Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tasty Idea for April Fools

Every Mom dreams about a successful April Fool's Day. From freezing your children's orange juice to messing with their alarm clocks, there are a thousand ideas out there for Moms to try. I thought I would add a tasty idea to the mix.

And the best part is: it works.

When I was about eleven, a neighbor brought my mother an interesting Mother's Day gift. It was a flowerpot with garish -- obviously fake -- flowers in it. "Enjoy!" she called over her shoulder as she walked back to her car. My mother was stunned and more than a little confused. The neighbor turned just before getting into the driver's seat and called, "You eat it!"

Thus we were introduced to Dirt Dessert.

Dirt Dessert is a layered cookie crumb - pudding mixture that looks just like potting soil, but tastes rich and delicious. Two years ago, I used it to pull the best prank on my boys. Granted, they were four and five at the time. But, they were completely fooled.

First, I bought two brand new flower pots and a six-pack of pansies. Early in the day, I made the dirt dessert in one of the pots and put it in the refrigerator to chill. In the afternoon, I spent a little time with my pee-wee gardeners planting the pansies in the remaining pot. I made an excuse for doing it in the kitchen (which I never do) and leaving the potting soil and shovel on the counter.

At suppertime, my children always talk to their Daddy about what special things they've done during the day. I waited for the conversation to wind its way around to the pansy-planting. When it did, I quizzed the boys, asking what plants need to grow. They told me water, sunshine, and good soil. As they talked, I nonchalantly got them each a nice glass of water.

"Well, your father and I have been talking, and you should know we've decided that you're both a little on the small side. You got some sunshine today, so that was good. Why don't you drink your water? It's good for you."

While they were distracted, I got the flower pot with the dirt dessert from the fridge. With an inexpensive, unused garden shovel in my hand, I brought it to the table. "It's also time that you had a little better nutrition. Today, we're having some good soil for dessert."

I thought my four-year old was going to cry. "We have to eat -- dirt?? No. Way."

My six year old had a glimmer in his eye that he was on to me. "Let me see that," he demanded. But it looked exactly like potting soil. He turned his nose up and shook his head.

My four year old wanted to see it, too. I held it down close to him. He wiped the tears from his eyes and looked at me hopefully. "It... it smells like chocolate."

I smiled and offered, "Do you want Daddy to have the first taste?" My husband made a sham protest, which of course sent the boys into hoots and hollers and double-dares.

After I scooped it out into a dessert bowl for him and the boys saw for themselves that it was actually dessert, I couldn't serve it up fast enough.

We all had a laugh at the joke -- and a tasty end to April Fools supper.

Here's the recipe:

Dirt Dessert

1 8oz. package light cream cheese, softened
1 3oz. package chocolate pudding
2 cups cold milk
1 16oz. container of cool whip, thawed
20 oreo cookies

Whip the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Add the chocolate pudding and blend. Gradually beat in the cold milk. Mix for 5 minutes on medium. Fold in cool whip (for a richer taste, you can also use the same amount of fresh whipped cream by beating 1 1/2 cups heavy cream on high before folding it in.) Crush the oreos in a food processor until they resemble the look and texture of potting soil. In a clean, unused flower pot, layer pudding mixture and crumbs, ending with a thick layer of crumbs on the top.

If you like, you can embellish the dirt dessert with artificial flowers or candy bugs or gummy worms.

Have fun with it, and Happy April Fool's Day!

- Midwest Mom

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wait a Minute. It's Spring.

We have had a beautiful Spring here in Illinois -- that is, until this weekend. Saturday was thick with rain that transformed into spitting snow Sunday morning.

And yet, my crew was not put off. Like the robins who, despite the chill, continued to hop around our lawn, they hear the call of warmer weather.

How do I know?

Despite the snow and mud and wind, my crew bundled themselves into mittens, hats, and winter coats and ventured out. A game of backyard baseball was calling to them.

Yes. I said baseball.

We played for an hour or so in the wind and slushy downpour yesterday. There were whiffle-ball home runs aplenty and rosy cheeks to go around.

And when we were done hitting and pitching and fielding and running the "bases" -- in reality, a swing set, a bird feeder, and our rose arbor -- we retired to the kitchen where hot chocolate and whipped cream waited.

My daughter worried aloud as she cupped her hands around her favorite sunflower mug, "I thought Winter was over? Where did the springtime go?"

Before I could respond, her 6-year-old brother did it for me. "That why this season is named Spring. It jumps back and forth between the cold and the warm. Just wait 'til tomorrow. You'll see."

And now, here it is. The sun is shining, the frost has melted, and we're headed outdoors again.

How I love this time of year.

- Midwest Mom

Friday, March 27, 2009

Welcoming Kids to Your Kitchen

This week I've been running a daily cooking school for my boys. It has been a challenge to find recipes that work for a kindergartner and a 2nd-grader. But I've had some success so far.

But first, a little background.

When I was growing up in a family of eight (six kids, two parents) the prevailing philosophy was that you never say no to a child's offer of help. My mother was skilled at finding small jobs for us and gradually teaching us to make our way around the kitchen on our own. I remember standing on a chair learning to make spaghetti sauce from my grandmother. I shredded carrots for salad and cheese for homemade pizza on the box grater I still use. Ours was a collaborative kitchen.

My husband came from a totally different place. His mother and grandmother are fantastic cooks, but helpful children were encouraged to watch or 'keep company' rather than digging in -- that is, unless a family cooking project had been planned in advance. As the kids grew up, the girls were taught all the family recipes, but the boys had to learn it on their own.

Lucky for me, my husband is a persistent guy. Once he was out on his own, he developed a file of his favorite recipes from mom, hastily scribbled down on scraps of paper as he phoned home for instructions. We still have a file folder of those recipes, and use them.

Now that I'm raising my own brood, I would rather follow the 'all help is welcome' philosophy. Part of making that a reality is helping the children feel welcome and tuned-in to what is going on in the big tiled room with the appliances. I know that if I want my kids to be able to cook on their own, I have to teach them early.

It's a little work. But I know that it will be worth it in the end.

