Love, Grow, & Overflow

My cup overflows. My laundry does too.

Category: Parenting (page 2 of 4)

Whirling

Photo by Curtis Gregory Perry

It’s summer.  We do summers especially well here in the north, where snow may fall in October or May.  Even early June sometimes keeps us in the occasional sweatshirt, so when summer really comes it’s like cracking an egg, sunshine and warmth running thick and golden across our town.

I take the kids to the town festival – my two little ones, and two more who fall into the sweet category of chosen-family.   I’ve known them since their momma could hold them both at the same time, one on each hip.  They’ve known my kids from birth.  Even before that, when my babies were still in my womb, the boys prayed for them by name, earnest and velvet-rich words of children who know their prayers are heard and avail much.

My children are silent and awestruck.  They take it all in: fried foods and flashing lights and music and crowds.  I’ve got a strip of ride tickets in my hand and a couple of guys who can’t wait to use them.  The rides seemed so innocuous five years ago, but now I feel my stomach plunge as I watch them careen into the sky.  They go so high.  They go so fast.  I lean forward to tell my kids the screams are fun screams.  I say a quick little prayer that the boys will choose rides that aren’t named after ways to die.

They’re preteens now.  Their faces grow more angled, their shoulders broaden, foreshadowing the young men they are becoming.  They choose the Matterhorn, which, despite its mountain moniker, stays blissfully low to the ground.  They’re old enough to catch the eye of two whispering girls who hop into the car behind them, and young enough not to notice.  They wave at us enthusiastically before the ride starts.  We wave back, standing in the shadow of a midway stall where a dunk-tank clown taunts the passersby.  For the next ninety seconds, the boys are a blur.  Our eyes search for them, but before we can point them out, they’ve flown by.

They exit the ride smiling, and my daughter decides that she wants to ride too.  We’re nowhere near the kiddie rides, but she is adamant.  I’m about to tell her no, to offer a bribe or consolation prize, when I see the Tilt-a-Whirl.  It’s bubble-gum pink with cupped benches that spin in small circles.  This ride’s greatest risk seems to be centrifugal vomit, so I say yes and hand over three tickets.

She hops out of the double stroller and they climb the stairs hand-in-hand.   The sign says she has to ride with a responsible person, and I debate that definition in my head.   We wait forever, my mind contriving possible disasters.  What if her shoelace gets stuck in the track as they walk to their car, and no one notices, and the ride starts up?  What if she hates it, screams in fear for the next two minutes?  I call up instructions to have her sit in between the boys, and they nod.  One puts a protective hand on her shoulder.

They board the ride.  She’s snug in the middle, like when they play video games on the couch and she wedges herself between them to watch.  They pull the bar down across their laps, and she grabs on.  When the ride starts, their car spins and I can’t see them.  When it spins into view again, her face is pure joy.  Her eyes dart from side to side as she tries to focus, mouth agape, laughing.  The boys laugh with her.  Her head lolls forward a little, and then the car catches a hill and spins faster.  She leans back, looks up, laughing harder.  I laugh, too, suddenly amused and relieved and sentimental all at once.

It’s so beautiful, this moment blinking in the midway lights.  How did we get here so soon?  Sometimes it terrifies me, the speed of this life, the dips ahead I am blind to see.  It’s warm and gold like summer, though, this journey with the people I love.  We sit leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder, holding tight and laughing, heads thrown back to the sky.

Imprints

Photo by viewerblur

During my early years of teaching kindergarten, we had an incubator in our classroom.  A local farm gave us chicken eggs, and we placed them inside, rotating them a couple times a day.  One Saturday, when I stopped by to turn the eggs, I noticed one was rocking a little.  There was a tiny triangle-shaped hole in its shell, then another next to it, and from within the chirp of a chick about to hatch.  I pulled up a chair from one of the tiny desks and sat to watch the hatching.  It was amazing, this earthy miracle of straining and pausing and straining again, glimpses of beak and feather poking out of the ever-lengthening crack in the shell.  Finally, the chick broke out of its egg and laid on its back for a moment, matted and wet and exhausted and beautiful.

