When My Children Squabble

sibling squabble

When my children squabble, they shout loudly and I tell them they don’t need to shout: I can hear them.

When my children squabble, they point out how well they are doing and how evil the others are by comparison.

When my children squabble, they are so puffed up with their “rightness”, so aggrieved by my slowness to take their side.

When my children squabble, I see how very young they are, and how very little they understand. Their truths are true, but partial.

When my children squabble, there is anger. There are tears.

When my children squabble, I love them and am for them – and yet they seem frustrated. I think sometimes they would rather I were a referee than a refuge.

When my children squabble, I see their hearts, their sense of justice, their longing for fairness and understanding. I also see their pride, their caprice.

When my children squabble, I grieve for the hurt they are experiencing and the hurt they are dishing out in their immaturity.

When my children squabble, I remember that they will not always be children – one day they will see that the issue of who got the blue cup is petty, and that it doesn’t matter who sat in the middle seat or who got to stay up later.

When my children squabble, it makes me long for the day when perspective and maturity will allow them to treasure their siblings for the riches that they are.
And from time to time, when I read about Christians fighting AGAIN and calling names AGAIN and behaving badly AGAIN, each citing reasons why God is more on their side than the others’ side, then I wonder:

Is God looking down on us with a sigh and saying: “Look, my children are squabbling,”?

 

Kathy Escobar is hosting a fabulous synchroblog this month on bridging the divide between believers.  Check out some of the other wonderful posts from this series:

Hop along, Easter Bunny: I mean it.

Little ones say things that literally take my breath away. I wrote this 3 years ago, and it gave me chills to remember it. I thought I’d share with you why our family (still) has the Easter bunny tradition pass over us.

It seems that at least once a week, My eldest and I have a conversation that astounds me. She is not yet four, but the questions she asks and her grasp of things is amazing to me.

But perhaps just as amazing as her questions is how, when I am answering her questions, the words seem to take on extra gravitas as they come out of my mouth. Things that I’ve known for years suddenly become REALLY, REALLY REAL as I explain them to my daughter. It brings me to tears on occasion.

For example, last week as we were driving we were talking about the fields and trees we were passing and how God had made them all. She remembered we learned Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and asked more about creation. And as I began to explain to her that God made things by SPEAKING – as in, he just opened his mouth and said it, and then it was, the truth of that fact dawned on me again with such power that it literally made my pulse quicken. I’ve known that truth for years, but as we talked about how God didn’t make things out of wood or playdoh or paper like we do; he just said “let there be a sun”, and there was a sun! … I was filled afresh with wonder.

Or again last week, we were talking about calendars. She was complaining that it was very hard to wait until November when it would be her birthday. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I know it’s hard to wait, but if you take it one day at a time, eventually your birthday will come. The best we can do is just go day by day, and after a while it will be your birthday, and granny will be here, and then it will be Christmas, and one day even Jesus will come back. Just one day at a time.
Her: That’s silly: Jesus coming back.
Me: No really – He is coming back. One day we are going to see him face to face, just like you are looking at me now. (Again – moment of stunned realization as the gravitas of that truth hit me afresh. I got teary eyed.)
Her: But Mom, Jesus is too big to fit into our house.
Me: (laughing and amazed) Actually, Jesus is a regular sized person – so he could visit us in our house. But the bible says when he comes back he’s going to take us to be with him in the new heaven and new earth where God has made new homes for us all to live in.
Her: (thinking) Is everyone going to live there?
Me: No, only people who love Jesus and believe in Him and want to be with him now will also be with Him then.
Her: (thinking) Mom, what are the names?
Me: The names?
Her: The names of the people who don’t believe in him!!? We need to pray for them, Mom.

Oh my, between her serious little questions and articulating answers for her, the weight of eternity hung heavily over me that day. There’s something about saying these things out loud to her simple, trusting face which makes the enormous responsibility of parenting loom all the larger. I DARE not say these things to her unless I am completely and utterly convinced they are true.

Conversations with my children have forced me, again and again, to revisit why I am a Christian. Not just because it ‘works for me’ (although it does), or because God has answered prayers (although He has)… but fundamentally because I am convinced that Jesus lived, died and was who He said he was. While at law school I applied ALL of my ‘laws of evidence’ rules and all of my critical reasoning to figuring out whether there was sufficient evidence in Jesus – and came out with a mental conviction which completely overwhelmed my expectations.

And so I say these weighty things to my trusting daughter with a straight face and a full heart, and as I speak it – the truth of it is tested again for me.

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Which brings me to the Easter Bunny and Santa. Before my children were born I had thought that navigating ‘what to do about Santa and the easter bunny and the tooth fairy’ would be big issues for me. As it turns out, they are not big issues at all.

