Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tips on Loving Your Toddler When They're "Bad"

There is an unspoken rule in our culture when raising kids: they should be good.

They should have manners.

They should get a cupcake if they behave.

They should be obedient. Immediately.

But most importantly, they should make us look good. And if they don't, they better not get away with it.

This list of "should's" is even more difficult with toddlers. Believe me, I know.

Our culture subliminally preaches that good behavior in our kids should always be rewarded and that bad behavior should always be met with correction. I am all for correction and rewards- but is that being a Jesus-led parent? Is that how God deals with us? Is He this cosmic-Karma parole office handing out bags of money and beauty to the good adults and cancer and poverty to the bad adults?

No. He's not.

Instead, I believe God is the only ultimate good. The way the chips fall in our life may be partially a result of our actions- but some of us are dong life well and are still standing in the shallow end of blessing. So if God doesn't deal with us like that why should we deal with our kids that way?

Before you start quoting "Dare to Discipline" to me, let me say this is in no way an anti-discipline rant. Quite the opposite. God disciplines those he loves. (Proverbs 3:12) So training a crazy-pants toddler requires all the sanctity of consistency we can muster. But our motives, and our quest to be like Christ, leads us into a whole new realm of parenting preference. We must defer to Him to get the right combination of grace and gall. 

The reality of childhood behavior flies in the face of what our culture tells us our children should be. We are not dealing with angels who coo and giggle and hold your hand and give you butterfly kisses every moment of the day. We are dealing with sinners.

Oh my Lord, did she just call a small child a sinner?


But isn't there some kind of age of accountability? I mean they are just kids, they don't know what they are doing.

I agree. They have NO idea what they are doing. They are acting purely on instinct. And it's the same instinct that caused our first mother and father to believe God had hidden true joy from them behind door number 3.

That very same instinct of distrust is present in my 2 1/2 year old son when I am trying to give him something good. Why would any child refuse to get in the car when I am promising a trip to the park? Because he doesn't want his playtime with the almighty kitchen ladle to be interrupted. Oh man, how often I have been distracted by the kitchen ladle when there was so much more to be discovered.

I have never been so aware that we are born fallen people until I had my son.

This week was a hard one for me. Not only did my son break out in the most ridiculous case of raised hives from a new cleaner that I bought (it has corn and coconut extract apparently), but he was pulled out of his new soccer class by his father for refusing to follow directions. This isn't the first time he has wanted to do his own thing- our preschool preview echoed the same refrain. My son doesn't want to be 'Another Brick in the Wall' (Pink Floyd didn't know they had an anthem for hell-raising toddlers, did they?), and so I am looking for ways to embrace that independent nature without berating his spirit.

My conclusion: It's hard. I lose my temper. I am prone to envy. I am fallen. I am a sinner too.

I find negative thoughts controlling my attitude. Why can't he just behave like other kids? Why does he like to push boundaries instead of coloring inside the lines? As a kid I LOVED to color inside the lines. The picture turns out BETTER THAT WAY! 

But does it?

God has been teaching me a little something about loving kids the way He does. 

I am led to the Parable of the Vineyard Workers in Matthew. In it, Jesus tells a story about a vineyard owner who hires a group of workers for the day whom agree to get paid a flat rate.  Then as the day goes on the owner adds 3 more groups of workers who start their work 3 hours later than the previous group hired before them. At the end of the day everyone gets paid the same amount.

Well, as you can imagine the earliest morning workers are none too pleased. They wanted a bigger cut of the cake! They wanted sprinkles! They wanted at least a goodie bag! But their reward wasn't based on behavior- it was based upon the initial agreement. It was based on God's generosity to the late laborers. The ones who showed up late to the game were still considered key players.

Matthew 20  

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Wait a minute. 

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first? That doesn't seem FAIR. That doesn't seem like the way the moral code should work.

If the early workers worked harder and longer they should get MORE. 

But we all get the same- we get Him.

This is what makes our God so amazing. He doesn't play by our standards of work vs. reward. Even the criminal on the cross next to him was given a passport to paradise without putting in 40 hours a week for 45+ years. God bled the entry stamp. He does that for our kids. He does that for us. 

So while I will still struggle with wanting to create an obedient child for the simple reason of ease, I have to remember that I am just the vessel. I am not the savior. I can not save my child. I can not make him obey. I can only pray that God will reveal himself to my son through my correction and my love-- but whether he is the kid who is saved when he is 5 like the early morning laborer or the criminal on the cross who doesn't show up to the party until three in the afternoon- that story isn't mine to write. 

I can be the narrator. I can be the example. I can be the loving hug, kiss, and cuddle of Christ- but I can't make him good. As much as my culture tells me I can. 

