Saturday, April 25, 2015

Homemaking when life isn't perfect - life with babies and toddlers - part 3 of a series

When you wake up bright and early
In your roasty toasty
With your covers wrapped around you
And your pillows on your head
And you peek out at the morning
That's a cozy kind of way
To begin the cozy doings
Of a very cozy day. ...

Sniff the air for cozy smells;
Smell of flowers, fire, food
Roses blooming
Wood that's burning
Bread that's baking
They smell good! ...

Cozy places?
Attics, cellars
Closets, cupboards
Nooks and crannies
Halfway up or down the stair
Underneath a chair or table
Tucked behind a screen or curtain.
--from The Cozy Book by Mary Ann Hoberman

This is one of my favorite books to read to children. I love how it makes me feel and it helps to remind me of what I want my children to experience. While this post can be stretched to apply to grade school age children as well, homemaking with this age doesn't feel as challenging as it can with babies and toddlers. 

When we are in a season of caring for little ones, I find it is helpful to keep before me an image of what I am working for. Since a pristine home is really not compatible with having babies and toddlers, it is best to try to erase that image in our minds and replace it with another, more manageable vision. Adjusting our expectations is probably the single best thing a person can do when living with these little, adorable, demanding, mess-making people. They can't change who they are or what they are (or are not) capable of, so we need to learn to make the most of life in this stage.

The first thing to remember is that this is a season of life that won't be here forever. Sometimes that thought can make a mother burst into tears and at other times it can make her long for that day to arrive sooner. And often these diverse reactions can happen all in the same day... or hour. The adage is true that the years are short, but the days are long and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we won't always be nursing or getting up in the middle or the night or changing diapers forever. I know it can annoy mothers of young children to hear us older mothers say to enjoy everything because it goes by too fast, but it really is true. I know it is also hard to remind yourself of that when your young child has just screamed no at you and is now throwing everything off the table as you try desperately to calm that child without losing your temper as your grasp on that control grows ever thinner... Oh, hi there. I'm back. See? Since that just happened around here last night I really do understand. Just trust me when I say that the child pushing you over the edge will be looking for her own apartment in just a day or two. Remind yourself to appreciate everything... even the frustrating, yucky parts. You don't get them back.

Now that you are in the right mindset, we can move onto the next item. Since this is a season, when you are living with this age you need to think about what they need and how that is going to balance with what you want to do in the homemaking department. Home life with a newborn means expectations that reflect that child's level of need. Clean underwear and something for everyone to eat was always my minimal expectation. Did everyone get fed? Did they have clean underwear? Did I spend time feeding and caring for the baby? If I answered yes, than that was a successful day. If you add in a slightly older child to the baby mix, then I added one more requirement of time spent with that child. Now, notice, I did not say time spent alone with that child. I can spend time with my child... reading, talking, snuggling... while nursing the baby. A lot can happen while nursing a baby. 

Thankfully, the newborn stage really does not last forever, and life with a more settled baby is a bit easier. Now is the time to go back and start to dig out from the newborn chaos a bit at a time, but be careful how much and how fast you add things back in. Take it slowly and give yourself permission to not have a perfect house. Any person who has lived with a baby knows that amount of time it takes and understands an imperfect house. (If they don't, then since they are not dealing with reality, I give you permission to not worry about their opinion.) Some babies are easier and you can add more routine house keeping tasks in sooner, some babies are not and you can't. The child is always more important than the dust.

And then the baby does a remarkable thing. The baby starts to crawl... and then to walk... and then to run. Why, oh why, are parents so anxious for these steps to happen? I've never understood it. Life becomes so much more challenging when those darling babies become mobile. Keeping a house relatively clean and life relatively organized becomes so much more important and so much more difficult at this point. 

So now let's remember what is important in our home making (and why I quoted The Cozy Book). We want our homes to be comfortable, to the adults as well as the children who live in them. We want to promote an atmosphere of warmth and love. We want to feel able to offer hospitality without embarrassment, but remembering that our homes don't have to be perfect. We also want our homes to be functional so that we can do the business of living in them without working harder than we need to. 

