Maddie Rae Gotcha Day

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hello? Hello? Anyone still out there?

So I've been absent from the blog for uh, I don't know, like months. Where the heck have I been? Why the stone cold silence? Is anyone even still checking this thing? Just in case I do still have a few loyal readers out there, I am sorry for my lack of inspiration. Call it summer break. Call it computer crashing and dying a terrible sad death. Call it only having Jon's work laptop at night because we're too cheap right now to buy a new computer. Call it whatever you will. I know it all equals out to one thing: a very boring blog.

So if you are still checking in on us, thank you. And here's an update to what is going on around here.

KIDS: Well, we're down to the 2 week mark until school starts. The summer has been fun and filled with a new trampoline, sport's camps, speech, playing with friends and cousins, travelling to see family and friends, and fighting with each other because we're spending 24/7 together. It's always fun, exhausting, and never dull to have all 3 kiddos home all summer, and despite the brotherly brawls, it has been pretty good. Jonah can't wait until school starts, and he keeps wistfully saying that he misses school. Not sure what that says about me and my entertainment value, but I'm glad he's excited for 1st grade. Jack will start 3rd grade, and Maddie Rae will be going to Early Start preschool every morning for speech.

HOUSE: Still working on finishing the basement and my list of home improvement dreams grows by a couple items every week...thus bringing me to my next point...

WORK: After an 8 year stint as a stay-at-home mom, I'm goin' back to work. Yep, you heard that one right. Honestly, if you would have told me a couple years ago that I'd be going back to work and happy about it, I would have thought you were crazy. But the Lord has really led me to this point and dropped this seemingly perfect job right in my lap. I will be teaching 7th and 8th grade language arts and math at a local middle school where I have previously taught. (I can just hear all the cringes out there...7th and 8th grade?! EEK! But I really do love teaching those crazy middle schoolers.) The school is right next to the boy's school, so I will drop them off next door and then head on over. At the end of the day, they will finish 45 min. before me, so they will walk over and sit quietly in the classroom while I finish teaching (again with the cringing. I know, I'm actually cringing myself at the thought of them sitting quietly doing their homework in the back of a classroom of 8th graders...yeah, right. But we're going to try it out at least.) My sister, who was looking for another job and who lives a block from the school Maddie Rae will attend, is going to watch her after her school for me. So my mommy guilt is minimum because my sister is really the closest thing to me there is, and Maddie Rae and Mallaney think and wish they were sisters already anyway. Win Win. I vacillate between excitement and sheer panic at the thought of balancing all of this, and I still have some certification details to work out since I've been out of it for so long. But I'm gonna give it a go and see how it all shakes out.

So if I'm absent for another few months, at least you'll know where I am. Sorry no pictures. The computer crashing thing was really not good for them...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Terrible Threes??

I've always heard it said that the "Terrible Twos" is really the "Terrible Threes," but I never had evidence. With Jack it was all just one big blur of temper tantrums and battles of the will. With Jonah it was all just one big walk on easy street. But now I get it! It seems that last month when Maddie Rae turned 3, some lightbulb went off in her head telling her to Throw Fits! Destroy things! Make lots of Mischief! Exert your Will! I present the following as evidence:

These materials were in her bed this morning when I went to get her up: Her brother's allowance, a tub of vaseline, a tub of lip gloss, her Nala and dog smeared with said vaseline and lip gloss, and a marker covered sheet.

The late afternoon meltdown. She won't take naps anymore, and we all pay for it around 4 pm.
But we always take the fit very seriously. We don't laugh. We wouldn't possibly take pictures of it. Because fits are serious business, right? Right.

Even the lips and teeth were green. I found this little display about 5 minutes before we had to run out the door to her brother's class picnic.
Scissors in the hand, and hair on the floor. Never a good sign.

In addition to these antics, she has also "washed" her brother's DS and my phone. The phone was no big deal because it was just the free phone I got when I opened my plan. The DS...well, that one was met by much weeping and gnashing of teeth. So I think I get it now. 3 is much more "terrible" than 2!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Confessions of a Closet Slob

My name is Retta, and I am a closet slob. It is embarrassing, but true. If you walked in my house, you may think "This is pretty good." A few toys here and there, some crumbs, some stains on the carpet, some misplaced stuff around, but in general not bad. But then you may go to open my closet and won't close without a foot shoving everything back in and hurrying to slam the door. And if you dared set foot in my basement or attic, you may never come back out again. It's terrible, but it's true. And I don't know how to fix it. I have dreams of having a completely organized and lovely house where even the junk drawer has everything in its place, but it just doesn't seem to be in my make-up. No matter how hard I try, it still ends up looking like this:

This is the desk area in our pantry/utility room. It's right off the kitchen, and so it doesn't technically qualify as a closet. However, it's tucked away enough that my closet tendencies were spilling over into it. But I had had enough, and I knew it was time to organize when I had to write the class parent of Jack's class in a panic because I couldn't remember what day the end of the year picnic was. And why couldn't I remember? Because I didn't write it down because I couldn't find my calendar on THIS desk. Intervention ensued.

I decided to take the doors off of the upper cabinet to create a more open shelving look, and also to keep me from just shoving everything in there and slamming the door until it stayed closed. So off the doors came to reveal the lovely mustard yellow underneath.

