I have always appreciated the simplicity of Thanksgiving, how much and how little it requires of me all at once. On one hand it is an elaborate meal, one many families take great care to celebrate with foods, people, and activities that feel meaningful to them, often handed down generationally. On the other hand, Thanksgiving is a cultural history, a connection to our country’s blended origins and a celebration of choice, of perseverance, of courage, and belief. I want my children to remember this holiday holding both parts.
As typical by this part in semester, our school routine is beginning to fall out and we’re all ready for the holiday break, BUT I’m trying to do a little school work this week to hold what little momentum we have until we pause for Christmas. I’ve scaled our work way down though. The kids will do a little math and reading each day, but we have already and will continue to spend some time doing a few other projects appropriate for the season, projects I’m quite excited about: candle-making, leaf projects, writing our gratitudes, and reading/writing/illustrating around The First Thanksgiving, a picture book from one of my favorite children’s writers Jean Craighead George.I love the more balanced perspective of this book for younger ages, that courage and hardship didn’t just belong to the Pilgrims. It feels honest and yet approachable for a family read. If you’re interested, I recently wrote some more about how I use this book and why I return to it every year, which you can now read on the Babiekins blog.
Olive | You are always moving. Bouncing. Running. Talking. Slowly your words are catching up to your deep sense of emotion. You told me this week, “Blythe is really distressing me! Look [pointing to a stool in the play tent]! Is this where the stool belongs? I don’t think so!” The irony is that you are the one typically making a mess or leaving bits about the home. I loved the turning of the table, as they say.
Blythe | This week you woke up, ate breakfast, and immediately set about your work, timing yourself as if it were a race. By the time you had finished, everyone else was merely wandering to the table. You are such a diligent worker, so faithful in the little things. Sometimes, at the sweet age of nine, the hardest lesson for you is how to be patient with those who are not as fast-paced or so highly motivated.
Burke | I regularly find you snuggled up in or on something soft, reading or thinking. Sometimes on the sunniest of days, I’ll find you lying in the grass, motionless, and I have to step closer to make sure you’re alive. “I’m okay,” you respond, “I’m just resting in the sun.” I call you my kitten, because of the way I find you lying around places so still, although you prefer to be likened to a puppy, which is only appropriate when you are wrestling with your brother.
Liam | You are changing, which you recognize, too. Sometimes your emotion will swing and surprise the both of us. We’ll joke about “pre-pubescent mood swings” referenced in Big Hero 6 which makes both of us laugh. The coming years will be new territory, one I’m slowly treading into with joy and a little bit of caution.
Olive | I grabbed a scarf from my closet last week, and it reeked horribly, which I assumed might have happened during its summer hibernation. The other day, I went to grab a shirt in my closet and smelled the same wretched smell, and decided to search my closet’s top shelf a little better. Upon removing my small scarf basket, I discovered a bowl with blackened something and a billion fruit flies to accompany it. I ran it out to the trash immediately and loudly called your name. You are the only one who sits at the top of my closet, and I never allow food there. You stared at me with wide-eyes and a quiet mouth, while I asked you about the black stuff in the bowl. “I think that was banana peel,” you shyly responded. Double-blink. I was speechless. Horrified and disgusted and speechless. I clarified with you about my food policy (pointing to the fruit flies swirling my closet air space) and left it at that. I’m sure I’ll laugh about it one day, maybe after the fruit flies leave my home for good. Wink.
Blythe | You look so grown up here, and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for it yet.
Burke | A different book. A different day. Same activity. My old soul.
Liam | You made each of the kids swords with some scrap wood, gorilla tape, and spray paint you found in the garage. These sort of projects make you so happy.
I took these images a few weeks ago on a typical Sunday morning at home: the kids piled in my bed playing; my planner and hot coffee in hand; the smell of fresh fruit pancakes wafting through the air. Although this room belongs primarily to my husband and I, from the time our children were toddlers, they have always loved meandering into our bed for snuggles, reading, little talks, or even playtime. The busyness has changed over the years, but I know I’ll miss all of this energy one day.
When you live in a small home, every thing and space within it occupies more than one purpose. While during the late evenings and night our bed is a place for my husband and I, in the day it might morph from workspace to reading space to trampoline. I don’t mind the last part as long as their feet are clean. On the days I need a little more privacy or “alone time,” as we refer to it around here, I set boundaries that provide it (since my children are a bit older to respect them), and I often encourage my children to the same when emotions run high, wanting to model for them at young ages how to recognize and take care of themselves when they feel overwhelmed or in need of some quiet. This sort of conversation and shared language is helpful with so many shared spaces, especially as we all spend so much time together.
