I was fondly remembering the other day when my kids were little and we did projects at the kitchen table. I used to save seed and flower catalogs that would come in the mail. Toy advertisements and even magazines came in handy. My kids would cut out the pictures and make collages from them. Frequently they would make stickers from the flowers or fruit pictures. Sometimes they would cut up church magazines to make stickers too. Then at church they would quietly sit and lick the stickers and make stories using the stickers. It was a simple family activity.
We made sticker glue using 1 tablespoon of any flavor of jello and 2 teaspoons of water. Then the kids would paint the back of the picture they cut out and we let them dry on cookie sheets. I put them in plastic bags and placed the bags in the church tote ready for Sunday. Cutting out the pictures from the magazines and applying the “glue” was one fun activity and then we got another activity out of it at church. The really fun part for them was that the stickers tasted good.
I used to save Christmas cards that we received too. When Christmas was over and I would gather up the cards and toss them in one of the Christmas decorations storage boxes. The following Christmas when I pulled out the decorations I would find the cards. My kids would use these cards to make Christmas scenes on construction paper. They would cut and paste and add glitter or whatever else they wanted to make a nice scene. It was always a simple but fun activity. I actually enjoyed reading the messages in the cards again.
We also made a lot of play dough. It was easy to make, and a lot cheaper and better than store bought. I would make it and give it to the kids to knead when it had cooled a little. I bought different cake decorating colors to make more than the basic primary colors. We made play dough for birthday parties, church activities and for school classes too. This was another simple family activity.
The recipe is really easy. Combine in a pan 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar, 1/4 cup salt. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tablespoon oil. Stir over medium heat until too thick to stir. Add desired food coloring and knead a few minutes until color is evenly distributed. Cool completely before storing. I haven’t made play dough for many years but I remember this being the best recipe for the dough I have ever used.
Another simple but fun thing we did was make our own bubbles. Then it was fun to find different objects to blow the bubbles through. Kitchen gadgets, metal washers and soup cans with both ends removed worked well. The soup cans you need to swoosh through the air. Kids have lots of fun finding and trying different objects to see it they will work. To make the bubbles we combined 1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons dish soap, and 1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup.
What I liked about these projects is that we usually had all of these ingredients readily available at our house and they were inexpensive. It only took a few minutes to make them but provided hours of family fun. My family liked these activities and maybe yours will too!
Summer is approaching and I love the flowers that are blooming and the sound of birds when I walk outside. I love the lazy days of playing in the sun at the beach or park. I have good memories of picnics and taking my kids to the pool, and programs at the library. It seemed like summer was a very busy time in a laid back sort of way. Maybe it was just busy for me because I was managing 8 kids, because I also have memories of bored kids complaining there was nothing to do. It seemed that if their friends weren’t available to play with, their world came to a crashing halt. Their brains turned to mush and with a blank stare in their eyes they would wail “there’s nothing to do!” I got so tired of hearing that complaint, usually one week into summer vacation! So one year I got smart. I typed up a list of 40+ things to do when they were bored, put it in a page protector and taped it to the fridge. The list had craft ideas, solo things to do like reading or taking a walk. It also had ideas like making cookies, or things to do with their siblings (if they were really desperate) like board games. I also made sure I had lots of craft supplies in the house so all they had to do was get them out and of course clean up when they were done.
I got a lot of my ideas from a magazine I used to subscribe to called Family Fun. It had lots of creative ideas that were inexpensive. I remember one of the activities used pipe cleaners and felt to make bendable dolls. It even came with patterns for clothes and accessories. My kids spent hours making those! The Friend magazine is also another great resource for ideas and things to do. There are also lots of craft books available to buy for different age groups. Of course there are also a lot of resources online of fun things to do for and with kids.
At the bottom of my summer list I typed in bold letters that they were not allowed to complain there was nothing to do or I would find lots of jobs for them to do. I also typed a list of available jobs to do and hung it on the fridge next to the fun things to do list. I did this mostly to show I was serious but also to use as a quick reference for me should I need it. It was amazing how well it all worked. If a kid even started to complain they were bored I would mention finding something for them to do and the complaint died on their lips. It worked so well that I hung the list on the fridge every summer after that for many years. Sometimes I even joined in their activities! The wonderful result was non bored, non complaining kids and a happy, less stressed mom.
