Tag Archives: parenthood

One little conversation

When my twitter and facebook feeds erupted rainbows last Friday morning, I sobbed. Then for a solid hour I was glued to the screen, scrolling, “liking” and commenting endlessly to celebrate. I’m a relative newbie to the fight for civil rights, fleeing chains of conservative Christianity in the past two decades, but damn, it still felt amazing to win. How deeply it must have resonated for people who have been denied the right to sit by their loved one’s side in the hospital, listened to decades of hateful slurs, told they were less than, and had their worth questioned. Snot and tear city.

My boys built forts and played with Legos that morning, unaware that lives just changed. I’m trying to capitalize on natural opportunities for conversations about hot-button topics, such as sexuality, race, discrimination and violence, so we chatted over snack. I told the boys about the SCOTUS decision, homophobia, and discrimination. I didn’t use those words. I simplified it. They’re five and eight.

“Some people don’t believe that people who are the same sex should be able to marry. Some people also treat these people really horribly and tell them that they’re not ok as who they are. This has meant all sorts of awful things have happened, including people being bullied, people not being able to support each other in the hospital nor make important decisions together. Now, the government has said that this can’t happen anymore. Anyone who loves each other can get married.”

They’re not surprised by a same sex family. Their community includes a few gay family members and many friends who have parents in same sex marriages. (It’s been legal in Washington State since 2012.) We also have a history of discussions about various family structures. As far as I can tell, my boys think nothing of it. But I wanted them to know that this law was hard won, a HUGE deal, and critically important for many people in our nation.

Because we used to attend church and occasionally still encounter conservative Christian beliefs, I also made sure to specify with them that some Christians will say God doesn’t believe gay people should marry, nor be gay at all. But, Harry and I don’t believe this. We think God cares about loving people and fighting for those who aren’t being loved.

We finished by specifying many of their friends who have same sex parents, our family members who are gay, and I reiterated the fact that now anyone can marry whoever they want in every single state of our nation. That was it. A ten minute discussion over lunch. How much did they process? Who knows. They seemed more interested in their peaches than our talk. It doesn’t matter, though. This isn’t a one time deal. Short, simple discussions will be peppered throughout our life, evolving in complexity as the boys grow.

Later that afternoon, while Charlie and a friend played in the Seattle Center’s International Fountain, I scanned the crowd struck by how many different races were represented around the circle. It hit me that just like I grew up with it legal to play at a park with kids of different colors and found the alternative terrible, my children will look back at the USA prior to this law and rightfully acknowledge how horrible and ridiculous it was that it took us so long.

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I love the rainbow. It is stunning after so much black and white.

Will this decision be among the first dominos that topple the devastating effects of hatred against the LBGTQ community? Will teenagers stop needing to flee home because they know their parents would hate their truth, possibly even beat them for it? Will stories like Matthew Shepherd’s horrid murder become less and less frequent? I believe yes. There will be pockets of hate. The road is long and bumpy, but I believe yes.

My hope and prayer is that if my boys ever hear anything hateful spoken, they will speak up for love. This is an important piece of why we are not silent. We fight discrimination, bias and stigma one little conversation at a time.

If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend watching this beautifully produced short on Jim and John. Thank you, John, for your deep commitment to this fight. You are astoundingly courageous. And SCOTUS, it’s friggin’ overdue, but you deserve a thank you, too. America is truly a little closer to being the Land of the Free this Independence Day.

 

Advocating for Play Instead of Homework

I know, I know. Why am I bringing up school? Many of your kids are already in summer break and homework is the last thing on your mind. You are slathering on sunscreen, visiting pools, taking hikes and occasionally begging your children for some quiet. In Seattle, it is gray and raining. I still have two weeks before Thing 1 and Thing 2 turn our house into a Lego tornado. Summer feels eerily distant.

Since we are wrapping up a school year that has taken a bit of the sparkle out of my oldest son’s eyes, despite our great efforts to protect his passion for learning, I have been contemplating the effects of different educational models on children. Today, I’m tackling the homework conundrum. If that’s not on your mind, file this away for fall.

A friend of mine recently linked to this post, The Homework I Wish I My Child Brought Home From School. I read it in complete agreement with desired after school activities like going outside, reading, making things, etc.., but was saddened that the author seemed to think homework for a six year old was non-negotiable.

