Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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Three Steps Forward and Two Steps Back

Children are not very short adults.

If this was a hypothesis and a researcher visited my home,  it would take her about 30 minutes to gather enough evidence.  I can see her entering data into the computer… irrational requests per minute, length of time spent arguing about who will be the baby tiger and who will be the baby lion, and magnitude of screaming related to nonavailability of the pink cup.  Conclusion: Children are not very short adults.  End of experiment.

And thank-you-captain-obvious.

However.

If this is the case, why do I continually, incessantly, repeatedly assume and often insist that they SHOULD be acting like adults?

For example:

“Subject A” is three years old and had breakfast at 7 a.m.  It is now 10 a.m. and her mother is attempting to squeeze in one more errand before heading home for a snack.  In line at the library, where the mother is attempting to pay her monthly set of fines, the three year old is twirling around the line-marking poles and pushes one over.  The librarians all glare at the mother who glares at the child and whispers loudly, “stop it, get over here, if you want a snack when we get home, stop it right now.”  At the mention of “snack” (big mistake), the child begins wailing (not in a whisper) about how hungry she is.   Now the mother, who is finally next in line, picks up the child and attempts to reason with her.  “Honey, I just need to do one more thing and then we’ll go home, I promise.  Just be quiet, please, we’re almost done.”  The child wails louder and louder until the mother, with librarian-eyes boring holes in her skull, finally gives up and drags the child home, berating her all the live long way.

Lovely, eh?

Now, if children are not very short adults, what might we actual adults need to keep in mind about them?  Here are four things that I probably need to post on a wall in my house.

One.  In the internal struggle between basic needs and logical thought, a child’s “primal beast” self is going to win every time.  Tired?  Hungry?  Thirsty?  Wait ten more minutes because of these logically compelling reasons?  Not likely.  Not impossible, and I’m starting to suspect that this gets more balanced as they get older, but with a three and a four year old, my money is on the beast.

Two.  Adults are motivated by timeliness (okay, most adults); children, not so much.  Wouldn’t it be fun for a parent to count how many times we say something like “Hurry up” or “We’re going to be late” in one day?  Not that we ever would–it would take too much time.

Three.  Children are consistently inconsistent.  Have you ever had your social butterfly hide behind your legs when their dear great-grandmother (who they only see once every few months) asks them about their favorite animal at the zoo?  Why was it okay for me to pick out your clothes yesterday, but today (when we are late to school) it leads to a major screaming fit?  Why do you turn up your cute little nose at the same dinner that you loved last week?  Why can’t you JUST MAKE SENSE?

Four.  Empathy is not a natural quality of the world-revolves-around-me stage of development.  For example, when a child who is also (ugh) a morning person bounces into your room at 6 a.m. and wants to play kangaroo family, it’s hard to explain that Mama needs a little more time to wake up because Mama has a really bad cold and Mama was up coughing in the middle of the night and Mama is not a morning person anyway and could you please stop jumping on Mama?????

Not that such a thing ever happens.

So.  What am I NOT saying here?  I am not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children things like empathy, self-control, responsibility, logic  etc.  What else are we doing as parents as we guide our kids through their younger years?

But…

As we guide them and try to teach them that the library is a Quiet Place, do we ever get a little impatient?  Do we ever forget that these lessons are going to take years, that three steps forward and two steps back is still forward progress, and that you can’t have the beautiful parts of childhood without some annoyances along the way?  Do we ever expect them to behave like very short adults?

I do.  This I confess.  And this is what I want to turn from, degree by degree, day by day.  Why?  Because maybe as I turn I’ll catch another glimpse of my children being children, and it will make me smile instead of groan.  Maybe I’ll stop long enough to appreciate them, to love them, and maybe I’ll even have the time to tell them so.

Maybe.  We’ll just have to wait and find out.  Good thing that adults are SO good at waiting.


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Part Two: Life of Luxury–counting blessings

Now that I’ve begun, it’s hard to stop.  A quick tour around my house revealed more luxury items.  These are just highlights… I am a very rich person, and I don’t want to bore you.

