Why I won’t paint my son’s toenails (or let him wear a dress in public)

Lenci boy and girl

My kids have always wanted to take part in the things I do. From toddlerhood they wanted to help crack the eggs, apply their own sunscreen, and climb into the narrow space between my body and my cello whenever I took it out to play. “Me too, Mommy,” they have said, “I want to do it also.”

Each of them has also wanted me to paint their toenails. Every time I pull out my selection of miniature rainbowed pots, my kids huddle around to watch. From time to time, I paint my daughter’s nails, but my eldest son was fairly young when my husband asked if we could please not paint the boys’ nails. Even in culturally-masculine blue tones. My then-one-year-old had just poured half the bottle of blue paint all over our bed, which made it all the easier to agree.

So, the first reason I don’t paint my boys’ toes is out of respect for their Dad.

But there’s another reason, which has become increasingly significant as the years have gone by. That second reason is this: we don’t want the unhelpful and unhealthy constant commentary that comes with things like having boys wearing nail polish or other such “counter-stereotyped” choices.

This became incredibly clear to me two years ago, one spring morning when my youngest son and I went out to run errands. In the way of many younger-brothers-of-older-girls, our son spent a lot of time being “dressed up” by his older sister. At home, under the creative direction of his Adored Older Sister, he wore fairy wings, princess dresses, feathered boas and sparkly crowns… and loved it. (And yes, we are okay with that. Just like we are okay with our daughter dressing up as a pirate and a ninja and a bear. And with all our kids playing with LEGO. And with all our kids playing Avengers. Or enacting Frozen. Or wielding swords. I am ALL FOR kids playing with whatever toys they like according to their interest, not their gender.)

On that particular morning our youngest was wearing a princess dress and loving it. It was a Cinderella dress: “a BLUE dress, Mommy, just like my eyes!” he pointed out. Since we generally don’t leave the house in costume on Days-That-Are-Not-Halloween, I asked him to take it off before we went out, but he was having none of it… so my blue-bell prince and I hit the town to run our errands. Friends, this is no exaggeration: I have never had so much attention from people IN MY LIFE as the day I took a boy out wearing a dress. Every single adult we passed that morning—from the fellow Christian parents are pre-school drop-off, to the complete strangers in our very liberal city—commented on his dress. Not one of them said something mean, but everyone said SOMETHING: each one of them variations of “oh, look at your dress!” and “today is a fun day for dress up!”

Each of the comments was benign and banal, but by the twentieth, and thirtieth and fortieth comment, the message to my son was loud and clear: LOOK HOW MUCH ATTENTION YOU WILL GET IF YOU DRESS DIFFERENTLY! EVERYONE WILL SEE YOU. EVERYONE WILL NOTICE! And on that day, I realized that I wouldn’t let my sons go out in “girl” dress-up again: not because I’m afraid of them being shamed or confused about being boys… but because I couldn’t help feeling that there was damage being done by how much attention was focused on something that should have just been child’s play.

I know that there is such a thing as gender dysphoria, and my heart goes out to boys and girls struggling with their sense of sexual identity. I don’t have neat answers for how to parent in those situations. But this I do know: for a kid who might be craving adult attention and affirmation, one sure way to get it is to dress “opposite” at a young age.

I believe that what adults say, and focus on, in talking with children does much to script the way kids view themselves when they are older. I want my daughter to know that her body is more than beautiful: it’s strong, and useful, and hers – and so I work hard to focus my words in that direction. And I want my boys to feel free to show interest in all sorts of things – in sports and LEGO and science and in dress-up – without every single passer-by commenting (and thus reinforcing) the message that dressing-like-a-girl (or painting your nails) is the Most Important Thing To Say About You.

And so, we keep our boys’ nails color-free, and we keep the princess dresses at home. Because I want the people we meet to talk about school, and play, and books, and the smile on their faces… and not what they wear. There are more important things to say to kids than “look at what you’re wearing!” Let’s say those things instead.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment!

Photo credit: Museum of Childhood, London – Lenci Boy and Girl/Suzanne Gerber (Flickr Creative Commons)

Why I Don’t Want My Kids To Be Fearless

Fearless kids

There are many things I want for my children: Kindness. Gentleness. Courage. Love. But one thing I don’t want for my kids is for them to be fearless.

I’ve been listening to a bunch of platitudes that we Older People offer scared kids: “there’s nothing to be afraid of”, “this won’t hurt”, “it’ll be okay”… and you know what? Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes there is something to be afraid of. Sometimes it will hurt. And sometimes, it won’t be okay.

