Thursday, March 13, 2014

In Which Two Mason Jars Revolutionize My Life

It should come as no surprise to anyone that mothers of four-year-old boys--and perhaps four-year-old children in general--at some point become desperate for some sort of system to encourage good behavior and discourage misbehavior. I have a child who is, like his parents (ahem, especially his father), incredibly stubborn, and for a long, long (oh so long) time, things like time out just didn't work at all for us. Because my darling, wonderful, energetic, tenacious child simply refused to sit in time out. At one point we had resorted to time out in his room, with a child-proof knob cover on the inside doorknob, duct-taped on. Even then, time out would just be several minutes of torture for both of us, with Nate banging on the door and yelling, and me wondering when he'd figure out the knob cover. Good times.

Now, thanks be to God, he will actually sit in time out, and will do so on our steps. But still, I didn't feel like time out was really working for us. Sure, it was something I could do when he was misbehaving, just to feel like I was doing something, but there were still two problems: First, using time out to punish disobedient behavior was doing absolutely nothing to encourage kind, helpful, obedient behavior. And, second, I didn't actually feel like it was actually reducing the frequency of disobedient, unkind, or unhelpful behavior.

I've had several people suggest sticker reward charts, and I think that for many kids they're great. I was more intrigued, though, by this incredibly detailed behavior chart, which I've had bookmarked in my browser for over two years. The thing I liked about it was that you could tell your child to move up or down, thereby both rewarding/encouraging positive behaviors and discouraging negative behaviors. And it was simple in its day-to-day execution, in that you just tell the child to go and move up or down, depending on what he's doing. (Obviously quite a bit of thought has to go into determining which rules to enforce on the chart and which privileges and consequences to include, and effort into actually making the chart.)

I sat down last Friday to figure out how to make that chart work for us, and I realized that we're just not there yet. Nate isn't old enough, I felt, for some of the consequences in the "red zone" to be appropriate, especially because there are certain things I always want to encourage him to do right now. I always want him to be able to play outside, read books, and even play with his toys. Also, he's just not old enough to really do that many chores helpfully. He does things like load his dishes into the dishwasher after meals, put his clothes into the hamper, and clean up his toys, but sending him around the house wiping baseboards or swiping things with the feather duster didn't really seem like the best way to help him earn privileges back. Someday . . . but not yet.

So I was feeling a little stuck. I wanted something simple, something that was adaptable to any behavior, and something that both encouraged positive behaviors and discouraged negatives ones. I also wanted it to be easy for a four-year-old to understand. And, let's face it: I didn't want it to be ugly. I'll be the first to admit that I'm particular about my house, and this is something I needed to have out and accessible at all times.

Suddenly I remembered a package of craft pom poms I've long had languishing in a cabinet. And an idea struck me: Why not have Nate move the pom poms from one container to another as he behaves and misbehaves, and earn a treat of some sort when all of the pom poms move to the reward container?

I grabbed two mason jars from the cabinet. My bag of pom poms was small and filled up a regular size mason jar exactly. There are around 30-35 pom poms in the jar.

I didn't want the reward to be any sort of toy. Heaven knows that Nate has plenty of toys, and I'm hoping that this is a reward he will achieve over and over. I saw an expired coupon for Sweet Frog, a nearby frozen yogurt shop that Nate adores. (We will ignore the fact that he always insists on cookies and cream yogurt topped with gummy bears. Gross.) I cut off the frog logo from the coupon and taped it to one of the jars.


This is so incredibly simple that I almost feel silly sharing it here, but it has been so wonderfully effective for us just in the past week. I love that Nate can see the progress he is making as he works toward his goal and that he can see if he's going backward, too.

Basically it works like this. When I ask Nate to do something--get dressed, clear his plate, clean up his toys, turn off the TV, whatever--if he obeys the first time, without grumping about it, he earns a pom pom. (Our mantra on obedience comes from the author of my Bible study: he should obey "right away, all the way, with a cheerful heart.") If he grumps or ignores me or refuses to comply, I remind him that he can lose a pom pom for disobedience, and I start counting down from five to one. (For some reason, counting down has been key lately for Nate, probably because he knows where the end point is.) It's already very rare to count all the way down without compliance, but if he gets stubborn he moves a pom pom out of the reward jar into the plain jar. Compliance that doesn't occur right away but occurs before I finish counting down is neutral in this system, with no pom pom added or deducted.

Certain misbehavior would lose a pom pom with no warning, of course, and I'm assuming that if something arises that is particularly egregious, we'll still resort to time out. The crazy thing is, time out hasn't really been necessary since we introduced the jars. He has had time out maybe--maybe--once in seven days, and honestly I can't even remember. He is trying to be helpful.

