Saturday, June 28, 2014

Beach Toys and Child Mobs

We took our first multi-family trip to the beach this past weekend.

Wow... So not what we expected.

I packed extra sand toys to share. I just had no idea what sharing was going to look like. I thought sharing meant "make Big Brother A share with the two friends who came with us." I was surprised to find that sharing actually meant "loan to every kid within eyesight of colorful beach toys."

Part of me really wanted to count all of Big Brother A's toys, keep track of every one, and count them all as we packed up to go (we know we were missing at least two or three between our two families). Part of me wanted to ask the kids where their parents were and why no one was telling them to stop throwing sand (why was I suddenly in charge of five additional children?).

But in the end, we asked their names. We played alongside them. We shared our beach toys. Some got lost. Some were taken down to the water, but respectfully and politely returned. Most of the time, the other kids were really sweet and fun to play with. It was a little frustrating not to be able to talk with the people I came with when the kids suddenly decided that they needed my one-on-one attention. After all, I came to the beach expecting to relax in the sand, talk with the other grown-ups, chuckle at our silly sweet kids, and occasionally intervene over the use of the toy watering can. It didn't seem quite fair that my own family and friends were missing out (if I'm allowed to count my absence as missing out!).

Josh and I discussed the beach chaos in length on the way home. We're pretty sure the parents were in eye sight, but not one of them asked us if it was okay for their children to take over our little plot of sand. We're not sure why they didn't bring stuff of their own. It wasn't the kids' fault that they had nothing to play with, and they were really on their best behavior for the most part. What's difficult is deciding whether we were enabling their poor parenting by allowing the children to play with our toys, benefit from our interaction, and land under our supervision. We don't want the kids to lose out. Ultimately, what's the bigger loss for them - not having attention from us for an hour, or silently telling their parents it's okay to be uninvolved and distant because caring strangers will always step in? Or are we missing the whole point and caught up in an example of cultural differences?

In the end, we decided we couldn't have said no to that first little boy who asked to share our toys. We didn't know what the situation would turn into, and it would have been wrong to be possessive and rude in the beginning. We tried to think of this as a teaching opportunity for Big Brother A (really for us, too). It needs to be more important to us that we reach out and make others feel loved than that we protect our stuff. We want to be more concerned with sharing than keeping our share safe. We want to value making friends over having privacy or "space".

As for the enabling - I haven't arrived at a solid conclusion on that one, although I've wrestled with it a great deal. Any thoughts?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sometimes I Get Distracted

Sometimes, I get distracted by what other people think of me.

No, let's be honest. Usually, I'm getting distracted by what I think other people might think of me. Most of the time, people don't actually say these things. They just say something that makes me think they might be thinking it.

Here's an example: Often, when I'm out with Big Brother A, people will approach us and ask how old he is. We go through the silly "How old are you, A? Can you tell them?" and then me interpreting his answer because they don't speak 2-year-old. And then, frequently, the follow-up question is "Are you having more?"

Hmm. Are they judging me? Are they just curious (about something that is none of their business)? I don't know. But here's what I immediately read into it:

"Your child must be super spoiled, because he is already almost 3, and he is an only child, and he is getting a lot of one-on-one time, and he is getting carried. You need more kids or you will ruin that one."

Really, why worry? I mean, my son is Batman.
(Yes he wears that in public... Every single time it is clean.)

Am I reading into things too much? Most likely. I do that.

But do you ever feel that way? I have such a tendency to read into simple comments. I know why my husband and I have made the choices we have made. We've gone some directions that weren't very popular with the "general public opinion" over the years - like, for example, our decision to get married young without taking the time to "have a career first" or "test it out by living together". We have made these major decisions prayerfully and intentionally. We stand by them. So why do these comments rock me?

Ultimately, the problem doesn't lie with the well-meaning stranger. The problem lies in my own heart. I'm a doubter. I'm a people-pleaser. I want to know that not only did I make the right decision, but that every other person I ever meet knows and believes that I'm making the right choice. I crave outward affirmation of my decisions.