I tend to linger in PJs most of the morning on these days, taking my coffee and planner back to my bed where I think about the upcoming week. Taking a rest from work on Saturday often helps me approach the new week with a fresh perspecitive. I write out a few simple goals for my personal work, our school work (projects or activities), and our home, and use these lists to help guide my time and work during the week ahead. The last few weeks I’ve lost this quiet planning time due to travel or some other circumstances, and I can tell you it deeply effects the quality of my week, especially when busy weekends happen in a row. I’m grateful to be reaching the upcoming holiday week, where I can collect my scattered thoughts and routine again.
In many ways, the holidays have quickly crept in this year, and I’m just now beginning to think about Thanksgiving next week (insert: shock and awe) and Christmas close behind. It’s good for me to have a short list of what our family really needs or wants, and to also have an idea of how those gifts impact others. Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to feature a couple of brands and products that we love that are working to make a difference in the world in some way. I hope this inspires you, or at the very least helps you cross off some things on your list, too.
This post is in partnership with Sudara, a small business dedicated to rescuing women from the sexual slavery in India, and one I’m proud to help promote this holiday season. We all adore the comfy nature of their PJs, but also that they’re “made with hope.” Plus, they just released the cutest winter-inspired prints in time for the holidays.
Most of this week you spent time in your friends’ homes while Dad and I traveled to Boston for a few days. You each were ecstatic and gladly kissed us and waved goodbye. Although I think any of you would have been happy to travel to Boston as well, I love your confidence in being away from us, too. I’m so grateful for friendships that feel like home.
olive | You still sort of hate cleaning up after yourself, and we find your things littered everywhere. Literally. I’m hoping this skill will grow as you do. Until then, happy sweeping dear one.
blythe | You were so proud when you realized you could reach this limb without effort.
Everyone likes having a little cash in their pocket, even if it’s not much. There’s a freedom of choice attached to pocket money, a subconscious autonomy in how we spend, save, or share it. My husband and I both have an allotted bits of personal money in our monthly family budget, a small amount of cash budgeted (even in the hardest financial times) for each of us to use how we will without excuse or explanation, without the internal conflict of self versus family needs. I tend to spend my own on books, something to wear, or tasty drinks with friends, while my husband more often patiently saves. I notice the same confidence of choice in my children when they receive birthday money or their bi-weekly allowance. They have the power to choose whether to purchase something small and instant or to save for something bigger in the future.
Since my husband and I have always both agreed that every family member, even the littlest, needs to contribute to the home’s well-being, we haven’t given allowances until more recently. In my idealism, I’ve always hoped the completed work itself would be a reward. But seriously. They. Are. Children. A clean home and completed school work will never feel the same to them as purchasing something they really want when it’s not a birthday or Christmas. As they grow, their own lists of personal wants and goals seem to grow also. So we opted to give each of our children a bi-weekly allowance related to their responsibilities around the home, hoping an allowance will serve both as a small, concrete reward for their work and provide simple lessons about financial responsibility.
The children’s allowances are allotted by the amount of their responsibility. Liam, at age twelve, naturally has more work than Olive, at age six. At this point, they each currently receive what equates to $3-4/week, and we distribute it every other week, as we take out our own cash for all of our family expenses. Since one of our goals through this is to teach our children about fiscal responsibility, they immediately divide their bi-weekly cash into three categories: GIVE, SAVE, SPEND. We use re-purposed (and clean) gelato containers for their cash. Fancy, right? There is one family GIVE jar, and each child has their own SAVE and SPEND jar. Each week, they are required to put something in both the GIVE and SAVE first.
GIVE | This is our one community jar. As our family becomes aware of needs around us, one might suggest, “I think we need to take $__ out of the giving jar to give to __.” We then talk about it as a family and decide an amount together. As the holidays approach, we’re already beginning conversations about how we might use our give jar during the season. This jar helps our children recognize need and see the ways our money, even the smallest bits, can encourage, inspire, and love others.
SAVE | The save jar is treated as a long-term savings. Again, we let each child determine how much they want to add, but we do require they add something to their savings from each allowance. When they reach $100 (only one has yet), we open a savings account for them to begin storing their money at the bank. We treat the jar like a real savings account: deposits only. This is an area we use to talk about long-term goals with them: purchasing a car, saving for college, or traveling the world when they are older.
