Friday, June 27, 2014

Growth Spurts and Growing Pains

"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"      Matthew 5:37

   There's a bad vibe in my house right now.  My oldest son Zack is turning ten in August.  He's fighting for more independence than I'm willing to give.  It's a cyclical thing with us.  The head-butting seems to happen both when a new school years beings, and again when it ends.  They are his milestones, his transition times.  Like a snail, he has outgrown one shell and is searching for a bigger one.
    So here we are at the end of another school year.  Here we are again, head-butting.  Knowing that the old boundaries don't apply anymore, I've relaxed my rules, blurred the lines between what he can get away with, and what he can't.  My "Yes" is not meaning just "Yes."  My "No" is not meaning just "No."  Both responses have an undertone of "Maybe."  Zack's a smart kid.  He knows that "Maybe" is a lot closer to "Yes" than "No" is.  So he's hounding me, pushing me until he badgers me into saying "Yes."  It's completely frustrating, and utterly exhausting!  Both feelings lead to me losing my cool.  No wonder the household is a mess!    
     With some distance, the solution is easy to see.  I am the only mom who can decide what freedoms Zack can gain, what new shell will fit him, and what new freedoms he's not yet ready for.  But seeing as I haven't defined those boundaries for myself, how can I define them for him?       The real truth is, Zack is growing up in front of my very eyes, and I am panicked.  He's my first child.  This is unchartered territory for me.  I don't like transitions.  I don't like change.  Obviously is't a control issue (such a recurring theme for me).  I love motherhood when I am the General, my kids are little soldiers, and they follow "orders from headquarters."*  But Generals drill the fun out of everything.  They crush individuality, and stifle creativity.  
     Jesus never stifled people or crushed their spirits.  He defined boundaries, without a doubt, but those boundaries were for people's benefit, to channel their energy in the right direction, to point them towards the path that would make them better people.  Most of all, the boundaries were clear cut, and were defined with love.
     Unless I want this bad vibe to exist all summer long and crash into the next growth spurt when the new school year begins, I need to take action.  But the action needs to be a soul searching one, a prayerful one.  I need to turn to other moms with older kids for guidance, for sure.  But, more importantly, I have to go to my core:  that place where my mother's intuition guides me out of a deep knowing of who Zack is, and what he, the individual, is really ready for.  
     I also need to turn to God in prayer, begging for the wisdom to know where to reset the boundaries so that they align with His boundaries, His will, and His vision of who Zack will become.  I also need to seek His patience to stand by and watch Zack stumble a bit with the new freedoms, to hold my tongue and let Zack figure it out on his own, or be there for him to pick up the pieces when he's overwhelmed.  I also need to seek God's counsel to constantly be assessing the new boundaries, to confirm whether I've shifted the lines to the right places or not.  Lastly, I need God to grant me the humility to admit to both Zack, and myself, when I've made a mistake.  
     Zack is an incredibly rational kid.  When a rule makes sense to him, he follows it to a "T."  It's not his fault that he's compelled to push the boundaries, stretch them to accommodate his growth.  These are the growth spurts and growing pains of life.  It's my fault for not recognizing the signs earlier, and doing what needed to be done.  But once I've defined things for us both, I can once again be firm in my convictions.  That's when the the logical Zack will accept when my "Yes" means "Yes," and my "No" means "No."  

* I'd like to thank Angela Hanafin who allowed me to use the phrase "orders from headquarters" that she coined.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Motherhood Crossroad

     "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.".....  
     At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?"
     "No one, sir," she said.
     "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared.  "Go now and leave your life of sin."                                          John 8:7, 9-11

     I was driving with my son Mason to go pick up his older brother Zack from an after school activity.  Mason picked up the book of questions for kids that I had purchased in my endeavor to use the little moments, like driving in the car, to further connect.  He randomly picked a question and read it aloud, "If one thing had to be eliminated from TV shows forever, would you eliminate sex or violence?"
     The first thought that ran through my head was, "WHAT was that question doing in a book for kids?!!!"  My second thought was, "Shame on me for not previewing the book in advance for appropriateness!"  But there is was - out there.  So, rather than burying my head in the sand, I decided to go with it.  I said that, as a mom, my preference would be to eliminate both sex and violence, although I knew that I wasn't following the rules of the question.
     My eight-year-old son's response was, "I think I know what sex is."  Taking a big gulp, and praying to the Holy Spirit for help, I asked him what he thought it was.  His answer about what happens between "a girl and a boy" was so blunt and graphic, I almost drove off the road!!!  When I recovered, I asked him who told him that definition.  When he said his nine-year-old brother Zack, I almost crashed into a tree!!!
     It was in that moment, and later that evening when I spoke privately with Zack about it, that I realized I was at a motherhood crossroad.  My natural reaction was to scream, yell, and punish my kids for talking like they were.  But how I responded was going to determine whether they came to me in the future for guidance, or whether they went somewhere else out of fear, judgement, and punishment from me.
     It was then that I remembered Jesus' response to the woman who sinned.  By challenging the crowd to examine their own consciences before throwing the first stone, He helped them realize that we all make mistakes and shouldn't judge.  By not condemning the woman Himself, He demonstrated understanding, compassion, and unconditional love.  By telling her to leave her life of sin, He held her lovingly accountable for her mistakes, yet challenged and encouraged her to rise above them to become a better person.  From this perspective, my choice on how to respond to my boys was obvious, and surprisingly easy.
     I'm sure that this is only the first of many, many moments when this topic catches me off guard, like a deer in headlights.  But it felt really wonderful to recognize and follow the sign at the fork in the road that Jesus put up for us centuries ago.  I know it's impossible to respond as well as Jesus did, but I felt true peace as I navigated this landmine, with Jesus' example as my guide.

