Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summertime

Well, school's out and we're loving summer so far! We've had a few days, yes, when the kids have been at each other's throats off and on as they adjust to being with each other more than normal. And we've had some bumps as we get into our summer routines. But all in all, it's so nice to have more time with these kids who I quite thoroughly enjoy these days. I'm so excited that all the kids are old enough to enjoy so many of the same things and I feel like I'm finally in my element a bit more as a mother - I "get" older kids better than babies. The kids still want and need a LOT every day - but I don't have that "totally overwhelmed with 5 mutually exclusive needs at any given moment" feeling that I had for a lot of years. I'm really having more fun and less stress as a mom now and I'm so grateful for that.

We're getting our summer routine down pretty well. The three oldest kids have a list of a bunch of things they can do each day and they're supposed to complete 10 things from the list (they have to do journal writing and reading, but there's a lot of flexibility beyond that). Some of the things on their list are group activities - together, we can work on Spanish (we're loving the simple on-line free program Coffee Break Spanish - 15 minute lessons), read a chapter in a book, learn a new song, go on a bike ride or swimming, or research something from our "wondering list" (a list of things the kids bring up that they're wondering about - so far we've found great informational youtube videos on how to make yogurt, how cars get made, where baby carrots come from and monster trucks - can't avoid that with 4 boys).

Ashton's working hard on his guitar and has got some chords down. He's always completing his reading first thing in the morning then going on to read in every spare moment all day. My big goal for the summer for Isaac is to get him to WANT to read - it's still such a painful process to get him reading much of the time. But math - that kid is a whiz. And he's leading the group on doing work around the house - no surprise there - he's a worker and knows how to get a job done. Eliza is whipping through her math and writing workbooks (when I took her to the store to pick our her Kindergarten graduation present, the main thing she wanted was workbooks) and has only 2 more books to read all by herself before she'll have finished the 10 books she has to read to earn a reading lamp for her bedroom (this has been a fun motivator for each of the kids as they've learned to read). The twins are loving the fact that one of the most popular "electives" on the big kids' daily list is teaching one of the twins something new. Ollie and Si have loved learning to write various letters and working on their biking techniques and having books read to them by the older kids.

I've loved having the time with the kids to get into this stuff! Jared set up a googledoc spreadsheet to track their points and at the end of the week, we total them up and they get money based on the number of points they have earned. Yesterday, as Ashton was doing some extra jobs to try to get more points (Saturday is for extra points), he said "Mom, this is so great, we get to do all these fun things and then we get paid for it!" I'm so glad it's feeling that way for him - at least so far!

Each of the kids is saving up for something they really want so they've been pretty motivated to get their stuff done - plus there's a little healthy competition involved as they compare how many points they have. It's pretty darn nice to have kids come up to me and say "Mom, do you have a job for me?" as they try to complete their points for the day (one of the things on their list is to do a random little job I assign them). Most importantly, the kids seem to be having fun with learning and doing meaningful activities. I'm not opposed to the kids watching some TV but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the TV didn't get turned on all week - we had too many other fun things to do!

I'm so glad I decided not to do summer workshops for all the neighborhood kids. I really struggled with whether or not to do the workshops this summer - they went so well last summer and I have all the curriculum put together after all that work last year. But I just felt like I needed to enjoy time with my own kids more this summer and have a little more flexibility and less stress. I've been so involved in all three kids' classrooms this summer plus doing Joy School for the twins and their friends so I felt like I put in my time actively teaching other people's kids this year already. I feel like the kids are all so much fun right now - I just want them to myself and want them to have me to themselves for a while. I am setting up some super-simple summer school co-ops where I'll switch off with other moms doing simple and fun activities with our kids that are the same age as each other. And we're doing swim lessons down at the pool starting in a week. We've got field trips planned to Bryce and the Las Vegas children's museum plus lots of stuff around here and we'll do swimming with friends every Wednesday and the splash park with friends on Mondays. So we've got some structure to our weeks and some exciting things to look forward to (I've realized I go a bit crazy when I don't have some set structure and some things to look forward to!). I'll let you know how things go!

We rode our bikes to the farmer's market at Tuachan yesterday and then rode them to get lunch at Bajio. Lots of bike riding! The weather wasn't too hot and the scenery was gorgeous and it was just such a nice family day. Days like yesterday make me love this place so much.

Here's to summer!


