February 16, 2015

New adventures

2014, particularly the latter half, was full of change and surprises. Many of which were not good ones: sudden job loss, unemployment, mounting bills, another job change, car trouble, etc. In addition, we were part of a church "plant" of sorts that came to a quite sudden end on January 31st. Now we are in the throes of finding a new church, which is always an adventure and one that I for some reason feel like documenting!

James and I have been Christians and church-goers our whole lives. We have attended (whether once, regularly, on a visiting basis, or as members) many denominations and types of churches in at least five different states. So, we have a little experience with this. However, this is our first church finding mission in a while and the first with older kids who have their own spiritual needs and degree of influence on our choice.

Since we moved back to Illinois in 2009, we have attended a large church in the northwest suburbs, a 50 minute drive from us. We felt at home there for many years, but slowly started to feel like God would have us in a different type of environment with different theological priorities and manifestations. But, we got involved in a small group last summer that intended, and then followed through, on a plan to become a church plant of the the larger church in a different neighborhood. It was a lot of hard work over the past year, but we were more invested in the support of our friends and co-church members than we were in the larger "mission", if you could call it that, of our church. It was an uncomfortable and draining position to be in. One that we certainly take responsibility for allowing to continue once we knew it wasn't the right place for our family.

Now that the dust is settling, we are beginning this new journey with a few criteria we know are important (in addition to theological ideology):

  1. Diversity-of race, age, economic background, and probably other things I can't think of now.
  2. Manageable number of attendees-probably 200-1000, but this is relatively flexible if other elements are in place. We certainly are not interested in another "mega church", as that model has become suspect to us.
  3. Social engagement-we want to be a part of a church that engages with the community, addresses social issues like poverty, homosexuality, and diversity, among others.
  4. Strong, committed believers-church isn't a social engagement to us and we want to be in a place that challenges us to be better people, parents, spouses, etc., no matter how difficult that may be.
  5. Close to home-after spending so many years traveling to get to church on Sundays and dealing with the difficulty of getting more deeply involved because of distance, we'd like to find something closer. We'd rather spend our energy on getting involved, not driving.
All of these criteria can be encompassed by the word community, I think. We want to be in a place that is of the community, in our community, fortifying to our community, and a nourishing community unto itself where we feel that we belong and can put our talents to use and have our weaknesses challenged in a way that makes us better people. 

So, our journey begins. We are praying that God will bring us to the right place and that we'll have the wisdom to see it when we're there.

May 31, 2014

Breathing room

It's no secret that I have not been a big fan of the younger years with my kids. I certainly enjoyed many aspects of my kids as babies and toddlers. But mostly I've had to force myself to see the good points while looking forward to later years.

At the end of April, S turned 4 and we had "an orange dinosaur cake" for him. He knows what he likes!

He also finished his first year of Cubbies, and got his first ribbon for his accomplishments. He really was glad, despite his face.

K turned 8 on Sunday. He will be done with 1st grade in 7 more days, after a truly wonderful year in a school that he loves more than I even hoped.

He loves fishing, reading, Pokemon, drawing, games and is amazingly empathetic for a kid. We are so proud of him and the boy he's becoming.

And now I finally feel like I have room to breathe in life. No more diapers, very few middle of the night encounters. K is almost done with his booster seat and S is out of the big, bulky 5-point harness car seat. They can walk to and from the car themselves and help me carry things too. We can have discussions about life, behavior, chores, expectations, concerns, interests.

We've decided that S will do a two day, couple of hour pre-school program in the neighborhood starting in the fall. It's mostly play based, so it is a good way for him to have some time with other kids. The rest of the time, I still get to have him home and help guide him and teach him the way we have been. This year was a bit tough for him with K at school and branching out with his own friendships, apart from S. So I think he will really enjoy having something of his own to do and new kids to play with.

I'm so pleased with this phase of life. I feel like I have some more control, even if I don't yet have much free time. :) I love seeing who my boys are becoming. Watching them develop and deepen their interests and personalities is wonderful. In the younger years, I often got to helpless moments, feeling like nothing would change and that possibly nothing we were doing had any real effect on them. As they grow, there is evidence that all the love, planning and attention we've given really do help. That is such a blessing.

