Category Archives: Paying attention
My four-year-old son had been going through a whiny phase. I found it difficult to hear his words clearly, and frequently told him (probably less-than-patiently) that I could not understand a word he was saying unless he spoke more clearly. Without the high-pitch accompaniment of whines. After my reactions, he usually just stopped trying to say whatever he had been saying. So I would feel bad for shutting him down, and he probably felt worse for not being able to express whatever he wanted to say.
My mom was driving, and I sat in the passenger seat. The three kids all sat in the back seat. My son was talking aloud 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 self-talk 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 (a couple of months before), including details 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 a final line to his narrative: “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 also looked 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 with, “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. And I stood in wonder at that outside glimpse. Seeing my child through someone else’s eyes. His amazing vocabulary. His gift of storytelling.
Often, without even realizing it, we put our children in a box, labeled neatly with our perceptions and our assumptions. My son: the whiny one. My son: the strong-willed one. My daughter: the complainer. The boss. The sensitive one. The spoiled one.
Sometimes we put ourselves in those boxes too. But when we’re in boxes and they’re in boxes, we can’t easily reach out and connect. Maybe it takes an outside glimpse. Maybe it takes an intentional stepping out from those labeled boxes. Perhaps a recognition of who they are and who we are beyond those labels. To help us see just how special and unique each one of us truly are.
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.]
I meant to have a whole lot more written and posted on this blog by now, but I’ve been a bit busy…
Busy being a mom.
Just a mom.
Been busy chasing butterflies
Hanging out at the library (and trying to help my kids understand that when people say ‘shh,’ they mean it)
Been busy playing shadow tag and hopscotch on warm evenings
And reminding them to please take their homemade popsicles outside so they won’t drip on the floor I just mopped
Then showing them where the rags and Windex are so they can clean up the mess they just made on that very same floor
Busy being a mom
Quizzing times tables and teaching the eleven times tables, always my favorite
Trying to explain that juice is not soda, and restraining myself from too long a monologue of what a balanced diet is
Busy finding the balance between cleaning up after them and having them do it themselves … and sometimes just leaving the house as it is
Busy being a mom
Singing along with the Veggie Tales intro, and waking up with silly songs running through my head
Busy worrying about them at times, wondering what more I can or should do to be a better parent
Praying that they will stay healthy, happy
Busy reading them stories
And hearing their own
Quoting them bedtime stories at breakfast (because I forgot the night before)
And kissing them goodnight, right before they fall asleep
And afterwards too
Busy being a mom
And wondering how it is they grow out of things so fast
And standing at the foot of the slide, saying, ‘come on,’ you can do it.’
Busy holding the kite string while they run off to play with something else
Busy being a mom
Explaining concepts I doubt they’ll grasp
And hiding my surprise when they ask an even deeper question
And they understand the answer to that one too
Or offer their own answers when I say ‘I have no idea’
Busy wondering if they’ll ‘always need me for everything’
Hoping they’ll always need me for something
Thinking about my own mother and realizing children, no matter how old, do always need their parents
I enjoy writing
I love writing about and to parents
about our children and the joys of parenthood
But if ever you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s because I’m busy
Busy being a mom
I am without a vehicle today, as my husband dropped the van off at the shop yesterday to get a couple things tuned up before our trip to Colorado next week. Usually, on Thursdays, I take the kids to school and stay there until 11:30, helping the students with their reading and literature. Then I head over to Fresno City College for my Spanish class. As soon as the class is over, I drive home, eager to get started with my work-from-home work for the day, as I have fewer evening hours than usual. I teach a class from 6:00 to 8:00 at Clovis Adult. In short, Thursday is my marathon day.
But today, I’m sitting on a bench at Fresno City College, wondering what time I’ll actually get home. I forgot to bring my homework and to-do list, so although I have a myriad of tasks, I can’t really get any of them done. So I’m waiting.
I glanced through my weekly planner, which is often more of a “so that’s what I forgot to do” notebook.
A green slip of paper fell out and I picked it up. It has a rough pencil drawing of a bee. A big bee. Twice as big as the flower it’s heading towards. The bee looks more like a blimp. A smiling, striped blimp with wings. The flower looks a bit worried. And there’s a butterfly hiding behind the flower. She’s smiling.
Beneath the bee, in block letters, a message reads, “I ♥ MAMA”
It is a note from my six-year-old son. He drew it for me when he was five. When he was deathly afraid of bees. Seeing the size of that bee, it’s no surprise he was so scared of them.
