Cabin Fever

I’m not going to be that mom who complains about having her kids home for snow days. I’m not going to mention how they start the day getting along and doing for each other and, by lunchtime, it’s like we’re in a psychological experiment to see how long it takes to break the human spirit. I half expect to stumble upon scientists in lab coats making notes on clipboards as they watch us through two-way mirrors.


It would do no good to describe the piles of wet, snow-crusted clothes and gloves and boots and scarves sitting in puddles all over the house from their 15-minute excursions outside. And I’m too big a person to dwell on the stacks of dirty dishes and glasses from them eating all day long. I mean, I want my babies to eat, preferably something with vitamins since we’re on the road to contracting rickets with all these consecutive days indoors without sunshine. These kids are just so precious, even if their baked-on oatmeal bowls and microwave popcorn bags are not.


I refuse to speak of how difficult it is to get anything done around here. Each time I sit down to work on the laptop or fold laundry (while watching TV alone), someone is in my room asking me to make a quesadilla or drive them to a snowy hill or asking me for the 100th time if I think school will be cancelled again tomorrow.


At some point of nearly every Facebook post about kids home for these snow days, you see something related to eating: hot cocoa or snow cream mostly. But my snow day snack of choice is less adorable. The idea of going back to the post-apocalyptic experience that is the grocery store is truly abhorrent to me. Instead, I head to the kitchen pantry and take out every chip or cracker bag with a handful of half-bites left at the bottom and eat them like a hungry squirrel storing away food for the rest of winter. I rifle through the Halloween candy and re-evaluate the rejects: Maybe I don’t hate Whoppers as much I remember? Would a chocolate Laffy Taffy really be that bad?


No. You won’t hear this mom complain about snow days because I am trying to see these days as opportunities. A chance to snuggle with my African-born son who needs extra hugs to warm up. A chance to observe my twin daughters watch TV and laugh instead of studying and running around to all their various high school activities. A chance to hang out with my nearly teenaged son as we cook together and play games.


I know I shouldn’t complain because what I’ve received this last week would be a gift to working parents who would love to spend time with their kids instead of skidding their way to work. So I’ll just say that I have (mostly) loved these snow days, but I’m truly grateful for sunshine.

Yeah. I’ve done a little modeling…

When Ezra, our African-born son, was struggling with his new language last year, we signed him up for speech lessons. At first it was difficult to determine if his issues were basic language acquisition (getting his words) or physically articulating them (saying his words) or both or something else entirely. We needed help!


His speech lessons were a worthwhile way to spend all those mornings last spring. Not only did he get hours of focused attention for his speech issues, but I also got a sounding board for many of my questions. For instance, I solicited their professional opinions as to how often I should correct Ezra’s verbal mistakes.


By the time we started the lessons Ezra had been in America for about a year, so it wasn’t that he was having a hard time speaking English. He was naturally replacing Lingala words (his native language) with English words. The last holdouts were words like lipa (bread), bongo (others), minga (thinking? We were never 100% sure about that one but he said it often).


His most consistent errors were things like leaving out words or ungrammatical subject/verb agreement or incorrectly using pronouns. In other words, he sounded like a caveman. So I asked the director of the speech clinic if I should correct him when he used “me” instead of “I” as the subject (Me sad. Me sleepy. Me lovee bacon.) because he did it constantly and I didn’t have the heart (or the stamina) to tell him he was wrong all day long. She said that I should model the appropriate pronoun and he would catch on eventually.


That day when we got home from speech, as if on cue, Ezra said, “Mom, me hungry.” Remembering what the director told me, I said, “Ezra, I am hungry.” He paused for half a second and said, “Well, eat something.”


Modeling the behavior we would like to see in our kids is often easier said than done. It takes consistency and thoughtful introspection and time. I feel confident that Ezra will eventually use the correct pronoun when he’s referring to himself, though it hasn’t happened yet.


But it isn’t just parents who are role models and it isn’t just kids who need them. Moms of Newborns need the advice of Empty Nesters. Pre-teens need Responsible High School Seniors to look up to. Newly Hired Employees need Seasoned Veterans to guide them through the first months of a new job.


To put it plainly, most everyone can be a role model to someone else. Look around and see if anyone is looking up to you. You might be surprised (or even a little scared) to know that others are watching and taking mental notes. Be the leader they deserve.

Volunteering at the Book Fair

Earlier this month, I volunteered at my son’s elementary school Book Fair. Since I haven’t worked retail in 20 years, this felt like I was playing store. But working the cash register (while narrating my every move: “press taxable sale, scan item, hit okay…”) wasn’t my only volunteer requirement.


When a class came in, we would help them fill out their wish lists. Some kids—namely kindergarteners and first graders—had a hard time differentiating between making a wish list and making a purchase. Sometimes they thought they should be able take the book home once I wrote it down for them even though there had been no cash transaction.


