An unexpected gratitude

I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.

No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.

My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier.  They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two.  By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling.  I can’t help it.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”

These are the moments I don’t want to miss.  It’s the stuff of happiness, right?  Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy.   I’m grateful for moments like this.

alljoyHappiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids.  Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure.  I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior.  And somehow, I even loved it.  For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating.  She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.

In the absence of a script, it’s just love.  It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things.  It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.

 

Read or watch more:

The words you’re not supposed to say

Most of us learn from a pretty young age that there are good words and bad words.  The “bad words” might be hidden from us at first, but eventually someone slips.  Probably while driving.  Or maybe a big kid shares them at school.  Eventually they come out from the shadows, and parents freak out.  Or at least, it seems like most parents do.  I don’t.

Frankly, I don’t swear very much myself.  But I know that other people do, and I don’t expect that I can keep such words hidden from my daughter for long.  Well, in all honesty, I haven’t even tried to keep them from her.  I shrug when my child-free friends apologize for dropping a “bad word” in front of my six-year-old.  Sometimes I’ll even say I’m less concerned about those words than I am the words that hurt people’s feelings.  If any words are bad, it’s the hurtful ones.

Maybe that sounds like some kind of hippie-tastic idealism, but this article echoes my opinion on it pretty well, and I have no doubt that my daughter, a word lover from a very young age, will continue to expand her vocabulary to include all sorts of words, inappropriate and otherwise.  From the article:

“Obviously, Shawn and I don’t want Gracie to walk up to her kindergarten teacher and ask where the bleep she can put her bleeping backpack. But we’re unconvinced that, say, when she gets to high school, she should get grounded for describing a bad day to us with words that help her to express herself.

Hopefully, Shawn and I will instill an expansive vocabulary and love of words in our daughter so that she won’t often need to resort to swearing.”

Turns out, there’s a picture book for this very situation (Isn’t there always?): The Very Inappropriate Word by Jim Tobin.   When Michael learns a new word on the school bus–never used in the book–he loves using it.  He loves words in general, and this one seems especially good.  How does his teacher handle the situation when the word gets around the classroom?  Some kind of punishment?  Washing his mouth out with soap?  Nope.  She send him to the library to find more words.

In the end, it was just one word among many.  That’s all.  No one was hurt in the speaking of the word.

inappword

There’s a more detailed write up about the book at Kirkus, and there’s a book trailer here. No matter how you decide to approach curse words in your family, give this book a chance.  It’s an opportunity to explore why words have the power they do in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids.  And that’s important no matter what words you’ve decided to use or not use.

The Freezepocalypse in picture books

I’m typing next to an open window, and there has been a steady stream of pedestrian traffic outside.  It’s up to 28 degrees today, and it’s a comparative heat wave.  Last weekend, we were preparing for a Freezepocalypse of ridiculously low temperatures (even for Minnesota), and my family spend two and a half days stuck inside our small apartment.  Here are three picture books that, together, represent our Freezepocalypse:

imbored2  babypenguinsev soupday

 

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black is for my six-year-old, for obvious reasons.  I felt more like the mama penguin who needed a little time to herself in Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion.  Side note to parents: Do you need a time out yourself? Read your kids this book to introduce the idea.  You’re welcome.

Fortunately, my wonderful partner decided it was a Soup Day as in Soup Day by Melissa Iwai, so we were well fed.  Soup makes everything better.

Books and soup.  That’s how we got through our Freezepocalypse.   How about you?

Keeping Christmas Simple

We’ve taken a step toward a more traditional holiday this year. Our DIY Christmas tree has taken several different forms over the last few years–some of which barely resembled a tree at all–but the same idea was behind them all.  We wanted to use what we had to celebrate.  We wanted a holiday that focused on creative reuse rather than consumerism.  This year we were given a hand-me-down artificial tree, and we have a small collection of ornaments that have been gifted to us, so our tree is pretty traditional.

In keeping with the DIY spirit of our holiday, we made a few ornaments out of wrapping paper glued to cardboard.  A pre-publication copy (F&G) of Holly Hobbie’s new version of The Night Before Christmas made for a few cute ornaments in the same way.  They were simple enough for our almost six-year-old to do with minimal frustration, and I think they look charming too.

xmastree

 

In all honesty, my favorite traditions are the ones that are different every year.  They are familiar without being tired.  They grow with us, but keep us grounded to our values.  That’s all I really want in a holiday.  More than elaborate decor or expensive presents, I want to spend time with the people I love, share what I have, and think about what we value.

