In A Roundabout Way

The town in which we live was originally a small quaint farming community.  These days,  that small quaint farming community — which used to be 10 miles from its closest neighbor —  is “nestled” under the hairy armpits of the other once quaint farming communities.

And now, none of these communities are neither small nor particularly quaint.  We are more like a bunch of fat guys on an airplane – all squeezing over into our neighbor’s space and fighting over the elbow rest.

It is not a town without some charm though.  Within the space of a block you can find homes wherein high-paid athletes live behind big stone fences and other homes wherein disinterested Billy goats live behind chain link fences.  And we live somewhere in between.  We have neither a big stone fence nor a Billy goat.

 

As you might imagine, the expansion of so many people into an area that was intended for slow moving tractors and Billy goats has created traffic problems.  And the city’s response to this problem has been roundabouts.

Roundabouts are a Yankee thing, and well, it’s taking some getting used to for us slow moving southern dwellers.  We only know how to do the four-way stop, and even that, seems to be a challenge for some of us.

And it gets even more complicated when you have to negotiate the roundabout while it’s under construction.

So the other day, we approached the intersection that is near our house and discovered that it was being transformed into one of them fancy roundabouts.  There were barricades up and chunks of road had been torn out and traffic was being diverted and re-directed and nothing was where it used to be.  Drivers were entering the roundabout, not knowing exactly what to do — some stopping completely, some yielding and others just zippin’ through.  People were honking and throwing their hands up in the air.

From the back seat, Sean perfectly assesses the situation with his signature wit.  “Instead of a roundabout,” he said, “they should call it a Round of Doubt!”

And from henceforth, it shall be known…

Whining Is Not A Strategy

There is an old saying that we all know:  The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

In other words, those who complain the loudest and the longest and in the most annoying repetitious way possible —  get what they want.  Except from me, then no, they get nothing.

My policy is this:  I don’t negotiate with terrorists or toddlers. Or those who behave as such.

At the House of Antique, if you are whining, the answer is automatically NO.  If you continue whining, you will get the Antique Mommy fish eye, which has been known to stop a charging rhino in it’s tracks.  And if you still insist on whining, well let’s just hope you’ve got your salvation plan worked out.

It would seem that whining is built into children, as a survival mechanism, as all children try it out at one time or another.  Which, now that I analyze that, it would appear as though I am devoid of the instinct to see to the survival of my child.  Yet?  So far, so good.

Some people are gifted in their ability to tune out annoying noise, and those people become teachers.  I can’t think or have a conversation if the TV is blaring, and the leaf blower makes my eardrums ache.  But I would take 1000 leaf blowers over one 40-pound child whining PleasepleasepleasePLEEEEEaaaasssee-PUH-leeeze-Uh!

Sean is a super bright boy and he figured out early on that whining and saying “please” in various intonations four hundred times in a row was not going to work with me.  I think he tried it out once or twice, and after he fully recovered from the sting of the fish eye, he moved on in search of other more civilized candy-getting tactics.  Back in the day, when he was my grocery store boyfriend, we’d pass a kid who was whining and he’d just keep licking his Tootsie Pop and shake his head as if to say, “Whining – what an unsophisticated strategy.”

Last year, I was doing a project in Sean’s classroom and this one particularly energetic boy jumped out of his seat and ran up to me and started jumping up and down waving his hand in my face (which is a good way to lose a hand) and started in with the PickmePickmePleasePleasePleeeeeezPrettyPleasePickMe!  Sean came to my rescue (or maybe he came to the boy’s rescue) and nudged him and quietly said, “Dude.  She won’t respond to that.  If you’re whining the answer is automatically no.”

I gave the boy a my crazy lady half smile-half fish eye and he slunk back to his seat.

Boundaries

Boundaries have become the issue lately — geographic boundaries.

Some families in our neighborhood are of the free-range philosophy.  They have chosen to let their children roam unattended.  AD and I have decided that is not a good choice for Sean right now.  Some of the reasons behind our decision have to do with Sean and where he is in the process of proving himself as responsible, reliable and of good judgment.

Other reasons have to do with us; our perceived risks and rewards that come with allowing him to roam beyond the reach of my eyeballs.  And really, what more important thing do I have to do than to keep track of my kid?  I can’t think of anything.

Sidebar:  For those of you who will accuse me of hovering, I would like to point out that there is a huge difference between hovering and keeping track of your kid. I do not hover.  I do however spy.  I watch him make mistakes from a distance and only intervene if it means I might have to make a trip to the ER.

