Archive for ‘Life Stories’

March 13, 2014

Winter Siestas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 12, 2014.

I love Georgia winters because the weather here always offers us a few “siestas” or breaks in the cold weather. This winter has been especially cold, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting a few days of spring-like weather sprinkled here and there. I have even seen some trees blooming.

The blooms I’ve found always give me mixed emotions because I know a freeze may come and mess up the blooming cycle, but every spring Georgia seems to have plenty of beautiful blooms anyway. I can’t wait until the warm weather is here to stay, but I’m glad we’ve been taking advantage of the warm days in winter.

The boys are finally old enough to enjoy longer hikes, at least when the terrain isn’t too rugged. We usually go to Fort Yargo, and recently we were happy to discover that there is a trail that goes all the way around the lake – years ago when my husband and I hiked there while we were dating, the trail didn’t go all the way around.

We haven’t yet hiked the whole trail in one visit, but we’ve done parts of it, and my seven-year-old really wanted to see the dam, so we walked all the way from the parking lot near the beach to the dam and back. Ft. Yargo is a beautiful place, and if you live here in Barrow County, you’ll want to visit as often as you can.

Last week we went to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, which has several miles of trails too. My boys love to hike on the trail that goes along the Middle Oconee River the best. Sometimes the river is high, but occasionally it’ll be low enough where they can venture down to a large sandbar and play by the water.

As soon as they saw the sandbar last week, there was no keeping them on the trail. My husband and I found a log to sit on, and we watched our boys build a “beaver dam” with driftwood and mud. Two little girls and their mother came out onto the sandy area, and we were delighted to watch our four-year-old chatter away with one of the girls who joined my boys in their pursuit to build a strong dam.

We were too far away to hear what our youngest son was saying, but later my seven-year-old told me that he was telling the girl what his favorite foods were, among other things. I guess for a four-year-old, there are only a few topics of conversation!

As for the cold days, they are perfect days to get more work done. More library books are read, math games are played, and of course, my son continues to work at this Legos and cardboard building projects. I recently introduced him to the game Minecraft, which is an app you can download on the iPad. It’s a popular game with kids, and it’s like building with blocks on the screen. He is hooked on that now too.

But I can’t wait until spring is here to stay. Park play dates, more hiking, and our annual attempts at gardening – while the gardening usually isn’t very fruitful, the attempts make me happy.

These hints of spring are full of promises. The birds are inspecting the birdhouses on our porch, and I’ve heard the frogs begin to sing. The budding plants and occasional warm days are just what I need to get me through the weeks of cold.  May the true spring come quickly this year, and may it fill us all with a fresh, cheerful spirit!

February 27, 2014

Sound Bites

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 27, 2014.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

In the mornings I’m lucky if I wake up to a quiet house. Usually it’s the galloping of the dogs’ paws on the floors as the canines leap up at the slightest sound of movement from my husband. They follow him into the kitchen, eagerly waiting their breakfast.

Other mornings I may wake up hearing one of my boys calling me from their bed or the seven-year-old’s footsteps as he runs down the hall and jumps into bed with me. Sometimes I hear a bird singing outside my window. Every once in a while, I wake up and hear nothing, and I savor the quiet.

Today at the park I heard snatches of my children’s conversations with their friends. One boy was explaining to my four-year-old that they would pretend they were dinosaurs and chase each other. They were trying to decide which dinosaur they would be, and my four-year-old wanted to be an Argentinosaurus. “Okay,” said the other boy, “you chase me then.”

“Actually,” my son said in his four-year-old and still sometimes hard to understand speech, “the Argentinosaurus wasn’t very fast.” I smiled at his good attempt at trying to pronounce Argentinosaurus, and I told the other boy’s mother how the word “actually” has become very popular in our house lately. She said it was gaining momentum in her house too.

It’s fun to hear how children will learn a new word and then play with it often as if they are trying to get to know it better.

