That Agape Family

Live. Love. Learn.

An Agenda Free Morning

Forever ago (three and a half years and 2 children ago), Little Miss and I had a free morning, so we took advantage of it. We went down to the ravine by our house, and I decided that I would not rush. We would take our time and see what the morning brought us. It was amazing! First, we waded in the creek with Tipper:

C and Tipper AFM

Then we came across a deer, nibbling in a neighbour’s backyard:

Deer

And finally, as we came upon our street, we sat and watched this construction crew repave a section of the road:

Construction AFM

We had such a good time, and I still look back on that morning with the fondest of memories. I’ve actually had this post idea drafted for about 2 years, just waiting for me to find time to write it up. I just couldn’t let it go. A few weeks ago, I finished the book, “The Hurried Child” by David Elkind. It reaffirmed what I already knew: we need to slow down. The way we rush our children from one event to the next, from one activity to the next, foregoing their opportunity to rest and simply play, is detrimental to their mental health.

Let me encourage you to take a morning, or an afternoon, and leave the agenda behind. Wander aimlessly and go down those rabbit trails. You’ll likely be very pleasantly surprised.

Blessings,

Liz

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Me Time: Reality Check

Let me set the scene for you:

My 2 month old (Mister Man) is napping. My 2 older children are playing happily, creating havoc in the living room. I’m trying to tidy in their wake, as they leave a trail of dominoes, counting bears, markers, watercolor paints (which I asked politely for them to use at the dining room table), and paper off the floor. Cue Sweetpea (2.5) who decides to climb on my back, and slide over my head, as if I’m a newly discovered piece of playground equipment. And that, my friends, was my limit.

I grab my phone and text my mom, to see if she might be available in the next couple of days to watch our little angels for an afternoon, so that I can go out for a couple of hours and read a book, while sipping on expensive coffee (*cough* Starbucks *cough*). Hurrah! She says yes, and I can mentally relax as I look forward to a little bit of “me time”. Thank you, Grandma!

Me Time. The chance to “fill my cup”, as it were. The coveted break that so many moms can only dream of. I know I am incredibly blessed to be able to call on my mom, who lives only 15 minutes away, who will almost always oblige, and help out however she can. #blessed However, here’s how my “me time” played out today.

As I was about to leave, on this fateful Saturday afternoon, Mister Man woke up from his nap. No problem. I should probably take him with me anyway (we’re breastfeeding), and he’ll likely sleep the whole time (she thought optimistically).

“Where you going?” Sweetpea asks curiously. Did I mention that she almost always naps at this time, but today, of all days, decided that she just wasn’t interested? #foreshadowing

“I’m just going to have coffee. I’ll be back soon,” I reply, with the most compassionate smile I can muster.

“I go, too!” she decides, while trying to find her shoes. I don’t think I need to recount her reaction when I told her that she wasn’t coming with me. Tired tears and crying ensued, as Grandma held her and gave me a sympathetic smile that said “she’ll be OK. You go.” And so, I went.

I had a quick errand I had to run before my “me time” destination of Starbucks, and I gave my husband a quick call to see how he was doing. While on the phone, I realized that I forgot my book at home, and that Mister Man wasn’t settling the way he normally does, 99% of the time. Sigh. Plan B.

I text my mom that I have forgotten my book, and so I’m coming back. I’ll just stay home instead. She offers to continue watching the little people, while I read in my daughter’s room. Great! Things are back on track. I pick up a Starbucks (and one for our Superstar Grandma, of course) and head home.

After making a quick lunch for myself (perogies, yum!), I head into Sweetpea’s room, and settle into my chair in the sun. Bliss! Two seconds later, “what you eating?”

Me: “Perogies. Do you want some?”

Sweetpea tries them, and decides that she does, indeed, like them. Mister Man starts stirring, so Grandma brings him over for a snack, and takes Sweetpea, who has now confiscated my lunch, into the living room. Number of pages read so far: 0. Time elapsed since “me time” started: 1 hour.

Mister Man has some mommy milk, and drifts sweetly off to sleep, while I scroll through Facebook on my phone. Why I didn’t read at this point, I don’t know, but I should have. Time well wasted, I suppose. With the baby asleep, I pass him back to Grandma, and Sweetpea brings back the leftover perogies. I’m back on track. Excellent!

I suppose trying to read in a room full of toys wasn’t the best plan. Little Miss (nearly 6) and Sweetpea decide to play doctor while I finish my lunch. Do you know how difficult it is to eat while being asked repeatedly to “open wide!!!” Although, if either of them become doctors in the future (or both!), it will be well worth it. Sweetpea also wanted to pinch my Mommy Milk (nipple) with one of the doctor tools. Umm… no.