May your holidays be full of love, hope, and happiness. :)

This blog will probably be fairly quiet this month, but you may check out previous years’ posts for more holiday related content:

From Kissing to. . .

Through the luck of the library hold list draw I went from reading an ARC of Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan to a library copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I think I had tears in my eyes the entire time I read these books back to back.

twoboysTwo Boys Kissing a a teen novel about a couple of gay teens trying to win the world record for the longest kiss.  In the hands of David Levithan, one of my personal favorite YA writers, the story becomes about more than winning a record or about making a statement about gay rights.  He uses an unusual narrator to tell a larger story.  Our storyteller is an omniscient view from the collective voice of gay men who have passed.  They watch the characters being so open with their sexuality and speak of their experiences before being out was okay, before AIDS was a thing.  It was very powerful, and it is easily one of my favorite books of the year.

tellthewolvesimhomeThen I picked up Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the library.  I’d been waiting for the book for months, and it seemed serendipitous that it arrived in my hands when it did.  This book is set in the 1980’s, when AIDS was just beginning to be a thing.  June’s uncle whose relationship to the family is strained because he was gay has just died, and June is devastated.  She tries to understand the choices her family made.  But it’s hard to make sense of why we choose to cut off the ones we love the most when they make choices we don’t understand.

I was reminded of these words from the collective narrator of Two Boys Kissing (quoted from ARC):

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home.  So many of us had to leave.  But every single one of us wishes we hadn’t had to.  Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t had to leave the other one behind.  Every single one of us would have loved to have been loved unconditionally by our parents.”

It’s gotten better for LGBT kids, I think.  I hope.  But I know that there are still some who have to deal with families who want nothing to do with them.  It breaks my heart to think about the people I know personally who are separated from their families for reasons like this.

Stories like these make me hug my daughter tightly and promise to love her no matter what.  I hope she knows that she can make different choices than the ones I made without fear of losing us.  We will always act like her family.

Find Two Boys Kissing at your library or buy it from an indie bookstore.  Then you’ll probably want to do the same for Tell the Wolves I’m Homelibrary or indie bookstore.

Wedding Stories

littlebear3

“I didn’t want a big wedding myself, but I love when other people do,” I said to a friend this past weekend while people bustled all around setting up, taking photos, and practicing their roles in the day’s event.

I was very early for the festivities since my partner was playing a role in the wedding, and my role was mainly staying out of the way while trying to explain to my daughter why she wasn’t chosen as the flower girl.  If I had been thinking like a librarian I would have made sure to reread Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes or some other not-the-flower-girl picture book before we left for the out-of-town wedding weekend.  But I wasn’t thinking like a librarian.  I was thinking like a romantic.

At this wedding, it seems they were thinking like storytellers.  The vows were more than promises to each other.  They were thank yous to every one of the guests for sticking with the couple through what had been some ups and downs in their history.  The bride told her story of how they met and courted, and the groom his.  Then they promised to use their strengths to take their story into the future.

The best thing about stories is that they are contagious.

On the way home from Duluth, my daughter asked for our story.  “How did you and Papa meet?”  I smiled as I thought about how far our story stretches back now.  It’s hard to believe it’s been over ten years since our meet-cute moment, and it’ll soon be nine since we spoke our promises in front of a small group of our loved ones.  A lot has changed since then, and we are still speaking promises to each other.

Since we got home, my daughter has been thinking like a matchmaker.  She’s already wondering which of the couples we know will be the next to wed and who their flower girl will be.

It was, indeed, a lovely wedding.

centerpiece

Photo above from A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  Get it from your library or an independent bookseller.  I also mentioned Lilly’s Big Day.  Check that out or buy it.

Friday Find: Pratfalls of Parenting

“We make cool stuff. We make people too. How has that affected you?  Along the way we try to stay creative types at the end of the day.” –The Pratfalls of Parenting theme song

pop-itunesI recently discovered the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast about life as a parent in the arts, and I’ve become a bit obsessed with the show.  I am far from being a working artist myself–that isn’t even on my map really–but that doesn’t matter.  The sense of camaraderie in the casual conversations between the artists in the podcast extends to the listener, and turns people whose names I see on advertisements for gallery shows or theater performances into real people whose struggles are not far off from mine.

