My Do-Over

Most kids grow up dreaming about being Somebody some day; Somebody Important, Somebody Powerful, Somebody Who Gets Shit Done. I didn't.

I didn't really dream of being anything at all. My mother liked to tell me I'd be a pediatrician because she thought I liked kids. I didn't (and don't) particularly like kids, but I do respect them and believe they should be treated like people (rather than animals). I took a career placement test the summer before my freshman year of college that revealed I would excel at being either a garbage collector, a lawyer, or a teacher. Yes, I see the thread of commonality there.

Despite my test results, I double majored in English and Women's Studies while double minoring in Photography and French. Don't ask me what I thought I'd be doing with any of those degrees. Then I headed off to grad school in Boston for an MFA in Poetry, but wound up with an MA in Publishing because I'd be done faster (single parenthood changes your mind about these things).

Do you sense a trend? I have a bunch of degrees that lead to absolutely nothing concrete. There's no career that automatically translates from all those interdisciplinary studies. So what do I do? I write. That's what I thought I'd do, but it was going to be different. Famous last words, right?

So if I could have a do-over, knowing then what I know now, here's what I would dream of doing with my grown-up life:

-- Psychology or counseling. I struggle with co-dependency, but dude. I'm a great listener and seem to be pretty perceptive. I would love to work with at-risk youth or women from high-risk backgrounds.

-- Advocacy or lobbying. I'm not sure who or what I'd advocate for, but when my passion is targeted in a focused direction, I am a formidable opponent. I think I could be an asset for healthy change at a policy level.

-- Commune dweller. There's a part of me that just doesn't want "it all." That part of me would be a-okay with living off the land with a community of like-minded people.

What about you? If you could do it all over again, where would you wind up?

**This post is part of Girl Talk Thursday**

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(Never) Still Life with Kids

**This post is part of Wordless Wednesday.**

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Academically attired

Recently our town has gone round and round over adopting a uniform policy at the public schools. Currently, only Javi's school requires them -- but his principal was recently named principal of one of our local high schools, so she wanted to bring her academic-attire policy to that school, and another elementary school has tossed around moving to a similar academic-attire policy.

I was shocked by how heated people get over clothes. I can understand not wanting to stifle someone's expression or creativity, but it's just clothes. I look at my little sister's too-low-cut tops and my nephew's skinny jeans hanging off his butt and wonder -- why wouldn't their parents want a dress code for them? With that in mind, I'd like to debunk a few myths about school uniforms:

Myth #1: Kids don't like uniforms. Besides personal preference, dressing according to an academic-attire policy has been a real life saver for us. Our mornings used to be full of arguments and tears over what Javi would wear, why he couldn't wear this or that shirt, why these pants or those pants aren't appropriate, and so on. Now, though, mornings are really painless. Javi has a handful of shirts and pants/shorts and he can choose any combination he wants. That's it.

Myth #2: Uniforms are expensive. I can understand some folks' concern over cost, but we've spent maybe $60 on an entire school year's worth of clothes each year the policy has been in effect. And this year we spent much less than before because we learned the tricks of the trade -- like removing the thread from monogrammed/branded shirts, shopping at thrift stores (where we can find gently used shirts and pants donated by the private school families), and swapping with other families in the same school. Before moving to uniforms, I know we spent at least $150 on clothes as the wear wore on.

I should point out that our policy doesn't require certain brands of clothes. The children must wear black, navy, or beige pants/shorts (add dresses/skirts for girls) without pockets on the legs. They must wear solid-colored shirts. If their pants/shorts have belt loops, they must wear a belt. That's it. Javi has worn polos, tees, and dress shirts -- and none of those violated the policy.

Myth #3: Uniforms stamp out creativity. I am blown away by the interesting ways the kids at Javi's school show their uniqueness. At a recent assembly, I saw a girl with hot-pink high-top converses, a girl with a sparkly belt, and a boy with a faux hawk. I noticed that each and every kid's individuality shined through despite their similar outfits. I'd guess these kids are more creative than the kid wearing head-to-toe camo or the one in skin-tight jeans -- because Javi's peers have to really work at it and find non-traditional ways to express themselves.

