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936Pennies RedeemThe205

I Told My Son No On His Birthday

July 22, 2016

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You asked the question in just the right way. With a “Please”, while looking into my eyes, in a soft, sweet voice. There was no hint of whining or entitlement—just your sweet spirit.

Everything I have taught you about asking nice, you did. And then I looked into those precious blue eyes, and told you No.

For a moment I felt guilty. After all, it was your birthday. And birthdays are usually Yes days. Yes, you can have an extra piece of cake. Yes, we can go to your favorite park. Yes, you can skip rest time to play outside.

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But then you asked to watch a show; a simple request on your five-year-old lips. But I had already decided the day before that screens would not be a part of your day. Your day was made for more than that. And I knew in a year from now, you wouldn’t remember the pixels that danced across that screen. So, I said No.

And instead, I watched you create and imagine and problem solve for the next two hours in the back yard. And when your little brother woke up, I watched you work together as a team, dreaming up and constructing Lego sets for hours. I watched you guys strategize, trade pieces, and come to each other’s help when your constructions fell apart. You sat side by side….not in front of a screen, but in front of a world of little boy opportunities.

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You see, my sweet boy, as I have been telling you lately when I say No to one of your requests…I had a reason behind my No.

On this big day when you turned from a preschooler to a kid, half a decade out of my womb, I wanted to see your eyes staring into mine. I wanted to be witness to your creativity. I wanted to see you master new heights on the tree in the backyard, and push yourself a bit farther on your new bicycle. I wanted to see you strengthening the ties of your relationships with your brothers, so that your friendship with them will last for years to come.

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I wanted to give you the opportunity to practice affection, appreciation, apology, and attention—virtues that the screen does not afford you, but that you will need more and more, with each passing birthday.

I wanted to see your eyes shine, and not from the glow of a screen. I wanted to see you live, really live. With your hands in the mud, and your heart soaring high. With your mind working overtime as you learn, discover, and take in the world around you. The screen only has so much to offer, and it’s nothing that will last.

I wanted your birthday to be made of things that last.

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That, my sweet boy, is why I told you No on your birthday.

And you know what? As we danced, and played, and picnicked, and cuddled, and walked along the river together—and as I sat and simply watched you growing up before my eyes—we did it. We slowed time, because we chose to experience it. We chose to make your day really matter. And I, for one, will remember it forever.

So thank you, for your gift to me on your birthday. The gift of your full presence.

And happy birthday, my sweet boy.

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This post is part of the #RedeemThe205 campaign, aimed at inspiring families to reclaim the 205 waking weeks on average that a child spends in front of a screen. It’s time to redeem childhoods and protect our families.

 

936Pennies Family RedeemThe205

Dear Parents Who Feel Powerless In The Screen Time Battle

July 17, 2016

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Dear Parents Who Feel Powerless In The Screen Time Battle,

Let me begin by assuring you that I understand. I get it. Because I am there.

I’m exhausted, you see. This parenting gig is not for the faint of heart. And when you haven’t yet had your cup of coffee, and the dishes are stacked high, and the cat threw up on the carpet, and bills haven’t been paid, and the eggs haven’t been scrambled, and a whole sack of burden weighs heavy on your shoulders….and then they ask to watch TV….or just grab for the remote themselves….there is little fight left within you.

I know.

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Let me also say, that because I am right there with you, I will be the first to share that I believe that a bit of screen time has its proper place.

I, like any other parent, know that there is a time and a place for media. Life is full of seasons that ebb and flow with various needs. When a new baby is on the way, or one has just arrived. Or during a move to a new house. Or when a parent is sick. Or when mom needs an hour to regroup and rest. These are all times that I have allowed my kids a little bit extra screen time.

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But there is a fine and disastrous line that when crossed, children and families suffer. In today’s world where screens rule and media is here to stay, we as parents must stand guard. We must protect our families. And we must train our children to know that media is a tool, not a master.

