Sunday, December 28, 2008

She's Back

Crickets...crickets. I know--it's been quiet around here. I have three children, we've taken turns being sick for the last 2 months, and Christmas was 3 days ago. Those are my excuses. And, because I have not written in so long, there is much to say. That being true, today you get blog clips. I'll be back in full swing in 2009.

1. The baby was standing up in his crib when I went to get him this morning. I am not ready for him to walk, so I pushed him down. I'm going to try not to beat myself up over it. (Of course, I didn't actually push him down. Don't flood my email with criticism of my parenting skills.)

2. We had a lovely Christmas, although I wasn't ready for it. I have a list of things that just never got done this year. I don't know why--I was fully aware of when it would occur. I just couldn't seem to get it all in our schedule. I'm going to try not to beat myself up over it.

3. I enrolled myself in cello lessons. I think I can do this. The teacher emailed and said she wanted to wait until late in January to start the semester because her schedule is crazy right now. Fine by me, I said. I was secretly glad to postpone it a bit. I'm going to try not to beat myself up over it.

4. The baby has two teeth. He bit me while I was nursing him and made me bleed. I decided to wean. I felt a twinge of guilt for not breastfeeding for a full year like I had planned, but it hurt and, honestly, I was really looking for a reason to quit anyway. He got almost 10 months of exclusive breastmilk, and I think that's pretty good. I'm going to try not to beat myself up over it.

5. Everyone is talking New Year's Resolutions. I don't have one. I feel pressured to make a decision in the next couple of days. Then I'll feel pressured to keep the resolution. Then I'll feel like a failure when I break it on January 5. I'm going to try not to beat myself up over it.

Maybe I do have one after all.

You know, if someone talked to my children the way I talk to myself, I would be livid. I wouldn't stand for it. In fact, I wouldn't even allow someone to talk like that around my children. It's just not nice. So, I'm not sure why it's okay for me to talk like that to myself. 2009--I'm going to take better care of my children's mother. And I will fail. I'm going to try not to beat myself up though.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Like Mother, Like Sons

Ei has been going to cello with us. Last week their cello teacher asked him if he wanted a turn playing, and he said no. I was so surprised. He plays at home all the time. He talks about cello lessons all week. He tells everyone about "his" teacher. I just couldn't understand why he wouldn't play for her.

Fast forward a week. Jackson asked me to take my cello to his lesson (as he does every week). As I do every week, I put it in the car with no intention of actually taking it in to the lesson. I usually get away with this, but this week Jackson insisted that I take it inside. We had talked about it before we left the house, and I knew this was what he wanted. We have been playing a duet to a song he's working on, and he wanted to play it for his teacher. I wasn't so sure about this, but I went along hoping he would forget or change his mind. Once inside, I figured I was trapped into playing. Now, I have to explain that I was actually looking forward to this. I really do enjoy playing with Jackson, and I knew how happy it would make him. When I went inside, however, his teacher asked, "Do you want to play today?" and I took the out. No. I didn't. I actually didn't. I took the huge instrument into her house, put it in the entranceway, and left it there for the entire lesson, then picked it up and took it home when it was time to go. How silly. So, I guess I really can understand Ei's behavior last week.

I know. It doesn't make any sense. I guess the underlying fear is being judged--of not being good enough. But seriously, this lady teaches cello. Surely she's heard worse than my out-of-tune attempts to the harmony parts of book one songs? And, even if she hasn't, I just don't figure her for the type to ridicule or make me feel bad about it. AND, I would have no reason to be a good cello player as I have never had a lesson in my life and have only owned a cello for a few weeks. This is just silliness. But I guess it's more than that. It's very real. Something about the idea of doing something I am not good at in front of someone who is good at it really scares me. It's about not being the best. And there is the root of my problem. I carry around this assumption that if I'm not the best I have failed. And you can't fail if you don't try, right? So, I just don't try at all if I don't know for sure that I can do it and do it very well. This is frustrating for me. I would like so very much to open myself up to something new--to be a student and to learn a new skill. But to do so means that I will be far from the best. I will be a beginner with sour notes and awkward posture. I want to set a good example for my kids and show them that it's okay to do things even when you aren't very good at them. I will get better in time, but to do so means overcoming this self-criticism and allowing myself to be far the from the best--just a beginner.

But maybe I can be the best at being a beginner...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Away in a Manger

I love Christmas. I can hardly wait to get through Thanksgiving to bust out my tree and wreaths and collection of Christmas music. I actually started listening to the Christmas music in the car about a week ago, a crime I think went unnoticed this year but usually gets me much ridicule from my husband who is NOT a fan of holiday tunes. He's a Scrooge.

I was singing along in my car yesterday to "Away in a Manger" when I remembered a shirt my friend Elizabeth wore last Christmas that made me smile. It said "THE way in a manger" and had a picture of baby Jesus. I love it because it's so Elizabeth and so true.

I've written before about John 14:6. Jesus makes it perfectly clear here that He is THE way. There are no detours or back roads. He's it--take it or leave it. It's in black and white in 1 John 5:12 too: "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life." Jesus is the only one who bore our sins and restored us to a full relationship with God. Period.

I have friends and family who do not believe in God. I wonder sometimes if this is one of the fundamental beliefs that turns them off of Christianity. It can be hard to grasp that there is only one way. We live in a society of choices: everything from the clothes we wear to the sides we get in our Happy Meal. We want to know all our options. Don't tell ME I have to have fries with my cheeseburger--I want apples! We like to call the shots. When I was in high school my youth group made my minister go gray with our constant argument that Buddhists, if they behaved themselves, could get a sort of divine pardon and a free ticket into Heaven. Looking back, I see the naivete of this. We wanted it to be so because we are products of our society that values political correctness over all else. Jesus wasn't very politically correct. I've spent some time with my Bible since my high school days. I have poured over it and just can't find a passage that supports random forgiveness. It's free--that much is true--but you have to claim it. So, those who choose not to believe in Jesus obviously do not request forgiveness and, therefore, cannot be granted it. It's simple, really. But it's hard to swallow.

THE way in a manger, indeed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over

Jackson is my hero. I mean it. Today my 4 year old faced his biggest fear head-on. He performed in his first cello recital.

I took violin lessons from 2nd grade through college. I was never forced to go to lessons or practice or play in recitals. I chose to do all of that. I decided I wanted to play violin like Isaac Stern (a hero all 2nd graders idolize, I'm sure), and my mom obliged. My dream was to play "Flight of the Bumblebee," which was my favorite song at the time. (What? It wasn't yours? I told you I wasn't normal.) I had a number of teachers over the years (some for many years and some for only a short time), and although each of them taught very differently they all had one thing in common: recitals--not negotiable. Each time a recital approached I got that same sick feeling in my stomach. Oh, and juries in college? It makes me want to puke just thinking about them. It is basically what it sounds like: a room full of people judging your every move as your hands shake so badly you can barely hold the bow let alone play a song. So, no, I was not a performer. I never did learn to love playing in front of people. (And I never did learn to play "Flight of the Bumblebee." Maybe someday...)

So, the reason I tell you all this... I woke up this morning with that same "gonna throw up any second" feeling in my stomach that I used to get before one of my own recitals. All day I kept worrying that Jackson was experiencing the same thing, but he sure hid it well if he was. This afternoon I suggested that we practice his song once before we pack up his cello and he said, "Okay, but I'm already pretty good." Well, there's nothing wrong with his self-confidence, anyway. But then I made the mistake of calling it a recital. Okay, a little background info for you: Jackson told me he would not perform in a recital. So, when Miss Kathleen (his cello teacher) asked if he would perform with her at a retirement home, we told him that it wasn't a recital but rather an opportunity to minister to some grandmas who didn't get to see kids very much. How can you say no to that? He agreed and was happy to do so. So, when I slipped and called it a recital, he looked at me with this look of betrayal. "So, it was a recital after all?" his eyes seemed to say. I quickly corrected my language, but I think he knew something was up. When we got to the retirement home, he looked around and anxiously asked me what would happen if he made a mistake. I am so thankful that we just attended a cello recital the other night in which two of the students messed up enough that Jackson noticed. We had a lovely conversation later about how sometimes people make mistakes and no one was angry or upset with them and everyone still enjoyed their music. So, I reminded him of this conversation and he nodded knowingly. I swear this kid has a soul so much older than 4. He sucked in his cheeks and rocked on his heels as Miss Kathleen tuned his tiny cello and set up their chairs. When she told him it was time to play, he nervously walked to his little chair, sat down, and played his song like a champ. I wanted to stand up and scream, "That's my kid. See that brave little boy? He's mine!" but I restrained myself. After the recital Daddy and I took him out to eat at the restaurant of his choice and gushed all evening about what a great job he did.

I asked him what it was like playing in his first recital (and I used that word because it's over now). He said, "Well, I was pretty nervous at first. But when it was over I felt kinda proud."

