Happy (I think) birthday!

By Jeanne Reynolds

I hope I’m not offending anyone here, but what’s up with these super-extravagant birthday parties for children? Even infants and toddlers who don’t know what day it is, much less that it’s their own birthday, are being feted like royalty.

A tattoo bar for a 3-year-old. Vegas-style showgirls at a bar mitzvah. Petting zoos of exotic animals. I’m not making this stuff up, although believe me, I wish I was. And that doesn’t even include the celebrity baby bashes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

birthday-cake

Whatever happened to regular, simple birthday parties for children: half a dozen youngsters, those cone-shaped party hats with the snap-prone elastic, a couple games of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and drop-the-clothes-pins-in-the-milk-bottle, some cupcakes and ice cream, and off you go. All done in about an hour, not counting the sugar-fueled hyperactivity and nap-deprived tantrums later in the day.

And please, invite other children — not the entire extended family, neighbors and anyone else who can be guilted into gifting the oblivious youngster. Yes, your offspring is incredibly adorable, but children’s birthday parties are for … well, children. (OK, grandparents get a pass.)

Now adult birthdays are another matter. April is major birthday season in our family, and I say you’re never too old to celebrate being above ground another year. Both my husband I have birthdays this month. However, the celebration usually consists of taking the day off work, a round of golf, dinner out at a nice restaurant and several cards (our cats are big on greeting cards for every occasion). Nary a unicorn in sight. And the only petting zoo will involve the aforementioned felines.

Milestone birthdays get a little extra treatment, especially those sneaking up on three digits. My mother-in-law turns 90 this month and we expect a couple hundred well-wishers at her drop-in (don’t worry, it’s not a surprise party like my father-in-law’s 90th last year). With that kind of crowd, we’re springing for a caterer, but there won’t be any caviar or edible gold whatevers. Unless you count pimento cheese.

Still, I wouldn’t mind if someone brought a unicorn.

Read to your Kids

By Jeanne Reynolds

I had to hear it a couple of times for it to sink in. When it did, I could hardly believe it.

“Here’s a great hack for your home virtual assistant device,” the radio announcer enthused. (For those like my husband who think a hack is a terrible golfer or someone who sneaks into your computer system, “hack” is current slang for a quick fix, trick or work-around.)

“You can get (name of device) to read your child a bedtime story!” she continued. “Just say, (name of device), read Billy a bedtime story. Then you both can sit back and listen until one of you falls asleep.”

This may be the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard. I mean, it ranks right up there with, “Here, eat this sausage dog right before you get on the roller coaster” and “Don’t worry, these bungee cords almost never break.”

Seriously? Take a beloved childhood ritual – one of the most important things you can do to help your child develop a love of reading that will reap untold lifelong benefits – and ask a machine to do it for you?

Now, I totally get how exhausted, frazzled and pulled in 7 directions parents of young children are at the end of the day, especially if they’re also holding down jobs outside the home. And reading a story may seem like another chore there’s just not enough time for. The digital voice is better than nothing, right?

No. It’s not.

Because that’s no more “reading” than is watching a movie version of a book. Both are entertaining, but very different. And just getting Billy to shut up and go to sleep is not what a bedtime story is all about. bedtime-story

Reading – seeing the words and pictures, turning the pages – is essential to a child’s future. Children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. And two-thirds who are still struggling by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

And it’s not just being able to read, but loving to read. A third of high school graduates never read a book after high school. Living in a house overflowing with books, and remembering trips to the public library as a highlight of the week as a child, this is harder for me to understand than black hole theory. And incredibly sad.

It’s one reason I’ve been volunteering for the past school year with Midlands Reading Consortium. Even though my pre-K student can’t read a lick (yet!), I’m trying to model the joy of reading and help him develop not just a skill but an avocation he’ll enjoy the rest of his life.

No batteries required.

Growing Babies Breaks Momma’s Heart

By Ashley Whisonant

My youngest child, Gray, was born a happy little guy. I had such a smooth delivery with him. I would even venture to say it was easy.

We are coming close to his fourth birthday in the next two weeks. I have mixed emotions about my baby becoming even more of a big boy. He is dying to grow up and do all the things his six year old brother does. I am getting less and less snuggles from him and more independence. It makes me both happy and sad to see him grow up.

gray

The quote that really stands out is, “Babies don’t keep.”

I will hold onto my baby as long as he lets me.

Learning to Love it All

By Ashley Whisonant

As my boys get older, I am trying hard to let them both be individuals. This is not always an easy task. See, my first-born little man is a rule follower. He is the ultimate people pleaser—a teacher’s dream. My second little guy, three going on thirteen, is a sweetheart with a wavy edge. His wavy edge makes him who he is, just as my oldest, straight-as-an-arrow makes him special. Embracing Gray’s wavy edge is not always in my toolbox as a mom.

For Thanksgiving, Gray’s preschool send home a blank turkey to decorate any way they pleased. Gray and I sat down and talked about some of the examples his teacher listed: clown, princess, etc. He listened as we discussed and then promptly requested his turkey be decorated as a “bad guy”. Now, my initial thought was, “What in the world?!?! You can’t go to preschool and have your bad guy turkey displayed for everyone to see!” His face was so excited to create a bad guy turkey with his momma. people-2942933_1280

So guess what? The best bad guy turkey is displayed in the hallway of his preschool-complete with an eye mask, Halloween creepy stickers, and a small heart for his momma on the bottom. Bad guy turkeys love their mommas too.

Just like Wreck It Ralph has taught us: Just because you are bad, doesn’t mean you are a bad guy.

