Thursday, September 30, 2010

Planting watermelon seeds

This morning, I asked the kids: "What is something you'd like to do to help the world?"

Jack (6): "Give them food and give away our clothes.  Planting trees for the world.  Buy people presents."

Simone (2): "Don't hit people."

Andrew (3): "Give people hugs."

About 5 minutes passed, and then Andrew said: "I want to plant watermelon seeds for people who loooove watermelon."

A few things from this exchange.  For one, Andrew and Jack have such clear love languages it's ridiculous.  My "gift-giving" child would literally give away the shirt on his back.  And Andrew ("physical touch") is pretty convinced that all of life's ails can be cured with a hug.  He might be right.

But the imagery of the watermelon seeds really grabbed me.  In some ways, that really does describe any humanitarian effort...or parenting effort, for that matter.  You go around putting these tiny little actions into place.... hoping that all the unknown variables might help them to grow into something larger, something useful, something beautiful.

But when you plant that seed, you don't really know what's going to happen with all the variables - sun, rain, soil.  It's a complex process that can't entirely be controlled.

In that imagery and in life, it really seems to be about the process of planting the seeds and doing what we can do.  What happens after that isn't really so important, compared with the effort and intent.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Inside of your mind"

Jack can spend hours a day drawing.  In fact, he often does.  His level of detail makes me smile the most,  because he even draws the knuckles of hands.  All the scales of a dinosaur. The inner anatomy of a person. 

He spent all night creating a board game to play with Steve.  One of the highlights for me was how he labeled Steve's side: "Dad Tomis Spasuvich."  When he labels drawings, it's always phonetic spelling.  I will be sad when that goes away.

There's a "Two of Everything" monster who has two hearts, two lungs, two heads, two hands.  [He wants me to add to my list, "two knees."]

I love this little boy so much.

I was watching him drawing, his tiny little body hunched over the paper, and said to him:  "What is it that makes you like drawing so much?  How does it make you feel when you draw?"

And he said: "I love how you can take all the ideas in your mind and share them with someone.  They can SEE what you're thinking.  It's like they are inside of your mind. " 

Making little human beings... and then watching them explode into the most marvelous, incredible honor.  That's too small of a word.  It really IS a miracle. 

Yes, motherhood might drive me crazy sometimes.  And the jumping/wrestling/shrieking might make me question my sanity at the end of a long week...

But then one of them will do something, like draw this little board game to share with their dad... create these tiny little animals with specific detail... and say something like that about drawing.  They become something bigger and more intricate than you ever could have imagined before they were born. 

When the midwife gave this tiny little bundled person to me in the bed and I looked into his eyes the first time, I couldn't wait to see his future.  Who was he going to be?  I loved him from the first moment I knew he was going to be born, but I knew nothing about him.

I didn't really anticipate how MUCH joy learning him would give me. 

What a wonderful little person he is. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Outreach Africa

As I've been mulling over the Outreach Africa group and the Lost Boys, I've been trying to put words into what I was feeling.  I wrote Julie tonight some of my thoughts, and her answer was important to me.  I want to save it here.  I'm moving towards something, but not sure what.  We're meeting up to talk more about what can be done, and somehow...I sense I'll find my answers through writing and words.  In the mess of the questions, sometimes I find my answers.

Excerpt of my email to Julie:

I watched "God Grew Tired Of Us" a few weeks ago. Wow! A few things I'm sensing about the Sudanese refugees (from that movie, and talking with them), and I'd love to know your thoughts at some point.

It seems like what they had back in the Kenya camp gave them a lot of warmth and support and community. But they were missing key survival needs, like stability and food and safety. Here, they have those basic survival things - but they're stripped of that close sense of community and are more isolated. Is that what you find? Or do you not see that as much, since you're offering a community for them through Outreach Africa?

It just seems like seeing any of the refugees as needing our way of life doesn't make ANY sense to me...but that it's about taking all the great stuff about their tribal living, and giving them the basics of Maslow's hierarchy: clean water, ample food, etc.

