Charles is...

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

How Peaceful Parenting Saved Our Christmas

On Christmas morning, Charles got to open lots of gifts.  Trevvor and I had put each other's gifts in our stockings, and when it came time for us to pull them out, Charles began to have an epic melt-down because HE wanted to pull our gifts out of our stockings.  I went with him to his room for some "time-in," realizing that my gut reaction was something along the lines of, "What a selfish, ungrateful kid.  He got all those presents that he got to open himself and he is fussing that we won't let him open ours!"  I was mad, but I managed to stay calm and stay present.

What was really going on was this:
Several days before Christmas, Charles had entertained himself one morning by scribbling some crayon onto four-dozen sheets of construction paper and folding them into "cards" for all our stockings.  What we thought was a morning's entertainment, he intended to be his contribution to Christmas giving.  We had taken all the cards out the night before because we were too lazy to wrap our gifts and wanted to put them in our stockings instead.  Charles was brokenhearted about the cards not being in the stockings, but he couldn't articulate that.  Once I finally realized from some broken sentences what was really wrong, I brought up the cards, and how disappointed he must be, and how hard he had worked, and how we were sorry we hadn't understood. 

The melt-down dissipated in moments.  He felt heard and understood.  He was still disappointed about the cards, but he was soon able to rejoin the festivities, and Trevvor and I were able to pull our own gifts out of our own stockings.  The rest of the day went fabulously.

The mom I was a year or two ago would have lectured about gratitude, would have had a tantrum of her own, would have spanked him or sent him to his room.  I would have assumed the worst about my kid and seen him as the enemy to a peaceful Christmas.  Instead, I recognized that his behavior indicated a real problem he couldn't handle or communicate, that he wasn't out to ruin my Christmas, and that it was my job to act like the adult I am.

Parenthood as sanctification.  It's a real thing, y'all.  I'm thankful I'm learning the gentle tools I need to help me with that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Charles Is Two.

Sunday was Charles' second birthday; my baby is two years old.  They've been the hardest, the best, the longest, and the quickest years of my life.

Charles is a gentle kid, who loves to wear his doll and hold it to "nurse" alongside him.  He sees his world through people; he doesn't see things: he sees their relationship to someone he loves.  A tractor is not just a tractor; it's Grandpa's tractor.  That puzzle is not just a puzzle; it's a puzzle that Nana did with him on her last visit.  That chair is the chair that Pop & Mimi brought to him.  That floor heater is the one Papa bought for him.  His play-kitchen is what he and Papa assembled together.  Charles exists in community; his sense of separate self is not yet mature--other people define his environment.

Now, this gets exhausting, because the flip side of his awareness of and care for others is that he always wants to be with someone.  Not just next to, but engaged with.  We spend quite a lot of time playing, reading, and communicating... but sometimes, dishes and diapers must be washed, calls must be made, and dinner must be cooked.  Charles struggles to occupy himself during these times, and I struggle with guilt as I watch my little crying puddle of a child pitifully say "please!" so I'll come sit with him.  But I know that sometimes the most difficult traits of a toddler can blossom into beautiful ones in an older child and adult if they are handled and directed well--I pray every day for wisdom in how to do that!

Charles is goofy.  He giggles at funny noises and faces and makes plenty of his own.  He loves when Mama dances all crazy or Papa uses funny voices.  He rolls his eyes and runs around laughing.  It's so fun to see a little mischievous streak coming out in him as he approaches boyhood.

Like his mama, Charles may have a bit of OCD.  He's incredibly orderly. He prefers things in sets: if he has one, he needs two.  If he has two, three is the magic number.  He then lines these sets up or arranges them just so on a surface and is quite put out if those arrangements are disturbed.  He loves doing this with all his cars: almost every day there is a new car line stretching along the couch, with each vehicle facing forward.  (I mess with him sometimes and turn one the wrong way when he's not looking.  It doesn't take him long to notice and remedy the fault.)

Of course, I think he's a genius.  He can spontaneously identify and say about half of the uppercase alphabet, and he can count to two (which is appropriate).  It's funny that he is so letter-oriented, because he still really doesn't say too much.  He has a name for everyone he frequently sees, but otherwise his word list is rather small compared to a lot of 24-month-olds'.  The past couple of weeks I've noticed an uptick however.  The day before his birthday, he started saying "NO" for the first time.  So much less pleasant than a head-shake, haha.  Despite being taciturn like his papa, he has no problem communicating what he wants when he wants it!  He combines signs, sounds, words, and body language to make himself perfectly understood pretty much all the time by those of us close to him.  I've commented to Trevvor that he has a very high-context language: when he bobs his head and points at the mantel, that means he wants me to play music on my phone, because I normally keep it on the mantel when we have music going.

