Operation Christmas Child

Since my first child was born I’ve struggled with the idea of how to teach a kid gratitude and empathy. How do you instill a grateful heart in children who have everything they need and don’t know what it means to go without? I don’t remotely have the answer to that question, but I moved one step closer today, showing it to my oldest son, Ezra. 

For the past three years I’ve participated in Operation Christmas Child, an outreach program through Samaritan’s Purse. It’s really simple: you pack a “shoebox” (I buy 6 quart plastic boxes at the store) with toys, toiletries, and school supplies for a child from an underprivileged country. You decide ahead of time what age group you’re buying for so you can get age appropriate items. When Ezra was three I took him shopping with me, carefully explaining that we were purchasing Christmas gifts for another child. He could not have cared less. So, when he was four I went shopping on my own. This year he’s five, and I hoped he was old enough to understand what we were doing. My objective: bless a couple of children while blessing my own son with a greater awareness of the needs of others. 

This morning I busted out our globe and had Ezra point out where we lived. Then I pointed out several countries where shoeboxes are distributed. “In these countries there are children who don’t have what you have, like toys and clothes and coloring books. Many of them won’t even receive Christmas gifts,” I explained. “Would you like to go to the store and pick out some gifts for a couple of kids?” I was holding my breath at that question. It’s entirely possible he could have just said he’d rather watch The Lion Guard. Instead, he responded positively and wanted to go to the store right away. 

It may not seem like a big thing, but it’s something. It’s a step forward in teaching gratitude and empathy. I love that my son was eager to go pick out gifts for someone else. I love that he was able to think of someone else’s needs. When we arrived at Target he headed straight for the toy aisle. I was a little nervous that this was going to turn into an “I want this” trip, but I underestimated the little critter. He started by picking out his two favorite Matchbox cars, one for each box. (I decided we would shop for two boys ages 5-9 since that is in Ezra’s wheelhouse.) Then he picked out two stuffed dinosaurs, one blue and one green. I asked him what else little boys need, and he came back with “crayons.” So we headed over to the arts and crafts aisle and picked out some crayons and a coloring book for each boy. I kind of lost him when we moved onto the toiletry portion of the box, but he did make a valiant effort to locate individually packaged bars of soap! 

When we got home I asked him to help me pack the boxes and he got right to work sorting items and putting one of each thing in the boxes. I helped him figure out how to make it all fit, but he did the packing. I really wanted him to be as hands-on as possible to take ownership of the project. 

It’s a fine line between helping someone, and reveling in your own privilege when you participate in a charitable activity. The truth is, it makes us feel good about ourselves to help when the focus really should be on the people you’re helping. My goal today was to have Ezra focus on meeting a need with a pure heart, and I hope that’s what happened. 

Here are a couple of links if you think you might want to pack a shoebox, too:

Samaritan’s Purse
How to Pack a Shoebox
They are a Christian organization, but you certainly don’t have to be a Christian or a religion of any kind to pack a box!😊

Here is what went in our boxes:

  • Tee shirt
  • Chapstick
  • Toothbrush
  • Washcloth
  • Crayons crayons
  • Coloring book
  • Matchbox car
  • Two pack of playdoh
  • Stuffed animal (dinosaur)
  • Koosh ball

Each box of items cost me approximately $38. Next year I’m going to incorporate having Ezra pay for part of the gift with his piggyback money. Baby steps!

Being, Just to Be

You know what’s underrated? Carefree abandon. I hope all of you had at least one moment of carefree abandon today. I am becoming a big fan of moments infused with it. For me, that means making choices when my analyzer is switched off. Enjoying the moment, the activity, the decision; sometimes it’s very freeing to just be or just do and not always consider how it will impact anything else in my life. 

The latest in carefree abandon: Dance-offs with my frequently naked 3 1/2 year old. Normally I would insist on a pull-up since he isn’t exactly house-broke, but lately he has decided being naked is what it’s all about, so we’re rolling with it. Mostly because its unfathomably adorable. Maybe it will give him a little incentive to realize how nice it can feel not to have a pull-up on all the time? Maybe? Yeah I know, probably not. 

