Annie and I have been friends for years and if there is one thing she is dependable for, it is fun. And she loves my kids. Annie is one of those women who has friends in multiple generations, and she loves it that way. Here are some of her thoughts on what it is like to invest in children, no matter your own life place. It’s a grace to welcome Annie to the farm’s front porch today…
I dreamed of two things when I was a little girl.
I wanted to be a wife and a mother.
I wanted to be a school teacher.
My third grade teacher was extraordinary, and I walked out of that classroom knowing that’s exactly what I wanted to do with my life, too. And I never strayed. When I was in 8th grade, I read Christy by Catherine Marshall, a fictional retelling of a young school teacher in rural Appalachia. If I wasn’t singularly focused before that, it sealed my plans. Teach children every day.
Lots of years and college classes later, I cried twice on my first day as a fifth grade teacher. I cried at the end of the day because suddenly I was very overwhelmed in this classroom that was my own. I was 23. They were all 10. The age gap was not wide enough that they couldn’t smell my fear. They knew I was overwhelmed too.
And I cried in the morning because I couldn’t believe I was really here. After decades pointed in one direction, I was now a teacher.
Five years later, I changed careers. It’s a longer story than we have space for here, but the dream I had always had came and went.
My dream of being a teacher came true, and then it was gone.
My other dream, to be a wife and a mom, hasn’t come true yet.
So here I sit in my fourth decade on this planet, my life looking so significantly different than I pictured, no children in my home or in my classroom. This is not what I pictured.
But over the last few years, my friends started having children. I didn’t realize that when my best friends started having kids, they were giving me a whole new generation of best friends. I call them my miniBFFs.
And I am part of the parenting village of these friends.
“In a way that only God could orchestrate, my dreams ARE coming true.”
I am mothering. I am teaching.
In a way that only God could orchestrate, my dreams ARE coming true. They look nothing like I thought they would, and I grieve that sometimes. Of course I do. To pretend like there isn’t loss in these dreams is to be dishonest with myself (and with you).
My friends and I talk a lot about the YES AND of life. We try to limit the use of the word BUT in our conversations, and invite YES AND instead. So YES, I grieve the dreams in my life that don’t look the way I thought they would, AND God has exceeded my expectations of what I thought life could look like.
I am mothering. I am teaching.
I think we can see our dreams come true when we broaden our definitions and embrace our disappointments.
The kids in our village call me AnnieDowns. We have multiple Annies who are mothering in our crew, so I get nicknames! The other one I get is Crazy Annie because, as you can imagine, I’m the wildest of the bunch. I’m the one who loves talking about fun the most.
“If I start by having fun with them, suddenly a conversation about something really significant will start up.”
No one is surprised by this. Fun matters to me. I am known for it.
But fun, to me, especially when I’m talking to children, is just a vehicle. If I start by having fun with them, suddenly a conversation about something really significant will start up.
A few families and I were at the park a few weeks ago. Every Tuesday we gather at the farmers market to grab a few things and eat dinner from a food truck. A couple of the little girls and I walked over to the playground, and what started as a few minutes on the swing, transitioned to a conversation about something that happened in school that day- a bullying story, a frustrating story, a painful story.
But something about pushing them on the swings, playing together, made a way for this conversation between two kids and me that may not have happened otherwise. I listened to their feelings, I believed them, and we talked about what should happen tomorrow because this had happened today.
I am mothering. I am teaching.
I read books to kids a lot. In fact, it was possibly my favorite part of being a classroom educator. I loved to read aloud to the students, process the books that we read, and pay attention to the illustrations.
I read books to the children in our community.
I read books to the children in my classroom.
My first children’s book, What Sounds Fun To You?, released and I got to read it aloud at the same farmers market. I stood there, just beside the playground, just past the row of food trucks, as the children gathered at my feet. I started reading the pages, and I had a catch in my throat.
I used to do this in my classroom, and in that moment, I thought about all the kids I had taught over the years and realized that fifteen years after I left the classroom, now all those children who are now adults, can hold this book I wrote and read it aloud too. I thought of them all and how I miss those days.
And there I was, in the farmers market, teaching.
In the crowd were many of my close little friends, my miniBFFs, and that made tears come to my eyes too. Because there were the children whose lives I get to be a mothering voice in, sitting there listening to me read the book I wrote, the first one I’ve ever written for friends of that age.
And there I was, in the farmers market, mothering.
YES, my life does not look the way I thought it would, AND I am getting the chance to teach and mother through the words in What Sounds Fun To You? and I deeply thank God for it.
Annie F. Downs is a New York Times bestselling author, sought-after speaker, and successful podcast host based in Nashville, Tennessee. Engaging and honest, she makes readers and listeners alike feel as if they’ve been long-time friends. Founder of the That Sounds Fun Network—which includes her aptly named flagship show, That Sounds Fun—and author of multiple bestselling books like That Sounds Fun, 100 Days to Brave and Remember God, Annie shoots straight and doesn’t shy away from the tough topics. But she always finds her way back to the truth that God is good and that life is a gift.
No one knows how to have fun like kids do. But sometimes, even kids can use some fresh ideas for finding the fun in their lives. Fun is everywhere, and with this charmingly illustrated children’s book, Annie wants to help children ages 3 to 8 find it in What Sounds Fun to You?
Can it be found in science experiments, at the farmer’s market, or in the kitchen? Yes!
Can it be found on rainy days and starlit nights? You bet!
Can it be found with friends or parents or even annoying little brothers? Of course!
It’s no secret that the world has felt a little less fun lately. What Sounds Fun to You? is the perfect book to get kids thinking about how to create their own fun right where they are, right now. And it’s the perfect companion for parents who have run out of ideas!
[ Our humble thanks to Revell for their partnership in today’s devotion ]