In the upper middle class world I am entrenched in, everyone’s child is gifted. Everyone has a child that read at an incredibly early age, is extremely talented in sports and destined for, at the very least, a college athletic scholarship. Giftedness oozes from every child, at least if what you read in Christmas cards or facebook status updates tell us anything.
But what happens when that isn’t the case? What happens if, when your child leaves kindergarten, they are at the tail end of where they should be, or heaven forbid, behind? What happens if, despite only showing your child educational television, limiting them to games on PBS Kids.org, reading to them every night and discussing vocabulary with them, they aren’t reading when they leave kindergarten? What then? Do you lie by omission and just don’t talk about the progress of that child (when with the other children, you talked about it constantly)? Do you elaborate on other signs of giftedness, like being able to find their way out of a paper bag or the ability to mix up every single one of their lego sets? What then?
I had a heartbreaking, but important conversation with John the other night. We were talking about new neighbors, first grade, and what first grade would be like. I asked John if he was looking forward to first grade. Madeleine, my first, couldn’t wait because in first grade you got to do harder things. John was not looking forward to first grade for two reasons. 1) You had to read. 2) No more centers. I sighed and thought of my John, and how significant those two changes were. I contemplated ranting about our current education system and taking play out of the curriculum at way too young of an age. I thought of how hard that transition of removing play would be for John–my child who thrives in crazy, imaginative, creative play.
As I thought more though, I thought about the reading aspect. John is maybe at a DRA level 3 (our school would like him between a 6 – 8 to go into first grade). I celebrate that level. He’s worked long and hard to get there. It’s not where he should be. He knows that. I know that. It makes him sad. It makes me sad, because he is sad.
As I have mentioned before, I used to be a teacher in a former life. One of the things I learned early on in college and saw first hand in teaching was that reading is developmental. Translated for non-teachers: A child will read when their brain is ready to read. Learning to walk and speak is developmental. Learning to follow rules is a developmental level/skill as is learning to think logically, thinking of yourself as the center of the universe (thinking of preschoolers when I say that), and abstract thinking. Things develop as the brain is ready for them to develop. It is different for each person. As much as lawmakers and textbook writers would like to standardize learning, certain things can not be standardized because no number of laws or common core standards will make a brain develop faster than it is ready to. Some children’s brains are ready to read at 3. Some children’s brains aren’t ready to read until 8 or 9. Some children’s brains will never be able to read. It’s how it is. It isn’t right or wrong. We don’t judge a child’s athletic ability by how early they walk (my boys walked at 10 months. Does that mean they are destined for athletic greatness? No.). Nor do we judge a child’s ability to communicate to talk about when they spoke their first words. (Madeleine spoke later for girl–does that mean her language skills are behind everyone else and that she still can’t communicate well? Heck no. Sometimes I think she communicates a little too well).
Reading is different though. Parents wear the age when their child started reading as badge of honor–it is sign of the parent’s success and a child’s brilliance. Somehow, it gets forgotten that reading is like walking or talking–it’s developmental. The brain will do it when it’s ready. As a fourth grade teacher, I heard for years which children were the gifted kindergartners who read early. You know what? In fourth grade, I couldn’t accurately predict who read earliest. I remember one girl in particular, who didn’t really learn how to read until third grade. By the middle of fourth grade she was reading above grade level. By the end, she was significantly above grade level–catching some of those children who read in kindergarten. It didn’t matter at that point when you started reading. All that matter was whether the children were reading material they loved and understood. That influenced success and reading levels more than the age they could first read the Biscuit books.
Why am I off on this teacher tangent? I know I am not the only mother out there with a child who may not be where they should be reading. I am fortunate to have been trained as a teacher and to have taught in a public school for several years. I have a bit more perspective. I want to stand with those other mothers who are surrounded by parents who children are “gifted”. Mothers, your children will read. They will. It’s ok if they’re not the first ones to read, or even the middle ones. Just keep reading to them. Talk to them about what words mean. Laugh at books together and talk about what you’ve read. Bring up things you’ve read together in the rest of every day life. Make your child love books, even if he or she can’t read them. Keep sitting with them every day and encouraging them to sound out words (and let them stop right before frustration kicks in–frustration turns off the brain. True story.).