I told him that he has another recital coming up in a few weeks and that he's going to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." He started to protest when Ei chimed in with, "What will I play?" I told him that he probably wouldn't play in the concert because he's only had 2 lessons, and he looked so sad. Jackson beamed at him. "Ei, when you're four you can play in concerts like me."

We have had a bad month: sick kids, hospitals, dying relatives, funerals, break ins. It's been rough. Today my little man played his cello for a room full of elderly people while his fan club cheered him on, and somehow the world seemed right again. I am so proud of him I could burst. He's my hero, I tell you.

And I leave you with a picture he drew for his cello teacher. It's of him, happily playing his cello.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Joyful Noises of All Kinds

I just got back from a women's retreat with the ladies of my church. It was really wonderful. I had some reservations about going (leaving the big boys at home, forced socialization, cold mountain weather, an already full calendar...need I go on?) but I decided it would be good for me. I took the baby. The cord doesn't reach from Tennessee to North Carolina, you know.

We had 3 mini-sessions this weekend covering prayer and worship. Aaron tired of being quiet very quickly. He banged his toys against the floor, blew raspberries, and squealed at all the ladies who smiled at him. I was embarrassed during the first session and took him out of the room so as not to interrupt the atmosphere of worship. But then we had a session in which we talked about worship and how each person experiences it in different ways. One lady mentioned that she likes to stand and raise her arms to God when she is moved but feels intimidated about doing this because it might disturb those around her. I should point out that we are Presbyterians. We don't shout amen or clap or raise our arms or deviate from the norm. It's comfortable because it's standardized and expected. Despite this, everyone immediately assured her that she should let the Spirit of God move freely in her and stand if she feels led to do so. Worship is an expression to God about how incredibly awesome He is. It doesn't involve your neighbor or what he thinks of you. Then the minister who led the retreat read from the Bible, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord..." (Psalm 100). Aaron let out a huge squeal. Everyone giggled. Don't mind him--he's just making his joyful noise. I believe that. He doesn't know who God is, but he feels joyful and uninhibited. I wish I was so uninhibited in my demonstration of joy. As his mom, it is my job to tell him about God and the source of his joy. As my child, it is his job to remind me to squeal with delight when the Spirit moves with me.

On the way home we saw a double rainbow--one directly over the other. It was so beautiful. Becca and I squealed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Celebrate Babywearing

When Aaron was about 6 weeks old I thought I would lose my mind. He cried all the time. I couldn't put him down even long enough to brush my hair, let alone take a shower. It was a difficult time. Then I stumbled across Steph's blog (Adventures in Babywearing). A light went off in my head. This could work...

So, I bought a Peanut Shell and popped him in. He looked around, confused at first, and then closed his eyes and went to sleep. My baby, who prior to that day only slept in 15 minute increments, slept for an hour. When he woke, he looked up at me, smiled really sweetly, and leaned in close. I was immediately in love with this whole idea of babywearing. We went to DisneyWorld, and my sweet guy rode on my hip contently the entire week. I feel so bonded to him. I really regret that I didn't think of this earlier. My older two boys really missed out--and so did I.

Whenever we're out running errands, I find it really convenient to wear him. He can't reach for things, he doesn't put his mouth on the nasty shopping carts, he doesn't get cranky, and my hands are free. Wherever I go, we draw attention. While babywearing is really common in other parts of the world, it just hasn't quite caught on in full force here in the United States. I was actually surprised that my spellchecker kept flagging babywearing as a misspelled word. I understand that it's becoming trendy in some parts of the country, but it's still a very "granola" thing to do around here. I'm okay with it. I love having him close to me, and he loves it too. As soon as I pull the sling out of my bag he starts laughing and shaking his arms. Today my dad was visiting and as he watched me wear a sleeping Aaron he joked that I would eventually have to cut the cord. Maybe. But not today.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tears and Laughter

"The main thing in one's own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry." -Maya Angelou

Sometimes the best cure to a crappy week is to get your closest friends together and be silly. We played Quelf. We laughed until we cried. And tomorrow is Monday--a new week. It's a good time to start over. So good.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Sharps and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

I will warn you up front: this post has no merit. I do not plan to put any moral lesson or a silver lining or anything positive at the end. So, if you are looking for inspiration today, look on. I can't help you. I'm drained.

Today marks day 11 of Croup in our house. Ei got it last Sunday night and spent Sunday and Monday nights in Children's Hospital. Then Jackson got it Friday. Fortunately he only needed a prescription for steroids and was sent home. Then last night Aaron got it. He slept no more than 90 minutes at a stretch before waking to stridor breathing and that horrible seal-like cough. I'd fill the bathroom with steam from the shower and we sat in there for as long as we both could hold our eyes open and then go back to bed and start the cycle over. We made it through the night without having to go to the ER, and that's an accomplishment, I think. This morning I took him to the doctor. Yup, Croup. And a double ear-infection, just for an extra kick in the pants.

As I was getting Aaron ready to go to the doctor this morning, my husband called me. His stepfather had died a few minutes prior to his call. His blood pressure dropped dangerously low, and he was rushed to ICU. Unfortunately they were unable to stabilize him. Mike's mother was waiting for her husband's mother to arrive at this hospital so she could break the news to her. She was understandably heartbroken, despite the fact that this was not a surprise to anyone. I was not particularly close to the man, nor were my husband or children, but my mother-in-law loved this man, and I love her. Her mom just died last year. Sometimes life is super-unfair. She was supposed to babysit the baby tonight while Mike and I took the big boys to Disney on Ice. She called and said she still planned to watch him. Can you imagine losing your husband and then volunteering to babysit that very evening? Instead, Mike is going to skip the show tonight and stay home with her. I'm sure that on the day you lose your husband you need your child there for you. I wonder if she is really hurting for her mom right now. I would be.

So, life spat on us this week. Sometimes it does. Now is when I would normally insert some bit of wisdom or clarity or even a Bible verse to tie everything up neatly with a bow. I guess I'm just feeling peevish today because, although I know all the right words, I can't bring myself to say them. My head feels like it's going to explode. I'm not sure if I'm getting sick too or if it's the stress of the world moving chaotically around me while I stand helplessly and watch (sleep-deprived, no less). I can't stop thinking about how nice it would be to dive into my bed and pull up the down comforter and wake up two weeks from now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Look, But Don't Touch

On Halloween, kids want you to pretend to be scared of them. I saw a rather silly looking werewolf approaching my front porch last night and feigned terror. He laughed. I gave him a glow stick and some candy. We were friends for a few moments.

But when Halloween is over, it's not fun anymore.

After Ei received several breathing treatments and oxygen and steroids and was still not getting any better, the hospital posted a little sign next to our door that said we were an isolation room. This meant that Ei was not to leave the room for any reason, and anyone entering the room was to wear a paper gown and mask to protect himself from airborne germs. It would have been nice if they had shared this information with us. We woke up Monday morning (and I use the term woke loosely--it implies that we slept when we actually only closed our eyes between intruders) to find women in yellow masks and gowns hovering over our bed (we slept together in the hospital bed because he was afraid). Where the night before had been chatty nurses with big smiles, we now had sterile paper columns with eyes. They didn't speak. To do so would only prolong their time in the house of germs. With one foot out the door they offered an insincere, "Can I get you anything?"

I don't blame them. One of the nurses--a really sweet girl--had an 8 month old baby at home. Before we were red-taped I shared with her that my baby was turning 8 months that very day and we compared pictures. I was concerned about bringing the germs home to Baby Aaron. I know she must have had the same fears for her own child. But it just didn't feel good to be stuck in the infirmary while others scurried around the edges trying not to inadvertently get to close.

I love the story from the end of Mark 1 about Jesus healing the leper. If you haven't read it in a while, here it is. In Jesus' time, if a man had leprosy he was isolated from society to avoid making other people unclean. From the time his leprosy was diagnosed until his death, a person with this disease was doomed to live a life of loneliness, watching as others dashed into their homes upon seeing him approach and hearing his sad voice warning, "Unclean!" The leper in this story broke all societal rules and approached Jesus, asserting his firm belief that Jesus could make him well--if he was willing. This is the part I love. Jesus stretches out His hand and touches the man. And, if you really do some digging, you'll discover that He doesn't just touch him. The Greek word used here is haptomai, and this is literally translated to "fasten to" rather than touch. We're talking a full-on contact, folks, not a casual brush of the fingers across this guy. Can you imagine how much this guy needed to be touched? Not just by Jesus, although we could all use that, but by anyone? Can you imagine being shunned from society and living without human contact forever? No hugs, no kisses, no holding hands, no pats on the back--nothing. Jesus didn't have to touch him. He heals a man's son without ever even seeing him. So why did He? I think the key is in the words proceeding the touch: "And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand" (Mark 1:41). Compassion. Jesus looked at this man and knew that, more than anything else, he needed someone to touch him, to feel no fear of him.