Along with this new phase comes the understanding that older parents starting giving us pretty much as soon as they knew we were going to have a baby: to enjoy "these years, they go so quickly".  That advice REALLY doesn't help when you have a baby who never sleeps or is colicky or won't move more than four feet from you for weeks at a time. But with some distance, literal and figurative, I can finally understand and genuinely feel the meaning behind the advice. 

Ten years from now, K will be getting ready to go to college. S will be starting high school. We won't be seeing them quite as much, they won't be jumping into bed to cuddle with us, we might not even get many meals together by then. So, I think I am in a place to really start embracing the now more and more. Not perfectly of course, but in a different way than I was able to before. 

My favorite times are the silly ones:
K wearing some "armor" rings at Anthropologie.

And posing with a statue downtown.

S decided to dress in my winter gear for dinner.

But a close second are our cuddle times on the couch, or before bed:

Thankful for these days.

May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

This is a great day to remember the mothers who have born us, shaped us, taught us, protected us, prayed us through life, and loved us with all they have.

I'm so thankful for my mom and all she has done and continues to do for our family. I got my eyes, hair, honesty, stoicism, love of sports and love of the outdoors from her. I also got most of the good things about my parenting from her.

She has always been great about sharing whatever she knows with us, encouraging us to think for ourselves so we can make informed decisions. And at the same time, she's always been right there in the wings, ready to help if needed. Because of her sacrifice and vigilance, I have always felt secure and supported, equipped to do what I need to do because I'm not by myself in life.

I definitely reached a new level of understanding and appreciation once I had kids. My mom was there hours after K was born, to support me, Jim and K. Those first difficult weeks of motherhood were made so much more bearable with her help. And I got to contemplate during those moments how many of the same moments I must have put her through!

Now I get to see her as a grandmother. Delighting in the antics and diverse personalities of her three grandsons. They are so much the better in life because she is in their corner the same way she's always been in mine.

Similarly, I had two wonderful grandmothers in my life that inspire and encourage me:

My mom's mom. holding me as a baby. I'm so thankful that she is still around to be a prayer warrior and that we have had so much time with her.

My dad's mom holding me as a baby. She died in 1999 and I still miss her and think of her just about every day. 

I'm so thankful for these women and every ounce of themselves that they poured into their families to bring us to where we are. I'm thankful for their hopes and dreams and prayers that I know have sustained us. I'm so thankful to be one of the fortunate ones that gets to have a mom and grandmothers who were willing and capable and here with me for my life so far.

Happy Mother's Day!

January 11, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way home from the Market

This year we kept up the tradition of heading to downtown Chicago for the holidays. My family has done that for years and whenever we've been in the area, Jim and I and the kids have continued to do it. This year we went the first weekend of December.

We took the Metra down so we wouldn't have to pay for gas and parking. And since Jim gets Metra passes through work as a part of his benefits, we didn't have to pay for the transportation at all! It was very cold and supposed to snow, but since it was just the four of us, we knew we could handle it.

Everything is green from the windows of a Metra train. This is passing by the former Comisky (U.S. Cellular Field).
It was crazy cold when we got there. But we took a few seconds for pictures in the courtyard of the Mercantile Exchange. They had such pretty lights and decorations around.

We walked for a while, but had to stop at Argo Tea for a warm up. While we were there the snow started. For me, nothing feels as perfect in just about any season as being downtown. The snow and the buildings outside were amazing. And we had fun drinking tea and hot chocolate and telling stories inside.

After the break, we headed to Daley Plaza for the Christkindlmarket. This is the second year in a row that we've attended the German market. Last year it was a sixty degree day and there were millions of people and we could barely walk. It was still super busy this year, but we got there when it opened and it was colder so there were slightly fewer people. It was snowing really good by then!

We made a quick decision to take the kids to see Santa right when we got there. The line wasn't too long and they had never been to see Santa so we decided to just do it. We waited about 45 minutes, only about half of it outside. Simon's sense of wonder and fun is awesome, and he jumped right into Santa's lap and was so happy. Kiah enjoyed it too as he just recently asked if he could go. It was a really cute little Santa house set up too.