*****

The Living Room:  Photographs, a comfy couch, interesting magazines and three bean bags.  A well-fed dog lying on a wool rug.  Well-fed cats trying to get to the windowsill without the well-fed dog noticing them.

Dining Room:  Overflowing bookshelves, colored pencils, kid-sized table (with adorable kid-sized chairs) and the thermostat.

Kitchen:  So many it’s a little embarrassing.  Drawers of spices from all around the world, fruit from far away, and Flintstone Vitamins.  Refrigeration and alphabet fridge magnets.  Gadgets that grind, mix, juice, chop and play music (but not one that does all these things simultaneously–I knew there was something I needed).

Bathroom:  Over-the-counter medicine galore, a shower that gets hot, toothbrushes and dental floss.  Soft towels in stacks.

Bedrooms:  Bunk beds, beautiful picture books, extra pillows, and clothes for every season and occasion.  Gift bags  and tissue paper.  More overflowing bookshelves, and a whole bin of yarn that I used to knit scarves… when I did such a thing.

Etc.: Power tools, glass windows on every floor, and a newspaper that gets delivered to our house everyday.  Imagine.

*****

Taking this little tour makes me wonder–is this a list of items to feel guilty about?  Maybe, but I’m not sure that guilt it very helpful.  Guilt is like the mother who scolds, “Clean your plate.  There are starving children in the world.” and the kid who says, “Great, I’m full, go ahead and send it.”  You don’t get very far with guilt.

Instead, I find considering those three money questions again… you remember… “Am I wise?”  “Am I grateful?” “Do I share?”  And the answer to each question is both yes and no.  For now, I think that counting my blessings is one way of moving in the right direction.  Paying attention to what I already have is certainly helping me to be more grateful, hopefully it will help me to be more wise (like when I noticed that I have five fall coats–how did that happen?), and prayerfully it will teach me to share.

So, anybody need a fall coat… or a whole bin of yarn?


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Part One: Life of Luxury

It happened one day when I was sitting in my alone-chair, computer on lap, staring out the window.  I had just come upstairs, and downstairs the radio was on.  On the radio somebody had been talking about the Romneys and about how much money they had–whether in a positive, negative or matter-of-fact way, I don’t remember–when all of a sudden a thought came to me, so loud and clear that it seemed to come from outside.  Surprised, I looked around as if someone had spoken.  The thought came again: “You are as rich as the Romneys.”

You are as rich as the Romneys.

Really?

The thought was so matter-of-fact and direct that I could hardly argue with it.  But, for a moment, I tried.  Umm… Thought… have you seen our school loans?  Do you realize that I am not working for pay right now?  (Mothering and blog writing=satisfying, creative work, not so lucrative)  Yes, we own a rental property, but we make less than $100 a month on it, and the new roof that it needs will cost thousands.  Do you know that I still wonder how we will pay for the girl’s preschool?  Do you know that I am tired of trying to figure out if I can afford a $20  haircut?

I argued for a moment, but my heart wasn’t really in it.  I knew, I just knew, that the statement was true.  It just was.  You are as rich as the Romneys.  I looked out the window again.

It is a little-known secret that the houses in the “bad” neighborhood where we live have some of the best views in the city (also some of the best neighbors).  When I look out the window in the morning, the sun comes up over an expansive valley, with houses tucked among trees and a blanket of fog laid among the hills.  It is the kind of view that would cost millions in a place like Los Angeles.  We didn’t pay the millions–and yet, here was the view.

You should see the stars in the winter.

As I sat, my mind began ticking though a list of luxury items that my family takes for granted.  The computer.  Internet access.  Good coffee.  Bakery bread.  A reliable car–with seat warmers!   Gym membership.  Zoo membership.  Princess dresses.  High-quality shoes.  Money to burn at the Farmer’s Market.  Bikes.  Wine and beer.  Restaurant dinners.