The next day, when I stopped by, the chick had dried out and rested up.  He was this sweet, fluffy little thing, chirping incessantly.  I picked him up, felt his downy softness in my hands, his claws tiny pricks against my palm.  I moved him to his temporary home we’d set up – a cardboard box outfitted with newspaper and mesh, food and a lamp.  Soon the box was filled with chicks, yellow ones, whitish ones, mottled ones, all chirping and pecking.  My students were fascinated by them.

Whenever I lowered my hand into the box, one chick ran straight for it.  It startled me each time, and I’d pull my hand back quickly before he reached me.  It seemed unusually aggressive!  After a couple days, I decided to leave my hand in the box and see what the chick would do.  I lowered it in, palm up, and held still as the chick ran for it… and hopped into my hand and sat down.  I realized it was the same chick I’d held.  He wasn’t trying to attack me; he had imprinted on me and was trying to be near me.

I love the term “imprint.”  It reminds me of the mother’s necklaces I have seen where a child’s thumbprint is pushed into clay before it is baked, reshaping the clay permanently, a hollow where there wasn’t one before.  I wonder if the mother chicken feels that hollow when her chicks grow feathers and fly off.

My son just turned two.  He is lean, but he still has thick baby ankles, little dimples on his hands where his knuckles are.  Of course, I sit here wondering about how fast it is flying by as I watch him, caught between baby and little boy.  I puzzle over the dichotomies of parenthood – how the pouring out can be so satiating.  How the filling up leaves me empty, hollow in places that weren’t there before.

The years ahead will be full of growing, pushing against the circle of my arms.  They aren’t meant to hold him forever, I know that.  The quiet moments where he snuggles perfectly into my body, wraps his long arms around my shoulders and gives me a “hog and tiss” – those pauses will shorten.  He will strain more and more, toward independence, big-boyhood and eventually manhood, and sometimes we both will be hurt, hollow, exhausted by it all.  Still, what a blessing it is, our hearts imprinted on each other.  I get to be a spectator to this amazing little life, this earthy miracle.  My boy becoming.

Dear Daughter Twenty Years from Now

To My Daughter

untitled photo by PhilBailey Photography

Dear daughter in the future,

You may be a mom someday.  (No pressure on this.  That may not be God’s plan for you.  I am very glad that you have examples in the strong, nurturing, loving people around you who are not parents.)  But I am a mom, and you may be a mom, and I’m writing you this for someday, if.

Right now, that “if” is twenty years away, more or less.  In twenty years, I think I won’t remember as much about day-to-day life parenting preschoolers.  It’s like each memory is a rugged little rock I’m adding to a velvet pouch. After rolling around in my bag for twenty years, they’ll be smooth, weathered treasures.  I’ll be able to pull on the drawstring and pour them into my hand, hold their cool beauty and remember.  But they won’t be quite the same as they are now, before they knock against each other and the sharp edges turn to dust at the bottom of the bag.  So I’m telling you now, when you are our spunky tutu-clad cherub spinning across the living room.

We aren’t very far into our parenting journey, but we’ve learned a lot along the way.  Here is what I’d like you to know:

1. When you’re expecting, you’ll probably read a lot and research a lot.  After all that work, you’ll feel pretty good about the decisions you make for your child.  Wait until you’ve had two or more kids before judging other people’s decisions.  After you’ve seen how different and challenging each baby can be, you won’t feel much like judging anymore.  (Two examples: I thought I’d never introduce pacifiers until you ended up being a colicky baby, and I thought I’d always breastfeed until I got sick when your brother was born.)

2. The secret truth is that none of us actually has this parenting thing all figured out.  Find mom friends you can shrug shoulders with and link arms with, and forge on together.

3.  Memorize this phrase and repeat it constantly: “I am not going to feel guilty about ______.”   Guilt steals joy.  Do your best, love your kids, and choose joy over guilt.

4.  The best parking spot is not the closest one to the store; it’s the closest one to the shopping-cart return.  (Do they still have those twenty years into the future?)

