Raising Citizens of the World

It started when my boys were born, wanting something different for them, but this past weekend confirmed my decision. No more. Enough is enough. I’m done. 

I’m raising citizens of the world.

We started our Saturday morning wondering what we could do with two one year olds when our “small town” city of Austin was currently flooded with millions of show goers visiting us for the SXSW music festival. The thought of manuevering our toddlers through crowds, sitting in traffic, and being bombarded with music virtually everywhere (some soulful, but most is just hectic noise from unexperienced hopefuls). We decided to venture an hour away to San Antonio.

After circling the city blocks a few times looking at parking signs ranging $10-30 (to place your car on top of concrete safely), we found a spot. We stood in line with the crowds to pay for our spot, inhaling car fumes, cigarette smoke, other people’s ill chosen parfumes and deodorants and then began our excursion.

First stop- food. Dining out with twin toddlers is more fun when the ambiance is kid friendly so we chose Rainforest Cafe. Now, I’ll preface this post by saying I loved our day! Every moment watching my children’s faces light up with wonder is worth every harsh moment, but…my worldview shifted drastically on this day.

We walked our babies around the restaurant pointing out the rubber, plastic, and mechanical animals. We faked amusement when the lights flickered and the “thunder” roared from the speakers hidden behind the fake leaves surrounding our table. Then we paid $50+ for a meal of fried, over-processed, preservative laden food, leaving our meals half-eaten because American portion control is lacking. We showed our waiter our rewards card for this restaurant chain. This reward program allows us to get more artificial food when we eat enough of it over time at various locations. I was disgusted by this thought. Then we tipped the waiter because, in America, no matter how bad the service, the waitstaff is entitled to getting tipped. Blech!

Nextstop- downtown. Then, we paid $120 for a wristband that allowed us to get into several of the attractions for one “low” price.  Handing over the credit card made me feel so powerfless. They know they’ve got us because we’re there, we’re consumers, we want to be entertained. Sure, take our money and run.

Again, we had a good time, but is this it? We rode on a manufactured safari car wearing plastic 3D glasses and shot lasers at holographic zombies. I’m humiliated as I write this. We stood in line for 40 minutes for a 4D ride; another simulated experience (monkeys ziplining through the jungle). We walked down a red carpet through an old building looking at celebrities and athletes made of wax. Then, we took our children to a playscape IN a mall and watched them play on trees and ponds made of rubber. We paid $1 for them to ride in circles on painted, fiberglass animals.

After weaving through more crowds, stopping at umpteen million restauramts trying to find a place that could provide a table without making us wait close to an hour for service, we settled on another restaurant with overpriced, artificial food, and terrible service.

I drove home feeling disgusted. Disgusted with myself for participating in these shenanigans; for playing a part in this artificial world. I was disgusted for my children that we had simulated artificial adventures for them. I want more. I want something different.

Lucky for me, my husband felt the same way. As we drove home we began discussing. We’ve made the decision, not lightly mind you, to raise citizens of the world. Sure, we’ll shop at malls from time to time, we’ll even take our boys to amusement parks and local attractions occassionally, but our worldview has changed and we’re going to make a change for something better. It may be now, or it may be when the boys are slightly older, but we will not be raising them in a society driven by consumerism, gluttony, greed, technology, and materialism anymore.

We plan on raising them in the natural world, to appreciate relationships, experiences, and love. We want them to learn by doing, not sitting in a classroom or staring at a screen. We want them to love because they’ve felt nothing but love amd aren’t surrounded by morally compromised people we have to shield them from. We want them to be grateful by living simply and plan on simplifying our lives.

Stay tuned, friends. The Vails are making changes!

That Girl

The “Rules” of Play

The rules of play are simple. There are no rules for the child. There are, however, rules for the adults. Adults can either hinder, or help, play be what it is intended to be. Play, by definition, is intrinsically motivated, self-directed, and natural. “Play is a child’s natural language and the toys are their words, ” Garry Landreth (The Art of the Relationship, 2001.) Play is not only how children communicate, but it is how that express themselves, process experiences, and make sense of the world around them. 

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These “rules” are what we Play Therapists live by.

Disclaimer: Although these are the rules Play Therapists follow in the playroom with clients, following these rules does not make you a Play Therapist. Sixty-one graduate hours and several thousand clinical hours under direct supervision have taught me to use these guidelines in a very specific way to form a therapeutic relationship with my clients and create an environment for positive change to occur in the child’s perception of self, the world, and circumstances.