Isaac's Last-Day-of-School Party - only two kids showed up but they brought their siblings (Liza's friends) so it worked out perfectly - I was nervous that we'd get too many kids and it would be a crazy thing! With the kids' school, it's pretty funny putting on a party - you can end up with WAY more people than you invited or WAY less - people just don't RSVP.
Liza with Tanner and Cole - she was so excited they showed up
and held her own very nicely with these boys.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Four-Wheeling, Cactus Flowers and Horses

I'm a bit behind on posting some of the adventures we've had in the last little while. We're so blessed to live in an area where there are great adventures to be had in the midst of amazing beauty - and we're glad so many good friends and relatives want to come enjoy it all with us!

About a month ago, Jared's brother and family came down and invited us to enjoy a day of fun four-wheeling with them at Sand Hollow Reservoir. I've never done much four-wheeling before and I have to say I'm hooked now! It was so much fun zooming over those red sand hills and seeing the amazing scenery from way up above the reservoir. Aaron and Michelle had these really nice machines - a little kid ATV (Ashton and Isaac thought it was SO cool), a nice adult one, and one of those new rhino things - like a little jeep that 4 people can sit in. Those things can go anywhere and tackle some crazy terrain. The twins were laughing in glee as we hit each bump and had perma-grins on the entire time they got to be on a machine. Liza took a while to warm up to the whole things but then had a wonderful time. So fun! Thanks again Aaron and Michelle!

We finished off that day at the annual Kite Festival where kids get a kite if they've read a certain number of minutes and show their reading chart. The kids had a great time flying their kites (even though they didn't fully earn them. Ashton did all his reading and they gave him his kite and since they had a lot of extra kites they gave kites to all the other kids as well - the kids were thrilled but we did have to have a little talk about how they'll have to read extra to make up for it!). At the festival in the evening, there was a great a'cappella group singing fun 50's songs followed by a really good fireworks display. This turned out to be, as the kids put it when we tucked them in that night "the best day EVER!"

A couple weeks ago, we headed out on our annual "Cactus Flower Hunt" and found some gorgeous stuff! The twins were SO excited about EVERY flower they found (and there were a lot) and Isaac was especially good at noticing the more subtle stuff - that kid is really in tune with nature. Springtime in the desert is an amazing thing - and this year it's extra beautiful since we had such a wet winter. It seems every plant, tree blooms, one after another so that this delicate loveliness of flowers is scattered everywhere you look.

Last week, my mom and dad came down and we had a great time horseback riding at the Kolob side of Zion with them. We haven't taken the kids on a real horseback ride (on trails, not just wandering around the pasture) before and they LOVED it (as did Jared and I). I haven't been on a horse in way too long and I'd forgotten how pleasant it is to be able to enjoy the scenery from a higher vantage point without having to look down and watch your footing - the horse takes care of that for you. I rode good old King. We've had him since I was a teenager. He's an old sway-back who you sort of feel bad riding at this point in his life - but he's sure-footed and tough and gave us some fun as he decided to set off in a gallop now and again!

Don't worry - this was just for a picture - we didn't try having all 5 of them ride together!
(although my Grandma wrote in her journal about riding to school
on a horse with several siblings so this made me think of her)

Isn't Kolob gorgeous?


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mother's Day

As I biked up beautiful Snow Canyon with my five wonderful kids and my excellent husband on the Saturday before Mother's Day, I had a little flashback to a day almost exactly 12 years ago when motherhood seemed like an impossible dream to me. I'd headed down from Boston to DC for my sister Shawni's baby shower (she was expecting her first baby soon) and we were doing some baby shopping with my mom (who'd come out from Utah for the shower). As we were looking at strollers and car seats, I was hit by this overwhelmingly sad thought - "This might never happen for me. I'm getting older. What if I never find my husband? What if I do but I can't have kids? Here's my little sister, so close to becoming a mother - what if I never get that chance?" I remember standing there in the aisle of Babies R Us bawling and trying to explain to my moms and sister why I was so emotional. Would I ever be a mother? Would I ever be picking out a stroller for my own child? Would I ever get to hold my own little baby in my arms? Would I get to see little children of my own grow and develop into wonderful people? Would I have children to shop for strollers with when they got ready to have their own children some day?

About six months after that little break-down, I got to know Jared. And by the time Shawni's little Max was 15 months old, Jared and I were married. We were pregnant by our first anniversary. And the kids just kept coming - Isaac 19 months after Ashton, Eliza 19 months after Isaac, then the big finale of Oliver and Silas 23 months after Eliza. We had crazy years of colicy babies and rambunctious toddlers and 1000's of diapers and so many big messes and plenty of crying and spit up and sleep deprivation - and sometimes it was hard in the midst of the mahem to remember that I got exactly what my heart had yearned for - in abundance! But as each little child learned to say "mama" and put their chubby little arms around my neck to give me big slobbery kisses, my heart swelled and I remembered how very very blessed I was to be a mother. So many women never get to be mothers. It just doesn't work out sometimes. But my dream came true. I am a mother.