It’s should all be negotiable. If it’s not, a gigantic red flag is waving.

Since we entered public school as a trial, I did not feel captive by the system. This certainly helped me feel more empowered to question certain practices, like homework. We enrolled our oldest in public school for first grade after homeschooling him for Kindergarten to avoid full-day K (which was required by our neighborhood school). We sent him there knowing that if his needs weren’t being met or the environment wasn’t nurturing, that we would advocate for change and pull him out if that was unsuccessful. Knowing whether those things were true would require observation, an active presence in the school, and a careful tuning in to my son’s spirit.

We did not enroll our child in school to watch him become imprisoned by it. To watch passions fade. To watch him rush to complete meaningless homework as quickly as possible so that he could finally play. To watch self-esteem become dependent on external rewards, like a special treat for being fastest or having the fewest mistakes. To watch him pay attention to the number of pages read or the minutes spent in a book, instead of the story and content.

We were not going to passively observe as school requested that hours of my child’s life be spent completing rote, meaningless tasks. Fortunately, his first grade teachers maintained developmental perspectives, engaging activities and reasonable expectations, so little advocating was required. “We don’t send home reading logs because we trust you to read with your child on a regular basis.” What a breath of fresh air.

Second grade was different. The teachers wanted weekly reading logs, lengthy homework assignments that were nothing but worksheets, with little problem solving or creativity required. After a day filled with over-the-top rules, structure and rote learning, I refused to force him to do more of the same. It was play time! So, I wrote emails. (I would’ve preferred to talk with his teachers in person, but sadly, that is a rare opportunity that often takes too long to schedule.)

My email to the English teacher went something like this:

“BookWorm is a fantastic reader and currently spends hours reading a wide range of books from different genres. I fear that focusing on filling in a reading log could change his passion into an obligation. He currently gets lost in books and does not think about time nor pages read. I don’t want to take the risk that this would change by making reading “homework.”

Thank you for your understanding as to why we won’t be completing reading logs this year. Please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns. Also, of course, if there’s an alternate motivation or purpose beyond encouraging time with books, please let me know.”

She replied that she would love to know his books of interest, so if we could fill one out on occasion for that purpose, she’d be thrilled. Understood and done. Easy as that.

For spelling homework, I wrote a similar email. My boy was happy to just take the spelling tests, miss a few words here and there, and learn those as needed. For the rare word or two he’d actually learn every few months through homework, it wasn’t worth his time.

Another email was written after a few weeks of noticing how ridiculous his Spanish/math/science homework packet was.

“You have probably noticed that Minecraft Man is not completing his homework often anymore. We are completely on board with this and frequently encouraging it. I understand that many children may be learning from their homework, or need the repetition, but since Minecraft Man doesn’t benefit much from it, we’re spending time at home in other ways.”

I continued to explain that we would be happy to do projects or more creative work if that was assigned. (In my opinion, Minecraft is better than the homework that was sent this year. At least he needs to use higher-level thinking skills, like planning and organizing prior to building something.)

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After school umbrella shenanigans. They were singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and trying to fly when I took this shot.

Now, my boy is very strong academically. He isn’t struggling in any subjects. The teachers might have pushed back more otherwise. But, even then, I would’ve countered that I don’t think homework is the answer unless it is the RIGHT work. The homework that came home with my son this year would not have been the most effective way to help him.

If he experienced difficulties in math, I would’ve worked with him conceptually through games or other interactive instruction, not forced more worksheets his way. If he struggled with reading, we would’ve broken down reading into it’s basic parts, worked on the areas of struggle and then pieced it back together. If he struggled with handwriting, I would’ve fostered his love of story-telling by letting him dictate stories while I typed or wrote. We would tackle handwriting separately, as a motor act, not a language one.

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Board games are a great way to build various cognitive skills. Building early addition skills? Roll and count dice a lot while playing a game! (Those words were not planted! Hilariously perfect, though.)

Anyone can be an advocate for their child. It all starts with one question: What is best for my child? Advocacy work takes courage, but that courage is easy to muster when we think about our children’s long term health. It takes active communication, dedication and a willingness to stick our necks out. I rarely enjoy being an oddball parent, but I’m accepting of that role. Changing the system to eventually honor all kids is going to take masses of parents opt-outing out of what’s not beneficial, so that instead we can step into healthy, holistic child development.

