Sunday, September 6, 2015


Like many of you, refugees have been on my mind this week.  Stories and pictures of families seeking refuge from Syria flood my computer screen, my radio and my mind's eye.  This week also marks one year since we shared our home and lives with a Syrian Refugee family - a Muslim mother and her three wonderful daughters.  

As irony would have it, they moved in on September 11th as we celebrated our daughter's 5th birthday. They came with everything they owned in black garbage bags that filled and overflowed our car.  We shared meals, customs, laughs, parenting woes, homework, frustration and a good dose of misunderstanding. The woman taught me how to cook Syrian food (yum!) and I showed her how to use my sewing machine so she could sew a second hijab (prayer veil) so that she and her daughter could say their prayers at the same time.  I listened in horror as she spent hours on the phone with her family back in Aleppo who were in the middle of the fighting.  Cousins wounded, hospitals demolished, bombings and missing loved ones. It put my own worries into serious perspective.

Their time with us was full of highs and lows, joy and conversation, and so much frustration.  To leave out the frustration would be dishonest. Our customs, our language, our food, our habits are all so different, and compounded by language barriers. They had so much to overcome before their lives could ever be "normal" again - they had been an upper class family in Syria, so along with everything else that was new, they were new to being poor. It made me wonder how well I would do if I were plunked into a foreign country with nothing but my children and my faith, and I suspect that the answer is: not well.  

This family was so unique and interesting.  Each girl had a personality and a spark of her own.  The mother, like me, had a weak spot for dessert, facebook, People magazine, and she had a killer pair of blue high heels.  She helped me realize that every Muslim woman is an individual under the veil she wears...each with unique wants, interests, struggles and desires. This should be obvious I suppose, but I don't know that I had ever thought about it.  How easy (and convenient) it is to assign one identity to a whole group of people - but how much we miss when we do, and how much harm we do.

A friend posted a haunting poem called "Home" by Warsan Shire this week, and one verse in particular struck me:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled 
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

The refugee situation scares me. It scares me because I know firsthand how hard it is to take in refugees and live together peacefully.  It scares me because I have seen just a tiny sliver of the pain, fear and heartache that they carry.  It scares me because I understand that they come with years, decades, lifetimes of need. Need for food and shelter yes, but need for healing and peace and education and safety and connection. Hard things.

But also common things. Healing. Peace. Education. Safety. Connection.  

Things that so many people need.  People from Syria. People from Chicago. People in our towns. People in our backyards are seeking refuge, too. Refuge from addiction. Refuge from domestic violence. Refuge from homelessness. Refuge from being lonely. Refuge from too much, or too little. Refuge from hunger, poverty, pain, isolation, persecution, hopelessness.

I am afraid that we might be more concerned about the Syrian Refugees than the refugees in our backyard because it feels safer. They are really far away. 

Don't get me wrong - send prayers, send money, educate yourself and by all means, if you can open your home to them, do - it will change you forever.  But if you can't, I hope and pray that you will take those feelings of horror and injustice and shock and that intense desire to help and do more than click a thumbs-up button on a friend's post.

Find your own refugees and give them a refuge. 

I hope that when you and I look back one year from now, we will each have a new face, a new friend who comes to mind. Someone we have given refuge to. Because the secret of it all is that while we are busy giving, it is us who receive. They are the ones who have what we need. They will enrich our lives far beyond what we could ever give to them.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Family Summer Challenge

If you ask Hubby and I what our greatest fears for our children are, "entitlement" is near the top of both of our lists.  Not abduction, disease, injury or even coming back to live in our basement forever...entitlement.  It is running rampant through both our generation and theirs and we truly believe that it can ruin lives.

This Summer we decided it would be a good time to take an intentional, calculated stance against entitlement...both in ourselves and in our children.  Thus, the Summer Family Challenge was born.  We have to give credit to Jen Hatmaker and her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess for the inspiration, though we have taken her ideas in our own direction and made our own rules.  Here is how it works.

Month 1 - Clothing Challenge
The one thing that was taking more time and stealing more joy in our household was, believe it or not, laundry.  Monday was laundry day...or rather the start to laundry week.  The task was never done, piles of laundry sat in my entryway for all to see and it greeted me every time I walked into my house.  I crabbed at the kids to help, to stop leaving laundry all over, to not throw clean laundry into the hamper...a pair of dirty socks on the floor could <literally people...not figuratively> bring me to tears...I'm sure you know the story.  So we said enough is enough.