I have waded in those waters of guilt. I have allowed the TV to become habit, my default go-to for keeping the kids occupied. I have sighed in exasperation as I clicked “Play” on just one more episode. Or maybe two. Because I just can’t parent anymore today.

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And then that nagging guilt settles on my shoulders. The last thing that us parents need is more guilt.

So can I lift that burden, if just for a moment? Can I offer you a little bit of hope?

Parents— we are not powerless in this battle.

We have the final say.

And it may be ugly for a little while. There may be wailing and gnashing of teeth. There may be hard glares and slammed doors. There may be toddler tantrums and teenage….well…tantrums.

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But I bet you this:  the storm will roll through and come to pass. And you just might be surprised at how your children adjust to a less screen-saturated routine.

Oh, it will be hard work, and demand hard resolve. You’ll probably fail a time or two. Or ten. You’ll probably go back to old ways, then restart. And restart again.

But each time you make that intentional decision to turn off the screens and claim back power over your kid’s childhood—your family will be better for it.

You see, this screen time battle is not an all-or-nothing matter. Rather, it is a step-by-step journey towards a more fulfilled family, and a more abundant life. It’s a process which there is plenty of grace for.

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When we hear that kids, on average, spend 205 waking weeks in front of a screen before they turn eighteen, it is overwhelming. We are up against a beast. Really, we are up against society. And we must be brave enough to do things differently. We must be driven enough to save our families, protect our legacies, and reclaim childhoods.

This is done one hour at a time. One family walk at a time. One game of Monopoly at a time. One tea party at a time. One forest hike at a time. One picnic at a time. One morning on the beach at a time.

One choice at a time.

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We’re in this together. So let’s not judge each other. After all, only you can decide how much screen time is appropriate for your family. No one else decides that for you. Instead, let’s cheer each other on, one day at a time, as we walk towards a life that really matters. Let’s collaborate in this mission together.

Let’s schedule more play dates at the park, group hikes, and backyard bonfires. After all, every one of us parents desires for our children to have a bright future; one illuminated not by screens, but by “Hey, remember when….” moments. So let’s create more of those moments together, and redeem those 205 weeks to make them into all they can be. Our families depend on it.

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This post is part of the #RedeemThe205 campaign, aimed at inspiring families to reclaim the 205 waking weeks on average that a child spends in front of a screen. It’s time to redeem childhoods and protect our families.

Join The Journey by subscribing below for inspiration, hope, practical ideas, and giveaways. It’s time to #RedeemThe205

936Pennies Family RedeemThe205 Video

Parents, It Is Time To Redeem The 205

July 15, 2016

We have 936 weeks with our children from when they are born until they turn 18. How we spend each of those weeks will shape their future.

We read the blogs, articles, statists, and research. The numbers are alarming, to say the very least.

Research shows that between nine months old and two years, children spend 912 hours in front of a screen. That’s nearly 5 and a half waking weeks.

From 3 to 7 years old, they spend nearly 37 waking weeks with a digital device.

From 8 to 12 years old, they spend 10,950 hours, that’s 65 waking weeks, staring at a screen.

And then from 13 years old until 18, they spend an additional 98 waking weeks transfixed on a screen.

It all adds up to 205 waking weeks with our children that we are giving away. Rather, that we are throwing away.

The numbers are alarming. Yet reading them, I come time and time again to this one thought:  The last thing any of us parents need is guilt.

Rather, we need hope. And inspiration. And practical ideas for reclaiming this time. We need to know that we are not powerless.

Screens are stealing childhoods. They are robbing us of our legacies. And they are threatening our families. And we are the ones lowering our guard and giving them the upper hand in this battle. But not any more.

As Gary Chapman puts it in his book, Growing Up Social:

“It takes effort to switch from the convenience of screen time to an interactive or tactile activity for a child. But the benefits of your son’s or daughter’s development are well worth it. You will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your child adjusts to new screen-free routines.”

Inconvenience is a small price to pay when it comes to redeeming childhoods and protecting families. I’d say a few temper tantrums or meltdowns is well worth the victory in this battle.

