Thursday, June 21, 2007

When giving in becomes a golden moment.

I subscribe to a "gentle parenting" style when it comes to child-rearing. It took a journey to come to that that I'll have to go further into in future posts. But for now I'll just say that I've found a parenting philosophy that speaks strongly to my heart and makes sense to my spirit, as a mother and as a follower of Christ. I respectfully, yet wholeheartedly, disagree with the more mainstream Christian parenting resources that encourage strict schedules for infants, physical punishments for toddlers, and the need to keep a child in it's "place", so to speak. It's not to say that those who advocate and/or follow those methods are "wrong". It just didn't feel right to me, particularly not when looking at the Father heart of God as an example of how a parent might relate to their children.

But that's not to say that my husband and I don't set boundaries for our daughter. It's a common misconception - go "soft" on the discipline and your children will run amok. It's important to us that our kids grow up learning to be respectful to others, that they know how to deal with disappointment, and that they listen and obey. Our main focus is consistency. If we say we're going to do something, we're determined to do it. Whether it be remembering to read that book that we promised we'd read in "just a minute", or following through on a consequence for an inappropriate action. Of course, we've failed countless times. That comes with the territory. But our intentions are to maintain consistency in an appropriate way. This value is tested every day. And with every such instance I learn something, if I open my eyes and my heart to what the lesson is.

Last night at bedtime, major toddler meltdown ensued. We had arrived home later than usual, so the routine had been delayed a bit - not a good situation for my little creature of habit. We got her teeth brushed, stories read, and prayers said, all the while listening to that droning, sleepy whine. By the time she and I headed back for some pre-bed cuddle time in her room, we had reached the unreasonable stage. I sang her a song, which she wanted to hear again...and again. Recognizing the attempts at stalling, I told her I would sing that song once more before it was time to go in her crib. When she was all snuggled down in the crib with her blanket, she asked again. I reminded her that the "once more" was all done, but offered to sing her usual lullaby, prefacing it with a reminder that I would be singing it one time, and then it was time to sleep. As I expected, when the lullaby was done she asked me to repeat it. I told her it was time to sleep, tucked her in, gave her a kiss and told her "night night". She was crying as I walked out the door. I wouldn't have left her crying while she was a baby, but as a sleepy toddler on a manipulation mission, I feel ok about letting her fuss a bit.

Within two minutes, the cries turned to tired, half-hearted protests, and then she sighed and was quiet. My heart ached a bit, knowing that I had done the right thing by staying consistent, but also fighting the twinges of sadness that I always feel when I have to be tough.

About five minutes passed, and then through the quiet monitor sitting beside the couch, I heard a little voice, whiny tone completely gone, clear-as-a-bell...

"I not sad anymore. I no cry. I happy now. Ok. Mama? I see you?"

Contemporary wisdom would recommend that I stay put. I had done the "right" thing. She would be asleep within minutes anyway. I knew this. But you know what? At that moment, a flock of child psychologists followed by a herd of wildebeests couldn't have kept me from going back into that room. I slipped through the door, adjusted her blanket, and rubbed her back. And then I started to sing her favorite lullaby. As I did, she joined me, in a voice half-asleep, fully satisfied. When I was done, she didn't ask again. Somehow, I knew she wouldn't. This was something different. There was a different tone between us now. I was no longer fighting to keep the upper hand, and she was no longer fighting to try and take it. There was just peace. As I walked back towards the door, she whispered, "Thank you, Mama. Night-night."

Goodness knows I've been swayed by that little girl's manipulation techniques many times, with frustrating outcomes. There will be many such times to come, I'm sure. But last night, my decision to "give in" was one that I wouldn't have traded for anything. I broke the rules, sure. But I had a priceless moment with my daughter. And I learned a little lesson about pride, and about grace.

Monday, June 18, 2007

An arachnophopic preoccupation!

I hate spiders with a passion that rivals my hatred of camping and the feeling of fingernails scratching denim. Also, tapered-leg pants. So we're talking intense aversion here. Seriously, if I've seen a spider in a particular spot in my house, it will take me months before I don't do a quick, heart-pounding scan of that area each and every time I enter the room after said sighting.

When I was growing up, I was terrified that there might be a spider in my bed, and that I would slip innocently under the covers someday, only to feel eight disgusting legs scampering up my arm. My dad always assured me that it was impossible for a spider to end up in my bed, and explained the physics of how it would have to scale a bed post, push it's way under the heavy blankets, etc. I had a different notion, of course - I figured it could drop from the ceiling. Sort of a Mission Impossible-type insect maneuver. Dad laughed it off, insisting that spiders have no interest in dropping. But I always suspected that there must exist some sort of spider conspiracy against me.

