Monday, May 28, 2012

MORE MISUNDERSTANDINGS


















There are countless moments of misunderstanding with the boys that so easily lead to laughter and delight. But out of all these times, Justin and I sort of have a favorite that involved Jake, Joshua, and an unborn Ella Grace.

I was probably about 8 months pregnant with our baby girl (though at the time we didn’t know she would be a she) and I had just undergone a particularly difficult afternoon with the two boys. They were fighting and being unkind, and I was being impatient and short-tempered, and all three of us were a bit of an emotional mess. As the story unfolds, I find myself sitting on the kitchen floor with Jake on one knee and Joshua on the other, big pregnant belly in between, and I have tears on my face as I’m encouraging them to be kind to each other. “Boys, you’re each others brothers. It’s so important that you love each other. And it’s so important that I love you guys better than this. This is one of the things that God tells us that He cares about most: that we would love each other.” I could sense the tension, the anger, totally diffusing, and both boys sorta were nodding and looking at each other with a little less hostility. I will never forget what happened next. Jake, with a tender and affectionate look on his face leans in close to Joshua, puts a gentle hand on his shoulder and says “Josh, when the new baby comes, you’re going away.” I sat there for a moment in total bewilderment. Josh was not bewildered but was totally enraged.“No!” he shouts, and clocks his older brother, point blank range, right in the face. (One of the funny parts, to me, is that I doubt Josh even understood what Jake had just 'revealed' to him. And yet his response was so fitting. Totally wrong, mind you. But fitting nonetheless.)

“Boys! No, no!” This isn’t how this conversation was supposed to conclude. It was all going so well… I asked Jake why in the world he would say something like that to his baby brother. I detected genuine confusion on his face as he replied: “Because I wanted to tell Josh that when the new baby comes he’s going away. He’s going to go up into the sky with Jesus.” And at this point I could tell that he wasn’t trying to be mean to his brother. In fact, to the contrary, it almost seemed like he was trying to gently warn him about his approaching departure so that it wouldn’t come as a surprise. “But Jake, why do you think this?” And as he explained, it immediately made sense. Several times in the preceding days he had asked me this question: “When the new baby comes, will there be two babies?” And I, thinking that he was asking if there were one or two babies in my belly, would always unthinkingly respond “No no, sweetheart. There will just be one baby.” I hadn’t put it together. Since these were pre-Ella days, our whole family still referred to Joshua as ‘the baby'. Each time Jake had asked this, he was trying to figure out if there were going to be “two babies” (Josh and the new baby) or not. Based on my continual reassurance that there would just be one, he formed a rather logical conclusion I suppose.









MISUNDERSTANDINGS


Several years back when I was pregnant with Jake, a friend from New York (a pastor and mentor to Justin) shared with us the simple little parenting tip called ‘The 3 Ds’. Dialogue. Discipline. Delight.




He was encouraging us, as we prepared to begin the journey of parenthood, to make those three Ds of paramount importance in our philosophy of parenting. Dialogue. Talk with our kids. Listen to our kids. Keep the lines of communication open and honest, even from a young age. Discipline. It doesn’t need to look the same from home to home or even from child to child, but it’s so true that children thrive when there is structure and boundaries that are clearly in place. And delight. Enjoy our kids. Delight in the funny little people that God has entrusted to our care. Don’t be so busy dialoguing and disciplining that we forget to delight in them. This was such awesome advice from a pastor and father who so evidently delighted in his children, and them in him.

I have to say, the delight part is definitely the easiest. Kids are just so darn funny that it's pretty easy to delight in them and laugh with them.

Many of the funny interactions with our children have involved genuine misunderstanding on their part. I remember shortly after Jake’s third birthday, a few days before Easter, I was upstairs and heard Justin coming inside with Jake, into our lower foyer. As they started taking off their shoes, I heard Justin saying to him “No, buddy. You really didn’t. You should trust me about this.” This made me curious, so I listened in. Jake’s earnest response floated up the stairs. “Daddy!! I REALLY did! I died and I’ve risen from the dead!!” I remember just loving listening to Justin try to explain to a three-year-old about the reality that only One has risen from the dead, and that there will be a bodily resurrection one day, but that it most certainly had not happened to Jake yet. We still don’t quite know at what point Jake’s theology went off the rails like that.

More recently, there have been some misunderstandings with the boys in matters concerning their little sister. In all fairness to them, adults really do say some strange things in some strange voices to babies, and I can only imagine how tedious it must be for little people to figure it all out.

