Advent Reading for Children

As Advent approaches, I made a list of all the books I plan to read with the children during the Nativity Fast, which begins on November 15th in the Orthodox Church.  Our Advent occurs during the 40 days before Christmas. We will read one book or story per day.
Advent Reading
Our list of books (these are all books that we own):

    • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
    • Peace at Last (St Volodymyr) by Savedchuk
    • Book of Bible Stories by Tomie dePaola
    • The Feast of Pentecost (12 Great Feasts Series) by Mother Melania
    • The Miracle of St Nicholas by Whelan
    • The Story of Mary the Mother of God by Dorrie Papademetriou
    • Zeek the Christmas Mouse by Scherde
    • One Baby Jesus (boardbook) by Pingry
    • Uncle Vova’s Tree by Polacco
    • A Children’s Paradise of Saints by Nun Nectaria Mclees
    • The Monk Who Grew in Prayer by Claire Brandenburg
    • The Miracles of Jesus by Tomie dePaola
    • Sweet Song by Jane G Meyer
    • Christmas is Coming (boardbook) by Ailie Busby
    • How the Monastery Came to Be On Top of the Mountain by Currier
    • St Nicholas and the Three Poor Girls by Potamitis
    • The Legend of St Nicholas by Demi
    • Room for a Little One by Waddell
    • The Trisagion Hymn by Potamitis
    • St Spyridon and the Horses by Potamitis
    • North Star by Dorrie Papademetriou
    • The Story of the Nativity by Winthrop
    • Away in a Manger by Thomas Kinkade
    • The Friendly Beasts by Tomie dePaola
    • The Annunciation (12 Great Feasts Series) by Mother Melania
    • Christmas in the Manger (boardbook) by Nola Buck
    • The Nativity of Our Lord (12 Great Feasts Series) by Mother Melania
    • The Nativity by Potimitis
    • What Do You See at Liturgy? Orthodox Board Book

Please share your favorite children’s book in the comments!

The Dormition of the Mother of God

Dormition

A Dormition means the “falling asleep” (death) of a person.

Today we remember the Dormition of the Theotokos.
The literal English translations of this name include “God-bearer” or”Birth-Giver of God.”
But she is commonly called the “Mother of God”
for Mary is the one who bore Jesus Christ, the Savior.

Dormition

Having been a Protestant, I understand how strange it might seem
to commemorate the death of the Virgin Mary.
But, there is a very simple reason:

God chose one person throughout all of history
to carry, deliver and raise His only begotten son, Jesus.
And this one person was Mary.
She was set apart for this momentous task,
and because of that fact, she deserves our respect and reverence.

When we love and respect someone, we remember them.
Many people visit the gravestone of a loved one
on the anniversary of his or her passing.

Dormition

 This is a very basic was to understand this Great Feast of the Orthodox Church. 

Don’t forget that you can download my
Orthodox Prayer Book for Kids!

The Feast of Transfiguration

Transfiguration

You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ God,
revealing Your glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it.
Let Your everlasting Light also shine upon us sinners,
through the prayers of the Theotokos.
O Giver of Light, glory to You!

TransfigurationMatushka Emily has some wonderful resources on her blog that we used for our lesson today.

Transfiguration

We also read from The Children’s Bible Reader about the Transfiguration of Christ. 
Transfiguration

We used our book about the Transfiguration of our Lord from this set.

Glorious Feast!

Coming Out About Comparisons

Make sure you read Part One and Part Two of this series as well.

Skies

Scrolling through social media and blogs has the ability to make even the greatest, most accomplished, most patient, most crafty, most musical, most over-achieving moms feel inadequate.  The reason is quite simple: the internet rarely tells the whole truth.

We all post photos about our greatest accomplishments, not our deepest failures.

Do you want to see the pile of laundry on my bathroom floor OR my daughter reading to her little brother?  Do you want to see how the puppy chewed up yet another toy all over the living room floor OR the craft the kids did?  Do you want to see my child throwing a fit on the floor OR my baby smiling beautifully for the camera?  The answers to these questions is obvious.

No one wants to see the hard stuff. 