Not that I want our kids to be quivering bundles of anxiety, afraid to stick out their neck and look at the world – but I want my kids to be appropriately fearful: fearful of things that are, in fact, dangerous. I want them to be afraid of fast cars, drunk friends, and the things you could find on the internet. I want them to be afraid of playing with the supernatural. I want them to keep their distance from the ledge, from drugs, from cavalier attitudes to sex and death.

There’s another word that comes to mind when I think about some of the “fearless” people I’ve met: foolish. People who live as if leap without looking, believing that “it couldn’t happen to them”. They believe they are invincible. Bulletproof. They think there is little, if any, correlation between their choices and consequent events. That they’ll “be just fine”, because after all, haven’t they been hearing that “there was nothing to be afraid of” since they were itty-bitty little ones?

This thought came to me as I was talking with a friend about why I’m uncomfortable with some of the TV shows my kids want to watch. One in particular has increasingly included themes with ghosts and the forces of evil, and it shows in my boys’ play. That particular show is no longer allowed. I hadn’t quite nailed down why until I found myself blurting it to a friend: “It would be one thing if I could just pooh-pooh the show and say ‘oh, that’s not real’, but the danger for me here is that this show flirts with things that are really real and from which I want my kids to keep a healthy distance. It blurs the lines, and I feel like they’re becoming flippant about the existence of evil, as if you can flirt with really dark things and simply dispel them with a quick change into a brightly colored lycra suit and a ninja-move.”

In short, I want my kids to be a little afraid of evil, and many “hero shows” don’t respect that. For all the debacle about Harry Potter, I at least feel that it teaches a healthy respect for the dark side, whatever that may look like.

So yes, I want my kids to be a little fearful. Appropriately fearful. I want them to fear the spirit world enough to not mess around with Ouija boards when they are teens. I want them to fear my wrath enough not to play in the street… at least until they’re old enough to develop a fear of the injuries that car accidents can cause. I want them to fear death enough to not text while they drive. I want them to fear the sea enough to not try and swim against a rip tide.

A failure to fear things that really can hurt us is actually foolishness. And fearing—in the sense of a healthy-respect-for-our-vulnerability-to-powers-beyond-our-control —is the path to wisdom. I think that’s what the Bible means by the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom: not that we quake and cower before a mean and capricious God (for he is not like that), but we take it seriously that he is not to be trifled with. God–like fire, and the ocean—can be engaged with, and a source of joy and delight, but only if there’s a healthy respect… or fear… of how very vulnerable we are.

I’m not saying I want to raise fearful kids, where fear of loss or rejection or whatever becomes their anthem. Remember our friend Disgust from Inside Out? Disgust does important work in protecting us from poisonous snacks or scenarios (“eeeew. Eat THAT? No thank you.”) And Sadness? She is vital to our learning empathy and connection with people. As uncomfortable as anger, disgust, sadness, and fear may be – they serve an important purpose in teaching us to relate wisely to the world inside and the world out there.

So no, I don’t want fearless kids. I want kids just a little afraid of the really scary things out there, with the courage and wisdom to make better choices in the face of fear.

 

Image Credit: Fear/Juan Julbe (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea

“Help, I’m jealous of my husband’s job”

I'm Jealous of my husband's job. Now what?

Dear Bronwyn,

I’m struggling with resentment about my husband’s frequent work trips. They’re often a week or more long, with mixed genders, and I struggle to keep my imagination under control. He is a loving husband and doesn’t seek out female colleagues as friends. He has told me this – and I trust him. Yet, when he is away, and I am left to normal life with young children, I can’t help but think he is off having a jolly time, making memories with everyone but me, and confiding in other people – I struggle with the idea of him having a “separate life” – a life where I, unless otherwise told, have no part of.

My husband does work hard to include me in his work life: I know more than many wives about what he does, who he works with, and he includes me where he can. It’s just when he goes away I become jaded and go into some kind of survival mode: I push away, resent, and think the worst. My husband is doing everything he can think of to help. My question is this: what can I do to combat these feelings?