Sally Clarkson shared the prayer that she prayed over her kids in the book Desperate that I wanted to share, "God you have access to my children's hearts, souls, and minds. Please, through your Holy Spirit, make the life of Christ real to each of them. Lord help them to have a desire to obey and to learn self-control. Please show me how to be the mom you created me to be."

God bled the entry stamp for every bad boy and girl in the world. 

And so the pressure is off. Doesn't that feel better?

In love,

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Mother, The Memory Keeper

I sneaked into my son's room this morning and caught a glimpse of him fast asleep- like I have many other days before.

Click. Memory of the day #1. 

Then he woke up cranky not wanting to eat any breakfast unless it was ketchup on a fork.

Click. Memory of the day #2. 

Mundane. Surprising. Predictable. Tiring. Revitalizing. Adorable. Annoying. Lucky. Empty. Overflowing.

Click. Repeat. Click. Repeat.

In our digital world, a mother's memory is still one of the most vital tools we have in keeping accurate records of our little one's childhoods. 'A picture may be worth a thousand words' according to Einstein, but a crisp, emotional attachment to a moment in time? No amount of pixels or shutter speed can capture it.

J's arms were resting behind his head like a listless teenager and his lips pouting in toddler perfection-- I don't know if there is anything more precious than a sleeping child. Especially, since I am about to embark on the detour of baby number two where a sleeping child is as rare as witnessing a wild Giant Panda (Yes, my son and I watch too many animal shows.)

Regardless, I am 19 days away from my due date with our second baby; a little girl. While that should send shock-waves through my system, I am trying my best to enjoy these last few weeks with my little man and prepare myself for the wonder of a newborn. I was not very good at enjoying the 'wonder of a newborn' the first time around. Instead, I focused way too much on how much my life had changed instead of how much I was going to change through the process.

I didn't personalize Isaiah 43:19 "Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert."

I was not aware. I was too blinded by my own shadow. In my defense, my son didn't sleep through the night until 10 months old. We were living in a studio apartment and had a pool table as a changing table. He even needed to be walked back and forth or bounced day and night on top of my exhaustion.  I was a wreck, tired, and lonely-- I felt I had every right to be disillusioned by infancy- but in those moments I missed the rivers in the desert. Instead, I stood next to the stream and screamed about how thirsty I was.

Looking back, I realize now that I was a brat about being a mom of a newborn. I say that I had a hard baby, but in reality, I had a hard heart. The good news for my little girl, is that I have been softened around the edges a bit because of her big brother. I think that will be to her advantage. My memory lens during her baby years may have a sharper focus. Or at least I hope so.

But until she arrives, I have come to blows with this knock on my heart clamoring for me to put down words about what these first two-and-a-half years as a mother have taught me. But what I realized is that my daughter is going to teach me lessons that my son never could, and the merry-go-round will begin again. The thing with parenting is that you're always learning. From day one to 32,872.

So while I could go on for days trying to explain how much I've grown (mostly by default) I think I will instead focus on how much I've been taught. As the molasses moments between my son and I grow into smaller slivers of time, I have come to realize that one of my biggest responsibilities thus far is to be his memory keeper.

J won't remember his first steps or his first words. I will be the vault that keeps these precious moments on lock down. He won't recall his first trip to the emergency room and how brave he was for being such a little boy. I will be the one to remind him that he has had a tenacious spirit from the moment he exited the womb and that he has never been afraid of much at all. I will be the one to encourage his gifts of humor and tenderheartedness, among his natural tendencies to be frustrated, territorial and give up. It's my job to be keenly aware of his unique giftings and biggest struggles- jotting them down in my mind's steno pad ready to pull them out when he doubts how God made him.

While he won't be throwing matchbox cars across the room forever (God, I hope not.), he may be at the point of throwing away something he's worked hard for just because he wants to see the fallout of the crash. I know I've done that.

As mothers, I believe it is our job to jog their memories, and our own, to discern what they were created for-- and we may not know that right now but God is definitely giving each of us fragments of important pieces to arrange over the next few decades. This conscious collecting will become a gorgeous mosaic of moments that give our children purpose, self-solidarity, and peace.

As mothers, we are one of the only mirrors that reflect these precious early moments.While many other people in our "village" help raise our little ones we are the only ones hardwired to love them ferociously through it all. A mother's love isn't tameable; it is a wildfire that burns away all of the nonsense around us and helps us translate the seemingly insignificant. 

I want my son to know that the instant I heard his voice communicate his love for animals, numbers, colors, and letters; I seriously felt like I could fly. I want him to know that on a very difficult day God spoke to me directly through his Word about how to discipline and love him well for his personality (Isaiah 54:7-8) just so he knows how much he means to the Fella upstairs. And finally, I want him to know the prayer that I pray over him every night, "God please pursue J with a relentless love every day of his life" is whispered so that if a day comes when he wonders why God seems to never give up on him, I can explain that love has been prayed over him since the moment he was born.