After all, I still follow Grandma Pasqualina's sauce recipe -- to the letter. Sometimes a good recipe becomes a part of who you are.

Back to cooking school.

I decided that this Spring break was the time to start teaching, and my boys have made something in the kitchen virtually every day.

When the week began, they brought a few skills to the table, so to speak. They have long been my 'mixer men', standing on a stool working the controls for my Kitchen-Aid. They had been shown the miracle of meringue and the magic of whipping cream. They know how to make and flip pancakes and have mastered the art of cheddar-cheese-fortified Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

But now it was time to expand the skill-set. Monday I offered to let them make and frost a cake by themselves. I handled the oven; they did the rest. They even wanted me to show them how to pipe a shell border onto their cake for decoration. I gave all three kids -- even my 3 year-old -- a turn.

On Tuesday, they wanted to make lunch. "Mexican Pizza" was the choice, so they shredded cheese and chopped vegetables, assembled the ingredients on tortillas, and I popped them under the broiler. It was a delicious lunch.

Wednesday was a busy day. Halfway through the day, though, my kindergartner asked what he could make all by himself. I let him choose a box of instant pudding. He read the instructions himself, measured out the milk, and beat it with a whisk until it magically turned to chocolate pudding. He kept it in the fridge as a secret to spring on the rest of the family. When it was served, he was so proud.

Last night we had an entirely kid-made supper. Kid-measured and kid-mixed meatloaf. Kid-peeled, kid-diced, kid-boiled, and kid-mashed potatoes. Kid-washed, kid-chopped, kid-assembled tossed salad. Sure, we didn't get to eat until 8:00... but it was delicious.

Tonight will be a challenge, though. It's a Friday during Lent, so we'll have to go meatless. Maybe Pasta Primavera is the way to go. Maybe I'll just let them make grilled cheese. Who knows?

The important thing is that they're learning and helping and having fun. And it's not taking a lot of effort to teach them. The key is that we started the week with the premise that they can do it.

Helping them feel welcome and encouraging that can-do attitude makes all the (delicious) difference!

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to Survive

Your Kids' Spring Break

Some time during the next month most American kids will enjoy the time-honored tradition of driving their parents crazy during Spring Break.

My kids are on Spring Break now, and because their school is on a balanced calendar, they're not just off for a week -- they're off for three. So, I'm called-upon to be part housemaid, part cruise director for a little while.

That means it's time to share survival strategies. Try these ideas to inject a little fun into your time together AND keep your sanity with a houseful:

Keep a morning schedule -- Have the kids do their grooming just like a school day. Set good habits early-on and they will be easy to keep later on in the break. (That way, you don't fight them to get out of their pajamas at 10:00 in the morning!)

Get Outdoors -- It's not 40 below anymore. Hooray! As long as there is no thunder and lightning, we are outdoors a good bit every day. Yesterday we walked 2 miles round trip to the grocery store. It was a windy adventure. We love to play in the yard and take advantage of empty neighborhood schools -- they have great playgrounds, you know!

Work in some Quiet -- Take time for yourself each day to write, read, workout, whatever. And get your kids to slow down too. We have a half-hour of reading after lunch when my youngest is headed to sleep for her nap. It restores our sanity and refreshes the soul a bit.

Try some Spring cleaning-- There's nothing like a little coin to motivate my crew to help. We have a list of Spring cleaning jobs that need to be done. A little time every few days does the trick to bang out the list. My guys have also asked to help with daily chores like washing dishes and -gasp- laundry. How lucky am I? (Hint: negotiate a price beforehand if you pay your children for chores.)

Hold Cooking Class -- On the first day of Spring break, I let my boys bake a cake from scratch. They were so proud of themselves. Bring your kids in on the supper prep and teach them to do it for themselves. We've made a list of foods my boys want to learn to cook and I'm teaching them one by one. It may take some time now, but I keep telling myself there will be a day when I'll sit back and let them run the show.

Get Creative -- Many schools have cut out art class because of funding and testing issues. It's amazing what a blank roll of newsprint and some tempera paint will bring out in your child. Make time for creative expression by providing crayons, paper, scissors, clay, and space to use them. Your child might amaze you.

Find Strength in Numbers - You're not the only parent who is up to their eyeballs in children over Spring Break. Call friends and arrange an exchange of play dates. Or meet friends at the playground. Moms can dish while the kids have a ball.

Have an Adventure Every day -- I ask my kids at breakfast what adventure they would like to have today. They have come up with some great ideas -- playing tennis, going to the children's museum, planting seeds in the garden, going for a hike. Putting your kids in control a little bit can be lots of fun for all of you.

Good luck, and enjoy your "vacation"... I'll do likewise.

Anybody want to meet at the playground?

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For the Love of Newsprint

I have, until now, observed the demise of America's local newspapers from a distance. Then came yesterday's announcement of the closure of the Ann Arbor News.

My heart filled with a sense of loss and disbelief -- like I had just lost a friend. I thought, they're moving to an online version of the News? What?!?

The Ann Arbor News was the newspaper of my young, independent womanhood.

I and my twenty-something friends hailed the paper's wisdom when we found in its pages a kernel of truth. We joyfully derided it as a rag when we disagreed, too. We read its pages in State Street coffee shops and Main Street bars. We discussed it as we waited for gourmet soup at LeDog on our lunchbreak. We were thankful someone had left a copy in the doctor's waiting room or outside the office of that Professor everyone knows is perpetually-late.

I spied its headlines through the glass of an Ann Arbor News paper box as I waited for the bus, always marveling at the fact that a few jingling quarters could purchase access to an entire armload of papers, and yet people took only one.

The honor system. Another creature nearing extinction.

And now I sit at my breakfast table with my grapefruit and coffee, the thirty-something edition of me digesting the news from the Champaign-Urbana paper, The News-Gazette. Yet, I'm thinking about my old home, my old friends, my old newspaper, and I'm missing them.

The feeling feels vaguely familiar.

I recall the demise of The Washington Star when I was a girl. It was a good paper that couldn't survive a crowded marketplace. The Post had risen to pre-eminence after the Watergate scandal, and the Star just couldn't keep its doors open. At least, that's how I remember it. I was ten.

