Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care, and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child with sensory processing disorder. Have fun!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Water wars

The Good Doctor and I were trying to come up with a good plan for family night. Since it was so hot outside and since I keep the house at a comfortable too-hot and since the kids were so helpful at cleaning the house for company, we were making a list of friends with pools and ranking them in order of least likely to get upset if we show up to cool off. Then, it happened. The Good Doctor got a massive brainstorm. He decided it'd be fun to line the kids up and douse them with water, thereby starting an evening of water fights.

Oh, great idea, Dear. Way to be pacifistic, and set a good example for your kids, and all of those things.

Okay, why not?

But then I decided that it'd be much more fun to get the expressions on film so we staged a family photo. Well, kind of a family photo; a family photo with only five kids. I just told them we needed pictures for an adoption portfolio. What child of mine wouldn't believe that story? Obediently, they lined up to have a picture taken of their feet. Yes, their feet. To show diversity, we said.

Then after we had them sufficiently relaxed, I told them they could look at the camera for a few full body shots. Notice The Good Doctor in the background.

Oops. I think the wrong end of the line got the force of that blast. At this point I should probably admit that I had clued Andrew in to what was happening. As the only older sibling home this night, I knew his reaction would set the tone for everyone else. I also know him well enough to know that surprises aren't really a good thing. So he's just enjoying himself as the whole scene unfolds.

Just look at all those faces; each one telling exactly what that child was thinking. Yes, even The Good Doctor's face tells us what he was thinking.

Do you think HopeAnne might be a tad upset? Shoun, on the other hand, is sheer joy while Isaac's mind is still computing what just happened. Andrew is enjoying himself way too much.

Here's where The Good Doctor decides to make a run for it while Shoun's brain is shouting, "Get him!" Hope is going home to tell her mommy.

Shoun is ready to bolt while Hope is really mad now.

Shoun is saying, "Get him, get him, get him...." while Andrew is thinking, "You don't have any water yet, Kid! What are you going to get him with?"

Hope is definitely gone and so are the 11 year olds.

Great show, Mom. Thanks.

Sorry, no more photos after that. I had to put the camera in a safer location; it was inevitable that someone was going to turn on me sooner or later. And great fun was had by all.

Well, not so much by HopeAnne, until we were all finished, cleaned up, and hopped in the hot tub. She liked that part.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Crying or brave?

Yesterday was about screen time at home. Today it's about screen time on the big screen.

Admittedly, I have limited experience in the ways of the big screen. My family didn't go to movies. My first experience at a movie theatre was some move about Raggedy Ann and Andy and it was my great aunt who tried to widen my horizons. She quickly regretted that decision as a scene with a whirlpool of chocolate (at least this is what I remember) frightened me so badly that I just cried through the whole movie. A few years later she took me to see Bambi and anyone who knows me knows that the death of an animal is going to create only one emotion in me, and that emotion produces tears. A lot of tears. She said she was never going to take me to another movie. But a few years after that she did try again, only she wasn't very smart and she didn't catch on very quickly. The movie she chose was Benji. A movie about a dog who gets dog-napped and drugged? Yeah, you guessed it, I cried. A lot. That was the end of Auntie Frances' attempts to bring me into the big world of media.

My movie-going days took a big hit and it was years before I again found myself in a theater.

As a college education major, I was placed in a second grade classroom for a short field experience. During our time there, we were to survey the children on a particular topic and then to research that topic. I chose movie violence and the viewing experience of second graders. I was appalled. Remember, this was in the 80s but even at that time, a large percentage of the children had already seen PG-13 movies, and a few had watched R rated movies. Halloween and horror movies were listed as favorites by more than one child; movies that as an adult I wouldn't watch. And this wasn't a city school. It was a small community with a fairly large Christian population. In fact, the public school held an optional Bible class before school each day.

So my poor children (the ones who think I am mean, unreasonable, and archaic) also have to deal with a hyper-vigilant anti-big screen mother. Actually, that's an incorrect statement. I'm not against movie watching, I'm just against indiscriminate movie watching. Any movie they want to see has to first be researched by moi, mostly on pluggedinonline.com. The older ones have figured out that unless they can say they have read the review on this website, they shouldn't even bother to ask if they can see a certain movie. That college research told me more than I ever wanted to know about early screen experiences and desensitization. It makes me heartbroken to know that so many Christian families have no screening process (pun intended) before viewing. It is our job to protect our children when necessary, to teach our children to be discerning always, and to shelter them from that which they are not ready. When they are ready, then we need to be willing to discuss with them the discernment process and the further evaluation of what they have seen.

