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

Thank you for loving my children

Thank You For Loving My Children

Dear friend,

In case I haven’t said so before, I wanted to thank you for loving my children. Maybe you don’t think it’s a big deal, but I want you to know it means the world.

Thank you for looking them in the eye and greeting them by name. You are teaching them they are valuable.

Thank you for asking them questions about their lives and waiting patiently for their stumbled replies. You are teaching them the currency of conversation.

Thank you for entering their imaginary worlds and helping find the pet unicorn a snack. Thank you for reading to them, even though they were sticky and stinky. Thank you for for pretending you couldn’t see them under the kitchen table when they hid in the same place for the tenth time playing hide-and-go-seek. You are teaching them that that they are wanted. You are showing them the value of play.

Thank you for that time you played rough-and-tumble T-ball with them. Thank you for asking about their first day of school. Thank you for reminding them to say thank you when I’m too weary to remind them again. Thank you for telling them your own childhood story to distract them from their tears.

Thank you for being a safe adult, another role model in their “village”. Your presence in their life is more valuable than you know. They soak up your laughter, your kindness, your pleases-and-thank-yous.

We take our children to church, but you are the church to our children. You are one of the teaching aides God has put into their life, and they love you.

Thank you for loving my children, and in doing so, for loving me.

Don’t do me any favors

This is my official public appeal:

Please can we do away with party favors?

This week I cleaned out 4 bags of chips, 5 transferrable tattoos, 2 pencils, 6 brightly colored erasers, 3 small containers of bubbles (none of which really work), and a handful of candies-my-kids-don’t-eat. All relics from this summers’ birthday parties, with the obligatory “party favor” bag hastily pressed into our hands on departure.

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Somewhere in my closet, among the boxes of things serious, sentimental and seriously sentimental, I also have a box of unused wedding favors from our own wedding. Over the years, whenever my husband and I have debriefed our wedding, we laugh about those favors. They cost extra time, extra money, and a whole lot of extra stress. They were the one thing that we felt our wedding day could have done without, and nothing would have been lost. In fact, ten bucks for any of our guests who can even remember what our wedding favors were. (To my bridesmaids who sat for hours bundling them, you only get gold stars if you can recall. But they are very shiny stars.)

Now wedding favors might serve a few purposes: 1) they might serve to thank people for coming (but we do that verbally, and in any case it is an honor to be invited to a wedding!) 2) in years past, they could give the couples’ new contact information (but these days, aren’t we all about gravatars and facebook anyway?) 3) They might form part of the table decorations (Ok. I’ll grant that’s one way of making things look pretty).

Perhaps a couple might WANT to do wedding favors, (and more power to them to make it the wedding of their dreams), but to those couples who feel they HAVE to do wedding favors, and to those Moms who feel they OUGHT to do party favors for kids, let me say this:

I don’t think we should have party favors, and I’m not just saying this because I am deathly afraid of Pinterest.

We go to parties to celebrate life events with people we love. It is a privilege to attend. Witnessing milestones and being counted as witnesses of babies being born, years well lived or new families started are tremendous honors.

A bag of treats is no substitute for teaching our children to look their guests in the eye and say “thank you for coming to my party”. And those bags of treats may not have been very expensive, but it is still wasteful to waste – even if it was only $25. Twenty five bucks can pay for 500 malnourished kids to be dewormed. It can provide a simple handwashing tap in a village and keep life-threatening diseases at bay.

Our twenty five bucks can do so very much good in the world, all while saving parents from another day’s whining for leftover candy.

So would you do me a favor? Please forgive me if we don’t do party favors. And know I’ll love you just the same (perhaps even more), if you forego them too.

To my picky eater

Darling child,

Tonight I served green eggs and ham for dinner. The irony was completely lost on you.

Green Eggs and Ham

You pushed it away without trying a bite, just as you do with most of the the conventionally colored meals we eat the remainder of the week.

I do not like them Sam-I-am.

You are probably as relieved as I am that we don’t fight about it anymore. The bribes to eat, the threat of punishment, the starving-you-out, the timer… all of those tactics produced zero eating and a multitude of stress.

Not in a car, Not in a tree.
I do not like them, Sam, you see.
Not in a house. Not in a box.
Not with a mouse. Not with a fox.
I will not eat them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere!

I’m glad we’re past that. Now we both know that you eat for YOU, not for me, and we are both the better for it.

But just because we don’t fight about it doesn’t mean I don’t care what you eat, because I care immensely.

You see, there are many different reasons to eat. Most of the world eats because they’re hungry. They eat whatever is put in front of them, because the choice is the little on the plate before them, or hours of painful hunger. Hunger is a great reason to eat.

Those with slightly more resources eat to be healthy. They have a choice, and need to choose a balance of foods to give them energy and nutrients. Food is human-fuel. Energy for living is a great reason to eat.

(As an aside, sweetie, there are many that eat for comfort, hoping that the full feeling in their tummies will somehow make the ache in their soul-hole go away. Your mama is one who too often eats to feed her feelings, and I’m working hard to know when my soul needs Jesus-food rather than ice-cream. Sadness is not a great reason to eat.)

Sweetheart, in this land-of-abundance we call home – we have never gone hungry, and we are spoilt for choice. So you don’t eat meat? That’s okay – there are a dozen other protein choices for you. You don’t like what’s on the menu? That’s okay, another snack or meal will be served within hours. Even as a picky eater, you can still never have to deal with hunger, and you can still find a healthy, balanced diet among these options.

My precious child, I am not worried that you will be hungry, and I am not worried about your health. The thing that concerns me most is not that you are missing out on food. The thing that concerns me is that you are worried out on what food represents: relationships.