I had some left over paint from Maddie Rae's room (Benjamin Moore, Irish Mint), so I painted the inside of the cabinet with it to brighten it up.
The desk top is a horribly ugly laminate countertop circa 1970ish. So I bought 3 packs of my trusty cork tiles from Target and painted them with the same paint. Jonah helped with this part and thought it was the coolest thing ever. And he did a pretty good job!

I glued the cork tiles to the desktop, and I covered the rest with fabric to create little bulletin boards here and there. Cause you know I love me some fabric covered cork tiles. I created a desk skirt with an old curtain to hide the ugly recycle bin underneath.

And VIOLA! The finished desk. I still need to paint the outer cabinet white over the hinge marks and put a plate on the light switch, but it's a big improvement. Now if I can keep it this organized, it will be miraculous.

Happy 3rd Birthday Maddie Rae!

Despite being a bit belated, I did want to post about Maddie Rae's third birthday. This was her second birthday with us, but the first one that we actually got to celebrate. On her second birthday last year, she was just a couple days out from palate surgery, and somehow I didn't think that pureed cake would be quite the same. So this year, we had a whole day of fun. We started out at the park with some friends for a little playtime and some cupcakes.Her absolute favorite thing to do at the playground is swing. Every day after school when we pick up the boys, if it's nice we stay and play at the playground. I spend the entire time pushing her "high!" Her physical strength and ability continue to astound me. She will be swinging really high and while swinging will pull herself up to standing and then stick her leg out in front of her swinging one legged. Today I caught her holding her body off the swing with one arm while spinning around. She can hang from the monkey bars, spin around on this whirly thing, and do just about everything she sees the big kids do. I need to get the girl in gymnastics!

Cupcake time!

Modeling some of her new bling.

Here she is helping make her cake. We always make cookie cakes for family birthday parties because Jack doesn't like real cake. Jonah and Maddie Rae love to cook, and they are always in the kitchen "helping" me. Maddie Rae especially loves to stir.

That evening we had a family birthday party and cook out with Mike, Raegi, Mallaney, and Max. She got to open her presents, eat her cake, and hang with the fam. I find it hard to believe that my "baby" is 3 already. Happy Birthday Maddie Rae!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Big News

We have some big news in our family, and it's news that we're very excited about. Jon's sister and her husband have decided to adopt a little girl from China! They are hoping to adopt a little girl with cleft lip and palate, and we are so thrilled that Maddie Rae will have a cousin who shares her heritage. As most of you know, the cost of an international adoption is very high, so they are doing some fundraisers to try to raise money. If you would like to check out some adorable jewelry, t-shirts, bags, and other items, please go to their website and help us bring baby girl cousin HOME! Rebecca also has a blog on her site so that you can follow along on their progress and pray alongside of them if you would like. It is amazing for me to see another manifestation of God's heart for the fatherless played out. He loves these children, and He calls us to love them too. What a blessing to see this love played out all over the world in adoptive families, nannies, orphan care organizations, foster families, foster care workers, donors, and praying believers.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gardening 101 with Jonah

"Mom, what's that flower called?"

"That's an iris." (feeling very proud because I actually KNEW the name of a flower)

"Oh. Well what does it DO?"

" blooms in the spring." (feeling extremely proud because I actually KNEW it bloomed in the spring)

"No, I mean, what does it DO?"

"It doesn't DO anything. It's a flower. It grows and blooms and looks pretty."

"NO! I mean, what does it DO? Like does it reach out and eat your hand when you try to pick it?"

"No. It's a flower. Flowers don't eat your hands."

"Well, then why is it called a VIRUS?!?!"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweet Sentiments...sort of

This past week found most of my family, most of my sister's family, my dad, and my other sister (who picked a very bad weekend to visit) all laid out flat by the dreaded stomach flu. When I was sick last week, Jack very sweetly made me a card to help me feel better. He is very thoughtful and always very good to take care of his momma. This is the front:

This is the inside. I happened to walk by the card tonight, which has been laying on the dining room table all week, and saw that Jonah had written in his thoughts:Translation:
Jack: Your the BEST Mommy in the world
Jonah: No your not. Jesus's mother is.
I'm trumped by Mary, and we're not even Catholic.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Unfortunately, we've hit that "stage" around here. All you mothers will know it well. It's the phase where you tell your child to smile for the camera, and something like this happens:

Or this:

Or if you're lucky, this:

Thankfully we have a good camera, so with enough clicks I can still manage this in between grimacing "smiles."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Decisions, Decisions...

I'm back to the speech therapy topic again, so if you're completely bored by talk of therapy, ARC meetings, IEPs, and saying "Wu, Wu, Wu" 800 times in a row, just skip this one.

Maddie Rae has made amazing progress in the 2 months we have been working with her new therapist. She can now make many more sounds (D, B, T, P, L, R to name a few) and her oral muscle tone and breath support has greatly increased. She can now blow a whistle, blow bubbles in her milk, and make her air come out of her mouth. We are still working on getting her mouth moving by doing the Beckman Oral Motor Protocol (ok, I warned you...not the most exciting post) on the inside and outside of her mouth and face. Speech therapy is really fascinating, I have found, and there are all sorts of tricks to develop the muscles, cranial facial nerves, and tongue movement that really work. And it feels like such victory to hear her language increasing after all our hard work. On a moment by moment basis we are encouraging her to use her words, and we break words apart into seperate sounds for her so that she can hear the distinguishing sounds. Just this week she has said "up", "out", and "eat" completely with the p's and t's at the end. With sentences, we break those down too trying to get her to say each word. So it is a lot of work for her and for us, but she is doing so well and we are all so proud of her. Her confidence is increasing as well, and she will now speak much more and try new things (she went on a talking strike for a while during speech).

