Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Five

Just in time for your summer road trip ... or trips to the pool ...

Five Audiobooks We've Enjoyed This Summer in the Car:

1. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

2. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

3. Tuck Everlasting (Ohmygoodness, how did I miss this book as a preteen? The narrator on
this particular CD does an achingly beautiful job with the different voices ...)

4. Little Town on the Prairie

5. A Treasury of Wisdom from Greathall Productions (I particularly loved hearing about the life of Beatrix Potter.)

I have to put in the plug again for audiobooks, because not only is there no squabbling from the back seat while we drive hither and yon, but also* my middle child will steal off to her room and listen for hours to these things. The learning-to-read process is taking a while, which merits a whole post on its own, but judging from the vocabulary she's acquired from her listening, I have a feeling that the reading thing is just going to explode one of these days.

The only tricky part is when one child gets dropped off somewhere and the others want to keep listening. With CD's, you really can't get back to an exact spot very easily, the way you can with MP3's ... hmmm ....

(*My high school freshman English teacher drilled into our little noggins that EVERY TIME you use the phrase "not only" it must, certain as the sun rising, be followed by the phrase "but also." He was also famous for his demonstration of the sentence "When the chalk hits the board, it breaks," and why that inappropriate pronoun reference simply will not work. These are life-changing epiphanies, people.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Birthday Boy

Does anyone else notice their blood-and-flesh, maybe the under-18ers among them, getting a little, oh, cranky right around the time of their birthdays? As if these massive emotional clouds of excitement, anticipation, anxiety, anticlimax, self-centeredness, etc., just sort of collide and produce some summer lightning? Maybe a thunder roll or two? Like, on an annual basis?

Just checking.

So, on a totally unrelated note, yesterday Ian turned nine! Boy oh boy, this means that I have been a momma for nine years, too. At times, I find it hard to fathom a time that this was not the case (you mean I once drove a sporty Saturn? I slept in past seven thirty on Saturdays? Get outta town!), while at others, I almost feel like I'm still playing house, parading around in my Mommy costume. Any moment now someone's going to discover me for the impostor I am and replace me with a Real Mommy, someone who's never caught in public without wet wipes.

But in honor of the child who first made me a mother, here you go. I'm proud of his first place finish in the 12-and-under division of the tournament, of course. But what matters more to me is hearing him turn to his friend, a rank beginner who was heartbreakingly sporting about missing almost every target, and exclaim, "T, we are going to practice practice practice at my house from now on. Because I want you to be really good at this!"

(Template from Elemental Scraps; paper from Shabby Princess "Happy Go Lucky.")

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Love letters

Dear Eliza,
I know it was super disappointing not to be old enough (as per the Blazer Tag website) to go on Ian's birthday outing with him and his two best buds. Do you know how blessed you are to have a brother who wanted you to go along? After your giant meltdown in the driveway and your thinking time on your bed (during which I am SURE you considered my wise remarks about things we can and cannot control), thanks for pulling it together for our Girls' Outing. We had fun, didn't we?


Dear Acacia,
Thanks for driving us on the Girls' Outing, and for understanding that I didn't just invite you because our one car was otherwise occupied and we needed transportation. Thanks for being one of my kids' Favorite Adults Ever. (Oh, mine too.) And thanks for sampling cupcakes all around Austin so we would know just where to go. You really know how to take one for the team. Can't believe I didn't get a picture of your lovely face.


Thank you for existing. Thank you for locating yourself in The Domain, right next to a fountain, some rocking chairs, and some statues on which some children can climb. Thank you for cheering up some girls who felt left behind.
And thank you VERY MUCH for having gluten-free carrot cupcakes. I think I love you.

Yours truly,

Dear Domain,
Even though you are full of high-end shops whose wares I cannot afford, you do make for a nice stroll. And I think it's very cool that you offer a little sprinkler park, which always makes my girls happy. And soaking wet.

Warmest regards,

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Archery Tournament

This is the story.