One day Jake was hanging out with me while I was getting Ella dressed. The entire time, I’m saying to Ella in a Mama-talking-to-baby voice how adorable I find her chunky little legs: “I could just eat these little legs right up, Ella Bella. Yes I could.” Moments later, Jake walked over to her and lovingly says: “Oh Ella. You’re so beautiful. Your eyes are so blue and so beautiful. I’m going to eat your eyeballs Ella. Yes I am.” Fair enough, buddy.

A couple days ago I was loading the kids into the car, and as I was buckling up Joshua in his car seat I was talking across the backseat to Ella who was playing with a little plastic toy. Again the Mama-to-baby voice asking “What do you have, Ella Bella? What do you have? What are you playing with? Yes. What do you have?” Josh’s little hand grabbed hold of my wrist, and he seemed utterly bewildered by my stupidity as he said “It’s a toy, Mommy.” Then again, slower and louder, in case his stupid Mommy was still confused. “IT’S A TOY!” Again, fair enough.










Wednesday, May 23, 2012

SHARING THE MESS

The truth of the matter is this: when we’re blessed with having little kids to spend our days with, we’re going to be cleaning up messes. It’s just the way it is. Depending on the personality of the parents, and also the natural predisposition of a particular child, my guess is that this can either be a recipe for delight, disaster, or something in between.

When Jake was in his twos, he was one of those kids who would sit with a stack of puzzles in front of him, and then puzzle by puzzle, he’d dump the pieces out, and then place them all back in. He’d do this quickly, neatly, systematically going through his stack of puzzles. His little messes were just that: little. And interestingly too, just like his Dad, even when Jake is playing and being ‘crazy’, he’s orderly and has little systems employed. Justin is like this too. I’ll watch him clean up after a meal, and rather than tackling the mess straight up, he organizes the mess first and then cleans it up. (Don’t get me wrong… I’m most certainly not criticizing his methods. I’m thankful for a husband who also functions as a dish washer.) But it’s interesting how people are wired so differently, and how kids can inherit certain predispositions from their parents the way Jake has from his Dad. But I’m getting off track… I used to think that Jake played in a focused, logical and somewhat methodical way because of the way I engaged him. His messes must be little and orderly because I’m such an awesome parent, or something. Hahaha. Nope. One of the paramount blessings of second children is how incredibly humbling they can be in our lives. Joshua: WAY more physical, WAY more active, equally wonderful but entirely different from his older brother. This has helped me realize that so much of who my kids are, the good and the challenging alike, is because of who they were created to be, and not because of particular successes or failures in my parenting skills.

But back to messes.

Neither Justin or I function well in a mess. We’re both just wired that way. I struggle to sit down and read a book with the kids, or do some sort of activity with them if our place is trashed, or, as I put it earlier this morning, when my home looks like it’s been ‘burglarized and ransacked’ at the hands of a toddler. So especially with Josh and with his level of activity, I’ve had to figure some things out. One option, of course, was just to be fine with only cleaning up after the kids went to bed each night. This didn’t work for me. But a couple other things have helped. In case you’re like me, I’ll share:

1. Don’t have toys that exceed the space in toy baskets. There is nothing radical here, but it’s so easy for toys to accumulate and for a home with kids to wind up having more toys that can be held by toy bins. Limiting the amount of toys to match the amount of ‘basket space’ actually makes clean up surprisingly quick. In our living room (we don’t have a toy room) we have two big wicker baskets with toys, plus a basket with Thomas Trains and a wood crate with Building Blocks. In my head, when I’m about to tackle the mess, I refer to this kind of clean up as a “whirlwind clean up” and I actually often glance at the time before I begin, just so that I can be pleasantly surprised afterwards with how quickly everything has been tidied up. I realize that sharing such a detail as that might make me look like a bit of a moron… but racing against the clock just kinda makes it more fun or something.

2. “Learning Materials” kept in closet. All the toys with tons of small parts, such as Tinker Toys, Lego or puzzles are kept in the hutch or the closet. And there are child-proof locks. This not only adds to the appeal (because it’s just a tad bit more special to ‘get something out’ than to dump out an accessible basket) but it means that it’s much easier to implement the ‘one-activity-at-a-time’ method of playing.

I think that some Moms who operate pleasantly in a bit more of a mess at times feel the pressure to change, the pressure to have everything more orderly. And I think that in the same way, those of us who do not function or parent that well when there is ‘toy chaos’ at times feel the pressure to just be content and happy in a mess. Here’s what I think: we’re all really different, and whether we tidy things up five times a day or once a week is simply not going to affect our kids one way or another. It seems to me that there has been a trend recently for us Moms to encourage each other to just be ‘who we are’ when it comes to all of these totally secondary and peripheral elements of daily life. That’s totally how it should be, don’t you think? There are so many areas of life, and even parenting life, where we rightly should be passionate and fixed in our opinions. But there are a host of other areas where we can respectfully do things differently.