My Dad still has his delivery box from the Star; he loved that paper. Even a year afterward, as he read his Washington Post, he would mutter about cheap paper and bad ink -- it gets all over your hands, he would complain. Then he would stand at the kitchen sink to wash them before heading to work in his tie and starched shirt, still muttering. I would gleefully gulp down the last sugary remnants of the cold coffee he had generously poured into my empty juice glass, watching him but never fully understanding the depth of his resentment at the sham replacement of his beloved Star, this upstart, this Post.

Now I get it. Online Version My Eye.

My children have said to me, once I'm big I'll read the paper, too, just like you and Dad. They've already started just like I did -- reading the comics and working the word-find. I imagine the boys will move to the sports page next, reading eagerly about local teams, feeling the paper between their fingers, the delicacy of it, marveling at the full color photos.

(Although I must admit, I felt like USAToday, the first paper I ever saw with color-coded sections and photos, had to be overcompensating for poor writing -- I mean, how could a paper presume to cover the whole country at once? And color? Lordy. Color back then was for women's magazines, not for the news.)

Goodness, I sound like a dinosaur, don't I?

Maybe so.

Maybe it pains me to see that the classic first job of generations of American boys -- delivering the news -- is disappearing. The paper in my town, the Danville Commercial-News, went from three sections to two not long ago. But it was their decision to start delivering the paper through the US Postal Service that burnt my bacon. They cut out the lovely family that delivered our paper -- one kid running down each side of the street while Mom slowly drove a Suburban filled with newspapers -- like they were nothing.

They were human beings delivering our paper with a smile. I loved that connection.

My husband's father's first job was to deliver the paper in the neighborhoods off Logan Street. He rode his bike to deliver the paper, every day, rain or shine.

My dad broke his pinky finger delivering papers. He hit it on his red flyer wagon, filled with newspapers he was delivering in Pittsburgh, PA. His friend's mom iced it for him, and he finished his route. He is still freakishly double-jointed in his pinky from that day.

How many other Americans have similar stories, similar memories?

What will replace the aesthetic of the American local newspaper? A few keystrokes? And how will our understanding of our cities and towns, state and federal government, business, education diminish because there are no longer reporters spending their days tracking down the story, doing the research, writing the copy to bring us the information we need?

What about the people who don't have a computer?

Are the poor or the elderly less entitled to know The News?

Perhaps the same thing will happen now that happened when The Washington Star closed up shop -- other newspapers could step in to fill the void. Let's hope so.

If not, America's breakfast tables and coffee shops just won't be the same. There will be no rustle, no folding and re-folding, no losing yourself in a story until you realize the time. And there will be no learning something unexpectedly vital that a local reporter took the time and care to teach you.

What a loss that would be.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Blessing of Fertile Ground

Autumn arrives in early morning,
but spring at the close of a winter day.
~Elizabeth Bowen

Spring is finally here, thank goodness. For some reason, this Winter seemed to last an eternity. But the weekend was and it seems like the whole next week will be comprised of perfect Spring days.

It makes a gardener feel joyful inside.

Over the weekend, I itched to get out in the sunshine. I will admit, the inside chores tore at the edges of my patience. Why was I washing dishes when I could be out there? At the first available moment, I called to the kids to put on their shoes and head out.

They whooped like a pack of wild Indians in a 1950's Western.

I guess I wasn't alone, noticing the sunbeam slanting through our yellow kitchen had a strength that hinted of warmth.

I spent Saturday clearing brush and fallen leaves from every corner of the garden. It was amazing to see the sheer number of plants ready to burst from the ground. Even the later Spring bulbs like hyacinth and tulips are a good three inches up. Our clematis has to many buds to count.

I can't wait for Easter pictures.

When I was finished, the compost bin was piled higher than I could reach and my husband was unwrapping our roses. I turned to the wildflower garden.

Now, I know you're not supposed to "weed" a wildflower garden. I don't weed, but I do prepare it for the growing season by removing thick mats of grass and creeping groundcover to make room for the abundant seed left there at the close of last year. I always add a little new seed -- a few annuals to brighten up the garden. This year, I mixed compost and peat and hard raked it in to the seedy top layer of soil. As I worked on Sunday, I noticed that there were the tiniest seedlings everywhere. It was as though they suddenly burst from their shells overnight.

Once the wildflower garden was ready and, with the help of three very dirty but enthusiastic children, we had transplanted our brown-eyed Susans to make a border at the back of the yard, I turned to the vegetable garden. Another, thicker layer of compost and peat went down. My husband and I turned it into the soil with spades to help lighten the brittle texture of the ground there. It's something we do every year. Slowly but surely the soil texture is improving.

I know we could build raised beds and be in total control of the soil characteristics. But there is something wonderful about using what God has given us, working with it, getting it under our nails and coaxing it to bear fruit that I find satisfying.

It's the one reason I would have a hard time leaving the Midwest -- fertile ground. We can grow anything here, and do.

I try not to take it for granted.

In the Springtime, I savor the sight and smell of freshly turned fields, the first mist of tiniest green in perfectly straight rows, the trees that grow tall because they are able to drink deeply and soak in the perfect balance of rain and sun.

There is no place in the world, I think, where life can be so simple and so fruitful at the same time. When the world is growing and you've worked hard to help it along, being thankful for it comes naturally - the seed of gratitude banked against the cold for so long showing its promise, seemingly overnight.

Who knew my soul needed to work the earth so desperately?

- Midwest Mom

Friday, March 20, 2009

JumpStart World Review & Giveaway

JumpStart World is quite possibly the best learning software my family has ever used. It is a fantastic resource for parents like me, who supplement what our children are learning in school, and it is ideal for homeschooling parents looking for innovative ways to teach basic skills.

Readers of Midwest Moms know that I don't usually review products here. But I will share something that our family has found to be really, truly spectacular. And I have to tell you, Jump Start is the real deal.

I'll explain.