Charles has continued to breastfeed a few times a day, when he wakes up and when he goes to sleep.  He seems to be less picky about food than a lot of toddlers; we continue to mostly be able to feed him what we eat, with a few kid-friendly extras like banana chips (I think those things are nasty).  He thinks lunchbox peppers are candy.  He'll eat carrot sticks because the rabbit in his book eats one.  He prefers beans over meat, but when he does eat meat it's usually chicken, and he'll say, "glum glum!" (which is his version of cluck cluck), which makes me wonder how much he connects those dots...  Mix something into sweet potato and it'll be a hit.  Eat some spinach out of the bag yourself and he'll be asking for some too.  Give him a green smoothie like it's a big treat and he'll drink it down.  I've found the best way to get him to eat something is to eat it in front of him but not offer him any.  He'll eat anything as long as it's his idea!

Socially, Charles loves babies, and can be friendly with other toddlers as long as I give him a pep talk before we arrive at a play-date and they don't threaten his snacks.  He mostly prefers adults and older children, I suppose because they're not "competition" for attention, but rather people who will give it to him.  Speaking of loving babies, that's another example of how Charles sees the world through people-centered relationships: give him two big things and one little thing (like two large acorns and a small acorn), and he'll say, "mama, papa, baby."  He'll add family members until the whole group has been categorized.  (Sometimes he'll say "mama, papa, nyuh-nyuh," because that's his name for himself--but in these contexts he's using it as a title like "baby" rather than a name.)

Charles loves to serve "food" from the pots in his play kitchen to family members.  I've eaten so much pretend veggie soup I could bust!  He also brings me "tea": his cup has a mushroom in it and mine has half an apple.  He enjoys building block towers with me (not on his own), and loves to "fix" things with his new tool-set.  Many evenings while we're waiting for Papa, we'll spend an hour reading board book after board book--he loves to read.  Charles also loves music, especially songs with motions like Baby Bumble Bee and Eensy Weensy Spider.  The other day he was his playing his xylophone and singing, "Ra! Ra! Ra! Ra!"  I finally figured out he was singing The Ants Go Marching (Hoorah! Hoorah!)  He also loves playing outside in his new Cozy Coupe car, at his sand-table, or on his play-set.

There are so many other details, like how he only sleeps with his head in one particular corner of his crib, how he kicks his house-shoe off while we're sitting at the table, how he sees animals in his almond butter (it frequently looks like an alligator or elephant), how he has ridiculous spatial memory (on our neighborhood walks he remembers where we saw a school bus a week ago), how he's so very cautious and thoughtful (most of the time), how he swings down the stair-railing with us holding the other hand... Charles is such a full, complete little person.

He is my greatest joy, and my greatest challenge.  Some days are hard, some days are REALLY hard, but this is all going by much too quickly nonetheless.  I am so thankful that God saw fit to make me this precious boy's mother two years ago.  Charles is truly a gift.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Charles - Nineteen Months

Charles turned 19 months old on Monday, and I have been remiss in posting about his growth for a while now. A lot of things I’ll post about he’s been able to do for a while, I just want them to be recorded somewhere.

The biggest area of development for Charles these past months has been physical: the kid who lost his balance while walking in grass last time I posted is long gone, and in his place is some kind of toddler trail runner and mountain climber. He loves to run to “get” someone (chase) or to run away from us as we pretend to “get” him. I’ve kept him out of all kinds of trouble and tantrums by distracting him with a little game of chase. We’ve walked into a room (or just turned around) to see him standing on top of the kitchen table, the coffee table, and the couch, or to be all the way up the stairs way faster than we thought he was capable of moving.  He's also super strong.  Charles can lift a heavy bag of wooden blocks to the table and attempts and succeeds at picking up bulky, heavy things that we didn't expect he could handle.

Thanks to this new physical prowess, he’s had his fair share of tumbles, but this kid is TOUGH. He’s walked right into table edges or face-planted while running on hard floors and just bounced back like nothing happened. We usually try not to react to a fall or potential ouchie (except to go, “Boom! You fell down! You’re okay! Way to go!” as enthusiastically as we can), and if he does burst into tears (which is rarely), we calmly pick him up and pat his back, reassuring him all is well rather than feeding his tears with too much coddling. I’d like to think that’s one reason he handles uh-ohs as well as he does, but maybe he’s just been that cool from birth.

