Feet

I am of two minds on children’s feet. On the one hand, it infuriates me when the persistent — almost pathological — carelessness of my children’s eight feet make a mess of our house and possessions. The damage comes in many different forms: there is the mud, the water, the snow, and occasionally even the poop, that gets tracked across our carpet and linoleum. There is the marking up of coats and jackets and hats and gloves with dirty footprints, as everything becomes a jumbled heap in our extremely small entryway. Worst of all to me, though, is the random and explosive scattering of papers, books, toys, and blocks that takes mere seconds when those feet come charging through. Not one of those eight feet will make any effort to preserve the integrity of any pile, because none of the foot owners ever look down at all. Anything on the floor will get the same treatment as dirt or grass or pavement outside.

However, the fact that those busy heads never look down is really a sign that the children’s lives are too full and busy for such details. I love that those careless feet never walk anywhere — I hear the stampede of hundreds of elephants, it would seem, as one or more runs up to get a critical item from the bedroom that is needed outdoors in the latest clubhouse. Another is willing to devote no more than thirty seconds to a call of nature, and so runs at breakneck pace both to and from the bathroom. I love how alive those little bodies are, and how excited they are by almost anything that happens on any given day, such that asking them to mind their feet is as pointless and as undesirable as asking them not to feel. The energy that lights up my children’s lives from sun-up to sundown is always beautiful to me, even when it can be careless and frenetic. I wouldn’t give that up. If those feet slow down, so does the pace and heartbeat of childhood itself, and I am not anxious ever to see the end of that era. So I will keep the eight crazy little feet and learn to keep my grown-up worries in places where they don’t care to tread yet.

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Special Time

I am taking the second level of a parenting class that runs once a week for 10 weeks. I first took classes there a couple years ago, and have been itching to get back and remind myself about the philosophy and techniques this “school” uses, based on Adlerian psychology. We parents are given a wealth of tools to use to encourage our children and build positive relationships with them at the same time that we are teaching them responsibility, resilience, and compassion. One concept that has had nearly miraculous results here is “Special Time,” which involves spending 15 to 20 minutes with one child at a time, with no distractions, doing exactly what the child wants you to do together. It gives him or her some power for those few minutes, and since feeling robbed of power is one of the big precipitators of misbehavior, this is an attempt to head that whole dynamic off at the pass. In general, on a less formal level, I try to keep in mind the importance of building as many positive interactions with everyone as possible, to offset and hopefully outweigh the negative ones. I do lots of baking, crafting, and family trips to that end. But the minutes spent in Special Time are truly transformative.

Yesterday, I started with Lily, as she is my “Problem Child of the Month,” which is probably not a great thing to have labeled her in my mind. She had so many things she wanted to squeeze into our minutes together, but we focused on two: a lively game of Red Rover played with stuffed animals (a family favorite) and “craft time.” She came up with the brilliant idea of having me print a picture of an elephant with an upraised trunk so that she could glue a bunch of hearts on as though they were blowing out of his trunk. I cut the hearts while she glued, and then created a quick frame. She finished up while I moved on to my next Special Time child, but within a very few minutes, she had finished this amazing piece:

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I can’t get over the genius of the title “Elephant in Love.”

Emma decided to mimic Lily’s activity, which is a common occurrence, but she had her own twist on it. She wanted to make a book about our family. We always have a huge stack of drawing paper at the ready, so we quickly stapled some together and got started. She asked me to write some letters on the cover, and was absolutely blown away by my (pretty standard) ability to do block lettering. In fact, our whole time together was spent in complimenting each other on our amazing skills. And we were utterly sincere. She truly couldn’t believe how cool the designs were that I made within the letters, and I couldn’t believe what she did with that idea on her own letters. She thought my colorful fireworks were awesome, and we both congratulated each other on our general creativity. It was one big Mutual Admiration Society meeting. All we were able to work on was the cover, but it’s a beauty:

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Last was Jane, the biggest attention hog of all, and she and I finally got to sit down with the sewing kit she got for Christmas to work on putting together a stuffed elephant. (The day appears to have had an elephant theme.) I have almost daily said, for a month now, “I can’t do that right now” to her about that elephant, and it was a relief to both of us for me to be able to sit down and get out all the parts and get it all organized at last. Now she has everything in one place and just asks for threading help as she powers through in her free moments. Our actual Special Time, though, was my favorite time of all, because the one thing I stink at doing is sitting down anywhere for 15 minutes, and it felt good to sink myself into a creative project and work with my hands. I am a sewer and handcrafter from way back, so this was an especially nice treat for me! My favorite moment was when Jane discovered a thimble and said, “Wow! This is a DELUXE sewing kit!” So easily impressed — which is a good thing.

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The power of those three Special Times has reverberated through the next 24 hours. It has been far from a bed of roses, though: the minute right after Lily’s ended, she said, “I hate you,” and I admit to being a little peeved that Old Lily was back so quickly. But we have all reflected many times on how fun the projects were, how nice the conversations were, and how we can’t wait to do it again. It is hard to sustain Special Time, and it is hard to ever achieve that perfect one-on-one state with one of me and four of them running loose, but they don’t let me forget about it, and I’m grateful. It is the most valuable tool in my toolbox.