On the Important Stuff, Before They Leave

It seems that, more and more lately, I am pondering what it will look like to launch our firstborn. It’s still two-and-a-half years away, but I have this thing I do. I think of it as my internal peace-making tool, my anti-anxiety technique. Whenever there is something that is going to happen, or maybe even might happen, I rehearse it. I think about it, turning it over and around in my head and in my heart. I allow the idea of this “happening” to sink down deep inside me, and begin to feel like it belongs there, like “All shall be well” there.

I suppose some might describe this as obsessive or fearful, anxiously anticipating future events, and thinking about how they will go. All I can say, though, is that inside my head, this feels like a good thing. A very good thing.

There are so many “happenings” that I have rehearsed, and that I continue to rehearse. Prenatal diagnostics with my second-born indicated a strong possibility that she would be born with Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). For five months, I rehearsed parenting a child with Down Syndrome. I thought about her birth. I thought about her going to school. I thought about how my family would react. I mourned some losses I anticipated, and began to embrace the joys that would also come. Haley was born in August of 1999, healthy and genetically typical. There was something strange and beautiful about having surrendered to whatever and whoever she would be.

I periodically rehearse a friend dying, or my husband dying, or one of my parents dying. I think about what that will look like. I imagine the feelings and consider how life will go on.

Strange? Maybe.

I am inclined to think that by turning these “happenings” around in my head and my heart, I am preparing myself for the real deal. Perhaps, it won’t feel like completely unfamiliar territory.

One of my recent ponderings has been about launching our first. He’s a Sophomore right now, thinking about classes for his Junior year. I’ve begun to think about his college decision, and what life will be like when he’s no longer living under our roof. Such a mix of emotions.

In a rare moment of quiet the other evening, my husband and I were reflecting upon the qualities we especially love in our children, and the challenges we see ahead for them. We solidified some goals we have for them, and confirmed with one another that we are headed in the right direction. I commented that there are times when I look at one or another of our three and think, “What have I missed? What did I forget to tell you? How can you possibly think that, having grown up in our home? I must have neglected to tell you that all-important thing, that most important thing.”

There is a wonderful place that I enjoy visiting occasionally. It is a place where I am certain to be cared for and loved. It is a place where I am understood and challenged. It is a place where I feel known, because it is a gathering of women who have lived many of the things I have lived. You can find (in)courage here. I love their by-line: “home for the hearts of women.” About a year ago, (in)courage had a lovely, thoughtful piece by Ann Voskamp about that moment before the launching, the moment when you wonder if you’ve said all the right things, taught all the right things. My favorite line, written as a longing, a desire for her son:

That you’ll be radical about grace and relentless about truth and resolute about holiness and vows and the real hills worth dying on.

That’s the stuff, huh? The stuff you don’t want to forget to say. The stuff you just might miss in the midst of nursing and feeding and tying shoes and potty-training, and helping with homework, and driving here and there and everywhere, and making meals, and helping with more homework, and putting bandaids on skinned knees, and wiping away broken-hearted tears.

I need to think a bit more about what I’ve missed. I’m hoping he’s caught most of it, in between and among everything, everything we’ve done, everything I’ve offered, all that I’ve given of myself. I am trusting the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps. And yet, with two-and-a-half years before launch time, I want to consider what I’ve missed and whether there’s still time.

In the meantime, Ann’s thoughts to her son are amazing food for thought. I pray that they will sink down deep, as you ponder the launching. What are you teaching today that will last for eternity?

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On the Important Stuff, Before They Leave

It seems that, more and more lately, I am pondering what it will look like to launch our firstborn. It’s still two-and-a-half years away, but I have this thing I do. I think of it as my internal peace-making tool, my anti-anxiety technique. Whenever there is something that is going to happen, or maybe even might happen, I rehearse it. I think about it, turning it over and around in my head and in my heart. I allow the idea of this “happening” to sink down deep inside me, and begin to feel like it belongs there, like “All shall be well” there.

I suppose some might describe this as obsessive or fearful, anxiously anticipating future events, and thinking about how they will go. All I can say, though, is that inside my head, this feels like a good thing. A very good thing.

