Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas Day 2011

(A boot full of goodies from Saint Nicholas.)

I wanted to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, just as we did when I was a child, but I also wanted to keep it simple. It's way to easy to go overboard with this and Christmas. I settled on baking gingerbread cookies yesterday, from the dough we'd prepared the night before. Last night after dinner we talked about Saint Nicholas of Myra (again), and told stories of the miracles he performed and kind things he did for people. We wrote a story on big paper and left it clipped to the easel for Saint Nicholas to read, left gingerbread cookies for him and "Black Pete" (Zwarte Pieten) on the mantle, and put the children's shoes in front of the fire place.

In our house, everything made of gingerbread gets eyes.

This morning they awoke to find in their shoes an apple, chocolate, a lollipop, a Schliech horse, and three quarters (like the three bags of gold Saint Nicholas left for the poor man's three daughters). Assessing the goodies, Maeve declared, "I did not expect so much stuff! Three quarters means I can buy three more lollipops!" Whimsy carried her little Shetland pony around for hours, and asked to buy a steamer with her coins when she and I went on a "date" while Maeve was at lunch with a friend.

(Enjoying her dark mint chocolate. I unwrapped one of the big organic bars from the natural market, halved it, re-wrapped the two smaller "bars" in custom "Saint Nicholas' Workshop" wrappers.)

The only disappointment is that the Saint Nicholas books that I ordered from Amazon didn't get here in time. I really thought they would. There's one (The Real Santa Claus) that looks like a compilation of history, folklore, and art, compiled and written by Marianna Mayer. If you know me and my love of children's picture books, you might know she wrote some others that I adore. Oh well. We'll probably celebrate again, with my parents, brother and nephew, when my nephew gets back later this week. My mom can get her wooden shoes out for that one, (the little expensive decorative ones that I bought her just so she could take them to school and tell her kids about Saint Nicholas, which she hasn't done yet. If your child attends her preschool, please tell her you're disappointed.) Hopefully the books will be here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I'll Run Away With Gypsies

In my world, waking up on the wrong side of the bed means waking up on the side some kid peed on. Today I woke up in a bed that was all wrong sides.

Last night as I was getting into bed I discovered that my toddler (who refuses to wear diapers) had wet the bed. I gently moved her, removed the waterproof bed cover, and went for a new one, only to discover there was not another clean, dry one. In the laundry room I transferred the ones from the washing machine into the dryer, and sleepily passed the time until it was dry. Finally, more than an hour after my first attempt, I went to sleep in a clean, dry bed.

I half woke when my five year climbed into bed with me. I half woke again when she climbed out a couple of hours later. I woke completely when I rolled over to where she had been laying and landed in a puddle of pee she'd left behind. I cursed. I stripped myself and the bed. I put on the other clean cover that I'd taken from the dryer only a few hours ago. I took a quick shower and went back to sleep. I woke maybe an hour later, a little earlier than regular wake up time, when my toddler got restless... and I felt the wet creeping from her pants onto me.

One short night. Three pee messes, (not counting the one the five year old left in her own bed). Pee on me twice. Six hours of broken sleep. I was not a happy camper this morning, and as usually happens, me being off my game somehow means everyone in the house is off their game as well.

Fast forward to mid-afternoon. I feel like I'm losing my mind. I was so tired, I even drank a soda - a caffeinated soda. My husband witnessed this and wondered who I was and what I had done with his wife. It almost helped perk me enough to seem worth it. The kids are behaving like wild beasties. My husband is irritating me by not doing things my way, and not intuitively knowing what he ought to be doing, and how, in order to best help fill the gaps my current foul disposition is leaving. He has now retreated to the garage. The house is even messier than usual. I've been doing urine-soaked laundry all day. There has been more whining and arguing and kids pinching each other than I currently feel capable of handling. I start another load of laundry, sit down at the computer and... am promptly interrupted by screaming from the other room, followed by whining and tattling, "Maaaaaaaaamaaaa..." "She did this." "She did that." Someone's plaything was stolen, someone's arm sports fingernail marks. You know that drill.

"That's it!" I yell. "I can't deal with this anymore. This is driving me crazy!" Not one of my finer moments, I realize even while yelling, "I'm selling you both to the gypsies!"

Pause. This is where it starts to get better. They're staring at me like I've lost my mind. Maybe I have. Maybe I need an attitude check as much as they do.

"Never mind," I say. "I'll go live with the gypsies. You two can stay here and keep screaming and making messes."

Four big eyes look at me.

"There's no real gypsies anymore, Mama... Are there," asks my five year old, brow furrowed.

