Friday, March 13, 2015

Seven Easy Steps to Your Child's Book Addiction

So we now have a reader in the family. For the most part. I mean, of course, other than the Man and I.  The Little Man is still hesitant to put his new powers to use, but he's got them. I wish he'd gain a little more confidence so I could put him to work reading to Tiny, but patience, you know...patience...and a lot of sounding out words very, very slowly.

This was his first day of school picture.
That I took two weeks into the school year.

Anyway, while I'm waiting, I thought I would take the time to instruct all of you out of my now vast wealth of knowledge and wisdom so that you too can instill a love of reading in your child. So here you go.

How to Make a Book Addict Out of Your Previously Untainted Child in Seven Easy Steps

Start 'em early : There is no child too young for a book. Seriously, start reading to your kids while they're still in the womb (it can't hurt, right?). Whatever you're reading, read it to your kids. Unless you have awful taste in literature. Then don't. Save them from yourself. But really, you're sitting there holding your newborn baby, read them something. There are few things better than snuggling a baby while enjoying the written word. Except for sleep, maybe sleep. That might be better. But what would I know.

Start 'em often : There is no such thing as reading too much. A book at breakfast. A book at lunch. A book at dinner. A book at nap time and one at bed time. Forgo everything else, but just keep reading. A clean house is over rated. Anything more than a PBJ for lunch is extraneous. Showers are totally optional. Books are not. Read. Read. Read.

Model what you want to see
 : There is no such thing as reading too much. Wait, I already said that. But last time I meant reading to your kids. This time I just mean reading. As in to yourself. For entertainment or education or anything else you want. The more your kids see you reading, the more they will see it as something of value. And the more they will recognize just how much fun it is. And the more they will want to learn how to read on their own because obviously it must be incredibly entertaining.

Limit screen time : I know, I know, you hear it all the time. Turn off the TV. Close your computer. Put down your smart phone. But those are all really negative. How about this: open a book. The more time you spend on a screen with your kids, the less time you spend with a book. My parents (paragons of parenting virtue) didn't have a TV. They raised three voracious readers. This is proof to me that it works.

Build pillow forts : This may be my most important tip. Make pillow forts with your kids and read in them. Pillow forts are like crack for kids. Seriously. Anything done in a pillow fort is automatically the most awesome thing of all. File your taxes in a pillow fort. Your kids will never get arrested by the IRS. Cut your toenails in a pillow fort. Your kids will be perfectly pedicured for life. Fold your laundry in a pillow fort. Because if you have as many kids as I have, that's the only way you'll ever get the laundry folded. Pillow forts. Trust me on this.

Make the most of bedtime : Read before bed. Why? Because that's the time of day all kids put off as long as possible, and while they stall, you are molding their little malleable minds into reading machines. Those pleas of "One more chapter, Mommy?" will be music to your ears instead of driving you one step closer to insanity.

Hit Up the Library : Make the library the coolest place in town.  Don't pick the bookstore because either you'll go broke or the bookstore owners will have you arrested as a public nuisance. The library is your friend. Someone had a really good day potty training? Celebrate with the library. You're trying to make up for a morning stuck on the phone paying bills? Treat your kid to the library. You barely survived shots at the doctor? The library will make it all better.

And if all else fails, convince them that reading will get them out of eating their vegetables at dinner. You never know. It might work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Done and done and done...ish.

There is nothing quite like that feeling at the end of a long day when everything is finally finished.

The kids are tucked in bed, and sleep is imminent.

Littles and his new garden.
My version of a field trip.

The dishes are washed, the table is wiped, and the floor is swept (however haphazardly).

The toys are picked up except for the loan whiffle ball that seems to have taken up residence in the kitchen. The bathtub has been drained, and the towels hung by their monster hoods on the back of the door. The twenty gazillion cough drops Bruiser exploded all over the master bedroom have been returned to their crinkly ziplock bag.

There are few things more helpful than Bee sitting on clean, damp laundry
...with the dog leash.

The door to the dog's food has been reopened and the door to the kitty litter. The laundry Bee dumped has been refolded and returned to the laundry basket which will double as a chest of drawers for another couple days (let's not get too crazy). The dirty diapers have all made their way to their respective trash cans.

Day one of potty training has gone swimmingly. Cough syrup has been doled out lovingly. Phonics lessons get a check mark for the day.

The twins who ride together stay together.