While we were at the park we walked down to the shoals, and the kids played near the water. Running water in a creek or river is my favorite sound in the world. I could sit beside a river all day and just listen, but kids don’t let me sit for long. We were walking down the trail, and I was too busy keeping an eye on the boys who were running far ahead of us to listen to the wildlife.

I was happy to hear them talking, chattering and laughing as they asserted their independence and tried to get away from their mamas. I did catch the loud sound of a frog croaking from somewhere in the marsh.

On the way home from the park, I wanted to listen to the news on the radio, but my boys kept interrupting the broadcast. Some days I make a point of turning off the radio and just listening to my son chatter about his observations or ask his complicated and often-times unanswerable questions.

“If we walked just one atom at a time, would it take a year for us to walk a foot?” He laughs at himself and I shake my head. I hope he’ll grow up and learn the answer for himself and then tell it to me.

Sometimes in the evenings while my boys are watching T.V. my husband will call me to his office to watch his latest find on YouTube. He listens to music to relax, and he’ll listen to anything from classical to folk to pop music.  One of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos of auditions from the British X Factor talent show.

It’s not something you would ever find me doing on my own, but I’ll sit with him and soon be sucked into the inspiring stories of these talented young people who are finally being discovered. We’ll listen to their best songs and then watch whatever other talented musicians he may have found.

If it weren’t for my husband, I would be completely cut off from pop culture and sometimes even the latest news. That’s what happens when you keep turning off the radio to hear your kids chatter. But their young voices are only here for a brief period of time, and as much as I would like to listen to the news or even my own thoughts, I know I won’t regret spending a little time listening to them.

What have you heard lately?

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 24, 2013.

This is a magical time of year for my boys, who are four and seven-years-old. That seems to be the perfect age for all this Christmas stuff, and I’m happy to be a witness to their pure joy. Luckily, their excitement is contagious, although I’ve been feeling the urge to hibernate.

It’s cold outside, and I’d like to huddle under the covers and read a good book. I avoid the malls by doing most of my shopping online. I’d like to turn off the computer, but it seems my life is too intertwined with it to shut it down completely. At least I can curl up in my bed with my laptop and avoid social media.

I get sad doing our annual Christmas cards. It reminds me of all my loved ones who live far away, and my failings in trying to keep in touch with them. Christmas is about connecting with people, yet we live so much these days through Facebook. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel real to me.

I am warmed by the thought that I can make connecting with those closest to me meaningful, and I can reach out to those who seem to like reaching back. I’m grateful for the distant friends who return e-mails and write letters. I’m grateful for the new friends I have found recently who are becoming so important to my boys and me.

My boys had their first Christmas surprise when my husband suggested we buy a real tree for the first time this year. At first my seven-year-old was upset because putting together the artificial tree with his mom had become a ritual he looked forward to! I wasn’t looking forward to it, though, so I agreed.

After my son realized a real tree was just as big as our artificial tree, he was happy, and both boys were thrilled to pick their own tree out of the hundreds available at the store. At home, after I put on the lights, they did a great job hanging most of the ornaments. I don’t mind the places where the ornaments are squished together. It adds character to the tree.

The boys made me pull out all of our Christmas decorations this year. They weren’t going to let me skimp, so now our mantel has nothing but Christmas cheer on it. Extra lights are strung around the door of our activity room, which used to be the dining room. Another little tree sits by the window in there.

Cooking has never been my forte, but I was determined to do some baking with the boys. We’ve been making apple pies, apple turnovers and homemade animal crackers, which my boys will actually eat!

We’re also reading books and talking about the meaning of Christmas, and we’ve discussed giving instead of receiving.  This year, my boys bought a gift for each other with their own money, wrapped it and put it under the tree. But I know they are most excited about receiving their own presents, and what’s a Mama to do? I’m excited for them, and I can’t wait to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see their wishes fulfilled.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re warm, healthy and safe. I hope you’re able to connect with those around you in a meaningful way, and I wish you a Merry Christmas.

November 12, 2013

E-book: Then There Were Two

I’m extremely excited to announce that I have published my very first e-book, Then There Were Two: Essays on Motherhood. 