I'm not sure whether this is some sort of a honeymoon period, but David and I are completely astounded at what a difference this has made, so quickly. I love knowing that there's a simple, ready consequence for misbehavior and a built-in reward for positive behavior.

Now, what are the drawbacks? Already, I can see at least two. First, this obviously isn't a particularly portable system, although I did tell him when we were away from home today that he'd lose a pom pom for something, and he moved it when we got home without fussing. So maybe with day-to-day outings with one kid, it's not a big deal.

But that brings me to the second drawback: I'm not sure this is the best for families with more than, say, two kids, just because you'd end up with so many jars or other containers sitting around. I could envision making up a magnet board or something with two sections for each kid, but I am pretty happy with the sort of large number of pom poms we have in the jar. I want to reward lots of instances of positive behavior every day without earning the big prize too quickly, to get him into the habit of cheerful obedience right away. That means having lots of poms available for him to move--again, there are 30-35 in the jars. I'm sure someone craftier and more creative than I am can come up with a relatively compact take on this for families with more little ones, but mason jars probably aren't the solution.

So, that's it. So simple that I'm kicking myself for not thinking of it earlier, and maybe someone out there already did. Right now I'm just so excited to see something working for my delightful spitfire of a kid that I'd be remiss if I didn't share.

Two jars and a random bag of craft poms. Who knew?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Brushes with Fame

It's Oscars night! The dresses are beautiful, the awards themselves are boring, and the only thing I'm really anxious to see tonight is Idina Menzel singing Let it Go.

In honor of the Oscars tonight, I present the Petrons' brushes with celebrity, those moments when we were in the presence of famous folks in entertainment. I'm totally excluding politicians from this list, because, come on, I worked on Capitol Hill for three years. Politicians just aren't that exciting when you live in DC.

Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin: New Year's Eve 1996. The (now-defunct) Lighthouse Restaurant, Athens, Georgia. I was working as a waitress in this small restaurant when Georgia-native Basinger and then-husband Baldwin came in for dinner. They weren't sitting in my section, but they were gracious to everyone and tipped their waiter very well. She was absolutely beautiful in person.

Kerry Washington: David went to college with her!

Kate Hudson: She was staying at the Halekulani hotel in Honolulu while David and I were on our honeymoon there. She was filming You, Me, and Dupree. When her nanny had Kate's son in the hotel pool one day, I mistakenly made a comment about his being such a cute little girl. Oops.

Julia Ormond: Lobbied my former boss about anti-human trafficking efforts when we were working on an anti-trafficking bill in 2008.

Julianne Moore: Was having dinner at the table next to ours in a downtown New York City restaurant. She's positively luminous in person, and her daughter was also just gorgeous.

Bono: Also came in to lobby my former boss on humanitarian issues. The entire office went gaga, obviously.

Patricia Heaton: Met her at a Feminists for Life event here in the DC area. Total class act.

Kate Mara: David was recently on an LA-DC flight with her. I'm still bitter he wouldn't send me a surreptitious picture, but kudos to my husband for being classier than I am.

Michael Stipe and some other REM member: When I was on the UGA homecoming court in 1997, they were seated in the row in front of us at the Homecoming week Indigo Girls concert. I think they were none too happy to be in the section with the kids on Homecoming court.

What are your brushes with fame?

7 Posts in 7 Days is hosted by Jen at Conversion Diary

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Can Stay-at-Home Mothers and Working Mothers Really be Friends?

How's that for a provocative, link-bait style title? Because of course I don't believe that mothers who are home with their kids full-time and mothers who go to an office or another job can't be friends in any absolute sense. And more importantly, I think that they should be friends. I'll admit, though, that I've found it difficult, as a practical matter, to maintain friendships with my mom friends who work outside the home.

When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine from the Hill was due exactly one day later than I was. During our pregnancies, we'd get together to go for walks, or we'd attend prenatal yoga classes together. During her maternity leave, too, we were able to hang out at home and chat, nursing our babies and watching movies.

And then she went back to work and, understandably, got considerably busier. I got considerably lonelier, and needed to seek out other mom friends who were home during those interminable weekday hours when David was at work. Although we certainly are still friends, our social interactions these days are basically limited to our kids' birthday parties or other large-group weekend events.

I quickly found that I needed friends who were available for lunch or playdates on weekdays, and that I felt very protective in keeping our limited evening and weekend time with David as family time. For moms who work outside the home, I imagine the need to protect their time is even more acute: Not only do they have less time with their kids, but they also have errands and everything it takes to keep a household running to fit into their out-of-the-office hours.