Excerpt from Julie's Response:

....They have lost the tools of their culture (council of elders to resolve disputes), fellowship, etc. They have food and shelter but are lonely and alone.  My prime directive has always been to validate their worth and to make them feel loved and connected. That is part of what they are all missing across the country.  There are so many, like those in Newport News, who get a little shot of love occasionally but not nearly enough. The rest are ALONE.  They have food and shelter but feel miserable and like they have failed themselves and their families in Africa.  Did you know that before they came they were told that their college education would be free here? What a disappointment!   Some are now saying that they are so disillusioned that they want to go back.  They are emotionally and physically exhausted and I don’t blame them....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Economic Pygmalion Effect

Why I teach comes to me in these small little moments along the way.  It's this particular look in a student's eyes...the one when you just *know* they get what you're trying to teach them.  Maybe it's just about comprehension, but it's also about that spark being created.  Watching a student fall in love with a topic you're teaching makes any drudgery of teaching worth it. 

I always thought I'd only get that from my college students.  Never once did I want to teach younger children, except my own.  I suspect that's mainly because I'd be a terrible fit as a public school teacher, just like I was a terrible fit as a public school kid.  My process is too renegade, too unconventional. 

But then the co-op thing happened, and here I am teaching younger kids one day a week. I come in there and take everything I teach my college students... I just change the details.  Running lemonade stands instead of retail shops. I talk in economic vocab to them; I don't insult their intelligence by dumbing it down; and they are soaking it up beyond anyone's expectations. 

I keep seeing that over and over in my life: When you treat children with the Pygmalion Effect...raise the bar of expectation...they seem to thrive and want to join you in that new vision of themselves.

And I LOVE it.  Love it beyond words can say.  These explosions of conversation about human commodities and producers and consumers and market research and they UNDERSTAND it all.  They are feeling the energy of it and the hour is flying by in what seems like minutes.

They are learning things I never learned at that age, and I wish that I had.   I had no idea economics meant what it meant, and now they have that chance.  Maybe they'll care, maybe they won't.  But they'll at least have the understanding to make an informed decision.

Years ago, I did a few speaking engagements for the National Council of Economic Education.  I was asked to teach schoolteachers about personal finance for their own sake, but the organization is about getting economics to younger kids through curriculum in the schools.  I thought the idea was nice, but didn't really connect with it.

After having kids, I figured I'd teach my kids about econ as much as they wanted, since there was a chance they'd have the interest (both Steve and I love the topic, so it's floating in the genes somewhere).  But I still wasn't thinking about it in a broader sense.

But then, seeing what these students are absorbing, I'm feeling really passionate about the concept.  Why don't they teach more econ in schools?  Yes, it can be a complex topic...but when it comes down to it, the most important elements are really quite basic.  And completely fascinating, even to younger students.

This beautiful-spirited girl came up to me after class, her eyes shining.  "This week, I got $100 from my grandma, and I thought a lot about what you said about scarcity and opportunity cost."  She looked so happy, but I can't imagine she could have felt more joy than I did in that moment.  She was falling in love with economics, I could see it in her. 


I already found my curriculum for next semester, and I am so excited to do this again.  One for middle-schoolers about being an economic detective...using case studies to solve mysteries using economics.  And another called Play-Doh Economics, for 6-9 year olds.  How cute will that be?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Simone says..."

Important translations:
Andrew says, "I wanna watch Star Wars." Simone says, "I'm hungry."

Just ignore the red Sharpie on her neck. :) It's not blood.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Camping is the BEST part of life"

Before kids, I slept in a hammock in a Nicaraguan jungle for three days.  Hiked the Grand Canyon and slept under the stars.  Backpacked in Europe and stayed in ill-advised places.  Camped with Steve.  Loved every bit of it. 