We enjoyed a great weekend filled with family goodness, now that we are both much less committed to work at this very second: Visiting the zoo, finally setting up the pool, blowing hundreds of bubbles in the backyard to make “a magic giant bubble.” A family could spend a lot of time blowing a lot of bubbles with the goal of a bubble that is both giant and magical. 😊 

The bubble is not in the picture, but I assure you, it was awesome.


E posed next to this gigantic sleeping/dead crocodile. I am confident that this experience will only take up very little of the therapy time he will now likely need as an adult.

 Another reason this weekend rocked was we finally said goodbye to the hellacious heatwave that singed all my flowers, killed my grass, and kept me a prisoner in my own home. My own non-air conditioned home. Well, except one room I held up in during the siege. Some people flit about fresh as flowershop daisies on the ninth consecutive day of 100 degree temperatures. I’m not one of those people. I’m more like the actual daisies in the backyard listing dangerously to the side or collapsing in upon themselves, because they have already wisely given up. The first three or four days of blazing heat they stood strong, believing help was coming. By the sixth day, they accepted their fate and fell over. That’s me. I don’t need to be a hero when it’s 100 degrees. Whatever needs to be done can wait until we are back in the 80 degree range, am I right?

Consequently, this will be the last year we make excuses about the “necessity” of air conditioning. Every single year the hubs and I discuss getting it, then justify our way back out by reasoning that there really are only 3-4 days a summer we really need it and it just isn’t worth the expense. Bollocks. We need it bad, and it is for sure worth the expense. Coming to our home Fall 2015: Air conditioning. Sweet, sweet air conditioning. 

No adoption updates in quite some time now, but life is good and our faith is intact. 😇 We are considering redoing our online and book portfolios, something I dread since the first one took almost 60 hours to make. But, you do whatcha gotta do, right? 

Stop in and follow the journey from the beginning! 



Some Nights You Gotta Dance

Mr. E has always had a very reliable bedtime routine, since about six months old, and for this I am grateful. He embraces the routine and expects it, so putting him to bed is almost never a challenge. I’ve encountered one obstacle throughout the years regarding bedtime, and he goes by the name of Dada, aka, the Hubs. 

The Hubs plays with his little boy like many dads, all rough and tumble and funny faces and slapstick comedy. It’s adorable. He’s the best dad in the world. But a half hour before bedtime, I’ve told him he needs to begin easing into a more soothing pattern of play. Calming voices. Reduced sensory stimulation.  Setting the tone for a cooperative transition. This has earned me the loving nickname “Major Buzzkill” at least once a week since E was born. 

Our current routine goes like this: we help E pick out his jammies and get them on as well as his pull-up. He’s getting close to doing this without us, but just not quite yet. Then the hubs reads 5-6 books that E picks out and they brush his teeth during reading time. After that’s done, E gets one last hurrah where he comes racing at top speed out of his bedroom to “find me” and shouts, “It’s time to cuddle, Mama! You come cuddle now!” (He’s going through a bit of a demanding phase.). Then we turn on his moon and stars projector in his room and his “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” music, set for one hour, and I climb into his train bed with him for cuddle time. Cuddle time is a lot like how it sounds, but we also sing songs and say our prayers. Sometimes if something is on his mind E will tell me about it after a few minutes. It’s a very special time that I cherish because I know it won’t last forever. 

About three nights ago, I discovered a new dimension has been added to our bedtime routine. After the books have been read, the hubs and E have a dance party. I realized this because I was waiting to be summoned for cuddle time when suddenly I heard the melodic strains of “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band. It was reverberating through the door where my son was supposed to be reading soothing books with his Dada and preparing for night-night. 

