Tuesday 18 December 2012

When the small things are really the big things

He's three tomorrow, my toddler-boy, the one with the impossibly long eyelashes and the built-like-a-tank body. He's a sweetheart, that darling child of mine. He loves to snuggle. He loves babies. He loves to fall asleep with his head on my lap.

He also loves to rip the heads off his Lego people.

Make of that what you will.

But his clumsy toddler fingers make it challenging for him to accomplish his violence on his own, so he does what most three year olds do when faced with such a difficulty: he asks his Mommy for help.

"Can you take his head off for me, Mommy?"

"I don't know...what if he doesn't want his head ripped off?"

"He does!"

"Okay, here goes. Ahhhhhhh! Hmm. Sounds like he didn't like that very much."

He grins, walks off, silly Mommy.

Always the same thing, until recently. He brought over his Lego person and asked me to rip his head off. I silently obliged. After I handed him back his now-decapitated tiny man, he stood still for a few seconds. Then he looked up at me.

"Why didn't you say 'ahhhhhh' this time?"

"I'm sorry! Ahhhhhhhh! Better?"

He grinned his approval and returned to his playing.

The next time he asked me to help him remove a head, I remembered our last encounter. I gave the obligatory scream as I handed him the body parts.

"You said 'ahhhhhh'!" he exclaimed, pleased that I didn't have to be reminded again.

It's always the little things, isn't it? The things we think are just silly, unimportant, until a child looks up at us with those big eyes and asks why we didn't do it this time. It's important to them. Those brief moments of engagement, those miniature rituals, those unexpected moments of meaning that tell them hey, I see you, I'm here with you, I care about you, they all matter.

It matters to my little boy that I pretend his minifigs are screaming as I rip their heads off. It lets him know that I'm there, really there, fully engaged in the present moment and the task (as it were) at hand.

I'm grateful for his reminder.

So I'll keep on screaming. I'll keep on being silly until he tells me I'm so uncool, Mom. And then we'll find new ways of connection, and maybe he'll concede that I'm not entirely uncool after all. Maybe.

(Only by then he won't actually need me to rip off his minifigs' heads for him, but that's beside the point. Somehow. I don't know what I'm talking about. I misplaced my brain, remember?)

Today I'll be watching for those little moments of connection, because it turns out they're some of the most important moments of all.

Monday 17 December 2012

Natural Parents Network: Best of 2012

As a volunteer with the Natural Parents Network (NPN), I have found a community of natural-minded parents and parents-to-be who are passionate about being informed, empowered, and inspired.

When you visit the NPN’s website you can find articles and posts about Activism, Balance, Consistent Care, Ecological Responsibility, Family Safety, Feeding With Love, Gentle Discipline, Healthy Living, Holistic Health, Natural Learning, Nurturing Touch, Parenting Philosophies, Practical Home Help, Preparing for Parenting, Responding With Sensitivity, Safe Sleep, and so much more!

Today I would like to share some bookmark-worthy posts that highlight several wonderful posts from 20 volunteers with the Natural Parents Network. These posts were featured on the personal blogs of the Natural Parents Network volunteers and are some of the best of 2012.

We hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as we enjoyed writing them. We are always looking for new volunteers, so please contact us if you are interested. Just a few hours per month can help other mamas in a huge way!

Most Viewed Post: Why I want to Homeschool / Why I Don't Want to Homeschool
Personal Favorite Post: Hello Mornings
Post I Wish More People Saw: Eating Healthy on the Road

Visit Code Name: Mama

Dionna from Code Name: Mama

Most Viewed Post: 32 Natural Remedies for Colds, Congestion, Coughs, and Fevers in Infants (Newborn to 6 Months)
Personal Favorite Post: Crying Does Not Equal Manipulation
Post I Wish More People Saw: Why Nurse A 4 Year Old?

