Book review: Can pirates be farmers?

“When you plant love, it grows.”

-Pirates on the Farm

Synopsis:

I bought this quirky little title, Pirates on the Farm, on a whim at a children’s consignment shop and gave it to Mon Cœur for Christmas. It was pretty unassuming and I wasn’t really sure what the story would be about, other than the obvious.

The story is interesting, providing many opportunities for discussion, and the illustrations are delightfully playful.

The story unfolds as a little girl explains how the pirates came to be their neighbors, and as they do certain very piratey things (like looting), how different people in the community react.

Her younger brother is an admirer – he loves everything pirate. He has found an eye patch and starts calling his sister “Matey.”

Her mother is beside herself with shock, and does everything she can to try to remove them from the neighborhood. She meets with the Sheriff, then bands together with the women of the church to try to kick them out of the community.

But the dad, he’s a gracious guest of the pirates, a helping hand, and a friend to his new neighbors. As the pirates navigate their new life on land, the dad helps to make repairs to their barn/ship, he sits with them at church, even though they don’t sing the correct words, and they steal from the offering plate, and he sits down to dinner and eats (by any non-pirate standards) an unappealing meal and asks for seconds.

Windows

This book allowed us to see some of the many tasks a farmer has – planting, watering, harvesting, milking, shearing, and even branding. These tasks are hilariously illustrated with the pirates’ faux pas – prancing through the cornfield, swinging their swords to harvest corn? Dumping whole bags of seeds in one very large, and very deep hole?

It allowed us to see how various people can react differently to the same situation: with enthusiasm, with shock and dismay, with just the facts, and with encouragement and without judgement. What a spectrum of reactions!

This reminds me of the quote that we have no control over other peoples actions, all we can do is control our own. And how one reacts to a situation can be just as powerful to determining the outcome of an event. We always have the power to change things for better or worse. I’ve learned this the hard way, and still stumble more often than I wish, when patience is waning and emotions are high.

We all have our own prejudgements of what pirates are supposed to be and do, and so some of the things they do in the book are no surprise – stealing, eating hardtack, and sword fighting.

And then there are moments that show them in a completely unexpected and even endearing light – singing in church, bringing gifts to a dinner party, and “saving” baby Jesus from the manger, because they didn’t “understand why anyone would put a baby in a trough.”


This is a new favorite of MC’s and we read it pretty much every evening before bed. The illustrations are funny, and it’s a quick, lighthearted read that you can dive deep into and discuss as much as you want.

Questions that kept the conversation going well after turning the last page:

What does it mean to be a neighbor?

Are we planting love? (On specific occasions when we need to step back, look at what we did, and retry)

How could we react differently to — ?

Can we look for and appreciate unexpected actions from others?

Pirates on the Farm written by Dennette Fretz and illustrated by Gene Barretta

Processing curiosity and grief with my child

“As grieving moms we want to …[make] a memorial, and [start] an organization, and [write] a book…It’s okay if you don’t do that.”

-Ashlee Proffitt, podcast episode 144

Yes.

We have been memorializing Millie through the garden, although I have found in the time that has followed our loss, my real priority and purpose is to take care of Mon Cœur, and now Mon Amour.

Ashlee’s most recent podcast featuring Michele Benyo, founder of Good Grief Parenting, was very timely.

“Childhood is the best time to learn about grief.”

Michele explains that childhood is the best time to learn about grief. Teachable moments include learning about life and death with flowers, pets, and people. Understanding and facing these losses helps build the coping framework.


Mon Cœur has built a strong framework for coping, and at four and a half shares candidly her curiosity about death and loved ones we’ve lost. She says things that sometimes even catch me off guard.

This morning she asked to light a candle for Millie.

“Can I sing her happy birthday?”

“It’s not her birthday, baby.”

“Ugh – I thought it was her birthday. I want to sing it.”

“Okay, you can still sing her happy birthday.”

She sang loudly, so Millie could hear her.