With lunch (finally) finished, and my coffee beside me, I crack open my book (elapsed time: 1.5 hours). Little Miss comes over, upset about something Sweetpea has done (remember, Grandma has a sleeping baby on her chest, so she’s nearly out of commission at this point). Quickly remedied, she eyes my coffee and has a sip. Because I like sickeningly sweet lattes (the Caramel Brule, if you’re wondering), she stole a few more sips, and leaves me with a thimble full (note to self: don’t ask for whip cream on your drink. Apparently that indicates that you only want 2/3 of a cup of coffee…). Fine. I finish my last swig of coffee and get a glass of water. Pages read: 1. Elapsed time: 2 hours.

Yes, I did get to finish a chapter, which I think was about 7 pages long (it isn’t a long book). But, only after Sweetpea spilled my full glass of water on the floor, and countless other interruptions. Did I mention we’re potty training? Yup, add in accident clean up as well.

But that’s alright. Although my “me time” didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, the afternoon after I sent my initial text/plea to my mom, I felt much better. I think the idea that I would have a break in the near future was enough to lift my spirits. I know that we all need time to ourselves to recuperate from the busyness of motherhood, but it may not always look like we think it will (ahhhh… spa). Especially with a new baby at home, where you need to plan your life in short bursts (or else you will burst – hello engorgement!). And sometimes it helps just to have another set of hands to help hold the baby, do the dishes, or make a cup of tea (or all 3!).

The days are long, but the years are short.

Blessings!

Liz

Sweetpea playing, while I’m reading, with the doctor’s kit strewn about.

If You Love Sour, You’ll Love Sumac

A long, long time ago, when I was in elementary school, we went on a field trip to a local conservation area. The only thing I remember about this trip was when the guide told us about sumac. He said that we could eat it. That’s all I remember. I’m certain he mentioned that Aboriginal people have been using it as a spice for centuries, and that it’s a source of food for local wildlife during the harsh cold winter, but that part just didn’t sink in. What has always stuck with me was the taste. It was sour. 

I love sour things. When I was younger, I would suck on lemons. *Pucker*. And, naturally, my children have also developed a palate for all things sour. So, it came as no surprise to me after I shared some sumac with Little Miss a couple of years ago, that it became a forest favourite. Whenever we pass by a sumac bush, she always asks for a bunch.

Honestly, she eats this stuff like a corn dog. And yes, Sweet Pea has also developed an affinity for it. You should see the back of my car! It seemed like such a good idea at the time, to let them have it as a snack. Lesson learned. 

I had been promising Little Miss that we would make tea out of sumac for the longest time, and we finally got around to making it this week. 

The sumac tea was remarkably tasty (and sour)! If you’re wanting to try sumac when you’re next out and about, do! I tend to suck on the red fruit (I always thought they were seeds!), then spit them out. However, both the girls swallow them. Sumac is an antioxidant and helps with hypertension. You can read more here.

Have you ever tried sumac?

Blessings!

Liz

It’s Not Polite To Stare

“Mommy, why did the woman say ‘it’s not polite to stare’ to me?”

“Who said that?” I asked.

“The woman pushing the wheelchair,” Little Miss replied. 

Ah. The moment of clarity. 

Today, we decided to head over to the Markham Fair. We had never been to this time honoured tradition, and we decided to give it a last-minute whirl. Folks, we had a great time! There was lots to see and do there. There were plenty of animals to see. We got to ride up in a cherry picker (the machine that allows the hydro company to work on hydro wires)! And, they had a demolition derby (that we unfortunately weren’t able to attend). It was great. 

Today was the first day of the fair, and there were lots of school children there. It was also “homeschooling day”, so we got to see some of our friends, too. There were also several people there with special needs. Fantastic! I have worked with individuals with special needs, and I know the need for these folks to get out and enjoy a community event. Wonderful! And, it appears my daughter (4.5 years young) was curious. 

We all have a natural curiosity to those who are “different”. It’s human nature. Children are trying to make sense of the world, and in this case, she was trying to understand why a person was in a wheelchair. I’ve been behind the wheelchair, dealing with the curious stares. You want your client to be respected. I understand that. However, I think that this could have been taken as a learning opportunity, rather than a scolding. 

My daughter did not know it was rude to stare. Again, she 4.5 years old. She did not mean to be rude, but it clearly came across that way. Instead of scolding her, the caregiver could have said, “he (or she) needs help to get around. That’s my job. They aren’t able to walk on their own, but they still want to see everything that you do!” Connection and dignity go a long way on this two way street. I also told Little Miss that the nicest thing she can do, if she sees someone in a wheelchair, is smile. There’s a takeaway that she can carry with her for the rest of her life, as opposed to being scared to look at the people around her. 

