Five Reasons Why You Should Play Minecraft with Your Child

I know. Your eyes are rolling to the back of your head and you’re thinking, “I’m so sick of my child talking about Minecraft!” That’s all my six-year-old has talked about for the past several months too. On the iPad, he plays Minecraft: Pocket Edition. He watches YouTube videos from a lady called Cupquake. He bought the Xbox360 version with his own cash. He wakes up in the middle of the night, sleep-walking into our bedroom like a Zombie and crying, “But I really like that MOD!” I thought his interest in Minecraft would come and go, just as it had with Angry Birds and Skylanders. But his obsession seems to be coursing steadily through his veins. Having no quick antidote to cure him, I did a parental unthinkable: I took a swig of the poison. I immersed myself into his pixelated world of mining and mobs. And if your child is Minecraft-crazed, you should play with him too.

Here’s why I’m glad I did:

  • I had no idea what my son was talking about 75% of the time: diamond swords, iron ingots, exploding Creepers. All day long, he would tell me about these strange things, and the only contribution I had to those conversations were alternating responses of, “Wow… Sounds neat… Huh?” Who sounds like the zombie now?
Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

  • After the first few minutes of playing with my son, I started to get it. I didn’t see validity for the obsession yet, but as he gave me the initial tour of Minecraft I finally began to understand the game. Suddenly, those bewildered half-conversations I’d been having with my child had a new perspective. The pixelated images made me feel a little nostalgic, and the different biomes of the Minecraft worlds are actually somewhat… pretty.
  • The way I pictured Minecraft in my head–based on phrases commonly uttered from my son like, “Whoa! I just blew up that dude with TNT!” or “Oh shoot, there’s a spider comin’ at me! I’m gonna die!”–was so much worse than the game’s actual images. The zombies in my head belonged in Night of the Living Dead. Instead, I found the kinda-cute Minecraft Zombie pictured above. When someone dies the screen gets reddish, but there are no gory death scenes to the extent I had envisioned.
  • It’s an opportunity–albeit a virtual one–to promote teamwork. When my son and I play together, he naturally takes on the hunter/gatherer role and I become the homemaker. Even though it’s not gory I’m still not fond of killing things. I build our shelter, and he gathers our supplies and hunts for food.
  • Most importantly is knowing that my son still wants me involved in his interests. He is my oldest child, and I know that a time will soon come when he won’t really care whether or not I like what he likes. Someday, he may be content to shut the door to his bedroom as he runs amuck in a virtual world. Or to run out the door into the real world with his friends. But for today, his face beams with pride as he escorts me around the Minecraft worlds that he so genuinely enjoys sharing with me.

Are you familiar with Minecraft? Have any tips to share? My son is still better than I am at the game, so I need all the help I can get.

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Themed Play vs. Free Play

When it comes to planning activities for children, one thing that parents, teachers, and children seem to enjoy is a fun theme. Whether we are deciding nursery decor, planning a birthday party, or just a simple craft on a Saturday afternoon, many of us like to utilize a good theme. Right now, Pinterest is full of Valentine’s day themed projects and learning activities for children. Next week, we will start seeing a lot of green art projects and flowered crafts for St. Patty’s Day and spring. I’m no exception. In fact, I’m working on an idea for an activity planner for young children, and how is it organized? By themes!

Themes can make playtime more exciting. Having a theme is a good way to explore one subject in many different ways. That’s especially beneficial for families with more than one young child, or for a group setting like a preschool or child care center. One child may not be too fond of journaling about the weather, but making her own tornado sensory bottles might be most fun she’s had all week! And when your son loves to put together his own mini-pizza for a snack on Little Chef day, your daughter might prefer to create her own restaurant menu with a piece of paper and crayons.

And yet sometimes, our children want nothing to do with a theme. We may have spent a lot of time and effort putting together a Pirate theme day, filled with homemade pirate hats and eyepatches, decorating our own paper towel tube spyglass, following a treasure map using our directional skills, and count and sort our treasure after we’ve found it. We just knew it was going to be the best day ever! After all, little Betty Boop from the Super Happy Blogging Mom.com sure loved it! Instead, our little ones complain that the felt eyepatch is itchy. They slop a little paint on a paper towel tube and announce, “I’m done!” after a record time of 10.8 seconds. They whine that they’re too tired to follow the treasure map, and they’re disappointed when they finally find the treasure and realize that it’s only card stock with gold glitter and not real treasure!

