Friday, October 29, 2010

We've got spirit, yes we do!

We've got spirit, how 'bout you?!

It's been exactly two years since I first posted about some of our challenges with parenting an intense child, aka Nathan. There have of course been many highs and lows since then, and today I'd like to share more of our story, along with insights from a book I just read.

During their recent visit, my mom and dad saw firsthand some of the challenges we've been dealing with, and upon returning home, my mom told a co-worker that we have our hands full with Nathan. As my mom explained more details, the co-worker said she was reminded of her daughter, and she recommended that I look into this book.

From the first page, the book (which is nearly 500 pages!) was very compelling to me. I want so much to understand Nathan and to parent him effectively. The author defines a spirited child as a child who is "more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic," and I would say that all of those words apply to Nathan!

I could totally relate in the introduction when I read about sliding from joy to exasperation in seconds, ten times a day. And unfortunately, I could also relate to the list of reactions many parents feel when responding to a spirited child: fear, confusion, resentment, shame, embarassment, exhaustion, and anger. The book said that spirited kids are that way from the beginning; that even as infants, they are determined and strong. Nathan was definitely born intense. I well remember his loud and sometimes incessant wails in the hospital and beyond!

This book helps you to identify and understand your child's temperament, as well as your own. There is an inventory where you can rate your child and then yourself on 9 different traits of spirited individuals. It then puts you in one of 3 categories: low-key, spunky, or spirited. My score for Nathan put him on the low end of the "spirited" category, which did not surprise me. After reading the book, I realized there must be many kids who are several notches higher than him on some of the traits. When I took the test for myself, I was smack-dab in the middle of the spunky category, and Eric, as expected, landed in the laidback category. I'm not sure what I think of being called spunky, though I have to admit the shoe fit when reading the description. =)
Some other thoughts and notes from the book:

Nathan is who he is, and God created him to be a unique individual. This book reminded me that I can work with him instead of against him. One of the suggestions in the book is to look at traits in a positive light, instead of always thinking of them negatively. For example, intense can also mean enthusiastic or determined, and sensitive can be re-phrased as tenderhearted. The book also mentioned that many of the traits which may exasperate us in young children are often seen as desirable traits in adults. I've had two different moms tell me that they had a son with a similar temperament as Nathan, and as they became older (about upper-elementary), these spirited children blossomed into responsible, conscientious young men. That is so encouraging!

Nathan's intensity is often quite challenging to me, as he has strong and often surprising reactions to lots of different situations. As the author says, "Managed well, intensity allows spirited children a depth and delight of emotion rarely experienced by others. But it can also wreak havoc." I also appreciated this quote: "Remind yourself that your child is losing it because he is intense, not because you are a bad parent. Gradually, with maturity and good instruction from you, the frequency and volume of the outbursts will diminish." The author suggests providing activities that soothe and calm, helping the child talk about their frustration, and teaching them to problem solve. I have been trying to apply these suggestions, including saying in a difficult moment to Nathan, "I am listening and I want to understand what you're thinking." It's been met with varied effectiveness, but at least I feel that I have some new techniques to try.

Like his mother, ahem, Nathan struggles with change. The book defines transition as "a change or passage from one place, action, mood, topic, or thing to another." I totally got it when the author said that "Disappointment hits spirited kids hard, because it's actually a transition." The positive is that Nathan and I both have high expectations, but that can obviously lead to being easily disappointed.

I liked this advice for preventing tantrums: 1. Tell your child what he did well, 2. Teach him responsibility, 3. Bring closure to the tantrum (give a hug and move on), and 4. Prepare for next time by sharing expectations and offering alternative responses. Good ideas, though often easier said then done in my case!

I loved the thought of teaching Nathan how to be successful, how to problem solve and make wise choices, rather than "making him" behave or even just surviving. I also needed to be reminded to make an effort to see situations from his point of view.