Join my family in coming weeks as we share practical ideas through our own stories and video blogs, as well as giveaways, to help spread hope and inspiration for reclaiming the 205 weeks before they are gone.

It’s not too late. Are you ready? It’s time to #RedeemThe205

936Pennies Family Motherhood

When We Glimpse Just How Fragile Life Is

June 15, 2016

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I decorated our boys’ room today. They eagerly watched from their new bunk bed as I penned small marks on the wall and pounded in tiny nails. “Thank you for celebrating our room, Mom!” My oldest exclaimed. It will be a sad day for me when he starts correctly using “decorate” over “celebrate”. I kind of adore that he loves to “celebrate” our house.

As I hung up paintings of mountains and bears with the words, “Be brave, little one”, my heart was grieving.

I try to avoid the news. It’s not that I want to be unaware of what’s going on in the world, it’s just that I have an issue with fear. I’m quick to let it grip me, suffocate me, and pull me under.

I think most moms are. We just have so much to lose.

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But this week the news has been unavoidable. And as I stretched the measuring tape from nail to nail and hung copper stars on my boys’ wall, I mourned for mamas I do not know.

For 49 mamas shedding endless tears over their babies who were taken from them in an unthinkable act of evil.

And as we all sit in our own homes, grateful it wasn’t us and praying for those it was, I hear news of another Mama. One in the very same city where those 49 were taken. And I read of her own son—only two years old—snatched by an alligator while he dipped his toes into the water at the lagoon’s edge. I read of his Daddy, in brave instinct launching into the water and grabbing the animal, desperately trying to wrangle his helpless boy from the beast’s mouth.

The father lost.

And my heart pounds in my chest as I think of the scene.

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They were on vacation. And I think of the mother who will board an airplane to go home, her whole being aching at the empty seat beside her.

I push a curtain rod through a bright blue curtain and hang it over my boys’ window. I picture that mother setting her suitcase down at the front door, walking into his bedroom, and glancing at the pictures hung. The toys still strewn about. The little bed empty.

We read these stories and we weep. We weep for those lost and for those who loved them. And then we weep because our eyes have been brutally opened to just how fragile life is. And it terrifies us.

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This week I have had a difficult time focusing. Several times just to clear my mind of the sadness saturating the news, I’ve set aside responsibilities and taken a walk with my boys. I watch them just to watch them. I notice what they stop to notice. A flower blooming among the tall grass. A leaf bug jumping among the pebbles. How the arch of the branches over our path forms a fort. I watch them because I can. Because they are here.

It is events like this week’s that give us a crude reminder of just how fragile life is. It is taken by evil as well as by chance. So much of it is completely out of our control. I write about these 936 weeks that we have with our children. But the difficult truth is this:  we are never guaranteed those 936 weeks.

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All we have for certain is today. We have today to linger longer in that embrace. To kiss that pudgy little cheek one more time before bed. To sit with her and string beads on a string. To help him construct that new lego set. To help her with the math problem she’s been struggling with, or to take her mind off of it with a trip to the ice cream shop.

We have today to speak truth over them. To tell them how brave and beautiful and wonderful they are.

We have today to set down the to-do list, turn off the cell phone, and take a walk together.

When we get to tomorrow, if the one who holds our heart is not there with us, what would we wish we had done with them today?

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May we not allow fear to steal today away from us, for today is all we have for certain. Let us use what we have right now, this rotation of the earth, to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.” (Ephesians 5:15-16Today is our gift, to enjoy and to give. It is too short for regret and too precious for fear. 

Whatever tomorrow brings, may it find us grateful that today we chose to hold hands a little longer, to read a book together under a big shaded tree, to lie in the grass next to our loved one and stare up at the clouds as they give way to the stars.

This week as you grieve for those grieving and say prayers for strangers, the stories and blog posts and media coverage will fade. But let us not forget the way it has opened our eyes. Let us not forget how it made our hearts suffocate when we thought of our own loved ones there one moment and gone the next. May we stop waiting on tomorrow to live for what really matters most. Let us not forget that today is all we have for certain, and live every little bit of it full of gratitude and awe for the gift that it is.

