Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Embracing the Messiness

It wasn't an atypical night at our house. I walked into our room at night to find this.
One of my sweet little mothers had tucked her doll in snugly next to my pillow.

Then I saw that the crib looked like this.
"Buddy" the stuffed dog was snoozing soundly.

And everywhere I went around the house I found more signs of our daughters' loving care of their toys--nestled in beds or cuddled in corners. It was pretty darn cute.

I must admit that some moments I don't think it's cute at all to find dolls and all their trappings all over the house. Sometimes it's just one more thing that didn't get put away before bed. And when those one more things add up, I at times feel exhausted and grumpy.

Other times I can at least appreciate how cute it is before pushing the kids towards bed at the end of a long, loud, busy day. 

But sometimes I can pause long enough to realize that my house won't always be filled to the rafters with toys, noise, and laughter. 

And in those moments I just want to hold my kids tight and pray in my heart that they will start growing up a little more slowly. I want to embrace the messiness of my current stage of life and thank God once more for the privilege of motherhood and the joy of the four sweet children He has given us. 
Yes, it is noisy. Yes, it is exhausting. Yes, it is messy. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

25 Family Game Night Ideas

The family that plays together stays together. We've all heard that, right? (We've also heard that the family that prays together stays together. Equally catchy, every bit as true, but not my topic of focus in today's post.)

There are few things I love more than playing with our family. I love going to parks in the summer and watching Cameron chase the kids up, over, and under all the equipment in crazy games of tag. I love swinging with them and going down slides. I love pulling out board games to play together. Special bonding happens in these moments--it's the stuff that happy family memories are made of.
But I've also noticed that if we don't schedule it, it won't happen. Too many other things can crowd our calendar and trump just having fun together. We try to keep one night each weekend set aside for Family Fun Night. Sometimes we'll just watch a movie, but it's often more fun when we play. Here are some ideas we've tried and loved:

25 Weeks of Family Fun

1. Play sardines--you know, hide-and-seek where everyone tries to find the hider and when you find them you stay there till everyone is crammed in one little spot together!

2. Crab soccer--a little game of kick ball where everyone does the crab walk

3. Keep away--one person in the middle tries to get the ball while everyone else throws it back and forth to each other.

4. What time is it Mr. Fox?--Someone is chosen to be Mr. Fox and everyone else calls out, "What time is it Mr. Fox?" Mr. Fox responds by saying "3 o'clock" or "7 o'clock" or "10 o'clock" and everyone takes that many steps. When everyone is close, Mr. Fox responds by saying, "It's dinnertime!" and tries to tag someone to be the next Mr. Fox.

5. Water gun fight!

6. Indoor snowball fight--fill a laundry hamper full of folded sock balls and have an indoor snowball fight!

7. Flour fight--fill knee-high nylons with flour and tie them off, then go out in your backyard and have a free for all! (You don't need many flour bombs because each can be used over and over. And when you're done you can store them for another time. This makes for messy laundry but great pictures!)

8. Basement mini golf--set up a mini golf course in your basement.

9. Relay race--we've been known to set up relay races in our basement when it's too cold to do it outside, and it's every bit as fun.

10.Sharks and minnows

11. Marco Polo--one person is blindfolded and calls out "Marco" and everyone responds with "Polo". "Marco" tries to catch someone to be the next "Marco". This works great in the yard but sometimes in the winter we clear a room and play it inside and it's great.

12. Charades

13. Bake cookies together

14. Have a Disney sing-a-long (or whatever other songs you like)

15. Pudding painting--give each person a cup of pudding, a plate, some utensils, and whatever decorations you want and let each person paint something on their plate

16. Basement bowling--set up a pyramid with cans or even TP rolls and go bowling

17. Make gingerbread houses out of graham crackers, frosting, and whatever else you have on hand

18. Play a board game.

19. Take a picnic to a park--or sit on your floor with a picnic blanket and watch a movie

20. Dodge ball

21. Build a blanket fort and read books together

22. Build pyramids or other structures with marshmallows and toothpicks

23. Put together a puzzle.

24. Hide and seek

25. Have a play dough sculpture contest--make some play dough and have a sculpture contest!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Weighing in the Balance

It was morning and I needed to get the kids going on their schoolwork. We had pushed hard all week, so there wasn't much schoolwork left to do. But I still wanted to push through a little bit more.