I’m not used to thinking of these items as extravagant.  Aren’t luxury items things like diamond necklaces, thousand dollar purses and million dollar yachts?  But as I sat considering this “rich as the Romneys'” phrase, it occurred to me that if you can buy anything that goes beyond basic necessities, it means that your basic necessities are covered.  Anything more is luxury, and in this way, the Romneys and I are in the same yacht… or… umm… at least the same borrowed kayak.

Or think of it this way–who do I have more in common with–the mother in Burkina Faso who doesn’t know where her kids’ next meal is coming from, or a millionaire?  In terms of numbers, we’re a lot closer to extreme poverty than to multi-millions, but in terms of experience  both the millionaire and I go to bed at night well-fed, with unlimited clean water available in our indoor bathrooms, locks on our doors, gas in our cars, books that we can read on our nightstands, and another day (likely) filled with luxuries ahead of us.  Sure, my imaginary millionaire may be thinking about taking her private jet to Tuscany the next day, and I may be trying to figure out how to get the kids to ballet while my husband has the car, but neither of us is up thinking about how far the grain will stretch.

The real difference between me and my millionaire isn’t that she is more secure in her wealth (expenses generally rise with income, plus I have simple living skills that she can’t imagine), or that she is necessarily happier (in fact, I think that the reverse is often true).  The real difference is in the degree of our responsibility.  Because in the end, I think that we will all have to answer the same questions.  Were we wise with our money?  Were we grateful?  Did we share?

And to whom much is given, whether in yachts or borrowed kayaks, much will be required.


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Mama, You No Eat Animals!

Just in case you’ve already discussed the VP debate and the Steelers’ loss this morning, I thought that I would introduce a cheerier topic.

That would be–chicken butchering.

(See, don’t you feel cheerier already?)

No, silly, I’m not talking about my own chickens.  Didn’t you read my “Chicken Choices” post from a few weeks ago?  I am talking about chickens that I don’t know personally.  The ones that I eat.

My husband and I have an overly complicated relationship to meat that we are attempting to pass along to our children.  Depending on your perspective, you can think of us as thoughtful or hypocritical, but our basic premise is this–know the farmers, know that the animals were treated well, and enjoy the hamburger.

In practice, this requires two extra freezers and a host of dedicated farmers.  Our annual quarter-cow comes from a dairy farm in Williamsburg, Pa, we buy goats and lambs from teenagers at the Butler 4-H livestock auction, and chickens and pigs come from Lamppost Farm in Eastern, Ohio.  (No, we do not buy all these animals every year.) Lamppost even hosts chicken butchering/processing weekends that we have participated in.  Yes.  Me.  Killing a chicken.  Because you see, I have been eating chicken for three decades.

Our farm network is only one piece of our complicated relationship to meat, but probably the most noteworthy.  Noteworthy, but as it turns out, not at all impressive to our three-year-old.

Every early August we take our children to the Butler Farm Show and visit all the animals.  In the evening, after the girls have gone to Nana and Papa’s house, we return to the Farm Show to bid in the livestock auction.  We see this whole day as a learning experience for our children, and attempt to talk with them about all things related to farm animals.  We try to translate things like sustainable practices and ethical treatment into preschool language.  We meet farmers.  We ask questions.

All of this may have been a huge mistake.

It was the meat rabbits that got them.  Go figure… cute, fluffy creatures that figure heavily in children’s literature.  We were getting ready to leave when they brought the rabbits in for the auction, and I watched it all come together in our three-year old’s mind.  “Mama, you eat these bunnies?”

No, honey, we wouldn’t be eating these bunnies… I mean… rabbits, but… uh… I watched the storm clouds gather in her eyes…  somebody… uh… might eat them.  Cause, well…

Uh, oh.

And our dear, even-tempered, happy-go-lucky child lost it.  “Mama, you no eat animals!” she yelled at me.  “You NO eat animals.”  She was fuming.  She yelled at me all the way to her Nana and Papa’s house.  My well-reasoned thinking about “happy animal lives” was lost on her. Eventually, I just sat there and took it, tried to comfort her.  “Mama, you NO EAT ANIMALS!”