Then along came children, and camping (sans grandparental support) just didn't sound that awesome. Primarily, I refused to camp when any of our offspring were 18 months old.  Or fly to Europe when they were 18 months old, too, but that's another blog post. 

Now they have all successful aged out of 18 months old (phew!), and so we tried a practice tenting session. 

By practice, I mean:

- It was only 10 minutes from home.

- There was a Trader Joe's within driving distance.  

- There was little-to-no chance of bears.

- Fully equipped bathrooms were right across the street.

I thought I'd need those things, but then, we set up the tent.  And suddenly, pre-children Sarahbeth came flooding in.  I could have been told everything we owned burned down and we needed to live in our tent...and I'd have felt so relieved.  Ecstatic, even.

I could do it again with no tent, no bathrooms, nothing.  In fact, the civilization part of the campsite was the biggest drawback.  I'll dig my own hole for bodily functions - but when there's another person's tent 20 feet away, suddenly there's peer pressure to be civilized. ;)

This is definitely going to become a major part of our life.  In fact, I reserved another round 2 weeks from now.  We took a vote and it was unanimous. Even Simone was shouting joyfully: "Go camping AGAIN?!"

Jack said, "Camping is the BEST part of life."  And Andrew just kept wandering around the campsite saying things like: "This is SO awesome.  This tent is SO awesome.  This fire is SO awesome." Etc, etc. 

Apparently, it was a hit all around.

Next up, a Nicaraguan rain forest.  Just kidding.  Next up is Cherrystone.  Hahaha!  And then we'll try our hand at False Cape, once we're up for the 6 mile hike in (with all our supplies on our back).

Baby steps, right?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

He should have been a Duggar

Jack: "It would be so cool if every year for your birthday, you got a new member of your family.  Like a new brother...a new sister.  Wouldn't that be the BEST present?"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Snapshots before 8AM

I jotted these notes of my kids' comments from this morning on my notepad, and realized I wanted to save them here.  Their personalities are so striking to me, in each of these moments of my children.


Simone (2y1m), pointing to my computer.  "Can you buy me shoes on there?"


Jack (6) coming into the room: "I think we figured out the problem, why Teen Wolf isn't playing.  The settings say 'Video 1' but we need 'Video 2'.  We need to find the black remote so we can adjust it."

I love how he chooses words and creates phrases.


Andrew (3.5y), talking about the digestion movie we watched last night: "Well, it was pretty cool.  But there were no swords in it."

And yes, we watch digestion movies.  This is how we kick-it in the Spas household. 

Psychology of economics

The boys were helping me prep for the kids' econ class I teach on Friday.  We were collecting examples of "want" and "need" from around the house. 

Needs:  can of black beans, shoe, shirt, bottle of water. 

Wants:  small teddy bear, walkie-talkie, toy car, fancy dress. 

Jack brought over a toy light saber.  "Here's another 'want'."

Andrew, alarmed: "What?  No!  That's a NEED."

Note to self:  Put in footnote on lesson plan that wants and needs are sometimes relative. =)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Poopoo Day

Simone was a total Poopoo Head today. 

I mean that with the deepest of affection.  But really.

There are certain things that can make a morning run more smoothly.  I packed lunches last night.  Bathed everyone before bed.  Backpacks to the car.  Clothes laid out.

And then children can turn any well-run plan into mush, just by being a Poopoo Head.

Today is the day when I have to stay at co-op the entire 5 hours.  Simone isn't in class.  So I sat in the nursery with Poopoo Head, with her shrieking about pretty much everything.  I took oodles of walks around the building, because it was the only thing that kept her calmish.  And by "calmish" I pretty much mean the shrieking wasn't ear-shattering.

I drove them around during lunchtime (all three) so she'd go down for her nap.  But no.  So I had 2 more hours of her *needing* her nap.  Shrieking even more in the nursery.  I'm pretty sure at one point she shouted she hated me, although it was in a baby-shrieking blur. 

Yeah, it was that kind of day.