Sincerely,

FOMO-Mama

Dear FOMama,
It sounds like there are a number of issues potentially at play here: wanting assurance about your husband’s affections, as well as some struggle with contentment and jealousy.
First: it sounds like you and your husband have a healthy marriage – you’re able to talk and are working hard to stay supportive and engaged in the other ones’ flourishing. That’s fantastic.
Having said that – travel for any extended period does put strains on a marriage. There are horrifying statistics about “the things that people get up to” on business trips, and so fears about sexual temptation and other excesses are not unwarranted. We have friends where the husband travels frequently and he requests that there be no TV in his hotel room wherever he travels (I’m sure the hotel staff *really* love this)… but it’s something he does for the sake of making sure there is no temptation there for him. If travel is a regular part of your husband’s job, I’m sure he has to think about ways to proactively protect your marriage while he’s away. That you can talk openly about this is important.
But I think this is really a deeper issue than a “can I trust my husband?” thing, since it seems you are more struggling with feeling left out/jealous of his opportunities, than really struggling with worry about his fidelity. I think that speaks more to a frustration about your current phase in life than specific jealousy about your husband. It’s his “freedom to go”, to stay out late if he wants to, to be ANYWHERE OTHER THAN HOME, to make friends etc, that shines a very bright light on some of the hardest things about motherhood… that being that life is just so. darn. continuous.
Remember when Fridays meant the end of the week? Ha, not so with moms.
Remember when weekends meant sleeping in? Not so with little ones.
Remember when eating out meant a meal free of issues? Not so with moms: either you’re wrangling people to just-sit-still at the table, or you’re bleeding from the nose with how much it costs to pay a babysitter. Tick tock. How long do we have?
Remember when someone asked you if you wanted to catch a movie, and you could say YES? Not anymore.
Remember when you had hobbies you liked to do after work? Not anymore: now there’s the carnage of cheerios and drool that comes after the kids are finally, finally asleep.
Remember when you used to do something and feel a sense of accomplishment that it was actually DONE? And sometimes people PAID you for it? Ha.
The life of a mom of small people is exhausting in physical and profoundly personal ways: for you work ALL DAY and it just gets undone by small people. What you tidy gets dumped out. What you clean gets smeared. What you fold gets worn. What you cook gets consumed, or worse yet – complained about and dumped on the floor.
Before I went on maternity leave, I supervised two interns. They came to visit me a few weeks after my eldest was born, and I was stunned to find I was insanely jealous of them describing the hum drum of making thousands of copies. I used to hate making copies, but all of a sudden I was crazy jealous of the fact that they had something to do which, at the end of their effort, would yield a VISIBLE PILE OF SOMETHING THAT HADN’T BEEN THERE BEFORE. Like real, genuine evidence of productivity. I was beside myself with jealousy. About stacks of colored paper.
And I felt SO pathetic realizing it. Because while my head told me *of course* it was worthwhile to be a Mom, I was still really grieving the loss of choices and efficiencies of my kid-free life, and when my husband worked late or went to a conference or my former intern made copies… I felt really crappy about my choice-less-ness and income-less-ness by comparison.
So how to get over that? Well, knowing what you’re dealing with helps… because maybe it means that what you need is not for your husband to travel less or have less fun when he does… but for you two to talk about what you might need to make space for you to have friends, or to take up a project that is not related to your kids. Would joining a book club help? Or an exercise class? When he’s home, would it help to have some “me time” scheduled in when you can take a couple of hours and go and enjoy brunch with a friend? I know these seem like small things, but I realized that adding few little things like that made the world of difference to me over time. I had become resentful that I could never take a nap. That I never got to eat hot food. That I wanted to talk to a friend somewhere other than in my house and holding a baby.
I hope I am not projecting my own experiences too much into your question here, but it does sound like you have two things going on:
1) wanting to be assured that you are your husband’s priority (and he’s working hard to show you that you are more important than his career), and
2) needing to be affirmed that you are still a PERSON, not just a domestic placeholder, and you need a work/rest/recreation balance, too. With the healthy sounding conversation that it sounds like you and your husband are able to have – maybe you could talk with him not so much about “how can I quash the feelings of jealousy?”, but “what is my jealousy telling me here?” Listen to what your jealousy is telling you about what you are needing to change in your own life, and maybe that will help you both to figure out some next steps.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Image Credit: Mish Sukharev – Revtank (Flickr Creative Commons), edited using Canva by moi.

Ask Me: How Can I Celebrate Easter With My Kids When I’m Away From Christian Community?