Friday, June 13, 2014

It's Okay To Not Know

"I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges."           Acts 25:20

Questioning Minecraft Creeper Head
Courtesy of Zack McGarry, age 9 1/2 
     I was recently part of a book club with some wonderful women who taught me so much.  One, in particular, demonstrated to me that it's okay to not know something.  When a topic arose that she didn't know about, she simply said so.  Without belittling her or being condescending, another woman would explain and fill in the missing pieces of information.  Nine times out of ten, I didn't know the information either, but I wasn't as secure as my friend was.  I didn't have the courage to admit I didn't know something.  I never voice my "not knowing" because of fear of ridicule.  Ironically enough, when this woman admitted hers, I was filled with awe and respect.  I admired her courage.  I wanted to be more like her.
     My husband and I watch the TV show "West Wing" on Netflix (we're always eight or ten years behind the average viewing audience).  Episode after episode, the President faces some calamity or conundrum, and always turns to his advisers for help.  Although it's fictional, it blew me away to think that the most powerful man in our country so readily admits the he doesn't know something.  Wisely and maturely, he recognizes that there aren't enough hours in the day to know it all.  Therefore, he has hand picked and surrounded himself with some of the smartest and most trusted people he knows.  In his "not knowing," he has people to turn to for help.
     Although too many to count, my biggest "not knowing" categories are history and current events.  History bored me to tears in school; I just don't think my brain is configured to remember dates and facts.  Furthermore, I don't read the newspaper (on-line or hard-copy), and I don't watch the news.  There, I've admitted it!  I am just too emotional, too impressionable. The tragedies and horror stories featured in the news depress me beyond words.  Plus, there's nothing I can do about those big picture issues anyways.  Instead, I choose to use my time and energy to try and make my little corner of the world a better place.  It feels like a more practical use of my time, far more proactive.
     Like my book club friend, the fictional President, and Festus, the governor of Judea in this scripture passage, I want to freely admit that I don't know something.  I want to quit pretending, expose myself to the light.  I already have surrounded myself with wise and intelligent people whom I trust.  Now I want to turn to them, and to God, to teach me and to counsel me in all that I do not know.  
     Although I want to make this change for me, I also want to role model this for my children.  I want to teach them that the best way to learn, and the most honest way to live, is to stop pretending.  I want to teach them that it's okay to not know.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Doing What Only I Can Do

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait tables."                                          Act. 6:1-2

      I recently read Alexandra Kuykendall's book, "The Artist's Daughter."  In it, she's overwhelmed with all the "to do's" in her life.  When grappling with what to step up for, versus what to cut out, she uses the phrase "Do what only I can do."  My immediate thought was that the editor overlooked a typographical error and it was supposed to say, "Do only what I can do."  But Kuykendall goes on to clarify that if someone else is able to do something, the onus doesn't fall just on her to do it.  There are others who can step forward and help.  It's the things that 
ONLY she can do, that no one else can, that she absolutely should step forward for.  
     In this scripture passage, the Apostles knew this instinctively.  Of course they were capable of serving the widows during the daily distribution of food.  But so weren't others.  What others couldn't do was spread the word of God as well as the Apostles could.  That was something "ONLY they could do."  They couldn't neglect that; it was their top priority.  Instead, they carefully chose and empowered others to serve the widows.  They heard the need, discerned a solution, and then delegated out the task that would have robbed them of their time to fulfill their number one priority.
     I could learn a lot from both Kuykendall and the Apostles in this department.  When I look at my plate and how full it is, I need to use this philosophy to decide my priorities, and to discern what I can either step away from, or delegate out.  As a wise person said to me, taking this point further, I need to incorporate this view point not just from my front door out, but from my front door in.  ONLY I can nurture, teach and love my children the way that God has called me to do.  If stepping forward to collect money for the teacher's end of the year gift means I'm sending and responding to so many emails I'm neglecting my own kids, I need to realize that someone else is perfectly capable of that task.  If volunteering to be a Boy Scout Leader or Destination Imagination coach means that I won't be home to oversee homework or cook somewhat healthy dinners, I need to realize that someone else could be just as good of a leader or coach as I could be, probably better!  
      However, in the chaos that is dinnertime, I am the ONLY one who can deal with the cooking.  But that doesn't mean I can't delegate out parts of the process to my kids.  Zack, who can't work the oven and stove top yet, can fill the water glasses.  Mason, who hasn't quite mastered carrying full glasses to the table without spilling them yet, can fold napkins.  Jocelyn, who can't fold napkins yet, can put the silverware on the table.  In fact, helping to set the table not only empowers my kids, but it teaches them that many hands make for lighter work, and that helping feels good.
     Yes, we should step forward as often as we can to help out, to pay things forward, to make the world a better place.  But when we aren't able to accomplish the tasks that ONLY we can do, that God has called us to do, we have to recheck our priorities, and align our actions with them.  The Apostles knew that their number one priority was to spread the Word of God.  Had they not kept that priority front and center, the Church and God's message would have suffered greatly.  My number one priority is to be there for my kids.  I can't run the risk any longer of losing sight of that priority.  If I do, both my kids and I will suffer greatly.