Monday, August 9, 2010

Intentional Parenting

"How will our children know who they are if they don't know where they come from?" Ma Joad, from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Years ago when Barbara Bush was the First Lady, she was asked to present a college commencement address at one of the East coast universities. There was quite an outcry from the students over her being chosen instead of some female success story they considered more worthy. The students protested that her contributions were not significant enough to merit being their graduation speaker. But, I like to think that she made them think with her message that day. She told them they would never regret not having spent more time at their job or office, but that they would realize  their most important work would be at home..."The future of this country depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house." If only that would become every family's motto.

My dream for America is that the family will survive when each of our households realizes the importance of what happens inside our own homes. My dream is that we will continue to fight the battles to win our children back from whatever is distracting them from the path they need to be on for their life's journey. I have fear in my heart for the children growing up in chaotic homes without direction or nurturing. No one has ever said there will be any guarantees that life is easy, parenting easy, or surviving easy. At times I've thought it would have been good to have instructions, although, I suspect some would refuse to read or follow them. Also, what works for one, won't work with another. Each of us has to find our own style and make our own journey. Don't forget to have fun along the way, cook something good to eat for your someone's, and encourage your children to have dreams.

Don't Let The Paper-clips Trip You

I am remembering an old letter in Dear Abby that told a sad story. A man wrote that he was dying of cancer and he was feeling a loss from the lost moments between his wife and him. She was so wrapped up in the cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children that she failed to get involved in a genuine relationship with her family. She thought no one else could clean like she could and would not allow her husband to even change a diaper, or for him to hire household help to free her up to join the family on outings. He was writing his letter as an eye opener to others who might be making the same mistake. This makes me think of a time years ago when one of my boys was little and we were getting ready to have a birthday party for him. I was rushing around trying to get all the details taken care of when one of my old habits popped up. I was rushing through a parking lot and saw a paper-clip on the pavement. My inner Girl Scout/don't leave trash laying around self was getting ready to bend down and pick it up, when I literally stopped myself. I told myself I had a birthday to get to and didn't need to be worrying about saving used paper-clips on parking lot pavements and went on my way. From time to time we have to rethink our priorities and make sure we aren't cheating ourselves out of our real life.

Toy Story 3 and The Importance of Play

Shortly after the debut of Toy Story 3, I took my grandsons for a night out at the movies. I had read it was considered one of the best movies of the year. I will go out on a limb and say that over time, I think it will be considered one of the outstanding children's movies of all times. I decided the primary reason I was so impressed with Toy Story 3 is because that it celebrates a concept that I always promoted as a child development person: "Play is a child's work."

Many people do not realize that play is how children learn, and therefore they have many missed opportunities. While my children were growing up, I kept a bucket of small toys and a bag of books in the mini-van so whenever we got stuck somewhere unexpectedly, we had something to do. They didn't have to act like little monsters in the lobby of wherever our appointment was, because I came prepared and they were entertained. During the years I was a social worker, my car was a popular place with small children because they knew I was going to have fun things to distract them.  When my children were little, I set up parts of the house in little learning centers and we did other things that promoted learning through play. I also taught my children to use scissors, pencils, and crayons while they were still in the high chair where I could safely track where the scissors and crayons were. I made tons of homemade play dough. Learning how to use little fingers and developing fine motor skills is as important as the large motor skills and all are connected to better brain development. We had stories every night, usually multiple stories, if I wasn't too tired. I can remember a few times being so sleepy after a very long day that during the story, the boys would wake me up as I fell asleep reading and tell me I was saying funny words. Sometimes I would ask their daddy to read the bedtime stories because I was too tired, but the boys didn't like Mike to read because they said, "he didn't know all the voices". I believe these are  some of the things that set the stage for their high grades in school, and for two of them - artistic skills. Our oldest drew a large recognizable dinosaur before the age of 3, our middle son drew numerous sharks, Ninja Turtles, and other boy stuff every time he could find paper and crayon. 

It was in this spirit, that the week of the Toy Story movie experience, we also had a field trip to acquire sand for the water table I had acquired in the early days of being a grandmother.  The boys found the addition of sand to be absolutely thrilling. They were out on my patio, so no harm was done. What can I say, we are easily entertained. We like Styrofoam packing materials, old boxes, and blanket tents too. 

There are many other things that were moving about Toy Story 3, but I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't yet seen it. There is a philosophy of life regarding the future of our old toys. There is a message for day care providers to think about as well. Take the time to watch Toy Story 3, you may just learn something about yourself and your outlook on life. But, if you have a child moving out to go to college, you may need to save the DVD until you emotionally handle watching it. I had more than one person tell me they had to resist sobbing in the movie when it was at the theater, it was more emotionally touching than people realized it would be.  It is the perfect movie for children of all ages, there is something for everyone. The morning after we went to see the movie, my youngest little grandson started down the stairs and excitedly yelled out before he could get downstairs to me, "Grandma, Toy Story 3 was awesome." I concur he was right.