Monday, May 25, 2009

Just Call Me Mom

I recently read an essay in which the author attempts to convince her reader that women who post pictures of her children on Facebook as their avatars (Mom, an avatar is a picture which represents someone, kind of a photographic nametag) rather than pictures of themselves are hiding behind their children and are, as a result, offensive to the feminist movement. She argues that women are returning to a 1950s role and are in danger of becoming Mrs. John Smith. Her point is that we should be spending more time bragging about who WE are, rather than always talking about who are children are. Because I was engaged in the argument, I read the comments to the essay as well. There seemed to be a very clear divide between those who agreed and those who did not. The commonality? Those who agreed were childless and those who disagreed had children.

I have 3 beautiful children, and one on the way. I am educated, was once very good at my job, won a number of awards based on academic and literary merit, and have traveled quite a bit. My Facebook avatar is a picture of my children.

To some degree, I completely agree with what this author wrote. My children are the center of my world. I talk about them infinitely more than I talk about my own accomplishments. I spend my days shuffling from cello lessons to karate practice and making sure that they understand about vowel sounds and being nice. It's dizzying how much energy it takes to raise a child, let alone 4 children. What I don't agree with, however, is her argument that we should somehow feel guilty for all of this and change or risk losing ourselves to motherhood. Mothers have enough to feel guilty about. I lost my temper with my children. I made chicken nuggets for lunch--again. I haven't washed their sheets in 3 weeks. I let them play a computer game rather than reading a story which would enrich their lives. But at the end of the day, my children know that I love them very much. They love God and know important Bible truths. They are secure, confident, happy children. I did that (well, my family and I did that). I think moms who sacrifice parts of themselves in order to bring up healthy children deserve an award much more prestigious than a certificate from an academic society. These children are my life's work. They are my greatest accomplishment.

So, if I bore you at dinner parties (which I think is a hilarious argument, because how many moms do you know who regularly attend dinner parties??) with stories of my children, I apologize. My observations today tell me that if this is true, you probably do not have children of your own. If you never have children, perhaps you will never understand what I mean. If you do, however, you'll get it. You'll take down all the expensive art in your home and replace it with photos of your children with cheesy smiles. You'll start answering to "Aaron's Mom" without minding a bit. You'll wake up in the morning with a prayer on your lips for the tiny people who make up your world. You'll pass up a chance to go out with the girls for a chance to go to the park with the kids. You'll put a picture of your children on Facebook as your avatar. And you won't feel a bit lost in the process.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dr. Doctor,

Dr. Doctors of the World,

We would very much appreciate it if you would stop having your nurses call us to give us lab results. Your nurses, while very kind and well-intentioned, do not understand what they are reporting. They are able to read "positive" or "negative" and repeat as many times as is necessary to get us off the phone, but ask them a question and they are lost. We pay you a LOT of money. Seriously, pick up the phone and call us yourselves.

Your Patients

So, yeah, Aaron's on ear infection #10. On Monday only his left ear was infected, but since then his right ear has started draining nastiness, so I feel pretty sure it's infected now too. I have adamantly refused to put him on any more antibiotics until a lab culture reads positive for some kind of bad bacteria. But, alas, two cultures in a row have come back negative. The nurse on the phone seemed just as baffled as I was as to why the good doctor was so very sure there were bacteria eating away at my son's eardrum when the lab results show the opposite. Last time she told me perhaps the ear infection was viral. At my next visit the doctor he said that he didn't think that was the case and ordered another culture, which came back negative today. This time the nurse told me directly that she just didn't know why the culture would read negative. I asked her why we were treating a non-bacterial infection with antibiotic ear drops (which I did reluctantly agree to use because the doctor assured me it was necessary, even if we didn't give him an oral antibiotic), and she didn't know. I asked her if I should bring Aaron back in to be re-examined, and she didn't know. I asked her how I would know if the ear tube got blocked or if it healed itself. She didn't know. I asked her if I should have the newly infected ear looked at, and she said she didn't know. She diligently wrote down my questions and told me she would call me back with the answers. I asked her why the doctor couldn't call me himself, and she assured me he was very busy with surgeries. I think I'm done with this doctor. Anyone know a really good ear, nose, throat doctor in Knoxville?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Different Perspective

Jackson: When will we get to see God?

