Category Archives: Attributes

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.

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.

When Your Son is Caught Sleeping

boy sleeping at homework desk

My son, sleeping by his homework. 

On the way home after an evening outing with some friends, I asked my youngest if he had a good time.

“Sort of,” he answered. “But the kids on the playground were teasing me.”

“About what?” I asked. He sometimes reacts strongly to comments, so I assumed it wasn’t a big deal.

“Eric said he saw a picture of me sleeping while doing homework, and then Leslie said she saw it too, and all the kids started laughing.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I had posted a photo on Facebook of my son sleeping at his desk, his homework beside him. I had thought it was cute. My son puts his all into his activities, but when he’s tired, he’s tired. And he sleeps.

It runs in my family. One of my siblings has narcolepsy, and others of us know once we reach a certain point of fatigue, we can’t push past it. Sleep is the only solution. My son has somehow learned that early. When he’s tired, even if it’s when we’re about to sing happy birthday at a party or when he’s supposed to be finishing up his homework, he will sleep.

My husband and I understand that and work around it. Our son’s teachers, for the most part, have also been understanding that at times he might fall asleep at his desk. I try to get him to bed on time when he’ll have an early morning or a long day.

Parents and teachers generally understand these things. Other kids often don’t.

When I posted the photo, I didn’t think about the possibility of parents showing their kids the “cute” post, which in the mind of a child might not be “cute” but “silly” or “funny” or “embarrassing.” Material to tease with.

Something I had done, unthinkingly, caused my son hurt. It cast him in a negative light in the minds of his friends. They probably forgot about it a minute later, and they were all playing again. But that moment, I had to admit to my boy that it wasn’t their fault; it was mine.

I pulled up the Facebook photo and showed it to my son, saying, “I posted this photo of you the other day. I didn’t think anyone would tease you about it.” Then I promised, “I won’t post anything of you unless I ask you first.” I already have that agreement with other members of my immediate family, but I didn’t think it would matter to my youngest. I was wrong.

It’s strange how I would make a mistake like that. Thinking back to my own childhood, my strongest emotions were borne of teasing. I can remember half a dozen separate occasions, before the age of five, where I was brought to tears from teasing. Painful moments tend to remain in the mind and the heart long after the echo of the actual words fade.

I promised my son I wouldn’t post any photos in the future without his knowledge. But how often do my own words or side comments have the same effect as those children on the playground? When I’m trying to focus on work and, after one too many interruptions, holler at the kids to leave me alone so I can get something done. Or when they’re arguing and I can’t stand the contention so I tell them I don’t care who said what and whose fault it is; I just want peace.

Failure to listen. Failure to love. Failure to see the moment through the eyes of my child.

That’s not a promise I can make. Not one I can keep. To see every moment of life through their eyes.

But it is something I can try. Not a once-and-for-all decision, but a moment by moment choice. To slow down. To think. To pray. To love.

To remember the words of a loving Christ who took time for the children. “Let the children come to me. Forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

 

[Note: names of children on playground have been changed, and (this time) I am posting the above photo with my son’s knowledge and agreement.]

Is Sleep Overrated?

little boy reaching upward

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.

Writing in the Midst of Parenting

the gift of children

There is an element of writing about parenting, in the midst of parenting, that is extremely difficult. Impossible, sometimes. At least for me. You have to take a step back. In order to write something, you need perspective. But then, at the same time, writing (at least for me) is what often brings perspective. Out of the sludge of words and thoughts and conflicting emotions, something rises to the foreground of the mind and is, in itself, some sort of answer. Or at least it is the right question. Or a step in that direction.

I took a sabbatical from writing in this blog for about a year. In 2014. I couldn’t write about parenting. I felt engulfed in the very thing I was writing about. How can I give perspective if I feel I have none? What’s the purpose? But it always comes back. Not the obligation to write, but the desire to do so. My very own therapeutic process, for all the world to see. Okay, not exactly. There is more of a purpose for this blog, I would hope.

To connect with parents who, like me, are often in the thick of parenting and feel they can’t step back enough to get perspective. It happens to us all. We all need some outside help at times.

Like today, when I was teaching at my kids’ school in the morning. They were playing at recess and one of the younger girls came up to the table where I sat. She was near tears, saying that Aiden looked angry at her and didn’t want to play with her. Aiden is my son. He’s nearly seven. I wanted to get to the bottom of the issue, so waved him over.

He was upset. He said that he didn’t want to play with kindergarten students because they always want to play their game and even if they play what he wants to play, they change it to make it their game. I understood where he was coming from, the youngest in our family, often expected to join in what the older two are playing. He’s the “older” kid on the playground, at least compared to the kindergarten students; shouldn’t he be able to control the game? I understood, but I didn’t agree.

I explained to him that it wasn’t nice to make someone feel that you didn’t want to play with them. I didn’t delve into the deeper issues that might have been going on in his head. I simply asked him to let his friend know he wasn’t mad at her.

He didn’t. And his face grew angrier. I didn’t know what to do.

His main teacher was sitting at the table, and she called him over. She shared a story about having to choose anger or forgiveness in a personal situation she had faced. I think he got it. Whether he took it to heart or not, I appreciate her effort. Stepping in and trying to help my son understand, not only the effects of behavior, but the importance of choosing to have a happy heart.

It’s not that everything was solved that instant. Another issue rose later that day at school, and I heard about it when the kids got home. My husband and I talked with Aiden together. We prayed with him.

