26.2.09

7 Quick Takes


1. I just realized that by nature the quick takes implies that one has a head just busting full of ideas and needs a quick way to present them. This may be why it takes me so long to write a quick takes post as my head is often busting, but not always with ideas or interesting thoughts. If I could write an itemized to do list of all things mundane and less so that I currently have looming over me it would be very easy to do. Perhaps I shall start my own blog meme. It will be very boring. I'll call it, 7 things you should really be doing right now instead of blogging. Procrastinate some more by telling us about it.

This is the essence of almost all of my phone calls with my mother. At least the last half of the call is taken up with her telling me that she really needs to run she has so much to do, and then describing to me in minute detail her to do list. I'm afraid I'm starting to do the same thing.

And then there is the Boy. Today he wrote a story. A little 5 sentence story. He figured out what he was going to write down, word for word, sentence by sentence and dictated the whole thing to me. He then proceeded to repeat it to himself over and over again, and take more than an hour to write it down. I kept looking at him, swallowing my utter frustration and reminding myself, "He has your genes, what else did you expect?"

2. I have come to the conclusion that having got the discipline of gratitude to the point where it is almost habitual, it is time for me to tackle another area of personal discipline, which involves taking care of myself. There was a time, not so long ago, when I was good at this. Really good. The past several months however I have allowed things like nutrition, exercise, and portion control to become lower and lower on my priorities list. It was okay to eat many cookies because I was pulling an allnighter to finish something IMPORTANT and I needed the 20 second energy boost that came from mainlining sugar. It was okay to forgo regular exercise in favor of staying on top of the housework and several necessary projects. The result of which is that I am more tired and lethargic than ever and can only vaguely recollect a time when I felt like I was missing something vital from my day because I hadn't exerted myself enough to sweat and get my heart pumping. Figuring out how to get back to there, how to reintroduce exercise into the delicate balance that is my day is going to be a challenge. My tentative first step is to stop eating sugar. The rest of my diet is pretty healthy already, as long as I don't keep sneaking treats into it I should start to feel better soon.

3. There is nothing like deciding not to have something to force you to realize how addicted to it you have become. So many little bits of my day have built in snack routines that I wasn't even aware of before I decided not to have sugar yesterday. What on earth will I do with the little moment when I breath a sigh of relief when all the kids are down for a nap and I walk into the kitchen to celebrate a moments peace? I suspect the answer is to not walk into the kitchen. Perhaps a celebratory push up or two is in my future. (Not nearly as exciting sounding as dark chocolate. Sigh.)

4. I've been surprised often lately to discover that I am/getting older. It's not so much the changes I observe in my face and body that show age, but more in social settings. I still consider myself a fairly novice mother, a rather young woman, someone who definitely doesn't have all her shit together yet and still has much to learn. The women I find myself mentored by are much older, more mature and experienced than myself and I consider myself a novice compared to them. And yet, in my circle of immediate acquaintance, especially mothers with small children, I'm becoming aware that in the past few years, while I've been busy with diapers and potty training, homeschooling and attempting to cram some character into toddlers, I gradually morphed into an experienced, older mom somehow. It feels a bit odd, like I'm an impostor sometimes, but gradually I am confronting the fact that a decade has passed since I was truly young. I am not any more.

At no time was this more blatant than last week. Our church arranges a mentor program where people can sign up to be a mentor, or to have a mentor if they want one, or both. I figured I would sign up in the both category. Due to a shortage of mentors I am without a mentor, but mentoring someone else. The last time I did something like this my mentoree was a very sweet, very silly, 17 year old girl. This time round my mentoree is 29 and has a PhD in Bio sciences and at work she is currently developing applications for a technology that allows DNA to be stored at room temperature.