So if your school system launches a campaign for support of uniforms or an academic-attire policy, don't immediately demonize it. Uniforms really work for us -- and they would probably work for you, too, if you'd just give them a chance. (And, yes, I totally had to find a way to show off these pictures of my big kid who is both Terrific Kid and on the A/B Honor Roll for third quarter!)

**This post is part of the 30-minute blog challenge, Works for Me Wednesday, and Wordful Wednesday.**

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Gone visitin'

I've hefted my baggage to two other wonderful blogs today.

#1. Anyone raising a child with ADHD or simply interested in hearing about my little inattentive and impulsive (but not very hyper) rugrat should head over to A Mom's View of ADHD where Penny regularly shares her experiences with and positive outlook on ADHD. Her site (and Facebook page) is fast becoming a go-to resource for parents struggling (or learning to love) ADHD.

#2. Over at The Scoop on Poop, I'm talking about those rugged years of the first child and the rigid measuring and comparing that come along with them. But don't worry, the whole point is how fantastic it is when you have your second (or third or fourth) baby and realize that nobody cares how quickly you get them off the pacifier or whether they potty trained before your neighbor's kid. Life won't wait for you to whip out your pen (or pull up your blogging platform) to record the good stuff -- you should just live it instead.

I hope you'll come say hi to me (and them)!

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Lighter things

My last post was too heavy for such a cool day. I'm featured at The Lady Bloggers Society! To give that honor the esteem it deserves, here are the things making me grateful today:

My big kid learning about the elbow grease method of getting kernels off his corn:

My wolf-girl in her signature upside-down glasses steering a John Deere tractor:

New angel-on-earth Asa (born only 4 days ago) held by his beautiful Mama:

Asa's big brother Wyatt who warmed up to me only after I let him have his way with my camera:

A pup who used to be mine and still has the saddest little hound-dog face:

This has been a really, really good day.

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God's plans

I just read this post at Our Little Tongginator about adoption as God's Plan B when a child cannot remain with his or her biological family. The consensus seems to be that people should fight to keep biological families together and that adoption should come only after all other resources have failed. In this sense, the biological parents are the child's Plan A and the adoptive parents are the child's Plan B. (The actual post is much more nuanced, so go read it.)

One graph of this post states that it "is an absolute TRAGEDY that a child cannot stay with his or her biological family" no matter the cause and that adoption is "bandaid placed on a gaping wound." I agree with this statement, to a point. The graph goes on to reference "the sins of another who held power over the parents (whether familial or societal or political)."

That's where it loses me. This hits so close to home. I agree that in a perfect world, parents would only give birth to children they intend to love and protect, and that the resources for doing that would be available. But if God's plan for a child in this real world is that he stay with his biological family, where does that leave the adoptive parents who have poured their souls into loving a child (or the child who is as cherished by his adoptive family as any biological child) when biological parents come calling months or years after the adoption? Is it a sin to fight reunification with the biological family when sometimes you forget that you didn't push your adopted child from your own womb?

For five long years, I attempted to maintain an open relationship between my son and his biological father, but I had to end it. Why? Because he put our son in danger by taking him to a hotel room with his crack-addicted wife (who'd been cheating on him for months) to reconcile. He was supposed to return Javi to our home at 6 pm on a Friday night and it was 11 pm before we finally found our baby and got him home (after hunting and begging and calls to the police). Four years have passed since then and I continue to deny him any visitation with my son until he hashes out with us what he did and earns back our trust that our son is safe with him. He doesn't think he should have to do that and says he simply made a mistake on the night in question. He says I am a bully, that I over-reacted to the night in question, and that it is wrong to keep him away from his child. Who's right?

