanticipated events, we’ve been far less productive than we’d hoped during these Christmas vacation weeks.
As a naturally task-oriented person, it’s so easy for me to fall into frustration and discouragement in this situation. I want to catch up on all of these items that perpetually occupy my “to do” list. And while I love my husband and children to no end…
…I also like to feel like I exist as my own person, distinct from them and from my serving of them.
I’ve been wondering, lately, how do other moms stay themselves? Particularly other homeschooling moms, who are with their children 24/7 – what do they do? How do they take time away from their families as a blessing, enjoying it but equally enjoying their reentry into family time, taking care of the dishes that have piled up in the sink and the crumbs that have covered the floors during their few hours away, without complaint? What do they do that is their own, not about their husbands and children, and how do they do it while still caring for their husbands and children?
As I’ve contemplated these ideas, I’ve become convinced of a few things –
- My life doesn’t begin the instant I move outside of serving my family but exists in serving and loving my family. I can (and do!) find joy in building a train track on the living room floor, curling up on the couch and reading together, tickling my baby, and hanging out with Matt at the end of the day. That those moments constitute a large majority of my time is a blessing and fulfills the calling I believe God has on my life.
- In many cases, I can choose the lens through which I see my life and circumstances. I can accept with gratitude and thanksgiving whatever God sends my way, or I can spend my time wishing for something else and becoming increasingly discouraged.
- My sense of self and ultimate hope cannot be based in my checking tasks off my list, in meeting budget goals for the month, or any other earthly accomplishment. When Peter exhorts us to be prepared to give an answer to “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15), he’s referring to nothing less than our trust in Christ. If I am binding my sense of self and hope to anything else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Only if I center my life around God and being and doing what He has called me to can I live a life filled with true hope and joy.
Lord, please help me to live a life of gratitude, even if my hours are filled more with cleaning up vomit than with accomplishing tasks on my to do list!
December 18, 2015
I’ve been contemplating, recently, what it means to be a citizen of the world – and, specifically, a citizen of the world whose income is in the top 1% worldwide.
I don’t want my life to be just about me. I believe that part of what following Jesus means is that, like His, my life is all about loving others. I just finished reading Rhinestone Jesus, by Kristen Welch, who started a maternity home to help pregnant girls in Kenya, and I think, Some days I can barely keep all my kids clean, fed, and schooled; there’s no way I could start a non-profit and do anything like that. I think about the millions of orphans in the world today, children whose biggest need is for a mom and dad, someone to love and care for them, and I tell myself, We’re looking toward it, but we’re really not quite ready to adopt again yet.
And I wonder…what can I do? And I question how I can model being a giver and how I can teach my children to be givers, and I’m truly not sure what to do and how to do it.
A couple weeks ago we were at a show put on by an organization that invited the audience members to sign up with them to sponsor children in need. Miranda watched the video they played and listened to their plea for sponsors, and she turned to me and whispered earnestly, “Mom, I want to do that!”
Not knowing much about that particular organization, I was hesitant to sign up for a financial commitment to them that night, but I promised her we could talk about it. Matt and I agreed that she (and we) could sponsor a child through Compassion, an organization whose efficacy has been proven.
We logged onto the website, and Miranda decided she’d like to sponsor a five-year-old girl like herself. We pulled out the globe and talked about countries in which there were children needing sponsors, and she chose to focus on Guatemala, the country from which her friends Glendy and Larissa were adopted. Up popped a photo of a little girl named Hellen, just about a month older than Miranda, who had been waiting for a sponsor for quite some time, and Miranda quickly decided this was the girl she’d like to sponsor. She’s committed to using some of her meager wealth to invest in Hellen’s life financially and writing letters to her and seeking to be a friend to her from afar.
I’m not sure exactly where we’re going to find the money for Hellen’s sponsorship in our budget, but I’m confident it’s there.
This is something to which we can say yes. I don’t have grand plans to change the world. I don’t have a comprehensive vision for what we should do and how we should use the enormous blessings we’ve been given to love others well. We can’t do all things for all people. But we can help one – this is one thing we can do for one person.