Laura from WaldenMommy:Life Behind the Red Front Door

Most viewed post: Ten Reasons to Revoke my Natural Parent Card
Personal Favorite Post: The AP'd Child Speaks Out
The Post I Wish More People Would Read: Having A Child With Special Needs...

Jennifer from Hybrid Rasta Mama

Most Viewed Post: 333 Uses for Coconut Oil
Personal Favorite Post: You Will Understand When You Are A Mother
Post I Wish More People Saw: Constipation In Children and What You Can Do To Help

Most Viewed Post: Potty Learning the Gentle Way
Personal Favourite Post:Gentle Weaning and Play
Post I Wish More People Saw: Rape and Attachment Parenting

Abbie from Farmer's Daughter

Most Viewed Post: Maple Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Personal Favorite Post: The Birth Story of David Joseph
Post I Wish More People Saw: A Farm of My Own

Gretchen from That Mama Gretchen

Most Viewed Post: Crockpot Yogurt
Personal Favorite Post: 100 Days Old
Post I Wish More People Saw: A Fresh Perspective | Jemma's Beautiful Birth



Christine from African Babies Don't Cry

Most Viewed Post: I Breastfeed My Toddler For The Nutritional Benefits
Personal Favorite Post: From Full-Time Formula To Exclusively Breastfed
Post I Wish More People Saw: How To Minimise The Chance Of A (Genetically Prone) Child Being Diagnosed With ADHD

Charise from I Thought I Knew Mama

Most Viewed Post: My Misdiagnosed Miscarriage Story
Personal Favorite Post: A Poem for My Baby Girl
Post I Wish More People Saw: How Does Attachment Parenting Foster Independence?

Mandy from Living Peacefully with Children

Most Viewed Post: Attachment Parenting: the Renewed Face of Feminism
Personal Favorite Post: Different Rules for Different Families
Post I Wish More People Saw: Introducing: Attachment Parents Get Real!

Amy from Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work

Most Viewed Post: Censored at the Beauty School
Personal Favorite Post: Let Them Have the Last Word: Demonstrating Peace For Children
Post I Wish More People Saw: Talents of the Heart


Angela from Earth Mamas World

Most Viewed Post: The No 'Poo Method: Homemade Shampoo And Conditioner
Personal Favorite Post: It's Okay...I Actually Enjoy Spending Time With My Kids!
Post I Wish More People Saw: Gentle Discipline And Our Family

Cynthia from The Hippie Housewife

Most Viewed Post: Winding Down at Bedtime: Three calming games
Personal Favorite Post: While the nights are still precious
Post I Wish More People Saw: Those days don't define you

Fine and Fair Joella from Fine and Fair

Most Viewed Post: Teen Pregnancy: Not Caused by Makeup
Personal Favorite Post: A Letter to my Son: The First of Many
Post I Wish More People Saw: 25 Lessons for my Children

Megan at The Boho Mama

Most Viewed Post: Coconut Oil: Nature's Baby Magic
Personal Favorite Post: When They're One
Post I Wish More People Saw: Using Relaxation and Visualization to Support Breast Milk Supply

Julia from A Little Bit of All of It

Most Viewed Post: 10 Things I'd Like New Moms to Know
Personal Favorite Post: My Mother Blessing
Post I Wish More People Saw: Why Should You Wear Your Baby?

Amy from Anktangle

Most Viewed Post: Growing Sprouted Onions
Personal Favorite Post: Dear Daniel, (On Discipline and Love)
Post I Wish More People Saw: Garden (Time Out) Meditation

 Lauren from Hobo Mama

Most Viewed Post: Where to find cute maternity clothes
Personal Favorite Post: Getting used to having kids
Post I Wish More People Saw: On having two kids & not playing fair

Isil from Smiling like Sunshine

Most Viewed Post: DIY Alphabet Boxes
Personal Favorite Post: Children's Books About Breastfeeding
Post I Wish More People Saw: 7 Tips for Breastfeeding in Public

Jorje from Momma Jorje

Most Viewed Post: Family Cloth... Really??
Personal Favorite Post: I did not Birth a Syndrome
Post I Wish More People Saw: "Good Baby"

Friday 14 December 2012

With trembling heart

I am sitting at the end of the boy's bed. The toddler has long been asleep; baby girl just woke up and is snuggling in my arms. It's good to be with all of them like this, whispering in the light of the boy's lamp.