Each family member got to pick 20 items of clothes (including shoes, socks and undies) to wear for the month.  The breakdown was slightly different for each of us, but went something like this: 
  • 5 undies
  • 5 shirts
  • 2 pajamas
  • 1 pair of long pants
  • 3 shorts
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
In addition, each member of the family got 1 bath towel.  We removed all other clothing from our dressers and tucked it away.

How did it work?  Very, very well.  

We let the kids run out of clothes a few times - used both pairs of pajamas and didn't wash them?  Borrow or do without.  No shorts left?  Wear your pants- roll them up if it is hot.  They quickly got the idea that they needed to keep track of their clothes and be sure that they got into the washing machine in time to be ready to wear the next day.  We all became more judicious about what really needed washing and what could be worn again.  I found 0 wet towels on the floor and we only required 1 bin of shoes.  

The laundry went like this- "who needs something washed?!"  Everyone would bring their clothes and toss them in.  When they were dry, I would gather everyone, toss the items to the correct person and they would take their armful of laundry to their dresser, fold and put it away right that minute.  All told, it takes less than 5 minutes work to do ALL of our laundry (okay, except for when a crayon made it into the dryer).  It has become a fraction of the job it once was because we all pitch in and we are using less.

Was it hard only wearing the same clothes over and over?  That has always been Hubby's fashion strategy - on the first cold day of the year, a coworker once remarked, "Ah, I see it is college sweatshirt season again!"  For me it makes getting dressed really easy.  I pick a different necklace and a t-shirt and call it a new outfit.  If our friends noticed we were reusing the same outfits, they were too polite to mention it...but I suspect that most people spend much less time thinking about me and my wardrobe than I think they do. 

During this month, we took time to clean out our closets and ONLY keep things that we fit and actually wear.  At the end of the challenge, we decided it was working so well that we would keep it up.  We now have a system where we occasionally trade out clothing items from "the stash" into the dressers.  If you want a different pair of shorts, you have to trade in the pair you have been wearing. 

We have tied the challenge into our faith, but really, it is good practice for anyone to become more aware of needs versus wants and more thankful for the things they have.  It had gotten to a point at our house where we had become slaves to our overabundance of clothes.  It feels great to have taken back the reins and found a balance again.  

Now we are participating in Month 2 - The Food Challenge.  More on that when it is over!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Taming the Papers- What to Do With All The Artwork

This time of year backpacks come home stuffed full of all the things little ones have poured their effort into this year.  It is fun to see all their work, but what do you DO with it all?  Here is what works for us:

1) Work and art gets admired and then goes into a storage bin that sits in the office.  The kids know that is where it goes, and know that we don't throw away their work- if they want to see it, it is there.  Likewise, if we ever need to look back at a spelling test or homework assignment, we can find it.

2) After school ends, Hubby and I sit down after the kids go to bed (under the cover of darkness) and sort through the items.  We sort them by child first, and then pick out 6 or 8 of the best items from each child for the year.  Those go into a portfolio that is divided by school year.  The items that are not selected go into black bags and right into the recycling and garbage bins.

In the future, we will probably include the kids in sorting through the items, but right now they are at the age where everything would go into the keep pile, and that is just not practical.  We like this system because we are too sentimental to toss things into the garbage when they first come home, and we don't believe that it is kind to toss kid's work out in front of them.  I, for one, would be pretty crushed to work hard on something just to have someone throw it away (and they always seem to find it, the little trash-monitors!)  I know people do this all the time- you should see the trash cans at preschool- but it hurts my teacher heart.  I just can't do that.  So we save things.  Time gives us perspective on what the best items are to keep, and also gives us some distance from the moment to throw away the non-keepers.  Plus it is fun to look back over the whole year, recall the highlights and see how far each child has come.

So there you have it- one way to deal with ALL THE PAPER!

Serial Casting- THE FINAL UPDATE!

