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© Gail Underwood Parker

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quiet Notebooks

A blog reader asked a few days ago... What do you do when a child wants alone time or needs quiet activities to do, but struggles with reading?  My most successful solution is my "Quiet Notebooks"

Anyone can put together a Quiet Notebook for a child to encourage or teach them to be occupied quietly as an individual. Learning to occupy oneself happily is key to independence.  From the early years of tv, to videos and DVDs, to Wiis, computers, Leap Frogs and more, children and parents have always welcomed yet another way to keep children occupied when reading is not a viable option. A Quiet Notebook is a non-electronic alternative.

For best results, involve your child/ren in preparing their Quiet Notebook so they both feel included in the choices and understand how it works.  

Step 1: Get a binder and explain what a Quiet Notebook is.
Get a three ring binder and 3-8 pocket dividers or sheet protector envelopes. Have your child decorate a sheet of paper to glue on or slip in the cover. Explain that this Quiet Notebook will be theirs to use whenever they want or need quiet time activities.  Each divider will have an activity that they can do without needing any help. Some dividers may have a picture of them doing something, which is there signal to do the activity. When they want or need quiet, alone time they can come get their Quiet Notebook. They start at the first activity and when it is done, they go to the next divider's activity, and so on until all activities are done or they no longer need/want alone time. 

Step 2: Gather Materials
With your child go shopping, or look around the house for activity materials that you can pull from for filling the quiet notebook. 
Materials you can use:
a. A variety of single page activities from puzzle books, coloring books, old school workbooks, and more.
b. A small collection of hands-on activities such as tangram puzzles, pattern beads or animals, colored magnetic shapes, magnetic poetry word sets, etc.
c. Gather or bag a few healthy snacks.

Step 3: Fill the notebook dividers
Usually I do this without the child so the actual activities are a surprise.  Since the child has helped pick the books this usually works fine.  
a. Each divider should hold one activity with everything needed. [Ex: a single maze page and a pencil or a color-by-number page WITH crayons or pencils] 
b. Mix up sitting activities [like mazes, codes, worksheets, etc.] with more manipulative activities [like tangram puzzles, bead pattern activities etc.]
c. Surprise the child with a divider that includes a healthy snack treat. If it is a bulky or refrigerated snack [like some carrots, pretzels, applesauce cups, etc.], take a photo of the child reaching in the refrigerator or cupboard and getting one and put the picture in the divider. Just remind the child that if they see that picture they can do what the picture shows.  

You are ready!  Put the filled Quiet Notebook in a specific place.  Whenever your child uses it refill it, mixing in new activities each time so that it is always ready.  Every once in a while check with the child to see which activities are favorites and try to always include one of those.  

1. Take photos of your child doing some of the activities in different places [on the bed, on the floor, at a desk] to give the child ideas and encouragement.
2. Occasionally put a photo in the divider that shows the child playing with something that may not FIT in the divider but which they could use during quiet time. [Ex: photo of child on a Sit and Spin or building with blocks or playing with mini cars or toys].
3. If and when appropriate, fill one of the dividers with a photo of the child doing an independent activity outdoors.  This could be as simple as doing the paper activity on a picnic table or something more specific like drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, working in the child's garden, or even jumping rope. There is no reason why quiet time choices can't also include active choices when feasible.  

Note:  Adaptations of this work well with children with autism spectrum concerns too. Let me know if you need more info.

Let us know--Try making and using a Quiet Notebook and let us know what works best for you and your kids! I know it takes some time to set it up, but once you have the stuff handy, it doesn't take long and it teaches an important skill.  

For foster parents... Quiet Notebooks can be a wonderful tool.  Sometimes when I had a phone call from the department I could just quickly handout the Notebooks and actually be able to finish the call without constant interruption from my kiddos.  Foster children also have trouble with occupying themselves independently and you can start with just single activity notebooks, then go to two activities, then three, etc. as you build up their attention span and independence.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Only Rule

I have always told my foster children that there is only one rule in my house:

Safe and Loved

As in--Everyone and everything in the house/family is to be safe and loved.