So what can we do?

Here’s my best plan:

-Have a plan. I’ve found that if I don’t have a plan and the materials for the activities ready to go, interest on the children’s behalf fades fast. From a child’s perspective, nothing is more boring than waiting!

-Start the activity as planned, but then hand over the reins to the children whenever possible. If you offer your child the opportunity to draw their own treasure map, but they prefer to draw a football field instead, let him! I recently borrowed an idea from Arlee at Small Potatoes to make homemade play dough and add some animals and trees for a fun winter animal play scene that I was sure my six-year-old would play with for hours! (Yes, I can be a bit delusional at times.) He was completely uninterested. He wanted to go back to playing floor hockey in the living room, which I reminded him was a bad idea since his dad and little brother were taking a nap. In an attempt to keep him at the table longer spark his interest, I started shaping a cave out of the play dough. “Great idea!” my son said. “Can you make another net on this end so I can play soccer with the animals?” For a moment, I was disappointed that he didn’t enjoy the activity in the way I had imagined. But I realized that he was enjoying the way he imagined instead, and that it was a much more memorable and valuable play experience for him. He played for quite a long time, whereas he would have whined and complained and shut down in about two minutes had I insisted on him playing my way.

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-Be adaptable. That’s one of the best qualities that a parent or teacher can have. Children are so unpredictable. From the time they are first born until who-knows-when, just when we think we have them figured out, they change. It’s the ebb and flow of growing up, of a child’s discovery of who they are going to become. Our job as parents and teachers is not to determine WHO they will be, but to help them learn HOW they will get there. If our child wants to be a ballerina, but we are pushing them to be a soccer player instead, we’re not doing anyone a favor. If we’re trying to teach them to kick, pass, and shoot when they just want to twirl, bend, and leap, there is going to be a constant struggle. And they will probably still end up being a ballerina.

Now this isn’t to say that children should just have free rein of their world. Certainly, some limits need to be in place–for their benefit and ours. I certainly don’t mean that if a child isn’t interested in practicing math at home that we should ban math from our routine. It just means that if they want to make up a subtraction story about a basketball team rather than about spring chickens, let them! Another option is to let them know that as soon as they have completed the planned learning activity, they may have free play to explore the items any way they choose. They might just end up surprising you by how much they learn through their own free play.

Which do you prefer, themed play or free play? Which do your children prefer?


Baby Tips For First Time Parents (Part 3): Language Development

Chugging along with our Baby Tips for First Time Parents series, today’s topic is a personal favorite. Being a writer with an English degree, a baby’s language development is close to my heart. There are many tools that we as parents can use to help our babies get off to a good start in their language skills. Here are some of my best tips!

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Language Development

-Read. From birth. Every day. There is no better way to encourage a good vocabulary and an early desire to read than by reading to your baby on a daily basis. Take some time each day, whether it’s in the morning or before bedtime, to snuggle up with a few books.

-Have books accessible on your baby’s level. Whether it’s a low (sturdy) bookshelf or a basket or bin on the floor, having cloth books and board books available for your baby to grab, turn the pages, and look at the pictures on his or her own is also a great way to let them have early exposure to language in print form.

-Give them a constant play-by-play of daily activities. Babies are so curious about this world that is brand new to them. And as parents, we are their first tour guide. When we take the time to talk them through daily activities, a play-by-play of the day, (i.e. “Let’s change your diaper! Here are the wipes. Here is the diaper.”) it gives them an opportunity to hear a variety of words and to let them begin to make connections between the words you say and how those words relate to their daily life.

-Ask open-ended questions. This makes you feel a bit like you’re talking to yourself all day long (as an infant teacher, I was often in a room for 8 hours a day with only four babies to talk to… talk about one-sided conversations!), but it is key to encouraging your baby to respond and to develop the back and forth rhythm of conversational language. Listen for cues that your baby might be trying to attempt words or conversation. For example, here is a conversation I had this morning with my 8-month-old while he was playing with a soft ball:

“What is that?” I asked.

“Bah.”

“Oh, is that a ball?”