I am not a morning person and I don’t like getting up early. My brain always feels foggy early in the morning, my bones feel stiff and my muscles rebel at having to work. Yet for over 30 years I have had to get up early to get kids ready for the day. I think I have complained the entire 30 years about it too. Recently I have noticed my 17 year old daughter (the one with Down Syndrome) saying the exact same thing I say, “I hate getting up early.” She says it frequently and bemoans the fact that she has to get up when the sky is still dark. Her words and her attitude echo mine but the funny thing is she really gets up easily early in the morning. She has learned to say those words and exhibit grumpy behavior because I do. Children are a great reflection of their parents words, actions and attitudes. They learn how to think and act about things from our behavior and sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s not so good. Since hearing my daughter repeat not only my words but my tone of voice too, I have decided to not complain anymore (at least about getting up early). Now I have started focusing on the positive with her about getting out of a warm bed while its still dark outside. In my tired, fuzzy mornings I now say things like “aren’t we lucky that you get to go to a good school” or “you’re so lucky you get to ride the bus” because she absolutely loves to ride the bus. I still don’t like getting up early but focusing on the positive has been a good thing. There always is something positive to focus on because I live in a nice home that’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I have good food to eat and clean water to drink. Life is good and my words and attitude should reflect that. Hearing my daughter sound like me has also been a good thing. It helps me reshape my thinking and become aware of the things I say or do that maybe I need to change. Some things are easy to change while other things can be very difficult, but we do have help available. Keith Wilcox in the April 1985 General Conference said, “By seeking the Lord through prayer and through his holy scriptures, we learn to look for the beautiful and to develop positive attitudes.” God is in the details of our lives and will help us when we ask for His help, whether it’s something easy or something hard.
Many years ago I struggled to figure out most nights what I was going to fix for dinner. When I waited to think about it until 5:00 not only was I tired but my children were also tired and usually wanting my attention. Crying, crabby children didn’t make it easy to think clearly about planning dinner. In this situation I could usually think of about 3 or 4 things to fix which night after night didn’t go over so well. Often I wouldn’t have all of the ingredients I needed to make the dinner, which added to the stress. It was then hurry to the store or find something else to fix. Life is stressful enough without increasing it with this nightly dance. So I decided I was going to be really organized and plan menus for each week. That way I wouldn’t be trying to figure out dinner in a stressful situation, and I would always have the food available I needed to make dinner. The first time I sat down to write the menu all I could think of was the same 3 or 4 things. That obviously didn’t work so I came up with a plan. I decided to look through cook books that I often used and made a list of main courses, side dishes, salads and desserts. I put the meal option list in a page protector and on a clip board. This gave me a quick reference list for menu planning. I then photocopied all the recipes on the list and put them in a binder so I would have quick access to them when making dinner. I didn’t want to have to take time to find the recipes because sometimes I only had a short time to pull off the nightly feat of meal prep. I also made a shopping list with categories like produce, can goods, breads, meats, dairy and other similar things. That also went on the clip board along with the menu page. When I plan menus I look over the list, figure out the meals for each night, make out the shopping list and then I’m ready to go to the grocery store. Having everything on a clip board made crossing things off while shopping easier.
All of this took some time to organize but when it was done it was well worth it. Not only did it stop the 5:00 scramble to figure out dinner but it saved money by being organized in shopping and reducing wasted food. It also made it easier when cleaning out the fridge to know how long a particular food item had been in it. Some times if I was running late I would call my husband and have him look on the menu to see what was planned and get it started. There were also times when things didn’t work out for what I had planned for a particular night so I would switch nights around. Being flexible with it helped a lot. My kids also liked being to see the menu and know what was for dinner that night. Of course there were still tired, crying kids and one really tired mom on some nights but having what to fix for dinner already figured out really did help relieve a lot of the stress. There are many different ways to do menu planning and maybe some these ideas will spur your own ideas. For me this was a tool that helped life go a little smoother and reduce some stress in our lives.
