America’s Pastime

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Last week, Sam’s baseball team travelled to Cooperstown to play in the biggest baseball tournament of the year.  It’s not normally the kind of thing that I would recap on my blog, but I just can’t stop thinking about it.  I think it is a perfect example of why I love what team sports can do for kids.

First, a little background.  We live in a cold-weather climate.  We don’t play baseball year-round.  We started practice in February.  Indoors.  That’s right, some good batting practice, but hard to work on realistic fielding on a gym floor.  The history of our team at this tournament was a horrible 1-12 record.  The boys were told that we’d go to Cooperstown, but that we couldn’t really compete with teams who have been together for years, practice year-round and have corporate sponsorships.  Yet they were excited and worked to raise money to pay for the trip.

Now, you are probably thinking that despite the odds, we prevailed and did great.  But, this is not a made-for-TV movie.  We sucked.  We lost every game, most cut short by the mercy rule.  That’s not the cool thing.

What happened was a display of pure sportsmanship, which was totally driven by a group of 12-year-old boys, and not a coach or parent.  We were a few innings in to a game and once again found ourselves down.  If we made it to the fourth inning, we were once again in mercy rule territory.  But then, another team (one who had beaten us earlier in the tournament), showed up onto the hill in the outfield.  

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And they started cheering for us.  It seems that after the morning games, they had checked the standings and seen that we were ranked 31 of 32.  So they found our field and came to cheer us on.  And you know what?  It made a difference.  The inning that they showed up, we had a six-run inning.  It didn’t get us out of the hole, but it certainly turned around some momentum.  After the game, they came down and stood outside the dugout waiting for our guys.  When the team came out, they did so to a round of applause and encouragement to keep our heads up.  And for the first time, our ragged team didn’t look like they were miserable.  They looked like a team that was having fun, despite losing a game. But it doesn’t stop there.

The next morning, we played an 8:00 am game.  It was single elimination at this point, so a loss would send us home.  And guess who showed up?  Yep, they were there again.  This time, they had skipped their own camp breakfast so they could come and cheer.  And they had made signs out of a cardboard box they had in the bunkhouse.
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The story would be a lot better if I could now say that their encouragement led us to a victory, but let’s be real.  We lost again.  But our guys then turned around and cheered for their new friends later that day.

So my point?  We do a lot of complaining about kids’ sports today.  Too much pressure.  Parents are too involved.  Kids specialize in a sport too early.  The cost keeps the haves and have-nots separated.  But this week I was reminded of the power of team sports.  Our kids learned a lesson that we, as parents and coaches never could have taught them.  They learned how it feels to have someone on your side.  They learned what it means to play with heart.  They learned how to reciprocate a good deed.  And they learned how to take a loss and look at the good that came out of it.  Later in the week, after both teams had been eliminated, they played wiffle ball on the lawn.  Two teams from across the country, just hanging out, brought together by America’s pastime.  Cooperstown is a magical place.

To the parents of those 12 boys who came and cheered for us, I hope you’ll give yourself a pat on the back.  You’ve done a great job raising boys who understand the real meaning of sport isn’t winning or losing.  If there was a sportsmanship trophy for this tournament, I’m sure it would have gone to your team.  Your kids have heart.  And they taught our kids to have the same.  

The two teams together.

The two teams together.

Queen of Fools

It’s been a pretty busy week around here.  Three holidays is a lot.   Three holidays?  Yes.  Ayub’s birthday.  Easter.  And…APRIL FOOL’S DAY.  Andrew and Sam have always been quite good at the pranks.  This year, I decided I’d step up my game a notch.  And I am AWESOME at this!

Trick #1:  I replaced the contents of the chip bags with matchstick carrots and glued them sealed again.  Packed in Sam and Eleanor’s lunches.  They were both quite upset with me, but especially Eleanor, since she was “really craving Cheetos.”

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Trick #2: I safety-pinned all of Sam’s underwear together so that when he took the pair on top, they all came out in one long chain.  This cracked him up.  So much so, that he walked naked into the kitchen to show everyone, which made it even more amusing.

