Last Friday night was our family's turn in the babysitting rotation we've formed with three other families (best idea ever). Each couples takes one Friday a month with all four families' worth of kids (that adds up to eleven, in our case) and tends them for four hours while the other three couples have a date night. It makes for one heckuva Friday night play group for the kids each week, and three nights out (without paying for a sitter) for each set of parents each month. Good trade-off, in my book. But I digress. As I was saying...
Last Friday night it was our turn to watch the munchkins. And then, because I sometimes often do crazy things, I gave Laurelei permission to invite the three older girls in the group to stay and have a sleepover with her. Which they did.Oh My Gigglefest. Who knew four seven-to-eight-yr-old girls could have so much fun in such a small space in only one night?
I guess I did. Somewhere, in the recesses of my memory, I knew how much fun it would be for them, because I remember what sleepovers were like for me when I was that age. And not only the level of fun, but the bonds of friendship that were formed by those experiences...the meaningfulness in the midst of the silliness that I maybe couldn't identify then, but I could feel in the strengthened connections with my friends. And I can see it now.
Which is maybe why I let it happen. And why, when the girls had all gone home after very few hours of actual sleep, but plenty of waffles with blueberry syrup, and Laurelei had fallen asleep on the couch, exhausted, I wandered around the mess that was now our home, smiling. Curiously pondering the workings of childhood imaginations that led objects to be end up where they did. Content with the beautiful aftermath of what I hope will become a meaningful memory for my daughter and her friends.
I get into this mode sometimes...the planning, organizing, coordinating Mamma mode...which basically involves me making lists (okay, so that's not so out-of-the-norm) both on paper and in my head of things like:
this morning WE will all do our chores together and then WE will all sit down to lunch together and then WE will read books together and discuss them together and then WE will go on a walk and Enjoy Nature together, work on our math together, etc. etc. blah blah blah.
And while I truly believe that planned family activities are an important part of a nurturing home life, I sometimes have to shake myself and repeat this little mantra: Hey. Amber. You don't have to plan every moment of everyday. You and your husband and children aren't any less of a family if you don't do everything together. (alright, so it's not the most memorable mantra I've ever used...doesn't exactly roll off the tongue...but it suits the purpose.)
Typically, though, it's not any great awareness of my own, or anything I do that snaps me out of it. It usually happens when I look outside myself and see, not a co-dependent lot of non-entities waiting for Mom (MOM!) to shape and define them and lead them on, but individuals. People. Who know what to do and who they are because they know they are loved. Are they also a family? Yes. My family as I am theirs. But sometimes, in those moments when I look beyond my lists and plans, I see that we as a family, are only individuals bound to each other by love. And it is the individuality of each of us that defines who we are together.
I had one of those moments this week. It was past noon, I felt like 'WE' hadn't gotten anything done..my morning had been lost in emails and phone calls and grown-up things. And then I stepped outside of myself and my own stresses and looked at my children and realized that their mornings had been just fine. Better than fine. Full and wondrous.
Even without me.
I found Laurelei in her room, which she had tidied and organized, quietly and contentedly sitting on her bed and reading "Just So Stories." She'd even made up her own: How the Tree Frog got His Red Eyes. Riley was sitting at the table, excited to show me the monster mask he'd made and the cookie tower (my fault for leaving the package out) he was constructing.
"Look Mom, it's the Leaning Tower of Ketchup- no, wait- Pizza."
And the rest of that day, even after Daddy came home, we each spent in quiet individual repose. Doing our own things. And now and then sharing them with one another.
Maybe I should write a new mantra:
Just because our family loves to be together, doesn't mean we always have to be together to love our family.
::all the reasons I love snow. Especially the kind of snow we've had falling on our little valley continuously since Tuesday night. The fluffy, soft, feathery, sink-up-to-your-knees-with-every-step-powder kind of snow. (Actually, we're sinking to our thighs now as it's still coming down) Yesterday we played in our own yard, hanging our leftover Christmas tree popcorn strings out for the birds and squirrels, and romping with the neighbor's puppy, but today we ventured out with cousins to the park down the street to sled. And sled. And build a snow fort. And sled some more.
::what snow tastes like. Like water, you say? Au contraire. Snow tastes like the coldest warm and the purest white. Like frozen anticipation and long-ago memories and cloudy sky.
::the way an abundance of snow can bring people together. We live on a somewhat busy street with the majority of the houses being rental duplexes (duplexi?). It's not the most neighborly kind of neighborhood. But snow is magic. It gets neighbors talking to each other as they shovel their driveways, help one another dig out their cars, and keep the sidewalks clear. Cars become few and the middle of the street transforms into a crossroads of children pulling sleds in ecstatic-school's-cancelled-celebration, families on cross-country skis, and friendly dogs jumping in and out of drifts.
Snow changes attitudes from "I just live here" to "We're all in this together."
:: the flush that comes to my cheeks when I come in from a day in the snow...heat that radiates my ears and face and the tingle in my legs and toes that tells me my body has worked hard and breathed deep and is tired but happy.
"Good literature" being, by my definition, books that not only foster a love of reading and inspire imagination, but also help kids to develop attributes like empathy, understanding, and kindness, a sense of justice and fairness, hope and courage, and an awareness of worlds outside their own sphere of existence. Books that are not overtly commercial (dumbed-down versions of children's movies on paper) or blatantly sententious. Books that teach subtle life lessons by drawing readers into the experiences of the characters and letting us feel their happiness and sadness and joy and pain. Basically, books that speak to and uplift the soul, in a very small, or sometimes, a very big way. And that's how I define good literature for myself as well.
