Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why my five year-old cooked dinner and other thoughts on feeling a sense of accomplishment.

It has been nearly impossible to find the time and the head space to sit down and write a blogpost lately - the days just fly by like I don't know what! But at this very moment Gwen is napping and Espen is playing at a friend's house, so I am taking a few minutes to sit down and write a little bit about what has been on my mind lately.

Just recently I've noticed that Espen could maybe do with a little bit of a boost in the self confidence area. Nothing serious, I just saw a tendency to give up a little bit too easily, and to decide that things were too hard for him to do. So I decided that I wanted to show him just what he could accomplish if he put his mind to it, and maybe remind him how good it feels to accomplish something, and set about thinking up some ways we could make this happen. Here's what we did:

  1. I made Espen clean his room by himself. This might sound like a no-brainer, but I am willing to bet that Espen is not the only five year-old who goes into complete overload mode when asked to clean a messy room. There is so much to do and where do you start and this is going to take forever, and I just can't do it, mom! On this particular day it was a Big Mess. Big enough that it made me want to cry and hide in a corner. So I made it clear to Espen that this was his mess and that he needed to take responsibility for it and clean it up on his own. I helped with the big stuff like putting his mattress back on his bed (how a five year-old and a two year-old got it off in the first place is beyond me) and standing his armchair back up again. Then I firmly, but (quite) pleasantly reminded him what went where and to please not come out of his room until it was clean. Then I left. It was such a big job for one little guy, and part of me wanted to just help him /do it for him, but I also felt like it was important for him to see that he can do hard things when he tries. And yes, there were some tears and frustration, but in the end he did it! All by himself! I was very proud of his efforts and told him so, and I could tell that Espen felt good about his accomplishment too. Bonus: we haven't seen a big mess like that in weeks because he knows now how much work it is to clean a room when every toy and item of laundry is on the floor. 
  2. A couple of weeks later Espen was begging and begging me to buy a new character for the Disney Infinity app on the iPad. I had told him when we first downloaded it that I wouldn't be buying any more characters for it, and reminded him of that again, but that made no difference to his five year-old heart. He needed Dash from the Incredibles and he needed him now! I could see that Espen wasn't going to give in until he got what he wanted, but I could also see that if I just caved to his tiny demands, then it would be setting a precedent that Mama gives you what you want if you just nag her enough. And good gravy, we didn't want that! So I offered him a deal: "If you can give up the iPad completely for three whole days, then I will get you Dash", I said. Again, it doesn't sound like a big deal, but to a five year-old with an iPad addiction and a seriously distorted sense of time, I may as well have offered him three year prison sentence. But he wanted that character, so he took the deal. I won't bore you with all the ins and outs of a small boy going through screen withdrawals, but I will tell you that Espen made it. When I caught him cheating, I extended his sentence by another half a day. When we reached the last day and he was so close he couldn't stand it anymore and wanted to give up, I made him finish. And after three and a half days, Espen was delighted to have reached his goal and won his prize, and more than a little proud of himself for reaching his goal. 
  3. We haven't started giving Espen pocket money yet, and we basically only buy presents for Christmas and birthdays. So when he desperately wants something between the months of February and December, we give him a chance to earn it with "fuzzies" (little pompoms). Espen can earn fuzzies by doing chores or reaching goals, and we can award them to him for being especially kind, helpful or listening well. We can also take them away if he behaves badly, although a reminder that we could do that is usually enough to stop whatever behavior needs correcting. But he has to earn 50 fuzzies in order to get a reward that costs about $12-15, so it usually takes a long time. If he's focused and motived, he can get there in two or three weeks. If he (or let's be honest, we) lets things slide, it can take months and months to earn his prize. Anyway, all of this is a very longwinded way to lead up to where I tell you that not long ago I noticed that Espen was only about six fuzzies away from earning a reward, and I knew that he really wanted a new Skylander toy. So I pointed out how close he was, and asked if he was interested in earning any fuzzies. He took a little convincing (because who wants to do chores when they can play with Dash on Disney Infinity?), but eventually agreed to do some jobs. So over the next two days Espen helped de-winterize the mudroom (organized and put away all of the shoes, carried winter clothes upstairs to be washed and stored), helped with the dishes and a few other things like that. He also got a fuzzy for being a good and cheerful listener when asked to clean up a mess (we encourage that!) and all of a sudden the fuzzy jar was full and we were able to get him his reward. 
  4. I was planning our weekly menu when Espen had spring break, and on impulse asked him if he would like to make dinner for us that day. Espen was a little shocked that I asked, but quickly said yes. He has always loved helping in the kitchen, but, what with being five and all, has never planned and cooked a meal on his own before. We headed to the grocery store, and I let him pick out something that he wanted to cook for dinner. He chose hotdogs and fruit salad, which I deemed to be both edible and reasonably well-balanced enough and picked out all his own ingredients (although I did steer him toward the Nathan's hotdogs rather than the Ballpark Franks). Then, as we were walking through the baking aisle, he asked if we could have cake. I told him we could if he made it, and so we added chocolate cake to our menu as well. Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive about letting a five year-old chef loose in my kitchen, but I just resigned myself to the fact that it would probably get pretty messy and let him have at it. And he did great! Granted, I read the recipe and measured the liquids for the cake, but he broke his own eggs and mixed it all up like a pro. He even put it in the oven himself and checked it with a toothpick to see if it was done! For the fruit salad I just gave him a butterknife and demonstrated how to slice a banana and cut up strawberries, and then he did the rest. By the time we were ready to heat the hot dogs, he was feeling pretty confident in the kitchen, so I let him sit on the counter and fry them in the pan himself. Of course I hovered nervously by his side the whole time, but he did great! He knew the pan and the oven were hot, so he didn't touch them at all. And oh, I wish you could have seen the look on Espen's face when he showed his dad the meal he had cooked all by himself! He was glowing all night. 
I really, really recommend doing something like this with your kids. Seeing Espen begin to understand that a job well done is really its own reward and feeling the sense of accomplishment that comes with that has been really great. And seeing that he can do hard things has been a great confidence builder for him too. I feel like he has been a bit more willing to try lately, and I don't think that is entirely coincidental. On top of that, it has been really good for me to see how much Espen is capable of and to trust him a little bit more to handle things on his own. Kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for! I've been letting Gwen, who is two, help me set the table lately and while it isn't easy to watch her struggle to carry a heavy stoneware bowl full of bread over to the table (she's going to drop it!), 9.5 times out of 10 she is just fine (she made it!). And the way both of my kids feel about herself when they are working alongside us and learning to help and to do is worth the price of the occasional dish. 

