January 2011 - Posts
It seems like a simple
enough question, but... what if you don't like the answer? Consider these answers: Nothing!
Macaroni and cheese, or a hot fudge sundae, please! They are all equally valid
answers to the original question.
"You asked me what I WANT!"
So why do we ask our kids questions when we don't really want - or need
- to hear the answers? It is a
habit and a habit I have seen growing into every aspect of our lives as
As parents we want our children to grow up with confidence,
to know their own minds and be competent decision-makers. We also are often
unwilling to be the inflexible authorities that perhaps our parents were, a
model that seems to squelch individuality and be out of step with our highest ideals
of freedom. That youngster is human just as I am: another soul as deserving of
respect as I am. And yet we
wouldn't expect these youngsters to decide whether or not it's OK to play in
the street or use a power tool, for instance. We know that as their parents they need our guidance and
protection. But still we ask
Are you ready to put your coat on? Will you pick that up for me? What will you wear today?
"It's time to go, Sam, OK?" With one little word a simple statement becomes a question,
open to interpretation and to possibly unwelcome replies. Sometimes these questions lead to a
power struggle as the child quickly gets attached to his or her answer. Often we as parents are annoyed by
‘ridiculous' or negative answers, potentially making us a little more edgy, a
little less sure. If it is really not OK that Sam stays and plays for another
half an hour, isn't it better to be direct? If it doesn't work for you (or your
child's teacher) if Emma wears a tutu and slippers to school on a winter's day
why make it seem like an option? At best a child learns to give an acceptable
answer but is left with a false sense of responsibility for their day, for
which he or she is not really in charge.
It can be unsettling for children to believe from a young age that they
are making the big decisions that affect their lives. Do I think I need a coat? Am I ready to go to school? Will I put on my seatbelt? Is it really up to me to take care of all those
So what can we do?
First, it is very instructive to stop and pay attention to
the questions we ask our children.
How many questions do I ask my child by the time I drop him or her at
school, or by lunchtime if I am at home? Then perhaps we can find a way to pare
a few away. Some parents swear by
a weekly breakfast rotation that takes all the guesswork out of this morning
hurdle. For those that need things a little more open-ended an easy solution
that allows for a simple choice is an offer like "There are eggs, toast and
yogurt for breakfast.
Dress choices are another challenge. It helps a child to
have a couple of weather appropriate outfits hung over a chair or to be offered
the suggestion "You may wear the red, yellow or blue ones today with a
sweater." It's helpful to provide dressing alternatives that give the child
some choice, letting them begin to develop their own tastes. "Time to put on
your coats," a simple "Coats, please!"
or for the youngest children nothing but a kiss and gentle hands helping
them slip into their sleeves might solve that dilemma. You can be honest, clear
It may take a little practice but it's worth it. Fewer questions can give you a less
anxious child and a simpler family year.
evening I was invited to a friend's home and the couple served a wonderful,
delicious dinner: Chestnut Soup! I
loved it so much that I wanted to share this rich-tasting treat with others. (The recipe is below
for all to enjoy).
sparked my interest so much is that I've always had a deep adoration for
chestnuts, which hold a special love for my family. I learned about the
delicacy of chestnuts during my time living in Japan in the fall of 1991, where
they are held in high regard. I ate chestnuts warm from the roasting vendors on
the streets of Tokyo and enjoyed them mixed into the rice bowl my host family
served at the evening meal. They
are also a typical Japanese dessert, something sweet eaten after dinner. I was so happy to learn that these
delicious nuts are not only incredibly tasty but nutritious as well. Low in calories and fat and rich in
minerals (such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc),
chestnuts are also a good source of fiber and exceptionally rich in vitamin C
and B-complex vitamins. At this point I was sold on these wonderful nuts
A few years later living
on the top of Queen Anne in Seattle, I remember seeing groups of people walking
a lovely, tall tree-lined street with bags in their hands. They were picking up
something that seemed to have fallen from the branches, and waiting hopefully
for more to drop: they were gathering chestnuts. I was amazed at the
determination required to spend an entire week or two gathering these once-a-year
treasures in the middle of urban Seattle. My heart was warmed by their
reverence for these nuts. I felt I also understood the value of the golden
treasure that is the chestnut.
my love of chestnuts with my children at young ages. One of our favorite family
treats is a trip to the Asian market to buy roasted nuts crackling on an open
fire right outside the store. We also love to roast them ourselves when they're
available in the markets during the winter season.
And now I have
a special soup to share with them as well.
chestnuts, roasted and peeled
pepper to taste
and celery in butter. Add chestnuts, thyme and water; cook until soft. Blend in
blender of food processor until smooth. Return to soup pot and season with
nutmeg, salt and pepper.
garnished with parsley and sour cream. Serves 4 to 6.
and delicious. Enjoy!