5. I've been giving a lot of thought these days to the concept that life is the story we tell ourselves. Everyone has a meta-narrative, a story that they tell themselves they are living in that explains the way things are. We interpret what happens to us through the lens of this story we believe we are in. What interests me the most is how two people in similar circumstances can believe such different things about themselves, one believes her life is a tragedy, while the other believes it is a comedy, or an epic. Moms are a good cross section of this for example. Take 2 mothers at home with small children but with different internal stories. The first will believe she is absolutely blessed to get to stay home with her children, she will tell you she is living her dream. The second believes some of the feminist propaganda, that house work is demeaning, that wiping poopie butts is beneath her. She feels trapped and miserable by the burden of her physical ability to reproduce, by these children of hers. She is counting the hours until they are in school and she can have a life again.

Change a person's story, and you can change their life forever. I find that fascinating.

6. Number 5 is why finally trusting that God is good had such an impact on my life. Even if you don't believe in God, or believe in a different god, just imagine for a second what it would be like to live in a universe where the greatest power was good. Goodness that loves, is unselfish, benevolent, lavishly generous, and the source of all beauty and life. I don't think it really occurred to me what good news this is until I got to know a bit of how afraid the people in the villages in Thailand are. Their worldview is animist. They consider themselves at the mercy of capricious spirits that are out to get them. They make expensive sacrifices if a termite hill appears in the village, out of fear of what will happen if they don't. They crawl through spirit gates when a relative dies to keep their spirit from finding them and tormenting them. There is so much fear.

From that perspective, when Judaism and then Christianity arrived on the scene all those years ago it was very good news indeed. Here was a God who was good, just, who loved the world He made. What a change that must have been to people who routinely sacrificed their own children out of fear of the Gods, or in a attempt to control their capricious ways to gain power.

Anyway. it's something I think about.

7. I sit here trying to think of a seventh thing and all that goes through my mind is my to do list. It is very long, and has such diverse items on it as preparing pamphlets to mail to child sponsors so they are ready when the person designing our logo finishes it. (I'm trying so hard not to be impatient since they are volunteering their services, but so much is waiting on it's completion.)
And thinking about a conversation we had last night with an engineer about designing/building village models that include water purification and access. Exciting, even if it is years down the road right now. And I have to do laundry, and buy a birthday present for a two year old. Is any of it less significant than the other? I guess it's a matter of perspective.

Jennifer F. hosts 7 Quick Takes over at Conversion Diary

23.2.09

1000 Gifts-Week 17

Sometimes it really hard to remember to be thankful. One or two things that are hard to deal with will shout so loudly that they can drown out all the other voices. Like a child who has been told no to another ice cream after a long day packed with fun, and sobs until bedtime like her life is a tragedy, I too can let the minor disappointments, the bumps and the bruises, ruin my good time. I recently read a blogger who wrote about how hard she was finding it to be the parent of two small children. It's honest writing, and skillfully done, but she does tend to focus on the negative aspects of her life right now in her writing more than anything else. Her response to a reader who commented on the over whelming negativity was to say that she's just being honest, that she can't be expected to write about rainbows and unicorns all the time, that she won't pretend that everything is fine when it isn't.

It's a common misconception to think that to cultivate gratitude means you plaster a fake smile on your face and pretend that your life is perfect, hiding all of the messiness of it under the surface. It's just not the case. To choose to notice and treasure the things that are praiseworthy, even in the midst of trials isn't deluding oneself. It requires discipline to choose an attitude. The easiest thing, the path of least resistance is to wallow in misery, to allow suffering to consume you until there is nothing left but suffering.

We can all be actors in our own lives rather than victims who are acted upon. It starts by choosing how we will respond to the things that are present in our lives every day. Do I notice the smile of happiness on a toddler's face, or the wet carpet beneath her tea set? Do I thank my husband for combing the Girl's hair when we're getting ready, or snip at him for not hearing me ask him to put them in the car so we aren't late?

It's not rainbows and unicorns, it's deliberate, sometimes hard choices to hold onto what is good, to let go of what is bad, to find joy in all the places it can be found.

This week I've been in a lot of pain. My lower back has finally voiced a loud enough protest of my neglect of it's health and is now demanding that I take care of it properly again. Even this is a gift really, because, while I knew that I should change my course in this regard, I lacked the motivation to do it. I now have all the motivation that I need. And after two days of doing the proper exercises I can already feel that soon it will feel normal again. It was the jump start I needed to invest more time in guarding my health again.