I celebrate John. I was thankful for the conversation I had with my reader who can’t read yet. It made me sad, but only because I saw for a moment how he saw himself, as not smart. Here’s a secret that not is expressed well in public education—all children are gifted at something. John and talked about the things he was good at—he could tell us exactly what building had been torn down the past week as we drove past the rubble on the way to church. None of the rest of us could remember, but when he told us (a building we drive past only on our way to church), we all remembered that he was right. John also notices other things–camping last weekend, he found a scorpion inside a board on a wooden fence. He saw it when he was walking by. It was camouflaged and so hard to see Curtis had a hard time getting a picture of it. John also is incredible at putting things together and fixing things. None of these things are a category he could be labeled as gifted at school. However, I celebrate those areas and know to have patience with the reading. It will come. I need to remember to have patience and to encourage him to have patience as well. I will also wear John’s reading level as a badge of honor. He’s worked hard to get where he is–every bit as hard as those early readers–and we should all be proud of that.
I remember Mother’s Day four years ago distinctly. My littlest was a mere 3 weeks or so old, my middlest was 2, and my oldest was not-quite, but almost 4. I was exhausted. This baby, this third born who was supposed to be the easiest, cried all the time. Whether I held him or put him down, he screamed. He refused to sleep more than a bit at a time. I was exhausted and Mother’s Day seemed like a bit of a joke. Mother’s Day? A break? A day off? There was none for this weary mother who felt like she was always holding or feeding a crying baby. I went in with no expectations whatsoever.
So maybe I don’t remember that Mother’s Day that distinctly. I remember the events around it, but I don’t remember what actually happened on Mother’s Day. I can tell you what didn’t happen. I didn’t sleep in. I didn’t take a nap. I made two (maybe 3, or maybe we ordered out for the third) meals. I changed many diapers. I wasn’t pampered. I didn’t have my love bucket filled. I got some presents from the big two that they had made in school, which promptly got ruined by the other one (I do remember that. I also remember thinking “This sums up my life right now. The kids even destroy the Mother’s Day presents the other one made for me.”). I was pitiful.
Two years later, without realizing it, we organized a camping weekend trip with friends over Mother’s Day. The littlest was already 2, my middlest was 4, and my oldest was not-quite, but almost 6. The littlest refused to sleep, but we had a great time anyway. Curtis made my Mother’s Day by getting up with Isaac when he woke up at 5:30 am. He drove Isaac around until a reasonable hour (6:30 maybe?) when he returned to camp with a Starbucks coffee for all three of us mamas.
I was hooked. I knew what I wanted every single year for Mother’s Day–a weekend camping trip.
When I say that, most people look at me like I’m nuts. They hear I want to go camping and think, “How is that relaxing?” How does that pamper me? How does that give me a break?” It is fabulous though. It’s a lot of work getting ready to go and lot of work unloading and doing all. that. laundry. Once we get there though, wow. Usually, the places we go don’t have great (any) cell phone service. No one is working (on their paying job). No one has a soccer game or baseball game or swim practice. I don’t have to clean anything. Curtis does most of the cooking and most of the meals are super easy. Plus, we’re around each other all weekend. We’re outside all weekend. Curtis and I get to stay up after the kids finally are asleep and marvel at the stars and our incredible fire (that we started Saturday morning and lasted until we left late Sunday morning). we get to talk–not usually about work or schedules either, but what we’re reading or thinking about these days or memories from our childhoods.
