Everyone Needs a Manifesto

Today I have been focusing on piano. Piano teaching to be exact. In the fall I will be teaching piano lessons at our church’s homeschooling co-op which meets once a week. I will have four students this year. I had two students last year. I am slowly sticking my toe into the waters of Piano Teaching. My end goal is to teach lessons from my home when all my kids are in school, hopefully focusing on the home school crowd who have the flexibility to take lessons during the day instead of during after-school hours. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime I am slowly feeling my way forward in the realm of teaching. I have been looking at all kinds of different piano teaching curriculum. Reading reviews. Watching tutorials. I am also brushing off my own piano books, starting to set some goals for myself in learning new pieces and brushing up on my music theory. 

As I’ve been doing all of this, it occurred to me that I should write a Piano Teacher’s Manifesto. Kind of a written statement of what my goals are for teaching piano. I’ve been jotting down different ideas today, trying to figure out what is important to me and what isn’t important to me. I think I can boil down my ideas into two key points. 1. I want to share the joy of music: expose kids to all kinds of music and hopefully pass on the wonder and delight I feel when I listen to music. 2. I want to make music accessible to them: give them the skills they need so that they can participate in music and also let them realize they can enjoy and participate in music no matter what skill level they are at. 

Once I have a manifesto then I have a measuring stick. When I consider different curriculum I can ask the question, Will this curriculum enable me to fulfill the goals of my manifesto? When I plan out my lessons and recitals I can always be making sure my methods line up with my goals. A manifesto is a very useful tool. 

It occurs to me that I should have manifestos for other areas in my life. Like parenting. What are my goals for parenting? Teach my children to know and love the God of the Bible.  Teach my children how to love and respect the people around them. Teach my children how to become responsible citizens. All the parenting methods I use, all the decisions I make should be lining up with those goals. 

How about a manifesto for my online presence? Something to regulate how I act on Facebook and my blog and anywhere else I might show up. How about: Be respectful and kind at all times, reflect character that is pleasing to God. If I was tech-savvy, I could somehow make a little window pop up every time I’m about to hit POST or COMMENT…Is this content Respectful and Kind and Pleasing to God? I would have to hit the YES button on the window before I could go ahead and hit enter. 

Ok, I’m on a roll now…How about a manifesto for my marriage? Let’s see. All my words and actions should have the purpose of encouraging and building up my spouse and promoting unity between us. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little voice reminding you of that manifesto every time you opened your mouth to speak..”Is this going to encourage him? Is this going to promote unity?” 

Anyway, I’m having fun with the whole idea of writing down my goals so that I have some direction when I need to make decisions. Maybe I’ll expand this to a House Cleaning Manifesto, Money Spending Manifesto, and Book Reading Manifesto! 

 

The Dreaded 8th Grade Angst

It’s Saturday night and I’m home after a very busy day. I took my six youngest children with me to my parents house by the lake and we spent the day swimming. The kids had a great time. And the big bonus, they all got along well today. It helped that I only had the six. My four oldest, the teenagers, are all off having adventures of their own. 

My oldest is in Alaska and, as I write, she is embarking on a wilderness adventure that involves bush planes, isolated lakes, river rafting, and hiking. She will be off-grid for seven days. The people she’s adventuring with are close family friends and wilderness experts. I know she couldn’t be in better hands. But still. Moms can’t help worrying a little. 

The next three teens are on an inner-city missions trip in Buffalo, NY. This is their 4th year of going on this trip. They spend the time leading kids camps, being involved in a large food pantry, doing “intervention” where they visit low-income homes and see if they need basic furniture items like beds and then help deliver the furniture. They are moving from early in the morning till late at night. And my kids love it. Every year when we discuss the summer plans all the kids put the Buffalo Mission Trip as top priority. If I can only do one thing this summer, then I want to go to Buffalo. 

Right now I’m kind of basking in that “My teens are so awesome!” glow…Of course, it helps that they aren’t home to burst my little proud bubble. 