If you think about it, those two things really cover almost everything that is crucial.  The Safe and Loved rule applies to the children in the house and to anyone else in the, other children, animals, etc. The rule is simple enough for even very young kids to understand and remember.  It also emphasizes the two things often most at jeopardy in the child's previous placement. A neglected child is not safe, nor is an abused child.  It doesn't require the child to think that their own parent does not love them. I can explain that sometimes even people who love their children very much are not able to keep them safe.  Those parents have to take time to work on learning how to keep their children safe.  

I also refer to it VERY frequently [especially in the beginning of a placement]. [Ex: If one child is mistreating another by name calling, hitting, bullying, teasing etc... clearly the victim does not feel loved]. Experienced foster parents know that those behaviors may trigger PTSD or other fears in ways that makes the victim not even feel safe. But, when I talk to kids, I emphasized the loved part.  Otherwise, the offender generally tries to excuse the behavior by claiming they were just joking, or wouldn't really have done anything etc. etc.   

So, that's my rule.... Safe and Loved.  Try it out.  If these children who are such wounded birds can believe they are safe and loved, almost everything else is bonus.  And until they do feel safe and loved, nothing else much matters. 


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Welcome Books

Foster Care Strategy---

For those of you out there who take temporary foster care kids or emergency placements, try this way to welcome and reassure a new child. Prepare a Welcome Book about your home, family, and community.  When your new placement arrives have the Welcome Book waiting on their bed or beside their bed.  Use a three-ring binder and include some of the following items:  

--Pictures of family members with their names printed clearly.
--Photo and description of the elementary, middle, and high school your foster kids would  attend. Include pics of playground and/or sports fields.
--Pages with pictures of some of the fun places to go in your area.... bowling alleys, roller rinks, parks, playgrounds, beaches, movie theaters... anyplace fun you may take the kids
--Map of the immediate neighborhood labeling your and nearest neighbor houses with your address and phone#,  plus the closest neighbors' names, phone #s 
--Picture of the church you attend [maybe including the pastor, priest, rabbi]
--Pictures of  frequent visitor friends, neighbors [with names printed]
--Page with channel numbers for local television stations, including common kids channels

Note: The three ring binder lets you choose which pages to include in your Welcome Book depending on the child who is arriving.  [age, gender, interests, concerns, etc.]

Other options:
For school age kids:  an index card or id folder they can take to school with them that has your names. phone info, address etc., maybe even your pictures
For older kids: include info they can read that includes a welcome message from you, maybe from other kids in the family, include info about crucial family rules, philosophies.
If you have other kids in the family:  
--Take a picture of the whole group holding up a welcome sign, or letters that spell welcome, or waving hi etc. to include in the notebook. [It can also make a great cover!]
--Have different kids do a welcome page of their own, telling a bit about him/herself or making a collage about things they like. [Maybe even a few hints about you or about the school?]

Try it, this can help all the strange new things seem a bit safer, and more quickly familiar.
Let me know other ideas to include in the Welcome Book.  We're in this together!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hints of Summer

This weekend gave Maine, or at least my part of Maine, a hint of summer.  We had gorgeous sunny weather for four straight days. Two days we were in the mid 60s, and two days we made it to the high 70s.  Yesterday even hit 80, unheard of in an April Maine. Best of all the winds were calm so that we really could enjoy the warmth and skip the usual sweater.  The kids and I worked ourselves to the bone in the yard. Leaves from last fall and winter raked and dumped.  The screen porch cleared off and set up.  The patio cleaned up and set with table and chairs.  Worst [or best] of all, we got all the stuff out from under the house, and out of the storm shelter, and out of the furnace room, to sort and take care of.  On Saturday five, count them F-I-V-E complete packed carful trips to the dump later, the change was remarkable.  Even my sore muscles and aching joints feel good when I think about all that stuff GONE.  

