Category Archives: Life Lessons

What Did You Just Call Me?

children and name calling

On the way home from Wednesday evening church, my eight-year-old son told me a girl had called him “nerd” and “idiot.” My first reaction was indignation. I wanted to make a snide remark about the pot calling the kettle black, maybe add something about haughty daughters of fashionistas. Clearly, I was not on the right track, even after an evening discussing temptation and how to avoid it. Hearing that my son was called names opened a dark pathway in my mind and I fell straight into it.

My daughter stopped that mental spiral with a logical comment to her brother: “You can’t be both nerd and idiot.” Jessica’s observation made me laugh. She was right. Nerd has two main definitions:

  • a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.
  • a single-minded expert in a particular technical field.

In all honesty, both descriptions can fit my son. He loves to read all manner of science books. He is not discriminating. One day he might be studying volcanoes in a book he got from his aunt for Christmas. The next day he will be poring through a book about the human body or marine life. When we leave the house, he always carries a book into the van. And usually leaves them in the van.

Not only does he love to read on those topics; he loves to share what he learns. He is not discriminating (or highly discerning) as far as who he shares it with. He’ll start talking to some random individual on the school playground, or during free time after church, about something he learned. As his mother, I see what that might develop into one day. He could be a professor or at least a teacher. He has an amazing memory, is a fast reader, and loves books that many people would leave on their bookshelf.

At the same time, he probably tends to bore people. I watched it one day, at school, when he was talking to a close friend about some scientific topic. He was conducting a monologue and I had to suggest, “Buddy, why don’t you give your friend a chance to talk, while you listen for a while? Then you can have a turn to talk afterward.” That kind of social skill comes naturally to most people; not to my son.

Yesterday evening, my son had been talking with another boy about sharks. The girl, a couple years older than my son, made a sarcastic comment about how “exciting” the topic of his (most likely one-way) conversation was, and called him nerd. Then idiot. He told me that he went to tell his teacher, and she suggested letting it roll off, like water off a duck’s back. I agreed wholeheartedly. My son and I discussed the way duck’s feathers are coated with a special oil that keeps them from staying wet even when they dive underwater.

My son seemed fine after that, but made a comment this morning to his sister about having been called names, and I didn’t want to leave it. So I sat down with my three kids in the living room, and gave them each a small white board and marker.

“Draw a line dividing the white board in half,” I told them. “On one side, write names that you like to be called. On the other, write names that you don’t like being called.” Within a few minutes, they all had at least a couple of names on each side of the board. They first read out the names they did not like being called, and then the names they do like being called.

I gave them some references to look up in their Bibles. John 1:12. John 15:1, 5. John 15:15. Romans 8:17. 1 Corinthians 6:19. After they took turns reading the verses, they shared some of the names we are called in the Bible:

  • Heirs with Christ
  • Children of God
  • Branches of the Vine
  • Temple of the Holy Ghost
  • Friends of Jesus

I asked them if they had anything to add to that list. My older son said, “Beloved.” I mentioned sheep. I digressed from biblical application and told them about some of the names I had been called as a child. “Four-eyes.” “Bird legs.” A couple that were more offensive, but made my children laugh. I laughed along with them, though I hadn’t when I was a kid.

I told them one reason we don’t allow name-calling in our home is because names are important. They help us know who we are. They shape us in many ways. We tend to live up, or down, to the names we are called. I asked my children to remember, if anyone calls them names, there are other titles they have: names that God has called them that are so much more important. I also asked them to think that, if someone calls them a name, it is probably because those kids have been called names, maybe by schoolmates, maybe by members of their own family. And try to respond graciously, even when the names are hurtful or on their “names I don’t like to be called” list.

Who knows if the little discussion I had with my kids will be like water off a duck’s back? I hope not. I hope my children remember their true names, their more enduring titles. That they see those same names in others, even “the least of these.” I hope I remember it too.

 

Advertisements

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.]

