Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Open mouth, insert foot

Here is a video of Mudpuppy playing on the changing table:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Snow shoes

One of the many things being offered at Lake Lodge near our home is snow shoe rental. Actually, it's free, so I guess it's not a rental. Anyway, I took the girls out onto the lake:

The girls in the middle of the lake.

Jaybird would like to report that she definitely did not have fun. "This is the worst day of my life," she said. Repeatedly. Along with other things I won't record. At the top of her lungs . . . for the duration of our time outside.

Still, I had fun, and so did Mouse. Next week, if the weather cooperates, we might try snowshoeing at the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge, which also has free snowshoe rental.

BTW, I have more to post, but it will have to wait until tomorrow, because it's too late right now. I spent a good chunk of the evening working on a DVD of the kids from November, which I hope to send out within a week.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mudpuppy's first words

Well, we've been waiting for some definitive first words from Mudpuppy -- he doesn't really enunciate anything quite so clearly yet, but he has definitely begun to repeat some sounds that he associates with certain situations.

"Da da" -- when he first started saying it, this was more of a random babble; now, I think he associates that word with me, partly thanks to the encouragement of others in the family.

"There he is!" -- He will consistently repeat this phrase after we use it. We say it when we're pulling on a shirt: "Where's [Mudpuppy]? Oh -- there he is!" And he'll laugh and laugh and say something that sounds sort of like "der e iz." It's pretty consistent, so we don't think we're imagining it, but I think we'd be the only ones to recognize it as a phrase.

"Alleluia" -- He definitely says this word, and pretty clearly at times, too. We often work a sung alleluia into our family prayer, and his face lights up when we sing it. Once it sounded like he was trying to imitate it a few months ago, the kids and I jumped on it, and have been saying it to him repeatedly ever since. "Say 'alleluia!'" So, now, he does.

He clearly understands many words as well -- banana, eat, drink, mama, and the names of his siblings. His face lights up when I mention his siblings' names -- for instance, when we're getting in the car to pick them up, I might say, "Should we go get [Bear]? And [Mouse]? And [Jaybird]?" And he will smile and his eyes light up for each one; he'll look off to the side to see if they're around.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More breakfast conversation

Mouse (over cereal): Mom, are raindrops really the tears of God?
Me: No, they're not.
Mouse:  How about sweat?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Temptation in a nutshell

So, Bear is asking me questions about spiritual warfare and original sin at the breakfast table. (Don't they all?) After bemoaning so much evil in the world:

Bear: "Sometimes, I just wish I could kick the devil in the face."
Me: "Well, son, I think you really ought to let God take care of that. You stay away from evil and trust in God."
Bear: "You mean let God kick the devil in the face?"
Me: "Yes. Basically."
Bear: "Yeah, but, it would be so much more satisfying if I could do it."

There, my friends, is the essence of temptation in a nutshell.

(Catechetical moment followed.)


Sunday, January 09, 2011

A bit of a rough day

It has been a bit of a rough day here, with both me and Mudpuppy sick. I spent much of the day in bed or dozing with a bad cold -- or maybe it's the flu? It's not so much sneezing and stuff, more achy-ness and tiredness.

Anyway, Mudpuppy got the worst of it with a short-lived stomach flu. He threw up twice, and spent most of the day trembling and/or crying. Very unusual for him, poor thing.

Before he got sick, though, we went to church, where he was his normal cheerful self. I know I'm always saying this, but it keeps happening . . . after church, we had a woman come up to us a detail everything Mudpuppy had been doing. I tell you, we have got to stop sitting near the front -- this smiley kid is distracting half the church, apparently! After the Dec. 26 Mass, a woman came up to us and said, "My kids visited over Christmas with their eight grandchildren, and I had to tell them sorry, but that's the cutest baby I've ever seen." Meaning Mudpuppy, of course.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Things Mudpuppy can do, #3

Besides learning to walk (see below), Mudpuppy has been brushing up on his gardening skills. Like every true gardener, he loves spending the winter months sitting in a cozy chair, planning his garden and dreaming of warm summer days. Only five more months, baby!

Raisin bread!

I've been making raisin bread from my new Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. It is so yummy -- I use a buttermilk bread recipe. Here's my very first loaf:

Since this loaf, I have made several more, with a lot more raisins. Also, I made a delicious olive oil loaf stuffed with red peppers and Parmesan cheese -- also yummy, although I would add minced garlic if I had it to do over again. Sadly, no picture of that.

The Art of Disciplina

As a parent, I've found it invaluable to remember that discipline is first and foremost about teaching and learning, not punishment (discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge"). Which is why I'm delighted with how well our Nurtured Heart Approach has been working out. Here's an update (first post on this topic here).

One optional part of the Nurtured Heart Approach is a points system. It helps to formalize what you're doing, and kind of takes the whole thing up to the next level. We opted to implement this for Jaybird -- and her older siblings, both to avoid jealousy and to create buy-in from them.

The picture above shows Bear during our end-of-the-day "conference" (we don't actually call it that -- we say "we're doing points now!"). We work from two sheets, one labeled, "Ways to Earn Points" and one labeled, "Ways to Spend Points."

