Part Two: Caring for Others

Read Part One first.

The reason to take care of yourself first can be summed up with a simple analogy: You can’t draw water from an empty well.  How well (or poorly) I care for my family is almost directly connected to how well (or poorly) I care for myself.

If I’m not good mind, body, and soul, they suffer for it. It’s that simple.

So why, when talking about self-care, do I even consider other people? They aren’t me, nor do I expect them to be like me, but their lives are wholly intertwined with mine. These precious people – my husband, my children, my dearest friends – are an extension of me. Their wellness, on varying levels, is directly connected to mine. When they hurt, I hurt for them. When they need help, I want to offer a hand. When they need a hug, I want to be first in line.

Because my personal hierarchy of care moves from me to my husband, we’ll go there next.

You might read these questions and think, “Wow, girl. Sounds like it’s all about him!” That would be true if 1) I wasn’t already taking care of myself, and 2) he wasn’t already an attentive, connected husband.

In truth, caring for my spouse works because he is caring for me in tandem. These things parallel each other in an ideal world – we’re both listening to each other, we’re both making one another a priority, we’re both saying what needs to be said and keeping quiet on stuff that doesn’t matter. We aren’t perfect in this arena but THANK THE SWEET LORD ALMIGHTY we have learned from our mistakes and try hard not to repeat them.

[Note: In fractured marriages, it is exponentially difficult to know what to do, what to say, and how to behave. When matters are dire, a check-list of questions for self-awareness isn’t enough. Seek help. Go to a professional. Yes, take care of yourself, but please – move outside the circle and wave a red flag.]

In our house, the marriage comes before the kids, barring emergencies and individual circumstances. We are careful about this too, rotating between family trips together and vacations where we leave the kids with family members to run off by ourselves. We balance date nights and family outings. We consult each other on big decisions because even if we know what the other parent will say we want the boys to see that Mom and Dad are a team. Over and over again we’ve put this hierarchy to the test and it has never failed us. Not once have we regretted it.

So what about the kids, these little people who require so much of our time, energy, and emotional strength? They have needs, big and small, and for me to be the best mother I can be, both my marriage and I need to be in their best possible shape.

Raising kids is hard, y’all. HARD, HARD, HARD. What makes it manageable, however, is being intentional, present, and willing to work through whatever is thrown our way. If I want to care for my sons in the way I feel called to, then I must pay attention to their whole being. I need to make clear our household priorities are and then draft a workable plan. I need to be flexible (because plot twists happen) and I must be willing to back up, re-evaluate, and try again.

Have I mentioned that parenting is hard? Wasn’t sure if I made that clear. (Now you see why self-care is crucial.)

If my home is at some level of peace (we aren’t talking high scores here, folks. We’re talking manageable), then I’m best equipped to care for my dearest friends and family. My tribe of girlfriends is precious to me, and they have carried me through low times. When I am healthy, I am able to help carry them. Like a marriage, these relationships work in tandem.

To have a tribe of people outside of your spouse and children means you have a touchstone for celebrating good times and a reliable place to land when everything crumbles. These relationships do not exist without their own need for nourishment. When I invest in my friendships, the returns are incalculable. 

All of these thoughts and questions were born from a couple of hours with a notepad. They may not be grand revelations for some of you, and I realize certain situations call for different questions.

However, the importance of self-care can’t be overstated. No one can take care of you like you can. Before you run on empty caring for everyone else, fill up your own tank. Invest in the short, sweet life you’ve been given and stop wasting time on what’s not meant for you.

Part Three: Don’t Waste Time.

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Three

It’s that time – that glorious not-too-hot, not-to-cold time of year when I am happy to sit on the front porch all day long with a beverage and a book. As soon as we got home this afternoon, we all went outside to take in the fresh air and sunshine.

Spring arrived early, and it’s probably a jinx to say it’s Spring at all. This is Tennessee, so we could still have a deep freeze in late March.

Today, though, it was all sunshine, and that means the front yard is back in business.

This is a Sign of Life for parents of active kids. They’re outside, they’re getting sweaty, they’re fighting over whether or not it was a touchdown. The dog is barking, the cat is napping, and I am playing referee from the front porch. We are like this for months, until it is too hot, too humid, and the mosquitos take over the land.