I wondered why he would draw a picture of something he’s scared of. And then I figured it out. It’s not so much the bee factor, or the frightened flower or hiding butterfly. It’s the message. “I heart mama,” written in block letters on paper he chose because of its color. Green; my favorite color.
Usually my son draws vehicles. Lots of vehicles. Of every type. I have a drawer that is solely devoted to vehicle drawings, and it is brimming with colorful sketches back hoe loaders, fire trucks, rescue boats, and jet planes.
But this picture is of a bee. It’s green. And it says, in childish scrawl, “I love mama.”
That’s why I keep it in my planner. Why I take it with me wherever I go. So that, on days I have too much to do, or days I have nothing to do, I can be reminded of what’s really important.
My kids. My inspiration. And sources of some of the greatest love I’ve ever known.
On a morning not too long age, after the kids had breakfast and we read some stories together, I told them I had a few deadlines to meet today. I asked them to please play nicely and not make messes (you know, the usual requests) so I could focus on my work and school.
I went a little further with my daughter. I showed her my list of things to do; on the right side of the paper, I had put the amount of time I assumed each task would take. It came to 13 1/2 hours. If I started that minute and worked straight, I would be done a little past midnight. I asked her to pray for me, so I could finish it more quickly.
I had been working at the computer for a while and got up to get something. When I came back, my daughter had made a little card for me and placed it on my desk. She saw me looking at it and looked the other way as if she had nothing to do with it.
Today I’m thankful for the joy of the unexpected. Like cards from children. Or hugs from them out of the blue. Or getting things done more quickly than expected. No, I didn’t finish everything on my list … I rarely do.
But there’s nothing like an unexpected card to keep me company while finishing my work. And to remind me of the things that are more important than to-do lists and accomplishment.
I read an article today that both grieved and angered me. I felt sick in stomach and heart after reading it. The utter evil at work in this tragedy was so apparent it’s frightening. The article told of a 12-year-old girl stabbed 19 times by two classmates, both also 12. Although the article used the word “friends,” I would not dare to use that term for this act of violence. The girl escaped within a millimeter of her life, literally. If one of the multiple stabs (many close to her vital organs) had been a margin closer, she would have died.
As appalling as those details are, the reason the two girls tried to kill their classmate is the most shocking of all. They had apparently been very interested in a website (I will not put the link here because I don’t want to cause any more interest in a website that has likely already gotten way too much attention by this horrible situation.)
It seems that the website caters to horror stories rich with gruesome details of death and murder. Many of the short stories posted to the site are written as articles or news flashes. In other words, they look to be true. A very popular character in this website is so evil that the prerequisite for becoming one of his “minions” so to speak is to murder another person. After the two girls tried to kill their classmate, they were said to have headed for the highway, their destination being this character’s mansion up in the mountains.
I have a hard time processing this heartbreaking incident on a couple of levels. For one, motherhood and parenting is a huge thing for me. Ever since I became a mother (and even well I was pregnant with my first child), I was awed to the point of overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a parent. The need to train a child, not just educationally, but socially, morally, spiritually. The need to show them how loved they are by their parents and by God. The responsibility to help them understand that their lives have a purpose and that they can grow up to do amazing things, wonderful things for humanity, for others, for themselves.
The incident cut me deeply in the area of parenting. I’m sure many points of view will arise over the next days and weeks regarding the parenting (or lack of it) in the lives of the young perpetrators. As I know virtually nothing about these girls’ lives or that of their parents or their home relationships, I cannot say much without judging where judgment is not warranted, which I don’t want to do.
But two facts are apparent, at least from my perspective.
One: There was unobserved Internet activity going on.
Two girls, 12 years old, were spending far too much time on a site that promotes horror and murder and god-knows-what-else. This was either unnoticed by their respective parents or brushed off as unimportant. I might be considered a helicopter parent (or a paranoid one), but tragedies such as this make it apparent that no amount of being careful or monitoring a child or tween’s internet usage is too much.
How long had they been reading all kinds of gruesome stories? How much time was spent on it to where their sense of reality was so warped by a strange sense of subordination and obligation to this horrific character?
I don’t know. Who knows what else was going on in their lives? Perhaps a divorce and neither parent felt inclined to step in because they were afraid they might break the thin thread of communication they had with their child. Perhaps it happened at another friend’s house (using the word “friend” loosely) and the parents assume that everything was alright when it really wasn’t. Maybe the parents both worked and the girls’ older siblings looked after them so that there was no way to monitor the situation.