“Can Millie sing, too?”

“I bet she can. We just can’t hear her.”

“How old is she? Does she get bigger?”

“Golly, you have some good questions. I am not sure how that works. I don’t know if people get older in Heaven or if they stay the same age.”

“I think they get older. Like old people get older.” Pause. “I want to … be with Millie. I miss her.”

Pause. Deep breath. Exhale. “Come sit on my lap.” Another deep breath. “You miss her, huh? I do, too. The problem is, if you go to Heaven to be with her, you will leave Daddy, and Mon Amour, and me, and Mooma, and Sissy and all of our family and friends. And then you’d miss us right? It doesn’t matter where we are, we will always be missing someone who isn’t with us. You have important work to do here on Earth before you go to Heaven to be with Millie.”

“Okay.”

These conversations sometimes knock the wind right out of me. How do I validate her loss and grief? What’s the right answer to her questions? Am I saying the right thing? Am I talking too much?

“They are grieving whether you see it or not.“

Michele mentions kids process through play. Give them opportunities to talk about it. Kids need opportunities to talk, and even if they don’t have anything to say at the moment, knowing that it is okay to talk about death, feelings of grief, and remembering loved ones out loud, then it will lay the groundwork for them to speak up when they are ready.


We talk all the time about Millie. We still pray for her every night during prayers.

This past Christmas, we hung a stocking for her.

We were just looking at MC’s baptism pictures, and I was naming everyone in the picture and I pointed to my belly and told them, “And that’s your sister, Millie.”

This afternoon MC asked about her eye color. “You have blue eyes like your Daddy.”

“What color were Millie’s eyes?”

“That’s a really good question- one I often wonder about too. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” (Complete with incredulous tone of a four and a half year old)

“No I don’t. Millie’s eyes never opened.”

Time has allowed me to accept what is. These questions, while they will always be difficult, are easier now for me to confront.

This may sound crazy, I feel blessed to be living in a time when it is acceptable to share our feelings around such traumas. The resources that have been available for me as we navigate our grief- and its ebbs and flows as we grow as a family- has been so valuable.

Ashlee’s podcast episode spoke to me, validated how I am navigating communicating with MC, and gave me some points to ponder.

One point that really gave me pause to consider is: the parent grieves her loss and is also walking this path and grieving through her living child’s feelings of loss.

In this moment, MC is feeling a true curiosity and grief in missing her younger sister. And I walk alongside her doing my best to validate her curiosity and grief and answer her questions as best I can.

Emotions

Continuing with the theme of “All about me,” we’ve been reading and expressing the emotions we see and feel.  Mon Cœur (MC) and I experience a range of feelings and moods throughout the day together, and I have always tried to express myself:

  • “I am so happy to see you cleaned your room like I asked.”
  • “I am so sad you did not take your nap.”
  • “I am frustrated you are not listening.”
  • “I am so excited to see you reading a book by yourself!”

And MC is practicing explaining her feelings too, when she is upset. Mostly I hear, “You hurt my feelings!” and I have to ask for a reason why.  I made her do something, I said something in a stern voice, I delivered a consequence that was promised if she did not change her behavior. “If you don’t stop drinking the bath water, then I will drain the tub for the evening…Okay, I’m draining the tub.”

Way Past Mad

Right before I snapped this photo, MC declared, “Nate messed up my room,” and gave her best sad face.

A recent library find, Way Past Mad, written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Sandra de la Prada allowed us to explore emotions some more, as well as have some meaningful conversations about emotions and how to handle them.  

RELATED:  I mentioned one conversation we had which stemmed indirectly from the book in this previous post.

The story is about an older sister who is upset by all of the things that her little brother messes up.  She finds herself way past mad.  So mad, that she lets it out and it rubs off on her friend who tries to help her.  

I love how Hallee describes the emotions as being contagious in a way – the mad is like a rash that spreads and swells.  Later when she is able to process her feelings and talk it out with the friend, she turns her emotions to happy, which is like a smile that spreads and swells.

