Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dear Sugar: How To Squeeze Reading Into Your Kids' Busy Days

Hey, Sugar!

I know you're busy.   I'm busy.  We're ALL busy.

We limit our children's extracurricular activities, mostly because we are big believers in free play and de-stressing time.   I have one kiddo who struggles with anxiety (as do I!), which you can read more about in my recent Babble article, and because of this, we work hard to just CHILL after school.   The first few months of school, we do no extracurriculars, and then after that, the kids can each sign up for one (late afternoon/early evening) extracurricular of their choosing.  Usually this entails a one hour a week tumbling class, a basketball practice, or something similar.    

We've established a pretty strict after school routine for the sake of sanity (routine is GOOD), that goes like this:

  • 4:00:  snack time (protein, crunchy carbs, healthy fat)
  • 4:15-5:00:  gross motor play, either outside (when it's nice), an XBOX dance or sports game, or downstairs where we have gross motor toys like a trampoline, basketball goal, bikes, etc.  
  • 5:00-5:45:  play inside and upstairs (art, puzzles, sensory play such as a rice bin or PlayDoh, toy kitchen, books, etc.) while I make dinner
  • 5:45-6:15:  dinner
  • 6:15-6:30:  baths
  • 6:30-7:00:  playing with Daddy while I lay out clothes and prepare lunches/snacks for the next day
  • 7:00: get ready for bed
  • 7:15:  Daddy puts our toddler to bed, I put the girls to bed, which involves, story, prayers, songs, etc.  
  • 7:30-7:45:  bedtime (hopefully!)
As a former English teacher and as a writer, I greatly value reading.  We own thousands of books---yet I've noticed over time, they aren't being read (and appreciated) because even though we don't engage in a lot of "extras," we still are pretty limited on time.

I don't want to force my kids to read, like it's a punishment or something to rush through before moving on to something better, and I've realized I don't have to.  Kids naturally enjoy holding books, pointing out the funny details in the illustrations, and sounding out words.  They like when mom uses funny voices to share what characters are saying.   They are curious and excited.   

But in order to be these things, they need opportunities that aren't just going to happen.  We have to be intentional as parents.   

Here are some practical tips to work books into your daily schedule:

1:  Read to your children when they are a captive audience:  meal time, bath time, and bed time. 

Now, all three won't always work.  My older two kids prefer showers these days.  Bed time is usually when I'm the most exhausted and impatient.   So meal time often is the best option for us.   Since I usually serve the kids their meals first, it's easy for me to read to them before I eat my dinner.   I usually choose picture books for these times since they best hold the attention of all the kids (my son is 3.5 right now).   The book needs to have vibrant illustrations, and funny is usually best.    Another great option is to give each child a blank sheet of paper and a variety of coloring tools.  Read a picture book to them and have them draw what they are hearing.  After you're finished reading, have each child show their art and explain it to one another.   The "big reveal" makes my kids giddy!   And yet another option is to read and have the kids illustrate outside using sidewalk chalk.  The possibilities are endless! 

2:  Keep books everywhere.   

We have a basket under our buffet for library books.  There are "potty" themed books in the kids' bathroom.  We have books in their rooms and their playroom, and books in our living room (these are the coffee table books I shared with you in an earlier blog post).  It's tempting to pick up a book when one (or two or ten) is always in their line of vision.   

3:  Don't place limits.

Encourage your child to read anything and everything.  As a kid, I used to read shampoo bottles while showering and cereal boxes when eating breakfast.  I read my mom's Good Housekeeping magazines and my dad's books by Dale Carnegie that he had throughout the house.   If your eight-year-old wants to read his little sister's board books, fine.   

4:  Go with your child's interests.

Kids go through phases where they get hooked on various themes, people, and events.  My son is currently obsessed with firefighters and firetrucks.   My oldest has had a long-time obsession with unicorns.   My middle daughter loves anything superhero.    When you know your child's interests, utilize your local used bookstores and library to get books on those themes; remembering again that it's ok to choose books that are above or below their reading level (as long as the themes and language of the book is appropriate).   Make sure these are available in your kiddo's line of vision (see point #2).  

5:  Dramatic play.

I do something with my girls called a "lovey show."  It's where I take some of their stuffed animals and act out silly plays at bedtime.  They LOVE it.   The other night, my oldest asked if she could perform that evening's show.  She grabbed her little sister's easy reader version of Cinderella and read it while acting out the lines with her stuffed animals.   Brilliant!   She practiced reading while my younger daughter listened and delighted, as she always does, in the "action" of the show.   

6:  Rotate your books.  