The hard part about hints of summer in Maine is that they can trick you into thinking summer is almost here.  Every part of my being wants to fill the planters with geraniums and other colorful flowers. As the sun beats down on us we rake and mulch the gardens but the temptation is to plant them.  Ahhh, but the old rule still applies.  When I first moved to Maine I was told not to plant before Memorial Day.  Sometimes I have broken the rule and pushed the season a little.  Sometimes I have succeeded, but more often I have been caught by an unexpected nighttime frost and lost it all.  Mid-April [or even end of April] is totally impossible for plants here.  Stores don't even have their flower pots and geraniums out for sale yet.  That's a strong clue.  The only flower plants I have seen are in one store that has put out a few early pansy plants out for sale.   

When I talk to my daughters in Boston or in Portland, Oregon, or remember my college days in Ohio I yearn for those early spring flowers and gardens.  I can force the forsythia branches in vases inside but that is nowhere near as satisfying as looking out my window and seeing bursts of color.  Until late May the only bursts of color outside are the balls or bicycles or gloves etc. that my kids have left outside!  Not the garden blooms I'm looking for!  Oh well, I plan to enjoy the psuedo-summer weather while it lasts and when the 50 degree high days return I can go back to cleaning inside the house and dreaming of the real summer to come.  This weather is much too good to waste on wishful thinking.  It is too good to spend on anything but enjoying each hour of it! The weatherman says two more days of this before the bubble bursts so , I am off to the yard! .... Enjoy the day!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Comfort Food

Is the comfort that food provides something that is hard-wired into our brains from earliest times, when a full stomach meant survival? Ask anyone what their family's comfort food was and the only time they hesitate is if they're trying to decide which family comfort food was the most used. What did mom fix when it was exam week? the first night home from college? when it had been a really rough week?  

I'm overweight.  I'm working on it and I'm making progress, but I'm overweight. I don't think it's a coincidence that weight issues are exceedingly common among foster parents, and also among foster children.  Whether overweight or underweight, eating too much or eating disorders. It is sooo hard to treat food as fuel, not as the enemy, not as the friend, not as the feared, not as the comfort.  Fuel, just that, nothing more. They say that the nicotine in smoking is addictive.  I don't smoke,  but I think for some of us, food is every bit as addictive, and every bit as hard a habit to control.  

Even now, I feel that baking a batch of cookies or brownies is doing something nice for my kids. I make an amazing peanut butter/chocolate homemade fudge. People's eyes light up when I bring it to the church fair, or to a sick friend, or mail it to a child at college.  My kiddos literally jump for joy when they see me gathering the ingredients for fudge. I know when I make fudge they will be excited and happy.  I admit sitting down to a family board game or going for a walk together doesn't give me that same feeling. I don't think it gives them the same feeling either. Maybe it does.  I hope it does.  It would be nice to break the cycle of using food for comfort.  


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Television Teachers...part one

During school vacations I tend to let the children watch more television than during school weeks. But after years of teacher middle-school kids I came up with some hints for parents on using television shows to build skills. Television comedies and dramas are a form of visual literature.  They share many of the same ingredients, and like literature, some stories are better than others.  Try to sit and watch with your child and use the commercial breaks to build their skills. I will share these with you once in a while to try with your kids at home.

Television Hint One:  Summarizing / Finding the main idea
Summarizing [rather than retelling every tiny detail] is a skill and it needs practice.  During the first commercial break ask your child what has happened so far in the show.  Help them put it into a sentence.  You could even write it down if that helps.  Do it at each break.  At the end of the show ask them to pick which sentence tells the main idea of that episode.  

Older kids:
Point out that if they put together the "main idea" sentence for each segment, they have a great summary of the entire story and that this is similar to the "plot outline" that authors use and teachers often ask kids to identify.  