Yes, we eat to abate hunger and to fuel our lives, but more than that I want you to know that food is the centerpiece of us living our lives together. We eat for joy. We eat in community. We eat for shared experience and shared conversations. We eat to welcome people into our home, and we show our acceptance of hospitality and welcome in their lives by accepting the cup of tea and plate of food which is passed our way. Meals together are the bedrock of friendships and communities: a shared pot is a shared life.

Dining together celebrates the diversity of cultures and tastes in God’s big world. A bite of a foreign dish is, quite literally, a taste of their world.

So, my beloved one, when Mommy urges you to try a bite, please know that it’s not because I’m afraid you’ll miss out on calories or calcium. It’s because I’m afraid you will miss out on community. I’m concerned your pickiness will, if left unchecked, lead you to say no to tastes and flavors of friendship. I’m afraid it will cause offense among those who might risk opening their lives and homes to you. I don’t want you to miss out on ministry and missions trips and pizza nights with friends because the food-issue causes so much tension.

I could not, would not, on a boat.
I will not, will not, with a goat.
I will not eat them in the rain.
I will not eat them on a train.

I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them ANYWHERE!

Your Daddy and I sometimes joke among ourselves that perhaps, one day, there will be a boy you like, and he will ask you out on a date and will take you somewhere special. We joke that he will order a dinner filled with tastes and textures you have never tried before, and that you – starry eyed and hormonal – will choose to try a hamburger for the first time rather than hurt the feelings of the anxious youth with the cute haircut and nervous smile. We tell ourselves that maybe, on that day, you will – for the sake of nascent love – sink your teeth into something new and say:

Say!
I like green eggs and ham!
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!

Because love is a great reason to eat.

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On why letting your kid pet that duckling might lead to anarchy

Every Fall we take our kids (of the human variety) to a delightful local farm where there are piglets, ducklings, kittens, chicks and kids (of the goatish variety). They love it.

Here’s how it is supposed to work: carefully seated on hay bales and with the assistance of an adult, kids who are 2 and older are allowed to snuggle with newborn kittens. Kids of 3 and older are allowed to hold kittens or chicks. Kids of 4 or older are allowed to hold ducklings.

However, here’s how it often does work: carefully seated on hay bales, kids who are 2 or who are 1 and whose parents think they are as tall as, as smart as or as responsible as a 2 year old, get left holding the kitten while Mommy backs away from the kid for the photo op. Ditto for chicks and the kids deemed as smart/tall/responsible as REAL 3 year olds. Ditto for ducklings and the kids deemed as smart/tall/responsible as REAL 4 year olds.

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Apart from the fact that such behavior is unfair to the animals and unfair to other patrons who are waiting their turn, I write this because I deeply believe that breaking the rules for our kids is actually unfair to our kids.

Here’s why. As parents, we expend a great amount of energy trying to teach our children to do right. They say “No”, and we parrot “No thank you”. They say “Yes”, and we parrot “Yes please”. We parrot “listen to your teacher”. We parrot “don’t run in the street”. We parrot “don’t eat with your mouth full”. These, and a thousand other rules and instructions, are repeated because we hope to train our kids in the right direction: we want them to become good citizens, good people.

However, there is truth in all the cliche’s:

Behavior is more CAUGHT than TAUGHT.

PRACTICE what you PREACH.

ACTIONS speak louder than WORDS.

And so it worries me, that in a generation where we keep trying to TELL our children how to live, we are MODELING behavior which says “the rules only apply when they suit you.”

Our children may be  young, but far from thinking “oh they are too young to notice”, we would do well to remember that they are being imprinted by observation. I still vividly remember being taken to the circus by my grandfather when I was in my first year of elementary school. As we stood in the queue for tickets, I pointed out to him that the tickets for little kids were half of the cost for kids of school-going age. “I could say I’m not in school yet, Oupa,” I offered. His reply was gentle but firm: “But you ARE in school, and so that’s what we’ll say.”

I was only 6, but the memory of that conversation came back to me years later when I was short-of-cash and riding the tube in London. The conductor asked how far I was traveling. I could have said I’d just got on. But I hadn’t. I had ridden much further, and so that was what I had to say.

Our children are watching us.

And so when the rules say “no food or drink in the play zone”, and we sneak in juice and crackers because we don’t want to buy snacks there – let’s not teach our kids that it’s okay to disrespect the rules if it is more convenient.

And when the rules say “no holding ducks until you’re 4”, and “only with an adult’s assistance” – let’s pass on the photo op and hold the duckling for our 3 year old so they can still pet it.

And when the rules say “no cellphone use while you’re driving”, let’s wait to check that text or let it go to voicemail (Aack! convicted!)

Because our children are watching us. And one day, they will have to tell the truth when it hurts. They will have to make a choice between forgoing an opportunity or lying to get it. They will have to write resumes. They will have to decide whether to take a lower grade and write the paper themselves or whether to plagiarize. They will have to pay their taxes. They will have to decide whether to be faithful to their friends and spouses.

One day, our children will be influential contributors to civil society – where justice and community are underpinned by that all-important concept of the rule of law. Democracy cannot exist without it: “the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced”.

Friends: it’s not about the duckling. It’s about teaching our kids that the rules apply to us. We are not above the law, even on minor issues like holding ducklings. We are being unfair to our kids if our actions teach our kids that rules exist for people, but especially OTHER people. As my sister astutely pointed out to me: “We are not ‘stuck in traffic’. We ARE traffic.”

Oh how I pray that, hapless and hypocritical as I sometimes can be, they when all is said and done they will have learned from us that they need to do what is right even when no-one is watching. Our futures depend on it.