Then there's my sister, Javi's biological mother. She has benefited from the same open relationship, until I found out she was sneaking gifts to Javi from his biological father and coaching him to keep it a secret from us. My son doesn't keep secrets well and eventually told us, crying the entire time because he thought it was bad to betray these people. I confronted my sister is a calm sit-down session and she called him a liar and a manipulator. A full month later, Javi broke down and told me the rest of the story. She was also squirreling him away to talk to his biological father on the phone -- all while telling him that if he told us, he'd get them all in trouble. I gave her the opportunity to 'fess up and she threw her barbed-wire lies at the very child she gave to me to love and protect. She had the chance for understanding and she chose selfishness instead. So I've shut the door on her. Is it wrong to keep her biological child away from her?

So you can see why I'm torn. If you'd asked me on December 24, 2000 whether my son should be reunited with his biological parents, I would've said yes. Ask me that question now and I'll give you a million reasons why it's wrong. The #1 reason is that their biological child is our son now. They terminated any rights they had to him. Does that mean I'm using my "power" to keep him away from them? Should I ignore their continuous screw ups in the name of keeping a biological unit together? Is it sinful and selfish to stand my ground? Should I encourage and facilitate their presence in his life simply because of biology? Maybe letting them in won't scar him for life -- but what if it does?

Obviously I have felt strongly that Javi's biological parents have a role in his life (though if I had to do it over again, things would be different), and I'm willing to accept that God has a plan for my son. However, I can't believe that He would want me -- or any other adoptive parent -- to play so fast and loose with an innocent child's heart in the name of biology or our perception of His will. Do you?

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The Wolfses

I can pinpoint the exact moment the obsession began: early October 2009 as the four of us sat around my laptop browsing Ebay for Halloween costumes. I announced that what would be extremely fantastic (and only slightly nerdy) was if the Mountain Man dressed as a man werewolf and Javi dressed as a boy werewolf. A) The werewolf costumes are ridiculously poorly thought out and B) I'm Team Jacob.

They dismissed my idea after a good five minutes of looking at werewolf costumes (and the Mountain Man went on to refuse to be a daddy bumblebee and wound up dressing as absolutely nothing), but a certain then-2-year-old was traumatized. She talked about the where-da-woolds for weeks after: that they're "ebil," that one was hiding in her room, that they were responsible for bad things. She'd routinely come to me and say, with big brown saucer eyes, "Dat where-da-woold gone eat me!"

I did what most parents do when a child develops a fear of something -- that is, I ignored it. Over time, that where-da-woold obsession morphed into a plain ol' wolf obsession. We did an ABC sticker book and the W image was a wolf. We read a book of fairy tales and the bad guy was always the wolf. Slowly, wolves became less scary and more accessible.

So now the wolf is her "bess fwiend." She wakes up in the morning with stories of how the wolf slept in her bed and rubbed her back. When she gets in trouble for something, she turns to her side and says in a stern voice, "Wolf! You bad for that!" And then turns back to me, shrugs, and says, "I gonna hafta spank him." And then stomps away.

Everyone she sees on a somewhat daily basis is familiar with the wolf. Her teachers make room on her cot for him at nap time and send him to the corner right along with her when she's naughty. I have to give him his turn to sing in the car. The Mountain Man washes his hair in the tub every night. He's simply part of our lives at this point.

So when my little girl tells me she has a heart full of wolfses, I am not at all surprised. She's as wild and fierce and protective and instinctual as any wolf I've ever heard of. And if you catch her on a bad day, she's just as dangerous. One day she'll forget she carried a wolf in her heart, but it'll be one of my most cherished memories.

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Feeling better

So, I lied. I mean, not about how she got the goose egg (no matter what anyone says) but about being gone for a couple days. I had to come back to participate in a fun carnival hosted by a new reader.

Feel Good Friday is all about reveling in the positive, the good stuff in life, so as to negate all the crappy stuff (like knocking your daughter in the head or being behind on deadlines because she was puking all week). I had grand plans to post this little conversation Bella and I had this morning, but that dang goose egg got in the way. Without further ado:

The prompt: Write about something that happened to you this week that really made you smile. Was it your child, husband, or maybe a complete stranger did to you?

The scene: Sitting on the edge of my bed this morning with Bella laying on her back beside me as I combed my hair. I put one hand on her little chest and wiggled it around as she giggled.