For writing: [probably too much for regular use, but great to keep skills up during summer vacation]
      Help your child use the information from their segment sentences to write a paragraph about the show, using topic sentence [ex: the main idea of the show] , supporting details [ex: from the other sentences], and a closing sentence [ex: giving their opinion about how well the show achieved the main idea].  

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Child's Birthday

Today is the anniversary of my middle child's birth.  I was a middle child.  I often joke about the way that shaped me.  Sometimes it's not much of a joke.  Sometimes I am half amused, half offended when people react with a knowing look, or a understanding nod of the head, as if discovering that I am a middle child explains it all.  

So, I wonder today about life for my middle child.  What are the ways in which she is the middle ground among my children?  Is she the middle ground among my children? or has she found a different way of defining her role? Birth order theories are often adjusted when you factor in adoptive and biological children, when you factor in normally-abled children and special needs children.  

How are we shaped?  There are so many factors. Yes, I was a middle child, but I was also a minister's child.  My middle child also survived her parents' divorce. 
I grew up with Howdy Doody then American Bandstand and the Beatles, worried about polio, went to college during Vietnam and Kent State, and at 21 got married the week after I graduated from college, the year Nixon was elected President.  My middle child grew up with Sesame Street, then New Kids on the Block, worried about AIDs, started college as President Clinton faced charges that led to impeachment hearings, and lived on her own for three years before getting married. 

I love all of my children and am proud of each in different ways.  I used to joke that as the mother of five daughters I wanted to raised them to be strong independent young women and my curse is that I succeeded.  But in truth I am incredibly proud of their independent spirits and of their strengths. I think there's something primal about a mother seeing her child become a mother, that inescapable sense of repetition through the ages, the passing of genes and habits, of attitudes and priorities.  I sit in wonder as I watch my children grow as adults, as parents, as humans.  Pride is the word I am tempted to use, but it is the wrong word, for so much of what they have become now is their own making, not mine.  I think the better word is joy.  I take joy in my children and that is the greatest gift I could receive. So on this anniversary of the joy of giving birth, I celebrate the joys my children give me. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Detective Challenge

Quick Strategy--
Sometimes sitting together sharing a tv show is the closest to pleasant together time with an adolescent. But getting your adolescent or teen to do more than just sit with you can often be a challenge. This is one idea for making the television time more interactive. First think of something they want [like a specific privilege] or something they don't want [like a regular chore of theirs]. Then turn the next mystery show you watch with your teens into a game. Make it a challenge ...Who can guess the ending first and right?  Each viewer writes down their guess [and the time] as soon as they think they know the answer. As the show progresses they can change the answer as more info is given, but they must change the time too. Make it fun with a silly or fun prize for the winner. [Ex: getting to sleep in the next Saturday morning, the loser makes the winner's bed for a week, the winner gets to skip a regular chore that week, gets to stay up an extra hour one night, etc.]

1-Turns sedentary tv into an interactive family activity.
2-Teaches observation, listening, and attention to detail.
3- Gives the kids a chance to beat the parents [they love that!].
4- Builds deductive reasoning skills. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

All Day Rain

Yesterday it rained all day long.  Sometimes it poured, sometimes it drizzled.  But it never stopped.  A vacation day.  Arrrggghhh!  Thank goodness one of my cherubs [the most likely to wail "I'm bored"] was away for 24 hours with a friend.  I think that's all that saved my sanity.  It was the spring rainy day that comes every year and if it comes on a school day I'm fine.  There's always one rainy day when you know tomorrow all the grass will suddenly look green, the lilies and ferns that were just poking up will suddenly have shot up several inches in the single day. 

But when that special spring rain falls on a vacation day, who has time to celebrate the growing plants or greening of the grass?  It's all about survival.  Trying to find energy to keep moving when every part of you wants to curl up with a good book to chase the damp away. Trying to find things to do with the kids other than television, videos, or computer games.  When you have kids who read well, you can celebrate with a quick trip to the bookstore, a book for each, then everyone gets to curl up and read. Not so with children for whom reading is still in the future or for whom reading is a painful struggle. 

