Wednesday, June 19, 2013

things I love: a family update

     When I started this blog, a lot of it was dedicated to my kids. We were in their first years of life and everything was new!
     "Look! They just learned to sit up!"
     "Here are their first words."
     "Oh my goodness, look how much they've grown!"
     "We have a crawler on our hands...."
     "Watch this video of the first time (okay...ALMOST the first time...) they took steps!"
And on and on.
     There's this funny thing that has happened as they have gotten older. Continuing to publicly celebrate firsts starts to feel braggy. Over these years, several friends have had children who haven't or probably won't get to their firsts as quickly as mine. Some of them may never get to do these things for a first time. I've worried that me being excited about my kid doing something for the first time might make them feel like they're missing out or like I think my kid's better than theirs. Sometimes we act as though saying one kid's awesome at something implies that all other kids aren't awesome at that. Especially as they get older, kids start to reach milestones at very different times because they have very different strengths.
    What my friends of kids with special needs have taught me is that this is not a competition. They have gracefully demonstrated that we can be excited for my kids when they learn to walk and be (probably 10 times more) excited when theirs learns to walk. We can affirm how awesome it is that my kid does x thing and how awesome it is that their kid does thing y. One of us saying, "My kid just sounded out her first word!" means neither, "Your kid is dumb and you suck as a parent because your kid hasn't yet..." nor, "I should feel less excited because your kid learned this a long time ago." Even kids of similar ability focus on different things. I'm pretty word-oriented; I've taught my kids about words. My adventurous friend has kids who can climb trees and swim. Another friend has a kid who can name and recognize all the presidents. When I would find these things out, I used to panic. "Crap! Should I have taught them that, instead?!"
    (Okay, sometimes I do still worry that perhaps skills that can save your life -- like swimming -- may have been more important. But then I decide my kids can just stay away from bodies of water where they can't read the signs designating depth and such for a few more years. See? Different abilities are fine!)
   I say all this because I still want to celebrate my kids' achievements, especially if they've been working hard on them. They may be getting older and their firsts may come in a completely different order than others, but that's fine. My kids can be awesome like they are and your kids can be awesome like they are. This should be obvious to us all, but we need to be reminded. (At least I do!)

So here are some of the firsts in our family, not for those keeping score, but for those who enjoy celebrating.
- Israel went quiet in his reading for quite some time, refusing to try to read out loud if he thought a book might be hard. But today he started reading a chapter book out loud to me for the first time without freaking out. It said things like, "Buster wedged himself into Arthur's seat. 'My fault?' he said, 'You're the one who called Francine a marshmallow.'"
-  At the beginning of the spring, Eden forgot that she had ever peddled at all and refused to try a bike -- even with training wheels! (This, though I have a picture of her independently riding a tricycle at some ridiculously young age. So frustrating when you know they can do something and they won't....) I remember a spring day of her screaming like she was being tortured as I held onto her and moved her bike in a circle around a small parking lot. But yesterday, Eden tried out a bike without training wheels. I had to hold on the whole time, but she tried it without screaming bloody murder. She's super proud of herself.
- Eden asked to read to me today. She ASKED. I've been teaching her to read here and there for over a year now, and she's proud once she's finished a book, but getting her to pay attention and read from start to finish has been like pulling teeth. Today, though, she ASKED to read to me on her own. She reads sentences like, "I forgot to close the gate and Glory got out." (Thanks, Starfall!)
- Israel and Eden both put their faces under water for the first time, which was a tremendous act of courage for them. (For Iz more than for Eden, whom I believe is only "afraid" to do it because he is.) We're working on not running out of the water to immediately wipe faces with towels. We'll get there....
- The kids rode their first adult roller coaster. No big drops or upside-down stuff, but fast and crazy, anyway. They LOVED it. They want to do it again and again. I can't wait to take them to Kings Island and let them ride the big rides, though they probably aren't quite tall enough to do it now. But it won't be long, because...
- Eden just grew 3 inches in 6 months and is now taller than 75% of the kids her age. WHAT?! She used to be shorter than 97% of them!
- I'm getting size 7 pants for when Israel starts kindergarten in the fall. I'm a bit unsure which part of that sentence makes me feel more uneasy.
- Eden has figured out how to swing herself without needing a push...just this evening! YES!!!!
- Iz gets all happy and puts on an air of sophistication about making his own snacks and helping cook things in the kitchen. He's starting to be a great helper. It's been some time now since he first started getting breakfast for himself and his sister (while I pretend I actually get to sleep in) in the mornings.
- Iz is learning to play piano. He is pretty enthusiastic about it right now and will take "lessons" (about 5-10 minutes of instruction time) as often as I'll give them. He's pretty proud of his songs and will happily play them for you. Right now, he loves playing the Star Wars theme he learned by rote and the 5-finger scale song he learned by reading the music.
- Eden correctly used an apostrophe last week. If you know me, you know this puts joy into my geeky soul. That girl remembers how to spell just about anything I've ever had her write. She can now write "HAPPY FATHER'S DAY" with no assistance from me. I'm realizing she's not as on-her-own-wavelength as I thought she was.
- Pat graduated college for the first time. I'm putting it here not because he's my child, but because it's a case in point that firsts achieved later or through more adversity can be so much sweeter. I did not see a need to throw a party when I graduated college; it was just completing the next-expected life-phase. But boy, did I throw a party when Pat graduated! Pat graduating was AWESOME!!!

