Walking Beans, Pulling Crabgrass…Just the thing to make everyone want to click through

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When I was in middle school, my parents started a new endeavor on the farm. We’d always raised corn and soybeans (and hogs, cattle and chickens), but now Dad started growing seed beans. In other words, he grew the seeds that farmers would plant next year.

This meant the grain that was harvested had to be very, very clean (weed free). So every summer, we had to walk the bean fields and pull shattercane and cocklebur and cottonweed.

We were not given a choice. My parents paid us, but the work was not optional. We would eat supper and then go straight out to the fields. We worked until it was too dark to see anymore, whatever the outside summer temperature.

We’d take 5 rows apiece–3 when it was really bad–and work our way from the road to the tree line, where we’d wait for everyone else to finish their row. Then we’d reform for the pass back. Except when there was a bad patch and you stuck a surveyor’s flag in the row so you knew where to come back to, and we’d all converge on the patch and work together.

Sometimes it was just us. Sometimes we had neighbor boys working with us. (It was more fun then.) We had weed hooks and gloves and water bottles. We sang, we talked movies.

And of course, we groused and complained. Which is why I remembered this job this week.

Because this year, I am reclaiming my lawn from crabgrass. Or, more accurately, I am in Year One of reclaiming my lawn from crabgrass. Until about the 4th of July, I thought I was doing really well, but, um, nope.

So July 2020 has been all about pulling crabgrass. Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of crabgrass plants. Mixing it up: pull, then spray some killer, wait a few days, then start pulling again. (Being a green person, I don’t like spraying, but occasionally one must bow to reality.)
Two weeks in, I realized I couldn’t possibly win this battle without some extra labor, and I made my boys start pulling crabgrass, too.

They are not happy about it.

It didn’t take too much complaining before I began to wonder how much of the same I dished out to my parents. Then I started thinking how my kids have never had to develop the emotional stamina to do a job they didn’t like for longer than twenty or thirty minutes. Well, except for the approximately triennial Cleaning Of The Toy Room. Which is hell for everyone.

In any case, I realized that what I learned from walking beans was a lesson I have often needed in adulthood. So I no longer feel guilty about putting my foot down and hauling them outside to help fight the unwinnable war. In the long run, it’ll be good for them.

And what else are they doing, anyway?

When Kindergarteners “Play” “Baseball”

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Face 1Watching kindergarteners “play” “baseball” is a one-hour comedy routine. Among the gems:

– a cute little boy who hits the ball, stares at it open-mouthed, and then, with all the parents shouting for him to run, runs…to third base.

– Having been thrown out at third, everybody says, “First base, buddy! First base!” He proceeds to run straight across the infield, just in time to get out again at first. (Good thing nobody actually gets “out” at age 5.)

– (mother in the stands, to a boy at bat): “Billy! No lightsabers!”

– the little girl standing at home plate crying as the coach throws her pitches, which she doesn’t really try to hit, and when she does hit one by accident, she turns to the backstop and wails, “MOOOOM!” At which point the long-suffering mom jogs with her to first base.

– Michael, at first base, dancing/making friends with the runner he’s supposed to be guarding.

– a batter who hits the ball, then runs after it and fields it himself.

Have a nice Labor Day weekend! I may or may not blog on Monday. I leave myself the option to take the day off.

Battleground: Parenthood

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Butting HeadsThe hardest thing about parenthood, to me, is not knowing. I know he’s mad at me when he gets out of the car at school and takes off without a word. I also know why he’s mad at me. What I don’t know is whether some part of him recognizes the truth of what I said. Or is there only room in his brain for his own self-righteous anger?

I know the horrid things I thought about my parents…and siblings…when I was his age. Actually, with me it hit a little older, but this angst is all familiar.

I feel so often like I’m caught in between. Forced to choose sides, knowing it will, at least temporarily, damage my relationship with the one who comes out on the down side. Forced to arbitrate between (and sometimes among) small people with practically zero self-awareness and an equivalent ability to admit wrongdoing. It takes practice at humility to learn to say “I’m sorry;” most adults can’t even do it. I thought making it part of conflict resolution in small childhood would lay down good neural pathways, but as they get older it doesn’t seem to be helping.