There are so many “happenings” that I have rehearsed, and that I continue to rehearse. Prenatal diagnostics with my second-born indicated a strong possibility that she would be born with Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). For five months, I rehearsed parenting a child with Down Syndrome. I thought about her birth. I thought about her going to school. I thought about how my family would react. I mourned some losses I anticipated, and began to embrace the joys that would also come. Haley was born in August of 1999, healthy and genetically typical. There was something strange and beautiful about having surrendered to whatever and whoever she would be.

I periodically rehearse a friend dying, or my husband dying, or one of my parents dying. I think about what that will look like. I imagine the feelings and consider how life will go on.

Strange? Maybe.

I am inclined to think that by turning these “happenings” around in my head and my heart, I am preparing myself for the real deal. Perhaps, it won’t feel like completely unfamiliar territory.

One of my recent ponderings has been about launching our first. He’s a Sophomore right now, thinking about classes for his Junior year. I’ve begun to think about his college decision, and what life will be like when he’s no longer living under our roof. Such a mix of emotions.

In a rare moment of quiet this evening, my husband and I were reflecting upon the qualities we especially love in our children, and the challenges we see ahead for them. We solidified some goals we have for them, and confirmed with one another that we are headed in the right direction. I commented that there are times when I look at one or another of our three and think, “What have I missed? What did I forget to tell you? How can you possibly think that, having grown up in our home? I must have neglected to tell you that all-important thing, that most important thing.”

There is a wonderful place that I enjoy visiting occasionally. It is a place where I am certain to be cared for and loved. It is a place where I am understood and challenged. It is a place where I feel known, because it is a gathering of women who have lived many of the things I have lived. You can find (in)courage here. I love their by-line: “home for the hearts of women.” About a year ago, (in)courage had a lovely, thoughtful piece by Ann Voskamp about that moment before the launching, the moment when you wonder if you’ve said all the right things, taught all the right things. My favorite line, written as a longing, a desire for her son:

That you’ll be radical about grace and relentless about truth and resolute about holiness and vows and the real hills worth dying on.

That’s the stuff, huh? The stuff you don’t want to forget to say. The stuff you just might miss in the midst of nursing and feeding and tying shoes and potty-training, and helping with homework, and driving here and there and everywhere, and making meals, and helping with more homework, and putting bandaids on skinned knees, and wiping away broken-hearted tears.

I need to think a bit more about what I’ve missed. I’m hoping he’s caught most of it, in between and among everything, everything we’ve done, everything I’ve offered, all that I’ve given of myself. I am trusting the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps. And yet, with two-and-a-half years before launch time, I want to consider what I’ve missed and whether there’s still time.

In the meantime, Ann’s thoughts to her son are amazing food for thought. I pray that they will sink down deep, as you ponder the launching. What are you teaching today that will last for eternity?

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On Being a “Ramp Agent” Parent

My husband and I are in what I consider to be the middle years of at-home parenting. By at-home parenting, I am referencing the idea that once you become a parent, you are always a parent, but it is only the first 18 years (22 years?) of each child’s life when they are at home and are your responsibility to one extent or another. After that, barring disability, illness, or unusual circumstances, they are on their own, more or less.

We have one child in high school, one in middle school, and our youngest will finish elementary school this year. The baby, toddler and early school years seem far behind. The empty nest is in sight, but is many years hence. We are just beginning to think about launching the first. But even that is more than two years away.

A long time ago, however, I began to talk about the primary purpose of parenting being working oneself out of a job. I wish I could remember the source of that idea. I’ve seen the concept many places, but I know there was something, way back when, that led me to that wording. At that time, though, I was smack dab in the middle of the early parenting years.

Remember the early parenting years? The ones that are extremely hands-on. The years when you are up at all hours of the night, routinely. The ones when you can’t remember the last time you got a full night’s sleep. The years with a baby on your hip and a toddler holding your hand. For me, smack dab in the middle of nine straight years of nursing. It is highly unlikely that I would remember a source like this from that time period. Suffice it to say, someone wise wrote something. I read it (probably while nursing), and I liked the way it helped me think about parenting.

Parenting is all about working yourself out of a job. Some day, it is my hope that each one of my children find me to be, in all practical ways, unnecessary.

