Just Hang The Darn Curtains

Our home is currently the site of an aggressive marketing campaign. Every door in the house, as well as the headboard of our bed and several walls are sporting hand-crafted posters, all bearing the same message: We want a dog.

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Apparently our children feel they have been in pet-limbo for long enough, and the Betta Fish–beloved as he is—is not meeting their snuggling and playing needs. Hence: Operation Wear Down The Parents. With Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs met, they are tackling their Hierarchy of Wants, and in their vision of what makes a house Home, a dog is high on the list. We’ve been putting it off for years.

Nearly four years, to be exact.

This Fall will mark four years since we bought our first house. Before then, our reason for not having a pet is that we were renting, and our lease agreements forbade pets. Then we bought a house, and found a new reason: we had two kids in diapers, and There’s Only So Much Poop Mama Can Handle. “Not until you’re potty trained,” we told the kids (a process that took YEARS longer than expected). But it finally happened, and with the potty-training obstacle removed, the real reason for our reticence was exposed: a dog is a long term commitment, and we didn’t want to make it. Not here, and not now.

The dog conversation has been tabled, but it raised another question for me: what else have I been putting off because I didn’t want to commit? As it turns out, a whole lot. Grateful as we were for our house, we have never thought it was the place we would stay in long-term, and as a result didn’t want to invest in it too deeply. Improvements—if any were to be made—were for the purposes of resale, not for our own enjoyment.

We’ve done things that needed to be done (like replace the A/C and the carpet which got doused with the neighborhood cat’s pee), but not much more. We have done no landscaping. We never hung curtains. The few artworks we own remain in the same places we put them when we first moved in, saying “it’ll do for now”. Part of this decorating malaise is certainly attributable to a my having 0% of Martha Stewart’s design genes and a pathological fear of Pinterest. But that’s not the deeper issue.  Thinking it wouldn’t be long until we moved house again, we didn’t commit to making this our home – a subtle but not insignificant reflection of our general tendency to find excuses to delay living fully in the moment.

We save a bottle of wine for “a special occasion”, and in doing so let multiple small but real opportunities for rejoicing pass by unnoticed. 

We buy a beautiful dress and keep it on the hanger, letting season after season go by without pulling it out and enjoying it just because we can.

We think of a friend we haven’t seen for a while and, wishing we could spend hours catching up, fail to send a text or call for a few minutes just to maintain connection. Months and years go by, and friendships wilt under our silent good intentions.

We see something that needs doing and, fearing we might not do it well enough, leave it undone.

We move into a house and, knowing we won’t want to live there forever, fail to live there well now.

This weekend I called a friend I haven’t spoken to in over a year, and while we were on the phone, I hung curtains. It took several trips to the store to get the right combination of mounting hardware and fittings, and the curtains aren’t perfect, but as we tumbled into bed last night after a weekend of team work, I looked up at the newly hung drapes in our room and couldn’t help but smile. The room that had felt like a workable “transitional bedroom” until we found the “home we really wanted” all of a sudden felt a lot more like our space.

Hang the darn curtains because THIS IS YOUR HOME RIGHT NOW. Break open the bottle of wine BECAUSE YOU’RE HAPPY. Wear the nice outfit just because it’s TUESDAY. Invite over the new person even though your house is messy BECAUSE WARM HOSPITALITY IS ALWAYS WELCOME. Call that friend, even if you just have five minutes: because never mind birds and bushes – A BRIEF TEXT IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE DRAFTS FOLDER.

There’s value in investing in life now, even if our efforts are impartial and imperfect. As G.K. Chesterton said: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Which includes my half-baked efforts at hanging curtains.

(But we’re still not ready for a dog.)

What If Facebook Makes Me a Better Mom?

Facebook gets a lot of bad rap. It’s a time sucker, they say, and screen time is no substitute for face time. “Liking” a status doesn’t mean we have talked. Social media is a poor substitute for social life, yadda yadda.

I feel the danger of Facebook. I know it is easier to sometimes watch my screen refresh than to watch my kids build towers. Handsfree Mama is quick to point out how social media is making me a worse Mom.