Now that I find myself in real conversation with a daughter (as opposed to hypothetical ‘what would I do if I were a parent’ imagining), and the experience of ‘the gravitas of truth’ has fallen on me – I just CAN NOT, even if I wanted to, look at my daughter straight-faced and tell her that those things were true if they are not.

I tell her many things, and I read her many stories – and she needs to know from my face and tone of voice that some of those fall into the ‘pretend’ category (little red riding hood, the monster at the end of this book, sesame street and Santa), but others fall into the ‘real’ category (David and Goliath, Jesus rising from the dead, evaporation and how clouds are formed). So far, she’s had no difficulty in understanding that. She has a lively imagination, and her make-believe world and made-up stories are often hilarious patchwork narratives comprised of Aesop’s Fables and Old Testament characters… but at the end of the day, she knows that God is real, and Curious George isn’t.

And so we are happy to tell her stories which are fun and fill her in on our cultural narrative. I want her to know about Goldilocks and the three bears, Sleeping Beauty and Old Mother Goose. They form part of our rich heritage. And so, dare I say it, does Santa and the tooth fairy. They are fun, and she needs to be able to understand the symbols and pictures all around her during the year…

But as someone who feels the sharp conviction of truth when I have to speak it out loud to my daughter, I cannot and will not tell her that Santa is coming down the chimney this Christmas and wake her up with excitement to see what he’s brought. Her trust is too precious and the truth is too great to mess with those boundaries.

Minutiae

This morning we ran out of Nutella. This may technically classify as a “#firstworldproblem”, but in our house it is still a problem.

Adding to my child’s misery, I also would not let her chew gum before breakfast. Nor would I let them watch Netflix under the covers instead of going to school. Nor was there any bacon. Cue foot stomping and a lot of pouting from children.

Cue firm words of rebuke from mom, accompanied by a clipped rehearsal of the “let’s be grateful for what we have rather than complain about what we don’t have” speech. I make that speech several times a day.

It is amazing to me how the little things that go right or wrong on any given morning set the tone for the day. And so, in the spirit of setting a good example, I took a deep breath and counted blessings.

This morning, it rained. We prayed for weeks and weeks through this drought-stricken winter for relief – and this March, it came. I am so grateful.

More than that, our garden is springing to life. I now understand why hope is said to “spring”. There is almost nothing as hopeful as seeing life sprout from what seemed to be dead-dry branches. Hope springs. And spring brings hope. We have hope blossoms all over our apple, lemon and cherry trees. So grateful.

We have roses. Oh glory, we have roses.

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Notice the raindrops. Oh thank you, God.

After a weekend of whining about “never getting what she wants” (specifically, the movie “Frozen”), my eldest read a magazine article about a 9 year old who used her allowance to make “feel better baskets” for sick kids in the hospital. She declared that instead of saving her allowance to buy the DVD, she’d like to make “feel better baskets” too. I’m so grateful: not only for this mercy springing up in my daughter’s soul, but also that our house will be spared a few more weeks of not having to “let it go”, on repeat, every hour.

I talked to my Mom. Skype is wonderful. So grateful.

My husband kissed me goodbye this morning. My daughter ran back for a “last chance” hug. So grateful.

My toddler gave me a kiss this morning. It was full of buttered toast crumbs and milk. It was perfect.

It’s the little things.

And so, I declare that today is a beautiful day, even though we ran out of Nutella.

A very polite, completely reasonable, utterly exhausted DST appeal

Dear People-In-Charge-Of-The-Clocks,

Please, please, please: can we do away with Daylight Savings Time?

This past weekend we were all supposed to “spring forward”, but it’s 5 days later and there is still a lot more lagging than springing going on.

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I wasn’t a big fan of changing the clocks to begin with. Before we had children, it was simply a nuisance. Twice a year we would do the rounds in the house and try and find every single time piece which needed adjusting. We always failed to find one, which almost always ended up with panic and palpitations when we were late to church/missed a meeting/arrived at work an hour before everyone else/called overseas an hour after everyone had gone to sleep. It was a nuisance then.

It’s a nightmare, now. With three small kids in the house, this bi-annual event inflicts all the horrors of jet lag on our family, without one single happy vacation-in-a-distant-land photo to make up for it. They are hungry at the wrong time. They wake up at the wrong time. And worst of all (this only makes sense in that awful logic of tiny people) – they are not just going to sleep an hour later than usual… it’s two hours. Three hours. And come morning when it’s school-a-go-go time, it is as if they are stapled to their mattresses. This week after the time-change is a brutal one. Today my four year old lay sobbing in a heap because his brother ate the only banana he wanted (there were still 6 left). Later, sobbing on the floor of the garage because he had “no energy to get into the car”. Don’t even get me started on the herculean task it was to put on shoes. Over tired children are maddening, miserable little things.

