Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Joy of Creating

Eleven kids are on the sidewalk in front of our house. No, it’s not a party. It’s chalk. My sister gave our kids some chalk and within a few minutes, it looked like half the neighborhood had gathered. Children I have never seen are on their knees, engaged in creative activity.

I walk down the sidewalk and see a pink snake and a yellow elephant. I see a chalk boy and girl side by side. Hearts and stars and flowers – common sidewalk chalk staples – cover the pavement. I hear the children comparing artwork as they are fully focused on the joy of creating something that is all their own.

The pictures will fade, or get washed away when the sprinklers come on tonight. But right now they stand as colorful symbols of the enduring and unique expressions of art.

School has just started for my two older kids and their cousin. My sister and I are taking turns teaching the two youngest kids, Aiden and Keira, kindergarten. At this time of year, kids’ days are primarily filled with addition and subtraction, parts of speech and dates of history. Being a more studious type of person, I think my focus for the kids also tends to fall more along the lines of “finish your homework” than “let’s do something creative.”

But we were designed to be creative, and often a child’s mind is so much more tuned into that side of things than our “big-people minds,” which are often too stuffed with to-do’s and shopping lists and email replies and bills to pay.

Watching them now, fully occupied with something as simple as chalk, makes me want to spend more time with my kids on their level, creating works of art, stimulating the mind, inspiring the spirit … and just having fun – with crayons and chalk, with colors and words, with paints and poetry.

Please pass the chalk.

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Nine Lessons of Motherhood

On my 22nd birthday, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant, huge, not sure how ready I was to become a mother. Two weeks later, Jessica was born, and my life was never the same again. 

quote on motherhoodOn my 24th birthday, I had a nine-day-old son in my arms when my friends sang “Happy Birthday.” Allen had actually been due on my birthday, but came early. Thoughtful as always, I supposed he didn’t want me to miss my own party by being in labor.

On my 26th birthday, I had recently discovered I was pregnant with baby number three. Aiden arrived on March 25th, at 4:55 in the morning, and has loved waking us up early ever since.

It’s my 31st birthday today, my ninth birthday as a mother, and although it might not be as “auspicious” a number as ten, I wanted to share nine things I’ve learned about parenting, nine lessons that motherhood has taught me.

1. I’ll never be a perfect mom. 

When I was little I loved the movie Milo and Otis, about an orange kitten who got lost and his best friend, the pug-nosed puppy, that searched until he found him. The movie begins in the hayloft, where Milo, the kitten, is just born. The narrator states that the mother kitten, who just had her first litter, vowed she would never raise her voice or lose her temper. Ten seconds later, she is shouting at Milo, who is already heading toward the edge of the hayloft.

Kids aren’t static creations. They are dynamic (sometimes very dynamic) — always thinking, moving, changing, learning, and growing. And so are we, as parents.

2. I won’t always remember to pray for my kids.

I’ve read in a fair few parenting books that, yes, we’ll make mistakes, but at least we can always pray for them every day of their lives. Another miserable fail, was my thought about that. I do pray for my children, as often as I remember, but sometimes I forget. Sometimes I go through a phase where I wake up early every morning and read a great book on parenting and pray for my kids before they’re even awake; other mornings I get dragged out of bed by my kids wishing for a few more moments of rest.

Somehow I don’t think God is saying, “Well, since she hasn’t prayed for her children consistently every day of their lives, I’ll simply have to curse them and their children’s children from this time forth and even forevermore.” That’s not the way it works.

3. I might not judge rightly in some situations.

Before I became a mom, I vowed that when my kids fought, I would always listen carefully to both sides and make a patient and prayerful decision on the matter. I do that … sometimes. But sometimes I don’t, and I’ll just do whatever makes the arguing stop most quickly, even if it’s not the fairest judgment.

I’m not as wise as Solomon, nor am I as patient as Job. I’m a mom, but I do think my kids will survive.

4. Saying sorry is a good thing.

I won’t always do or say the best thing in any given situation, and when I mess up with my kids, apologizing works wonders. Some of the sweetest or and most heartwarming times with my kids have happened after I just said, “I’m sorry. I should have been more patient,” or “I should have let you finish what you were saying.”

