Category Archives: Parenting

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I Went to Mexico Last Week

A simple vacation changed my life.  My mom treated the girls and me to a week-long cruise last week, with ports-of-call in Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.  Costa Maya and Cozumel are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.  A week ago right now, for example, we were just beginning an excursion to Mayan ruins in Cozumel under the expert leadership of our tour guide, Nico.

This was my first trip to Mexico.  This was my first experience being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic place.  Being there, both in Costa Maya with its gorgeous beaches and in Cozumel with its rich history and environmental initiatives, whetted my appetite to learn more about these areas, the people who live there, and their history.

I’m far from a naive traveler.  I know that tourism is the top industry in these areas, and the natives’ solicitous behavior was in the hopes – rightly so – of good tips.  We learned from Nico that the “high season” is November through April, so what income they earn through tours, excursions, and tips must carry them through the six-month “low season” when cruise ships are not as prevalent in their ports.

We had two days in Mexico, one in Costa Maya, the other in Cozumel.  We had planned to swim and snorkel in Costa Maya, but rough seas made it unsafe for my youngster to snorkel.  Still, we enjoyed the beach break and the hospitality of the islanders.  While we were swimming, I overheard a guide with a group of snorkelers ask his group, “And how do we say <indistinguishable> in Mayan?”  To which the group answered, and I thought, “The Mayan language is still spoken?  Cool!”  My mind immediately began humming with questions and trying to determine how to find the answers – not from books, but from people.  Maybe find random Costa Mayans on Facebook?  Yeah, possibly.

Costa Maya

My first view of Mexico in Costa Maya where guests are greeted in a village setting

The next day saw us in Cozumel.  Truthfully, I liked Costa Maya as a place more than Cozumel; the latter was Americanized touristy.  I get that they must present like that in order to keep the Spring Breakers and tourists happy, but I was desiring a more authentic experience.  Both places have awesome stuff to see, however.  In Cozumel, all those questions found their answers, thanks to Nico.  Unfortunately, those answers just spawned more questions.  (Ahh, the joys of being a lifelong learner.)

Ancient Mayan ruins

The ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. The pillars represent the Sun and Moon.

Yes, the Mayan language is still spoken.  Forty percent of Mexicans are direct descendants of the Mayans and are distinguished by their short stature, straight hair, and high cheekbones.  (What about the other 60%?)  After the Spaniards conquered the Mayans, only a few dozen remained to preserve their culture, history, traditions, and customs.  The written Mayan language didn’t last, but all other aspects of the people did.  Mexican religion is a hybrid of Christian Catholicism and Mayan paganism.  I still have questions that I’ll hopefully get to pepper some of the soccer parents with.

Something else happened last week that wormed its way into my mind.  On Disney Cruise Lines, there is a room host for small groupings of staterooms.  These hosts make the beds, tidy the room (Jhe, our host, even folded a couple of my older daughter’s clothes that she was going to take care of after dinner), create the towel animals, replenish bath linens, turn down the beds, and leave chocolates.  Another thing that happens on DCL is, your servers at dinner follow you all week from restaurant to restaurant.  This way, they learn your likes, dislikes, and preferences.  After our first night, our little one never again had tomatoes on her salads, though she did have double cucumbers.

Our servers, Charles and Wayan, were from India and the Philippines, respectively.  Jhe, our host, was from Indonesia.  It struck me that the “brown-skinned” cast members had the least desirable, more grunt-service jobs, whereas the lighter skinned cast members from Australia, Europe, and North America were higher up in the hierarchy – just under the captain, for example, or working directly with the kids in the youth clubs.  They often held supervisory positions as well.  Yet, we seldom saw and interacted with those cast members.  It was Jhe who took care of our stateroom all day, every day, and Charles and Wayan were the ones providing us with exceptionally attentive dinner service.  Being a White American lady, I am aware of the glamour – or lack thereof – of service jobs.  I can also see the color and cringe at what seems to be unfairness.

My youngster only saw “people.”  All of us spoke to the room hosts along our hall on our way to the stairs and elevators.  Whether in her Princess Elena dress or tee and shorts, my eight-year-old dropped a curtsey to Jhe every time she saw him.  She doesn’t know that you only curtsey to nobility; to her, he is a noble person and worthy of her honor and respect.  In the simple act of the curtsey, she elevated him above his position of bed-maker and clothes-folder.  That’s beautiful to me.  How often do we elevate people by our actions each day?  Or would we rather they just keep in “their place” to which the White majority has assigned them?