And we don’t come in until it’s dark. I love it.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Fifteen

When the day is as ordinary as today was, finding goodness can be challenging. I had little interaction with the outside world. School went along this morning as usual. I watched a bit of news, wrote a story, sorted through emails. Nothing extraordinary happened, and if nothing extraordinary happens for the rest of the evening, Wednesday will close out as a forgettable day. 

Yet when 6:30 p.m. rolled around, I felt a sudden rush of gratitude. My husband and children gathered into the kitchen. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and broccoli were placed on mismatched plates. The nightly game of Blokus began, and Salem took his place on the table as Overlord.

This is dinner time in our home.

My introverted, sentimental self loves these enclosed moments, when it’s just the four of us (or six, if you count the pets). Our dinner routine is important to me. It is a big deposit in the childhood memory banks of my boys.

I can just hear Thanksgiving dinner 20 years from now:

“Remember when we played that board game every night at dinner and Mom and Dad always won?”

“Yeah, they teamed up against us!”

“I know! So unfair!” 

But they’ll laugh and tease us and know full well that they won plenty of times, particularly into the second year when their strategy skills improved. They will remember sitting at the table together, with Salem giving us the side-eye and waiting for his own dinner. They’ll remember how I cooked more often than not and that I loved the spontaneous baking of cookies that happened when I was in a happy mood. 

I hope they will look back at family dinner and recall it as actually was: a priority. 

This is my life, and while some days are uneventful and mundane, I am thankful for it. This is stuff is so simple, but oh, it is so good.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Over the last week, and then again today while on a run, I sorted through 2016 and whittled down a collection of lessons I’ve learned in the last year. I’ve never been keen on setting resolutions, but in recent years I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my mistakes and efforted not to repeat them. I look critically at myself, at how I’ve behaved, at things I’ve said, and resolved, in a way, not to repeat them when they’ve not been helpful. I fail, of course, like we all do, but I endeavor to be better anyway.

2016 was a mostly good year for our family. Last night during dinner we went around naming the things we loved – from the boys turning 10 and 13, to Jeremy getting his first deer, to our anniversary trip to Key West and the unmatched experience at Lambeau Field. In 2016, I started teaching at the homeschool co-op, and I ran a relay race in April and got my 15th medal at a half marathon in December. I spent a long, pensive weekend at a monastery in July and had photo sessions in the double digits. Jeremy saved up his own money to buy an iPod, rode roller coasters with his brother at Hershey Park, and Jackson saw firsthand what it might be like to be a sports statistician.  Chuck has excelled in his job too, though I cannot disclose those details here. Just know that he continues to be amazing.

So yeah, 2016 was mostly very good. I am thankful, but I am also watchful. There are always areas in which to improve and grow. With that, here are 16 things I learned in 2016:

No. 1 Parenting evolves. We have a teenager in the house now. A baby teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. We are now in constant negotiations with Jeremy over what we allow, what we don’t, what will benefit him, what won’t. Chuck and I talk regularly about how things are changing with our oldest son, comparing how it was when we were 13, comparing how it is with other teenagers we know. We are doing our best, I am sure, but long gone are the days of nap times and lessons about sharing.

No. 2 But it also stays the same. Regardless of the boys’ age and stage, the Miller House Rules are the same as ever: Family first, be kind to everyone, work hard, do your best, tell the truth. Obey Mom and Dad, and remember that privileges are earned, not freely given. There is nothing you can do to lose our love, but you will probably never know the WiFi password.

No. 3 Faith evolves. It is good to have your faith challenged, even when the process is painful and seemingly unending. Read books that challenge your ideas and be in conversation with others who believe differently than you. I have never lost my faith, but it has evolved a dozen times. Each time I’m stretched and twisted, and even when I’ve recoiled, I settle into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

No. 4 But God stays the same. It is humbling and reassuring to know that God sees me, hears me, knows me, and still loves me. If I know nothing else, then this must be enough.

No. 5 We are not promised time. Death is a curious, cruel thing, and when those we love pass on from this world, death seems to linger and take up space where it is not wanted. Several friends have lost parents, siblings, and children in the last few years, reminding me again and again that we are not promised a single moment beyond right now. When we live like we have endless time we deceive ourselves. Better to look at the truth of our mortality and make decisions accordingly. For example…

No. 6 Don’t waste time. Don’t waste time on bad television, bad company, and bad food. Read good books, and drink good coffee. Choose friendships that have reciprocal benefits and strive to keep those friendships thriving. Work hard and play harder. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of your spouse. Travel and exercise and get enough sleep. These things are time well spent.