I've been happily using this class as an excuse to do an abundance of reading...re-reading some of my childhood favorites, reading for the first time some classics I either never got to as a kid or just don't remember, and having lots and lots of read-aloud story time with the kiddos. (Yay!)
Today, I fell in love with a book again.
This happens to me every now and then. Whereas my usual lit-loves tend to happen at first sight, however, this one took a little time. I was open and had high expectations (for pete's sake, it's Arnold Lobel- it can't stink). But it took me a couple of pages before the beauty of this simple story hooked me.
The tale is about a young elephant who goes to stay with his very old uncle when his mother and father are lost at sea. Okay. Simple enough. But the depth of emotion with which the story is told...the surprising level of humanity and compassion to be found in Uncle Elephant's actions in caring for his nephew quite honestly moved me to tears.
Here, my friends, is good literature for kids.
A story that shows without telling, teaches without preaching, touches hearts and plants seeds of compassion and kindness while engaging young minds in the infinite possibilities of what might happen next.
It's the kind of literature I hope I'm writing.
There will be a book list. Possibly a very long and absolutely not all-inclusive one. But I will share it for sure, as well as a plethora of helpful links and information on children's books for those who are interested.
Now go read some good books with your family (and share your recommendations in the comments please!).
So after Christmas, when I was left with the inner workings of about a billion (okay, eleven) books after my whole recycled-cover-journal project, I wanted to make use of those lovely yellowed pages in a new way.
And Paper Blossoms, a whole new division of my shop and aspect of my craft-tacular repertoire was born.
I love them. They are time-consuming to make and I poked my thumb with a milliner's needle more than once in the process, but still, I love them.
So what do you think?
Both the bouquets, the wreath and a variety of the hair pins will be available in my shop sometime this weekend. As will at least one of the Other Things (as promised in this post's title) that my abundant supply of book pages inspired:
This Is the House That Jack Built
Nursery Decor Set
The frame tells the entire story, from the malt to the maiden to the farmer who sowed the corn, and the bunting banner coordinates with black-and-white illustrations from the same vintage book.
Not to toot my own crafty horn or anything, but this set seriously makes me want to have another baby, just so I can use it to decorate the nursery.
And the ideas keep coming, so keep checking in. I'd love to share more.
I think everyone has one book...the one that you read over and over again as a child... the one with the character that you wished you were, or even, if the author had done their job well, sometimes believed you were.
I think I was eight when I discovered my book.
I may have been nine. But I remember it was summer, and I remember my mom coming into my bedroom saying things like Don't You Want to Play Outside and Aren't You Hungry Yet, but I didn't. And I wasn't.
I pulled the blanket over my head and made a tent that shut out the real world and in my mind
I was Karana, alone on my beautiful island. Even in all her sadness and loneliness I still wanted to be her. She told her story so well.
I read my book three times that summer and it never got old.
For the past two weeks, the kids and I have been homebodies...with Riley so sick last week and Laurelei this week... we haven't done much but just be home. Quiet. Resting. Occasionally checking fevers and sipping herb teas. But on Tuesday, when I realized Laurelei was probably in for the long-haul version of this virus just like Riley had been the week before, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out one book. My book.
And sat down with my little ones to read out loud.
I knew Laurelei would love it. She's a seven-and-a-half-year-old girl.
(I don't know of any official research on this topic, but I'm pretty sure the Dolphins Are So Pretty Stage is an actual developmental phase for young girls. And while Island of the Blue Dolphins really has very little to do with porpoises, it's a good hook for the right crowd.)
So I knew Laurelei would love it. I didn't expect Riley to even want to listen.
But I was underestimating the power of a story well-told. It is the power that brings a noisy, busy five-year old-boy to his Mamma's lap asking for just one more chapter, pleeease. It is the power that takes me, all these years later, back to the Karana's island of my mind and still, even though I know what's going to happen, gets me to hold my breath, laugh out loud, and even cry.
We have two chapters left. Tomorrow we'll be done, though I think Laurelei will want to read it again on her own. But this week has given me a new memory to go with my book. Now, when I think of Island of the Blue Dolphins I'll remember the blanket-covered solitude of the eight or nine-year-old bookworm, but I'll also remember the week when I held my fevered little girl in my arms, her brother on the arm of the couch behind me, and, little by little, read them the story of a brave girl alone on an island. A story that, in some way, is now theirs as well as mine.
With the New Year, a flurry of happenings has entered into our home, tempered only by sickness (now that Riley's well, it's Laurelei's turn for the week-long fever/nausea/sore throat virus).
I was looking at what's on my camera card from the past few weeks and discovered most of what I'd been snapping was projects I wanted to share with you and didn't get to in the Christmas bustle, and, more recently, the moments of beauty I have been seeing in the everyday. So here you go. What's on my mind and in our home and, consequently on my camera at the mo'.
(even taking down the Christmas decorations results in prettiness)
(new year, new table legs. pink. because I can.)
(Christmas presents I had sooo much fun making and now that the recipients have them...I can share. Thinking about making the recycled book journals a regular item in my shop...)