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Friday, March 30, 2012

Start with Their Interests

A few weeks ago, Flannery noticed on the back of one of her Barbie books that there were some books we didn't own that weren't illustrated, but that instead had photos of Barbies in different settings to create scenes for the book.   That was all it took for her to dream up her own book, with her own photos of different scenes.  
To make her dream a reality, I took my camera, set it to "digital macro" mode (whatever that means--good for close-ups of small things), and took photos of each "scene" she wanted us to capture.  We set the stage on her bed in her room, and she adjusted the Barbies until they were "just right" before I took each photo.  She was so cute--like a little director--telling me just how she wanted the scene to look and often wanting us to take several shots so she could choose just the right one.  In the end, we chose the best photos from the ones we had taken, and I printed them with lines below them (just using Power Point) so that she could write in the story later.  It took her about a week to finish her story (working before and after school), and she fussed over and edited the order and flow of the photos several times until it seemed perfect to her.  

In the end, I think her story was pretty cohesive and interesting.  It was about a couple who loved their dog so much that they had him in their wedding.  Then, he got sick, had to go to the vet, was cured by eating a special type of dog food, and went running with some horses once he was better.  

I think if I had dreamed up this activity on my own, and tried to get her interested in writing her own little book, she probably would've never worked so diligently on it.  But this was her own idea, her own vision, her own little dream--and she was so motivated to see it to fruition.  

So, there you go.  The researchers are right when they say, "Follow the child's lead" in learning.  When they say, "Build upon their interests," it really does lead to a whole new level of focus and motivation.  

So, start with their interests!  And see what beautiful surprise you will get.  

How have you "followed a child's lead" this week?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Create "I Love You" Rituals

I'm reading a book called "I Love You Rituals" right now that is really interesting.  It gives lots of ideas of ways to increase your bond/attachment and trust with young children.  I'm really enjoying it when I have a spare second to read it (which hasn't been all that often these past weeks).

Anyway, one of the little "I Love You Rituals" the author suggests is the "What did you bring home from school today?" ritual.  It goes like this:

When you pick your child up or first see your child after school, you ask, "What did you bring home from school today?"  But then instead of focusing on objects or clothing, you describe the child's physical or personality characteristics.  For example, today I told Flanna:  "You brought your long dark eyelashes.  You brought your rosy pink cheeks.  You brought your golden eyes.  You brought your hair that curls up at the ends.  You brought a scratch on your chin.  You brought two freckles on the back of your arm.  You brought your sweet smile and laugh.  You brought your kind heart and spirit.", etc.  The point of the game is to help your child feel very specifically noticed, regarded, and loved.

I've played it a few times with Flannery this week, and she has been so cute, offering up other ideas of things she has brought home (boo-boos, new band aids, rocks for her rock collection, etc.).   And I really do think it has helped her feel less rushed from school when I pick her up and more positively noticed and appreciated.

Now, if someone can just write a book about how to make kids fall asleep before 9 p.m. after the time change!   I am ready for things to get back to normal!

How do you make the people you love feel noticed and special?


Flannery had two birthday parties on the same day on St. Patrick's Day--it was a little hectic!  But she had a great time at both!  The first was a princess party for a friend from her class, and the next was a jumping party at a "bouncing house" for the son of my dear friend, Randi.    Flanna got all dolled up with makeup and nail polish at the first party, and then went and jumped for hours at the second.  

Poor thing, she was sooooo exhausted by the end of the day!

the beautiful birthday girl

cousins, getting all grown up now. 

birthday boy!

Do fun times tend to come in waves for you, too?  It seems like we go months without anything on the calendar, and then suddenly everything hits at once!

Digging in the Dirt

Flannery has been helping me get our back yard garden plot ready for planting.  We raked one weekend, weeded one weekend, and cultivated the soil one weekend.  But, we've been so busy since then that we've only planted some flowers so far--I'd been hoping to have so much more planted already!  But I'm holding out hope that life and work will calm down a bit soon so that we can get some other more exciting plants in the ground.   The good news is that we've found a gazillion earthworms whom Flanna has named and studied and grown to love.  Perhaps that means the soil here will be fertile!

What project are you starting?

Experience Nature: New Growth

Oh, my!  There are signs of new growth all around at our house!   We've really been enjoying watching Spring take hold here.

This weekend, we found a robin's nest in a tree, and there were four tiny gorgeous blue eggs inside! The mama robin protects her eggs and squawks at us if we get close, so I had to snap these photos really quickly--she really means business!