It takes surprisingly little effort to raise someone up.  Let’s all take a moment to lift up someone in the coming week, regardless of who they are.


It’s Just Too Much!

The emails and announcements are beginning to roll in.  VBS at our church is this particular week in June.  The previous week is VBS at my parents’ church.  My younger has already determined that she wants to attend at my parents’ church, because afterward, Grandma will take her to the park and Grandpa will take her fishing.  There may also be ice cream and shopping in there somewhere.

Yet, our own children’s minister will expect her to be present at VBS at our church, and that VBS will likely be the exact same theme as that at our local church – and my little one LOVES that church’s minister.  What all these VBS directors see:  An opportunity for children to come and learn about Jesus and biblical truths through Bible stories, activities, games, crafts, and songs.

For this momma, though, it gets to be way too much!  Don’t get me wrong:  My daughter loves going to VBS.  She has fun and is such a social bug that being around other kids just compounds the fun for her.  Yet, she’s exhausted every afternoon, and with back-to-back VBSes, halfway through the second week, she’ll be tired and cranky, and her behavior will be tanking abysmally.  She is an extrovert and an empath, so being around people drains her emotionally.  The problem is, she doesn’t yet know this about herself, so she doesn’t realize she needs downtime to give herself a chance to recover.  This, then, becomes a battle as I struggle to convince her to take some alone time in her room.

The fun times are great for her, but she often complains she doesn’t learn much.  A pastor friend of mine once said of my daughter when she was six, “She’s smart.  She gives good answers in Sunday school, and not just catechism answers, either.”  When our Bible discussions deal with why Jesus was angry with the moneychangers at the Temple and how Jesus turns the status quo on its head and then how we, too, can do that, a simple story about Joshua or David isn’t going to excite her a whole lot.  Noah filled an ark with animals, but what about the cursing of Ham?  Balaam got mad at his donkey, but when will the lessons cover how boldly he refused a king’s request that he curse the Israelites and, in fact, blessed them, speaking the words of God?

The pressure will be on, with various people mentioning VBS right in front of my child, leaving me the choice of either saying, “No, you can’t go” or being the “bad guy” who tells her she needs to spend some peaceful time in her room.  When our summer break is only 6-7 weeks long (and that often feels way too short), the rush and hustle of 3 weeks of VBS is anathema to enjoying the cognitive and physical downtime that is a huge part of break.  So, please, give us parents a break.  For parents who work, I often hear how getting kids to a morning VBS and picking them up puts a strain on their work days.  For us parents who work from home, these hours can be either the blessing of a few hours to work with no kids, or they can be time wasted that we need to be working.  They’re mornings of getting everyone up and out the door when the kids would really rather be sleeping in.

So this year, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my child.  By the time VBS rolls around, she’ll be newly baptized.  In our household, talking about Jesus, the Bible, our faith, living the Christian life, etc., aren’t 180-school-day activities.  They’re not something that happens at church on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and five mornings in the summer.  They’re daily things.  They’re examples, questions, discussions, and applications.  These are things they learn as we go about our daily life.  Two non-consecutive Vacation Bible Schools is fine, but I’m not going to force her to endure two straight weeks of hustle.  After all, she doesn’t have but so much time to be a child.  And if I’m insisting she attend all these VBSes because other people want her to, what message is that sending to her?


But Boys Will be Boys, Right?

I’m keeping this blog nonpartisan, choosing only to address underlying issues.  Please don’t assume endorsement for any candidate.

The media is all abuzz this week after a video came out from over a decade ago featuring Donald Trump saying some pretty vile, disgusting things about women and how, because of his wealth, he was at full liberty to touch women inappropriately.  He blew it off as “locker room talk.”  As I’ve never been inside a men’s locker room, I can’t say if it is or not, and if I ever were to hear men speaking that way with all that false bravado or sheer cockiness, I would assume their big mouths were overcompensating for a significant lack in penile endowment.

BRMHS boys locker room 1

BRMHS boys locker room 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This type of talk, though, only perpetuates the whole concept of rape culture.  In the aftermath of this video coming to light, women started talking about when they were sexually assaulted by men who thought they could get by with it, usually because of their seniority in some way (age, position, wealth).

