Category Archives: Attributes
- “Good for One Hug”
- “Good for helping around the yard with dad”
- “Good for helping dad take the trash out.”
One coupon, however, consisted of blank lines. Choose your own gift. One of my kids wrote, “Take out the laundry.” One filled in, “Cook dinner when you are feeling tired or not.”
But one of my kids asked, “Mommy, is it okay if I leave the lines blank, without filling anything in?” I didn’t understand what he meant and asked him to clarify. “I mean, can Daddy put what he wants in the blanks?”
“That’s a great idea,” I told him. So that’s what he did.
And I wondered, Is that ever what my love looks like? For my children? For my husband? For my friends? For God?
Fill-in-the-blank love. Not, “On my terms, when I have time … and it’s got to be my idea.” But love that allows the other person to fill in the blanks. Reading a story to my son when I’d rather read something I’m more interested in (not involving vehicles). Biking with my daughter when it’s a little too hot outside for my comfort. Visiting a friend when I feel like a hermit and would prefer to stay home. Watching a Saturday-night movie with my husband when I’ve reached the second-to-the-last chapter of a thrilling page-turner.
Fill-in-the-blank love. That trusts the unspoken power of giving to create and build and maintain a relationship. Any relationship. I read somewhere recently that love is an outcropping of faith. In other words, love is the fruit of faith. Plant faith. Plant trust. Reap love.
It takes trust to give a loved one fill-in-the-blank power over you.
But maybe that’s what love really is. Hazarding the unknown and plodding through the mundane, together.
Sunday evening, one week into my 19-unit semester. Four months of classes and assignments, abstracts and annotations, essays and reflections loomed ahead. I wanted to get in bed on time … so I wanted the kids to get in bed on time. I approached the boys’ room to pray with them for the night.
I stopped in the doorway, temporarily blinded by the state of their room.
Books, papers, and writing instruments covered the desk. Trio block creations scattered the floor and Lego creations stood on top of the dresser and every other horizontal surface. During the weeks leading up to the kids’ school and my classes starting again, I had spent more than a couple of hours organizing, cleaning up, and cleaning out that room with the boys … then telling them in no uncertain terms that their room needed to stay clean because the weeks ahead would be too busy to spend much time deep cleaning.
“Boys, this room is a mess,” I stated. They looked at me as though I was speaking another language. “How much time did we spend cleaning this room?” They were silent. “You’re not watching any videos until the room is clean.”
As I tried to go to sleep that night, I thought back on my motherly feathers being so ruffled by the state of their room. And I thought about that. The Trio buildings. The art work and projects. The Lego towers. I realized it was all creative play. Building. Drawing. Even reading. All good things. Creative expressions.
No wonder I felt like I was speaking a different language. In a way, that’s just what I was doing. I said “mess” because I saw a mess. They drew blanks because they saw their creations and ongoing projects. We looked at the same room and came up with very different conclusions because of our very different perspectives.
And then I thought about later. Five years from now. Or ten. I thought about their room, and how I might wish to see my kids’ latest drawing or project or poem or construction. But my kids will no longer be kids. They will have moved on to bigger and grander things.
Their room might be clean then. But the loss would be mine.
How many times do I, as a parent, look in from the outside, or from above, and fail to see the world from my children’s perspective? Through their eyes? Whether it be their room or their homework, an argument between siblings, or an emotional situation they’ re going through.
The next morning, before I even got up, the boys had cleaned their room. (And I thought my words had gone selectively unheard.) I missed the chance to get on their level and ask them what they were working on. Or join them in their creative play. Again, the loss was mine, even though the room was tidy.
No, it’s not my job to clean up after my children. And yes, they do need to develop a sense of responsibility. But perspective makes such a difference. Perspective on messes. On time. On teaching and learning. As a parent, I am slowly coming to learn that I have more to learn than I ever did. And even that is a matter of perspective. Seeing the learning as a joy, as something to be gained from every person and every situation.
Even from a “messy” room.
Motherhood 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.
- The desire to create a safe place for their family
- The hope to 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 her essay, “My Little Comma,” became a mother while on the path 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) changes. 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 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 13, 11, and nine, 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 piling up 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 just might fill my hours with the tyranny of the urgent. My house may be cleaner, but would I 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 with the children after reaching those deadlines.
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.
I consider myself a decent teacher. From the time I was a teenager, I had tutored younger students. I tutored the children of friends and acquaintances before I became a mom.