So here's where I stand on the rather unpleasant day.

(1) I hate, hate, hate teething.  Especially molars and canines, but none of them are particularly awesome.

(2) I have no idea why she had to shriek her way through co-op, then come home and be absolutely, completely delightful.  Steve received a venting phone message about how I really-really-really didn't like motherhood today...and then came home to 3 cherubically adorable children.  Of course.

(3) I married my husband for many reasons.  But I now love him most when he comes home, takes one look at me, and takes out all three children to the park for an hour.  THIS is true love.

(4) I need to find a drive-thru Starbucks near co-op.  I spent our drive-around lunchtime scoping out 5 local Starbucks on GPS.  No drive-thru.  The things we value after children are so strange.

(5) Going grocery shopping without children tonight was THE...BEST...THING...EVER!!!  It's a pretty unfun day when that seems exhilarating awesome.

And finally... (6) I'm fairly sure it's worth investing in having Simone at Casey's during co-op.  She loves it at Casey's, even whilst teething, and Casey lives right by there.  Why-oh-why didn't I think of this early?

Signing off my blubbering blog.  I need to call Casey.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What *I* learned in co-op today

So, I'll admit that I was a little nervous about teaching middle-schoolers.  I hadn't heard good things about middle-schoolers.  I don't really know middle-schoolers.  But I imagined it could end badly.  Youngish enough to be squirrelly, but not so young you could distract them using tricks.

I agreed to teach 2 semester-long classes for our co-op because (A) I love teaching, and (B) I love, love, love the boys' co-op and I want to see it thrive.  Participating seemed like a good way to put in a vote of confidence, since these co-ops are the most amazing schooling experience I can imagine for our family.

So I made up a lesson plan for 15 weeks of both classes.  One teaching students how to write research papers and another teaching economics ("Jr. MBA").  I printed off my cute little handouts.  Packed my bag.  And was a wee bit nervous to start today.  Asking them to care about economics seemed up there with asking them to care about gasoline shortages. 

I have no idea why I was concerned.  These kids blew me away!  They were insightful and engaged and curious and brilliant.  They took words like "scarcity" and "opportunity cost" and just ran with completely beautiful examples of how they've seen them in their own lives.  They were kind.  Interested.  Enthusiastic. 

Holy cow.  It was like the Stepford Co-op of Middle Schoolers.

What I learned today:

- I love our co-op even more, if the older kids are like this.

- It's really fun to teach gifted, well-behaved children.  Ha!  Shocking.

- I love teaching at its most fundamental, regardless of the age group.  Teaching middle schoolers gave the same adrenaline rush as my college students and adult learners.

A very good day.  A very exhausting, crazy day!  But a good day.


After co-op today, Cynthia told me she might have to separate Jack and Sophie's seats. They know each other from last year, so they were chatting a lot.

I said to Jack later: "So were you having some problems talking to your friends in school today?"

Jack, looking stunned: "What?  No!  I wasn't having any problems.  I was talking to them a lot!"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Then she no die"

Simone (2y, 1m): "Who grew me?"

Me: "I did, in my uterus. Inside my body."

"You grow Andrew?"


"You grow Jackie?"

"Yep. Jack too."

"Who grow you?"

"My mommy grew me."


She went back to eating her guacamole. 

Twenty minutes later, she came over to me and said: "Where is your mommy now?"  In her sweet little sing-songy voice.

I paused, not sure she'd even understand what I was saying.  "She's not alive now."

She just looked at me for a moment, then shocked me by saying: "She died?"  Clear as day.  I didn't know she knew what those things meant.

"Yes, she died."

"She all-done alive?"  She looked puzzled. 

"She is.  But we still love her soooo much."

"I know what.  I wear a Spiderman suit.  Then she no die."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ground Zero Weekend

This weekend, we are doing everything on our to-do list.  Like....everything.  There are things that are dusty and rotting away on my Master List, because I've completely procrastinated on certain things.  Like returning the cable box to Cox after...oh...6 months. 