This was just one instance of a series I should call “Kids Don’t Understand Commerce.” For example, one boy brought three books to the cash register and handed me a $20 bill. I scanned his books and gave him his change: $1.64. He was thrilled that he received what looked like more than what he gave me—one piece of paper exchanged for a piece of paper and 7 coins. Before heading back to class, he looked behind me at a display of bookmarks and asked if he could get one of those, too. With tax, the bookmark was 55 cents. I scanned it and asked him to hand me two quarters and one dime. “Why?” he asked as he protectively clutched his handful of change. “Because you have to pay for the bookmark,” I answered. “But I won’t have as much money,” he protested. “That’s what paying for things is, buddy. Hey, I’ll give you a nickel back.” He reluctantly agreed and probably went on to sign up for a credit card with an astronomically high interest rate.


And don’t get me started on sales tax. It’s bad enough that the kids can barely find the tiny price of the books on the back corner, but when it comes to adding sales tax, they look at me like I’m a total scam artist. This was a normal scenario from Book Fair Week:

ME: Here’s the price…$4.99

KID: Good. I have $4.

ME: Well, $4.99 is really $5.

KID: So, I need another dollar?

ME: Actually you need like $1.50 more because of the tax.

KID: Tax?

ME: Yeah, it’s about a 10 cents for every dollar.

KID: Why?

ME: Tax is for…well, we use money collected from taxes for… (reaching in my pocket) here’s some money. Go get your book.


There were some money savvy kids coming through the Book Fair. A couple of sisters came in to shop together. Their mom sent $22, instructing them each to spend $10 with the rest to go for that crazy sales tax. The younger sister brought two books to the counter, totaling $9.98 (before tax) and the older sister brought one book which cost $9.99 (also before tax). Older Sister said, “Go put one of your books back. You can’t have two.” Younger Sister didn’t like that idea. I asked Older Sister what her plans were for the leftover money. “I want to get two books,” she whispered confidentially. Unbeknownst to her I am aware of the wily ways of an older sister, so I instructed Younger Sister to bring her two books to me. I checked her out and she went back to class (grinning triumphantly), leaving Older Sister with her $11 to spend. Older Sister learned not to mess with a Book Fair Volunteer. We don’t play.


I enjoy working at the Book Fair. It’s not because I get to play store and it’s definitely not because I get to do math in my head. I like it because it involves two of my favorite things—kids and books. I like seeing their excitement when they get to buy the book they picked out. I like hearing them tell me about their favorite characters and series and the kinds of books they like the best. Kids and books make for a pretty magical combination.

No Fair!

This morning my 6-year old Ezra woke up on the grumpy side of the bottom bunk. In his defense, it was a dark, rainy Monday, and none of us were really thrilled about the 6:30 am wake-up call. But as the morning progressed, there was a definite theme to his dialogue.


When I grabbed a pair of socks to give to his older brother Knox (Knox has a broken ankle, otherwise he’d be getting his own socks), Ezra said, “No fair! Knox has undies and socks in the same drawer! Why can’t my socks and undies be together?”


I mostly ignored this question due to its absurdity and hustled Ezra to the kitchen. I saw my husband eating what I assumed was a bowl of cereal, and I said, “I thought I used up all the milk last night,” and my husband answered, “This is yogurt.” Then Ezra said, “No fair! Me want milk!” To which I replied, “But you don’t like milk.” Ezra stomped back to his room in a huff.


After he eventually returned to the kitchen, Ezra overheard me talking to Knox (you know, the favorite child whose undies and socks get to hang out together in the same drawer) asking him if he wanted to bring leftovers in his lunch and warm them up in the cafeteria microwave. “No fair!” Ezra cried, “Why Knox get to use the microwave? Why me no have microwave at my school?!”


And so forth and so on went the morning.


It’s comical to think of his lamenting over such trivial stuff because he’s six and most likely forgot the whole exchange by the time he stepped into his classroom. I wish I could say that 6-year olds were the only ones who flew the “Unfair” banner so carelessly.


As adults, we may not whine over the same topics as children do, but the whining does happen. Claiming “No Fair” often occurs after we unnecessarily compare ourselves to others. “Why does she have that ___________ (insert house, car, weight, clothes, marriage, etc.) and I don’t?! It’s not fair!” Talk about feeling as gloomy as a rainy Monday morning–that line of questioning will ruin anyone’s day.


Other than the negativity these comparisons create, the other travesty is that there really is rampant unfairness in the world. And the people who cry “No Fair” aren’t usually the ones with the most valid reason to say it.


So instead of concentrating on the inconsequential issues that threaten to spoil what could turn out to be the most blessed day you’ll spend on this planet, take advice from the Book of Isaiah and look for ways to help those whose lives truly are unfair.


“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” (NLT) Isaiah 1:17


This morning, as I was walking around the back of the house after watering my flowers, I spied a lonely Cozy Coupe sitting forlornly by our shed, covered in cobwebs with a puddle of rainwater in the seat. For those of you unfamiliar with the Cozy Coupe, it’s a plastic ride-on toy designed to look like a car. Our version is reddish-orange with a yellow top. The front wheels spin 360 degrees (in case your child needs to spin out in some gravel for a quick getaway). It has a steering wheel with a (once functional) horn and a pretend key in the ignition to get the fun started.