In our house, there is always a tug-of-war between my desire to use the computer for learning and my kids' desire to use it for pure, unadulterated fun. We negotiate. They protest. I cajole. I had accepted the dance around the learning/fun issue as a necessary part of high-tech life.

Then, in February, I was asked to beta-test the JumpStart website -- to really put it through its paces. We received software in the mail as well -- JumpStart 3D Virtual World: Quest for the Color Meister (2nd Grade level). Fortunately for me, I had a team of young minds (my sons) to help with the work.

They enjoyed every minute of it.

Here's what we found:

JumpStart World Online and JumpStart 2nd Grade are three-dimensional virtual play spaces for children. When kids log on, they can create an avatar, called a "Jumpee", to move around and play the games. Their Jumpee can run, dance, and best of all super-jump through JumpStart land.

There are discreet age-appropriate activity areas for children of all ages. StoryLand has activities for preschoolers; AdventureLand is for kids ages 4-8. There are adventures you can download to your home computer from the website and several levels of software available on CD.

The host of JumpStart World is a dog named Frankie. He gives instructions for players to complete tasks as they play. Sometimes they have to find something by moving their character around. Sometimes Frankie asks them to go into a Learning Center and play a learning game. The games teach skills of all kinds, from the most basic counting and alphabet and songs to telling time, working with money, rhyming, consonant and vowel sounds, addition, subtraction, sorting and pattern-recognition, and games that work on keyboarding and mouse-skills. The skill games are always part of the adventure, most often fitting the theme of the game.

When a child completes a learning game, he or she earns coins or gems that can be used in other parts of the game to buy the supplies needed to complete a task. The jobs Frankie and other characters give players are designed to teach lessons about being helpful, trying new things, or other character-building traits. Moving through the game brings a child closer to achieving the stated goal of the game -- JumpStart 1st grade teaches leadership, in the second grade program, children help to solve a mystery.

The games and the tasks are engaging and fun -- my boys were never bored and consistently challenged by both JumpStart World Online and the JumpStart software we used at home.

Now for my perspective.

Believe it or not, the JumpStart software offers a lot for parents. I loved that JumpStart gave me:

  • Progress reports that outline skills my child has mastered while playing JumpStart.
  • Announcements of new features or play zones for my children to explore the next time they play.
  • An online "Fun for Parents" section that includes like the JumpStart Times (parenting articles and crafts), Parent Discussion Boards, and my favorite feature, the Parent Tips section filled with age-based math and reading activity ideas for me to do at home with my child.

There were so many things to like about this software, it's hard to list them all.

There were a few things we noticed, though, that are worth mentioning.

The 3D graphics require a computer that has a high-speed Internet connection and adequate memory. When using the online version of JumpStart, there are times when your child will have to wait for a game or activity to load. After using the software for a while, I found my guys didn't mind the wait so much, but at first I will admit they were frustrated. (Have I mentioned they also can be frustrated waiting for the toaster to pop? So keep it in perspective.) But be prepared, at first, to be patient.

Also, there are portions of the site that are only available with paid membership. If you want your child to advance past the games provided on the CD or the introductory games at JumpStart World Online, there is a cost of $7.99/month. That covers updated learning games, downloads and new "quests" for up to 3 children. In my opinion, the variety and quality of the activities can be worth the investment, which is much less expensive than shopping for new software. But, that decision is up to you -- if your child is happy with the free games offered, he or she can use that portion of the website indefinitely.

And now for the Giveaway:

I have spoken with the people at JumpStart and they have agreed to offer one of my readers a 3-month Free Membership to JumpStart.com . That means your child can play as many new games as they want and explore the entire World of JumpStart. (Imagine an entire summer of go-to learning activities your child will love to play... )

Who wouldn't love that??

If you'd like to give JumpStart a try for your preschooler, homeschooler, or elementary school student, tell me about it in the comment section!

I will draw a winner at random and announce it in 2 weeks, on April 3, 2009.

Be sure to leave me a way to contact you, in case you win!

I really hope you try and enjoy this terrific software. Good Luck!
(and be sure to leave a comment!)

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Web Safety for Kids

My kids have learned a lot from Mommy's blogging.

They have learned that:

1. People can choose whatever name they like when they are on the computer. No one called me "Midwest Mom" before I started blogging.

2. Every time you click on something, you're telling the computer that you want to "go somewhere" on the web. They've learned to be careful so they don't wind up someplace they never wanted to be.

3. All websites have a person behind the scenes -- the person who types in the blog entry, creates the graphics, programs the sound. Because of #1, they understand that the person behind the site is someone they don't know. Even Mommy's site has some unknown people -- advertisers and google techies -- who can read what gets typed in.

Learning these things from Mommy's blog has made it easier for my kids to understand the basics of how to keep themselves safe when they're on the computer -- at school or at home.

We have a few basic rules:

Kids shouldn't share their real names on the Internet. I tell mine to create a fun character name if they ever have to login or register at a site. And they are never to type in any information without my approval.

Kids shouldn't "chat" about their home, their town, their school, or their friends. They should not share their age. No legitimate website for kids is going to ask this information, so I've taught mine to be suspicious. (To remember that all sites have people behind the scenes, and they don't know who those people are.)

Kids and Parents should work together to make a list of approved websites. We keep ours in a special file in our "Favorites" tab. I give my children choices, but only from the list that I've set up in advance.

Kids should not click on advertisements. I've shown my children what ads are on the web and they know that you can click something and lose what you've been working on. They know they are not to click willy-nilly. And if a dialog box ever comes up, Call Mom! I want to be sure to keep my computer safe from unwanted downloads. My kids know that unwanted junk ruins the computer for all of us.

There are some great websites out there for kids -- sites that we approve of and use. If you're just getting started with your child on the computer, give these a try:

PBS Kids
ABC ya!
Cool Math 4 Kids
Jump Start World

I'll be writing more about Jump Start tomorrow (and psst! I'll be having my first giveaway!)

So, stay tuned and stay safe on the computer!

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We Don't Grow Couch Potatoes

Time for a true confession: we are TV minimalists.