We're getting our life down to Ground Zero.  Mainly, because this is the last weekend before Christmas where we have nothing scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.  No joke.  Labor Day plans don't count, I figure, since it's extra.

One of them?  Renewing my passport.  I need it before December, so they'll let me into Mexico.  And if I weren't so concerned about losing my old passport in the mail, I could have renewed by mail. But I would have a laborious grieving process if anything happened to my expired-passport (all those pretty stamps!  And the sticker from Turkey!), so I stood in the loooong line at the passport office today. 

Yes, it was long and boring and complicated.  But thankfully, she did not send me home to get a missing form.  When that red-stamp came down approving my application, I was in shock.  I couldn't believe I didn't have to come back. That tends to happen to me with bureaucrative tasks, with is why I have PTSD everytime I have to do one. 

We dropped off Steve's weights at the Seton boys' shelter, which ended up being a shining moment of my day.  For several reasons.  For one, that tub of heavy weights was out of my bedroom.  He uses the gym, so we didn't need the weights.  Secondly, I was really impressed by seeing the actual home where the Seton boys live.  I'd only been to the Main Office before...not the living, breathing boys whom they help.  They had great smiles and kind spirits, and I was happy they were getting Steve's weight set.  Thirdly, I saw that someone had donated a really nice pool table to them. This seemed like a lovely thing for someone to have done. When I grow up, I want to donate a pool table to homeless teenagers. 

We washed every last dish, which is a feat when you have no dishwasher for the time-being (broken) and you cook from scratch most meals.  That was actually so triumphant that it deserves more discussion, but really...what more can be said about dish-washing?

I dumped more stuff at Goodwill.  I packed a few boxes for our upcoming move.  Yes, we are moving out of the Tuna Can Temporary Place.  In some ways, I'll miss it.  But I would like a working dishwasher again, which trumps any sadness about leaving. And it will be nice to share more than 500 square feet with my family of 5. ;)  Good thing we like each other.

And more stuff...but those were the highlights.

Productivity feels really, really good.

In the words of Margaret Thatcher, since she's more eloquent than I am: "Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Explosion of personhood

I can't decide if Simone is suddenly talking more, or if I'm suddenly understanding everything.  But this is a conversation I just had with my 2 year old:

"Mommy, come here.  Come see something." She led me into where her GIANT teddy bear sits next to her bed.  "See this?  Is this part of bear dirty?"

I smell.  "Yep, something spilled on it."

"I wash it.  Will you put in washer?"

"It won't fit, Baby Girl.  He's too big."

"I spray it."  And she went to get the spray bottle from the kitchen, sprayed him gently, and then said: "Can I have a towel?  I dry him."   Then when done: "I clean my bear ALL clean."

There are so many elements to this conversation that I love.  For one, HOW MUCH can happen in 2 years and 1 month of personhood.  So many things represented here.  How she's learned to speak the language of this foreign universe she came into.  How she's developed a loving spirit that could fall in love with her giant teddy bear, and want to care for his well-being (and hygiene).  Her problem solving about what to do when he couldn't fit in the washing machine.  I'm baffled and amazed that my youngest child now dresses herself and holds conversations with me.  

There seem to be explosions of growth all over the house.  They are all eating non...stop.  Non-stop.  I'm barely exaggerating. Taking earlier and more naps. Growth spurting, definitely.  But then Simone is carrying on detailed conversations. Andrew is showing a huge explosion in fascination over reading, colors, and all the things I just reported he had no interest (ha!  I swear they read my blog).  And Jack's surge in detail of his Lego creations are blowing-my-mind on a daily basis. 

The payoff of how truly logistically HARD mothering can be some days, is getting a front row seat to this marvelous march of human evolution.  Watching them from the literal first seconds of life outside the womb...and then growing into fully-functioning, creative, articulate little persons.  To see them as fully-functioning, creative, big persons must be even more breathtaking.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"God Grew Tired Of Us"

I don't really understand why certain things resonate with our soul.  I often wonder if there are things sent our way...or if they just "stick" when we discover them, because it leads us down the path we're supposed to be on?