It’s about humming. And Xbox. And who’s packed their lunch. Or done their bathroom chore. And whose turn it is in the front seat. All these completely irrelevant things. Such nastiness toward each other. Such a lack of tolerance. Sharing, oh, the battles. We have one TV, one Xbox, and a limited amount of time. And if one person is using it, the others are getting extra screen time, or else we’re having battles to tell them to go do something else. And no matter how I try to handle it—and I’m always trying to figure out how to be fair—I’m always wrong. Not in the eyes of one of my children. In everyone’s.

I remember someone once saying that if you got Toy X for one child, you had to buy a duplicate for the other one so they wouldn’t fight over it. We had such a knee-jerk reaction to that, but I’ve always understood the temptation, and never more than now.

I have to believe that in the long run, the battles I am fighting will turn out to have been worth fighting. But it’s so hard when everything is a battle.

The trials and tribulations of Kate, mother

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Golden Hour Swing

Don’t let those innocent faces fool you. I’m on to them.

In the past week, a couple things have happened in my world.

First, we learned that our 5 1/2-year-old needs a nap after school. Luckily, it only took us two days to realize what was going on. Unluckily, we haven’t figured out how to make it really work yet, so sometimes it happens, and sometimes…it doesn’t.

Second, I’d had it up to HERE (envision the hand at the hairline) with being ignored. For example: that blasted black sock was STILL sitting on the living room floor THREE DAYS and FIVE REMINDERS after first being pointed out/instructed to put it away.

I was not happy. Not happy at all.

Saturday morning, I cornered the kids in the van, where they were all seatbelted in and couldn’t get away, and I announced (calmly) (mostly) a change in procedures in our house. From now on, I will give an instruction one time. If I have to give it again, the consequence will be an extra chore. Two reminders = two extra chores. Three strikes and you’ve lost your screen time for the day.

That was 9:30 a.m. By lunchtime, Michael had lost his screen time.

On Sunday, Nicholas made it to two strikes. Even though we had a conversation about it while he was doing the job I’d given him.

(What kind of conversation, you say? I’m so glad you asked. Here’s a strong-willed child insight: “So,” he says, as he’s sllllooooowwwwwwllly doing what I told him and getting his a) loose change, b) wallet, c) ear buds, d) book off the table so I can set for dinner. “So…do we get three strikes every day? Or do they just add up till we hit three?” Would you like to know where I found all that stuff? On the stairs. Still not put away. Envision me pounding my head against the nearest hard surface.)

But wait! There’s more! Sign up today and for absolutely free (oh wait, this isn’t an infomercial? my bad) you’ll get Miss Julianna on Sunday afternoon, trying to sneak extra iPad time by closing the door to the boys’ room so I wouldn’t hear it talking to her.

And that night, in what is becoming almost a nightly pattern, we came upstairs to go to bed and found Nicholas and Michael having a sleepover on their floor.

As my husband is known to say, when told of his children’s latest and greatest exploits:

“Awesome.”

An Unexpected Aldi Hack (i.e.: Friday Funnies)

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I stumbled across a wondrous thing yesterday: how to get through the grocery store in record time. I’m sure it’s going to be universally useful to every person who reads from the fount of world-changing information known as Kate’s Blog.

How To Get Through Aldi In Eighteen Minutes

Even the Dark Side needs motivation

That’s me in the center, on a mission. And three of my minions. The fourth one took the picture. (Real Photo credit: kennymatic, via Flickr.)

Step 1: Invite over two extra elementary school-aged boys.

Step 2: Promise them the XBox…AFTER you get done at Aldi.

Step 3: Prepare for anarchy. When they grab the list from your hand, just roll with it. When they shout, “What can I get next?” yell something. Anything. When the youngest cries because everyone else is faster than he is…ignore it.

Step 4: Let them run all over the store, collecting items. Don’t try to keep track of them. They’re like boomerangs. They always come back. The kids, that is. By all means, keep track of the list! That is, after all, the point of the visit.

Step 5: Let them find you a grocery lane. Because they can’t be any worse than you at picking the shortest line, right?