One of our biggest daily battles, which is shocking and frustrating to me now that Nathan is almost 4, is getting dressed each morning. The book had a specific section addressing that, which made me feel better. I'm not the only one whose child throws a fit every morning when it's time to change clothes--even when it's his idea?! Nathan waffles between wanting to put on his clothes himself (but lacking full coordination to do so, particularly shirts), and not even wanting to try. I liked the suggestion to break tasks into steps that can be successfully accomplished, and also to compromise by saying, "You put on one sock, and I'll do the other." (If any of you have tips in this area, other than let him stay in pajamas all day long, I'm all ears!)

I think this statement is true of most children, and perhaps even many adults. "Spirited kids save their biggest battles for their parents because they're most comfortable with you." We see this on a regular basis. Nathan will be quite pleasant when interacting with someone else, and then "turns on a dime" when I enter the picture. For example, he went with a friend to the zoo a couple of weeks ago, and had a wonderful time. We were anxious to see him and hear about his day, but the very first thing he did upon entering the house was throw himself on the kitchen floor and start whining. Of course, tiredness is a factor in this and perhaps other situations, but it is still tricky to navigate!

In closing, I found this book to be insightful and encouraging, and my heart swelled with the final paragraph: "Spirited kids are like roses--they need more attention than other flowers, having to be pruned and guided in their growth. And sometimes you have to get past the thorns to truly enjoy their beauty."

Of course, all kids (and parents!) are different, and on their own journey of learning. I write this post to share from my own experience, and also to hopefully encourage some of you who may find yourselves caring for a child who is spirited.

I want to mention that this book is written from a secular perspective, so while it offered encouragement and insight, I look most to the Lord who promises that if any of us lack wisdom and we ask Him for it, He will supply it generously. (James 1:5)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Waiting room

I can't believe it's been two weeks since my last post, but we've had some extra stuff going on! I was in charge of a community event sponsored by MOPS this past weekend, and the details for that have kept me quite busy. I'm also once again doing some part-time work for the college, and am still trying to find my new rhythm with adding that to everything else.

I'm working on a more extensive post for later this week, but I wanted to check in and also to share this beautiful new song I heard at a Bible study I'm attending. Listen and be blessed!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

38 special

I can't help myself. I love a clever blog title. This one makes me smile because Eric turned 38 last weekend, and we had a special day, but it's funny to me because those of you older than me (hee hee) may remember that it's the name of a popular 80's band. And at Eric's party Saturday night, I thought it would be fun to play some of his favorites from that decade, including Genesis and Boston.
In the morning, I made his traditional breakfast in bed: apple pancakes. I'm not a fan of egg dishes, so this is not my favorite, but I happily made one for him, and one for the kids to share. Here's the recipe, courtesy of Eric's mom:
Apple pancake
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. flour
3 beaten eggs
1 tsp. sugar
dash salt
1 large or 2 small apples, peeled and sliced
brown sugar
Mix together milk, flour, eggs, sugar and salt. Cook apples in microwave until tender. Butter cake pan on sides and bottom. Spread apples in pan, and pour batter over them. Bake in a 500 degree oven for 20 minutes until batter gets puffy and browned. Turn upside down onto an ovenproof pie plate. Dot with butter, and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Return to oven for 5 minutes to melt. Serve immediately.

Later in the day, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather by going to the local pumpkin patch. I thought this painted haybale was so cute!
In the evening, Eric and I went out for supper at a new Chinese buffet, which was delicious. Then after the kids were in bed, we had several friends over to play games. The highlight is that I was chosen to be a host of a Chex Mix MyGetTogether party, so most of the snacks were provided! The company sent me three yummy flavors to try (traditional, turtle and honey nut) and they were all devoured. We had a great time, and I appreciate the chance to participate in this program.

I couldn't decide which picture to post from our gathering: the one where my friend blinked, or the one where my brother-in-law is reaching for someone else's plate. Nice! I'll post them both, just for kicks. There you have it, friends, my husband's "38 special" birthday.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10 on the 10th: memory songs

Most of us, especially those of us who love music, associate certain songs with a specific time, place, or person. The songs on the list below are not necessarily favorites, but moreso songs that I attach an important memory to. Here in chronological order, are ten of my memory songs:

1. You're the Only Little Girl by Steve and Annie Chapman: This is the first song I remember performing in church with my dad. For many years, we used sign language to "sing" songs we lived in the church I grew up in. He signed this song at my wedding 15 years later.