Again, Wisdom says, “Judge not that you be not judged,” and doubtless there was so much at play that no single factor could be the sole cause of a decision to attempt murder. But the fact remains that there is something seriously wrong with internet input that warps two girls’ mind to believe that they could first get away with such a terrible act of violence, that such a twisted character would desire such a thing of them, and that there was no sense of the sanctity of a human life. The worth and value of every person is so sacred that I cannot fathom two children even considering, much less performing, unspeakable violence against another mere child.
Two: Communication with children was not a strong point.
This part concerns me. I don’t know if its society, western culture, advice from peer groups, or a combination of many factors, but it seems that the way to parent these days is to take a step back. To let children make their own decisions. To let them come to their own conclusions about life, beliefs, points of view, and morality. As much as we might agree, in theory, with certain aspects of this approach, and as much as we need to let our children experiment and learn and grow (which is synonymous with making mistakes. We as adults make mistakes and learn by trial and error) … there has to be a limit. A line must be drawn in the sand somewhere.
At the very least, we need to teach our children to understand the sanctity of life, the sacredness of every person who walks on this planet. Although I’m mixing two issues here, there has to be communication between parent and child.
And it isn’t easy. Out of my three children, two are not natural communicators. Sometimes I’ve found myself resorting to play guessing games to discover the core of some issue. I’ve found certain tactics that help them naturally open up so I don’t have to beg them to talk (it’s so much easier when they volunteer information).
But there has to be communication between parents and children.
And there has to be a mutual respect and love at the foundation of this communication. A sense that the child is accepted, loved, and can ask questions, vent frustrations, and be themselves without fear. This is a learning process for me. I’m better with their questions. But sometimes when one of my children vents a whole lot of negativity, especially when it has to do with how “bad” their lot in life is, I get bugged; I see that they have so much to be thankful for and I tell them that (which can sound like a broken record). I’m still trying to strike a balance between letting them speak and helping them tweak certain points of view, allowing them to process certain opinions or difficulties that they’re facing.
But I can’t imagine such a complete breakdown of communication and transfer of information that a parent would not see something so serious going on in the heart and mind of a child. Two girls had been planning to murder a classmate for months. Were they just really, really good at hiding? Or (and this thought scares me) were the parents just disinterested? Uninvolved? Busy with their own lives, their own pursuits? I can’t judge, especially because I know how short I fall in these areas in my own parenting.
Three families should be starting their summer vacation. Three tween girls should be looking forward to a summer of fun, of swimming in the pool with friends, of laughter, sleepovers and stargazing, chasing the ice cream truck. But these three families, and these three girls’ lives will never be the same. The perpetrators are being tried as adults, facing up to 65 years in prison. They will have to live with the consequences of their horrible decision at a time when their thought processes could have been guided, and their pastimes monitored, by their parents. What difference would that have made?
There’s no way to know, and the reality is so sad.
And the third girl. Wow. I don’t know the fears she will face in the years to come, the panic attacks that might strike her in the middle of an innocent activity, the issues with trust that she will most likely have for the rest of her life. I can only pray that somehow she and her family will find healing and comfort and will be able to live not just a semblance of normalcy but a truly joyous life free from the grief of heart, spirit, and mind that such a tragedy can bring upon them.
But the part that affects me the most is that we allow these things to continue. We allow sites available to children to be filled with despicable acts and gruesome material. We say, “Well, people shouldn’t look at these things if they can’t handle it” or “They must have some mental disorders that keep them from processing these things correctly.”
In reality, it is plain wrong to expose growing minds to horror. It might be simplistic, but in my mind, it’s that simple. No matter whose fault it is, something is wrong. Seriously wrong. How many tragedies will continue before we wake up? Will we ever wake up? Or will it always be a case of “Too bad, so sad, let’s get on with our lives in the real world”?
For some, life will never be the same.
For us, life should never be the same.
A loss to one is in some ways a loss to all. Another drop off grief that makes a fallen world fall lower, another teardrop of nature that has already lost so much beauty.
How many tears will humanity cry before reaching out to the only One that can wipe the tears away? The One who promised healing, forgiveness, and a life of abundance, free of the horror and anger that we so readily embrace? Our choices, in many ways, determine our reality. And our deepest and truest reality can be something of beauty and bliss.
