First Day of Montessori

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Yesterday was Emil & Oliver’s first day of Montessori! Milo has been going all week and loving it, but it was really something special to see all of them marching up to their classrooms (the school is on large wooded grounds and has many house-like buildings; each building is a classroom) hand-in-hand, giving kisses and hugs good-bye, and disappearing into these magical places…

Also, they look sad above because I asked them to stop exploring the fallen tree in our side yard to sit for a picture. A quick storm had blown through on Wednesday evening, leaving this destruction: DSC_0096DSC_0090

The tree is actually in our neighbor’s yard, but happened to fall into ours, and because so many trees and huge limbs fell in our neighborhood that evening, workers are pretty backlogged trying to clear it all away… so I think the boys will be happy to see that the fallen tree remains when they get home from school again today. DSC_0111

Yesterday was also Andrew’s birthday, but I’m afraid this whole school thing overshadowed his special day. That and the fact that we had our first Trapeze II class last night, so it was a rush to get dinner for the boys and get out the door for the class. Poor Andrew! I promise to make it up to you, darlin’! DSC_0117All three boys are adjusting really well to school, and Andrew and I feel such a peace with our decision to send them here. Oliver and Emil just talk and talk and talk about everything the whole way home from school while Milo immediately picks up his Magic Tree House book and starts right where he left off that morning. He is quite a bookworm these days; it is the first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he does before falling asleep at night: read, read, read!

Thank you for all of your kind and encouraging comments, as well as the challenging ones. I appreciate and read them all! Have a beautiful Labor Day weekend!

Dress That Mama

DSC_0085Yes, this skirt again! I imagine Dress That Mama gets a little dull for some of you out there, as many of my clothes are on repeat around here with little variations on the same theme. But I feel that I should be honest here. I actually feel quite unsettled when I happen upon those fashion blogs where one woman wears a different outfit every day of the week and posts them every single day — a completely different, brand new outfit. I find my mind traveling to a crazy place… a place of excess. Where does one keep all those clothes and shoes? What is it like to open a closet, heck, an entire room full of clothing to get dressed in the morning? For me it would feel like panic. And a bit of shame. And maybe dissatisfaction?

So yes, it’s boring around here. I wear this skirt twice a week at least – to dinners and breakfasts, birthday parties and pool parties. And jean shorts another two days. And maybe a dress, or jeans or jumpsuit if it’s cool enough. But if you are still getting anything out of these posts, let me know. I hate to beat a dead horse…
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How about you? What’s the one thing you find yourself putting on over and over again these days?

Grilled Lime Shrimp

DSC_0065Sometimes when it’s very very hot, certain things sound much more appealing to eat… like cold soup and for some reason (at least for me) shrimp! And add plenty of lime and cilantro, a bit of garlic and a few chopped peanuts? Perfection.

Grilled Lime Shrimp

  • 1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 limes
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp safflower or canola oil
  • 1 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together safflower oil and garlic, then toss shrimp in, coating. Skewer shrimp on kebabs, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours.

Whisk together one juiced lime, fish sauce, and sugar and set aside.

Preheat grill to high, then cook shrimp kebabs for about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from grill and toss with lime sauce. Squeeze remaining lime on top, then sprinkle peanuts and cilantro on top. Serve with rice and grilled corn. Enjoy!

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Grilled Shrimp with Cilantro, Lime, and Peanuts. 

 

Emil Turns 3

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Emil turned 3 last Thursday.IMG_0427DSC_0016DSC_0015

He is the funniest, most interesting, toughest and most tender-hearted little thing. He is a dichotomy in every sense of the word; giving millions of kisses on my cheeks, eyelids, forehead, and nose, and in the next second pummeling Oliver for taking a piece of his cereal. We all adore him to pieces, but Milo dotes on him the most.

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Oh, Emil, who came into the world so peacefully with the rising sun one warm August morning. He was all easy and light and welcomed by all. I can imagine that coming into the world with big brothers is a good safe place to come into. But he doesn’t need others to stick up for him; he is vocal and fair-minded about indiscretions. He prefers to sleep with large marbles in his bed, all lined up against the wall just beyond his head. He pours himself his own cereal and often milk, and cleans up after himself always. He likes to do everything himself and most problems occur when someone tries to interfere with his fierce independence and important plans. He is the only child who has escaped every restraint: climbing stealthily out of his crib, then scaling his dresser or window sill. Eventually the poor lad has found himself in a room empty of all but a mattress on the floor and a rug. Not even a doorknob could be trusted with the poor guy.