We don’t have the answers to every situation that arises. Sometimes we feel a little stuck in the middle of things, when all we can do is pray and trust God to work in the hearts and lives of our children.

But in all of it, we are blessed to have friends and teachers and family who care about our kids, who want to see them grow up to make a positive difference in the world, who tell them that God has a plan for their lives. Because it’s so true, and who knows? Maybe hearing that one story, or listening to that one song, or sermon, will be that thing they remember years later. The things that reminds them, and helps them believe they have a unique purpose. That they can change the world. That God loves them no matter where they go or what they choose in life.

Writing in the midst of parenting is something like parenting in the midst of parenting. You don’t really have much of a choice. You take it one day at a time. And you’re grateful that you’re not alone.

Oops. Sorry.

“Oops, sorry,” And “uh-oh” seem to be two very common words in a child’s vocabulary. In fact, “uh-oh” was in the “top ten” of first words spoken for each of my children. It was my nephew’s first word, which he mastered at only eight months.

I thought it interesting how children are so aware of when they make mistakes and blunders—which are such a common part of childhood. Children strongly sense our acceptance and approval because it is a need for them to feel accepted and loved; they also recognize the lack of those, especially when they make mistakes.

It’s easy to get frustrated when the same child has made the same mistake, yet again! However, we have to understand that our reactions to their mistakes will develop into their reactions at their mistakes. If we view childish blunders as “the end of the world”, or respond sharply or angrily, they will learn to fear mistakes, and will grow with a mistaken view of that state called “mistake”.

When we do something wrong, we usually hope no one noticed, and we jump at the chance to start again and do it right the next time around. How much more so should we give our kids the chance to try again, without judgment or labeling?

As a child, I was freaked out about making mistakes and screwing things up. I remember one summer when we went for a weekend camping trip. We were at a table with some friends we had made in a room with 50+ other tables, all full of vacationers. I knocked over my glass of orange juice and it spilled on my new friend’s plate of food. No one even reacted strongly or harshly but I was so mortified that I began to cry and it took me a few minutes to compose myself. I can’t remember how I first developed such a fear of mistakes, but it was deeply ingrained. As a teen, my perception slowly changed and grew into the fact that mistakes can be learning experiences and failures can be stepping stones to greater things.

When I became a mother, I hoped my children would never have that same fear of “failure”, but would have a healthier perception of it. I tried to encourage them and adopted a simple saying in our household of, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”

We had visitors over for dinner one evening when the inevitable happened. My daughter, who was four at the time, spilled her cup of water. She was stunned and looked up at me. I jumped up for a towel without saying a word. By the time I got back from the kitchen, our guest quipped a few words to try to liven the situation. It had the opposite effect and I saw the tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. I remembered that moment of mortification from years back and wished I could save her from it.

“Could you help me wipe the floor?” I asked her, giving her something to do. “You’re real good at cleaning the floor.”

She smiled and got off her chair. “It’s okay. We all make mistakes,” I whispered as we cleaned the mess together. The rest of the dinner proceeded without incident.

The next day, when I spilled some water in the classroom, my daughter was quick to say, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”

We do, and we always will. When we realize that and treat mistakes as such, we help our children gain a positive outlook on “failure” and give them the power to try again.

(A “repost” from 2011)

Memories Blessed

Since becoming a mother, I sometimes think back on my own mother and my childhood, and at times find myself comparing my mothering skills against my mother’s. Needless to say, I always come up short. She was a mother of six, and loved being a full-time “mom.” I have half that number and yet I feel I struggle with being a “good mom” on a daily basis.

My Mom at 16

My Mom at 16

She taught her children at home until high school age. I am more or less still in “early learning” stage as far as teaching my children and am not sure whether I will be able to keep up with every aspect of their training—educational, physical, spiritual, etc. I remember only very rare occasions when my mother would raise her voice or get upset about something one of us did.

I was recently recalling to my mother a memory from my childhood. She asked a question about my perception of it, and I let her know that I recalled only one or two times she got upset at us children, and those times were without a doubt well-deserved moments. My mom said something to the effect of, “Wow, you must have a very rosy memory. You were great kids but I don’t know that I did such a marvelous job.”

Hearing those words from “the world’s best mom” gave me hope. Could it be that we are at times more harsh and judgmental of ourselves than others—our children included—are? I recently watched a movie called The Final Cut (not a great movie, by the way), which portrayed the point that personal memories of an event are often skewed and we don’t always remember the exact details. We remember certain parts of things better, perhaps the emotions we had at the time, or a particular highlight, and over time, even that becomes hazy or somewhat altered.

The Bible says that the memory of the just is blessed. This is probably for the most part because God blesses His children and thus we remember these many blessings. Another meaning could be that the memories are blessed because we have chosen to dwell on the positive and beneficial aspects of life rather than the difficulties or challenges. Having those “blessed” memories probably also requires some effort on our part, choosing to let go of any guilt, or desires of perfectionism in parenting.

A successful parent is a positive and happy parent who makes the attempt to highlight the more positive and uplifting aspects of any situation. In thinking back once more, that is probably what I remember most about my mother and her parenting skills. She was positive—not Mary Poppins, but she was sincere.

My prayer is that my children remember somewhat the same thing when they are grown … not a successful-but-too-busy-to-take-time-for-us mother, not a perfect-but-unrealistic mother, but a happy and sincere mother.

Most of all, a mother who loves them, and shows it in some way every day.