That being said, parents can apply these same rules if they’d like to encourage a more active imagination, independent play, and allow more learning to take place naturally through play.

Rule #1: Allow the child to lead.

Play is natural for children. They do not need an adult to intervene and show them how to play by moving objects, making sounds, or deciding what happens next. Child directed play is best. This is why toys with batteries or electricity actually work against play. Imagine being a child playing in what looks like a kitchen and placing something on the stove and the stove responds, “Yummy. I like spaghetti!” But, you weren’t cooking spaghetti. In fact, you were pretending to be a mad scientist concocting a potion to kill aliens from the planet Zonkatron. Or, the adult in the room intervenes and says something idiotic like, “Oh, are you making something special for me?” This not only pulls the child out of the fantasy, anchoring them to reality, but also changes the motivation of the play to serving the interest of the parent and pleasing the parent, not the child.

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Rule #2: Play is not a time for education.

Learning takes place naturally during play. The infant/toddler brain is maze of channels, twists, turns, and roadways, but if not all of the passageways get engaged often, “roadblocks” go up. Parts of the brain actually die off and get pruned away if not activated. Just the same, parts that are engaged often become stronger. Do your best to fight the urge to teach the child colors, numbers, shapes, and sounds. Quizzing the child on what they know is also not appropriate during play. Things like, “What’s the horsey say?”, have no business in play. Learning letters, numbers, and so forth will happen in due time, in the classroom, or while you’re out and about as a family and talking about things you see.

Rule #3: Don’t ask questions you know the answer to.

I see adults break this rule ALL the time. They walk up to a child holding a ball and say something like, “Are you holding a ball?” or, a child slams a car into another car and screams, “Boom! They just crashed!” and the adult says, “Uh oh, did they crash?” Asking questions like this can make the child feel misunderstood (and make the adult look stupid). Remember, play is about expressing one sef so if there’s enough information for a question, there’s enough for a statement. Instead, try, “Whoa, they crashed hard. I heard the boom”. The child feels seen, heard, and understood.

Rule #4: Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality.

This is a big one! Children’s play is not always an indicator of their deepest, darkest secrets, nor is it predictive of future actions. The child who plays “good guy, bad guy” and has the two beating each other up isn’t necessarily going to be aggressive or violent as they grow up. Just the same, the child who plays army and blows up the whole town isn’t necessarily going to make bombs in their garage and blow up their school as a teen either. Children use play to explore different sides of their personalities, try out various behaviors and actions, and sometimes something like blowing up a town in their play makes them feel powerful and strong n a day when they may have felt weak and misunderstood. Children may also use play to give alternate endings to real life experiences, but they don’t need to be reprimanded for pretending they punched Aunt Helga in the face for that smelly kiss. It’s pretend and it’s natural and therapeutic.

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Rule #5: Don’t label things the child hasn’t labeled.

To the adult it’s a stick, but to the child it may be a sword, a hammer, a magic wand, a syringe, a whip, a light saber, lipstick, a cane, Cruella Deville’s cigarette, a plane, or something that’s never even been invented. Don’t assume you know what the child is pretending, or that they even want you to know, by interfering and giving their object a name. If you’re wrong (which you probably will be), you’ll pull them from the fantasy into reality and distract from the process.

Rule #6: Don’t set limits until limits need to be set.

The average two year old hears the word, “No” over seventy-five percent of the day. From their, it just continues with “don’t touch that”, “don’t put that there”, “don’t do that”, “stop that” and on and on. Play should be a time in the child’s day where rules don’t exist until there’s really a problem. A child shouldn’t pick up a doll, walk to the pretend kitchen and hear, “Remember not to dump the food all over the place and be sure you don’t get her wet this time”. I roll my eyes and shake my head at this parent. I just want to scream, “Why not?! Who the eff cares if the plastic doll gets wet?” Play should be freeing, unlimited, cathathartic…so only set limits when there’s danger or the possibility of irreversible damage to something.

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There are many more I won’t get into, but these are my favorite of the basics.

So, as a parent, what can we do? Let them play! Let them lead! Let them decide how objects are used, where they go, how they move, who gets to be what and say what. Let the child explore, imagine, be creative, be destructive, and be expressive. Respect play for what it is, don’t try to change it, and recognize it’s value in your child’s development metally, emotionally, socially, and even physically. Children need play free of adult interaction, intervention, and direction.