We explored the rest of the Market, had non-alcoholic gluhwein (me) and beer (Jim), ate some yummy German food and looked at a few of the vendors. By then we were freezing and tired of the crowds, so we headed over to the shopping areas nearby. We went into a little mall a couple blocks over so the kids could play at The Disney Store and I got to fill my Anthropologie love at a TWO STORY store.

Then we took a look at the Macy's windows on State Street. To be honest, the windows haven't been interesting in years. But we still look. 

Then we headed up to the seventh floor to see the Christmas Tree at the Walnut Room. It's always beautiful. The old Marshall Fields building is really in bad shape. It's too bad Macy's isn't taking care of it. I hope that they can restore it sometime soon and it doesn't just keep deteriorating. We usually take a picture by the tree as a family, but...
The kids were so worn out from all the walking and cold that they  both napped on the furniture near the tree and then were ready to go home.

Now the funny story. At The Disney Store, we saw some Monsters University toys on super sale. My grandma had given me money to buy a toy for each of the kids for her since it's hard for her to get out shopping. So we decided to stop back by the store on our way to the train. Jim took the kids and I bought three toys, one from us for Simon and two from my grandma.

The toys were pretty big, so there was no real hiding them. They were in bags at least, so they wouldn't know specifically what the toys were. As I checked out, one of the toys started talking. The toys make sounds and can communicate with each other. The employee told me that sometimes the toys just keep making sounds when the batteries are dying. I didn't expect it to be right then, however.

When I got outside, the toy kept yelling. Very obviously. Like, it was a busy street with traffic and people and I could still hear it. So, when the boys came back with me and we were walking, the toy kept yelling from the bag!! I tried to push on it to turn it off, but it was still in the box and nothing was working. I pulled off to the side of the sidewalk to figure out the buttons but couldn't. It just kept saying "Hey! Hey!". The kids could hear it and Kiah kept asking questions about what it was, trying to figure it out.

We stopped at Argo again for warm drinks to help us get back to the train. I had to run to the upstairs to deal with this rogue toy away from little prying ears and eyes. I pulled it out of the bag, all the while feeling terrible for the people hanging out reading or doing work up there, while my toy kept yelling!

I had to pull it out of all that ridiculous packaging they use to protect toys to find the switch. But the switch didn't turn off! Only changed modes. So, I took out my pocket knife (thank God I had it in my purse) and had to unscrew the battery door to rip out a battery. But it kept going! It finally shut up when I pulled out all three batteries. Sheesh!

Then we were finally able to leave and got to the train about seven minutes before it left. It was such a fun, beautiful, exactly-the-type-of-day we wanted. Good start to the holiday season, even with a possessed toy trying to ruin stuff.

December 23, 2013

In which I destroy the sacred grounds of childhood

We do not believe in Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy at our house. We never have. Before K was born, Jim and I decided that we were not going to "do" the mythical figures as a reality for our kids.

This is not a popular position to take. My family was confused and (I think) a little upset when we informed them of our decision. I think they get it now, but it was not an easy thing to throw into the mix.

Jim did not grow up with holiday figures, but in a more extreme way than what we ultimately decided to do. His parents felt that Santa and the Easter Bunny took away from the truth of what those holidays were about from a Christian perspective. They also didn't usually have a Christmas Tree, do Easter Egg hunts or anything more "secular". He and his siblings were not allowed to dress up for Halloween, go to school Halloween parties, trick-or-treat or do anything for what was considered a pagan holiday. I'm not sure what the reasoning was for no Tooth Fairy, but I think it might have been similar to what we decided on. Jim and his siblings were given strict instructions to NEVER ruin the holidays or beliefs of other kids. And they never did.

For me, my parents did the whole shebang. We went to visit Santa, we left out cookies and made lists of what we wanted. Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets were part of our celebrations. The Tooth Fairy stuck money under our pillows. We decorated our house for Halloween, dressed up, went trick-or-treating, etc. But there were limits for Halloween: nothing evil/scary, no witches or devils. And for the religious holidays we always included church, prayer and discussions of what those days meant in conjunction with our faith. And while I was fine with our traditions, I don't think I ever had a real need for any of it.

So, Jim and I had quite the discussion before we had kids about what we would be doing. We were both fine with how our parents did things, but not so adamant either way that it had to be the same, so we had to really think about what we wanted from holidays and the meaning behind it all.