We're keeping this up. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

To Espen, now that you are five.

Dear Espen,

You are five! Can you believe it? Well, you probably can believe it and are instead concerned with why it's not your sixth birthday yet, but for me, your mama, it's hard to fully comprehend how you've managed to go from an armful of small and squishy baby to a tall, skinny streak of a boy. Time has this trick of moving fast when you're not watching it closely until you suddenly turn around and notice all it has changed. It's such a cliche, but kids really do grow up so fast, and you are no exception.

Pretty hip. 

A lot has happened to you in the past year. One of the biggest changes was that we discovered that you needed glasses. I fretted and worried and cried in secret over how this would affect you. Would wearing glasses hold you back or make you feel self-conscious? Would people be mean? Would they no longer be able to see your beautiful self behind the frames? Of course I shouldn't have worried. You were so happy and excited about your glasses that everyone around you felt that excitement and joined in. And the glassed you chose are so hip that you've made them into a serious fashion statement that strangers compliment you on regularly - along with the straw fedora that so often graces your head.

Joy School Graduation. 

You also completed your first year of school at Miss Stepper's Joy School, one of the happiest little places the world has ever known. You were so lucky to spend a year learning and growing with some of your first and best friends. And now you've almost finished a year of preschool as well! You've been sounding words for a while, and are well on your way to becoming a good reader. Especially when you're willing to put in the hard work to get results! I hope you know that you are the kind of kid who can accomplish anything he wants, as long as you do the work to get there. 

Another big thing for you this year has been playing soccer. Between one practice and two games a week, it kept the whole family pretty busy in the fall and now we're well underway with the spring season. I'm not completely convinced that soccer is your sport (you spend as much time tangled up in the goal net or chatting with the other team as you do playing), but you love being part of a team, playing with your friends and having a chance to show off your beloved shin guards!

Espen and Gwen.

Your friends are as important to you as ever. You love play dates, and have really enjoyed having a little freedom to roam the neighborhood (technically our cul de sac and the one across the street) with your little band of neighborhood brothers. You constantly talk about your friends (who are all your best friend) and are forever plotting who you want to play with next. But what your dad and I have really loved seeing this year is how good friend you have become with your little sister.