Trick #3: I put a raisin into the toothpaste tube.  I really didn’t know who would end up getting this one, since most of the kids brush their teeth in our bathroom, for reasons passing my understanding.  Turns out it was Sam.  He spotted it before he squeezed it out on his toothbrush, so I was a little disappointed, but he was sufficiently grossed out anyway.

Trick #4:  Sam gets home from school at about 4:40.  We were all going to be out at various activities, so I knew he would be home alone.  I set every clock/device in our house to go off at 4:45.  There were eight all together.  This is a transcript of the voicemail I received at 4:46:

“What is going on?!?!  I’m in the middle of getting dressed.  I’m just…I’m half naked and every alarm clock in the house goes off.  Hope you can get back to me with an answer.  There goes another one…”

Yes.  I am quite pleased with myself.  And maybe I’ll get around to a post about Easter sometime, but frankly, it didn’t amuse me the way this did!

My Current Favorite Toy

A few weeks ago, I was at Toys R Us, and I saw this on clearance:

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(Click on photo to go to ToysRUs site.)

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I figured the pieces were a little small for Lucy, but maybe Ayub would play with it.  It seemed like it would have some math potential for him, so why not?  As it turns out, everyone loves this thing.  Eleanor has even been playing with Ayub.

Here’s what I love about it.  The pie comes with three different double-sided inserts, so you can arrange it to count or sort whatever you want to do that day.DSC_3579

It comes with tongs.  Perfect for those of us who are working on fine motor skills and hand strength.  They are pretty sturdy, too…not too easy to clamp down.  And the fruit is a cool rubberized texture.  It’s soft, but sturdy.DSC_3585

It has matching colors and shapes, so that you can sort them endless ways.  We’ve used them for sorting by shape, by color, and counting.  In addition, we’ve done some patterns and talked about what comes next and why.DSC_3567

It comes with a pie crust lid, so all the pieces can be stored inside it.  DSC_3629

And lastly, it’s fun.  I mean, I really didn’t expect this to hold his attention for too long, but he loves using the tongs and he’ll fill up the pie several times at a sitting.  It’s a quiet activity that actually holds my kid’s attention for longer than five minutes.  What’s not to love?  (Note, I did not ask him to smile or bribe him in any way for this photo.)

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Monster Fun

Andrew and I have always loved helping our kids enjoy the things they are naturally drawn to.  When Sam was little, he went through a typical dinosaur phase, and we got him dinosaur books, pajamas, toys, and more books.  Eleanor likes the ballet, so Andrew takes her to see several each year.  And, of course, Sam has developed our love for baseball, so we catch as many games as we can (for him, of course).

This brings us to Ayub.  Ayub is into trucks and anything loud.  So this weekend, I became Mother of the Year by taking him to Monster Jam.

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For those who have never been (a category to which I belonged until Friday night), this is an actual sport.  Monster trucks drive over regular cars and smash them down, then judges give them points based on I-don’t-know-what, and there is a winner.  To add some drama, they throw in some conflict where one driver threatens another (think professional wrestling…with acting that’s just as bad).

Ayub loved every minute of it.  Of course, he couldn’t really figure out what was going on sometimes, barraging me with a series of unanswerable “why” questions.  Why they drive on top of those cars?  Why he mad?  Why he win?  After answering “I don’t know” or making up my own fun answers for the first half, after intermission I told him to just watch because I couldn’t hear him with my earplugs in.

Then, on Saturday, my reign as MOTY continued with a trip to Lowe’s.  They have a kids’ clinic every Saturday where the kids get to make something.  Guess what the project was this week?  Monster trucks.  No kidding.  It was the theme for the weekend.  Ayub had a great time.  I mean, really, how often do we tell him to hit something with a hammer?  And then tell him to hit it harder?  He was in heaven!

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And in other news for the Mother Of The Year Selection Committee, Sam got to see two and a half baseball games, Eleanor had a night out with a friend and a playdate at our house, and Sam attended a sleepover birthday party.  If kids could be any happier, I’m not sure how.