For me, that’s Mother’s Day. Once I stopped trying to make Mother’s Day into a Hallmark card, with perfect children standing around me being angelic and bringing me breakfast in bed and serenading me with music and lyrics they composed themselves, I was much happier. On the flip side, I also stopped believing those pinterest and facebook lists that surface the week before Mother’s Day every year.
You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The ones that talk about wanting to use the restroom in peace or for my husband to take the kids away from the house the moment they wake up and not have to see them all day long. I realized I didn’t want. True, just a week ago, I was telling Curtis all I wanted was a night when I didn’t have to put kids to bed or sleep in the same house of them or hear them when I wake up in the morning. I don’t want that for Mother’s Day though.
For Mother’s Day, I want to remember why I love being mom. I want to spend time with my family and remember how wonderful my children are. I want to get gifts made at school, which the kids are so proud of making. I want to be outside with my family and sleep in a tent with them. I want to smell smoky and teach my kids how to make a fire or roast a perfect marshmallow. I want to have time with Curtis to talk about more about survival, which is our usual conversation.
That is why we go camping. By the time we return home, after our traditional post-camping barbecue lunch on the way home, we are dirty and smelly, sometimes laden with bugs or bug bites (I hate ticks!!). We are also happy. We are more relaxed going into the week. We are more connected. We are more of family. What more could I ask for for Mother’s Day?
This month’s book for The Transit Lounge Book Club was Walter Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination. I was a bit excited to read Brueggemann. I had never read him before and remembered hearing his name at various times throughout my life in Bible classes or in sermons. I was a little nervous that this text would also be more dense than I was comfortable with (or that this mama brain could process right now). I need not worried. I loved the book. I started marking and underlining, writing in the margins almost immediately.
Mostly, I starred and smiley faced sections, bracketing them and writing exclamation points. So much resonated with me. I loved idea of the prophet as one who broke through institutional and personal numbness. Maybe it’s because I am such a softy, crying over anyone’s pain, but hearing that part of a prophet’s roles was to grieve over people who weren’t able to grieve was reassuring. While the first edition of this book was published almost forty years ago, the themes are true for us, just like they were true thousands of years ago for the Jews.
As a society, we are numb. I’m not as familiar with cultures outside the US, but here, there’s definitely an each-for-their-own attitude prevailing. It doesn’t matter which side of the political or religious spectrum you’re on, people hide behind the secure doors of their houses or churches. At night we lock our doors, watch the world news and are thankful things aren’t that bad here, then turn off the TV and go back to our soccer practices, our wine with dinner, and our perfectly climate controlled houses. We listen to music that reminds us that God loves us, God blesses only us, and that pleasure can dull all of those nasty things we only briefly remember watching on the news moments ago. The song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd comes to mind. “I turned to look but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now. The child is grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb.” As Bruggeman writes, the prophets came to wake societies that had become comfortably numb from their stupor. It’s just easier to think it’s all to big for us, it’s too far away, it takes much more money than we can give. It’s all out there and we’re here. Safe. Secure.
I wonder who the prophets today may be. Who am I ignoring who is speaking God’s words to us? Maybe God’s words to us is more than what we think they are–maybe it’s more than just accepting God’s love and grace. Maybe that’s not enough. I suspect though, we often try to silence the prophets around us, because really, when one has gone without feeling for awhile, why would you want to go back to feeling? I know there are prophets. I would like to think I would listen when they speak. But then, I may not hear them, because they may not being saying what I expect them or want them to say.
I don’t know. What I do believe is true is that as a people, as a religion, we have become one that ignores those that the Bible says we are to take care of–the sick, the widow, the orphan, the immigrants, those who mourn, the poor in spirit, the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, those who work for peace, and everyone else who society shuns as being backward or out of step. In the desire to connect church and state, to be a Christian nation, we become like Solomon, institutionalizing God, containing God in one large, magnificent temple so we can go about doing what we want. We are like Constantine’s army, who when they were baptized, held their right arms above the water, so their fighting arms could still belong to Constantine and not God. If we can combine church and state, we can do what we want and say we are a Christian nation without giving too much thought if that’s really what Christ would have done. When things go wrong, we can blame those who failed to follow Christ or embrace the Christian state. Surely, it is not the widespread numbness or governmental systems which are too blame. Surely, it is not our indifference or our thoughts of superiority that is the problem. We are a Christian nation. We can do what we want, attack whom we please, and neglect whomever suits us because on our money it says, “In God We Trust.”