"What was the best part of your day, Mommy?"

"Hmm...seeing what painting looks like with feathers. It was neat to watch you try that."

"Oh, that was my favourite part of the day too! Can you tell me a bad day story, please?"

"Alright. What should it be about?"

"No you pick! What should it be about, Mommy?"

I think. One day a young man walked into an elementary school...

Children? No. It's unthinkable. It's unimaginable evil and sickness. Who wants to tell a bad day story on a day already stained with too much blood and tragedy?

"What should it be about? Mommy? Mommy! What should it be about?"

I blink back tears, leave my thoughts behind, return my attention to the eager boy in front of me. Oh, child, so full of blessed life.

"Okay, here goes. I woke up in the morning and there was a dinosaur sleeping on the end of my bed..."

My thoughts and prayers are joining with all of yours as we remember the lives taken in Connecticut and the children wounded in China today.

Do not lose hope, dear ones.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Humble Love

As Christmas approaches, I find myself missing the churches of my past more than ever. Anglican churches with their beautiful liturgy, always the same, faithful, rooted. Steeples and stained glass windows, church choirs and Christmas pageants, purple candles in green wreaths and a child holding that long rod with the flickering flame at the end. This week we light the candle of Love, oh how we all wanted to be the lucky child chosen to light the candle each week.

It's Christmas and I want all the bells and whistles of my youth, give me a beautiful building with beautiful decorations and all the pageantry of the season! I want the grateful familiarity of long-held traditions. I miss it all.

But Jesus...I think of His own birth.

He didn't even get an inn, much less the high ceilings of a palace. No, he was born in a rough cave hewn in the rock, with animals all around him and dung below. He was lain in a feeding trough, for goodness sake, and I want pews and candles and long robes?

I think of this as I sit in our home, surrounded by a church family far more gracious than I could ever deserve. Stained carpets below us, dust on the shelves, dirty baseboards. (Do people look at baseboards? Please don't look at my baseboards.) I did my best but it's still merely our humble home and I am blessed to have it filled with those dear to us. We sing of holy nights and silent nights and I remember holy nights of my own. This, this is good. It's not the service of my youth but I need to stop longing, trying to recreate, wanting something more than what I have. This might look more like a stable than a palace but it is Good.

Because all of it, wherever we are, whatever it looks like, it's always the heart that matters most. Maybe this year my heart needs fewer steeples, less liturgy, and different traditions, because all of those things are fine but why do I desire them so strongly? What is it that I'm really searching for here?

I'm not sure. But I do know that when Love came down, He chose the stable over the palace. As I shed palaces of my own, I see more clearly than ever that Love remains, always the greatest gift of all. The stable may not look like much on the outside, but that love fills the inside with beauty.

Maybe these year I need something a little quieter, a little more humble, a little more intimate and vulnerable.

Maybe this year I need a stable.

with Katie, Emily, Caris, and Brenna...

Tuesday 11 December 2012

3 Ways to Respond to a Toddler Who Won’t Listen (and a Giveaway!)

Today I am pleased to have my friend Michelle Carchrae from The Parent Vortex sharing some words in this space. Michelle is the author of the newly-released book The Parenting Primer, a guide to positive parenting in the first six years. She describes herself as a "freelance writer, a homeschooling mama, avid knitter, spinner, sewer, crafter, reader and lover of the outdoors."

Today Michelle is sharing her tips on how to respond to a toddler who won't listen, as well as giving away a copy of The Parenting Primer. Look for details below!