5. Be OK with being imperfect.  I used to think that embracing my imperfections meant making excuses for them and enabling them.  I thought chiding and guilting myself was the way to break habits.  It turns out that I’m much more successful at bettering myself when I’m being nice to me.  (A corollary to that one: don’t wait until the house is perfect to have friends over.)

6.  The first few months are insanity.  Everyone will ask how you’re doing and you’ll say “great” and you’ll mean it, because you will have the most amazing baby.  But life will also be a crazy sleep-deprived cryfest.  Expect amazement.  Expect greatness.  Expect insanity.

7.  You will feel like nothing is getting done, especially the first few months after a new baby comes.  You are actually doing AMAZING things.  You are learning how to parent a very tiny individual.  You are learning a new language.  You are bonding with your newest family member.  You are recovering.  Unfortunately those things are hard to remember when the dishes are piling up in the sink and you haven’t washed your hair in two days. At the end of the day, try to name three or four things you did successfully (took a shower, folded a load of laundry, etc).  It helps to frame the day.

8. Your kids will want every moment of your time.  You won’t be able to give it.  You will feel guilty.  (See #3.)  Be intentional about giving what you can.  If you’re having a busy day, carve out a little time throughout the day for a puzzle or a story or a quick ring-around-the-rosy.

9. You will have to say things over and over again.  It will be annoying sometimes.  Be intentional about repeating the truly important stuff.  Tell them you love them over and over and over.  Remind them that they are beautiful and strong and kind and you would love them even if they weren’t.  Remind them that they are treasures to you.  Remind them that they are treasures to God.

10.  One of the very best parts of parenting is watching your child sleep.  Before you have kids, you may read this and nod your head and think “I can see how that would be awesome.”  It’s even better than awesome.  Just wait.

Ok.  That’s what I’ve got so far.  You keep us from ever feeling like we’re experts, but I love learning with you and from you.  You’re amazing now, and I know you will be even more amazing by the time you grow up and read this.

All my love,

Mom

 

 

The Things We Hold

CRACK!

My daughter stared, crestfallen, at her broken teacup.  Her friend was visiting, and she’d asked me to let them play with her porcelain tea set, so I took down from the high shelf in her room.  They had played wonderfully together until, in a moment of impulsivity, a tiny hand banged it against the table.  The delicate gold-rimmed cup cracked into jagged-edged halves.

As I searched for shards and tissues, I had a bit of mom remorse, thinking I should’ve suggested the plastic set instead, and reconsidering whether a three-year-old should have something so fragile.  A couple days later, when the super glue had dried, my daughter handled her tea cups with a new reverence.  Little by little, she is learning to take good care of what is precious to her.  That’s a lesson she wouldn’t have learned with her plastic set.

I know the tea party phase will pass all too quickly, and soon she will be busy flirting and texting (or rolling her eyes at her lame mom who still thinks texting is the big thing).  I already worry about those tough years.  I’m encouraged, though, by the character of the middle school and high school kids I know.

In my pre-mom days, I got the chance to volunteer as a chaperone on youth events at our church.  On one trip, our group had stopped at the café in a grocery store for a quick meal, and on the way in, some of the girls noticed a cute boy working outside the store.  Unfortunately, one of the girls got a nosebleed in the middle of our meal.  She went to the bathroom and tried to get it to stop without success, so she sat, embarrassed, trying to look discreet while holding a napkin up to her nose.

Soon it was time to leave.  It was a mortifying situation for a preteen – walking by a cute boy with blood running from one’s nose.  She had friends who loved her, though.  The rest of the girls grabbed napkins and crumpled them up to their noses, too.  My favorite photo of youth ministry was taken that day: our cute girls, trendy boots and tennies crunching the snow, walking toward the car in a wide row.  Even with their faces half-hidden by napkins, it’s obvious that they are laughing.

This could have been a story about a cute boy.   I wouldn’t have remembered it.  Instead, it’s the story about the type of friend I hope my daughter has one day, and the type of friend I hope my daughter is one day – the kind who remembers that we take good care of what is precious to us.