Mama: Well, the Bible says that someday Jesus will return to take all the people who believe in Him to Heaven, but we don't know when that will happen. If it doesn't happen before we die we'll get to see Him in Heaven then.

Jackson: Oh, so you have to die to see God?

Mama: That's typically the way it works.

Jackson: Well, those people we saw in the nursing home must be really excited because they're going to die any day now.

What do you say to that?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009



my youngest child went back on ear drops (which he hates more than just about anything) for ANOTHER ear infection. If you're counting, we're on number 10.

my middle child threw tic-tac-toe pieces into the air like confetti. My youngest child scooped them up before we could reach them and put several in his mouth. I think I got them all out before he swallowed any, but there was a brief moment of gagging that was pretty scary.

my oldest child looked at me and flat out said "no" when I told him to do something.

I separated approximately 50 fights between the big boys.

my middle child decided he was big enough to put the toothpaste on his own toothbrush. Normally the toothpaste would have been far out of his reach, but I just bought a new tube today, and it was still sitting on the counter. He squeezed about half of it out of the tube onto the floor and then proceeded to try to put it back in. Have you ever read the Ramona books? Yeah, that's what happened.

my oldest child tried to "help" clean up the toothpaste mess (I suspect that he might have had a part in it) by wiping the bathroom floor with half a roll of toilet paper. He threw it all in the potty and then tried to flush. The toilet is now clogged.

I think we're all at our limit with this traveling Daddy thing. Around 5:00 today I started thinking that I would lose my mind with disobedient, disrespectful children. This is the point when I would normally begin the countdown to pass-off time. I might even call Mike to get an ETA so I could mentally coach myself through the last few minutes. But today, like every other evening since February, I could only count down to bedtime, knowing that before I could tuck them in bed I would have to feed the children, bathe them (we had Ravioli, so baths weren't optional), and do the bedtime routine (which is my least favorite part of every single day). I'm trying to be patient with them. I know the bad behavior is just their way of showing their frustration with Mike being gone. But I can only take so much. I'm tired of being the bad guy. Tonight when we were doing our chore chart I took away 3 smiley faces from each of them (because their rooms weren't clean, they didn't obey me, and they weren't nice to each other). They both cried. I wanted to give them a last-minute chance. "Quick, clean up your rooms and hug each other and I'll give you the smiles," but I knew that would reinforce bad behavior for the following day. I just reminded them that they could start over tomorrow and get all smiles to earn their rewards, and they cried and begged for mercy.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. It seems a bit rambly and muddled, but I just needed to get it off my chest, I suppose. I am tired of always being the heavy. I am tired of working around the clock with no relief. I'm tired of my baby always being sick and no one being able to help him. I'm tired of picking up after kids all day and still having a house full of dirty dishes, laundry, and random toys strewn across the floor at bedtime. I'm just really tired.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's Not Fair!

I've been meaning to post a sermon from my preaching and sacraments class for a long time, but it's just never crossed my mind while I was sitting in this chair until tonight. This sermon is based on Matthew 20. I strongly suggest that you read it before reading the sermon. Did you read it? Good deal, carry on.

It’s not fair!

For any household with children, this phrase ranks right up there in popularity with “Why?” and “Because I said so.” When served two exquisite sundaes with all the fixings, one child is sure to look at the other’s and proclaim, “He got more sprinkles than I did! It’s not fair!” I hear it so many times a day, I just block it out or reply with a noncommittal, “Life’s not fair.”

I guess I assume that my kids will someday outgrow this idea that things have to be fair. I hope that one day they will wake up and decide that it’s okay that one brother got offered a killer job in a big city and will be moving there soon with his beautiful young wife while the other is still working at a fast food restaurant waiting for good things to happen. I hope for this, but I know it isn’t likely. I know this because, even as an adult, I myself expect things to be fair. I hate it that my friend can eat everything on her plate and never gain an ounce. It kills me that the grass in my neighbor’s yard is thick and lush while mine is patchy and yellow. I can’t stand it when I do all the work and someone else gets the credit. It’s not fair.

