Musings, Toddlers

He who answers.

Julie / September 20, 2010

I stumbled onto a post on Reddit last week where a dad was really struggling with how to teach his four-year-old about death.  She had just really begun to understand the concept, and now was understandably worried that she was going to die, that her parents were going to die, and so on.  Lots of other Redditors chimed in sharing very similar experiences with their own children–and a similar lack of words to say to soothe their children’s fears–and one thoughtful commenter remarked that adults don’t really know how to deal with death, either, and thus we have religion.

And in that moment I felt a whole new level of appreciation for belief in God: we have answers.

Every question mentioned on the thread, every fear the children voiced–we have answers.  God is good: this is a truth that as an adult I have certainly known, but hadn’t appreciated in its fullness.  God is sovereign.  God is involved.  All these things, and so many more that trickle out of these basic premises, mean that as parents, there aren’t many questions that we don’t have the answers to.  If we don’t know, God does; and we surely know that all things are under His control and that all things He does are good.  Romans 8:28 is an awesome verse to take to your children!

I have recently begun doing a catechism with E (more on that in a later post), and it begins by going through the basics of creation: Who made you? (God.)  What else did He make?  (Everything.)  Why did He make you?  (For His glory.)  And, just like that, we teach a toddler why she exists–how many twenty-year-olds, thirty-year-olds, eighty-year-olds still struggle with that question?  Granted, she doesn’t know what “glory” means, but she knows and understands that she was made by God, and that there is a reason He made her, and once her vocabulary grows to encompass such terms, she’ll know what that reason is.  That doesn’t mean that she’ll continue to believe it–that comes only by God’s grace–but the answer will always be the same, whether she believes it or not.

It doesn’t occur to me to prevaricate in talking to our kids.  I have no fear of the death question–E will cheerfully tell you that lions eat zebras for lunch (although she still doesn’t like to actually watch it), and I somewhat purposefully use the word “died” in regular conversation with her, like toys that break have “died,” and we had at least one conversation about people dying (which ended up deviating into a discussion of whether or not people have batteries) and we talk a lot about heaven and Jesus, and she asks a million questions about heaven and Jesus.  She’s very concerned, for some reason, about what things are in heaven, and how to get there, and whether Jesus has a nose and arms and hands.  I’ve learned a new appreciation for the incarnation, to know that Jesus does have those things, because of her questions.  Jesus is so non-abstract and graspable to a two-year-old.

There are plenty of other things besides death, of course.  Fear of the dark.  Thunder.  Why the sun comes up every morning.  There are so many answers and reassurances that we have because of Christ, and it is such a blessing to pass those answers on to our children!


Seasons in life.

Julie / September 2, 2010

I am learning–very slowly–that life comes in seasons.  My life of late revolves very clearly around pregnancy: first there is the sick time, in which housework is breezy but eating and cooking are real challenges; then there is the happy middle time that I never take advantage of as much as I should; then there’s the bone-deep tiredness and ambivalent happiness and vague excitement that makes up the last four months or so of pregnancy.  I never remember how tiring that stage is, either (she says from the depths of it).  Then there’s new baby time, with a sudden rush of energy amidst sleepless nights and wondering how it’s possible that I have more energy than in pregnancy even though I’m getting much more disturbed sleep.  And lastly, there’s the early-nursing stage, with all its physical challenges and recuperating from labor.

Then, if you’re me the past two times, the cycle repeats itself instantly.

I’m finally beginning to understand that I need to plan for the changes and live each of these little “seasons” to the fullest.  Of course, there are bigger seasons, too; I’m beginning to be old enough to grasp the idea that there was a person I was ten years ago who is not at all the same person I am today, and that ten years from now, I will undoubtedly again be a very different person.  Or dead, let’s not forget that possibility.  I remember my fifth grade Sunday school teacher saying that none of us students could possibly understand the concept of a decade, and I’m beginning to see the truth in that–and I’m beginning to understand what a decade means, as I come ever nearer to my third.

