Sunday, January 30, 2011

Culturalization of the preschool boy

I've tried hard not to completely shelter my son, but I was a little shocked the other day when I picked him up from preschool and he was chanting "Harry Potter, Harry Potter" over and over like a spell with his friends.  Now I'm a big Harry Potter fan and have no qualms about the books or movies, but I was a little surprised to find that a group of 4-year-olds knew about the wizard.  Although Brady is reading now, I still don't think he's old enough for the stories as he's prone to nightmares and even the two kid-friendly movies he's seen ("Toy Story 3" and "Tangled") have frightened him a little.  When I asked him about it, he, of course, had no clue to who Harry Potter was, and was just following his friends (ah, that boy worries me sometimes).  Then his guy friends started telling me about their favorite video games (Batman and other superheroes) on their Nintendo DS systems, which the rest received as Christmas gifts.  Brady asked me to tell them what game system he got for Christmas, and I told them the Leapster Explorer (he's not even into games enough to know the name of his system).  They were not impressed.  As a group of preschool boys already on the cusp of adolesence, they were not excited in the slightest by a preschool learning toy.

From the beginning, I've tried hard to filter what Brady sees through tv and movies.  I've banned violent toys and encouraged more creative play.  He loves art, music, reading, and drama.  Last year, when a friend his age tackled him to the ground and pinned him in a wrestling hold, Brady thought he was being hugged, and returned the gesture.  He is my sweet, innocent boy, and I love that and want to preserve it, but it is edging away so quickly.  When we went to the store to buy another video game as a treat, he picked "Wolverine and X-Men" by name.  I was a little surprised as his tastes usually run towards the innocuous Disney titles.  When I asked him how he knew about it, he told me that his game system had a commercial about it.  Ahh...the media influence hits early.

While I love his gentle and sensitive side, I wonder if I've done him a disservice.  He will be entering Kindergarten in the fall and is already small for his age.  He's always been a little behind on motor skills and he's not really into sports.  When all of his friends were opening bikes for their 4th birthdays, he was still mastering his tricycle (having just recently grown enough to reach the pedals).  The milestones are getting earlier for kids these days...I don't remember receiving my first bike until I was six. 

I wonder how much I'm influencing him, and is it nurturing his own proclivities or am I shaping him into the boy I want him to be? It's a big question to me as I see he's already being shaped by his friends and the commercials that assail him everyday.

Momastery: Whatever, Honestly

I so love the blog Momastery, whether is is making me cry, or laugh (in this case). I, too, take full advantage of the free childcare at the gym, sometimes dropping the kids off so that I can read a book in peace in the lobby!

Momastery: Whatever, Honestly

I'm glad I'm not the only one to have "Mommy Meltdowns" on a regular basis either. Thank God for a wonderful husband who rescues me from my own insanity!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Great Outdoors, a view from inside

I'm a great believer in the power of nature.  Now you wouldn't necessarily know it as you'll usually find me inside, all nice and cozy, but I like the idea of connecting with creation.  I've had profound moments of reflection in the woods and by streams, and I want my kids to have the same chance to experience the wonder, beauty, and peace of the outdoors. I've read Last Child in the Woods and I Love Dirt, and I admire the work of our local outdoor adventure club for families, Kids in the Valley Adventuring (KIVA). I know that this outside time is getting more scarce for kids these days, and I find myself struggling to get out and play with the kids when it's cold, or wet, or hot, or just easier to plop down in front of the TV.  So, in part to counteract that tendency, we enrolled our son in a preschool that plays outside almost everyday, regardless of the weather.  It's a bit of a hassle for us to dress him in multiple layers of long underwear, coat, gloves, hat, boots (see below) and multiple shirts each day, and my car is like a sand and mulch pit as he brings more and more of the outdoors home with him everyday, but he has a blast. 