Everything is done, and the couch awaits, and a very large cup of tea...and maybe some chocolate...and the knowledge that the Man will be home if he ever finishes his paper and he will applaud my awesomeness and it. will. be. so.

Peanut butter and jelly face.

And then I remember...

that Tiny used the baby potty one last time while I was putting the twins in bed, and it needs to be emptied and wiped out. Which isn't a big deal (nowhere near as big a deal as the time he lit a muffin on fire in the microwave during the twins' bed time) until I discover...

that he clogged the big person toilet with what appears to be literally an entire roll of toilet paper.

Yeah, laugh all you like...
{don't judge my bookshelves: the twins are expert rippers}

There's nothing quite like that feeling either.

But I will prevail. I will also get very familiar with our plunger.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Stroller-Walking: the Littles Version

The Little Man has discovered chapter books.

Well, let me clarify. He has not so much discovered chapter books (this year I've force fed him Mr Popper's Penguins and Farmer Boy, oh, and Mary Poppins and now The Little Prince) as he has discovered that he loves chapter books. And when I say "loves", I really mean that he is showing signs of a genetic disposition towards a reading addiction.

It was sure to crop up sooner or later.

He had it coming from both sides of the family.

The culprit was My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. And it was aided and abetted by Mommy's love of reading out loud and Bruiser's stomach bug. If you're wondering what Bruiser's stomach bug has to do with it, the answer is that while he was sick, we had 4 wonderful days of sleep. The first two while he was feverish and vomiting were not so restful, but after that, he had an extreme break in personality and was going to bed at six, only waking up once a night, and taking naps that lasted longer than 45 minutes.

It was fairly surreal. And it gave me a lot of time to read to the boys.

It also gave me a lot of time to sit on the front porch and watch the sunset while eating chocolate cupcakes. True story. That's not the point.

Anyway, the first night that we sat down to read My Father's Dragon, after the cupcakes and the sunset and the pajamaing and the brushing of the teeth, we read the whole book. No joke. I mean, it's not hugely long, eighty pages or so, but that's a lot for a five and three year old. And they were riveted!

Then it just so happened that I'd gotten the book I got also contained books two and three (this seems more confusing than it really is). So the next day the boys were hounding me to read it to them, but the twins were fussy and it just wasn't going to fly. I suggested to the boys that we take the dog for a walk and get the twins out of the germ infested house, so we loaded up the stroller and went out to enjoy the sunshine together, bringing the book along...just in case we got a chance to read. Well, the Little Man conned me into reading while we walked the dog. Seriously. I'm sure we looked like even more of a circus than usual.

I don't do as much stroller-reading as I did when Alex was a baby. Something about twins and maniacs on bicycles and a crazy four-legged canine.

Then we dropped the dog off at home and went to play in the field next to our house, and by play I mean, I sat on the quilt and finished reading book two out loud.

The next day was full of doctors appointments...which was super fun. There is nothing more enjoyable than taking four kids and a ginormous double stroller and cramming everyone into a tiny, sweltering hospital room. Some days I think back fondly on the time when I could sit for hours in waiting rooms, blissfully reading, all by myself... I think I must've been thinking back to those fond memories when I tucked My Father's Dragon in the diaper bag.

And then Littles found it. And hounded me mercilessly until I read it to him. Even though I was desperately trying to fill out new patient paperwork while still shoving half a stale belVita cracker in the general direction of the twins who were having a yelling contest. Ever resourceful, I told Littles that if I could finish the paperwork and he could get the twins happy, I'd read.

We knocked out two chapters.

I'm making him take book three a little more slowly. I know that crash after binging on the written word. May he experience it more gently than I do.

A few side notes: 
  • I hate book jackets; I hate them even more when libraries tape them so that you can't see the maps on the inside covers of fantasy novels. 
  • Littles' nose is green in the first picture because of sidewalk chalk. More on this later.
  • Blurry pictures are entirely my fault. I'm still trying to figure out the new camera. Expect me to take a while. Nice cameras and grabby handed toddlers do not mix well.
  • There is photographic evidence of both me and the Man on multiple Christmases and birthdays with our noses stuck in books. Family gatherings are fun when we're around.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Family Mottos and Over Reacting

Does anybody remember this clip from The Office where Andy loses his temper and punches a wall?

Who am I kidding? Everyone remembers that part. I'm pretty sure the Man watched it on repeat one week, laughing until he cried. Since then, it's become a catch phrase in our family.