Silence as he concentrated on picking up the ball.

“What does the ball feel like?”

“A ga da ba da.” (or some sort of baby babble!)

“Does that feel soft?”

Silence.

“What can you do with that ball?”

Silence.

“Can you throw the ball?”

(more baby babble as he chews on the ball)

“I see that you can taste the ball too! What does the ball taste like?”

Etc!!

-Repetition. Notice in the previous example that I repeated the word “ball” several times, since that was the toy he was playing with. Repeating the same simple words over and over again helps a baby learn to recognize words before they can even speak them. This is called their receptive language. Also, the words you repeat most often usually become some of the first words that your baby can speak, such as Mama, Dada, dog, ball, eat, etc. Generally speaking, the more often they hear a word, the faster they will attempt to repeat them back to you.

-Minimize the use of baby talk. Babies learn their behaviors through both their own curious exploration and through modeling that they see from their parents. It makes sense that if a baby is hearing proper language as opposed to baby talk, that they will learn to pronounce words correctly faster than if they are hearing them pronounced incorrectly. (Consequently, I need to work on this one! I have a bad habit of using the word “tweepy” instead of “sleepy.” Don’t ask where it came from, it just comes out! I’m working on this one right along with you!!) Babies do love a high-pitched voice, so it’s okay to use baby-friendly tones and inflections, as long as you are pronouncing words correctly and clearly for them!

-Finally, consider using baby sign-language. Some parents feel like using sign-language with their baby might delay their baby’s speech development, but it actually enhances it! Think of language development just like motor skills development. You need to learn to stand before you can walk, right? So I like to think of sign language as giving your baby “legs to stand on” before their speech can take off. If they can communicate with you clearly with signs (typically age 7-9 months) before they might be able to communicate using words (10-12 months), it may help them feel confident in themselves and their own ability to get their needs met. Also, imagine being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. How would you get the things you need? If you’re looking for a place to buy a drink, you might ask a local using sign the universal sign for “drink” by cupping  your hand and putting it to your mouth. The local will understand what you need, and they can point you in the right direction. They might even repeat the sign and say the word “drink” in their own language for you, so that you can hear it and hopefully remember it the next time you need a drink! Using sign language would help you feel more at ease in the unfamiliar environment and it would help you in making early connections with other people while you are learning their spoken language. These are some of the same benefits that sign language can give your baby. Click here for a short list of starter words for baby sign language!

I hope this list will help to strengthen your communication with your baby as she is developing her language skills!

Be sure to check back next Tuesday for Part 4 of this series where we will have some tips for your baby’s motor skill development!


Baby Tips for First-Time Parents (Part 2): Cleaning and Hygiene

Continuing my Baby Tips for First-Time Parents series from last week, part two covers cleaning (at home and away) and hygiene. Especially this time of year when the flu and other viruses are rampant, this is such an important topic to discuss. I hope you find some helpful hints here. Feel free to share some of your own tips in the comments below!

Cleaning and Hygiene

-Babies don’t need a bath every day. Typically, babies only need a bath every 2-3 days. Any more than that, and it actually dries out their skin! We tend to bathe our baby boy MWF or even only MTh if it seems like three times a week is too often for his skin. If this is a new concept for you, you might have two questions:

  1. Q: What if we use bath time as part of his nightly routine? A: Everything you do with your baby post-bath time (lotion, putting on pjs, nursing/bottle, rocking, reading, singing lullabies, etc) is your baby’s “bedtime routine.” A bath can be done right before your baby’s bedtime routine, but only 2-3 times/week instead of every day. In fact, it’s a misconception that bath time is relaxing to all babies. For some, it can be. For others, it is exciting! For example, bath time has the opposite effect on our little eight-month-old. He loves splashing, scooting, slipping, sliding, playing with toys, chewing on the washcloth… bath time is anything BUT relaxing for him, because he loves playing in water so much! I give him a bath during the day when he is active and playful, because that’s when he enjoys it most.
  2. Q: Won’t my baby get dirty? A: Yes! However, your baby’s body will stay relatively clean. Exceptions to this which might require an impromptu bath time might include a super messy sensory/art activity, an exceptionally messy meal (spaghetti!), or a leaky BM diaper (I’ve changed many diapers where it went all down the legs or straight up the back! A bath was a must!). Beyond those kinds of exceptions, the only parts of your baby that get messy daily are the diaper area (which is cleaned each diaper change), face, and hands. For the face, wash your baby’s face after meals and before bed with a warm, wet washcloth to keep it clean daily. As for the hands, that brings me to my next tip!

