The End of Spring

Dragon in a Hat at a Puerto Rican restaurant.  Hat by Sweetheart Toppers

Dragon in a Hat at a Puerto Rican restaurant. Hat by Sweetheart Toppers

Spring may have ended on Beltane (May 1st), but for us, our spring activities came to a close Monday when my son’s final Tiny Treks adventure celebrated at the instructor’s house.

Monday was the last day of Tiny Treks. We went to the main teacher’s house and saw her bunny and played in her backyard and …

… and C insisted we had to go onto one of the boats. Not the paddle boat. Not the kayak. He wanted the canoe. Understand, I haven’t been in a canoe in thirty years. In fact, it’s probably near the anniversary of my canoe trip at a summer day camp when I was 7. I loved it when I was a kid; I felt like a god of the water. I sat at the back and led our boat safely around the bend.

Finding a life jacket big enough for me wasn’t easy, but there was one. Sort of. It closed, but my breasts pushed it up at a 45 degree angle. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to paddle, so I sat up front. C and another child sat in the middle, and her mom sat at the back. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but we made a good pass around Cottage Lake, and even landed back safely at the dock from which we started not too long after. There was an almost-collision with the paddle boat, but we all stopped and drifted together, then gave the paddle boat a shove to get them off and moving.

It was exhilarating, a little scary, but I’m glad I did it. C is elated. He LOVED it. He wants to go again.

So there you have it. 30 years after my first canoe experience, I finally had my second. And we all survived.  Someone took a picture of us, but I haven’t yet heard back about getting a copy of it as proof.

On the same day, my daughter completed an online orientation and registered for fall classes at the community college where she’ll begin her Running Start journey toward both a high school diploma and an Associates degree.  Since it took longer to register due to miscommunication from three different counselors, she wasn’t able to get her desired courses.  The first quarter REQUIRED course was full as a stand-alone class.  They did have it as an integrated studies course, though, so instead of Engl 101, she’ll be taking a combination of her required class and a psychology course, along with the Japanese we thought she’d not be able to get into first year.

So it’s done.  We pay fees toward the end of summer, buy books in September, attend a third orientation (how many times can you use the word and still leave it with any meaning?).

Spring of this year has gone, and in some ways, the spring of my daughter’s life is heating up toward her many years of summer.  Come fall, my focus will be far more focused on my son, and I’m already trying to find a routine that we can settle into for both seasons.

My partner struggles as well with this closing of a chapter, where we collaborated on educating our daughter together.  Most of her studies will happen at college, and though we’ll be around to answer questions and offer guidance, this is a journey she’ll be walking mostly on her own and the responsibilities and consequences will be far steeper than those she’s experienced at home.  We’ve scheduled eleven weeks of home prep — my partner wrapping up what he most wishes to impart upon her, and me working with her on the final books I think she most needs to read (and the essays she needs to practice).

Good bye, spring.  Hello, summer.

3 Transportation Books for Young Children

My son adores certain things: music, performing, My Little Pony, cooking, Stephen Universe, and cars.  Not just cars, but any vehicle or mode of transportation. While he enjoys cooking in his play kitchen, building things with blocks, and banging on percussion instruments while making up his own melodies, most of his play time is spent smashing cars together or having them talk to each other.

As with so many of my daughter’s passions, we have turned to the library for assistance in finding books to appease his constant desire to play with, build, or talk about cars.

Here are three he greatly enjoyed recently:

littlebluetruckbooksLittle Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

This sweet little book with its moping cow, perky pig, and bicep flexing frog features the daily drive and “conversation” of a little blue truck and the animals along the way.  When a rude, road-hogging dump truck comes along and gets stuck in the mud, it learns a lesson.  An excellent book to explore manners, kindness, and the interdependence of a community. In writing this review, I also discovered, there’s a sequel!

9780064467285_p0_v2_s192x300Beep Beep, Vroom Vroom by Stuart J. Murphy and Chris Demarest

Little sister Molly loves watching her big brother Kevin play with his cars, but he won’t let her play.  When he’s called down to set the table for dinner, Molly starts to play with them anyway, even after being warned he’d better find his cars as he left them.  Reasons to lvoe it: cars aren’t gendered toys in this book, siblings are shown in an honest manner when it comes to sharing, and the subtle pattern recognition about the cars and which ordered they’re placed and played in each time.


freighttrain1Freight Train
by Donald Crews

Why is this simplistic art so appealing?  Ah! It makes me giddy to see it.  This lovely little book appears incredibly simplistic, and yet it teaches about different portions of a train, colors, motion’s visual effect on objects, counting, and is cleverly written to give the ending a nice pop! of a finish.