No. 7 It’s okay to say no. The older I get, the more emboldened I feel to say no. Saying no means several things, such as “If I say yes, then I’m overcommitted and I can’t keep doing that anymore,” and “I don’t feel the way you do about this thing, so I need to say no,” and “This doesn’t align with my priorities, so I’m saying no.” Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a curmudgeon or that you’re selfish or that you think your time is more important than someone else’s. It just means you are careful with your time, that you don’t have endless talents and efforts to spread around thinly. Invest your whole self where you can, where you desire to, and say no to the rest. IT’S OKAY.

No. 8 My body is different now. For someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia for more than 20 years, this is a hard truth to swallow. I still run, lift, stretch, and sweat, and I am thankful that I can still do these things, but my body is not what it was even five years ago. It is more important than ever that I’m careful, watchful. It is essential that I eat well, that I rest when my body begs for it, that I remain thankful for all of my abilities, even though I’m not as fast as I want to be, as skinny as I want to be, as strong as I want to be. Health is a multi-faceted thing, and today, I am healthy.

No. 9 Yoga is amazing. Once I finally committed to a regular yoga practice and was over the hump of it being “too hard,” I fell in love. I love yoga. I LOVE YOGA. I am thankful for the online resources that afford me a variety of practices so I never get bored. I am also glad that I finally bought a mat. Yoga on a mat is better than yoga on carpet. But yoga on carpet is better than no yoga at all. You heard it here first.

No. 10 I don’t want to give up on being published. There is much to say on this matter, but this isn’t the place. I am still writing. I am still working. The dream is a plan. I covet your support.

No. 11 I love teaching. This is one of the surprising realizations of 2016. When I submitted an idea to teach creative writing at our homeschool co-op, it was done with grandiose ideas and a tiny bit of confidence. Now, a full semester later, heading into the next semester with two classes instead of one, I am pleased as punch to say that I love teaching. It’s an unexpected treasure to discover you enjoy something.

No. 12 I do not value my skills as much as I should, and I’m primarily referencing photography. I am the queen of underpricing and overdelivering. Oh, how I wish I could set rates that reflect what I provide! If the money didn’t matter, I’d do it all for free. But the money does matter, so it’s something I need to fix. If any of these are actual resolutions, then this is one.

No. 13 Personal relationships are more important than politics. More surprising that Donald Trump’s presidential win was the splitting and fracturing of personal relationships in the brutal aftermath. While my family is still in tact, I know families and friendships that aren’t. It grieves me deeply, and while some may argue “principles over people,” I believe the greatest principle is to love one another. After all, when we are struggling, we don’t call Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. We call our people. So yeah, don’t break up with your people.

No. 14 My husband really loves me. If you know us in real life, then you are shaking your head. Silly girl, of course he loves you! This isn’t a realization I came to suddenly, nor did it only materialize this year. We have more than 20 years in the books, which means I’ve been on the receiving end of many gifts, gestures, and many more I love yous. Still, there’ve been a dozen times in 2016 alone where I saw my husband as more than a spouse. We really are friends. Best friends. We love being together. As introverts, we love our time alone, but when we’re ready for conversation, we often choose each other. We love to travel together, to daydream and make plans. I am immensely grateful.

No. 15 Teaching my boys to serve is worthwhile. Regular volunteer work is as important as school. Maybe more important. Do it, do it, do it.

No. 16 No matter what happens in 2017, life is good as long as we choose to find the good. We do well to remember that.

Jennie Creates an Attitude Adjustment

We’re a month into summer and something is wrong. I’m moody, irritated, and wishing electronics didn’t exist. I’ve been moping around the house disappointed, watching trash TV and eating chips from the bag, even though I couldn’t nail down exactly what I’ve been disappointed about.

Only this morning did I realize what’s been bothering me, and I’m ashamed to say it’s nothing new: Simply, expectation met reality. 

This basic equation sums up every level of disappointment one can have. You expect something to be one way, then it turns out another.

