Archive for Young Children

The 12 Days of Christmas (Catholic Style!)

12 days of christmasHappy Christmastide! Did you know the “Christmas season” for Catholics is not the weeks prior to Christmas (as advertisements would have us believe) ending on Christmas Day? Nope, we’re just getting started with the celebration!

Christmas Season in the Church begins on Christmas Day and lasts for 40 days, ending on February 2 (“Candlemas”). “Christmastide” is the 12 days following Christmas, including the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on the Octave of January 1 and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (traditionally anyway; in some countries Epiphany is observed on the Sunday nearest to January 6). Over on our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting, I’ve posted some great links to help your family celebrate the Solemnity of Mary and Epiphany, so check it out.

And for those of you who love trivia, here’s a fun little key to the 18th century song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with suggestions for how the song teaches Catholic doctrine (from Ann Ball’s Catholic Sacramentals).

Partridge in a pear tree        Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings.

Two turtle doves                    Old & New Testaments

Three French Hens               Faith, hope, charity

Four Calling birds                 The Four Gospels

Five Golden Rings                 The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy)

Six geese a laying                   Six days of creation

Seven Swans a swimming     7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Eight maids a-milking           8 Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing             Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords a-leaping              10 Commandments

Eleven pipers piping             The 11 faithful disciples

12 drummers drumming      12 articles of the Apostles Creed

Live Like a Saint: Saint Nicholas!

Note from the editor: Charisse put together this lovely spread for our winter issue of Tender Tidings, but we are still putting together the issue and St. Nicholas’ feast day is on Sunday. So we wanted to release her spread here so you would have time to use her ideas. God bless!

st nick

St. Nicholas, the patron and protector of children, is known for his generous spirit, compassionate heart, and natural humility. Born during the third century on what is now the southern coast of Turkey, Nicholas spent the early years of his life enjoying the temporal and spiritual blessings of his wealthy and devoutly Christian parents. After his parents’ death, the young Nicholas took Jesus’ words “sell what you own and give the money to the poor” to heart and used his whole inheritance to help the poor and suffering. Create a St. Nicholas gift box and mail it to a grandchild or godchild — or place some of the suggested items in your own children’s shoes to be found on the morning of December 6, St. Nicholas’ feast day.

Here are some ways your family can honor St. Nicholas in your home:

1. St. Nicholas card with candy “crozier” and hot chocolate

While still a young man, Nicholas was named Bishop of Myra. As bishop, he was known for his concern for children, the poor and needy, and sailors. He also suffered for his faith under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Stir up a cup of hot chocolate with Bishop Nicholas’ candy cane “crozier” and reflect on the love and sacrifice of this heroic saint. Card image found at www.catholictradition.org.

2. Small toy and virtue card

Many legends surround St. Nicholas that attest to his love for children. Miraculous stories of boys being restored to life after a brutal attack, a kidnapped child being whisked back home, and children saved from an evil butcher highlight Nicholas’ concern for these small souls. Present each of your children with a small toy and corresponding “virtue card” to help care for their souls. (e.g. a small toy airplane with a card that reads “Charity: May you always lift others up with your words. ‘Your words have upheld the stumbler; you have strengthened his faltering knees.’ Job 4:4”)

3. Gold coins and/or orange

One story attributed to St. Nicholas’ generous heart tells of a man with three daughters. Unable to afford dowries for his daughters, the man worried that they would never marry. But, mysteriously, three bags of gold (or three gold balls) appeared, apparently tossed through an open window during the night. They landed inside shoes that were drying by the fire. Place oranges or chocolate coins in your children’s shoes to remind them of St. Nicholas’ secret and humble generosity.

Visit www.stnicholascenter.org for more ideas for celebrating St Nicholas Day.

There Goes My Baby Part 2: How to Cope When Your Child Leaves for School

first day of school fancy

It’s inevitable. Our children are going to grow up. In a previous post, I shared my own mixed (okay, pretty sad) feelings about my oldest son starting kindergarten in just a few weeks. And, although he’s ready for it, I’m not so sure I am.