Step 6: When they go hide under the far checkout lane to do surveillance…just pretend they belong to someone else.

“Who ARE those poorly-behaved little boys?” Photo credit: ALDI security valiant aja, via Flickr.

Step 7: Let them all pack a grocery bag, and forget worrying about what goes in it. Except for the lettuce bags. Those are sacrosanct.

Step 8: Leave Aldi 18 minutes after arriving.

There, you see? I told you it was universally useful. You’re welcome.

Happy Memorial Day!

 

How We Taught Our Kids To Be Good Eaters

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Image by Michael Stern, via Flickr

My kids are really good eaters. I’m kind of surprised at this, frankly, because I am and always have been a pretty picky eater.

And the thing is, we approach food all “wrong,” according to all the parenting advice I ever read. We’ve almost always forced our children to finish what they’re given—unless it’s starch, because starch is filler and nobody needs to fill up on that. We’ve been very clear that you don’t get dessert until you finish all the healthy stuff. We’re “no garlic bread until you finish your vegetables” parents. Or, in Michael’s case (he’s still a work in progress, actually), the meat before the garlic bread, because he eats his vegetables like a pro.

Given my own history of pickiness, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to puzzle out why my kids eat vegetables so well. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. I used the book Super Baby Foods to introduce foods, and I was always very cognizant of alternating sweet foods and not-sweet foods. (Sweet potato, avocado, banana were always the first three, in order. Notice I didn’t start with the super-sweet one. And notice I didn’t start with cereals, either.)

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We don’t eat a lot of this, for one thing. (Image by Michael Stern, via Flickr.)

2. I made virtually all our baby food from real food, chopped up fine but not cooked beyond recognition and made into a paste. Which meant they got accustomed to the coarser texture of vegetables and meats from the beginning.

3. Kids have to eat everything they’re given, with a few exceptions. When Alex was three and gagged on mashed potatoes, for instance, I decided mashed potatoes are wasted calories anyway, I’m not going to force that. Another key is starting them on very doable portion sizes. (Vegetable portion sizes increase over time, but starting them with a couple of bites got them in the habit.)

4. For a couple of years, we served the vegetables first and everyone had to eat those before we moved on to the pasta or the steak. Christian told me he was “not fond” of this, but it worked. We haven’t had to do it in a while now.

5. I’ve also gotten into the habit of putting vegetables in almost everything. But I don’t call it “sneaking” because I’m very up front about it. “Does that have onions in it?” they ask, and I answer, “Yes. Eat them.” And they do. Likewise, “what is that red stuff?” I’ll say, “Red pepper. Eat it.”

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Trying to be cognizant of this. (Image by Michael Stern, via Flickr.)

6. What do I mean by vegetables in everything? Processed kale and spinach and Brussels sprouts and occasionally avocado in chili, in soups, in zucchini muffins. Spinach in smoothies. If I can figure out how to add super veggies to it without significantly changing the taste or texture, I do. And I’m very up front about it, and always have been, which means the kids take it in stride.

7. We eat a huge variety of foods, because I like to cook. We’re always trying new recipes. One of our favorite stories is that Alex once asked a friend’s mom to make him quiche. (Did I ever mention that kembalay—creme brulee—was one of his first words?) (Hmm. I haven’t made creme brulee in quite a while…)

8. We make them try almost everything, even the funky salads and stuffed mushrooms I make primarily for myself and for Christian. But these trials don’t fit into the category of “must finish.” That’s a balance of trust: they will try new things because they know if they don’t like it, they only have to eat one bite.

9. Between the ages of 3-5, we “picked” the food battles. It was unpleasant and again, we’re still fighting it with Michael, whose most common words at dinner are “I don’t like _____!” But it’s definitely paid off—even for him, because although he resists protein, he’s a terrific vegetable eater.

10. We talk about food groups a lot, so even the youngest kids are learning what constitutes a protein and knows protein and fruit/vegetables are most important, and everything else is filler. We talk about portion sizes and moderation, and when they want seconds or—especially—thirds, we ask them to think about whether they’re really hungry or not.

So far, they seem to be learning the lessons I most want them to learn.

So that’s my best guess at why my kids eat well. What’s worked for you?