All the interviews that I’ve listened to so far seem to circle back to the idea that you have to be you to be a good parent.  You might be able to put parts of you in the background at times, like when your kids are quite young, but you have to keep making things or whatever it is you are into.  For me that means writing and making zines.  For my husband, it means making music.  We’ve made these things priorities in our house, and it’s nice to know that there are other families out there who are making the same kinds of priorities we are.

But I don’t think you have to be some sort of artist to know the tension between keeping your pre-parent self alive and being a good parent, and I don’t think you have to be an artist to appreciate the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast.  For one thing, it’s a fascinating angle on the Twin Cities arts scene.  I’ve discovered so many artists and arts organizations in the few weeks I’ve been listening.  :)

Here are some of the highlights I’ve found so far:

  • Seniz Lennes (improvisor/actor/photographer) talks about parenting as part of her creative practice and the way that her work as an improvisor informs her parenting.  She blogs about this at Yes And Parenting.
  • Carolyn Swiszcz (painter/video maker) references children’s books as a great inspiration, and she mentions several illustrators in particular that she likes.  While I’m on the subject of books, I’ll also point out that Susannah Schouweiler mentions that having free reign of the library as a kid influenced her decision to become a writer and William Alexander (children’s book author) talks about writing, the book industry, and all sorts of other things kidlitgeeks like me love hearing about.
  • Jena Young  (comic/theater producer) brings up the topic of humor in that what is funny to kids is often not the same as what is funny to adults.  I wonder what she and host Levi Weinhagen (of all-ages theater company Comedy Suitcase) would think of my assessment of Kid Humor in picture books. ;)

I highly recommend the podcast to parents of all sorts, but especially to those who make stuff and make that a priority.

The Night Before Christmas

The blog has been unexpectedly quiet for the past week, and I apologize for that.  I had a few holiday posts planned, but I wasn’t quite able to make them happen.  Part of that is the busy-ness that is December in our family.  We hit the cascade of holidays in the middle of the month with my daughter’s birthday (I now have a 5 year-old!), and it was followed quickly by our wedding anniversary (8 years!).  Now, of course, it’s Christmas Eve.  We have full days planned today and tomorrow, but right now I’m waiting for my cookies to cool and I wanted to share one book related aspect of our holiday that I thought my readers might appreciate.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”

I knew those opening lines to this classic poem, but I didn’t know the rest of it until last year when I found a picture book version to read with my daughter on Christmas Eve.  I wanted to do the same this year, so I went looking for another picture book only to find that there are approximately eleventy billion versions of this poem for kids.  I decided to let my kidlit-geek colors show (and bring my daughter along with me into kidlit geekiness).  We checked out as many library copies of “The Night Before Christmas” as we could get our hands on in the weeks before Christmas.  I apologize to any other Hennepin County Library users who wanted one of these books.  We didn’t mean to hog them all.  We were doing very important literary comparison. :)

nightbeforexmas

Here are the results of our survey:

  • Most of the picture books we looked at took us back to the time and the place when the poem was written (late 1800’s New England), and it was interesting to have my daughter look for similarities and differences in the setting–and to talk about the ways that life was different then.  We liked Tomie De Paola’s version for its old fashioned charm.
Tomie De Paola's version

Tomie De Paola’s version

  • My daughter especially liked looking for the ways that the illustrations diverged from the text.  For example, the text refers to the mom wearing a ‘kerchief, but in some of the books she appears to be wearing a bonnet, at least that’s what it looked like to my 5 year-old.  Also, the poem has Santa filling the stockings and leaving, but a couple of the books we looked at had him also leaving presents under the tree.
  • There were also the times when the illustrations took the text more literally than expected, like in Tasha Tudor’s version in which Santa is “miniature.”  He actually looks like a little elf himself, which surprised us.
tudor

Tasha Tudor’s elfin Santa

  • I have read there was some controversy about whether a children’s book should mention Santa’s pipe or include that in the illustrations even though it is in the text of the poem, but all of the books we perused did have the pipe and the “smoke that encircled his head like a wreath” except the Christopher Wormell version.
Christopher Wormell's wood cut illustrated version