So if you find yourself at the starting gate right now or are in the midst of being your child's Memory Keeper- here is what I know. Fully submerge yourself in the arctic blast that is early motherhood- not because it is the numbness that allows you to survive-- but because it is the mindfulness of spirit that allows you to thrive even under the harshest of circumstances. Welcome every tinge of emotion with its varying degrees of delight and despair, so that your memory will be able to fully capture the vibrant dance of their childhood that we are lucky enough to be instrumental in choreographing.

In love,

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Slow Pokin': How New Moms Can Get Ahead Without Falling Behind

I used to be a runner.

Not one of those runners that has a water-bottle belt or those fancy sweat wicking sports bras, but more so the type that throws on an old t-shirt and fires up the Walkman.

Despite my retro running ways, I used to be pretty fast.

My husband ran a 4-minute mile in high school and went to State for track- and he used to be my running partner. So, needless to say while I never was able to keep up like I wanted, it was never too embarrassing.

But now that I've had a baby, taken over a year off of consistent running and have taken to eating whatever I can get my hands on (spelt bread be-gone!), I have noticed that my running stride has suffered immensely.

After 15 minutes of a moderate pace, I hobble like a linebacker, suck wind like a drowning sailor, and always end up walking more miles than I run. This reverse evolution has been my own private struggle- that is until last weekend my husband and I were able to leave the baby with Grandma and go on our first run together since his birthday six months ago.

At first, we fell into an easy stride side-by-side. I was reminded of our leisurely runs during breezy spring days pre-parenthood and how we would talk about our days, our plans for the future, or our date spot for the upcoming weekend. But it wasn't too long until I began to feel a stitch in my side, and a familiar you-are-so-out-of-shape burn in my lungs.

My husband kept on trucking like a sprite little teenager, and I began to feel my lower half sag (much like my son's book, The Saggy Baggy Elephant). My shoulders began to creep up like strings on a Marionette- as if to physically will myself in forward motion.

 I was hoping that I was just being hard on myself and that he wouldn't notice, but it didn't take long until he slowed his pace to match my broken down swagger and said, "You're slow today."

Now, to be fair. It was an honest assessment. But, if could hear inside my head you would have heard a string of expletives too offensive to share. I know, I know- this is a mommy blog. Not that great of an example I was setting.

But, you see I am an extremely competitive person. And in the past this type of comment would have spurred me on to dash ahead of him, sprint to the finish and laugh as he doubled his time to catch up.

The new slow pokin' person that I am? She stopped running, put her hands on her hips, and waved him on with an angry and defeated wave. My husband, didn't take my not-so-nice gesture to heart, and instead slowed his pace and ran the rest of the mileage in line with me.

I know that I slowed him down. And I know that he didn't get a good run in, because of me, but I also realized that it was OK to be slower than I used to be. It was OK to take time to let my body get to where it is going. It is fine to eat a slice of humble pie, and admit that I have some improving to do. These are all lessons that my younger self never learned, and now my more "mature" self is forced to understand and appreciate through experience.

As the run neared its end, we sped (maybe we schlepped) through a neighborhood lined with Apple Blossom trees. Amidst the burst of pink, there was one tree that stood out.

Half of it was abloom in bright pink buds, and the other half was fleeced with white blossoms. I later discovered that when the trees were planted, the arborist has grafted the wrong limb onto the tree. Even though it was half it's old self and half it's new self, it still looked beautiful and more unique than any other tree on the block.

And it was under the shade of that duplicitous tree, that I decided that its perfectly fine to be in the middle of blending my old self with this new version of me. The new mom inside of me has come to realize that even though my immediate response to these new inadequacies of mine is frustration, the ultimate discovery is that what may be a weakness at first can become my biggest strength in the end.

So, I have decided that while I may be a little slow these days, I finally have the perfect pace to really enjoy what I used to speed right by.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

You Can't Always Get What You Want

My son has started speaking in sentences.

This is a huge development for our little wolf pack. Especially, since my two-and-a-half year old would have been considered a "late talker" by those extremely helpful experts online and their ridiculous milestones, charts, and worry wort concoctions.

And while his little voice- (which sounds to me like mash up between Mickey Mouse and Shaggy from Scooby Doo) is outright adorable, I have begun to see a new layer of his humanity unfolding. And as always with motherhood, mine as well.

Most mornings he wakes up from his deep slumber-- his sandy brown hair tossed about like riveted peaks of the Badlands, muttering, "Mama, I want more." 

This then rolls into the guessing game of what he wants more of. Usually it boils down to juice, a show, or more playtime. Some of which I am happy to provide and others I have to fight him on from the moment he rises.

He isn't unlike me.