In Which I Win “THE VOICE”: Van edition (and other Friday Funnies)

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fridayfunniesMichael, holding a paper back mouse with whiskers on one side:

“I’m naming my mouse ABCMouse.com!”

Me: “I’m definitely raising 21st century children.”

Julianna, holding a baby doll:

“Mom, my baby name, is, Dzustin…Bieber!”

Me: speechless.

Nicholas, at prayer time following an ice storm:

“I pray for good roads and a lot of snow.”

Me: “You do realize those two prayers are completely at odds with each other.”

Alex: “No they aren’t! I don’t want ice, I just want a lot of…well…I don’t care if it’s on the SIDEWALKS, I just want it not on the STREET!”

Christian: “Alex wants twenty inches of snow to fall only on the yard.”

Our Advent season car soundtrack:

Michael: “BLAH BLAH BLAH BLEE BLEE BLEE!”

Nicholas and Julianna: “You’re a grand old flag! If you like to talk to tomatoes….Veggie ta-a-ales, veggie ta-a-ales, there’s never ever ever ever (ever ever…ever…ever) been a show like…”

Alex: “NO, NOT AGAIN!

Nicholas and Julianna: “Fine. O SAY CAN YOU SEE?”

Alex: “Aaagh!”

Me: “Alex, you should start singing the theme to the Flash. You’ve got to fight back!”

Alex: “But they LIKE the theme to the flash.”

Me: “You’re thinking about this all wrong. You’re not trying to find something they don’t like. You’re trying to find something YOU DO. Like…like this.”

Me:

In the car:

Dead silence.

Ha-ha! I won!

 

The Grace to Let Enough be Enough

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More“What come next?”

There was a period of several months recently when Julianna was constantly asking this question: when a song ended on a CD, at the end of a scene in a movie, whenever we got back in the van after running an errand or going to a lesson.

Lately, it feels like the two younger boys have taken up the standard she dropped. The whole time we were at the Lake last week, it seemed the moment we left one attraction they were demanding to know what the next one was. Frequently asking to do other things that weren’t on the agenda at all. Since we got home, I’ve been on full-speed ahead, trying to catch up with everything I didn’t have time to do before we left and while we were gone. And yet the kids are coming to me with deep sighs and saying things like “When do we get to go on the carousel?” and “I want to go to the arcade at the mall!”

I came down pretty hard on that last one. “We just went to an arcade–at the Lake!” I said. Quickly followed up by a (short) lecture on ingratitude and an attitude in which nothing is ever enough. (Because we all know how effective Lectures were when we were growing up.)

But short as that lecture was, I could see in their eyes that they Weren’t Getting It. And I took a look inside myself and had to wince at what I saw.

Because I have this problem, too. Christian ends every day by taking a survey, generally of what went right: what we accomplished, what he’s thankful for. Meanwhile I’m always fighting this rumbling dissatisfaction, this desire for more, more, more. If I managed to write a text for one verse, I’m dissatisfied because it wasn’t two. If I write half a chapter on a novel, I’m frustrated because it wasn’t a thousand words. Or because I’m afraid it’s episodic, and I’m terrified that it’s never going to live up to the potential of the concept. (Because this concept? It’s a good one. Really good.) When we finish a project, I feel a brief satisfaction, and then it’s right on to the next thing I haven’t gotten done yet. And of course, the list of things I want to get done literally never ends.

This is how I’m able to “do it all,” as people always put it, but it definitely has a dark side. I love everything I do, but, German-like, I have trouble drawing a line and letting go when it’s time to do so. I have trouble living in the moment.

But it drives me crazy when I see it in my kids. Perhaps it’s because they are trying to make their ingratitude my problem. I look at the kaleidoscope of experiences they’ve had and I’m just thunderstruck at how it’s never enough. I take a deep breath and I remind myself that kids are always clueless, self-absorbed, and developmentally incapable of the kind of awareness I’m able to exercise. I tell myself surely I was the same way, and this is just part of the process of raising holy terrors into holy men and women.