Stay gold,

That Girl

Character Development Begins in Infancy

We’ve all observed that parent; the one who appears to think their only purpose as a parent is to keep their child alive. This is the same person who thinks their spouse is a great catch because they don’t cheat on them or beat them and that they have a good job because they haven’t committed suicide by 5:00pm on Friday. I want more out of this gig and I want more for my children. I feel like my duty as a parent is to raise my boys into men of integrity, who live as leaders, and strive to be more like God each day. It’s a heavy undertaking to raise people of character in today’s society, but we, as good people, have an obligation to raise more good people. 

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So, how do we do this and when does it start?

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Yup, character development can start as early as infancy…neonates even. 

  1. First, protect your child’s eyes and ears. 

Studies show that infants repeat what they’ve seen and heard in their minds for up to 24 hours. It becomes part of their implicit memory, meaning it’s not a concious understanding; however, it still becomes a part of them. So, you may not think your newborn is paying attention or can understand what’s happening when you’re watching The Walking Dead during that late night feeding, but that violence and terror is getting engrained in their mind. Is there someone in your family that thinks it’s funny to make fun of your new baby’s big ears or crooked grin? This is being repeated in their mind over and over again. Think on that a while.

I do my best to be sure I’m surrounding my babies with positive talk, positive facial expressions, positive touch, and positive movement. Even at 4:30 am when they want to be up for the day, I greet them with a warm smile and tell them they’re loved.

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2. Watch for character traits and comment on them

Your child’s developing their personality more and more each day and their character and self-esteem are also developing at a rapid rate. They’re not just drooling, poooping, sleepy blobs. They’re observant, purposeful humans, seeking interaction and feedback.

When one of my boys wails loudly and it startles the other I notice he brings his hands together and takes deep breaths. I let him know I notice his strong coping skills and patience with others. Sometimes his bottom lip quivers because he feels his brother’s emotion and I comment on his empathy.

When they started rolling over and one day they could do it easily, but the next day they struggled, I acknowledged the effort and the ambition. “Today seems harder than yesterday, but I notice you’re not giving up. You have a goal and you’re working hard to achieve it”.

If we’re at the store and they start fussing in the checkout, I thank them happily for praticing patience with others and being understanding that I have other things to take care of at the moment, but I tell them they’re loved and I’ll hold them when I’m able.

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3. Read to them & discuss the stories

I skipped right over those lame baby books of shapes and colors and went straight to books with story lines. I read these books to my boys and discuss what’s being learned. I talk to them about Harold being a problem solver with his purple crayon, Jack’s disobedience of his mother when he sold the cow for beans, and we discuss Red Riding Hood’s naivety. This isn’t just to develop comprehension skills and vocabulary (which it does), but stories and fables are a great way to develop strong character.

4. Model for them

A wise parent knows that children learn more from what they see others do than what they are told to do so model for them how to behave. I once had a violent student in my kindergarten classroom and I asked the mother about home life so I could get a better understanding of the child’s needs. She said, “He’s never been exposed to any anger or violence at all. Not since his dad left. His dad used to throw tantrums and break everything around him, but that was all before he was two years old”. Too late! The child may have had some hereditary predisposition to violence; however, much of what he was doing could also have been learned behavior in his implicit memory from observing his dad as an infant. It’s important to be aware of how you interact with others in front of your new baby. Think about your mannerisms, your tone of voice…your actions will become their actions sooner or later.

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Babies are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. It used to be believed that infants couldn’t feel pain, but now that seems ludacris, right? Many people mistakenly think that what we say and do around babies, and to babies, doesn’t have an impact on them because they “don’t remember”, but current research says the opposite. They do remember! Everything becomes a part of them. Take advantage of these early years, this crucial period of development, where our children are sponges, and start gearing them towards a positive mindset and raising people of character.

Stay gold, 

Chelsea Vail

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How to Raise a Wuss

We’ve all met that kid. You know, the one who’s scared to try anything new, won’t talk to strangers, and punks out from challenges. You may have even dated the guy in college whose bark was way worse than his bite? Now that you’re a parent raising a son, perhaps you’d like to know how you too can raise your own sissy. Well, you’re in luck. As a Parenting Specialist and family counselor I’ve figured out the magic formula for raising a wuss…guaranteed!

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Step 1: Tell him he’s a wuss

This is probably the most common method I’ve seen used. Many parents mistakenly think that by calling their son a wuss, sissy, or pansy that he’ll grow up to be tough, but the opposite is true. By calling your son names like this, his self-esteem will plummet and he will likely grow up to be just those things. Even better? When he cries or “wusses out”, tell him he’s being a “vagina”, too. This way, not only will he grow up weak,  but he’ll also grow up disrespecting women and believing they’re an inferior gender.