Part of our parenting is to set limits on "screen time" for both television and the computer. We don't have a Wii or other video game systems, either. We've made that as a conscious choice, not because we think those things are evil or anything... just because we recognize that electronics can sometimes be time-suckers. If you're not careful, it can be easy to lose yourself in a game for longer than you want.

(My husband, for instance, went over to his brother's house last night to pick something up "real quick" and came back 45 minutes later. "Sorry," he admitted, "I got drawn into a game of Lego StarWars." I laughed.)

Video games have a way of bringing out the geeky teenager in a man.

But, I digress. We do set limits on television in our home, and we only let our children watch programs that we approve. There is some great, fun programming out there for kids. There is also some awful stuff masquerading as children's programming. We find it best to make our best choices and pass them along to our kids.

Some choices are no-brainers.

The Cartoon Network is out.

PBS Kids is in.
(My daughter actually will open our DVD cupboard and ask for a video by saying, "Can I watch some PBS kids?")

On PBS, our favorites are DragonTales, Word World, Arthur, CyberChase, and Design Squad. On the weekends, the kids might choose Thomas & Friends (an old favorite) or Anamalia (a new favorite.) It makes me chuckle to think that my boys also like Wishbone, a program that was on when I was growing up. (No, I would never share that... it would be instant poison for poor Wishbone.)

I love programs that have a language-component. So, I will let the kids watch Dora the Explorer and Go! Diego, Go! or Kai-Lin on Nickelodeon. We also love the music and imagination of The Backyardigans and WonderPets. They are fun programs that allow my children to stay in tough with their silly streak (without constantly relying on potty humor for a laugh a la CN.)

What I find as I parent is that my husband and I have different standards about television programs. I like more 'gentle' programs that teach a lesson. He's more, well, edgy -- especially with what he will let the boys watch. I remember him excitedly saying one rainy Saturday that there was a Loony Tunes marathon on. Thus, my children were introduced to cartoon characters with dynamite and animals hitting each other with 2x4s.

"Dad sure likes fun stuff!" my son observed, approvingly. Yep, he sure does. Thank goodness for Daddy, I thought. I mean, a childhood without Loony Tunes, is hardly American, right?

Because we aren't crazy about advertisements, we rely a lot on DVDs. (My daughter frequently gets angry about ads, because she wants her program back. I feel her pain.) Our video collection includes Franklin videos, Blues Clues, Dora, Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, and the Nick Jr. Favorites videos with one episode each of 4 or 5 different series. We also have Disney movies galore -- great for rainy afternoons!

Our collection is decidedly on the preschooler side of the age spectrum. I don't mind, because as my guys have gotten older, they have been less interested in watching a 30 minute video and more excited about having a Friday night Movie Night.

Ours usually look like this.

We do have a ball, I must admit.

But, I like to avoid this as much as possible.

(She's zoned out in front of Backyardigans.)

I take the fetal position as a sign that TV time needs to come to an end. Life is too precious to let it slip by while you're inside watching television. Today, the weather will get up to 70 degrees where we live, so we've got some serious outside playtime ahead!

Our TV-watching principles can be summed up like this:

~ Set Time Limits for Viewing

~ Make Choices that Reflect Your Parenting

~ Offer a Variety of Programs

~ Avoid Advertising when Possible, and

~ Don't let TV get in the way of Living LIFE!

Good luck making your own choices. The role television plays in your family life is up to you.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kids & Media: Getting Started

As a 21st century mom, one of my biggest challenges has been teaching my children about media and technology. I know I am not the only Mom who struggles to navigate the sea of information out there. Sometimes it seems like our children are bombarded by media in too many aspects of their lives, from too early an age.

I remember being horrified that friends would sit their infants in front of Baby Einstein for "stimulation".

I thought, "Stimulation?!? Isn't that what playing with the baby is supposed to do?"

Now that my youngest is three and my oldest approaches 8 years old, I have had to make hard choices about everything from what kind of television they can watch, how much TV is healthy, how old is "old enough" to start using the computer, and how to choose software and internet sites for my kids that are both fun and safe.

For us, the "ground rules" are:

1. Parents are the decision-makers in our home, so we have a very low tolerance for child-based marketing that presumes to sell something to our children. We will almost always opt for products or programs that do not have an advertising component.

2. Whatever my children view or play on the computer must have some learning value. It should provide something that 'real life' does not. In my opinion, diversion or entertainment is not enough to justify spending "screen time". So, with few exceptions, we don't engage in 'virtual' activities, like gardening or pet care, that would be better learned in a real setting.

3. I supervise what my children watch and what they play on the computer. I do not expect a 6 year old to have the judgment to know what is best; that is my job.

4. I never use the TV or the computer to be my babysitter. We set limits on the amount of time a child is allowed to be in front of a screen (30 minutes a day, tops.) Screen time is only allowed after other obligations around the house (homework or chores) are met, and each child must make choices about how he or she will spend the allotment.

5. We don't tolerate media that reinforces bad behavior. That means we don't watch violent movies or play violent games. Ditto with foul language (or, honestly, even 'edgy' language.) I consider it my duty to protect my children, so I don't expose them to the rough edges of the world. They'll get enough of that stuff just by living -- we don't need to beam it into our home.

As my guidelines probably telegraph loud and clear, I tend to be fairly conservative in what I allow. As the week goes on, I hope to share more about television, learning software, and the internet, including tips and safe site recommendations.

But, for now, what are your starting principles for your children and media? What are your ground rules?

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Balancing Act

Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself.
~ Jessye Norman

As a mother, I have always felt pulled and tugged at by the myth of what our lives should be, what my own life should be, and what exists in reality. I was a professional before I became a mother, and I decided early-on that I would not try to balance the life of a working professional woman and the responsibilities of motherhood.

I have never believed a woman could truly "have it all".

I believe that life is all about compromise and negotiation. I believed and still believe that having one foot in the professional world and one foot in the home would make me only half as good at either.

So, I made the choice to stay home.

But something in me is changing, waking up perhaps. Maybe it's because my youngest will be going to school soon. Maybe the act of writing our experience daily, weekly, monthly for the last ten months is the reason. Who knows? But I'm starting to think about old dreams long pushed to the back of the bottom drawer of my consciousness.