I’ve been thinking about my teens today and my mind drifted to the dreaded “8th grade year”. This is the year when all of my teens have lost it. It’s like they get all the way through 7th grade and then one day they wake up and think, Hey, wait a minute! I just realized I’m my own automonous person. I am not an attachment of my parents or my family at large. Maybe I should isolate myself in my bedroom while I figure this whole thing out. And  while I’m at it, maybe I should start testing my ability to be my own person. 

Of course, how that comes across to the rest of us is that our sweet family-oriented child suddenly doesn’t want to have anything to do with any of us and they have an attitude every time I ask them to participate in the chore and family times. 

Every family is different. I’ve talked to other friends of mine. Some of them have had all their children become problematic at the same age, but the age is different. Others have had each of their kids choose a different age or stage of development to become difficult. I haven’t talked to any parent yet who just skipped the whole process. If you are out there, don’t tell me. I might feel bad. Right now I take comfort in the fact that everyone seems to go through it with their teens. 

The benefit of having a large family is that you get a chance to learn from your mistakes. By the third child I had adopted the strategy of becoming very hands off. Here, I’ll slide a plate of food under the bedroom door occasionally. See you in a year when you start 9th grade. Just kidding…Kind of. 

Even my sweet, mild-mannered 4th child seems to be heading into the dreaded 8th grade angst. It’s rather shocking when your “good” kid starts to have attitude. Like someone just threw a bucket of cold water in your face. Et tu Brute? Of course, being one of those mild-mannered kids myself, I fully understand that under that sweet facade can lie deep depths of turmoil and anguish. So, I have grace even for my sweet kid to become moody. (No, I don’t have favorites, but I’m honest. Some kids are just programmed to be sweet while others aren’t!)

I don’t know what you are going through with your teen at the moment.  I just want to share with you parents who are still relatively new to the teen thing. Let you know that I too have struggled. And my kids are turning out ok despite it all. It’s not easy. It helps if you dredge up your old memories of being a teen and try to remember what it’s like. There are no magic formulas for parenting teens. Lots of grace. Lots of love. Lots of patience. Lots of prayer. And hopefully, they’re going to be ok. 

To The Parents In the Trenches

I’ve been thinking about parenting. This week a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while asked how things were going. I gave some short, glowing reports about my children. A sense of well-being flooding me. My kids are doing so great!

Then I thought about a couple different friends of mine who are struggling with their teens. And I thought about how my glowing reports might not be taken so well by parents who are currently in the trenches with their own offspring.

When we are struggling we tend to look around us at how everyone else is doing. If our friends are doing better than us we feel condemned, less than. If our friends are doing worse than us, we feel validated, superior. If they are in the same boat as us, we feel encouraged, we’re not alone!

For those of you who are on the battlefield right now with your teen, I want you to know that you are not alone. I would guess that most parents of older children have fought those battles. We don’t talk about it much. We can’t. We can’t gossip or malign our own children. We can’t air our dirty laundry because it affects their lives too, not just ours. We can’t betray their confidences, their privacy. So, we mostly suffer alone. Privately. Perhaps sharing only with a very close friend. It is very lonely.

I want you to have hope. Not all problems with teens automatically mean that they are going to end up homeless drug addicts, wandering the streets. A big percentage of those kids conquer their problems. They move on to become productive, wonderful adults. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to cry and feel like I’ve completely failed as a parent. Bewildered at what colossal mistake I must have made to make my child act this way. Not sure if this child and I can live in the same house together much longer. Pondering how much boarding school really costs. Could I get a loan to cover that? Can I legally kick an underage kid out of my house?

Even though it is lonely in that we can’t share our troubles with the world at large, I really encourage you to seek help. Pastors, teachers, doctors, psychologists, prayer warriors…There are people that it is appropriate to share your troubles with. People who have seen it before. People who might have some wise counsel or are just willing to stand in solidarity with you. People who are willing to go that extra mile or one hundred miles and come pick up your teen and take them away for a couple days so that everyone can have a cool down period.