When I was in grade 6, I experienced a pivotal moment. I was doing a biography on a classmate, so she came over to my house. When her family came to get her, her brother came to the door. He had Down Syndrome. I suppose I asked something insensitive like, “why does he look different?” I really can’t remember. However, I do remember her explanation. 

We were in the gifted program at the time. She explained the situation that we (students in the gifted program) had an IQ of 101. Other students, in the regular stream, had an IQ of 100, and her brother had an IQ of 99. This was not (and I didn’t take it as such) an explanation that he was “dumb”, but that he thought and processed information differently. So, when I was speaking with him, I may have to choose my words more carefully so that he understood me. I found her explanation to come from a place of love and respect. 

As I grew older, and I took psychology courses, I learned that the IQ disparity was greater, however that didn’t change how I viewed those with special needs. They are people who deserve love and respect, and who are all too often underestimated. This is something I want to pass on to my daughters. I don’t want them to be afraid to interact with these individuals. This is an opportunity to show love and compassion! 

So, let me encourage you to view every day as a teaching day. Help those around you, especially these precious little ones, to make sense of what they see, through eyes of compassion and love. And I hope and pray that the next time she sees someone in a wheelchair she won’t avert her eyes, but meet those eyes with a smile. 

Blessings,

Liz

Oh Snap… I was Wrong

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Last year, around this time, I wrote a couple of blog posts. I titled them Snapdragon Fun and Snap Chat Continued.  Pretty witty of me, right? Well, I’m here to confess that I was wrong. I mistakenly identified those fun, beautiful plants as “snapdragons”, when in reality the orange flowered plant is “jewelweed” and the pink flowered plant is “Himalayan balsam”, both of the impatiens family.  I stand corrected. This photo is a card from the board game Wildcraft. Wildcraft is a cooperative board game that helps children learn how various plants can help heal us. From sunburns to bee stings, it is a fun reminder of the healing power of the plants around us.

And, guess what? They’re back in season! Yay! If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know why I’m so excited. These plants, also called “touch-me-not”, have these fun little seed pods that pop when you squeeze them. It turns out that these seeds taste like walnuts, and are super healthy! The flowers are good for you as well. Both the seeds and flowers are nutrient rich. Foraging the seeds can be a fun game, too! See if you can harvest the seed pod without it popping, and let the seed pods pop in your mouth, instead! Naturally, we gave it a go:

Little Miss (4.5) wasn’t a big fan of the seeds, but Sweet Pea (1.5) was. Granted, she’ll eat just about anything, but I enjoyed them as well. As we continued on our walk this morning, we came across another plant that looks very similar, however the flowers are pink in colour. As I mentioned earlier, this is the Himalayan Balsam. It turned out that this plant is an invasive species to our area, which led to a fantastic discussion about invasive species, endangered species (we’d recently learned about those, and Little Miss was trying to audibly recognize the difference), and habitats. We decided to harvest some of the Himalayan balsam, and see if our fine feathered friends, the ducks, might eat it. 

Before we got to the ducks, I asked Little Miss to develop a hypothesis, as to whether or not the ducks would eat the flowers. She doesn’t like to be wrong, so she decided not to guess. I hypothesized that they would eat them. Wrong again! Perhaps the flowers just weren’t exciting enough to munch on. 

So, if you’re by a ravine, and happen upon these entertaining plants, take a few moments. Try a flower or two, and see if you have the gentle touch. Let the seed pod pop in your mouth. It’s fun for the whole family!

Blessings,

Liz

Do You Feel Qualified?

Last summer, before we had even begun our homeschooling journey, a well meaning neighbour asked me “Do you feel qualified to teach her?” Beyond the fact that I am, indeed, a certified elementary school teacher, I still had a few lingering doubts. 

Was this the right choice? Does she need more peer interactions? Will I miss something? Will I be “enough”? 

I answered with my well thought through list of reasons that I had been rehearsing for whenever someone asks “why?”, but the question still nagged at me. There are plenty of parents who may not feel “qualified”, but they do a fantastic job! They are encouraging, inspiring, nourishing, kind, loving, and passionate. Who else can care more about your child than you? And the best part of homeschooling is that we often learn alongside our children, feeding our own curiosities as well! Learning is a lifelong venture, after all!

So, as we embark upon our second year of homeschooling, I want to encourage you. You are their first teacher. Whether they go to a physical school, or “school” at home, whatever that may look like, you are their first teacher. 

Yesterday, Little Miss (4.5) was drawing in the sand. She smiled and said “Mommy, look! A mineral butterfly!” I think we’re going to be alright. 

Balanced and Barefoot

I started reading Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom nearly a year ago, and I couldn’t put it down. It really spoke to my intuition that my children need to be outside. That the outdoors is an essential part of their development, and that I needed to be mindful of getting outside on a regular basis. And not only getting outside, but allowing them to explore with their whole body, mind, and soul.