It's only natural, then, that my closest friends these days are the ones I can see on a random Tuesday afternoon when our kids are making us crazy. And if I still worked in an office, I'd expect to have closer relationships with women who could duck out for lunch with me or sneak in a manicure on a slow Friday afternoon.

My closest friend these days who works outside the home is also my goddaughter's mother, and both she and her husband are good friends of ours. So when we get together it's most often with our whole families. And that's great! I love seeing all of them. But I feel like it's not enough, really. I think that female friendships are important--and that it's important to get the chance to really talk without chasing after the kids or having our husbands around. I also think it's important for moms in different circumstances to gain perspective from one another.

I don't know what to do about it, as a practical matter. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much free time for any family in the week, and it's a simple fact that we're going to spend the most time with the friends who are more accessible for us. But just because it's easiest for me to be friends with other moms who are at home full-time (or most of the time; one of my best friends is a NICU nurse who works limited, irregular hours) doesn't mean that I shouldn't find a way to nurture my friendships with my delightful friends who have full-time jobs.

So really my question is, how can stay-at-home mothers and mothers with outside jobs best find time to spend together? If you're a mom who works outside the home, what would you like your SAHM friends to know about how to hang out with you more? What do you do to enrich your friendships with women whose schedules are very different from your own?

Friday, February 28, 2014

7 Quick Takes for 7 Posts in 7 Days


I am on a mission, and my mission is to eliminate the use of the phrase "good baby" from our collective conversation. I know what people mean when they say that a baby is a "good baby": They mean the baby is an easy baby, or mellow or laid-back or calm. "You know what I mean," people have said to me when I correct them. But why, then, don't we just say the thing that we actually mean? Because when we describe as "good" the baby who eats and sleeps easily, who fusses rarely, then what does that imply about the baby who is more challenging? Nate had reflux. He was difficult to get to sleep, often refused to stay asleep, and cried through most evenings early on. He was a challenge. That doesn't mean he wasn't a "good baby." All babies are good. But when we ask a sleep-deprived new mother whether her baby is "good," and he or she isn't laid-back and easy--the things that we really mean when we ask that question--then what is that poor mom supposed to say?

Maybe it's the lawyer in me, rising from hibernation to demand precision in our language, but let's just say what we mean here, mkay?


While I'm ranting here, can my fellow Catholics answer a question for me? Why, at so many parishes, do people positively bolt for the doors as soon as the recessional hymn starts? In all my years growing up as a Protestant, I never saw anything like it, and almost no one does it at our parish here. When I visit the parish closest to my parents' house outside Atlanta, though, people can't get out fast enough. In fact, I once had a man motion for me to move out of his way when I was at the end of the row, pointing to his watch as though that were an explanation for why he couldn't spend an extra 60-90 seconds in Christ's presence. Same thing happened at a different suburban Atlanta parish a couple of Sundays ago during our visit.

Is this a thing in other parts of the country? I know that my diocese in general and my parish in particular are on the conservative/orthodox/reverent/whatever-you-want-to-call-it side, but can anyone explain this to me as a cultural phenomenon? 


When I was in college at UGA, five of my friends lived in the Episcopal Center on campus during our sophomore year. The center was (and still is, to the best of my knowledge), comprised of two buildings, an old, ramshackle house and a much newer chapel. (You can see an old picture of the center here, if you're curious. Incidentally, the brochure in that link notes that the then-chaplain, Father Marsh, was installed at the center in 1965. He was still the chaplain when I started college in 1994! He did retire from the center while I was in college, but I think that's a pretty impressive tenure for dealing with obnoxious college kids.)

Long before the school year was over, my friends learned that they wouldn't be able to finish out the year living in the house. The upstairs wasn't up to code, largely (I think) because there wasn't any sort of secondary fire escape or staircase in case of an emergency. Needless to say, they were incredibly disappointed and inconvenienced at trying to find student housing in a college town in the middle of the school year.

The thing I remember, though, was the sign that they posted at the top of the stairs after hearing the news: "We Gave Up Hope For Lent." 

Kind of irreverent, sure, but aren't we all feeling that way a little bit as the Winter That Will Never End slides into the Lenten season next week? I feel completely unjustified in my complaints, given what my friends in places like Michigan, Minnesota, and Massachusetts are dealing with (unintentional alliteration, FTW!), but this has NOT been a typical winter, right? 