When we stopped for a rest on our bike ride last Saturday, I told these beautiful big kids of mine about how much I'd yearned for them. I told them about how I'd cried in thinking I might never get them when I was shopping with Shawni all those years ago. I told them how much I love them and how grateful I am that they made me into a mom.

There are things you can learn in many ways - but there are also some things you can only really learn from being a mom. Some of the lessons are hard - but all of them are worth the price. Motherhood brings experiences that build us by tearing us down and that grow us by stretching us quite painfully. Motherhood has made me a more patient, more loving,more creative, more understanding, more adaptable person that I ever could have been without it. Motherhood has given me the powerful experience of helping to create and shape the lives of others while they help create and shape me. But most importantly, motherhood has given me this amazing experience to love and be loved in a uniquely beautiful way.

I'm so grateful that I get to be a mother. I'll take the hard with the good - the good is so very, very good. I wished for motherhood with all my heart - and sometimes it seemed like this unattainable dream. Now I look at these fabulous little people I get to call my children and realize that motherhood is so much more than I ever even knew to wish for - it's so much more important and joyful and hard and beautiful and stretching and powerful than I could have guessed without actually experiencing it. I needed these experiences and these children more than I ever could have realized before it all began and probably more than I realize even now. I got more than I anticipated in so many ways. I am blessed beyond measure.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Star of the Month

I'm taking a cue from my sister Shawni (she does this on her blog), and "spotlighting" one of my kids every month or so. I did some stuff on the twins a couple posts ago. Now it's Ashton's turn.

Ashton is one amazing kid. I just plain like this kid. He's full of fun ideas of things to do and good ideas about how to tackle any problem. He's totally fun to talk to about everything from current events to ideas for inventions he'd like to do someday to random facts he's discovered while doing research on the internet about things that pop into his head. He's got a great little sense of humor - he's well past the stage (that Eliza is now in) where kids want to tell you jokes all the time but none of their jokes really make sense and has even progressed beyond telling good jokes to a new level of humor where he notices and tells me about little ironies in life. He's got this great slow smile that crinkles up the corners of his eyes, then spreads to his mouth.

And it's not just me that likes Ashton so much - you should see him with his friends. They clearly adore him. We played the "compliment game" as part of a unit on "kindness and friendliness" (from Alexander's Amazing Adventures) that I'm doing for Ashton's class at school. Each kid had a chance to stand up and have their classmates share what they like about them. All the hands shot up in the air when it was Ashton's turn. "He's funny" "He's fun" "He's really nice to everyone" "He always lets everyone play" "He's really smart".... Nice moment as a mom to hear other people notice and appreciate some of the things you love about your child.

Some quick stories about Ashton:

The other day I flipped open my mobile phone and found that Ashton had made me a new screen design on the phone - a template with "I (heart) you" with a big red heart and a cute picture of Ashton in the middle of the heart. Made me smile big time - great to know that this non-demostrative child of mine wanted to share his love for me - and amazing to see yet another example of how Ashton can so quickly and expertly figure out anything technological.

Ashton presented at the district science fair the other day (he won 1st prize for 3rd grade for his mold project at his school). The night before, as I pretended to be a judge and asked him questions to help him prepare, I was so impressed at the way he explained things so clearly and confidently and loved how he threw in a little humor here and there. Today I was so proud of him as I sent him off with Jared to set up his display, all handsome and grown-up looking in his shirt and tie. When I showed up for the awards ceremony later that afternoon, he said he felt really good about his presentation (wish I could have seen it - no parents allowed) but he didn't win anything (would have been weird if he did since he and I threw his project together in just a couple days!). He totally cheered on his friend from another school who won first prize for 3rd grade for the district. He was such a good sport about the whole thing and just said "I wonder what Cole (his friend who won) will do with his $100 prize." Not jealous, just interested and glad for his friend.

And one more story:
As I was trying to quickly wrap up that "compliment game" in Ashton's class last week so the kids could head to lunch, one little girl said "wait - there are two people we haven't done yet!" I was a little confused - I was pretty sure I'd given every child a turn. The kids said "we haven't done you or Ms Berglund (their teacher)!" I assured them I was fine and Ms Berglund was busy testing a kid but several students jumped right in with compliments for me and it was so sweet of them.