My background and training takes me to places of questioning practices, while also lending me more confidence with sharing my opinions. But, I think most parents know deep in their gut if something’s wrong. Pay attention to those feelings. If you need a support staff to know what questions to ask or how to speak up, ask friends with similar educational philosophies. Seek out educational resources that honor child development, healthy families and passionate learning. Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools is my latest love.

I have never heard of a single study that concludes homework is beneficial for children in elementary school. (If you find one, please send it to me.) Many private schools honor this research. I think they feel secure implementing no homework policies because they are not operating out of the fear that they will lose their funding. Kids in those schools, especially the younger elementary crew, rarely get homework. When they do, it’s usually creative, interactive and something students can take pride in making. We’re not talking about worksheets that only require regurgitation of memorized facts.

If you need an academic-related reason to give homework the boot, there are plenty. Executive functioning skills, including planning, organizing and problem solving, depend on solid development of early play skills. Their foundation is built through the back and forth decisions that get made in imaginary play and loosely structured games. Planning new scenarios, dealing with the problems that arise and flexible shifting gears to accommodate requests are critical for development. Just as important as math and reading, maybe even moreso. Imaginary play isn’t just magical for the kids. It is magic, people. It is what little brains need.

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This happens plenty at our house. Probably an hour a day. We’re ok with that.

 

 

It all started with a helmet

My bike helmet is at least ten years old. I recently found out that the plastic degrades, and that helmets need to be replaced every five years or so, just like car seats. I celebrated a bit. Ever since getting Rhubarby I wanted something cuter, hopefully with some red to match my bike bags. I finally had justification.

After trying on dozens of helmets in multiple bike shops, I purchased a shiny white helmet with a red brim and zoomed around in it for a few days until facing the truth. It was too tight, and on long rides it gave me a headache.

I received a hot tip that Goodwill had new helmets for $15 and took the boys with me to check them out. The only one that fit was red. Sold!  It’s a huge melon protector, but it works. For $15 I would trade a little style.

We headed to the cashier until Charlie read a huge “TOYS” sign. I told the boys they could look but I wasn’t buying anything. They dove into the broken car tracks, plastic guitars, and stuffed animal snakes like monkeys in a pile of bananas. The misfit toys collection of 2015 received some serious love.

I spotted Connect Four and, sucker for games of my childhood, reneged my promise. “Boys, I’m getting you this!” Excited about the new game, they left the aisle of crack with ease. Our most direct exit was blocked, forcing us to walk through the adjacent hair care section.

This may have been the best detour of our lives. When The Bearded Head caught my eye, I snorted out loud. It was laughter at first sight. A perfect blend of horrific and hilarious. “You know what boys? We could prank Papa with him!” The boys and I giggled like mad in that aisle, dreaming up everything we could do. We had to bring him home with us.

Please welcome the latest addition to our family! His name is in progress, and I’m fairly certain it will change frequently, because this guy deserves NAMES. According to Miles, he is GI Joe. Charlie calls him Big Beard. Harry and I are going with Allen. Sometimes Barney. Tortuga when we’re needing Walter White, Rico Suave when I’m trying to gross Harry out. Either way, let me introduce you:

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The boys carried him proudly through Goodwill, generating a Candid Camera reel. “We could put him in our bike bags and bike around town with a head sticking out!” Doubled over, we chuckled our way to the line.

A woman ahead of us watched us cautiously, never breaking a smile. She must not like severed heads. Or children. Or moms. Maybe we are so goofy that we’re scary. Easing my growing embarrassment, a man ahead of us smiled and laughed. “You guys have plans, don’t you?” Well, the boys took the bait and ran, spilling out everything we intended to do with The Head. Our cashier informed us she was pleased he was leaving because “he” had bothered her since he arrived the past week. “He’s just so weird!” Yes, he is. Yes, he is.

He’s perfect for us.

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Bonus feature! Extra hair! Gawd, he’s gross. And amazing.

Miles held him in his lap for the car ride home, frequently talking for him using a low, gruffly voice, and making him look out the car window.

We arrived home and concocted our plan. We’d tuck him into bed, with a pillow for a body, and tell Harry the boys made something for him that is in the bedroom.

Allen waited.

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What? Do I make you nervous?