Cast of Characters:
Expert Archers: Robert (friend), and Jim (friend, responsible for our being there in the first place)

Amateur Archers: Tim, Ian, and Truman

Sweaty Stragglers: Self and daughters

Setting expected by me:
Actual setting:

Footgear worn by Jim:

Footgear worn by my kid:

Footgear worn by me:

Number of pickup trucks present: 46, give or take a couple

Number of minivans present: 1. Yup, ours.

Water bottles and sunscreen brought by me: Zero.

Water bottles and sunscreen rushed to our woodsy location by nearby friend Carol, thanks to mutual friend Camille: 7.

General discomfort experienced by me, who left with three kids after 13 targets: Oh, you know. Bearable. Especially when my youngest whispered in my ear, "I'll NEVER stop loving you."

General delight expressed by my son, who doggedly pressed on for 40 targets: Immeasurable.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Ahoy there, mates!

We decided to study celebrate all things ocean this week. It started as an idea in the mind of Mom, thanks in part to our Book of Days, but evolved from a Monday morning brainstorming session at the breakfast table with the whole gang. Snooping around the house to gather some inspiration, I was surprised at how easy it was to find books, videos, and other resources already in our collection.

Ian suggested that we actually GO to the ocean, and you have no idea how much I wanted to grant that request. My magic wand just seemed to be missing in action.

So here's what we did:

Read Turtle in the Sea, Night of the Moonjellies, The Magic Schoolbus on the Ocean Floor, and a few other picture books.

Listened to a Kindermusik CD, "Creatures of the Ocean."

Drew fish and other maritime creatures in crayon on huge pieces of paper, then painted water over and around them with blue tempera paint.

Watched "Magic School Bus Gets Wet" and "The Living Sea."

Played "Ocean Bingo."

Ate goldfish crackers for snack. Intended to do fractions activity. (Does that count, pardon the pun?)

Visited local seafood market to shop for tonight's dinner: steamed mussels, beer-battered fish sticks, basil aioli. At my request, the children were invited behind the counter to watch a man fillet a whole fish, enclosing the head for our soupmaking pleasure.

Planned a family movie night to watch Nim's Island (feedback, anyone?).

It was a fun week, and although we certainly weren't "on theme" for the bulk of any day, and we really only dabbled our toes in the ocean of potential activities, I really enjoyed having some ideas to work with and having the kids quite literally on board.

Makes me nostalgic for the real thing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

That's Good! No, that's Bad!

A couple years ago we received a very clever picture book for one of the children's birthdays entitled That's Good! That's Bad!, by Margery Cuyler. In its honor, I thought I'd try a riff about my day.

I was sooo tired all day today. Kept feeling like I wanted, no, urgently needed a nap.
Oh, that's bad.

No! That's GOOD. It forced me to actually lie down on my bed and read a delightful book during "quiet time," where my husband found me when he arrived midafternoon.
Oh, that's good.

No! That's BAD. The reason he arrived early was that I had to go to work, and tutor children in various stages of willingness while inwardly longing to put my head down on the table and snooze.
Oh, that's bad.

No! That's GOOD. When I arrived home, I was so ready to keep the whole evening simple and relaxed, so willing to abandon our unspoken "no TV at the dinner table" principle, that I cheerfully instigated a family viewing of "Wipeout," a show that draws us together in mutual hilarity.
Oh, that's good.

No! That's BAD. We started dinner late, so we started the show late, so the kids ended up staying up too late.
Oh, that's bad.

No! That's GOOD. By the time they were all ready for bed and had duly celebrated the very rare arrival of some rain in our back yard, the sun had fully set and they all wanted to cuddle up in a "family jumble" on our bed.
Oh, that's good.

No! That's BAD. After about two minutes of cozy bliss, the bickering over flashlights and misplaced body parts began.
Oh, that's bad.