After a year and a half, we are super thrilled to announce that Flower is DONE with the serial casting/daily physical therapy/AFOs for her toe-walking.  Hooray!!  She has made great progress, and while her gait is not 100% perfect, we (along with her therapists) made the decision that it is good enough for everything she wants to do - run, walk, skip, climb trees, ride her bike - and it is not going to cause her any sort of back or knee pain in the future.  She is out of her day braces almost completely now- though we are keeping a watchful (obsessive?) eye to make sure she stays off those toes.  Honestly though, we never see her up on her toes anymore.

She will continue to wear night braces for the next 10 years to maintain the length of her calf muscles that she gained during the serial casting.  She'll pop in to see her PT now and then to get her night braces adjusted and for evaluations, but for all intents and purposes, we're calling it done.

Thanks for following along and supporting us on this long has been a great encouragement to know so many people were rooting for her!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Kids Say the Darndest Things, part 1

I just love some of the conversations I have with my kiddos, and thought it would be fun to keep track of a few of them here.

Driving past a Chick-Fil-A with Flower...

Mommy, that's Chick Fil A.


My friends at school talked about it and that place has good chicken.


We should go there.

Well honey, we don't eat there.

Why not?

We don't agree with some of their unfair laws.


(sweet, sweet girl)

No, they do.  But they don't think gay people should be allowed to get married.

You mean, like two boys or two girls?


Well, that's stupid.  Getting married has nothing to do with chicken.

I agree, but we don't like to support their ideas with our money, so we don't eat there.

Oh, like Rosa Parks and her bus, right? How the people just walked instead?

Pretty much, yeah.


So, do you think if they change their unfair laws we could eat their chicken?  Because my friend says its really good.

**Disclaimer- yes, I know that a lot of companies support a lot of things I dislike and I don't boycott them all.  This is our family's choice...if your family's take on it is different, we still like you :)  And yes, I have tried it and they do have delicious chicken.**

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Break Update

I blink my eyes and here we are at Spring Break (don't be fooled by the foot of snow we got today, it is Spring Break!).  What have we been up to lately?  Plenty...none of it blogging...but plenty!

1. I started my own school! As we approached the "what are we doing next year for school/teaching/life" discussion we have each year at this time, Hubby finally talked me into following a dream I've had for a long time.  He argued, and I couldn't disagree, that the time was right.  The kids are the right age, we have the right space in our home, the stars just seemed to be aligned.  So I have opened my own Early Childhood program.  So far I am teaching Music and Art classes, but plan to expand to a playschool and more programs as I get my licensing in order.  I was a bit concerned that I would have no students (hello insecurity), but I have been pleasantly surprised with the mix of dear friends who are supporting me by enrolling their kiddos, and new families who have heard about the school.  I am having a lot of fun with it, and hope it grows to be a great community for everyone involved.

2. We have a teenager!  Our latest Safe Families child is a 17 year old girl, and she is beyond awesome.  We had some fairly serious discussions about whether or not it was wise to take a teenager with our eldest being only 7.  In the end, as is usually the case, we came up with few logical reasons to say yes, but an overwhelming sense that we were meant to say yes, so we threw caution to the wind, moved furniture upstairs and welcomed her into the family.  She is awesome, and we are so thrilled to have her staying with us for who knows how long.  The kids think she is a rock star and frankly, we do too.  She's really busy with school and work, so we don't see her all that much, but we really enjoy our time with her.  We tell her she really should be careful or she's going to give teenagers a good name!  And for the record, we are NOT (quite) old enough to be her parents :)

3. We are struggling again with Mr Lego and his school experience.  Spring is typically a difficult season for him, and this year is no exception...he is struggling with school and less his happy self at home.  School conferences yield many good questions, but few answers.  We are blessed with so many caring people working hard to help him, but to be honest, we are growing weary of hearing professionals tell us that "they don't know what to tell us, but he really is a sweet and fascinating child." Yes, we know that...we adore him and are fascinated as well (I mean this kid could list the states in reverse alphabetical order by state capital as a toddler...he really is fascinating) but isn't there ANYONE out there who has some answers for us?  It seems like the majority of kids "like him" are homeschooled...and while we do homeschool one day a week, we are not ready to give up on the hope that our public school can provide at least some of what he needs. Our latest "its worth a shot" is some Occupational Therapy to explore some sensory issues to see if that helps him be a happier camper.  We shall see.  At least he's never boring...and he laughs at my bad puns.  Definitely a keeper.