This week also I find myself realizing how estranged my relationship with someone who used to be really close to me has become. Our infrequent conversations show just how far apart we are, how different, how little is left in common. I find myself grieving a little, and determined to try and be in touch more, learn who this new person is, seek to build a new relationship based on who we both are now, to try and truly know, and truly love this person as they are right now, as I want and hope people will do for me. It's not easy.

Those are the things this week that I could have allowed to keep me from noticing other things like:

  • The fact that Little suddenly eats with a fork like a regular person. No more clenching it awkwardly with a fist and stabbing wildly at her food and mouth.
  • Laying cuddled next to the Genius Husband at night, not talking, just breathing together , enjoying being close.
  • My dad playing with my kids. It was hard to decide who was having more fun.
  • The comforts of tea and music, consumed together in a rare moment of quiet.
  • Neighbors who wrack their brain trying to think of some way that they can help when they learn I have company over.
  • The radiant face of a friend I haven't seen in a long time at her baby shower.
  • Little swishing around in one of the Girl's princess dresses. It dragged on the floor and she often tripped on it, but she felt so pretty and special in that old thing. How easily joy comes to those who are small.
  • The constant support and encouragement that the GH offers me. He anchors me, and gives me the perspective I so often need, and the ability to carry on.
  • My dad and I had the most relaxed pleasant time together we have had in memory. Maybe when I was a child it was like this, but certainly not since.
I'm sure I missed so many things this week, caught as I was in stuff. But I'm glad I'm at least oriented to look for them, or I may have missed them all.

The gratitude community is here.

20.2.09

Come One, Come All

So my dad is in town for a few days, and we're cramming as much fun as is possible into them. Including a baby dedication for Little at church on Sunday. Usually these things are done when they are, well, babies. But we like to mix things up around here and wait until they are two. No, actually we were looking for a time when one or two of my side of the family would be around, and then we forgot, and then we remembered and scheduled it and then realized he would be here at the same time. Which is super cool.

And then on Sunday evening some really good friends are detouring on their trip to Disneyland to come and see us for a while. I talked a lot about Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo, and Legoland, and the Wild Animal Park, and the world class beaches and museums and attractions when I begged them to come. So I think it's really nice of them to spend a few days of their Califonia vacation just spending it with boring old us, looking at beaches and aquariums and exotic animals and stuff. I'm really glad the rain stopped too, because it would be a cruel joke for people who live in Vancouver, where it rains ALL THE TIME to fly all the way down here and be stuck in our requisite one week of miserable weather.

The kids attacked my dad when he walked in the door the first night. "Grandpa Shane, Grandpa Shane, Grandpa Shane."

He has been climbed on, jumped on, run after, and Little shrieks with jealousy when ever he or I isn't paying direct attention to her.

I think they're glad he's here too. I think he's going to be exhausted by the time he leaves and need another vacation. Good thing he plans to head out into the desert for a few months and camp and paint.

I really like it when people come to visit. Even when I feel like I need a vacation after they go.

So I'm entertaining a bit more than I'm writing. Hope you don't mind.

17.2.09

When Parents Give Up

I'm standing near to the playground with a few other moms chatting.

"When my daughters are 14," says the mother of two beautiful little girls, "I'm getting them put on birth control right away. I don't want them coming home pregnant when they are 15 with some pot head boyfriend as the father."

"Yeah," says the 23 year old mother of four, "I just tell mine that you're mother is very fertile, if you have sex you're probably going to get pregnant, that's how the women in my family are." She continues, "I don't really have a problem with it if she has sex when she's 15, but I don't want her getting pregnant."

I shouldn't be shocked anymore by the things my neighbors say, but I am aghast. I have to ask just to make sure they aren't joking.