I hope when prophets speak, I hear their words. I hope I can see their tears as they mourn how separate we are from God. I hope I can hear their messages of hope–hope that doesn’t lay with a newly elected president, but with a new heaven and a new earth–a new covenant–a new way of doing things, hope that happens here, now in God working through us and not saved for the someday promise of heaven.
I don’t know what this means for me. I know as I continue my year through the Bible, it will be yet a third lens I look through, looking for grieving prophets, looking for life giving hope. This struggle though, this wandering away from numbness and beginning to feel again, I continue to figure out what it means. I’m still waiting for that great calling, that urging. Until those things arrive, I will keep living, grieving for those who mourn and the world around us, and doing what I can to instill hope in others. I will try not to be satisfied with how things are and work to imagine the world as God intended it.
Incredibly, I am still on the correct day for my daily Bible reading. This hasn’t meant that there are some days when I have five days to make up for, but as of today, I am dead on.
I’m not sure if any part of the Bible is an easy read. However, it’s the readings of the past couple of months that really baffle me. I cruised through Judges with lots of carnage and gruesome deaths. There’s warrior women–Deborah and Jael, Samson, Gideon, and all sorts of other judges who acted as prophets and intermediaries for God in the time between entering Canaan (the Promised Land) and the appointment of kings. Then there was Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, who were in the royal lineage of King David (and Jesus). Saul was appointed as Israel’s first king by Samuel, but he failed to follow God (his failing–not waiting for Samuel to make his sacrifice to God. Things went down hill from there). Samuel then anointed David, a shepherd boy who sang and killed Goliath. Saul was jealous of David and David took to the hills to hide in caves. Eventually Saul and his sons (including David’s best friend, Jonathan) were killed in battle and David took his place as king over a briefly unified Israel.
To be honest, I don’t get King David. He’s one of the most revered people in the Old Testament, considered Israel’s “best” king. Yet David messed up, over and over again. When David messed up, he messed up big–killing one of his finest warriors because David had impregnated his wife. David’s children were out of control–one of his sons, Ammon, raped another of his sons, Absalom’s, sister (possible because of the multiple wives and many concubines. Ammon wasn’t actually related to Tamar, Absalom’s sister). While David was “very angry” (2 Samuel 13:21) with Ammon, according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, “he didn’t punish his son, Ammon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn” (2 Samuel 13:21). As a result, Absalom took matters into his own hands and eventually killed Ammon. David was furious with Absalom and forbid him from ever coming into David’s presence (2 Samuel 14:22). Absalom then slowly started turning people away from King David and developed quite a following. He conspired to kill David and to become king of Israel. David fled from Absalom, not that much unlike how he fled from King Saul years before–again heading for the hills and hiding in caves. And that’s where I stopped.
The first and seconds of the Old Testament (Kings, Chronicles, and Samuel) remind me how little I understand of the context of the Old Testament. Why was Saul’s sin so much worse than David’s? Additionally, it was David who desired to build God a home, thus “institutionalizing” Judaism. God wouldn’t let David build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant (yep, that thing in the Indiana Jone’s movie) because there was too much blood on David’s hands, but God promised David that his heir would build a temple. David misunderstood God as much as Saul did, it seems, in that he thought God could be made small enough for a place and contained there. It’s hard for me to understand why things held the importance they did–while I am sure the Jews of the David’s time, the prophets, and Jesus’s time could understand the significance much better. The first and seconds are a good reminder for me that the Old Testament was written for a specific people in a specific place (check out Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation for more on this). Why should I expect to understand it all?