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For his birthday, Emil received three large marbles and a little pillow to take into Montessori for nap time. It has bunnies on it. These simple things brought him so much joy!

My love for my last son is crazy. There are parts of me that I must resist daily: the parts that want to hug his sturdy little body close to mine and not let go, to breathe in the sweetness of his smell and kiss him a million times on those round little cheeks! I know it will be harder on me than it will be on him this Thursday when he starts all-day Montessori with his big brothers. I know that there is little he will miss about being at home instead of being out there in the world with kids his age, having experiences he has been wishing and dreaming for. Part of being the youngest is always pushing forward to try to catch up with the older siblings. Emil is no exception. Sometimes I want to shout, “Slow down! You are my last baby, don’t you know?!” but he is a firecracker and firecrackers should not be held indoors!

Emil, we love you buddy. You make our family exciting and fun, you bring love and joy to every one of us every day. We are so proud of you and love you so very very much! Happy 3rd Birthday, dear sweet boy!

In Defense of Conscious Parenting

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I’ve given glimpses of issues I’ve had with parenting style over the years, but I’ve never fully delved into what our parenting style looks like because, well, there’s just so much out there on parenting right now and the last thing I want to do is to add to the competition, the “Mommy Wars,” and the drama. But there is something important going on with parenting: a fight about how much freedom to give our children, how much supervision, how much assistance, and how much structure. And I have strong opinions on this, so I will share them here. But please know that this is my own opinion, my own style, and I try very hard not to judge others based on such personal choices as parenting style. Ours is one way of parenting, and I respect that there are many wonderful successful ways that are very different from ours!

As my boys grow older, their physicality and their abilities grow as well. And the way we have raised them, from day one, has been very open and trusting with that physicality. I was not the mom to run over to my baby immediately when he fell down; instead, I waited for his response and more often than not, after a mutual smile back and forth to encourage and reassure, he would rise again and go about playing. I was not the mom to hover over a two-year-old Milo as he learned to climb on play structures at the playground in Washington, DC (yes, he fell hard once, and got some scratches on his face; he also learned to be very careful on that structure and was okay after a good long hug from his mama).

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Our three boys can elicit a lot of attention at the local playgrounds; they arrive and immediately take off their shoes (and sometimes their shirts if it’s hot), and run off to climb every which way on the equipment. This includes climbing up slides instead of only sliding down them (oh, the scandal!), climbing on the outside of equipment, and shimmying their way up to the top of the swing set when others are not swinging. It includes hanging upside down like bats from the monkey bars and standing up on big saucer swings, learning to balance their weight by swaying hard back and forth until they are nearly flying. It includes swinging all the swings in different directions and then running an obstacle course between them, dodging the swings as they run by each one to avoid being hit by them. They play hard, and they can handle it.

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This is not to say that we allow our boys to overrun others’ rights when at the playground. They are expected to respect the way others play, to take turns, and to be understanding of the rules others may have. If, for instance, a kid is about to slide down the slide, our kids are not allowed to run up it at the same time. But I do not say things like, “We must ONLY go down the slide and up the stairs,” or “We must always wear our shoes when we are outdoors.”

And those are two very controversial things around St. Louis playgrounds, apparently!

Let me paint the picture.

I take all three boys to a playground nice and early, and we are the first to arrive. It’s shoes and shirts off right away and then they run off to climb and pretend and play. After about 20 minutes, a father and his 5-year-old son arrive by bike at the playground. I greet them and go back to watching the boys and occasionally climbing and spinning and chasing them. But I start to feel a tension that is palpable with the father. He is watching my boys nervously, and commenting on their lack of shoes to his little boy, perhaps foreseeing that his little boy will want to take his shoes off as well (it’s one of those soft-surface grounds that nearly all playground floors consist of these days). “Oh my! Those boys’ feet are very dirty! They aren’t wearing their shoes, are they?” he comments to his little boy (who is, by the way, playing with his bike helmet on). Sure enough, the boy tries to take his shoes off and his father reminds him that they wear their shoes outdoors because that is the rule.