But I realized today that his hour outside at preschool is not enough.  I'm not really sharing my value of the environment if I don't expose my kids to the great outdoors.  So this afternoon, when the kids started pushing each other's buttons (not coincidentally after their alloted video game time), we got bundled up and went outside.  We have a Civil War battlefield park right across the street with a hiking trail, which was a big draw in us buying our house.  We took the kids' tricycle and they had a wonderful time exploring, picking out walking sticks, collecting rocks, checking out the water level in the creek, and riding circles around the monument.  I didn't even realize until today that Maryn could ride the tricycle by herself (as we probably haven't been on it since the late fall).  She was so proud, and Brady was a different child than the whiny, argumentative boy he had been just minutes earlier.  He was making up stories and games with me, and eagerly encouraged us to explore the trail.  He was ecstatic to encounter a hiker with a dog and struck up a conversation (which reminds me to consider having the "stranger" conversation).

We only spent about 20 minutes out as our hands began to get numb, but it changed all of our attitudes.  We pledged to do it again tomorrow (and Brady reminded me not to forget the gloves next time).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maryn's first ponytail

Today was a big day for my baby girl.  Recently, while playing with her hair, I realize that it may be long enough to put up.  I mentioned to her that maybe she could have a ponytail.  She was instantly excited, although I don't know how she knew what it even was.  She wanted one then, but I told her I had to get ponytail holders first, and she has been reminding me regularly since.  I had a little time this morning as I was going in to work late in order to be able to drop her off at preschool.  I was amazed that she stood still for me with very little complaining (just a soft, "ouch, ouch, ouch" under her breath).  Yet I was nervous.  I'm not one for styling hair (thus mine looks the same everyday) and hers is fine and soft.  It took me back to the battles my mom and I had over my hair, which led to many tearful mornings of tangled hair and hot rollers (thus my short and straight hair since college).  But when I looked at the finished product on Maryn, I felt a little teary.  It's amazing how such a simple change could make her seem so grown up.  She looked older, and was so proud.  She even went into her preschool class without a fight or tears as she was looking forward to showing it off.

I remember crying when I found out that Brady was a boy because I worried that I didn't know anything about boys.  When I found out Maryn's gender, I cried because how would I know how to take care of a girl after becoming so familiar with a boy?  And now, I am still learning how to be a mother to both.  I worry more about her, knowing the struggles that girls face as they get older.  I worry about how our relationship will change as I reflect on my journey with my mom.  But for now, I savor this sweet, fierce girl who speaks her mind, stands her ground, and loves her mommy and ponytails.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sick days: a photo essay by Brady and Mommy

Maryn draws her first family portrait

Sick baby girl

cuddle and story time (picture by Brady)

silly girl

a favorite game: spelling words

Maryn spelling her first word (with help): goldfish

Don't read this

If you read this, you'll know that I don't have it all together. *Shock* I think I managed to refrain from laughing hysterically yesterday when a friend mentioned she pictured me as one of those calm moms at home, peacefully doing yoga with my kids. My kids would tell her differently (or would likely mimic my yelling voice, which they find amusing more than anything).

Like my two year old has to tell me, "Mommy, I have a nail" as a reminder to cut her fingernails and toenails, and I'm always apalled at how long and curved over they are (and awed that she can walk on them...maybe she'll be one of those world record holders with the spiral nails...)

Or my son, who has gone without a hat and gloves for days now without me noticing, and they play outside everyday at his preschool. (But to be fair, it is the 3rd hat and glove set he's lost this winter, and I did rush out to buy him new ones this morning so that he wouldn't catch pneumonia on his class field trip/walk today)

And I made my son finish his bowl of ice cream before he could have his Lucky Charms snack (all before dinner). And the kid still isn't growing!

When my daughter awoke with a fever yesterday, my first thoughts weren't loving, but internal expletives as we've had a total of about two well days for her this winter. Her doctor just called in a prescription for her as she sees her on a bi-weekly basis anyway. That means I'll miss a parent's night out tonight...that I organized. Boo. And I feel really bad for Maryn, too.

But I was momentarily cheered yesterday, when Maryn, who has started drawing family portraits, drew me with a big smiley face (and a big belly in the middle of my face, but we won't go there). Maybe I'm okay after all.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bailee Madison: I am Second

This little girl gives me hope: for Hollywood, and for the next generation in general. After my last post worrying about not being able to teach compassion, this gives me a renewed sense of the power of a loving Christian family.
Bailee Madison: I am Second

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Can you make me care?