The essays in Then There Were Two embrace the joys, worries and misadventures a mother can have after welcoming her second baby into the world.  From missing the simple routine of caring for just one child to navigating a day at the mall, Shelli Bond Pabis writes in an easy-going manner of one mother speaking to another. Sometimes lyrical and sometimes matter-of-fact, she assures her readers that there’s no consensus on how to raise a child. Her photography adds a beautiful dimension to the book with quiet moments, details of nature and the action of life with children. Mothers will identify with these essays, laugh, cry, and feel satisfied as Pabis surprises herself by finding contentment in the creative job of being a mother. They’ll find themselves wanting to ramble around in their own yards with their children, picking up acorns and listening to the sounds of crickets.

This little book of essays and photography is very special to me not only because it’s my first book but because it contains special memories from a time when I had one small boy and a brand new infant. I began writing my newspaper column for the Barrow Journal two months before my second son was born, and many of these essays are adaptions of those early columns. Most of them have not appeared on this blog, though a few of them have.

The book is about a mother learning how to adapt to life with two children, but you’ll also find musings on nature, family issues, daily life and more.

From the introduction:

I don’t offer much advice; I only hope any new mother who reads it will know she’s not alone. After all, no matter what your experience, you are doing the most important job in the world ~ carrying on this gift of life.

I hope you’ll buy the book, and I really hope that you will like the book. If you do, I would greatly appreciate your help by offering your good reviews and spreading the word about my book on your social media outlets.  Thank you so, so much.

View it on Amazon U.S.

Also on Amazon U.K. , Amazon Canada and Amazon Australia

Currently it is available only in digital format through Amazon.com. See this page for free Kindle apps available for every device and computer out there: Free Kindle Reading Apps

Stay tuned to receive news about my future e-books on how to start a storytelling ritual in your family, homeschooling preschool thru kindergarten and more!

October 31, 2013

It’s Halloween Already?

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on October 30, 2013.

Time is going too fast. Every year I have ideas of what I can do with the boys – fall crafts, books to read, and other fun stuff. But here it is Halloween, and I haven’t even pulled out our seasonal books from storage. Truth is, I’m not much of a craft person anyway.  We’ve been doing some low-key stuff this autumn and getting ready for Halloween in our own, simple way.

My seven-year-old knew what he wanted to be for Halloween six months ago, and luckily it was an easy costume to find. My husband took him shopping, and they found a cool skeleton outfit that he’ll wear trick or treating tomorrow tonight.

My four-year-old still has not outgrown his quirky habit of refusing to wear anything except shorts and short sleeves. Yes, this will be a long winter, just like last year! A costume is out of the question for him, but he will wear long-pant pajamas, so maybe I can get him to wear those Toy Story Woody pjs on Halloween night. Wish me luck.

We pulled out some of our Halloween décor and decorated our front porch, but we keep it simple. A few small ghosts, a spider web that my son made, and a scary-looking guy hanging from the ceiling is about all I care to do. We’ll carve a pumpkin to finish it off before the big day. (We did! See photo.)

One event that has become a tradition for us is attending the Scary, Slimy, Oozy Day at the Sandy Creek Nature Center. My son never wants to pass up the chance to pet snakes or hold a tarantula, and they have lots of fun activities for kids to participate in too.

This fall my seven-year-old went to his very first sleepover with two friends too.  It was a birthday party for one of the little boys. Since he has never slept away from us, I wasn’t sure how he would feel about it, but he was more excited than I have ever seen him before. He was gone about 23 hours, and I think he would have gladly stayed longer!

The mom who hosted the sleepover told me that at one point my son said, “I think my family will miss me so much. I’ve never been away from them before.” Thinking that he might be a little homesick, she offered to call us so he could go home early. She said he looked at her like she was crazy and said, “NO! I’m staying the WHOLE TIME!”

