Seven Recent Reads/Shows

It’s Friday!! And I’m gearing up for a solo weekend with the girls while Tom flies to his younger brother’s graduation. I will readily admit how wimpy I am about solo parenting, but, armed with a lot of coffee and a bottle of wine, I should be just fine, and I will choose not to care about the state I’m sure the house will be in by the time Tom returns. Also, perspective is everything, right– all I need to do is think about this mom of QUAD babies (!) and/or watch an episode of Victorian Slum House when things are getting bad and life will suddenly seem rosy!

Like I said the other day, one of the best parts about less social media has been a lot more reading. It actually is the perfect antidote to all the crazed distraction that smartphone use breeds: you have to sit in one spot while you read, you have to actually focus on ALL the words on the page if you actually want to follow the story or the thought, there are no distracting images (well, beautiful picture books excepted), and you have no chance of clicking over to an entire other story/post/whatever and thus losing the original story thread you picked up.

So I thought I’d tap out a few highlights of what I/we have read in the last 7 months or are currently reading, but also some good stuff we’ve watched. (Is it just me, or are the streaming options lately just abysmal?!?).

Books (links are affiliate!)

1.Till We Have Faces– C.S. Lewis

This was a reread for me for book club, but it is a story that is so well-crafted and sticks with you.

2. The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

I could not believe Tom hadn’t read this yet, so I made him read it with me over the winter. I consider it required reading for 21st century Catholics. Greene pretty much mastered the portrayal of the struggling sinner who is nonetheless called to do something beyond himself. If you like Brideshead Revisited, you must read this!!

3. Consider This by Karen Glass

This is a really wonderfully written and accessible book explaining how Charlotte Mason fits into the sphere of classical education. (I told you I’ve been totally geeking out on education lately!). Even if you have no interest in Charlotte Mason or classical education (though I strongly recommend you look into her work if you’re in the education/homeschool world), this will be very inspiring just on teaching, learning, and education in general.

Shows

4. A Serious of Unfortunate Events (Netflix). This goes under Funny, Well-Acted, Well-Produced. It was just really fun to watch, the cast is perfect, and we are really looking forward to the next season.

5. To Walk Invisible (PBS). We were reading Wuthering Heights together when we watched this, so it was apropos. It was hard to understand, what with the accents, but was fascinating (and depressing in some ways) to see how the Bronte sisters developed into the most famous sisterly band of writers.

6. The Crown (Netflix). We watched this when it came out, just like every other person, I’m sure. We enjoyed it overall though. Claire Foy was literally perfect as the Queen, and the story seemed to be presented accurately.

7. We have sort of started this Turkish period drama, Kurt Seyit and Sura (Netflix), but we’ll see how long we stick with it (maybe it will pick up in future episodes).

Well, that brings me to 7, and so I’ll just link-up with Kelly and the Quick-Takers here, and call it a night.

As always, tell me what you’re reading or watching (and hopefully save us some time scanning Netflix/Prim to try and find something decent!)

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Coming Out of Hibernation

I guess you could say my mama bear instincts kicked up in the late fall, around which time I started realizing that far too many minutes of my time were being poured into big or little screens, scrolling through other people’s lives. So I essentially went into a social media hibernation, deleting all social media from my phone and winnowing down the blogs I read to a handful, which I subscribed to by email (is that old school now?) and deleted my blog reader app, which had essentially become another iteration of Infinite Scroll. That also meant that this space went into a deep hibernation, too, and I pretty much have zero regrets.

It’s been a really good, stretching time for me. The self-knowledge that the internet is way, way too distracting and that the temptation to escape the trials of the day is strong, was hugely valuable. I needed to declutter my mind and soul (well, still do). I really think moms living in our technological age actually have a much more difficult time being present to our families than in past generations, while at the same time being more isolated at home. Texting and commenting on Instagram are not the backbone of real friendships! While it is nice to know you can be connected to friends who don’t live close by, there’s a real temptation (especially for introverts with a passel of tiny people who can’t put on their shoes or buckle themselves in the car) to just keep it all there and not actually, you know, ever see anyone else outside your four walls.

And beyond connecting with other people, the most disheartening realization was that I was wasting away valuable and precious time with these children, while the time of their childhood races by. I intend NOT to miss it, and thus, the major step back from technology (Jenny is being way more hard-core about it and I think she is awesome!! I definitely have a long way to go still).

It turns out that real life gives you plenty to do, particularly when the baby grows into a 9-month-old who starts walking and then climbing stairs and then proceeding to become our most destruction-prone toddler yet, leaving a trail of terror crazy messes in her wake. (The list of behaviors we haven’t had to deal with till Maeve and temporary solutions to them is getting longer each day: extra gates for stairs, magnetic locks for all the cupboards, wishing there were lock solutions for all dresser drawers, moving all accessible books off of our already maxed-out bookshelf [the 3 now-empty shelves are such a sad waste!], looking into a toilet lock, looking into a freezer door lock, and considering ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones :P). Whew!