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Valentines

When I thought about what life would be like as a stay at home mom, I had some misperceptions. I thought I’d be the mom who sent in special treats for holidays at schools.  We’d do arts and crafts after school.  We’d give homemade presents to our family for Christmas – you know, the stuff we found on Pinterest.

In reality, I’m the same mom I always was.  I still buy store-bought goodies for holiday parties at school, usually purchased on the way to school the morning of the event because I forgot to buy them ahead of time.  I spend the bulk of my days driving kids around, not planning our next craft.  And most of our Christmas gifts came from Amazon.

But for Valentine’s Day, I finally knocked it out of the park.  No other kids will have Valentines this cool.  Seriously.

Here’s what I did:

Step 1: Bribed, cajoled, begged, pleaded and finally yelled at my kids until they would stand still for a photo.  It took Eleanor about 20 shots to get this right.  Ayub did it on his second try.  He isn’t one for wasting time.

Step 2:  Have enough pictures printed for each child.

Step 3: Using a craft knife (see, this is getting kind of crafty, don’t you think?), cut two slits in the photo.

DSC_0504Step 4: Insert heart-shaped sucker and tape to the back so it won’t be jostled out by anxious kids digging to the bottom of their Valentine bag looking for “the good candy.”

Step 5: Deliver to school with a beaming child.

DSC_0499 DSC_0498Honestly, these are so cute it kills me.  (Would have been even better if I could have talked Eleanor into combing her hair, but after I already made her change into a red shirt, there was no room left for bargaining.)  So here it is…my first big success as a stay at home mom.

You will not that we only did these for two of my kids.  Lucy is not incredibly cooperative in posing for photos – you have to catch her in her natural habitat.  As for Sam…sniff, sniff…he’s too old to give out Valentines to his friends.

My Secret Weapon

I had several alternate titles for this post:

Why I’m Judging Your Parenting

The One in Which I Brag About My Verbal Child

Why My Kids Are Smarter Than Your Kids

Take your pick.  But, seriously, this is a post you should read.

There are probably a lot of things that I could have done better as a parent.  But, occasionally, I have hit it out of the ballpark.  Baby sign language has got to be among the top 10 of my successes.  I have NO IDEA why not everyone in the world does this with their babies.  We started it with Sam and used it with Eleanor.  I felt like it was very successful and our kids had a larger-than-average vocabulary when they started pre-school.  But here’s where I have to brag.  We brought Lucy home at 10 months of age.  She spoke no English and had not been exposed to it at all.  She spoke no words (according to the nannies) in her native language.  At 12 months, she was evaluated for speech (along with a slew of other things) and was found to be way behind in her verbal skills.  Never fear.  We started using sign language, and by 18 months she had completely caught up with her peer group and now (21 months), she is ahead of where Eleanor was at the same age.  I attribute all of this to our use of baby sign language.  If you’re not using this with your toddlers, you are making a parenting mistake.  Yes, there it is…I am judging you.

Here are some facts:

  • Research confirms that signing babies have fewer temper tantrums.  This makes sense, because if babies are able to express themselves through a sign, they can tell you what they want.  It takes the guesswork out of your job.
  • Baby signers speak earlier than babies who don’t sign.  Babies learn that a sign is something that stands for something else.  This leads to the natural next step, using a word to represent that same thing.  Babies can understand words before they can say them, but sign language provides a bridge until they learn to vocalize.
  • Studies shows that babies who sign, have larger speaking vocabularies earlier than their peers. They even do better as they get older and start school. One study showed that eight year olds who learned baby sign language as infants had an average IQ 12 points higher than non-signers.

Here are some clips of Lucy using signs.  Most of these were in November, so she would have been about 19 months.  These are a little random, because I wasn’t very good at capturing them, but let’s face it, any video with Lucy in it is always popular.

Sign Language Clips from Kristin W on Vimeo.