We’ve all been there. The toddler grabs something she shouldn’t. You step in and say, “No, Christmas trees/Aunt Maud’s crystal/the cat’s tail isn’t for playing with. Come play with the blocks over here!” Your toddler half-heartedly plays blocks for three seconds until you look away, then is right back there pulling at the Christmas tree/crystal/cat’s tail again. Why won’t she listen? And what do you do next?

Toddlers are a curious bunch. One minute they want to cuddle, nurse or sweetly stroke your cheek. The next they’re blatantly charging ahead with their own agenda, regardless of your rules. Toddlers are naturally growing into a stage of increasing independence, and part of that experience is learning where their new independence can take them, and where it can’t. A toddler’s refusal to listen is normal, not a reflection of her lack of respect for you or a sign of your lack of parenting skill.

What’s the best way to deal with a toddler who won’t listen? Empathize, Distract and Remove.

1. Empathize. First, empathize with your toddler. Tell him that you understand how fascinating the forbidden object is. Tell him you understand how much he wants it. Really try to feel what it would be like to be your toddler, and keep that empathy in mind when you’re setting boundaries. Of course, just because he really wants to pull the cat’s tail and you can fully empathize with how tempting it must be doesn’t mean it’s ok for him to pull the cat’s tail. Empathy usually  needs to be paired with either distraction or removal to be effective with toddlers.

2. Distract. Toddlers can be amazingly single-minded, but this can actually work to your advantage if you succeed in shifting their attention elsewhere. After you empathize and reflect their feelings back, shift immediately to something else. Pull out a bag of pom poms and a plastic cup. Bring out the kitchen pots and pans. Play “This Little Piggy” or have a silly face competition. Go for a little walk. Read a story. Toddlers will almost always be attracted to an activity that lets them spend time with their important adult, so be prepared to get down on the floor and play for a bit until they forget about the forbidden object.

3. Remove. If empathy followed by distraction doesn’t work, you’ll need to remove either the forbidden object or your child from the situation. This doesn’t have to be a big production, and it’s better if you can keep it as kind and matter-of-fact as possible. “Time to put the crystal away!” is all you need to say to your child, then ask Aunt Maud if there’s somewhere safe for her breakables to go while you and your toddler are visiting. If your toddler repeatedly hits or takes a toy from another child at a party or playdate, it’s time to either leave the party or take some time to calm down together in another room. Chances are he’s either overtired, hungry or overwhelmed.

When my eldest was a toddler, I found it so hard to deal with her independence and refusal to listen. I felt very frustrated, tried so hard to make her listen and I took it personally when she didn’t. Now I know that most toddlers don’t listen at times, and that’s ok. It’s normal. After I understood this, it became much easier to deal with the inevitable toddler challenges.

The Parenting Primer

I’ve gathered up many of the other things I’ve learned about parenting with gentle discipline in the first six years and published them in an e-book called The Parenting Primer. The Parenting Primer starts out by looking at how love and limits influence our parenting, then explores other topics that affect our relationship with our child, such as information on brain development or personality, communication skills, lifestyle choices, creativity and self-discipline.

I've included references to a lot of the parenting resources and other parenting books that I found helpful, and each section ends with some questions to inspire reflection and something to actually try in your real life. Stories and tidbits from my own personal experience struggling to improve my parenting skills are woven throughout the book.

You can buy a copy of the book for yourself or to give as a gift here, or enter the giveaway to win a free copy!

To enter, simply leave a comment below. The giveaway is open worldwide until Friday, December 14th at 11:59 pm PST. The winner will be chosen via random number generator and announced the following morning.

Giveaway closed. Congratulations Nathania!

Rocking horse photo credit: John-Morgan on Flickr, used with Creative Commons license.

Monday 10 December 2012

More joy is always worth it

We're leaving soon, another year of holiday travels, and sometimes it's hard to get into the season. There are lists to be written and things to gather and gifts to buy and then it will be time to pack.

