Monday, August 24, 2015

Multiple Choice Parenting

We were having a summer, and all of the sudden it was the first day of school. 

At least it seemed that way because I didn’t really create any preparatory ramp-up to get ready for school.

None of us are into school-shopping, so I rummaged through drawers and made sure they had at least five t-shirts without rips or armpit stains. We bought school shoes in July so it didn’t feel like “school shopping.”

The boys are pretty much over shopping for school supplies too. So I had them sort through last year’s supplies, and then went alone to buy the remaining items on the supply list.

We didn’t even start going to bed early as we have in the past. Instead we squeezed in as much summer as possible.

And then, WHAM! The first day of school.

Two out of three students are
are unenthused about a 7:30 photo shoot.

They couldn’t believe it was actually time—already!-- for reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.  

So I added to my growing list of Parenting Decisions to Second Guess: Perhaps I should have given them a bit more notice to prepare them for the start of school.

And all my second guessing brings me back to my own school days.  
Remember the ACT test? I had a severe case of test-taking anxiety in high school. I second guessed every answer I chose, which made it hard to finish within the allotted time. But there was a little nugget of a rumor which was my multiple-choice-test-taking salvation.
Choose “C.” 
If you don’t know the answer, choose C. 
If you get the five minute warning and still have questions to finish, choose C…all the way down your bubble sheet. C. C. C. C. C.
The theory was it wouldn’t really affect your score. And apparently it didn’t since I received the exact same score three times.
Sometimes I still default to this theory, and I feel like I’m parenting by multiple choice. I look at the multiple choices and I wonder:
Should I… 

1.    Indulge their desire for brand name clothing and equipment for the sake of helping them feel comfortable in the awkwardness of middle school? OR prove to them that neither the clothing nor the equipment make a good person or a good athlete. Uhhh…I don’t know. I choose C.

2.    Allow practice schedules to fill our evenings and risk communicating “SPORTS ARE LIFE” OR cultivate life lessons about practice, team work, and time management. I don’t know….C.

3.    Sign up for one sport per season or two? ...C.

4.    Squeeze in a music lesson too? Piano or guitar? …C.

5.    Algebra or pre-algebra. Ummm… C.

6.    Read a morning devotional in the car, or right before bed? Or both?  C.
I don’t know the right answers. Minutes tick by, and there's no time for second guessing.
I pay attention to the questions, I evaluate each answer, but I’m always a little bewildered.
Sometimes C is the right answer, but probably only 25% of the time.
But just like when I took the ACT, I’m banking on the fact I’ve already answered some questions correctly.
We’ve fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved them. Maybe it wasn’t organic, name brand, new or perfect, but we’ve done that much, and that is the right answer.
We’ve told them the truth. Sometimes it's hard, and there are truths they aren’t ready to hear yet, but telling the truth is the right answer.
Whether we’ve “crammed it down their throats” or done “too little too late” will remain to be seen, but I know for sure we have pointed them toward Christ. And that is always the right answer.
So as I’m scribbling in all the C bubbles on the peripheral parenting questions, I’m thanking the Lord for the grace He’s given to answer a few questions correctly and counting on His lavish forgiveness for the ones I may get wrong.


Monday, August 10, 2015

The Essence of a Childhood Summer

I don’t want to mention the s-c-h-word just yet, but there are sure signs that summer vacation is winding down. 

For instance, our final baseball tournament is in the books. Like ballpark franks on a grill, we sizzled on the bleachers and watched a lot of baseball.

Those little boys in grass stained baseball pants—the ones who made sand castles in the dirt at first base--they grew up. They’re pitching fast, hitting hard and the grass stains are gone because the knees have been ripped right out of the pants due to a nasty slide.

After the tournament, I fell asleep counting pitches. And it didn’t take long…one, two three strikes and I was out.

The next day we slept in. For the first time in several weeks we had nothing on the calendar. Ahhhh. A day to relax.

Only apparently we forgot how because no one knew what to do with themselves at home all day.

Finally, around 5:00 when I was about ready to start supper, the boys remembered that cooperation is less exhausting than bickering and, by some miracle, they started to assemble a fort in our trees.

Well, “fort” is what they used to call it. Back when they were building sandcastles at first base. Now that they’re able to name and aim their pitches, they call it a “blind.” And it’s outfitted for all their fall hunting adventures.

When they finally ran outside to put the finishing touches on it by weaving the snipped cedar branches to create an authentic camouflage, I was glowing with pride.

Ahh, yes! I thought as they ran outside. This is what summer is for. Creativity! Mental exercise! Physical work. Repurposing junk lumber and pallets. Hands-on learning!! This is the essence of childhood!  
They’d been working for over an hour when I went out to admire the modifications. I took my camera to prove my maternal interest. I wanted to subtly affirm this brotherly cooperation, creativity, and construction.

But when I arrived the work was at a stand-still, and they were slinging words in a verbal BRAWL.

I tried to snuff out the argument, but I was too late. No one was receptive to diplomacy or reason by that time. Two boys quit and went inside to the reprieve of the Wii while one boy stayed and finished construction.

And I spent the next half an hour trying to recover from emotional whiplash.

I thought they’d been learning. Discovering. You know…the whole essence of childhood delusion?

Then I realized, just because they’re arguing doesn’t mean they’re not learning. And I supposed it could be argued that such family feuding is also part of the essence of childhood.

Because in reality they’re still learning. Learning how to argue, compromise, and negotiate. No one said it was effective, but sometimes you have to know what doesn’t work in order to find something that does. For instance, one brother had decided to copycat every phrase his brother said in the argument.

Stop it!

Stop it!

Stop copying me!

Stop copying me!...

Needless to say, it accomplished nothing.

But I suppose it was just another learning experience of sorts. Another hypothesis to test when vehement yelling hasn’t worked.

Whatever it was I’m starting to think the bickering and fighting is just as much a learning experience as the fort. And eventually experience will prove what the writer of Proverbs meant when he wrote, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Incidentally, a copycat also stirs up anger.

And it’s a great reminder to me that I can teach and talk until I’m fresh out of words, but some lessons have to be learned in the field. Or in the trees building a fort…I mean a blind.