After school that day, Ashton was on the computer (as always) and I told him it was time to get off and he insisted he had something important to finish. When I checked out what he was up to, I saw that had printed out a nice little stack of notes to give out to his classmates the next day. Here's what the notes looked like: (sorry - can't get it to turn, hopefully you can read sideways!)

He came up with the wording and did the typing and formatting 100% by himself. Pretty nice idea, huh? He gave out the notes the next day, wrapped up a box (leaving one end open) to put all the compliments in when the kids brought them back the following day, gathered everyone's completed notes and had kids quickly write down compliments if they didn't bring one from home, sealed up the end of the wrapped box and presented it to Ms Berglund. Ashton was so pleased with the whole project. And I'm sure Ms Berglund was too!

One of my most heartfelt desires as a mother is to raise children who are kind and thoughtful. Looks like Ashton's headed in the right direction!

So Ashton's quite a star. He's the perfect oldest child for our family and sets such great examples for his siblings - as well as his friends and his siblings' friends. He's got his flaws, sure (still struggling with focusing on getting things done but that'll come) - but to me, he's about as wonderful as they come. I love you Ashton! Thanks for being such a great son and brother and friend!

Enjoying Childhood Before it's Gone

Down the street lives a family with a couple kids who've grown up and left home and one little three-year-old boy - it seems they had a nice little surprise there on the end. I don't know this family very well but I see the dad, I'll call him Jim, and his son, I'll call him Samuel, out walking together quite a bit and I've chatted with them a few times. Jim is a stay-at-home dad and seems like the nicest most gentle man, always following his little son around and stopping when the little guy wants to stop, looking at whatever the little guy wants to show him. They're always moving along at a very slow pace. And Samuel always looks so happy. It seems like maybe Jim has decided that his older kids' childhood passed too quickly and he's really making the most of this last chance to really enjoy the beauty of childhood.

After driving past Jim and Samuel the other day, it struck me that I really need to learn from Jim's example. I don't think I EVER just go at my kids' pace for more than a few moments or do what they feel like doing without saying "just a minute" about 100 times. I seldom really thoroughly focus on what my kids are saying for very long. And I'm not good at really enjoying what they want me to enjoy with them. I'm afraid I'm quite guilty of having my mind on the many other things I need to be doing most of the time, rather than on the present moment. And I always feel like I have so many people talking to me at once that it's really hard to focus on any one kid for more than a few seconds.

Seeing Jim and Samuel as they ramble around the neighborhood always reminds me that I should slow down more and put the kids' priorities a little higher on my own priority list. And I really need to learn to be in the present more and to clear my mind of thoughts that get in the way of enjoying the moment I'm in. In thinking about the special relationship that Jim and Samuel seem to share, I realize that I really need to get back into a tradition that I used to be pretty good about - taking each kid on their own individual "mommy date" every week or two. I get to know and really enjoy my kids when I can be one-on-one with them. It's hard to make it happen, but really, a mommy date can just be a regular old trip to the grocery store made special by letting my "date" select a favorite cereal or help plan a meal and get the ingredients or a quick run to the car wash (the twins' current favorite mommy date). A walk around the block or quick bike ride also works great. I just need to create more opportunities to really focus on one child at a time.

So I need to figure out the details, but I'm going to be more like Jim - at least sometimes. I don't think I quite have the personality - or the feasibility given the number of kids I have - to follow an individual childs around at a super slow pace and do whatever they want to do all the time. But I know my kids could use more of me - and I know I could use more of them. I don't want to have to have another baby (would have to be adopted) in ten years so that I can enjoy a childhood after realizing I missed out on too much of the childhoods I'm in the midst of right now!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Website Launch!

Life is good. After what feels like a million hours of work crammed in between kids' needs and carved out of the late night hours, my friend April and I (with lots of help from my amazingly supportive husband who turns out to be a very talented web designer) have finally "launched" our website - The Power of Moms. See the button over there in the right margin with the daisy on it? Click on it and check out this labor of love. And if you want, click here to sign up for monthly emails that will keep you updated on the latest additions to the website.

There are so many wonderful moms out there - each one learning and growing and striving and seeking. My hope is that this website will empower mothers with support and resources to help them reach their potential as mothers - and that mothers will find fulfillment in sharing their own ideas and insights through the site.

Please tell every mother you know about this website. I'm quite certain that every mother out there could find meaningful answers and great opportunities at The Power of Moms so I yearn to make it available to as many moms as possible!

Click here if you want a button for your blog or website to let people know about the site. Go to the Power of Moms Blog and see a sample Happy Mother's Day email you could send to mom friends to tell them about the site (scroll down a bit to get to the sample email text). And please let me know what you think as you explore what that site has to offer.
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