Saturday, February 6, 2016

Who Are Your Sons?

They were standing in front of me. I'm not sure they knew I was there or that I could hear them. Even if they knew, I don't know if they would have cared.

They had their faces pressed to the glass, pointing, laughing.

Mocking.

I watched the ice, where young kids from ages 4 to 9 skated. For most, this is their first season of hockey. Some just learned to skate. A few, like my son, tower above the rest, looking out of place, but needing to be there because they, too, are beginners.

They skate by these four kids who are watching. The younger ones don't seem to notice. Their heads are down, tongues out in concentration, desperate to stay on their feet, determined to try to get the puck this time.

But the older ones, like my son?

They see.

They see the fingers, the open mouths in silent laughter that they can't hear through the glass. They know that fun is being made. And that they, the larger ones, are the likely targets.

I glance around, bouncing my infant in my lap, wondering if their parents are here. I guess their ages to be maybe 12, 13 years. Probably they're here early for their own practice or possibly to watch the high school game that will be starting on the next rink over in a few minutes.

And I sigh.

I have learned the hard way that attempting to engage pre-teens in meaningful dialogue without any relationship is a recipe for disaster. For being called the F-word or worse, for being mocked myself. And right now I am surrounded by young children watching their older siblings play hockey, my own infant playing in my lap and trying desperately to get out of my arms and crawl on the bleachers. The last thing I want to do is invite these young children to be a witness to vitriol or, let's be honest, violence if I confront these kids. If I were alone, I would say something.

But today, I stay silent. They don't know me. They won't listen to what I have to say. And, honestly, their parents COULD be sitting right next to me. And as many of us attempting to raise respectful children know, parents may not take kindly to watching their kids be reprimanded, even when it is absolutely certain their kids need intervention.

So I sit there, sadly, wondering about authority and where it has gone, hoping my son doesn't totally understand what's going on, that this won't dampen his enthusiasm for hockey.

When I was their age, if ANY adult had called out my behavior, I wouldn't have dared called him or her a foul name in response. Most likely, I would have hung my head in shame and endured the certain discipline of my own parents when they found out about it later.  As most certainly they would have.

Have I mentioned these were boys? White boys? (Just in case you are making any assumptions.)

We hear a lot about so called "mean girls." About the bullying, the horrible treatment, about girls as young as preschool forming cliques and saying awful (and even racist) things to the little girls around them. I, myself, have still not recovered from middle school and the treatment I received there from girls who could have been friends, allies, teammates but instead chose power and pettiness and sent a girl to her bed sobbing every night.

But these boys. Mocking, laughing, taunting. Seeping privilege and meanness from their pores. Boys can be mean, too.

If this were an isolated incident, I would have written it off.

But it seems like there is just so much meanness, so many kids cursing out adults and parents, so many kids lost in a world without boundaries.

Parents, what are we doing? Are we giving up our parental authority and firm boundaries in the name of raising kids with "minds of their own," producing unkind, entitled children who don't have a freaking clue what the difference is between healthy independence (which is what I'm shooting for) and premature abusive power?

I for one would want to know three things if my sons were perpetrators of this type of shenanigan:

(1) That my son at least KNOWS this is terrible behavior.
(2) That if another adult were to approach him and point this out he would respond with respect and repentance.
(3) That said adult would feel comfortable telling me about my child's behavior and being confident that there would be discipline involved.

And let me make something clear. I don't propose to be any kind of child development expert. I don't read a ton of how-to books about parenting. I don't propose that I am perfect or that I don't mess up all the time or that my kids never do anything wrong or hurtful to others.

But, gosh darn it, I am trying. Trying to raise my boys with an understanding of right and wrong, with a bent towards kindness and justice and respect, with a love for God and his children. Sons that would be able to withstand this type of treatment with their confidence and joy intact and would, if being mean themselves, be able to receive chastisement, repent of the behavior, accept forgiveness, change in a positive way and move forward in new understanding of how their words DO have power.

So, parents, take a look.

Who are your sons becoming? The mocking, cruel boys on one side of the glass? Or the type of boy who might intervene and say "Hey, those kids are just learning...let's stop laughing at them and help them out!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Missing Out

It was easy when my husband left almost three weeks ago to feel like I was going to be missing out on the fun. Jaunting around the country on airplanes, eating out, wooing and being wooed. Sleeping full nights of sleep in fancy hotels. Talking with adults all day long.

To a tired, lonely mama, these are things of beauty, things one might yearn for.

But as we have muddled our way through (some days with good successes and some days where we have just barely survived), it has occurred to me that he is actually the one missing out on a lot.

With a 26 month-old and an almost 9 month-old, things change fast. Routines, developmental milestones, interests. I thought I wouldn't have much to report at the end of each day when he checks in, other than a daily tally of the tantrums and triggers.

Man, was I wrong.