Me: My heart is so full of love you, ladygirl. Do you know you're my best girl?

Bella: Yep. And Javi is my best bruddah.

Me: I'm just filled up with love. Is your heart filled up with love?

Bella: No. My heart is filled up with wolfses!

Me: Of course it is.

End scene. That, my friends, is my life.

**Want to join in on Feel Good Friday? Choose a prompt, write a post and link up!**

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I've been called many things, but today takes the cake. I earned -- through some heavy lifting and fearful tears -- the Bad Mom of the Year award. Yep. Here's what the award was based on:

You can hold your applause, though I know I did good work. You see it, right? I mean, how could you not? It's the big ole goose egg sitting on her forehead. I did it to her. It was an accident, I promise! She was standing right behind me (without announcing her presence) when I slung my bag (containing my laptop) up on my shoulder. It clocked her straight in the head. The goose egg popped up immediately (or at least I think it did, it took several minutes to calm her down enough to let me look).

She's really upset with me. I mean like hot, if looks could kill, tell your teachers your mama knocked you out kind of upset. But I earned it, so I'm taking it like a woman.

Of course, the day's not all bad. With the horrible always comes some good. I've been given the "Scoop of the Week" award from Drama Mama! You'll have to go check out my mini-post there today and the guest post I'll be doing on Monday.

For the next couple of days I'll be working on convincing my daughter that I really didn't mean to hurt her, handling the CPS calls/visits that'll likely roll in, and trying to help the Mountain Man live through it all. You know he took it worse than all of us, right?

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Celebrating our Earth

Last year, I wrote a lengthy post outlining the ways I live "greenly" each day, along with some things I wanted to improve upon. Out of six goals, I accomplished five of them. That's pretty good, right?

Over the year I have joined a local co-op so that fresh products are delivered to my door each week (and plan to scale it back once Farmer's market season starts); usually skip meat for lunches (or at least every other lunch) and sometimes for dinner, as well; when I forget my reusable grocery bags, I simply refuse the plastic ones and unload the groceries item by item into my car (and then re-bag them at the house to bring them in) -- which is so labor-intensive that I rarely forget my bags anymore; we're selling our boat and have swapped out one older vehicle with a newer one that boasts cleaner emissions; and I always turn off the tv or laptop when not in use.

Score, right?! I still don't eat organically, but we just can't afford it and I've chosen not to feel badly about it. We have also begun gardening and composting since this time last year -- last summer through the Community Garden and this time on our own -- and we're doing it organically. Double score. ;)

Also, this year I made sure the kids were involved in celebrating the day. We transplanted our marigolds and a cabbage plant into beautiful pots for giving as gifts. If you receive one, pretend like it's a surprise because the kids are might excited about it. I also plan to watch Food, Inc. with Javi tonight. He's more excited about it than I am.
Can you believe how well our little Marigold seeds grew? I hope it wasn't a fluke because I'm getting brave with this whole gardening thing!

How are you celebrating Earth Day?

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How else would you use a trampoline?

The Mountain Man's mom gave us her exercise trampoline. After climbing over and around it in my kitchen and then my living room, I finally chucked it outside. That's what worked for me. Here's what worked for my Bella and her little friend:

**This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday, Wordless Wednesday, and Wordful Wednesday.**

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Yesterday Bella and I left the Mountain Man and his budding Mountain Boy home to go fishing and roll around in dirt while us girls headed off to a mini-family reunion. There was no way those two were going to give up a lazy Sunday afternoon on the water to sit around with strangers and eat, right?

I was worried about attending with Bella because a) it was scheduled smack dab in the middle of Bella's usual nap time and b) we aren't close with this part of the family so we didn't know anyone and that could leave us open to being annoying (you know, when my over-tired toddler tried to shank someone). That's a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.

But my big girl handled herself just fine. We sat around with 13 generations of the whitest family you've ever met (which is only obvious when you're the only person of mixed ethnicity in the room), but we had a great time and were welcomed with open arms. I especially enjoyed hearing how our mannerisms, personalities, and sayings are rooted in generations past.