Sometimes, that looks like a preschooler holding her teacups with deliberate gentleness.  Sometimes, that looks like twelve-year-olds holding napkins to their noses with loving abandon.  People-treasures or moment-treasures or thing-treasures – our love is shown in how we handle the things we hold.

Mean Girls

Throughout most of my years at our large public high school, my friends and I floated comfortably in the middle echelon of the popularity spectrum.  Due to my middle-school years at private school, I was largely unknown.  I didn’t usually draw attention, positive or negative, and that was OK with me.  So I was caught off-guard one day in sophomore year English class when I felt something pressing into my back.  It was the edge of the empty desk behind me.  Two girls sat at the back of the room, kicking the desk forward into my back, snickering.

As you can guess, it felt lousy.  One of the girls, Chris, was in my homeroom.  She was popular mostly because she had popular friends, and she kept her rank with sharp, cutting wit.  She spent a lot of time in homeroom making jokes about people who weren’t sitting in her corner – including my friends and me.  And now, here we were in English; they were bored, and I was an easy target.

Chris and I both ended up in the same Art History class senior year.  I shared one of the heavy two-person tables with my friend and locker partner.  Chris sat ahead of us with her friend, who dropped the class a couple weeks in.  One day, we decided it was time for paybacks.  We slowly pushed our table forward.  Chris scooted forward a bit.  We leaned on the table more, gradually inching it up until it was pressed against her chair, wedging her between her table and ours.  Chris got frustrated, turned around with an angry sigh and shoved our table back at us.  We were engrossed in the art history slides for a few minutes, and then gradually started pushing it forward again.

At the end of the class, she rushed out.  We felt victorious.  We rode that high for a good part of the day, but as the high wore off, it felt tainted.  Our happiness stemmed from her unhappiness.  Of course, I rationalized that she may have learned how hard it is to be on the receiving end of taunting, but her actions clearly stemmed from insecurity.  Disrespect and cruelty from us certainly didn’t make her more secure.  I don’t think she became a better person that day, but for part of the day, I became a worse person.  A vengeful person.  Someone who took pleasure in the discomfort of others.

Now, as a parent, I want to make sure I remember all of those feelings.  As they grow, I hope to teach my kids that being powerful is not the same as being honorable, that no one grows by stooping, that one person’s revenge is not another’s redemption.  On the other hand, being kind doesn’t always win people over either.  Neither arming my kids with witty retorts or boxing lessons will make people respect them, and no matter how much they want to be liked, not everyone will.  They have choices anyway – a million little chances each day to love louder than the haters hate. To choose to act in ways that make souls stronger, and in doing so, grow stronger themselves.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21

For Samantha

I’d like to tell you a little about this sweet baby and her parents.

Samantha was born beautiful and healthy on March 10, 2011.  At six weeks old, she was diagnosed with Group B strep.  She passed away at four months old.  There is so much more to say about Samantha, but no one could say it better than her family.  Samantha’s mom, Stephanie, has chronicled their story with honesty and poignancy on her personal blog, Blooming Joy, and Samantha’s CaringBridge page (along with some entries from Samantha’s dad Travis and her Aunt Allison).

Travis and Stephanie will tell you that they are not brave and strong, and that they have gotten through this only by the grace of a faithful God.  I believe that.  From my perspective, our faithful God equipped them to be extremely brave and even heroic – during Samantha’s illness, death, and after.  They parented her well when she was healthy.  They parented her well when she was dying.   And now, when Samantha’s free of pain, they continue to be amazing parents.  They treasure the time they had with her.  They’ve gone back to bring donations to the places that helped them so much during Samantha’s illness.  They honor her life.  They look forward to a reunion someday.

They are organizing a 5K to celebrate the life of Samantha.  This is a spiritual journey as well as a physical one.  They’re using the program Run for God, which is a Christian running program designed to strengthen people’s faiths as well as their bodies.  Money raised from the 5K will go to a sponsorship in Samantha’s name at Faith Lutheran School.

While I’m nowhere near Texas, my running buddy and I are running in support of Travis and Stephanie and in honor of Samantha.

Want to run too?