936Pennies Craft Homeschooling Motherhood Video

Story Stones – A Fun And Creative Way To Teach Your Kids The Art Of Storytelling!

May 19, 2016

“Zeke, if you could have any animal in the world as your pet, what would you have?”

My four-year-old boy thought for a moment, contemplating his vast options.

“A lion.” I could tell in his voice, he was sure. But then he added, “A nice lion. One that hugs people. But lions are big, Mom, so he would have to live in a really big container.”

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This boy and his imagination. More and more as his world grows, so does his ability to fabricate whole worlds within his mind. Without the framework of reality stifling his ideas, his inventiveness catches me off guard, brings a smile to my lips, and laughter to my eyes every single day.

Yet there is one area of his imagination where he’s been struggling.

Often while we’re riding in the car he asks me, “Mom, can you tell me a story?” Sometimes he asks specifics; make it about a lion, or a monkey. I make up some tale, trying my best to conjure up some kind of plot. Upon ,”Then end,” there is always a request for another story. Thinking up these things is exhausting.

Lately, when he asks for a second story, I have been encouraging him to make up a story for me instead. This is when his voice softens to a whisper as he replies, “I don’t know how.” I can hear the confidence slipping away from my boy.

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We all know that reading is important for a child; that it holds endless benefits for their development and knowledge. Yet I think that one area that is often neglected is this learned art of storytelling.

I can still recall stories that my parents told me when I was very young. Twenty years later, I can still see the zoo of stuffed animals towered high on each side of my little body. My dad sitting on the edge of my bed, telling me a tale of a family of bears off on a birthday picnic adventure. It’s a story I think upon when we take our boys out for their birthday picnics.

Stories hold power. They can last a lifetime. I want my boys to experience this incredible piece of life.

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That is why I love this idea I came across last week for making Story Stones. My boys and I made a whole day of creating these fun story prompts; picking out stones at the river, choosing stickers at the craft shop, and working as a team to create our Story Stones.

As soon as they were dry, my boys needed no prompting or instruction. They set right to work creating whimsical, hilarious tales, and I sat back completely amazed at their new storytelling abilities. It ends up, all they needed were some ideas and characters right in their hands– a plot that they could visualize-– to set them on a path that will surely lead to incredible stories throughout their lifetime.

If you haven’t already, check out the video we made at the beginning of this post, telling a story of its own on how we created our Story Stones. Below are some detailed instructions and tips for making your own Story Stones. And don’t forget to check back when you’re done, and post on my Facebook Page how your Story Stones turned out, and the stories your kids are creating with them!

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How To Create Your Own Story Stones

What you will need:

  • Smooth, flat, stones
  • Stickers likable to story telling (We used camping stickers, animals from the woods, farm animals, family stickers, trucks, and fish)
  • Mod Podge glue
  • Thick paintbrush

Instructions:

  1. Place one sticker on each stone. Make sure the sticker is completely adhered to the stone, with no edges sticking up.
  2. Coat the whole side of the stone (with the sticker on it) in Mod Podge glue.
  3. Wait for the glue to (mostly) dry, then re-coat. Apply 5-6 coats total
  4. Start telling stories!

Tips:

We used scrapbooking stickers form Hobby Lobby. If you wait until they have a sticker sale (usually half off), and use the coupon on their website for 40% off the Mod Podge glue, you could do this very cheaply.

I read on this post that kids also enjoy using Story Stones for sorting, role play, Doll House characters, etc. My 3 year old was using the Truck Story Stones he made and “rolling” them around roll playing, just like he does with his Matchbox Cars!

Don’t forget to tell us how they turned out on my Facebook page!

936Pennies Book Review Motherhood

3 Places I Never Expected to Find the Beauty of Motherhood

May 13, 2016

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There was this image that I had of motherhood.