Now, I can hear you hedging, or whining, or softly sniffling in the background as you consider this prospect. I will add that I do think parenting is a life-long endeavor. There are always ways in which my parents remain essential to me, and I believe I will remain essential to my children. They may need me emotionally. They may need advice from me. They may even depend upon me for childcare or assistance in other ways.

But in the basic matters of daily living: income, housing, financial planning, basic decision-making, meal preparation, (let’s jump back a few years now) bathroom management, personal hygiene, sleeping arrangements, friendships . . . it is my sincere hope that my children will not depend upon me for these things. It is my hope that I will no longer be necessary.

So, if this is the end goal, at age 18 or 22, what am I doing today to move toward that goal? I have often thought, in each stage of parenting, about how I am helping to prepare my children for independent living.

In many ways, this approach to parenting runs counter to a trend that has been given a name in today’s culture: helicopter parenting. I’m not one to tend to think in extremes. I am more inclined toward seeking balance. So, am I a free-range parent or a helicopter parent? Well, probably free-range if you force me to answer this question. When the children were younger, I would have called my parenting style attachment parenting. But any of these terms are limiting. For each of us, they call to mind certain things that we associate with that word.

You might associate attachment parenting with nursing a 7 year old. Well, I didn’t do that, but I did nurse my 3 year olds. You might associate attachment parenting with co-sleeping or family bed. Well, my kids have their own bedrooms. However, each of them slept with us for the first 6 months of their lives and were welcome in our bed until they no longer needed to be there, which for each of them was a different length of time.

You might associate helicopter parenting with always wanting to know where your child is. My kids are often out-and-about on their own with friends, but if they are, they have a cell phone with them. You might associate helicopter parenting with watching your child’s every action on the internet. Well, I do take a glance at all their e-mails and I am friends with them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Helicopter parent? Attachment parent? Somewhere in between?

As we approach launching our first, I am thinking more about what parenting looks like on the other side of the high school diploma. We are working toward what parenting looks like there. For example, the high schooler has a debit card. He is free to use it as he sees fit, but he must ask permission if he is purchasing on-line or making a large purchase. If the money runs out, we don’t refill the account. He is learning to manage his money and make wise choices regarding spending.

In early 2012, Lenore Skenazy, of Free-Range Kids fame, pointed me in the direction of this article in Salon Magazine by Kathleen Volk Miller. The author is a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Perhaps equally as important, she is also the mother of two college-age daughters, which qualifies her to comment on what parenting college students looks like.

I absolutely love her perspective as a professor and as a Mom. I love her attachment to her girls, and yet I love how thoughtfully and intentionally she is detaching from them as well. Her intentional detachment is helping them learn to be self-sufficient, to be independent and responsible adults.

Whether this stage of life is already upon you, behind you, or even if it’s way ahead of you, what do you think? Do you like Volk Miller’s approach? Is it too harsh? Is she not helpful enough?

I like the analogy of a “ramp agent” parent. Guiding. Pointing the way. Refueling. Preparing for the next launch. What do you think? Does this capture it? Is there a better analogy?

Most importantly, what are you doing today to prepare for tomorrow? What are you doing today to work yourself out of a job?

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On Walking to School

Do you know Lenore Skenazy? I know many of you do. She is a Mom living in New York City, raising children in New York City. A few years ago, she coined the term “free-range kids.” The sub-title of her book and web site is “How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).” I find that she plays an important role in my life and my parenting. By putting herself out there with her book and her web site, she connects with parents who are trying to practice free-range parenting, and those who aren’t. She puts many of these stories on her blog, which allows me to consider how these stories will impact the way that I parent.

I am a parent who wants to make choices with and for my children based upon wise, thoughtful consideration of who my children are as individuals, in addition to looking with wise and thoughtful eyes at the community in which we have chosen to live. Most of the time, I think I do a pretty decent job at this.

While the extremes do not always communicate to the reality at the center, in this case, it may help you understand where I’m coming from. I am the parent who does not let her 3 year old walk the 7 blocks to Walgreen’s to buy candy with his allowance money. However, I am the parent who allowed my 9 year old to ride his bike to Walgreen’s with allowance money. I am also the parent who has allowed my 15 year old to ride the train with friends into Chicago for the day. He wasn’t allowed to do this at 5 or at 10, but at 15, I think he’s ready. He’s done it twice, and is planning another day trip soon.

