Posted in family life, musings

learning together

Rondel and Limerick are near-constant playmates these days, and the presence of another child to play with is doing amazing things for each of their social play skills! Every day I see them create and play elaborate games together, both physical games or pretend games, with agreed-upon and negotiated setup and rules; I hear them get into arguments and fights and resolve conflicts independently of adult input; I watch them learn to observe and take into consideration the things that are important to and enjoyed by each other even if their own inclinations are different; and I see them choosing freely to share their toys and cups and take turns with coveted items. (It’s pretty adorable to hear your 2.5 year old ask his brother to “please move Rondel”, and even nicer to see said big brother make room for the little one – and best of all to see both of them accepting “no” as an answer and offering other options in the attempt to find a solution that leaves everyone happy.)

I don’t force them to share and take turns. If they seem stuck I might suggest those as possible solutions, but unless they’re overtired and getting physical about their conflict, they usually do better without my input, and can come up with solutions that seem “unfair” to me but result in them playing happily together – successful in resolving their short-term conflict with the added benefit of gaining diplomatic skills and confidence for the long run. Honestly, my interference can often make things worse, it seems!

I also don’t try to make them play together. When they want to, they can play alone; but they almost always choose to play in the same room even when they are doing independent activities, for the shear pleasure of showing each other their creations and telling each other their ideas and plans.

In short, they are friends, and they are learning the skills by which friendships are strengthened and maintained.

If they can learn these social skills so well just from each other, with minimum parental guidance for safety and advisory purposes, simply because they are intrinsically motivated to maximize their mutual environment, what else might they learn through that same motivating power? Forcing them to memorize and drill phonics or addition would be as effective as enforcing my ideas of fair play on their interaction: in other words, it would likely lead to resentment and poor skill acquisition. But when they are ready to learn, motivated because they are interested, caught by the beauty or use of a thing, they will learn with the speed and power of a wildfire in drought.

Posted in family life, musings

summer!

Summer has finally hit us full force.

That’s right, we reached an official high of over 120 degrees this week. The worst few weeks of the year are here, until the monsoons come with some much-needed relief. Even nights are hot; the lows are technically in the 80s but most of the night is spent in the 90s, until just before dawn.

I am still biking to work and back, like an obstinate fool. I mean, I’m somewhat acclimated since I’ve been biking regularly as the temperatures have been climbing, but I can definitely feel the difference between 105 and 120. Even hell has different levels of heat, I suppose… around 100-105 I can still ride six miles without needing to carry water, but at 115-120 not only do I need water to drink, but also to pour over my head once or twice along the way.

For the kids, it’s similar. If they’re going to be outside, they need to be in the water. Water is the Southwestern equivalent of a snowsuit in winter in Michigan – essential for outdoor play! My husband has been taking the boys to the community pool most afternoons once I get home from work, we’ve been setting up the sprinkler in the back yard, and I lugged the kiddie pool out of the garage for the season as well. (The first time I put Aubade in it, her eyes opened wide for one second in complete surprise, and then her mouth opened even wider in a grin of pure delight. It was like she couldn’t imagine something so wonderful existed! Pools are good – but here was a pool she could move around in without needing to be held!) Splash pads are of course also nice, but honestly they’re only usable in the mornings at this point because of the sheer ferocity of the blazing afternoon sun.

(some rare pictures of my husband and me here, along with the kids!)

But still, we’re having a good time. It’s summer! My husband doesn’t have classes, we’re taking a family vacation in a week, Aubade is learning how to crawl and stand and climb and laughs more every day, and the boys keep on growing and learning and maturing in ways that never fail to amaze me. Despite the heat, I’m so thankful to be living here, with this job and this family and a new home to move into next month. We’ll survive the worst summer can throw at us and eventually the fall will come again.

therapy

Post-therapy I feel as I imagine Harry felt after one of Snape’s occlumency lessons… I’m sure it’s helpful in the long but it’s not comfortable or easy on the mind in the moment! At least my therapist is friendlier than Snape ­čśŤ

Posted in musings

on giving advice

The longer I parent, the more radical my parenting style and ideals seem to become. I’ve been heavily influenced by the concepts of respectful and trustful parenting, to the point where I’m leaning towards unschooling and trying to lead as a guide and experienced companion instead of attempting to direct and control my children. My emphasis is on connection and understanding, and I’ve put down some hard lines for myself on the topic of punishment. And I’m far from perfect in my implementation of these ideals, but I really do think they are best for children.

