Stories

Although there were storms in the forecast threatening to ruin our Memorial weekend plans for outdoor fun, the weekend was near perfect. Only two storms and they both happened at times when we would not have been outdoors anyway.

We spent all of Saturday with my husband’s family at their farm. We went down to the creek for a picnic.

The kids cannot be near the creek without being IN the creek. Before we knew it, they were shoulder deep walking through the creek, trying to see just how far they could get before it got too deep. They got all the way around the bend and found a glorious mud bank. They forgot their mission to see how far they could go and dug into the mud. They sat there for hours making “stew” in a spot all their own.

I sat in a cool spot in the shade with their grandmother. One of my favorite things about our visits to the farm is listening to the kids’ grandmother tell stories. I love to hear her stories about her childhood, her husband’s childhood, my husband’s childhood, and the stories about the family farm. And while I’m listening, I get to watch my children enjoying the mud and sunshine, hear the birds singing and listen to the wind blowing through the trees. It is all just heavenly.

On the kids’ return trip from their mud bank, a water snake was spotted. My little two panicked and were screaming and hurrying their way through the water back to our side of the creek bank. Once they returned, I brought them close for a snuggle while their grandmother began a story. The girls got quiet and listened curiously while she told them about a particular black snake that she often sees when she is mowing by the creek bank. He slithers his way up the trunk of the tree (and she is showing them how he slithers with her own body), out onto a branch and then drops himself into the tall grass on the creek bank. “See, right here is where he gets up onto the tree, then he goes out here, over to there and right down there”. And right at the place where he begins his climb, the kids look and find some snake skin that has been shed, which really brings this story to life for them. Grandma and the two girls all huddle around the tree looking at the snake skin and talk about how the snake is useful on the farm, what he eats, where he lives, etc.

The girls have retold that story several times since, using their bodies, just as their grandma did, to show how the snake slithers up the tree so that he can drop down into the tall grass.

Thinking outside the limits

Today it was a beautiful spring day. A sunny day with a cool breeze, the absolute perfect day for being outdoors. I took my four plus two friends for an afternoon at the park. When we arrived, I could see that this was a popular idea. Our neighborhood park, which is usually only lightly populated on a weekday afternoon, was fairly packed. After a few minutes on the playground, it became clear that there was a class or two from the neighborhood school having a picnic.

My crew ran to the merry-go-round. Several got on, the youngest started pushing. It was a beautiful moment. The sun, the breeze, the kids laughing and playing. Some of the other kids wanted to join in and started walking toward the merry-go-round. From behind me came the sound of a whistle and “Second graders, the merry-go-round is OFF LIMITS!!”

My crew looked all around, mouths wide open. The question on their face: “What on earth was that?” Then back to playing. Pretty soon, more kids ran to the merry-go-round, loud whistle, and “Second graders, the merry-go-round is OFF LIMITS!” My kids are again looking all around, wondering what is going on here and decide to move on to something else.

The park has some big cement letters that spell out the name of the park. Kids are always climbing on these letters. Mine decided to head that way and began climbing. Some of the other kids started to join in and then: loud whistle and “Climbing the letters is OFF LIMITS!!”

I had planned to take the kids for ice cream after the park, so at this point I decided we might ought to go sooner than later. At the word “ice cream” the kids were just fine with moving on. I was surprised that the kids didn’t ask about the scene at the park. It was on my mind as we drove toward the ice cream store. Why is the merry-go-round off limits? Why not let the kids climb on the concrete letters? These are kids. At a playground. (And the whistle…..is it just me, or does it seem like that ought to be on its way out?)

So what about limits? Why be limited? Why not say “yes” whenever you can? And what about risk? All my favorite playground toys from my childhood are disappearing from playgrounds: the merry-go-round, the teeter-totter, the bumpy slide. I suppose they were considered dangerous, but those are what I remember playing with most. And truly, I would have to say that most of the good things in life come with some risk. If you want to avoid all risk, you miss out on an awful lot of growth and fun!

So, today I said “yes” to ice cream. Then I said “yes” to the splash park. I watched six children engaged in some serious whole-hearted play while I enjoyed the breeze and the sunshine. A knee was scraped, a few tears shed, but I don’t think there are any regrets. They played tag in the grass to dry off a bit, but ultimately piled in my van dripping wet, where I then said “yes” to inviting their friends to stay for dinner and more play. The big two made a movie. The little four played on the swings, built sand castles and put together bouquets. I got to watch it all from my porch.

And it was such a fun-packed day that we have no pictures to show for it, but I think it is a day we will always remember.

When you give a kid a camera for his birthday…

He might decide to organize his siblings into a team of spies. They might follow you around for days taking sneaky pictures while you sit reading a book on the sofa and write pages and pages of observations as they sit on the deck and observe you through the living room window.

While they’re out on the deck bored because the life of a stay-at-home mother is not particularly interesting, they might start watching the wildlife in the yard instead. This might inspire them to begin a nature study. They might take photographs and draw pictures of the birds they see.

Seeing the birds in the yard may lead them to wonder what kind of birds you have in your yard. You might have to sit at the computer with them and help them look it up.

Throughout the afternoon, you might hear the kids out in the yard imitating the bird sounds they are hearing and conversing with the birds.

You just never know how one thing might lead to another…..

(Inspired by Laura Joffe Numeroff’s “If You Give….” series)

Building projects

When my oldest was 8 and expressed an interest in building, probably because he was my first, I had big project ideas. I thought we should build a playhouse in the backyard and our son could help. I envisioned something pretty small and simple.

I am no builder, so the project was handed over to my husband. His ideas were bigger than mine. He actually has some experience in building, so he knows how to do this right. That is one of the things I love about the man…when he does something, he goes all out.

So, this project became quite complicated and expensive. It is beautiful though and the kids have used it quite a bit.

I am not always good at the long view. I didn’t foresee that if we build a playhouse with our first child that every child after will want to build a playhouse with their dad and that we will not have the resources or space for such large projects for four children. Sooo…..this year, when the topic of building came up, I had a different way of thinking about it. One of the big changes I wanted to make was to think of projects the kids could mostly do themselves and we could just be available to assist. It seems really obvious NOW that this would have been a better approach, but we all have to live and learn.

So here are some of the shelters my children built together this year:

My daughter also did some smaller building projects with her dad and grandpa:

My son wanted to build something that would help him with his art, a light box for tracing. This project turned out to be one that required a lot of adult assistance, but my son took pictures of all the steps and helped when he could.