2017 was a tough year in the KoeFoe house. My husband’s uncle passed away from terminal cancer. My husband’s grandma passed away from complications from surgery. And then my Nana….just…..passed away. Wave after wave hit us, but seemed to miss our children, who weren’t close to these family members. Until Nana.
Every Tuesday night, since before our son was born, we had Taco Tuesday’s at Nana’s. We ate, watched Jeopardy, the kids did somersaults, sang into microphones, performed and were given chocolate and ice cream and cookies, oh my! At 93 years old, Nana even “babysat” Evie (with the help of her home health nurse) every Friday for a couple hours. She was a constant fixture in our lives, until one day, she wasn’t.
We knew we had to talk to the kids, but didn’t know quite how. Izzie, at 8 months was too young to know anything was going on. Evie, at 2 years, knew something was up, but certainly couldn’t comprehend. But Cole? Cole, we found, was a wise – albeit brand new – 4 year old. He had questions, and we didn’t always know the answers.
When the end was eminent, I remember sitting with Nana. Tears in my eyes, she told me that crying was okay, that she was going to be fine, that this was God’s plan. I told her, “I know it is….I just don’t know what I’m supposed to tell Cole and Evie.” My pain was so profoundly compacted by the idea that I would also have to manage their loss, that at times it felt suffocating.
I’m not sure what we did was best, or right, but here are some tips that worked for us. I hope that you don’t need them, but if you do, that they help.
When I first sent my son to preschool, he went to a traditional preschool – the kind I remember, and you probably do too! A carpet with letters and spots for each kid to sit. Charts on the wall showing the alphabet, calendar, weather. Super cute crafts for every holiday, with a Pinterest perfect sample of what they would be making that day. But he wasn’t learning his letters. He wasn’t great at sitting. He wasn’t participating in the crafts. So we moved him over to a play-based preschool. And he LOVED it. But everyone else? Well, they thought we were crazy. And I learned there are a LOT of myths about play based education.
Being the delightfully stubborn person I am, I threw myself into learning as much as I could about the educational style that was benefitting my son so very much. Over the next two years, and as I went on to enroll both my daughters in the school, I’ve come up against a lot of concerns and criticisms from people that, frankly, just didn’t know what they were talking about. So if you’re curious about play-based preschool, or wondering why in the world your friend is sending her kids to one, here are some of the myths you may have heard – and hopefully some truths to help clear things up.
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It’s the end of a long day, and you are one story away from watching Real Housewives in your PJs with a glass can of wine. You anxiously await your kids’ book decision. Will it be the borderline unbearable “5 Minute Stories” book with the stories that just don’t make sense and are dry as a bone? Will it be the longest children’s book ever written? Or will it be a book you actually LIKE?
My kids have thousands of dollars worth of games and toys and arts and crafts and I even am not above allowing some indulgent screen time. But the fact is, at the end of the day, they love dirt and sticks and rocks. Yeah, rocks. Which – don’t get me wrong – I love. I mean, what’s not to love? They’re super cheap (also known as FREE at your nearest outside location), easy to handle, you don’t have to worry about getting them dirty, and you can just leave them in the backyard! I love them SO much, I want to pass that love of rocks on to you! So here are nine fun ways for your little ones to play with rocks.
Rock painting is so in right now. Seriously. It seems that it’s the hot kid craft on Pinterest. And it’s hot for a reason. Because kids love to paint rocks. Whether your kids want to paint ladybugs or pumpkins or just go nuts free form, kids will love it. Plus, you can do it outside, which is extra awesome because you aren’t going to ruin your dining room table. We even have some friends whose kids love to paint rocks with WATER. I mean, you literally can’t get a cleaner craft than that! It’s. Just. WATER. And rocks. World’s easiest cleanup ever.
My 4 year old is obsessed with Tic-Tac-Toe right now. Which means there are sheets of paper all over my house like confetti with scribbles all over them. So you know what’s boss? A reusable tic-tac-toe board. Even better? One that’s in my yard, that I only have to draw once, and then can use rocks for our “X’s” and “O’s.”
All three of my kids love to stack things – anything! They also love to compete with each other. Who can make the highest stack of rocks? Who can keep the tower balanced? Who will knock it over? There are so many variations even in different ways to just stack the rocks. And endless entertainment!
Carrying them back and forth
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, this list just jumped the shark. These chicks think my kids will be entertained by carrying rocks back and forth across my yard.” And maybe you’re right. Maybe your kid won’t do it. But we’re here to tell you that we literally sat in Jaymi’s backyard and watched our kids carry rocks from a bucket to a pile AND BACK AGAIN for like 45 minutes last week. I think they made some sort of a secret game out of it, but they didn’t clue the adults in on the rules. All I know is those rocks were on the move in the hot little hands of our kids. Kids that got wiped out from all that rock carrying. So, SOLD.
This one’s pretty simple: Do just what it sounds like. Hide those rocks and let the kids find them. As one of our kids’ friends announced the other day, “You don’t have to wait for Easter to do an Easter egg hunt!” True that, Muriel! Egg hunts are great one day a year, but rock hunts – those are a classic the other 364.