Perhaps you’re going through something similar. Maybe your youngest is ready to start kindergarten in homeschooling and you’ve just realized you have no more babies coming up after this one. Maybe you have a child starting middle school, high school, or – gasp! – college. How did we get here? More important, how do we make it through these exciting, bewildering, and, yes, heartbreaking transitions?

Here are some ideas to help us – and our kids -to make it through:

Share our children’s excitement. No child wants to (or should be made to) feel guilty for looking forward to the next chapter of her life. Sure, our inclination might be to freeze time and keep our kids right where they are. But, since we can’t really do that, our next best bet is to have fun with our children as they get ready to turn the next page in the book that is their life. So, have fun together shopping for a new backpack and lunch bag, or decorating school folders. Kids heading off to high school might more so enjoy shopping for new clothes. And any child leaving for college would be happy to stock up on everything essential for dorm living.

Stay rooted in old rituals. As I think ahead to the long days my son will be spending at school (and away from home), I quickly calm my sorrow with reminders that we’ll still enjoy nightly family dinners, weekend outings, and long holidays and summers uninterrupted by strict school schedules. When I think back to my own transition of leaving for college, I still remember that the knowledge that I could return home on weekends or that I’d be home for a long winter break before I knew it helped ease my homesickness. If your child’s only mildly excited about her upcoming milestone, try reminding her of all that’s going to stay the same in her life so she realizes her whole world isn’t being turned upside down.

Enjoy new ways to bond with your child. As parents, we’ve been doing this one from the start. With every new development in our children’s lives, we’ve had to rediscover our relationship with each other. This new milestone asks the same of us. I look forward to the new conversations my son and I will have as he begins the school year. Already, we’ve played on his school playground and chatted about my own school experiences. If you homeschool a new kindergartener, look forward to this new dynamic of your relationship with your child. If your kid’s off to college, send him care packages, cards or letters just to let him know you’re thinking of him (what college kid doesn’t love getting mail?)

Enjoy what this milestone means for you. With every transition our children face, we, parents, experience a transition ourselves. Though you may be saddened by your child starting kindergarten, middle or high school, or college, don’t feel guilty for appreciating the increased one-on-one time you might get with a child who’s still home, or for feeling mild excitement at the thought of taking up that hobby you always wanted to master, or for looking forward to more quality time with your spouse.

When life isn’t constant, remember that God is. Times like these, when it feels like our children are slipping from our grasp, it’s easy to feel uneasy. But, recall that even when we’re shaken, God isn’t. We may be tempted to worry or fear, but the Bible reminds us not to give into it but instead to trust in God, “with whom there is no alteration” (James 1:17). And nothing should bring us more peace in these quickly changing days than our Father who, thankfully, never changes.

Summer Spirituality for Kids

dreamstime_xs_21585662

The Spiritual Works of Mercy move beyond the needs of the body to the needs of the soul. They nurture others at a profound level, bringing them into deeper union with others and with God. We are sometimes presented with the opportunity to carry out these works of mercy when we least expect it. The practical suggestions below will help even small children feel prepared for those unexpected moments. Pray the Holy Spirit prayer that accompanies each work of mercy so that you will “not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say.” Trust that, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “you will be given at that moment what you are to say.” (Matt 10:19)

1.  Admonish the sinner

  • Don’t be afraid to tell your children (who have reached the age of reason) that immoral behavior is an objective sin. (“Playing my smartphone when I told you not to was disobedience. That was wrong and a sin.”)
  • Encourage your children to charitably remind their siblings or friends of the right thing to do when they see a bad choice being made. Role play some example scenarios.

Holy Spirit, please give me the fortitude I need to speak up for what is right and encourage others to follow God’s commandments.

2.  Instruct the uninformed

  • Have older siblings teach a Bible story or a principle of our Catholic faith to younger siblings. Get creative with a puppet show, play, or craft!
  • Ask one of your children to invite a non-Catholic friend to a fun parish event.

Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your gift of understanding, so that I can teach others the Truth about my Catholic faith.

3.  Counsel the doubtful

  • Encourage your children to look for reasons to praise each other. Use the power of positive reinforcement to confirm good choices.
  • To give good counsel, we have to be good listeners. Ask your children to tell you something interesting (not gossip) that they heard as they went about their day.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of counsel so I will know what to do and say when someone is feeling scared or unsure.

4.  Comfort the sorrowful

  • Come together as a family when someone is sad or sick. Have each family member think of something nice they can do or say.
  • Explain grief to your children at an age appropriate level. Have them help you make a card for someone who is suffering — just to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of knowledge, that I might see my life the way God sees it. Help me to share with others that everything that happens to us works for a greater good.

5.  Be patient with those in error

  • Teach your children calming techniques (deep breathing, taking a “time out” from a heated situation, getting a soothing hug from Mom or Dad). Tell them to use these techniques when they start to feel angry with someone so they can use a gentle tone of voice to work things out.
  • Remind your children that your family loves people more than things. Even if a sibling breaks a treasured possession or interrupts a fun activity, teach your children to show respect and kindness toward him or her.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of wisdom so that I can love You, and those made in Your image, above all else–even when I feel sad or mad.

6.  Forgive offenses

  • Give your children the words they need when they claim they “hate” someone who did something they didn’t like. (“Instead of ‘I hate him’, try ‘I didn’t like it when he smashed my Lego truck.’”)
  • Help two children who were upset with each other find something fun to do together once they’ve cooled off. Assist them in repairing their relationship.

Holy Spirit, please gift me with a healthy fear of the Lord so that I will be filled with a desire to please Him and forgive others as He forgives me.

7.  Pray for the living and the dead

  • Make a “spiritual bouquet” for someone who needs your prayers. Send them a card filled with paper flowers — one for each prayer you will say for them.
  • Write down the names of deceased relatives and friends in a prayer journal, and light a candle while you pray a decade of the Rosary for them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of piety, so that I will remain obedient to the prayer life you have chosen for me.

Image credit: “mercy” by Andrew Parvenov (dreamstime.com)

Giving Your Baby a Language Boost

reading to babyGwen Dewar over at the Urban Child Institute has a terrific article on “6 Tips for Boosting Your Baby’s Language Skills.”  Read her whole article here.

Here’s a summary of  her tips with my own thoughts:

1.  Take a cue from your baby’s curiosity.

When babies reach for or gaze at objects they are interested in, we can view these as our cues to engage them in conversation.  We can name the objects or just talk to them about what they’re looking at.  When we’re playing with or reading to our child, we can pause and allow them to lead us in conversation in this way.  When their curiosity drives our time with them, they not only develop increased language skills, but she becomes more comfortable exploring the unfamiliar.

2.  Tune into your baby. 

Think about how you interact with adults, the way you affirm their presence in often subtle ways.  We respond to their questions, acknowledge their entry into the room, etc.  Dewar says, “Babies – even babies who can’t speak yet – look for the same message from us. They want to know that we will respond contingently to their signals, and when they perceive us doing it, their brains seem to flip a switch. Studies indicate that babies learn language faster when we talk with them, not at them.”  I think this is related to her first tip.  Being attuned to our child includes noticing the things she cares about, even when she’s a little baby.  This early attunement creates a strong foundation for great communication throughout the toddler and preschool years when our kids are gaining skills in communicating their needs, feelings, and interests.

3.  Be flexible and spontaneous.

Dewar says, “It’s easy to get bogged down with routines, but when it comes to family communication, we need to be ready to improvise. For instance, if your toddler interrupts your bedtime story because he wants to talk about the chair that Goldilocks smashed, go with it. Insisting that you stick to the narrative isn’t going to help your child build better verbal skills. On the contrary, it’s likely that kids learn more when the conversation veers off-text. Besides, forced bedtime reading is neither fun nor soothing. Your child might end up having more trouble falling asleep!”