Social media gives us the opportunity to not only see the trends in social opinion, but even to be a part of the trend. It’s a fun and empowering change from passive reception of news articles to instead become involved and interactive. I’m sure most mothers out there saw the cover of Time magazine from a couple weeks back; the photo of a mother breastfeeding her older-than-toddler son. Overwhelmingly what I saw among most of my friends was a response of “let people do what they want!” or “let’s care about things that matter!”. So I can’t help but think that this is a really cool time to be a Mom of young children. Although we’re navigating the balance of how to share fun stuff about our children without being proud or braggy, and although we’re figuring out how to be honest about our failures and shortcoming with out expressing indifference to them, I feel like I’ve been blessed to be going through these years with little ones at a time in social culture when most of us embrace two very important realities:

First reality: we don’t have to be the same! The vast majority of the decisions that we make as parents involve areas of life where it’s totally fine to do things differently. I may choose to clean up after my kids five times a day… this isn’t going to ruin them. Another may choose to allow the toys to accumulate for a week… this isn’t going to ruin them. I may choose to stop breastfeeding at a year. Another may choose to use formula from day one. Still another may choose to breastfeed until the age of the ‘controversial’ Time cover. There is freedom to be different! The areas of life that actually matter, things like loving our kids, reading to out kids, enjoying our kids… all these things can be accomplished with the details (to clean or not to clean, to breastfeed or not to breastfeed) looking totally different from home to home.

Second reality: life is a combination of joy and of difficulty. Clearly there is nothing remotely revolutionary in that thought, but I think that many of us are very much desire to ‘be real’ in all areas of our lives, and this includes in social media. I don’t think I need to feel bad, or guilty, or fake when I post a picture of my awesome little Jake in his corduroy jacket and red chucks. That is him. He is handsome and wonderful. That’s real. I don’t need to feel guilty or burdened or like I’m trying to present a false image of perfection when I share a status update of something beautiful and encouraging that one of the kids has said. Those moments of beauty and delight, they’re real. But at the same time, life is not glossy perfect. For every single one of us, there is more to our story than those pictures and those captions. There are difficult days and challenging or even dark moments for sure. And I think with many of us, we want to share that too. We want to share about the mess.

Everything that I just wrote emerged from a silly little status that I just posted on facebook earlier this morning. Here it is: “Sometimes I wonder how it's even possible for my home to go from being clean and tidy when we wake up to looking like it's been burglarized and ransacked in a mere couple of hours. It's almost impressive when you consider that it's the handiwork of only two little people... actually, come to think of it, it's really the work of just one little person named Josh.”


A few friends shared their thoughts:

~“We have that same problem but multiply it by 4! It’s ridiculous!”
~“Trying to clean when you have small children is like shoveling the walk while it’s still snowing. – Phyllis Diller”
~“Mom mom used to say ‘Our house is messy enough to be happy and clean enough to be healthy.’ A good goal!”
~”Ha. That’s funny. Yesterday I said to Vicky: ‘Our house looks like it’s been burglarized.”

And there you have it. With all the time wasting we can at times do on facebook or other sites, we can also share in each other’s messes and be a source of lighthearted encouragement to each other even in the little things. Somehow it heartens me to share about the mess and hear that other people’s homes look like they’ve been burglarized from time to time too.







Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CAUGHT IN THE RAIN

Living only a couple of kilometers north of Lake Ontario has some lovely perks. Particularly in the non-winter months, the kids and I spend at least an afternoon each week down by the lake shore playgrounds. One Spring afternoon a few weeks back, though the forecast was predicting possible thunderstorms, we headed down to play and meet up with some friends.



Boys on motorcycles. Ella enjoying the swing.

 
 
 


After some time spent playgrounding, we headed out with our friends for a bit of a walk, Jake on his bike.



This little gal below, Sojourner is her name, is Josh's age. Both the boys enjoy her clever and adventurous two-year-old spirit. She's the fearless type, which makes for a fun playmate.



Ella ~ smiling in the sand.



After saying goodbye to our friends, Jake and I decided it would be fun to go for a really long walk / bike ride. Throwing caution and weather forecast to the wind, off we went. There is this really beautiful part of the boardwalk that has these majestic, strong, Sleepy Hollow-like trees. I never tire of walking through them... though I suspect Justin gets tired of hearing me comment about them.