She currently has speech for 45 minutes 3 times a week in our home. Unfortunately, she ages out of this program when she turns 3 on May 8, and so now we are faced with the decisions on how to get her the therapy she needs this summer and next year. We are going to continue to take her to her speech therapist once a week in her office, and we have two other options we are considering. The first is just to take her to the boy's school for speech therapy. It would most likely be in a group setting, and I would take her once a week. The second option is to enroll her in early start preschool where she would be in a classroom with other 3 and 4 year olds receiving speech during school. I am leaning towards putting her in preschool because a. it's free! b. it may be good peer pressure encouraging her to talk c. the school she would go to is very diverse and she would be in class with a lot of Chinese and Japanese kids and d. if she were home all she would be doing during the times of the school are eating lunch and taking a nap (which actually turns into room playtime because she rarely takes a nap anymore). We have our initial ARC meeting next Monday where we will begin all the IEPs and testing. So if any of you have any insight into this whole realm, let me know. I am learning as I go, and although I've been in plenty of ARC meetings as a teacher, I've never been the parent in one.

Most importantly, we thank God for healing Maddie Rae's mouth and for allowing her surgeries to be so successful. Jon and I pray often that God would continue to heal her mouth, and give her the muscles and skills she needs to express all that is in that bright little head of hers. I feel like our speech therapist was a direct answer to that prayer. She is so amazing, and she loves Maddie Rae and encourages her and us in just the right ways.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tuesdays with Max

Every Tuesday my sister works, and so I get the priviledge of hanging out with this adorable guy. Those cheeks! The only time it gets a little dicey is when I have to drop the big girls off at "school" along with the infant carrier, two backpacks, two lunchboxes, and two girls who usually take off 4 shoes and 4 socks in the 5 minute drive to school. Then I do the whole thing over again at pick up, only this time adding in lots of miscellaneous papers and the whole carseat/seatbelt/load 'em up thing. Thankfully, my friend and neighbor Nancy picks up the boys for me on Tuesdays so I do not have to repeat the process a third time! Thanks Nancy!

And I know you have all been waiting on pins and needles to hear the verdict...Bangs or no Bangs? I chickened out in the seat. I went for the same cut I've had for the last two hair appointments (which looks sort of like Christina Applegate's Samantha Who cut). Then I got home and got really irritated with a big piece that kept hanging in my eyes, and so I hacksawed it off with kid paper cutting scissors. Shame, shame. Shame on me. So I have bangs...sort of. I think I need to just grow it out to my standard long locks again and call it a day. I always end up back at the long curls.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New Kitchen Curtains

I asked, "Curtains or No Curtains?" and you answered by a landslide, "YES! Curtains!"

Here are my newest kitchen "curtains." I did have dish towels hung up with curtain clips, but these placemats work even better I think. This is a cheap and easy way to hang fun pattern in your windows, and you can even change it with the season or when you get bored for only a few bucks. And if your hands are wet and you can't find a worries, just use the curtains!
Now, I also asked, "Bangs or No Bangs?" and I got a much more varied response. My appointment is tonight, so I'll have to hold you in suspense until tomorrow for the outcome on that one.

Friday, February 27, 2009

"Nap" Time

Mom, why are you dressed like that?

"Because I'm going to the gym after I drop you off at school, Jonah."
"Oh. You look like a babysitter."
"I look like a babysitter? Why?"
"Because of your clothes. You look like a babysitter."
"Oh! That must mean you think I look YOUNG?"
"Well...ummm....sort of."

(For the record...I had on a fleece and cropped sweatpants. And I never made it to the too sidetracked at thrift stores along the way. But I did score some great deals, and I found some cool Danish sidechairs that I'm wanting. Bad.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Apartment Therapy

Those of you who know me well, or even know me a little bit, will know that I spend quite a bit of time perusing design blogs. One of my favorites is Apartment Therapy, so imagine my gushing glee when one of the editors asked me if they could feature my kitchen bulletin board wall on their site. Of Course! Please click over and share in my 15 minutes of design blog fame.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kitchen Tour

What began on August 11 is now pretty much done. I say "pretty much" because there are still minor details to tend to, like refinishing the floors, but MOST of the kitchen is done. Here is a little tour.These photos are "pretty much" the same, except for one little detail...can you tell what it is? The top photo has my dish towel curtains in it, and the bottom photo doesn't. I like it both ways. What do you think? Curtains or No Curtains?

The breakfast area. The french door leads to the pantry, utility room, and desk area. My next project is organizing and making the desk area functional and cute. Right now it looks like a junk drawer gone wrong.
This wall is my very handy bulletin board. I covered cork squares in fabric and hung them on the wall for a cheap and easy catch all for important school papers and projects.

