Seeking joy is new for me. I blame it on being a Capricorn–we’re all about accomplishing things, climbing up the mountain, working hard to achieve more. Which is probably why “working” on joy is so what I need.
There are many wonderful books out there about joy and how to uncover it. But in the interest of mini-resolutions and starting small, here are the simple places I’m finding joy.
1) Going to bed early
For the first time since becoming a parent, I’m getting to bed before midnight. Because there’s no way I can be the parent I want to be when I am exhausted. I have no idea why this didn’t occur to me earlier.
2) Making my bed every morning
Back when I had a newborn and my mom stayed a month to help me, she would make my bed every morning. She makes it PERFECTLY–wrinkles in the sheets don’t stand a chance with her. Back then, taking time to make my bed seemed like a time luxury I couldn’t afford. But this is a new season, and having a beautifully made bed is a wonderful thing.
Hannah Marcotti puts it perfectly in her Making Space Cleanse:
“Making your bed is a gift from your present self to your future self.”
3) Drinking lemon water and tea
(Especially in place of my nightly glass of wine.) Another little step inspired by Hannah that feels like a gift to myself with every sip.
4) Getting out of the house on Saturday mornings
My husband works out from 10:30–noon every Saturday morning. Which was making Saturdays feel like a “6th workday” for me and the kids–leaving us all resentful and cranky. This month, I’ve started slipping out at 8am for a yoga class and coffee/writing/wandering. Carving out those 2 hours for myself has made a world of difference in how I feel the entire weekend.
5) Letting go of my to-do list and being present with my children
I started noticing that things fell apart just after breakfast every day. I would be in the kitchen dealing with the meal aftermath and yelling “go in the playroom–I’ll be there in a minute” over and over again. Inevitably, I’d finally stop doing dishes (in a huff) once someone started crying over something.
I’m learning to look at those parts of the day that always end up with yelling and crying and trying different strategies. In this case, I’ve learned that if I leave the dishes and just sit with the boys while they do Legos or trains or whatever, no one cries or fights.
The even more amazing part is, once I give them my full attention–even if I’m just sitting with my coffee and observing them–I can usually slip off and finish the dishes or do a quick email check without anyone falling apart.
By giving them attention up front, it changes the result. And it’s teaching me that there is value in just sitting and being.
6) Giving thanks, and teaching my children to do the same
This is the root of joy.
Even if you’re not doing “preschool at home,” these are great inside activities for winter days.
Here are a few ways I kept my 2- and 3-year-olds busy this week.
Bead scooping (toddlers) and sorting (preschoolers)
When we brought these B. Pop-Arty beads to Cape Cod last summer, all of the grown ups were so all over them them that I don’t think the kids even noticed them.
My sons aren’t making necklaces out of them yet (despite my prodding), but the gorgeous colors and shapes still make them fun to play with.
Judah had lots of fun scooping them from one bowl to another…
…while Isaiah broke in his new kid chopsticks and sorted them by color.
Tongs and Pom Poms
I recycled this activity later in the week with our new gigantic bag of pom poms.
Continuing our space theme from last week, we made giant glue galaxies with black construction paper and foam “planets.”
Judah, like most toddlers, got great satisfaction out of squeezing glue.
As part of my attempts to foster independence, I didn’t once say “not too much glue!” even though it seemed to be hard-wired for me to channel kindergarten teachers around the world. (How much does glue actually cost? And if he makes a mess, so what?)
It’s also a great exercise for his little hand muscles to squeeze away like there’s no tomorrow.
And who am I to limit the size of his galaxy?
Little did I know when I pulled my boys out of daycare last November, I was opting out of preschool altogether for this year. As it turns out, most preschools follow the school year calendar, and enrollment happens in September, not January when ambivalent parents like me get around to making some calls.
We’ve spent the past two months regrouping from life as a two working parent household. Isaiah never wants to leave the house, and when we do embark on a morning adventure, he changes into his full body zip-up pajamas the second we get home. At noon.
It seems to be his way of saying, “I am not leaving the house again for the rest of the day.”
So over the past two months, we’ve had lots of quiet play days, took a vacation to Florida, celebrated Christmas during the entire month of December and hosted family for two weeks.
During this “downtime,” I’ve been assessing the best daily rhythm for the three of us. Now that our new life feels more routine, I think we’re ready for days with a bit more structure.
This week I introduced “Preschool at home” or “Playing school” with Isaiah (3.5) and Judah (2).
I cleaned up the playroom and moved a table to a clear part of the room to be our “school” area. (I use the word “school” loosely, as I don’t believe my role is to be a teacher but rather someone who facilitates learning through what looks and feels like play.)
On the first day, Isaiah and I “played school” while Judah napped. This is usually our house “quiet time,” and I’m not ready to give that up yet, so I’ll still have to play around with the best time of day to work with each of them individually. But in any case, here’s what Isaiah and I did on Day 1.
First, we watered the plants.
I brought in three plants and a watering can on a work tray. As he poured carefully, we watched the plants “drink” the water.
“What are we going to do now?” he asked, super giddy. Confirmation for me that my presentation style was working (and not too heavy-handed).
Then we did a space worksheet.
Isaiah is wildly into space at the moment. I found this (free) preschool “Astronaut Preschool Pack” download from Homeschool Creations. We played shadow matching with cut-outs of space-themed images. I cut the images out while Isaiah glued the shadows and their matches together on a page. He knew all the words for the space objects except Flag.
This was a great way for me to see where his gaps are–apparently we Alexanders don’t spend much time talking about flags. For the rest of the week, I made sure to point out American Flags to him.
Next, we sorted spaceships from largest to smallest.
This part was easy for him.
But when I switched the game to smallest to largest, there was a bit of confusion. Looking forward to practicing this more.
At this point, my “student” started to get a bit distracted, so we ended “school” for the day.
The first thing he said when his dad came home was, “We did preschool today!”