"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spread the Good News

This morning was a shit show. Max was singing loudly on purpose just to piss off Evan. Evan was chasing Max just to make him squeal.  The noise level was off the charts and my head was pounding by 7am. I said “Brush your teeth” at least seven times and I’m not sure if anyone actually did. Neither of them had packed their backpacks and the clock was rapidly ticking towards Departure Time. Max looked me in the eye and pushed play on my iPhone after I said, “Take out the headphones. You can listen to more music after school.” Evan, with a blanket over his head, jumped out at Molly, scaring the shit out of her, melting her into a puddle of Hold Me Mommy tears. Meanwhile, his library books were nowhere to be found...because no one was looking for them.

After much nagging, voice-raising, and threat-making, I kissed the tops of their heads and shooed them out the door, zipped, packed, and ready for school, more or less on time. I closed the door behind them and, had it not been for the 3-year old standing beside me, I may have added, “Have a great day at school, assholes!”

Kids can be jerks.

I know this is true because I have them. My friends do, too, and they agree. My kids are good kids. They are kind to their friends, they are respectful toward their teachers, they are hard-workers. But still, they’re kids. They don’t always listen, they aren’t always kind to their siblings, and they don’t always have a respectful tone or attitude with us, their parents. I know that we’re lucky that our kids save their most obnoxious behavior for us, but it can be exhausting and disheartening to see the worst of my kids’ behaviors.

Sam and I have had a lot of conversations lately about the People we are rearing. The days of night-waking, potty-training, and toddler tantrums may be (mostly) over, but as our Little Kids morph into Bigger Kids, this parenting gig is getting harder. People tried to tell me this when I would struggle with weaning or nap schedules: Little kids, little problems; Big kids, big problems. They would say. I would roll my eyes and ignore them because, in the moment, getting my little baby to sleep was a Big Problem.

But I get it now. My concerns for my kids are no longer about this moment right now...they’re Big Picture concerns: Will my children grow up to be compassionate and positive contributors to their communities? Will my children be Good People?

When I see the way my kids can argue and fight with each other, when I hear the way they can speak to me and Sam, when I notice the selective hearing they seem to possess, it doesn’t always feel like we’re doing a good enough job as their parents.

A few hours after our shit show of a morning (and after a few phone conversations with Sam about how we can Do Mornings Better), a friend of mine wrote on my Facebook wall.

“Today, I was volunteering in art class. Addie couldn’t see the teacher and your sweet, sweet Max gently took her by the shoulder and gave her his spot. Inclusion at its finest! I may just never stop crying these tears of joy!”

Addie is in Max’s kindergarten class. Addie has Down’s Syndrome. Addie’s mom had Big hopes and dreams before sending her daughter to kindergarten: That Addie would be included as one of the group in her classroom. That Addie would make friends. That children would be kind to Addie. In short, Addie’s mom had the same hopes and dreams that all parents have before sending their kids out into the world.

Today, she witnessed her dreams coming true.

Today, she shared with me a beautiful story about the gentle, kind nature of my child. Today, she publicly complimented my child on a behavior I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. She didn’t know how hellish our morning had been. She didn’t know how my husband and I had been saying to each other, just moments before, “What the hell is wrong with our kids? Why can’t they just be helpful in the mornings? Why can’t they just Be Nice?!”

It’s because they’re kids. They’re not perfect. They’re certainly not perfect in the safety and comfort of their own home. But when it counts, they are Good People. I’m so thankful that my friend thought to remind me of what I knew deep down in my heart to be true.

That Facebook post struck a nerve with me; a proud, Mama Bear nerve. I watched the number of Likes the post received climb. Good News travels fast and my heart swelled because my kid was at the center of that Good News. It’s a feeling I want to share with other parents. 

Spreading Good News: This should be our new Parenting Trend. 

When I see a child do something nice for someone else, when a child is polite and respectful in my home, when I see a kid kick ass at a performance or a classroom project while I’m in school volunteering, when I know a mom has been struggling with her child’s attitude and he smiles at me and says “Hi, Mrs. Harris!” I’m going to tell her.

My compliments may not always be public, they may not always be on Facebook, but they will be when it’s appropriate. To hell with public-shaming, let’s start public-praising. I want to be a spreader of Good News. I want to remind parents who may have the same self-defeating thoughts that I have that they are doing a good job, that their kids are Good People.