Harry arrived later than any of us could barely handle, and the boys flew out of their dinner table seats to scream, “We made you something! Go to the bedroom!” Of course, Harry had no reason to be suspicious. The boys always leave food behind and act freakishly excited about creations in our bedroom.

So, he entered dramatically. Then, he hesitated a bit, laughed hysterically, and promptly removed Allen from our bed to put him on the mantle.

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Allen on top of my speech-language pathology books. The ones I should be studying instead of writing this post, but I am SO OVER studying tonight, so you get this instead.

I think Harry was jealous. Allen probably shouldn’t be in bed with me. Don’t show Harry these pictures, because we started warming up to each other. (ALWAYS WEAR PROTECTION, PEOPLE!)

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Oh my. What a ride.

We have a lot of adventures A-HEAD of us with Allen. He needs to go on a bike ride. Harry suggested putting him on the back with red lights blinking through his eyes, or on the front with flashing white lights. Crazy freaky. If our kids weren’t being dropped off at preschool and elementary school, this would be hilarious and worth it. In fact, now I can’t wait for middle school pick-ups.

In the meantime, Allen might answer the door on occasion.

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He’ll watch as we play Connect Four.

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And show off his handsome beard and oh so sexy, devoid-of-all-color lips.

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If I get invited to someone’s house, he may come along. If someone wants to show me their new puppy or baby, I may ask if I can show them Allen. We’ll keep you guessing.

(Oh my goodness, I hope he doesn’t have lice. Can mannequin heads have diseases?)

Clear cut parenting (Ha!)

It’s no secret that it was challenging for me to learn to trust my child’s snail-paced journey throughout years of watching him observe instead of participate. Fearing he would never move himself out of his comfort zone, we wondered if he needed a push from us. In the end, we committed to honoring his temperament and developmental pacing, which meant not forcing participation, listening to his fears and respecting his decisions. We watched in awe every time the excitement of an activity motivated him over the first hurdles. It was never our push that made him jump.

The other side of the coin is that some skills just have to be learned. Let’s start with an obvious choice, like safely crossing streets. Parents don’t let their kid run into traffic simply because that’s what lil’ Jimmy wants to do. They also don’t leave Jimmy on the other side of the road because he won’t cross with them. Jimmy’s hand will be held and his always-in-the-moment mind will be reminded a million times to “Look both ways!” until the People With Brains That Contemplate Consequences are certain he understands. Love & Logic’s “natural consequences” get thrown in front of the bus. Not Jimmy.

Other lessons are not as clear, but can feel just as critical.

Take swimming, for example. A sensitive topic in my household for a few months last summer. If Little Monkey hadn’t scared the daylight out of me with the pool-bobbing incident, I doubt I would’ve endured the initial phase of his latest swim lessons.

In the weeks after that nightmare, I signed him up for a couple private lessons through Seattle’s parks department. He participated well but continued to demonstrate the lack of fear that originally got him into trouble. Despite his inability to float, he kept trying to swim unassisted. On a few occasions he jumped in impulsively or lunged at me without warning. Obviously, at this point I was watching him like a hawk, so he was quickly scooped up. But I didn’t feel any better about his water safety by summer’s end.

Not wanting to enter next summer at the same level, we decided to take the plunge last fall and signed him up for intensive private swim lessons recommended by a friend. He dug in his heels, certain they would be “horrible!” With a little probing I learned that he believed that this swim coach would squirt him with a water gun. Ah, the rational fears of a four year old.

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With a firm promise that his coach wouldn’t shoot him, and quite possibly a pack of Pokemon cards in hand as bribery, he willingly entered the pool during his first lesson. At his request and the coach’s approval, I was in the water with him for his first two lessons. Courtesy of the most methodical, safety-oriented, and efficient swim lessons I’ve ever witnessed, Miles learned to open his eyes underwater, swim with his head under, and begin to backfloat. To get there, he was pushed farther beyond his comfort level than ever before. It was painful to watch him struggle.

The third lesson consisted of me sweating on the sidelines with my teeth grit together, trying to hide my anxieties from both the coach and Miles. He screamed and sobbed a decent portion of the lesson. The swim coach heard his complaints but did not let him give in to his fears. She kept him moving, practicing and struggling his way through each critical skill. I felt sick to my stomach.