But I also think I have some work to do in my own soul. This Chade Meng-Tan book I’m reading is slow going because I feel I should be practicing, not just dinking around with it, and I have too many other irons in the fire to devote the time properly. But in the way it resonates with my experience reading Thomas Merton, whose words in turn resonated with what I have experienced sitting in nature, I know that the key to this whole puzzle resides in a quietness of spirit that has to be cultivated.

So there’s my next challenge. And perhaps—just perhaps—my efforts will enlighten my children’s lives, too.

Anatomy of a Pseudo-Foodie Family

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My go-to cookbooks are personal compilations.

Our go-to cookbooks are personal compilations. Bottom: main dishes, Italian family recipes, and desserts. Top: Appetizers, vegetables, starches, breakfast, sandwiches. We also keep the laundry detergent recipe in here. (You can see it peeking out from behind the tenderloin recipe.)

Item: one of Alex’s first words was “creme brulee.”

Item: when our kids go over to other people’s houses and get asked what they want for dinner, they have been known to ask for “crab quiche.”

Item: we’ve started doing cheese tastings with the kids.

We love food in our house. And over the years, Christian & I have gotten a number of chuckles out of the un-kid-like way our kids look at it. We’re not hard-core foodies, mostly because we have four kids and we’re too cheap to be. (Because, yanno, we have to be.) But as I’ve noted before, it’s all about the food.

I like to cook. For a time, as a preteen/teen, my mom paid me $5 a week to make dinner for the family. We had a set repertoire of meals, perhaps because she’d learned we would all eat them. I remember her teaching me: bacon grease in the skillet to fry the pork steaks/pork chops/round steaks/T-bones (though we might also broil or grill those), then pour some water in and cover them up to cook. There was also fried chicken, chili, spaghetti, “Aunt Jo’s hamburger dish,” burgers, barbecued chicken, and hash (which is soup bones cooked & separated and served as a stew with potatoes over bread). And of course a handful of fishy recipes for Fridays. Tuna casserole, tuna gravy over rice, microwaved perch.

I have to credit that period of time, however long or short it was, with setting me and my family on a trajectory toward cooking. Even at that time I wanted to experiment with recipes, although my experiments were pretty innocuous (chopped mushrooms in the spaghetti, anyone?).

These days, Christian jokes that I’ll say I’m making baked chicken but I’ll end up with fish tacos instead. If I don’t have an ingredient, or I know I don’t like it (hello, tarragon), I’ll substitute something else. (Anything sweet is better with cinnamon in it.) And, being on a healthy eating kick the last few years, I’m constantly trying to work super vegetables into things. Spinach is my go-to. It gets chopped up and put in every stew we eat, including chili.

But one thing I don’t do is lie to my kids about it. I made a decision early on to be straight with them. If they ask if it has onions in it, I tell them, “Yes.” Spinach? “Yes.” Mushrooms? “Yes.” Always followed by the words, “Eat it anyway.”

All my kids are really good eaters, who are not scared of spinach, because we insisted on a healthy, balanced diet when they were little and they got used to it. I don’t make anyone eat starches if they don’t want them (Alex used to gag on mashed potatoes), and there are times when we’ll compromise. The cubanos were a little exotic for them, for example. But by and large, they are very good eaters.

There are many things about myself as a parent about which I feel insecure, but this is not one of them. We endured the battles when they were little. We had budding picky eaters; we just refused to coddle them. I was not going to make separate meals for kids, and I want to eat widely and with great variety. Ergo, so will they. Every one of them went through a phase (around age 3) where dinner was a battle. I had almost given up hope on getting through it with Nicholas when he finally came around. Julianna scavenges broccoli scraps from people’s plates. (Broccoli!) Michael is the last holdout, and has been known to sit at the table for forty minutes to finish his meat (oddly, it’s not usually the vegetables.)

We’re not perfect. I’ve never been able to develop a taste for the beans and legumes that would allow us more variety in our meatless meals. But I love that our kids have a taste for a variety of food and that they’re not scared of trying new things. Last week at the zoo in Omaha we had them try sambusa, for instance. They were lukewarm about it, but nobody objected to trying it. And all our food conversations involve discussion of protein, vegetable, fruit, and starch. I feel like I’m growing kids who are going to take their food seriously—in the best possible way.