There’s a parenting article that has been circulating among my moms’ groups lately. It’s called If My Kid is Being An Asshole, I Want You To Tell Me and I’m sure you’ve read it. If you haven’t, you should because it’s perfect. It’s perfect because it acknowledges the likelihood that at some point, my friends (or their kids) will see my kids acting in a jerky, reckless, or dangerous way. It’s perfect because it acknowledges that none of us is perfect and we parents need to stick together...with no judgement, only support.

I want you to tell me if my kid is acting like an asshole. I also want you to tell me when my kid shows you his Best. It may be a side of him I don’t always get to see...even though my Mama Heart knows that it’s there.

Lesson Learned:
Look for the positive. When you find it, share it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Tale of Friendship: in haiku

She has a new friend:
an imaginary friend.
He's quite real to her.

He lived in my room,
I mean, "The Swamp!" Until she
came to his rescue.

He's small and he's green.
He has a long tail. He is
an alligator.

She said, "I'm Molly,"
and, with a grin, he replied,
"I'm Starshine Lewis."

She brought him back home
and offered him food. He said,
"I mostly eat meat."

Molly was happy
to share her meals, as she's a
vegetarian.

She has a new friend:
a carnivorous friend! And 
they're a perfect match.

When she goes to school,
her friend goes, too. He stays safe
tucked in her pocket.

"Good, little 'gator!"
she whispers to him, as she
pats him on the head.

She never reveals,
to the kids in her class, her
friend, hidden away.

And when they come home,
she lets him out. He's ready
to run and to play.

They play Swamp Monster,
(it's a swampy game) made up
by Starshine Lewis.

Watch out! A monster!
Jump from pillow to pillow
across the room swamp!

As I make our lunch,
she calls to me, "'Remember!
He mostly eats meat."

She has a new friend,
but he won't stay forever.
He's temporary.

The magic will fade,
though he's welcome to stay as
long as she believes.

She has a new friend--
a magic friend--and his name
is Starshine Lewis.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tim Gunn, Get Out of My Kitchen

I came downstairs this morning, as I usually do; showered, dressed, and ready to start my day with a smile. "Good morning!" I cheerfully greeted my boys who were, as they usually are, already at the counter, eating breakfast. My cheery smile soon faded, however, as my 6-year old looked me up and down with nothing short of sartorial scorn.

"Ohmygah, Mom. What are you wearing?"

I looked down at my clothes to ensure that I had, in fact, put them on. I had. I was wearing my nice (non-holey) jeans and a black tee, topped with a plaid shirt, casually unbuttoned. And, okay, it's true, I'm not usually a Plaid Person, but it was a beautiful October morning: I was rockin' fall, y'all.

"What?" I said, "This?" I gestured toward my shirt.

"Um. Yeah, " he said, with a hint of a sarcastic snicker. "What is this: Dress Like a Boy Day or something?"

I looked at him incredulously. He, in his unicorn tunic and patterned leggings, was one to talk. Besides, not that it matters, but this shirt fit me perfectly.

"Max. Seriously? How many times have we talked about the fact that ANYone can wear ANYthing that makes them happy and comfortable. Clothes are for Everyone."

He laughed gently and patronizingly: "No, it's totally fine! I mean...just...did you get that shirt out of daddy's closet or not?"

My dear boy. It's time you learned something: Tim Gunn wants his Fashion Mentor 'tude back. And Plaid is a Classic.

Lesson Learned:
Oh, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in his kindergarten classroom after I came in to volunteer today: "Guys, about my mom...Sorry you had to see that. She's so 1990s."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Sweet Shop Birthday Party

When I first broached the subject of Max's 6th Birthday Party with him several weeks ago, I wasn't surprised to learn that he already had some Big Ideas about what he wanted:

A Sweet Shop Birthday Party

I jumped immediately on board...I mean, look at this sweet face...


How could I not?

 I followed the same simple formula as I have for all birthdays past:
Simple Decorations
Simple Games
Simple Treats

Here are some of the highlights!

Welcome to Max's Sweet Shop


I made wrapped candies out of styrofoam balls and tissue paper for our party backdrop.
Table decor was a white plastic table cloth with a polka dot wrapping paper runner, topped with clear containers of candy.