Using a theme such as an upcoming holiday or season, pull out those books from your collection and have them in a "book spot" in your home.  Again, make sure this is a visible place.  I recommend purchasing a clear bin to hold your books.   Don't forget to get out a range of book types depending on your kids' ages, including:  board books, comic books, picture books, easy readers, and chapter books.  Even adult coffee table type books and magazines are appropriate.    These "new" books will delight your children and help them prepare for whatever upcoming event you are anticipating or preparing for.    We have a special bin of Christmas toys and books that only come out in December, and even my older girls are thrilled to see some of the board books I pull out!   Consider pulling out your favorite adoption books before a child's adoption day.  

7:  Use books as art.   

In our living room, we have one end table in which I display four coffee table books.  They are mostly art books, with little text, featuring people of color.   My kids love flipping through these books and pointing out their favorite pages.   Some books are too beautiful to be stuck on a dusty shelf.   Again, the more visible books are, the more likely they are to be read.

8:  Set the tone and time.

Have a set time and place each day for book exploring.   And make it cozy!   Throw some pillows and blankets on the living room floor and plop down with your bin of books.  Or tell the kids to race and grab a few books of their choosing and meet back up in your designated location.  One of my kids loves reading under the playroom table.  You can experiment with this.   Read with flashlights in a dark room.  Read by candlelight.  Read under a tree.  Read on the porch.   For kids who struggle with this, be sure to set a timer so they know there is an end time.   But if your kids are fully enjoying the time, don't worry about the timer.    

I absolutely recommend that kids be well-fed and well-exercised BEFORE attempting any reading time.    Immediately after school, as you saw on our schedule, is dedicated to a snack and gross motor play, not "sit down and read time."   So as you make plans to work these tips into your day, make sure you consider what's best for your kiddos and what works for your family.     

Also, here are tips on how to raise a reader without using electronics.  

Happy reading!  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dear Sugar: Perspectives on Adoption Book Recs

Dear Sugar:

Don't you just love a crisp new book?  With fall quickly approaching (thank you, Jesus!), I want to share with you some of the best books on adoption I've recently read and recommend.


I started and finished Black Lotus in 24 hours.  Yes, it was THAT good.   Abrams documents her journey from childhood to adulthood as a girl who is searching for who she is:  her racial identity.   Though this book is not specifically about adoption, there is SO much that resonated with me as a mom who is parenting children who were adopted transracially.   The author, again and again, comes back to her desire for empathy and honesty, something that has been shared by many adoptees.   This is a book you will want to buy as you'll be underlining poignant passages and flagging pages.  

Finding Motherhood is a unique book in that it's written by a birth mother who later also adopted two children.   Murphy's honest and heartfelt memoir is exactly the book parents-by-adoption need.   Murphy understands and explores adoption from two of the three points in the adoption triad, leaving readers feeling educated, enlightened, and hopeful.

The Secret Daughter is a fiction book that measures up to its subtitle:  "A beautiful novel of adoption, heartbreak and a mother's love."   If you want to "curl up with a good book" with an adoption theme, this is it.  I read it over the course of about three days (ironically when traveling to visit our kids' birth families).   The book's protagonist is an adoptee who finds out as an adult (as she's trying to start her family) that she was adopted.  She begins the search for the truth, including the journey to find her biological family.    I don't want to spoil the ending for you!

Ok, I know what you're thinking?  What the HECK does a coloring book have to do with adoption?  If you've adopted transracially and you have a Black daughter, snag a copy of I Love My Hair.  What I love about this coloring book is that not only is it ALL about empowering your daughter, communicating that her hair is BEAUTIFUL, but it also serves as a great bonding tool.  The book is large enough for mom and daughter (or dad and daughter) to sit side-by-side and color while chatting about the day and winding down before bedtime.    

For more fabulous resources, ranging from hair care, adoption, parenting, and more, please check on my Amazon store.  Happy reading, Sugars!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Dear Sugar: Brokenhearted

Dear Sugar,

Over twelve years ago, Steve and I were on a mission trip, one of many we embarked upon together. One evening my mom called:  my best friend from grade school and middle school had passed away from a genetic heart condition after heart surgery.  

I spent the evening crying and milling around the school grounds where the staff and campers were housed.   I felt angry, shaky, and mostly, brokenhearted.

My friend and I had all but ended our friendship in middle school.  She had found new and cooler friends.  I was never the popular/cool girl.    I didn't wear designer clothing, I wasn't athletic, and I was rule-follower.  School to me was a place that tortured the socially uncomfortable.  