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Dear Bronwyn,

We will be spending Easter with my husband’s family this year, and they are not believers. I usually go to church by myself with my child, but feel like this year it would be downright antisocial to leave the family on the first day we are there to try and find a suitable church service. I love them, but the thought of Easter just being about chocolate eggs, easter bunnies, and chicks makes me despair a little. Do you have any thoughts on how I might mark Good Friday and Easter away from my home and church in a way that is meaningful both for myself and my child?

Lenten-Mama

 

Dear LM,

If all of our children’s theological education rested on how well we celebrated the “holidays”, I think I would despair. I feel like I fight this practice all the time: decluttering the incarnation from Christmas-themed gift wrap, trying to remember death and hope in Easter amidst the chocolate. Even Thanksgiving feels like it has to fight its own battles to not become “Turkey-Day”. As a believer, I think much more of our theology is taught during the rest of the year as we read bible stories, attend church, and talk about the holidays than the actual days themselves. We wouldn’t want to put all our eggs in just one holiday basket, now would we?

That being said: those days do matter, and while you may not be able to attend a Maundy Thursday service, or take communion on Easter weekend, as you might like to, I would want a way to celebrate the season, too.

Here are a few thoughts:

We usually travel with one of our children’s bibles, and the Jesus Storybook Bible is one of our favorites. There are a selection of stories which you could space over Easter weekend, which might allow both you and your child to carry on your “regular bedtime routine” but include specific focus on Easter. Erin at Home With the Boys put together one Reading Plan for Easter Week from the JSBB which might work 🙂

Depending on your child’s specific age and interests, maybe there are activities you could do for each of the stories: draw a picture for Good Friday of the three crosses, a picture of the empty tomb for Sunday? Or, as one friend with LEGO enthusiast kids did, take enough LEGO to do a craft each day (build a series of crosses, a golgotha, have mini-figures tell the story, build a house where the disciples hide away in the upper room etc)? Play-Doh is another easily transportable option for you while traveling. Drawing, LEGO, or play doh are three things which wouldn’t raise eyebrows as being super-weird if you were visiting relatives, but you could probably have some good conversation over it. Here is a pic of the Easter montage we made out of Duplo last year: including Jesus (the figurine with the paper-towel outfit) being betrayed and arrested in the garden, the cross (lego plus playdoh) and the tomb. (I found a piece of gray cloth and took a few garden pebbles and we made Jesus “disappear” behind the shroud so that they found an empty tomb. It was SUPER cheesy but the kids loved it:

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VeggieTales has some really great Easter movies available on Amazon and Google Play. My husband and I both enjoy the silly sense of humor, and the real message of Easter is clear in each of them. Here are links to a few of them.

I reached out to Sarah Arthur, editor of the wonderful new Lenten reading guide Between Midnight and Dawn , and asked if she had any ideas for you. She suggested that you and your little one might enjoy the annual tradition of adding Resurrection Eggs to the egg hunt (if your husband was open to it). This would include one dozen plastic eggs (numbered 1-12), each of which includes 1 item that helps tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sarah kindly offered a downloadable pdf with scriptures and instructions for our use: click to download Sarah Arthur’s  Resurrection Eggs guide.

Sarah also suggested that for your solo Lenten journey you might enjoy the app Pray as You Go. (Aside note: I think this is very modest of Sarah to suggest this, given that she’s the author of Lenten reading material herself! But if Sarah Arthur recommends it as a devotional guide, that’s a serious stamp of approval!)

I’ve written more about our approach to Easter with our kids here and here, although I haven’t quite faced the situation you’ve been in. I hope that with Sarah’s awesome download and some of the creativity and love I know you bring to your son, God will meet you and your child in a special way as you seek him this easter.

All the best,

Bronwyn

What being a Special Needs Parent teaches me about #BlackLivesMatter

all lives matter. and all kids are special.  and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

all lives matter. and all kids are special.
and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

I have three children. They are all special. They each have needs. But I have one child who, according to Official Assessments, classifies as being a kid with “Special Needs”. I am amazed and so very grateful for the slew of resources and assistance that we receive for this kiddo. Both at home and in school, we have helpers and people-with-masters-degrees-and-clipboards, paying special attention to give extra support where it might be needed.

The goal of this all is not to give this child special treatment for the sake of special treatment. The goal of the special treatment is, actually, to smooth the way for all the kids in our family, and all the kids in our class, to be able to relate as healthily and equally as possible. There is an inequality of input (one kid gets extra support) to try and move our little home-and-school community towards equality of output: extra support for one so that the parents and teachers can try to give equal attention and time to all.