The amazing thing about this is that it’s EASY to do.  It doesn’t require a big investment or a lot of time.  You simply start by doing the sign when you say the word.  Then repeat.  Eventually, the baby will start mimicking the signs.  Easy peasy.  There are a ton of books, websites, videos, and apps that can help you get started.  After you read up on how to introduce signs, I’d recommend the app “My Smart Hands.”  Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.33.01 PM

It has video clips of most of the words you’ll want to use and she explains why the sign looks the way it does (to help you remember).  I kept it on my phone and when we wanted a new word, it was easy to find.  I would not recommend the tons of flash cards that are available.  Learning signs shouldn’t be schoolwork, it should be incorporated into your daily routine, using the words as you would normally use them.  That said, if you want a video to keep the little one occupied, we used “Talking Hands,” which all of our kids liked.  It’s a little slow, but the repetition is important and as an added bonus, the signers are multicultural.  I think it’s out of date, but I found a DVD on ebay (to replace the VHS we had when we started with Sam…it’s been a while).

Lucy is now 21 months and we’re starting to move away from sign.  She can now easily pick up new words and is rapidly adding to her vocabulary.  Last month, we tracked all the words she could say (and use appropriately), and she was up to about 80 words.  As a comparison, Eleanor had 62 at the same age.  I am truly astounded at how a baby so far behind can so quickly catch up.  I think sign is fabulous for any child, but especially for those whose language acquisition was interrupted by international adoption.

Chores

I am a big believer that our kids need chores.  They need to feel like they are a vital part of the household and they need to learn some skills so they won’t still be living here when they are 30.  So, over the years, I have come up with about 10 different ways to assign and track chores.  Needless to say, they all start off great, then tend to fizzle out.  In addition, when we added two more kids to the mix, it became overwhelming for me to keep track of who was doing what (and how well).

But, since it’s a new year, I am trying once again to light a fire under my kids butts.  First, the big kids.  At 11 and 9, they are clearly able to handle more complicated chores, however with swimming, baseball and an enormous amount of homework, they just don’t have a lot of time.  At the beginning of the week, I print out a checklist with daily chores, and they each get 2-3 per day.  This is no different than it used to be.  However, I’ve now added “bonus chores” for which they can be paid.  At the beginning of the week, I put magnets on the fridge with the job and how much they are worth.

DSC_0056I bought some plastic envelopes at Office Depot and cut off the flaps.  When they do a chore (first come, first serve), they move the magnet into their envelope.  On Sundays, I pay out for whatever is in the envelope.  They also both get an allowance (one dollar for each grade level, so Sam’s up to six dollars a week), but that allowance isn’t tied to any chores.  Since Eleanor is very motivated by money, this has been great for her.  In the first week, she was able to double her allowance.  I’m not sure how long the motivation will keep up, but she is trying to save up for the new American Girl doll, so that should buy me some time.  The things that I pay for are things that I would normally do, so if they don’t get done, I don’t sweat it.

Since Ayub can’t read, I made a picture chore chart for him.  Of course, it had to have a Captain America theme, because I’m pretty sure that Captain America is good about finishing his chores, don’t you think?

ayub chartHe has two columns: to do and “I did it!”  There are pictures in the “to do” column each day and when he is finished, he moves it from one side to the other.  I tried to make the pictures as understandable as possible and to include what type of tools/supplies are needed so that he could remember how to do it.

Untitled-1The first week was tough, because I had to show him how to do each task.  At first, he was very excited about getting to help out and having chores like the big kids.  He made it to Thursday before he told me “I don’t wanna do that…chores is boring.”  See what a smart kid he is?!?!?!  But, we’ve stuck with it and most of the time he will complete his tasks.  And sometimes they are even passable.  But, hey, he’s five, so we let it slide a little.

Lucy has only one chore…to feed the dog.  For those who didn’t see it on Facebook, here’s how excited she gets about doing her part around the house.

 

Lucy’s Chore from Kristin W on Vimeo.

Eleanor is NINE

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My big girl turned nine this week.  My gorgeous, outspoken, dramatic, insistent girl has been around for nine years.  I always get a little nostalgic on her birthday, probably because hers was such a difficult pregnancy.  I went into pre-term labor at 27 weeks, but after much bed rest, three hospitalizations, and numerous medications to stop contractions, we made it to 36 weeks.  It’s something I don’t think much about, except on her birthday.  If I had known then that this was just her “I want it my way and I want it right now” personality showing through, it might have made things easier.  But, it was a very tough time, and her birthday was the end.  The finish line.  [Insert sigh of relief.]