I borrowed a copy from our local library, and devoured it quickly. In fact, Hanscom’s Timbernook forest play program was the inspiration behind a local forest free play group that I initiated after being a part of an established Forest school group, here in Toronto.  If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll have seen many  of our forest experiences that I’ve shared. I treasure our time in the Great Outdoors. It is calming, invigorating, energizing, balancing, and grounding.

Little Miss (4.5 years) and Sweet Pea (16 months)

The main focus of Hanscom’s book is that children NEED to be outdoors to develop appropriately, physically and psychologically. She noted that children today lack simple coordination skills because they aren’t given the opportunity to develop them. Simple things like walking on an uneven surface, rolling down a hill, and balancing on a log – things we enjoyed as children – are deemed “too risky” nowadays, depriving children of the opportunity to develop physiologically. The impact this has later on in life is remarkable. Did you know that children have started falling out of their chairs, while simply sitting in them, because they haven’t developed their core balance when they were younger? Children are more accident prone now than ever!

When children aren’t given the opportunity to “get messy and make mistakes” (thank you Miss Frizzle, of the Magic School Bus), they lack resilience later on. While we think we are protecting our children when they’re younger, we are actually putting up barriers for them later on in life.

The other component of Timbernook, and the reason I started a spin off group, was the idea of imaginative play. At Timbernook, the students are given the freedom to become pirates, astronauts, knights, and explorers. The only thing we bring to the forest is a bag of simple water toys. I have seen the children make a “hot tub”, bow and arrows, castles, etc.  When given time and freedom, children’s imaginations will blossom. and fun will ensue. We try to be as hands off as possible, allowing the children to understand their own limitations, and establish their own risk assessment. We also span a wide age range of 1 to 7 years.

I was truly inspired by Balanced and Barefoot. I highly recommend it to all parents and educators as an encouragement to make getting outside a priority. Our children will be better off for it.

Blessings,

Liz

How often do you get back to nature?

For the First Time in, Well, Ever!

We love the forest, if you couldn’t tell. We try to go every week, with a lovely group of friends. We have been joining this group for about two and a half years. In all this time, Little Miss has never ventured over “the tree”. Ever since we’ve been coming, there has been a tree that has fallen over there creek. It’s a large, beautiful tree that just begs to be climbed and crossed.

I consider Little Miss to be rather adventurous, and I’ve always assumed she’d eagerly climb it with the greatest of ease. However, in all our time in the forest, she never has. She would explore the exposed roots, and climb to the top of them, but never over – until this week.

We’ve had a few kids over the years who love to shimmy across to the other side, but it’s never had the pull that I thought it would with her. But this week, one of the newer girls she was playing with climbed right over – and she followed! It was really exciting to watch her try something new, and be guided by her peer. She needed a little encouragement on the way back, but she did it. I love watching children attempt something, of their own accord, and accomplishing the task. It’s so exciting!

I wonder how she’ll approach it next time…

What has your child recently tried and conquered?

Blessings,

Liz

When You Assume…

The other day, the littles and I were attending a birthday party. One of the parents was chatting with Little Miss, and asked if she knew when her birthday is.

But, before she could respond, the parent said “of course you don’t,” and turned to speak with someone else. I was flabbergasted. Little Miss is nearly 4.5 years old, and has known her birthday month for probably about a year. More recently, since this birthday party situation, she has also learned the day.

I’m not saying this to brag about her ability to know her birthday, but to ask folks to please not assume that kids don’t know. Children have varying talents, learning experiences, and interests. You never know what a child knows, unless you ask, and wait. Give them a moment or two to process what you’ve said, and formulate a response. You may be delightfully surprised.

When have you been surprised by a child?

Blessings,

Liz

The Forest is Changing

“The forest is changing…” was Little Miss’ observation this last week in the forest.

Here she is making her observations of what she’s seen, about a month ago:

(I thought her boots were in the car. I was mistaken… Oh well! I forgot my boots, too!) The giant tree tumbled down sometime during a fierce windstorm in the previous couple of weeks. When we returned a couple of weeks later, the tree had settled substantially lower, and left a beautiful mud hole for the children’s enjoyment:

The children spent a lot of time discovering the bugs that had made homes, or had their homes recently upturned. They investigated the effects of mud on boots (sluuuurp), and the month earlier, they explored the clay that had formed deep below the tree’s roots.

But Little Miss’ observation that “the forest is changing…” was spot on, and completely spontaneous. Although a month ago we were starting to see little buds all over, this last week it was so much more pronounced. And these beautiful Trout Lilies scattered the forest floor:

I can’t wait to get back out there this week, to see what else has sprung up.

What is “spring”ing up around your area?

Blessings,

Liz

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