If you still have a few walnuts-in-shell leftover from the holidays you will enjoy making this craft on a blustery January day.
- Round wooden beads
- Scraps of wool roving, yarn, or cloth
- Thread (optional)
Toast the walnuts at 200'F for about 20-30 minutes. While the nuts are still hot, use a knife (and an oven mitt!) to split the shell in half along the natural seam. If the nuts are fresh, most of them should split cleanly. Let the kids dig out the nutmeats as a snack.
Now you're ready to make the "babies":
- Place some roving in the shell to create a mattress for the baby.
- Glue a bit of roving or yarn to the bead to give the baby some hair.
- Glue the bead to the mattress in the shell.
- A length of thread glued to the sides of the shell will let this walnut baby hang as an ornament.
- You may also tuck a tiny heart into the shell to create a Walnut Baby Valentine!
a friend of mine acquires a new item of clothing, she gives away two similar
items. This is her way of keeping her closet from overflowing and of keeping a
kind of balance in her material life.
My closet cleaning tends to happen seasonally. And I find that the New Year is a good time for sorting and
sharing one's abundance of material things.
are always outgrowing their clothing, but they also outgrow their toys. January, when new toys have the
children's attention, is a good time to sift through the toy chest with your
children. Help them pick out some
things to pass on. The best way to
introduce this idea is to model it.
Gather a box of still useable items from your own closet or the
garage. Talk about where it could
go at the dinner table. If
possible, let your children go with you to make the donation.
a box in your children's room and suggest that they use it to collect the toys
that they would like to give to another child. Let them muse over their decisions. You may be surprised at their
choices. The neighbor children may
be happy recipients of well-loved toys.
Other places to donate toys are children's hospitals, homeless shelters,
and local chapters of Goodwill Industries or The Salvation Army.
know that giving is as joyful as receiving. Our task is to support them in what they do best.
Holding my first grandchild was a highlight of 2010. Babies thrive on warm, loving contact and
cuddling. Recent research has shown
however, that babies also need time by themselves on the floor (on both their
backs and their tummies) in order to master specific and critical developmental
movements. These movements are essential
for achieving more complex movements, but also for a child's neurological
Babies usually get some time on their backs (during diaper
changing, for example) to practice turning their heads, flexing their spines
and controlling the movements of their hands and feet. But babies also need time to "work out" on
Only from a tummy down position can babies practice
lifting their heads and putting weight on their hands. This is hard work of course, and tummy times
for a new baby should be short. A minute
or two when baby is rested, fed, and freshly diapered; is plenty. As babies get stronger, they will enjoy being
on their tummies more often and for longer periods.
Between six and nine months, most babies can roll
themselves over in both directions and balance on one elbow to play with a
toy. When a baby is balancing on one
elbow, the opposite knee will be flexed.
This is the beginning of alternating cross-lateral movements that will
evolve into belly crawling, creeping on both hands and knees, and culminate in
walking sometime between 9 and 18 months of age.
Developmental specialists have known for some time that
children who did not crawl or creep as babies are more likely to have learning
difficulties. Cross-lateral movements
build neural connections in the brain across the corpus callosum. This allows for good communication between the
right and left hemispheres of the brain.
For more information, check out the website, www.fit-baby.com. A great book called Smart Moves, Why Learning is Not All in Your Head, by Carla
Hannaford, goes into depth about the relationship between movement, learning
and how the brain works.
So even if you feel like cuddling your baby all day long,
be sure s/he has time on the floor--including tummy time--to support her/his
Some recipes, when I first
read through them, seem dauntingly complicated.
But if I follow the directions step by step, they often turn out to be
easier than I expected. Once I have the
hang of a new dish, I usually throw away the recipe and start improvising. Here
is a favorite recipe of mine for those dark and chilly mornings in January. It
needs to be started the night before, but it is well worth the time and
A beeswax candle
napkins (clean and ironed)
(with favorite family toppings)
Stewed or fresh
(brewed and cool enough for the kids to drink)
The Night Before
children lay out their clothes for the morning (or remind them if they are old
enough to do it for themselves). Make
sure that their outerwear, coats and boots are ready by the door, as well as
their backpacks and homework.
Soak the cereal
in cold water so that it will cook quickly in the morning. Soak the dried fruit or set out the fresh
fruit for cutting.
Set the table
with clean placemats, napkins, bowls and spoons. Put a candle and matches in the center of the
Decide what is
going in tomorrow's lunches and pack what you can. Put the lunch bags on the counter ready to be
completed in the morning.
Tidy the kitchen
and dining room so that they are relatively free of clutter and welcoming.
In The Morning
Get up before
the children, cook the cereal, prepare the fruit, and make the tea. Make coffee
or tea for the adults.