I remember being 13 when it happened to me, though mine was by a classmate.  It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and as I walked down the hall to class, a boy – one of the popular, cool kids – came from behind me and groped my breast.  I never told anyone – never have until now – but I remember feeling so ashamed.  And helpless.  This guy thought that, because I had large breasts – larger than any other girl in my class, anyway – that they were available to be grabbed.  He further thought that, being one of the popular boys, he could get by with it.  (Karma, anyone?  She found this guy.)  I didn’t say anything, because who would believe me?  Boys are gonna be boys, right?  No harm done.  Nevermind that I was painfully self-conscious of my breasts already and that a lot of less-developed girls hated me for them.  I never asked for that particular genetic “blessing.”

The proliferation of images of naked women online perpetuates this idea that women’s bodies exist only for men’s pleasure and consumption.  I have a guy friend who shall remain anonymous who enjoys looking at nude pictures of barely legal young ladies online, and he gives positive reinforcement to those who post those images by downloading, sharing and liking them.  Who are those ladies, though?  Desperate college students who needed a few bucks eight years ago and never thought their pictures would be plastered all over the internet?  Someone’s ex-girlfriend who posed for her boyfriend, never knowing that he’d sell her pictures after the breakup?  However those pictures came to be there, the message is the same:  The woman’s body is only for the pleasure of men.  It does not belong to her at all.

Ten years ago, out of boredom and because I like showing off my creative endeavors, I wrote erotica and posted it online (under a pseudonym, of course!).  The feedback I received was very rewarding for the most part, though some of it was less-than-welcome.  I was honestly surprised at how many men thought I’d want to hook up with them for sex, just because I wrote about sex.  They assumed that, since I put a few sexual fantasies out there for public consumption, that I was eager to put my whole self out there for whoever wanted it.  Absolutely not!  (And my husband has always loved reading these stories, so don’t go thinking that I did this behind his back.  We also laugh at the not-so-subtle requests for sexual favors.)

The popular thought in rape culture is that all women are “asking for it.”  We’re “asking for” the leers, the sexual assaults, the gropes, the frotteurism.  It doesn’t matter how a woman dresses or what she does; none of us are “asking for it.”  So some women choose to show their bodies off; it doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to outside of the proper relationships, nor that we want the touches.

Here’s a novel idea:  Parents, choose to teach your sons the true value of women.  Now I get that there are people out there who totally agree with Mr. Trump about women not being worth more than a man’s thrills.  For the majority of people, though, that’s not the case.  Teach sons to grow up respecting women, teach them that women’s bodies belong only to us women, and teach them that women are not objects.  We are people created by God  in the very image of God to be co-equal and complementary to men.  (Sure, I’m not as physically strong as my husband, but he’s not as emotionally strong as I.)  God loves us women exactly as much as God loves men.  Jesus died for women just as he died for men.  Slowly but surely, generation by generation, hopefully we can eradicate the rape culture prevailing in our world and teach men a whole new appreciation for women.


The Compassion of a Child

I’m sitting in my home along the SE US coast, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pay us a visit.  Am I worried?  Not particularly, though I did feel a strong sense that we needed to do more to prepare for this storm than we typically do for others.  We’re prepared to this point, though we’ll have a bit more to do come Thursday and Friday.  Worst case scenario, we pack the kids and the cats into two cars and head west; the cars are fueled sufficiently.

This morning as the girls and I tracked the storm, we saw that some people weren’t so lucky.  As we pulled up the tracking map online, we saw that at that moment, the storm was right over Haiti and eastern Cuba, with a course dead-straight to the Bahamas.  While this is devastating for all these island peoples in the Caribbean, our hearts really went out to the Haitians.  It’s like they can’t catch a break!

So we prayed.  Then H, my seven-year-old who’s diligently saving up for a pink sparkly boat about the size of a massive cruise ship, started outlining her plan for rescuing people in such situations.  This plan involves using her boat to take them to safety on her own private island, complete with three hospitals, just to make sure everyone gets the care they need.  (I guess she’d need more than one island, so she’d have options depending on which direction the storms are going.)

As the pink sparkly boat is still quite a ways off, H spontaneously thought about what she could do now.  Her solution?  She wants to donate some of her shoes and clothes to children in Haiti who’ll lose everything in this storm.  I immediately grabbed my phone and texted the children’s minister at church, asking if there’s any reception for those sorts of donations.  No, but there are organizations, like Hope Changes Everything, who already have boots on the ground and need money to supply the Haitians with exactly what they need, be it clothes, food, or housing.  (That link will take you right to their site, and you can donate there.)

Our minister suggested a yard sale.  Truthfully, I don’t relish the idea of putting together a yard sale, but the weather will be good again, and there are a lot of things we can get rid of for this cause.  While I don’t look forward to the work and administration of doing this, I’m excited, because this is something H can lead off on.