Why do I prefer an online source like Plugged In over reviews by friends? Because we all draw the line in different places. Our children are all different. Some are more sensitive than others. Some or more susceptible to repeating behaviors that they see. Some cry at every movie, like me. I need a review like I find on Plugged In to tell me everything so that I can make an informed decision. Some of what I read in a review makes me laugh. Concern over a cartoon chipmunk in a bikini? Really? At least I know it's thorough! Why don't I just watch the movie myself first? I cry at every movie, remember? And can't stand to watch a movie more than once (except for Titanic or The Help or similar movies).

The recent hype over the movie Brave had me curious. I know that everyone is going to be seeing it. The question is bound to come up at my house. I'm glad others have done the work for me. Armed with two reviews found here and here, I have my informed decision. Do you have yours?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Screen time

Dear Laura Sybil,

How does your family monitor TV, movies, computer games, video games, etc., etc., etc.? Whenever I try to put a limit on it, my little kids say I'm mean and my tweens say I'm unreasonable. Am I?

Mean and Unreasonable Mom

Dear Mean and Unreasonable Mom,

Never fear! You're in good company; I'm a mean and unreasonable Mom, too. Mean and Unreasonable Moms Unite! We could start a new group and call it MUMU. What do you think?

But seriously, you bring up a good point and a question that is asked a lot. One of my favorite screen time stories is when I was carpooling two teens around. Not my own children, these children had their own cell phones, with texting. The teen in the front seat was texting with the teen in the back while the rest of us had a conversation around them.

At our house, we call it screen time and it includes all of the screens you mentioned in your letter. Here's my mantra on this issue: Screen time is a privilege, not a right. If I had a quarter for every time I have said that, I could treat myself to Bruster's ice cream more often.

Around here, the children can earn 30 minutes of screen time per day by completing all daily jobs including instrumental practice, schoolwork, and chores. Jobs not finished? No screen time. Of course schoolwork on the computer is not included in the 30 minutes. Exceptions would be long trips where longer screen time keeps the adults sane and special movie viewings with all or part of the family.

By the time the child is in high school, more freedom is given to monitor his or her own screen time. But we have certain safeguards in place. We have a block on our computer so certain websites, and types of websites, cannot be viewed. The computers don't come on before a certain hour in the morning and they go off by a certain time in the evening. I cannot stress how important blocks are. Don't wait until it's too late.

It's not a perfect system but it works for us. You don't have to implement the same rules and system, but you do need to have something in place. I really like the rules I found on the iMOM website under 5 Screentime Rules You Must Have and not just because my personal mantra is top on the list. And not even because we follow all of these rules even though we didn't know we were using them. Mostly I just like them because they make sense. If they also make you mean and unreasonable, so be it. You aren't the first mean and unreasonable mom and you won't be the last. But you'll likely be thanked. Someday. In the far, far, far future.


Laura Sybil, Mean Mom Extraordinaire

P.S. Your invitation to join MUMU will be sent in a separate email

P.P.S. It has been brought to my attention that I am not only mean and unreasonable but also archaic seeing as we have only basic cable, our kids don't have their own cell phones, and the one phone that they all share (to be used only for a child needing to be picked up or to contact parents for some reason) does not have texting. I guess that makes us AMUMU (Archaic Mean and Unreasonable Mothers Unite!). And proud of it!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Make 'em smile

Dr. Gary Collins, in his book Breathless: Transform Your Time-Starved Days Into a Life Well Lived, says this about his research on the state of the family, "The families that were strong were not focused on themselves. Of course, they tried to do things together, and the members of healthy families didn't ignore or snub each other. But they learned to work together, to give to one another, to express appreciation, and to reach out to others. The children in these families were learning about good character by seeing it demonstrated, especially in their parents, and by being part of efforts to put character into action. When the kids from these families get into hectic work environments in years to come, they are likely to handle the pressures better because, at the core of their lives, they are guided more by their character than by their clocks."

The mom's group that I recently led, was surprised to find Crazy Love by Francis Chan on the list of suggested reading. Several mentioned that it wasn't the type of book they expected to see on a parenting book list. But I believe it is, and an important one at that. If not Crazy Love, then Radical by David Platt or The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns or even Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. Why? Because each of these books teaches us to look beyond ourselves and to live radically for Christ. In giving of ourselves completely to Christ, we will want to become more like Him. In becoming more like Him, we will find ourselves loving our neighbor and wanting to serve others with a passion we've never had before.