Here’s the thing…one day, you notice things aren’t as bad as before. And then a while later, you realize, things are actually getting better. And then one day, you look at your teen, and you swell up with pride because they have actually become someone you like.

Yes, there are many stories of parent/teens who don’t make it. It ends ugly. But, maybe, even for those horror stories we hear, maybe, down the road many months, years, possibly decades, peace happens. Reconciliation. Where there is life, there is hope.

I’ve only been in this parenting game for eighteen and half years. During that time I’ve had some pretty amazing highs and some heart-wrenching lows. I have a two year old. I am nowhere close to being finished. As I look at my large brood, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have some rough years ahead for some of them. It seems to just be part of growing up for some kids.

I hope you know that when I brag on how great my kids are doing, I’m just telling you the highlights. We have to stay positive after all. I’m not free to share all the crazy episodes I’ve had, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that I’ve had them, and that you’re not alone. Here’s praying for all you parents in the trenches. May God give you peace and wisdom and hope. You are not alone.

 

 

Parenting Goals

My two year old son is in that wonderful/horrible stage where he imitates everyone around him. His favorite muse to copy is his four year old brother who takes great satisfaction in teaching his baby brother all the ways of life. If the four year old comes running into the room yelling and then strikes a karate pose, you can bet that about thirty seconds later the two year old will also come running in yelling, striking a pose. It can be a real blessing, like tonight, when all my children were thanking their Grandma for their supper and the two year old, hearing this, also chimed in with a garbled, “Thank you Grandma for the good food!” It can be a curse when the four year old throws a tantrum and says “NO!” and the two year old decides he should also yell “NO!” It’s amusing, but it’s also just an amazing way that God made children, to learn by imitating those around them.

The question is, at what stage should we stop imitating the people around us? The desire to imitate seems to be deeply ingrained. I still find myself defaulting to “imitation status” when I have big decisions to make in my life. (We can’t become nomads, it’s just not done!). Or when I’m contemplating new ideas (I don’t belong to that political party, so there’s no way I can get behind that idea!). Or perhaps when I’m making parenting decisions (That really popular parenting book says this is the way to do it!). I find it especially hard when it comes to spiritual matters. There are so many voices out there claiming to know the truth. There are so many people who take a verse from the Bible and just run with it, creating an entire new way of thinking from just one verse or passage. How do I discern who is handling scripture correctly?

There are two scriptures that I think are helpful in the whole arena of imitation. The first is Ephesians 5:1 (ESV)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Who should we be copying? Jesus. And if our actions are not loving and sacrificial, putting others ahead of ourselves, then we probably aren’t imitating too well.

The other verse that is really helpful is James 1:5 (ESV) that says,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

In the end there is no pat answer for who to trust, who to imitate, who to listen to, when to branch out on your own completely, with no regard for the thoughts or opinions of those around you. There is no way to know, case by case, how to act. We need wisdom. We need God’s wisdom. And amazingly, he says, just ask me, I’ll give you all the wisdom you need! (Of course, the next 3 verses remind you to ask with faith, no doubting!). I am so thankful for God’s wisdom. I have asked repeatedly for this wisdom, and God has not let me down. This is my prayer for my children. That God would give them wisdom. Not just wisdom for a particular situation, but the wisdom to even remember to ask for help in the first place. Wisdom to know when to follow and when to strike out on their own. Wisdom to remember that they are supposed to be imitating Jesus, not their peer group. That is the goal for my children. That they would go from toddling around in their diapers, copying the antics of their siblings, to copying Jesus, relying on his wisdom as they make their way through this life.

Lord, may it be so!