I am understandably so proud of my daughter for having a heart that wants to reach out to people who have been so devastated by this storm.  More, though, is how she’s overcoming her own fears of the storm in thinking about others.  All morning, we talked together about what we need to do to make sure our home and property are ready for the storm.  I presented it as, “We need to be prepared, but we’re gonna be OK.  Worrying won’t change the storm at all.”  Still, though…  She is seven, and she’s not so thrilled with regular ol’ thunderstorms, let alone a hurricane due for a direct hit.  Once she started thinking about how to help others, she forgot to be afraid.

H is such a good teacher, even reminding her pastor momma about some truths that are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

  • We need a change in perspective sometimes.  Things look challenging for us this coming weekend, but they’re much worse for thousands upon thousands of other people who have no evacuation routes and limited resources.
  • When we’re afraid, it helps to think about others and become unafraid.  I find it also helps remembering who controls the storm.
  • What we have can be used to serve other people.  This girl has plans for her life, plans that involve a good deal of education and helping vulnerable creatures.  Yet, her heart remains for people and desiring to help them.

The Bible tells us so many things about children.  “A little child shall lead them.”  “You must have the faith of a child.”  And the Psalmist writes, “From the lips of infants and children, You have ordained praise.”  We oh, so busy adults need to stop sometimes and listen.  The still small voice of God I’m hearing this week isn’t coming from a gentle breath of wind, but from the lips of a little girl.

Helping Children Soar

Yesterday, we got to church for our weekly groups early enough that my younger daughter had much-loved time to play on the playground.  She wanted me to support her across the monkey bars.  WOW, did that test how well my knee rehab is going!  (Quite strong and stable, given that I was standing and walking backwards on loose beach-type sand holding 45 pounds.)  My daughter loves to swing, and, sure enough, she hopped on the swing, asked me to push her, and informed me, “I want to go high!”

I pulled her back and gave her the initial pushes.  As every parent knows, though, when you’re pushing a child on the swings, there’s not but so high a parent can push their child.  The parent can start them, but then the child has to pump her legs, and truly, her height is completely up to her at this point.  The child pumps and rises, eventually getting to the point where the chains start to go slack and she can see over the bar at the top.  She can lean back in the swing, letting her hair flow back and down in the breeze, or the more adventurous can decide to jump out of the swing at this point (with hopefully no broken bones).  The point is, though, once the child takes responsibility for her own swinging altitude, she can then choose what to do with it.

2016-03-16 17.51.21

On her way to the sky

As I stood with my daughter, watching her swing, I thought about a situation a friend is going through with his daughter.  The daughter’s mom think she’s “keeping her safe” by doing everything for her, way more than a near-teen needs to have done.  As a result, this young lady is lazy and slack about her self-care, especially pertaining to her medical needs.  You see, this mom doesn’t know that it’s time to stop pushing and time to trust her daughter to pump her legs.

Watching a child getting crazy-high on the swings is a bit heart-stopping:  Will she fall?  Will the chain mysteriously snap?  What happens if she loses her grip?  Answer:  She’ll get hurt, but likely survive.  In the meantime, there are squeals and giggles carried on the wind, fading and growing with the Doppler effect as she goes back and forth.  There’s the memories of exhilaration of being a girl on the swing, feeling that “oh my gosh!” as you remember seeing the chains go slack and feeling like you were so high.  And you realize, you just can’t take that away from her, because this child will likely never fall out of a swing, but she’ll experience a million moments of soaring thrills as her legs pump her higher and higher and higher and she leans back to feel the wind in her hair.

Sure, a child is safer being kept close under mother’s protective wing, but she’ll also never learn what she can do on her own.  That child will swing as long as she’s in mom’s reach, but she’ll never soar if mom won’t let go of her.  Sadly, the child will never learn she actually can soar.  As parents, there has to come a time when we let go of our children, trusting them to hang onto the chains, but only as long as they want to.  This is the only way we will empower our children to rise up to be all that they possibly can be.

We So Fly (Lady)!

We live in CHAOS – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.  Yes, it’s true.  Between teaching and canning and running the biz, cleaning happens randomly (grabbing something of mine as I walk out of a room), and it’s so frustrating getting on the troops to clean up while I’m doing something in the kitchen or my workshop.  Those aren’t my Legos or dolls!  Those aren’t my clothes left in a heap on the living room floor.  That stack of mail doesn’t have my name on it.  Ugh!  Then when company wants to come over, there’s the 5-hour, really stressful blitz to get everything picked up.  With Christmas coming, who wants to deal with that???  I want to decorate on my schedule, not be cleaning instead.