Turn off the
lights in the dining room and light the candle.
children and ask them to come down quietly once they are dressed. You might even ring a little bell when
everything is ready. Tell the children
to listen for the bell.
to sit down at the same time. Enjoy eating and drinking together in the
flickering light of the candle.
Go over the
plans and logistics of the day, but keep your voice in tune with the mood
Clear the table
- everyone can help - but leave the candle burning.
children to brush hair and teeth while you pack the last things in the lunch
bags and wash the dishes.
Give hugs and
kisses, blow out the candle and meet the rest of your day fortified with a
truly nourishing breakfast.
Note: Recipe can be revised to suit most family
Isn't it nicer to do the dishes when the house is quiet
and you can think your own thoughts?
When you don't have to worry about your 3-year-old splashing water all
over the counters and herself, your 5-year-old dropping your favorite cup or
your 10-year-old going on and on about what he would rather be doing? "Yes"is the logical and likely answer; but
what would be missing if the children never saw or participated in the work
around the house?
For the youngest children, there is no distinction between
work and play. Naturally they want to try to do what they see us or their older
siblings doing. In purposeful activities
they are gaining important fine and gross motor skills, making essential
neurological connections, as well as gaining confidence in what they can do and
Of course, with the youngest family members, there are
still tasks that need to done when they are fast asleep, but whenever possible
we want to meet their wish to help with encouragement. Of course, we will need to
give them appropriate tasks and allow enough time for them to do the job at
their pace. Their pace helps us slow down too, and better savor what we are
IF YOU ENJOY YOUR WORK, YOUR CHILDREN WILL LEARN TO WORK
Some of the tasks your child can participate in include:
helping with meal preparation, setting and clearing the table, rinsing the
dishes, feeding the dog or cat, watering plants, folding laundry, sweeping the
porch, raking leaves.
For the family with grade school children, other factors
need to be considered. Around the age of
six, children like to see household chores on a chart (with pictures as well as
words) and sometimes be able to choose their chore for the following week or
month. When my kids were all between 8
and 13, everyone helped with the preparation and cleanup of dinner. Every Saturday morning, we all cleaned the
house together. Your family might choose
another time, but working together made all the difference.
We did not give sermons about how "we all have to do
things that we don't feel like doing." We just did what needed to be done and
expected them to participate. Grumbling
happened, but not very often, especially if we were sensitive to when one child
or another was ready for a more challenging task, like mowing the lawn, washing
the car, or pruning the roses. Baking and cooking, window washing, furniture
polishing and gardening are other chores that bring new challenges to older
children. They are not only gaining new skills but also learning how working
together builds a sense of community.
Here is a second helpful maxim: RHYTHM BUILDS LIFELONG HABITS
How about letting your teenagers do their own
laundry? Cooking a whole meal? What else
can they do that gives them a feeling of independence and allows you not to
nag? Housework is not usually high on the teenager's list of priorities. Still, if they have grown up caring for their
surroundings, they can still rally when needed.
My son (in his thirties now) actually said that one of the things he
appreciated most about his childhood was the family doing projects
together. That's not exactly saying that
he liked doing chores, but it's close enough.
So if you are casting about for a new New Year's
resolution, consider adding family chores to your household rhythm in
2011. You may find yourself reaping
unexpected benefits now and far into the future.
One of the things I loved
about Waldorf early childhood classes was the way they encouraged a sense of
wonder in the world.
Every morning as our
pre-school class gathered for snack, the teacher would bring out an apple and recite:
"Here is an apple, the
finest we've seen. We'll polish and
polish until it gleams. Cut it open and
what do we see? Two bright seed stars
shining for thee."
And from the children, there
would come a silent sigh of satisfaction-"Yes! There it is again! The seed star shining for ME!" One must cut the apple round
the middle to see the stars-but they are always there.
Once a substitute took our
class and cut the apple top to bottom.
The stunned silence from the children made him look up. "Did I do something wrong?" he inquired. As parent helper that day, I said quietly,
"Miss K usually cuts the apple so that the children can see the stars." He understood immediately, fetched another
apple, and re-cut it. Stars!
Recently I was cracking
walnuts for a craft project requiring walnut shell halves, and there it
was: a heart. I showed my children and we
oohed and ahhed together. Now I can tuck
a jarful of toasted walnut hearts into my children's lunch for a snack with
extra love. Or send them as
valentines. The walnut hearts don't
appear as reliably as the apple stars, but if you crack enough nuts you'll find
Without Miss K's class, I
might never have noticed those hearts, intent as I was on producing perfect
shells. But because she taught my child
to expect a shining star in every apple, I too can be startled and delighted by
the gifts all around us. So crack open a walnut or slice through an apple and
see what treasures this new year holds for you.