This is a great tip! We grown-ups get fixated on doing things the right way, but following our child’s lead on occasion not only provides opportunities for communication, but allows our child to feel respected and affirmed.

4.  Supplement verbal messages with expressive emotions, gestures, and movements.

There’s a reason adults tend to act a little goofier when they are interacting with a baby!  Babies actually learn better when we couple our words with exaggerated gestures and a heightened tone of voice.  When we show our baby a stuffed monkey, we can name the object “monkey”, but we can also make funny monkey sounds and animate the stuffed object for our baby.  Dewar explains,  “When babies are learning to talk, they don’t just listen to our words. They also notice our tone of voice, and pay particular attention when we speak with exaggerated emotion: It helps them figure out our meaning.”

5.  Don’t worry about being perfect.

You don’t have to be a seasoned public speaker or possess perfect grammar to pass on strong language skills to your baby.  Dewar suggests that when parents stumble to find the right word, it actually engages the child even more — they pay even more attention to what we are saying.

6.  Shake things up.

Dewar encourages us to speak to our babies and young children like we would with anybody else.  She cautions that if we dumb down our conversations with our babies too much, they will have access to a more limited vocabulary.  It’s okay to simplify things when you are actually naming objects for your baby, but otherwise feel free to speak to them with words far more sophisticated than you imagine they can comprehend.  One great tip Dewar offers is to repeat back what our child says, but expand upon it with more words.  So if your child says, “FIRE TRUCK!,” you can talk about how loud it is or what it looks like.

I can’t help but notice that all these tips are easier to implement when we are using the parenting tools associated with attachment parenting — particularly babywearing, breastfeeding, and sleeping near your baby.  These tools help us keep our baby calm and close by, and they help us tune into our babies more easily.   Attached, responsive parents also enhance their child’s language development by giving her confidence that she will actually be heard.  I think a baby’s cries are really her first words.  When she is ignored or made to cry increasingly fretfully in order to get a response, then she’s not spending that time listening to and learning about other sounds in her world.

 

Praying in Silence with Children: VIDEO

A free video from Apostleship of Prayer.  Love these 3 tips for helping children become comfortable with praying silently.

  1. Timed prayer
  2. Secret good deeds
  3. Listening

Raising Children Who Love (or Don’t Hate) Confession

My guest essay on Dr. Greg Popcak’s blog Faith on the Couch:

I’ve heard that some people love going to Confession.  I personally don’t know any of them.  Maybe it’s an urban legend.  I think avoiding the confessional is our human default,

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

because we are uncomfortable exposing our weakness to others.  The Church wants us to know that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a gift.  It’s more an opportunity than a duty.

Confession brings our human failings to the Light where we can find healing, courage, and support.  The devil hates that!  He thrives in the dark, like a fungus.  He wants us to keep our sins and moral struggles to ourselves, because full freedom from them requires community – it requires family, friends, and counselors, especially our priest when he acts as Christ in the confessional.  In particular, as embodied creatures we need the physical experience of the confessional:  when we feel and hear ourselves speaking aloud the truth of our failings, when the priest with his body and his voice acts as Christ extending his mercy to us, we can understand better the power of repentance and the reality of God’s forgiveness.

How can we raise children who understand this deeper truth about Confession, who welcome it as an opportunity?  Here are a few lifestyle tips that may help.  These aren’t lessons our children learn from a book, but rather from the way we relate to them:

Read the rest on Dr. Greg’s website!  Leave a comment, too!

Explaining Lent to Our Children

As a new mom, I used to look at my sweet, innocent pre-school aged son and wonder how to explain this Lenten season to him. Would I wait for him to ask me questions? What if he never did? Or worse…what if he did? How would I answer?