No, I don't think we'll bother with a tree this year. Keep the season simple. What's the point, anyway?

But the kids - oh, it's always those kids, drawing eyes up and hearts open because they see the worth in this sort of thing. Please Mommy? Pleeeeease can we put our tree up? We're not leaving yet!

And they're right. Why shouldn't we enjoy a bit more holiday sparkle before we pack ourselves into the car? Do I really have any reason to deny a request for more beauty, more joy, more light in our lives?

So I say yes.

They cheer, clean the living room in record time as I bring in the tree from the garage and dig out the decorations from the back of the closet. It's not much, our tree. Just a little half-sized artificial thing, but it fits our small space perfectly.

I unwrap treasures and hand them to eager boys. This one, I tell them, this one was from our first home. And this one was from your first Christmas, and here's yours too. And this one was from my first Christmas, when I was just a little baby like your sister...

I hand over an elf missing both his legs, a tall St. Nicholas in flowing robes, a train, some snowflakes. If you look closely, you can find some bits of mirth here and there: a flying cow, Chewbacca with a Christmas tree, a walrus with a Santa hat, it's good to laugh and we do, heartily. We top it with a star, plug the tree in, light the whole thing up.

It's beautiful.

I love its white lights and the way they sparkle off the ornaments. I love the string of red beads the boy added; you'd never know it was actually his necklace, sacrificed for the season. I love the star on top and the nativity below. And I love these boys for knowing beforehand that it would all be so worth it if I would only let it happen.

And why not? The world could always use more simple beauty and joy - bright lights to chase away the darkness, warmth in the midst of cold, smiles and laughter and delight, time spent together, reckless foolishness that casts off doubts and worries and why bother's.

Why bother? Because more joy is always worth it.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Weekend Reading

Raising kids that craft (or not) @ FIMBY
We create because it brings us joy. We make useful things, and some not so useful things, and we learn important skills. We make time for creativity in our homeschool curriculum because it is one of our family's core values.

Does this mean you have to craft with your kids? Not at all. Maybe you bake with them instead, or play musical instruments together, take dance classes, or spin wool from your own sheep. Maybe you speak Japanese in the morning and conjugate Latin verbs in the afternoon.

If this is what you love, what brings your family joy, and is inline with your family values - then do it! And do it with gusto. Do it well, do it often. Do it to the glory of your creator.

Our hearts are stone and flesh, all at the same time @ Mama:Monk
“It means I’m asking God to make your heart soft so you can hear God’s voice and so God can make you more and more like Jesus. If your heart is hard like stone you forget how to love and you forget how to listen to God.”

He rolled away from me to face the wall, whispered, “Mommy, I’ve got both those hearts in me.”

I whispered, my hands tickling his back. “I know, honey, we all have both those hearts. That’s why we need Jesus.”

“Not Presents but His Presence” and Other Christmas Cliches @ A Deeper Story
It’s Christmas again, that season where Truth gets sentimentalized and made into tacky d├ęcor.

As if always, you are one or the other. As if you have either shut God out or you’re experiencing the fully majesty and miracle of his presence.

So often, life is lived in the in between. You have chosen the baby in the manger. You’ve chosen Immanuel, God with us. But it doesn’t feel like he’s here. It feels like you are wandering the cold dark streets of a strange town alone.

In which it’s a two-part invention @ Sarah Bessey
I keep secrets because my family and my friends didn’t sign up to have their lives aired publicly.

I keep secrets because I like having my own life, tucked away, just for me, or just for my husband, or just for my tinies.

I keep secrets because it’s good for me, for my family, for my spirituality, for my sanity, for my soul, for me to keep secrets.

I feel like my truest self is expressed here but it’s not my whole self either.

Wednesday 5 December 2012


Funny thing, the idea of hope has been on my mind and now here it is, the first week in Advent with it's theme of the same. It's nice when life works out like that.

