Sunday, December 22, 2013

Best Mom Tip #186: Beeeeeee......Patient

Be patient. NOW! NOW! DO IT NOW!

Hee hee. Just kidding.

Patience may be a virtue, but it is not one that comes easily to most of us. Anyone who has ever watched a preschooler insist upon putting on their own shoes while the minutes ticked by and you crept ever closer to that point where you would be so late people would comment on how they "didn't know if you were still coming" knows the pain of patience. 

Or if you've ever changed a diaper and dressed a bunch of kids only to go to load them all in the car and discover that, somehow, the baby needs changing AGAIN. Or if you've sat in a doctor's office waiting room trying to keep the baby from licking the floor while you waited for the strep test you already KNOW is positive. 

Or, sometimes, when you're asked yet another question about the color of the sky, or how power lines work, or about the criminal justice system. OK, that one may just be me since my son is very interested in police work and what happens to bad guys. Today he asked if there were beds in jail and when I said yes he wanted to know why the bad guys didn't just sleep on the floor as punishment. Trying to explain to a Kindergartner that people go to jail as punishment and not for punishment is more challenging than I would have thought.

Most of us don't want to squish our kids' inquisitive minds or stomp on their independence when they learn new tasks. And the doctor's office isn't trying to make my life difficult by actually determining what diseases my kids have. I know all this in my mind, but what about in the actual life moments? The moments when we HAVE to leave the house RIGHT NOW or we have to wait because your brother needs antibiotics or I cannot hold you because everyone else has to eat and CAN'T YOU SEE I HAVE SOMETHING HOT IN MY HANDS?

How can we be patient in those times when it is the last thing in the world we want to be? 

I volunteer with the high school ministry at our church and I joke that working with teenagers is a long game. You never know what moments may matter to them or what words might seep into their hearts and resonate later on in their lives. That was true when I taught high school as well. You hope that they feel loved and valued and that maybe they learn something that will make them better adults and better citizens and better human beings in general. Sometimes they look you up to tell you thanks or that you made a difference, but mostly you just scatter your seeds and hope something grows at some point. 

Parenting is an even longer game. A lifetime, at least, but perhaps even longer. What I teach my children about love, respect, discipline, encouragement, commitment, and faith will echo through the generations that come after me. My daughter will emulate me in ways that neither she nor I can foresee. My sons will respect in their wives some of the same qualities they respect in me. I have no other tasks in this life that compare to the joyful burden of raising my children.

So why in the world am I so annoyed at them for being slow or grumpy or intentionally deaf to my instructions?

In church this morning our preacher talked about how, nearly 2000 years before Jesus was born, God promised Abraham that "all peoples on earth" would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). Today, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all trace their heritage back to Abraham. People groups that don't follow those faiths come into contact with those who do. God still moves through wheels he set turning millennia ago. God's plan, His master plan to bring joy, hope, and light to the weary world, has been thousands of years in the making. Even when mankind does his very utmost to screw up the whole thing and blame it on God in the process, God's purpose and plan moves forward.

THAT is patience.

It occurred to me that if I could gain even a tiny fraction of God's perspective on others, my patience might expand exponentially. In that light, I have noticed a few things about my interactions with my children.

1. My children are NOT trying to push my buttons. Usually. Sometimes they are, but mostly they are just learning to navigate this world.
2. My ability to be on time, have everyone dressed well, or make dinner will not be the most important thing(s) they remember about me. My attitudes toward them will always have more value and more impact.
3. My children have very little control over their own lives and sometimes they are trying to claim independence in some small, seemingly insignificant way that matters deeply to them in that moment. 

Practically, this attempt at patience manifests itself in a few ways. I try to create "work-arounds" for their known triggers. The kid who MUST put on his own shoes or he will melt down is told to do so 15 minutes early, for instance. When I have no control over how long something is going to take (prescriptions, traffic, etc.) I take a deep breath and let it go. My poor attitude will not make us move faster. Children who refuse to listen are occasionally picked up and moved against their will, but without the arguing or threats or stress build-up beforehand. 

I try to focus on the long game, not just this task or this day. Sometimes I fail. 