When Did You Grow Up?

 By: Ashley Whisonant

The day I have been dreading has finally come. My oldest “baby” started kindergarten this morning. I held back my tears and we walked down his hallway and into the room that will mold him into the student he will become. My confident little guy went from attendance check in to lunch choice with ease. He gave me a hug goodbye and sadly did not look back. Here are all the words I wish I could have said…

You will always be my baby. You are the one that made me a mom. I didn’t know how much I could love someone else until I met you. I am a ball of emotions. I am both terrified and overjoyed for you. All the experiences you will have, good or bad, will make you into our future young man. Remember to help others, even when it isn’t the popular choice. Find your voice and use it for good. Kids can and will be mean. Do your best to surround yourself with sweet souls. Remember to be yourself. Love you my sweet boy.

Raising Readers

By: Crissie Kirby

Let’s face it . . . we ALL have one or two (or more) guilty pleasures in which we indulge.  Some of these might not be good for us (smoking, excessive alcohol intake, overeating, etc.), but some might not be terrible (working out, writing, crafting, etc.). For me, my number one guilty pleasure is reading . . . few things excite me as much as beginning a new book and delving in to the world created by the author. I don’t know when my obsession with books began, though I do vividly remember reading issue after issue of Reader’s Digest as a child and any other book that even remotely piqued my curiosity.  Reading isn’t a terrible habit to have, other than I could easily while away any number of hours in a land where dirty laundry and dirty dishes and messy floors don’t exist. I fully believe that being a voracious reader has allowed me to become a semi-decent writer.  When I had children, I just KNEW that I would have children who would LOVE books as much I did, so to ensure that, I bought a small library of children’s books. We had Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish and lots of Dr. Seuss and many other not so famous children’s books.  Then the unthinkable happened . . .

I had two very busy little boys.

Little boys who wouldn’t sit still for books.  Little boys who exhausted me to the point that I could often not finish a book we started before bedtime because I would, myself, fall asleep before they even blinked one tiny eyelid. I was failing as a reading parent.

As the boys got older, I would try to tempt them by buying books that I (again) just KNEW they would love. Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse and other not so famous short chapter books adorned the bookshelves above the aforementioned little kids books that were ever so subtly gathering dust from years of not being touched, much less read.

Unfortunately, most of these books, too, met with the same dust-encrusted fate as the earlier ones.

I was crushed. I was heartbroken. The one habit I had that I had literally waited years to share with my offspring was falling quickly by the wayside. In many ways, I resigned myself that my children were going to be like so many other boys who just didn’t like to read.

But, I kept on reading when I could. Vacations. Late nights. When I should have been folding laundry. I read. I read because it was my one little guilty pleasure that I couldn’t give up. Sometimes it would be with actual paper in my hands; other times it might be with my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone, but read I did. I continued encouraging the boys to read. I accompanied them to book fairs where I bought books that I silently prayed wouldn’t just become more dust magnets in our house.

Then, the tide began to shift. As surely as the sun rises slowly each morning, I would catch the boys reading books or magazines (mostly the Lego magazine, but, hey, whatever works, right?) when they weren’t required to by school. For my eldest, the reading bug sort of hit him after watching Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and he began to read one of the Heroes of Olympus books. I was dumbfounded. I had tried buying the short little chapter books in an effort to ease them into reading and he picks up a 500+ page book and starts reading it willingly? His recreational reading has taken an even more dramatic turn in the last few weeks and he has been quickly devouring more than more than one book at a time. At bedtime, he reads. On the way to and from school, he reads.  The other night, I found him reading at 1 a.m. How could I fuss at him? As my mom replied when I relayed the story to her, it sounded like something I probably did as a child too. My previously devastated reading heart swells each time I look around and notice my son with a book in his hands sitting in the car or sprawled on the couch or nestled under his covers.

Study after study has shown that reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge and helps teach patience.  As with learning to walk and talk, developing a love of reading, it would appear, is just something that develops when the time and conditions are right.  And I’m so grateful to finally be sharing my guilty pleasure with my sons.

A Much Needed Special Day

By: Ashley Whisonant

Gray

Shortly after we became pregnant with my youngest, Gray, my husband and I decided we would complete our family with two. For whatever reason, I never imagined myself with more than two or even a little girl. Even looking at a family picture now, I feel we are complete.

I frequently find myself feeling guilty for my second born. With my oldest, Weston, we were mentality present for all his firsts. He had our full attention, all of the time. I remember the excitement of watching him roll over and crawl. The moments of him running to meet me at the door when I pulled in the driveway from work. He was our whole world.

Gray

Gray will never know the feeling of being the only one. He adores his older brother and thinks he hung the moon. I remind myself to take mental pictures of Gray’s firsts- crawling, walking, waving. I work hard to not let life get in the way and give him the same experience as his brother, but it is different.

I needed to do something special for my second. While Weston was camping with my husband, I planned a special day for just Gray and myself. One of his favorite places is the beach. He could run up and down, racing towards the waves for hours. I was determined to have a special weekend with him. 

Gray

When he got up, we painted and shared a breakfast laughing together. Our drive down to Sullivan’s Island was not filled with screen time, but real conversations with my two year old. He pointed out all the things he saw, colors he liked, and we sang Disney songs. We arrived to an almost empty beach-in July! It was as though someone knew how much we needed the time together. I truly lived in the moment with my second born. The laughing, playing, running, and swimming was just what we both needed.

After our day together I realized he is not missing out. My guilt is internal, not with him. He feels my love and knows how much I care about him. I need to let go of my guilt and enjoy the moments with him.