So I go in there and sure enough, there’s my husband and my kid dancing all over the room. Realizing I was outnumbered, I settled in to watch the cuteness. E has a few special dances, one he calls his “one foot dance” and another is his “two feet dance.” I would describe his style as a combination of “The Charleston” meets Flashdance

As the last song was wrapping up, (“Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”) by Michael Jackson, E just kept on dancing even though the music ended. He just kept going! Finally we asked him what he was dancing to, and he looked up at his Dada and said, “It feels like the perfect song, and it makes me think of you.” 

It’s true! My kid just busted that line out of nowhere!  Honestly, it was out of the clear blue sky. We monitor everything he hears, sees, or reads, and I don’t know where this one came from. My little boy is definitely a wordsmith!  I’m a little fearful of the pick-up lines he might devise when he’s older and the object of his affection isn’t his dada!

Okay yeah, I’m a little jealous the hubs got that line and I didn’t. But it’s cool. He got the first “I lub you!” too, and it was no biggie. I started hearing it as well, shortly after the first one. 

So the dance party seems to have officially become part of the bedtime routine, because I’m definitely not going to eliminate the part where my son does the “one foot dance” and spews poetry off the top of his head. It makes settling down for cuddle time quite a challenge, but I’d call it a fair trade off. 

Here is a short video of my littlest sweetheart showing off his skills. This is when we were playing in the backyard last night. I think he has more creative moves when he’s in his room since it is a smaller area, but I takes what I can gets when he decides he’s willing to cooperate with the camera! (Please don’t judge me on my dry, ugly grass. The sprinklers couldn’t keep up with the heatwave. Mostly because I didn’t want to also go in the blazing heat to turn them on. Meh.) 

What Dreams May Come, part 1

Many years ago, probably when I was in my early 20s but before I met the hubs, I had a dream that I have never forgotten. I was in a backyard, playing with a little boy with blonde hair, pale skin, and eyes so dark they were almost black. That was the whole dream; we were just playing and laughing. I recognized in the dream this must be my son, but it didn’t feel prophetic or like a life-changing epiphany. Just an ordinary dream where I felt very happy and content. I don’t remember most of my dreams, but this one was vivid and has never faded from my mind.

I wrote about it in my journal “just in case” I had such a little boy one day. Also, I didn’t want to risk forgetting. I told the hubs about it years later, even after we were dealing with infertility, as I recall. The hubs is a very grounded, realistic sort of person so this revelation about my dream didn’t exactly full him with confidence that it was a prophecy waiting to be fulfilled. And neither did I, to be honest. It just sort of stuck with me, and I like remembering the way I felt during the dream.

Also of note: I could never find a a picture that really nailed the coloring or true depiction of the boy in my dream, so I couldn’t describe him to the hubs very well. The description sounds fairly ordinary, but the boy wasn’t ordinary at all. His coloring was so unique. Then one day, I was watching the movie Love Actually, when this kid shows up!

The “Love Actually” kid, the one I recognized as being eerily similar to the kid I dreamed of years before.

I was so excited!  Although he wasn’t the exact replica of my dream-kid, he was darn close. Even though I was watching the movie alone, (since the hubs would rather be boiled alive in hot oil than watch this film), I was so excited to find a good representation of the kid from my years-old-yet-vivid-dream, I made him come take a look. He scanned the screen, said something like, “It is noted,” and went back to what he was doing.

Several more years passed, and we eventually became pregnant through IVF and had a baby boy. I wish I could say the memory of my dream propelled me through the most challenging moments of infertility, but it didn’t. I thought of it all the time, but I didn’t think of it as my destiny.  In fact, I thought I was having a girl until we had the anatomy scan.

If I’m being honest, this story would be much cooler if I had dreamed about a boy with red hair and green eyes and freckles, and then actually birthed that baby. The hubs and I have none of those as dominant traits. How awesome would that be to see a menagerie of recessive traits come to life after dreaming of a boy who possessed them? Spooky!