But Bella's favorite part was the music. You don't get together in the South without someone breaking out an instrument and this get-together was no different. There were two acoustic guitars, a wide range of "mouth organs," and a ukulele along with very talented singers. Bella climbed herself up between two of the guitar players and stayed there until I forced her to move (because she kept pulling her dress up -- not exactly family reunion material).

Then she got her hands on the ukulele and it was over. I finally pried her hands off it after several other people tried to extract it from her. Suffice it to say, she'll be getting one of her own sooner rather than later. And perhaps we'll take everyone's advice and go ahead and get her started on lessons.

Apparently, she's a natural (and, of course, that runs in the family).

**I have linked this post to the 30-minute blog challenge.**

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Note to self

Dear Kelly,

You've known your son for more than nine (long) years. You sat in the labor and delivery waiting room for the 48 hours he had to stay for observation just so that you could feed him every four hours. You rocked and patted and cried for the first 18 hours he was home and you couldn't get him to sleep. You rubbed his little over-cooked body with baby oil three times per day until all gray, peeling skin sloughed off and he was the pink cherub you expected.

And those were just the first three days. In the years that have passed since those first parenthood moments, you've learned every square inch of this child. You know he prefers blue to green and red to blue. You know he'll eat a cheese stick but only if you take a bite first. You know the only way to convince him to do anything quickly is to time him because doing it even a second faster than last time is all the motivation he needs. You know you'll have to hold his hand and hug him against you before enters any new situation for the first time. You know to hang back, but stay within view, until he flashes you the thumbs up that is the unspoken signal that you are allowed to leave.

You know he likes to sleep in long sleeves and pants. You know he loves being the first person up in the morning and hopes to one day be the last one in the bed at night. You know he hates wearing shorts but loves a colorful "sleeveless" shirt that you must never call a tank top. You know he would pay cash money to sleep in the bed between you and his dad every night and that sometimes he truly wishes he was an only child.

You know him through and through. So why didn't you know he'd have a meltdown at the orthodontist's office? Why didn't you plan for it as painstakingly and thoroughly as you do every doctor's appointment? Why did you ask him to do his homework in the waiting room, push him to focus on the pages rather than the children playing around him, nudge for him to go back with the assistant alone when the time came for impressions?

You knew better. At each and every step, you felt him spiraling further out of control. The tooth sucking and lip smacking, the eye rolling, the jerking away, the sudden flare of frustration disguised as anger. You saw it all and yet you tried to take the "easy" way out. You wanted to sit quietly and read your book. You wanted to take a mental break from adult stuff that he can't begin to understand and in doing so, you pushed your son off the figurative cliff.

And meltdown he did. Full on storming off into the parking lot right as it was time to speak to the orthodontist, stomping and jerking when you forced him back into the building, talking back and arguing during the sit-down, anger anger anger. So much anger that the orthodontist asked if perhaps you should come back alone. So much negative emotion that it stained the entire evening and left him crying and disappointed by bedtime, and your mental health was hanging on by a string.

I'm writing you this note to remind you that you knew all along and you chose the wrong path. Let's make that the last time, okay? It wasn't worth it and you both suffered. But today's a new day. Grab onto it and make it count for both of you. But before you do anything else, tell that boy you're sorry and that you'll do it better next time.

Your hindsight

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Queen of the Pins

You see that little girl up there? That's the girl who dropped an 8-pound bright pink bowling ball no less than five times without ever taking off someone's toe. She's the same girl who refused to use a lighter ball or to allow anyone to help her roll her too-heavy ball down the lane, who screamed when she saw anyone around her using a bright pink ball even though she was firmly clutching the one she chose to use, and who stretched her sundress tightly over the ball and yelled, "Yook at me! I habin' you a baby!" and then snarled at anyone with the gall to ignore her antics.

That little girl up there? She's mine. All mine. If you ever needed proof, now you have it.

**This post is part of the 30-minute blog challenge.

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We have a winner!

Thank you to everyone who participated in my little giveaway! I used Random.org to select the winner. And that was:

Congratulations Mindy! I know all three of your sweet monkeys will enjoy figuring out (fighting over?) the puzzle.