     One more thing before I end this post. I learned something new recently. Seeing how my children want to perform for praise, I have wanted to make sure I praise them for the right things -- working hard more than being close to perfect, having a great attitude over winning, kindness over smarts, etc.. I can see how it's especially important for perfectionists and competitive people (No, I don't know any...). We need to encourage and be encouraged to try our best and be our best, even if it doesn't immediately yield perfect results. We need to be able to praise others when they do something we wish we could do instead of merely trying to up our talk or our game. It's also just true that I'm more proud of my kids for working hard to meet a challenge than I am when they do things that don't require much effort on their part.
    But on to that something I learned for the first time. Some friends had posted on facebook about six words you should say today. I highly recommend reading it. I tried it for the first time recently. (I think. I hope I've said this before, but I really don't remember...) Instead of saying how great my kids did at reading or how proud of them I am for learning that song, I said things like, "I love playing piano with you," or "I love listening to you read." My kids' responses were very like the ones in the article. (Go on. Read the article. It's well-said there, so I don't want to repeat it poorly here.) Both gave me big, not-arrogant smiles. One of them gave me a hug and a kiss.
     I'm proud of them for what they've done and how they're growing, but also I just love watching them as they do it. So I'm writing to celebrate things I love seeing my kids do. I love watching my kids grow and learn and change. (Not to say it isn't bittersweet when I remember back a few years or that part of me doesn't wish I could freeze them in time at this point or that one.) As I'm writing, I'm looking up at the Duplo structure Israel built and put on my mantle to show to anyone who comes in. It's not the tallest one or the most complex or the best representation or most imaginative, but I love listening to him talk about it and display it. It makes him happy...and me, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy father's day!

I've been reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I have been refreshed reading what she has to say, especially about Proverbs 31. You may know that as the chapter in the Bible devoted to "The wife of noble character." I realize this seems like a funny place to start thinking about Father's day, but hang in there. As I was thinking about how to properly praise the fathers in our church today, I was reminded from Colossians 1 that our prayers for others spring out of our thankfulness for their good works. We are thankful for every good work that they do and we pray that God will cause each and every one to bear fruit.

So back to Proverbs 31. So often we women (and maybe the men, too...I don't know...) read it as a checklist of things a good wife needs to do. Read like that, the list is exhausting and defeating. But Evans quotes Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis who says Proverbs 31 was written "not to honor one particularly praise-worthy woman, but rather to underscore the central significance of women's skilled work in a house-hold economy." Evans later tells of a Jewish friend of hers who says men sing the chapter to their wives before sabbath meals. How affirming! Reading it like this, I thought it was a shame such a chapter doesn't exist in the Bible that helps women know how to really praise their good men. It's amazing how being told you are something in this way makes you feel appreciated and also makes you feel like rising to the occasion. We all need these sorts of praises sung over us from time to time, and today is the day for Fathers. 

In keeping with my current ideas about Proverbs 31, I didn't want to write about just one husband in particular, so I asked women and children in our church to let me know some of the good works the fathers in our church should be praised for. I got quite a response and easily filled verses with the good works fathers I know do every day. My hope is that men will see themselves somewhere in these words and know that they are appreciated and encouraged as they continue on in good works. Chances are we all have some valiant fathers in our lives. Let's give them the praise they deserve!

A valiant Father, who can find?
He is worth more than diamonds and gold.
His family has full confidence in him
and has everything that is truly valuable.
He brings good to his family
every single day.

He knows his way around the kitchen
and he grasps the grill lid with seasoned fingers.
With his own hands, he grows food
and guests and neighbors always have a seat at his table.
After dinner, he faithfully does the dishes.

He gets up while it is still night
to pray with and encourage his brothers.

He considers a business and buys it,
and out of his earnings, provides for the community.
He takes his work seriously.
His mind and body are strong for his work.

With excellence, he selects wood
to build toys that fuel his children’s imaginations.
All through the day, he goes with them on adventures,
showing them how to have courage and fight the good fight.
Even when they are grown, he works day and night
to help his children achieve their dreams,
working to ensure their success.

His car is profitable in his use.
He considers it nothing to drive miles and miles
to ensure his children can spend time with their family,
even with their mothers.
He opens the passenger door for those in need
and extends his mileage to help out.

He ensures his children love their mother,
leading by loving his wife,
And he gracefully shares her burdens.

His eyes eagerly seek out his children
and love is in his gaze.
His ears are always ready to listen.
They are patient in their task.

He sets out early to find work,
and is able to trade with neighbors.
When times are hard, he has no fear,
but faithfully uses all his abilities, laboring hard to provide for his family.
His teaches his children how to conduct business
and they are able to follow in his steps.

At bedtime, he kneels and prays.
He sings over his children. His voice is the delight of their ears.
All through the night, he provides relief for their mother
by answering their call for help and comfort.

He has a place among the decision-makers and do-ers in this city,
striving for a good place for children to learn and grow.

He is clothed in strength and dignity.
He can look forward to the years to come.
His advice is trustworthy,
for he speaks over his children the very word of God.
His children recognize him as a blessing
Their mother, also, praises him.
“Many fathers are good, but you are the BEST!”

Flattering words are deceptive and muscles are fading,
but a father who puts God first is to be praised.
Honor him for all that his hands have done,
and let his good works make headlines!