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)

Mundane, yet magical

It was another day. For some reason, “another day” no longer held the magic and excitement it had once held. My life and circumstances had changed and there didn’t seem to be much to be inspired about. Days were slowly merging together into something I vowed I would never have—a weary and dreary sense of existence. There was cleaning, cooking and kids, day after day—and not much else, it seemed. One morning, I attempted to figure out what was wrong. Every day should have a bit of magic sprinkled throughout it, I pondered. Where was the magic?

I needed to get the house cleaned that morning, so I let the kids know they had the morning free from school. They were excited and ran to find something to do. That was when they found the box. It was an empty box, nothing special inside it—nothing at all inside it. It was a plain box—no painting, no markings, no decorations. I was soon to find out that this not-so-special box was, in fact, quite special indeed.boy hiding in box

At first, it was a train coach, carrying them to a far-off and much-anticipated destination. Then it was a boat, keeping them safe through a giant storm. Afterwards, it was an easel, where each one of them could decorate and draw to their heart’s content. Again and again it morphed, from house to airplane to hiding place. The entire morning passed quickly for them in their magical box. As I watched them laughing  and pretending as they climbed in and out of that worn, old box, I realized the magic had been there all along; no, not in the box—in the minds and hearts of my children, and in the many things they found exciting, amusing, and wonderful. It must be there in my own heart as well, I thought.

Magic was in every corner of the house—with its potential for imagination to take wings. It hid in the garden, the front yard and beyond—each place a chance for new discovery and experiences. It waited in the stories I read to them and made up for them—that would inspire their minds, encourage their spirits, speak to their hearts.

And yes, magic was in a big, plain box on its way to the recycling bin, a box that was just waiting for its chance to become a source of joy for three young children.

I looked around. There was still a lot of cleaning and more of the “same ol’ same ol’”, but it would have to wait. It was time to experience some magic, and, this time around, I knew just where it was hiding.

Doing the Parenting Thing All Wrong

kid with painted hand

Have you ever realized, one fine morning, that you’re doing the parenting thing all wrong? Not every parenting thing in every way. For me, it was in something that could be considered the most important … because its essence is forgiveness and grace.

I’ve been reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In chapter four, the author states, “[The saved sinner] knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.” I read that and I thought of one of my children. Just yesterday (and the day before) I had talked with my child about “justifying” … these days, we call it “owning.” Own your mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Only then can you learn from them and move on. You’ll be perpetually stuck in the same place if you can’t admit it when you’ve done something wrong.

It’s all fair advice, but I’ve been going at it the wrong way. “Repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.” I am reading that book because of grace. The concept, the gift, the wonder that it is.

In my work as freelance editor, last year, one manuscript after another that I’ve edited has touched on the theme of grace. I’ve picked up books at used books sales or at the recommendation of a friend. Grace. I’ve listened to Christian radio, and my favorite bands are singing about grace.

Over the past year, I realized time and again that although I’ve accepted the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for 30+ years now, I never quite caught grace. With every book I read or edited, every song I heard or sang along with, I was broadsided with the epic wonder of grace. Because I so quickly forget it. Gloss it over. Stand on it, forgiven, yet fail to extend it to others.

This is what was doing with my kids. I’ve expected them to first “own” their mistakes or apologize … then I’ll forgive them. Then I’ll be gracious. It’s not like I’m standing over them saying, “I won’t forgive you until you apologize,” but I’m conveying that they need to own it in order to make things right. I’m teaching them to be responsible, right? Not to grow up with the victim mentality that “it’s-everyone’s-fault-but-mine.”

Important, yes … but not vital.

Not vital like the grace that says, “The saved were home before they started,” that says, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Not after we apologized. Not once we pulled up our socks or made a show of shame. He died for us while we were in the middle of the muck and mire of this sin-stained world. And He continues to extend grace every moment of every day.

Every moment. Of every day. I don’t understand it. But it rings with such deep truth that it ripples into eternity.

God, help me to do offer grace and forgiveness to my children, to those around me. I’ll never “get it” because Your grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love are beyond comprehension. But it doesn’t mean I can’t give it to others. Your grace is enough. Always.