For example:

Expectation: By June, I thought I would’ve spent more time working on my novel.
Reality: In the month of May, I only worked on it twice.

Expectation: I thought the boys would spend most of the day outside with neighborhood friends.
Reality: One set of kids is out of town for several weeks, the second set of kids has a series of sports commitments, and the third set of kids spends most days with their grandparents. That leaves Jeremy and Jackson with only each other.  And what happens when two siblings have been around each other so much that they are on each other’s last nerve? Mom becomes a hostage negotiator.

DSC_0103 low res

Expectation: With more free time, I thought I’d be back to running five or six miles, maybe more, by mid-June.
Reality: It’s too damn hot. I ran four miles on the treadmill the other night. It was fine, I guess…

Expectation: Lots of photo sessions, lots of fun!
Reality: My 2009 iMac is starting to run slow and it makes me panic. Uploading and editing photos gives me physical and emotional anxiety. I have no backup plan to replace hardware or programs if this computer chokes and dies tomorrow. Now that I’ve released this negativity into the Internet, I’ve jinxed myself and the computer will for sure die.

Expectation: Lots of freelance work, extra money!
Reality: Writing doesn’t pay well. It will never pay well. And if I’m working on freelance, I’m not working on the novel. Catch 22.

Expectation: Without school work to worry about, the boys will be footloose and fancy free with all the time in the world to play.
Reality: Their default setting is video games. I hate it. Two hours a day still feels like too much time with the screen. It is my least favorite conversation to have with them and we have it every single day. 

See, none of this is innately bad. No one is sick, no one hurt. We are blessed with opportunity, freedom, and choice. ALL GOOD. And yet, I’ve let high expectations override common sense and stir me into discontent.

Which brings me to this morning. I checked myself at the bedside: Life is good, but dang, girl, lower your expectations. Brothers will fight, freelance work will always be tedious, and it will be hot until mid-September. Playing extra video games in the summer will not kill the children. If the computer dies, you cancel photo sessions. Will you be upset? Yes. Will you cry? Probably. Will it be the end of things? No. You aren’t the breadwinner here.

And by God, do the yoga. You always feel better after the yoga.

deepen flow yoga

Which is what I did. I made some phone calls and then did half an hour of yoga (click on the photo above to watch the sequence). Refreshed, I washed my face and emerged from the bedroom ready to start the day with a different attitude. As I type, I am actively trying to push aside the disappointment and focus on the good. THERE IS MUCH GOOD TO FOCUS ON, and if I can continue to dwell in this space, then summer won’t be so bad after all.

Also, more of this please. #PubNight

Night at the pub

That’s baptized?

Baptism in the reformed tradition is a sacrament that publicly announces our belonging to God. Many, but not all, choose infant baptism as a means of acknowledging the promises of God and subsequently promising that our efforts as a church body will always direct the child to Christ. (For more on this, click here.)

We are currently raising our boys in a church that celebrates baptism differently from how we were taught (or more specifically, how I was taught). In a previous life, I considered baptism valid only if the recipient of the sacrament made the decision himself. That is, someone had to verbally say the words – to repeat the script, of sorts – and personally choose to be baptized. Infant baptism eluded me. How could a baby choose to be a follower of Christ? How could a baby make a public statement?

I understand the significance and validity of that theology. It makes sense. Someone chooses to follow Christ, therefore someone chooses to make that decision public through baptism. I get it. I was baptized under that theology and so was Jeremy.

That being said, I’ve come to a place where I recognize, respect, and believe that infant baptism is just as valid, just as special, and just as meaningful as any other form of baptism. It’s a sacrament rooted in promise and proclamation. Why not place your baby before the church and God and everyone and promise to tend to her body and soul and, as a collective, proclaim the child as God’s? I totally get it. I’m down with it. God is way bigger than all the ways we try to box Him in. 

By the way, have you ever seen a baby baptized? I tear up every time.

This brings me to Jackson. He is not baptized, nor has he really inquired about it. If you ask him about God and Jesus and the Bible, he gets a little fuzzy. In Sunday School he draws pictures of superheroes and Josh Dobbs. He takes communion with us, but the meaning of it isn’t something he can explain on his own. (He did tell me once that the grape juice we drink for the Lord’s Supper is his second favorite drink, the first being Sprite.)