But I do.  And so, the conversation continues.

Just… please… don’t bring up the bunnies.


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Week: one, Jen: zero

It seems that some weeks are designed to break you.

And this week won… or so it thinks.

There were three members of our family with a nasty virus, including a little child with a big fever.  One cat with a deep cut on his cornea that cost us $200 at the vet and requires drops every three hours.  Five dentist appointments, including one filling.  Three to four wake-ups each and every night.  And all of these numbers add up to… one grumpy Jen.

I knew it last night when the brightly colored plastic IKEA cups fell on me.  I was unloading the dishwasher and trying to squeeze the bowls in behind the cups when everything toppled.  On my head.  In the dog’s water bowl.  All over the floor.

And oh, I was so mad.  I almost did it.  I almost threw a big, scary, grown-up fit.  I almost grabbed the bowls and hurled them across the room.  I almost lost it, and lost it BIG in front of my husband and the littlest little one.

Thank God for ‘almost’.

I’m still not sure how I stopped.  Maybe it was my daughter’s face, shocked by the noise of all those cups falling everywhere.  Maybe it was my husband’s kindness–he knew how I felt at that moment.  Maybe it was just a small-but-big miracle. (I will take all the small-but-big miracles that I can get.)  I walked away.  I took some deep breaths.  I stared out the window, and my husband put the kids to bed.  I took some more deep breaths.  I picked up the cups.

Take that, week.

And now that it is Saturday morning and I am sitting in front of the computer, alone, coffee pulsing through my tired body, I would like to take one final swing at the week-that-was.  I will use one of the most effective strategies that I have.  Here goes.

I am thankful.  I am thankful for:

1.  A fever that broke.

2.  A wonderful dentist who didn’t berate me for being scared.

3.  The warm weather, and especially for our afternoon walk at the zoo.

4.  A husband who gets up in the middle of the night and can comfort children.

5.  The courage to go through with the filling (this is a big deal… I used to have panic attacks), and the 9 year old neighbor who prayed for me when she found out.

6.  Neighbor kittens who sneak into our house and then purr when you carry them out.

7.  Kids who went to preschool again on Friday morning.

8.   A good movie on at the gym that got me though a work-out that I didn’t want to do.

9.  Hugs

10.  Deep breaths and quiet prayers that got me through the nights, the Novocaine and the aforementioned cup fall.  There by the grace of God go I.

And now I wonder…

What’s your top-ten?


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Choosing a College for Your Four Year Old

Um… I meant to say, ‘Kindergarten’.  But really, it’s a similar process.

It all begins with understanding your choices.  Local school (also called ‘feeder school’, which sounds way too much like ‘feeder fish’), magnet schools, charter schools or private?  Mandarin, Spanish, French or German?  Religious or not so much?  Environmentally focused or styrafoam based?  Half day or full day?  Five blocks or five miles?

Let’s all take a deep breath together.

On Saturday I will attend the ‘Magnet Fair”.  My October calender is full of school tours.  I have a stack of applications, school information links come up when I start typing in web addresses, and my parent friends and I begin way too many conversations with, “so, were the charter school tour dates posted yet?”

Tour dates?  I wish we were talking about U2.

And as I do all this and think about all this and essentially become ‘that mother’, I can’t help but thinking about my own childhood.  In small town Western Pennsylvania, here was our school choice process:  Are you Catholic?  No?  Go to public school.  Of course, in my 800 plus graduating class, I did sometimes feel like a feeder fish, but at least my parents weren’t faced with this level of decision when I was still building with blocks.

One more deep breath.  Okay.

There are lots of complicated debates about all of these school choices, what they are doing to our public education system and what we should do about it.  I don’t have the time, space or energy to get into all of this here.  But I do have one simple observation.

Our current system is a lot of work.

Or, am I just making it that way?