I'm fortunate that my husband is pretty low maintenance when it comes to gift giving for events like Father's Day and birthdays. He usually just requests something simple, like spending time together as a family at a park, getting some coffee at a favorite coffeehouse or going out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I know that he also appreciates homemade items and anything that the kids make, so this year I wanted to provide him with a keepsake from the kids. Since I had been reading storybooks to the boys that centered around kids spending time with their dads, I decided to have my 5 year old and 3 year old sons make up their own "dad" stories and then illustrate them. We re-read the storybooks we had checked out, and I discussed the roles of author and illustrator, picking a title that relates to the story, how a story is structured (beginning, middle, end), and how the story lines in the books we read centered around activities that the main characters enjoyed doing with their fathers. Then I took Hopper 1 and Hopper 2 aside one at a time and had them each make up a story about doing something with their dad. I had to do a little prompting and clarifying at times - "what did you actually do with your dad?", "how did you feel about your dad?", "what happened next?", "where did this happen?" - but they did a good job given their ages, with my older son doing a better job of telling his story in chronological sequence. We've been working with Hopper 2 on sequencing (first this, next this, then that...), so story telling was a good way for him to create his own sequencing scenario. Despite trying to separate Hopper 1 and 2 when I transcribed their tales, the two boys' stories were somewhat similar in theme. I managed to mitigate excessive plagiarism by having my younger son tell his story first, since he is more prone to copying his older brother. Once I had transcribed the boys stories, I typed them in a PowerPoint presentation, printed them off (using card stock for the title page), and had the boys illustrate their stories. We recently purchased a binding machine so that we can create our own photo books, educational workbooks, books of the kids' artwork, recipe books, calendars, etc., and I used that to bind this project. The kids were very proud of their stories, and it was great watching their faces as they gave the books to their dad and as he read the stories aloud. My husband told the boys that he would put the books in a very special place, to which my oldest son knowingly stated, "Oh yes, on top of your dresser!" (My husband's dresser has become the dumping ground for his miscellaneous "stuff" which probably seems like wonderful mysterious treasure in the eyes of a young child.)
For Father's Day, we additionally made some items for the grandfathers. In perusing the internet for homemade Father's Day gifts from kids, I came across the idea of mini tool boxes made from Altoid tins on the site Alpha Mom. I thought the toolboxes were really cute, and I wanted to give them a try. Since I knew the boys wouldn't really be able to help much in the making of the tool boxes, I had them come up with their own idea for a DIY project and tell me the instructions in their own words, which I compiled with some clip art and colorful background, then printed and laminated. We did something similar for their grandmothers on Mother's Day, but the boys made up their own cooking recipes then (since both grandmothers like to cook) as well as picking a "real" recipe to share. (The digital clip art I used in these projects came from the Etsy shops PrettyGraphik design and AMBillustrations; the background digital paper came from the Etsy shop Fudgybrownies.) I think the instructables and recipes the kids come up with are good keepsakes, with the sometimes absurd, rambling and incoherent instructions reflective of their age. For the mini toolboxes for the grandfathers, I departed a bit from the tool theme, and rather than put nuts and bolts in the toolboxes, we added golf tees. The tees fit perfectly, and since both grandpas like to golf, it seemed like a way to give them something they might actually use. I made additional toolboxes, one for my husband, and one for each of my sons to use as "wallets" when I give them money for certain outings, such as farmers' markets. The toolboxes were relatively easy to make, and most of the supplies were easy to obtain, with the exception of the toolbox "handles" (which are actually eye straps, for use on boats and such). I ended up ordering the eye straps through Amazon, and then found suitable hardware at a local home improvement store.
I hope that the recipients of our Father's Day gifts find them meaningful. The kids and I certainly had fun making them. I hope that it helped teach my kids that they don't need to spend a lot of money or do grand things when giving gifts, but rather that spending a little time making something homemade and personal holds great value. At least, that is my perspective and is a lesson that I want my kids to learn.
My kids, like most kids and like myself as a child, enjoy the storybook and animated movie imaginary worlds of kings and queens, princes and princesses, dragons and knights. There is a sense of adventure and possibility in them that is appealing. However, as someone who considers myself a feminist (actually, I consider myself a humanist - an advocate for equal rights and justice for all people - but since women are often cast in positions of lesser power than men in our world, this often takes the form of feminism), I want to ensure that my children are exposed to images of empowered women, both in real life and in fiction. A couple books we've read recently which fall in line with my values in this regard are The Paper Bag Princess and Cinder Edna, both which I first heard about via one of my favorite websites with resources for raising empowered girls, A Mighty Girl. I have read several of their book recommendations to my boys because just as I believe it is important to empower girls, I also believe it is important to raise boys to view girls as empowered and deserving of empowerment and equal rights.