When we give King's Strings concerts, we share stories of how God is using us to serve others, at home, at work, at school, and in the community. We want to make it clear that you don't have to have seven children, or feel called to adopt, or play stringed instruments to serve Christ; but you do need to use whatever passions, talents and gifts God has given to you. You know those areas in which you've struggled through the years? God can use those hurts in your life to help others. And if you have been given a family, then God has uniquely placed each person in your family to bring your gifts together to serve Him in ways that someone else can't.

People always tell us that it's so wonderful that our family can share the gift of music. Yes, it is and I often respond with, "They say that the family that prays together, stays together. I like to say that the family that prays and plays together, stays together." We are all different, yet God has brought us together with something we can share - a passion to see others become fully alive in Him, and something we can use - a talent we can put into His service. Our website says that we are "a family of musicians that enjoys putting smiles on the faces of its listeners." That goal brings us together and keeps us together.

It has become apparent to me that this is so important for families; that each member finds his or her gifts and uses them to serve God and others and that each family finds its place for service as well. Let me reiterate what I said earlier: You don't need to play instruments or adopt or serve God. In fact, if your goal is to look like the King family, you're on the wrong track. Your goal is to figure out how you can work together to serve God. I know a family that volunteers together with Meals on Wheels, another that travels together on a missions trip every other year, and another that works together to babysit young children so other parents can have a break.

If it seems too overwhelming or if you have no idea where to start, then think small. What could we do together today? I ask (okay, force) the children to write an encouraging letter to someone once a month. Sometimes we sit at the dining room table and all do this at the same time. I put paper and craft supplies on the table so everyone can create and write together. Today we made Sunshine Care Packages (yes, these really can be shipped through the mail) for two of our friends out of state. We wrote letters to each person and then filled each soda bottle with yellow treats. One's on its way to New York, the other to Alaska, sending a little Pennsylvania sunshine their way.

I'm pretty certain it will bring a smile to each recipient when it arrives and hopefully will encourage each one as she faces another day. And the postal workers always get a kick out of our soda bottle packages, too.

What can you do today to make someone smile? What will your family be doing together, to bring joy to the people around you?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I blew it

Last night I blew it. I made a mommy mistake.

I used to fool myself into thinking that I was the worst one out there; that other moms were patient, peaceful, and spoke softly all the time. But I know that isn't true. I can't compare my worst private self to someone else's best public self. Our "blew its" might not all look the same, but the moms around me are just as human as I am.

So I decided it's best to focus on what happens after I blow it and not dwell in self-pity and self-loathing.

After the kids were in bed, feeling like I needed a reminder of who each child is in Christ and why I love each one so much, I pulled out seven index cards and started writing. I put each child's name on a card, decorated each one appropriate for the child, and wrote words and phrases to describe each one, focusing more on character qualities rather than what they do.

When I was finished, each card was covered in words, and I was filled with joy and peace, ready to face everyone in the morning.

Yes, repentance and forgiveness work needed to be done with God and there will be more of that when the kids wake up. But I was able to sleep with the peace of God, knowing I am doing the best I can with a frail human body and a big, powerful God. And looking forward to a new day with my great clan!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Not done yet

I had the privilege of teaching at the same elementary school I attended as a child. Okay, so I didn't consider it a privilege at first. I had left the area saying I was never coming back to my old haunts. But then I graduated from college at a time when teaching jobs were hard to come by. The Good Doctor applied to graduate schools up and down eastern Pennsylvania and into the central portion of the state. We didn't know where he'd end up or where I'd find a job, both of which would dictate where we decided to live.

So I applied to hundreds of schools which wasn't as easy as it would be now. What now takes just one quick internet search, took hours of pouring over school district information - on paper! God and I had a little conversation where I reviewed our situation and reminded Him that I needed a job. Not only did I need one but (even though I never mentioned this in my interviews) I just wanted to teach so badly that I would have done it for free. Except that I really couldn't do it for free because then the Good Doctor couldn't go to grad school and then we wouldn't be here, would we? But I loved teaching that much. Back to the conversation. I told God that since jobs were so scarce, I would gladly accept the first position offered to me. And since my degree was in both elementary and special education, and since there were more special education jobs than elementary, I figured that's the job I would get. Which was fine with me because that's what I really, really thought I wanted to do.