It showed up in a homeschooling group:  The Fly Lady Holiday Control Journal, which promises to help one conquer cleaning, making gifts, baking, hosting, and shopping.  Seems like a pretty audacious claim, doesn’t it?  The Fly Lady premise tackles cleaning in small, 15-minute chunks, claiming you can do anything for fifteen minutes.

The original Fly Lady

The original Fly Lady

As soon as I discovered and printed off this journal (it’s in a handy .pdf), I sat the family down and said, “This is what we’re going to do.”  I don’t want to be stressed this Advent season, and I want to be doing something other than last-minute present making/assembling on Christmas Eve.  The Troops got it.  We’ve done the 15-minute blitzes twice now; the only problem we face is, some of us don’t want to stop once the 15 minutes are up; a still-cluttered space – just this morning, in fact – can make one of us say, “But that area still needs to be cleaned.”  That was my older daughter.  I know the struggle, but I say, “Nope.  We’ll come back to it after moving on.”  At the end of each blitz, I make everyone come into the room.  I ask them to remember what the room looked like before we started, then have them take a good look at what it looks like now.  What do they think of it?  Everyone agrees that there’s a lot of improvement.

We’re a family of four, and the children are both old enough to help clean.  No one wants to be stuck cleaning a room by her- or himself, so if the room is big enough, we all tackle it together.  Think about it:  Fifteen minutes times four people…  That’s like an hour’s worth of cleaning in that one room!  Darn straight, there’s a lot of improvement in a short amount of time!  I was even able to seize a teachable moment by grabbing one of the teaching clocks and explaining this concept to my younger daughter.  It’s like a competition against the clock – how much cleaning can we do before the timer goes off?  That means there is very little second-guessing – things get thrown away, there’s little squabbling over “that’s not mine” (it all gets put away), and there’s a real sense of teamwork.  At the end of it, I get the cleaner home I want, I get the help I need, none of us are spending all day cleaning, leaving us free to enjoy other activities.  That’s a win all the way around!

Making My Children Happy Isn’t My Job

That sounds outrageously harsh, doesn’t it?  But it’s true.

As a mom and home educator, I have certain responsibilities regarding my children.

  1. I am responsible for keeping my children healthy.  We provide nutritious, balanced meals on a daily basis.  We take them to the doctor for check-ups and, if needed, sick child visits.  They have weather-appropriate clothes and shelter.
  2. I am responsible for keeping my children safe.  We teach them how to cross streets safely.  We make sure the youngest especially wears her bike helmet as she’s mastering riding without training wheels.  I teach them stranger danger and self-defense skills.
  3. I am responsible for teaching my children everything.  Sure, I teach reading, writing, math, and so forth, but I also teach them the Bible, how to do what Jesus instructs, how to cook, and all sorts of other good homemaking skills (not just “girly” stuff, either).  The Teacher writes in Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  From the moment our children are born to us, the process of their leaving us begins.  It’s such a depressing thought, but this is necessary for them to become independent future adults.  Everything we teach them is what they will carry into adulthood.  If we teach compassion and generosity, then we will one day have adult children who are compassionate and generous.  Those who spoil children so that they learn they’re the center of the universe have adult children who are petulant, spoiled, and self-centered.
  4. I am responsible for disciplining my children.  Again, the Teacher:  “He who spares the rod hates his child, but the one who loves his children is careful to discipline him,” and “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope.”  This is not a biblical mandate to beat our children for disobedience.  The imagery here is that of a shepherd.  A shepherd uses his staff (“rod”) to guide the sheep and to protect them from predators.  Our task in disciplining our children is to guide them to make right choices and to protect them along the way.  Just as a shepherd would not beat the sheep who strays from the herd, we don’t beat our children for straying from our instruction.
  5. I am responsible for treating my children with compassion as I teach them.  Paul tells the fathers in the church at Ephesus, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  While this verse is directed to fathers in particular, I believe it applies to mothers as well.  Some versions say “do not frustrate your children.”  As we teach our children, whether it’s as parents nurturing spiritual development or home educators teaching the joys of physics, we need to be mindful not to frustrate them to the point where they cannot learn or do not wish to learn.  Some frustration is good; we are often astute enough to see the top levels of our children’s potential, and setting the bar just to that point encourages children to reach for that height.  I often see this with my older daughter.  I’ll give her a math problem that is just a little out of reach for her.  I watch in near agony as she struggles with her angst with it and with me.  She tries a conventional method for solving the problem, and it doesn’t work.  Then she angrily marks through all that work and stubbornly starts over from a new angle.  Frustration turns to determination leads to exaltation as she grasps the problem.  If I spared her that angst in my attempts to keep her happy, then I would have also denied her learning, advanced cognitive growth, and the feeling of achievement.