Also, the little parade rose bush I planted back around Valentine's day has really taken off!  I planted two of them, and, alas, only one remains.  But that one is growing by leaps and bounds each week.

The bulbs we planted are also beginning to sprout in our front yard.  I'm hoping we'll get some good colorful flowers from them!  I think these are our gladiolas coming up.

I wish I had captured our azaleas last week--they were so full of blooms!  It's so nice to drive around in Atlanta and see all the azaleas and dogwoods blooming.  I had no idea Atlanta could be so beautiful!

What new growth are you experiencing right now?  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Do What Spring Does

I've had this stirring in my heart for some time now, to be brave enough to write about marriage here on this blog-a-blog.  I've been trying to ignore the stirring, because I think marriage relationships are so individual and personal, and really, I'm no expert on what might work for anyone else.  But the more I talk to my friends and coworkers about their relationships with their partners, the more my heart keeps pushing me to just start the conversation here.  So, here goes nothing.  :)  

I drove by a cherry tree on Winonna Drive today that was just beginning to bloom.  And it reminded me of my all time favorite, most inspiring quote ever about marriage:
"I want to do with you, what Spring does with the cherry trees."  -- Deb Talan
This is a line from a song written by one of my all time favorite artists.  And it is the single most meaningful phrase that I've ever applied to my marriage relationship.  The idea that, just as Spring renews the cherry trees, just as Spring brings forth new growth on the spindly ends of gray branches, just as Spring causes there to be new life where there was just dormant quiet all winter--so, too, can we bring about renewal in our relationships with our spouses.

Also, I love the idea that Spring renews cherry trees every year.  It does not skip a year.  There is no year when Spring just decides to stop working at it and let the cherry tree lie barren all summer.  So, too, are we to be vigilant about working to renew our marriage relationships regularly, consistently.

I think that too often, we have unrealistic expectations of our relationships.  We expect them to keep running smoothly and beautifully no matter how much we neglect them. We expect our partners to love us unconditionally no matter how little time, attention, care, or concern we show them.  We expect our marriage to take a back seat to our careers, our children, our friends, our hobbies, our extended families.

And then, too, the moment it becomes clear that this is impossible--that our marriage cannot flourish without at least some attention and focus--we begin to feel anxious or guilty.  To question the quality of the marriage.  To wonder why our marriage needs help.  To look with jealousy at friends with happy marriages, who never seem to have to work at it.

But that's a lie we should not entertain.  Anyone with a good, solid marriage works at it.

Anyone with a good, solid marriage realizes that we must renew our relationship with our spouse regularly.  That we must dig our heels in and talk about important things and be honest and open and work hard to make a connection.  That we must be like Spring, not letting conflict or disconnection keep the cherry tree dormant and gray--but instead allowing a good cleansing rain, a warm sun, a hard conversation, a weekend away, to work quiet miracles.

I remember once, I read a book about the "Four Seasons of Marriage" (by the author of the "Five Love Languages" book), hoping that it would clarify this vision I had of how marriage relationships cycle from intense romance, to affectionate love, to respect and admiration, and on back to intense romance, etc.  But instead, the book actually scared the bejezus out of me!  It described the four seasons of marriage as:

Spring:  renewing, hopeful in love, excited about the future.
Summer:  happy and in love, connected, contented.
Fall:  becoming disconnected, disillusioned.
Winter:  completely out of touch, disconnected, living two separate lives in the same house.

The author actually talked about the grave danger your marriage was in if you were in the fall or winter phase of marriage, and how most marriages in the winter season of marriage would end in divorce if nothing drastic and significant changed.  Scary stuff, huh?  (By the way, the author has an online quiz you can take to get a general idea of which season your marriage is in if you're interested. But don't freak out if you're in fall or winter!  Just keep reading!)

But I can see how this is true.  If most of us think that marriages should just work well without a lot of focus and attention paid to them, then of course we are not going to get back to the Spring and Summer seasons of the cycle.  It turns out that not many of us realized when we got married that when hard times come, actual action has to be taken to renew the connection, or Spring won't come.

So, if I want to do with my husband what Spring does to the cherry trees?  If I want to renew our relationship, grow our connection, change with him, get better at this marriage thing?  I've got to take action.  I've got to be Spring.  I've got to work hard to make the connection.  Seek out the rain showers; call on the sun to shine on us.  And not just once, but every year.  Consistently.

What's funny, is that it sounds so serious and intense here.  But it's the best responsibility I've ever taken on, actually.  Because doing what Spring does--taking time to renew my connection with my husband--is the most rewarding and fun way I spend my time these days.  And giving myself permission to make date nights and loving actions and deep conversations a priority, really just lets me have fun with my true love, my best friend, again.