And there is nothing like hearing a four-year-old say, “I forgive you mommy.”

5. Kids can work.

I’m generally the type of person who likes to get a job done on my own. I know how I want it done, and I can do it pretty quickly. But working side by side with my kids, and teaching them how to do a job not only lightens my workload when they learn to do it themselves, but it builds their confidence and skills like nothing else can.

Lately I’ve let my older two children choose the cleanup jobs they want to do, and have expected them to follow through, and they’ve done great. I can’t exactly retire from housecleaning just yet, but they’re on their way, and it feels good not to do everything “All by myself.”

6. There’s never a bad time to tell a child, “I love you.”

My son was sitting at the table doing artwork and I told him I loved him. He looked up and asked, “Where are you going?” I suddenly felt guilty; do I really tell my children I love them that infrequently?

I still don’t say it as often as I should … but I’m working on it.

7. Kids need quiet time too.

My youngest child is the most energetic of the three … by far. He’ll jump from activity to activity and is a people-person; he loves it when I’m jumping from activity to activity with him. Unfortunately, jumping became out of character for me a long time ago. One day I was tired and didn’t know how I would keep up with his amazing energy. We have a hammock on our back patio and he wanted to play in the backyard, so I reclined on the hammock. He clambered up next to me and was still, listening, for nearly half an hour. He talked a little bit – about the things we can hear when it’s quiet.

Times of peace and quiet, stillness and listening, are growing rarer in this world of multimedia and multitasking. Learning to be still is an art, one that even as adults we often overlook. But it’s something that cultivates peace, reflection, and calmness … even in children.

8. Things never go exactly as planned.

Last year, my daughter was turning eight. I knew the perfect gift for her, a hamster. Once my husband was convinced, we bought a cage and a hamster and brought them both home the evening before her birthday. We surprised her with it that evening, and she was so thrilled. Early the next morning, before the birthday girl woke up, I checked on the hamster. It hadn’t survived the night. Animals will die. We put our cat to sleep on my ninth birthday. But I didn’t want it to happen on her birthday, when she had only just gotten what she called, “The best birthday present ever.” I placed it in a box and told the kids it wasn’t feeling well and needed its rest. My husband picked up another hamster on his way home from work, with similar markings. Buttercup the Hamster has been with us for nearly a year now.

Jessica’s ninth birthday is coming up and she’s asking for a dog. I think we’ll wait on that.

9. Being a parent is an awesome privilege.

I’m playing a part in raising immortal souls, little people who will grow up to be big people, each one created in the image of God, with a unique purpose and destiny. I can help them along that path by reinforcing to them every day how unique and special they are, and cultivating their God-given interests and talents.

I don’t know the future, or what is in store for my children. But I know that for this little while, I have been blessed to love, nurture, teach, and be a mother to three amazing, eternal souls. The best gifts ever.

Like a Child Again

Short Story ElevenAs I wrote in my other blog, yesterday I started a new semester at college. One class I’m taking is “Introduction to Literature.” The professor spoke of the joy of writing and reading and connecting with people through literature — the study of stories.

Then she read a story to us. And nearly-31-year-old me sat in a little desk that looked like it was made for an eight-year-old child, and listened to the story.

This is the story she read, which is written from the point of view of a girl who’s turning eleven today. As the professor read, slowly, and with feeling, I felt like a kid again. I felt a knot in my stomach and my heart hurt for the girl-whose-birthday-it-was being treated with insensitivity and unkindness on her most special day.

It made me feel like a kid because I know those times when you try to explain yourself but only tears come instead, when worse than the treatment is just the being misunderstood. Read the story. Maybe it will make you feel like a child again. Maybe it will also make you feel like a parent, who wants to love your children so much that no matter what they might face — even if they have to deal with people like Mrs. Price or Phyllis Lopez or Sylvia Saldivar in the story — they will still know that they are special and cherished and treasured.