My four-year-old wasn’t happy when he discovered he was not invited to the birthday party, and I felt horrible that I had not considered that. It was hard to tell him that the sleepover was just for the big boys, but he recovered quickly when I assured him he would be treated to a good time by spending one-on-one time with his parents, which doesn’t happen very often.

We took him out to dinner, shopping for a new ball and Frisbee, which he loves to play with outside with his dad, and I watched his favorite movie with him. He snuggled up in my lap and whispered in my ear a lot, so I guess you could say I had a date night myself!

Every year brings new milestones and new experiences.  As tomorrow today marks my 42nd birthday, I am not so weary about growing older as I thought I would be. My 40s are the most challenging, wonderful, and least boring of all my years on this earth.

Happy Halloween!

July 9, 2013

Life’s Unexpected Twists and Turns

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 3, 2013.

We weren’t planning to make any trips this summer, but life threw us a curveball recently when my mother-in-law got into a very bad car accident. Thankfully she’s okay, but my in-laws needed a little help and a lot of cheering up, so one morning we decided we needed to come to Chicago, and the next morning we left for our all-day journey to the Windy City.

I’m still waiting for the day when my husband will decide we’re too old to make the trip in one day, but I realize that day will probably never come. We had such a short time to get ready that we decided to take not only our dogs, which we always take, but our cat too. Yes, you can call us crazy. Besides not wanting to inconvenience anyone, she’s a sociable cat who hates being left alone. At least that’s what I’m telling myself as she sleeps contentedly beside me in Chicago.

Our boys travel like angels and only whine if they get too hungry, so we do our best to avoid that. We let them watch DVDs on the drive up, but one movie and a few shows doesn’t pass a 15 hour drive quickly enough. We were all exhausted and ready for bed when we arrived.

Luckily my husband works from home, so he was able to bring his office with him. He’s been busy dealing with work matters as well as helping his parents with insurance matters, purchasing a car and doctor’s appointments.

My poor father-in-law was given another blow tonight when his water boiler broke and spilled water all over the basement floor. As the darkness covers the sky, two neighbors and my husband are helping him try to solve that problem. Sometimes when it rains it pours.

Though my boys may be too little to fully understand what’s happening – for them it’s all adventure – I’m glad they’re here as we act out some of the family values we’re trying to teach them. It’s our job to help each other when we’re able to. Families need to stick together.

It’s something I value very much about my Polish in-laws and extended family. When push comes to shove, they all stick together. It doesn’t mean everyone always gets along perfectly, but no one ever shuts anyone else out.

While we can’t exactly call this a vacation, we decided we would have some fun too. Since we live in rural Barrow County, it’s a big treat for me to be here awhile with the grocery stores, fruit market and other amenities within a five-minute drive.

In fact, I can’t get used to it, and while shopping with my mother-in-law, I rushed her through it because we forgot a cooler and “oh the ice cream is going to melt on the way home!” When I remembered that we were five minutes from home, I understood the strange look I got for that!

There are two parks within walking distance to my in-laws house, and I’m not sure who enjoys walking to them more – me or my boys. There’s also a wonderful library a few blocks away, and it’s almost enough to make me want to move to the city. But don’t worry — it won’t take long for me to miss our large yard, garden and sparse traffic.

On Saturday we visited the Chicago Botanical Garden, and we spent a long time in their butterfly habitat, which seemed like a perfect conclusion to our experience of raising butterflies. We also had a mission to find the carnivorous plants, which is my six-year-old’s latest interest and quickly becoming his next project. He told me he wants to grow them at home, so stay tuned for our adventures with that!

We will go to at least one museum while we’re here and visit with family, but we’ll be happy to return to Georgia, our friends, summer camps, and lazy summer afternoons where we’ll be too far away from anything to bother with the shopping or other errands.

***

FYI We are home now!

June 13, 2013

Hospital Adventure

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 19, 2013.

Last week the six-year-old came down with another stomach virus – his third this year.  When my poor child suffers as much as he does with these wicked viruses, I wish it would be me instead of him. For some reason, he’s the only one in the family who gets it in the stomach. My youngest and I suffered only from the common cold.