My vote is that we make this last time change the last one. We just stay in this time zone forever. Hawaii and Arizona are on to something. When Fall comes around, let’s not steal that last bit of daylight at the end of the day and tuck it into the 6am zone when most everyone (sane) is indoors and in their pajamas. Let’s keep the time zone where it is now – just shift California over from GMT-8 and park us permanently in GMT-7… leaving us that extra bit of sunshine at the end of the day to walk in our yard after work, to run an errand after the office closes down without it being pitch dark, to savor a sunset even in the bleak midwinter.

Please, oh please. Let’s do away with this madness and leave the clocks where they are. Please?

Signed,

One very-polite, completely-reasonable and utterly-exhausted Mom.

Photo credit: Goodstuff1852/Photobucket

On why we said no to preschool

In the past few weeks, our 4-year old has been keeping us entertained. I’ve been posting side-splittingly funny quotes and anecdotes on Facebook, and noticed that in a number of them I’ve referred to him as our “preschooler”. Except, he isn’t in preschool. Nor was his sister (who is now in kindergarten). And at the moment, it seems unlikely that our youngest will go to preschool either. For us, ‘preschooler’ is a handy way of denoting this phase of life when they are older-than-toddlers but not-yet-school-goers. They are pre-schoolers only in the sense that they are not yet in school.

Dirt school

Dirt school

Every year we consider whether preschool is something we could or should do, and every year we have landed up saying “no”.

Now before I go any further, let me say this:

This post is not about whether YOU should send your kids to preschool. This post is about our personal choice which I find myself explaining to people fairly often, since it seems we are in the minority in our decision.

Also, this post is not about whether preschools are great places for kids. I absolutely believe they are. I believe my kids would LOVE preschool and would benefit from it. I know a number of preschool teachers, and a whole host of kids who are in neighborhood preschools, and I admire their curriculum and kind of envy that experience. I think preschool is amazing.

However, year after year, I keep finding myself saying no. And more than that, every year, I feel I need to justify my ‘no’, because there is pressure (I don’t know where it comes from) to do what others do and enroll our kids in fabulous preschools with their fabulous friends. But the reasons for our annual “no” remain.

1. We don’t need preschool, because I get to stay home with my kids. Chaotic and messy as that choice may be, we have built-in child care at home. We count ourselves fortunate that we have a choice in this matter and don’t need day care. For us, preschool is a want, and not a need.

2. It was important for us to recognize that preschool is a want, and not a need, because it helped us with the math of household budgeting.

  • Mortgage = need.
  • Food = need.
  • Ice-cream = want.
  • Coffee = need
  • Clothing = need
  • Shoes = want
  • Gas & electricity = need
  • Netflix = want
  • Preschool = want

Families the world over have limited budgets, and we are no exception. We choose where and how to spend our money: taking care of needs first, and then weighting our wants if we have the luxury of indulging any of those. We choose to give money away, we ask “should I buy this?” of almost every purchase we make, we are grateful for the things we have. We have spent time discussing whether $7.99 for Hulu plus is worth it, when we already pay $7.99 for a Netflix subscription.

It was irrationally hard, then, to look at the cost of even a modestly-priced preschool. 3 hours a day, 4 days a week would run us between $200 and $325 per month, per child. The cost is fair, given the quality of the teachers and the rich environment these schools provide… but oh my hat! That’s $3000 per year, per child!

I’ve looked this over again and again, and I just can’t do it. If I had $300 a month to spend on my child’s enrichment (and I don’t, really), I choose to put that towards their college enrichment rather than their preschool enrichment. Again and again, I’ve had people ask curiously: “why wouldn’t you send your kids to preschool?”, and more and more I wonder, “would would I?”

In that moment, I know why I would: because preschool is wonderful. They would learn social lessons and scissors skills and have circle time. They would make friends and get invited to birthday parties and go on field trips. They would mix paints and experience conflict and be under the guidance of an adult who actually knows what kindergarten readiness looks like, as opposed to my blindly feeling my way to the school start line.

But I just can’t do it. For us, preschool is a luxury: one my children would enjoy and learn from, but a luxury nonetheless. And so my children are at home: knocking about, perhaps sometimes a little under stimulated, perhaps sometimes a little jealous that they don’t get invited to as many birthday parties as other 4-year olds… but we’re doing our best. I try to remember to make play dough. I try to create opportunities for social interaction. We read, we play in the dirt, we work in the garden and we bake cakes. Also, sometimes they watch too many shows and complain that they are bored.