But on most days, with a little responsibility and care taken not to spend too much time on there, I think I’m a better Mom because I’m on Facebook. Not because of Facebook per se, but because online I belong to a community of encouraging, funny, wise friends – who commiserate, advise, cheer and laugh me through this journey.

I spend most of my day in the presence of three small kids, with no adults around. Facebook gives me another adult to share moments of eye-rolling hilarity:

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See those ‘likes’ and ‘comments’? They made this stay-at-home mama feel she was in the company of friends. I enjoyed my daughters’ wisecrack more for having laughed with others.

On the days when I fail my attempts to scale Laundry Mountain, Facebook allows me to relish the silliness of my vocation:

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On days when we’re quarantined by strep throat and I’m at my wits’s end, Facebook funnels the voice of my resourceful Pinteresty friends right into my kitchen, brimming with great ideas and encouraging words:

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My FB community saved that day. And the day after it. And the day after that: with creative ideas and prayers for health and words of encouragement – they send reinforcements of the very best kind.

Facebook has been a lifeline to stay in touch with people I love. It allows me to share proud mommy moments with my family abroad. It has been the means for finding last minute baby-sitters, new homes for less-loved toys and clothes, a reference for a new pediatrician.

In a world where I seldom get to talk to friends for long enough to find out what they’re reading and thinking, Facebook is a medium where friends post articles that keep me afloat as a Mommy: things that remind me we’re not alone, pieces with tips on colicky babies, posts that remind me that breastfeeding needs to be encouraged.

In an insular world where the immediate needs of my children often eclipse the urgent needs of justice, broader-minded friends on FB post links to articles that remind me to pray, to think, to give, to show mercy.

I believe I am a better Mommy because of the community of wise and wonderful people whose presence online is a representation of their presence in my life. Their thoughts, links, comments and prayers shape and encourage me in the long days of parenting.

Being a Mom can be lonely work. I sometimes need to be heard. I sometimes need to listen. Facebook brings a listening ear and words of perspective, council, reflection and humor from every corner of my world right into my living room – and I’m thankful for the “village”. We help each other keep things in perspective.

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A wise man once said that there was a time for every activity under heaven. A time to gather sticks, and a time to scatter them. A time to mourn and to dance.

I think when it comes to Mommying, for me there’s a time for both: a time to switch off the screens and look my children in the eye and snuggle and read books and play baseball. But there’s also time for that community of friends whose company and counsel is virtually indispensible. And yes, pun intended.

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Three cheers for the sisterhood.
Three cheers for sharing life.
And three cheers for Facebook, if you ask me.

This post is day 25 of my 31 Days of Belonging writing challenge – another crazy community of bloggers I electively BELONG to 🙂 For a complete list of posts (with my favorites marked), click here.

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.

 

 

On C.S. Lewis and being a ‘homemaker’

On CS Lewis, homemakers and the Ultimate Career

I recently stumbled upon a quote that made this stay-at-home-mama’s heart leap:

The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

-C.S. Lewis

I read it, and read it, and read it again. Then I let my eyes savor who had penned those words. I mean really, if C.S. Lewis said it – it HAS to be true! I posted the quote on Facebook and the it garnered ‘likes’ by-the-minute. Clearly I am not the only one needed to hear exactly this today.

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Modern Homemakers of 2013?

Why did it strike such a chord? I think the reason it leaped out at me was that, at first, I read it to mean this: “a stay at home Mom has the most valuable and important career.”

Now as a stay-at-home Mom, I am in SORE NEED OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Every single day is one spent being busy, busy, busy. The hours are long. The work is never done. There are hours and hours of laundry and refereeing and fort-building and sandwiches being made and then rejected. Each day involves about thirty forays under the dining table to retrieve Something Sticky. Every day involves multiple trips to the bathroom to rinse Something Sticky (sadly, often underpants). And yet at the end of each day I look at the fruit of my labor, and most days this is what I come up with:

Nothing.