The good news is that the special spring rainy day/s  is/are almost always followed by a couple of days of phenomenally wonderful weather.  Sunshine that feeds and encourages the growing and the greening.  So here's to everyone who woke up this morning to an all-day rain, and a yee-hah for everyone who woke up to drying puddles, dwindling clouds, and emerging sunshine!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Multiplication Practice

Quickie Strategy--

Having trouble helping your kids learn those blasted multiplication tables?  Work them into a game.  Pick a game with a long trail [like Parcheesi, Sorry, etc.]. Announce that this time when you roll the dice you won't move the total of the two dice, but the product of the two dice. 

So what would have been a move of 6 can turn into a move of 5 [1x5], 8 [2x4], or even 9 [3x3]. A roll that might have been 12 [6+6] becomes a whopping 36 [6x6]. becomes While it will slow down the turns a bit while the child figures the math, they will move around the board faster too.  For beginners you can allow a multiplication table, or calculator, or making the move in sets [2x4 means moving 4 twice to discover the total move is 8]. If you have only a bit of time, choose any trail game and just see who is first to get one playing piece all the way around the board and back to the start. 

Skip all the other rules and sidetracks and just make it a race once or twice around the board.  The range of random dice rolls that cam mean moving anywhere from 1 space [1x1] to 36 [6x6] will keep it moving and exciting and anyone's game.  It's not a cure, but it is a way to sneak in some extra practice in a fun, enjoyable way.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Friday I did a book signing at the Portland Jetport.  The Friday before April vacation is a high volume travel time at the jetport and I've done book signings there at similar times before.  A book signing is a lot like a middle school dance.  You go by yourself and hope that someone nice will notice you.  Before you go, you plan possible conversation gambits in case they do.  You think of a few possible scenarios and plan accordingly.  Then you go to the dance and stand there trying to look approachable and interesting.  People go by you and some glance your way, some fixate on a point several yards beyond you and focus firmly, avoiding any chance of eye contact, you keep smiling in a way that feels forced but you hope looks natural. Eventually someone stops and chats and you pull out you practiced conversation. Sometimes it ends at that, sometimes you discover more in common and the conversation becomes natural and comfortable.  Then in a blink they either buy a book, you sign it, and they leave OR they say thank you, good luck, and they leave.  Either way you go back to sitting and trying to look interesting and approachable.  See what I mean about it being like a school dance?

I am always willing to do book signings, even though I find them the waits between chats uncomfortable.  I figure if a bookstore owner these days is willing to give valuable shelf space to a book I've written, the least I can do is show up once in a while and help him sell them.  This time it was my book on Maine [It Happened in Maine].  I am still waiting for a book signing for my new New Hampshire book [More Than Petticoats: Remarkable New Hampshire Women]. A signing at the jetport is always a bit different because of the security screening and the pattern of rush rush as people come and go on planes, and wait wait in between flights. But the place is busy, the staff friendly, and the sales always nice.  

Hopefully sometime in the next year I will be planning a book signing for my foster/adoptive parenting book.  Or maybe signing a contract with a publisher for my book with Pat Miller about parenting children who chronically lie and steal. Both are still in the stage of have people volunteer to be readers and give us feedback for final revisions, of finding experts to read them and write glowing blurbs about them for their covers, etc.  IF you are curious for more info, or interested in being a chapter reader, let me know!  But for now, the signing is done, and as soon as the school vacation is over it will be back to the nitty gritty of writing, revising, and submitting.    

