I said good-bye at the door of my daughter's kindergarten classroom and headed for the parking lot; but when I looked back, my daughter came running after me, shrieking down the hallway. Her dad and I had just divorced, and my daughter and I were both going through a period of separation anxiety.
The school counselor suggested I allow my daughter to bring something from home, something small and unobtrusive she could wear or keep in a pocket, something to remind her of the loving adults who would still be there for her at the end of the day.
In my dresser drawer, I found an old, gold-tone locket necklace, and I put tiny pictures of her dad and me inside. My daughter wore that locket every day of kindergarten, and she stopped chasing me, crying, through the hallways when I dropped her off at school.
Some kids carry teddy bears or old blankets to remind them of home and help them feel secure. Most kids outgrow carrying their security objects around all day.
But many adults still have security objects that we keep near to see and touch. Sometimes we all need a physical connection to our invisible sources of strength and love.
When I was feeling particularly anxious and insecure, I found my old Cowardly Lion doll and stood him on my dresser to remind me to have courage and keep moving. I hoard quilts that hold memories of special people. I will never part with the Taz doll my husband won for me at the amusement park game stall. And lately, I've started carrying this smooth river stone to remind me of the strength and solidity of God's presence.
I know all these lockets, dolls, and stones don't hold any special powers. They are not lucky charms, and they possess no magic spells. Our touchstones are merely tangible reminders of the love and safety available to us and the special people who give us comfort and peace.
On first grade picture day, I pulled from the dresser drawer that old, golden locket, now tarnished and tangled. I asked, "Do you want to wear this today?"
My daughter shrugged.
Lockets and stones can never take the place of the love they represent, and once we become secure in that love, the reminders become merely reminders again.
My daughter moved on to wearing necklaces she and her friends made out of safety pins. But I still have that Cowardly Lion doll.
What security objects do your children treasure? What are your own tangible reminders of love?
The morning was still fairly dark when I walked my daughter to the school bus stop outside our apartment building. All the kids from the apartment complex milled around the parking lot, next to dumpsters and discarded furniture. We shivered in the autumn air. The rising sun glared brilliantly off the frost on the car windshields. When my daughter climbed on board and the bus pulled away, I walked to work through the morning chill with my hands in my pockets and my nose sniffling.
Fall is the foreshadowing of winter. The early darkness and cooling air warn us of the chill and stillness to come. Every fall I feel a sense of drawing in and settling down. I want to feel cozy, to curl up and cocoon; not to avoid the dark and cold, but to enjoy the promise of comfort and warmth.
In preparing for the icy days and nights ahead, I've found a few ways to enjoy and appreciate the changing season:
Make the most of the last nice days by wearing sweatshirts and jackets to play at the park.
Look for free and low-cost indoor entertainment. My daughter and I enjoyed the warm and humid Botanical Center where we stood under the banana trees and counted the geckos clinging to the leaves.
Dig the warm pajamas out of storage, put sleeping bags on the living room floor, and enjoy a slumber party movie night. Make popcorn and use flashlights for lighting.
Buy extra flashlight batteries for possible winter power outages. Check and change batteries in all home smoke detectors.
Bake cookies. Let children help.
Buy extra shelf-stable food so we're not traipsing to the grocery store during winter storms. I stock up on condensed milk, peanut butter, dry cereal, cans of chili and soup.
Make homemade chili and soup. Try this taco soup recipe.
Buy extra over-the-counter pain reliever and cough medicine so I'm not dragging a kid with a cold to the store in frigid weather.
Have the car's oil changed. Check and rotate tires. Replace wiper blades and fill washer fluid.
Buy extra socks for everyone in the household. Save a couple of pairs to make sock snowmen, following a Youtube tutorial.
Trace fallen leaves onto red, orange, and yellow construction paper. Cut out the shapes to decorate the apartment windows and walls.
Then curl up on the couch together, pull up the blanket or quilt, and snuggle in luxurious warmth. Talk about the autumns and winters, springs and summers of our childhoods. Appreciate this gift of time to connect, be present, and talk quietly.
I hope you all enjoy a cozy, comfortable evening together before resting through the long, cold night and then seeing them off to school in the morning.
How do you enjoy the changing season? How do you prepare for the cold weather ahead?
The stroller felt heavier with every turn. I paused at the curb, hauled the stroller around in a U-turn, and headed back toward the fence and the trees. Four toddlers in coats and stocking caps looked where I pointed and listened to my constant chatter.
"Look at the pretty trees. The leaves are turning orange and red."
"Watch the rabbit run under the fence. Rabbits run fast."
"Wow, this stroller is heavy, and the world is so big."
Back and forth, push and pull, I propelled the stroller up and down the sidewalk because my training in early childhood education had taught me that all children learn from experiences like this. The four toddlers were learning language from hearing my voice describe the trees, rabbits, and the great, wide world. They learned about the sensations of the cool breeze and the sound of cars passing on the street. As an early childhood teacher, I wanted the kids in my care to be always learning.