At the end of the day, judging by the physical evidence around me, I see zero dollars earned, zero surface areas cleaned, and judging by the whining and sass, zero character development in my children either.

Yet, in my heart, I know that this is worthwhile. I know that I need to take the long-view. I just need to be encouraged and reminded that This Is Worth It, and My Time At Home Makes A Difference. Because the physical evidence to refute that piles up daily in my sink. Amidst the daily grind of parenting there is also the colossal mental battle of discouragement and fear that needs to be fought.

So when C.S. Lewis, that great author of things wise and pithy, writes something which seems to say that this, THIS, my underpaid, undervalued, underwhelming and very-sticky existence – is the Ultimate Career – I feel validated and worthy again, even if just for a moment.

A little internet sleuthing revealed the original source for the quote, which appears to have been someone’s precis of something he wrote in a “letter to Mrs Ashton” in 1955:

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)

What a wonderful man to have corresponded with. Mrs Ashton’s heart was, no doubt, warmed as mine was to read his words.

However, as I’ve been mulling over this quote today, a thought has occurred to me, and now that I have read the original quote I think I need to tweak my initial understanding of Lewis’ words.

By “ultimate” career, he did not solely mean ultimate as in “highest, greatest and unsurpassed.” He was not saying that homemaking is the most fabulous career, the best one, the one-that-can’t-be-beat. Lovely as it sounds, it would be hard to accept his encouragement as truly true if that was what he meant. There is a pile of dishes in my sink to refute that claim, after all.

Rather, by “ultimate”, I think he means “the last, the furthest, ending a process or series. The final or total. The fundamental.” I think he means by “ultimate” what in Greek is meant by the word ‘telos’ – it’s the final goal. It’s the career to which all other careers point.

Reading it like that, I think, means that Lewis’ words of encouragement stretch their warmth and wisdom beyond the realm of the stay-at-home mama, and in fact speak to us all, for:

.. You, working mama, work not to selfishly advance your career, but to provide for your home. To make a place which is warm and safe and in which your family that you love can thrive. Your career is also in service of the ultimate goal: you are using your skills as best you can to make your house a HOME.

.. and You, working daddy, work ultimately not for prestige or money or selfish advancement, but to provide for your FAMILY. You too, are working towards the ultimate career – to provide for your home. You work at “work”, but ultimately, you are working for your home.

… and yes You too, stay at home mama or stay at home daddy, are working in the ultimate career: using your strengths, gifts, time, service to make your house a HOME. And that Sisyphean task is valuable.

CS Lewis’ words are encouraging to me as I face my sticky-floor, but not in the sense that my career as a stay-at-home is “different from other careers and most highly esteemed”. Rather, today his words are encouraging to me because they remind me that my career as a SAHM is, in fact, the same as other careers, in that we are all ultimately seeking to make a HOME.

And that goal of creating happy homes, which “prepares for being happy in our own real home hereafter”,

(whether done directly by floor-and-butt-wipers like me,)

(or indirectly by engineers-like my husband,)

(or indirectly by my brave and wonderful working-mama friends,)

…..is a goal worthy of encouragement.
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Resolution

Reflecting on last year brought a mixture of both joyful remembrance and sad regret. The regrets were mostly on the homefront: regret for the hours I spent “minding” my kids instead of raising them, “tolerating” my husband instead of loving him. Sins of omission, rather than commission.

While reading and reflecting I was greatly encouraged by an excerpt from a letter by Catherine Booth to her husband (the founders of the Salvation Army). This is my prayer for the year ahead.

“If you will seek home, love home, be happy at home, I will spend my energies in trying to make it a more than ordinary one;

it shall, if my ability can do it, be a spot sunny and bright, pure and calm, refined and tender, a fit school in which to train immortal spirits for a holy and glorious heaven, a fit resting-place for a spirit pressed and anxious about public duties;

but oh, I know it is easy to talk, I feel how liable I am to fall short,
but it is well to purpose right,
to aim high,
to hope much;

yes, we will make home to each other the brightest spot on earth, we will be tender, thoughtful, loving and forbearing, will we not? Yes, we will!”