While the Christmas season found me gushing to my young son about the Christ child and a humble manger and that beautiful star of Bethlehem, Lent left me speechless. How was I to describe this very difficult part of Jesus’ story, of our story, to him?

crown of thornsThe day when I had to answer that question came before I was ready. We were at church, lighting candles in the chapel when my then three-year-old looked at a particularly bloody Jesus nailed to a cross. “Mommy,” he asked me, “how did Jesus get up there?”

“You mean, how did that cross get hung up there?” I teased him towards an easier question to answer. He didn’t take the bait.

“No.” He pushed further. “Who put Jesus on there?”

Cue butterflies filling the stomach. Had I been wrong in not bringing it up to him first? Was this going to be a shocking blow? My mind scrambled for the right words. How much should I say? How deep into the story should I go?

Before I opened my mouth to speak, I thought of all I’ve learned from my mother, a woman who, with my dad, pretty successfully raised six children. Once, when my sister’s daughter began asking questions about death, I overheard my mom’s advice for handling the situation: “Let your daughter lead these difficult discussions. Too often, we explain these things to kids at a level too deep for them to understand. We forget that it’s children, not adults, asking these hard questions. And we end up answering them as if they’re adults. You’ll be surprised to find that the simplest answers are all they’re usually seeking at the moment. No more. So start simple and let them lead.”

Start simple. I thought of what my son’s three-year-old mind understood. Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Cops and robbers. Good guys and bad guys.

“Well,” I began carefully, “there were bad men who didn’t like Jesus…”

“…and they hurt him?” my son finished.

“Yes,” I answered. I waited, wondering if I should elaborate but willing myself to follow my child’s lead.

“Oh,” he said easily. “I don’t like those bad men.”

I searched my son’s eyes for tears or anger. Instead, I saw compassion as he stared at the crucifix.

“Mommy,” he asked, “can I kiss his boo-boos and make them better?”

“Of course,” I whispered.

As I watched my child approach the crucifix, leaning to kiss Jesus’ nailed feet and reaching up to kiss his bloodied side, my fear and anxiety were replaced with love and peace, and gratitude for my mother’s shared wisdom.

“Let’s go find Daddy,” my son exclaimed, bolting into the church. I almost stopped him. I was ready now. I could do this. I almost wanted to go into further detail about just how much our Lord suffered for our sins, but my son was already at my husband’s side, choosing a pew for Mass.

As usual, my mom was right. My child asked what seemed like a big question, but all he wanted was a simple answer. The difficult details, I know, will fill in as he grows. As his mind gets bigger, so will the answers. But, for now, he’s satisfied.

And so am I.

Kindergarten Blues

“Sometimes attachment parenting means being willing to mourn with our children while gently nudging them along the path God has laid for them.”

I’ll never forget how it felt to become a mother for the first time: joy, elation, amazement at the strength of my own body, and complete awe for the vulnerable, adorable, and demanding little person that I cradled in my arms. It was exciting to embark on a new chapter in my life, to grow up a little (or a lot), and to stretch my mind and emotions in ways they had never been stretched before.

But, two or three weeks into motherhood, it hit me. I had left my old life behind. My world would never be the same. I was still happy to be a mother and loved my baby dearly, but there were times I found myself mourning my old, carefree self. The days of pacing the floor with a fussy baby, trying to figure out how to take a shower, and sleepless nights seemed to stretch endlessly before me. I had more responsibility now, and could no longer think only of myself and my husband.

Charisse's daughter ready for school!

Charisse’s daughter ready for school!

Things had changed, and change is rarely simple.

My five-year-old daughter could tell you. She could tell you what it’s like to love a change while at the same time mourning your previous existence. She could tell you that growing up and accepting new responsibilities is sometimes painful, although exciting at the same time.

But I guess that’s what it means to die to self. It’s hard. It’s painful. But it’s also deeply satisfying to reach a new level of self-control. It feels good and natural to sacrifice for those we love. And a spring of joy bubbles up within us when we consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we will be worthy to see the face of God in heaven one day.