No! That's GOOD, because it made me appreciate those fleeting moments when young children, often (let's face it) a major source of exhaustion to a full-time parent, are also very much the balm in Gilead that soothes that stress away. There's nothing quite like being all together, stinky feet and all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Guest Post by Jessica

I haven't written anything about the memorial service last Saturday in Boston. But rather than fumbling to explain how touching, tissue-dampening, and inspiring the time was, I'm honored to bring you the eulogy delivered by my lifelong friend Jessica Kimmell. Thanks for sharing, Jess!

Five years ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to work with Mrs. Juraschek at Westgate Christian Academy, where I witnessed her ... gifts as an educator and mentor. Mrs. Juraschek had a passion for excellent education. She was enormously creative and constantly sought ways to make learning stimulating and meaningful.


ly, however, Mrs. Juraschek cared deeply about the type of person each child was becoming.

She understood the great responsibility we had in shaping their character...That a child would pay her lip

service and offer her a disingenuous apology was the furthest thing from her heart. So she asked many questions. She had an amazing ability to pierce through the situation, locate the strand of truth, and then speak something of God’s nourishing word into little vessels.

One year, she had many opportunities to speak to several fifth grade girls who often hurt each others’ feelings and held onto grudges. Desiring that these girls would understand forgiveness, Mrs. Juraschek had each one write down her grievances on a piece of paper. She took the girls down to the field, asked them to tie their lists to helium balloons and then, they watched as the balloons floated away. Forgiving, Mrs. Juraschek explained, means letting go. I think this demonstration made a deep impression on the girls.

I asked her once what her strategy was, how’d she do it? Of course, she couldn’t give a simple answer; she didn’t have a formula. She did tell me this: her desire was to help students open, so that something of the Lord, something healing, restoring, encouraging and strengthening, could be imparted.

In her role as an educator ... Mrs. Juraschek mentored her students, the parents of her students, and she mentored me. Dispositionally, I have always been task oriented. But Mrs. Juraschek told me one day that people must come before all else. They come before the most urgent item on one’s to-do list; they even come before one’s own personal turmoil. She really had the heart of a shepherd and I believe she deeply knew the Lord Jesus as the Shepherd of her own soul.

People come first ... she lived this. As a new teacher, I would often seek her counsel. More often than not, I could find her in her office, typing away at her computer, hidden amidst stacks of books and papers and regardless of how busy she was, she would drop it, and give me her full attention. Mrs. Juraschek was the best listener!! She was the type of person who could hear what you were saying, what you weren’t saying and what you wanted to say.

... One day, after a lesson that I had carefully prepared completely flopped, I went to her to vent my frustration. In hindsight, the lesson was way too intellectual for a junior high class, more suited to a graduate level course on literature. Rather than roughly pointing out my error, she told me a story. When her kids were little, she was so busy and sometimes felt guilty about not preparing nice meals. So, one day she decided to prepare cod and vegetables. The recipe was complicated and required much time and preparation. She had to slice the vegetables and steam the fish in parchment paper. She said when the family sat down to dinner, her four kids looked horrified! But she encouraged them, inviting them at least to taste the gourmet meal. Stephen took a bite, and then looked up with tears in his eyes and said, “Mom, can I please have Spaghettios!” Her story was a perfect metaphor—that I had been using my adult taste to prepare a “gourmet meal” when what the kids needed was something appropriate to their age.

That’s how she was—she passed through life’s experiences reflectively, in fellowship with the Lord, so that she would have something to share with others—something life-giving and never judgmental. Even when she was fighting cancer, she allowed God to be expressed from her earthen vessel and ministered to us through her blog entries. She loved so many people so dearly and we love her! We will miss her.

(photo from

Monday, July 20, 2009

But are they enjoying themselves?

I'm taking care of my two nieces today while their mother begins her first day as an assistant middle school principal, bless her soul.

One of them was unusually upset about letting her mom go last night, and the only solution was for her to pass the night cuddled up next to me in bed. This, of course, was no problem, especially since unlike some other small nighttime visitors we get, she didn't stick her feet in Tim's face or her hands down my shirt.