I find it helps to keep these things in mind as I prioritize what I need to do on any given day. So for living with toddlers, I work towards an environment that they can have some freedom in. Yet, I also want to keep some places where I don't feel as though I'm living in a preschool. For us, baby gates were the solution. I hate living with baby gates, but they made the rest of life simpler and they were worth the trade-off. Or in the kitchen, moving non-breakable things to bottom drawers. Every toddler I have ever met loves to empty drawers, so if I moved the plastic storage to the drawers I knew they would open, they could empty to their heart's content and I didn't need to worry about. While there is a time and place for teaching children to be careful with things (we move them to glasses rather than cups at the dinner table fairly quickly), I certainly don't want to have to be supervising this sort of learning every minute.

The other thing I try to keep in mind as I create a home with little ones, is what will they like... what will give them joy? Is there a centerpiece that I know they will love? I try to use it. Did some little hands bring me a bouquet of dandelions? They join the table as well. Sometimes I will serve lunch on special plates or in special baskets... just because. Are there places for little people to curl up in and read books? Blankets to snuggle in? Toddlers love to help. Have I purchased tools that they can use to help around the house? Feather dusters are a favorite as well as hand brooms. They won't want to help forever and while their help isn't perfect, even a little less dust is helpful. Look at life from their view and see what you can do to help incorporate these little people into the life of the house.

A note about toys, they breed. That is the only explanation I can come up with for why I can get rid of bags of the things and the next time I turn around the floor is littered again. Children don't need extreme amounts of toys to play with. In fact, my experience tells me that the more toys that are in the environment, the less they are played with. We rotated toys in and out of service for years. Just a few things out allows for more creative play, is faster to pick up, and is far easier for adults to live with than a toy on every surface.

Living with babies and toddlers means making your life move at their speed while they are little. Less outside commitments, fewer expectations, and the ability to take time all result in a calmer family life and calmer children. I can always tell when life has become just a little too crazy. I don't have the time to spend on either the house or the children and they both start to fall apart as a result. Save busy for retirement and focus on what is important right now.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Art Friday - Being Monet (or not)

Remember to write and call the IL senators hearing the Adoption Reform Bill (HB 3079). It is so important that everyone contact the senators so we can help change the adoption laws in Illinois. I did speak with the Sen. Harmon's office staff today (he is now the bill's sponsor) and it looks as though the committee hearing will be postponed a week giving us more time to rally our forces. Keep sharing the information and encouraging people to call.

And now back to our regularly scheduled post.

For many years now, we have been doing picture studies as part of our homeschool curriculum. Each year we take an artist or two and spend time learning about him or her and looking carefully at some of that artist's paintings. Once we have looked at a painting, I then hang it up on the wires we have strung in the kitchen so people can keep looking at them. It is a great way to expose my children to art and the artists who create it. All of this became infinitely easier when I discovered Simply Charlotte Mason's art guides. Before, it was a big pain in the you-know-where to find the photographs of the paintings I wanted and I often ended up buying huge art books at used book sales just to make it easier. With these guides, they've done all the work for me and I love them. (This is just my humble opinion and I have not been compensated. Darn.)

Anyway, this year we have been looking at Monet. When I did my homeschool planning I came across a painting project that imitated Monet's water lilies paintings and decided to try it. The actual project used paper and tissue paper to create the water lilies on the painted background, but though I offered this, everyone wanted to paint all of it. So we did.

Here are the results (in age order).


G. (She likes to add people to her paintings... see the stick figure?)

K. (We've decided this is as close to drawing a truck when painting water lilies as you can get.)



This is mine, but I have to do a little explaining. I had shown everyone what we were doing and for the most part, people got it. I thought that H. seeing the picture would be enough as she is usually quite happy to have something to color. Well, entering weird brain territory here... yes, she's great at copying when someone else is actually drawing it, but seeing the different components in a completed painting is evidently very different. She can't seem to take it apart and figure out how to do it a part at a time. She was getting frustrated, so I decided to try making one myself while sitting next to her. That did the trick and she was able to see how each part was added on and do the same thing on her painting.

It makes me think this is a new avenue to pursue with her. Looking at bigger objects and seeing the different parts. I'll have to think about how to do this, but I find it all extremely fascinating.