Delicate sunlight cascading down through a window, casting soft shadows across the bedroom. The bed is a brilliant white; adorned in a plush down comforter and feather filled pillows. I lay on my stomach, perched up on my elbows, staring down at my infant son. He is all smiles as he gazes back up into my eyes. I take in his freshly bathed scent of lavender soap and oatmeal lotion as he happily babbles to me about his day.

Of course, this was before I actually became a mother, and realized that parents never buy white bedding sets. For oh so many reasons.

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It’s not that I romanticized the idea of motherhood. I knew there would be dirty diapers and spit up and skinned knees and sleepless nights.

But there is so much of motherhood that cannot be understood until you are in the thick of it. 

There are so many surprises.

In her book Surprised By Motherhood, author Lisa-Jo Baker writes about “Everything I never expected about being a mom.”

I think that many of us arrive at the threshold of motherhood with a whole lot of expectations. And yet, I’ve come to discover in my short almost-five-years of experience, that the beauty of motherhood often lurks in the most unassuming places.

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First, I never expected to find the beauty of motherhood among the messy imperfections.

For instance, that soft downy comforter, lavender soap, and freshly bathed baby that I used to imagine? Reality looks a lot more like me curled up on a couch that’s covered in Cheerio dust, napping next to my infant boy in his footie pajamas he’s been wearing for two days; his nose all chapped and runny from days of fighting a cold.

And you know what?

It is lovely, this true image of the breathtaking mess that motherhood actually is. Just how magnificent it is in all of its raw, unfiltered, rough-edged truth.

Even on my family’s best days, when we’re up in the mountains, tossing rocks in the river, and watching a herd of elk grazing in a nearby meadow—someone is bound to be whining about something. Or we run out of snacks (which is a very, very big deal with 3 boys…) Or someone is cold. We can surround ourselves with the most perfect setting, and still “perfect” eludes us every time.

Motherhood has a beautiful way of teaching us that “It is what it is”, so we had better enjoy it to the fullest for what it is! That is where beauty unfolds.

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Secondly, I never expected to find the beauty of motherhood in the mundane nature of our day-to-day.

Among the piles of dirty dishes and laundry, in the pool of spilled juice, in the splatters of water paint and the rainbow orbs of bubbles dancing through the backyard–this day-to-day humdrum is where I stumbled upon the extraordinary.

Lisa-Jo calls it the “Sacred marriage of the mundane and the eternal.” She says it is, “The small directly related to the massive; kids walking around like so much eternity with skin on.”

And it’s in words like these that I see it– the magnificent beauty of spreading peanut butter on bread, teaching the difference between consonants and vowels, scrubbing out sippy cups, and stopping to answer one million and one questions throughout our day.

These little things, they are huge. They matter. I never could have imagined just how much.

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Lastly, I never expected to find the beauty of motherhood in how ridiculously hard it is.

As Lisa-Jo puts it in her book, “Mothers may want to find room to breathe, to weep, to panic. But they don’t want it to end—this delivering, shaping, cheering, loving, bringing life into the world.”

After a long day of motherhood, this “room to breathe” is exactly what I long for. I often find it in bubble bath at the end of the night. The other night was no different—except that the baby was crying from his crib in the next room over.

I crept through his door, and lifted him out of the crib and into my arms. I took off his pajamas, unstrapped his diaper, and plopped him down into my bubble bath. And there we sat together, playing in mountains of white bubbles, lavender wafting through the air, French music playing softly, him looking up at me to smile every few moments.

After another long day of navigating my little people through life, I just wanted some rest. Some quite. Some alone. But him there, all joy with bubbles dancing atop his blonde curls, was the reminder I needed of why all the hard is worth every single moment. Every single tear. Every single exhausted morning. It’s worth every hard thing.

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Motherhood reveals the very worst of me. And that, I believe, is what is also unearthing the very best in me. Sometimes it takes coming face to face with your deepest fears, your shocking selfishness, and who you are at your very weakest in order to discover where true beauty finds space to grow.

