Category Archives: Adventures in Parenting

In praise of simple toys

If you know what this is, you probably have a child between ages seven and twelve.


And if you don’t: It’s a kendama, and it’s currently the toy of the moment at my sons’ school.  At morning dropoff the other day, I noticed no less than five kids playing with one as they waited for the morning bell.

For the uninitiated, it’s a game where you try to swing the string in order to make the ball land on the wooden bowl on the side.  That’s the most basic step; once you master that, you can move onto really hard moves, like getting it to land on the spike on the top, or doing a series of intricate maneuvers (side, spike, side, etc.) without once messing up.

I stink at this, maybe because I’ve always been about as gifted at coordination as I am  at understanding particle physics.  But my boys adore the kendama, as do their friends both male and female.  And they’re not the only ones.

“I love that this toy is so low-tech,” another mom told me recently, a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by other parents.  In our digital/plugged-in/constantly wired age, how refreshing is it to see something so darn simple in our kids’ hands for a change?  (Very refreshing.)

I would suspect that part of its appeal for kids is how tactile it is (yes, I’m all about the senses these days).  You can only get so much joy from swiping a screen or hitting a keyboard, but when you are holding a wooden handle and feeling the tension and release of the string and the victorious vibrating thunk of the wooden ball finally landing on the spike, you get a kind of concentrated sensory feedback that many toys don’t provide.

Similar sentiments crossed my mind a few years ago, when we were helping my in-laws clean out their basement and found a jar of marbles.  How old these marbles are  we can’t begin to guess; it’s highly possible that my mother-in-law and her brothers played with them in the thirties and forties.


My boys glommed onto them immediately, and who can blame them?  They are so beautiful, with those vivid swirls of color, and they are so cool and smooth to the touch.  We figured out how to play, and Matthew and I had some fierce games last summer, and it was so nice to play with something so simple and real, hearing the emphatic click as one knocked another out of the circle.  They make such a satisfying squidgy sound when you hold a bunch of them in your palm and rub them against each other; it’s almost the sound snow makes when you crunch it down with your feet.  It’s great that a toy so simple has such complex and positive rewards.

What about you? Are you (or your kids) partial to simple toys?  Which are your favorites?


Mary: A mom who had to let go

Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea by James Tissot

When I was a junior in college, I studied in Paris for a semester.  As I boarded that plane at San Francisco International Airport, hauling my comically overstuffed Samsonite, I was nervous and excited and totally ready to immerse myself in a foreign culture.  And I had a fabulous time … so fabulous, in fact, that I resolved to go back and live there again someday.

About a year later, I did.   After graduating from college, I found a position teaching English in a  Parisian suburb, used my junior year connections to find a reasonable studio apartment, and embarked for nine more dirt-poor but unforgettable months in the City of Lights.

It’s only now, years later, that I fully understand what my mom had to go through while I was gone.

She hid her worry pretty well, all considered.  But looking back now, I can understand the anxiety that must have been there, especially that first trip. After all, I was going off to a foreign country I’d never seen before, living in a big city with a host family none of us had ever met.  There were the differences in language, culture, and social norms to navigate.   There was the very real chance that I might meet some dreamy European male who would sweep me off my feet and inspire me to take up  permanent residence in the other hemisphere.  And my two stays in Paris happened before the advent of email and cellphones made the world shrink in size.  There were many, many  times that I was out with friends on the town, or on a train to Germany or Italy, and there was absolutely no way for my parents to contact me unless I called them first.

I’m sure all of this was going through my mom’s mind before I ever boarded that Northwestern plane on that January evening.  But she hid her fears well, because she knew how desperately I wanted to go.  She knew how much I’d been aching to see the world, and  that I’d never be entirely at peace until I let the waters of a totally different culture close over my head for a while.  That’s what moms do: we let our kids go chase their dreams, even though it costs us a heckuva lot to see them leave.