The Paper Bag Princess
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Princess Elizabeth is about to marry Prince Ronald when a dragon destroys her castle and kidnaps Ronald. Princess Elizabeth, her clothes also destroyed, dons a paper bag and cleverly outwits the dragon to rescue Prince Ronald. Prince Ronald's response upon his rescue is unfortunately focused on Elizabeth's appearance rather than on her accomplishment. This was fun little story which both of my boys really enjoyed. And I, of course, liked how it turned the classic prince-rescues-princess-and-they-marry-and-live-happily-ever-after tale on its head. We have previously read another Munsch/Martchenko book, Stephanie's Ponytail, which my kids and I also found humorous. I will be checking out more books by this pair.
Illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
This tale casts the Cinderella story in a new light, as it juxtaposes the lives of Cinderella and her neighbor Cinder Edna, who were both treated unfairly by their wicked step-families. However, Cinder Edna handles her situation much differently than Cinderella. Though not as attractive as Cinderella, Cinder Edna has a great sense of humor and is good at finding solutions to her own problems. For example, on the night of the great ball, instead of relying on a fairy godmother to help her, Cinder Edna buys a dress she had on layaway using her cage-cleaning money (a little entrepreneurial venture she had on the side), wears her comfortable loafers, and takes a bus to the ball. Cinder Edna, like Cinderella, has to leave by midnight but for a different reason - that is when the buses stop running. Cinder Edna meets the arrogant Prince Randolph's younger brother, Prince Rupert - who runs a recycling plant and a home for orphaned kittens - at the party, and they have a great time dancing and talking to each other. Cinderella and Prince Randolph don't dance very much as Cinderella is afraid of messing up her hair, and her glass slippers are uncomfortable. When the young women dash off at midnight, they leave behind a glass slipper and a scuffed loafer. Rupert thinks his brother's idea of finding the lovely owner of the glass slipper by trying the slipper on all the women in the kingdom is dumb; he had talked to Cinder Edna enough to know her name and know that she could make 16 different kinds of tuna casserole, so he uses that information to find her. Eventually they all find each other, and have a double wedding, with one couple (guess who?) living happily ever after, laughing, joking, making music and and trying new recipes. I thought this was a clever and fun tale, and in this more harsh portrayal of Cinderella, I found Cinder Edna to be my kind of gal and a better role model. Although I talked to my boys about which characters they thought would be more fun at a party and who appeared to be happier (they both agreed, Cinder Edna and Prince Rupert), they still liked Cinderella better...the seeds of popular culture have already sprouted.
We've been reading a variety of other non-fairy tale stories as well....
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids
Illustrated by David Messing
This book teaches kindness through the analogy of an invisible bucket. The book talks about how we all have invisible buckets, representing our emotional health. When we show kindness and love to someone, we fill their buckets with good feelings (bucket filler); when we say or do mean things, we dip into someone's bucket and take out good feelings (bucket dipper). The book mentions that often bucket dippers have empty buckets and try to fill their buckets by dipping into other people's, which will never work. However, when we fill someone else's bucket we fill our own at the same time. When we choose to be bucket fillers, our world is a better place. I think the book provides a positive way to teach kindness and provides kids with mental imagery to help them realize how our behaviors can affect other people and theirs can affect us. However, despite the high reviews on the book and the awards it has received, I felt like it was missing something. I didn't care for the way feelings were framed as something we "make" each other feel; in my belief, we of course often feel emotions in response to what others say or do, but we also have some control over our emotions. I chose to talk to my kids about how we don't have to let other people dip into our buckets, that just because others may choose to be mean to us, doesn't mean that we have to lose our good feelings about ourselves. I want my kids to acknowledge that what others say and do to us can truly be hurtful, and that it's okay to admit hurt, but I also don't want them to view the emptying of their bucket as something they have no control over, as though their self-confidence is dictated by the whim of others. I want my kids to be resilient in the face of cruelty, to be capable of filling and knowing how to fill their own bucket and to not allow the thoughtlessness of others to automatically detract from their sense of self. So although I think this book has some really good analogies and lessons about kindness, and is useful for young kids, I prefer to supplement it with my own lessons. As an anecdote, shortly after reading the book to my two older kids for the first time, my older son was pestering my younger son, who in turn indignantly turned toward him, scowled, and told him he was "being a big dipper!"
Pete the Cat and the New Guy
Kimberly & James Dean
There are several Pete the Cat stories, but this is the first one that I have read. In it, Pete gets a new neighbor, Gus the Platypus. Pete introduces Gus to his friends, and they all invite Gus to play with them. However, Gus is different than any of Pete's friends and isn't able to do the same things - he can't climb a tree like Squirrel, he can't jump like Toad, he can't juggle like Octopus, and so on. Gus is feeling blue, but Pete keeps telling him there is "something everyone can do." Eventually, Pete discovers Gus' special talent that allows all the friends to enjoy an activity together. This was a simple, cute story, and my kids really liked it. They quickly caught onto the repetitive refrain and would chime in with "there is something everyone can do."