I had many happy memories with her before she drifted away.    Hours spent in her swimming pool. Sneaking her mom's makeup (Mary Kay!) and painting our nails.  Making nachos with Doritos.  Her mom letting us watch Steel Magnolias---ironically about a young woman who dies too young of a disease.  (To this day, it's one of my favorite movies.)   We named all of our future children.  One of my four daughters, and one of hers, would share the same name: Maybelline (yes, like the makeup). We called our mutual crush on her pink telephone, the one she kept all to herself in her room.  Then we'd go to church on Wednesday nights just to flirt (in our fifth grade ways) with the mutual crush.

I wondered why God would let my friend die.  She has already lost several family members to the disease, including her own mother.    Why could she not be the one who got a shot at life?  One of the lucky ones?

I recalled the time I was taking classes at the local community college, and I bumped into her.  She was beautiful as always (she had the most fabulous hair!).   We cordially said hi to one another, and then she bounded off down the hallway with another girl, one I deemed much prettier and no doubt cooler than me.  (Junior high memories die hard.)   I slumped to my next class feeling confused and disheartened.

I felt remorseful for all the ways I didn't try to reconnect to her.   The fact that I didn't attend her mother's funeral, located at a small Christian church just three miles from my house, because I felt it would just add salt to the wound.   The ways I wasn't brave.

That evening, or perhaps it was very early the next morning, I sat in the balcony of the school auditorium, my Bible in my lap.  And for the first time, I read this verse:

Psalm 34:18:  "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

There have been many times in my life when this verse has helped me through another season of hardship.  When feelings of unworthiness, anxiousness, uncertainty, fear, confusion, and anger have made a home in my heart.  

As I type this post, I know some of you are in this place.  I know there are HARD and BIG and CONFUSING things going on in your life, and you are trying, oh you are trying, to deal with them.   I see so many questions being posted in adoption Facebook groups:  questions about openness in adoption, questions about which agency to choose, questions about how to answer a child's questions about his or her adoption.     These are tie-your-heart-in-knots questions.    These are the things that keep us up at night, that weigh on our minds as we are supposed to be listening to a presentation at work or helping a child with his homework, that attempt to capture our joy and peace.  

Some of these things we deal with and move on.  But some of them torture us, tempting us to make the wrong choice or telling us there is NO WAY we will be successful and hopeful.  

There are the days that your past heartaches are uprooted and thrown in your line of vision like New Year's confetti.   Maybe it's the miscarriage or the baby you always wanted but never carried.  Maybe it's the foster children with whom you fell in love with who went home.  Maybe it's the reluctant partner who just isn't sure adoption is the right choice.  Maybe it's the time you didn't say or do the right thing on your adoption journey.  

Maybe, like me, you've struggle with losing someone you loved.   Someone you still love.  Maybe you've had a traumatic experience where someone has taken advantage of you, where you were in an accident or part of something you wish would just disappear.

The Lord is there.  He's there in those murky, shaky memories.   He's there in your moments of desperation and fear.   He's there in your not-so-Jesusy-thoughts.  He's there in your future, too.

There are so many things that happen in life that are simply heartbreaking.   Do you recall your moments?    Don't they render us helpless and rage-filled and numb and apathetic and doubtful and jealous---all at the same time?

Sugar, I don't have this whole heartbreaking thing figured out.   I don't even like to THINK about those past heartbreaking moments.  In fact, this post has been written and deleted many times over the past few years.  I wasn't ready then to share with you about my friend.  I'm not sure I'm really fully ready now.

A few months ago, I found a few books my mom had given me from my childhood.   My girls grabbed one of them, a large picture book from Disney's Snow White, and on the inside cover, there was, in fourth-grader handwriting, a "to" and a "from."  The "to" was to me, the "from" was from her. I felt my chest tighten, and memories flooded back.  

I need you have Psalm 34:18, because I know, I KNOW, that someone today needs to read it.   I need it today.

I'll leave you with this:  

When I was a little girl, my mom once planted some flowers in our front yard.   They were very hard to grow, she told me.  Hard to keep alive and healthy.   But one day they bloomed, and they were spectacular:  a vibrant fuchsia color, contrasting against the surrounding greenery of the moss and grass and the gray-brown bark of the big trees.   These flowers were Bleeding Hearts.

Today, more than ever, I appreciate the effort my mom put in to growing those flowers.   They are powerful reminder of the fact that we are never fully healed from our brokenheartedness.   But that, Sugars, that brokenness in our heart, is exactly what makes us human, what makes us clumsily hopeful, and what makes is possible for there to be more room for beauty to grow.