One lady came into our room with only a mask (missing the paper gown). She apologized for wearing the mask but said that she had a little case of the sniffles and didn't want to pass them on to us. She patted my son on the arm before she left. I don't know if she was telling me the truth or not. Perhaps she did have the sniffles and didn't want us to catch them. Or maybe she knew that, in the big scary hospital, we needed someone to stand near us and not be afraid so that we could stop feeling so afraid ourselves. Whatever the case, I loved her for her kindness.

I mean, does this look scary to you?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not My Week

What a week.

Ei took nap Sunday afternoon. I should have known something was up then. Around midnight Sunday he woke up wheezing and gasping for air. I wrapped him in a blanket and took him outside. We sat there for about 10 minutes until he complained that he was cold. I brought him in. He was still having a hard time breathing, so I called the doctor who told us to bring him to the ER. Mike put him in the shower while I got ready to go. We got to the ER around 1:30. They gave him a breathing treatment and oral steroids and said we could probably go home in 2 hours. At 4:00 they gave him another treatment and said he would be admitted to the hospital. Tuesday, 5 breathing treatments and 2 days later, we finally got to go home.

Monday morning Mike's stepfather began a series of 7 days of continuous chemotherapy. The idea is to kill off all of his bone marrow. Hopefully it will then begin to slowly regenerate. Most likely it will not, and we will not have him with us by Thanksgiving.

So, yeah, it's not been a good week.

But here's what I learned:

1. Some things are not in my control. As badly as I would like to, I cannot stop bad things from happening, and I don't have a solution for every problem.

2. The world does not fall out of orbit if I am away for a few days. Other mothers can host a Halloween party. The other parent can care for a grumpy baby.

3. I have an amazing support system. My phone didn't stop ringing the entire time I was in the hospital. We had a steady stream of visitors. Family members canceled plans to pitch in and help with Jackson and Aaron. Friends made meals for us after we got home.

I have several thoughts swirling around in my head after all this, and maybe some day they will make it into full posts. For now, my house is messier than it's ever been (I'm not exaggerating). Fortunately, I don't have to cook tonight because of aforementioned friends. So, to everyone who called, visited, babysat, made a meal, sent a balloon, or said a silent prayer for us--THANK YOU.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lost and Found

A devotional I wrote for the MOPS meeting this morning:

A lady at my church shared with me a scary but true story. S he was running late one morning as she pulled to the stop sign at the entrance of her neighborhood (at the intersection of a busy road). She looked over and saw a little boy around 2 years old standing in the grass in his pajamas by the side of the road. She looked around and couldn't see any parents. She got out of her car and approached the boy. He looked frightened. She asked him if he was lost, where his house was, where his Mama was, if he needed help. He didn't answer but just looked at her with fear in his eyes. She looked at her car, knowing that she was going to be hopelessly late for work, then took the little boy's hand and started walking with him. At each house she stopped and asked, "Is that your house?" hoping that he would recognize a house and nod or speak or smile or somehow show her that she was on the right track. He never looked up but just kept walking silently beside her clutching her hand tightly. After several minutes she noticed a house with the garage door up and lights on inside. Since it was still quite early, most of the other houses were not yet stirring. She led the boy to the front porch and rang the bell. A woman answered the door, looked at her, then looked down at the little boy, and got a panicky look on her face. She began to cry. "Where? How? When?" She couldn't even finish her questions. She later explained that her husband had left the garage door up by mistake, and she hadn't known there was a door open to the outside. She was embarrassed to admit that she hadn't even missed the little boy yet because she was so busy getting ready for the day.

I am a mom. Immediately I began to sympathize with this poor lady. An honest mistake--we all make them. Mommy Guilt--it's the worst. I wonder what she told her husband. I wonder if she tried to share the guilt with him for leaving the door open. I wonder if she canceled her morning plans and just sat and held her son and cried for fear of what could have happened. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'm more like the little boy than the mom. Let me retell the story from his perspective.

Mom is getting ready for work. She's in a bad mood and keeps telling me to get out of her way. I'm hungry for bananas, but she said, "In a minute." I am bored but she won't play a game with me. Daddy has gone to work. He said he'll play ball with me when he gets home. I opened the garage door to tell him good-bye again, but he was already gone. He forgot to close the door. I'm not allowed outside by myself. Mom says it's dangerous. I wonder what's so scary about going outside. It's still dark out, but I think I can see the sun coming up over the trees. I'll just step outside and see if I can see it. Ooh, a squirrel just crossed the road. I wonder where it is going. Mom will be mad if she knows I'm gone, but surely she would understand that you don't get to chase a real squirrel every day. It's nice outside by myself. It's quiet, and I can hear the birds singing. It feels good out here. I see the birds fly over a house. I follow them. I have walked a long way, and I can't see my house anymore. The cars are so close now. There are lots of them. They are driving very fast. I am scared of them. I know I should go home, but I don't know which way it is. I wish the birds would fly back to my house so I could follow them. It's pretty cold. I don't have shoes on, and the grass is wet. I want my Mommy. A lady is getting out of her car. She's talking to me. I don't know how to answer her. She wants to take me home. I don't know how to get there. I need help. She is holding out her hand. I'm scared, but I put my hand in hers. She's going to help me.

We live like this little guy every day. God gave us the gift of free will. He left the garage door open, if you will indulge my metaphor. He makes it quite clear that we are to stay inside, but He doesn't force us to do so. Sometimes we just mean to look outside, not to actually take a step. We mean to keep a foot in the door so it won't close behind us. But little by little, we move away from Him. Sometimes we realize that we're sinning, but it feels so good we just keep moving farther away from God. By the time we decide to turn around, we are hopelessly lost.

Fortunately, God understands that we are like curious children. He knows our sinful natures, and He sent us Jesus to show us the way back. Sometimes we are so paralyzed with fear--or so wrapped up in our sinning--that we can't or don't ask for help. Jesus holds out His hand. Take it. That's all you have to do. Just reach out and accept the grace of Jesus Christ and allow Him to lead you home. He doesn't want you to explain why you left. He just wants you to admit you can't get back home without Him. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Consult a map. Wander aimlessly. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs. You just won't find your way home unless you take His hand and let Him lead you. And when you do, I can promise you that God will be there to throw His arms around you, hold you tight, and say, "This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found" (Luke 15:24).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Peas and Manna

Today is Blog Action Day. Across the globe, bloggers are writing about poverty and hunger. I think I'll join them.

Last week my MOPS group collected canned and nonperishable foods for a local food bank. I took my kids to the store and let them each pick out a canned vegetable that they would like to give to someone who didn't have any food. (They both picked out peas, the only canned vegetable they'll even allow near their plates.) In the store, our conversation went something like this:

Mama: Boys, let's all pick out a vegetable for the MOPS food drive. It's for families who don't have any food in their kitchens.

Jackson: Why don't they have any food?

Ei: Can I have some candy?

Mama: Some people are not as lucky as we are. They don't have money to buy groceries.

Jackson: Well, what do they eat then?

Ei: Can I buy cookies?

Mama: People like us who have plenty of food help out by giving them some.

Jackson: Don't they need more than 2 cans of peas?

Ei: Can I ride in the cart?

Mama: Yes, they will need more than 2 cans of peas. We'll pick out a couple of things and give them. And everyone else in the group will give some things too. We have to work together to help people.

Jackson: Will the people come to church and get the food?

Ei: Can I hold the peas?

Mama: No, they won't come to the church. Someone from our church will take all the food to a big place where they keep all the extra food. And then they will pass it out to people who need it later.

Jackson: Why can't they just come to the store to get it?

Ei: Can I get out of the cart?

Mama: They don't have enough money to buy it.

Jackson: Why can't the store give them food if they need it?

And there you have it. A simple solution to a very difficult problem. My 4 year old could look around the huge grocery store at the stocked aisles and bulging displays and see that there's plenty of food for everyone. That's a fact. There's enough food for every person on this earth. The issue clearly isn't quantity. No, the problem is that we just don't share very well.

My children have been learning the story of Moses and the Exodus for the last couple of months. We've been talking about the years that Moses and the Israelites wandered the desert and how they had to trust in God for their needs to be met. The people were hungry, so God sent Manna. Every morning their meals were, quite literally, dropped right in front of their feet. There was a catch: God told them to only gather what they needed for the day and no more. Of course, because they were human, they attempted to hoard the Manna, just in case God forgot them one day. The excess Manna decayed and became inedible. God just wouldn't stand for greed and mistrust in Him. I feel like we are living like the Israelites. How much excess do we store up "for a rainy day?" How often do we go to the pantry and whine that there isn't anything to eat when, in reality, our kitchens are bulging with enough food to feed us for weeks (or even months)? God has provided enough for everyone. If we hoard it up, it can't reach those who need it, and God will surely not stand for this greed.

I'm afraid I don't really have a solution for world hunger or poverty. I'm sure that it all boils down to being a good sharer. Jackson's right: it's going to take a lot more than 2 cans of peas.