I asked on Facebook this week, “What has surprised you most about motherhood?” I loved Gretchen’s answer. She said, “It’s a daily dose of the Gospel. How God uses it to refine me. How the trials that he brings me through with my kids are as much a learning process for me and my own sinfulness and need for a Heavenly Father to guide, protect and love me. Every time I lecture my kids, God’s tapping my shoulder and saying… ‘Sound familiar?’”

Surprising beauty, right there.

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The truth is, this job is very, very, very hard.

It is demanding and exhausting and confusing and incredibly emotional.

But that is exactly where the beauty is found. In the hard stuff. And in the big grace that makes the hard stuff into the holy stuff.

To all the Mamas out there taking joy in the imperfect mess, loving hard in the middle of the mundane, and learning who they are in the very hard stuff—this is exactly where the beauty of motherhood is found. So never stop looking for it.

You can purchase Surprised By Motherhood here 

 

{Note:  I am not receiving any compensation for this endorsement. I have greatly benefited from Lisa-Jo Baker’s book, and believe that many others can also.}

 

936Pennies Motherhood

Where My Son Found My Smile Again

May 8, 2016

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The first time he asked the question, it stopped me in my tracks.

“Hey Mom, can you smile at me?”

I was busy. Preoccupied. Stressed. Distracted. And the simple request of my son revealed that my smile had vanished in the mess.

In the disarray of moving to a new state, house hunting, growing our business, and countless other little things, my mind was in a million places. But not with him.

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Since when did my four-year-old boy have to ask for a smile from me? When had I ceased to dole them out for free?

Over the next few weeks he would repeat his request on several occasions, each time unsettling my spirit a little bit more. It wasn’t that I was not happy, not at all. It’s just that sometimes our smile can get buried under the pressures of life.

Leave it to my boy to notice the little things that are actually the really big things. Like when Mom’s smile starts to fade.

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It wasn’t only his request that had me considering my priorities. In the rare moments that I would set our busy realities aside in favor of a book, I was reading through Hands Free Life by Rachel Macy Stafford.

In the book, Stafford speaks of “Keeping track of life”, a term her young daughter coined. Stafford explains it like this:

Keeping track of life is knowing you’re on your true path toward fulfillment. It’s being at peace with who you are and how you are living. It’s placing your head on the pillow at night knowing you’ve connected with someone or something that made your heart come alive. It’s investing in what really matters, understanding full well that managing life is the tendency but living life is the goal….It is a conscious decision to focus on what really matters when a sea of insignificance tries to pull you away.”

I knew that the busyness of our family’s current season was necessary. But I also knew that I could not allow what mattered most to take the back burner. I could not stop smiling for my boy. Or for me.

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In Hands Free Life, Stafford sets out 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More. And it was the very first habit, “Fill The Spaces” that resurfaced my smile above the waves of distractions and busyness.

“Filling The Spaces” is about searching out those small pockets of our days and redeeming them in order to connect with those we love most. It is about pausing for what really matters.

I was determined to make those sacred pauses a part of our days.

And so I set out on a one-week experiment. For 1 week, I set the timer on my phone to go off every hour throughout the day. And every time it went off, I stopped to play for 10 minutes with my sons.

The biggest part of my experiment was this:  for those ten minutes of play, I joined my boys in whatever they were doing.

I engaged in their own play. I entered into their world. They were thrilled! And you know what? I was too.

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Instead of waiting for them to ask me to play, they saw me excitedly joining them in their own imaginative activities.

Instead of setting down their plates of breakfast and then returning to the kitchen to clean up a mess, I sat and ate with them. I listened as between bites of eggs they told me their plans to be bridge builders when they grow up.

Instead of letting them watch another show so I could finish my work, I sat down between them as we read our way through a pile of library books.

We played “Run away from the elk!” Their baby brother played the elk.

I sat in the green grass and raced slugs around on Matchbox trucks.

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These ten minute pauses quickly became an anchor to our days. Sometimes the ten minutes stretched into twenty. Sometimes my phone alarm would sound, only to find me already on the floor, constructing towers out of wooden blocks.