It talks about our mad making us say things we don’t mean, how emotions can be contagious, and how we can turn around our mindset and our moods.

Happy Hippo, Angry Duck

Another emotions book we read is a fun little book by Sandra Boynton, which touches on a whole spectrum of moods, Happy Hippo, Angry Duck.  It gave us an opportunity to talk about synonyms (angry and mad), look at facial expressions to determine feelings, and talk about how feelings can change over time and day to day.

Feelings Activities:

Facial expression photos:  As a fun activity afterwards, we took pictures of our facial expressions for different moods.  At first, it was hard for her to show anger, although after a few moods, she got into making faces!  We could have made faces in the mirror, and she would have enjoyed it just as much.

Big feelings discussions:  I always try to take opportunities as they come, so whenever MC is having a moment and stuck in a (negative) feeling, we talk about it.  Likewise, if I am not happy, I like to express my feelings in the simplest way possible for her, so she understands.

Bedtime daily wrap up:  At the end of the day, I always like to ask MC, “What was the best part of your day?”  We are still working on the time parameters of a day, so sometimes she will tell me it was visiting or playing with family or friends that we saw weeks ago…So then I will tell her what my favorite part of the day was…If I ever forget to ask her, she will say to me, “What was the best part of your day, Mommy?”  which always makes my heart melt because a. she remembered; and b. this is important to her, too.

I stole this idea from Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, where they would go around the dinner table and ask what was the best and worst part of your day.  Since we spend our days together, we try to sort out the worst parts and talk through them as they come, and then accentuate the positives of the day right before bed.

Pumpkin faces:  We have been bouncing back and forth between fall and all about me themed activities.  One morning for her breakfast invitation, I cut out simple orange circles and some eyes and a mouth.  Before I could even get out of bed, she already had the top off of the glue stick and was making faces. Love!

What’s your favorite book for exploring emotions?

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

Read our other book reviews and activities for the theme “All About Me” below:

Big sister conversations

The other night during our bedtime routine, Mon Cœur (MC) really surprised me with an out of the blue statement. 

“I don’t want a baby,” she whined to me.  

I was caught off guard, and felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.  I certainly was feeling anxieties myself, about a successful end of pregnancy, a smooth delivery and bringing Baby Boy home to be with us.  I wasn’t sure what brought this on or how to address it.  

I summoned her out of her bed, to the rocking chair where I was so we could chat and cuddle.  As she made her way to me in the glow of her nightlight, I thought about how I should respond.

I said, “What do you mean?”

“I don’t want the baby in your tummy.”

“You mean Baby Brother?”

“Yes!”

“Why don’t you want Baby Brother?”

“Because he will eat all my pompoms and planets!”

“Mommy will not let him eat your pompoms! Or planets! You know how Mommy is!”

Feeling Mad

I was at a loss – I didn’t know what to say, as she had never mentioned anything like this before.  We had just read Way Past Mad by Hallee Adelman, where a younger brother messes up everything for an older sister.  I wondered if that could be why she suddenly felt the way she did.

“What about the book we read today?  Way Past Mad? Are you worried Baby Brother will mess everything up?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you know sometimes things will happen and we’ll all make messes, but we will work through it.  We will figure it out together.”

A new bedtime routine

I thought some more and realized that perhaps she is figuring out new changes in our routines. Chouchou has begun taking over the bedtime routine, so we can all get used to it before Baby Boy comes home.  I need to practice letting go, so that Chouchou can step in, and MC needs to get used to this change.  

So I asked her, “Is this because Daddy put you to bed last night?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we all need to practice a new routine for when Baby Brother gets here.  I can’t always put you to bed.  I wish I could! Sometimes Daddy will have to help. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Mommy and Daddy won’t be able to help you all the time like we do now.  You’re a big girl though, you can help us with Baby Brother and we will also make sure to spend special time with just you, too.”