And when you're having fun?  That's when you know that Spring has come.

What about you?   How do you work to renew your connection with your partner?   Do you have a regular system in place to help yourself focus intentionally on your relationship?

(Also, I'd love your input on whether this was interesting to you, or whether you'd rather not have me blather on about my ideas about marriage here.  Please comment if you have a second and let me know what you think!)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Speechy Sunday: Read a Book a Hundred Times if they Ask

(Oops...this somehow didn't post yesterday, so I'm posting it now,, uh, Speechy Monday. I know you'll forgive me.)

I remember when Flannery was tiny, she always wanted us to read the same book to her every night.  The one about the dogs.

And so, we read it.  And read it.  And read it.  And pieces of it got torn.  And we taped them on.  And they got torn again.  So we bought another copy.  And then another copy.  I'm pretty sure we  bought 3 copies by the time she was 2.  And every time we read that dog book, she was just so happy.  

I remember at the time, that there were nights when I'd secretly want to hide the dog book.  I wanted to read some beautiful rhyming book like "Moon Song," or something with gorgeous illustrations like "On the Night you were Born."

But what kept me from hiding the dog book, is that I knew the research on sharing books with infants and toddlers.  Favorite books are a learning device.  Reading the same book repeatedly to a child helps the child develop strong and secure understandings of the vocabulary in that book.  Instead of learning a little about a lot of books, Flannery--by asking us over and over to read the same book to her every night--was learning a lot about one book.  She was learning (in great depth!) about all the things that dogs do, the different types of dogs, sounds dogs make, types of fur dogs have, etc.

And if I had hidden her beloved dog book, if I had insisted on novelty--a new book every night--then she would've missed out on forming those lovely deep and strong connections to the vocabulary in her favorite book.  She wouldn't have had umpteen experiences pretending to "howl," or "scratch," or "shake" to dry off after a bath.  She wouldn't have had a gazillion chances to pet the "fluffy" dog or to scrunch up her nose when the author pointed out that "all dogs poop."   Maybe she wouldn't have realized so quickly that cats and dogs are usually "enemies," by lifting the flap a zillion times to discover a cat high up in a tree trying to "escape" from the dogs.

So, there you go.  You have my permission--as a speech language pathologist, birth to three specialist, language & literacy coach to early childhood teachers, and also just a regular mom--to read your child's favorite book to them as many times as they ask.  To think of it as "building depth of knowledge" for your child. To stop feeling guilty that you're not exposing them to something new and different and educational every night.

Because, really?  The best education your child will ever get?  Is when a caring adult sets aside his or her own agenda, follows your child's interests, and settles in to read their beloved "dog book" the fifteen hundredth time they ask.

What book did you just love to read over and over again as a child?  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Create a Secret Code

I remember in elementary school, my friends and I often formed our own "clubs."  Babysitters' club, jump rope club, dance club, singers' club, pig latin club, and yes, even a "witch club" (which wasn't a "mean girls" kind of thing--we actually pretended we had magical powers.  What can I say?  It was fourth grade.)  And one of the best things I remember about being in these little clubs was having a secret handshake or secret code words that only we understood.  It took our friendship up a notch to share these little "inside jokes." 

For instance, one of the clubs I had with a few girlfriends that rode my bus, was a pig latin club.  We would speak only pig latin during our meetings on the bus, and whenever we saw one another in the hallway, lunchroom, or library at our elementary school, we would have to secretly touch our noses (to reference the pig nose idea) without anyone else noticing.  It was a silly thing, but it was great fun to make that connection with one another as our classes' lines passed one another silently in the hallway. 

I was thinking about those little things today while I was home yet again with my sick kiddo, because I had recently read this neat blog post.  And it inspired me to create this sort of "inside joke" thing with Flannery more often. 

So, because she was sick and coughing a lot, I decided that we should come up with codes or signals for what she wanted when she wasn't feeling like talking.  Together, we decided that if she touched her throat, that meant she wanted a cough drop, and if she put her whole hand over her throat, that meant she wanted a drink.  She got a big kick out of those little signals, and it was a sweet little way to throw in something novel during a very boring day spent at home feeling yucky. 

I also remember that one time when Flanna was 2 or so, and her cousin was 5, we had bananas as a snack on vacation, and I decided that every time they wanted more bananas for snack, they could just make a monkey noise (you know, "ooh-ooh-ooh"), and I'd know what they wanted.  They ate SO many bananas that week!  And it was really a sweet way to promote a lighthearted connection for us. 