There are lots of Canada geese that also enjoy the Lakeshore... the grass and boardwalk alike have scatterings and smatterings of geese poop all around. To my amusement, whenever Jake would happen upon a pile, he'd slam on his breaks, turn around with a look of disgust and caution me to walk around. It was sweet. He looks out for me.



We wound up walking for so long that Justin, who had been teaching at a preaching workshop all day was on his way home, and Ian dropped him off at the Lakeshore instead of home so that he could say a quick hello to us before heading out to Prayer Meeting.

I always delight in the spontaneous encounters with someone I love outside of the setting that is our normal / everyday. It's almost like it's an opportunity to 'see' them differently, freshly. I'm obviously used to seeing Justin in his usual attire of black chucks, jeans, button down and a jacket.  But as he walked towards us in this unplanned meeting, his face tender and excited to see his kids, to see me, I found myself so thankful for this husband of mine.

My Justin. 


The sky was getting darker by the second. Justin thought where he was meeting us was a five minute walk from where we had parked.


 So when we felt the first few drops of rain, he asked how far we had to go. Telling him we were parked "just around the next bend" only worked the first couple times. So we embraced the thunderstorm, all of us getting soaked, but making sure the various iPads and iPhones and laptops were tucked snugly in the bottoms of our bags...


...and the only thing that would get drenched would be a few unfortunate kids.
 

Friday, May 11, 2012

MY MOM




I stand at the stove, whisking a white sauce for a pasta dish. It slowly starts to bubble, begins to thicken, and it occurs to me that I never had to learn how to make a white sauce. I left childhood, left life alongside my Mom simply knowing how. Sure, it's so simple. After all, it’s just butter, flour, milk, and a little seasoning. It's just a white sauce, right? But somehow on this day, it affects my heart. I stand over the heat from the stove, whisking away, and I’m aware that that this is so much more than just knowledge or ingredients. It’s more than simple, and it’s more than just know-how. Like so many other things from childhood, it’s a gift. The older I get, the more I realize that my life is full of things, little things, everyday things, white sauce types of things, that my Mom showed me, taught me, guided me through when I was young.

White sauce, pie pastry, stuffed acorn squash… probably an endless list of things my Mom has taught me, given me. I find myself reflecting on ways that my Mom has influenced the ordinary, the everyday, the stuff that makes up life.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. It’s a day when we take the time to pause and honour our Moms. We thank them for who they are, for who they have been and continue to be in our lives. There is so much I could say, so many ways great and small that my Mom has shaped my life.

I look back and am thankful for the small things. And I also look back and am grateful for the profound ways my Mom shaped my life too.

My parents are very different from each other. My Pop quite naturally, impulsively even, goes through each day with vibrant joy, delighting and experiencing the people and the life around him. My mom though, she delights in beauty and people too, but it’s different with her. It’s almost as though rather than it being a reflex, she’s chosen to live this way. It’s almost like my Mom has been intentional to find beauty, to experience that which is lovely, and then to transparently worship God because of it. In so many ways I’m hard-wired more like my Dad. And yet recently I’ve been noticing how profoundly my everyday has been influenced by my Mom. For all these years I’ve watched my Mom seek beauty and find it, and I’ve chosen to follow her in this. If you go for a walk with my Mom, she is always looking, gazing, beholding. As she goes through life, she has been purposeful to find what is beautiful, and then to enjoy it. She’ll walk by the same pine tree that hundreds of others will walk by and completely miss, but not Mom. Her hand will reach out and grab a pine branch, and she’ll be able to feel and experience and breathe the scent of pine that everyone else has missed. My Mom has taught me to find beauty, to enjoy those things which we can so easily walk by, so easily miss.


Growing up, me and my sisters used to occasionally become annoyed because my Mom would never allow jars with labels on the dinner table. It seemed so extreme, so hippy, or something. Who cares if beside the candles and flowers there is an ugly salad dressing bottle with obnoxious advertising and writing on it, right? But I get it now, and I live this way too. Each day is life, and so much of our experience is what we choose to make it. The moments of loveliness, of either profound or simple beauty, they often need to be found, or even created. My mom taught me to look for beauty, to find it, to teach my children to find it. The sun goes down in exquisite splendor each night… but it’s a choice whether or not we will be outside, watching for it, walking at the right time, able to behold it. And so now, when I go for a walk and notice the intricate beauty and detail of a Spring tree in full bloom, I give thanks for my Mom, knowing that she taught me to do this, taught me to walk through life with eyes that are open, expectant.