2. The Warrior is a Child by Twila Paris: I remember saving up my money to buy this cassette tape at The Lord's Vineyard Christian bookstore. For a few of my young years, I wanted to be a contemporary Christian singer like Twila, and I even wrote her a letter when I was probably about 10. I still have the reply I received, even though it was pretty generic!

3. Colorado Christmas by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Thank God for Kids by The Oak Ridge Boys, and the entire Muppet Christmas Album--fond memories of decorating the tree and quiet Christmases at home with our family.

4. Wait for the Sun by PFR: In high school, I would put this song on repeat as I was getting ready in the morning, and there was a particular line I would wait for and sing with extra gusto.

5. Worlds Apart by Jars of Clay: Still love this beautiful song, and I have many memories of playing it, including college and the summer I spent in France.

6. Betterman by Pearl Jam: How many times did I or my college friends belt out this song when we were having boy troubles? Too many to count.

7. Calling the Moon by Richard Shindell: This little story is so funny to me, looking back. Shortly after my college graduation, and before Eric and I really knew each other or had a spark, I was living with a family we were both close to. One day when I was home alone, I was belting out this song while washing dishes in the kitchen. From the window I saw Eric walking past, and I quickly turned down my volume. I found out later the windows had been open, and he'd heard my impromptu concert anyway! Of course he's heard me sing many times since. =)

8. Somewhere North by Caedmon's Call: This is another connecting song with my dad. It's a poignant song, emphasized to us by the fact that for 13 of the last 14 years I've lived in Iowa, "somewhere north" of my parents.

9. The Other Side of Me by Michael W. Smith: During our engagement, we listened to many songs in consideration of what I would walk down the aisle to. I didn't want something classical, so we listened to lots of other possibilities. When I heard this song, I could picture the scene, and we came up with a unique arrangement for "revealing" me and making our way down the aisle.

10. Lead Me by Sanctus Real: For the past several months, Eric (a lot) and I (a little) have been walking alongside a dear family experiencing brokenness. Every time this song comes on the radio, my heart and mind immediately goes to them. If you haven't listened to it before, I encourage you to do so.

So there you have it--ten songs with powerful memory associations. For more random lists, head over to Mer's.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Good reads

*The winner of the planner is Michelle--thanks to all who entered!*

Inspired by this post, I went to the library and checked out a couple of books about books, including this one and this one. =) I'm always looking for book recommendations for my kiddos, so these were definitely a helpful resource.

We're still working through the list I made, but here are some of the latest winning reads in our house:

Olivia by Ian Falconer (We've only had this book for two weeks and Nathan's already memorized it and loves "reading" it to anyone who will listen.)

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John V. Lord (A childhood favorite that I still love to read!)

All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant

Fun Dog, Sun Dog by Deborah Heiligman

The Little School Bus by Carol Roth (Very cute, and fun rhymes.)

Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson (We love everything by this author!)

The Sandwich Swap by Jordan's Queen Rania Al Abdullah (Wonderful lesson about cultural differences--as well as similarities!)

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman (Have picky kids? This will give them some food for thought!)

Mrs. Wishy-Washy books by Joy Cowley (These books crack Nathan up!)

There you go--9 new book suggestions for preschoolers. Happy reading!

Note: If you plan to purchase these books (or anything else) on-line via Amazon, would you consider clicking through the links on my site? I earn a small percentage each time a purchase is made via my blog. I'm committed to not posting ads here, but since I recommend a lot of books, this program seemed like a good fit for me. Also, you should be aware that Amazon has a fabulous new incentive for parents and other caregivers--if you sign up here, you'll receive free 2-day shipping on all your purchases for 3 months!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Linkadoos and other misc.