Messes by Maeve^^ (that last one she was able to enact in about 35 seconds!)

But life here isn’t all damage control, all the time (despite what it feels like to us!). I’ve found it really encouraging to notice how my taste and desire to read more has actually increased dramatically when I started taking social media (and screen time in general) off the table more. This, coupled with a really lovely arrangement we began at the beginning of the new year in which Tom insists* that I take the first half hour or so when all the kids are asleep to sit on the couch and finally pray/read/recharge, is for sure making me a better, more sane, more human person. (And in addition to reading, I’ve been loving listening to anything read by Karen Savage on Librivox (well, specifically her L.M. Montgomery and Austen collections– I got through Anne’s House of Dreams and Kilmeny of the Orchard in record time, and Mansfield Park, and currently Persuasion.).

 *This is something I think he’s been trying to have me do for…a long time. I’m just really stubborn and decided to wait till my sanity was nearly expended before realizing he was obviously right and graciously accepting his amazing offer of cleaning the kitchen whilst I pursued leisure. Pro tip: marry up!

And when I do take to the Internet, I’m trying to be a bit more careful about what I am taking in, things that will be nourishing and inspiring in my state of life, and not so much the kinds of things that just make me anxious or angry. There’s a time and place for debate and healthy disagreement (and depressing news), but the Internet just really makes a person wade through sooo much muck before getting to anything good.  So the last couple months I’ve been diving into all things education. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me; I was a teacher all the years before having kids (indeed, up to less than 24 hours before Lucy was born!). I love teaching, and education, and exploring what it means and why it matters to learn. Both the practical and the philosophical aspects. We are planning to homeschool the girls (and I say “we” purposefully because these girls happened to get two teachers for parents! Either blessed or cursed, time will tell! ;)) It’s been a real joy and hugely interesting for me, though not without plenty of, “GAHHH why was NONE of this extremely valuable information made available to me when I was going through ‘teacher education’ in college?!” moments. I’ll find myself nodding and agreeing to what I read or hear and then think about all the ways these principles or practices could have been used in my classrooms with my students.  I’m just really glad I am finding out these things now before we actually begin “formal” schooling with the girls (and much to my delight, it’s becoming very clear that we really do not need to begin anything formal until Lucy is six, so we’ve got plenty of time to let them be little!). More on all this later, I’m sure.

 

Oh, and if you’re wondering what I look like these days…(minus the peaceful gaze)



Motherhood
 Mary Stevenson Cassatt

(Mary Cassatt, normalizing breastfeeding before that was a hashtag!)

But for real, here we are in our yearly Fancy Garb. 

Hopefully, I’ll be back soon with normal updates of what we’re doing, reading, watching, and all that. No guarantees that it will be anything like regular posting, but for now, it’s nice to be back at long last!

Montessori 101 (infant style)

Shortly after Lucy was born, Tom and I listened to a series of talks about parenting based on Montessori principles. We were immediately intrigued, as the ideas and methods were at times revolutionary sounding (don’t force young children to apologize to others; give a 6 month old a tiny glass cup to drink out of), and others already resonated with our own preferences (give babies and children toys of natural materials, not plastic; don’t over-praise children for every little thing they do).

Those talks began us on a journey of learning more and more about Dr. Maria Montessori, her life’s work, and the method of educating children that is still very much alive 100 years later. As I tend to do, I spent hours reading articles and checking out books at the library, and even reading some of Montessori’s own writings about her method. I had some brief understanding of the method beforehand, but only knew that Montessori schools had adorable wooden child-size chairs and tables, and that the classrooms were mixed age groups.

I discovered so much more, and most importantly, realized that Montessori principles could and should begin with tiny infants, practically from birth onward. It’s fascinating stuff. Montessori was basically a pioneer in her time, becoming the first woman in Italy to earn an MD, and shattering many preconceived notions about what children are capable of doing. She was brilliant and scientifically methodical, discovering major childhood development truths through observation.

It’s been so interesting to try and implement some of the infant montessori ideas with Lucy. We realized we were already doing some of them (cloth diapering, avoiding flashy toys and such), but the details about each month of baby’s development, each milestone, and how to guide the baby  and prepare the environment to maximize independence were so helpful.

We also really like the philosophy behind discipline in Montessori: it isn’t rewards and punishment based, but rather is focused on training the child’s free will. There are probably not many parents who want their kids to grow up without being able to freely choose the good, yet so many traditionally ingrained parenting/teaching practices actually prevent this (arbitrary punishments, coercing desirable behavior, public humiliation, etc). Montessori wants children to learn, when they are developmentally able, how to make a choice and deal with the natural consequences when it’s not the right one. And more importantly, to learn to choose the good precisely because it is the right thing– not because Mom said she had to, or she knows she’ll get grounded if she doesn’t.

