Better Than a Rolling Jail

minivan

My kids say some pretty-dang-hilarious things, and I was reminded yesterday of one of the funniest quips yet.

We had spent the afternoon with fun friends on their farm (the same friends who took a mislaid stripey sweater on the adventure of its life), and it was time to leave. Of course, the kids didn’t want to go, and the effort of corralling them to the car felt a bit like trying to catch that one piece of egg shell that slipped into the cake mix. After several kind requests, I upped my Mom-game: “GET. INTO. THE. CAR.” I hissed as I strong-armed him into his buckles.

My son didn’t miss a beat: “This isn’t a car,” he yelled, “It’s a ROLLING JAIL!”

I laughed the whole drive home.

****

I’ve been slowly making my way through the one year devotional based on Dallas Willard’s Hearing God. Yesterday’s entry was based on Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God.

As if often the case when reading in the morning, my eldest had slipped under my arm and was reading the Bible with me. I read the verse out loud and thought a moment, before saying to her: “I think we do this most regularly in the car, don’t you think? I think that’s the place we most often talk about what we’re learning, and it’s definitely the place where we do the most singing.” (Note to the reader: we’ve had Seeds Family Worship albums playing on repeat for pretty much five years continually now. And I’m still not sick of them.) My daughter agreed: yes, the minivan probably was the place where we heard and sang Scripture most regularly, and after more than five hundred repeats of those CD’s… the words are carved deep into our subconscious… which sounds like letting it “dwell in us richly”, don’t you think?

And all of a sudden my son’s hilarious words from the farm flew back into my memory, and I thought a new thought about our minivan and its unexpectedly prominent role in our spiritual formation:

It isn’t a car… it’s a Rolling Church.

And that thought kept me laughing the rest of the day.

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

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

easter eggs

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:

IMG_4674

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.

The Owl and the Pussycat (Edward Lear)

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
   In a beautiful pea-green boat, 
They took some honey, and plenty of money, 
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 
The Owl looked up to the stars above, 
   And sang to a small guitar, 
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 
    What a beautiful Pussy you are, 
         You are, 
         You are! 
What a beautiful Pussy you are!” 
II 
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl! 
   How charmingly sweet you sing! 
O let us be married! too long we have tarried: 
   But what shall we do for a ring?” 
They sailed away, for a year and a day, 
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows 
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood 
   With a ring at the end of his nose, 
             His nose, 
             His nose, 
   With a ring at the end of his nose. 
III 
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling 
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.” 
So they took it away, and were married next day 
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill. 
They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
   They danced by the light of the moon, 
             The moon, 
             The moon, 
They danced by the light of the moon.
by Edward Lear: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)
illustration by Corrie Haffly

*************

My Dad loved this poem (loves it still), and when I think of it, I think of him: grinning from ear to ear and dancing around the kitchen: “the moon, the moon, they danced by the light of the moon.” In fact, “you elegant fowl” is still a compliment trotted out on formal occasions.

I need to learn this poem by heart, and dance around the kitchen as I recite it to my kids, for I would love them to have such a sweet memory, too.

Pick of the Clicks 10/23/2015

Happy weekend, friends! Just a few this week, but they’re GO-OO-OO-OO-D: enjoy!

PofClicks

This is so awesome: Sesame Street introduced their first character with Autism—Meet Julia. I watched Sesame Street for the first time in my 30s, and loved it straight away (the Count is my favorite! Von. Too. Tree. ah ah ah ah.) I didn’t think I could love it more… but now I do: what a huge contribution it makes to have beloved muppets teach us how to love kids of all kinds.

Excellent thoughts from Russell Moore: How Confidence Makes Us Kind.

But we are not the voice of the past, of the Bible Belt to a post-Christian culture of how good things used to be. We are the voice of the future, of the coming kingdom of God. The message of the kingdom isn’t “You kids, get off our lawn.” The message of the kingdom, is, “Make way for the coming of the Lord.”

“The arc of history may be long, but it bends towards Jesus.”

This is extraordinary story-telling and journalism from Sophia Jones following Syrian Refugees from country to country: 1000 Miles In Their Shoes.

Truth: I don’t like to link to the same people two weeks in a row on Pick of the Clicks… I try to keep things broad. But I can’t help it this week, because this article from Jessica Mesman Griffiths is truly EXCELLENT. So thought-provoking, so important. READ THIS: The Spiritual Child – The Next Big Idea in Parenting.

 I was a normal teenager struggling on the path of individuation under a mountain of grief. I needed someone, anyone, really, to stand by my side, to say “I’m not leaving,” to say “I see your suffering”—and our loving God sees your suffering. To say, as Miller says, “your pain is real—I know it.”

Also, since I’m repeating honors, Alexandra Petri KILLS it with this one: Famous Quotes, the way a woman would have to say them in a meeting.

“Let my people go.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Pharaoh, listen, I totally hear where you’re coming from on this. I totally do. And I don’t want to butt in if you’ve come to a decision here, but, just, I have to say, would you consider that an argument for maybe releasing these people could conceivably have merit? Or is that already off the table?”

Cindy Brandt always makes me think, and this post is no exception: Three Reasons Why We Don’t Pray The Sinner’s Prayer With Our Children. I think her third point (belonging > believing) resonates deeply with me, especially after my month-long thought experiment on what it means to belong.

Halloween is coming up, and a few people have asked me what I think: so here’s this from me at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics last year on finding cultural nuance in the Halloween debate: My First American Halloween. (Hint: the holiday is really more American than religious or irreligious)

This old clip came to mind this week, so funny that I thought I’d share it this week for old times’ sake:

Haha. Gotta love Ross.

And from me this week:

When it’s time to hang up the super-mom cape (and put on pajamas),

and an older post which got a lot of love this week: On raising beautiful girls.

Also, I’m giving away a copy of the gorgeous new NIV Bible for Women (which includes devotions from yours truly – EEEK!) You can enter up to four times, and entries close Wednesday. Best of luck.