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Birthdays are forever

After a full week of celebrations, Bella is convinced that every Saturday is her birthday. We had a small party while camping for Easter (her actual birthday was the 3rd) and then her big party this weekend (the 10th).

She told me this morning as we snuggled together, "I'm gonna pway wid my fwiens in ma doffin pood at my nother birthday party on Sattahday." Nothing I say can convince her there won't be a party full of friends playing in her dolphin pool. We'll see how she takes it when Saturday rolls around.

But if you had a day like this, wouldn't you want it to go on forever?

Lessons learned:
  • Either serve finger sandwiches or serve hot dogs because if you put hot dogs on the table, the finger sandwiches will go uneaten. 
  • No matter how cute the cupcakes are, my child will still only eat the frosting and then beg for ice cream. 
  • Fruit is the only side you need, but don't spend your money or time on sliced apples. Watermelon, strawberries, and grapes will be gobbled up in record time will the apples just brown. 
  • Don't try to transport tea to the party. It'll just slosh everywhere while your guests blow through canned sodas and juice boxes.
  • Even though it's early April and chilly in the morning, go ahead and slather on the sunscreen. Your children will thank you.
  • Designate a party photographer because you will not remember to take the pictures you want.

But today is glorious because parties and holidays are behind us until ... September I think. Dude. That makes me smile more than this does:
Can you believe it?

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Hard at work

A deadline last night, editing and layout this morning, party shopping and errands this afternoon. Whew! And I'm not done yet ... I just had to sit down for a little liquid refresher (aka diet Dr Pepper) and a mind break.

How super cute is this?
You have to go make one at Tagxedo. It's your assignment for the week.

Alright. Break is over. There's a party to prepare for and a little girl who is so ready to fly her kites and play with her friends that I heard her talking in her sleep about last night.

Have a fabulous weekend!

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Up in the air

In two days, my sweet girl finally gets her kite party. We've only talked about it for ... oh ... two months or so. I've painstakingly planned the small details: the kites in a variety of patterns and designs, the cupcakes which will be smothered in pale blue icing with kite candy on top, the grab bags filled with toys meant to be thrown and flown, and the dress with the adorable kite applique.

But it's all been hypothetical and mind-strewn until today. The doorbell just rang and on the porch there sat a box full of the cutest kite-shaped cookies! You can tell I've been planning this a long time because the baker of these gorgeous sweet treats is none other than Cristin of Sneaky Sweet. You may have heard of her back when Amy hosted a giveaway. (Go look at the delicious butterfly cookies Amy received!)
Cristin was so patient with me as I hemmed and hawed about what I wanted, in what color, and when I wanted the goodies to arrive. Not only did she walk me through the process, she made sure the cookies arrived in plenty of time for the party and packaged them so well that not a single cookie so much as cracked during the shipping. And look at the sweet ribbons!

I can't wait to see Bella's face light up when she sees a cookie with her very own name on it! I'll be sure to take plenty of pictures of her little friends gobbling up their kite cookies as they fly kites and run wild at the park on Saturday.
Thanks again, Cristin! I'm so pleased with your service and talent -- you'll be hearing from me again!

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Snapshots of life

My world has been covered in a yellow-green dust for nearly a week now. While no one in our family suffers from seasonal allergies, we still can't be outside for long periods of time or open the windows to enjoy the gorgeous mid-80s temps. But life goes on.

There are seedlings stretching earnestly toward the sun:
And children rejoicing in a warm spring day:
While moms take advantage of rare opportunities to be just plain silly:
Yes, life goes on -- despite a yellowy haze and deadlines and back-from-break school struggles. I don't want to miss a minute of it.

**This post is part of Wordless Wednesday and Wordful Wednesday**

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Fun with puzzles

My baby girl turned three years old while we camped among a thick smog of pollen. We spent most of our time outside, but Saturday night was rough for us, so I broke out my last surprise: the puzzle.