The reason I struggle the most with King David is because he was so human. I want my Bible heroes to be just that–heroes. I want perfect people who don’t kill women’s husbands. I want a king whose son doesn’t try to overthrow and kill him. I want the loyal David to always be around– the David who wouldn’t kill Saul even though he had ample chances and reasons–the David who brought his friend, Jonathan’s, crippled grandson into his house to live—the David who refused to kill the great Jewish warriors who tried to kill him. Instead, I see all of David’s flaws, all of his terrible humanity.
That says so much about me, doesn’t it? To be honest, I don’t think it’s just me who has this desire to have perfect heroes. I think of all the entertainment magazines/shows/websites whose job it is to expose the imperfections of those we look up to. I think of all the media a fallen sports star gets when he/she messes up (Tiger Woods, anyone?). Even within the church, we expect our church leaders and pastors to be perfect. We don’t want them to be human and have character flaws. Why is that? What’s our obsession with hero worship and perfection? Why do we love to watch reality TV shows that demonstrate how people fail? Why are there websites devoted to cake disasters (which are pretty funny–but then I realize some of my homemade birthday cakes could easily end up on that site and it’s not quite as funny)?
We really aren’t comfortable with grace. If we accepted grace, we would have to accept the fact that we aren’t perfect nor is anyone else perfect. Grace means we look at the cake disaster site and imagine the laughter that accompanied those cakes. We look at those cakes and see love and generosity, instead of wondering what in the world that person was thinking. When we see someone else’s humanity, we hug them and draw them close, instead of feeling better about ourselves because we aren’t like them at all.
One of the strengths of a chronological Bible is how it handles the first and seconds and the prophets. In those books, more than most, it varies greatly from our traditional Bible. After David confesses his guilt to Nathan about killing Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, the chronological Bible immediately follows David’s confession with Psalm 51–the Psalm David wrote after confessing. I leave you with a part of that–a favorite of mine.
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion, blot out the stains of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin….
Purify my sins, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
O, give me back my joy again; you have broken me–now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of guilt from my heart.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
Psalm 51: 1-2, 7-12
Wednesday afternoon, I did something I seldom do. I walked away from my dirty bathrooms (ok, that I do a lot) and left the house. I drove to a Starbucks (I know, I don’t normally like to frequent Starbucks, but I do too often), got a foofy girlie drink, and sat. I found a table outside so I could enjoy the wonderful Austin spring we’ve been having. I looked out over an old live oak tree and thought of the live oaks we saw while camping a couple of weeks ago, guessing this tree’s age was about 900 years younger than The Big One. I felt the warm breeze and watched the whirligigs whirl. I got out my large stack of cards, birthday and otherwise and enjoyed by 45 minutes until I had to start the afternoon pick up routine.
I don’t do this often–in fact, I can’t remember the last time I did. I’ve sat in coffee shops recently, but spent the time frantically studying for a test I thankfully passed. Plus, there’s just something about sitting outside on a warm spring day. I thought of years and years ago, when I “studied” outside in college on warm April days. I thought of days when I first came to Austin spent outside, reading and hanging out with friends. However, I didn’t have many recent memories of just sitting outside and enjoying the day, other than afternoons spent out baseball diamonds or soccer fields–when I often I couldn’t notice outside because I was trying to prevent Isaac from busting himself up climbing on bleachers.
I need to do better at making time for myself. As a parent, it’s a hard thing to do. There’s always so much to get done, like my nasty bathrooms or the cupcakes that are waiting to be iced on my counter. There’s volunteer commitments, practices, and errands. It’s endless, whether you stay at home or go to work all day. Too often, I feel like I am being judged by the quality of my housekeeping or my landscaping. I worry that I don’t volunteer enough at the kids schools and there’s that haircut I’ve been needing for the past three months.