On Sunday we celebrated an infant’s baptism, and as our pastor sprinkled the water over the child’s bald little head, Jackson leans over to me and whispers, “That’s baptized?”

I nod, he nods, then he goes back to reading his book about the San Fransisco 49ers.

A flood of questions fill my head. What if he’s never baptized? What if he’s never able to explain the holy triune or know that celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a precious, commemorative, sacred act that connects us directly to Christ? What if my tender-hearted animal lover reads too many Old Testament passages about burnt offerings and can’t deal?

What if Jackson never gets it?  

There’s a lot of stuff Jackson gets, by the way. He’s a stellar student. He’s so sharp academically that I’m working hard to make sure I get enough curriculum to last him through next April. He’s emotionally vulnerable and very sensitive to when others are hurt. His selective memory is incredible (football stats, anyone?) and he totally knew that Vision was going to make an appearance in the second Avengers movie long before it was announced.

Ant man

But spiritually, I wonder.

What I’m not worried about is God’s claim on Jackson. That’s covered. My worry lies in the reciprocation.

Thankfully, we belong to a church body who is really great about teaching kids about God in kid language. Jackson is a rising fourth grader and that means he’ll graduate to a new group that uses The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter as a conduit. It may be that Jackson continues to draw pictures of superheroes and Josh Dobbs while everyone else draws Aslan and Hedwig. He may not get the symbolism or draw parallels. He may love it or he may get bored. Sometimes his Sunday morning mood is dependent on whether or not Tennessee won its football game on Saturday.

Still, we press on, because whether or not Jackson ever stands before a congregation and says the words, or whether or not he speaks them quietly to himself, he is a loved, cherished, irreplaceable child of God, and that’s the kind of promise that doesn’t break. 

23 Facts about Chuck (according to the kids)

We couldn’t leave out Dad, could we? (Read 23 Questions about Me here.)

23 questions about Dad

1. What is something Dad always says to you? 
J1: Do your best. Do it right the first time.
J2: Be responsible and mature.

2. What makes Dad happy?
J1: When he sees me actually trying.
J2: When we spend time together.

3. What makes Dad sad?
J1: When he tells us to try and we’re really not trying.
J2: Being on trips for a while.

4. How does Dad make you laugh?
J1: There’s a lot of ways. When he makes fun of us or Mom and we know it’s actually funny.
J2: He tells jokes. They make me crack up.

5. What was Dad like as a child?
J1: Curly blonde hair. That’s all I know.
J2: Hmm. He was smart, maybe?

6. How old is Dad?
J1: 35, I think.
J2: 36

7. How tall is Dad?
J1: Six one.
J2: Six foot three maybe?

8. What is his favorite thing to do?
J1: Go down to his workshop and make something. Like how you run on the treadmill to get your anger out? He does that and it makes him happy.
J2: Watch TV.

9. What does your dad do when you’re not around?
J1: Plays his video game.
J2: Goes on trips and works.

10. If Dad becomes famous, what will it be for?
J1: Singing. He thinks he’s the best singer, but I doubt that. Maybe he’d have his own home improvement show.
J2: He’ll be an athlete because he’s really good at sports. But not baseball or hockey.

11. What is your dad really good at?
J1: Encouraging me, even when I don’t think I can do something.
J2: Football.

12. What is your dad not very good at?
J1: Complimenting the cat.
J2: Nothing really. He’s good at everything.

13. What does your dad do for a job?
J1: He a federal agent.
J2: He works as an agent.

14.What is your dad’s favorite food?
J1: Shepherd’s Pie
J2: Hamburgers

15.What makes you proud of your dad?
J1: He gets all the money for our family and we wouldn’t be around without him.
J2: I’m proud of him for his job. He’s really good at it.

16. If your dad were a character, who would he be?
J1: Sherlock Holmes
J2: James Bond

17. What do you and your dad do together?
J1: Play soccer and basketball. Toss the football. A lot of things that have to do with sports. And play chess.
J2: We do sports and a bunch of other stuff.

18. How are you and your dad the same?
J1: We both want to get better at what we do.
J2: Well, we’re both good at sports and we’re funny, especially me.