My family has been involved in a project called Orange Socks. It’s an initiative of Rise, inc. and its purpose is educate people on the joys and challenges of raising a child with disabilities. Its tag line is “Inspiring Life Despite a Diagnosis” and they work to connect parents with each other to create support systems. Most of the time people associate challenges with raising a child who has disabilities but often don’t know of the joys that come to parents and siblings. The initiative started when statistics showed that most children with Down Syndrome are aborted. The Orange Socks founder realized that most people who are told they are having a child with Down Syndrome only heard the negative things about having a child with this condition. He decided to interview parents of children with Down Syndrome to get the good things as well as the hard about raising a child with this syndrome. It didn’t take long before Orange Socks branched out to include all disabilities and to also interview siblings. The initiative is now celebrating its two year anniversary and has interviewed over 100 families from all over the United States. The interviews can be heard on their website Orangesocks.org. In the last year they have also started doing video interviews.
I have been lucky enough to be involved in some of the interviews. I am amazed to see parents tackling hard situations and more than rising to the occasion. They grow as individuals as they care for their children in some times hard ways. Often other people will say something like “I could never raise a child with disabilities, I’m not strong enough.” What I have learned is that people are stronger than they think. In the interviews I sat in the parents all talked about how they rely on prayer and God to help them. They also talk about how their other children have learned to be more compassionate and kind. People sometimes forget that whatever child they have will have some challenges. In my experience with my daughter who has Down Syndrome I have some challenges that I did not have with my other children. But there are also some challenges that I had with my other children that I will not have with her, and she definitely has taught us a lot.
What really amazes me is that these parents in the interviews focus on the joy their child has brought to their lives and how much they love that child. They also talked about how they feel it is a privilege to “raise an angel.” The Orange Socks founder says there are usually three stages that parents go through when they find out they are having a child with disabilities. The first stage is “Why me,” as they come to terms with it. The second is “Why not me” as they realize life goes on and they are stronger than they thought. Eventually parents get to the third stage which is “Thank God it’s me” when they learn they have the privilege of raising an angel.
When my oldest daughter was a toddler she was a hand full at church. To help keep her quiet and entertained, my husband would take his silk handkerchief that matched his tie (an 80’s thing) and roll and fold it in such a way that it looked like a canoe with “babies” in it. He would rock it between his hands and she would sit quietly and play with it. One time at church he forgot to wear his handkerchief and as we were listening to the speaker my daughter started looking through his pockets, moving his tie around and getting in his face. Since she was being quiet we didn’t think too much about it until she loudly shouted, “Where’s that little thing you use to make babies with daddy.” That quickly got our attention, especially as the people in the pews around us started laughing. We immediately put our heads down in deep embarrassment and explained that daddy forgot to bring it. Of course we laugh about it now! When she was a little older, she and her sister opened a 20 lb bag of flour and had a “snow” fight. When I found them, all I could see were two white faces with big eyes looking at me. That was a huge mess to clean up! Another time she and this same sister blocked off the bottom of the door of the bathroom with towels and filled the floor full of water to make an indoor slip and slide. I was downstairs doing laundry when I saw water pouring down from the ceiling. I ran up stairs and found 2 girls having great fun. I was amazed at their creativity but not amused with the damaged ceiling. One time I found my electric skillet in her bath tub with dried up food in it. It turns out that she and her partner in crime (this same sister) would take my electric skillet into their bedroom and cook things when they were supposed to be asleep. All of these things were basically harmless but they kept me really busy because what one daughter didn’t think to do the other one did. Of course there were a few things that weren’t so harmless like when she let her 14 year sister take her car and drive around with some friends. We were really lucky no one was hurt with that escapade. The years have passed and now this same daughter just celebrated her 33rd birthday. She has grown into a compassionate, thoughtful person who champions the underdog (humans and animals alike!). She has this knack for reaching out to others and becoming friends with them, and still keeps in contact with high school friends. When she is your friend you will have a friend for life. She will always have your back and she tries harder than anyone else I know to improve herself. She cares about her family and reaches out to build relationships. She is an amazing person who brightens our lives. In spite of all of her antics, I am glad she’s my daughter. Happy Birthday!