I’ve also been noticing that suddenly there are stores at which I should not shop, because I’m too old, and that a freaky day of purple hair now would be just silliness.  I have a little family.  I’ve spent more time in the past ten years married than I have single.  I look at our wedding pictures and am struck by how very, very young I look.  I didn’t realize I’d acquired that many wrinkles in the years since, but I have.  I’m aging, and sometime close to this age is when things officially stop going uphill and start the long, long trek downwards until one day you’re so old and falling apart that you really can’t wait to go home.  I’m finally seeing myself on that journey and not just at the beginning of it.

All this to say, there are little seasons and there are big seasons.  There’s morning sickness and there’s mid-life crises.  I’m beginning to see that there is real value in seeing those seasons with accuracy and forethought (maybe especially the little seasons–planning for morning sickness is always a good thing) and drinking them all to the last drop.  These are the different places and different times in which I am, by the grace of God, and I should be honest with myself–and aware–and do the best with each season’s imperfections and beauties.  Every one of these moments is laced through with sin and fallenness and the longsuffering glory of my Savior: the fallenness and decay drive us towards home, and the glory provides the scenery along the way. 

I don’t want to miss any of it.

Homemaking, Musings, Time Management

Finding My Routine

I am one of those people who thrives with a little checklist.  It makes me focused, dedicated, determined, and I love that feeling every time I cross a task off the list.

But the problem with housework is that it’s kind of insurmountable to create a good list.  There are so many recurring tasks, so many tasks that depend on others, and so many things that crop up that I can’t possibly plan for in advance.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to create such a list.  I’ve made spreadsheets, schedules, and checklists; I’ve tried Remember the Milk and Toodledo; I’ve even written my own little program to manage my tasks the way I prefer them managed.  I’ve read Flylady  and Shopping for Time and countless blogs on the subject.

And still, I can’t quite compile a list that actually works in our house.

Some lists don’t have enough, and I end up not getting enough done.  Some lists are so overwhelming with the detail and scheduling that the second I have a day that goes utterly unaccording to plan, I’m instantly so far behind on my to-do list that I pretty much have to scrap the entire thing.

This morning, I hit on a new idea: I’m not hopelessly inept at the actual doing of household things, it’s just the planning that trips me up.  (Although the planning certainly makes the doing more efficient.)  So–what if I made a list of the way my day would go, on a “good” day, with the tasks and chores that I get done?  And what if I left it sufficiently vague so that on a really good, energetic day, I can do all the tasks really well and thoroughly, and even work in a bit extra–but so that on a bad day, I can just do the bare minimum and not fall completely off the chart?  What if I don’t account for all the tasks that I do anyway (like brushing my teeth), and make sure I’m only spending time worrying about (and feeling good about completing) the tasks that I actually have to work to find the motivation to do?

And so I made a new list, and I called it a “routine” instead of a to-do list.  Because really, this isn’t a list of things I need to accomplish, this is just the way my day needs to be structured and the habits that I need to form.  I’ve failed too many times to be very optimistic about the success of said “routine” layout, but I’ve never quite felt so strongly that a list was in harmony with the way my days really happen, or that it had the right blend of flexibility and high expectations.

We’ll see how it goes… tomorrow!

Homemaking, Musings, Toddlers

Chores and the Two-Year-Old

One of the major themes of larger-family life definitely seems to be chores.  And, indeed, I want to teach E how to work and contribute to the home as much as she is able.  But sometimes it’s hard to know how to use a two-year-old to actually accomplish anything useful.  I can’t emphasize enough how much I’m still learning to do this!  I do think this is an area where siblings probably make a big difference–I hope that R will observe E and learn how to do things even more quickly than E has.