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I spent that evening wondering if this lesson style was the right choice. DId I betray his trust by not just ending it there and calling it quits? Was he being pushed too far? Did I trust this coach and her judgment?

As I contemplated, I thought of all the parents of children with learning disabilities I interacted with when their kids came to me for evaluations and therapy. Many required months to trust me enough to follow advice or accept a diagnosis. I sympathized then, but I understand their hesitancies far better now that I’m a parent. Acknowledging that another adult may know what is best for your child is not easy to swallow, no matter the situation.

I came to believe that years of experience have taught this swim coach what children tolerate. She is not worried about their well-being as they go underwater, cough a bit, and correct themselves. At least not in the short-term. But long-term, she is absolutely concerned. She wants these kids water safe. To get there, she accepts the struggle as part of the learning process, like the countless falls toddlers take while learning to walk. She knew what my boy was capable of achieving. She knew that he needed to conquer his fears to move forward. While Miles and my brain were in fight or flight mode, hers was calm, cool and collected.

I dreaded telling Miles about lesson number four. I promised to take him to a favorite playspace afterwards. To my astonishment, that was enough to get him over the hump. Maybe he knew he needed it, like the toddler that keeps running despite scraped up knees. Maybe he found the outcome satisfying enough to account for the struggle. He entered the pool without complaint, seemingly forgetting his fears.

The reprieve didn’t last long. She asked him to stick his head underwater to retrieve a toy, and he completely broke down. In the skilled, graceful way that experienced teachers exhibit, she guided him back with ease, letting him repeat a skill that he found pleasurable and comforting until he calmed.

She moved him into snorkeling next, which was a completely new skill. “I DO NOT WANT TO SNORKEL!” he yelled and sobbed. Unaware of her motivation, I watched anxiously and questioned this choice. She introduced him to the mask by talking about its function and demonstrating its use. Then, the snorkel. She quietly put both on him. He protested throughout, but she assured him he’d be fine, and sure enough, soon he was excited to search underwater for toys. After he got the hang of it, they spent the rest of the session snorkeling around the pool to round-up tiny pumpkins. (It was October.)

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IMG_8898He was hooked. “Mama, I think I could be a scuba diver now!” He was over the hump.

I realized, yet again, that she had a clear plan and vision. The hardest skill for him to learn was how to transition from swimming forward with his head underwater to rolling over on his back to rest and breathe. With the snorkel, he could delight in swimming all around with ease. She took his biggest struggle out of the equation.

After lesson five I believed that he would have a chance at survival in a water accident. During lesson nine he took a “Clothes Test,” demonstrating the ability to fall in with clothes on, float on his back at length, swim to the closest exit, and other skills like getting his shoes off while floating. (He worked his tail off during 20+ minutes of testing.) We both walked away from this lesson stupendously pleased. Miles was thrilled with his accomplishment, and I was greatly relieved that last summer’s nightmare won’t be repeated.

I’m not sure how I’ll know when my boys need to be that far out of their comfort zone again. Right now we are contemplating decisions that could upset both of them, but we think would be for their benefit long-term. It is incredibly hard to choose between respecting their emotions and trusting in their resilience. I want them to do things of their own accord, but I also don’t want them to become paralyzed by fears. One thing I can count on: I am going to mess up a lot. I am going to error on both sides of the coin. Once I know I’ve gone too far in one direction, all I can do is apologize as we all learn from the mistake.

I’m glad I didn’t get in the way of progress this time. By learning to trust the coach, I didn’t rob my boy of these skills, nor the pride and satisfaction that resulted. Plus, how cute is a kid with snorkel gear? Sheesh.

Parenting is rarely clear cut. I couldn’t be more thankful that it comes with support staff.

(Pssst! I added a little video from one of his lessons to my facebook page. Head on over to see him in action. I always appreciate you “liking” my page while you’re there, too! Thanks!)

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#TBT All consuming

He was absolutely delicious. I wish I could return to his scrumptious Michelin man stage this very moment, nuzzle his bulging belly, squeeze his rolls, and play peek-a-boo with him. I need to borrow a baby. Stat.4704873437_be4cd61b9c_z

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He was the cutest pot of soup to ever exist. He made a damn fine sous chef, too. Those rolls are just the results of breast milk and a serious love for pureed peas, folks. Apparently I produced top notch cream. Now,  he’s nearly five years old and there’s barely any sign of chub on his body.