Choosing a daycare provider for your child is an important decision. Every mom wants to know her baby is safe, learning, and loved. Look for childcare center teachers and in-home care providers who:
- Answer all your questions, understand your concerns, and encourage parents to visit the home or facility at unplanned and various times throughout the day.
- Maintain good communication with daily reports about how children ate, slept, and played.
- Do not confine infants and toddlers to cribs or bouncy seats; but instead allow infants and toddlers space to move freely, play on the floor, and explore the environment.
- Provide outdoor play spaces and scheduled play times so toddlers and older children can run, jump, swing, and climb in safe and supervised areas.
- Do not stand around gossiping or checking their cell phones; but instead understand that children learn from being actively engaged with adults and their peers.
- Plan rewarding learning opportunities: read stories, sing songs, lead art and craft projects, and encourage children to question and explore.
- Take infants outdoors in strollers or wagons to describe the scenery and enjoy the blue sky.
Most importantly, always trust your instincts when selecting a childcare provider. Choose the center or provider that feels the most loving and interested in your child. Look for teachers and providers who enjoy spending time with children, seem happy to see your child every morning, and express a willingness to work with parents as part of a childcare team.
I remember those years I spent pushing that stroller as a time of learning for me, too. I learned that children hear and remember much more than we realize. I learned that fall trees look beautiful in the early morning sun, sidewalks are wide and uneven, the world is enormous and awesome, and I am never too old to feel small.
What do you look for when choosing a childcare provider? How did you know when you found the right one?
Behind the library lies a serene, wide lake circled by a walking path and weeping willow trees. I like to walk the path, enjoy the breeze and the shady trees, and check out the metal sculptures like this blue flower and this bizarre bird.
My favorite sculpture is labeled "Sprout" and depicts the circular seed just beginning to unfurl. I love the spiraling expansion and swirling lines. Looking at Sprout makes me think about what it means to live and grow.
- Growth follows seasons. Our lives move through times and phases, planting and harvest, dark and light. We all experience times of great movement and change, but also times of great quiet and rest. Both phases are necessary and valuable. In times of quiet we learn and prepare to move forward. In times of action we leap ahead to new achievements and experiences.
- Growth produces fruit. The seed's only goal is to blossom and create. To produce the harvest, the seed first has to die, shatter its shell, and spread roots into the soil. The seed leaves its old state behind and presses forward toward its new and improved form.
- Growth requires struggle. Challenges and obstacles build strength and endurance. The green shoot forces its way upward, pushing through rocky soil, creeping around massive stones, and straining through narrow pavement cracks. The growing plant knows which way to turn, always reaching upward toward light and life.
God gives us all this instinct to grow, to look ahead, and move forward. We have to honor that drive, welcome the struggle, and give thanks for every opportunity to learn and change. To encourage growth in ourselves and others, we have to be willing to:
- Explore. To grow we have to seek new sights, pursue new experiences, and accept new challenges. We have to have open minds, expansive hearts, and willingness to walk an unfamiliar path around a deep, mysterious lake.
- Question. To grow we have to think about our place in life, our future, and our destination. We have to consider where we came from, ask ourselves where we are going, and wonder what we will find around the bend and beyond the trees.
- Believe. To grow we have to know that we all have a purpose, whether or not it is always apparent. We have to trust that we each have a reason to exist, and with persistence and faith we will grow into all that we were meant to be.
This season there are so many places I want to investigate and explore. I am looking forward to a quiet time of rest this fall and winter before an explosion of growth and change in the spring.
How do you encourage growth in yourself and others? How do you expect to change in the coming season?
Because I had some minor surgery yesterday, I've planned a few days off to focus on activities that are comforting and relaxing. It's nice to be reminded sometimes that life is about more than work and recognition. My plans for the coming week include:
- Sleep til 6 every morning and take a nap every afternoon.
- Take a long walk with someone who is very special to me.
- Eat ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
- Reread Jane Eyre, the story of a poor nanny who marries her wealthy boss.
- Rewatch Pride & Prejudice, the story of a poor farmgirl who marries a wealthy aristocrat. (I see a pattern in my entertainment choices.)
- Enjoy unhurried conversation with my daughter and friends who stop by.
- Call my old mentor, Vivian, to catch up.
- Organize my closet and get some warm, cozy sweaters out of storage.
- Start sewing the quilt I'm making from old pajama pants.
- Watch the History Channel specials remembering 9/11 and be reminded that life is fragile. I will be grateful for every moment, value the people who are special to me, and recommit to helping others when I can. I will pray for God's peace, grace, and mercy for our world.
How do you spend any time you have for relaxing? What are your thoughts as we remember 9/11 this weekend?