So there you have it. If I had to do it over again, there are definitely things I would do differently. I love my granite countertops, but I would maybe go for a lighter color instead of the black. I would have looked into IKEA cabinets as well, just to price whether or not it would have been cheaper. I also would have looked into more of a full wall pantry type cabinet over in the breakfast area. As it stands, I got really lucky because I changed the entire design AFTER ordering the cabinets, and they just happened to all work in this scheme. Whew. Our new kitchen was completely gutted and refurbished for under 10K, which I think is pretty good considering. On to the next project...


Per Carol's request, I am posting a picture of the last time I had bangs. All of my childhood pictures reside at my parent's house, but now with the advent of Facebook and horrifying lovely pictures from the past suddenly creeping up everywhere, this is available right here on my very own pc. Lucky me. Note from the previous post that both of my sisters have advised me to forgo the bangs. Can't imagine why?! I mean, look at those babies. My dad referred to them as the "thingy," and would ask me each day how they were doing as he pulled a piece up checking for hairspray effectiveness. And why are my friend and I (who both had extremely naturally curly hair and were known to actually iron our hair straight. With a real iron on a real ironing board.) sporting the squishy curler things? I have no explanation, other than it was 1988 and the bigger the better.
Here's one more bang for your buck. Ahem. Again, thanks Facebook. Can you spot me?

Yeah, that's me. Right in the front. I was in seventh grade, and so was the boy standing next to me. And that, my friends, is why no one has good memories of seventh grade.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Our five year old never ceases to crack us up. I have to write these down, mainly for my own brain because if I don't...well, you know what happens. Gone.

Looking at a book...
"Mom, that animal is a male."
"How do you know that Jonah?"
"Because he has horns, and male animals have horns. Wait...why doesn't Charles (our guinea pig) have horns?"
"Not all animals have horns. Jonah, what am I? Am I male or female?"
"You're female."
"Right. What are you? Male or female?"
"No, you're male. Male means boy."
[with indignation in his voice] "What?! Then where are my horns?!?!"

To Uncle Marky at Christmas...
"My favorite 3D shape is a rectangular prism."
"Wow, Jonah. What's your favorite flat shape?"
"I think mine is diamond. I like diamonds."
"Oh, Marky...some people call those rhombuses."

Discussing Martin Luther King at dinner...
"Mom! It's so cool because Maddie Rae is the first African American in our family!"

Apparently this one has been going around at school too. His teacher asked me the other day if I knew that Jonah was telling everyone that his sister was African-American. When I try to tell him that no, she's Chinese-American, he is insistent that NO. She is also African-American. After all, she has brown skin. Alrighty then.

And one for Jack from tonight when we were watching "Swiss Family Robinson" at the scene where all the boys are swinging from vines and the mom is sitting in her Sunday best under her parasol relaxing in the sun...
"I would NOT want to be that mother."
"Why not?"
"Because I wouldn't want to just sit around under an umbrella. I don't like to relax."

And for any of you who know Jack, you will give a hearty Amen to that one.

Hair Issues

Kim, over at Celebrating Everyday Life, is hosting a giveaway for these adorable little hair clips. I am crossing my fingers that I can win one for Maddie Rae, but if not then I will head over to Etsy anyway and buy some because they are so darn cute! So if you have a little girl, go on over to Kim's blog and enter to win (and while you're there, check out Vivi Jo's room. It is adorable, and looks like it could be straight out of the pages of very favorite design mag that is now sadly defunct due to the economy. Wah.)

And in other hair news, I'm considering cutting my hair something like the photo below. I haven't had bangs since the 80's, but I saw a girl the other night with a haircut like this and thought it was adorable. My sister says absolutely not. Don't do it. It will be the biggest mistake of your life. Of course, she also told me not to wallpaper my dining room and to paint it goldfinch instead. And that was a disaster. However, she may be right about the bangs...what do you think? I have until next Monday night to decide...

Friday, February 20, 2009


Where Have I BEEN?! I know I have been very absent from the bloggy world, but I assure you it is only because I have been very present in my own real world with ice storms, snow storms, freezing weather, 8 snow days, and a tornado drill that scared the you know what out of my 5 and 7 year olds (who were sequestered in the school for 30 minutes past dismissal in the tornado crouch on the floor. Jack was praying to God the entire time to please just make the tornado go away, and declared it was his "second scariest day of his life". Second only to nearly dying on the plane. The fact that there wasn't even a tornado warning in our county seemed to be lost on him.) If I would have actually updated my blog, you may have been more bored by reading about it than I actually was sequestered inside for days on end. However, today something happened that jolted me, quite literally, out of my blog hibernation. I spent the morning in the ER.

Really, what good is a trip to the ER if you can't blog about it, right? It all began with my Thursday excitement...Mom's Day Out! Woohoo! I headed straight to the gym after dropping off my little one and ran my 30 minutes on the treadmill. Feeling good, I decided it was time for a serious ab workout on the incline bench. You know the one...the bench that puts your feet higher than your head and allows you to be unable to stand up straight the next day because your stomach is so sore. Yeah, that's the one. Unfortunately, the bench was at the steepest incline. I knew I could have none of that, so I crouched down and pulled the pin out so that I could lower the bench. That's when the bench came CRASHING down. That shocked me, but it shocked me even more when I realized I couldn't get my hand out of the crashing bench. I was stuck. I tried to leverage the bench up with my shoulder, but it was locked in place. I couldn't get the pin out of the hole because my hand was jammed in right above the hole. I yelled to a trainer nearby and begged her to come help me. That's when I saw the blood flowing and I got a bit more urgent with the trainer yelling instructing her to come over and remove the pin. She did, and the rest is history. Another trainer drove me to the ER, and I am now the proud owner of 6 stitches in the little flap of skin between your thumb and index finger. I never really gave much thought to that little flap before, but now that mine is throbbing and mangled, I'm realizing just how much use that little guy gets. At least I got out of the ab workout, right?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where have I BEEN?