My baby enters Kindergarten next fall and I’m in the midst of significant inner turmoil about it. I don’t believe in full-day Kindergarten unless it incorporates an enormous amount of play. Sadly, none of our local public schools do that. (Despite what the research says regarding executive functioning and what countries with the best outcomes are doing. Grrr.) That’s why we home-schooled Charlie for Kindergarten. Why should Miles receive less? This brings me enormous angst. We’re not ignoring our beliefs, even though it’s scary. So that feels right.

Knowing there are enormous changes ahead, whatever they may be, I find myself treasuring our alone time more than ever. The way he lays his head on me when we snuggle up to read. His newest compliment, “You’re the best cooker!”, that I’m lucky enough to receive every time I hand him a favorite food. His ability to enter any room and light up it with conversation about the most everyday things simply because he’s so happy to chat at length with any adult who will listen. During yesterday’s bike ride home from school he told me, “We should visit Italy, Mama. Leonardo made a horse out of steel and it still exist-is. [I adore this language error.] First he made one of clay but it melted. His friend Charlie told him he should build one out of metal, so he did. And IT STILL EXIST-IS!!!”

To witness a couple of my favorite videos of his giggles, visit:

The amazing powers of a tissue and fake sneeze

Worse than a chalkboard (don’t watch if you’re a dentist)

December 24th

Hoi! Hello! ¡Hola! I decided to pop my head out from behind our Christmas tree and say hi to you all before we’re ringing in 2015. Our family is having an exceptionally quiet Christmas eve and day. Our calmest and quietest yet. No parties to attend, no hosting to tend to, no family to visit or visiting us. I am making simple meals. While I love to cook, elaborate meals take away from family time. All of this was intentional and it feels soooo good. We desperately needed to relax and play as a family. Anything that distracted from that got the ax.

We let the boys pick a present to open today, and they both happened to pick ones with Legos inside (good odds?), so Harry and I are reading and writing while the boys are building new sets. Watching Miles open his and jump all around in excitement, “I wanted this! Thank you so much!” started the day off beautifully.

This year involved a few lessons for us regarding city crowds. Santa is in demand, people. Finding an open Santa lap to sit on is harder than finding a parking spot at the mall. It may take days. We should’ve been sufficiently warned when we saw people carrying sleeping bags, coolers of food and toy baskets to the lines.

With under a week left until Christmas, Charlie informed us that he really wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. This has not been a tradition for us. In fact, Harry and I hated the idea of forcing our wary kids on some guys’ lap to make them cry so we could get a picture. Now that Charlie was instead desiring this to the point of tears, honoring it was a serious act of love. An act that led us on a tear-filled Santa scavenger hunt all around town.

First I called a local nursery to see if we could snag an appointment with their Santa. A set time seemed so civilized, but that’s what everyone thought so of course they were completely booked. Next we visited an outdoor mall close to our house. The line was a minimum of an hour and a half. Outside. There was no way the boys were going to get through that, so we told Charlie we’d need to try something else. Tears welled up. We headed downtown to visit Nordstrom’s Santa whose staff was conveniently texting you at your appointment time. Perfect! We’d go see the Gingerbread Village while we waited. “Mama, how can Santa be at the other place and downtown?” Let the Christmas lying begin.

We arrived at 2:30 and Santa was already booked until closing at 9pm. Even their consolation wait-list was so long that the elf told me it was pointless to put our name down. Surrounding this kiosk were many tearful little boys and girls and their shocked parents. We made more promises to Charlie, realizing we may have to return to a line first thing in the morning.

How did we get in this place of potentially devoting two days of our vacation to finding a Santa lap? I was ready to pay any old man on the street for his services. Anyone from this list would’ve been excellent, too.

While looking at the famous, and therefore also unbelievably crowded, Gingerbread Village structures, I had plenty of time to think and got a feeling we should try Macy’s. We headed there next. With an enormous sigh of relief, we took our spot in a reasonable line. An hour later, one boy was sitting on his lap while the other watched curiously and eventually talked to him from a very cautious distance.

“Santa, a lot of my friends say you don’t exist, but now I can tell them that you do!”

“Why do they say I don’t exist?”

“One of them stayed up all night and never saw you!”