 

Generation to Generation

I was in the kitchen this evening cooking supper. My phone chimed, I checked and my Mom had just texted me. I quickly responded and told her that I had received the “Happy Light” that she had sent me in the mail (since she knew I had been struggling with depression)  and I had used it. It had seemed to help me with my bad mood. She quickly texted me back to give me some quick tips on how to use it. I smiled to myself. Yes Mom. You already told me this. 🙂 Then my phone chimed, my daughter who is off at college was texting me. I had texted her about some mail she had received at our house, asking her whether she needed it or not. And suddenly I felt like I was in a time loop. My mom was texting me because she wanted to help me out, I was texting my daughter because I wanted to help her out, and I suddenly had this Great Understanding. Oh. I get it Mom. This is why you still try to give me advice. This is why you buy special little things for me. In your mind, I’m still your little girl.

I have this overwhelming desire to help my own grown-up daughter in whatever way I can and I am trying to learn as fast as I can how to give her the space she needs to be a grown-up and be her own person and learn how to be independent, but that desire to Mother her is always there. Sometimes I step over the line and I can tell by the tenseness in her face that I need to back down and shut up. But that desire never goes away. I still want her to be well-fed, well-rested, have enough clean clothes to wear, have some good Real friends, be getting satisfaction from her work, know that she is walking after God. I don’t think that desire ever goes away. She’s my little girl, even if she’s 18 years old. And I’m still my Mom’s little girl. Even if I’m 40.

Later this evening I was tucking my four year old son into bed. He was laying on his bunk bed, smiling at me in the lamplight, laughing and telling me a funny story. And I thought about generations again. This particular child looks uncannily like his father’s childhood photos. And I suddenly wondered, is this what my husband was like when he was little? That adorable face and shining eyes and mischievous smile? Was I getting a glimpse into the past? Is this what my mother-in-law saw every evening when she put my child-aged husband to bed every night? I suddenly felt like a door had swung open and given me a peek at my husband’s childhood.

It’s interesting that God created us in this way. Each generation raising up the next. It’s a strange cycle. As a child I remember the urgency, the longing to be a grownup. Why? So that I could marry and have kids of my own, and those kids have a longing to grow up and have kids of their own, and so we perpetuate the human race. Each generation doing whatever they can to help the next generation along.

I am thankful for my parents. Thankful that I still have them close by. Thankful that they still care about me and want to know that everything is going well for me. I am also thankful that I have children that I can carry on the tradition with. Children who I can text on the phone, You doing ok? Want to come home for the weekend? And I am hopeful, so hopeful that one day my children will have children of their own who they will be checking up on even when they are all grown.

This whole generations thing…It feels like the goodness of God. As I sit in my chair, late at night, writing on my computer, all my children are upstairs in their bedrooms, the younger ones fast asleep, the older ones puttering around, trying to not give in to sleepiness till the last moment possible. Soon I will go climb into bed, snuggled warm against my husband. This is life. The life God created and gave to us. A gift.

Psalm 145 vs 4 says,

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

So, I declare to my children who read this, to the younger generations that have come up after me… God is good. This life he has given us is good. Marrying, having children, raising families, it is good. Maybe this is why:

“For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100 vs 5

The Family Bed

The Family Bed. Ah yes. Such a lovely thing… Just to make sure we are all on the same page, let me define that for you.

Family Bed: noun. Mom and Dad’s bed. The place where nursing babies, crying toddlers, scared children, and sick children gravitate to in the middle of the night. There is always room for one more. 

(courtesy of Esther Heneise)

I have endured the family bed for 18+ years now. With our first child we were highly influenced by the trend of making your baby learn how to sleep through the night at an early age and if she came to our bed in the night, we took her back to her own bed immediately. Then we had more kids and we just got tired, and we also realized that the time we had to pour out affection on our kids was actually finite and so we just resolved to welcome our children whenever they wanted us. Which for some reason or other, is often in the middle of the night. 

We have had nights when I’ve counted five kids in the bed by the time we hit morning. We have had nights, more than once, when a child walks into our room and says, “Mom I’m not feeling well…” and then promptly throws up on our bed. We have had nights when the abundance of children in our bed has made one or both of us adults abandon the parental bed and go sleep in one of the empty children’s beds. (They usually end up following us though.) Let me say, this doesn’t happen every night, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. My six oldest have outgrown the need for parents in the night and I realize that our time is short. But, every once in a while we get nights like last night where I question my relaxed philosophy.