"Yep. There are. And I'm going to live with them. I'm tired of trying to clean up all these messes by myself while you two scream and argue and make more messes." I am talking now, not yelling.

"Well, you're only allowed to take the clothes you're wearing," I am informed, in a stern tone.

I shrug. "Ok," I say.

"You'll have to wear them all the time, for the rest of your life. You won't have any clean ones to put on ever," she's using the serious voice still, but her brow has relaxed.

"Pssh. I can get new ones. I can make new ones. My new gypsy friends will let me borrow some of theirs until I get others." Somehow the mood is shifting. I think we all feel it.

"What if there's no gypsies your same size? And how will you buy new ones? You're not allowed to take any money. What will you eat." There's no more yelling, whining or toy-snatching going on. Seemingly by magic, where moments ago there was sibling rivalry and a frazzled mama there is now curiosity and imagination .

"There's lots of gypsies my size. I'll borrow some dancing clothes and scarves, and a pretty painted tambourine and a fancy hat. I'll dance and play the tambourine, and people who walk by will put money in the hat for me. I'll use that to buy food and new clothes, or fabric to make new clothes.Maybe I'll get a monkey and train it to dance too." I demonstrate, doing a little dance while shaking my imaginary tambourine.

Suddenly, we're story telling.

"You can take this with you, for when you make your clothes" she says, pointing to my sewing bust.

"No way," I say, "you keep it here. It's too big to carry. My back pack will be full, with my sleeping bag and my food and my first aid kit, and my monkey sitting on top."

As this tale of my life with gypsies unfolds, the toddler occasionally interjects, reiterating what the five year old and I say. In her signature fashion of creative grammar and emphatic speech, states, "you live gypeez!" and "you dance gypeez!" "You take seepin bag!? In yours pack pack!? Me. comin.' wis. you!?"

We go on to talk about how I don't like all the mess and angry noise that's been happening today, how they can stay here and make all the messes they want, and eat nothing but blueberries, granola bars, apple juice and yogurt if that's what they like, and scream and beat on each other if that's what they choose. The story evolves. We all end up living like gypsies, leaving the house to eat all the granola bars itself.

Eventually, we migrate to our living room, where they are inspired to help pick up the clutter in order to make room to create an obstacle course that involves intentional obstacles vs the the ones created in trying to avoid stepping on toys, dirty socks, and abandoned art projects. (It's too cold and windy outside for an outdoor course to be appealing to any of us right now.) They practice their jumping and somersaults while I sit and watch, and rest.

A playful story is so much more fun than screaming, and diffused the situation in a way yelling, ordering, punishing and bribery never would have. I'm not going to lie and say the rest of the day was amazing because of story telling or playful parenting genius. I will say that I think choosing to engage in a playful activity with my children rather than vent my exhaustion and frustration through yelling and punishing them for being kids took the evening in a better, healthier direction. And at least the living room was clean for a few minutes; long enough to set up an obstacle course.


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Monday, July 11, 2011

Spare The Rod

Mark 10:13-16
13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Luke 18:15-17
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs."

Matthew 18:1-5
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, " Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child, whom he put among the, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."

Matthew 19:13-15
Then little children were brought to him, that he should lay his hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Allow the little children, and don't forbid them to come to me; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to ones like these." He laid his hands on them, and departed from there.

Luke: 6:35-37
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

Luke 22:47-51
When his followers saw what was coming, they said, “Lord, shall we use our swords?” And one of them struck at the High Priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “Let them have their way.” Then he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Christians are the disciples of Jesus. Disciple, as defined at dictionary.com, follows:

/dɪˈsaɪpəl/ Show Spelled [dih-sahy-puhl] Show IPA noun, verb,-pled, -pling.
one of the 12 personal followers of Christ.
one of the 70 followers sent forth by Christ. Luke 10:1.
any other professed follower of Christ in His lifetime.
any follower of Christ.
(initial capital letter) a member of the Disciples of Christ.
a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; follower"

The origin of the word "discipline" is "disciplīna," which means "instruction, tuition" or "to disciple."

If you are Christian, while the whole biblical witness is authoritative, the witness of Jesus must be the final word. As we've seen, there are multiple accounts of Jesus telling disciples (you) to become more like children. There are multiple accounts of Jesus rebuking violence, even in defense of his own life, or the lives of others. Nowhere do I see Jesus, the end all authority of Christianity, promoting the use of violence against anyone, for any reason.