Our doctor is the best. He lets us call him, and he’ll talk us through it, or call in a prescription, which we did on the first day, but this time the medicine for nausea didn’t help, so the next morning before any of us were prepared to start the day, we went down to his office, and my husband carried in the six-year-old.

We were spared our usual long wait. When you have a child who can’t walk and can barely talk, it’s an urgent case, and from the doctor’s office, we were sent to the hospital’s outpatient services.

Our three-year-old was with us all day too, and he was the best child in the world. I’m not quite sure what he was thinking, but he knew his brother was very sick. Later, when I told him his brother was getting better, he bounced up and down, and exclaimed, “Yay!”

At the hospital, I felt surprisingly calm. I knew we were in the right place, and I knew the nurses and staff would do everything they needed to do to help my son. The IV would keep him hydrated, which was so difficult and stressful to do at home since he couldn’t keep anything down.

Our doctor requested an X-rayed of his stomach and did some blood work to rule out anything more serious since my son keeps catching these nasty bugs. I felt extremely grateful that they found nothing, and once again I’m humbled to think that there are so many parents who aren’t so lucky.

We didn’t expect to have to spend the night, but our son wasn’t well enough when our doctor came to visit him after his office hours.  So my son and I camped out at the hospital together. Luckily he was feeling a little better by the early evening, and from then on, we called it our “hospital adventure.” The bonus was getting to watch “The Lion King” alone with mommy.

My praise and gratitude go to all the health professionals that we encountered during our brief stay.  It’s not the first time I’ve slept at a hospital, and every experience has yielded the same thoughts: hospital staff, especially the nurses, are the most incredible people. They are truly the caretakers of the world.

One of our daytime nurses, Matt, was kind, funny and talkative, and though my six-year-old could barely respond to him when Matt put the IV in his arm, I know his humor helped put my son at ease. It put me at ease!

Our night nurse was the best. Elizabeth was warm and just like a mother. She didn’t even seem tired at the end of her shift.  When she wheeled the cot into the room for me to sleep in, I tried to help her make it up, but she shooed me away. “That’s my job! You rest, Mama.” She politely scolded me.

Even in the hallways, my son was greeted with smiles and sympathy, and I know perhaps the staff is coached to be friendly, but that doesn’t mean they all will be. People who go into the health profession do so because they are suited for the work. (I know I couldn’t do it.)

In the morning when Elizabeth came to tell me they were doing a shift change, and she would be going home, I told her she had been a wonderful nurse. She wagged her finger at me.

“No, no…I’m paid to do that,” she said.  Of course, I know that. But while I believe you can pay someone to do a good job, you can’t pay them to exude warmth and a genuine concern for other people. Some people are just more talented and kind.

Luckily for me, every time I’ve left a hospital, I’ve left with my health and the health of those around me. I know life may not always yield this blessing, but for now I will breath in a sigh of relief and say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Wishing you all good health.

May 30, 2013

Making Memories

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 29, 2013.

My husband and I are getting a kick out of watching Everybody Loves Raymond on Netflix. Not only is the show’s audience geared to families with young children such as ours, we have quite a bit in common with Raymond’s family, including having in-laws of European descent.

Recently we watched an episode when the overworked and exasperated wife of Raymond yells at him for not spending enough time with the kids. She tells him that he should be part of their children’s childhood memories and ends her lecture by yelling, “Put those golf clubs down and make some damn memories!”

Moms desperately want what’s best for our kids, but we aren’t always able to live up to the ideal mom who never gets frustrated and never yells. Sometimes I worry about the mom that my children will remember.

Will they remember me as a cheerful mom who liked to play Trouble, create scavenger hunts and paint pictures with them? Will they remember me as the mom who was hopeless in the kitchen and heated up frozen pizza more than I care to admit? Will they remember a tired, grumpy mom, or worse, a mom who kept saying, “I’ll be there in a minute,” but really took fifteen minutes to finish her work on the computer.