Sunday, April 19, 2009

School Vacations

April vacation is a parent's warning to prepare for summer vacation.  It's a reminder of how horribly some kids deal with a change in routine. A reminder of how quickly a child [or teen] becomes bored. Of how painful that "I'm bored" whine is. A week is too short to get in to a new routine unless you've prepared ahead. A week is too long to survive without activities to fill the time. It is plenty long enough to inspire parents to come up with a better plan for the summer vacation ahead. 

Since most of my parenting years I have had large numbers of children in the home, people often think that I don't get the I'm bored wail.  Not true.  The old adage proposes that in a big family there is always someone to play with. It  neglects to notice that the someone you could play with may not want to play with you!  Almost inevitably someone is or feels left out. Endless arguments erupt between X,Y,and Z and by vacation's end  Z  is sobbing that "we always have to do the things that X and Y want to do, never what I want to do."

Possible Strategy:
At the beginning of vacation [or even the week before vacation if you can] gather the cherubs together or talk to them one at a time about the coming vacation.  Give each a piece of paper to write down three things they would like to do during the vacation week. [HINT: Require that at least one be something which is free.]  Give them examples or you will get lots of request for Disney World or similar dream goals. Give them some time to think about it, they may even talk to each other to get ideas [or better their chances by planning multiple requests for the same thing!]. When you collect the papers you can then start to plan the vacation to include at least one thing from each person's list.  If the activities NOT done were reasonable, encourage them to put them on the next vacation list.  If they were NOT reasonable, explain why and help them come up with other ideas they might have used.  Also: Be sure that you have the grownups in the house make the same list with the same rules.  It will give you a chance to model how it all works and continue emphasizing that a family is a cooperative unit not a team of adults and a team of kids. 

Any other ideas you want to share?  Let us know...we're in this together.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mission Statements

For years I have hated mission statements.  I have suffered through endless workshops developing mission statements for my school, for my church, for my grade.  The first time was interesting and kind of exciting.  Then the finished statement disappeared from everything except some notebook somewhere.  The second time I was skeptical but believed the person who said this time it would become the focus and driving force of our professional actions for the next few years.  It was challenging but still interesting to see how my values and priorities had evolved from the first time.  The finished statement was hung on a wall, used in slide shows and spotlighted on a website.  But if it was the driving force of our actions, we were stalled and going nowhere.  From then on I approached each new mission statement workshop with skepticism and eventually total cynicism.  It all seemed so pointless.  I had little desire to invest in something I had no chance of implementing.  

Then sometime last summer I got thinking about why I hated mission statements so much. I realized I hated the inaction that followed the work of creating one.  The idea of having a mission statement to focus and measure actions is a good concept IF it's used. The frustration is the lack of followup. So I decided to try something.  I began writing a personal mission statement.  I kept it secret for months and it went through quite a few revisions before I was happy with it.  Now I keep it inside my appointment book, inside my journal, on my computer desktop and a few other places where I spot it regularly.  I haven't shared it with anyone, in fact until now hardly anybody even knew I wrote one.  But I knew.  I read it.  Every day. I try [and usually succeed] to take a moment at the beginning and/or end of the day to read it over and consider how I'm measuring up.  

What has it accomplished? I don't think I am transformed, but I know I'm better.  I use it to measure priorities, shape decisions, weigh choices.   I  know I feel more satisfied at the end of each day with what I have done.  It's become a way to measure myself against MY standards, not someone else's, not the community's, not the world's ... MINE.  I am accountable to me.  I don't know if a personal mission statement will work for you or for anyone else. I do know it's worked for me. Maybe give it a shot?  Let me know....

Friday, April 17, 2009

Queen Bees and Wanna-bees

If you've ever dealt with the social swamp of teen and adolescent girls, you know that it can be mind-bogglingly cruel.  Queen Bees and WannaBees. Those on the inside and those on the outside.  Forewarned is forearmed.  If you deal with adolescent girls run, don't walk, to the nearest library or bookstore. Find The Girls by Amy Goldman Koss [copyright 2000, Dial Books for Young Readers.. a division of Penguin Books]. 