Here in the DC area, we tend to get little pockets of downright pleasant weather sprinkled through January and February, so that I genuinely don't mind the cold days. I feel like one day I look up and the flowers are blooming and I'm all, "Oh, I guess it's spring already." (Those of you in cold climates where spring comes in May can feel free to chuck tomatoes in my direction.) This winter, though, has just been consistently cold. 

There are buds on the Japanese magnolia in my backyard, and it's past 6pm and still light-ish outside, so I know that spring really will get here at some point. Can't happen soon enough.


Speaking of things that can't happen soon enough, David gets home tomorrow. And the angels will sing hallelujah. As will I.


I getting increasingly desperate to find dinners that my child will actually eat, because we've reached the point where his already-limited palate is shrinking even more. There are times when I have to get him to eat something, on the three mornings a week he attends preschool and before Mass on Sundays, lest we all deal with the wrath of a "hangry" child. For dinner I've tried doing the whole "this is what we're having; take it or leave it" thing, and he'll simply leave it and fill up on food earlier in the day the next day. 

Because he's growing fine, though, there's a part of me that wants to just . . . not worry about it. Some kids are picky. He'll at least partially grow out of it, even if he's never the world's most adventurous eater. (*I'm* not the world's most adventurous eater, so I can hardly blame him.) It feels like more of an issue for me right now, maybe, because he's the only kid I have. If I had several kids and one was picky, it wouldn't make me feel like I was failing somehow as a mother; I'd just chalk it up to that kid being picky. And I really do believe that so many things, like how your kids eat and sleep, are in large measure just part of who they are. I need to keep that in mind, even as I continue to wish he'd eat the dinners I make. But seriously, it's annoying to cook and have him turn his nose up at it.


Did I mention on Twitter that I finished the Harry Potter books? I am YEARS late to the party, but I finally get what all the fuss was about! I absolutely adored them, as one would expect. David has never seen all of the movies, so we're watching them together, and it's so much fun. I already can't wait for Nate to read them (years down the road, of course), and I have a feeling I'll re-read them with him and likely before that, too. And I'm not a person who re-reads books, so that's really high praise from me.

Understatement of the decade here, but that JK Rowling is a darn fine storyteller.


Thank you for the kind comments and tweets wishing me a speedy recovery from this annoying bug. I was feeling somewhat better today. Still stuffy and coughing, but less of that awful run-down feeling. The saddest thing just happened, though. Poor Nate--who is definitely as emotionally tapped-out as I am this week--desperately wanted me to stay with him while he fell asleep. I usually have no problem with this, as he tends to fall asleep fairly quickly. Tonight, though, my coughing kept startling him back awake, to the point that there was little chance he'd fall asleep with me in the room. After giving it an hour, I decided I had to leave him alone so that he could get to sleep undisturbed, which of course left him in tears. It breaks my heart when my kid, who is missing his Papa so much right now (David nearly always puts him to bed), just wants my simple presence, and I have to take it away from him. 

Please continue to pray that this cold or virus or whatever it is is gone soon. Gah.

Both 7 Posts in 7 Days and Seven Quick Takes are hosted by Jen at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sick. And Tired.

I am struggling today, friends.

David left town on Sunday evening and won't be back until Saturday at noon. He was also gone for three days last week (yes, in the middle of our trip to see my family in Georgia), two the week before, and has been gone for various 2-3 day stretches basically all year so far.

The trip to Georgia wore me down. The drives there and back, the dealing with Nate in places that aren't home (even with wonderful family members on hand and willing to help out), the sleeping badly in beds that are not my own: they all left me exhausted. The day after we got back I could feel a cold or something coming on, but I had to plow forward because Nate's preschool was hosting a little mini-concert and potluck lunch, and as a class mom I was responsible for helping with setup and cleanup.

And then David left. I got sicker. It doesn't feel like flu (from what I remember of the times I've had the flu), but it's a nasty bug nonetheless. We've reached the point now where my abdominal muscles ache from coughing, and my nose is bleeding a little bit from blowing it so much.

That whole television detox I discussed on Monday. Oh, hahahahahahaha. As Arwen told me yesterday, "Maybe this isn't the best week to cut out TV, Lauren." Truer words were never spoken. (It still has to be done. Just not this week.)

Then there was a screwup at my doctor's office yesterday, and instead of leaving with some information I've been eager to receive, I have to make another appointment and impose on someone to watch Nate again and continue to fret about something that's probably nothing but might be something (insert standard "not pregnant" disclaimer here; don't get excited). I ended up in tears in the parking lot not because the mixup is so egregious, but just because I'm sick and lonely and tired and unable to be the mother I want to be when all of this is going on. Then I cried a couple more times today, for good measure.