Over and over again we read of Jesus teaching by example, and through explanation, and occasionally a stern verbal reprimand, but never by hitting one of his disciples. Over and over again he bids us not to judge, to be merciful, compassionate, to pardon. If he would have us do that much for our enemies, do you think he would have us do less or differently for our children - the same children he encourages us to become more like? I don't. Jesus did not punish. Nor did he reward. He left that to God. What he did was offer guidance. He set an example of perfection for us to attempt to emulate. He knew that everything he did, everything he said, was being watched, was being heard - was being learned from.

This is true of you as a parent, too. Your children are your disciples. You are leading by example at all times. You're children are always learning from you, even when you don't want them to, and often not what you meant for them to learn. You're children, like those Jesus laid his hands upon, are blessed. Here is my challenge for you, take Luke 6:35-37 and replace the word "enemy" with "child." Should we not treat our children at least as well as we would treat our enemies?

Spanking involves a certain action. One that you may not call hitting, because it is on those few inches of you blessed child's body that are their bottom; but if you moved that same action to any other part of their body, what would it be called? Luke 6:31 tells us "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Are your children not "others." Not people? You've all read the bumper stickers, the bracelets, the buttons, and so on that ask, "what would Jesus do," and I'm sure most of you can now guess what I'm going to say next.

The next time you feel like it would be appropriate to use physical force to get your way or in an attempt to teach something, the next time you feel it would be appropriate to hit a child, whether it be a smack on the hand, a smack on the butt, or beating with a wooden spoon, ask yourself that question. Is that what Jesus would do? Are you actually doing your best to do as he taught? Are you truly one of his disciples? Or are you following him as is convenient, and hoping to play the "I'm an imperfect human" card come the end? No, I don't believe God expects you to be perfect, but I believe he expects you to do your best. Is that what you're doing when you use your size and strength to domineer over someone vulnerable and dependent upon you for care? What part of that is humble?

As for "spare the rod, spoil the child," I have several responses. First, that exact phrase does not appear anywhere in the bible. It was a poet interpretation and rephrasing, part of a longer poem, written by a mortal.

Second, a rod was used by shepherds to guide sheep, not to beat them and frighten them into submission. Yes, there was occasion where a shepherd might, in order to keep the the sheep from true physical harm, give it a smack on the leg, perhaps to keep it from wandering off course on treacherous path. So, yes, if my child steps off the sidewalk into busy traffic I will probably grab them and yank them back to safety as quickly as I can, which may cause an injury as a side effect. However I will not then inflict a punishment on them, nor was yanking them to safety intended as a punishment. I would simply prefer to have a child with an over-extended joint than a child who's been hit by a vehicle going highway speeds; just as I imagine a shepherd would rather have a sheep with a sore leg from a rod than a sheep who has caught its hoof, tripped and broken a leg.

My second thought on that biblical quote is that it was said by King Solomon, not by God. You know, King Solomon? Whose son grew up to be a cruel ruler, who despised, ridiculed and mocked his father, alongside his illegitimate half brothers?

In response to a query posed by an acquaintance who identifies herself as Christian, yet advocates in favor of hitting children (ie spanking); yes, I have read Dr. Dobson's work, and I have read the Bible. I believe Dr. Dobson has lead an unfortunate life, and that he, albeit seemingly unintentionally, has done the devil he professes to hate a great service - and continues to serve him.

Having read the Bible, multiple times, cover to cover, I can say that I sincerely believe that men taking it upon themselves to decide to punish our children was just that - a decision made by men, not a divine command. While discipline may be necessary, punishment is not synonymous with discipline, or an inherently integral part of discipline, and judging and punishing our fellow humans is not something I can recall Jesus having ever mandated, or even encouraged. And yes, our children are humans.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How lucky I am?

One of the judgements I struggle to not make is about people who say things like "you're so lucky/blessed to be able to stay home with your kids. I wish I could, but..." and it turns out their "but" isn't that they need to work to pay utility bills and eat, it's that they wouldn't be able to maintain the same lifestyle they currently do. I want to respond, "so really I'm not any luckier or more blessed than you, we just made different choices. I don't buy new clothes, cars, kayaks or bicycles, or eating out, go on vacations, road trips or skiing trips. We decided that me being with our children was important right now than me advancing in a career or having expensive annual vacations or stuff." It's fine with me if you chose those things, but please don't act like I must have it easier than you because I didn't choose those things, and chose being with my kids. I will probably go back to work someday, when my children are older, but especially when they are this young, home is where we feel I'm most needed and doing the most good for our family in the long run.

Yes, I understand that there is a variety of reasons people choose to work even when they have children. This is about a specific set of, primarily, women, whose comments seem hypocritical and irritating to me, and who I struggle not to judge negatively for what seems to me like choosing status and stuff over spending more time with their children, and who seem unwilling to acknowledge that they could be blessed in the same ways they think I am .