H. (As you can see, she figured it out. When TM asked her about the two bridges, that stumped her for a moment, as if she had no idea how that second bridge got there. When we said it was OK and that it was her painting, she decided that the bridge at the top was a railway bridge.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

HB 3079 is moving to the Senate... what you need to do right now

The good news is that last week the IL Adoption Reform bill passed the House unanimously. That is, in part, thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on the bill and contact their state legislator. We all did a great job! But now it is time to get back to work. HB 3079 has been assigned a Senate Committee and it will be heard (and voted on, I believe) on Tuesday. That gives us just three days to write emails and make phone calls.

I cannot stress how important this is. The truth is, the IL House passes over 1000 bills in the course the year, the Senate usually passes less than 200. The vast majority of bills never make it out of Senate committees. We absolutely cannot allow this bill to get lost. We need to fight for our families and for the children who need homes. We and many other families have lost valuable time with our children because of this unnecessary and costly requirement. A child does not have that many years to be a child, yet DCFS and the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator take their time to review home studies of people they have never met and usually only end up making superficial and non-important changes to those home studies. How can that possibly be worth a child spending two more months without a mother and father.

What you need to do:

Call or write the senators on the committee. The link will take you to the committee members and is linked to each of their contact information. I know some of you will ask for what you are to say. Here are the main points to make:

1. This is a redundant position that is costing tax payers money and is doing the same job that the state licensed social workers have already done.

2. The requirement of the state approving home studies is also redundant because the US is now a signee of the Hague Agreement which comes with stringent requirements.

3. The position of Intercountry Adoption Coordinator, because of the way it is structured, allows personal biases to play into the decisions about families. Families, I will reiterate, the holder of the position has never met.

4. This bill allows parents an easier and less costly way to obtain a US birth certificate of a child who is already legally theirs.

Everyone needs to do this. Share this with your friends, family, and acquaintances. We absolutely cannot let this bill die in committee. Our children deserve better.
Alright, here's the deal. I just spent about 20 minutes calling every committee member. People, get on your phones now! Only one of the people I'd talked to had even heard about the bill. We need to do better or this bill will die in committee and we will be stuck with our rotten system for who knows how long.

I know it can be intimidating to phone a lawmaker's office if you've never done so. Here's what will happen. Out the list, three offices had answering machines on. That was easy. Leave your name, the name of the bill, and why you support it. The rest of the offices had real people answering. They will ask your name, phone number, what city you are from, and some will ask your address. Tell them you are in support of HB 3079, the Adoption Reform Bill, and, if they give you chance, why. Some only wait long enough to hear that you support it. Everyone was quite friendly and the process is easy. But EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU NEEDS TO CALL. We need these senators to know about this bill and that many people support it.

Stop what you are doing right now and pick up that phone. I want to hear that people on the other end are starting to say things such as, "Oh, we've been getting a lot of calls about that today." This would be much better than the responses I received which were, "Oh, I don't think I've heard of that."


I've done some digging and here are some email address:

Sen. Kwame: 

Sen. Hastings:

Sen. Haine:

Sen. Harmon:

Sen. Hutchinson:

Sen. Mulroe:

Sen. Noland:

Sen. Silverstein:

Sen. Barickman:

Sen. Connelly:

Sen. LaHood:

Sen. Nybo:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Let's revisit family dinners

I was part of a discussion a while back and someone asked how we manage to stay connected with our children, since we have more than a few of them. I thought about it and came to two conclusions. The first is since we homeschool, I get to see our children and interact with them for much of the day. But if a family doesn't homeschool, this isn't really a terribly helpful answer. The second conclusion was having a routine of eating dinner together every night.

I realize that more and more people struggle to share dinner all together as a family, but I would strongly encourage you to begin to create the habit. This is especially true if your children are younger. If you begin now, it will be easier to keep it going when the teen years (and their accompanying crazy schedules) hit. Of course, if your children are older, you can still start, it will just be a little trickier.

Why should you?

I'll share what I see as the positives. First, it provides a daily routine that children (and frankly, adults) thrive on. Dinner together happens every single night. They can expect it. They can know that they will see everyone (or nearly everyone) at that time of day. There is no wondering when or how food will arrive. To eat dinner together every night creates a safe and predictable environment which is especially important for children who are coming from less than ideal circumstances.