I'm starting to reconsider law school. I'm starting to re-hash my PhD research. My quieter moments are filling themselves up with a tiny voice calling to me.

Be more.

It's time to be more.

If I'm honest with myself in those moments of wondering, I will come to the same conclusion I always have -- law school is too expensive. My PhD required for me to live and work in Russia, where I wasn't at all happy. I was surrounded by women who had made the conscious choice to let strangers raise their children so that they could pursue their professional dreams.

And yet, if I'm so busy being honest, I have to admit that I miss those dreams. I wonder what would have happened if I had fulfilled them.

There is a part of me (would I admit this to my children?) that still puts the words "just a" in front of the word Mom.

It's hard to admit, but there it is.

Even though I believe that my children are a gift and no other person in the world could do what I am doing to raise them, my mind aches for more challenging work and my spirit aches for acknowledgment.

But I don't like to wallow, and introspection only gets a person so far. Action requires risk, but if I don't take a chance now, I'll never know what the future may hold for me.

I feel like I'm at the jumping-off place and I need to re-start the portion of my life that was unquestioningly put on hold. I'm just not sure how to start.

But I do need to start.

- Midwest Mom

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Welcoming Bees to your Home Garden

I have come to love honeybees. My vegetable garden relies on them and other pollinators to be its most productive.

Last year, there was a good bit in the news about commercial bee colonies dwindling down to nothing. It was a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. As a home gardener living in a Midwestern small town, I was concerned. Farmers rely on pollinators, just like I do. As I found out on The Great Sunflower Project website, bees are responsible for every third bite of food in this country. (And as my boys will remind me, honey tastes awesome on home-made biscuits.)

That's why we've done a few things here on the homestead to help honeybees and pollinators of all kinds to get a leg up.

First, we have eliminated all pesticide use. That means, we do not use lawn fertilizer with grub control or spray insecticide wash on our roses. There has been no spraying the apple tree. I will honestly say that there are plusses to a pesticide-free approach -- I don't have to worry about dangerous chemicals and my children's health. I also don't have to worry that a chemical is blindly damaging the beneficial insects in the garden because it can't tell them from the pests. The only drawback I've encountered is that I have to be more vigilant about identifying pest problems. Honestly, though, it hasn't been too difficult. (I hope to write more this growing season about organic pest control.)

Second, we no longer use broad-leaf weed killer. One of the potential reasons researchers have found for bee deaths is that they may be suffering from poor nutrition -- they may actually be starving. One of the most prolific pollen and nectar sources we can offer bees is the clover that grows on lawns and roadsides. So, instead of killing it with weed & feed, let it grow. There is something wonderful about breathing in the sweet scent of clover and watching the bees work in the sunshine. How did we get to the point as human beings that we value a single-species grass-only lawn over the fragrant softness of a lawn with clover in it? To me, that seems out of balance.

Third, we have created a wildflower garden. Every state has native plants that thrive on the exact weather conditions that Mother Nature provides. They like the soil. They like the water level. They like the sunshine. Why not devote a border area of your yard to them? Our wildflower garden spans the entire back of our yard. We live in town, so it measures about 20 ft by 60 ft. We rake it clear in the Spring and seed it with a Midwest seed mix from American Meadows. Now that it's a few years old, only annual seed is requred. There are plenty of perennials that last from year-to-year.

Our Spring holds brilliant oranges and purples from Siberian Wallflower (above) and Dame's Rocket. Our Summer is blessed by prairie coneflower and evening primrose, zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers and calendula. And our wildflower border continues blooming all the way into the Autumn. It is home to birds and butterflies, some of which we have only seen since we put it in. Last year, we had the joy of watching three pair of goldfinches feeding there daily. The border improves our drainage and soil quality, too.

This year, though, we're planning to do even more. Our family is participating in The Great Sunflower Project's nationwide bee survey. Yours can too. It's super-easy.

Here's how it works:

Home gardeners from all over the country login to Great Sunflower Project and register their home garden. I had to answer some questions about how large my garden was, what kind of sun and water it gets, and whether I live in an urban or rural area.

The Great Sunflower Project will send us free seeds to plant our own Lemon Queen Sunflowers. We promise to care for the plants, and once they bloom, to time how long it takes for 5 bees to come to the sunflower.

Participants will supply information to help complete as large a bee survey as can be gathered.

I am excited to try it with my children. We will plant and care for our sunflowers together, and then I will let them regularly measure the bee population and take pictures to send in. The program is entirely free, and the Great Sunflower Project website has terrific information on bees of all kinds.

What a great way to teach your children about the ways that nature and science can go together. Participating in the Great Sunflower Project would be a great idea for Girl or Boy Scouts or homeschoolers, too.

I hope you'll give it a try!

- Midwest Mom

Monday, March 9, 2009

Midwest Gardening:

Spring Starter Chores

We had a wonderful Spring weekend here in the Midwest.

It was typical -- a little sun, some gentle rain, and by the end of the weekend, 50 mph winds with tornadoes and power outages.

Ahh, the Midwest! Isn't it grand?

This was the weekend when my garden clean-up chores began. It was muddy and wonderful to get out with my spade to start moving perennials. This was the weekend when garden plans started to become garden reality. But, there is a lot to do! It was hard not to feel daunted by the sheer volume of work.

After a long Winter, the sun and warm temperatures made the work worth it. (Maybe I'm part plant.)

My spring clean-up chores were few, but significant. I have decided to devote our entire side garden to vegetables this year. I will be setting aside some space on the south slope of our yard for vegetables as well. To make the most of both planting zones, I will build raised beds this week.

But first, I had to get started moving perennials. I started digging up Brown-eyed Susans and peppermint from the herb garden. I moved them back to the sunny edge of our wildflower garden. All it will take is a few plugs of each to make a beautiful border back there.

When moving vigorous perennials, try to cut them from their bed with a large spade. Lift the entire plant with at least 5 inches of accompanying soil. Keeping the roots intact will reduce stress on the plant and increase the chances of survival in its new location. Dig a deeper hole than you need, and backfill it loosely with soil. I usually put water into the hole before inserting the plug of rooted perennials into the moist soil. Try to keep the level of soil even with the earth around it and press firmly to ensure good contact between the roots and the soil. Water again thoroughly.