Alright, relatively often I fail. And that's when I pray. For patience, for perspective, and most of all, for the long game. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Best Mom Tip #185: Look Down

After having written a somewhat downer of a Christmas post last week, I thought I'd make up for it with cute pictures of my toddler. SO...This is Baby Jack.

He is cute and cuddly and he really likes to help do things like put on his shoes and socks and decorate the Christmas tree. He is terrible at all of these things.
He also likes to throw the Christmas ornaments, eat the tinsel off of the tree, and steal things and hide them in the cabinet of toys for later. He is significantly better at these tasks.

For the most part, he makes my life a lot more difficult. He screams when I buckle him into the car seat, he tried to steal a stranger's snack at church this morning, and he flings himself on the ground when he doesn't get his way (say, when I remove a stranger's snack from his grubby fingers). But he also forces me to look at the world with different, and far more passionate, eyes.

If your Christmas holidays are anything like mine, they involve a ridiculous amount of shuffling and logistics and can seem kind of overwhelming. Figuring out what I'm supposed to send in for class parties, which room parent is supposed to get the money for the teacher gift, and which kid is going to which party feels like one of those logic problems I used to do in school.

You know, like, five girls are named Becky, Kaitlyn, Dylan, Brittany, and Heather. Their favorite colors are red, blue, pink, purple, and green. They each play one instrument, the violin, cello, harmonica, piano, and tuba. Becky hates pink and plays the tuba. No girl plays a stringed instrument and likes a traditionally feminine color. What day does Kaitlyn go to the orthodontist? Or something like that.

Having little people who are thrilled with it all, however, has made me try to slow down and really enjoy the chaos and clutter. On Thanksgiving we went to a local tree lighting and our 5-year-old said, "Mommy, Thanksgiving had a little visitor and it was Christmas!"

How cute is that? So I've been trying to welcome our little visitor of lights and cookie exchanges and gingerbread parties and sing-alongs and handmade ornaments and gift buying/wrapping/re-wrapping (Harry crushed three of them while climbing behind the Christmas tree to steal his brother's ornament) without getting frustrated. It doesn't always work.

Which brings me back to Jack. On top of the kitchen table.

This is my precious 1-year-old climbing up on our table in order to play with the Fisher Price Little People Nativity set. He picks up the donkey and barks. He picks up the camel and growls. He is also not very good at identifying animal sounds. He has monkey, though, so that should come in handy here in Atlanta.

The third time I found Jack on top of the table stealing wise men and risking the health of his already bonk-prone skull, I had an epiphany.

"Why in the world don't I move this thing to somewhere lower?"

I've started to try to look at our wonderfully tacky Christmas decorations with my children's eyes, from a point about two feet off the ground. After seeing our house decorated for the first time this year our teenage baby-sitter said, "I like it. It's whimsical and magical. I bet the kids love it." And she's right. They do love it.

They love seeing everyone they know (except Aunt Julie and family--Hi, Aunt Julie!) throughout the month.
They love that I bake things (really, the only time of the year I do that).
They love class parties.
They love giving their teachers gifts (even though I know from my own teaching experience that cash would be better.)
They love to decorate the front porch.
They love to sing Christmas carols.
They love to celebrate.

So keeping in mind my little ones and their enjoyment of the holidays (and also Jack's health) I moved the nativity.

Underneath the hideous reindeer candy dish, underneath the garishly colored ornaments, right where it can be reached by little fingers. There is a wise man missing. There is a race car, and sometimes a dinosaur, present. The camel can often be found lying pitifully on its side in the middle of the hallway.

Isn't it beautiful?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Best Mom Tip #184: Kill Santa

I'm kidding, I don't really think you have to kill Santa-- I just thought it was a funny title. I have an old post called "naked laundry" and you would not believe how many hits that thing still gets. I like to imagine how disappointed some guy is that it's actually just about a frazzled mom and does not include pictures. Or maybe he's grateful it doesn't include pictures.

Anyway, I did really want to talk about Christmas and some things I've been thinking about around our house lately. This Christmas will be the 10th one that Jay and I have celebrated as parents. Over the years we have settled into some traditions and ideas that I'm really happy with and others that are still not exactly what I had in mind.