Charles can also interact with objects much more physically than before as well. He really does get into everything, checks it out, and uses it to imitate what we do or does something new and creative with it.  He’s gotten to be a pro at propelling himself (see what I did there?) on riding toys. The one we have here is actually a little wooden Radio Flyer that I had when I was a toddler. (He's also attempted to use it, among other things, as a step stool, which didn't end so well.)  He loves to throw, roll, bounce, and kick balls of all sizes, but especially Trevvor’s full-size soccer ball. He’s learning how to hold out his hands to play “catch” (though he doesn’t really catch it well yet) and is pretty good at throwing it back in our general direction when we open up our hands to do the same. He’s always loved balls and handled them well, but recently it’s gone from merely a fascinating activity to a more competitive game.

I’m starting to see a glimmer of competition in a lot of areas with Charles now--he is DEFINITELY all boy. I can sometimes motivate him to do/eat things by seeing who can do it faster/first. The other times, well, that’s just his super-strong independent streak showing (which I guess I had coming to me). This kid… this kid has a mind of his own. I thought (hoped) maybe it was just normal, but my mom and grandmother have commented on it too, and my grandmother raised and kept a LOT of little ones. Charles always prefers to do things himself, often forcibly removing our hands from his desired object of control. It’s been neat, though, to see him reach a point where he realizes his own limitations and knows how and when to ask for help.

Charles has never been a risk-taker and has always been a more cautious baby (and now full-fledged toddler). He doesn’t dash headlong into anything, which is nice. We don’t have a gate at the top of our stairs, and whenever he gets to the top he will wait for however long it takes for us to get to him to hold his hand coming down. In crowds, he explores, but not too far. He has always been respectful of hot things, whether it’s food or the oven or sun-baked pavement.

Charles loves movement, and he loves things that move. I’ve already mentioned his riding toys, but he’s also a huge fan of swings, and if you turn on some fun music, he is more than likely to move to the rhythm. He is just always on-the-go and moving his whole body at every opportunity. His boyish nature is also coming out in his excitement over cars, trucks, trains, planes, boats, and bicycles. He can identify them all in books, among his toys, and when we’re out and about, and loves either naming them or making their sound.

So vehicles are some of Charles’ favorite words and sounds, but some of his other favorite words are “buuhhhhh” (bug), “raahhhhh” (rock), “suuuuuu” (shoe, to mean he wants to go outside), “nunuhh” (thunder), and “BUUMM” (boom). Again, all boy. He is a fantastic onomotopeaia-maker and can imitate almost any sound, animal or mechanical (like the vaccuum-cleaner or the water-hose). When Trevvor was grilling last week he told Charles, "Careful!  The fire is hot!" and Charles made the sound of a fireman's water-hose like he'd seen in his book!  The mental connections he's able to make astound us all the time. Charles isn’t really into coloring or puzzles yet; he mostly loves to “buhhh” (book) and “baaa” (bath), representing two of his favorite activities, reading (Curious George is his favorite) and water-play. (We just got him a sand-and-water table for the back-yard that he would spend all day at if we let him. The messes are so worth it.) So he enjoys grander play than the kind that requires fine-motor skills, but he did surprise me the other day by threading a wooden bead onto a string! I’d bought the toy earlier and figured it would be a while before he figured it out, but he proved me wrong!

Charles hasn’t started making sentences yet, or even having very many two distinct syllable words, but he signs for his basic needs (for “eat,” “drink,” “more,” “nurse,” and “down,” “diaper”), and uses grunting, tone of voice, pointing, and other body language to express everything else. We’re trying to encourage him to use more spoken words, but we know he will when he’s ready. The kid understands seriously EVERY CONCRETE (as in, non-abstract) THING WE SAY. We have taken to spelling all the content words in a sentence on a regular basis, which is confusing for all of us. It’s really holding us accountable about our speech and our tendency towards couple-gossip (you know, because when you gossip about someone to your spouse, it doesn’t really count… right?). When I’m on the phone and start to wrap up the conversation, he waves “bye-bye” to the person before I’ve even said good-bye! He can just tell from our tone. Isn’t it incredible what a one-year-old has already absorbed in his short life??