Lots of random stuff to share today.

First, I wanted to recommend a couple blog posts to you:

*I really enjoyed this article (and series) on being a steady mom. My favorite excerpt: "My number one tip for balancing it all is to prioritize the things that are most important to you. I call these things your pressure points, and whether it's making the bed, cleaning up the dirty dishes, wiping the bathroom or something else, knowing which chores have the biggest effect on how you're able to handle everything else is an important part of creating routines and prioritizing your to-do list to make sure those things get done first."

*Are You Making Your To Do List Too Hard? My favorite excerpt: "I can’t look at just one task without seeing everything related to it. It feels like my mind is covered with post-it notes all the time. I might look at one, and all the rest will be right there. (Yes, thinking about all the things to do can be overwhelming to the point of feeling paralyzed or making me want to hide.)"

Second, I want to ask for your input:

*Eric and I just signed up for a 3-month Netflix subscription wewere given for Christmas last year. (Thanks, Monica!) We don't have a very long list of ones we want to see, so we'd welcome your suggestions. To give you an idea of the kinds of movies I/we like, here are the varied titles currently in our queue: Babies, Temple Grandin, Inception, and Ramona and Beezus. To return the favor, I want to recommend one I found from perusing the Netflix catalog. I thought this film was delightful, heartfelt and thought-provoking!

*Have any of you ever signed up for one of those auto-filler forms when signing up for freebies, etc.? I read about them here, but am not sure if they're effective--and secure in terms of information sharing.

Third, I want to announce a couple things (No, I'm not pregnant!):

*I need to be open and honest about something: I have never made a successful lasagna. There. I said it. I've tried several different recipes over the years, and I've tried the old-school noodles and the no boiling kind. Every time, without fail, the dish is either crunchy (eww!) or runny (embarassing when served to guests). So I just want to put it out there: lasagna has now officially joined pancakes and sewing on my list of domestic fears and failures. No need to feel sorry for me, and I admit I don't even want links to your own successful lasagna recipes. I'm OK retiring this dish at least for now! =)

*Last, but not, least a giveaway! I've been using this brand of planner for several years now and love them. (I recently had an unpleasant experience with their customer service department, but I still like their products!) I have an extra planner to give away (style can be seen on above link) and would love to share it with one of you. To enter, just leave a comment on this post, making sure I have a way to contact you either via email, blog or both. (US and Canada addresses only, please.) I will draw a winner first thing Friday morning. Have a great week!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Blast from the Past

Shortly before my parents' recent trip here, my mom called and said they found some more of my stuff in their storage shed. I was quite surprised, as I thought we'd gone through everything already. Let me just say: being a packrat is a lot of work. I don't know how much time has been invested into storing and sorting these random pieces of memorabilia!

Some of what they brought was full of fun and delight for me, bringing back many happy memories. Some examples were beloved dolls and stuffed animals, as well as a pair of "books" I wrote when I was 8 years old that I assumed I'd tossed out at some point. What a hoot to re-read them last week!
Can I get a shout-out for (fake) Cabbage Patch Dolls and Rainbow Brite (whose green friend's name I can't quite recall)?! Here they are, accompanied by another favorite doll, Kimberly. I had to laugh when I saw the fruity outfit "Amy" is wearing, because that's the same material my mom used to make me a sweatshirt back in the day, and I used to wear it with rainbow-striped legwarmers! (I wore that ensemble once in a family photo, and Monica was not pleased! I looked for that picture to share with you, but couldn't find it. Whew!)

Other things they brought elicited the "Why on earth have I kept this so long?" response. Sample items include every paper I wrote my freshman year of college, high school book reports, and all of my paperwork from student teaching. I came across textbooks, report cards, and dozens of journals. Many items went to the recycle bin, a few were suitable for thrifting, and of course there were many things I wasn't ready to part with--at least not yet.

I'm obviously a saver by nature, but I also don't like clutter--an interesting combination! So where do you fall on the toss it/keep it continuum?