Oh, and there's the minor fact that I frequently forget to feed myself when David's not around. In the five minutes we got to talk this morning before he became unreachable for 8 hours, David finally told me to just order food, for heaven's sake, and it honestly hadn't occurred to me. Or maybe when it did, I felt like I should be able to take better care of myself without copping out and throwing money at the problem. Like it's a weakness on my part or something.

Which is, of course, ridiculous. I am, quite literally, weakened at the moment, and there's no shame in getting help in the form of food. I wish that we had a regular sitter so that I could take a few hours to rest undisturbed, but at the same time I know that I have it comparably easy having one kid who will watch TV and play LEGO pretty well by himself. I shamelessly turned on Netflix this afternoon and holed up in my bed with the iPad. Sleep was out of the question, but at least it was (mostly) quiet.

And the egg drop soup that was just delivered to my door may be the best thing I've ever tasted.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Big Purse Dump

So, Kendra over at Catholic All Year is hosting a Big Purse Dump, which just seems like too much fun to pass up. I mean, I'm not the kind of person who peeks into other people's medicine cabinets, but I am the kind of person who loves looking at online photos of houses for sale and going to open houses in my neighborhood. Sometimes it's just fun to see what's on the inside of things you usually only see the outsides of, right?

The purse: a gigantic, bright orange Kate Spade two-handled tote, purchased for 40% off at the outlet. I get more compliments on this purse than any other I've ever had, which is strange because it's definitely not the most beautiful purse I own. I think it's definitely because the color is so attention-grabbing. This is the purse that has taught me that two handles make my life SO MUCH EASIER, because I can easily dig around in it while it's still on my shoulder. I've tried to go back and use other purses since buying this one, and it's just so much more annoying. Plus, this one holds anything I need.

The inside is this black and white stripe that I adore, and it's better than a big black hole where I'd just lose everything. It's got an outside and an inside zippered pocket and two phone pockets. (For two phones? A work and personal phone? Who knows.)

 And here's everything that's in my purse. Some of it is pretty standard: Wallet, gloves (during the winter only), keys, sunglasses (in the white case), gum, Kleenex, hand lotion and hand sanitizer. Not pictured: feminine hygiene products. (Just keepin' it real, folks. But not in photos.)

The red sunglasses are Nate's. He calls them his "super spy glasses." After he broke two adorable pairs of sunglasses that I bought for him--faux RayBans and tiny Avaiators--he found these on a neighborhood playground last year. I posted to my neighborhood email listserv a description of the glasses and the location where we'd found them, secretly hoping that no one would speak up to claim them because he had absolutely and completely fallen in love with them. No one did, and of course the ones he found for free--the ones that I actually find kind of hideous--are still going strong almost a year later. Kids, man.

For those who aren't Catholic, the silver ring-like thing on top of my wallet is a finger Rosary. For all of my aspirational Rosary-praying.

I always seem to have random LEGO minifigures or parts of minifigures in my purse, from the times Nate insists on bringing them out of the house. The pink and gray book is just a blank notebook that I got at Target and use to jot down meal plans or grocery lists, or that I give to Nate with a pen at restaurants. The index card is my Costco shopping list from earlier this week. It went directly into the recycling bin after this photo.

Mini racecar. Mini IronMan. Mini Washington Capitals goalie. Clearly I am the mother of a little boy.

This ziploc baggie weirdly contains cutouts of craft foam in the shapes of "nets," "goal lights," "pucks," and several different colored squares to represent two hockey teams, the referees, and the Zamboni. Nate used to use them all the time to play hockey on the table in restaurants, although lately, he hasn't been as interested. I leave them in my purse because they essentially weigh nothing and take up no space in the bag. I'm willing to bet that I am the only woman in America to have this particular thing in her pocketbook.

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, which I'm currently reading for my Catholic book club. Shortly after this photo I accidentally left it in my doctor's office. It's a hike to drive out there, so I'm pretty annoyed at myself.

The outside pocket of my purse has four sticker books, two little books that Nate got in McDonald's Happy Meals (which, ironically, both extol the virtues of healthy eating), and a Mass picture book.

The black-and-white bird pouch in the overview picture is my makeup pouch, which keeps all my toiletries nicely contained. It's also a Kate Spade outlet 40% off purchase. (As is my yellow wallet, incidentally. I may have gone a bit overboard that day.)

Antibacterial wipes, hand lotion, blotting papers, concealer, powder, a tiny hair clip, two lip balms, lip liner, and seven(!!!) lipsticks and lip glosses. Immediately after taking this photo I chucked four of the lipsticks/glosses up into my bathroom. Seven is simply unreasonable. Also, heavy. 