And perhaps, in the process, my daughter will begin to grow into the world-changer I hope that she will be.
What about you? What does it mean to you to be a citizen of the world? Parents, how are you teaching your children about giving to and caring for others?
December 16, 2015
In addition to the joy of spending time with family over Thanksgiving, Matt and I were also incredibly encouraged by our time with some friends.
One of the hardest parts of leaving Chicagoland for Missouri was moving away from a number of good friends, many of whom were older than us and from whom we had learned so much and with whom we had enjoyed so many grace-filled hours.
We’ve spent time with Frank and Sheri and Noah, Jackson, Natalie, and Ellie playing games, running all over the City Museum, discussing literature, parenting, counseling, and theology, and exploring such important questions as whether it is possible to consume 6 Saltine crackers in 1 minute.
Ken and Tammy have offered much marriage and life counsel to Matt and me over the years. We’ve traveled with them, shared meals with them, laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them, and so much more. It has been a joy for us to spend many hours with Natalie and Stephen and later Glendy and Larissa, as well.
And the Conlons have been part of my life for more years than virtually anyone else – Helen was my 2nd grade teacher, and when she learned I’d be attending Northwestern University, near where she and her husband Eric had moved after they’d gotten married, she welcomed me (and later Matt, too) into her family’s life. I started baby-sitting for Catie during my freshman year of college and later spent many hours with both Catie and Maggie, baby-sitting, enjoying the family’s company, and joining them as they battled through Maggie’s cancer.
Though I did a woefully poor job of capturing these encouraging moments in photographs, we were able to spend some time with each of these families during our Thanksgiving travels, and it was wonderful. There’s something about those 10 or 20 year long relationships. These people know us – our strengths and weaknesses, the good and the bad. They love us wherever we’re at but also encourage us, sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly, to grow more and more into the people God designed us to be. Their love for us mirrors His love for us. And we feel the same way about them. I believe I will count each and every one of these people as friends until the day I die, and I’m ever so thankful. These friends are such a blessing to us, and those few hours we had with them were a true joy.
December 9, 2015
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Atticus’s first word. We’re fairly conservative about claiming words for our babies – they have to be independently used multiple times with clear reference to the thing they mean – but we watch closely for them to happen.
This event had added significance with Atticus, because, in his role as the third child, he’d be the tie-breaker. Miranda’s first word (by months) was dad, which she then followed with car, light, keys, dog, cat, flower, butterfly, stairs, butt paste, uh oh, and phone, and then, finally, mom. Thankfully, Madeleine CaiQun evened things out when mama was her first recognizable English word, spoken just days after we met her :) Of course, it helps that mama means the same thing in Mandarin as it does in English, but still, a word is a word :) Matt is less competitive than I am and unconcerned about these things, but perhaps due to my relegation to the status of 13th word for Miranda (after butt paste? really?), I have been working hard to try to get Atticus to say mom.
I just assumed that his first word would be either mom or dad. Madeleine CaiQun’s language acquisition took what I think is a pretty typical path with names of key people in her life getting top billing, followed by important objects. I suppose I should have known, though, after the assorted collection of words Miranda chose for her initial repertoire, that additional variation might manifest itself as Atticus began to talk.
And my child chose, as his first word…this.
All day long, he points at the people and objects around him and says, over and over again, “zish! zish!”
According to our pediatrician, that’s actually a fairly common first word. I’m not sure what the others are, after mom and dad, but I’m amused by this one.
It actually reminds me every day of my AP English teacher in high school, who told us that she was tired of seeing the word “this” used in our papers without a clear antecedent, and from then on, for added clarity, any time we used the word “this” we were to follow it up with a noun describing the object to which we were referring – for example, “this cat,” or “this way of life.” Many a paper I have edited since then has been the recipient of that wisdom from Kay Esposito – just one of many pearls I acquired from her that year!
And now my youngest child walks around all day, loudly proclaiming, “This! This!” (with no antecedent at all or even a subsequent qualifying phrase) to anyone who will listen, while I repeat to him, “Mama, mama.”