I would imagine that every child has a collection of images of their Mother, etched in memory. For some of us, we're blessed with so many pictures that are beautiful, peaceful. 
One of the clearest pictures of my Mom is her sitting with a stack of about three books in front of her, maybe one or two of them open, and she is thinking, dreaming, maybe even writing in her mind. And she is praying. When I was young, I don’t think I took the time to think about which books were her constant companions. Maybe I noticed, but I didn't take note. It’s only since I’ve been older that I’ve been curious and taken the time notice and reflect. This is the stack: a worn Bible, a frayed Psalter, a massive commentary.
My Mom never pretended to be perfect, to have it all together, to have a faith that was polished, glossy, flawless. In fact, my Mom doesn’t really know how to pretend at anything; she is one of the most transparent and honest people that I know. Her faith is real. Her joy is real. Her sorrow is real. In this, in her transparency, she has modeled for me a most profound freedom; the freedom to be who I actually am, to not pretend. And though it’s not always lovely or shiny, it’s real. Her faith in Christ has been this way too: visible, raw, real... incredibly resilient. And though she’s always had an ability to articulate her faith in Christ with unusual eloquence, her story of life redeemed through Christ, as she's lived it, as she's told it, is completely unaffected by pretense. It’s only as I’ve grown that I’ve come to see the uniqueness of this, to more fully understand how authentic and beautiful her life in Christ is.
 

On Mother’s Day we think about our Moms, we honour them. My Mom? She is one of incredible strength, faith, and grace. She taught me so many small things, equipping me for life in some utterly basic, practical ways. And she taught me many profound things. The older I get, the more I live and experience success and failure alike, the more clearly I see who my Mother is and the incredible example that is her life.
Strength and honor are her clothing; She shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thunderstorm Moments

There was an awesome thunderstorm tonight. Bellows of thunder. Flashes of lightning. Sheets of pouring rain. I love these kind of nights; wild outside, so cozy inside, warm with lamp light and candles.

The windows were open so that we could listen to the storm. After bedtime stories, singing and praying, Jake and I realized that he hadn't made one final stop at the potty, so down the stairs we went.

The lower level was quiet, dark. Jake and I opened the back door in our kitchen, which opens onto our back deck. I stood there with him in my arms, and we quietly watched and listened. There is something so glorious about thunderstorms. It's like we're able to behold a little of the power and majesty that we know comes from our Creator. The thunder, the lighting... it's His voice speaking to us, reminding us, beckoning us to worship. Jake and I are quiet, sharing this moment together.

I started singing to him, softly.

"O give to Jehovah you sons of the Mighty; Both glory and strength to Jehovah accord. O give to the LORD His name's greatness of glory. In splendor of holiness worship the Lord.


The voice of Jehovah resounds on the waters; The glorious God thunders forth from the height. The LORD is upon the great sweep of the waters, The LORD's voice in splendor, the LORD's voice in might."

And then we hear Justin calling for us to bring up some water. So we run the tap, fill a glass, and head back up stairs to join the rest of the crew. And just like that, the moment has passed.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Boys on Bikes

This Spring we've been doing a ton of bike riding. There are innumerable things that I love about raising kids in the city (I know that statement sounds like an oxymoron to many!), and having destinations close enough for a four-year-old and two-year-old to reach is one of these things. Jake often bikes to school in the mornings, then the playgrounds some afternoons, or sometimes all the way to the church (a mile away). He's pretty fast. And other than one time when he didn't break powerfully enough and kinda slipped into the road (totally freaked me out, obviously), he's a typical city kid who knows and always follows the kid rules of the road; basically there is one rule, which is to never go on the street by himself. Ever. He'll zoom up ahead, and then wait for Josh and Ella and I to catch up.



Josh has what's called a Strider bike. No pedals. We've seen tons of kids around the neighbourhood with these, and it's amazing how fast they zip along just by running their feet along the ground, then picking their feet up and coasting. Unfortunately, Joshua is about a half inch too short still, and so it makes it really hard for him to 'zip'... He shows so much perseverance though, even as he labours along at a snails pace.



The other night, their beloved Aunt Caiah came over to hang out and join us at the playground, and her and I  were both getting such a kick out of Josh; he kept sort of just tipping over, slowly, crashing to the ground. It was peculiar because he was barely moving, and his feet were touching the ground, but he kept managing to wipe out. The first couple times he crashed, Caiah and I both braced ourselves for him to be a teeny bit hurt, or at least needing of some comfort. But nope, not Josh. Each time, while brushing the stones and dirt from his hands he'd say "I'm OK" and get right back on. That is so Josh. Even when he's hurt 'he's OK'...



I have no doubt that this coming summer will be one of countless biking adventures with the boys.