Maybe it will help you feel like a parent, who although you are 25 or 30 or 40, you realize that within you is also the 11 and 10 and nine and eight and all the rest of those years that maybe your children are now. You know how it is and how it was, and so you reach out to them with the part of you that is the same as them. And you tell them you know how they feel, that you understand, and that you love them.

And the love covers everything else. Not like a bulky red sweater … but like a soft cloud, a waterbed, a warm blanket, and a mother’s arms all at once. Cuz that’s what love is.

“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t.

You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are — underneath the year that makes you eleven. Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five.

And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.

Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.

“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”

“Not mine,” says everybody. “Not me.”

“It has to belong to somebody,” Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldn’t say so.

Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t’ like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, “I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that, all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.

“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…Not mine,” I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.

“Of course it’s yours,” Mrs. Price says. “I remember you wearing in once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.

Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, like the part of me that’s three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing
Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.

But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red
sweater’s still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk wit my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right.

Not mine, not mine, not mine.

In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the school yard fence, or even leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody , “Now Rachel, that’s enough,” because she sees I’ve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it’s hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don’t’ care.

“Rachel,” Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad. “You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”

“But it’s not–”

“Now!” Mrs. Price says. This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven, because all the years inside of me–ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two and one– are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that aren’t even mine.

That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but I’m not. I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I can’t stop the little animal noises from coming out of me, until there aren’t any more tears left in my eyes, and it’s just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.

But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers! I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay.

Today I’m eleven. There’s cake Mama’s making for tonight, and when Papa comes home from work we’ll eat it. There’ll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only it’s too late.

I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven, because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny “o” in the sky, so tiny-tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.

The “Perfect” Family

Before becoming a parent, when picturing a family, we tend to visualize a “perfect” family scenario, with us as the perfect parent—ever patient, full of exciting ideas, bubbling over with love, never raising our voice or losing our temper. I think we confuse positive parenting with perfect parenting and then become overwhelmed when we can’t keep up with that unrealistic image.

A positive parent is not a perfect parent, because there is no such thing.

A positive parent is a happy parent, who takes each day as it comes. Maybe you don’t wake your child with a song each morning or remember to give him a balanced breakfast every single day, kiss his forehead and pray with him as you send him off to school with a healthy lunch, pick him up right on time (arriving five minutes early of course), smile at his daily rundown on how his day was (commenting on each thing he tells you) joyously wash his muddy laundry, pick up after him, and then put on your spotless apron so you can bake with your son and welcome daddy home with fresh chocolate chip cookies.

Perhaps instead, your kids wake you up on some days, and you groan because you really just need another five minutes of shut-eye. Maybe you snap at him for spilling his milk and you forget to put the fruit in his lunch bag. Maybe he’s the last one waiting to be picked up because you just had to take a nap. And you decide to order out because you can’t stand to see the kitchen for at least another 72 hours. Are you a complete failure at the whole parenting thing?

Of course not. Spread out a blanket and have a picnic on the living room floor, or let your child decide if he wants to eat outside. Relax and enjoy your time together, even if you must consciously push away the thoughts of everything being left undone at the moment.

Although we often tend to confuse perfect parenting with positive parenting, I don’t think our children hold us up to those same mental standards that we set for ourselves. Just try to enjoy being a parent – the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, the fails and the wins – and your child will enjoy it too.

Question about Kids & Sleepovers

sleepoverSo last night, at 9 pm, the six-year-old girl from across the street ran over and called through the kitchen window for Jessica (my eight-year-old daughter), asking her if she wanted to spend the night as she was having a sleepover.

Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I was a little surprised. Is that the way the average family with small children operates these days? No communication from parent to parent?

If you’re a parent, I’d be interested to know your take on this — moms and dads, please feel free to weigh in on this one.

Would you send your under-ten-year-old for a sleepover at a neighbor’s house if you’ve only briefly met the parent, and it isn’t the parent getting in touch about it, but the child? Would you send your under-ten-year-old to invite neighborhood kids for a sleepover without getting in touch with those kids’ parents?

Go ahead and comment below. I’ll also post this question on our Facebook page, so if you’d prefer to comment there, that’s fine too.