Is God fair?

In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus told a parable to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. A vineyard owner hires laborers from early in the morning right through the day. Every three hours or so he goes back to the market place and, finding people still with no work, hires more of them. The last group starts work at 5:00 pm so they work for just one hour. When it’s time to be paid, something surprising happens. The last ones to join the labor are first to be paid and, to everyone’s amazement, they receive a full day’s pay. The ones hired first must have been thinking that they would be earning a small fortune because they worked ten times the hours of this late-arriving group. But, in fact, they receive the same as everyone else. So they complain. They feel they have been cheated. Can you imagine the grumbling and resentment which must have arisen? But the vineyard owner says: “No, this is right. This is what we agreed. I am giving you the full entitlement. I just want to be generous to the others.”

Is God fair?

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrestled with this very question when he learned that his 2-year old son had a disease which would lead to death before he reached adulthood. In When Bad Things Happen to Good People he writes:
How does one handle news like that? I was a young, inexperienced rabbi, not as familiar with the process of grief as I would later come to be, and what I mostly felt that day was a deep, aching sense of unfairness. It didn’t make sense. I had been a good person. I had tried to do what was right in the sight of God. More than that, I was living a more religiously committed life than most people I knew, people who had large, healthy families. I believed that I was following God’s ways and doing God’s work. How could this be happening to my family? If God existed, if God was minimally fair, let along loving and forgiving, how could God do this to me?

Is God fair?

No. The parable makes it clear that God is not “fair,” in the way that we think of fairness. God doesn’t treat us all equally. He treats us all lovingly. Had the vineyard owner have treated everyone “fairly” they would have received the same hourly pay for the work they completed. They might have even received a bonus based on how many grapes they were able to collect. This way the hardest workers would be rewarded for their dutiful labor. But he doesn’t. He pays the last the same wages that he promised the first, a reasonable rate for a full-day’s work. It isn’t fair. But it’s generous. It’s loving.

The problem, it would seem, is that we are so focused on the unfairness that we miss the grace that shines through in this parable. We are afraid if some get more than they deserve, we will get less. We look at what others get and forget to look at what we also received. The truth is that, regardless of how much we deserve it, we are all offered God’s grace. It’s not fair. It’s not dumb luck. It’s not earned. It’s just very lovingly, very generously passed out at the end of the day.
There are some people who, from the very start of their lives, have lived a Godly life and have, with their family, been workers in the vineyard. They will receive the kingdom of heaven, as God has promised. But then there are the rest of us: those who have lived very differently and came to God late or find ourselves wandering away from Him from time to time. We, too, will receive the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus was crucified between two men who were being punished for living lives of crime. They had not followed the teachings of Jesus and had not named God as their Lord. While one criminal mocked Jesus, the other one of the men pointed out the injustice of Jesus’ punishment and asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into the kingdom. Even in his agony, Jesus offered undeserved grace. He told the man, Today you will be with me in paradise.” This man, this criminal, this menace to society receives the same reward as a life-long missionary who swears off all luxuries and devotes his life to Christ.
And so "the first shall be the last and the last shall be the first” is not meant to discourage those who devoted all their life to working for God. It’s not meant to demonstrate the lesson on every mother’s tongue: “Life’s not fair.” Rather it was said for those who came to God at an older age, for those who wander from the path and return at the 11th hour, for those who do evil and repent. It was said so that we may know how much God loves us. "Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning from the last to the first.” It’s all about grace. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. But, because we have His priceless mercy, we will receive the reward. God's ways are not ours. There won’t be justice, but there will be love.
There is an old story about a farmer who had two sons. As soon as they were old enough to walk, he took them to the fields and taught them about growing crops and raising animals. When he got too old to work, the two boys took over the chores of the farm. When the father died, they found working together so meaningful that they decided to keep their partnership.

Each brother contributed what he could and, during every harvest season, they equally divided what they corporately produced. Over the years the elder brother never married. The younger brother did marry and had eight children. Years later, when they were having a wonderful harvest, the old bachelor brother thought to himself one night, “My brother has ten mouths to feed. I only have one. He really needs more of his harvest than I do, but I know he is much too fair to renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the middle of the night, when he is sleeping, I’ll take some of what I have in my barn and slip it over into his barn to help him feed his children.”