I need afternoons like I took the other day. I need time to sit by myself outside and be quiet—to read if I feel like it or write cards if I feel like it. It’s not selfish, it’s not lazy. It’s necessary. I left my 45 minutes outside insanely happy. I noticed the detail on the peacock feathers on a metal sculpture chair as I walked to the card shop. I looked around me and thought life was beautiful and God was good.
I picked up my three wild things and because I was in such a good mood agreed to go swimming at the indoor YMCA pool that afternoon because we had no where else I had to be. When my littlest went running through the house with his pants around his ankles (he was running to get his suit so we could go swimming) and busted his head wide open when he hit the corner of our cased opening, I was able to handle it with gentleness and grace. Instead of being frustrated that I was spending yet another afternoon getting a boy fixed up, I could be the calm parent my children needed and avoided getting too stressed by it all.
It wasn’t laziness to take those 45 minutes. It was essential and aided my family. As often is preached about, Jesus made time for himself as well too. He left the crowds, left the teaching, left the miracles to be done and at times, retreated to be by himself. Why do I think I am less human than Jesus? I need that time. It’s hard some times to get away, because the stuff I am getting away from isn’t bad things–generally it’s good things that need to get done. I have to do it though. It allows me to be a better mother and love better.
What does this have to do with parenting? Absolutely everything. In addition to helping myself be a better mother by making time for myself, I am teaching my children self-care as well. When I take time for myself, it helps me realize more how much my children need time to themselves. I had forgotten that about my middlest for awhile. Our schedule was so busy and full, he wasn’t getting the time to play by himself. His behavior became worse and worse at home, as he had less and less time to himself–without siblings interfering or parents guiding. Eventually, it took us way too long, we figured out part of the problem. Our boy, who had always entertained himself so well and could play by himself for hours when he was younger, didn’t have time to himself now. School sucked up way too much time and in our big enough house (so much bigger than many peoples houses), he didn’t have a place to retreat. We flipped the doorknob on his room around so he lock his room from the inside (long story about why the doorknob was backward, maybe later?). We became aware of his need to make time for himself. When he started losing it, we suggested he play by himself for awhile, not because we didn’t want to be around him, but because it what he needed.
We teach our children so many things–how to get along with others and share, how to be responsible and independent, how to deal with winning and losing, who God is and the meaning of our relationship with God, in addition to all the academic areas. Teaching children how to take care of themselves is equally important. Our words tell them one thing, our actions need to back it up. Our children need to see us making time for ourselves and knowing what we need. There’s no better way for me to teach John that than for me to be sure I am actively making time for myself too, whether it be sitting outside reading or writing, exercising, doing a hobby I love, or spending time with my husband or friends. Whatever it is I need, I must do it. For myself and for my family.
One of my favorite parts of being a mom is books. I am a reader and have been all of my life (in case you haven’t picked up on that over here yet). When I taught fourth grade, I would read children’s literature–commonly the Bluebonnet Nominees every year, plus whatever the kids were reading that didn’t seem like it was trash. Most of my adult fiction, I read during the summer (and then I read massive amounts of poorly written adult fiction).
Once I stopped I teaching, I stopped reading children’s literature as much. It’s only in the past few months I’ve started reading children’s literature again. When my kids were little, my days (and bedtimes) were filled with books by David Shannon, Mo Willems, and Virginia Lee Burton. We read all sorts of books, trying to stay away from those horrid beginner readers on Spiderman, Transformers, Star Wars, or Disney movies. In my mind, I have already made a list of which books I’m planning on saving for my grandchildren and which are making the quickest trip out of my house.
However, my oldest is now devouring chapter books. I have pulled down my boxes of books, one by one, that are full of the books I offered to my fourth graders. I steer her towards some books and away from others. Some books are still too hard (she’s not quite ready for The Secret Garden yet), others I am worried about the subject matter. I am finding I need to create criteria for the books she reads. I am also starting to read books along with her, or after her.