Ever since he was eight or nine months, Charles has had a signature wave. It’s just been his thing, and it still is. He loves to blow kisses, give high-fives, and participate in fist-bumps. He’s a very social kid, but he definitely likes to be the approacher rather than the approached. He’ll observe you (and wave at you) for a while before cracking a smile. We’ve noticed that when other little kids stare at him, he gets a bit defensive and barks at them (not like a dog, just like a highly displeased, disgruntled sound in their direction). He doesn’t do that with adults, just other littles. With the lucky few, he is very quick to give kisses (right on the mouth--all or nothing kid), hugs, snuggles, and just generally “gives love.” When he’s feeling rather pitiful, he’ll snuggle on my shoulder and then rub and pat my arm with his hand, just like I pat and rub his back when he’s needing some TLC.

Behaviorally, my serious baby has turned into a super silly toddler, if at times prone to throwing screaming fits, whether at home or walking through Target. (Yep--I was that mom with that tantrum-throwing toddler walking through the supermarket.) He cracks up at a game of peek-a-boo, chase, “creepy mousie,” pokes and tickles, silly sounds, or silly faces. Sometimes he’ll be laughing and kind of lean forward and put his face in his hands, like it’s just too funny to handle. His eyes get all crinkly and he goes from a deep chuckle to a delighted shrieking cackle in an instant. Charles loves to play games and has even started initiating play, like running a ways and turning to wait for us to chase him, or taking us by the hand and leading us to blocks or a ball.

He also leads us to the refrigerator. One of us, possibly me, made the mistake of letting him pick his own snack from the fridge one time, and that was it. Charles used to eat every vegetable we put in front of him, now every meal is something of a battle as his preferences change bite-to-bite. After picking what to eat, he sometimes wants it in his chair, sometimes not (though I try to enforce the chair), with or without bib, with spoon or with fingers, in bowl or on table or from my bowl, or from my spoon. And after all this, he decides he really wants something ELSE from the fridge. I shoot for consistency, but at the end of the day the most important food-thing is that he ate healthy food, and if he wants to eat healthy food standing on his head rather than something not so healthy in his seat with his bib out of his bowl with his spoon, I’m going to focus on getting him to eat the healthy. The past several weeks have been tough because we are doing a family Whole30, so all his (non-gluten) grain snacks that filled him up are off the menu. So he wants to eat every half hour on average. Which is fairly typical toddler behavior, but it gets exhausting. I’m on the hunt for a nibble tray that I can set on a chair and let him much a few things whenever he gets the urge between meals. I’m also more conscientious now of what I keep in the fridge. Fruit is fine, but when we have it available that is ALL he wants to eat, so now we buy very little fruit. And success! He’s staying fuller longer because he’s eating more fats, proteins, and veggies. Baby steps…. 

We’re also taking baby steps in teaching him responsibility and how to help. At this age, he naturally wants to do exactly what Mama and Papa are doing, so that makes it easy to get him involved if we can frame it the right way. We have a few little songs we sing for tidying-up, and he’s responsible for helping us pick up his toys before bed and wipe off the table after a meal. I feel like I’m getting my first glimpses of character training in these moments, and it’s humbling and terrifying. It is at those times I am teaching him how to be a little adult (or at least a little kid on track to becoming a big adult). As we train him to be responsible, to be helpful, to be kind, to be loving, to be grateful, we are more and more aware of our responsibility to train him up in the way he should go, that he is not just a toddler but a future man, husband, father, and warrior for Christ.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Airstream Dreams: Part II

The Airstream is home.  We think we're going to call her "The Silver TARDIS," but that's still up for debate.  I love catching a glimpse of her out the kitchen window and remembering how we found her and made her ours.

As we've gone through all of our plans and dreams the past few years, one of the people we've talked with a lot has been Trevvor's mom, who is beginning her own adventure now too.*  We were all in this unsettled place, knowing we needed to do something different but not sure what that something looked like.  During our "whirlwind trip to everywhere" at the end of May, we had the chance to talk through these ideas again in person.  "Well you know," she said, "I'm going to need a place to live when I come back to the States in a few years."  That changed everything, because now we were looking at Airstreams as co-owners with her: Trevvor, Charles and I living it in now, and Leslee living in it later on.

One evening early in the last week of the trip, Leslee and I were looking at, just casually, you know, to see what was out there.  I had pulled up all the Airstreams that were in the states we'd be traveling home through (there aren't many Airstreams in Alabama).
One ad really jumped out:  It was 31 ft, perfect for full-time living; a 1975 model (our favorite decade of Airstreams); a center bath, which meant we wouldn't have to walk through Charles' room to use the bathroom at night and also avoided the problem of the heavy rear-bath separating from the frame; they had installed a composting toilet like we wanted, opening up our parking options since we won't need a black-water connection; the floors had been redone with a lovely pine board, exactly what we wanted; there was already a large fridge for all the produce we buy; and all the built-in furniture had been removed, so now we could include exactly and only what we needed.  AND it was only 20 minutes off our route through Virginia.  AND it was under $10,000 (a very reasonable price for such a find). Ummm, yes please!