Nonetheless, when he sees a boy a full year younger riding his bike down the street, he bristles with injustice.  “Why does he get to ride his bike all over and I don’t?  He’s younger than me!  Everyone gets to ride their bikes by themselves except me! That’s not fair!”

And to this I say, “That is the choice his family has made for him.  Life is not fair.  We never make choices based on what other people are doing. Never.”

He sighs.  He huffs. But he accepts it because he knows he would have a better chance of moving the Great Wall of China than to budge me an inch on this issue.

The fact of the matter is, not everyone is doing it.  Some families let their kids roam unattended and out of sight, but many other families like ours, do not — and those are the boys that Sean hangs out with, boys from families who share our parenting philosophy and that makes it a little bit  easier when we can counter with, “Bryan doesn’t.  Nathan doesn’t.  Aaron doesn’t. Reagan doesn’t.  Clayton doesn’t….”

I know that at some point I will have to let him go off on his bike and out of my sight, but I think he has some proving to do.  I want to see him demonstrate good judgment over time.  I want to feel like if he found himself in a tight spot that he would have the physical and mental resources to get out of it.

It’s a different word than when I grew up in the 1960s.  My mother seldom knew where I was. I would roam on foot or bike for four or five miles away from the house by myself and be gone for hours.  One time I got so far way from home that a policeman brought me home in a police car. I was about nine.

Some might say that those experiences were good, that I learned how to manage in the world. That may be true, but I think more so than that, that God placed hedge around me to protect me from my own stupidity, one that covered me many times well into adulthood. The hedge may have protected me from stupidity, but unfortunately not from the lingering embarrassment from stupidity.

Does Sean have a hedge around him too?  Yes. For now, it’s me.

A Good Friend

This morning, I watched two boys tumble out of the backseat of my car and scramble towards the school.  Their backpacks bounced wildly as they ran and playfully shoved each other off the sidewalk.  I couldn’t hear them, but I knew that they were giggling and calling each other out with mock indignation, “Duuude!?”

Since the day I knew I was pregnant, I have prayed for many things for my child, but my constant prayer has been that he would be blessed with a good friend.  As I watched the two boys disappear around the corner, I sensed that for this season at least, my prayer had been answered.

When I say “a good friend” I don’t mean someone who enjoys the same things he does or someone who will reciprocate play dates.  What I want for Sean is a friend who possesses the Biblical quality of goodness – a good friend.  Proverbs 17:17 says, “A good friend loves at all times” and a friend who loves at all times does not let his buddy do something that would make his mommy sad.

And in Bryan, Sean’s BFF for this season (or dare I even hope, for life?) I see a boy who has the fruit of goodness growing in him.

Not long ago, Bryan was over to play and Sean was being a real toot.  When I took Bryan home, I told him I was sorry that Sean had not been very nice to him and he said – and this blew me away – “That’s okay, he’s probably just tired.”

Grace and goodness – what more could you want in a friend?

Bryan’s mother tells me he has his days too (who doesn’t?) but on the whole, I see in him an innate desire to do what is good and right.  He is a boy who is cautious and doesn’t like getting in trouble and Sean needs someone like that to temper his sometimes dramatic free-spiritedness.

I know that with each passing year, the influence of the world will increase in his life and my influence will decrease.  I know that the company he keeps will influence the choices he makes.  I know that the stakes only get higher as his world gets bigger.  The people he chooses to partner with in friendships along the way will have a hand in writing the story of his life.

I know that the time is coming when I will have to lengthen the rope, to let him go with his friends (clear out of my sight!) and in letting him go, he will encounter choices to go left or right.   And I think the best I can hope for is that he will have at least one good  friend who will hold him accountable, who is willing to challenge a questionable choice or at least speak up and say, “Dude. Maybe you shouldn’t do that…”

At some point in life, one has (hopefully) developed some wisdom and discernment, and friends of all sorts is a good thing; I think we are called to that.  But for a nine-year-old who has yet to fully develop those traits —  right now he needs, and has, a good friend.

And that is an answered prayer.

 

Everyone Has A Story

I recently came across the Washington Post story of Joshua Bell, a world class violinist who agrees to work in cahoots with the Post for a story.  He positions himself as an anonymous sort of starving artist in a Washington DC subway playing for tips during morning rush hour — that is, a starving artist playing for tips with a $3 million Stradivari.  As he plays his glorious music, for which he earns millions, for which he has played for kings and queens, he is largely ignored.

