On Getting Wheels and Becoming a Toddler

She has wheels now and I have such mixed feelings about it.

As we pushed the wheel chair out of the building yesterday my heart beat was fast and irregular. I was ecstatic thinking of the freedom that this chair could bring to my daughter. I was happier than I could express seeing the smile on her face. But as we walked out the door my heart froze for a moment.

It’s official now. Final now.

This is not what I had wanted for my daughter. Even after her diagnosis I still held to that small chance that this day wouldn’t come and now it’s arrived and passed.

I wanted to clap and jump and dance with happiness, but I also wanted to burst into tears of grief.

Today my mix of feelings concerning her wheel chair has only gotten more complicated.

I feel like this wheel chair has finished the slow progression to toddlerhood for my daughter. And I’m not sure I like it.

She has always been a fairly easy baby (apart from the sleep issues). She’s been a happy, fairly content child.

She showed signs of deep determination and internal stubbornness during therapy sessions when she would keep trying things over and over without getting tired. But she has never been prone to frustration. She would play nicely on her own from a fairly early age and was often quite happy to watch as I went about my daily activities.

I have been so grateful for her peaceful temperament, especially since my oldest is far from peaceful and very demanding.

She has slowly started to show more signs of frustration, stubbornness, desire and discontent in the past few months. Bryan and I joked and laughed about a month ago, saying “oh she finally turned into a two year old.” But it really wasn’t so bad. Maybe one tantrum a week – a miracle compared to other toddlers.

Today, her first full day with the wheel chair, that changed. She became a full blown “terrible two”. I can’t even begin to count the number of tantrums we had today. It was nearly constant.

You know that stage when babies just start to become aware of their environment and begin to realize that they can move but their bodies aren’t quite there yet so they just end up frustrated that they can’t quite do what they want to do or get where they want to get? My daughter entered that stage over night.

Her frustration also led her to attempt to communicate more, in an attempt to get me to get her where she wanted to be, but her communication skills are so far behind (re: nearly non-existent) that it just led to more frustration for both of us.

I know in the long run that all of this is really good. I know that this frustration will ultimately turn into motivation. I know that her trying to communicate more will ultimately lead to better communication. But it was a difficult day. A frustrating day – for both of us.

As I end today I feel thankful and excited for her wheel chair and the new sense of independence it’s giving her. I feel hopeful that she will eventually figure out how to use it and be able to get places on her own.

I also feel frustrated for the ways in which it is making my life more difficult in the short term and for the inconvenience of it. (Totally selfish I know, but there it is).

And then there’s the sadness. Sadness that my daughter even has to go down this road.

A pure emotion is rare, isn’t it? Most of life is more like this, lots of emotions all mixed together at once.

So I end the day desperately trying to hold onto the thankfulness and hope more than the frustration and grief.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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God and My Three Year Old

“There is no God.”

The words fell heavy in the room. A cringe of shock shook me and I’m sure a rush of blood flooded my cheeks. Embarrassed, I averted my eyes from my parents. And tried to respond as slowly and gracefully as I could.

“Well, Thaddeus, mommy and daddy and Nona and Boppa believe that there is a God. But, you get to choose what you believe.”

We were sitting at the table about to have dinner. My dad had started to pray and my son had, as always, interrupted with screaming, “NO! I want to pray!” My dad said ok and my son preceded to pray the same prayer he prays every time,

“God our father, thank you for the food. Amen”

On this particular day I was feeling a bit frustrated with his repetitive, shallow prayer and decided to take it as an opportunity to have a conversation about prayer.

“You know what, Thaddeus, we can thank God for more than just the food.”

A chorus of suggestions sprung up from around the table.

“Like the cousins”

“Or grandma and grandpa”

“Or baby sister”

I continued, “And we can also pray about things we feel, or things we want. God wants to hear about all of it.”

I had barely gotten out the last sentence before he was yelling “No!” again. And just as my voice silenced his words fell echoing across the table,

“There is no God!”

He said it with the conviction of a full grown atheist who’s made the argument a hundred times. There was passion in his voice.

I used to think that children’s spirituality mimicked their parents until they reached a certain age at which point they would have to wrestle with their beliefs and come to their own conclusions. If their parents said there was no God they would believe that. If their parents said there was a God their belief would follow their parents.

If a child told me “There is no God” I would wonder where they heard that and who they were parroting. Now I know differently.

Bryan and I would never tell Thaddeus there is no God. None of our family would tell him that. He’s been to church, learning about God, since he was a baby. Most of our friends have at least some form of belief and spirituality. He is not parroting. He has come to this belief on his own.