SPEND |Whatever is left over goes into their pocket or spend jar. Here they also save but for purchases in the nearer future. For instance, last year, the boys chipped in together and bought a video game console. This is where they often buy birthday or Christmas gifts for one another, or tiny treaties that I might not. Olive loves to carry her purse everywhere and will often keep a dollar or two in her wallet to buy gum! Either way, it’s theirs.
Our children earn money in other ways, too. The last two summers the boys have mowed lawns in our neighborhood and the girls have helped bag leaves. If there’s a larger home project, such as cleaning the garage or washing/vacuuming the car, they may also earn an extra bit of money, too. It’s not an exact science, but a simple way we hope to teach them about the world. On the rare occasion (as it happened last month), if their attitudes are poor or they are consistently complaining or not finishing their work, we withhold allowance. Although it pains us, we want them to remember, this way of earning money is a privilege, not an entitlement.
What about you? Do you have an allowance set up for your children or a way they can earn pocket money?
Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker. – Linus, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
This year, we wandered the one usual neighborhood street with the cousins, mingling with neighbors, enjoying the mild weather. It reminded me of the family walks we used to take together when you all were little, strapped to our chest or back or riding in the stroller. Time seems overwhelming some days. After collecting your small bags of goodies, we joined friends for their annual party, where you all ate sugar in various forms for dinner, I think, and ran around in the grass howling and giggling like wild creatures.
liam | It’s funny as you grow older how I can quietly predict little nuances in your behavior, such as waiting until the last minute to finish your costume. You are never short on ideas. The hard part (for everyone, honestly) is always how to follow through with them. Although you had originally planned to be Scarecrow from Batman, you opted to watch the annual viewing of Arsenic and Old Lace with Dad instead of finishing sewing your costume. At the last moment, you opted to be a very serious elephant, probably a close friend of Babar.
burke | The head for your original costume broke at the last minute. Although I offered to help you hot glue it, you instead improvised by snatching a piece of fabric and turning yourself into a bandit.
blythe | You knew from the beginning, you wanted to be a Monarch butterfly. The variety of neatly arranged colors suits you well.
olive | A baby bat, just as you wanted with a set of proudly made wings.
Every year, around this time, I grow a bit heart-sick. While I scroll through images on my phone of apple orchards, cozy sweaters, and brightly colored leaves, our air remains warmly humid and summer foliage endures. I love our small town because of the people we are connected with here, but it is not in itself a beautiful place. It is our home and that is what makes it beautiful. Everyday friends stroll by with their children in wagons or walking their dog and simply pop in to say hello. Although not all of our friends live on our street, many live within two miles, and I realize there’s something special about our small town living that has little to do with foliage or weather. Still I do love the outdoors. My children and husband love the outdoors, and we live in a somewhat forgotten neighborhood, with no immediate wild parts to roam. This is the season where I learn to look a little deeper to find beauty right where I am.
It’s easy to look view online lives on my little hand-held screen with a sense of longing, whether it is over a dreamy home, a style of living, or the natural beauty of mountains, woods, and ocean. Any amount of my own discontentment can cause my heart to ache a bit. Without realizing it, I can find myself with thoughts, “if only. . .” and left unregulated those thoughts can quickly send me spinning. While online connections can be in so many ways a large sense of encouragement and inspiration, they can also distract me, keep me from taking a deeper look at our life, at my heart. I’m sharing this so you know no one is invincible to distraction, to heart-ache, to longing for something other than what we have. Even here, I am learning to let go, to put down my phone more often, to live and enjoy right where I am.
I’m often up before the sunrise, and right now, as it’s the coolest part of our day, I am enjoying these first moments of dark passing to light right on my front porch with my morning coffee. It doesn’t matter where you live, the warm, hazy glow of morning light will always reveal beauty, even the most obscure. For thousands of years, people have written about the miraculous newness of morning, even simply that it happens every day. In my opinion, a morning walk is the best cure for a longing heart. It gently revives the soul. It reminds me to pay attention. It cultivates gratitude.
A couple of weeks ago at first light, I went for a walk with my camera. The girls, still in their PJs, joined me on their bikes, and the boys not long after. Here are a few snippets of morning from our humble street, a gentle reminder for all of us: beauty is found everywhere.