As for today, I'm worried. These modern kids, they just don't seem to appreciate the value of good clean fun. What do you think?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rick, come on over

On my flight up to Boston yesterday, I got to watch some cable TV, which doesn't occur at home.

And what did I watch? TOP CHEF Master's! Words fail me in the attempt to describe watching highly accomplished chefs, including renowned cookbook author, restaurateur, and TV host Rick Bayless, go knife to knife in such challenges as preparing popularly appealing "street food" from offal, cow heart, or tongue, in three hours or less.

Rick was just Mr. Easygoing, Isn't-This-Fun, in contrast to one of his competitors, a Frenchman whose "merde"s kept making it through the censor. Think of all your stereotypes about French chefs, and this guy was it. Hilarious!

They had to please some ultra-tough critics, of course. In addition to thinking and creating on their feet, producing gourmet delights while you or I might have just stood there with our mouths hanging open, gasping, "I'm supposed to do ... WHAT?"

But I have a stiffer challenge to propose to the producers of Top Chef Masters. OK, you've made these guys prepare pig-ear quesadillas, you've had them serve a "LOST Supper" to the producers of you-know-what-favorite-show-of-mine ...
you've commissioned a dinner for Neil Patrick Harris that must showcase elements of mystery and magic.

But these chefs have not yet cleared the ultimate hurdle. Here's what I propose. These masters have one hour to create a dinner for three hungry children. Last-minute trips to the grocery store are out of the question, so they must use whatever is already in the house. The meal must include all five food groups, with bonuses for Omega-3's and extra fiber. It must be served two minutes before low-blood-sugar meltdowns commence from the most sensitive child. And it must be consumed by every child with gusto, regardless of whether dessert is forthcoming.

Gentlechefs, start your blenders.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Love believes the best

So I know that at YOUR house, complete harmony among siblings is the order of the day. But chez moi? In the last few days weeks months, my girls have remained frozen in a sort of suspended animation, constantly hovering between friendly play and all out bickerments.

They know EXACTLY how to push each other's buttons. The older one provokes, exhibiting mastery of the passive aggressor. The younger one, certain as the sun rising tomorrow, reacts, with considerable volume. It's like a beautifully choreographed ballet, except that the audience (me) wants to storm out of the theater in a riotous one-woman mob.

Moments like this? Irregular and golden.

You know what, though? I've been down this road before. When Ian and Eliza were at these ages and stages (see below), they danced the very same pas de deux. He'd provoke; she'd react. I could never understand why he found it so satisfying to elicit screeches and tears from his sister, and more than once, I wanted to bellow in my exasperation, "YOU are SO MEAN! You are a MEAN CHILD!"
Which I want to do sometimes now, since the former "victim" has become the new "tormentor."

Here's what I learned: Right when those angry words are buzzing on the tip of my tongue is the perfect moment to speak the unseen truth. To walk by faith and not by sight. To look past the behavior and see the heart.

"You are NOT a mean person," I would say to my son. "You have the capacity to be very kind. Teasing your sister like that is not worthy of who you are."

Speaking those words helped me believe their truth, and hopefully taught him that my love for him meant my seeing the best in him, even when he kept it hidden.

And now? Fights between the older two are pretty rare, I realized the other day. Not extinct, just not a part of our daily reality as they once were. They tend to hang together as a team. Which gives me hope for my darling daughters, next time I'm tempted to post them on Craig's List.

(Do I even need to tell you I'm kidding?)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"On a typical day"

I've been slowly teaching myself to use Adobe Photoshop Elements. Jenny inspired me with her "35 Things" page last week, so I thought I'd do one for Caroline's album. Since I'm doing Project 365 for our family album this year, it frees me up to use any scrapping time I can grab for layouts for the kids' individual albums. Here's one that's not at all event-focused, but attempts to capture a fleeting stage in her young life. I know from sad experience how untrustworthy my memory is about their everyday habits and sayings, and also how fun it is for all of us to go back and review anything I've managed to capture on paper. So, without further ado ...