My Criteria for books for my kids:
1. The book will not give them bad dreams at night. For us, that means no gruesome deaths, no evil, dark characters. My kids haven’t figured out that there is evil in this world. They don’t understand it. That’s not something I need them learning too soon. They’ll have most of their life to know that. There has to be some perks to childhood.
2. The kids need to love the books. If it’s a book I hate, preferably they can read the book themselves or convince their daddy to read it to them.
3. Books about junior high/middle school girls having crushes on boys and problems with friends can wait another 3 or so years for Madeleine. This is directly related to number 1. (Not that junior high girls are evil, per se, but those are not things Madeleine can identify with, which makes understanding the book more difficult).
4. Books with loss, sadness, and death are ok. Madeleine understands all three. Her best friend moved to India this school year. She’s mourned his loss deeply. These things happen and are part of life, and Madeleine can identify with them.
In one of the professional books I am reading right now, it is talking about the implementation of readers’ workshop. The theory is that the more kids read, the better readers they’ll be. It doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they are able to read it, enjoy it, and understand it. However, as the author, Nancie Atwell, points out, it’s not enough to just have children reading. The teacher’s role is to help guide the readers. The concept sounds simple to implement on first look. However, as I read farther, Atwell pointed out that teachers need to read a plethora of books to help guide children into new books and to help students think more deeply about books.
I realized how much that pertains to me as a parent. Maybe I feel like it is important because I love reading. Maybe it’s because I think many, many children’s books (not picture books) are better written than most of the stuff you pick up on the new fiction table at the bookstore. Maybe it’s because I’m a former teacher (and will always be a teacher deep down).
Last week, Madeleine read a book that was a bit above her maturity level. The main character had a mentally disabled mother, didn’t know her father, and was partly raised by her neighbor with agoraphobia. In the course of the book, she travels across country by herself on the bus, learns hard truths about her family and history, and loses her mother. I was worried it was bit much for a second grader, so I read the book too. One of my favorite things of the past week was talking to Madeleine about the book and helping her process the book. It was an eye opener for her that not all families were just like ours. Because I read the book, I could have deeper conversations with her and push to think about things a bit differently. It was fabulous.
With my middlest, it will be a different story–he enjoys fantasy more than Madeleine does. We’re on book seven on The How to Train A Dragon series. Again, this book is a little bit above my son’s vocabulary. That provides us with ample opportunities to talk about new words. It has also has a bit of inappropriate language, one of the character’s name is Big Boobied Bertha (and lest you think this derogatory, it’s not–her ample bosom is one of her biggest strengths). This leads us to discussions about inappropriate and appropriate language.
I’ve also discovered graphic novels. My middlest and youngest love those books that resemble comic books. I must say, graphic novels have come a long way since I was a kid. Now they have novels at all levels, they’re clever, and they’re not all violent. John loves the Korgi books, which are without any words at all (which makes it a great church book). Isaac has discovered the Geronimo Stilton graphic novels at the library which are about 5 years to advanced for him. He loves them though so I read them (and I don’t hate them–see criteria #2). The Bluebonnet nominees include one graphic novel every year as well.
No matter when my kids start reading (Madeleine was an excellent reader by the end of kindergarten, reading Magic Tree House–which also fits under criteria #2. As John finishes kindergarten he’s just starting to read. He still loves books and I’m trying everything I can to keep it that way, even as he gets frustrated with his own progress), I want them to love reading. I know that will mean finding different books for each kid.
I also know that means I will be reading a lot more children’s literature in years to come. And that’s just fine with me.
By nature, I am an introvert. Now for those who know me well, that may come as a surprise, but it’s true. I am a loud, silly introvert, but I am still an introvert. Being a stay at home mom has been wonderful for me (once I made that rough transition). I can spend as much time as I want at home–especially now that I have two in elementary school and one in preschool three days a week. I get the interaction I need through volunteering at the elementary school (granted, most of that volunteering involves working with students, not with adults) and the occasional girls night or time with my dear women. I am happy staying at home by myself. It’s almost perfect (especially since I’ve kept that pesky acedia at bay lately).
