The Greatest Teachers

Jessica, Allen, and AidenAllen, when he was three years old, told me one morning, “I love you.” Then he went on to say, “And I love Daddy and I love Aiden and I love Jessica…” He continued until he had named pretty much every person he knew or could remember at the time.

Children have so much love to share and give. It is contagious.

A few days later, he was giving a multitude of kisses and cuddles to my husband. Aiden, who was turning one that day, and was fully focused on his birthday gift, placed it down and crawled up to daddy and likewise started giving him “kisses.”

As adults, we tend to withhold love, forgiveness, and time, giving it to those who we feel deserve it. Or those who are in our “good books” at the time. Amazing how three-year-old’s (and one-year-old’s) naturally recognize the contagious and beautiful power of love. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus said we would do well to become like children—not only to enter the Kingdom one day, but to also enter a place of joy, peace, spontaneity and love in our everyday lives. Sometimes I feel my children are teaching me every bit as much as I am teaching them – probably a lot more.

Motherhood – A Continual Tension

Baby Sleeping on Mother's ChestMotherhood carries with it a constant tension. The very state of being a mother seems to create the tension, a sort of inner conflict. It is a conflict I would venture to say fatherhood does not lay claim to. Fathers surely have concerns and conflicts: the felt need – by society or culture or their inner voice – to provide for a family. To create a safe place and manage everything within the walls of that safe place.

But for a mother, the tension is different. For a mother, or at least for me, the tension is pervasive.

Elrena Evans, in “My Little Comma,” became a mother while on the road to earning a PhD and a tenure-track position. She comments on the first page of the essay, “I am determined not to let my daughter get in the way of my studies.” Already the tension is there. Her daughter, as a baby, is an almost constant pull. Every time the baby needs feeding or calming or carrying. Every time she needs nursing or changing. Day or night, the baby has no consideration of the woman’s schedule. What if there are other pulls on the mother’s time? So what, the baby’s needs remain. But other pulls, especially if they are work or school, carry deadlines and grades and necessary paychecks. They cannot be easily cast aside. Therein lies the tension.

Elrena Evans first takes a position of determination: studies over baby. “This child is not going to dictate my life.” But over time, she realizes that her mind or heart seems to change. The baby isn’t exactly dictating, but is slowly weaving herself into the mother’s heart and hours and priorities.

“What happens if I simply choose to be a wife and a mother?” This question, this tension, didn’t exist in some eras past. A wife and a mother is simply what women were. There was no thought of career and education; if so, it usually could only be a glance in passing. Times have changed. Expectations have changed. Opportunities have changed. Economies. Cultures. Marriages. Families. They have all changed to where every mother, it seems, must make a decision.

“Simply” a wife and mother? Or wife and mother and …

And career.

And education.

And a PhD.

Some women, mothers, don’t even have that choice. For them, the idea of staying home as “simply” a wife and mother would be awesome but they do not have that luxury. They are single mothers, or the primary breadwinners, or some other necessity keeps them in the rigors of a job or schooling while balancing the tension, the constant pulls, of motherhood.

For me, with three kids the ages of 12, 10, and seven, the tension plays out differently than it would if my children were younger. They are no longer a constant draw on my time. I don’t have to stop work or studies regularly for nursing or changing. I don’t have to constantly entertain or find something interactive and educational for a toddler-aged child to keep her out of trouble.

But I am still a mom. My kids still need me.

This weekend, I had to make choices. Do I sit with my kids and watch their Friday night movie, or do I get a couple more things done? Do I check my kids’ homework and let them know if they need to fix some of their math problems, or let the teacher take care of it . . . even if it means more homework next week? Do I venture into my boys’ room and work with them to clean it, or brush off the feeling with the reasoning that, “It’ll just be messy again next week”? Do I take a walk with my kids or let them play outside on their own?