Another chore I started to tackle this weekend was moving the compost pile. We use a 2-bay compost system, where we fill one bay each year. In the Spring, I move material that is not completely broken down from the full bay to the empty bay. It is a long process. But my philosophy of Spring chores is Slow and Steady Wins the Race. If the Earth can take it's time getting ready for growing, so can I.

I will work on the compost over the course of the next month. I combine moving it over with other clean-up jobs, so that I am layering older material with newer. We mulch our beds with leaves in the Fall. When the time comes to remove that mulch (not yet) each bed will provide a nicely broken-down layer for the new compost bay. If you're moving the compost at your house, be sure to make the outside edge of each layer a little thicker than the middle. A compost pile that is lower in the center than the outside funnels rain into the pile and breaks down faster. If you build your pile like a haystack, the rain will sheet off and the center of the pile will remain dry.

With steady work over the next few weeks, the compost will be completely moved and the lowest layer of soil, rich in nutrients, will be ready to work into my vegetable garden. There is no better fertilizer than fresh compost. It is my garden's "secret ingredient".

The final "chore" of the weekend was to complete my seed purchase with Johnny's Selected Seeds. I cannot say how clearly superior I find the seeds from Johnny's as compared to hardware store packeted seed. Their varieties are specifically designed for disease-resistance and many are tailored for Northern growers. They also have a wide variety of organic seed. They have a place on their website for gardeners to make a 'garden wish-list'. I love that I can shop for seed, choose a few varieties, and save them until I'm ready to buy. This weekend, I finalized my list. As soon as my seeds arrive, I'll post directions for home seed-starting.

As expected, our lovely Midwest Spring weekend is transforming into a chilly week. Rain today and tomorrow will help those perennials I moved to take root. But our trusty weather channel tells me that night-time lows will be well below freezing after Wednesday, so the layer of protective mulch I have on the flower beds must stay in place for now -- even if the daffodils and day-lilies are poking through the leaves to find the sunlight.

I'd love to hear about your gardens. Are you going to try to plant more vegetables this year? What chores are your biggest challenges of the Spring?

- Midwest Mom

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Super Quick Turbo-Cleaning Tips

~Your mother-in-law just called. She's "dropping in" for tea in a half hour.

~Your son announces that he's invited a friend for dinner. Tonight.

~Your husband calls. The guys are coming by for a beer after work.

~You just got home from a rough day at the office. The calendar tells you that book club is tonight -- and it's at your house!

You look around you and see an ocean of clutter.

You ask yourself, Why don't people just put things away?

Don't panic. We've all been there.

It's the problem with actually having human beings living in your house. I mean, I would challenge any home decorating magazine to photograph that lovely living room on the cover after my children had been set loose in it for 15 minutes. I bet their readers would be surprised at the transformation. Better yet, we could televise the metamorphosis as a new reality show called "School-Kid Room Makeover: Clutter Edition".

But the clock is ticking!
You've got to get this place cleaned up!

Tip #1: Vacuum and dust at the same time. A quick vacuuming job does wonders, but why stop at floors? Slap on an attachment to quick clean ceiling fan blades or dust the mantle. (Take care not to suck up that photo of Great Aunt Winifred or the glazed clay dinosaur your husband made in kindergarten!)

Tip #2: Choose a gathering place for Clutter. As you vacuum each room, choose a table that you can throw "loose items" onto. In our house, that usually means the Han Solo Ice Planet Hoth Action Figure that was defending the dining room table, one pink sock that had been sticking out from under the couch (that's where it was!), and yesterday's mail, newspaper, and 17 fliers from school that were scattered around the kitchen. Choose a central location as you clean and just pile up that clutter!

Tip #3: Use Laundry baskets for more than Laundry. Once the floors are picked up and the clutter is centralized, I make a run from room to room with a laundry basket. Clutter goes in and either A) gets put in its place when I get to the next room, or B) holy mother of heaven they're going to be here in 2 minutes! ...so into the closet goes the clutter basket. It's true. I do it. (Don't you dare check my closets next time you're over unexpectedly!) Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Tip #4: Give hard surfaces a Lick and a Promise. Ever heard of Clorox wipes? Love 'em. They are made for situations like this. A greener alternative is to have a damp cloth, a dry cloth, and a bottle of eco-friendly cleaner ready under your sink. Take a quick run through each room looking for jelly fingerprints, dirty light switches, face-prints on the windows, or toothpaste spit onto the bathroom mirror. Ew. Wipe down counters, door knobs, faucet handles, and anywhere else that grime rears its ugly "this is our house and we live in it" head. (Also, ever since Mr. Clean graced the world with his handy Magic Eraser, my love for him as increased tenfold.) You can always do a better clean-up job later when you have time. For now, a quick clean is enough.

Tip #5: Don't just use your eyes -- use your sniffer. Have you been cooking cabbage today? Open the window! Does your garbage can smell like a stink bomb? Take that bag out to the garage. (Or if you don't think your guests will need to use it, take the whole can out there!) And, have mercy on us all! Hubby's running shoes must be moved from the front hallway!

Tip #6: Use products that do more than one thing. Next time you're shopping, look for products that can do more than one thing. Swiffer Wet can clean a dusty floor and deodorize a room. Putting a dryer sheet in your vacuum bag can do the same thing. Some Green cleaners can be diluted to different concentrations to fit a variety of cleaning tasks. There is nothing wrong with saving labor -- especially when you're tight on time!

And finally...

Tip #7: Marshal the troops! When time is tight, everyone in the house should be helping to get things ship-shape. Ask your sons to clean up their toys and books from the clutter depot. Ask your spouse to put dishes in the dishwasher. Ask your daughter to assemble some snacks and drinks for your guests. And don't forget to schedule in 2 minutes for yourself when all the work is done, to change into a shirt with no spit-up and brush your hair. (If you have time, a glass of wine wouldn't hurt, either!)