Beyond and above all this, I am to love them.  I truly believe my children are a blessing from the LORD.  I love them in so many ways, day in and day out.  Snuggles, stories, teaching, quality time together, general silliness…  All these moments add up to a lot of love and a lot of great memories.

While I do love them and make many memories with them, the one thing I will not do is make them happy.  That’s just not in my job description.  My favorite undergrad Psych professor told us repeatedly for 2.5 years, “If your children like you all the time, you’re doing something wrong.”  The point he was making is, “If you discipline your children the way you should, they will hate you sometimes, and that’s OK.”  I’ve taken that to heart in a way that drives my kids crazy.  We’ll set a limit on their behavior, and one will say, “I don’t like you right now,” and their dad and I will high-five each other right in front of them.  (Mean, right?)

This came up today.  I was out to lunch with my best friend, my second Mom, and my friend’s daughter.  The daughter had had an attitude from the moment her Grandma picked her up, before church, during church, and then here we were at lunch, and the attitude was still with her.  I’d had enough.  I’m not used to children having such bad attitudes, especially out in public.  We were getting ready to bless our meal, and she was mouthing off about hating to pray.  I murmured “One moment” to my friends and told the daughter to cut the attitude now.  She did, we blessed, and lunch was great.  Later in the afternoon, my friend said, “She wasn’t happy about that.”  I replied, “Her happiness is not my concern,” not because I don’t love her, but because I do.

My children are happy, because they choose to be happy.  They feel loved, safe, secure, and that helps them feel happy.  They have boundaries on their behavior (which they sometimes push), but when it comes to what they can do, of what they’re capable, of what they are able to achieve, there are no boundaries.  The sky’s the limit for them!  Why?  Because I’ve spent more time giving them love, safety, security, and discipline and not bothered with ensuring their happiness.  Children whose parents don’t discipline them because they don’t want them to be unhappy end up with no sense of boundaries and they’re fairly incapable of creating their own happiness; they’re dependent on others or on having their own way to have their happiness.  Put bluntly, being willing to piss off our children as we create them to be productive, enjoyable future adults will help our children choose to be happy.

So, go out and make your children angry at you with your discipline.  Holy crap, is that hard to do!!!  Seriously, I know.  I’ve cried heartbroken tears over how my daughters have spoken to me in their anger, but I also am aware I made my mom cry with my angry teenage words.  Parenthood isn’t for wimps.  Yank up those big girl panties (or big boy undies, whichever suits you best) and dive into disciplining those young’uns in love.  Set boundaries.  Correct bad behavior.  Get ’em good and mad.  Then hug those kids, even – especially – if they’re big kids, taller than you, and tell them you love them forever.

The Teleos of Our Study on the Vietnam Conflict

It was a long 4 months.  Sometimes very long.  And heart-wrenching.  And troubling.  And emotional.  Very, very emotional.  Mary’s and my intensive, exhaustive study of the Vietnam conflict made us both examine our thoughts and feelings on that conflict from every possible angle – first, that of the Vietnamese people, followed by those of the soldiers (referring here to personnel from all branches of our military, not just the Army, with apologies to airmen, sailors, and marines), the protestors, and perhaps, a little of the government.

Our study involved reading several books, covering everything from protestors to POWs to soldiers in-country, soldiers at home, and where the Vietnamese actually came into play in this whole nasty war.  We watched over 15 hours of documentaries that covered everything from the first Vietnam war against Imperialist France all the way through to the pouring of refugees into the US in 1975.  We saw a display at a museum on items from the conflict, including a bamboo tiger cage (used to house POWs in the South Vietnamese jungles).  We saw a play about the Wall, and we met and spoke with the producer of that play, himself a Vietnam vet.  At the end of our study, we determined that the US treated the South Vietnamese poorly, and the US government and a portion of its citizenry treated the soldiers both poorly and unfairly.