During school semesters, especially on the weekends, I face that constant weighing of options. Often with this weighing, I feel a constant burden of “I’m not doing enough with my kids. I’m not spending enough time with them. All they hear from me is ‘do this’ and ‘clean that.'” My first conclusion is, “If only I didn’t have school. If I didn’t have classes to attend and books to read and papers to write and turn in, I could be a good mom. A real mom. I could bake with my kids every weekend. I could teach them to sew and build Legos with them. We could go camping . . . in our backyard or in Yosemite. Our family would be happier.”

But would it, or would there be some other pull on my time and priorities? Would I find myself wasting away hours on Facebook or my blogs so that I wouldn’t really be spending that extra time with my kids anyway? It’s easy to assume life would be one way if a certain factor disappeared, but reality is often far different. If taking classes and working part-time did not exist for me, I would likely fill my hours with the tyranny of the urgent. My house might be cleaner, but I don’t know if I would spend more quality hours with my children.

Maybe it is the busyness and the tightness of time that makes our moments together so special. That makes me strive for meaningful experiences together. When I do take the time in spite of deadlines or celebrate after them.

A constant tension is not necessarily a bad thing. It can create a constant perspective of watching for opportunities to experience life together. A continual mindset of using every moment possible to be a mom. Not perfect. But a mom.

Bye for the Day, Mom

If you had driven

Down Shields Avenue

Past a school at roughly

9:37 am

You might have seen a brown-haired boy

With glasses, and a button-blue shirt tucked in

Standing against the black steel fence

Waving

A score of other children swung and hula-hooped and dribbled balls and played tag

Forgive the boy waving

As if at the cars driving by

Or those waiting at the bus stand just past the parking lot

Or at nothing at all

He was waving to his mother

He was waving to me

Pooh Bear’s Gift

My son likes Winnie the Pooh. Actually, it’s a bit beyond like. If a day goes by without him watching a Winnie the Pooh episode or reading a Pooh story, he’s more cranky than I am on the days I skip my chai.Allen with Pooh and Tigger

But who doesn’t love Pooh? Who couldn’t love pretty much all the characters, in their own way?

The other day, Allen was watching the original Pooh movie… you know, the one we all probably watched when we were kids.

It came to the part about Eeyore’s birthday, where he is not surprised that no one knew it was his birthday. He’s just sitting there, gloomy as ever. Pooh and Piglet decide they should get a gift for him and rush off to their respective houses to find something.

Pooh finds a pot of honey (what else?) and begins the walk to Eeyore’s houseless hill. On the way, he gets a rumbly in his tumbly and decides he better sample the honey, “to make sure it’s okay”. Before he knows it, the honey is gone and he’s left with an empty—and rather sticky—pot. He heads to Owl’s tree house and Owl scribbles a birthday message on the pot, so that Pooh can present Eeyore with “a useful pot” for his birthday.

Meanwhile, Piglet finds the perfect gift, a red balloon that was three times his size. As he heads off to find Eeyore, the inevitable happens: the balloon pops.

Piglet arrives first with his “gift”, stammering his way through the story of what happened as he presents the broken and deflated red balloon. Just then, Pooh shows up with his gift.

“It’s a useful pot, and it’s for keeping things in,” he cheerily states to Eeyore.

“Like a balloon?” Eeyore asks.

“Oh, no. A balloon is too big to…” Pooh stops short when he sees Eeyore put the little red object into the pot and then pull it back out.

“Red, my favorite color…” Eeyore says…happily?

Parenting is like that sometimes. We have great ideas and concepts, hopes and the way we expect things to turn out. They never do turn out that way, though, do they? Sometimes we have to improvise, or come up with a whole new plan.

Then we have our kids, who don’t seem to mind; or if they do, they roll with the punches pretty well. Like Eeyore—well, at least in that scene—our kids are happy with what we have to offer. They are forgiving of the mistakes we make. Actually, they don’t even seem to notice.

Okay, I realize parenting is not quite as uncomplicated as an episode of Winnie the Pooh. Situations are not always resolved within 10-20 minutes. But at times like that, I can always put on Winnie the Pooh for my son, and make myself that cup of chai.

 

[Reposted from May, 2011]

An Outside Glimpse

Little Boy in a BoxOften, without even realizing it, we put our children in a box, labeled neatly with our perceptions of them and our assumptions as well.