Steal the Bacon
Remember sweating on the blacktop waiting for your number to be called so you could race to grab a blackboard eraser? Well, we’re fresh out of blackboard erasers at our house. But we got rocks! And whether it’s a group of kids at a playdate or just two of mine facing off head to head, a race for the rock is a big hit. More bonus points for this one being another tiring activity. With basically no setup, no cleanup and the only parental involvement being to yell, “GO!”
town that is tricked into sharing their soup. It’s also a culinary classic in our backyard. Stones, leaves, dirt all create a “delicious” base to be stirred with sticks. This one takes some more parental involvement (I admit I’m wayyyyyy over pretending to slurp soup and report how delicious it is) and can be significantly messier than some of the other options, but my kids are all about getting messy, so bring it on!
A story garden is the perfect way to bring your kids’ imaginative play outside. This one’s a two parter, but worth it! First, see #1 and paint those bad boys. You can paint anything you want on the stones – houses, animals, boats, foods, cars, bugs, rainbows, shapes, people – you name it! Then, make stories! The possibilities are ENDLESS with what you can create! Here’s a few ways to play with them compiled by The Artful Parent and we’re partial to this cute Hungry Caterpillar set which is perfect for retelling.
Only to be played if you trust your kids won’t chuck the rocks straight at a window, your head, their siblings heads, their friends heads, etc. Once that’s established, my kids dig this one. We use a hula hoop as the place to toss rocks and we start a foot or two away from the hoop. Each kid gets to toss a rock into the hoop. After they make that shot, they step back. And back. And back. And back. Until they miss at which point we start over. My competitive little kids love the challenge of this. Once the hula hoop has been mastered, you can always make smaller targets with anything you have around the house!
As a proper 21st century Mom living in a Pinterest world, I start thinking about Halloween in about March. Not because I’m going to do anything crazy like come up with handmade family costumes that I’m going to start working on or anything. No, I’ve just got to come up with a concept so that by the time September rolls around I have a fully flushed out idea of what kind of family costume I’m going to buy. Because every year I have it in my head that THIS is the year that everyone’s going to want to collaborate on something. Plus, October is BUSY. Like, super busy. We have our wedding anniversary, my birthday, oh, and I was due to have a baby October 5th. So I figured if I could get us all organized, you know, BEFORE I had the baby that would be ideal.
2016 was the year of 1,001 ideas. We were going to have Mommy, Daddy, 3 year old Cole, an almost 2 year old Evie, and a tiny baby girl – who we estimated would be about three and a half weeks old. And man – OH MAN – did I have ideas!
Zootopia: Daddy – Chief Bogo, Cole – Nick Wild, Evie – Judy Hopps, Mommy – Gazelle, BABY AS BELLWEATHER! (Side note: I DIE for babies dressed as lambs!)
USC Inspired: Daddy -Coach, Cole – Football player, Evie – Cheerleader, Mommy – Referee, BABY AS MY YELLOW FLAG!!!
Wizard of Oz: Daddy – Scarecrow, Cole – Cowardly Lion, Evie – Tin(wo)man, Mommy – Dorothy, BABY AS TOTO! How cute would that be???
But alas, NONE of my ideas stuck.
I spent hours, days, weeks, begging my kids to tell me what they’d like to be. Something fun, cool, creative! But Cole wanted to be a ghost. I took to Pinterest and showed him every ghost I could. I scoured Amazon, Costco and eventually Halloween stores. Nothing. That was not what he wanted. He wanted to be just a regular ghost. Not a scary ghost or a happy ghost or Casper the friendly ghost. He specifically wanted to be “a sheet ghost.” I tried to change his mind up until about 3:00 on Halloween afternoon. I just knew he was going to change his mind at the last minute. He swore he wouldn’t, so I went and found an old white sheet. I held it up and showed him and he said, “Yep, just like that.” I asked what to do and he instructed me to cut two eyes – and that’s it. That was how he wanted his ghost. We adjusted the length, and ended up cutting slits for his arms.
As we got ready to go trick-or-treating, I grabbed his Buzz Lightyear costume and shoved it in my purse – just in case he got tired of his ghost costume, or decided once he saw all kids dressed as Catboy and Spiderman and all the Paw Patrol dogs he’d be wondering why he was just wearing a freaking sheet.
But I was wrong.
LORDY was I wrong.
The kid was the happiest ghost you have ever seen. He ran from house to house, LOVING Halloween. He was soooo proud of his costume and would announce at every house, “I’m a GHOST! But not a real ghost – just pretend!” And as I watched him, and laughed, and just LOVED that little boy, I realized that’s what Halloween is about.
It’s not about the perfect family costume. It’s about finding pure joy in a busted old sheet.
Last year was my son’s first school picture day. And I. Was. Ready. I may have a lot of Mom fails – I don’t have the perfect set of first day of school traditions. I have forgotten for a solid year to prep my son’s emergency kit. Today I didn’t realize until it was too late that I had basically nothing for my kids’ lunches. But picture day? That’s one of those days that I ROCK. Shopping, practicing, pep talking to the kids – we slay picture day. But now, a year later, I realize that I had put a tad bit too much pressure onto picture day.