These women are abdicating their role as parents while their children are still in preschool. I wonder if they are even aware of what they are doing. It's echoed in the public school system, in the safe sex movement, all over our society. They are all operating under the same false assumption, kids are going to do what they are going to do and there is nothing anyone, certainly not parents, is going to be able to do to change that.

Bunk!

Those same people who say there is no way to stop kids from grossly disrespecting themselves and their bodies when they are far too immature to deal with the emotional, physical and spiritual consequences of sex produce ad campaigns like, "Just say no to drugs." Or, "Talk to your child BEFORE they start drinking."

So parents should just give up when it comes to teenage sex, but we should talk to our children about drugs and alcohol? Apparently our influence is limited to only certain spheres.

Give me a break.

What about "Talk to your child before they have sex"? and not just to tell them to use a condom. Talk to them about how the hormones released during sex create chemical bonds with the person they have sex with, designed to promote greater dependence and intimacy. Being a teenager is hard enough without that in the mix. Do they really want to feel dependence and withdrawal when they break up for the first time? And then there are babies and STD's, AND, oh yeah, the issue of SELF-RESPECT.

"I have a real problem with my 15 year old daughter having sex." I say, "I expect and hope to raise my children to have more self respect than that."

"Yeah well, "the mother of 4 interrupts, "I was really good at making everyone think that I wasn't having sex when I really was, and I was pregnant by the time I was 17. They're gonna have their fun if they want to. I just don't want them coming home pregnant."

"Well, I'm of the opinion that sex isn't just recreational," I continue, "I don't think any 15 year old should be having sex. In fact, I don't think that anyone who isn't in a position where a child wouldn't create a crisis should be having sex. I tell my kids sex makes babies, if you can't handle a baby don't have sex."

"I think sex with my husband is very recreational," the other mom chimes in, "and it's pretty good exercise too."

We all laugh and my neighborhood prude tirade is over for the time being.

But I continue to be saddened by a society that assumes the worst of parents and children, and by parents who believe it and resign from their role as parents of their teens before they have even begun. Be a parent. Yes you'll make mistakes, but the worst mistake of all is to not even try.

Don't you think?

More on Marriage

This weeks Wedded Bliss post is up. It's all about how the attitude we choose affects our marriage. And it has a picture of an evil kitten.

I've got another post in the works for later today, inspired by shocking conversations with my neighbors. So come back later to see if it's up. Ya know, if you have nothing better to do.

16.2.09

1000 Gifts-Week 16

You know, sometimes there are things that I choose to give thanks for, even if I don't feel particularly thankful for it. Often the choice to give thanks in spite of my feelings is all that it takes to tip the balance in my heart toward genuine gratitude.

For example, the one gallon bag of Polly Pocket toys that a friend's daughter unloaded on the Girl last week. There are tiny little plastic shoes all over my house now and there have been the inevitable siblings fights over various tiny little plastic doll dresses. But, they have been entertained by these things for hours, on rainy days. They are using their imaginations, they are cooperating, and it is one more thing that they will remember and enjoy the memory of that I didn't have to buy for them. And they don't take up very much space when we put them away. What's not to be thankful for?

Also this week...

The Genius Husband complimenting me several times a day. [me like, a lot]

The first cherry blossoms are starting to bloom on the trees nearby.

Pretty pretty presents from India from my MIL.

I'm excited that my dad is coming to visit this week for a while.

I'm also really glad that I can be excited about this visit because long time readers will know that a few years ago it felt more traumatic than exciting when he was nearby. I'm so grateful for the healing the last few years have held.

When my husband loads the dishwasher unasked while I'm otherwise engaged.

When he helps to herd the children through the post dinner bed routine as well.

(I'm feeling pretty fond of the GH this week. Can you tell?)

A web designer with some very pretty site designs in his portfolio who has offered to help make the charis project site more pretty.

That after a long gestation we have actually set up a child sponsorship program to take care of all those kids who live every day in crisis.

Safe return of family members from the other side of the world.

Snow on the mountain. It's so pretty, and rare to see down here.

The way the falling rain encloses us inside our cozy house like a curtain of gray between us and everything else.