“Well, part of my magic means that I can’t come while kids are awake.”IMG_5635

They talked for five minutes, about Santa’s magical ways and what Charlie wanted. (None of which, of course, was on his original list. Aint’ gonna happen, kid.) Charlie called it his “order.” We gently informed him later that Santa lists are wish lists and not guaranteed orders. There may be disappointment tomorrow.

But for those five beautiful minutes and much of our time afterward, his eyes were completely lit up. He kept asking question after question. “I meant to ask how old he is!” We may only have a year or two left of the magic with him, so I’m glad we embraced it. I’m also incredibly thankful I’m sitting with a blanket around me instead of waiting in a line right now.

Grasshopper Squares have been a Christmas tradition for us for at least five years and they’re one I can’t imagine ever giving up. Maybe it’s because I was conceived after my mom had a Grasshopper at a restaurant. Mint and cream are a part of my DNA. I remember making them while pregnant with Miles, so he’s probably hooked forever, too. These treats have that lovely peppermint chocolate combination (like a Thin Mint! Andes! Frangos!), with a smooth truffle-like top and a brownie base. They are a really luxurious bite. Or ten.

I decided to share these here after making my second batch this year. Our first batch was shared too quickly (lucky teachers and neighbors, right?) and the boys were super sad. Harry and I wanted more, too. A recipe this loved by my family needs to be on record so they can make it someday themselves. And you just may want to, too.

I wish you peace, laughter, gratefulness, play and rest. And a little bite of delicious.

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Grasshopper Squares

Adapted slightly from Gourmet Magazine. Yields 5-6 dozen.

Brownie base

  •  6 ounces (12 tablespoons; 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 10 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate (between 55-65% cacoa), chopped
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 35 g (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Mint ganache

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons clear or green crème de menthe (there’s no flavor difference- I just don’t like food dyes so I buy the clear)
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Chocolate ganache

  • 8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (55-65% cacoa), chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F, with a rack in the middle. Lightly butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Butter the foil, too.

To make the brownie base, melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in double broiler (or a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat), stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until thoroughly integrated. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake about 20-minutes, or until set. Cool completely (uncovered, on a rack). This takes one to two hours.

While the brownie base cools, make the mint ganache. Heat cream and white chocolate in a double boiler (or bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan and pour it over the finely chopped white chocolate in a bowl. Let it sit a minute before whisking.) Whisk until completely smooth. Stir in the crème de menthe and peppermint extract. Chill covered until thick. Stir occasionally. This takes about 1 hour.

Spread the chilled mint ganache on top of the cooled brownie base. Make a thin even layer by using an offset spatula. (Of, if you’re like me, just deal with it not being perfectly even. You won’t care when you taste one.) Chill covered until firm but slightly sticky, about 30-minutes.

While the mint layer chills, make the chocolate ganache. Heat the cream and dark chocolate in a double boiler (or heat the cream to a simmer in a saucepan, and pour over finely chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute prior to whisking.) Whisk until smooth. Chill covered until thick, about 30-minutes. Stir occasionally.

Carefully spread the cooled chocolate ganache over the mint layer and chill at least 2 hours prior to cutting.

Lift the dessert out of pan using the foil overhang. Carefully peel off the foil and place the giant bar on a large cutting board. Run a knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim the edges of dessert (~1/4 inch off each side). Cut into squares (rectangles! triangles!) and serve.

The grasshopper squares keep chilled in an airtight container for 3-weeks. They can be layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment if needed.

On trust

In the comfort of his home, within sight of his Mama and Papa, his confidence and abilities shone. He wasn’t even two, but he used complete sentences to convey the utmost importance of the airplanes flying by, the blue cheese he craved and the trucks he needed to drive around blocks he’d lined up. Utterances were constant, play was complex. There were puzzles to be completed and playgrounds to visit. He’d cry if surprised by the jet-loud roars of our food processor, so I’d try to prepare him for it’s use or wait until he wasn’t around. Otherwise, he rarely showed anxiety at home. It felt easy to respect his needs.

Though aspects of his development were advanced, he wasn’t challenging himself physically as much as his peers. He didn’t walk until he was 15-months. Likely the perfectionist in him, genes courtesy of yours truly, waited until he would not stumble. Slow and steady, calculated and predictable. He observed his toddler buddies ride their balance bikes, climb ladders and zoom down big slides. He developed pretend play routines instead. His playgrounds were bakeries and kitchens, chocolate shops and coffee shops. These themes probably also had something to do with his mother.