Can you teach someone to care? That's my big question these days as a minister, counselor to at-risk youth, and mother. I see so many kids in crisis and yet so few who are willing to change. Even if they know that their decisions aren't beneficial, they will still continue making the same mistakes. Even though they have been abused by others, they continue the cycle of bullying and hurt. As their families have been broken, they are broken inside and are determined to stay that way.

I saw a book at the library tonight by Karen Armstrong. I've enjoyed some of her other works such as The Case for God and A History of God. Her newest book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, aims to teach compassion and to implore religious traditions to return to compassion as their unifying foundation. As the early Christian Church was set apart by its acts of compassion, too often now we are set apart by our indifference...or hatred. As I glanced through the book, Armstrong defines compassion (suffering together with someone, NOT pity) and gives steps for becoming more compassionate.

As a minister, it's definitely a value I'd like to teach, but after seven and a half years in my current position, my tactics aren't working. A monthly trip to serve dinner at the Rescue Mission works more than anything, but it doesn't seem to alter their perceptions and actions long-term. I'm wondering if you can truly motivate someone to better him/herself and our world. How do you motivate someone who is not self-motivated?

I think I'm more fortunate in my role as parent to be part of creating a healthy family system (hopefully!) where our kids can experience and then carry out compassion. It will not be an easy job as community becomes a rarer value.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'm currently reading The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding our Families by Mary Pipher, Ph.D. Pipher is a therapist, and I was deeply influenced by her book Reviving Ophelia, about the struggles of adolescent girls. It made a big impact on my calling to work with at-risk youth. Now, as a parent, I am realizing that all kids are at-risk these days. There is so much brokeness in our world, and so much that can be damaging to children. I worry so much about their futures, but also their present (are we spending enough quality time with them? How well are we doing at sharing our faith with them and teaching them our values? What happens when they go to school and are influenced by others?)

Because of the population I serve and because my husband is a therapist, we know of the dangers that surround us. Parents are often to blame for the troubles that befall youth, but we also know of examples where parents have truly done their best, and yet the kids (and families) struggle. I sometimes half-jokingly ask John to guess how we have screwed up our kids so far and wonder for what reasons our kids will have to undergo therapy. I am a supporter of therapy, and have being in care in the past. But I was struck with Pipher's pronoucement:

"Therapy has helped many families, but it has hurt many others. Because we are trained to look for pathology within the family, we spot failure quickly. For the last hundred years, many experts have focused on the negative role that families play in the development of individuals...Our focus has scared people, especially mothers, who tend to bear the brunt of the criticism."

She goes on to assess the culture's impact on today's (well, the book was written in the 90s) family.

As a minister, I want my family to be grounded and centered in God's love, not just as our gift, but a gift that we share with others. As a pastoral counselor, I want my kids to feel secure and know that they can come and talk to me about anything, and that we will work it out together. As a mom, I want them to grow, safe and secure, knowing that they are loved no matter what. I want them to reach their full God-given potential. As a wife, I want my husband to feel supported and loved, and that he is a priority to me and our family. As a daughter, I know the power of family to both nurture and (unintentionally) harm.

As an adult, I often feel scared and powerless to make all this happen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Little me(s)