I wake up many mornings whispering in my soul, "I want more." I want more money, I want more honor for myself, I want more glamor, I want a more interesting life, I want, I want, I want..."

I am knee deep in a new book by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson, Desperate. And I am entranced. My highlighter can't go fast enough, and every free moment I crack open the book and find myself emphatically nodding my head, scribbling a few thoughts, reading a verse and then repeating. This book is water to my soul. And I have been in a dry spell for awhile. 

First, while I only believe that the Bible has been God-breathed- this book did come to me through a series of circumstances that can only point back to the amazing timing of a God who I believe is dramatically  involved in every nanosecond of our mundane. First, when I originally ordered the book it was sent to my old address in Nashville. When I finally caught the mistake, it was too late to retrieve it and so the website I ordered it from was kind enough to send me a replacement. However, it cost me a few days in waiting. But to be honest, I forgot about it.
However, what was at that point nothing but an annoying delay turned out to be Providence. 

Instead of the book arriving a few days earlier, it arrived at the end of a very dark and frustrating day of my first attempt at potty training. I was on my third day of 3-day potty training  when  my son began refusing to "go" and held it for Olympic record-worthy amounts of time. I was amazed (and inwardly furious) with his bladder of steel that delayed our training leaving us both frustrated to the point of tears and temper tantrums on the floor.

I say us, because I was a willing participant. I was on the floor too. Mature, right? When my son saw my tears of frustration he rushed his favorite teddy bear against my cheek and began making kissing sounds. It was one of the most humbling and beautiful acts of love I've ever experienced with my son, which in turn, left me in another round of puddles.

Face still puffy from the potty power struggle, I heard a faint knock on the door and saw the delivery man drop a small package on the doorstep. Nothing more appropriate than the book, Desperate, could have been delivered at that exact time. 

And that leads to me to what I am learning today. In 1 Corinthians 7:17 it says, "Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him." For some reason, ever since my life has taken on some semblance of domestic routine and predictability, I have bought into the lie that I am the one who has made the decisions leading me to my current life. But I'm wrong. Here the Bible teaches that in His sovereignty he has assigned this to me. This address, this child, this husband, this very pregnant 36-week along body.

Once an aspiring actress, singer, songwriter, and author (all of which I still dabble in), I have secretly thought that I didn't have "more" commercial success in those areas because I had not measured up, tried hard enough, met the right people, done enough PR etc., when in reality-- if I fully believe what God is teaching me-- he didn't choose that path for me. He has assigned me this life. This is right where I'm supposed to be. And you, whether you have young kids or not, are right where you are supposed to be as well.

But for those of us who do have "littles", let me share an excerpt from Sarah Mae's chapter on "Escaping". She paints this gorgeous mandate for mothers everywhere. "Choosing to enter into the mundane with our children, who see playing ponies as anything but ordinary, is a sacrifice of love. Choosing to enter into a project that will probably turn into a training session is also a sacrifice of love. We will have to choose patience and kindness over frustration and giving up."

Sacrifice. Patience, Frustration. Giving Up. All words that we know all too well as mothers. However, in our culture of 'me-first' it seems appalling to not take time for ourselves or to always be throwing ourselves on the altar of our family. And in a sense, that is true- nobody needs a zombie mother who never does anything she enjoys. Instead, we need to be absolutely sure that we are finding beauty in our everyday and seeking out things that make us joyful so that can translate to our kids.

As Sarah goes on to say, we need to be sure we are co-creating "beauty in our own realms, through the power of His spirit" for our kids too. Our affinity toward music, art, theater, nature and all of the wonderful things in life shouldn't be replaced with reading the same children's book 50 times a day or never taking our kids on the adventures we imagine ourselves taking. We need to invite our kids into our passions and teach them how to look for "more" through the context and lens of God's assignment for our life.

As Sally Clarkson  says, "One of the marks of a godly woman is that she takes responsibility for her soul's need for joy and delight."

So I guess what I am saying is this. We all want more. From the moment we wake up to the moment we sleep, that is a human condition we can not escape. I am being taught that I need to cosign that desire for more with the life assignment God has entrusted to me in this moment. In this now.

I need to share my heart's joy with my son and soon-to-be daughter instead of thinking of this "job" as a means to an end with the ultimate goal being to produce two obedient, likeable children. Because the truth is neither of my children will be obedient or likeable all of the time. How do I know that? I'm not. And I've got a few years on them. 

Being a mom with passions and a propensity for more isn't wrong, but I needed this encouragement to realize that there is plenty out there for me to get, it just all begins with me giving away the gifts God has given. And that leads me to John 13:12, " So when He had washed their feet, and taken his garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then the Lord and the Teacher washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."

There it is. The call of a mom.

And so I will set out to 'wash the feet' of my children in sacrificial love when all I really want to do is take a bubble bath.

In love,