19. How are you and your dad different?
J1: When I do something, I don’t always complete it. But when Dad does something, he doesn’t stop until he’s done.
J2: He’s way much stronger. He’s bigger than me too.

20. How do you know your dad loves you?
J1: He provides everything for me.
J2: Well, because I love him.

21. What does your dad like most about your mom?
J1: She has a good sense of humor. And she’s older than him.
J2: That she loves him, of course. He likes her cooking and her taste in men.

22. Where is your dad’s favorite place to go?
J1: I never thought about that. Camping?
J2: A fast food restaurant.

23. How old was your dad when you were born?
J1: He was 23. Get it? Get the joke? He was 23 and you were 24. Ha!
J2: 30? I really don’t know.

Are my kids normal? (a checklist)

*Please note that this blog post is about parenting, so that means there’s foul language in it.

Motherhood looks only a fraction of what I thought it would look like. Oh, I knew there would be bursting-heart moments of unexplainable joy and pride. I knew there would be mama-bear scary moments of fear and protection. I knew there’d be busy days and dull days and days that never seem to end, so help me God.

But then there’s all this other stuff I didn’t anticipate: Academic and social challenges, personality clashes, unforeseen habits, conversations I never thought I’d have, and the complete LACK of RESPECT for proper organization.

And body odor. Particularly boy body odor.

More so, there’s the emotional tug of always wondering if you’re doing the right thing, making the right decision, or being any sort of mother these boys need me to be. 

Real Mother's Day 2013
Mother’s Day 2013

Today, while transferring little boy laundry from the washer to the dryer, I contemplated a myriad of things about my specific parenting experience and whether or not my children are like most children.

Here’s a quick run-down of questions I’ve pondered. Do tell me if I’m all alone here:

1. Do all siblings fight over the most nit-picky shit in all the free world?

2. Do all children ask for candy every single solitary day of their lives, even when the parent explains that “treats aren’t treats if you have them every day”?

3. Are all children blind to the dirt under their fingernails and raging body odor, and subsequently, is their bath water incapable of removing them?

4. Do all children complain at meal time and bed time? Do they not realize that EATING AND SLEEPING ARE TWO OF THE MOST PLEASURABLE THINGS OF LIFE?

5. Do all children have an intrusive sixth sense, specifically designed to interrupt phone conversations, lengthy bathroom visits, and any sort of at-home work that requires concentration, since that seems to be their prime time for unimportant interruptions?

6. Do all children lose socks, books, pencils, papers, shirts, stuffed animals, LEGOs, shin guards, swim goggles, toothbrushes, toothpaste caps, and underwear on a DAILY – no, HOURLY BASIS?

7. Do all children negotiate for fewer school assignments, only one bite of peas, a later bedtime, one more television show, no bath tonight, for the music to be turned up, for the music to be turned off, for pizza for dinner AGAIN, for Sprite – or better yet, ROOT BEER instead of water, for dessert, for more money but no chores, for a new toy today (and then a new toy tomorrow), for more privileges, for better privileges, and to be treated like an adult at 11 years old?

8. Do all children have eighteen thousand urgent and necessary questions at the exact moment of bedtime?

9. Do all children stuff dirty clothes in every possible location in their bedrooms EXCEPT the dirty clothes hamper, which is located directly next to their dresser?

And finally,

10. Do all children make life one adventure after another, challenging you daily to be better, stronger, smarter, and more loving, adding flavor to a bland world and opening your eyes to how much life there is to live?

Did I hear a yes? Oh good. I guess that means my children are normal.

Whew.

“But everyone has one.”

We’ve hit Round Two of the parenting game called “But everyone has one,” when Jeremy reminds me of all the hand-held devices his peers have and how he doesn’t have anything.

And then I remind him, yes, you do have a hand-me-down iPod nano, which he uses to listen to audiobooks at night.

And then he reminds me, but you can’t play games on it or have apps or text people or have an Instagram account.

And then I remind him, so save your money and buy what you want. 

And that’s where we remain.

Round One of “But everyone has one” happened several years ago when “everyone” had a handheld video game system (Nintendo DS or Sony something-or-other). For about two years Jeremy asked for a Nintendo DS for his birthday and Christmas, but we didn’t cave. Our children aren’t without electronics. We have the usual stuff in the house, but nothing hand-held for the boys.

