Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Year With No School Supplies

School starts this week in my part of the world.  In my entire lifetime, only six Augusts have not involved back-to-school preparations: five before my eldest daughter started kindergarten and this one. So while most years I have been wrapped up in the busyness and excitement of the first day of school, this year I'm looking back at many years of fresh fall starts. I am also more aware of the sadness some people are experiencing as school starts.    Families sending a child off to school for the first time (especially if it is the first or last child in the family) are feeling some loss and a flutter of fear even as they enjoy the excitement of this big milestone.  Other families face empty nests as they send their last "baby" off to college.  Their homes feel empty and their calendars seem blank.  And in between these two extremes are the fears and losses that crop up when a child is changing schools, moving up from elementary to middle or middle to high school and so forth.  

Negotiating these feelings is the first "homework" of the new school year. 

Here’s some more parental homework for those of you who are still buying school supplies:
  • Remember who's going to school. "We" will not get an A+ on "our" project.  School is your child's job, not yours.  You've already been to third grade; let your child tell you how it is for her.  Think about yourself at her age and share your 3rd grade self with her.  She will love hearing your stories and you will enjoy the memories.
  • Remember that the purpose of school is learning. Period. Everything else, sports, music, clubs, is just a side benefit.  Family time is probably more important than many school activities.  You can never get these days back, ever, so make sure to consider the true cost of the time required.
  • Decide what is really important to your family and rank those items.  Then, try to build your schedule around that ranking.  If eating together matters, make it happen!  If traveling is important, take a trip! If church is a priority, go!  If service is something you value, then make sure you serve together as a family; what he does with his family will stick in his memory longer than anything he does with his class.
  • Meet your child's friends' families.  Chances are, especially when your child is in the lower grades, you will find people who are very compatible with your family.  These people will be your friends for a long time if you make it a priority.  
This brings us full circle, because when the year with no school supplies arrives, you will need friends who share your feelings.  You won't have regrets because you didn't eat dinner once with your child during her whole senior year (yes, this is a true story - not mine but still painful). Your child's teacher will remember your child and not you, and your child will not have even dreamed of asking you to write a paper for his or her freshman English class (yes, this really happens!)
And if you really, really hate not buying school supplies, you have options: buy some and donate them to a school where kids need them, or dive in and take a class.  Maybe it's your turn to get a new backpack. . .

Thursday, August 18, 2011


This week I heard a story that got me thinking. . .It involved a pair of moms, a gaggle of kids and a road trip to nowhere.  The dad who told me about it said, in true Texas fashion,  "It was already snakebit, might as well turn around and go home."  I laughed and shook my head, because I knew exactly what he meant. We've all hit those places where we know without a doubt that it is time to throw in the towel, when nothing good can be wrung from a situation. We've looked for the lesson, the quick fix, the silver lining, the funny side and it's just not there. The cost-benefit analysis comes up with "snakebit."

Kids run into those situations too: the friend who doesn't reciprocate or respect, the skill that only more talent could improve, the grade that just isn't going to make it past a B or the SAT score that won't pass 2000, no matter how many times the test is taken.  I see a lot of parents who are loathe to let their kids throw in the towel in these situations.  They believe that with just a little more encouragement, their child can rise above the current adversity.  In their cost-benefit analysis they forget to factor in wear-and-tear on the child's self-esteem.

In my competitive suburban environment, a lot of young people don't believe their best is good enough.  They measure their worth by their achievements in physics or tennis.  They don't understand that 93 and 99 are both A's and that after their first semester of college no one will ever care again what grade they got in high school algebra.  And because they don't understand this, and because their sense of worth is attached to their achievements, they don't take time to try things for fun; things that could become grand passions for life: dancing, water-skiing, reading for pleasure, cooking, playing games or a new instrument.  After all, in their world, failure is not an option.  Throwing in the towel is not an acceptable choice.

Now I'm not advocating that you should just let your kids quit - perseverance does build skills for life.  I fully support all you parents who refused to let your freshman quit band camp and hang out at the pool this week.  It's hot and miserable and I'll bet they wanted to, but you knew they would regret that decision by the first football game.  Your child made a commitment to the marching band and you held him to it.  I just want to remind you that cost-benefit analysis matters in your kid's world too. Not every goal is worthy.  Or reasonable.  Sometimes close IS good enough. And some things ARE just "snakebit."