So this week when I had to change Tiny's diaper and he dissolved into a puddle of tears while screaming hysterically, I turned to the Man, lifted my eyebrow, and said, "That was an over reaction." And we both had a good laugh. Which was nice, because sometimes Tiny's three year old-ness just makes me want to pull my hair out, not laugh. And that's not good because honestly, there's not a lot of hair left on my head thanks to Bruiser. That kid has grabby hands.

Then a couple hours later, when Littles stubbed his toe and screamed bloody murder, all the Man and I had to do was look at each other and we knew that the other one was thinking: That was an over reaction. And nothing makes me happier than an inside joke with my husband, so that was nice too.

It worked again when Bee pitched a fit over not getting Tiny's germ infested water bottle. Tiny has a stomach bug--I would prefer him not to share said bug with anyone other than Bruiser, who gave it to him originally. Bee doesn't care. All water bottles should be hers, except for the one I actually gave her.

And then when I lost my temper at an unnamed child for flooding the bathroom and busted out the classic "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?!" before I remembered that three year olds don't always really think, I thought, "See? That was an over reaction too."

And then when Bruiser shrieked hysterically because he wanted... oh, I don't remember, but something, which is typical... I realized that almost everything in our family is an over reaction these days so...

All that to say, our new family motto is: That was an Over Reaction.

Other people can have more sophisticated family mottos, you know, family mottos that actually inspire a family to greatness or kindness or spiritual growth, but for now, this works for us. All we need is the ability to laugh and regain perspective when what we really want is to pack the kids in a box and mail them to Nana.

Which would be, as you know, an over reaction.

I think I'm going to cross-stitch our new motto, possibly accompanied with a made up family crest, and hang it over our imaginary mantle.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nocturnal Twins and Other Blurbs

Normally I get asked if my boy/girl twins are fraternal or identical. Yes. True story. But today, I had my favorite twin moment (possibly ever) when I got asked if the twins are nocturnal.

Why, yes. Yes, they are.

You know that wonderful moment when you slip between smooth, cool sheets at the end of a long day? I get that moment multiple times a night! So does the Man! It's super fun.

Okay, that was a slight exaggeration. Things on the sleep front are improving (you really want to know this, don't you?), and we have even had two dinners in a row where everyone ate well, there was no screaming involved, and the Man and I were actually able to have an adult conversation. It was a minor miracle!

In all that, I've just been having some great moments with the kids lately, and I wanted to share a few of them with their adoring public. 
  • Tiny and Littles love the trash truck. We did hardly any Christmas baking this year, but the trash guys got a loaf of pumpkin bread. That says about everything you need to know. But this morning I found Tiny in his room carrying on a full conversation with the trash truck, not the trash guys but the actual truck, who is evidently now called, wait for it, "Trashy". 
  • The twins wore long-sleeved white t-shirts today. Then I fed them strawberries for breakfast. And pizza for lunch. And hamburger pot pie for dinner. And by the end of the day they could've doubled for Jackson Pollock paintings.
  • Yesterday I came downstairs after tucking in Bruiser for naps to find Bee playing gleefully in the middle of a sizable puddle while Tiny cheerily chucked cupfuls of water from the sink in a creative attempt to turn our dining room into a water park. The peals of laughter pouring out of Littles stopped abruptly so that he could professionally lay blame on Tiny. My kids could write the book on birth order.
  • Me: Tiny, you have Littles' helmet on backwards. Tiny: I can do what I want. Me, internally: yup, sounds about right.
  • Littles told me the other day that the honey dripping down the side of the honey bottle looked like the sun setting into the bay. I'm going to keep that kid.

    Aren't kids great? At the very least I think mine are. And sometimes I even think that at other times during the day than just after they've fallen asleep. I'm sure the harbor seals think their new pups are just as awesome, but they are wrong. Although the way they inchworm their blubbery bodies up on land is super adorable. I wonder if I could teach that to the twins?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Book-Fountain of Youth

A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.
-C. S. Lewis

The Man caught me reading Gordan Korman's The Zucchini Warriors this weekend, and he may or may not have made some teasing comments about adults who read children's books. Amen to that. I love reading children's books, and I plan to continue doing so for the rest of my life. Right now I get to enjoy reading them to my own kids, but I've been haunting the children's book section of libraries and bookstores for years and anticipate doing so for many more years.