The story is not new, it came out in 2007, but I didn’t see it then because at that time I had a just turned four-year-old and I was as likely to have time to read the newspaper as I was to take trapeze lessons.

Nonetheless, I came across the story on Facebook, and as you might expect, there were hundreds of comments about how awful people are because here they were in the presence musical genius and they neither recognized it nor would they take time to stop and smell the musical roses.

I, however, did not think the story was about how awful people are for not recognizing Joshua Bell or stopping to enjoy awesome violin music.  Until I read this story I had not heard of Joshua Bell and I only somewhat enjoy violin music. Paint my collar blue.

That people don’t recognize a celebrity out of context is not surprising, especially a non-Hollywood celebrity.  That the majority of people don’t recognize a famous classical musician is not surprising as the majority of people who can afford seats at the symphony are not the majority of the subway-riding working stiffs.  That people won’t stop and close their eyes and sway and appreciate musical beauty as they are late to work is not surprising either, because if they get fired, how are they ever going to afford symphony tickets?

Recognition of celebrity or beauty out of context may have been the intended story, but I thought the real story was about how everyone you pass has a story — a tragic beautiful amazing heroic unique thrilling and wonderful story, co-written with a mighty creator.

Everyone you pass has a story that is out of context.  The mom I often pass on the way to school, who wears yoga pants and drives the Mercedes, who never makes eye contact or speaks to me, who makes me feel like she thinks she is better than me — she has a story.  And if I knew her story, it might provide some context.  It might change my perspective.  I might view her differently.

The mom who is 30-pounds overweight.  The mom who is always pulled together and volunteers for everything.  The mom who is a little too loud. The mom who lets her kid wear shorts to school in January.  The mom who….

Everyone has a story, which in the subway station of life, is out of context.  And no, I’m not suggesting that we stop and take in the story of everyone we pass, because then we would never have time for those trapeze lessons.  But we can try to remember that everyone we pass has a story and that if we knew it, we would have the context to recognize the celebrity and beauty in them that God sees.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  1Samuel 16:7

 

Wherein We Speak of YKW

Today’s topic is YKW, which shall be code for ‘you know what’ which shall be code for well, you know. . .  It’s not that I am Victorian when it comes to the topic of YKW, it’s just that I’d prefer Google not send a certain audience of seekers to my humble wholesome blog, so therefore I have developed my own dorky top secret code.  So then, now you are in the know about YKW.

* * * * *

Sean prefers to sit with AD and I in our Sunday school class.  And we don’t mind, we like having him with us.  He brings a book to read.  But he is also listening.  He’s always listening.  We know this because usually sometime around Wednesday, out of the blue, he’ll make some observation about something the teacher said.

For the past several weeks, a family and marriage therapist has been leading the class on various aspects of the marriage relationship.  The next class, we were warned, would be on marital intimacy.  So of course we told Sean that he would have to go to his own class.  “Why!?” he protested, “Because you’re going to talk about s+x?”  Yes, I said, for that very reason.  “But I promise I won’t answer any of the questions!” he said.

Sean has a good understanding of YKW.  He understands the physiology.  He knows that God created male and female, each with their own unique components for reproduction.  He does not yet fully understand how the components come together to make that happen because he is not ready for that.

We decided early on that we would approach the topic honestly anytime the opportunity presented.  And one thing that has helped in that regard is that Sean has always been keenly interested in wild life and animals.  We have watched a lot of Animal Planet, where the topic is unavoidable and usually narrated in a British voice.  Which somehow makes everything seem more proper.

One time when Sean was about five and my parents were visiting, Sean and my dad were sitting on the couch watching an episode of Animal Planet while the British guy gave a play by play of two lions engaged in YKW.  Sean, ever the educator, turns to my dad and flatly informs him, “The male is the one top.”  To which my dad replied, “Oh.” and then quickly excused himself to the kitchen to refill his glass of tea.

Everyone has to develop their own parenting philosophy in terms of how and when to teach their children about YKW, so what follows is not to comment upon what anyone else is doing, but merely to say what has worked for us. Thus far.  We may find out years from now that our philosophy was a complete and utter failure.

If I were to offer any advice in regards to how you decide to educate your children on this topic it would be to decide.  That is to say give some thought as to what, when and how you want your children to learn about YKW, and not wait to see how the world fills the void.