-Wash your babies hands often! For some reason, many parents tend to forget about washing their baby’s hands. To me, it is essential. Before and after they eat. After diapering (particularly when they start getting grabby with their little hands during diaper changes!). After playing outside. After petting an animal. And generally, anytime their hands look dirty. A lot of parents use a baby wipe to clean their baby’s hands, which is okay to get some dirt off when on the go, but it doesn’t take the place of good old soap and water. Not only will hand-washing help keep your baby clean and healthy, but you’re beginning a lifelong habit that is the number one way to help prevent the spreading germs and illnesses!

-Another way to prevent illnesses is through cleaning. However, not all cleaning products are baby-friendly. When you’re cleaning your home, keep in mind that most babies put everything in their mouths. You wouldn’t want your baby to put Lysol in his mouth, so you wouldn’t want to clean his toys with that either! That’s a good visual to keep in mind, but there are other potentially harmful effects of the chemicals in many cleaning products including eczema, allergies, irritating the airways, and eye irritation. Here are my favorite baby-safe products for cleaning at home:

  • Dishwasher. I love tossing pacifiers, bottles, teethers, and any other small toys that can be washed in the dishwasher. It cleans and sanitizes all at once, and it’s super convenient!
  • Washing machine. I wash all of the little stuffed animal toys, favorite blankets, and fabric books in the washing machine once a week or more often if needed.
  • Soap and water. For toys that can not be submersed in water, I like to fill the sink with warm water and dish soap, use a clean washcloth to wipe off the toys with the soapy water, and then rinse them using another clean, wet washcloth. Let the toys air dry.
  • Free and Clear detergents. While baby-specific laundry detergents like Dreft are unnecessary, if your baby seems to have problems with skin rashes, dry skin, or eczema, try switching laundry detergents to one that is free of harsh chemicals or dyes.
  • Steam mop. I love the shiny, clean look of freshly steam-mopped hardwood or tile floors. I use the Shark steam mop on our floors rather than a traditional mop and bucket or the Swiffer mop, because it cleans and sanitizes the floor without leaving behind any chemicals! With a baby crawling around on the floor (and sometimes our little guy even LICKS the floor!) all day long, this is a must for me!

-If you do use spray products to clean, avoid using them when your baby is in the same room. When I need to clean the bathrooms, for instance, I clean with the bathroom door closed and/or the fan on during my little guy’s nap or after his bedtime at night. That way he is not being directly exposed to the chemicals in the air.

-I saved my favorite hygiene tip for last because it’s our biggest life-saver right now! Our little guy has a runny nose from a little cold virus right now, and his absolute least favorite thing is getting his nose wiped. Even the softest, gentlest dry tissue product will still make a baby’s sensitive skin around the nose red and irritated when you have to wipe it 10+ times a day! The best way to remove nasal congestion is by squeezing a couple drops of saline solution up your baby’s nostrils and then sucking it out with a nose bulb (keep the one they give you in the hospital! It’s the best one you can get!!). However, my little guy absolutely hates that and will fight and scream and I can barely do it without fear of hurting him. So the next best thing is a product called Boogie Wipes! They are small, wet wipes with saline already in them. They are so gentle that even wiping his nose with them all day long, his nose never gets red or irritated! It also cleans up any little dried bits of snot around the nose all in the same swipe, so it’s quick, convenient, gentle, and even our tissue-loathing little guy rarely puts up a fight with Boogie Wipes!

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I hope you’ve found some of this information helpful, or that you can pass it on to some new parents who might!

Be sure to come back next Tuesday for Part 3 of this series where I will talk about some tips for helping your baby reach those first developmental milestones!

What are your favorite cleaning and hygiene tips for babies?