At three years old his little mind insists that there is no God.

But I sense something different in his heart. His heart seems scared of God.

And that breaks my heart even more than his statement of disbelief.

Because I know that fear. That fear of punishment. That fear that if God exists he isn’t good. He is harsh. He is vengeful. He is not safe. He is something to fear.

I felt that fear. It was the defining characteristic of my spiritual life for most of my childhood. And it still rattles and drives me at times.

For me that fear drove mto trying to be the perfect Christian. It drove me to pray “the sinners prayer” while trembling in the shadow of the hell that I had been told awaited me. Ultimately that fear drove me to God, but it also meant that it took me a long time to find the grace and love of God. At times when I feel that fear I still fight the desire to try to perfect myself for the sake of protection.

It has been a long journey for me to come to a place where I can experience and know that God is love.

I see that fear in my son. And yet, I see in him an attempt to alleviate that fear through an entirely different path than the one I took.

He is trying to relieve his fear by determining there is no God. By deciding that God doesn’t exist. By refusing to let me pray with him any time I attempt it apart from meals, by keeping prayers at meals shallow and without heart. By yelling anytime I talk about God.

His little heart is hiding.

And a part of me is glad. Perhaps his fear driving him away from God will enable his journey towards God to be led by love instead of fear.

But, a part of me fears where this path may lead if he continues on it. In my fear I tried to save myself, and having maintained a “good Christian” status most of my life grace took me a long time to learn. But, the path I took protected me from some pain and harm. I don’t want my son to have to experience that harm in order to find his way to God.

Part of me is also confused and frustrated. How do you share your own theology and spirituality with a child who refuses to have anything to do with God? How do you teach him the love of God? How do you show him the grace of God?

This is all so new for me. And not at all what I thought it would be.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Why school? Why Monessori?

Why school?

Although it often surprises people to learn, Thaddeus isn’t three yet. He’s close, just a few weeks really, but even three is so young.


I never thought I would put my children in preschool.
In fact I think I was sort of against it. I’ve never been a big fan of our current education system and before I had kids when I thought about school I always sort of assumed I’d homeschool or maybe even unschooled them.

But, that was then and this is now.

Tomorrow Thaddeus will start preschool. He will only be going for a half day, but it will be every day of the week.

And you know what? I’m thrilled! Ecstatic! I can’t wait. I wake up dreaming about what I’ll do with my two and a half precious hours a day and fall asleep thinking about the same. My biggest fear (I’m actually terrified of this) is that they will kick him out for some reason and I’ll be robbed of my time without him.

I never thought I’d put my child in school so early, especially if I didn’t have to because of work, but I also never thought I’d have a child like Thaddeus. Or at least I hoped and prayed I wouldn’t. But, often God gives us what we need and not what we want, right? I need Thaddeus. He has taught me patience when I thought I had no more. He has pushed and challenged my convictions about parenting and about myself. He has forced me to give when I didn’t think I had anything else to give and then give some more. I love him, but I don’t always enjoy him. He’s been a real challenge for me from the beginning – a challenge I am grateful for, but a challenge none the less.

And after almost three years, I’m burned out. The level of excitement I feel about putting him in school is a testament to how burned out I’ve really become.

I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to parent from that place. I need to create more space for myself, to come back into my center. Not just space to make sure the house gets clean, the laundry is done, and the basics are covered. Not just space to go to doctors appointments and therapy appointments (which we have plenty of at this season). I need space for things that fill me back up and I’m hopeful that school will be a great way for me to work that space back into our schedule.

The best reason that it’s a great way for me to get that space though, is that we know it’s gonna be good for Thad. Better than a babysitter now and then, and better than grandma and grandpa, too.

Thad is a really smart kid and he needs more stimulation, more structure, more responsibility, than I’ve been able to give him right now (especially in the state I’ve been in the past few months). He also really needs the interactions and friendships that school will provide. He has very few (read: almost no) friends his same age and as much as I love having him around adults I know he needs peer interactions too. He gets so excited whenever he gets to play with other kids and I want him to have that more often.

So, for all of these reasons and for the kindness of family members willing to pay for school for Thad (thank you!) we are making the leap and starting school now.

Why this school? Why Montessori?

I have always been intrigued by Montessori education. My cousins went to a Montessori school and have only wonderful things to say about it. I love the emphasis on intrinsic motivation and the freedom within boundaries that they give the children. I love that the classes are mixed age groups with 3-5 year olds all together – the younger learning from the older. I love that he gets to stay with the same teacher for three years and that they get to really know him and us. And I love the idea of the adult as a facilitator and guide instead of a top down teacher.