My guess is, you have to. We all do. But we NEED TO STOP. So here are three things to just LET GO of on picture day.
1. The perfect outfit.
If my Mom had it her way, I would have worn a corduroy jumper every year on picture day until I graduated college. I hated it. Because I was not a corduroy jumper girl. I’m sure that on more than one occasion I screamed at her, “I’ll NEVER make my kids wear a stupid corduroy jumper if they don’t want to!” Fast forward to Cole’s first picture day. And no, I did not make my son wear a jumper.
But damned if I did not force him into FREAKING. CORDUROY. PANTS. Like, is there some weird genetic inclination in my family?? I don’t know. All I know is that my son – who had NEVER worn corduroy before – was wearing it on picture day. And he hated it.
Looking back? I should probably have let him pick what he wanted to wear. Because it’s HIS picture day too. A snap in time of who HE is. Not who Mommy was making him be. Even if just for a day. 2. Hair.
Okay, I’m not saying have your kid roll out of bed and head off to picture day. Run a brush through that bad boy. Maybe even bust out some product. Have a girl? Have an entire treasure chest full of clips and headbands that she refuses to wear? Bad news – she ain’t gonna suddenly love headbands and hair clips just because it really means a lot to you today. Maybe you can bribe her. Maybe he’ll agree. But keep your expectations LOW.
I killed myself and got into the biggest fight my son and I have ever had over his hair that morning. In the end, it was perfect. He was so. Freaking. Handsome.
And then I got the proofs of the picture. And wondered what the hell happened. Because his head looked like it had been through a blender. So unless your kid is going to sit in a chair with their hands strapped down until the picture is taken? It’s probably not worth the grief.
Fun fact: There is NOTHING your kid will love more than you yelling at them to “smile!,” and then telling them they’re doing it wrong.
Follow up: Your kid’s smile will actually NOT get more natural if you tell them repeatedly, “That isn’t your real smile! It doesn’t look natural!”
Photographers generally know what they’re doing. They can make your kid laugh. And if they can’t, none of your coaching is going to change that. Trust me. I coached Cole all day and he had his smile down. It was amazing. And let me tell you – I ended up with not a single one of those well-rehearsed smiles.
Truth be told? Some of my favorite pictures – of my kids and my friends – are the one’s where they’re not smiling! Especially if they’re not smiley kids! Evie was a GRUMPY CAT when she was a baby. She was born with a pouty bottom lip. So when we went and got professional pictures taken and I chose to keep one with her resting B face, the photographer couldn’t understand it. But that’s what she looks like! That’s the face I’m going to want to remember forever, way more than a fake plastered smile.
I know what you’re thinking, uh, Christine – outfit, hair and smile are basically ALL the elements of picture day. What am I supposed to stress out about then?
Just let it be.
Easy for me to say? Maybe. Or maybe I say it because I tried. I tried so hard. I had the perfect outfit. We got his hair to be on point. And he left the house with a picture perfect smile that would make you swoon. And then, even then, we got…..the picture.
And now, I present to you, the best, most epic, you WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED EVEN WITH ALL THE HYPE school picture, you may have ever seen. Just let it all soak in. You’re welcome. And happy picture day.
Okay, maybe not literally. Maybe not totally seriously. But I’ve probably given it too much actual thought than I should have.
Lots of times, I love motherhood, I do. When all three of my kids are in a sweet spot, I think I could have three more. When two of them are delightful and one is going through a more challenging phase, I power through. When one is nice and two are little hot mess machines, I hunker down and know we’ll get through it. But when all three are hellions? I start making a list of possible talents I could contribute to the circus.
Right now? I’m in full on circus mode.
In the past few weeks all three of my children have thrown up on me. I’ve had many midnight discussions about diarrhea and why my son is “peeing out of his butt.” We had a solid week where at least one child was wide awake from 3am on, which leads for a very early wake up for Mommy and Daddy. We’ve had night terrors. A four year old that just. doesn’t. listen. A two year old that is in active transition from the terrible twos to being a threenager whose greatest joy in life is her abundant ability to tease her brother. A breast feeder that’s found out her big ol’ teeth make excellent weapons. And I ran out of coffee creamer.
It’s weeks like these that make me spend considerable amounts of time researching the standard working contract for cruise staff. Not that I’d actually drive down to the cruise terminal and go to the employment booth and fill out the application to work a 6 month tour on the Carnival Inspiration or anything. Of course I wouldn’t actually go and do that. I don’t think. But I’ve definitely gotten closer than my husband should find out about.
And yes, there have been good times, but right now? Right now I’m overwhelmed with yet another night of changing sheets filled with last night’s dinner, a 2 year old that comes tumbling out of her crib before the sun rises and a baby that has found she’s sure to get my attention by biting anything she can sink those chompers into.
I love them, I do, but just think how much more I could love and appreciate them if I took, say, a six month break. If I went off on an adventure and came back with arms full of treats and souvenirs and a heart full of missing them. I won’t do it, but I’m definitely still gonna dream about it.