My dream was/is very special to me. I absolutely believe I got a little glimpse of life with my son at least ten years before his birth. Of course, the fact that he was born with the genetic traits of the dream-kid is not exactly a head scratcher. 

After all, the odds of giving birth to a boy are 50/50. My eyes are very, very dark and my skin is about as light as skin comes. The hubs has gorgeous blue eyes and is Caucasian too, but with a lot more color to his skin tone. We both have brown wavy/curly hair, but we were both very blonde as children. Therefore it is fairly obvious that E inherited his very light skin and dark eyes from me, and his blonde/wavy/unruly hair from both of us. Mystery solved.

But still, the dream is awesome. And frankly, I thought of it a lot during our infertility journey. Not as my guiding light but just as a small reminder of how happy I was playing in the backyard with the little boy in my dream.

Has anyone else had a dream that came true, or a similar experience? I hope you will share in the comments below!

Answer: I’m a Mother

Why do mothers of all kinds, stay at home, work from home, work outside the home,  forget to realize that being a mother is a very real and legit job? In the back of my brain, behind all the cobwebs, I’m well aware of the truth. I know how important my work is.  But I have noticed that sometimes, I find myself feeling like I need to justify “what I do all day.” To be fair, no one has ever asked me this question. If they had, I would be writing this from prison. Even a simple inquiry such as, “Yesterday was so beautiful! How do you and E end up enjoying the day?” will make me cringe if I can’t come up with a fascinating Stepford mommy answer lickety-split. “Well first, we went outside, and while E was telling me the difference between a deciduous tree and a coniferous tree using Latin terms, we spotted a caterpillar! This led to an excellent teachable moment where I planned to explain to him how the caterpillar develops into a butterfly. I had barely began when he interrupted me to finish explaining the life cycle of a caterpillar! I was so proud, and I completely forgot that I had already taught him all about it during our regular nature walks last spring. Then we decided to have a picnic lunch, so we went inside and made sandwiches from homemade gluten-free bread. Wait until I tell you about our afternoon!”

That would impress the socks off you, right? There’s a mom who’s doing her job like a boss! Now, what would you think if I answered your question honestly? “Um, let’s see. Our day didn’t really start until 11 AM because I was up with E holding warm compresses on his ear every couple hours. After lunch, E seemed to feel well enough to go outside to play, so we headed out to the yard to throw a ball around. We had been outside for five seconds, possibly ten, when E heard a bee. He didn’t see the bee, but he heard the bee, and he was pretty sure the buzzing was getting louder because the bee was getting closer and it was hell bent on stinging him. I did see the bee, a giant bumble that was pollinating my flowers, so I tried to explain to E that most bees are very helpful and have no interest in stinging. I had gotten three words out when he turned and raced at top speed back to the house and began pounding on the patio door to get inside, sobbing for me to hurry lest the bee attack and sting me, too. When he calmed down, I made him his lunch of macaroni and cheese from a box and some green beans that were probably the GMO kind. I dunno, I got them on sale. Wait until I tell you about our afternoon!”

No mother that I know likes to be asked how she spends her time on the job. There aren’t any tests or systems of measurement that tell you how good you are doing and therefore you are left to your own imagination. You can’t enter your activities into an app each night and ask it to calculate your level of productivity for that day. No supervisor* shows up at your residence periodically to “observe” you in action and evaluate your efficacy, leaving you with some strategic suggestions for areas that need improvement.

Perhaps the key lies in redefining what a “job” actually is. Is it about money? If you have a real job, is it a requirement you receive a real paycheck? What about people who receive money but have no job, like Paris Hilton or pick-a-Kardashian?

When I was a teacher, I didn’t justify nothin’ to no one. One answer to all questions: I’m a teacher. Mic drop.

It is high time to stop letting me manipulate…..me. I don’t owe the world a big fat explanation about what I do all day. I’m a mother, and that should tell you all you need to know, Joe.

*Under no circumstances should your spouse attempt to fulfill your desperate need for evaluation. Just, no.

