Teaching Gratitude

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We went to Lake Tahoe for Easter. We stayed with cousins. We went to the sno-park and had a seafood dinner and there was ice cream and swimming and prime rib and an Easter egg hunt.

And then on Sunday afternoon, when I wanted to hit the shops before dinner, one of my lovelies threw a fit: I don’t want to go shopping. That’s not fun for me. Can I stay home?

Sometimes, when we do stuff, I see my kids grow and learn and I think “This was worth it.”

But sometimes I think “We give them too much for nothing.”

I’ve talked about this before—my worry that the life we give them because we are older parents with more working years and discretionary income under our belts comes with a cost.

My kids have travelled a lot. Shea and I like to travel and make it a priority. But there are moments where I see that the children have come to expect certain things.

At 4 am that troubles me.

In the middle of a condo in Lake Tahoe on Sunday, my head exploded.

That’s not fun for me.

I think teaching our kids gratitude may be the hardest of all parenting lessons. It’s so big and goes on for so long. First, say please. Then thank you. Wait your turn. Share. Be a good listener. Let others go first.

Those are the easy ones.

The older kids get, the more conceptual gratitude becomes. It’s not enough to say please and thank you. Some of the rudest pre-teens I know always remember to say please and thank you.

So here’s what I said: “Life is not all about you. It is not about what’s fun for you. It’s not about you at all. It will never be about you, not ever, ever in your whole life. Unless you are the Grinch and live in a cave with your dog. Even then, you will have to think about the dog. But if you want a family, friends, a job and general happiness, then life will never, ever, ever be just about you. EVER.”

It was a moment. Such a moment that I thought maybe I had cut off too big a slice of truth for their ears. I retreated to my spiritual mom guilt cave and thought about it. For like, 20 seconds, because mom guilt is not my thing and the cave is small.

For five of those seconds my mom ego yelled But these kids ARE special and there should be whole years dedicated to their specialness and one day if we just love them and protect them and write their college entrance essays, they are going to RULE THE WORLD!

I shut her up fast because that is the wrong thing. Jesus wrong, kindness wrong, other people matter wrong. Wrong.

Teaching them that they belong to and are responsible for each other? That’s right. It’s not too early either, because the secular world is selling a different message and selling it loudly. We have to start today so by tomorrow they will realize how connected they are to others and that decisions have rippling consequences and those ripples can be positive and turn into waves and help them CHANGE THE WORLD.

Much better.

In the immortal words of my dad, Papa T—parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Which means start early AND stay the course. We can’t stop at please and thank you and think we’ve done our job.

It’s bigger than that.

 

My Babies Are Your Babies Are My Babies

“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”  Steve King

I have grown.

I used to fear and pray for and love over only my own children. For so long, that was my measure of personal well-being, if my own babies were healthy and happy.

My world was small because I was so scared. And I was scared because my world was so small.

Once I saw it, I fought hard to spread my net of love and prayer farther than just my own babies. And when I did, when I reached out my hands in benediction for more than just my own, my world got bigger. I touched hands with other mamas, spreading their light of prayers and love outward over more than just their own too, and my babies got safer.

My babies are your babies are my babies.

There’s a responsibility here though. To feel the pain. To stand in solidarity with the mothers who have lost.

Who are losing.

Are fighting.

Hiding.

Fleeing.

Searching.

Grieving.

No matter their color, country or creed.

“There’s no such thing as other people’s children.” Hillary Clinton

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How do we get The Talk right?

I was having coffee with a mom friend of mine and the subject of sex and chastity came up. Her son is 12 and Gabe is 10 and Kate is 8 and while she’s early for all this, some of her girlfriends are wearing bras.

So far, we’ve covered just the facts, ma’am, with both of our older kids. I wish I had a camera when I told Kate the proper names for her parts. Her face. I pulled over, I was laughing so hard, but I have to agree with her here. We could have found more user-friendly names.

Or maybe that was the point.

Anyway, I was saying that the facts were enough for now. And maybe moving to side hugs for a few years, since the boys are face-to-boob-level now. My friend told me that in 6th grade, our Catholic school runs a sex education program with an emphasis on chastity. It has led to some awesome conversations with her son. As of this moment, she reports that he is holding out for marriage with one eye on maybe becoming a priest. Solid.

“But, Jen” she said. “When I was his age I thought the same thing! I’m still worried about when the hormones kick in. What do we say then?”

I think we all know what we don’t say. We don’t say “Because I said so” or “Because God said so”. Teenagers are naturally programmed for rebellion. Ultimatums are a bad idea.

We don’t threaten hell or excommunication from the family or church. How many times has fear of family reaction driven pregnant 16 year olds to abortion clinics? The life of my grandchild and the mental health of my child are worth far more than my need to be obeyed.

And we don’t tell them “Don’t do it. But if you’re going to do it, be safe.” Or we do, and accept that we’ve given permission to carry on.

My friend told me that another friend tells her kids what the church believes about chastity, love, marriage and children. (I did some research and found a wonderful resource here at National Catholic Register, written by Simcha Fisher)

Then she cut me side eye. “Although,” she said, “that may or may not have worked for me.”

It may or may not have worked for me either.

I had to think about why that was.

My young perception was that God lived at church, up on that cross. I heard all the reasoning about why chastity was important and I believed that God loved me. But when I started making dodgy decisions, I just stopped hanging out with him. Then I didn’t have to feel guilty. And if I wasn’t honoring Him, he surely wasn’t going to come looking for me.

Which is all wrong.

Would my behavior have been different if I knew that he was there with me? If I had a more rich prayer life where I listened as much as I talked? Where I trusted He had a plan for me that was greater than any plan I had for myself?

It’s hard to know for sure, but I will say this—for a long time in my young adult life, it was my MO to do things the hard way.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

So this is my new goal, as my babies turn into tweens.

TO LOCK THEM IN THE BASEMENT.

TO GET A MONTHLY DELIVERY OF KETTEL ONE FROM AMAZON PRIME.

To teach them what a give and take, talk and listen, love and be loved relationship with God looks like. To pray out loud, to model patience and to talk about how my prayers are answered. To make sure they know that God is on that cross but He will get down and come after us if we walk away. He will get down and walk next to us in the darkness when we need him, before we know we need him.

In the darkness. Like of a dorm room or the backseat of a car.

Right. There.

 

Be the Light

 

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For so many of us, this week feels dangerous. People are getting ready, which means different things to different folks.

Some are going to guard the gates.

And some are going to shepherd others to safety until the storm passes.

We all have a call to justice. But we have to listen to the way of the call. For me, even though my gift is words and my weapon is sarcasm, I am not being called to raise my voice in anger. I am holding fast to truth, to seeking it and speaking it with compassion and kindness.

Whether we go to guard the gates or shepherd others to safety, let us make sure we bring our Light.

Otherwise, we just become part of the darkness.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.        

Martin Luther King, Jr.   

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:16 

 

 

Believe

This is Alejandro.alejandro

 

He’s ten.

We met him last year when he and Gabe played together during basketball season.

He’ll be mad at me for saying this, but he’s adorable. And a baller. Plays mean defense with his good buddy Alex.

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Oh boy. I’m going to be in trouble for this. She was tall. He took her on anyway.

But he was gone a lot from practice, and he missed some games. When I finally saw his mom Kyndra again I asked her “Is he ok?” And that was the first time she told me.

Alejandro was born with Stage 4 kidney disease. From Day 1, the doctors knew he would need a transplant.

Since then, they have lived their lives as normally as possible. Kyndra is a single mom and Alejandro has a little brother and sister.  He’s been sick a lot, but they make it work.

Last May, they found out his kidney function was nearing the 20% threshold for the kidney transplant list and doctors told Kyndra to prepare. Family members are being tested in the hope of finding a living donor. Insurance will pick up the estimated $500,000 cost of surgery, but there will be significant other costs.

They have to go to Portland for surgery and then stay there for 5 weeks. Then they’ll head up one weekend a month for treatments. Kyndra will need to stay home full time for four months to care for him. Estimated costs: $50,000.

You know why I’m telling you this. Alejandro needs us. He needs our prayers and our good thoughts and yes, even our money.

They are selling t-shirts for $15 and every one of those dollars goes into the fund. If you buy one, I’ll pay your shipping.

You can also visit his fund-raising page at the Children’s Organ Transplant Associatioor visit the Facebook page to offer support.

There’s no such thing as other people’s children  ~ Hillary Clinton

#teamalejandro

 

 

Life, Interrupted

 

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How many times could that be the title that best describes our lives?

Interrupted.

We’ve been interrupted. Not by anything particularly significant but by a series of things–the start of the school year, the change in weather (or not, in So Cal), a glitchy computer. We work hard to keep so many balls in the air that it’s hard to stop them all when one drops.

My writing dropped. But there were kids to pick up and events to volunteer for and a football season that isn’t quite going the way we expected, plus two-fifths of my family was in physical therapy twice a week at the same place, but of course not the same time.

So I didn’t have the balance to lean over and pick my writing up.

One day I was on the school’s website putting money in the kids’ lunch accounts and I saw the Jobs tab. I clicked it, for fun. There they were, a list of jobs I could do without having to plan a lesson or grade a paper. Hourly. Minimum wage. None of the responsibility but all the fun.

And I thought…Is it time?

This stay at home mom gig was never meant to be forever. Just a season. I had no idea how long the season would last, but in the last six months, I have felt a restlessness. Annie goes to full day Kindergarten next year. I know that I can keep the house and run the finely tuned engine that is our family schedule and still work at least part-time.

This was the question that interrupted me the most. It’s age-old, isn’t?

What am I doing?

I gave it my full attention. The Holy Spirit helped me out by crashing my laptop spectacularly last week. She didn’t send the Blue Screen of Death. No, no. My screen went RED. I don’t even know.

I couldn’t write, even if I wanted to. I had no idea how much noise my computer inserted into my daily life until there was only silence.

Into the silence came a decision to attend a conference and an invitation to a retreat. There was a friendship issue with Kate where the other mom and I have been able to have really good, supportive and thoughtful conversations about how to help our girls navigate their feelings. Shea and I talked about my going back to work and decided not yet, not until Annie is in full day school.

Something is happening though, swirling around my head and heart. The tide is turning, the season is changing. Something wonderful and inspiring this way comes.

 

In the meantime, I am still Here, rooted and growing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ciao, Summer

It has been one of the greatest summers of my motherhood.

But I am not sad to see it go.

We’ve been to all the movies. I liked Kubo and the Two Strings best with Pete’s Dragon a close second. We swam in pools, lakes, rivers and oceans. We camped and hoteled and grandma’d. Went to bed at 10 and woke up at 9. We ate a lot of ice cream.

We are fat and tan and sassy.

It was a wonderful season, but the wheel is turning and I am ready for the greatest season of all: SCHOOL.

Blessings to the teachers whose school year started weeks ago with trainings and planning and classroom setting up. I see you.

But please, do not expect to see me until at least October.

My ears are bleeding from the 13 million times they have had to process the word Mom since June 10. Or Can I have a snack? Or Can we do something fun today?

My back is aching from loading the dishwasher twelve times a day with thrice the number of drinking glasses as children in the house.

My brain is weak from trying to solve the mathematical conundrums of laundry, like the ratio of shorts to underwear (many vs. hardly any) and family word problems (If five people are going to the pool and mom asks you to pack towels for everyone, how many towels do you need? SHOW YOUR WORK.)

My heart must recover from things like this cup of yuck I found on my hutch:

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“What in the HIGH HOLY HEAVEN is that??” I thought to myself. Then I called for Gabe.
“Oh yeah” he said. “I wanted to see what would happen if I rehydrated a piece of beef jerky.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Annie ran up the stairs yelling “Is it swimming??”

Or this hide and seek playdate run amuck:

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YES, I took a picture. I’ve learned to grab my phone when someone screams.  My friend said I’m like a war photographer. But who’s going to believe this stuff without proof?

I need a moment, just a month-long moment to recharge.

And then come October 1, armed with a pumpkin spice latte and orange cranberry muffin, I’ll be ready.