The kid's Sunday school teacher told me they are the only sibling group he has ever had that don't fight. He's never seen them fight amongst themselves. I know that they do fight with each other at home, but I also know, and am grateful for the fact, that they are more often friends than not.

The dimples in a toddler's elbow.

When friends smile a greeting, even if we're both too busy to stop and talk.


The gratitude community is here.

12.2.09

Announcing...

I feel a bit like I have given birth this past week.

I didn't really, but I have set up Child Sponsorship now for the kids in Chala's care. So everyone who has been waiting with bated breath, now is your chance.

When we got the packages for the kids we were sad to discover that not all 40 of them are with him any more, because we still haven't been able to send him enough money to pay for all of them every month. I'm not sure where those who are no longer with him are. He assures me that the kids who left have all finally got their Thai citizenship papers, which is what he set out to get them in August. That means that they are no longer in danger of deportation. Those who haven't got papers with him, or have no place to go to even distant relatives in a village some where, are still with him. If the money comes in he assures me that he will take them all back in when it's possible.

So I'd like to introduce you to Saewong.

Saewong is 12 years old. His favorite subject in school is Math. When he grows up he wants to be a policeman. His favorite chore is to pound the chili in the kitchen.

Saewong says, "My parents passed away since I was young, during the time we were living in Burma. I was not able to go to school, but I do right now."

This is Viwatphong. (I don't know how to say it either.)

She's 4 years old. Chala took her from a tribal family. Her parents just disowned her and left her with her grandmother. Her grandmother was 76 years old and could no longer take care of her.

If you would like to sponsor a child you can click this button right here and Paypal will set up a monthly payment of $35. You can correspond with your sponsored child and send pictures and small gifts if you like.

Most of all, sponsoring a child, even if it means giving up coffee, or a new pair of shoes, will show these kids that someone cares.



9.2.09

What happens at our house...

It was one of those kisses that is so good I can forget everything else. Only vaguely aware of the meal simmering away on the stove top, or the toddler pulling at the back of my sweater screaming, I kissed him back ardently.

And then the voice of the Boy broke in. "You suck daddy, you suck at kissing. That's not how you should kiss. Stop kissing mommy like that."

And then we dissolved into laughter, until my breath was taken away for an entirely different reason.

Boys!

5.2.09

1000 Gifts-Week 15

The gifts they keep coming. Too fast for me to even catch and record them all. Mine is a life filled with endless bounty.

Whether I pause to notice them or not, the gifts always flow and flood in the spaces around what I think is important. And so I"m trying to catch a few. To hold them appreciatively as I rush about my life.

The smell of sea air on the breeze, just faint enough to cause me to breath deep to identify it.

Scent of rain on damp concrete.

A two year old trying to belly dance.

The sound of the Girl singing to herself from the back seat.

Time with friends.

A husband who is humble.

Learning how to motivate the Boy so that he feels that I believe he is capable instead of "helping" in a way that accidentally tears him down.

Warm tea while snuggled against the damp cold.

The pleasure of intelligent conversation.

Quiet evenings at home after all the kids are asleep.

A phone call from my best friend in China.

Peace in the middle of so many overwhelming things.

The gratitude community is here.

4.2.09

On Dating My husband

Here's the thing about going out on dates with your husband infrequently. You kind of get out of practice.

Take this Sunday for example. We decided that it would be a perfect plan to hit a matinee for a movie first and then go for dinner. That way we would be home for bedtime, and there would be no lines because it was super bowl Sunday. Well, there were no lines that's for sure. There also wasn't anything open when it was time to eat. Our city has this cute little old town downtown section, with art galleries and restaurants and wine bars. It's very close to the local movie theatre. So all week I was envisioning a romantic evening at one of the little French restaurants perhaps, with the patio lights and topiaries that I see during the week when the kids and I walk to the farmer's market.