So, last night my husband and I had the lights out by 11pm. We were fast asleep when somewhere around 2 am I heard the telltale rattle of our doorknob, accompanied by the fretful cry of the two year old. Since this is a regular routine, you would think I would react calmly. But no. Every night, without fail, I jerk awake and poke my husband, ANDY! THE BABY! I don’t know why I do this. It is my nighttime response to anything unexpected…ANDY! DO SOMETHING! Maybe because I know that I am incapable of doing anything coherently in the middle of the night and I hold on to a slim hope that my husband will somehow be better able to cope. Which, he isn’t. He grunts and lays there. I poke him again. THE BABY! OPEN THE DOOR FOR THE BABY! He grunts again. Grumbles, “He can open the door himself.” Which, three out four times he usually can. I’m just always worried about that 1 time when he can’t.

We lay there listening to the door knob rattle and then finally the door opens and we hear the trotting feet of a baby boy. He comes around the bed and climbs in with me. He’s still nursing, which is unusual for me. I have weaned all my others between a year and eighteen months, but this is our last baby and I’ve been dragging my feet about giving up the last tie to babyhood. I let him nurse for a while, then I’m over it and I tell him to go to sleep. He is a hot-natured baby and so he hates to be under the covers. Andy and I both want to be under the covers. This makes for an awkward arrangement, but we finally all settle back down to sleep. (Because taking him back to his bed at this point, is a lesson in futility.)

About thirty minutes later, I jerk awake again. I’m pretty sure I just heard footsteps. I squint into the dark and there is our six year old daughter, hovering by the bed. The kids have learned to hover on their dad’s side of the bed, not mine, since I usually wake up, see a face five inches from mine and scream, which then makes them scream. All very unpleasant. They now hover on their dad’s side of the bed, because he doesn’t wake up. 

My little girl looks like she woke up from a bad dream. Lately she has developed a fear of the dark which wreaks havoc on bedtime. I tell her, Get in your dad’s side of the bed, this side is already taken. She peers into the bed and sees the baby laying next to me. She lifts up the blankets and crawls in next to her dad. Fine. She’s not bothering me. I can still sleep.

An hour later I wake up again. More footsteps. Good grief. Is this an epidemic? There is the seven year old daughter. She shares a room with the six year old and must have woken up, saw her sister was gone and got scared also. I’m not sure what to tell her. We already have four people in the bed. I tell her to go sleep in my armchair in the corner of the room. There’s a lap blanket on the chair that she can use. She hesitates, nods her head and goes over to the chair. Fifteen minutes later she is hovering by the bed again. Apparently the chair is too far away from mom and dad. I sit up a bit, survey the bed, and then point at a small open space in between my husband’s feet and my feet. Crawl in over there, I say, pointing at the foot of the bed. She nods again, lifts up the blankets and crawls in at the bottom. I silently groan. Now I can no longer fully stretch my feet out. There is no way I’m going to make it through a whole night like this. 

Sure enough, a couple minutes later, Andy has had enough. He is squeezed in between two babies and now has another child curled up by his feet. He sits up. “You two girls need to go back to your bed!” Instant crying.  I check the time. 5 am. The girls still have two more hours before I need to get them up for school. It’s time to take one for the team. I crawl out of the bed, grab my pillow and tell the girls to come with me. We all head up to their bedroom and climb into their big double bed. I am stuck in the middle, and since the girls sleep in the bed sideways instead of the proper way, my feet are now hanging off the edge of the bed. I brought my phone along with me because it has my alarm which is going to go off at 6:45 am. I lay there. Wide awake. Waiting for my alarm to go off. 

I’m pretty sure this is why moms take naps during the day. 