Stephanie’s 5K blog post

Run for God – a Legacy (post at Caringbridge.org)

Units of Survival

I haven’t traveled abroad since my children were born.  Even so, I often struggle when cultures collide.  Today, it’s within the borders of my own home, when my own values conflict with the cultural microcosm of my preschool children.  Wearing pants, for example, is a value that is not shared by the youngest members in this household.  We are constantly debating over what is OK to eat, throw, and climb as I help my children learn to navigate life in our family and the culture at large.  My dream is that someday my adult children will neither eat stray Cheerios from the floor nor stand on top of their dresser: cultural assimilation at its best.

When I was in college, I spent a summer teaching English in China.  One tenet of Chinese culture, we learned, was the idea that the smallest unit of survival is the family unit.  Although I tried to be open-minded, I just couldn’t fully grasp this belief.  As much as I liked my family, I reasoned that it was possible for me to go out on my own and build a lean-to in rural Montana, surviving on bugs and jackrabbits and wild berries.  (Ok, honestly, probably not.   But my lack of survival would be due to the fact that I possess no wilderness skills.  Are jackrabbits even native to Montana?) Anyway, perhaps not me, but surely someone could survive on their own.

My one-year-old son is a great sleeper.  When he’s tired, he finds his favorite things – his blankets, his stuffed owl, and his pacifier – and he snuggles into my shoulder.  It’s bliss.  Sometimes he actually laughs out of happiness as we approach his crib, and he falls asleep without fussing.  But if we’re anywhere but home, he has a terrible time.  He fights sleep with every bit of his tiny being until he succumbs out of sheer exhaustion, hours past his bedtime.  We’ve tried everything we can think of, but it is a very difficult and traumatic experience for him.

While traveling last month, we tried tucking him in the same bed as his three-year-old sister.  He whimpered a little, but we could hear them talking quietly, and eventually they both fell asleep.  A few hours later, he woke up, sobbing and disoriented.  I went in to reassure him; I told him he was safe and he could lay down and go back to sleep.  He saw his sister sleeping soundly and crawled to her end of the bed.  He curled up next to her, so close that their foreheads touched, and fell asleep.

The smallest unit of survival is the family unit.  I get it now.  Sometimes, survival means lean-tos and wild berries.  And sometimes, survival means having a person who shelters you when you are sobbing in the dark.  Sometimes, survival means resting in the warmth of the people who love you, forehead touching forehead, breathing in each other’s breath until, finally, you find rest.

Tea with My Daughter

Photo by left-hand

It’s been a long day.   One of the Roman shades in our living room broke awhile ago.  Every time we opened the shade, the cord rubbed against the ring it was threaded through, sawing back and forth until the string gave way.  Today I felt like that shade, hanging heavy and unthreaded, casting shadows instead of letting in light.

I battled with my daughter all day.  She pushed her brother, she refused to share, she screamed and kicked the back of the passenger seat with furious little three-year-old legs.  I battled myself, fought to keep my own emotions in check, to stay calm and in control, to not take it personally.   I never realized it would be this personal.  When she fails, it feels like I have failed.

I so strongly want her to be a person of integrity, of respect, of empathy and love.  I think of all the lives she will touch, people she will wound or bless, and how my actions as a parent today help to shape her choices in those situations.  It’s a staggering responsibility.  I take it personally; how could I not when her heart once beat inside my body?  I remember listening to the fetal monitor at the hospital, and I knew my life would be forever tied to that beat, the cadence of her life.

Tonight, when I felt like giving up for awhile, throwing on a video or opting for some mandatory quiet time (which is torture for a socialite like my daughter), I fought it.  I got out my daughter’s tiny new porcelain tea set.  We set it up in her bedroom with a couple baby dolls as guests.  We fed them tea with plenty of cream and sugar in flowered teacups with gold rims.  She doted on her guests, told them to drink slowly so they didn’t get tummy aches.

As we played, we fell into a rhythm: pass back and forth, ask and reply, pour and drink.  Our teacups clinked against their platters like chimes.  We emptied ourselves of today, its failures draining away until only drops remained.  We filled each other’s cups and drank in blessings, tea, and light.