We agreed that muddling through the politics as the US entered the conflict was worse than trying to untangle yarn barf.  Mary at one point asked, “The US supported Communism?!”  That led to a discussion about what it means when we say, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Our hearts broke over the images of dead children, especially following the My Lai massacre, and we grieved for the Vietnamese people who have only ever yearned for independence from foreign powers, only to be oppressed by their own Communist government.  As my teachers had been quite determined to avoid all mention of the very politically-charged and -incorrect Vietnam Conflict, this was a tremendous learning experience for both of us.

Those four months led to this…

Bike flying POW/MIA flag and US flag

Rolling Thunder is about this – bringing home POWs and MIAs from all foreign wars

“This” is Rolling Thunder XXVIII, which was Sunday, 24 May, 2015, in Washington, DC.  Rolling Thunder is a non-profit organization that lobbies to keep the focus on the soldiers who are still MIA from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  Their organization is named after Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive air offensive against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the conflict.  It was fascinating to learn that, while Mary and my Dad and his motorcycle group were in DC, the remains of 10 who’d been MIA were found in Laos, and one has been identified thus far.  Mary went with Dad to help minister through simple cups of water.

Motorcycles at sunrise

Some of the approximately 900,000 bikes that greeted the sunrise on Sunday at Rolling Thunder XXVIII

Before she went to DC to encounter those who still may carry their scars from the conflict – either physical, mental, or emotional – Dad wanted her to understand the conflict in which they fought and the battles they encountered.  These weren’t just battles of bombs, knives, guns, and bayonets; these were battles against disease; the loss of comrades-in-arms, friends, or relatives; and the battles at home against an unappreciative country, uncomprehending families, and PTSD.

Mary was simply Mary.  She went up there knowing that vets appreciate being thanked for their service, and she did.  The first time she did so, he nearly cried.  She helped.  She served water.  She smiled and thanked and brought her own light to people.  She showed the love of Christ to men who were considered “the least of these” – “scum,” “murderers,” “baby killers” – 40 years ago.  She knows the ugly side of the conflict; she knows innocent people died.  That’s the greatly unfortunate part of every war and conflict, and those soldiers responsible for those deaths – we call them “collateral damage” today – bear the scars on their hearts and souls.  These soldiers were kids back then, off the farm or out of the city, who had been called up to fight in a conflict they didn’t understand in a land that was completely unknown to them.  Still, Mary didn’t consider their past.  She spoke to people, not knowing if they took lives or how many.  She looked at them in the present.

No one wants to learn about the Vietnam Conflict today.  It’s terribly unpopular still, and frankly, it’s still a big, nasty mess to study.  It’s uncomfortable to study.  The truth is, the US did at one time support a communist country.  The truth is, American troops did massacre  innocent seniors, women, and children at My Lai.  And, it’s my opinion that we did treat the South Vietnamese unfairly.  So many of the Vietnamese refugees still long to return home to a democratic government free of communism.  Freedom is great, but nothing quite satisfies the soul like being home.

For all its ugliness, I’m grateful for this study.  I’m grateful for the ways in which this exhaustive exploration of the conflict stretched our minds and our compassion.  I’m grateful that Mary and I both came through it with a new respect for what these Vietnam vets endured, both in battle and at home.  For us, there is a whole new appreciation for those who never made it home, who made the ultimate sacrifice in their efforts to ensure that those who dodged the draft, burned their draft cards, protested – even to the point of committing treason were it not for the legal hamstringing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution – and took every deferment available maintained the right to express their displeasure of the conflict.

We are grateful.  You are not forgotten.

Discipline is Hard!

Discipline isn’t easy, because discipline done correctly leads to teaching subordinates of some sort (i.e., children) how to do things correctly or better.  I don’t care for the definition that aligns discipline with training using punishment as a consequence of misbehavior.  To me, discipline requires patient teaching with the end goal of the recipient of the discipline growing and learning something new.  There are consequences of not following the teaching, but it’s important to be clear about these from the beginning.  That way, they are the consequences of choices, not knee-jerk punishments.

Given that discipline requires patience, consistency, and love, then it follows that disciplining someone is a fairly challenging task.  As parents in particular, we risk dealing with push-back from children, the pouting, the drama, the pain on both parts.  Well, we generally know that the pain of discipline usually rests solely on the shoulders of the parents (“This will hurt me more than it will you.”), but children will convince us that they’re mortally wounded because we want them to play outside instead of playing video games, or we’d rather they read than watch TV.