Monday, October 13, 2008

'Til Death Do Us Part

I'm taking Pastoral Care right now. In our last class we were doing an exercise on loss. Our instructor asked us to list these things: the 4 most important living people to us, the 4 most important roles we fill, the 4 most important abilities we possess, and the 4 most important material objects in our lives. Then, as he read a scenario, we were asked to cross off some of the items to represent losing those people/things. We were allowed to choose which things we crossed off, but we had to choose from the list. Early on, it was pretty easy. Although I would not voluntarily surrender my house, car, computer, or piano (the 4 objects I decided were most important to me), I didn't have to think very hard to decide that I would much rather give those things up that one of my children. No sweat. But he kept going. I was asked to cross off more things. Before long I had crossed off all my abilities (nurturing, listening, teaching, and making music) and two of my roles (daughter and friend). He announced that we had to mark off just one more item and we would be finished. I looked over my remaining choices: my people (Mike, Jackson, Ei, Aaron) and my roles (wife and mother). I cringed and marked off wife.

I am fortunate that this was only an exercise. It is not necessary for me to actually choose what things are most important in my life because I have room enough for all my people, roles, abilities, even material possessions. Or do I? Several months ago I wrote about all the balls I had up in the air and how I can't possibly catch them all at the same time (HERE). Individually, no problem. But all at the same time? No way. And it's still true. I haven't figured out any magic solutions recently. So, the truth is that I don't have enough time for everything and everyone. Some decisions are easy (I'll forfeit a day on the computer for a day at the zoo with my kids any day). Some are not. I realize that, without really meaning to, I've neglected my marriage. I crossed off "wife" for the purpose of keeping "mother" on the list. It's not that I'm having marital troubles. Far from it. My husband and I are perfectly happy together (well, at least I think we are). But in thinking about this I began to worry that we'll be one of those couples that drops their kids off at college and looks at each other like, "Who are you and where did you come from?" If I were giving someone else advice I would suggest a regular date night (monthly, at least) and setting aside time in the evenings for each other. It always seems like I'm having to make that big choice though (wife or mother?), and mother wins every time. It's so stressful for me to leave the baby (and the big boys, for that matter), so date night sounds scary. And the evenings are devoted to laundry and packing diaper bags and homework for our classes. There's just never enough time. So, wife gets crossed off. "Someday," I think. Someday I'll have time for everything that's on my plate. How? I assume more hours will be added to the day. Or I'll give up sleeping. Probably not realistic. So, it's back to the juggling act. I've got to get better at this. Someone keeps throwing new balls into the routine. Me, you say? Why would I add to my already chaotic schedule? I see. I have got to cross off a few items to save the rest. Okay. Back to square one. Some are easy. Others are not. I get it. This isn't helping. But what if I just lightly crossed over one item, so that I could erase the scratch mark later? Would it be such a betrayal of my children to put them on the back burner on occasion so that I could focus on wife for a moment? And, I wonder, wouldn't it benefit my children if my marriage got some extra attention?

I know my husband reads my blog. He mentions it occasionally. He even once commented. If you didn't read it, you should. It was so very sweet. So, Mikey, bear with me. I know that I cross you off when I'm forced to choose. I know that I can't be easy to live with. But I love you. You are the best father I have ever known, the most amazing provider for us, and the person with whom I want to spend forever (even when you're a cranky old man). I'm lucky to have you. I'm trying. I am.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thou Shalt Not

Thursday evening I was invited to a dinner meeting for the board of directors of the nonprofit for which I write grants. I'm on staff, not on the board, but they wanted the staff members and the board members to get to know each other. Wow. I so did not belong there. Driving to the house, I realized I was in a different world. The road on which she lives is one of the fanciest in the area--one full of old money. The houses were huge, the cars were expensive, and the properties back up against the lake. I parked my very basic, non-loaded minivan on the street and walked up the path to the house. I was met in the driveway by one of the board members, a lady I've met a few times but wouldn't necessarily consider a friend. She and the hostess are friends, and she had obviously been here before. She walked in the front door without even stopping to ring the bell. We entered a huge foyer and into a big beautiful home. Inside I saw some faces that I recognized and two that I did not. I was immediately introduced to one lady I did not know, but another gentleman just stood in the corner not talking to anyone. I thought it was odd, but, well, I'm just too shy to run up to someone and thrust my hand out in introduction. It was a little uncomfortable though. Someone should really introduce this guy to someone so he doesn't have to stand there alone. Anyone? The hostess announced that we were all present and should make our way to the dining area to eat. The man from the corner offers to get me something to drink. Weird. No one even introduced us, and now he is getting my drink? "No, thanks!" I said. I poured myself a glass of water. Then I notice that the man is getting other people drinks. Oh, crap. He's the freaking waiter. There are 8 of us here, and we have a waiter. Seriously? Oh, yes. The meal has been catered, and there is a waiter.

Suddenly I become very self-conscious. I look down at my Target shirt and Wal-Mart pants and feel a surge of embarrassment. I am instantly grateful that I bought those shoes at the consignment store. Even though they weren't new, they're at least a name brand. I wish there was some way to wear the shoes higher on my body. I considered dangling them from my ears. Why, oh why, didn't I wear my big fake diamond earrings tonight? I began to scan the other guests--3 carat diamond ring, expensive leather handbag, designer clothes, trendy haircut. Even the men were well-dressed and clean-cut. I scan the house. Beautiful pool overlooking the lake which runs right along the backyard. Ridiculously high ceilings. So many doors I forgot which one I came in. Fancy drapes which match the fancy furniture. Professionally decorated everything. Everything is beautiful, fancy, expensive. I imagined what it would be like to live here. What would this life be like? I assume that they have a perfect life to go along with this perfect house. And I want it. I'm just being honest here. I wanted the sparkly pool and the lakeside property and the Cherokee Boulevard address. I wanted the face lift and the big diamonds and the artificial laugh for jokes that aren't funny. I wanted it the whole night. I wished my handbag wasn't old and worn out. I wished my shoes weren't scuffed. I wish my clothes weren't from a discount store. I wished my diamonds weren't fake. I wished my house wasn't amateurly decorated and landscaped. Even as I walked to my car I wasn't done. I wished my car wasn't the cheapest minivan on the market. I wished it started when I pushed a button on my key chain. I wished my dinner tomorrow would be served by waiter. I got to my car and opened my embarrassing purse to pull out the keys to my embarrassing car and suddenly felt...well, embarrassed. But this time for a different reason. Inside my purse I saw a spit rag, a rattle, and a pacifier. See, I wouldn't trade purses with anyone in that house. While it may not contain loads of cash and cards with high limits, mine contains cracker crumbs and other artifacts from the most wonderful people I know. I am wealthy. My bank statement may not agree, but I am wealthy. My dictionary says that wealthy means "characterized by abundance." That's me. I have so much. I have a beautiful house (on a much smaller scale than the one I visited). I have a car that I love (because it meets all of our needs and has never given me an ounce of trouble). I have clothes for all occasions (purchased mostly from Wal-Mart and Target and consignment stores). But most of all I have a husband who loves me, and I have 3 children who are amazing. I could very well have spent my whole night focused on what I don't have. There are certainly enough things to fill a night thinking over them. Opening my purse and seeing my baby's belongings helped me to remember what God says about all this. Exodus 20:17. Click on that. Read it; I'll wait. Did you read it? There it is. God's 10th commandment in plain English. And I broke it. I didn't just break it--I shattered it. Envy is one of The Enemy's most powerful tools. I let him into my life a little bit Thursday evening. I let him take up residence in my heart and fill me with greed and discontentment. I let him cloud my judgement and turn me into someone I didn't even recognize. And I'm embarrassed. And I'm sorry.

I won't lie to you and say that I haven't thought about that evening with the smallest (er, maybe not smallest) bit of jealousy since that night. I won't lie to you and tell you that I won't ever look at what I don't have and feel greedy. I won't lie to you and tell you that contentment comes naturally to me. But I will tell you that I'm in prayer about this. I'm asking God to help me with it. I'm asking God to help me remember how lucky I am. I'm asking God to keep my eyes on my wealth and not on others'. I'm asking God to fill my heart so full with His love that there isn't room for the other guy. It's hard. But it's so worth it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Great Kindergarten Debate

My oldest son is 4. In August he will be eligible for kindergarten. Eligible, mind you, does not mean ready. So, let me invite you into my worry for a moment. If you have enough problems of your own, please hit the red X at the top right hand of your screen.

For quite some time, Mike and I have been discussing whether or not to start Jackson in school next year. He will be 5, but barely. He would be one of the youngest in his class and would graduate from high school when he was 17 years old. If we hold him a year, he will be the oldest in his class (giving him another year of life experience and a lot more confidence) and will graduate at 18. Plus, I'm told, it gives him an advantage should he choose to play sports in high school (being 1 year older and bigger than the other kids). This is not a factor in my decision, but I'm just laying it all out on the table here. So, with all those things in mind, it seemed a fairly easy decision to hold him an extra year and start kindergarten in the fall of 2010, just after his 6th birthday.