Wise and thoughtful consideration, guiding our decisions.

One of the most helpful things Lenore Skenazy does is she offers articles that I might not otherwise run across. Dr. Karen Malone is a Professor of Education at the University of Western Sydney. One of the things Dr. Malone studies is how to make cities more child-friendly. Interesting. I loved this article by Dr. Malone that Skenazy shared on her blog in 2012.

This is a great summary of Dr. Malone’s concern:

The big issue pervading the psyche of parents around children’s independence in the streets is ”stranger danger” and child abductions. The irony is, when you look at the statistics on abductions, almost all are by family members, and the numbers have been going down for a decade.

Malone describes an experience she had while in Tokyo for the first time. She observed a group of Kindergartners walking home from school together, no supervising adult in sight. I love her description,

I recount my experience to a Japanese colleague and exclaim ”there were no adults watching out for them.” He is a little taken back. ”What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!”

That is certainly the experience I have had, as I have encouraged and permitted my children to venture out on their own. Often, I will hear from a friend, “Oh, by the way, I saw Austin with some friends downtown last week.” My question, of course, is, “Were they behaving alright?” by which I mean, “Were they polite? Did they get in your way? Were they being so goofy as to no longer be amusing? Were they making safe traffic choices? Were they jumping in the fountain?”

But what I really mean to say is, “Thank you.” Thank you for being present. Thank you for being part of the community: the drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. Thank you for being part of the village that is raising my child. Thank you.

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On Hope & Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this Inauguration Day and the day remembering and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my husband reminded me that we must listen to this song.

“Let us turn our thoughts today
To martin luther king
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

(chorus)
Shed a little light, oh lord
So that we can see
Just a little light, oh lord
Wanna stand it on up
Stand it on up, oh lord
Wanna walk it on down
Shed a little light, oh lord

Can’t get no light from the dollar bill
Don’t give me no light from a tv screen
When I open my eyes
I wanna drink my fill
From the well on the hill

Oh, let us turn our thoughts today
To martin luther king
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood”

 
- James Taylor
 

Listen to the video. I dare you not to sing. I dare you not to move. I dare you not to dance. I dare you not to dream. I dare you not to hope.

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On Poverty and Education

Daniel Willingham is a Psychology professor at the University of Virginia. His work focuses primarily on the application of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to K-12 education. I first became acquainted with Dr. Willingham when a friend who is a teacher posted a link several years ago to an article on his Science & Education blog. Since that time, I have read his blog daily, often finding material that prompts me to think and to think differently (which I love).

I need to be clear, for those who don’t know me: I am not a teacher. I am the daughter of teachers, but I am a social worker by training. I work with children; I am the Director of Children’s Ministries at my church; and I care deeply about the learning process that occurs in each child, indeed, in each one of us. Education policy and programs, and learning theory were common topics of conversation at the dinner table when I was a child. I couldn’t have told you that, at the time, but looking back on it, the framework of these sorts of discussions are familiar to me because my parents, both teachers, talked about them . . . with us, and over us, across the dining room table.

Most of all, I am a Mom. My three children are in Willingham’s K-12 “sweet spot,” so much of what he writes about touches me where I live and touches the things that concern me about our schools and the children alongside whom my children are educated.

I was perusing some of Willingham’s articles from 2012, and came across this one worth re-reading. Take a look. The blog post links to the longer article Willingham wrote for the American Educator, “Why Does Family Wealth Affect Learning?” Have you ever wondered that? Most of us have the vague sense that this is true. Willingham says, “The data are unequivocal: kids from wealthy families do better in school than kids from poor families. It’s observable across ages, on all sorts of different measures, and (to varying degrees) in every country.”

It feels uncomfortable to say this. As if, by saying so, we were blaming the poor people for their children’s poor performance. If, however, we can lift the lid a bit and take a look inside the phenomenon, there is a lot that we can learn, even we lay-people who care about education for very personal reasons: our own children and their classmates.