4. In Flower news, her legs are coming along very well now that we are a year post-serial-casting.  Her toe-walking is really gone, the range of motion in her calves and feet is wonderful, and we are starting to wean her out of her leg braces a bit at a time.  She is still working hard to improve her gait and keep her center of mass back.  Right now she is in her AFOs (braces) about 20 hours a day...some days more, some days less.  She will wear night braces for many years to come, but we hope she can be out of day braces by the time she starts Kindergarten this Fall.  The best news is that we are finished with our PT down in the city and we are going to complete her treatment with our beloved Physical Therapist two minutes down the road.  I won't miss those snowy drives down to the city (though I might miss our lunch dates on the way).  We are FINALLY seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and it feels good!

5. Meanwhile, Little Bee continues to be our thumb-sucking, "hair-twiggling" joy.  She is bright and happy and loves to sit us all down on the couch to watch her "dance class moves."  She adores preschool and has joined right into the imaginative play with her siblings here at home.  She's a blast.

6. We had a huge Tae-Kwon-Do Winter...Lego and Hubby both tested for their black belts, I tested for my Half-Black, Flower tested for her purple belt, and Little Bee joined us in class, earning her white belt.  It is SO fun to do this as a whole family now, and we log a LOT of hours at the TKD studio.

So, that's life in these parts, more or less.  We're working on a few home projects, looking forward to some serious gardening when the snow finally melts and keeping up with the day to day.  Life is really, really good right now, we feel very blessed!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

On boredom

Boredom is not the enemy.
It is not the parent's foe.
It is the child's inspiration.
It is the goal.

Okay folks, let's talk boredom today.  Let me start by saying that I LOVE to plan activities for my children.  I plan them because they are fun/educational/interesting/fun/memory-making/fun, but NOT to "keep my kids busy."  That is their job.

I believe that we have seen a huge decline in the amount of childhood play for two reasons:

1) Overuse of Screens
2) Lack of boredom

I will address the screens issue in another post, but here I am going to discuss boredom.

In this uber-connected, Pinterest-perusing, ability-testing society, it is very easy to feel like your main parenting responsibility is to keep your child occupied and enriched at all times.  The years are short and time is already running out for them to master all the skills you'd love for them to have.  And so you fill their days to the brim with great things: school, gymnastics, piano, horseback riding, taekwondo (just to name a few of my family's activities).  Add in competitive sports and, heaven forbid, your child needs some form of therapy- PT, OT, speech- and your week is full to bursting.  When are our children bored (besides all that time we spend in the car between activities)?

When are they bored and not buckled in?!

It is when our kids are bored that become inventive.  They pretend, they scheme, they plan, they build, they problem-solve and occasionally draw murals on our walls.  They create worlds that delight them, scare them, intrigue them, and then they figure out how to deal with those emotions.  They care for one another, or argue.  They have fights, play separately, get bored all over again, and discover that playing together is worth getting over the fight.  They fall down, look to see if you noticed, and then get up and brush themselves off.  They practice being adults- they practice being just like us.

So please, oh please, oh please, leave time in your week for your kids to be bored.  When they come to you and complain that they are bored, nod your head and say, "huh" and then begin a mind-numbing task like picking lint out of the dryer vent.  Invite them to join you.  Offer to find them something to sweep out in the garage (but do NOT make them do their chores...see "chores should not be punishment if you actually want kids to do them.")  But most of all, just ignore them and be boring yourself.  Don't engage them and they will eventually tire of you and find something else to do.

When they come to you and request balloons, tape, help reaching the dress-up bin, get them what they need and then return to being boring.  You'll be amazed- their play will get better and better, and then one day you'll ignore your children while you work on a blog post (ahem) and you'll come upstairs to find that your daughters have planned a party- complete with balloons, party games, dress up outfits for the whole family, a calendar of events, handwritten signs (who says play can't reinforce academic skills) and wrapped up "gifts."  They are working harder than most employees on a good day.  They are conversing, compromising, problem-solving (because tying balloons is hard!), working together (not sure how they got the balloons taped so high on the wall, probably don't want to know), and demonstrating all the skills they need to be grown.  Demonstrating all the skills they need to continue to learn for the rest of their lives.

So if we run out of time for those bagpipe or fencing lessons, I feel confident that they will find a way to pick those things up in the future if they would like.  Of course, they might be too busy planning parties- or running the country.

Embrace the boredom!