It might be a nice change of pace to see a post or read something about someone who has embraced the fact that life is messy and chaotic, but these are few and far between.  More often than not, we see happy smiling children eating homemade treats while doing crafts in a beautifully decorated home.  Forget the fact that in the other room is a dog chewing up a dirty diaper (Not that I know anything about that…).

As a mother, it is difficult not to compare yourself to other women who seem to have it all together.  But I will tell you the truth: even the most perfect mom in the world has her bad days.

I openly admit to having a Super Mom Complex.

I pin so many amazing ideas on Pinterest, but will never have enough time in my life to do them all.  I love to sew and craft, but leave projects unfinished.  I menu plan and then end up eating out for dinner.  I do crafts with my kids and get frustrated when they make a mess.  I homeschool and some days I want to give up.  I make green smoothies and then eat candy bars.  I snuggle my kiddos and then tell them to go into the other room to give me a few minutes of peace.  I succeed and I fail, but I always get back up again.

This is what parenting is all about.

“What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do.
The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things.
But we can all do small things, with great love,
and together we can do something wonderful.”

~Mother Theresa

It isn’t about what you do, it is about how you do it.  Stop comparing yourself to other moms.  We all have different gifts and abilities.  No two moms are the same.  No two people love the same or need love in the same ways.  Work with what you have.  Embrace it.

Be the best parent and person you can be
and forget about what everyone else is doing. 

Of course, you won’t be able to do this every day and some days you will feel completely inadequate once again.  But do not be discouraged.  We all have days like this.  This is normal.  The most important thing a parent can do, above anything else, is to love their children and to teach them that God loves them more than they can even imagine.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God;
and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
In this the love of God was manifested toward us,
that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world,
that we might live through Him.
In this is love, not that we loved God,
but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4:7-11 (NKJV)

Coming Out About Isolation

If you haven’t read my previous post, “Coming Out About Fussy Babies,”
please jump over there now and then come back here. 
Thanks!

After sharing “Coming Out About Fussy Babies,” many people said that they have been dealing with this same thing or did ten, twenty, forty years ago.  Unfortunately, mothers who go through this often feel that if they talk about their struggles, they seem ungrateful or resentful.

One friend said,

Michelle, you are saying something I’ve been saying for 6 years, 5 months and 11 days. And I seriously got tired of being judged for saying in so many words (I don’t beat around the bush) that this stuff was HARD! And maddening! And isolating! And depressing! … AND I LOVED THEM! BUT IT WAS SO HARD!

But if I said so, I wasn’t “embracing the joy” of motherhood. Um, really girls? This is how we are Christ to one another? By saying “You’re focusing on the negative,” while inside you’re thinking “You’re a real buzz-kill,” and just not being there anymore?

I haven’t figured out where I think the balance is, but I know what I experienced isn’t it.

I have encountered this very same thing.  If you hold everything inside, you feel like you are going crazy, but if you share with friends, they seem to back away or give you advice that ends up making you worry more than you were originally.

And, to many people, you may appear to be complaining.  It is cathartic to be able to talk about something difficult that you are going through, but when that difficult thing is a baby, people think you are a complainer and that you are not grateful for your child.

Sad

I am constantly phrasing things like this: “he cries a lot and it is very difficult, but he such a sweet boy and we love him like crazy.”  I feel like I need to make up for what I said.  I never feel ok to just say, “this is hard.  He is difficult.  I’m struggling.”  The End.

Of course, I love him.

Even in the most difficult of times when I feel disconnected from everyone and even like I am not bonding with him, I still love him.

IMG_20140518_160206Others will say that we chose this path.  It was our choice to have kids.  That may have been the case, but that doesn’t mean that good things aren’t difficult sometimes.  So, saying that it was our choice doesn’t help at all.  It might have been someone’s choice to be a doctor or a missionary, and that is hard work, but we don’t judge them for it.  So, why are people always judging mothers?

One of the greatest reasons that mothers become isolated is judgment.

If our child is crying out in public, we feel like a failure.  When we go out with friends, but end up standing behind the table, bouncing our baby until he falls asleep, we feel all alone.  Then, the invitations cease and the friends stop calling because who wants to spend time with a mother who is completely stressed out and at the end of rope.  That doesn’t even sound like fun to me.