But, on a light note, I made the most fantastic pancakes for her birthday breakfast.  You can find the recipe HERE.  They really are as good as she says.  Eleanor loved them, as did the rest of the family.

DSC_0029And for her cake, Eleanor wanted a Thor cake.  She told me I should go to Publix and “tell them I’m a boy so you can get an Avengers cake.”  UGH!  Eleanor has an older brother and a dad who are superhero fans, so it makes sense that she has developed a love for them.  She has a book with all the Avengers biographies and has educated herself on every one of them.  But she still thinks it’s not alright for a girl to be so interested.  For a long time, she didn’t mention it at school because she was afraid the girls would laugh at her.  Now she has reached out to a few friends and learned that maybe it’s okay.  What is wrong with this picture?  Why are we (still) raising little girls who don’t think they can play with certain toys or be certain things when they grow up?  I’m pretty sure she’s not getting these ideas at home, but how do I fight against the rest of the world?  Eleanor is smart.  Really smart.  And, she is a little manipulative.  Not necessarily in a bad way (although sometimes), but it’s more that she reads people well enough to know what buttons to push to get what she wants.  She really could grow up to be anything.  Yet she thinks that only boys can have an Avengers cake.   So my daughter is nine.  I have had her for half the time she will live with us.  (This, in itself, is a crazy thought for me.)  I only have nine more years to instill in her the confidence that will allow her to take on the stereotypes and change the world.  So look out, media, friends and society in general.  I am declaring war on you.

Random Acts of Kindness

Before I forget, I want to recap how we spent part of our December.  I wanted to stress to the kids (especially the big ones) the spirit of giving this year.  At the beginning of December, we brainstormed some ways that we could do Random Acts of Christmas Kindness around town.  We made a list of 25 things, and although we didn’t keep to our initial plan of doing one a day, we did make it through quite a few.  Some were more labor-intensive than others, but all were relatively inexpensive or even free.  Here’s a list of what we did, along with some photos, although I didn’t take photos of most things and some are from my iPhone, so not my typical photo quality.

  • Made Christmas Cards for people at a retirement home.

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  • Cleaned off our bookshelves and donated the extra books to the Children’s Home Society.
  • Gave one of the books to our mailman (a joke book, since he likes to tell the kids jokes when he sees them).
  • Made cookies for our neighbors.

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  • Hid dollars at the Dollar Tree for others to find and use.

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  • Read Christmas books at the kids’ old preschool.
  • Put quarters in the gumball machines at the mall.

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  • Volunteered at Children’s Home Society to help sort donations to go to families.  (Sam and Eleanor did this one on their own.)
  • Gave hot chocolate packets to the library workers (delivered through the book drop).

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  • Put candy canes on the windshields of the cars at Target one afternoon.

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  • Paid for someone in line behind us at the drive thru.
  • Asked a cashier what her favorite candy was and then bought it for her.

Because I got sick for about a week while Andrew was out of town, we kind of took a break mid-month.  I didn’t want this to become something that was a chore.  But the kids really enjoyed it.  They had a great time coming up with ideas, and once we got started they added other things to the list.  They even did a few nice things for each other.  (Honest.  I was shocked.)

Overall, I’d say that it was a success.  If nothing else, we had a little fun and spent some time doing something together as a family.  It was interesting to me to see how differently the kids approached things.  Sam wanted to be super-stealth and make sure no one knew it was us.  For example, he wanted to put the joke book in a different family’s mailbox, because if we used our own, he would know it was from us.  Eleanor just wanted to do projects that were oriented around money (the Dollar Tree and the gum ball machines were her favorites).  It made me realize how much that child would like to find money somewhere.  Although it didn’t go exactly as planned, they got the point of enjoying generosity and started to think about doing nice things for others. Now that the holidays are over, I’m looking forward to finding some other ways to keep them thinking about helping others, but we will definitely do this again next year.