(Click to enlarge)

Credits: Template from Elemental Scraps
Paper from Happy Go Lucky Kit, Shabby Princess
Labels from "Grungy Labels," Designer Digitals

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In Memoriam

Today, July 12, 2009, at 12:40 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, our dear family friend Joanne Juraschek, whom I have known my entire life, who sang at my parents' wedding, and who is one of my mom's closest friends, departed this earth and went to be with her Savior.

She fought a long (2 years), excruciating, and courageous battle with cancer, enduring chronic pain, multiple hospital stays, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and restrictions on her tremendous energy and talents. She blogged her way through it, sharing some of her difficulties with us but also so faithfully sharing the spiritual treasures she mined from her Bible and hymnbook. She made every day count, and although her course was shortened, causing much grief to those of us who love her, her life had eternal value.

It sounds like a cliché, but I can't help rejoicing that her months of suffering have ended and she has been released from the body that caused her such pain. At the same time, my heart feels heavy, especially on behalf of her husband Paul and four children, all of whom are young adults old enough to be on their own, but no doubt with many years ahead in which they will have occasion to miss her dearly. Even today, I tried several times to reach my own mom once I heard the news from Joanne's daughter, but kept getting her voicemail. In my frustration, I realized that my mom was the first person I wanted to talk to, and although I am an adult with children of my own, I -- perhaps unreasonably -- expected her to be available to me. What about Anna, Stephen, Elizabeth and Andrew? How often will they have matters burdensome or trivial to share and think of calling their mother?

After realizing I wouldn't be able to visit in time, I wrote Joanne a letter and mailed it Thursday, sharing my appreciation of her with inadequate words. That letter will probably arrive tomorrow, a day too late. I hope somehow its contents will find their way to her heart.

"O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?"
(1 Cor. 15:55)

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Things I'm thankful for today:

1. My brother Paul and his wife Betty, who are moving across the country to Boston for him to start law school and stopped in Austin for the weekend with us. Hooray! Except that he doesn't have any brand new book recommendations for me. Boo. But they did indulge me in a game of Quiddler
last night. Yea!

2. Our friend Sam, who has loaned us his Wii
to get us through these months of summer cabin fever. I've been on the fence about the Wii for a long time. But we're sticking to the active games (Wii Sports, Active Life Outdoor Challenge
), all working up a sweat, doing it together, and having a lot of fun. It's hard to think of something else we could do indoors that draws everyone together with such enthusiasm -- last night, for example, we had teams of two cooperating on games that everyone else yelling "JUMP!" and "LEAN!"

3. My husband, who is taking apart our entire dryer in order to fix that highly irritating squeaky sound that makes me want to run out into oncoming traffic when I hear it for more than thirty seconds. 'Tis the story of me and repetitive noises. High strung much, wifey?

4. Ten minutes peace yesterday afternoon in which I got to lie on the couch and read Wright 3, sequel to the delightful Chasing Vermeer, listening to the happy sounds of cherubic three year olds build a marble run. (Vaughn: "Caroline, can I have that long ramp piece, please?" Caroline: "Yes, of course!")

5. Ian's ADHD therapist, who told me yesterday that I was a great parent. Which meant I had to try really really hard not to cry. (Parenting, as you know, is not EXACTLY the kind of job that entails a ton of external validation, performance-based bonuses, or regular pats on the back. There's very little by way of short-term built-in assessment, and even when your kids excel at something or act particularly pleasant, you can't necessarily take credit.) When someone tells you that, and they know what they're talking about, and they're being sincere, they could, in the next breath, suggest a trek to the North Pole and you'd start calling REI for sponsorships. No kidding.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beef: It's free for dinner


Isn't that the greatest word ever?