For good and for bad, I learn more about myself from my kids than from anyone else. Some say kids are sponges, but mine are also mirrors. It's a little disconcerting to hear your words come out of a tiny little mouth that hangs several feet below your own. The other day, Brady interrupted me for the bazillionth time in about ten minutes, in that frantic scramble of getting dinner on the table. I told him in what I thought was my most patient voice, "I'm a little busy right now, but I will help you in just a minute." To which he huffily replied, "Well, I'm busy, too!" and stomped off (I'm not sure where his tone or attitude come from...ahem). Yesterday, when I was telling Maryn to clean up before we moved onto another activity, she nonchalantly retorted, "Not right now. I'm busy." She's two. It's hard being two. Finally, we were in the car on the way home from two different preschool pickups, in which I had to run out in the windy frigid temps, lugging one child behind me (moseying in the way only kids can) to pick up the other, and then attempting to buckle them both into the car with frostbitten fingers while they both demanded crayons, toys, lunch, and tried to pick a fight with one another...whew. Before I could even catch my breath, more demands ensued. Maryn started yelling for her milk (which was in arm's reach) and transitioned into crying and screaming when it wasn't handed to her instantly. I asked Brady to help her as I was trying to drive and not endanger our lives, and he calmly retorted, "Not right now. I'm a little busy. Sometimes I just have a lot to do."

Yes, my boy, isn't it the truth?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I read an interesting article entitled "Things Babies Born in 2011 Will Never Know". It's fascinating to see how things change even in the span of a couple of years. I remember being in awe of my mom's old 8-track player and 8mm family movies (on big reels!) as I played my fancy new tapes and cds and watched Beta movies. And now you would be hard-pressed to find a VHS movie as even DVDs are being phased out. I was not surprised to discover that I'm in the minority (10%) of Americans who still have dial-up internet and therefore still have a home phone line. I still don't have a smartphone (although I try, unsuccessfully, to stop lusting after one).

It's bittersweet to watch the time pass. I love the way that technology can connect us all, and yet, something is lost in this new "community". I've reached the age and stage that I sometimes feel like an "old fogey", a little intimidated by it all. I remember being frustrated that my mom couldn't handle the simplest technological feats (she still hasn't hooked up the DVD player we got her LAST Christmas), but now I'm the one not quite sure how to venture into the new world of devices and online communities. I hate to have to ask for help, especially as my son at 3 years old had to reset my cell phone for me, and my daughter, at 2, is fluent on iPod touch applications (with no instruction by me).

What will you miss from the list, and what are you excited about?

Things I didn't know about before I became a parent (part 1)

* Kids are almost perpetually sick in the beginning. We've had a week or two of wellness this winter...and now it's over. We spent the first two years of our son's life practically living at the doctor's office, and now it's round two with our baby girl.

* It doesn't matter how much you try (breastfeeding, healthy organic foods, vitamins, handwashing, keeping kids at home and sheltered away from sick kids), they will still get sick. All it takes is dropping them off at preschool, and inevitably, some other kid will come over and sneeze right in your precious child's face within seconds of drop-off.

* Complaining about the number of sick kids at preschool and parents who don't take the responsibility for keeping them at home when they're feverish, vomiting, or gushing mucus out of every pore will only get you labeled as the "crazy difficult" parent.

*Sickness in our house means no sleep for anyone (I haven't slept through the night regularly in over 5 years). It progresses to breathing treatments, steroids, multiple rounds of antibiotics, and visits with lots of specialists (who really aren't so special after all). We get a week's reprieve, and then the routine begins again upon return to preschool.

*Parents don't get sick days (see previous post). Although my work awards me paid time off, I didn't realize it would mostly go to tending to sick children.

*But most importantly, I didn't realize that all these illnesses would make me realize how blessed we are not to be dealing with something more serious. As frustrating and draining as the repeated colds, infections, and breathing episodes are, we are haunted by the knowledge that it could be so much worse. We look forward to healing, and continue to pray for friends who are struggling with more serious concerns.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


“Hope” by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

I can't seem to shake this nagging sense of hope. For a self-proclaimed pessimist, this comes as quite a shock. I'm used to seeing the glass as mostly empty, and occupy my time worrying about worst-case scenarios that are pretty unlikely. So to feel my spirits lift on the cusp of this new year is a little disconcerting. Perhaps it's the relief of overcoming so much in the past couple of years, or the thought of dreams coming to fruition. But I catch myself appreciating more, and daydreaming often of what can be...what will be. I have hope that I will continue to open my eyes and see all the gifts before me, and I have faith that God will continue to transform me, and hopefully use me to help bring transformation in others.

It's a strange feeling, but I think I might get used to it.