Mon Cœur has officially graduated from preschool, and so now we embark on a new adventure, school at home. Why?
MC is soooo curious. If there is anything I’ve learned this year as a preschool teacher with a class of only 11 kids, kids are curious! And observant! And smart cookies!
Unfortunately, I can not address each little person’s questions and also teach what I have planned. So I can only imagine MC asking all of these great questions to her teachers, and not getting every answer due to time constraints.
I want to encourage her curiosity and observations. I don’t want that squelched. I don’t want her to stop asking questions.
It is so difficult and yet so refreshing to take the time to observe and question with her. This requires some unplugging, some reprioritizing, and some slowing down. And golly, it’s worth it every time to do that. When I take the time to listen to her, I always learn something new about her.
This is a pretty general reason, but we can cover what we need to in less time with just us.
We can have the flexibility to vacation, to go on field trips, or to have a family day on a random Tuesday.
Time is a precious gift, and family is my top priority.
Because I can.
I started to say language and prattle on about how I’d be able to focus more on French…but let’s just simply leave it at… I can. I can do this. I’m qualified, and I believe in myself. That’s a pretty good feeling to have and an essential mindset if I want to be successful. I do. And I can.
I bought this quirky little title, Pirates on the Farm, on a whim at a children’s consignment shop and gave it to Mon Cœur for Christmas. It was pretty unassuming and I wasn’t really sure what the story would be about, other than the obvious.
The story is interesting, providing many opportunities for discussion, and the illustrations are delightfully playful.
The story unfolds as a little girl explains how the pirates came to be their neighbors, and as they do certain very piratey things (like looting), how different people in the community react.
Her younger brother is an admirer – he loves everything pirate. He has found an eye patch and starts calling his sister “Matey.”
Her mother is beside herself with shock, and does everything she can to try to remove them from the neighborhood. She meets with the Sheriff, then bands together with the women of the church to try to kick them out of the community.
But the dad, he’s a gracious guest of the pirates, a helping hand, and a friend to his new neighbors. As the pirates navigate their new life on land, the dad helps to make repairs to their barn/ship, he sits with them at church, even though they don’t sing the correct words, and they steal from the offering plate, and he sits down to dinner and eats (by any non-pirate standards) an unappealing meal and asks for seconds.
This book allowed us to see some of the many tasks a farmer has – planting, watering, harvesting, milking, shearing, and even branding. These tasks are hilariously illustrated with the pirates’ faux pas – prancing through the cornfield, swinging their swords to harvest corn? Dumping whole bags of seeds in one very large, and very deep hole?
It allowed us to see how various people can react differently to the same situation: with enthusiasm, with shock and dismay, with just the facts, and with encouragement and without judgement. What a spectrum of reactions!
This reminds me of the quote that we have no control over other peoples actions, all we can do is control our own. And how one reacts to a situation can be just as powerful to determining the outcome of an event. We always have the power to change things for better or worse. I’ve learned this the hard way, and still stumble more often than I wish, when patience is waning and emotions are high.
We all have our own prejudgements of what pirates are supposed to be and do, and so some of the things they do in the book are no surprise – stealing, eating hardtack, and sword fighting.
And then there are moments that show them in a completely unexpected and even endearing light – singing in church, bringing gifts to a dinner party, and “saving” baby Jesus from the manger, because they didn’t “understand why anyone would put a baby in a trough.”
This is a new favorite of MC’s and we read it pretty much every evening before bed. The illustrations are funny, and it’s a quick, lighthearted read that you can dive deep into and discuss as much as you want.
Questions that kept the conversation going well after turning the last page:
What does it mean to be a neighbor?
Are we planting love? (On specific occasions when we need to step back, look at what we did, and retry)
How could we react differently to — ?
Can we look for and appreciate unexpected actions from others?
Pirates on the Farm written by Dennette Fretz and illustrated by Gene Barretta
We have been memorializing Millie through the garden, although I have found in the time that has followed our loss, my real priority and purpose is to take care of Mon Cœur, and now Mon Amour.
Ashlee’s most recent podcast featuring Michele Benyo, founder of Good Grief Parenting, was very timely.
“Childhood is the best time to learn about grief.”
Michele explains that childhood is the best time to learn about grief. Teachable moments include learning about life and death with flowers, pets, and people. Understanding and facing these losses helps build the coping framework.
Mon Cœur has built a strong framework for coping, and at four and a half shares candidly her curiosity about death and loved ones we’ve lost. She says things that sometimes even catch me off guard.
This morning she asked to light a candle for Millie.
“Can I sing her happy birthday?”
“It’s not her birthday, baby.”
“Ugh – I thought it was her birthday. I want to sing it.”
“Okay, you can still sing her happy birthday.”
She sang loudly, so Millie could hear her.
“Can Millie sing, too?”
“I bet she can. We just can’t hear her.”
“How old is she? Does she get bigger?”
“Golly, you have some good questions. I am not sure how that works. I don’t know if people get older in Heaven or if they stay the same age.”
“I think they get older. Like old people get older.” Pause. “I want to … be with Millie. I miss her.”