After we watched the movie-Taken, it was really good-we headed over to the street where I wanted to eat. And we encountered a ghost town. It turns out that, well, Sunday night isn't exactly a booming business time in a town our size. Especially not super bowl Sunday. The sports pub was open, but that wasn't quite what I had in mind. So after awkwardly walking a few blocks in either direction we got in the car and headed to the next town over.

This is southern California, it was only a 10 minute drive, and you would not know we left one town for another unless you lived here. There were more places open there, but none with that sort of intimate feeling I was hoping for.

We do this thing, the Genius Husband and I, where he wants me to decide, and I don't want to, and he wants me to, and I don't want to. At this point, when all my plans had fallen through, I now realize that I wanted him to just come to the rescue, pull something out of his hat and take us to a great little place that he happened to know about. He, on the other hand is thinking that it's my birthday, so I get to decide, and he remains stolidly silent and chauffeurlike on the subject. I think in another decade, if we go on one date a year as we're averaging now, we'll have this business all sorted out.

So I decided, and am now old enough and confident enough to not spend the whole time worrying that he was unhappy with my choice as I might have done 9 years ago. We sucked it up and ate very tasty and over priced fish in a place that was less than romantic but at least didn't have neon lighting and produced cloth napkins. And I have learned that even when a restaurant says their business hours are from 11am to 6pm Sat and Sunday that I should do a little bit more research anyway, just to be sure.

I enjoyed looking over his shoulder at the old man and woman seated next to us, glasses filled with rose colored wine and quietly chatting. I wondered what on earth they were talking about because I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to make conversation that didn't include the kids, work, or my family. For a long time, in between ordering and when the food came we were largely silent. It was kind of nice actually.

Eventually we talked about plot ideas for books that we had heard, read, or were working on ourselves.

As soon as we were finished we came home to our gorgeous children and beloved sister/sil, tucked them into bed, cleaned up the mess and all was as it should be once more. I know the experts say couples need to make sure they spend time together just the two of them and build their relationship or they will end up with nothing to talk about when children leave but sometimes it just feels so contrived and forced for us to try and do that outside of the regular context of our daily lives.

This is where we are right now, and it's good. We have way more interesting conversations spanning every subject from theology to creative not quite insults while I'm in the middle of cleaning up the kitchen and he's taking a break from chatting with his little brother on face book than we have ever managed in the context of a "date". (We once decided we would make a pretty gift books or cards to sell that contained compliments such as, "I love you, a whole steaming pile." Yes we are weird, we like it that way.)

I'm grateful for the time out, and he's happy I wore a skirt with heels for the occasion, but I'm not pining to do it again anytime soon. I realized that I'm quite content with things the way they are, and that may be the best birthday gift of all.

2.2.09

1000 Gifts-Week 14

This week's gifts, just a few.

Three hours with my Girl, walking to a coffee shop together, her buying me tea with money the Genius Husband gave her for the occasion, the time spent together.

Doing it all again the next day with the Boy.

The GH rearranging his schedule to facilitate yet another mommy and child outing.

My kids rocking out in the car to the songs on the radio. The Girl memorizing her aunties singing into a hairbrush to a CCR song and imitating it ever since, Little with all the shoulder and arm moves and the Boy head banging in the back. Pure fun.

We passed a sign holder on the corner near the GH's grandparent's house Saturday. A middle-aged gentleman in white tennis wear, complete with head band, and personal listening device firmly installed in ears. He was getting down in a way I have never seen a middle aged white guy get down ever before. There was hip swiveling and gyrating and I think I even saw a moon walk. I haven't seen anyone that age enjoying themselves so unselfconsciously maybe ever. We passed him twice. It was, in a word, awesome.

In-laws who throw birthday parties and buy cakes for me.

Notes and greetings from friends and family from all around the world.

A real date with my husband.

SIL who babysits.

The sweetness and simplicity of presents conceived and executed by small children. (The Boy painted a tin and put in all of his money from his piggy bank for me, "Because I know we're going to need money to go to Thailand mommy.")

The sailor-like rolling gait of a newly walking toddler.

Laughter.

Joy.

Love.

The gratitude community is here.

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