However, I have children. That’s the reason I can be a stay at home mom. Without kids, I couldn’t justify hanging out at home all day. And as anyone with children knows, kids change everything—especially if you have more than one and especially, especially if you have more than two. By the time I had that third child, I had accepted I was in control of nothing and that home was where I should be–in part, because at the time, it was just easier to stay at home rather than get an infant, a two year old, and a four year old out the door to go anywhere. I was good at waiting for “Someday,” using someday in the best sense of the word (not a wanderlust/grass is always greener sense).
In the four years since my baby was born (making him not so much a baby any more), I’ve reveled in my introvertedness. It’s easy for me to stick to my comfort zone and not get involved. Madeleine, however, has different plans for me.
We were camping last weekend, down along the coast. (Side note–if you don’t know the Texas coast, it’s a bit different than the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. Most of the Texas coast is protected by a wonderful barrier island that is known to house the Kemps-Ridley sea turtles, among other things. When we went to the coast, we were not on the Gulf, we were on one of the smaller bays that border the mainland). Camping is a relaxing time for me–a time to move slowly, sit some, hike some, eat a lot, but not do much of anything.
While we were at the coast, we stumbled upon an environmental service project that was taking place. Oyster shucks had been collected from local restaurants, were being bagged, and then placed in the bay to create new oyster beds. This area of the bay was particularly muddy so oysters often didn’t have the space needed to reproduce and grow without getting smothered by mud. We noticed the bright yellow t-shirts of the volunteers while we walked to the end of the fishing pier, but were content to walk by and not get involved.
Not Madeleine. She wanted to stay and help. Because there were four adults and three kids in our group, I stayed with Madeleine at the pier while the rest of our gang headed back to a relaxing morning at the campsite. We signed waivers, got our bright yellow t-shirts and helped bag the last few bags of oyster shucks. I thought we were done, but Madeleine wanted to stay to put the bags in the water. We hung around until the assembly line was formed. She made her way to the water with another mother I had met, while I stayed on the pier. She handled around 300 or so bags of oyster shucks, and the bags weren’t light. I handled about the same amount on the pier. We left when all the bags had been placed in the water and headed back to the campsite to eat lunch.
Without Madeleine’s encouragement, I may not have gotten involved (I may have, depending on my mood, though). With kids, it’s hard to stay on the sidelines and not get involved with life and helping others, especially if those are traits you want your kids to learn. It’s easier for me to just sit back and let other people sign-up and do things, using lots of excuses–”I’m not comfortable” being the number one excuse, closely followed by “I don’t have time,” ”I don’t know enough,” and “I may get dirty” (dirty being used both figuratively and literally).
If I don’t get involved though, I miss out on many new opportunities in life. My fear and insecurity keep me from growing and learning new things. Sometimes, getting involved ends up providing outlets for me to do things I love, that I had forgotten how I much I love (teaching in particular). Sometimes, I make new friends after I get involved and lots of time I get confidence and fulfillment. It’s just that initial first step is sometimes hard to take.
I am sure, as the years go by, there will be more and more things for me to get involved with–some that I dread and am hesitant about (like John’s baseball love…). I hope I can say yes to the child that is encouraging me. I hope I can say yes to the God that asks me to be actively involved in the world I live in. As Joan Chittister said in one of her reflections about prayer:
God is the fullness of life, the magnet of our heart s, the model and purpose and end of all our actions. We are here to continue what God has begun: the growing of the garden of life.
Children aren’t so cynical that they accept things because that’s just how things are. Children struggle with why people are homeless or don’t have enough to eat or aren’t taken care of. When our children ask questions, we need to listen to them, and find ways that we can get involved, whether it’s through little spontaneous things like creating oyster reefs or bigger things like feeding the hungry.