The Girls opens with one member of a girl's clique discovering that she is suddenly out of favor and is being shut out by the group. Loyalties and friendships are tested as each girl decides what to do. The book is a quick read with short chapters, each from a different girl's viewpoint. Read it.  Have your daughter read it. Read it together.  Anything that will let you open a conversation about social circles, cliques, and loyalties. By discussing the choices that each girl makes, your child can safely talk about those choices without feeling that you are personally confronting or questioning her life. Ask her if any of the girls in the book remind her of girls in her school.  [No names required!] 

Check The Girls out and get a realistic view of the social jungle your daughters' social jungle.  It makes Survivor look like  Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tracy, California's other child victim

I've been agonizing over the news stories from Tracy, California this past week.  I'm sure many of you have. The loss of Sandra Cantu's life is tragic and painful. But after years of foster parenting, the piece of this story that is almost paralyzing me is the child whose name we don't know, haven't heard much about, who is the other child victim in this horrible chain of events. I am stuck on the thought of what I would do if I were now responsible for that small child.  I'm not. But someone is. I keep wondering what foster parent got a call in mid-day asking if he, she, or they could take in a 5 year old girl immediately for an indeterminate time. 

Who said yes, and then found out the child was the daughter of the accused, the friend of the victim? What foster parent is trying to provide safety and love and comfort and hope to that young girl whose life has not ended, but for whom life will never be the same. What foster parent is trying to answer the impossible questions of a five-year old struggling to make sense of what is happening to her life?  The former classmates of Sandra Cantu will go to her memorial this afternoon, will bring flowers, or balloons, will sing, cry, whatever, and then go back to their homes and be comforted by their families.  But what about this 5-year-old who also lost her friend?  She will not be comforted by her mother, for her mother is on suicide watch in jail. This child probably will not attend her friend Sandra's memorial, and even if she does, will be different from the others.. now and probably forever separated by this tragedy.

Given the realities of foster care, this 5-year-old child who may still have a teddy bear or blanket she needs to hold at night, probably has been separated from her family, from her neighborhood, possibly her town. What few possessions were packed to go with her?  What toys or clothes? What foster parent/s are trying desperately to help this child who is torn from all that is familiar, from all that might give comfort to her when she so badly needs it. Are they new to the system?  Do they have the skills and training for this situation? Does anybody?  

As we go about our days, as we see the headlines that will continue for months, I beg all of us to remember this little girl, and those who are now responsible for her care.  Bless them and bless her.  Give them the skills, the words, the gestures, to help her find hope, peace, and a sense of safety. Grant that somehow, tiny bit by tiny bit, they can help her to regain a piece of the childhood she has lost.  And while we are at it, let's remember that there are other children whose lives are equally torn by similar tragedies, less in the news, but no less devastating.

Pausing for joy

Today I will do little but clean. I have laundry, dishes, and clutter that has gathered for the better part of a week.  Now the piper must be paid. My west coast daughter came east last weekend and for four wonderful days I refused to use precious time with her for the ordinary tasks of maintenance. I didn't vacuum anything or dust anything. I picked up and put away almost nothing. I didn't even do a single load of laundry.  In a household that currently includes six, it doesn't take a genius to get a mental picture of how wobbly the spinning plate of housekeeping is today.  I have to do some major re-spinning to get it back in gear. But it was worth it.  Today she has gone. I have truly enjoyed the "better part" of the week. 