We know it will get better, but in the midst of it all, the light at the tunnel looks very, very dim.  And the problem with all this judgment and isolation is that
we are forced to do it all ourselves.

So, we know that we can, but that doesn’t mean we want to.  

Friends, my advice to you is this:

One of the best ways to be her friend
is to take her other children to your home or the park for a playdate.
Drop off a meal so she doesn’t have cook while holding a crying baby.
Offer to come to chat and when her children need something,
you can get it for them or you can hold the baby for her.
And let her vent.
Don’t offer advice, don’t give words of wisdom, just listen.
Give her a hug.

And, never ask if she needs help,
if you think you should ask, then she needs it.
If you ask her, she will say that she is “doing ok.”
She’s just trying to be strong.
Help her.

 

Coming Out About Fussy Babies

One Sunday morning, my husband and I walked into church, with our four little ones in tow.  We attend a young church where many people have babies or young children or both.  Our baby was just seven or eight months old at the time.  He had spent the majority of that time crying, fussing and being held by me.  It was one of the most difficult times I’ve experienced in my life.  I had very little sleep and was exhausted to my very core. 

When I looked around and saw many other babies, happy and content, I broke down.  I stated weeping and had to leave church.  I couldn’t handle the fact that my child was so very difficult and others had it much easier.  I was angry, jealous, depressed and worn out.

Jump ahead a couple of years and we are dealing with this again with Eric.

IMG_20140524_154010

Eric wants to be held by me almost all the time.  He doesn’t sleep well, especially at night when he wakes up almost every hour.  I rejoice at getting two hours of sleep in a row. If he is content with my husband or the other children and then sees me, he falls apart.

It seems like he can do well without me for a short period of time and then he needs to be cuddled for a while.  I’ve noticed this pattern since he was very young.  He will play on his own for about ten minutes, maybe twenty on a good day, and then he needs me to hold him.  Many times, he will just lay there on my chest or in my arms, looking up at my face.  It seems to regulate him, and then he is able to play on the floor again for a little bit.

John was even worse.  He cried and fussed for nearly ten months straight.  We tried to diagnose him to determine what was wrong, but, all in all, John is a very healthy child.  He is very intelligent, curious, inquisitive, funny (SO funny!), loving, a great eater, friendly and painfully shy.  He is also gorgeous, I might add.  He is an amazing child.  So, when we looked for answers as to why he was fussing so much, we came up dry.

I recently read an article called,Why It’s Not ‘Just’ Colic or Fussiness and it hit home with me probably more than most articles I read.

The author lists ten results of having a baby who fusses all the time:

  • the sleep deprivation
  • the isolation
  • the crying
  • the being judged
  • the unpredictability
  • the feelings of failure
  • the no down time
  • the second guessing
  • the impact on marriage and family
  • the lack of bonding.

I have encountered all of these at some point in time with each of my fussy babies.  For me, the worst part is the isolation which directly affects the feelings of failure, the impact on marriage and family (and friends), and the second guessing.  Isolation is also affected by the sleep deprivation, the crying, the being judged, the unpredictability, the feelings of failure, the no down time, and the lack of bonding.

IMG_20140526_141638So, for me, it appears that isolation is the number one problem that comes from having a fussier-than-normal baby.

Obviously, you can’t go out in public because your baby will scream, you will have to hold him all the time, you will feel judged by others, you’ll compare your baby to the other babies that you encounter, and you will be worn out by the end.

So, rather than looking forward to going out and seeing family and friends, you become anxious and stressed about leaving the house.  And if you do leave the house, you come home feeling depressed and discouraged.

And then, you are isolated again because you stay home until the effect of the bad experience of going out has worn off a little bit.

Being a parent is hard enough without having a baby who cries and fusses all the time.  So much of parenting is about giving of yourself for you children.  It isn’t always easy, but, even after a sleepless night, you can look into the beautiful face of your child and know it was worth it.  And the good news is that it does get better… eventually.

More on this topic to come…

How to Support Someone After A Miscarriage or Stillbirth

I arrived home after running an errand
and opened the back door of the minivan to find my baby boy fast sleep.
I looked his face and suddenly a feeling of melancholy came over me
as I wondered what our little Julian would have looked like.