I am a very practical person. I honestly am not sure I ever believed in the "magic" of things. My parents tell me that when I was four and they took me to see Santa at the mall I declared that it wasn't Santa, just a man in a suit. And when I was seven I was totally sure that Santa and the Easter Bunny were actually my parents, that I devised a way to make them tell me. (I casually mentioned after church that I kinda wasn't sure Santa existed the way I kinda wasn't sure Jesus existed. I was such a little conniver!) They confirmed everything that night and I wasn't a bit surprised.

Our decision for our kids was that since we believe in the meanings behind Christmas and Easter, we wanted to emphasis those things and not confuse it all with the make believe. So, no Santa or Easter Bunny. We do presents and a Christmas tree and Advent calendars and cookies, but the kids know that it is from us and we do what we can to discuss deeper meanings and the elements we really do believe to be true (Jesus's birth, resurrection). For Easter, all egg dying and Easter Egg hunts happen before Easter so that that Sunday is set apart for rejoicing in what we consider to be one of the most exciting events in history!

For Halloween, we do dress up and trick-or-treat, but we don't decorate the house specifically for Halloween. Instead we have a more autumn decorating esthetic (pumpkins, gourds, leaves, fall colors, happy jack-o-lanterns). We consider it a fun tradition, but de-emphasize/avoid anything that does not fit with our greater beliefs about good and evil and what we should focus on in life.

The Tooth Fairy fits in along with the rest because we have a general desire to build up our children's trust. The idea of lying to our kids, even if it is for "fun", is not a part of us. We want to have trusting relationships with our kids, show them that we are honest to the best of our abilities so that they can cultivate that in themselves. We are happy to give them things like presents and traditions as their parents, because we love them. But not to pretend it is something different.

I, like many others, am quite frankly disgusted with what so many holidays have become lately. It's half guilt trip/behavior modifying tool and half parental nostalgia/over indulgence. Every year in the late fall, every fourth person you meet gives kids a guilt trip about Santa. If they cry or misbehave in the store, I've had so many workers/people passing by tell my kids (in a sugary sweet voice) to be good so Santa will be happy with them. Every adult asks the kids whether they've been good for Santa, whether they are excited for Santa, whether Santa will bring them something good this year. We usually just smile and ignore it. The nice thing for my kids is that they don't have to internalize other people's attempts to define them by their momentary behavior. But what about other kids?

And kids' Christmas movies are just plain ridiculous. So much heaping guilt about Christmas spirit and believe going away and how it hurts Santa and might ruin Christmas. It's so heavy handed that I think I could draw some other cultural conclusions about our relationship to religion and faith just based on our treatment of Santa in Christmas movies and books!

The newest thing I've seen is the "Elf on the shelf". If you aren't aware, it is a little elf figurine that parents can buy and it "moves" around the house and purportedly spies on your kids for months and reports to Santa whether or not they've been bad. I want to be careful with this one because I know a lot of people close to me who love having the elf for their kids. And I do understand that other people have a greater desire to make things whimsical and fun in that way than I do.

However, I feel it often puts a huge, unnecessary burden on kids and parents. It can make the kids nervous and adds ANOTHER requirement on the parents (since the parent has to move it around or explain why the elf didn't move if they forgot to do it). And it reinforces the idea that the only reason to be good is so you get presents.Some people do put more into the fun aspect and less on the be good aspect, but for every family that does, there are 20 who use it as a primary disciplining tool.

I think a lot of adults try so hard to maintain the "magic" of holidays and youth and fantasy that the holidays become more about the adults than the kids. Parents kill themselves to decorate, buy, and do all the right things so that childhood will be perfect and holidays will be special. Kids are told to behave so they get stuff and people spend way more than they should to spoil kids and give them "everything they deserve". I personally see a major contradiction there. Not to mention that the majority of people end up really unhappy at the holidays because it isn't going the way it "should".

It isn't helpful to tell other people how to live their lives, especially if we are bashing each other over the heads with "true meanings" as a weapon to say, "I'm doing this right and you aren't". So I don't mean that here. And I have plenty of my own missteps with special days and times. I still end up overwhelmed with some of the traditions that we've adopted that suck the joy and energy right out of me. I still have ended up focusing too much on making the season feel right and therefore losing sight of more important issues. Still working on all of that.