Now, my Jackson is very smart. He can write the alphabet (uppercase and lowercase) and understands phonics (as well as any English-speaking child can) and has about 20 sight words. He can count to 40 (with a little bit of prompting after 20) and can add sums up to 10. He can make a graph and then analyze it. He can cut with scissors well. He follows directions and takes turns with other children. He knows the days of the week. He dresses himself, combs his own hair, and brushes his own teeth. He takes cello lessons and plays piano and practices both. So, it would seem, he's kindergarten-ready today as far as skills go. Of course, this leads me to wonder what life will be like for him in 2 years when he begins kindergarten and goes back to square-one, learning letters and numbers. I'm currently taking a class which is a very watered-down version of my own major in college. And I'm bored stiff. The work keeps me busy, sure, but that's all it is: busy-work. I hate it. Of course, I don't hold the teacher responsible. He's teaching the material that needs to be covered. And it is necessary material. I've just already learned this stuff and know it well. The point is, I don't want him to experience this same problem when he goes to school. He's going to be bored and he'll be wasting time that he could be learning new skills and moving forward rather than standing still.

So, I began to consider two alternatives: private school and homeschooling. Now, this is my blog, so if you have any beef with either of those, take it elsewhere. Create your own blog called "Down with Homeschooling" or something, because I don't want to hear it. If you're still with me, read on. Okay, the obvious problem with this is cost. At minimum we're talking fifteen hundred bucks or so each month for all 3 kids (and we're not separating them--I'm not evening delving into that), and most of them are much more. So, that eliminates the possibility of my being Room Mother or even a stay-at-home mom to the preschoolers still at home. Then I have to consider the fact that I'm raising a kid to be a snob. Yeah, that's a little bit of a stereotype. Not all kids from private schools are snobs. But they don't get the chance to mingle with children from all walks of life and learn to get along, a skill which I think is really important. So, the world becomes this fairy-tale-like setting where everyone is middle or upper-class and all kids either get with the program or get kicked out. I'm just not sure I'm really explaining my concerns well, but surely you get the general idea.

Okay, the second possibility I started thinking about was homeschooling. Currently, I'm "homeschooling" preschool with both of the older boys. I am a little bit more structured with Jackson than Ei (because he's just 3), but I make both of them sit down and work with me a little bit every day. We do some seatwork (during which time they are not allowed to get up without asking and are not permitted to have toys at the table) and then do a project together (like graphing or crafts). We go to the library every week and check out books that we want to read and explore new concepts from our books. It's going really well, and we all love it. All of the skills I mentioned earlier Jackson has because I taught him (with the exception of cello, I guess). So, it seems that something is working. I joined a homeschool coop for some support with all this, and we plan to start going to the group so the boys can take classes in January. So, this seemed like a good option (not necessarily the only option) to consider. But, of course, it's not that easy.

My Jackson is also painfully shy. I don't even think shy is really the right word here. He's really--[gulp]--antisocial. Okay, now some of you are reading this and saying, "No, he's not! He plays with my kid just fine." Well, that might be true. But, I assure you, if I left his sight, he would become a nervous wreck. He cries every single week in his Wednesday night class (and that's with his brother there, in the church where we've been going since before he was born), and Mike has to go sit in the room with him. I can't even describe how he behaves in cello lessons (although I made an effort to HERE). So, I have to consider that, perhaps, being around other kids to "socialize" him would be beneficial. But I'm just not sold. I mean, we're around other kids almost every day. He goes to MOPS, Mommy & Me, library, Sunday School, Enrichment, and his Wednesday night class. He does fine with playdates and with kids his age when I'm present. But even with all this exposure, he still acts...well...weird. I just don't think it's lack of socialization. I really think it's anxiety. And I think this because I was the same way. I distinctly remember in 2nd grade we got a flyer for Brownies. There was this tiny part of me that wanted to join (all the other girls were going to!), so I brought it home to my mom. She said I could join. I panicked. Suddenly I began to picture myself in this group with a bunch of kids I didn't know and my family far away, and I didn't want to do it anymore. I couldn't tell my mom I changed my mind (Why? I have no idea. I was an anxious kid, I tell you.) so I dropped the registration form behind the bookcase where it would surely never be found. And this was not the only example of my overwhelming anxiety. My mom had to sit in my 1st grade class forever while I adjusted to the new school (we had just moved to Tennessee from Oklahoma). And sometime ask me about the paper backpack story. Geez. I was a nut. I was so anxious about social interaction and being away from my comfort zone that I stayed in tears. I was miserable. And I'm not about to let Jackson have the same kind of childhood. So, I wonder if maybe homeschooling would be a very kind thing to do for him. He could get a good education without all the anxiety that goes along with leaving home. Nope, there wouldn't be a basketball team. Nope, there wouldn't be a band. But there are coops and community orchestras and plenty of ways to get those kinds of experiences.

Oh, wouldn't it be great if it was that easy? I could just say, "I think this is what's best for my kid," and be done with it. I joined the homeschool coop and my husband's radar went up. He's completely opposed to the idea. So, it's causing some friction at home. And I know he wouldn't be the only one. It would be a tough sell. And that's if I tried to sell it at all. I'm just not sure if that's where I think we should be headed.

So, for now I pray. I feel pretty sure that we're not doing kindergarten (wherever that might take place) next year anyway, so we have some time. I wish the stars would spell out a message from God, but even if they did I would probably still find a way to question if I was doing the right thing. This is huge, right? Or is it? Is it just cut and paste and letter people and who cares where he goes anyway? And how can you tell if you got it right until it's all said and done? I guess anxiety doesn't go away with age. If you are so inclined, say a little prayer for us. And, by all means, join me in The Great Kindergarten Debate. Goodness knows I can't do this alone. I leave you with the picture Jackson drew in response to the book Barn Dance. He's so wonderful.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Heroic Tale (in which I am the heroine)

Yesterday was so beautiful. I decided to open my windows and turn off the air conditioner to let in a little fresh air. The boys went outside, so I left the back door open so that they could come and go freely (we have child-proof door handles so they can't open the doors on their own). Now, I don't know about other areas of the country, but in East Tennessee the Yellow Jackets are awful right now. They're everywhere. So, one flew in my open door and perched himself in my kitchen.

Like any responsible adult, I panicked. I shooshed my kids back outside (you know, where there aren't any bees) and put the baby upstairs. Then I came back down slowly and quietly as though there was a crouching tiger in my kitchen instead of a half-inch long insect. (Are bees insects? Another question for another day.) Think, think, think. What should I do? I grab the broom and try to urge him to fly back out the open door by waving the broom near him. He takes off flying, and I take off running like a mad woman, waving my broom as I go. Then I realize that I'm no longer following the bee and don't know if it's still inside or hiding somewhere in the house just waiting to catch me off guard and bite my head off. So, I again begin creeping around the downstairs. I spot him buzzing around my kitchen window looking for a crack to escape. WHY, OH WHY ARE BEES SO STUPID? Fly out the giant open door already! That window is not going to magically open up and let you out. FLY OUT THE DOOR. He doesn't. I swear about an hour elapses while I try to think of a new plan, all the while keeping an eye on the bee (who doesn't move from the window). I consider hitting him with the broom, but then I wonder if the short plastic bristles are sturdy enough to kill him. The last thing I want to do is make him mad. I was in the process of making sandwiches when he flew in, and I begin to hope that he'll fly into the open peanut butter jar so I can throw the lid on it and trap him. For a few minutes I consider calling my husband and asking him to come home from work to take care of this problem, but I think better of it. I also briefly consider putting the kids in the car and leaving the house, but I wouldn't want to leave the back door standing open, so I realize that he'll just be here waiting (in an unknown location) when I get back. I consider getting a shoe to smash him with, but that would mean getting awfully close to him and pretty good aim, so I scratch that idea. Obviously the only logical solution is to move. I know when I've been defeated, and Buzzy Buzzington has done it. In desperation I search our pantry for a tool to use when I see the can of bug spray leftover from the time spiders tried to take over our backyard. One shot of the stuff and the bee drops to the ground. I have conquered the beast and taken back my castle.

