Thursday, December 30, 2010

There are resolutions and there are RESOLUTIONS

It's the second to the last day of the year and time to start committing to whatever resolutions we make for the new year.  I just stumbled on a story about a FAMILY RESOLUTION that is absolutely fascinating to me, and also embodies some good, intentional parenting stuff.

Since last Jan. 1, Jessica and Jaime Gabriel and their three sons – Andrew, 9, Ben, 5, and Will, 3 – have embarked on a challenge to buy nothing new for a full year. They explain: "[W]e are making a conscious decision to go to the other end of the buying spectrum so that next year when we start buying again, we will be able to know where the middle is for OUR family." With the exception of food, hygiene and safety products (like new brakes for their truck), almost every material item they’ve purchased this year has been sourced second-hand. Jessica made a random mention of this on her Facebook account early in the challenge, and it drew so much attention that she started a blog about it in March.  As the year draws to a close she remarks on a number of things they've learned from their experiment.  Quotes from the blog:
  • Our main focus is to teach not only ourselves, but more importantly our children, the value of a dollar, delayed gratification and reevaluating our needs and wants as well as how to meet them.
  • [W]hen we DO go back to buying, we will be making more informed choices, where the bottom dollar isn't always the guiding force. Sometimes you can't get more for less. Sometimes you have to spend more to get more.
  • We are going to start thinking of some great decorations that we can make once and use for all our birthday celebrations and start a tradition of our own, a tradition of longevity, items with memory and family time while doing it.
  • LOVE the library!
So many different lessons, obstacles and challenges encountered, simply by choosing to make one change. 
What do you think of making a family resolution?  Trying something new just to see what would happen?  What if we turned off the television for a year?  What if we embraced the radical Sabbath Manifesto?  How would our thinking change?  What would we learn?  What would we embrace in the time freed by changed practice? 
I hope the coming year will be one of life and growth and joy and family.  Let me know if you decide to make any changes!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Child is Born

For unto us a child is born , unto us a son is given : and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor , The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 KJV

Even as I read these words I hum various parts of Handel's For Unto Us a Child is Born and the Hallelujah Chorus. Thank you George Frederich Handel. You have corralled the overwhelming news of God come down from heaven into a measured yet full response. You give voice to the magnitude of this event.

For unto us a child is born. . . those of us who are parents recognize the depth and beauty of this statement. Yet Isaiah's "us" refers not to parents, but to a people. "The people who walked in darkness", that is, all of us, were all blessed by the arrival of this child. I believe in the Child. I also believe that every child among us is heaven sent. And, like Handel's Messiah, raising this child is not a work that can be performed alone. One lone rock star is not sufficient. It takes a large number of people doing their part: parents, yes, and teachers and preachers, and politicians and pundits, and farmers and grocers, and neighbors and friends to give full measure to this life. If one group doesn't show up, the show may go on, but the magnificence of the work will be diminished.

It takes a village, a chorus, an orchestra, to raise a child. It takes all of these doing their utmost, to make an environment that will allow this child to be all that he or she was created to be. It is necessary that we show up. That we perform our part in the work of this life. That we, the us to whom the children are born, make sure that they have clean water and food and shelter and education and loving, caring adults around them. That we continually strive to make the world safe and hospitable for them.

I've heard it every day since Thanksgiving: "Christmas is for children". Let it be so! And let's show up AFTER Christmas day for the children, in whatever ways we can.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Making Memories

There's a scene in the movie "The Parent Trap" where one of the twins, pretending to be her sister, hugs her grandfather tightly and kind of sniffs at him.  When he asks what she's doing she replies: "Making a memory! Years from now, when I'm all grown up, I'll always remember my grandfather and how he always smelled of peppermint and pipe tobacco."  Since my own grandpa also smelled of peppermint and pipe tobacco, this idea charmed  me the very first time I heard it.  And it contained an idea that has stuck with me ever since:  We can deliberately choose to remember certain moments.

As I work at holiday preparations I often muse about what will make this Christmas memorable.  It's not always possible to predict - some of the best memories are completely unplanned, but not all.  As I look back over my Christmas memories it seems like it's about half and half.  Half of my favorite memories were created by someone's intention: carefully chosen gifts, invited guests, inspired worship.  Others were happenstance: blizzards, random encounters, life-stages.  Either way, memories shape both our anticipation and our definition of Christmas.

I have many memories of Christmases past.  Most of them make me smile.  Two have shaped my Christmas perceptions more than any of the others.  The first is probably from around age six.  That was the year my mom introduced the tradition of Jesus' birthday cake. I can remember singing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas day. There were even candles.  It made the central point of the whole celebration so clear to me. The second was my last Christmas before becoming a parent. I was, as they say in the Bible, great with child.  There would be no traveling to parents or in-laws that year.  I remember hearing the Christmas story that year as if for the first time: a young couple, far from home, a child about to be born. . . it was God's story and it was my story.

Like Mary, I have pondered these, and many other memories, in my heart for years.  Some of them may bear little resemblance to the "facts" of the event or to someone else's memory of it.  They are my memories, and they are part of who I am.  Like a river running through the hills, my memories have shaped the landscape of my life.  They have rounded the sharp places and created new routes in my thoughts. Looking for things worth remembering is a useful habit, especially if you choose well.