Unfortunately for my responsible side, my kids were playing spy club together and it was really cute. Loaded down with lots of weapons (you know, magnifying glasses, binoculars, nerf guns, and the like) they romped around the house and hid from the tickle monster (yours truly). I couldn't help feeling grateful that I can homeschool and give them extra time to play together and build happy childhood memories with their siblings.
It was fun to see them playing. But I kept having to wrestle my conscientious side into submission. Life with kids around is all about striking the right balance. When the house is messier than I like, I remind myself that they won't remember if the baseboards were clean but they will remember if I played with them and read to them.

When the house is too noisy I remind myself that in 30 years when my house is quiet and clean, I will miss this stage of joyful chaos.

But when they have to do their schoolwork, I have to remind myself that in 30 years if they didn't master a few basics, they will be irresponsible bums. Hmmm. Back to the grindstone.

Of course, reading, writing, and 'rithmetic are critical life skills. They must receive due attention.

But then again, loving relationships and joyful play are critical life skills, too. We don't receive grades on them. But if we were better at them this world would be a happier place.

To everything there is a season, 
and a time to every purpose under heaven...
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

Work and whimsy. Practice and play. Diligence and daydreaming. Grunt work and giggle fests. We need both. We have time for both.

The trick is in the balance.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hold Those Scholarship Applications

Grace and Abby wanted to go play outside, and we were looking for Grace's winter coat. We searched high. We searched low. We searched every logical place (and a few illogical ones for good measure). Our search was fruitless.

Me: "Grace, if we have to buy you a new coat you'll have to do some jobs to earn some money to pay for part of it."

Grace: "But Mom, if I give you my money I won't have enough money to pay for college!"

Who knew I was raising such a financially aware 3-year-old?

Fortunately Abby said a prayer and found Grace's coat a short while later.(Three cheers for sensible older siblings!)
Looks like Grace can put those college scholarship applications on hold for a few more years.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some Thoughts for the New Year

When I was five years old one of my most prized possessions was my Strawberry Shortcake doll. I had the lovely version from the '80s that blew strawberry-scented kisses when you pressed her tummy. I knew she had been a relatively expensive Christmas present, and I treasured her.

Years ago my mom found her and sent her to me, along with all my old Strawberry Shortcake miniatures. My girls have had a great time playing with my old relics.

However, I have a friend whose two-year-old has a unique talent for finding Sharpie markers I never knew I had and coloring walls or other miscellaneous surfaces with them. (She also has a knack for having potty-training accidents every time she visits, but that's a topic for another time.) So after a recent play date this is what I found.
Yup. My old Strawberry Shortcake doll covered in permanent marker that I have yet to find a way to remove.

Abby looked at me and looked at my doll. "Are you mad?" she asked.

I surprised myself with my response. "No. That would be a waste of energy," I said.

And instantly I wished I had the strength to apply that wisdom to all of my life's difficulties.

If every time someone said or did something thoughtless or ill-intentioned I had the strength to just take a deep breath and let it go...

I could think about why they feel the way they do or act the way they do...

I could choose to remember that sometimes it's better to be kind than right...

Or I could remember that being frustrated or angry only wastes my energy. The bigger the frustration the more energy I could waste. (I have four small children. I need all the energy I can muster.)

I could remember Him.
Of course, by myself I don't have the strength to just let offenses float past without latching onto at least some of them. But then again, He never asked me to do it by myself. And when I pray for help to forgive and let go, He answers. And those answers are beautiful.

The change to a new year is often a time to reflect and set goals. It seems to me no coincidence that New Year's follows so closely on the heels of Christmas, when thoughts of Christ (and desires to follow Him more closely) are fresh in our hearts. As for me, in 2015 I would like to be a little kinder, a little more forgiving, and a little quicker to reach out and serve others.

I want to be a peaceable follower of Christ.
Picture by Brent Borup, courtesy of LDS media library
I want to be more like Him.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Real Christmas

Note: I wrote this little post last Christmas but never posted it so you get to enjoy it this year instead. 

Years ago my mom sent a Fisher Price nativity set for the kids. They absolutely love it and wish I would take the "activity set" out of storage for longer than just Christmas time. (I figure its scarcity holds its charm, so it graces our living room from the end of November through the beginning of January.)