Yes, I realize I have been a big blogger slacker over the last few weeks. Why? You might ask. Maybe it's due to the ice storm and power outages. Maybe it's due to 8 snow days and one early dismissal day. Maybe it's due to temperatures being in the negatives, and the car registering 7 when I got in to take the boys to school (when they finally had school). Maybe it's due to not having electricity on two or three different occassions over the past two weeks. Maybe it's due to our state being declared a federal disaster area. I'm blaming it on the cold and crediting hibernation for my lack of effort. But it was 64 degrees today, so you may be seeing a little more of me now...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Snow Day of Ridiculous Proportions

This morning was brutal. I had to rip myself from my warm covers, haul myself down to the kitchen which mercifully had coffee brewing for my weary body. I opened up the fridge to find no drink boxes, no milk, no waffles, no nothing. And I had to pack lunches. I somehow managed to scrounge up something to send my kids for lunch, chastised Jack for guzzling all the drink boxes over the weekend when he knows they are only for lunches, and turned the house upside down looking for water bottles. I even managed to coerce Jon into taking the boys to school so that I didn't have to go out in the cold. I finally got them all tucked into their coats, hats, gloves, and shoved them out the door. Ah. Quiet. Turn on the Today show. Uh oh. Things in our county are closed. CLOSED?! There is a DUSTING of snow on the ground. And that is being generous. Sure enough. The ticker ticks to their school. Closed. Unbelievable. So the school is closed and I didn't even get the benefit of not having to pack lunches. Grrrrr. What exactly is the criteria for closing school around here?!

Kung Hei Fat Choy!



I have to say, our Chinese New Year celebrations were quite different from the past 3 years, but we did try to mark the holiday. We went to a Chinese New Year "production" at our local library. There was a lot of dancing by cute little Chinese girls, a lion dance that Maddie Rae was scared of, and a Kung Fu number with a bunch of white guys and one African-American guy. It sort of made me nostalgic for last year when I could hear the beating drum of the lion dance out my window, could walk around and see all the decorations, and could watch my kid's eyes light up as they collected all their lai see money. After the show, the kids and I went to a local Chinese buffet with a bunch of other families with adopted kids from China. Jonah thoroughly enjoyed the buffet declaring, "Mom, this food is not good. It is SUPER good." Give the kids a buffet with an ice cream machine, and they are happy campers. I am supposed to go to Jack's class on Thursday to tell them all about Chinese New Year, so I'm trying to locate lai see packets in America. If only I had Park n Shop. Didn't think you'd ever hear me say that, did ya Carol?!?!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wild Things and a Great Giveaway!

Our house has been known to be "Where the Wild Things Are", and if I had a nickel for every time I said, "STOP being WILD!" I would be one rich mama. You take one boy and you may get moments of wildness, but you take two boys close in age, and you have some major wild things. Give them one second of free time and they are either a. wrestling b. staging a boxing match c. fighting d. dressing up as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and light saber dueling or e. all of the above. There is a new book out, appropriately called Wild Things, and I am happy to be participating in the book's promotional blog tour. And the really exciting part is that I have a FREE copy of the book to giveaway to one lucky reader. If you would like to participate in the giveaway, just leave me a comment with your email so that I can notify you if you win. And without further ado, please enjoy the interview with the authors.

Looking for answers on how to raise boys?
Ever wonder…
· Why can’t he sit still?
· Is he hearing a word I say?
· Why is he angry all the time?
Boys are born to be wild. Their strong spirit, endless imagination, and hunger for adventure are only matched by their deep desire to be affirmed, esteemed, and loved. In their new book Wild Things, therapists Stephen James and David Thomas help parents and educators understand what exactly makes boys tick.

1. In your last book, How to Hit a Curveball, Grill the Perfect Steak, and Become a Real Man, you addressed a lot of fatherhood issues about rearing boys. How is your new book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, different?

How to Hit a Curveball felt like a perfect introduction to this book. That book challenges men to take a good look at themselves, their experience of being boys themselves and how they were (or weren’t) fathered. We strongly believe that men can’t father well outside of paying attention to their own stories. Whether we like it or not, we are all creatures of habit. We gravitate back toward what we know – good or bad. That book was an invitation to look a little closer at both.

Wild Things is an invitation to take a closer look at your son. This book is a comprehensive look at boy development from birth to young adulthood. In addition to laying out the biology of a boy, we also look at the mind of a boy and the heart of a boy. We break down what a boy needs from his mom and from his dad in every stage of his development. We also hit on all the hot topics surrounding boys, everything from the impact of media to substance abuse, the role of sports, and sex and dating.

