Posted in family life, musings

a tale of two mothers

She walks briskly down the path, then stops and waits, impatiently beckoning to her young son to hurry up. Her words are sharp and her tone irritated, as though his slowness is an almost unbearable weight for her. Oblivious to the beauties around them, the pair slowly make their way down the trail in fits and starts, both of them belligerent, frustrated, and stressed.


A boy and his mother walk down a trail through woods near a creek, the water making a background song to their hike. They walk slowly, noticing the diversity of plant life surrounding them, examining the different shapes and textures of the leaves. The mother isn’t trying to make her son walk faster, but to engage him more deeply in the moment and place.


What differentiates these two mothers? What leads one to put the immediate task (reaching a destination) at a higher priority, despite the frustration of trying to control another person and ending up at cross purposes? What makes the other choose connection and relationship over speed and accomplishment? Is it personality, or character, or circumstance?

It is purely and simply choice.

I was both of these mothers, in instances just five minutes (and a major apology to Rondel) distant from each other. All that changed was that I remembered who I want to be, and chose to change my course. I was still just as frustrated at his slowness, but realized that I didn’t have to let those things (his slowness, my irritation) hurt our relationship or prevent us from savoring the beauty around us. 

We will never be perfect parents, but we always have the option to choose a better way.

Posted in family life, musings, quotes

different (a full review)

Sally and Nathan Clarkson’s book Different didn’t exactly live up to my hopes and dreams for it – that is, I suppose, it didn’t give me a checklist to follow or an instruction manual to read or even a set of principles to live by which would ensure success in the endeavor of parenting a unique and uniquely challenged child.

But that really wasn’t the point of the book. As Sally writes, “…don’t try to use our family’s experience as an exact template for your family. Every child is unique and requires a unique approach.”

And the story they told together, of struggles, pain, faith, and triumphs, was just as beautiful as I thought it would be. While they shared specific aspects of their personal lives, they made those intimate and individual stories relevant to a whole range of readers, drawing out empathy for both the challenging child and the challenged parent (or in other words, for both the different child and the parent who longed for normalcy). As there are in my close family many people on both sides of this dynamic, it spoke to me on a number of layers, and both encouraged and convicted me about several of my relationships.

(For example, it is easiest for me to apply the need for patience, acceptance, and understanding to my children, while failing to give that same grace to my husband, parents, siblings, or in-laws. Different, while primarily about that parent-child relationship, continually challenged me to scrutinize my motivations and intentions in my other relationships as well, and to try to bring them also into a more open, gracious, and loving posture.)

My primary take-away from the book in this season of my life is the value of making a home in which everyone in the family can feel at ease and accepted for who they are: a place where each one of us can truly feel that we belong. When my children are losing their tempers over trivial affronts, or melting down for inexplicable reasons, or refusing to answer a simple question when everyone else is waiting for their response, or taking out their frustrations on each other; when my husband is tired, preoccupied, or worried and speaks more sharply than typical; when I am moody and irritable and impatient – in those times, it is very hard to accept each other, to love each other, to give grace to each other. It is tempting to construct a narrative of the people in our family using only those negative moments, to focus on their immaturity or sinfulness, to attempt to fix and correct them with annoyance and frustration for their present state. But Sally addresses that temptation directly (emphases mine):

“…creating a welcoming home also includes the choice to accept the unique design of our families and the limitations of each family member. We have to learn to lean into life as something beautiful even if it is not exactly what we expected. Trusting that God works all things together for the good despite the challenges we face is a gift of worship we give to God. Acceptance with humility must eventually come to each of us if we are to please God and not always fight against the limitations of our own family pattern.

If Nathan had grown up in a home where he was constantly put down and corrected, I think the oxygen of God’s love would have been strangled from his heart, which needed a wide berth of unconditional acceptance. Love is the food our hearts need to grow, and so I had to figure out a way to give it in a way he could feel.”

I can choose to be impatient, irritated, frustrated with the imperfections I see in myself and my husband and the immaturity inherent in my young children – or I can choose to see the beauty and value of who we are and what we are building as a family. Only one of those choices will fill our home with the love our hearts need to grow, and the welcome we need to feel that here, at last, is a place where we – no matter how different – can truly belong.

Posted in musings

a moment of play

There were eight of them, boys and girls, from five to twelve years old. I watched them on the beach, as they scrambled up and down the sandy slope and splashed into the shallow water, as they dug and molded the sand and filled buckets of water, as they strategically laid down sticks and removed stones. Without a blueprint or a guide, without a leader giving directions, the structure they were building took on form and function. They shared ideas, gave each other space to innovate, collaborated without quarrels or criticisms, helped each other test their creations for soundness, and negotiated the course and scope of the project to come to a mutually acceptable solution. Occasionally they took a break to swim or start an independent project, but came back to help with the community endeavor.

When we impose our adult ideas of fun, we shut down this natural cooperative and creative play – along with all the learning and joy that accompanies it. Fortunately, all we have to do to encourage it is to give our children the freedom and opportunity to simply be.

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 😛

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…