I just have to laugh :)
November 26, 2015
This year I’ve been particularly reflective about the blessing of family. This time last year we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our third baby, little Atticus Garrett, for whom my labor started the morning after Thanksgiving.
This past year has brought much growth in all of us. My girls became big sisters to a baby brother, and they have been challenged to love him well but also to grow in their own independence. They’ve also continued to develop in their own right, growing closer and closer to being the women they’re going to be. Matt and I have been so encouraged by the ways in which they’ve grown this year, and we’re enjoying them more and more as people.
And that Atticus boy – I’m trying to soak him in. There are his adorable curls and the way he smiles and reaches for me when I walk into a room. There’s the way he curls into my chest and reaches his hand inside my shirt when he’s wanting to nurse. There’s the way he tucks his head into me and scrunches his eyes shut when he’s ready to go to sleep. There’s his increasingly steady gait as he practices walking longer and longer distances. There are his excited squeals and gesticulations every time he sees an animal, whether cat or dog or even fish. There’s the amusing way he seeks a way to climb on anything and everything, whether stove, staircase, or couch. I want to take every part of this fun time and sear it into my memory for revisiting in the future when my little guy has moved beyond this stage.
And of course there is my relationship with Matt, my partner in parenting and beyond. With the girls at Awana every Wednesday night, we’ve been able to get out for some regular date nights this semester, which we’ve very much enjoyed. This year we’ve been studying parenting, experiencing the writings of Madeleine L’Engle, and trying to dream big about future possibilities for art, writing, learning, building, ministry, and travel.
I feel myself, now a mom of three, being stretched and growing into more and more the mother I’d like to be. I’m more comfortable in this role of constant out-pouring of love, energy, and grace. I have the perspective of five-and-a-half years in this parenting role to know that the interrupted sleep and the need for constant supervision of my baby-almost-toddler will come to an end. I’m realizing that focusing on the difficulties of certain stages is less helpful than enjoying their positives and strategizing about parenting well in the midst of them. I’m content in not being able to do all that much ministry outside of our family (though it is a blessing to be able to do what I can with some lay counseling and children’s ministry and hosting our missional community group and a few other things), realizing that this is a season, and there will be other seasons that look different. For now, I can focus on loving my kiddos well, reading that extra book, taking those minutes to snuggle, listening to that made-up joke, rubbing that back, rocking that baby.
And this year at Thanksgiving we are immersed in the added blessing of being with my family – my always-serving mother and game-playing father and my awesome brothers and Danny’s fiancee, Sharon. I see now what I didn’t as a child, that the friendships I had then were important, but it would be with my brothers that I would have my most enduring and meaningful relationships. I’m grateful that even as we live spread across the country from one another, we’re able to maintain relationships and support, encourage, and enjoy each other.
And of course I am grateful to the God who is the author of it all. I find myself yearning to know and understand Him more and more. As Atticus cries for me and only me at night, I wonder what it would feel like to know that He and only He has what I need, to cry out for Him and refuse to settle for anything less. I pray for that.
November 25, 2015
Our babies have all reacted differently to their first experiences of snow. Miranda Grace tolerated it reasonably well…
…while Madeleine CaiQun, newly home from China, loved looking at it through the window but was terrified of being out in it. I wondered how our Atticus boy would do, and this week we got the chance to find out!
Unfortunately, our little guy was not a fan!
Unable to move very well in his snow pants and coat and boots, our poor little guy’s reaction to being put down in the snow was to flop over backwards and cry! Matt rescued him and let him watch the winter play from the living room window instead – a much more appealing prospect.
Meanwhile, the girls, of course, dove right in and enjoyed the snowy wonderland!
They’ve also been enjoying, recently, something that Matt and I both enjoyed as children and continue to appreciate as adults – Star Wars! They watched the trailer for Episode 7 with Matt, and he started showing them some scenes from the earlier movies and eventually let them watch some of the full length films (slightly edited at their most intense points!). So far they’ve watched Episodes 1-4 and are hoping to get to 5 and 6 this week. We may make those viewings family affairs, as I’d like to watch them again, too! And right now they are absolutely loving everything about Star Wars.