Years ago, when one of my daughters was about 10, she was having some problems. She was mouthy, argumentative and hostile. It seemed like most of our interactions ended up in tears, sometimes her and sometimes mine. She decided she wanted to go to a therapist to work on some personal issues, which I thought was a great idea. After several visits the therapist told me that she was a great kid but that she just needed more of my time. I was shocked because I thought I gave her a lot of my time and I dismissed what he said as irrelevant. It wasn’t until years later that I finally understood what it was that he was trying to tell me. Most of the interactions I had with her centered on things like telling her to do her jobs, asking her for help with other kids, telling her to hurry up or slow down, and telling her things to not do or to get done. Yes, I was spending time with her but it wasn’t the one-on-one individual time she needed. It wasn’t the kind of time that said I love you and enjoy your company and want to be with you. It wasn’t the kind of time where I go to know her heart, her hopes and fears, it wasn’t quality time. Fortunately, this daughter has grown up to be an amazing person in spite of my ignorance. She finds time for each of her children despite working full-time, probably because she recognizes the importance of it. She is the kind of mother I wish I had been better at. So, if I had another magic wand to undo some things I would leave my house a little messier, I would fix simpler meals and I would find ways to spend time individually with her and with each of my kids. I would get to know a little better what is important to each of them, get to know their hearts a little better. Hopefully they would each know that I loved them and enjoyed their company and wanted to spend time with them.
One day several years ago I got a phone call from one of my son’s 5th grade teacher. She was calling to talk with me about how my divorce was affecting my son and his school work. “Divorce?” I said. “I’m not getting a divorce.” It seems my son had found a creative way to get out of trouble for not doing his homework by telling his teacher that his parents were getting a divorce and it was upsetting him so much that he was unable to do his homework. After reassuring her that my husband and I were happily married I also reassured her that this son would be turning in his homework in the future. This same son is also the one who made bombs in soda bottles which caught our field on fire, climbed out his bedroom window with a 3 story drop below to play on the roof and jumped down our laundry chute and broke the bottom out of it. He found a way to climb up onto the school’s roof which was supposed to be impossible and then of course the principal wanted to know how he did it so she could prevent other kids from doing the same thing. My son proudly showed her how he managed it which then promptly negated the effects of any punishment we did. He stuffed toilet paper in toilets to flood them and used a hatchet to chop at the support beams in our then unfinished basement. He used a rope to tie bedroom door knobs together so his sisters could not leave their rooms and he took things apart just to see how they worked, usually with a hammer. One time my husband found something broken and yelled our son’s name. This son asked “Why did you assume it was me?” And of course my husband said “because it usually is you!” My husband and I talk frequently about how surprised we are that this son of ours managed to live to adulthood. He crashed several 4-wheelers, rode his motorcycle standing on the seat, and rode skateboards with his friends on their stomachs underground in the city’s storm drainage system. Why on their stomachs? Because the pipe was only 2 feet in diameter so they couldn’t sit or stand up. We despaired over this son and couldn’t figure out why he went from one stupid/crazy/dangerous thing to the next. He argued with us over everything, and I mean everything. He once told me that anything I told him to do made him want to do just the opposite. I often thought that if he had just put half of the energy into homework or something positive the results would have been amazing. The reason why I’m telling you all of this? This son who seemed to go from one crazy thing to the next and who I fretted and despaired over has turned out to be a great adult. He’s married to a beautiful young woman and they have a little girl and he has a job he loves and really works hard at it. He takes being a good husband and father seriously, and he thanks my husband and me frequently for helping him in his life. If I had raising him to do all over again I would praise more often, trust a little more, take the long view a lot more and ignore most of the stupid stuff. Sometimes in the thick of things it’s really easy to lose sight of the big picture, it’s really easy to think that now means forever. This son who I fretted and worried over has grown up just fine.