Some other ways we discipline our children is by setting appropriate boundaries on their behavior.  This has to be immediate; otherwise, they’re just not going to get it.  “That doesn’t go in your mouth!”  <whispered> “No, you’re not ready for Communion, yet.”  “You need to hang your wet towel up, because if you don’t, the cat will pee on it.”  We know that these are simple boundaries that will have lasting consequences; they lessen the risk of putting bad stuff in their mouths, they’ll wait and go through the spiritual growth necessary before taking Communion, and they’ll learn to hang their stuff up (we hope).

But, heavens, doesn’t it seem to go on forever?!?!  “Don’t leave your colored pencils strewn across the living room floor.”  And didn’t I just tell her that 37 minutes ago for the eleventh time today, and it’s not even lunchtime, yet?  Wouldn’t you think she’d learn after doing it so many times that it’d be habit?  But, no.  Consistency, but then comes consequences.  “Daddy, you broke my pencil when you stepped on it!”  “Well, sweetie, would Daddy have been able to step on it had you picked it up and put it away when you were done?”  Damn Mommy logic!

Discipline means risking the anger and tears.  I have a friend who suffers a lot of unnecessary headache because he doesn’t want to deal with the anger from disciplining his daughter.  He just doesn’t “want to get into it with her.”  She is learning she can get by with a lot that doesn’t seem to bother her but that only irritates her dad.  My eldest can dish her own anger and attempts at manipulation.  Just today, she was reading something and asked, “What does ‘venerable’ mean?”  I replied, “Find the dictionary and look it up.”  “But it’s the first day back to school!  It’d be nicer if you’d just tell me what it means.”  Sure, I could’ve done that, avoided the drama, and she’d remember the definition until…  Oh, right around lunchtime.  If I’m lucky.  I grinned and said, “No, I’m not spoon feeding that to you.”  She huffed and dramatically flung herself out of the chair and strutted into the office, slamming the door behind her.  Ahhh…  Tween drama.

What is so hard about teaching children how to behave correctly and guiding them as they learn what it will take to grow into responsible, productive, happy adults?  Oh yeah.  It’s work.  Hard work.  Seemingly never ending work.  Work with no time clock, no paycheck, and certainly no vacation or sick leave.  But the results are invaluable.  Just the other night, my eldest told me all the way home and through dinner and after dinner about the opportunities she has this summer to break out of her comfort zone and do something different and independent and for others.  Two of these somethings cost money, but she didn’t even think to come to us to ask for the money.  (OK, so she’s having to ask for the deposits.)  She immediately started coming up with a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timeable) plan for earning the money.  She’s driven and excited, and these events will mean even more to her, because she’s working for them.  Our work is far from done, but we can and will enjoy the small reward.


Motherhood and the Journey Into Hell

For my “light” (haha) summer reading, I’m reading Dante’s Inferno for the first time, fabulously translated by Robert Pinsky.  Pinsky’s translation illustrates Dante’s reactions to some of the people he encounters along his journey through the circles of the underworld.  The traveler recognizes people he knew from above, and knowing their sins, he feels their judgment and resulting punishment is just.  Yet, at the same time, seeing their eternal torments, he feels compassion on them for the torturous pain they must endure.

This morning, my older daughter left for camp.  She’d worked all weekend getting her clothes and other things together, and come 5:00 this morning when her Daddy was ready to roll out to take her to church, she got into the car, raring to go.  Then from my warm, snugly bed, I heard the front door open and close again.  Then suddenly, lights.  Bathroom light turning on.  My daughter’s lamp turning on.  The lit screen of hubby’s cell phone sweeping around the room.  What in the world???  My daughter.  Had lost.  Her glasses.  It would be deucedly hard for her to hit that coveted archery target if she can’t see it.

Finally, it was time for them to leave – the absolute latest moment they could still make it to church, so she had to go without her glasses.  At around 5:05 (yes, in the morning), she’d asked me where her old pair of glasses were.  I had no idea.  We promised we’d overnight them to her if we found them (STILL no luck in that department).

My daughter’s sweet, myopic self was off to camp, sans glasses.  Because of their delay in leaving, they couldn’t stop at Walmart to get her a disposable waterproof camera as she’d hoped.  Being sight-limited is going to make camp less fun than she’d hoped, less fun that she’d anticipated.

She’s reaping the consequences of choosing not to be responsible  for keeping up with her glasses, just like the “shades” in Dante’s Divine Comedy are reaping the consequences of their choices in life.  Like Dante, I feel compassion for my daughter, sad that she’s having to go through this ordeal.  Unlike the “shades,” though, she has the opportunity to learn from this experience and make better choices when she comes home.  It’s hard watching this, but we’ll both be OK – and maybe the glasses will turn up tomorrow.  We can hope.