They worked with Matt to put together a Lego Star Wars set…
…Miranda has enough Star Wars drawings to fill a book (Darth Vader, of course, pictured here)…
…and they can frequently be found wielding light sabers!
It’s really fun for us as parents that the girls are now old enough that they can begin to enjoy things that we really enjoy, too. Not that Daniel Tiger and Leapfrog aren’t awesome, but they’re not exactly shows we’d choose to watch if our kids weren’t present :) We really do enjoy Star Wars, though, so it has been fun to revisit them with the girls and share their excitement. I’m looking forward to more similar shared enjoyments in the future :)
October 26, 2015
Okay, so it’s not even winter yet. But it feels like it – at least in that we have already been hit with all sorts of winter-type illnesses. Over the last few weeks, pink eye, a double ear infection, colds, and two different stomach bugs have taken up residence in our home.
Also, just as I was finishing the laundry created by the first stomach bug, our washer breathed its last, so we are currently without in-house laundry capability.
In the midst of those circumstances, it’s easy for me to settle into a season of discontent, winter or not. Elisabeth Elliot defines suffering here as, “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” Under that definition, this is certainly a time of suffering in our family. I certainly don’t want to be holding my daughter’s hair back as she dry heaves over a bowl, nothing left in her little body to throw up. I’m not particularly interested in being awake for 3 hours in the middle of the night with a baby whose stuffy nose prevents him from sleeping, nursing, or experiencing the comfort his pacifier would bring.
As I settled into bed last night, I was reading Romans 5:3-5:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
My thoughts have continued to return there throughout the day today. It seems obvious that suffering produces endurance. As a mom, I have no real options. Whether I want to be awake at 3:00 a.m. or not, that’s the path set out for me, and there’s no choice but to walk in it – put one foot in front of the other, sing one more song, add one more load of laundry to the pile awaiting the delivery of our new washer later this week.
And endurance does seem likely to produce – or, at the very least, reveal – character. Forced to persevere in difficult circumstances, we can become bitter, or we can grow in our ability to endure, to press on, and to work through adversity.
I pondered throughout the day, though, how it would be that endurance would produce character and character produce hope. On the surface, hardship and suffering seem more likely to lead to discouragement than to hope. Bitterness is a distinct possibility. Verse 5 in this passage seems to be key – we can grow in hope, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We can live in light of God’s love, in dependence on the Spirit in us.
Throughout trials, I can remind myself of the truths God speaks to us in Scripture. I can remember what Moses tells the Israelites as he bids them farewell – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). God is with me and with my suffering children always, just as He was with the Israelites thousands of years ago. I can trust that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and I need “not fear though the earth gives way” (Psalm 46:1). I can pray for His grace as I comfort my oldest in her misery, as I seek to coax my baby back to sleep, and at the end of the evening as I want nothing more than to relax on the couch but really need to lean in toward my middle child, who is seeking reassurance of my love and care for her in the form of the attention she’s been missing all day long as I’ve cared for her sick siblings.
It’s not a given that suffering will produce endurance, character, and ultimately hope. But I pray that I will live – and suffer – in a way that makes it a reality in my life.
October 24, 2015
Given that we started our school year over 4 months ago, it’s about time I share a blog post about what we’re doing this year :) When pressed, we say that this is Miranda’s kindergarten year and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-k year, but for the most part we just work with each child wherever they are and work on learning and growing.
We were super happy with our Sonlight curriculum for two years ago and last year, and we’re using Sonlight as the primary basis for our school curriculum for this year, as well. Sonlight packages together several primary subjects as cores – Bible, History/Geography, and Read-Alouds – which allows you to explore the year’s main theme from each of those angles. This year we’re using Core A, which is Intro to the World: Cultures.