Mo’ Stickers = Mo’ Betta! DIY Valentines With My Lil’ Guy

It was with unbridled glee that I received the class list of names from my son’s preschool teacher and learned they were having a Valentine’s Day party this week. Seriously, Valentine’s Day was the best when I was a kid! We got to make giant envelopes with the good construction paper, not the flimsy cheap stuff, and color and decorate all day in the name of education. We got to use glitter, and we were allowed to bring our own stickers if we brought enough to share. The next day we waited anxiously until after recess and then “delivered” our valentines to each classmate’s envelope, which was taped precariously to the end of each desk for easy access. Some of the kids’ parents attached candy to the valentines, and it didn’t get much better than that. So yeah, I was excited when I heard my kid was going to have his first Valentine’s Day party.

Granted, this is preschool so most of the kids, certainly mine, probably aren’t sure what valentines are just yet. Whatever, I saw an opportunity for a great craft project and I seized it. Plus, I’m always up for a trip to Michael’s. Follow the simple steps below if you too want a heartwarming, yet educational, homemade-valentine-making experience with your small child! You won’t be disappointed!

Objective: Assist child in creating homemade valentines. Valentines should be neither crafted with such skill that it is obvious they were created sans child, nor should they be purchased from a store in a pack of 40 where the only requirement is tearing carefully along the perforated lines.

You're not fooling anyone, Mom.  Your kid didn't even touch the bottle of glue you used on that card.

You’re not fooling anyone, Mom. Your kid didn’t even touch the bottle of glue you used on that card.

I know we are all busy, but you are BETTER than mass produced sheets of perforated rectangles!  You are!

I know we are all busy, but you are BETTER than mass produced sheets of perforated rectangles! You are!

Step one: Take child to Michael’s craft store. Attempt to quickly navigate to sale aisle before child spots the full price fancy supplies. Grab value pack of 6’’ foam hearts–this will be the one executive decision you make regarding the valentines, because you have to start somewhere. Once in sale aisle ask child what he thinks his friends would like on their valentines. Remain neutral as child decides whether they would prefer the stickers of the turtle with a heart shaped shell or a fox holding a heart out in front of it. Wait 30 seconds, then throw both packages in the cart before child melts down, silently resolving to return one later.

Step two: Ask child if they want glittery foam letters (in an excited voice) or solid color foam letters (in a monotone voice). Accept child’s choice of the solid colors, even though the glittery ones are obviously better. Why can’t he see that?

Step three: Head towards the sticker aisle, praying along the way that you don’t have to pass the car and fire truck section before reaching the heart section. Breathe deep sigh of relief that all vehicle themed stickers are way at the other end of the aisle, and that you have successfully focused the child’s attention on the vast array of hearts in front of him. Ask child if he thinks his teacher would prefer sparkly hearts, glittery hearts, or puffy hearts on her valentine, providing samples for child to choose from. Wipe tears of joy from your eyes when child chooses the glittery hearts. Attempt to exit aisle without child getting a visual on the race car stickers.

Step four: Take your place in line to purchase the carefully chosen supplies. Ask child why he is sobbing. Ask him to use his words. If he cannot use his words due to incoherent sobs, ask him to point. Look in the direction of his trembling pointed finger. Sigh deeply as you lose your place in line to head back to the sticker aisle to acquire shiny race cars stickers.

Step five: Make sure child has napped. Do not proceed to step six until step five has been satisfied. Repeat: the steps shall be performed in the following order: one, two, three, four, five, six. Skipping step five is ill-advised and is to be attempted only by those who feel they owe penance for some wrong they committed in their youth.

Step six: After feeding and watering child post-nap, ask them to dump out the foam letter stickers and help you turn them all right side up. After this is completed, integrate a little educational goodness into the craft by having the child find the letters you ask for to spell each name. Make sure to praise child for both his impressive knowledge of the alphabet as well as his supreme focus to the task. As child hands you letters, spell out each kid’s name on a cookie sheet or other container without removing the sticker backing. Save that for later as a separate step, so that the child can be successful at one task at a time.

