Thursday, October 28, 2010

Child rearing and construction....seeing the parallels

Each morning I drop our two eldest off to first grade for the 8:08 bell.  From that point I have a 25 mile commute to my workplace.  We live in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the US.  I know this not only from Wikipedia, but from first hand experience on the roads! 

My dad likes to say there are two seasons in New Jersey.  Winter and Construction - and that when winter is coming, construction moves into full swing.  Commuting in NJ is always interesting.... some days I can arrive at my desk by 8:45am, other days 9:10am all 'depending on the traffic'. 

Recently, I have begun to use the commute time as a meditation time.  Turned off the radio (which never seems to report the traffic I'm in anyway, so why listen!) and talk with God. 

Its helping me to see parenting as a journey, rather than grown children as a destination. Earlier this week my husband and I were talking about the stage our eldest two (age 6) are going through.  First grade has brought big changes. Full school day, new burgeoning friendships,challenges of peer pressure and the manifestation of new fears.  I had the chance to chuckle about a friend who, when I complained about the teething stage, reminded me that "they'll grown out of that stage soon".  She neglected to tell me that one stage is followed quite rapidly by another which is generally more difficult, less clear and which I'm also not prepared for.

When the children were first born, each visit to the pediatrician was met with a form to track their developmental stages.  Were they reaching all those mile markers on time?  Babbling, rolling over, sitting, crawling etc.  Oh how easy those days seem in comparison.  Perhaps it was better that parents with more experience didn't share what this next leg of the journey would entail.  Wisdom shared isn't wisdom learned.  Some of this journey Mark and I have to learn for our selves.

 I find myself being forwarned about the curve ahead but as yet unable to enjoy the vision of what is around the bend.  And whatever the speed limit never seems right to me.  Why can't my daughter realize that being a little girl is a precious time? Why does she want to speed up and be a 'grown up' so fast?  Why does she have to be so dramatic? How come my son won't do the things I know he can do (like put on his uniform on his own) consistently?  Can't he grow up faster?  Why can't he be more serious? I'm seeing myself as the worst of the back seat drivers.  Constantly questioning the route which God has chosen to take me. 

Last weekend we were blessed to spend a weekend in retreat.  One of the topics discussed was heaven and hell and readying myself for judgement.  It would seem like a not so nice topic to some,  but it helped me tremendously. 

One metaphor stuck out - in describing heaven and hell - we were reminded that we build that reality in our daily life with a thousand small decisions.  The metaphor was phrased as the question "where are you placing the bricks God gives you to build with?"In other words, I am given the great gift from God to decide if, by my daily decisions, I will create an earthly hell for myself or build, instead a cathedral which is heaven on earth. 

I've been using my commute to meditate on what God is wanting to teach me through my crew of little bricklayers.  That in each moment, I have a chance to place a brick in heaven by how I respond.  It is a piece of wisdom I'm learning at the moment and I'm grateful.  It also reminds me that God is the chief architect, not me. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

The impact of a dozen tattered thoughts

I'm absolutely surprised with each post how my tattered thoughts are touching people.  I literally looked at blogger stats today and realized my thoughts are reaching people around the world!  I started blogging on February 23rd this year with one post. 

Six months later I posted again as a response to losses I was dealing with  and life seemed tatttered like my favorite sweatshirt.  It's nearly ten years old, soft as hell, shredding at the sleeves but it was one of the first things my husband ever bought for me - after a fall day cycling on Martha's Vineyard.  It reminds me of good things - falling in love with a wonderful man and how motherhood, while more complicated each day, also brings a comfort that cannot be matched by anything.

Since that August post, I've been somewhat consistent since then.  Yesterday when I clicked on the stats tab, I nearly fell over. Almost 800 people have read my 12 posts.  And you who are reading are not just my friends from church or family members or colleagues from work - you are literally from all over the globe.  I joked with one of my four 'official' followers (who's a good friend)  this morning that I have to get cracking to break into the African continent.  This afternoon - two hits from Morocco!   (I'm thinking now that maybe with 6 kids age 6 and under,  I should start talking with friends about lottery numbers).

I started this blog for me mostly.  And maybe to someday have my children understand in some small way what a gift I have been given by God to have met their father and cooperating with him, to have brought them into the world.  Quite easily these days I can become down hearted - looking at the state of the world.  The lack of love, the greed and violence that seems to grow more strong with each passing day.  However, I am heartened to know that my tattered thoughts and reflections on what God is doing in my life and that of my family is somehow worthwhile for others.  In a world as busy as ours and a family as hectic as mine, I find the comfort of my old sweatshirt in knowing that their are like souls literally on nearly every continent who believe that love is stronger.  If my ruminations bring a smile to your face, think of someone you know who'd be helped to live with hope by sharing it.  Maybe in that way, together we can cover every continent and every country.  God knows, the world needs hope.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The discipline game...keeping the eye on the goal

I've been remiss in posting the last few weeks....but life has been very very busy.  Sometimes I need exhaustion to hit before I can say "whoa, time to regroup".  Lest you think I've been digging ditches or engaged in physically exhausting manual labor, rest assured it isn't that.  It's a different type of exhaustion.  The feeling my husband and I have of being worn down by trying to discipline two six year olds, two four and a half year olds, a three year old and a generally compliant (but definitely watching how the big kids do things) 18 month old.

For Joseph, our eldest boy, the new favorite activity is 'pushing mom and dad's buttons' and he generally does it lately through potty talk.  We've learned many things in the first weeks of first grade - not the least of which is a myriad of new words and phrases for body parts, bodily functions and the like.  He thinks it is hysterical to use them at the table, in the yard, while doing name it. So he's spent a lot of time in time out this month. 

I'm amazed at how swiftly he can move from being such a sweet, lovely young boy to an absolute ogre.  We hope that the impact of our approach is having an effect.  A handwritten note I received from a sheepish faced Joe just prior to bedtime about a week ago gave me some cause for hope. It reads "I love you Mom. I am sorry for Disobeying."  {The journalism major in me was willing to overlook the incorrect use of the capital D} In the face of all we've been trying to counteract, it may as well be a piece of gold leaf.  Perhaps he's beginning to understand.

I find myself trying to think back to myself at the age of six and remember what was I being asked to do in terms of my behavior.  I suppose it was something similar but I'm only now appreciating how tough it is for parents to help form the conscience of their children, especially in a world which constantly says "anything goes".  It is our job to teach all our children that it isn't "anything goes", rather it is meant to be "others go first".

I have to keep reminding myself of the little note from Joe, especially after this Monday coming home and learning that when a classmate made a goal while playing soccer at recess  Joe's reaction was to "accidentally" scream in his classmates ear.  So we had another discussion about how to make friends, play fair and be kind. And another discussion about what the difference between "accidental" and "on purpose" means.   I reminded him how last Saturday when he was asked to be the goalie for his team (he was so proud sporting the fancy orange shirt) how he did a great job not only blocking three shots on goal, but also encouraging his teammates, cheering for them as they scored against their opponents.  How working and playing together is more fun than being alone and that when he treats others in a mean way, like he did to his classmate, he's less likely to be asked to be part of the team.  I guess you could say it was my best shot on goal.... whether I scored or not remains to be seen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Illusions of a painless and suffering free world

I haven't posted in what seems like forever but is has been a tough few weeks.  Shortly after my last post, I took John Paul to the dentist for what we thought would be a routine filling in a baby tooth.  The dentist - while not the favorite hang out spot for many 4 year olds  - is a decidedly hated spot for John Paul.  Knowing what his reaction in advance would be, I didn't reveal where we were going until we pulled into the parking lot and he put it together.  After wrestling with him to stay in the chair, the dentist drilled, filled and then to her amazment watched as the filling was pushed out by what ended up being an infection in the gum.  The tooth had to come out.  All things considered, he did very well and earned his tiger mask which he wore with pride for two days! And while he didn't have any David at the Dentist moment, it was intriguing to see him work through the effect of the novacaine for a few hours -  how being numb for a while helps to tolerate the pain.

When not at home with our 6 kids, I also work at a university in New Jersey as an administrator. These last few weeks have left me feeling a bit numb and searching for a way to reconcile the suffering and pain I've seen around me.  If you aren't from this area you may not be aware but two universities have lost students - one to senseless gun violence and another to suicide - in the last week and a half.  I was called in to work when the student was killed by gun violence, leaving the children with my husband after trying to explain to our six year olds how the student had died. 

Probably like many parents, I struggled to find the right words to explain how violence is sometimes seen as the only way to resolve problems.  I was fighting to find the words to share with them that suffering is a part of our life, a part in which we can come to understand ourselves more deeply and love others more fully.  I'm hoping that God allows me the grace to convince my children that to spend your life trying to avoid pain or suffering will be a futile endeavor.  They don't need to go looking for will find you at different points in life but the great task for me and Mark is to teach them to look for the good that can (will and must) come from suffering.

Just as I know I couldn't take away the pain of an unexpected tooth extraction for John Paul, I realize I cannot take away the unexpected pain of loss for the students I work with.  I wish there was some sort of novacaine to make it easier to deal with but I suppose that is me looking to avoid suffering.  Instead, I have to ask God for the grace to understand that His will is best in all things - especially those things which confound my small brain.