My four-year-old son had been going through a whiny phase. It was difficult to even know what he was saying and I would frequently let him know (less-than-patiently) that I could not understand a word he was saying unless he spoke more clearly without the high-pitch, sing-song accompaniment of whines. After my strong reactions, he rarely improved and things would just go downhill.

My mom and I were in the car, and the kids were in the back seat. My son was talking to himself, which he rarely does. He was going on and on in a very impassioned manner so I tuned in to hear what he might be saying.

“No one understands me!” He was exclaiming to himself, building up a whole case in his little sing-song voice. I tried to reassure him that as long as he spoke clearly, he would be understood. I left it at that, although his talking continued.

That weekend, my sister came for a visit with her teenage son. I entered the living room that evening and heard my son telling a story to his aunt and cousin. They were sitting captivated as he narrated the entire tale of how we traveled from India, including information on the airplane ride, the things he saw, ate, experienced.

After he completed his tale, I told him it was time to get ready for bed. He turned to go, but then added, “I need to go now and that’s about all the information I have.”

My sister was laughing so hard she could barely breathe. My nephew commented, “He knows words I didn’t learn until sixth grade!”

The next day, my four-year-old told his plane traveling story to someone else, who was extremely impressed. He added a few details, cut out some other parts and had to double back when he forgot something, beginning the story once more from that point on. He breathlessly reached the end of the story and said, “And that’s the end of my story of how we came from Bangalore to America.”

Another successful tale. Another impressed listener. My son was happy once more.

He still has whiny moments and at times, I still have difficulty understanding what he’s trying to say. But he also has an amazing vocabulary and a gift of storytelling. Sometimes we need an outside glimpse from someone else to help us see just how special and unique each child really is.

[Repost from September, 2011]

When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking

When You Thought I Wasn't Looking

Excuse Me for Breathing

DSCN0666I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t smile at the sight of baby. Fresh and new, unblemished, ready to begin life on earth. We smile at the innocence, the beauty, the miracle.

I think I began my life as a mother in a similar way. Innocent, hopeful, full of wonder and excitement. Of course, trepidation was a common feeling too. “How am I going to manage this ‘mom’ thing?”

As my children grow, I see their experiences molding and shaping them year by year. I take note of their minds and hearts working as they learn to make decisions for themselves. I try to give them helpful counsel as they learn to react to and interact with others. All too often, I wish I could protect them from hurt and difficulty, from the scars I know life will bring. Brought on by those same things I have faced and sometimes continue to face, even as a “grown up”. Sometimes I even wish I could protect my children from myself. From the fears I haven’t faced, the hurts I haven’t quite gotten over, the skewed perspectives I have. I think how nice it would be if I could do the “mom thing” from that same unblemished, perfect state babies seem to have when they enter the world.

Sometimes it takes years to realize something I encountered long ago still affects me … and my interactions with my children. The way I relate and respond to them. Not long ago, I felt hurt by a friend’s attitude toward my kids, and didn’t know why. Then I realized why it affected me the way it did. Years ago I had been hurt by the words of another “friend” who was vocally opposed to my second pregnancy and let me know in no uncertain terms that she felt me and my children were only a burden. The hurt I felt by her remarks remained in a place so deep I didn’t consciously realize it was there.

But it was. I became one of those parents constantly hovering over my children, hushing them if they became too loud, telling them not to disturb this person, and not to bother that person. Yes, it is good to help children grow in awareness of others and to understand there is a good and a not-so-good time to ask for things, but my hovering was borne of fear that I would again face—or worse, that my children would face—someone letting them know they are a burden, an unwanted load.

I was often preoccupied with making sure my children were “good” and “quiet” so they wouldn’t become an issue for someone else. But I don’t want to make the mistake of raising children in fear or negativity. Enough negative and harmful things face my children simply because we live in a broken world. My duty as a mother is to be haven of security, peace, and helpful boundaries. Not to exude an “excuse me for breathing” mentality.