Step seven: Open the package of 6’’ foam hearts. Explain to child that he can take the backs off the foam letters that we already organized and hand them to parent one at a time to place on heart. All other stickers will be placed by child so they experience the feeling of ownership of the valentines. Keep your explanation to a minimum or child will become antsy and flip the entire cookie sheet full of names over and into disarray.

Step eight: Pawn child off on your spouse while you sort through all the letters, again, and apply them to the foam hearts by yourself. Justify your actions by reminding yourself that the child did pick them out the first time, so the educational objective was achieved.  It was.

Step nine: Open the turtle stickers and place in a bowl. Open the glittery hearts and place in another bowl. Open the sticker that simply say “Happy Valentine’s Day!” so parent does not have to write it twenty times, and place in a bowl. Invite spouse and child back into the crafting zone. Remind spouse he is to restrain child if he looks like he is planning to flip over or dump anything out.

Step ten: Tell child he can pick ANY color turtle from the turtle bowl and put it anywhere on the foam heart. He has creative control! Empower your child with the freedom of choice! Watch proudly as child removes sticker backing from red turtle and places it on the cat. Wait, why is the sticker on the cat? We had exactly enough turtle stickers for each valentine, darn it! Chase terrified cat until it is cornered and remove sticker from from fur. Use your body to block crafting area from grabby toddler as you remove each strand of cat fur from the turtle sticker. Watch in horror as child dumps out each bowl of stickers and gleefully tosses them in the air like confetti.

Step eleven: Remind husband that if he can tear his eyes away from Jeopardy and join in the crafting fun, you could use the help. Husband begins taking backing off stickers in rapid fire succession and handing them to child who places them on a few valentines, before moving on to his hair, the carpet, and the other cat. Husband is unaware this is happening because although his hands are removing sticker backs, his eyes are glued to Alex Trebec. Suppress the urge to strangle husband in front of child.

Step twelve: Grab the sticker from child’s hair, the one from the carpet, and the one off the cat who is now in the litter box. Order husband and child from the room while you attempt to reverse the mayhem that has descended upon your educational-fun-bonding-time craft project.

Step thirteen: Pick cat fur off of sticker, carpet fuzz off of sticker, and child’s hair off of sticker. You need every one because you only bought enough for the exact amount of valentines. Revisit step three and buy extra next time, you lousy cheapskate.

Step fourteen: Gauge child’s ability to continue with the project. Assess that child is not emotionally prepared to continue since tears are gushing out of his eyes and snot is running down his face. Husband confirms child is devastated that I took the sticker off the cat because it made kitty look “so pretty.” Find acceptable non-turtle sticker to give to child in trade so he can make kitty pretty again. After giving child consoling hugs and kisses, request that he not go after the cat that is currently using the litter box.

Step fifteen: Return to valentine work, solo. Inform husband if he does not keep child happily occupied in the other room then he will be the one finishing up these &%@! valentines.

Step sixteen: Take inventory of what remains. Of the 18 valentines, nine need all three stickers. Five need two stickers. Four need one sticker. It is of the utmost importance as you forge your small child’s valentines that you not only place the sticker upside down, but that it must also overlap another sticker despite the fact there is plenty of room for both of them without crowding the other one out. For extra authenticity, place sticker half on and half off the foam heart, so that they exposed part of the sticker collects as much dirt, fur, and hair as possible before making its way to the intended recipient.

jacob valentine

I regret nothing.

Step seventeen: Put each of the foam heart valentines into an envelope. Seal it so that child cannot do further harm to the card, and hand him a crayon to color on each of the envelopes.  Pat yourself on the back for your fortitude during this ordeal, and set a reminder in your cell for February 10th, 2016: Buy ready made valentines at Target for E’s Valentine’s Day party next week.

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