I originally bought two of these from a yard sale for my daughters who are nearly 15, so I have no idea how old these cars actually are. My two younger sons have also had their turns with these toys. Where my daughters used the cars to take baby dolls on trips stopping to refill their gas tanks along the way, my sons would sit in the cars at the top of our sloping driveway and ask for a push to go careening down the hill.


This morning, seeing the tiny, pitiful car, I fully realized that we are done with the Cozy Coupes. All four of them are too big for these toys. Their legs are too long to sit comfortably inside. The plastic wheels aren’t designed for their weight. It’s time to move on.


I asked my youngest son Ezra to help me roll these cars, along with an old tricycle, out of the shed and up to the house where we could hose them off and wipe them down. I explained that we would make three signs that said: “FREE” and we would tape them on the toys and put them by the road.


Ezra liked the idea (especially the water hose part) and he started singing a little song: “Gimme money! Oooo! Gimme money! People gimme money for the cars…”


“Ezra,” I said, “We’re giving these away for free. That means they won’t give us any money.”


“No money?” he asked. “Oh. It’s okay.”


We got the cars and bike ready and we pulled them down to the grassy strip next to the sidewalk in front of our house. After the toys were situated, Ezra said, “Me sit here when people get the cars. Then I say, ‘Good luck’ and then people leave. It’s okay? You want chair too?”


I took a deep breath. I didn’t really want to sit by the side of the road all morning. Be a fun mom, I told myself. You can unload the dishwasher later. “Okay,” I answered, as we walked back down the driveway to the garage to get a couple of chairs.


Before we had returned to the road, there was a pickup truck pulled up next to the toys and a sedan in the driveway. It literally took 5 minutes for people to notice the FREE stuff we were giving away.


It’s been said that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” I know that this is mostly meant as a warning. It’s advice not to be taken in by scams that are just too good to be true. But there is actually free stuff out there.


There’s grace and love and sunshine. There’s free smiles and there’s free hugs. It is possible to get things for free with no strings attached. And somedays, if you’re really lucky, there’s a FREE Cozy Coupe by the road and a little boy wishing you “Good Luck!”

*Disclaimer: Not actual picture of a Cozy Coupe.

Knowing your audience

I am privileged to spend five hours of most every Tuesday and Thursday with a group of 4- and 5-year olds. I teach preschool at our church and every day is different.

This is my favorite age of human beings. Most are young enough that they haven’t perfected the back talking (aka “Sass-Mouth”) but old enough to take care of bathroom stuff by themselves. It’s a time where anything seems possible for them. Their end of the year goals are things like learning the ABC’s (LMNOP or “ellen limo pea”?) and counting to 20 independently (13, 14, 15, 16 are the stumbling blocks that trip up many a preschooler) and tying their shoes…or at least getting them on the correct feet.

About 20 years ago, my first full-time teaching position was 4-year old kindergarten. I had no kids at home so those 15 students were my kids. There was Luke who tried to convince me that 4 ½ was older than 5 because it took longer to say. There was Seth who made it difficult to determine his dominant hand because he would write the first half of his name (S-E) with his left hand and then switch his pencil to write the second half (T-H) with his right. And I could never forget Hunter. He made up a song called “God Killed All the Dinosaurs” and sang it for the class, encouraging us to all jump in for the chorus.

I kept a Mason jar on my desk and I would add marbles to the jar when the class was especially well-behaved. A full jar bought them a popsicle party. After a drought of marble-adding I asked the class, “What kinds of things will get marbles for the jar?”

Hunter answered, “If we pick our nose but don’t eat the boogers?” I didn’t see that one coming.

Those students from my first class are grown now but my current class is still full of surprises, like yesterday when they pretended that the robot lacing cards were cell phones and they walked around our classroom looking for a place to charge them.

My job is still to figure out what in the world they’re talking about.

One day before Thanksgiving, when the weather was warm enough for outside recess, they ran out the door saying, “Let’s play T.J. Maxx!” How does one play a game inspired by a low-cost clothing and home goods retailer? Upon further inspection, I realized (okay…my kids told me) that there’s a TV show called P.J. Masks. Totally different.

In the first few weeks of school, I intervened in an argument about one student’s lunch item, a turkey roll-up sandwich. Here’s the dialogue:

Girl: “It’s not a ballerito!”

Boy: “I know. It’s a burrito.”

Girl: “It’s not a ballerito!!”

Boy: “I know! It’s a burrito!”

It escalated until I could get them understanding the other’s point of view. That’s when I had to say a few sentences I’ve never said before: “You are making her feel sad when you call her sandwich a burrito—which she pronounces ballerito. Please call her sandwich a turkey roll-up or don’t talk about her sandwich at all.” Phew. Everyone stand down. Crisis averted.

Trying to understand kids is often a lot more fun than trying to understand adults. Kids have agendas but they are normally: play more, nap less, eat candy. With adults, it’s usually more difficult to understand what pain or learned habits they’re accessing when they do something unexpected. Unfortunately, kids can also act and speak from a place of great pain but it seems different somehow.

My advice is to try what works for 4-year olds. Sit on the floor right next to them. Pull out a puzzle or read a book or have an imaginary tea party. Get eye-level and try to see things from their perspective, then things might clear up a bit.

Unless it’s Hunter. Then you’re on your own.