Most of all, my responsibility and privilege is to show them unconditional love. Children are a gift. They don’t need a reason or an excuse. Each child is a treasure with the potential to change the world for the better.

Seeing each day through the eyes of a child can help me remember every day is a chance to start over. Each lesson I help my children understand can serve as an encouragement to let go of past pain and hurt. Every new life ushered into this world is another proclamation that my life can likewise begin anew every day.

Two Messages on a Mirror

message on a mirror

In the summer, as my birthday approaches, I often begin to take special notice of my figure. Or my lack of it. The belly that used to be flat … a long time ago. The backside and thighs that seem to collect far more fat cells than any other part of my body. I used to joke that if I could choose where I want those extra pounds distributed, I would have the perfect hourglass figure.

I can’t and I don’t.

During the school year, with classes and teaching, it’s a challenge to focus on diet. So in the month leading up to my birthday, I decided to cut out junk food. It’s not that I eat inordinate amounts on a daily basis; I simply hoped to re-calibrate my appetite. Losing a pound or two, or ten, wouldn’t be out of line.

Okay, so I wanted to get to 150 pounds. A nice, even number. My pre-mommy weight, which I dropped down to within six months after each pregnancy, was below 140. My last pregnancy was nearly eight years ago, and I was hovering dangerously close to 160 pounds. I wrote my weight in a blue dry-erase marker on my mirror, along with the date: July 18. A month to lose ten pounds.

For the first two weeks, I avoided chips and sweet drinks, processed foods and starchy meals. I drank homemade smoothies for breakfast and lunch; I tried to embrace that hungry feeling in the evenings, when I usually crave salty or sweet foods.

At the end of July, I took my weight and marked it on the bathroom mirror: 154.6 pounds. Halfway there.

A day or two later, something else appeared on my mirror. Lyrics to songs:

He made you flawless.

He loves you more than the sun and the stars that he taught how to shine.

He lives in you.

Song lyrics covered the mirror, except for a space in the center where a huge smiley-face was. And of course the corner where my weight was marked. My slow progress toward a better figure. A better me.

One of my greatest prayers for my children, especially my daughter because I know how much the world and our own minds fights against this, is that she will see herself as a flawless creation of God. A beautiful young woman made in His image and being transformed into a creation made for a unique purpose.

But sometimes, instead of promoting that prayer and that attitude, I focus on the opposite. Making myself better. Trying to be perfect … or something close to it. Focusing on the externals. Sometimes, instead of teaching my kids, I need them to teach me. And that is what my daughter did through the song lyrics she wrote on my mirror.

Today is my birthday. I didn’t reach my goal. In fact, I gained back a couple of the pounds I thought I had said goodbye to. I look in the mirror, and I don’t see flawless. But if I focus on the words my daughter wrote, my perspective changes. Because I’m no longer looking at me. I’m looking at words that convey a different message. I’m looking at a truth I pray my children will always know and will bless others with throughout their lives:

He loves you.

He lives in you.

He made you flawless.

“After School Satan” Is No Joke

crow silhouette

This morning, I was watching a video by Matt Chandler on the theme of “Recovering Redemption” for a Bible study. My nine-year-old son heard part of it and asked a question that led to a short discussion about how God created all things good, but how we have a tendency to misuse or abuse those good things God created. Food. Drink. Belongings. Education.

Right after that, I was scrolling through my phone’s news feed and saw an article about a new after-school program created by The Satanic Temple. The title of the program? After School Satan, intentionally created as a push back against Christian after-school programs, and targeting the areas that have “Good News Clubs,” which the Satanic Temple accused of having “Twisted Evangelical teachings.”

Two concerns come to the foreground in my mind as I consider this overtly “Satanic” thrust.

The first one is personal. When I was 11, certain dark influences entered my immediate environment. These influences affected me deeply. I was a sensitive child, and began having nightmares and experiencing extreme fear. I never felt safe, especially at night, but I was afraid to go to sleep because of the nightmares. Looking back over 20 years later, it is clear to me that children need to be protected from negative and dark influences. It can save them from years of fear, anxiety, and escapism. The Satanic Temple group stated that evangelical teachings rob “the innocence and enjoyment of childhood, replacing them with a negative self image, preoccupation with sin, fear of Hell…” I can only speak from my personal experience, but the thing that most robbed me of innocence and enjoyment, the things that gave me a negative self-image, the thing that inundated my life with fear was not biblical teachings, but the occult and related influences.