It’s not that I needed a reminder to play with my kids.

Well, then again. Perhaps sometimes I do need that reminder.

Maybe we all do.

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But so much more, I needed the reminder to enter into their own play. To show interest in their activities. To celebrate their imaginations. And I needed permission to set down my own agenda and play. That permission came every time the alarm on my phone went off.

Each time I paused my day to reenter into theirs, they knew, as Stafford writes in the book, “…that you’re all there and there’s no other place you’d rather be.”

And that place, there on the floor or in the grass or on the couch with a story book–that place is exactly where my boy found my smile again.

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You can purchase Hands Free Life here.

 

{Note:  I am not receiving any compensation for this endorsement. I have greatly benefited from Rachel Macy Stafford’s book, and believe that many others can also.}

936Pennies Family Motherhood

When Stopping To Smell The Flowers Is Not Enough

April 20, 2016

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His feet plop down into the dry, red earth. His clumsy coordination changing to agile navigation before my eyes. He is slow. Slower than his big brother by the two years that span between them. He is my smeller of flowers, stopping to examine every smallest detail of the trail.

His Daddy hikes thirty feet ahead of us, holding onto his big brother’s hand, and carrying his baby brother in a pack on his back. We trail behind. I know that we have two miles ahead of us, and we should hurry. But hurry is not this one’s style.

Over our recent hikes, I have gradually come to realize that it is not his feet that are slow. Rather, he has slowed his attention—giving no thought to the idea of “hurry up”. In essence, he is being a kid; and kids stop to ponder. It intrigues me, and I learn to embrace his pauses, and bend down right next to him, examining the newest pebble that has caught his attention.

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These hikes into the mountains, with his hand in mine and us making our way leisurely along behind the rest— these have become precious times to me. Side by side our feet navigate between, or over, rocks protruding from the earth. This is when finds himself most free to speak his mind. And I am learning that this not-quite-three-year-old boy has much to speak about; his thoughts soaked in wonder and intrigue.

“Do fish talk, Mom?” He asks it out of the blue as we round a corner; Daddy and brothers coming back into view ahead. At times we catch up to them, only to quickly fall behind again. My breathing becomes heavier as we climb the rocky path. And as I inhale, the overwhelming aroma of wildflowers catches me by surprise. “No Love, fish don’t talk.” I smile at his simple question. He is figuring out his world, question by question. “Oh.” He replies, and leaps off of a rock in the path.

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As we hike he brings up memories from half of his life ago; events I haven’t thought about for quite some time. Obviously he has. They are a part of him. And this hike, I know, will be also; a part of him, and a part of me. A part of us.

“Oh Mom!” He stops me with the urgency in his voice. He bends low, slightly sunburned knees grazing the earth. “I spied something!” He lowers his face to inches from the ground. “It was this!” he exclaims. I squint. He fingers the pebbles, picks up a piece of mountain gravel the size of a poppy seed. And we rise and hike on.

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I listen to his rhythmic hiccups until the sound of water crashing on rocks begins to drown them out. “Oh Mom! The waterfall! I found the waterfall!” He runs ahead. A mechanical voice sounds from the phone in my hiking pack, confirming that we have indeed taken a good many minutes to reach our destination. I find myself thankful for each one of those minutes, and every conversation woven throughout them as my boy and I slowed time and gave it new life.

I had brought a lot to the trail that evening. When we began our hike, my shoulders had ached. My head had pounded and my heart was heavy with burden. Yet with each unrushed minute on that path, I found myself that much further from the burdens of life. With his simple talk, intriguing memories, and attention to creation’s detail, my son somehow unwound all of the stress and anxiety gripping my spirit. He did this simply by reminding me to stop. To smell. To see. To linger. To live. Really live.