I already had a few glass vases but I purchased most of the other containers from Oriental Trading. You can find the ones I purchased here. (Note: they are made from thin, flexible plastic that is not water-tight. Perfect for holding candy, not to be used as a vase.) I found the rainbow swirl lollipops and candy sticks at Oriental Trading as well. I really wanted classic Candy Shop treats and was having trouble finding them locally.

As the kids arrived, I directed them to the table where blank party favor bags and sticker sheets were waiting for them. The kids decorated their bags while we waited for all guests to arrive.


Stations
I had a few "anytime" stations set up. These were simple play activities that the kids could do at anytime in the party...after they finished decorating their party favor bags, while waiting for the next game to begin, or if they chose to sit one of the games out.

Station #1: Froot Loop necklaces


I pre-cut the string and wrapped one end of the string in blue painter's tape for easy cereal stringing.

Station #2: Candy Land play mat


Max helped me to design and create this "map" of Candy Land, complete with "Lollipop Meadow," "Licorice Forest," "Coach Gingerbread's Playground," "Gumdrop Grove," and "Mount Red Hot," in addition to the Candy Land path. We set up our new fairy houses and fairies around the play mat as the characters and their homes.

Station #3: Birthday Cake Playdough


I found a great playdough recipe that looked and smelled just like birthday cake batter. You can find the recipe here. To complete the station, we added silicone cupcake holders, candles, large sequin "sprinkles," drink umbrellas, and mini cookie cutters. 


I made a double batch so I could send some home with each guest in their party favor bag. In addition to the playdough, each child received some paper cupcake liners, a candle, and an umbrella for at-home cupcake-making.

Station #4: Candy Land


It was the inspiration for the party, after all!

Station #5: Jelly Bean Estimation Jar


This was one of my favorite activities to watch, and such a flashback to my days as a kindergarten teacher. As a generalization, Kindergartners are Not Good at estimating large numbers. Of the 12 kids at the party, only my third grader wrote a number other than a round number. The closest guess was a three-way tie of 100. There were more than 100 jelly beans in the jar, though, so we had to do a second round of the kids who guessed 100. I told them to think of a number bigger than 100 and the answers included 1009 (one-hundred and nine) and 10028 (one-hundred and twenty eight). 

I love estimating with little kids. I'll bet if Max's birthday were later in the school year, the answers would have been a lot closer. So much number sense develops this year!

Games
In addition to the stations, we did have some organized party games. 

Stick the Gumball in the Machine

 

No party would be complete without a Pin the Tail on the Donkey variation. For this game, the object was the stick the gumball in the black "tray" not in the glass jar. After all, a gumball that has come down the chute is better news than a gumball still in the machine.

Candy Bingo


I made this game with clip art and my laminating machine. Buttons make great Bingo Markers!

When Max's kindergarten class plays bingo, every time you get 5-in-a-row, you say "B-B-B-B-Bingo!" Play continues, however, until your whole card is filled in. Since that's how his beloved teacher plays, that how we play, too. The whole group loved this game. Some of them got it out after we played together to play on their own.


Ring Around the Lollipops


A simple yard game, this was created using craft paper, skewers, and ribbons. I made two sets so the kids didn't have to wait too long for a turn. This game was another big hit. 

To make the rings, I cut the middles out of paper plates and wrapped the leftover rings with this thick, beautiful yarn I found at Michael's. I think it was Isaac Mizrahi brand?


This game was so popular, I had to pry some kids back inside with the promise of 
a trip to the Candy Bar.

Candy Bar


Hoooo, boy. The Candy Bar. The kids came up, two at a time, and filled a small candy bag with as much of whatever they liked as could fit in the bag. 


To say this was the star of the party would be an understatement. We had: rainbow lollipops (round and swirl pops), candy sticks, candy buttons, jelly beans, Sixlets, M&Ms, Twizzler bits, gummy bears, and Starburst. We chose candies based on Max's favorites and appearance...We wanted the bar to be colorful and festive. It was. Hoooo, boy, was it ever.

After the trip to the candy bar, it was time for more sweet treats.

Max originally wanted to combine his love of Sweets with his longtime goal of working in a bakery. He wanted to bake cupcakes at his Sweet Shop birthday party. Call me a party pooper, but the idea of 12 kids baking in my kitchen sounded less like a Good Time and more like hell on Earth. 