I'll admit to being a little neurotic about that nativity set. If one of the pieces is missing for more than a few minutes I start to fret that it has been relocated to a distant part of the house never to be seen again. I love that set and don't want any pieces lost. So I like it when it looks like this--everything arranged perfectly so I know at a glance that no pieces are missing.
Of course, this is occasionally problematic because it's a toy and toys really are meant to be played with. So recently I sat in the rocking chair nursing Emma, glanced over to see the nativity set looking like this, and heaved a sigh of resignation. I just had too much on my hands to worry about it.
Then I was struck by a thought: the current disarray of the nativity set was probably a lot more like what that first Christmas felt like. As much as we like to think and sing about sweet-smelling hay and fluffy white sheep, that's not very realistic. How did Mary feel giving birth miles from home amidst animals and their food and waste? No clean bed, no homey familiarity. I'm sure she craved a few more comforts than she enjoyed.                                                                                                            
Photo courtesy of LDS media library
And so it is with me right now. Since Emma's arrival I've become keenly aware of how much I crave order (over chaos) and peace (over the din of a houseful of noisy children). Right now my life doesn't contain enough order or peace. Perhaps Mary's didn't either. Perhaps the real beauty of that first Christmas is the fact that life doesn't offer us enough peace but Christ does. We find meaning in life as we find Christ and He helps us make order from chaos and peace from turbulence.

Life's joy isn't from having everything perfect. It's from finding Christ and the joy, peace, love, and light that He offers. That is why we rejoice in Christ every day and even more at Christmas.
Picture courtesy of LDS media library
Thank goodness for Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, and our personal

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gifts I Want to Give My Kids

It's that time of year again--you know, the time when we celebrate the humble birth of the Son of God with excess and extravagance. I love Christmas. I love the music, the lights, the sounds, and the decorations. I love the warm feeling I feel inside when I think of the birth of Christ and what that means to me. But I wonder how to help our children feel the true meaning of Christmas when they are surrounded by such a consumer-oriented society. Every year as Christmas comes I wonder how to scale back--how to give our kids less physically and more spiritually--how to give more to others and focus less on what we are getting. I wonder how to draw our family closer to Christ and pull a little farther away from the "What did Santa give you?" culture. And so I've been thinking about the gifts I would like to give my kids this year--not just at Christmas but throughout their lives.
The Gift of Work
Feelings of worth don't come from packages--no matter how big, expensive, or nicely wrapped. But when kids learn to work hard they feel good because they learn that they are capable. They learn to think, solve problems, and accomplish things through sheer grit. And they value what they get because they worked to get it. I want to give my children the gift of hard work so they learn that they are good and they can do great things. They won't know that because I told them that--they'll know because they did the work to find out for themselves.
The Gift of Service
My kids are surrounded by generous and loving family and friends who shower them with nice things. I wish I could peel open their blinders and expose them to the needs of others. When we serve others we feel God's love for them. And we feel good about ourselves because we are able to serve and to give. Cameron and I actively look for ways our family can serve those around us. But service is something we can never expose our kids to enough. Service opens our eyes and our hearts, squelches selfishness, and opens the door to a life following Christ. That's what Christmas should really be about.
The Gift of No
It is common for parents to want to give their kids what they never had. But I fear that in the process too many of us (myself included) deprive their kids of the very experiences that made them strong. Instead of saying yes to so many luxuries I would like to say no more often. I don't want to give my kids all the toys and gadgets they want or all the financial privileges we can afford. I want to say no and teach them that money doesn't buy happiness and less is more. Having more, bigger, and fancier too often detracts from happiness because it distracts people from the things that matter most. Christ wasn't known for his big house or fancy clothes. I don't want our family to be, either.

The Gift of Love
At Christmas we celebrate the love the Savior has for us--demonstrated by his humble birth and life. But too often Christmas celebrations are devoid of Christ and filled with emptiness. I want our Christmas season to be filled with sacred moments, reminders of Jesus' holy life and pure love. I want our children to feel the true beauty of Christmas. It doesn't come from the store. You can't wrap it in a box. But we can be wrapped in his love if we choose Him. Anticipating presents is fun, but Jesus' love lasts forever. This is what I want them to feel and know at Christmas and throughout their lives.

Frankly, planning, preparing for, anticipating, and enjoying Christmas morning as our kids open presents is delightful. I have been counting down the days till Christmas for a while now. I can't wait to give our kids their gifts. But as fun as these things are, I yearn to give my children more.  Hard work, service, and the love of God are gifts that will keep giving and giving as my children grow. These are the things I want to give my children.