Happy Easter, Baby.

Photo by HeroicZach

It hurts a little to share Easter with you.

Not the bamboo baskets and the plastic eggs and the bonnets.  That’s the fun stuff.  But sharing Easter with you, the real Easter, the Easter that would still be there even if the Dollar Store and Target closed – that means sharing Good Friday with you, too.  Letting you take a small, three-year-old step into the story of darkness and sadness and death.  You’re sensitive.  I know your heart will hurt a little at the story.

You’re just beginning to deal with scary dreams and scary stories.  “Tell me two stories,” you asked last week.  “A happy story about a dragon and a scary story about a dragon.”  I like to keep you sheltered.  If you hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have told the scary one, with the dragon’s fiery breath and big sharp teeth.  But you asked, and I know you need to learn to work through fears in a place where you are safe – a place like my lap.  I want you to know you are brave and capable… that you will sometimes be scared, and that is OK.  So we journeyed together through the dark forest with the dragon at our heels, and at the end of the story, we were alive, safe, OK.

And here we are at Holy Week.  There are people who will tell you that this story was spun in someone’s mind too, but sooner than I’d like to admit, you will find out that the world is full of hurt and sorrow breathing down your neck.  It’s real.  It’s OK to be scared.  I like to keep you sheltered, but the thought of you getting hurt by the awful things in this world – it scares me too.

I need to share this story with you because it is your story.  It helps me to remember that the story’s end was written long before we ever crossed the threshold with you in our arms.  You shine so brightly, but you’ll have some very dark times in life.  I want you to know that even when you are not brave, and even when you are less than capable – because that story has been written, you have Jesus.  You have everything you need.  He did the conquering already, so you can have hope and forgiveness and light and happiness and someday, no more darkness or pain.

We will journey together this week – to Jerusalem, to the garden, and even to the cross.  I’ll hold your hand.  It’s OK if it makes you feel a little funny and sad inside.  It is sad.  There are some dark and scary parts, but what a beautiful story it is.  At the end of the story, Jesus is alive, safe, OK.  We are, too.

Just wait.   I’ll wait with you.  And come Sunday, we will celebrate together.

Happy Easter, baby.

Melodies

Record Player

Photo by tienvijftien

When I was a child, I had a toy record player.  It came with small, sturdy records that had tiny dots in their grooves.  After winding it up and placing a record on the turntable, the needle would bump over the plastic dots and a simple melody of Camptown Races or The Farmer in the Dell would fill the air.

My children have gotten a lion’s share of toys and gifts in the past few years.  One of my favorites was received when my daughter was a newborn.  It was a gift certificate in her name to Kiva.org, a microfinance lending site.  Kiva takes small loans from people all over the world and pools them together to give loans to people who may not otherwise be able to get a loan.  It is an amazing organization.

While my baby waved her tiny fists and made tiny little newborn noises in my arms, I redeemed the gift certificate and loaned it to a woman in Nicaragua named Lesbia who ran a restaurant.  Her writeup said she would use the money to remodel and expand her restaurant as she worked to build an inheritance for her children, one of whom she held in her arms for the photo.  (Lesbia and I, we are on the same journey.)  Within a year and a half, her loan was repaid.  By the time my daughter was toddling around the living room, the same money had been reinvested in a loan to Angelica in Mexico, a young grandma who needed to fix the house she shared with her husband, which was her children’s patrimony.  After Angelica, it was a group of women running a clothing business in the Dominican Republic, then a teenaged pig farmer in Ecuador.

Last month, the loan was once again repaid.  This time, my daughter helped me pick out Natalya, a farmer in Kyrgyzstan.  While we made the loan, I got to tell her the story of her gift certificate.  We looked at the photos of people across the world whose lives are connected to my daughter’s through that one present given three years ago.  I realize that every person who gives a loan is a dot in the grooves of the entrepreneurs’ lives, adding to their melody.  And these people are bumps in the grooves of my daughter’s life too – small connections that, in succession, play a beautiful song.

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