Take a deep breath... Whew! You're done.

You can slap on a welcoming smile and answer that door.

- Midwest Mom

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Little, Nameless, Unremembered Acts

Life can surprise you with truth every so often.
Today Wordsworth speaks to me.

Lines Written A Few Miles above Tintern Abbey

Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a sweet inland murmur. Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
Which on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The river is not affected by the tides a few miles above Tintern.

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Among the woods and copses lose themselves,
Nor, with their green and simple hue, disturb
The wild green landscape. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms
Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,
With some uncertain notice, as might seem,
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some hermit's cave, where by his fire
The hermit sits alone.
Though absent long,
These forms of beauty have not been to me,

As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration: -- feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lighten'd -- that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,

Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things. If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,
In darkness, and amid the many shapes
Of joyless day-lights; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the wood
How often has my spirit turned to thee!

And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led; more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by,)
To me was all in all. -- I cannot paint

What then I was, The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite: a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrowed from the eye. -- That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur: other gifts
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Not harsh or grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
This line has a close resemblance to an admirable line of Young,
the exact expression of which I cannot recollect.

And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

Nor, perchance,
If I were not thus taught, Should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me, here, upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend, and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray

The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our chearful faith that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee: and in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place

For all sweet sounds and harmonies; Oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance,
If I should be, where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence, wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; And that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came,
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love, oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Now wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake.

~William Wordsworth

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nobody's Perfect:

Teaching Kids about Mistakes

My husband is a perfectionist. He admits it, usually with an old-dog-new-tricks shrug. In his line of work, perfectionism serves him well. In other parts of his life, though, it can be tough to be so exacting. Life isn't an exact science.

Our oldest son has inherited this personality trait. He is driven and persistent. He is also fierce and unrelenting at times when he wants things to be done a certain way. My mother has told me that he is "Type A".

All I know is that he puts a tremendous amount of pressure on himself and has an amazing inner drive. But his constant pushing for perfection can sometimes be a problem.

I remember getting a phone call from his teacher back when he was in first grade. The class had been playing a math game, and my son had gotten a problem wrong and was out of the game. He fumed. Later on, he got a paper back that had been corrected. He had left the punctuation off of a sentence. He simmered. Finally, when he raised his hand to answer a question, he barked the answer at the teacher. She called him on it, and he boiled over. He didn't like mistakes. Their existence rocked his foundations.

I'm glad she called me about it. What happened at school gave our family a way to talk about making mistakes and use them as a chance to learn. That small episode turned out to be an opportunity for growth.

My husband and I have tried a few strategies that have really worked.

Talk and teach openly about making mistakes. Although we have always encouraged our children with positive reinforcement, especially when they had difficulty, we realized that we never really used the word mistake with our children. We treated small struggles individually and rarely generalized to teach the concept: we are human beings and all human beings make mistakes.

Admit our own mistakes. My parents were the unquestioned authority in my family growing up. But to teach our children about mistake-making, my husband and I have had to come down from our parental pedestal at times. We decided to try and admit our mistakes as they happen -- from humbly admitting that we forgot an appointment to bravely apologizing to one of the children when we have wronged them. [Trust me, the apology part is harder than it sounds. A true apology includes an honest effort to make amends. We decided that modeling was the best way to teach the art of the apology. Especially tough on proud Mama, I tell you.]

Forgiveness and Love go Hand-in-Hand. As a family, we believe that mistakes don't erase the love we feel for each other. So, when we have an argument, we make a point of airing our feelings and making friends again before we move on. Sometimes that takes time, but not as much as you might imagine. When my son is having a hard time forgiving himself, I reinforce that no part of my love hinges on him being perfect. I love him even with his flaws, not in spite of them. That doesn't mean I have no expectations for his behavior or that a mistake can no longer be called out. But it does mean that my son will always be my son. Sometimes he just needs to hear that.

Emphasize our humanity. There are no perfect people. When my son first started resisting the idea that any mistakes were ever acceptable, we asked him to come up with the name of even one person who never made a mistake. He said Jesus. Okay, he had us there. But in trying to give us the "right" answer, he actually opened up a great way for us to approach the concept of our common humanity. We talked about our faith in a different way than we had before. It was a great learning opportunity -- for him and for us as parents. As time has gone on, we have talked about other special people -- scientists, sports figures, national heroes. All one needs to do is open a book to find out that Einstein failed out of school or that Babe Ruth had a problem with his temper, or that Abraham Lincoln got in trouble for laziness because he read instead of doing his chores. Seeing "great" people as human has helped.

Mistakes are Opportunities to Learn. If we think about failure as an opportunity to build a skill or solve a problem creatively, mistakes become easier to handle. Sometimes in life, we make "silly" mistakes -- like when I hurry and put my keys in the fridge and the cream cheese in my purse, or when my son focuses on getting a math paper done as fast as possible and doesn't pay attention to the plus and minus signs. We look for the lesson: slow down, stop and think, re-check your work. If bigger mistakes are made, like hitting your brother because you want a toy, we look for the lesson, too. People are more important than things. We re-focus and try again.

Teaching about mistakes is something I'm sure we will continue to work with as the children get older and as the consequences of their behavior become greater and greater. I like that we are working on it together. It may be true that I am learning as much as he is.

We have noticed that the lesson is sinking in. My son told his sister the other day, "It's okay. We all make mistakes. You just have to try to learn from it." I smiled when I heard it.

Maybe I should call his First grade teacher and say thanks.

- Midwest Mom

Monday, March 2, 2009

Are Infant Car Seats Safe?

I just read a recent investigative report by the Chicago Tribune about Infant Safety Seats. It was disturbing to me as a parent, so I thought I would pass it along.

Apparently, there is a problem with infant seats coming off of their base in impact testing. Until the Tribune published their report, no data on such tests had been made public. They have posted video of what can happen in a test dummy trial. They tested every major brand. If you are a parent of a newborn or know someone who will be soon, please brace yourself and have a look. Then, please, please pass the information along.

As a result of this article, today Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced a top-to-bottom review of car safety seats, standards, use, and industry testing.

- Midwest Mom