And once my daughter was born, I began planning ways to teach her. I sat and watched “Your Baby Can Read” videos with her from the time she was a few months old. I created giant word cards and flashed them at her long before she had learned to talk. I bought a set of math dots and used those. I put up pictures of colors along with that color word right in front of her bouncer-seat: green grass and grapes and trees and a mug and a sweater.
When my sons came along, they got the same input (along with the extra input that an older sibling or two provides). I loved to make the most of teachable moments, a gift my mother instinctively had and a skill I tried to build.
I considered myself a decent teacher.
Then Allen, at three years old, climbed onto my lap one morning. “I love you,” he told me, and before I could answer, 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.
And I realized there is more to teach than words and numbers and facts. And my son was teaching me this.
A few days later was Aiden’s first birthday. That evening, Allen began giving a multitude of kisses and cuddles to my husband. Aiden, who was fully focused on his birthday gift, placed it down and crawled up to daddy. He copied his brother’s behavior and started giving his daddy “kisses.”
Love. Forgiveness. Time. How often do I withhold those? Give them only to those who I feel deserve it? When three-year-olds (and one-year-olds) naturally spill over with contagious love. Perhaps a reason Jesus said we should be like children—not only to enter the Kingdom one day, but to find a place of joy, peace, spontaneity, and love today.
I still consider myself a decent teacher. But I’m also a student. And sometimes my children teach me far more than I teach them.
I 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 provide a haven of security, peace, and helpful boundaries. Not to exude an “excuse me for breathing” mentality.
Most of all, I bear the responsibility and privilege of showing them unconditional love. Children are a gift. To us, their parents. To the world. 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.
A friend of mine recently claimed, “Sleep is overrated.” He might have been joking, but he’s a morning person, so he might actually think that. I am of the opinion that sleep is underrated. Sleeping in is one of the sheer joys of life. Naps are a little bit of heaven.
And it is summer. A stay-at-home summer with my kids, rare and wondrous after seasons of classes and teaching, mornings trying to pry my eyes open far earlier than they agreed to, preparing breakfasts and packing lunches, out of the door with kids in tow by eight. Okay, 8:05, maybe a few minutes later on some days.
But summer. I rewarded myself with a week of no alarms. That ended today. I know the morning is the best time to get anything of substance done, when the mind is fresh and the temperature outside hasn’t yet scaled 100. So I started with something manageable. 7:20. Not nearly as early as work / school mornings. But enough to get some quiet time: chai and a good devotional book, before I woke the kids.
Two of my children will sleep as long as they are allowed to. The third, however. Well, he was up and sitting at the table before I emerged from the bathroom this morning. Ready for breakfast. Ready for the day.
It’s not a big thing, really. But I am one of those strange creatures that craves solitude. Just a little is often all I need. When my kids were babies and preschool age, I resolved to such times being few and far between. I dreamed of the time they would be in school and I could have just a little while in the morning. But as soon as the youngest was school age, I began either taking early classes or teaching at their school. No quiet mornings. No alone mornings.
It’s a little thing. I know. Selfish too. I reason that during seasons of my life when I had stretches of time to think and read and pray, the things I wrote were so much better. If I had that time now, I sometimes tell myself, I could do that again. Come up with amazing ideas. Write. Just write. And read. And drink chai.
This morning, my quiet time was disturbed every 3.7 minutes or so with questions like, “Mommy, does hydrogen mixed with carbon dioxide create an explosion?” and “Do some Christians believe that God made the world millions instead of thousands of years ago?” And yes, these are questions my child asked this morning. Neither have easy, quick answers.
I couldn’t request that he go back to bed, ask me again in an hour, or at least once my cup of tea is empty. He’s awake, and life is waiting to be experienced. Questions are waiting to be asked and answered.
Maybe I should try to look at life through his eyes. Through the perspective of a child who knows there are things to do and see and discover. Maybe that means getting up a little earlier if I really want that time for peace and prayer before the day begins in earnest. And maybe it also means that on days my kids are up as early as I and firing away with those questions about what makes the world go around, I choose to let go of “me” time because no moment is ever the same. No question is ever the same. No heart or mind. And as a mother, watching these hearts and souls and minds of my children learn and grow is a gift. A greater gift than an hour of quiet or an extra few winks of sleep.
Maybe my friend was right. Sleep is overrated when life is outside the door waiting to be lived.