So that's it: a peek into the Big Orange Bag. You can eyeball dozens of other purses' contents over at Catholic All Year. Go ahead and take a peek. I won't tell anyone.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lenten Traditions

So, Ash Wednesday is finally arriving next week (so late!), and it has me considering what to do, both myself and for my family, for Lent this year.

I feel like we had an incredibly fruitful Advent in 2013. No, seriously, way better than any I've ever had, I think. I credit two things that really worked for us. First, we committed to getting--and actually got--all of the Christmas shopping done prior to the start of Advent. I cannot emphasize how huge this was for me, because we have a lot of people to buy for, with no real way to scale things down by drawing names or anything. Obviously this won't be an issue for Lent, because we don't go huge on Nate's Easter basket, and he's the only person we need to buy anything for.

Second, we finally tried a Jesse Tree. Lots of families make their own Jesse Tree ornaments, but I have negative craftiness skills and a kid who really couldn't care less about making things. So I bought one of tabletop ornament display trees (this one, in case you're curious), and got a gorgeous set of painted wooden ornaments from Jesse Tree Treasures on Etsy.

Simply lighting the Advent wreath had never been a successful tradition for us. I wanted to light it during dinner, but between David getting home late or Nate needing to eat earlier than David and me or going out to eat, more often than not we weren't able to make it happen consistently.

With the Jesse Tree, we had a short, consistent routine for each night of Advent. Shortly before getting Nate ready for bed, we'd light the Advent wreath, sing a verse of O Come O Come Emmanuel, read the Bible story that accompanied that day's ornament (from one of Nate's children's Bibles*, if possible, but occasionally from my Bible for the less popular stories). Then Nate would hang the ornament on the tree and blow out the candle. It was quick, easy, consistent, and really kept us focused on how all of history led up to the Incarnation.

(* Nate has a couple of Bibles that we really like.  My favorite is the Jesus Storybook Bible, which has a beautiful way of explaining all of the stories to make them relatable to children and refers forward to Christ in every Old Testament story. Be warned, however, that it is a Protestant Bible and contains theological flaws in its description of the institution of the Eucharist. We also have My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories, which is beautifully illustrated and I think will become our go-to as Nate gets older. Its text is actually pulled straight from the Bible, and just has introductions for each story, and accompanying prayers, questions, and pictures. Because it's straight-up Biblical text, though, it can be a little bit over Nate's head right now.)

I'd love to do something similar for Lent, and I just saw that the same shop from which we bought the Jesse Tree ornaments is offering a lovely set of "Jesus Tree" ornaments. (And I recognize that these ornaments and the Jesse Tree ornaments are kind of pricey. I figured they were something we would have for many years to come, and so were worth investing in.)

I've also seen this beautiful wooden Way of Light wreath, although I really like that the ornaments come built-in with instructions telling us which Bible passages to read as a family. When it comes to devotions with my particular four year old, it needs to be pretty straightforward.

I'd love to do some sort of emphasis on almsgiving for Nate, as well, and I know some families who collect change with their kids for Catholic Relief Service's Operation Rice Bowl. He doesn't yet get an allowance or anything, but maybe we could go through his toys together and decide on some to donate. I also think something like a Forty Bags in Forty Days (donating forty bags of items during Lent) would be good for all of us and for my house. Maybe I could get inspired to clear out some of the baby stuff I've been holding onto for so long.

For myself, I'm wondering whether this Lent might finally be the time I can make the Rosary a habit. I know that not every devotion needs to speak to every Catholic, and I love other devotions like Morning or Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, but honestly I feel like a "bad" Catholic for never being able to make the Rosary a regular part of my prayer life. I have an excellent audio Rosary app on my phone that I like because it includes nice descriptions of each of the Mysteries and makes it easy for me to keep them in mind as I pray each decade. That might help me get started. Miriel also introduced me to the idea of a "Rosary walk" when she was living here, and I really like that way of praying the Rosary; when I'm just sitting in a room I tend to get distracted.

In particular, though, I'm interested in what we can do as a family. Nate is old enough now that he can really start to understand the liturgical seasons, and I would love for him to be able to look back on something that we always did for Lent while he was growing up.

Do you have any family Lent traditions?

Monday, February 24, 2014


Every once in a while, I feel like Nate needs a reset. It's almost always my fault, or my fault combined with less-than-ideal circumstances, but it always happens when I've been letting the television take over our lives.