And I really think that the structure as well as the freedom of self determination given in a true Montessori classroom will be a great fit for Thaddeus and the kid that he is at this season.

So, when I saw the sign for a Montessori school only a few blocks from our apartment I knew we had to check it out.

What we found was even better than I could have hoped. Whole Earth Montessori School is a prekindergarten through six grade Montessori school with a wonderfully clear emphasis on caring for the earth. They have a beautiful garden that the children maintain and care for. Solar panels that the older children also help monitor. A beautiful campus with tall trees and a stream that runs through the front. The classrooms are well organized and clean and wonderfully well lit with natural light streaming through large windows.

The founder of the school gave us the tour and I have to say I really love her too. She just seems so sweet and caring and even a bit earthy. And it seems like she really loves what she does and truly cares about children’s education.


It was pretty clear right away that this was where we wanted to put Thad for school.


Now I’m just praying that nothing goes wrong to prevent it from working out (can you sense my anxiety – I really am stressed that something’s going to happen and it won’t work out after all). And praying that Thad ends up loving it even more than I think I will.


What about you – what are your kids doing for school this year?

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany Stedman

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Keeping The Toddler Busy: A New Plan

Yesterday we move out of my parents house and into an apartment where we’ll stay till the end of November. We’ve been dreading being in an apartment with a toddler and baby and no yard or space. Bryan and I are used to living in small spaces and we tend to live a pretty minimalistic lifestyle, but we’ve learned lately that there are some things that make life with an active toddler more manageable. One of those things is space. So, since we won’t have space in the coming weeks I’ve realized I’m going to need some other coping mechanisms to keep my sanity – since I won’t be able to just let him run around in the backyard.

I’ve also realized lately that both my son and I do WAY better when we have some clear structure and routine in our lives. We both like knowing what to expect. I think also with all the change we’ve had lately – a new sibling and living somewhere new every couple of months for the past year and now moving again two more times before the end of the year – more structure would help both Thaddeus and I to feel a bit more secure.

In addition to that I’ve noticed Thaddeus is really wanting and needing some more mental stimulation. He’s started to really take notice of letters. He can sing the ABC’s without missing any letters and whenever he sees the alphabet written somewhere he gets excited and says “ABC!” He loves to count and can count to ten now as well, but I’m not sure if he totally has a concept of what the numbers mean. He doesn’t recognize written numbers, but seems interested in them. I think he would really enjoy and benefit from some more active, focused learning.

So, in light of all those thoughts I’ve decided to put together a more structured schedule for us over the next few weeks and see how it goes. It’s nothing by the clock, more of a rough focus for each day with one daily structured activity and two daily outings of some sort. Here’s what I’ve come up with for this week (of course this is subject to change).

Number of the week: 1
Letter of the week: a
Word of the week: apple

Ideas for incorporating these into our lives: give him one whole apple for snack instead of apple slices and talk about how it is one apple and apple starts with a. When we play play dough make the letter and number of the week. Whenever there is 1 of anything point it out. When out and about point out words that start with ‘a’ and the number 1 when we see them. Make applesauce. Incorporate sign language by signing the word of the week whenever we talk about it.

Monday October 17:

Weekly Coloring Activity: color a cut out of the number and letter of the week & write out the word of the week to put on the fridge
Morning Outing: walk around the neighborhood
Planned Activity: colander sculptures
materials needed: colander and pipe cleaners
Afternoon Outing: library – get books about apples
Prep: freeze discovery ice block

Tuesday October 18:

Morning Outing: breakfast (w/ my sister and toddler?)
Planned Activity: edible finger paints
material: corn starch, sugar, water, food coloring, paper (or powdered milk, water, food coloring)
Afternoon Outing: park (w/ cousins?)

Wednesday October 19:

Morning Outing: (see planned activity)
Planned Activity: nature walk
materials: egg cartoon to collect things in
Afternoon Outing: go to the midwife’s and chiropractor

Thursday October 20:

Morning Outing: walk around neighborhood
Planned Activity: discovery ice block
materials: large block of ice with toys frozen in it, hammer, sponge, other utensils to hit, rub, and manipulate the ice
Afternoon Outing: play date with Melissa

Friday October 21:

Morning Outing: walk to bagel place for breakfast
Planned Activity: apple prints
materials: apples, left over edible finger paint, paper
Afternoon Outing: park (play date?)

Saturday and Sunday October 22 and 23:¬†fun with family and sage’s blessing ceremony. Go to church with sage for the first time?

So, that’s the plan for the next week.

What do you think? Any suggestions for me? Have any of you ever done anything like this?

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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