In the last two and a half weeks, the following has happened:

THE INFANT
  • Has gone from picking at occasional foods to eating full bowls of beef and barley soup.
  • Is, in my opinion, one move away from figuring out the crawling thing and has started to pull up on things.
  • Figured out how to go from laying down to sitting up by himself. 
  • Said "mama". (Man, that first time gets me every time.)
  • Outgrew the bucket seat and is now rocking the convertible. He's not sure about it. 
THE TODDLER

  • Has decided to potty train himself and is having rousing success. (I would NEVER have planned to do this with the husband away, but this is what you get with a highly persistent child who insists on using the toilet all of a sudden.) I don't want to assume we are almost done with it, because I know he could wake from his nap and decide he's done, but changing a few less diapers a day has been lovely. 
  • Started talking in short sentences and using pronouns.
  • Picked up the baby. (This is not actually desirable, but he can do it.)
  • Moved up to 4T pants and youth small shirts. 
  • Learned to jump from the diving board into the pool by himself. 

THE BIG KID
  • Ok, not much changes in a few weeks for a 9-year-old, but he did get moved up in his hockey league to the next level for games and has held his own quite well with kids who have been playing and skating for years. AND he was asked to play goalie this coming week, a role for which he is practicing daily in our garage with great gusto and determination. He even made his own goalie pads out of cardboard and duct tape. Thank you, Camp Invention. 
So, while all these things may not have quite the elegance of flitting about the country being wined and dined, I have been able to enjoy it, to take it in in a new way. I have marveled at how busy these little people are, even in the middle of it exhausting me. How life NEVER stops changing around here and about how much my husband will have to catch up on when he gets back. 

And, miraculously, somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking about what I was missing. 

OK, let's be honest, I would REALLY love a full night's sleep in a fancy hotel. 

But besides that, I am happy right here with all the chaos and change and development going on around me. 

And that, friends, is a miracle. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lay Me Down

Snow is slowly falling outside, adding more to the five inches of unexpected snowfall last night. The old, browned stuff has a lovely new blanket on it so the world looks clean again. My dog is snoring gently next to me. The wash is in the dryer. Decaf is perking.

Quiet.

8 hours ago, things were not as quiet. My littlest one woke me up for the day shrieking for food. He had already been up 3 times in the night so Mama wasn't feeling the early wake-up. We snuggled for a little while and as he contentedly ate his breakfast, I wrapped my mind around another day with my husband far away and little sleep to go on. I asked God to give me the strength and humor I needed and have it replace the sleep I wouldn't be getting.

I made lunch and snacks for the older ones and got dressed. While my oldest son ate his breakfast, watching his baby brother, and the toddler slept on, I shoveled the driveway and cleaned off the car so we could make it out of here by 8 am. My neighbors cheerfully waved as they blew snow off their driveways and I broke my back doing it the old-fashioned way. 3 years is too short a time to spend money on a snow-blower so we have stubbornly done this by hand.

This morning, I really wished we had a snow blower.

Now, though, I'm thankful for the exercise a frenzied shoveling of the driveway gave me because there was no chance to make it to the gym today. I am a better person when I have exercised.

Our adventure without dad around has been going on for a week now and things are going better than I expected.

And you know what?

I am so tempted to feel like I have figured something out. Like I have become some kind of capable parent. Like I GET this stay at home parent thing. Finally.

But I know the truth. Just two short weeks ago I was a hot mess. Exhausted, hopeless, angry, frustrated, resentful.

This last week has gone well not because I am have figured something out or am somehow enough but because God is enough. And rather than clinging to my disappointments and rage, I have clung to him. I have laughed at the tantrums(okay, maybe not all of them, but way more than usual). I have stopped looking at the clock in the middle of the night and tried not to care about the actual number of hours of sleep I have gotten. I have thanked God over and over again for coffee. And for friends.

It is no coincidence that I stumbled upon a book called "Mom Enough" just a few days before my husband left for his travels. I normally don't enjoy reading books aimed towards mothers or, really, women for that matter. They usually make me feel "othered", like there are so many more gaping ways I just don't fit the "norm" of womanhood than I even realized.

But this book has been different. Possibly it was my desperation of knowing I could NOT do 3 weeks without my husband in the state I was in. Maybe I opened this book with more hope than skepticism.

Whatever it is, God has used the words to bolster me. To remind me that I cannot do this, this job that is arguably the hardest job in the world. I cannot. And I need to be ok with that.

This past week, I HAVE been ok with it. More than ok, really. And being more than ok with feeling like I can't do this has freed me up to enjoy it in ways I never have before.

This quote in particular has been sitting with me:

"We should run to the cross. To death. So lay down your hopes. Lay down your future. Lay down your petty annoyances. Lay down your desire to be recognized. Lay down your fussiness at your children. Lay down your perfectly clean house. Lay down your grievances about the life you are living. Lay down the imaginary life you could have by yourself. Lay them all down...Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone."

So, as my little ones sleep on (at the same time!) and as the snow falls, I am not dreading the long afternoon stretch and the chaos of bedtime. I am asking God to help me see the humor when it is quite possible that everyone will be crying and the dog will be barking and the phone will be ringing at the same time as I am trying to put food on the table. I am asking God to help me see my kids as who they are, beautiful bearers of the image of God, even when they aren't necessarily reflecting that image as well as one would hope.

I am asking God, quite bluntly, to help me lay myself down. Once again. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. Day by day.

And I am letting Him be enough for all of us.