  • Sometimes her “helping” actually creates more work.  E helps me unload the dishwasher–she pulls everything out and hands it to me to put in the cabinet.  This takes a much longer time than if I did it all by myself, but she’s learning discipline.  She also knows where the soap is (and how to open the childproof catch on the cabinet :-o) and gets it out and puts it in the soap tray.  I think the next step is to have her unload and assemble the items into appropriate piles so I can just move the pile into the cabinet.  Another thing she helps me do is the laundry.  She can drag the bin from its home in the linen closet to the laundry room, and help me empty it into the washer.  Technically, since we have a front-loading washer, she really physically could do all the laundry, but she has trouble distinguishing between dirty and clean clothes.  So I try to help her know which pile of clothes goes where, and monitor closely that the ones in the dirty basket don’t get thrown in the dryer.  One day, maybe, she’ll get the hang of this.  Right now, her favorite part is pushing the start button.
  • She can learn to be kind.  Okay, this isn’t exactly a chore, but with a little toddling sister around, E definitely has to “share” sometimes.  I try mostly to let them sort things out on their own–making sure E doesn’t take advantage of her size, or get too upset when R is being rude (as ten-month-olds are apt to be).  I encourage sharing when I can, rather than forcing it.  “E, I think R wants to play with the doll.”  Nine times out of ten, E will happily hand it over at the mere suggestion, and the other time I figure–well, adults don’t want to share all their toys all the time, either.  I’m trying to impart a pattern of selflessness, generosity, and wise decision-making, rather than a simple obedient slave mentality.  Another, more chore-related way we try to teach kindness to E is by encouraging her to “help” R with her chores.  If R makes a mess, E can help clean it up.  (It helps that E loves to clean and would clean up her parents’ messes if she could!)
  • She can clean up most of the messes she makes.  Sometimes this isn’t time-efficient, like after dinner when the girls head up to their bath, but most of the time, E is required to at least help clean up after herself.  Some of this she enjoys–cleaning up food, for instance–and some of it is definitely a discipline, like cleaning up her toys before she gets new ones out.  I love our toy bins for this, because while things have a general place where they belong, it’s very easy for even a toddler to throw a bunch of Fisher-Price toys into a bin, or slide them onto a shelf.  No complicated packaging or difficult finagling to get things back in their proper place.  It’s like grown-ups having a drawer for all their cooking utensils rather than hanging each one back on its own hook: as long as the drawer is big enough and the contents sufficiently sparse, it’s a much quicker and easier system.
  • She can fix some of her own food.  She can open the fridge and get out her and R’s milk (another opportunity to be kind!).  She also understands that fruits generally need to be washed, and will drag a chair over the sink and wash her own apples and grapes, which she often shares with R after taking them off the stem.  She likes to make her own peanut butter sandwiches, although successful completion of that task requires so much supervision that I usually don’t go there!

E has learned how to undress herself pretty well, and I think learning how to dress herself might be one of the next things on our agenda.  She also really likes to help cook, and has a vague understanding of how to operate the toaster oven (the only cooking appliance really within her reach), but since we have a gas range, that’s one “chore” I’d rather tackle when she’s a little more dependable around an open flame!  In the meantime, she helps stir and mix things… usually only when Daddy’s home.

    It’s really amazing to me how much a two-year-old can accomplish!  Not in a look-how-awesome-my-kid-is way, but it’s just incredible to me how spongey God made humans.  I look back at what I’ve learned in the last two years, and compare it to what E has learned–physically, linguistically, socially–and it is very clear that children really are a miracle and a sign of their Maker!
    Home-Centered, Musings

    Staying at home.