Baby Tips for First-Time Parents (Part 1): Health and Safety

In honor of my sister and her boyfriend who are expecting their first baby boy very soon (and my first nephew!), I wanted to put together a few tips that I’ve learned from nine years of being an infant teacher and 6+ years of being a mom. For first-time parents, caring for a baby can be overwhelming, exciting, nerve-wrecking, and blissful all at the same time. There are so many questions that I had as a first-time parent, and over the years as an educator and mom, I’ve learned the answers to many of those questions. That being said, I still don’t have all of the answers, and these are just a few tips for some of the many, many questions that will arise when caring for your baby for that first, precious year. Please consult your doctor and your own parenting instinct to find what is right for you and your baby. I hope this series of posts works as a good starting point to answer some of the perhaps less obvious or less talked-about questions that arise in caring for your baby.

The topic of today’s post in the “Baby Tips for First-Time Parents” series is one of the most important:

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Health and Safety

-When your baby becomes mobile, he needs a lot of practice before he becomes efficient in various motor skills such as sitting up, pulling himself up to stand, and walking. Falls are inevitable. When a baby falls, I would guess that most of the adult population reacts in one of two extremes: either they gasp with a look of worry or panic and rush over to console the fallen baby -OR- they smile, cheer, or clap and say “You’re okay!” with a lot of feigned enthusiasm. Here is a better reaction: do nothing. Maintain a neutral expression so that your baby can decide how he feels about the fall. Then base your reaction on his reaction to the situation. If he is okay, but you panic and your face reads “Oh, no! He’s hurt!” then that will cause your baby to think “Oh no, look at mom/dad’s face! Something must be wrong!” In contrast, if your baby is wailing because they are feeling pain from their fall, but you’re smiling and insisting that they’re fine, it’s not validating their feelings. If we fell and hurt ourselves, how would we feel if someone watched it happen and then was smiling and clapping about it? We would likely feel a little resentment towards them. Babies are smart enough to pick up on these unspoken messages. In fact, they are the only messages that a baby clearly receives, as they understand facial expressions and tones and their corresponding messages long before they are able to understand the meaning of our words. Hence, the best way to react to a fall is to remain neutral until the baby reacts, and then respond according to their feelings. If they cry, console them and validate their feelings: “Ouch, that must of hurt. I’m very sorry that you were hurt from that fall.” Calmly, but empathetically. Repeat the words this way until they calm down. If they fall but come up smiling, then it’s okay to smile back and say, “Yay! I’m glad you’re okay after that fall!” Obviously, if the fall is severe, you should take appropriate emergency/first aid actions. Which brings me to my next tip…

-Consider taking a CPR course that includes infant CPR and first aid. It is unlikely that you will need CPR for an infant, but you want to be prepared in the case of an emergency. I think we all agree that it would be better to know and not need it than to need it and not know. The American Heart Association and the Red Cross are two good options for considering a course. They will also teach you what to do about infant choking, which is the part of the course that you are most likely to need, since most babies explore things by putting them in their mouths. It’s also the only type of CPR/first aid that I have ever had to perform on an infant, with the exception of basic first aid for a few minor cuts and bumps from falls. Having the knowledge to potentially save your baby’s life is invaluable, and I strongly recommend an infant CPR/first aid course to all parents, grandparents, and caregivers.

-Speaking of choking, use an empty toilet paper tube to check items for choking hazards. The simple rule with choking hazards is to drop the object through a toilet paper tube. If it fits inside or falls through, your baby could choke on it, and that object should be kept out of your baby’s reach.

-Have your car seat properly installed or checkedWe called and made an appointment with our local fire station before our first son was born to have the car seat installed, or you can use this local “Inspection Station” locator from SafeKids.org. SafeKids also has this comprehensive list of car seat and travel safety for infants (and children of all ages!), including how long to keep the child/car seat in a rear-facing position, where to place the chest clip (at the child’s armpit level), how tight to have the car seat’s harness straps (you should only be able to just barely slip your finger in between your baby and the straps. No slack!), and to never leave your baby alone in the car.

-To keep your baby safe when he is asleep, be aware of the SIDS-prevention sleep safety tips. Always place your baby on his back to sleep, use a firm mattress, and your baby’s crib should be empty. No bumpers, no pillows, no blankets, no toys. It should be a crib, a firm mattress, a fitted crib sheet, and your baby. That may sound bare and boring, but if you think about the crib’s purpose, it should be boring. You want your baby to associate the crib with sleeping, not playtime, and any extra accessories not only prevent your baby from having a safe sleep environment, but they can also be distractions to your baby that may hinder him in falling asleep or confuse him about the purpose of the crib: plain ol’ sleep.