Early on we decided that, as Christians, it was our responsibility to be intentional with what we teach our children during this time of the year. Our first decision to that end was that we would not be using Santa in our holiday celebrations. Not because Santa is evil or because we hate the joy of children or because we like to flaunt our super-spirituality in front of our friends and family, but because we felt that Santa overshadowed one of our easiest opportunities to teach our children about God's love.

Every year we make a point of telling them that God loved us so much that he gave us all the precious gift of His son. Jesus came "to seek and to save the lost"--to point an arrow back toward God so that we would always know exactly how to find Him. To celebrate being on the receiving end of such a gift, we choose to give gifts to the people we love and cherish every day. Santa, while fun and jolly, made that message harder to explain to kids already distracted by new stuff. So we just don't use ole St. Nick and that has worked pretty well in our family.

Eventually, we focused in on a sort-of two pronged approach to celebrating Christmas with our kids. We attempt to limit their materialism in order to encourage them to become generous givers and we also try to give them opportunities to do for others outside our family as much as possible.

Limiting materialism is quite an uphill challenge. Being Santa-free helps because we don't have to make up excuses for why he doesn't bring super awesome stuff, but there is still a temptation to give over-the-top presents just to see their faces light up. But we didn't want to experience a Christmas morning that was just a gluttony of gifts with no meaning and so we have spent years attempting to counteract the greedy advertising fliers and crazy store displays that our kids see almost every day during late November and December.

A few years ago my friend Camilyn mentioned that her kids get three presents because that was how many Jesus got from the Wise Men. I thought that was both hilarious and practical so Jay and I have implemented this rule in our house, too. Each kid gets one "big" gift and two smaller ones on Christmas morning. Honestly, with four kids it also makes it easier to be relatively equitable.  We still can't control gifts given by others, especially grandparents who have their own need to give equitably among grandchildren, but it's a start.

I also have the children help pick out the gifts we give to their cousins and grandparents. I want them to understand that we choose gifts others will like and spend our money on those we love in order to serve them, not because they will give us presents in return. I hope some of that idea sinks in.

Doing for others is pretty simple while our children are so young. We participate in the Operation Christmas Child program every year and our kids carefully pick out the gifts to go into the box for a kid their age in a developing nation. They pick out toothbrushes and balls and, with our boys, there is always a dinosaur I have to cram into that little box. It's a family outing that they really enjoy and look forward to every year-even my 3-year-old who doesn't like to share anything. I hope to add other service traditions as they get older, but we will have to see where their hearts and interests lie.

By no means do we experience a Christmas completely free of our cultural influences, and I don't think that we need to try to do so. Even our date for celebrating Christmas is likely based on tradition rather than fact so deciding that there is only one right way is a little arbitrary (and silly). We have a Christmas tree even though I know that it has far more to do with the desire of European pagans to remember that spring would come again than it does Christ. Our children's gifts are hidden until we reveal them on Christmas morning purely for the element of surprise. We hang stockings and fill them on Christmas Eve for no other reason than that it's fun. We even make cookies, but instead of leaving them out for Santa Claus, we take them to the police and fire stations near our house on Christmas Eve.

My point is not that you should kill Santa, but rather that we should all really look at our traditions and actions during this month and make sure that they are teaching our children the message we want them to hear. December, more than any other month, gives us great opportunities as parents to share our values and belief systems and have those lessons stick.

Most importantly, we should continue to pray for guidance about what we do and say around these little ears concerning Christmas.

As parents, we actually already have their undivided attention about this holiday. They know that there will be lights and cookies and TOYS from every adult they know. They are eager to talk about Christmas and what they remember from last year and what they hope for in this holiday to come.

Our children will remember our traditions from year to year and hold them sacred in their hearts well into adulthood because they are (hopefully) accompanied by good memories of excitement and fun. Let's attempt to instill meaningful traditions that shape our children into caring adults who value their fellow man and seek to do good in the name of God.  I think it will make for a merrier Christmas for us all.