Every Turtle Counts
Sara Hoagland Hunter
Illustrated by Susan Spellman
My oldest son loves stories and shows about nature, and this was a book that he selected from the library. In the story, Mimi is a young girl with autism who discovers and rescues a rare Kemp's ridley sea turtle frozen on the beach near her home in Cape Cod. Though the odds are against its survival, the turtle gets better and is eventually relocated to warmer waters. As the turtle, named Ridley 3, recovers at a nearby turtle rescue center, Mimi visits, builds the type of bond with the turtle that she finds so difficult with people, and discovers how both she and the turtle count. The story ends with a grown-up Mimi, now a scientist, searching the one beach in the world where the Kemp's ridley turtles hatch, hoping to find that her Ridley 3 turtle has survived decades and finally come back to the beach to nest. This book was informative about the plight of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle, but was also a good jumping off point to talk to my kids about how we all have worth and value, no matter how different we may seem to other people. We also talked about some of the characteristics that kids with autism, like Mimi, may display (delayed language, repeating phrases, focus on numbers, ability to calculate quickly in their heads, pull away from touch) and that it doesn't mean they are unintelligent or uncaring...that it is just the way their brains work and another way of being.
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein
Illustrated by Mark Pett
As someone who tends to be hard on myself for my mistakes, and aware of the unnecessary stress that can cause, I'm very conscious of teaching my kids that all mistakes are not bad - they can an opportunity for learning and are inevitable if you are really trying to live. This book was a nice opportunity to reaffirm that perfection is not the ultimate goal to strive for. The story centers around Beatrice, who is famously known as The Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes - her toddler block tower never fell down, she immediately knew how to ride a bike, her socks always matched, she never forgot to do her homework, and she was once again expected to be the obvious winner of the school talent show. But then she makes her first ever mistake - in front of everyone at the talent show. After that, the pressure is off, and she sleeps better than she ever has and enjoys life more. We all enjoyed this book, and it has been requested often.
I'm not a sentimental and effusive type of person, so am generally unlikely to make such grand gestures as crediting a person, piece of work, or event with changing my life. Either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the nature of the event, I've not experienced anything so significant as to cause my life to completely turn on its head and reroute. There are, however, people and works which I would consider to have impacted my life, either because of how powerful the influence was on me or because the timing of their/its arrival in my life coincided with the timing when I was most in need of and most receptive to the message or lessons they/it brought. The writing of Brené Brown is the latter. A couple of years ago, when I was experiencing some recurrent minor health issues indicative of stress and anxiety, I was introduced to her books The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. There are many things Brené Brown talked about in her books that resonated with me, including discussions around scarcity and sufficiency and how a practice of gratitude helps us move from a sense of never having/being enough (scarcity) to a sense of enough (sufficiency) which in turn leads to joy. In her books, and in this post on her blog, she quotes from Lynne Twist's book The Soul of Money regarding scarcity:
“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. We don’t have enough exercise. We don’t have enough work. We don’t have enough profits. We don’t have enough power. We don’t have enough wilderness. We don’t have enough weekends. Of course, we don’t have enough money – ever.
We’re not thin enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not pretty enough or fit enough or educated or successful enough, or rich enough – ever.
Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds race with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to the reverie of lack.
What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life, or even the challenged life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life.”
And Lynne Twist's words on sufficiency:
“We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mindset of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.
Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances.”
I myself am guilty of often seeing my life from a scarcity viewpoint, which can be ironic given the many privileges I enjoy - it's not unusual for me to catch myself starting to mentally complain about something, and then give myself a quick thought check along the lines of, "Boy, isn't that a First World problem!" (i.e. there are millions of people in the world who might like to have the opportunity to experience my "problem"). I don't intend this to be dismissive of my experience. I don't think that invalidating my feelings or getting stuck in a sense of guilt about whatever is overwhelming, worrying or frustrating me is useful or wise, because such feelings can help me to realize when there is something in my life that is not serving me well and needs to change if it is within my power. But I do think that pausing a moment to look for a new perspective and to practice awareness of and gratitude for what I do have, what I have accomplished, and who I am, is very useful. When I have shifted my perspective from scarcity to sufficiency, it has indeed brought me more joy and has changed how I relate to people and the world around me. I'm not always good about changing my perspective "in the moment," but when I fail to do so, I try to practice delayed gratitude - looking back over events in my day once I'm in a calmer state and trying to reframe them from a viewpoint of sufficiency. Sometimes my thoughts don't deal so much with scarcity as with a mental framework that sees things as a problem instead of a privilege. For me, my reframing often looks something like this:
Gratitude and looking at my life from a place of sufficiency is a continual practice, not something that I expect to ever master once and for all. Yet, the more I consciously practice, the more I approach my life from a default of gratitude and sufficiency. And I know that these are key elements in living the fulfilled life that I desire, because without them I won't realize when I already have, and am, enough.