Christopher Wormell’s wood cut illustrated version

  • Not that it was a contest, but the winners from my daughter’s perspective seemed to be the books that were quite different.  Rachel Isadora’s African version generated the most discussion and kept my girl’s interest longer than the others.  Until we discovered Mary Engelbreit’s version, which is too adorable for words.  It was by far the most kid-friendly version we read, and my daughter’s preference showed.  And why not?  It has elfin fairies following Santa around as helpers, even cleaning up after his sooty footprints.
Rachel Isadora's African version

Rachel Isadora’s African version

engelbreit

Mary Engelbreit’s adorable fairy elves

Do you read the poem with your kids?  What is your favorite picture book version to share?

More Christmas related books are in this post, if you missed it.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  All books mentioned were library copies.

Our Holiday

perfectchristmasThere is no perfect Christmas.  There is only the Christmas that fits your family.  That’s the stuff of a picture book right there.  But we’ve taken it to heart.

Our holiday isn’t totally traditional, but it fits us.  We value simplicity, generosity, and togetherness.  Those values are all at play in our DIY Christmas tree, a tradition that started on a whim in 2010 and has become a family favorite.  We always give a nod to the traditional, but there are a few rules.  We can only use what we have or can borrow, and we have to work together to create the tree.

Here is this year’s creation:

2012xmastree

The ornaments have been gifted to us.  The snowman, with the year 2007, was a baby gift to commemorate our December baby.  The only purchased items in the above scene are the little stockings.  It’s minimalist, and that’s just right for us.  (Compare the past few years of DIY Trees on my photo blog.)

A colleague once commented to me that my daughter will not appreciate our unusual holiday tradition when she’s old enough to realize that her friends do it differently.  He might be right, and our traditions might shift in the years to come.

We’ve already experienced a slight change in our Christmas celebration as of this year.  It seems we are a Santa family this year.  In the past, I have fallen Very Seriously into the anti-Santa camp.  I had no idea when we decided to be Santa-free that this would be such a controversy, but it seems that every year the issue arises again in the media/blogosphere.  I try to stay out of the argument in general, but I have been known to rant about the whole business in the privacy of my own home.

All that said, my daughter, who is now just about five years old, has requested that we pretend the Santa story is real this year.  The moment we agreed, the onslaught began:

  • “How is Santa going to get in our house since we don’t have a chimney?”
  • “What if Santa forgets our house?”
  • “What if Santa can’t find our Christmas tree and doesn’t know where to put the presents?

The list goes on.  Even though she knows the truth, she’s still thinking through all the counter-factual scenarios that the Santa story involves.  She’s learning to think in a causal, rational way, and we’re stretching our imaginations together.  I have to admit, it’s pretty fun.

We have more Christmas fun planned–along with birthday and anniversary plans–so watch this space (or the photo blog) for more about our minimalist holiday.

If you missed it, here are some Christmas picture books we like.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Halloween Reflections

I know I’ve been accused of turning everything into a Learning Experience, and some people think that means sucking the fun out of everything.  I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that because I think we had a great Halloween, thank you very much.

We traipsed up and down the streets of our neighborhood with the “park friends” and their parents.  We had a dinosaur, a fairy princess, a ballerina and my little witch all excitedly carrying around their bags of candy and doing what they are rarely allowed to do: be out walking around after dark.

But that isn’t all there is to it.  Wait for it…. Halloween is also an opportunity to build social skills.  For the shy kids, this means meeting new people in a safe space.  For all kids, you can talk about (& model) the ways we are good neighbors–respecting property, being friendly, not littering, etc.   In our group, we also addressed not asking for more candy, not ringing a door bell more than once, and staying on the sidewalk.  We also discussed  whether it was polite to ask if there were treat alternatives for kids with food allergies.  We weren’t sure on that one.

It was a learning experience for us too.  Next year we may try to go with a smaller group.  I will definitely wear better walking shoes, and I’ll at least throw a witch’s hat on or something.  Everyone ought to get in the spirit of things, including me.  Even if I do suck the fun out of everything. :)

More about the Hidden Lessons of Halloween from Parent Further.