2. The subject of Wild Things was inspired by Maurice Sendak’s classic tale Where the Wild Things Are. Why did you find this theme so appropriate?

If you read closely Sendak’s story, he brilliantly speaks to a boy’s hunger for risk and adventure, how boys crave power and purpose, and how they make sense of the world around them. Sendak’s portrait of boys felt so accurate to the two of us and a unique way of exploring and dissecting a boy’s inner world.

In Wild Things, we borrow from the passion and ethos of Sendak’s book and use that to provide insight and direction for parents, teachers, and mentors in what it means to love a boy well. We also try and give a lot of real life examples from our own lives and from the families we work with in our counseling practices.

3. You address five key stages that a boy goes through on his journey to becoming a man. What stage is the most difficult for most boys to navigate?

Each of the stages holds unique challenges. We worked hard to break down each stage in a way that is easy to digest. We think that that parents and educators will walk away with a clearer understanding of a boy’s unique design in each stage and some practical ideas in how to care for him within that stage of his development.

In many ways Wild Things is the kind of thing that you don’t just read once. It is more like an entertaining reference guide that parents and teachers can go back to time and time again for encouragement, insight, and direction.

But if we had to identify one stage as the most challenging, though, we’d have to say the Wanderer stage (13-17). This window of a young man’s development is plagued by physical and emotional change. A colleague of mine, who is pediatrician, said boys in this stage are 98% hormone, which translates to their being so emotional. A part of their developmental agenda is moving toward independence and pulling away. He’s often times the most distant and hard to read in this stage, which greatly complicates the process of letting him go and trusting him with more independence. And it is during this stage that is has the ability to make decisions that will effect the rest of his life. The risks are real and boys in this stage lack the ability to choose wisely with their future in sight.

4. Both of you are fathers of girls and boys. How is parenting a boy different from parenting a girl?

Parenting boys in the first three stages is just so physical. Parenting boys in these years requires a great deal of physical energy—and a good back. Whereas parenting our daughters is so much more relational and emotional. Both are exhilarating and exhausting, but in different ways.

When I (David) engage my daughter, it’s in sitting in a neighborhood coffee shop talking about her day at school. My boys can sit at the coffee shop long enough to finish a chocolate chip cookie, spill their milk and then we’re kicking a soccer ball across the street at the park.

We talk a lot in the book about boys in motion and how to engage these active, physical beings. Girls need that too, no doubt, but not in the same way boys need it.

We had our families together the other day over at my (Stephen’s) house. At one point all the kids went out in the front yard to play: five boys and two girls in all. There were a number of balls lying around the yard. The boys started playing soccer with one ball and the girls started playing soccer with another. After a few minutes the boys were trying to kick the ball at each other and the girls were off to the side talking to each other. To me that is a great picture of the differences.

5. What mistakes have parents and educators made in their approach to rearing and training boys?

For me (Stephen) the consistent mistake my wife and I make is that we over explain and over verbalize with our sons. This is a problem that is very common. In parenting boys, adults tend to talk to them and at them a great deal. We talk and talk and talk and end up sounding a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher. “Whah, whah, whah.” In Wild Things we offer a number of different strategies for engaging and educating boys that better match their unique design. Boys learn through experience and physical repetition. They need consistent firm boundaries and loads of encouragement.

As far as school goes we speak a lot in the book that the compulsory model we use for schooling in the United States is generally well-suited to a girl’s learning style. It’s heavy on verbal and written expression, two particular areas of strength for most girls. It involves a good deal of sitting still for extended periods of time with mostly auditory instruction. These methods don’t match a boy’s way of learning or draw on his learning strengths.

6. How did you come to the conclusions you discuss in Wild Things?

The book is a combination of science and research, clinical experience (our own as therapists and that of others), and our own journey of parenting five boys between the two of us.

As therapists, we have sat with thousands of men and boys over the years. Our hope was to bring their voices into the content of Wild Things. We have learned so much from the males we’ve had the great honor of working with and hoped to bring their stories into this text. In addition to those, we are still learning so much from living with five of our wild things.

7. At what age should parents discuss sex, homosexuality, and pornography with their boys?

You may be surprised to hear this answer, but we’d recommend beginning a dialogue around sexuality at the age of two. We aren’t recommending education around homosexuality and pornography at two. That begins typically around age 8-10, possibly earlier or later depending on the boy. But we are strong advocates of a healthy ongoing dialogue with every boy around the design of his body, sexuality, and boundaries in relationships in stage one. We lay out a good portion of this in the book to take some of the guess work out of it for parents, and we recommend some useful resources in further guiding you through this life long discussion. As boys grow older the conversation becomes more specific and more technical. Think of it like painting: it starts with broad brush strokes and then moves to finer detail. But as a rule, it starts way before most parents think it does.

8. What are the three most important factors in keeping a boy from experimenting with drugs?

We continue to see three common factors among young men that we’ve worked with who either abstain from using substances or experiment and then make a decision not to continue. The first would be a strong faith and core values. The second would be a strong family open to dialogue. The third would be strong relationships.

9. Who are the most important role models in a boy’s life?

There is no question that a boy’s parents play a foundational role in the man he becomes. In Wild Things we have a chapter that specifically address a mother’s relationship with her son as well as a chapter that addresses a father’s relationship with his son. But it doesn’t stop there for boys. There is great truth to the old African proverb that says “it takes a village.” We talk early in the book about how a boy begins to hunger for other voices and a part of our role is to put them in his way, so that he ends up with this community of individuals who believe in him and hold him up.