The kids can earn points by doing or not doing certain things throughout the day. The "Earn" sheet is divided into three parts: rules, character bonus, and responsibilities. "Rules" are the bare minimum, and are stated in negative terms for the sake of clarity: no hitting, no yelling in anger, no disobeying parents, etc. "Responsibilities" are things they are just expected to do: picking up after themselves, getting downstairs by 7, in the car by 7:25, remembering to bring everything needed for school, playing with Mudpuppy, etc. "Character bonus" is "above and beyond" territory. Here we have "being grateful instead of jealous," "saying sorry," "forgiving someone," "smiling a lot," etc. Don't those sound like wonderful behaviors to have around the house?

Each of these items is assigned a certain number of points: 1, 2, or 4. At the end of each day, we review the day with each child. (The other children are off brushing teeth or reading; we've learned to do them separately to minimize "help" from siblings.) If a child was successful on a certain task, she receives the points available for that task. A child may earn partial credit for the bigger items if she was mostly successful on it. For example, "no yelling in anger" can be hard to be consistent on the whole day, but if the child was good about it for most of the day, she might receive partial points.

We keep track of the points by using candy as counters. We find that candy adds a little interest. Plus, they can eat the candy -- although doing so costs them points. We limit how much they can eat.

On the "Spend" sheet is all sorts of ways to spend the points. We list anything that is a privilege, from snacks to screen time to visiting friends, etc. "Normal" privileges cost very few points. "Extra" privileges that go beyond what they are normally allowed cost extra points. They can buy a 10-minute delay in doing a chore, or an extra half-hour of reading time before bed on non-school nights, or a half hour shopping trip, or choosing the meal for one day in the coming week, or chocolate milk, or a fun bath, or an extra half-hour of screen time, or chauffeur service (typically getting picked up from school). The hands-down favorite from Jaybird and Mouse has been sleeping downstairs on the couches, which we allow them to do for 15 points on non-school nights.

The point of all this (no pun intended!) is to be intentional about recognizing kids' behavioral successes. The basic assumption of NHA is that most kids want to be good, and that most kids respond to discipline more effectively when we put as much energy into recognizing their successes as we typically do into recognizing their failures. This was key for me -- realizing that a lot of my parenting energy was directed at deterrence and negative comments about what was going wrong. The idea of putting all of that energy into recognizing and reinforcing what was going right really appealed to me.

What the point system does is to create a time and place to be very intentional about recognizing the kids' behavioral and character successes. Just like in their video games, they earn points for following the rules and achieving certain goals. (And just like when they play a game, they sometimes pump their fist or say, "Yes!" when they get a lot of points.) Besides providing a strong incentive for good behavior, the privileges give the kids a certain degree of control and freedom. If you think about it, a lot of misbehavior is about kids fighting for that control. By providing a structured forum for them to "bend" the rules and earn privileges, you're providing an outlet for all that.

And when things don't go well? When someone's disobeying, or not fulfilling responsibilities? We get to impose a spending freeze on the points. Very simple, very straightforward; no long lectures or explanations, 'cause all the rules and expectations are already laid out. We just say, "OK, that's your choice. But your points are frozen until you ___." Every single privilege costs at least one point, so freezing points is like a super-timeout or grounding, without all the fuss and hysterics. One sentence, delivered in a very matter-of-fact way, then we walk away. No yelling required. I love it.

Keeping track of these points is a lot of work -- although we've figured out some tricks for streamlining it, like keeping the number of points as low as possible (less counting out candy) and doing all the accounting at once at the end of the day. Still, we spend half an hour, at least, going over this with all three kids at the end of the day. We have been doing it for about three weeks. My mom had said that it would be hard to maintain, and I can see why. Ideally, this will not be a "forever" project; ideally, as all of this becomes habit, the idea would be to take the training wheels off. For now, though, we've seen some great results -- as well as some unexpected side benefits.

In the results category, we've seen much better compliance with the basic rules. Yelling and arguments are not completely extinct, but on more days than not, we're awarding each kid full points for not arguing with their siblings. Hitting, which used to be an every-other-day sort of thing with the girls, has pretty much disappeared.  Big blowups from Jaybird are also becoming quite unusual; she still "loses it" occasionally, but since we've been ignoring them as well as praising her when she stops on her own, these tantrums have been getting shorter and less intense. The kids get 13 points for following all the basic ground rules; most days, they're getting all 13.

Positive behavior has increased, too. Since "gratitude" went on the list, we've been hearing a lot more "thank you's" and words of appreciation. The kids are also much more ready to say they're sorry and to forgive one another; after all, at the end of the day, they get four points for saying sorry, four points for forgiving, and lots of praise from us.

When Jaybird falls short on an item, she sometimes has a cute reaction. "Did you stick out your tongue at anyone today?" we'll ask. She'll pause to think about it ("ummm..."), then grin, hold up her index finger, and say, "Still working on it!"

Going over the list at night acts as a sort of examination of conscience for the kids; it teaches them to reflect on their actions. (A next step for us could be to link this explicitly to prayer, by asking the kids if they want to  pray for grace for anything they're "working on." We could also ask them whether they have anything they want to pray for forgiveness for.)