Having dinner together also provides a chance to reconnect with family if various members have been apart. To operate as a family, the family members need to spend time together and share experiences. As children get older and their schedules become busier, this can be more and more difficult to do. It is important to set apart a time where everyone is together. It nurtures relationships not only between parent and child, but between brothers and sisters as well.

By eating together, you will also all eat better. While, having to feed more than yourself requires a little more planning, it also means that the meal was thought about. It has been documented in many studies that families who eat together have a better and more varied diet. In the long run, it'a healthier to eat together.

Of course, someone has to cook the meal. That, too, is often a matter of learning and habit. While it can feel intimidating and overwhelming to cook every night of the week, it is actually quite a doable thing once you get the hang of it. It is a learned skill. Like every learned skill, it must be practiced in order to develop. If you are not in the habit of cooking every night, it will take a little work to become automatic and not feel like a big deal. But I will tell you, it does eventually become pretty automatic. I don't think very hard about feeding between 9 to 12 people every night and it's not because I'm some super chef or super mom. I've just had a lot of practice. No super human skills are needed to be able to do this.

Finally, for family dinners to work, you need your family on board and both parents need to see it as important. You need to be willing to make the hard choices early on that outside activities (in general, we have always made exceptions when we felt it necessary) do not trump dinner. If something conflicted with dinner, the choice to participate was easy, we just said no. This, too, becomes a habit and something your children get used to. As our children get older, we are a little more flexible. For example, A. is part of Police Explorers which she loves, but since we eat late, she needs to leave before we are sitting down. We have decided that since it is every other week, that it is valuable enough to her that we don't insist on having dinner with us. (And, if we ate at a more normal time, she wouldn't miss dinner at all, but our family schedule doesn't work that way at the moment.) If a child was missing more than a couple of meals a week, we would be having a conversation. (They love that.)

Time is running short and this end, and words are running long here, so I'll stop here. If you want to read more, you can look at these past posts:

Rules for Large Family Meals
Family Dinner Tips
I'll Say it Again

One last comment about these older posts. As I read through them, they can sound a little strict in our rule setting. While the family rules we have laid out are usually enforced, it is also the case that in reality they are pretty flexible. Is a child having a particularly hard day? There's some grace allowed there. Is a child still learning to function in a family setting or learning to feel safe? Things can look a little different. Relationship and felt safety always trump external rules and J. and I have been known to break a few of these ourselves.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Listening to stories

The younger group around here have discovered the joys of listening to stories on CD. This is wonderful to me for a couple of reasons. First, many of them seem to have unlimited capacity for listening to stories and I have yet to reach a point in reading picture books to them where they grow tired of listening before I grow tired of reading. It just doesn't happen. They are insatiable. With them having discovered recorded stories, it saves my voice and gives me a little more free time. Plus, they have been listening a lot while I have been working with the middles in the morning during school.

The other reason I am excited is that it is just so good for their brains. Listening to a story without having pictures to go along with it is great for developing imaginations and attention. We have read a few chapter books to G. and L., but they haven't been quite as interested in them as in picture books and I haven't pushed it. I imagine once they have some more practice with recorded stories, it will be an easy step to reading and enjoying more chapter books together.

So what have they been listening to recently?

Jim Weiss' stories have been perennial favorites around here. We have quite a few, though I just discovered a lot more that have come out since I stopped buying them a few years back. (I even got a chance to see Jim Weiss in person once when M. and B. were little and we have a couple of signed CD's from the event.) G. and L.'s current favorite is The Queen's Pirate, which baffles me a little bit since it is one of the slower stories that he has done. But they are enjoying it and learning something. When I was reading history the other day and mentioned a certain king of England, one of the piped up and said, "He was in The Queen's Pirate CD!"

The other perennial favorites are the storied from Adventures in Odyssey. We seem to go through seasons around here where our life is accompanied by constant playings of these discs. Currently, while I'm writing this, one child is listening to one disk here in the kitchen and another group of children are listening to another in the living room. I may have to pick up some new ones just because I am so familiar with the ones we have... something new would be nice.