I raised all my children to pull over to watch a sunset spread its wings across the sky.  I taught them to pause during a walk to be still and hear the rainbow of sounds in the not-so-silence. So of course the last four days were for relishing. They were days for looking past the backpacks on the floor, the toys abandoned in mid game, and focusing on the delight as children dropped their backpacks to run and hug, as they jumped up from their game to join us in a walk.  Were the four days enough?  Certainly not, but relish them we did.  We paused the clock on our routine schedules and made space for joy.  In a day [all right, maybe a couple of days] the house will be cleaned back up, laundry will be done, dishes put away, and the schedule back on its crazy track. Yes, I let one of my spinning plates wobble and even drop. But it was a good choice. The house suffered for a few days, but in a week that won't matter.  What will matter in a week, what matters already, is that we have shared joy.  When she is back on the west coast and months go by without seeing her we will know that our precious days here were not wasted, but relished. It is a choice. Rarely do you lose out in the long term if you choose joy.  We all need to make room for joy. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spinning Plates

People who get to know the crazy chaos and business of my life often ask "How do you do it all?" My answer is I don't. I sometimes compare my life to the old variety show act where a man tries to spin individual dinner plates on the tip of tall, thin poles.  He keeps starting more and more plates, rushing back and forth to re-spin plates that are starting to wobble, trying to prevent any plate from slowing to the point of falling off the pole and shattering. I often feel like I'm trying to keep the plates in my life spinning.  Occasionally one falls and shatters. So, I don't do it all. Sometimes a plate doesn't get enough attention and it drops. Hopefully it is a relatively unimportant plate, but once in a while it is a very  important plate that I drop.  At times like that I have to face the music, admit what happened and promise to try to do better.  

That is how I try to do it all. By knowing that I will sometimes fail, and when that happens, reminding myself that the occasional failure is something that I strive to avoid, but is a predictable part of what I have chosen to attempt. If you take on parenting, you will fail.. hopefully on small things, hopefully not often.  But occasional failure is part of the deal. If you take on parenting other people's children, you can count on failing occasionally.  The more plates you are juggling, the higher the risk of a plate losing its balance and fall. Plan to avoid it, but when it happens, face it squarely, honestly, and proportionately.  Don't beat yourself over it. Try to do better. Try to learn from it. Then move on to re-spin the next plate.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fights or Fun with Game Pieces

      So, when was the last time your kids fought over who got to be the thimble in Monopoly, or the blue playing pieces in Sorry, and on and on?  You get out a game for a few minutes of family bonding and before you even can start it seems they are at each other's throats. Sound familiar?  Try this.... take the caps off old medicine vials. Take some extra school pictures or old snapshots of your kids.  Cut the face of each child in a circle matched to the size of the cap. Glue the picture to the cap.  Voila... personal playing pieces! 
         For games like Monopoly you will only need one picture playing piece for each child.  For games like Parcheesi, Sorry etc. you will need a set of playing pieces for each child. Use matching pictures or a mix of pictures of each child. No problem remembering who is what color or what symbol.  No fighting over colored playing pieces.  Kids love moving "themselves" around the game board.  Plus, for kids with attachment or self-esteem issues, personalizing is a real plus.  For an extra kick make some for frequent playmates of your children. My kiddos' friends are always excited when they discover I have made a playing person just for them out of an old snapshot.  Try it!  Let me know how it works for you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How did I get into this?

I have been a parent since 1973. I raised my biological children, foster children, and adoptive children. Some have been creative, brilliant, special needs, and many shadings in between. I have been fortunate to participate in foster care issues at the local and state level.  Additionally, I taught middle school for over 30 years, and loved almost every minute of it.        My time is now divided between parenting and non-fiction writing.  I delight in teaching workshops on parenting strategies as well as author visits to classroom and civic groups. So now I venture into the world of blogs with some trepidation after many suggestions. Workshop participants have asked me to put out a newsletter or write another book as a reference.  Through this blog I will be able to meet the same needs, help the same people, and make my experiences accessible to a wider audience.  Also....Blogging is far faster than publishing a book. Here I will address parenting, foster care, writing, and more.... the upbeat times and the downbeat times.  Feel free to participate by posing questions or sharing challenges. You will learn more about me as time goes on, but let's allow that to unfold as you learn more about my experiences and how they may help you grow as a parent. Time to check on the sleeping kiddos.