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He reminds me that life is more than burdens and lists and to-dos and agendas and stress. And that it is also about more than simply stopping to smell the flowers. He taught me that smelling is not enough. That we must also touch. Name. Examine. Appreciate. Ask questions. Admire. Respect. And linger. And only then do the pressures of life become less. Only then do distractions and things of little matter fade into the background. Only then do we remember what matters most in life.

Take a lesson from my boy this week (I will be). Take a walk. Wherever you are. Through the sun or through the snow. In the rain or against the wind. A stroll through the city park, or a hike along a mountain ridge. And do. Not. Rush. Pause whenever you find something beautiful. Examine, admire, memorize. And don’t stop walking until the burdens and anxieties that you arrived at the path with become overwhelmed by the beauty of creation.

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936Pennies Family Living With Intention Parenting

What Is In Your Child’s Hands Today?

March 14, 2016

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He takes my hand in his and gives it two gentle squeezes, and I forget all else going on in that moment. I look at him quizzically; he seems to hang on to every one of my words these days. Two days before I had squeezed his own hand in mine, and he had asked me why. “It’s a way to tell someone that you love them, without using words. It shows them that you are thinking about them.”

He quickly adopts this as a new form of communication, surprising me with hand squeezes while we’re in the car, out on a walk, and running errands; a constant reminder that he’s thinking about me, his hand memorizing the feeling of my own.

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In the coming weeks I find myself more and more aware of what is occupying my boys’ hands. I read it in Rachel Macy Stafford’s book, Hands Free Life, “I want my daughters to remember holding our cat, Banjo; a wooden spoon to form cookie dough; musical instruments; books; bike handlebars; ladybugs; seashells; and especially my hand in theirs.”

I read her words as I sit out on our back deck, watching my boy, nearing five years old, practicing his grip on an old tennis racquet, maneuvering it just right to hit a plastic ball across the yard.

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Stafford continues in her book, “Because my actions greatly influence their actions, I make it a priority to exercise daily, go outside, and do things with my hands like baking and reading books.”

I’m thankful today that my boy sees my hands occupied with the pages of a book, a pen, and my journal; and in a few minutes, with a tennis ball as I join him in the yard. I know that many times—too many times—they see my hands busying themselves in a cadence across the laptop keyboard, or they watch my thumb dancing across the screen of my smart phone. And yes, the work is important, but I have to ask myself, do they see my hands wrapped around technology more than they see them fingering the pages a book, sprinkling cinnamon sugar over muffins, or wrapped around their Daddy’s hand?

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What our children observe our hands holding day in and day out will greatly determine what they decide to busy their own hands with. What might begin to change if we started taking note of what occupies our hands most?

I want my children to know well the slight cramp of thumb and wrist after gripping a marker or paintbrush, as they splash color across a blank canvas. I want them to know the feeling of both bread dough and garden soil caked underneath their fingernails. When their hands slip into mine, I want to feel their small calluses from swinging on the monkey bars and pulling each other around the yard in the wagon.

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I want them to be well acquainted with the feeling of craft glue dried onto the tips of their fingers. I want their fingertips to know the softness of bird feathers, and the prickles of pine needles. I want them to know how to hold a pea pod between their hands, and slice it open with their thumb nail to get at the peas inside. I want them to memorize the perfect hand placements, and how to grip the branches just right to scale the tree at their favorite park.

Most of all, I want my children to know the assurance found in the slight squeeze of my hand around theirs, a silent reminder that I love them, and am thinking about them right there in that moment; and that I wouldn’t rather my hand be busy with anything else.

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Today may we all pay a little more attention to what we occupy our hands with; choosing to fill them with the very things we hope our children will wrap their own hands around. May we be the ones to model what is truly important in life, by what we choose to grasp within our palms.

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As Stafford says it so well, “Today I want you to remember my open hands—not my multitasking hands, the ones too full, too busy, too pushy to gently tuck your hair behind your ear. I want to love you by opening my two empty hands.”

Empty hands are hands that are ready to receive, whether it be that craft project they are so proud of, a bouquet of wild flowers gathered from the yard, or their own little hand in yours. What will fill your hands today?

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