-At one point or another, your baby will get sick, and the only one who can truly help you with your baby’s illness is your baby’s pediatrician. However, should your baby need medication upon your pediatrician’s recommendation, I have one tip for using those little syringes that they provide for dosing an infant’s medication. I always had trouble getting the proper dosage because there would always be a little air bubble in the syringe, taking up space where medication should be in order to get the proper dose. Frustrating! To get rid of that air bubble, fill the syringe with the medication, and then press out the medication back into the bottle. This will leave a bit of medication in the tip of the syringe, instead of air. Then you can fill the syringe again to the proper amount, and the dose will be more accurate without that pesky air bubble!

-Finally, keep hazards out of reach, but remember that no amount of “baby-proofing” can take the place of the watchful eyes of a parent or caregiver. In fact, we do very little baby-proofing in our home. We baby-proof mostly through supervision and redirecting him to a safer place, should he encounter a potential danger (ie, the lamp cord!). Do the baby-proofing feels right to you (a good tip is to get on your hands and knees and explore your home at your baby’s level to find potential hazards), but know that no amount of baby-proofing is 100% safe and your baby should be monitored at all times. Babies learn quickly and should never be underestimated!

I hope these tips will help you in some way, or that you can pass them on to a first-time parent you know! Come back next Tuesday for Part 2: Cleaning and Hygiene.

If you have any additional Health & Saftety tips for babies, please leave them in the comments! I’d love to hear what you’ve learned through your parenting experiences as well.


Feel Good Friday: Cherishing The Last of My Twenties.

I’m 29 today. Every year since I can remember, I look forward to Christmas in December, and after it’s over, I have my birthday to look forward to. The New Year just slips on by, because the start of my “new year” begins just a few days later. As for celebrating my birthday, I keep it casual with a favorite meal for supper and dessert and maybe a movie or a good book and a glass of wine. I keep it simple, because I’ve learned that those are the moments when I am happiest. That being said, I do still get excited, a bit giddy even, over my birthday. It’s turning the page to the next chapter of my life, and that’s something worth celebrating, no matter how old I get. Each year is to be cherished, and while I fail at cherishing every single moment, I cherish the ones that matter most. When I look back at my 28th year of life, my first year of blogging, I notice how my stats dipped when I needed to pull out of the blogging world and spend more time cherishing those very moments.

They dipped back in April, when I developed gestational diabetes. I spent the extra time nourishing my body, taking care to track what I ate and when and how much and to check my blood sugar afterwards. Our after-supper walks as a family were some of my favorite moments that month, because my husband and son knew it was what I needed to stay healthy, and they willingly jumped on board.

My stats stayed low for the following month of May, when my sweet baby boy was born. By far, this was the biggest blessing of my year. He came unexpectedly, just as I had hoped for (I did not want to be induced, like I was with my first pregnancy!), and he was a beautiful, perfect little boy. He looked just like his older brother. He snuggled and nursed and bonded with me immediately. He made us parents all over again, and he made our oldest son a brother.

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All of the images above were taken by the lovely Heather Hoch!

There was a final dip in August, when I cherished the last few days of my son’s summer at home with me before he started Kindergarten. He is so smart and talented in so many ways.

With the exception of those months, my blogging stats have been on a steady upward trend. My blog is growing and changing with every post I write, and although I started Close Families with a general idea of what I wanted it to be, it was the readers, the followers, the comments, the feedback… all of that has helped to shape Close Families (and the writer inside of me) into what it is today, almost a year later. I want to thank you all for your kindness, your support, your friendship. It means so much to share the bits and pieces of our separate lives that are joined by one common thread: family. And not just any family, but a family that wants to be close and connected. To have a lasting, enduring bond that is strong enough to face the harsh realities of the world. I’m still learning what that means and how to achieve it, and I hope you will continue to follow our journey.

One last thing: when I started this blog and gave it a name, I was a little over halfway through my pregnancy with our baby boy. Five months away from him being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It wasn’t until months after that diagnosis that I made the ironic connection: Close Families… CF… Cystic Fibrosis… CF. Strange, huh? It’s a weird coincidence… or possibly a whisper of a bigger picture at hand.