Toddler Family Photo Album

Toddler Family Photo Album | Willow & Birch

Toddler Family Photo Album | Willow & Birch

My family grows every year, and more so than most because we have both relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption, and chosen family–this friends who have grown as close as siblings, aunts, or uncles.

Because many of the people we love either live far away or are only available to visit a few times a year, it can make reconnecting with them hard on a toddler or young child to cope with. Large gatherings are even worse.

Imagine being a small person again, and these tall people come toward you to hug you, pick you up, give you kisses, or claim familiarity, but you don’t have a clue who they are. You look at them with distrust, and cling to your mother or father.

It takes regular, repeated encounters for little children to remember who people are. When my father and step-mother make the trip from Arizona or Japan to visit twice a year, my son doesn’t remember them well enough to feel comfortable having them hug him. It takes time for him to feel safe around new or forgotten faces.
Once comfortable, he’s incredibly affectionate and loves to perform or engage in some activity.

But some of these visits are short, and he doesn’t get the time he needs to relax around everyone (Christmas Eve is especially stressful). So to help him recall names and faces, I made him a photo album.

I asked my family and closest friends to send me photos I could print off (or wallet photos through the mail). I searched for something that would hold multiple wallet-sized photos, and once I had everything printed and together, filled his mini album with photos in a somewhat cohesive order. I put family or household groups together, featured the kids first in most cases, and did my best to order things in terms of relationships.

Little Fox Hugs His Photo Album ... Again

Little Fox Hugs His Photo Album … Again

After I showed it to him, he thanked me, and hugged it to him. In the first twenty-four hours, he looked through it seven times, three of those times with me naming each person he couldn’t name. I often prefaced each name with relationship, e.g., “This is your cousin Jack.”

Even my daughter found it helpful, since she forgets things easily. It prompted her to ask about clarification of relationships she wasn’t sure of, so I drew up a quick, rough family tree to show her. This is especially fun to do at her generation, because there’s a long string of half-siblings who are only connected to those on either side of them.*

If you wish to make a family photo album, whether for a small family or a big one,  you just need:

  • 31ynqx4mljlWallet-sized photos, generally 2.5″ x 3.5″
  • A mini photo book or credit card holder. I purchased this one in green (my son’s choice): it has a soft leather case, easy snap closure, and plenty of room for pictures. Find one that works best for your needs.
  • Scissors
  • Small labels (optional)**

Make sure the album you choose can be changed should new family members need to be added, and to update photos, especially of children who change so quickly.

*The long sequence of half-siblings: Daughter has two brothers: the Little Fox, and an older brother from her father who lives in Oregon. He has half-siblings of his own, not related to Daughter. My partner has an older daughter, my unofficial step-daughter, who lives in Montana. She’s sister to my son, and has a half-sister of her own she grew up with who has no direct relation to either of my biological children. Six children, all related to each other by one another’s half-siblings.

It looks something like this:
2boys <-> I <-> Daughter <-> Little Fox <-> N <-> A

Meanwhile, my half-sisters are younger than my daughter. Our family tree is interesting, to say the least.

**I intended to label each photo, but decided against it. Should we need to add someone to a household, it would mean moving everyone over and having to peel off labels on the covers. I don’t want to add them to the pictures, either, because it covers too much of most small photos.

Three More Minutes

Little Fox likes to get his way from wearing skirts to negotiating extra time to play and dance.

Little Fox likes to get his way from wearing skirts to negotiating extra time to play and dance.

Our two year old is at the age of toddlerhood where what we, the parents, say becomes hard and fast rules in his mind. If we identify an object correctly or incorrectly, he’ll repeat our original phrasing and it’s a struggle to convince him to correct this.  He’s more likely to tell his sister she’s wrong before a parent, but there are times he will argue a point until he ends up in a meltdown spiral.