Parenting: It’s Not A Competition

The other day I overheard a conversation. Two moms. One was telling the other, while talking about schooling choices and the spiritual good of your children “And of course you would never want to send them to public school!” Which of course I am doing with my kids. I felt my hackles rise and a bunch of retorts came to my tongue, which I of course didn’t say, because the moms weren’t talking to me, about me, or even meant for me to overhear them…They meant no offense. But I found myself mentally defending my parenting choices, and thinking, “I bet your kids aren’t going to turn out terrific just because you’re doing it a different way..” and then my final mental argument, “The proof is in the pudding!” You’ll see! My kids are going to turn out better than your kids and then you’ll know that you shouldn’t have been putting down my parental choices!!! And then I stopped, because by this time my mental defense was getting a bit ridiculous. The proof is in the pudding. What does that mean anyway? Does that mean that if my children all turn out to be law-abiding citizens who go to church every Sunday and marry within their faith and do good works…Does that mean that I get to claim the prize of “GREAT PARENT” ? And then you have to ask, well at what age do you assess your grown children to decide if you were successful or not..20, 30, 40? Ok, so what if you have 10 kids and one of them turns out to be a saint, but another one goes through a really rough period and does jail time? Am I a success or a failure? At what point in time does your children’s decisions rest squarely on their own shoulders and you are exonerated from any blame? Or, at what point in time do their good decisions reflect their own good character and not just the fact that they were “raised right”.

In the Christian circles that I walk in, there is a definite fallacy that we parents seem to hang on to very tightly. The fallacy is that our children are perfect little angels or at least, only mildly sinful, and it’s our job to keep them away from all negative influences, all exposure to evil, and keep them “pure” at all costs. If we do so, and we can launch them into society without a single wrinkle in their reputation, then we are good parents. We have done our Christian duty to raise our children right.

Guys, my parenting journey has taught me very clearly that this is WRONG! I am realizing more and more that I need my children to not be perfect..instead I need them to be aware of just how imperfect they are. I need them to know just how short of the mark they fall. I need them to be aware of just how desperately they need Jesus to come and wash away their sins. Because, they are definitely sinful people. We all are. I need them to see that their natural selfishness is sinful. I need them to see that their desire to always be right is prideful, and that’s sin. I need my kids to realize that just because they live in a church-going family does not mean that they are somehow better than the kids who have never set foot in a church door. I need them to know this about themselves so that they can know how badly they need Jesus and they can learn that He is the only one who is going to bring them forgiveness and peace in this world.

This means that I can’t parent with this idea that if I can turn out perfect children then I will win the parenting prize. No. That’s not the point. The point is to spend their childhood teaching them about this God who loves them, teaching them that HE is the Way the Truth and the Life. Everyone is nodding their heads right now, “of course, we all want our children to be saved..” If that is our goal, then we also need to realize that We can’t save our kids. It’s God who calls them. And he has this really annoying way of doing things in his own time. Not my time. This means, I might have a child leave my home who doesn’t know Jesus personally yet. Can I do anything about this? No. But, I can certainly make sure that they know everything there is to know about God, Jesus, and the Bible before they leave home. And I can make sure that they always feel loved by their family, and I can bring them daily before God in prayer, on my knees, asking him to bring my child to salvation.

In the end, I have to step off the comparison box. I have to remember that this whole parenting thing isn’t about turning out perfect individuals. Me looking around and deciding that my kid turned out better than your kid is just stupid. This is not a competition. We are all raising up the next generation, together. We have the same goal…to raise up children into adults who love God and love people and who will take over the running of this earth after we pass on. We don’t get different colored ribbons depending on how our grown child turns out. This parenting thing is not an 18 year long job. It’s a lifetime job. We will spend the rest of our lives praying for our children, praying that they will grow in their knowledge of God, praying that they will be wise, praying for their protection…

May we resist the urge to compare ourselves with each other, getting worried or defensive when other parents do things differently,  and instead keep the end goal in sight…May we raise up our children to know God and be aware of their great need for him.