G. and L. have yet to discover Your Story Hour, though the discs are here. (We like set 7 the best.) These are stories from American history and have been favorite stories with my older children. Sometimes it's funny, how one particular story will affect children in different ways. The story about yellow fever on one of the discs in set 7 is one of those stories. This is a story that I've discovered my children either love or hate, with the sides being pretty evenly split. There have been innumerable little spats I have broken up over the years about whether or not the yellow fever story was going to be listened to or not. I'll be curious to see who the younger group divides over it... it is often not how I expect.

One last CD which has been popular, but also has not been discovered by the younger set yet is Fire in Boomtown. This is a great story and song telling of the Chicago fire. It is well done and has some catchy songs. If you are studying Chicago or Chicago history this is an absolute must. Even if you aren't planning on studying Chicago, it is interesting to listen to.

We have quite a few more, but these are some of my children's favorites. What did I miss? Do you have any favorite audio stories that you want to share?

Oh, one more thing. The little girl, Grace, whom I shared about the other day? Well, her Reece's Rainbow account is still at $0. Can you give even $5 towards her adoption? She needs a family, and the sad fact is, the people who are most willing to adopt a child like Grace, also tend to be the people who don't have a lot of extra cash lying around. While they could manage the day-to-day expenses, the $30,000 adoption costs/travel fees are just beyond most families. A child with a large grant has a significantly better chance of getting a mother and father. You could help make a difference for a child finding her family. A child, who, if we are honest, has absolutely no future in her country once she turns 14 and ages out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How do you spell relief?

Evidently it is spelled, A-P-P-R-O-V-A-L. I feel like a new person. I have slept well for two nights in a row... something that had not been happening and I don't do well with enough sleep. I feel as though I can tackle the bills piling up on my desk, though I'm not looking forward to it. There is a good chance I might actually get to the loads and loads of unfolded laundry in my bedroom. And, I don't have to spend the majority of my day forcing myself to do my regular activities or reminding myself to relax my shoulders. (I tend to carry all my stress in shoulders as I find they get tenser and tenser and rise higher and higher when I am stressed.) I can breath and it feels good.

I would like to publicly thank a few people. First, I would like to thank Sen. Mark Kirk and his extremely responsive and kind office staff for advocating for us and our daughter. I would also like to thank our two agencies, Adoption Link (our home study agency) and CCAI (our placement agency). Both advocated heavily for us and we appreciate that. When push comes to shove, it's really great to have agencies that have your back, and we certainly did. Thank you all.

Now we can get on with the business of bringing our daughter home. I have had many people ask what this means for when we would travel, and sadly, I have to remind everyone that we are still at the very beginning of the paperwork process, even though we had our Pre-Approval since late November. (Go to my explanation of how it all works if you want to see how much farther we have to go. We have moved onto Step 6.) I will file for initial immigration permission this week and when that arrives we will finally be able to complete our dossier and have it submitted to China. I am really hoping that we can have it submitted by mid-June. Once the dossier is logged-in, travel can happen anytime between 4 and 7 months, depending on how long each subsequent step takes. There is still a chance we could travel before Christmas, but it could also very well be January. Because of a variety of factors, we won't travel during December, so if it looks as though that is going to happen, we have the ability to push it back a month. Really the short answer to "When will you travel?" is, I don't know, but it won't be soon. There is still an awful lot of paperwork between now and then.

Sunday was lovely. We had our approval. K. received his Bible in church and was terribly cute. I took the 6 youngest children to see the very funny show that J. and B. are in. It was good to enjoy my family, laugh, and relax. And really, do you need a laugh? You have one more weekend to go see Kung Fu Suburbia: Cul-de-Sacrifice. I may be just a little bit biased, but even so, I think B. was incredibly funny (and handsome and talented) in the show. Really, really funny. Like Tim Conway funny. You should go see him. Because I like to show off my children and have people tell me how great they are. (J. is also really good and the show looked great. I am now hyper-aware of sets and props because of M.'s involvement with them.) It's easy to order tickets online. Go and enjoy yourself.

Now to go back to being a functioning person and dig out my house.
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