I'm amazed that I ran around like a mad woman for a good 45 minutes in a complete panic before I finally realized that I had the tools to solve my problem quite literally right in front of me. We do that a lot, don't we? We panic and awfulize and give up, only later to realize that a very logical (and sometimes painfully easy) solution was staring us in the face. We overlook the easy, just sure that only something truly challenging will do. Perhaps the next time I go into battle I'll inventory my ammunition before I panic. But probably not.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Dollar Printed is a Dollar Earned

So, I'm pretty sure I don't understand anything about economics. I took that class as a 2nd semester senior in high school (which means I didn't really pay attention because my mind was already on bigger and better things), and I never took any economics in college. Upon graduation from college, my checkbook was confiscated by my soon-to-be husband due to my poor balancing skills. (Ahem--don't worry about that if you're in my MOPS group. Really, I'm a great financial chair. Really. Really...) Thus ended my consideration of all things financial. When my employer said I should enroll in my 401K, I gave the paperwork to my husband who filled it out and told me to sign on the line and turn it in to HR. When I need to make a purchase, I whip out the trusty American Express and charge it and Mike takes care of it later. I don't actually know my bank card pin number. I'm pretty good at math, but put a dollar sign in front of those numbers and suddenly it's foreign to me. So, if I can't even figure out my personal finances, the chances of my understanding world economics are pretty slim. But how hard can this be? I say, if we are running short on money, print some more. Then stick a few hundreds in everyone's mailbox as a surprise. What's the problem? Maybe I should run for president.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The View from Here

One of my favorite CDs is by a string trio (Mark O'Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer). It's one of the few CDs the boys and I can agree on, so we listen to it often. Many of the songs are so beautiful I probably shouldn't listen to them while driving because I can't not close my eyes to focus on them better. One of my favorites on the CD is by far not the prettiest song on the CD. For most of the song, it's organized chaos. All of the instruments are playing their own melodies, and they don't come together in harmony very often. Then the counter says 3:43 and suddenly the three come together in a final measure that ties the entire song up and always makes me smile. I love this ending so much. Once or twice I have tried to fast forward through the piece and just listen to the end, but it isn't the same. I have to muddle through the chaos of the first 3 minutes and 42 seconds to really appreciate the beautiful unison finish.

It kind of reminds me of this road I like to travel. It's just an ordinary East Tennessee road, winding and hilly, lined with smallish homes and tacky lawn ornaments. But just as you reach the highest hill, suddenly there is a clearing in the trees and you can see forever from way up there. It catches me by surprise every time, even though I've driven that road more times than I can count. It's really beautiful. Now, the view isn't exactly post-card magnificent. I think you can see a McDonald's and a ball field and a busy road. It's not a view that would normally stop traffic. The thing that makes it so spectacular is the fact that it comes as such a surprise at the end of an otherwise boring road.

Today was one of those kinds of days. It was unexpectedly beautiful following what has been a rather blah week. I've been running ragged this week, trying just to get from point A to point B on time. My favorite kinds of days are the ones when my calendar has nothing written in the big white square ("pajama days" as the boys and I call them), and we haven't had a single one in weeks. This morning I had to work at 9:00, and so I had to be out of bed before 7:00 to get there on time. That didn't set this up to be a very good day. But we walked out the door on time, and that was satisfying. It was cool outside today, and that was lovely. And I took the boys to the park where they made a new friend and played hard, and that was what we all needed. The baby took a nice long nap this afternoon (still napping, in fact), so the big boys and I got to do our school work and practice the cello and piano uninterrupted, and that was such a relief. There are some days that you look forward to for weeks or even months, and the pressure for them to live up to your expectations often ruins the greatness of the day. Today was not one of those. This morning I was sitting on the precipice of a wonderful break in our chaos, and I didn't even see it coming. Tomorrow I'm at 0:00 again, but for today, I was at 3:43. The view is breathtaking.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Out with the Old

Our church is undergoing a massive face lift. Our building and grounds folks have been hard at work evaluating what our needs are and how we need to change to meet those needs. I don't envy them at all--what a difficult task! Recently I had the opportunity to view the rough draft of the blueprints. We're adding bathrooms, classrooms, storage spaces, and lots of other goodies to make the building more user-friendly. Oh, and we're getting a new sanctuary. This part makes me a bit sad. You see, in the "old" (current) sanctuary:

in 1996 I was baptized (having been in a Baptist church as a baby, I did not receive the sacrament of baptism as an infant) and confirmed alongside one of my closest friends and became a church member.

in 1998 I gave the sermon during youth Sunday and began to hear God calling me into ministry of some sort.

in 2001 my husband-to-be was baptized and confirmed and became a church member.

in 2003 I walked down the center aisle and married my best friend.

in 2004 my first son was baptized.

in 2005 my second son was baptized.

in 2008 my third son was baptized.

So, my emotional attachment to the sanctuary is not to the 50s chandeliers or the retro stained glass windows. No, my attachment is purely sentimental. The biggest and most important events of my life have occurred in that room. And, let's be honest here, I really envisioned watching my children get confirmed there, watching my sons marry there, watching my grandchildren receive the sacrament of baptism there.

Now, I'm a realistic person. I know that needing a new sanctuary is a sign of growth. We have simply outgrown our current sanctuary, a wonderful problem (especially considering that many churches in our denomination are struggling just to survive). I know that we cannot continue to use this sanctuary forever because we just won't fit there (or worse, we will). And I also know that a church is not bricks and mortar. The great people in my congregation will all show up to move the hymnals to the new sanctuary, cut a ribbon celebrating our first Sunday there, and worship with renewed energy in a bright new place. That's church. I know this. And I know that everyone to be married in our church for years to come (hopefully my sons included) will benefit from losing the harvest gold pew cushions. Yes, it's for the best. New memories will be made in the new sanctuary, and the old ones will be forever burned in my brain. Oh, but change is so hard.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Life's Little Instruction Book

Someone very close to me is having a hard time with life right now. The world has really thrown him some punches in the last couple of weeks, and I don't know what to do. The truth is, there isn't really much I can do. I've offered to be a soft place to fall. My ears are open, my couch is available, and my lips are sealed. But the bottom line is that his heart is breaking, and I can't mend it.

If you know me, you know that I'm a terrible evangelist. It's my personal weakness. Come to church, and I will make you feel welcome. Ask me about God, and I have so much to tell you. But you have to make the first move. I'm just not comfortable meddling in someone's life. I don't doubt that it's the right thing to do. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that we are to spread the Word. Jesus was a life-meddler. Oh, but I just can't do it.

I tell you all this because the person I mentioned who is having a hard time is not a believer. My gut reaction to all his problems is to help him pray about it. You see, the problem this man is experiencing is that he and his wife are unable to forgive each other's faults. It all seems very simple to me. If you do not experience the grace of Jesus Christ in your own life, there is no way that you can extend that grace to someone else. So, I am not surprised that he is having a hard time, but, boy, am I sorry that he is. So, my struggle now is how to relate that message without turning him off. It's times like these that I am glad Christianity came with an instruction book. Now, if only it came with a personal assistant... Prayers, please.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

A prayer offered by my oldest son tonight:

Dear God,
I hope that you are having a good day.
I love you.
I wish that I could play with you every day.
I was thinking of you at supper.
In your name we pray,

Amen to that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Do You Like Them Apples?

It's day 9 of my 30 Days of Nothing--well, almost nothing. Okay, it's been 30 Days of Slightly-Less-Than-Usual. Here are my shortcomings thus far:

1. Ei finally decided to start pooping in the potty. We had promised he could pick what we had for dinner on the day of his first success. He was successful September 2, and he chose McDonald's. Hmmm... We couldn't go back on our promise, so we went. I packed myself a PB&J sandwich, not wanting to break my 30 Days on day 2. The kids didn't seem to notice my meal. They were too wrapped up in chicken sandwiches, apple slices, and Star Wars Happy Meal toys. But aren't we excited that he is making progress?! He is about 50-50 now in terms of successes and--ahem--accidents, and that's great news to me.

2. I made a "quick" trip into McKay's (the used bookstore where I could spend hundreds of dollars without batting an eye) the other day to pick up a couple of books for my exorbitantly long reading list this semester. Since I was child-free (which almost never happens) I decided to poke around a bit to see all the little nooks and crannies I miss when the boys are with me. I found the homeschooling section. I spent $25 on curriculum for my kids in addition to the books I bought for myself (which I do not count as a failure because those are required).

3. Saturday was Ei's birthday. We always go out to eat at the birthday boy's restaurant of choice, so I didn't feel right about telling him he couldn't share in this tradition. He chose Gondolier. I ate a Spinach and Feta calzone and shared the most decadent cake with my family for desert. It was so sinfully good. I should have packed a sandwich, but feta and chocolate are two of my weaknesses.

4. After Jackson's cello lesson we always get a milkshake or Icee or something fun, just the two of us. This is the only time I ever have with just Jackson, and I cherish our Tuesday afternoons. As we were leaving his lesson today he asked if we were going to get a treat. I caved. We bought a $2.50 smoothie. He was so happy.

As I write this I realize that after each goof I feel obligated to explain why I fell off the 30 Days plan. It all boils down to entitlement. I feel entitled to a calzone and cake to celebrate my child's birthday. I feel my child is entitled to a smoothie after he stretches his comfort zone at cello lessons. Mary wrote a great essay about entitlement HERE. And it's so true.