To avoid this, we actively work to say what we mean the first time and stick to it. We explain a series of events he should expect, we offer choices, use positive statements (e.g. “Pet the cat gently” instead of “don’t poke the kitty!”), stand firm about an issue, and offer negotiations where possible. One of these negotiation tactics he adores using several times a day is the “three more minutes” request.

If he’s engaged in something he enjoys and doesn’t wish to stop immediately, he can request an extra three minutes to wrap up. And most of the time, we agree to those extra three minutes.  I say, “Ok. Three more minutes to play with your cars,” and I wait. At the two and one minute markers, I let him know how much time is left.  When it gets toward the end, he especially enjoys to have me count down the last ten seconds. He even tells me to do it if I’ve forgotten, or reminds me at the start of the three minutes to do it at the end.

The moment I get to 3, 2, 1, he pops up on his feet and is ready and excited about what he’s going to do next, whether it’s a diaper change, nap time, or getting ready to go out. It doesn’t matter what, as long as I’m excited in that final ten second countdown and he had his three more minutes, he’s ready to race to the next task.

In part, I think it works because it’s fair to give him a little extra time to prepare himself for transition and he sees it as fair, but also, he gets to have a little control over his time. The enthusiasm we show also helps, as he wants to share in the excitement.

We don’t allow him an additional three minutes (this isn’t a Foamy the Squirrel skit), and I think a longer period would make it harder for him to retain focus on transition and be less excited should we allow him five, seven, or ten minutes more.  In fact, he might have even picked the duration himself (and requested it the first time) after I said a meal we had would be done in three more minutes, and he had to wait.

This method might work for you if your toddler isn’t dealing well with ending a task or frustration/disappointment meltdowns are common. Give it a try, and keep a clock or timer handy to help stick to the agreed upon duration (unless your internal clock is as on point as mine).

Toddlers: What to Show Them When They Watch TV

Cal and the SealA couple of years ago, my cousin asked me when her first child turned two, what shows were good for little kids to watch.  She was most concerned (beyond the usual issues of violence, etc.) about showing him single shot or long shot videos where the scenes don’t jump back and forth within a matter of seconds.  She wanted something he could look at, ponder, and comprehend.  At the time, I was raising a pre-teen, and couldn’t think of what to say that was very useful.

Now that I have another little one in the home — and because of my technophile household I can’t keep him from seeing screens in the house for two years — I have a better answer for other parents wanting to slowly introduce their young ones to television or film.

Real-Time Kitten Cams (and other animals)

Kittens and other small animals are quite attractive to toddlers, and they’ll focus on them for some time.  Seeing a video of baby animals in real time, without editing, avoids all media distractions normally found in other videos.  We recently watched a chick being hatched (with help from its human parent) that would not have been able to hatch on its own.  I sat riveted for far longer than the baby, truth be told.  Right now, as I type, we have a kitten cam up from a litter of half dozen kittens who are being fostered through MEOW rescue, where we adopted three of our own cats.  See the Kittens of the Shire now while you can!

Zoo and Farm Animal Videos

Though you might have to scout around for ones that are done well with a steady camera gaze, videos from zoos, farms, and people with adorable animals can provide an enjoyable screen experience for your child without a lot of the intensity of motion, music, and mania from children’s shows and cartoons.  Sit Down With Cubs from Woodland Park Zoo shows a lioness and her cubs in their den.  It’s slow, relaxed, and runs at a natural pace.  The video is 28 minutes long, so you can watch a few minutes, and stop, then come back to it later if need be.

Musicals and Old Films

The slower frames and longer shots of old films and musicals provides a good introduction to both taking in information from a screen, and also enjoying classic films.  One my own son is enjoying these days is the title song from Singing in the Rain.

Period Dramas and Older Shows

While most families adhering to the two year suggestion for toddlers might not want to watch anything like Downtown Abbey or Star Trek: Next Generation with their youngest, we find they’re generally good at taking their time with each framed shot, have several scenes with intellectual discourse, and do not possess many adult themed taboos for little children — violence being my biggest concern.  (We also occasionally watch “safe” anime shows such as Silver Spoon on Crunchyroll.)  These shows are a good introduction to television without overstimulating the child, and allow the older members of the family to get in some much-needed  entertainment outside of peek-a-boo and nursery rhymes.