10. What kinds of things can a father do to bond with his son and raise him to be emotionally mature?

One of the first things we’d challenge a dad to do is to pay attention to his own story. That was a central purpose in our book How to Hit a Curve Ball, Grill the Perfect Steak and Become a Real Man: Learning the Lessons our Fathers Never Taught Us. Unless we understand how our stories inform who we are as men, husbands, and fathers, we stand to make a number of significant mistakes with our own sons. So before a man starts making a list of things to “do” with his son, we’d encourage him to start with himself. That step doesn’t involve his son at all, but is one of the most powerful ways to love and care for him.

That step gives way to the second step. In order for a father to raise an emotionally mature young man, he must be an emotionally healthy man himself. A boy desperately needs a dad who has an interior life. Our culture is flooded with emotionally stunted, emotionally damaged males. There’s no shortage there. Men have a responsibility to lead their son’s in living from their hearts. Women can’t really teach boys how to do this. Mom’s can invite it and encourage it, but the action of it must be modeled by a man.

Thirdly, we’d challenge dads to study his son in search of his boy’s definition of enjoyment. That’s different for every boy. We both have a set of twin boys. Two males with identical genetic ingredients and yet the outcome couldn’t be any more different. These guys, born within minutes of one another, have different passions, different strengths, and different longings. And they experience enjoyment in some similar ways as well as some different ways. We are both on a long journey of discovering what that is. Just as soon as we get a handle on it, it can change just as his development does. So it’s a long journey of studying these boys and pursuing their passions and their hearts.

11. People often talk about the father’s role in teaching a boy to be a man, but a mother’s relationship is important too. What are some mistakes a mother can make?

A mother’s role is so very important. That message is woven throughout Wild Things. There is so much to the answer to this question. You’ll need to read the book to get a comprehensive look at your role throughout his development. We talk a lot with mom’s about two unique callings within their role, both of which lend themselves to mistakes and potential harm to the mother-son relationship. To boil it down though to a couple of things we would say 1) The first is being safe and 2) the second is letting go. We break both of those down in great detail within the book. By being safe we mean a mothers ability to let her son be a boy. By letting go we mean a mother’s willingness to let her boy become a man. We speak a whole lot more to this throughout the book. It’s such a big question, and an important question for moms to consider.

12. If you could give once piece of advice to parents and educators reading this book, what would it be?

The study of a boy is such a worthwhile use of your time and resources. Boys are complex, imaginative, mysterious, brilliant, challenging, creative, strong, tender, courageous beings—and each is unique. Parenting and educating them is a wonderful, difficult, complex, enjoyable, physical, emotional, delightful, maddening journey. Our hope is that Wild Things is a useful guide along that journey.

If we have to give one piece of advice it would be for parents and educators to continue to invest in their own emotional and spiritual maturity. Growing yourself is the best gift you can give a boy you love.

You’ve gained some valuable advice, but there’s more! If you would like to learn more from these parenting experts about raising boys, you can order a copy of Wild Things through
Based on clinical research, Stephen James and David Thomas have filled Wild Things with practical tips and suggestions for parents. They guide readers through the five stages of a boy’s development, providing an overview and explanation of each stage, followed by a plan to put new principles into action. Pick up a copy today!

Stephen James, M.A., and David Thomas, M.S.S.W., are speakers, authors, and therapists who work directly with boys and their families. They also travel around the country, speaking on parenting and marriage communication, and they have been dynamic guests on CBN’s Living the Life, Good Day Atlanta, WGN Midday News, Moody’s Midday Connection, and other radio programs coast to coast. Learn more at

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Resolution #1

I used to work out. I loved that endorphin high I would get from a good workout. I loved pumping some iron (or handweights, as it may be), and I loved dropping the kids off in childcare and taking out my aggression in a good hour of kickboxing. Then I moved to Hong Kong. Stifling heat, air pollution, and no more fun classes were all deterents to my working out, but I did manage to run a 10K with my friend Suzy and stay in shape our first year there. But then Suzy moved back to the US, and my workouts seemed to have moved back with her. So here I am 2+ years later, and still no working out. I walked a good bit in Hong Kong. Hauled my trolley up and down escalators and steps filled with 50 pounds of groceries through the city, and that seemed to keep me trim. However, I now have my nice American car which takes me everywhere and is only about 10 steps from my front door, and my jeans were getting tight. It all started when Autumn Mix hit the shelves mid-September and I screamed in Target when I saw it. From that point on, I was a lost cause.