I know. SO DEPRIVED.

Then last year he started pressing us for iPod Touch, which we thought would be really fun for him but still declined to buy him one. His persistence escalated and he finally got the message that if he wants a hand-held device, he will need to earn money to buy one. He will also need to earn money to buy a case and purchase his own apps.

I know. SO CRUEL.

We further explained that if he actually saves enough money to buy an iPod Touch, he will not have the freedom to do whatever he wants with it, be on it all day, bring it to the dinner table or in the car or grocery store checkout lines or any other public place without permission.

I know. SO MEAN.

And just recently, we informed him that if he actually saves enough money to buy an iPod Touch, it will not charge in his bedroom at night. It will charge in our bedroom, and there will be no passwords.

I know. GOOD PARENTING.

To date, he’s saved about $35 doing chores and extra work around the house. He’s refrained from buying LEGO sets and other things that tempt him, which is a big deal for our little impulse shopper. Instead, Jeremy is keeping an eye on the used iPod Touch devices at a local game store and hoping to have one of his own by the end of the year.

Then, just the other day he asked when he’s going to get his own cell phone, to which I replied, “Why? So you can call me when you need picked up from school?”

He just rolled eyes and shook his head. I guess he didn’t like my homeschool joke.


 

The Perfect Pet

A few nights ago, on the eve on Chuck going out of town, I let out a big sigh, groaned in exhaustion, and jokingly asked, “So which kid are you taking with you tomorrow?”

He paused, then answered, “Salem.”

Yes, after three months of wrangling a blue tick puppy and nearly ten years of parenting, even Chuck prefers Salem, which is how I always knew it would be. He finally sees it my way.

Salem may be fat and irritable, but he is the most fabulous little being in this family. He doesn’t require much from us and he occasionally brings us presents. The boys love asking me to rank everyone in order of who I love the most and I answer consistently with, “Your dad, then Salem, and you two are tied for third.” It makes them laugh, they know I’m (mostly) kidding, and they’ll ask me to say it again a few days later.

But seriously. He’s awesome.

In the tree

the hunterWhat about Major, you ask? Yeah, he’s on the list. Somewhere near the bottom. Because when he’s not scratching my legs or chewing a Galactic Hero or barking at nothing, he’s doing this:

Lounge chair

Unlearning/Relearning

I’m currently reading Love Wins by Rob Bell. His writing style is not my favorite (in fact, it’s a bit obnoxious), but he’s controversial and thought-provoking, which made him perfect for my Lent book list.

Yesterday I was trudging along on page 22 when I was suddenly stopped by this:

My wife, Kristen, and I often talk about raising our kids in such a way that they have as little as possible to unlearn later on in life.

In this particular section he’s talking about our image of Jesus, the stuff we’re taught as children compared to the stuff we learn as we get older. However I immediately expanded this thought to a much broader scale and in turn felt the weight of everything I’m teaching my boys – intentionally or unintentionally. Then I started thinking about all the things I’m unlearning now, and then I got a headache.

I am very intentional about driving home the essentials with my boys – love God, be kind, be thankful, eat the food Mom puts on your plate – with the hope that these are the umbrella values that encompass the rest. For example, if you learn to be kind, then you won’t need to be taught all the things you’re not supposed to do that aren’t kind.

[By the way, no one tells you that this is the meat of parenting. NO ONE. And if they did tell you, then you weren’t listening because you were too preoccupied picking out cloth diaper patterns.]

After pondering the concept of unlearning, I heard this from Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, first thing this morning:

You cannot give what you do not have.

Sure, that sounds pretty simple. For example, I cannot give you ham sandwich if I do not have a ham sandwich.

But what about –

I cannot give you patience if I do not have patience, or

I cannot give you perspective if I do not have perspective, or

I cannot give you calm if I do not have calm, or

I cannot give you laughter if I do not have laughter, or

I cannot give you God if I do not have God.

Yes, now I see what he means. And therein lies the weight of raising these boys. If I want to teach them things they won’t need to unlearn later – love, kindness, God – then I better make sure I already have that stuff to begin with. If I want to parent in confidence and not out of fear, if I want to show them everyday what is really important, if I want to equip them with everything they need for productive living, then I have to start with me and my own heart.

And that sounds too overwhelming for words.