It perfectly described our situation the other night. Our dinner plans sorta fell through and I hadn't done enough of the grocery shopping to put together a decent meal (yes, go ahead, nod that head in empathy).

Right near the Costco we patronize, an organic burger joint called Terra Burgers has been in progress for several weeks. On a lark, I called them and sure enough, they were having their "practice run" in anticipation of the folllowing day's grand opening. In a heartbeat, we were there.

I need not tell you that we don't eat out often. Oh, and this time we even had an extra: Ian's friend Christian. Poor hungry child.

So we wait in the long, slow line -- no, wait, I wait in the long, slow line while my husband and children merrily romp on the wooden playscape, scamper through the sprinkler area, and relax under the shade of a huge tree. No doubt the length and speed of the line will improve as Terra gets into their groove.

I order enough organic burgers, organic fries, and fresh lemonade for six people and hold my breath. "Do you accept credit cards?" I ask nervously, seeing no VISA sticker on the window and picturing myself washing greasy hamburger grill pans til the wee hours.

"Oh, we're not charging tonight," the slightly harried college student at the window tells me.

Well, in that case, how about a chocolate milkshake for two longsuffering parents???

Y'all. So delicious. The burgers and lemonade were everything a burger and lemonade should be. We staggered back to the car, surreptitiously slurping our camouflaged parental milkshake (organic and yum-o), loving our divine Provider and our crunchy, oh-so-hip little city.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Goodnight Moon: The Sequel

Time: July 3, 11 p.m.

In the great, green room, there was a mother

and three small bikes

and three helmets

and red, white and blue pipe cleaners

and rolls of streamers

and blue painter's tape

and yards of red and white tulle

and a Target bag cut into strips

and the knowledge that gratitude from

a child is better when neither expected nor


and the confidence that each child will

feel (s)he decorated his own bike

and the wondering how many of these

small gifts her own mother gave, unnoticed.

Epilogue: The mother reads Judson's Story and feels, watching those sparkling eyes and then that tiny coffin through her tears, that each small opportunity to make a memory, to stay up past bedtime to produce morning delight, to give time and effort that for the time being will be taken for granted ... is a gift with no regrets.

Incidentally, the two girls won first place in the bike and trike divisions of the parade the following morning, much to my astonishment. I guess occasionally we reap a few temporal rewards as well.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The much-anticipated boat ride

See Tim waterski.
See Tim waterski in the rain.
See Tim waterski in the [pouring] rain, after he and his wife had dropped oh-so-subtle hints for three years to their relatives that they would really LOVE a ride on their boat, on one of the only mornings that has seen rain in Central Texas for the past few months. Not pictured: wet, shivering passengers, cheering him on.
Such a stud, that Tim. But -- sorry! -- very much taken.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Five

Last Friday I wrote about books for middle graders. How about some summer reading for Mom and Dad?

Five Great Books I've Read Recently:

1. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations . . . One School at a Time. To say I enjoyed this book would be selling it short. It's a book that both touches your heart and engages your mind, blowing your stereotypes and your notions of what can and cannot be done. You start to realize that the media's portrayal of our relationship with Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan is quite superficial, and you can't help but admire a man who's fearless enough to move among our "enemies" out of a passion for their children's education and to eat things and sleep in places that most us simply would not tolerate. Amazing. A must-read. Recommended to me and sent as a birthday gift by my brother Paul, even though I told him not to buy me anything. That rebel.

2. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
This book is to healthcare for the world's poor what Three Cups of Tea is to education. Again, a charismatic hero -- Dr. Paul Farmer, who works primarily among the ultra poor of Haiti -- who refuses to give up, in the face of overwhelming odds, who keeps doing hard things even when naysayers abound. One difference is that this book's author, Tracy Kidder, inserts himself more into the story, describing his complex reaction to Dr. Farmer's personality and methods. I tell you what, after you read this one, you'll laugh at yourself when you think you have problems, especially of the financial genre. We can't afford a new flat-screen TV or a schmancy pair of shoes. They can't afford a second daily meal for their kids or basic meds for tuberculosis.