Step 2: Show him how strong you are

Don’t allow your child to figure things out on their own, especially if they struggle with it because they’re not developmentally ready to master it yet. Be sure to show them how easy it is for you. They’ll likely start to admire you, think you are a superhero and believe there’s nothing you can’t do. This will foster more feelings of inferiority, create a lack of initiative, and scare them away from taking on things that might be challenging.

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Step 3: Make fun of people together

This one is a surefire way to raise a wuss. Make fun of people for things like their skin color, hair dos, clothing choices, and the way they walk or talk. This will teach your child that other people are probably making fun of them too, which will undoubtedly crush their confidence and cause them to be inhibited in public. Leave no one untouched! The weaker the person being picked on, the better the results for your own child.

Step 4: Never Follow-through

There’s several ways to pull this one off. You could try threatening things like spankings, grounding, or other punishments without ever having intentions of doing them. You could also make empty promises about things you’ll buy them, things you’ll do, or maybe trips you’ll take. This teaches your child that words don’t have meaning. They’ll grow up thinking they can say things they don’t mean, they can be dishonest if it makes things easier, and they may even become that guy at the bar that says “let’s take it outside” when everyone around him knows a fight will never happen. People love that guy, right?

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I have two sons. This has made me very sensitive to societal issues involving men. What defines a real man has gotten blurry and how we raise boys into men is even blurrier. I’ve observed the empty threats from angry parents, which is confusing for children and damages relationships. I’ve overheard, “But, dad, you said…”, too many times, and I’ve witnessed the belittling of the small child who cries because the dad wants to “toughen him up”. It’s heartbreaking because these things don’t create men, they create weinies. We’re raising generations of little boys to become men with no follow through, men whose words have no meaning, men who struggle with their identities, men who confuse masculinity with masoginism, and who make themselves feel superior by preying on the inferior. It’s up to us to make a change. 

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly Might Die: Get Over It

The Old Lady Who Swallows the Fly Might DIE. Get Over It.

I picked up a board book yesterday about the old lady who swallows the fly and began to sing it to my twin boys. I wasn’t paying much attention to the written print at first because I know the song by heart from my own childhood; however, a few pages in I realized that instead of the lyrics “perhaps she’ll die”, I read the words, “we’ll ask her why”. Huh? This is bullshit!

We can’t say the word “die” in a children’s song? If some crazy bitch decides to swallow an entire food chain of animals to chase after the tiny little fly she started with, that’s up to her. She’s the one who overreacted and created a monster problem out of a tiny incident. In fact, now that I think about it, that’s the whole point of the rhyme. She died because she overdramatized. Also, I don’t want to send the message to my kids that this is a chick you want to deal with. If you see an old lady swallowing a farm full of animals you run the other way. You do not walk up and ask her why. And, let’s not forget, she’s fiction! I hope my boys won’t lose sleep over the death of a fictional character in a silly song.

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This got me thinking, when did everything get so weeny-fied? The newest versions of Little Red Riding Hood have her escaping the wolf and being rescued by a hunter, but I remember her getting gobbled up whole because she made the stupid ass move of telling a big bad WOLF exactly where she was going and who she was going to meet. She needed a lesson about stranger danger and being eaten alive might do the trick. What’s next? I guess the third little pig invites the wolf in for a marathon viewing of Fixer Upper? Perhaps they share a bottle of vino and chat about Joanna’s unique ability to mix farmhouse chic with modern elements. I’m banning this crap!

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For my kids, Bambi’s mother got shot by hunters just like daddy leaving her orphaned. The cradle falls out of the tree and the baby plummets to the ground from irresponsible parenting, The old man who played knick knack on the kid’s knee is a probably a pedophile and you should stay far away from him. I’m not going to rewrite nursery rhymes or children’s songs out of fear that my kids can’t handle something dark, or try to protect my children from the realities of the world. We live in a scary place. I’m not doing them any favors by acting like nothing bad ever happens and raising them in a bubble of lemonade and gumdrops.

Sorry, boys, but the old lady who swallowed a fly, a spider, a cat, a dog, a goat, and a cow probably died. Serves her right.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Letters to my Sons

My whole life I said I wanted to be a mother. I traveled four years of the rockiest fertility road I couldv’e ever imagined and then on my birthday last year I conceived the two most beautiful baby boys in the world. Tomorrow marks my birthday, a day that now holds incredibly different value to me. It’s no longer the day of my birth; it’s the day I was given my sons.