    Sometimes I feel like a lot of people want me to get rid of my kids.  Can’t you get a babysitter?  Don’t you want to put them in the nursery?  Can’t you leave them with your mom?  Let’s have a mom’s night out.  I should add–I don’t mean my husband.  He’s mostly like me; rather bring them with us than get rid of them.
    Our next-door neighbor was telling me a few weeks ago that they tried to go on their “honeymoon” (which they hadn’t had after their wedding) after their children were born, and they made it exactly one day before driving all the way back home to get their kids because they realized they’d rather have them along.  I love that.
    It’s one of the things that I like about midwife-assisted birth.  Our kids come to all the appointments with me, and that’s the way everyone involved seems to think it should be.  They talk to them and include them and even have a room full of toys for them to play with.  They recognize the family structure and that birth is a family event.
    But so many people just don’t “get” the fact that I’m a mom, a mom to young children, and with very few carefully measured exceptions, I feel very strongly that my place is where my children are.  It’s the same principle that makes me find daycare such a repulsive option–our kids are our responsibility, and delegating that responsibility to someone else on a regular basis just doesn’t jive with me, whether it’s for daycare or a weekly “night out” with my husband or a weekly “mom’s night” with other women.  I mean, really, consider the idea that a full seventh of the time, Mommy isn’t home for dinner and baths and bedtime.  That’s an enormous shifting”“shirking, I dare say”“of responsibility.  Especially with children as young as ours.
    So, no, I’m not going to find a babysitter so I can have a night out with the girls or even a regular date night with my husband.  My husband is the best babysitter there is, but he isn’t me.  Our responsibilities in this role are not equal; daddies can’t stand in for mommies any more than mommies can stand in for daddies.  God gave our children a mother.  I’m not going to make plans to regularly abandon my primary mission field, or to throw my babies’ schedules into flux.  I don’t “need” a break.  Sometimes I need to have my perspective fixed; sometimes I confuse selfishness with necessity.  But this is my job, my calling–and it doesn’t stop just so I can have some social time.
    I love it, most deliriously, when people understand that kids don’t wreck things.  I love going to a church where the kids are in the service.  One time we were visiting a church–a church much too small to afford a nursery–and the pastor remarked that once they had to sit in church with a baby screaming every Sunday through the whole service for a few months straight, because there wasn’t anything else to do and that it was fine.  That it was church, and that they wanted the parents to be able to come, and that they learned to cope with the distraction–they got over it.  This was the explanation I got after apologizing that our two month old had been a (tiny) bit noisy in the morning’s service, and it blew me away.  I would love a “Mom’s Retreat” that welcomed moms with nursing infants and toddlers.  I really, really, appreciate anything at all that gives me fellowship and socialization with other people without expecting me to dump my kids in someone else’s lap.
    Because, well–I like my kids.

    Musings, Studying God

    Quotes from Spurgeon

    This week I stumbled across an old, unattractively-bound book (online here) that I acquired in college while writing a research paper on corporal punishment in evangelicalism.  At the time I didn’t know Charles Spurgeon from Charles Sheldon, and thus was not inspired to read the book except looking for quotes to use in my paper.  But when I found it on the shelf this week, I dove into it much more eagerly, and am glad I did.  Some quotes from the first parts of the book:

    Christian children mainly need to be taught the doctrine, precept, and life of the gospel: they require to have Divine truth put before them clearly and forcibly.  Why should the higher doctrines, the doctrines of grace, be kept back from them?  They are not as some say, bones; or if they are bones, they are full of marrow, and covered with fatness.  If there be any doctrine too difficult for a child, it is rather the fault of the teacher’s conception of it than of the child’s power to receive it, provided the child be really converted to God.  It is ours to make doctrine simple, this is to be a main part of our work.  Teach the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth; for instruction is the great want of the child’s nature.   
    ““”‘Feed My Lambs’–How to Do It”

    The theory is that if we can impress youthful minds with principles which may, in later years, prove useful to them, we have done a great deal; but to convert children as children and to regard them as being as much believers as their seniors, is regarded as absurd.  To this supposed absurdity I cling with all my heart.  I believe that of children is the kingdom of God, both on earth and in heaven. 
    –“Do Not Hinder the Children”

    There is not a word in the New Testament to show that the benefits of divine grace are in any degree transmitted by natural descent: they come “to as many as the Lord our God shall call,” whether their parents are saints or sinners.  How can people have the impudence to tear off half a text to make it teach what is not true?  You must sorrowfully look upon your children as born in sin, and shapen in iniquity, “heirs of wrath, even as others”; and though you may yourself belong to a line of saints, and trace your pedigree from minister to minister, all eminent in the church of God, yet your children occupy precisely the same position by their birth as other people’s children do; so that they must be redeemed from under the curse of the law by the precious blood of Jesus, and they must receive a new nature by the work of the Holy Ghost.  They are favored by being placed under godly training, and under the hearing of the gospel; but their need and their sinfulness are the same as in the rest of the race. 
    –“The Disciples and the Mothers”