We’re finishing up the 12th week of the curriculum, so we’ve made it through about 1/3 of the material, and we’re really enjoying it. We’re always looking for more good kids’ Bibles, and this one is pretty good. In history and geography, we’ve been able to read about ancient societies (Greece, Rome, and China), and we’re now up to somewhat more modern times (Spanish explorers, Dutch traders, Pilgrims and Native Americans). The books present the material in interesting, age-appropriate ways, and honestly, all 3 of us are learning about these different cultures and enjoying doing it! The read-alouds are awesome, as well. We’ve already read everything from The Boxcar Children to Curious George to Dolphin Adventure to Little House in the Big Woods. My biggest complaint about the read-alouds is that we love them so much that we’ve read through them faster than the curriculum guide dictates, and I’ve needed to supplement them! That seems like the best type of problem to have :) Beyond that the only modifications we’re making have been to the Bible curriculum. Our girls are participating in Awana this year, so they’re memorizing the Bible verses that their Awana groups are working on instead of those from our school curriculum. I’m also supplementing the Bible curriculum by having the girls memorize answers to catechism questions, as well. Going through this book is helping them synthesize some of the Bible information they’re learning, and they are learning about ways in which God’s truth applies to our daily lives from the accompanying stories in the book.
For science, we’re doing Sonlight’s Science A package, which focuses on Biology, Botany, and Physics. I’m pretty impressed with it. There’s interesting science reading, some of which comes with links to internet videos about the topic at hand (Madeleine CaiQun’s favorite part), and each week there’s information about how to do at least one science experiment, sometimes more. In and of myself, I’m not super creative or hands on, so I very much appreciate the activity suggestions!
For Language Arts we’re also using Sonlight packages – Language Arts 1 for Miranda and Language Arts K for Madeleine CaiQun. This is the part of our curriculum about which I’m most ambivalent. This is probably my girls’ least favorite part of our school day – they say they enjoy it, but it’s the aspect of school about which we have the most conflict. I think that is in part because the choice of Language Arts level is dependent upon the child’s reading level, but reading level and maturity level are not necessarily the same. Additionally, there is a big jump in the expectations between the kindergarten and first grade packages, both in the types of assignments given and in the amount of work included. I find myself altering specific assignments in both girls’ programs, and I’ve pretty systematically altered Miranda’s first grade package by removing the spelling component. She just isn’t ready, at 5, to do a spelling program, and she really doesn’t need to be – she’s only 5! I actually suspect that she’ll pick up these spelling words without any effort just given some additional time reading, and if she doesn’t, we’ll come back and pick them up later.
What I do really appreciate about the Language Arts program is that it has been a great tool in teaching both of my girls to read. It moves slowly enough that they build a lot of confidence in their reading abilities as they go, but it also introduces them to increasingly complex words, so their abilities really are growing. On top of that, because the Language Arts and the reading aloud portions of the curriculum are linked, the Language Arts concepts we discuss often show up in the reading, giving the girls experience dealing with punctuation, compound words, etc. as we discuss them.
Both Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun love reading out loud and are continually growing as readers, which is so fun to see. And we do have some fun Language Arts activities, as well. Both girls love playing Sight Word Bingo!
All that to say, Language Arts is going pretty well this year, and everyone is definitely learning and growing, but I probably will explore what other options we might have for next year, just to see if there’s something else out there that might work even better.
The last piece of our main daily curriculum is math, and we very much enjoy our math curriculum! We’re continuing with Singapore this year – grade K for Madeleine CaiQun and grade 1 for Miranda. Both girls love, love, love math – most days I have to cut them off and announce that we need to move on, or they’d just keep working their way through lesson after lesson.
It’s really fun for me to see them growing in their understanding of numbers, simple addition and subtraction, and other math concepts and truly enjoying it all. It happens quite often that Miranda will run up to me and announce excitedly, “Mom, I thought of a number sentence for you!” She’ll tell me an addition equation, smile, and run off to play again. We’ve also been playing some games like Shutbox, in which they can practice their addition skills without even realizing it, and they could not be happier.
Overall, we are really having a great time with school and with these materials in particular. We love the reading – frequently my favorite part of the day is curling up on the couch with the girls with some books. The girls are learning about science and history, they’re learning language skills, they’re learning to read, and they’re growing in their math abilities. It’s so encouraging for me as a teacher to see them developing in all of those ways, and I pray these years of quality time plus foundational development will be a great blessing for them in the years to come!