I worship a God of second chances.  A God who desires abundant life, not needless sacrifice.  One who stayed the course because I can't.  A God who understood that creation was "snakebit" and imperfect and loved it anyway.  I think that's a pretty good parental model to try and emulate!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Born in Another Time

“Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.”  
I ran into this ancient wisdom from the Hebrews earlier this week and as I turn it over in my mind I find more and more to think about. There are so many implications in this simple sentence.    The first phrase that resonated with me was “born in another time.”   Every year Beloit College publishes a list that tells us about the “time” of this year’s graduates.  I am always surprised at the assumptions that can no longer be made.  Here are a few from the classes of 2011 and 2012:  
  • “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.   
  • Women have always been police chiefs in major cities. 
  • Jack Nicholson is “The Joker.” 
  •  MTV has never featured music videos.  
  • Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling.  
  • GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available. 
  • WW has never stood for World Wide Wrestling.   
  • Muscovites have always been able to buy Big Macs. 
They are most surely born in another time.

Another thing that struck me was the juxtaposition of the words learning and confine – I always think that learning frees, but on further reflection I see that learning can confine.  Any time I begin to think that there is only one way to approach something; I am confined by my learning.  It doesn’t matter if the subject is gender roles, the temperature of the room or whether the toilet paper comes over the top or from underneath the roll; if I can’t see things another way, I am confined. 

One “learning” that may confine us is what we believe our children need to know. How do we make sure our children learn what really matters?  If we live a life that reflects what we value, they will “study” the things that matter to us because they care about those things.  We can’t “teach” them; they will learn a different way, because they were born in another time. It’s important to remember that just because a child has never rolled down a car window doesn’t mean she has never ridden with the windows down.  

I want my children to know God. I want them to understand that like a GPS satellite, God remains ever present.  I want them to know that God is a steadfast God of all time, not just my time.  God will look different to my children because their perspective is different; but they will see God as clearly, and as incompletely, as I do.  And in their understanding, formed by their “time” I will also come to see God more completely than I do now.  

Rather than staying confined within their courses, rivers change their route in response to changes in the environment – new dams, downed trees, droughts or floods. Learning happens the same way, continually making new channels that take us downstream by another route.  May we be wise enough to change course to accommodate the “time” and understand that many of our ways no longer exist.  May we help our children find their own ways, in their own time.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Counselors are NOT for Climbing!

This is our third straight week of camp at church.  I've had different counselors each week.  Most of them are high school or college student volunteers with no special training in interacting with children so there's a lot of on-the-job training during camp.  Still, the kids instantly adore these amateur leaders, regardless of their inexperience.  And the counselors love them back.

Several times a day I will enter our fellowship hall to find a counselor looking like a monkey covered tree.  "No climbing on the counselors", I say.  "If you break the counselors we can't have camp." The campers dutifully let go and move on, only to do it again an hour later.  When we head to Bible study they cluster around these heroes, touching, patting, snuggling, smiling.  At the end of the day, they often give their counselor a quick hug before leaving with Mom or Dad.

Yesterday I encountered a child crying as though his heart would break.  His biggest issue was probably that he hadn't eaten his breakfast, but in his distress he expressed his grief that his favorite counselor from last summer wasn't here this year.  "I haven't seen Adam for two whole years!" I wanted to jump in my car and go retrieve Adam from the camp where he is a paid counselor this year, just to ease the little guy's pain.  Another savvy adult suggested that we call Michael, his favorite counselor from last week and see if he could come.  That suggestion, along with a bowl of Cheerios solved his problems.  Michael did come and my dart prayer for the little camper was miraculously answered when his Grandpa appeared a full hour early to pick him up.

All of this has me thinking about the amazing ways of God.  Most of my counselors aren't at camp because they love kids.  They are there because they have fond memories of being campers themselves, or because their friends are there, or because their parents made them. Many of them need volunteer hours for school or scouts or NHS.  Yet being loved so unabashedly by the campers gets to them.  It's irresistible. It strengthens their ties to the family of God.

Campers and counselors soak in love all day long.  That's the real power of it all.  Bible study is good.  Arts and crafts are fun.  Sitting down together and eating lunch is a friendly event.  Singing silly songs loud and fast helps us all mix it up together but love pours down over it all and that's the secret ingredient.  Like family reunions with cousins, what you do isn't as important as the memories you make together. The common experiences and relationships bind you together and give you joy when you gather again.

There are whole theories of camping ministry.  There are professionals in the field of summer camps who give us amazing ideas for games and community building activities that are rooted in Bible and early church interactions (or restyled from other genres and made to fit) but in the end, it is people, kids, teens, and adults coming together to soak in God's love that makes camp so special. 

Thanks be to God for this fantastic gift!