“You’re always on the computer,” my son said once. Ouch.

Then I tried to think back to my childhood.  Don’t I have good memories? I vividly remember the bad things like my parent’s divorce or losing friends at school who found buddies they thought made a better friend than me. Where are my good memories? My tired brain searched. Why is it so much easier to remember the bad stuff?

But then I found them, smiling behind the murky clouds of a normal kid’s up and down life.

I remember my mom buying me a pet parakeet, and I named him Bo. We kept his cage in the corner of the sunroom, and I tried to teach him how to say “hello.”

Sometimes my mom would let me bring him into the master bedroom where we’d lay on my parent’s king size bed to watch T.V. together. We’d let him fly free through the room, and he loved to sit up on the chain of a hanging lamp. Then we would pat the bed, and say, “Come here. Come here.” He would fly down to the bed and prance around between us.

I was never able to teach him how to say “hello,” but he learned to say “come here.” He lived for 12 years too.

I also remember my mother tickling me on that giant bed, and I remember listening to her read Helen Keller. I remember the afternoon she picked me up from school and handed me a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, which she bought just for me because she knew I loved it.

I also remember my mom warming my jackets by an electric heater before I walked out into the freezing Colorado snow to catch the bus, and I remember the extra special prom dresses that she spent way too much money on, but I appreciated that so much.

I can remember not understanding why my mom would sigh so much every time I interrupted her (oh I understand now!), but I also remember her smile.

Nowadays I try to remember not to beat myself up when my son complains that I’m not at his beckon call. After all, he tends to forget that I spend several hours with him and his brother every morning doing school or his self-initiated projects or sometimes playing games.

He forgets that I often spend the evenings outside with him in the garden and watching him play and that every night I lay with him for half an hour to chat and tell stories. He doesn’t know that usually when I’m at my computer I’m either planning or recording our days together.

When he’s an adult, I’m hoping his long-term memory will be better than his short-term memory is now. I don’t want him to remember me as a perfect mom, but I hope he’ll think back and remember that I tried my best, and I liked cooking up a lot of fun too.

How do you think your children will remember you?

March 15, 2013

No Spring Break

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 13, 2013.

Last week was my husband’s spring break, so we had planned some family excursions. Unfortunately, the six-year-old came down with a nasty stomach virus, and as I write this, the three-year-old is sniffling and sneezing.

My six-year-old was camped out on the sofa for four days, and more than one day I felt my blood pressure quicken while listening to him moan and try to overcome the nausea. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, and I got so tense watching him lose weight that now I have a muscle spasm in my shoulder.

My heart goes out to parents who are dealing with chronic illnesses in their children.  I can hardly stand to think about stuff like that.

My husband dealt with it in his own way. Not able to concentrate on his work, he busied himself with a different kind of work: cleaning out his upstairs closet. Don’t ask me how it is a man gets to claim a whole other closet as his own while my stuff is crammed into half of our small bedroom closet, but such is the case in our house. (Oh, he likes to tell me I have the bigger dresser, but I remind him that he claimed that extra closet as soon as we moved in. I only got the dresser a couple of years ago.)

He also installed new, more efficient light bulbs throughout our house, and now my bathroom is like walking into the afterlife. We have the sun in our hallway too. Still, I appreciate how he thinks about things like light bulbs and how he uses a busted spring break to clean out his closet.

My three-year-old took advantage of his older brother’s illness by getting me all to himself.  He had me doing big floor puzzles, throwing balls, and coloring big posters of the Dinosaur Train characters.  One morning we colored, painted with watercolors and then made a space shuttle out of clay all in the span of about two hours.

When the six-year-old is sick, I start to realize how helpful Older Brother is regarding spending time and playing with the three-year-old! I promise to never take him for granted again.

I didn’t mind spending all that time with the three-year-old though. It reminded me of the one-on-one time I had with the six-year-old for three years before he was born.  Though I wouldn’t trade either child for anything, there is something sweet about focusing your attention on one child. Noticing his every move. Hearing his every word. Just you and him.