So we emailed the owners and arranged to see her on Friday as we traveled south.  Our last few days were very full--both packing up Leslee for her big trip and preparing ourselves for a possible very big purchase.  They sent us the link to their blog they'd used while they renovated it the previous year, and it was really neat finding so many similarities between them and us and so many parallels in our journeys.

When we arrived at their farm Friday afternoon, I was trying not to be too excited.  We explored the Airstream thoroughly.  We discussed its purchase rationally.  And then, we told her we'd take it.  On the condition that we could find a way to haul it down.

So we put the word out on Facebook.  By the next day, we had a two different trucks we could borrow.  (Our friends are so generous!  Seriously.)  Our plan was to make the trip back to Virginia two weeks later to bring her home.

But that's a whole 'nother chapter.

*Leslee is moving to Australia, ultimately to teach, and has sold her house, her car, and her possessions (less a very small storage unit) for an undetermined period of time.  Helping her give away and pack up and throw out all her stuff during our trip really got us excited about doing the same thing at our house.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Airstream Dreams: Part I

It started with heavy doses of reading Little House on the Prairie and The Boxcar Children in elementary school.  I remember thinking how incredible Ma Ingalls was, keeping a such a small, basic home so well and cheerfully.  How creative oldest sister Jessie was in transforming an abandoned boxcar into a comfortable escape for her and her siblings.

All children love small spaces.  We all loved making blanket forts, sitting under tables, cozying up in a closet, setting up in play-houses, sleeping in lofts or tents.  (Well, at least I did.  But maybe I was just as weird then as I am now.)  My reading about families making homes of small spaces just encouraged this enjoyment.

As I grew up, my expectations of comfort changed from closets to over-sized houses.  When Trevvor and I got married and I saw our apartment for the first time, I cried.  How could I set up house in only 450 square feet??  But I did, and when we moved out, I cried again.

After several more moves and a house-purchase later, we were all set up in our current home: a three-bed, two-bath, modest 1200 square foot split-level in a 1970s Birmingham suburb.  It was a good "starter-home," I figured, and that summer we settled in for a least five or ten years.

But after a few months, the moving itch started.  The maintenance and constant grass-mowing was getting tiresome.  We hadn't known how great we had it when we were living smaller!

About that time, we discovered the Tiny House Movement, as it's known.  Here were people choosing to live in less than 200 square feet!  Every inch of these homes was filled with both beauty and purpose.  "Wow," we said.  "That's what we want."  The THM was like a gateway, and one of the worlds it opened up was that of the shiny Airstream.  Simplicity and flexibility.  Way too cool.

But we'd just bought this house, and we wanted to start a family, so we kept chugging away at the American Dream, accepting the status quo, albeit in a rather grumbly way.  We didn't want to be discontent, so we tried to bloom where we were planted, yet every few months, some new hippie scheme would surface, only to be covered up again by the reality of those devilish details.

That was nearly three years ago.

When Charles was born last January, we said, "We're staying put!  We have the baby to think of!"  We also had four cats and a dog.  We would never fit in a tiny house of any kind, especially since we wanted more kids!

But once we settled into life with a baby (sometime around his six month birthday), the itch started itching again.  "We could do this with a baby," we thought, looking around at all of the space and stuff in our house we barely used and thinking of all the time and money we spent keeping up a house and yard we didn't even want.

So we started looking into selling our house.  We listed lots of stuff for sale on Craigslist and eBay.  I spent probably untold hours looking at used Airstreams online and reading tiny-house/minimalism blogs.  Because by now, we'd narrowed our small-living dream down to Airstreams.

During the last nine months, this dream has come on and off, as those details would surface again and we would decide it was impossible.  As some of you know, our plans have changed quite a lot.  We looked at selling our house with a realtor, selling our house ourselves, renting our house ourselves.  Buying a smaller house, renting a smaller house, renting an apartment.  Staying in Birmingham, moving to Huntsville, moving to Georgia.

But the Airstream kept "shining through our murky plans," as it were.  For a while, we even thought we'd be out of our house and full-timing it by April 19.  Obviously that date came and went, and still no firm timeline of what we wanted to do and when.  We just knew why.

And last week, the "why," apparently, proved to be enough.

...TBC :)

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