The two of you are the best of friends and love each other so much. Every morning when I confiscate the iPads, you head off and have a wild game of who knows what together. You make the most horrendous messes of your bedrooms, but I try to close my eyes to (most!) of that when I see the fun that you're having and the bond you're building together. I hope you'll stay close like this for ever. Friends will pass in and out of your life, but a sibling will be at your side through it all.

Did you know that one of my very favorite parts of the day is when I get to read your bedtime story? You're tucked up in your bed, the stars from your nightlight cover the ceiling and together we discover new worlds and places through the books we read. It feels like the whole outside world tiptoes off long enough for us to read our two chapters followed by a little chat at the edge of your bed. Sometimes your mind is filled with the wonders of the story we have been reading, and you'll tell me how the exact same thing that just happened in the book, happened to you too once. And other times you'll reach up and stroke my cheek and tell me that we will always, always be friends, and my heart just bursts with love and happiness and pride over the little wonder that you are.

Espen, you really, really are my friend. From catching my eye to share a smile when Gwen does something funny to (almost!) always being willing to be my runner when I need something, you are my buddy and my sidekick. Of course we don't always see eye to eye, and the older you get, the more you seem to want to assert yourself and do things your own way. But in the big things that really matter, we're hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder. You trust me and I trust you and together we have got this crazy thing called life.

I love you, Espen David Superhero Sweetheart North.

Lots of love,


Friday, April 3, 2015

Something for the weekend

Flowers on our newly planted nectarine tree. 
So, here we are at the verge of the weekend! Is it a big one for you, or just another ordinary couple of days? It's going to be a busy one for our family, but the best kind of busy, filled with lots of activities that we're actually looking forward to, instead of just grocery shopping and yard work (although I'm sure that some of those will happen too). We're having a good friend over for dinner tonight, and then tomorrow will be mostly just relaxing together as a family. Sunday is of course Easter Sunday, so we're having some family over for dinner (I still haven't decided what we're having!) and giving the kids their Easter baskets and whatnot. Then some other good friends have invited our kids to come and share in their Easter egg hunt, which should be lots of fun.

I've missed blogging so much lately that now that I have been getting back into it again, I can't get it off my mind! My fingers have been itching to hit the keyboard all morning, and so I decided to put together a list of some of the things I've been looking at online lately.

  • I've dusted off my knitting needles at long last, and am working on a sweater vest/pullover for Espen. Specifically this one. (Better pictures here on Ravelry.) Of course I've been so slow about it that it won't be finished until the height of summer, but if I add an extra inch or so of length, he can still wear it when the weather cools down again. 
  • This recipe for zucchini cakes with mushroom ragout, which is what we're having for dinner tonight. We haven't made them for ages because they're a bit too spicy for the kids, but holy moly, they are tasty! And they get extra bonus points for being so quick and easy to make. 
  • It's maybe a little odd for a Mormon girl (or am I lady now?) to be such a fan of the pope, but I really, really am. He just seems like such an amazing person intent on doing as much good as he can. I loved this news story about how he opened the Sistine Chapel for the homeless. My favorite part was that he asked the homeless to pray for him, saying "I need the prayers of people like you". You must feel so broken when you are homeless, and to have the Pope say that he needs you would mean so much, don't you think? Also, how cool is it that they have installed showers for the homeless on St. Peter's square? Total fangirl. 
  • We've been a bit obsessed with a BBC series called Fake or Fortune? lately. PBS airs it sometimes, and you can also find it on Youtube if your morals are just a touch shady. It's going to sound like a total snooze fest when I describe it to you, but it's a non-fiction series that follows a journalist, an art dealer and an art historian as they investigate the authenticity and provenance of "sleeper" paintings (paintings that are thought to be by great artists, but have yet to be authenticated). And it is so crazy fascinating! The outcome of a few of the episodes has been surprising that Nick and I find ourselves talking about the episodes days later, and researching what happened after the cameras stopped rolling just so we can know. I know that having studied art history in college, I am just a little biased, but trust me when I say that it is just fantastic television. 
  • Watching this series lately has made me daydream about buying art for our home, and so I ended up browsing the "Under £30,000" section of Philip Mould's website lately (he is the art dealer in Fake of Fortune). I still couldn't afford anything, but I'm pretending that I'm going to buy this reclining nude by Paul Aysford Methuen. The art loving nerd in me seriously digs the lighting in the painting (look at the light on her left thigh - gah!) and the close cropping of the subject that is reminiscent of photography. There's also a patch on her right thigh where the artists suggests muscle tone with just a few tough brushstrokes that I think is absolutely gorgeously done. I could go on and on. What do you think?
  • Another television series that I am completely into right now is Call the Midwife. Goodness, the new series is good! I think I cry at every single episode. I was skeptical about how they were going to manage without Jenny Lee, but I find I hardly miss her at all. I do miss Chummy, though. Why did you have to go and get so wildly successful, Miranda Hart?!? Have you been watching? What do you think?
  • I got Design Mom/Gabrielle Stanley Blair's book How to live with kids: a room-by-room guide in the mail this morning, and although I haven't read it cover to cover yet, from what I have seen, I can highly recommend it. Every time I pick it up to try to skim through a few pages, I end up reading them in depth instead. Listen to this quite from the introduction: "Design isn't some froufrou gloss or shiny veneer on life, it's insisting on a solution (preferably an elegant one) and working carefully to make sure that solution works within whatever constraints you have - architectural, financial, or the fact that children live in your home." I absolutely believe that. Really good design is simply a solution that solves a problem for you, and looks good while doing it. 
OK, it's time for me to swing into action and get Gwen up from her nap, clean up the living room and start cooking dinner for our guest who will be here in 45 minutes. Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