Instead, I let them decorate their own (slice-n-bake) sugar cookies.


I think they went over just as well.


Lesson Learned:
I think it would be prudent, at this time, to offer my sincere apologies to the parents of the party guests. I'm sorry I sent your children home with bags of candy, giant lollipops, and tummies full of candy-topping-laden sugar cookies just three weeks before Halloween. 

But, sort of...sorry, not sorry. Would you look at this kid? Happiest 6-year old on the block.


But seriously, thank you for sharing your delightful children with me. These were some of the kindest, happiest, most polite kids I've ever seen in my life. I'm so proud of Max for choosing such wonderful friends, and I'm so happy they chose him back. There was so much love and friendship in our home last Saturday.

Life is sweet.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Maxwell: Six

During what would be my grandfather's last trip to visit us in Virginia, we had some Big News to celebrate. We had just had our 20-week prenatal ultrasound and found out that our baby was healthy and growing steadily. We also found out that our baby was a boy.

"That's wonderful news," beamed my grandfather, himself the father of five boys. "But tell me, what's his name?"

"Maxwell," I said, decidedly. We knew for sure. We had always known. "But we'll probably call him Max." 

"Max Harris," my grandfather said, tracing the name across an imaginary billboard in front of him, "I see that name in lights! Destined for greatness, that Max!" 


My grandfather didn't get a chance to get to know Max. They met on the several occasions that we went to visit family in New Jersey after Max was born, but Grandpop passed away just after Max turned three. Even we didn't know Max then. Not really.  


But somehow, Grandpop knew Max even before he was born: That Max? Destined for greatness, indeed. He's changing the world, you know. Maybe just his own little corner of it, maybe the whole damn thing, but he's changing this world for the better.

And, in case you're wondering, he's not changing the world with his wardrobe. He's doing with his heart. His heart is so, so big. It is wide open, full of light, laughter, and love. And he's not shy about sharing it with everyone he meets. "He's like sunshine," his preschool teacher's aide once said about him. "He comes in and lights up the room!"


He's all heart, that Max. He's smart, too. I know, I know, I'm his mom...but anyone would agree. He's super wicked book smart, which is great, but his emotional intelligence is off the charts. This kid experiences and can express All The Feels. All of them. Every single one. All the live long day. Don't ask him how he's doing or how his day was unless you have an hour or five to sit and chat. 


His self-awareness of intricately nuanced shades of emotions astounds me. He's Inside Out, in Real Life. And he can read other people like he's hanging out with the Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger in their minds. As an introvert who mostly keeps the Outside, In, I'm a bit envious of his ability to self-express. You can't teach that kind of awareness and I'm so thankful that he possesses it.


But it's not all Deep Thoughts with Max. He can be an easy, breezy, breath of fresh air. He is creative and playful...


a bit of a goofball...


and always, always, dancing to the beat of the song in his head.


You might not know this about Max, but he's a bit of a risk-taker. 

Seriously. This dog was enormous. An enormous baby, but still. Huge.

He rides down the hill in front of our house at full speed. He's our resident Taste Tester...he'll try anything and loves just about everything. He likes fast roller coasters and high heights and riding in the car with the windows down. [What? That's not a big deal in your house?]

So, yeah: He can be brave when he needs to be...


...but mostly, he's a lover.

He's a snuggler, a hand-holder...


...a personal space invader.


But that's just our Max and we love him for it. 


We love everything, Every Thing, about you, sweet boy. We are loving getting to know You and we are so fortunate to live in a world that you've had the chance to touch with your Big Beautiful Heart.

***

It happens all the time. People see Max, the way he presents himself to the world, and then they look me in the eye: "You're such a great mom," they say. I'd like to think that I am...but not for the reasons they imply.


When they get to know him beyond his sparkly, bright exterior, they get to know the sparkly, bright warmth of his heart. They get to know the funny, whip-smart, imaginative kid I know...and then they look me in the eye: "You're such a lucky mom." And I know that I am.


Lesson Learned:

Close your eyes and make a wish. Make it big. Make it grand.


Make it come true, my Love. May all of your dreams always come true. And that name? I wouldn't be surprised if we do, someday, see it in lights. That Max. I just love that kid.