For the first time this year K has expressed some disappointment with not having things the same as other kids he knows. But in many ways I can see that it's directly related to his kid desires for more and more, rather than better, that we as parents are helping him work through. He is mostly fine with the way things are, though, and we hope and pray that the decisions we've made will have a lasting impact on who he is as a person. And S as well.

October 3, 2013

Tricks shouldn't be for kids

One of my issues with current parenting/child interactions is how much people think tricking children is a good idea. It's more pervasive than I realized before I had kids.

For example, every time my kids have gotten shots, I've been uncomfortable with the approach the nurses insist on. The method always involves trapping the children so you can sort of unexpectedly jab them with needles. Some nurses are pretty good about explaining the process, especially to older kids who have gotten better with conversation. I appreciate that. And when they are babies, there is really nothing else you can do but keep their limbs still so they don't hurt themselves more by thrashing.

What I have trouble with are these two things:

One, the way toddlers/preschoolers are positioned. The nurse wants the child laying down with legs over the edge of the table, mom holding the top half of the child pinned to the table with arms up (sometimes over the child's head) and the nurse holding the legs and quickly giving the shot. I can't think of a more vulnerable and scary thing for a kid. I just think of how much I'd hate it to be put in that position so someone could do something so painful to me. Plus, I don't think it helps kids in the long run to learn to deal with difficult situations if they have no choice in how they position themselves.

For S's shots yesterday, I gently laid on top of his upper body, like a hug, and gave him kisses, praise and tried to prepare him for the two pricks. But I always feel like there has to be a better way to do that!

Two, for older kids they do not want the child to look at the shot being given, and want their arms/hands restricted as well.

My approach to parenting is to try to prepare my kids and help them try to work through tough/painful things with more autonomy (when the situation could allow it). For K's shots yesterday, I spent a good deal of time explaining what would happen before we got there (he doesn't remember his last shots a couple of years ago) and explaining different ways he could deal with it. My personal approach for years now with painful medical procedures is to think through what is going to happen (instead of vaguely worrying about it) and to pay attention the whole time to what is happening so I'm not surprised by it. I told K that he could choose to watch the shots being administered so that he would always know what was coming and when it would be over. The nurse tried very hard to make him look away when giving the shot, but I made no effort to stop him. I hugged his arms to his sides and held his hands to minimize any involuntary or fear movement, but tried to let him help keep control of himself.

I think we usually short change kids when we as parents/leaders overreact on their behalf and don't allow them to figure out a way to deal with the inevitable. Shots and pain are part of life. Pretending it won't come or downplaying it to the point of lying does not do any long term good. I've been given many a dirty look when nurses hear me tell my kids that it is going to hurt, but it won't last long. But to me that seems so much kinder than saying it won't hurt at all. And, frankly, I feel it undermines trust in authority in the long run.

And because of my honestly, I feel that each time my boys encounter a potentially scary or painful situation, they get a little better with dealing with it. Neither of my kids ever cries very long or has a major overreaction to shots or other things like that. They aren't perfect or indifferent, but it's so much better than what I've seen from kids who's parents over dramatize the whole thing and then make the kid more scared or feel they have to keep up a big reaction. My approach might not work for all kids or parents, but I think using it from the beginning, as way of life, does help in the long run.

We can trust our children far more than most people believe. Of course we want to shield them, but too much shelter causes different kinds of fears and problems.

Part two of my views on honesty for kids to come. Be forewarned, it's not popular and I'm pretty sure some people think we're totally crazy for it.

September 10, 2013

How do you change without change?

As a kid, I never moved. My mom had moved a lot so when she got married it was a big goal to buy a house and stay in it forever. And so far they've been in the same house for almost 39 years!

I have a little bit of a gypsy spirit, however, and always wished we could move. But I figure that is mostly because I had the privilege of having a stable home that I could always be sure would be there. That security helped me feel more safe with exploring. Plus, I'm just an exploring type of person! (My mom can give many details of this in me from the earliest times of my life.)