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Outside of our home, loud noises, new people or unpredictable kids made him nervous. Hiding behind us or begging to be held, I quickly learned to expect a tug on my pant leg. “Mama, pick me up!” was repeated incessantly until he was safely in my arms. We couldn’t leave him with anyone besides his familiar grandparents. Even with them, we had to sneak out after they provided ample distraction. Every other place we dropped him off paged us back to rescue him. They could never get him to stop sobbing.

At a friend’s son’s second birthday party, he didn’t leave my lap. As things wrapped up, moms encouraged their tots to gather on porch stairs for a picture. I plopped my boy down in their midst, ignoring the discomfort I read in his tense body. I backed away to see if he’d adapt, but of course, his lower lip proceeded to curl downward and he sobbed. I knew he would. I only tried to make him participate because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend and I felt like I needed to show the other moms I at least tried. I retrieved him from the stairs feeling pangs of anger and humiliation. Why wasn’t my kid like the others? Why couldn’t I just chat with the other moms while he played?

This was the first of many times I’d realize my expectations for him in public were different than they were at home. Simply because I wanted him to reflect a certain way on me.

After months of holding him up while other kids jumped into play and rarely getting to drop him off somewhere for a break, I grew to resent this pattern. I also started to worry. Would my little boy always be this needy? Did I baby him too much? Is attachment parenting a surefire route to timidity?

Eventually I began redefining my hopes and expectations. I was learning a new way that I needed to trust his natural development. Just like he learned to walk and talk, roll and and hold a spoon, I needed to believe that his emotional journey would progress in it’s own meaningful way.

4739917866_8b6102c4c6_zIMG_3084Thankfully, as years passed he grew more comfortable without us. He attended preschool with ease. He remained hesitant to participate in most activities beyond that, particularly if they were physical, and we respected his wishes. As a five and six year old, this meant kindly saying no to offers to go to rock climbing birthday parties, join soccer teams, or play at bounce houses.

I began to accept that he may never play a team sport. I began to embrace that he savored his time doing math problems and building towers more than playdates. I grew to love that he preferred to play with girls, engaging in complex play routines instead of climbing trees. I started to let go of my fears of him regularly feeling lonely and isolated.

There was grief in this process. I longed for aspects of motherhood that I didn’t think I would ever experience with him and that was disappointing. I simply began to walk more firmly in the knowledge that it would be far more devastating for him not to be true to himself. Or not believe he’s accepted for who he is.

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My boy keeps surprising me. This past year he jumped right in to his new school despite having only one friend in his class. He eagerly participated in physical games at recess and in PE. He tested for his yellow belt, even choosing to continue sparring after being punched in the face. He happily attended a rock climbing birthday party. Harnessed in, he grabbed the holds and climbed right up without hesitation. As he neared his limit and needed to rappel for his first time, I saw how scared he was. I anxiously anticipated him melting into a pool of tears and loud sobs. Instead, he worked through the fears with with just a little encouragement from the coach. I could not believe it. Any of it. I went to that party envisioning us watching all the other kids from the sidelines, while he felt disappointed by his fears. Instead, he kept climbing higher and higher, confidence growing with each summit. I picked my jaw up off the floor.

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Carried by World Cup excitement, he agreed to soccer camp. It was a huge hit and he begged me to go again before summer ended. At his request, he also played on a team this fall. Despite being the new guy with the least amount of experience, all he wanted was to be on the field. He even enjoyed playing goalie. Balls whizzed past his face by request! It has been wonderful to be shocked by his growth.

I know little to nothing about what’s coming ahead as a parent. These changes in him may swing the other direction. I can certainly count on parenting being unpredictable. Generally, it seems the challenges will surround my ability to grieve and accept. My ability to deal with my own expectations and fears. My ability to cope with the noise, chaos and mess that my energetic (may-as-well-be-on-stimulants) monkeys leave in their wake. Hopefully my ability to make a mean batch of cookies will temper it all a bit.

Every few months something happens in which I have to consciously examine whether or not I’m respecting their journeys and honoring their paths. How much do I believe in their natural emotional development? It seems that only my fears speak against trusting it.