The list is purposely skewed to be positive; for instance, one of the items is "Smiling a lot during the day," something that Jaybird does most days. That way, even if she had a bad day in other areas, there's something positive to talk about. And that's another unexpected benefit: It's great to end the day on a positive note. The kids are visibly proud and happy about their successes.

One last unexpected benefit. Truthfully, at the end of the day, Starling and I are both tired, and usually cranky. Let's face it, kids are not adults; they don't know how to give space or not be annoying. They're needy by nature. So at the end of the day, sometimes, you just want them in bed. But then, when we go over that list, it's sometimes a revelation for us -- "Gee, these kids really hit most of these targets . . . they really were good today!" It causes a real attitude adjustment for us as parents when we realize that there were no arguments, no hitting, no yelling all day long -- and they were helpful, used kind words, had good table manners, or whatever else they did.

But cleaning their bedroom floor? They're still working on it. :)

My favorite discipline technique

All of that talk about the Nurtured Heart Approach is making me think of another discipline technique I like.

I learned this from another parent at my early childhood family education classes. When two kids get into one of those all-out fights that involves shouting and looks like it's headed toward violence, you tell them to each sit down on a stool. You explain to them that they need to talk it out, taking turns. When they do this at school, they use a "peace feather" to indicate who is able to speak; at home, we use the "peace rolling pin," since that is what is most handy. Plus the kids like to roll it on their laps as they're talking.

You pick one child to speak first, then hand her the rolling pin, promising the other child that they will get a chance to reply as soon as the first is done. Then you instruct the first child to tell the other child her grievance.   Once she feels done speaking, she hands the peace pin over, and the other child responds. They have to keep talking until the situation is resolved. And it's resolved when each child says it's resolved. Each child gives the other permission to get off the chair once it's resolved.

For really heated arguments, I stick around and coach -- maybe suggesting a sixty-second cooling off period, or advising someone that their language is making things worse, or gently suggesting the wording for a simple apology. A lot of times, it's more penny-ante bickering; in those cases, I pull out the chairs, hand them the peace pin, and say, "Talk it out." Then I walk away. I do this a lot when I get a kid coming to me complaining about something a sibling has done -- "___ slammed the door in my face!" or whatever. "OK," I say. "You need to tell ___ that. Pull up a chair and I'll get the rolling pin!"

The beauty of this arrangement? First, it takes me out of the role of negotiator/mediator -- I'm no longer responsible for sorting out who did what to whom. Second, it cuts down on the really trivial bickering, because the chairs serve as a kind of time-out; the longer they bicker, the more time they spend just cooling their heels instead of playing. Third, by making them responsible for resolving the conflict, they're learning an extremely valuable life skill; a lot of adults don't know how to argue well. And since I started doing this a couple years ago, I've noticed the older kids -- especially Bear -- using these skills independently to solve conflicts with siblings without things getting out of hand.

And no, no one has bashed anyone over the head with the rolling pin yet. It just makes me smile every time I say, "Let's get out the rolling pin, kids, and you work this out among yourselves!" It's dark, dark humor, but a parent is allowed his inside jokes.

Happy New Year's

Yes, finally getting around to posting new material here. It has been very busy, between Christmas and an unexpected rush editing job.

We had a low-key New Year's celebration; the kids stayed up until 9:30, playing Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Apples to Apples, and other games. Then we told Mittens stories. Mittens was a cat who lived with Starlings' family when she was a kid; she started telling stories about this cat several years ago, and they've grown to epic proportions. Their favorite story is, "Mittens Flies a Plane," about how Mittens accidentally flew the airplane that Starlings' family was taking back from Panama to the U.S. (Mittens goes after a chocolate bar in the pilot's area, but climbs all over the airplane's controls to get it. Hilarious chaos ensues.) We also shared our favorite memories from the previous year.

Here are some pictures from our celebration:

Bear playing Sumoku with me.

Playing Monopoly on New Year's Eve. Bear won with his
aggressive tactics. That's OK, we're counting on him to
fund our retirement, ha ha.

Bear and Mouse playing broomball on Lake Winona on
New Year's Day.

The real draw of skating for Jaybird is the hot
chocolate afterward. In the Twin Cities, this kind
of afternoon, with skate rental and hot cocoa,
would cost at least $20. In Winona: free!
Epiphany followed on the heels of New Year's Day, and with it came the annual Catholic Worker Epiphany party. For us, it marks the winding down of the Christmas season. Here's a short clip:

Speaking of the Catholic Worker, I wrote an essay on faith for their last newsletter. It is called, "The Catholic Worker Is a Fool." You can view it at the Winona Catholic Worker website.

First steps

Mudpuppy took his first steps away from furniture or other assistance yesterday. His actual first steps took place at ECFE, during a session with our early childhood intervention specialist (Molly). I said, "Well, it may be a while before he is walking," then Molly stood him up, said, "Walk to Dad!" and he took three hesitant steps before falling against me. He did it once more at ECFE, and then we recreated the moment at home: