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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Why We Let Her Play

On Saturday, Kate and some of her teammates found out they were badass.

They’re playing basketball for the YMCA. Shea is coaching them. He’s taught them to run the 3rd and 4th grade version of the Michigan State offense. You should see my girl set a pick. It’s a thing of beauty. And she only had to set it once. The rest of the game, that poor other girl was looking over her shoulder.

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That’s Kate setting the pick and Abby rolling off. Down inside is JoJo, waiting for the outlet.

As any coach of young girls will tell you, it’s a struggle to get them to be aggressive. Part of it is nature, but part of it is nurture, too. There’s something to that song Sit Still, Look Pretty and if you disagree consider this:  Coaches implore boy’s teams to stop shooting and pass. But they implore girl’s teams to stop passing and shoot.

All week, Shea worked with our team on stealing the ball. Because they wouldn’t. Would not. And Kate let go of a contested rebound two weeks ago because it was the other girl’s turn to have it. So every day when she woke up and before she went to bed he said to her “Kate, what do you do if someone sticks the ball in your face?”

“You steal it, dad.”

“That’s right. Then what do you do?”

“You drive for the basket.”

The team we played beat us four times last year because they have a gifted little point guard whose older brothers have taught her well. She was the star of the league because no one would challenge her.

Saturday, Kate stole the ball from her in the first thirty seconds of the game, and it was on. I mean on. As a team, we had over 20 steals and ended that game pink-cheeked, sweaty and winners. Our girls were lit up. You know why?

Because they LIT IT UP and no one told them to slow down, be quiet, or fix their hair.

I can make an argument that the song and dance class Kate takes and her desire to play the guitar and her artistic talents will all contribute to her sense of self-worth and giftedness.

But not the way sports will. Nothing else will ground her strength to her feet and help her hold her space in quite the same way.

Sports will raise her chin, her goals and her voice. And that is why we let her play.

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Ok, you got me.

“Let her play”. Ha!

As if we could stop her.

 

God is a Sports Fan

On Sunday, Gabe’s football team—which hasn’t lost a game in five years—was down 18-14 at halftime of their playoff game.

We’ve only been on this team for a season so the mystique of the Undefeated is new to us.

I was proud of how they all handled it. Coach kept his cool. The parents kept cheering positively, with the exception of me and Shea and AJ’s mom–but to be fair, Gabe and AJ were being held for twenty plays before the refs actually threw a fricking flag.

Still, Gabe’s eyes were wide and his eyebrows were floating around his hairline, which is family code for “I’m freaking out.” He kept looking at me, but the league frowns on parents doing pep talks on the sideline so I just gave him a thumbs-up and a smile.

Thirty seconds before halftime ended, it hit me: between Mass and Sunday School and pre-game practice, we hadn’t prayed. So then I did get up and walk down to the sideline. He saw me coming and when I said “We didn’t pray” he stood on his tiptoes and reached his hand up to the railing. I grabbed it and we prayed this prayer:

Dear Lord,

In the battle that goes on in life,

We ask but a field that is fair

Give us the strength to meet the strife

The courage to do and dare.

If we should win let it be by the code with our faith and our honor high.

If we should lose let us stand by the road and cheer as the winners go by.

His eyebrows went back to their normal place and in the second half the refs found their flags and the offense got their feet under them and we won the game 28-18.

Afterwards he came to me and said “It’s because we prayed.”

Oh buddy. He comes from a long line of athletes who pray. In high school, we hit the quiet cool of the church for a decade of the rosary before every game. When we made the play-offs, it was a full rosary. Then we prayed the Memorare on the court before lining up, along with a shout-out to St. Therese: Little Flower, show your power, help us in this needy hour. The end of every huddle went like this: Our Lady, Queen of Victory…pray for us…St. Anthony…pray for us.

When I coached, we did the same, except I replaced the Memorare with the prayer I say with my kids. You ain’t heard nothing in a huddle until you’ve heard high school boys pray to “cheer as the winners go by”, although one later admitted to me that he crossed his fingers every time he said that part.

But it was never superstition. It was what we did, but not what we needed to do to win, like wearing lucky socks or sitting in the same seats on the bus.  I think that’s a really important conversation Gabe and I will have. His team didn’t win because Gabe and I prayed. My teams didn’t win because we prayed. God doesn’t work on a pray to play basis.

But did we play better because we took those moments to be centered in the presence of God first, to lay down our cares and worries? To remember that win or lose, we were beloved children of God? I did. I looked forward to the empty, darkened church and the murmured prayers of my teammates. As a coach, I wanted my players to know that peace.

I loved our voices raised in prayer together. I loved Gabe’s dirty, reaching fingers in my hand as we prayed in the rain. And the sweet bowed heads of Kate and her teammate Jo as we prayed in the gym. I loved watching high school players pray over each other on the sideline of their public school game a few weeks ago. I love how Tim Tebow—that’s right, I said it—leaps into the stands to pray over fans in distress.

And that’s how I know God is a sports fan.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 18:20

Reading to Win

Gabe and I are reading this book series about twins who travel into stories. Alex and Connor are caricatures of 12-year-old tweens at the beginning—sister Alex is a smart book worm with few friends and brother Connor is the jokester who doesn’t like or do well in school. But then Connor discovers that he likes to write stories of his own. Books later, they travel into his stories to save the day and that’s when they discover that spelling counts.

Instead of being served rotisserie chicken by an all-girl pirate crew, they are served a live and squawking chicken with a rosary around its neck. Rosary Chicken has now become a bit player in the plot, showing up at the oddest of moments. That’s our joke: Actions have consequences. Rosary Chicken.

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From Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey, page 130. Illustrated by Brandon Dorman

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer is the third series of books that Gabe and I have read together, following the seven Wings of Fire books by Tui T. Sutherland and the five (and counting) Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull.

Tween literature has come a long way since the days when teachers begged boys to read the sports page of the newspaper. Turns out boys like to read about more than sports. And if the stories are good, they will keep reading them, as many as the author can write. Like Erin Hunter, author of the Warrior books, a series about soldier cats. There have to be 40 of those things. And they are never available at the library.

Gabe is not the only boy in his class who reads. They ALL read. They share books with each other. They meet on Clash Royale and talk about books. They stand around at football practice and soccer practice and talk about books.

They have conversations like this on the phone: “Meet me at the park. Bring nerf guns and the football. And a snack. And the next Warriors book because I finished the other one.”

I’ve never had a 5th grader before, so maybe this is normal for 5th grade boys to read like crazy.

But I don’t think so.

Here’s what they do around here to support reading.

First, they run reading like an Olympic competition. It’s fierce. Accelerated Reader (AR) points are a BIG DEAL. There are free lunches and medals for every 100 points. The medals get handed out at assemblies. The whole school claps. The beauty of this is that anyone, regardless of reading level, can amass AR points.

Next, the state of Oregon runs a tournament for reading called Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB). Kids form teams and read books and then answer questions to advance all the way up to state finals. You can read all about it here. Two years ago I was the scorekeeper for the regional high school competition. More boys than girls on the teams, and two of them were great big hulking linemen.

The release of the OBOB book lists usually happens at the beginning of summer, which means kids go to the public library to get the books to read over the summer. They go the first day of summer. I know this because when we got there the second day, they were all checked out and had six people on their waiting lists.

Barnes and Noble carries them too, they just cost money there and our monthly book budget is already a tenuous negotiation.

Now let me tell you what I learned about reading a book with your son. It’s magical. All kinds of conversation starters and access points. That one character who kind of does what he wants because he thinks he’s smarter than anyone else and he gets his sister killed (not really, but he doesn’t know that)? Yeah, that kid was a learning moment for us.

And Rosary Chicken. Gabe’s active imagination extends to his spelling, so when I came out of my room to laugh about Rosary Chicken, he said what I was thinking: That’s totally something I would do. But what he really learned from Rosary Chicken is that just because you can’t spell doesn’t mean you can’t write.

And what 10 year old boy doesn’t need to hear that?

 

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.

No Time for Martyrs

 

Grace

Here’s why the Martyr Mom thing doesn’t work.

You know what I’m talking about right? It’s the mom on the receiving end of back talk and side eye whose only response is to wonder where her baby went? The kids have moved beyond Share, Take Turns and Be Nice, but the parenting hasn’t.

All bad. And I’m not talking about the kids. We need a moment to grieve the loss of our sweet cheeked littles who used to be easily subdued with time outs and that’s what Moms Nights Out are for.

In the face of a surly 10 year old, we cannot fold.

Like a pack of velociraptors, our preteens are testing the fences. They will remember where the weak spots are. It’s futile to wish, whine or even pray it away. God can only do so much. The rest is up to us.

Here are the two most important things I learned in the trenches while teaching other people’s children.

  1. Words are not your friend: Negotiation Moms and Talk It Out moms, I see you planting the seeds for the long game and I like it, mostly. But when you find yourself having the same conversation for the third day, hour or minute in a row, it’s time to admit that your kids have Einstein’d you. They know they just have to look like they are listening patiently, nod in the right places, apologize and maybe give a parting hug—then they can continue to do whatever they want. It doesn’t cost them a thing. Not. One. Thing. They just have to wait you out.
  1. Anger is not a consequence: It’s an emotion, not a punishment. Maybe it used to work, but pretty soon they’ll figure out that anger is a lot like words—it’s easy to harden their hearts and wait it out. To drive this point home, consider—I once listened to a 16 year old girl tell her friends that she decided to sneak out of the house to meet her boyfriend after her parents told her no because “all they’re going to do is yell at me anyway. It’s not like they’ll take prom away.” When I told her that if I ever caught my daughter sneaking out, I’d take her phone, computer AND prom, she said “I feel sorry for your kids. You’re mean.”

DAMN SKIPPY. If one of my girls ever hooks a leg over the window sill at midnight, I want her to know exactly what it will cost her.

Teach them to call your bluff at their peril. Be the mom who says “I do this because I love you” while removing the hinges from their bedroom door, flinging their cell phones out the window of a moving car, and breaking their fishing poles over a knee in front of their friends.

I did that to one of my kids earlier this summer as a result of backtalk. Said child almost broke a smile when I did it. Not because it was funny, but in recognition that my mama game is strong.

Martyr Moms, now is the time to get down from the cross where you hung yourself, and decide you are not going to spend the next ten years—or more for those who super screw it up—battling your baby.