I know, and we all know, people who seem to remember all the slights, the hurts and the disappointments of their lives. While they may truly never have had a happy moment to remember, I think it's more likely that their constant focus on past hurt has blinded them to the good things in the present.  Others are constantly comparing this year to their "perfect" memories of Christmas past and always feeling that the present falls short. This is equally blinding. We can't really focus on two things at the same time. This is where looking for things worth remembering can be helpful. If we are looking for things to happily remember in the future, we will not be busy remembering unhappy things from the past or finding fault with the present.  (I'm not advocating for pretending things never happened or that everything is perfect when it's not.) I am just choosing to make memories in the present. To BE PRESENT in the present and not lost in the past.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas and please, make some wonderful memories!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Sign of the Times

I don't shop much.  I developed a real aversion to shopping when I was a single mother living at the very edge of my means or beyond.  Time spent at the mall seemed to bring out bitterness and anger that I wanted to keep in check - so I just quit going there.  Since then, I have narrowed my habits to the point where I visit only a handful of stores on a regular basis.  Lately though, I've had occasion to go to a bunch of stores and I feel a little bit like a tourist.

One thing has caught my eye that I think is clearly a sign of the times.  In every store there are piggy banks of every conceivable shape and size. Big piggies, little piggies, pastel piggies and bold piggies.  Piggies with polka dots, stripes and the logo of every major league team and most of the popular college teams.   There are piggy banks for kids, and piggy banks clearly for adults.  And there are lots of other kinds of banks too - the ones that keep a running total of your deposits with an electronic display.  The ones that will sort your change for easy rolling.  Banks that talk to you when you put money in them.  It's phenomenal.  And telling.

If I were actually a tourist, I might interpret this as a sign of American self-reliance; that America is so rich because even its children are taught to save for a rainy day from a very early age. In reality, it is a clear indication of the current economic conditions.  For me, it is also nostalgic. I had several piggy banks during my childhood years.  The most favored one wasn't a pig at all, but rather a spaniel that bore a striking resemblance to my Grandpa's dog Frisky.  And that bank came from my Grandpa, who I believe got it free from some bank vying for his business.  Does this mean we will start getting toasters for opening accounts again?  I'm guessing my twenty-something readers don't even know what I'm talking about here.

People who came through the depression knew the true value of a dime.  And we are beginning to realize it too. Money is a tool. Everyone knows the value of a good tool: writers like certain kinds of pens, gardeners like certain kinds of rakes, cooks like certain kinds of knives.  I wonder if we quit seeing money as a tool when we quit seeing money and started swiping cards for everything.  It would appear that money is real again, in the eyes of the American shopper anyway.

These piggy banks give me a flutter of hope.  People are figuring out what they need to teach their kids about money.  And, they are teaching them to wait for what they want.  And that, in the end, is the truest value of a piggy bank.  Learning to wait for what you want.  Learning to work toward it, one dime at a time. Because anything that is worth having requires this.  Getting an education requires mastering one thing at a time.  Growing a garden requires waiting for the produce to ripen.  Raising competent children requires daily  investments of time and love. Life is not like the lottery - it's like the piggy bank - and children who learn this are way ahead when they reach adulthood.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Always drive a car big enough to carry a cello. . .

Yesterday I saw one of the early signs of the holidays: the car with the wreath on its grille. That got me to thinking about all the bits of wisdom related to cars that I have collected from other parents and from my own experience.  The advice about the cello obviously came from a parent with musical children and it was very good advice.  Driving your kids, and their friends, where they need to go is a great way to stay connected in the midst of your crazy schedule.  As the driver, you become invisible to everyone behind the front seat. And, if you can keep your mouth shut, you can find out a lot about what your kids are really thinking and doing. (If you decide to talk about something you overheard - don't blow your own cover!  Find another reason to introduce the topic so you can continue eavesdropping!)

Another useful item from my collection: Road trips are a great way to bond during the silent years.  Even the most remote teen cannot bear two days in the car without conversation.  Eventually they will make some kind of overture and you can probably have some meaningful discussions, if you are willing to wait in silence for a while. 

Also, driving in the dark can provide great opportunities for embarrassing discussions.  If you can bring your self to open the discussion by remarking on a XXX-video store or billboard for a "gentlemen's club" you can find yourself addressing a lot of questions your teens may be carrying around with them. I once, in the dark,  explained the actual meaning of every forbidden word my kids had ever seen written on a bathroom wall (and why we obviously shouldn't use them).  Definitely a discussion that would not have happened face to face in the light of day!

From another friend: when your kid drives someplace alone for the first time, find someone to wait with until the "I have safely arrived phone call comes."   This is a multi-phase kind of rule.  First they drive to the grocery store or church or school by themselves.  Later they drive to the suburbs.  Then, it's the next big town over and eventually it's an interstate trip. Finally, they will take trips and tell you AFTER the fact.  And you'll be relieved you didn't have to worry the whole time they were driving from college to Canada just because they'd never left the country before. . .

And a few don'ts from the same sources:
  • Don't ever give them a brand new car.
  • Don't be afraid to make them earn their car: I know someone who successfully raised three fine young men by forcing them to drive the family minivan until they finished their Eagle Scout requirements.
  • Don't make them bear all the expense of having a car.  1) Because they will have to have a job during the school year and then quit all their extra-curriculars to find the time to work.  And instead of hanging with  high-achieiving band members or athletes or school newspaper reporters, they'll be hanging with high-school dropouts at minimum wage jobs. 2) You can't really take it away if they bought it themselves.
  • Don't assume they are going where they say they are going.
  • Don't hesitate to make them responsible for washing and gassing it or for driving their younger sibs to things.
Cars are kind of like an extension of our homes.  Your family life can happen in them if you are intentional about it. I love the people who put antlers or wreaths on their cars at Christmas time!  They clearly know that their car is part of their home.  Forget the Christmas sleigh rides - just go for a jaunt in the family car.