Pause. Deep breath. Exhale. “Come sit on my lap.” Another deep breath. “You miss her, huh? I do, too. The problem is, if you go to Heaven to be with her, you will leave Daddy, and Mon Amour, and me, and Mooma, and Sissy and all of our family and friends. And then you’d miss us right? It doesn’t matter where we are, we will always be missing someone who isn’t with us. You have important work to do here on Earth before you go to Heaven to be with Millie.”
These conversations sometimes knock the wind right out of me. How do I validate her loss and grief? What’s the right answer to her questions? Am I saying the right thing? Am I talking too much?
“They are grieving whether you see it or not.“
Michele mentions kids process through play. Give them opportunities to talk about it. Kids need opportunities to talk, and even if they don’t have anything to say at the moment, knowing that it is okay to talk about death, feelings of grief, and remembering loved ones out loud, then it will lay the groundwork for them to speak up when they are ready.
We talk all the time about Millie. We still pray for her every night during prayers.
We were just looking at MC’s baptism pictures, and I was naming everyone in the picture and I pointed to my belly and told them, “And that’s your sister, Millie.”
This afternoon MC asked about her eye color. “You have blue eyes like your Daddy.”
“What color were Millie’s eyes?”
“That’s a really good question- one I often wonder about too. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” (Complete with incredulous tone of a four and a half year old)
“No I don’t. Millie’s eyes never opened.”
Time has allowed me to accept what is. These questions, while they will always be difficult, are easier now for me to confront.
This may sound crazy, I feel blessed to be living in a time when it is acceptable to share our feelings around such traumas. The resources that have been available for me as we navigate our grief- and its ebbs and flows as we grow as a family- has been so valuable.
Ashlee’s podcast episode spoke to me, validated how I am navigating communicating with MC, and gave me some points to ponder.
One point that really gave me pause to consider is: the parent grieves her loss and is also walking this path and grieving through her living child’s feelings of loss.
In this moment, MC is feeling a true curiosity and grief in missing her younger sister. And I walk alongside her doing my best to validate her curiosity and grief and answer her questions as best I can.
I have always loved the spirit of Christmas and the opportunities of being together with the friends and family I love. The gifts are lovely expressions of love and thoughtfulness, however it is the intentional quality time spent with those you love that create the memories my future eighty year old self will smile at in retelling a story. I had begun a tradition in 2020 to stretch out Christmas throughout the whole month.
For the past two years, I had wrapped different objects that embody the spirit of Christmas. We had a countdown to Christmas and Mon Cœur enjoyed unwrapping one each day from Dec 1-24. It was nice because it spread the cheer the whole month long, and gave us something to look forward to.
It took a lot of time to wrap the gifts, and some were date specific, and this year it just didn’t fit to countdown to Christmas that way. I received a timely email from Ralphie @simplyonpurpose where she shares a freebie list of different simple holiday activities to complete as a family. This would be the perfect substitute to our countdown
The experiences that create the sweetest memories and the strongest bonds are the simple (and often free!) things we do as a family. And really, the greatest gift of all is TIME.
Ralphie Jacobs @simplyonpurpose
I loved this idea! First I was going to make a jar, and we’d just pick one a day. Then I thought, what if I don’t feel like doing what we picked, or if we pick bake cookies and I don’t have the ingredients? What if ChouChou’s work schedule doesn’t work out to complete an activity with us?
So I ended up creating a big Christmas bingo card that is on our fridge. I cut out red and green trees to go in each square and chose just 16 activities from Ralphie’s list that I knew would be easy enough for our young family to complete. Next I found some gold star stickers for MC to mark off each square as it is completed. Tonight we played catch up – I read each square to her and if it was something we had done, she placed a star on it. It was nice to review all the activities – she has already picked out some new ones to complete in the following week – top of her list? Dance party around the Christmas tree, write a letter to Santa, and a winter nature walk.
I hope you are finding the joy and love in being together with your loved ones this holiday season!
We’ve used name strips, environmental print (fancy for letters found all around – in magazines, on signs, on billboards, in books, etc), and songs to learn the spelling of her name. She’s used magnetic letters, tiles, stamps, and stickers to build her name.
Recently, very recently, MC has shown interest in writing, and I actually caught her making a pretty well formed E on various papers and “notes.” The other day, while I worked on the computer, she wanted to sit next to me and “work” too, writing her name.
To most, these marks may seem like nothing. Some scribbly letters and all out of order, different sizes, and overlapping. When I saw MC doing this, I couldn’t help but feeling pride for her and her efforts. This is an amazing step towards writing and literacy.
Sometimes it seems like I am repeating an activity over and over and over, with no immediate results to show… That can be discouraging, I know because I have felt this, too. The more I do activities and the more I repeat activities or themes, the more it builds the connections in their brains, the confidence in the information they are learning, and the relationships with those who are working with them. Autumn Vandiver shares the importance of repetition in a child’s world with Happy Tot Shelf.
I continue to encourage and organize activities that revisit the same information with MC, and I love when I get little glimpses into her understanding and application of that information.
Other little successes have been hearing MC selectively and spontaneously use French when speaking to me, counting, or pointing out features in a picture.
We will begin an activity in English, and MC will begin counting in French. The other day we had been working in shapes, and I continued the theme with an activity from one of her maternelle workbooks. As she was looking for les ronds (circles) and when I asked her in French where she saw circles, she circled the tree and said “l’arbre.” She continues to sprinkle her French words here and there, and I take each one as a little victory.