When Jim and I got married, it was really cool getting to be in our own apartment. After three years we wanted something different, and moved. That began a series of many moves all over. The biggest move, to Colorado, was partly inspired by a sense of stagnation and fear of never getting to try new things and be different people. I know part of me hoped that by changing location I could change the things I didn't like about my life, myself, my marriage, etc. In some ways I suppose it worked. Being in a new city without the ease of family to fall back on and familiar places does make life different. Plus we lived in a very different type of climate/environment. There was no way to mistake Colorado Springs for Illinois! All you had to do was look up at the mountains.

But, there was still a degree of unhappiness there. I realize now that it was mostly due to the fact that I was pregnant, had a baby and a young, difficult child and therefore life would have been hard no matter where I was! At the time I assumed that moving closer to family would fix a lot of the challenges because I would have help in a way that I didn't with my friends in Colorado.

So, we left. Some issues had been resolved while we were there, we grew up a lot, we made some smarter choices with our money and lifestyle, we got closer as a couple. But, we weren't ready to come back to Chicago. In part because we feared we weren't yet past the things that had been tripping us up the last time we lived there: driving too much, spending too much, not having enough close friendships, schedules being overly devoted/hijacked by jobs and family.

In Ohio, I learned what it means to not have much of anything you want. The country life was NOT for me. It was boring and devoid of culture. I liked our duplex apartment and when we moved into our own place in town it was better than being in an old, overly full farmhouse when we lived with my in-laws. But it was practically impossible to make friends (the country is quite the insider's club a lot of the time). We couldn't find a church where we felt really at home. Jim's job was awful and soul-sucking. I was still alone with a toddler most of the time. We made some very hard choices in order to save money and live on Jim's mediocre salary. So, we had no internet, no TV, and spotty radio and phone reception. We didn't go many places because there was both no place to go and no money to go anywhere. Again, we learned a lot about living, sacrificing and focusing on what we wanted in life. As well as accepting a life that literally had so little of what we wanted for our family.

When we came back to Illinois, we lived with my parents to save money and get in better shape before trying to find our own place in the more expensive housing market out here. We had to adjust to two (then later three) different family units living in one home. We had to ignore nagging feelings of failure and perceptions of I don't even know what when a married couple in their 30's with kids live with their parents.

Now we've been in our own apartment for over three years. All we've learned from our moves and growing pains has been wonderful and helpful.  But there are still so many changes we'd like to see in our lives and our family. We found that a lot of the problems we had before we left are still here, and causing the same troubles as the first time around. (Which is super depressing because we really hoped to be at least a little older and wiser by now!) Add in the desire to be more environmentally friendly, socially conscious,  healthy, budget conscious, and less materialistic and it's enough to have my head spinning. It's so hard not to feel like every decision I make could wreck my kids present and future. I'm working on letting go of the fears and accepting life as it comes. The worry about today and let tomorrow worry about itself plan. But, of course, that is really, really hard.

This apartment and these jobs are now officially the longest we've ever lived and worked in one place as a couple. We lived in our first apartment for three years, but neither of us has held the same job for longer than two years. So, we're fighting the desire for flight right now. We're working on stability and the maturity that comes from working through problems instead of leaving for something new, exciting and potentially better.

But we wonder how to make the big changes we want to make without a physical marker.

Recent sermons at our church have been helpful. We need to learn to empty our selves of self, be less inward focused in order to be more effective Christians, as well as spouses, parents, and workers. It's amazing how quickly personal desires can take over and overwhelm other aspects of life. How quickly we can feel trapped and uncared for or unfulfilled when we start giving too much thought to our own comfort.

We want to have dreams and then strive for those dreams. We want to be people who care for others and for the Kingdom of God. We don't want to build up our own, safe little life and/or try to live out anyone else's idea of what is best.

So, we are trying to listen more. To be more open to change (especially internal/behavior change), and open to what others may need (whether inside our family or not). We want to live the life we have now and not keep wondering or worrying about what should or could be. Life feels like it is moving faster now that we have kids. As we age, we see more and more what everyone has always said about making the most of the now because it does move fast. We'll have a kid going to college in about 11 years!!!!

I still have very little of any practical sense of what to DO. But I'm trying none the less to be more and do more. And I'll keep praying for guidance.