I second-guess this decision constantly. I suspect my son would thrive with the schedule of a preschool and the learn-to-respect-another-adult’s-rules atmosphere of a classroom. We are finding it “challenging” to have him home, to say the least. But not for $3k a year. Nope, sorry. I just can’t do it. In the mean time, I let the guilt of our “no” try to motivate me to get more organized and try a little harder at home; and I look forward to the day that we can one day send them off to college and say: “here you go, kiddo, here’s a little something we saved from your preschool days. We’re sorry if you missed out then, but we didn’t want you to miss out now.”

Jesus and the Goldfish

Here are the things my children know for sure about Sunday School:

1. When in doubt, the answer is Jesus, and
2. There will be goldfish.

Now Rule #1 is for sure a good bedrock principle for life (although less so in High School Science class). But it’s Rule #2 that has me scratching my head today: why is it that snacks are an unquestioned necessity in every children’s church program?

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Our church service, being very western and organized, runs for exactly one hour. In the main sanctuary, the minutes of singing, greeting, announcements (always with the announcements… But I get it, they are central to our community life), the sermon… All carefully timed to fit into sixty minutes. The children’s programs have a schedule too: minutes of free play, clean up, circle time, bible story, craft and SNACK.

Now don’t get me wrong: my kids LOVE the snack! But I’m still wondering: Why? Why the snack? We can all last for 60 minutes without needing to eat. Children’s church is not a public school program where we know that for some kids, the calories they get on the campus are sometimes the only calories they get in a day. Rather, I would venture that for almost all the kids in our church, the goldfish consumed during Sunday school programs are competing for space with the lunch their parents will attempt to feed them within two hours of leaving church.

So why the snack?

I can think of three reasons:
1. The kids like eating.
2. It is something to do, and easily takes up 10 minutes of a program. When I occasionally sub teaching classes, I am always grateful for the 10 minute hiatus for munching…. But I could easily fill those minutes with play or singing too, if that were the norm. We’re just USED to making snack one of the non-negotiables of our kids program.
3. We are modeling and nurturing the idea of table fellowship: eating and talking together is something believers have done for centuries, and even young ‘uns get to participate in that aspect of Christian community.

Now that I think about it, #3 is a fairly persuasive argument in favor of keeping those horrible little goldfish crackers as a central part of our kids program. It can be a vehicle for conversation and community around a table, and it is also training for the horrible little crackers most of us will gratefully receive for communion for the remainder of our adult lives.

Community-building and communion-training could be great arguments in favor of keeping snack time. But if we’re serving snacks just because it’s always been done, because it’s expected, because it fills the time… Then I vote we ditch the goldfish, and cast our nets a little wider for inspiration.

While we wait for the doctor, we breathe our thanks.

As I sat in the ER waiting room yesterday, I noticed the turkey decorations above the check-in desk. My mind flew back to thanksgiving week 7 years ago, when we sat hopeful and thankful – awaiting a positive result on our first pregnancy test.

Thanksgiving was particularly poignant that year: we imagined turkey with toddlers in the years to come; sticky hands smearing clouds of molten marshmallow off the sweet potato pie and onto dimpled chins. As the cellular blastocyst of life in my belly grew by the minute, my imagination expanded as quickly: picturing my husband with a bundle in his arms, tired and happy smiles, the joy of introducing our little one to ice-cream, to music, to friendship. Thanksgiving indeed.

Weeks later, we sat in the waiting room again: anxious and subdued, bleeding and still yet hopeful that the little life which had begun was still hanging on. We returned home ashen and devastated. Our little one was not meant to be. Our thanksgiving treasure was gone, and yet in our grief – we found ourselves strangely thankful to have had that little one for those few weeks. ‘Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. We did not have a baby, but we had become parents. I wept in church that Sunday as we sang the refrain “You give and take away, you give and take away, my heart will choose to say – Lord, blessed be your name.” Thanksgiving indeed. By habit. By necessity.

On the night before thanksgiving the following year, we welcomed our little girl into the world: a wondrous contradiction of blood and glory in my arms. We ate turkey and stuffing and pecan pie in a sterilized bed that folded in half, and breathed our thanks for the little one that Made It. Thanksgiving indeed.

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I cradled that same girl in the ER yesterday as we looked at the paper turkeys on the wall. She braved the x-rays, and sobbed through the splinting of her broken elbow. I sang, I hummed, I consoled, I cried, I hugged and I harnessed all my silly for my brave little slip of a girl. But I also gave thanks: for the life we’ve got to share with her for 6 years, for this being our first ER visit ever in our 11 years of cumulative parenting, for broken elbows rather than broken spines, for health care, and for the sweet mercies of God’s grace which I find anew every time I’m waiting for a doctor. Thanksgiving indeed.

Photo credit: content.time.com