So at this point, we’ve been consciously attempting to use parts of the Montessori method and philosophy with Lucy. For example:

Prepared Environment (the principle that if the baby’s area is set up correctly they will thrive and become more independent):

* Her low wall mirror, at which she would watch herself attempting to push up on all fours, then sit up, then scoot, then pull up on a stool. She also enjoyed talking to the baby in the glass and licking the little face she saw reflected there.

Ohhh, who's that?!

Ohhh, who’s that?!

Trying sooo hard to go forward!

Trying sooo hard to go forward!

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Looking at herself explore a box of books

Looking at herself explore a box of books

Now standing!

Now standing!

*Treasure baskets- small baskets filled with 3-5 themed real life items (e.g. different types of brushes, religious items, kitchen measuring utensils, different types of paper, etc.).

Her low shelves with all her baskets and toys accessible, so she can crawl over and play with them herself

Her low shelves with all her baskets and toys accessible, so she can crawl over and play with them herself

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One of her early treasure baskets to the left

Playing with (and eating!) paper, a favorite activity still

Playing with (and eating!) paper, a favorite activity still

 

*Montessori-specific toys- Maria developed quite a few toys, or tools, for infants and toddlers to aid development. As she observed them, she discovered certain times when the babies interest was very strong in something specific, such as grasping objects, shaking objects, opening and closing lids, pulling things out of a box, turning knobs, etc. So she came up with some materials to capitalize on what she termed these “Sensitive Periods.” Lucy has a few, though really, you can make many yourself or get creative and find similar objects among your household goods.

Imbucare box Lucy has, for fitting shapes into a hole and then opening the door to retrieve.

*Floor bed- after she outgrew the co-sleeper, we bought a very thin Ikea crib mattress (2″ off the floor) and laid it out on the floor. She soon learned to crawl off, rather than fall off. Of course, there were drawbacks to this too… she would often just crawl off and scream at the door when she didn’t want to sleep. Oh, and the whole mice/roach issue down there. We’ll try it again when we move permanently. For now she’s in a pack and play, though I suppose we could transition her back to the floor bed at some point.

Personal Care:

*Cloth diapers- helps them prep for potty training by actually feeling wet vs. dry. (Though admittedly, she’s been in disposables for a couple weeks to heal a nasty diaper rash). Montessori also found that the Sensitive Period for potty learning is 12- 18 months. I know, I know, it does sound crazy, but there’s reason behind it: at around 12-13 months, the baby has learned to stand alone and most likely walk steadily. This means the the nerves along the spinal cord are myelinated, which means that bladder control is possible. Thus, the toddler can feel the muscles either holding or releasing, and can learn when it’s appropriate to do so. I don’t think a 13 month old will learn to use the potty in 2 weeks, like a 3 year often can, but if it’s done steadily, the little toddler can learn the sensations and form habits. I, for one, aim to take advantage of this Sensitive Period with Lucy, because if she is potty trained even a few months after the new baby is born, I’ll be a much happy diaper-er.

*Feeding- early independence in feeding is encouraged, with things like drinking right out of a tiny glass, instead of sippy cups, and using real materials like glass, ceramic, silver, and wood instead of plastic stuff. She loves her silver demitasse spoons and bamboo spoons, though we have to supervise her closely when using ceramic dish ware.

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Language:

* Montessori has extensive information on how infants acquire language. At this stage in Lucy’s development, the important things are mimicking her sounds (all parents do this, I think!), and being as specific as possible with our language. For example, giving specific names of things, “That’s a tulip/terrier/sweet potato”.

*Reality-based books- Since children can’t really distinguish reality from fantasy until they are around 4, Montessorians generally stick to reality-based books for little ones. We have a lot of board books that fit that bill (touch and feel animals, ones featuring photos of other babies, food, or household objects, etc.), but I know there are a few childhood favorites that aren’t necessarily totally realistic that we still show to her. I think if there’s a good balance, the kid will be fine. I do notice, though, that she is far more interested in the ones that have realistic photos or drawings.

*This may not go under the Language category really, but we have tried to be conscious about how we react to Lucy. We try not to overpraise and say, “Good job!!” about every little thing she does. It’s hard though, because, darn it, she’s so cute, and you are proud of even the little accomplishments, like finally crawling forward, or recognizing her name, or whatnot (well, I suppose those are rather big accomplishments, after all). But we do try to make sure we don’t just lavish unnecessary, empty verbal praise. It makes more sense when we say things like, “You pulled yourself up on that chair! You’re a big girl!” or just generally comment about what she is doing. And then there are times we’ve learned to just leave her alone; she certainly doesn’t need us constantly narrating her actions all the time. She concentrates much better when she is working in peace.

Anyway, there is much more still learn as Lucy grows, and we look forward to taking the best practices from Montessori’s work. We don’t agree with everything, and that’s fine. We take what works and leave the rest.

If you’re interested in any of this, I highly recommend starting off by listening to the talks I linked to above. They are so informative. I also recommend (with a few caveats regarding the breastfeeding and sleep) the book, Montessori from the Start. It has some good ideas for how to implement Montessori from birth through about age 3.