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Dearest Cash,

You are such an old soul. From the moment we met I felt like you knew more about me than I did you. Even while you were in the NICU there was this peace about you like you knew you were safe, loved, and ok. In fact, when I look back on that I remember how stressed I was that I couldn’t be with you but everyone kept telling me, “Cash is ok, he’s happy”. And you were. We all started describing you as “chill”, but it’s more than that. You’re secure and trusting.

I’m falling in love with you more each day. Your bottom lip quivers with empathy when Cannon is upset or has tummy pain. I’ve noticed it quiver during sad songs too; which touches my heart. You feel so deeply and are so sensitive to the world around you. I hope that you use that quality to serve others and always demonstrate compassion and kindness. Each night I pray that when it comes time for you to love that you will be loved back and that the women you love will not break your heart (although I know it will happen a few times). That heart is one with mine now and I want to preserve it.

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You are a mamas boy and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the universe! You love holding onto my hair while you’re nursing. You clasp my fingers when I’m rocking you and you bury into my neck. Sometimes at night I think you’ve woken up just so you can have some alone time with me and when I pull you into bed next to me you snuggle so close that our skin melts together. I look down sometimes to check on you and every now and then you’re not even sleeping; you’re watching me too. Your bright blue eyes stare right back into mine.

I adore your smile! You waited to start smiling a bit longer than your brother and the smiles were reserved for me, dad, and grandma. It made me cherish each one that much more because it felt like each smile you gave me belonged to me and only me. I pray that smile shows people that Jesus lives in your heart and that you’ll always be a leader, never a follower.

The way you kick and march like a little monkey during playtime or bathtime makes my heart explode with laughter. You’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie, too. I’ve seen you laugh each time you catch air as you try to jump out of your baby tub. There’s so much energy and life inside you. I hope you’re always adventurous, thrill seeking, and approach challenges with gusto!

Love, Mom

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Dearest Cannon,

You are the epitome of the nickname “Cannonball”! Not only have you taken the shape of a ball with your stout, muscular frame (well, rolls of baby fat now, but I see potential), but you’re also a ball of energy, a ball of laughter, a ball of fun! I try so hard not to interact too much at night because I’d like you to go back to sleep, but even in the dark I can see your mouth opened wide into a big Cannonball smile. I hear you cooing over the white noise machine to get my attention and if I hear a giggle I’m a gonner. I immediately get suckered into kissing your sweet chubby cheeks and nibbling your neck.

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You found your voice early! Since it’s been on it’s never turned off. You have so much to say and so many feelings to express. Anyone and everyone gets to hear what’s on your mind and you are skilled at grabbing, and keeping, people’s attention. My hope for you is that you use your voice to spread the word since the name “Cannon” means “protector of the Word”. Use your voice to stand up for what’s right since your middle name, “Wright”, means “righter of wrongs”. Be the voice for those that don’t have one or are too scared to use it.

I love the way you look at your dad. It’s as if you know that you’re curious spirit will get you into some trouble down the road, but this is the guy that will always have your back (even after busting your backside from time to time). You look at him like he’s your protector, and he is. He and I both will love you no matter what ind of pickle you get yourself into.

When you put your chunky cheek against your shoulder and peer up at me with those baby blues I just know you have the potential to be a heartbreaker, but I hope you’ll always treat women with respect. I hope you’ll be a gentlemen and you’ll use your charm to set an example for other boys around you on how to win a girl’s affection by being chivalrous and trustworthy.

You can be so silly sometimes. I look forward to seeing how far your sense of humor and confidence takes you in this world. I hope you never shy from a challenge and approach each new day with zest and excitement. Always take advantage of opportunities and never back down from something that scares you. I see so much bravery and gumption in you.

Cannon, take life like a bull by the horns and show us what you got!

Love, Mom

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Dear heavenly father, please continue to hold both my boys in your hands as you have and keep them safe from harm. I pray that any hurt they do experience only makes them stronger, kinder, and more brave. I pray that you will live inside their hearts and shine through them. Give me patience as a mother Lord and give me the words and actions I need to raise them to be men of character, men of integrity, and most importantly, men of faith. I pray they will be leaders in school, leaders in church, leaders among their peers, and leaders for each other. Protect the women they will marry, Lord, and ready them to give and receive love from my boys when the time is right. I pray all these things in your son’s name, amen.