I guess, as with so many other things in life, one person can’t make a decision for all. But when it comes down to it, everyone has the power to choose their own destiny, to make the choices that will determine their future and others’ futures as well.
Now that I’ve oscillated from practical to philosophical, I should probably stop before I digress any further.
I guess all that I can say, all that I can hope, is that parents will open their lives and hearts to their children, will offer the very best of themselves, will choose to do the difficult thing even if it means having their children let go of some friendships that are clearly not healthy, or some aspect of “fun” that is obviously not in their child’s best interest. It might seem like a small thing. Too much work. Too much time. Just let it pass.
But the tragic incident conveyed the worst-case scenario (and it could have been worse; thank God the girl survived). It is clear that as parents, we must step up to the plate, embrace the responsibility, and see that children are the greatest gift and the greatest calling that we have right now.
There is no greater task.
There is no greater joy.
And there is no greater love than for parents, through their love and guidance, to point to the greatest Love of a Father who always welcomes with open arms all who come to Him.
This morning I saw a comment from an acquaintance on Facebook, about the upcoming summer break and having more time with her children. I followed the discussion thread, which got a little heated because of the variety of responses by mothers. A homeschooling mother was looking forward to summer for different reasons than her counterpart whose children go to school. Some mothers didn’t seem to be looking forward to the summer. One admitted there were times when she didn’t necessarily “like” her children, especially when they’re all at home. Another mother responded with, “How can you expect others to like them if you don’t like them?”
Yes, it was a little heated. After all, summer is around the corner.
Last week I did my finals for the semester. Tomorrow is my kids’ last day at school. I spent some time this week just thinking about and trying to plan for summer. Due to the busyness of the semester and other things going on at home and with my family, I feel that I’ve lost ground in my relationship with my children.
One of them has been going through a phase that is lasting longer than I expected. I’m starting to fear that it is turning into a perspective on life rather than a stage. This worries me because it has to do with having a “can’t do” mindset about things.
I know that, as a mother, my first responsibility this summer is to my children … as it always is. If one of them is going through something and it’s coming out through their words and outlook on life, it needs attention.
There are plenty of other things going on. I’m teaching courses for the first time in my life (and for a woman who still struggles with social anxiety, this is a huge thing. I’m shaking in my boots and though excited I’m asking myself, What on earth did I get into?)
As soon as I drove away from campus last Thursday after finals, my mind started racing ahead to everything I can read this summer, everything that I hope to write … and then skipped over to home improvement projects. My sister and her kids moved out this last weekend, so with the kids’ room changes, I have more than a little bit of cleaning and organizing to do.
I had to stop myself. I want the kids to enjoy their summer. A few years ago, I made a comprehensive (and overly ambitious) summer plan. Needless to say, we accomplished maybe one item on it. This summer, although I worked on a schedule of sorts, I tried to leave it a lot more flexible this time around.
I know they’re eager to swim this summer. After all, it’s Fresno and temperatures are already pushing past 100. (And I’m hoping that swimming will make up for my lack of exercise during the first five months of this year.) We’ll have chores and a Bible class before swimming/activity time, which will knock two things off my mental “teach-my-children” list.
Cleaning up after themselves, with the three of them living in the same room over the past year, has slid more than a little bit. Having chore time together will help us begin on the right note.
Bible class time is another thing that drifted to the back burner, during school days and even some weekends. That is one thing I need to keep as a priority. I know what grace and patience and faith my times with God grant me and I want my children to experience something of the same.
That’s the general idea of our schedule, at least the most important things: fun, faith, and family. I have a few other ideas/ projects/ hopes for the summer, but need to wait until I’ve had time to discuss them with the kids and see what they are hoping for.
So overall, if the discussion hadn’t already been so heated, I think I would say I’m looking forward to the summer. I’m excited about spending more time with my kids. I know there will be challenges – sibling disputes, messes left around, uninspired moments – but the prospects far outweigh any difficulties. After all, it’s a whole season of fun and sun and crazy-excited kids with the world ahead of them. What could be better?
What are your plans this summer? Do you go on vacation? Relax at the poolside? Tackle a family project? Please leave your thoughts and input below. We can share ideas about how to make this a great summer for both parents and children.
Tags: childhood, children, life lessons, loving your children, moments, motherhood, parenting, perception, positive, positive parenting, school is ending, siblings, summer days, summer ideas with kids, time, what are you doing this summer