Let's talk about why. Why do I read children's books? and why do you (ostensibly) read children's books too? I'm obviously capable of reading and appreciating more adult fare. Last week I got my Hemingway on quite adequately. I even finished reading The Sun Also Rises en route to the library while carrying on a somewhat comprehensible conversation with the Man (he was driving, luckily for everyone else on the road). Still, three out of the five books I got for myself in this library batch would be termed as children's lit. Why?

I read children's books because I love them. They remind me of so many beautiful things we grasp as kids that get swept under the rug as adults, although I do admit that there are beautiful things I grasp as an adult that my kids miss. Sleep comes to mind. And coffee. Anyway, I'm reading The Little Prince right now with Littles and Tiny. We're only four chapters in, but I'm already thinking about what kind of an adult I've become. Would I see a hat or a boa constrictor digesting an elephant? I'm also thinking about tiny sheep and whether or not numbers are very important. These are beautiful thoughts to challenge my mind and heart.

I read children's books because they make me laugh and do so without any other agenda. There's nothing like a good old Macdonald Hall riot complete with Miss Scrimmage accidentally shooting something while protecting her "innocent" girls from the shenanigans of Bruno and Boots. Zucchini sticks and Manchurian bush hamsters! Everyone needs more of that in their life. Thanks, Gordan Korman for years of fun reading about a Canadian boarding school.

I read children's books because I like strong heroines (or heroes) and poignant story lines, and the best children's books include these. I reread Susan Fletcher's Shadow Spinner this weekend and slipped back into the world of Shahrazad, where words hold the difference between life and death and forgiveness costs something. True children's literature can and should portray clear cut right and wrong without becoming a morality tale. Too much of our "adult literature" these days has lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. We think ourselves too complex for such simplicity. Children know better. They know the importance of a good guy and a good ending.

I read children's books because I want to understand my kids better, but here's the thing: children's books are written by adults trying to remember what it was like to be a kid. So I read slowly and try to pay attention, and when I'm reading out loud to my kids, I do my best to listen to what is resonating with them, what makes them laugh, what makes them want to keep reading. Although sometimes they just want me to keep reading so they don't have to go to bed.

I read children's books because they're fun and sometimes terribly strange (I just finished reading Mary Poppins to the boys), and we all need a little fun in our lives and we definitely need a little strangeness to wake us up from the stupor of normality.

There are so many wonderful reasons to dip into children's literature and so many great books to explore once we're there. I'm sure you have your favourite children's books and your reasons why you love them too, and that's important. That matters. As long as we maintain some ability to pinpoint what it was we loved as a child and why, we can maintain that aspect of ourselves in some small way. Think of it, perhaps, as a fountain of youth. You may end up with a few more laugh lines, but your soul will still remember how it felt to be five and reading about the mysterious Mary Poppins for the first time, eight and discovering the Little Prince, ten and spinning tales with Shahrazad and Marjan, twelve and laughing until you cried with Bruno and Boots.

So: hi, my name is Marian, and I read children's books.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Birthday Message

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite people in the world: my middle sister, Amanda. It's not her birthday any more on her side of the world, and it's barely her birthday on this side, and since the day's not getting any younger, I'm going to keep this short and simple, a few birthday wishes and some pictures of the kids. And for those of you wondering, I'm putting this on the blog instead of just in a private email because I'm too lazy to upload the photos twice, and I know everyone needs a little cuteness in their lives.

Amanda, thanks for passing on your dreamboat eyelashes to your Smig. I love that when I look at them, they remind me of you.

This is what Tiny thinks about you not sharing your birthday cake. Me too. I'm pretty sure you taught him this face, by the way.

The Little Man brought you a birthday flower. He's sad he can't deliver it in person.

Bee was working on a smile, but really, her look of consternation is more appropriate: Auntie! Why did you leave me!

Bruiser (and all his bruises) misses you and sends you lots of birthday love. Accompanied by loud shrieking.

{Even the dog says happy birthday.}

Bee wanted to show Auntie her new walking skills and also that she is now as awesome as the big boys because she can lug a metal bat around and get it in and out of the stroller basket with aplomb. Also, and you can't tell here, but she's wearing overalls under her jacket. That was just for you. And then I ruined it with the jacket. I'm SORRY!

And Littles wanted you to see him riding his bike like a boss. He did this just for your birthday. Think of it as a present you get nothing out of but that he can really enjoy.

And lastly, Tiny, making yet another face. He loves you. 

Me too, Amanda. Me too. Happy birthday.