3. Austenland: A Novel
Very different from the first two, of course. Sort of a glorious fantasy for Jane Austen lovers. If you've ever seen the A&E version of P&P, with Colin Firth, you have to read this one. Lighter, more fun perhaps ... but not trashy. I promise. And I love it when a book takes your trite predictions and turns them upside down.

4.The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir
Father and daughter alternate chapters, telling the story of how their family's reality and future changed instantly when the father was shot, on purpose, in the line of duty as a police officer on Cape Cod. The perpetrator was never charged, due to corruption on the force, but the family suddenly had to live with constant surveillance and fear, ultimately choosing to move far from family and friends to start over on a farm in Tennessee. The daughter, now grown, is a writer by trade, and was able to eventually make something new of herself while never completely shaking free of that past. I'm not sure that the father ever completely let go of his anger, although his acknowledgements at the end hint at some sort of resolution and peace.

Okay, not to be completely lazy, but the kids are chomping at the bit for me to come help them decorate their bikes for the neighborhood parade tomorrow, so I'll just say that I made it through this book, but it wasn't one I couldn't put down. The language was lovely and lyrical, but I found that some of the imagery rang a little false, and found it overall haunting and poetic, but also a bit depressing and not terribly accessible. But maybe I'm a heretic because the author won a Pulitzer Prize for another book. The end.

I know what I'm reading next, but then I need some more ideas. What's keeping you with your nose in a book lately? Send 'em my way, people!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Credit System

So normally in our family, we're pretty terrible when it comes to keeping up with any chart or system or anything that requires consistency and accountability. Between my scatterbrainedness and our general vegetative state by the time we're tucking in the children, nothing tends to stick.

But we've been trying something new, and it's been such a success so far that I simply have to share. The idea comes from a great book entitled Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach. The first section of the book talks (somewhat redundantly, I must say) about the importance of NOTICING when your children, especially those whose behavior tends to produce a negative dynamic between you, are either actively doing something right or NOT doing something wrong. And you have to be very specific -- not a vague "great job!" but detailed observations: "I see Susie remembering to clear her dishes from the table with NO REMINDERS!" or "You are working very hard on that picture, and sharing the crayons with your sister very nicely. Keep up the good work."

The second section of the book describes a credit system that we've adopted and have been keeping up so far for about three weeks. The way it works is this: All household rules are assigned a certain number of credits for being kept. Chores are also assigned credits. Finally, bonuses for desirable behaviors ("doing something helpful" or "handling strong feelings well," for example) are enumerated on the list. It helps to keep most of these at roughly the same value -- 10 credits, for example -- to keep your life sane.

Credits can be awarded as they occur, or, in the case of keeping rules, at the end of the day. Awarding partial credit, for, say, breaking a rule but apologizing and not doing it again, is encouraged -- the goal is to help the child succeed, NOT to tie weights on their shoes in the name of "making sure they really EARN it."

The other side of the system is the spending of the credits. This is excellent life practice! Our list contains a wide range of privileges, from video or computer time to eating a sweet treat to visiting a fast food place to trading in for cash to paying for parental "maid service" when they don't want to clean up their own messes. Privileges are priced accordingly (they helped us come up with both lists).

The beauty of this system for me is that it cuts down of the sense of entitlement I was feeling from at least one child, AND takes a lot of the onerous decision-making off of me. I felt like I was constantly being called on to answer requests for various treats and privileges, and that I had no consistent basis for making those judgment calls. Now, I simply ask, "Do you have the credits?" or, "Well, if that's how you want to spend your credits!"

Sometimes they're quite happy to cough up the credits (we use Monopoly money). Other times, especially from the oldest, I hear "Oh. Well, no, not really. I'm saving up for something big and I don't want to waste my credits on something dumb."

An attitude which, in my view, is perfect preparation for The Real World.