But then, the little boy asks, “But why?” And I kid you not, the dad tells him “Because it’s what you’re supposed to do.” Hm. Is it?

And then, Milo is swinging on a giant saucer swing, standing up, shifting his weight back and forth and going higher and higher, the wind whipping his hair, a giant proud smile on his face. The little boy in the helmet is playing elsewhere, but the dad comments to no one in particular, “That is really dangerous. That is just not how that equipment is supposed to be used.” I smile at him to let him know that I hear him and I’m aware of what my child is doing, and that I approve. It’s almost comical at this point, but I try to brush off the feeling that my hackles are beginning to raise. I don’t want to engage, because clearly we have very different parenting styles, and that is alright. I am responsible for my kids’ safety, and if they are not putting his son in danger or disrespecting him, I am comfortable with the way they are playing. I do not owe him an explanation, but realize I would be happy to engage in an intelligent conversation about my parenting choices if he would like to talk about it.

The comments go on and eventually I, very warmly and very openly, fill him in on the shoeless thing. I say, “Yes, we let our boys go barefoot a lot because it’s very good for their neurological development (citing this article and a brief overview of these reasons). “As long as there is no broken glass around, I’m happy to let them explore without shoes.” End of discussion.

While I don’t mind being questioned or judged from time to time about the way I parent (and in fact have come to expect it), what I don’t care for is the assumption that I am a lazy parent because I give my kids extra independence at the playground. The fact is, I read a lot and have thought a lot about what I believe is the best way to raise my boys. The fact is, I am watching, engaged, and aware. The fact is, I completely disagree with some of the parenting choices other moms and dads may be making (for instance, never letting their toddler try to climb up something and instead always lifting them up to the top), but I would never give them dirty looks or make disrespectful comments to them or others within earshot about those choices. I would not make disparaging remarks to my children about it either; “Oh my, that little boy is not even allowed to climb up the 5-foot plastic rock wall by himself… poor kid! And his dad won’t let him take his shoes off!” I mean, can you even imagine?!!

Let’s start assuming that parents have thought about it. That they want the best for their children. That maybe they have researched things and have reasons for parenting the way they parent. One of the most enlightening conversations I had recently was with a very protective mother. We were just chatting and not judging each other, and come to find out, her husband is a transplant doctor who comes home every day with sad stories about accidents involving little children: drownings and car accidents and just horrible things. A lightbulb clicked. Oh! I thought, of course she is protective. Of course!

Let’s meet each other with understanding, let’s assume the best. We’ll all be better for it.

Montessori-Inspired

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Hammering. Using real tools, tools that work, tools that are the same as an adult’s but fit to the hand of a child. This is the kind of thing that is so controversial these days (after all, I was chastised for letting my boys use a plastic hammer to break up an ice block without some kind of protective equipment), but I don’t always understand how we have gotten here, this overly-cautious society. We are afraid to let our kids do real things. Afraid to give them independence, afraid to let them make mistakes, afraid to let them fail. Afraid of what? Some bumps and bruises? Because I assure you, those will happen no matter what you do. Bumps and bruises are part of life — both a child’s life and an adult’s life, both literally and figuratively.

I often struggle to find the kind of things I want for my boys: sturdy and useful toys that don’t dumb it down. I don’t mean to be brutal, but come on. Some of the things I see in toy stores are almost humiliating for kids — the ultra-cheap plastic stuff that breaks an hour after you buy it. I know that safety is a huge concern for parents these days, but frankly, it’s not as high on my radar. Unless it will cause possible death or serious brain injury, I’ll consider letting my kids try it out. DSC_0015DSC_0017DSC_0020

That’s not to say it’s a free-for-all around here. I still believe that guidance is important. Obviously, upon giving Oliver a real tool set for his fifth birthday, we went over some basic rules: he may only use the saw with an adult present, and when he is hammering, he should use the goggles. We gently explain what can go wrong, and the proper ways to hold and use things. It doesn’t take much, and if we show them how to respect a tool by example, they will follow our lead. If we are careful when demonstrating use of the tool, they will be careful. I think a lot of it has to do with being confident in our children as intelligent, independent beings who will make good choices. Because when we believe in them, they rise to the occasion.