My daughter struggled with the first few weeks of her first time at school, but I knew her struggle wasn’t with the school work, the structure of the day, or her teachers and classmates. Her struggle was with the sadness that pervades a soul before joy has time to mature. Her struggle was with the mourning that accompanies a drastic life change. This mourning was good. It meant that my daughter has had a wonderful childhood, and that she has a healthy attachment to her family and home.

But then I had to ask myself, “Is she ready to learn how to let go a little? Is she ready to die to self and grow in virtue? Is this sadness conveying a real need or just a strong want?”

I know my stubborn, strong-willed, spirited daughter well, and I knew she was ready. And so I met her need of mourning her old life with her while conveying my confidence that she was ready for this next step.

I didn’t become a joyful mother overnight, and I couldn’t expect my daughter to instantly become a joyful kindergartner. But she is making progress. She talks about how much she likes school, even though I know a part of her still yearns to stay with me each morning.

Sometimes attachment parenting means being willing to mourn with our children while gently nudging them along the path God has laid for them. Sometimes attachment parenting means being the one they can cry with, pout with, and complain with when life seems to get just a little too hard. But then they realize that we’ve taught them the joy of the triumph of the Cross–the dying to self that reveals to them the strength of God that is always ready to help a selfless heart.

Oh, Boy!

Henry

Henry

I sent my three oldest children off to school today, and I found myself at home with my toddler and my three-year-old. My inquisitive, fearless three-year-old. Henry.

Henry is the kid who pulled out his own feeding tube as a premie in the NICU. Henry is the kid who could unscrew light bulbs and open “child proof” medicine bottles as a toddler. Henry is the kid who appears to have the ability to scale walls and won’t let anyone stop him if that’s what he decides to do. He likes to take things apart. He wants to know how everything works. He loves to wrestle, kick things, jump from high places, and throw things. Henry constantly seems to be testing the limits of his mental, physical, and emotional powers.

“It is extremely important for young men to learn the limits of their power. It’s a challenge they feel bound to confront, and it’s why they climb mountains, race cars, and wrestle. It is about understanding what they have inside and how far they can take it. It’s when they hit the wall that humility begins to set in.” Meg Meeker, Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons 

Henry has a lot going on inside that little head and body of his, and I want to help him understand it. So I have a plan. A plan for seeking power. Not in a take over the world with an evil cackle kind of way, but in a cover the world with hope and charity way.

Yes, my plan does involve a lot of park playing, nature hiking, throwing things just to throw them kind of days, but I also want to seek ways he can feel the power of charity. I want to challenge his three-year-old heart and brain to help our family organize some simple service projects. I want to put his physical energy to good use and see how many cans of food he can carry to the food bank. I want to challenge him to be loving and generous towards his family and friends.

“…boys need to learn to apply their skills, their power, to helping others. Boys need to serve; it is good for them; it directs their energies and helps them define the useful purposes of power; it tempers power with responsibility.” Meg Meeker

I plan to help Henry “hit the wall” and learn humility in safe, responsible ways. Testing his limits is what God created him to do. This is a good thing. With the right guidance, this is what will help him take over the world some day with an outpouring of virtuous fervor.

See more about raising strong, healthy boys in Meg Meeker’s book, Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons.

Play Ball

“And it was simple. For my son, his love of t-ball wasn’t about the performance or the competition. It wasn’t even about playing with friends. It was about simply spending time with his father.”

Ever since we heard the words, “It’s a boy,” my husband has had a dream. It’s a dream most fathers share, I think. I imagine that just as we mothers envision one day helping our daughters choose a wedding dress, fathers envision themselves on the field, coaching their son’s sports team. At least, that seems to be the going dream in my household.

baseballWe started to realize this dream as the long-awaited spring weather began to reveal itself. Baseball gradually filled our television screen and thoughts of summer plans began to fill the mouths of the moms at my son’s preschool. “Are you putting your child in anything this summer?” they questioned as we waited for our kids to come to the narthex at the end of the school morning. “Are we signing him up for anything this spring?” my husband asked me as he pondered the launch of our four-year-old’s athletic career.