Ending on a positive note

“I’m so excited that you’ll have a Baby Brother – do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because you are an excellent tree climber.  When he’s big enough you can teach him how to climb!  And when we go out to Millie’s garden, you can teach him the names of all the different flowers, because you know absolutely all of them.  And you are an excellent reader – you can read books to him, too!”

“Yeah!” she agreed and climbed back into bed.

Whew.  We are counting down the weeks, anticipating the best, trying to prepare our family for a new addition, and doing our best to not let our fears of worst case scenario cloud the view.

Measuring up: 28 weeks

This week is the 28th week of pregnancy for us, and that means just 10 more weeks to go. We’ve been counting down for a while, however, now that we’re about to hit single digits, and we can feel the finish line in sight…it’s become really real for us.

If this is the first time you’re reading, you may be wondering why just 10 weeks? That’s only 38 weeks and not the full 40 weeks. Check out our backstory here.

28 weeks: Which fruit or veggie this week?

It may feel like I’m carrying around a baby watermelon, but that’s not this week’s veggie!

Recently I discussed the apps that I was using to track this pregnancy, and depending on which app I reference, Baby Boy is either a large bok choy (14.75″) or as large as a head of lettuce (romaine, perhaps?) and approximately 2.25 pounds. It’s not a watermelon, but it’s still sizable.

This morning, Mon Cœur (MC) happened to be right beside me when I was checking the app for this week’s updates. So, I read all the little snippets of the growth milestones for this week, and she watched the What to Expect video for the week. Then I shared Baby Boy’s approximate size.

Of course, as a three year old, telling her 15 inches doesn’t really explain much, so we got out a measuring tape so I could show her. She loves the measuring tape – we’ve been using it a lot recently around the house for various projects, and she always has to help, so she was eager to hold the tape measure and help size things up.

After she saw the tape measure, I realized this was an opportunity to make things really tangible to her, and find objects in the house that were comparable in size. We decided to look through her stuffed animals and measure them to try to find an approximate size match. We went through bunnies, bears, baby dolls, and unicorns looking for a match. This was a great exercise for her to compare size, and for us to make her baby brother’s current size real.

Hopeful…and anxious

“I want to see him now!” MC said after we were finished measuring.

“Me too, baby, but he’s not ready to meet us yet. We’ll see him very soon. Ten more weeks.” I said.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but as we enter our “home stretch” of the pregnancy, the anxiety has amped up again. I start feeling hopeful, like things will definitely turn out this time, then I remember that I just have to wait because nothing is guaranteed, and I’m not in control.

I cringe inside every time that I allude to the fact that Baby Boy will be here soon. I used to say similar things to MC about Millie being here soon, and then we had to explain that she wasn’t coming home. I want to say this time will be different, although I won’t know until I have safely delivered him and we are all home as a family.

This pregnancy, MC has been a lot more “hands-on.” She will literally come up and put her hands on my belly and enthusiastically say, “Baby Brother is moving!” She will talk to him, give him hugs, kisses, and her favorite, raspberries. She will tell me how much she loves him and can’t wait to meet him.

She also asks about Millie more frequently, “Where is she?, Can I call her?, Can I visit her?”

“She’s in heaven. You can’t call her, but if you want to talk to her, you can. I’m sorry, we can’t visit heaven.”

Chouchou and I are both feeling these contradictory feelings of optimism and angst as we approach these last few weeks. I’ve been cleaning and organizing, we’ve been discussing our plans and our fears. We are preparing for the best, and remaining all to aware of the worst-case scenario. To an extent, I see these same conflicting emotions in MC, too.

Early next week will mark the beginning of the 29th week and we’ll have some reassurance at another prenatal, too. As we are biding our time, waiting for the arrival of Baby Boy at the end of October, I will continue to make his weekly milestones and measurements as concrete as I can for MC, as she along with the rest of our family and friends are excitedly and anxiously awaiting his delivery.