So my resolution to join the gym and workout has officially been set in motion. I'm sore again. I'm pumping the handweights again. And I've even done a bit of yoga at my sister's encouragement. Tonight Raegan and I did a Dance! Dance! class, and it was so much fun I didn't want it to end. It feels good to be back in the saddle again (and hopefully shrinking my saddle so my clothes are more comfortable!)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stepping up the speech

Maddie Rae has been in speech therapy since we returned home, but our speech therapist moved before Christmas. We had our first session with our new ST this morning, and wow. It was good. Our old ST was known to have the theory that speech doesn't REALLY start to work until the child is 3. She was nice and would play with Maddie Rae and try to do sounds, but we weren't seeing much progress. Maddie Rae is 2 1/2 and has only about 20 words, and of those 20 maybe 10 are understandable. In other words, she is WAY behind. Our new therapist got right down to business. She wants her in speech every single day if possible. She's going to come twice a week, she wants her to go to our local university's speech clinic, and she thinks maybe the cleft team speech path will want to see her as well. She told me things I would have never even thought of. Things like: she should only sit criss cross applesauce or with her legs in front of her so her diaphragm is strengthened, that she may have poor breath support because of being in the orphanage (she doesn't, because she checked her ribs and diaphragm and determined that she must have spent a lot of time on her tummy as a baby), we should do oral exercises with her with her toothbrush, she needs to drink a thick smoothie from a straw every day, and how to encourage imitation. Wow. I was very educated, a little overwhelmed, and happy to have this new therapist. To be honest, I really worry about Maddie Rae's speech. I have never had a child with a delay, and hers just seems so overwhelming and huge. It's encouraging to have a speech therapist who's been doing it for 34 years come in and tell you it's going to be okay. Part of Maddie Rae's issue is that she is a perfectionist. She likes everything to be just so and just right, and she has learned that she can't do certain things with her mouth. So now she has a hard time even trying. The ST is trying to determine if the not trying is just her personality, or whether it's a motor thing that could require some OT. So that's where we are on the speech front. We're going to ramp it up and hope for some improvement and results.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Help Love Without Boundaries Win $35K

I just received this email and thought I would pass it along. It takes about 10 seconds to vote, so please pop over there and vote for LWB's. $35,000 would go a llllloooooonnnnnnggggg way in China and could help so many children.

LWB has a chance to win $35,000 to help even more orphaned children in China, and we need your help! Casting your vote for LWB is an easy way to change the lives of children in need. Simply visit Click on the circle next to the video about LWB. It is the first one, next to Amy Eldridge’s photo. Fill out the rest of the information needed and click submit. You do not need to fill out the “about you” section if you do not wish, and you can opt out of receiving any information in the future from Cookie Magazine by checking “no” on the boxes asking which information you desire. Each person over the age of 18 is allowed one vote. This contest is open to people in the US only, unfortunately. If you live in another country, you are not able to vote. Voting takes place from January 6th to February 10th. Please forward the contest information to all of your family and friends and other yahoogroups. Together, we can win the contest and change many more orphaned children’s lives.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Potty Training Myth

I remember when I was potty training my boys a few years ago, and everyone kept consoling me with the myth of "Oh, you must have had trouble because boys are so much harder to potty train than girls." I usually just shrugged my shoulders and held up my hands because miraculously, my boys were a snap to potty train. It was hard on the first initial days, but once they got it, that was it. Done deal. No accidents. Dry at night. Snap.

But I noticed something. My friends with the supposedly "easier to train" girls, were throwing their hands up in frustration after changing accident after accident after accident. I thought it would be interesting to finally have my try at my myth buster by potty training my own girl and seeing if I was just the potty training wizard, or if it really is harder to potty train girls.

So the initial days were much easier with Maddie Rae. She got it in a snap and was pottying in no time. HOWEVER, now she just seems to go whenever she has to go. If I happen to ask her and make her sit on the potty, she will go. But if I don't ask her, she just lets it rip. Today she has had 3 accidents. One occured at my sister's house while she was busy coloring, one occured at the playground, and the last one appeared as if it was spilled water that she was splashing around in on the kitchen floor, only there was no water in sight. What gives? Why are girls so much harder to potty train? My sister's theory is that it's harder for girls to hold it. I don't know what it is, but I do know now that I am indeed NOT the potty training wizard, and those of you with boys can thank your lucky stars. Because in my very scientific study of potty training, they are MUCH easier to potty train.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Christmas Chronicles

My lack of blogging over the last two weeks directly corresponds to my lack of motivation for anything other than total laziness. I don't think I've been out of my pj's much before noon for the entire break, and the laundry is reaching gigantic proportions. We're all having a bit of the "Sunday night dread" over here at our house tonight in anticipation of the much dreaded back to school, back to work, Christmas break is over, sniff sniff...Monday Morning.

So to relive the grand holidays, I've put together a little chronicle. Unfortunately, most of the pictures stop after Christmas Eve because that was the point at which my laziness kicked in full gear and I could not even be bothered to grab the camera. So here's what I've got.

All dressed up and ready for Christmas Eve church. If only I could have snapped this picture a week earlier, I could have sent out Christmas cards.

The gang after church in their Christmas Eve finest. This was the picture right before tongues started sticking out, silly faces galore, and general pre-present craziness ensued.

Opening Christmas jammies.

Posing in Christmas jammies.

Christmas hugs.

My dad signed the fam up for a little VonTrapp family singer moment in his church the Sunday after Christmas. Mike and Jon on guitar. Raegan and Catie on vocals. Dad on vocals and bass. Mark on drums. Me on video camera. I offered to do an interpretive dance, but they didn't take me up on it. Go figure.

And that's about all the pics I've got. Sad, I know. But it was a terrific, relaxing, and lazy holiday that was filled with family, celebrating the gift of Christ, and lots and lots of cookies. Perfect.