It also calls to mind the many notes I used to write back and forth with my best friends in middle and high school.  They were chock full of inside jokes and codes.  "The boy," "Martha, Edna, Mildred, Agnes," "a t-shirt," "the chosen ones," "bridge club," -- these were little phrases that only a few of us understood, and I think it brought us closer together to share them. 

Anyway, I think I'm going to keep working on these little "inside jokes/secret codes" for my own little family.  Maybe something like -- every time I squeeze your hand, that means I'm proud of you.  Or, every time I wink at you, that means I love you.  Or, whenever you need a hug, you can just say "My shoulders are cold," or something like that. Can't you just picture your child grown up as a teenager not wanting to say they need a hug, but being willing to say, "My shoulders are cold."?  Maybe I'm dreaming, but I think it could be sweet. 

What about you?  Do you think secret codes or inside jokes are silly/cheesy, or kind of fun?  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Funny Flanna Quotes

Flanna and her Aunt Jessica
First of all, thank you for all the love and kind words about my sweet little client.  You guys are the best!

Second, please forgive me if I am incoherent while writing this.  Flannery has been sick, and so I've not slept well in at least 3 days.  Last night was the worst--she had a really high fever that got scary in the wee hours of the morning.  I took her to the pediatrician this morning, who diagnosed her with a sinus infection, which I am not sure is right, but hey, who am I to judge?  At least she gave Flanna a prescription.

Anyway, the good thing about having a sick child is that I had a chance to hang out with her all day and to listen to her adorable stories and comments while not:  a) driving or b) cooking dinner (which is what I'm normally doing when she says adorable things, and then I don't have the extra hands to write them down.)  Today, though, I tried to remember to write down some of the hits.  And there were many:

1.  While trying to wiggle her top tooth (which is not at all loose) :  "Mom, I can't wait to lose a tooth.  Because then I'll get money to buy toys with.  But not this one, not this razor tooth (pointing to her canine).  When I lose this baby, I'm keeping it, because it's really cool and pointy."

2.  Telling a story about a sick princess:  "Then, the doctor said to the princess, "Princess, you have appetitis!  And you need to take this medicine to cure it!"  So the princess took the medicine every day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then her appetitis went away." 

3.   Continuing her story about a sick princess:  "The princess's friend, a dolphin, swailed over from his island. " 
me:  "Swailed?  Do you mean sailed?"
Flanna:  "No, mom.  Suh-wailed.  Swailed.  It's a type of swimming dolphins do.  Anyway, he swailed over from his island and came to see the princess."
(She almost had me convinced that swailing was possibly a real thing.  Turns out, it is.  But it doesn't mean swimming.)

4.  Chatting about the pizza we were having for lunch:  "P.P.S., mom, I only want cheese on mine." 

5.  Getting ready for bed, she opens her closet door:  "I need to pick out my party dress for tomorrow."
me:  "Flannery, you're staying home sick tomorrow with Grandma."
Flannery:  "Well, yeah, but I'm watching Beauty and the Beast, so I need to wear my party dress."

6.  Making a list of people to invite to her birthday party (which is not for 8 more months, mind you):  Flanna:  "Guess who I'm inviting to my party, mom?"
me: "all your cousins?"
Flanna:  "No.  Well, yes, them, but also--worms!  I'm inviting worms to my party!  Because I love worms, you know that."

7.  In the bathtub:
Flanna:  "Mom, who owns America?"
Me:  "No one does, sweetie.  We all own little bits of land, but no one person owns America."
Flanna:  "But what about the President?"
Me:  "Well, he owns his own house and land, but not everyone else's."
Flanna:  "No, really, mom, who owns America?"

8.  Snuggling before bed:
Flanna:  "When you get to heaven, you're going to have to ask God to make your hair red again."
Me:  "Why?"
Flanna:  "So I'll recognize you when I get there.  That's how I recognize you, is by your hair."

9.  Getting pajamas on:
Flanna:  "Mom, how do we make slime?"
Me:  "huh?"
Flanna:  "You know, mucus?"
Me:  "Oh, I'm not sure.  I'll have to look that up."

10.  Setting up her DVD player with her Beauty & the Beast movie this morning:
me:  "Sweetie, let's set you up so you can watch the movie in your bed instead of on the floor."
Flanna:  "But mom, I can't dance on the bed."
me:  "Well, yes, but you don't usually dance while you watch movies, right?"
Flanna:  "But this time, I'm going to dance.  The whole time."