As I suspected, she was immediately transfixed by it. She dumped the blocks out of the wooden case and asked Javi to help her "build a pig." After the pig, she wanted the chicken and then the sheep. She'd sing Old MacDonald and make animal sounds while watching Javi or me work through each picture cube by cube.
That's right. She watched us. Unfortunately, I was a little too ambitious with this one. Bella loves puzzles and will spend an hour piecing together the six 24-piece flat ones. I just knew she'd love doing the cube one, too; however, it's just too difficult for my just-turned-three year old.

You know who loved it? Our friend's six-year-old nephew. He sat down with a look of extreme concentration and deftly turned and adjusted and worked his way from one corner to the next. The first time was difficult for him, but after I showed him how to get his outline together, the rest was easy. I definitely think this is a great puzzle for the 4-6 year old age group.
That's not to say that Bella hasn't had fun with it. She loves finding the colors I ask her to search for and she's made an X, a robot, a train, and a snake out of the cubes. She also enjoys dumping the cubes so that she can put them back the way she wants. I actually think this is a step in the right direction. Once she's comfortable with the cubes and commits the colors and patterns to memory, I think she'll be more patient and willing to take the time to figure it out.
While I'm happy with the puzzle on the whole, it's not as perfect as I thought it'd be. For example, in addition to being a little age inappropriate, there's no way to look at a picture of the puzzle as you're putting it together -- which makes it even harder for little minds and fingers. It also doesn't have a closing case, so I'm worried the blocks will get lost. I'm surprised Melissa & Doug didn't think these things through, considering the high quality and thoughtfulness I've come to expect from the company.

We'll be adding this puzzle to our puzzle basket, even though it's not as perfect as I thought it'd be. You can add it to yours, too. CSN stores have agreed to send this puzzle to one of my readers (and their shipping is super fast). Here's how to win it:
1. Go look at all the cool stuff they offer for kids.

2. Come back here and leave a comment telling me what you like best.

3. Follow my blog.

4. Spread the word (with a link back here) about this giveaway via your blog, Twitter, or Facebook. Leave an additional comment letting me know which you did. You can use this if you aren't sure what to say: "Free and educational? Count me in! @millermix and CSN are giving away a Melissa & Doug farm cube puzzle. Enter at http://bit.ly/a5LxMP"

5. Earn additional entries by hitting all three (just make sure you leave a separate comment for each).
This giveaway will end at 10 pm on Monday, April 12. Thanks to CSN for allowing me to share the fun!

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My birthday girl

Dear Bella,

You are three years old today. Three is the perfect number for you because it describes you so accurately. You are one part girly girl, one part spider monkey, and one part clever beyond your years.
When I think back to this time a year ago, I am blown away by how much you've grown. While you had a great starter vocabulary, you've become a full-on conversationalist and a strategic thinker. You know your full name, your street address, your colors and shapes, your numbers to 50 (by ones and tens), and you aren't afraid to share your knowledge with the world. You've also learned to take a compliment thanks to the many times throughout the day people -- including random strangers -- exclaim how beautiful you are.
But here's what I want you to know. You are a precious gift who makes my heart soar. I hear your little Minnie Mouse voice and can't help but smile. I watch you wave and smile at everyone you see in the course of a day and feel so proud that you are mine. No matter what happens in your life, please never doubt for one second that you are a blessing on this earth.
You are smart and gorgeous and funny. You have a generous spirit and have yet to meet a child you didn't love. Babies and puppies make your face light up. You want to read on your own so badly it hurts. Your older brother is your hero and staunchest supporter. Your father is adamant that you're a genius and a born superstar.
And none of it matters. You, my sweet girl, are enough. Without the big brown eyes and to-die-for lashes, you are enough. Without the infectious laughter and ability to put together a puzzle in three minutes or less, you are enough. Without near-perfect memory and amazing attention to detail and a surprising grasp of nuance, you are enough.
I love you so much it hurts. My hope for you is that you always love yourself just as much. Never let anyone make you feel that you must be more and better to deserve love and respect. Stripped bare, with nothing but a song in your heart and a smile in your eyes, you are enough.
May you have the best third birthday ever.

Love, Mama

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