When one of my children was 3 years old she struggled with having her socks just the right way on her feet. Not only did she want to wear a certain kind of socks (just the right thickness and feel), the line across her toes had to be perfectly straight and if it wasn’t for some reason she couldn’t cope and she would have a major melt down. When we got the line straight it had to stay straight while going into her shoe and had to be straight across her foot while in her shoe. If the sock pulled in any way she would rip the shoe off, scream and straighten the sock. Sometimes she would take the shoe off just to see if the sock line was still straight. It was a major ordeal every time I helped her get dressed. I might have handled it better but every time we did errands she would take her shoes off in the car and before we went into a store we would have to go through this ordeal again, and again before the next store. I couldn’t convince her to keep her shoes on no matter what I tried and I dreaded having to do errands with her, especially because I had other things to do and other children to help. This same daughter also had to have her blanket on her bed perfectly straight while she slept. When she woke up during the night if the blanket was not straight and smooth she would very loudly scream and since we lived in a duplex, letting her scream several times a night, every night was not an option. I was exhausted from the constant battle between shoes and blankets and didn’t know what to do about it. Comforting her, yelling at her, scolding her and anything else I could think of in my very tired brain during the many trips to her room each night was not effective. She still woke up screaming if her blanket was not perfectly straight. One day, after many months of this, I switched from mom brain to therapist brain, and in thinking about it I realized that for some reason she needed her world to be orderly to cope with her life. So I gave her a new coping mechanism. I told her that when she woke up in the middle of the night that if her blanket was not straight to tell herself “it’s okay, mommy will straighten it for me in the morning.” I also remembered that positive reinforcement worked better than negative reinforcement, so we made a star chart together and I told her that if she slept through the night without waking up and screaming about her blanket she could put a star on her chart in the morning. The night came and went and no screaming! I went into her room in the morning to check on her and the first thing she told me was she had awakened during the night, saw her blanket messed up and told herself that it was okay and that I would straighten it in the morning, which I gladly did and then she very proudly put a star on her chart. She soon learned to straighten the blanket by herself and thankfully she eventually outgrew the sock and blanket behaviors. I learned that life can be hard for children too and giving them the skills they need to successfully cope is important. I also learned to look beyond the behavior to understand the cause better and to think of solutions and not about my anger or ineptness as a parent.
Little kids and church are rough. Kids want to play and not sit still and parents want to listen to the speakers and often these things don’t mix, which can be very frustrating for everyone. Over time I found a few things that were helpful to make Sundays in church a little more pleasant. One of the things was to have a bag of quiet, small toys that they could only play with at church. By not allowing them to play with the church toys any other time it kept their interest in the toy, it wasn’t the same thing they got to play with every day. I also had a bag of Sunday toys that I would rotate every few weeks so they wouldn’t get bored with the same toys to play with every Sunday. I also found the Friend magazines had fun stories or activities to do for some of my kids who were a little older, and since a new one came every month it was easy to rotate them. At one point my kids were fighting over the crayons to use with the Friend so we went to just pencils for a while. When I let them have crayons again they did much better but if it ever became an issue I gathered up the crayons and brought out the pencils, which weren’t nearly as much fun. If my kids acted out I would take them out to the foyer but they had to sit on my lap. I didn’t allow them to run around. I would remind them of this while we were still siting on the bench by telling them they could sit on the bench and look at the Friend or play with the toys, or they could sit in the foyer on my lap without any freedom or things to do. Usually they chose freedom on the bench to having to sit on my lap in the foyer. Of course sometimes they were so worked up that I had to take them out but I kept them on my lap until they calmed down and then gave them the choice to continue to sit there or go back to freedom on the bench. Most of the time they chose to go back into the meeting. These simple things usually worked but sometimes nothing worked and I wondered why I even went to church some Sundays just to be out in the halls or foyer. As my kids got older I realized that it was just a short time in their lives that this occurred and that establishing the pattern of going to church, partaking of the Sacrament and showing reverence or love for our Heavenly Father far out weighed the hassles and problems of younger kids in church. It showed my kids that despite the frustrations that church was the place to be on Sundays.