Parenting often occurs in reaction to and against our own experience and this may be part of how our thinking on this topic developed — we looked back on our own experience and decided that maybe there was a better way.  I think for many of us Baby Boomers the best practice of the day was that somewhere around puberty, your mother or some other well-intended adult would ominously sit you down and give you THE TALK, maybe give you a book which covered the basic physiology illustrated with line drawings.  They would then dust their hands, relieved that the task was complete, thankful that we could all move on with our lives and pretend it never happened.

The problem with this approach in my view is that it’s like getting a bucket of cold water in the face.  There was no information leading up to THE TALK (except maybe from unreliable peer sources), there was no context, and definitely no follow-up.  And it was incredibly awkward at a time when your life is one big hot steaming bowl of awkward.

In light of that we decided to forego the bucket method, and opted instead for the dribble method – we would start early and give him little bits of accurate and age-appropriate information as the opportunity presented.  There would be no cabbage patch or stork or cute names for body parts.

THE TALK approach, to me, always seemed to confer upon it a sense of shame, that somehow after THE TALK you don’t talk about it, ever, again.  We want Sean to talk to us openly and freely, about everything, but at the same time YKW is not a topic we want him discussing openly and freely outside of our family, for many reasons, but not the least of which is because just like Santa Claus, other families might be going the stork route and we want to respect that.  We don’t want Sean to be a spoiler or to get in the way of how other people are teaching their children.  So, we constantly remind Sean that this is a topic that we only talk about at home among the three of us, and never with others.

When I was coming of age, my knowledge on the topic was like a book that was missing every other page.  I had bits and pieces of information here and there, but by no means did I have a complete picture or a useful understanding.  And I knew it.  I can still remember my freshman year of high school, the panicky feeling of knowing that I didn’t know what I thought everyone else knew, and trying to pretend that I did.  And that panic and pretending is awful, because you’re just waiting to be found out as the dumbest person ever.  And I don’t want for Sean.  I want him to have confidence in who he is and what he knows. I don’t want to leave wide open gaps for the world to fill with panic and ugly half-truths.

That is why we want Sean to hear from us first on the topic of YKW – like the local news, we want to be his first and most trusted source of information!  Back to you AD in the studio!

That he should hear from us first on this topic is the cornerstone of our philosophy — the two people who love him most and know him best, who have his best interest at heart and in whom he knows he can trust completely.

We want to provide him with information on a level that is appropriate for him, in the context of our beliefs and values, with the understanding that physiology and faith are partners, not opponents, that one without the other is incomplete.  We want him to feel he can talk to us anytime, openly and without reserve or shame.  We want him to understand that this is a topic that is to be handled with respect, and therefore is private (not secret) and not public.

If our philosophy is sound and works the way we hope, when the topic of YKW comes up on the playground, as it will if it hasn’t already, he’s heard it before, it is old news.  And hopefully he’ll yawn confidently and walk away.

If not, he can discuss it with his future family and marriage therapist.

A Big Conversation

We have a number of friends who home school their children and one of the traits that AD and I have observed in these kiddos that we admire is their comfort and poise in speaking with adults.  We are impressed with how they look us in the eye when speaking to us, how they speak in complete sentences, how they thoughtfully and appropriately engage us in conversation, both contributing and inquiring.

Of course it would be a gross over-generalization to attribute this solely to homeschooling but that seems to be the common denominator in our limited experience.  It could just be that our friends have terrific kids.

Most kids – and I’m sure yours is an exception – will answer in choppy one or two-word sentences when engaged by an adult and then look around nervously for an escape hatch.

All that to say, we have been working with Sean to help him to become a comfortable conversationalist.  We think it is a valuable life skill, one that we want him to develop.  For some kids this may come easily, for others, like mine, it will require some practice.

So the other day, we were driving up to Tuna to see some of our relatives, whom we don’t see often enough, and we were preparing him to greet his great aunts and uncles and so we were role playing as a way to practice.

Me:  Ok Sean, let’s pretend I am Aunt Doris.  And I say something like, ‘Why hello Sean.  You sure are getting big!’ – What would you say to Aunt Doris?

Sean:  You are too!

On second thought, maybe it would be better if he just said “Yup” and then hid behind my skirt.

Disclaimer:  Doris is NOT big, we don’t think Doris is big, no one at our house has ever said Doris and Big in the same sentence, ever, not once.