I used to spend so much time outside with my firstborn, exploring our yard and taking hundreds of photos with my first digital point and shoot. Flowers, twigs, bugs and sunshine were our toys. Now I try to get both boys outside playing together while I steal time to myself. If I join them, they compete for my attention, and the sunshine isn’t so relaxing anymore.

When they’re both healthy, there’s always a little friction, but I’m lucky that they get along so well most of the time. They are good companions for one another.

The forecast is predicting warm weather this week. I’m very hopeful that we’ll be healthy again once this goes to print, and we’ll be playing in the yard or taking some kind of excursion.  Spring is peeping its head around the corner, and I’m running to it, arms flailing, ready to embrace it.

How is your spring break going? 

February 7, 2013

Evening Routines

{Children} {Nightly Routine} {Bedtime} {Bedtime for Homeschoolers}

Obviously, this is an old picture…and I think it’s the only time they’ve ever slept together.

(Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, February 6, 2013.)

When my kids were infants and toddlers, I followed the common advice for parents to have a “nightly routine” so that the children could begin to relax and understand that it’s bedtime. This is supposed to make it easier to get them to sleep, and every parent knows that sleeping children are like manna from heaven.

As they got a little older, however, my boys became skilled at the fine art of stalling, and I learned that no matter what I did, bedtime gave them an extra dose of adrenaline. It was the last hurrah of the day, and there was no way to fight it without a lot of stress. I learned that it was better to start the evening routine early enough to include their antics.

Learning to be flexible about bedtime helped too. As homeschoolers, it doesn’t matter what time we get up in the morning, but for some reason I had this idea that since every other kid on the block was going to bed at 8:00p.m., mine should too.

It never worked out that way, and I let it bother me for a while. Then like everything else in my preconceived idea of what parenthood should look like, I let it go. Flexibility is one of the reasons I want to homeschool…why was I so worried about it?

We’ve had some crazy nighttime routines. When my eldest son was a toddler, we would breeze through about 20 books on his nightstand before saying goodnight. Later, he wanted to play games and then read his books. Later still, he wanted to run up and down the hallway with his little brother and occasionally his parents too. Sometimes we would pretend we were cheetahs or another animal.

Some days, this was the only time that both parents were focused on the children at the same time, so I know the boys capitalized on this. Whether they could verbalize it or not, having both their parents play a game with them for a few minutes meant a lot.

Some nights we played Simon Says or Hide and Seek, and other nights my son would make up a game for us to play. One was very similar to charades where we’d have to pretend to be an animal and the rest of us would have to guess what it was.

And then, finally, we could read a book. I’m not sure how we transitioned from one routine to the next. I do remember telling my son ahead of time when we had to only read three books instead of twenty (because he got old enough for me to actually read them), and then we went from three books to one (because he got old enough to read longer storybooks).

When I started the ritual of storytelling with my eldest son, that became our nightly routine, and it still is (no more games, thankfully). We brush our teeth, and then my husband puts my eldest son to bed while I read two short books to the three-year-old. Some nights I can overhear some good conversations between my husband and six–year-old, and it makes me happy. Then my husband and I switch. I tell a story to the six-year-old, and my husband will scratch the three-year-old’s back for a few minutes.

Sometimes this nightly routine can seem to drag on for too long, but it’s quieter now as I lay with my son in the darkness and tell him a story. Then we talk. I always ask him what his favorite part of the day was and if there was a part he didn’t like. Sometimes he has questions for me. If he asks good questions I don’t know the answer to, they become part of our homeschool day. Other times my answers lead to more questions.

Now that we’ve had six years of “nightly routines” I’ve learned that what used to stress me out is now my favorite time of day. I feel with certainty that despite our “designated school time,” this is when my six-year-old does the most learning. He is relaxed and willing to listen, and he also has our full attention for his questions.

Over the years our nightly routines have caused frustration, but making it part of our (the adults) daily routine has been key to making it less stressful and even enjoyable.

Tell me about your evening routine.

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