11.  As we drove past a city bus on the way to get her prescription  (OK, so I was driving for this one, but amazingly, I remembered it anyway!): 
 "When I grow up, I'm going to be a bus driver.  And people will have to call me "Your Highness" when they get on the bus.  I'll be a princess-artist-bus-driver.  And when I'm done driving the bus, I'll park it at home, and will go inside and do my art."

12.  Reading a story about Jonah & the Whale:
me:  "Then the whale spat Jonah out of his mouth onto the beach.  And the next time God asked Jonah to go to Ninevah, he obeyed God and went."
Flanna:  "But I think he still didn't want to.  Look at his face."
(and she was right--the illustration showed a pretty reluctant Jonah--I think I just changed the subject-- Not sure what to say to that!?)

13.  Looking at an illustration of the solar system in a book:  "I don't think stars are really white.  The people who drew these pictures must not have known that real stars are rainbow colors."  (I actually did look that one up.  And you know what?  She's right!)

 So, there you go, folks.  A glimpse into everyday conversation with Flanna Banana.  If only I always had my pen at the ready...her creative little brain is always coming up with interesting ways to look at the world.  

What made you smile or laugh today? 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Build Quality of Life

One of my former clients passed away today. 

A sweet, spunky little bundle of energy who lit up a room with her laugh and her silly sense of humor.  She was only a year older than Flannery. 

I won't use her name here to protect her family's privacy.  But I have to say--this little kiddo was one of my favorites.  I know we're not supposed to have those.  But there are just some clients I really "click" with, and she was one of them.  She loved dress up, and playing pretend, and laying on her (amazingly good natured!) dog, and going outside in the rain.  She was working on using "am" in sentences, and would say, "I running, I winning!" until I prompted her to say, "I AM running, I AM winning!"...which was just never as much fun to shout, I think. 

One of the things I remember wanting to get out of our sessions, was helping her to play in a warm and successful way with her sister.  My hope was that by teaching them fun games to play together (that also gave my client practice using the language structures I targeted in therapy), we would not only help expand her language--we would also improve her quality of life.   It warms my heart to remember all the sweet times we spent together--my client, her sister, and me--making art projects, playing pretend, dressing up like princesses and movie stars, pretending to be powerful monsters or dinosaurs.  And we still focused on our speech goals--and made some good progress, I might add!  I remember that at times, her family would ask if I'd like some time to just work with my client alone without her sister.  But the look on my client's face when her sister walked in the room and sat down to play with us was worth a zillion checks of data showing mastery on language goals.  For those 30 minutes three times a week, we built more than grammatically correct sentences--we built quality of life. 

And what a quality of life she had.  A loving, strong family.  Friends and neighbors who would drop everything to help out if they needed a hand.  Classmates and teachers who loved her.  A medical team that tried everything to keep her illness at bay--a gazillion experts consulting on her case, progressive doctors leading a valiant fight, countless hospital stays with nurses who became like family, two bone marrow transplants, and who knows how many other procedures.  And throughout it all, there was always someone by her side--family members & friends rotating in and out to keep her feeling safe and loved. 

My life was broadened by knowing her.  My appreciation for all the little moments with my own family grew deeper as her situation reminded me not to take anything for granted.  Her strength amidst pain and unpredictability made me realize how small my own problems really were. 

And now, her death. 

It is horrible and dark and wrong.

It leaves such a wrenching in my heart, thinking of her parents, her sister, her grandparents, having to return home from the hospital without her.  Having to live out the rest of their lives, without her.

Such a separation must be unbearable.

But thisThis is why Jesus came to us.  To save us from this darkness, this chasm.  This separation from the ones we love who have died. 

He came to trample down death, by death.  He broke the chains that would have kept us apart with no hope of reunion. 

And this is important. 

In a time of political correctness and openness and tolerance, I admit that I hesitate to say that there remain a few absolutes.  But then I remember my grandmother's brave last words to her sister.  "I want to know that you all love Jesus, so I can see you in heaven one day."   When faced with death, my grandma's only fear was that her family might not know what was absolute. 

My client's family has exceptional trust that she is in heaven.  I have exceptional trust that they will see her again.  And in the meantime, I imagine, I try to really amazingly beautiful quality of life for her, as she gets to experience the fullness of a life finally without pain, finally without suffering. 

Who do you love to picture up in heaven, no longer suffering, but now perhaps praying to ease your suffering instead?  I am rather sure that my Grandma Norma has interceded for me many times in this life, and I also somehow feel a connection to my husband's grandfather "Pop."   And now, my sweet little client.  My sweet, sweet little client.  May her memory be eternal.