Recently David has been traveling a lot for work. I'd say that at least two weeks out of every four, he's spending a few days per week on the road. Right now, we're in the middle of a four-week stretch where he's gone at least two and up to six days each week.

There are a lot of ways in which this simply isn't a big deal for me. Nate is, after all, only one kid, and he's long out of diapers and isn't particularly needy in the night. But the downside of his being only one kid is that he has no built-in playmates, and so when I need to get a few things done and he won't readily play by himself, it's all too easy to turn on Netflix or hand him an iPad.

Last week we were in Georgia visiting my family, including my sister's darling new baby, and between the 10-hour drives each way and my family's tendency to leave the television on all day, it was pretty much non-stop screen time for a week. By the end of the drive home, poor Nate was in full-on meltdown mode, and I knew that this would have to be a screen detox week.

The weird thing is, it's somehow generally easier to cut the screens for him altogether than it is to limit them to only an hour or so each day. Am I the only one whose kid works like this? I already try to wait as late in the day as possible to pull out the electronic entertainment, because once it's turned on it's a battle to turn it off. I know plenty of moms who can do a mid-day 30-minute TV break to make lunch or do a chore or even--heavens!--just have a few minutes to themselves. It works perfectly well for them. I don't know whether my kid is just more headstrong or somehow reacts more strongly to this sort of stimulation, but dang does it change his behavior. And not for the better.

Right now he's happily sitting at the kitchen table, playing with his approximately one gazillion LEGO minifigures and listening to the Nate the Great books on CD. I discovered during a previous TV detox that he loves listening to books on CD, and will happily listen to certain chapter books over and over while he plays. In addition to Nate the Great, which we were borrowing from the library so frequently that I finally suggested that the grandparents get them for him for Christmas, he is also a huge fan of the Magic Tree House series. (Any other series recommendations? He seems to like to hear stories with the same characters over and over.)

There's a part of me that for years has wanted to get rid of our TV altogether. I know it will never happen, though for a number of reasons, but primarily that my husband is a big sports fan who would be terribly unhappy to lack access to football and hockey. I also watch a fairly large number of TV shows. (It's always weird to see how many I really watch, because now that television series don't always adhere to the older September-May season scheduling, it's never that many shows at once. But I watch Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, How I Met Your Mother, Parenthood, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Episodes, Homeland, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, The Americans, and Call the Midwife, and I'm committed to see Grey's Anatomy through to the bitter end even though I'm behind by several episodes.) On the rare occasions when I turn on the TV just to have something on, it's almost always something from HGTV or Food Network.

I don't actually think that TV is bad, but I do have a tendency to use it as a crutch with my kid, which I know becomes bad for my particular family when it's on too much. I know it'll creep back into his days before too long, but it really is strange to me how much easier it is to give him a consistent "no" for a while than it is to cut back on how much he watches.

Am I the only one who has to detox her kid from television sometimes? Do you do a full-on stoppage like we do, or are you able to simply cut back? How do you know when it's time for a break?

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I'm participating in 7 Posts in 7 Days, hosted by Jen of Conversion Diary

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Journeying to Bethlehem (or around my house)

It's probably no surprise that I'm no fan of the Elf on the Shelf. We don't "do" Santa in our house (we tell Nate that he's a fun story based on the real Saint Nicholas, but we don't try to convince him that Santa really lives at the North Pole or brings him gifts on Christmas).

I don't have any big problem with Santa Claus as a fun Christmastime tradition. We decided to forego him only because our faith will require that we ask Nate to believe a lot of seemingly unbelievable things, and we want him to know that when we do tell him something, he can always count on it to be the truth. There are ways to deal with this, obviously, and I don't begrudge anyone their Santa fun.

But I do get pretty annoyed at people who use the man in red as a threat against their children ("You'd better be good or Santa won't bring you any presents!"), and I get particularly annoyed at people who tell my child that Santa isn't going to visit him if he's naughty. (My neighbor last week. Ahem.)

And that's why the Elf annoys me. Although many families (maybe yours!) who have bought Elves don't use them as an all-seeing eye for jolly old Saint Nick, according to the product website the entire point of this purported "Christmas tradition" (dating back to the good old days of 2005!) is to tell your children that the Elf reports their behavior back to Santa, thereby inspiring the kids to be good for at least one month out of the year.

Rosie over at Like Mother, Like Daughter has a rant on this topic that had me nodding my head in agreement. I want Nate to learn to want to be good and do good, not due to threats or punishments, but because he loves other people and loves God and wants to please Him. The Catechism tells us that "The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear . . ." (CCC 1972).