An update

A photo from this morning. Will you still love me if I am makeup-less and sleepy-eyed?

I just wanted to stop by with a quick update on how things are going, and to say thank you so much for all of your kind words and support after my last post. I'm so touched by how many people reached out to me, and can't even really begin to tell you how much it has meant. Your comments, cards, emails and phone calls have really lifted my spirits tremendously. For you to tell me that my post made you feel like you weren't alone, made me feel like I'm not alone.

It has been a couple of weeks and in most regards, things are a looking up. I'm still not sleeping well, and still completely exhausted most of the time (I have to take naps most afternoons now), but my doctors have done some tests, and it looks like we've found a diagnosis and a treatment that's going to help me get some rest and some energy. Fingers crossed!

My mood has been improving too. As you can imagine, being this tired all of the time doesn't exactly keep me brimming with chipperness, but I have felt less sad and down on myself in the past week or so. Part of it, I think, has been being able to discuss how I'm feeling with with my husband and a few close friends (talking it out always helps) and coming up with a few survival strategies. It's actually basically variations on the same strategy over and over again and them one other thing. Want to hear?

  1. Let things go a little. It makes me laugh a little to write this because I feel like our home is in constant chaos, but it seems I am a bit of a perfectionist. I stress about what and when the kids eat, getting Espen to school on time, whether or not we have meals planned and shopped for for the week, if the floors are clean, if the dishes are done, you name it, I have stressed out about it.  And if we are late for school, or the dishes haven't been done for a day (or two!) or Nick comes home and there is no plan for dinner, I feel guilty. And a little bit like a failure. So I'm trying to learn that it's not a huge deal if we grab dinner at Chick-fil-A one night. Or if there are crumbs on the floor or Gwen's bangs go one more day without being trimmed. This is a hard thing for me to learn, but I think it's kind of a necessary one. 
  2. Similarly, if I'm having the kind of day where I just feel sad and overwhelmed, I can take some time off to do something that I want to do, like take Gwen to the park instead of going grocery shopping while Espen is at school. Or I could spend Gwen's nap doing an art project with Espen or reading a book or chatting with a friend. Or writing a blog post, which is what I'm doing right now. If it makes me feel happier, I should do it. 
  3. Make a little time for me. It never fails to baffle me as a stay-at-home mother of two small children, just how little time there is in the day for everything that needs to be done. It seems like I should have all the time in the world to run a spotless home, cook organic meals from scratch, have a 24 inch waist and write a novel. But between meals and school runs and grocery shopping and laundry alone, the 12 hours that the kids are awake in a day are pretty much spoken for. And beyond a shower and the occasional trip to the bathroom, there is very little time for me to do any of the things that I might like to do. Unless I start making it a priority to create a little time for myself each day to do the things that I enjoy like reading, writing, creating, taking pictures, gardening, going for walks, visiting museums and galleries, spending time with friends and all that jazz. If I could just squeeze in half an hour or so each day (like I am doing right now with this blog post) to pursue my own interests instead of everyone else's, that would go a long way, I think. 
Anyway, I am hopeful that between these things and getting some good sleep soon, I'll be back to normal before too long. Until then, posts will probably still be a bit on the sporadic side, although I have got a bazillion things I want to share with you. I still want to try to be real about how I'm doing, but I also want to get back to my regular brand of blog posts, whatever that may be. 

Thanks for reading, thanks for caring. Lots of love!