I don't know why I found the Lost Boys' website.  Why I was so taken with it.  Why it meant so much to me, before I'd met a single Sudanese refugee.  And then meeting them, knowing took on an even bigger magic.

I keep wondering why.  What I'm meant to do with it.  Is it just about sitting across tables from them, holding babies, being a friend? Donating outgrown clothes and couches? Is it bigger?  Writing grants, letters to senators, what? 

When I met them, I saw that it isn't the charitable thing I expected.  It wasn't that they needed me.  Creating friendship, developing connections, yes.  But there wasn't an unequal balance.  I had so much to learn from them too.

I have spent the last two hours, home alone, watching God Grew Tired Of Us.  Sobbing so hard in parts that I couldn't even see the screen.  I'd heard the stories of the camps, of what they went through.  But to see the pictures. 

This movie did everything a movie could possibly ask to do.  Truly, a masterpiece. There was such a love for the Sudanese behind the writing, the camera, everything.  Such respect for their humanity.

They captured the triumphant spirit of the Lost Boys and Girls.  The brilliant, articulate understanding about what life means.  How they value relationships and connections.  How they find American culture a bit distancing and disconnected, and crave the tribal friendships they left behind.  How they work multiple jobs, sacrificing rest and recreation, to send back nearly every penny back home.

Everyone should see this movie.  Whether they know about the Lost Boys...think they care about the war in doesn't matter. There is something here for every person. 

So what I need to ponder now, is what am I supposed to do with what I'm feeling?  And where does it go from here?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


When I was pregnant with Andrew, I swore he'd never get the Second Child Syndrome.  You know...the half-filled-out baby book.  The absence of photos.  Someday, I'll tell you the story of his ultrasound-picture fiasco.  I was a woman on a mission.

He was born when we'd moved to digital photos.  So Jack has about 1000 photos printed out of him sleeping.  Probably an underestimation.  Andrew, on the other hand, had 1000 digi-files of him sleeping. 

Then we had a computer mishap.  And another.  And another.  And while I always  backed up his photos, there was never 100% certainty that we still had them. 

"Print out all Andrew baby pictures" has been on my to-do list for...a really long time.

I stumbled into my Shutterfly account old one, under an email address I'd forgotten.  And found these long-long Jack photos that Robyn took:

Holy cow.  Jack is...a baby!  (And: My hair is brown!). While I've been moseying through life, failing at picture archiving, this was just sitting in my Shutterfly account.

I realized that this could solve my problem, in two key ways.  Archival...and, they'll send me printouts.  I like back-up plans.

So, I just spent about an hour that *should* have been spent sleeping, uploading Andrew pictures to Shutterfly. Because heaven-forbid we lose these precious pictures to another computer-vs-spilled-water fiasco:

Man, I love this picture.

Anyway, I feel like I should end my rambling blog post with this Aesop's Fable message:

Back-up your pictures.  Print them out.  And if you're really on the ball, put them into albums.  I, on the other hand, will just shove them into my cedar chest until the kids move out. :)

So, so mad about being kind

When I hear scuffling and/or shrieking from the other room, I tend to just call out calmly: "Let's be kind!"  That way, I'm not taking sides or telling them how to handle it, but it's a reminder to shift behavior.

Usually, it works strangely well.  For now, at least.

Today, I heard scuffling/shrieking between Andrew and Simone.

Me, calling out from the bedroom: "Let's be kind!"

Long silent pause from both, and then from Andrew: "O....kay."  More pause. And then muttering to himself: "I am so, so mad about being kind."


In other news, we watched this video of Andrew about 20 times this morning.  Maybe 30.  Andrew couldn't believe he was ever that tiny.  For that matter, neither can I.