That's a problem. I'm looking to others for the satisfaction and peace that can only come from God. The more I focus on what others think of me, the more I chase my own thoughts around and around until I find myself standing far from the mindset I am called to have as a daughter of the one loving and holy God.

There is no quick and easy solution to this problem. It's something I've been working on for years. I will always have a tendency toward people-pleasing and searching for approval from others. As I've learned to more faithfully surrender my actions and other people's opinions of them to God, he has been faithful to teach me ways to combat this sinful tendency in my life.

Recently, I have been trying to get a clearer grasp on who God is. I've learned that you can't successfully banish a bad habit from your life without replacing it with something positive. Instead of ruminating on those things that other people say or imply, I'm trying to ruminate on my awesome God, who is excellent and worthy of praise.

I've been reading this every day:

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
    reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
    bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
    giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
    each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
    even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
    even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
    a great reward for those who obey them.
(Psalm 19:7-11)

And, lastly, I've been trying to pray this prayer:

May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Why I Love Temper Tantrums

Oh, toddlers and their temper tantrums. Every kid (well, at least my kid and the ones I've worked with) seems to go through this stage. They're trying to figure out how things work and how to get what they want. Screaming until your parents cave seems like a pretty good theory, and my boy is a scientist. He's on a mission to figure out how things work, including "How can I get what I want, when I want it?"

Temper tantrums are exhausting, for parent and child. They're annoying for bystanders. They can be pretty humbling when they happen in public. We had a recent episode in the grocery store checkout. That was not fun. I had a full cart of groceries, and I wasn't about to ditch my cart when we were so close to being done. I needed said groceries for an evening community group event, and there was not another time to get them. So Big Brother A screamed and cried it out (under the watch of very gracious bystanders) until we got to the car and could address the issue.

So why do I love temper tantrums? Here's why. I'm in this to see my baby's heart turned towards Jesus. I want him to see forgiveness, redemption, and a God so loving that he is worth "being good" for- and so gracious that he gives us the strength to be good, even when we are tired or hungry or sick.

If I reflect on my own heart, I must admit that my own temper tantrums and hissy fits haven't totally disappeared. I whine inwardly; I complain; I do the right thing with the wrong attitude, or get frustrated when I feel like my "good works" are going unnoticed. I face the same temptation to react wrongly to my situation as my son faces.

Soon enough, my child will learn how to look good on the outside. We're working on expectations in public, and on the right ways to express needs and wants. He'll learn how to comply. He'll learn how to perform. But I believe from the bottom of my heart that that is not enough. Being good is not enough. He cannot get to heaven by good works; the Bible is clear that all of us sin, and that sin keeps us from God. I cannot train my boy to be good enough to go to heaven.

My goal is not merely to gloss over his behavior as quickly as possible. An outwardly well-behaved boy isn't any closer to God's presence because he is able to follow directions. I'm in this to fight for my baby's heart. I won't allow or encourage negative behavior, and we do follow consistent consequences when he acts out. 

But I want to always remember this: Toddlerhood is a unique window of time. We get to see, hear, and experience everything our babies are thinking and feeling, before they learn to cover it up. There is not a better time to dig into heart attitudes, motivations, and thought patterns than right now. There is not a better time to make Jesus real, to make him make sense, to help our babies know that they need him, and to share the joy of Jesus's sacrifice that can cover up our "I can't be good enough" with "I am part of God's forever family".

Next time I'm in the grocery store with a screaming toddler, I'll be trying to remember to thank God for an amazing training opportunity while my child is still unashamed enough of his sin to display it on the outside. I'll be trying to think of how blessed I am to be able to walk with my child through the weight of his sin and help him to see the light that is Jesus.

If you happen to be in the checkout behind me- I'm sorry. And please remember to pray for the mommies and daddies who are battling for their babies' hearts.