It's like that scene in The Break-Up when Brooke tells Gary, "I want you to want to do the dishes!" (Bad language warning on that clip.) It's not, contrary to his response, that she expects him to enjoy doing dishes; rather, she wants him to love her enough that he wants to do things that make her happy. We all have that innate sense that grudging good behavior isn't the same thing as good behavior motivated by love or kindness. So even though there are times of desperation when I'll take good behavior from Nate motivated by anything at all--hence my relentless use of the iPhone to keep him happy during restaurant meals--I don't want to bring a toy into our home that teaches him year after year throughout his childhood that the reason to be good is the fear of a gift-less Christmas morning.

I also think that the Elf looks vaguely creepy.

However. I recognize that it's lots of fun for children to wake up each morning and wonder where they'll find their Elf hiding out that day, and I have to appreciate the creative vignettes that some moms are coming up with for their Elf each day. (As long as those vignettes don't involve the Elf doing things we wouldn't want our children to do. I can't understand why this is encouraged! Why would you want the Elf to show your kids that making messes is funny?)

So in the grand tradition (dating back to waaaaaaay before 2005) of taking the good from something and adapting it to fit your needs, in our family, Mary and Joseph are journeying around the house this Advent on their way to Bethlehem.

This morning they showed us the importance of good dental hygiene.

And yesterday they took a little puzzle break on their journey.

Now, our Mary and Joseph--which come from this lovely and child-friendly nativity set--aren't poseable, so I'm a bit limited in what they can do. But Nate and I are both enjoying his looking for them each day, and they give us a nice opportunity to discuss the real Christmas story. It's a win-win, I'd say.

(And now I'll be hiding from everyone who thinks I'm a Grinch for hating the Elf.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

The limbo week

Years during which the first of November falls on a Thursday are the weirdest years. Thanksgiving, always the fourth Thursday of November, falls as early as it possibly can, and Christmas falls on a Tuesday, making Advent almost as short as it can possibly be. And so there's this weird in-between time, this limbo between the start of the secular "Christmas season" and the season during which Christians traditionally prepared their hearts for the actual Christmas season, before retailers and consumerism hijacked all of December and most of November, all the better to ply their wares.

Man, do I sound like a Grinch. For my next trick, I'll start shouting at people to get off my liturgical lawn or something.

The problem, if we get right down to it, is that I like--really, really like--the flurry of festivity and bustle that leads up to Christmas Day. And so even though I could put my foot down and refuse to listen to Christmas music or put up my decorations until much later in December, I don't want to. Because if I forced myself and my family into liturgical purity--anticipating and preparing for Christ's birth during Advent and celebrating it only during the liturgical Christmas season, we'd all miss out on a heck of a lot of fun. And seriously, I don't want to be the stodgy, dour Catholic church lady who refuses to let her kid attend pre-Christmas Christmas parties or watch Christmas movies when they air on TV or whatever. Our faith is a faith of joy, and it just feels like there's no joy in taking holiday counter-culturalism to that extreme.

(Also! Also! Have you ever tried not listening to Christmas music during Advent? If you do, you'll notice that almost none of the secular Christmas songs make any sense once Christmas Day has come and gone. They're all forward-looking: "Soon it will be Christmas day." "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas." "Santa Claus is coming to town." Religious Christmas music is perfectly wonderful all through the liturgical Christmas season, as one would expect, because it celebrates rather than anticipates the day itself: "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" "O come let us adore Him." "Born is the King of Israel." If I shun all Christmas music until Christmas, it's impossible to really enjoy anything but the religious music--and I love the secular stuff, too.)

And so every year, I find myself fretting about how to properly balance the spiritual needs of what is supposed to be a penitential, preparatory season (less rigorous than Lent, but penitential nonetheless) with the understandable desire to enjoy the fun while everyone else is celebrating.

I'll post our Advent plans later this week. (Frankly, I'm exceedingly pleased with myself this year for having actually purchased Advent candles early. I'm typically scrambling to find them the Saturday before Advent begins.) If you're a Catholic or a Christian who observes the liturgical seasons, I'd love to hear how you balance your spiritual preparation for Christmas with the multitude of fun activities that occur throughout December.

For the moment, during this in-between week, I'm stubbornly leaving my fall pumpkins on the front porch and burning my Harvest candles in the house. I'm trying to get as much Christmas gift shopping done as possible, so that Advent is a little less stressful and a little more spiritual. And I'm taking a deep breath in these waning days of Ordinary Time, preparing for the Preparation, and enjoying the quiet moments before the hustle and bustle begin in earnest.