In the summer of 2010, we lost a baby in the very early stages of pregnancy.
I wanted that baby to make it so badly.
I rested my hand on my slightly enlarged belly
and prayed that God would protect his little life.
Sadly, he was gone just a few days later.

How to SupportA child who has died during pregnancy will always be part of the family
and will forever be loved.
Unfortunately, many people do know what to say
or how to act after a baby has died.

I’ve compiled a list of ways you can support someone after a miscarriage or stillbirth:

  • First and foremost remember that it is better to say less than say a lot.  Say, “I am sorry for your loss,” “I am here for you,” or “I am praying for you.”
  • Listen.  Do not offer advice, insights or your own stories right away.  I will say it again: listen.
  • Give a hug.  Sometimes people just want to cry and be held.  This is incredibly meaningful to someone who is grieving.
  • Offer help and follow through with it.  If you say, “please let me know if you need anything,” the person is not going to ask for it.  You must say, “I am going to do ______. When would be best for you?”
  • Ways to help: make a meal, cut the grass, run errands, watch their children, bring over flowers or a food basket, ask him/her to go out to coffee or a movie and pay for him/her, offer to clean the house or do laundry.
  • Give a special memento: a tiny blanket, a little hat, a shadow box that the parents can fill, a special bracelet or necklace, a plant, a memory book or journal, a picture frame, a candle, a prayer book or card
  • Remember or write down the date that the baby died and call or email the parent on anniversaries: one month, two months, six months, and every year.  Some people use the due date as well, so ask for that, too.
  • If the parents named the child, call the child by his or her name.  Every parent loves to hear the name of their child said aloud.
  • Randomly ask how he/she is doing.  Grief is not reserved for anniversaries; it can come at any time.
  • If you are pregnant or have living children and your friend does not, refrain from talking about your children or your pregnancy.  Give your friend time and space.
  • Help him/her find a local support group, like Share.

It is very important to remember that everyone grieves differently.
There is not correct way to grieve.
Do not judge.
Grief may come in waves, so be ready for that.

We can’t know why the lily has so brief a time to bloom
in the warmth of sunlight’s kiss upon its face
before it folds into its fragrance and bids the world
good night to rest its beauty in a gentler place.
But we can know that nothing that is loved is ever lost
and no one who has touched a heart can really pass away
because some beauty lingers on
in each memory of which they’ve been a part.

– Ellen Brenneman

Our Lenten Candle

Several years ago, the children and I decorated a candle for Lent.  We only used it during our morning prayers, and it lasted a long time.  Now, we are in need of a new candle.  I bought a simple vigil candle at the grocery store in the Mexican food section.  Our previous candle had been decoupaged, but I wanted to do something a little bit different this time.
coffee filter art
I pulled out the liquid watercolors, coffee filters and a dropper.
I let each child make their own designs on a coffee filter.
coffee filter art
coffee filter art
coffee filter art
They enjoyed it so much that they even used the leftover colors on the paper towels to make more decorated coffee filters.
coffee filter art
In the end, I only needed three coffee filters to cover the candle, so I’ll have to come up with something fun to do with the other…. twenty.

I took this photo tonight, so the lighting isn’t perfect, but you get the idea:
lenten candle

Orthodox Prayer Book for Children {Free Download}

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOADDSCN2024

My Orthodox Prayer Book for Children has now been downloaded over a hundred times by individuals around the world and has been used in Sunday School classrooms throughout the United States.

I think it is about time for me to simplify things with a free download:
Orthodox Prayer Book for Children

DSCN2021

The first half of the book contains simple prayers
for children, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer;
the second half has twelve pages for each
Great Feast in the Church Year
with the troparion or kontakion.

Prayerbook Screenshot

Directions to assemble the book are included in the description of the download.

How to Order the Pages:Treat each page as having columns where you would go down and then back up to the right corner and back down. So, on the printed first page, the Icon of the Resurrection would be the very first page of the book. Then the words “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen….” and then the icon of the Theotokos and the Christ Child.  Follow this throughout.