To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to these kinds of plans. My plans included enjoying the warm weather in lighter clothes and imagining our family road trip down South in a few months. Signing up our son for organized activities wasn’t a thought that had crossed my mind. That part of his life, I imagined, would come when he was old enough to share with us his desire to participate in some activity.

So, the idea that we, his parents, would enroll him in something he had not asked for was a foreign one. Given how often I ran into this conversation, though, I began to believe that by neglecting to put my son in an organized sport, I was neglecting some significant aspect of the stage of life he’s in. I began to buy into the idea that my husband and I had to sign him up for something.

“Honey, do you want to play t-ball with other kids on a team?” I asked our son one day. Considering his love of playing t-ball in the backyard with his dad, I was actually surprised when he wailed, “Nooo, I don’t want to!”

Soon, though, I began to see images on Facebook of friends’ preschoolers happily donning their own baseball and soccer uniforms, or friends’ daughters proudly showing off their dance recital costumes and gymnastics leotards, and I panicked. My husband and I really were holding our son back from his full potential! Why had we waited so long to join the activity bandwagon?

So, ignoring my son’s voice (and a voice inside me that knew better), I registered him for t-ball. My husband and I took him to our local Little League’s outing to a nearby minor league baseball game, and we all had a great time. My husband took him out back for extra t-ball time in the yard, and they both had a blast.

We took him to his first t-ball practice, and it was a disaster.

Our son refused to walk onto the field. He cried. He begged us to go home. Ultimately, he found me in the bleachers, clung to my lap and wouldn’t budge from it. My husband and I argued over me coddling him too much, and we went home frustrated, while my son, once we left, went home relieved.

My sister, I realized, has dealt with similar issues with her eldest daughter. A similar personality to my son, my eight-year-old niece has long been more of an introvert. She’s been content to hang back as other kids run forward.

Recently, however, that seemed like it might change. My niece fell in love with Irish step-dancing, and my sister signed her up for weekly classes. Soon enough, my niece was hopping all over the house, any house, eager to show her family and relatives the latest moves she’d learned. She seemed to have turned a corner in her shyness. It appeared that she’d finally broken out of her shell.

And then, with the onset of spring, came recital season. My niece’s costumes came in, and my sister took her daughter to her first performance at a nearby nursing home.

And her daughter refused to dance.

It was baffling. My niece had become a constant step-dancer these days. We joked that she danced from place to place more than she walked. So, why the sudden refusal? Hadn’t she spent months getting ready for these performances, especially the big recital, which she also, ultimately, decided not to do?

My sister and her husband found themselves in a discussion similar to the one my husband and I were having. Should we force our children onto the stage or the field? Are we inhibiting them by allowing them to choose not to participate?

As I pondered these questions, my son enlightened me one day as we drove form one errand to another.

“I thought you love to play t-ball,” I said to him.

“I do,” he answered.

“So, why don’t you want to play on a team?” I continued.

“I don’t like a team,” he responded. “I don’t like people watching me.”

“But…”I cut in, and my son cut me off with an explanation that quieted my words and got me thinking.

“Mommy, I just like to play in the yard with Daddy,” he said simply.

And it was simple. For my son, his love of t-ball wasn’t about the performance or the competition. It wasn’t even about playing with friends. It was about simply spending time with his father.

I realized something, too, about my niece. For her, dancing wasn’t about the recital or the stage. It wasn’t about an audience. Her love of step-dancing was simply about the dance.

While most of us engage in activities with an end goal in mind (a competition, a recital, a game), my son and my niece wanted to engage in something for the sheer love of doing it.

After that realization, I began to look at this rush to put our kids in organized activities in a whole new light. I wondered if, perhaps, we as parents might do our children a disservice by taking them out of the yard and putting them on the field too soon. Or by placing them in organized activities where they interact with peers and other adults instead of nurturing their love for an activity with us, their parents, the people they really want to share their love with the most.