At the very time he was thinking this, the younger brother was thinking to himself, “God has given me this loving wife and these wonderful children. My brother hasn’t been so fortunate. He really deserves more of this harvest than I do, but I know him. He’s much too fair. He’ll never renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the middle of the night when he’s asleep, I’ll take some of what I’ve put in my barn and slip it over into his barn.”

And so one night, when the moon was full, as you may have already anticipated, these two brothers came face to face, each on a mission of generosity. The story goes that, although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, a gentle rain began to fall. It was God weeping for joy because two of his children had gotten the point. Two of his children had come to realize that generosity is the deepest characteristic of the holy. Because we are made in God’s image, our being generous is the secret to our joy as well.

Is God fair? No. He’s not fair because He’s graceful. We don’t get what we deserve, which is a blessing for us sinners. We get what we are promised. Thanks to God!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

When Good isn't Good Enough

Today I was having a conversation about Jackson with a friend of mine who knows him well. She asked if I had decided what do to about his education, and I told her this: next year we are doing kindergarten off the record (meaning I'm not registering him as a kindergartner), and at the end of the year I am going to have him tested and see where to do from there. In my head this made perfect sense. I work with him all year on kindergarten skills, then test him and find out that--low and behold--he'll be ahead in all areas. This will justify homeschooling him rather than sending him to school to relearn all these skills he's already mastered. But as soon as I said the words aloud I realized that this is just my way of justifying to everyone else what I've already decided to do. See, I just feel really good about teaching him at home, at least for now, and I need everyone else to feel good about it too. And somehow I think that crazy high test scores will do that. Maybe it will, but I'm afraid of what I'm setting up.

I don't know where I got my inner need to be the best, outperform everyone else, and excel at everything I do. I don't recall my parents participating in that obsession. In fact, I once told my mom that I was afraid I might make a C in a class in high school, and she offered to pay me if I did. I'm not kidding. She thought that taking the rest of the semester off and letting myself chill out a bit was more important than my grade point average. But I didn't listen. And I didn't make a C.

The point is, something inside me demands that I not only meet expectations (in a timely and organized fashion) but blow the top off of them. I don't want to be a good employee. I want to be employee of the month. Three times. I don't want to make an A. I want a 100%. (Is extra credit an option? I'll make a 105.) And it might sound lovely to come out on top, but I assure you that it's not. It's not because while I should be celebrating one victory, I'm instead trying to figure out how I can raise the bar. And at some point, I'm bound to miss it. And it hurts every time.

Last Sunday my son received an award at his cello recital. He practiced more in the month of April than any other student in the studio (44 times in a 30-day month). He was so very proud. He talked about it all day and wanted to show off his certificate to anyone who would listen. Then something very troubling happened. He said that next time he would try to practice 45 times. See, it's not good enough for him that he's the best. He wants to beat his own score. A little piece of me panicked. It's going to hurt when he misses the bar. Did I do this to him? Or was he born with it like I was?

So, I wonder what I'm doing with all this testing business. It's kindergarten for goodness sake. I know Jackson. If I tested him today he would already excel kindergarten standards. Do I need a test to tell me that? Am I just putting pressure on him to excel? And if he is a grade level ahead this year, will I just push for him to be 2 grade levels ahead next year? How can I teach him to let himself relax if I can't? And, even if his test scores aren't ahead of grade level, doesn't he still deserve the same loving home-based education that I have planned for him? This isn't a reward for outstanding performance. Somehow those things have gotten entwined in my head, and I'm having a hard time separating them. True, I think that my children will receive a better education at home AND will excel if they receive a one-on-one education. Who wouldn't? But that's not what is driving me to homeschooling, and I need to be honest about that. I think that my Jackson needs some more time in the nest before he is ready to fly outside on his own. That's the bottom line. I don't know when he'll be ready. First grade? Fifth? Not until college? I know that I'm his mom and I pray for him every day, and I feel sure that this is right, at least for now. Now, the hard part is deciding where to draw the line between gushing with pride over his accomplishments and pressuring him to do more.

Parenting is hard.