The second concern is more intellectual. One of the focuses the Satanic Temple highlighted is their promotion of “a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious worldview.” An “After School Satan” program is not promoting scientific or rational views. By its very label, and by the title of those creating the program, it is promoting Satanism. Satan. If Satan is real, what does that mean? It means the Bible is real. And what the Bible says about Satan is no joke. He is called the Father of Lies. He is called the adversary of souls, not the promoter of “fun and free thought.” He is known as the “accuser” of God’s children and of mankind. Tempting and then accusing.

And if Satan and the Bible are real, only one thing brings hope. Only one thing brings freedom from fear and spreads light in a world where darkness and violence is prevailing more and more. That is the truth of grace. Instead of spreading “fear of Hell,” Jesus came to bring a hope of a world made new. Instead of giving a “negative self image,” the beauty of the Gospel shows that as flawed as we are, the Creator of heavens and earth stepped down from eternal beauty and gave up his honor for us. That is how much we are loved. Nothing can bring a higher image of our worth than a hero stepping into a broken world, laying down his life that we might live.

We cannot protect our children from every negative influence. We cannot save them from every lie or hurt or bit of darkness. But we can do our best to provide a safe place, where love and light prevails. Where children can learn the truth about what they already know. That in their hearts there is darkness. There is self-will. There is selfishness. These things are in all of us. No amount of denial or smiley faces or focus on scientific rationalism can replace the knowledge of this brokenness.

But there is also beauty. There is redemption. There is the true story of a love that transcended heaven and earth to lay hope at our feet and spread light in our hearts. If all we manage to do is lead our children to the foot of the cross — where all things are made new and we receive the promise of forgiveness, grace, and eternity — we give them the best thing they could ever have. A hope that will never leave. A love that triumphed death and is alive. A story that is never-ending. A grace that is ever-reaching. A Savior. A Redeemer. Jesus.

Khan Academy – A Great Learning Resource!

If you’re like me, you’ve found that nearly the whole summer break has passed, and you pretty much forgot about any plans you made to help your kids keep up with the new skills they learned during their past school year. Between summer trips, camps, VBS, sleepovers, library trips, and finding a way to keep out of the heat, homework and study time was left far behind.

My husband mentioned to me a website that a friend of ours recommended, Khan Academy, especially for helping kids obtain or keep remedial math skills. I signed up through my Facebook, just to check it out … and was hugely impressed! First of all, it’s free. And I was able to create an account for each of my kids. They chose their user name, and chose a math “mission” for their respective grade level, which leads them through quizzes and questions that takes them through a well-rounded series of lessons. If there is anything they don’t understand, they can click on a short tutorial video to teach them that particular skill.

When they complete a certain number of minutes or lessons in math, I let them click on one of the other areas. (Computer animation is a favorite for all of them. It’s a series of videos, which show how math, geometry, and similar skills can be used in real life … and fun stuff like creating Pixar animation!)

At the end of the week, I received an email that told me what my kids had been up to on their missions at Khan Academy. At a glance, I could see how many minutes they had spent on the website, how many points they had gained, and how many minutes and questions for each area (such as “rational number word problems” or “multiply two-digit numbers”).

With just a few weeks before school begins, Khan Academy is a great way to help kids recall math skills they might have forgotten over the summer, and give them a head start in learning new concepts. And have fun all the while!

My 11-year-old daughter, Jessica commented, “It’s really fun. While doing homework, you can also build up your avatar and score more points. Plus math isn’t the only thing to do there. There are a bunch of other subjects. My favorite is computer art with Pixar.”

My nine-year-old son, Allen, said, “I like the math and I also like the avatar thing. And one of the things I especially like is the computer art and that I get to watch things on the website.”