But, I think the greatest lesson God wants me to take from this is a reminder that our children are individuals. Indeed, as Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” As individual personalities. As unique human beings. He doesn’t view us as a collective whole but as distinct and very separate souls from one another.

Likewise, our children shouldn’t be treated as carbon copies of each other. Some of our children can’t wait to get on stage or be a part of a team. Others will never want an audience and are content to play just because it’s fun, or to dance just because they can.

So, as I watch my son play t-ball in the backyard with his father and hear his laughter as he runs imaginary bases, I’m glad I’m not sitting on bleachers, his laughter drowned out by other voices. I’m content to just sit here, right now, watching my son play with his dad.

Saint Mail: A Great Tool for Bringing the Saints Home

saint mail
Recently I received a package from Molly at Saint Mail, a unique company that brings the saints right into our homes every month.  My children received a sealed letter from Saint Isidore of Seville along with craft ideas, family chat suggestions, a beautiful book mark, a Saint Isidore fridge magnet, and a lot more cool stuff that had my kids occupied for ages.
some of the items we received from Saint Mail

some of the items we received from Saint Mail

I LOVE this concept.  I read my children lots of books about the saints, but this personal, hands-on way of experiencing the saints is perfect for small kids.   A subscription would be a great Easter gift for your kids!  You can subscribe monthly ($12.99), for six months ($81), or for a year ($144).  I admit at first the cost freaked me out.  But when my children received the package and I saw what was included, I believe it’s worth it.  I also realized my kids have a subscription to an on-line game that costs 5 bucks a month, so if ditch that I can afford Saint Mail.  Way better than the game.I asked Molly a few questions:

Molly, tell us a little bit about your Saint Mail and why you started it.

Saint Mail is a monthly subscription service that helps busy families meet the saints. Each month a package arrives (because kids love mail) with a letter from a different saint, a toy or trinket, crafts, saint medals and tips on how to celebrate the feast day. Its different every month and is meant to be a fruitful surprise!I started it because as a mother I NEEDED it. I teach CCD on Sunday and I homeschool my children. The saints are always bumped for more “important” topics. I wanted my kids to know they had a power team up in Heaven working for them. I would try so hard to be prepared ahead of time with crafts and stories of a different saint each month. Then I would get to Walmart (with three little ones) and totally forget the main part of the craft. Bonus…..I would remember right as I was buckling a fussy tired baby back into the car seat. I needed someone to hand me everything already put together so I could focus on math…or whatever else I was trying to teach everyone! It was my calm and steady husband that said to me “If you need it, there are probably other families that do too.”.

So give us an example of what a package might look like when it arrives.

One of our recent saints was St. Katharine of Drexel. I just fell even more in love with her the more I researched her life. In our culture today where collecting the most stuff is the goal, St Katharine of Drexel provides an alternative way to live. She gave up all of her riches and served. Each month the saint mails a letter giving the highlights of their earthly life in hopes to gently teach and guide. St Katharine also sent along a small Mary Statue since Pope Leo XIII (whom she met with before starting The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament)  was known as the Rosary Pope. St Katharine’s craft was creating a small New Mexico flag with fabric paint. She established her first school for Native Americans in New Mexico and was always amazed at the beauty of the area. She also included a medal, a magnet (to place on the fridge so you can remember the feast date), tips on how to celebrate the feast day and of course the family chat questions so families can learn together!

Many families have more than one child who would be excited about Saint Mail.  Can parents purchase extra trinkets but just one subscription?

Families can buy one subscription for the entire family. I envision a warm family dinner when the conversation has more intention instead of arguing over the last tater tott.(Not that it wont happen…I mean who doesnt love a potato cylinder!) A very popular thing for families to do is to purchase the extra trinkets for all the children to have. That is only $3.75 per child per month. How exciting would it be to watch your child connect with that one special saint!