The weekend before I began this challenge, a lady I work with gave me a big box of cooking apples. She said that she couldn't use them all before they went bad and I should take them to prepare for my family. I decided that this was a good opportunity to practice being grateful and using what is given to me, so I set out to make the best use possible of the apples. I made Apple Brown Betty, Apple Crisp, Applesauce baby food, and Rosemary Apple Chicken. I used most of the apples before they finally started to go soft and I threw the rest out. I peeled so many apples that my fingernails turned red from the natural dye. This was kind of fun for the first 5 apples or so. Then I grew weary of the task. I started looking for shortcuts. Maybe I could just partially peel the apples. There are a lot of nutrients in the skin, right? Or I could only use the big apples so I wouldn't have to peel as many. You know what I need? I need one of those apple peeler-corer-slicer deals from The Pampered Chef. Oh, yeah. That would speed up this job. If I'm going to do with nothing, I want to do it with an expensive piece of cooking equipment that I will use only once in my life but feel good about owning because I am the pampered chef. Entitlement. It's a tricky beast.

Monday, September 8, 2008


When Ei was born, Jackson was 13 months old. Obviously he didn't have a huge vocabulary at that age. I kept showing him the baby and saying "Ethan, his name is Ethan," and Jackson would reply, "E-i-e-i-o." And it stuck. 3 years later, he's still our Ei.

Saturday Ei turned 3. It's amazing how quickly time goes by when you're in love. As I did with Jackson, I will share some of the things I love about Ei, in no particular order.

He can talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything. But he can also be quite shy.

He makes baby Aaron laugh every time he plays with him.

He knows the name of every single Bob the Builder car, all the tools in Handy Manny, and has memorized his favorite picture books. But he can't seem to remember where his shoes go.

He can talk for a full 5 minutes without ever saying anything.

He still loves to sit in my lap.

His smile lights up my whole day.

He says he's sorry when he makes a mistake--and means it.

He occasionally says he wants to talk to me, but he doesn't even have anything to talk about. He just wants to talk to his Mama.

He has an imaginary friend named Ranch. He's always got a story about her.

He loves our dog and is very gentle with her.

After Communion he whispers (too loudly), "I want more!"

He gives slobbery kisses freely and often.

He can turn a boring task into a game.

He has two speeds: on and off. He's either loud and moving around or asleep. There is nothing in between.

He always has a song in his head.

He wants everyone else to be as happy as he is.

He never stays in trouble (although he's always getting into trouble) because his smile is so contagious.

He made me realize how much I love surprises.

Ei, your sweet spirit is the most amazing gift. I am so blessed to be your Mama. Every day you give me a reason to smile, and you help me remember to enjoy the journey. In your words, "You're the best!" I love being your mom, and I am so honored to be in your life. Love, Mama

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When Nothing Adds Up to Something

Last year my MOPS group had a great speaker who talked with us about sin. In her talk, she made the point that Satan tells us that we are not satisfied with our lives so that we'll seek out what we're missing. The irony is that in seeking for what's "missing" we actually lose what we already had--a close relationship with God. Our greed takes over and separates us from Him. Sounds a lot like the situation in the Garden of Eden, no? She used a word that buzzed around in my head all summer: contentment. "Be content with your lives," she warned.

And so I set out to be content. It lasted about 2 hours. Then I drove home and saw that my neighbor had hired a professional landscaper, and her yard looked awesome. Oooh...I want that too. Then I opened the refrigerator and discovered that I had all the ingredients for a perfectly nice chicken dinner but lacked the motivation to put it together, so I took my family out to dinner, where we ordered chicken much like what I was going to prepare but a lot more expensive. And so went the summer.

A couple of weeks ago my minister preached on contentment. It just so happened that it was the first Sunday that my 6 month old baby has ever stayed in the nursery happily for the entire service. I sat uncomfortably in my pew feeling as though he was talking right to me. "You fool, you didn't at all do what you promised yourself you would do," he said--but not in those words.

Then Mary (of wrote about the 30 Days of Nothing. For the month of September she and her family swear off all unnecessary expenses. There are no rules, exactly. The idea is to decide what is necessary to your family. She has her reasons for doing this project, but I won't recap them all here. Go to her site if you want to get the whole scoop. When I first read about it I thought that it sounded interesting, but I had no intention of joining in.

Near the end of August I ran into Target to pick up a few things on our shopping list. You should know that I'm a Target-junkie. I enter with full intentions to buy 1 tube of toothpaste and a box of dish washing soap, and I reach the counter with $72 worth of treasures. Every time. It's a sickness. My kids have discovered the Dollar Zone. It's chock-full of junky toys that, because they only cost $1, Mama will purchase. So, we enter the store and immediately fill our cart with about 9 toys from the Dollar Zone. Then we make our way around the store and eventually end up at the counter with--yes--$70-something worth of items. I swear, I should go on The Price is Right because I can hit that $70-something mark with my eyes closed. But the story doesn't end here. No, I got home and realized that, despite the fact that I brought home approximately $50 in things that were NOT on the list, I managed to miss one necessary item that was ON the list. So, we head back to Target, mere hours from our last trip. But I'm no dummy. I knew my husband would not be pleased with two big receipts from Target in one day, and I also knew that my kids would not willingly leave the store without their precious Dollar Zone toys (never mind that I already bought every one that they wanted that morning). So, I had a chat with them in the car on the way there. "We are NOT buying toys this time. We just bought some this morning. We are NOT buying a slushy or popcorn. We are NOT buying candy in the checkout aisle." Whine, whine, whine. Well, at least we're clear on the rules. We enter. And it starts. Can-we-gets galore. "No, we are not buying another punch balloon simply because you popped yours this afternoon." "No, we are not buying a pretzel, even though your offer to share it with your brother was most noble." "No, we are not buying cat food. We don't even have a cat!" This is out of control. I went home fuming. My children are spoiled brats. How did that happen? I was reminded of exactly how that happened when I got home and tripped over 35 cars, 22 balls, and 3 huge boxes of Lego's all spilled across the floor. They want more because I've taught them to want more. Yikes. We're SO doing the 30 Days of Nothing.

So, for our family, what is necessary? We haven't exactly pinned that down yet. I think that, rather than sitting down and drawing up rules for the month, we'll just play it by ear and see what we decide we need and what we decide we can do without. I feel certain that we'll purchase things that someone else would deem frivolous. My goal here is not deprivation. My goal is for us to become aware of how very well we have been blessed and, hopefully, find some contentment with our lives.

Today we went to the library for story time (as we do every Wednesday) and saw a couple of the boys' friends there. The boys wanted to go to lunch with their friends, but I was firm that we were eating lunch at home today. We made sandwiches and ate on the back porch and then played on their swing set. It was wonderful. And, for just a few minutes, I felt content.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wear the Aare Bear, Mama Bear

These days, I'm babywearing. My sweet Aaron (Aare Bear, as I've taken to calling him) demands to be held at all times. I researched the best wraps and slings to find the perfect one for us. I decided on a Peanut Shell pouch sling. He LOVES it. No matter how fussy he is, I can pop him in there and he'll be content (sometimes even asleep) within minutes. The maker claims I can wear him until he's 35 pounds. I guess they're sending me a personal trainer to buff up too? He will be 6 months tomorrow. 6 months. Half a year. That's 1/36 of my time with him. Okay, probably a little dramatic. Taking a deep breath.
I'm feeling overwhelmed with life today. This morning the boys were especially petulant, and I wasn't at my most patient as I threw clothes on them and tried to get out the door. Ei pooped all over everything 10 minutes before we had to leave, and my only choice was to throw him in the shower. I am at my wit's end with potty training (or lack thereof). I couldn't keep Aaron in his sling while I was cleaning the mess, so he was wailing from his exersaucer. Jackson thought of 500 things that he needed, and I fussed at him to leave me alone. We finally got in the car, and I unloaded them at Nana's. She told me she wanted a diaper on Ei, which I completely ignored. I understand her concern (refer to Monday's post), but I can't take two steps back in process. It was rainy and gross outside. An 18-wheeler changed lanes on the interstate too close to me, and suddenly, I wanted to cry. I dumped them in Nana's house and left with a half-hearted kiss on each of their cheeks. What if the truck had hit me and I never had the chance to make peace with my kids? I'm the grown-up here. I can't believe I let myself get so worked up over normal kid stuff. But I did make it back, and I grabbed them up and kissed all over them as soon as I did.
Okay, last random thought... I took Jackson to his cello lesson this afternoon. Yes, my 4 year old takes cello. I know that everyone who hears that thinks that I'm one of those crazy whip-cracking moms who makes their kids take music lessons and practice French in their spare time, but I promise I'm not. He wants to play the cello. So, off to cello lessons we go. His teacher is really sweet, and he likes her very much. At home, he is so excited about this whole experience. At the lesson, however, it's a different story. He sucks in his cheeks the way he does when he's nervous, and he refuses to speak. He won't make eye contact with her, and his limbs jerk rather than move fluidly. I knew he was shy, but this seems a bit extreme. So, of course my mind goes to dark places and I worry. Breathe.
So, I can't seem to potty train my middle child. I can't seem to socialize my oldest. But I can wear the Aare Bear and solve all his problems. So, I wear on. He's almost 20 pounds. I am going to need a backup plan for what to do 16 pounds from now.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hansel and Gretel, Eat Your Heart Out

I was feeding the baby when Jackson came running into the room screaming, "POOP ON THE FLOOR!" This is not new. Ei waits until I'm busy with something, then he relieves himself on the floor, and Big Brother comes tattling. So, I was not surprised to see this.