Willingham summarizes the last decade of research on the topic as falling into two categories of theories: Family Investment Theories & Stress Theory. If you’ve given these topics any thought at all, you won’t find anything new here. You’ll read it and say, “Uh huh, uh huh, yup, exactly.” And sometimes that’s exactly what we want to do and need to do. We need to hear the researcher and cognitive psychologist tell us that what we think to be true, is. Even if your not a social worker, teacher, psychologist, or sociologist, take a look at Willingham’s brief description in the blog article. You’ll get what he’s talking about. It will make sense.

By the way, do you like flow charts? Willingham has a terrific one here that summarizes how chronic stress impacts academic performance. Check it out if these sorts of things interest you.

I will leave you with Willingham’s final paragraph. This is really why I like the guy. Well, it’s the combination of the fact that he’s smart and a good communicator, but he is also practical and compassionate. Here is his message of hope, following an article that might leave you quite discouraged and feeling helpless for all children in poverty:

The research literature on the impact of socio economic status on children’s learning is sobering, and it’s easy to see why an individual teacher might feel helpless in the face of these effects. Teachers should not be alone in confronting the impact of poverty on children’s learning. One hopes that the advances in our understanding the terrible consequences of poverty for the mind and brain will spur policymakers to serious action. but still, teachers should not despair. All children can learn, whatever their backgrounds, and whatever challenges they face.

May we each play a part in spurring policymakers to serious action. May we each encourage teachers not to despair. May we each find ways, in our own neighborhoods, our own schools and communities, to make a difference in the life of a child. What is your task? Will you help get books into the hands and home of a child who has few? Will you be the human capital a child needs, helping with homework, encouraging him to stay in school? Will your home be a safe place after school for a child going home to an insecure home setting? What is your task?

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On Epiphany

Star of Bethlehem

Today is Epiphany, the day Christians remember and celebrate the arrival of the Magi. We know the story. The three Wise Men . . . learned men . . . astronomers . . . saw a star, the Star of Bethlehem. The Star of David. They followed the star, and found the Christ Child. They worshipped Him, giving Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And then, having been warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, they “went home by another way,” returning to their homelands. Persia? Arabia? India? Perhaps.

This we know: the tradition of Epiphany, the story of Epiphany is a story of Light. The star is the symbol of Epiphany, for by its light the Magi found the Christ Child.

Merriam-Webster tells me that an epiphany is:Epiphany

  • an appearance or a manifestation
  • a sudden perception of the essential meaning
  • an illuminating discovery

The story of Epiphany is the story of God made manifest in a tiny baby. It is the story of God made manifest to the Gentiles. It is the story of Wise Men from the East, meeting the baby, and then returning to their homes, with this story, this Good News.

In the “scope & sequence” of our Children’s Worship stories at my church, this time of year, a week or two after Christmas, usually finds us telling the story of Jesus and Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna: “Baby Jesus is Presented in the Temple.” If you’re familiar with how this story fits into the Church Year, you know that this event, forty days after Jesus’ birth, is remembered and celebrated on the Feast of Candlemas, February 2.

For us, the telling of the Candlemas story often falls close to Epiphany. This year, it actually fell on January 6. Because I have told this story so many times, right around this time of year, there are several things that often float around in my mind together, jostling around, influencing one another in lovely little ways.

Simeon and Anna were faithful Jews. They each had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah. God had promised to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Christ, the Messiah. And one day . . . one ordinary day . . . forty days after a baby had been born in a stable to a young couple from Nazareth who were in Bethlehem for Caesar’s census, on this ordinary day, this ordinary young couple walked into the Temple with their baby.

For Simeon, God’s promise had been realized. For Anna, she would no longer wait for the Messiah. He had arrived. Anna declared this Good News to all those present in the Temple. Simeon praised God, saying:

“For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)

A light.

A light for revelation.

A light for revelation to the Gentiles.

God made manifest. In the Christ Child.

God revealed in the Child, for the Gentiles. For the People of Israel.

This is how we see Him: Yahweh. This is how we know Him. How He is revealed. God, made manifest.

This Jesus, He is how we can know the Father. He reveals Him. He makes Him manifest.

Epiphany: God, made manifest in the Child.

Jesus: the Light for the whole world.

Jesus: the Salvation God has prepared in the presence of all peoples.

Salvation for Israel. Salvation for the Gentiles. Salvation for all peoples. Salvation, indeed, for the whole world, the whole earth.

Epiphany: Good News, indeed.

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