But then the first call came. While I was on my honeymoon, no less! They wanted an interview. Then they wanted to offer me a job. And it was for that school I had attended, saying I was never to return again. Gulp. Never say never. And it wasn't even for special education. Plain old regular education. But it was for first grade. Teaching a child to read or in those early steps of reading? That's special education. And since they knew that was my first love, and because I came with that extra degree, I got most of the "special" students in my classroom anyway. Too many for the front row and corners of my room. But I was happy.

The job also came with the opportunity to teach with men and women who had been my teachers back in the day. There was my sixth grade teacher, now a reading specialist. And my fourth grade teacher, now (guess what?), teaching first grade in the room next to mine. And she had been one of my favorite teachers; one of the people who inspired me to become a teacher in the first place. I highly valued our time teaching together. She is still in the classroom, still blessing numerous first graders every year.

One of her phrases has stuck with me and I use it on my family a lot. First graders are famous for rushing through an assignment and raising a hand to quickly shout, "Mrs. King, I'm done!" Mrs. Miller's famous response was always, "You're not done til you're dead." I don't know if any of those first graders have remembered that phrase through the years, but I have.

It is so true.

I think of my grandfather who said yes to performing our wedding ceremony, even though he knew his cancer was back and he didn't know what would happen in the eighteen months between our question and the actual ceremony. And he did, with a little help up the steps from my brother. It was the last wedding he performed.

I think of both of my grandmothers who used their hands to serve others. One grandmother's hands are now at rest; she is finally done. The other just turned 91 and isn't stopping yet.

I think of my Dad who isn't spending his retirement taking exotic vacations. Instead, he's gone to Haiti to rebuild after the earthquake, and to Alaska to volunteer at a Bible camp. He and my mom spend their weekdays volunteering here, there and everywhere. A spinal cord injury a few years back may have changed his retirement plans, but not all that much.

And countless others. That's who I want to be. Not done til I'm dead.

Michael Hyatt must have been thinking the same way today. Read his blog post here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Summertime chores

Dear Laura Sybil,

I'm working on a summer chore chart for my kids and I'm stuck. I think I remember seeing something like this at your place one time. Can you help me out?

Help! The Kids are Home

Dear Help! The Kids are Home,

Hmmm... I'm not sure it was my house at which you saw a chore chart. I don't think I've used such an item, at least not in recent years. You may have seen a list on the refrigerator. This list clearly stated what tasks would need to be completed in a day before a child could go outside, play with neighbors, or use his/her thirty minutes of screen time. Tasks not completed? Then your activity options are pretty limited. That seemed to do the trick.

So, what's on my list, you ask? Well, remember, I'm a mean mom. The kind who used to be a teacher and knows that all kids lose skills in the summer so she keeps 'em busy. (Disclaimer: Copy only if you want to be a mean mom, too) If you are a child reading this blog, you probably don't want your mom reading it. Here it is:

Brush teeth
Make bed
Clean room
Daily chores (different for each child)
Empty bin (each child has a bin in the laundry room and needs to check it daily for clean laundry to be put away)
30 minutes independent reading
Summer project - 3 or more times/week (each child chooses a summer project, with guidance, something of interest to the child so it will keep them learning without them knowing it)
Math assignment - 3 or more times/week

This year I did choose to add a little twist so I made BINGO boards for their independent reading, summer project, and math assignments. Each board is specifically designed for the individual child and his/her educational level and needs. I initially found the idea here at How Does She, a blog with great printables and ideas. I then tweaked it to meet our needs.

After finishing a row and winning "Bingo," the child can choose from a select list of items including having Mom do your chores for the day, or using 15 extra minutes of screen time. Finishing the whole board can get you 1 extra hour of screen time or lunch with a parent at McDonalds.

So far, so good. But, dear friend, remember that the key is not to do exactly what I'm doing, but to find what works for you and for your child. Creativity is the key.

Oh, and have a great summer!

Laura Sybil

Facebook official

Dear Laura Sybil,

I just love reading your blog. Thank you for helping me feel normal as a mother. On most days, reading your blog actually makes me feel better than normal. I wish you would write everyday so that I could have a little inspiration on a daily basis. I know it takes time to write and I'm sure time is at a premium at your house but I think I have a solution for you. What if you were on Facebook and you just tried to write a sentence a day, or even just provided a link to someone else's advice for parents? Or maybe posted a funny quote from your kids? It sure would boost my confidence.

Just a Suggestion But Please Give it Serious Consideration

Dear Just a Suggestion But Please Give it Serious Consideration,

Well, I'm not sure if I should be flattered or upset.

If you enjoy reading my blog so much then I assume you know that I have an allergy to Facebook. It appears as if I am able to use my husband's Facebook account without adverse personal effect but I don't think I'm able to have my own account.