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We purchased our tool set from a local toy store, but it is listed online here if you’re interested.
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Emil is still a bit young for this, but I always let him try what his big brothers are doing. It always makes me aware of how younger siblings rise to the occasion. You should see this kid on a scooter…

So because he had to use his other hand to support the weight of the heavy hammer, I gently showed him again how to only use one hand. Then I handed him a different tool to try out when it was apparent that the hammer was a bit much for him to handle. He will try again soon!
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DSC_0037The concentration and perspiration… just great!
DSC_0061So what do you think? Is it worth it to risk a bruised thumb to learn a new skill? Is this beyond your parenting comfort zone? I often find myself in the midst of a lot of controversy (especially at the playground) with my boys and my parenting style. But the more practice and feedback (from my kids’ progress, not from other parents) I get, the more confident I feel with my choices. It’s immensely interesting, this parenting job!

Dress That Mama

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High(ish)-waisted jeans, striped shirt, clogs. Easy and classic. I’m truly appreciating the high-waisted thing going on right now. I mean, there is no plumber’s crack problem when I bend down to help Emil roll up the legs of his Flash costume or hold onto the low-down handlebars of the two-wheeler he insists on riding around the playground…

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And it feels a little more grown-up and classy with a tucked-in shirt, and yes! to stripes, will they ever go out of style?
IMG_0357Have a fantastic Wednesday!

Reading…

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When we were last at the library, I accidentally came across author Arnold Lobel‘s books and had flashbacks to my own childhood! The stories are classic, sweet, and written with an innocence reminiscent of young children and age of magical thinking. DSC_0002

As I read Owl At Home to Emil one rainy afternoon (we’ve been reading a lot more since he gave up those beautiful wonderful dreamy naps), I remembered what it felt like to be read to when I was a little girl — this very same story, about Owl making teardrop tea; I remember thinking how silly the things were that Owl thought about to make himself sad: “mashed potatoes left on a plate… because no one wanted to eat them,” for instance. And all of the stories are like that, light and innocent and silly and sweet. Just perfect for little ones.
DSC_0004Actually, just perfect for anyone. As I was reading, Milo and Oliver listened from the other room, giggling and acting like the stories were too babyish for them… until they wandered over and ended up snuggled up next to us on the couch.

I can’t say that I blame them.

Weekend Shenanigans

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It was a weekend of harvest and creation for us; we finally bit the bullet and bought a fruit-picker to reach those ripe round apples at the top of the tree that were tempting us, and with half of the 12 pounds harvested, I made apple butter in the crock pot. So cool to see the progression of those apples: first picking, then cutting and preparing, then returning the skins and scraps to the earth through our compost pile. And so it goes!DSC_0011DSC_0021DSC_0026DSC_0070DSC_0071DSC_0076

And speaking of compost, we have three amazing piles of it ready to add to the vegetable garden for our fall crops (pumpkins, kale, lettuces, and broccoli). After spending the better part of Thursday and Friday in there with Oliver, I’m excited to add to our bounty!DSC_0001DSC_0004DSC_0049DSC_0061DSC_0027

We also had a lot of rain this weekend (which we needed) but it all cleared up just in time for a Sunday afternoon neighbor fun day at the playground. But most of the weekend was spent making and baking: Andrew brewed an IPA batch that should be ready next month, I baked banana bread and English jacket potatoes, made guacamole and grilled corn and tomato salad (try out that amazing recipe here). Andrew and I floated silently around each other in the kitchen all afternoon on Sunday, doing a sort of baking/brewing dance while the kids played with balloons and did flips on the couch. It was the perfect sort of afternoon!DSC_0073DSC_0079DSC_0095DSC_0074DSC_0076And Emil was brave enough to try this all by himself for the first time. I guess he is really a big boy now, since he is next up in our month of birthdays… am I ready for a three-year-old again? Oh boy, if it’s anything like this one‘s entire third year, we’re in for it!