I'm a planner. Goal setting, lists, five-year plans, I want it all, control, give it to me. And yet here we are at this place in our lives where I can see only a few months down the road. After that, nothing. The husband graduates (at long last; I can scarcely remember life without school) and then, degree in hand...what? A job, we hope. A good one, even better. But where? When? Move? Stay? Buy? Rent? Broke?

It's like I can see my life up until the end of May, and then there's nothing but an endless cliff. It doesn't matter how hard I squint, I can't see the answers at the bottom.

(And what folly, truly, to say I can see that far down the road, for I do not know what even tomorrow will bring.)

And so, Hope. It is all I can cling to, this Hope that brings with it a calm peace and the assurance that whatever happens, it will ultimately be for Good.

Henri Nouwen says it best:
Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes...saying, "I don't know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen."

And that is where I find myself. I have given up peering over that cliff, squinting, trying to predict the future below. What will happen, will happen, and I trust that it will ultimately be good.

That is the micro.

Then there is the macro, the far bigger picture than my own tiny life. In that there is the Hope that the perpetual advent, coming, of this age, will one day find its fulfillment in God's Kingdom here on earth. What begun with the birth that we are preparing to celebrate will one day, in God's good time, be completed. We can try to imagine what that will be like, but we don't know. We don't. We couldn't possibly imagine it, and what sort of God could be so easily pinned down anyway?

I am reminded, again, that whatever tomorrow looks like, He is already there. And I will forget again and I will be reminded again and then yet again I will forget, this I know of myself.

This is why we need community, to remind each other, over and over.

Again, Nouwen, emphasis mine:
Christian community is the place where we keep the flame alive among us and take it seriously, so that it can grow and become stronger in us. In this way we can live with courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us that allows us to live in this world without being seduced constantly by despair, lostness, and darkness. That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love even when we see hatred all around us. That is why we can claim that God is a God of life even when we see death and destruction and agony all around us. We say it together. We affirm it in one another. Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment - that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community, and the Christian life.

As we wait together, let us wait in Hope. "I don't know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen."

Good things from a good God.

with Katie, Emily, Caris, and Brenna...

Tuesday 4 December 2012


I find myself, frustratingly, in that place again. I am the sort of tired where having to get up makes me want to whimper and cry. I'm tired, just let me sleep, I'm too tired.

I don't like being in this place. I don't like being this person.

I can't even pin it on the baby; sweet girl sleeps well at night, most of the time. No, it's just an utter bone-deep exhaustion. It makes everything feel infinitely more difficult. Pain in the blessing and all that.

Worse, the children have eaten my brain. I was intelligent once, as I recall. Now I walk into a room and forget what I needed. I think of something and it escapes me just as quickly. I stand up to change the baby's diaper and find myself, a few minutes later, folding laundry. How did this happen? I was on my way to fetch a clean diaper. Why am I folding laundry?

I don't know.

It's frustrating, this brain fog, and only compounds the challenges of exhaustion. Nothing is clear, nothing seems easy.

Then I hear the baby's cry. Sweet girl has woken up. I go to her, pick her up, kiss the top of her fuzzy head, witness her wide toothless smile...and suddenly everything is clear. This warm baby in my arms, that sweet toddler on the couch, that beautifully creative boy painting pictures at the table, they are all so very worth this. I may have misplaced my brain right along with my ability to stay awake through an entire day, but I get them instead.

Worthwhile trade, if you ask me.

Yet still, I know this isn't a good place to stay in. I know my body, and it has spent these past couple of weeks telling me, loudly, that it needs care too. I am working on things, finding ways to get rest, to nourish my body, to supplement where needed, to ask for help, oh why is that always the hardest? But necessary, I remind myself.

Here's to hoping I will soon return to the post-children normal of only being moderately exhausted and brainless, instead of completely.