I'm also deathly allergic to people becoming my friend on Facebook. In particular I'm referring to those folks I knew in my high school years. They weren't my friend back then and I certainly don't want to be Facebook friendly today. It was bad enough when they started calling me during the high school alumni phone-a-thon asking me to support bullying and confidence busting with my hard-earned dollars. When I answered the phone that day and heard the overly-friendly and gushing voice on the other end I was certain it was a long lost friend. Until she told me her name. Seriously? Have you forgotten that I'm lower than low on your totem pole of worthiness? Why would you even bother pretending that you want to speak to me? Just because you want to win some gift certificate for collecting the most alumni money? No thank you. I solved that problem in subsequent years by writing the phone-a-thon week on my calendar and banning all family members from answering the phone that week. Until the invention of caller ID (the research of which I was secretly funding so that my problem could be solved) at which time we only had to avoid certain phone numbers. And then, of course, I moved away and never sent my forwarding address or number. Interestingly, the Good Doctor was later a guidance counselor at this same beloved institution. They have his address; if they were really interested in finding out what I made of my life, they could always put two and two together. But then again my best friend teaches in their elementary school yet they have her listed as lost alumni. I guess you put your time and money into that which you really care about.

But boy do I digress! Of course another reason I am not on Facebook is because it is much more fun to hack into the Good Doctor's account and to confuse both him and his readers. The kids and I love to hear someone comment on the Good Doctor's "hilarious post" only to chuckle to ourselves knowing full well that the Good Doctor does not post funny comments. For those who are friends with him on Facebook, I'm going to tell you this one more time: If the post is funny, I wrote it. If it's about me, he wrote it. However, I have received his express written consent to continue to hack into his account even if I do open my own account.

So, be sure to mark this momentous day on your calendars as I'm sure we will be celebrating it every year hereafter and it will someday become a national holiday. I, Laura Sybil King, am now on Facebook. Friend away, Friends.

Laura Sybil King

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Andrew's matchmaker

Being seventeen, with a little sister 10 years or more your junior, can prove to be quite embarrassing yet entertaining at the same time.

Andrew's date recently joined us at the beach. Eden showed Maggie how to catch sand crabs and was thrilled when Maggie caught her first one. She then leaned over to Andrew and whispered, "That's why I want you to marry Maggie."

Later, we were all sitting around talking when Eden realized she was the center of attention. She took the opportunity to tell Maggie that she should name her son Andrew the Second. This led to a very interesting conversation with Eden center stage.

She was asked what she would name her children. She answered this by instead telling us that she knows who she is going to marry. She said it has to be someone with dark skin because she wants twins; one white and one black. She told us that she is friends with a certain young man on Webkins and that this is the person she has in mind to marry. "Oh, so it's Webkins official, then?" we asked. I don't think she understood the question but she explained that she does give him gifts through Webkins.

Andrew explained to Eden that he was given a gift certificate to enjoy ice cream with his date and a "third wheel." We explained to her what a third wheel was and asked her why she thought a third party would be necessary on a date. Without batting an eye she explained to us less informed folks that it was so the dating couple could get used to having kids. Andrew told her that he was already used to having kids around. She said that he could get better at it.

She then informed us that after people get married they go on a honeymoon. We asked her what they do on a honeymoon. She didn't even have to think about her answer. "They get ice cream." Of course.

Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I know that I got ice cream on my honeymoon!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Kite flyin' Hopie

The Good Doctor called HopeAnne on the phone this morning to invite her to lunch. It is, after all, her birthday, and she's been excited all day.

The Good Doctor: Hi, Hope. How are you?
Me (in the background): Tell him you're higher than a kite.
HopeAnne: I'm flying a kite.
Me (in the background): No, tell him you're higher than a kite.
HopeAnne: What?

Well, he managed to invite her to McDonald's, anyway. And the manager heard that it was Hope's birthday and sent her home with three Happy Meals toys and a McFlurry Sundae full of anything she wanted.

As if she wasn't already higher than a kite. For of course there was the donut with candles for breakfast.

And some taste-y cookie pops from our friends, Andrew and Melissa (thanks, Guys!). And a visit from a very special cousin. (No, Molly didn't wind her up at all)

And of course she was allowed to choose her dinner and dessert. Pizza Monkey Bread was the meal du jour and a Hello Kitty cake sent her to bed wound up higher than she was before.

Time for some Melatonin and bed. We love you, HopeAnne!