I did, however, grow more distressed to see this.

And this.

And this.

And, eventually, this. Guess where I found him???
So, I guess I should consider this a sign of progress. I mean, he DID eventually get to the bathroom, right? I hate potty training.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mrs. Jackson's Mama

The other night I went out with a group of friends from my MOPS group. The next day, my kids asked me who went with me. "Emily's Mama, Hannah's Mama, Brooke's Mama, Eli's Mama..." and so on until I had listed all the ladies who joined me. It never occurred to me to use their names. I wonder if other people refer to me as Jackson, Ethan, and Aaron's Mama?

There was a moment when I was pondering this that I thought it is so very sad that women lose their identities over time. We marry our husbands and become Mrs. So-and-So. Then we have our children and become Jr. So-and-So's Mama. We pack away our hobby rooms to make space for a baby. We stop listening to music we enjoy and start listening to Silly Sally Sings Sunday School Songs. Ask any mom to tell you about herself, and she will instead tell you about her family. "Well, I have 3 children and a great husband."

But I've decided it's not so very sad after all. Being a wife and mother IS my identity. I spend my days thinking about what to make for supper, how to potty train, when to start my kids in school, how to get a baby to sleep. That's my life. 5 years ago it might have sounded miserable. I always pictured myself as the working-mom type. I liked the image of me working by day and mothering by night. No way was I going to trade in my identity for a day full of diapers and Goodnight Moon. Then everything changed. During my first pregnancy Mike and I started having the talk about my returning to work after the baby was born. Something inside of me had already changed. I couldn't bear the thought of dropping off my baby in daycare so I could go to work at a job that suddenly seemed meaningless. So, Mike and I compromised on a part-time working solution. No daycare--I would work 3 days a week, and my mom would help me with the baby. So, when my Jackson was 12 weeks old I went to work. I showed off pictures of the baby, felt the overwhelming need to run home to him, burst into tears and holed myself up in my office for the rest of the day. I called Mike and told him we would make it work but that I just couldn't COULDN'T do this. He agreed (bless him), and I called my boss. She already suspected that I wouldn't return and had a replacement for me picked out. The next day I returned to work for my last day--baby on hip.

So, 4 years and 2 babies later, who am I? I'm Jackson's Mama. I'm Ethan's Mama. I'm Aaron's Mama. I'm Mike's wife. I am Miss Katina to the kids in playgroup. I'm Kat to my best friend since childhood. And I'm still just plain old Katina to my mom. I guess you never really lose who you are. I'm still Katina. I still enjoy musicals. I still get excited about Christmas trees. I still cry when I watch Steel Magnolias. I'm still afraid of artificial sweeteners. I still crave "depression cake." I still hate heights. I'm me--but better. Now I have magic kisses that make boo-boos feel better. Now I know all the words to Raffi's Greatest Hits. Now I am the queen of my house. And, my, it's good to be queen.

Mike and Katina, in a previous life (2003)

Mike and Katina (and sons) now

Monday, August 11, 2008

BE KIND (and please rewind)

I had this thought the other day: "They aren't mine." Yes, they're "my" kids. Yes, I birthed them, diapered them, fed them, clothed them, disciplined them, played with them, loved them. But they still aren't mine. Although they grew in my body, I didn't make them. These precious people are on loan to me from the One who made them. Eventually my job will be done. I'll have to send them into the world and hope that I've taught them to love God and respect others.

Loan me a book, and I'll read it very carefully so that I don't crease the spine or wrinkle any of the pages. Loan me your car and I'll drive it like it's made of glass so I don't scratch the paint or dirty the tires. I'd NEVER return a movie to the video store without rewinding it. (Those of you who are of the younger generation, we used to borrow VHS movies from Blockbuster roughly 100 years ago.) Yet, I've got 3 great kids on loan, and I often forget to take such good care of them. I damage their spirits by using a harsh voice. I damage their creativity by focusing on the mess they made rather than the masterpiece they completed. I damage their understanding of what it is to be a Christian when I don't live what I teach.

It makes me cry to think of the day that I drop them off at college and return home empty- handed. I know that on that day I'd give anything for one more chance to sit in the floor and make play-doh food or curl up on the bed together and read them a story. So why do I fly through those things like they're mundane chores now? The "return by" date is coming up. 18 years is a very short time to get it right. I'm wasting time. There are books to be read, pictures to be painted, walks to be taken, cuddles to be shared.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Happy Days are Here Again

Since I wrote an entire post about how Aaron is driving me crazy some weeks back, I thought I better return now to say that he has become a delightful baby. Oh, true, he still wakes up 3 times at night (no kidding) and he screams if I try to sit in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings (what does he have against church??), but overall life is better. He smiles and coos often. He adores Ei and laughs just at the sight of him. He takes a nap every morning (and sometimes in the afternoons). He still demands lots of social attention and wants to be held at all times, but at least we've gotten past the unexplained crying stage. I've decided to become a babywearer. I ordered my wrap yesterday. More on that later.

So, I think I'm ready for #4. Could you please help me convince Mike?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Yes, Monsters are Real

If you are not from Knoxville, let me quickly fill you in on what happened in our city last week. I was nursing my baby in the dark in the church nursery enjoying a few minutes of quiet with him before church started. The nursery worker came into the room looking like she'd just seen a ghost. "There's been a shooting at the Unitarian church," she told me. She didn't have a lot of details, because it had just happened and the media didn't quite know what was going on yet. Later I learned that a man entered the church during a children's musical, took a gun out of his guitar case, and opened fire on the crowd. He killed 2 people and injured several others. Children witnessed the entire event. How those babies are sleeping at night now, I have no idea. The news later reported that the man was acting out his rage over the fact that the church openly invited gay persons to worship there and supported other "liberal" policies. Scary stuff.

So, seven days later, where are we? Every Sunday I ask my kids the same question: "After the Children's Sermon, do you want to stay in big church (the worship service) or go to Children's church?" Until recently, Jackson chose to stay in big church, but now Ei is old enough to go to Children's Church with him, so that's what they've selected for the past few weeks. Today I cringed as I asked that question. As I suspected, they said they wanted to go to Children's Church. I considered going with them. What if that man were to have chosen our church? What if someone entered our church angry over some political stance the church has chosen to take (or not take) and opened fire near my babies? The idea of it makes me ill. Are they safe downstairs so far away from the service? Are they safe on the playground? During the service, I was walking my baby in the narthex (he cries if I stay in the sanctuary, so I try to listen to the service from the back). A couple tried to slip out early, but the doors were locked. One of the ushers came out of the sanctuary to help the couple and explained that we lock the doors after the service begins now. They nodded in understanding, and no one had to say what we all thought to ourselves: if you aren't safe at church, can you be safe anywhere?

I'm so angry over the whole thing I just can't stand it. I'm angry with that man--that monster--who took away our sense of security at church. I'm angry with our government for allowing any old Joe to have a gun. Yeah, I've heard the argument that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Well, I say, hogwash. People kill people WITH GUNS. I'm scared too. I want to round up my children and shelter them like a mother chicken does her chicks. And I'm confused about why God allowed such a tragedy to occur. Here's where things get complicated, I guess. We had a rather lengthy discussion in my theology class last semester about the age-old question of why God allows bad things to happen to good people. I left even more confused than before the class. The one idea I did latch on to was that God grieves with us when bad things happen. I choose to believe that God mourned last week too.

I've been thinking a lot about the horrible man who did this. I read a discussion board about whether he deserves the death penalty. I'm not even sure if that's a possibility. Does Tennessee even have a death penalty? I don't know, but that's not the point. I just got started thinking about what God would want us to do. I keep thinking about how God made that guy and celebrated his birth. I keep thinking about how he was a baby, just like any of us, innocent and helpless. And I wonder if something happened to his man to make him the monster that he is today. I wonder if someone hurt him or if he just grew up around meanness so that's all he ever knew. I wish I could say that my heart feels sad for him thinking about these possibilities, but I can't. I just feel angry. And sad. And scared.

My oldest son has been having nightmares for a few months now. I think it goes with his OCD personality (not to diagnose him prematurely, but, well, if you knew him...) He worries and gets worked up over little things. (Where in the world did he get that??) The other day I asked him what scares him so badly. He told me he's afraid of monsters. I told him there's no such thing as monsters. But I lied. There are monsters. And I'm afraid of them too.