Fast forward several years to one of the first summers after my wedding. I happened to have the lights on one evening as I was pulling the sheets back on the bed. As I pushed the switch to turn on my alarm clock, I spotted a small but furious movement out of the corner of my eye. Horrified, I hooked one finger under the corner of the sheet, held my breath, and lifted the edge. Yes. That's right. One of those uninterested-in-dropping spiders had suddenly developed an interest in validating my fears and invading the bed. MY side of the bed, I might add.

That little incident was years ago, and I still have to check the bed every night to be certain that a new terrorist spider cell group hasn't set their next plan in motion.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because there is a large, hairy arachnid in my minivan at this very moment, and I can't stop thinking about it. My dear husband insisted on borrowing some sort of sprinkler attachment from his parents last night, and then insisted on leaving it in the back of the van for me to happen across as I searched in vain for a spot to load my grocery bags this afternoon. Not to worry, dear. I'll just lift the filthy, cumbersome, inexplicably 50-pound-ish contraption and move it to a different locale in the vehicle. Oh, and I'll be careful not to let the long metal prongs that stick out from the top (and, by the way, spin at random) scratch the interior of the van as I do so. Yeah, that was the plan until mid-move, a huge beast of a spider dropped down by my hand (yes, he was interested in dropping as well - uh huh, who's crazy now?). Before I could find a suitable smashing instrument in my bagfuls of produce, the crafty monster scuttled under the folded-down rear seat, out of reach but not out of mind. I think I actually heard a tiny chuckle as he fled.

After I reassured Maya that all was well, and dodged the "What's 'Oh SHOOT', Mama?" question, I drove home, white-knuckled, just praying that he would stay put until I could rescue me and my child from the vehicle after our safe arrival at home. We made it.

I need to leave again, in this very vehicle, in about an hour. I may need a sedative. What my sweet husband doesn't know yet is that when he get home this evening, he will not only be unloading the death-trap sprinkler thingy from the van, but he will also be spider-hunting. And I won't be satisfied until that thing is found, dead or alive. (If alive, he must be rendered dead.) After all, I sure as heck am NOT going to have Spider Spiderson dropping his clever self down on my shoulder as I'm driving along someday. Because YES DAD, it freaking happens!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Who knew the big questions started this early?

Up until very recently, I've been able to field Maya's questions pretty easily. I mean, she's two, right? I'm not expecting to get the "where do babies come from" - type inquiries for at least a little while.

Well whaddya know, she pulled one of the Big Ones out of her hat the other day at breakfast. Completely out of the blue. No warning whatsoever...

"Where's God, Mama?"

My spoon froze on it's way to my mouth. I glanced at Mark and our eyes met with the same "Oh CRAP!" expression. I was really hoping to have the perfect answer to this question when it came know, later.

She asked again. This time...

"Where'd God go?"

A million thoughts were racing through my mind. Ok, if I tell her that God is in Heaven, does that create the misconception in her impressionable mind that God is distant...elsewhere...removed? That's no good. But wait, if I tell her that He's "everywhere", is that too abstract for a toddler to comprehend? Does she need a more concrete visual to make her feel secure? Oh my gosh, I'm going to screw her up spiritually for life, all because I gave the wrong answer to this question...CRAP!

We ended up doing ok, I think. Mark started with the answer that God lives in Heaven, and I followed up with the explanation that God is always watching over us, and that He always hears us and is with us. She seemed satisfied, and moved on to more important matters. Like a rousing chorus of the "ABC" song.

Sometimes I think I get stressed way too easily about these things. I know that as parents, our roles as spiritual guides are extremely important. But my long-suspected belief that children have a closer connection to God than we think they do has been confirmed many times over as I've watched Maya grow. This girl remembers to pray for her meals when we don't. And she thanks God every day for healing an owie on her knee that's been long gone. How many times do I thank God when I receive an answer to prayer or an unexpected blessing? Yeah, probably once. Before I slip back into the vicious cycle of complaining about the next thing I wish would change.

I know full well that as much as I'd like my kids to grow up adhering to my exact belief systems and spiritual leanings (because they're the right ones, darn it! :)), it's not likely to happen. As Maya grows into adulthood, she'll form her own views, see God in a different way, develop her own personal faith that may look different, in some ways, than mine. Just as her father and I have done. And I want that for her, I really do. I just need to remember that. And I also want to remember that as much as we will teach our kids about God, they can teach us even more.

So I'll give Maya the best answers I can to these Big questions. All the while trying my best to keep my eyes and ears open for the answers God wants to give me through her.