Raising An “Overcomer”

Sometimes I’m having a rough day… I got some bad news, or am feeling extra emotional or vulnerable. After all, mothers are humans too. Maybe I’ve had an argument with someone and it seems too difficult to even attempt to patch things up. At times like this, I invariably look at my kids and see them having fun, playing, enjoying the simple things in life. The thought comes to me, “How are they going to do when they grow up and have to face these things that life will surely bring them?”Girl Jumping

My hope and prayer has always been that they will be able to see their lives and face their future with a positive attitude, one of hope and overcoming. There are those throughout history who have had an easy life, but never made a name; they remain unknown. Then there are others who faced great difficulties; the deck of life seemed to be stacked against them, yet they overcame. They didn’t give up and they are known and admired today.

I want my children to grow up to be “overcomers”—those who do not see themselves as helpless victims to every obstacle: someone’s bad attitude, their own “bad-hair” day, or any negative person who might come along and give them a hard time. I want my kids to grow up to smile in the face of adversity, knowing that the sun will shine again and that things will start looking up. I want them to refuse to accept defeat when their heart tells them that anything is possible.

Then I realize that a lot of that is up to me. How do I handle adversity, bad news, a grumpy co-worker, or a tiring flu? Do I play the victim and blame circumstances or others? Or do I try to smile, even if through tears or a million “what-if’s” bombarding my mind? Do my children see me “going under”, or “rising above”?

We all know that our children will eventually be at the point of making their own decisions. There is not much that we as parents can do about that then…but there is a lot we can do about it now, while they are with us. Today, when they are our little shadows, following us everywhere, watching and mimicking each action and attitude, let us work hard to help them develop positive attitudes, by manifesting those attitudes ourselves, with positive actions to match.

Self Do It

Pretty much every child goes through the “all-by-myself” phase. Depending on the age of the child during the phase, they can also term it “self” or “self-do-it”. For some kids, it is a quickly passing phase, and they soon go back to their usual “I can’t do it” attitude, where they want you to do every single thing for them. The other kids, though, remain in this stage pretty much permanently, as it is part of their nature. Toddler Walking

At times it can be exasperating: your two-year-old son wants to button his nice shirt “all by myself” when you are already late for a dinner engagement. It is easy to usher them along and quickly button their shirt, saying something like, “I can do it more quickly. Don’t worry; you can do it next time.” Or even (let’s hope not), “You’re taking so long! Can’t you go any faster?” For a child who is entering the stage of trying to figure out things, solve problems and find solutions, a reaction such as the above can hurt a child’s desire to try and find solutions or work things out for themselves. At that age, anything is possible, and it is our reactions that determine whether this can-do attitude remains or it degrades into a can’t-do frame of mind.

I have noticed it is sometimes the oldest who has more of a “I can’t do it” mindset. However, younger children need to see their older sibling (or siblings) accomplishing and succeeding; then they see it can be done. What is more, their reaction is often, “I want to do it too!”

Helping your child (and importantly, your oldest child, if you have more than one) build a positive attitude about their abilities will build confidence not only for that child, but the younger one/s to follow.

Case in point, I am the fifth of the six “kids” in my family. When I observed my older sisters or brother mastering a skill or undertaking a new challenge, I wanted to do it too. When my brother began to memorize his times tables, I started to do it as well, even though I was not yet officially “learning” it in my schoolbooks. When my sisters took typing in high school, I pulled out my mom’s typing book (from the ‘70s) and used her archaic typewriter (as in, you make a mistake, you pull out whiteout to fix it) and began to teach myself touch typing.

I recently noticed something: though I am grown now, it is still my nature. When I see someone doing something interesting, or something I don’t know how to do, the two-year-old inside me says, “self do it” and I find myself a tutorial or simply jump in and begin to figure it out. From computer skills to graphic design, from photography to writing, from teaching to cooking—my range of interests run wide and I love to master new skills.

Back to your two-year-old who is still working on his buttons. Stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and then cheer him on. You have a wonder child in the making; or didn’t he tell you yet?—nothing is impossible.

Christmas Is For Children

Christmas Is for Children

The Magic of Christmas

Love is the Magic of Christmas