I mention this because I sometimes struggle with the label “special needs”, since it seems that by implication it might be suggesting that children without this label are neither special nor have needs. This is obviously not the case. To say I have a child with special needs doesn’t mean my other children—or any other children, for that matter—are any less special or have less important needs. To say I have a child with special needs is merely to identify that we need to pay attention differently to that kid because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they would flounder in the system, and both they and their classmates would suffer as a result.

I’ve been wondering whether the same should not be said about the #BlackLivesMatter conversation. To say that black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not. All lives matter, a truth deeply vested in our being made in the image of God and each person being uniquely imbued with dignity and strength. To say that black lives matter is to identify that we need to pay attention differently because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they flounder in a system which privileges whites, and both people of color and the world at large suffer as a result. 

Of course, there will be an angry reader who will write and accuse me of equating blackness with disability…. so before you send me that hate mail, let me say this clearly: that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is this: those of us privileged enough to not have to think about privilege (be it because of our whiteness, or being physically or mentally “typical” in the school system), may not appreciate how the system might work against you if you weren’t white, or weren’t able-bodied or neutrotypical.

And so to go the extra mile for “Special needs” kids doesn’t mean other kids aren’t special – it means they need special support so they can flourish alongside other kids, because all kids are special. And to say “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, or that black lives matter more – it means we need to affirm something that has been lacking in people’s awareness and actions, to be active listeners and responders where we hear others’ stories – so that we all can flourish alongside one another, because all people matter.

When it’s time to hang up the Super-Mom cape

Supermom cape

The mornings are crisp, now. It still gets sunny and warm later in the day, but when I’m up before dawn, I need something with sleeves: a sure sign that winter is coming. It’s not here yet, but I see it in the distance.

I sense this change in the seasons outside, but I sense a change indoors too: something subtle that is changing in the way my big-girl and I are talking. She’s planning for her eighth birthday: she has made lists, and is practicing her fancy writing for the invitations. She sighs about cursive and heels and learning violin: All The GrownUp Things. Both her dreams and her dilemmas are growing in complexity. She’s growing up. She’s not there yet, but I see it in the distance.

A few years ago I was her Super-Mama: the one with answers and ideas. I had band-aids and snacks on hand, I was there in the moment of crisis. Stuck on the monkey bars? Mommy will get you down. Can’t tie your shoe? Let’s do it together. Too high to reach? Let me help. Mean kid took your toy? Let’s talk about when it’s time to share or stand your ground.

But now we’re in a season where I’m not there for much of her day, and the things that frustrate her can’t be fixed with a band-aid, or a snack, or a 1-2-3 preschool ditty. “Mom, can I talk to you about something? In private?” she asked shyly one afternoon. “There’s a problem.”

The problem concerned the lunch lady at school, and muddled miscommunication about buying milk. A minor problem —a bagatelle, really—but to my daughter, a colossus of worry: something she’d carried home with a leaden heart. She was worried I would be angry. She was afraid she’d caused trouble. I watched her tell herself to take deep breaths as she mustered the courage to tell me.

A couple of minutes on the phone sorted out the lunch lady crisis, but in the hours that followed the weightiness of what had happened settled on me. Before I phoned the school district, the important part of that conversation was dealing with my daughter’s fears of telling me something she was afraid I wouldn’t want to hear. That was the issue, really. It was never about the milk. It was about whether she could trust me with her spilled milk confession.

The seasons are changing, and more than needing a mom who can safely fix all her problems, my daughter is growing in her need for a mom who is safe to hear her problems, without rushing to diagnose it, fix it, or adjudicate it. Sometimes she comes home worried about being left out, about something someone said that made her feel sad, about a friend who says scary things are happening at home. Sometimes she comes home remorseful, or just quiet, and when we take the time at the end of the day to snuggle in private and talk about the day, no matter how good my questions are, most often I just can’t tease out what really happened in that situation or conversation. The information I get is piecemeal and filtered: but then again, I probably couldn’t fix it (whatever it is) even if I’d been a fly on the wall.

She’s growing up, and that means she’s moving into that world where we play the long game in relationships. We learn how to love at cost, to bear with one another’s weaknesses. We learn the power of our yes, and (if we’re very, very lucky), we learn early how and when to say no. We learn the sound of our own voices; distilling them from the shouts of the madding crowd.

In a few years—really just a few breaths away—the problems are not going to be lunch ladies, or forgotten library books, or who teases whom about their lunch. She’s going to come across pain, and drugs, and confused sexuality. She might see a friend shoplifting, she might be asked if she wants to take a look at some porn, someone may make her swear not to tell about something that really should be told. One day, she will discover things about herself of which she is deeply ashamed.