    Musings, Pregnancy

    Pain in Childbearing

    Julie / February 20, 2010

    With both E and R’s births, we went to a freestanding birth center–no pain meds.  Our most obvious reason for this decision is that we believe it to be statistically marginally safer (which studies do back up) and it is unquestionably the better choice for parents who want to avoid a C-section at all costs; chances of a section at the birth center are about a tenth of the chance of a section at any of the local hospitals.
    And those are the answers I usually give people in response to the quizzical looks when we tell them our crazy plan.  It’s quite inconceivable why someone would actually choose to endure pain without any overwhelming reason.  (Even if the mortality statistics are slightly tilted in favor of midwife-assisted birth, there’s certainly not a grand difference in the final outcome.)  I expect that these answers are the sum of S’s reasons for supporting natural birth.
    For me, though, there’s more to the story.  There really is that aspect which the pagans call “spiritual” about birth, and even about the pain itself.  And it’s very difficult, as a Christian, to coherently talk about that without falling into the earth-mother-goddess paganism that so frequently goes along with it. I’ve never really read an article by a Christian mother, or even a theologically neutral article about it that doesn’t veer straight in to heresy.  Maybe because few Christian women choose natural birth, and so even fewer would conceptualize to write about it.
    A few weeks ago, though, I was writing an email to a dear friend trying to explain the mindset that has gotten me through the pain.  It was really complicated to write, because I was trying to express concepts for which the only language I’m familiar with is–pagan.  Unacceptably so.  And yet it was so enlightening to me to struggle through that letter and try to frame things in the context of the sovereignty of God, and it has really helped me to understand birth better.  It has been much on my mind in the days since, and I think it will be useful for me (to me) to hash it out a bit more.  Because at this point, I would choose natural birth even without any medical advantages to doing so.  It’s a horrible experience that I still treasure, in a kind of impossible way.
    I know that going into E’s birth, the most important thing in my mind was the historical context.  Birth–the searing pain of birth–is a very particular experience, one that our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation largely completely missed, and yet one that queens of old knew well, and Mary!  What was it really like for that young girl in that dirty stable?  What, really, did God arrange for her?  I was determined to know, to understand.  And what I found was a deeply horrendous experience!  I wasn’t prepared for the sheerness of it.  I thought I could imagine and I had no idea what I was in for!  I had never felt anything as strongly as I felt pain on that day.  It was literally the most intense day of my life.  It broke all my internal meters, so to speak.  The pain itself and the volume of the pain become two different things: beside the pain there’s this awareness that this is a life experience on a completely different scale than anything ever before, and that you’ll never be quite the same person again.
    And so the pagans are right on this point: the pain makes you a stronger person.  I was not “dealing” and I didn’t have happy butterflies about E’s birth.  I knew it was horror when it was happening, and I still freely use that word: it was horrible.  So I’m not saying that birth is a beautiful experience.  The end result, sure–but the process?  Not for me.  Birth is a horrible experience.  But it’s a horrible experience that you make it through, and you come out on the other side.  It’s almost like it makes the colors around you more colorful, except in a metaphorical sense.  It changes everything, and nothing.  It’s just so intense.
    So by the time R was born, I knew this.  And Genesis 3:16 had taken on a totally new level of meaning for me.  This pain, this unbearable pain, was there for one reason: the fall.  Sin.  A continual reminder, from God, that we are not as He created us to be.  A dramatic presentation of the separation that came about when He cast us out of the Garden.
    That’s a spiritual aspect of birth that I can really get into!  Romans talks about creation groaning in childbirth pains until being freed of the bondage of sin, and of us likewise longing for adoption and redemption.  God gave us pain in childbirth–deliberately!  And it really does increase one’s bitterness toward sin to realize that birth is so horrible because of sin, because we aren’t yet made fully glorified before Christ.  It is so desperate, in those moments of unrelenting agony, to stop and realize that the agony is itself a tool and pointer to God, to instill a longing for home–where pain ends.
    So I guess it is a very spiritual experience after all, one that I think I would not choose to forego, even if I had no other reasons.
    (I am not saying, even the tinest bit, that using pain meds is wrong.  Just that there is an experience to be had without them, and that I am weak enough to appreciate the reminder of just how fallen our bodies are, and how seriously I need redemption.)