Cheers to all of you for giving me a wonderful first year of blogging. I couldn’t be more excited about what my 29th year of life has in store.

Thank you, friends!


I Shouldn’t

I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning. I went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, only realizing in the absence of the familiar smell of Folger’s that I hadn’t set the coffee maker the night before. Drat. I poured a glass of Cherry Pepsi instead and sat at the dining room table for my daily Bible reading. When I finished reading, I ended my morning quiet time with a prayer, asking God to wrap his protective arms around the schools throughout the country today.

I made a couple of frozen whole-grain waffles and a glass of orange juice for my six-year-old son. I took it into the bedroom and gently woke him up.

“Hey, Mister Sleepyhead, it’s time to get up. I made some syrupy-sweet waffles for my sweet big boy,” I said. I stroked his soft, blonde hair and kissed his cheek.

He opened his eyes and asked excitedly, “Waffles?”

“Yep, get up and out of bed so you can eat them!”

He jumped out of bed and sat on the floor with his waffles. I left him and went back to the kitchen to put his lunch together.  A Lunchable and a Fruit Roll-Up, two of his favorite treats. I set his lunch bag next to his backpack and went to check on him. His eyes were glued to the TV with an empty plate at his feet.

“Wow, that was fast!” I said. “Okay, get yourself dressed now, please. I’m going to go get your brother.”

As I headed out of the room, our dog started jumping and dancing at the front door. “Okay, okay,” I said. I opened the door, and she bolted past me. The click-clack of her toenails on our hardwood floors woke up the baby boy, and he started to fuss but ended it with an abrupt smile when he saw my face. “Good morning, baby boy,” I said as I picked him up and snuggled him close. “Let’s go see Bubby.”

I carried him back into the room where my oldest son should have been getting dressed, only to find him snuggled under the covers again and watching cartoons. “Son, please get dressed,” I said.

He stared at me. I stared back at him. No one moved. “Let’s go! You need to get dressed for school!” I said.

“Okay! I am!” he said, making his way slowly down to the edge of his bed where his empty clothes rested in a heap.

I left the baby boy to play on the floor and went to get myself dressed. I threw on a sweatshirt and a pair of flats, brushed my hair and teeth, and went back to check on my son’s progress.

Still wearing his PJs. Clothes still in a heap. The only change in the entire scene was bare feet instead of socked feet. I turned off the TV. “Let’s. Go. Get dressed. Now you need to hurry, or you’re going to be late for school.” I picked up the baby boy, stopped at the front door to call the dog back into the house, and got the baby boy dressed and his diaper changed. I hurried back to the room. No shirt. PJ pants. No socks.

“SON! Seriously, this is getting ridiculous! Why does it take you so long to get dressed in the mornings? I hate starting our day with me getting angry with you!” I said. Don’t do this. Don’t let this be the last conversation you have with him. I offered more gently, “Can you please just hurry and get dressed so that I can get you to school on time today?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

He finished getting dressed (somewhat) quickly, brushed his teeth in a reasonable amount of time, and then gave the dog food and water before we headed out the door.

“I love you,” I said on our way to his school.

“I love you too.”

We pulled up next to the sidewalk leading to the entrance to his school, and I asked him for a hug and kiss. I squeezed his little body tight and gave him a quick peck on the lips.

“Have a great day, buddy. I love you so much.”

“I will. Love you too.” He slammed the door shut, and I watched every one of his steps toward the school building. His gym teacher greeted him at the door, opened it for him, and when it closed, I lost sight of my son. Tears that I hadn’t known were forming started to flow down my cheeks in long, fast-moving streams. My heart ached. Even as I drove away, I wanted him in the car with me again. I hadn’t been sad the day I dropped him off in Kindergarten for the first time, but I was sad this morning. Sad for the world.

I shouldn’t need to pray for God to protect our children at school. I shouldn’t feel guilty about yelling at my son for taking an insane amount of time to get dressed in the morning, fearful that those might be the last words that I say to him. I shouldn’t feel terrified as I watch my son walk through the doors of his school. But I do. And if I do, I can not even imagine what a school morning feels like now to the families of Sandy Hook Elementary.