We all do. We all did. Life shows us its good, but the bad and the ugly inevitably come out.

On that day, when it comes, having a mom with a band-aid and a one-liner-to-fix-it-all will be of little help. None of us bear our deepest vulnerabilities to people who talk without listening. None of us confess weakness to those who would take the opportunity to point out just how little we know. Not even to parents.

The seasons are changing, and this mom-of-littles is realizing that the Super-Mom cape I’ve wanted to don is lined with one-liners and fix-its. But that cape doesn’t fit anymore. I need to learn the gentle art of sitting and listening with my kid, of saying “I don’t know, but I love you,” and dignifying her struggle with respectful silence and later, with open questions. I need to be safe to tell about the lunch lady if I hope to be told about the friend who’s cutting in years to come. She’s afraid to make mistakes, and I am usually quick with an opinion. This is my window to find a new way of being with her.

She doesn’t need me in a Super-Mom cape, anymore. She needs me in pajamas, with feet tucked up next to her on the couch: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Three Words To Sum It All Up: Lessons from a 3000 Mile Roadtrip

We took a 3,000 mile road-trip this summer. We packed camping gear and snacks and clothes and kids into the back of our minivan, and headed towards Yellowstone: the oldest and most prestigious of America’s National Parks.

We saw dinosaur bones, and glaciers, and sharp jagged teeth of mountains jutting into the air.

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We saw sulphuric pits spewing dragon’s breath, and colossal geysers.

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We skipped stones and paddled canoes, we huddled against each other as it hailed. We took photos of all things brights and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

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We paddled on the most tranquil of waters, and picked our way through intricate subterranean lava caverns.

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We laughed with friends old and new, and collected family stories which we will tell, and retell, and retell.

At the end of our trip, I collated our photos and uploaded some of them onto Facebook so our far-flung family could share in the sights of a land they’ve not seen. And of course: put like that, in a photo album, it looks like the trip of a lifetime. And, perhaps it was.

But really, that’s not the whole story. I joked with a friend a while ago that if I were to start this blog again, perhaps I would call it “Not Pictured”. Because not pictured in that photo album were the many hours we spent driving. And driving. And driving. And how we had to stop every thirty minutes because Mommy, I need to pee.

Not pictured were the tantrums. Or the whining faces of Are we there yet? Not pictured was the sweat of pitching and striking a tent every one to two days, while we swatted away kids and mosquitos to get the work done faster. Not pictured were the potty accidents. Or the hours we spent in dingy laundromats on the road, having rooted around in our bags to find the least stinky items of clothing to wear during the wash.

Not pictured were the bouts of anxiety our eldest struggled with as we moved through campsites with bears and thunderstorms and hail, culminating in her asking one morning with tears brimming: “Mommy, did you know there would be storms out here?” I told her we didn’t know exactly what the weather would be like, but that we had prepared for a number of possibilities. She was having none of it. “Didn’t you think of the children at all when you planned this trip?” she accused. Also not pictured: me sniggering instead of comforting my tearful daughter.

And so, when we returned home, people said: “How was your trip? Your pictures were amazing!”

And truthfully, I had to answer: “It was great. Except for the parts that were boring or terrible.”

In the weeks since we returned home, our days have fallen the routine of the school year. We have sourced shoes one size bigger, figured out the car pool, and developed a rhythm for the various activities that have been dropped into our calendar like tetris time capsules. We have first-day-of-school pictures and slowly-growing art folders to prove it. And now that we are settling in, people are asking: “How are you guys doing? How’s the school year?”

And truthfully, the answer is the same: “It’s great. Except for the parts that are boring or terrible.”

I’m thinking that maybe these are the three words that are true for all of life, pictured or not. The blessed life is one which is “great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.” For none of us, no matter what story that pictures tell us, are exempt from suffering, and none of us lives a life which doesn’t have stretches of the just-plain-boring. There is nothing exciting about loading and unloading a dishwasher. Or learning your times tables. Or flossing your teeth. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t as great as it can be.

One day, of course, our firm hope is that we will be with God, and the “boring parts” will all be rest, and the “terrible parts”  will all have been wiped away as tears from our eyes. When we see him face to face, it will be great all the time.

But until then: this is how it is, and really this is the most this one blessed life could hope to be: Great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.