And Mary did this too.  She let Jesus go off and preach and teach and fufill his own potential, doing what he was born to do.  I believe that Mary was a woman of great faith, but let’s not forget that she was also a mom, and I suspect that she worried pretty ferociously about her baby.  After all, he wasn’t off talking about puppy dogs and rainbows and safe, nonthreatening things; he was challenging the system, pointing out hypocrisy and pettiness, which is an excellent way to make people want to shut you up for good.  She must have known that he was getting on the wrong side of very powerful people who could cause very powerful trouble.  But she also knew that this was his calling, that it was what he was born to do.  She couldn’t keep him from it.  All she could do was love him, hope for the best, and pray like mad that he’d be safe.

That’s what my mom did, twice.  It’s what I’ll likely find myself doing someday, if my boys have inherited even an iota of my wanderlust.  And as we let our kids go off and pursue the lives they are dying to live, we can rest assured that we are in good company.  In this — as in so many things — Mary was there before us, showing us how it’s done and loving us as we do it.

If this post sounds familiar, it’s because it’s one that I wrote four years ago.  School has been crazily busy lately, too busy to write anything new, so I decided to rerun an old favorite.  And hey — it’s May!  What better time to honor Mary? 

NOW the family is complete

Years ago, Scott gave me this sweet figurine for Mother’s Day.  I love it.  A mom and two kids: Perfect for me.


Just the other day, I found my older son staring at it.   “Mom,” he said after a moment, “is this you and me and Luke?”

“Sure is,” I said.

He pointed to the mom and each of the two kids in turn, saying, “This is you, and the big one is me, and the little one is Luke.”

“Yup,” I said.

“But where’s Daddy?”

“Daddy’s not in it.”

He looked around the room  and picked up a toy, placing it next to the trio of loving family members.  “This is Daddy,” he said happily.

Well, come to think of it, Daddy DOES have a son named Luke ….

The word I needed to hear

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Two days ago, about five o’clock, I was sitting at the table helping my kindergartener with the first item on his homework list. Specifically, I was telling him to brainstorm things around the house that start with the letter “L.”

“Luke,” he said immediately.

“Good one,” I said.


“Yes, we have a lot of those around the house, don’t we?” (Many of them, in fact, were scattered around the table at which we sat — only one small part of the clutter chez Moyer these days.)

I have to admit, I didn’t really want to be there supervising homework.  I was in that Weekday-Between-Four-and-Six P.M. Mood, that mood that comes on me after a long day of teaching and grading when I’ve just gotten home with the boys and the breakfast dishes are still in the sink and the dishwasher needs to be emptied before I can even start making dinner, which I should have started a half-hour ago.  I can best describe it thus: After giving to my students all day, I realize I have several more hours of giving to do before the kids go to bed, and I start to wonder whether I’m actually up to the task.

But I dug deep and kept going.  L words, things you find in our house.   “Legs,”  I said.   “There are six legs here in the house at the moment, if you count yours and mine and Matthew’s.”  Okay, I told myself, we’ve got Luke, Legos, legs.  That’s got to be enough.

Luke’s  face suddenly  lit up as he thought of one more word.  “Love,” he said.

Sometimes, your kids say just what you need to hear.

Backing off so things can bloom


Last summer, I planted this fuschia in a pot in the yard.  I kept watering it and plying it with Miracle-Gro, and it … barely grew.  I hardly got a bud all summer.

Then, over fall and winter, I basically ignored it.  (Primroses excepted, I ignored the yard in general, as the weeds will bear witness.)  But last week, I happened to go out on the patio and there was the fuschia: twice as tall as it used to be, twice as wide, and blooming with beautiful bell-like flowers.

I think there must be a message here somehow, one that applies to parenting as well as gardening: Too much attention can backfire, sometimes.  Maybe sometimes things need to be left to their own devices, to grow and bloom quietly, nourished by rain and sun and other things from above.

Is there anything in your life that you should step away from for a while?