The awkward moments come when a friend will post a general plea for advice on Facebook. How do I advocate for respectful parenting and try to point out the child’s needs and perspective without sounding judgmental of a person who I know loves and sacrifices incredibly for her children? Worse still, what do I say when other friends are framing developmental struggles as sin and normalizing spanking? Diplomacy is hard when it comes to things I believe strongly…

One thought that’s been helpful for me lately comes from the Catholic side of the aisle: the concept of an age of reason, below which children (though still imperfect and marred by the human condition of original sin) are not culpable of sin because they lack the capacity to understand or control themselves for simple developmental reasons. It helps to see one’s child as a learning, growing, incomplete being instead of a defiant, rebellious sinner. Unfortunately I’m not sure how to translate that idea for my Protestant friends!

How do you all handle situations where it’s appropriate to give advice (like a generic request for suggestions) and you know your parenting principles differ significantly from the person asking? I generally just try to gently plant alternative ideas without getting too radical but I wonder if I should say more…

Posted in musings

resurrected imperfection

Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”

– John 20:27

The brief descriptions of the resurrected Jesus are all we have to base our imagery and understanding of our resurrected bodies on. And the picture that appears is somewhat confusing.

Jesus, after His resurrection, could apparently teleport and walk through locked doors – but still was able to eat real food and still even bore on his body the marks of His suffering and death. His body was in some ways changed and in other ways still the same. Was it, then a “perfect” body?

What would a perfect body even be? Would it be defined by some precise weight, or height, or appearance? By some level of functionality or some lack of disability? Would the person born without legs have legs in the resurrection, or the deaf be given hearing? What does that imply for the identity that individuals build for themselves in response to their embodied existence – and what does it imply for the relative worth, here and now, of those whose bodies are farther from that perfect ideal?

As the owner of a decidedly┬áimperfect body, I’ve often thought about what the bodily resurrection would entail for me personally. Would it mean my myopic eyesight would be healed? Or that my thyroid would function correctly – or that things like thyroid hormones would be irrelevant? Would it mean freedom from debilitating depression and anxiety, or are those things a part of my soul as much as my body, a part of my being that can be redeemed and made meaningful but not cut out?

As I mature in my understanding of myself, and as I see how my body and mind affect both each other and my faith, I am starting to think that maybe our “deficiencies”, our brokennesses and scars, will remain with us in the resurrection – at least the ones with meaning and significance to our story and the story of God in the world. Just as Jesus kept the scars of His crucifixion, so maybe the mother will retain her softened abdomen and the scars of childbirth. Maybe I will always have the scars on my arms from my skin excoriation disorder, no longer marks of shame and anxiety, but testimonies to the love and redeeming, healing power of the God who brings beauty out of ashes.

Maybe the new creation, the resurrected body, isn’t perfect any more than our current bodies – and maybe perfection should never have been our goal.

Posted in musings, poems, quotes

success

It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.

In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?

When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?

Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?

I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted in family life, musings

a bedtime routine

Lights turn off for bedtime. The small flashlight flickers on but it’s not enough to play by, not enough to hide the scary shadows of a child’s imagination. I don’t stop to argue, don’t invite the protests, tonight. The baby is fed and warm in her daddy’s arms so I linger with the big boys, so tough and independent in the bright daytime light, all full of fears and doubts and unnamed dreads in the dark. I lie down on the bottom bunk and feel the lithe warm body of a little┬áboy press against my back, strong and wiry and small and vulnerable in the drowsiness of just-before-sleep.

Softly, in the dark, I hear the gentle murmur of a snore, and I peek over my shoulder to see him lying there asleep, empty sippy cup tucked in against his elbow, Grandma’s handmade quilt pulled up over his belly, legs poking out the side with the knees up and the feet tucked under my hip. I sneak out of the room. I am eager to have some time with my own thoughts, to create, to be, without any demands or expectations on my time.

But there is still the food from dinner to be put away; the dishes are done but the food, too hot before, was waiting until after the bedtime rush, and as I scoop the leftovers into Tupperware, mindlessly, inefficiently, trying to read a book at the same time, I hear the baby crying, waking up for a last feed before settling into the deep sleep of nighttime.

I pick her up, lay her next to me on the bed, and she curls into me, little hands reaching for me, little feet tucking themselves into the curve of my belly, little mouth open and eager, little tear-stained eyes sleep-heavy and drooping closed. Her frantic energy lessens, breathing calmed, until at last I roll her back over to her crib. For a moment her whole body drapes across mine and┬áI feel that soft cheek pressed up against me, the total trust and relentless love of an infant for their mother, and I’m the mother, and it hardly seems real, scarcely seems believable, like the whole crazy world is just too beautiful to be possible.

Most nights I stay here, worn out myself, caught up in the sweet beauty of the love a mother receives from sleepy children in need of snuggles and presence, unable to stop watching a baby or a toddler or a preschooler still and peaceful at long last, barely daring to breathe lest it all fall apart, amazed that such a life could be mine. But tonight I pull myself up. There are words to write, pictures to curate, cookies and milk to be eaten, and thoughts to be wrung out from ethereal unformed space to concrete actuality on the screen of my computer.